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Jensen’s fingernails are chipped and his lips are chapped.  He drums his fingers against his desk in time to the music blasting from his headphones, and doesn’t care that his skin is dry and that his hands continually smell like turpentine.  He wears his hair short and his clothes loose.  No one really likes the way he looks except him, and that’s how he likes it.

*

Most of the time he flies under the radar, but sometimes he’s noticed, despite his best efforts not to be.  He hunches his shoulders forward, curving his back like his backpack is weighing him down.  The voices drift over, loud even through the blare of his music.

“God, I swear he gets weirder every day.”  There’s laughter behind the words, more astonished than actually malicious.  Jensen isn’t worth wasting malice on, apparently.

“I know.  Shame too.  Did I tell you about when I went over to Jay’s house the other day?  He answered the door and wasn’t wearing those stupid glasses of his.  I think he’d actually be hot if he wasn’t so much of a freak.”

“He’s not a freak.”  Jared’s voice is casual and calm, but Jensen can hear the Alpha behind it.  “So shut up about him.”

One of the other guys laughs, like he can’t believe Jared is actually defending Jensen.  “C’mon, Jay, I know you guys are step-brothers and you have to live with him and everything, but you have to admit that he’s just not natural.  ‘Megas aren’t supposed to be like him.”

“That’s pretty sexist of you,” Jared replies, still just as collected.  “Better not let your girlfriend hear you talking that way.”

Jensen turns the corner then and he catches a glimpse of Jared and his crew.  No one’s attention is on Jensen anymore—except for Jared.  He stares, expressionless, over the heads of the crowd, gaze locked on Jensen.

Jensen keeps walking.

*

Jensen’s mom and Jared’s dad got married when they were both twelve.  They barely knew each other from school, and then one day, they were staring over the dining room table at each other.  Even then, Jared had been tall and more of an Alpha then Alphas twice his age, mostly because he wasn’t trying to be.  Even then, Jensen hadn’t been the sort of Omega people thought he ought to be.

They mostly ignored each other.  Not because they hated each other, but because they were fairly indifferent to each other.

Still, it was hard not to bond some when they were the only two kids in a big, empty house with their parents were gone most of the time, working constantly.  First, it was quietly doing homework in the same room.  Then they began making basic dinners together.  Next, of course, there was silently walking to school, side-by-side.  It wasn’t all that surprising to Jensen when people at school eventually stopped bothering him.  Jared had a way of getting things done, without anyone realizing he’d dealt with them.  He was subtle for an Alpha, a trait Jensen appreciated.

When they were fourteen, Jared’s dad died.  It was all pretty sudden, some heart health thing that could have been avoided if he’d eaten better and worked less.  There’d been talk of sending Jared off to his mom’s on the east coast, but then Jared had spoken up, face pale and tear tracks still shining on his cheeks.  His voice had been remarkably steady.  “I want to stay with Donna and Jensen,” he’d said, and although his relatives had argued at first, they’d given in eventually.  Jared was an Alpha after all.  Even at fourteen, it was pretty easy for him to get what he wanted.

*

At seventeen, they are both old enough to drive.  Still, Jared is the one who does the driving, mostly because he’s the one with the car.  It’s a black sports car that Jensen’s mom (not Jared's, because she had three babies with her new husband to worry about) had bought Jared for his sixteenth birthday, probably to make up for the fact that his dad’s dead and Jensen’s mom has buried herself even further into her work.

Jared lets Jensen hook his iPod up to the stereo system, and they listen to the Rolling Stones on the way home, because Jensen isn’t mean enough to make Jared listen to his usual music, and the Stones are something they both like.  Jared hums out of tune and bobs his head with the beat, brown hair swinging against his chin as he does.

The music cuts off after Jared pulls the car into the garage and parks.  He doesn’t try to get the door for Jensen or carry his backpack, which is something Jensen appreciates.  Mr. Padalecki had done that, on one of the rare occasions he’d driven them to school.  Jared trusts that Jensen can do things for himself.

Still—“You didn’t need to defend me,” Jensen says, dropping his backpack onto the kitchen counter.  He rolls the sleeves of his oversized t-shirt up before dropping to his knees in front of Jared.

Jared takes off his jacket and undoes his fly with quick fingers so Jensen doesn’t have to.  “It’s not exactly my idea of a good time to listen to them badmouth you,” he replies as he leans back against the counter, spreading his legs a bit wider in invitation.  “It’s not like I’m going out of my way.”

Jensen shrugs as he yanks Jared’s jeans and boxer briefs down to his knees.  “Just sayin’,” he says, before he takes Jared’s cock into his mouth and slides all the way down, his lips circling the base.  His eyelids flutter as calm rolls through him at the feeling of Alpha cock on his tongue.

Jared doesn’t have a reply beyond a low sigh and a hand on the back of Jensen’s head, urging him on.

*

Jensen worried, when he was younger, that he was actually defective.  He’d read the books and he knew how things were supposed to work.  The scent of an Alpha was supposed to get him wet; the sight of one was supposed to make him want to bare his neck.  Instead, all a blast of pheromones ever did was make him vaguely uncomfortable and itchy, and he never felt like baring his neck to anyone.  He wasn’t a homosexual either, or trisexual, or any of the other kinds of sexuality he read about in books.  He wasn’t even asexual, because he wanted sex just as much as any other teenager.

He never voiced his concerns to anyone because it didn’t really seem to matter.  He carefully cultivated an image no one would be interested in, so it was a non-issue.  He took care of his sexual urges with his own hands and managed to be pretty content.  Some days he forgot he was an Omega in the first place.

It was on one of those days, when he was fifteen, that he woke up in the morning feeling vaguely unsettled.  When he stumbled downstairs to breakfast, Jared looked up and wrinkled his nose.  “I think we need to get you to the doctor,” he said, and then he driven Jensen to the Omega clinic, even though they were both underage and he only had his learner’s permit.

The doctor was very kind and matter-of-fact.  She didn’t even mind Jared sitting in on their session, although she’d side-eyed him a bit.  She gave Jensen medicine for his newly developed heat cycle.  Jensen took one pill and promptly spent the rest of the day shaking to pieces and throwing up.

The next morning they went back to the clinic.  The doctor pursed her lips and shook her head.  “Some Omegas just react badly to heat suppressants.  If they made you that sick, then I’m afraid you’ll have to just go through your heats regularly.”

Jensen clenched his hands in the fabric of the hoodie Jared had put on him that morning.  Jared was the one who asked, “do you have any scent suppressants you could prescribe him, at least?  So he can go out without having to worry about other people scenting his heat?”

The doctor looked down her nose at him disapprovingly.  “I do.  However, without a mate, I can’t advise that he go out in public during his heat.  Omegas who don’t have a mate during their heat will be insensible and irrational for most, if not all, of it.  The only reason Jensen is alright right now is because first heats are almost always what we call ‘pseudo-heats’, which means he’ll only feel some of the symptoms.  I can almost guarantee you that his next heat will not be so easy.”

Jared leaned forward on his elbows, eyes intent.  “But mated Omegas, they can go outside on the suppressors?”

“After being mated during heat, the average Omega will have a few hours of relief from their heat, before their symptoms return.  However, this is only the case for mated Omegas—”

“Still, having the scent suppressants can’t hurt,” Jared cut in, and widened his eyes at Jensen.  “Right, Jensen?”

So Jensen went home with a case of scent suppressants.  Jared drove quietly and carefully, but once he parked the car in the garage, neither of them got out.  “Heats are three times a year,” Jensen said.  “They’re supposed to suck.”

“Did you know that there’s a way to use rut suppressants to time when you want to have your rut?” Jared asked, and Jensen listened because he had a feeling that somewhere in there, there was a point.  “Some mated Alphas use them so they can match their rut up with their Omega’s heat.”  Jared looked over at Jensen.  “The doctor said you’d feel better if someone took care of you during your heat.”

Jensen narrowed his eyes.  “I’m not just gonna mate with you because of my heat.”

In response, Jared rolled his eyes.  “Don’t be old-fashioned.  We don’t have to mate.  I’m just sayin’…”  He took a deep breath.  “We can help each other out.  Just like we always have.  Just.  A bit differently.”

That evening, they sat down with a school calendar and charted out when Jensen’s heats would be.  Jared started taking rut suppressants.

*

Jensen doesn’t have friends.  Being with other Omegas only emphasizes how different he is from them.  Betas tend to assume that he’s interested in them, and so do Alphas.  He spends his free time in the art room because he likes to paint.  He plans to go to college and get his degree in art, although he knows it’s harder for Omegas to get into the top schools.  He’s gonna do it anyway.

A couple of girls stumble into the art room, giggling, and Jensen grits his teeth.  He can tell the minute they notice him by the way they abruptly stop giggling and begin whispering.  One of them approaches him, an Alpha, judging from her scent.  “Hey, Jensen,” she says, voice sweet and pitying.  He doesn’t look at her, just nods his head in response.  She takes that as permission to continue.  “You know, my friends and I were just talking about how cute you’d be if you got contacts and grew your hair out a bit.  Even getting some new clothes would be good.  If you want, we can go shopping this weekend.”

Jensen rarely gets hit on, but he knows what it sounds like.  This Alpha isn’t really interested, except for maybe in turning him into a pretty prize to wear on her arm and have in her bed.  He doesn't bother replying to her, and just quietly gathers his art supplies and leaves the room.

Later that day, he hears some other kids talking about what a rude little freak he is, just brushing Rachel off like that.  He hadn’t even known her name, but they act like he should have been grateful for her interest.  He pushes down his anger, because it’s not like it will do any good, and defiantly bites on his thumbnail until he can tear the tip off, leaving the edge jagged.  He scrapes it against his jeans, filing it down until it’s smooth and the end of his nail has a bluish tinge.

At home that day, Jensen asks Jared to knot him, something they rarely do.  Jared bends him over the kitchen counter and Jensen shivers as his bare hips bounce against the cold marble.  There are going to be bruises from how hard Jared is fucking him later.  For right now, all Jensen can do is pant happily and squeeze down on the knot forming inside of him.

Once they’re locked, Jared keeps his hands and his mouth to himself after he maneuvers them so they can lay down on the floor.  Jared puts them on their sides, so Jensen can lean back against him, with one arm draped above Jensen’s head and the other against his own thigh.  Jensen likes the way Jared doesn’t try to bite the nape of his neck or scent-mark his stomach with hands.  He doesn’t think he could stand it if Jared tried to cage him like the rest of the world does.

“Why aren’t all Alphas more like you?” He asks finally, gently butting his head back against Jared’s chin.

“Why aren’t all Omegas more like you?” Jared asks, like it’s some sort of reply, then shrugs against Jensen’s back.  “People like being the same way they’ve been for centuries.  Not everyone is brave enough to change.”

*

Jensen’s heat inconveniently lands in the middle of the week, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  They agree to take Wednesday off and struggle through the other two days.  Jared fucks him Tuesday morning, and then fingers him until he comes at lunch.  They’d found a perfect deserted old classroom a couple of heats ago.  It’s in the area of campus that’s under construction, so no one goes there.  It smells like them now, like Jensen’s heat and Jared’s rut.  Jared likes laying Jensen over what must have been the teacher’s desk and milking him.  Jensen likes it too.

He keeps his legs spread with hands holding his thighs.  He pants as he stares up at the ceiling, too out of breath to moan.  Just laying there feels like a marathon as he struggles to stay still, even as Jared rubs three fingers persistently over his prostate.  There’s a clock on the wall above Jared’s head, but it hasn’t worked in the whole time they’ve been frequenting this room, stuck forever at 9:07.  Sometimes, in the midst of orgasm, it seems like the world is shaking hard enough that the hands move.  It always turns out to just have been in Jensen’s head.

“Do you want another?” Jared asks.  He only ever speaks during sex to ask Jensen what he wants, what he needs.  Jensen nods, and the push of Jared’s pinkie finger into him is enough to simulate a knot.  Jensen’s whole body seizes, back arching up away from the desk as he comes.  He barely has time to recover before Jared is leaning down to lick it up.  Jensen’s chest heaves as Jared’s face bumps up against it, his sloppy licking only making them messier.

There’s a speck of Jensen’s come high on Jared’s cheekbone when he finally pulls away, but Jensen’s chest is painted with shiny spit.  “You’ve got—” Jensen gestures, then reaches up to sweep the come onto his own thumb, sticking it in his mouth.  Jared watches with dark eyes, his own need, powered by his rut, not yet appeased.  “Let me,” Jensen says, and kneels on the floor so that Jared can jerk off onto his face.  Jared’s come feels like almost as much of a relief as his own orgasm.

*

College letters all come in the same week.  They come home every day to find another couple stuffed in their mailbox.  They open theirs privately.  By some sort of unspoken agreement, they aren’t sharing where they got in until all the letters have come back.  Jensen doesn’t even know where Jared applied.

Jensen gets more rejections than acceptances.  He knows it’s not because of his grades or his test scores or his portfolio.  It’s because of the ‘O’ mark under ‘sex’ on his information sheet.  Still, he gets accepted to a few schools more than he thought he would.  On the last day of April, he gets a thick packet back from RISD, his top choice.  He opens it with shaking fingers and can’t hide a smile.  He got in.

He slaps the packet down in front of Jared, acceptance letter on top.  “Dude,” Jared says, sounding a bit awed.  “You did it.”

“Yeah,” Jensen grins down at him and gets the odd urge to lay a kiss on Jared’s lips.  He ignores it, fidgeting in place.  “I’m gonna go.”

“I know you are.”  Carefully, Jared looks down at his own stack of papers.  For the first time, Jensen catches sight of the names on them.  There’s something strange about them, though Jensen can’t say what.  They’re all good schools, as he’d expected.  Jared’s the kind of kid every school wants.  “I got into Brown,” Jared says, and then nods, as if he’s only deciding just then.  “I think I’m gonna go there.”

“We’ll be close then,” Jensen says, and is pleased by the idea.  “Maybe we can get my mom to get a studio for us to share.”

Jared smiles up at him, big and real, not a smile that he uses at school a lot.  “I’d like that.”

That’s when it clicks—all of the schools are near schools where Jensen applied.  There’s not one that’s more than fifteen miles away.  Some of them are even the same.  “You—” he says, shocked, and then he cuts himself off, because he should have guessed.

“Wait!” Jared grabs onto his wrist, as if he senses that Jensen’s about to run off.  “It’s not like that, Jensen—”

“So you’re not in love with me?!”

There’s silence after that, both of them staring at each other like they can’t believe Jensen actually said it.  It’s heavy in the air and Jensen doesn’t like how it weighs on him.  He doesn’t like it at all.

“I’m not saying that,” Jared finally replies, slow and careful, like Jensen is some woodland animal that he could scare off with a loud word.  “I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t lie about that.  I’m just saying…”  His thumb swipes over Jensen’s wrist and then he releases it.  “What we have.  It’s good.  I know you aren’t where I am.  Not yet.  But we’re young.  We have years.  And even if you don’t ever want the same thing… well, that’s your choice.  I don’t want to cage you, Jensen.  I want you to be free to be whoever you want to be.”

Jensen eyes him warily.  He isn’t used to interest without pressure.  Someone else’s desire has always been a trap waiting to catch him.  People wanting him is nothing but ropes and chains and limits.  But Jared has never been like anyone else before.  There’s no reason to think he’ll start being like them now.

“Okay,” Jensen says lowly, trying to force his body to relax.  “Okay.  I can… That sounds good.”

“Good,” Jared repeats, and smiles at him again.  “Jensen, it’s going to be more than good.”

*

Jensen’s mom buys them a studio exactly between RISD and Brown.  Their first night there, Jared fucks Jensen up against the window, looking out at the city.  “Just think, Jensen,” he says afterwards, laying knotted together on Jared’s bed afterwards.  “Just think.  There isn’t anything we can’t do here.”

Jensen believes him.

***