“Papa!” the tiny, wobbly cry echoed into the kitchen, and Jensen was instantly moving.
By the time that he made it into his parent’s living room, Jared already had their son cradled in his arms. Jensen’s mother was cradling Mittens, her black and white cat, in hers.
Jared was glaring daggers at the feline.
“Papa!” Jensen’s son insisted as soon as his little green eyes caught sight of him. Kaden’s round face was red and blotchy from crying, and tiny tears were making tiny trails down his chubby cheeks. Little arms stretched out over the shoulder that Jared was cradling their son on.
“What’s going on?” Jensen asked as he moved in between his mate and his mother.
“No! Papa!” Kaden insisted again as he twisted around in Jared’s arms to reach out for Jensen again.
Giving in, Jensen reached out and plucked their cherub out of Jared’s grasp. The toddler instantly buried his face against Jensen’s neck and curled in tight. His fluffy, down covered wings bunched up tight against his back even as his baby fists curled into Jensen’s shirt.
“What’s going on?” Jensen asked more to the other adults in the room than his son.
“That creature attacked our son,” Jared said with a venomous tone and condemning finger as he pointed to Mittens.
Jensen’s mother looked contrite as she cradled her beloved cat. And, really, Mittens was old. She’d picked him up at the animal shelter when Jensen was seventeen. Mittens had always been fairly sweet tempered, and the older he got, the lazier he became. Vicious was probably the last thing that Jensen would call him.
But he was still a cat, and he liked feathers. He also had a preoccupation with Jared. As far as Mittens was concerned, he and Jared were soulmates. It was love at first sight. He was officially the first Ackles to wholeheartedly welcome Jared to the family.
Even as Jensen’s loved ones had been skeptical over his whirlwind romance with the seraph, Mittens had silently declared Jared as his. He’d trail after Jared everywhere that he went alternately batting at the nearest pinions or trying to curl up in Jared’s wings for a nap if Jared was stationary.
As far as Jensen was concerned it was cute, adorable even. As far as Jared was concerned, Mittens was some sort of evil stalker who plotted out nefarious schemes in his cat brain.
Not that Jared’s beliefs about the cat had kept him from taunting poor Mittens. Jensen had caught him tempting the cat more than once. He’d sit there and ‘innocently’ twitch his wings, taunting Mittens with those pretty feathers fluttering oh so temptingly. Actual moving feathers in his own kitchen! Not just outside the window on songbirds that he couldn’t ever catch, but real, live and just there.
Jensen had more than once accused Jared of being a horrible tease and leading Mittens on, promising him things that would never happen. Jared always denied it in a huff. It was apparently a seraph thing. They were universally dog people and associating with cats was just not done.
“He was just playing,” Jensen’s mother tried to explain. She looked torn, and Jensen could sympathize.
Despite her initial skepticism about his relationship with Jared, and then her doubts about their sudden and rushed ‘adoption’ of Kaden, she still loved her grandson. But Mittens was hardly an aggressive cat, and Jared’s reaction to him just possibly fell into the realm of overreaction.
Not that Jensen had ever actually had the guts to point that out to his mate. Jared might not ever leave him, but he wasn’t above making his mate feel miserable.
“Mittens got a little too invested in one of Kaden’s feathers and tried to pull one out,” Jensen’s mother clarified.
“He yanked on our son’s feathers like he was trying to eat him,” Jared hissed.
“He did no such thing,” Jensen’s mother argued back.
“Are you defending an animal over your own grandchild?” Jared asked, his wings flaring out in indignation.
“I’m pointing out that you’re being unreasonable!”
“That thing still has its claws! It was trying to eat my child!” Jared insisted, his eyes widening in rage.
Kaden burrowed closer to Jensen, and he gently stroked his fingers through the baby soft down of his son’s wings, calming himself as much as his cherub. There was forgiveness, and then there was forgiveness. Jensen was fairly certain that his mate still blamed Jensen’s family for Jensen’s own reaction to the academy policies.
In lieu of bringing himself to point blame at his beloved, Jared pointed the finger at Jensen’s relatives. He was certain that their closed mindedness was influencing Jensen. He was constantly on the defensive, looking for any sign of bigotry. For the longest time he refused to eat any form of poultry in front of Jensen’s mother, certain that she was making it and serving it to him as some sort of omen that she wished that Jared was dead and roasted.
“Jared,” Jensen tried, bringing out his best soothing voice, “you’re upsetting Kaden.”
“I’m upsetting him?” Jared’s voice rose in pitch, and Jensen did his best to hide his wince. “That cat…”
“Is maybe, just maybe doing what you’ve trained him to do?” Jensen suggested.
“Oh, this is my fault now? That thing hurts your son, and I’m to blame? Nice, Jensen. Real nice.” Jared glowered at him, and Kaden’s tears started anew.
“Now, boys,” Jensen’s mother said, her ‘mom’ voice coming out in full force. It was the same tone that she would use whenever Jensen would get into a fight with one of his siblings. It was that, ‘you two are being idiots’ tone.
“Now what?” Jared snapped defensively.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” she replied.
“And?” Jared asked snidely.
“And I’m finally getting to make turkey instead of ham,” she said.
Jared frowned at that. “What?”
“After how many years of you being with my son and coming to my house on Thanksgiving, I’m finally getting to make a turkey again,” she paused and took a deep breath, “and now you’re finding another reason to hate me.”
Jensen closed his eyes and wished himself away. He wished that he was on an island with just him, Mittens and his son, somewhere that was miles and miles away from the impending meltdown.
“That is… What… Well if it wasn’t true, then you wouldn’t feel that way, now would you?” Jared snarled.
“Jared,” Jensen tried intervening.
“No, no I’ll just go… stay somewhere where my existence doesn’t bother the humans,” Jared said as he stormed from the room.
Jensen’s mother started crying and collapsed into the nearest chair, Mittens making his escape and heading straight after Jared.
“Mom,” Jensen said as he shifted Kaden onto his hip.
“I try, Jensen. I do. You know that I always knew, somewhere deep inside, that you weren’t going to marry a human. You were too obsessed with the seraph, and I’ll admit that I didn’t want that for you. No parent wants things to be rough for their child.”
Jensen nodded because he had understood that even before he’d come home from that medical conference to be confronted with the fact that he was about to become a father. And even before Kaden had decided to break out of his shell, Jensen had worried about him. He’d kept an eye on the incubator, and trailed around their apartment with electric blankets, cradling that too easily broken egg to his chest for warmth.
But when he’d first seen his son, tiny little body and baby wings with barely a hint of wet, scraggly feathers, he’d gone from loving to unbearably protective.
It hadn’t been easy being glared at in stores. When it had just been him and Jared, things had been more manageable. It wasn’t obvious that they were a couple unless Jared was being affectionate, and even if they were discriminated against, Jared was an adult.
When it was his son though, that hurt far more than anything that was ever said about Jensen directly.
“But,” Jensen’s mother continued after dabbing at her tears, “that doesn’t mean that I haven’t done my best to love Jared. Even when he insisted that you were his mate and not his husband, or he threw that unholy fit about serving sunflower seeds at the Super Bowl party and said I was trying to serve him bird seed, I did my best to understand. I know things are difficult, and I know that he loves you. And I only ever wanted that for you, but… I don’t know what else to do.”
Jensen stayed silent and watched his mother cry. He didn’t know what to do either.
Jared glared at the offensive, vile creature as it slinked into the room after him. He could hear his mother-in-law talking, and Jensen being his stoic, uncommunicative self.
It was always about them - always about their human ways and Jared adapting to them.
So she had to adapt for once. So what? She wasn’t the one who had to pretend that her child didn’t come out of her body. She didn’t have to sit around a dinner table and watch as other grandchildren were proudly doted upon and not molested by some feline monstrosity.
“Mrrow?” Mittens said as he padded closer.
“Don’t come near me,” Jared threatened. He’d strangle that cat for hurting his baby. He didn’t care what Jensen said about it. If nobody else was going to take care of its clearly aberrant behavior, Jared would do it for them.
“Mrrreeew!” Mittens announced as he jumped up into Jared’s lap, heedless of the warning.
Jared went to shove the offensive abomination off his legs, but the instant his hand connected with its fur, it started to emit a soft, rumbling purr. Jared scowled and took his hand away. If it wanted to sit there, fine. He’d show Jensen who it was that was forgiving and accepting of other species.
Mittens rumbled and started to knead at Jared’s leg, but he ignored it. Soon enough little meows started to intersperse his purring, and his tiny cat nose started poking at Jared’s limp hand, trying to get him to pet its nasty feline body.
Jared didn’t give in. Not really. It just wasn’t in his nature to hold a grudge for long. He wondered if it made him a bad father that he started petting his son’s attacker. It probably did. He was a horrible, horrible person, and his mother-in-law was right to be suspicious and hateful towards him.
“You are a big softy at heart; you know that?” Jensen’s voice was nearly identical to the cat’s in the way that it rumbled from the doorway.
Jared flushed and yanked his hand away from Mitten’s fur. The cat gave a disconsolate meow and turned hateful cat eyes on the human that had interrupted its petting.
“Where is Kaden?” Jared asked.
“Helping his Grandma make sugar cookies and tormenting Mr. Buttons,” Jensen replied as he walked into the room and sat down on the bed next to Jared.
Mr. Buttons was the other cat that took up residence in the house. He was an orange tabby and certifiably insane, quite possibly because his name was Mr. Buttons.
“Great. I’ll be lucky if I don’t have to take him in for cosmetic surgery by the end of this trip. Those cats will probably chew his feathers right off of him,” Jared snipped.
Jensen sighed, and with his close proximity, Jared could not only feel the hurt and distress rolling off his mate, but the worry as well.
“Jay, what’s going on?” he asked.
“How can you even ask that? My baby got hurt by your parent’s cat, and you’re taking their side!”
“And you hate what Mittens did so much that you’re secretly giving your other lover kitty snuggles,” Jensen pointed out.
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that.”
“And I wish you would quit pretending that you don’t secretly bring him catnip every time we come to visit, but do you see me trying to break you up? I love you so much that I’m letting you see another man. Although, I admit I’d feel differently if he wasn’t neutered.”
“Jensen,” Jared groaned.
Mittens meowed in agreement.
“Seriously, Jay, you want to tell me what’s going on?” Jensen said, his voice sobering from its teasing lilt.
The answer to that was ‘no.’ No, Jared didn’t want to tell his mate what was bothering him because there wasn’t a damn thing that Jensen could do to make it better, and bringing up the subject would be so much worse than even making Jensen’s mother cry.
“I can feel that, you know. Just because I don’t have magical fire powers and pretty wings, that doesn’t mean I can’t feel you with our bond,” Jensen pointed out.
“You’re just jealous,” Jared accused, trying to deflect the conversation.
“Yeah. I’m jealous. Especially of the fact that my body doesn’t randomly decide to give birth to eggs,” Jensen retorted with a slightly knowing tone. He was guessing, but he was guessing close.
“Damn you anyway,” Jared muttered as he petted Mittens, trying to distract himself and get his emotions under control.
“You want another one?” Jensen asked.
Jared shrugged. “I’d like the option, you know? I’d like to be able to go down there and explain that my baby’s green eyes really did come from his papa. I’d like to be able to look at my father-in-law and let him know that his first grandson was born five months before he thinks.”
“Dad already knows that,” Jensen said softly.
Jared laughed humorlessly. “No, no he doesn’t. Your parents love him, but it isn’t the same. They don’t look at him and go, ‘There’s Ackles blood in those veins.’”
“I’m pretty sure that they don’t do that with any of their grandkids. That honestly sounds a little creepy, Jay.”
“You know what I’m trying to say. They’re human, and Kaden isn’t. I’m not, and I can’t exactly tell them that he is because, because…”
“And you wonder why I dislike the academy policies as much as I do,” Jensen said. Had tone wasn’t filled with as much rancor as it normally was, but Jared knew that was only because Jensen was trying to make peace. Any other day, Jensen would be ranting and raving about the secrecy and duplicity of Jared’s people, and it hurt because sometimes it was like Jensen forgot that Jared was a seraph, and the hiding was for good reason.
“I don’t wonder. That’s the problem. I understand it just as well as I understand why your mother would rather that you go find a nice human girl. I just hate it is all,” Jared said.
Jensen sighed and reached out to ruffle his fingers through Jared’s feathers, scratching in past the down to get to the skin. “You want to go home? We can pick up some of those premade meals and celebrate the holiday with just the three of us.”
It was another peace offering. One that Jared knew Jensen didn’t want to be making, and one that wasn’t truly fair if Jared looked at the situation honestly. As hard of a time as Jensen’s family had had accepting their son’s seemingly rash life choices, Jared’s own family had been unbearably reactionary about ‘those humans,’ and their slow reception of their son’s mating.
Jared didn’t even want to think about the war that was their wedding. He still wasn’t sure why there was a three day fight over the color of the flowers let alone the great debate about why red velvet cake was not a suitable choice for a wedding cake. His psychology degree told him that the fights were really substitutions for what their families were actually feeling, but it still boggled his mind how far that projection had gone.
The Ackles clan felt that their son was jumping in too fast. The Padaleckis weren’t sure why there needed to be a ceremony at all when their son was already mated. As far as they were concerned, a quick trip to City Hall was all that was needed to officiate things and get the ‘human paperwork’ sorted out.
Jared’s grandmother had suggested that they just quit trying with Jensen’s family at all. That Jensen was one of them now, and he didn’t need human ideas clogging up his head and messing with his mating. Jensen’s father had overheard this, and before either Jared or Jensen had a chance to smooth things over, both families had been at each other’s throats.
It had been a disaster, and as far as Jared had been concerned, the wedding couldn’t be over fast enough.
Truth be told, Jared still worried that maybe Jensen’s family held that against him, because he knew that there were still members of his own family that tensed up if he mentioned any of his in-laws to them. Not Jensen – he was a mate, and to attack him was unfathomable.
Even Jensen’s attempts at resisting their mating were ignored. It wasn’t as common in modern times as it once had been, but in the old days, humans had been far more resistant. Jared figured that had a lot to do with the old method of mating involving actual abduction, but his mother swore it was because of the excellent screening policies of the academies.
And, oh yeah, that would be why Jensen didn’t talk to Jared’s mother so much. She still sent in her quarterly support checks to the local academy offices.
“If we go home, you’re not going to want to spend Christmas at my folks’ house,” Jared mumbled.
“We can still go if you…”
“Jensen, please. Don’t humor me.”
“I wasn’t making a bartering offer. I just want to make things better. It isn’t like you to pick a fight with my mom. It isn’t like you to pick a fight period, and I’m worried.”
“I didn’t pick a fight!” Jared protested. “Mittens grabbed hold of Kaden’s perfect, fluffy little baby wings, and he just, just…”
“Just tried to do to him what you trained him to do to your wings? He’s a cat, Jared. Despite what some people might tell you, his mental capacity doesn’t really cover fiendish plots. Mittens isn’t tying the mice he catches to toy train tracks and twisting his whiskers while he cackles.”
“Your mom will hate me if we leave,” Jared said.
“My mom thinks you hate her right now. And before you ask, no I’m not suggesting we go because she’s upset. In fact, a little birdie told me that Dad has been plotting out how to best film his two grandsons first wishbone break for weeks now, so he’s going to be heartbroken if Kaden isn’t here to do that.”
“Really?” Jared asked meekly.
“I told you that they love him. Plus, he’s got five months on George. He’s totally going to win that wishbone, and he could use a little good luck what with his preoccupation with cats and all.”
“Cats have an obsession with him,” Jared corrected.
“And I have a fixation with you. I have since before I even met you and your pretty, pretty wings.”
“Good thing too, because you were barely awake when you met me. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
“Liar. I always come around for good coffee. What you’re lucky about is that some sexy barista didn’t steal my heart away first,” Jensen teased.
Jared chuckled, but the banter didn’t lift his spirits. He could hear his son down in the kitchen making a racket as he ‘helped’ his grandmother mix the cookie dough together. She was telling him some preposterous story about angels and freckles that Jared was sure she wouldn’t be telling him if she knew that her son-in-law could overhear her. She walked on eggshells around him, and it irritated Jared that she felt she had to monitor her behavior like that. He felt like they would never get past that uncomfortable stage of interaction, and it was as much his fault as anybody’s.
“Do you want to tell them?” Jensen asked after a few minutes.
“Tell them what?”
“About Kaden. That he didn’t really come from some teenaged seraph that your cousin knew who got knocked up before she mated and gave the baby up for adoption. That we lucked out on the genetics lottery instead of the ‘once in a lifetime’ chance at adopting a cherub,” Jensen clarified.
It was tempting to do that. Jared was tired of lying. He was tired of pretending not to notice how much their son favored his papa’s looks. He wanted to be able to tell Jensen to leave the condom off so that they could have a chance at bringing more perfect babies into the world, and not have to lie to those closest to them about it.
But Jared couldn’t do that. They had enough problems interacting with each other now. He couldn’t imagine how his in-laws would look at him if they knew that his body just arbitrarily decided to spawn eggs that his mate could fertilize, and he wouldn’t be able to bear it if they started treating Kaden like some freak because he was birthed in an egg and then hatched.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jared mumbled.
“But you want to do it anyway,” Jensen added, not really questioning.
“I want to do a lot of things that I shouldn’t. I’m a very impulsive kind of guy.”
“Mmmm, but yet Mittens still lives, so I rest assured of your impulse control.”
“He’s okay for a cat. Even if he did bite my kid,” Jared tacked on.
Jensen reached over and scratched Mittens behind the ears. “You realize that there is a good chance he wanted Kaden’s feathers because he smells like you, right? He and Mr. Buttons are the only two Ackles besides me that know our son is biologically ours. Cats have excellent sensory perception.”
“Mr. Buttons is crazy. He probably thinks Kaden is related to the can of SPAM that your mom has in the cupboard,” Jared said even as he gave Mittens extra pets for just the thought that he maybe knew the truth, and in his own cat way supported it.
“Yeah, but everybody has to have somebody in the family that’s a little crazy. Perfect families would be boring,” Jensen agreed.
“Was that you trying to be deep?” Jared asked, glancing out the corner of his eyes at his mate.
“Depends, did it work?”
“I’m going to ask your mom if she coached you,” Jared told him.
Jensen looked affronted. “Dude, you would’ve overheard if she had.”
“Maybe I just want an excuse to not go apologize,” Jared admitted.
Jensen leaned over and pressed a kiss against Jared’s temple. “Just think of it as setting an example for your son.”
“I thought that you were supposed to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, not crow,” Jared mocked complained as he leaned back against his mate, sighing as Jensen’s arm automatically slid up to cradle him close.
Jensen pressed another kiss onto the crown of Jared’s head and said, “Trust the man that had to give up on his own pride, sometimes crow can end up tasting pretty sweet.”