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Entwined Branches

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Title:  Entwined Branches
Genre:  RPS
Pairing:  J2
Rating:  NC17 (seriously, you have no idea how dirtybadwrong this is)
Disclaimer:  I know no one in this story. It all comes from my messed up head. I made it up. Please don't sue.

Warnings:  alpha/omega dynamics and all the possible dub-con issues and physical sexual aspects that come with that, mentions and discussions of mpreg, incredibly GRAPHIC m/m sex, insanely ridiculous levels of schmoop

 

 

Jared has pretty much hated his body since he turned twelve. That's the year he got hair in weird places, his voice dropped -- so did his balls -- and he felt funny down low in his belly.

All his friends started talking about, and noticing, girls in a way that no longer excluded them from tree house participation or pizza parties.

Jared much preferred to hang with the guys, playing tackle football or X-box or just watching movies. He really had no desire to spend seven minutes in what had been deemed heaven -- but in reality was just a coat closet -- with any member of the opposite sex, but his buddies got positively stupid at the notion, so Jared never said a word about his own lack of interest.

Each year the disparity between him and his friends and his bodily changes got progressively worse.

By fifteen, he just wanted to be someone else. He discovered -- the hard way -- that he's an omega, born specifically to mate with an alpha and prone to heat cycles that last a day or two each month and drive him completely crazy. His parents don't want him on hormones to supress his biology because he's so young, so his only option is to struggle through them.

To further add to his outcast status, the condition is quite rare and has been for a decade now. Because of their intrinsically animalistic nature, the government has been keeping a close track on alphas, betas and omegas for years in an effort to "cull the herd," so to speak, and decrease the numbers. The history books tell of a time when the majority of people were born with these overwhelming carnal tendencies, and the world almost started to revert back to the Paleolithic age in relation to the more base nature of humans before the higher-ups stepped in.

No one in his family has the trait, so Jared had thought he was safe.

Much to his horror, it manifested in the middle of gym class of all places, and he soaked the back of his polyester shorts almost to his knees -- his body's natural lubricant telling him he was ready for his mate.

There was no hiding after that. Word got around school faster than lightening and everyone knew what he was -- and his uniqueness did not make him revered by his fellow classmates.

On the contrary -- the ridicule and scorn and bigotry began the very next day. He'd be shoved into lockers, tripped in the hallway and trapped in bathroom stalls on a routine basis. Fighting it only spurred the bullies on, so he tried to blend in as much as possible; made himself invisible as often as he could, didn't draw any kind of attention to himself.

The only time he felt remotely free was when he had a pencil and sketchpad in his hand. His drawings -- subjects that he allowed to arise from wherever his mind would take him in that moment -- were the one way he found to truly combat the almost daily oppression he felt.

His other two saving graces had been Katie and Chad, both of whom couldn't hide their omega status, either. The three of them -- the only omegas that they knew of in their class -- formed a strong bond because of their biological makeup, and did what they could to make it through high school -- mostly by staying away from the other four alphas and two betas in the halls and keeping their heads down.

And with graduation only two weeks away, it looks like they're going to be successful, but Jared often finds himself missing the days of his childhood when he didn't have to worry about scheduling weekend getaways around his heat cycle and keeping a plastic mattress pad on hand -- when he had a whole group of friends who would shoot hoops with him or have Star Wars movie marathons at his house.

Now, instead, more often than not, he's either in his bedroom with his sketchpad -- because putting form to a blank sheet of paper really does calm him -- or he sits in Chad's basement and argues with Katie about choosing to be an out omega in college and whether or not his and Chad's status as male omegas automatically makes them gay.

"Seriously, it's what your body's made for," she says around a Taco Bell Gordita. "Each month, your body wants alpha dick. It's pretty simple."

"Just because I squirt in my jeans from my ass doesn't make me any less attracted to hot chicks," Chad proclaims while squeezing an alarming amount of hot sauce onto his Mexican pizza.

Jared doesn't say a word as he chews his way through three taco supremes.

Thankfully, Chad takes the opportunity to launch into a heated diatribe about how there have been alpha females that mated with omega males -- a true rarity, but it has happened. Chad's barely able to graduate because of his grades, but he has thrown himself into alpha and omega research with such vigor that Jared thinks it's kind of a shame he's not able to stand on that merit alone.

At the moment, though, Jared's just grateful Chad's monologue has spared Jared from having to proclaim any kind of attraction to women. He lies and hides from just about everyone in his life, he doesn't want to start with Chad and Katie.

The truth of the matter is, he can't determine if he doesn't feel anything for women because he's an omega or because he's gay. When the biological urge is so great, it's difficult to differentiate. Although Jared knows Chad's research is valid. There have been female alphas and male omegas, so the evidence (and Chad, when he watches any movie that has Angelina Jolie in it) would support the theory that being an omega doesn't have anything to do with being gay.

Jared just really wants to blame it on that.

Being an outcast because of genetics is one thing; being a weirdo because he thinks about strong shoulders and tight abs and hard dicks -- even when he's not going through a heat cycle -- when all of his friends are drooling over girls, is something else entirely.

He tries not to think about it as Chad extolls the virtues of Kate Beckinsale and instead just finishes off his rice and beans.

seperators

Jared's not sure he's ever going to be able to eat meatloaf again. He'd just taken a bite that night at dinner when his parents made their announcement.

In their defense, it's not really their news.

It seems the government is not only tracking alphas, betas and omegas, but has also been arranging their lives.

His mom and dad both had mirrored pained expressions when they explained that it is unlawful for any person with these traits to remain unmated once they've turned eighteen. The decree had been made years ago and it's kept out of the history books and only explained when the person comes of age -- yet another way to maintain some level of bureaucratic control.

"JT, I need you to listen to us," his dad says, looking sincere. "It's not as bad as you think."

Jared's vision swims and he tries to swallow the bite he'd just taken, but he has to drink a lot of water to keep it down. And he loves his mom's meatloaf.

He has a pile of college pamphlets on his desk upstairs he was going to go through later that night. He wanted to narrow down his choices -- sure he hadn't picked a major or anything, he wasn't sure what he really wanted to do -- but he was going to a university in the fall and he knew he was going to take art classes. He wanted to see about delving into mediums other than pencil sketches. That was certain.

At least it had been until about thirty seconds ago.

He listens to the political rationale, likely parroted from some government brochure or something -- the concern of letting any of "these people" run loose, unchecked. The diplomatic pragmatism of arranging marriages and mating ceremonies to bring "these people" together.

Something cold and ugly rips through Jared and he's frozen in its wake, so fucking scared he literally can't move. His stomach knots and for a second, he's fairly certain he's gonna throw up all over the table.

He wants to fight -- curls his fists around his knife and fork -- the urge to rail against something, he isn't even sure what... fate, the laws, this utterly unforeseen turn of events...rises up, strong and powerful.

He forces his words through a throat tight with emotion, "I don't want to."

It's the look on their faces that solidifies the dread in his gut. He knows his parents -- their fairness, their intelligence. They wouldn't lie to him or make him do anything he didn't want.

He understands with the terror of the truly condemned, without them saying a word, that there is nothing they can do to prevent this. Their reaction kills any momentary protest that flared up -- his confident arrogance stifled between one breath and the next.

His silence sets off their plan, one they had apparently been brewing since he first presented as an omega. A lawyer friend of the family is going to find him a suitable mate.

The word -- and what it means -- rings in Jared's head.

He remembers Katie's theory from earlier about his body craving alpha dick and it's like he doesn't know how to process everything. He can't conceive of it.

His parents say that if they have to do this -- and it's pretty clear they do -- they want what's best for their son. Biology may have labeled him a matter for the government, but he's still a human being, still their child.

Jared knows he should be grateful -- they're trying -- but the anger, resentment and disbelief make it difficult to feel anything else.

"Sweetheart," his mom reaches across the table and holds onto his wrist. "I promise you, we will do everything we can to get someone nice for you."

It's too much. He just can't.

Jared yanks away, silverware clanging against his plate, and heads for the relative safety of his room.

He slams his door harder than he means to, but perversely it feels like the only form of protest he's allowed.

He sways a bit, like the world has tilted on its axis. The colors of his walls and blankets somehow don't seem as bright, the college brochures on his desk mocking him with their ivy covered walls and assurances of quality academia.

His future's down the toilet because of his fucking biology.

No wonder his parents had never really encouraged his talk of going to a university.

He'd thought college was his chance to get out from under the persecution he'd known for the last three years. He'd kept his head down, endured the derision and ridicule, just so he could get out, because he knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At college, he could keep his omega status hidden, he could find people who would accept him, he'd have a chance to figure out who he wanted to be.

It's childish, stupid. A kid with fairytale dreams that were never meant to come true.

His eyes sting and he knows he's got no hope of stopping the tears.

Time gets away from him, face buried in his mattress, and when he feels the first telltale gush between his asscheeks, he snarls his fury into his sheets.

Either the emotion blew him into his heat cycle or it all just coincidentally lined up, but whatever the reason it feels like even his body is taunting him as he soaks the back of his jeans.

His eyes are sore and his vision blurry as he listlessly changes into sweats and a t-shirt and curls up on his side in his bed.

When his cell rings to the tune of 99 problems, he grabs it like a lifeline.

Chad starts in immediately, "Tell me you heard about this steaming pile of horseshit."

Jared breathes for what feels like the first time in at least an hour. "The whole mating thing?"

"Yeah," Chad exhales. "Jesus Christ."

"Chad, it's," Jared tries, but his hormones are raging and he doesn't think he's done crying yet and that's the last thing he wants to do in front of Chad.

"Let's go to Canada, huh?" Chad's voice wavers like he, himself, is on the verge of losing it. "You, me and Katie. We can be on the lamb for the rest of our lives, no one'll know us or who we are and we won't have any damn government telling us how to fucking live. Whatddya say, Jay? Huh? Seriously."

Jared lets the fantasy cascade through his mind for a minute or two, but reality, with its pragmatism and serious issues, tells him they'd never survive. They couldn't get a passport without a physical and they couldn't keep their physiology from the doctors and being illegal aliens would mean their job opportunities would be incredibly slim.

And that's assuming that they don't get picked up by the mounties and deported back to America where they would be in more trouble than they are right now.

It's with a heavy heart that they let that idea go.

Jared has to choke back a weird noise as the heat takes over his lower half again on a surge of need. He clenches his teeth. Wants to scream at his body that he gets it. He can't have normal.

"Jay," Chad whispers and Jared's pretty sure he's crying. "I can't do this. You know it's gonna be a dude."

"Hey, Chad," Jared reassures -- despite his own panic and the blurt of lubrication between his legs, he can't let his friend go through this. "It'll be okay. I'll talk to my mom and dad. They've got this lawyer who hooks up suitable matches. I'll see if we can put your alpha female and omega male theory to the actual test."

Chad sniffs. "For real?"

"Yeah, man, for real. Okay?"

"Damn you're the fucking best."

Jared hangs up actually feeling pretty good, considering.

He's already expecting the next call before his phone even rings.

"Oh my fucking god, seriously?" Katie's practically snarls. "They're full of shit if they think this is happening."

"Katie, it's the government," Jared says. "What choice do we have?"

"I don't need a damn choice. I'll set up a stronghold somewhere. Get an arsenal. Start a rebel base. Show those suits they can't fucking push us around."

"You watch too many movies with Chad."

It's quiet for a bit and Katie's voice when it comes is softer than Jared's ever heard it.

"I really wanted to get that psychology degree. I know it's stupid and I probably won't be able to really do anything with it, but college, Jared. It was..."

"Yeah," he agrees, they'd both been so excited about September and getting away. "But seriously, K, there's no reason you still can't do that."

She laughs, but there's no joy in the sound.

They don't talk for a full minute.

"I gotta go puke or something," she mumbles and the line goes dead.

He wants to help, but it's just as good she gets off the phone because Jared's hit with a wave of want so powerful, it jackknifes his body and he doubts he could have a conversation at the moment.

The rut hammers him, a dull ache in his abdomen. He feels so fucking empty and he wants to be filled, but not by someone chosen by some bureaucratic official in an office somewhere. He wants -- finally -- to be able to have some say, some fragment of control over his life. He thought getting out, graduating, going away, would give him that.

Now those plans are gone.

He's gotta change his sheets -- get the plastic mattress pad out -- he's lying in the middle of the drenched spot of lubrication preparing him for something he almost can't comprehend and certainly has no practical knowledge about and he wants to be able to help Katie and Chad, but he can't even help himself at the moment.

He clenches his teeth, drowning in that stupid law, taking away everything he worked so hard for over the last eighteen years and for a second or two, despite the assurances he just gave his friends, he thinks about suicide -- swallowing a handful of pills or stepping off the bridge at the edge of town and surrendering to gravity.

He wouldn't have to deal with any of it. The final fuck you, to the douchebags who want to control him -- the last bit of proof that he did have say over his life.

It's lame, but for as fucked up as his existence has become in an unbelievably short amount of time, he kind of fears death. He's not totally sure what happens or where he goes -- if he goes anywhere -- and he really doesn't want to be the "poor little omega" who couldn't handle his lot.

He's only eighteen. He's got years ahead of him. Maybe the life he gets won't be what he thought he saw when he contemplated the future, but he's not really ready to walk away from it.

He's suddenly exhausted. He wants to sleep -- God, he almost needs the unconsciousness -- wants to let go and forget for some time, but he's shaking with the undulations driving through him, almost in a cadence, like his body's calling out for a mate, and can't seem to quell the throb deep in his belly.

It's not really pain, just feels like a chasm -- a yawning, severe need that sweeps his loins almost rhythmically.

He's sopping wet. He knows he has to get up, but he's managed to find a position that offers relative comfort -- folded tight on his side -- and he doesn't want to disturb the first sense of quasi-relaxation he's had in the last few hours.

It's a long while before he moves.

seperators

He doesn't go to his graduation. The pomp and circumstance and ceremony seem pretty fucking pointless.

Even his parents couldn't argue that.

He does, however, get Chad and Katie in with the family's lawyer so their futures aren't totally bleak.

The three of them aren't exactly doing cartwheels over their situation, but at least it feels like some people are on their side.

seperators

The longer Jensen sits in the exam room, the more he starts to think something serious is going on.

Aldis has been his friend -- and doctor -- for years. Jensen knows he can trust him, but when he'd left twenty minutes ago, saying he'd be back soon, Jensen could have sworn he saw a look of concern flit across his face.

Jensen's leg jiggles in the chair -- this can't be good. Aldis isn't prone to melodrama. He's always been straight up and to the point about pretty much everything. Waiting this long after what should have been a routine physical -- when Aldis knows he has to get back to work -- is setting off red flags for Jensen.

By the time Dr. Hodge comes back through the door in a swirl of lab coat tails and folders, Jensen's churned himself practically into a panic attack.

"Aldis," he breathes. "Jesus, what is it?"

"Sorry, man," Aldis starts, sitting again on the padded stool. "It's a little crazy here today."

"It's bad, right?" Jensen guesses. "Just tell me. Rip the bandaid off. I can take it. We'll figure out how to treat it, right?"

Aldis shakes his head. "Jensen, dude, calm down. It's nothing like you're thinking. Nothing physical is wrong with you."

Jensen frowns, wills his breathing and heart rate back to manageable levels. "Then why do you look like I'm gonna make you eat that sushi Chris told us was so awesome again?"

A look of disgust at the memory flits across Aldis's face before he inhales and releases the air slowly. "'Cause you're not gonna like this."

Jensen leans back in the chair, mind whirling.

"I can't hold them off anymore," Aldis says. "The Department of ABO Affairs is really cracking down. The new administration's got these new policies -- they wanna make sure they've got everyone -- and I can't keep you under the radar anymore without risking the whole practice. I gotta report your alpha status. You're gonna have to go through the mating ceremony."

Fuck, Jensen did not see this coming. At all. Hell, he figured it was cancer or something, not this.

Goddamn it.

A cold, rock-hard fury boils in his gut, a decades-old feeling that always lies dormant, seething at the unfairness of it all.

He'd walked away when his parents had tried to run his life --

It's the family business, son. Of course you'll take it over.

-- nevermind that Josh was the one who'd actually started to study the law and had that tenacity that attorneys need; Josh had changed his mind, like he always did, wanted to go in a different direction. So Jensen, always the peacemaker, always the one to follow through, Jensen would step up -- was expected to step up -- regardless of his own plans.

He couldn't do it. Said no, turned his back. He knows he disappointed his parents, hasn't really spoken to them in years, but he couldn't face a future doing something he didn't truly enjoy.

And now he's gotta just shut up and smile and let the a bunch of suits make the decision of who he'll live with for the rest of his life -- just because he pops a knot at the base of his dick.

It's total bullshit.

"Jensen, man, I'm sorry," Aldis repeats. "I know it sucks. I do, but I just can't risk this place. Too many people here are relying on the help we give them, not to mention my employees needing the paycheck."

Jensen huffs a breath, runs his thumb and forefinger along his eyebrows. "I know. It's not you I'm pissed at. I'm just grateful you got me this far."

To be unmated in his early thirties really is relatively unheard of. He supposes in a way, he's lucky. It's far easier to hide an alpha status than it is a beta or omega.

And Aldis has stuck his neck out for him time and again. Jensen truly believes he waited as long as he could. Aldis wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't absolutely necessary.

It just doesn't make it any less galling or detestable.

"Look," Aldis leans forward a little. "I've got a little bit of a bright side here. There's an organization I know that works to give alphas and betas and omegas good matches. It's a non-profit just looking to bring a little fairness to the situation."

Jensen snorts. He can't help it.

"I realize this isn't the happiest ending here, but at least it's something. You don't have to go into this with someone who's a total schmuck."

Jensen's not at the point where he's willing to outright agree to anything, no matter how reasonably it's packaged.

"I'm assuming you'll want a male beta or omega, right?"

Christ, he can't believe his life has come to this. Mated. When he's worked damn hard not to even have any kind of contact with a beta or omega for years now. Sex isn't a priority in his life. He likes it, sure, but he prefers to keep his exploits on the down-low, with people he can trust. Fuck buddies who are looking to get off and nothing more, guys who have no genetic quirks, but don't mind his knot.

Truly, for the last few years it's been his own hand that he's spurted into more often than not. He'd use a fleshlight or the like only when the rut was particularly heightened, spilling into that for twenty minutes, like he would a mate, to take some of the edge off.

The few times he tried sex with his own kind, it got pretty damn intense. The scents and the hormones and overwhelming heat were almost too much. He's fucked two betas in his life and didn't knot either of them. Jensen's got control issues -- no big shock there -- and the sex is just too unmanageable, too wild, too raw.

Now it's a government-sanctioned mandate and he has no choice in the matter.

"Yeah," he says, trying hard to keep the belligerence out of his voice. "I want it to be a guy."

"Seriously, Jensen," Aldis sounds as sincere as Jensen has ever heard him. "It's gonna be okay."

Jensen nods, doesn't want to disagree with his friend's confidence, but a mass of doubt and oppression and subjugation threaten to choke him; the life he built for himself slowly slipping away.

seperators

When Jared first meets Jensen Ackles, the man is in his dining room talking to his parents like it's some kind of social gathering. Jared refuses to sit at the table with them, full of bitterness and resentment and utterly unable to be civil. He's standing in the corner, arms crossed, eyes glued to the floor in front of him.

He knows he's making his mama mad. She raised him with proper manners and his behavior is so far from suitable; it's almost like he's not her kid.

He just cannot believe the man he's going to be mated to is actually in his house, sitting across from his parents.

It's beyond surreal.

He wants to hold onto his anger and animosity because if he focuses on that, if he clings to the burn in his chest, he won't asphyxiate on the fear that's threatened to overwhelm him since this whole thing started.

It also helps mask the intoxicating scent Jensen Ackles brought with him when he entered their house. It's a spicy combination that makes something flare deep in Jared's belly, a reaction he's never had before, not even to the random alphas he knew at school. This is something completely different and he thinks it's partly because Jensen is a man, not a boy, more than ten years older than Jared, and while the idea of it is oddly captivating, at the same time it's a little paralyzing.

They'd made eye contact only once and a bright and sharp and shattering sensation had zipped through Jared, made his breath catch and his stomach tighten and he had to look away. Fast.

Despite the initial burst of hard-to-quantify emotions, he still sneaks glances when he can. Notices the green of Jensen's eyes and his plush lips and wide, powerful shoulders. His fingers itch for a pencil and clean canvas. Unbidden, the desire to rub up against the front of Jensen -- drag their chests and hips and thighs together -- shivers through Jared and for the first time since puberty hit, it's a tangible source that causes the tiniest trickle of lubrication to slide between his asscheeks and his cock to twitch... it's more than a biological drive. It's because of the man sitting at his dad's spot at the table, and Jared wants to be pissed about it -- he really, really does -- but his heart rate picks up with far more than just anger.

He can't believe he's in the dining room chubbing up over his future mate. It's dizzying and a little scary.

"Isn't that right, honey?" his mom says, jolting Jared back into the conversation, pointedly looking at him like he needs to become a participant here, quickly.

Jared nods, words stuck somewhere in his chest.

"Why don't you tell Mr. Ackles about it?"

Jesus, he has literally no idea what she's talking about. The discussion had become white noise to his physical reactions and turbulent thoughts. He opens his mouth to speak, but feels like he's trying to give a book report on something he never read.

"Jensen," the voice from the head of the table is top-shelf whiskey smooth and without meaning to, Jared's eyes connect with his and he's caught, body almost surging to make contact, and he wonders absently if his parents can sense the breath-taking energy flowing across the mahogany. "You can call me Jensen."

Jared bobs his head -- at least, he thinks he does -- he's never felt this unable to maintain composure, even in the height of a heat cycle, but something about being in proximity to this man brings out carnal instincts Jared truly didn't know he possessed. Yes, the urge to mate has always been powerful, but he had no idea how staggering it would be to come face-to-face with a primed, capable, unreasonably hot alpha. He fists his fingers in the sleeves of his button down, sees the quick glance Jensen gives the motion and realizes that Jensen knows, can likely sense exactly what's happening, and the fact that Jared can't hide any of this from Jensen is both freeing and frightening.

Jared's lips move, but he's afraid it's got to be quite fish-like because he can almost feel himself flounder.

"At any rate," Jensen continues in the same honeyed tone, saving Jared from having to own up to his ignorance about the topic of conversation, "There will be plenty of time for Jared to tell me all about himself. I'm sure we won't have a problem getting to know one another."

From there, Jared gets lost -- in the width of Jensen's fingers, in the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, in the depth of his smile, in the dip of his clavicle, in the golden streaks in his hair, in how insanely soft his gray v-neck, short-sleeved sweater looks, in how much Jared wants to manacle himself to Jensen's side and never let go.

It's not until they're firming up the location for the ceremony and saying goodbye that Jared even thinks to protest any of this. And it's only a vague thought in the back of his mind to wonder whether his parents selected a man because he's an omega or because they innately understand something about him that he's not even sure he can admit to himself.

In a week, he'll be married and mated.

With Jensen no longer right in front of him and the weird power he holds dissipated, Jared thinks this might be something he has to do, but he sure as hell doesn't have to like it.

seperators

Jensen doesn't see Jared again until the day of the ceremony and he's just as baffled by his reaction now as he was in the Padalecki house.

He's got to admit -- albeit grudgingly -- that Aldis's organization seems to have come through. Jared is young, wildly attractive, clearly intelligent, and makes Jensen's blood practically burn in his veins.

The mop of hair; the long, lean limbs; the curious hazel eyes; the still innocent smell and demeanor of him have Jensen wondering if he's some type of cyborg created just for him.

It's uncanny how attracted he is to this kid.

The Padalecki family files into the courtroom -- Jared's two siblings and his parents -- and Jensen stands in front, alone. He hasn't spoken to his own parents in a few years -- it's not like he's going to break the radio silence with an invitation to something like this.

He sees Jared fidget in his crisp suit and understands the feeling. Jensen, himself, had dressed for the occasion, but he's not used to a well-pressed shirt and tie. It's uncomfortable. He wants his jeans and work boots back. He's just grateful the unusual early June heat died down a little so he isn't outright sweating under the stiff collar.

Jared won't make eye contact, even once they're standing across from each other, but Jensen can sense the hunger in him, the need for what Jensen has -- an alpha knot.

The official at the podium discusses ceremonial points, but Jensen pays little attention -- his body damn well knows what to do, he doesn't need some putz in a wrinkled suit jacket to explain it to him.

Jared's tense, nearly quivering, and Jensen can tell it's a push and pull, want and fear driving him. It's maddening to imagine this boy coming into his own, accepting his omega status and embracing it wholeheartedly, submitting and yielding to a thick knot -- and despite his previous aversion to the proceedings and ridiculous government tyranny, Jensen wants to be the one to teach him, to mold him into an amazing mate.

He's shaken a bit by this revelation.

"It is with the circle, the symbol of an unending line, that this union will be recognized by this court and others. Mr. Ackles, do you have the rings?"

Jensen's jostled out of his immersion in Jared by the use of his name. It takes him a few fleeting seconds to understand what's being asked of him -- he's surprisingly that far gone for this kid -- but once he does, he reaches into his coat pocket for the rings he'd purchased.

They're a slightly diluted silver -- not shiny or sparkly, but more rugged, like they're made of something that can withstand time and the perils of life. No inscription, just simple.

Jared's hazel eyes shoot to Jensen's and the impact is almost like a punch. Jared's expression is one of astonishment, as though this was the very last thing he expected.

Jensen smiles a little and shrugs.

"Mr. Padalecki," the official says. "Please hold out your left hand."

Jared inhales, chest quaking and lifts his arm. The tremor in his fingers mean Jensen has to reach for Jared's hand to hold it steady and the skin-on-skin connection drags a ripple of pleasure up Jensen's wrist.

"Mr. Ackles, repeat after me. With this ring, I present to you a symbol of our mated status, a legal and spiritual representation of our bond."

Jensen just manages not to roll his eyes. It's ludicrous, the deliberate nod to a typical wedding ceremony when this is anything but. He clears his throat and parrots the words back while sliding the ring onto Jared's finger.

When the metal reaches the meat of Jared's hand, something happens. Jensen's not one to believe in otherworldliness, but he's not sure how else to describe the shock of connection, the almost audible click of alliance and kinship and union. It's utterly bizarre and exotically poignant at the same time and it reminds him of nothing so much as what it will feel like to render his swollen knot deep into Jared's body and seal them together as mates.

Jared's pupils dilate and his breath shudders and Jensen wonders if he's feeling the same thing.

"Mr. Padalecki, the ring."

Jensen passes the identical metal circle to Jared, who fumbles it a little.

"S'okay," Jensen whispers with what he hopes is an encouraging grin, stretching out his left hand.

The official asks Jared to repeat the same cliched drivel as Jensen, but for some reason, hearing the words in Jared's husky yet timid voice rouses a hormonal reaction deep in Jensen's stomach. The feel of Jared's thin fingers shifting the ring over Jensen's suddenly sensitive skin doesn't help quell his body's response.

"By the power of this office, in the fine state of Virginia, I now pronounce you bonded mates. You may kiss your betrothed."

Those final five words almost stop Jensen's heart. The thought hadn't even crossed his mind that he'd have to get any closer to Jared than hand holding, but he supposes if they're keeping up this insane charade of a ceremony, they'll go all out. It makes some convoluted kind of sense. Anticipation brings a sizzle to his skin.

The understanding must be nearly simultaneous because Jared makes an odd squeaking sound and looks at Jensen through his lashes.

Fuck, but part of Jensen wants to take, just swoop in and claim that mouth -- those full, little-boy-becoming-a-man lips, without any consideration for the others in the room. He tamps down hard on the compulsion, not wanting to scare Jared any more than he already obviously is.

Jared's vibrating, humming like a motor put through the paces, and Jensen absently wonders how he's still standing.

When Jensen steps slightly closer, Jared quivers even more.

"It's alright," Jensen murmurs, trailing his fingers up the length of Jared's forearm. He leans forward with the lightest brush of his mouth against Jared's lips and a jagged current tears through him. He means to keep the kiss chase, but instinct guides him to go back in, just a little closer, nudging Jared's upper lip with his bottom one, and he gets a touch of moisture, a faint taste.

It's sweet. So sweet. Like spun sugar.

He's reminded of the expensive desserts he's tried on the rare evenings he's indulged himself with a meal out. He thinks of the delicate, gossamer webs flicked over cakes and bowls of fruit. A refined tease, a short burst of confection that leaves him wanting more.

Just like Jared.

Jensen's tongue juts quickly, a lightning-fast touch to Jared's teeth.

He feels Jared jerk in his arms, hears the ragged breaths from his nose, and even though it's like peeling off his own skin, Jensen steps away, whispers, "sugar" without thinking.

It's a split second -- blink and he would have missed it -- that Jared goes to follow. A hesitant upturn of his jaw, lips separating, beseeching. Jensen has to literally lock his knees not to take everything being offered. Right there. He could drop them both to the ground, get inside those sleek dress pants -- hell, he'd shred them if he had to -- and knot the boy, good and tight.

It would be one way to consummate the ceremony.

The joyous clapping knocks them both back into the room with a start.

Jared backs up, looking wary, yet somewhat enthralled.

Jesus, he's gorgeous.

They're both surrounded by Jared's parents in the next breath and whisked away to what Jensen supposes could equate to a reception -- Jared's parents had apparently booked a table at a relatively high-priced restaurant in a rather lavishly decorated back room. Through it all, though, Jensen remains focused on Jared's reactions, the heat in him just waiting to be tapped.

It's going to be a hell of a wedding night.

**

Jensen has to admit the evening is somewhat stilted. Jared's quiet and relatively unresponsive, while his parents are truly doing their level best to maintain some type of levity and goodnaturedness.

Jensen attempts to keep the conversation going, but there's an unspoken awkwardness that says everyone at the table knows what this night is about and the understanding makes the gathering slightly uncomfortable. It's like they're all talking and breathing and eating around the giant elephant in the room, but no one's even willing to acknowledge the invisible pachyderm.

Jensen actually enjoys Jared's parents and siblings. He thinks in another situation, another time, they all may have been friends. He's reminded a lot of his own family -- back when they could all be in the same room together, when they were younger, before obligations and duty became strained, constant topics of conversation.

Jensen keeps a hand on the back of Jared's chair through most of the meal -- not out of any need to prove anything to anyone, but more because it just feels right. The height allows his arm to rest right along the middle of Jared's back. He's glad to notice Jared lean into him from time to time -- the bottom of his shoulder blades brush against Jensen's bicep and forearm -- despite his lack of conversation. It shows a level of comfort Jensen was worried he'd never gain.

Jared's eyes flick to Jensen's scotch for the tenth time in half as many minutes and while the others are engaged in a conversation about who they'd like to see as the next Iron Chef, Jensen whispers, "Go ahead, sugar. You can take a sip."

Jared seems startled, either at the nickname or the offer, Jensen can't be sure, but Jensen notices him shoot a quick glance at his parents before he reaches for Jensen's glass.

Jensen doesn't think Jared gets enough to really even taste the liquor -- and it's a good quality, strong peaty flavor, yet sweet enough to be smooth -- but he screws up his nose in the most adorable expression and Jensen can't stop the chuckle from slipping out. Without thinking, he puts his lips against Jared's temple and murmurs, "It's an acquired taste."

"Tastes like smoke," Jared declares quietly.

Jensen pulls away, shock more than likely evident on his face. He didn't expect someone as young as Jared to be able to determine the delicacies of the alcohol -- it's refreshing how much Jared can surprise him. "That's actually pretty precise. You've got a decent palate."

Jared's watching him, eyes tripping to his lips only for a fraction of a second. "W-why," the slight stammer almost enough to make Jensen's toes curl. "Why does it taste like that?"

"Actually, you're tasting the peat," Jensen explains, squeezing the arm he's got wrapped around Jared just a little, taking a chance to skim his thumb along Jared's bicep as he talks. "The barley is dried in a kiln and they use peat to do it. The smoke that comes off of it gives it that flavor."

Jared nods, as though he really gets it, and goes back to finishing his baked potato.

There's so much he could teach this boy, Jensen's head spins a little. The back of Jared's neck is exposed under the still slightly sweaty curls of his hair and collar of his dress shirt and suit coat and Jensen wants nothing more than to put his mouth there -- suck, maybe even bite a little -- claim the vulnerable spot as his own. He realizes he's been staring -- probably a few minutes too long -- when Jared's mom asks him if he's enjoying his beef Wellington.

He tells her he likes that the chef added some ginger to it and the conversation continues, despite Jensen's sudden preoccupation with Jared's nearness.

It's not long after dessert that the celebration -- such as it is -- breaks up. They say their goodbyes to Jared's family and even after knowing them only a short time, Jensen can sense their trepidation over letting their son and brother go. He's as guileless as he can be, trying with tone and action to let them know Jared really will be fine and that they are welcome to visit any time.

It's still early -- not even nine thirty -- but as Jared's parents give a little wave, Jensen actually sees the nervousness and tension return to Jared's face as they climb into Jensen's truck.

By the time they arrive at Jensen's house, just the two of them, it's dark and Jared seems on the verge of a meltdown, their earlier connection over the scotch apparently forgotten.

Jensen opens the front door to let Jared walk ahead of him and says softly, "I'll give you a quick tour..."

Jared rounds on him, coat tails and forest green tie swaying with the motion, small suitcase falling from his fingers, tossing out words in a tone that Jensen's never heard from him. "You can't keep me here." His breathing jacks higher, and despite Jensen's willingness to stay calm and ease Jared through this, the alpha in him is clamoring to take and own and make him submit. Jared's voice wobbles, "This is such bullshit."

Jensen closes the door quietly, reaches for composure, and says: "I actually wholeheartedly agree with you on that one."

That jerks Jared to a stop, surprise evident on his face.

Jensen nods. "Don't you think if I was all gung-ho about this, I'd be mated by now? Believe me, Jared, I stayed out of this dog-and-pony show for as long as I could. My doctor had just reached a point where he couldn't hide me anymore. So yeah, I think bullshit pretty much covers it. I don't like people telling me what to do and how to live my life any more than you do."

Jared's still quivering, quelled only for a moment. Jensen can tell he's attempting a certain level of temerity -- his chin lifts just a little -- but he's practically bleeding omega insecurity and it's firing Jensen's heartbeat, fast. Jensen's a little amazed at the strength in Jared's words. "So you gonna lock the door behind you? Chain me up in the basement?"

Even while Jensen's cock stirs at the idea of all those long limbs anchored to a wall or his headboard, he inhales calmly. "No chains. I promise. You're not a prisoner, here."

Jared moves around him to the door and Jensen reaches out, grabs Jared's forearm, electricity and pheromones shocking them both to stillness for a split second.

It takes an inordinate amount of effort for Jensen to speak clearly. "Before you go, though, you should consider two things. First, you're an unmated omega, of age. Even if you go back to your mom and dad, your scent is like a beacon for any alpha out there and believe me when I tell you, they're not all as accommodating," Jensen's thumb moves almost on its own accord, petting, stroking the inside of Jared's elbow, and even over two layers of cloth, the touch makes the boy visibly shake. "And secondly, leaving me won't mean you'll be free from the mating ceremony. You can't remain unmated. Government rule. So you'll have to take another husband, regardless of what you do here. It's just a suggestion, but it might be a good idea to stay for just a bit to see how this goes. But," Jensen lets go, "as I said, you're not a prisoner."

Jared's trembling, breathing like he just ran a marathon and clearly struggling with overwhelming emotions. He bats miserably at the corners of his eyes, trying to hide the tears and the wanttakehavepounds in Jensen's blood, calling for his body to do that for which it was created--while at the same time, his heart demands he soothe, calm, pacify his mate.

It's been a confusing day.

"This sucks," Jared practically sobs, looking anywhere but at Jensen.

"I know, sugar," Jensen murmurs.

"W-why," Jared clears his throat a little, makes hesitant eye contact, like he's grabbing onto the only thing that might be a possible anchor here. "Why do you call me that?"

"It's how you taste to me," Jensen explains candidly. "When we kissed to make everything official... it was like spun sugar."

Jared sucks in a breath and his pupils expand and Jensen knows if this boy would let himself go, the heat between them could likely ignite the whole damn house.

"Tell you what," Jensen says, fighting what feels like a losing battle for control. "It's late. How about you head upstairs and get cleaned up. I'll get the rest of the bags in and meet you there. The room's the first one on the left. Bathroom is connected. You'll find everything you need there: towels, shampoo, the works."

Jared quakes in the foyer, looks like a trapped animal and something wrong flits over Jensen's skin. Despite his animalistic nature, he doesn't want his mate upset -- his instinct is to comfort. "It'll be okay, Jared. I promise."

He motions to the stairs and Jared releases a defeated breath, his expression one of a condemned man being led to the slaughter, lifts his suitcase again and shuffles up.

Jensen doesn't dawdle. He's a little nervous Jared might actually climb out the window just to get away and that unsettles Jensen. Even though they only shared one kiss, the thought of Jared with another alpha, actually opting to leave, doesn't sit well in Jensen's stomach. He already has powerful proprietary feelings for Jared and he really wants to be the first one to taste him in full rut.

He can't be completely sure when he apparently jumped head-first into the government-imposed mating. A little voice in the back of his head whispers that it was the sensation of Jared's hazel eyes on him across that dining room table, but he doesn't look too closely at the whys.

By the time he gets to his room, he figures Jared must have taken the quickest shower in history because he finds the boy in a soft, white t-shirt and worn pajama bottoms. He's standing at Jensen's dresser, holding the cufflinks his grandfather had given him.

"My grandpa was convinced they might be worth something some day," Jensen says.

Jared jumps and drops the gold like it burned his hand, eyes wide when he spins to face Jensen, looking caught and cornered and scared to fucking death.

Jensen holds up his hands and murmurs, "Sorry, I thought you heard me. It's okay, you can check stuff out."

Jared barely moves, his body taught as a guitar string.

"I mean it," Jensen continues, taking another step into the room. "There's nothing here that's off limits to you."

Jensen can actually hear Jared's teeth chatter and he doubts it's from a chill. He keeps going, hoping to console the omega with a calm tone. "Grandpa started a law firm years ago. Been in the family now for more than fifty years," he moves to the bed, giving Jared access to the door if he wants it. "Dad took over when grandpa retired and my brother was supposed to continue the legacy. For the longest time we thought he would, but Josh is easily distracted and he, well... he didn't."

Jensen can still remember the pressure he felt when he'd been told his brother had walked away.

He shakes himself out of the past and risks a glance at Jared, who actually seems to be breathing a little easier. "Everybody looked to me after that and man, I just... court rooms and office work and suits aren't my thing, you know?"

Jensen demonstrates by tossing his jacket across the nearest chair and slithering out of his tie. "Thought this damn thing was gonna strangle me tonight." He kicks off his shoes, wiggling the pinch out of his toes. "Haven't talked to my parents in a hell of a long time because they weren't too happy when I told them it wasn't gonna be me to continue to Ackles brand of court room heroics," Jensen sighs. "That... wasn't a good day."

Jared nibbles his lower lip and for a second, Jensen's distracted, wonders if Jared would do the same to Jensen's mouth, his body. His cock twitches in his dress pants and he clears his throat, "Anyway, you can kind of get the idea that I'm not a fan of being told what to do. So this whole thing really doesn't sit well with me, either."

Jared nods, twists his fingers in the hem of his t-shirt, but doesn't say a word.

Jensen starts in on the buttons near his collar and scritches his socks off using the friction of the carpet. He knows his next words are gonna spin Jared back into a fit, but they need to be said. He does so without making eye contact, voice as non-threatening as he can pitch it. "I have to tell you, Jared, if you stay tonight, we are gonna have to consumate the ceremony. You have to be mated."

Jared gurgles a choked sound. "What?" He shakes his head with so much vigor it's like he believes the physical action of denial will mean it won't happen. "What--what if I can't?" Jared whispers, quaking all over again.

"Oh, sugar, trust me when I tell you, I know you can."

Just as he predicted, Jared spirals.

"I'm not... n-not even gay," Jared heaves, and something about the inflection says even Jared doesn't believe that. His eyes flit wildly around the room, like he'd grasp at anything at this point, clearly fighting the pull of his own nature, tears tracking his cheeks -- the war obviously tearing him apart. "How is this even fair? How can the government get away with this?"

Jensen's a little worried that Jared might actually shake apart right in front of him, so he keeps his voice soothing, a low tremor meant to speak from the alpha in him to the omega inside Jared, "I understand things were pretty rough a few decades ago. People were a little... unruly."

Considering some of the stories he'd read, that's putting it mildly.

"So that gives the government the right to tell us who to be with?" Jared blinks rapidly, but it does little to stop the tears. "We should revolt. Not give in. We should, Jensen."

Hearing his own name from Jared's mouth for the first time does something to Jensen's blood. It stirs in his veins like fire, it's a novel sensation and it lights him up a little, sparks through him, hardening his dick even more. "That's one way to look at it," Jensen nods, trying to ignore the intrinsic drive to take. "But I'm not sure how well it would work. I've actually heard if our kind refuses to mate, it could be argued we are forfeiting our 'inalienable' rights and they can lock us up. Research labs are always eager for more test subjects," the contempt in his voice is palpable.

Jared's eyes widen. "W-what?"

"Yeah," Jensen concedes, stripping the shirt off his shoulders, leaving him in only his dress pants and a wifebeater. "It sucks."

"B-but, how will they k-know?" Jared asks.

Jensen sighs. Of all of it, this is the part that sticks in his craw the most. "In a few weeks, a government official is gonna stop by to make sure we've consummated our union. They'll bring an alpha who will be able to tell if you're mated."

Jared makes a wounded sound and he collapses -- literally. He's on the floor so fast, Jensen's not sure his legs didn't just give out from under him.

Jensen's up and across the room before he even thinks about it; he just has to try to make this right. "Hey, hey, hey, Jared, come on. It's not that bad, I swear."

Jared's shaking his head, choking on tears, practically unable to breathe properly.

Jensen squats beside him, places what's supposed to be a comforting hand on Jared's shoulder, but the touch makes the boy lurch so suddenly, he almost cracks his head into the dresser behind him.

Jensen's not deterred, maintains the physical contact, scritches his fingers back-and-forth against Jared's t-shirt, trying to pacify with words and tone. "Shhh, sugar. Just breathe, okay? You're gonna hyperventilate on me if you don't."

An odd sound ripples from Jared's throat and without any warning, he launches himself at Jensen. For the briefest second -- fueled by Jared's own wild agitation -- Jensen thinks he's gonna get punched and braces for the impact, but is shocked quite literally speechless when instead, Jared wraps himself around Jensen, tight, and hangs on almost like his life depends on it.

The collision rocks Jensen back on his ass and it's only by catching himself with an outstretched hand on the floor that he keeps them both marginally upright. They settle, with Jared pretty much in his lap, face buried in Jensen's neck, and something about it feels so incredibly right, Jensen's breath stutters in his chest.

He hugs Jared back, gets another odd, whimsical sense that somehow he was made to do exactly this, that his relatively solitary existence was leading to this boy, this path, this very situation.

He grins ruefully at himself -- he didn't think he'd had that much whiskey with dinner.

Jared hiccups another sob and Jensen whispers, "It's okay, sugar. You'll be okay."

Jensen realizes, in that moment, despite the government rule and his alpha urges screaming at him, there's no way he's going to go through with the mating ritual tonight. Regardless of any bureaucratic decree, Jensen believes sex should be pleasurable for both parties. Always. He's not about to knot a boy who's shaking and quivering and sobbing from fear -- no matter what any kind of official organization tries to tell him.

It's just not going to happen.

"We don't have to, Jared," he whispers. "We don't have to."

Jared sniffs and Jensen's pretty sure he's so far gone nothing Jensen's telling him is getting through, even though part of him -- the alpha part -- wonders if he's being scented.

"J-Jensen?"

Jensen tucks Jared just a scant inch or so closer and hums an inquisitive noise.

"I..." Jared inhales brokenly. "I l-lied."

Jensen smiles a little against Jared's forehead. "Yeah? About what? You haven't said a whole lot in the time I've known you."

Jared's talking into Jensen's collarbone at this point, and it must give him some kind of courage because he murmurs, "I... t-think about guys. A lot."

Jensen's glad Jared can't see his face -- he can actually feel the surprise written there. Jensen's expectations of Jared's answer didn't have that quiet, little admission anywhere near the list. The alpha appetite in him stretches a little as he responds, "Nothing wrong with that, Jared."

"I... don't t-think it's just b-because I'm omega, either."

Jensen frowns. "Who told you that had anything to do with it?"

Jared nuzzles a little closer. "A friend of m-mine thinks every male omega has to be g-gay."

"Well, I hate to mess up your theories there, sugar, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. I actually know omega males who have mated with alpha females."

That makes Jared sit up on a soggy breath. "You do?"

Jensen nods, strokes a thumb under one of Jared's puffy eyes. "It's pretty rare, but completely possible. The couple I know has been mated for going on five years now."

Jared blinks. "S-so I like guys 'cause I... like guys?"

The gobsmacked expression on Jared's face makes Jensen grin a bit. "That's usually the way it works."

Jared had ended up in the middle of both of Jensen's legs and the boy reaches out to rub the material of Jensen's slacks between his thumb and forefinger -- Jared is remarkably tactile. "When... when did you know you liked guys?"

"Fifth grade," Jensen answers immediately. "The teacher had us move our desks into pairs and I was so excited I couldn't sleep for three whole days because I got put next to Brad McAllister. It was the best month and a half of my entire elementary school career. I didn't actually say anything to anybody until I was way older, but looking back, that was when I knew."

Jared's quiet for a bit -- except for the occasional sniffle. He's staring rather intently at the seam of Jensen's pressed pants near his knee when he whispers, "Jensen?"

It's a strange awareness that hums over Jensen when he realizes he could sit here on the floor, with Jared between his legs for the rest of the night and not grow tired of it. "Hmmm?"

"Y-you... taste good to m-me, too," by now he's got his index finger almost completely wrapped up in a fold of material on Jensen's slacks. "When we k-kissed, earlier, you know?"

"Yeah?" Jensen pitches his tone to match Jared's, intrigued by this unforeseen interest Jared seems to have taken in the physical.

Jared's eyes fall to Jensen's mouth and stay there for a full five seconds. "Spicy," he breathes. "You taste k-kind of like spice. C-cinnamon, maybe."

Jared's lips separate, just the smallest fraction, and a surge of want, hard and heavy and hot, stirs through Jensen. He tries to keep his grin polite, but he knows it's gotta be on the wrong side of wolfish. "Sugar and spice, huh? Seems kind of appropriate."

That shakes a sudden smile out of Jared and Jensen's somewhat surprised to recognize he's never seen it before -- Jared's smile. Jensen's giddy and a little dazzled by the two dimples that appear on either side of Jared's mouth. The expression of joy mesmerizes him a bit -- it's an amazingly good look on Jared.

Jared wipes his nose with the palm of his hand and huffs a soft laugh.

"You should do that more often," Jensen says before he can think better of it.

Jared appears confused and then marginally horrified, in that order. "What? Wipe my nose? Oh god, am I that bad?"

Jensen chuckles as he stands to get the box of tissues on top of his dresser. "No," he assures. "No, you're fine." He hesitates for a second before rejoining Jared on the floor -- odd as it is, he likes the intimacy of being together on the carpet, there's a simplicity and unaffected quality to it that appeals. "I meant smile," he explains. "I like your smile."

Jared probably thinks he's hiding his blush underneath the tissue as he blows his nose, but Jensen sees it anyway and finds it completely captivating.

"Jensen?" Jared's voice is a little shredded.

Jensen hopes his rumble verges on curious.

"Will you do it again? Do... do you w-want to?"

"What? Make you smile?"

Jared shakes his head, appears frustrated but still apparently wanting to make his point. "No... k-kiss me..."

Jensen's breath catches on a lightening shot of hunger and fire and want. Jesus, but this kid can startle him -- almost unlike anyone he's ever known. And he's talking again before Jensen can reply.

"I mean... if I c-clean up a little," he makes another swipe at his face with a fresh tissue. "I know i-it's pretty gross to--"

Jensen stops the words with a finger against Jared's mouth and the only question he's got on his mind. "Would you like to kiss me again?"

Jared nods when Jensen drops his hand away and this time, when Jared focuses on Jensen's mouth, Jared licks his lips with just one sweep of his tongue, like he's anticipating the taste.

Jensen barely manages to bite back a moan as his dick fills at the sight. "Shit, sugar, are you sure?" He can't help but remember Jared's terror from a few minutes ago.

Jared nods a second time, seemingly a little mesmerized.

It takes all of Jensen's considerable willpower not to just grab what's being offered -- so delicately, so subtly. He leans in as slow and cautiously as his trembling limbs will allow.

The kiss, when it connects, is magnetic. Jared's lips are swollen and taste like an intoxicating mix of sweet, fresh -- he must have brushed his teeth when he came up to the bathroom -- uncertainty and dawning awareness. The combination is wildly tempting to the alpha in Jensen.

Much to his own chagrin, Jensen can feel a blurt of precome trickle down his overwhelmingly hard dick and he's not sure how much longer he can hold onto his sanity.

Jared makes a tiny noise and pulls back a fraction of an inch.

Jensen hums a question. "Okay?"

Jared bobs his head, which just grinds their lips together and makes both of them gasp.

"I just..." Jared starts.

Jensen circles their noses -- it's almost a compulsion. "You what, sugar?"

"You smell different."

Jensen gets distracted with another kiss, but eventually asks, "How so?"

Jared talks around their intertwined mouths. "Warmer, maybe," their saliva mixes together, "S-saltier. Is that weird?"

Considering how soaked the cotton of Jensen's boxer briefs has become, he thinks Jared hits the nail pretty much on the head. He keeps a tight reign on the alpha clamoring to just yank Jared against him and asks, "Is it bad?"

Jared murmurs low in his throat, "No. It's really, really good. It kind of makes my mouth water."

Christ, the implications, the thought of Jared tasting his dick, make Jensen's hips lift just a scant centimeter off the floor. He clenches his muscles to remain in place, and against his better judgment hears himself say: "Here," while snaring his fingers in the hair at the nape of Jared's neck and directing the boy's nose to his own jugular. "It's stronger where the blood flows."

Jensen swears he can feel the air currents as Jared inhales around his skin and he knows the scent is getting the omega wet.

Jared whimpers a little, "You smell so g-good..."

Jensen ducks his lips under Jared's chin. "Your scent does the same thing to me."

Jared's breathing gets even more irregular and he sits back only far enough to bring their mouths together and whispers, "Kiss me again."

Demanding little boy. Jensen fucking adores it and drags their mouths together.

This time, the soft sounds from Jared get lost against Jensen's lips and his omega's response surges through Jensen's veins like fire. The kiss goes deep, Jensen takes a chance and flicks his tongue quickly against Jared's mouth and the boy quivers like he's been hit with a bolt of lightening. Obviously a fast learner, Jensen feels the tip of Jared's tongue flick out, grazing Jensen's lips and Jensen almost loses his mind at what he wants to do to Jared, teach him.

Jensen goes farther, reaching past Jared's teeth and it's not long before they're caught up licking and kissing and rubbing their mouths together and Jared's whining with every breath.

Jensen's seriously considering taking Jared on the floor when the boy draws back with a gasp.

"Jensen," Jared's body is practically humming. "I want... can I?"

It's pure need that makes Jensen take his hands from Jared's hair and say: "Anything."

Jared scrambles a little until he's on his knees and all Jensen can do is watch, digging his fingers into the carpet behind him, while his cock throbs heavy, in time with his heart.

Jared whimpers, trying to arrange them how he wants as he crawls over Jensen's lap, opens his knees so he's straddling Jensen's thighs and arches his lower back like he's been doing this for years.

Oh God, oh fuck.

He's a goddamn natural.

"Jared," Jensen whispers, utterly awe-struck and stunned.

Jared settles his arms around Jensen's neck, spreads his legs a bit more -- threadbare pajama bottoms outlining the omega's wet dick -- and touches their groins together, flooding Jensen with heat and want and an overwhelming pulse in his cock.

Jared's undulating -- seemingly without conscious thought -- and he whines, "Jensen... I..."

There's something undeniably hot about looking up at Jared, cheeks flushed, torso rippling. Jensen bends forward, swipes his tongue just under Jared's chin, inhaling the fresh scent of Jared's t-shirt and the flavorful tang of the omega heat, and says: "What, Jared? What do you want?"

Jared makes a frustrated sound, "I d-don't know... something... ."

Jensen grins against Jared's skin -- he knows full well what the boy needs -- and sits up a little higher, sliding his hands along Jared's thighs, squeezing the tight muscles just to feel them bunch under his fingers. Halfway up the backs of Jared's legs, the material is wet, almost soaked and when Jensen realizes it's his omega's lubrication, his entire body shudders in reaction.

He wants to marvel out loud, but his voice won't work as his hands climb higher, shocked at the propensity this boy has for mating. He digs his palm between the globes of Jared's ass and he can feel the slick collect in his hand, even through the pajamas.

When words finally punch their way out of Jensen's throat, they're like gravel. "My God, sugar, how long have you been this hungry?"

Jared doesn't answer, but cants his hips back into Jensen's palm, rubbing back and forth between Jensen's hand and his cock trapped in his slacks and Jensen has no idea how he's gonna look his dry cleaner in the eye when he brings these dress pants in for laundering.

"Did you ever do anything to take the edge off?" Jensen wonders, breath a shredded gasp.

Jared drops his knees open even wider and is almost riding Jensen's hand when he whispers, "S-sometimes I jerk off, b-but it never really m-makes that feeling in m-my belly g-go away."

Jensen takes a taste of Jared's jaw and asks, "What about toys?"

Jared pulls back with an odd expression, even as his hips still continue to work Jensen's hand even farther between his asscheeks. "What do you m-mean?"

Jensen likes that Jared's pupils are blown wide enough that only a thin line of hazel surrounds them and that his lips are cherry red. He clears his throat to speak. "They have toys with knots now. Sometimes just feeling full like that will help."

Jared shakes his head. "I n-never..."

Jensen freezes, tries to hold Jared still, needs to know the answer to his next question. "Not even your fingers? Someone else's?"

"N-no," Jared whispers. "There was no one. I never even k-kissed anyone until..."

The reality of how truly innocent Jared is crystalizes in Jensen's mind and it's a little staggering. It makes him want to bottle Jared up for safekeeping while at the same time, exalt in the fact that he's the one who gets the first taste.

"Jensen," Jared wiggles a little. "I want..." Jared shoves at the waistband of his pajamas. "Can I... I want these off..."

Jensen drops his hand still clammy with Jared's slick and he leans back again. He knows if he tries to help, he won't be able to control the powerful surges of lust and he'll be fist deep in all that wet, hot flesh in a matter of seconds.

It's ungainly, really, watching Jared try to twist and thrash his way out of the thin material, while still straddling Jensen's thighs, but once he's free, naked expect for his t-shirt, Jensen has to clamp down hard on the exquisite impulse to grab and thrust and take. Jared's cock is flushed a dark crimson -- the tip slippery with precome -- surrounded by thick, coiled hair just a shade darker than the strands on Jared's head. And everything from his balls back is shiny and slick.

The smell is so incredibly intoxicating, Jensen's more than a little dizzy and somewhat paralyzed. He's caught, wholly, between the animal in him that's never been this close to a young, ripe omega, and the man that wants to make sure this is done right, consideration and care a must.

Jared settles back down; bare, damp skin on top of Jensen's dress pants, the tip of Jared's dick sliding along the cotton of Jensen's wifebeater, peaking out from the hem of Jared's own t-shirt and the sight is hotter than it probably has a right to be. Jared's whole body quivers as his hips roll and he mewls, "J-Jensen..."

He's gonna burn the pants; screw dry cleaning.

Against his better judgement, Jensen reaches out, hooks his fingers around Jared's stiff cock and the boy's skin ripples like electricity flows in his veins. Jensen suddenly has to know, "Anyone ever touch you before?"

Jared's face takes on an expression of pained ecstacy and he shakes his head hard enough to shimmy his bangs into his eyes.

Jensen continues to stroke, completely enraptured with Jared's reactions, precome leaking steadity between them. Jensen discovers that Jared likes to watch -- he keeps his head bent, attention intent on Jensen's fingers as both of them set a rhythm that rattles their breath.

Jared leans forward, lips against Jensen's cheek, still pushing into Jensen's hand and murmurs, "J-Jensen... I w-wanna see you. Can I see?"

Jensen's not sure he's got the stamina for this, but he unzips and pops his slacks over his hips with his free hand, pushing everything to his knees in one sweep and yanks the wifebeater over his head. He drags both of their cocks together, hot, taught skin scraping and it literally feels like everything is burning.

He looks up and Jared's fascinated, almost enraptured.

"You're so smooth," Jared whispers, whole body vibrating like a plucked string. "Not hairy, like me."

It shouldn't be so ridiculously hot watching Jared discover the differences between them, but the outright wonder gets snagged in the scorching pleasure and Jensen almost can't speak. Almost.

"I shave," he explains, tone more growl than understandable language as both their dicks get wet with each other's precome.

Jared must get it because he asks, surprised, "You can do that?"

Fuck, this is gonna be over before it even gets going. Jensen strains for any kind of control. "Yeah, you can."

"Will you show me some day?"

Jensen gasps, answers by hauling their lips together in a fiery kiss that lasts until Jared sucks in a sharp breath.

"Jensen," Jared's voice holds a question.

"Whatever you want," Jensen says against Jared's mouth, caught up in the back-and-forth rhythm of his own hand on Jared's cock, bottom of his thumb brushing against his own hard dick.

"I k-kind of w-want..." It sounds like his courage falters a bit.

"Just say it, sugar. Anything."

"I w-want to... c-come on you..."

Jesus, fuck.

Jensen's seriously starting to wonder if he's going to even survive this. Everything's wet -- Jensen's hand almost to his wrist, the carpet, what's left of his pants -- and when he commands, "do it," it only takes two erratic jerks of Jared's hips before the boy is spilling everywhere -- all the way up to Jensen's neck.

It's easily the most amazing thing Jensen has ever witnessed.

Jared drops forward, face buried in Jensen's shoulder and he's breathing like he ran a marathon. "It's still n-not..." he whispers, lips grazing Jensen's skin, "I need..." He angles his ass up and out, struggling for something he's never had, never known, and Jensen has lost all ability to resist.

He reaches around, scoops one finger, just one, into Jared's soaking wet ass and it's like sliding a hot knife into butter. The ease with which he enters Jared -- a true virgin in just about every sense of the word -- is astounding.

The boy opens his mouth against Jensen's muscles and grinds his hips into Jensen's hand, trying to get as much of that one, thin finger into him as he can.

Jensen twists his wrist, discovers that little bundle of nerve endings and Jared cries out, knees slipping as far open as they can go and Jensen feels the telltale tingle at the base of his dick, knows he's gonna pop his knot fast.

He's gotta get inside Jared. Now.

Jensen's voice is a wreck. "Sugar, can you get up for me? On the bed?"

Jared's only response is a deep thrusting of his hips.

Goddamn.

"Jared, come on, we gotta get up."

"M-more," Jared mewls. "J-Jensen, I need more..."

Jensen's directive comes through clenched teeth. "You'll get a lot more. Just get on the bed. We can't do this on the floor."

Jared's still not listening, so Jensen yanks his finger free, trailing slick all along Jared's lower back, and he crawls out from under the wanton omega, kicking his pants off as he situates himself on the bed, back against the pillows, cock resting half on his stomach and half in the air.

Jared looks up, apparently stunned to see Jensen has moved and his almost drugged expression locks onto Jensen's cock.

"C'mon," Jensen demands. "Up here."

Jared's wobbly when he stands.

"And take off your t-shirt."

The boy is glorious completely naked, thin limbs just starting to develop muscle definition, long dick still rigid despite his orgasm.

Jensen's using sheer will and an almost literal iron fist to keep his knot down as Jared sloppily tosses his shirt in the corner and shuffles onto the mattress without taking his eyes from Jensen's lap.

"Like you were before," Jensen manages to breathe.

Jared swings a leg over Jensen's thighs and it takes very little to guide the tip of Jensen's cock to the saturated rim of Jared's ass. Like a bird takes to air or a fish takes to water, Jared sits in one swift motion, like he was quite literally born for this very instant and his ass just swallows Jensen's cock right up, knot bulging out just as Jared's tight band of flesh closes around the base.

It's beyond breath-taking, the joining; like a lock sliding into place.

"Jensen," Jared gasps.

Jensen's so caught in his orgasm, a long, drawn-out ejaculation deep into Jared, that it takes him a while to ask: "Okay, sugar? You okay?"

Jared's nearly transfixed, speechless, awestruck.

Jensen grabs Jared's biceps as another wave of thick come surges out of his heavy balls. "You gotta answer me, Jared."

Jared nods -- at least Jensen thinks that's what the motion is supposed to be.

Jensen sits up just a little higher against the pillows, dragging them both along the mattress, and scratches all ten of his fingers through Jared's hair, forcing the stunned omega to make eye contact. "Okay?"

Jared latches on to Jensen's forearms and this time he does nod, expression one of true reverence.

There's something about the dried tear tracks on Jared's cheek mingling with the look of emerging understanding and appreciation for the carnal nature of his own body that is incredibly sexy. Jensen never knew it would be so enthralling to watch an omega become aware of the power of his own lineage while stuck, completely and willingly, on Jensen's knot.

He's glad he learned it with Jared.

Jensen takes a deep breath and whispers, "You can lie down, sugar," while trying to pull Jared forward. "Trust me," he can feel his cock spurt at his own words, "you're gonna be there a while."

Jared bites his red bottom lip, white where his teeth sink in, and resists Jensen's tugging. He shakes his head a little and stutters, "I w-want... can I touch you?"

A shiver travels the length of Jensen's spine and he settles deeper into the pillows, letting go of Jared's head. "Absolutely."

For being so young and inexperienced, Jared's hands are incendiary. He starts tentatively at first, gripping Jensen's forearms lightly and scratching along his biceps. The smallest of touches send blurts of come out of Jensen's dick, filling Jared's already slick ass. Jensen's reactions are unlike anything he's experienced before -- he's never had an orgasm be this extended and exquisite all at the same time -- even at his own hand, clenched tight around a spongy, wet toy -- and he's not sure if it's because he's never knotted one of his own kind before or if it's Jared.

Jared pulls away a bit when he gets to Jensen's shoulders. "Do you like it?" he murmurs, unsure and yet oddly seductive in his hesitancy.

"If I like it any more, you might be stuck there for days."

The tiniest smile lifts Jared's lips, while his eyes stay glued to Jensen's collarbone.

Jensen has to ask, "Do you like it?"

Jared nods, apparently fascinated by something on Jensen's chest. "You're just..." Jared breathes. "Hard and strong and big and... I didn't know it could be like this. I didn't know..."

Jensen shoots another string of come into Jared, almost mindless at the overwhelming intensity of it all. A tickling sensation flickers along his groin, trailing down his hip, onto the mattress, and for a second he thinks his come is leaking out, past his knot and Jared's tight rim, but it's clear and more viscous. It's then that he realizes it's coming from Jared, his lubrication. There's so much of it it's actually spilling onto Jensen, everything's soaked and the scent -- God -- the scent is alluring and irresistible and kicks Jensen's heartbeat up another notch.

Jared's hard cock is practically submerged in the slick mess, drenching Jensen's abdomen. Jensen can't tell if the strings of clear fluid stretching between Jared's cock and Jensen's skin are precome or lubrication or a delicious mix of the two.

Jensen just knows he's gotta taste.

He palms Jared's wet dick and the boy jerks like a live wire has been placed against his body.

"God, look at you," Jensen whispers, so caught up in the picture of Jared locked securely -- so securely -- on his knot, riding the waves of pleasure, flooding Jensen and the bed with his own slick, he doesn't move his hand. "Making such a fucking gorgeous mess. You wanna come again?"

Jared squeezes his eyes shut at the same time he clenches internally, the rim of his ass clutching the base of Jensen's knot, creating the perfect seal for all of Jensen's come, despite the copious amounts of Jared's juices still spilling between them.

Jensen's distracted by the sight and he twists his fingers slowly, just at the head of Jared's dick, watches the shivers and tremors that march over Jared's skin. It's when he catches just his thumb under the head that Jared's eyes go wide and his cock spurts heavy, thick ropes along Jensen's already wet stomach and Jared's tight ass spasms around Jensen's knot, milking even more come out of Jensen.

He can't help but jerk his hips up a bit, riding the waves of Jared's pleasure with his own small counter-thrusts.

Christ, the boy might kill him.

But before he goes, he drags his fingers once up the length of Jared's still-twitching dick and brings them to his own mouth. The taste floods his tongue, makes him salivate and really suck on his fingers, so he gets it all. It's a little salty and a lot sweet -- almost saccharine -- the combination rachets his heartbeat even higher. He thinks he could easily feast on Jared all night.

"Jensen," Jared whispers, eyes locked on Jensen's lips, sounding startled and a bit dazed.

"You never tasted yourself before?"

Jared shakes his head erratically.

Jensen smiles, repeats the sweep of his fingers through the soggy wet on his abdomen and holds them up to Jared's mouth.

Jared lurches back a bit, clearly unsure. "I... i-it's kinda dirty..."

The innocent wonder in Jared's voice surges another rush of come through Jensen and he's momentarily speechless. He wants to appease Jared's worry with touch, but his hand is practically dripping. He inhales for composure and murmurs, "You don't have to, sugar, but if you want to there are no 'shouldn'ts' here. The only rule is you feel good."

He can actually watch Jared's contemplation -- the boy's eyes dart from Jensen's face to his fingers about three times before he gravitates toward Jensen's hand, and with a quick, tentative sweep of his tongue, takes a taste.

Jensen's dick jerks again at the soft, supple sensation against his middle finger -- it's like the skin of his hand is directly connected to his groin. Fuck, it's wildly stimulating.

Jared pulls back with an introspective air -- actually swirls his tongue in his own mouth as though sampling a delicate merlot, and whispers, "I like the taste of your kisses better."

In that instant, Jensen sees how wrong he'd been to think that only people with experience would bring anything new to sex. Jared's naivete, his guilelessness, his complete candor is so incredibly refreshing; it's actually deliciously hot. Jensen smiles, all out, and suggests, "Come down here and get one, then."

Jared circles his hips, grinding his taut ass around Jensen's cock and he's shy when he says: "M'not done touching, yet."

The chuckle slips past Jensen's lips and he relaxes back, still trapped in a seemingly endless rush of come. "By all means then, continue."

Jared looks enamored as he continues his exploration, tentatively sliding his hands along Jensen's sides, bumping along each rib. When the tip of Jared's thumb just grazes a nipple, Jensen's hips jerk up hard and Jared gasps on a high-pitched ah sound.

Jensen huffs, "Sorry, they're sensitive," and Jared looks intrigued.

Jensen has the overwhelming urge to return the favor just to see if Jared likes it too and before he can think better of it, he's got both his hands -- still wet from stroking Jared's cock -- against Jared's chest, plucking the dark red nubs between his thumbs and middle fingers.

Jared shivers wildly and his ass lifts up enough to really yank and tug at Jensen's knot and Jensen has to let go with one hand to staple Jared's thigh down with a murmured, "Careful, sugar. Don't hurt yourself."

"J-Jensen," Jared breathes.

"Feel good?" Jensen asks around a smile.

Jared grips Jensen's wrist, keeping his hand firmly against Jared's chest and the boy whispers, "I didn't know..."

Amazing.

Jensen raises his knees, encouraging Jared to lean back on them. "Take a breath for me."

Jared inhales, deep, puffing his chest out and this time, when Jensen squeezes Jared's nipple, just tight enough to provide stimulation, but not enough to hurt, Jared remains locked in place, almost like he's transfixed and his cock, more than half hard again, blurts a drop of precome out the slit.

"You young ones are always ready to fire, aren't you?" Jensen marvels, rubbing at the peaked nipple under his thumb.

Jared's chin trembles as he pulls Jensen's free hand to his rigid dick, saturated in an amalgamous mix of fluids, and says: "Do both."

Jensen's truly not sure what's hotter -- the fact that he can feel yet another gush of come from the head of his cock deep inside Jared or the soft spoken request from the awakening omega in his lap. Jensen starts a rhythm between both of his hands, mimicking the tug and pull on Jared's nipple with the same sensation on the tip of his cock.

It's not long before Jensen strips another, albeit smaller, spurt of come from Jared, white strands getting lost in the soppy mess on Jensen's stomach.

After his third orgasm of the night, Jared falls forward on Jensen's chest, air billowing out of his lungs like a balloon.

Jensen tucks his mouth under Jared's ear and asks, "Good?"

Jared's soft whine sounds affirmative.

Jensen feels his knot deflating and he knows he'll have to let go soon, finish up in the bathroom, but for a second or two, he sweeps his hands along Jared's back, listening to his omega murmur gratefully.

Jensen slips out inch by inch until Jared's rim closes just around the head of his cock and they separate with a sloppy sound and Jensen turns them to the side.

Jared whimpers against Jensen's neck.

Jensen hums a question.

Jared stretches his entire body, skin scraping skin when he admits, "I don't wanna be empty."

And despite coming so hard, for so long Jensen's fairly certain most of the fluid in his body just shot out through his dick, he feels the electric zip of renewed interest and he thinks with enough persuasion he could go again. "Maybe we should get you a toy after all."

Jared's face scrunches up in an insanely cute expression and a juvenile sound of denial whimpers out of him. "Want you, though."

"You can have me, sugar. Any time."

Jared looks up through his bangs, hazel eyes imploring. "Promise?"

Jensen smiles and connects their mouths in a warm but chaste kiss. "I do."

He didn't mean to deliberately mirror his words from earlier in the evening, but somehow it seems fitting.

Jared's lips lift in an adorable smile.

Jensen asks against Jared's ear: "Wanna get ready for bed?"

Jared shakes his head and whispers, unsure again, "Already did. A-and I don't wanna clean up. I w-want to keep it inside. Can I?"

Jensen swallows the lump in his throat and nods.

Jared squeezes Jensen tight. "Is it... okay if I stay?"

Jensen pulls back to make eye contact and tells him, "Sugar, this is your bed, too. You're not going anywhere."

Something shimmers a little in Jensen's chest when Jared smiles and settles in under the covers -- still naked.

He brushes his teeth and washes his face in record time and that funny feeling returns to his heart when he gets back to bed and finds Jared, still awake, sheet wrapped around his middle and looking at him like the sun will rise tomorrow only if Jensen says it can.

His marriage bed isn't anything like he thought it would be, but something certainly seems to click when he takes Jared in his arms and closes his eyes to sleep.

seperators

Jared wakes slowly, enjoying the feel of the mattress under him and the blankets around him during those first few seconds of consciousness. But he quickly becomes aware of the body spooned up behind him, arms wrapped around his waist, and he remembers... everything.

Heat trips through him, lighting his skin with need, filling his cock with blood -- it's not as overwhelming as his cycles are, especially because he knows now how to quench it and that he can.

Just the thought of Jensen's cock buried deep inside him makes his ass relax and open, wet with lubrication, both new and from last night -- he can feel it -- and he ruts back, searching for the completion that only came when they were connected, joined intimately.

Jensen sucks in a sharp breath behind him and tightens his hold around Jared's stomach. "Jared, Jesus," he murmurs, voice gravelly from sleep. "That's a hell of a wake up call, sugar. Sensing you, smelling you. So ready to submit to me, aren't you?"

Jared's groin clenches at the words from his alpha, knowing what they mean, knowing that it's natural for him, that he wants it so bad. "J-Jensen," he whispers, nipples tightening in his chest. "Can we?"

Jensen doesn't answer verbally. Instead, he hitches his hips forward just a bit and maintaining their position -- Jared's back plastered against Jensen's chest -- he pushes his thick, hard cock into Jared without stopping at all.

Jared's breath gets caught tight in his throat at the sensation of fullness -- just what he wanted -- and high-pitched sounds start slipping past his lips. He lifts a knee, tenting the sheet over them both, wanting to get wider, get Jensen deeper, anticipating Jensen's knot stretching him even more, looking forward to being stuck on his alpha's dick.

Jensen pulls back, almost completely out, cock backtracking through Jared's ass and Jared freezes, thinking he's done something wrong, thinking Jensen changed his mind. "Sorry. M'sorry..."

"Why are you sorry?" Jensen whispers against his neck before shoving back in, expanding Jared's ass again to accommodate the width of Jensen's cock.

For a second, Jared's so impaled he can barely conceive of language, let alone answer, but when Jensen's dick slides back out again, he says: "Jensen, why..."

Jensen presses in once more, but holds still once he's buried to the hilt. His voice is considerate and sincere. "Why what, Jared?"

Jared squirms, waiting to feel the knot expand. When it doesn't, confusion clouds his words. "Am I... doing... you k-keep..." his conviction fails him and he can't finish the sentence.

Jensen nuzzles behind Jared's ear and the sensation trips down Jared's spine. "You know you can ask me anything, sugar. Just let the words come out."

Jared inhales and even that slight motion moves Jensen's cock inside him and it takes a lot to speak through the overwhelming feelings. "Are y-you mad at me? You k-keep backing away..."

Jensen hums a funny noise, locks his arm against Jared's waist. "Come back, though, don't I?"

Jared curls his fingers around Jensen's wrist. "I... thought... thought it would be like last night..."

"I didn't get to properly fuck you last night. You popped my knot so fast. Wanna take my time a little right now. That okay?"

Jared nods, somewhat jerky, but he hopes Jensen understands.

"Like this," Jensen murmurs, slipping out only marginally, maybe an inch, before digging back in.

Jared gasps, loud.

"Good?" Jensen asks.

"Y-yes..."

"Hang on," Jensen whispers, thick. "You go to my head faster than whiskey."

His hips start churning again, each thrust gaining more and more momentum, pulling out farther every time, until Jared can feel his sensitive rim almost close around the head of Jensen's cock before he's plunging back in, expanding Jared's ass again and again to make room for the width of Jensen's dick.

Jared's dizzy with the contradicting feelings -- full, empty, full, empty -- back and forth -- until he's revved up so high, he almost can't see. He arches his lower back, instinct shoving his ass back into Jensen's groin. "Jensen, is... is this..." his voice dies out.

"Is this what?" Jensen breathes, without stopping the rhythmic penetration.

"Is this..." Jared scrabbles against the mattress, trying to get leverage, delighting in the sawing of their bodies, so different from last night. "Is this what it's supposed to be l-like?"

"There aren't any rules for this," Jensen's voice borders on a growl while he starts up a powerful pounding. "Just whatever feels good. Does this feel good?"

"Y-yes," Jared whimpers into the pillow, responding with a counter thrust to take each, deep stroke -- relishing the sensation of his tender flesh being opened and pierced by Jensen's cock over and over. "S-so good. I didn't know i-it could be like th-this. Just..." Jared feels bold with the fire in his veins and reaches behind him to hold on to Jensen's lower back. "Don't s-stop, okay? Please?"

Jensen scoops Jared's thigh up higher. "I have no intention of stopping until you're plugged up nice and tight."

The words and the motion and the warmth in his ass from the constant pressure and grinding and rubbing make everything constrict. He can almost feel it, his orgasm, racing up his spine.

Jensen chuckles, a subdued but compelling sound. "Looks like my boy likes a little dirty talk? Hmmm?"

When Jensen slides his hand from Jared's thigh to his cock, it's too much, the tingling and the staggering heat, and Jared spills over, white blurts coming in intense pulses, coating Jensen's palm.

Jensen makes a ragged sound, mumbles, "Shit, the feel of you," and stills his hips. Jared knows his alpha's knot is swelling.

"C'mere," Jensen commands, repositioning them so Jared's legs are closed, lined up tight against Jensen's, and prodding Jared's back until his upper body is almost perpendicular to Jensen.

Jared feels each swell of Jensen's knot, as the flesh grows bigger and bigger inside him, stretching and rending his ass even further and he wants to howl at the perfection of it all, the submission and being owned so completely. Jensen shoves one last time and Jared's rim closes up solid around the lump and it's exquisite.

"God, yeah," Jensen moans. "Fuck."

Jared thought for sure it was just his imagination last night that he could tell when Jensen came inside him, but it's not. His lower belly gets warm and Jensen shudders behind him and it's just all so right, Jared can't believe he actually thought to fight this. He can't believe he almost walked out last night.

He squirms, cinched up so tight with his mate that the feeling of fullness takes his breath. Just like last night, his dick doesn't even flag despite his earlier orgasm and he just wants to come again, secure on his alpha's knot.

He curls his right leg back around Jensen's knees and surges his ass back into Jensen's groin.

Jensen's voice is rough, "You like to make sure it's all in there, don't you?"

Jared moans his agreement into the mattress and reaches out with his hand to find Jensen's flat stomach. He needs the contact, wants skin -- his whimper is more pleading than acquiescent.

Jensen must hear the untapped urge because he asks, "What, sugar?"

Jared's not sure he can put it into words, so he continues to writhe against Jensen's hips, wanting nothing more than his alpha to just know.

Jensen's chuckle has affection at its core and he murmurs, "Okay, I get it. C'mere."

Jensen scoops Jared up in a luxurious, full-body roll, until they're aligned, Jared on top of Jensen's chest, facing the ceiling, and the motion somehow manages to churn Jensen's cock -- still as it is -- deep inside Jared, the sensations like fireworks behind Jared's eyes and he gasps on a deep moan. God, the expansion of his ass, the swelling of his sensitive, intimate flesh is so overwhelming, for a second, Jared forgets to breathe.

The shift allows Jensen's cock to hit that funny place inside that almost makes Jared think he has to pee, but it's so much more than that. Jensen found the spot with his fingers last night, but this is way more intense, Jared shakes a little and he fists the mattress, "J-Jensen... feels weird..."

Jensen must sense the alarm under Jared's words because his inflection is one of reassurance and guidance. "S'okay. It's your prostate. It's supposed to feel like that."

"I don't... it's not... I think I have to pee..."

Jensen nuzzles Jared's hair. "Is it too much? Want to sit up? Take some of the pressure off?"

Jared's no is vehement and instinctive -- despite the newness of the sensations, he doesn't want them to end. "I just... I don't wanna pee..."

"I promise you, sugar, you're not gonna pee. Y'know how sometimes in the morning you gotta rub one out or wait for it to go down before you can go? It's like that. We can't come and pee at the same time. You're fine. Just let go, okay? Let it take you wherever it wants to. No matter what happens, I'm not gonna be mad, okay?

The permission and promise shiver through Jared and he releases the worry and what little control he had over his body and settles against Jensen's chest, legs wide open around Jensen's upright knees.

"Now," Jensen's voice is honey-thick against his ear, "is this what you were after earlier? Hmmm?"

God, it so is. Jared can feel Jensen along his back, loves the sensation of Jensen's morning-rough jaw scraping along his cheek, and thoroughly enjoys the fact that he has to maintain a deep arch in his lower back to keep the tugging on his rim to a minimum -- even though he "forgets" sometimes just to feel the delicious strain.

He's stretched taught -- quite literally like a bow -- and there's no place he'd rather be.

Jensen pops his knees up higher between Jared's legs, easing the curve of his back and hums against Jared's cheek. "I like it, too. Now I can play."

Jensen's hands are like fire as they skim along Jared's stomach to his chest, latching onto his nipples. Jared groans and rubs his temple against Jensen's forehead. He never knew before yesterday how sensitive his nipples could be. Jensen's fingers pluck and pull and pinch a little, but all of it shoots sparks deep into Jared's balls, making him writhe.

Jared spreads his legs as wide as can, enjoying the sensation of being open and full and completely at Jensen's mercy.

Jensen releases Jared's left nipple to cup his dick in his hand and the threefold assault -- Jensen's fingers twisting his right nipple, the tip of his cock hitting that special spot inside Jared and the tight even stroking of his dick -- pushes Jared's orgasm out of his balls in one, visious surge. Jared trembles, caught helplessly, and can actually feel the rim of his ass spasm around Jensen's cock.

He chokes on his breath, fingers and toes clenching, and rides the pulses, scared for a second they might not end.

"God, yeah, sugar," Jensen whispers. "That's fucking hot."

When at last the final few blurts roll onto his stomach, Jared whimpers and grabs for Jensen's hand, yanking it away from his overly sensitive cock.

Jensen chuckles, "Don't wanna go for three?"

Jared shakes his head a little spastically against Jensen's cheek and slumps back against his chest, nipples tender and raw and his ass so full, he's almost on sensory overload.

After a few minutes, and even more of Jensen's come filling his belly, his breathing slows a bit and he thinks he could actually sleep like this.

Jensen kisses the corner of Jared's eyebrow and turns them, so they're lying the same way they woke up, Jared's back to Jensen's chest. Jared floats on the feeling of two orgasms and fullness, locked together with his husband. He had no idea mating could be like this, so gratifying, so amazingly good. His eyes droop a little and even as Jensen coats his insides, sleep beckons.

The next thing Jared knows, Jensen's standing over him, completely dressed and fresh-smelling, sweeping a hand through Jared's hair.

Jared jerks awake fast, a little confused where time had gone.

Jensen just smiles, "Hey there. You wakin' up?"

Jared nods, slightly off balance.

"I'm gonna go downstairs and get us some breakfast. How about you shower and meet me down there?"

Jared looks up into Jensen's warm, green eyes and agrees with another bob of his head.

Jensen kisses the tip of his nose and it sends a flush through Jared's chest and he grins at the sensation.

It takes Jared a while to get up -- he actually has to peel the sheet away from his lower body -- things are a bit sticky. Between his own drying slick and Jensen's come, he's a mess.

The shower is warm and the pressure is awesome, just like the night before, and Jared takes the time to notice the changes in his body. His ass is sore -- not a bad sore, just obviously stretched and sensitive. Moving his legs a certain way sets off a twinge deep inside and it reminds him that Jensen was there. He kind of likes it.

He's soaping his groin, lathering his pubic hair and he wishes he were shaved like Jensen. It was so amazing to see nothing but skin around Jensen's dick, he wants to know what it would feel like to be bare in a place that intimate.

He hopes Jensen might show him how to do it.

He's toweling off, digging through his bags for a fresh pair of jeans and a t-shirt and he knows something's different. He can't fully explain it, isn't totally sure what he's feeling, he just knows inside his stomach is a thick, acute sense of satisfaction like he's never experienced before. It makes him sigh, long and deep, savoring the physical sense of contentment after years of battling his body.

The ring on his left hand catches in the towel and Jared looks at it again. He kind of has trouble keeping his eyes off it, actually, and he likes spinning it with his thumb, reminding himself it's there.

He hadn't expected the rings at all, or the breath-taking sensation when Jensen slid the silver onto his third finger. He likes wearing something Jensen gave him and he's not sure he can really explain why.

Jared tiptoes down the stairs in his stockinged feet, still, after everything, a little hesitant and unsure about the situation. It's mind-boggling to think that yesterday at this time, he was lying in his own bed, stomach full of so much tension, he didn't even want to get up to eat a poptart -- and mom had just gotten his favorite: red velvet.

Now, he's trailing his fingers down the railing as he moves somewhat reluctantly to the first floor. He didn't get a chance to really look around last night -- he couldn't see much beyond his own panic and dread -- but when he makes it to the living room, he notices the space looks lived-in, homey. The couch droops a bit in the center, but it gives it a well-loved appearance. There's a throw bunched almost under one of the arms, like Jensen had just tossed it aside when he went to bed.

The television's pretty cool -- it's big and obviously high-def. Jared thinks the game will be awesome on it.

There's a huge photo over the fireplace. It's a single tree with a base that is probably as wide as a small bathroom -- and the branches spiral out almost as thick as the trunk, and just about touch the ground. Jared's a little captivated by it. The tree appears to be sagging under its own weight, but at the same time, the branches look sturdy and close enough to step up and walk on. There's something almost alive about the picture and it's a full minute before Jared stops staring.

The coffee table is covered in various papers and funny-looking tags, like the kind he's seen in potted plants; Jared figures Jensen must have been working there at some point in the recent past, but doing what, he hasn't a clue.

A clanging sound from the kitchen pulls Jared out of his speculation. The room is at the back of the house and he sneaks to the door and peeks around the corner to find Jensen wearing well-worn jeans, work boots and a v-neck white t-shirt that defines his arms vividly. For a minute, something calls to Jared, a sensation deep in his belly that says he should cross the linoleum and make contact, touch, just slide up behind his alpha and hang on.

The only thing that stops him is uncertainty. He's not completely clear about what he can and cannot do -- what's allowed here.

"You wanna set the table?" Jensen asks without turning around.

Jared twitches so hard at the sound of Jensen's voice -- and getting caught -- and how the hell could that have even happened when Jensen couldn't see him? -- that he cracks his knuckles against the doorframe with a loud thump. Wincing, he shakes out his hand and risks a glance toward the stove.

Jensen sets the frying pan away from the burner and crosses the kitchen, bringing his scent and self-assurance with him, making Jared's mouth water more than the smell of bacon and eggs. He stops when he's within touching distance. "You know how you get a funny feeling when you see me?"

Jared feels his jaw drop -- there's nothing he can do to stop it. How the hell did Jensen know that? He absently wonders if somehow his parents had found him an alpha who was psychic.

Jensen grins and it brings a tickle to Jared's chest. "Probably right around here," he says and reaches out, grazing the backs of his fingers along Jared's abdomen.

Jared sucks in a sharp breath and twists his hands into the denim of his jeans to keep from touching back.

Jensen keeps talking, "I know because I feel the same thing."

Jared jerks his eyes from Jensen's hand on his stomach to his face. He can't help but whisper, "You do?"

Jensen nods, skating his fingers around to Jared's lower back, stepping closer. "Practically from the beginning. When you first came down the stairs and saw me in your parent's dining room. That's what it's like for us. Alphas and omegas."

Jared's wholly trapped -- in the indolent sound of Jensen's voice, in the feel of his warm arm circling.

"C'mere, sugar," Jensen whispers. "Give me a hug. You've been out of my arms too long."

Jared goes without even a thought of hesitation, wraps himself up in Jensen -- right there in the kitchen -- so that they're plastered together, knee to neck. For a minute, Jared wonders if this is what it's like to be drunk. If anything could make his head spin like alcohol, it would be the scent of Jensen, the heat and strength of Jensen's body locked tight against his own.

It's so intoxicating.

Jensen's fingers meander up Jared's spine and get caught in the hair at the base of his neck. Jared loves the sensation that trips through him -- delicate, ethereal -- his vulnerable skin held so purposefully.

"Gonna set some ground rules here, Jared, okay?" Jensen murmurs, almost swaying them together to a rhythm Jensen sets. "You don't have to think twice around me. You can touch me whenever you want." Jensen chuckles then, a whuff of a sound that somehow loops around Jared's ear. "Well, within reason, I guess. Can't do anything unseemly in front of people. Don't want to scare the neighbors."

Jared pulls back quickly -- he needs for Jensen to know if there's one thing he's good at -- if there's one thing he truly excelled at growing up -- it's how to play by the rules, how to not make a scene. He would never draw attention to them. "I w-won't," he promises, sincerity as earnest as he can make it.

Jensen cups Jared's cheek, "Getting caught could be fun, though..."

Jared shakes his head, "No, Jensen, for real. I won't ever do anything to r-remind people what we are."

That brings a frown and Jared bites his lower lip a little. He didn't want to make Jensen mad, just assure him that he understood his place.

Jensen sweeps his thumb just under Jared's lip. "We are married, though, Jared, so we can act exactly like other married couples do."

Jared blinks. That doesn't sound right at all. Not only are they two men, but they're alpha and omega. Certainly people would discourage that -- it might make someone say something to them, or worse, pick a fight. "We can?"

"Hell yes, we can," Jensen says. "I mean, we probably shouldn't aim for a public indecency charge, but in the house? On my property? You can touch me any time you want."

Jared scratches the tips of his fingers along Jensen's shoulders just to have something to do while he processes this. "But," he starts, thinking out loud. "What if people don't like it? They'll be... m-mean. We should be careful."

Jensen huffs a noise that sounds frustrated. "I'm not talking blow jobs on the front porch here or anything," and just hearing Jensen say it -- so nonchalantly, so blithely -- makes Jared squirm a little, both freaked out and kind of turned on. "But if you want to grab my hand or my arm to make that connection, you can."

Jared's brows pull together. No good can come of being allowed to reach out to Jensen whenever the mood strikes.

"Okay," Jensen leans in for the smallest kiss to Jared's chin and says: "Sit down."

Jared scoops out a chair and whispers, "Sorry..."

He really didn't mean to turn their breakfast, let alone that awesome morning hug, into a big drama. He should go back to just agreeing with everything people tell him. It's easier. He'd learned how to do it at fifteen and it's a skill he's honed ever since.

It's just that Jensen's been so amazingly permissive and tolerant -- he doesn't even seem bothered by Jared's questions or need for understanding -- that it's hard to remember keeping quiet is better.

It's kind of weird that he seems to have lost the ability to fade into the background -- almost overnight -- when he had it practically perfected in high school. There's just something about Jensen that makes Jared want to capitulate to his wishes.

"First of all, sugar," Jensen takes the seat next to him. "Stop apologizing. You're fine. I meant what I said last night -- there's nothing off limits here. You can ask or tell me anything, okay?"

Jared nods, getting a little caught in Jensen's eyes.

"And we're married. We should act like it. Just like all the other couples you've seen. There were couples at your high school, right?"

Jared kind of feels like a bobble head, but he agrees.

"We have every right to do what any other couple would."

Jared shifts in his seat and shakes his head a little. "Jensen," he whispers. "What if people say something? I don't want people to be mean to you."

Jensen rests his elbow on the table and skims his thumb under his own chin. After a beat or two of silence, his eyes narrow. "But it's okay if they're mean to you?"

Jared drops his eyes. "People have been mean to me for years. Nothing new there. I just," he breathes for a bit. "I can't be the reason they're mean to you. Not you, Jensen. You're amazing. And you have all this," Jared makes a random gesture in what he hopes encompasses the house. "It's awesome. You deserve so much respect and being with m-me might not get you that." God, he hates when his voice wobbles. "We should j-just be really careful."

Jensen leans back and the wooden chair creaks a little. "People have been mean to you?"

Jared huffs a frustrated sound. Jensen's completely missing the point. Jared sometimes has trouble making himself understood and it aggravates him that it seems to be flaring up now. He knows he's too irritated to keep trying, though. "We should just... let's eat breakfast before it gets cold. It smells really good."

Jensen's mouth turns up in the smallest grin. "I'll give you a couple points for effort on that one, but you're not gonna deflect me that easily. Forget about breakfast getting cold. That's what microwaves are for." Jensen slides forward the smallest fraction and kicks his leg under Jared's, the denim of their jeans scraping the underside of Jared's calf. Jensen's voice changes -- it's not something Jared can really pinpoint -- just a different inflection, a quiet authority. "I need you to tell me about the people who were mean to you."

It's gotta be the alpha/omega thing. Jared's knees open just a little bit and he sags down in his chair, dipping lower, ceding to Jensen's command. It's instinct, nothing he consciously does. It just feels right, natural.

So he starts talking.

"When I was in school and people found out w-what I am," the memory stops him for a second -- that was a bad day. "They weren't... they didn't." He clears his throat. "It wasn't good. I kind of became the outlet for everybody after that. If someone got a bad grade on a test or something, I guess it made them feel better to knock me into a locker when they passed me in the hallway. If they didn't get asked out by the guy they wanted, tripping me seemed like a reasonable way to counteract that."

He's staring at the wooden table top but he's seeing high school, the crowds, the bodies rushing by -- never knowing when an elbow would come out or a knee would aim for him. He reaches to the top of his forearm, traces the scar there -- kind of wants to tell Jensen about that one because he totally showed the douchebags that day. "This," he lifts his arm and taps the raised skin. "Was the best. Some part of the locker caught me... I don't know if it was the actual lock or the handle or what, but man, did it bleed. And the best part is? I didn't make a sound. Dripped blood all the way to the bathroom and nothing. They didn't get me, you know? They didn't win that day at all. It was awesome."

He grins and makes eye contact -- so proud of himself, so pleased that even though it hurt like nothing he'd ever experienced before, he hadn't let them know -- and he jerks in surprise.

Jensen looks about as angry as Jared has ever seen him. He's seething -- it's the only description Jared can think of -- fury, red hot and potent, is practically steaming off him.

Jared shrinks away a little. "Jensen, i-it's..."

It's the lightest touch, when Jensen moves to cup Jared's elbow in his palm -- so incredibly at odds with his demeanor that Jared can't move. His muscles are locked up tight and he watches.

Jensen goes slow -- so incredibly easy -- and he brings his mouth to Jared's scar for the softest kiss Jared's ever known. When Jared was little his mom would read him stories -- fairy tales -- the kind with magic. As a boy, he wanted to believe, but it seemed so far-fetched and implausible that he always had doubts. Once he presented as an omega, he knew with the wisdom of a young adult that those stories were just illusions.

But that morning, in Jensen's kitchen, with a hint of sun peaking onto the countertops, getting only the muted sense of Jensen's mouth because of his scar, Jared's a kid again -- when magic could have been real. His entire arm shivers -- goosebumps marching up the skin -- and he wishes, with everything in him, that he had known Jensen years ago.

He would have been so much more equipped to handle the daily barrage -- Jensen's lips are better than any band-aid.

Jensen sits back up and breathes -- it's choppy and out of sync, but it seems like Jensen's reaching for control. His voice is a forced kind of calm. "Any of these people still around town? They stay after graduation?"

Jared shrugs. He truly has no idea.

Jensen's fingers still rub along Jared's healed-over wound. "I kind of want you to tell me if you see one of them and I'm around."

Jared nods, completely under Jensen's spell.

"But, also?" Jensen's eyes are the darkest green, promising a type of payback Jared's never even considered. "I kind of don't. Because it'll lead to an assault charge at the very least."

Jared should be freaked out, he knows he should, but something hot shoots through him instead. There's a small, secret part of him that likes knowing Jensen would go to bat for him like that, even while he's astounded that Jensen would actually consider it. "You would... you would do that?"

Jensen flashes a smile that looks kind of self-deprecating. "Not sure I could stop myself. I know it wouldn't take away what they did, but it sure would feel good to hand back what they dished out." He stands up, but doesn't move away from the table. "Also? No one should be allowed to hurt you. Ever."

He holds his mouth to the top of Jared's head for a split second -- Jared can feel Jensen inhale -- before he places a kiss there and moves back to the stove.

The eggs and bacon are just as good heated in the microwave -- as Jensen predicted -- and the English muffins are awesome with the jelly Jensen gets homemade from a local lady who's been canning it for years. They don't talk much while they eat, but they also can't seem to stop staring at each other.

Jared's glad it's not just him -- every time he glances up to Jensen, he finds the other man already watching.

Somehow, it feels like the best breakfast he's ever had.

"Man, I gotta get out there. Misha'll have my head." Jensen breaks the quiet as he takes his plates to the sink.

Jared looks up fast from his coffee. "What?" he asks. "You're leaving?"

Jensen turns around with a grin. "Not going far. Just to the backyard."

Confusion swirls in Jared's words. "To do what?"

"Gotta go to work."

That makes even less sense. And he has no idea who or what Misha is.

Jensen grabs a pair of gloves off the counter and heads to the door. He inhales and holds it, seems to contemplate something for a minute and then asks, "You wanna come with?"

Jared's up off his chair in a flash with a smile he can't contain.

Jensen swoops in for a lightening-quick kiss. "You're gonna need your shoes."

Jared almost whines and only just realizes he's still in his stockinged feet. "Don't go anywhere without me, okay?"

A funny look flickers over Jensen's face and he whispers, "I promise."

Jared doesn't have time for interpretation of the expression; he just knows he doesn't want to be alone without Jensen. He takes the steps three at a time -- four when he can manage it -- and is back in the kitchen -- sneakers on, tied and ready to go -- in record time, smile still stretching his lips.

"Better watch that gorgeous grin, sugar. No one'll be able to get their work done."

Jared freezes, soles actually squeaking a little on the linoleum. "Wait, there are people out there?"

"I've got a couple dozen employees."

Jared clutches Jensen's forearm. "Jensen, we can't go out there. They know you got married, right?"

Jensen shrugs, "Sure."

Jared fidgets. "Everyone will..." he clears his throat. "They'll know... w-what we did last night. That we... they'll know."

Jensen nods. "More than likely."

He's just not used to putting everything about himself out there for all to see. He hops a little, trying to make his point. "It's just..."

Jensen tilts toward Jared a little bit. "Sugar, even if we try to tell them we waited, they'll know from your face alone. People don't have to be alpha to see you've got that freshly fucked look."

Jared sucks in a sharp breath at the magnitude of his body's reaction. He should probably be offended, and before yesterday he likely would have been, but he really feels nothing but heat and the urge to roll over and offer up his ass. Maybe Jensen's right. Maybe he does have a thing for dirty talk.

"For the record," Jensen continues and it's like his voice drops a whole octave. "It's a hell of a good look on you."

Jared knows that his mouth falls open and his ass gets a little wet. He can see Jensen's nostrils flare and he really, really wants to go back upstairs, despite his earlier protest of everyone knowing, and take Jensen inside him again.

"Christ, you're gonna be the death of me," Jensen growls before pushing open the door.

It's a few seconds before Jared feels in control enough to look up at Jensen and when he does, the world is awash in color.

Not only did Jared not pay any attention to the interior of the house last night, he realizes he had no idea where Jensen had taken him. Sprawling just at the bottom of the hill behind Jensen's house is a nursery -- shrubs and flowering annuals and perennials and a ton of other varieties Jared can't even hope to name freckle the land.

It's gorgeous to the point of being almost breathtaking and Jared's fingers itch for his sketchpad.

There's a pond, lush with greenery surrounding it on the left and a gravel parking lot just under an archway entrance. There's a building at one end of the stones with an open sign on the doors and in the back, on the other side of Jensen's house, a more utilitarian-looking shed and rows and rows of odd shaped structures with white covering. There's activity and color everywhere and Jared blinks a few times, almost like when Dorothy opened the door to Oz.

Jared realizes Jensen is a few feet ahead of him and he scurries to catch up.

They don't go far out of the yard before a dark-haired man moves up to them, saying: "I told you you should have taken an actual honeymoon."

"And leave you in charge? I'd end up with a sales yard full of yucca plants," Jensen quips back.

The man shakes his head. "Not even showing up to work until almost noon. Scandalous."

"It's nowhere close to noon, you ass," Jensen says as he turns to Jared. "Misha, I'd like you to meet Jared. My husband."

Jared had been following the give-and-take with the delight of an observer, one used to staying in the background, but at the use of the word husband, not mate, not something obligatory, a warmth shimmies in Jared's full stomach and he smiles a little.

Misha steps up with a hand extended. "Pleasure to meet you, Jared."

Jared mirrors Misha's pose and shakes the other man's hand.

Misha tilts an eyebrow toward Jensen. "This one couldn't stop talking about you since the day he came back from your folk's place."

Jensen clears his throat pointedly.

"Jared," Misha says expansively. "What do you think about yucca plants?"

Jared pulls his hand back and steps a little behind Jensen. "Um..."

"My research shows they're very hardy and they have amazing feng shui," Misha explains.

Jensen rolls his eyes. "This is why you manage the sales yard and aren't in charge of ordering inventory."

"No," Misha argues. "That's because you're a control freak and want to be the only one who gets to flirt with the sales rep from Tennessee Wholesale."

Jared frowns. Something unpleasant darts through him at the thought of Jensen laughing and teasing and joking with someone he might be interested in -- someone other than Jared. It doesn't feel right. He knows it's barely been twenty-four hours since they were married, and he shouldn't be so possessive in such a short amount of time, but Jared finds that he likes belonging to Jensen and he doesn't want to share or give him up. At all.

Going on instinct and Jensen's earlier words, Jared reaches out and hooks just his index finger around Jensen's pinky.

Jensen glances over his shoulder, shakes his head in silent reply to Misha's statement, and twists his wrist until their fingers are laced together, squeezing once.

"Don't you have a display to arrange or something?" Jensen asks Misha with a shooing motion of his free hand.

Misha shrugs. "Probably."

Jensen points.

Misha sighs rather dramatically given the situation, pivots and marches away.

"You know what they say about good help," Jensen quips.

"Hard to find?" Jared smiles.

"Hard to find." Jensen stands for a minute, contemplating the grounds. "Let's start at the potting shed. We'll hit the sales yard after Misha's found someone else to bother."

As they walk -- still hand in hand -- Jared realizes he actually recognizes this place. Hillside Nursery. His family sometimes took trips here in the summer when his mom and dad would get some weird need to plant shrubs around the house. They're only about an hour away. He absently wonders if that was one of their conditions they had for the lawyer when they set all this up.

The potting shed has the deep smell of earth and soil and moisture and behind it are rows and rows of those curved structures covered in white plastic.

"And this is Tom," Jensen's saying as he motions to a really tall guy filling a cart with black pots. "He manages the growing yard."

A tall man stands up -- impressively tall -- and Jared just manages not to shrink in the face of that height. He's reminded of the basketball stars at his high school who seemed to revel in the fact that even though Jared was 6' 4" they could still look him in the eye -- and they used that advantage on more than one occasion. It's tough for Jared not to be intimidated by someone his size -- he hunches over, just a little, to compensate and hopefully throw the guy off, and spins his wedding ring around the finger of his free hand with his thumb.

Jensen must sense something because he jiggles their hands together and pulls Jared just a step ahead of him. "Tom's a good guy," he advises, unlacing their fingers.

Tom moves toward them, shakes off a glove, right hand outstretched. "Jared, nice to finally meet you."

The other man's eyes are warm -- green, but not as nice as Jensen's -- and that's the only thing, (well, that and Jensen's presence behind him), that gives Jared the courage to complete the gesture.

He still can't speak, though.

"You ever wanna know how a nursery really runs, you come see me." Tom winks and Jared just hopes it's not a precursor to some really-not-funny practical joke.

"Nice, Welling," Jensen chuckles. "You been talking to Misha?"

"Oh, hell no," Tom laughs. "If it were up to him, we'd all be meditating at noon. What the hell is his newest obsession with yucca plants?"

"I do not know," Jensen shakes his head.

"Yo, Welling!" a female voice calls. "What the fuck house am I telling the kids to put the damn arborvitae in again?" The dark haired woman in dirty jeans and a t-shirt tied off at her hip startles a little when she sees Jensen. "Shit, sorry, boss. Didn't know you were back here."

"No problem, Trace, this is just why you're not in the sales yard," Jensen smiles.

"Can I help it the old bitties don't know a good swear word when they hear one?"

"Oh they know 'em," Tom says. "They just don't expect to hear them out loud."

Jensen slides his fingers along Jared's arm. "Traci, I want you to meet my husband, Jared."

Traci's eyes widen. "Well good goddamn, Ackles, you sure snagged yourself quite a little hottie here, didn'tcha?" She reaches out a hand to Jared. "Traci Dinwiddie. How ya doin'?"

Jared tries for a congenial expression, but he's not sure he manages it. His head's spinning a little.

"Yeah," Traci says as though Jared spoke. "This place can do that to ya. This guy here ever doesn't treat you right, you come to me, I'll settle his ass out."

Jensen sighs. "Traci's Tom's assistant. They pretty much run this area."

"I gotta crack the whip," Traci grins. "Tom here just wants to be the good cop."

Tom makes a face that says otherwise. "Number four, Trace."

"Huh?"

"Polyhouse number four. S'where the arborvitae go."

"Ah," she says saluting. "Message received. Back to work it is. Jared, you hot piece of ass, don't be a stranger back here, okay?"

Her feet crunch on the stones as she leaves.

"He meet Mama Sam yet?" Tom asks.

"We're headed there now," Jensen tells him.

"Cool. Jared, don't let Tracy scare you off. You're welcome back here any time," Tom nods and turns back to the pots on his cart.

Jared thinks maybe Tom's not such a bad guy after all.

Mama Sam's in the sales yard surrounded by greens and golds and reds and flowering shrubs almost every color of the rainbow. Jensen introduces her as Samantha Ferris and her smile is as warm as the June sun.

"Jared," Sam draws his name out so that it sounds like they're old friends who haven't seen each other in a while. "Welcome to Hillside. I sure have been looking forward to meetin' you."

He knows instantly why Tom called her mama. She has this welcoming, agreeable vibe that kind of makes Jared want to hug her and tell her all his worries all at the same time. In fact, he spends a lot of time with her that afternoon, following her under the shade cloth house, listening to the history of the place -- and even a little about Jensen -- and he thinks she's kind of like his own mom in how comfortable he is around her.

Jensen interrupts only once to let him know he's gotta check something in the showroom, asking if Jared's okay.

Jared nods, getting less and less freaked out at the idea of being away from Jensen's side because of how nice Sam is.

Jensen whispers, "good" and steps forward to place a quick kiss on Jared's temple -- one Jared can feel almost to his toes -- before making his way across the sales yard. Jared can't help but watch him go, admiring the sway of his hips in his jeans and the bowed stretch of his legs.

"Uh huh," Sam says, like she's confirming something, hoisting the watering can higher so she can reach the hanging basket over her head.

"What?" Jared asks, stretching up to support the watering can so Sam doesn't fall.

She steps back and fixes him with an incredibly knowing look. "You got it pretty bad already, don't you?"

Jared frowns. "Got what?"

Sam chuckles softly. "You'll figure it out sooner or later."

The rest of the day is spent watching Sam and Misha argue about placement of butterfly bushes in the sales yard, sharing a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches with Jensen on the back porch, and helping Tom move a new shipment of azaleas into one of the polyhouses.

By the time evening rolls around, Jared's sitting on the floor of the living room with one of his suitcases at his knees, legs crossed. His stomach is full of Jensen's homemade spaghetti and he's pretty exhausted, not that he did much, but meeting Jensen's employees was a task in and of itself.

He's pulling out some of the stuff from his room that he'd taken with him -- almost as an afterthought -- his catcher's mit, his X-box, the folder that has all his smelly stickers from when he was a kid -- yeah, lame, but it reminds him of when he and his sister would gross each other out, sniffing things like old boot and garbage. They're nostalgic.

It's when he gets to his sketchbook that Jensen -- who's been sitting on the couch, probably watching Jared unpack -- speaks up. "Hey, what's that?"

Jared wants to believe it's just coincidence that Jensen picks the one thing that means the most to him, but after the day they've had -- seemingly on the same page in a way that's almost eerie -- he can't be sure.

He bites his bottom lip and holds the pad up to Jensen wordlessly.

Waiting while Jensen leafs through his sketches -- page by page -- might be some of the hardest moments of Jared's life. They're mostly just black-and-white, charcoal-like pencil drawings. Some of people, his family; some of landscapes that caught his eye. Some are so random, even he's not sure from where the inspiration came. No one -- not even Chad or Katie -- has ever seen all of his drawings.

"Where'd you get these?"

Jared takes a breath and goes for it. "I drew them."

There's a beat of silence where Jared's a little scared that his heart might stop before Jensen whispers, "Damn. These are amazing. You seriously drew them?"

Jared nods, caught in a cascade of warmth in his chest at Jensen's praise. It's one thing when they're knotted together and Jensen's telling him how good he is and how hot he feels, but it's different somehow when it's about something Jared created. Jared knows tons of other people can draw, but he likes to think that even if there are similar subjects out there, not one of them is exactly the same as Jared's -- because it came from his hand, his pencil, his mind.

Having Jensen approve of that means something.

"Wow, sugar," Jensen closes the tablet almost reverently. "I only wish I could do something like that. I always wanted to be able to draw. Or sing, for that matter."

Jared watches Jensen trace a pattern on the front of the sketchbook. "You can't?"

Jensen chuckles. "Not even remotely. I'm as tone deaf as a tree frog."

Jared's not completely sure that's an apt metaphor -- some of the tree frogs he's heard were quite melodious.

"But this," Jensen says, attention still on the pad. "This is talent. Do you want to be an artist?"

Jared sighs and shrugs. "I don't know. I wanted to go to college..."

"Yeah?"

Jared nods. "Yeah, but then mom and dad told me about... well, the government and with me being an omega, that was out pretty quick."

Jensen's quiet for a bit, contemplative.

"Anyway," Jared says, just to break the silence. "M'not really sure what I wanted to do."

"Yeah," Jensen sits back against the couch. "I always thought it was ridiculous to ask an eighteen year old what they wanted out of life. I mean, how the hell are you supposed to know, you know?"

Jared agrees with a nod, but asks, "Didn't you know you wanted this place?"

Jensen tilts his head up, eyes trailing up the fireplace, seeing something that Jared suspects is in the past. "Not at first, actually. All I knew is that I didn't want to be a lawyer. The rest kind of just happened," he shrugs.

Jared follows Jensen's gaze to the photo above the mantel -- that oddly engaging tree that takes up the majority of the brick -- and Jensen must see him looking because he continues, "Yeah, believe it or not, that picture's part of it. I found it at a flea market, of all places. Man, that was a while ago," Jensen shakes his head a little, "Anyway, there was just something about it, you know? I like the fact that the tree looks like it shouldn't be standing -- like you know how most trees, the trunk grows for a while before the branches take over, but not this one. It's almost like the branches start at the ground."

Jared stares -- Jensen's words almost bring the photo to life.

"You know trees are the one thing that really fights gravity? Other than birds and planes, I guess, but think about it," Jensen twitches up a little higher on the couch. "Everything's affected by gravity. You hold something out and let it go, it falls. Hell, we even succumb to gravity every night when we sleep. But trees," Jensen breathes for a beat, two. "Trees actually grow reaching up -- way farther than they really should be able to, aiming for the sun. Do you know what kind of energy it takes for a plant to grow from a tiny little sapling to a tree like that? What all has to happen? It's kind of amazing."

Jared reacts completely on instinct and crawls off the floor, onto the sofa, next to his mate.

Jensen makes eye contact right before Jared tucks his head under Jensen's chin.

"You okay, sugar?"

Jared nods, cheek grazing Jensen's t-shirt and he whispers, "Just wanted to be up here with you."

Jared's not sure, but he thinks he can actually feel Jensen smile into his hair as they get situated, Jared almost in Jensen's lap, legs twisted over Jensen's thighs and Jensen's one arm wrapped around Jared's back.

Jared had always seen other couples in this position in the movies, but he never knew it could be this comfortable. Sure, he snuggled every once in a while with his mom or sister -- but the older he got, the more rare that became. He didn't realize how nice it could be to be in someone's arms -- especially Jensen's. The scent of his alpha washes over him, rich and almost hypnotic. He can hear Jensen's solid heartbeat under his ear and Jensen's arm around him is so warm and it's like something just clicks, the two of them here, on a couch in a quiet room, Jensen's nursery closed up for the night outside.

It feels really right.

Jared snuggles a little deeper into the embrace, the denim of their jeans scraping, and he curls his stocking feet almost under Jensen's thigh.

Jensen squeezes him lightly and keeps talking, "Anyway, I liked the picture because to me it was about something that went against what everyone expected," Jensen chuckles against the top of Jared's head and swirls a finger around Jared's hip. "That's a little on the nose, I know, but it's what I thought when I saw it."

Jared's a little caught up in the spicy scent of Jensen's skin in combination with the clean smell of detergent from the shirt he'd changed into before dinner, but he thinks he mumbles, "makes sense."

Jensen drags his lips along Jared's hairline until he finds skin and pulls back to say: "Look up here a second."

Jared complies, can't help kissing Jensen's chin on the way to making eye contact.

Jensen reaches out, hooks Jared's nose between his first two fingers and grunts the strangest noise.

Jared blinks, scrunches his face at Jensen's concerned expression.

"That might need a tune up." Jensen smiles, corners of his eyes creasing.

A solid warmth shimmies through Jared's stomach and his answering grin is completely involuntary.

Jensen leans forward for the softest kiss before asking, "How 'bout some TV?"

Jared whispers, "Yes, please."

Jensen tucks Jared back against him and they find The Voice blind auditions and both agree that Blake and Adam are totally screwing around and they've got an almost perfect success rate at guessing what judge a contestant will pick. Jared reaches the point where it almost feels like Jensen's body is an extension of his own. He's a little stunned to feel so connected to another person -- especially when he's spent most of his life trying to elude other people.

During a commerical break, Jared gets a little dizzy when he thinks about what a difference a day can make in a person's life.

seperators

Jared calls his parents the following morning, assures them that he's fine and he has a feeling his mom must hear something in his voice because she sounds more light-hearted by the end of the conversation than she's been in months. He tucks his phone in his pocket and goes to look for Jensen.

He makes the mistake of stopping by the showroom first.

Misha's there with all kinds of plants in all kinds of colors and the man's dark hair looks even more disheveled and he's jumping back and forth between tables and plastic crates like a crazed mad scientist.

Jared hesitates at the door, but in addition to being a gifted designer, Misha also apparently has eyes in the back of his head. Without turning, he calls to Jared and somehow convinces him to help rearrange the showroom. It's nice because it's air conditioned, but Jared didn't really intend to spend so much time in one place.

"Because it's literally on the side of a hill," Misha's explaining the name of the nursery while Jared moves a pile of pink pansies and begonias. "Our fearless leader is nothing if not creative."

Jared wants to defend -- even in the short amount of time he's been here, he knows how truly creative Jensen can be -- but he's pretty sure Misha's just messing around, so he stays quiet.

Plus, Misha keeps talking. "But seriously, we've gotta move this place into the 21st century. The tried and true stuff will only cut it for so long. People want variety. People want something different. People want... yucca plants. Don't you think?"

This tirade occurs while Misha gestures where he wants Jared to put whatever plant he picks up in the moment and Jared wonders if Misha ever does any real work or somehow manages to find some other sucker to do it for him.

"Don't listen to him," Sam says, coming in from the back with a pile of tableclothes. "What our intrepid marketing guru here doesn't understand is we're not a nursery in downtown L.A. You wanna try to explain to Mrs. Pierson why she's only going to find yucca plants and not her precious geraniums? I mean, how will she decorate her front porch? Have you considered that?"

Misha sighs. "I didn't want this to get out, but Mrs. Pierson and I are having a torrid affair. She's so in love with me, I could sell her a ketchup popsicle while she was wearing white gloves. Trust me, I could trade out those geraniums for yucca plants in no time."

Sam rolls her eyes and says: "Hey, Jared, can you help me outside for a second?"

Jared jumps at the chance to get away from Misha's diatribe about yucca plants, even though the other man whines pitifully as Jared follows Sam out the door.

Once they're in the sales yard, mid-summer sun heating Jared's skin, Sam sweeps her arms out in front of her. "Go on, scoot. I don't actually need anything out here, just wanted to give you the option of getting out of there. Tom's all excited about the Japanese maples that just came in if you wanna go take a peek."

Jared grins wide, "You're the best."

Sam winks as he takes off for the potting shed.

"... so there's this racket from the back of the line and one of the nuns jumps ahead of all the others. When the father asks what her hurry is about, she says, 'Well I wanna drink it before she has to sit in it.'" Traci claps her hands and whoops.

Tom's chuckle shakes the stream of water from his hose and they both turn when Jared approaches.

"There's my little hottie," Traci greets. "How are things up in the higher altitudes?"

Jared smiles. "Sam said you got some new trees."

Tom nods to the pile of roots he's watering. "Hell yeah we did. Some of the finest young Japanese maples you ever did see." Misha told Jared Tom watches way too much Andy Griffith Show and Jared suddenly gets why people say that. "They're gonna be incredible and easily bring in three times what we paid for them once Trace and I get 'em all grown up."

"Actually, hotness, you're just in time. Feel like helping me move out some junipers?" Traci asks.

Jared nods, grabs a spare pair of gloves from the work bench and follows her outside as she's calling over her shoulder, "I tell you the one about the nuns at confession?"

When he tells Jensen the joke later that night, Jensen worries that Jared's being corrupted by the employees at Hillside.

Jared just smiles into Jensen's bicep, not wanting to contradict his alpha and husband.

seperators

A shocked breath jerks Jared awake a few mornings later and for a second, he has no idea what day it is or where Jensen is -- he's only vaguely aware of the light coming through the window telling him it's morning -- all he can genuinely discern is the deep, throbbing pulse of his heat cycle making him ravenous for his alpha's cock.

Jesus, he though it was bad before, but now that he truly knows what he needs and has had it before, he's almost mindless with it. He feels his ass puff open over a flutter of want so great, it literally stops his breath for a second.

He's soaked the bed beneath him and his hips are grinding, scraping the mattress, practically of their own accord. His boxers are likely a lost cause and all he knows, all his body is telling him, is that he's gotta find Jensen.

Jared flounders his way out of bed, his legs and painfully hard dick tangled in the sodden sheets, and saves himself from full-on face-planting on the carpet with surprising reflexes, given his current state. He crawls -- and if he could see himself and muster any sense of shame, he'd likely be totally humiliated, but he needs to be penetrated so badly, he's a breath away from doing it himself -- with his fingers or his fist or any other object he can find.

He wants it hard and thoughtless and inconsiderate of any strain on his ass.

Bouncing off doorways, half blind with need, Jared truly isn't sure how he makes it down the stairs without breaking a limb or two -- he only knows the sheer, infinite relief that hammers through him when Jensen, wild-eyed and frantic, slams through the back door.

"Jared, my god. I could smell you all the way from the potting shed."

"Jensen," Jared's voice is shattered and he cries out on a wave of hunger so overwhelming, his knees literally buckle.

He's saved from hitting the carpet by Jensen scooping him up, and the surfeit of sensation that cracks through him at feeling Jensen's jeans and t-shirt against the naked, fevered skin of his chest and thighs makes him growl and hump and chafe his entire body up-and-down, back-and-forth against his husband.

"You're in heat?" Jensen whispers.

Jared whines -- he may be incapable of actual words -- and kicks out of his boxers so he's completely nude, grinding against Jensen in the foyer. He can't decide whether he needs to cant his ass back in the hopes of getting anything inside or rubbing his dick along the seam of Jensen's zipper.

"Okay, sugar... fuck... hold on, we gotta..." Jensen's murmuring against Jared's neck and trying to maneuver them to the stairs.

Jared's too senseless to help at all, now that he's got the solid weight of Jensen all along his front and the promise of getting fucked to within an inch of his life in his near future.

He has no idea what brings them down -- he's way too intent on the scent and feel and presence of his husband to worry about trivial things like his surroundings -- but they make it halfway up before Jared feels the corner of a carpeted step digging into his lower back and another at nape of his neck. He arches between them both, bending his spine into a deep curve.

"Should've gotten you some toys," Jensen whispers.

Jared stretches his legs, opens his knees as far as he can -- wishing the stairway were wider so that he could split himself even further. He does what he can, hitching his knees almost to his chest and curling the toes of his left foot around one of the rails and anchoring his right foot along the wall for leverage. He tilts his ass up into the air, tailbone supported by the step, reaches above his head and digs his fingers into the carpet.

His entire body is humming, centered on the throbbing in his empty hole and he shouts a little when Jensen pushes three fingers in, but it's still not enough, he needs so much more. "Jensen," he draws.

"Sugar, I can't," Jensen tells him in a pained tone. "I popped my knot when I first smelled you."

"No no no, I wanted the come," Jared whines, not even sure what he's saying at this point.

"Didn't come yet," Jensen grunts. "Just popped it."

Jared inhales and focuses for a second on his husband. "You can do that?"

"Yeah," Jensen answers offhandedly. "But there's no way we can actually fuck right now."

Jared shakes his head vehemently, hair scritching against the carpet -- he wants that thick knot so bad -- especially now that they're talking about it. "No, no... you can... y-you still can..."

"That's not the way it works, Jared," Jensen's pretty breathless and his fingers never stop the rhythmic breach and retreat, make slurping sounds in Jared's soaking ass. "I have to be inside you first."

Precome trickles over Jared's ribs with each thick throb of his cock and he knows the step under his hips has to be wet, but he couldn't care less. His entire being, every single heartbeat, is focused on his alpha's big knot.

"Please, please, please," he moans against his own bicep, "please just t-try... I swear I'll tell you if it's too much..." he has no intention of doing any such thing -- Jensen could likely drive a baseball bat up his ass and he'd take it and fucking love it right now -- he'd say anything at this point to get what he suddenly needs more than air. "J-Jensen, please..."

"God, Jared..." Jensen groans, nosing along Jared's collar bone.

"Feels like I'm g-gonna die if you're not inside me," Jared whispers. It's not really that far from the truth.

Jensen kisses under Jared's jaw. "You're not gonna die."

Jared rolls his hips up, clenches his ass tight around Jensen's fingers. "I m-might... it h-hurts..."

Jensen slows. "What hurts?"

"My belly..." Jared grunts, not totally lying -- there really is a deep ache inside. "Need you, Jensen... n-need you so bad..."

"I don't want to hurt you," Jensen whispers, but Jared can hear the waver in his voice.

"You won't," Jared promises, relatively certain nothing would actually hurt as long as he's breeched by something thicker than Jensen's fingers soon. "You n-never hurt me."

"Jared," Jensen's tone is hesitant, but he pulls away to reach for the button and zipper on his jeans and Jared can actually feel the surge of lubrication leak out of his ass at the implications behind the motion. "Just," Jensen continues. "We'll just give you wh-what we can, okay?"

Jensen's shaking almost as much as Jared and Jared nods unevenly, ready to agree to anything that will get Jensen's cock out of his pants.

God, his husband's dick is so gorgeous -- Jared's a little obsessed -- it's thick and the veins that run along the shaft are perfect -- Jared always wants to trail his fingers over them -- and the knot, so pink, so smooth, so wide, sitting right on top of Jensen's sleek, hairless balls -- for a second, Jared's transfixed, just staring.

He loves how Jensen's jeans part to reveal the dark, blood-filled cock and Jared wants it so bad, his toes actually tingle and the rim of his ass opens on a swell of wetness.

"Okay," Jensen breathes, wrapping his fingers around the knot. "Just..."

Jared gasps at the penetration, even though it's only up to the knuckles of Jensen's fist -- it's exquisite, but he knows it'll be better when he can get every inch inside. "Jensen," he moans. "I need..." he grabs onto Jensen's biceps, "wrap your arms a-around me... p-please... I want you against me..."

Jensen huffs an uncertain sound and winds his free hand around Jared's lower back to lean forward and balance somehow on his knees and elbow.

Jared whimpers softly and yanks on Jensen's opposite forearm, trying to get him to let go of the knot.

An indescribable sound grinds past Jensen's teeth -- an erotic blend of hiss and sob and frenzied moan all in one. "Jared... god... sugar, please don't, I don't want to hurt you."

Jared's beyond mindless at this point, solely focused on taking every, single bit of his alpha's dick. He's chanting both both both both under his breath, hoping the plea will get him what he wants.

With a low, guttural cry, Jensen surrenders, burying his face against Jared's neck and looping both of his arms around Jared's lower back.

Jared can't help the triumphant noise he makes and he immediately twists his legs and arms along Jensen's shoulders and back, hooking his ankles together at the base of Jensen's spine, and pulls.

"Careful, Jared," Jensen practically begs against Jared's clavicle. "God, please be careful."

Jared hears his husband, he really does, but the meaning of the words is a remote, distant thing. He's consumed with the ancient demands of his body -- he swears he can feel his heartbeat thump in his ass, where they're connected, the rim stretching and expanding, begging for Jensen's whole knot.

Even in his heightened state, Jared can tell -- he just knows on an instinctive level -- that Jensen's holding back and while part of Jared appreciates the gesture, the untamed part of him suddenly wants the alpha, the carnal beast that Jensen's biology must be clamoring to unleash, just as Jared's is demanding to yield and submit and take -- and he knows if Jensen would let go, they could be joined like they're supposed to be.

"Jensen," he whispers, lips rubbing along the short spikes of Jensen's hair, ass opening and closing, getting more and more of his mate inside himself what feels like millimeters at a time. "Please... please, I s-swear it's okay. You feel so good... I just need m-more... I need the whole thing," Jared implores -- this can't be just him surging up -- Jensen's gotta bear down for this to work. His voice sounds funny even to his own ears -- deep and certain and heavy like he usually never is, "I need my alpha. Jensen... please..."

It's like a switch gets flipped and Jensen honest to God growls, strong and powerful and bordering on animalistic and he pulls back only to pound forward again, so forcefully Jared can feel the carpet burn forming on his lower back.

Yes.

Dear God, yes.

Jared helps as best he can by lifting his hips with each down stroke and every time, he can feel his ass split open just that much further. It takes four or five more thrusts before the delicate flesh gives, rends open far enough to swallow the entire bulb of Jensen's pulsing knot with a slippery sound.

Jared's jaw drops open and he yells. Loud. He can't help it. It's so fucking good.

It's incandescent, the sensation that trips through Jared's entire body once his rim closes up around Jensen's knot. He can feel his face and chest flush and his orgasm, which coats both his and Jensen's stomachs in rhythmic white strips is almost secondary to the boundless experience of utter completion at having his mate locked tight against him.

Jensen goes completely rigid for a full five seconds, a slight quiver in his extremities, and Jared knows his husband's orgasm is coating his insides.

It's so quiet for a while the only noises are their breathing and the birds outside.

"Shit," Jensen hisses, astonishment in his voice, seemingly yanked out of his primal stupor. "Jesus... fuck... sugar, tell me you're okay..."

Jared unravels his arms from Jensen's shoulders and when they make eye contact, Jared dips his fingers along his own stomach and shows Jensen the white fluid.

Jensen's chuckle is ragged. "I'll take that as a yes, you're okay."

Jared can only murmur his agreement.

They're both sweaty, covered in a light sheen that does gorgeous things to the sun-kissed complexion of Jensen's skin. Jensen's t-shirt is damp and the front of his jeans are soaked and warm and despite being completely overheated, Jared just wants to rub up against his husband to get his scent and primitive perspiration all over himself.

"God," Jensen hugs Jared tight for the space of three breaths, four. "We're gonna need to figure out a way off the steps."

"Hmmm," Jared responds, churning their hips together, just to feel his husbands big knot gripped tight in his ass.

"I can see you're gonna be a big help here."

Jared giggles softly.

Jensen's inhale sounds irritated, but there's a sparkle in his green eyes that belies the alleged annoyance. "Okay, can you hang on?"

Jared anchors himself to Jensen, legs and arms and nose fixed over his shoulder, and when Jensen slides back to his haunches, Jared gasps, the motion jolting Jensen's cock deep inside him.

"Okay?" Jensen asks around a shiver of his own.

Jared can only nod.

When Jensen stands, getting both of them upright by the power of his thighs alone, Jared's entire body clenches at the sensation. Jared has no idea how his husband manages it, but somehow, he lumbers up the remaining five steps and backs Jared into the opposite wall.

"Give me a minute," Jensen gasps, holding tight to Jared's hips.

Jared suckles some kisses along the tendon of Jensen's neck, blood rushing through his fingers at the tugging on his sensitive rim, and murmurs, "You can have the rest of the day..."

Jensen laughs brokenly and breathes deep.

By the time they settle onto the bed, Jared draped over Jensen's chest, Jared's coming again and Jensen hasn't stopped.

They don't leave the house until well after noon the following day.

seperators

When Katie calls a few weeks later, it's almost sheer luck Jared even has his phone with him. He's in a potting shed, listening to Tom explain how it's bad to push a sapling in too deep because it needs space for the roots the expand.

The ringing is kind of jarring, but he's excited to hear Pink's Raise Your Glass. 

"Tom, can I take this?"

Tom grins, "Sure, kid. You're not actually an employee here, you know."

Jared wants to tell Tom he likes to help out, but he's gotta get to Katie before it goes to voicemail. "Hey," he says into the phone.

"Jared," Katie sighs. "I hoped you were gonna answer."

"Of course I'm gonna answer. I haven't heard from my BFF in forever," he walks away from the growing area, headed for the house.

"Yeah, but I didn't know if you were allowed to answer."

Jared frowns. Katie seems mildly subdued, a little restrained, not like herself. Certainly a far cry from the girl who wanted to plan a rebellion a month ago. "Why wouldn't I be allowed to answer?"

"No reason," she deflects. "So, tell me. What's he like? Your mate?"

Jared inhales, memories flipping through his mind bringing warmth and a smile and making Jared's toes curl, just at the exact moment he sees Jensen in the sales yard talking to Misha and what must be a customer. They're standing over an empty section of tilled ground and Jensen's animated, pointing, talking, clearly planning. Jared wants nothing more than to put himself in Jensen's orbit -- to be near the energy, the vibrancy, that is Jensen. It's the only time he feels truly grounded.

But he knows Jensen's busy and he's gotta catch up with Katie, so he continues toward the house instead.

"Jensen's pretty nice," he says -- understatement of the century. Jensen isn't like anything he ever expected and his heart beats a little faster just saying his name out loud.

"That's good. Mine's nice, too."

And Jared can tell, like he's always been able to with Katie, that there's way more to the story.

When he gets to the kitchen, he fixes himself a glass of iced tea and it takes him a solid ten minutes to get down to the fundamentals of Katie's marriage. When he does, he kind of wishes he could unknow it. It's not like she's abused, not really, it's just that her husband obviously wasn't too keen on the government interfering in his life decisions and he's distant at best. They don't have much of a relationship to speak of outside of the bedroom and while Katie admits the physical aspect of it is pretty awesome, it's not what she really wanted from her life if she'd been allowed to choose.

Her mate's young like her, but not real happy at being forced to marry. He doesn't take it out on her, for which she's grateful, but they live very separate lives, together. She ended up in Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, and she still wants to go to college, but neither of them have a lot of money, so she's stuck in a waitressing job until she can save up the necessary cash.

It's all a little depressing and Jared can certainly hear it in her voice.

They talk a little about Chad and the alpha he married -- a woman named Sophia -- and they wonder how his theories are panning out. The discussion turns to a whole lot of nothing after that -- new songs, celebrity gossip -- a typical conversation for the two of them -- and they're on the phone for a little more than an hour. By the time they say goodbye, Jared thinks he managed to cheer her up a little and he promises they'll keep in touch -- maybe even visit.

He pushes end on his cell and sits for a while in the quiet kitchen. His glance lands on the sketch he'd done of the front gate to the sales yard. He'd drawn it pretty much from memory at breakfast one morning and the canvass is nothing more than the back of a junk mail envelope, but Jensen had watched the black-and-white landscape unfold with a rapturous expression, as he finished his toast and coffee.

When Jared had turned it around to reveal the completed product, Jensen gleefully stuck on the refrigerator, declaring it not only deserved to be displayed but might even bring him some cash one day, once Jared became a famous artist.

Jared had scoffed -- it's not like he has any legitimate background or career-related experience to agree with such a claim -- but Jensen had insisted. His green eyes had sparked, and he almost looked proud.

Jesus, Jared's so fucking lucky.

He could have ended up with someone far different. Instead, he shares a home and a business and conversation with a man who encourages him to do what he enjoys, who listens when he talks -- even about the lamest subject -- and who seems to genuinely want to be around him.

Jared shivers and he's on his feet before he even knows he means to stand up.

He's almost running, down the steps and across the yard to the front of the sales building.

"... so unless I want a bed full of yucca plants and bonsai bushes, I'm thinking this one can't be allowed to touch it," Jensen's saying with a smile -- that beautiful smile that reaches his eyes. One that gets even bigger when he sees Jared, but falters a little at Jared's expression.

Jared can't be sure if it's the phone call with Katie or his sudden, overwhelming gratitude or Jensen's nearness or just simple momentum, but he doesn't stop moving until he's got his face buried in Jensen's neck and his arms tightly circling his mate, totally heedless of the other people around them.

Jensen doesn't hesitate. He scoops Jared right up, locking them together with an arm around Jared's lower back and fingers twisted at the nape of Jared's neck.

The reaction, one of consent and allowance and concession, bursts along Jared's skin. Jensen could have balked, could have shoved him away, could have told him he was working, could have pointed out that they aren't alone, but he didn't. His alpha granted him the right to interrupt and touch and connect without even knowing why.

And Jared's reminded anew at his fortune at finding this man.

"You okay, sugar?" Jensen's words flutter over Jared's ear. "What's up?"

Jared whispers, "Jensen," and hangs on, inhales the crisp scent of his mate and the freshly tilled dirt and the water from the pond and the juniper bushes behind them and marvels at how different his life had become in a few short weeks.

"Can you tell me?" Jensen asks, tracing circles at the dip of Jared's spine.

Jared shimmies maybe a half an inch closer and says: "M'just really glad you're you."

Jensen chuckles quietly and kisses the spot behind Jared's temple. "Well we make a decent pair then, because you're a pretty good you yourself."

One of the guys behind them makes a sound and Jared blinks and becomes truly aware of where he is and what he's just done. Embarrassment sparks along his nerves as he pulls back, self-conscious and a little chagrinned, but Jensen just brushes Jared's bangs out of his eyes and leans forward to connect their lips in the lightest kiss.

Jared knows there are people around and while part of him thinks he should back away -- put a little distance between them for the sake of propriety if nothing else -- another part wants to savor the feeling of being owned and cared for and claimed -- right out in the open, in front of others. It's a novel sensation to be allowed such public freedom and not have to expect some type of retribution or repercussion.

His smiles into the kiss and the motion breaks it.

Jensen withdraws with a quiet laugh and a stroke of Jared's cheek. "Hey," he says, tone eager again. "Turn around here."

Jared spins, mostly because Jensen physically pivots his hips and he's face-to-face with a relatively tall, blond man who has knowing brown eyes.

"This is Justin," Jensen introduces. "Justin... my husband, Jared."

Justin nods and holds out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Jared. I've heard a lot about you."

Jared has the insane urge to lick his lips to try to counteract what feels like visible evidence of Jensen's kiss -- as though Justin has to be able to see it just because Jared can still taste it. He squirms a little, repeats the "nice to meet yous," lets go of Justin's hand and steps back until he's lined up against Jensen again -- his shoulder grazing Jensen's chest. Jensen curls a finger through one of Jared's belt loops and it's gratifying to settle in against his husband. He's always more confident and sure when he's actually touching Jensen.

Jensen's grin can be heard in his voice. "Justin was just giving us his expert opinion, such as it is--"

"One bed," Justin defends. "I did one bed at my house that got washed away by that rain storm last spring and he never lets me forget it."

"--on what we should do with this front bed. Since he's such a good customer, we're humoring him." Jensen's soft chuckle mingles with his words and Jared can feel it against his back.

"It's sad how little respect I get around here when I spend so much," Justin laments.

"Oh, try working here," Misha quips.

"Okay," Jensen says. "I know you've got a shipment to unload and arrange in the showroom."

"Yes, but, I'm just saying bringing a little bit of the Eastern influence and flavor into Hillside wouldn't absolutely kill you."

Jensen points.

Misha sighs and trots away with a muttered slavedriver under his breath.

Justin laughs. "I come here for the comedy. Really, I do. You need a reality show."

Jensen shudders and drops his head to Jared's shoulder. "Please do not put an idea like that in Misha's head."

Justin's eyes light up and he claps his hands once before chasing off after Misha.

Jensen pops his head up and shouts, "Hartley, I'm serious! If you get him talking with Hollywood producers, you're gonna lose your favorite customer discount!"

Justin doesn't even turn around.

Jensen sighs, lets go of Jared's belt loop to wind his arm around Jared's waist. "Well, it might get Misha away from his bizarre yucca plant obsession, at least."

Jared swirls the tips of his fingers along the light hairs under Jensen's elbow.

"Wanna tell me what's up?" Jensen asks, lips moving against Jared's t-shirt.

Jared sighs and tilts his head back so his temple scrapes Jensen's hair. "Katie called."

"Yeah? How's she doing?"

"Not bad."

Jensen hums. "But not good, either?"

Jared can't help it. He ducks a little and turns so he's back in Jensen's arms.

Jensen sweeps the length of Jared's spine. "I take that as a not good."

Jared sighs again, wedges his nose a little under the collar of Jensen's t-shirt. "It's just... not what she wanted out of life. It's not like... us, I guess."

"Well, she is a woman, so it really couldn't be like us."

Jared breathes out a slight chuckle. "Her husband's just... not anything like you."

"He's not up to his eyeballs trying to run a business surrounded by insane managers?"

Jared squeezes closer. "I just... I'm lucky is all."

Jensen kisses under Jared's ear. "You're not the only one, sugar."

Jared can feel a spark in his chest that lights him up, almost to his toes. They stand together like that, swaying slightly, for a full minute.

Jensen breaks the spell by swatting Jared's ass and proclaiming there is work to be done.

Jared glances at the tilled ground behind them. "You don't know what you want to do with this yet, huh?"

Jensen sighs. "The only thing I'm certain of is Misha can't touch it. Other than that, at the moment, I got nothing."

Jared laughs, and continues to smile when Jensen slips in for a quick kiss before ambling back to the sales yard.

Jared's still got the empty bed in his mind when he rejoins Tom in the potting shed.

seperators

Rain makes loading customer purchases into cars and trucks irritating, but Jensen's glad to see it -- the pond's been dipping a little lower than Jensen prefers because of the last two weeks without so much as a shower. He'd learned early on he couldn't use his personal well to water the plants -- it would take far too much and deplete the only source for his home -- so he had the pond dug out after that first year.

Luckily, it worked. Sure, he worried during dry summers. And once, a few years ago, it was a real concern when the drought lasted almost two months, but they'd made it through.

There's a steady barrage outside right now, though, muddying up the parking lot and giving the inventory in the sales yard a good soaking -- it's a welcome sight.

Jensen remembers the first few years in the business being surprised how bad weather didn't seem to stop the customers -- sure sales slow a little on rainy days, but the showroom still has some folks looking over the last of the season's annuals.

Now he's just used to the ebb and flow, plus the precipitation lessens the crazy a bit. Things are a little more relaxed, his employees more subdued. Even Misha has a zen look about him.

He thinks it's gotta be the gray sky that has him in a reflective mood, but since he'd left Jared at the kitchen table after breakfast, happily putting the finishing touches on a sketch he'd been drawing of a flowering rhododendron -- that was surprisingly accurate and detailed -- Jensen had been a little reminiscent.

Something in the back of his mind whispers that Jared may have a little to do with looking at his life differently. He's never really taken the time to reflect on how he got here, but now that there's someone else -- who's come to mean a lot to him -- witnessing everything Jensen's built for himself, it's easier to see his life as more of a narrative.

He's trimming some of the plants in the showroom methodically and knows he'll never forget when he popped his first knot. He'd been jerking off to some hot guy in a perfume ad from one of his mom's magazines -- pathetic, but at almost sixteen, he didn't have a lot of access to anything better.

The tingle before the bulge had been so novel, Jensen had been scared he'd somehow done irreparable damage to his dick, until he'd calmed down enough to remember his history and anatomy classes and knew that the swollen flesh at the base of his cock that seemed extremely sensitive to touch meant he was an alpha. It took him another year before he told his parents and in retrospect, he'd been lucky. He could keep his knot a secret. Jared didn't have that kind of luxury.

His parents had seemed delighted. Their son would be mated to a lovely girl and produce a passel of grandkids for them.

It was a month later that he came out.

They were less pleased about that.

But at that point -- the beginning of his senior year of high school -- Josh had been in line and apparently set to take over the law firm, so while Jensen's sexuality wasn't what they would have wanted, they still supported him, because Josh was their golden boy. The heir to the Ackles throne, dating a real sweet girl, studying law in college.

They'd mentioned to Jensen in passing the mating ceremony that would take place upon his graduation, but they were much more focused on their eldest child.

MacKenzie had told him had told him once, around that time, that she'd never been more happy to have a uterus. Jensen had blanched because it was his sister talking about her reproductive organs, but understood the sentiment.

Christmas that year was the last time they were all together -- laughing, happy, like it had always been.

Spring temperatures had just started to thaw the frozen ground when Josh had made his announcement. He was changing his major -- he wanted to study music, of all things, his parents had said -- and he was newly single. The girl who had spent part of the Christmas break with the family hadn't worked out.

Jensen had been studying in his room for a physics exam when the yelling had started. It ended with Josh walking out the door and his mom in tears.

Three days later his parents had sat Jensen down and explained that it was his turn.

To say he was thrown would have been quite the understatement.

Jensen hadn't known at seventeen what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, but after watching his dad come home from trials he'd lost or cases that kept him up for days on end, he knew for certain he didn't want to be a lawyer.

His parents had used words like obligation and family empire and responsibility and last chance and Jensen had listened, and truly in his heart, he didn't want to let his parents down, but the mere thought of going to law school left him feeling hollow and unfulfilled -- like the time when he was five and wore his shoes on the wrong feet for a whole day in kindergarten.

It felt wrong and uncomfortable, like he didn't belong in his skin.

He'd explained this to his parents, but they turned a deaf ear. Looking back with an adult perspective, he knows now their insistence was tinged with more than a hint of desperation, but all Jensen had felt at the time was weighed down and burdened.

When they turned their attention to the mating ceremony, Jensen had balked completely. It was one thing to plan a career he didn't want, but to force a marriage on him to someone he'd never met, that he couldn't handle.

They had started the search with a list of girls, his mom assuring him that it was normal to wonder about members of the same sex at his age, but that didn't necessarily make him gay. He had literally bitten his tongue bloody to keep from saying what he really wanted to and instead stuck with the truth.

Every time they questioned his sexuality, he assured them it was true as concisely and without rancor as he could.

Jensen grins as he clips a particularly long branch off a golden euonymous. He doesn't know what he would have done at that time without Chris. Chris had been a teaching assistant at the high school and Jensen had loved hearing American history come alive when Chris talked about it.

Chris was in his final year at Texas A&M and he and Jensen had sparked a friendship almost from the first day in his 11th grade history class, the year prior. Chris's family had a place in downtown Dallas and his parents were so cool it was almost like they weren't real -- they were teachers, too, and obviously where Chris got his ability to impart wisdom to others.

Chris had been the first person Jensen had come out to and he didn't bat an eye. Even his parents -- once Chris had come clean to Jensen that he had told them -- treated him no differently.

Damn, he needs to call Chris later. It's been a while since he'd talked to his friend.

He waits on an elderly lady who's purchasing petunias for her front walk and helps her to her car, making sure she stays as dry as possible. She tells him this is the only place she'll buy her flowers because the prices are so reasonable and she loves coming here because it always looks so nice.

He smiles and thanks her and he hopes she can hear the sincerity in his voice. He lets the sense of pride wash over him at what he's built.

As he watches the taillights of her Toyota make the turn out of the archway, he hopes he can talk Chris into coming down to see Hillside soon. He wants to show his friend the changes he'd made since Chris had last been here.

Chris had been the one to make the whole thing happen, after all.

Jensen's back in the showroom shaking the rain off his jacket and rolling his eyes at Misha's color coordinated checkerboard display of half-price marigolds and he's remembering those last few months before his graduation -- when everything he'd known was slowly slipping away.

He'd been so surly and angry and outright avoiding his parents when he could. Nothing he said was getting through to them and most of their conversations ended with his stomach clenched in anger.

What about the Blake girl? She'd be a good mate. Perfect to be on your arm at the annual party at the firm.

I don't want to be married to a girl, mom.

You know who I interviewed today for an internship? Lucy Gray. Remember her, Jensen?

I'm gay, dad.

Just got the list for the top law schools in the country. UT Austin ranked pretty high. You know your mom doesn't want you going too far away.


He'd left the table without finishing his dinner that night.

It had been Chris who'd given him the out that he needed. Graduation had been less than two weeks away and Jensen had been having dinner at the Kane house because it was the only chance he had of actually being able to eat a meal in peace. Jensen's desk in his room was piled high with law school applications and the icing on the cake had been the photos -- he has no idea where his parents had gotten them -- of the girls that magically started appearing next to his school books.

He had been at his breaking point and all the Kanes must have known. He struggled to keep the tears out of his voice when he described life at his house.

Chris had told him that night about his friend in Virginia. A doctor friend with a practice and a spare room above his garage and how no one could really stop an eighteen year old from shoving as much as he could into a duffle bag and getting on a bus.

Jensen had been caught completely unawares and his mouth had hung open a while, but as he listened to Chris explain that he would loan Jensen some money to get there and to eat and that Aldis would have a place for him, something shivered in his chest.

It felt a lot like a way out.

That night back in his bedroom at his mom and dad's house, he remembers thinking how sad it was that his parents had become people who were almost unrecognizable. And he struggled with tears at how much he'd actually miss his sister.

He had never, hands down, been more scared in his life, but he'd also never felt more free.

He told MacKenzie the next day and she'd cried, but she understood, and they spent the evening together with the Playstation between them, laughing and talking about everything they'd done when they were kids and how Josh had changed his major -- again -- and how Jensen swore he would keep in touch.

His parents had planned a graduation party the night after the ceremony and looking back, Jensen truly had no idea that would be the end.

He still remembers how stupified he'd been when his dad, smiling ear to ear, had presented him with an admissions letter from UT Austin, explaining that he and Jensen's mother had gone ahead and applied for him.

It was when Jensen's mom ushered in Tina Wolf, a sophomore from school, wearing a pretty pink gown -- Jensen could smell she was obviously a beta and his stomach had rolled -- that Jensen saw red.

He hadn't cared that pretty much every member of the Ackles family heard his declarations. He hadn't cared that this was probably worse than when Jeff had made his announcement a few months prior. He hadn't cared that Tina's face continued to fall with each word he'd spat into the room. He hadn't cared that he was clearly adding another chip to his mother's already broken heart.

He only cared -- and silently thanked whatever deity might be listening -- that there was a doctor with an empty room waiting for his arrival in Virginia.

He'd called Chris, said goodbye to his family over his mother's tears, and was sleeping in a single bed four states away the following night.

Surreal didn't even come close to covering it.

He'd worked odd jobs -- almost covered all the bases. He was a line cook at a diner, a bag boy at a grocery store, a carpenter for a local construction firm, even had a short-lived career as an ad rep for a family-run radio station (turns out, ironically enough, he's a terrible salesman -- he couldn't close the deal -- he refused to push people into something they might not need).

But the one thing that kept him going through all of that were the shrubs and beds around Aldis's house.

On his days off, he'd landscape. He researched what would work, what needed sun and what needed shade and contemplated the exposure on each side of the house and after a couple of months, Aldis had the best looking place on the block.

Digging into the dirt, getting his hands literally into the earth and situating plants for optimum growth settled something in Jensen. It grounded him like nothing in his life had ever done before.

It was the second annual street fair turned flea market that really sealed the deal for him. Mrs. Allen's antique shop had set up some special items on the sidewalk and it was that single, framed photo of the remarkable tree that made Jensen's decision for him.

When he'd told Aldis that night his plans to start a nursery, his friend and doctor was totally on board. It had taken him a while to be able to purchase Hillside and get it up and running. He'd started small, with just a tract of land behind Aldis's house that was big enough for a relatively small sales yard.

Thanks to Jensen being known around town as a solid, reliable worker, he'd had customers almost from the beginning. Eventually, with his clear thinking and fair pricing, the business had grown and expanded.

He was grateful to his parents for not siccing the government on him. He never stopped to truly question the why behind it, just mentally noted his appreciation.

He was equally lucky that Aldis was willing to recognize that his alpha status wasn't a threat to anyone and keep him off the government radar.

All things considered, and what he'd been facing at eighteen, his life had turned out pretty okay.

And when he thinks of the boy at his kitchen table right now hunched over a sketch of one of his plants, he knows his existence is far more than just pretty okay.

He's grinning to himself when he turns from pruning a barberry Misha brought in the showroom for a display and almost collides with a familiar face. A shockingly familiar face.

"Mrs. Padalecki," Jensen greets, placing the pruners on the table next to him, hoping he doesn't sound as breathless as he feels.

Her smile is as warm as her handshake. "Jensen. Hello. I hope it's okay that I stopped by."

"Of course," he replies. "If you give me a second, I'll get Jared. He's drawing."

She holds onto his hand. "Is he doing okay?"

It's a mother's concern. Something Jensen hasn't really known for a long, long while, and it gives him a funny feeling in his throat. The little boy he used to be, who sought out his mama's arms when he'd had a bad dream, shivers inside him and he answers guilelessly. "Your son is... really amazing. He's been helping out around here, even though I assured him he doesn't have to. He... continues to surprise me, actually."

She smiles, emotion in her eyes. "I had a feeling about you Jensen. From that very first day."

Jensen blinks a bit and lets go of her hand.

"Thank you for taking care of my son. Jared's always been special and when he presented, his father and I... well, we were scared. Not of him, but for him. We knew this could be really bad for him, but when we found you..." she looks away and clears her throat. "Well, just thank you."

"Mrs. Padalecki--"

"Please call me Sherri."

Jensen nods, coughs a little. "Sherri... I... can I ask you something?"

"Certainly," she says, and her expression is so open, so accepting, that Jensen doesn't feel as weird in his request -- even though he's not completely sure where it's coming from. She reminds Jensen a lot of Sam in her warmth and approval.

"How did you..." he takes a breath. "When... did Jared ever really tell you..." He huffs a frustrated sound, not totally sure how to phrase the question.

Sherri smiles and lays a hand on Jensen's forearm. "Jared never came out to us if that's what you're asking, and I know it sounds cliche, but a mom just knows. He never went crazy over girls like his brother did and when we'd watch movies, he always looked uncomfortable when his brother went on and on about the girls in it. And I could really tell he was into you when you first came over."

Jensen flushes a little, not expecting the candor.

She chuckles a little and squeezes her fingers on his arm. "It's okay that you two find each other attractive, you know."

Jensen has to step back a bit to break the contact and he drags his hand along the back of his neck. It's a bizarre conversation to have with Jared's mom, but he wants to ask his real question. "And you... were okay with him, you know... being gay?"

Sherri's eyes narrow a bit and she's quiet for a full three seconds. "He's my son. I'd love him no matter what. I'd be hurt and disappointed if he did something bad -- hurt people, stole, something like that. But I also know that I raised him to be better than that, so I trust him not to. Everything else is who Jared is and that could never not be okay for me."

Jensen nods, drops his eyes to the floor, rendered a little speechless.

"For the record," Sherri continues. "The same holds true for every member of my family. And technically when you signed that form, you became a member of the family. I hope you know that, Jensen."

Jensen jerks his eyes up and sees nothing but truth reflected in Jared's mom's expression. He blinks rapidly and shakes his head a bit, trying to physically get rid of the sudden emotion clogging his throat. He opens his mouth to respond, but can't seem to force words out and is remarkably grateful that on his third attempt the show room doors open and a very soggy Jared is shaking rain off his hair and coat much like a wet dog.

Jensen's face lights up -- he can feel it and he knows Jared's mom has to see it -- and he's struck, like he is just about every time he looks at Jared, with the need to wrap him in his arms and hold on for a while.

"Man, it's coming down in buckets out there," Jared says and when he peers out through his soaking bangs, he gasps a little and exclaims: "Mama! I thought you weren't coming until tomorrow."

Sherri smiles as she turns to her son. "With all this rain, there wasn't anything to do around the house and I figured getting the hanging baskets up when it's wet will be good for them."

Jared steps forward, arms outstretched, obviously intending a hug for his mom, but spares a glance at his clothes and stops.

Sherri shakes her head, "Not on your life, young man. Come here."

Jared goes with a grin and holds onto his mom, making eye contact with Jensen, elation all over his face.

Jensen smiles back just as Sherri pulls away to say: "Jensen was just telling me how well you've been doing."

Jared's almost bouncing on his toes. "Mom, it's been so awesome. I wanna show you everything, but the rain really sucks. Can you stay for lunch at least? Jensen made chicken salad yesterday that's so good and we've got some left. I even helped."

Sherri looks suitably impressed. "You mean my pop tart and hot pocket son actually cooked something?"

Jared shrugs. "Well I added ingredients that were already measured and stirred."

Sherri leans toward Jensen. "More than he ever did at home."

Jensen chuckles, can't remember ever having had more fun making chicken salad or hearing the endeavor described before.

This time Jared does jump a little. "Can we, Jensen? Have some?"

Jensen nods and gestures toward the door. "Sure, why don't you two go ahead?"

Jared's face falls a bit. "You're not coming?"

Jensen inhales, still feeling a little peeled back, aching a bit for the family he once knew and hadn't seen for years and he knows watching Jared and his mom together will just rub that suddenly raw nerve even more, so he shakes his head. "I've still got some stuff to finish up here, but it'll give you two time to catch up."

Sherri has a remarkably insightful expression that Jensen can't stare directly at when she asks, "You're sure?"

He picks up the pruners again and waggles them a little. "The boss's work is never done, you know."

Sherri acknowledges the decision and tentatively holds out her arms. "Do you mind?"

Jensen swallows -- it's kind of loud to his own ears -- and takes a step toward Jared's mom.

She's slightly built, but he can tell she can be strong when she needs to, both in spirit and body. She has that distinct smell of a mom -- something akin to laundry detergent and cookies and a splash of something warm and comforting and protective. It's difficult to describe, but the sense is so powerful, Jensen almost doesn't want to let go.

She whispers, "Thank you again, Jensen."

He's a little wobbly when he pulls away and tries for the best smile he's got.

Jared waves a bit as they both duck back outside and Jensen's struck dumb with the changes he's experienced in his life in such an amazingly short amount of time. He stares at the door as it closes behind them.

He's jerked back into the present -- after what he somewhat sickeningly realizes has been an indeterminate amount of time -- to hear Misha start up that bizarre meditating chant he's taken to practicing and Jensen sucks in a sharp breath, glances around the show room for customers who might take offense at the sales manager sitting cross-legged in the middle of a display of grasses and is overwhelmingly thankful to find the place empty.

He's shaking his head just as Misha quiets and opens his eyes. "You're starting to fill in nicely, Young Ackles."

God, he really doesn't want to know, but he hears himself ask, "What does that mean?"

Misha's breathing is deliberate and slow and precise. "It's important for us to be whole. You've been missing a vital piece for a long time, but I do believe you've found it now."

Jensen huffs his aggravation and moves to the back of the show room -- as physically far away from Misha as he can get without having to go out in the rain, and picks up one of the smaller boxwoods -- that likely really doesn't need trimming -- and clips a few of the stray leaves.

A warm feeling settles into his stomach and in his mind's eye, he pictures an empty spot being filled.

He blames Misha for the ridiculous image.

seperators

"Jensen?"

Jensen murmurs an inquisitive sound against Jared's forehead.

They're locked up tight, Jared's boneless against Jensen's chest, face buried against Jensen's neck, and they've just been floating for the last few minutes, Jensen's come still coating Jared's insides and his fingers rubbing all along Jared's spine.

Jensen's a little shocked how quickly he's gotten used to ending his days this way -- knotted with his mate in their bed.

Jared's tracing some unknown pattern on the inside of Jensen's elbow and he seems reticent, almost shy.

Jensen's hips surge up a little on impulse and they both gasp, still alight with nerves. "What is it, sugar?" Jensen asks. "You wanna come again?"

Jared shivers, whispers, "Yes, but...I want...it's just that..."

Jensen smiles, will likely never tire of Jared's adorable babble. He tilts Jared's chin up so their eyes connect. "You can ask me anything. You know that."

Jared sits up, a move that jolts them where they're joined and they both spasm a little in reaction.

Jared uses Jensen's sternum as leverage to settle himself and his concentration is somewhere around Jensen's clavicle when he says: "I'd like...to see if I could maybe l-landscape the front bed," once the words are out, he picks up momentum, "I would totally research it first and wouldn't go completely c-crazy with the inventory and I would check with you before I did anything to s-see if you think it would work, but I thought, maybe...I could try..."

Jared taking this much of an interest in the business sideswipes Jensen. He's not prepared for the overwhelming pride and honor and true pleasure it brings. "You'd want to do that?"

Jared glances up and nods.

Jensen grins, circles his hips a little. "I'd like that. Make a sketch of what you're planning and I'll take a look, okay?"

Jared quite literally glows. "You mean it? I really can?"

Jensen can't help but trail his fingers up Jared's ribs. "Sugar, I was serious that first night when I told you this wasn't a prison. Hell, you can do whatever you want, but," Jensen clears his throat a little, "it's really cool that you want to try your hand at landscaping."

"I like the idea of being responsible for planting something that, if cared for the right way, could be around for years to come," Jared inhales and bites his bottom lip, looking flustered and a little embarrassed, like he's said too much.

Jensen's poleaxed. He's never heard anyone -- not even Misha or Sam -- express the reason he'd been drawn to this business so clearly and eloquently. It's about helping something grow and mature and giving the world the gift of life in the only way he can.

Jensen pulls Jared forward into a kiss and murmurs: "Exactly."

He rolls them, so Jared's beneath him, the motion pulling just enough on his knot to blurt another load of come into Jared. Jensen can feel Jared clench around him even as he gasps against Jensen's mouth.

Jensen licks a path to Jared's ear and whispers, "Didn't someone say something about coming again?"

Jared clings to Jensen's shoulders and hips with a soft: "Yes, please..."

From there, time gets a little lost.

seperators

It's the following Wednesday morning and Jared's being a real sloth, stretched out naked on his back in bed. Jensen got up at least an hour ago and is likely outside already preparing to open Hillside.

Jared drags his arms over his head in a full body arc, pointing his toes, skin skimming the sheets and the morning is just cool enough, with a hint of damp humidity, that it's refreshing. The linen's super light and the top edge crawls just over the tip of his cock and he shudders a little, tingles starting in his balls and he really wants Jensen.

Jared rolls over, brushing his dick against the mattress and in that position, he can feel his nipples stiffen and he wiggles his knees a little, opening his legs and he gets wet, moisture running down his balls.

He remembers when Jensen could smell him, even from outside. Sure, that was when he was in heat and beyond desperate, but he wonders if he could do it again -- if he could think long enough and graphically enough that his natural scent would carry again to his husband.

He focuses on how empty he feels, how much he wants the spread in his ass from Jensen's cock, his solid knot plugging Jared up perfectly.

Jared moans softly, face in the pillow, and widens his legs, kicks the sheet a little further down the back of his thighs. He grinds his hips a bit, alternating between pushing his ass into the air and scraping his cock against the fitted sheet. His heartbeat triples when he discreetly slides a hand between his chest and the mattress and settles his fingers over a tight nipple.

He bites the pillow lightly and rolls just the tip of his finger around the peaked nub, half really turned on and half flustered that he's actually doing it. Jensen had shown him how sensitive his nipples are, and even his own fingers send spirals of heat into his groin, but he's never had the nerve to play with them before, find out and discover exactly what elicits the most powerful sensation.

His sodden rim constricts around nothing. God, he might have to seek Jensen out on his own -- he can't be this unfilled for much longer.

It's at that exact second that he hears footsteps on the stairs and the bedroom door opens to Jensen's gruff, "You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"

Jared turns his head, but doesn't get up. He's a little astounded that it actually worked and he's trying to hide his grin in the pillowcase. "Wanted to see if you could sense me again."

"Oh, I could sense you, alright," Jensen rumbles, while stripping out of his jeans and t-shirt and Jared tilts his ass up just watching. "And I can sense that you're gonna get exactly what you're asking for."

Jared whimpers -- he loves it when Jensen uses that commanding tone.

Jared situates himself, angling his hips out and up, sprawling his knees even further and he can feel the air against the wet of his skin and he just wants his alpha's knot, he wants to tell Jensen to skip the niceties and just jam his thick cock into Jared's naturally prepped hole, but his husband shocks him speechless when he crawls naked up the bed -- only not far enough -- and kneads both of his hands against the globes of Jared's ass, his face mere inches from all that drenched skin.

Jared attempts to sit up, but Jensen won't allow it, grips his cheeks hard.

"Are you ever dry, sugar?" Jensen asks, sounding genuinely curious.

His soggy flesh makes liquid, slick noises between Jensen's hands and Jared shakes his head, "Not really a-around you."

Jensen hums faintly and does the unimaginable -- he buries his mouth against Jared's sticky pucker and suckles -- literally suckles -- at the wrinkled, wet opening.

A shockwave of pure heat rattles through Jared's whole body and his nipple actually gets harder around his finger and even as he rides the incredible sensation he's restless and self-conscious and not sure at all that Jensen should actually be licking him back there. "J-Jensen... what are... you shouldn't... it's n-not..."

Jensen pulls back far enough to say: "Wanted to do this practically since that first night," and Jared can actually feel strands of his lubrication stretch between Jensen's lips and his own ass. "Let me?"

There's something in Jensen's voice that Jared's never heard before -- a supplication and a longing -- and Jared knows that despite how much Jensen noticeably wants this, Jared could say no and that would be it. There's an extraordinary freedom in being given that kind of power and it calms Jared's uncertainty and he settles in to this new experience, widening his thighs and ass even more for Jensen's explorations.

Jensen murmurs so fucking good for me and ducks back in.

It's truly a phenomenal feeling, having Jensen's soft, supple flesh -- tongue and lips and sometimes teeth -- against his sensitive rim. Jared knows he's leaking profuse amounts of lubrication, knows it's gotta be practically dripping down Jensen's chin, but he sincerely can't help it -- Jensen's got his face almost buried in Jared's ass and it's tripping starbursts of sensation all along Jared's spine and it's really hot and all kinds of dirty and Jared's fucking loving it.

By the time Jensen starts forcefully penetrating with his tongue -- as far as he can get -- Jared's ass is spasming and his cock is thumping in time with his rapid heartbeat and chafing against the sheet and all it takes is a one rub of his finger over his nipple, and his orgasm rips through his balls and out his dick, all over the mattress, his rim pulsing in rhythmic waves around Jensen's mouth.

Jensen pulls away with a satisfied ahh and licks up Jared's spine, murmuring, "God, that was hot." He sucks what's gonna be a striking mark on the back of Jared's neck and in one push, sinks his cock balls-deep into Jared's ass.

The invasion makes Jared keen on a low moan and reach out with his hands and feet, so he's essentially spread-eagle on the bed, taking everything Jensen wants to give. The feeling of fullness after the unprecedented sensation of Jensen's flickering tongue makes Jared dizzy and he has to dig under the pillows to find the edge of the mattress so he can hold on.

Jensen's slow, even thrusts rock the bed frame a little, and Jared arches his lower back and his neck, just to feel the stretch and to rub his cheek along Jensen's damp jaw.

"My sweet boy," Jensen whispers. "Callin' for me with just your body. You know how amazing that is?"

Jared whimpers softly.

"You know what a treat it is to have someone this responsive?" Jensen asks as he pinches Jared's nipple and twists.

Jared's whole body -- inside and out -- contracts, hard.

"Fuck, yeah," Jensen breathes. "Like that..."

Jared flops back against the bed, shoving his face into the pillow on a drawn out moan and tilts his hips even higher.

"Tell me," Jensen pants. "Tell me what you want."

Jared has to lick his lips and swallow once in order to talk. "Y-you... I want you..." Jensen's encouraging hum rolls over Jared like thunder and incites him to keep going. "Your knot... God, I want it s-so bad... want you to fill me up, lock us t-together so we can't g-go anywhere even if we w-wanted to..."

Jensen growls and bites Jared's shoulder and starts a cadence with his hips that's almost brutal, but Jared greedily takes every, single shove. He's reaching under himself, wants quite desperately to get a hand on his acutely neglected cock, when Jensen grabs both of his wrists and staples them to the mattress on either side of his head.

"No way, sugar boy," Jensen warns, voice broken. "You ask for this? You get me in here just by settin' your body up like a beacon?" He's churning his cock in tight circles, "You're gonna come... just... on... this..."

It's the force and the self-confidence and the dominance and the alpha arrogance and knowing he can't get away that has Jared crying out on every exhale -- not really giving a shit who can hear him because he's kind of loud -- and leaking from his dick and ass and submitting and yielding and surrendering to his husband, his mate, Jensen.

His orgasm borders on vicious -- it's practically driven out of him by Jensen's thick cock -- and he shudders and trembles and comes for a long, long time.

"Fucking Christ, yeah," Jensen hisses, slamming his hips home one more time and Jared can feel his inner muscles pull and spread and open to accommodate Jensen's knot.

Once his rim closes up around the thick bulb, Jared deliberately clamps down, making sure Jensen can't go anywhere.

Jensen's body jerks along Jared's back a few times and he can feel his husband's seed fill his raw, somewhat tender ass and he's reminded -- rather randomly -- of his anatomy classes from high school and he knows what the knot should be for -- that it's meant to keep the semen inside to facilitate pregnancy -- and he blinks a little, blames the endorphins on his ridiculous emotions and the stupid, sudden desire to make a baby with Jensen.

Jensen drags in air and drapes himself over Jared, unhooking his hands from around Jared's wrists and Jensen must either see or sense something because his voice is worried and apologetic, "Jesus, sugar, you okay? God, I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Jared smiles. There's not a chance in hell that'll ever happen. "No, you never hurt me."

"Than what is it?"

Jared's lying on his stomach, with half of his face smashed into the pillow -- it's more than a little remarkable that Jensen knows him well enough to be able to read his expression when he can't even see all of it. Jared shakes his head. "It's nothing."

Jensen puts his lips against Jared's jaw. "It's something."

"It's dumb," Jared whispers.

Jensen scoops his hand under Jared's chest and settles his palms on both of Jared's shoulders. "I doubt that."

The impression of Jensen blanketing him and his husband's engorged, fat knot tight inside him leaves Jared so content and he doesn't want to risk messing that up by talking about things that can't be. He scritches his nose against the pillow in a negative response.

Jensen places the softest kiss on the back of Jared's neck. "Tell me. Please?"

Resisting Jensen's pleas is difficult enough when they're not naked and tied intimately together. Jared doesn't stand a chance. He sighs. "I was... just thinking that it might be nice if... we were capable... if our b-biology would let us... I'd kind of like if you could get me pregnant."

Jensen's cock twitches -- Jared can feel it inside him and he's not sure if it's because Jensen's thinking exactly what that knot would be doing if they could make a baby or if it was just a shift in position -- and he breathes quietly for a while against Jared's neck. His voice, when it comes, is especially serious. "A little us, huh?"

"Told you it was dumb," Jared mumbles.

Jensen burrows a little into Jared's hair. "It's really not," he sounds a bit shaken, but he takes a deep breath and continues, "You know our kid would be so awesome."

Jared chuckles quietly and agrees.

Jensen snuggles closer and they whisper about a whole lot of nothing for the next half hour, while Jensen grinds his come into Jared and doesn't pull out even after his knot has gone down, and if later that afternoon in the show room, Jared catches himself absently rubbing along his lower abdomen while thinking about Jensen's fascinated inflection on the word awesome, he figures it doesn't have to mean anything if no one can see him do it.

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"This place is a gold mine for a reality show," Misha says, hose spraying water rather haphazardly across the row of perennials -- most of it soaking the floor. "We could sell it to the Nature Channel or hell, maybe even Discovery. Don't they produce Survivorman? Oh, no, wait, that's the Science Channel. We could definitely go there."

Jensen's got his back turned, counting inventory on his clipboard. It's the only reason he risks rolling his eyes. He doesn't want to get into another argument with Misha over the fact that they need an HR person on the payroll so he has somewhere to go when Jensen gets snarky.

"We could make the front office the confessional -- you never use it anyway. It's perfect. We'd have advertisers lined up to talk to us. M'telling you, Jensen, you gotta think about this."

What Jensen's actually been thinking about is the boy he can see through the window standing in the freshly tilled soil just under the Hillside Nursery sign with a sketch book in his hands.

It's amazing how many times a day Jensen seeks out Jared -- not even for conversation, just to see where he is.

And it's equally incredible that he finds him, more often than not, in the nursery, performing some task. Jensen figured once he lost the ability to fly under the government's radar, he'd be stuck with a mate who would primarily be there for sex and very little else. He actually imagined someone staying in the house all day, probably watching television, eating all his food, running up the bills and generally being the proverbial "ball and chain."

Jared is a complete and utter surprise.

"He really wanted to do that on his own?"

Jensen jumps a little at Misha's voice. The other man had apparently finished watering and moved to stand beside Jensen -- all while Jensen watched out the window.

Misha smirks. "I'm studying the Japanese tradition of sidling. I sidle silently. It's truly an artform. Yucca plants will only enhance my abilities."

This time Jensen does roll his eyes, even though Misha can see.

Misha crosses his arms. "I think it's time to promote Traci to Human Resources."

"We don't need an HR depratment, Misha."

"We do if you're going to continue to disparage my ancestry."

"You're not Japanese!"

"Oh, I could be. My family tree has many branches."

Jensen inhales and exhales slowly, wondering how he's managed to work with Misha for so many years and not kill him.

Misha's grin is quite smarmy. "I'm also well-versed in the Japanese art of determining when one is smitten."

Jensen likes him even less now.

"And you, my friend, are the proverbial kitten."

Jensen pretends to look over his inventory list. "The what, now?"

"A smitten kitten. That boy out there has you completely wrapped around his little finger and I, for one, think it's fantastic."

Jensen hums a noise that he hopes sounds bored and distracted.

"It's about time you immerse yourself in something other than this place and Jared is the perfect thing."

"You realize you aren't actually getting paid any extra for this armchair psychology, right?"

"I'm serious, Jensen," and Misha's tone is sincere. "He's good for you. You're... I don't know, lighter, less haunted. I know you never wanted this government mandate, but it -- Jared -- is really a good thing. Don't worry so much. Just embrace it."

Jensen glances out the window again in time for Jared to look up and make eye contact, like a compass drawn to its true north. Jensen swears he can see Jared's dimples even from this distance and his omega gives an adorable little wave across the parking lot.

Jensen responds in kind and can't stop the rush he gets that he actually made this connection with someone, the whole thing is like a middle school crush. He gets ridiculously giddy any time Jared looks happy and he's pleased to realize the expression of joy crosses Jared's face more often than not. It's a heady feeling to see the very emotions he has reflected so beautifully in Jared's eyes.

Christ, he's getting insanely sappy.

Jensen turns to tell Misha to get back to work, but he finds the other man is already gone.

He starts to wonder how much time he can't account for in a day because it's spent staring at Jared.

seperators

"You can seriously see the fireworks from here?" Jared's settling into the porch swing as Jensen comes out the front door.

"The town's actually not that far," Jensen catches the screen with his stocking foot before it can slam shut. "Misha lost a bet a year or two ago when he said I couldn't walk to town. Did it in three hours. I mean it won't be like we're sitting on top of them, but you can see 'em."

Jensen stops in front of Jared and holds out a bottle. "Want a beer?"

Jared blinks. "Jensen, I'm only eighteen."

Jensen smirks a little, it's an expression Jared's come to know that says Jensen's willing to bend the rules if not full on break them. "You planning on driving anywhere tonight?"

Jared shakes his head. He doesn't even have a car.

"You going anywhere after the fireworks where you'll run the risk of a drunk and disorderly?"

By now, Jared can't help it, he's starting to grin back as he continues his negative response.

Jensen twists the top off. "See any police out here?"

Jared chuckles low as he reaches for the bottle.

"That's my boy," Jensen says as he sinks into the space next to Jared, making the swing wobble a bit before kicking it into a smooth back-and-forth motion.

It's quiet, only the sounds of the cicadas and the creaking of the chain as the swing dips and sways.

Jared leans a bit to his left and Jensen takes the unspoken hint as his arm curls around Jared's shoulders.

Jared huffs a little laugh against Jensen's t-shirt.

"Brat," Jensen whispers affectionately.

They drink in companionbable silence while they wait for the inky sky to light up. Jared's surprised how much he enjoys the dark lager Jensen prefers. Although most of the beers he's been allowed to taste were at family reunions and the Padaleckis apparently aren't exactly connesuers.

Jensen nudges his nose into Jared's hair and just breathes for a bit. Jared likes the scent of the beer when it comes off Jensen almost as much as he likes the taste from the bottle. Jared pops his legs up onto the swing -- letting Jensen drive the motion -- and smiles at the fireflies in the darkening yard.

Jensen shakes his own beer a little and asks, "Good?"

Jared nods, more to feel Jensen's nose scratching along his scalp than anything. "Tastes like bread."

Jensen's lips brush the tip of Jared's ear. "That's the yeast."

Jared turns his head and ducks in for a kiss, the beer combining on both of their lips to create a taste unique to the two of them and this night.

Jensen pulls away with a throttled groan. "You wanna see the fireworks, you better behave."

Jared sucks a wet spot onto Jensen's neck and whispers, "I can see 'em from your lap just fine."

"You drunk already?"

Jared's laugh sputters against Jensen's skin. "Maybe..."

Jensen puts their bottles on the porch and scoops Jared up against his chest, so they're both facing the yard. He noses behind Jared's ear and asks, "Think we can come at the same time the fireworks go off?"

Neither of them really fully undresses and there's a lot of rubbing through cotton and clothes, but they get pretty damn close.

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Jared's been told by teachers in the past he could be rather myopic. He likes to think it helps with his drawings, but he knows that sometimes when he's focused on a task, the rest of the world just falls away.

That's the only excuse he's got for not seeing them sooner.

He's moving blue rug junipers from the growing area to the sales yard on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to line them up so they still have space to grow in the pots, but not too far apart that Sam'll have to make room somewhere else. He's caught on the textures and patterns of the branches, a little amazed that there are actually shades of blue in the plants, as the name suggests, when he hears the familiar grunt of, "Never thought I'd see you again."

It flashes him back to lockers and hallways and backpacks and that ominous feeling of being a target and his stomach clenches and that sickeningly familiar fear creeps up his throat.

Even though it's been more than a month since he's graduated, the memories are there, just below the surface.

He's crouched down, trying to organize the junipers neat and orderly and he knows better than to stand up. Taking a punch or a kick when he's already down is awful, but showing his height always brought out the worst. Remaining on the ground gives him a chance of getting out of this unharmed.

Sometimes even a slight chance is better than the alternative.

He glances up quick -- he has to know if Kirk's alone, and of course, his toady Billy's right at his side, both with mirrored expressions of excitement that they've got their favorite victim in a trap.

Any hope of getting out of this vanishes and Jared looks back down at the stones under his feet.

"The hell are you doin' here Padalecki?" Kirk sneers.

Jared thinks that should be obvious, so he doesn't say a word.

"Last I heard, I thought you were going to college. What'd you take a job here for? Didn't you get in?"

Jared wants to roll his eyes -- he had some of the highest grades in the class, certainly better than the two douchebags standing in front of him, and a summer job wouldn't preempt going to school anyway -- but he stays still, knowing that logic and reason were never useful against dimwits, and he continues to arrange the junipers, deliberately not making any sudden moves.

"Figures," Billy picks up the thread of the insults. "Most colleges don't let in freaks."

That's one of the dumbest things Jared's heard in a long time, but he remains stoic in his silence, stroking his wedding ring with his thumb.

Kirk laughs -- it's not a nice sound, "Oh yeah, good point. They wouldn't want a weirdo like you sleeping in the beds in the dorm, I'm sure."

Jared reaches for another pot like his idiot classmates aren't even there, but Kirk is faster and knocks it off the cart. It tumbles to the stones, spilling potting soil and fertilizer and Tom had worked hard to get them ready and was careful about getting the right mix and Sam doesn't like a messy sales yard and it's Jensen's inventory and Jared is just done.

He stands, pulls the cart out of the way, takes a deep breath and says: "If you wanna beat on me, that's fine, but you're not gonna screw up these plants. You're just not."

He's shaking, he can feel the vibrations in his hands, but he tips his chin up, looks them both dead in the eye and waits for the inevitable punch.

Protecting Hillside far outweighs any injury he might endure.

Instead of the anticipated blow, though, Jensen -- alpha pheromones pouring off of him in waves -- steps around in front of Jared, shoulder nudging Jared back, just a bit, and his voice is pure command and domination and strength, "You're actually not going to beat on anyone."

Jensen's suddenly, strangely huge -- bigger than Jared ever knew he could be -- it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's true nonetheless -- broad shoulders pulled up and back and he's somehow stretched himself to his full height, his t-shirt snug around his biceps, his forearms rippling with whipcord tight muscles, and Jared's a little shocked to realize the power Jensen's capable of and how he has never once, not in the weeks that Jared has been here, used any of it against Jared or anyone else for that matter.

Until now.

Kirk and Billy aren't alpha or omega or beta, but they must at least have the ability to understand they're facing off against someone who's far mightier in so many ways, because they both take an almost imperceptible step back.

Swift realization crosses Kirk's twisted expression and it's like he snaps himself out of his instinctive reaction -- he doesn't walk away from fights. He's maybe an octave less forceful than before, but still, he practically snarls, "And who the hell are you?"

Jensen settles into his stance and to Jared it's like a sword being drawn from a scabbard. "I own this business, boy."

Kirk visibly bristles. "I'm not a boy."

Jensen huffs an amused sound. "Well, you're certainly not a man. A man doesn't pick fights. A man doesn't vandalize someone else's property. A man knows how to respect other people."

Kirk curls both his hands into fists and Jared gasps -- he can't help it, it slips out -- he knows full well that move is a prelude to a nasty altercation and he doesn't want Jensen hurt.

He's a little surprised to hear low laughter from Jensen and the fact that the derisive and completely unconcerned sound is aimed at someone very deserving of contempt takes the whole experience to a level that is incredibly satisfying and delicious. Jared shivers.

Jensen spreads his arms a bit in blatant invitation, "Take your best shot, son. I'm actually asking you to."

The magnitude of Jensen's conviction dances through Jared's stomach like fire, lighting him up inside. It's as though his alpha sees exactly how the fight will go -- Kirk and Billy don't stand a chance -- and Jensen's certainty is breathtaking.

The heat has dampened Jensen's neck so that it practically glistens and the sun's rays turn the skin an almost golden brown. Jensen must have been back with Tom -- his green t-shirt is dotted with potting soil -- and Jared is struck, all at once, with the overwhelming need to just plaster himself along Jensen's back and lose himself in the strong scent and potency of his husband and alpha and mate.

Surprisingly, Kirk makes an abortive move, a quick lurch forward -- Jared's seen him do it countless times to freshmen and new kids just to watch them flinch.

Jensen doesn't move -- he barely blinks. God, he's like a titan and even Jared can see it would obviously take a lot to effectively overcome him.

Kirk must finally get that, too, because he actually retreats a full step -- Billy, bug-eyed from what appears to be a combination of fear and being in over his head, follows.

Jensen chuckles, "Is that it?"

Kirk and Billy both seem to shrink simultaneously.

Jensen crosses his arms, tendons almost pulsating. "Tell you what, kids, how about you go back to the show room. I'm pretty sure your mom's are waiting."

Jared can still see anger simmering in Kirk as they move slowly around the abandoned cart.

"Oh, and boys?" Jensen puts just enough emphasis on the word to make his point a second time as he turns, "If you come back to Hillside and mess up my property again or mistreat any person here, we're going to have a serious problem. You understand?"

Billy gulps audibly, and it's pretty clear the bravado has eked out of both him and Kirk.

"How about you give me a nod so I know you get what I'm saying?"

They look like a mis-matched pair of bobble heads and Jared has to bite his lip to maintain a blank expression and not giggle out loud.

Jensen dips his chin in confirmation and points around Jared's arm to the show room. Like properly chastised children -- slumped shoulders and all -- Kirk and Billy trudge along the stones to the door, heeding Jensen's directional gesture.

Jensen never takes his eyes off of them until the latch clicks behind them.

It's only then that his glance finds Jared's and the superiority and command radiating off of Jensen is so severe, Jared's heart skips a beat. He's not sure if it's his omega status that's responding to the alpha in Jensen or what, but he feels such heat and confidence and authority in Jensen's face and body language, Jared's groin clenches in response.

Eventually, with deep, even breathing and a soft smile, the boiling, rolling anger in Jensen ebbs and dissipates practically while Jared watches and he realizes he's just been in the presence of far more rage, more fury, more promised violence than he ever was in high school and yet he's never felt safer.

The urge to kiss Jensen almost staggers him.

Jensen inhales and lets it out on a: "God, I really wanted that fucker to take a swing."

"Jensen," Jared breathes, reaching out to tuck his fingers around Jensen's forearm, damp with sweat and humidity.

Jensen pulls Jared a little closer and asks, "You okay, sugar?"

"I..." Jared clears his throat. "It's never... I was always so scared before..."

Jensen smiles -- and the difference, the complete contrast to his previous demeanor is astoundingly beautiful. "And now?"

"Now I d-don't have to be with you here, do I?"

Jensen shakes his head, grin confident and sure. "Not for a single second."

Jared leans forward just a bit, scenting his alpha, taking in the salty sweat and deeply powerful aroma of his secure and self-assured mate. It's literally nothing he's ever experienced before. A hint of worry creeps into his tone, though, when he asks, "What if they do come back?"

"Do you really think they're that dumb?"

Jared wants to say no, but he's spent the better part of four years dodging and evading their particular brand of contempt and ignorance, so he shrugs instead.

Jensen cups his palm around Jared's knuckles. "I saw their mothers in the show room and it's kind of obvious that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, but if they do come back and start up again, I'm guessing the parents aren't going to be too happy with a son who's got assault and vandalism charges on his record. And they are that dumb if they think for a second I won't go that route. And if they take a swing at me or God forbid, you," Jensen's entire body quivers with an unforeseen impression of power. "It's gonna be a completely different story. Self-defense covers a lot of ground."

Jared knows if he kisses Jensen, things are going to get seriously out of hand in the sales yard and he's going to want to submit to his alpha right on the stones, in front of customers and God and anyone who's watching, and he's not gonna care in the slightest.

Luckily, Jensen's question pulls him up short.

"Jared, do you want to go to college?"

Jared drags in air through his nose, a little shocked that Jensen must have overheard that part of the conversation.

"Yeah," Jensen says a bit sheepishly. "I caught that. I also caught you not saying a word when they were ragging on you, but the minute they knocked over the juniper, you were ready for the fight."

This, Jared can address. "I don't care what they say about me, Jensen, it's not a big deal, but they can't mess this place up. I was serious about that. If knocking me around would keep your business safe, I'm totally fine with them doing that."

Jensen's eyes narrow dangerously. "Well, I'm not, so that's not gonna happen. Ever."

A thrill skates through Jared in the face of such an emphatic promise.

"You know we could work something out," Jensen says. "About college."

Jared remembers the excitement he had felt, such a short time ago, at the prospect of the classes and the dorms and the quad and even the dining hall. He'd been so giddy at the thought of getting out that there were days -- especially when the likes of Billy or Kirk were uncommonly menacing -- that he almost couldn't see straight.

But now.

Now, things -- his life, all of it -- are so incredibly different, so full in ways he couldn't have hoped to imagine even four months ago that the thought of not having it -- even for the prospect of college -- brings a funny, empty feeling to his stomach.

He can tell by Jensen's expression that his alpha expects an answer, so Jared murmurs, "I don't... I'll have to think about it."

And what he really means is I don't want to leave you.

Jensen seems satisfied, tweaks Jared's nose with that silly noise he made the first night, murmurs gotta get that looked at and moves across the stones to the show room.

Jared watches him go and really doesn't think there's any way he could be away from Jensen long enough to get a degree.

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"Sugar, I'm telling you, you don't have to be scared. I'm not gonna cut you."

At least he hopes he won't. He's never really shaved anyone before and certainly not in an area this delicate, but when he followed Jared into the bathroom after they decided to call it an early night and do this, he noticed the boy's quivering from the hem of his t-shirt alone, and he had to say something.

He turns Jared around and has to duck Jared's bangs to make eye contact -- he's gonna need to get Jared to his barber soon -- and when Jared looks up, lightening fast, Jensen realizes what's really going on here and can't help but reach out, cupping Jared's cheek. "Jesus, you're not scared at all, are you? You're turned on."

The dilated pupils, the rigid outline of his cock underneath his loose boxer shorts -- practically tenting the hem of his t-shirt, the telltale flush all along Jared's throat and that amazing, somewhat elusive, sweet omega scent all give Jensen the answer he needs.

Jared takes a tentative step toward Jensen, so their body heat lines up and he whispers, "S-Sorry, I can't control... it's just that... no one's e-ever... and I wanna s-see what it feels like... and..."

Jared's words seem to run out just as Jensen's own cock fills and Jensen drops Jared's cheek to pull them together, showing the boy that the arousal runs both ways.

Jared's eyes light up and Jensen tells him: "Don't ever apologize for what you find hot. You hear me?"

Nodding, Jared lifts his arms around Jensen's shoulders and hitches them together in a full body hug that stops Jensen's breath for a second. "God, yeah, sugar," Jensen murmurs into Jared's ear, while palming Jared's ass through the soft boxers, lubrication already making the material soggy.

Jared's practically climbing him when he whines, "Jensen..."

"We gotta take care of this first, though, I think, huh? Don't we?"

Jared squirms, rubbing his hard cock -- which Jensen can tell is obviously leaking, even with the boxers on -- against the denim of Jensen's jeans.

"Yeah," Jensen confirms, sliding to his knees on the bathroom tiles. "We really do."

Jared's inhale is shocked and ragged as his fingers grip the collar of Jensen's t-shirt. "W-what are... you?"

"Shhhh," Jensen says, words mumbled into the damp cotton covering Jared's groin. "You're okay."

Jared freezes -- Jensen's a little worried he's not breathing as he pops the boy's cock out over the waistband and doesn't stop from pushing the wet tip between his lips before the boxers even hit the floor.

The sound Jared makes is nearly unquantifiable -- it's shock mixed with pure need and undeniable arousal -- and his hips wrench forward almost uncontrollably. Jensen just opens his mouth wider, tries to relax his throat and thinks he could literally drown in the taste of his omega and not regret going out that way.

"J-Jensen..." Jared moans, voice completely wrecked. "I c-can't..."

Jensen pulls off enough to say: "let it go, sugar," around the salty tip of Jared's dick before shifting back down, getting his nose almost to the hair he's about to remove.

Jared chokes on a whimper and Jensen can feel the boy's cock quiver in the seconds before his mouth fills with the most intoxicating combination of salt and sweet and thick he's ever tasted. He's always been a spitter before, but with Jared he has to know every flavor, swallow everything down.

He cleans Jared's cock with sweeps of his tongue until nothing's left but his own saliva and when he settles back on his heels, Jared's so wobbly, he almost topples over.

"Careful," Jensen warns, gripping his hips tight, steadying him. "You okay?"

Jared's sucking in air unevenly, but his eyes are like fire. "C-can I do that to you sometime?"

A blurt of precome surges out the slit of Jensen's dick from the words alone and he has to close his eyes for a second before he answers, "I would love that, but let's get you shaved first, okay?"

Jared's nod is verging on spasmodic and he's a little unstable when he follows Jensen's instructions to remove his t-shirt.

Jensen pivots Jared's hips so the boy's naked ass rests against the counter. "I'm gonna start with the clippers first," he explains, still on his knees on the floor, looking up at Jared, and from the out-of-it expression, Jensen's not sure he's being heard. "You sure you're okay?"

Jared pulls his lower lip between his teeth and his breathing picks up. He squirms slightly and his cock starts to fill again. "I just... r-really like this. Having you d-do it for me."

Judging by the shine on Jared's inner thighs from his biological lubrication, his body alone confirms the words.

Jensen leans forward to kiss the skin over Jared's hipbone, just for the contact, the scent, the connection -- his tongue still thick with Jared's release. He murmurs, "so amazing," because he can't help himself. This boy, this completely innocent, never-been-kissed, inexperienced omega has taught him more about true pleasure than any man he's known.

And God, he just wants to bury himself in Jared and never come back out. He scrapes his teeth a little against Jared's muscle just to feel the boy shiver. It's always the smallest touch, the simplest gesture that produces a response and Jensen can't get enough of it.

But, as much as the pulse in his cock is clamoring for Jared's wet heat, Jensen also wants to see and feel his boy bare, so he pulls back, intent on the task at hand.

Situating the trashcan between Jared's spread legs, hoping to keep the mess at a minimum, he reaches for the clippers and his composure on an indrawn breath.

He has to grip Jared's cock -- once again fully hard, the tip dribbling precome -- to maneuver the thick flesh away from the blades as he cuts a swipe of pubic hair off Jared's groin, oil from the electric shaver taking the curls off easily. Jared makes an enraptured sound -- clearly trying to take the edge off had been a lost cause, it only seems to have aroused Jared further.

The hum of the trimmer against his abdomen makes Jared's nipples stiffen and Jensen can practically see the hunger flutter up his flat stomach, skin trembling. "Jensen," Jared chokes on a whisper, knees opening wider, almost a reflexive motion. "I w-want... I need you i-inside me..."

Jesus, the picture Jared makes -- naked, slouched against the mirror, ass propped up along the edge of the sink, thighs shifting further and further apart, giving Jensen a view of only the shadow of the hidden, wet place between his legs.

He's sin and innocence and temptation personified -- and he's stripping Jensen of everything he's known about sex and omegas and intimacy. "In a minute, sugar," Jensen grits out past a throat tight with need.

"C-can't it be now?" Jared whines at the same time he brings the heel of his left foot up to rest against the counter. "Please?"

The position opens him up and his hips cant forward, spreading the shiny, pink flesh even more. Jensen can actually see the boy's saturated, winking pucker clenching on nothing but air. The site is so staggering, it nearly stops his heart. All he can do is murmur Jared, in a extremely awe-struck tone.

Jared juts his thighs even wider, muscles clearly straining with the expansion, and his natural lubrication drips down the front of the cabinet -- the scent so far beyond stimulating, Jensen's jeans are drenched with his own precome and his mouth waters and he can feel the knot take shape at the base of his cock. He's got no hope of stopping it.

Jared writhes a bit, back undulating and asks, "Just your f-fingers? Please, Jensen?"

"Jared, I can't do this one-handed."

Jared shakes his head restlessly against the mirror. "I k-know... but just for a l-little bit. I n-need it really b-bad. Feel so e-empty..."

There's really only so much begging Jensen can take, especially with his own body clawing want and need through his veins, so he shuts off the clippers and stands in one motion, kicking the trashcan out of the way. "You need to go again, don't you, sugar?"

"M'sorry," Jared whispers, glancing up bashfully through his bangs -- an expression in complete contradiction to the wanton spread of his body. "Just for a little w-while... and then I-I'll be good. I p-promise."

Jensen can hear the real contrition in Jared's voice and he never wants his boy to feel ashamed about his innate hunger -- not when it's such an exquisite joy to witness. "You're gorgeous like this, you know that?" Jensen assures, while brushing his lips along Jared's jaw and dragging his fingers down Jared's open, slick thigh. "So eager for me, aren't you?"

Jared nods erratically. "A-always. I always want this. It's l-like... before? I d-didn't know what I never had, you know?" Jared doesn't speak for a few seconds, but he's clearly contemplating additional words. He takes a rough breath. "S-sometimes... ."

Jensen waits, but when Jared doesn't complete the thought, he encourages with a soft, "Sometimes?"

Jared's eyes don't seem to be able to make it above Jensen's chin as he whispers, "S-sometimes I get s-scared 'cause the only time I feel real is when you're a p-part of me..."

Jensen sucks in a sharp breath as an intense sensation shivers through his chest at Jared's quiet confession. This is so much more than sex. If he's being candid, it has been practically from the start. The government can claim that alphas and betas and omegas are nothing but animals, but Jensen knows that what he has here, with this burgeoning boy coming into his own, is so much more than just orgasms and physical release.

The only answer he can give, though, is the blunt prodding of his first two fingers into Jared's wet, warm ass -- Jensen spears him, hard, and is amazed -- always -- at the ease of the slide in, all the way to the webbing at the meat of his hand.

Jared not only takes it, he pulls his knees to his chest, virtually offering himself up on the bathroom sink, and grabs Jensen's wrist, physically keeping the two of them locked together.

Jensen's overcome with the bizarre need to shout his luck to the highest mountain -- he suddenly wants everyone to know how incredible it is to have a husband who's so willing, so voracious, so completely accommodating -- but at the same time, he exalts in the fact that all this, this magnificent, beautiful, carnal, covetous boy is his and his alone.

Jared snakes his free arm around Jensen's neck, arches his back up, connecting their torsos, and murmurs, "Another... give me a-another..."

Jensen doesn't think there's anything he would ever deny Jared, and he plunges a third and even a fourth finger into all that slippery heat on a low moan. It's so unbelievable, the feel of Jared surrounding most of his hand, the boy's natural slick rolling down Jensen's forearm -- it shocks him somewhat to realize that with a few twists of his wrist he knows he could breach the walls of Jared's ass with the widest part of his palm -- Jared just keeps opening and stretching, even his most sensitive, delicate skin -- and from the panting sounds he's making, the puddle of precome on his stomach and the telltale red staining his neck and face, he's loving every single, second of it.

Jensen rubs -- with just a curling swirl of the tip of his middle finger -- along Jared's prostate and that's all it takes, Jared shouts and clenches, his whole body seizing with the fierceness of his orgasm and Jensen's fingers are caught in what feels like a vice made of warm, wet flesh.

Shudders continue to wrack Jared's body, long after his cock has emptied onto his stomach and he's gasping for breath, clinging to Jensen like a lifeline.

Jensen holds on, murmuring just like that and so good for me against Jared's chin until the quivering slows and Jared makes eye contact.

"Is that what you wanted?" Jensen asks.

Jared's nod is shaky, but his grin is vibrant and he tilts his chin up in silent demand.

Jensen delivers and wraps them both in a thorough kiss that lasts until Jared starts wiggling on the fingers still buried deep in his ass and Jensen has to pull away or they'll never finish the shaving. Jensen's gasping a little raggedly, on the edge himself, trying to keep his hands from shaking, but it's a tall order since he can feel the bulge of his knot shoving against the denim of his jeans.

He's a breath away from coming, just from having Jared snug and dripping around his fingers and witnessing his omega's release. He knows if he lets himself go, he's gonna destroy his jeans. He's never looked too closely at his alpha ancestry, so he's not completely certain if it's a trait of his kind or something only he experiences, but he's able to keep a knot, sometimes for an extended period of time, without ejaculating. The swollen knob is profoundly sensitive and in the past, he liked to see how long he could stroke and rub it before shooting all over himself. He'd stretched the tease out to a full half hour some nights.

Now, though, with Jared, he's so quick to fire it makes him a little dizzy.

His husband is just so unpretentiously arousing.

He pushes back from the sink even further and when Jared notices his problem, the boy gurgles a wicked sound and circles his hips.

"God," Jensen huffs, fighting for some level of restraint. "Just... let's get you trimmed up, okay?"

Jared's rather docile in his agreement, despite his response to Jensen's obvious knot, but he's also still slumped against the porcelain and mirror, looking very sated and replete.

"Sit up for me a little," Jensen murmurs and Jared complies, letting his feet fall back to the floor, and Jensen resets the trashcan.

The trimmer only takes off so much -- Jensen left the guide off the blade since it would have been too thick, so he tries not to get too close to Jared's skin. He knows he'll have to get the disposable razor out and that's gonna require shaving cream and water and the only place truly suited for that is the tub.

Jesus, he hopes he survives this.

It takes longer to get the hairs clipped down than Jensen thought it would, but he's easily distracted by the warm, sweet-smelling skin of his mate. He peppers quick kisses over Jared's pecks and between two ribs and over the jut of his collar bone and each time, his boy coos quietly in response -- Jensen doubts Jared even knows he's making a sound.

Their breathing and the hum of the trimmer are the only noises in the room until Jensen whispers, "How much do want taken off?"

Jared pulls his nose away from Jensen's temple with a quick inhale and his voice is low and sonorous, "All of it. I wanna look like you."

Jensen clenches his jaw at the implications Jared doesn't even know he's making. "Sugar, I'm shaved... everywhere."

Jared nods, but he's still a little muddled and sluggish and Jensen realizes he's not making the connection.

To prove his point, Jensen turns off the clippers and skims his knuckles along the back of Jared's thigh to his boy's slick ass -- even through the viscous fluid, he can feel evidence of course strands just outside of the rim. He puts his free hand on the counter and leans in, whispering against Jared's lips, "Hair grows farther back than you think."

Realization raises goosebumps over Jared's skin and he gasps, sharply -- eyes wide and pupils blown. For a split second, Jensen worries it's fear, but when his knuckles quickly get coated in a warm gush of Jared's natural fluids -- physical proof that he's nowhere close to scared -- Jensen feels an answering swell of heat in his own body.

Jared's breath ripples out over his quiet, "Oh g-god, yeah... a-all of it."

Jensen's fingers twitch involuntarily, flicking Jared's sensitive skin and the boy releases a high-pitched sound and his toes curl against the floor.

Jensen huffs out a breath and steps back. "Okay... let's... .we're gonna need to do that somewhere other than the sink."

Jared nods, like he agrees, but he's started to pant again and his bottom lip is stuck between his teeth.

Jensen turns to fill the tub a bit with warm water and reaches behind Jared for the shaving cream and disposable razor. His husband remains propped up on the sink, trashcan between his legs, expression zigzagging between anticipation and rapture.

Jensen has to lean in for a kiss -- he can't seem to stop touching Jared -- and they stay there, lips and tongues rubbing together, for longer than Jensen intended. Jared's got his fingers in Jensen's hair and he's slid a leg between Jensen's -- skin scraping denim -- when he whispers, "Jensen?" between their mouths.

Jensen thinks he hums in response, but he's not sure because he's so wholly caught in the taste and feel of his husband.

"Will you fuck me when we're done?" Jared asks, beseeching, pleading.

The question sends blood to Jensen's already aching dick and he can actually feel his knot throb.

The sound of running water in the tub makes Jensen pull back with a gruff, "Having a hard time not fucking you right now, sugar."

Jared's eyes grow heavy and his knees sag open and it's clear he wouldn't argue anything Jensen wanted to do.

Jensen twists the faucets shut so he doesn't reach for Jare again, dragging a hand down his face, searching for some sense of control. It would scare him, how nearly unmanageable his instincts have become if it all wasn't so erotic and arousing. Being with Jared is like nothing he's experienced before and the newness of it doubles his heartbeat.

Jensen has to let some of the water out -- he'd gotten a little distracted -- and once the level is low enough, he turns to Jared. "Can you sit up here for me? On the ledge?"

Jensen was a bit picky when he re-did the bathroom a few years ago -- he knew what he wanted and he constructed the room with an eye for practicality and ease of maneuverability. He's got a standard shower stall in one corner and a separate tub for those nights -- yes, he'll admit it -- when he likes to take a hot bath. Submerging himself in water will soothe his tired muscles better than just about anything else after a long day of digging or hauling plants. It's his one indulgence and it's nothing ostentatious, but the design is a bit more than a typical bathtub.

The fiberglass is surrounded by a ledge of mosaic tiles, which are good for sitting or holding a bottle of beer or all the products Jensen's accumulated. He's cleared a spot for Jared and it's perfect -- Jared can rest back against the wall with his long legs spread wide into the tub. His tailbone is supported by the ledge and with the right curve of his spine, Jensen's got the perfect angle to reach every inch of skin.

Jensen settles in on the outside edge, has to adjust his cock in his jeans -- the denim seam caught his knot at the complete wrong angle. Once he's made himself about as comfortable as he's likely to get in his current condition, he grabs the shaving cream and asks, "Okay?"

Jared draws in a ragged breath and nods.

"Your back alright like that?"

"F-fine," Jared whispers and he's got that exact same shameless expression from earlier -- with just a hint of uncertainty thrown in to really crank Jensen's libido.

Jensen's surprised how much his hands tremble when he pops open the shaving cream -- he knows the majority of it is erogenous reaction to seeing Jared turned on by such an intimate undertaking -- but some of it, some of it is because he's never done this before and he'd rather cut off his own hand than ever, ever hurt Jared.

Jensen tries to evoke some measure of composure around the hiss of the nozzle. A sharp, clean scent fills the air and Jared's abdomen flutters at the first touch. Jensen covers what little hair is left above Jared's cock with the white foam, cupping the top of his boy's once-again hard dick in his palm, levering it out of the way.

Armed with only the knowledge of how to do this to himself, Jensen goes slow at first, methodical. The water in the tub gets fizzy with each swish of the razor. He notices that once he's started, the sweeps of his wrist become steady, stable, and even though watching Jared's every response, no matter how small -- listening to the quick, somewhat shocked breaths he takes, seeing his fingers fist at his sides -- is all still exceptionally seductive, Jensen's found a stillness he didn't anticipate.

It's more than a little wondrous the level of trust he's being given and it catches his breath and heart and something else in his throat. He wants to tell Jared what it means to him, but he can't seem to make his voice work.

He's careful -- so explicitly careful -- around Jared's balls and base of his cock. The last thing his boy needs is a cut or serious razor burn on such susceptible, fragile skin. The cream is meant to soothe even after the shaving, but still, Jensen's cautious.

He rinses Jared's groin off first before tackling the truly delicate skin behind his balls and glances up to make sure everything's okay. Jared's thrumming -- a vague, measured rippling all along his stomach, chest and arms -- and his nipples are rigid peaks.

Jensen clears his throat and whispers, "Are you warm enough?"

Jared blinks, as though coming out of a daze, looks up at Jensen -- he'd been rather riveted on the procedure -- and nods.

Jensen has to be sure, so he wipes his free hand on the nearby towel, reaches out with the pad of his thumb to circle one turgid nipple, softly kneading the taut nub and asks, "Is this 'cause your cold or want to be fucked?"

Jared literally writhes, knees twitching upward, back bowing and a wild little noise trickles past his lips. It takes a full five seconds for him to answer, "F-fucked..."

It's a near thing. Jensen swallows hard to keep from giving his boy exactly what his entire body is begging for.

"Put your feet up here for me," Jensen directs softly while tapping the sides of the tub.

Jared complies with an anticipatory whimper.

The shaving cream mixes with the thick fluid of Jared's natural lubrication -- which at this point has trailed down the edge of the tub into the water and continues to leak out of Jared's pulsing ass. It's possible Jensen maybe takes an excessive amount of time making sure every single inch of the wet flesh is covered -- even doing two applications -- but the thick amalgamation and Jared's sweet mewling has him a little enthralled.

Jensen watches a single drop of precome spill out of the slit of Jared's cock and he knows he's gotta finish this so he can appease his boy's obvious craving.

Shaving Jared's rim proves far more precarious than his cock and balls, but that's mostly because Jared keeps clenching his enticing pink hole every time the blades pass over the flesh.

"Sugar, you gotta hold still," Jensen admonishes softly.

Jared scrapes his head along the tiles behind him and murmurs, "M'trying... it's just..."

"I know," Jensen breathes, feeling just as blindingly aroused as his husband.

Jensen makes long sweeps with the razor, clearing the hair off Jared's sensitive skin in short order. He quickly cleans out the tub, refills it and guides Jared into the shallow end to rinse off.

Jared's splashing warm water over his now-bare groin, cock bobbing red and hard along the surface. "My dick looks way bigger," he whispers earnestly, unable, apparently, to take his eyes off his own crotch.

Jensen shifts so he's kneeling on the laminate flooring outside the tub, watching his husband examine his newly shaved skin. "You look like a porn star."

A breathless gasp reverberates off the fiberglass and Jared flicks his eyes to Jensen. "You watch porn?"

Jensen's smile isn't remotely civilized. "Yeah."

"With two g-guys?" Jared asks on a hesitant breath.

Jensen murmurs an affirmative response.

It's quiet for a while, except for liquid sounds from the tub. "W-will you... show me sometime?"

Jesus, but just the thought of watching porn with Jared probably shouldn't be as hot as Jensen's dick is telling him it would be. He can't help but wonder if there's anything this guileless boy won't try. "How about we get some lotion on you first, okay?"

Jared's eyes dilate at the suggestion and he's compliant and still clearly turned on while Jensen dries him off and has him sit on the toilet. Jensen gets more than a little bit carried away with the application of the lotion -- he hadn't shaved anything on the head of Jared's cock, but he can't stop stroking and twisting and thumbing the crown, just to see and hear Jared's incredibly stimulating reaction.

Eventually, Jensen's got more precome in his palm than lotion and Jared's wiggling his hips lithely against the porcelain. With a shudder bordering on violent, Jared clutches Jensen's shoulders and pulls him close for an incendiary kiss. The front of Jensen's jeans are literally soaked with precome and his knot is throbbing so much it hurts.

"Jensen," Jared murmurs between their lips. "C-can you fuck me now?"

"Mmmm," Jensen hums, still wringing blurts of precome out of his husband's dick. "Wish I could, sugar, but I popped my knot a while ago."

Jared shuffles closer, says: "I can take it. You know I can. We did b-before..."

"You were in heat then, Jared," Jensen explains. "It's too much now."

Jared shakes his head, grazing their mouths together. "It's not. You know it's not."

To Jensen's shocked astonishment, Jared gracefully drops to the floor, between the tub and the sink, parts his knees, exposing all that hairless, smooth skin, and says, simply, "Please?"

It would take a person far stronger than Jensen to resist an invitation like that. As he unzips his jeans and pulls his shirt over his head, he's telling himself this time, he really will just give Jared everything but the knot -- this time, without Jared's devastating heat spurring him on, he'll be able to control his impulses and not impel his swollen knot past Jared's tight, now-bald rim.

He grinds his teeth together and part of him really does believe he can do it -- right up until the tip of his hard-to-the-point-of-pain dick breaches Jared's wet, undeniably sleek pucker and his boy moans, drawn out and low in long-time-coming satisfaction.

God, Jensen's trying -- he really, really is -- to keep his thrusts shallow and to empty his cock without penetrating Jared completely, but his boy isn't even remotely helping. Jared's squirming so beautifully on Jensen's dick, legs in the air and arms over his head, and he pushes up, hard, just as Jensen's pressing down and Jensen can sense Jared's rim opening, scant fractions at a time and it may be one of the most amazing experiences Jensen's ever had.

It's wicked and provocative and miraculous to have his hot, bulging knot swallowed up so slowly, so completely, and when the strain overcomes them, when the slippery flesh finally gives, the gratifying pop makes them both cry out against each other's skin, and Jensen's coming, possibly harder than he may ever have in his life and his vision swims and all he knows is Jared -- the scent, the feel, the overwhelming sensuality of his mate.

Jared's orgasm coats both their stomachs and he's frozen on the bathroom floor, arched up against Jensen's chest in a sharp, rigid line of pleasure. Jensen rides the clench-and-release of Jared's ass until every pulse has run its course.

They both collapse, surrendering to gravity, gulping air, and Jensen's still ensnared in his own orgasm, hips jerking and circling slowly, luxuriating in each successive twinge of gratification.

After a minute or two, he props himself up on his elbows, so he can look at Jared, replete and gorgeous beneath him. "Okay?" he whispers.

Jared's smile is dazzling and he lowers his legs only halfway, swiping his calves along Jensen's torso. "Some days," Jared muses. "I wish we could stay like this all the time, you know? It's my favorite place to be."

Jensen lifts an eyebrow. "On the bathroom floor?"

Jared giggles and it shifts them where they're joined, eliciting shocked breaths. "Not exactly here," Jared adjusts his statement, once he's regained his composure. "But, here," and he does something insanely elegant with his lower body that both pulls at the base of Jensen's knot and engulfs it in warm, wet heat. "Yeah," Jared breathes. "Definitely. All the time."

"God, sugar, what you do to me."

The kiss they share is surprisingly sweet and chaste, given their current position.

Jared breaks it to reach for a towel that he wads up under his head and his fingers start to play along his own groin.

Jensen pushes up a little higher, letting Jared explore, fascinated in being able to witness his boy recognizing his own sexuality.

"There's really no hair there," Jared murmurs quietly.

Jensen chafes his bottom lip along Jared's shoulder. "Nope. All down the drain."

"I like how it feels," Jared admits, almost shyly -- even after everything.

Jensen tries to still his hips, he really does, but damn, that's just fucking erotic as all hell. "We're gonna have to watch you out in public, aren't we? Not gonna be able to keep your hands off yourself, huh?" he jokes.

Jared freezes, fingers curling in, moving away, and he shoots a quick glance at Jensen. "I w-wouldn't..."

Sometimes Jensen forgets where his boy came from -- how truly innocent and pure he really is -- how before he blossomed, here, with Jensen, he'd been essentially living in seclusion, a cocoon, to protect himself. Jensen didn't mean to hit on the one lesson Jared had learned at such a young age and with such heavy impact. "Ah, sugar, I know. I know you wouldn't. I was only teasing you. Go ahead," he motions for Jared to continue. "I don't think you have any idea how hot it is to watch you enjoy yourself like that."

Jared looks skeptical. "R-really? You mean it?"

This time Jensen deliberately surges forward a bit, shoving his come just that much deeper into Jared. "God, yes, I mean it."

Jared grins and scrubs his nose along Jensen's bicep. Slowly, falteringly, he slides his fingers back down, stroking his bare skin and cock and groin and when he marvels, "I didn't know my balls could be so smooth," Jensen thinks it's quite possible his husband might truly be the death of him.

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"You're sure there's nothing else available?"

Jared finds Jensen on the couch that night, iPhone to his ear and glasses perched on his nose. Jared's been around long enough to know Jensen's contacts must have really been bothering him -- he hates his glasses.

"No," Jensen's irritated. "I understand. It's a busy flight. Thank you for checking." He hangs up with a huff.

Jared hesitates a bit as he rounds the end of the couch with a bag of Fritos and soda. They had plans to watch the game they have on the DVR, but if Jensen's having a bad night, Jared doesn't want to interfere or make it worse.

Jensen glances up and his expression softens when he holds out an arm across the cushion. "Hey, sugar, c'mere."

A sparkle of satisfaction trips down Jared's spine at Jensen's change in tone and demeanor. The indulgence and fondness Jensen always shows him, even when he's clearly frustrated, kindles in Jared's chest. With a grin he can't temper, Jared puts the snacks on the coffee table and settles in, tucked under Jensen's shoulder, his favorite place to be.

Jensen kisses his temple and Jared's bare toes curl into the carpet. He snuggles closer, cheek against Jensen's shirt. He can't get enough of Jensen's earthy smell and he's not sure if it comes from working with the plants or if it's just something about the alpha in him. "Want some Fritos?" he asks into the cotton.

Jensen hums a distracted sound and trails his fingers up and down Jared's arm.

Jared's content to nuzzle in against Jensen's warmth and scent until Jensen says: "So next week, Misha and I are going to the trade show in Iowa."

Jared nods, rubbing against the cotton of Jensen's t-shirt.

"It's kind of a big thing where we can hear about new products and available services and the stuff we learn really helps."

Jared murmurs a nonsense noise.

"It lasts for three days."

Jared frowns. Wait. Three days. In Iowa. He sits up and looks at Jensen. "You'll be gone for three days?"

Jensen nods as his fingertips brush the hair out of Jared's face. Jared shivers a bit and starts, "But..."

"I know, sugar," Jensen says around a sigh. "I was just checking to see if we could get an extra seat on the flight, but it's a no go. This is something we do every July and we book it a year in advance."

Something shivers low in Jared's abdomen and he knows he's being ridiculous -- it's not like Jensen's actually leaving him forever -- but the thought of being here without him, of not having Jensen next to him at night, brings a fizzy feeling to his chest. "Can you call me?" he asks quietly.

Jensen skritches his knuckles against Jared's temple. "Every night."

"So we can talk before we fall asleep?"

Jensen pulls him forward and places a kiss between his eyes. "Absolutely."

Jared takes a deep breath, leans into Jensen's neck and whispers, "Okay."

Jensen grazes his fingers through the hair at the base of Jared's neck and Jared swears he hears that's my boy but he can't be sure over the beating of his own suddenly erratic heart. Jensen rubs his nose along Jared's forehead and says: "We've got a game to watch, huh?"

That night, when Jared holds on a little tighter as they sleep, he's happy that Jensen doesn't say a word.

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The day of the trip arrives a lot faster than Jared would have liked. Sam's dropping Jensen and Misha off at the Richmond airport and they're leaving at a ridiculously early hour, but Jared didn't sleep a whole lot the night before anyway, so it's not a big deal to be awake at five thirty.

Jensen's eyes are a little puffy and it's clear he's barely conscious as he's shoving last-minute items into his suitcase and mumbling about never knowing what to pack and that Jared should go back to bed.

Jared doesn't answer -- it's doubtful Jensen would comprehend him anyway -- and slips into a pair of shorts and t-shirt. He wants to say goodbye from the driveway, not the bedroom.

He trails Jensen to the kitchen, scuffing his bare feet a little against the linoleum, kind of wishing there was some way he could convince Jensen to stay. Maybe send Tom with Misha instead.

He knows it's selfish, though. This is for Hillside. The information Jensen gets in Iowa will help grow the business and he needs to be there to learn it first hand.

Jared just wishes it didn't mean he'd have to be without Jensen for three days.

He sighs and reaches for some type of stability. The thought of wrapping himself around Jensen's legs like an unruly toddler floated through his mind at three a.m. and it's back again. Logically, he knows he shouldn't do it, but his instincts tell him to physically stop his alpha from leaving -- in any way possible.

The sun's just getting ready to crest the horizon when they step out onto the porch, wood scraping Jared's bare feet. It's far cooler at this time of day, but Jared can tell from the humidity hanging in the air that the afternoon promises to be a scorcher.

Jensen's chugging coffee out of a travel mug and he glances at Sam, holding the trunk open for his suitcase, with a gruff greeting. Sam pops the backdoor open for Jensen as she climbs back in the front, giving Jared's arm a squeeze before she slides behind the wheel. Misha still looks half asleep in the passenger seat -- he doesn't even glance up.

Jared hovers a little around the edge of the open car door, grass tickling his toes, wanting kind of desperately to kiss Jensen, but he knows his husband's still bleary and out-of-it and he doesn't want to be an obnoxious, clingy mate. Even though that's exactly what he is. He shifts from one foot to the other and flicks his wedding ring around his finger.

Jensen sets his coffee on the top of the car, turns and walks into Jared -- there's no other way to describe it -- he eases right up against him, chest to chest, and grabs around his shoulders, locking them together, tight.

Jared trembles, he can't help it, the gesture is so much exactly what he wanted, it trips fragile quivers through his body and he whispers, "Jensen."

Jensen stays still, breathing deep, and Jared echoes the motion, trying to memorize every scent and muscle and aspect of Jensen.

With a brief kiss to Jared's neck, Jensen moves back and says: "Okay, we gotta go over the rules again. First, keep your cell on and with you all the time. I'll call when we land and get set up in the room and probably text you random stuff, too."

Jared nods, rubbing his nose against Jensen's a little.

"I'll call before I go to bed. It'll be an hour difference, so you might have to wait up."

Jared doubts he'll be able to fall asleep before saying goodnight to Jensen, anyway, so that won't be a hardship.

"Try not to do anything really adorable while I'm not around to witness it."

A chuckle rattles out of Jared's throat and his grin feels sappy even on his own face.

"And, most importantly," Jensen reaches up, hooks his fingers around Jared's nose and makes a high-pitched noise. "Try to get that looked at while I'm gone."

Jared scrunches up his eyes and his chest gets warm.

"C'mere, sugar," Jensen whispers. "We gotta make this last us for three days."

The kiss verges on slightly desperate, but that's mostly because Jared has this bizarre wish that he could quite literally crawl inside Jensen and stay there. It also continues for an inordinate amount of time, but that's also Jared's fault because he pulls out every trick he knows his husband can't resist -- tiny flicks of the tip of his tongue against Jensen's upper lip, nibbling just a bit on Jensen's plump lower lip and never separating their mouths for even a split second.

Jensen hums deep in his chest and murmurs killing me as he pulls away a little roughly, makes deliberate, burning eye contact and slides into the back seat.

Jared stands in the yard until well after Sam's Camry has disappeared down the road. His chest hurts and he feels itchy and hollow and like his heart can't beat right.

It's gonna be a long three days.

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The house is way too quiet once Jared turns away from the front yard. He's not that hungry and it's too early for any employees to arrive for work, so he switches on the television to have some kind of noise.

Early morning programming really doesn't appeal -- there's a plethora of cartoons, exercise workouts and talking heads discussing everything from the workday commute to the benefits of eggplant. He clicks through the channels twice and is almost ready to give up when he lands on a rerun of Quantum Leap. He smiles in memory and anticipation and turns to ask if Jensen's ever seen the show, only to stop, mouth hanging open, and remember.

Jesus, Jensen hasn't even been gone an hour and Jared's already looking for him. His stomach churns unpleasantly.

The trials of Dr. Beckett during the Watts Riots and the following episode about a magician occupy Jared until Tom's truck pulls into the gate.

Jared doesn't hesitate. He jumps up, shuts off the television, heads upstairs to get changed and almost beats Tom to the potting shed.

Tom has a knowing look when he asks, almost too nonchalantly, "They make it off okay?"

Jared just nods and asks about the plans for the day.

Tom doesn't disappoint and launches into a discussion on the heartiness of the azaleas.

Sam returns to Hillside just before it opens for the day to say that the plane had been on schedule and Jensen and Misha were all set. She also brings breakfast, somehow knowing Jared wouldn't have eaten. He thanks her for the McDonald's sandwich, grateful to her in more ways than he can adequately express. She gives him a shrewd glance when she passes him the wrapped McMuffin, but doesn't say anything.

It's a few hours later and Jared's forearm-deep re-potting the Japanese maples into bigger containers -- Tom's thrilled they're doing so well -- when his phone rings. Adrenaline and excitement zip through him when he hears Sexy Back from the pocket of his jeans and he's glad Tom's in one of the polyhouses so there are no witnesses to his sappy face. He chuckles with the memory of Jensen's exasperation at the ring tone Jared had picked.

Jared doesn't even care how filthy his hands are as he grabs his phone, smearing potting soil everywhere and grins, "Jensen."

"Hey, sugar."

Jared's cheeks stretch with his smile. "Hi."

"You change my ring tone, yet?"

Jared laughs, bright and lighthearted, and it dances warmth in his stomach. "I told you, it's staying."

Jensen sighs and it sounds fondly peeved. "So," he continues. "We're all checked in to the hotel."

"What's the room like?" Jared recognizes the inanity of the question, but he's got this sudden impulse to keep Jensen talking. Now that he's heard his voice, he's not sure how he's going to ever end the call.

"It's pretty standard. Misha's just happy we've got free HBO."

Jared chuckles, "So all you really go there for is the cable?"

Jensen huffs and the sound trickles along Jared's spine. "Yeah, it's gonna break his heart when I yank him away from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in a minute."

"Was the flight okay?"

"No screaming babies," Jensen's voice is warm.

"I've never been on a plane. Is it scary?" Jared's grasping at this point, but he didn't know that having Jensen away from him -- even for just a few hours -- would be like missing a limb.

"Not my favorite way to travel, but it's fast."

"Jensen..." Jared starts, thinking of the hundreds of times just this morning when he wanted to ask Jensenwhat he thought of or if he'd ever seen or where he was when, but he can't for the life of him remember any of the questions and he really, really just doesn't want Jensen to hang up.

"I know, sugar," Jensen whispers, and something comes through the phone lines, some inexplicable, intangible thing that says Jensen gets exactly what Jared's trying to say but can't adequately communicate. It's quiet for a beat or two while they both just listen to one another breathe before Jensen clears his throat and says, "There's leftover meatloaf in the fridge if you want it for lunch."

"'Kay," Jared murmurs, enjoying the fact that even though Jensen's five states away, he's still trying to make sure Jared's taken care of.

There's a reluctance in Jensen's tone, like he doesn't want to go, either. "So what have you been up to?"

"Helping Tom re-pot the Japanese maples. They look really good. He's excited."

"How's the bed coming along?"

Jared ducks a wasp that's been staking him all morning and says, "Okay. I know I'm kind of slow with it, but I want to make sure it's right."

"Hey, it's your first landscaping gig," Jensen soothes. "You can take as long as you want. There's no rush."

Jared can actually feel the flush along his neck -- and he knows it's not just from the heat of the early afternoon. It's so extraordinary that Jensen never seems to be mad at him. For anything. "Before you guys left, Misha said I should plant the annuals so they're color-coordinated and spell out Hillside. I told him he should go work in a cheese factory if he's gonna produce that much of it."

Jensen cracks a laugh that lights Jared up even further and says around a chuckle, "Glad I'm not the only one who calls Misha on his bullshit."

Jared catches a drop of sweat on his temple with his shoulder and murmurs a soft, "you're not."

Jensen inhales and exhales slowly and his tone, when he speaks is unenthusiastic. "Sugar, I gotta get going. We gotta check in to the conference."

Jared nods, even though his husband can't see it. "'Kay."

"I'll call later tonight, okay?"

Jared flicks his wedding ring with his thumb. "'Kay."

"Have a good afternoon."

"You, too."

It's quiet for a second or two and Jensen whispers, "You have to hang up first."

"I can't." He seriously, seriously can't.

"Jesus Christ, this is ridiculous," Jensen grumbles. "I'm hanging up now."

"'Kay," Jared whispers.

The line stays open over five full seconds of silence.

"Jared."

"Yeah?"

"Can you please just end the call?"

"Huh uh."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to." He'd get a bluetooth set right now and permanently keep it on his ear if it meant not saying goodbye.

"It's only three days."

"I know," Jared sighs.

"We can talk later tonight."

"'Kay."

"Let's just do it together on three, okay?"

"'Kay."

Jensen counts and nothing happens.

Jared smiles a little. He likes knowing his husband is as unwilling to say goodbye as he is.

"We're like teenage girls right now," Jensen huffs. "You know that, right?"

Jared giggles.

"That response certainly isn't making it any less true."

They may have hit a serious stalemate -- Jared has no intention of hanging up -- he could stand in the potting shed, covered in soil, with his phone to his ear until Jensen comes home, as far as he's concerned. He's starting to think they might just test the limits of the battery life on both their phones before the day is done.

There's an odd sound in his ear, strange snaps, followed by shuffling, and Jensen's aggravated, "Misha, don't! Give it--"

The line clicks off and Jared's chest feels funny for a second before he tells himself he's being ridiculous. It's not like he really could have kept Jensen on the phone for the next seventy-two hours. It's unrealistic.

The text alert chirps in the next second.

Misha's fired.

Jared laughs and sends a smiley face back.

Sorry about that. I meant to at least say goodbye.

Now Jared's getting dirt smudges all over the face of his phone, but he sincerely doesn't care. Prob 4 the best. Looks like neither of us could hang up.

True. Keep your phone with you?

Yep.

TTYL

You better.

Yes, sir.

By the time Tom gets back to see the progress he's made on the Japanese maples, Jared is literally incapable of getting the grin off his face.

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"So when Mrs. Pierson sees him, she says, swear to God, 'well, aren't you a hot cup of coffee. How come I've never seen you around before?'" Jared giggles around the quote. "And Tom looked like his eyeballs were gonna pop out of his head and then she says something like, 'they must be hiding you from me. Misha knows if I saw you, he'd be second best.'"

The phone's on speaker, lying on Jensen's pillow, next to Jared's head, and Jared can hear his husband chuckling over the line.

"So she wanted me to tell Misha he's been dumped. That's what happens when he takes time off. Her exact words."

"Man," Jensen snickers. "I didn't peg her for being quite so fickle."

"Apparently she's a silver fox on the prowl."

"Oh, God, you did not just say that. How will I ever look that woman in the eye again?" Jensen asks.

Jared laughs and snuggles closer to his pillow. He'd gotten ready for bed for this very reason -- so he could talk to Jensen like this and pretend -- as lame as it is -- that his husband is closer than Iowa.

Jared has never lived alone before. Even on the rare days when he was home by himself in high school, he always knew that one of his family members would be back eventually. It's slightly creepy moving around Jensen's house by himself, knowing the solitude won't change for two more days.

Jared yawns a little into the pillowcase. "Tell me about today. What did you do?"

Jensen starts into a description of the introductory dinner and meeting a bunch of other nursery folk. He's talking about the new varieties of annuals and how Misha can't wait to bring some of them to Hillside and Jared rolls onto his back, looking up at the ceiling, letting Jensen's voice wash over him. Even sounding slightly tinny through the cell phone speaker, it's better than not hearing it at all.

It's barely midnight and Jared wants nothing more than to stay awake and listen, but he can feel his eyelids droop. He's been real tired recently and he chalks it up to the work he's done on the front bed and helping Tom move a bunch of stuff to the sales yard. Jensen's stories soothe him, even though his husband's not in the room, and it lulls him into a sense of security he didn't feel while eating dinner alone in the kitchen.

He kicks his feet out under the covers, just to feel the cool sheet against his skin. The humidity's still hanging in the air, but the window fan Jensen installed earlier in the month helps cuts through it. Jared makes appropriate sounds in response to Jensen's account of the first day at the trade show, but wants to tell him the bed's too big. Wants to say how much he misses him. Wants to tell him to forget the whole thing and get on the next plane so Jared doesn't have to sleep alone.

He doesn't because he made a promise to himself to behave like a rational human being, but it's a near thing.

He's a little shocked to find he's not sure how to be in bed by himself anymore. When his knee pops over onto Jensen's side, it's jarring that nothing meets his skin but the feel of the sheets. A sense of perverse wrongness skitters through him and it's only the sound of his husband on the phone that keeps him calm.

Instead, he focuses on the plants Jensen's detailing and the new drip irrigation system he'll see tomorrow. He closes his eyes and can picture what Jensen's describing, the new features the information will bring to Hillside and he smiles into the dark room.

The next thing he knows it's quiet and the clock on Jensen's bedstand says 3:34. He sits up fast and grabs for the phone, but his husband's long gone.

There's a text that says sleep tight and Jared's heart actually hurts, that's how much he wants to touch Jensen in that second.

It's a long time before he falls back to sleep.

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When the sun comes up, Jared gets out of bed -- he'd just been tossing and turning anyway.

He heads to the kitchen and starts a list. Of all the things he wants to ask Jensen.

Have you ever seen Quantum Leap?

Do you like eggplant?

Did you ever have any pets?

He makes himself some toast and pockets his phone and the paper so he can add to it throughout the day and heads to the showroom to get a start on the display of half-price perennials that Sam had told him about yesterday.

It's quiet when no one else is around, but there's something about the flies and the birds and the shifting of the leaves in the breeze that makes him feel a little less lonely.

He gets why the business appeals to Jensen.

By lunch, he's got a couple more questions on the list.

Did you know Mrs. Pierson was a gymnast when she was younger?

Can I download Culture Club on your iTunes?

I can't believe Tom's never heard of Adele.

Did you cry at the Andy Griffith episode where Opie saved the birds? Tom did when he was telling me about it.

He's pulling weeds in the butterfly bushes when Sam finds him to say she's going to be leaving a little early the next day to get Jensen and Misha from the airport.

Jared looks up quick, weed -- roots and all -- dangling from his hand.

Sam smiles, "You have anything pressing tomorrow around four? Feel like a road trip?"

His heartbeat triples. "Can I?"

"Why couldn't you?"

Jared grins. God, he'd fly a plane to Iowa if he could, just to get to see Jensen a little sooner.

Sam nods as though it's settled. "Be ready to head out at about 3:45. I don't like getting there late, okay?"

Jared agrees, knowing he's going to be checking the clock every minute from now until they leave.

Sam ruffles his sweaty hair and heads back to the showroom.

The biggest question on the list becomes is it okay if I come with Sam to get you tomorrow?

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Jensen is considerately tolerant with all of Jared's questions that night on the phone. Quantum Leap is awesome, eggplant is awful and his family had outside cats when he was growing up, but never any in the house. The Mrs. Pierson news is a surprise and Culture Club is okay as long as it's not Karma Chameleonbecause it'll get hopelessly stuck in Jensen's head. He's not remotely shocked about Tom's lack of knowledge of pop culture or his sentimentality over Andy Griffith -- even if it did sound like Jensen got a little choked up when they talked about that specific episode.

Most importantly, Jensen seems more than okay with Jared coming along if his breathless; "Yeah that would be awesome" is any indication.

Now all Jared has to do is wait.

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Traffic may be one of the dumbest things on the planet. Sitting still on a highway because it's the time of day when everyone's trying to get somewhere is just stupid. It's certainly does nothing to help Jared with his overwhelming urge to be there now.

He can't decide if he'd rather turbo boost like KITT or have a transporter from Star Trek. The internal debate distracts him enough to momentarily consider the pros and cons of both, but that only lasts until he realizes they might be late to get Jensen and Misha because of all these ridiculous motor vehicles in their way.

He twitches in his seat, spinning his wedding ring around his finger, and Sam says softly, "I know, honey."

His skin tingles and prickles -- goosebumps roll up and down his arms in a haphazard fashion. He alternates between too hot -- even though he's wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops -- and too cold. He can only assume it's because his body somehow recognizes how close he is to seeing Jensen again. He really had no idea it was possible to miss a person physically. The need to be near Jensen is practically an actual ache somewhere between his stomach and heart and the slow-crawling traffic is churning his agitation tenfold.

"Can you imagine sitting in this every day going back and forth from work?" Sam asks.

"I really, really can't."

"It's okay, though. This is why we left when we did. I had a feeling we'd run into this mess. We're doing fine on time."

Jared nods, but even knowing rush hour had been planned into the drive time doesn't alleviate his restless squirming.

It's another forty-five minutes of stop-and-go and Jared's never been more thrilled to see an airport in his life. Unfortunately, navigating around the various gates and departing and arriving passengers loaded with luggage doesn't speed the process along.

By the time Sam parks her Camry, Jared's shaking so bad it actually takes him two tries to get out of the car.

He searches every face in the parking lot for Jensen, even though he logically knows his husband can't possibly be there. By the time they make it inside, Jared's entire body is quivering in an almost primitive hum. He truly wouldn't have thought the Richmond airport would be this crowded on a Monday evening and knowing Jensen is somewhere in the melee of people sharpens his senses to almost a pinpoint while at the same time, drives his heart rate into to his throat.

If it didn't feel so natural, it would almost scare him how something -- some undefinable knowledge -- makes him turn just slightly and even through all the couples and mothers and kids and college dudes and harried-looking businessmen, he finds Jensen.

And his husband is looking directly at him.

A rush unlike anything Jared's ever known courses through him -- literally from his head to his toes -- and he exhales raggedly around a serenity so immense, he truly can't conceive of it outside of raw, pure sensory perception.

He takes a step to barrel through the crowd and cross the forty feet of distance that separates them and hold onto Jensen and possibly set up a permanent home in the airport terminal. It's only getting jostled, rather abruptly and roughly, by a passerby and the memory it drags through him that makes him stop.

It's been a while since he remembered high school and the throng of people brings it all back.

God, what was he doing? Even just thinking about racing up to Jensen and drawing attention to them is too much.

He can't do that. Not in such a public place. Reaching out at Hillside is one thing, but there are so many people here, surely a handful of them would be offended and could possibly start something.

He has to make sure that doesn't happen.

He just really, really wants to get his hands on his husband.

It feels like he's peeling off his skin, but he remains where he is, tremors rippling through his body, just waiting until they can get to a more private place to make the physical connection.

At about the same time Jared makes his decision, Jensen stops moving, a knowing expression on his face. He drops his suitcase to the floor with a thud and opens his arms, a wide smile forming.

An amazing chill rolls down Jared's spine at the permission and liberty Jensen's suggesting. He hesitates, for the briefest of seconds, still unsure if he dares.

One of Jensen's eyebrows lifts in a sardonic look that says he will stand in that exact spot until Jared gets with it.

It's too much for Jared's willpower and he doesn't think he can be held responsible for the noise he makes or how quickly he crosses the terminal or how many people he briskly nudges on his way to Jensen.

He means to slow down -- he really, really does -- but he's got seventy-two hours without Jensen pushing him along and he's spurred by excruciating need now that he's this close and he really doesn't mean to, but he slams into Jensen pretty hard, rocking them both back a step or two and it's kind of thrilling, but Jensen somehow absorbs his momentum and they're wrapped up in each other so tight, so thoroughly that Jared doesn't think he can ever let go.

For a full five minutes, Jared just breathes while Jensen murmurs, hey, sugar, hey over and over.

Jared's cock is soft and his ass is dry and it should be bizarre to notice it, but this isn't about an omega's need for a mate. It's Jared's need for Jensen -- the man, the person he is, his laugh lines and green eyes and smile and scent -- not the alpha.

"Jensen," Jared sighs.

"Jesus Christ I wanna kiss you so bad," Jensen murmurs into Jared's neck. "But if I do, I'm gonna fuck you right here in the airport and I'm really not gonna care who sees."

Jared can actually feel his lower extremities just about melt. Despite his earlier assessment, he doesn't think he would care either.

"Let's go home so I can show my husband how much I missed him," Jensen whispers.

An incandescent joy pops all the way to Jared's toes and he's a little worried the goofy smile he can feel stretching his face might be permanent. He bobs his head to Jensen's suggestion and steps back.

Jensen doesn't let him get far, though, before he laces their fingers together tightly, picks up his suitcase and heads for the exit where Misha and Sam are waiting.

Jared's not sure how, but it seems brighter outside when the doors slide open. He has a sneaking suspicion it has to do with the man walking next to him.

When they get all the luggage into the trunk of Sam's car and Jensen ushers Jared into the backseat and slides in next to him, Jared's so giddy, he almost can't sit still. He's got his back to the door, facing his husband, just drinking him in.

He kicks off his flip-flops and pulls a leg up between them, so he can feel the heat from Jensen's jeans all along his shin. He's got Jensen's forearm in both of his hands, rolling the soft hairs between his fingers and Jensen cups the arch of Jared's bare foot in his palm. When he threads his fingers through Jared's toes, Jared giggles.

"Seatbelt, Jared," Sam says as she turns over the ignition.

Jared frowns, not wanting to give up his position, and contemplates the situation. He grins to himself when he slides over right next to Jensen and reaches for the dangling seatbelt.

"Not in the middle," Sam warns.

Jared huffs, "But, Sam..."

She turns around and fixes him with a stare that would likely fell a couple of well-built quarterbacks in a number of seconds.

Jared doesn't stand a chance.

She reaches around Misha in the front, who's already fiddling with the radio, and points. "Sit in that seat like a normal human being."

Jared glances at Jensen for help, but his husband gives him a look that says he should acquiesce. Jared slumps, pouts and shifts back over, buckling himself in. He still turns a bit because Jensen's presence pulls him like a magnet.

Jensen stretches over to scoop his hand up under Jared's knee and settle his leg between them again, Jensen's thumb sweeping back-and-forth along the crease in a slow rhythm. When Jared meets his husband's eyes, Jensen winks and that warm, sharp blissful feeling is back.

Misha talks about all that they learned and how he thinks Hillside needs employee uniforms with a logo and everything, and Jared doesn't pay a bit of attention to the traffic or their rate of speed. He just knows that when he reaches to his left and can curl his fingers around Jensen's bicep or his t-shirt or his wrist, it's like all is right with the world again.

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By Wednesday night, they're having a brutal heat wave that's fairly typical for August and Jensen's got every fan in the house spinning on high, pulling cooler air -- since the sun went down -- through the rooms. He's wearing cut-off jeans -- something he only does around the house and only when the summer gets truly sweltering.

He had realized early on in this business that he couldn't do air conditioning in the house. There's just no way he can live and sleep in those kind of temperatures, but work in the blazing sun all day. It's part of the reason he's careful how much time he spends in the show room.

This way, his body acclimates itself to the climate and it's not as difficult to step out in the humidity when it reaches eighty-five degrees by ten in the morning.

Jared's stretched out on the couch watching television, wearing nothing more than a pair of Jensen's old boxers, feet wide apart on the coffee table. The biggest fan they have is blowing across his skin, hair a wild mop from the currents.

Jensen's got a stack of order forms from Musser Forests in Pennsylvania to get a bunch of saplings that'll probably make Tom almost orgasmic. He's heading to his office to fax it in and it's only because he takes a second look, mostly at the miles of gorgeous, biteable skin, that he notices Jared's got tears in his eyes.

He re-routes immediately, bare feet on the carpet, worried when he asks, "Sugar, you okay?"

Jared glances up and a tear tracks his cheek. "It's..."

Jensen tosses the papers onto the recliner, beyond the breeze from the fan, and sits next to his mate. "What, Jared? Do you hurt somewhere?"

Jared shakes his head and his breath falters. "N-no, it's just..." he gestures to the television. "This guy, he really wants this, you know... and his mom died and she would have been real p-proud of him, always told him h-he could cook... and now he's almost down to the last couple and he c-could really do it, you know? He could win... and his m-mom would be really proud..."

Jensen's confused, but at his glance to the television, the commercial for some dance competition ends and a red spiral around an M shows up on the screen.

Master Chef.

If it were Tom or Misha or even Justin, Jensen would have mocking material for years, but for some reason, looking at Jared so melancholy and choked up over a reality show has his heart swelling in his chest, and all he can do is grin.

Jared sniffs and looks up from his slouch. "Stop making fun. I know it's stupid, it's just... really touching... and I don't know why it's got me like this..." he breathes and the sound is so wobbly, so utterly adorable that Jensen scrapes a hand through Jared's unruly hair.

"You're freakin' cute, did I ever tell you that?" Jensen asks.

Jared huffs through his clogged nose and bats at Jensen's arm. "Quit it. I can't help it."

"I know you can't, that's why it's cute." Jensen says with a kiss to his omega's cheek.

In spite of himself Jensen pulls back but doesn't leave the couch. On the television, a contestant is talking about how his mom always loved his shepherd's pie, so when lamb was one of the ingredients in something called a "mystery box," he just knew what he had to do.

Jared whispers, "That's him."

A bald man steps up to the plate of mashed potatoes and cheese and vegetables with a seriously doubtful look on his face. Jared tenses and says, "Joe's so mean."

Jensen props a knee over Jared's thigh, sticky with the heat, but essentially irresistible. "Who's Joe?"

"He's one of the judges."

This Joe character seems like a bit of a pompous jerk, in Jensen's opinion, as he watches him take a delicate bite off the fork and Jensen figures the guy must have serious credentials to be able to act like that and get away with it.

Beside him, Jared is literally holding his breath.

"So your mom liked this pie, huh?" Joe asks, while wiping his mouth.

The kid on the television just nods.

"She had seriously good taste. This is hands-down the best shepherd's pie I've had in a long time. It's vibrant and the lamb is cooked perfectly. This could be served in a restaurant right now."

Jared inhales over a hissed, "Yes," and Jensen swears he hears a sniffle.

Some British guy uses words like amazing and absolutely brilliant and stunning and Jared says the kid's likely gonna win the round.

Jensen's only ever used his television for sporting events in the past, but that evening, watching some ridiculous reality show, pressed up against his overly-invested mate, makes him smile days later just to think about.

He doesn't get to fax the order to Musser until closer to midnight, but he really thinks the delay was worth it.

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The following weekend brings a slight break in the heat and a swell of customers. Jensen can't help but wonder if word got out about the trade show trip and people honestly think he could change inventory in less than five days.

When he glances across the sales yard and sees Misha gesturing wildly in the middle of a throng of people -- clearly delighted at being in his element -- he has a hunch he knows who planted the idea.

Still, Jensen does have a fresh perspective and is invigorated about the business after Iowa, like he always is -- it's why he goes every year -- but he's also developed a renewed inability to be away from Jared for more than five minutes at a time, which sometimes makes work a bit difficult.

He's never been one to really notice the size of a bed before, but his queen at the Hilton Inn seemed huge -- he has a feeling it may have had something to do with being in it alone. He'd reached for Jared more times in the night than he cares to admit.

It's just so good to be home.

He can feel the ridiculous smile on his face when he thinks about Jared hand-tilling the front bed. His husband had decided to actually dig through the dirt on his own -- it's odd, especially considering they have a rototiller in the back shed, but Jensen didn't deny him. Jared had gotten this winsome look on his face and said he wanted to touch the earth and break it in his hands.

Jensen's fairly certain Jared was quoting the Dixie Chicks, but he wasn't sure enough to say anything.

So now Jared's on his hands and knees with a spade, sifting through the ground.

A jolt pops along Jensen's nerves when he turns to check on Jared's progress and sees a man standing over his husband. Jensen can tell by the look on Jared's face the conversation isn't a good one.

The juniper Jensen had been trimming hits the ground with a rough thump and he sets out across the sales yard. He's less than fifty feet away when his ancestral instincts rip along his spine and he recognizes the other man as an alpha. One who's hovering far too close to Jensen's mate.

It's not unheard of for alphas, betas and omegas to be customers of Hillside. It's just the first time one of them appears to be harassing Jared. Jensen eats up the distance with wide, powerful strides and tries to convince himself not to throw the first punch, even as his fingers form fists at his thighs.

No way this is happening on his property. No way.

His smile is tight when he interrupts. "Hi. I don't think we've met."

Jared's exhale sounds both grateful and relieved when he whispers; "Jensen."

The guy -- tall, dark hair, even darker expression -- looks pissed at the interference. "Uh, thanks, but Jared here is helping me. I'll let you know if I need anything else."

Jensen can feel his emotions swell under his skin and his tone is more acerbic than pacifying. "My husband actually knows a lot about plants. I'm sure he'll have no problem helping you, but he's in the middle of something."

The guy has the nerve to look surprised, either with the brush off or the proclamation that Jared's married. It's a serious struggle not to respond with an eye roll. Jensen knows damn well the other alpha can sense that Jared's mated and claimed. And yet, he's still standing well within Jared's personal space, apparently oblivious to the fact that he shouldn't be. He's wearing some ridiculous form-fitting shorts that go to his knees and a shirt that's unbuttoned too far even for the heat. His sunglasses sparkle in the light and Jensen recognizes that it's all designer wear and the pretentiousness and arrogance rankles.

"I'm sorry," the guy says, obviously bothered. "And you are?"

"Jensen Ackles. I own Hillside."

That gets a raised eyebrow and a slight change in stance. The guy holds out his right hand and a flurry of overdone cologne and stale cigarette smoke wafts along the air. "David Boreanaz. Just moved here from Philadelphia. I work for Hanson, Reichs and Deschanel. Corporate law."

Naturally.

It takes Jensen a second or two too long to reach for the outstretched hand and it's only because he doesn't really want an altercation in the sales yard that he completes the gesture.

It's not entirely friendly.

"So," Boreanaz continues. "Did you two build this business together?"

Jared stops digging and Jensen can see him swallow hard.

"We were married this June," Jensen responds. "And where's your mate?" The question's got just enough warning that Boreanaz takes the hint.

"Oh, she's back at the house, getting everything arranged or something." He's so dismissive, so disrespectful that Jensen feels bad for the woman by proxy.

"So, listen," Boreanaz persists, his manner growing even sleazier as he leans closer. "I didn't expect to find any of, you know, us around here. Whattya say we all get together sometime? Back in Philly we had a whole group who did these parties. We were really into sharing, if you get what I'm layin' down."

Jensen doubts the guy was old enough in the 70's to have ever used the lingo, but he's a breath away from telling him the decade wants its saying back. He has the urge to laugh, but when he glances down at his husband, any levity disintegrates.

Jared's literally frozen, eyes on the ground, covered by his bangs, not moving at all.

It's Jared's reaction more than anything that makes Jensen's stomach twist. He shifts just the smallest inch or two closer to Jared. "I think we're gonna pass."

Boreanaz smirks. "C'mon man, these omegas, they're... God, they can go forever you know what I mean? It's crazy good. And I got nothin' against guys. A tight, wet ass is just as good, you know?"

Jensen can actually feel himself blanch, blood leaving his face in a rush. Who talks like this to strangers?

The spade trembles in Jared's hand -- it's the only motion he makes.

"Listen," Jensen starts, lacing the words with enough alpha threat to hopefully get through to this douchebag. "I'm all for consenting adults getting up to whatever they want but we are going to pass."

Even under the sunglasses, Jensen can tell that doesn't sit well.

"Why don't you ask your omega instead of talking for him?" Boreanaz practically sneers.

Jensen seriously does not want a fight in his place of business, but this guy is getting goddamn close. "First," Jensen begins, trying for calm authority. "His name is Jared, not my omega, and second, hard though it may be for you to believe, I pay close enough attention to my mate to know when he doesn't like the idea of something and I'm sure he's not interested."

To prove his point, he looks to his husband, still statue-like on the ground. "Jared? Am I wrong? Do you want to go?"

Even Jensen can see Jared's bangs quiver when he shakes his head.

Jensen tilts his head in acknowledgement and directs his gaze back to the over-dressed ass in front of him. "I get that this would be a difficult concept for you, but I know my husband and we're both not interested.

There are quite literally four or five seconds where time seems to stand still. Jensen recognizes that the whole situation is balanced on a precipice and could go either way.

Eventually Boreanaz chuffs a derisive sound, holds up his hands and finally steps back. "Okay, okay, man, you don't have to piss on the boy to prove ownership. I get it. No sharing."

"Well if that's all you wanted." Jensen motions to the parking lot.

Boreanaz seems to consider them both before turning on his heel with a disdainful air and crawling behind the wheel of a shiny, black BMW -- no shock there -- utterly-out-of-place on the gravel drive and spraying stones as he speeds out of the archway.

This time Jensen does roll his eyes. "Jesus, what a douchebag," Jensen half-chuckles.

Jared doesn't say a word or look up.

Frowning, Jensen kneels down and tries to see under Jared's hair. "Sugar? You okay?"

Jared nods, but when he makes eye contact, he's almost green.

Jensen cups his cheek and asks, "You sure?"

Jared grabs a fistful of Jensen's t-shirt and whispers, "He smelled awful. Smoke and that gross cologne and something else."

Jensen agrees and reels Jared a little closer.

"Was it because he's an alpha who isn't you? It was so gross," Jared murmurs.

"Probably," Jensen concedes. "Regardless of what that asshole wants to believe, once we're mated, I think it's difficult to want someone else."

Jared crawls across the scant inches separating them and wraps his arms around Jensen. "I don't want to go to one of those parties."

Jensen holds on. "It's okay. We won't."

Jared inhales deeply for a few minutes -- clearly scenting and calming himself -- and Jensen settles in on his haunches, not unlike their first night together, taking solace in Jared's presence. The breeze plays around Jared's hair and tires crunch on the gravel behind them as customers arrive and leave and Jensen can make out the call of a bluejay somewhere in the distance. Jensen sweeps his fingers up and down Jared's spine and on the third pass, he notices his husband feels more than a little warm and he's obviously sweating and Jensen's sudden concern doubles when Jared says softly, "I don't feel good."

Jensen pulls back only enough to make eye contact. "Where don't you feel good?"

Jared's face is scrunched. "My stomach."

Jensen makes small circles against Jared's lower back. "You think it's something you ate?"

Jared shrugs and his eyes droop a little, but he doesn't speak.

"Tell you what, sugar. How about you head inside for a little bit, get some water maybe and chill out?"

Jared gestures vaguely to the dirt around them.

"Don't worry about the bed. It's not going anywhere," Jensen assures. "C'mon."

He stands, bringing both of them to their feet with one smooth motion and worries even more when Jared seems to sway a little before maintaining his balance. "Sure you're okay?"

Jared's got what feels like a death grip on Jensen's biceps, but he nods. "I'll be okay. Probably just need something to drink." He looks like he wants to say something else, but instead just tilts his chin up in a hopeful request.

Jensen smiles as he capitulates and leans in for the kiss Jared's asking for.

He watches his husband walk across the sales yard to the house and thinks there's more to Jared's sudden upset than just a simple stomachache. If this is the affect other alphas are going to have, Jensen might have to make sure there aren't any more confrontations with their own kind.

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It's a random Thursday evening a few weeks later and Jared's sitting on the floor at the coffee table sketching, trying to put the finishing touches on the bed for the front walk, hoping that with the research he's done on the internet and the conversations he's had with Tom that he's somewhere close to what will work, when there's a knock on the door.

Jensen looks up from his Burpee seed catalogue -- he often brings his work from his home office to the living room now and Jared kind of hopes it's because Jensen likes to be around him, since it's certainly that way for Jared -- and gives the door an odd look.

Jared still, after everything, would feel a little weird answering Jensen's door, so he lets his alpha handle it.

His curiosity is peaked, though when he hears a gruff voice ask, "Mr. Ackles?"

"That's me."

"I'm Jeff Morgan from the Department of ABO Relations and this is my associate Mark Pelligrino. May we come in?"

Jared's not really sure what he expected, since he has no frame of reference for this kind of thing, but he wouldn't have guessed the government would send the kinder-looking older gentleman and his somewhat surly sidekick. Morgan, Jared realizes has remarkably kind and seeminly regretful eyes. His partner, however, looks intent, sniffing the air and Jared knows he's scenting him.

It's not nearly as pleasant as when Jensen does it.

Jensen leads the group into the living room and motions for the two to have a seat.

Jared feels Jensen's fingers scritch along the back of his neck. "This is my husband, Jared. If you'll give me a minute, I'll get some coffee."

Morgan settles into the cushion Jensen had just vacated and he sounds sincere when he says, "That would be really great, thank you."

Pelligrino chooses the recliner closer to Jared. Jared scratches at his arm. It feels like ants are crawling along his skin.

"So, Jared," Morgan starts. "How are you liking life at Hillside?"

Jared shifts marginally closer to the couch and even further under the coffee table when he answers, "I like it fine, Mr. Morgan."

The older man chuckles. "It's Jeff, Jared. Call me Jeff. And Mark."

Jared nods.

Mark drifts closer to the edge of his seat. "You got a nice setup here, Jared."

Jared frowns, not really sure what that statement's supposed to mean, doesn't like the tone, feels out of balance for the first time in a long time. His thumb flicks at the wedding ring on his finger. Even though it's been months since he was in the halls of his high school, Mark's demeanor screams intimidation and danger and Jared knows instinctively how to respond to that -- unmoving, showing no reaction.

"Not a lot of your kind get a place this nice."

Jared blinks at his sketch in front of him, doesn't look up, knows that eye contact is the worst.

"What wheels did you grease to work this out?"

"Mark," Jeff's tone is cautionary.

"What?" Mark shrugs. "You know it's true. Bet this kid offered his ass up to a lot of officials to get a deal this sweet."

Jared wants to argue -- he has to clamp down hard on the protest in his throat. Contradiciting someone this aggressive -- a true alpha in every sense of the word -- would lead nowhere good.

Jeff's sigh sounds weary and a little annoyed. "Knock it off, Mark."

Mark stretches back into the seat. "I gotta say, though, I feel kinda bad for Ackles. From the look on his face and that little head tap there," he wags his hand in Jared's direction, "he doesn't even know how trapped he even is. Freakin' omegas. Usin' their ass and spreadin' their legs at the drop of a hat to tie a man up six different ways. They move in, take over the house. Hell, boy, you work at all? Huh? Contribute to anything around here?"

Jared tucks his chin closer to his chest and tries to breathe normally, in and out, without choking.

"Yeah, s'what I thought. Only one thing omegas are good for and it sure as hell ain't bringing home the bacon."

Jeff clears his throat pointedly when the kitchen door opens and Jensen brings in two mugs of fresh coffee. "Here you go, gentleman. You take cream or sugar?"

"Black is perfect," Jeff says, grateful.

Mark accepts the cup without a word.

Jensen brushes his hand down the back of Jared's head and Jared closes his eyes at the sensation. It's succor after injury, a kind embrace after a battle, and it makes Jared want to curl up in his alpha's lap and try to forget the ugly words, try to make them disappear.

Jensen must sense something because when he sits down -- on the couch, exactly in front of Jared's spot on the floor -- he tugs a strand of hair at the nape of Jared's neck and Jared glances up, quickly, only for a second, and attempts a smile.

Jensen's eyes narrow, but he must know enough not to ask out loud because he only pulls Jared closer to his legs with a hand on Jared's collar bone. Jared shuffles a little on the carpet and ducks a shoulder under Jensen's knee, denim scraping his t-shirt, and the spicy, earthy scent of his alpha drifts over him. A sense of security wells up for the first time since these men knocked on the door.

"So," Jensen says, voice laced with a little more steel than before -- and Jared wonders if he's the only one who catches it. "What can we do for you?"

Jeff swallows his sip of coffee and says, "Well, as you know, the government likes to check on their matches, alphas and omegas, so we wanted to stop by and see how you were doing."

"We're fine," Jensen affirms, his middle finger skirting under Jared's t-shirt, dipping into his clavicle, somehow knowing Jared needs the skin-on-skin contact right now. Jared figures Jensen can sense the minute temors that he can't seem to stop.

"And you've... consummated the union?" Jeff asks, but it's almost like he doesn't want to.

Jensen chuckles -- it's not a happy sound. "Mr. Morgan, let's cut through the social niceties here, shall we? Your employer wants to keep tabs on me. On us," he amends, thumb sliding down the back of Jared's jaw. "And you and your little lap dog here are following through on that decree, so let's not pretend this visit is anything other than what it is."

Jared swears he hears what sounds like growling coming from Mark. He can't help but shuffle that much closer to Jensen, tucking his cheek alongside Jensen's knee.

"You certainly don't need me to confirm or deny our status. Your alpha here already knows the answer." Jensen's radiating heat.

Mark's eyes narrow and he almost adapts the mannerisms of a snake. "Since we're setting aside social customs, Mr. Ackles, could you, perhaps, explain to Mr. Morgan and myself how it is that you are a thirty-three year old alpha with no prior mates?"

Jensen's low laugh is like setting flame to a fuse. "Surely it can't be my problem that the government is apparently incapable of truly monitoring those that must remain under their watchful eye, can it? Maintaining a paper trail really is a trial, isn't it?"

"So you're saying, what? It's our fault that there are no records?" Mark's just about vibrating.

Jensen shrugs. "Beurocratic record keeping is a bit below my paygrade, son."

Mark actually bristles at that. He snarls through clenched teeth, "You expect us to buy this bull?"

"The only thing I expect you to do is be respectful to me and my husband in our home, but since I get the sense that you're not capable of that, and since I know that you got what you came for the minute you stepped in the front door, I'm going to have to ask that you leave," Jensen stands and motions toward the door and Jared slides out of the way. "Now would be good."

Jeff jumps up like he might be able to diffuse the already over-the-line intense situation. "Mark, let's go."

Mark huffs a ragged sound and rises. "I take it back. You got exactly what you deserve."

Jeff skirts the table -- fast -- and pushes Mark out the door. "My apologies, Mr. Ackles."

Jensen tails them both to the door and slams it shut behind them. Jared can sense his fury even from across the room, yet when he moves back into the living room, his touch is slow, warm, and affectionate.

"What did they say?" he asks, stroking a hand along the back of Jared's neck.

Jared shakes his head, wishes his voice was stronger. "It's not important," he lifts emploring eyes to his husband. "Jensen, what if they go after you about the records?"

Moving Jared's sketchpad out of the way, Jensen sits at the coffee table, puts himself in Jared's space and shrugs. "What if they do?"

Jared can't seem to calm his heartbeat. "They'll find out you never got reported, won't they?"

Jensen cups Jared's cheek. "I don't see how. If I never showed up on any paperwork, they won't be able to find me."

Jared leans forward, rests his forehead against Jensen's side. "What if they talk to your doctor?"

"Aldis knew what he was doing," Jensen's hand slips down Jared's spine. "He's pretty good at keeping stuff on the down low. I think it'll be fine."

All Jared hears is Jensen thinks it will be fine. He suddenly needs way more certainty than that. He can't seem to stop the quiver in his fingers or the rapid-fire beat of his heart. The idea of Jensen going to jail flits through his already turbulent mind and he has to clench his eyes shut and rub his nose along Jensen's t-shirt to keep from completely losing it. "I don't want anything to happen to you," he manages to whisper.

"Sugar, nothing's gonna happen to me, trust me," Jensen sounds so assured. "They got what they want from me. I'm on the radar now, they know where I am and who I'm with and that we're mated. I seriously doubt they've got the money, time or manpower to look into something that could end up being their own fuck up in the first place."

It sounds perfectly reasonable, but Jared's unsettled. Something punctured the world he'd been living in since that knock at the door and it's like it's spreading worry and doubt and uncertainty where before there was only light and satisfaction and comfort.

It's not a good feeling.

"Want to tell me what they said?"

Jared says no with the back-and-forth motion of his head, face still buried in Jensen's t-shirt. "Just bully stuff. Like from high school."

It's a deflection and Jared doesn't like not telling Jensen about the harsh words -- he tells Jenseneverything -- but there's something about the implication, the suggestion of Jared being nothing more than an obligation, nothing more than an omega with a tight, wet ass, that keeps Jared's mouth shut.

He doesn't want to say it out loud.

Jensen palms the back of Jared's neck. "They're gone now and if I have anything to say about it, they won't be back."

Jared nods, but can't concentrate on his sketches anymore.

Later that night, he wraps himself around Jensen to sleep, legs and arms, and latches on, scared for the first time since his parents made their announcement months ago -- but the fear is nebulous, he can't really pinpoint the why behind it, and that ratchets the intensity tenfold.

Jensen kisses his forehead and the warmth of the gesture banishes some of the chill and it's then that Jared realizes he has so much more to lose now than before.

He almost can't remember what his life was like before Jensen came into it. What would he do without him?

seperators

"None of us saw it coming at all."

Jared's spreading fertilizer evenly around the base of the base of the lilac in the pot -- just like Tom showed him -- but he's intently focused on the other man's words. "How come?"

Tom pauses for a second when he puts the last plant on the cart. "It's just... Jensen's been single since I've known him. Never really even dated as far as I knew. He seemed... I don't know, to like it that way. I'm still not sure how he and Aldis pulled it off all those years, hiding from the goverment. Although, hell, none of us knew he was an alpha until he told us about you, so," Tom shrugs. "Still, to say we were surprised would be an understatement." He huffs a laugh. "Hell, Traci and I had a bet the guy would end up an old hermit out here the way he was going."

Jared tries to chuckle, knowing that Tom's going for light-hearted, but it misses the mark and gets caught on the lump in his throat.

"Traci's the dreamer though," Tom continues. "She thought there was a chance. I figured he'd be old and gray and surrounded by all his plants. Looked to me like he wanted it that way."

Jared scoops the measuring cup into the bag of fertilizer and tries to cover up his sudden panic. He wants to know what Jensen was like before the marriage, but the more Tom talks, the more Jared starts to realize how different Jensen had been. How independent. Self-sufficient.

"You were definitely a shock, kid," Tom surmises as he rolls the cart out of the building.

Jared swallows. Hard.

What must it have felt like for Jensen to have everything turned upside down like that? Just because the government said he had to? Sure, Jared experienced it, but his life hadn't been nearly as settled as Jensen's.

His fingers shake on the next application and some of the tiny round fertilizer capsules spill out around the edge of the pot. He grits his teeth, frustrated with his clumsiness, and is just glad Tom wasn't around to witness the bumble.

"Hey, handsome, you okay? Look like you've seen a ghost," Traci's presence surprises Jared. He didn't even hear her walk up. "I swear if this place is haunted we better damn sight get some compensation for it. I might need heart medication or something for the shock."

Jared attempts a laugh, but he's a bit off his game, rattled, shaken. Unbidden he hears himself ask, "Hey, Trace, what was Jensen like when you first met him?"

Traci takes the distraction with a sharp cackle. "Loner McLonerson," she laughs. "Seriously. He's a great guy, everyone in town knew it, but to get him to crack a damn smile was a fucking miracle. B'tween you and me, in the beginning?" Traci leans in along the workbench, conspiratorally. "Freaked me out at first. Didn't know what to make of him, you know? He was kinda... intense."

Jared nods -- that he gets -- can still picture the man, the confidence, the certainty that embodied Jensen at his parent's dining room table. He's seen Jensen be serious, but he also knows how amazingly thougtful and considerate he can be.

Jared sometimes feels like he's needed Jensen all his life, he just never knew it before.

He's just worried that Jensen already had everything he needed before Jared showed up.

"He was so focused," Traci continues. "Always wanted this place to be the best it could be, even though it already pretty much was and is. Jensen's driven. I guess he feels like he had to prove himself? Hell, hotcakes, I don't know. I ain't a shrink or nothin.' He's different now, though, with you here."

Jared wants to ask, different in a good way? but he's scared to death of the answer.

"Hey, sugar, here you are," Jensen's voice shivers along Jared's spine as his husband walks into the potting shed. "You wanna head into the house and get some lunch? I was thinkin' of making some sandwiches out of that turkey Mrs. Pierson brought over yesterday. Whaddya say? We can use that spicy mustard you like..."

"Oooohh, spicy mustard!" Traci claps.

Jensen shakes his head. "Didn't bring lunch with you today, Trace? You know there's always McDonalds down the road."

Traci pouts. "That's cold, boss. Really cold."

"Them's the breaks, kiddo," Jensen tells her. "If I feed you, I gotta feed everybody and there's just not enough to go around. Maybe Jared and I can make some of my famous chili tonight and I'll put it in the breakroom for everyone tomorrow. How's that sound?"

Traci shakes her head. "Just when I think I got you figured out as a hardass. Consistency, boss! Is that too much to ask?"

Jensen chuckles "get outta here" as Traci goes to find Tom.

Jared turns to make eye contact and he's dazzled by the sight of his husband -- tight jeans and olive t-shirt hugging his body, green eyes dancing, sun-touched skin glistening in the heat -- and his smile, wide and bright and beautiful. Jared opens his mouth to say something, but words fail him.

"You okay?" Jensen asks, moving closer.

Jared's lip quivers and before he loses it in the potting shed, he steps into Jensen's arms, tucking his chin over his alpha's shoulder and hangs on, trying desperately to quell the sudden, overwhelming emotions rattling his nerves.

"What's up?" Jensen whispers, immediately wrapping his arms around Jared, soothing the bizarre anxiety making his heart quiver.

Too many responses crowd Jared's tongue, and it takes an inordinate effort to not spit it all out between them.

Please don't regret this.

Please don't want your old life back.

Please don't be better off without me.

He keeps it in, though, swallows it down, mostly out of fear and not wanting to know. Instead he shakes his head, pulls back a little in Jensen's arms and says, "M'just hungry and that sounds really good."

Jensen takes a split second to search Jared's eyes before he says, "You really like turkey, huh?"

Jared nods, solemnly. "I do. I really like turkey. A lot."

He knows he's not talking sandwiches anymore and from the funny spark in Jensen's expression, Jared thinks he's been caught.

Instead, Jensen just grins, slides his fingers between Jared's and says, "What are we gonna do with that stomach of yours?"

And if Jared holds on extra tight to Jensen's hand all the way back to the house, at least his husband doesn't call him on it.

seperators

Jared's checking out the selection of annuals in the showroom a few mornings later, trying to figure out what colors and varieties would go with the shrubs he's got picked out for the front bed, when he catches the shivering knowledge that Jensen is nearby. His alpha holds the door for a young, thin, curly-haired guy and they're both chatting amicably.

Really amicably.

Jared frowns and sidesteps behind a seed display, hoping that, despite their natural inclination to one another, Jensen won't know he's there.

When Jensen throws his head back with a deep laugh at something the guy says, Jared peevishly thinks he shouldn't have worried -- Jensen probably wouldn't sense an earthquake right now.

He can't hear what they're actually saying, but the body language speaks volumes. The guy -- with the dark curls and pink, pouty lips -- seems perfectly comfortable swatting Jensen's arm from time to time, and Jensen has no trouble taking the guy's bicep to lead him over to the plant they're apparently discussing.

Jared clenches his teeth -- he wants to go over and rip the two of them apart -- tell this kid that Jensen is his husband and the policy is hands off.

But a voice from a few days ago whispers through his mind.

He doesn't even know how trapped he really is.

Jared steps even further away; spurred by the acid suddenly churning in his stomach and the skipped beat in his heart.

Is that what Jared's done? Trapped Jensen into a marriage when he could be happy -- truly happy -- with someone else?

Does Jensen laugh like that with Jared? Smile like that?

Jared struggles to breathe because suddenly he's really not sure. Somehow seeing Jensen with someone else, watching him laugh and touch and enjoy another person makes Jared spiral with everything that he's heard over the last few days.

He stumbles out the back of the show room, fear curdling in his veins. He tries for nonchalance as he moves through the sales yard, knowing he has to get somewhere he can think, really sort out what he knows.

"Jared, sweetheart, you okay?" Sam's voice is riddled with concern, so he must look as freaked out as he feels.

He manages to nod and come up with something about getting too hot and needing to cool off in the house.

"Get some water and sit down somewhere, honey," she suggests.

He says he will and makes it to the kitchen without running into anyone else. But he can't sit. His theory of heat exhaustion is starting to feel more real than contrived. He's sweating and shaky and hot and cold with each inhale and exhale.

What has he done here?

He's enjoyed his new life so much, taken to it like he didn't think would be possible, that he never thought to look at what it had done to Jensen. Jensen had built this place himself -- practically with his own two hands -- and he's never had to share it with anyone before, like Tom and Traci had said. Now he's saddled with a husband who does nothing but eat his food and use his water and make his house a mess.

Jared's sketches are everywhere, his shoes wherever he kicked them off. Hell, he's even got a hoodie on the living room floor that he can't even remember throwing there.

He flies into a clean up, grabbing socks and a few stray candy wrappers, promising himself he'll be more diligent in keeping the place neat, like it was when he got here the first night.

He's got a pile of stuff in his hands -- clothes, trash, sketches that he'd tossed aside but never picked up -- and he almost can't believe how much he's junked up Jensen's neat and tidy house.

Only one thing omegas are good for and it sure as hell ain't bringing home the bacon.

Jesus, Mark was right. He's not contributing at all. Not paying for anything -- food, necessities. He's just taking up space in a home that once was Jensen's alone.

God, how Jensen must resent Jared.

Freakin' omegas. Usin' their ass and spreadin' their legs at the drop of a hat to tie a man up six different ways.

Is that what Jared did?

C'mon man, these omegas, they're... God, they can go forever you know what I mean? It's crazy good. And I got nothin' against guys. A tight, wet ass is just as good, you know?

His stomach twists and he thinks he might throw up.

He's an omega, so he was born to mate with his alpha -- he can't change that. And he loves the sex. So much more than he ever dreamed he would. But is that all it's about for Jensen? What if for him it's all just physical? What if part of him really did want to take that lawyer up on his proposition to share?

Jared knows how intense sex between them can be -- when Jared's dying to be plugged full and knotted -- and it's sometimes hard to distinguish the animalistic nature of that from his feelings toward Jensen as a person.

What if for Jensen it's just the hormones? What if the only reason he feels anything for Jared at all is because they're mated?

Jared knows it's more for him. He knows when Jensen's gone, he misses Jensen not just his knot.

He loves Jensen's smile as much as his kisses. He loves his laugh as much as his hands. He loves his stories and jokes and ambition and intelligence and the way he is with Tom and Misha and Sam and Traci.

He loves Jensen.

He's in love with Jensen. Has been practically from the start, if he's being realistic. It shouldn't feel so much like a revelation, but it snuck up on him, caught him unawares. He blended so seamlessly into Jensen's life, it felt natural, like it was supposed to happen.

Jared's chest hurts and he's sweating so much, the clothes and trash in his arms are actually damp. He throws away what needs pitched and takes everything else to the bedroom.

There's so much Jensen here, he almost can't breathe. Jensen's scent covers everything and part of Jared wants nothing more than to lie down on the bed and wait for Jensen to find him. Because Jensen always finds him.

He tries for rational. Wants to listen to the part of his mind that tells him Jensen wouldn't give him kisses throughout the day if what they have didn't mean anything. He wouldn't make sure Jared was okay, wouldn't take care of him so thoughtfully, wouldn't be so indulgent, so acquiescent to Jared's needs if Jensen didn't care at least a little.

But this may be the one time in his life where he absolutely can't afford to be wrong. He tried to trust a few of the jocks in high school and when they used his loyalty to make him the butt of a campus wide joke, it hurt, sure, but it only hurt him.

If he's wrong this time -- if Jensen really doesn't feel the same, doesn't love him -- he'll screw up Jensen's life forever. And he can't do that.

Jensen deserves so much more.

Jensen deserves to be happy. And if that means with someone other than Jared, then that's what Jared wants, too, even if it leaves his heart in pieces.

He inhales and it's like breathing through broken glass and in that instant, he knows.

He's gotta get out of here. He has to leave, even if it feels like he's tearing off strips of his own skin, he has to go. Jensen won't get out of the marriage, he'd made a commitment, an obligation, and Jared knows Jensen will stay in it for the long haul, even if he isn't truly happy.

Jared thinks about calling his parents to come get him, but that would mean waiting and Jensen finding out and Jared knows, his gut instinct is telling him, that if he sees Jensen again, he'll want to stay and never let go, and that won't be fair.

He has to do it now and he has to go on his own.

Misha lost a bet a year or two ago when he said I couldn't walk to town.

Jensen's own words float through his mind and it hurts when Jared realizes he may never hear Jensen's voice again, but they give him the answer he needs.

He can call his mom and dad once he makes it to town.

He packs haphazardly, the same overnight bag he brought up with him that first night, gathering whatever's his from the bathroom and the bedroom and he's not sure when he started crying but he has to wipe his runny nose on his arm and he finds his face is wet.

His emotions have really been all over the place recently -- he blames it on the government visit. He's been spinning ever since that night and he figures it just took him this long to figure out it's likely because somewhere, deep in his gut, he knew Mark had been right as soon as he said it.

He shakes himself out of another nearly overwhelming surge of sadness at what he's really done to Jensen and jams his flip-flops into his bag. He's got more stuff than he can truly fit into the case, but he figures Jensen can send the rest back to his mom and dad's.

He takes only one thing of Jensen's -- a plain, white t-shirt that he doubts Jensen will even realize is missing. It's just... it smells like Jensen and Jared wants that one little reminder, for as long as it lasts, of what he had here. What Jensen gave him.

Jared sniffs hard, trying to keep from wiping his nose again, and he reaches for a pen, not even sure what to say. His fingers shake and he hopes his writing is somewhat legible, but he knows he has to give Jensen some kind of explanation, even if he can't do it face to face because he doesn't trust himself enough.

He puts the note on Jensen's pillow and gives the room one last look, his throat clogged on goodbye.

He takes more time than he probably should leaving, but he wants to remember the house and the rooms and the photo above the fireplace. He wants to remember what his life was like here and how much it meant to him.

With one, final, wavering breath, he heads out the front door, down the stairs and almost runs straight into Misha.

Everything in him is screaming to turn around, not let anyone see him, but Misha's talking before he can make any kind of escape.

"So I've been thinking what your bed needs is yucca plants." He loses all sense of light-heartedness when he looks up and makes eye contact. "Jared, my God, what's wrong? Why do you have a bag? What's going on?"

Jared shakes his head, regretting that he hadn't grabbed a couple of tissues. "Misha, please..."

"Let me get Jensen."

Jared grabs Misha's arm, says: "No," when he wants to beg, please, I need him so much. He clears his throat, "I g-gotta go."

Misha's got a hand on Jared's bicep. "What? Jared, you're not making any sense. Sit down here for a minute and tell me what's going on."

Jared resists Misha's pull and shakes his head again. "I c-can't. I just... I have to do this. I l-left a note. I have to."

He lets go of Misha's arm and blinks tears from his eyes.

"Jared, come on," Misha sounds more freaked out than Jared has ever heard him. "Talk to me."

Jared wiggles out of Misha's grip and says, "I r-really can't. I just..."

He wants to say a million things -- thanks for being so weird, yet likable; give Sam a kiss goodbye for me; tell Jensen I love him with every beat of my heart and nothing will ever be the same without him -- but all of it gets stuck at the base of his throat and he can't make a sound.

He walks to the road without looking back -- he's so scared if he does he'll never keep going.

He stumbles a little when his thumb flicks the silver ring on his left hand -- it's almost an automatic response to stress. Spinning the ring on his finger calms him. At least it used to.

He should have left it with Jensen, he thinks. He never did find out how much the matching set cost, but just the idea of taking it off -- it's been there since Jensen slipped it on all those months ago -- leaves a sour feeling in his stomach.

He won't fight Jensen if he wants the ring back, but he won't take it off if he doesn't have to.

It's one foot in front of the other for so long, Jared's not even sure how much time has passed. He just knows his feet are hot -- almost burning from the scorched pavement beneath him -- there's a deep ache in his chest and his lower abdomen feels incredibly strange. He wonders if somehow his body knows what's going on and it's calling for Jensen.

It's an odd thought, but in the August heat, he finds his mind is a little unclear. The humidity fucks with his metabolism and he's pretty much soaked his t-shirt and jeans with sweat. His skin is practically on fire. He lost the ability to cry a while back, and he's not sure if he physically can't produce tears or if he's just depleted emotionally and either way, that should likely worry him, but he's too focused on the hot road under his sneakers and eating up the distance in front of him.

Once he gets to town there will be air conditioning and a chair and some water and his mom and dad will come get him and everything at Hillside will have been just like a dream. A vivid, amazing, phenomenal dream.

Walking alone is a familiar feeling, one that he didn't think he'd have to experience again after he'd left high school. He huffs what should be a laugh, but the sound is alarmingly despondent. Of course he'd experience it again. It's what he's good at.

Being alone.

He never belonged before. Why should now be any different? Just because a man with gorgeous green eyes and a deep, warm laugh took pity on him doesn't mean Jared would know what it was like to really belong somewhere.

He should have taken the lessons he'd learned in high school and applied them to the rest of his life. No one wanted to be around him then and they sure don't want to now.

Maybe this is just the way it's supposed to be.

His mouth is dry. Why didn't he think to bring water with him?

Stupid. Like everyone always called him.

He hunches in on himself a little, partly to get away from the sun as much as he can and partly to try to curb the rolling feeling in his stomach.

The thing is, he knows this is what he has to do. Get away. Leave. He can't drag Jensen down. Not Jensen. Jensen is everything. He's the sun in the morning and the moon at night and he deserves someone who can shine with him, not duck closer into the shadows.

Jared's not enough for someone like Jensen.

It's just... he didn't realize how good it could feel to have someone in his corner -- other than Katie and Chad and his family. He didn't know how amazing it could be to wake up next to someone in the same bed, let that person inside his body, feel strong arms around him. He'd gotten used to being able to reach for Jensen whenever he needed to.

He's not sure how he's going to go back to living without it. He barely survived three days. How will he go through the rest of his life without Jensen?

Even now, there's an odd emptiness inside, a cavernous, vacant sensation that he's scared he's going to have to learn to endure.

His head spins a little and he worries that he may not be walking a very straight line, but there's no one out here to really care, so he lets it go to wonder if it's better having known the happiness he had with Jensen only to have it disappear than to just be the ignorant kid he was four months ago?

He has no answer. He just keeps gulping in the hot August air.

Jared doesn't even notice the truck pull along the berm in front of him until Jensen's getting out and saying: "You're kidding me with this, right?" in a tone that screams pissed off and infuriated and alpha.

Jared's dizzy and wobbly and he wonders if Jensen's a mirage. His ears are ringing and he wants to reach out, wrap himself up in Jensen -- figment of his imagination or not -- and submit to his alpha.

But he can't get his feet to stop moving.

He walks around Jensen -- too afraid to try to go through him because if he isn't real, Jared's seriously screwed.

"Jared, stop."

Jared shakes his head and the motion makes the world spin rather alarmingly.

His face is really hot, even though his hands are kind of freezing.

It's a little difficult to catch his breath.

"Jared, please."

It's the imploring, desperate tone and the hand on his elbow that makes Jared turn.

When he's face-to-face with Jensen, and his forward momentum has been halted, funny little black spots dot his vision and he opens his mouth to say something -- he's not sure what -- but no sound comes out.

Jensen's eyes widen and he reaches out to Jared, fast.

It's the last thing Jared sees.

seperators

Jensen,

I know you never wanted this from the start. You've been
so amazingly good to me, even though this is totally unfair
to you. You've built a life here and deserve to share it with
someone you love, not someone you're obligated to take.

I want you to be happy -- really happy -- and I'm scared
you're not. You can be, though, if you look. You can find
someone you can be proud to have as your mate.

You told me from the beginning that I'm not a prisoner and
you never once made me feel like one.

I'll never, ever forget you and everything that you gave me,
but I think it's way past time that I set you free.

Jared


seperators

Jensen figures it wouldn't be the first time someone puked in Dr. Hodge's office. He just really hopes he can keep his stomach contents where they belong because, God, he hates throwing up.

He's spent the last ten minutes -- after leaving a sleeping Jared on a bed in one of the patient rooms -- trying to regulate his breathing.

It's not working very well.

Jesus, that letter just about gutted him.

How the fuck could he have led Jared to believe that the two of them -- their relationship -- wasn't everything he's ever wanted? He's never been very good at vocalizing his feelings. It likely comes from spending the last fifteen years alone. He's never had someone in his home before -- someone to talk to or share problems with or tell what he's thinking.

He's clearly not very good at it.

What stuns him most is he truly didn't see this coming. Sure, things have been a little weird since the government check-up, and Jensen knows that night upset Jared, but official bureaucrats always have a way of bringing an uncomfortable gravity to just about every situation. He just never guessed it had gone this far.

He didn't think after all this time that Jared wanting out would even be a possibility. He remembers the fear from their first night together, but since then, Jared had been affectionate and agreeable and seemed to want to touch all the time. And Jensen never once felt smothered or boxed-in or suffocated by Jared's presence.

Quite the contrary, they seemed to click naturally. Jared had almost become an extension of himself -- he didn't even believe in that kind of connection, didn't think it was even possible to have something like that.

Jensen knows if Jared really wants to leave, though, he'll let him. A person doesn't need a psychology degree to see projection when it's put on paper. Jared may have cloaked it in concern for Jensen, but if he wants to go so badly that he's willing to walk in the August heat, Jensen's not going to stop him.

This time, though, they'll do it right. He'll get Jared a car -- it's the least he can do. Maybe set him up in an apartment somewhere -- make sure he's got everything he needs. Hell, if Jared would agree to it, Jensen would even be willing to give him money every month so he can have the necessities and be okay until he gets on his feet again with his new mate.

Jensen's stomach clenches and he pulls the trashcan closer.

He swallows hard and it's through sheer will alone that he doesn't vomit.

God, just the thought of Jared with someone else makes every cell in his body constrict in protest. The alpha in him wants to fight, destroy something, rip someone apart for even considering touching what is his.

But once the papers are signed and they're divorced, it'll be a foregone conclusion. Jared won't be his anymore.

Jensen barely bites back a growl.

And there's the flip side to the coin -- Jensen will have to remarry. Fuck, the prospect of that is even worse than it was four months ago. How will he let anyone else in his bed? How will anyone feel as good as Jared, taste as good as Jared?

For the first time, he genuinely thinks about leaving the country.

Even the thought of an empty bed is better than sharing it with someone other than Jared.

Aldis opens the door, takes one look at him and says: "Damn, man, you actually look green."

Jensen buries his face in his hands.

Aldis props himself up on the edge of his desk. "Jensen, you need to calm down. He's gonna be fine."

"I don't know how this got so fucked up," Jensen whispers. "I mean it, Aldis. I thought it was... we were...fuck..."

"What's the trashcan doing over here? You gonna throw up?"

"Probably," Jensen mumbles, misery a constant thrum in his veins.

"Okay, voice of reason here, listen to your doctor," Aldis says. "Jensen, you hearing me?"

Jensen nods.

"All you need to do is keep the necessary follow-up appointments. Sure, it's pretty rare anymore -- the government thought they'd bred the ability out of male omegas -- but we're not re-inventing the wheel here. It's happened before. We've got a standard procedure. Nothing to worry about. Jared's gonna be fine."

Jensen frowns, pulls his face out of his hands and sits up. "The fuck are you talking about?"

Aldis blinks. "Oh shit, you seriously don't know, do you?"

Jensen's mouth tastes metallic -- it's a shot of fear. His voice is reed thin. "Know what?"

"Jared's pregnant. Probably about eight weeks along, near as we can tell."

Jensen shrinks back into the chair, his vision clouds and all he can see a little boy with Jared's dimples or a little girl with gorgeous chestnut hair.

He wants to meet that child so badly, he's shaking with it.

"... going on."

Jensen makes eye contact with Aldis and knows he missed a hell of a lot of the conversation.

"Talk to me, man," Aldis says. "You should be happy about this."

Emotion clogs Jensen's throat and he has to try three different times to get the words out. "He's leaving me."

Aldis scowls. "Who?"

Jensen attempts to blink away the sting in his eyes and fists the air, wanting to hold onto something he already knows is slipping away. "Jared," he chokes. "He... he left a note and just... left. I found him walking into town, he passed out and I b-brought him... here. Fuck, Aldis. What the hell am I gonna do now?"

The plans he'd had -- finding a place for Jared, letting him go -- swirl away in his mind. How will they ever live separately when there's a child involved? How can he ever turn his baby over to Jared and a new mate?

Bile rises and he clamps his teeth together -- hard.

It's the laughter -- so incongruous, so out-of-place -- that paralyzes Jensen. He looks up, utterly stupefied by his friend, his doctor and the chuckles making his shoulders tremble.

Aldis sweeps a hand down his face. "Man, that's a good one," he shakes his head. "'Cause I can promise you, that boy over there ain't going anywhere."

It's a little shocking how quickly the paralysis turns to a burning, powerful anger. "I got his note, Aldis," Jensen snarls. "The 'I want you to be happy, this isn't working out' note. Misha told me that he left. I'm not fucking joking here."

Aldis leans forward -- apparently not even remotely worried about Jensen's ire -- laughter dissipated. "I'm not joking, either, Jensen. You know what he's been asking me -- in the moments when he's conscious at least? He wants to know if you're okay. If you were real. How mad at him you are. If I think you'll come in one last time to see him. That, my friend, is not someone who wants out."

Jensen thinks if the world does anymore tilting on its axis, the whole damn planet might fall out of the solar system and then wouldn't they all be in a fucking pickle.

"I saw how you were with him -- hell, I saw how he was with you those couple of seconds he was awake. Don't fuck this up," Aldis tells him.

Jensen shakes his head, denial. "He's projecting, Aldis. Trying to make this easier on everyone. He wants me to find someone and be happy, but that's what he really wants for himself."

Aldis scoffs. "What are you? An amateur psychologist now? That's the biggest pile of horseshit I've ever heard. You two were supposed to be together. It may not have happened traditionally, but you're good for each other. And somewhere in your messed up brain, you know that. So go in there and explain that to him."

"I c-can't keep him against his will, Aldis," Jensen whispers, not even sure what to feel anymore.

"It isn't gonna be against his will!" Aldis lets out a frustrated noise. "If you don't think he really wants this life with you -- ask him directly. I'm telling you, he loves you enough to let you go because he wants to make sure you're really happy and so help me God if you tell Kane I actually used that phrase, we're gonna have words, you and I."

Jensen can't tell if Aldis is actually making sense or it's so much what he wants to hear -- wants to believe -- that it sounds logical when it really isn't. "I don't know..."

"Hey, man, have I ever not been straight with you? Seriously?"

Jensen slowly shakes his head.

"I got this one, too. I'm telling you."

Jensen inhales -- deep -- and stands up to go fight for something he never knew he wanted, but really wants to keep.

seperators

It's somewhat dark in the room and Jensen has to blink a couple times to see Jared's curled on his side in the hospital bed, sheet wrapped around his legs, still wearing his jeans and t-shirt, but his sneakers are on the floor and there's an IV attached to his arm -- Aldis assured Jensen it was marginal dehydration, complicated by the pregnancy, and the small fluid bag was just a precaution. He looks tiny and breakable and Jensen wants nothing more than to wrap his arms around him and never let go.

Jensen hears Jared's shocked little breath -- it's the only way he knows Jared's awake.

"J-Jensen," Jared whispers, voice wobbling as bad as it had the night they were married. "I w-wasn't sure you'd come back."

"Where else am I gonna go?"

"H-home?" Jared suggests.

"Without you?"

Jared's legs twitch under the sheet, but he doesn't say anything.

Jensen pokes Jared's hip and says: "Scoot over."

Once Jensen's settled on the side of the bed and he watches Jared surreptitiously wipes his nose on the pillow, he clears his throat. "I got some tough questions to ask you, Jared, but I want you to be honest with me, okay?"

Jared fists the thin sheet in his fingers, picks at a stray seam. He sniffs and nods.

"Do you want to leave?"

"I want you to be h-happy," Jared's throat is thick.

"That's not an answer, sugar," Jensen says, starting to think Aldis might be right here. "It's a yes or no. Do you want to leave?"

"I don't... d-don't want to trap you."

Jensen frowns. "Who said you trapped me?"

The shadows in the room can't hide the fact that Jared seems to be deliberately avoiding Jensen's eyes.

"Jared? Who said that?"

Jared has to release his bottom lip from his teeth in order to whisper, "That g-guy..."

Something tickles Jensen's chest. It feels like there's more to the story than Jensen realizes, it feels a little bit like hope. "I need you to tell me."

Jared has half of his face in the pillow, so his words are kind of tough to make out, but Jensen hears them. "The a-alpha that the government sent. He congratulated me on the job I did... catching you and k-keeping you and Jensen, I can't d-do that to you. You n-never wanted this. You never wanted people to tell you how to live your life... I can't b-be one of those people who force you into a something you d-don't want. I can't."

Rage flashes for a split second at the thought of anyone -- let alone another alpha -- making Jared feel less than he is, implying that their relationship is anything but real and true and right. It's galling that the government apparently condones that level of manipulation.

He bites down on the anger, knows instinctively that it won't help Jared, but considers putting a bug in Aldis's ear about the unnecessary games being played to see if anyone he knows can maybe put an end to it.

Jensen takes a chance and slides his hand along Jared's forearm, stopping only when he can wrap his fingers around Jared's closed fist.

Jared trembles, and Jensen knows the feeling -- skin-on-skin is always electric for them.

"So," Jensen pitches his tone to soothe. "Because of what the alpha said, you want to leave me?"

Jared's head scratches against the pillow. "You're not... it isn't," he huffs a frustrated sound. "Jensen, p-please understand... I can't do that to you... it's not fair."

"Oh, I understand. You want to go. Is it really that bad at Hillside?"

The gamble pays off because Jared immediately shakes his head and twists his wrist so he can lace their fingers together. "N-no, Jensen. No. It's been s-so amazing. You... you're amazing," and in that moment, Jensen can see exactly what Aldis was talking about -- Jared's eyes fill and he's got this look that's part wonder and part fear and part something else -- Jensen knows, deep in his gut, in the core of who he is, that Jared's feelings shouldn't have been doubted -- they're written all over his face. Jensen's not leaving here alone.

The truth of it crystallizes around him and he breathes for the first time since he saw that piece of paper on his pillow.

Jared's voice cracks. "It's just that you... d-deserve better."

The than me isn't spoken aloud, but Jensen can hear it. He squeezes their palms together. "I'm not sure better is out there, sugar."

Jared's laugh is wet and a little brutal and nowhere near happy. "Maybe that customer."

Jensen frowns. "What customer?"

"The one you were t-talking to today. In the sh-showroom."

Jensen's confused -- really, genuinely has no idea where Jared's going with this. "I talk to a lot of customers in the showroom, Jared."

Jared sniffs. "He had curly black hair. He was y-young."

Jensen goes over the last few customers in his mind, trying to remember the conversations he had, the people he talked to, that match the vague description and the only answer he can come up with is: "Who, Harry?"

Jared winces.

Jensen shakes his head, a little dumbfounded that this could go so off the rails, but at the same time can't stop the little trickle of joy that bounces through him at the thought that Jared may have actually been jealous, further confirming Aldis's theory. "Jared, I was talking to him about you."

Jared wipes his nose with his free hand, but sneaks a quick peek at Jensen's face.

"I'm serious," Jensen says. "He came because he wants to surprise his boyfriend with a planter for the front walk and needed to know what would work and then we got to talking about you."

Jared takes a deep breath. "You looked pretty cl-close."

Jensen actually has to hold his lips together with his teeth to keep from grinning -- Jared's just so damn adorable when he pouts. "He and Louis have been coming to Hillside for a long time."

"St-still," Jared chokes. "You need somone you c-can be happy with. You sh-should try to find it. Maybe go to one of those p-parties that guy was talking about. "

Jensen knows he can't keep the disgust from his face at the mention of the obnoxious lawyer. "That's not gonna happen, Jared. I don't think passing people around like hors d'oeuvres is even remotely appealing."

"You can f-find someone though..."

Jensen traces his thumb along Jared's index finger, knowing that jealousy only stems from want, and if that's what Jared's feeling, Jensen really does have a shot here. "And if I don't want to?"

Jared closes his eyes and tears slip down his cheek. "Jensen..."

"Do you really even want me to?" Jensen whispers, still playing with Jared's hand, "Hmmm? Do you want me to find another omega? Share my bed -- technically our bed -- with him?"

Jared gurgles something through his teeth and grips Jensen's fingers -- hard. "It's n-not about m-me."

Jensen silently gives Jared credit for getting those four words past the tightness in his throat. It's quite a feat of fortitude and guts and one of the many reasons Jared's so attractive.

"You talk about fairness," Jensen continues reasonably. "You're big on being fair to me. I have to wonder, how is any of it fair to you, sugar?"

Jared jerks his head back and forth, wrenches his hand out of Jensen's, rubs his eyes and mumbles, again, "Not about me."

Jensen takes a breath and mentally tosses his cards on the table. "You're actually right about that one. It's not about you."

Jared sniffs and drops his hands from his face.

"It's not about me, either," Jensen says. "There's someone else involved here."

Jared coughs. "Who? Misha?"

Jensen rolls his eyes. "He'd like to think so, but no. Although, Misha was the one standing in the driveway, pointing the way to you after I read that note. I'm pretty sure he wasn't too happy to let you go, either. But you're getting me off track. No, it's not Misha."

Jared frowns, clearly confused.

Jensen places his palm over Jared's stomach and Jared gasps and jolts under the covers.

A sensation a whole lot like peace flutters up Jensen's arm -- and the thought, just the implication, of their baby growing inside Jared is enough to almost stop his breath. It's overwhelming and magical and wonderful and serene all at the same time. He never dreamed he'd ever have children. Hell, he didn't think he'd have a mate like Jared, either, but kids were so far out of the picture, Jensen didn't even realize how very much he wanted them until Aldis told him what the tests had shown. And the thought of making a baby with Jared -- a tiny replica of both of them -- Jensen's throat constricts and he's not sure he can get the words out.

Jared grabs Jensen's wrist, "Jensen, what... are you doing?"

It's ultimately Jared that allows him to speak -- his gorgeous, beautiful expression and his constant acquiescence to Jensen's touch. "It's a baby, sugar. Our baby."

"Wh-what?" Jared's voice is barely a breath.

Jensen nods. "We made a baby."

Jared shakes his head, but holds Jensen's wrist tighter. "No w-we didn't."

Jensen chuckles around his own tight throat. "We really, really did."

"B-but," Jared's eyes flutter. "It's not... I shouldn't be..."

Jensen can't look away from his hand over Jared's flat stomach. "Aldis says it's rare, but it happens. He ran some tests and they prove it."

Jensen glances up and even in the dim lighting he can see the wide array of emotions flash across Jared's face -- surprise, understanding, elation, joy, and sudden distress. He pushes Jensen away, rattling the plastic tubing attached to his arm, head whipping back and forth, "No... no, no, no. This... Jensen... no..."

"Hey, careful," Jensen admonishes, trying to still Jared's flailing. "Don't pull out your IV."

Jared's practically crab walking up the head of the bed, knees pulled in against his stomach, looking frantic and stricken and so horribly cornered.

"Jared, talk to me," Jensen demands, letting a little alpha creep in. "Stop for a second and tell me."

Jared drags in air on an uneven breath, eyes blown wide, tears welling and falling at an alarming pace.

This isn't the reaction Jensen was hoping for.

"J-Jensen, don't you s-see?" Jared whispers raggedly, compulsively holding his stomach. "This makes e-everything... so much w-worse. You can't... now we..." Jared's lungs fill and he releases it on a whirlwind of words. "Now you can never get away f-from me. I really d-did... trap you," he chokes on the continuing exhale. "Oh G-God... and the worst part is th-this is s-so cool, this baby..." Jared's fingers clutch his abdomen. "I think I already love it... I think s-somehow I knew that s-something was going on... and even with all that... part of me wants to just g-give you the baby and go, so you can have your own life, the w-way you wanted it," he runs out of steam on that and Jensen starts to worry he's gonna pass out again, so he rubs what he hopes are soothing strokes down Jared's arm. "P-part of me wants to s-say you can r-raise him or her with your... n-new mate... but J-Jensen, the baby will be all I h-have to remember you by and..."

That's where Jared loses speech completely, curls on his side and buries his face in the pillow.

Jensen continues the slow sweeps of his hand along Jared's bicep and murmurs, "You gotta breathe for me, sugar. In and out for a while, okay?"

After a minute or two, Jensen says: "I'm not getting a new mate, Jared, and you're not going anywhere."

Jared smashes his nose and eyes into the pillowcase, using the material as a tissue. "W-We can figure something out. C-Custody or s-something," he's gradually winding down into abject misery.

"Jared--"

"It's okay," Jared's voice is muted. "You don't have to pretend. I know it's n-not me you want. You don't have to b-be stuck with me just to keep the b-baby."

Jensen strives to maintain a level tone, but the vexation rises up anyway because he can't seem to get Jared to listen. "Jared, just stop for a second..."

"I can't be the one thing in your life that's an obligation. After everything you fought so hard to get and make for yourself. I just can't."

With that, Jared's apparently done. He heaves a billowing sigh, fixes his gaze on the door behind Jensen and quiets, except for random, periodic sniffles.

Jensen just breathes for a bit, working through all he wants to say in his mind before putting it out there between them. He cards the fingers of his left hand through Jared's hair, brushing in a continuous motion from his temple to the back of his neck, being sure to graze the delicate skin behind Jared's ear with his thumb every so often. He knows, even after only three months, how to take the edge off.

As predicted, Jared's eyes start to droop and like a cat, he anticipates Jensen's moves, arching up into his palm, tilting his head for greater access.

"You ready to listen now, sugar?" Jensen whispers.

Jared turns slightly at the same time Jensen's thumb drifts under his ear and the motion sweeps Jensen's thumb across Jared's mouth.

And suddenly, Jensen wants to make this right by just leaning forward and taking. The alpha in him crowds his senses, the primal instincts practically screaming for the physical connection, but Jensen knows it's gonna take more than a deep knotting to convince his boy. He reaches for the willpower to quell the primitive urge, a little surprised by how many calming breaths it takes.

Jared murmurs Jensen's name, but the syllables get caught under Jensen's thumb.

Jensen shakes his head. "New rule, okay? No talking until I say you can. Think you can do that for me?"

It's not really fair for Jensen to pitch his voice like he does, blatantly using the timbre and resonance of his alpha ancestry to compel his omega to obey. He's not really sure Jared's aware of what he's doing, and he feels a little guilty, but it's effective -- Jared seems to sink into the mattress with a slow nod.

Jensen maintains contact, keeps his palm over the jut of Jared's jaw.

"First," Jensen starts, his thumb moving almost of its own accord, gliding across Jared's cheek. "You are not an obligation. You could never be. You've been a revelation to me. Nothing at all what I expected. Hell, if I had known what this would be like, I would have agreed to the mating ceremony years ago -- but it wouldn't have been you, so I think this happened exactly like it was supposed to." Jensen catches Jared's tear against the meat of his hand.

Jensen notices Jared's finger tracing his lower stomach and shakes his head, "Yeah, you don't have to talk for me to get what you're thinking, sugar. This isn't about the baby. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled..." his voice fails him for a second, "... more thrilled than I can probably tell you about the baby, but wanting you in my life is because of you. The baby is just... a beautiful surprise."

Jensen sees doubt dance in Jared's eyes and he knows he's gotta play his final ace. "Okay I can see you're not buying this," he scoots a little closer, lets go of Jared's cheek to pull his iPhone out of his pocket. "So I need to show you something. I found this the other day because I've been thinking the photo above the fireplace looks a little lonely. That's not my life anymore."

He scrolls through the downloads and when he gets to the shot -- the one that had literally sent shivers all along his spine -- he turns it around so Jared can see.

"See how there are actually two trees there? I don't know if they were deliberately planted that way or if they grew naturally, but I don't think it matters. What matters is that they're so closely entwined you couldn't separate one without affecting the other. I think that better represents my life now than the single tree by itself."

Jared blinks and looks up, fresh tears falling.

"I ordered a print of it two days ago. I can show you the receipt if you don't believe me, but you've gotta know this isn't something I could pull off this fast," Jensen takes the phone back and maintains eye contact. "I did this before I knew about the baby because you are what's important to me."

Jared makes a strangled sound and opens his mouth to speak, but stops suddenly, clicking his teeth together.

Jensen smiles, remembering his earlier rule. His omega is nothing if not obedient. "You can talk now if you want."

"I love you."

The words are spoken so quickly, so surely, Jensen's entire body tingles. He never knew what it would be like to have another person -- one who means quite literally the world to him -- make such an emphatic statement.

Like a tree reaching for the sun, Jensen leans forward -- completely out of reflex -- and touches Jared's forehead with his own, both of them holding tight to each other.

"I love you, too, sugar. I should tell you more often and I promise you, I will," Jensen breathes in, savoring the scent of his boy. "I just... I never expected it or you, but damn, I don't know what I'd do without you."

Jensen shifts down for a kiss, through the snot and mess on Jared's face -- he didn't care about it the first night and he sure as hell doesn't let it stop him now. The taste is all Jared, soft, sweet, delicious.

It's gotta be a full minute before Jensen pulls away to ask, "So, just for clarification, you don't want to leave?"

Jared laughs through the hand wiping his nose. "I never wanted to leave. I just wanted you to be happy. I love you so much, it killed me to think you were doing all this because you had to."

"Sugar, you may be the one part of my life that I had to take, but you're also the only part I'd never give up."

Jared grins -- that adorable, still somewhat-little-boy-but-knows-things-a-man-does grin -- that never fails to warm Jensen's heart.

Jensen speaks around the smile he can't tame. "So there'll be no more talk of leaving or any actual leaving, especially considering you've got a bed to finish. Or at least to tell Misha how to finish."

"Why do I have to tell Misha?"

Jensen lets go of Jared's bicep to swipe a hand along his omega's stomach. "I don't want you and baby working too hard. You can order Misha around for once. Sound fun?"

Jared laughs. "Sounds awesome."

"You know, though," Jensen purses his lips. "I might have to re-think the picture above the fireplace."

Jared's brow furrows in consternation and it's so damn cute, Jensen can barely bite back a laugh. He looks pointedly at Jared's belly. "I think I might have to find one with a sapling between them."

Jared inhales, rough and gorgeous and amazed. He clasps Jensen's hand against his stomach and whispers, "Jensen, we're gonna have a baby."

Jensen squeezes Jared's fingers. "I heard."

The look between them must be a level of saccharin even a candy maker would find disgusting, especially if Aldis's face is any indication when he opens the door.

"I'd say I'm glad the daddies made up, but I'm a little worried I'm getting cavities just standing this close to you."

Jensen sweeps his lips against Jared's forehead before turning his gaze to their doctor. "You missed your calling. Should have been a comedian. Can you get this crap off my husband so I can take him home now?"

Aldis chuckles under his breath, but makes quick work of the IV.

Jensen hops off the bed, helps Jared with his sneakers and can't resist holding out a hovering hand when his omega stands up.

"Okay?" Jensen asks, a little nervous about how in the world he's going to make it through the next seven months.

Jared's quite literally glowing when he nods in response.

"Good," Jensen says, letting his worries go for another day. "Let's go home."

seperators

Epilogue

Late November means Hillside is getting ready for Christmas and everyone's incredibly busy in preparation for the holiday. Tom is swearing at the makers of polyethylene because apparently the batch he ordered rips if anyone looks at it funny and Misha and Sam are fighting almost every day about whether or not lights add to or detract from a display in the showroom and the sting of winter is in the air.

Jared loves the fuzzy blanket Jensen found for the bed on target.com. It's thick and warm and the only thing better than snuggling underneath it is snuggling underneath it with Jensen.

It's just that Jensen's nighttime bathroom rituals are a little insane. How many different moisturizers can one human being need? Jared's pretty sure the bottles beside the sink are multiplying every day -- they're like rabbits or something.

Jared has to call out around the open door in order to be heard. "Misha added two more names to the list today. Petunia and Begonia. He says it's appropriate, not ironic."

Jensen leans out of the bathroom, toothbrush hanging from his mouth. "It's actually neither."

Jared's belly twitches and he rubs a hand low on his abdomen. Their little girl always dances whenever she hears her daddy's voice -- even muffled by a toothbrush. God, Jensen's face when Dr. Hodge told them they were having a girl. Jared still gets warm tingles all the way to his toes when he remembers that expression.

Jensen frowns watching Jared cup his stomach. "Okay?"

Jared nods. "She just always responds to your voice, especially when she hasn't heard it all day."

Jensen's eyes do that thing where they turn wistful and a little glassy and the green gets really light and Jared wants to kiss him so bad, but he's really comfortable in bed and Jensen's mouth is jammed full of toothpaste, so he waits.

Jensen moves back into the bathroom to spit and Jared can't help but ask: "Is it Alanis Morisette ironic at least? Misha will probably want to know."

Jensen grumbles something that might not be English and Jared figures it's probably better he didn't hear it. The light goes out before Jensen appears back in the doorway and pads over to the bed, shuffling in next to Jared, smelling fresh and warm and clean, and snuggling up, pushing his fingers under Jared's t-shirt so his hand rests over Jared's bare stomach -- his favorite way to sleep, Jared knows.

"So how's my little Petunia today?" Jensen coos.

Jared chuckles, placing a kiss on Jensen's forehead. "Yeah, we're not really listening to that list, right?"

"Considering your buddy Chad added a bunch of stripper names, I'm gonna go with no," Jensen replies while scooping his middle finger under the swell of Jared's belly.

"Cherry doesn't have to be a stripper name," Jared muses, lulled by the fact that his two favorite people are right there with him, separated only by his own skin. "Misha liked it because we do have cherry trees in stock."

Jensen looks up from Jared's lap. "Is using Misha as a reason really supposed to help your case?"

"Oh, I don't have a case," Jared grins. "I just like to see the vein in your neck bulge out."

Jensen barks a laugh. "You little shit. C'mere. It's been a whole day since I kissed you."

Jared eagerly connects their mouths, enjoying the taste of toothpaste and Jensen. It's a sweet kiss, unhurried, one that speaks of familiarity and contentment.

Jensen pulls back before it can go longer and lays his head on the pillow next to Jared's. "So, how did you convince Misha to put the white lights on the arborvitae in your front bed?"

"I pretended to go into labor."

Jensen's mouth drops open. "You did not."

Jared laughs and burrows down farther under the covers so they're face-to-face, Jensen's hand still on his abdomen. "Oh, I did. He just kept going on and on about over-the-top consumerism and corporate greed and how the holidays have been defaced with all the garishness of humans or something and I just grabbed my stomach and gasped and told him his future god-child was throwing a fit because he's being a Scrooge."

Jensen is outright giggling. "Jesus, what did he do?"

"His eyes bugged out like a demented chihuahua and he ran over to me, totally freaked. He kept asking what he should do and I told him to string the lights. I think he added some extra just in case."

"God, that's awesome," Jensen chuckles.

"I think it's only gonna be effective a few more times, though, which is sad," Jared laments. "It's like crying wolf and all. Plus, it could backfire on me when I really do go into labor. He won't believe me."

Jensen tries to cover Jared's bump with his entire hand. "I better be the first person you call when that happens. Don't try to convince Misha you're serious, just tell Sam to come get me. Or better yet, keep your cell phone with you and literally call me."

Jared grins. "I will."

Their little girl shuffles a bit and Jared cups Jensen's hand and moves it slightly to the right so he can feel it.

Jensen always gets so still at these moments -- like he's barely breathing. "Gonna be a dancer," Jensen whispers.

Jared hums agreement against the top of Jensen's head.

Jensen keeps his hand right where Jared put it for the longest time -- Jared loves the heat and protection he gets from the position -- their daughter moving under Jensen's palm.

Jared can't help but murmur, "She's saying, 'hi, daddy.'"

Jensen makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. When he looks up at Jared, his eyes are glistening. "I love you."

Jared touches their foreheads together. "Love you, too. So much."

Jensen inhales, reaches up and pinches Jared's nose lightly between his middle and forefinger, makes a bizarre squawking sound. "Gotta call the mechanic on that. Still not sounding right."

Jared's heart swells so big, his chest actually hurts and he has to take a deep breath. He gets a flash of Jensen playing that exact game with their daughter -- and all the children he hopes they'll have -- and he marvels at his luck and joy and incredibly promising future.

Jensen's grin shines brighter than the lamp behind him. "Feeling okay?"

Jared nods, brushing their noses. "Legs are a little sore and I'm getting puffy everywhere, but right now it's perfect."

Jensen moves away only to turn out the light on the nightstand. He's back in seconds, curling into the same spot, hand over Jared's stomach.

Jared bites his bottom lip a little before venturing, "Mom called. She wants to know who all we want to invite to the baby shower." Jared waits. He knows this is a touchy subject and even in the dim lighting, he can see Jensen's hesitation. His words are cautious, "You're gonna tell them eventually, right? I mean they probably wanna know about their first grandchild."

Jared's parents are over the moon -- once they got past the initial shock and worry and we-didn't-think-it-could-happen. His mom has purchased so many baby clothes, he's surprised the infant sections of every store have any selection left.

Jensen hasn't said word one about his family, though.

Jared doesn't want to push, but he can't imagine how upset his mom and dad would be if they never even knew about the baby.

Jensen sighs. "Jared, I don't want you getting your hopes up about them, okay? It's been years and they haven't made any effort to contact me. It's really possible that even once they know, it won't change anything."

Jared's pretty sure Jensen's speaking more to himself than anybody. Jared nods. "Okay, I won't. You know them better than anyone. It's your call."

Jensen's kiss has a whole lot of gratitude in it. "Sleep?"

"Hmmm," Jared concurs.

"Spoons or like this?"

Jared smiles, "Spoons," and rolls over so that Jensen is nestled up tight behind him, hand splayed over Jared's belly.

"Night, sugar," Jensen whispers.

Jared sighs into the pillow.

"Night, baby girl," Jensen says against Jared's shoulder as he holds Jared's stomach tight.

Jared grins, despite how tired he is, this is one of his favorite games, mostly because of Jensen's reactions. Jared starts with, "Night, Candy."

"No."

"Night, Barbie."

"God, no."

"Night, Starla."

"Quit with the Simpsons."

"Night, Chesty LaRue."

"Jesus."

"Night, Foxy Starlight."

"That doesn't even make any sense."

"Night, Kiki."

"I hope you don't pass your mental issues on to our daughter."

"Night, Sunny Paradise."

"I'm gonna tell her that one when she's older. That her father wanted to name her Sunny Paradise."

Jared giggles and he's pretty sure he gave the game away, but he keeps going. "Night, Desiree."

"I actually threw up in my mouth. There's throw up in my mouth."

Jared's full on laughing now, he can barely get the next ridiculous name out. "Night, Bunny."

"Good God almighty, have you been tested? Seriously?"

"Night, Diamond Sparkle."

"Too much My Little Pony when you were a kid. Has to be."

Jared laces his fingers through Jensen's on his stomach and only makes it to three more insane suggestions before he succumbs to sleep and the warmth of his husband and little girl all around him.

Downstairs there's a photo over the fireplace of two trees entwined, reaching to the sun. Between them, in the grass, is a tiny little sapling, mirroring the upward spiral of the older trees, just at a slower pace.

The initial picture of the lone tree hangs at the foot of the stairs. Jensen has decided the wall going up the steps will mark their life together in similar photographs. Jared has agreed that as their family grows, if they can't find the appropriate image to represent them all, he'll draw it.

Jensen couldn't have been more thrilled.

The first photo is labeled how it began. The one above the fireplace says how we continue.

They both agree there won't be an end.

Not to what they have found.

~ end