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Fate Is a Traveler

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-1-

There had been a chill in the morning air that told Jensen fall was approaching. He’d put on wool socks that morning with his boots and thought about getting out his wool kilts instead of linen. Decided it could wait a few more weeks. The weather was just as likely to stay warm as turn cool this time of year.

Still, he’d thrown on a jacket over his shirt before going into the woods behind his cottage to check the rabbit snares he’d set the previous day. Fallen leaves crunched beneath the soles of his boots. The sun was warm on the nape of his neck, but a cool breeze swept around his knees. He found a rabbit under the second trap, wrung its neck and field dressed it before returning to the cottage. He put the meat into a bowl of salt water and went to collect the last of the late summer corn. It had been a lovely summer. The harvest was bountiful, but it looked as though fall was coming early.

When he returned, he threw the rabbit into a pot with turnips, onions, carrots and herbs and set it simmering before going out to the porch to shuck the corn. He sat on the steps and threw the corn husks into a basket at his feet. From his vantage point, he could see much of the small village. His modest cottage sat apart from the circle of others with its back up against the woods.

It was appropriate, he thought. He was apart from the village – an omega in a world of alphas and betas. His kind were rare and allowed to be a part of the village only for the service they provided, which was to relieve the sexual needs of the alphas when their betas were busy, tired, ill, or just not much in the mood. In return, he got the protection and support of the group.

The betas weren’t jealous of him because no alpha would leave their beta for an omega, and the alphas treated him as they would their oxen or mules or hunting dogs. He was a useful creature, nothing more.

He’d had a great uncle who was an omega, and Jensen was moved to his cottage – the one he still lived in – when his omega nature became evident at the age of twelve. His mother had hugged him to her bosom as she wept. Over her shoulder, he could see his father slumped over a cup of whiskey at the table. He didn’t look up as Uncle Seb drew Jensen away.

“Come along, sweetheart,” Uncle Seb said. “We’ll have peppermint tea and cinnamon buns.”

Jensen followed him into the darkness. It had been fall, and the harvest moon was rising above the tree line. Jensen clutched his small bundle of belongings to his chest. He’d never been to his uncle’s cottage. Children weren’t allowed at the omega’s house. That much Jensen knew. He was confused as to why that had changed when his body began behaving oddly.

“Uncle Seb?”

“Yes, darling boy?”

Jensen bit his lip and shuffled his boots in the dirt as he followed the taller man. His uncle put a reassuring hand on Jensen’s back.

“What did I do?” Jensen asked.

“Do?” Seb came to a halt before the porch and turned toward Jensen. He sat down on the steps in the silvery moonlight and drew Jensen down beside him. “Darling, you didn’t do anything. It’s what you are. Your body is changing, no?”

Jensen thought of the nights he’d awakened with slick in the crease of his ass and the need to touch, to bury his fingers in the silky heat of his body, swallowing the sounds in his throat as his body desperately sought release. He flushed with shame at his mother’s reaction to the stained linens and his father’s disappointment. He nodded but couldn’t answer his uncle’s question.

“Did your mother talk to you about this?” Seb asked.

Jensen shook his head. His parents had talked to one another in hushed voices for two days. His mother asked him questions off and on about how he was feeling, but she hadn’t explained anything. He was afraid of his parents’ unusual seriousness and silence, and he didn’t ask questions.

Seb sighed. “Mon dieu,” he said. He smoothed a hand over Jensen’s hair and his palm came to rest cupping Jensen’s cheek. “Didn’t they tell you? You are an omega, child.”

Jensen didn’t breathe for the moment it took to sink in, and then he burst into tears. The words were a confirmation of his worst fears, his world coming to an end. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he knew that he was something so horrible that even his family didn’t want him.

Seb hugged Jensen to his chest. “Sh, it isn’t as bad as all that,” he murmured. “It’s true you won’t have a family of your own, but you’ll never be alone for long. You’ll always have company. You’ll provide a service, and the alphas will protect you.”

Seb rocked him until his sobs quieted. “Come, let’s go inside, and I’ll answer any questions you have, hm?”

Unlike betas, omegas didn’t have a monthly heat cycle, Seb had explained. He had only gone into heat twice in his life, and he’d failed to conceive both times despite frequently copulating with numerous village men. Seb had laughed. “If you ever go into heat, you can count on being exhausted because it will drive every male in the village crazy – and you. You won’t be able to get enough of it.”

Some said that finding the right mate would cause an omega to have regular heats and increase their fertility, but Seb said that was just a myth. It had never happened to him, and he’d never heard of it happening in surrounding villages. All Jensen understood at the time was that he wasn’t a boy like his brother, and he’d never be a man like his father. He was something rare and special, Seb said.

Seb had taken away Jensen’s trousers and made kilts for him. He had to be available to any alpha of the village at any time. It was his duty in exchange for their protection and the privilege to be included in the village. Each alpha had a beta; all the alphas had him. When Jensen sulked, Seb reminded him that they were lucky to live in the village. The alphas valued them and were rarely abusive. It was in the best interest of all the alphas to keep the omegas healthy and fit.

Jensen had grown tall and strong, and few alphas were more aggressive than rough sex and verbal abuse. Jensen had grown to not care. His life was what it was – mostly solitary. He’d lived with Seb for four years, watching and learning how to service the alphas. A dozen years ago, Seb had died from a severe bout with the flu during the depth of winter. Since then, Jensen spent his evenings alone in his cottage unless serving his duty for the alphas.

~~~

He was just cleaning up the dishes from canning corn and eating dinner when a knock came at the door.

He dried his hands and swung the door open. On the porch was a man in his thirties with a rough beard and sparkling brown eyes.

“Jeffrey,” Jensen said. He allowed the man to pass and hung a red wreath on the outside of the door to indicate he had company before closing it.

“Jensen.” The man was already had his trousers open and his cock out. He turned Jensen around and pulled his kilt up before bending him over the table.

“We could use the bed,” Jensen said.

“Gotta make this quick,” Jeffrey said. “Dinner with the in-laws. Could go on late.” He lined up his cock with Jensen’s hole and shoved in. Jensen grabbed the edge of the table and winced. He wasn’t the least bit aroused and Jeffrey’s cock was dry. Jensen heard the man grunt. His hand came down on Jensen’s ass with a crack. “Shit, you’re supposed to be ready.”

“I wasn’t …”

“Stay there,” Jeffrey said. He pulled his cock out and grabbed the olive oil off the shelf. Jensen put his forehead down on the scarred wood of the table and took a deep breath. A moment later, Jeffrey pushed back in, the way sufficiently slicked to prevent pain. He set up a pounding pace that brought two legs of the table off the floor with each thrust only to bang back down as he withdrew. Jensen just hoped the man had enough control to not send them crashing over in a pile of smashed wood. It wouldn’t be the first piece of furniture he’d lost to an overzealous alpha.

Jensen still wasn’t aroused. His cock swung limp between his legs as Jeffrey continued grunting and thrusting. It didn’t take long for his knot to begin to swell. He was fairly predictable, one, two, three, knotted, Jensen thought. Jeffrey pulled Jensen off the table and went to his knees with Jensen on his lap.

The man had his arms loosely around Jensen’s waist and panted against the back of neck as he continued to roll his hips. Fluid ran from Jensen’s flaccid cock with each movement. It was a disconcerting feeling, both pleasurable and humiliating. This was the price he paid to be a part of the community.

He envied the alphas. It wasn’t as though he didn’t want to stick his cock in someone and fuck them like an alpha, and he envied the betas with their mates and their children. Some cruel twist of fate had made him both but unable to live as either.

Luckily, Jeffrey never knotted long. His cock slipped free, and he moved Jensen off his lap.

“We’re lucky to have you,” Jeffrey said. “You know, that omega over in Bardston? I heard his ass is as loose gambler’s purse. That’s a shame.” With that, the older man slipped out the door.

Jensen knew what he meant. The village of Bardston was protecting and helping support an omega who was inadequate in the minds of the alphas. He felt for that omega. He’d heard stories of omegas being ill-used and then turned out of the village.

He pulled himself to his feet and washed before taking the wreath off the door.

~~~

“Oh my gods, you feel good,” Matt groaned as he pushed into Jensen not more than an hour later. Jensen winced at the sting from the dry entrance Jeffrey had attempted earlier.

Matt was a nice enough guy—the same age as Jensen but married with two kids and another on the way. His beta was nearing the end of her third pregnancy and on bed rest, so Matt had been coming by every couple of days. Unlike Jeffrey, he’d undressed as Jensen had, and he’d pulled Jensen down on the bed. They were on their sides with Matt fitted to the curve of his back and thrusting lazily into him. His hand loosely grasped Jensen’s hip, holding him in place.

Jensen’s cock was half hard when Matt’s knot swelled and caught inside him. Matt’s body bowed around him, and his hand tightened momentarily on Jensen’s hip before sliding around to grasp his cock. He stroked Jensen till he was fully hard and leaking while rutting into him. Jensen let go. He allowed himself to enjoy it. He didn’t pretend it was anything but what it was though—nothing but physical release. Quid pro quo. He bit back a cry as hot, slick fell across Matt’s hand and the sheets.

“I like you, you know, Jensen,” Matt whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asked, and for a moment, he didn’t think Matt was going to answer.

“When we were kids, we were friends,” Matt said. “I just, I wish …”

“Aye me too.”

~~~

The weather had taken a cooler turn, and he’d needed a jacket while picking the last of the fall grapes in the woods. There were two teenage alphas on his front porch when he returned with a full pail. Adam was just sixteen, the age when alphas were first allowed to come to him for service. He looked expectant; cock already hard in his trousers as he sat with his elbows on his knees. Michael, at almost a year older, didn’t have his friend’s air of entitlement as he lounged casually in the chair by the door.

Jensen had known them since they were babies. This was the reason he no longer behaved as an uncle to the boys of the village. Someday he’d find them waiting at his house to fuck him.

Adam was on his feet before Jensen had a chance to climb the steps.

“Guys,” he said as he passed them and entered the cottage. Adam followed first, but as Michael tried to enter, Jensen put his hand on the boy’s chest and barred his entrance. “You know the rules. Wait your turn.”

“He just wants to watch,” Adam said.

“No,” Jensen said. Michael backed up.

“S’okay. I’ll wait,” Michael said with a shrug. Jensen wasn’t surprised since that was the closest Michael had ever come to entering his cottage.

Jensen set the pail of grapes beside the sink and rinsed his hands. When he turned around, he saw that Adam already had his fly down and his dick in his hand. Jensen leaned over the table and flipped his kilt up. “Have at it,” he said.

“No.”

Jensen looked back over his should and raised an eyebrow. “No?”

The kid stood there with his cock in his hand, stroking it. “I want you to use your mouth.”

Jensen wasn’t surprised. That’s how Adam’s father liked it. He must have told his son. “Look, why don’t you just fuck me and be happy you’re getting some.” Jensen surprised himself with the words and the tone, but he was so aggravated by the kid and his dad.

“Why don’t you do your job, freeloader.”

Jensen shoved down his anger and stood up. “Fine.” He sat down on the edge the bed and motioned to the teen. “Come here.”

“No, on your knees.”

Jensen slid off the edge of the bed, but before his knees hit the floor, the kid was there shoving his cock between Jensen’s lips and into his throat. Jensen gagged and his eyes watered.

“I know, it’s a lot, right?” Adam said with a grin.

It wasn’t a lot. It was average, but Jensen had been unprepared. The kid’s fingers tightened in his hair as he fucked into his mouth. Jensen concentrated on keeping his lips over his teeth and breathing. If the bastard thought he was going to knot Jensen’s mouth, he had another thing coming.

Jensen wrapped his hand around the base of the kid’s dick where the knot was beginning to swell. He massaged it, and the kid groaned. He worked his hips harder trying to get his knot into Jensen’s mouth, but Jensen squeezed tighter knowing the kid was going to come so hard his knees would give out. Sure, enough shortly after the boy cried out and nearly drowned Jensen in jizz, he collapsed practically on his lap.

“Fuck,” Adam moaned and rolled onto his side.

“Yep,” Jensen said and rose. He went to the sink to rinse his mouth out and wash his face. By the time he turned around, Adam was headed for the door. Jensen followed him. As Adam started down the steps, Michael made to follow him.

“Michael,” Jensen called.

The boy looked back. “Yeah?”

“You’re turn, kid. Come on,” Jensen said. A shy, quiet kid, Michael had never made use of his services.

Michael approached the door, and his brows knitted when he got close. “Did he hurt you?”

Jensen knew his eyes must be red and watery, his face flushed, lips bruised. He shook his head. “No, he just made me mad,” he said quietly. He took Michael’s wrist and pulled him into the cottage. He got a glimpse of Adam standing a few feet from the porch looking back with surprise. Jensen smiled to himself. He hung the wreath on the door and closed it.

He maneuvered Michael to the bed and began undressing him. If he was going to help the kid lose his virginity … Wait, was he?

“Have you done this before? With anyone? Got a girlfriend?”

Michael licked his lips. “I … no, I mean, Sophie and I have kissed and, but no, not, no.” His fingers fumbled with his belt, and Jensen pushed his shirt off his shoulders.

So, aye he was going to help the kid lose his virginity, and he was going to do it right … in bed, not bent over the table, not on his knees on the floor.

The kid was tall and lean. He hadn’t developed much muscle yet, but he would. He’d have a beautiful body even if his face was kind of plain. Jensen pushed the boy’s pants down, and his cock looked disproportionately large compared to his slender frame. Jensen liked it – the thick shaft and slight curve. It was going to feel good. He was going to make it good.

“Lie down,” he urged. The kid stretched out on his back and watched Jensen pull off his own shirt and let the kilt drop to the floor. He straddled the boy’s legs and stroked his cock. It was so hot and hard in his hand. He felt his hole ooze slick. It was like this sometimes, and he relished those moments when he wanted it, when he knew it would feel good. He was giving something to Michael that he’d appreciate and not just take for granted.

Jensen rose up and moved forward. “Ready?” he asked as he lined the head of the kid’s cock up with his hole. Michael’s eyes were wide as he nodded. Jensen pressed the head into himself, feeling the opening stretch around the thick flesh. Michael’s eye lashes fluttered as Jensen sank onto him.

“Holy fuck,” the boy gasped.

“Aye” Jensen said.

The kid didn’t know what to do with his hands. He clutched at Jensen’s thighs; then arms before settling on fisting the sheets as Jensen began to ride him. Jensen adjusted his hips so that the head of Michael’s cock rubbed over his prostate with each movement. His own dick was hard and drooling. It slapped against his belly as he bobbed up and down. The knot began to swell, popping in and out of Jensen’s body.

“Oh!” Michael cried out. “Oh, fuck! Oh!”

Jensen dropped down hard, forcing the knot past the rings of muscle one last time, and then he squeezed around it. Michael’s shoulders came up off the bed and his feet kicked. Jensen could feel the force of the ejaculate spurting into him. He rocked his hips and came in ropey jets across the Michael’s belly and chest. The kid flopped back onto the mattress with his chest heaving. Still, his come flowed into Jensen.

He looked up at Jensen with droopy eyes and a goofy grin. “Wow, this is amazing.”

Jensen smiled back. “Aye it’s not half bad.”

~~~

The sun was less present, and the wind had gone from chill to bitter. Jensen switched to wool kilts and socks. The nights were longer and the mornings colder. He went out to blanket the last of carrots and turnips with straw from the coming cold. As he spread the golden mat of clippings over the corner of the garden where his root vegetables lay beneath the dark soil, the sun warmed him. He knew that the edges of his ears and his nose would be tinged pink from it.

He squatted at the end of the row to pull some carrots for dinner. He dug with is fingers into the damp earth around a carrot, grasped the faded green top and pulled.

“Yer a right good gardener,” a gravelly voice said behind him.

Jensen looked back and up at Old Jim. The alpha had gray whiskers and a bit of belly. Jensen knew that the man’s breath would reek of whiskey. He’d been a crack hunter in his time, but the loss of his beta had started him down the slippery slope of drunkenness years ago. About half of Old Jim’s visits were nothing more than talking and drinking, but Jensen could tell by the edge in his voice that this wasn’t one of those visits.

“Hold on a minute, Jim,” he said. “We’ll go in the house.”

“No need,” Jim said as he knelt behind Jensen. He pushed Jensen forward onto his hands and knees on the damp ground. “Sunny weather’s too good to waste, and no one’s around.”

It was true that the cottage blocked them from view of the rest of the village, but Jensen didn’t do this. He wasn’t a dog.

“No,” Jensen said as Jim flipped the kilt up off his ass. He started to rise but Jim’s hand pressed down on the small of his back, and he stilled. Easy as it had been to mouth off at Adam and Michael, resisting an old alpha was another matter.

“Hold still,” Jim said. Even as the words slurred in the alpha’s mouth, they stole Jensen’s will to fight—even worse, his hole twitched and oozed slick. Calloused fingers caressed his inner thigh and then spread him open. “Look at that, all ready for me, ain’t ya?”

Jensen couldn’t deny how right it felt as the thick meat of Jim’s cock filled him. He grabbed Jensen’s hips with both hands and began to pound into him. There was nothing skillful or considerate in Jim’s movements. This was fucking, animal copulation, and nothing more. Jensen planted his knees and hands a little more firmly. The harsh rasp of Jim’s breath and wet slap of skin was loud in the nearly silent afternoon. A bird chirped high above in a tree.

“Damn if you and your kind ain’t a blessing from the gods,” Jim gasped. “A man could go insane without ... sweet fucking hole. Like heaven.”

His fingers dug into Jensen’s hips as he banged away, and Jensen’s channel was tingling, tension building inside him. Even his cock was hard. He let his head drop, panting with the rising tide of pleasure. With the amount of liquor Jim consumed, it was taking his knot quite a while to swell. Many alphas in their declining years found it difficult to produce a knot or only a small one; not Jim, his knot was large enough to trigger Jensen’s muscles to clench around it.

Jim grunted and pressed in tight against Jensen whose muscles rhythmically milked the release from Jim’s cock. With the first hot gush of come, Jensen’s cock jerked, and back arching, shaking, he spilled his own release onto the straw beneath him. Jensen’s toes curled in his boots, and his fingers dug into the dirt. He bit his lip to keep from moaning aloud.

Jim chuckled. “Aye that’s it,” he said. “Pretty thing like you oughta get bred. It’s a shame.” Jim leaned his weight on Jensen’s back, and Jensen went to his elbows in the dirt. The rich dark smell of loamy soil filled his nose. “What I wouldn’t give to see you swell up with my seed,” Jim continued in the maudlin way he did when seriously drunk. His hand slipped beneath Jensen and caressed his belly. “I’d take care of you. Give you a home. Pretty babies filling up the house.”

Jim fell silent after that. Jensen’s back ached under Jim’s weight, and there was nothing but the sound of birds and the breeze rustling the few dry leaves left on the trees. Finally, Jim’s knot deflated enough to slip free, a torrent of hot fluid ran down Jensen’s thighs, and cooled on his skin. He rose to his feet, but Jim remained on his haunches, head down, cock hanging from the open fly of his trousers.

“Jim? You all right?”

The alpha didn’t look up, but Jensen could see that his cheeks were wet. “You go on in,” Jim said.

Jensen held his hand out to help the alpha to his feet. “Come on. You shouldn’t sit on that cold ground.”

Jim shook his head. “Don’t you worry yourself over an old drunk like me.”

Jensen sighed. “Jim ...”

“Leave me alone,” he snapped.

Jensen took a step back. The sun had gone behind the clouds, and bare branches rattled in the wind. Fluid still leaked from his lax hole and ran like a slug trail down his thighs. He felt hollow. “Fine,” he said and walked away.

~~~

As the sun burned off the morning fog, Jensen was beside the cottage hanging laundry on the line when his sister Molly came by. She was holding a roll of green and red tartan in her hands.

“Hey,” she said with a smile and a hug. “I made you a new kilt.”

“Thank you,” he said, taking it.

“Well, the weather’s getting cool,” she said.

“Aye” he said with a nod. “Would you like some tea?”

“Sure,” she said. “You make it, and I’ll finish hanging these few things up.”

“Deal,” he said.

By the time he had the tea made, she was sitting in one of the chairs on the porch. He handed her a mug and sat down.

“I haven’t seen you in a long while,” she said. “You should visit more often.”

He took a sip of tea. “Moll, I don’t belong with the family anymore.”

“Of course you do, Jensen,” she said. “You’re still my brother.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked away. How was he supposed to tell her that he couldn’t sit down to a meal with her family when her alpha comes to this very house to fuck him? How could she not know that?

“How are Mom and Dad?” he asked.

“They’re good,” she said. “Dad’s knees are bothering him, and Mom’s had a cold, but they’re fine really. Why don’t you come see them?”

He just shook his head.

“I … gods, Jensen, I can’t imagine what it was like for you to be sent away to Uncle Seb, but it’s just …”

“I know, it’s just how things are,” he said. “That’s why I don’t visit.”

“That’s different,” she insisted.

“It isn’t different. There are reasons for all the traditions.”

“Jensen!”

“Don’t, Molly.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t be so naïve.”

“Naïve?” Her mouth worked as though trying to formulate more.

“Yes, you … You have a 12-year-old son. In four years …” Tears stung his eyes, and he looked away.

“Oh,” she said softly.

They sat there in silence and drank their tea. They watched the children leave the little school and scatter to their homes, and men began to wander in from the fields or from the woods with braces of pheasant or rabbit. Molly set her mug down on the table between them.

“I better go get supper on the table,” she said.

“Aye” he said and rose when she did.

“Did you hear about the omega in Bardston?” she asked when she got to the edge of the porch.

“What?”

“He was shunned,” she said. “Turned out to fend for himself after they ruined him.”

His breath caught in his throat. “Why would you tell me that?”

She looked distressed then. “It’s just that … you are valued here, Jensen.”

He sucked his lips between his teeth.

“You are.”

“Aye” he said. “Thank you for the kilt.”

“You’re welcome.” She reached up and drew him down for a kiss on the cheek. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

 

 

-2-

Jensen adjusted the reflector on the oil lamp to better direct light onto the sock he was darning. It was getting late, and he was surprised that he hadn’t had any alpha visitors. What with Matt’s beta being a new mother, Jeffrey constantly fighting with his beta, the string of horny teenage boys, and random other alphas in need, he had visitors every night.

He set his mending down and rubbed his eyes. He had socks for the morning. That was enough for one night. He collected his supplies and put them in the sewing basket, and put his mug in the sink. He was contemplating the risk of trying to turn in early when there was a knock on the door.

He sighed and opened it. Jeffrey stood just outside and a taller figure loomed behind him in the shadows. The moon hung like ripe fruit over his shoulder.

“Jensen, we have a visitor,” Jeffrey said. Jensen could smell the whiskey on his breath. “Make him welcome.” The older man patted the figure on the shoulder as he departed. “Have fun. See you in the morning.”

Jensen’s mouth dropped open. Jeffrey expected him to let the guy spend the night? That didn’t happen. The village didn’t get many travelers, but he didn’t run an inn. Jensen couldn’t see the figure clearly, but he was taller than Jensen, broad shouldered, and slightly menacing standing there in the dark. Jeffrey expected him to take a complete stranger in, be fucked by him, and let him spend the night in his bed. His jaw clenched.

“Sorry, to put you out like this,” the traveler said as he stepped forward. He was caught in the light spilling from the doorway. He looked at Jensen through shaggy bangs and gave him a tentative smile. Maybe he wasn’t so menacing after all, Jensen thought. He let out a breath and stepped back.

“Come on in,” he said. As the guy moved farther into the light, Jensen could see that he was probably a couple years younger than Jensen himself. The alpha dipped his head as though trying to look less imposing. He had exotic fox-tilted eyes and little divots in his cheeks that might pop into dimples. Jensen felt a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“I’m Jensen,” he said. “And you?”

“Jared.”

“Jared, take your coat off.”

He shrugged his jacket off, and Jensen laid it across the chair. He could feel the heat coming off Jared’s body, and he smelled of wood smoke and the forest. Jensen started unbuttoning Jared’s shirt.

“We don’t get many visitors here,” Jensen said. Jared had beautiful eyes – gold and blue and green all mixing together.

“You’re very welcoming,” Jared said. He blushed. “I mean, the villagers are very friendly.”

“Aye,” Jensen replied, but his voice was strangely husky, his throat gone dry. Underlying the wood smoke and forest was something warm and spicy, and Jensen’s cock grew hard.

Jared’s nostrils flared and his pupils dilated. Jensen found himself pushed back against the table with enough force to make it skitter across the floor. Jared had one arm around his waist and the other hand cupping the back of his head as he pressed his face into the curve of Jensen’s neck. His breath was like that of a winded horse.

“My gods, you smell incredible,” he said. It was almost a moan, desperate and demanding. He pulled back enough to crush their mouths together.

Jensen felt a flash of panic before heat rushed through him like a brush fire. Jared’s mouth was wet and sweet and good. No one ever kissed Jensen, not like this, not at all. He clutched at Jared’s shirt, pulling him closer, rubbing himself against the larger man like a cat. Juices were oozing from his hole, slicking his crack, and a whine escaped his throat that would have been embarrassing if he hadn’t felt such an urgent need to get Jared’s knot in him.

“Fuck,” Jensen said as he broke the kiss and tried to push Jared away.

“Aye” Jared muttered as he spun Jensen around. His hand was huge and hot on Jensen’s ass.

“Please,” Jensen begged as he bent over the table. He thought he might actually be wiggling in invitation as he presented himself to the alpha. His skin felt as though it was on fire, and his hole twitched and ached to be filled. Precome was drooling from the slit of his cock. “Please.”

“Aye,” Jared huffed. He gripped Jensen’s hips and thrust into him. Jensen cried out with relief and let his forehead thump onto the table as Jared began to pound into him. With all the alphas he’d serviced, nothing, nothing had ever been like this. He’d never felt such overwhelming need and lust or satisfaction. It was as though this cock was made for him – it filled him completely, hit every nerve, eased every ache. He moaned and whimpered. It was mindless, the sounds sliding from his throat without intention or control.

One of Jared’s hands slid along his back and grasped the back of Jensen’s neck, holding him firm as his knot began to swell. Jensen writhed on it, gasping and moaning louder. The pleasure was too much, too right. He felt as though he was going to come apart. He came with a scream as the knot pulsed and come surged inside him. The heels of his hands banged on the table top before he went limp.

Waves of pleasure continued to wash through him as Jared gathered him up off the table. He took a couple of steps back and allowed them both to collapse onto the bed. Jared maneuvered them onto their sides with his knot still firmly seated in Jensen’s ass. They were both still dressed, and Jared pulled Jensen’s collar aside. Nuzzled his neck.

“I’m sorry,” Jared said before biting down on the muscle. Jensen shuddered and pushed back into Jared’s embrace. The knot jerked inside him and another flood of seed spurted into him. Jared licked over the wound.

“I thought it was a myth,” Jensen whispered. He was stunned. He’d been mated. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine this could happen to him.

He felt Jared shake his head, kiss him beneath the ear.

“No one else ... ever,” Jensen murmured as sleep pulled him down.

~~~

He was vaguely aware of rising from sleep on a swell of heat, drenched in sweat and begging for relief. Jared undressed them both and pushed back into him. The knot swelled and caught almost immediately. Jensen wondered if Jared’s need was as urgent as his. He was filled with the same shaking, fiery pleasure. His release pulsed from him with the movement of the knot. He reached back and grasped Jared’s hip in an attempt to pull him closer.

They were slick with sweat, still knotted as they drifted into sleep. Each time their bodies separated, they awoke and mated again with the same desperate urgency. When Jensen was jarred from sleep in the dim morning light, it was in the circle of Jared’s arms. He still felt far too warm for the chilly morning. Someone was banging on the door and yelling his name. He started to rise, but Jared held him tight.

“No,” the alpha growled.

Jensen didn’t fight him but protested. “If I don’t open the door, they’ll break it down.”

“Jensen! Open this fucking door!” Jeffrey shouted. Jensen could hear anger and concern and something else, something predatory, in his voice.

“Go away!” Jared yelled in return.

“I need to go out there,” Jensen said and attempted to sit up again. Jared planted one huge hand in the middle of his chest and held him down.

“No!”

“Jared.”

“Do you really think I’d let my mate walk out there with all those alphas?” His brows were drawn, and he was looking at Jensen like he was crazy. Jensen’s mind finally cleared enough to understand – the need to be knotted, the fever, the heavy, tangy scent in the air.

“Do you want them to come in here?” Jensen asked.

Jared’s lip twitched in a snarl, but he released Jensen and rose. Jensen scrambled off the bed and grabbed his kilt off the floor. He was at the door by the time he had it secured around his waist.

“Wait,” Jared said. He wrapped his jacket around Jensen. “I’m going out there with you, and you will not leave that porch. You will do as I say.”

Jensen’s mind wanted to rebel, but his body said obey. He nodded and started to open the door.

“Hold on,” Jared said. “Get off the porch, all of you!” He yelled. He waited until he heard boot steps before opening the door. He kept his hand on Jensen’s shoulder as they stepped outside.

It was a cold, gray morning. A few snowflakes drifted down to the frozen ground, clung to the brown grass. The air soothed Jensen’s burning skin and cleared his head. In front of the cottage was every alpha in the village, and he could feel the tension roiling off them. These were men he thought he knew. Alphas who he’d never feared, now felt like a threat. The trousers of every one of them were tented, and he didn’t have to look to know that his mate was equally aroused. He also knew that none of the alphas of his village compared to Jared, as he stood there strong and naked and fierce.

“You’ve overstayed your welcome!” Jeffrey said.

“If I go, I take my mate with me,” Jared responded. The way his fingers gripped Jensen’s shoulder was possessive and reassuring.

“Jensen belongs to the village,” Jeffrey said.

“He’s ours!” a voice shouted from the back.

“Our bitch,” a voice grumbled somewhere.

Jensen tensed, and Jared pulled him against his side.

“We are properly mated,” Jared said.

“Omegas don’t mate,” Jeffrey said with a smirk. “They’re communal property. Every alpha in the village has knotted that bitch. You’re nothing special.”

“He’s mine,” Jared snarled and pushed Jensen behind him. His voice wasn’t loud, but the timber of it conveyed menace, and a couple of the alphas in the crowd backed away. Despite the chilly air, Jared’s skin was warm under his hands when Jensen reached out. He grasped Jared’s arm and laid a hand on his waist. Arousal spiked in him, and slick oozed down his leg.

“Jared,” he said. He kept his voice low and steady. He saw movement at the edges of the crowd. Betas moved between the alphas and the porch. His mother and sister, aunt, cousins and neighbors were putting themselves between their own mates and his.

“Gentlemen,” his mother called out to the crowd in attempt to reach their civilized minds. “Would you interfere with a properly mated pair?”

“He’s no one’s mate,” Jeffrey scoffed. “He belongs to us.”

“Bullshit,” Jeffrey’s wife Cassandra said. “You’re losing your head over his heat.”

“We want proof of mating!” Jim yelled.

Jared drew Jensen forward and pulled his jacket of Jensen’s shoulder. Jensen winced as the leather dragged over the bite mark. From the corner of his eye, he could just make out the edge of the ragged wound in his skin which was smeared with blood. Looking at the crowd, Jensen saw that a number of the alphas had dropped their eyes.

“This omega is mated. He doesn’t belong to any of you,” Jared said. His voice was low and threatening. “And if any of you ...”

“All right!” Jensen’s mother held her hand up in a gesture to stop. “The mark is clear. My son is mated to this alpha.”

There was a low grumbling in the crowd of alphas.

“Come along now, boys!” Molly called out. “Time to go home. You’ll just have to make do with the ladies.”

Betas began weaving their way through the crowd to match up with their alphas, and Jensen’s mother climbed the steps. There were tears in her eyes.

“I never thought I’d see the day that you would be mated,” she said. She cupped his cheek. She looked over at Jared. “You’re going to take him from us, aren’t you?”

Jared nodded. “Thank you for your help here.”

She smiled through her tears. “I just want him to be happy.”

“I’ll do everything I can to make that happen,” Jared said.

“Good. Now, you boys get inside. We’ll see you in a few days,” she said.

“We won’t leave without saying goodbye, Mama,” Jensen said.

“You better not,” she said as she started down the steps. “Bar the door!” she called out.

Jared drew Jensen back inside and into bed.

~~~

Jensen awoke to pallid light, chilly air. It was the first time in days he felt anything like his old self. Jared’s breath chuffed warm against his neck, and he lay heavy against Jensen’s side with an arm thrown across his chest. Jensen’s one exposed arm was cold, and he pulled the covers up over his shoulder. He wanted to burrow into the warmth of their bed, but he was wide awake. Sunshine spilled through the windows. Hunger gnawed at his stomach.

They’d been surviving on tea, hard cheese, stale bread, and jam. He wanted something substantial and hot. He eased out from under Jared’s arm and pulled his heavy robe on as he rose. He set kindling and wood on the last embers of their fire and blew gently until the kindling caught. Jared snuffled.

“Jen, come back to bed,” he said.

Jensen chuckled. “I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry?”

“Mm, aye.” He shifted in the bed. “I am.”

Jensen hung the kettle over the fire and searched the larder, which was well stocked for the coming winter. He put the heavy iron skillet on the grate and sliced bacon.

The small space reeked of their mating – come and slick and sweat – and of lack of housekeeping.

“I’ll empty the chamber pot and rubbish,” Jared said as he pulled on his clothes. Jensen just nodded in response as he set out eggs and tended the skillet. A cold draft blew in when Jared went out bringing fresh air.

Jensen wondered at how natural it felt to live with Jared. He was used to being alone and had always been anxious to have the village alphas leave his cottage. Here he was already awaiting Jared’s return. Part of him wanted to keep Jared here in his cottage, but he knew that Jared expected him to return to his home with him – wherever that was. He couldn’t imagine what that would be like.

“My gods, that smells good,” Jared said as he slipped back into the cottage.

He took the bacon up and broke eggs into the skillet. “How many?” he asked.

“How many are there?” Jared asked. He took the kettle off and poured water into the tea pot that Jensen had prepared. He wrapped a towel around it.

Jensen smiled.

“What?” Jared asked.

“Good to see you aren’t useless.” Jensen looked up with a grin.

“I know how to take care of myself,” Jared said.

“Do you?”

A knock at the door interrupted them. Jared took the few steps to open it.

“I saw you were out and about.” Jensen heard Molly’s voice and wasn’t surprised that his little sister had been keeping an eye out. “I didn’t figure you’d have any fresh bread, so I’ve brought muffins with the last of the blueberries.”

“Wow, thank you,” Jared said.

“You’re very welcome,” Molly said. Jensen could hear the smile in his sister’s voice.

“Thanks, Moll!” he yelled.

“Love you, Jen!” she called out in reply, and then in a voice she must have thought he couldn’t hear, she said. “You better take good care of him.”

Jared pushed the door shut with his foot. “The betas in your family are little bossy,” Jared said before biting into the muffin. He set the basked onto the table. “Oh, but wonderful cooks.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Jensen said as he set a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Jared.

“Must run in the family,” Jared said.

Jensen sat down with a plate before him. He sprinkled pepper over his eggs and then sat silently with his knife and fork in his hands.

“What?” Jared asked.

“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to act anymore,” he said.

Jared smiled a little. “Just act like yourself, darlin’.”

“But who is that? Jared, everything has changed for me.”

Jared tipped his head to the side and chewed a bite of bacon. “Aye, I guess that’s true.” He turned his attention to his food again. “Eat something, Jen. I know you’re hungry.”

“I’m not sure ...”

“Eat,” Jared said. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order, and Jensen felt a weird little twist in his gut. He took a bite of eggs and made himself swallow.

Jared laid his fork down with a sigh. “Look, Jen, I know this is all new. It is for me in a way too, you know. Just ... behave as you feel, not how you think you should. There’s bound to be bumps in the road, but we’ll work it out, okay?”

Jensen was staring down at his plate.

“Jensen, hey, look at me,” Jared said softly. He laid his hand on Jensen’s wrist, and Jensen looked up into gentle eyes. “We’re mated. It will be okay.”

Jensen shook his head. “I know lots of mated pairs that are not okay.” He was thinking of Jeffrey and Cassandra and their epic fights. He broke open a muffin and steam rose as he spread butter across it.

Jared grinned. “But you and me, Jen, we’re mythic.”

Jensen felt the warmth of Jared’s smile and laughed.

“Okay?” Jared asked.

“Yeah.”

“Then eat,” Jared said. There was that tone again that niggled under Jensen’s skin.

“Okay, bossy.”

“I’m not bossy.” Jared frowned. “I’m ...”

Jensen’s laugh cut him off. “Okay, Alpha, I’ll eat.”

Jared looked sheepish. “This may be a bit of a challenge for us.”

“That’s what I was trying to say.” Jensen made himself eat his eggs before they got cold. Omegas served alphas; they didn’t socialize with them. Jensen hadn’t set down to a meal with an alpha since he was a child with his father and older brother. Since he’d matured into an omega, he’d barely spoken two words to either of them. Before his brother had mated, he’d visited Jensen twice. Jensen pushed the memory away and turned his attention to Jared.

“You’re like no omega I’ve ever met,” Jared said.

“How so?” Jensen asked before washing the last of his muffin down with cool tea.

“You’re ... I ...” He shook his head and his fork clattered against his empty plate. “You’re special. You’re mine, and I care about you.”

Jensen just raised his eyebrows and waited, sensing that Jared wasn’t done.

“I guess, it’s us, our relationship that’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s so powerful.”

“Overwhelming,” Jensen said.

“Aye, I feel ... consumed by it.” He picked up his fork and made patterns in the yolk on his plate. “But it’s good. I want it.”

Jensen nodded. “It’s right.”

“Yes,” Jared said. “It’s completely right.”

~~~

“I don’t want to go.” Jensen stood in the middle of the small cottage with his arms crossed.

“What? You ... you want to be the village omega? You want to spend your life servicing those alphas? Because it’s too late.” Jared rose quickly from his chair, nearly upsetting it. His lip curled and his eyes were darkly possessive.

“No! It’s not about them,” Jensen threw his arms wide. “But for everything we are—you and me—you’re a stranger. Yet, you expect me to just trust you and go with you. Leave here.”

“You’re my mate,” Jared huffed. “That’s how it’s done.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

“That’s just it. It’s about this.” He looked around the cottage. “I’m not some maiden beta leaving her father’s house. This is mine.”

Jared’s gaze scanned the room—the sturdy bed piled high with quilts, Jensen’s rocking chair by the fire, the pile of books and sewing basket beside it, shelves set with colorful pottery and lamplight reflecting off carving and butcher knives hung beside iron skillets.

“This is my home,” Jensen said. “I don’t even know what you’re offering me.”

Jared’s jaw tightened, but he nodded. “Aye, you’re right. I’m treating you like a blushing bride.”

“I know we don’t have a tradition for this,” Jensen said. “I haven’t a dowry...”

“I mated you without asking for your father’s permission,” Jared said with a teasing smile.

“Or the village alphas’ say,” Jensen shot back.

Jared nodded. “You belong to yourself,” he said. “It’s your decision. We’ll stay here if you want.”

“Truly?”

“Yes, love, I’ll stay here with you.” Jared tapped his fingertips on the table and bit his lip before continuing. “But…”

“Ah-ha!” Jensen exclaimed. “There’s always a ‘but.’”

“No, listen,” Jared implored. “I have … certain responsibilities.”

“What kind of responsibilities?” Jensen imagined a wife at the least and perhaps children.

“Come with me for a few days and see,” Jared said. “Then, we’ll decide together where and how we’ll live.”

Jensen just narrowed his eyes and kept silent.

“Please, Jensen.” Jared extended his hand to his mate. “Trust me.”

Jensen held Jared’s gaze long enough for Jared to doubt, but finally took his hand.

“I do,” Jensen said and pulled Jared into the circle of his arms.

 


-3-

Jensen was wearing his warmest wool kilt and thickest stockings. He hefted his rucksack onto his shoulder. He normally used it to collect roots, mushrooms and herbs in the forest, but today it was stuffed full of his basic belongings for the trip.

His gaze scanned the room – the quilt that Uncle Seb helped him make, his copper-bottom tea kettle, his small collection of books.

“We’ll be back, Jensen,” Jared said. He put his arm around Jensen’s shoulders. “One way or another. Whether it’s to stay or collect the things you want to take with you. We’ll come back.”

Jensen took a deep breath and let it out. “Let’s go then.”

They stepped out onto the porch. There had been a light snow during the night, but the sun shone cheerfully, reflecting off the thin crust of snow. Winter had begun. Jensen headed toward the stables, but Jared touched his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

“This way.” Jared indicated the road out of town to the north.

Jensen’s eyes widened. “You don’t have a horse? We’re walking?”

Jared grinned. “I have transportation. You’ll see. It’s not far; just a few miles.”

Jensen rolled his eyes and was about to make a response when a flurry of activity erupted from the other side of the small square. He turned to see his mother and sister stalking toward them.

“Where do you think you’re going, my boy?” his mother demanded.

“Mama, we were coming to see you,” Jensen answered.

She stopped in front of him and tipped her head up to meet his eye. “Were you now? A morning visit with you’re satchels and all?”

“We’re going away for a few days is all,” Jared said.

Her gaze cut momentarily to Jared. “I’m not talking to you,” she said. Molly hung just behind her with bright eyes and rosy cheeks.

“Mama, we were coming to tell you. I swear,” Jensen said. “You don’t think I’d leave without seeing you, do you?”

Her expression softened slightly. “Where are you going then?”

“Jared has some things he needs to take care of,” Jensen replied.

“And then you’ll be back … to stay?”

Jensen glanced at Jared. “We aren’t sure yet whether we’ll be staying here or not, but we will be back for a while at least.”

Sheri aimed her gaze at Jared again. “You’ll bring him back.”

Jared laid his hand over his heart. “I swear it.”

She harrumphed. “See that you do.”

With that Molly threw herself into Jensen’s arms. “Do come back, Jensen.”

He hugged her tight. “I will little lamb.” He stroked her silky blonde hair and placed a kiss on her forehead. She dabbed at her eyes as he let her go. “And, Mama, you won’t be rid of me so soon. We’ll be back soon.”

She hugged him and patted his cheek as she withdrew from his arms. “I’m happy for you,” she said and sniffed. “I never thought I’d see the day. There’s a pack of unhappy alphas in this village, but they’ll adjust. All that matters is …” She took Jensen’s left hand and Jared’s right and joined them. “… you take care of each other.” She eyed Jared.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. He let go of Jensen’s hand and pulled his mate under his arm. “I’ve found the rarest of treasure and I’ll protect him with my life.”

“And you, my darling boy.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed Jensen’s cheek. “Have a safe trip, and we’ll see you anon.”

“Aye, soon, Mama.”

With that she gave a visible shiver. “Ran out without my shawl. Come, Moll, we’ll catch our death out here in the cold.” The two bustled away toward Molly’s cottage, but Jensen felt eyes on them from other windows. He turned his back and started down the road with Jared at his side.

They walked side-by-side for some time with the sun on their shoulders. Not a breeze blew and the forest was nearly silent but for the sound of their boots crushing the fresh snow. A scarlet cardinal flitted in the bare branches of trees, and they spotted a deer off the distance. Neither commented. They were surprisingly comfortable in their silence, but Jensen eventually broke it.

“So, where are we going?” he asked.

“You’ll see.”

Jensen huffed.

“Please?” Jared asked. “It’s not far and I’d like …”

“What?” Jensen asked Jared’s profile.

“I’d like to you to judge for yourself.” He glanced Jensen’s way, and Jensen didn’t know what to make of his words or expression. He wanted to demand an explanation, but he bit his lip. He took a deep breath of frosty air and let it out in a cloud of steam.

“All right,” he said to his mate’s cryptic request. “As you wish.”

“Thank you,” Jared said. “Truly.”

They continued their trek in silence for some time before coming to path leading into the woods. Jared turned off onto it, and they walked single-file down the winding path. The snow was melting in the mid-morning sun, and he had to watch his footing in slick muddy spots on the trail. Soon an odd sound reached them and became louder as they walked.

Jensen cocked his head. “What is that?”

“The falls of the river,” Jared said.

“A river?” Jensen asked.

Jared glanced back over his shoulder. “Aye, you didn’t know?”

“No,” Jensen admitted. “I’ve never been this far north.” He was struck again by how isolated he’d been in the village. He’d ventured into the woods eastward behind his cottage and even to the south for some distance, but northward had been alpha territory. He’d been warned against it.

He caught a brief glimpse of water rushing over rocks before the path veered away. The hiked another forty feet or so and came upon an isolated pool of water in a natural inlet. Through pine boughs overhanging the path, Jensen caught flashes of bright blue, purple and orange. Jared lifted the branches for them to walk under, and Jensen got a clear view of an intricately painted flatboat tethered in the cove.

Jensen stopped and looked questioningly at Jared. “That’s?”

Jared had come to a halt with his arm raised, holding the pine boughs above his head. “My home.” He nodded. “And yours, if you like.”

Jensen turned back toward the boat and took a few steps closer. The bow and aft were open, but amidships was covered by a cabin with an arched roof. Three small diamond-shaped windows ran down the side of the cabin – each one framed with swirling designs of purple, blue and orange on the forest green siding. The designs continued along the railing and edge of the roof.

Jensen looked back at Jared in wonder. “Did you paint it?”

Jared nodded. “Do you like it?

“It’s beautiful.”

Jared’s smile was like the sun. “Come on then. Have a look.” He strode past Jensen and down the path to the boat. Jensen followed slowly, dividing his attention between his footing on the path and Jared, his love, his life. Beyond the pretty boat in this sheltered cove lay a river he’d never seen despite its nearness to his home. Who knew where that river might lead?

Jared was watching him, head tipped. “Are things right with you?”

Jensen nodded and hustled down the path. Up close, he could see that the boat was well-tended. Each swirl of paint was fresh and neat. The bits of brass were polished. Rope lay neatly coiled on deck, and within it, a calico cat was curled in sleep.

Jared gave a sharp whistle and the feline raised its head. “Some watch cat you are,” Jared said. “That’s Lillymouser.” He stepped onto a rock near the bank and grasped the rail to swing himself aboard. “Toss me your satchel.”

Jensen did so and then stepped onto the rock as Jared had. Jared held out his hand. Jensen waved it away, and Jared stepped back from the rail. Jensen grabbed it and leapt aboard with a flash of thigh when his kilt flew up. Jared grinned and pulled him close with an arm around his waist.

“You’re gorgeous. You know that?” he said.

Jensen felt heat rise in his cheeks. “Not so bad yourself, Sir.”

“Sir.” Jared chuckled. “I like that.”

“Yeah? It’s earned. So don’t take it for granted.”

Jared gave him a quick kiss. “I look forward to earning it every day.” He took Jensen’s hand. “Let me show you around. This is the bow. Obviously.”

Lilly had risen from the coil of rope and stretched. She rubbed against Jared’s legs. Jensen watched him pick the cat up and rub her ears and murmur to her. Beside the cabin door set a deck chair with a green and orange striped cover. A blue lantern hung from the eave of the roof above it. In the corner beside the rope, was a tin bucket and small shovel. A fishing pole hung from the underside of the rail. Beneath it was a wooden storage box.

“Here, let’s go inside,” Jared said. The cabin door was arched like the roof and had a diamond shaped window as well. At the bottom of the door was a small opening with a flap. “Lilly’s door,” Jared said. He swung the large door open and motioned for Jensen to precede him.

To the left was a small pot-bellied stove. The floor beneath it and wall behind it were tiled in bright colors. The plank floor was partially covered by a rag rug.

“I’ll get a fire going in a moment,” Jared said. Jensen just nodded and continued looking around as Jared went about starting a fire in the stove. In the corner, behind the door, was a built in cabinet with shelves on top that held mismatched plates and mugs. In a basket, were a few pieces of cutlery and flatware. There was a jar of sugar and a salt cellar. Behind doors at the bottom was a small sewing basket and tin with tools.

A small table to two mismatched straight-back chairs sat nearby. In a back corner of the cabin was a relatively large bunk covered in a faded quilt. Above the bunk was a small shelf with books and another hanging lantern. This one was painted red. At the head of the bunk, in the opposite corner was a door to the narrow aft deck.

Jared was on one knee blowing life into the kindling in the stove. His brows drew together in concentration. He pushed his hair back from his brow as flames began to lick at the wood. He swung the stove door shut.

“There,” he said. “It will be cozy in no time.” He rose to his feet. “I promise.”

Jensen nodded.

“Oh, tea,” Jared said. “I’ll put the kettle on. Have a, um, have a seat.” He motioned to the table and chairs, snatched the kettle and went out.

Jensen smiled over his flustered mate. He took another look around as he seated himself at the table. Everything was so colorful – the blue table and patterned tile, the fanciful designs painted on the window frames and cabinet. The cabin was tidy and comfortable.

Jared returned and set the kettle on the stove. He checked the fire and satisfied with it, he got mugs from the cabinet at placed them on the table. Taking down a yellow teapot, he measured tea from a tin.

“I’m sorry I don’t have any biscuits or cakes or anything,” he said.

“Jared,” Jensen said. “Don’t fret. There’s a handful in my pack.”

“I’m being silly, right?”

“Aye.”

Jared laughed. “So, um, what do you think?”

“Very pretty.”

“She’s more than pretty, Jen. She’s sturdy too.”

“And well tended,” Jensen said. “I can tell.”

“You like her then?”

Jensen took a deep breath. “I’ve never been in a boat. It’s a strange feeling.”

Jared bit his lip. “Where have you been? I mean, outside the village.”

“I haven’t,” Jensen said. “Just foraging and hunting in the woods.” He unwound the scarf from his neck. Jared was right; the small cabin did heat up quickly. The kettle began to steam and Jared poured water into the teapot.

Jensen opened his satchel and removed the bundle of biscuits he’d brought with. Jared put them on a plate. He sat down across the small table from Jensen and smiled.

“What?” Jensen asked.

Jared looked into his mug as though trying to divine the future in tea leaves. “You don’t know how I’ve imagined having someone here with me like this,” he said quietly. He looked up into Jensen’s eyes. “I’m not trying to sway your decision.”

Jensen laughed. “No?”

“No! Well, yes, I suppose I am. I just, I hope you’ll consider it.” Jared cupped the mug in his hands. “I know it must be very strange to you, living on a boat, when you’ve lived in one place your whole life. But consider what you might gain. There are so many places we can go and so much I can show you of the world.”

Jensen nodded. “How long have you lived here?”

“Always. I was born here.”

“And your parents?”

Jared took a sip of tea. “My mother died of the flu when I was young. I don’t remember her. And my father met a widow down in Millersburg a couple of years ago and decided to stay with her.”

“So you’re alone,” Jensen said.

“Not anymore.” Jared smiled.

“No, not anymore,” Jensen agreed. “It would be hard for you to live in one place all the time, wouldn’t it?”

Jared paused a moment. “I would be happier in your cottage with you than here alone. You have a home.” He shrugged.

Jensen nodded. “So do you,” he said quietly. As he brought his mug to his lips, the steam carried the aroma of flowers. He took a sip. “What is this?”

“Jasmine,” Jared said. “I got it when I went to New Madrid. You can buy anything at the markets there. Do you like it?”

Jensen took another sip and nodded. “I do.” He broke a biscuit in two just to have something to do. “So, what do you do?”

“Travel.” Jared grinned. “I fish and dig clams. I hunt. I pick things up along the way. You’d be surprised what you can find in the river. The deck chair out there? I found the frame washed up on the bank. I cleaned and painted it and put new fabric on it. Some things I keep; some I sell or trade. I sell the furs from the animals hunt. Sometimes, I sell the meat. I killed a deer a couple weeks ago. That’s why I was in your village.”

“You sold the meat.”

Jared nodded. “I get by. I don’t need much. The river gives me most of what I need. I trade or sell enough to get flour, sugar, tea.” He shrugged. “The woods along the river provide…”

“Mushrooms, berries, roots, herbs.” Jensen finished his sentence.

Jared grinned at him. “Aye, and game. Sometimes I do odd jobs for people,” Jared said. “Chop wood, mend a fence…I’m good with my hands.”

“I know.” Jensen winked.

Jared laughed and the tips of ears turned red. “Well I…” he stammered. “Not just my hands.”

“No,” Jensen said smoothly, “much more than your hands.” Jared’s blush deepened. It amused Jensen that despite Jared’s travels, he wasn’t jaded in the ways of the flesh. It was endearing – even more so since he didn’t hold Jensen’s experience against him.

Lilly picked that moment to slip through the cat door. She made her way to the stove and jumped into a basket not far from it where she curled up.

“Uncle Seb had a cat,” Jensen said between sips of tea. “A big yellow bruiser named Vlad.”

“Vlad?” Jared laughed.

“Seb was heartbroken when he died,” Jensen said. “That cat was all he had till I showed up. When Seb died …” Jensen cleared his throat and took a drink of tea.

“You’ve been alone a long time,” Jared said.
Jensen nodded.
Jared wrapped his long fingers around Jensen’s hand. “Not anymore. Wherever you are, I’ll be there.”

~~~

That evening, they had a simple meal of sausages, potatoes and onions fried up in Jared’s iron skillet.

“You keep this well-seasoned,” Jensen commented on the skillet as he helped Jared clean up after the meal.

“It was my mother’s,” Jared said. “And I don’t have much. I take care of what I have.”

“Indeed,” Jensen said. He cast his gaze around the cabin.

“I know it’s small,” Jared said. “Smaller than what you’re used to, but we’d have the whole world outside.” He took Jensen by the hand. “You can’t imagine how lovely it is drifting down the river with a fresh breeze blowing and the sun on your face or the way the moonlight shimmers on the water. And there’s always something new to see or people to meet. If you don’t care for a place, you move on down the river. I’ve seen such beautiful, amazing things, Jen – cities and temples, mountains and plains. I’d love to show you them. I’d love to discover new places with you.”

Jensen pressed his lips together and nodded. “I’m not saying no.”

Jared sighed and let go Jensen’s hand. “It’s all right. You don’t have to decide right away.”

“I know,” Jensen said. “It’s all just … it’s a lot to take in.”

~~~

The winter sun set early and Jared had the lanterns lit. A warm glow lit the cabin, and the small stove kept it warm. Jared took a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet and poured them each a small glass. Jensen took a sip and made a small grimace.

“I know it’s not the best,” Jared said.

Jensen shook his head. “No, and I don’t drink much. Hardly ever. It’s frowned upon for omegas to imbibe, you know?” He propped his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers.

Jared leaned back in his chair and pulled a face. “That’s just controlling alpha horseshit.”

Jensen smiled and put his chin on his hands. The lamp glow caught in Jared’s eyes, and warmth swept through Jensen’s body. He wasn’t sure how much of that reaction was the whiskey and how much was arousal. It was nothing like the heat of the first few days. This was mellow and sweet and oddly comforting.

Jared smiled in return and watched his long fingers swirl the amber liquid in his glass. He cleared his throat. “I know it’s early yet,” he said, “but it was a long hike and, um …”

“Yes.”

Jared looked up with raised brows. “Yes?”

“I’d like to go to bed … with you, now.”

Jared grinned and rose from his chair as Jensen did the same. Jared unbuttoned his shirt, but his gaze never left Jensen who turned away.

“You’re so beautiful,” Jared said. “I don’t know if I’ve told you.”

“You may have,” Jensen said as he let his shirt drop to the floor. His kilt followed a moment later.

Jared froze for a moment. “So you’ve nothing on under that ever?”

Jensen smirked. “That’s right, love.”

“Knowing that will drive me crazy,” Jared said as he shoved his breeches and underclothes down and stepped out of them. The golden light washed over his tawny skin. Jensen hadn’t seen him like this – all of him revealed from sparkling eyes and shining mane of hair to slim hips, long legs, and thick engorged cock.

Jensen’s arousal had him wet from hole and slit. Jared looked him up and down. “I’m the most fortunate of alphas,” he said. His voice was husky. He Jensen’s face in his hands and kissed him. “Tell me this is real. Say you’re mine.”

“You’re mine,” Jensen said.

Jared chuckled. “I am indeed.”

He turned down the covers on the bunk, lay back, and offered Jensen his hand. Jensen took it and joined him. At Jared’s urging, Jensen straddled him. “I want to see you,” Jared said.

Jensen thought of Michael, the virgin boy he’d ridden not so long ago. Jared was no virgin and yet this position was new for them. Jensen understood that Jared was offering him something that he’d never had with the older alphas of the village.

Jensen traced Jared’s jaw with his fingertips. “If I said ‘no’?”

Jared’s brow furrowed and he grasped Jensen’s wrist. He brought Jensen’s fingertips to his lips. “If you don’t want to, Jen, just say so.”

“I do want to. I do.” He rolled his hips, and the length of Jared’s erection slipped along the slick valley between his thighs. Jared huffed out a breath.

“Please, don’t tease,” he said.

Jensen lifted up and with a quick turn of his wrist lined up Jared’s cock and engulfed it. Jared’s head dropped to the pillow and his mouth fell open. He was so beautiful laid out beneath Jensen who lifted himself on powerful thighs and began to ride his mate. Soon, Jared was lifting his hips in time to Jensen’s movements like rider and mount. Jensen leaned forward and rubbed his thumbs over Jared’s nipples.

“Oh gods,” Jared moaned. “Fuck.” He lost his rhythm and his back arched as his knot caught and them close. Jensen was so close to the edge that all Jared had to do was roll his hips a little and he was painting Jared’s chest with his release. Jared’s fingers wrapped around Jensen’s cock and finished him off.

With a sated smile, Jensen lay across Jared’s chest as his muscles contracted again around the knot, pulling another burst of seed from Jared’s body.

“Mm, I could get used to this,” Jensen murmured. He marveled at how different it was from the desperate coupling during a heat. Not better, but not less either. There was something reassuring about choosing it out of affection and desire rather than instinct.

Jared pulled a sheet and blanket up over them and kissed Jensen’s temple. “I love you,” he whispered. Jensen thought, “me too,” but was already drifting off.

~~~

Early morning light crept across the cabin. It was cold and gray. Jensen snuggled down next to Jared and screwed his eyes shut. Jared shifted and rubbed Jensen’s hip.

“You awake?” he asked.

“Mm.”

“Coffee or tea?”

“Not yet,” Jensen said.

“Okay.”

Jensen fingered the frayed edge of the quilt. “Did your mother make this?”

“No,” Jared said. “I got it from a farm wife—traded it for a washboard I’d found along the river.”

“You could use a new quilt,” Jensen said.

“I … oh, aye, your quilt is lovely and warm,” Jared said with a smile.

“It is,” Jensen agreed.

“There’s room for another shelf for your books above that one,” Jared pointed at the wall above them.

Jensen pressed his face into the curve of Jared’s neck. “I love you.” He thought of the life he’d been living and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I never thought…”

“No, me neither.”

-30-