“Thanks. That sounds great.”
Jared pulls his car over to the curb and turns to his “date,” struggling to smile without being too encouraging. The evening did not go well. Jared’s date was handsome, young, well-off, and an elf. Magic Dates had assured him there was a 99% chance of a successful connection between them.
Misha Collins is about as interesting as a rock. Nice enough, but dull to a fault beyond anything Jared could have imagined.
And clueless, which has made things very awkward. Misha has already offered to see him again, even suggesting they meet up the next day. Jared’s lukewarm responses were not correctly interpreted. Now that the date is ending with Jared dropping Misha off at his nice, dull suburban house, Jared is deathly afraid the man is about to kiss him goodnight.
When Misha leans forward, eyes on Jared’s mouth, Jared clutches the steering wheel and focuses his gaze on the street in front of him.
Fortunately, Misha seems to understand, although it’s entirely possible he assumes Jared’s just shy.
“Okay,” Misha says with a sigh and a slight shrug. “Well, goodnight. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Sure.” Jared glances over as Misha climbs out of the car, trying not to appear too eager to step on the gas and screech his way out of this horrible evening.
Unfortunately, Misha turns, leans down to look into the open passenger window, and gives Jared a smile that’s probably meant to be sexy and encouraging.
Jared fights the urge to hit the window-up control “by accident.”
“I had a good time,” Misha says in that fake-sincere way that seems to be his default tone of voice. “I’m looking forward to seeing you again, Jared.”
“Yep, me too. Bye!”
Obviously missing Jared’s dismissive tone, Misha sighs, smiles, and pats the door before straightening up so that Jared can get the hell out of Dodge.
He glances in the rearview mirror after he peels away from the curb. Misha’s still standing there, his hand up in a little wave. The guy obviously thinks he’ll get another chance at that kiss.
Not if they’re the last two people left alive on Earth. Not if Jared can help it.
“How did it go?” Danneel’s voice asks brightly as Jared accepts her call over the car’s speaker.
“I feel like a douche,” Jared answers.
“That bad, huh?”
“Why does this service keep setting me up with nice but boring types? Am I really that much of a drag, Dee?”
“No, you’re not,” Danneel insists. “The service just thinks you’re a nice person. You seriously need to give one of these guys a second chance. You might be surprised, once you get to know them a little better.”
“There is no way I’m going out with Mr. Tax Accountant the Elf again,” Jared declares. “Or that first guy — what was his name? The Centaur?”
“Matt,” Danneel provides helpfully. “And he was nice, Jare. Even I liked him.”
“He knits,” Jared sneers. “And crochets. Oh, and body-builds. Weird combination of hobbies, if you ask me.”
Danneel sighs. “You really need to give these guys a little more benefit of the doubt. Magic Dates is the best in the business. They have a 95% success rate matching lifelong couples.”
“Well, they’ve struck out three times with me,” Jared laments, shuddering as he remembers Mark Pellegrino the wise-cracking demi-god, Date Number Two. There was definitely something creepy about that guy. “I don’t think I can stand to go on another one of these horrible snooze-fests they call dates.”
“Just one more? For me?” Danneel makes a commission on each date she sets up, so they both understand what’s at stake here. When Jared first agreed to be a customer, Danneel was thrilled. She’s determined to make good on her promise to find Jared the perfect mate, and not just because the pay-off is a solid six-figures. Danneel and Jared have been friends for over three-hundred years, since shortly after she made a deal with the demon who turned her into the powerful witch she is today. They both know it’s time for Jared to mate. At a little under five-hundred years old, Jared’s time is running out.
Jared groans. “Sometimes I wish you weren’t my friend.”
“Jared, you know you need to find a mate eventually,” Danneel reminds him. “And frankly, you’re running out of time.”
Jared sighs. “Yeah, I know.”
Jared’s fire power has been a little erratic lately, bursting out of him at some rather awkward and inopportune moments. Mating is the only thing that can control it. Without a mate, every fire dragon eventually becomes a destructive, out-of-control nuclear weapon, capable of incinerating whole cities.
The Ministry of Magic cannot allow that to happen, for obvious reasons. If Jared doesn’t find a mate, he’ll be neutralized, sealed in a tomb deep underground somewhere he can’t escape, where he’ll eventually burn himself out and die.
Not a happy fate.
Jared sighs. “If I agree, will you give me fifty years off before you bring this whole mating thing up again?“
“Maybe.” Danneel hesitates. “It’s for your own good, Jay. You’ve been lonely, admit it.”
“I have friends,” Jared protests. “Lots of friends.”
“Not the same thing,” Danneel reminds him. “Come on. One more date.”
Jared sighs dramatically. “Do I have a choice?”
Danneel chuckles. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Jared agrees to meet Jensen Ackles, Date Number Four, in the park.
“Neutral ground,” Danneel says when she calls Jared to set up the meeting. “Dinner’s optional. Just talk, walk around, enjoy the beautiful outdoors. If you don’t want to take it further than that, you can cut it off after a couple of hours. No pressure.”
So Jared goes to the park, looks for a guy who’s supposed to be about six-feet tall, medium build, brown hair. Average. He’ll be near the playground. He’ll be on the look-out for Jared, knows Jared’s tall, so Jared expects the guy to find him first.
When he gets to the playground, Jared stands awkwardly on the border, hands in his pockets. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and there are at least a dozen kids running around, climbing on the monkey-bars, swinging, chasing each other up and down the slides. The benches surrounding the playground are occupied by women and a couple of men with babies in strollers. Two of the women share a bench, chatting away while trying to keep track of their active offspring. A man pushes a little girl on a swing while rocking a stroller with the other hand.
Most of the children and adults here read as human, which isn’t too surprising. Magical children tend to be a little too unpredictable, even dangerous. Most Magics keep their kids in protected environments with others of their own kind until they reach the Age of Reason, when they can be safely trained to share the world with other Magics and humans.
What a strange place for a Magic Dates meeting, Jared thinks in the split second before he catches the ball flying toward him from his left.
Jared turns, holding the ball. A beautiful man is jogging toward him, obviously the ball’s owner. A boy of about eight stands a few feet away, hands over his face in a gesture of embarrassment. The ball-thrower, apparently.
Jared stands perfectly still as the beautiful man stops in front of him, hand out.
“That’s my ball,” he says. Even his voice is beautiful. Deep and rich and smooth as honey.
When Beautiful Man’s eyebrows go up, Jared realizes he’s staring and blushes.
“Oh, sorry. Here you go.”
Jared tosses the ball to Beautiful Man, who catches it easily. He rocks back on his heels, frowning a little, squinting as he looks up at Jared.
“Are you Jared?”
Jared starts. No way.
Beautiful Man smiles wide and crow’s feet appear at the corners of his eyes. He sticks his hand out and Jared takes it reflexively. Strong handshake, smooth skin.
“This is my nephew, Jimmy,” Jensen introduces the boy, who shifts awkwardly from foot to foot from a couple of feet away. “We were just hanging out until you got here.”
Jimmy gives a little wave, catches the ball Jensen tosses to him with a catcher’s mitt, then runs off to leave the ball and mitt with one of the women on the bench on the far side of the playground.
“My sister-in-law,” Jensen tells Jared as he waves at the woman. She waves back before going back to her conversation.
Jared and Jensen watch as Jimmy jumps onto the hanging bars, pulls himself along them with ease.
“He just joined his Little League team,” Jensen explains. “I was giving him a few pointers.”
It’s been exactly nine point six seconds since Jared realized two things: one, he’s strongly attracted to Jensen. More than he’s ever been attracted to anyone he’s ever met. There’s obviously something magical about such an instant and intense connection with the man.
Two, Jensen’s human.
This is impossible. Jared’s not supposed to fall for a human. It’s an unmitigated disaster. Jensen’s mortal. He won’t live more than a hundred years. When he dies, Jared will continue to exist, lonely and miserable, until he, too, dies of a broken heart.
How could Danneel do this to him?
“So, you wanna take a walk?”
Jared blinks, forcing himself to focus on the vision of gorgeousness in front of him. He’s falling more in love with every word out of Jensen’s luscious mouth.
“I think there’s been some kind of mistake,” Jared says after opening and closing his mouth at least three times. He probably looks like a fish.
“Mistake?” Jensen frowns. “I thought...” He blushes furiously as a sudden thought occurs to him. “Oh my God, I got this wrong, didn’t I? You’re not here to... I mean, Magic Dates said... Oh shit.”
“No, that’s okay,” Jared insists, putting his hand on Jensen’s arm out of instinct.
He shouldn’t have done that. The man feels incredible.
He pulls his hand back violently, but it’s too late. He’ll never forget the feel of Jensen’s smooth, muscled arm beneath his fingers. Never.
“It’s okay,” Jared says again. “It’s my fault. I’m really sorry.”
“For what?” Jensen frowns, shaking his head a little.
“You’re human,” Jared blurts out, then cringes as Jensen’s eyes widen comically.
“You’re not?” he says in disbelief.
Jared shakes his head, unable to prevent the sorrow that wells up in his chest. Tears sting his vision, turning Jensen into a blurry vision of loveliness.
“Oh God,” Jensen breathes.
“I’m a fire dragon,” Jared explains, since Jensen can’t possibly know that. “We’re basically immortal. And we... We mate for life.”
He’s not sure why he needed to tell Jensen that last part. Now Jensen will carry the guilt of Jared’s eternity of loneliness to his grave.
But Jensen doesn’t get it.
“Well, tragedy averted, then,” he says with an attempt at a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “At least we didn’t... You know.” He waves his hand between them.
Jared shakes his head. “Too late.”
Jensen raises his eyes to Jared’s, sees the terror and longing there, and swallows.
“Oh,” he says, so soft it’s almost a whisper.
Jared tears his eyes away, shakes his head. “You know what? It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ll be all right. You should just go on about your life, try to forget we ever met...”
“Would that make it easier?” Jensen asks. “For you, I mean.”
Jared huffs out a bitter laugh, tries to keep his gaze locked on his own feet. “Not even close,” he breathes.
Jensen takes a deep breath, clears his throat. “Then maybe we should take a chance,” he suggests. “Make the most of the time we have.”
Jared looks up, meets Jensen’s gaze, sees the hope there. Jensen can’t possibly understand what’s happened between them, but he’s determined to make the best of it. Jared admires his courage.
Jared needs to call Danneel, find out how this could have happened.
But for now, he finds himself nodding, agreeing with everything Jensen suggests because he simply can’t help himself. He follows as Jensen leads them down a trail, into the woods behind the playground. Jensen tells Jared about his life and Jared listens, storing away everything Jensen tells him in his perfect memory, storing away every moment in Jensen’s presence because the time is so fleeting.
“So, what do you do?” Jensen asks after Jared’s heard all about his life, his work, his family. His hopes and dreams. Jensen’s already falling for Jared. He’s already decided.
Jared tells him about his jewelry stores and his local apartment. “But I spend most of my time writing in my castle.”
“Your castle? Seriously? You have a castle.”
Jared nods. “I can show you,” he says. “I can take you there.”
Jensen’s eyes widen. “Okay,” he says, wary but intrigued. Jared can smell his desire.
They agree to meet later for dinner. It’s almost impossible for Jared to leave, but he forces himself. He promises to meet Jensen for dinner at seven, then turns away. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“How could this happen?” he demands when he gets Danneel on the phone.
Danneel is still reeling from the shock of Jared’s news, his accusation.
“I don’t know, Jare. I don’t see how it could. The human side of Magic Dates is completely separate. There’s virtually no way for the system to match up humans with non-humans. It just doesn’t happen.”
“Well, it did,” Jared growls. “It fucking did, Dee! And now I’m meeting him for dinner, and in sixty years he’ll be dead. I can’t do this. I fucking can’t.”
Danneel sucks in a breath, lets it out slow. “And you’re sure he’s the one?”
“Yes, I’m fucking sure!” Jared snaps. “He lit up every cell in my body. It felt like a fucking neutron bomb went off inside me!”
“Okay, okay, calm down. There’s got to be a way to deal with this. It can’t possibly be the first time this has ever happened. Somebody somewhere came up with a solution. I’ll just have to find it.”
“Better hurry!” Jared breathes. He’s hyperventilating. “He could get sick. He could get hit by a car. He’s mortal, Dee. Fragile. Oh fuck. I need to get him somewhere safe, like yesterday.”
“Jared, don’t take him to your cave,” Danneel warns. “It’ll freak him out. That place creeps me out, and I’m not even human anymore.”
Now there’s a thought. “What about what happened to you?” Jared asks. “Can’t we find a demon who can give him immortality like you did?”
“We could,” Danneel agrees. “But he’d have to give up his soul. Not sure he’d still be the one for you after that. And he’d have to want it. You can’t make the deal for him.”
Jared thinks about Jensen’s sister-in-law, his nephew, his parents. Jensen has a life. Whereas, from what he knows of Danneel’s human past, leaving that life behind wasn’t even a question for her. Jared doesn’t like to pry, but he gets the sense that Danneel’s human life had been a horrible one, filled with rape and torture and death. Nothing like Jensen’s.
“He must be protected!” Jared insists. “Get to work, Dee. You’ve got to find us a solution to this disaster, fast. You’ve only got fifty, sixty years, at best!”
He cuts off the call, bends over with his hands on his knees to get his breath back. He can feel his fire crackling under the surface of his skin, and when he straightens up again he sees red. Smoke drifts out of his nose and ears.
This day is shit.
By the time he meets Jensen for dinner, Jared’s got his inner dragon under control. Mostly. Laying eyes on the beautiful man sitting at a table in his favorite restaurant almost causes him to break down again. The urge to gather Jensen into his arms and hold him close for the next sixty years is almost overwhelming.
“So what’s good here?” Jensen smiles up at him, and Jared sucks in a breath.
“The beef is good,” Jared says, forcing himself to smile back. “Very tender, as long as you order it rare. I like my beef bloody.”
Jensen’s eyebrows go up. “Ah.” He lowers his eyes to his menu, but not before Jared detects the slight shiver that runs through his body.
Jensen’s just as attracted to Jared as Jared is to Jensen. He’s imagining himself being held down by Jared, Jared’s big hands all over him. He’s imagining Jared pounding into him, taking him apart.
Their psychic connection is part of their bond, just as real as their physical attraction. Soon Jensen will feel it, too, if he hasn’t already. Jensen will receive flashes of Jared’s thoughts, his feelings; sometimes visual, sometimes just verbal impressions. The bond works to bring them together, to make them one. Being separated will become physically and psychically painful at a certain point.
“I think I’ll start with a martini,” Jensen says, finally lifting his intense green eyes to Jared’s again as he lays the menu down. “Maybe two.”
“Yeah, same,” Jared agrees.
“I feel like I know you,” Jensen says, shaking his head like he’s trying to shake the memory loose. “Like we met before.”
Jared nods miserably. “That’s how it works,” he agrees.
The waiter arrives to take their order. He’s a young human, so he doesn’t notice their bond, but Magics can. Jared catches the unicorn couple at the next table eyeing them suspiciously. Magics can tell they’re poorly matched. They can recognize the incongruity.
As the waiter leaves with their order, one of the unicorns gets up to make her way toward the restrooms. She lays her hand briefly on Jared’s shoulder as she passes.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she says, voice dripping with sympathy.
Jared rolls his eyes at her retreating back and huffs out a disgusted breath.
“What was that about?” Jensen’s cluelessness would be adorable if it wasn’t so tragic.
Jared shakes his head. “Some people need to mind their own business,” he snaps. “Unicorns.”
Jensen raises his eyebrows. “She’s a unicorn? How can you tell?”
Jared gives him a look of surprise. “Seriously? It’s in our DNA, the ability to recognize other Magics. It’s a survival mechanism. Unicorns are deadly.”
“And fire dragons aren’t?”
Jared grins. “We can be,” he admits. “But we’re also good at controlling our natures, at least after we’re mated.”
“After?” Jensen smirks. “So only unmated fire dragons are dangerous?”
Jared’s jaw clenches as he nods. “Which is why we’re required to mate by the time we reach the age of five-hundred,” he says with a nod.
Jensen sputters. “You’re five-hundred years old?”
“Almost,” Jared clarifies. “I’m 438. Young by fire dragon standards.”
Jensen stares. “How old do fire dragons grow to be?”
“The oldest of our kind live in China,” Jared says. “They’re over twenty-thousand years old.”
Jared looks up as the waiter arrives, places their drinks in front of them and takes their meal order before retreating again.
“So why haven’t you found a mate before now?” Jensen muses. “Four hundred thirty-some years is a long time to be alone.”
“I haven’t been alone,” Jared insists. “I have friends. Good friends. It’s only been the past few years that I’ve had to face the reality of my own biology. I never felt the need before.”
Jensen gazes at him thoughtfully. “You never wanted something more? Something special and unique? Something you can’t get with a friend?”
“Honestly? Until I saw you, I didn’t know I was missing anything.” Jared taps his fingers against his glass. “Of course, if I’d known this would happen, I would have started looking for a mate a long time ago.” He shakes his head. “If only I’d known, I could have met my mate before you were born. Then this never would’ve happened.”
Jensen raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t seem pleased by Jared’s words. “So every fire dragon has more than one potential mate,” he suggests carefully.
“Theoretically,” Jared says.
“Theoretically?” Jensen stares. “Don’t you know?”
“Well, when we meet our mate, that’s it,” Jared says. “There’s no possibility of mating again. It’s for life. So it’s not exactly a theory that ever gets tested.”
“Right, but how do you know your mate will be immortal? Or even the same species?”
“We don’t,” Jared admits. “We mate with a lot of different Magics. Always immortal, though. Never human. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of one of us finding a human mate. It shouldn’t be possible.”
Jensen quirks an eyebrow. “Except that it is. Obviously.”
Jared sighs dramatically. “If I’d known one of my potential mates was human, I would have avoided humans like the plague.”
“But you interact with humans all the time,” Jensen protests. “It’s not like you could avoid all of us. It’s pure chance that you and I haven’t met before. It could’ve happened by accident.”
This is true, which is why Jared’s trying hard not to blame Danneel for his current predicament. Jared could have run into Jensen at any moment over the past thirty years or so of Jensen’s existence. The city isn’t that big.
It’s just bad luck that Jared and Jensen happen to live in the same city, frequent the same restaurants, enjoy walks in the same park, all in the same time period.
It was probably just a matter of time before this happened, without Danneel’s intervention or Magic Dates’.
Almost like it was meant to be.
“That’s a depressing thought,” Jared says. “So I was always meant to meet the agent of my own demise, right here in this city, during this century. Almost like somebody up there really really doesn’t like me.”
Jensen flushes. His eyes flash. “It’s not all tragedy and despair, Jared. Good can come from this.”
“Oh, right,” Jared sneers. “Sixty years of mated bliss followed by an eternity of suffering, alleviated only by perfect, unfading memories of those sixty years. Can’t wait.” Jared knows he’s being a dick. His bitterness is getting the better of him again.
“You have a perfect memory?” Jensen’s eyebrow raises distractingly.
“You’re not gonna make me feel better about this,” Jared pouts.
“I can try,” Jensen says with a smirk. “I know a few things that might take your mind off it.”
Jared’s eyes widen. “Fuck, you don’t even know how perfect you are for me,” he breathes, trembling as a shiver goes up his spine and he adjusts himself in his chair.
“I have some idea,” Jensen murmurs, eyelashes fluttering. “What I don’t get is, how can you be so perfect for me?”
Jared reaches across the table, takes Jensen’s hand, gazes into his eyes. “We’re gonna figure this out, Jensen, I swear,” he promises. “I won’t let you die. Ever.”
The waiter takes that moment to arrive with their food. Jared lets Jensen’s hand go and leans back in his chair, waiting as patiently as possible for the man to finish and leave. He’s not hungry anymore, and the alcohol is giving him only a slight buzz. He wants to take Jensen away, gather him up in his arms and soar into the night sky. The need to protect Jensen is almost a physical drive, stronger than hunger, stronger than sex. The need to save Jensen from his own eventual death makes Jared’s pulse pound, makes his palms sweat.
“We have to find a way to fix this,” he says.
“Eat your food,” Jensen directs, making Jared shiver again. “The night’s young, and we need to make every minute count.”
Jensen jokes and flirts through dinner, so that by the time dessert arrives (flambé, Jared’s favorite), Jared’s hot and hard and in a slightly better mood. He even manages not to glare at the unicorns when they get up to leave, sending him another sympathetic glance before they walk away.
“They’re mated from birth,” Jared hisses. “They grow up together in the same herd. Those two are practically siblings.”
“Oh!” Jensen gasps, eyebrows raised. He frowns as Jared’s words sink in. “That’s — Okay, that’s just not right.”
“Right?” Jared agrees excitedly. “It’s basically incest!”
The waiter arrives with the check, and Jared insists on paying.
“I’m richer than you,” he tells Jensen. “It’s just practical. Nothing to do with traditional mating roles.”
Jensen blushes and lowers his eyes. The corner of his mouth tilts up in a smirk. “Something tells me the power imbalance here kinda speaks for itself.”
Jared sucks in a breath. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you said that. I am so taking you home right now.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Outside the restaurant, the night sky is alive with stars. There shouldn’t be so many of them visible in the city, but the restaurant is located in the hills, practically over the ocean, and the lights of the city don’t reach this far.
It’s chilly, so Jared puts an arm around Jensen, pulls him close as they walk across the parking lot. When they reach Jensen’s car, Jared’s mind is made up. He can’t bear the thought of letting Jensen get into that death trap ever again. Somebody might hit him on his way home, and that cannot happen.
“Hey.” Jared stops, turns Jensen toward him without looking at him. “You remember earlier, in the park, when you asked about my castle?”
“Yeah,” Jensen says. He’s wary, but turned on. Jared can smell him.
“I told you that I can show you,” Jared says. “I can take you there.”
Jared smells fear now, but Jensen’s arousal is stronger.
“Yeah,” Jensen says, breath hitching.
Jared stares intently into Jensen’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”
Jensen’s lips part, but no sound comes out at first. He’s too aroused. Jared can see it in his eyes, the way Jensen’s pupils have blown wide and black.
“Yeah,” he breathes finally.
Jared nods. “Okay. I’m gonna put my arms around you, and we’re going to fly, okay?”
“Okay,” Jensen whispers.
“It’ll be cold and windy, but I’ve got you,” Jared says. “Put your arms around me and hold on, okay? But don’t worry. I won’t let you go.”
Jensen wraps his arms around Jared, presses his face into Jared’s shoulder, and for a moment time seems to stand still. Jared feels Jensen’s heart pounding, hears his little gasp as Jared’s wings unfurl and their feet leave the ground. Jared feels Jensen’s hands clench as he tangles their legs together, holding Jensen tight as they soar into the night sky.
“Shhh, I’ve got you,” Jared murmurs into Jensen’s hair.
Jensen gives a small whimper, buries his face against Jared’s shoulder, eyes squeezed shut. He’s panting. Terrified. Jared flies up until the air becomes almost too cold to breathe. Then he dives, flying low over the ocean.
“Look, Jensen,” Jared coaxes softly. “Open your eyes.”
Jared can feel the effort it takes, but Jensen obeys. They’ve been in the air for almost five minutes and they’re already a mile from land. Jensen raises his head tentatively and opens his eyes.
“Wow,” he breathes as he takes in the scene. “It’s beautiful!”
Jared flips them, so he’s flying upside down, so that Jensen can get a better view. The moon shines a path on the water, dimming the starlight. Jared takes them along the path, seemingly straight out to sea, but he knows where he’s going. His cave is in a cliff wall overlooking the ocean, far from anything or anyone, completely isolated. He’ll take Jensen there, protect him and keep him safe until Danneel finds some way to fix things. It’s the only way.
An hour passes, then another, and still they fly on over the ocean. The land has disappeared behind them, but Jared knows where he is. Jensen dozes in his arms, lulled by the flap of Jared’s invisible wings and the warmth of his body. Jared might be sending soothing thoughts through their psychic bond, but that’s totally fair. He doesn’t need Jensen freaking out and giving himself a stroke or a heart-attack when they haven’t even reached safety.
It takes three-and-a-half hours to fly home to Jared’s cave. It’s not really a cave, more of a cavern cut deep into the cliff-face, filled with rooms built six stories high. The entryway is at the end of a long stone corridor, invisible from outside, unreachable by any means but flight. Jared supposes some enterprising mountain climber might be able to climb down from the cliff edge high above, but he’d have to know there was something there in the first place, and Jared’s confident that the entrance is well hidden.
As Jared sets down, lights come on inside. Torches attached to the corridor walls light up automatically.
“We’re here,” Jared murmurs softly into Jensen’s hair, setting the smaller man on his feet. He keeps one arm around Jensen to steady him as Jensen raises his head, blinks.
“Where are we?” He turns, staring down the corridor, remaining pressed to Jared’s side.
“Home.” Jared shrugs. He slides his arm across Jensen’s back, takes his hand. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
Jensen lets himself be led down the stone walkway, eyes wide. When the corridor opens up into the huge lighted cavern that serves as a courtyard, Jensen gives a tiny gasp. Jared can’t help smirking. He knows it’s an impressive sight. The front of a three-story castle is carved directly into the far wall of the cavern, complete with pillars, turrets, windows and an intricately carved front door. The family crest — two fire dragons holding a quartered shield, each section representing a corner of the Padalecki family territory — sits over the door. The rooms behind the windows light up as Jared approaches, firelight visible through the glass.
“This is —” Jensen’s mouth works but no sound comes out.
“Welcome to my home.” Jared bows low, making a sweeping gesture with one arm. The heavy front doors slide open with the sound of iron locks retracting. Their wood creaks as they part, revealing a huge open hall beyond. A staircase winds along the far wall, curved along the back of the cavern. Doors open on either side of the hall to reveal large, comfortable rooms, the one on the left furnished with couches and easy chairs. The one on the right is Jared’s study and library. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with bookcases.
Jared follows as Jensen explores, opens a door behind the living room to find the dining-room and kitchen, fully stocked, of course. A small lavatory completes the first floor rooms. A door under the stairs leads down, into the bowels of the cavern.
“It’s the dungeon,” Jared jokes. At Jensen’s wide-eyed stare he adds, “Where I keep my gold.”
“Really?” Jensen raises an eyebrow.
Jared laughs. “I’m a dragon, remember?”
Jensen scowls. “You’re making fun of me,” he accuses.
“I’m really not,” Jared says, schooling his features into a sincere expression. “I’m sharing my life with you. This is your home now, too.”
Jensen frowns. “Um...”
“Come on.” Jared starts up the stairs to the second floor. “Let me show you the rest. You’re gonna love the master bedroom.” He winks, and Jensen blushes all the way to the tips of his pointed elven ears.
The second floor contains six bedrooms, each with its own private bath. Jensen sticks his head into every doorway, nodding his approval, until they reach the end of the corridor, where Jared pauses in front of the large double doors that lead into the master bedroom. When he opens them, pushing them wide, he makes another sweeping gesture, grinning broadly.
Jensen rolls his eyes, strolls past him into the room, and gawks.
“Right?” Jared nods excitedly. “My favorite room in the house.”
Jensen takes in the palatial suite, from the sitting area with its roaring fireplace and giant bearskin rug to the huge picture window that looks out onto the ocean and the moonlit sky. A giant canopied four-poster bed sits in the middle of the room, piled high with blankets and pillows, surrounded by a white gauze curtain. Beyond the bed, the open bathroom door reveals a marble room with a giant bathtub and another picture window.
The effect is impressive. It’s like being in a giant stone bubble with spectacular views.
“Do you bring all your dates here?” Jensen asks as he explores the liquor cabinet, picks up a crystal decanter and sniffs the contents.
“Not all,” Jared admits with a shrug. “Now, just you.”
Jensen nods, pouring himself a glass of fine whiskey. He turns toward the fireplace, gestures at the bearskin rug.
“Have you tried that out?”
“Maybe,” Jared hedges. He never wants to think about any of his past lovers, ever again. Not that there have been that many anyway.
“When’s the last time you brought someone here?”
“About fifty years ago,” Jared hedges. He knows exactly how long ago it was, but he doesn’t want to think about it. Danneel wasn’t always just a platonic friend, but it’s been a while now.
Jensen gives a low whistle. “Before I was born,” he comments dryly. “That’s just a drop in the bucket for you, though, am I right?”
“I have a perfect memory,” Jared reminds him. “Everything feels like yesterday.” He holds Jensen’s gaze and closes the distance between them. “But I don’t want to think about that now. You are the only person in my life now. The only thing that matters.”
Jensen stares up at him, transfixed. Jared gently takes the glass from him, sets it down, then takes Jensen’s face in his hands, sweeping his thumbs carefully under Jensen’s eyes.
“I’ll always remember you just the way you are right now,” Jared murmurs. Jensen’s cheeks are flushed, his skin warm and glowing in the firelight. His parted lips are soft and full and so red they look rouged. His clear green eyes widen and his nostrils flare as Jared lifts his eyes from his mouth. He licks his bottom lip, leaving it wet and shiny.
Jared leans down, kisses Jensen softly, just to watch the way his eyes flutter closed. He pulls back to take in the dark, thick web of Jensen’s eyelashes fanning across his pale, freckled skin, the delicate, paper-thin skin of his eyelids, also freckled.
How can something so beautiful exist so briefly? How can the world bear to let such beauty leave it?
“You better do that again, or I want my money back,” Jensen growls, breaking into Jared’s mournful revery.
Jared grins, dips his head to kiss Jensen again, and Jensen kisses back, hungry and wanton, moaning as Jared pushes his tongue between his lips. Jensen’s hands slide into his hair, tugging, and Jared wraps one arm around Jensen’s waist as they explore each other’s mouths with their tongues, nip at each other’s lips.
Jensen trembles, pants against Jared’s mouth when he pulls back, tugging on Jared’s shirt. They keep their heads bent together as they undress, shoving offending clothing out of the way so they can touch, caress, grab possessively.
The word gets uttered between them over and over as they grab hold of each other’s bodies, as warm, naked skin tantalizes and glows in the firelight. Jared drops to his knees, takes Jensen’s cock into his mouth and suckles as Jensen runs his fingers through Jared’s hair and clutches almost painfully, legs trembling till Jared rises to his feet again. He sweeps Jensen into his arms, lays him out on the rug in front of the fire, kisses and mouths his way down Jensen’s body. He explores every inch of Jensen’s skin, pushing his legs back when he reaches his dick again, sucks at the juncture of his thigh and groin. He kisses down behind Jensen’s balls, licks into his hole, and Jensen bucks against his mouth, crying out as if he’s been stung. Jared grabs lube, works first his tongue, then his fingers inside Jensen’s body, drinking in every sound he makes, every shiver and tremor.
When he pushes his cock into Jensen’s waiting body, it’s almost too much for both of them. Jared can feel Jensen’s desire, can almost hear the litany of “perfect,” and “oh God yes” rambling on in his head as his body adjusts, closes up tight and hot around Jared’s dick. Jared pounds into him, feels the shivery jerks Jensen’s body makes as Jared hits his prostate, hits it every time until Jensen’s a helpless, gasping mess. When he comes and collapses on him, Jared finds Jensen’s already come, his belly and chest sticky with jizz.
Jared rolls them over, onto their sides, facing each other. He leaves Jensen dozing as he gets up to grab a washcloth from the bathroom, tenderly washes him off, then pulls a blanket and pillows from the bed. The rug is soft and lush, perfectly comfortable for sleeping. Jared spoons Jensen’s body against his as he settles down with him, pulling the blanket up to their waists. Jensen cuddles Jared’s arm against his chest, tangling their fingers together. Jared pushes his nose into the top of Jensen’s head, breathes deep. There’s still a hint of the sea in his hair, the sea salt mixing with Jensen’s sweat and the sweet, slight spiciness of his natural scent.
Jared hears the word in his head, knows he’s hearing Jensen’s thought echoed as his own. Their psychic bond is tighter now, more pronounced. Jensen’s probably receiving Jared’s thoughts already, thinks they’re his.
Safe. Jared projects. Home.
Jensen stirs in his arms, so Jared knows he’s heard, although he probably still thinks it’s his own thoughts.
Love. Jared thinks, presses Jensen tighter against him. Mate.
Jensen turns over then, blinks up at him. “Are you doing that?” His voice is rough with sleep.
Jared grins. “It’s our bond,” he says impishly. “We can hear each other’s thoughts now.”
Jensen frowns. “Not sure I’m comfortable with that,” he admits, and Jared laughs.
“Don’t worry,” he says playfully. “It only works when you want it to. You have to give me permission to hear your thoughts. I won’t try to read your mind when you don’t want me to.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Jensen admits. He reaches up, cups Jared’s cheek. His eyes soften. “You look so good right now.”
“It’s the bond,” Jared says. “It’s an aphrodisiac.”
Jensen shakes his head. “I don’t think so,” he says. “You’re just extremely beautiful, that’s all. Perfect.”
Jared’s pretty sure he’s not. Jensen’s so beautiful and perfect and heartbreakingly mortal that Jared can’t even speak. He blinks back tears, but one slips down his cheek anyway. Jensen wipes it off with his thumb, pulls back his thumb and examines it.
“Your tears sparkle,” he breathes in awe.
Jared grins. “They’re diamonds, actually,” he says. “If you trapped them in a box you could live like a king for the rest of your life, immortal or not.”
“Dragon tears,” Jensen whispers.
“Very rare.” Jared nods. “Although I think you’ll be seeing more of them as your life ticks away.”
“Jared, I’m so sorry,” Jensen says. “I hate to see you in pain. It hurts to see you suffer.”
“That’s the bond,” Jared notes. “It’s working to bring us closer together, physically and psychically. One of these days, it’ll be hard to tell which of us is feeling or thinking what. It’ll all blend together.”
“That’s...” Jensen frowns as if he’s thinking hard, trying to concentrate.
Jared can feel it the moment Jensen sends him a complex rush of emotions. There’s fear, confusion, some genuine terror about what’s happening. But there’s love, too. Trust. Exhilaration. Jensen’s taking a leap off a cliff right now, and it’s awesome and scary at the same time.
“The thing is,” Jensen says finally, when he can see that Jared knows how he’s feeling, “this should all be overwhelming. And it is, but I feel like I can handle it. I feel like it’s something I can do, loving you.”
Jared nods. “I’ve been alone for a long time,” he says, swallowing the lump in his throat. He lets Jensen feel the depth of his former loneliness, the feelings he doesn’t even admit to himself.
Jensen’s eyes fill with tears. He cups Jared’s cheek again.
“Not alone anymore, sweetheart.”
At least for the next few, brief years.