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December 2015, Guggenheim Museum

The voices were muffled, but clear enough that the person hidden in the air vent could follow the conversation.

“If Padalecki’s informant is correct, then we should catch the bastard red-handed.”

“Well, he ain’t here yet.” That was a second person, one with a slightly higher register to his voice.

“We don’t even know whether this bastard is a he or a she.” The first voice sounded disgusted at that thought. “Nobody’s ever managed to catch The Green Tornado. Still the asshole shouldn’t have counted his chickens before they hatched the way he did. He’s getting too cocky, and this time it’s his loss. According to Padalecki, his informant squealed like a pig at the thought of being asked to fence something so well known. He knows what side his bread is buttered on.”

“Better be quiet, or the perp might hear us. Man, I could use a restroom right now. Stakeouts always do this to me.”

“We’ll be out of here with the perp in around five minutes. He’s supposed to get in here at nine, while security are on their debriefing and change of staff.” The conversation lapsed, leaving the hidden intruder to think certain thoughts.

The person in the air vent gave a sigh. Firstly, it was evident to The Green Tornado that tonight wasn’t going to be the night for making off with the largest uncut emerald ever discovered. Secondly, it seemed like it might be an extremely good idea to vacate New York for a while, at least until the heat died down and it was possible to stop falling over cops at every turn, and thirdly, the thought of that restroom was truly something that should never have been mentioned.

Sighing inwardly, the thief settled down to plot a way out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Jared cursed under his breath at the morons who had contaminated his crime scene. If it was even a crime scene. The bunglers insisted that it was, that The Green Tornado had been here. Jared wasn’t convinced. He turned to leave, but then something caught his eye. He looked around, trying to see what it had been. Another sweep of the room revealed nothing out of the ordinary. He supposed that it was just his mind playing tricks on him. He needed a vacation.

But something made him look again at the return vent in the corner. There was something odd about it, but he couldn’t quite say what. He removed the screws from the corners to check behind the screen, and a small object fluttered to the ground. Reflexively grabbing a latex glove from his bag, he used it to pick up the card. He wasn’t surprised to find an embossed white card with a green twister on the front. The Tornado had actually been here, and the incompetent fools had scared the thief off somehow. With a sigh, Jared twirled the card between his fingers and was surprised to see handwriting on the back. The cards were always blank on the back, the card itself the only message. This time, there was a note. A note for him, Jared was sure.

I think it’s time for a break
Remember the Lukka Kairi?
Wonder if that chef’s still there?
Commercial transport this time, I think

“Son of a bitch,” Jared yelled in frustration. The tidy script gave nothing away about the hand that had written it, not even gender. Always careful, his prey. He put the card in an evidence bag and handed it to one of the young agents who was part of his team. Disgusted with himself for failing to catch the bastard yet again, he stalked toward the door.

“A message?” the agent asked, obviously surprised. “He’s never left a message before, has he?”

“Nope,” Jared said shortly, not pausing on his way out of the building.

“But what does it mean?” the other agent asked.

“It means you should’ve called me before you fucked up the mission and let the asshole get away... again.” Jared reached the door, and tossed the remainder of his answer over his shoulder at the bungling agents. “Before you spooked the Tornado and sent him out of the country.” Jared slammed out of the crime scene and headed back to the office to turn in his leave request.

New Year’s Eve, 2015, Shadowy Government Agency, DC

Jeffrey Dean Morgan was competent at his job, although he very much missed the days when he’d been out in the field himself. Of course, that was before he’d had his left leg mangled so badly by the clown wielding a Vityaz SN that it had needed to be amputated. Confined to his desk job now, he contented himself with running his own agent in the field. Matt Bomer was good. Matt was very good, although in his day, he, Jeff, had been the best. Still, he knew that Matt had it in him to learn if he survived.

He was expecting Matt to call in about now, and as his phone rang, the door opened and someone entered his office pushing the beverage cart. He concentrated on Matt’s coded introduction before relaxing and turning to face the person pushing the cart.

“Jeff, The Jackal is on to both of us. He’s somehow got all the...”

Those were the last words he heard as the person who’d brought in the cart removed a pistol with a silencer from a drawer beneath the tablecloth that covered it, pointed it between his eyes and fired.

The phone fell to the ground, and the killer bent, picked it up and disconnected the call, then laid it and the gun back in the drawer. After listening for a moment, the killer left the office with an unhurried gait, jauntily pushing the cart along.

January 2016, Scavenger of the Seas, Carnivore Cruise Lines

“Ackles. Jensen Ackles. I was hired last week. Don’t you have any of my details?” Jensen waved his passport and letter of employment at the stern looking security guard who was lazily consulting his list of staff.

There was a long pause, during which Jensen fumed impotently. He was looking forward to charming the passengers with his musical ability, which accounted for the roll of sheet music under his arm and the guitar case strapped to his back.

Finally, the guard stabbed a finger onto his list. “Gotcha! Ackles, is it? Entertainment section. You’ll be in 2-14. Down the stairs to the left and head up towards the bow. The attendant will let you in.”

Hoisting up the rest of his luggage, Jensen inclined his head in a stately nod and headed onto the ship, excited to begin his cruise.

The cabin attendant was a young Asian man, who talked non-stop as he led the way down to the staff quarters. “Okay. I’m Osric, and I’m your cabin attendant for the length of your stay. That means I’ll bring you clean sheets once in a while. Just don’t push your luck the rest of the time. What are you in for? I mean how will you be entertaining our illustrious passengers?”

“I am a master of ambient noise,” smirked Jensen. “I’m the lounge singer that’s booked to be in the cocktail bar up on Deck 12.”

“Oh, cool.” Osric threw open the door to a small cabin. “This is yours for the duration. It’s not bad unless you need to stand upright or stretch. Be careful of the patrons up in that cocktail bar. Our last lounge singer was taken off the ship in Barbados suffering from extreme alcohol poisoning. He just didn’t know where to stop.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Jensen tossed his holdall onto the narrow bunk and looked around himself before stowing his guitar in a corner. “Good job I didn’t bring a cat with me,” he added. “Don’t think he’d enjoy me swinging him round in here.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy the delights of staff accommodation,” said Osric, from where he stood just outside the door. “You’ll need to be on the Promenade Deck at 4 p.m. to help wrangle the punters. We have the safety session, and you’ll have a section of the deck to take care of in the event that we hit an iceberg and sink like a stone. You’ll find the instructions in the drawer at the foot of your bunk along with your table number and all that good stuff. Ciao!” With that, he turned smartly and headed off to perform the same function for some other lucky passenger, leaving Jensen to contemplate his home, at least for the rest of the summer.

After a while, he sighed, opened the drawer Osric had indicated, and began to read the sheaf of notes that listed his duties while on board.

Shortly after Jensen had gone aboard, the gangplank was the scene of much fussing as a very beautiful but obviously high-maintenance blonde arrived at the dockside along with an entourage of tired looking hangers-on carrying her very handsome set of suitcases. The lady herself was exquisitely dressed in heavily embroidered silk and butter-soft leather, but her artfully made-up face wore a scowl that spoiled the entire effect.

“Your ticket, ma’am.” A uniformed officer with a badge that announced him to be Richard, the purser, stepped forward, and the blonde snapped her fingers to summon a small, very harried looking man forward.

“Well?” she tapped her foot, impatience personified. “Give him my ticket, Wester. Hurry up.”

The little man extended the required paperwork to Richard with a trembling hand and scuttled back to his position behind the blonde.

“Welcome to Carnivore Cruise Lines, Miss Cassidy,” said the purser, beaming in welcome as she sailed by him. “Benedict here will conduct you to your stateroom.” He gestured to another officer, who smiled and stepped forward to lead her to one of the more expensive cabins up towards the bow of the vessel. Wester, baggage in tow, staggered after her, only to be stopped by Richard as he attempted to set foot on the ship itself. “Very sorry,” said Richard. “But you must have a ticket in order to come on board.”

Wester nodded so rapidly it seemed as if his head might fall off. Pulling out a crumpled envelope, he displayed a second ticket — this time for a much cheaper cabin somewhere on the lowest of the passenger decks.

“Come Wester. Don’t keep the charming officer waiting,” called Miss Cassidy, and Wester straightened up as if stung and scurried after her, hauling her luggage with him.

As they disappeared into the ship, another blonde approached the purser, holding her papers out for him to peruse and then looking around her as if searching for someone. She wore a hat with a wide brim that shaded her face and a light summer dress that fluttered around her legs as she walked. Her only embellishment was a marcasite pin in the shape of an orca, and her suitcase was pasted with labels that suggested that she was a frequent traveler. Unlike Miss Cassidy, she walked hunched over as if apologizing for being there. Pausing while the purser ensured that her ticket and passport were in order, she seemed to try and shrink into the shadow of the ship, and once or twice she peered around as if expecting to be followed.

“Welcome aboard, Miss Tal. I hope you enjoy your stay with Carnivore Cruise Lines.” She looked up, then nodded and scurried inside as fast as she could. The purser turned to his companion, a dark-haired officer whose badge proclaimed him to be Dr. Collins, the ship’s medic. “You meet all kinds, don’t you?”

“You certainly do.” Dr. Collins indicated the empty gangway. “It was almost as if she thought she was being followed.” He heaved a sigh. “I do hope we’re not going to have mental health issues on this voyage.”

Jensen had read the information he’d been given several times and then gone to poke around and find the lounge where he would be working, hoping to familiarize himself with his surroundings before it was overrun with passengers. By the time 4 p.m. had come around, and the safety drill was to happen, he’d found his place on the Promenade. He was poised ready to do his duty passing out the life jackets and pointing out the muster station as the captain broadcast the details of what to do in case of emergency. He had around 100 passengers in his group and at first was too busy to pay them much attention, but it wasn’t long before he noticed the very large, very handsome specimen standing at the back.

Deftly fastening the clasps for the extremely elderly lady he’d been helping into her life jacket, he met long, tall and gorgeous’s eyes. “Need any help with your straitjacket, sir?”

He was rewarded with a dimpled smile. “You mean lifejacket, I hope?”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.” Jensen nodded approval as the lady he’d been helping struggled out of the lifejacket again. “I’m sure that Mrs. Elkins here will be glad to know the difference.”

As Mrs. Elkins giggled and handed the jacket back to him, the object of his interest moved closer. “I’m Jared,” he said, holding out his hand.

Shaking it, Jensen shivered a little. He liked his men big. Jensen wasn’t a small man, but this guy must have at least 3 or 4 inches on him, and Jared’s hand was large enough that Jensen’s own disappeared, enveloped in its grip. Jensen found himself wondering what those huge hands might do to a lover. He bit his lip. “Call me Jensen. First cruise?” he asked.

“Yep. What about you? I guess you’ve been doing them since forever.”

“Nah. First time for me too. I’ll be your lounge singer for the next ten days,” said Jensen.

Just at that moment, a cranky older gentleman demanded his assistance in getting out of his lifejacket, and by the time he was done, Jared had left the deck.

The drill was soon over, and Jensen followed a gaggle of excitedly chattering tourists into the body of the ship and made his way up towards Deck 12, to the aft lounge where he would be working. It was as yet empty of all but the bartender, a very good looking woman who called him over and slid a glass across the bar to him.

“Name your poison,” she said. “You’re going to need it to cope with some of these entitled jerks. I’m Sam, by the way. I was told by the staff grapevine that we were going to have a hot piano player. I’m guessing you’re it — unless I just won the lottery and there’s someone else who’s equally hot. Welcome to the Scavenger of the Seas.”

“Scotch, please,” said Jensen. “Can’t speak to the hot, but I’m definitely your new piano player. Just call me Mr. Bojangles.”

“Oh, God! If you actually do sing that, you’re dead to me.” She poured a healthy tumbler of scotch into his glass and smirked. “Our last incumbent did it every night, at least three times. I hope you’ve got some new music.”

“I do, too,” he grinned. “I can’t stand the stupid song either. I’m Jensen Ackles, but I answer to ‘Hey you’ and ‘Shut the fuck up’ just as readily.” He raised his glass to her and winked.

“Good to know,” said Sam. “Your instrument of torture is over behind the curtain there, if you’d like to go make sure it’s in tune. So far as I know, nobody’s poured beer into it yet. That’s the main hazard you may have to face. Seems that kind of thing doesn’t do pianos any good at all.”

“It really doesn’t.” Jensen went over to find it and was very pleasantly surprised to discover a grand piano, polished to a brilliant shine. A quick glide over the keys produced the sort of tone that he felt would be wasted on the kind of typical lounge music he was contracted to play. So far, everything seemed to be going to plan. He felt relaxed and ready for the change of scenery this job would bring.

It didn’t take Matt long to stow his things in his small, but adequate, stateroom. It wasn’t like he could expect Interpol to shell out the big bucks, after all. Full dinner service wouldn’t start until the following night — there wasn’t really time with a 6 p.m. sailing — but the dining room was open with limited service, and the buffet on the Promenade Deck was open already and included with the price of his ticket. He wondered if he should wait here for word about a meeting or go find something to eat. He’d discreetly flashed his badge as he boarded, asking Dr. Collins, the ship’s doctor, for an appointment with the captain. The doctor had said that he’d set it up and let him know.

He didn’t want other passengers to know he was a cop, so drawing attention to himself with meetings with the captain wasn’t in his game plan. He knew there’d be gossip among the staff, but hopefully he could keep his status from becoming common knowledge. He was still making up his mind about getting food when a soft knock interrupted his deliberations.

“Hi,” a short, bearded man with a bright smile greeted as he opened the door. “I’m Rob. I’ll be your cabin attendant for this voyage. If you have laundry, just leave it out for me in one of these bags. There’s also a menu of services available, from laundry to a large variety of food and snack items. Just fill out the form and I’ll take care of it, or you can call cabin services directly from your cabin telephone.” He went through the clearly familiar spiel, indicating the bags, forms and telephone as he referenced them. He gave a small bow and was backing out of the room when he stopped and continued, “Oh, I almost forgot. Doc Collins asked me to give you this.”

Matt inspected the seal, pleased to see no obvious sign of tampering, and then unfolded the note Rob had given him. The message informed him that the captain would be happy to receive him in his office on Deck 8 at 9 p.m. That left plenty of time for Matt to get himself something to eat and relax a bit before the meeting.

Jared took advantage of his height which allowed him to see over the heads of the throng of people crowding the rail to watch the shoreline fade as the ship pulled away from its berth. This was his first cruise, and while he was here to work, he was determined to enjoy at least some aspects of the experience. His thoughts drifted to the drop-dead gorgeous lounge singer who had monitored the safety drill. Jared wasn’t that experienced in these sorts of things — there wasn’t time for real relationships in his line of work, and he was uninterested in any other sort — but he was fairly sure he’d seen his interest returned in the man’s brilliant green eyes. He frowned at himself. These kinds of thoughts were the last sort of distraction he needed if he wanted a chance to nab his elusive prey.

The Green Tornado, now he was frustrating. Jared always thought of his nemesis as a man, although he didn’t really know why. He’d never had any reason to believe the thief was either gender over the other. He scarcely knew anything about him beyond his impeccable taste in jewelry and the ability to leave absolutely no evidence behind. Leaving a calling card to taunt him told him nothing except that The Green Tornado was a jerk!

Ever since Jared had almost caught the thief fencing an exquisite emerald and diamond brooch once owned by Queen Marie of Romania and then lost him in a marina in Orlando, Jared felt like the Tornado had been leaving the cards just for him. The brooch had later turned up in Nassau, and when Jared finally got permission to investigate — just to ask questions, no dispensation to act in any official capacity — the trail had led to Lukka Kairi Restaurant and Bar, where he was presented with an amazing meal courtesy of the damned Green Tornado, who had left specific instructions as to what should be served to him.

The chef himself had delivered the meal — a fabulous Bahamian dish consisting of fresh-caught fish braised in a savory coconut sauce, served with a green plantain preparation called mofongo — along with the ubiquitous white linen card with the logo he’d since become so familiar with embossed on the face. The local police had found no clues or leads, and Interpol had been just as flummoxed as he was. All anyone had was the knowledge that a local model-turned-businessman’s wife had purchased the incomparable piece of jewelry for a paltry $26,000 from a well-known local grifter who had since disappeared completely. All the evidence there was that The Green Tornado had been involved was contained in Jared’s card, which was, of course, entirely devoid of clues outside of the obvious, even after careful examination by the finest forensic talent available to the local law enforcement, Interpol, and the FBI.

So, yes. His quarry was frustrating. And getting distracted by gorgeous green eyes, freckles, and bow legs was certainly not going to help him catch the thief. Jared had bet a good part of his savings (even with his connections, ten day cruises weren’t cheap) on the notion that this time he’d catch the thief — or at least figure out who he or she was — so he’d better stay focused.

Most of the other passengers had wandered off, and the view of the coast had faded into the mist while Jared had been lost in thought. He shook his head and set off to find something to eat for dinner. And if he wound up in a lounge somewhat later, it would be because he needed a drink, and not because he hoped he might find an extremely hot, freckle-faced man singing there.

When Matt knocked on the door to the captain’s office, he was surprised when it was Dr. Collins who opened the door. But that suited him just fine; the more help he had in finding and apprehending The Jackal, the better. Dr. Collins introduced Captain James Patrick Stuart, who motioned him to have a seat in a comfortable chair in a cozy seating area on the other side of the office from his imposing mahogany desk. The captain and the doctor joined him, and before Matt had a chance to say anything beyond pleasantries and thanks for meeting him so promptly, the captain cut to the chase.

“Misha tells me you’re with Interpol,” Capt. Stuart said. “Since you flashed your badge, I presume that your presence here is official rather than for a holiday. How can we help?”

Matt took a deep breath before answering.

The captain seemed to want to be helpful, but Matt had found that most people reacted badly upon learning there was likely an infamous, international assassin in their vicinity, much less trapped on a ship with them. “Yes, I’m Agent Matthew Bomer with Interpol. We have reason to believe that The Jackal is aboard the ship.”

Dr. Collins reacted with a sharp indrawn breath, but Capt. Stuart just calmly asked, “Are the passengers in danger?”

“No, sir,” Matt answered. Honestly, it was as good a reaction as he could’ve hoped for. He would need both men’s discretion and probably their assistance too if he was going to catch his target. “We don’t believe so. We don’t believe they’ve ever killed anyone outside of a contract, and unless they feel threatened, they’re not likely to start. And my orders are to follow, identify, and limit any threat to civilians. If we can keep my presence here among us, then there’s no reason to believe anyone is in any danger.”

“Please,” the captain responded and smiled for the first time. “Call me James. So we’ll keep this just between us. I can grant you access to most areas of the ship — except for passenger quarters of course — without anyone thinking twice, if that would help. What else can we do?”

“Well,” Matt addressed both of them with his response, thinking that having the ship’s doctor involved as well was a stroke of luck, given the biggest lead he had. “The only information we have is that the killer has six toes on the left foot.” Aside from the fact that they can kill completely silently with garrote, knife, or even their bare hands. Facts he decided probably shouldn’t be shared at the moment. Not that any of that would be particularly helpful in identifying the suspect anyway.

“How in the world?” Dr. Collins interjected. “Where would you get information like that? Especially without any additional information about him.”

“I know, right?” Matt responded, lapsing into the slang idiom the interns used. “Why couldn’t there be anything useful? Height, weight, age, gender, anything. But at least it’s fairly distinctive. Anyway, I got the information from my boss’s file on The Jackal. Same place I got the tip that they’d be here.”

“Why don’t you ask your boss how he knew?” James asked reasonably.

“He’s dead,” Matt answered shortly, stoically ignoring the twinge he still felt at the loss of his mentor. “Killed by The Jackal, who then deleted the file. Fortunately, I was able to recover some of the contents. Perhaps the rest of the file had more information, but this is what I have right now. My team is trying to reconstruct all of the information Jeff had received in an effort to understand his conclusions, but we couldn’t let this opportunity slip away while we backfill the data. Besides, I trust his analysis and his instinct. He was rarely wrong.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” James said, comfortingly. He was better at this than any of the colleagues who had actually known Jeff. Matt just nodded, and the captain, seeming to understand that he didn’t want to dwell on it, returned to the problem at hand. “Is there anything else we can do this evening?”

“Can I have a look at the passenger manifest?” He wasn’t sure what he hoped to find, but some background on his suspect pool might help him eliminate at least some of them. “And crew as well, particularly any new ones?”

The captain nodded at the doctor, who provided the documents he’d requested. Apparently, the request had been anticipated.

“Here’s a copy of the manifest and the jackets of the crew sailing with us for the first time. If you need other information, I can get that together for you. Or you can access the computer, if that’s easier. Let me know and I’ll get you set up on our system.”

“Thank you, Dr. Collins,” Matt responded gratefully. “This’ll really help.”

“Misha,” Dr. Collins corrected. “Please call me Misha.”

“Thank you, Misha,” Matt said agreeably. “And yeah, if I can just look at your records on the computer, that would be great. “Would I be able to look up more information on the passengers than just the list of names and cabins I have here?”

“I’ll give you access to everything except for their credit card and other financial information,” Misha responded helpfully. “I’ll talk to Richard and get that set up in the morning and let you know.”

“Sounds great,” Matt stood and shook their hands again in turn. “Thank you, Capt—” The captain raised his hand to interrupt, warm brown eyes twinkling, and Matt corrected himself with a smile. “James. Misha.”

Back in his cabin, Matt took a cursory look at the passenger manifest, but nothing caught his attention. Flipping through the crew files though, was a different story. Hmm. Ackles, Jensen. Jensen Ackles. J Ackles. Surely that couldn‘t be a coincidence. Well, he knew where he was going to start as soon as he got computer access.

The dining room was filling up when Jensen peeked in, trying to decide whether he was ready yet to mingle with the passengers to such a degree. He was about to back out and go find somewhere else to grab a snack when he was bumped from behind. Turning to find out who it was that had apparently come to dinner without his glasses on, he found himself face to face with an extremely handsome man with a pair of brilliant blue eyes. For a moment, he stood gaping, almost ready to turn and run but collected his thoughts rapidly as he recalled his present situation.

“Excuse me. I do apologize.” The vision was speaking, but the words didn’t really register with Jensen, because those eyes were looking at him, looking into him, and just for a moment, he lost all power of thought.

“I... it’s...” Jensen gave himself an internal prod. Okay, so the man was smoking hot. He was supposed to be working for the passengers, and slutting around on his first evening aboard would get him attention he neither needed nor wanted. “I thought I was going for dinner, but from the looks of it, the meal is half over. Besides, there are far too many people in there for me. I think I’ll just go on up to The Sound Garden and see if I can get some tapas or something there.”

“The Sound Garden?” Blue-eyes raised an eyebrow in polite inquiry, and Jensen once again felt the urge to lick him all over.

“It’s the bar I’m supposed to entertain people in every evening. There’s a truly beautiful piano up there, but I’ve got my guitar too. I wanna start doing some stuff that isn’t Barry Manilow inspired.” He lowered his lashes and licked his lips, knowing that he was interesting his companion when he saw the icy blue of those gorgeous eyes almost vanish as the man’s pupils dilated. “I’m Jensen,” he said. “Wandering minstrel and extremely poor sailor. I hope to God we don’t hit any turbulence. I’m not sure how I’ll cope.”

“Pleased to meet you, Jensen,” said the other, extending a hand to shake Jensen’s. “I’m Matt. I’m here for pleasure rather than for work. I’m celebrating a break-up, and a drink or two will be a good start. Mind if I accompany you?”

“Not at all.” Jensen turned to lead the way to the forward stairway. “A break-up? Yeah, I’ve had a relationship or two like that myself,” he said, smirking. “The bar is at the back of the ship with a view of whatever’s out there beyond the ship. Me, I’m more interested in a couple of shots of bourbon and a dish of popcorn shrimp.”

“You’re a simple man, I see.” Matt followed Jensen along the corridor and up the stairs, then paused on the threshold of the bar. It was, as Jensen had said, situated so that the passengers would be able to look out at the panorama beyond the ship. Right at that moment, the sun was almost gone and there were streaks of gold, orange and carmine spanning the sky. The sea itself had taken on a luminous blackness in the fading light, and each ripple and wavelet held an oily sheen reminiscent of hematite. He whistled softly as he gazed out at the view. “I think I want to move my bed into here for the rest of the cruise.”

Grinning, Jensen indicated the little platform where his piano and his guitar were stowed, waiting. “Be my guest. There’s plenty of room on the stage. You’ll be a darn-sight more of an attraction than me, especially if you sleep naked.”

Sam, who had spotted Jensen and was already pouring a couple of glasses of bourbon, let out a little snort of laughter. “Well, ain’t you a thoughtful boy? Did you bring him for me?” she asked.

“Naughty, naughty!” Jensen chuckled. “I think there’s something in the staff handbook about molesting the guests. They fine you if they find tooth marks on the punters!”

“Hey! I’m right here. Ease off on the asides.” Matt was smiling a little, and as he stepped up to the bar, he gave Sam a much wider smile. “Lovely lady, I hope you have good red wine back there?”

“I’ll leave it to you to say whether it’s good or not, but you get top marks for the flattery,” said Sam, smirking. “Just keep talking!” She foraged behind the bar and produced a bottle of Quieto 3 Malbec. “This is from Argentina. I don’t drink wine, but I’m told that it’s very good. Wanna brave it?”

“A 2009? I certainly do.” Matt smiled as he studied the bottle she’d held out to him.

While Sam was busy pouring Matt’s drink for him, Jensen had taken his glass and wandered over to the stage and was now sitting on the edge of it, busily tuning his guitar, his drink at his feet. Satisfied with the sound at last, he began to play a series of finger exercises but paused as Matt came over with his wine.

“Are you going to sing?” Jensen looked up as Matt picked up one of the chairs at a nearby table and brought it over. He sat down, looking expectant, and Jensen gave a chuckle deep in his chest.

“Well, all right. I already promised Sam not to sing anything like ‘Mr. Bojangles’, so we’ll have none of that.” He noodled around on the frets for a moment, and then something gelled and he launched into a riff that Matt recognized to be ‘Like Rock ‘n Roll on the Radio.’ Jensen’s voice was husky and sweet, and after a moment, Matt began to join in, harmonizing effortlessly.

“Dude!” As the song ended, Jensen smiled. “You’re better than me. That was awesome!” He launched into ‘Bad Company’ without giving it too much thought, and once again, Matt joined him. Sam, who had come out from behind the bar to listen, applauded them as the song came to an end.

“You guys! That was amazing.” It seemed as if dinner was coming to an end because one or two people had entered the bar, and Sam regretfully made her way back to the bar to attend to them. Setting his guitar back on its stand, Jensen rose to his feet and went to sit at the piano.

“It really was.” Matt rose to his feet too, his empty glass in his hand. “I hope to be back long before your performance is done. Meanwhile, you didn’t eat anything. Can I go find you sustenance?”

“Please.” Jensen gestured to the room at large where people were gradually drifting in. “My first break is at 10. I’ll be good and hungry by then.”

“Your wish is my command.” Matt went over to the bar and set down his glass, then blew a kiss to Sam from the tip of his finger and left.

Jensen watched him go and then began to play ‘As Time Goes By,’ letting his music take over as he began his shift.

He was almost done with a request from a newly-wed couple who had asked him for ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ when he noticed Mr. Tall and Gorgeous from the deck safety drill sitting listening to him. He was nursing a highball and seemed lost in thought as he gazed at a small piece of paper, but as Jensen finished his song and rose from his seat at the piano to take a break the guy — whose body really did seem to be a wonderland — slipped whatever it was into his pocket, raised his head and joined in with the smattering of applause.

“You’re looking a little down in the dumps. Jared, isn’t it?” Jensen paused at his table on his way to the bar.

“Yeah, Jared,” said Tall & Gorgeous. “Nah. Not really. Am just thinking about life, that’s all.” Jared lifted his eyes to give Jensen a wan smile. “You know, sometimes what you’re supposed to do isn’t actually what you really need to do, and when they conflict, it can lead to all kinds of aggravation.”

“Yeah.” Jensen returned the smile. “I’ve been there. You want a drink?”

“Wouldn’t mind, thank you.” The smile widened. “Whisky and ginger for me, please.”

Drinks were swiftly obtained, and Jensen joined Jared at his table for the few minutes of his break.

“You feel like talking about it?” asked Jensen, but Jared shrugged as he raised his glass to Jensen in thanks.

“Still trying to decide what I should do, thanks.” He frowned. “Let’s say that you’ve spent the last six years of your professional life on a project, and you know that now’s the time and you’ll nail it down at last, but you’re told that you can’t do it and that some other bastard will take over from there. What would you do?”

“Dude, I’m the last person to be asking for advice. I’m on the run from my own problems.” Jensen laughed softly. “I guess I’d step back and evaluate the situation. Is that what you’re doing?”

“Not exactly.” Jared laughed again. “I mean, that’s not exactly who I am. I’m more the, ‘Do it! Do it now,’ type. Gets me into trouble every time, but I still do it!”

“So, I guess that the cruise is your way of dealing with your dilemma?” Jensen gave him a smile.

“Oh, I’m just jumping in with both feet and damn the consequences.” The laugh Jared gave sounded somewhat bitter, and Jensen was at a loss as to what to say in response. However, just at that moment, Matt arrived with Jensen’s promised food.

“Hello,” he said, placing a covered dish down in front of Jensen with a flourish. “Couldn’t find any popcorn shrimp, but you seem like a fish and chips kind of man. I hope I’m right. I rushed it straight up from the buffet kitchen.” He removed the metal cover and bowed, then proceeded to bring small jars of ketchup and tartar sauce from his pocket, following up with a knife and fork rolled into a napkin. “Dinner is served, sir.”

Jared was watching the display with his mouth open. “Where did you find him? Can I borrow him from time to time?” As Jensen began to introduce the two of them, Jared reached out and filched one of Jensen’s fries, making Matt laugh out loud.

“I can take you downstairs and show you where they came from,” Matt murmured as Jensen thwacked the back of his fork down on Jared’s knuckles and then continued to eat as if nothing had happened.

“Oh, man,” said Jared, rubbing his knuckles. “You’re really quick with a weapon.”

“So tell me, Jensen.” Matt looked interested in Jared’s observation, but then leaned forward to give Jensen a sweet smile. “I know you’re working right now, but how would you feel about a swim later?”

“Seriously?” Jensen paused in his chewing. “Can I take a raincheck on that? I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night, but another night, I’d love to.”

Matt nodded his understanding, and if he seemed disappointed, then that was only to be expected. Shortly after, Jensen rose with a fervent thank you to go back to finish his set, and Matt took Jared away to show him where to find his own fish and chips.

It was nearly 1 a.m. when Jensen took his next break. The evening had gone as well as could be expected. He’d only played ‘Mr. Bojangles’ once and ‘Piano Man’ twice — he couldn’t refuse the requests, after all. Hopefully Sam would forgive him. Jensen was surprised to see the blonde who’d been lurking furtively at the back of the bar approach. She’d stood out to him mainly because she’d clearly been trying not to draw attention to herself. She was pretty enough in an understated way but dressed simply, and most people probably wouldn’t have given her a second look. He’d noticed her only because she had an apparently nervous habit of playing with a pin depicting an orca that she wore. But as she made her way through the half-empty bar towards him, and he blinked at the sudden change in her.

She had pulled her simple ponytail up into a stylish twist and pasted a welcoming smile on her face. Her posture screamed for attention, and Jensen was stunned by the transformation. She would look at home in the most elegant surroundings, and Jensen could scarcely believe it was the same girl. He wondered what her story was.

“Nice set,” the girl smiled warmly. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“No need,” Jensen held up his still partly full glass. “I’m glad you enjoyed the music.”

“I did. Not what I was expecting.” She held out her hand for Jensen to shake. “I’m Alona. Alona Tal.”

“Jensen Ackles,” Jensen responded automatically and shook her hand. “What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know,” Alona answered, smiling and ostentatiously checking him out. “Less talent and more… Most entertainers in these places are aging, no-talent hacks counting on the captive audience.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you really think?” Jensen was careful not to sigh audibly. So much for keeping his head down. Two smoking hot guys sniffing around and now this … whatever she was. He couldn’t help but wonder which of them had an agenda and what it might be.

“I’m sorry,” Alona smiled, not at all apologetic. “You just surprised me, that’s all.”

“In a good way, I hope?” Jensen mentally kicked himself. He was so bad at this. He hoped that Alona didn’t get the wrong idea. The last thing he needed was someone like Alona hanging around all of the time. Well, Matt and Jared’s attentions weren’t going to help him keep a low profile either, but he couldn’t find it in himself to begrudge them. Alona, on the other hand… He’d have to try to let her down easy. “Was there something I could help you with? A request, maybe?”

“A request? Sure.” Alona’s smile broadened, and she winked saucily at him. “What time do you get off?”

“Umm…” Jensen stammered. This wasn’t going at all like he’d wanted. He’d sort of expected the odd cougar here or there, but nothing like this. What had he gotten himself into? “I’m here ‘til 3, but-”

“I’ll look for you then,” Alona smirked.

“But it’s been a long day, and I just want to get some sleep,” Jensen protested. “Love the pin, by the way.”

“Thank you. It was my mother’s.” Alona paused, looking hopeful, but then sighed. “Another time then,” she answered agreeably, nodding, and tucked a bill into the tip jar on top of his piano before heading back to her spot in the back of the bar.

“What’d I say about that song?” Sam approached with a fresh drink for him. She handed it to him and then propped a sign up next to his tip jar. “There, that should do it.”

Jensen laughed at the sign which read Please don’t ask me to play Mr. Bojangles. The bartender hates it. “Hopefully.”

“People always want to keep the bartender happy. It’ll work.”

The rest of the night was relatively uneventful. Sam’s sign appeared to be working because he hadn’t even heard the song mentioned again. Even though not all of the songs were among his favorites, Jensen just enjoyed making music. He lost himself in it, determined to ignore the slight blonde lurking in the back of the room.

By the time he finished his last set, Jensen had almost forgotten about her. He hung around, helping Sam clean up after his set and barely noticed when Alona slipped out of the lounge. Soon enough, they were done, and the two new friends set out for the crew quarters and a sorely needed good night’s sleep.

Neither of them noticed when Alona sneaked around the corner and followed. And no-one saw when she watched Jensen unlock his door and let himself in. Most of the passengers would be thinking about getting up to face the morning in only a couple of hours, so there were no watching eyes when she turned to slink off to her own cabin.

It was not quite midday when Jared woke the next morning. It took him a few moments to place the slight rocking sensation and to remember where he was. His head was still spinning from the drastically unexpected changes over the last few days. He didn’t exactly regret his choices, but he did think maybe he should. He must be crazy to drop everything and chase off after the prey that had confounded him for half a dozen years.

The elusive Tornado had very nearly cost him his career when he’d been fresh out of Quantico, still wet behind the ears. But even now there was something about the way the Tornado fascinated him. He hadn’t given it a second thought when the thief had dangled that clue in front of him. He’d barely taken the time to request leave, before he’d booked passage on the first boat he could find to the Bahamas. Not that he necessarily thought he’d be lucky enough to be on the same cruise as his quarry, but he was certain that he should keep his eyes open just in case.

In the meantime, he was determined to enjoy his first cruise. His stomach chose that moment to rumble, announcing that it was time for him to find something to break his fast. He showered quickly and went in search of coffee and something to eat.

He’d seen a sign advertising an omelet bar at the buffet on the Promenade deck the night before when Matt had shown him where to find the fish and chips. He lost no time heading back there, and sure enough, the buffet more than satisfied his need for sustenance and caffeine. Once fortified, he set out to explore the ship.

Near the top of the ship, on Deck 11, he found the Sports Deck, with a sparkling swimming pool and a huge, well-appointed fitness room. He noted the location of the gym, deciding to visit soon to work off all this food he’d been eating. He was just making his way down the stairs to explore Deck 10 when he came upon an elegantly-dressed blonde sprawled on the floor near the elevator clutching at her ankle and haranguing a frazzled-looking man.

“Wester! You incompetent fool!” she was shouting at the man standing next to her wringing his hands. He looked as if he’d been trying to help her up before she brushed him off and clutched at her ankle. Now he clearly didn’t quite know what to do. “It’s your job to make sure nothing trips me! Look at that tattered carpeting! It’s no wonder I tripped and fell with that big snag! We should have taken a different path.”

Jared could see nothing wrong with the carpeting. In fact, it appeared newer and much more expensive than any carpeting on his passenger deck. The ridiculous boots she was wearing with the even more ridiculous heels, however, would likely cause anyone to trip. But then Jared never had understood the point of women’s fashion anywhere, much less on a cruise ship in full sail.

“I’m so sorry, Ms. Cassidy,” the woebegone Wester was apologizing obsequiously. “May I help you up?”

“I can’t stand on this ankle, you stupid little man!” Ms. Cassidy continued castigating the poor man.

Under most circumstances, Jared would be among the first to offer to help when anyone was injured or in need. But in this case, he figured he’d be just as likely to get sued as anything, so he decided to err on the side of caution. “I’ll just go find someone to help,” Jared offered.

Wester threw him a grateful look, and Ms. Cassidy said loftily, “That would be useful.”

Jared rushed down the stairs, looking for anyone who worked on the vessel. The first person he encountered was the cabin attendant Osric, and the two of them hurried back to Deck 10. Osric paused on the way to pick up a phone and ask someone to join them. Ms. Cassidy was still berating her groveling attendant. Osric quickly intervened and sent the pitiable man for a glass of water. Wester appeared thrilled to have something helpful to do that got him out of his employer’s presence. Soon enough, another individual appeared with a wheelchair, and the two crew members helped the woman settle into it and wheeled her off to the med bay with Wester trailing dutifully behind.

Jared shook his head as he continued his exploration of the ship. It took all kinds, he thought, grateful that he wasn’t in Wester’s shoes. Deck 9 had elegant suites and staterooms and a little marketplace with high-end shops offering things like handbags and jewelry as well as a large bar. Jared didn’t expect he’d visit Deck 9 much. Or Deck 8, for that matter, as it had the bridge, along with more accommodations, clearly still rather up-market. The further down he went, the less ornate the decor. Deck 6 was strictly a passenger deck with mostly modest staterooms and a few balcony cabins aft. Deck 5 was the Promenade Deck with most of the common areas, bars, as well as the buffet Matt had shown him the day before, where he’d also found the excellent omelet he’d had for breakfast. The Mezzanine Deck was on the fourth deck and had more common areas and a dining hall. The galley and two dining halls were on the Lobby Deck, and then Decks 1 and 2 were the lowest passenger decks. He’d been lucky enough to get a porthole cabin on Deck 6, which had given him a bit of a view outside, for the price of an inside room.

By the time he’d finished his exploration, it was just after noon, and he headed back to the Promenade to see what he could find for lunch. Hopefully he’d run into Matt or even Jensen, although he didn’t really expect to find Jensen up and about until much later.

Dimitri — call me Misha — Collins was sitting in his office with his feet on his desk, eating a late breakfast. He was prepared for the usual traffic, since he knew that some of the older passengers would be hitting him up for indigestion medication after indulging in the buffets the night before. He was just applying honey to his last piece of toast, when he heard the commotion in the corridor outside. Smirking to himself, he flung open the door, toast in hand, expecting to see a quarrelsome couple standing outside. Instead, there was a very skinny little man whose knees appeared to be buckling under the weight of an elegant, though apparently displeased blonde woman. A wheelchair was stationed in the corridor behind them, and there were a couple of staff members disappearing down the passageway, apparently feeling that their task had been achieved. Misha couldn’t find it in his heart to blame them. As Misha ushered the little man and his burden into the surgery, he noted that the woman’s vocabulary was both wide ranging and sufficiently inventive to raise blisters, and that she wasn’t at all happy.

“Put me down, you unspeakably cretinous little waste of skin!” she shrieked as he staggered into the surgery, red-faced and puffing so hard that Misha thought he would hyperventilate. Swiftly indicating the examination table, he waited as the poor man set his screeching, vociferous burden down with a thump in the midst of her derogatory tirade.

The small man smiled apologetically at Misha and headed for the hills while she hurled epithets after him, her face contorted with fury. “Yes! Get out of here, you pathetic little weasel,” she yelled after him as he fled.

Turning to face Misha, she favored him with a smile and a fluttering of eyelashes.

“What can I do for you today, ma’am?” he asked, wondering if she’d verbally abuse him too.

“Oh, doctor,” she cooed, her attitude changing completely. “I hurt my ankle. You just can’t find good people these days, no matter how hard you try, can you? I tripped over the badly laid carpet on the stairs on Deck 10. Please make sure the person responsible for maintaining that deck is fired.”

“Umm... absolutely, Ms...?” Misha was sure that nothing he said would change her worldview, so he elected to try and discover just why she was there.

“Cassidy, but call me Katie, won’t you? I never stand on ceremony.” She fluttered her hands. “But if you wouldn’t mind taking care of my ankle for me? I’d be soooo grateful. There must be a shot of something you could give me to stop it hurting so very much.”

“Oh, yes. Certainly, Ms... Katie. Right away.” He moved to inspect the leg she was indicating. It was clad in a very elegant, very highly polished leather boot with a four-inch stiletto heel. “I‘m going to have to take off your boot, I’m afraid, or I won’t be able to see what kind of damage has been done.”

She frowned. “Do you have to?”

“I’m afraid I do,” he replied.

“Oh well. I suppose I can always put it back on after you give me my shot,” she said, waving him on. “They’re my favorite boots, you know,” she murmured.

“And they certainly are very nice indeed,” said Misha, removing the offending article and taking a look at the rapidly swelling ankle that was revealed. He gasped, then paused for a moment, his eyes widening as he took in the woman’s foot. “It... it looks as though it might be broken,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think you’ll be able to wear the boots again for a week or so.”

“But that’s ridiculous. It can’t be broken.” She pouted, fixed Misha with a look that announced that she was really not pleased. “Just let me have that shot, and I’ll be right as rain.”

Sighing, the doctor turned away and produced a syringe and a vial of sterile water. Swiftly injecting her, he gave her a reassuring smile. “Now I’m going to strap up your ankle so that it will stop it moving quite so much. I advise that you stay off it for today, and when we arrive in Nassau tomorrow, we’ll get an X-ray done.” As he was speaking, he was applying adhesive strapping to the affected limb and splinting it so that it was as immobile as possible. “Now, if I can escort you to your stateroom, you can rest for a little while. What do you say?”

“That sounds wonderful.” She watched as he pulled the wheelchair into the room with them, and turned it so that it stood ready for use.

“We’ll take the elevator,” he said. “I have a key.” He held out his hand to help her down from the examination table and into the wheelchair then handed her the boot that had been removed a few minutes earlier. She rewarded him with a sunny smile and squeezed his arm as he lowered her gently into the chair.

“I’m so glad to have met you, Doctor. I do hope you’ll stay and have a little drink with me before you have to return to your lonely surgery. You’ve been so kind; I’d like to get to know you better.”

“Of course I will,” he said as he pushed the chair out into the corridor once more and turned it towards the elevator which would take her back to her room. “I’d love that.”

Osric watched as Jensen finally emerged from his cabin and made his way towards the stairs that would take him to the upper decks and possibly something to eat. He definitely had to hand it to the man. Jensen was casually but neatly turned out, clean shaven and clad in a dark green Henley and jeans. Still, Osric was somewhat irritated by the fact that if Jensen hadn’t slept late, he would have been able to get all his tasks over and done with, and that would have freed him up to do what he’d actually come here to do. Muttering to himself, he pushed open the door to Jensen’s cabin and began to clean it.

He noticed that Jensen had stowed everything away neatly and made an attempt at making up his bunk. Shaking his head at the untidy effort, Osric pulled the bedding free and began to do it properly.

Humming as he worked, Osric made the bed, then went and cleaned out the small washbasin and shower, capping Jensen’s toothpaste and setting his razor and shaving cream onto the counter. He was just finishing when he heard a sound and poked his head out into the main cabin area.

Alona Tal was standing there, looking a little guilty. She was dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, but once again, she was wearing her orca pin. Osric emerged from the shower cubicle to face her.

“Uh, I was hoping to find Jensen,” she said, turning red.

“You missed him. He went off for breakfast about 20 minutes ago.” Osric flashed her a smile. “He said something about going up to the bar to practice, or something, once he got some food. I guess you could look for him there.”

“Oh, thank you. Yes, of course.” Alona nodded to Osric and headed out of the room, apparently relieved that he hadn’t commented on the impropriety of guests in the staff residential area. He watched her go with a smile of satisfaction and then gave the room a good once over, smoothed down the bed covers and left, locking the cabin behind him.

It wasn’t too long after that that Osric left the staff quarters, having dispensed with his crisp white jacket and orderly uniform in favor of jeans and a T-shirt advertising the joys of a long-ago Metallica concert. Making his way up a couple of levels, he found Wester slouching his way towards his own cabin.

“Do you drink?” the little man suddenly said as he drew level with Osric.

“Uh... once in a while,” Osric replied, somewhat surprised to be addressed.

“Well, come and have a drink with me. I need someone to talk sense into me.” Wester eyed Osric with such a beseeching gaze that he couldn’t say no.

“Just hold on a few minutes. I’ll be right with you.” Osric went to Alona’s door and unlocked it with his set of keys. “My girlfriend left her sunglasses,” he explained, knowing full well that he’d seen them tucked into the neck of Alona’s top a little earlier. “She wanted me to fetch them.”

“Women!” Wester sighed. “Can’t live with them. Can’t shoot them.”

“You’ve got it bad,” said Osric, as he efficiently searched everywhere in the cabin. “Do you suppose she even has a pair of sunglasses?” He shook his head, pulled out his phone and sent a text. “There. I told her to go buy a pair. Come on then. Let’s hit the bar.”

Jared made his way up to the top deck to the quiet little bar where he’d met the singer, Jensen, the previous night. He’d liked Jensen a lot, and Jared was somehow hoping that he could spend a little more time with the handsome pianist.

He made his way into the bar and over to the counter, where a man was polishing glasses with an air of great concentration. The only other occupants were a couple of young men sitting by the window, one of them the skinny, dark-haired guy that the clumsy, self-entitled woman had been haranguing that morning. His manic gestures and odd facial expressions seemed to suggest that he was approaching intoxication, if indeed he hadn’t reached it long ago. The other was Asian, and he seemed vaguely familiar to Jared. As he waited for the bartender to notice him, he saw that the skinny guy had burst into tears and was becoming more and more agitated.

“She treats me like shit! SHIT I tell you!” he yelled.

“She’s not a very nice person, is she?” That was the Asian guy’s contribution.

“She has guns, knives. She’s even got a fucking garrote. She threatened to cut off my nose if I tell anyone what she does.”

“Listen, Travis, you don’t have to stay with her if she’s that bad.” The other spoke so softly that Jared could barely hear him, but still he found himself engrossed in their conversation. He would have gone over to see if he could offer help, but at that moment, the bartender came over to take his order.

“Hey, what can I get you?” Jared half turned.

“I’ll take a beer,” he said, unable to tear his eyes away from the two oddballs with their strange conversation.

Putting a bottle of Shiner Bock down on the counter beside Jared, the bartender chuckled. Jared noticed that he was wearing a name tag announcing that his name was Steve and murmured his thanks as he lifted the bottle in a brief toast.

“Enjoying the floor show, I see,” smirked Steve, leaning against the bar for a moment. “You missed the opening act, where he was wringing his hands and telling the other dude that, ‘She makes me steal for her. I was never a thief ‘til I met her, and now I can’t get away.’ It was very moving.”

“Oh, really?” Jared shot another glance over at the little man, who now appeared to be quite drunk. Something twisted in his chest. Could this unlikely little man actually be the person he’d been chasing for so long or was his prey more likely to be the elegant woman who treated him so badly? Either way, he was so close to achieving his goal that he wanted to sing and dance.

He did neither, merely smirking at Steve and toasting the two oddballs on the other side of the room with his half empty bottle.

“I guess it takes all sorts, doesn’t it? If you ask me, he’s exactly the kind of guy that would be in an abusive relationship.”

“No kidding.” Steve had gone back to polishing the glasses, and Jared was about to take his departure to go find out just who the woebegone little man was when the door was pushed open, and Jensen came in.

He came over to Jared at once, his eyes crinkling up as he favored Jared with a grin. Steve passed over a beer without putting down the glass he was holding, and Jensen murmured a thank you. Turning to look at the pair by the window, Jensen raised a hand to acknowledge Osric.

“You know them?” Jared tore his eyes from Jensen’s profile to indicate Osric, who was waving back to Jensen with a cheeky smirk.

“The Metallica fan is Osric. He’s my cabin attendant.” Jensen turned back to Jared. “I saw the other guy when they were boarding. He’s PA to a flashy, arrogant blonde, and don’t quote me on this, please, but whatever she pays him, it’s not enough in my opinion.”

“I was getting that impression,” said Jared. “He’s been crying the blues about some woman who treats him like dirt.” The two of them watched as the man in question rose to his feet, took three steps and then fell flat on his face like a pole-axed ox. He didn’t get up, merely turned onto his side, stuck his thumb into his mouth and began to snore. Osric shrugged and came over to join them.

“Guess I’d better summon Doc Collins,” said Steve, reaching for the phone. “Looks like he needs a little hangover cure if nothing else.” He dialed the sick bay extension and the other two could hear it ringing. It continued to ring for several minutes. When nobody picked up, he turned to Jensen. “Don’t suppose you and his buddy over there could help me by giving him a lift back to his cabin? The doc isn’t answering, and I can’t leave the bar unattended.”

“I’d be happy to help, too,” said Jared as he studied the fallen PA, then turned to Osric. “Hey, you know the guy. What’s his name?”

“Travis,” said Osric. “I don’t really know him. Just met him, but he seemed like he needed a listening ear.”

Steve was on the phone to the purser now, trying to identify Travis’s cabin, and finally looked up with a smile. “He’s Travis Wester, apparently, and he’s on Deck 2, number 2104.”

“Got it.” Jared bent and gathered up Wester’s sleeping form, tossed him over his shoulder and turned to Osric and Jensen. “One of you lead on. I’ll do the heavy lifting if you show me where to go and make sure there’s a bucket for him when he wakes feeling the way I predict he will.”

Jensen crossed over to lead the way, pushing open the door to the bar, and Osric followed behind Jared. “I’ve got the keys to Deck 2 cabins. That’s my territory,” he explained.

“Works for me.” Jared was happy for a chance to check his unconscious burden out and even happier that Jensen was going with him. It seemed to him that he was making headway with solving his case, and that was the best thing of all.

Master Post | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Artwork | PDF | AO3 | Author's Notes and Acknowledgements

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