Jensen's house wasn't what Jared had been expecting.
It was large, first of all - far too large for one person. It was on a quiet little street a good half hour's drive away from the bakery, which made Jared wonder why Jensen had chosen to live so far away. Jared had picked his apartment building precisely because it was well within walking distance of his clinic.
Jensen seemed to revive slightly when the cab pulled up outside; he wandered up the driveway while Jared paid the driver and was already unlocking the door by the time Jared caught up to him.
Jensen obviously spent a lot of time taking care of his house. The grass was lushly green and immaculately tended, there was a fresh coat of paint on the window trims and the covered porch was swept to within an inch of its life. The inside looked tidy but lived in, and Jared looked around curiously, torn between a childish desire to snoop through everything and the need to keep an eye on Jensen. Now that he'd successfully got Jensen home, he wasn't really sure what his next step should be. Food? Sleep? Action movies?
Luckily, Jensen was way ahead of him on that score.
"Alcohol," Jensen decided, kicking off his shoes and heading deeper into the house without waiting for Jared. "Lots of alcohol."
Normally, Jared wasn't a fan of self-medicating with alcohol but, in this case, drinking actually seemed like an exceptionally good idea. It would blunt the jagged edges of Jensen's emotions, which would help him calm down, and, if they were lucky, might loosen him up enough to start talking, which Jared could tell he needed to desperately. He'd been holding his heartbreak in for far too long.
So he followed Jensen into the den and watched as he bee-lined for a cabinet against the far wall. Jared was privately impressed that Jensen had both a den and a proper liquor cabinet. The room was done in dark hunter greens and pale wood, with a very comfortable looking leather sofa set dominating the space. It was all, Jared noticed, considerably more expensive than anything Jared had in his apartment. Possibly than all of his furniture put together. Apparently The Cinnamon Star did much better business than Jared had suspected.
Bottles clinked as Jensen rummaged and Jared gave into the urge to peek at the few photographs hung artfully on the walls. He recognized Chris and Jensen arm in arm at the beach in one of them, looking young and, in Jensen's case, decidedly twinky. There were several pictures of people who looked enough like Jensen that Jared figured they had to be family. There wasn't much else.
Jensen made a triumphant sound and Jared jerked eyes guiltily away as Jensen hoisted an expensive looking bottle of dark amber liquid. "Single malt scotch whiskey," he said. "21 year old Glenfiddich. $240 a bottle. Was saving it for a special occasion but," a fluid, stinging smile, "I don't seem to be having any of those lately."
Jared's heart twisted. "Jensen-"
"Get the glasses," Jensen ordered, in a tone of voice that Jared wasn't about to disagree with. He sat himself down on the couch and placed the bottle deliberately on the coffee table in front of him. "This stuff's too expensive to drink out of the bottle."
So they drank. Jensen averaged two glasses for Jared's every one, but Jared kept an eye on both of them to make sure they weren't going too overboard. He needed to be mostly sober for this, Jared suspected, and Jensen needed not to pass out.
Jensen didn't say a word for the entire first two-thirds of the bottle and Jared curbed his own impulse to fill the silence. The click of the bottle returning to the coffee table after each refill and the shift of the leather couch were the only sounds as the sun tracked through the windows and spilled the end of the day across the floor.
"She offered me a job," Jensen said suddenly.
Jared put down his glass. "The lady at the bakery?" he asked and Jensen nodded. "Like a custom order?"
"No." Jensen threw back the rest of his drink. His tongue swiped the final drops off his lips as he reached immediately for the bottle. "A sales and marketing job."
That, Jared hadn't been expecting. "A… what?"
"I never went to culinary school," Jensen said, and it was hushed, like a secret.
Jared was starting to think he'd walked into the wrong conversation. "Really?" he said after a moment. "I'd never have guessed. You're really talented."
"I bake when I'm stressed," Jensen said, slurring the words just slightly. "Desserts all over the kitchen. Got lots of practice."
"I twine thread," Jared offered. Jensen raised an off-kilter eyebrow and Jared shrugged a little sheepishly. "When I'm stressed. I twine thread."
"Huh. I bake. Not what anyone thought I'd be doing with my $100,000 degree. Plan B. See that?" Jensen pointed with one finger at a photograph on the other side of the coffee table that Jared hadn't noticed. "S'the day we opened our firm."
"Firm?" Jared asked. It was a candid photograph that showed Jensen standing shoulder to shoulder with a good-looking guy several years older than him. He had short dark hair and the whitest Colgate smile Jared had ever seen. The both of them were wearing suits - Jared took a private moment to appreciate how well Jensen wore his - and they were obviously at some kind of expensive dinner function. The photographer had caught the guy with the smile in mid-sentence: his face was animated and he was gesturing expansively with one hand. Even in a photograph, Jared could feel his charisma. Jensen was listening with a grin on his face and a fondness in his eyes that Jared had never seen before. They were standing very close together and Jared could tell by the crook of Jensen's elbow that he had his hand pressed to the small of the other guy's back.
"Stuart and Ackles Consulting," Jensen said, sounding proud even through half a bottle of fine scotch whiskey. "Av- aber- advertising and marketing specialists. In the black in only 31 months."
"Impressive," Jared said, meaning it. He gestured at the picture. "Who is he?"
"Hmm? Oh, s'James. He was my-" Jensen paused, considering. "James," he said finally, apparently deciding that that was clear enough. "My James."
Jared looked at the picture and figured that maybe it was.
"James was my mentor during my first internship," Jensen said. His brow wrinkled. "Wait. Second. One of them. Good teacher."
Jared stayed silent, not trusting himself to know what to say.
"Whiz kids, both of us," Jensen continued, talking more to himself than Jared. "Me more, because I was younger. Could promote anything. Best numbers on the team."
"I loved that bastard," Jensen said, which Jared had been expecting. "We had an apartment and a dog and I worked sixty hours a week and James was even more… worky. He was a workaholic." Jensen smirked. "Worky workaholic. Heh. Used to blow him in his office. Long lunch breaks. He had a nice sturdy desk."
"What happened?" Jared dared, hoping desperately that it wouldn't make Jensen clam up.
Jensen snorted into his glass. "James wanted to go global. I didn't, so. Forced me out. Held the… the thing, with the board and the shares."
"Majority?" Jared suggested.
"Sure, that." He smiled without mirth. "So I broke up with him and left the state. Seemed like a bad idea." His brow furrowed. "No, that's backwards. Staying was the bad idea. I left."
Jared bit his lip. "You-"
"Bought this place," Jensen continued, waving a hand. "Always wanted a house. Too big for just me but fuck him. Had the money from the buy out. And I'd been making good commission."
"Why didn't you go work for another firm?" Jared asked.
Jensen shook his head. "Would have been competing with my own company. With my James. I stress bake," he said again, and Jared was starting to see how this story came together. "Had the money to not work for a bit, baked a lot, figured fuck it and bought a bakery. Best-marketed bakery in the fucking city. Still stress bake, though." Jensen paused thoughtfully. "You'd think I'd find a different hobby now that I not-stress bake for a living. Huh."
"Doing good, I think. Probably. Kept up with him for the first while, but it just got hard to care. Which was better." Jensen stared at Jared, glassy eyed. "I didn't like caring."
"Being betrayed by someone you loved isn't something that anyone's heart is designed to suffer," Jared said gently. "Nobody would blame you for being unable to cope."
Jensen was shaking his head. "You don't get. You think I'm all-" he gestured at himself, "-this because James took advantage of me. Broke my heart."
"Didn't he?" Jared asked.
"Yeah," Jensen said, almost thoughtfully. "Yeah. But that wasn't the worst part." He lifted his eyes to Jared's face. Jared didn't think he'd ever seen someone look quite so weary. "Do you know what the worst part was?"
"No," Jared said quietly.
"The worst part was that my James didn't do it because he didn't love me. He did. He loved me very much." Jensen sighed and said, in a voice that ached, "just not enough."
"Jensen," Jared said, sympathy leaving his throat thick and his limbs leaden.
The sound of Jensen's glass being set on the table was unexpected and loud, and Jared brought his eyes back up to Jensen's to find the man watching him with a thoughtful look that set alarm bells ringing inside Jared's head.
"Jensen?" he said again, rather more nervously.
"Fuck him," Jensen said decisively. "No more James. S'my life now."
Jensen wobbled off the couch and walked towards Jared, and somehow Jared still wasn't sure what was going on until he had the full weight of Jensen's body spread across his lap, Jensen's knees tucking into the chair on either side of Jared's hips and making the leather creak.
"Jared," Jensen breathed, heat in his voice. His hands threaded in Jared's hair and pulled him in with determined force.
"Jensen wait-" Jared managed, before Jensen's mouth was on his, sloppy and ruthless.
Jensen made a helpless little sound in the back of his throat and arched closer, like he could climb right into Jared's skin if he tried hard enough. His cock was pressed between their stomachs, not hard yet but getting there. Jared's own cock stirred with the delicious warmth of Jensen shifting on top of it and Jared had never hated himself so much in his life.
With an effort, Jared brought his hands up to Jensen's shoulders and pushed, careful but firm. Jensen whimpered and held on tighter, his whiskey kisses turning frantic. But Jared had the double advantage of both leverage and being considerably more sober than Jensen, and broke his grip, holding him at arm's length.
"I don't understand!" Jensen cried, somewhere between a whine and a snarl. He was still on Jared's lap, looking debauched and confused and lost and absolutely gorgeous. "You want this!" He ground down against Jared's cock and Jared's hips jerked instinctively, seeking more of that friction.
"See?" Jensen said triumphantly. He leaned forwards, angling for another kiss, but Jared locked his arms and refused to budge.
"No, I don't," he said and Jensen's face settled into a scowl.
"Don't lie to me! You always lie!"
"Listen to me," Jared said calmly. Jensen turned his face away in petulant defiance. "Jensen. Look at me. I need to know that you're listening to what I'm saying."
Jensen glared balefully at him from under his eyelashes.
"Why are you doing this?" Jared asked. "Right here, right now. Can you tell me that? Because if it's just because you're drunk and lonely and hurting, then it's not going to help anything. Does this make you forget?"
"Stop it." Jensen started to struggle against his hold. "Let me up. I'll find someone else."
Jared didn't let go. "Will this make the hurting stop for anything longer than that time it takes to get off?" he pressed.
"Shut up!" Jensen was struggling in earnest now and Jared had to work to keep both of them from tumbling to the floor. "I don't want to-"
"You don't have to do this," Jared told him. "You keep on trying to avoid your feelings but all you're doing is pushing that hurt even deeper. This is your chance to fix it. To use all those heightened emotions to figure out how to make yourself happy."
"I would be if you'd just-!"
"So, no," Jared said gently. "I don't want this. Because when it's just sex, all it's going to do is help for a little while and then hurt both of us even worse when it's over. Right?"
Jensen sagged like his strings had been cut, body still rigid but all the fight drained out of it. His weight settled on Jared's crotch, and Jared was distantly glad that all of Jensen's thrashing had helped his body get the message that now was not the time for sex. He didn't think he'd have been particularly convincing with an erection.
"Hate you." It was mumbled against Jared's neck, like a secret.
Jared held on tighter. "Yeah?"
Jensen's head nodded.
"Why?" Jared asked quietly.
"Setting me up," Jensen accused. "Just like my James."
"What? Jensen, look at me." Jensen shook his head, pressed tighter to Jared's chest. "Jensen, come on."
Eventually, Jared resorted to tucking his fingers under Jensen's chin and tipping it up. Jensen's eyes were bright and angry, and Jared offered him the gentlest smile he had. "Jensen, listen to me. I'm not James. I'm not going to make the same mistakes he did."
"Mistakes?" Jensen reared backwards and Jared was forced to ease his hold or risk hurting him. "It's not a mistake when you buy my company out under me! Our company! I own a fucking bakery! Me!"
"But you're proud of your bakery," Jared reminded him. "Right?"
"It doesn't matter!" Jensen swayed and the spill of light from the window illuminated the tracks of silent tears on his cheeks. "You can't just ruin me for a job I love! It's not fair!"
"No, it isn't," Jared agreed, but Jensen wasn't listening.
"S'not an accident! You can't break me by accident! Even if you don't want to, you still know you're gonna do it. My James… my James," Jensen swallowed down a sob, "he let me leave! Apologized and cried and let me ad- adbandon him without even trying to keep me! Didn't- didn't… nothing! So, don't you fucking dare call them mistakes, you son of a bitch. I used to be a person! A real person! Do you get that, Jared? Mistakes don't change that, they don't… un-person a person, like m' just- just-"
Jensen sucked in a great, shuddering breath, and Jared very carefully reached out to wipe one thumb across Jensen's wet cheek. Between one breath and the next, Jensen was out and out sobbing, all of his words lost amid the torrent of misery. Jared simply held him close, feeling the front of his shirt grow damp and being regretfully glad that he didn't have enough room inside himself for all the grief he wanted to feel.
Eventually, Jensen's deep, wracking sobs eased, subsiding into hiccups and sniffles. Jared said nothing, did nothing, just offered all the patient comfort he had in him to give.
When Jensen finally fell silent, Jared waited a few moments, giving Jensen space just to breathe, then said, "Better?"
Wordlessly, Jensen nodded.
"Are you going to be okay if I let you go?"
"Yes," Jensen mumbled and Jared eased his hold, careful not to let Jensen fall when he helped him off his lap. Subdued, Jensen returned to the couch, where he grabbed his glass with almost violent intent and took a sulky swallow.
Jared cautiously told his heart rate to calm down, watching for any sign that Jensen was about to do something stupid.
Jensen seemed docile for the moment, though. He finished the last of his drink, then stared at the photograph of him and James looking happy and flushed with success.
"Jensen?" Jared asked.
"I hate that picture," Jensen said, almost absently.
"Then why do you keep it?" Jared found himself asking.
"Because I hate it," Jensen said, as though it was obvious. "Was a hard lesson to learn and I don't wanna forget."
Jared swallowed. "What lesson was that?"
Jensen looked at him. "That love's not enough," he said, with the heartbreaking simplicity of a child who knew Santa Claus wasn't real. "You'll see."
"Oh, Jesus, come here." Jared shifted over to the couch and wrapped his arms around Jensen like he could shield him from all the hurts that had been done to him.
"Wha-" Jensen managed, but Jared just pulled Jensen up against him, hugging for all he was worth. "Go. Lemme go!"
"Hush," Jared said. Keeping his grip secure, Jared gently rubbed one hand up and down Jensen's back and dropped his head to press his cheek against Jensen's hair. It was softer than it looked.
Jared didn't know how long they sat like that, the sad curl of Jensen's spine swaddled by Jared's entire body. Jensen didn't relax so much as he lost a slow, incremental battle against unconsciousness. Finally, his eyes slid shut and his body slumped heavily against Jared's, and Jared manoeuvered them both into a more comfortable recline against the generous arm of the couch. He cradled Jensen close to his chest, brushing a thumb briefly over the dark bags underneath Jensen's eye. After a bit of awkward shuffling and a long-stretched arm, Jared managed to click on the table lamp near the couch, which lit the room in a dim halo of light and cast shadows thickly against the walls.
And then he lay there for a long time in the dimness, watching Jensen sleep and feeling grateful that the light didn't extend far enough to let him see that damnable picture where Jensen looked so happy.
Jared made sure that he was gone long before Jensen woke up. He covered Jensen in a blanket he found in the linen cupboard and left a glass of water and a couple of Advil on the coffee table along with a quick note telling Jensen that he'd see him later. Then he took himself home and tried to think about the murders instead of the expression on Jensen's face when he'd told Jared that love wasn't enough to make someone happy.
Not thinking about Jensen proved to be impossible, though mostly because Jared figured that Jensen had to be the key to figuring out the killer's methods.
Because he didn't fit. All of the other victims were Jared's patients. And they'd all had major reconstructive mending done on their hearts in the recent past. Jensen was the outlier in both cases.
Jensen was still connected to Jared, obviously, but a killer who'd been using Jared's records to find his victims wouldn't even know Jensen existed. And if, in a moment of vaguely horrified egoism, Jared wondered if the killer was deliberately targeting the people around him, the obvious choices would have been his family or Adrianne or Chad, even. Not Jensen.
Jared puzzled over Jensen's connection to the other victims until exhaustion finally drove him to bed. The same thoughts were still swirling around in his head when he got up the next morning and they dogged his steps all the way to work.
Which did not at all help with Jared's recent tendency to drift off when he wasn't paying attention to what his brain was doing.
Jared yelped, spun around and nearly fell out of his chair.
In the doorway, Adrianne raised an eyebrow at him.
"I, oh, Adrianne! Hi! Um, is Ms. Dinwiddie here?"
"Stunning deduction," Adrianne said, with a roll of her eyes. The concern that never really left her face these days shone through as she added, "You alright?"
"Hmm? Yeah, of course." Jared gave her the cheekiest smile he could manage. "Though I wouldn't argue if you went and got me a face cookie to make me feel better."
"There is no time in your life when you need a cookie that big, Jared." Adrianne held out the file for DINWIDDIE, TRACI. "Come on then."
"Yes, ma'am." Jared put the folder carefully aside and followed Adrianne out into the waiting room.
"Ms. Dinwiddie," he said with all the warmth he could muster on short notice and little sleep. "How are you?"
"Wishing you'd call me Traci," Ms. Dinwiddie said with a bright, saucy smile. "I don't suppose you've changed your mind about marrying me, yet?"
Jared smiled freely. "Not recently, no."
"Damn," she sighed. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
"I feel like your wife might."
Ms. Dinwiddie shrugged. "Eh, she gets me the rest of the year. One marriage proposal every three months is hardly worth worrying about. Besides, it's not like I'd leave her out; she'd totally go bi for your abs."
Jared managed an absent head shake at that, something in what she'd said pricking at the edge of his awareness.
"I think you'd like her," Ms. Dinwiddie continued blithely, and Jared felt the half-formed thought slip away before he could put a name to it. "Do blondes turn your crank or should I put a bag over her head?"
"I will sedate you if I have to," Jared warned, not meaning it. Ms. Dinwiddie laughed and graciously allowed him to escort her to the exam room for her regular check-up.
And, in the back of Jared's head, a new suspicion began to grow.
"What if it's not my records?" Jared demanded as he banged into the bakery, breathless from the run over.
Jensen blinked at him from behind the counter. "Hello?" he tried. "Also, what?"
There was a woman perusing the cupcake shelves and she blinked at Jared as well, which made Jared belatedly realize that bursting into Jensen's place of work yelling about serial killers was maybe not the best idea way to keep a low profile.
"Um," he said, feeling embarrassment creep up his neck. "I'll… come back later?"
Jensen rolled his eyes and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Get in the back. I'll be there in a minute."
"Sorry, ma'am," Jared said to the lady, who offered him an indulgent smile. He shuffled through the staff door and ensconced himself on one of the wonderfully large chairs in the back kitchen.
"Here," Jensen said a few minutes later, appearing in the doorway with a plate of cookies and a coffee from Percolate. He set them on the table without quite meeting Jared's eyes and Jared couldn't help but be reminded of the night before. Awkward. "I'm assuming this is something I should be calling Chris about?"
Jared nodded. "I think I know how the killer's choosing their victims."
Jensen arched an eyebrow. "Really."
"Yeah," Jared said. "Or, well, I think it's a pretty good theory, at least."
"Chris is going to be thrilled with that level of confidence." Jensen cocked his head at Jared. "You got any more appointments today?"
"Not today, no."
"Right. You stay here and I'll check in with Chris to see if he's in the area. Eat some cookies and I'll be back in a sec."
"Jensen," Jared said before Jensen could escape.
Jensen's spine stiffened fractionally and he turned around to favour Jared with a deliberately easy smile. "Yeah?"
"I just wanted-" Jared faltered, not sure what he could say. "How's the hangover?" he settled on finally and was rewarded by an easing of the tension in Jensen's shoulders.
"Not as bad as it could be," Jensen said. He hesitated for a moment and, when he spoke, it was in a soft, sincere voice that Jared had never heard before. "Thanks. For the water."
Jared couldn't have kept from smiling if he tried. "Any time."
Jared had finished his coffee and was down to the last few cookies when Jensen returned with a vaguely irritated Chris in tow.
Jared couldn't help but think that irritated was probably Chris' default expression.
"So?" Chris said, throwing himself down in the chair across from Jared. He reached out and snagged a cookie before Jared could protest. "Mind telling me what I'm doing here in the middle of my shift?"
Jensen gestured. "Ask Jared."
"So we've been thinking that the killer was finding victims using my records, right?" Jared said. "And that he was deliberately picking people who'd had serious work done, for whatever reason. Only I've got other clients whose hearts were just as bad if not worse as the people he… attacked. And it doesn't explain why he'd pick Jensen, since Jensen hadn't had any mending done at the time."
"To get to you?" Chris tried, though he didn't sound married to the idea himself. Jensen's face was blank.
"But why pick him instead of Adrianne? Or my family? And how would they even know who Jensen was if all they had to go on was my client files?"
"I have a feeling you're about to tell us."
"What if," Jared said. "The killer knows who to go for because he's seen them?"
A frown furrowed Chris' forehead. "Seen them where?"
"In the waiting room at the clinic." That earned him a pair of puzzled looks and Jared leaned in across the table to help convey the excitement he couldn't quite feel. "The attacks happen every three to four months, right? Well, that's the standard gap between appointments for clients who have regular check-ins at my clinic. Like a yearly dentist appointment?" he explained, when they continued to look puzzled. "People come to see me three to four times a year to take care of minor hurts and general heart care. So maybe the killer's a client of mine who sees people in the waiting room before their own appointment?"
"It's possible," Chris allowed, though he sounded dubious. "Where does Jensen fit in, then?"
"You came by the clinic with cupcakes, remember?" Jared said to Jensen. "Not even a week before you got attacked."
Jensen nodded slowly. "You think that's why I got attacked? Because I was delivering cupcakes?"
"Yeah, maybe," Jared said, fighting back guilt and the overwhelming urge to apologize. Jensen getting involved in this mess really was all Jared's fault. "It kind of makes sense, right?"
"It does," Chris agreed. "You got a list of the clients you saw that day?"
Jared nodded. "It'll take me a bit to cross-reference with the most recent appointments the other victims had, but I should be able t-"
"Misha," Jensen said suddenly and Jared blinked at him.
"Misha was there the day I went in," Jensen said. "And you said he shows up at the clinic all the time."
Jared stared at him, abruptly sick to his stomach. "But, it can't… Misha wouldn't-"
"He wouldn't even show up on your calendar," Jensen continued ruthlessly. "No way to trace him since he's not supposed to be there in the first-"
"Sorry to interrupt," Chris drawled, in a tone of voice that suggested quite the reverse. "Either of you ladies mind telling me who Misha is?"
"He's this crazy homeless guy who likes to hang around Jared's clinic," Jensen said.
"You don't know that for sure," Jared protested. "He might just be a hippie."
"He's the one who found me in the alleyway," Jensen continued, as though Jared hadn't spoken.
"He's what?" Chris spun on Jared, the beginnings of a scowl clouding his face. "I thought you were the one who found him."
"Me?" Jared said, nonplussed. "No, I was at the clinic. Misha came and brought me to him."
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. "As soon as this shit gets dealt with, the three of us are going to have to have a conversation about what counts as vital information. This Misha guy was the first one on the scene?" he said to Jensen.
Jensen nodded. "That's what Jared said."
"He came to get me," Jared said again. "He helped me bring Jensen to the clinic. Hell, he's probably the one who scared off the killer before he co-"
"Probably?" Chris said. "You didn't ask?"
"I was a bit distracted," Jared shot back, wishing he could add more snap to his tone. "Why else would the killer have left without taking the rest of Jensen's heart?"
"Why else indeed," Jensen murmured.
"This Misha," Chris said. "You say he's at your clinic a lot?"
"Yeah. He comes and goes, mostly. I think he's a little lonely."
"Is it possible that he's come into contact with the victims?"
Jared bit his lip. "I guess so, yeah. I don't exactly keep track."
Chris made a noncommittal sound. "He been in since Jensen got attacked?"
"Yeah, of course." Jared glanced at Jensen. "He said he hopes you're feeling better, by the way."
Jensen shook his head. "Jared-"
"How many times?" Chris asked. He pulled out his notebook and set an expectant pen to the page.
"Twice, maybe?" Jared guessed. "Or three? I'm not always in the waiting room when he comes by."
"Can you give me approximate dates?"
"Uh, not really?" Chris was back to looking irritated and Jared sighed. "I've never been good at remembering this sort of thing. You'd have more luck asking Adrianne. She's the organized one."
"Hmm." Chris jotted down a note. "This guy got a last name?"
Jared shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, probably? It's not like I ever asked. He's not one of my clients."
Chris gave him a narrow-eyed look. "Are you intentionally being difficult?"
"No!" Jared dragged a frustrated hand through his hair. "God, it's not like I know your last name either, now is it?"
"Chris, lay off," Jensen said, to Jared's surprise. "He can't tell you what he doesn't know."
"Humph." Chris stowed his notebook and stood. He leveled a finger at Jared. "The minute this guy walks into your clinic again you let me know, you got it?"
"But I know Misha," Jared protested. "He'd never kill anybody. I'm sure of it."
"You can never be sure," Jensen said. "Not about other people." His voice was flat and Jared winced at the realization that he was speaking from experience.
"But the three months," Jared tried instead. "It's almost clockwork. Misha's never followed a pattern in his whole life, I don't think."
"Could be him trying to throw you off," Chris said, though not unkindly. "Keep me posted. Later, Jensen." He snagged the last cookie off the plate as he left and Jared couldn't even muster up the energy to be put out about it.
"I've got some baking to do," Jensen said, after several moments of silence between them. "Are you going to help or sit there and sulk?"
"M'not sulking," Jared said, distantly aware that he sounded a little sulky anyway. "It's just… it's Misha. I've known Misha for years. I can't believe he's…"
"You trust people way more than you should," Jensen said and Jared's heart just wasn't up to trying to tell if that was meant to be an insult or not. Jensen clapped a companionable hand on his shoulder. "Come on. I've got raspberry crème truffles to make and those ingredients aren't going to mix themselves."
"Slave driver," Jared said, looking up with a weak smile.
"Hey, you're the one barging into my shop and making the customers think I like spending time with crazy people. You owe me."
"Fair enough." Jared pushed his chair back and Jensen nodded at him before turning towards the door. "And Jensen?" he said, and Jensen twisted round to look at him. "Thanks."
"Knock it off," Jensen said. "And get a move on. Lazy fucker."
Jared couldn't sleep.
It had been three days since Chris and Jensen had decided that Misha was suspect number one. Jared had seen neither hide nor hair of Misha in the meantime, but that wasn't unusual. Jared was used to going without seeing him for weeks at a time, only to have him show up three times inside a fortnight the next time he surfaced. Misha was anything but predictable.
Jared had been turning over the issue in his head ever since, more unsettled than he was going to admit to either Jensen or Chris. The worst part, Jared thought, was that Jensen's argument made good sense; Misha wasn't exactly a model of normality and, despite the fact that he genuinely liked the guy, Jared could reluctantly see Misha being someone who might think hearts would be a fun thing to collect. It would explain what he found so fascinating about the clinic, at any rate. There was no way of knowing for sure, not until they found Misha, but there was no denying that the situation wasn't exactly in Misha's favour.
And yet, even knowing all that, Jared couldn't help but think they were barking up the wrong tree entirely. Granted, his gut feelings weren't something that would stand up in court, but Jared had learned to trust them nonetheless. His mama used to joke that Jared was even better at judging character than the dogs were. And he'd never got the slightest inkling that Misha was anything other than what he appeared to be - with the possible exception of the whole homeless thing.
Which was why Jared was staring at the darkened ceiling of his bedroom in the late hours of the night, feeling guilty and ineffective.
By the time the clock hit 1:56am, Jared had had enough. He hauled himself out of bed and headed into the closet for a sweater, wincing at the chill of the floorboards as he went. He shoved his wallet and his keys into his pockets, then called a cab. Which was probably unnecessary given the scant distance he was covering, but Jared had no particular desire to wander around the city at two o'clock in his pajamas.
He shoved his feet into his sneakers without bothering to find socks, then waited at the door until the taxi arrived. Sleep pulled at his eyelids, physical fatigue adding to the emotional exhaustion, but Jared had had plenty of practice outstubborning his body's needs in the past couple of months.
The roads were quiet and empty as Jared's cab trundled the few blocks to the clinic. The cabbie made bland conversation that Jared returned mostly on autopilot until they pulled up to the curb in front of the clinic. Jared paid her and headed inside, not bothering to turn on the main lights as he headed for the office. Shadows towered everywhere as Jared fumbled for the light switch. The mess was somehow even more daunting than usual, probably because of what Jared was there to do.
It took a few false starts before Jared managed to track down the massive planner he used to record appointments. There was a digital one on the computer somewhere as well, but Adrianne was better at navigating that than Jared was. The digital planner had masses of information on what the client needed doing, how long each appointment was meant to take, how long appointments actually took, the total charge for the appointment and all sorts of other stuff that Jared wasn't interested in. All he needed was the names.
Because if Jared couldn't prove that Misha wasn't a suspect, he could at least see if anyone else was.
Once he'd found the thing, half buried under a stack of client files on the floor beside the couch, Jared cleared enough stuff off his chair and the desk to settle himself and the planner down. He spread the massive book open, rooting through the drawer for a pen and a notepad.
The day that Jensen came in with the cupcakes was the obvious place to start. Jared scribbled down the names of everyone who had been in the room while Jensen was there: Ferris, Morgan, Roché, Sheppard, Boecher. And then he went hunting.
The victims' client files were still on the floor near Jared's foot, so Jared scooped them up to cross-check the dates. He flipped back to Miss Perkins' most recent appointment, the last one she'd had before her heart was stolen, but none of the names matched. He scribbled down all the appointments from that day on the next page of his notebook, just in case. Then he checked her visit before that and those names got written down as well. Once he'd finished her file, he moved onto the next victim. And then the next.
It was a long, tedious process. He had pages of appointments to dig through and most of the victims had been repeat clients because the kind of damage they'd sustained generally required more than one appointment to mend properly. Jared's eyes burned as he wrote down name after name, the scratch of his pen and the flip of pages loud in the quiet.
After Jared had compiled a list of names for each victim, he started crosschecking. One by one, he scratched off all names that didn't appear on every list.
Nothing matched. Not a single name in the last year matched up with more than two victims.
"This is impossible," Jared said to himself. He slumped back in his chair, wincing at the ache in his back from hunching over and wondering if he was completely on the wrong track. "Dammit," he sighed.
He flipped listlessly through the files on his desk, wondering if it was even worth the effort to try something else. On a whim, he picked up the closest file - Mr. Morgan's - and thumbed through it to the notation pages where Jared made his own notes about each appointment. They yielded absolutely nothing of use and Jared was about to throw the thing across the room in disgust when one of the notations caught his eye.
"The third of May, 2012," Jared read aloud. "Fifteen minute check-in to observe condition of crack in the upper left ventricle. Mild green discolouration. Herbal ointment prescribed."
Frowning thoughtfully, Jared opened the planner to May 3. He was at once surprised and unsurprised to find that, since Mr. Morgan's check-in had been short enough to slot in between other appointments, it hadn't been recorded in the planner, just in the examination notes.
"Dammit," Jared said again, for a completely different reason. He shoved his chair back and headed to the filing cabinets to grab the rest of the client files he wanted.
Jared reopened Miss Perkin's file and set it down on the table alongside Mr. Morgan's, one finger on each notation page as he compared the dates all the way down the list. Nothing matched. He moved on to DJ Qualls' file and did the same. Still nothing.
"Looks like you're in the clear, Mr. Morgan," Jared said, setting aside his file and reaching for the next one.
It was similarly unhelpful. It wasn't until the third one that Jared caught the break he'd been hoping for: a last minute rescheduling that matched up with Miss Perkins' second to last appointment. The next victim's appointment had matched up in Jared's first attempt and Jared felt a rising mix of anticipation and adrenaline in his veins. Carefully, he worked his way through every notation. A rescheduled appointment here, a filling of a last-minute cancellation there, a squeezed-in appointment when they came in on the wrong day, a fifteen minute drop-in for a pulled stitch.
They all matched. Every single victim had been in the waiting room at the same time as this client.
Jared stared at the evidence, stunned. His eyes dragged up the page, past that damning list of dates, up to the name typed in bold, bald letters across the top.
"Jesus Christ," Jared breathed. After a moment, he realized that this wasn't information he should just be staring at and twisted round to dig into his pocket, fumbling for his cell phone.
"Oh," a voice said, sudden, loud and jarring. Jared jolted upright and froze when he realized who was standing in the doorway.
"Am I early again?" Sebastian Roché said, in that placidly endearing way of his. "I do get my times muddled up, you know. I'm forever rebooking appointments."
"You-" Jared started, brain still tripping over itself. "Mr. Roché what are you…?"
Jared tried to jump to his feet, to put some more distance between them, but Mr. Roché was faster. His hand was on Jared's shoulder in an instant, pushing him back down with a strength that Jared would never have expected. Quick as a flash, Jared found his head wrenched to one side and felt the terrifying prick of a needle at the base of his neck.
"Shh," Mr. Roché said, calmly depressing the plunger and removing the needle in a swift, tidy little motion. "Just a little prick, there we go. I know you're more of a pricker than a prickee but, just this once, I think it's better if you let me take the lead."
"Stop-" Jared tried, but the words felt thick and heavy on his tongue. Mr. Roché's hand in his hair turned into a gentle carding of fingers that Jared's deadening nerves could hardly feel. "Mr. Ro…"
"Under the circumstances," Mr. Roché said, with an amiable smile that swam at the edges of Jared's vision. That smile was that last thing Jared saw before blackness swallowed him, Mr. Roché's voice following him down into the dark, "I really think you can call me Sebastian, darling."
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