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Species Interaction

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It was supposed to have been a slow day. A girl who was trying to work her way back from a rollerblading injury so that she could still be captain of the swim team come school time was Jensen’s only appointment. Other than that, the rehabilitation center was almost dead. If Jensen hadn’t been trying to get his interning hours in, he probably would’ve been sent home due to lack of work.

It was a surprise when one of the emergency room interns came blasting through the doors of the physical therapy lounge. Erica had splashes of blood on her scrubs, and Jensen’s brain immediately chided her for rushing through the hospital in such an unsanitary state. The hazardous waste teams were going to make the girl’s life living hell, and he could only imagine what her resident was going to say to her.

Then his brain kicked into a higher gear because Erica was well on her way to being the top intern on staff. While Jensen’s physical therapy prowess was nothing to sniff at, the girl was practically a legend already. She knew better than anyone the risks of blood borne pathogens and uncontained blood.

“Jensen!” she practically screeched when she laid eyes on him. Screeching wasn’t something she did, ever. “Why haven’t you answered your page?”

Jensen frowned at her question. The easy answer to that was because the intercom had been on the fritz down in the rehab center. An electrical storm the week before had managed to zap the wing of the hospital that physical therapy resided in. It killed their phones as well as made the speakers in the ceiling highly unreliable.

Their calls had been rerouted to a different area while the technicians worked on getting them back up and running, but they weren’t exactly the highest importance level unit. The people that came for their services weren’t likely to show up without an appointment, and if they needed immediate treatment, they were more in need of their orthopedic surgeon than they guy that stood there making them flex muscles and encouraging them not to give up.

Jensen must’ve taken too long to answer, because Erica was wrapping a, thankfully, clean hand around his arm and attempting to drag him out the door.

“Come on!” She not so nicely encouraged him.

Jensen spared a thought that he at least had better bedside manner than she did even if she was on the track to fame and glory while he was already confirmed to the, ‘loser who couldn’t make his dreams come true,’ road.

“What’s going on?” Jensen asked as he started following her.

“There’s a cherub in the ER who is freaking out. Kid’s wing is broken, and he won’t let us touch him. We’d tranquilize him, but you know how reliable that is, and the last thing we need is a freaking lawsuit for trying to improperly sedate a minor.”

A cherub. Jensen stumbled in his stride before he picked the pace back up. Winged ones were known by many different names around the world. Some called them harpies or angels or demons. Some said that they came from outer space while others swore that they came from the offspring of angels and men. Still others believed that they were an evolutionary throwback to avian ancestors. There were even some that said that they were the children of the Swan Princess’ brothers and that the strongest of them were the offspring of the one who didn’t quite turn back because his shirt wasn’t finished.

The winged ones themselves were rather mute on the subject, but one thing that had become almost universal was the use of ‘cherub’ to describe one of their young. It made sense given that even human children were called ‘cherubic’ though Jensen had never met a kid that he’d willingly give that description to. Even his own niece made him want to plug his ears and hope for rescue.

With the use of cherub becoming common place, the name seraphim had started to follow to describe the adults. As they seemed uninterested in explaining their origins, indeed many speculated that they didn’t even know them, the human world wanted to call them by something other than ‘winged ones.’

Of course, seraphim was just a fancier word for ‘angel’ and sort of a mouthful to always be saying, so the name eventually became shortened to ‘seraph’ as the years passed, and eventually they became known as the seraph race.

All of which had absolutely nothing to do with the current situation.

“What happened?” Jensen asked, his mind racing with ideas about why exactly Erica had come looking for him.

Her brown eyes turned hard with fury as she glanced over at him. “Separatists,” she spat out, “kid was flying with his mother and some jackass shot her. He tried to grab her, but he’s a little thing, Jensen. He didn’t have the wing span to stop her decent, and managed to smack his left wing into a brick building. We’re pretty sure it’s broken, but he’s not letting anybody touch it.”

“What about his mom?”

“In surgery. Her son probably saved her life, at least for the moment.”

“You sure it was separatists and not hunters?” Jensen asked. It happened on occasion. Hunters that had one too many celebratory beers would mistake the fucking gigantic winged creature in the sky for a goose or something and take a shot at it.

“Given the amount of shrapnel in her? It wasn’t some redneck having a date with Johnny Walker.” Erica replied, her mouth smiling while the rest of her didn’t.

Jensen nodded, feeling that sick twist in his stomach that he got anytime that he heard about that sort of senseless violence.

“Okay, but what do you need me for? I can’t help the kid until his wing bones mend, and he needs assistance working on his flight muscles. Even then he isn’t going to be coming here. We’re not licensed for winged care.” Jensen forced himself to speak clinically. It still hurt that he hadn’t been accepted to the academy. It was all he had ever wanted when he was younger.

The Academy of Angelic Care in San Antonio was a training facility to take care of the ‘winged ones.’ There were similar facilities all over the world, but not one of them was easy to get into. They screened their applicants thoroughly before admitting them. There were tests and interviews and background screenings.

If you got in, they tailored your studies to coincide with your greatest strengths. Jensen knew that the preening classes were highly sought after. It was a chance to get in there and really work with the majestic and secretive beings. It was important to the seraph to have help in their preening and while they could help each other, it was said that they preferred the human touch.

Apparently human fingers were better at feeling out where the barbs needed smoothing or quills needed pulling out. They were better for pushing at the oils and helping the downy undercoat molt.

It was prestigious, but Jensen had never aspired to get into those classes. He’d just wanted in period. In truth, he’d have preferred to not get into a preening class. It was too high profile for the likes of him. Getting put into that class would just end in failure. No, he had only ever wanted to get into the academy and take some classes so that he could get a job working with the seraph. And oh how he had tried.

Jensen had been attempting to get into the academy since he was fifteen. Every year he would apply, and every year he’d get a rejection notice. He’d gotten one interview in his sophomore year of college. He remembered being so excited. Even his mother’s soft admonition to not get his hopes up hadn’t been enough to quell his spirits.

Jensen had just known it was his moment. He was meant for the academy. Ever since he could read, he had devoured any book about seraphs that he could get his hands on. He studied their culture and their physiology and had a burning passion to help them. All he needed was that one interview to prove how perfect of a candidate he was.

Jensen didn’t make the cut.

He’d been devastated. He’d been certain that his rabid passion had been what kept him from getting in. There were seraph groupies and nosy reporters who just wanted to get facts and pictures that they could twist to make the seraph look like something that they weren’t.

The interview process, Jensen knew, was made to keep those sorts of people out of the academy. He had to have screwed his own chances by his own enthusiasm and babbling mouth.

He’d never heard of somebody getting a second interview, but he kept applying even as he finished semester after semester of regular, human college. The only reason that he even went into physical therapy in the first place was because it seemed like it would mesh well with the flight muscle studies that the academy taught. When he didn’t get into the high school graduate program, he had wanted to continue in a vein of study that would keep him from being too far behind when he finally got his admissions notice.

What he got instead of that was a degree in sports therapy and an internship at a small hospital on the outskirts of Dallas helping overly enthusiastic sports players recover from stupid, macho injuries and assisting elderly people learn to use their new, steel joints because they couldn’t afford a second intern, and Jensen’s stupid sports degree was going to have to be good enough to help out with the geriatric crowd. Personally, if Jensen were one of his elderly patients, he’d demand his money back for getting a discount intern.

“Because you’re like the dove whisperer,” Erica muttered.

“What?” Jensen asked. He was fairly certain that he had asked a question that Erica was answering, but he’d been too caught up in his own musings, and her comment was sarcastic enough that he could get by with the question without looking like a space cadet.

“Look, you’re like obsessed with the seraph, and our two specialists are in surgery trying to save the kid’s mother. The cherub is freaking out, and his good wing is doing serious damage to our medical equipment. So scrub with me, get your ass to room three, and try to help Mike out, will you?”

Jensen nodded and did as he was told. The face mask and the gloves were odd to put on. He knew the proper way to clean and disinfect, but he’d never had to do it in an emergency before. He wasn’t a doctor or a nurse that was cleared to be in such a place, not really. He was qualified to deal with people who wanted to regain mobility and strengthen muscle, not deal with blood like a surgeon or mental freak outs like a psychologist.

The screeching was evident the moment that he hit the other side of the swinging doors. There weren’t any crashing sounds, but as Jensen actually entered room three, he realized that was because everything that could be knocked down already had been.

“No! No touch!” The cherub cried as his wing flared out towards the doctor in the room.

The child was small, smaller than Jensen had imagined him to be. He was five maybe six years old at the most, and he was terrified. His tiny body was shaking, and his feathers were fluffed out in a clear sign of aggression. Jensen couldn’t imagine such a small seraph trying to keep an adult body aloft.

“Hey, hey now,” Jensen said as he approached calmly. He was desperately trying to remember the last crime drama that he’d watched where the cops had to approach and out of control suspect. Sure, it was Hollywood, but Jensen’s daily problems tended to center around people wanting to give up because it was too painful or too hard. He didn’t exactly have a calming script planned for sheer panic.

“No, no, no, no ,no,” the kid chanted, his tiny chest heaving under his shirt.

 

Jensen inched forward and let his fingers brush against the edge of the cherub’s out flung wing. It snapped closed behind the kid’s back with an audible whoosh, but the noise was overridden by the sound of the child’s pained grunt as the other, damaged wing tried to follow suit.

Jensen frowned and halted his movement for a moment. If the kid hadn’t mastered independent wing movement yet, then he couldn’t be six. There were chances that he wasn’t even five. Some of the seraph were huge, and it was entirely possible that the child was just big for his age.

“I’m Jensen.” Jensen blurted out with the most insane, cheery voice that he could imagine outside of a child’s television program.

He could feel every eye on the room stop to stare at him for a moment, but all of those eyes included the child’s, so he counted it as a win.

“What’s your name?” Jensen asked in the same, chipper tone.

“Momma said not to talk to strangers!” The kid said, stubborn little chin jutting out, eyes blazing with mistrust.

“Well, that’s good. That’s really good that you listen to your mom, but you know you can talk to policemen and doctors, right? You came in with the ambulance and all the policemen, so you know we’re trying to help.”

The kid shook his head. “He’s a bad man!” He accused as he pointed to the doctor in the corner of the room.

“Why is that?” Jensen asked calmly.

“Bad touch! Momma says no bad touch!”

Jensen heard the outraged gasps around him, and fought to keep his own face neutral. Dr. Pollack hadn’t been accused of anything like that ever. He was a children’s rights advocate and a well respected pediatric specialist. While it wasn’t impossible, Jensen could think of much more likely suspects to commit such a crime.

“Okay, where did he touch you?” Jensen asked calmly.

There were angry words that bubbled around them, talk of child councilors and Jensen’s generally unqualified status, but the kid seemed to see him as his only ally in the room as he extended his broken wing a bit and pointed at it while he furled his good wing around and shielded his face from view.
Between the outstretch feathers, Jensen could see the child’s face turn red with shame and tiny tears drip down his face.

“Oh, hey, buddy. It’s okay.” Jensen instantly soothed. According to all the books he’d read, a seraph’s wings were sensitive. They had to be to read the air currents the way that they did, but he’d never heard of them thinking that they were private. Then again, they were infuriatingly mute on the subject most of the time. Even having been known to the general world populace for the last century and a half, they were still a secretive bunch.

Given that a human just tried to kill the boy’s mother, Jensen couldn’t find it in his heart to blame them.

“It’s bad. I’m not supposed to let them touch my fe…feathers.” The boy starts hiccupping as the tears kept coming.

“I know, okay? And you totally shouldn’t do anything that your mom told you not to do, but your wing is broken, and it’s got to hurt, right? Doctors, sometimes they have to touch places that other people shouldn’t because we get hurt there. But they have to touch to fix it.” Jensen explained all the while praying that his faith in Dr. Pollack wasn’t misplaced.

The kid peered out from between his feathers to stare at Jensen, “I want my daddy.”

“I know, buddy. But in the mean time, maybe you can tell me how bad it hurts? We can get another doctor in to look at your wing and maybe make it feel better?”

“Can’t you do it?” The kid whined, new tears coming down his face.

“I’m not a doctor,” Jensen started to say, but the cherub’s wings started fluttering and new tears started coming, so Jensen tacked on, “but I can be right here with you, okay? And if they do anything scary, I’ll make them stop.”

The kid looked at him hard for a moment before nodding his head in agreement.

Jensen wondered when exactly he went into the child care business.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dirk, as it turned out the poor child was named, decided that Jensen was his personal guardian angel. The irony was not lost on anybody in the hospital. Apparently Jensen was big and strong and sent from the heavens to protect the fallen seraphs whose wings needed mending.

It was clearly a story that the child’s parents had told him, and while the others laughed at the idea of Jensen being a guardian angel to a real, live ‘angel,’ Jensen fought the urge to grab a pen and paper to write down the fairy tale to horde away in his own private haven on seraph information.

Child services puttered around them, but left them alone while they waited for Dirk’s father to get in from his out of town business meeting. They kept a careful eye on Jensen’s interaction with the cherub, but there wasn’t much they could do aside from that as Dirk became upset whenever Jensen attempted to leave his side.

They were afraid of a lawsuit, especially after what the cherub had said in the emergency room. Even though he’d quieted down and gotten his wing set with minimal fuss, he was still upset and fretful. Jensen wanted to slap a couple of the workers that hovered around and occasionally asked the kid how he was doing.

How did they think Dirk was doing? The kid had to be traumatized and was in pain. Jensen wasn’t sure he could handle seeing something like that happen to his mother any better than the kid had. In fact, he was certain that he’d be more of a mess. He’d have caved in and succumbed to the shock by now or asked for more painkillers to numb him into a sleep so that he could escape the nightmare.

But little Dirk didn’t. Instead he grabbed hold of Jensen’s hand and recited little childish beliefs and stories of special humans born to be helpmates to their winged brethren.

Jensen wasn’t sure why a seraph would still tell their child such tales when there were humans out there trying to kill them. He wondered about it right up to the moment Dirk’s father showed up. The man was tall, muscular and completely human.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The shooting made the news, but thankfully Jensen’s name didn’t get attached to it. If he had to lead the life of second best failure, he’d like it to stay as anonymous as possible.

The press was calling it a hate crime, which was obvious enough, but more disturbing were the rumblings of it being a planned one. The shooters weren’t waiting around for just any old seraph to fly by. No, they were waiting for Dirk’s mother because she had married a human. More troublesome was that they might not have been aiming for her at all, but the half-breed child flying by her side. Spectators reported her veering suddenly off course, but they swore that it was before they heard the sound of gunfire.

She’d taken a bullet for her child.

Jensen knew that there were humans that mated with seraph. It wasn’t a common practice, but it was more common amongst the humans who went to the academy. Just like any other school or workplace, people become attached to and fall in love with the people that they’re around. It was bound to happen.

It was also one of the reasons that his parents hadn’t been so upset at the death of their son’s dream. They weren’t separatists, but that didn’t mean that they wanted him dragging home a new down comforter that was still, as some people put it, quacking.

As a teenager, Jensen had blamed his parents of keeping him from getting into the academy. It couldn’t be his lack of skills. No, they had to be stopping him from getting admitted.

He recognized his idiocy on the subject now, but at the time he’d been less accustomed to the rejection letters. He supposed it was one part teenage angst and three parts ego, but he had been certain that he was destined for the academy, and any rejection was surely on the part of somebody else’s failure.

As an adult, Jensen realized that maybe he just wasn’t good enough to make the cut.

Maybe the day, as harrowing as it had been, was his way of getting to realize his dream of being able to work with and help a seraph. He might not have gotten to even touch a feather, but he’d made a difference in Dirk’s day, maybe even his life, and Jensen could be proud of that. He could make do with that memory. He was good at that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ringing of the telephone woke Jensen from his slumber. It was two weeks after the shooting incident, and he had the next three days off from work. Because of that convenient break, he’d gone out partying the night before with his loser musician friends to celebrate their lives of mediocrity.

Groaning, Jensen grabbed his glasses off the nightstand and slapped them haphazardly on his nose before picking up his cell phone. If it was his mother, Chris was going to owe him fifty bucks. Jensen swore that his mom had radar for when he’d been out partying too hard, and always knew to call him the next morning for maximum effect.

When he looked at the screen, the number wasn’t one he recognized. Hitting the answer he button, he said a cautious and gravelly, “Hello?”

“Jensen Ackles?” the voice on the other end of the line was unbearably chipper.

“Speaking,” Jensen said slowly. If it was a sales call or the blood bank or some damned solicitor, he was going to freak.

“This is Chad from the admissions department at the Academy of Angelic Care,” the voice on the other end droned.

Jensen sat fully up in bed. “You tell that fucker Chris that this isn’t goddamned funny.”

“I… Wow, dude. Your application is old, but I think you should’ve noted that you aren’t a morning person.”

“I mean it. I don’t care how much he paid you. This isn’t funny.”

“Okay, so I’m going to go ahead and jot down that you’re paranoid as well.”

“Whatever. I’m hanging up now. Tell Chris he isn’t going to have that stupidly long, girl hair much longer,” Jensen growled as he hung up the phone.

He really regretted the death of landline phones. Cells just never had that satisfying ‘click’ to them.

Of course, he ended up eating crow when his acceptance letter came in the afternoon mail. It was in an express envelope, and when he called the admissions office, from a phone number he got off the official website, because he’s apparently still that paranoid teenager, it was Chad that answered.

“Admissions, this is Chad.”

“Hi, Chad,” Jensen said awkwardly. It was embarrassing. Jensen had never coped with embarrassment well once in his entire life. He made a point to blend into the wallpaper most of the time. He practiced conversations to have with his patients so he they didn’t make complaints about him, but it took forever or a bottle of tequila for him to open up. Now that he knew that Chad was indeed legitimate, his previous social prowess that allowed him to tell the guy off had evaporated.

“Ahh, Mr. Ackles. I take it you found your coffee machine and humped it?” Chad asked, his voice perking up noticeably.

“I… what?” Jensen squeaked. It had to be a test of some sort, an admissions screening, only what was the right answer? Should he get offended? Should he let it pass? What were they looking for?

“Owww!” Chad bellowed into the phone and consequently Jensen’s ear. “Dude, alright. The dude is ancient. I don’t need to be… Okay, okay… You still there, Mr. Ackles?” Chad’s voice abruptly turned sugary sweet at the end of his monologue.

“Yes?”

“It that a question or a statem… Ow! Mother FU… Of course I’m on mute you douche! You think I’m not a goddamned professional?”

“Mr. uh, Chad?” Jensen chanced asking. He could hear an irritated female voice in the background, but Chad seemed to have finally covered the receiver, so the actual words weren’t making their way through.

After a moment, Chad came back on the line with a put upon and obviously falsely pleasant voice. “So you’ll need to tell me when you can make arrangements to get out here. I’ve got to tell you man, we’re pretty booked on class loads, but if you can make it, summer session starts in a week.”

If it was any other institution, Jensen would hang up, but it wasn’t. Of course, he should give two weeks notice at his job. He should, for that matter, not just walk out on his internship. But he knew a once in a lifetime opportunity when he heard it. The, “I can make it,” came out of his mouth without hesitation.

“You can? I mean, you can! Great! I’ll jut, uh, look through your forms here and see what you’re qualified for! Have a great day Mr. Ackles!” Chad sounded strained. Jensen felt it. He wasn’t so sure that he wanted this ‘Chad’ picking out his classes for him, but he’d take what he could get.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jensen Ackles was officially living in a Laundromat. The hospital hadn’t been happy with his sudden departure, and he hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell any of his family members that he quit his job to go to the academy. He lied about getting a better internship in San Antonio in order to stave off their inquiries, but with no job and not a whole lot of savings, he didn’t have much choice in his living arrangements when he couldn’t ask for a handout from his parents.

With all of the colleges in summer session, the dorms were shut down. The students for regular college had snapped up the good, low rent places before Jensen even knew he was going to be attending, and the Academy of Angel Care student center did have any places left to recommend that hadn’t already filled up.

Getting an extension on the repayment periods for his regular student loans had been painful. He’d written more emails and talked to more loan officers than he liked to about his new learning situation, but he’d gotten them to agree that the additional classes were an acceptable and beneficial reason to extend the grace period on his repayment plan.

His only financial redemption was that his new classes were funded by the school itself. Jensen didn’t want to think about the hassle he’d have to go through if he needed to finagle additional student loans in such a short time period.

Unwilling to let his more reputable friends see his new living arrangements, he badgered Chris into helping him move into the nasty one room apartment that he got as a ‘side benefit’ of his new job of managing a Laundromat on the night shift. Chris had lived in worse places, and he owed Jensen for helping him both in and out of said dives.

The plus side of Jensen’s new living space was that he was located in a good part of town. It was mostly little old ladies who had no interest in spending their time doing laundry at night and not dubious teenagers or weird travelers with suspicious looking stains on their blue jeans and flannel shirts.

The downside was that he perpetually smelled of Tide and Downy.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that his magical acceptance had something to do with his interaction with Dirk. For all he knew, it was a token gesture of appreciation that the academy administration never thought he’d accept, but Jensen wasn’t going to let his opportunity pass him by.

If he was a sympathy case, then he was going to be the best damn sympathy student to ever grace the doors of an institution. He’d make them see the professional that he could be. He’d hunker down and not be the spastic teenager that had dreamed of working with the winged ones all of his life.

If he could keep from wanting to throw up, that would also be fantastic, but Jensen had never quite managed that before.

Like a girl, Jensen picked out his outfit carefully before he went to the admissions office. His khaki slacks were perfectly pressed with the cheap iron that was chained to the Laundromat wall. His polo shirt was spotless thanks to the forgotten bottle of stain remover that somebody had left, and his shoes were carefully matched with his belt.

Forgoing his contacts, Jensen grabbed his trusty wire rimmed glasses. If he was in the mood to lie to himself, he’d say that they made him look more studious. The truth of the matter was that he liked being able to hide behind them. His face felt unprotected without them. Eyes were supposed to be the window to the soul, and Jensen liked having a barrier between him and the soul sucking stares of strangers.

If he was honest, he felt amazingly old as he walked across campus. There were older students, sure, but the texts that they were lugging out of the campus book store were obviously advanced texts. Jensen wasn’t going to be in their classes with them. He was going to be in with the teenagers. Some of them weren’t even going to be out of high school yet.

When Jensen reached the admissions office, he was treated to the sight of a blonde haired human dancing in the middle of an empty cubicle to the sound of a commercial jingle.

“CHEEPMART! WE GET THE WORM FOR YOU!!!” the man sang at the top of his lungs along with the radio advertisement.

“Uh, Chad?” Jensen hazarded as he bravely continued to enter the room.

“ACKLES! Dude, you’re finally here! I’ve been waiting all fucking day for you, man!” Chad paused and tilted his head. “And you obviously just got off work. My bad. Retail is a bitch, man, but at least you found work quickly.”

“You, uh, have my schedule?” He asked, his eyes locking on the carpet. It was mortifying to realize that his carefully selected outfit made him look like he worked a checkout line.

“Sure thing!” Chad said as he slapped down a piece of paper in front of Jensen that had a coffee ring on it. “So, I know that you’re not a morning guy and everything, but the only preening session that was left open was the morning class. It starts at five because the bird brains are like, in love with the sun or worms or something. If I were you, I’d just stay up all night and crash afterwards.”

Jensen’s hand froze midway towards reaching for the schedule. “Preening?” He croaked.

Chad made a funny face. “Dude, you look like, white and shit. You okay?”

“I… I’m not… I can’t… Preening?”

“Why do you not look like you’re about to cream your pants for joy? That’s what you guys do. You come in, find out you made the preening list and have spontaneous orgasms.”

Jensen managed a half hearted glare in Chad’s direction. Seriously, where did they find this guy? Was being an asshole an admissions requirement that he’d missed?

“My uncle gave them a discount on the landscaping in exchange for giving me a job.” Chad said.

“Did I…”

“Say something out loud?” Chad finished for him. “No. I just get that look a lot. But seriously, you should be happy with the preening.”

“I’m just. I’m not. That isn’t me,” Jensen settled on saying. He wondered if he was going to have a panic attack. He’d never had one before, and it would be downright mortifying if he had one over a simple class when he hadn’t freaked out over a damaged cherub in an emergency room, but his heart was practically pounding against his ribs.

Chad bent down and pulled a very thick folder out from a drawer. He flipped through a few pages before slapping the worn manila closed again. “Nope. Says right here that you are all about the touchy, feely wing groping. Oh, and you’ll want to talk to your department chair about testing out of some of these beginner level classes. I already took the liberty of putting you into flight muscle care, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t get me in trouble and tested out of the earlier class requirements for that.”

Numbly, Jensen took his schedule and shuffled out of the office. Behind him, he heard Chad start to talk back to the dog food commercial on the radio. He walked outside to a bench and peeked at his class schedule again. Preening was still listed at the top, followed by flight muscle care and a session of wing painting.

Jensen didn’t remember being so overwhelmed by a class schedule since his freshman year at college when he hadn’t known what to expect. But he was an adult now, and he could handle stressful situations. He just had to break things down into manageable pieces.

He had preening class which he wasn’t qualified for and wing painting that he’ll fail miserably at, and then he was enrolled for flight muscle care.

Flight muscle care. Right. Jensen could do that. He’d just… focus on that class and maybe go to preening uncaffeinated. If he wasn’t fully awake, he probably wouldn’t turn into a spaz until after he got out of class. Then he’d have the whole day to convince himself that it wasn’t that bad and it was just his fuzzy morning brain that made the memories seem that way.

And maybe he would pass wing painting by showing an appreciation and understanding of the subject matter. It couldn’t be that much different from art classes in normal schools.

Forcing himself up to his feet, Jensen started trekking to the book store. He needed to get his texts, and then he needed to talk to the grocery store to stock up on whatever bad for him crap was on sale that week. He had a plan. It wasn’t much of a plan, but at least he had one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The problem with classes that started at five in the morning was that you had to get up earlier than that. Jensen was of the firm opinion that you just didn’t ever set your alarm before five because if you were doing that, you might as well just hang a loser sign outside your door.

Then again, Jensen had been losing at life for all of the years that he could remember, so he didn’t have room to point his finger.

He wasn’t sure if the coffee that he had made to take with him was actually coffee or living tar, but his sleep encrusted eyes managed to stay open as he walked to the campus for his first class. His glasses were perched precariously on the end of his nose. There was no way that he convince his eyes to open far enough to let his contacts in let alone convince his eyeballs that they wanted the little transparent discs sitting on them so early in the morning.

Everybody else at the class was fucking ecstatic to be there. They were jumping and tittering, and their young, excited voices sort of annoyed Jensen. Part of it was because he felt horrible that he wasn’t that way. Even if he had made it into the academy at fifteen, he would never have been them. Jensen Ackles was too reserved for that. He needed planning and plotting and wouldn’t embarrass himself like that unless he had a specifically practiced script to follow.

Just because his life’s ambition had been to get into a program, that didn’t mean he had ever aspired to be a preener. They were too exposed for his tastes. He just wanted to help out with seraph care and maybe get a job working to further integrate their two species together. He’d never thought himself good enough to get into an actual wing care class.

Sure, in his fantasies maybe he got into all of the highly sought after classes and became academy valedictorian and then and got a job working at the seraph consulate in Dallas, but in reality Jensen knew that he was never going to reach such, pardon the pun, heights.

His face was pretty, and his mind was sharp enough, but he needed to know a person before opening up to them. People with reserved natures rarely made it to the top of any profession or field.

Oh, Jensen was good in a crisis because his mind didn’t have a chance to scream at him that he wasn’t in the right spot – that he didn’t belong. His adrenalin would keep his doubts at bay and keep him from reverting to his awkward and aloof behaviors. But crisis situations didn’t happen every day, and if they did, they’d then be normal, and by default Jensen would lose his edge and revert.

He’d gotten notices more than once for poor bedside manner at the therapy center due to his uncommunicative tendencies. He could only imagine what the academy was going to think of him, especially at the hour of the morning they were expecting him to function at.

“Greetings,” the professor said as she came to the front of the classroom. Her wings trailed behind her in a blur of grays and purples and blues, and Jensen had to force away the thought that the coloring was kind of depressing. The last thing he needed to do was insult somebody’s wings.

“Normally, I would start a class with pleasantries and introductions, but the fact of the matter is that preening is not just another subject for you to study. Sharing notes with other students won’t help, and all the studying in the world will do you no good. To be able to tend to the feathers of a seraph, you must have something inside of you. Your touch may differ from another’s but it is your intent, dedication and empathy that guide your success. There are no take backs in this class. There are no extra credit projects. You are constantly going to have to prove yourself, and it is my hope that you do.”

Jensen swallowed down the coffee that tried to come back up on him at the instructor’s words. He was going to fail; he was so going to fail.

“With that in mind, please take a look at the model wings around the room. You have the rest of the hour to groom them as best you can.”

As the rest of the students made a mad dash to claim their model, Jensen shrank to the back of the line to just pick whatever was left. It wasn’t going to make a difference one way or the other, and he wasn’t going to get himself injured trying to pick out a dummy.

He could feel the instructor’s eyes on him, and he wished that he actually was a seraph so that he could raise up his wings and cover his blush. Instead he cast his eyes to the floor, rubbed the back of his neck and wished that he was invisible.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If preening was hard, flight muscles was insanely easy. Then again, Jensen couldn’t brag too much. He’d spent good money on a college degree from a human university to learn how muscles worked and how to manipulate and strengthen them. Seraph physiology was very similar to a human’s, and the muscles that enabled them to fly were no different.

Sure the class was closer to a massage class than anything else, but it was nice to know that he could excel at something. He was trying to put preening out of his mind. He was the only person in the class who had experienced the misfortune of having a synthetic oil gland literally burst open on him.

And hadn’t that just been the best thing ever? His fellow students had laughed their asses off while Jensen tried to wipe the oil off his glasses with some sort of dignity. Even the teacher was laughing as she scribbled down notes in her book.

Jensen could only imagine what it said, no doubt something about his overly aggressive touch and potentially damaging technique. And he wouldn’t blame her. If he had wings, he wouldn’t want himself working on them.

Muscles, sure, Jensen had strong hands and a practiced skill. His specialty was in getting knots loose, but that didn’t always translate into a nice, soft touch. When he’d taken various massage classes to enhance his physical therapy lessons, he’d excelled at deep tissue and more aggressive motions. He doubted anybody would want him rubbing at the delicate base of their quills or trying to smooth tiny barbs back into place with his fingers.

After flight muscle treatment came wing painting, and that was a nightmare. Jensen had no idea how he’d gotten into the class except that there was probably nothing else left open, and the academy was eager to get their charity case student through the program as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t that Jensen wasn’t artistically inclined. He played the guitar and mucked around with his buddies in impromptu jam sessions. He’d done quite well in his acting electives in college and had even gotten accolades in his creative writing classes.

His photography was good even if it tended to have too many close-ups and not enough landscapes for his professors.

Painting just wasn’t his thing. He could copy well enough, but he tended to stare at a blank canvas and pray for inspiration until he couldn’t stand it anymore and just started slinging paint until it came out to look like something vaguely resembling something else.

He couldn’t do that with wings.

Jensen knew what wing art was supposed to be; he just wasn’t the guy that should even be attempting it.

One of Jensen’s favorite books was one that his mother had gotten him when he graduated college. It was a coffee table book of famous wing paintings from around the world. Some of the pictures showed gorgeous landscapes that spread from wingtip to wingtip as the seraph flew. Others were magnificent designs that appeared to be one thing while the feathers nestled together and another when they were flung out.

There were intricate stories that shifted from the underside of wings to the topside, telling their tale in moving pictures. And then there were the painstakingly detailed tip dyes that made it look like there were jewels nestled in amongst the feathers.

All of those masterpieces were applied in just the right way that the seraph wouldn’t be weighted down or inhibited in their flight

As he did a sample piece so that the art instructor could review his level of skill, Jensen’s hand shook.

While the other students laughed and chose bold colors and eye catching designs, Jensen carefully brushed color onto the end of his feathers, tipping their mottled brown ends with deep turquoises, dark crimsons and shiny silvers.

When he put his feathers up to dry, his work looked drab compared to the other examples, and he tried not to be disappointed.

Jensen counseled himself to quit getting his hopes up. Looking at the work of the other students, it was obvious why he had never made the program before. It wasn’t that he was a crazy groupie. It was just that he wasn’t good enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The second week of classes had Jensen getting pulled into each and every one of his instructor’s offices. Sam, the preening instructor, quizzed him on his feelings. Oddly enough, she could care less about his embarrassment and seemed to be more interested in his reaction to getting squirted with semi-warm gelatinous oil.

His flight muscle instructor, Sebastian, just wanted to shoot the shit with him for all he could determine. The guy asked him about athletics and personal interests and everything and anything under the sun. Jensen figured the guy was just happy to have a student that knew what he was doing.

His painting instructor just stared at him for a long time. It was creepy. Jensen knew that some of the seraph had unusual ‘powers’ besides flight. They healed faster, and despite what others said, there were a lot of reports about some of them having other gifts that Jensen didn’t believe them all to be urban legends.

He just hoped that the mind reading thing was something told to young human children to scare them into behaving around the winged ones. He liked to keep to himself and that included his thoughts.

Finally, his art instructor spoke, “So, Jensen.”

“Yeah? I mean, uh, yes, Mr. Farlight?”

“You have a very delicate touch with your brush.”

Jensen figured that was a passive aggressive way of telling him he sucked. It seemed that was something an art teacher might use as a teaching tool. “Yeah, I didn’t want to hamper flight movement. I had heard that too much paint can cause the flier to lose loft and agility.”

“Did you now? Where?” Mr. Farlight seemed very interested in Jensen’s words. He leaned forward to look at Jensen some more.

Jensen tried not to squirm and lost the battle of keeping his eyes looking at his professor. They trailed down onto the seraph’s desk, but he managed to keep them from focusing on the hands that he had clasped in his lap.

“I have a book,” Jensen mumbled, feeling the same kind of embarrassed that he always did when admitting what a total wing geek he was to somebody.

“Really? So you had an outside interest in wing painting before this class? Your records don’t indicate that you…”

“NO!” Jensen blurted out. “I mean, uh, I don’t… I have an academic interest, but I never… I didn’t like, practice or anything. I’m a complete amateur at it.” The last thing he needed was his instructor to think that his wretched job was actually the result of practice. His raw ability was pathetic enough on its own.

“I see. So you’ve never given thought to the subject before? You had no preconceived plan in your head as to what you wanted to create?”

“No?” Jensen said. It was a bad answer, artists liked to hear that you had some grand vision or feeling guiding you. “I thought it would look pretty,” was rarely an acceptable admission.

“Hmm,” Mr. Farlight said as he scribbled down a note and closed his file. “That’s all, Mr. Ackles. You may go.”

Jensen shuffled his way out of the man’s office as quietly as possible. He saved freaking out until he got back to his fabric softener scented abode.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To his amazement, Jensen didn’t get any sort of suggestion that he wasn’t cut out for the program. Even though his preening class lost a couple of students who were deemed ‘undedicated,’ Jensen received no admonishments or lectures.

They moved from fake models to personal instructors and live ‘models.’

It seemed odd to him that one class would have such advancement, but he didn’t complain. He didn’t even ask questions. The last thing he wanted was to become known as ‘that difficult student’ who was always questioning the ‘whys’ and never shutting the hell up.

All of the instructors and models were actual couples, and while some of the students showed confusion at the information, Jensen understood it.

Seraphs had problems grooming all of their own feathers. When young, they had their parents help with grooming. It made sense that they would have their spouses or ‘mates’ help them with their preening as they became older. Groomers had to be expensive, and in a sociological aspect, it made sense.

Many mammals showed pack or family grooming habits, and while sentient, seraphs were more mammal than avian. It couldn’t be comfortable having a complete and novice stranger pawing at your feathers. It was a far more personal thing than having your haircut, and no student could be counted on to be a pure professional at the level they were at.

“Now, sometimes, they’re big babies,” Jensen’s personal instructor told him. Her name was Naomi, and she was one of only two human instructors that he had met. Her husband, Simon, was Jensen’s model.

He was a hulking specimen of a seraph, easily dwarfing any of the other winged ones in the room. His pinions were so large that they were longer than Jensen’s forearm.

Jensen had the sneaking suspicion that Simon had been placed with him on purpose. Sam had seemed overly invested as she introduced them. There was that whole non-verbal communication thing going on that Jensen didn’t think he saw happen with the other students and their models. It almost made him wish that he was more coherent so he could observe more, but there wasn’t enough coffee in the world to make him actually want to be fully awake for preening class.

“You can’t let them intimidate you. Ill kept feathers just get more painful the longer that you leave them be. It hurts to unplug a gland or pull out a broken quill, but the alternative is much worse,” Naomi continued as she shoved her delicate hand into Simon’s wing with no small amount of force.

Simon grumbled in response. Naomi’s hand came out with a downy feather that was twisted and bent.

“This,” she said, waving the feather in front of Jensen’s nose, “is what happens when they fly through too much wind and rain. The softer feathers can curl and warp just like your hair, only they don’t ever straighten back the right way. You have to find them and remove them before they become an irritation.”

She gestured to Simon with her other hand, and Jensen took a deep breath before pushing his own hand in.

The thickness of the feathers was much greater than that of the synthetic models that they had been working on. Despite his attempts to be gentle, Jensen had to resort to pushing. Simon grunted and flared out his wings, and Jensen froze for a moment. When neither Simon nor Naomi made any corrections to his technique, he continued.

Finally his fingers found their way through to Simon’s down and began to trace over the individual feathers. He didn’t find any twisted and curled ones, but he did feel a lump.

Jensen didn’t want to feel a lump. That was like the sort of thing that made for television movies were made of:

 

“They found a lump!”

 

“Oh, God, Marcy’s dying!”

 

“Her last wish was to reconcile with Bo!”

 

“We should load her withered and frail body in a car and take her to the seaside to find this guy she had an affair with twenty years ago!”

Only, it would be actually heartbreaking and serious, and Jensen was in the therapy business. He was there to help people regain their life after the tragedy, not inform them of it.

Gingerly, Jensen pushed against the lump harder, praying that he was incorrect in what he was feeling. The good news was that he was, indeed, mistaken.

The bad news was that it was a clogged oil gland, and it had no problem spurting through Simon’s thick feathers to squirt Jensen in the face.

The classroom erupted into laughter, and Jensen turned his predictable shade of red before Naomi handed him a towel that he promptly hid his face behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Jensen showed up for flight muscle care still looking embarrassed, his instructor took one look at him and dragged him off to the faculty offices to shoot the breeze. They talked about nothing important at all, and it felt good to finally have a conversation that didn’t revolve around school.

After that day, it became a regular habit. Sebastian would send the other students off to study then would summarily drag Jensen off to his office to discuss politics, weather and cars.

At first, Jensen was concerned about appearances, but then the other summer faculty started joining in. It was weirdly friendly and sort of touching how much of an interest they showed in him as a person.

He wondered if maybe it was just because he wasn’t as young as the other students, and they were excited to have a new adult around. He didn’t pry too hard into their intentions. Despite the fact that they were teaching mundane college subjects that Jensen had long since completed and passed, they were still faculty at the academy. Their opinion of him could be important in the rest of his life.

After a while, he could even pretend that they weren’t making notes about him when they thought he wasn’t looking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Jensen showed up for flight muscle care still looking embarrassed, his instructor took one look at him and dragged him off to the faculty offices to shoot the breeze. They talked about nothing important at all, and it felt good to finally have a conversation that didn’t revolve around school.

After that day, it became a regular habit. Sebastian would send the other students off to study then would summarily drag Jensen off to his office to discuss politics, weather and cars.

At first, Jensen was concerned about appearances, but then the other summer faculty started joining in. It was weirdly friendly and sort of touching how much of an interest they showed in him as a person.

He wondered if maybe it was just because he wasn’t as young as the other students, and they were excited to have a new adult around. He didn’t pry too hard into their intentions. Despite the fact that they were teaching mundane college subjects that Jensen had long since completed and passed, they were still faculty at the academy. Their opinion of him could be important in the rest of his life.

After a while, he could even pretend that they weren’t making notes about him when they thought he wasn’t looking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Look, Jared. I won’t deny that Jensen’s a bit different from the other potentials.” Sam started out, her low voice rumbling in soothing tones.

“How different?” Jared asked suspiciously. It wasn’t that he was against different. Most days he was all for it. He had the honor of being the only person to actively admit that they liked Chad the admissions guy who had his job because his uncle blackmailed the school when he ran across some records on a student’s sexual preference.

They were damning pieces of paper if all you were interested in was educating a few enthusiastic humans on the appropriate treatment of their winged counterparts. They were essential pieces of knowledge if you were trying to find a mate. It wasn’t exactly advisable to start trying to match people up if one of the people in question wasn’t ever going to be sexually attracted to the other.

Sam shuffled a few papers at the top of the stack nervously. There were a lot of papers there, and Jared had the bad feeling that they weren’t comprised of several different potential mates.

“Is all of that his?” Jared asked. He didn’t bother keeping his tone mild or his face from getting just a touch of horror to it.

“There were some… issues with his earlier applications.” Sam hedged.

“What’d he do, try to put them in novel form? The kid looks like he bleeds words.”

“Well, he’d be a good match for you then, wouldn’t he? You seem to have enough of them dribbling out of you at all hours of the day.” Sam shot back.

Jared frowned and fiddled with his hands. He couldn’t exactly deny her accusations. He’d never been known to keep his mouth shut. His parents said he came out of the womb squalling and never shut up.

“And,” Sam hesitated again, “I wouldn’t exactly call him ‘kid’ if I were you.”

“Well, of course he’s an adult by now, but…”

“No, Jared. He’s older than you.”

“What? By how many months?”

“Forty-eight-ish?” Sam told him.

“Four years? But that’s… Sam, I’m not sure that this is a good idea. I’m looking for someone who is a good match. You know, fun and, and…”

“Jared, you’re young, but you’re already practically coming apart at the seams. I know that you’re energetic, and the last thing in the world that I want to do is hamper you. But I think that rejecting Jensen is a horrible idea on so many levels that, that…” Sam grunted to finish her sentence and slapped an overly thick folder down in front of Jared.

“Look,” she said as she dropped another folder on top of the first, “I’m not going to lie. We almost, almost royally screwed the pooch on this one. Do you know how many times he tried to get in here? How many times some idiot denied his entrance? How many people are getting fired, reprimanded and demoted over him?”

“A lot?” Jared guessed, his mouth not knowing whether to dip into a confused frown or an amused grin over Sam’s dramatics.

“He wasn’t in class a day, hell, an hour before he was practically oozing, ‘Mate me now! Take me to your nest and tickle me with your feathers!’”

Honestly? That sounded pretty kinky to Jared, but he didn’t vet mates for a living. Despite his many talents, he was always meant for other things. He came from a long, diversified line of seraphs and humans. His blood was strong, not diluted of its humanity like so many of his kind.

His people have been working to undo the damage that their forefathers brought down upon them. Separating from the humans, not breeding with them had started to cause damage to their genes over time.

It wasn’t inbreeding, not really. The gene pool was large enough, it just hadn’t had any human blood added to it in so long that mates could no longer soothe the needs of the gifted, and their wings began to suffer for it.

It had become so bad that many lost the ability to fly as their glands refused to open to the fingers of another, and their flight feathers became brittle and hard. There was unhappiness and pain, and they had been forced to admit that centuries of hiding had been their own undoing.

Jared’s family line had gone from outcasts to visionaries at the end of the prior century. They had never given up the practice of seeking out human mates, difficult as it was to steal them away from their human families. It had kept their lineage strong, and their human born or sired offspring were proven to have the touch of comfort that was desirable in any mate.

Jensen’s humanity certainly didn’t scare Jared like it would some of his peers. He knew that they worried about not being able to share flight with their mate or their mates being disturbed by their slight physiological differences, but that’s what the institutes were charged with discovering back when they were established.

They’re there to separate out the helpful humans from the ones that were born to be lovers. Some humans would make fine allies in the world that would never make good partners in a marriage, and the academies have been around long enough to be good at what they do. They’re good at letting in enough humans that nobody ever catches on to their real purpose.

It’s a desirable side benefit that there were more humans out in the world that knew how to aid a seraph in an emergency, but all of the academies in the world were really just established to find willing mates. They’re glorified matchmaking services.

Although Jared was still young, he had been looking for a mate for a while now - since he was sixteen to be exact. The instant he was declared old enough to begin his search, he went off to sign up for the match making services that the academies offered. He had met many potential mates. None of them had ever worked out.

“So basically what you’re telling me is that he’s desperate, and I’m desperate, so we’ll make a good match?” Jared finally asked her.

Sam glared at him. “I’m saying that you’re very well matched for each other. You both have been trying to get into the program since you first turned old enough, and you both have had rotten luck at achieving your goals. Your temperaments would be good together, and your interests are similar.”

“Great. We can be rejected losers together then.”

“Don’t be an idiot. I’m telling you that he’s perfect, and you’re about to ignore him because you think that there is something wrong with him. You’re writing him off because he’s too old, and you’re being foolish. You’re being as stupid as those idiots who wouldn’t admit him when he was younger! Why if it weren’t for your fellow fools, you’d have no chance with him. He’d have been snapped up like a…”

Jared raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’ll give him a try. Just don’t make me promise for a second go ‘round, okay? You know that I’m more partial to females, remember?”

Sam snorted in derision. “Yeah, I’ll try to remember that one. I’ll even mention it during the wedding toasts.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared wasn’t expecting much when he went to his campus visit for Jensen. He had been to them before, and the spark just had never appeared with any of his potential mates. He’d actually been to more than his fair share of arranged meet and greets, but each one had left him unmated and worse: uninterested.

At first, he had tried to keep going with the arranged meetings. Not all of his kind felt the tugging of bonding at the first meeting, and he had thought that maybe he would be the type to grow to love his mate. His blood did carry a higher than average percentage of human blood in it. There was always the chance that his natural instincts weren’t working like they should, but after his fifteenth potential mate fell through, he just had to admit that he wasn’t going to be easily matched.

Having so many failed arrangements wasn’t normal. His mother liked to think that it was because he was special, and some of the mating councilors somewhat shared her opinion. They tended to bandy words around that half implied that Jared’s blood wasn’t pure enough seraph to mate with a human and half implied that his superior bloodline led him to be pickier than his counterparts.

In his mind, all the experts were mostly confused. He figured that maybe he was just too hard to please. Like somehow his overall gentle and easy going nature had to have an offside somewhere, and it happened to fall out into his love life.

At times, Jared had been half tempted to go to more traditional methods to find his mate. After all, his family had been doing it for generations before he came along. There was the chance that his instincts were missing the chase of it all or the forbidden nature of flying off with his chosen human to woo his mate without the interruptions of civilized life around them.

Jared doubted that Sam’s latest pick would be anything different, but a couple of more times with the approved modern methods wouldn’t hurt. Desperation looked good on nobody, and resorting to old methods would be nothing but desperate. His generation was already starting to call it “Dating by Stockholm,” and Jared didn’t disagree with them. Human psyches were different from the seraph’s minds, and he had no desire to bring pain to his future mate.

Plus there was that whole inconvenient issue of abduction charges and the illegality of it. Not that Jared would actually take a human against his or her will; he’d certainly discuss it with his intended first. But that went straight back to the academies, because how else was he supposed to get to know somebody well enough to know if he or she was willing to be wooed by him?

It was a daunting task, so while he didn’t have high hopes for Sam’s latest suggestion, he figured that it was still better than his alternative options.

When Jared walked into the early morning preening class, there were many students milling around. He ignored them in favor of scanning over the room for an older face. If Jensen didn’t work out, he wasn’t going to waste much time at the academy. There was always the chance that he’d want to bond and mate with one of the other potentials, but experience had taught him that such a chance was a slim one.

“Jared,” Sam cooed as she came up to him. She was smiling and endearing. Jared was not used to her being anything other than forthright and blunt. She was a nice person, but kissing ass had never been her specialty.

“Where is he?” Jared asked as he looked around the room again. There was a chance that he could’ve missed Jensen, but it was doubtful. His eyesight was beyond human perfection. His body was genetically hardwired to see things clearly from a distance and absorb details as he flew through the skies at a rapid rate. Unless Jensen looked significantly younger than his stated age, he wasn’t in the room.

“Running late,” Sam said, a trace of her usual sarcasm and irony making it into her weirdly chipper tone.

“Late?” Jared asked skeptically. He hoped his tone implied that he wasn’t looking for the absent minded mate. If Jensen couldn’t even make it to an important class on time, how was Jared supposed to even consider taking him for the mate that he would rely on?

Sam swatted him on his, according to some, overly muscled arm. “Don’t be that way. Jensen always makes it before class starts. He’s just… not a morning person.”

Jared arched both eyebrows at that.

“Don’t give me that superior ‘Early Bird’ crap either, Jared Padalecki. You know full well that not all seraph rise with the sun, and Jensen isn’t late. He’s just not early.”

“You said the words, ‘running late.’ When is running late not actually being late?” Jared asked, his face showing his displeasure and doubt.

“When late looks like that,” Sam said with a tilt of her head.

Jared’s eyes scanned over the man that had just entered. He was carrying a beat up thermos; the dazed look on his face told Jared that coffee had to be what is inside of the container. If it wasn’t coffee, then it should be. But Jensen’s early morning caffeine preferences weren’t truly what caught Jared’s interest. The rest of Jensen was what made Jared take notice.

Jensen was attractive. Even as unpleasant and surly looking as his face was in its sleep deprived state, it was still handsome. Jared’s eyes could make out the color of Jensen’s and the fine lines that were already starting to develop around them. His mouth was pouty, the effect made worse when Jensen blew into the mouthpiece on his overly large thermos. Jared doubted that the beverage inside was actually still hot. From the slightly glazed look that Jensen’s sporting, the safer bet seemed to be that blowing was just a reflex that was developed by a guy who was never awake enough in the mornings to judge the temperature of his own drink.

Once his eyes gave up perusing Jensen’s face, they raked quickly over the human’s form, and Jared had to admit that the rest of the package was very nice. In fact, he hated himself just a little for having a momentary fantasy about Jensen wrapping those legs around him while he flew them somewhere. It was ten kinds of clichéd weirdness, and Jared liked to think of himself as being above the fantasy levels of a teenage girl. Human or seraph, they’re all about the romantic flights and the wing sex.

“So do you want to go meet him, or should I give him a break and let him sleep through class today?” Sam asked smugly.

Jared glared at her and said, “What about his normal class partner?”

“Simon and Naomi were more than willing to not be here today. They didn’t want to distract Jensen from bonding with you,” Sam told him.

“That’s very presumptive,” Jared said with a scowl.

“It’s very accurate given the way that you’re leering at the poor guy. Am I going to have to remind you that you cannot just pick him up and take him away to your nest?” Sam’s voice was self-satisfied, and Jared resisted the urge to say something mean to her, settling for a pout instead.

“I know better than to just abduct an unsuspecting human in this day and age,” Jared informed her.

“So long as you remember that a suspecting human falls under that rule as well,” Sam told him as she started to lead him over to Jensen’s work station.

Jensen blinked up at them when they got closer. Jared smiled at him gently, but the warm look didn’t really get him anywhere. Jensen just sort of blinked at him with the most adorable look of confusion on his face.

“Sam?” Jensen asked, his voice rough from something. Hopefully not giving a blow job, because Jared wasn’t in the mood to scare off any interlopers, but he would if it meant snagging Jensen and taking him off to nest.

“This is Jared,” Sam told Jensen, oblivious to Jared’s perverted mind wandering.

Jensen held his hand out in greeting, and Jared shook it. Jensen’s hand was warm and strong. His fingers curled just right around Jared’s hand. It didn’t take much effort to imagine them pushing into Jared’s wings. The thought made Jared grin and then blush because he was already thinking naughty thoughts, and Jensen just looked confused. It wasn’t fair to be planning out their entire future when Jensen didn’t look like he even remembered Jared’s name yet.

“What happened to Simon?” Jensen asked as he disengaged his hand from Jared’s grip and returned his gaze to Sam.

“He and Naomi had a business trip come up, and Jared here was generous enough to volunteer to step in,” Sam lied smoothly.

Jared grinned harder as he moved to get himself back into Jensen’s line of sight. “Actually, I’m here as a fulltime lab rat. I was supposed to start next year, but when this opportunity came up, I figured that I might as well start early, you know?”

Sam snorted next to Jared, but he ignored the knowing look in her eye. Volunteering for fulltime duty was code for declaring intent to woo. Being a live subject for all of a potential’s classes automatically ensured you time with your intended. The wooing subject didn’t always work out, but that was probably a good thing. It kept humans from actually figuring out the whole courting process.

Jared was hoping that his relationship with Jensen wasn’t going to fall into the ‘didn’t work out’ statistic. He’d take all the ribbing in the world from Sam if Jensen turned out to be the one. Jared’s instincts were insisting that it was so, but there was always the chance that Jensen would reject him. All Jared could do was pray that wouldn’t happen if for no other reason than his own health and wellbeing.

Seraph were not meant to be alone, and Jared’s feathers were already starting to lose their shine from his fretful plucking. It was self-destructive behavior at its best, but Jared had never met an unmated adult seraph who didn’t start to destroy his own feathers. It was a biological need to display one’s failure on the outside. Modern psychology didn’t work as well on a winged one as it did on humans.

Jensen’s smile turned a tight and brittle at Jared’s words. “Really? Who’s the lucky student?”

Jared looked back at him for a moment, certain that befuddlement was displayed on his face. Then it struck him that Jensen didn’t immediately assume that he was Jared’s training partner. Younger humans might have, but Jensen was obviously wary. Or worse, he just assumed he wasn’t good enough to be assigned a live partner for all of his classes.

Sam cleared her throat and smiled at Jensen gently. “That would be you, Honey.”

“But,” Jensen’s eyes darted back and forth between Sam and Jared like he thought one of them was going to bite him.

“Of course if you’d rather I pick somebody else…”Jared suggested. He didn’t really think that Jensen would reject him within minutes of meeting him, but even so the words burned coming out of his mouth.

“No! I mean, I just… I haven’t exactly been here long, and there are other students who you might work better with. I’m kind of here on a last minute kind of deal.” Jensen’s face was twisted in worry and sincerity. He honestly believed that he wasn’t a good choice for Jared’s partner.

Jared would be lying if he said that the expression didn’t make something protective and tender well up inside of him. He wanted to buy Jensen coffee and cuddle him and take him off to Home Depot to pick out a color scheme to decorate their nest with.

He was just a tad smitten.

“Well that puts us in the same boat, right? Non-traditionalists all the way,” Jared replied with an easy grin. He’d been told it makes him look sexy. From the expression on the human’s face, all it did for Jensen was confuse him. Jared made a mental note that he was going to have to buy a very nice espresso machine for their nest if he ever expected coherence in the early morning from his mate.

Sam harrumphed and fake coughed into her hand. Jared scowled at her to let her know that her amusement at his expense was not appreciated, but the look she gave him back told him she didn’t care. She said her goodbyes, and while Jensen began setting up his workstation, she turned around to mouth, ‘I Told You So.’

Jared cheerfully flipped her off.

“So, uh,” Jensen paused as he wound the perching chair up a little higher to adjust for Jared’s height.

“Yes?”

“Look, this might seem a bit rude, but do you have any trouble with clogged pores? Because, I’ve got to tell you, I’m not a fan of the exploding oil ducts. Not that I won’t do them, but wing grease is a bitch to get off my glasses, and it smears and streaks and…”

“And it’s usually kind of icky?” Jared finished for him.

“Yeah,” Jensen agreed.

“Well I can’t promise that I won’t ever get one, but I’d guess that it isn’t a problem with my wings right now. They’re kind of, well, let’s just say they’re not in the best shape,” Jared said as he turned around and sat down on the stool.

He flared his wings out a bit, and he did his best to ignore Jensen’s intake of breath. He knew that his wings weren’t a pretty sight. They weren’t anywhere near their normal range of colors, but that was hardly their worst problem.

His feathers were broken in some spots and woefully thin in others, only his down keeping him from looking like a plucked chicken. It wasn’t poor grooming. While a mate was best for preening, there were enough places that Jared could go for treatment while he searched for the person that he could share intimacy with.

 

But Jared’s problems weren’t in finding acceptable substitutes. They were in finding an acceptable mate. For a guy who was liked by almost everybody, he’d had a rough time finding ‘the one.’ He had been drawn to plenty, but his relationships always ended the same way – in rejection.

As much as seraph were biologically compelled to interbreed freely with their human counterparts, their psychological makeup was never going to be identical. All the counseling in the world couldn’t get rid of certain characteristics, and getting rejected by several different potential mates tended to take a toll.

Jared never thought he’d be a ‘plucker.’ For one thing, it just had never seemed to fit his personality traits. For another, everybody expected him to mate early. His powers were strong and in need of mating, and he’d been made well aware of that fact since he was a little cherub. He’d never resented his biological needs like some of his peers. He’d relished in the thought that he was destined to mate and had eagerly awaited the day that he would find his life’s companion.

Reality decided it was going to reward his positive outlook by being a bitch to him. He’d tried to make it work with several humans and a few of his fellow seraph. And he’d gotten rebuffed and dumped more times than statistics deemed normal.

It was prime fodder for personal angst and pain. His stress levels were through the roof, and Sam hadn’t been kidding when she said he was coming undone. His failure to mate combined with the power growing inside of him created a maelstrom of emotions. He wasn’t good enough and some primal instinct urged him to mark his outside to show what was inside of him.

At first, his body did the work for him. His feathers dulled no matter how many times or how carefully he had them groomed. He even bought expensive manmade oils to smooth into them, but they didn’t work.

Then they started to itch. It was an unbearable, constant feeling that was only assuaged by plucking them out. Feather after feather came out until he was left with unattractive bald patches and a slew of doctor’s appointments that couldn’t pinpoint a physical cause because there wasn’t one.

Psychologists couldn’t help. It was an instinct. Some left over need to eliminate himself from the gene pool by displaying his inner turmoil to anybody who bothered to pay him heed. If he ignored the urge to pull, they’d start falling out on their own, so it was better to at least have a choice of what got plucked. He’d seen test cases where the seraph left their wings alone. The feathers would fall out in giant clumps, sometimes during flight. It was nasty.

Most days, Jared didn’t think about it. He managed to train himself to leave enough feathers so that he could fly, and determinedly kept putting himself out there to find that one who would be his mate. He didn’t think about what could happen if his body decided that he wasn’t removing enough feathers. That reality was just too grim for his taste.

If Jared had known what it felt like to lay eyes on ‘the one,’ he would have spared himself some stress and a lot of turmoil. What he felt when he looked at Jensen was nowhere near what he had felt when he tried to be with the others. With them there had always been a question or a doubt. With Jensen, he didn’t feel the slightest twinge of uncertainty.

Of course, that also meant that Jared’s future beloved was faced with a less than stellar view of Jared’s wings. It was hardly acceptable mating plumage. It was disgraceful, ratty and ragged and any other ‘r’ word that could possibly describe something unsightly.

“Been making pillows?” Jensen joked softly.

Jared snorted, and his wings flared out a little despite himself. Jensen didn’t give him a chance for a comeback though. He just shoved his fingers into Jared’s plumage and began stroking at the base of the feathers. His fingers were deft as they searched out broken quills that hadn’t quite been pulled out right and massaged at areas where Jared had over-plucked. His touch was nothing short of pleasurable, and Jared had to fight to keep back a moan.

“Feel okay?” Jensen asked, his fingers halting their movement.

“Yeah, great actually,” Jared managed to choke out.

“You sure?” Jensen sounded skeptical.

“Absolutely,” Jared told him.

It was a lie. It didn’t feel good, it felt awesome. There was a reason that seraph volunteers brought their mates with them to the training classes. A good preening could easily become sexual for the one whose wings were getting treated. It was a simple biological response that sometimes couldn’t be helped.

Humans thought that the mates were there to help provide instruction. Most times they were there to alleviate guilt on the part of their partner. They could easily maneuver an unwitting human’s hands away from erogenous zones as well as be there with their partner should they become aroused.

Jared had heard it compared to the differences between a professional massage and an erotic one, but it was hard to draw the line when the humans weren’t exactly in on the loop.

Jensen’s hands had started to move again, spreading oils down to the tips of Jared’s feathers and fluffing gently at the exposed down to keep it from curling in on itself.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but this looks pretty bad back here,” Jensen said after a while.

“I know,” Jared agreed easily.

“You, uh, catch something?” Jensen asked gently, “Or, you know, was there some sort of… thing? A thing like somebody was, uh…”

Jared choked on his own laughter. “Jensen, seriously. I’m not an abused little angel. It’s a normal reaction to undue stress.”

“Like a bird?” Jensen sounded dubious about Jared’s answer.

Jared sighed, “I’m not a bird.”

“No! No, I mean. I know that. I’m pretty good on the whole physiology thing. I just didn’t realize that you would do that,” Jensen babbled, his fingers clenching and unclenching in Jared’s wings.

“Well we do. It’s not common, but it happens. And before you ask, I’m not actually abusing myself. It’s different from what humans go through.”

“Doesn’t look different,” Jensen told him.

Jared tried not to roll his eyes, because it was a good sign that Jensen was already invested in his wellbeing. Even if it was just an indicator that Jensen was a good person, it was still a plus in his favor.

“It is. Trust me. I know the root of it, and so does my doctor. The only thing I have to worry about is if it gets too severe. I’m not a self-destructive guy.”

“Okay,” Jensen took a deep breath, “okay, but I want you to know that I’ll listen if you want to talk.”

Jared grinned a little. “Good. I like talking.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That Jared liked talking was an understatement. Jensen had never heard so much happy chatter come out of somebody. Oh, he had heard the sheer volume of words come out of his sister’s teenage mouth, but that was usually peppered with snotty teen girl remarks and endless gossip.

Jared’s chatter was bubbly and positive. All through preening, Jared chitchatted about whatever popped into his head. It was almost like he wanted Jensen to know all about him even though they’d just met. Even if his wings looked like they’d had a cat go after them, he didn’t seem to be in any sort of mental peril.

Not that Jensen was an expert on psychological workings to know, but Jared hadn’t denied that anything had happened, and he didn’t know the guy well enough to call bullshit on his explanations about his aggressive treatment towards his wings.

The rest of Jared’s body was in fantastic shape, and that Jensen could attest to with some surety. For the first time in forever, he actually spent time in the flight muscle care class instead of shooting the breeze in the professor’s lounge. It was weird because his professor had almost seemed giddy about Jensen spending time doing something that he was basically ready to teach the class on. In Jensen’s mind, it would’ve made more sense to pair Jared up with another student, but the faculty all seemed adamant that Jared work only with one student. It was apparently ‘just the way things work around here.’

All of the good tables were taken, and it was sort of hilarious to see Jared cram his huge frame on an old style and not that comfortable looking model. But the table did its job well enough. It got Jared into the right position so that he could droop his wings over his arms and shoulders and expose as much of his back to Jensen as possible.

His muscles were strong and a touch on the tense side, but certainly not abused. There was a little pulling on his left flank, and Jensen did his best not to comment on that. It was obviously caused because of the extra exertion from some missing flight feathers.

Somehow he didn’t think that lecturing Jared about it would do any good, and he didn’t want to alienate the guy. It was an honor to be selected for a committed training partner, and Jensen wasn’t going to mess that up. He might have gotten into school as a pity case, but he’d obviously impressed somebody enough with his work.

Unless, of course, Jared was just there as a spy to figure out some way to expel Jensen without causing a ruckus. That made more sense. All of the notes that the faculty had taken weren’t sufficient, so they put some poor kid at Jensen’s mercy with instructions to report anything suspicious.

The thought both angered and saddened Jensen, and he took a moment to center himself before he started to work on Jared’s muscles.

His touch was heavy when he started in Jared’s back. It was a result of not having gotten all of the irritation out of his own system, but the seraph made happy grunting noises so Jensen knew that he wasn’t hurting his partner.

After a few moments, Jared’s wings started stretching and his feathers fluffed out. It would have been a beautiful sight if not for the missing patches, and Jensen had to call on all his professionalism to ignore the stares of the other students. They had already been curious enough when Jensen actually showed up to attend class. He didn’t need them snooping into Jared’s business, and acknowledging their stares might scare off the less abrasive, but it could also create a confrontation with those who hadn’t the sense to be ashamed at the gawking.

The last thing Jensen needed was more stress in his life from getting into an argument with some snot nosed kid that had gotten into the academy on his first try. More than that, he didn’t want Jared to have more attention focused on him than necessary. Jensen had known the pain of being that awkward teenager that was the first to have a serious acne breakout in high school. Even though he matured into a man that most people would call handsome or even sexy, the stares and whispers of his classmates are all too easy to remember. He can easily imagine how much worse it would be to have people talk about something that they perceived to be your fault instead of just plain biology giving you the finger.

Jensen felt oddly protective of the younger seraph. Obviously Jared was an adult, but while his wings were well taken care of aside from the obvious missing feathers, his body carried a lot of tension for somebody of his age. The tension and missing plumage seemed to indicate some unusual stress, and Jensen knew all about stress. Especially the kind that family and loved ones just couldn’t understand because to them, your life was pretty good.

Jensen decided that it was some sort of odd kinship that he felt towards Jared. He could remember being the weird outsider when he was working on his human physical therapy degree. He could remember the stares from his classmates and even the occasional jab of species bigotry whispered behind his back. There were salacious comments made about his sexuality that were made worse by the fact that he wasn’t entirely certain that they weren’t true.

While the stares of his classmates weren’t the kind that Jensen had faced in college, the feeling of being watched and judged was familiar enough. He could tell by the way that Jared’s muscles kept tensing and twitching that Jared didn’t like being stared at. Who would? His own sister would hate to be seen having a bad hair day, and Jared’s wings were so much worse even if, ironically, his hair was actually quite nice.

Gently, Jensen traced his fingers around the places where Jared’s wings melded into the smooth skin of his back. Jared whimpered at the touch right before the skin on the back of his neck flushed red.

Jensen chuckled a little before saying, “It’s normal.”

Jared groaned in an unhappy way, and instead of trying to bury his face in his arms like a human would, his whole right wing stretched up to cover his head. Jensen suspected he would’ve buried in it if it was possible at the angle he was lying at.

“It’s mortifying,” came Jared’s muffled response.

“That too,” Jensen agreed. “But still, it’s normal. You’re in distress, it feels good, and you appear to be in otherwise good health.”

“You sound like a doctor,” Jared accused as his wing dropped and his tomato red face peered back over his shoulder.

“I’m close enough to one.” Jensen said dismissively as he began to work on Jared’s muscles again, this time tracing over the ones that ran away from his wings and curved to attach along the sides of his ribs.

The muscles were thin and wiry. Barely perceptible to the eye when they flexed under the skin of even the fittest seraph, they were there nonetheless. Their tiny fibers enabled a seraph to take flight from a standstill on a busy street instead of having to scale something to gain loft. It was a physiological wonder how so small a muscle group could provide such strength, and Jensen had spent hours of his childhood watching television specials and reading books trying to understand them.

Jensen had only ever felt a mockup of the muscles before. His human college had barely covered the physiology of flight muscles, and the hospital that he had been interning at had referred all seraph cases away to academy trained therapists. He knew the structure of the muscles intimately, had known it since he first studied anatomy in high school, but it was different to feel the real thing.

“You’re really good at that,” Jared moaned, although the moan wasn’t one of pleasure so much as drowsy contentment. For a second, Jensen had an odd desire to hear the mortifying whimper of Jared’s earlier arousal, before he stamped down on such an inappropriate desire with a ruthless zeal. That kind of thinking went beyond unprofessional into the seriously creepy zone, especially when he had just met the guy.

Still, once Jensen’s inappropriate urge was dealt with, the fact that Jared had gone from tense and strung out to practically being a puddle in such a short time was sort of funny.

“You falling asleep on me?” Jensen asked not bothering to hide the amusement in his voice.

“Mmmhhhmmm,” Jared replied.

“I’m not going to try to drag your giant carcass to wing painting if you fall asleep. I might be big for a human, but I couldn’t carry your body let alone your wing weight. I don’t care how light weight your bone structure is to enable flight,” Jensen half told and half scolded him.

“You callin’ me fat?” Jared slurred.

“Depends, is there any fat left on your body that I could actually find?” Jensen shot back.

Jared didn’t verbally respond, but the wiggle he did with his ass was answer enough.

Jensen didn’t bother passing up the obvious invitation and swatted Jared’s behind. The seraph let out a yelp that was so far from indignant that it wouldn’t have been allowed on a soap opera as acting.

“You’re an abusive human,” Jared accused.

“And you’re a liar. That felt like solid muscle down there.”

Jared turned to look over his shoulder at Jensen, grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Why thank you, Mr. Ackles.”

Jensen rolled his eyes and pushed at Jared’s shoulder to get him to settle back down. “At least you’re awake now.”

“I am,” Jared agreed.

Jensen worked for a while in silence before pronouncing Jared done. A quick look at the clock showed that class wasn’t due to stop for another ten minutes, so he kept stroking over his work to look busy. Just standing there would be awkward, and Jared didn’t seem to be complaining.

“Do you want to be a doctor?” Jared asked softly.

“Why do you ask that?” Jensen asked back.

“Because you’re in the program, and a lot of humans want in the program so that they can get a better certification or study us. Not,” Jared spat out quickly, “that there is anything wrong with that. Not in an academic sense and not a, you know, creepy scientist way. Like, if you don’t study humans and their biology and psychology, you can’t help them, right?”

Frowning, Jensen nodded and paused the movement of his hands. Then he realized that Jared couldn’t exactly see him nod, so he opened his mouth to speak.

“I understand what you’re saying,” he started out with, “and I agree with you. But if you’re asking about me specifically, I can’t tell you why I wanted so badly to be here. I’ve got some vague goals and ambitions, sure, but I just always wanted to be here, you know?”

“Yeah,” Jared replied. Jensen wasn’t sure if it was an agreement or just an acknowledgment, but there didn’t seem to be any judgment in the tone.

“What about you?” Jensen asked as he once again started tracing the lines of Jared’s muscles.

“Me? I don’t know. I’m kind of searching right now. We don’t really… God this sounds stupid, but we don’t really choose a career path until we’re mated, you know? We need to be at one with our spouse before our path is clear because we can’t be at odds with each other or something.”

Jared’s shoulders shrugged, but the line of the muscles around them tensed. It was a clear sign that Jared was waiting for Jensen to pass sentence on his words. It was odd that Jared would care so much about what Jensen thought, but then again, he wasn’t exactly in the place to be pointing fingers. He’d been trying way too hard to please all of his instructors and all of the staff since he’d gotten admitted to the academy. He’d spent the whole time trying to prove his worth to them.

Clearing his throat, Jensen said, “I thought I read something about that once, but you know how psychologists are. There was this whole debate sort of thing, and it’s hard to know what is truth and what isn’t.”

“Yeah, well, it’s true. It’s just some nice weird thing that goes on in our brains along with obsessive an freaky feather plucking,” Jared said with a bitter tone.

Jensen was saved from commenting by the class ending.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Although Jared had admittedly held low expectations for Jensen, he had always had the ability to acknowledge when he was wrong. It wasn’t a seraph thing. No, his species, or breed of human depending on what philosopher you were talking to, had the same problem with confessing error that any old human did. It was just a Jared thing. He’d never seen the purpose in denying his incorrect assumptions.

After the massage Jensen had given him, complete with concession that Jensen also was uncertain of his true path, Jared was cheerfully taking the blame for his stubborn preconceptions. Jensen was awesome. He was pretty and talented and intelligent. That and his hands were the hands of a god. Between preening and muscle care, Jared felt better than he had in ages. Possibly better than he ever had, but there were parts of his early childhood that he couldn’t remember any more than anybody else could, so he couldn’t state it with absolute certainty.

Wing painting was Jensen’s last class of the day, and Jared felt a pang of sorrow as he followed the human along the school hallways. As much as he’d like to sweep Jensen off his feet and take him off to start nesting somewhere, there was no doubt in his mind that the overture would be unappreciated.

It was too soon, by human standards, to begin talk of mating. It was even too soon to try to wheedle some additional time out of Jensen’s schedule for a cup of coffee. Even if Jensen was the kind of human who believed in love at first sight and was apt to throw caution to the wind, their society dictated that they wait an appropriate amount of time before having a second meeting.

Part of Jared bemoaned the loss of the old days. Back then it would have been acceptable to abduct your one and fly them off to your nest to begin wooing them. A seraph was rarely mistaken when they made the decision of mating. There could be doubt and concern before the decision was made, but after that it was only the deluded or psychotic who would take an unfit and ultimately unwilling human to nest with. The problems had always come from the friends and families of the human mate, and those problems had only intensified with the integration of their two societies.

It was, after all, hard to hide away with your beloved when your nest’s location was located in the city directory.

Idly, Jared wandered around Jensen’s work station as the human pulled out his painting supplies. The feathers on display over Jensen’s workstation were lightly tinted. They weren’t the extravagant pieces of art that some humans could produce, but what Jared saw warmed his heart more than any inspired work of art ever could.

Over and over again, Jensen had picked out colors from Jared’s family crest. There were even some patterns that were reminiscent of the symbols of his clan. Even if Jared hadn’t already been sure of his intent to pursue Jensen, the paintings would have sealed the deal.

It didn’t matter that Jensen’s talents clearly did not lie in painting. The rest of him was perfect just as it was.

“So I was thinking,” Jensen started, “that we should just do a little experimenting right now. I’m not the absolute best at this, and I don’t want to do something to unbalance your flight load.”

Jared turned away from the display pieces to quirk an amused eyebrow at Jensen. “You think that a little paint is going to unbalance me? Do I look like I’m ninety and need a good updraft to get me off the ground?”

Jensen blushed and shrugged, but he didn’t open his mouth to take back the insult or correct Jared’s assumption.

Instead he said, “Look, your muscles are tight from compensating for the missing feathers, and I don’t like the idea of causing them more stress. It’s maybe a physical therapist thing, but I don’t think I should be sacrificing your health and comfort for my personal studies. Besides, I don’t know about how vain you are, but I’m not all that good at this. I’ll probably end up painting arrows to your bald spots.”

Jared’s wings flared out of their own accord. “They aren’t bald, they’re just… thinned.”

“Yeah, and that’s what Uncle Mort said about his male pattern baldness at the last family reunion,” Jensen teased back.

Jared didn’t respond at first, and Jensen’s face started to turn an unflattering shade of red. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just, sometimes my mouth runs ahead of me, and I say the wrong things.”

Finally, Jared allowed himself to smile back at Jensen. To add effect, he flared out his pitiful wings and posed like some runway supermodel in Paris.

“It’s okay,” he said, all fake bravado and ego, “I know that I’m awesome.”

“You fucker,” Jensen accused as he turned around to fiddle with his paints again, “I thought I’d really upset you.”

“Fair game for the rubdown you gave me earlier. Thought I was going to die of embarrassment, man.”

“That was not my fault,” Jensen told him. “You, on the other hand, did that on purpose.”

“Yeah, yeah I did. You were adorable, by the way. Red’s a good color on you,” Jared said as he swaggered over to plop down on the stool provided for him.

He heard Jensen groan and drag some supplies around and mutter something about immature college boys all being the same.

“Alright, change of plans. You are getting chartreuse stickmen all over your wings. It’ll be modern expressionism of cavemen paintings.” Jensen threatened as he tugged at Jared to position him.

Jared glanced over his shoulder to see that Jensen truly was armed with the threatened color of paint, and a very large paintbrush. The human’s face was set stoically, but the edges of his eye and mouth were twitching, obviously trying to fight back the beginning of a smile.

It was a challenge, and Jared might be smitten, but he was also a guy. He wasn’t about to throw in the towel.

“Bring it, Shorty,” he taunted. After all, he could always stop on the way home to get some paint remover.

Chapter Text

Jensen was fairly certain he was going to keel over dead. It wasn’t the heavy class load. He’d done far worse getting his physical therapy degree. It certainly wasn’t his job unless he thought that the constant exposure to clothes washing detergents and fabric softeners was getting to his brain.

No, he was pretty sure it was his diet. Ramen noodles and whatever cheap stuff was in the discount bin at the grocery store was bad enough, but he’d had to switch to cheap coffee, and the burn from its acid was going to go through the lining of his stomach. That and it was going to cause his taste buds to shrivel up and die.

He wasn’t that old, but he felt it. There were days when he wondered what the hell he was doing, and then he’d drag his ass to class and be assaulted by the sight of a giant angel bouncing around and grinning like a lunatic.

Jared, Jared, Jared. Jensen wasn’t sure what to make of the seraph. Half of him felt overwhelming affection for the guy every time that he laid eyes on him. The other half was just overwhelmed in general. Most days he was confused about the whole thing, and it didn’t help that the instant that Jared was within speaking range he just kind of sucked Jensen into orbit around him.

Jensen’s classes had started to blend together. He wasn’t even sure if he was really learning anything from them anymore because he spent so much time paying attention to Jared that he kind of blotted out the outside world. Half the time he couldn’t remember if he was supposed to be dabbing paint on the guy’s pinions or rubbing that perpetual knot out from between his wing gap.

He was more aware of what was going on with Jared than he was of anybody else. He knew the way that Jared’s mouth tilted when he was angry, sad or contemplative. He knew the instant that Jared’s feathers started growing back in, and he felt the wholly unfounded stab of jealousy when those same feathers fell out to be replaced with newer, more colorful plumage.

Mating feathers, Jensen’s brain unhelpfully identified them the very first time that his eyes landed on one. Another student probably wouldn’t have noticed, but Jensen had spent his life being obsessed with the winged creatures. He knew that they’d start molting their regular feathers to brighter ones when they were trying to attract a mate. It was, as far as the historians could get out of the tight lipped seraphs, one of the reasons that wing painting had developed, vain seraphs trying to duplicate the wonder of their mating feathers.

The illogical jealousy was made worse by Jared’s thoughtfulness. At first, he had kept trying to get Jensen to go out for coffee or something after class. Each time that Jensen told him, “No,” the guy’s face seemed to get one more worried wrinkle to it. He’d seemed upset by Jensen’s constant refusals, but Jensen’s pride hadn’t allowed him to admit that he didn’t have the money to go out. He felt like a jerk because Jared was making this great effort to be his friend, but he couldn’t afford to pay for a two dollar cup of coffee let alone the burgers and fries Jared would sometimes tempt him with.

It was after one of those turned down offers that Jensen had walked halfway to the exit door before realizing that he’d forgotten to double check that he’d gotten the lids back on his paints. He couldn’t afford to replace them if they dried out, and he wasn’t a good enough painter to make up for a color missing from his palette.

When he had walked back into the building, he’d caught Jared pulling at his feathers fretfully. They were healthy and strong quills. Jensen himself had run his fingers over them that very morning, and he knew that there was no way that their condition had deteriorated enough in the intervening hours to merit their removal.

“Hey, stop that,” Jensen had said as he strode over to grab hold of Jared’s hand.

“Jensen,” Jared had whispered in response as his face blushed, and his eyes clouded with shame.

“What’s got you so stressed? You were fine earlier. My magic fingers losing their touch?” Jensen had joked as he removed Jared’s hand and gently pushed the still attached feathers back into place.

“No, I… It’s nothing,” Jared had said.

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Jensen had countered. “Unless you’re talking about the fact that ‘nothing’ is going to be exactly what’s left of your wings if you keep this up. What gives? They were starting to look better.”

“I…” Jared had looked away, but Jensen hadn’t let that deter him. He’d gently reached up to turn Jared’s face back to his own.

“What?” He’s prompted.

“What’s wrong with me? I don’t understand.” Jared had whispered.

Jensen’s eyebrows had headed towards his hairline. “Nothing is wrong with you.”

“But, I… I thought you liked me, but I have to be wrong because, well I know you’re not bigoted. So it’s got to be me, right?”

And then Jensen had understood at least part of Jared’s problem. It hadn’t been worth his pride to cause Jared the stress, and the not so simple admission of being broke had eased the seraph’s worries and turned them into a disturbing need to coddle Jensen instead.

Jared started bringing him fresh ground coffee and found all sorts of excuses to share his lunch because he was, “Too full, man.” It was a lie because Jensen was fairly certain that Jared could eat an entire pot roast complete with vegetables without blinking an eye, but he found himself accepting the food more often than not because Jared was so careful to spare his pride with the way that he gave, and Jensen hadn’t liked the ramen diet the first time around.

When Jensen made one throwaway comment about wanting to know more about seraph culture instead of just learning about their physical attributes, Jared started bringing him books. Informational ones and fiction that was popular with Jared’s seraph acquaintances started to clutter Jensen’s tiny living space. Jared seemed to mull each selection over carefully before giving them to Jensen like he wanted to make certain that Jensen would appreciate just how much Jared wanted to help him with his goal of knowledge.

There were times when Jensen just wanted to give Jared a hug and tell him that he didn’t need to worry so much. He was really helping Jensen out, and there wasn’t any need to be worrying about the quality of his gifts. It wasn’t like he thought Jensen couldn’t be appreciative of how generous Jared was being to him when he didn’t need to be if he brought Jensen a used book instead of a new one or simply loaned him a book instead of outright giving it.

Jared was really a nice guy though, and Jensen got along well with him. He didn’t want to hurt Jared’s feeling or make him feel uncomfortable about all the gifts and how they could be interpreted the wrong way. Jensen knew that Jared wasn’t trying to buy his trust or companionship with expensive coffees and tasty meals, and whatever anybody else thought was their own business.

The fact that Jared’s feathers had started to grow back in was a great thing, and Jensen wasn’t about to add stress back to Jared’s life by trying to alter his giving nature into something more socially acceptable by his classmates. They were to the point where Jensen would honestly call Jared his friend. Over the course of the weeks they’d spent together, Jensen had mostly given up on the idea that Jared was the academy’s special Ackles hunting mole.

Even though the faculty still took down the occasional suspicious note, Jensen had never seen Jared do anything but stare sincerely at him.

And yeah, those fond looks of friendship might have crossed a few wires in Jensen’s brain. He liked Jared. He liked him in unprofessional ways, and no matter how hard he tried to make himself listen, his heart still did a stupid little stuttered beat each time that Jared smiled at him. He still blushed and looked down whenever Jared brought him a new trinket or tidbit because he knew that his eyes would give away what he was feeling if he didn’t.

Most embarrassingly, he could still get caught gawking at Jared’s physique at the beginning of preening class when he didn’t have enough sleep or caffeine in his system to enable the neurons in his brain that controlled subtlety. It was almost like his body was trying to tune into Jared’s on some weird level, like they were magnets attracting each other. It was preposterous, of course, nothing but starry-eyed bullshit that all of the romance books that Jared had bought him had put into Jensen’s lonely head and fueled his under used libido.

So when Jared’s mating plumage started coming in, it was easy for Jensen to start worrying and tell himself that it was nothing but platonic concern. If a simple perceived rejection of friendship had disturbed Jared so much that he’d started to pull at his feathers, Jensen couldn’t imagine what a romantic rejection would do.

He only hoped that the pretty little thing that had caught Jared’s attention was as gentle and nice as the lumbering giant. Given that most of the books that Jared had given him lately had been popular romance novels about star crossed human-seraph pairings, Jensen had the ominous feeling that Jared had fallen in love with a human girl.

It wasn’t that Jensen frowned on that sort of thing. He’d marched in support rallies for those couples; it would make him a hypocrite to frown on that sort of relationship. But that didn’t mean that whatever girl had caught Jared’s eye returned his affections or returned them for the right reasons.

There were plenty of humans that would be more than willing to give a tumble to a seraph for the uniqueness of it. Jensen didn’t want Jared to get attached to somebody who was really only out for the thrill of getting it on with one of the winged ones.

Any sentiment of, “Why not me?” was quickly subdued on Jensen’s part. He wanted no part of pushing his own feelings on Jared. It was bad enough that they would sneak up on Jensen and catch him unaware. It would be so much worse if the emotions managed to get out and announce themselves to Jared. A little crush was one thing. Exposing that crush would be quite another, especially not when Jared had been his only real support for the past couple of months.

Sure Chris still called, and Jensen’s parents talked to him regularly. But Chris always had that worried tone that told Jensen that he was crazy for dumping his internship, and Jensen was still lying to his parents. They didn’t know that they needed to be supportive, and they certainly didn’t know that he was back to scraping by. Not that he’d been doing great shakes on an intern’s salary, but it had been enough that they’d given up on worrying about his financial health.

“You’re thinking so hard that I’m worried for my feathers,” Jared said as he waved a shiny looking thermos in front of Jensen’s face. “You don’t think that they could spontaneously combust, do you?”

Jensen rolled his eyes and snatched the thermos away. “From my stare? Do I look like Superman to you?”

Jared grinned and started pulling his shirt off. “No, more like Lois Lane.”

Jensen snorted and sucked down a gulp of coffee. It swirled around on his tongue as he watched Jared’s fingers reach nimbly behind his back to unbutton the rows of small buttons on either side of the bottom of his shirt that held the center panel to the right and left sides. The button ups always looked nicer than the regular tees in Jensen’s opinion. The casual shirts didn’t always return to the right shape if a seraph’s wings stretched the wrong way when getting dressed.

Not to mention that Jared looked good in a collared shirt. Blue plaid, plaid white oxford, pink paisley: it didn’t matter. The fact that Jared tended to favor T-backed muscle shirts underneath had nothing to do with Jensen’s appreciation.

Of course, it didn’t detract from said appreciation either. He wasn’t going to mention any of that to Jared though. He didn’t need to make him uncomfortable.

So instead of making murmurs of lust and attraction, Jensen went with a comfortable, buddy like jibe of, “There a reason that you’re stripping down for preening, or are you just trying to impress the ladies?”

Jared turned to grin at him. “You say that like showing off isn’t a good excuse.”

Jensen shook his head and took another swig of coffee before regretfully screwing the lid back on and getting up off his chair to stretch out before the latest class came into session.

“You’re a terrible flirt,” Jensen told him.

“Terrible as in I’m bad at it, or terrible as in incorrigible?” Jared asked as he clambered onto the preening stool.

“And now you’re fishing for compliments,” Jensen said with an exaggerated shake of his head.

“I’m a good fisherman.” Jared shot back as he flared his wings out for effect. The snapping sound they made attracted the attention of some of the other class participants, and Jensen tried not to begrudge them their lingering glances at Jared’s wings.

The stormy sea colored feathers were deepening and mottling out into patterns all their own, no pretty painting required. Some of the deeper blues were starting to get iridescent shines to them that made them almost look purple and the greens were bleeding into the lighter blues with shocking vibrancy. The greys and browns cut through the riot of color to keep it from looking gaudy or tacky, and Jensen had to admit that nature could really kick most artists in the ass without really trying.

Of course, his own nature was being a selfish bastard that didn’t like the stares of the other people in the room. He was quite content to look at Jared’s plumage and admire its beauty without sharing it with another living soul. He didn’t need his competition finally catching a hint and taking Jared up on his mating offer.

“So you going to give me an honest answer? Or are you really just trying to show off here?” Jensen snapped despite his best efforts to be calm.

Jared didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, he chose to ignore Jensen’s less than friendly tone. “The feathers at my wing base feel funny. They’re sensitive, and I can’t reach them well.”

Jensen swallowed and tried to grab a veil of calm around him. Seraph sexuality wasn’t necessarily a well discussed or shared topic with the human world, but he knew that the farther on in a mating ritual that one of them got, the more sensitive their wings became. If they were far enough along in their endeavors, they’d sprout tiny feathers along the joining points of their wings that served no purpose except to tickle and torture the hell out of them.

The feather basically started making them incessantly horny whenever they took flight. It was Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that the species literally couldn’t think straight until they made an attempt at continuing the family line. Sometimes Jensen thought that it was the punishment that the seraph got in turn of having the ability to fly. Other times he just figured that Mother Nature was a pretty kinky lady.

Summoning all of his professional demeanor about him, Jensen slid his fingers along Jared’s skin and very gently lifted the outer layer of feathers from the scapular region of his wings. The down that was there was healthy and soft, but sure enough, there were tiny little feathers starting to sprout in a wrong direction. They weren’t misshapen or aberrant ones that would interfere with Jared’s flight or hurt him. They grew naturally in with the regular lying feathers in a fascinating interwoven pattern, and if it were anybody but Jared, Jensen would be making all the mental notes that he could. Aside from a seraph’s mate, it was rare that anybody was able to physically lay eyes on the feathers.

He doubted that he’d ever have the opportunity to see their growth first hand again, but the excitement of that died to the fact that very soon he probably wasn’t going to be seeing Jared again. Once the seraph mated, his mate would take care of most of his needs for him. Jensen didn’t doubt that they’d still be friends, but it wouldn’t be the same. He highly doubted that Jared would even finish out the semester. Jared would be too busy honeymooning with his new mate.

Unable to help himself, Jensen ran a fingertip along one of the soft feathers as he tried to corral his unwanted envy. Jared shivered under his touch even though the feather hadn’t matured to its full length and purpose yet.

“You’re getting your, uh…”Jensen trailed off uncertain of how to actually get the words past his lips.

“Breeding feathers?” Jared finished for him.

“Yeah,” Jensen agreed even though it felt like he had something stuck in his throat.

“I thought I might be,” Jared said quietly.

“You want me to pull them out?” Jensen blurted out suddenly. Maybe Jared didn’t want them. Maybe it was just a stupid biological impulse like the plucking had been, and Jared wasn’t ready to settle down.

Jared barked out a laugh. “Dude, I’m not a masochist.”

Jensen was grateful that Jared couldn’t see his face then. He didn’t need Jared seeing the stupid hope that had been there nor the guilt that followed when he realized just what sort of pain he’d suggested putting his friend through.

“Just let me get some numbing gel then. It’ll maybe take the edge off until you can get her to your, your nest or apartment or wherever it is that you stay.” Jensen mumbled as he turned around to find the small vial of ointment that he so far had never needed. It was only used when prepping for a removal where the calamus had broken off from the rest of the feather and was still embedded in the skin.

“Thanks man,” Jared mumbled as he flared his wings out a bit more. As Jensen fumbled for the ointment, he could see the way that Jared kept twitching his wings ever so slightly and the way that his hips were held rigidly still.

Jensen didn’t know what lucky bitch had snared Jared’s affections, but he was pretty sure that he hated her already.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared was certain that he was going to lose his mind. He’d planned to go slowly with Jensen. The human was older and less prone to jumping into romance headfirst, and Jared could respect that. For Jensen, he figured he could do a whole lot that wasn’t in his normal exuberant nature.

The gifts and tokens of affection had been difficult for him. It was in both his and his people’s nature to be generous with courting gifts, but Jensen’s pride was strong. He had to make things acceptable to the older human’s world view or else Jensen would see it as charity.

His nature dictated that he should shower Jensen with affection and gifts, but his chosen mate was reticent at the best of times. Jared hadn’t missed the moments of awkwardness and uncertainty that would often follow one of his attempts to give Jensen a token of his affection.

The food and coffee was a double edged sword. On the one hand, Jensen was guaranteed to take them because of his own limited options. On the other, they were necessities and could easily insult Jensen’s pride.

The books had been a gift from the heavens. Jensen had shown a true appreciation for all of the books that Jared brought him, and in turn, Jared had used to opportunity to woo his beloved with other people’s words. He could take his future mate’s passion for learning, and gift him with the information he so craved. It had been a struggle to keep from giving Jensen carloads of books.

Still, Jared had managed to restrain himself for the most part. Going slow seemed to be the key, and Jared desperately wanted inside of Jensen’s gates.

His body, on the other hand, just desperately wanted inside of Jensen.

It wasn’t that Jensen hadn’t been attracted to Jared’s mating plumage. Jared had noticed the appreciative glances that Jensen gave it when he thought Jared couldn’t see. Reflective shadows and windows were Jared’s friends. Without them, he would be half convinced that Jensen was completely unaffected by his body’s courtship displays.

His soon to be lover was good at playing things close to the vest. Jared couldn’t exactly blame him. The more that he learned about Jensen’s many rejections from the academy and the ways that his friends and family tried to get him to give up on his dreams, the more that Jared understood why Jensen didn’t display the normal levels of enthusiasm that the other students did.

In a way it made Jared love him a tiny bit more. What Jensen lacked in energetic excitement, he made up for in determination and dedication. He had faced reality and done well for himself in the human world, but he’d turned around and grabbed at his chance when it was offered. He knew himself in ways that the other potentials couldn’t because they hadn’t live those years of their lives yet.

Jared wanted to take things slowly for Jensen’s sake. He wanted to be able to give Jensen that gift of patience and love.

His biology wasn’t onboard with that plan. Gaining his mating plumage was fine. It was a statement of intent, but there wasn’t any urgency to it. Only the most self-effacing of seraph would ever bemoan having to display their mating plumage for an extended period of time.

Breeding feathers though – those were a different matter. They didn’t exist on any avian that Jared had ever read about, and as far as anybody could discern, they were there simply to encourage a seraph to get laid.

They tickled and teased. There was no relief against them because most seraph were not nimble enough to rub soothingly at them because of the awkward positions that they grew at. The only option was to have another person help out, and that person would ideally be a seraph’s mate.

Every morning since Jensen had first spied them, he had rubbed numbing gel on them. It felt both good and wrong at the same time, but the chemical at least helped Jared make it through to the end of the day without dragging Jensen off to the janitor’s closet to have his wicked way with the human.

Jared tried to step up his game a bit. He started asking Jensen about decoration preferences hoping to get some clue as to how to appropriately line their nest, but it seemed like the more he asked, the more withdrawn Jensen became. It was highly unsatisfactory to him. His instinct said to build and establish, but Jensen wouldn’t give him any guidance on it.

Even his tokens of affection and gentle touches were received with hesitancy. Jensen had taken to glaring at random people that would stop by to greet either of them. He was decidedly unfriendly toward some of the women.

It wasn’t like Jensen to be that way, and Jared worried about him. When he tried to broach the subject with Jensen, the human almost completely shut down before declaring everything fine in a fit of denial.

Jared was at his wit’s end. His body was becoming more and more demanding with every minute spent in Jensen’s presence while Jensen himself became more reticent. It was like some unsolvable puzzle, and Jared wanted to scream with the unfairness of it.

Talking to Sam was his second to last hope. His last one was asking his mother for guidance, but he preferred to stay away from that option as long as possible. He didn’t need his mom becoming all motherly and asking for embarrassing details or questioning Jensen’s suitability or offering embarrassing sex advice.

Sam shot him a knowing grin when he shuffled into her office. “Things not going well with Jensen?”

“No,” Jared said bluntly as he flopped into the chair across from her.

“Your wings look like they disagree.”

“My wings are mindless horndogs. Ignore them,” Jared ordered with a wave of his hand.

Sam laughed and shook her head. “I’m sure it’s not that bad. Jensen seems to be rather smitten with you.”

“Jensen likes me,” Jared corrected.

“And?”

“‘And’ what? Jensen thinks I’m his friend, and my body doesn’t understand the concept of slow,” Jared groused.

“I’m fairly certain it understands the concept quite well given the mind that is attached to it,” Sam told him.

Feeling insulted, Jared frowned at her for a moment before asking, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you aren’t going to be the only one to feel possessive or jealous in your relationship. Sometimes people, humans especially, try to hide their feelings because they don’t want to be hurt. Does Jensen even know that you think of him as something other than a friend?”

“Of course he does! I bring him all sorts of gifts, and I always make sure to hug him or pat him on the back.” Jared scoffed at the ridiculousness of her words.

“And he hasn’t seen you greet other people that way?”

“It’s different!” Jared insisted.

“I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m saying that maybe Jensen doesn’t know that it’s different.”

“Okay, but he hasn’t made any moves or anything. Shouldn’t he be doing that if he’s interested in me?” Jared couldn’t look Sam in the face as he asked the question. He worried at his thumbnail instead. He didn’t know what he’d do if Jensen wasn’t interested, and Jared turned out to be one of those rare seraph’s whose mating instinct was completely haywire.

“Would that make sense with what you know of Jensen?” Sam asked gently.

Jared shrugged like he didn’t have an answer, but the truth of the matter was that Jensen wouldn’t actively pursue a seraph. His consistent rejections from the academy had taught him to keep those sorts of feelings towards Jared’s species internalized. He wasn’t going to ever be the aggressor in a non-traditional relationship.

If Jared had his way, Jensen wasn’t ever going to be the aggressor in any relationship because he intended to mate with the human. From there on out it would simply be a matter of patching up misunderstandings and fights. Pursuit wouldn’t be necessary.

“So you’re going to go out there and let him in on the big, bad secret before your wings decide that they’re going to start rustling out odes to him, right?” Sam asked.

Jared glared at her. “That’s an urban legend, and you know it.”

“Maybe, but if I were you, I wouldn’t chance it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jensen was trying to control his breathing. When Jared oh so nonchalantly mentioned that he’d like to talk to Jensen after the end of class that day, Jensen had immediately started to panic. He wasn’t an idiot. He knew what Jared wanted to talk about. Everybody everywhere probably knew what Jared wanted to talk about.

It wasn’t a secret that most seraph with mates have their grooming done by their families. It was convenient for one thing. For another: Jensen wasn’t stupid. Animals the world over used mutual grooming as a way of bonding. Just because the textbooks didn’t specifically mention that it was the same for seraphs that didn’t make it not true.

Maybe the young kids in the preening class hadn’t noticed that most of their live subjects brought their spouses with them, but Jensen sure did. He’d been around long enough to notice the occasional suspicious glint or possessive touch when one of the student’s hands got too familiar with a wing or muscle group.

And really, Jensen couldn’t expect Jared’s new lover to be any less jealous. He certainly wouldn’t be up for letting some random stranger feel up his lover every weekday morning, and if Jared had any taste in women, he wouldn’t be picking somebody who would be okay with that either.

All of which meant that Jensen was about to get dumped. It was silly to think of it that way because they weren’t really anything but friends, and he should be happy that Jared had found somebody that made him happy all the way to the tips of his wings.

“Hey,” Jared said as he walked up to Jensen, effectively interrupting Jensen’s pre-pity party.

“Hey,” Jensen greeted in return. The school’s brick wall was rough through the thin fabric of his tee, but he leaned against it anyway. He needed something to ground him so that he didn’t show too much disappointment when Jared gave him his walking papers.

“So, look, I need to talk to you about something,” Jared started off hesitantly, “I’m sort of… I want… Thing is… Oh, fuck it!” Jared finished with a growl as he stepped into Jensen’s personal space.

For a split second, Jensen was worried that Jared was going to hit him. Then Jared ducked down, faster than any human of the same build could have, and kissed him. It wasn’t gentle, but it wasn’t demanding either. It was oddly perfect in its pressure, and some distant part of Jensen’s brain that wasn’t busy whirling in confusion wondered if seraph’s heightened senses enabled them to be better kissers with less practice.

When Jared backed off from the kiss, Jensen stared at him stupidly before saying, “What the FUCK was that?”

“A kiss?”

“I know that,” Jensen snarled, “but you can’t just go kissing me like that. If you wanted experience or something you could’ve just hung out with some of those hormonal girls in class. I don’t think your girlfriend is going to like me being around if she knows you practiced your macking skills on me.”

“What?” Jared asked.

Taking yet another calming breath, he was becoming an expert at those, Jensen said, “Your mate, Jared. You know, the girl that you’re sprouting all the pretty plumage for?”

“I… my mate isn’t a girl,” Jared said slowly.

“Great, then he or it or whatever,” Jensen begrudgingly corrected himself. “The point is that your mate isn’t going to like you playing kissy face with me.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“Jared, trust me and my four years of extra life experience. You do not want to attempt a plural relationship. They’re pains in the ass. My buddy Phil had this arrangement with his…”

“Did you like kissing me?” Jared interrupted.

“That’s not really the point, man.”

“Well then you won’t have a problem answering the pointless question.”

Jensen choked a little in frustration and waved his hand dismissively before saying, “It was good, okay? Now back to what I was trying to tell you. You don’t want to…”

Jared kissed him again. This time he pressed in a little harder with his lips and pushed his body against Jensen’s. The amount of heat coming off his form made the Texas sun warmed brick against Jensen’s back feel cool. It shouldn’t have been a shock. Jensen knew that seraph’s body temperatures ran hotter than a human’s, but somehow it was startling in the contrast.

With a sharp intake of breath, Jared backed away from their second kiss. Their lips parted company with an audible pop, and Jensen automatically licked his lips to swipe away any embarrassing wetness that lingered on them.

“Was the second one better?” Jared asked softly.

“I…” Jensen trailed off as his mind started catching on to what was probably happening, “Seriously?”

Jared grinned at him and bounced on his feet, nervously nodding his head up and down like it was a basketball.

“I don’t know what to say.” Jensen admitted.

“Will you mock me forever if I quote a chick flick and tell you to, ‘Say yes’?”

“Probably,” Jensen told him as he stepped forward to place a hesitant hand against Jared’s chest. He could feel Jared’s heat hammering away inside, and that was more soothing and comforting than he expected. If Jared was nervous and uncertain then there was no reason that Jensen couldn’t be the same.

And if Jared could overcome his fears to make a move, then there was no excuse for Jensen to hide behind his own. Sure Jared was having some additional physiological impulses, but Jensen had four more years on him, and he’d already gambled his secure future to come to the academy in the first place. What was another roll of the dice going to cost him?

“Yes,” Jensen said simply.

Jared’s face broke out into a sunny grin. With a whoop of delight, he descended on Jensen, glomming on to him with grabby hands and mile long arms. He peppered Jensen’s face with kisses and then proceeded to snuffle against his neck.

Laughing, Jensen pushed him away, “Jared, not on campus. You have to know that Chad has gotten access to the security cameras.”

“No. No, you’re right.” Jared answered quickly even as his hands reached for Jensen again.

“Jay!” Jensen said reproachfully as he slapped at the advancing hands.

“I know, I know… just. I could fly us to my place, yeah? It’s loads faster than walking.”

“Your place? As in to… you know?” Jensen asked.

“Too soon? It’s too soon, isn’t it? I’m all,” Jared paused to wave his hands spastically, “and you’re not, and I’m moving too fast.”

“Well your mouth certainly is,” Jensen told him as he grabbed hold of Jared’s forearm.

“I’m sorry. Can I get a do over? Am I too old for that?”

“Definitely too old for do overs,” Jensen agreed solemnly.

He let Jared look stricken for a moment before adding, “But you don’t actually need one, so you don’t have to worry.”

Jared sucked in a breath and held it for a longtime before exhaling noisily. “Really?”

“Really,” Jensen told him as he slid his hand around Jared’s back to bury his fingers into one of his wings.

Jared let loose a groan, and his eyes literally rolled back in his head. “Jensen, man, you trying to kill me?”

“Just making sure we’re both on the same page,” Jensen teased.

“Gonna take you back to my nest and fuck you,” Jared growled.

Jensen felt his heart beat a little faster at Jared’s words, but he pushed the feeling down to his stomach so that it could play with the butterflies taking up residence there. He was not going to let it move upwards to do something stupid like make him grin like a loon. Of course, Jensen had never had that great of control over his body, so he ended up blushing like a fool anyway, but it didn’t seem to bother Jared all that much.

Without really giving Jensen that much time to adjust to the idea, Jared pulled him into his arms and just took off from a perfect standstill. The part of Jensen’s brain that wasn’t jabbering at the sudden change in altitude was busy marveling at how Jared’s wings could angle out from his body enough to cause lift off from such an awkward position and then turn back to glide on regular air currents.

The rest of Jensen’s brain was jabbering in fear because he was suddenly up in the air with nothing but Jared’s arms to keep him there.

Panicking, Jensen grabbed at Jared. He wrapped his arms around the seraph’s neck and wound his legs around Jared’s long torso. His book bag swung downwards, pulling at his shoulder as gravity tried to yank his textbooks to the quickly disappearing ground and wind started moving it, twisting it to and fro.

“You might want to look at a backpack instead of a shoulder bag. Less wind resistance,” Jared shouted into Jensen’s ear, competing against the noise of the wind and the sound of his own beating wings.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jensen mumbled into Jared’s neck.

It couldn’t be comfortable for the larger man to have Jensen clinging to him in such a manner, but Jensen couldn’t bring himself to care. Jared hadn’t exactly given Jensen a lot of time to adjust to the idea of flying through the city without any safety precautions. Jensen had never experienced a fear of heights before, but those moments of elevation had always been accompanied by safety railings or nice airplane cabins.

In one gut churning movement, Jared’s wings snapped backwards and instead of gliding forwards, they jerked back and started to fall. Jensen’s life flashed before his eyes seconds before he realized that they weren’t actually falling anymore and were standing on an apartment’s balcony.

Well, Jared was standing. Jensen was still clinging to him like a monkey.

“You want to let go now?” Jared’s voice purred amusedly in Jensen’s ear.

Jensen nodded, not caring that the rims of his glasses were digging into the soft flesh of Jared’s cheek. With a laugh, Jared’s hands slid down from their embrace around Jensen’s torso to cup gently at his bottom. “Or I could just walk you to the bedroom,” he suggested with a gentle squeeze of his hands.

Jensen scrambled out of Jared’s hold and promptly fell on his backside before stumbling up onto his feet. The reflection from Jared’s patio windows let Jensen know that his glasses were askew and his hair was a mess – half slicked down and half standing up. His face was flushed, and he in general already looked like Jared’s had his wicked way with him.

So he slapped Jared like an insulted, virginal maiden from those horrible romance novels that the women in his life always seemed to be reading. Or, come to think of it, Jared kept giving to him.

“What was that for?” Jared whined.

“For scaring me! And then copping a feel after!” Jensen shouted.

Jared looked confused. “Scaring you?” he repeated slowly.

“Yes, scaring as in, you know heights and falling and, and…” Jensen trailed off with a limp wave of his hand as one of Jared’s neighbors walked out onto his own balcony to get a good view of the commotion.

The man was balding and slightly potbellied, but instead of asking questions, he just glared at Jared. He didn’t even spare Jensen so much as a second glance.

With a grunt of disgust, Jensen grabbed hold of Jared’s arm and dragged him towards the glass doors of his own apartment. “Come on, I don’t like audiences,” Jensen muttered.

Jared cast his gaze over his shoulder and made a face before turning his attention to the locked doors and fishing the key out of his pocket to open them. “Mr. Nelson doesn’t like his peace and quiet getting interrupted, or maybe that’s just because he just doesn’t like me. Thinks it’s bunk that I got an upper floor with a balcony because of what I am, you know?”

“I can guess,” Jensen told him as Jared gestured him inside.

The apartment was barely decorated. The only outstanding thing that Jensen could pick out was the nearly overflowing fruit basket and the giant pile of cardboard boxes that seemed to be building a fort made entirely out of different snack brands.

“So I know your kind have faster metabolisms than us humans do, but is that normal?” Jensen asked while he tried to not make it look like his eyes were going to bug out of his head. He also prayed that his stomach didn’t start growling because he needed to stay mad at Jared for a little while longer and after that there was a distinct promise of sex. Eating was a low priority that the moment.

Jensen hadn’t had physical company in ages. He’d very much like to get to the sex part, and empty stomachs making funny noises were never conducive to sexy times.

“Uh, sort of?” Jared replied with a tiny smile. “See, I wasn’t sure what you liked aside from coffee, and my metabolism is kind of hyper right now, so I just bought one of everything that looked remotely tasty.”

Jensen frowned. “What do my food preferences have to do with your grocery shopping habits?”

Jared’s face looked insulted, and his feathers puffed out in a dizzying display of plumage. “My momma taught me how to go about nesting properly!”

“Ooookay,” Jensen drawled out slowly.

Jared’s feathers seemed to wilt down into themselves. “Guess you couldn’t tell that from the way the living room looked, huh?”

“Uh,” Jensen said because he was having a little bit of trouble keeping up with Jared’s sudden mood shifts and impulsive behaviors and grunting in a noncommittal way sounded like a great plan for giving himself time to think.

“I tried, I really did. You just didn’t want to talk to me about it, and I couldn’t just… what if you hated a color or something or you had an allergy you didn’t tell me about? I… I didn’t even know what size condoms to get because sometimes when we choose a guy he doesn’t want to bottom. And the lube! I… shit. Maybe you could tell me now, and I could go hide the others?” Jared’s voice lilted a little too high at the end of his question, and his face looked like he was about to burst into tears.

“I think,” Jensen said as calmly as he could, “that you need to sit down and breathe a little bit before your hormones turn you into a puddle of angst and feathers.”

“Yeah?” Jared’s hopeful tone was almost heartbreaking in its intensity.

“Yeah,” Jensen confirmed. “You might also want to tell me what’s going on in that head of yours because you’re getting a little spastic.”

Jared looked abashed for a moment and fiddled with the hem of his shirt. “It’s sort of a hormonal thing. Humans, you go through puberty and that’s kind of it, you know? You grow up, and you get a handle on things, and when you fall in love or whatever, you get all giddy, but there isn’t really that big of a change to your system.”

“And your body isn’t like that,” Jensen filled in. It wasn’t a question. He’d done enough studying to know that one of the reasons that a seraph’s feathers changed colors when attempting to mate was because their chemical balance in their bodies started to shift. Doctors had likened it to the changes that humans could experience when their chemical makeup was messed with by a pregnancy or medical procedure -things like hair color changing or straight hair becoming naturally curly.

“Yeah,” Jared confirmed, “so I’m going through second puberty over here, and it’s kind of embarrassing.”

Jensen wanted to get back to the place where he was angry at Jared for the sudden take off and flight, but it seemed almost cruel to yell at the guy for some instinct that he really didn’t have a choice over. It was a bit worrisome that Jared’s hormones were affecting him so severely. If Jared was unable to control himself because of his hormones, how could he possibly be sure that it was Jensen he wanted? Maybe he was just…

“Stop it,” Jared ordered as he grabbed Jensen’s hands in his own. “I can practically see you thinking in there, and it’s just not true. Whatever it is that’s got that look in your eyes, it isn’t true.”

Jensen’s answering smile was admittedly shaky, but it was there nonetheless. “You sure about that?” he couldn’t keep himself from asking.

“You’ve driven me crazy since the moment I first saw you. And trust me, that means something to my people. We don’t feel that way about those who we aren’t meant to be with. I’ve been looking for you forever,” Jared told him as one of his hands released its grip on Jensen’s hands and reached up to stroke gently over his cheekbone.

“That’s really sweet,” Jensen told him, and he meant it. But that didn’t mean that he was about to turn into a mushy romance novel heroine. “Don’t think you’re getting off the hook for that flying stunt with that though.”

Jared didn’t look the slightest bit chastised by Jensen’s words. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to take a bribe to forget about it?”

“A bribe?” Jensen echoed.

“Yeah, see, I figure that bribes are more reliable than relationship promises. I ask you to forgive me. You give me that dubious look that says you’ll be bringing this up forever. I offer you a blowjob in order to get you to accept my forgiveness request as a counteroffer.”

“Your bribe sounds an awful lot like something I’m going to get anyway, so maybe you ought to just stick with promises and repentance roses like a normal boyfriend,” Jensen told him.

Jared frowned. “I thought that men weren’t supposed to be able to turn down blowjobs.”

“Who said anything about turning one down?” Jensen asked with a purposeful leer. “I just said that I was going to get one anyway. You might want to think about taking a business class. Your negotiating skills need some work.”

“Are you insulting me?”

“I’m making helpful suggestions to improve your future.” To Jensen’s surprise, Jared started beaming at his words.

“You’re so perfect,” Jared told him earnestly as he leaned in to steal a kiss.

At first, Jensen both wanted and planned to go back to Jared’s declaration of his perfection to get some details on it, but Jared didn’t end the kiss, and the longer it went on, the less that Jensen cared about getting those details. Or, to be precise, he still wanted to know, but his little head was making it known that information was not a priority.

Jared’s body was like a furnace against his own, but Jensen tugged him closer anyway. The more that they touched, the more that Jensen’s body went from shying away from the unnatural heat to craving it. He had touched Jared more times than he could count, had been touching him since the very first day they met, but everything seemed so much more intense when Jared’s tongue was in his mouth.

Jensen didn’t remember sex being like that the last time he’d had it, but then again, he’d never felt such possessiveness towards his partner before. It was like his inner caveman had woken up and started pounding his chest.

His hands slipped around Jared’s back to bury themselves in his wings without Jensen’s express permission. It was like they just instinctively wanted to go there. Normally Jensen would be all about the back of the neck or the shoulders or even a nice ass grab, but he had never been with a seraph before, and he maybe he had been lying to himself about not having a little bit of a thing for the wings.

Jared didn’t seem to mind Jensen’s wandering hands. He moaned as he pulled his lips away from Jensen’s mouth. They were puffy and red. Jensen could only imagine what his own mouth looked like.

“Bedroom,” Jared rasped out, his eyes rolling back into his head as Jensen’s fingers toyed with the tiny breeding feathers that had caused him so much angst when they had first appeared.

“Lead the way,” Jensen encouraged even as he moved a hand to stroke at that sensitive spot on Jared’s back that never failed to make him squirm. Only this time instead of flushing and shifting uncomfortably, Jared just rolled his hips forward and rutted against Jensen’s stomach for a bit before pulling out of Jensen’s arms entirely.

“We need to get to bed before I end up trying to mate with you on the floor,” Jared said as he began moving towards the bedroom. His gait was off from its usual swagger, but Jensen could give him a break. He could see the bulge at the front of Jared’s pants; there was no way that it was comfortable.

Jared yanked his shirt off as he went and already had his belt and fly undone by the time they were in the bedroom.

It was done almost exclusively in blues and there was a Dallas Cowboys bedspread on the king sized bed that took up most of the room.

Jensen arched an eyebrow at the monochrome theme.

“You were very unhelpful. I only knew you liked football,” Jared defended himself as he fumbled with his boots. He didn’t sit down on the bed to take them off like a normal person would. Instead his wings unfurled slightly for balance as he bent over to tug at his footwear with both hands.

Jensen might’ve been tempted to call it another unfair perk of having wings except for the fact that Jared looked ridiculous doing it. Not that Jensen was laughing at him. Stupid pose or no, Jared was very attractive when he was half dressed.

With a burst of speed, Jensen dragged his shirt off over his head. His glasses snagged on the material as he pulled it on, but he settled them back on his nose without any problems and stumbled over to the bed to start taking his own shoes off.

By the time that he’d kicked his way out of his pants and underwear, Jared was already naked. Naked and staring at Jensen like he was some sort of porn star. It was a ridiculous notion, because he wasn’t wearing anything except for his glasses. That wasn’t a flattering look on anybody.

Jared on the other hand was a marble sculpture come to life. Jensen had known what Jared’s torso looked like. He’d seen it often enough in class, but that was an academic setting. Jared’s bedroom was a completely different story.

Then, of course, there was Jared’s lower half. Logically, Jensen had known that Jared was toned all over. He’d had his hands on a good portion of Jared’s body. But actually seeing it was something else.

Jensen’s eyes didn’t want to focus on the cut of Jared’s hips or his strong yet slender looking legs though. His eyes strayed invariably towards Jared’s sex. It looked human for the most part. Strong and thick, its proportions and shaping were the same as a human male’s. It was even starting to drip little beads of precome from its slit like a human’s would.

It was no doubt warmer than Jensen’s own would be. If Jared’s body temperature was naturally higher than Jensen’s it would naturally follow that his cock would have that same increased heat. The thought made Jensen’s own cock throb with want. The idea of Jared tucking up inside of him teased at the edges of his mind and tormented him with its very real possibility.

Where Jared’s sex differed was in the presentation. Instead of having dark, wiry curls of hair to match the strands on his head, Jared’s crotch was covered in thin, soft feathers that variegated in color the same as his wings did. Jensen knew form his readings that the pubic area feathers would be flexible, their shafts bending and soft, yet still feathering out like some hybrid of down and hair.

If Jared weren’t erect, most of his cock would be back inside his body, sheathed away more securely and with more protection than what a human’s foreskin gave. It was prehistoric safety for a seraph’s reproductive organs. Cold winter winds could easily freeze a seraph’s bits off if they were to fly through them, and having a down covered sheath helped to keep their cocks intact.

“You’re so fucking gorgeous,” Jared whispered.

“Get your ass over here,” Jensen ordered in return, patting the bedspread invitingly and doing his best to act sexy and not embarrassed at having zoned out on Jared’s junk.

Jared wasted no time in scrambling onto the bed and pinning Jensen to it. He kissed Jensen again and plucked his glasses off his face, placing them on the nearby lampstand and pressing another kiss to Jensen’s nose where the bridge had created a tiny red line from resting on the same spot all day.

Jensen could feel Jared’s dick rubbing against him as Jared moved to slot them together, their legs intertwining with each other’s. His pubic feathers tickled at Jensen’s skin, teasing him right before the area was rubbed over with the hot length of Jared’s dick as the seraph rutted against Jensen’s hip.

“I want to mate with you,” Jared whispered against Jensen’s mouth. “I want to be inside you. Please say ‘yes.’”

Jensen’s own cock gave a twitch at the words, and his body tightened with want as the idea filtered through his brain. For a terrifying second, it was like his entire being was screaming out that coveted ‘yes.’ He arched up against Jared, pushing his own sex against Jared’s thigh and moaned out his consent as he tried to ride the wave of want inside of himself.

Jared flipped him over, and Jensen rubbed against the covers while Jared fumbled with the bedside drawer to grab the necessary items.

“You’re so beautiful,” Jared commented as he ran his hands over Jensen’s back and trailed his fingers down into his crevice, “like the early morning sun peeking out from between the clouds.”

Jensen looked back over his shoulder at Jared. “You trying to woo me?”

To his surprise, Jared laughed at his words. His whole upper body shook, broad shoulders jerked and feathers trembled. His dimples cut deep into his face as his smiled.

“What?” Jensen snapped.

“It’s about time you noticed,” Jared told him as he swatted at the rear he’d just been fondling.

“Hey!”

“Fair game,” Jared pointed out, “you were slapping my ass the day I met you.”

“You weren’t naked, and you weren’t about to sleep with me,” Jensen argued.

“Oh, now I beg to differ. I would’ve slept with you in a heartbeat if you’d asked.”

“You hussy!” Jensen accused lightheartedly.

Jared just grinned back and him and took the cap off the lube. “It’s the truth. I wanted to be with you from the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Jensen could see the sincerity in Jared’s eyes, and his automatic smart remark died on his lips. Instead he said, “That’s really sweet, Jay.”

Jared smiled back at him and nervously fiddled with the lube bottle sending a glob of liquid onto the bedspread. “Fuck,” he swore as the comforter turned a slightly darker color as the liquid seeped in.

“Wet spots are supposed to be created after the fact,” Jensen told him unhelpfully.

“Shut up and be glad it didn’t land on you,” Jared mumbled as he squirted the lube onto his fingers this time and gently pressed them against Jensen’s opening.

It was a little cold at first, but warmed up quickly enough as Jared gently massaged the area. Jensen gasped at the sensation, and any verbal response he was planning on making got overwritten by his moaning as he pushed back against Jared’s fingers and then forward against the bed.

“So gorgeous,” Jared murmured as he slipped his first finger inside.

When the first one was met with little resistance, Jared worked it around to spread the slick before sliding a second finger in with a comment of, “So perfect.”

“Jared,” Jensen moaned as the fingers twisted inside of him. His body felt like it was itching for Jared’s touch, like if he didn’t have Jared’s weight back on him soon, it would revolt.

“Shhh, just a little bit more,” Jared soothed as he worked his third finger in.

Jensen should have at least felt a burn at the stretch if not a little pain. He hadn’t had a sexual partner in a long time, and hadn’t exactly been doing much to himself other than cleaning the pipes in the shower since he’d started up at the academy.

But his body seemed to have missed the memo that he was supposed to be tight and in need of a good stretching because Jared’s large fingers slid in and out of him without causing any discomfort.

Then Jared tugged his fingers free and Jensen heard him rip the condom package open. Jensen pushed himself to his hands and knees to get into a better position, and he was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath from Jared.

“I love you so much,” Jared said right before he lined his cock up and pushed inside.

Jensen couldn’t have responded even if he had known what he wanted to say. His cock was stiff between his legs, poking up against his belly, and the feeling of Jared sliding inside of him just drove him crazy with want.

“Harder,” Jensen ordered.

“Not even all the way in yet,” Jared grunted back in response.

“I don’t care,” Jensen whined, “I just need it h…”

Jared cut off Jensen’s rant with a rough slam in. It should’ve hurt. Some part of Jensen’s mind was frantically trying to tell him that, but the rest of him was only focused on how good it felt to have Jared fully inside of him. Jared’s cock was even warmer than the rest of him, just like Jensen had suspected it would be. Instead of just its hard length, Jensen could feel the heat it was giving off as well and the sensation was better than he’d imagined it would be.

Jensen moaned a little as his ass clutched at the cock inside of it, “Fuck, yeah.”

Jared growled at the words and snapped his hips back and forward again in response. His cock dragged inside of Jensen, rubbing at all the right spots, and Jensen keened at the sensation. Jared’s pubic feathers tickled against Jensen’s ass when Jared was all of the way in. It was a maddening tease of softness.

“More,” Jensen gasped as he tried to grind backwards against Jared’s warm body.

Obligingly, Jared began to set up a rhythm with his thrusts. They were short and strong, but that suited Jensen just fine. He didn’t want Jared’s cock to pull out too much from his body. He wanted it inside where it belonged. He wanted it fucking him and rubbing in all the right places.

Shifting his weight to one side, Jensen reached a hand down to start stroking at his cock. The action made Jared moan.

“Yeah, touch yourself for me. You have such wonderful hands, my beautiful mate. Talented and strong, perfect for me, perfect for our nest,” Jared groaned as his thrusts picked up to an even faster tempo.

Jensen didn’t have to do much. He rubbed his thumb around the head of his dick to smear around the liquid dripping out of it and gave it a couple of pulls before he started shooting all over the covers.

“Yes,” Jared hissed as Jensen’s muscles contracted with his orgasm. Jared made it a couple more thrusts before he too was coming, his wings flaring out and snapping shut with an audible crack of air in the small room.

Even though Jared was wearing a condom, Jensen could feel the rush of hot semen flood the latex covering before Jared pulled out and stumbled off the bed to take care of it.

Like a gentleman, he came back with a wash cloth and towel. He cleaned Jensen’s body with the rag and tossed the towel down over the legitimate wet spot that they’d made before climbing back on the bed and tucking Jensen up next to him. He didn’t grab the covers, only draped one of his wings over them both.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared was woken from his most delightful post coital nap by the sounds of Jensen fumbling around in their bedroom. Opening his eyes, he could see that the room was darker than it had been when they’d drifted off to sleep, a sign that they’d been out long enough for the sun to significantly shift its position in the sky.

“What’re you doing?” Jared asked.

“Looking for my other sock,” Jensen answered.

“Why?” Jared queried as he tried to shake off the grogginess that he always got whenever he took a nap.

“Because wearing shoes without socks on is a sin, Jared.”

“Why are you putting your shoes on?”

“Because I have to go to work,” Jensen told him as he sat down on the edge of the bed and started putting his now found socks on.

“Call in,” Jared said as he sat up and placed a gentle kiss against Jensen’s jaw, “I owe you a blow job.”

Jensen pushed him away with a laugh. “Later, okay? I’ve got to work, or I’ll end up moving back in with my parents.”

“What?” Jared was sure if he felt more hurt or surprise. Didn’t Jensen think that Jared would take care of his mate?

“Student loans are a bitch,” was all that Jensen offered up as an explanation.

Jared frowned. This was not how their first night of mating was supposed to go. Ideally there would be a couple more rounds of sex interspersed with sweet nothings while they broke the nest in. But Jensen was at a different point in his life and very human, so Jared could adapt.

“Can you give me a little bit to get my stuff together?” Jared asked as he forced himself off the bed. Jensen’s place wouldn’t be as nice as their nest, and Jared suspected it was dreadfully close to ground level, but it would have to do.

“That’s okay, man. You don’t need to come with. I’m sure you’ve got stuff to work on here. Besides, I already called a cab,” Jensen dismissed with a wave of his hand and a gentle smile.

“What? But… I… What about money?” Jared asked dumbly.

“I saved a little with all the food and coffee you’ve been bringing me. I’m good. Just catch a little more shut eye, okay? Wouldn’t want you flying into the side of a building because of me,” Jensen answered him as he patted Jared’s arm in what Jared presumed was supposed to be a comforting gesture.

“But…” Jared trailed off. What exactly could he say without sounding pathetic?

“Hey,” Jensen said, his voice taking on a soothing tone, “I had a great time, really. And I’d stay if I could, but it’s my job.”

Everything inside of Jared protested the words mightily. They were supposed to be mating and bonding, growing closer together, merging their souls to create an unbreakable chain, not kissing each other goodbye like they were some casual hookup. He didn’t bother trying to hide his pout and scowl. Maybe it wasn’t fair to Jensen, but Jared couldn’t fight his instincts hard enough to completely hide his upset from his mate. If he couldn’t spare Jensen the pain, he might as well not even try.

“Jared, come on,” Jensen said as he brushed a strand of hair out of Jared’s face, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Yeah?”

Down on the street, Jared could hear a strange car pulling up to the curb. It could’ve been anybody, but the timing for Jensen’s cab was too coincidental for him to think it was anything but the requested driver showing up to escort Jensen to that place that was no longer his home.

“You’d better get going. Your cab is here,” Jared told Jensen. His voice was strained and clipped as he forced the words out of his mouth, but he managed a tiny smile because he didn’t want Jensen feeling bad. He was unhappy enough for the both of them, no sense in his human having to go through the sadness. It wasn’t, after all, in Jensen’s DNA to feel their separation like Jared did.

“How can you tell?” Jensen asked. Jared could see the desire to fix what was wrong in his eyes, but he could also see that Jensen knew that he couldn’t fix it. Only staying, nesting with Jared would chase away the upset, and Jared wasn’t stupid enough to think that Jensen would make that decision. His mate wasn’t the romantic and impulsive young human that he’d once been. Life had molded him differently, so in absence of being able to repair the situation, he was going to avoid it.

It was an effort to let Jensen get by with the subject change, but Jared tried. Still, “I have super good birdy hearing, remember?” might not have been the nicest of responses to give.

Jensen looked stricken at his words. Jared did feel a flash of guilt over them, but he didn’t take them back. Just because he understood where his mate was coming from, that didn’t change the fact that Jensen had still made those choices.

Jensen had still chosen to put his job above their mating, and he hadn’t bothered to wake Jared to bring him safely back. Instead he had called a human cab company and rebuffed Jared’s efforts to join him in his pathetic hovel of an apartment so that they could continue being together even if it was in undesirable circumstances.

“Jay…”

“Just go,” Jared interrupted as he rolled over on his side presenting Jensen with a view of his back, a view of his mating feathers that were there specifically and only for the human that was about to walk out the door.

A loud and rather disgusted sigh came out of Jensen’s mouth before a taut, “Fine,” was uttered in the still dark room. Jared heard Jensen retrieve his shoes from the floor before he walked out of the bedroom. There was an odd shuffling noise when Jensen reached the front door that Jared assumed was the sound of Jensen hastily shoving his feet into his footwear before he went out into the hallway to take the elevator down to the street.

The instant that the apartment door clicked shut, Jared swung himself out of bed and slid into his boxers. The balcony window opened to him easily, and he watched as Jensen got into the back of his cab. It felt like a lonely thing to do, watching his mate leave without going with him, but Jared wasn’t interested in going somewhere he wasn’t invited.

“You should leave him be,” Mr. Nelson said, his gruff voice carrying clear and loud across the gap of their balconies.

Jared snorted and ignored his neighbor, instead choosing to watch the taillights of Jensen’s cab until the car turned a corner and obscured itself from Jared’s sight.

“It’s not natural,” Mr. Nelson continued, “you need to keep to your own kind. Leave those silly fans of your people alone. It’s the novelty of it, is all. Best you save yourself the hurt of finding that out and best he get his head back in reality.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion,” Jared informed him. Normally he wouldn’t engage in any altercation that he could avoid. The press on seraphs was generally favorable, even a little awed, but that didn’t mean that a human couldn’t twist things around to raise Cain if said human had the right agenda going.

Seraphs were biologically stronger and faster before any side powers developed from their matings. There’d been more than one human who would take a swing at one of the winged ones and then cry foul and assault if the seraph fought back.

“No, you didn’t. But I’m not the kind of person who sits around waiting to be asked the answer, especially when you’ve got two fools who don’t even know to ask the question. You’re in there seducing that poor boy, taking advantage of his hero worship. And I worry about my own kind, just as you should be worrying about yours.”

“Look, Mr. Nelson, this isn’t really any of your business,” Jared snapped.

“It is my business! It’s all our businesses. You’re out there leading some twisted up pretty boy into depravity when you should both be sticking to your own kinds. Lions don’t mate with Tigers, boy. Just because it’s possible, that doesn’t mean it happens, not until some freak scientist gets it into his head to mess with nature,” Mr. Nelson argued back.

Jared ground his teeth together and tried not to glare at his neighbor. Glaring tended to make him focus harder, and he was in no mood to see the man’s hateful face any more clearly than he already could. The dark shadows that hid the man’s round face were fitting. They almost made him faceless even if he wasn’t voiceless. It made him less human and easier to deal with.

“Don’t you dare compare me to an animal,” Jared ordered, “I am a sentient being, and so is Jensen. We both make decisions and have reason. Who are you to judge me or him?”

“I’m an honest man, and you’re not. You think that I don’t know what some of your winged brethren get up to? I’ve lived near that damned academy too long to not notice how many of your little canary friends make off with those impressionable human students. It’s like some sick sex club that’s pretending to be a place of education.”

Jared swallowed. The feeling of relief flitted through his mind at the thought that Mr. Nelson couldn’t make out his expression in the darkness. While his words were twisted and cruel, there was enough perceived truth in them that the accusation hit home. That they were beloved mates and not sex objects wouldn’t matter to the likes of the angry human. He was the reason that they kept hidden.

Prejudice could easily give sway to violence, and seraphs were just as vulnerable to a bullet as any human. Worse, their human mates were excellent targets just for being what bigots called weak to their mate’s allure. It was one of the reasons that the seraphs kept so much of their knowledge hidden from the general public. Instinct to protect and preserve ran universally through their blood. They did not share the pure human trait of being unable to keep a secret, not when it kept both them and their mates safe.

Jared had no doubt that human sociologists and psychologists alike would be fascinated by his people’s universal ability to agree and hide things from humans, but showing weakness when there were men around like Mr. Nelson was a poor idea.

Maybe the man would change his opinion if he knew the truth about how the seraph had always been meant to breed with the humans. If he knew that their bloodlines would attack inward without the constant infusion of human DNA into their generations, he might not call Jared’s love for Jensen unnatural and depraved.

Human blood was needed in a mate or else the mate would never be able to properly groom a seraph’s wings, not only was their touch instinctively better, but their skin reacted with the oils and glands in a seraph’s wings to create the ideal covering and smoothing agent for feathers.

The fact of the matter was that for all that Jared might have a physical superiority on his mate, he wouldn’t be able to survive long with Jensen’s touch. Humans held the power over ‘his kind,’ and it would only take a couple of generations of not breeding with humans for the seraph to start dying of sicknesses similar to heavy human inbreeding.

Still, Jared didn’t need to tell Mr. Nelson anything other than the truth, so he opened his mouth and said, “You’re a bigoted man, and you’re absolutely full of shit,” right before he stalked back into his apartment and slammed the door shut.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Jensen dragged himself to class the next morning, he was surprised to see Jared already perched on his preening stool. Gone was the normal vibrancy and eagerness that Jared normally displayed in the morning. Jensen couldn’t say that he had expected everything to be sunshine and roses after how they had parted the night before, but Jared’s mood was a bit of an overreaction for a stupid little fight.

“Hey,” Jensen greeted as he got close. There was a thermos sitting on the floor, and a large part of him was relieved when he saw it. If Jared was still brining him coffee, then he couldn’t be too pissed at him.

Jared didn’t give him a greeting in return beyond a slight shuffle of his feathers.

It was an effort for Jensen not to groan at Jared’s reaction. He hated getting the silent treatment in a fight. Nothing was worse, and while he’d been known to be an asshole and employ the technique himself, Jensen had never thought that he’d have to worry about Jared not saying anything. It seemed so far out of character that if another person had suggested the idea, Jensen wouldn’t have hesitated to laugh in said person’s face.

Only now it was a reality, and Jensen was going to have to figure out why exactly Jared was so upset about Jensen having to go to his job. He could understand the general irritation well enough. Having to leave right after their first time together wasn’t the best thing that could have happened, but he’d tried to make it as easy on Jared as possible. He hadn’t been the high maintenance guy that demanded to be carried home or anything like that.

The bell rang before Jensen could figure out a way to try to start a dialogue, so he just buried his fingers in Jared’s feathers and started working. It was weird to go through the motions without Jared’s cheerful morning chatter. For the first time in forever, Jensen caught himself staring at the whiteboard positioned at the front of the room. There was a new technique listed for the day. Some sort of pinch and roll that was supposed to do something or other. He didn’t know what. He hadn’t been paying attention to the lessons since Jared had walked into class that very first time.

Part of Jensen was surprised he was still passing the class given how absorbed he’d been in Jared. He hadn’t even realized it until his mind was searching for something to focus on other that Jared’s silence. The last thing that he wanted to do was have another argument in the middle of an important class, and to be honest, he also had a cowardly part of him that didn’t want to have to address the situation at all.

There was even a loathsome part that wished that he hadn’t slept with Jared. That he’d made their hormones wait until after the semester finished. Jared was basically his case study. Jensen hadn’t really read all the fine print that came with his acceptance letter, but the academy had to have some sort of ethical behavior agreement in it, and there was a good chance that sleeping with Jared violated his contract. And if he hadn’t slept with Jared, they would never have fought like they had.

It wasn’t that he wished that he could take back their kisses or their relationship, just… If he’d been able to keep it in his pants, they wouldn’t be in the mess they currently were. Jared probably would’ve been fine with Jensen having to go back home to work. They would’ve actually gotten some meaningful talking done, and there wouldn’t have been that long post-coital nap that caused Jensen to wake up in a panic and rush to get back to his place.

Jared made a little choked sound as Jensen pulled at a quill that was too damaged to remain. Thoughtlessly, Jensen leaned forward and pressed a consoling kiss to Jared’s bare shoulder. It was too intimate of a gesture for public, and Jensen didn’t even know what possessed him to do it, but even as he tightened with embarrassment and darted his eyes around the room looking for anybody that might have seen him, Jared’s rigid body posture relaxed a tiny bit.

“Sorry,” Jensen muttered. He wasn’t quite sure what he was apologizing for, the night before, the quill or maybe even the kiss, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Jared still didn’t respond verbally, but Sam did.

“You should be,” were the words that came out of her mouth as she walked up behind Jensen.

He froze, and without his consent, memories of his first day in preening class began to roll through his mind. The whole bit about always having to prove himself loomed larger than ever in his head. Jensen hadn’t thought that he could ever feel more intimidated than he had been at the very beginning, but Sam was proving him wrong.

It was shaping up to be an awesome day. First he was in the middle of having a fight with Jared, and then he got called out by the instructor for it. With the way that his luck was going, he was going to find out that the crap coffee he’d drunk before he left for class that morning was either decaf or not even coffee at all, but some sort of coffee substitute. Then he’d get suspended from classes because he was too cranky to appropriately kiss professor ass.

“Pardon?” Jensen felt his lips say. Part of him wanted to laugh. It was so proper. It was like he had been raised by some little old, blue blood lady in New England who still wore a floral print dress and sat on white chairs on her perfectly manicured lawn while her servants refilled her iced tea glass and brought her a straw sunhat to shade herself from the reflection of the light off the lake that her estate sat on.

“You heard me,” Sam replied, though her voice didn’t hold as much censure as it did amusement. “What are the two of your doing in class when you should be curled up in a bed somewhere?”

“What?” Jensen squeaked this time, his voice going into the full grown twang that his true Texas roots gave him.

The muscles that had relaxed in Jared’s frame tensed right back up, and a fiery red blush showed up on every inch of skin that was exposed. It was a good bet that all the unexposed skin was blushing as well, but Jensen could certainly forgive him for that. He’d be having the same reaction if he wasn’t as pale as a piece of notebook paper.

“Jared’s nesting. He needs to be with his mate, preferably alone, horizontal and naked. But here the two of you are, not only in public, but already squabbling from the looks of it. You’re the most dysfunctional pair of mates that I’ve ever seen, and you haven’t even gotten a full day in yet,” Sam said, her eyes narrowing and darting back and forth between Jensen’s poorly schooled face and Jared’s hunched over shoulders.

“I…” Jensen croaked. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to that.

Sam shook her head. “I think we need to teach a class to young seraphs about the importance of communication,” she said with a particularly pointed scowl at Jared’s back.

Jared didn’t respond to her any more than he had to Jensen, and Jensen felt perversely glad that he wasn’t the only one getting ignored.

“Well, if the two of you are going to be like this, the least you can do is get out of class and quit being distracting,” Sam told them with a huff.

Jensen’s eyes took a quick scan around the room, but he couldn’t find any of the other students actually paying them much attention. Sure the blonde girl next to them kept sneaking glances out of the corner of her eye, but the interest on her face was nothing more than Jensen would expect from a fellow student trying to eavesdrop in on what a teacher was scolding a classmate on.

“They don’t exactly seem to be distracted,” Jensen told Sam, some of his irritation with Jared seeping into his voice.

“It isn’t the students she’s worried about; it’s the volunteers,” Jared told him.

Jensen wanted to smack him for choosing that of all topics to break his silence over.

Sam’s mouth twitched in what Jensen had to assume was amusement at his own irritation. “The two of you are going to be like fire and ice, aren’t you?”

Jared’s feathers rustled as he pulled his wings back against his body. He turned around to face Sam, and Jensen barely resisted the urge to glare wholeheartedly at him for giving her attention while he had so pointedly ignored Jensen’s attempts at opening communication.

“I don’t think so,” Jared said, “I don’t think I’m capable of it.”

Sam looked thoughtful at Jared’s words and tilted her head to one side to observe Jensen. “Are you sure he isn’t?”

Jared’s eyes flicked over to Jensen finally, and Jensen couldn’t keep the scowl from stealing across his features. Sadness filled Jared’s gaze, and he shook his head as he turned back to Sam.

“I doubt it. Indifference is not a problem of ours,” he told her.

“Would one of you care to tell me what you’re talking about?” Jensen snapped, his confusion and irritation coming to a head.

The outburst gained the attention of quite a few of the other students. Heads turned and eyes tracked over. The volunteers openly looked over now that they had an excuse, and Jensen tried not to squirm at being the focus of so many people’s attention.

“Okay, let’s get the two of you out of here before your relationship angst causes any more disruptions,” Sam ordered and she picked up Jensen’s book bag and thermos from where he’d placed them.

She stalked from the room, pausing to look coldly at those who hadn’t returned to their preening sessions. Numbly, Jensen followed her. He was upset, to be sure, and embarrassed, but his confusion was winning out, and he really didn’t want an audience anymore.

As they walked, Sam fished a key out of her pocket and took a sharp turn down some hallways and past the janitorial closet. She unlocked a nearby door, and Jensen was surprised to see what looked like a small bedroom on the inside of it.

She tossed Jensen’s belongings on top of a small dresser almost carelessly.

“Hey!” Jensen protested as he went to look at his stuff. He didn’t have anything breakable with him, but it was the principle of the thing.

Behind him, the door clicked shut. Turning around, he saw that Sam had just left without saying a single word, leaving him alone with Jared.

“Fucking seraphs,” Jensen muttered as he moved towards the door. Jared obligingly moved out of the way. The door wasn’t locked, much to Jensen’s surprise. With the weird and unprofessional way that Sam had acted, he had half expected to get held prisoner with Jared while they worked out their issues.

Clearly he watched too much television.

“If you felt that way, then you should never have mated with me,” Jared said.

Jensen stopped in midstride, turned around and went back into the room. He slammed the door shut behind him with a loud bang.

“Don’t you start with me,” he warned. “I’m not the one who got all upset because I needed to go make ends meet. Maybe you don’t realize this because you’re younger, but bills are a bitch. I can’t just ditch work to make out with my boyfriend.”

“Don’t start with you? Maybe you shouldn’t have started it with me!” Jared yelled back. “If I wasn’t good enough for you, if I was just some experimental fling, then maybe you should’ve told me that instead of letting me think that you wanted to nest with me.”

“Why are you being so melodramatic?” Jensen asked as he threw his bag back down on the floor with even more force than Sam had used earlier. He kept his thermos in his hand and gestured with it, little drips of coffee flying out of the so called ‘no drip’ spout.

“I’m not being melodramatic!” Jared bellowed as he flopped down onto the provided bed.

“Oh? How is this not dramatic?” Jensen asked, pointing at Jared with his coffee mug.

“I’m sorry if my adverse reaction to getting rejected by my mate is such a hardship on you,” Jared sneered.

“Oh for… You’re worse than my high school girlfriend. No, wait, you’re worse than my junior high girlfriend. If I didn’t know that it is biologically impossible for you to be on the… Oh, God. Tell me this isn’t some hormonal thing.”

Jared sat up and glared at him. “I think I’m offended on behalf of all the female humans I’ve ever met for what you were about to say. And no, it isn’t some ‘hormonal thing.’ It’s a Jared thing. Specifically your leaving me in the middle of our first night of nesting and very pointedly disinviting me from coming along.”

“You were tired, and my place is a shithole,” Jensen defended himself.

“It should’ve been my choice. Hell, Jensen, you didn’t even want to make it an option.”

“I’m sorry, okay? But I can’t just stop my life because we’re together.”

“I’m not asking you to do that,” Jared rebutted.

“Yeah, Jay, you kind of are.”

“I’m… Look, Sam wasn’t wrong about what she said. I need to be with you right now, but that doesn’t mean that I want to keep you from living your life. I just need to be a part of it.”

“That reminds me,” Jensen said, the vitriol returning to fuel his anger, “what were you two talking about back there? Furthermore, why did she seem to know about us?”

Jared shifted almost uncomfortably on the bed. “Sam is my… mating councilor.”

“Your what?”

“My mating councilor,” Jared said again. “They assist the unmated through their selection process and nesting period. I talked to her about us earlier, and it isn’t exactly hard for another seraph to see the signs that I started nesting.”

“The selection process?” Jensen echoed.

“Well, I mean, sometimes it takes a while to find the right one, you know? It just took me a lot longer than normal.”

“And my preening instructor moonlights as one of these councilors?”

“Kind of?” Jared said with a shrug. His wing curled over his arm and he started playing with the ends of his feathers.

“What does ‘kind of’ mean, Jared?”

“Well,” Jared drew the word out long, and Jensen could virtually see the wheels turning in his mind.

“Don’t you dare lie to me right now,” Jensen threatened. “If you do, so help me I will be out that door and run home so fast that you’ll get wind turbulence from it.”

“At least every couple of generations we need to mate with humans,” Jared told him.

“That isn’t an answer to my question,” Jensen replied even though his mind wanted to grab hold of the new piece of information desperately.

“Let me finish then,” Jared snapped before he looked back down at his lap. “I… You know how prejudiced some people can be about it?”

“I might know something about that, yeah,” Jensen drawled sarcastically.

“Right,” Jared said tensely, “so we literally can start to die from it. It’s like some crazy form of inbreeding or something. Our doctors think it is your body chemicals, and our dominant genes don’t let human recessive ones through or something because after a while even those with human ancestry start to have weak children, and worse, we don’t produce the right chemicals to allow us to preen others.”

“Okay, but I don’t think you and I have to worry about having babies,” Jensen pointed out. He couldn’t remember any of texts mentioned anything like what Jared was saying. He hadn’t even read it on the internet, and there was some pretty fantastical stuff out there about super powered seraph.

“No. You’re right. We don’t need to worry about that, but I just wanted you to know that this is normal. It’s natural,” Jared told him earnestly.

“I’m not having a problem with that. I slept with you, remember? I’m not having a crisis about it.”

“I know, I just… In the old days, when humans didn’t know about us, we’d just be able to woo you away. There was nobody to hunt after us because they didn’t know we existed. But when we went public, some humans started condemning us and our human mates for copulating together and others started trying to sleep with us for the thrill of it.”

“Jared, I know this. I’m a seraph geek, remember?” Jensen interrupted.

Jared nodded. “I needed to mate, Jensen. It wasn’t something I could just put off or not do. We don’t work that way, and I’m worse off than a lot of my peers. My fellow seraphs were unappealing, but humans were difficult to get to know. And it was even harder to tell if they were really interested in me or just interested in a ride so to speak.”

Jensen nodded in understanding. “So you went to Sam.”

“No, not exactly. I eventually ended up with her, yeah, but until I met you, I had several councilors in different parts of the country. They looked for me.”

That sounded pretty desperate to Jensen. “You just picked random places and hired a matchmaker?”

“Umm, no?” Jared fidgeted with his wing tips again.

“Then what?”

“Getting known for that kind of matchmaking would draw some pretty heavy resistance and hate groups, we couldn’t afford that especially in the early days. So we had to cloak our intentions behind something else. Who would notice if a couple of horny college kids decided to go shack up, right?” Jared mumbled nervously.

Jensen’s eyes widened as the implications of Jared’s words started to sink in. “No, no you are not telling me what I think you’re trying to tell me.”

“Jensen…”

“No, Jared. This is my whole fucking life we’re talking about here. I sacrificed years. Hell, I sacrificed my fucking dignity for this, and you’re telling me it’s all a scam? All my hopes and dreams are pinned on some façade created so you and your feather dusting relatives can get your rocks off?”

“Just because they were founded because of need, that doesn’t invalidate what you or anybody else learns. You still…”

“Shut UP!” Jensen yelled as he threw his thermos at Jared. Its stainless steel sides reflected the overhead lights as it flew through the air. Jared dodged the projectile easily, and it landed on the bed, slowly gurgling out coffee onto the yellow bedspread.

Shakily, Jensen turned around to grab his bag off the floor. When he turned around, Jared was standing right next to him. His face was crinkled up in concern.

“Jensen,” he said softly as one of his giant hands reached out to cup the side of Jensen’s face.

Jensen swatted the hand away. “Don’t you dare touch me you freak,” he spat angrily.

“You don’t mean that,” Jared said, his own eyes filling with the tears that Jensen refused to let come to his own.

Jensen didn’t bother responding to that. “You stay away from me,” he ordered instead as he pushed past Jared and yanked the door open.

“Jensen!” Jared yelled after him as he stormed down the academy’s hallways, but Jensen didn’t turn around, and Jared didn’t follow.

It wasn’t until he made it back to his apartment that he remembered that he’d left his thermos behind. Part of his heart clenched because it had been a gift from Jared, and he’d loved it even with its leaky mouthpiece. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d given it back to Jared only to get it back the next day filled with another serving of hot brew made from freshly ground beans.

It was a stupid thing to even think about given how all of his dreams had just gotten doused with the ugly light of reality, but Jensen let himself feel the loss because he didn’t dare let himself feel anything else. He just couldn’t acknowledge the fact that he was no more than a custom fit whore. Jared’s very own call girl. The stupid thermos was just a trinket, his payment for being a good little bitch and giving his assigned seraph what he needed.

He couldn’t sleep that night, so he dragged out all of his clothes and washed any of the ones that Jared might have ever touched him in. The ones that he’d worn to Jared’s apartment were treated to a triple wash.

When the sunrise started to peak through the windows of the Laundromat, Jensen paid it no heed. He just sat and watched his laundry spin in the dryer, evaporating the remaining moisture in them like the truth had evaporated his dreams.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Not getting up early felt odd to Jensen. After so many mornings where he had to force himself out of bed so that he could stumble groggily to class, his body decided to betray him by waking up and refusing to let him sleep.

He had stupidly thought that after that first night of getting no sleep, his body would give him a break. It’d just crash and burn and give him the blissful peace of not having to think, but he received no such reprieve. Instead it made his eyes snap open and his heart race with the familiar thrum of adrenalin that he always got when he realized that he’d slept in.

It always took him a few moments to calm down and remind himself that he didn’t have anywhere to be, but by then the damage was done. His body didn’t want to go back to sleep, and he was stuck with the torture of being awake until he could exhaust himself back into slumber.

For the first week or so, Jensen just wandered around town. He did a lot of window shopping and people watching, but always made certain he stayed far away from both the academy and his apartment. He didn’t want to see anybody he knew and have them ask about why he wasn’t in class.

The first couple of days of that first week, he spent figuring out how he could expose the seraphs for what they were. But as his anger cooled and settled like lead in his guts, he had to acknowledge that his word was going to be nothing against theirs.

How many humans had gone through the academies? How many of them had fallen into the snare of the true nature of the programs? There had to be thousands of human students who had never found out the true purpose of the academies. To make matters worse, Jensen had to assume that the humans who had mated with a seraph and had children with their mate had to know about the so called ‘biological needs’ of their cherubs, and they clearly weren’t out and about spreading the word.

There wasn’t a news source in the world that would take any of Jensen’s claims seriously. He himself had read similar stories on the internet and scoffed at the loonies and bigots posting such utter trash. The only people that would believe him were the separatists, and he didn’t need his reputation besmirched with any association with them.

Jensen had hatred towards the seraphs, but he wasn’t out to cause their destruction, and he couldn’t imagine that polarizing the human world against the seraph one would ever bring anything but trouble. After all, his own pain was caused by the secrets that the winged ones had kept from him and his fellow students.

If the human race began to withdraw from contact with the seraph, ignorance and prejudice would only grow. How much worse would it become if they weren’t allowed to interact at all? Would wars spring up as seraph attempted to just take what they needed and humans fought to take them down like a hyper evolved parasite? Would the choice of being separate from the winged ones eventually be taken from the humans as the seraph fought for their continued existence?

They were fantastical thoughts straight out of a dystopian, alien invasion movie, and Jensen could well appreciate the grandeur of his imagination. That he of all humans would cause such an upset that it would cause genocide and war was ridiculous. And it was that thought that made him pull enough out of his funk to focus on what was left of his life.

Once he managed to walk and think himself past thoughts of vengeance, Jensen was slapped in the face by reality. He couldn’t make himself walk back into the academy. He’d lied to his parents about what he was doing, and come the end of the semester, he was going to end up owing his student loans again.

The first solution that he thought about was calling Chris to move him back home. It was a sad and pathetic thing for a man of his age to do, but Chris owed him for a few rent checks back in the day. Jensen knew that if he begged hard enough he could get his old internship back. It’d kill his pride, but the hospital had been one of the few desperate ones around. Their reputation wasn’t the best, and their finances proved it.

It was, after all, why they hadn’t been able to afford to fix the paging system and why Erica had to run to fetch him that fateful day. Their major source of business was in physical therapy, and Jensen the intern was a cheap alternative to not-Jensen the fully trained and expensive therapist. The fact that he’d walked out on them without so much as a two weeks notice was going to require some major groveling, but he’d already lost most of his pride.

He figured that by the time that his parents realized that something was up, he’d at least have a guaranteed paycheck again, and he could figure out the rest later.

But Chris was out of town when he called. He’d finally picked up some tour dates and couldn’t make it back to help move his buddy for at least a couple of weeks.

The prospect of more time on his hands didn’t thrill Jensen, so he started to look for other job opportunities that were around his current location. While internships weren’t exactly plentiful given that most of them were picked up by graduating students, there were a few openings here and there that he could get into. The problem was that most of the openings he found only let him interview because he put down that he was a student at the academy.

It wasn’t exactly a lie, and he needed a reason for why he’d bailed out of his last internship. The hospital administrators were impressed with it, and Jensen swallowed down the bile that rose at their enthusiasm. He didn’t blame them for their excitement. Getting into one of the seraph programs was a very big deal, but their enthusiasm only reminded him of how he would have reacted once upon a time.

For years he had terrible fits of envy every time a classmate was accepted to even the smallest of one of the seraph programs. He’d been obsessed with getting the Academy of Angelic Care logo on his diploma. He’d daydreamed about being that cog in the cosmic wheel of uniting their species only to find out that he was more of a literal fucking hole.

Inventive lying became the name of the game in his interviews. He feigned pride about his academy classes, and told a detailed story about how he’d only been accepted into their summer sessions because of a cancellation and a patient’s recommendation, but how he was thrilled to just have that opportunity. He finished up with a sad face of regret about how he wasn’t going to be able to get into the fall semester. Too many confirmed applicants were just going to make it impossible even though his grades were good, but he felt that his preening and flight muscles classes were the most important ones to apply to physical therapy anyway.

It was a good act. Jensen had caught sight of himself in the reflection of a window while he interviewed, and the way that he sold it almost made him think going into acting. It was a viable enough thing to do. Going crazy and running off to California to pursue his name on the big screen would be a believable enough story.

He didn’t get any immediate offers, but there was enough interest in some of the administrator’s eyes that Jensen knew that he’d get something even though he had practically run out on his last position.

The problem was, of course, that he would actually need good grades in order to grab his job, and not showing up for classes wouldn’t get him those.

Jensen couldn’t make himself go back. His remaining self-worth wouldn’t let him, but it would let him blackmail the institution. It was unethical, and Jensen was glad that he’d already taken his ethics tests because otherwise he’d feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite taking them.

But he sent the letter directly to Ms. Supreme Ruler of the Erotic Feather Plucking Class and let her know that he expected good grades in order for his silence. He didn’t hear back from her, but he couldn’t do anything about it until the semester was over anyway, so he just hoped for the best. He didn’t pray for the best because there was a level that he just plain refused to sink to, and praying for his underhandedness to prosper just didn’t seem like a good idea.

Jensen made himself not think about Jared. If when he was awake he’d sometimes literally feel an ache deep inside himself that he just knew was related to his residual feelings towards the seraph, he’d just tamp down all the harder on them. It never made the ache go away. In fact, sometimes it even got worse if he attempted to stifle it.

It was almost as if his feelings were nothing more than petulant children who wanted to stomp their feet and get their way. Nothing would pacify them except for giving them what they wanted, and Jensen would be damned if he did that.

Jared was as good as dead to him. Sure Jensen hadn’t felt heartbreak before like he did now, but he was attributing that to the additional factors of the whole mess with the academy. He’d been blue over a lover before, and he’d live. It was just going to take a little longer this time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared frowned as another feather floated its way down onto his previously pristine living room floor. Its brightly hued family lay in a circle around Jared, their cheery colors mocking him. The molting hadn’t started right away, and Jared thanked whoever might be listening for that small favor. He wouldn’t have wanted his fellow seraph to see his utter disgrace.

His whole heart had ached to go after Jensen when he had left that small mating room, but his mind had prevailed and kept him inside. Jensen was hurt, and trying to talk to him would only exacerbate the situation. Still, Jared had sat in the room for two hours before sadly acknowledging to himself that his mate wasn’t coming back.

The coffee had leaked out and stained a good portion of the bed with its contents, leaving a cold, wet mess, so Jared had twisted the cap off and poured the rest of it out over the bedspread in an act of senseless destruction. Things like that were supposed to make a guy feel better, but all Jared felt was guilt and sadness. That was Jensen’s coffee. He’d made it just that morning the exact way that his mate liked it because as upset as he was at Jensen’s abrupt departure the night before, Jared had still wanted good things for him.

Standing there, staring at the ruined bedspread, Jared’s tears had come back in full force. He had stood there like a fool, clutching at Jensen’s coffee thermos and bawling his heart out. The word ‘freak’ kept rolling around in his mind over and over like a horrible song. It lurked in its tuneless, horrible glory, grinding away at his memory with its ugliness.

Eventually, Jared had left the room. His eyes ached and he felt terrible, but he made himself leave while the hour was still at its midpoint, and he was less likely to run into anybody in the halls. The flight home was more painful than he had thought it would be. Not even a day earlier, he had been bringing his love home to their nest for their first night of mating. Now he was alone and rejected by that same man, and though his head could somewhat comprehend it, his heart would not.

The blankets of his bed that first night had offered him the solace of Jensen’s lingering scent. Pungent and warm and loving, it had been everything that Jared had ever wanted, and he had wrapped himself up in the comforter and sheets. Swaddled up like a baby, he had fallen asleep, and in his dreams it was almost as if Jensen was with him.

The morning had not been so forgiving. Warm and aroused, he had pushed out with his hips, fully expecting to feel his mate beside him only to find nothing but his own cotton sheets. For a moment more his memory had stayed blissfully asleep before it came back to taunt him with the events of the previous day.

He had almost called Jensen that morning. He’d almost gone to see him even though Jensen was against the mere thought of Jared being near him. It was only remembering the look in Jensen’s eye when he warned Jared away that kept him from going to his mate.

As strong as Jared’s desire was to soothe and comfort Jensen, such overtures would not be appreciated. Humans needed time apart sometimes. At least that was what Jared’s human relationship books had told him, and he didn’t exactly have anybody else to ask. He had relatives and friends who were married to humans, but they had never been rejected by their spouses.

Even the stories that Jared had heard about a mates rejecting their seraph’s advances were always tales about how the humans had resisted at first. Most often their resistance was a hesitancy to sleep with another species, and they always came around in the end. Jared had never heard of a mate rejecting his seraph after their first breeding.

It was shameful, and Jared feared that Jensen would be blamed if others found out. They would insinuate that something was wrong with Jared’s mate instead of Jared. It wouldn’t bother him so much if those people were just associates or strangers, but there was the chance that friends and family might feel the same way, say the same things, and Jared wouldn’t be able to abide that.

Jared stayed in his apartment for fear of meeting up with somebody he knew and having them see that something was wrong. He was in no mood to talk about what had happened, and his cupboards were stocked full of food that he had purchased for his and Jensen’s nesting period.

The one call that he did make was to the school. Once they confirmed that Jensen hadn’t shown up for his classes, Jared had no reason to leave his nest.

At first he was just miserable, then his body decided to up the ante.

He was in the shower the first time that one of his feathers fell out. He hadn’t thought much about it at the time. Sometimes even the most thoroughly preened seraph would just lose a feather. Hopefully it was never a large one because losing a large feather in public was embarrassing. It was like having a sign pointed to you that announced you had poor personal hygiene.

Since Jared was a cherub, he’d gotten lectures about checking his pinions upon landing if he’d been flying through rough winds. It just wouldn’t do to have feathers pointing out the wrong way. Bad weather wasn’t an excuse to not groom after landing. Only the lazy didn’t pull their feathers in order as soon as possible.

Usually shedding a feather from a recently preened set of wings happened after flying through a strong wind or getting rained on. The forces of nature conspired to batter a guy’s feathers about, and sometimes they twisted just the right way or were just soft enough, and one would drop off.

So when Jared’s feather came off in the shower, he didn’t pay much attention to it. He’d had other, more Jensen shaped things on his mind, and it was actually more convenient that it was one of his larger feathers. If humans thought that long hair clogged their drains, Jared had always thought they should try cleaning one that was full of down feathers. The one time that his mother had made him help clean out the house’s drain pipes was a day that he’d rather forget.

When the second one came out, it was annoying, but he blamed in on the interrupted preening that he’d gotten. If Sam hadn’t butted in, then Jensen would’ve finished up on his wings and done his usual impeccable work on them. But surely his mate hadn’t made it all the way through before the older seraph had come by. After all, Jared had a very large and impressive wingspan.

Of course, thoughts of Sam made Jared scowl because if she had just kept her mouth shut and not dragged them out of class, there was every chance that he and Jensen would be engaging in makeup sex instead of spending time apart. But she hadn’t. Even though inside Jared knew that there were things that he could’ve done better, he couldn’t help but blame Sam a little for putting him in a situation where he had to reveal certain truths to Jensen so early in their partnership. If he and Jensen had been farther along in their mating, their bond would’ve been stronger. A stronger bond would’ve made it more difficult for Jensen to leave him.

A stronger bond would’ve also meant that Jared would have felt Jensen’s upset more keenly, but that was a hardship that Jared would’ve eagerly borne just for the fact of what it meant. Jensen was a unique human, special. All seraph felt that way about their mates, and Jared knew to some extent he was just a love-struck fool, but he believed that he and Jensen were something greater.

If Sam’s question had been any indication, she had suspected it was well. In theory, all seraph had the possibility of developing extra ‘powers,’ but few actually did. It was a function of their genetics and more importantly their bond with their mate. While all seraph were directionless as far as career goals went until they bonded with their mates, the right mate would not only bring direction, but would trigger the powers that were possible inside a seraph.

It wasn’t true of all mates. Whether mating with a fellow human or another seraph, there was no way to tell if the mating would cause a power to emerge until it was completed. While it confounded the scientists that they couldn’t pinpoint the biological and psychological factors, Jared had always felt a small amount of comfort in the knowledge. He’d known a few of his kinfolk who would’ve blatantly searched for the ‘right’ mate to activate them and left good, honest mates behind because of it.

Jared, though, had always been different from his peers. His mother would’ve called it more mature, but that wasn’t really it. He’d just always taken mating seriously, been wrapped up in the idea since he was a small cherub, and he’d had the nervous energy for it since he was old enough to mate. It was only cruel fate that had kept him from finding his right one for so long.

It was an even crueler fate that he had been kept from his mate now that he had found him. If the admissions board had let Jensen into the academy when he had first applied, Jared was certain that they would have been mated for years by now. Sure other seraph would probably have vied for Jensen’s attention, but Jared just knew down inside of him that they were the ones that were meant to be bonded together.

That thought held him through his second night without Jensen.

The morning brought unpleasant surprises. He felt cold when he rolled out of bed. It was unusual for him, but the drain on his system from his fight with Jensen couldn’t be expected to just not bother him. It wasn’t until he turned around to see that he’d left several feathers behind that he realized why exactly he felt chilled.

His body had decided to skip right past the unbearable itching and nagging sensation that drove him to over preen and go straight to molting. His beautiful courtship feathers lay in clumps in his sheets, and even as he collected them up, he could feel others letting loose from his wings.

He tried to calm himself. When that didn’t work, he tried to call Jensen five times, but he kept getting the human’s voicemail. For a few minutes he was tempted to leave a voicemail, but there was nothing he could say that wasn’t pathetic and needy. Jensen clearly wasn’t ready to talk to him yet, and Jared understood enough about humans that a physical appearance would probably be more meaningful than a phone call anyway.

Jared was through his balcony door halfway to its railing when one of his primary flight feathers fell to the floor. He stared at its dark blue coloring standing in relief against the light grey of the cement that made up his small landing. His mind spun for a while. It wasn’t that he couldn’t think of all the ramifications of what losing his feathers meant; it was that his mind refused to accept them.

It was instinct to fly almost everywhere. Sure Jared had his driver’s license, but he didn’t have a mate or children that required that he own a vehicle. He had friends and relatives to help him out whenever he needed to move larger objects that he couldn’t carry. Besides, it wasn’t like he’d had a strong vocation when he’d been mateless. He was as directionless as any other seraph would’ve been without his mate, and he had an almost completed general studies degree at a human university thanks to it.

Despite Jensen’s intimations to the contrary, Jared was very well aware of the need of money in order to own things. He had his own college tuition loans, and his parents were the ones who funded his apartment and even gave him the money to nest once he’d called them with the good news. It was nice that his parents had the funds to help him out, but that didn’t mean that Jared was irresponsible with their money or wanted to spend it frivolously.

As he was in possession of a healthy body, a car was one of the most obvious expenses that he could eliminate while he was searching for a mate. It wasn’t as if he was going to find a good paying job with his generic education, and he wouldn’t have been committed to it anyway. It was better to continue searching for a mate than trying to work to make enough money to afford a vehicle he didn’t need.

Even if Jared discounted the embarrassment of public molting, he needed feathers to fly. If he lost too many of them he could get stranded. Worse, if he lost the wrong ones while in flight, he could plummet to his death. He would prefer if the next time that Jensen saw him that he wasn’t laid out in his coffin awaiting burial.

Jensen. Jensen could not see him like he was. Strangers would be bad enough, but his own mate? Those mating feathers on the floor were Jensen’s. They’d grown only for him, and now they weren’t even doing Jared the favor of letting him vent his frustrations on his wings by pulling them out.

In a corner of his mind, Jared wondered if Jensen would still find the molting behavior fascinating like he had every other piece of seraph related information or if Jensen would spurn such knowledge with the same ire that he’d rebuffed Jared with. It bothered him that he didn’t know what Jensen was thinking. He didn’t know if Jensen was even thinking at all yet, or if he was still reacting to the pain that Jared’s disclosure had brought him.

Slowly, Jared dragged himself back into his apartment. Drawing the drapes behind him after he walked through the sliding glass door, he had plunged the living room into darkness, and he hadn’t seen the outside world since.

After a few days, his feathers were all over his apartment. It was disorderly and disturbing, but Jared couldn’t bring himself to collect them. He just let them stay wherever they landed unless they were in seriously inconvenient places like the coffee pot or the actual shower.

If he were human, he’d call it depression. But he wasn’t human, and he knew full well it was Jensen’s rejection that was causing his body’s physiological symptoms and lethargy. He’d never even heard of a mate so thoroughly refusing his suitor, but Jared figured that a seraph had never bungled up a mating like he had either.

The only cure for it would be to go and see Jensen. Jared was already committed; his body wasn’t going to move on until one of them was dead. It was just one of those mysterious mating things that happened. Partly blood chemistry, but mostly unexplained, the hormone levels that changed in a seraph during mating ensured their fidelity and strengthened their bond with their mates, but those levels remained strong even with prolonged distance between them. Somehow they still knew that their mate was out there, and they kept producing the same hormones without any additional contact until their mate died.

Jared needed to reconcile with Jensen. The problem was that what little Jared had to induce Jensen to speak to him again was now greatly reduced by his lack of attractive physical appearance. His wings weren’t even the pathetic fluffy down of an infant cherub. They were pale, peach skin dotted with the occasional scraggly feather. His wings looked like horrid slabs of meat without his feathers covering them. Loose skin shifted on them if he flexed, making him look more like he was in a science fiction movie than anything else. It looked like an alien creature was sprouting out of his back.

It was hideous and mortifying. Jared felt sick each time he looked. His ego and pride had never been large or overinflated even though he’d been told often enough that he was a very handsome man, but the loss of his feathers was difficult for him.

What would he woo Jensen back with when he had so few possessions, and his words were now worth less than nothing? His physical appearance had been the one thing still in his favor. Humans, despite their protests, were still more forgiving of comely people. While Jared knew that Jensen was the type of human who would strive to be above such shallowness, he had harbored some hope that his looks would open a small door to the opportunity of thawing Jensen’s heart.

 

He stewed about his situation for days before his phone rang. Sam was on the other end complaining about how ‘Your Mate’ was blackmailing the school. She wasn’t exactly happy with Jared’s suggestion that she just give Jensen what he asked for, but she caved in easily enough. They both knew that whatever she’d been told by the higher ups to demand of Jared in the situation wasn’t going to happen. Jensen wasn’t about to do a damn thing that Jared suggested he do, and Jared was probably the only seraph that would have a chance of talking to him.

Once she was on the phone, Sam was difficult to get off the line. The longer that she talked, the more that Jared got the sinking suspicion that her motivation for calling had less to do with Jensen’s rather bland demands for good grades and a solid recommendation and more to do with her interfering in Jared’s now dead love life.

Three minutes later, he was stabbing the end call button on his phone with fervor.

Jared wasn’t the type of guy that hated being right, but Sam drove him to that point. She seemed to think that just talking with Jensen was going to make everything better. Jensen was his mate, she’d reasoned, he’d thaw eventually. There wasn’t a single mate that had turned on his seraph in all of the years of the academies, and Jensen wasn’t some special exception.

And, really, did she think that Jared was stupid?

As much as he didn’t like her messing in his business, her call did make Jared aware of two things. The first was that Jensen was moving on with his life, and if Jared wanted him back, he had best initiate contact again before his mate got too good at moving on.

The second was that there was no way on Earth that Jared knew how to bridge the gap between his mate and himself. Jensen was human and thought like a human. Sam was a seraph, and even though she meant well, Jared could hear the undertones that said she thought that Jared should be able to simply woo Jensen back with their bond without any real effort.

Jared’s wings begged to differ.

Jared’s intellect and everything he’d learned about Jensen and humans begged to differ.

But just because Jared didn’t know how to get Jensen to talk to him, that didn’t mean that nobody did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last person that Jensen expected to show up at his abode was Chad the Admissions Jerk. Honestly, he figured that if the academy did deign to send anybody to speak with him, they might send a lawyer to deal or maybe an innocent looking underling who would be too scared to say anything if Jensen went off on him.

Not that Chad wasn’t an underling, but the innocent looking part didn’t apply. Jensen thought it was the squinty eyes. Normally he’d be all over anybody that physically stereotyped, but hey, he’d been all over the pro-seraph bandwagon too, and that hadn’t turned out so hot for him.

Still, the Laundromat wasn’t exactly hopping with business any more than it normally was during Jensen’s shift, and there was only so much angsting about his wasted past and dubious future that he could do.

Chad’s greeting of, “Hi, Fellow Blackmailer!” almost caused Jensen to toss him back out on the sidewalk. Jensen would rather navel gaze than put up with that, but part of him was curious about Chad’s presence, so he let the man come farther into the business instead of shoving him right back out.

“For a group of people trying to keep a low profile, they should learn how to teach you some tact,” Jensen told him with disdain.

“Dude, I blackmail them. Tact is so not required,” Chad said as he strolled around and checked his reflection out in the empty washers and dryers.

Jensen grunted and tried not to roll his eyes. “So I take it that they got my letter.”

“Yeah, yeah they did. I don’t think they were too happy about it, but hey, they have me working there. Giving you some fancy ass recommendation is nothing compared to that.”

“They’re going to give in then?” Jensen tried to keep the excitement out of his voice as he asked, but he failed miserably. The relief of having a clean academic record and a recommendation on top of that would be a pathetically huge weight off his shoulders. Maybe without it he could focus on the nagging burning sensation in his guts or start in on taking those steps to getting over Jared.

“I’d assume so. It isn’t like you’re asking for a helicopter and a million dollars in unmarked bills,” Chad replied with a shrug.

Jensen tried not to get upset with the guy, but really… “First of all, I’m only taking advantage of their own duplicity. I’m not robbing a bank. Second of all, what do you mean, ‘I assume’?”

“Hey, I’m not judging. Those guys have it coming to them someday, you know? I mean sure, they need their mates, will die without them, one forever, blah blah bliddy blah blah. They could be just a bit more honest is all I’m saying. If this shit was out in the open, they wouldn’t have to put up with me and my slacking ways. Of course, then I’d actually have to find a job, but I figure I could make the talk show circuits and have a ghost writer write my memoirs or something. If I invested my money right, I’d be set for life.”

“What do you mean, ‘I assume’?” Jensen reiterated with particular force on the words.

“What do you think I mean? I mean, ‘I assume.’ Just because I work for them and know their dirty secret, that doesn’t mean that they keep me in the loop. They kind of try to keep me out of their business if they can. I mean, one of these days I could blackmail for a promotion, you know?” Chad said as he shot Jensen an overconfident smirk.

“They didn’t send you?” Jensen asked.

“Uh, no. Did I say that they did?” Chad asked right back, tilting his head like he thought Jensen was the one making Chad’s reason for being at the Laundromat confusing.

Jensen frowned. “What are you doing here then?”

“I came to give you this,” Chad said as he reached into the messenger bag that he had slung over his shoulder. He pulled a stack of papers out that had a cover sheet on them marked CONFIDENTIAL in big, red letters.

“I can’t read that,” Jensen automatically said. He’d already violated enough ethical rules by blackmailing the academy. He didn’t want to add to his conscience.

“Of course you can,” Chad scoffed, “it’s your file. Or one of them anyway. It has all the notes from when you had your enrollment interview. You know, the one you failed?”

Jensen’s fingers twitched, but he kept his hands by his sides. “I can’t take that. It isn’t…”

“Don’t you want to know why they didn’t let you in all those years ago?” Chad interrupted him, waving the thick stack of white paper under Jensen’s nose.

Jensen looked down at the floor. Chad just dropped the paper farther down to block Jensen’s view of the carpet.

Angrily, Jensen snatched the papers away. When he glared at Chad, the other human was grinning.

“Happy with yourself?” Jensen asked, his voice as sarcastic and scathing as he could make it.

“Fucking thrilled, man. So you gonna look?”

“No.”

“Pansy.”

“Look…”

“Pansy assed, feather fucker.”

“Chad, you need to take this back to…”

“Pansy assed, yellow bellied, feather fucker.”

“Would you quit?! And seriously, ‘yellow bellied’? Who says that?”

“I dunno. You tell me. I’m not the Texan,” Chad said with an inappropriate grin.

“We don’t say that,” Jensen ground out.

“Dude. Westerns. You totally say that. Besides, I don’t see you objecting to the feather fucking part. Old Jay give you a little tail? Or, I guess, tail feather?”

“That’s it,” Jensen snapped, “Get out of my store.”

“This isn’t a store; it’s a place that old grannies and starving people go to wash their grundies.”

“Out!” Jensen yelled pointing towards the door.

“Public place, man.”

“This is a place of business, and you are not a customer,” Jensen snarled.

Chad shrugged, pulled off the jacket he was wearing and dropped it in the closest washer. He dug quarters out of his pocket and started the machine going.

“Guess I’m a customer now.”

“You’re washing one jacket without any detergent.”

“I’m allergic,” Chad said smugly.

“Oh, for the love of God… Take. This. Back.” Jensen ordered as he shoved the papers towards Chad.

“No can do. You read that or I wash each and every thing that I’m wearing one item at a time.”

Jensen’s eyes narrowed. “Why is this so important to you?”

Chad huffed, and his face turned slightly red. “Look, I don’t agree with what those guys do, okay? And I don’t think that they treated you fairly or whatever, but it’s tearing you up inside, and… I’m not the world’s worst guy. They’re so scared of being outed or whatever that they’re not seeing the big picture of how this could come back biting them in the ass, but neither are you.”

“Come again?” Jensen snapped, his eyes narrowing in anger.

“I get it. I do, but you’re having some sort of meltdown or something over what those guys did. So I brought you one of your application files. Take a look, see what they said,” Chad encouraged him.

“I don’t need to know what they said,” Jensen replied. “I wish that they’d never changed their minds about me in the first place, but now that I know what they are, I don’t care that I wasn’t their idea of a perfect fuck toy.”

“Dude, that’s harsh. They don’t think that.”

Jensen tried not to get more irate at the guy, the human standing in front of him, but he didn’t do a good job of that. “How can you even say that? How can you defend them when you know what they do?”

“And what do they do? Huh? Set people up on dates without their knowledge? Nobody is getting roofied or coerced into anything.”

“And you think it’s okay that they’re selling themselves as an educational place when their entire goal is to get their offspring married? You think it’s okay that they have this elaborate system designed to hide their true intentions? I didn’t sign up for eHarmony. I signed up for an educational experience and a chance to make a difference in the world. They tried to pair me off. I thought real schools stopped that crap back with the women’s rights movements,” Jensen argued.

“I get it. Your dreams are crushed. But you’re going off the deep end here. This whole blackmailing thing isn’t you! Those students at the academy? They’re going to get jobs and maybe somebody that will love them for the rest of their lives. Is that such a bad thing?”

“It’s deceitful and dishonest, and you have no idea who I am. You don’t know me,” Jensen growled.

“Of course I do, you know why? Because I read that file. I read every single one of your application files because I’m not you. I don’t have this great, caring attitude or the stand up for the right thing mentality. I don’t have a giant ruler shoved up my ass telling me what to do.”

Jensen slapped the file against Chad’s chest. The other man’s hands came up reflexively to clutch at it. “Get out before I call the cops and have you arrested.”

“For doing my laundry? For getting into an argument with a man trying to blackmail the fine establishment that I work at?”

“Are you threatening me?” Jensen’s incredulity shone through.

“I told you that I’m not you. I’m not the guy who was a perfect candidate except for how he was too much of a security concern. You were too bright man. They were worried that you were going to figure out what was going on before you mated, and then you’d be telling on them. Your scores on everything else were flawless, if it makes you feel any better,” Chad’s words softened as he spoke.

“Great,” Jensen said snidely as he tried not to feel the pang of old hurt at finally getting the answer to his rejection for all those years. “That all? Will you leave now?”

“Jacket still isn’t done washing,” Chad pointed out.

“I’ll mail it to you.”

“Okay well then how about we talk about Jared?”

“How about we don’t, and you quit talking to me about stuff that really isn’t any of your business?”

“So it really doesn’t bother you that you’re punishing him for something that isn’t his fault?” Chad asked.

“If I was going to discuss Jared with you, which I’m not, I’d tell you that he knew. He knew, and he still didn’t tell me until he really didn’t have a choice. Is that the kind of lover you’d want to end up with?”

“Dude, he’s not human. You get that, right? Maybe he could’ve told you earlier, and I really don’t doubt that there are some secrets that he should’ve let you in on. But the guy was doing what he always had been taught was the right thing to do. He loves you in a stupidly huge way. He wouldn’t do stuff to purposely hurt you.”

“He loves me in a ‘stupidly huge way’?” Jensen echoed, his emotions overriding his decision to not discuss anything with Chad. “So do stalkers, Chad. So do weirdoes and, and…”

“And do you believe, no, do you even think that Jared is one of those guys? Some asshole that is just obsessed with you because he’s got a mental imbalance? He’s your mate,” Chad stressed his last word as hard as he could.

“You’ve been around them too long if that’s your argument,” Jensen told him.

“Bullshit. You think that I don’t know how you’re feeling right now? I’ve seen a lot of mated pairs walk out those school doors, and they don’t like being away from each other. You trying to tell me that you’re not feeling anything towards him right now? You mean to tell me that there isn’t even the smallest part of you that cares about him anymore?” The challenge to dare contradict him was clear in Chad’s eyes.

Jensen never did like backing down from a challenge. “Maybe that is exactly what I’m trying to tell you,” he said even as his insides twisted that much harder at the lie. Just thinking about Jared hurt, talking about him was worse.

“Yeah? Then I think I’ll wait around for the show if it’s all the same to you,” Chad said with a level of smugness that made Jensen want to slap him.

“What show?” He bit out around the increasing pain in his chest. It felt like his own heartbreak wanted to come alive and just shove out of him, and seriously, he could do his own grieving in private. He didn’t need Chad the fucking Clerk to be there to watch it happen.

“Well, see, Jared’s outside waiting to talk to you. If you’re gonna tell him the same thing that you just told me, then I want to be around for the fireworks.”

Jensen’s mouth opened a bit in shock before he closed it tightly, compressing his lips into a thin line. There was no way that he was going to give Chad the satisfaction of gaping at him.

“You’re a terrible person, you know that?” Jensen asked as he stalked over to the large windows that faced the street. He meant his proclamation wholeheartedly. He could understand people who liked to watch this sort of thing on television, it was cathartic in a way or even just plain entertaining. But there was a difference between television and real life, and he wasn’t about to explain that fact to Chad. With Jensen’s luck, the bastard wouldn’t understand the concept anyway.

Chad, for his part, didn’t seem to care that Jensen had just insulted his character. “Whatever, dude. I’m not the one who is breaking his own mate’s heart,” were his exact words.

“He’s not my…” Jensen trailed off as his eyes finally landed on Jared. It was a little embarrassing how long it took him to identify the giant hulk of Jared’s tall form, but Jensen had never seen Jared hide his wings before.

It wasn’t that it was that unusual for a seraph to cover up his or her wings. Even though their propagation levels kept them in the minority as compared to humans, Jensen had seen quite a few of them throughout his life. Wings were just as easily injured as any other limb, and if a seraph broke a wing, they were known to cover it up and just blend in like a human that was forced to walk from place to place instead of soaring in the skies, or as the less accepting of humanity’s members said, hopping around town like pigeons and seagulls.

But Jared hadn’t once hid his wings from public viewing. Not even when he was plucking and had horrible gaps in his coverage had he taken to folding his wings tightly behind him and covering them with a giant overcoat.

That he was doing so now bothered Jensen on some level. He hated himself for the instant worry that sprang to his mind. He tried to grab on to the anger and hurt that resided there with it, but those feelings kept slipping away. They didn’t disappear. How could they? He wasn’t some robot that could just turn off his emotions, but he couldn’t pull them to the forefront either.

“Just so you know, he’s kinda pathetic right now,” Chad’s voice interrupted Jensen’s internal conflict.

The irritation that he felt towards Chad had no problem usurping Jensen’s worry, and he almost felt relieved. “Do you ever mind your own business?”

“Nope, not really. Besides, Jared was the one who came groveling to me to beg me to talk to you. Figured that he needed a human perspective on this stupid love affair you’ve got going. I think I’m the only human he knows or something. I might have an ego, but I can admit that I’m not exactly a good choice for relationship help.”

“Jared came to you?” Jensen couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice. He didn’t turn to look at Chad when he spoke, just kept staring out the window at Jared.

“Yeah, well, he was desperate I guess. He gets why you’re upset, kinda. I tried to explain it to him, but eventually it was just easier to steal your damn file myself and drag him over here. He was just too miserable and hung up on the ‘mates’ thing, and I’d call him a pathetic loser, but you look just about as good as he does.”

“Thanks,” Jensen said dryly.

“Yeah, well, just being honest. Of course, if you want, you could quit staring out the window at him and go talk or something. Just a suggestion,” Chad said as he flopped down into one of the old, yellow vinyl seats that the Laundromat provided for its customers.

Jensen snorted and made himself move away from the window, and more importantly away from Chad. He wasn’t about to do anything the bastard suggested. He was only going to wait until Chad’s jacket finished drying and then calmly suggest that he leave before Jensen called the cops to have him arrested for loitering or harassment or something.

If Jared was still skulking around by that point, Jensen would have him reported as well. After that he’d be seraph free for a while. Neither humans nor seraphs wanted trouble with the law, and while he had his doubts about Chad, he knew Jared well enough to know that he’d leave without putting up a fuss.

It was a good, solid plan.

The trouble was that Jensen knew Jared. As much as he wanted to just dismiss everything that he had learned about him as deceptive, brain washing trash, Jensen couldn’t deny that there were just certain things that couldn’t be falsehoods. Maybe there were people out there, conmen and the like, who could pretend to be a totally different person twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but Jared wasn’t one of them.

And if Jared wasn’t out to deceive Jensen completely, then there were still parts of him that…

Jensen shook his head to clear it of his trail of thought. He glanced over his shoulder to see Chad blatantly staring at him. The instant that they made eye contact, Chad raised his eyebrows and gave an incredibly unsubtle glance to the window.

Unwillingly, Jensen’s gaze followed Chad’s motion, and he could see that the summer wind and grey clouds of the day had finally given in to the rain that had been threatening all afternoon. The sun hadn’t quite set yet thanks to the long days of summer, so the grey sunset outlined Jared’s pathetic figure as rain pelted against him.

The overcoat was already starting to cling to the seraph’s form, and his brown hair was matted down against his head. The street lights kicked on as both the storm and the disappearing sun deemed it dark enough, and the additional light made Jared look like a pathetic hunchback, Victor Hugo’s creature in a modern day world, but still alone.

Jensen snorted to himself at the thought and simultaneously kicked himself for being an avid reader. It had gotten him into the seraph mess to begin with and now gave him stupid, romantic notions. He should’ve spent more time indulging himself in regular, human sports. He should’ve listened to his parents about finding other hobbies when his first few applications to the academies were declined.

But he hadn’t listened, and he couldn’t change the past. He also couldn’t change the fact that he’d managed to mess enough with Jared’s mind that the guy was hanging outside a Laundromat like some sort of creeper and was apparently so distraught that he’d sought Chad’s advice on humanity.

Jensen was many things, but he had never considered himself cruel. He could be a jerk. Sometimes he could even be an asshole, but then again, he’d never met a guy who didn’t have that ability. Even though he’d never seen it, he suspected that even Jared would have that capability in the right situation.

Jared and the academy had hurt Jensen, fucking stomped all over his one castle in the air, but if what Chad said was true, Jared didn’t really understand that he’d done that. Or he understood that he had, but he didn’t understand the why or how or something like that.

The point was that after a little time away from the situation, Jensen could see that maybe Jared hadn’t quite realized how the hidden agenda of the academies would hurt Jensen. Maybe he hadn’t quite comprehended how keeping their secret, how using their secret would make Jensen feel.

If that was true, then Jensen could maybe just… help the guy out. Explain things to him so that when Jared was ready to get back on the dating horse, he’d be a little wiser in his decisions if he were to date another human instead of finding another seraph to mate with.

The thought made Jensen’s heart twinge a little, but he ignored that. He wasn’t over Jared yet. He hadn’t had time to deal with their breakup properly, but he wasn’t going to be able to work through that before talking to Jared. It was just the way that Jensen’s life had always been though, and he knew how to deal with it.

He could hide his own hurt and feelings away for a while. Maybe by talking to Jared, he’d be able to make a difference. Maybe it wasn’t going to be the difference in human-seraph relations that he had hoped to make when he’d first started in on his quest to get into the academies, but it could be a start.

Having made up his mind, Jensen took a fortifying breath and released it before heading towards the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared huddled into himself for warmth as the wind buffeted against him. He had thought it was cold without his feathers when he sat in his lonely nest, but he had been very mistaken. The chill of his apartment had nothing on nature and the outdoors. He was used to the wind being a friend or a challenge to his flying skills. He loved it when the warm summer rains came and he could glide through their unpredictable patterns, letting the rain pelt at his exposed skin.

His mother had been forever afraid that he would get caught out in a thunderstorm and be struck dead by lightning, but he’d always been careful to avoid those. His body knew when the storm was about to take a turn for the worse, and he knew when to go to ground.

But without his feathers, his wings felt frozen as the wind and water made his coat cling to their nakedness. He had expected them to feel like his arms or his legs, but he should have known better. They’d always been covered in feathers, and they were much more sensitive to everything without their defensive barriers. Even when unsightly patches had appeared because of his plucking, the surrounding feathers had offered protection.

Not now though. Now they felt all the more exposed and hideous even with their fabric covering. In his reflection in the Laundromat window, Jared looked almost human. If he was still in possession of his feathers, they’d be poking out underneath the hem of his covering garment, but without them there, he wasn’t immediately identifiable as a seraph. His wings didn’t even take up as much room in the coat as they normally would have. Their bulk was nonexistent without the warm layer of down and flight feathers.

His reflection had mocked him as he watched Jensen fight with Chad. His reflection was human. His reflection would know what to say to his mate to make things better. His reflection would still be desirable to his mate, not some winged freak that wasn’t able to give Jensen whatever it was that he was wanting.

Eventually Jared had made himself quit looking at his own image in the window, and he’d been grateful because while he could still hear the voices inside, he had no desire to see Jensen’s lips form the words that denied their partnership, denied their status as mates.

The words hurt Jared terribly, and he fought the urge to hunch down on himself and cry. There were still people on the street hurrying to get to shelter as the rain turned from a light sprinkle into a downpour, and he did not want to attract their attention away from their goals by doing anything unusual.

Chad and Jensen continued to bicker for a while, and Jared knew the instant that Jensen’s eyes fell upon him. He could feel his mate’s gaze rake over his body, and it left him feeling exposed and raw. It was as unnatural a feeling as being away from Jensen was, and Jared not for the first time wondered if there was something wrong with him that his relationship with his mate was so abnormal.

The uncomfortable feeling of Jensen’s gaze went away after a moment, and all that Jared had left was the cold discomfort of the increasingly colder needles of rain driving against him. The temptation of seeking shelter in one of the other nearby buildings was tempting, but Chad had been insistent on the idea of Jared staying outside the Laundromat in full view of the windows.

The human had been flabbergasted at first when Jared had shown up at the academy offices begging for his help. As Jared explained his situation, Chad had gone from looking at him like he was crazy to looking at him like he was an idiot then to looking at him like he was a sad idiot. To be fair, Jared had felt like a sad idiot, standing there with a crocheted throw over his shoulders to keep his naked wings away from prying eyes. He couldn’t exactly blame Chad for feeling the same way.

Chad had shooed him away with a set of instructions that consisted of precisely two things. The first was that Jared had to go himself a coat because the blanket looked, “Fucking ridiculous, man.” The second was that he’d call Jared the first day that it looked like a storm was going to happen, and that Jared had, “Damn well better answer,” because Chad wasn’t looking to get in the, “Dr. Phil business.”

Without any further explanation, Jared had been ushered away from Chad’s cubicle. He had thought about calling Jensen again, thought about going to see his mate himself, but he’d been too afraid to do it. Now he almost wished he had. To be rejected to his face was one thing. It was impossibly hurtful, but Jared could keep that pain to himself. But now Jared’s own plans had backfired on him. Jensen had rejected their mating to a fellow human, and it tore at Jared’s insides.

Despite wanting nothing more than to go back to his nest and curl up under the warm blankets that he had purchased for their bed, Jared stayed outside in the rain. Chad had made Jared promise to stay by the windows. No matter what he overheard, he was to stay there until either Jensen came to get him or Chad did.

Jared couldn’t imagine a situation where Jensen would come to fetch him now, not after another angry rejection, but he stood there anyway. He didn’t have much choice. Chad had driven them over to the Laundromat, and Jared wouldn’t have risked flying in the current weather even if his wings were in perfect condition. He could hire a cab, but he doubted that any of them would want his now soaking wet body in the back of their vehicles, and he didn’t want to waste the rest of his nesting money on it anyway.

If it was to help Jensen, that would be one thing. He wouldn’t have any problems asking his parents for a little more cash for that. It would be expected of him. While human parents paid for lavish weddings and graduation parties for their children, good seraph parents would aide their children in funding their nesting.

Now that Jared thought about it, the similarity to humans was sort of startling. Graduations were seen as a step towards a successful career for a human child, and marriages were seen as a bonding between two individuals who would supposedly spend the rest of their lives together. For a seraph, nesting was like a hybrid between the two. It was a fact that Jensen would have found fascinating not even a month earlier. He would’ve been excited about it and pestered Jared for all the little details and any other insightful comparisons that Jared could’ve made.

That old Jensen had loved Jared’s people. That Jensen had loved Jared, and the thought of it made Jared’s stomach twist up inside as the feeling of loss made itself known again.

The silence from inside the Laundromat unnerved Jared. He could still hear the swish of the washing machine that Chad had thrown his jacket into, but there was no other sound coming through the thick glass panes. He tugged his coat more tightly around his frame and strained his eyes to watch the gloomy sunset. On the horizon, he could make out some slight smatterings of oranges and pinks whenever the clouds broke, but mostly it was just a dismal grey that got darker as the sun disappeared from view.

Jared figured that there was some sort of poetic symbolism to it, but he didn’t exactly want to dwell on that. He’d really read too many books on romance and not enough on reality. If he’d spent just a bit more time reading about the human psyche, he might not have fucked up his mating. He might be welcome in Jensen’s arms. They might be curled together at the moment, the storm nothing but a howling soundtrack to their canoodling.

The door to the Laundromat creaked open, and Jared hunched his shoulders. He hadn’t heard any footsteps clicking on the cement sidewalk, so it had to be Chad signaling their defeat. Jared tried to take comfort in the idea that he’d at least tried, but it wasn’t truly any comfort at all.

He turned to face Chad and thank him for his help, but when he managed to turn, it was Jensen who filled his vision and said, “Hey, man. You maybe want to come in? It’s kind of icky out here.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared almost tripped over himself in his haste to get to the door. The excitement evident in his actions was typical for the seraph, but the desperation was not. He moved as if he thought any moment Jensen would revoke his invitation, and that fear made him clumsy in his movements.

Jensen couldn’t blame him for it, but he still felt a little insulted. He wasn’t the kind of person that would offer shelter to somebody and then take the offer immediately away. Well, he would, but he would only do it if the person in question was being an ass. Chad, for example, him Jensen would dump out on the street.

Both of the times that he and Jared had fought though, Jensen had done the leaving. Precedence indicated that Jensen was more prone to fleeing a fight than anything else, but he supposed that it was too fine of a point of logic to get worked up over.

Even though he’d only been out in the rain for a short period of time, Jensen’s hair was wet when he followed Jared back through the door. The shoulders of his flannel shirt were dark with dampness, and he could only imagine how soaked Jared was.

It was nasty outside. Any fool could both see and hear that, which was why Jensen could only stare as Chad started walking towards the door, his soaking wet jacket dripping on the floor.

“Well, gotta go. Have to get home before America’s Next Big Sumo comes on. There’s going to be a double elimination tonight,” Chad said in a weirdly chipper voice.

“It’s pouring out there,” Jensen pointed out.

“Yeah? And? My jacket is already soaked through. No point in waiting for it to dry only to get it wet again. You two have a good night,” Chad replied.

“Chad,” Jared said. He sounded confused, and that made Jensen feel a little better. Whatever Chad was attempting to do, Jared obviously wasn’t in on the plan.

That was a good thing, because Jensen was seriously tired of being the subject of people’s secret plans. As far as he was concerned, surprises officially sucked. Heaven help his friends if they ever again tried to throw him a surprise birthday party.

“I know, I know. But you’re going to have to get your own ride home, buddy. I can’t hang around for your little lovebird talk right now,” Chad said dismissively as he bolted out the door.

“Well, obviously he’s a liar too,” Jensen muttered as he stalked around Jared to drop the lid back on the washing machine that Chad had been using. The machine kicked back on with a rattling whir as it swished and swashed without knowing that there was nothing inside of it to clean.

“What?” Jared asked.

“He said he wanted to stay around for the fireworks,” Jensen responded with a disgusted sigh.

Jared’s face fell. “Oh, well, if it’s all the same to you… I kind of overheard most of that already, so if you’re just going to tell me what you told him, I’d like to skip that.”

Jensen rubbed his forehead and looked up at the ceiling. “No. That wasn’t what I was planning on talking to you about.”

“But you were planning on talking to me? Not just, you know, letting me in from the rain?” Jared sounded hopeful.

“Yeah, I was. Why don’t you take off your coat and sit down? I can go get the override key if you want to dry it while we talk,” Jensen suggested as he started to move towards the small alcove where all of the administrative junk was kept.

Jared tugged his coat closer to himself and looked distinctly uneasy. “I’ll just keep it on if it’s all the same to you,” Jared mumbled.

Jensen arched and eyebrow and stopped in mid stride. “Jared, you’re soaking, and you look fucking ridiculous with that on.”

Jared’s chin jutted out and an incredibly mulish expression stole over his features. “I’m good,” he said tersely.

It was ridiculous. They were so headed into another fight, and Jensen wasn’t about to get into it with the seraph over a wet coat. He wasn’t the guy’s mother.

“Fine. Get wet and catch a cold, see if I care,” he muttered as he walked back to the main washing area.

“You know that getting wet doesn’t actually give you a cold, right? Hypothermia maybe, but colds are caused by viruses and bacteria,” Jared told him.

“Yes, Jared, I know that. I have a degree in a health field, remember?” Jensen said back, not bothering to keep the bite from his voice.

Jared shrugged like he didn’t care and went to go take a seat. He perched on the edge of one of the chairs, not leaning back, and Jensen wondered if Jared had managed to injure one of his wings.

While Jared had always been fond of stools and other backless chairs as most of his people were, he’d never outright kept his wings away from the backs of seating that had that sort of support. That he was avoiding it now combined with his reluctance to take off his jacket was a sure sign that something was wrong with his wings.

The stress of the situation could have pushed him back into over plucking. It was a sadly likely scenario, and it bolstered Jensen’s resolve to communicate some wisdom to his ex.

“Look, Jared,” he started off.

Jared’s eyes focused instantly on his face, and his body went almost perfectly still. It was a little unnerving, but Jensen obviously had his attention, and that was what mattered.

“I think that maybe I should explain a couple of things to you. See what the academy does, it isn’t… it’s not good, okay?”

Jared nodded slowly in response to the question, but Jensen could practically see the wheels turning in Jared’s head trying to figure out the meaning of Jensen’s words.

“I know you think,” Jensen continued, “that they’re helping your people out. But they’re being dishonest about it. They’re selling a lie.”

“But they aren’t doing any harm,” Jared said. “Nobody is getting forced into anything, and…”

“And do you think that it is going to stay that way forever? How do you think that the general populace is going to react the day that it finds out what’s going on there? For God’s sake, Chad knows. Eventually somebody with enough clout and enough persuasion is going to get the dirt on the academies, and then what’s going to happen?” Jensen argued.

“But, I mean, it’s been this way for years, right? And those who don’t mate have a good education. Those who do still have a good education, and they’ve found their one. I don’t… that’s a good thing.” Jared replied.

Jensen took a deep breath and exhaled. “It’s not that what you’re saying is wrong, but it isn’t truthful. If I’d known what the main goal of the academies was, I would never have gone there. And you have to know that it would be the same for other humans. Otherwise why would your people be hiding it?”

Jared shrugged and bit his lip. His eyes were practically swimming in misery, and his shoulders had a decidedly dejected slump to them. “It’s just safer… What if the humans came after us? Or what if, what if our mates wouldn’t come near us because they were afraid of us trying to mate with them? You said that you wouldn’t have come if you’d known. Would you have even talked to me if you had known that I needed a mate and probably needed a human one?”

“I don’t know. Probably. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t talked to women who were out husband hunting,” Jensen pointed out.

“But those are husbands. They aren’t mates. There are a lot of humans out in the world, and very few of them are fit to become our mates. The academies attract those who are capable or willing to be with us.”

“And yet it worked for all of those years where your race was hidden. You didn’t have the academies then. Hell, you didn’t even have public knowledge of your existence!”

“And what did it get us? Inbreeding and sadness and…”

“And you’re going down the same path! For God’s sake, Jared, can’t you see that your people are setting themselves up for the same type of failure?”

“No. No, I don’t see that! Why do I have to be the one to see your way when you won’t see mine? You’re human, if you never mated, you would have been fine. We’re not like that!” Jared yelled.

“I know, okay? That’s why I’m trying to tell you why this whole thing upsets me, so you don’t make that same mistake in the future. Maybe the next time you find a mate, you can know what to tell him. I’m not an idiot, Jared. I know that neither you nor I can change how things are today, but maybe you can at least spare the next guy a little turmoil.”

Jared’s face turned ashen, and Jensen felt bad about causing him that kind of distress, but before he could try to rephrase his words into something a little less painful, Jared was speaking.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Jensen’s temper surged at the question, but Jared’s mouth just babbled over Jensen’s outrage.

“Do the doctor’s know? Who have you seen? We can find a specialist or, or a different specialist if you’ve already seen the ones around here. My uncle lives out in California, and he knows a lot of alternative medicine places that might be able to help,” Jared spoke quickly as he rose from his chair and dripped his way across the floor to kneel in front of Jensen. His big hands reached out to grab hold of one of Jensen’s hands. They enveloped it in a hard grip that Jensen thought was supposed to be reassuring, but all that it conveyed was that Jared’s hands were freaking freezing.

“What are you even talking about?” Jensen said as he tried to pull his hand out from between Jared’s.

Jared’s grip tightened then pulled Jensen’s hand closer. “I know that the whole alternative medicine thing seems a little out there, but we need to try. I’m not just going to let you die, Jensen.”

“Die? I’m not dying,” Jensen’s bewilderment was clear as he spoke.

“But… you said that you wanted me to understand for when I moved on to my next mate?” Jared’s voice quirked up in a clear question.

“Exactly, you know, that special someone that’ll make you happy. The after me guy in the sense of post-Jensen not you know, post-Jensen.”

Jared looked nonplussed. “You’re my mate,” he said slowly.

“Jared…”

“How could you even think that I’d… that I could possibly… you’re my mate,” Jared said as if he couldn’t quite wrap his head around any other concept.

“Look,” Jensen started, “I know that this isn’t exactly easy.”

“Fuck easy, Jensen!” Jared exploded to his feet, his grip on Jensen’s hand forcing him to follow. “Do you think that I lied when I asked you to nest with me? Did you think that my mating feathers were for another and that I just figured I’d snare you as one last bachelor fling?”

Jensen yanked his hand out of Jared’s tight grip. He glared up at the taller man, and with Jared’s face tilted downwards, they were practically nose to nose. “You’re not making this any easy.”

“‘Easy,’” Jared’s voice was full of loathing, “What is it with you and that word? My mate is trying to, to… I don’t even know what you’re trying to do. Proposing insanity is what you’re doing. We nested! You and me, together. You don’t take that shit back!”

“I’m not trying to take it back,” Jensen said evenly, trying to calm Jared down. “I’m just pointing out that we shouldn’t go down that road any farther.”

Jared’s eye welled up with tears.

“Jared, come on,” Jensen said softly. “You knew how I felt about all of this.”

“Fuck you,” Jared cried. “Fuck you and your stupid, fickle human heart. You can just run off and, and find somebody else, but where does that leave me, huh?”

“You think that I’m having fun over here making the hard decisions? We’re not going to work out, Jared. I’m just calling it before we get too invested. My heart isn’t fucking fickle, and it’s breaking probably about as bad as yours is, but I…”

“Stop!” Jared bellowed. “Just stop, Jensen. Listen to yourself. Why are you doing this to me? Why are you doing this to us? You can’t want to hurt us like this.”

“Of course I don’t, aren’t you listening?” Jensen said, willing his own tears away from his eyes. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. This was supposed to be about helping Jared move on.

“I’ll start listening when you start making sense. You’re my mate, my one. I couldn’t move on if I wanted to, don’t you understand that?” Jared asked.

“I…”

A look of comprehension tugged across Jared’s features, and he stepped backwards. “You don’t, do you? You have no idea.”

“Know what?” Jensen said tiredly.

“Jensen, seraphs mate for life.”

“No,” the denial sprang instantly to Jensen’s lips, “you’re lying. I know that you’ve slept with other people. You were no virgin.”

“What is it with humans and sex?” Jared said exasperatedly.

“What is it with seraphs and nesting?” Jensen shot back quickly.

“Nesting is different. I’ve had other partners, true. But we only get our mating feathers for our one. We bond with them when we consummate. Didn’t you know that?”

“Obviously not,” Jensen bit out. “Just one more thing that was conveniently forgotten,” he mumbled bitterly.

Jared huffed and frowned at him. “It was heavily implied.”

“By who?”

“By everybody! By the romance books I gave you or maybe the fact that we don’t get divorced,” Jared said with an expressive wave of his hand.

“You deny it! Every one of you that has ever been asked about it has either avoided the question or denied it!” Jensen argued.

“Yeah, well, I guess it’s just us lying seraphs doing our lying thing,” Jared said snidely.

“Oh, that’s great, Jared. Be flippant about it,” Jensen snarled back.

“Then don’t you go pretending to be high and mighty about it. If you weren’t willing, we would never have bonded. And you were the one who went and tried to reject me afterwards,” Jared pointed out.

“Well if I’m your one, then maybe you could’ve been a little more honest with me. Maybe you could’ve opened your mouth and said something. You weren’t exactly being communicative about anything before you just up and kissed me,” Jensen reminded him.

“You knew that I had my mating feathers! You knew that I was nesting.”

“Which told me that you were serious, but it didn’t tell me that you were ready to get settled down and not start making babies.”

Jared seemed to shrink at Jensen’s words, and a timid, “Would you not have accepted if you’d known?” came out of his mouth.

And the truth of the matter was that Jensen couldn’t say that he wouldn’t have. He could still remember the jealousy that had roiled through his veins at the thought of Jared’s mating feathers being for another. It had almost been a living thing, eating him up from the inside out, and Jensen wondered if maybe that nesting thing didn’t have an impact on the ‘mate’ before the actual consummation.

Not that it mattered one way or the other. The deed was already done.

“Does this have anything to do with why I feel absolutely crappy?” Jensen asked as he sank back down onto the nearest chair.

Jared shrugged. “Probably,” he muttered, “but it could be me too.”

“Isn’t that what I just said?” Jensen asked.

“Not exactly? I mean, yeah. There’s the mating thing, and the Jensen thing, and then there’s the Jared and Jensen thing which kind of differs from the mating thing.”

“How?”

Jared shifted uncomfortably for a moment before meeting Jensen’s gaze. “In a normal mated couple, we bond together, right? After a long period of nesting sometime we’re so attuned to each other that we can almost feel what each other is feeling. It’s not that different from how closely bonded humans can get, but in a shorter time frame.”

“Much shorter,” Jensen interjected. “But that isn’t what you’re talking about, and you don’t seem to think that I’m just sitting over here wallowing in my own, self-inflicted heartache.”

Jared shook his head then moved to sit down in the chair next to Jensen. “Some of us, when we mate, develop certain additional abilities.”

Jensen felt like burying his face in his hands, so he did. He didn’t bother taking them away when he said, “Tell me you did not just confirm an urban legend.”

“Well, I mean, you did call me a freak,” Jared pointed out.

“Not the same. Not the same at all. So are you going to start Jean Grey’ing it and lifting crap with your mind or what?” Jensen asked.

“I don’t know yet. They take a while to come in. Lots of, uh, additional mating is required first. Something to do with endorphins and chemical reactions, but the biggest early indicator of powers is a strong emotional bond.”

“So basically, you screw me senseless and get superpowers in return,” Jensen recapped for him.

“No! Yes! I don’t, do you have to make it sound tawdry?” Jared complained.

“I’m mystically tied down to a giant angel who is going to start shooting laser beams out of his ass. There was so not a warning for that.”

“Well there aren’t warnings for a lot of things in life, and you wouldn’t have paid attention to them anyway,” Jared replied.

“I would’ve paid attention to that,” Jensen argued.

“You don’t know that. You’re pig headed and stubborn and would’ve done what you damn well pleased, just like you’re doing right now. And I still would’ve loved you for it, because I still love you even though you’re hell bent on proving that you were tricked into being with me.”

“Jared, I don’t believe in being fated and finding the ‘one’ and all of that.”

“But that’s just the thing. I’m not asking you to believe in the same things I do. I’m only asking you to believe in me,” Jared told him gently.

“That’s really all you want?” Jensen asked.

“That’s really all I want,” Jared confirmed.

Jensen blew a breath out and looked at the ceiling. It wasn’t that what Jared was asking was impossible. If what Jared said was true, it was actually more of a necessity. The problem was that Jensen had spent his whole life believing in one thing and found out that it was something completely different.

His dreams were somebody else’s afterthought, a byproduct of their main goal that they didn’t truly care about, and he had to deal with that. But even though Jared had contributed to Jensen’s distress, he wasn’t the originator of it. The question was whether or not Jensen had enough faith left in him to believe in Jared.

Sure he could stay with Jared out of obligation and convenience. He wasn’t a mean person, and forcing Jared to live in misery sounded like sort of a douche thing to do. And the matter of his own feelings and state of mind couldn’t be discounted, but was that really a reason to stay when you couldn’t find it in yourself to put any trust in your partner?

“You’re thinking pretty hard over there,” Jared teased, but his eyes held tension in them that could never be attributed to something like lightheartedness.

“Yes,” Jensen blurted out.

“‘Yes,’ you’re thinking pretty hard?”

“No,” Jensen said back, his tone clearly implying that Jared was a moron.

“Then…”

“Yes, Jared. Okay? Just yes,” Jensen said wearily as he rubbed his face with his hands.

There was a moment of silence where the only noise was the sound of rain pelting against the windows of the store before Jared said, “Just so you know, I’m over here wanting to do a happy chair dance, but you’re all mopey, and it’s dragging me down.”

A tired laugh came out of Jensen’s mouth, but he turned to look at Jared. “Sorry it’s just a lot, you know?”

Jared nodded in an overly enthusiastic way, a grin breaking out on his face the second that Jensen’s eyes were on him. It was odd to see just how quickly Jared’s mood improved. If Jensen had been on the other end of their argument, he’d still be harboring some negative emotions and feeling wiped out.

He started to wonder if that was a seraph thing or just a Jared thing before he coldly shut that impulse down. It didn’t matter what was and wasn’t nature or nurture. Jared wasn’t going to morph into a human before Jensen’s eyes, and Jensen wasn’t ready to even start thinking about seraphs in general yet, let alone in any quantitative, scientific way.

“So now that we’re all…”

“Made up? Back together again?” Jared interjected.

“Yeah. That,” Jensen agreed blandly as he tried not to goggle at Jared’s energy. “I was thinking that you might want to get out of that coat? Because seeing you in it is making me uncomfortable just out of sympathy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared felt his good mood evaporate almost instantly, and he could see the confusion on Jensen’s face when the human realized the same thing. It wasn’t that Jared didn’t have a good poker face when he needed one; it was just that he had forgotten all about his wings for a little while.

Fighting with Jensen had been terrible and draining, but Chad had been insistent on the fact that Jared would have to fight for what he wanted as much as possible. Apparently Jensen, or maybe just human men in general, Jared still wasn’t clear on that point, was a stubborn asshole who needed sense beat into him.

Chad had said something about this wisdom coming from several human women of his acquaintance, and as he told Jared about the whole fighting plan on the way to the Laundromat, Jared hadn’t had time to actively weigh any options that didn’t involve following Chad’s somewhat confounding plan.

But it seemed to have worked out well enough. Jensen didn’t look happy, but he wasn’t pushing Jared away any longer. Inside of him in that spot where their mating had taken root, Jared could feel the hurt easing as Jensen accepted them again.

Not that he was going to make the mistake of telling his mate that until they were much, much more thoroughly nested. Jensen’s skepticism was best kept far away from their continued bonding. He’d told Jensen about nesting, and had held his tongue while Jensen doubted it. He’d learned that keeping information from Jensen was bad, but he’d also learned that too much information too soon could be just as much of a detriment.

It hadn’t been easy fighting against the instinct of defending what he knew to be true, but Chad had also told him that nobody liked to be told they were wrong all the time or having all of their perceptions challenged. To have his own mate question the facts of their mating was hard, but as Chad had pointed out, living without Jensen was going to be harder, so what would he rather do? The answer was obvious, and Jared’s efforts had paid off.

Jared could still barely believe his luck at getting Jensen to relent. Not that he wasn’t ecstatic about it because he was, but he hadn’t expected Jensen to actually give in to the point that he had. Sure it would be nice if Jensen was a little happier about it, but Jared would take what he could get. They’d barely nested at all before they’d had their first fight followed quickly by their first major fight. He couldn’t expect that Jensen was just going to bounce straight back to happy.

At least, according to Chad he couldn’t expect that. It was apparently some sort of human thing. It took them time to get over things that upset them, and Jared couldn’t go expecting Jensen to do otherwise. That sucked, but Jared had to admit that he didn’t know everything about humans any more than Jensen knew everything about seraphs.

But now Jensen was asking him to take his jacket off, and Jared knew full well that a good portion of his appeal was in his physical attractiveness. He didn’t think that Jensen was shallow. If anything, Jensen’s habit of thinking deeply and taking things too much to heart was what had caused the human to breakup with Jared in the first place.

Then again, if Jensen hadn’t taken his obsession with seraphs to the level he had, Jared might not have met his mate for years. Or worse, Jared might’ve finally met Jensen once he’d nested with another, and that would’ve been… unpalatable. Overall, Jensen’s dedication and preoccupation had turned out well for Jared.

Still the fact remained that they’d spent maybe one entire day being actual partners. They’d made out and slept together exactly once before everything went downhill, and now Jared was deformed and ugly. He didn’t want Jensen to see him like that. What if the sight of Jared’s wings reminded him that he was inviting something foreign into his bed? What if Jensen thought that Jared looked like a monster?

“I’m good,” Jared finally blurted out when it seemed like Jensen was about to lose patience and ask him about his coat again.

“You’re good?” Jensen sounded skeptical. He should. Jared felt skeptical about it. Actually, Jared felt absolutely rotten about it because the wet material was really starting to chafe against the sensitive skin that was so unnaturally naked.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Jared stated again this time with an emphatic nod.

“Right,” Jensen drawled. “You want to tell me what’s wrong with your wings?”

Jared flushed and shrank away from Jensen. He felt ashamed of his wings. Now that Jensen wasn’t resisting him any longer it was almost like his wings had been faithless bastards. It was a ridiculous notion, but Jared couldn’t help it. They were ugly and creepy, and his beautiful mating feathers were long gone.

He was hideous and clumsy without them. His body was off balance without the extra weight of his feathers, and his muscles were constantly overcompensating for a ballast that was no longer there, causing him to trip and stumble when he walked.

“You’ve been plucking pretty bad?” Jensen guessed when Jared didn’t answer him.

“No,” Jared mumbled to the floor.

“Come on, let me see,” Jensen coaxed.

“No,” Jared said again as he pulled further away.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’ve been to the classes, right? I can help you out,” Jensen soothed.

“No, I… not here,” Jared mumbled. The likelihood of Jensen giving up was nonexistent, but there were security cameras in the Laundromat proper. He didn’t want his shame displayed for anybody else to see. Fighting with Jensen was one thing, but his wings in their pitiful state were not going to be witnessed by outsiders. He wanted no proof of his almost ruined nesting.

Jensen seemed to understand what he was saying as his eyes tracked over to where one of the cameras was mounted. “I’ll make you a deal. You keep an ear out for customers, and I’ll take you upstairs to my place, and you can change into some of my stuff up there.”

“You could just stay down here if you give me the key,” Jared suggested.

That earned him a reproving look from his mate. “I had gotten the impression that you didn’t exactly have a ride home tonight once Chad bailed on you.”

Jared shook his head because, well, Chad bailing hadn’t been part of the plan, and he really didn’t have a idea of how the night was supposed to go outside of Chad’s plan.

“So I’m guessing that you’re going to be staying with me tonight,” Jensen continued.

That thought perked Jared up a bit more. It wouldn’t be their nest, but staying with Jensen would probably translate into sleeping with Jensen. Sleeping with Jensen might just translate into sex with Jensen if he played his cards right, and sex would help them bond. Plus, it would feel good and…

“And if you’re staying with me, I’m going to see them anyway,” Jensen concluded.

Jared frowned. That wasn’t technically true. If he found a shirt to cover his wings, he could easily sleep with Jensen without exposing himself. But it would definitely mean that there would be no sex on the agenda. Jensen would try to touch Jared’s wings if they did that, and there was no way that he would miss the fact that there were no feathers there.

Of course he’d also be disgusted by the ugly lumps of flesh, so instigating any sort of sex was a bad idea. Jared should never have considered it in the first place.

But castigating himself about getting his hopes up about sex wasn’t going to help him out with the wing situation. Jared didn’t know how long it was going to take his body to get over the shock of nesting rejection, but even if it snapped back instantly, his feathers weren’t going to grow back in as fast as they’d fallen out.

He doubted that he could avoid Jensen for as long as it would take, so he might as well get it over with as soon as possible.

“I suppose we should go up then,” Jared mumbled as he stood up and started moving towards the back of the store.

“Jay, wrong way,” Jensen said gently as he grabbed hold of the sleeve of Jared’s coat.

Jared flushed and followed after his mate. The door that lead up to the apartment was actually hidden behind the small counter that Jensen was supposed to occupy when there was a customer in the store. It seemed to Jared like a strange place to have an upstairs entrance, but when they reached the top of the stairs, Jensen led them down a small hallway and unlocked yet another door.

The efficiency apartment inside was tiny and reeked of Downy fabric softener.

“It’s right over the main bank of dryers,” Jensen explained as Jared’s nose wrinkled at the smell.

Jared bit back the question of why exactly Jensen had ever wanted to go back to this crappy place when he could’ve been nesting with Jared. Chad had told him that it was a human independence thing. He could learn to accept it and wait it out, especially if he ever wanted to get laid again.

As Jensen began to rummage around in the small built in closet that the room boasted, Jared played with the cuffs of his coat. He bit his lip. He inhaled and exhaled and ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to draw out the time leading up to the inevitable.

“Hah! So the inseam on the pants might be a little short, but the sweatshirt is gigantic. It was mislabeled, and it’s huge on me. Comes down to my freaking knees so it ought to… Jared, seriously, you need to take that off,” Jensen scolded him as he turned around to see Jared’s still clothed form.

“I don’t want to,” Jared admitted with a voice that he would’ve sworn was too tiny to be his own. He sounded like a scared cherub, and he’d long since grown out of his childhood.

Jensen looked knowingly at him, but it wasn’t harsh. “Hey, come on, I’ve worked in a hospital. I’ve seen worse.”

It was meant to be consoling, Jared knew that, but it really didn’t make him feel any better.

Telling himself to just get over it already, Jared whipped off the coat and let it drop to the floor. It made a sick flopping noise as the wet material plopped onto the carpet, but he didn’t really pay much attention to the sound. His ears were too busy burning in shame. All of the blood rushing to them muffled the other noises in the room with the dull thud of his own heartbeat.

Jensen walked around him, and despite his blood’s best efforts, Jared could still hear Jensen’s shocked gasp when he saw the state of Jared’s wings. His mate didn’t say anything, but his fingertips grazed ever so gently against the naked skin.

“Don’t touch them!” Jared shouted as he pulled away from the touch, his gut roiling in misery.

Jensen didn’t follow, and when Jared worked up the courage to look at him, he was holding his hands up in the air placatingly like Jared was holding a gun on him. The sweatshirt that he’d been offering Jared was dangling from his hand, and his face was carefully schooled into a look of calm serenity.

Jared hated that look. It told him nothing.

“What happened?” Jensen asked softly.

“What do you think happened? You left me,” Jared told him. It should’ve sounded confrontational, something that Jared knew he should avoid doing so close to their reconciliation. But instead his voice cracked, and he just sounded hysterical.

Jensen’s calm evaporated and worry took its place. “Jared, you didn’t pluck those all out, did you?”

Jared shook his head.

“Then...”

“They just fell out, okay? You left, and I couldn’t, I didn’t have enough faith, or I was too weak, and they fell out. All my mating feathers are gone, and, and,” Jared’s breath hitched, and Jensen walked up to him and placed his free hand on Jared’s shoulder.

“Did you see a doctor?”

“What?” Jared sniffed.

“Did you see a doctor? Are you sure this is just a breakup thing?” Jensen asked him earnestly.

“I,” Jared took a breath as he focused in on Jensen’s question. He couldn’t explain to a man of science and physiology that he just knew why his body was doing what it did. Sure a lot of it was based on his experiences with plucking, but inside he knew what it was.

“I know the cause,” Jared settled on saying, his head hanging down as his humiliation grew deeper.

Jensen’s mouth turned down in a frown. It was clear that he didn’t like the answer that Jared gave. His eyes scanned back and forth over Jared’s face, and eventually he leaned up on his toes to press a gentle kiss to Jared’s forehead.

“Okay,” he said, “we’ll talk about it later. Right now we should get you into something warm.”

Jared could agree with that thought, especially as it would hide his ugly wings from sight. He shucked out of his undershirt and practically yanked the sweatshirt out of Jensen’s hands in his haste to cover himself. His pants followed at a more sedate pace, and it was almost funny how Jensen demurely averted his eyes as Jared changed his lower half.

Once done, Jared shoved his feet into the pair of slippers that Jensen offered as Jensen took his wet sneakers over to a corner to let them air dry.

Jared half expected Jensen to leave him to his own devices up in the apartment while he finished his very boring shift down in the Laundromat, so he was surprised when Jensen tugged on his sleeve.

“Come on, gotta get these in the dryer,” he said as he held up Jared’s wet clothes.

“I’m not exactly fit to be seen,” Jared said as he gestured at the too short pants and the questionable footwear.

“Nobody down there but us, and you know it. Besides, people always procrastinate on doing their laundry. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve seen them wear in here,” Jensen told him.

“I don’t know,” Jared hedged. The overcoat had been one thing, but even the generous cut of the shirt wasn’t enough to hide the bulky shape of his wings.

Jensen gave him an encouraging smile. “I’ll be lonely down there,” he cajoled.

It wasn’t a fair thing to say because Jared would never allow his mate to be lonely, and he had a niggling suspicion that Jensen knew that. He managed to glare halfheartedly at Jensen, but followed him.

After all, he didn’t care for being lonely either.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared’s reluctance to touch was an odd concept for Jensen to wrap his mind around. Even when Jared had been hiding the truth from him or being less than obvious about his intention to drag Jensen off to his nest to have his way with him, Jared had always encouraged physical closeness.

Then again, he hadn’t exactly been discouraging touch in general so much as he’d been tweaking out whenever Jensen got close to or tried to mention the state of his wings.

Once they’d gotten back downstairs, Jared had become Jensen’s shadow. He’d stayed as close as possible and every time that Jensen sat down, Jared would sit right next to him, leaning into his warmth, so it wasn’t that Jared was avoiding contact entirely. It was just that Jared’s muscles tensed any time that either of Jensen’s hands moved in his direction.

And, yeah, Jensen got why. In truth, he would have expected more adverse reactions were they in a normal situation. He’d had a few serious girlfriends before, and when he fought with them, there was never immediate forgiveness. There was always that period of leeriness that followed a reconciliation. But Jared didn’t seem to be displaying distrust in Jensen so much as he was self-conscious about his appearance.

That was also an odd concept for Jensen to grasp. Jared’s outgoing nature just didn’t jive with low confidence levels. People could learn to project confidence when they in actuality had low self-esteem, but Jensen had spent enough time around Jared to doubt that the seraph had developed that particular skill set.

Unlike Jensen and his myriad of confidence problems, Jared was fairly self-assured. There was no reason for him to have learned tips and tricks to overcome shyness or other issues.

Jared was for all intents and purposes a well adjusted college boy still out there discovering himself. Sure he was on the older side of that age group, but Jensen couldn’t point any fingers. He was the one who dropped an internship for one last stab at his dreams. Jared at least had some sort of biological excuse for his lack of direction and purpose in life.

Not that Jensen had ever lacked direction until recently, but that was an issue that he’d have to tackle at a later date. He figured that it would have to be much later because he had managed to basically get himself married to a slightly insecure college boy, and neither of them had a good paying job at the moment. Jared was going to have to go back to school come the fall. Jensen doubted that they were going to be able to be apart for long stretches of time which meant that he was going to have to find a job near Jared’s school

Another internship would be ideal, but internships didn’t pay well even if they were the best choice for his future. Jensen didn’t want to ask Jared to take out more in student loans than he absolutely had to, but they were going to need food and off campus shelter. Jensen’s loans were going to come off their grace period again, and he wasn’t going to be able to support both of them.

Worse than that, he was going to have to tell his friends and family about Jared, and that was going to be a treat and a half. He couldn’t think of a one of them that was going to treat his relationship with Jared with anything other than skepticism.

Oh, they’d be nice to Jared. It was Jensen that they’d rake over the coals. He could practically hear the accusations of him leading poor, young Jared astray. He could envision the looks of pity aimed at Jared’s back while Jensen received disapproving glares that suggested that he was fucking the innocent little angel out of his desperation to be close to the object of his lifelong obsession.

“You’re thinking too hard,” Jared’s voice cut over the sound of the television that Jensen had turned on.

They had lapsed into silence as soon as they had left Jensen’s small apartment. After a while the drone of the dryer and the splatter of rain on the windows had gotten boring to listen to, so bad television had been the option that Jensen had chosen. At the time, it had seemed safer than a discussion.

“I’m just thinking about you,” Jensen answered truthfully.

Jared’s face got an absolutely adoring look, and Jensen kicked himself for inadvertently saying something that could be construed as romantic. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to say nice things to Jared, but there was no graceful way to admit that he’d been worrying. It would be a major let down.

“I’ve been thinking about you too,” Jared whispered, his big hand slowly inching closer to Jensen’s.

“Really?” Jensen forced himself to ask evenly.

“Yeah,” Jared replied as his fingers curled around Jensen’s, forcing their palms together.

They were holding hands in a Laundromat watching bad television. The thought made Jensen feel spectacularly old. He’d seen some of the elderly couples come in at night when they found out that their washer or dryer was broken. Little, shriveled old ladies who still did their husband’s laundry would shuffle in and dutifully wash and fold flannel shirts while the husband sat around looking bored. A few of them would hold hands when the machines were busy working. When they were done, the husbands would help the old ladies carry the laundry back out to the car that the husband would invariably drive away.

It was a stereotypical sort of event to witness, and Jensen had to fight back the urge to tell the old guy to learn to wash his own damn shorts each and every time. But then he’d wonder if maybe that was just something that didn’t matter to them. If maybe they’d gotten to the point in their relationships where they didn’t try to fight the status quo anymore because it didn’t make a real difference one way or the other. He’d ponder if he had the right to judge what was important in their lives if they looked happy enough about it.

And sure, some of those old guys were probably asses to their wives. Or maybe some of those old ladies were secretly the ones who abused their husbands. Jensen couldn’t know any more than he could foresee what people were going to think about him and Jared.

Jensen’s loved ones would eventually come around. If Jensen was Jared’s ‘One,’ then Jared wasn’t going to be going anywhere. Eventually those close to him would have to accept that. But Jensen couldn’t predict what potential employers or acquaintances would think. There were anti-seraph bigots and gay bigots and people who were just plain going to dislike them just because.

There were going to be times that he and Jared would fight, and given how great their relationship had been so far, there was a chance that their fights were going to be epic in nature. Those around them were probably not going to understand why they weren’t splitting up.

Or they wouldn’t unless seraphs as a whole started coming clean about some of those facts that they kept hiding, but Jensen wasn’t holding out hope for that. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to hold out hope for that at the moment. It wouldn’t mitigate the worries that his family would have. If anything, they’d fret that he’d been brainwashed or tricked into being with Jared.

They would react in exactly the same fashion as Jensen had, and while he still believed that the academy system deserved his ire, he didn’t want that sort of negative feeling focused on Jared. Maybe some point in the future their relationship would be strong enough and established enough to weather that sort of stress and scrutiny, but Jensen wasn’t enough of a fool to think it anywhere close to that stage currently.

There were, after all, different levels of forever. If they were stuck with each other for the rest of their lives, he’d much prefer to build something more stable and endearing. Antagonism and sadness was just a bad idea in the long run.

“So what’re you thinking about me?” Jared asked.

“Wondering if you have any plans for the future. Ones that aren’t a variation of, ‘nest with Jensen,’” Jensen clarified.

Jared blushed a little, and Jensen mentally patted himself on the back for guessing what the other man had been thinking.

“I was thinking maybe, that is, you’re going to be working in a hospital, right?” Jared mumbled as he pulled his hand away and began to fiddle at the hem of the sweatshirt that Jensen had loaned him.

“Or a clinic or something similar,” Jensen added. “Why?”

“I was thinking that I could go into something that would maybe mesh with that? Like a, a counselor maybe? I’m not inclined to go into a medical field, but I was just thinking that maybe nesting isn’t always easy for everybody. Maybe more of my people have problems with their mates than they realize, or they’re like me with my plucking. And my people, they get over that pretty quickly, you know? But you, you’re not over it yet. I can see you worrying over there, and I don’t understand it,” Jared paused to tap at his head.

“I get the general concept, and I can feel how it bothers you. But I don’t know how to give you what you need,” Jared finished with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

Jensen stayed silent for a moment as he tried to absorb what Jared was saying. He wanted to balk at Jared’s easy dismissal of the state of his wings as some sort of mate related thing, but the truth was that he didn’t truly know better. Once upon a time he might have argued with Jared about it. He would’ve pointed to the lack of documentation about the phenomenon in the medical journals that he’d read about seraph physiology, but that was before he’d found out that the seraphs had had some very meticulously guarded secrets.

“So you want to go into psychology?” Jensen asked.

Jared nodded his head like he thought that Jensen was going to object to the notion.

“Are you sure that’s what you really want? Or are you just doing it because you think it’s something I’d approve of? Because I want you to do what you want to do. I don’t need you to follow a path you don’t want to just because you’re scared that I won’t approve or something,” Jensen told him.

Jared looked at him like he was a complete moron. “Jensen, I don’t even… You realize that I can’t actually separate out those impulses, right? We’re sort of rudderless until we meet our mates. Once we do, our compulsion is to take a complimentary path to theirs, so in a sense this choice can’t be anything other than influenced by who you are. But I could just as easily choose to become a teacher so that I have summers off to take care of things around the nest to ease your burden or I could choose to become a physical trainer so that we have a shared interest in sports medicine. I just think that this might be the best choice.”

“I just don’t want you making a hasty decision,” Jensen said.

“And I’m telling you that I’ve spent years of my life waiting to make a hasty decision. It’s what we do. We mate, and we settle into our path,” Jared responded.

The desire to argue that roiled around in Jensen. That just wasn’t normal. Falling in love was supposed to be a life changing experience, but it wasn’t supposed to magically endow you with a sense of purpose in that life.

Then again, his own mother would argue with Jensen’s view on love. She would tell him that if he wasn’t changed by falling in love and committing then he wasn’t with the right person. She’d tell him that he should want to change in order to make both of their lives better. What Jared was saying was extreme to Jensen’s sensibilities, but it wasn’t completely unheard of even in human circles. It was just drastic in its timing.

And if Jared wanted to pick his entire career path based on Jensen’s because it was something that seraphs were compelled to do, then Jensen could learn to shut off his cynicism for a little bit and support him. Disagreeing with Jared over his decision would theoretically be as bad as influencing it in the first place. It wasn’t a bad career path to choose, and Jensen had no real objection to it other than the seemingly arbitrary nature of it.

“Okay, so a counselor,” Jensen said forcing as much support into his words as possible, “It’s a good choice.”

“You think so? I know that we might not end up at the same hospital and all, but I could help people mend psychologically, and you could do it physically. Both of us getting people back on their feet, so to speak,” Jared gushed with enthusiasm.

The same hospital? Jensen wondered if Jared had ever been introduced to the concept of absence making the heart grow fonder. Given the state of Jared’s wings, Jensen was going to go with a ‘no’ on that one.

Then again, it wasn’t like he was going to face that hurdle right away, and there was a good chance that by the time that Jared was finished with his degree he’d have his daily Jensen quota filled and realize how awesome it was to not share lunch with his significant other every day.

Jensen summoned an encouraging smile. While he had his doubts, it was nice to see the return of Jared’s spirits. It was almost like he could feel Jared’s good mood inside of him, lifting his own dour mood.

Jared’s hand reached out to rest over Jensen’s breastbone. “You make me happy,” he said earnestly.

A shiver of something ran up Jensen’s spine. It was like an odd mixture of creepy fascination and affection. His eyes cut over to Jared’s face and the amusement there was irritating.

“What?” Jensen snapped.

“You’re adorable; you know that? You’ve got all these feelings inside of you, and the one that you choose to express most often is grumpy. You’re like a tootsie roll. All hard on the outside and soft on the inside,” Jared replied.

So great, apparently he wasn’t imagining the weird sensation in his chest that was telling him how Jared felt. Worse: Jared had the same thing and thought it was normal. Or, worse yet, Jared thought it was a good thing. Neither of them needed to feel each other’s ire when they fought. Jensen knew how hot his temper ran, and how it could eclipse other emotions in the heat of the moment.

“You worry too much,” Jared cut in.

“I have to worry. My mate is out buying stale tootsie rolls and thinking its normal,” Jensen huffed back.

Jared beamed, and Jensen’s insides felt like he had a bazillion firecrackers going off – only not as painful.

“You called me your mate,” Jared whispered as if it was a secret.

Jensen felt his mouth curl up in a tiny smile for no other reason than the way that Jared was looking at him. “Yeah, I guess I did.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared hated Jensen’s oversized sweatshirt. It was nice enough, but it barely smelled like Jensen at all. Not that he expected it to have Jensen’s scent on it. It was hardly something that he could envision Jensen wearing when it was obviously a much larger size than the man needed. In truth, Jared couldn’t really fathom why Jensen had kept the thing.

He could understand why Jensen might have ended up with it, but that was no excuse for not donating it. The shirt was practically brand new too, so it wasn’t like Jensen had held onto it for a work shirt or something.

The mystery of Jensen’s odd packrat behavior aside, the shirt just wasn’t long enough. Jared had to constantly tug the hem down in the back to cover his wings. No matter how tightly he furled them against his back, their scandalously naked tips would peak out from underneath. It was like some upside down version of a plumber’s grin, only his naked wings flashing Jensen wouldn’t be anywhere near as sexy as his ass.

The minutes until closing time seemed to drag, but Jared contented himself with being close to Jensen. They watched bad television together and occasionally grunted about the storm that was going on outside. It wasn’t scintillating, but it was good enough. He had Jensen right next to him and could just about bask in the absence of that constant, nagging pain that their separation had brought him.

If it weren’t for how naked his wings were, it would’ve been a pretty perfect evening. Even though he could still feel Jensen’s worry and doubts, he was already starting to catch bursts of affection and fondness from his mate. And he knew enough about humans to know that not all of Jensen’s worry was bad. In a way it was a good sign that Jensen cared enough about Jared’s future to fret about it.

Eventually though, the clock turned past the point of closing time, and Jensen went around closing up shop. He shut the open sign off and locked the door. He cleaned the floors and wiped down the chairs.

Jared just watched as his mate settled things down for the night. He knew that Jensen could have done most of these things earlier in the night, but he’d sat with Jared instead. Maybe it was because he had wanted to spend some quiet time alone with Jared, or maybe he left the tasks undone to buy himself some extra time before they went back up to his apartment.

Either way, Jared could understand the hesitancy. He wanted to be close to his mate, but he wasn’t exactly looking forward to sharing a bed with him. Jensen’s sleeping place was a queen size at least, but there wasn’t going to be much room for the both of them to fit, and Jared’s wings were going to be unavoidable.

Jensen felt affection towards him. Jensen, despite his hesitancy to say it, loved him.

Neither of those facts meant that Jensen wanted to sleep with him when he looked the way that he did. There was love, and there was lust, and the two didn’t always agree with each other. Unfortunately, Jared was vain enough to want to be wanted. He craved Jensen’s sexual attraction as well as his emotional.

When Jensen was finally done with his chores, they went upstairs to his apartment without saying a word. Even if it weren’t small and didn’t reek of perfumed laundry soaps, Jared would hate the little space. It wasn’t their nest. It wasn’t what he wanted to give Jensen, and it was going to irritate him to no end that Jensen didn’t understand that accepting his mate’s gifts was a good thing.

They were going to fight about it at some point. Just… sometime after Jared’s feathers grew back so that they could have make-up sex. That had to be sufficient time for Jensen to realize that they should just move in together and nest all the time, right? It was ridiculous to live apart, to not be near each other. It wasn’t like Jensen was even going to keep his current job once he got a new internship.

Jared was so busy fuming, his momma would call it pouting, that he didn’t notice that Jensen was stripping down until he was given a good look at his whitey tighties. It was a distracting view.

“What?” Jensen asked when he glanced over his shoulder and caught Jared staring.

“I thought you wore, you know, boxer briefs?” Jared croaked out as he willed his body not to start showing signs of interest.

Jensen arched an eyebrow. “I can’t switch it up now and then? Because I’ll warn you that I’ve also got classic boxers. Sometimes I even dabble in different fabric combinations and colors.”

“Oh,” Jared squeaked.

Jensen, the bastard, smirked at him and crawled into bed. It was only when his fine ass was covered by the covers that Jared was able to start breathing normally again.

He stood there for a moment, feeling about as awkward as he ever had before Jensen sighed, rolled his eyes and patted the empty section of mattress next to him. “Get your ass in bed,” he ordered.

Jared complied as quickly as he could. It was a close fit, but he managed to leave a little space between them as he snuggled down between the sheets. Jensen turned over and hit the lights off. Soon after, his breathing started to even out as he dropped off into sleep, and Jared dearly wished that he could follow, but he couldn’t.

Firstly, he was in bed with his mate. His mate who he had only slept with once and had just gotten an eyeful of was right next to him. It was very distracting.

Secondly, as hot burning as his libido was at the moment, his wings were freezing. It was easier to ignore when he was awake and moving around, but lying in the bed, he could feel the goose bumps rise on his exposed skin. Worse than that was how the rest of his body protested the loss of their warmth. He was used to being able to curl them around himself when temperatures dropped to the chilly side.

Summer was still alive and well outside of Jensen’s apartment, but his pathetic air conditioner seemed intent on proving itself despite its old age and dodgy craftsmanship. The summer blankets on Jensen’s bed weren’t nearly enough to keep Jared warm, and it was making for a rather miserable experience.

“Jared, go to sleep,” Jensen’s gruff voice interrupted Jared’s attempts at freezing to death.

“I’m cold,” Jared whined.

Jensen cracked his eyes open. Even Jared’s better than human eyesight could only make out the whites in the dimly lit room, but he was fairly certain that his mate was glaring at him.

“Then come here and quit with the North Pole act,” Jensen groused as he lifted the blanket a little.

The action looked like it was an invitation, but, “You sure?” Jared asked timidly.

Jensen’s annoyed exhale was loud, but he lifted the section of blanket even higher. “Move,” he commanded.

Jared wriggled over the extra few inches, and the additional proximity to Jensen’s body heat was nice. Not only was it cozy, but the warmth smelled of Jensen. It was nice, and Jared did his best to suppress the next round of shivers, but he was unsuccessful, and his increased proximity to his mate ensured that Jensen felt them.

“Seriously?” Jensen grumped as his eyes opened again.

Jared shrugged and tried a tiny smile even though he knew that Jensen couldn’t see it. “My wings are cold,” he admitted.

“So turn around,” Jensen told him.

“And do what?” Jared asked.

“Get spooned. It’s summer in Texas. I didn’t exactly pull my down comforter out of storage for the move,” Jensen explained.

That sounded kind of good except for the part where Jensen was going to be touching his wings. Jared didn’t care that he still had on the sweatshirt. He could feel where the ends were exposed from when the shirt rode up while he was getting into bed, and even if they weren’t exposed, Jensen was going to feel their bony, un-cushioned shape under the cotton-polyester blend fabric.

Jensen must’ve sensed his hesitation because his next words were, “Quit being vain.”

That was kind of insulting to Jared’s feelings, so he turned over in a huff. In his tired mind, he thought of it as giving Jensen the cold shoulder for being a rude, insensitive human. Then Jensen snuggled up behind him, and his warm chest pressed oh so nicely against Jared’s cold wings.

Jensen’s arm wrapped around Jared’s waist and pulled them even closer together. His breaths puffed against Jared’s neck with regularity, and Jared tried his best to stay miffed at Jensen, but he couldn’t. For the first time in days, his wings felt warm. The constant knot of tension and grief in his stomach was gone, and without his true consent, his body relaxed back against his mate’s.

The action caused Jensen to snuggle up even harder against him, before he too relaxed and started to go back to sleep. The movement made Jared instantly, blindingly hard, and he had to fight against the urge to try to hump something. He doubted his mate would want his sleep interrupted again because Jared was regressing to a teenager.

Jared focused on matching his breaths to his slumbering mate’s, and after a while, his body began to lose its tension as it remembered that it was exhausted from too many nights spent worrying and pining over Jensen. The world started to fade as sleep took him over, and between one moment and the next Jared went off to visit the land of nod.

When he next regained consciousness, it wasn’t because of the bright light of the sun starting to stream in through the windows. Jensen had rather dark drapes that blocked the cheery morning from filtering in, and there was little wonder that he was always half awake for his morning classes if this was how he kept his room.

But Jensen’s morning rituals weren’t what woke Jared any more than the sun. At least, Jared assumed that it wasn’t one of Jensen’s morning rituals, because if it was, he was going to have to hunt down the person that had been on the receiving end of Jensen’s attentions and do horrible things to said person.

Gentle kisses were being pressed against his back. The oversized sweatshirt had been pushed up over his wings, and Jensen was mouthing along the sensitive skin where they joined into his back. Tiny kitten licks interspersed with sucking little bites were driving Jared insane, but when Jensen’s mouth started peppering those pecks actually up onto his wings, Jared pulled away.

“Stop,” he said as blood began to rush to his face. The curtains might not be letting in much light, but there had to be enough for even Jensen’s poor eyesight to behold how ugly of a sight Jared’s back was at the moment.

Jensen followed Jared’s retreat and pushed up against him again. His cock was half hard where it pressed in against Jared’s ass. “You realize that the only person those wings are bother is you, right?” Jensen said as he threw a leg over Jared’s hip, ostensibly to keep him from just getting up and leaving the bed.

“I lost my mating feathers,” Jared mumbled.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Jensen responded gently.

“I… I lost your mating feathers,” Jared clarified.

“Well, I forgive you if that’s what you’re looking for, but I don’t think that it was your choice or fault, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about it either way,” Jensen reasoned with him.

“You don’t understand,” Jared protested.

“Maybe not,” Jensen conceded, “but are you really going to let that keep you from getting laid?”

“You’re sure?”

Jensen rolled his hips and pressed a kiss to the nape of Jared’s neck. “Does that feel like I’m not sure? Because I’m the one coming on to you here, so unless you think I got hooked on drugs in the middle of the night…”

Jared laughed. “Okay, so you’re sure.”

Jensen nipped the back of his neck again before trailing kisses downward to resume his prior task.

Wing grooming had forever been an intimate task between mates. Jared had been raised with the understanding that should he choose a seraph mate it would be his duty to provide this service and be serviced in return. It was an opportunity for renewal of one’s bond, and only in dire circumstances should a mated seraph allow another to touch his or her wings. Even then it was best to have one’s mate nearby or as close as possible via telephone or Skype to prevent any feelings of guilt or abandonment from growing.

He was prepared for preening and grooming to feel good and bond him with his chosen. He wasn’t prepared for Jensen’s delicate assault on his senses as he mouthed over sensitive, unfeathered skin. Disbelief warred with his libido. Jared couldn’t imagine that Jensen actually wanted the ugly, crepe like skin is his mouth, but he was doing it and seemed to disregard Jared’s concerns on the matter.

Jared couldn’t even complain about the results. He could already feel his own hardness sliding out from its protective sheath. His feather hairs had thankfully remained intact during his severe molting, apparently deciding they were more hair than feather, and they tickled at him as his borrowed sweatpants kept his cock from jutting out like it wanted to do.

“Jensen,” he gasped out as he tried to push his mate’s leg off his hip so that he could rid himself of the annoying clothing.

“Wanna get naked with me, Jay?” Jensen purred as he ground his erection against Jared.

“Yeah,” Jared moaned back, not caring that he wasn’t responding the teasing tone with a witty rejoinder of his own.

If Jensen minded, he didn’t mention it. He withdrew his leg, and Jared wasted no time rolling out of the bed to rid himself of both his shirt and pants. When he turned around to get back on the bed, Jensen was already sprawled out on top of the covers. His underwear was sitting in a tiny heap on the floor, and he was trailing teasing fingers over his erection.

Jared couldn’t speak for a moment, but the additional rush of blood southward made his groin ache with want.

He was knocked out of his stupor by a bottle of lube slapping against his chest.

“Get over here and make yourself useful,” Jensen said as he rolled over onto his front and wiggled his bottom provocatively.

Jared obeyed. Settling himself over the backs of Jensen’s thighs, he ran a gentle finger down Jensen’s crevice and was thrilled at the shiver that his mate gave. The tip of said finger caught ever so slightly against the rim of Jensen’s hole, and Jared suppressed a moan at how easily the little opening flared and relaxed for him.

He knew it was simple biochemistry of his own body oils reacting with a compatible human’s, but Jared had always been too fond of romance books for his own good. He liked to view it as his mate accepting him and eagerly encouraging his entrance.

From the sounds that Jensen was making, his fool notions weren’t that far off. Impatience seemed to run in Jensen’s blood though, so Jared didn’t waste time coating his fingers with lube and stretching his mate properly. The last thing he wanted was to get yelled at for not moving fast enough.

“Condom,” he gasped as soon as Jensen was sufficiently stretched, his own excitement making him breathless. When Jensen reached behind to hand the packet to him, Jared leaned forward to press a kiss against Jensen’s back. It was nothing more than a soft caress of lips, but he placed it exactly where Jensen’s wing gap would be were he a seraph. It was sentimental, but Jared figured he was allowed.

Hastily, he tore into the condom and rolled it on, slicking lube over in generously to lessen the chance of hurting his mate with their coupling. Now that he had Jensen back, he had no desire to harm him. He’d learned his lesson well enough about how they could injure each other, and he wanted no part of it.

Someday, hopefully someday soon, they would make love without a barrier between them. Jared would be able to get as close as physically possible to his mate without them truly becoming one.

“Jared, move,” Jensen whined.

Jared rolled his hips with a sigh. He was going to have to teach his mate about the pleasures of slow lovemaking at some point as well, but today wasn’t going to be that day either. He obliged his mate with harder, faster thrusts, and the eager response that Jensen gave was exhilarating. They were both headed towards the finish line when Jared’s push in went a little off.

Instinctively, he flared his wings out to balance himself, but they only thwapped uselessly against the backs of his arms. The combination of no feathers and abnormal weighting caused him to pitch forward and slam his whole body down onto his mate in a not so sexy way.

“Goddamn it, Jared!” Jensen yelled into the pillow his face was currently mashed in.

“Sorry, sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” Jared babbled as he pulled out and rolled to the side. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

“Your awkward clumsiness is officially no longer endearing,” Jensen told him as he gingerly rolled to his side to face Jared.

“I’m sorry,” Jared said again.

“I get that.”

“It’s just my wings. I’m all unbalanced, and I can’t do anything right anymore,” Jared told him.

Pity crawled onto Jensen’s face, and Jared had to look away.

“Hey,” the word came tenderly out of Jensen’s mouth as his hand reached up to cup Jared’s face and turn it back to him. “It’s going to be fine. They’ll grow back. Until then it’s just like having a cast, right? You’ve lost some mobility, and we’ll have to work around it.”

Jared shrugged. “I guess.”

“Look, if they don’t come back in, I’m dragging you to a clinic. So I obviously don’t think that this is your fault because I’d be yelling at you otherwise,” Jensen reasoned.

“You were just yelling at me,” Jared pointed out.

“Because I didn’t know any better, and my boyfriend just flattened me in the middle of sex,” Jensen argued.

Jared had to concede that point even though it rankled him that his mate was back to calling him his ‘boyfriend’ instead of his mate. “They’re not going to grow back in with you know. My mating feathers won’t come in again for a long while.”

Jensen smiled at him. “I know. That much you tight lipped bastards actually have shared with the rest of the world. Just don’t expect me to help you out with any wing painting. I was so failing that class.”

“Your transcript says otherwise.”

“My transcript is the result of ham-fisted bargaining,” Jensen corrected him.

“You really don’t mind that I won’t, you know…” Jared made a vague hand gesture.

“I’m really hoping that ‘you know’ does not mean that you’re going to cut me off from sex until your feathers grow back,” Jensen commented drily.

“I meant that my colors are going to be drab. They aren’t going to declare our status and what you mean to me,” Jared told him. “And I’m so not getting back up on top of you. I won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not a seraph, Jared. I don’t need you to have fancy feathers, and I’m more than good with you not drawing attention to us. Also? There are a lot of different ways to have sex. I, for instance, have a fully functioning dick of my own. There are also people in the world called cowboys, and there is that fun one where we lay on our sides and spoon fuck.”

Jared’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Dude, don’t say ‘spoon fuck’ that just makes a bad mental image. Like you want me to shove silverware up there or something.”

Jensen snorted and shoved at Jared’s shoulder. “Well get used to it because we’re doing it as soon as I go make coffee, and we both brush our teeth. I aim to have reunion sex today, and you’re not foiling my plans.”

“You’re kind of chipper for it being morning, especially with the way you were feeling last night,” Jared mentioned.

Jensen grabbed his glasses off the nightstand before rolling out of bed. He pulled his underwear back on over his still slightly hard penis before turning around to answer Jared. “You were practically helpless last night, you know? I guess I just… you never seemed fragile before, but here you were a featherless, shivering mess.”

“Thanks,” Jared said sarcastically.

Jensen blushed and shook his head. “I just meant that I was deceived about the academy, and you were part of that. But last night was my choice. I didn’t have to let you stay overnight. I could’ve called you a cab. I could’ve made you sleep on the floor, but I chose to let you stay with me. It was my choice to hold you, and if you’re my choice, then you’re my choice, right?”

“That’s really confusing, Jensen. But that’s okay, because I love you and know that you haven’t had your coffee yet.”

“Oh God, you’re an ass when you don’t get to come,” Jensen complained as he walked over to pick his sweatshirt off the back of the armchair that it had fallen on when Jared tossed it off in his haste to get naked. He pulled it on over his head and padded barefoot into his kitchen.

“I’m the ass that has real coffee back at the nest and lots of lube for frisky lovemaking involving cutlery,” Jared corrected as he followed Jensen into the kitchen.

“Not cutlery, spooning. Don’t you dare tell me that you’ve got a knife fet…” Jensen stopped his sentence as his eyes landed on Jared’s body. “You’re naked in my kitchen.”

“Your kitchen is two steps from your bathroom. You don’t get to judge,” Jared rebutted as he walked around his mate to open the refrigerator door.

“I’m going to need coffee for this,” Jensen muttered.

Jared kept his mouth shut. He had a feeling that Jensen was going to need coffee for their entire relationship.

He was kind of okay with that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So tell me again how you went from calling me in a panic, begging me to get you out of Dodge to begging me to come move you into your little love nest?” Chris asked as he lugged a box of Jensen’s books up the stairs.

The elevator was broken, but Jensen had the feeling that Mr. Nelson was actually playing around with the mechanics of it. Bigoted old bastard that he was, he unfortunately was a repairman with an excellent reputation. If he could fix it, he sure would know how to break it.

“For the last time, it’s just a nest, okay?” Jensen corrected his friend.

“Right. A nest. That you spend all your time fucking your angel winged boyfriend in,” Chris drawled sarcastically.

“You’re hopeless,” Jensen grunted as he pushed the front door open. It squeaked on its hinges as it moved.

“You and your boy need to start taking the stairs sometimes. Or at least oil the damn thing,” Chris told him as he shoved his way past.

“I’ll be sure to mention it to Jared,” Jensen told him.

“Mention what to Jared?” Jared asked as he magically appeared.

“Where the fuck did you come from?” Chris swore as he dropped the box he was carrying.

“School? I was just heading over there to pick up my books for the semester,” Jared explained as he plucked a rather cumbersome looking book bag up off the floor.

“Yeah but… Oh, right, the window,” Chris said as he bent over to pick up his load again.

“Patio door,” Jensen corrected him for the fiftieth time.

“Jen, if it doesn’t have stairs or a hallway attached to it? It’s a window,” Chris argued.

Jensen sent an apologetic look in Jared’s direction, trying his best to say, ‘Forgive him. He’s a redneck,’ without words.

Jared smiled at him and leaned in to plant a kiss on his cheek. Chris made choking noises in the background when Jensen turned his head and gave him a kiss back on his lips.

“I stopped by the academy today,” Jared whispered as he pulled a brochure out of his back pocket.

“Yeah?” Jensen asked, his posture tensing despite his best efforts.

“They put a new clause in. ‘All prospective students should be aware that unmated seraphs will be in attendance at the school. As such you may be approached in courtship displays and should be prepared for this eventuality. We are an equal opportunity school and encourage human-seraph interaction to its fullest extent.’” Jared quoted.

“So, ‘Warning, you might get booty called?’” Chris commented.

“He’s almost as bad as Chad,” Jared said with a roll of his eyes.

“I don’t think he has ever actually blackmailed anybody,” Jensen replied.

“Damn straight I haven’t. Ass kicking, now that I’ve done. So what’s the big deal with the whole ‘might get hit on’ clause?” Chris asked.

“It’s nothing,” Jensen told him with a shrug. He didn’t agree with their tactics, but that didn’t mean that he was going to expose Jared to the scrutiny that would come with a full reveal.

The clause was the first step towards bringing the seraphs closer to sharing themselves more fully with the human world, and it was Jared’s petition on his mate’s behalf that had even brought about that small change. It wasn’t much, but Jensen had years of his life to fight that battle.

“Right,” Chris said skeptically, giving both Jensen and Jared the hairy eyeball.

“So, who is in the mood for pizza?” Jared asked.

“Ugh, you just had to pick up a college boy, didn’t you?” Chris complained.

“Yeah, yeah I did,” Jensen agreed as he smiled fondly at Jared.

Chris made another, louder gagging noise before he stomped off to the living room to drop the moving box in its assigned delivery spot.

“Try not to burn it this time, okay?” Jensen told his mate once his friend was out of earshot.

Jared’s face flamed red. “I’m getting takeout, don’t worry. And it’s not my fault that I got the lamest power ever. Fucking controlling fire and heat is nowhere near as cool as the comic books make it look.”

“Neither is wearing spandex,” Jensen pointed out, “but at least you can light candles? Think of all the money we’ll save on matches over the years. And if we ever move somewhere cold, and you manage that trick of heating stuff without setting it on fire, we’ll save tons of money on heating bills.”

“You’re so supportive,” Jared drawled.

“I know, but it’s your own damn fault for mating with me,” Jensen retorted.

Jared grinned at him.

“Are you going to get that look on your face every time I say the M-word?” Jensen asked.

“Just be glad you didn’t say nesting, or I’d have to let Chris know what a real concert sounds like,” Jared threatened.

Jensen made his own fake gagging noise. “God, you get your feathers back, and your libido skyrockets. I feel like I’m living with a nymph not a seraph.”

“You know you love it,” Jared dismissed.

“Just for that, I’m making you come to Sunday dinner with me and sit there while I explain to my parents that I’ve moved in with my college aged boyfriend who happens to be an entirely different species from me.”

“Mate,” Jared corrected as he moved in closer.

Jensen leaned up and pressed a kiss against his jaw. “Yeah, mate.”