He got the tabletop grill out and turned it on so it could heat up, then quickly built a fire in the fireplace, uncorking a bottle of Bordeaux so it could breathe. For music he considered and rejected Marvin Gaye and Sade before settling on Miles Davis. Sophisticated without being distracting, he told himself. He didn't know if Jared was a music fan, so he decided it was safer to hold back on his more eclectic tastes, as well as his favorites. Not everybody indulged in classic rock and blues quite as deeply as Jensen did when he let himself go.
When he heard the door to the basement open, Jensen had to take deep breaths to steady himself. He felt like a teenager on his first date, never mind a thirty-four-year-old man who'd been around the block a time or two. Then he realized his guest might need some help navigating the unfamiliar upper floor of the house, so he put down his wineglass and turned.
Jared was standing in the kitchen doorway, casually dressed in jeans and a dark-grey Henley, black jacket obviously pulled on at the last minute to give his shoulders even greater width in comparison with his barely-there waist. The sunglasses were still missing, and Jensen couldn't help watching Jared's lovely eyes moving sightlessly as he worked out where Jensen was standing.
"Hey." Jared's soft lips turned up in a smile, showing off his dimples and the white edges of his imperfect teeth.
Jensen let out the breath he'd been holding, then took another one, slow and shaky.
"Hey," he repeated, unable to do anything for the moment but stare.
"The fire smells nice," Jared commented, and Jensen was sure Jared could smell other things, probably had an insanely keen sense of smell as a matter of fact.
"Yeah, I was just about to put another log on – " Jensen stammered. "Do you want a glass of wine? Or water? I don't even know if you drink – "
"Wine sounds nice," Jared nodded.
Jensen poured a glass, carried it to Jared and placed it in his hand, certain that Jared could feel him trembling when their fingers touched.
"Hey, your friend Genevieve came by the library today," Jensen said in a rush, mostly to fill the space between them so he didn't throw himself into Jared's arms as he had every impulse to do.
"Yeah?" Jared took a sip of his wine, forehead creasing in a tiny frown.
"Yeah," Jensen reached for his own glass. "She wants me to come to her house tomorrow evening. I'm supposed to bring a friend."
Jared made a face, and Jensen realized how little he really knew about Jared. When they talked last time, the conversation was almost all about Jensen. Jared seemed to have a gift for deflecting questions about himself, in addition to an almost supernatural empathy which made people open up to him like nobody's business.
"Will you be there?" Jensen asked, and Jared nodded.
"Oh, I'll be there all right," he said, giving his head a little shake. "She's supposed to check with me first. She knows that."
"She's just being protective of you," Jensen suggested warily. He still wasn't clear about the relationship between Jared and Genevieve. "She doesn't want to see you get hurt." Neither do I, Jensen thought. I'd die before I'd hurt you.
"Yeah, she's a good buddy," Jared acknowledge, putting Jensen immediately at ease on that point, at least.
"l'll put on the steaks," he announced, changing the subject to something a little less personal, turning away from Jared as he did it.
Jared followed him into the living room, Jensen guiding with his voice until he got Jared seated in front of the fire. He put another log on, then left Jared for a few minutes while he tended the steaks and tossed the salad. Once he had the food on the table he came back to collect his guest, only to find Jared had finished the bottle of wine.
"The food's ready."
Jensen added another log to the fire, then stood awkwardly as Jared rose to his feet, so close his body heat canceled out the warmth of the fire, making Jensen's head spin.
"Here, do you need me to – "
But when he put his hand on Jared's arm to guide him to the table Jared grabbed onto him and pulled him in, wrapping his long arms around Jensen's body and burying his face in Jensen's neck, bending a little to do it.
Jensen gasped, stiffening with shock for a split second, then relaxed into Jared's embrace, surprised at how natural it felt to be engulfed by Jared's big body, how good it felt to be stroked by his huge hands.
Jared snuffled into Jensen's neck, breathing deep.
He's smelling me, Jensen realized, then immediately decided he was perfectly okay with that.
Then Jared started to tremble, and Jensen realized he was crying.
Dude's a sloppy drunk, was Jensen's first thought, glancing over at the empty wine bottle on the coffee table.
Jensen stroked Jared's broad back, shushing him softly, unwilling to consider how weird it should feel to comfort Jared because it felt so natural. It felt right.
"It took so long to find you," Jared choked out, his voice hoarse and broken. "I didn't know if I ever would."
"Hey, it's okay," Jensen murmured, as if from some deep place inside him he didn't even know existed. As if in a dream. "I'm here now. Not going anywhere."
Jared held him close another moment, until his tears began to subside. Then he pulled back a little, just enough for Jensen to see his tear-streaked face, his sightless eyes glittering with moisture. Jared ran his big hands up Jensen's arms, then carefully cradled Jensen's face between them, running the tips of his fingers along Jensen's cheek, his chin.
Jensen held his breath and watched Jared's face as Jared touched Jensen's lips, running his fingertips lightly along them, sorting out their shape as Jensen held perfectly still, trying to tamp down on his raging hard-on. He realized that Jared was "seeing" him, mapping out Jensen's face so he could form a mental picture in his mind, and it should have made Jensen self-conscious to be so thoroughly explored this way.
But then Jared smiled, clearly liking what he found, and Jensen leaned in on his tip-toes and planted a chaste kiss on Jared's lips, startling a laugh out of the taller man.
"Why do you wear these?" Jared murmured as he ran his fingertips over Jensen's thick plastic glasses. "What are you hiding from?"
"I – I need them," Jensen protested, but he let Jared remove them, place them down gently next to the empty wine bottle, not fumbling even a little. Jensen held his breath as Jared's fingers returned to his face, mapping out his eyes this time, his brow and forehead, running a finger feather light over his eyelids, then the bridge of his nose.
"You're beautiful," Jared breathed as he cupped Jensen's face in his big hands.
"It's been said," Jensen agreed grimly.
"Tristan couldn't tell," Jared said. "To him, you're just Jensen. He's no judge of human beauty."
Jensen blinked. "You talked to Tristan? You can talk to wolves?"
Jared's smile broadened, and suddenly Jensen couldn't take his eyes off Jared's mouth, wanted to kiss him like it was some kind of supernatural compulsion. Like he was bewitched.
"I hear his thoughts," Jared acknowledged. "He and I share a connection."
"What kind of connection?" Jensen suddenly wondered if he should be worried, if Jared might be a little insane.
"I'll explain it all to you, I promise," Jared said. "You're in it now. You're one of us, if you want to be."
Then Jared leaned in and all other thoughts slipped out of Jensen's head as Jared found his lips, first with his thumbs, then with his mouth.
Jensen's mind turned to jelly as Jared kissed him, gentle and teasing at first, tasting and testing, then deeper as Jensen pressed against him, encouraging. Jared's tongue slipped tentatively between Jensen's lips and Jensen moaned, arching up against the larger man, smoothing his hands up over Jared's back, then down to his hips, tugging their crotches together as Jared held his face.
Jared's mouth was hot and wet and tasted like toothpaste and wine, making Jensen's head spin. When Jared plunged his tongue into Jensen's mouth, plundering and exploring, Jensen opened his jaws so wide he felt sure they'd crack. Jared bit and sucked on Jensen's lips, then surged into his mouth again, his low moans almost inhuman in their primal intensity. Jensen felt engulfed and overwhelmed by Jared's sheer animal magnetism, by the force and energy of his emotions. It was like being overthrown by a tidal wave, and all Jensen could do was tumble along helplessly, holding onto Jared's hips as he ground against him, his moans turning to low growls deep in his throat.
It wasn't until Jensen started to struggle for air that Jared seemed to realize he might be coming on a little strong. He pulled back, breathing hard, chest heaving, and released Jensen just enough to allow him to get a hand up to Jared's face, hold it there.
"Hey," Jensen said when he caught his breath again. "Take it easy. I'm not going anywhere."
"Sorry, sorry," Jared panted. "I just – it's just been so long – "
Jensen nodded, grinning despite himself. "Yeah, I get that," he said. "For me, too. But we got all night here, am I right?"
Jared nodded so eagerly it made Jensen laugh. "Okay, then," he patted Jared's cheek. "Let's slow it down a little. Maybe eat first?"
"Okay," Jared agreed.
But eating turned out to be impossible because Jensen couldn't stop staring at Jared as he ate, and Jared wouldn't let Jensen sit away from him, and even though they scooted their chairs together Jared couldn't stop reaching a hand out to touch him.
Of course Jared's overheated palm on Jensen's thigh was an almost unbearable distraction, and when he spread his fingers wide and laid his hand over Jensen's chest Jensen let out an involuntary moan that was practically pornographic, even to his ears.
"Fuck it," Jensen exclaimed finally, scooting back his chair so he could climb into Jared's lap, grabbing fistfuls of Jared's long hair to pull his head back as Jensen kissed him, wet and sloppy and tasting of steak and more wine.
This time it was Jensen's turn to plunder Jared's mouth, to nip at his soft lips and run his fingers along Jared's strong features, memorizing the feel as well as the sight of his strong jaw and brow, his outrageous cheekbones and perfect nose. Jensen kissed the moles on his cheek and forehead, on his unshaven chin, dipping his tongue into the cleft before returning his attention to Jared's mouth. He messaged Jared's jaws with his thumbs, encouraging him to open wide so Jensen could kiss him just as deeply as Jared had kissed him earlier, so show Jared how it felt to nearly drown inside him.
Jared ran his hands down Jensen's back to his ass, scooping the smaller man against him, caressing Jensen's ass-crack through his jeans. Jensen's dick pulsed and he ground himself down against Jared's crotch with a moan. Jared's hands moved up again, under his shirts, seeking bare skin, making Jensen cry out and wrench his mouth away as Jared ran one hand up his bare back, hugging him tight with his other arm.
He could come like this, Jensen realized. He pulled his mouth away from Jared's to kiss along his jaw.
"Fuck me," he murmured in Jared's ear, surprising himself. He'd always topped in the past, those few rushed and awkward encounters he's almost always regretted later. But with Jared, all he wanted was to belong, to be claimed by the big man holding him tight in his lap, to spread his legs and feel Jared inside him.
"Jensen – " Jared breathed, burying his face in Jensen's shoulder and inhaling deep. His hips gave one last upward thrust, then stopped. "We need to talk."
Jensen froze, cold water flooding his veins. Of course, his inner voice sneered. He's got someone. Of course he does.
Jensen's thoughts flew to Genevieve, to her warning earlier that day, of how sure he'd felt just a few minutes ago that she was just a friend.
So it's someone else, he decided, pulling back, starting to slide off Jared's lap.
"No, wait," Jared held onto Jensen's hips, holding him in place. "It's not what you think. I want to. Oh my God, I want to fuck you so bad right now I can't even express how much I want to."
"But." Jensen pulled away again, and this time Jared let him go, let him slide off Jared's lap and slip back into his own chair. Jared leaned forward, keeping his knee pressed to Jensen's, holding Jensen's hand as he started to pull it away, guarded and suspicious.
"I have to tell you something." Jared took a deep breath. "Before we go any further. You deserve to know what you're getting into."
"Are you married?" Jensen asked bluntly. It was literally the worst thing he could think of, and his mind was already working the problem, reconciling himself to the role of mistress if that was the best he could get, steeling himself for the inevitable.
"No!" Jared looked so shocked that Jensen instantly believed him. "Oh my God, how could you think that? I could never have anyone but you, Jensen. You – hypothetical you – were all I've ever wanted all my life. Finding you was literally a kind of miracle. I would've lived out my life without ever having a mate if I hadn't found you."
He was shaking his head, tears glistening in his lovely eyes again, and Jensen was mesmerized, so overcome by the emotional intensity of Jared's words that he couldn't process their meaning.
"Then I don't understand," Jensen said. "What's the problem?"
Jared huffed out a breath. "There's no easy way to tell you what I'm about to tell you, Jensen, but I need you to hear me, really listen to me, all right? And if you still want this, if you still want me, then I'll be the luckiest man alive. But I need you to know, to make a fully-informed decision, okay?"
He's terminally ill, Jensen guessed, steeling himself for the second-worse thing he could think of, instantly deciding he would deal with that, too. Grief like a punch in the gut surged through him, and he gasped involuntarily, leaned forward to tangle his fingers with Jared's in sympathy with whatever was about to happen.
Jared smiled a little and squeezed Jensen's fingers.
"I'm a werewolf," he said softly, and the words had no meaning for Jensen, who was so prepared to hear a death-sentence that all he could do was gaze at Jared, uncomprehending.
"You – you're a what?" he finally managed.
"A werewolf," Jared repeated and yup, that's what Jensen thought he'd heard the first time. "Genevieve too. And Rob and Rich, who you haven't officially met. They'll be at the party tomorrow night, if you still want to come."
Okay, not terminally ill. Just mentally.
"Tristan is me," Jared went on in that quiet, reasonable voice that should've been saying things that made sense, although it occurred to Jensen that nothing about Jared would ever make sense again. "Well, part of me, anyway. He's my wolf. And I'm his human, although he doesn't think about me much. He's a real wolf, with wolfish instincts and drives. He doesn't use language, doesn't think about what he is or why he exists. His feelings for you are just as intense as mine, though. He senses your inner wolf."
"My – my what?" Jensen managed because Jared had paused.
"Yeah," Jared shrugged awkwardly. "Crazy, right? I know. Most werewolves are born that way. Purebred. But a few of us – our little pack – we're all weres by choice."
"You can choose to be a werewolf?" Jensen blinked. "I thought – I thought one of them had to bite you."
Jared shook his head. "No, that's just a myth," he said. "For us – for Gen and me – it happened when we hit puberty. With Rich and Rob it was even later. They were both adults. And you – you must be the oldest human I've ever met who hasn't already changed."
I was waiting for you, Jensen's inner voice provided, then he shook his head, chuckling nervously. He pulled his hand free from Jared's, scrubbed his cheek, then rubbed the back of his neck.
"I keep waiting for the punch line," he admitted. "But I guess you're telling me I'm a closet werewolf, and that sort of is the punch line."
"Tristan's never wrong," Jared nodded. "And about you he's been very persistent. I was pretty skeptical at first, quite honestly. You seemed so normal. But now I see how you hide who you really are. You've been doing it most of your life, so it's second nature to you, but I think I understand now."
Chills ran up Jensen's spine; he looked up, somehow expecting Jared to be looking right at him, but of course Jared's gaze was as unfocused and wandering as ever.
"I don't – I'm not sure I get what you mean," Jensen said, but the chills remained. If anything, they were growing in intensity; the sense that Jared could "see" him was even stronger.
Jared's lips turned up in a small smile, bringing out his dimples.
"I think it'll take a while," he said gently. "I'm guessing there's something that happened to you, maybe when you were a child. You never talk about it, you don't think about it, maybe you don't even remember it. But the scars are there, on the inside. That's what makes you one of us. That's where your inner wolf lies, waiting."
Blood was pounding in Jensen's head, just behind his eyes, roaring in his ears. Nightmare images flashed into his brain and were gone before he could recognize or make sense of them. He heard his mother crying, saw blood on her fingers after she touched him. His whole body hurt. He felt sick to his stomach as he remembered riding in the car, leaving Dallas forever.
Jensen pushed his chair back and rose to his feet so quickly he almost fell over. His heart was beating so fast it felt as if it would burst out of his chest; he was panting like he'd just run a mile.
"I don't – I don't know what you're talking about," he gasped out, grabbing the back of his chair for support as the room started to spin. "This is crazy. You're crazy. I can't do this."
He backed away from Jared as if he expected the blind man to attack him, to suddenly turn into a mythical creature right there in Jensen's living room.
But Jared didn't move, stayed seated, chewing on his bottom lip and frowning a little, looking about as dangerous as a kicked puppy.
"I'm sorry, Jensen," he murmured softly. "I know this is a lot to take in. I should probably go."
And yes, Jensen knew that was right. Jared should go. Jared should go and never come back, and Jensen should go on with his nice, normal life like none of this ever happened. That's what Jensen's mother had wanted him to do, all those years ago, and that's what Jensen had always done before. Put the bad stuff away, in the past, never to be thought about again.
But Jensen didn't want Jared to leave. Maybe it was selfish, but Jensen wanted Jared, probably more than he'd ever wanted anything or anyone. And maybe there was something supernatural about that, since it didn't make rational sense, since he barely knew the man. Since Jared was obviously insane and came with baggage.
Since Jared could see into his soul, could see how damaged Jensen was, and still wanted him.
"No," Jensen heard himself say, taking a cautious step forward, toward Jared. "Stay. Please. I just – Please stay."
Jared took a deep, shaky breath, nodding to himself, so obviously relieved Jensen almost hugged him.
As it was, the fire needed tending, and the music needed changing, and Jensen was horny again. He considered putting his glasses back on, then left them where they were, along with his beanie, shrugging off the over-shirt he always wore like a jacket as he crossed the room and laid his hand on Jared's shoulder.
Jared's muscles flexed under Jensen's hand and he turned his head in Jensen's direction, laid his hand over Jensen's.
"You wanna see my record collection?" Jensen hinted, and Jared grinned broadly.
"Yeah," he said, tangling his fingers with Jensen's as Jensen tugged him to his feet, then led the way down the hall to Jensen's bedroom, keeping their fingers entwined.
"I keep the really rare stuff in here," Jensen said as he pushed open the door and pulled Jared inside.
Their lovemaking was intense and frantic. Jensen couldn't wait to get Jared's clothes off so he could see all that toned, bronzed skin. So he could get his mouth all over it. As soon as he pushed Jared's jeans out of the way Jensen dropped to his knees and went to town on the man's monster dick, slurping as much of it into his mouth as he could while Jared moaned and tipped his head back against the door, exposing his long neck. Jared's fingers brushed lightly over Jensen's face, over his lips where they were wrapped around Jared's dick, and Jensen knew Jared was "seeing" him in his mind's eye, imagining Jensen's mouth all swollen and debauched and spit-slick. Jensen grabbed Jared's ass with both hands and squeezed, making Jared thrust involuntarily, and Jensen felt his jaw unhinge as Jared's dick hit the back of his throat and tears smarted in his eyes.
"Oh my God, Jensen," Jared gasped. "Oh my God."
Jared's fingers trailed down Jensen's throat, curled into the hair on the back of Jensen's neck, gentle and urgent at the same time, and Jensen pulled off just enough to suckle before slamming home again. Jared let out a strangled moan as Jensen's throat muscles fluttered against his dick, then he tangled his fingers in Jensen's short hair and held on.
"Gonna come – God, Jensen, I can't hold off – it's been too long – Oh fuck!"
Part of Jensen's brain, the part that was still functioning normally, was sending him alarm bells, warning him that a near-stranger was about to come down his throat and hadn't his mother always taught him to be safe?
But there was another part of Jensen's brain that wanted Jared no matter what, despite mental illness and blindness and Jensen's own brokenness, that wanted all of Jared and everything he could get from him. It was a wild, reckless part of himself that Jensen barely recognized, hadn't even known existed before he met Jared. That was the part that made him take Jared deeper now, tears streaming down his cheeks, starting to black out from lack of air as he gazed up Jared's long body, his vision blurring as he watched Jared lose it.
Jared's jaw worked and his brow furrowed, his mouth opening in a silent "oh" as he released down Jensen's throat, blind eyes squeezed shut, then opening again as his face muscles relaxed. He seemed peaceful in that moment, so that even as Jensen struggled to swallow, to stay conscious, he was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and satisfaction, knowing he put that look on Jared's beautiful face, knowing he'd given such pleasure to this man who mattered more to him than he ever thought anyone could.
"Jensen," Jared breathed, pulling his softening cock out enough to give Jensen room to breathe, fingertips grazing Jensen's tear-streaked cheeks. "Come here."
Jensen rose obediently, stumbling against Jared as the taller man pulled him in, held his face between his hands as he planted gentle kisses across Jensen's cheeks, the bridge of his nose, then his eyelids. Jared's tongue flicked out and tasted the delicate skin there, kissing Jensen's tears away, then his big hands tipped Jensen's chin up so Jared could mouth along under Jensen's jaw, all the way to his ear, tasting and suckling tenderly along each inch of Jensen's skin.
"Mine," Jared whispered into his ear, and Jensen shivered, feeling the word all the way to the depths of his soul, or so it seemed.
Jared helped Jensen out of his shirts while Jensen dropped his jeans and boxers to the floor, then stepped close to Jared for more deep kisses, aware that Jared's way of seeing him was to keep his hands on him at all times.
When Jared returned the favor of the blow-job, sinking to his knees and taking Jensen into his mouth, Jensen discovered something else a blind man could do every bit as well as a sighted one.
Afterwards, Jensen slid to the floor and gathered Jared into his arms, loose and weak-limbed. Jared seemed fine on the floor, but Jensen insisted they climb into his bed, pulling the sheet up to their waists so they could lie facing each other in the moonlight. For several moments, they lay quietly while Jared's hands explored every inch of Jensen's body, learning every line and muscle. Then Jensen returned the favor, learning Jared by touch, half-doubting that this strange, beautiful man could be real; he needed to keep touching Jared to reassure himself that he wasn't a dream.
"How did it happen?" Jensen murmured as he ran a fingertip along Jared's eyelid, admiring the paper-thin feel of his skin there, the dark lace of his eyelashes against his cheek.
"Scarlet fever, when I was six," Jared said. "My parents were Christian Scientists who didn't believe in vaccinations or any kind of medical intervention except prayer."
Jensen's heart clenched at the thought that Jared's disability could've been prevented. It brought out every protective bone in his body.
"Oh God, Jared, I'm so sorry," Jensen breathed. "Jesus. How could they do that to their own child?"
Jared shrugged, smiling softly. "It was terrifying at first," he admitted. "Everything was so dark. But I got used to it. My other senses got stronger to compensate, and now I barely notice it. Then when Tristan came, I could see again. Same with the others."
"The others?" Jensen drew a blank.
"Yeah," Jared nodded. "My pack. Genevieve, Rich and Rob – we're all differently-abled. Misfits. It's what's drew us together, I think. Our wolves sense disabilities in humans, and those that choose to join us regain their ability when they become wolves themselves."
Jensen stared. "Your wolf isn't blind," he repeated cautiously.
"No," Jared shook his head. "And Genevieve's wolf has all her limbs. Rich's isn't deaf, and Rob's doesn't have epilepsy. When we're wolves, we're free. I don't think of it as being healed, since none of us think of ourselves as sick or broken. Our wolves are part of us, but they're also more; enhanced, maybe. You'll see, if you want to. I hope you'll want to."
"So it's got to be a choice," Jensen clarified. "It doesn't happen automatically. The wolf thing, I mean."
Jared shook his head. "No," he agreed. "It's all you. But once you decide, there's no going back. Your wolf slows the aging process, makes you heal faster, gives you strength, even in your human form. Lets you move faster. Gives you heightened senses. Your wolf makes you feel complete, makes you feel whole and free and fulfilled in ways you never knew you needed. It sounds kinda goofy, I know, and that part you just have to trust me on. But once it happens to you, you'll never want to go back, I promise.
"You don't have to say yes tonight," Jared went on, excitement making his skin flush that deep dusky rose color Jensen already loved best. "Come with me to meet the others. Hear their stories. Take your time to let it all sink it. There's no rush."
"No?" Jensen barked out a laugh. "You make it sound so final. I mean, here we are on our first date and already you're asking me to marry you."
Jared's eyes flicked back and forth, and Jensen knew it was involuntary, but he was already beginning to read Jared's expressions, and he could swear there was a nervous intensity in that look, however unfocused.
"Would you?" Jared said. "If I asked you now, would you?" His chest was heaving, and there was a light sweat on his brow, like he'd just been running, or like he was resisting the urge to flee. "Would you marry me, Jensen?"
For a moment Jensen couldn't think. His pulse took off like a firecracker and his heart was suddenly pounding fit to burst in his chest. His breath hitched and he stared at Jared, trying to gauge the man's seriousness.
The wild, reckless thing in Jensen's heart was battling with his timid, cautious sanity, the self-contained man of habits and routines and quiet, understated living that had kept Jensen safe for so many years. He couldn't remember being any other way. Jensen's life had been so ordered, so careful before Jared came. Everything in its place. Every emotion under control. Jensen had built such a wall around his heart he wasn't sure it was even in there anymore.
Jared's hand on his brought Jensen back to the moment, to Jared's damp, parted lips and the little crease of a frown in his brow. Jared tugged Jensen's hand up and laid it flat on his chest, so that Jensen could feel Jared's heart pounding under his warm, smooth skin. The hair on his chest was damp with sweat, and Jensen curled his fingers in it, tugging gently before sliding his hand up to curl behind Jared's neck. He held Jared's head as he leaned in, kissed Jared's soft lips.
"Yes," Jensen murmured against Jared's lips, surprising himself. "Yes, Jared. I would. If you asked me, I believe I would."
Jared's lips turned up under Jensen's and he let out a gust of breath as he smiled broadly, his cheeks dimpling deeply.
Their love-making was slower, more languid the second time, if no less intense. Jensen felt both consumed and released by Jared's love, by his utter confidence that they were meant for each other. It should have terrified him, but it didn't. He couldn't really work out in his mind why he felt so good in Jared's arms, why it felt so right. It just did.
And when he woke late in the night to find the bed empty and a wolf in the room, moonlight shining on its dark coat, eyes flashing at it watched Jensen, he wasn't even scared.
"Hey, Tristan," he spoke softly, keeping his movements slow and careful as he slipped out of bed to open the bedroom door, then leading the way down the hall to the front door. Tristan grazed his thigh as as he trotted out into the night, tongue lolling happily as he tasted the night air, then took off in a quiet lope down the street.
It only struck Jensen later how natural it had felt, how easily he understood Tristan's needs. Wolves don't belong indoors, had been his only thought. They need to run.
He never doubted that Jared would be back, and when Jensen woke the next morning, sun streaming through the open window next to the bed, Jared was lying right there next to him, naked and sound asleep and smelling like a pine tree.
Jensen leaned over him and breathed in the woodsy smell, pulled a couple of twigs from Jared's long hair, and planted a kiss on his shoulder. Jared mumbled something in his sleep and turned his face toward Jensen, and even though Jared was lying on his stomach, Jensen could see the twigs and pine needles on the sheet under his long, lean body.
"Hey," Jensen murmured into the crook of Jared's neck as he kissed him there, tasting tree-bark and pine-cones. "I have to go to work."
Jared moaned and shifted onto his side so he could reach for Jensen, so he could pull Jensen in with his long arms.
"No," he whined. "Stay home. Call in sick today."
"Ugh!" Jensen protested as he found himself lying in the scattering of dead leaves and dirt Jared left when he rolled over. "Did you dig a hole to China in the woods last night?"
Jared grinned. "Maybe," he agreed. His face was streaked with dirt and a pine needle was stuck to his eyebrow, so Jensen plucked it free, then laid his palm against Jared's stubbled cheek and rubbed his thumb along his soft lower lip.
"You need a shower," Jensen suggested, and Jared flushed and sank his teeth into the lip where Jensen's thumb had been.
Jared left muddy footprints in his wake as Jensen walked him to the bathroom, and it occurred to him that Jared must leave the bathroom window open in his apartment so Tristan could come home that way. Which explained why Jensen had never seen him return after his nightly run.
And that was when it occurred to Jensen that he'd stopped thinking Jared was insane and had become a believer. It had happened sometime in the night, maybe after they first made love but definitely before Tristan appeared, probably shortly after Jared proposed to him.
At the same time, Jensen realized it didn't really matter whether he believed werewolves were real. Jensen believed in Jared, wolf or not, and that in itself should be supernatural enough, since he barely knew the man and had already pretty much agreed to spend the rest of his life with him anyway.
Washing Jared in the shower led to mind-blowing sex, of course, so Jensen wasn't in much shape to go to work that day, as it turned out. It was easier than he thought it would be to lie to Danneel about staying home with a twisted ankle. Jensen was bruised and sore in places he would feel for a week, so it wasn't that far from the truth, really.
"Fine," Danneel sighed, pretending to be put-upon although the little snicker in her voice gave her away. "Stay home and feel better, Jen. I'll see you at the party tonight."
After Jensen changed the sheets on his bed and cleaned up the mud on the floor, he made omelets and coffee for breakfast, figuring Jared would be starving after all the physical activity of the previous night.
And of course watching Jared eat made Jensen so horny he finally pushed the food away and climbed into Jared's lap and kissed him thoroughly, chasing the taste of coffee and bacon around Jared's mouth with his tongue. Which caused Jared to surge up and lift Jensen in his arms, depositing him on his back on the kitchen table, sending the dishes crashing and clinking everywhere. Jared growled as he rutted against Jensen, who was grateful they were only wearing their jeans as Jared pushed his hand down between them. Jensen shimmied out of his jeans, then wrapped his legs around Jared's waist and held on as Jared rutted hard and fast, jacking both dicks with his big hand.
The mess they made was definitely something Jensen's mother would have been grateful she hadn't lived to see.
Jensen's heart was pounding and his adrenaline pumping hard when he and Jared approached Genevieve's front door that evening.
"Come in!" Genevieve welcomed them, giving Jensen an appraising once-over as she stepped back to let them in.
Jensen was wearing a dark tee-shirt, another soft henley with the sleeves rolled up, and grey cords that showed off his thighs. Jared had talked him into leaving behind the beanie and glasses at the last minute, and Jensen had never felt so naked.
Jared's hand on the small of Jensen's back was reassuring, though, and Jared's large body pressed alongside his gave Jensen enough strength to manage a smile as he moved past Genevieve into her house.
Two men Jensen had never seen before were seated in the small living room; they both had beers in their hands and looked nervous, like they were anxious relatives in a hospital awaiting word of a loved one's condition after an operation.
Or a birth.
"Jensen, meet Rich and Rob," Jared murmured into his ear, and Jensen could hear the smile in his voice so he stepped forward and put his hand out as the two men rose simultaneously.
"Hey," one of the men said, stepping forward to take Jensen's hand, smiling warmly. Sympathetically. Like he knew how nerve-wracking it was for Jensen to meet Jared's family for the first time, like he understood how under-the-microscope Jensen felt. "He makes it sound like we're interchangeable, but I'm Rob. This is Rich."
Rob stepped back, putting his hand on his partner's shoulder, and the other man stepped forward, facing breaking into a dimpled grin as he took Jensen's hand.
"Good to meet you," Jensen nodded, trying not to stutter. Rich winked at him but didn't answer, and Jensen remembered Jared telling him that Rich was deaf.
"Hey, Jenny." Danneel's voice, dripping with its usual teasing irony, surprised Jensen for just a minute before he turned to see her standing in the kitchen doorway behind Genevieve, wineglass in hand.
Genevieve turned her head and lowered her eyes as she sensed Danneel standing close behind her, and the spot of color Jensen glimpsed in her cheeks made Jensen smile despite himself. The tall, snarky redhead and the short, voluptuous brunette looked ridiculously happy together, and Jensen had to admit it was a good look on both of them.
"Yeah, you're not the only one who called in sick today," Danneel smirked in answer to Jensen's raised eyebrow. "Gen and I have a few things in common, turns out."
"Can I get you something to drink?" Genevieve asked, most of her earlier tension and hostility drained away, replaced by an easy charm that Jensen knew he could warm to. He had the feeling Genevieve was as kind and good-hearted as she was fiercely protective of those she loved, and Jensen approved. He liked her for that more than he would have thought possible even a day ago.
"So, this is your pack," Jensen noted as he accepted the glass of merlot Genevieve offered. He sat on the love-seat with Jared, pressed together from hip to knee. Jared's arm lay casually across the back of the seat, and Jensen was aware that if he sat back against the cushions he could tuck up under Jared's arm like he belonged there, sending a clear signal to the others if he needed to.
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, holding his glass in both hands.
"This is it," Jared agreed, and although from this angle Jensen couldn't see Jared's face without turning, he could tell the larger man was smiling.
"We understand you'll be joining us," Rob said, tentative but clearly curious.
"Well." Jensen cleared his throat, shifted a little on the soft sofa, then realized how that might look to the others and blushed to the tips of his ears. Jared had already warned him that the others would know, just by smell, that they were mated. "I guess – I guess that depends."
"On what?" Genevieve demanded.
Danneel pressed against the smaller woman, leaning in and brushing her lips against Genevieve's ear, soothing. Then she lifted her eyes to Jensen, shaking her head a little, as if she could still control him with a look, as she was used to doing at work.
Jensen took a deep. "Well, it depends on whether you want me to join you," he said quietly. "Jared and I have already made our commitment. Now it's up to you."
Jensen could feel Jared's heat against his leg, against his back even though Jared was leaning back on the love-seat, giving Jensen space. He could feel something else, too; something deep and strong and powerful and a little bit wild. His wolf, he realized for the first time.
"Oh my God," Genevieve breathed. "Did you see that? Did you – "
Jensen looked up at her. She was staring at him with an expression of startled awe, like she was seeing him for the first time and he was definitely not who she expected him to be.
Jensen glanced around the room, found the same expression on the faces of the others. Danneel frowned in confusion.
"What?" she asked, clearly not seeing what they were seeing. "I don't get it."
Genevieve stared at Jensen another moment, then shook her head. "His wolf," she explained. "He's very strong."
"He's an alpha," Rob said. "He'll be our leader."
Jensen felt his eyebrows shoot up.
"What?" His voice sounded high and squeaky, even to his ears. "I'm not – that's not who I am... I don't know the first thing about all of this."
"Your wolf does," Rob nodded sagely. "It's all up to him anyway. Not like it's something you have much say over. That's just the way it is, for all of us."
Rich put his hand on Rob's arm and Rob turned to look at his partner as Rich made a comment in American Sign Language. Rob blushed, then turned back to Jensen.
"He says you'll just have to get used to being a top," Rob translated as Rich smirked and winked at Jensen.
"He already has," Jared purred, sliding his hand along Jensen's thigh, possessive and proud.
"Oh my God, will you two get a room!" Danneel carped, rolling her eyes.
Rich shook his head vigorously, hands flying as he made another comment.
"He says no way. He wants to watch," Rob translated, and Rich winked at Jensen again as Danneel groaned.
"Time to eat!" Genevieve announced.
Over dinner, Jensen got an earful from Rob, Rich, and Genevieve about their pasts. He and Danneel listened attentively as the pack told their stories of persistence and resilience in the face of challenges Jensen could only imagine. When it was Jared's turn, he told an abbreviated version of what had happened to him as a child, then how he and Genevieve found each other as teenagers and made the change together.
"I grew up with a learning disability," Danneel admitted when it was her turn. "I'm dyslexic. When I was little I presented with a variety of developmental delays, and for a long time the doctors thought I was autistic. I learned a lot of coping strategies to help me communicate. For example, I was speech-delayed, so I learned ASL." She nodded at Rich, who grinned adorably, dimples on full display. "I still don't read or write very well."
"But you work in a library!" Jensen couldn't help exclaiming. He'd never known any of this about Danneel, and it amazed him that his smart, capable boss had ever had a challenge in her life, much less a life-long disability that she managed every day.
Danneel smirked. "I'm kind of a bitch, in case you hadn't noticed," she said. "I like to conquer things that get in my way. Reading was and still is a real challenge for me, and being a librarian is my way of saying 'fuck-you' to that challenge. It's just the way I'm made, I guess."
"It sure is," Genevieve nodded approvingly, and Jensen felt himself smiling, too.
Except that now it was his turn.
All eyes turned his way, and Jensen could feel Jared leaning toward him a little, sliding his hand onto Jensen's thigh under the table, where the others couldn't see his gesture of reassurance. Sweat broke out on Jensen's hands and the back of his neck, and he could feel a slow flush creeping up his chest.
"My turn," he cleared his throat, shifted in his chair, and looked down at his empty plate. "Yeah."
Jared squeezed Jensen's thigh gently. "You don't have to if you don't want to," he murmured quietly.
"No," Jensen surprised himself, looking up quickly, drinking in Jared's startling beauty to give him confidence before glancing around the table at the others. They were all sitting quietly, watching him, open and expectant.
Jensen took a deep breath. "Something happened, when I was a child," he said. "I don't remember it, exactly, but it was pretty bad, I guess. We lived in Dallas, and that's where it happened. It's probably in the papers, I don't know. I've never... "
He cleared his throat, reached for his glass of water, and took a sip. When he set the glass down, his hand was shaking. Jared took his other hand and laced their fingers together.
"I guess my disability is on the inside," Jensen tapped his temple. "In here. I'm probably a psychopath, I don't know." He rubbed the back of his neck, then wiped his sweating palm down his thigh. "Maybe I'm a closet serial killer or something." He huffed out a nervous laugh, but no one joined him.
"You're not," Jared murmured close to his ear.
The others shook their heads in agreement.
"We'd know," Rob assured him. "Not that there isn't something a little dangerous about you."
Rich nodded. "Your wolf is a real badass," he signed.
"Huh," Jensen chuckled. "So when do I get to meet him? How's the whole wolf-thing work, anyway?"
"That's up to him," Genevieve said.
"So – it's not something I can control?" Jensen felt a prickle of something akin to fear run up his spine.
"Not exactly," Genevieve agreed. "Your wolf decides when he needs to run. Then it just – happens."
"Not in public, I hope," Danneel made a face, and the others exchanged smiles.
"Not usually, although we have this theory," Rob said. "If you're ever in any immediate danger, your wolf would probably take over. It's not something we've ever tested, but it feels like that would happen. They're very protective.
"And the whole not-aging thing," Danneel pressed. "Does that start right away? How old are you guys really?"
"Gen and I were born in 1955," Jared said. "The boys are younger."
Jensen gazed at Jared's strong profile, his smooth skin and dark, lustrous hair. They'd already discussed the aging thing, and Jared had already explained how he did, in fact, age. Just very slowly.
"I'm gonna call you 'Old Man' from now on," Jensen said fondly, reaching up to tuck a strand of Jared's hair behind his ear.
"But why doesn't Rich have cochlear implants?" Danneel pressed, signing as she spoke, although Rich could obviously read lips with near-perfect accuracy. "I mean, even if you were born in 1970, most deaf kids today can have them if their parents want them."
"Rich lost his hearing when he was a baby," Rob explained. "Adverse reaction to the measles vaccine. It happens to a tiny percentage of children, or at least it used to before they fixed the vaccine. And you're right; back then they didn't have the implants. And once Rich became a werewolf, it wasn't an option."
Rich nodded and continued Rob's explanation in ASL, with Rob translating for Jensen's benefit. "There's a downside to the healing thing; your body heals itself too perfectly now, so surgeries of any kind heal up too quickly to make any difference. Not that I would've had the implants if I could have. I've always been deaf. It's who I am. It's not something I want to change."
"But your wolf can hear," Danneel stated the obvious, and Rich nodded.
"Believe me, being aware of sound in the forest at night is something I treasure," Rich signed. "But I wouldn't want to be human out there. It's a wilderness. My wolf can handle all that aural stimulation. Me, I prefer oral stimulation, if you know what I mean." He smirked and winked at Jensen, who felt himself blush as Rob translated.
"So – the wolves have sex?" Danneel asked, blunt as ever.
"Yes," Genevieve said.
"No!" Jared spoke at the same time, and Jensen half-turned to look at him, noting his frown and the clench of his jaw. In the awkward silence that followed, Jensen glanced up at Genevieve, who was deliberately avoiding his eyes.
"Sometimes," Rob spoke finally. "But only with their mates. Wolves are monogamous. They mate for life, as I'm sure you already know."
"Why do I get the feeling that's not always the case?" Danneel asked, glancing between Genevieve and Jared, then raising her eyebrows at Jensen.
"We were kids," Genevieve sighed, shaking her head. "When Jared and I found each other, we were the only ones. I was recovering from my accident, getting used to my prosthetic, and feeling pretty ugly and unwanted. Jared was being a good friend. I came on a little strong."
She looked Jensen in the eye as she added, "It was a long time ago. It was obvious we weren't meant for each other. He was waiting for you."
"All those years?" The words slipped out before Jensen could stop them. "I wasn't even born yet."
He was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of Jared's suffering. It was one thing to be alone and delude yourself into thinking that loneliness was a choice, as Jensen had done all his life. It was another thing entirely to know there was someone out there for you, but only one someone, the only person who could fulfill your instinctive need for a mate, an instinct that wasn't even human. Jensen could almost hear the howling of the lone wolf in his head and he could only imagine the extent of Jared's forty years of longing.
"He picked up your scent in Dallas about a year ago," Genevieve explained. "It was an old scent, but he knew it was you."
"We've been all over the country, Jensen. You have no idea," Rob chimed in. "When Rich and I first joined the pack, we just figured that's the way it was, always being on the road, moving around the country, never putting down roots for more than a few months at a time."
"Little did we know we were following a madman," Rich signed. "A madman on an epic quest."
"We knew," Genevieve said with a touch of bitterness. "Some of us just didn't believe it, that's all."
If you can't be with the one you love, honey... The line from the old song drifted through Jensen's mind, followed by a pang of guilt. Genevieve had suffered, too. She'd loved Jared, even if Jared didn't return her feelings. Even if she must have known, in her heart, that Jared wasn't her one true mate.
"Good thing you followed him anyway," Danneel said, slipping her hand into Genevieve's, who looked up at her in surprise, as if she'd momentarily forgotten that her own search was over. As if her years of waiting and wanting had become so ingrained in her sense of herself she couldn't quite believe they were in the past now.
Then Genevieve's face softened into a shy smile, the flush in her cheeks making her eyes sparkle as she squeezed Danneel's hand.
"Yeah," she agreed. "Yeah, it's a good thing after all."
Jensen had a feeling it would take Genevieve a while to shake her habit of pining for something she didn't really want but had been completely ready to settle for. It was similar to his own predicament. Jensen had never expected to fall in love. He'd decided he wasn't even capable of it, and he'd reconciled himself to that. For years.
Then, so suddenly it felt like a bomb had gone off in his heart, everything had changed.
Jared's hand slipped into Jensen's under the table and squeezed.
As it turned out, it was several weeks before Jensen's first change. He'd been expecting it, freaking out a little about it if he was honest with himself. But when it finally happened, it wasn't at all what he expected.
It was close to Christmas, and the first snow was already on the ground. Jared and Jensen had gone to bed early because there was a fund-raising event at the library the next day and Jensen needed to be up at the crack of dawn to help set up. Sometime in the night he was awakened by the sharp smell of snow, a sensation of cold, and the sudden urge to move.
But first he had to climb, then jump, to get out where he could run. So he did. The air was crisp and cold and the moon shone on the snow, making everything seem bright as day. He was running through the woods, making his blood pump, warming and stretching his limbs. It felt good; the forest floor was covered with obstacles that he could easily leap over and around, and when he came to a small stream he jumped across easily and kept running, up the hill, always upwards, towards the moon.
He was aware of other runners, flanking him on the left and right. Jared, of course, and the others. His pack. He didn't need to see them, didn't need to glance over his shoulder to know they were there. He could sense them, could feel their exhilaration and excitement as they ran with him, always having his back.
He burst out of the tree-line and ran along the ridge overlooking a wide valley. He could see a lake in the distance, shining in the moonlight, and at the far edge of his vision a silver line where the land met the ocean. His heart pounded, his lungs pumping perfectly, the sense of openness and belonging filling him with sheer joy. The world belonged to him, these woods and mountains and valleys lakes, all the way to the ocean. It was his, it was part of him. He could run forever and there would always be more land to claim, to climb, to leap and run over. It made him want to howl with joy, this feeling of open space, of being up high where he could see everything. Sense everything.
He turned to look at Jared, finding his mate's beautiful golden eyes gazing back at him, and he knew Jared felt the same way. He knew Jared shared his joy with all the wildness in his heart.
Jensen woke up in his bed, breathing hard and covered with a thin layer of sweat.
Of course he was sweating. He'd just been running.
Jared was awake, and although the moon had set and the room was dark, Jensen could swear he was smiling. Grinning from ear to ear, in fact.
Jensen rolled over, slotting himself between Jared's long legs, and ground their hips together, slow and steady. He watched Jared's head tip back and his eyes slide closed, watched his mouth going slack with pleasure. He noticed the twigs in Jared's hair, was vaguely aware of the thin layer of dirt covering both their naked bodies, could feel the snow melting in his hair.
They didn't speak, didn't even kiss, and when Jensen pushed into Jared's willing body Jared let out a relieved sigh, a contented sound that brought tears to Jensen's eyes. Sinking into Jared was like sinking into the Earth itself, becoming part of something more than human, more than wolf, a natural thing that Jensen couldn't put words to if he wanted to because there was no language for this, this union with something greater than either of them.
Afterwards, Jensen lay curled around Jared with his face buried in Jared's sweat-soaked skin, his body that smelled like soil and mountain pine and cold night air, and he knew he smelled the same to Jared. He was woods and earth and sun and moon and sea. He was everything Jared would ever need.
Jared and the pack were Jensen's home now. His wolf was finally free.