Two men faced each other in the gloom of a room shuttered against afternoon sun, one relaxed on the sofa, the other cheeking the edge of the desk. Sounds of a party outdoors, laughter of children and adults, the splash of someone jumping into the pool, and the hum and babble of conversation filtered through the closed windows.
"I thought... I thought you'd adjusted, Jared. I thought you'd reconciled to the fact that though your life had changed, it could still be a good life. I thought you'd accepted your place as an omega--as my omega, and accepted me as your alpha.
"You've--you've been so docile, and quiet, and submissive, such a classic, good omega. I thought you'd learned to love who you are now, love our life together--our children. Has it all been a sham, from the very beginning? Has none of it been true?"
He waited, leaving the way open for Jared to speak, without fear of repercussions or punishment, for whatever he might say. "Tell me the truth."
Those multicolor eyes met his for an instant, and Jensen realized he had really quite rarely seen them in the years he'd been Jared's alpha. Jared...mostly didn't look up. He never met anyone's eyes, glancing off to the side, or letting his gaze wander into the distance. Even now, that clear gaze flickered up to meet Jensen's, and quickly away, focusing on some point Jensen wasn't even sure existed.
"There was some time," Jared began, his voice low and steady. "At the beginning, when I fought the reality, when I struggled to find a way to make it--not true. But when it finally became inescapable that I had lost everything, that I would spend the rest of my life...on my knees, as a fucktoy, a brood sow, with all agency, identity, and possibility ripped away from me, suicide was the shining way out, something I craved, something I planned for. I would have welcomed a random bullet, or a speeding car, even the indignity of a lump of food lodged in my throat. Just--out. Ended, gone, still me, so that I wouldn't have to adapt and change, so that I wouldn't become less than myself, so that I wouldn't eventually welcome it and...enjoy being--that.
"So yeah, I courted death, I took every risk I could think of, I concealed weapons wherever I could, waiting for you to look away long enough for an attempt to succeed, because I didn't want to be caught before it was too late, brought back, and watched closely to prevent a repeat attempt. I wanted to succeed, first time.
"But then, as the changes kept happening, no matter how I panicked trying to stop them, a sort of placidity overtook me, too. I still wanted my death, an end to having to live this pathetic, reduced existance, but my thoughts weren't strong enough to overpower the physical needs and desires that were becoming the essence of who I was now. I could close my eyes and dream of a knife's edge and the keen cold steel parting my skin, muscles, veins, of hot wet blood spilling from the gaping wound and running down to cover me in red. But my hand wouldn't grasp the haft, my arm had no strength to lift it, and if I succeeded in bringing the edge to my skin, my weak and silly emotions were afraid of the momentary pain, and I couldn't make the stroke. Dropped the knife, forgot the bottle of cleaning fluid. You'd walk into the room and your scent would wash over me like a tide, and urgent want and need would put me at your feet.
"So because I couldn't go through with it, I didn't die by my own hand. I didn't fling myself in front of a bus because you always had me by the arm, those rare times when we were out in public, I didn't jump from a tall building because there was no reason for you to take me to such a place. And I didn't drown, because someone was always watching at the lake or at the pool. So I lived.
But I couldn't accept it. I couldn't live the way I was expected to, I couldn't adapt and change and become an omega, and still keep any part of myself. So I went away, as much as I could. I did what I was told, I kept my head down, I followed orders, and everybody was satisfied and as long as they were, they left me alone. Everybody was happy with how well you managed me and my transition, how well suited I became as your mate, how I gave you everything you wanted, how I never argued back, or challenged your ideas, or made an independent suggestion. I did what I was told, I satisfied your demands, and your desires. I figured out how to do that with the smallest part of myself necessary, and the rest of me was free to go away in my head. I'd be there still if it wasn't for the last couple of days. And once all the excitement has died down, and your folks have gone home, and mine, reassured that you're fine, that I'm fine, we're fine together, I'll go back there.
"Don't look so aghast, Jensen. You got what you wanted--everything you wanted. You can't be upset about this--this last one single thing I have that you don't control or have access to. It's mine, it's all I have, and I'm not giving it up."
Jensen shifted, finding a more comfortable position. "But--Jared. We're a pair, a mated, bonded pair--we share everything--you have what I give you, and you know, Jared, I give you everything. Love, sex, a beautiful house, children, servants, whatever you ask for--" His eyes widened, his eyebrows rose.
"And you don't, do you? You haven't from the beginning--you never ask for anything."
He searched for Jared's gaze, and Jared met his eyes for a single second before looking away again. In that instant he saw the alpha Jared had been, triumphant, free, his own man. "You've just...accepted what I've offered, when I offered it. When I give you choices, you hesitate long enough that I wind up chosing for you. You've never asked for anything from me, you've never expressed a preference. It's always been...just me, hasn't it?"
Jared continued staring enigmatically ahead, and perhaps Jensen only imagined the fleeting trace of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.
"And the kids?" Jensen pressed. Surely Jared had wanted their kids--loved them, cared for them. He'd never neglected them, much less done any of them harm.
But, he began to answer his own question, thinking back. From the first, Jared had laid the swaddled bundle close to him on the bed, rather than holding their infant in his arms. As Jensen tried to find instances of devotion and affection, what he found instead was that Jared had attended to the children's physical needs: feeding, burping, changing, making sure they had clean clothes and adequate food, providing toys that properly stimulated their development, always being nearby in case of mishap, caring for small bumps and bruises, insuring each child had their checkups and immunizations on schedule, ordering clothes as they grew, and providing a safe, stimulating, secure environment.
What he did not recall, now as Jared's clear gaze settled on him, watching him sort through his memories, was Jared actually playing with any of the children. Snuggling them close, tickling them, making them laugh, chasing them, or showing any overt affection at all. He had been present when Jensen and their siblings had charged all over the nursery, the house, the yard outside, chasing and laughing and playing. But thinking back, Jensen saw Jared standing or sitting to the side of every gathering, watching the merriment--never joining in. Scooping up a stinky baby for a diaper change, or wiping a bloody chin after a spill. But it was Jensen, or a nanny, or an uncle or aunt, who had rocked the child and crooned to him or her to ease the pain and distract from it.
"It's always been--duty, hasn't it, Jared?" Jensen asked now, his eyes wide open. "Your job, to tend the children. You...never actually cared about them? You've never...loved...them?"
Jared's gaze wandered away again, his expression imperturbable. "They're your children, Jensen. My job is to care for them, see that they're healthy, that no harm comes to them."
"They're yours too!"
"Only biologically. Only genetically. Legally, they've always been yours, and yours alone. Your investment in the future, your heirs." The hazel eyes met his briefly with the intensity of a laser. "They're only mine as the vessel that grew them and deposited them here, for you, and for your family."
"And your family." His retort was quick, if not entirely accurate.
"Not so much. Annie's kids, Rafer's, are my family's future--offspring of Padalecki alphas. My genes aren't valuable."
"But they are! They made our kids possible-- You can't tell me you've spent all this time--invested all this attention, so much of yourself, in our kids, and they don't matter to you? That's--that's not possible."
Jared's gaze wandered. He shrugged, and made no other answer.
Jensen was silent as he pondered this new concept of what Jared's life had been, for Jared. Eventually, he asked, "What about us?"
"What are you asking?"
"Your heats--you want me, you beg me. You can't tell me you don't love me, Jared. The evidence proves otherwise."
Jared gave it a minute, a smile stretching his lips before he spoke. "It's all hormones, Jensen. You know what I'm like in heat. Well, from in here, it's tenfold. I'd profess dying adulation to anybody who had a knot, willing to stick it in me. The fact that I reject everybody but you is the failsafe nature provided to mates--scent. You smell like salvation and I have no choice but to prostrate myself and beg for relief. It's really nothing personal. Had anybody else taken me down, I'd have been a slave to their scent, just the same."
"But, surely, as we've gotten to know each other--as you've gotten to know me, you know I love you! I'd do anything for you, you know that!"
"I do know that. I just don't care."
Seeing Jensen's devastated expression, some twinge of sympathy softened Jared's features. "I'm sorry, I don't really mean to hurt you. But you did ask for the truth."
Jensen took a few minutes to breathe through his reactions to all he'd just heard, blinking away a few traitorous tears that threatened to fall. Finally, he needed to know. "Jared, if I could do anything to make you happy--anything, if you had magic wishes, whether it's possible or not, what would it be?"
The smile played around the omega's mouth again, and he gave a little sigh.
"Of course it's tempting to go back in time and avoid being taken down and turned. That would be my first choice."
Jensen nodded. Of course. He'd had no idea, but it was clear Jared still felt that way, after all this time. "And your second choice?"
"I don't think there is one. I'm an omega, and everything that comes with that. There's no going back, no regaining my independence, living alone, fucking whoever caught my fancy, driving, traveling on my own anytime I felt like it, owning my own shit. Even if you 'let me go,' let me live on my own, somehow, there's the heats--I need a knot, more, I need you. It's the nature of the beast, and as far as I know, there's no cure, no alternative. So we're stuck, huh?" He looked up and met Jensen's gaze with a wry smile. "No takebacks. There're two possibilities: you know me, now, so maybe you decide to kick me to the curb. I go off and try to get by as an unmated omega--difficult, with no job, no car, no money, no house, and no support if other alphas try to take me. Or we go on the way we have been--you're happy, our families are happy, the kids are healthy and pretty darn happy, too. You get what you want, and so does everybody else."
"But not you."
Jared shrugged again. "There's no cure for this, Jensen. Nothing's going to change for me. But at least this way, you know...the good of the many...."
"Dammit, I love you, Jared! Don't you know that? I want you to be happy too!"
"You don't even know me, Jensen, you never have." He huffed a raw-edged little chuckle. "You just want me to be happy with the way things are, so you don't have to feel guilty." The hazel gaze was sharp as it pinned him. "Right?"
A long-missing dimple appeared in his cheek, and the grin twisted into something painful. "Can't always get what you want, Jensen."
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