Jared hates the Academy.
He hadn’t hated it at the start. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that he’d been incredibly relieved to find out there even was such a place. When at seventeen he’d finally—finally! — come of age and popped his first knot, within twenty-four hours it had inexplicably disappeared and he’d found himself instead sloppy-wet and aching with Omega heat, after which he’d somehow slid back into an Alpha state, lust-ridden and swollen. His parents quietly freaked out, while Jared not-so-quietly freaked out, locking himself in his room, drained and disgusted and terrified at the way his body was morphing uncontrollably.
It’s such a relief when, just days after his bizarre condition manifested itself, representatives of the Academy arrived on his doorstep, told his parents to pack him a bag and hug him goodbye, and hustled him into the back of a waiting car, windows tinted so he couldn’t see inside. The steely-eyed men who rode with him calmly explained that Jared was a Shifter, that they were not a myth but really were Pack members who could change their orientation at will, choosing to be—hormonally and physically— Alpha, Beta, or Omega whenever they wished.
They’d whisked him away to this tiny, secluded “school,” where the small handful of young Shifters were systematically gathered and trained to work for an ultra-classified branch of the Pack Hierarchy.
Jared had always thought of the Hierarchy— when he’d thought about pack governance at all— as a mostly ornamental assembly of representatives from the major familial packs from every region. At the Academy, he found out it was a far more sophisticated and far-reaching organization than he’d ever dreamed, including the use of Shifters as a covert unit of political enforcement. Students like him were instructed how to use their unique skills to infiltrate rogue packs, gain access to dangerous anti-government groups, even seduce (or, rumor among the students had it, murder) specific targets who were deemed a threat to state security. A whole lot of serious shit.
So instead of finishing his junior year with his high school packmates back in San Antonio—Sandy and Chad, Mike and Tom, heck, he even missed Alexis— Jared was trapped here at the Academy, with a bunch of other freaks, learning to be a good little secret agent for a government bureaucracy he didn’t even know existed six months ago.
Yeah. Jared hates it.
It doesn’t help that he’s a truly terrible liar. The major focus of almost all of his new classes is espionage, and as much as Jared has always excelled at reading, writing, and arithmetic, he’s equally bad at secrecy, guile, and finesse. They want him to be tactful when he can’t help but blurt things out at inopportune moments. They want him to be stealthy when he feels about as inconspicuous as a giraffe in a herd of antelope.
He has yet to make it through a single class session on Building and Maintaining an Alias without giggling, much to the professor’s chagrin.
What’s even worse are his unexpected struggles with altering his phase. They might have labeled him a Shifter, but it turns out he pretty much sucks at shifting.
All the first-years at the school start out with intensive training in shifting between the three phases: how to change scent, to control the secretion of pheromones, to transform internal and external organs. But unlike the other students, who, once they get the hang of it, seem to change from state to state easy as changing clothes, Jared can’t figure out how to control this “power” of his. No matter how he struggles, what techniques the teachers invent, what top-secret research papers on the biology of Shifters he scours, Jared inevitably, involuntarily slides into the same phase as the nearest person to him. If he pairs with Alona when she’s practicing a shift into Alpha, he transforms into an Alpha with her. Put him next to Jake when he’s an Omega, and Jared’s suddenly all Omega.
The teachers have tried exposing him to a conflicting pair or a mixed group, but that just gives Jared a killer migraine or dry-heaves followed by a quick trip to the infirmary.
Fortunately for him, standard practice around the school is for everyone to generally remain in Beta mode. That way, no one has to worry about clamping down on involuntary biological responses as they go about their day. Like everyone else, Jared can scent the uncommon presence of Alphas and Omegas when people shift for class or for homework, or for some experimental sex after lights-out in the dorms that, when the Heat turns up too high, gets people’s noses twitching and hackles raised. But for the most part, it’s only close proximity that precipitates his own shifts.
Small comfort that is when every week that passes in which he still can’t shift on his own leaves him feeling more and more incompetent and out of place. Add to that the fact that groups or crowds have begun to stress him out— who knows if he’ll accidentally run into someone, or worse, two, in opposite phase?— and he’s well on his way to becoming a hermit.
Which leads to the worst calamity of all: the Dean of Students decides to assign him Jensen Ackles as a tutor.
Jared can’t really remember exactly when he started to notice Jensen all the time. Well, that isn’t completely true. He’s pretty sure there was a double-take involved the first time he passed Jensen on the quad. It would be more accurate to say that Jared doesn’t know when he started to lose his ability not to notice Jensen.
Jensen is in the Upper-School, essentially the Academy’s version of college. Not that this matters much, given there are only a hundred or so Shifters here, all told; it just makes him seem more intimidating to Jared on top of every other amazing thing about him. Compared with all of the other students Jared’s met, Jensen is older, hotter, smarter, kinder… everything-er. He has a reputation for being one of the most skilled upperclassmen the school has seen in years, not that Jared has any good sources for gossip. But Jared figures that Jensen needs to excel simply in order to hide in plain sight. A face like his would make it difficult to blend in with strangers, gather information, act as a mole, or any of the other insane things they’re teaching the students here to do.
So far, Jared has been able to ignore his crush on Jensen; after all, Jared didn’t run into him very often except between classes. And in the cafeteria. And after hours in the main dorm’s common room, bent over a book studying. And sure, Jensen is gorgeous— seriously gorgeous— but that doesn’t mean that Jared shouldn’t push away thoughts of him and focus on other tasks, especially given how badly he is screwing up at pretty much every single thing getting thrown at him.
Jared wonders, what even happens to Shifters who fail out of the Academy? He wouldn’t be allowed to go home. They can’t let him go out and find some pack of normals to join, not with what he is, what he knows. He tries not to dwell on it.
Jared hasn’t made that many friends among his Lower-School classmates yet. Between his shifting defect and his general dorkiness, he seems to inspire either bullying or over-protectiveness from the rest of the students, which leaves him a pretty big chunk of time to hide in his room, alternating between homesickness and loneliness. Every day that passes the simplicity and ease found in his life as a young pup seem more and more like a vague dream, this new life so intimidating. So Jared keeps to himself, head down, reining in his normal silly and demonstrative behavior, trying to not to be jealous of the burgeoning friendships and the copious amounts of sex going on around him—teens in close proximity and all the focus on anatomy and sexy spy stuff, it’s no surprise— and spending evenings beating off in the showers to thoughts of Jensen’s hands and mouth and ass like the pitiful loser he is.
However, that shower-time habit is a bit more awkward now that it’s Monday, the first day of tutoring sessions. Jared opens the door, and Jensen himself is there, waiting to step into his room.
“Hi. I’m Jensen.”
“I know,” Jared replies, standing like an idiot until his brain kicks into gear and he shuffles aside to let Jensen in.
First-years live on the top floor of the dorm, where all of the rooms are approximately the size of a refrigerator box, and, given the fact that Jared recently topped 6’3’’ and doesn’t show signs of stopping, it’s not exactly spacious.
Jensen peers around, smiling to himself. “I remember these.” He turns to Jared with his eyebrows raised, like the two of them are in on some private joke. “Pretty damn small, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jared says eloquently, but he can’t help responding with a smile in return. Even this tiny hint of human connection feels like sunshine after weeks of rain. Plus, this is the closest he’s ever been to Jensen, and his nostrils flare to draw in the unfamiliar mix of spicy masculine scents, strong russety-flavors like maple and coffee and amber. It makes him want to step closer and bury his face in the crook of Jensen’s neck and just breathe.
Jensen says, “Why don’t we sit down?” and Jared’s eyes immediately dart to the one narrow chair at his desk, and then to his bed, but Jensen is settling cross-legged on the floor, and Jared heaves a tiny sigh of mixed relief and disappointment. It’s just as well. The sight of Jensen on his bed would likely have short-circuited his brain permanently.
Jared plunks down on the floor facing Jensen, kinda close, so he scoots back to avoid bumping Jensen’s knees. It’s pretty clear he’s a moron. His bones feel brittle, made of twigs. He’s not sure what to say— Hey, thanks for trying to fix me, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work since I’m such a fuck-up— so he busies himself picking at a hangnail on his thumb.
“So,” Jensen says. “Trouble with shifting? Professor Singer says you copy the people around you, right? That’s a new one on me.”
“Me, too,” Jared replies with a snort, and Jensen laughs, this easy low chuckle where he claps his hands together and his eyes crinkle up. Suddenly the whole thing seems a lot less like a disaster waiting to happen.
But then, without warning, Jensen shifts. Jared feels it like a drop in air pressure, and sure enough he shifts as well. His body rearranges itself, a twist in his stomach, the back of his neck, spine, toes tingling cold. Then, instead of two Betas, there’s two Omegas sitting on the oval rag rug, one looking surprised, the other resigned.
“Wow. I wasn’t sure what to expect.” Jensen’s staring at him hard as if he’s trying to get a look under Jared’s skin. “That was actually… pretty cool.”
Jared shrugs. “I can’t exactly take credit for it.” Not too many students outside of Jared’s first-year shifting class have seen him change phase involuntarily, and every time Jared feels a bit like a clever pet performing a trick.
“So you weren’t even trying?”
“Okay, what if you try not to?”
“Show me.” And the way Jensen says it, like there’s no question of obedience, gives Jared a little shiver. “I’m going to shift back to Beta, and you try to stay in Omega.”
Jared nods and tenses up his shoulders, his abs, his thighs, as if he can hold back the change by sheer muscle-strength. Jared can sense the moment Jensen starts to transform again, slight variations in scent, posture, expression, all adding up to the same Jensen, but different.
Jared closes his eyes, bowing his chin to his chest, picturing himself solid, inert, immutable. He wills his body to obey. But, as always, his body pays no mind. There’s a familiar angry pulse deep in his gut, and, even as he concentrates on preventing it, it’s gone. Clear water slipping through his cupped hands.
He sighs, peeking up at Jensen through his bangs and sniffing surreptitiously to gauge his reaction. He doesn’t seem repulsed or pitying— two of the more common reactions Jared’s seen— so that’s good. By the glint in his eye, Jensen almost looks eager to take on a challenge.
Which is good, because Jared’s so very ready to hand it off.
“Well, looks like we have our work cut out for us,” Jensen says, smoothly rising to his feet and holding out a hand to help Jared up. Jared hesitates a second, but then reaches up to clasp Jensen’s hand. It’s firm and warm and fuck if Jared doesn’t feel the blood rush to his crotch just from the touch of skin on skin.
“Thanks.” He’s up and shambling backward until the backs of his knees hit the bed, thinking, don’t blush don’t blush please don’t blush. “I mean, I appreciate that you’re willing to try to help me.”
“No problem, man. It’s weird, but I can’t believe it’s permanent. All we gotta do is find a way to flip the right switch. Who knows? I bet if we work at it, we can get you straightened out by winter.”
As he follows Jensen to the door, Jared discovers that there’s this tiny part of him that hopes not, if it means he’ll keep getting Jensen alone.
Jensen informs him that Dean Gamble wants them to meet every other day, and it becomes a regular thing that Jensen stops by after his four-o’clock seminar on the Political History of Pack Territorial Law to practice with Jared until the bell rings for dinner.
Every session, Jensen first has Jared try—unsuccessfully—to shift on his own, then leads him through all the exercises they can dream up: Jensen shifts into Alpha as slowly as he can to see if Jared, once started, can speed ahead and finishing shifting first; or, Jensen will rapidly change to Omega and quick-switch back to Beta, hoping to leave Jared alone in Omega phase. He tries to get Jared to isolate specific pheromones or hold onto one trait while Jensen changes another, but to no avail. He makes Jared keep precise records of each of the methods they try, watching over his shoulder as Jared writes another line in a slim black notebook, leaning in enough to make Jared’s handwriting shakier than normal.
One Wednesday afternoon, Jensen shows up and he’s not alone. Beside him in the hallway is a slight, dark-haired girl, another first-year.
Jared didn’t realize Jensen even knew any other first-years.
“You and Genevieve are friends from classes, right?” he asks, and even though “friends” is a bit of an overstatement— Jared exchanges a quick glance with Genevieve to make sure she’s not offended at the label— he nods his head, opening the door wider for them to enter the room.
While Jensen tosses his backpack in the corner as usual, Genevieve unabashedly peers around. Jared figures she might be the only student other than Jensen who’s been in his room, no wonder she’s curious. He wishes he knew her better, decides that, since Jensen’s essentially vouched for her, maybe he could sit next to her in Chemistry tomorrow, rather than by himself in the back row.
Jensen says, “I know you told me that earlier in the term you experimented with what happens around people in two different phases.” It’s that wheedling tone he uses when he wants to get Jared to try something Jared knows won’t work. “I just thought, after all the work we’ve been doing, it might go better now.”
Jared’s face scrunches up skeptically. He doesn’t see how there’s any evidence at all to suggest things will go any differently. But, he’s not about to wimp out on Jensen, or Genevieve for that matter, just to avoid a headache. “Okay. Let’s give it a try.”
He holds the desk chair out for Genevieve to sit, then kneels on the floor next to Jensen to create a triangle. Genevieve leans forward so that her elbows rest on her knees, and like that, despite the chair, she’s barely taller than Jensen and him. “What do you want me to do?”
“Jared’s best at shifting into Alpha,” Jensen takes the lead, “so why don’t you shift to Omega—definitely not in Heat, okay?—and at the same time I’ll go into Alpha. Jared,” Jensen pins him with a look, demanding all of his attention, “try to ignore her and follow me. Alright?”
He and Genevieve both nod. Jensen rests his hand on Jared’s shoulder; they’ve discovered that contact sometimes helps him shift more quickly. Jared leans into it ever so slightly and takes a deep breath. It’s going to work this time.
“Ready,” Jensen says. “Go.”
Jared does his best to block out Genevieve, barely notices the scent of her growing softer, more vulnerable, because at the same time Jensen seems to burst into Alpha. For a moment, Jared doesn’t move, doesn’t shift, nothing, but before the small seed of hope can even take root, a bomb goes off along his nerve endings, and he buckles forward, curling in on himself, red wash of misery flooding his head and chest.
He can barely hear Jensen instructing Genevieve to do… something, can’t tell if he’s supposed to do something, too. Wouldn’t be able to anyway, he’s too preoccupied with pressing his forehead down onto his fists where they clench, dig desperately into his thighs. He bites the inside of his cheek, plunges his hand into his hair and yanks as hard as he can. Any pain to counteract the one inside his head.
The overhead light goes out and suddenly Jensen’s crouching down on the floor beside Jared in the dimness, gently lifting him to his feet, encouraging him toward the bed. It would be Jared’s favorite fantasy made real if it weren’t for the fact that his brain is currently trying to leak out of his ear. Jensen’s making this ludicrous shush-ing sound, so Jared forces himself to stop the low moans that keep rolling out of him. He doesn’t want Jensen to feel bad about the attempt and its aftermath. Instead he buries his face in the pillow and tries to focus on breathing instead of panting.
After a minute or so, he feels the bed dip, and Jensen’s sitting beside him.
“Do you want me to get the nurse, pup?” Jensen whispers. Jared gives his head the tiniest of shakes.
A minute more, and then a hand rests on the back of Jared’s neck. Gentle fingers comb through the over-long strands of Jared’s hair, tucking loose ends behind his ears, massaging his scalp, small circles alternating with long, slow strokes.
Gradually, the gong sounding in Jared’s head settles down to a dull thump. Jensen keeps petting him until he falls asleep.
Even after the disastrous experiment with Genevieve, even though Jared still shows no signs of improving his voluntary control, Jensen refuses to give up. In fact, Jensen starts to stick around once their sessions are over, walking with Jared down to the cafeteria and even sitting with him to eat once in awhile, despite the fact that Jensen’s friends from the Upper School tease him about sitting at the kiddie table as they stroll past. Jensen usually just throws a handy breadstick or grape at them. It doesn’t take long for some of the first-years to start to gravitate to their table, wondering what it is about Jared that can lure an older student into their territory. For the first time since arriving, he feels like he’s part of a pack again.
The leaves are mostly off the trees, crunchy underfoot, and although the sun squats at a deep angle in the sky, it’s still warm enough that Jared can sit out on the quad catching up on his class reading. Jensen parks himself on the stiff grass next to him, as he always does when he catches Jared here. Times like this, Jensen will reminisce with him about Texas or share rumors about the professors or tell Jared stories about the few preliminary field missions he’s been allowed out on, carefully avoiding the topic of Jared’s shifting. Jared will sometimes close his book or his notes and lay back, one arm thrown across his eyes, letting Jensen’s voice wash over him. Jared wants to shut out the rest of the world or make time stop or something, just so he can hold onto the moment with Jensen. That feeling, it comes over him more and more often and…it scares the shit out of him.
Today he slants a glance sideways when Jensen sits down, taking in the way his dark, calf-length pea coat makes him look so adult, especially compared to Jared and his puffy zip-up jacket that’s not quite long enough at the wrists. Jensen’s wearing a fringed scarf, for fuck’s sake, intricately draped around his neck, and yet he manages to make it look classy rather than affected. Jared wonders what other things Jensen could do with that scarf, if he’s so clever with knots, and feels himself start to blush.
Trying to keep his thoughts from straying into dangerous territory, Jared blurts out, “Do they ever make us do things we think are wrong? You know, on assignment?”
Jensen turns to him, one eyebrow raised in a where did this come from kind of way, but then replies, “No. Not really. Students like us are briefed on missions by professors, but later on, when we’re agents, we’ll report to people higher up in the Hierarchy. They give you as many facts as they can, but they never force you to take the assignment. At least I’ve never heard of such a thing.” He shrugs. “Coercion doesn’t seem like a very effective approach if you actually want a job done.”
Jared looks off toward the administrative buildings huddled at the far end of the campus. There’s quiet. After awhile he says, not turning his head, “What if I’m never—if I never figure this out? What if they can’t use me?”
Jensen doesn’t leap in with his typical glib reassurances, and Jared doesn’t know if it makes him feel better or worse: that Jensen’s taking him seriously or that there’s no comfort to be had. He can feel the heat of Jensen’s gaze on his cheek. The eventual answer is something that Jared rarely hears from Jensen. “I don’t know, man.”
They stay sitting on the lawn, just a few feet separating them, until the sun goes behind a bank of clouds, and they have to retreat inside.
It’s well into the new year when Jensen mentions to Jared how some of his friends from the Upper-School get together to hang out Friday nights in the copse of pines on the hill overlooking the south side of the campus. Jared nods, always interested in gleaning every tidbit he can about Jensen’s life.
Jensen pauses, then says, “So?” and it dawns on Jared that today is Friday and Jensen’s inviting him to go along later.
“Yeah. I’m there!” He can tell he’s got the stupidest grin on his face, and he doesn’t even care. Jensen wants to take Jared to a party.
“I can see your tail wagging, mutt,” Jensen teases.
“Shut up,” Jared throws back. “Like you were ever invited to Upper-School parties at my age.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been in demand since the day I set foot here. They wouldn’t even consider throwing a party at this school without me.” And although Jensen obviously thinks he’s being facetious, Jared’s confident that this is way closer to the truth than not.
At ten that night he pushes open the front door of the dorm to find Jensen waiting for him on the steps. “Ready?” Jensen asks, hopping to his feet and brushing the dust from the seat of his pants. Yeah, that’s not distracting.
Jared clears his throat. “Definitely.” He’s bouncing on his toes, and when Jensen laughs and throws an arm over his shoulder as they start off, Jared thinks he might have to start running in circles just to burn off the excess adrenaline.
Most of his excitement dims when they reach the top of the hill. He stops at the edge of a clearing that’s humming with sound, only fifteen, twenty people total. It’s hard to tell, but it feels to Jared like three times that. All older kids, all made alien by the orange shadows thrown by the small bonfire crackling in the center of a ring of light-colored stones. The smoke masks everyone’s scents in a way that prickles the hair on the back of Jared’s neck; he’d forgotten how badly he’s lost his feel for crowds.
Jensen claps him on the shoulder and prods him forward, “Come on. I want to introduce you to my buddy, Danneel.”
But Jared pulls away gently, “I’ll be there in a minute.” Jensen tilts his head with a concerned look, but Jared waves him off, taking a seat in obscurity on top of a smooth-worn picnic table that provides an arm’s-length view.
It’s not that Jared doesn’t recognize most of the other kids: Julie and Lauren. Aldis from the gym. A.J. and Travis. Cindy, who does yoga on the quad. That weird dude, Misha, who’s a TA for Professor Fuller. Clusters of three and four, people he knows by sight if not by name. And then there’s Matt, Sebastian, and Richard.
Despite his semi-seclusion, they spot him and, together, saunter over.
“So, it’s Padalecki, isn’t it?” Matt hops up onto the picnic table next to Jared, Richard and Sebastian straddling the benches down at the other end. He slaps Jared jovially on the back and shoves a bottle into his hand. Jared’s not wild about the taste of beer, but he takes a swig anyway. “You’re quite the talk of the school.”
Jared doesn’t know what to say to that. He wishes he could see better in the flickering light.
Richard scoots a little closer and chimes in, “I’ve heard you’re a mimic.”
“I’ve heard you’ve got a malfunction,” Sebastian says.
He doesn’t like where this is going, but he’s unsure what to do. He’s certainly knows the reputation of these three: tough guys not quite at the top of the school pecking order, but acting like they own the place. They like to hassle lowerclassmen, and although Jared’s managed to avoid them so far, it looks like bad luck has caught up with him again.
He doesn’t want a fight with Jensen’s friends, but they’re giving off some really nasty vibes. It sucks because three-against-one is pretty crap odds. Richard might be a little guy, but Sebastian and Matt both outweigh Jared who, for all his height, still looks like a scarecrow-in-a-shirt despite regular morning weights and cardio before class.
So Jared temporizes. “I guess you’ve heard right.” He takes another sip from the bottle, trying not to make a face.
“Maybe we can help you out with that?” Matt lilts, leaning closer still. “Seeing as how our bright boy Jensen— “ he laces the name with arsenic, “— hasn’t been able to do you any good.”
Jared opens his mouth with some version of screw you ready to pop out when he feels Matt start to shift into Alpha phase, right there in front of him. The tang of his scent is harsher, heavier than his classmates’ or Jensen’s. Not pack. Jared rears back, but Sebastian is suddenly behind him, Richard circling around to box him in. And in the blink of an eye, they’re all fully Alpha, forcing Jared to begin to turn, too.
“What the fuck?” Jared says, eyes darting over Richard’s shoulder in search of support, but Jensen’s talking to a red-headed girl on the other side of the fire and the picnic table is downwind, shadowed under the low limbs of a tree. But then he reaches full-Alpha phase himself, and any thought he had of conciliation or backing down is washed away in a powerful surge of hormones.
“Don’t mess with me, Matt.” Jared growls, standing up, jaw clenched against the urge to bear his teeth.
“Come on, Jared.” Matt’s Alpha instincts transform his initial wheedling tone into a challenge for dominance, “You’re just not trying hard enough.”
He jerks his chin at Sebastian, who smirks and flows into Omega between one breath and the next. Jared flinches and gasps as a spasm of pain shoots through him, wrenched in two directions and then three as the older guys crowd closer. They’re all so strong.
He can feel his stomach torque, forcing bile up into the back of his throat. A sharp chisel drives into the base of his skull and he cries out from between gritted teeth, hoping and fearing the other upperclassmen won’t hear him. It’s his worst fear: such public exposure of his abnormality. As the pain ramps up and up, devastating, Jared almost hopes that it’s enough to kill him this time. Useless, defective, unfit for society or school or even as a science experiment. Better to be culled from the Pack.
He starts to shiver uncontrollably. Every sense gets abruptly sharper: the sting of each pressure point where Matt grips his arm in belated alarm, the acrid smoke coating his nose and throat, the moon so bright he has to squeeze his eyes shut.
Abruptly, something inside him breaks, a ruptured dam exploding outward. Ice slides along the branching tributaries of his nerves, cold beyond anything he imagined feeling. Jensen’s voice calls to him. But then there’s merciful silence.
Jared doesn’t know how he got back to his dorm room, but that’s where he discovers himself when he’s jolted awake by determined knocking on the door. He ignores it, curling up to listen to his heart beat thick and heavy in his chest, until the school nurse calls out that she’s come to check on him.
Barefoot, but still in his tee and jeans from the night before, he lurches to the door and opens up, allows her in to take his temperature and blood pressure, even while assuring her that he’s fine in some terms that must’ve satisfied.
He crawls back under the covers and sleeps for five more hours.
Eventually, he drags himself out of bed to study, even though his arms and legs feel like they are made out of putty. He fishes a protein bar out of the drawer and eats it in two bites while staring blankly at his desk’s oak surface. It’s pocked with a patina of tiny scratches, the countless random impacts of books and pencils and sharp-edged paraphernalia of the students assigned this room before him. Jared wonders where all of them are now, whether any of them felt as worthless as he does right now.
He boots up his desktop and heroically avoids looking at the six new emails from Jensen sitting in his inbox.
Chemistry problem sets, then econ, then readings on encryption and surveillance techniques. Jared knocks them out one by one, trying to lose himself in the dispassionate rigor of those subjects. All the while the specter of his daily shifting exercises looms over the process. The only thing it’s going to do is remind him of his humiliation last night, how asinine he must’ve looked getting toted down the hill, out cold, like a sleeping toddler being carried to bed. At least it’s the weekend, not a day Jensen is scheduled to come.
When there’s no homework left to do but Shifting, he considers skipping it and heading down to eat. But facing the other students in the cafeteria actually sounds less appealing than practice, useless or not, so he slips from the desk chair down to the floor to settle in the same cross-legged position he and Jensen always use. Perfunctorily, he closes his eyes, dismisses the phantom pain that lingers from the night before, and imagines undergoing the change that Matt dragged him through, the subtle adjustments in physical characteristics, brain chemistry, odor that shift him from Beta to Alpha.
All at once, he surges to his feet, staring down at his body in disbelief, because, holy shit, he’s there. He spins around like a top, searching his shoebox room as if some random Alpha will be standing there behind him, unnoticed. But no. He’s all alone. And he’s truly shifted.
He closes his eyes, wills himself back to Beta phase. Then Omega. Then Alpha again. Each time the chill churns in his guts and by the end he’s gasping, woozy from the abrupt series of shifts and euphoric at the very notion that this is finally, finally within his grasp. Collapsing down on the bed, he laughs out loud.
Immediately he springs up again, flinging himself out the door and down four flights of stairs.
He’s got to find Jensen.
He doesn’t search long before he’s rewarded with the sight of Jensen standing out of the flow of dinner traffic near the first-floor lecture hall, talking to a girl Jared doesn’t know. It looks like Jensen must have just come in from a run; he’s dressed in sweats, his skin glistening and cheeks pink-flagged. Jared stops dead in the middle of the hall and stares. Jensen is rubbing diffidently at the back of his neck, smiling at something the girl said. But when she places her hand casually on Jensen’s bicep, something in Jared rears up like a cobra. A feeling of incredible rage like he’s never known seizes him, chokes him, no you shouldn’t smile like that at anyone else and no Danneel, or whoever you are, you don’t get to stand so close to him.
A low growl escapes his lips before he can stop it and Jensen must hear, because he glances up at Jared in surprise. "Hey. Hey! Are you all right? Why haven’t you—" Jensen breaks off, his brow furrowing as he scents the air. “Jared?” He goes to step forward, but the girl’s still holding onto him and Jensen hesitates.
The urge to launch forward and rip Jensen away from her hits Jared low and hard, and he stands there silent, shuddering, trying to resist, to think beyond the red haze that’s filling up his vision. Something’s wrong with him, he’s losing his goddamn mind. Because all he wants is to shove Jensen down onto the nearest flat surface, drag those loose sweats off his hips, and fuck him in front of the entire student body. And just where in fucking hell is that coming from? The room spins slightly as Jared whirls around, looking to escape before he loses control of himself. People already think he's a freak, a deviant; he doesn't need to prove it.
So Jared runs, dodging between bodies, ignoring angry exclamations from the other students. He flings himself around the corner and into the empty stairwell. The impact with the far wall drives dull rods of pain into his arms as he stops his headlong rush, pressing his cheek to the rough brick, struggling for breath. His cock is swollen and heavy between his legs, thickening with each pump of blood through his veins.
He smells Jensen’s hurried approach before he sees him.
“Jared.” That voice. It rumbles through him like he’s a hollow drum. He can picture Jensen standing there behind him, hands up unthreateningly, as if he’s soothing some wild animal, a dog gone rabid.
“Go away,” he spits.
“No, you’re in Heat. You’re an Alpha and you’re in Heat and I don’t know what’s happening, but you need to let me help you.”
As soon as Jensen says it, Jared recognizes the frantic turmoil of Heat from that first transformation back at home. Recognizes what some of his classmates struggled with in those first early days before learning control. Remembers. In his room. He’d shifted, and didn’t shift back to Beta. Never before had he needed to pay attention to what phase he was in; it’s always been automatic.
But knowing doesn’t help. Jared is like a coiled spring, squeezed down tight upon itself and waiting for the instant the pressure lets up. He wants Jensen, needs him, but not like this, with this burning, uncontainable ferocity that threatens to overwhelm the last sane thought remaining in his head. “I said, go away. Don’t look at me. I can’t— Jensen—“
That last comes out as a whisper, because Jensen steps closer, and Jared swears he can hear Jensen’s heartbeat pounding loud inside his chest, feel the luster of his body heat, but most of all he can smell Jensen’s spicy scent. Intermingled with it is a strange scent: that girl’s.
With a roar of dominance, Jared turns and surges forward with a certainty he’s never felt before in his life. He yanks and twists so Jensen’s back hits the wall, and the force is enough to make Jensen gasp, the sound ringing through Jared’s head like shattered glass.
"Dude!" Jensen’s hand shoving back against his chest burns him. "Jared, what are you—"
Jared doesn’t think, doesn’t stop, just licks at Jensen’s mouth, enjoying the hiss of reaction before he scrapes his teeth against the his jaw, clutching the short strands of Jensen’s hair and forcing him to show his neck as he nips the sensitive skin hard enough to leave marks. He’s so hot, so hungry, so he swipes his tongue back up the strong column of Jensen’s neck, tasting salt and musk, his chin rubbing across the collar bone, lapping against the beating pulse point at the jugular. This is mine, he thinks blurrily, or maybe he says it out loud.
Jensen stops pushing on his chest and reaches up for Jared’s face, but instead of thrusting him away, he hauls Jared into a kiss. It's open-mouthed and desperate, sloppy, all teeth and slick tongue, and Jared is pretty sure he is doing it wrong, except for how Jensen’s making these tiny whines in the back of his throat that sound a lot like pleasure, not disappointment.
Jared bites down on his bottom lip hard enough to send a jolt through Jensen that Jared can feel. Jared’s more afire than ever, but the violence of bite, and Jensen’s pain, brings him back to himself for a moment. He licks his lips to chase the flavor of Jensen’s mouth, even as he stumbles away, which may just be the hardest thing he’s ever done.
He starts babbling, “I’m sorry. So sorry. God, you must think I’m insane. I’m just going to go back to my room and I’ll—I’ll let this wear off. And we can just pretend—“
Jensen barks out a laugh, his eyes sparkling and fond, and grabs Jared’s wrist, forestalling further retreat. “You’re a moron, you know that?” Jensen says, and steps agonizingly closer. “Don’t you know that I’ve wanted this since the first day you arrived on campus? I even volunteered myself to be assigned as your tutor so I could spend time with you, get to know you. And then I did, and now you’re all I think about.” He shifts his grip to Jared’s elbows and hauls him closer so that they’re chest to chest. “Goddamnit, I tried so hard to just be your friend, shield you, not complicate things, but you’re nothing if not …” Jensen’s reaches up and cups Jared’s cheek “…complicated.”
“Jensen,” Jared says, trying to wrap his mind around it, shock and hunger and heat all warring within him.
“Now, are you going to let me help you with this?” And on the last word, he tilts his hips up so that the searing, undeniable bulge in Jared’s jeans presses into Jensen’s belly.
Jared thinks that if he opens his mouth to speak, he might scream or burst into tears or tear Jensen’s clothes off with his fucking teeth. So he simply gives a sharp nod.
Jensen lets out a relieved huff of breath, as if he’d been doubting Jared’s answer. "My room," he chokes. "I think my room would be a good idea right now."
Jared just turns and pulls Jensen up the stairs to the second floor. He doesn’t even remember how they get to Jensen’s dorm room, only knows he does it without ever letting go of Jensen’s wrist. Jared’s only been inside once or twice, but he barely gives it a glance before yanking Jensen’s arm, sending him sprawling onto his bed. At least it’s a double, pillows and blankets neatly arranged, not the narrow twin Jared has up in his room.
Jensen laughs as he bounces on the mattress. “I think I like this side of you!” Then he leans back on his elbows, slow like he’s putting himself on display, and murmurs soft and dirty like Jared only imagined he could sound, “So, how do you want me? Beta or Omega?”
There’s no question. “Omega,” Jared demands. Jared knows that Alphas and Betas have casual sex all the time, but that’s not what he’s craving. He realizes he doesn’t just want to fuck Jensen, he wants shove his knot inside him, to tie them together, to breed him.
“Yeah,” Jensen breathes, and in the moment it takes him to slip his shirt over his head, he shifts. Jensen’s bowed legs become more pronounced, his eyes bigger, more liquid. The flesh on his nape and shoulders is so smooth and creamy it almost glows, and his lips are swollen as if Jared had been sucking on them for hours. The tiny bites Jared inflicted in the stairwell parade in a vivid red line down Jensen’s neck.
And, good god, he reeks. Jared practically swims in the rich scents of stale sweat lingering from Jensen’s run, and of Jensen’s lust, of Jensen’s eagerness. Jared doesn’t hesitate, tears off his own shirt, fumbling with the button on his jeans until he can rip them open, thrust them down. He kicks them away, his dick slapping wet and stiff against his belly as he advances toward the bed.
Jensen moans, then swears under his breath and begs, “Please, Jared, just… come here, let me—“ He sits up, swinging his legs open so that he can pull Jared in close, warm hands gripping the bare skin on Jared’s sides to hold him standing still, his mouth level with Jared’s crotch and he licks at the trace of moisture coating the tip of Jared’s cock before drawing the head into his mouth.
Jared cries out, can feel his ribs spread beneath Jensen’s palms when he arches back reflexively, sliding deeper in. It’s like nothing he’s ever felt before, this tight, wet heat encompassing him. He shudders, legs nearly buckling, hands scrabbling for purchase and burying themselves in Jensen’s short hair as he bobs up and down on Jared’s cock. Jensen hums approvingly when Jared’s fingers grip his scalp and Jared whines at the vibrations it sends through him, finally peeling his eyes open when Jensen pushes his hands off and falls back onto the bed sheets, panting.
He licks his glistening lips obscenely. “Ready when you are, Alpha,” Jensen says, trying to make it sound light-hearted, but it rings in Jared’s ears like a challenge.
He plants himself at the end of the bed, leaning forward to hook his fingers into the waistband of Jensen’s soft sweats, wrenching them down his legs, and tossing them in the direction of the floor. And oh fuck, they're both naked. He’s nearly in a frenzy now, this devastating, consuming need to possess Jensen completely that makes him nuzzle hungrily at the pale, toned stomach bared to him, working his way up Jensen’s body to nip repeatedly at one taut nipple, to nose deep into the soft hair of Jensen’s armpit, to worry the thin skin behind his ear.
He’s so engrossed in exploring Jensen’s body, he hardly notices the desperate noises, cries and pleas Jensen makes in response until he’s heaving Jared off and rolling over onto his belly, rucking his knees up under him so that his ass thrusts high off the bed.
“Now. Please. Jared.” Each word is a harsh gasp and it fans Jared’s flame even higher to see Jensen so needy, so ungoverned. Jared knows all Shifters (well, all functioning ones) learn to control their reactions to Heat—it’s one of the extraordinary abilities that make them so valuable as agents—and yet here, now Jensen has thrown off his defenses, sinking himself as deep into sensation as Jared.
At any other time, the thought of sex with Jensen would have Jared hesitating, second-guessing, embarrassed in the face of utter inexperience. But not now, not with the Alpha Heat riding him, spurring him on, the blood pulsing swift beneath the thin barrier of his skin. Jared doesn’t even wonder or doubt what to do, instinctively slides between Jensen’s thighs, kneeing them apart to open him up wider.
He grips the cheeks of Jensen's ass, kneads with his palms and spreads with his fingers, revealing the tight furl of Jensen’s entrance already wet with an Omega’s natural lubrication, skin all around it glossy with sloppy-slick. The tide of urgent ache in his gut surges higher at the sight, and he slides the thumb of his left hand across it, playing around the rim, then tugging it open to push two fingers easily inside, curling them, he adds a third, small strokes in and out.
Jensen keens so loud they can probably hear him on the quad, hips twitching and rolling, trying to heave backward, shove Jared’s fingers deeper. “In me. Need you in me, Jared, fuck. Hurry.”
Jared looks down, for the first time discovers the large knot at the base of his dick just starting to swell. He can’t wait anymore, not for what he wants— what they both want— him buried inside Jensen, tying them together. His fingers slip from Jensen’s body as Jared scoots closer, fitting his thighs up against the back of Jensen’s, aligning his cock so that it presses against Jensen’s opening, and plunges in.
Jensen gives easily around the head of Jared's cock, he's so fucking wet inside. Jared groans and thrusts in a little farther, and then again, and again, watching Jensen's whole body writhe, feeling the heated clench of Jensen’s channel along his entire length. But he needs to get still closer, plant himself deep, deep inside. He leans down to lick at the fresh sweat that’s broken out between Jensen’s shoulder blades, and then stretches farther to sink his teeth into the tender nape of Jensen’ neck. Jensen hisses, arches, dropping his head in submission as Jared bears him down into the mattress, pinning him. Jared’s knot is a swollen, solid pressure, rolling and expanding inside Jensen’s slick hole, plugging him up.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” Jensen’s tossing his head now, grinding almost painfully back into Jared’s hips. Jared growls against his skin through clenched teeth; his thrusts grow quicker, ragged and shallow now as he ties them together, his entire core glowing with the heat of the stream of precome he can feel flowing into Jensen.
At some point he’d trapped Jensen’s hands under his own, forced them down into the bed with their fingers hard entwined, but now he releases one hand, reaches underneath their joined bodies to grope for Jensen’s cock, taking the rigid length in hand, dying to feel Jensen’s release.
He strokes, Jensen jerks, his jaw tightens its hold on Jensen’s neck. Tomorrow welts will rise just below Jensen's hairline, a brand of Jared’s for the world to see.
So hot— so fucking hot— Jared thinks his brain is melting. His cock locked inside Jensen, his hand moving faster, twisting over the wet head of Jensen’s dick. He can't think anymore, and he's barely aware of Jensen moaning, "oh, oh," and spurting thick and messy all over Jared’s palm and contracting around him and, that… it's… more than he can take. Jared comes, erupting, shooting so much, so hard, his body temperature soaring up, that he thinks he might be cooked alive.
Shocks of pleasure roll through him: spine, shoulders, fingers, toes. Time stands still and he comes and keeps coming, like a river rushing off the edge of the map. Then Jensen’s face swivels around, searching, and Jared wrenches his mouth from the grooves he’s sunk into Jensen’s nape to capture his mouth, licking and sucking and tasting the distilled residue of Heat like syrup and cinnamon.
They keep kissing until the tremors stop, and Jared finally pulls away a little, taking a few gulps of air, breath hitched and shaky. Inside Jensen, he’s still pulsing in gentle spurts that feel like the marrow is flowing out of his bones.
“We’re gonna be here awhile,” Jensen says at last, drained and raw.
“Yeah, I—I guess I knew that. Sorry?” His head clears a bit, and Jared tentatively touches his tongue to the angry bite mark on the back of Jensen’s nape, a tiny soothing lick.
“Naw.” Jensen wriggles his hips slightly back into Jared’s, testing where they’re tied together, still panting shallowly himself. He reaches around and grabs Jared’s wrist, tugging his hand in a slow drag up the taut, damp skin of Jensen’s belly, chest, all the way to his mouth. He sucks at Jared’s fingers, licks at the pads, the meaty heel of his hand. “You know, you can make me come again while we wait. Maybe twice more—” there was a smirk in Jensen’s voice as it dipped low and filthy, “—if you’re good.”
It makes Jared moan with pleasure, his cock twitching with another spurt of come inside of Jensen, still filling him with so much that without Jared’s knot holding it in there would be hot trails of it making their way down between their pressed-together thighs, puddling underneath them on the bed. “Show me how.”
He wakes up Beta again, a grayish hint of morning light sneaking through Jensen’s half-closed blinds. He opens his eyes to the sight of Jensen, also Beta, still stretched out beside him on the bed, propped up on one elbow, gazing down at him. That might sound creepy, but there’s something so tender about the look in Jensen’s eyes that it has Jared wriggling down into the covers in a surge of unexpected joy.
“Can you still shift?” Jensen asks abruptly.
Jared pauses, then reaches down into himself and changes phase, Alpha to Omega, then back to Beta with a bright grin. It doesn’t even make him dizzy or strange this time, easy as pie.
But Jensen doesn’t smile back, just runs his hand through his sleep-messy hair, looking at a spot over Jared’s shoulder. “So,” he says, finally, “I guess you’re not going to need a tutor anymore?”
Jared’s heart clenches. “What? No! I’m almost a whole year behind on this shifting thing. I need someone to help me catch up.”
“Oh,” Jensen replies. But that’s all.
“Unless—“ Jared’s so stupid. Jensen must be regretting this… this thing between them already. He’s probably looking for a way to let Jared down easily. “Unless, you don’t have time, or…” Jared trails off, not even sure where he was going with that, trying to scoot over closer to the bed’s edge so that there’s no danger of him touching Jensen. So stupid.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” And Jared catches the inside of his cheek between his teeth, bracing himself, because here it comes. “I took advantage of you last night. I have no excuse, and I’m sick over it.” Jensen squares his shoulders and looks straight at Jared, miserable, strain evident in the corners of his eyes. “You needed help—and I— I— “ Jared’s pretty sure he’s never seen Jensen at a loss for words and it nearly breaks his heart. Especially because his guilt is so misplaced.
“Jensen. Stop.” Jared leans up, puts a hand over his mouth, then moves it so he can kiss him, gently this time, so different from last night, and Jensen lets him. They aren’t even really kissing, just touching their mouths together. Jensen has soft lips, they’re perfect, really, but Jared masters the desire to go on kissing them forever. He says, “You don’t have anything to apologize for. Heat or no Heat, all I want, all I’ve wanted since we met, is to be with you.” He’s reminded of what Jensen said in the stairwell and smirks. “Who’s the moron now?”
Jensen leans back. “Oh, pup,” he says ruefully, and by the way the nickname rolls off his tongue, Jared can tell he’s on the verge of giving in.
“Besides,” Jared says, looking up at Jensen through his bangs and slyly slipping into Omega phase, “Do you really want someone else helping me practice my shifting exercises?”
He laughs as the world tips and rolls and there’s an Alpha on top of him, knees boxing his hips, hands on his shoulders. “No one else but me,” Jensen snarls, but he’s laughing too, grip moving to Jared’s hair so he can angle his mouth for another kiss. They are both gross, tacky with dried come and sleep, the sheets a disaster, but Jared doesn’t care. He’s ready to go again, beginning to feel the differences of Heat as an Omega, melting boneless under Jensen into the bed.
“I have so much to teach you,” Jensen says.
“Everything. Give me everything you’ve got.”
Maybe the Academy isn’t so bad after all.