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When You Find Me [You'll Search No More]

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Jared paces his chambers, one hand on his hip while the other alternates between passing through his hair or dragging down his face. He huffs, frustrated, and sighs, long and weary, as his eyes land on the stolen gemstone where it currently rests on his pillow. The warm light from his roaring hearth catches in it, enhancing the jewel’s natural sparkle. It’s a deep, midnight blue and it seems almost as though it holds the very stars inside it, trapped within a smooth, polished prism prison.

It’s not difficult to see why the gem would’ve caught Chad’s eye, though Jared really thought the man knew better. For all the trouble he gets into, he is smart, sharp and perceptive, so despite the stone’s undeniable lure Jared had been surprised to hear the man confess to having taken it. It really is quite possibly the most beautiful jewel that Jared has ever seen, which is saying something. As prince of Austerra, his life has never been lacking in decoration. His own crown is adorned with sapphires – the stone of his household – but even they seem to pale in comparison to the gem before him. He can’t begin to guess at its value, which only lends itself to the worsening of his near-frantic energy.

Chad Lindberg was a traveller and well-known in Jared’s kingdom; his particular set of skills made him equal parts useful and a nuisance, since without a proper task he was inclined to boredom and eventually mischief. Jared had been doubly irritated at the interruption when the guards had burst into the court demanding his immediate audience only to discover it was Chad whom they were holding. He’d been removed from a local tavern where he’d been found highly intoxicated, causing a ruckus, and openly bragging about the stolen item like it had been some daring act of heroism as opposed to grand larceny – but as soon as Jared saw the jewel and Chad confirmed whence it came, he’d understood: Chad’s castigation was not within his authority to mete out.

Letting Chad go free had not been a difficult decision. It was not for Jared to interfere and attempt to have a hand in Chad’s fate; the sorceress to whom the stone rightfully belonged would be swift in her justice. One does not steal from witches if one has any sense of self-preservation whatsoever. Chad would know this as well as anyone, and so he had taken his life into his own hands when he made that poor choice. It was with that knowledge that Jared had quickly relieved the thief of his misappropriated prize and turned him loose for whatever punishment might await him.

Jared wishes he could say it was an act of mercy on his part, but given the tales of the woman who has long dwelled in the deepest part of the forest behind the castle, Jared can’t be sure. He only knows that now it is out of his hands.

What is still in his hands, however, is the stolen jewel. Jared has every intention to return it to the witch himself, and he wants to do it at once. He’s a smart man and knows well enough to fear the wrath of those so schooled and powerful in the mystic arts as the stone’s owner is. While he didn’t steal the stone himself, for now it remains in his possession and that makes him more uneasy with every passing moment. After releasing Chad to whatever fate awaits him, Jared had turned to his counsel, proposing the immediate restoration of the stone to its rightful place. He had pled his case to his advisors, but they had been adamant: night would be falling soon and the forest was dangerous enough without the cover of darkness. They’d insisted that he wait until morning despite Jared’s arguments to the contrary.

Even Genevieve, his childhood best friend and the youngest – newest – member of his counsel, had sided with James, Jeffrey, and Samantha that a nighttime journey would be unsafe and he should wait until sunrise to set out with an escort. Jared had gaped at her with unmasked shock. They had grown up running wild in those woods, back when it had been Jared’s brother in line for the throne and Jared’s life had been so much simpler – an afterthought, really, with so much of his parents’ and the court’s focus on preparing his brother. Gen knew better than anyone that Jared felt almost more at home under the cover of those trees, but it seemed his usual partner in crime had become compromised. She had regarded him seriously, somehow always managing to look threatening despite her diminutive form, and as his elder three advisors had looked on, proud and smug, Jared had known he was outnumbered.

The guards’ interruption would have been cause enough for Jared to excuse himself and retire early, sufficient reason to dismiss his counsel as soon as the commotion had settled and Chad had been decidedly tossed out, yet he’d stayed to make his case, to arrange the return of the stone. His advisors’ persistent urging to wait, however, had been the final straw. It was only when Jared had the stone in his palm and was turned on his heel to leave that Gen looked at him like she used to – like his best friend and not someone trying to keep him in line – but Jared had waved her off and made for his chambers alone.

For a short while he had simply sat and examined the jewel. It felt cool and comfortably heavy in his hand. The light that appeared to be set inside it was a little enchanting; he found he could get a little lost in it, gazing at its beauty, but the growing sense of unrest that came with it had soon made him put it down and take up the pacing. His mind was running wild with all the possibilities, all the ways he or his kingdom might suffer should the sorceress come seeking the stone and, upon finding it in his possession, misunderstand before he had a chance to explain.

He’d heard more than once as a child that she could turn folks into animals – trap them in bodies of frogs, slugs, or something else equally undignified to shame them for however they wronged her. Other tales told that she could even play with time, steal memories, or reweave the very tapestry of people’s lives. None of this he knows for certain, of course, having safely avoided her attention up until this point with a much stronger sense of self-preservation than could be said for Chad. The sorceress is not someone to be trifled with, and Jared does not want to end up on her bad side.

He pauses in his pacing, once more staring down the offending jewel. He can’t do this. He can’t sit here with it and do nothing, risking everything.

Resolved, he makes himself ready. He changes out of his more elegant court attire to something better suited for the hike, plain clothes and his sturdy leather boots. He dons his leather riding jacket, hurriedly fixes the clasps across his chest, and cinches his belt around his waist. He secures his dagger in the sheath at his hip and wears a small satchel to carry the jewel. He wraps it in a rich cloth before tucking it away and settling the bag against his opposite hip.

For the briefest moment he considers not writing a note. When his brother was crowned prince, Jared had always been a little reckless, but that had been his privilege as second born. With his brother gone, Jared has been abruptly thrown into his place, forcing him to smarten up and get serious fast. If someone should find his chambers empty with no explanation, the panic would be inevitable and the consequences unpleasant. So, sighing, Jared grabs some parchment from his desk and pens a note, just in case. Then, with the sun starting to set, Jared escapes through his window to scale the familiar castle wall like he’s done countless times before in his youth.

 

Jensen never enjoys the days he has to go into Capital City for the market. He’s intentionally as self-sufficient as he can manage so that he doesn’t have to rely on others for anything, but there are just some things the forest can’t quite provide him. Once every few months he takes his pack with him and makes the journey out of the woods to Tristan Square, where the market sets up in front of the castle. As his various supplies run low he dreads having to replace them, and brushing elbows with so many people after weeks of solitude means that by the time Jensen’s bag is bursting at the seams and he’s ready to return home, he’s also tense, uncomfortable, and yearning for silence.

His full pack is heavy and makes his back sweat in the late afternoon heat. The air between the trees is dense and thick but it’s open and so refreshing after that of the smelly, noisy crowds. Jensen breathes so much easier for the space and the familiar scents and sounds of the forest he calls his home. Jensen’s been alone for as long as he can remember but the woods have always been enough. Even as an orphaned child, people made him wary while the forest – for all its many dangers – seemed so much safer. He feels like the trees had a hand in raising him, and in the shadow of their leafy canopies he’s always found refuge. Which isn’t to say there aren’t perils in the woods, especially after nightfall, but Jensen is not afraid. He hears the townsfolk talk of the forest, that it’s enchanted and haunted both, by natural magic and that channelled by the witch who also dwells there, but for whatever reason Jensen has always only ever felt welcome.

Not to mention, the witch isn’t all bad, either. She has quite the temper – that much is true – but in all the times they’ve crossed each other’s paths, Danneel has always been reasonable and fair when asking for favours or Jensen’s help. She usually requires him to do legwork, since she takes Jensen’s notion of being a hermit to another level entirely. He’s not sure why, but she seems to have taken an interest in him over the years, and while it’s mildly disconcerting considering what he knows she’s capable of, Jensen figures he’s alright as long as he stays on her good side and doesn’t do anything to piss her off. She often has him fetch herbs or ingredients for her spells that can only be found by going much further into the forest, and Jensen would even go so far as to say he enjoys having to make those treks. She pays him well, usually with gifts that seem like gross overcompensation, not that he’s ever dared argue with her.

As he makes his way back home, he’s just thinking about how he hasn’t heard from her in a while, which means he’s likely due for her to come calling soon, when there’s a sound from up ahead that startles him. Someone cries out, again, and they sound almost pained. Jensen picks up his step and moves towards the noise, turning a tree and–

“Oh, gods, sorry,” he sputters out, flustered, and turns on his heel immediately, keeping them just inside his periphery. There’s a couple of kids pressed together against a trunk and there’s no mistaking what he’s stumbled upon. The girl gasps as they break apart, and the boy stutters like he might have been about to say something except he sees that Jensen is older, larger, and looks like he could be dangerous with the rugged stubble on his face, a sword and an axe on either hip. Both their faces are bright and flushed, they’re dressed like nobleman’s children in clothing much too fine for hiking, and gods, they cannot have more than fifteen, maybe sixteen summers each.

“Don’t gape at me, boy,” Jensen barks, annoyed, when the kid keeps standing there with his mouth opening and closing, at a loss and clearly wondering what kind of trouble they’ve landed themselves in. “You’ve no business this deep in the woods at this hour. Sun’ll be setting soon and there’s real danger here. Off with you now. Both of you, get!”

They both startle as he points in the direction of the city and stares them down. The girl clears her throat and looks down sheepishly. She smooths the front of her dress, tugs a little to get it in the right place, and wipes her mouth. The boy holds his hand out and she smiles shyly as she takes it. Jensen resists the urge to roll his eyes but the boy is tender as he threads their fingers together, gentle as he leads her away. Jensen watches after them as they go, and as soon as they’re out of earshot they’re leaning close together and whispering, hushed, and the girl casts more than one glance over her shoulder back at Jensen until they’re finally gone.

Jensen sighs, shaking his head, and resumes his own journey. His mind is blissfully quiet for naught more than a dozen steps before he finds his thoughts wandering and his heart sinking. It’s been a long, long time since Jensen last kissed anyone or felt the warmth and comfort of another body against his own. He’s content, comfortable, living alone in the woods – he really is – and days like today do well to prove it, his discomfort at being surrounded by strangers so strongly manifest, but he’s only human, after all, and seeing those kids together… he can’t help – even if he resents it – that there will always be a part of him that yearns for that, for… someone. Jensen has never felt understood by people, never felt like he belonged. As a parentless child making a way for himself however he could, he didn’t like how people looked at him, couldn’t trust anyone, and eventually the woods provided a calm and sense of security he never felt in the city. He’s never regretted that this quiet life is the one he leads, and he regards most folks with restrained disdain on principle, and it’s the thought he keeps closest to his heart, the secret he barely admits to himself that, despite everything, he still wants to know love.

Lost in his conflicted thoughts, Jensen’s poor mood continues to sour and he is beyond ready for this day to be over. The sun does, indeed, set, and Jensen’s bitterness and aching heart make the rest of his trek seem swift; he loses track of time so that he’s almost surprised when he finds himself in the small clearing that surrounds his cottage. He breathes a sigh of relief at the familiar sight, warmly illuminated by the last reaches of the sun’s pink and gold light, and he’s comforted to be home where he can shut out the rest of the world, shed today and all of its unpleasantness. He eagerly lets himself in and shucks off the straps of his heavily-laden pack, dropping it to the ground to deal with later. He stretches, rolling his liberated shoulders, and removes his weapons, placing them on his table. After the long, trying day, he can practically hear his bed calling for him. He removes his leather vest and drapes it over his chair, breathing easily for the loss of his weighted items and layers. He undoes the buttons at his throat as he moves towards his small fireplace and crouches to get a blaze going.

When the flames are set, Jensen settles at his table to a drink of mead and a humble supper of bread and cheese he indulged in at the market. It’s a familiar routine, easy and comforting; he feels lighter and resumes ignoring unattainable wants as he falls back into his usual way. Worn out as he is, he takes his time with his meal, sipping slowly at his beer and nibbling at his food. The firelight gets low and – in near darkness now – he resigns to fetching more wood. He gets to his feet and goes for the door, his store of chopped firewood piled around back, but he only gets two steps away from the house when there’s a great gust of wind, loud and howling, and a flash of light, bright, of equal measure. Jensen flinches and instinctively raises an arm to shield his eyes, and when the burst subsides, he lowers it again, blinking. He nearly staggers back in surprise.

Standing in the middle of his clearing, somehow out of nowhere, is a man. He looks clearly disoriented, mild panic on his face and his stance wide and ready like he’s bracing himself. He’s young, cannot have seen more than twenty-five summers, and tall – taller than Jensen even – with broad shoulders, excellent posture, a slim waist, and legs for days. He’s quite possibly the most handsome man Jensen has ever laid eyes on. He knows that isn’t exactly many, considering how he avoids folk generally, but Jensen is helpless against what stirs hotly and low in his gut as he takes in the sight of him.

Jensen’s eyes adjust and he sees him all the more clearly: his longer hair parted and tucked behind his ears, curling out at his neck; his smooth skin, the mole on his left cheek; his eyes wide and bright even in the dark; his pink lips, dented for the way he is anxiously biting them. He’s dressed for the woods but the quality of his clothing is still obvious in the polished grain of the leather, the neat, tailored lines and bright white of his cotton tunic. He wears a dagger at his hip and the hilt is gold. Whoever he is, he is not common, and his random appearance at his doorstep makes Jensen immediately skeptical, despite the way Jensen finds himself warming just to look at him.

The moment stretches out and the man before him looks nervous and unsure, still biting his lower lip and shifting his weight where he stands. He appears to want to speak but doesn’t know where to start. Jensen puts him out of his misery.

“How did you come to be here?” He asks roughly. The man looks relieved for Jensen to have asked or said anything. He laughs weakly and offers Jensen a shy, hesitant smile that makes Jensen’s stomach flutter.

“A witch sent me.”

 

Jared isn’t exactly sure where he’s going when he sets out from the castle. He knows his way around the grounds as well as can be expected for someone who's lived their entire life in one place, all the ins and outs and secret places that only children know, and once he sneaks away, unseen, he stands tall in the woods and takes a deep breath. He rests one hand on the bag which carries the stone and simply trusts. He knows the sorceress lives deep in the woods and his gut tells him to just go – he’ll find the way. Maybe it’s the gem, or maybe it’s the witch herself, but Jared starts walking and by the time the sky is painted all the warm colours of the sunset, he’s sure he’s getting close. The forest feels different, and though he doesn’t feel threatened, he does feel as though he’s being watched somehow. He can’t be sure either but he thinks he sees lights in the leaves and flowers on the forest floor and he doesn’t think they’re fireflies. He carries on and just as the sun is disappearing below the horizon, Jared stumbles upon a small stone cottage. It’s quite unassuming and wildflowers climbs the walls, covering much of it. Smoke trickles up from the chimney and while the windows are curtained, there is light on the other side.

He’s certain that this is it, though he’s not sure how he knows, and he still hesitates, all those stories of her floating in his mind and making him draw a blank on how he should proceed.

Come in, your highness, please. We ought not to linger in doorways. It’s quite rude.

Jared jumps at the voice in his head. It’s quiet, like an echo, and her voice is sweet, playful even. He can almost hear her laughing. He swallows thickly and, recovered, steels himself and moves deliberately for the door, letting himself in as directed.

He has to duck through the arch and as he stands in the doorway, he’s thoroughly surprised at what he sees. He’s not sure what he expected, really, but surely none of it was this. The cottage inside is full and warm from the fire. There are shelves everywhere crammed full of books and other trinkets, including at least two human skulls. Crystals litter the shelves as well as hang in clusters from the rafters tied by silk strings. There are herbs, too, hanging to dry or in wilted bouquets in jars set on the windowsills. There are candles aplenty, all lit and flickering, and the air is vaguely aromatic. Then, most surprising of all, is the sorceress herself. She’s sitting at a small, round table. It’s covered in cloth, and there’s a large, raw crystal sitting in a nest of silk and a steaming teapot on its surface. The witch sips from a delicate teacup and looks at him knowingly from over the lip of it. She’s young, somehow looks to be about Jared’s age though Jared knows she’s been here since long before him, and she’s beautiful. She has long, wavy auburn hair that’s kept back off her face with an elegantly embroidered scarf. Her black dress is simple, cut low and square at her bust, and she wears at least half a dozen necklaces of various lengths all with different gems and crystals. Her fingers are likewise adorned, and her ears with thin gold hoops and tiny sparkles, and her eyes seem to glimmer as they rake over him from head to toe. When she replaces the teacup to the table she’s smiling devilishly. She gestures for him to take a seat opposite her.

“Such a pretty prince,” she purrs. “I had no idea.”

Jared’s cheeks flush immediately and he stumbles awkwardly as he sits, feeling altogether too giant for the small chair, and he stutters, not even sure what to say. In an attempt to deflect her attention, he fumbles with the satchel to fish out the gem, carefully putting it on the table. The witch laughs and reaches out to give his forearm a gentle shake.

“Don’t worry about me, your highness. I know I’m not your type,” she winks and Jared can only gape at her, completely undignified.

“H-how do you know so much? S-so much about me?”

“Jared, dear, it’s what I do – know things. Just like I knew when that thieving rat managed to make off with my jewel,” she sneers and places heavy emphasis on the word rat when she speaks of Chad, and Jared tenses at the way she seems to switch from pleasant to terrifying in an instant. She notes his discomfort, apparently, because she smiles sweetly and chuckles as she continues. “Relax, your highness. You have nothing to fear from me. That irritating creature has been dealt his hand.”

Jared nods, somber. He has the sneaking suspicion that when she calls him a rat she isn’t speaking metaphorically. She is still smiling, holding his gaze and looking intensely thoughtful. Jared knows she said not to worry, but he can’t help but feel like she’s… planning something. Then, suddenly, her smile widens and out of nowhere she’s holding a second, empty teacup. Jared blinks – trying to convince himself she didn’t just create it out of thin air – and watches as she pours some tea and adds a splash of honey – exactly how he takes it – before placing it in front of him.

“And now for your hand, Princeling,” she sits back, crossing her arms underneath her breasts and looking genuinely pleased.

Jared takes the tea and sips it, careful not to offend her by ignoring it, and as he sets the cup back down he tries not to stutter again.

“I’m sorry?”

“Jared, I am indebted to you. I must thank you in some way for this service you’ve done me. Not only have you saved me the troublesome and loathsome journey to retrieve the jewel for myself, but I admire the very genuine respect you have for my art. I do love a man that understands his place,” she giggles at that, though her eyes are dark and her smile has turned quite sly. “What would you ask of me?”

“I– I don’t know,” Jared answers quietly. On some level he had anticipated earning the witch’s favour, but it never occurred to him it would be offered to him in such terms. When he meets her eyes again, hers are soft and kind.

“Well, take a moment. Drink your tea,” she gestures to his cup with one long, elegant hand. “I mean it, Jared. You can’t understand, but this jewel is very precious to me. It’s a deeply personal thing you’ve done for me. I want to do something for you. No, not your kingdom, Jared–” she says as if reading his very thoughts “–but for you, personally.”

Jared drinks more of his tea but is conflicted. Since his brother– since the accident, Jared’s life has been turned upside down. Nothing has been about him anymore. He’s not Jared first, and a prince second. He never envied the selfless life his brother led, always considered himself lucky to have been born after, and he misses the freedom. He’s tired, so tired, and he’s lonely. For all the people constantly by his side – friend and advisor alike – he’s alone in the way that counts the most. He’s been too busy and the way things are going he’s not sure when that busyness will ease, if ever. It had been difficult enough before – interacting sincerely with people – when he was just the little brother, but now… there’s no way for him to know if the people he meets really love him, or if they’re interested in his station. It shouldn’t bother him, the notion of marrying for position and not love, but it does. His parents had married for love, the kind you could see in the way they looked at one another until the days they died, and in his heart of hearts that’s what Jared has always wanted, too.

“Jared,” her voice is gentle and breaks through his thoughts. Her hand is back on his arm. “I am sorry about what happened. I know it hasn’t been easy. You’ve borne this burden well. You do him proud, truly. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it is still okay for you to wish things for yourself. Please, just this once, let me indulge you.”

She sits back and Jared is enchanted by her. She is at once terrifying and dangerous yet also small and kind. He wants to let her, but he hasn’t let himself think about what he wants since– since. It’s been almost two years and it’s still hard. He sighs, takes another sip of tea, and lets himself wonder. He’s not entirely sure what the limitations of magic are, but…

“Don’t concern yourself with limitations, your highness. I see your heart, I sense what it is you long for. Please, tell me.”

Jared is made brave by her encouragements, but he still feels his cheeks burn as he tries to find the words.

“I just… I just want one night where I’m not just this, a-a prince – the prince. I want…” he sighs, embarrassed for his romantic desires. “I want to be loved. Just for who I am, without the title, and I want to love back without the weight of the kingdom on my shoulders.”

When Jared finds the courage to look up from where his fingers fidget with the handle on the teacup to the sorceress’ face, she is still smiling, infinitely knowing and maybe even a little… delighted?

“This I can do for you,” she says finally, after a long, tense moment of silence on Jared’s part. He exhales, not realizing he’d been holding his breath, and feels a little thrill of excitement bubble up in his chest. “One night to set your crown aside, to love and be loved. You will have until sunrise, and then you’ll wake safe and sound in your own bed. Is that agreeable to you?”

Jared’s eyes widen and he nods. “Yes, of course. Anything. You are very gracious, uh…” he trails off, realizing he doesn’t know her name.

“It’s Danneel, Jared. And the pleasure is mine. Thank you, truly. Now, off you go.”

With that, a playful tease in her voice, a wink, and a clap of her decorated hands, Jared is blinded by a flash of light and when it clears, he’s on his feet, standing in a clearing in front of a stone cottage and the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. He is breathtaking, even lit only by the moon. He’s tall – while still being shorter than Jared – with short, softly mussed hair, rough stubble, plush lips, and freckles that dot his cheeks, visible to Jared even from where he stands several feet away. He wears simple clothes, a dark cotton shirt loose and open at his throat, messily tucked into his breeches like he’s stepped out in the middle of undressing. His legs have a subtle bow to them that Jared finds intriguing, and he holds himself as though he’s very capable, clearly strong.

The man is regarding him with surprise and obvious skepticism, but Jared’s stomach is swooping and he’s jittery. When he asked… he couldn’t have dreamed up a man more ideal than the one Danneel has given him. That said, gift or no gift, Jared has always been on the shy side in these scenarios, and certainly now, in the face of such beauty, Jared is at a loss for what to say, how to approach his impossibly perfect reward. Where does he even begin? He bites his lip anxiously and tries not to panic. Finally, the man sighs, shifting, and breaks the silence.

“How did you come to be here?” The man’s voice is deep and rich, a little gravelly, and the timber of it plays in Jared’s ears, makes him shiver.

Jared smiles because he can’t stop himself, and he prays to the gods that he doesn’t look as giddy and ridiculous as he feels. “A witch sent me.”

 

As soon as he says it, Jensen knows. This is not the first time that Danneel has secured a favour from him with gifts, though it is the first time that the token has been the man of his dreams incarnate. It’s always been unsettling how clearly the sorceress seems to be able to see into the very heart of him, but he never realized just how transparent he is to her. Not once has he ever uttered a word about his most secret desires, and yet here is this offering that reveals just how much she really knows. Jensen is wary. If this is what he thinks it is, accepting it will mean he’s about to owe the witch a mighty debt.

Jensen swallows thickly, clenches his fists at his sides, and lets himself look again. The man is smiling so brightly and looks so… eager. Maybe Jensen’s aversion to owing Danneel so large a favour was only ever a parade of imagined good intentions, his resolve parchment thin at best. He sighs even as he feels his own stomach flutter as the first inklings of real interest start to win out over his quickly fading concerns. Jensen’s expression softens and his lips bow into a subtle smile.

“You best come inside then,” Jensen says finally, and even he’s a little surprised at the suggestive tone in his own voice. The man’s cheeks flush noticeably and he nods, shaking loose some of the hair that was tucked cleanly behind his ears. Jensen is struck again, even in the moonlight, by how beautiful the man is, how he holds himself so elegantly, proud even, yet still with this youthful innocence that Jensen finds alarmingly attractive. Danneel has really outdone herself, and Jensen is about to be greatly in her debt but he has the growing suspicion that whatever she wants from him, it’s going to be so worth it.

“I’m just fetching some more wood for the fire,” Jensen continues, his voice a little strained for the way he tries to school his own excitement. “Make yourself at home, uh…?” He raises his eyebrows in question and the man blinks like he’s surprised and Jensen reads the brief hesitation in his face before he answers.

“Jared,” is all he says, though he watches Jensen very closely when he says it.

“Jared,” Jensen echoes plainly, and Jared seems to relax. “I’m Jensen, and I’ll be right in.”

He gestures back towards his door and makes for the woodpile as his unexpected guest lets himself inside.

 

Jared wishes he weren't so nervous and silently berates himself as he steps into Jensen’s cottage. It’s not well lit, the remnants of the fire in the large, simple hearth not much more than a crumbling pile of glowing embers, but there’s enough light from it and the moon from outside that Jared can make out the cottage’s interior. There isn’t much, and only one chair at the small table, but there’s a large bed in the corner opposite the fireplace. Nothing is fancy – it’s nothing like what Jared is used to – but the basic wood frame of the bed looks sturdy and the blankets look soft.

He’s not quite sure what to do now, alone in Jensen’s home in the mostly-dark, completely out of his element in every way he can imagine. He was sure saying his name would garner suspicion on Jensen’s part but if it did he hid it well and doesn’t seem to care. Jared hadn’t gotten so far in his thinking to decide what to call himself and he panicked when Jensen asked, imagined he should lie, but Jared has a history of being honest, even to a fault. He feels a little calmer now, despite the increasing thrill of anticipation, because the anonymity is refreshing. It’s what he wanted after all, and he supposes he shouldn’t be surprised, since he did ask Danneel to not be Prince Jared tonight. It’s a relief, and Jared feels himself breathe all the more easily for it.

He shifts uncertainly where he stands, inside and to the right of the door so he isn’t in Jensen’s way when he returns, and he tries not to feel as young and inexperienced as he is. It’s not like he hasn’t done this before, it’s just… been a while, is all – it’s not like he’s had much time to himself since the throne was so abruptly thrust upon him – and the few trysts of his youth felt rushed and always at least a little awkward. Everyone, with the exception of his closest friends, is on eggshells around him – around royalty. Even in bed, it would seem. Jared wants things he’s not known how to ask for. He also wonders if anyone would capitulate if he did, and even then he’s still faced with the dilemma of whether or not it would be to his lover’s satisfaction as well, or simply given to him out of obligation.

Jared will admit that when it comes to being a ruler, he’s been able to put on the face he needs to in order to get things done and be the person he’s expected to be, but when it comes to more private matters, Jared hasn’t had the chance to really–

The door gets roughly kicked open and Jared startles. Jensen steps inside with his arms full of firewood, but as he turns towards the hearth he spares a glance at the twitching figure in the shadows and huffs a laugh.

“You can sit down if you like. This isn’t court. No need to stand on ceremony,” Jensen is clearly just teasing, his attention now on rebuilding the fire, but the jest hits close to home and Jared feels it rattle in his core. He swallows thickly and tries to laugh it off as he moves towards the one chair at his disposal.

He sits down and wonders if he should take off his boots or at least his jacket, since he’s already overdressed next to his host, who looks as though he was settling in for the night before he had to step outside. He’s quiet because he doesn’t know what to say, and watching Jensen work where he’s down on one knee in front of the hearth certainly isn’t helping him come up with any words – at least, none he feels he should be saying aloud, even if this is his witch-given dream come true.

The fire finally comes to life and the room brightens, warmly lit by the flames. Jensen sighs as he straightens, brushing himself off, and Jared’s eyes follow the long lines of his body as Jensen turns towards him. When Jensen’s eyes land on him, he huffs out another laugh.

“Jared, you look very uncomfortable. Please, relax,” the words are kind despite a gruffness in his voice, and Jared laughs again, too, pushing a hand through his hair and taking a deep breath. It’s strange, all of it – the easy familiarity, a stranger calling him by name, being here, and as much as Jared knows this is for him, he’s having trouble finding his footing. Jensen’s eyes narrow then and he looks serious all of a sudden, considering, maybe even… worried.

“Jared,” he starts, his tone even but still clearly concerned. “You do… want to be here, yes?”

“Oh!” Jared starts, his heart picking up its pace in his chest. He’s standing again before he can stop himself, and he didn’t realize how very small Jensen’s cottage really is, because he’s right there, right in Jensen’s space. “Yes, I do. Very much so, yes.”

Jensen watches his face intently like he’s weighing every word, and Jared is terrified to think he’s putting Jensen off in any way with his obvious nervousness. Jensen still looks unconvinced, and Jared is glad for the light because between it and Jensen’s proximity, Jared is newly amazed at Jensen’s beauty.

“Jensen, you…” he shakes his head, at a loss for the words to do him any justice. “You are without a doubt more beautiful than any man I’ve ever seen.”

Jensen huffs again and looks away a moment. Jared thinks maybe he’s embarrassed him but it’s true and he needed to say it. He couldn’t have dreamed up Jensen if he tried, but here Danneel has gone and come up with him anyway. When Jensen finally looks at him, his cheeks a little pink, he gives Jared a small smile and his eyes are soft.

“And here I was thinking the very same thing about you.”

Jared’s heart is hammering hard now, quick like a rabbit inside the cage of his ribs, because he can’t recall a time anyone has ever looked at him with the inescapable heat and intention with which Jensen is looking at him now. His mouth has gone dry and and he can feel his dick start to stiffen against his leg. He can smell Jensen this close, underneath the smoky aroma of the fire. He smells earthy and crisp, clean, and it goes right to Jared’s head. Jensen moves in a little closer – they’re almost chest to chest now, nearly no space between them – and his eyes drop down to Jared’s lips and back, looking up at Jared through his lashes. Jared is so transfixed by his gaze he startles when the rough pads of Jensen’s fingers first connect with his cheek, having not noticed Jensen moving. His fingertips are gentle as they trace along his skin and Jared can’t help it – his body is drawn tight like a bow, Jensen’s hand is stringing the arrow – the tension is too much and Jared succumbs, pressing his face into Jensen’s palm on a shaky exhale. He’s torn, barely able to take his eyes from Jensen’s face but it feels so good to be touched like this, like he hasn’t been lately, like he hopes he’s going to be, and so his eyes flutter shut despite him.

He doesn’t get a chance to open them because in the next moment Jensen’s mouth is on his, pressing their lips together with a gentle, easy pressure. Jared kisses back, lets Jensen use his hand to tilt his head, and then there’s a tease of Jensen’s tongue at the seam of Jared’s lips. He parts for him immediately, his stomach fluttering wildly and body buzzing, feeling lightheaded by the time Jensen’s tongue is tangling with his own and he makes a small, broken sound as he gives into the impulse to suck on Jensen’s tongue. Jensen’s other hand finds Jared’s hip and his grip on him tightens as Jared sucks. He doesn’t let himself second-guess; nerves or no, this is his one night and Jared is going to let himself have what he wants. It seems that Jensen is on board, because he moans into the kiss, his fingers wound tightly in Jared’s hair and digging into his side, before taking his tongue back only to keep kissing him hungrily.

It’s a rush and Jared feels his anxiety start to fade away. He gets his arms around Jensen, on his back, and can feel the warmth of Jensen’s skin though his shirt like a promise against his palms. Jensen’s stubble is rough on Jared’s face but the drag of it makes Jared shiver and sigh against his lips. He pulls at Jensen, trying to get impossibly closer, but Jensen breaks the kiss, panting, and grins widely when Jared tries to chase his mouth.

“Too much– there’s too much between us,” he bites at Jared’s lip as he moves to undo the clasps on Jared’s jacket. Jared nods dumbly and fumbles with his own belt buckle, hands trembling as he hurries to undress. He drops the belt to the floor as Jensen starts to push his leather coat back and off his shoulders. Jared shrugs out of it and there’s a soft whump as it adds to the pile growing around his feet.

“Don’t stop, Jared. All of it – take it all off,” Jensen gives him a pointed look and Jared shivers; he already thrills at the casual way Jensen gives him direction, has taken charge of the situation so Jared doesn’t have to. He scrambles to do as Jensen says, reaching for his breeches to start untying them with his unsteady fingers, but then Jensen gets down on his knees at Jared’s feet and Jared freezes, sucking in a breath. Jensen’s hands wrap around his calf and then he looks up at him from the floor.

“I said, ‘don’t stop’.” Jensen looks serious even as he wears a devilish grin. Jared is nodding again and back at the ties of his pants while Jensen starts working at laces on his boots and Jared tries not to pay attention, keeping focused on his task. He gets them undone and loose so he can frantically untuck and pull his shirt up over his head, discarding it behind him.

Jensen finishes with his boots and looks up just as Jared gets his thumbs on the inside of his waistband. It makes Jared pause again, chest heaving with his quick, shortened breaths, and Jensen simply smiles, sliding his hands up Jared’s legs and shimmying closer on his knees. Jensen gets his hands on top of Jared’s, sliding some of his fingers inside Jared’s pants, and then he leans forward to press his face into Jared’s crotch. He nuzzles in, audibly inhaling as he rubs against him, pressing his jaw along Jared’s dick, making Jared gasp above him. His knees go a little weak when Jensen starts to mouth at him through his pants, and it doesn’t slip past Jensen’s attention. He laughs at little, holding on tightly to Jared’s hands and pants, and he relents and stands up. He leans in and kisses Jared’s cheek.

“Get naked, Jared. And get on the bed,” Jensen says as he turns away from him, taking off his own shirt.

Jared swallows thickly. This is it. This is really, actually happening. He toes out of his loosened boots and takes a deep breath before pushing the rest of his clothing down his legs. He steps away from the clothes on the ground and wills himself to stop thinking as he lays himself down in the centre of a stranger’s bed. He’s just settling back with his head on Jensen’s pillow when he looks up to where Jensen is standing – completely naked now – at the foot of the bed watching him.

Jensen is freckled softly all over, his skin smooth and taut over obvious muscle. He’s breathing heavy, like Jared, and flushed in the chest and face. His lips are dark and swollen from their kissing, impossibly full, and when Jared lets himself look at Jensen’s cock he sucks in a sharp breath and bites back a moan. Jensen is long and thick, not quite as long as Jared but thicker, the head is dark with blood and shiny with further evidence of his arousal beading up at the slit. Jared’s mouth waters immediately and he knows exactly what he wants. He needs to get Jensen in his mouth, needs to taste him. Jared’s few lovers have always been so quick to get on their knees for him and it’s not like he can complain, but it’s a position he’s always yearned to be in himself and never before more than in this exact moment.

Jared finally meets Jensen’s eyes, catches him licking his lips and looking hungry as his gaze rakes over Jared’s body. Jared swears he can feel the physical heat of it, desperately wants to expose himself to all of Jensen’s scrutiny, and it makes his dick twitch against his stomach.

“Gods, Jared. You are so beautiful,” he shakes his head like he can’t believe it. “I’m doomed,” he whispers and it’s so soft, so breathy, Jared isn’t sure he was meant to hear it, but before he can think to ask what Jensen means, Jensen is moving towards the bed and Jared panics.

“No! Jensen, wait!” Jared gasps, scrambling forward on the bed. Jensen looks startled, concerned for a moment that maybe Jared’s changed his mind about all this, but Jared doesn’t stop moving, doesn’t bother explaining; he’ll let his actions speak for him. Tonight he’s no prince and he’ll take what he wants on his knees, exactly how he wants it.

“Jared? What–? Oh. Oh, gods…” Jensen starts but stops just as abruptly when he understands, when Jared has slid forward off the bed and is kneeling at his feet. Jared’s stomach is flip-flopping, jumping and making him jittery so he has to take a deep breath to steady himself. He tentatively reaches for Jensen’s thighs with both hands and makes himself look up.

Jensen looks down at him with dark eyes filled with lust and awe. He brushes Jared’s hair back off his face, pushes his fingers through it and Jared arches into the touch, groaning. Jensen doesn’t take his hand back but when he relaxes it, Jared leans forward to nose at the base of Jensen’s cock, breathing in deeply that heady, musky smell of him that’s so much stronger here, and it makes his cock leak where it’s resting on his leg. Jensen moans when Jared starts to lick at his balls, then makes his tongue wide and flat to drag up the underside of Jensen’s dick. He opens his mouth wide to suck in the head, cradling it on his tongue, then seals his lips and nurses at the tip, moaning around his mouthful at the salty, bitter taste.

“Oh, Jared, yes. That’s it, sweetheart,” Jensen murmurs and Jared relaxes his jaw, opening his mouth to take more of Jensen in. He can’t get all the way to the base without choking a little, but his throat tightens around the head and Jensen groans, tightens his fist in Jared’s hair so that it pulls a little and Jared whines brokenly. Jensen immediately relaxes his grip and pulls pack.

“Jared, gods, I’m so sorry. Are you–” he hunches over, reaching for Jared’s face to tilt it up to look at him while Jared gasps. He swipes his thumb through the tear tracks on Jared’s cheek but Jared shakes his head vigorously and cuts him off.

“No, it– it’s okay,” Jared croaks, his voice rough and watery. “Jensen… please?”

Jared blinks and he holds Jensen’s gaze though his heavy, wet lashes as he opens his mouth, making a wide invitation with his tongue.

“Yeah? You want me to–”

Jared nods eagerly before Jensen can finish the question, tugging at Jensen’s hips a little.

“Fuck, okay. Alright, Jared, just– you must tell me if it– if it’s too much,” Jensen’s voice is husky as he get the words out, the hand in Jared’s hair stroking gently while he grabs himself with the other. He traces Jared’s lips with the tip of his dick before feeding Jared the rest of it. Jared moans softly as Jensen starts in with slow, shallow thrusts. Jared just holds on, his hands on Jensen’s sides, his thumbs rubbing up and down the edges of his hipbones. At first Jared bobs a little too, but Jensen is still going easy, and Jared wants Jensen to just… take from him. He lets go of Jensen’s hip a moment to reach for the hand Jensen has in his hair, closing his hand over Jensen’s tightly and giving a tug to show Jensen what he wants. Jensen groans, breathes out a nearly inaudible litany of okay, okay, okay as he digs his fingers in. Jared takes loud breaths through his nose and holds on to Jensen with two hands again, tugging until Jensen starts to move a little faster, a little deeper. It feels so good as he increases in the rhythm, the fullness, the way Jensen is forcing a space for himself, that Jared struggles not to squirm in his spot, grinding his knees into the floor while his neglected dick throbs and makes a mess of his thigh.

Jensen hits the back of Jared’s throat, triggers his gag reflex and Jared chokes, spluttering, spit and Jensen’s precome dripping out of the corners of his mouth while tears do the same from the corners of his eyes and Jared can feel Jensen hesitate. He digs into Jensen’s flesh with his fingertips all the more desperately, begging him wordlessly not to stop. Jensen seems to understand, cursing under his breath and groaning as he keeps moving his hips, fucking into Jared’s mouth, using him just as Jared wishes him to. Jared is so close just from this; he feels so vulnerable, there’s a mix of panic and arousal warring in his chest and setting fire to all his nerves. The way Jensen stretches his mouth and feels so heavy and hard on his tongue, a part of Jared is already mourning that he only gets this tonight. Jared coughs as he chokes around Jensen again, still holding on so Jensen won’t stop, and Jensen sighs brokenly above him.

“Fuck, Jared, so good. Take it so good, baby. Such a good boy,” Jensen controls Jared’s head with the hand still tightly wound in his hair but his other hand slides gently down to cup Jared’s chin, his fingers massaging the thin, delicate skin of Jared’s throat as he keeps fucking into it. It feels so good, so soft compared to the hard rhythm of Jensen’s hips. Jared whimpers at Jensen’s praise and Jared knows Danneel is more than just a witch, must be some kind of goddess maybe, because Jensen is really listening to him, he seems to understand so readily, and he is so ready to give Jared what he wants without him ever having had to ask.

“Oh, Jared,” he nearly coos, still thrusting into his face. “You like that? You want to be a good boy for me?”

Jared nods minutely, the best he can with his mouth full and his head at the mercy of Jensen’s grip. He hums an assenting sound, too, muffled as it is by Jensen’s cock, and has to desperately pull in air through his nose to make up for the sound. His face is wet with tears and his chin is a mess of everything Jensen is forcing out of him but he still wants more.

“Gods,” Jensen groans, broken. “I’m so– I must stop, Jared. I want– want to fuck you,” he grunts out, and despite what he says, he doesn’t stop. Jared gets it; he keens at Jensen’s admission, feels more of his own wetness gush onto his leg, but they have enough time, and Jared needs this. He pushes away from Jensen and Jensen immediately loosens his grip. Jensen drops from his mouth, dripping, and Jared pants, takes giant, gasping breaths, and then looks up at Jensen, pleading.

“Jensen,” he coughs, his voice ruined like he’s never heard it before. “We have until sunrise. You may fuck me after but I– I need…” he closes his eyes and forces himself to say it. “Need to t-taste you. Please, come in my mouth.”

Fuck,” Jensen hisses and doesn’t hesitate another second. He gets his dick against Jared’s mouth before Jared’s even opened it; Jared parts his lips under the pressure as Jensen pushes back in. His fingers find their home in his hair again, the other hand is back under Jared’s chin, and Jared’s afraid he may break Jensen’s skin with his nails he digs in so hard when Jensen bottoms out right away. Jared chokes, his throat fluttering around Jensen’s head and he holds onto Jensen desperately, moaning and trying to relax as Jensen find his rhythm again.

It doesn’t take long. Jared can tell Jensen is close, his hips stuttering and his words devolving into little more than a broken refrain of uh uh uhs. Jensen’s fingers are so tight in his hair that his head is tilted up into the pull and then, for a moment, Jensen feels impossibly larger in his mouth before he’s coming, pulsing warm and bitter at the back of Jared’s throat. Jared coughs and Jensen stills, lets Jared come off him a little, trying to swallow all he can while the next wave forces more out onto this lips and chin. Jared reaches down to get a hand on himself and that’s it– barely one stroke and Jared is coming, too, a hot mess spilling over his fist onto his leg. He’s certain he’s never come harder in his life, and he feels dizzy and weak when it finally subsides. He can hardly move, still mindlessly nursing at the head of Jensen’s dick while Jensen shakily pets his hair.

Jared, gods. You were so good, such a good boy, Jared,” Jensen is murmuring and Jared blinks his eyes open, his mouth going slack and everything sore, his jaw aching but it still feels so good, just as Jensen sighs and crouches in front of him, then goes down on his knees, too.

“So fucking good, Jared,” he leans in and licks at Jared’s chin, cradles his head in both his hands, moving it easily so he can clean up the mess he made. He kisses sweetly at Jared’s open, abused lips, and Jared starts to smile into it, belatedly kissing back even though he’s a little dopey and their mouths aren’t meeting up just right.

Jared just hums, feeling warm and sated and cared for under Jensen’s attention. His hand is loose around his dick where it’s softening against his palm, his come starting to cool on his skin. Jensen reaches for him and at the first touch of his calloused hand to him Jared startles. Jensen smiles, keeps kissing at his face, along his jaw, as he plays in Jared’s mess. He is gentle and teasing as he touches Jared, and between it and the come-down, Jared’s skin pebbles up and he starts to shiver, getting cold.

“Mmm,” Jensen noses in under his ear, sounding every bit as fucked-out and pleased as Jared feels. “On the bed now, okay? Here we go…”

He gets his clean hand around Jared’s waist and starts to stand up, guiding Jared’s heavy, loose body with him. Jared’s knees hurt, too, but just as with the dull pain in his jaw, it makes Jared’s spent dick twitch with interest, with the memory, and he prays to whatever gods allow Danneel her power that when he wakes alone in the morning, all these aches will still be with him.

Jared feels as though he’s swimming through a thick soup as he tries to move to Jensen’s bed, but Jensen gets him there easily enough. He sprawls out on his back and before his eyes close behind heavy lids, he catches a fond look on Jensen’s face. A moment later, Jensen is cleaning him up with a soft cloth. Jared startles once again at the touch and feels his face flush immediately. His eyes flutter back open and Jared squirms a little; it’s too much like times before, where everything is about him, and not for the reasons he wants. He reaches for Jensen to stop him, his hand shaking, but Jensen looks up at him, seeming to sense his distress.

“Jared, please. Relax. Let me take care of you, pretty boy,” Jensen looks so earnest and Jared is warmed by his tenderness. Jared exhales and relaxes back against the bed at Jensen’s words, letting his eyes close. He hears Jensen move around the cottage briefly before he feels the mattress dip under Jensen’s weight. He crawls up the bed, bringing the blanket with him, and lays down beside Jared. He lets out a long breath as he settles and then there’s quiet. Jared finally swallows and opens his eyes, turning a little to look at Jensen where he’s on his back next to him.

Jensen looks back down at him, assessing, before smiling knowingly. He brings his arm up and raises his eyebrows. Jared worries his lips between his teeth.

“Well? Come here,” he encourages. Jared looks at the spot Jensen has made for him and quickly turns towards him and shimmies into it. Jensen is warm and solid and as they settle together Jared is amazed at how comfortable it is to be close like this, Jensen’s arm under his neck and his hand soft on his head when he folds it up. He starts dragging his fingers across Jared’s scalp in the next breath and Jared sighs, loving every touch.

They lay like that in another moment of quiet, the only sounds that of their combined breaths and the crackle of the fire, the occasional shifting of the logs.

“So… sunrise, huh?” Jensen finally asks, his voice carrying an unmasked hint of sadness.

“That is what she said, yes,” Jared replies, letting his tone be equally honest.

“Hmm,” Jensen hums, contemplative.

The quiet resumes between them but Jared isn’t uncomfortable. Jensen’s hand has abandoned his head only to find his arm instead, his fingers tracing unreadable scribbles there softly. It makes Jared feel safe where he is, and his own fingers starts moving tentatively on Jensen’s chest.

Jared’s private moments have always been rare, even before what happened to his brother. There are always people in the castle keeping track of him, and Jared has never enjoyed knowing that the reality is someone has likely always been aware of most of his encounters. Nothing is just his, but this, everything with Jensen… it’s completely theirs, no one waiting in the wings for Jared, hovering outside his door; Jared doesn’t have somewhere to be so soon that he has to fumble for his things, awkwardly make his getaway or send his lover on their way.

Jared was embarrassed to have asked Danneel for this, but the night isn’t over yet and Jared is already so glad that he did. He thinks about his life in the castle and he wonders if he could ever be so free as he feels right now, in this moment, wrapped in Jensen’s arms. If this is the only chance he’ll have… he’s glad he took it.

 

Jensen sighs, relaxing into his bed, his body heavy in the afterglow and with Jared tucked along his side. There’s a part of him that wants to worry what on earth Danneel could want with him after this – this beautiful, exquisite, desperate boy. Jared is every unspoken wish he hasn’t even articulated to himself. He hates and loves Danneel for seeing him like this, the way he doesn’t want to be seen – except maybe by Jared. Jared was so hungry for him, so desperate for his dick, for his seed – Jensen feels himself start to stir again just thinking of how Jared looked on his knees and begging for him to keep going. He bites back a groan and tilts his head so he can look down at Jared now. His hair is horribly disheveled for the way Jensen had been tugging at it, his face isn’t exactly flushed anymore now that both of them are breathing as usual, but there’s a brightness to him that has nothing to do with the firelight dancing across his skin. Jared’s hazel eyes are sleepily watching his fingers where they’re playing on Jensen’s chest, squiggles and circles that bring him closer and closer to Jensen’s nipple while never quite making it all the way there. It’s a heady tease that’s doing nothing to abate the renewed swelling of Jensen’s cock. Watching Jared now, Jensen is painfully aware that there is so, so much more that he wants.

Sunrise. He only has until sunrise.

“We haven’t nearly enough time then,” Jensen finally responds, exhaling ruefully, and he reaches for Jared’s face.

Jared had started to look up at him when Jensen started speaking but Jensen palms his chin gently as he leans forward to capture Jared’s mouth with his own, pulling Jared to him. Jared makes a pleased little sound in his throat as Jensen strokes his cheek with his thumb and kisses him. He goes easy at first, tenderly. Jared’s hand moves from Jensen’s chest to Jensen’s wrist like he’s keeping it on his face and grounding himself with Jensen all at once. Jensen warms fiercely to feel his need like that again, the way Jared wants, and finally he deepens the kiss, slipping his tongue between Jared’s soft lips to taste and twist with Jared’s.

Jared whimpers now – Jensen will never have enough of that sound – and Jensen can feel Jared pressing hot and hard at his thigh. Jared starts to move, just tiny shifts of his hips for friction, and his long, long leg hitches up over Jensen’s. He sighs into their kiss and Jensen grins against his lips, licking into his open mouth to flick his teeth.

“Get up here, sweetheart,” Jensen purrs and encourages Jared to get on top of him.

Jared seems to come alive when Jensen tells him what to do. Jensen would be lying if he tried to say that didn’t do anything for him, too. He loves the way Jared’s breath hitches at the instruction and he moves so quickly to oblige. He’s still straddling Jensen’s one leg, one knee between Jensen’s, but between Jared’s size and the angle he’s at laying down on Jensen’s chest, their cocks are trapped between them and the feel of Jared against him makes Jensen groan. He slides a hand back up into Jared’s hair to tug his head up for more kisses while the other hand slides down his back to palm at Jared’s ass and hold him tight against him as Jensen works his own hips to grind them together.

Jared keens. Jensen does his best to swallow the sound and keeps a firm hand on Jared’s ass. They’re bucking into one another now, the slip and drag of their cocks almost too dry but still so good, hints of tacky precome on their skin. Jared is a big man – bigger than Jensen – and the weight of him feels good. Jensen likes feeling the solid warmth of his body pinning him to his mattress. It’s especially thrilling because Jared is so big but also so young; he’s a strong, an imposing figure of a man but with the eyes and unguarded heart of a child. Jensen still can’t quite pinpoint his age but – gods. When he’s down on his knees with wet lashes, blotchy cheeks and pink lips, he looks even younger than Jensen first guessed. There’s something innocent about him, even in this, even now as they rub together and Jared pants against his mouth, and Jensen would spend the rest of his days trying everything he can come up with to discover if that’s unique to this encounter or some special quality that is simply Jared.

Jensen is lost in his thoughts, in the taste of Jared’s breath and the feel of them catching and pulling as they move, but then Jared is shifting his weight considerably, pressing his hips heavily into Jensen’s and propping himself up a little on one hand. The other reaches back and grabs Jensen’s where it’s on his hip and Jensen’s eyes flick open. Jared is looking right at him, his eyes wide and bright. He’s still panting – they both are – and he holds Jensen’s gaze as he moves Jensen’s hand from his hip to the centre of his ass, guiding Jensen’s fingers to graze along the crease of his ass.

Jensen’s dick twitches with interest between them and Jared sighs shakily at the touch, still watching Jensen’s face. Jensen can pinpoint the shift, the way Jared’s doe-eyes suddenly look pleading again as he teases himself with Jensen’s fingers. Jensen isn’t sure a single thing exists in this world that he wouldn’t give Jared should he ask for it in this moment, looking at him like he is.

“You want me to touch you, Jared? Want me to make you ready for me?” Jensen murmurs the words against Jared’s open mouth. He knows it’s what Jared wants but he wants to drag this out, wants Jared to be strung out – wants him to beg for it, because he knows he will. “So I can fuck you?”

Jared whines at the last question, his nodding turning frantic, and he squeezes at Jensen’s hand hard as he goes for Jensen’s mouth, teeth and tongue first. It’s ravenous, the way Jared kisses him, and Jensen moans into it, lets Jared take what he wants. Jared pulls more insistently at Jensen’s fingers, pressing them deep to search for his hole, and Jensen breaks the kiss and starts to pull away.

“Ah ah ah,” Jensen starts, teasing because Jared makes a small, upset sound and looks momentarily lost. “I set some oil out after cleaning you up. It’s on the floor next to the bed.” The fetch it for me is implied, but after Jared blinks once, he pushes himself up to lean towards the edge of the bed and reaches for the phial. He settles back where he was, straddling Jensen’s leg, but as he puts the oil in Jensen’s outstretched hand, he bites his lip and appears hesitant. Jensen carefully accepts the glass container while studying Jared’s expression.

“What’s that look for, baby?” Jensen asks finally, gently, using another name that seemed to please Jared earlier. Jared’s eyes flash up to his and his lover’s face darkens as he blushes further.

“Oh, um,” Jared stutters. Jensen can tell Jared is really conflicted as to whether or not he should speak further. “You… entertain often?” He doesn’t look at Jensen as he says it but tilts his head toward the oil. It’s Jensen’s turn to get hot-faced and blink.

“Oh!” he begins. He wasn’t expecting that question or the sheepish way Jared ducks his head when he asks it. “Um, no, generally. Not– practically never, really. I…” Jensen clears his throat. “I like it for myself.”

Jensen watches Jared carefully, assessing. Jared nods and his expression is well-schooled, neutral, but he bites at his lip and looks back up at Jensen through his lashes and Jensen can see the tiny twitch at the corner of his mouth. Jensen smiles broadly, can’t help it, and opens the phial, dripping the oil onto the first two fingers of his right hand.

“It has many uses, actually. It also has a lovely aroma,” Jensen explains, extending his hand for Jared to smell. It’s smells faintly of citrus though it’s richer and more complex, and there’s traces of mint. Jared hums and nods, smiles as he sits back up. “It’s one of the few frivolous things in which I indulge.”

“Oddly enough, it reminds me of home,” Jared offers shyly, taking the phial back from Jensen when he proffers it to be returned to the floor.

As Jared settles back on Jensen’s leg, Jensen can’t help but consider him. Home. He tries to picture what home looks like for a man like Jared, for the kind of man Danneel has dreamed up for him. Even dreams must have dwelling places, he supposes. His thoughts don’t get too far because Jared is folding himself down, sliding up Jensen’s body and then kissing him quickly, teasing and playful.

“Don’t think so hard, Jensen,” Jared whispers against his skin. “Please?”

For his question, Jared’s voice is small and timid again, deliberately so, and he’s grabbed the wrist of Jensen’s hand with the slicked up fingers, moving them suggestively. “Please.”

“Mmm, Jared, you beautiful boy,” Jensen murmurs, taking control of his movements now and reaching, tracing under his ass where it meets his leg. “How could I ever deny you?”

Jensen is grinning by the time his other hand reaches around and pulls Jared open. His wet fingers first pet at his hole and they both groan. The ring of muscle reacts immediately, tightening at the touch and relaxing as Jared wills it. Jared sighs, pushing back against Jensen’s hand, and Jensen keeps teasing him, just barely pressing against his opening.

“Jensen,” Jared finally whines brokenly and Jensen gives in, pressing his first finger in as far as he can reach all at once. Jared gasps and slides a little further up Jensen’s body to make it easier for him to reach, and Jensen buries his finger in all the way to the last knuckle. Jared’s body is searing hot inside, smooth and tight, tugging at his finger as desperately as Jared begged for it. Jensen keeps his finger straight and moves it in circles, pressing against Jared’s muscles and making bigger motions as they give. Jared is making small, sweet sounds against his mouth, grasping sloppily for Jensen’s lips though his focus is obviously elsewhere. It’s exactly what Jensen wants.

Jensen keeps going, starts to fuck his finger in and out of Jared slowly, and Jared writhes, arching his back and canting his hips to wordlessly beg Jensen for more, and still Jensen holds back, waiting. It doesn’t take long before Jared realizes that Jensen is teasing him and he huffs, following Jensen’s hand whenever he withdraws.

“Jensen, p-please,” he implores him. “M-more.”

“Mmm, yes,” Jensen kisses him roughly, pulls at his lip with his teeth as he goes back in with two fingers, making Jared gasp again and still a moment. “Such a good boy, Jared, telling me what you want. I’ll give you anything you ask for, you need only ask for it.”

Jensen can feel the way Jared shivers against him, and he moves his two fingers inside him, petting and scissoring to stretch him out. Jared squirms and whimpers at the push, panting harshly, and Jensen kisses at his lips, his chin and his jaw. He drags his teeth across Jared’s skin, feels him shiver again, and smiles devilishly. Jared is too much fun.

By the time Jared’s body has accommodated Jensen’s fingers and lets them slide in and out easily, the ring of muscle open and slowly drawing shut only to have Jensen slip back inside, Jared is clearly desperate for more, thrashing, grinding them together where their otherwise neglected cocks are still trapped by their bodies. Jensen is wrung out, too, but he’s waited a long time to get inside someone again – he can wait a little longer.

“Tell me, Jared,” Jensen orders, lips pressed close to Jared’s ear. He bites at the soft lobe and Jared whimpers. “Tell me what you want.”

“Another, p-please. Another, I need another,” Jared cries out and Jensen kisses his ear.

“Good. Good boy,” he praises, rewarding him with three fingers. He’s worked Jared so well there’s not much resistance, despite the still unyielding pull and clutch of his body. Jensen spreads his fingers out to stretch him further, much to Jared’s apparent pleasure if the breathy moans and thrusting of his hips are anything to go by. They’re tacky-wet between them where their cocks leak steadily, both of them so ready. Jensen doesn’t make Jared ask for this. He withdraws his fingers and Jared whines, only to gasp, startled, when Jensen’s messy hand smacks him on the ass just the right side of gently.

“Jared,” Jensen nearly growls he wants this so badly. “Up. Let me up. Get on your hands and knees.”

“Gods, yes,” Jared scrambles to move off Jensen’s leg to let him out from under him, crawling up the bed on his hands and knees, his dick hanging heavy and dripping under him.

Jensen twists and bends down to get some more oil. He pours a generous amount into his palm and replaces the phial on the ground, turning back towards Jared as he slicks himself up. He fails to bite back a groan when his eyes find Jared, and he sinks his teeth into his bottom lip.

Jared is presenting for him, ass up on the bed, his pink hole shiny and exposed, and he’s bent forward, down on his elbows with his forehead on his forearms. He looks so pretty, so perfect like this as he cants his hips back in search of Jensen, that Jensen has to reach out with his oil-free hand to palm at his cheeks.

“Jared, fuck,” he hisses as he watches Jared’s hole flex and relax in turns. “Tell me you’re ready, sweet boy. Tell me.”

“I’m ready,” Jared is breathless, his words quiet and rushed. “Please, Jensen. Please, please, please.”

“Yes, baby, that’s it. You’re so good, so pretty like this,” Jensen shimmies closer on his knees, one just on the inside of each of Jared’s, because he’s so tall and his legs are so long that he needs to be spread so beautifully wide to be at the right height. Even still, as Jensen lines up the aching, wet head of his cock, Jensen has to press his hand to the small of Jared’s back and force his legs wider, make him sink a little lower. Jared groans and moves easily where Jensen guides him, so pliant and willing that it sends sharp, hot spikes of want through Jensen’s whole body.

They’ve both waited long enough; Jensen doesn’t hesitate. Properly lined up, Jensen presses in and sinks steadily all the way to the base, the plush curve of Jared’s ass snug against his belly. Jared grunts and whines while Jensen moans, fresh beads of sweat erupting on his skin from the combined heat of Jared’s body all around him and the effort of staying still to let Jared adjust. It’s mild agony waiting, fighting the impulse to move, and Jensen itches to really lay into him but he won’t hurt him, not like this, not for impatience. He grits his teeth and digs his fingertips into the flesh of Jared’s hips.

“Jen-Jensen, I beg you. Move,” Jared pleads, his voice breaking, and Jensen needn’t another word. He starts slowly, pulling back until the crown of his dick catches on Jared’s rim and then slams back in. Jared makes a hurt sound like he’s been punched in the gut and Jensen wants more – more of that sound, more of how it feels for Jared’s body to give way to him, more everything.

Jensen builds up quickly to a fast, harsh rhythm, the sound of their skin coming together loud in the otherwise quiet cabin, mixing with the sweet uh, uh, uhs Jared keeps making. Jared strains, the beautiful bow in his back glistening with sweat, and he reaches back for Jensen’s hip, trying to pull at him.

“Harder, Jensen. Please, more,” he begs, and Jensen doubles his efforts. His grip on Jared’s sides is bruising, and he’s echoing Jared’s moans with sounds of his own. Whatever shyness or inhibitions Jared came with are gone now. He chases Jensen’s thrusts wantonly, his other hand fisting tight in Jensen’s sheets.

Jensen needs to get his mouth on Jared, can’t keep panting, open mouthed and empty as he thrusts into him. He tugs back hard on Jared’s hips, lying him down a little flatter, and he drapes himself over Jared’s back. Jared squirms, pushing his ass against Jensen’s front, and sighs, shuddering, when Jensen’s mouth finds his ear. He kisses first, then nibbles along the shell of it and Jared moans his name. Jensen keeps thrusting ruthlessly as he kisses down Jared’s neck, dragging his teeth across Jared’s shoulder.

“D-do it, please, Jensen,” Jared whispers, reaching back to get his fingers in Jensen’s short hair. Jensen shivers then, and sinks his teeth in. Jared cries out but only tugs harder at Jensen’s head. When Jensen finally relaxes his jaw, he soothes the marks with his tongue and starts to suck there, hard, intending to make a bruise to match the ones blooming on Jared’s hips. Jared writhes under him, whimpering and bucking back to meet his thrusts.

Jensen releases Jared’s shoulder and gasps for breath, pleased to hear more of Jared’s mumbled curses.

“Fuck–” Jared wails. “Fuck me harder, please. You will not break me, Jensen. Please!”

“Oh, gods, Jared…” Jensen groans and shifts for better leverage, getting his hands on Jared’s hips and pulling him back. He fucks into him with abandon, not holding back, and soon Jared is crying out loudly enough on each thrust he could damn well wake the dead. Jensen’s never been more grateful for the solitude of his home.

“Jensen, I– I’m so– going to–” he struggles to find the words but Jensen understands. He’s barreling towards the finish himself. He reaches around and gets a hand on Jared’s dick, making Jared startle and jump like he’s been burned, the long, drawn out moan he lets out turned staccato by the force of Jensen’s hips. Jensen does little more than provide a fist for Jared to fuck into, pushed forward by Jensen’s thrusts, but in the next moment Jared’s body goes frightfully tense and still as he sobs, then shudders as he comes, warm and wet and coating Jensen’s hand. His body tightens around Jensen like a vice, and Jensen cries out and comes as well. His own rhythm falters and his hips stutter to a stop with his throbbing dick buried in Jared as far as it can go.

Jensen feels Jared start to tremble underneath him, around him, and despite his own heaviness, Jensen moves carefully, to help Jared lie down on his belly, heedless of the mess underneath him, and Jensen doesn’t give in to the strong desire to simply collapse on top of him. Jensen is still inside, loathe to come out and lose that feeling for good, but his own arms are shaking with the effort required to keep him from crushing Jared, so begrudgingly he sits back. He slips out of the haven of Jared’s body, a trail of white following him and dripping down onto Jared’s balls. Jensen groans, both at the loss and the delicious sight. He tenderly palms Jared’s ass and leans down to kiss each of the dimples in his lower back.

“Gods, Jared…” he mumbles against his skin. “You were amazing. You are amazing.”

Jared hums lazily and doesn’t move, the sound muffled by Jensen’s pillow. He sounds as though he’s smiling, and Jensen smiles, too. Jared looks so inviting there, laid out in his bed, that Jensen moves quickly to collect a cloth and clean them both up. He rolls Jared over easily, still pliant for Jensen’s hands, and most of the mess Jensen had collected on his fist, so the sheets aren’t quite a disaster. Jared lays still with his eyes closed and a smile spread on his face as Jensen works, making more small, happy sounds as Jensen looks after him. When he’s done and he tosses the cloth aside, Jensen takes a moment to gently trace his fingers over the dark marks he made around Jared’s hip bone, four on each side, and he leans down to kiss them. When he looks up after doing one side, Jared is watching him with half-lidded eyes and a fond expression. Jensen smiles back and moves to kiss the other four, and then climbs back up over Jared’s body and holds Jared’s gaze a moment. They’re quiet now, so starkly in contrast to the noises and cries of their just-completed exploits, but Jensen feels as though somehow, they’re still talking. Jared’s hand comes up and it’s a little shaky but he reaches for Jensen’s face, gently stroking his cheek. Jensen turns to kiss his palm and then leans down to kiss the bitten bruise on Jared’s shoulder, making Jared shiver.

“Did I hurt you, sweet boy? Does it hurt?” Jensen whispers, kissing up Jared’s neck.

“Yes,” Jared sighs, blissful. “It was perfect, Jensen. Thank you.”

Jensen stifles a laugh. Jensen should be thanking him. He’s never been so satisfied in his life. Jared is perfect, and Jensen is painfully aware of how strongly he doesn’t want this night to be over.

He sighs and moves aside, lying down next to Jared and pulling him close. If this is the only night he gets, he’s not going to waste a single second. Jared is all too happy to burrow in against his chest, tucking his arms between them, and once they settle like that Jensen brushes the hair off Jared’s face, tucking it behind his ears so he can kiss his forehead.

Jensen feels good, too good to be getting wound up over the debt he’s incurring every moment more that passes in Jared’s company. An entire night they have – he’d say Danneel was being generous with her bribe but Jensen already feels a pang of longing and a stab of unfounded possessiveness when he looks at Jared lying in his arms. He can feel bitterness hovering in the shadows like a poison rain on the horizon; the thought of going back to his life after tonight – without Jared – unsettles him. His gut twists unpleasantly and he squeezes Jared a little more tightly.

They’ve exchanged scant few meaningful words between them but Jensen feels… connected to him – kindred somehow even. Being with Jared feels like coming home, except he didn’t realize he wasn’t home before. Maybe Danneel had good intentions but Jared has filled holes in him about which Jensen had long forgotten. How is he supposed to be pleased with her for giving him this only to take it away?

He kisses Jared’s forehead again, leaving his lips to linger there, and he deeply breathes in the scent of them while reminding himself that Jared isn’t his. Or at least, he won’t be after dawn. Jensen doesn’t want much, he never really did. He lives a simple life, always has, his possessions few and his desires for more even fewer still, but in all his life, even as a child before he found comfort and protection in the solitude of the forest, Jensen has never wanted anything the way he wants Jared – the way he wants to keep him. He listens to the steady, soft huffs of Jared’s breath, and tries not to think of the sounds like those of a ticking clock, counting down until this dream is over.

“Jared?” He inquires quietly, leaning back to better look at Jared’s face. Jared’s eyes are closed and his mouth is open, slack with sleep. Jensen sighs, rueful, and tucks Jared’s head back under his chin, settling in. He’s a selfish man but he’s not inconsiderate. He’ll let Jared sleep, and he’ll keep vigil until sunrise, committing everything to memory – the feel of Jared’s endless, smooth skin under his fingers, the silky strands of his hair, the slope of his nose and the pink of his lips.

The time passes much too fast. Jensen is tired but his fear of losing Jared keeps him awake. In his sleep, Jared shifts, so now, as dawn approaches, Jared is on his back and Jensen is lying next to him still on his side, resting his head in his hand, propped up by his elbow. He’s been watching Jared sleep, occasionally kissing his face, if only to better remember how it feels. He debates whether or not to wake him, but as the sky begins to lighten, Jensen knows he must say goodbye, and he needs to hear Jared say his name one last time.

“Jared, sweetheart,” he whispers and needlessly tucks Jared’s hair behind his ear again. “Wake up.”

Jared stirs, snuffles a little and blinks awake. He turns a little to look at Jensen, smiling languidly, then blinks again and startles.

“Jensen? But I thought–”

“It’s not quite sunrise yet. We don’t have much time. I just… wanted to hear your voice one more time.” Jensen has to swallow hard. His own voice wavers. He’s never felt like this before. He’s going to have very strong words with Danneel later but for the moment, he keeps his focus on Jared’s beautiful face, the sparkle in his eyes, and the soft cadence of his voice.

“Oh, gods,” Jared laments. He looks pained and he’s blinking again, not from sleep but because his eyes have become glassy, too. “Jensen.”

Jared turns on his side, burrowing in close against Jensen’s chest again. He clings to Jensen this time, and as ridiculous as Jensen feels for how choked up he is right now, he takes solace in seeing that Jared is of the same mind. They’ve been on the same page regardless of the situation from the moment Jared arrived on his doorstep, and Jensen aches to keep him, to have someone who understands him the way Jared seems to.

“I’m such a fool,” Jared whispers, sniffling. Jensen doesn’t follow and it makes his brow furrow. His heart starts to race as the light outside gets brighter. Any minute now, Jared will be taken from him. “I only asked for one night, Jensen. I had no idea. I never thought– I couldn’t have dreamed… I should’ve asked for a lifetime.”

Jensen isn’t sure what Jared is talking about but Jared presses up and kisses him, so he doesn’t think on it, just focuses on the taste of Jared’s mouth and the way his lips soften and part for him. Jared holds onto him tightly and Jensen does the same. They’re both desperate and Jensen just wants to live in this moment forever but then–

Even through his closed lids the flash of light is nearly blinding. It passes quickly and Jensen’s eyes fly open, squinting for the lingering brightness, and the warm body that was pressed against him is gone, slipped right through his fingers. He’s suddenly cold and looking around his empty cottage in the early morning light, and his heart plummets. Jared is gone. Jensen is alone again.

 

Jared opens his eyes and he’s lying in his own bed. His breath catches and he blinks hard to force back tears. He always knew it wouldn’t last. He sighs, long and shaky, and surveys his room. His note is still on his desk, seemingly untouched, and his clothing along with his bag is folded and sitting on his chair, his boots on the floor next to it. She’s very thorough, he will give her that.

He swallows thickly, his chest still tight and swelling with emotion. He sighs again and lays back against his pillows, gazing up at the canopy above him. His bed is nothing like Jensen’s. It’s large and elegant. The mattress is plush as are the pillows, and the sheets and blankets are easily among the finest in the kingdom. But it doesn’t have Jensen. It never will, apart from in Jared’s dreams. He wants to weep, but he if he starts, he’s not sure he’ll be able to stop. He won’t mourn for this. Every second was a gift, and he’ll never regret that he had it, even if it was, indeed, for only a night. For one, blissful night, Jared was free. He was not the Crowned Prince, he was not bound by expectation and public opinion or the thought of guards lingering in hallways. He didn’t have to question that everything Jensen did was only to please him, to please his Prince. He gave in entirely, let himself be needy, let himself be used, and–

Jared’s fingers fly to his shoulder and as they touch the bruise there he sighs in relief. Temporary still, it’s a keepsake he’ll cherish for as long as it lingers. Under no other circumstances will Jared ever be likely to have a night like that again, where he doesn’t have to wonder if he’s behaving in a way unbecoming the monarch, instead only following his own desires. Jensen gave him everything, everything he was sure he wanted, and it was better than he could have imagined. Jared can’t be sure, since he’s never felt this way before, but… he thinks he just may be in love. His heart swells to think on Jensen, the way he just knew; everything between them happened so easily, like pieces of a puzzle falling into place. How can he ever expect to find that again with someone real?

No matter. Jared has had his fun, found his love, even if he was just a well-crafted dream. His destiny, it seems, is to rule, so his own wants are second to his crown. Jared is a realist, after all – one of the reasons it had been so long since his last intimate moments not alone – so he will sleep now, and hope to dream of Jensen, but when he wakes he will put on his crown and move forward, knowing that his life is better for having had just that one, perfect night.

 

Danneel can sense Jensen’s approach long before the angry knocking on her door forces her to acknowledge him. She sips her tea nonchalantly and replaces the cup to the saucer before bothering to answer him.

“Come inside, Jensen,” she says sweetly, and the woodsman pushes open the door, closing it gruffly behind him. She raises an eyebrow and regards him with narrowed eyes.

“You,” he begins hotly. “I don’t know where you find the nerve, witch, or what you expect to extort from me, but–”

“Jensen!” She says sharply, cutting him off and standing up in a hurry. She lets her voice and her shadow be large, imposing – a warning against his tone lest he say something he come to regret. “Weigh carefully your words, woodsman. We’ve known each other a long time now, child. Do not forget.”

Jensen seems to reign himself in, going quiet and averting his eyes, showing her respect. She calms as well, and he tentatively looks back up at her, not quite apologetic but reserved. She narrows her eyes again, assessing him.

“Jensen, you are wound awfully tight and in a foul disposition for a man who had such a night as yours.”

His face burns immediately at her words and he opens his mouth to speak but promptly closes it again, taking a deep breath.

“How dare you,” he hisses. “What gives you the right to meddle in my life like this? What impossible debt do I owe you now?”

Danneel is stunned. She did expect that Jensen would visit her after Jared but she anticipated that he would be in a much better, grateful sort of mood.

“What are you on about, you fool? Jared was not a request for your services. He was a gift.”

Jensen looks completely baffled for a moment but his anger returns swiftly. “Still, Danneel! It is my life! How am I supposed to go back to it now?”

Danneel watches him intently and suddenly it dawns on her. He really doesn’t know. Jensen’s face is still red but not from blush. It’s blotchy and his eyes glisten and it’s clear to her – he hurts.

“How– how am I supposed to keep living after such a dream?” His voice is quiet, accusing, and broken, like his heart. Danneel sees it now. She sighs, shaking her head and moving towards him, reaching for his face and his hand.

“Jensen, dear,” she starts, and though she stands directly before him, he obstinately does not look at her. A single tear escapes the corner of his eyes and she can feel his humiliation rolling off him in waves, but she uses her thumb to wipe it away regardless. “Jared is not a dream. I did not craft him just for you, though I understand that it might seem that way.”

When Jensen’s eyes flash up to hers, wide in shock, she smiles gently. “Jared is real, flesh and blood. And though he is never really alone, he lives a lonely life, like you. But that needn’t be the case. You can go to him, if you're brave enough to choose all that comes with his life, which he cannot escape. You could be that for him. You could be that for each other, should that be what you desire."

Jensen only stares, blinking as he clearly works through what she said. She’s never seen him so stunned. She tries not to laugh, because she senses what a revelation this is for him, but he always was so endearing.

“I don’t– I don’t understand,” he finally says in obvious disbelief. She does laugh a little then.

“Jensen,” she chides playfully, giving his head a little shake where it rests still against her palm. “Jared is a prince, the crowned prince of Austerra. He upholds his position proudly and to great credit while also being trapped by it. You could be his freedom.”

“The– the prince?” Jensen echoes, eyes still wide as a hand flies up to run through his hair. “Oh. Oh, gods.”

Danneel smiles and goes back to sit and sip at her tea, leaving Jensen to fret over all this new information just inside her door. He mutters to himself, turning on the spot to face away from her – as if that matters. She can read him as easily as anything else, senses all his fears and all his desires. It’s why she knew sending Jared to him would be more perfect than any enchantment she could have gifted him instead. When she gets to the bottom of her cup and pours herself another she sighs.

“Jensen, you cannot oscillate in my sitting room forever. You know what the right path is, you need only find within yourself the courage to walk it. I can do no more for you than I already have. So, please. Begone, and, I beg you – do the right thing. For both of you.”

Jensen looks panicked as she speaks and then she claps her hands, and Jensen disappears in a flash of light. She sighs, shaking her head, and prays to the powers that be that Jensen not muck this up.

 

It’s been five days – not that Jared is counting, of course. Genevieve came to him the morning after to apologize about the night before and prep him for the journey to return the stone, but Jared simply explained that the stone had vanished into thin air before his very eyes. Returned to its rightful owner, he presumed. His advisors had seemed skeptical but with no jewel there was no need to venture into the forest, and business resumed as usual.

Gen sensed that something had happened, or that something was off with him. She always could. It hadn’t surprised Jared in the least that when no one else seemed to notice, she cornered him in a hallway to try and make him talk. He would say nothing, only that he was tired and sleeping poorly. It wasn’t entirely a lie. He had slept little with Jensen and the nights that followed were not easy either. Lying awake in bed, Jared could not stop his thoughts replaying every moment from that night, over and over lest he forget a single detail, even a single freckle from Jensen’s beautiful face.

Despite his lack of rest, Jared was back to normal as much as he figured he ever could be. There was no news about the thief Chad, but Jared knew better, biting back a knowing smirk when he overheard the guard mention him in passing. It was possibly his first genuine smile since he woke up alone after that night, but then again, wearing the crown meant wearing a face. It was nothing Jared wasn’t already painfully used to.

It’s five days later and Jared is pacing his throne room – he hates to sit when people are addressing him – with Gen and the rest of his counsel at his side. There’s the average gathering of people come to be heard, and while Jared is always attentive, his heart hasn’t been in anything but his dreams lately. He listens to each case and offers fair judgement as always, but more than ever he yearns for the solitude of his chambers, a part of him still grieving what will never be.

Stephen, the owner of the largest tavern in the city, nods gratefully and thanks him for Jared’s ruling before turning away to leave. Seeing his departure, Jared focuses again, ready to beckon the next subject in need of his justice.

“Please, if the next–” Jared stops mid sentence, frozen in place. A man of familiar build and dress has stepped forward. He’s dressed plainly, a sword at one hip and an axe at the other. He carries a large bag on his back, and it looks familiar, too. He wears a wide-brimmed leather hat and as he reaches up to remove it, Jared’s breath is caught in his chest. The room has fallen silent – or it hasn’t, maybe, it doesn’t matter. Jared can hear nothing but the furious pounding of his heart. When the hat comes down to rest on the man’s chest and their eyes meet, Jared can’t stop himself.

“Jensen,” he exclaims, confused, surprised, and suddenly so overwhelmed that if it weren’t for the audience he fears he might cry. Regardless, he feels his cheeks grow hot to see Jensen here, now, very real and with all the memories that they share.

Jensen looks up at him and his expression is fond, like it was so often that night, and Jared’s heart aches for it. Jensen licks his lip and begins to kneel, much to Jared’s horror, though the ceremony is mandatory and there are many eyes watching.

“My lord,” Jensen says as he genuflects, and Jared can move again, snapping out of it finally to rush down the steps to meet him. He can hear Gen call his name behind him, lost, but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t stop until he’s standing right in front of Jensen, and he reaches down to tilt Jensen’s face up.

“Jensen, please, rise,” he pleads softly, just for Jensen to hear.

Jensen nods and stands, holding Jared’s gaze and shifting uncomfortably in his spot. Jared knows immediately that Jensen is out of his element here, in every way, but he also knows that Jensen has come here for him. He reaches for Jensen’s face, their audience be damned.

“You’re real,” Jared says behind a small laugh, because obviously he is, but Jared is sure that neither of them thought… Jensen nods against his palm and laughs a little, too. “And you came for me.”

Jensen’s eyes go impossibly soft at Jared’s words.

“How could I not, Jared? How could I live alone knowing you’re real and living alone, too?”

Jared still wants to cry. His heart is fit to burst with a happiness like none he’s ever felt before. He steps closer to Jensen. There’s nearly no space between them now and the room around them really is hushed. Jared speaks only for them.

“Are you sure, Jensen? My life– this life… it takes getting used to. I can’t promise you it will be easy. All I can promise is my love, but it’s yours until my end of days, if that could be enough.”

Jensen’s mouth quirks up in a crooked smile and he sighs. “You’re the only thing that really matters, my sweet boy.”

Jensen stutters, clearly uncertain if he should speak to Jared like that now, now that he knows who he is, and he drops his voice lower and softer so that no one else hears. Jared’s breath hitches at the words and whatever Jensen sees on his face must be good, because Jensen lets out a relieved laugh and grins widely.

Jared reaches for Jensen’s face with both hands now and kisses him without another thought. Jensen is stock still for just a moment before his hesitation fades away and he reaches for Jared, too. Jensen wraps his arms around him right there in Jared’s throne room in front of his friends and subjects, and he deepens their kiss. They get a little lost in it, maybe a little giddy that their dreams have come true after all, so at first they don’t notice all the hooting, hollering, and applause that goes up around them.

They’ll have to make it official, of course – as soon as humanly possible – there are logistics to consider, legal documents and gods only know what else – that’s for Jared’s counsel to be concerned with – but they’ll work it out. Right now, Jared has the man of his dreams alive and well in his arms, and everything is going to be okay – better than okay. It might even be happily ever after.