Fandom: CW RPS
Word count: 6570
A/N: Written for souslelys in the 2014 round of spn_j2_xmas. Thank you for your patience, my dear! I couldn't have got much closer to the wire if I tried, sorry. I tried to fit in a couple of your interests, and I sincerely hope that you like the end result. Also available on AO3.
Summary: Jared's too busy trying not to fail out of college to care that he hasn't found his soulmate yet. Honest.
It was 9:30am on the first day of the term and Jared was most definitely in the wrong classroom.
He could absolutely not have cared less.
"Participation in tutorials is worth 20% of your grade," the Adonis at the front of the room was saying. The guy was tall and trim, with broad shoulders and artfully disheveled hair that Jared wanted to run his hands through. He'd identified himself as Jensen Ackles, grad student TA, which was now written on the chalkboard underneath the words Intermediate Macroeconomics.
Jared was much more interested in his new discovery of just how sexy sweater vests could be than in the fact that he was majoring in Philosophy.
"If you want to do well in this course, you'd better get used to showing up and having the readings done," Jensen continued. He offered the room an adorably sheepish sort of smile. "And I'm not good with names but I promise I'll do my best to learn them as fast as possible. There's a seating plan going around; please put your name down and do your best to sit in the same seat for the next little while until I learn who you all are, okay?"
He waited for a general murmur of agreement from the room, then started walking them through the course syllabus. Jared didn't bother listening; it was all Greek to him anyway. He entertained himself instead by wondering what those long legs might feel like wrapped around his waist while Jensen's hands clamped down on his shoulders hard enough to leave bruises.
It was a fantastic way to pass the time. Eventually, Jensen finished with the course overview and gave them some refresher work on Macroeconomics, which Jared failed utterly at even pretending to understand. Jensen retreated to his desk with the seating plan and the attendance sheet, and Jared did his best not to look like he was watching for the moment when Jensen came to his name.
The bell signaling the end of the period caught Jared by surprise; he'd hardly even noticed the time passing.
"We'll be taking those questions up next class, along with a discussion of this week's readings, so make sure you're done," Jensen said, raising his voice to be heard over the bustle of everyone packing up. "Where's Jared?"
Jared gave him a little wave.
"Could you hang back for a minute?"
"Sure," Jared said, and waited while the room cleared out before getting up and making his way casually to the front of the room.
"I haven't got you on the attendance list," Jensen said apologetically.
"Really?" Jared asked, with all the ability tenth grade drama class afforded him.
"'Fraid not. Did you sign up late?"
Jared nodded immediately, grabbing onto the excuse with both hands. "It was a last-minute decision. Guess I'll have to go yell at Student Services and see what happened."
"You should do that as soon as possible," Jensen said. "This class always fills up pretty quick; you wouldn't want to be unable to get in."
"Right, yeah, of course not," Jared said. He offered Jensen his best grin. "Thanks for the advice."
Jensen's mouth quirked in a grin. "Hey, I just want to make sure I'm not sitting here all by myself next class. It's not good for my ego."
"I'll do my best," Jared lied, and permitted himself one last appreciative look at Jensen's ridiculously handsome face before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and heading off to find the prof whose class he'd accidentally just skipped.
After his morning foray into Appreciating Hot Economics TAs 101, Jared went round to the bookstore and picked up his course material for the term. The total made him wince, but that was what student loans were for. And he could probably kill someone with the textbook for Contemporary Pragmatism if push came to shove, which was always handy.
It took approximately a year and half to get through the lineup at the cash register and yet, because his schedule was moronic on every level, Jared still wound up with time to kill before his next class. It was a beautiful sunny day, so he ensconced himself underneath his favourite tree on the main lawn and settled in to people watch. The campus was abuzz with the madness of the first week back; Jared knew that he should probably be trying to get a jump start on his own work, but junior year was going to suck badly enough without surrendering the last wisps of summer relaxation before he had to.
"Hmm?" Jared managed, opening his eyes just in time to see Genevieve looming over him before she jumped on his chest.
"Oh my God, Jared," she babbled, while Jared tried to breathe through her elbow in his sternum. "You won't believe what's happened!"
"Hello to you too," Jared said, wheezing just a little. "Didn't know it was so hard for you to go a whole two weeks without seeing me."
"Shut up," she said, sounding torn between laughter and tears. Her voice was unusually thick when she continued, "No, it's not- I've got-"
Jared pushed himself up on his elbows, trying to get a better look at her. Genevieve's eyes were bright with unshed tears even though she was smiling broadly and Jared didn't know what to think. "Genevieve? What's going on?"
Genevieve thrust out her right hand, palm up. "I found him," she said simply, and Jared's eyes jerked immediately to the no-longer bare skin on the inside of her wrist. "Oh my god, Jared, I found my soulmate."
"Oh my god!" Jared was on his feet in an instant, sweeping Genevieve with him into a massive hug that lifted her right off the ground. "I can't believe it! That's awesome!"
Genevieve laughed as Jared spun her around, making no attempt to escape. "I know!"
They were attracting attention, some people stopping to watch, but Jared didn't let it bother him. 47% of people were in college when they found their soulmates, and impromptu celebrations were far from an unusual sight.
"Getting dizzy!" Genevieve finally protested.
Jared set her down again and pulled back far enough to look her in the eyes. "I'm so happy for you," he said sincerely. "Congratulations!"
Genevieve was beaming brightly enough to power a city block, her eyes still sparkling with happy tears. "Thanks, Jared. It's, I don't even know how to react. After all this time! I was starting to think that I'd never-"
"Let me see your brand," Jared said, before she could get any further down that path. "I didn't get a good look."
They settled back down on the grass, their audience carried on its merry way, and Genevieve offered her arm again.
Her soul brand was an oblong shape, the lines etched in a mellow olive green that blended perfectly with her skin tone. Jared thought it looked a little bit like a tree, the branches hanging low beside the trunk and the roots climbing upwards to twine around them.
"Beautiful," Jared said, meaning it. "Have you been to an Interpreter yet?"
Genevieve shook her head. "It was only yesterday and Calvin's work meant that he couldn't come right away. We've got an appointment to have it Interpreted on Thursday."
"Calvin?" Jared prompted.
She nodded, blushing prettily. "Calvin Adams. He's a business consultant. We met at the airport yesterday."
"You were on the same plane?"
"Not even close. Calvin was late for his flight and knocked me over when he was rushing through the security check. We had First Contact when he offered me a hand up, and as soon as we touched-" she broke off with a happy sigh and a helpless gesture towards the soul brand on her wrist. "You know."
Jared grinned. "I do know. So I'm guessing he missed his flight, after all?"
Genevieve laughed. "Like I would have let him get on it even if he wanted to."
"Good girl. Where's he from?"
"Oregon," Genevieve said, and Jared felt a twinge of dismay.
Oregon was a long way away. And Genevieve wouldn't want to be apart from her soulmate now that she'd found him.
"Relax," Genevieve said, chuckling at the expression on his face. "Calvin's company has branches all over the country. And guess which one he recently got offered a job at?"
"The one here?" Jared guessed, and was pleased but unsurprised when she nodded. Soulmates nearly always found each other, no matter how unlikely it was that they'd ever have an opportunity to meet. It was like the world went out of its way to make sure people were in the right place at the right time, and as many times as it took to get them to touch.
For every boy whose soulmate lived next door and they met when they were three, there was a girl whose plane crashed in the Andes and her soulmate was part of the rescue team. And sure, a lot of them weren't quite that dramatic, but the number of cases where things worked out just right for soulmates was quite frankly staggering.
My rental agreement's signed on for the whole term," Genevieve continued. "So I'm staying put for now, but Calvin's already looking for a place in town. We're staying here at least until I finish school; we've already agreed."
"And here I was hoping to get rid of you."
"Liar," Genevieve said. And then, a little shyly, "I hope you like him."
Jared smiled at her. "I know I will. He's your soulmate, right? I'm still going to give him the talk, though, since your dad's not around."
Genevieve swatted him. "Be nice. This is my soulmate we're talking about."
"Hey, you'd do it for me," Jared said, and resolutely ignored the twinge deep in his chest at the reminder.
Genevieve wasn't the only one who'd been worrying about their lack of a soul bond, recently.
A look of soft understanding came across Genevieve's face. "You know I will," she said, a reassurance and a promise all in one. Her hand came to rest on Jared's, avoiding the empty skin of his wrist. "Your soulmate's out there somewhere, Jared. And they're looking forward to finding you just as much as you are them."
Jared smiled. "Thanks, Gen. You're a good friend."
"I know," she said, with a cheeky grin. "Which is why you are going to be on your best behaviour when you meet Calvin on Wednesday."
"You keep right on dreaming there."
"It's Jared, right?"
Jared blinked at the guy standing on the other side of the counter, trying to place him. He'd been up half the night writing an essay for German Moral Thought, and it was taking far more effort than he really appreciated to string together coherent thoughts.
"Jensen. I almost had you in my Macroeconomics class?" he added, when Jared continued to look blank, and Jared made the connection in a rush.
Right. Hot Economics TA from the beginning of term. Jared must have been really tired to forget that face. And the sweater vest.
"Wow, hi, of course," Jared said. He offered Jensen his best smile. "Good memory."
Jensen smiled, a little self-deprecatingly. "Don't meet a lot of guys as tall as you. And I always wonder about people who join my class and then I never hear from them again."
Jared winced. "Yeah, sorry about that," he said, thinking fast. "The gods of scheduling decreed that it was not to be. Because the school year wouldn't be complete without at least one course being full when you want to get in it."
"That sucks," Jensen said feelingly. "This going to screw up your course planning for next year? Because I can talk to the prof about making an exception if it's going to be a big pain."
"Student Services got me sorted out," Jared said, waving him off. "And I don't fancy joining a class a month late. Thanks though."
"Least I can do for my almost-student. I was worried you might have fallen into the void."
"Saving that for exam time," Jared said, and was delighted with the smooth, throaty chuckle he got in response.
"Flirt on your own time, Padalecki," Katie said then, leaning in. She tugged pointedly on Jared's apron. "These coffees aren't going to sell themselves."
Jared had the joy of watching Jensen's cheeks go a little pink at that. "Sorry," he said, embarrassed. "I shouldn't bother you at work."
"It's no bother. Really," Jared said. "Katie's just stressed because she has a lab due this week."
"And because you're slow and unprofessional," Katie said sweetly.
"And that," Jared allowed. He grinned at Jensen. "So what can I get you?"
"Gimme a second to look at the menu and I'll let you know," Jensen said. "My apartment's at the other end of town, so I don't have a lot of reasons to come out this way. It's a total fluke that I even saw your sign."
"Well, I'm glad you found us," Jared said, with a somewhat embarrassing amount of sincerity.
"Okay, that's enough." Katie slid Jared out of the way with an impressive hip check. "I'll help you pick something and Jared will make it. We'll be here all day, otherwise."
"But-" Jared protested, but had to clamp his mouth shut at the Look she gave him. An entirely unsubtle gesture alerted him to the fact that there was a lineup building and he reluctantly conceded the point.
He gave Jensen a sheepish smile and turned to man the coffee station, leaving the cash register in Katie's capable hands. He didn't have time for much more than a 'here you go' between putting Jensen's drink on the counter and turning to start the next order, but the smile he got in return was totally worth it.
Jensen gave a half-wave as he collected his coffee and left. Busy or not, Jared absolutely took a moment to check out Jensen's ass as he went.
"Nice," Katie approved, dropping her head against Jared's arm and joining him in his staring. "I can see why you were distracted. Friend of yours?"
Jared shook his head. "Not really."
"Shame. Wouldn't mind seeing more of him."
"Me neither," Jared admitted, and only sighed a little before starting on the next order.
"You should go to some mixer events," Genevieve said.
"Hmm?" Jared asked, most of his attention on The Prince.
The term was in full swing, which meant that sleepless and stressed was Jared's new standard mode of existence. Crowded buses weren't the best places for analyzing Nietzsche, but midterms were great motivators.
Genevieve didn't look like she appreciated his dedication to higher education. "Could you put that away for a minute? I'm worried about you."
"It's totally under control," Jared said. "I'm not even close to my if-you-don't-get-some-sleep-you're-actua
"While I'm very glad that you know the warning signs of death by exhaustion, that isn't what I was talking about."
"Then what?" Jared looked at her over the top of the book. "Because I love you but this midterm is tomorrow and I only agreed to come with you to the gallery if I could study while you did your art student thing."
"There's no rule that you can't look for your soulmate, you know," she blurted. Jared blinked at her and she flushed. "It seems like you've… given up."
Torn between fondness and exasperation, Jared could only shake his head. "I'm always like this at midterms, Gen. You're only noticing because you're not right there with me for once."
"Because now I know what I've been missing," Genevieve said, low but fervent. "And I want the same thing for you."
"Could we maybe not talk about my private life on the bus?"
Genevieve made a face at him. "I'm trying to help."
"I know. But I'm fine. It'll happen when it happens." Jared bopped her on the nose with his book. "Worked out okay for you, didn't it?"
Calvin was Jared's new favourite way of winning every argument they had. It was hilarious watching Genevieve try to get disgruntled about it when Jared had never seen her happier.
"You're an ass," Genevieve told him, and then, "Oh, this is our stop! Come on."
Jared shoved his book in his backpack and followed Genevieve off the bus. "Which way now?" he started to ask, only to get distracted by a familiar face in the crowd.
"Hey, Jared," Jensen said, looking about as nonplussed as Jared felt. "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting the art gallery," Jared said, jerking his thumb in the general direction. "You?"
Jensen hefted a sports bag. "Letting off some steam at the batting cages. How's the semester treating you?"
Jared broke out the piteous puppy dog eyes, and Jensen laughed.
"That bad, huh?"
"Worse," Jared groaned. "Midterms have hardly started and I already feel like my head could explode."
Jensen grinned. "Only sixty-three days till Christmas." Another bus pulled up to the curb and he shrugged. "Guess that's my cue. Nice randomly running into you again."
"It's a small world after all," Jared sang, only a little off-key.
Jensen snorted. "That's one word for it. Enjoy the gallery."
"Good luck with the rest of term," Jared responded, waving a little as Jensen and the rest of the crowd funneled onto the bus.
"Ahem," Genevieve said from somewhere very close by.
Jared cast a look at her. "What?"
Genevieve raised an eyebrow. "Oh nothing," she said. "Just wondering who that was and why you looked like someone cancelled your birthday when his bus arrived."
"First of all, no I didn't, screw you. And secondly, that's Jensen." He told her the sordid story of his brief foray into Economics while they walked, throwing in a mention of the coffee shop just for the hell of it.
"You like him," Genevieve said, and it wasn't a question.
"I wouldn't mind getting to know him better," Jared admitted, because there was no point bullshitting her when she used that tone. "He seems like a good guy."
"It's more than that, though. You ever think about it?" she said, and Jared didn't need to ask to know what she meant.
Dating was a thing that happened sometimes between people who hadn't yet met their soulmates. Only for as long as their wrists remained blank, obviously, and usually not for more than a month or two with the same person, but it was still a reality of life for those unlucky people who hit puberty before finding their soulmates.
Jared had tried it a couple of times, if only to keep from being the lone singleton in a room of bonded pairs. And it could be nice, not to be alone for a while. He was also definitely a fan of shared orgasms, which could be hard to come by for a blank wrister.
He allowed himself a moment to think about what it would be like to date Jensen. They'd suit each other, he was sure, and, well, it would be a lie to say that he hadn't thought about the sounds Jensen might make with Jared's cock up his ass.
But he couldn't see himself committing to anyone for the long haul when his soulmate - and theirs - were still out there somewhere. Because, by all accounts, there was no way to compare the love and affection felt for a boyfriend or girlfriend to that of a soulmate, which doomed any casual relationship to failure.
Nobody wanted to settle for a consolation prize. Or to be one.
"Nah," Jared said finally. "He's just nice to look at, is all."
And Genevieve didn't look convinced, but the understanding on her face was enough. "He is definitely that. Are they all that pretty in Economics? Because I might need to change majors."
Jared grinned at her and they chatted easily back and forth until they reached the gallery. Genevieve went off to complete her assignment and Jared pulled out Nietzsche again, definitely not thinking about Jensen.
He had more important things to worry about than soulmates right now, anyway. Like not failing out of college.
Jared was going to fail out of college.
"I have no brain left," Jared moaned, slumping down on a chair and seriously contemplating never moving again. "It has dribbled out my ears. All over that test."
"So? You don't need brains to drink," Chad said, because Chad had a fine appreciation for the simple truths in life. He slapped Jared's arm. "Stop bitching and go get yourself all pretty and shit. We're going out."
Jared groaned. "No chance. I've got a fifteen page paper due in two days."
Chad shrugged the shrug of the supremely unconcerned. "You'll have all of tomorrow to recover."
"While I'm in class?" Jared demanded, but Chad wasn't listening.
"You need to unwind a little, Jay-man. I already told Milo you're coming."
"Chad, I can't right now. Look, it's a week and a half to Thanksgiving-" oh God, how was it only a week and a half to Thanksgiving? Jared was so screwed - "I'll hang out with you then."
Chad snorted. "Like you'll even make it that far if you don't get some stress relief in. You're coming, dickhead. Don't make me get Tom to fucking drag you there."
"Like he could," Jared muttered, but found himself agreeing anyway, despite his better judgment.
Actually, pretty much everything to do with Chad happened despite Jared's better judgment. Because Jared was an idiot. Who could really do with a night off, even if he really shouldn't.
Which was how Jared found himself at a party full of people he either vaguely knew or had never met before. Milo's housemates had all invited their friends too, apparently. The beer was plentiful, though, and Jared was a friendly guy, so he decided to go out and make some friends.
By 11pm, Jared had a nice buzz going and was feeling considerably more Zen about the small mountain of homework waiting for him back at his apartment. He'd just spent an enjoyable half hour talking with a set of blonde soulmates about the similarities between Ralph Waldo Emerson and The Incredibles and was just starting to think that now might be a good time to sneak away before Chad noticed he was missing. He could definitely use the sleep.
Bidding farewell to his couch buddies, Jared pushed himself upright, wobbled a little, and turned in the general direction of the door.
Which, of course, was when someone landed on him.
"Watch out!" someone yelled, after Jared had already been flattened to the floor by a tall, uncomfortably heavy guy in a green shirt. Drunk people were assholes.
Jared groaned a little and blinked up at the face only inches from his own. It was a very pretty face, even though he could see up the guy's nose from this angle. Jared was feeling mellow enough not to care that he was probably staring.
And he cared even less when he realized that he recognized those freckles.
"Jensen!" he said happily. "Hi!"
There was a heartbeat of silence and then Jensen was scrambling to his feet, face flushed with alcohol and mortification.
"Oh God, I'm sorry, Jared. Someone bumped into me and the coffee table was in the way." Jensen held out a hand and Jared accepted the help gratefully.
"Don't worry about it," Jared said, with what he hoped was a charming smile. Jensen's hand felt good in his own, warm and solid. "Not the weirdest thing I've had land on me at a party."
Jensen honest-to-God giggled. Jared was charmed. "Do I want to know?"
And that was Jared's cue to come up with an awesome story, but he hadn't even opened his mouth where there was a loud crow of "Jaaaaaay!" somewhere behind him, and Chad jumped on his back.
"Where you been, cocksucker?" Chad demanded, draped over Jared's back like a coat. He was, Jared decided, impressively drunk.
"Right where you left me two hours ago, jackass! Now get off!" Jared wriggled until Chad slid off him and tried to turn his attention back to Jensen.
Chad was having none of it. "Bitch, bitch, whatever. Tom and Mike have challenged us to beer pong." He grabbed Jared's arm in a vice grip. "Come on."
"What? No!" Jared started to struggle, but Chad's grip was surprisingly strong. "Seriously, Chad, I'm going home it's not-"
"If you poon out I am going to shave off your motherfucking eyebrows," Chad said, and Jared hesitated for one crucial moment, long enough to have left himself no avenue of escape when Tom and Mike showed up to flank him.
Frantically, he cast his eyes back towards Jensen, who was watching with open amusement. "Save me?" he tried.
Jensen shook his head gravely. "And interfere with the glorious tradition of beer pong? Not a chance."
Jared pouted at him. "Traitor."
Jensen had the temerity to wave at him, the bastard. "Have fun."
"Hate you!" Jared called over his shoulder as Chad, Tom and Mike hauled him out of the room. It was one of his last coherent thoughts of the evening.
He definitely remembered losing at beer pong, though. Which was probably why he didn't remember more.
Mornings were the devil.
Jared thought hateful thoughts about the sun, alarm clocks and his GPA, and buried his face more deeply in his pillow. Something had crawled in his mouth overnight and died there, he was sure, and bedroom was full of a distinctly beery smell that was turning his stomach. The light hurt his eyes, every joint felt stiff and someone had replaced his bones with overcooked noodles. And if all that wasn't bad enough, some jackass with a hammer was pounding on his head hard enough to make his ears ring.
Or maybe there was someone knocking on his front door.
"Go away," Jared yelled, only yelling made his head hurt so it was more like a strident croak. His mystery knocker either didn't hear him or wasn't concerned with his dying wishes.
His phone chimed. Jared flailed at the side table for a small eternity before his fingers ghosted over it.
Answer the damn door, the text said. Ive got coffee
Jared groaned. Genevieve would happily stand there and ruin his life for as long as it took to make him open the door. It was impossible to outwait her; he'd tried and failed enough times to know that there was no shame in surrendering.
It took a couple of tries to get all the way out of bed, but Jared did not once faceplant on the carpet as he walked from there to the front hall, which he considered a victory.
Jared opened the door in nothing but his boxers; Genevieve didn't deserve any more courtesy than that if she was going to torment him. "What?" he growled.
Genevieve, who looked disgustingly sober and awake, took one look at him and promptly made a noise that only dogs should have been able to hear.
"Ow, Jesus!" Jared swore, clapping his hands over his sensitive ears. "What was that for?"
"Why didn't you call me?" Genevieve demanded, completely ignoring Jared's pain. She shoved them both into the apartment, talking mile a minute. "Do I know them? Where'd you meet? Are they here now? Honestly, I leave you alone for one night-"
"Genevieve," Jared said, speaking slowly to make sure that all the syllables ended up in the right places. "You are the light of my life, but I am currently very hung over and not in the mood for… whatever this is."
She stared at him, her 'are you serious?' stare. "Jared, your wrist," she said, and it took an unforgivably long time for Jared's brain to translate what that meant.
He jerked his eyes down to his wrist and nearly ended up on the floor after all at the realization that the skin wasn't blank anymore. Not by a long shot.
His soul brand was the blue of the cloudless sky and it sprawled out in three intersecting arcs that curled far enough around his wrist that they nearly connected on the other side. The lines were bold and thick, strangely graceful for all of their solidity.
"I-" Jared looked at Genevieve. "I have a soul brand."
Genevieve was smiling broadly. "You do."
"But… I don't-" Jared needed to be so much less hung over for this. He looked down again, unable to believe what his eyes were telling him. "I don't know who it is. I was at a party. Chad was… and I drank so much, shit, how can I-"
"Deep breath." That was Genevieve's hand on his arm, guiding him across the room. "In and out, come on, Jared."
"I have no idea how this happened," Jared said. He wasn't entirely sure quite how long he'd been staring at the impossible loops of blue around his wrist, but he was vaguely aware of the fact that they'd migrated to his kitchen table and he was sitting down in a chair with Genevieve perched opposite him.
"It's going to be fine," Genevieve said soothingly.
"I missed them." Jared raised his head to look at her, sure the weight of that realization was weighing openly across his face. "I met my soulmate. I touched my soulmate and I didn't even realize. Who does that?"
"It happens, Jared. You know that."
"But does it? What about them? What if they noticed but they don't want me?" Jared moaned. "Oh God, I was drunk and my hair was a disaster and I was playing freaking beer pong. They probably think I'm the worst possible soulmate they could-"
"Jared," Genevieve said, sharply enough to cut him off. "Stop it. Your soulmate is thinking no such thing. You were at a party - easy for you to touch someone without noticing. I don't know when they realized, but I'm sure they're just as surprised as you to realize you'd missed each other."
Jared gave her a doleful look. "Genevieve, what do I do? There must have been a hundred people there, easy. I don't know how to track them down."
"First of all, you calm the hell down. And then you go to the Soul Ministry office on campus and register your soul brand."
"By myself? I mean, you and Calvin went together."
"That's because we were already together," Genevieve said. She put a hand on Jared's cheek and her smile was patient, fond. "Since that's not an option for you right now, you'll have to do it on your own. Your soulmate will have to register theirs as well and, when that happens, the Ministry will put you in touch with each other."
"Then I'll be able to find them." Jared staggered to his feet. "Right. Pants."
"Oh no," Genevieve said, gripping Jared by the arm and steering him forcibly in the direction of the bathroom. "You're not going anywhere until you get cleaned up. You've got a second chance to make a good first impression; don't waste it."
"But I'm not going to-" Jared started, before giving it up as a bad job. Knowing Genevieve, she'd probably shove him bodily into the shower if he refused to do it himself. And whether the Ministry managed to track down his soulmate today or not, she was right that he needed a shower. He was a mess.
And if he spent a few minutes in the shower trying to wash off his soul brand, just in case it was Chad's idea of a joke, well, he dared anyone to blame him for not wanting to get his hopes up.
Genevieve scavenged in his fridge while he was getting cleaned up and forced Jared to eat breakfast before she'd let him leave. Which helped with the hangover, but also meant that Jared was jittering like mad by the time he finally escaped.
He was absently aware that he'd have to contact his prof about the class he was currently skipping, but that could wait. The sooner he got his soul brand registered, the closer he was to finding his soulmate. And that was worth putting everything else on hold.
The Soul Ministry's office was located in the same building as the Office of the Registrar and Jared tried to ignore the curious gazes of the students lined up outside it as he went past them down the hall. His hand kept snaking over to press against his covered wrist; he almost fancied that he could feel heat emanating from the brand, even through his sleeve. He didn't know if he'd ever felt more conspicuous.
It was something of a letdown to get to the office and discover that he was the only one there; Jared hadn't even realized that he'd been hoping that his soulmate would be waiting for him here until he'd been proved wrong.
The woman sat behind the desk smiled at him. "Can I help you?"
Jared swallowed hard. "Yeah, hi. I, uh, I need to register a soul brand." He ducked his head. "It's, um. Just me, though."
Her smile was kind. The tag on her blouse said her name was Sally. "That's perfectly alright. Congratulations!"
Jared couldn't help a reflexive smile back. "Thanks? It hasn't really sunk in yet."
"Everyone feels like that. And it will be more real once you meet your soulmate properly. Right now, I need you to fill in these forms while I set up the camera station, okay? You can leave the parts about your soulmate blank for now; we'll complete that when we cross-file."
"Right, yeah. Okay." Jared accepted the proffered pen and started filling everything out.
There was a lot of paperwork involved, he discovered. Jared was starting to feel antsy again by the time he'd finished, a condition that wasn't helped by the number of photographs that Sally took of his soul brand.
"Now we just need to input everything into the system," Sally said brightly.
Jared's leg started to jiggle.
"Since you were separated from your soulmate after First Contact, I'm going to upload your school schedule to your file so that we know where you are when we contact your soulmate," Sally told him. She looked away from her computer screen towards Jared. "Do you have a work schedule that you'd like to add as well?"
Jared gave it to her, and vibrated in place while she typed and clicked and filed.
"Saving to the system now," Sally said, clicking a button. She smiled at him. "And there we go. As soon as your soulmate registers their soul brand, the system will mark it as a match and- oh."
Jared's heart froze. "What is it?" he asked urgently. "Is everything okay."
"Actually, it looks like your soulmate beat you to it." She smiled. "They registered at City Hall earlier this morning."
Jared's breath escaped in a rush. "Really? They're- can you tell me who…"
She was already nodding. "Your soulmate is a young man by the name of Jensen Ackles."
"Jensen?" Jared said blankly. "But he can't be. We made Contact months ago-"
Only they hadn't, had they? Jared thought back over his interactions with Jensen and realized, with a jolt of shock so strong that it nearly buckled his knees, that they hadn't ever touched skin-to-skin. Jensen had been his TA, that first time, and he hadn't participated in the casual handshaking ritual that all the students had engaged in before class. And after that, well, Jared was so used to getting First Contact out of the way right away and so focused on not becoming overly attached to Jensen that he hadn't realized that they'd skipped it.
He was such an idiot.
Sally was still clicking around on her computer. "It looks like Mr. Ackles is teaching right now, but he's left his contact inf-"
Jared was out the door before she could protest, his mind full of nothing but the driving need to find Jensen now. He had no idea if Jensen always taught in the same classroom, but he'd check every room in the Economics buildings one by one if he had to. He wasn't waiting a single moment longer than he absolutely had to.
Later, Jared wouldn't remember the trip across campus, which was probably good because he had the sneaking suspicion that it might have included both running and knocking people over. He hadn't been much better in the building either; he'd get a telling off for that, afterwards.
Not that he cared a whit. The relief he felt when he got to his erstwhile Macroeconomics class and saw Jensen writing on the blackboard was palpable, and he didn't stop to think before he charged right in.
Jensen half-turned at the sound of the door, hand still upraised to hold the chalk. Jared saw the sky-blue curl of a soul brand peeking out from beneath the cuff of Jensen's shirt and his heart just about stopped.
"Jared?" Jensen asked, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Jared abruptly forgot the English language.
"I, uh," he stammered. "It's-"
Jensen frowned. "What's wrong?"
Jensen was in the middle of teaching class, Jared realized suddenly, and became uncomfortably aware of the room full of curious stares he was receiving. "It's not- sorry, I'll just-"
"Jared," Jensen said again, turning to face him properly, and Jared couldn't help the way his eyes followed Jensen's arm as it dropped to his side, his shirt cuff falling forward to hide the proof of his connection to Jared. Jared knew it was there, though.
"I…" His hand gravitated to his wrist again.
Jensen's eyes went wide.
"You-?" Jensen demanded, shocked but not dismayed, thank God, not dismayed.
Suddenly dry-throated, all Jared could do was nod.
"Class dismissed," Jensen said, and Jared had no idea what he was talking about until the room around them came alive with the noise of two dozen students taking full advantage of an early dismissal. Jared stood in the middle of the chaos and tried to breathe.
Jensen waited until the door banged shut behind the last student before carefully unbuttoning his cuff and rolling back his sleeve. The sight of his soul brand - identical to Jared's - knocked all the breath out of Jared's lungs.
"Jared?" Jensen asked, and the whole scenario was so reminiscent of their first meeting that Jared had to laugh.
"That'll teach me not to shake hands with my teachers," he said, shoving his own sleeve up to bare his soul brand in all its glory. "This should have happened months ago."
Jensen's expression when Jared's brand was uncovered was a sight that Jared was never going to forget. "Oh my god," Jensen said, sounding shaky and awestruck. "I should have known there was a reason we kept running into each other."
"It's a small world, after all?" Jared tried, and his face was starting to hurt from how much he was grinning.
Jensen half-chuckled, half-groaned at that. "Shut up and kiss me. We've got lots of time t-mmph!"
Jared smiled against Jensen's lips, feeling Jensen mirror the movement. He could get used to this.
Especially if it meant that he could put off admitting to Jensen that he wasn't majoring in Economics for a little longer. That was going to be awkward.