Jensen sits gaping like an idiot for half an hour before he manages to drag his ass back to the house. Danneel is in the kitchen with Aldis, the two of them stealing food off each other's plates and bickering flirtatiously when he gets inside.
Normally, Jensen would roll his eyes, tell them to get a room, all while secretly charmed by how excessively cute they are together. Right now, he walks in silent, heads straight to the breakfast bar and takes a seat next to Danneel.
"Hey, man," Aldis says, raising a spatula in greeting. He's wearing the bright pink KISS THE COOK apron Danneel found in the linen closet last week and nothing but boxers underneath, which Jensen hardly takes note of before nodding back to Aldis to acknowledge his hello.
"Whoa, you just didn't check out a hot guy's ass," Danneel observes. "Babe, are you feeling okay?"
Jensen looks over at her, shrugs, but still can't manage to figure out what to say. If he tries to explain what he just saw, they'll tell him he's crazy. Worse than that, judging by what he just saw, he probably is crazy.
"Maybe he was just being respectful," Aldis suggests. "I'm not a piece of meat, you know."
"Oh, I beg to differ," Danneel says, grinning so wide that Aldis bends over the counter to give her a kiss.
She turns her attention to Jensen after, apparently too wrapped up in her summer fling to realize how spooked he’s acting. "Aldis is grilling bourbon burgers that are so good they would reduce a stone wall to tears, and I told him to make enough for you, because I am the greatest best friend ever."
"Yeah," Jensen says. He forces a smile, then shakes his head. "You know, thanks, but I'm not really hungry."
Danneel pouts a bit. "So I'm guessing you're not going to want to come to the party Aldis and his roommates are throwing later?"
"Gil will be there," Aldis says encouragingly. "I know he'd be glad to see you again."
"Who?" Jensen asks, and he doesn’t realize what an asshole question it is until Danneel's eyes bulge out of her head and she lightly kicks Jensen under the table.
"You remember Gil," she insists. "Aldis's roommate. From the party last week."
"Oh, right," Jensen says, cringing, because he's not the kind of person who fucks a guy and can't even remember his name a week later, not usually. He's just a little preoccupied. By the fact that he just watched a grown man turn into a seal. Which he doesn't really plan to announce, at least not until he's had a good long think about it. "Yeah, Gil. Nice guy. Sorry, look, I'm just a little out of it right now."
"Clearly," Danneel mumbles.
Aldis turns from the stovetop grill with a concerned look on his face and shoves a plate with a giant burger at Jensen. "You need to eat, man."
Jensen accepts it, thanks him, and promptly stands to take the burger up to his room. Being around people without a chance to process is apparently the last thing he needs.
"So that's a no to the party then?"
He looks down at his burger, then up at the worried expressions both Aldis and Danneel are aiming at him. Stressing his friends out is not going to make the fact that he's losing his mind any easier, and anyway, maybe he's been too much on his own the last few days. Maybe that's why he's cracking. A party and another chance at convincing himself he can be interested in Gil might be exactly what he needs.
"I'll go to the party. I just need a little while in my room, by myself. I have to check something online. Tell me when you're leaving, okay?"
Danneel and Aldis make 'mmmhmm' sounds as they chew their burgers, and Jensen heads upstairs, immediately setting the plate down next to his computer.
The first thing he does is type the word selkie into Google, because he knows that's what Jared is, if Jared is anything other than a figment of his imagination.
Jensen reads everything he can and doesn't realize time is passing until there's a knock on his door, and Danneel yells that they're leaving in ten minutes, so he'd better be dressed. He's surprised to find he ate most of the food on his plate while he was browsing the sites he found, and he feels a little more centered having done some research, even if most of the lore he found was contradictory or unclear.
At least if there are so many stories about this, legends dating back hundreds of years, there's a chance it's a real thing. However slim the chance may be.
He dresses quickly, grateful because he doesn't have to stress over what to wear when they're just walking a few houses over for a party on the beach. In all likelihood, everyone will get drunk, strip to their underwear, and end up in the water before midnight, anyway.
Aldis and Danneel get pulled away by people they know almost immediately, which leaves Jensen alone to wander. He heads toward the bonfire and decides it's kismet when he sees Gil sitting on one of the logs around the fire by himself.
He walks right up to him and smiles down as he says, "Hey."
Gil looks up, and he seems a little surprised to see Jensen, which is fair enough, because he's been sending messages through Aldis since they hooked up, and Jensen ignored all of them. "Oh, hi. I haven't seen you around since…"
"Yeah," Jensen replies. "Sorry about that. I think I checked out a little after the storm."
"I think you checked out before then," Gil says, and Jensen probably deserves that. "I mean, it's cool. One night is one night."
"Well, I was thinking maybe we could talk again tonight?" Jensen smiles, pointing to the empty spot on the log next to Gil. "Can I sit down?"
Gil makes an uncomfortable face, and just then someone slides in around Jensen and takes the seat, handing Gil a beer and grinning. "Sorry it took so long. Felicia is guarding the keg and making people answer complicated math questions before she'll let you have a drink."
"That sounds like her," Gil says, huffing a laugh. He looks up at Jensen again, and it's not hard to see he's smitten with the little dude who just took Jensen's spot. "Jensen, this is Osric. Osric, Jensen."
"Hey," Osric says, reaching up to shake Jensen's hand. "Nice to meet you! You another of Gil's buddies from home?"
"No, Jensen is friends with Danneel. You remember, you met her yesterday?"
Osric nods agreeably. "Right, yeah. Sorry I didn't get you a drink, man. Didn't realize—"
"Actually, I was just swinging by to say hi on the way to grab a beer for myself. But it was great to meet you. Nice to see you again, Gil."
"I hope you're good at math," Osric says before turning his attention to a very relieved looking Gil and pulling the guitar he'd had strapped around his back around. "Wanna try another song?"
Jensen walks off, hearing the start of Osric playing and Gil singing along to some John Legend song. It's Aldis-and-Danneel levels of public affection, and Jensen thinks maybe he should feel jealous, but he doesn't. He's glad everyone has found someone who makes them happy, even if he's the only one who seems to have found someone who just makes him confused.
And maybe that crazy lady they'd met their first day here was right, because he is lonely, and he seems to be actively working to stay that way. He could have been the one sitting by a fire with a hot guy singing overwritten pop ballads if he'd played his cards differently.
Jensen has just decided to give up on making any meaningful human connections when he notices the shadow of someone standing not quite outside of the party, but right on the edge of it. Jensen recognizes Jared's profile fairly easily by now, even if they've only met twice and both times were brief and weird as hell. Jared leaves an impression.
Jared seems to be waiting for Jensen. He stays right where he is and doesn't look the least bit surprised when Jensen heads straight for him.
"You really enjoy lurking, huh?" Jensen says in lieu of a greeting.
"I don't spend a lot of time around humans," he says, like it's a perfectly normal thing to say, and Jensen supposes it probably is, for him. "Coming ashore during a party is risky enough without drawing attention."
"Bad news, buddy, a guy your size standing off by himself draws attention anyway."
"No," Jared says. He reaches out, brushing the backs of his fingers on Jensen's cheek. "Only yours." Jared smiles. "You were looking for me."
"Well, don't get an ego about it. You cheated with the party trick where you turned into a seal."
Jared laughs, letting his hand drop from Jensen's face. "I guess you're probably wondering a lot of things right now."
"I know what you are," Jensen tells him. "You're a selkie."
"Just like that?" Jared asks, raising an eyebrow. "I gotta say this conversation isn't going at all how I expected."
"How did you expect it to go?" Jensen throws a look over his shoulder, back toward the crowd of people at the party. "How do people usually take it?"
"I've never spoken to a human before," Jared answers. He takes Jensen's hand and tugs him in the opposite direction, back toward Jensen's house and those rocks he seems so fond of. "And in the interest of not being overheard, let's go somewhere we can be alone."
Jensen thinks, probably, he should be a little more leery of all of this. Jared is still a stranger, even if they've spent a lot of time together when he was in his seal form, and the whole thing is so bizarre. It's not a good idea to get in any deeper than he already is, especially without knowing the conditions.
But Jared is interesting, and Jensen has never known how to turn away from something that piques his interest. Somehow, with his hand in Jared's much bigger one, he doesn't feel lonely for the first time in longer than he'd even realized. He can breathe easier right now, like a boulder has been pushed off his chest.
"What do you mean you've never spoken to a human before?" Jensen asks. "You spoke to me that night in the storm."
"Yes." Jared bites his lip, looking over at Jensen fondly. "That was pretty stupid of me. A lot of things I've done since I first heard your song have been stupid."
"Heard my song?" Jensen asks.
"I'll try to explain." Jared squeezes his hand. "In time."
Unfortunately, patience has never been Jensen's strong suit. "What happens if you speak to a human?"
"Right now? Nothing." Jared pauses his trek to look back and meet Jensen's eye. "The spell is already broken."
"That doesn't make any sense," Jensen replies. "Where do you hide Sam—your skin, whatever—when you come on land like this?"
"Usually better than I did earlier today," Jared says, sounding both amused and wary. "Another stupid decision. I'm sorry you had to see that. But at least now you know. Now I can speak to you, there's nothing to lose since I already broke the spell and you know my secret."
"I don't understand half of what you're saying," Jensen tells him. "But seriously, where is your skin? You're not watching it."
Jared turns, letting Jensen's hand drop, and brackets his shoulders with big hands instead. "Why do you keep asking me that?"
"Because if someone finds it they'll hurt you," Jensen replies. "You can't just leave it lying around."
There's no doubt that the expression that registers on Jared's face is relief. "You don't want to find it for yourself. You're just worried about me."
"I've done nothing but worry about you since the first day we met," Jensen reminds him.
"You have nothing to worry about. I hide it well. No one's ever found it, not in hundreds of years."
"Hundreds of years?" Jensen asks.
Jared's laugh is quiet, really only manifests in the way he drops his head and lets his smile widen. Jensen hardly sees the glint of his big teeth in the moonlight, and there's so much truth to all the legends that speak of the ethereal beauty of these creatures, even if they only mentioned selkie women.
"You know so much about us," Jared teases. "And not how we age?"
"I don't know that much, really," Jensen admits. "Only what I found doing research for the last few hours. Pretty much the only thing everyone agrees on is that you can't just leave your skin lying around for anyone to find."
"That is true. If someone finds my skin, they will own me. It's a very painful thing. But it won't happen. And it's worth risking, so I can speak to you."
"What's so great about me?" Jensen asks, trying to sound playful, but the question comes out sounding a lot more earnest than he'd have liked.
"I've waited so long for your song," Jared says, and now he's the one that sounds like he's in a daze. "I didn't know I was waiting until I heard it. Now I see that every hour of my life without it was a prison sentence."
"That sounds really melodramatic," Jensen informs him.
Jared snorts, rolls his eyes and takes Jensen's hand, starting their walk down the beach again. "Well, we can't all be like you. You watch a guy turn into a seal in front of your eyes and a few hours later you're as casual as can be."
Jensen shakes his head. "Believe me, I freaked out about it plenty for a while there. I did research to calm myself down. There are stories about people like you, a lot of them."
"You believe stories?" Jared asks. "I thought your kind were all into science these days. Observable fact, nothing that isn't proven."
"I'm a writer," Jensen explains. "I know how important stories can be. There's always truth to them, even if I wouldn't have guessed this truth. It was either accept that you're a selkie or accept that I was losing my mind. So, I really have a stake in it being the former."
"That's fair." Jared stops once they reach the beach out front of Jensen's house and looks out at the water for a while before he says, "What else do the legends say?"
Jensen shrugs. "Not much. They don't say you're evil, though it sounds like you get treated pretty crappy by humans, so I guess I get the aversion."
"We have no aversion to your kind," Jared assures him. "We exist to help you. People like you specifically."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jensen asks. "What kind of person am I?"
"A very lonely one," Jared says, sounding sad. He brings Jensen's hands up to his lips, pressing a kiss to the knuckles clasped in his own fist. "I don't think I've ever heard a soul as lonely as yours."
"Why do people keep saying that?" Jensen demands. "Okay, so I'm a chronically single, but that doesn’t mean I don't have great friends and a family that—"
"I know that," Jared says, putting a finger over Jensen's mouth before he can get too worked up. "I know you have people who love you, and that you love them. But you're missing something, something important."
"Oh, and what's that?" Jensen asks, and deep down, he knows Jared's right. That there's been a part of him absent his whole life, and he's felt it lately, even if he didn't realize it at first. It's killing him, and he doesn't know what it is, but he knows filling it with boyfriends hasn't worked, has led him to the empty parade of one night stands his summer has turned into. His voice is weaker when he adds, "If you know what it is, please just tell me."
"You won't believe me if I do." Jared takes a seat on the edge of the jutting rock he's so fond of, letting his legs dangle over the ocean. "It's one of those things you have to learn for yourself."
Jensen hangs back, watching him for a long minute before he finally decides to step out onto the rocks himself and sit next to Jared.
"It's beautiful, isn't it? The ocean at night. The way the moon shines on it."
"Jared, I don't want to talk about the ocean."
Jared looks over at him, a sly smile on his face. "What could possibly be more important?"
"Right now?" Jensen laughs. "Where do I even begin?"
"My kin and I, when we're needed, we hear a song. Every person has a song. I bet you didn't know that. We only hear the people who need us. For different reasons, usually, but the people we hear need the same things." Jared rubs his hands on his thighs. "Companionship, pleasure, a kind touch. We hear the songs that people who need us don't even know they're singing. We don't all hear the same people. Only the ones who we could soothe. We go to these people, and we make them less lonely."
"So that's it?" Jensen asks. "You heard some white noise coming off me and felt sorry for me?"
"You haven't let me finish," Jared says. "You're impatient. I find it both irritating and endearing."
"Most people lean toward the former, in case you're wondering," Jensen jokes. "Go on, then. Finish."
"Usually, we hear a song and we go to it. The person sees us and is under a kind of spell—not anything we control. It doesn't make them do anything they don't want. But it makes it so that they take what we came to give them and then we leave. They don't have the clarity of mind to steal our skins or trap us. It's a defense mechanism, you see? We're so vulnerable to your species without it."
"That's why I couldn't stop touching you in the storm the first time we met," Jensen realizes.
"Yes." Jared looks away. "As long as we don't speak to the person, they are under this spell. That means we're safe to help without being captured."
"But you spoke to me," Jensen says.
Jared nods. "I tried not to. I tried so hard not to."
"What was different?" Jensen asks. "What made you speak to me when you haven't done that before?"
Jared looks up, meeting Jensen's eyes with a much more intense expression than Jensen is prepared for. "I just wanted to hear you say my name. My real name, not calling me by some name you made up for a seal."
"That's so stupid, Jared," Jensen tells him. "You opened yourself up to—"
"I know you won't hurt me," Jared replies unapologetically. "You said before that I only came to you because I felt sorry for you. That's not true. I've broken most of the rules my people have, rules that are supposed to protect us, because you're different. Your song is so much stronger than any of the ones I've heard before. So much more beautiful, Jensen." He leans forward, one hand cupping Jensen's cheek. "Beautiful just like you."
Jensen would normally roll his eyes at a line like that, but instead he feels like there's a magnet between them, like Jared is pulling him in even though the touch is so gentle it's barely there.
Their lips meet in a kiss so tentative Jensen isn't even sure it happened, but he opens to it, tries to lean forward for more, and Jared doesn't disappoint. This time there's pressure, impossibly huge hands wrapping around his waist and drawing him closer. They kiss deeply, and when they break, Jensen sighs from a mix of breathlessness and a bone deep satisfaction like nothing he's ever felt. The sensation begins to fade away the longer they're separated, and Jensen is pretty sure he knows what he was missing without Jared having to tell him.
"I don't understand," Jensen says. "Are we soulmates?"
"I'm not familiar with this concept," Jared answers. "Will you explain it to me?"
"I don't know how to explain it," Jensen says with a laugh. "I don't even know if I believe in it. Souls are…" He pauses, casting around in his mind for a way to explain a concept so ingrained in him since childhood, something he used to scoff at when his grandmother dragged him to church. He's supposed to be good with words, but the scale of what he's asking Jared isn't easy to express. "A soul is, like, a person's essence. Who we really are, inside. When we talk about soulmates, it's supposed to mean you were intended for this other person, for them alone. Like the entire core of who you are needs them and they need you." He can feel his ears burning, so he ducks his head. "I always thought it was kind of ridiculous, honestly. People being born for each other, what a crock."
He hazards a glance up, to see if his blowing off the concept is easing the weirdness of having asked a complete stranger if they're supposed to be together forever. But Jared's expression is earnest, and he looks like he's seriously considering what Jensen just said.
"I'm not sure I think it's ridiculous," he says after a long spell of silence. "I don't know if we're soulmates. But maybe what I hear as a song is your soul. If you don't hear them, how do humans sense each other's souls?"
"Well, we don't, really." Jensen shrugs, wondering if this sounds crazy to someone who has something concrete, songs he's definitely heard, as a frame of reference. "We just sort of believe we have them. Or don't. So the whole thing about one person's soul being meant for another—it's just a foolish gamble."
Jared nods, but it's a sad sort of acknowledgement. "Maybe it's foolish to feel like I'm the only one who can answer your song. Something so perfect shouldn't be meant just for me. But I can hear that you need someone. And I know that the way your song affects me is not like anything a selkie should feel." He frowns. "I think I've seen it happen before, once. It's certainly never happened to me."
"So what now?" Jensen asks.
Jared shrugs. "I'm not really sure about that either. I know I want to get to know you, though."
"Good," Jensen agrees. "I want the same thing."
So they sit there and talk, talk about nothing in particular, until the sounds of the party in the distance have died off and the moonlight glinting off the water begins to swirl into the bright pink of a sunrise. When Jensen is yawning more than he can get any words out, Jared presses a kiss to his forehead and calmly slips into the water.
He watches the shadow disappear knowing he won't see Jared come back up for air, until finally he drags himself back to the house and to his bed, terrified he'll wake soon to realize it was all a dream.
Jensen's not sure the next morning, so he goes about his routine as if everything's normal. Sam isn't waiting for him when he leaves for his morning run, but he isn't always, and Jensen refuses to let himself obsess.
Danneel and Aldis show up before long, both looking sufficiently partied out for one day, and the three of them head down to the beach at a straggler's pace. They've only just finished settling themselves on towels when a long shadow steps into Jensen's sunlight, causing him to squint his eyes open to see what it is.
Of all the things he's expecting, Jared in the world's ugliest board shorts is not on the list, but there the guy is, looming a hundred feet tall now that Jensen's lying on the sand, and he sees more of the hideous fuchsia and teal flower pattern on Jared's bathing suit than he does of the gorgeous man he knows is up there somewhere.
He says, "Jared?" like a question before he can stop himself, but Jared doesn't panic at Jensen naming him in front of his friends, just plops down on the sand next to Jensen, pretty much the same way he does when he's in his other form.
"Hey, Jensen!" he says, like this is the most normal thing in the world. "Mind if I join you?"
"Jared," Danneel asks. "Since when is there a Jared? Do you have a Jared?" She turns to Aldis. "Have you heard anything about this guy having a Jared?"
Jensen is too busy trying to communicate with Jared solely through his bulging eyeballs to even know what to say, and before he can formulate a plan, Jared is leaning over Jensen, extending his hand to Danneel.
"You must be Danneel," he says, and if Jensen didn't know to look for the tension in his body, it would seem like he talks to people on a regular basis. "I've heard so much about you."
"From Jensen," Danneel replies, openly staring at Jared as she shakes his hand. "Who you know."
"We met last night, at the party," Jared tells her.
"He didn't mention…" She leans over and tries to whisper, but her voice carries, because Danneel and subtlety have never been friends. "Is this why you left so early? Damn, we thought you were just being a wet blanket. I don't give you enough credit."
Jensen hides his face in his hands, which makes Jared and Danneel both laugh at him. God, the last thing he needs is those two teaming up.
"Look, is it okay if I hang out?" Jared asks, and he's addressing everyone, but his eyes are fixed on Jensen. "I understand if you don’t want—"
Aldis crooks a grin. "I got no problem with it, but Jensen's boyfriend might object."
Jared's face falls until Danneel slaps Aldis's chest and then continues for him, "There's a seal who's in love with Jensen that generally comes up to nap on him at around this time every day, so as long as you're not afraid of risking seal rabies, which may or may not be an actual thing, you're more than welcome."
"I'll take my chances," Jared says, smiling confidently, but then he looks at Jensen again, still anxious. "As long as you won't mind."
"Please stay," Jensen tells him, reaching out to take his hand. "I think Sam can handle one day without me."
"I don't know about that," Jared replies warmly. "I'd be pretty upset to have to give you up if I was him."
That makes Jensen flush from more than just the sunlight, so he turns his face away, trying to check his smile.
"Holy crap, Jensen still likes someone the morning after," he hears Danneel whisper to Aldis. "Who is this guy? Is he one of yours? I need references."
"I've never seen him before," Aldis replies, turning onto his stomach to take a sun nap. It's pretty clear his interest in the situation has just about tapered off, but Danneel isn't letting it go, which is not surprising at all.
She watches as Jensen makes space on his oversized beach towel for Jared, and Jared repays him by promising to rub sunscreen wherever Jensen can't reach.
"Wow, this is super gross," Danneel says cheerfully. She turns to Aldis. "Look, babe, they're like as gross as we are."
"Why don't you give them some privacy?" Aldis suggests, his words obscured by the fact that his face is buried in his arms and is apparently not coming out until he's slept off his hangover.
"As if I would," Danneel replies, and then she launches into a list of questions to determine whether Jared is worthy of Jensen that goes on for the rest of the day.
Well, Jensen can't fault her for that. He did the same to Aldis and every other serious boyfriend she's had since middle school, and Jared bears it well, replies with easy jokes that manage to seem like they're answering more than they do. Somehow he charms Danneel and makes it through the day without having to lie to get around all the questions Jensen knows he can't give an honest answer to.
"What was that?" Jensen asks as he pushes Jared up against the hallway wall, knocking over some piece of beach house kitsch.
Jared laughs, the sound cutting off and turning into a sigh when Jensen's mouth finds the nape of his neck.
"Was it okay?" he says. "I didn't mean to stay all day. I swear I would have left if I—" Jared grunts and pulls Jensen back, big hand tangled in Jensen's hair. "Jensen, you're not upset with me, are you?"
"Of course I'm not," Jensen tells him, rising to his toes enough to press a gentle kiss against Jared's mouth and then turning to walk the rest of the way to his bedroom. "Of course not. I just didn't expect it. Yesterday you tell me you've never even spoken to a human before, next day you roll up on the beach and want to sunbathe with us. Wearing the ugliest shorts on the planet instead of your sealskin."
"There weren't all that many options at the pharmacy I wandered into," Jared says in defense of his terrible swim trunks. "Besides, I kinda like them."
"See, this is a teachable moment," Jensen replies. "A real human would never admit that."
"I'm starting to suspect my teacher is kind of a jerk." Jared speaks directly against the shell of Jensen's ear, giving it a small bite after and then sucking lightly to soothe it.
"Fair enough," Jensen admits as a wave of arousal passes through him. "But the point stands."
"Did I do okay?" Jared's hand slips down, rests on the small of Jensen's back, and Jensen is still unsettled by how centering Jared's touches feel to him. He hardly knows the guy, for crying out loud. "I passed for human, right?"
Jensen huffs a laugh against Jared's collarbone and turns his face, letting some of his weight rest against Jared's body as he settles into Jared's embrace. "Well, I think you would have really had to screw up for Danneel or Aldis to suspect you weren't human, but brunch was definitely interesting."
When Jared pulls away, Jensen gets a look at his smile, even as Jared tilts his face down, trying to hide it. His cheeks are turning pink. "I'd never seen a fish like that!"
"You mean cooked?" Jensen teases, grinning as he remembers how Jared had pressed his face up to the plate, only an inch away, sniffing at the halibut in his tacos and swiping his tongue out before Jensen was able to get his attention and demonstrate how to eat one without looking like it's his first day of human school.
"Well, I know now," says Jared. He smirks and lets out a soft burp. "I learned so much today. Like that I really, really enjoy tacos."
"I know. You ate half of mine after you finished yours." Jensen pretends to pout as he takes Jared's hand and leads him across the room, sitting at the edge of his bed. "And I think Aldis was starting to fear for his, too."
"Yeah. At least I figured out that it wasn't good etiquette thirty seconds before I actually grabbed his plate."
Jensen laughs and watches Jared scratch the back of his neck. He plops himself down on the mattress so close to Jensen that half of his leg is overlapping. It reminds Jensen so much of how Jared flops over him in his seal form that he immediately rests his hand on Jared's thigh, instead of shoving him away like he would with anyone else who took up his personal space like that.
Jared's face is fixed somewhere across the room, but his voice has an uneasy edge when he says, "I didn't mean to embarrass you. I tried so hard not to."
"Hey, look at me," Jensen says and Jared obeys as if Jensen's the one who cast a spell. "I had fun today. My friends really liked you, and even if they didn't, it wouldn't matter, because I do."
"No, it does matter," Jared insists. "They have to like me. They have to, or—"
"Or?" Jensen asks, laughing. "Who cares?"
When Jared finally speaks again, he does so in a whisper. "I want to be a part of your life."
It would be a big enough statement coming from anyone Jensen met only days ago, but he knows without being told that it's a dangerously bold thing for Jared to admit. He stops to think for the first time just how big of a leap Jared took for him today: appearing in front of multiple people, interacting with them, trying to fit in. All for him. Jensen doesn't understand the risks Jared is taking, and a part of him thinks maybe he should push Jared away right about now—for both their sakes.
Instead, he slips an arm around Jared's middle and pushes him to the bed, kissing him as he curls his body over Jared. "Does that include me getting lucky?"
Despite what Jared's told him about his history with humans—which has been pretty exclusively about having sex with them—Jared frowns and pushes Jensen away a bit. "I can't—we can't do that, okay? Not yet."
"Why not?" Jensen asks, even as he sits back. "I thought you—"
"Don't make me explain," Jared says, his tone pleading. "Is it okay? Just for a few nights, if we don’t?"
"Of course," Jensen says, smiling and running his fingers through Jared's hair. "I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want."
"I do want," Jared assures him. "Believe me."
Jensen smiles at him, content to let it go for now, and relaxes back against his pillow, pulling Jared up the bed with him. Despite his own track record of fucking guys and then kicking them to the curb, he gets comfortable resting on Jared's chest, wrapping one arm around Jared's broad shoulder.
"Will you stay with me tonight?"
"I'll stay as long as I can," Jared promises.
He's there when Jensen falls asleep; he's gone by the morning.
High above the water, Jensen can hardly see anything but the curving road and the mountain jutting up one side as they navigate the highway. Even here, they can still smell the saltwater from the ocean, a fresh, unmistakable scent carried on the brisk breeze. They could probably hear beachy sounds of waves and seagulls, too…if they could hear anything except Jared, making up lyrics to songs he doesn't recognize on the radio, singing at the top of his lungs, about as tone deaf as they come.
"You know," he says, tugging Jared back into a sitting position. Jared plops down, easily led, as eager to smush himself into the nonexistent middle seat so he can press up to Jensen's side as he has been to stand up in the little red convertible they've rented and catch the wind in his hair.
Jensen's been trying not to liken Jared to animals too much despite the seal thing, but everything about him on this road trip has screamed puppy.
"What do I know?" Jared asks before Jensen gets a chance to finish his thought.
Jensen lowers his voice, even though the chances Aldis and Danneel will hear him in the front of the car despite the music and wind is slim. "Part of talking to humans is also knowing when to be quiet."
For a split second, Jensen catches a hurt little look on Jared's face, until he lifts his eyes and sees the devilish expression Jensen is aiming at him. Relief flashes in his eyes for only a moment before it's replaced by a shit-eating-grin.
"You love my singing, Jensen Ackles," he howls in tune to whatever pop song is playing. He leaps to his feet again, shaking his ass in Jensen's face even as Jensen scrambles to try to make him stay seated. "You think I have the voice of an a-a-a-a-a-ng-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-l."
"If I get a ticket because of him, you're paying it," Danneel shouts back to Jensen when she notices Jared in the rearview mirror.
Jared does them all the favor of taking his seat, but he doesn't do anything too crazy, like relax back or put on his godforsaken seatbelt. Instead he scooches all the way forward, until his head is resting on the shoulder of Danneel's seat, and begins fiddling with the ends of the scarf she has wrapped around her hair.
Jensen can see only the side of her pretty pout until she turns and lowers her chunky sunglasses to level him with a cutting glare. "And if he ruins my 'Hollywood starlet out for a joyride' look, there will be a reckoning."
Aldis huffs in amusement at everyone's antics, but gently turns her head until she's facing forward. "Alright, Marilyn. You're driving a highway that's curving up a mountainside in a very expensive rental car you insisted we get to complete your outfit, and a wrong turn could send us plunging into the ocean, could you keep your eyes on the road?"
"Oh, do you really think I'm a Marilyn?" she asks, as if she didn't hear anything else. Her lips curl up, and Jensen knows she's about to do her best to annoy him on purpose. "I thought, at best, a Hepburn."
"Audrey outranks Marilyn any day," Jensen insists. "Katherine, too, going off any metric but fame."
The sunglasses cover Danneel's eye roll, but they've had this fight enough times that he knows it happened. She opens her mouth to respond as Aldis says, "Man, I am just not gay enough to fathom this argument."
Suddenly, Jared's hands let go of the fabric he'd been toying with and he points frantically to the side of the road the ocean is on. "Turn up here."
"You gotta be shitting me," Danneel says slowing the car to a crawl. Jensen can see her angling her head, trying to gauge how far the land stretches out before it turns into a cliff face.
"No, no, this is right. I can feel it."
"You can feel it," Danneel echoes, rising an eyebrow so far the edge of one is visible over the frame of her sunglasses. "Are you sure? Because I'm not really feeling driving off the road and into the Pacific."
Jared laughs and turns to give Jensen an urging look.
"He's sure," Jensen says, not knowing how Jared knows, not understanding most things about Jared, but apparently willing to trust him with his own life and with his friend's lives.
By now, Danneel's stopped the car on the two-lane highway and is hesitantly preparing to drive off the pavement, onto a little patch of grass that doesn't show any signs that anyone has ever driven there before.
Of course, Jared never would have come here in a car. He would have been swimming. Jensen can't say that, so he joins Aldis and Danneel in holding their breath until they are successfully driving down an even, grassy patch—toward the ocean, but not as close as some of the other places where the road is pressed right up against it.
"Still haven't told us where we're going," Danneel mumbles.
"That's the point of a surprise, silly," Jared responds. After a few more moments of driving, he says, "Okay, park here and grab the camping supplies. We'll need to walk the rest of the way."
"Walk," says Danneel, nailing the drama of her ensemble. "Walk in nature?"
"You thought we were going to camp outside of nature?" Aldis asks.
Jensen hears her fire back, asking Aldis how much he'd like to sleep outside the tent tonight, and then Aldis reminding her who's going to be putting their tent together. But Jared takes him away from their bickering, grabbing Jensen's one empty hand on the side he isn't carrying any supplies and pulling him forward.
"We have to beat the sunset," he says urgently. "Want you to see it in the daylight."
Jensen doesn't ask again what exactly it is Jared's taking them to see, just lets him lead the way, the distant buzz of insults reassuring him that Danneel and Aldis are keeping up.
They don't have long to walk. The terrain is rocky but Jared is sure of his feet, so Jensen follows until they reach the top of a huge hill that goes all the way down to the water. Here the seawall isn't steep like it was along most of the coast they drove today, and instead of a sheer rock face, the entire way down to the water is dotted with wildflowers, orange and red and purple. Jensen is standing just inches from a batch of big white ones with bright yellow centers.
Danneel bumps into him when she and Aldis finally catch up, not intentionally to be a pain in his ass for once, but because her mouth is gaping open and her eyes wide as she stares at the sight, too awed to pay attention to where she’s putting her feet. There’s no smartass remarks now from anyone, the beauty of the landscape too overwhelming for even Danneel to make a joke out of.
The four of them remain in a companionable silence as they set up camp. It's the golden hour by the time the tents are pitched. Jensen exits his and Jared's, admires his handiwork, and then turns to see that Jared has set up a little spot for them all to sit while they watch the sun begin to set.
He joins Jared, and, a few minutes later, Aldis and Danneel do, too, wordlessly handing them beers that are dripping wet from ice that melted in the cooler on their long drive.
Danneel is the first to break the silence. "How did you even know about this place?"
Jensen turns to look at Jared, hoping to get a read on whether he needs Jensen to change the subject or not.
Jared just shrugs. "I've been here a long time."
"I didn't realize you were local," Danneel says, laughing and giving Jensen's shoulder a light slap. "Jensen hasn't told me anything about you."
"There's not a lot to tell," Jared says, but the way he catches Jensen's eye, the appreciative glint Jensen sees, speaks volumes. They both know there's plenty Jensen could say about him, but Jensen holds Jared's secrets close to his heart, hidden as well as Jared's second skin. "My family came here from far away. I hardly remember where I'm really from."
Danneel nods, probably assuming Jared was a baby, but Jensen can't help wondering what the truth is, how many generations of human lives have to pass for someone like Jared to forget his own home.
"Well," she says, and Jensen is expecting a joke, but instead, she sounds uncharacteristically earnest, "this is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us." She leans to rest her head on Aldis's shoulder, and in a dreamy voice adds, "Can you believe this vacation is almost over? I feel like we just got here. Gonna miss this place."
"Almost over," Jared whispers, flinching as he looks up at Jensen.
Jensen realizes then that they haven't really confronted the reality of the fact that this was just a trip for him. His time here was always finite. Intellectually he knew, just as he knows Jared did. But he hadn't let it sink in, hadn't let himself imagine crushing this beautiful budding thing between them when it's just hardly started.
Jared stands and goes into their tent without saying another word. By the time Jensen joins him, the tears on Jared's cheeks are dried tracks and Jensen doesn't draw attention to them as he adjusts himself to Jared's arms and turns onto his back to stare up at the stars through the tent screen.
He feels a soft kiss press to the top of his head and it pains him to smile.
At the crack of dawn, Jensen awakes to the sound of the tent zipper and has to do a double take before it computes that Jared is not next to him anymore. That was the sound of him stealing away, same as every morning.
He briefly debates giving Jared his privacy, but he's too curious, tired of falling asleep with that solid body next to his and waking up with nothing but a cold draft where Jared's left the sheets turned back.
So he slips out just a bit behind and sees the outline of Jared’s body as he disappears down the rocky slope into the ocean. He follows, careful because he knows by now that just because Jared has no problem walking somewhere doesn't mean he'll be as safe.
Jensen only goes as far as needed to be sure he won't wake Danneel and Aldis, and then he calls out to Jared, not wanting to follow somewhere he's unwelcome or for Jared to feel like Jensen is trying to sneak up on him.
Jared stops in his tracks and turns to face Jensen. He presses the palm of one hand to his forehead and makes a face like he's trying to stop something. "I can't tell anymore if you're getting closer to me," he says. "I just hear it all the time."
He doesn't have to ask what it is Jared is hearing, but he does frown as he walks forward to close the gap between them. "It must be pretty annoying, huh?"
"Annoying?" Jared asks with an inflection like Jensen's just said the single stupidest thing he's ever heard. "How could it ever be—?" He frowns. "I just wish I could get away from it long enough to get used to…" Jensen watches Jared's lips twist until finally he says, "You're leaving soon."
"I don't have to." Jensen hears the words before he thinks them, before he even stops to consider what he's offering. And suddenly his mouth is on a marathon, building a future while his brain is just trying to catch up so he can assess if it's actually feasible. "Danneel only got a month off work, but I don't have to get back to teaching until the start of September. I could rent the house out longer, book a new flight. I don't have to go back this week. We could have months."
It would take all of his savings just to cover the rent on the cottage for that long without a roommate, but the savings exist. The royalties on his book would probably cover food, as long as he's frugal. It'll be tight, but worth it to keep Jared just a little while longer.
He steps forward now with more confidence. "I can stay."
Jared blinks at him a few times like he's been stunned, but gradually a small smile appears on his lips, and it's not long before he's showing teeth. "You would do that for me?"
"I think I'd do a lot more than that for you," he answers honestly.
Instead of accepting, Jared reaches out and takes Jensen's hand in his, tugging lightly. "Come here," he says softly. "You can see."
They follow a slipshod stone stairway down and around narrow passages along the face of the cliff, until finally they turn around one last twist. As soon as the rock blocking his view is cleared, Jensen stands in idiotic shock as he stares out on a small bay, the first rays of the day's light illuminating a shipwreck that must be hundreds of years old.
"Holy shit," he says. "This is so cool. We have to get Danneel and Aldis so they can—"
"No," Jared says, shaking his head apologetically as he starts walking again, pulling Jensen with him. "They can't come here. No one can. No human has ever seen this."
"It's hidden for a reason," Jensen guesses.
Jared nods and, as they approach the ship, he starts to strip, tossing his shirt and then his shoes and socks onto the sand. "You'll get wet."
"Wait, you mean we're actually going to go on that thing?"
Instead of answering, Jared heads into the water and starts wading toward the ship, so Jensen does the same, but all the way he's shouting a list of concerns to Jared's uninterested back.
"It doesn't look structurally sound," is the one he's reached when he catches up to Jared at the ship's entrance. "I'm sure pieces have drifted off or been eaten away by sea creatures. What if I fall through a hole in the floor and get trapped and drown?"
"Trust me," Jared says as he puts two big hands on either side of a break in the ship's bannister and pulls himself up onto the sunken deck.
"Don't put your hands there!" Jensen tells him. "You'll get a splinter."
Jared huffs a laugh, reaching down so Jensen can take his hand and be pulled up instead of having to touch the rotted wood. "Trust me."
Jensen does. He finds himself standing on what must have been a pretty decent ship in her day, and he looks around, most of his anxiety giving way to how cool it is.
"How did you find this?" he asks, following after Jared, who seems to be on a mission.
"We followed it here from the Old World," Jared tells him, like that's just a really casual thing to say. "Not on purpose. One of us was chasing a sailor's song, the rest of us were keeping an eye on her, and," he laughs fondly, shaking his head the way people usually do when they're telling stories about a drunk college friend's antics, "she followed it further than we expected."
"So you just stayed?" Jensen asks before the rest of it computes. "You swam here from Europe?"
"Oh, sure," Jared says. "I mean, the ship made plenty of stops when going around Africa and up through Asia. We had time to rest. It was certainly an unusual migratory pattern for us, but actually quite a pleasant way to see new places. Did you know the water near Australia is nothing like—what? Why that face?"
Jensen can't contain the laugh that he's been shaking trying to keep down. "It just seems like a little much, following a ship so far because of one song."
"Genevieve is a little like Danneel. Once she's decided something, she's decided. And, well, we weren't just going to leave her stranded in some strange new land without her harem." Jared says this last part like it's the most obvious thing in the world, because Jensen's the one being illogical, apparently.
"What about sharks?" Jensen asks in distress. "Sharks eat seals all the fucking time. Did you even think about that when you were chasing the HMS Bad Idea across four oceans?"
"Sharks don't eat selkies. They respect the sacrosanct better than humans do."
"They eat people," Jensen points out.
"Yes, well, people are rather dreadful and seals are just animals, like any other," Jared explains. "Selkies are untouchable by your natural threats."
"Sacred," Jensen says and then he frowns. "Humans are the only things ugly enough to hurt you, aren't we?"
Jared shrugs. "That seems to be the way of it."
"And yet you'll pick up and migrate to a whole new world just to bring one sailor some peace." Jensen licks his lips. "What happened to him?" he asks. "When the ship…?"
Jared frowns. "She heard his song when the crash happened. It got louder suddenly, more distressed. She found him in time to save him. But the rest of the crew…they were so scattered. We didn't have any way to track them. We only found some of them in time."
"Seems like a sad way for it to end. After going all that way, to not finish the journey."
"Yes, I suppose." Jared turns the handle on a thick wooden door on the far side of the deck and it swings open. "But it gave us this."
Jensen follows him in but immediately steps back when he catches on to what he's seeing. Rows and rows of shelves, some empty, others with empty skins lovingly folded and placed on them.
"I shouldn't have come here," he says.
"I brought you," Jared tells him, pulling him back into the room insistently. He walks to the shelf where Sammy's face is peering out, smiling calmly. "This is our safe place to hide our skins now. We swim here to transform and no human has ever found any of us since we started. Gen likes to brag about that, as if her motivation in dragging us here was that she somehow knew we'd have a better hiding spot."
Jensen laughs, but he doesn't let Jared lighten the moment. It's too heavy a thing not to mention. "Jared, you brought me to your skin."
"I trust you," Jared says, running his hands over the smaller skin on the shelf next to his own. "You've told me all about your life. I wanted to share mine."
"My life is boring," Jensen says. "I'm from Texas. You swam from Europe."
Jared grins, pushing Jensen until his back is pressed against an old wooden wall. "That's boring to you because you lived it. Your tacos are as novel to me as my second skin is to you."
"Are you only dating me for tacos?" Jensen asks as Jared smilingly closes in on him, pressing his lips to the corner of Jensen's. "Be honest."
"Kiss me," Jared whispers and Jensen is too damn happy to comply.
They make out for a long while, until finally Jared breaks away with a sigh.
"I have to take my skin and go," he says.
"I wish you'd at least stay with us for the drive back," Jensen admits, not wanting to guilt Jared, not wanting to sound so damn needy, but not really able to help himself. He's unspeakably grateful for all the insight Jared has given to his world, for the fact that he brought Jensen here instead of turning him away. But it stings, too, knowing that if he hadn't followed, Jared would have snuck off and it would have been another lonely morning. He can't help that he wants more from Jared, wants all of Jared. He just can’t help it. "I don't understand why you leave me every morning."
"I know," Jared responds, his thumbs passing over the edges of Jensen's lips before he gives him one more fleeting peck. "I don't want you to understand."
Jensen nods and watches Jared pull Sam into his arms. "The others will wonder where you went."
"Make something up," he says as he crosses the threshold of the door.
By the time Jensen is back on the ship's deck, Jared has disappeared into the waves. Jensen looks out over the side and doesn't even see the speck of a seal swimming away from him.
He makes the challenging trek back to the camp and finds that Aldis and Danneel are already up. Danneel is sitting on a rock and frying eggs over a small camp stove while Aldis takes down their tent.
"Oh, hey. You're awake? And…already went for a swim?" Her face looks like Jensen just grew a second head. "Since when do you get up before noon?"
"We tried to wait for you before starting breakfast," Aldis clarifies as he folds up a cover. Then he clears his throat and throws Jensen a conspiratory look. “Someone decided she needed to eat regardless of who was still sleeping.”
"Or hiding in their tent doing sexy stuff. I was gonna poke my head in to check, but Aldis voted no and then he voted no for you and Jared, so I was outnumbered." She looks around, like she's just noticed Jensen is alone. "Hey, where is Jared anyway?"
"He had to go home. Family emergency."
"What, did he walk?" she asks. "We're in the middle of nowhere. You could have gotten me up, I would have driven him back. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," Jensen says, waving a hand at her. "His, uh. Sister. Went into labor early. But the doctor thinks the baby is going to be fine. So someone—I mean, his brother? His brother picked him up to take him to the hospital."
She stares at him for a long minute, possibly considering which of the holes in his story—like the fact that they're so far off the map it would be impossible for anyone to find Jared, hours away from the little town she thinks Jared's family lives in, or that Jensen was approaching from the opposite direction of where the road is—she wants to apply pressure to. But finally, she just shrugs and says, "Okay."
Jensen lets out a relieved breath and sits down on the ground next to her rock. "You making me breakfast, too?"
"Sure," she says. "I brought enough to feed a small army, because I've seen how Jared eats. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of others, so of course the guy disappears before I can feed him."
Jensen laughs, and Danneel looks up at him, casts an eye out to make sure Aldis is distracted, and then she gives him a private smile. "You're different around him, you know."
"Oh, yeah?" Jensen asks, just waiting to be teased. "How so?"
"You're so much freer. Yesterday in the car, I couldn't believe how much you were letting him get away with. You're usually so stressed about obeying rules, but instead you let loose and laughed at all his antics." She shrugs. "I dunno, I'm not trying to make a big deal of it or anything. I know you hardly know the guy. I just think he's good for you is all."
Jensen smiles, mostly to himself, but he nudges Danneel's calf playfully. "You being sincere is weirding me out a little."
"I like him," she says. "Is that so wrong?"
"No, I'm just not used to hearing you go more than three minutes without insulting someo—"
"He can't sing for shit, though," she interrupts in a more patently Danneel tone. "You gotta do something about that."
Jensen laughs as he rests his head against her thigh and stares into the low flame on the stove. "That's more like it."
"Well, hello there," Jensen says, pulling back his hand so the seal sniffing at his ice cream doesn’t get any bright ideas. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a regular seal, dumbass,” says Jared, appearing at his side. “It’s not going to answer you.”
“You knew I talked to random seals when you decided to date me, Jared,” Jensen reasons. Then he grins. “Oh, I get it. Are you jealous? You think I’ll leave you for this little stud?”
“Mmm, aren’t you the one that’s always going on about catching diseases from wild seals? I’d be careful around that little stud if I were you.”
“Well, how am I supposed to know if it has seal rabies or not?” Jensen asks. “Y’all look the same.”
“That’s hurtful,” Jared informs him.
Jensen huffs a laugh at Jared’s show of being offended, then turns back to the seal that’s attempting to inch closer for a bite of his cone. “This one acts exactly like you did. I have no reason to suspect it’s not a selkie.”
“This is obviously a boy seal,” Jared points out. “You can tell by the size alone. Thus, clearly not a selkie.”
Jensen squints at Jared for a few seconds to try to gauge if he’s joking and when Jared’s expression doesn’t change, he goes ahead and explains the obvious. “Jared. You are a boy selkie.”
“Yeah, so imagine the absurdity of stumbling on another one!” Jared laughs at Jensen’s confusion and takes his hand as they walk down the boardwalk, not caring that Jensen’s fingers are sticky with melted ice cream. “I’m a very rare and majestic creature, you know.”
“Well, naturally I suspected.” Jensen leans on the wooden fence and stares out at the seal habitat they’ve come to visit. There are dozens of little brown and gray seals dotting the sand below and a handful of them up here where the humans walk, bolder than the rest in their pursuit of dropped snacks. “How many of them are selkies?”
Jared’s eyes scan the crowd until he points to a small group lumped together a little ways from the people and the other seals. “Most of us keep to ourselves and don’t come up here at all. But those ladies are all from my harem.”
Jensen counts four and then says, “Friends of yours?”
Jared grins as he draws attention to one of the smaller seals. “See that one reclining on the rock like she’s starring in a Vogue photoshoot? That’s my Genevieve.”
From here it’s hard to tell, but Jensen thinks he recognizes the seal’s face from the shipwreck, the one whose skin Jared had been absently petting as he spoke to Jensen.
“So she’s the one I have to thank for bringing you to me?” he says, popping the last bite of his ice cream cone into his mouth before wrapping his arms around Jared’s middle.
Jared laughs. “Yeah, that’s the one.”
“And your family?” Jensen looks up at Jared. “Are they down there with her?”
“My family?” Jared replies, like the question confuses him. Jensen regrets asking a moment later, when Jared suddenly looks sad. “I lost all of them a long time ago.”
“I’m so sorry, Jared,” Jensen says. “How did they—?”
“They didn’t die. Well, not that I know of. My mother and several generations of grandmothers all stayed behind when we left. None of us knew we’d be gone so long.”
“And your father?”
Jared grins. “I already told you. No male selkies. Whoever he was, he was just a human, not part of our world. My mother went to his song and that was that. He must have died a long time ago, but I never knew who he was. Never really wondered.”
“I don’t understand. If there are no male selkies, then how are you here?”
“Because I’m a freak, Jensen,” Jared explains cheerfully. “Not the only male selkie to ever be born, but one of very few. I caused quite the confusion when I came out like this. Selkie harems don’t generally have protocol for men. They had to take a vote on what on Earth they were going to do with me.”
“Did the other selkie children make fun of you growing up?” Jensen asks mockingly.
Jared rolls his eyes.
“So explain it to me,” Jensen says. He waggles his eyebrows. “I’m very invested in selkie mating habits.”
“Well, usually we go to a song and we make love and that’s that. Obviously, if it’s a heterosexual coupling, it sometimes produces offspring. If a selkie gives birth to a girl, she’s a selkie. She joins the harem. Everyone dances to celebrate her arrival. If it’s a boy, he’s human, so he’s left at the father’s door. A human wouldn’t belong among us.”
“That seems kind of…sad,” Jensen says. “Don’t the mothers miss their sons?”
“They aren’t really theirs in any real way,” Jared says. “Just as our girls don’t belong to their fathers.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” Jensen insists.
“Well, your human conception of family can’t cleanly map onto every creature on the planet,” Jared points out.
“I guess that's true,” he says. “It just gets kind of complicated when we’re crossing species lines.”
Jared gives Jensen a look Jensen doesn’t really know how to read and says, “More than you know.”
“So what about you?” Jensen asks. “What happens if a male selkie gets a woman pregnant?”
“A human couldn’t give birth to a selkie. My offspring would all have belonged to your species.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that you could have kids out there? Grandkids? Entire generations that you’ll never know?”
“It didn’t until you put it like that,” Jared says frankly, stopping as they near the end of the boardwalk. “Maybe I’m more animal than you’re giving me credit for.”
Jensen considers that and feels his cheeks flush. Sam was always more human than an average seal. There’s no reason Jared should fit into what Jensen expects from a human just because he looks like one. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disrespect your culture. It’s just…very different.”
“It’s not perfect,” Jared agrees. “Just as yours isn’t. But it’s how we do things.”
“So when you were born?” Jensen prompts.
Jared casts a look out at the ocean. “When I was born with my sealskin, it caused an uproar. Some of the elders thought I should be left at my father’s door like any male.” He shudders. “Without my skin. Just a baby. It would have been a very cruel way to kill a child. Others argued that it would be cleaner just to slit my throat, end my misery before it starts. Fortunately, a small majority decided I should be kept and treated like any selkie would. Some even danced for me.”
“You’re a miracle,” Jensen says, looking up at Jared’s gorgeous face, feeling his chest ache with the knowledge that Jared might have been put down in infancy, hundreds of years before Jensen could touch him. “Even more than I realized.”
Laughing, Jared seems to come out of a trance. He wraps his huge arm around Jensen’s shoulder and squeezes him closer. “My mother used to tell me I was different because there was a need for someone like me. That the elders hated me because they knew I would answer songs they couldn’t. I didn’t know what she meant for a long time.”
“Now you do?”
Jared tips Jensen’s face up and kisses him. “The others heard your song, Jensen. They heard how beautiful it was. Everybody wanted to go to it. But it was only for me.”
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