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SPN RPF fic: Explaining to Dragons

Bela Talbot
I come bearing Halloween treat fic for sagetan!  I wanted to write you a Gen drabble and failed miserably!  And by failed, I mean I wrote almost 7,000 words instead.  So while it is dedicated to you, please feel no obligation to read it because it is very, very long.

Title: Explaining to Dragons
Summary: Everyone knows that dragons are terrifying, but Prince Jared would still rather live with one than marry Prince Jensen.  He just has to convince the dragon that he'd make a better companion than meal.  Unfortunately, the very teensy, very nosy woman already in its cave doesn't seem to want to help his case.
Fandom: SPN RPF.  Specifically, Jared Padalecki, Genevieve (Cortese) Padalecki, and off-screen Jensen Ackles.  While one of my personal life goals is to make one of my siblings famous enough that I am someday a secondary character in someone’s RPF AU, I don’t know whether J2’s siblings feel the same, so rather than use their names, canonical characters also appear in this fic (and I killed one of them.  Sorry).
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 6,900
Warning:
Jared is an omega who has felt like a freak his entire life because of the pervasive intersex phobia in this world.  If institutionalized phobia of that nature triggers you, please be warned.

A/N: Title is an homage to Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  I haven’t read the series in over a decade so any similarities besides the basic premise of royalty-runs-away-to-dragon-to-escape-marriage are completely coincidental.


There was no sign of the dragon at the top of the dragon’s cliff.

Jared had expected to stop short at the end of his climb, for his knees to first lock and then quiver like jelly, for his feet to feel frozen to the ground.

He hadn’t expected to stop short because the cliff was empty, and the mouth of the dragon’s cave was also clearly empty, and there wasn’t any smoke or fumes or even the stench of rotting, chewed-up carcasses drifting from it.

Also, he was kind of out of breath.  Climbing the dragon’s mountain was hard.  No wonder dragons always bested the knights that came after them; they were probably so sore and tired by the time they reached the top that they lay down and let the dragon spit-roast them.  Thinking with a shudder of the added weight from their armor, he unshouldered his own knapsack and looked around some more.

A more than cursory glance showed that the neat pile of sticks on the far side of the cliff was actually a neat pile of bones, whereupon Jared’s knees did indeed start feeling like Cook’s best breakfast spread.

Nevertheless, his stasis was still due 90% to confusion rather than fear.  During his long trek he had considered numerous ways in which he could throw himself upon the dragon’s mercy once he reached the top, but in all his imaginings, the fearsome beast had been right there; waiting for him; and either the beast had immediately swallowed him in one bite (preferably; he wasn’t keen on dying in the first place, but he particularly didn’t want to be roasted or chewed during the process) or he’d talked faster than ever in his life to convince it that keeping him around was for the best.

He hadn’t considered that he might have to wait for it.  To return from- from hunting or terrorizing villages or kidnapping fair maidens or whatever else dragons did when they weren’t squatting in their caves hoarding their gold and eating vainglorious knights.

Which was a bit stupid of him, come to think of it.  But in his defense, contemplating his possibly imminent death and planning desperate speeches had been a little distracting.

Jared turned to scan the horizon, as though the beast might suddenly appear, but the blue sky was as empty as the bluff.

He turned back to the cave and felt his heart sink into his stomach.  The cave looked empty, but who knew how far back it extended?  Just because the front was empty didn’t mean that the dragon wasn’t in hidden recesses.

So…onward.

His feet did not cooperate with the sentiment.

You could still turn around, Jared reminded himself.  You could be in a village by nightfall and home tomorrow.  And then you could marry Prince Jensen and have his babies and watch a foreigner rule from your brother’s throne.

Jared walked into the cave.

He had to stop again moments later to let his eyes adjust to the darkness.  His chances of surviving this encounter were slim to begin with, and being all but blind certainly wouldn’t help matters.  He was just about to turn around and see if there were some actual sticks outside he could use to make a torch when he noticed a flicker of light in the distance.

Somewhere ahead of him, a torch was already burning.

Or the dragon was.

Jared cringed away from imaginary heat and forced himself to keep walking.  He didn’t let himself slow until he realized the light was coming from around a corner.  Then he advanced on tip-toe, clutching the strap of his knapsack so hard his hand hurt.   He halted at the corner, sent a silent prayer to whatever god might be listening, and peeked around.

His breath caught in his throat.

A cavern easily twice the size of the palace ballroom lay before him, and about halfway down, sitting cross-legged against the wall, was a girl.  A woman?  Definitely a maiden of some sort.  A torch in a bracket above her cast her in sharp relief, but she was so tiny it was impossible to guess her age without getting closer-

Jared barely caught himself from doing just that, rocking back on his heels at the last second to keep from strolling into plain view like it was his ballroom, instead of the lair of a ferocious beast.  It would be just like him to get so distracted that he walked right into the dragon's gaping maw; like the time he snuck a book onto the saddle and didn't see the low hanging branch that knocked him flat on his backside in the dirt in front of his parents and siblings and half of the Ackles retinue.  How stupid he'd been, and for him to have survived with only his dignity damaged when Sam had-

Jared felt his eyes squeeze shut, as though that would block out his mind's eye, too.  Don't think about it, don't think about it-

He forced his eyes open and looked everywhere but at the maiden.  No gaping maws, no scaly claws, no sign of the beast in the cavern at all-

Except for the gold.

He let himself look at the maiden now, and the gold she was counting.  Coins, it looked like, arranged in neat stacks in front of her.  Now that he was past the initial shock of her existence- was she the dragon's prisoner? its next meal? its…bookkeeper?- he could linger over the details.  Her long dark hair spilled past her shoulders, unbound and tangled.  A bright red robe hid all her other garments, and her feet were bare.  She sat not on the stone floor but on a carpet that was as fine as any in the palace (in fact, there were fine carpets strewn all over the cavern, Jared noted with no little confusion; and there was a bed, and there was a table and lots of other items a dragon had no conceivable use for; but there was still the maiden to look at).

As he watched, her lips pursed, and the pink tip of her tongue poked out.  She held a coin up to the light and then brought it close to her nose, the way he would a dish of Cook's spiced chocolate pudding.  The maiden took a great whiff-

Jared blinked, sure his eyes were playing tricks on him.

She inhaled again, audibly.

Her head snapped up and around, and before Jared could blink again, before he could even think, she was staring right at him.  It was all he could do not to yelp.

"Who's there?"

Woman, Jared thought, dazedly.  That was the tone his mother and sister and aunts used when he or Sam or his father or one of the other men had done something wrong.  Definitely a woman.  Not girl.

And now she was up and walking toward him- striding toward him, like she was going to throw down a gauntlet- and yes, she was irrefutably a woman, probably around his age, 22 or 23, and very pretty now that he could see her better, despite her glower, which good heavens did not belong on such a small person-

He stepped out from behind the corner only because he knew if he didn't, she would yank him out herself, teensy stature notwithstanding.

The woman halted barely five feet away and stared at him with a mixture of curiosity and vague distaste, like he was a peculiar insect she had never seen before and wasn't sure she wanted to see now.  Jared was used to it; although in this case it seemed a bit premature, given that she probably didn’t know, that was how people always stared at him when they found out about his condition.

Who,” said the woman.  “Are you?”

It wasn’t surprising that she didn’t recognize him.  He hardly looked like a prince at the moment, in his sweaty, dirt-stained travel clothes; and even if he were dressed the part, his parents hadn’t bothered circulating his portrait throughout the land in the past few years.

Jared cleared his throat.  Despite the fact that she was a strange, wild-looking maiden in a dragon's lair (or perhaps because of it; if the poor thing was a prisoner, who knew how long she'd been deprived of human civilization), he bowed his head in respect the way he would to a lady at court.

“I am Prince Jared, youngest son-”  He broke off, choked by a sudden stab of horror.  He fought back bile.  “Son of King John.”

He waited for her expression to turn to that mixture of revulsion and curiosity people always wore when they met him, but the woman just cocked her head, brown eyes squinting thoughtfully.  “Of Padalecki?”

Why did she name their kingdom as though she wasn't part of it?  Wasn't currently in it?

“Yes,” said Jared.  He didn’t know whether to feel insulted or relieved that she apparently hadn’t heard of him.  “And…you are?”

“What are you doing here?”

Jared stared.  He hadn't really expected a curtsy.  No one deferred to him unless they absolutely had to.  But he thought his title, let alone common courtesy, at least merited an introduction in return.  Not to mention questions that didn't sound like rebukes.

She looked him up and down and then actually stepped to the side to peer past him, like he might be hiding whatever she found lacking around the corner.  “Are you here to slay a dragon?  You don't look like you're here to slay a dragon.  If you are, you're the worst prepared knight in history.  Unless you have an army waiting outside and you're just the bait.”

She did the sniffing thing again; Jared tried not to jump.

“No, no army,” she said.

“I- what- no.  No!  I don't have an army.  I'm not here to slay the dragon.  And I'm not bait!”

He knew he sounded unbecomingly wounded for a prince, but he couldn't help it.  His family didn't like him very much, but they wouldn't use him as bait.  Well, his father might try, but his mother wouldn't let him.

“Hmm,” said the woman.  She did not sound convinced.  Jared wondered about which part and tried not to look sulky.

“Then what are you doing here?”

He marshaled his thoughts.  The growing list of Things He Had Not Thought About Ahead Of Time included how to explain himself to someone other than the dragon.

“I came to give myself to the dragon,” he blurted.

That didn’t come out right.

The woman’s eyebrows shot almost up to her hairline.  Before Jared could stammer out an apology for offending her maidenly sensibilities, she said, clearly nonplussed,

“You mean to eat?  You came to feed yourself to a dragon?”

It was the first time her question sounded like an actual question instead of a demand.

“No!”  Jared tried to grin like the very idea was preposterous; he didn’t need a mirror to know he looked ready to throw up instead.  “I came to…to be the dragon’s prince.  Like in the stories of old.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Explain.”

Ah, there was the demanding tone again.

“Look,” said Jared.  He couldn’t hide his discomfort anymore, if he’d ever been able to in the first place, but he was also starting to feel irked.  Yes, he was here uninvited, but he was here in friendship!  Or…desperation.  In any case, it wasn’t like he’d come with a sword drawn; he didn’t even have a sword.  Who was this woman to treat him like an enemy combatant one wrong word away from the noose?  He wasn’t the strange one living in a dragon’s cave for goodness sake.

Well, not yet anyway.

“Maybe this would be easier if you told me who you are?” he suggested, as firmly as he could.

“What do you mean you came to live with a dragon?”

Jared couldn't restrain a huff of exasperation.  Did this woman have older brothers?  She could give Bela a run for her money in How To Be Absolutely Infuriating.

On the bright side, he was feeling more annoyed than scared now.  He should just try to think of this interrogation as a practice run, so to speak, before he met the actual dragon.

He cleared his throat again, choosing the first variation of his speech that came to mind.  “The stories say that in the olden days, when dragons-”

“What stories?”

Jared paused.  “Uh…just, you know…stories?  In books?  The kind parents tell children?  That minstrels sing about?”

“Human stories,” said the woman.

“Um.  Yes.”  Jared averted his eyes and swept a hand through his bangs, which were just starting to grow out again, so his disconcertment wouldn’t be so obvious.

“Anyway, the stories say that in the olden days, when dragons pillaged and marauded the land-”

“What does ‘marauded’ mean?”

“It…”  Jared flushed.  “It basically means pillage…”

The woman frowned, like that was the answer she’d expected.  “Dragons don’t pillage and maraud.  Is that what you were going to say to the dragons?  It’s not very polite.”

Jared fish-mouthed briefly.  Then he crossed his arms and tried to mimic her demanding tone.  “Do you want me to answer your question or not?”

The woman’s lips thinned.  She gave an impatient whuff, not unlike the sounds Jared’s horse made, and gestured for him to continue.

“The stories say that in the olden-”  Jared made an impatient noise of his own.  He spoke very fast, as though that would keep her from interrupting.  “The stories say that in order to appease the dragons and get them to stop attacking the kingdom, princes and princesses and other young members of the nobility would spend a period of time with the dragons, caring for their needs and acting as liaisons between them and the human world.”

He paused.  The woman just looked at him, one eyebrow arched.

"Other stories say that there was never any enmity between the dragons and the human kingdoms," Jared admitted.  "And the young nobility stayed with the dragons in order to learn from them; that we got mathematics and physics and other sciences from the dragons."

"That's a better story," she said.  "You should have led with that one."

Jared coughed.  “Yes.  Well.  Good thing I have you here, then.”  He smiled winningly.  Or tried, anyway.  When she didn't look won he joked, “Other stories say that the nobility weren't sent to the dragons as liaisons but as tributes; royal sacrifices to sate the dragons' hunger and win peace for a few years.  But I already know not to tell the dragon that story.”

At last, amusement sparked in her brown eyes.  He grinned but got something that looked more like a smirk in return.

“One measly prince or princess wouldn't sate a dragon's hunger,” she said.  “Especially not for years.  Why wait years for more tributes, anyway?  Is that how long it took for the next princeling to grow big enough for the slaughter?”

“Um,” said Jared.

“A fully grown prince would only last one or two days-”  She checked herself, looking him up and down.  “You're big, so you might last longer than most.  In any case, you'd need tributes every few days, not every few years.  That's a lot of princes and princesses.  But it doesn't matter because if a dragon really wanted to pillage and maraud, a few days' worth of food wouldn't stop it, no matter where the meat came from; I don't think royal meat even tastes any different from non-royal meat.”

Jared waited for a punch line, but she just looked at him.  “It's just a story,” he said feebly.

She snorted.  “Not a good one.  You know there are no dragons pillaging and marauding.”

“I know,” said Jared quickly, even though his father's weekly audiences with common folk usually included at least one complaint of a dragon stealing livestock; from her tone, he didn't think now was the time to quibble over semantics.

“So there's no point to you being here.”

“Of course there's a...there is a point…”

She raised an eyebrow again.

He came up blank.

She sighed like his very existence aggrieved her.  “Why are you sacrificing yourself?”

“I'm not- I'm not a sacrifice!”  That point was important.  Very, very important.

"I came because I wanted to!"  There.  That was as plain as could be.  And it was inarguable!  "Why- why are you looking at me like that?"

Maybe she had heard of him.

"You're human, and you want to live with a dragon," she said flatly.

Jared took a deep breath, counted to ten, and thought about how Sam would have handled this woman.  “You sound like you don't recommend it.  Listen, are you all right?  Are you its prisoner?  If you are, I can- I can slay it...”

The woman's eyes popped.  She practically leapt forward, crowding so close that Jared stumbled back a step before he could stop himself.  Despite being a whole foot shorter than he was, she still managed to get right in his face.

“You came to ask if you could live with a dragon, and now you want to slay it?”

“I don't want to slay it!”  He was slightly alarmed by the sudden fury in her eyes and had to remind himself that she was small and a woman and couldn't hurt him if she tried.  Probably.

“But I've been working off the assumption that the dragon is not an evil kidnapper of innocent women!”  Not that he was entirely convinced of her innocence by this point, but again, semantics.

“If it is an evil kidnapper that's, that's a different story!”

The woman stared at him, stony-faced.

Jared sighed.  “Look, I probably couldn't actually slay it if I tried.  I'm terrible with swords; I didn't even bring one because I'm so terrible with swords.  But if you're trapped here, I would still try my very best to free you.  I'd…I'd yell insults and wave my dagger like it was a sword, and I'd make a fool of myself while you ran away.  And then I'd probably get eaten.  But that's all right.  If you need rescuing.”

It was hard to be sure, but he thought her eyes softened the teensiest bit.  Her glower looked less fearsome, anyway.

“I don't need rescuing,” she said.

“Well, all right then,” said Jared, unable to hide his relief.  “No slaying needed either.”

He smiled at her.  She didn't smile back.

Jared looked away, at the wide, mostly empty space, and tried not to count seconds as they awkwardly ticked by.

"Is it around?" he finally asked.  "Coming back anytime soon?"

"Why do you want to live with a dragon?"

"You keep saying 'a,'" said Jared.  "Like there's more than one."

The woman looked at him like he was an idiot.  "There is more than one."

Jared gulped.  Hopefully not noticeably.  "And they all live here?"  He gestured at the cavern doubtfully.  It was big, but it didn't seem big enough for more than one.  Maybe two.  Not that he was qualified in measuring dragons.

"This is one dragon's cave.  The others have their own.  Why do you want to live with a dragon?"

He decided to try her strategy of deflecting a question with a question.  "Is it nice?  This dragon?"

"It is a she, for one thing, and if you continue calling her 'it,' she will definitely not be nice."

"Noted," said Jared, and meant it.

"Why do you want to live with the dragon?"

Jared wasn't positive he liked the sudden change in prepositions.  He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to live with this dragon if it already had a human companion.  She seemed like she could be hazardous to one's health.  The woman, not the dragon.

"It's a personal matter," he said shortly, since there seemed to be no avoiding the question; she was like a dog with a bone.  He hoped that would suffice.  If she couldn't guess why he would want to run away, if she didn't know about the infamous Prince Jared, he wasn't about to volunteer the information.

"Explain."

Of course it didn't suffice.  What was she, the dragon's gatekeeper?  Or was she always this nosy?  He shouldn't have to justify himself to her.

Jared tried to sound patient.  "Look, I'll explain to the dragon, but it's not really anyone else's business-"

"You either explain right now or you walk right back down the hill."

"You call that a hill?"

The woman's eyes were beady, like she could stare at him for hours and hours and never move.  She reminded him of the cats back home.  Come to think of it, her pupils looked a little cat-like, too; they weren't as round as most people's; they were almost slits-

Now he was just trying to distract himself.  Jared looked away and took a deep breath.  "I'm a carrier."

She looked so thoroughly unperturbed by his confession that for a split second he felt relief-

“What's that?”

Jared winced.  Of course she didn't know.  Which begged the question, where was she from?  He knew other kingdoms had different words for what he was, but in Ackles, on the other side of the mountain, they were called carriers, too.

"I…it means…"  Had he ever had to explain this before?  He didn't think so.  People had always explained his condition to him, not the other way round.  Or given him books to do the explaining for them.

Other commonly used terms flashed through his mind, but Jared ignored them.  He wasn't going to share the slurs, even if they might ring a bell.

He spoke as fast as he could, feeling his face heat up as he did.  "It means I can have babies.  Like a woman.  Supposedly.  I mean, I've never tried."  And he was never going to if he had anything to say about it.

Astoundingly, her face brightened.  “You're omega.”

Omega.  Yes.  He knew that word.  It was old-fashioned, but he'd come across it in books before.

“Yes.”

“You appear to be male.”  She said it very matter-of-factly.

All other abrasiveness notwithstanding, it occurred to Jared that he could fall in love with this woman.

“So that means you have both…”  She looked down at his groin like she could see through his clothes.

Jared reconsidered their romantic prospects.

He should be used to it by now, people ogling his crotch, but it still made him flush harder, still irritated him like almost nothing else did.

“Yes,” said Jared loudly.  “I have a dick, and I have a cunt.”

A righteous moment passed before he felt a twinge of embarrassment; it was beneath him to speak so coarsely to a lady, no matter how rude she was first.  He would have forced out an apology, but the woman barely seemed to notice his anger, let alone how he expressed it.

She was still eyeing his groin.

"My face is up here," he said shortly.

She finally looked up.  "Yes.  Because you're strangely tall."

“I am not!'” 

He was.  Everyone said so.  Prince Jensen was reportedly quite put out about it.  Among other things.

“Well- well, you're strangely small!”

That was also probably beneath him.

But for some reason it made her smile, the first real smile she'd shown this whole exhausting conversation.

She kept her eyes on his when she asked, “Why does being omega make you want to live with the dragon?”

Jared hesitated, and not only because this was getting into Even More Personal Territory.  What did it say about her that being a carrier didn't strike her as enough reason to run away?  Did she not think he was a freak?  She didn't sound like she thought he was a freak.  When she said 'omega,' it didn't sound like she was thinking something else.

“Where I come from…”

Which was evidently not where she came from.

"People don't really…like carriers.  Omegas."

That was an understatement.  Even so, he felt almost embarrassed, like it was silly to complain when his grievances were clearly outside her frame of reference.

“They don't?”  For the first time she sounded genuinely confused, not like she was looking for a way to poke fun at him.  “Why not?  Surely you need omegas to continue your species.”

Jared blinked, not entirely sure he understood.  “Er, but that's what women are for.  Omegas don’t need to have children.  Hardly any do.”

The woman frowned.  “I think you use the word differently.  An omega is anyone capable of bearing offspring.”

“Ah,” said Jared.  “Yes, that's not…”  Where was she from?  Surely he'd played nicely enough by now that he could ask her some questions.  “For us an omega is a carrier.  A man with…who can have children.”

“Oh.”  Her frown didn't lift.  “Why don't your people like them?”

“Because people think they're…we're…strange.”

Again, understatement.

“Why?”

Jared was reminded of his cousin's young child, who never grew tired of asking 'why,' no matters how many answers he'd already received.

"Because we, we have…"  He gestured vaguely downward; he felt no desire to be crude again.

She glanced briefly at his crotch again and then back at his face.  "Your people think it’s bad that you have two sexual organs?  Why?”

He wondered briefly if he was dreaming, if he had actually fallen on the mountain and hit his head and this was all a bizarre hallucination.

Whether real or imagined, her question, so innocent, made him spill, "They just do.  They don't like that we're like men and women.  They don't like that we're impotent or that we can get pregnant.  They don't like that we go into heat."

"Many species go into heat," said the woman.

"Normal humans don't," muttered Jared.  "So they just…they just don't like it."

The woman considered him for a moment and then said, her sharp tone returned, "That's stupid."

Jared blinked, startled.

She looked up at him very fiercely, like his doe-eyed surprise wasn't enough.  "Your people dislike you because of the way you were born, something you can't control.  That's stupid."

Jared flushed, but in a much less alarming way than usual.  He looked down at his boots, embarrassed and pleased.  "Yeah.  Well."

“So you decided to live with a dragon because people were mean to you.”

Jared hesitated.

It was enough.  Her eyes narrowed again.

“Explain.”

Jared cursed inwardly.  "It's really a personal-"

"Explain."

"I didn't want to get married!"  He glared at her.

The woman paused.  "Mated," she said slowly, with the barest hint of a question.

Jared threw up a hand.  "Yes!  Mated!  Married!  Whatever you call it where you come from!"

"But the humans do not consider you desirable," she said.  "Shouldn't you be glad to have a mate?"

His insides turned to ice.  Only for a moment, though, and then everything in him burned, until he almost saw red.

He was stupid.  Stupid to think that she was different.  Stupid to feel surprised.  Why should he be surprised when she was just saying the same thing that everyone else had?  His parents, his sister, his aunt and uncles and cousins, his teachers, any damn person with an opinion- including, apparently, eccentric cave-women!  And he knew that even the ones who didn't say it aloud thought it: that he should feel lucky to be engaged, lucky that Prince Jensen was willing to put up with him.

"No."  He almost didn't recognize his own voice, it was so guttural.  "I'm not glad.  I never wanted to have children, I never wanted to rule, and I never wanted to marry someone who was disgusted by me."

The woman blinked.  She opened her mouth-

“Don't you say 'explain'!”  He jabbed a finger at her.

For the first time the woman looked a bit wary of him.  She eyed him the way his sister's cats always looked at his dogs: reproachful, ever so slightly unnerved, and offended by their very existence.

“If you don't want to mate,” she said carefully.  “Why must you?”

As fast as it had come, his anger winked out.  Jared felt his shoulders slump in defeat.  Lord, she really hadn't intended to hurt him.  Not that anyone back home meant to, either.  A bitter chuckle almost escaped him.  At least, he liked to think that they didn't mean to; maybe they just didn't care.

This woman just didn't understand- well, anything.

She looked so earnest.  And wary, still.  He felt the tiniest bit bad for yelling at her.  She was so much smaller than he was.

Jared sighed.  "I have to marry because I'm the heir to Padalecki now.  I'll be king-"  He snorted and rolled his eyes.  "One of them- and I'll have to have heirs of my own."

The woman studied him.  "This is…an unexpected development?"

The weight in his stomach that had lodged there four months ago and never gone away grew heavier.  He felt his eyes sting and quickly looked away.  "Yeah.  It is.  I wasn't supposed to be king.  I wasn't the heir."  He didn't pause long; better to get it all out than let her pull it from him slowly, horribly.

“My older brother, Sam, was supposed to be king.  But he's, he's dead now.”  It hurt to say as much as it ever had.  His voice still didn't sound like his own when he said it.  Too cracked and broken.  Like-

“He was riding and his horse threw him,” said Jared thickly.  “The fall broke his back.  He couldn't move his legs afterward.  He might have lived anyway, but he hit his head, too, and-”  Jared swiped angrily at his eyes.  “We thought for a few days that he would make it.  He was awake, and talking, and, and joking about sending for cushions from all over the kingdom so he could find the best one for his chair!  But then- he didn't.  Make it.”

The woman looked at him, round-eyed.  She bit her lip but didn't speak.

The cavern was too big.  There was too much room for silence.

“It wasn't the horse's fault,” said Jared dully, because he couldn't stand the quiet and because this was the point where his father would start ranting that he had known all along the horse was a bad bet and Sam should have known better than to ride it.

“He wasn't the best behaved, but he wasn't- he wasn't bad.  He used to be.  Sam bought him a few years ago from a trader that would have killed him otherwise because he was so wild.  That was the way Sam was.  He wanted to save everything.  He never gave up on anything.” 

Jared realized he was rambling, that this woman probably didn’t care, but he had to talk because maybe then he wouldn't cry.  And he had to talk because he could never say these things when his father started ranting, and he wasn't even sure he wanted to say them, not when he had fantasized about killing Moose himself, but Sam would have wanted it.  And Jared wanted this stranger to know that Sam had died because of a freak accident, not because he should have known better.

“And he worked with that horse until Moose loved him, and everything would have been fine, except there was a fire.  After nightfall.  Lightning started it, at the edge of the woods, and the rain probably would have fixed it, but it’s been such a dry summer and was spreading so fast that people went to help, and Sam went, too, even though he didn't need to because he was the prince, he could have stayed back- but that was the way Sam was.  If his people were in the thick of it, then he was going to be in the thick of it!  And it should have been fine, but they went too close, and flames flared up right in front of Moose, and he spooked-”

His cheeks were wet; Jared looked anywhere but at the woman.  This was all second-hand knowledge, of course; Jared had been sound asleep in bed when it happened.  Sometimes he wondered if it would be better to have witnessed it, if the actual accident was less horrible than the ones his mind conjured.  And other times he felt relieved that he hadn’t seen it, and then he felt disgusted with himself and thought about how much happier everyone would be if he had been outside that night, too, and his horse had panicked-

Keep talking.

“He didn't even want the horse put down.  He told us, before he died, that he didn't want Moose put down.”  Jared suppressed a hysterical chuckle.  “Because that was just the way Sam was.”

Evidently the woman had decided silence was terrible, too, because he had only been quiet a few seconds when she said hastily, "So the horse lived."

“No,” said Jared.  “My father had it killed an hour after Sam died.”

The woman looked horrified, which he appreciated.

It wasn't nice of him, though, to horrify women, so he continued quickly, trying to pull himself together, "And that's why I have to get married.  Because I'm heir now that Sam's gone.  It didn't matter before if I died alone and childless because I was just the spare, but now it matters, and so I'm supposed to marry Prince Jensen.  He's the second son of Ackles, next door."

He realized he was just assuming at this point that she didn't know anything a normal person would.

"And you don't want to,” she said.

Jared made a face as he scrubbed away tear tracks.  "No.  He's- I don't like him, and he doesn't like me, and he only agreed to marry me because it's his duty.  He likes women."  As do I, he thought bitterly; but that had never mattered to anyone.

“What will happen to your kingdom if you don't become king?”

Jared shrugged.  “It'll be fine.  My parents are young.  And I have a little sister.  She's already going to be queen of Ackles- she's betrothed to Jensen's older brother, Dean- but they can rule both kingdoms.  Honestly, I'm surprised my parents didn't decide to do that in the first place.  Or I have plenty of cousins.  They'll be thrilled I'm gone and the seat's open.”

“You don't want to rule?”

She sounded the slightest bit accusatory, like he was shirking.  Jared tried to look like he didn't notice.  “I want to not be the king that people are embarrassed by,” he said, more stiffly than he meant.  Jensen was the one people would look to; Jared would only ever be king in name.  “Padaleckians don't want a carrier for a king.”

“Did you ask them all?”

Jared squinted at her.  This was really not the time for jokes.

She didn't look like she was being facetious.

"I don't need to," he said abruptly, and spread his arms.  “There, that's it!  That's my whole story.  Happy?”

She didn't respond, so at least she seemed to understand sarcasm.  She stared at him long enough for him to wonder, though, with mixed exhaustion and irritation, what he'd left out that she was going to demand he explain next.

“I'm sorry for your loss.”

Jared tried to hide his surprise.  The sympathy sounded awkward on her lips, like she wasn't used to it, but it also sounded sincere.

“Thank you,” he said gruffly.

She looked at him some more.

He brushed his bangs back again, suddenly embarrassed by how much he had shared.  He hadn't talked about Sam like that with anyone else, not even Bela.  And he certainly hadn't let himself cry; not since his father told him to stop at the funeral.

He felt a sudden wave of shyness, compounded by the fact that she really was, despite all the scowling and harassing, very pretty.  Assuming she was the dragon's gatekeeper, hopefully she was inclined by now to put in a good word for him.  Or if her dragon didn't need another human companion, maybe she could recommend him to a different dragon.

"What's- may I ask your name?" said Jared, wondering if they could just start over, so to speak; he'd bow again and everything.

"If you come live with the dragon," she said, and he tried not to look disappointed.

“You'll polish her treasure.”

“Wha-”  Jared replayed her words.  He brightened.  “Yes!  Of course.”

“And…you'll polish her scales.”

He hadn't considered that one but: "Yes!"

"You'll keep the place tidy?"

"Yes.”  He tried to look like the sort of person who was good at cleaning instead of the sort of person who had grown up with servants to do it for him.

"You'll…cook?"

Jared just managed to suppress his dismay.  What did dragons need cooking for?

"I'll do my best," he said, which was the most honest answer he could give.  He was better at cleaning than cooking.  Which was to say, he had done the former once or twice.

She looked vaguely disappointed but didn't hesitate.  "Can you read?"

“Of course!”

As soon as he said it he wished he could take it back.  He meant of course he could read because all royal children were taught their letters, but she might think he assumed everyone could read, which he knew was not the case.  Sam had long talked about how one of his goals was to improve literacy in the kingdom.

Jared tried not to think about whether Bela and Dean would honor that wish when they ruled Padalecki.

“Can you teach me?” asked the woman.

“Yes,” said Jared, and then, because again he felt he had to be honest: “I’ve never taught anyone before, but I can try.”

Sam would like that.

She mulled for a moment.  Then slowly, as though it were an afterthought: “Is anyone going to come after you?”

“No,” said Jared, and told himself this was a good thing.  “Well.  Probably not.”

“Explain.”  Her nose wrinkled.  “Please.” 

She said ‘please’ the same way she expressed sympathy, like it was a foreign concept.  By this point it was almost endearing.

“I don’t think they will,” said Jared.  “They don’t…they don’t care enough.”  After everything he’d already said, a simple thing like this shouldn’t be able to hurt anymore.

A few might grieve him.  It was always anyone’s guess what Bela was really thinking, but he thought she would miss him.  His mother might, too, at first.

“They might come after me if they really want the line of succession intact,” he said.  “But I doubt it.  Like I said, they have my sister.”

When the woman’s lips pursed, Jared felt his heart start to fall.  It must have shown on his face, because her features smoothed almost immediately.  It occurred to Jared, with a jolt that made his whole chest warm, that maybe her distaste was for his family.  Not for him.

She didn’t smile, though, or offer any other sort of encouragement.  She just studied him, her expression utterly unreadable.  It reminded Jared of how Bela's cats stared at him when he tried to beckon them over to pet, like they couldn't decide whether he was worth bothering with.

He estimated a full minute had passed before he began counting seconds.  His palms started to sweat.  He had never realized before just how brief normal people's pauses were- one, two, maybe three seconds?  Who stayed silent for minutes?  What could she possibly be thinking?  Had he offended her?

For the sake of his own sanity, he was about to ask if she felt all right when she finally stirred.

"Very well.  I'll keep you."

Jared did a double take.  "You'll- I beg your pardon?"

A smile touched her lips.  She stepped back and undid the sash holding her robe closed.

"What are you- oh my lord!"  An embarrassing squeak escaped Jared.  She was naked.  He leapt back involuntarily, one hand raised like a shield, telling himself to not look, close his eyes- too late, he was really, really looking-

What in heaven's name was she- wait. She had a-

Her skin rippled.  And then-

Jared's mouth fell open.  He only made it back a few steps before his knees locked.

The stories hadn’t prepared him.  It was so big- so much bigger than he was.  Its body- scales a dark, gleaming brown, almost black- the same color of the woman’s hair- was at least twice Jared’s height, and its neck and tail were both his length again; Jared had to crane his own neck to see its head.  And its wings- they unfurled with a slow flap, and Jared felt the around him move.

It stretched onto its hind legs toward the roof of the cave, wings reaching farther, and then sank back onto all fours.  Jared couldn't keep from staring at its talons as they curled against the cave floor.  Those could rip a man apart.

Its neck lowered, and Jared yanked his gaze up, terrified that his staring might give it ideas.  It regarded him with deep brown eyes.  Despite the reptilian features, he could tell it was amused.

She, Jared remembered faintly.  Not 'it.'

His knees quivered like jelly.  His feet felt frozen to the ground.

“Prince Jared, I am Genevieve of the Cortese clan.”

The voice sounded inside his head.  It was deeper on the inside, a little rumbly, but it was unmistakably hers.

“You may call me Gen.  I accept your proposal.”

Fin
(for now?)

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
sagetan
Nov. 16th, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
AHHH! I LOVE THIS! The Enchanted Forest Chronicles was probably one of my very favourite series as a kid, and this is just marvelously fantastic. I adore how brusque and bossy Genevieve is (Explain. XD), and how Jared is such a sweet, bumbling guy. Gen's transformation at the end is awesome, I love the description of her huge wings and her reptilian amusement.

Some of the lines actually made me laugh out loud, but Jared's story really got to me. Probably partly because his brother is named Sam, but also what a good guy he was, and the bit about the horse being put down, augh. Not to mention how terrible his people and his dad are about him being a carrier, and how he thinks his family wouldn't even look for him. Poor Jared. He's definitely better off with dragon!Gen.

I like how Dean/Bela is slated to happen in the background too, hee.

Thank you so much! This is the greatest treat ever, it brought me even greater joy than when eight-year-old me scored a whole jumbo-sized Kit-Kat bar on Halloween :D
gryfndor_godess
Nov. 17th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
I am so, SO happy you like it!! :D These incarnations of Gen and Jared were so much fun to write.

Ooh, yay, that's awesome that you were a fan of EFC, too! I really need to re-read that series; it was such a huge part of my childhood.

I felt so guilty writing all that about Sam! If I write more in this verse I definitely want to make him be one of those characters whose ghost lives on.

I like how Dean/Bela is slated to happen in the background too, hee.

*g* I am absolutely incorrigible, it turns out.

Thank you so much for the long and detailed and lovely comment! I'm thrilled the fic brought you joy!
kwritten
Nov. 17th, 2013 12:25 pm (UTC)
Apparently my response to any and all omega/alpha stories is: "OMG LOOK AT THE CUTIES!"

but seriously please continue this world, let us live here with dragons and make merry! Let them visit his castle and make friends with Bela and let him bear baby dragons.

squee

for this is the sweetest and the cutest and Gen is a DRAGON!


the moral of the story is dragons, the end.
gryfndor_godess
Nov. 18th, 2013 03:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, darling, I am so happy it made you squee! :)

I don't know how much I will actually be able to write but the plan is:

Let them visit his castle

Eventually

make friends with Bela

*nods*

let him bear baby dragons.

DEFINITELY

the moral of the story is dragons, the end.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER, AMEN.
snickfic
Nov. 17th, 2013 10:48 pm (UTC)
THIS IS THE BEST THING. Oh my gosh, I love this so much. I read it through twice, and I ended up all weepy both times. ACTUAL TEARS FROM MY EYES, OKAY?

I just love grumpy!Gen so much, always. I love the opening image of her counting her gold pieces, and I love her interrogating Jared, and how her manner changes as she gets more of his story, including that wee bit of softening when he offers to sacrifice himself to the dragon to rescue her.

And Jared, poor boy. Looked down upon, scared, determined to make a choice that is his own. He's a sweetie, and I'm glad he's found someone who might appreciate him (although probably she'll appreciate him more once he learns something about cooking).

And so many great lines! Some of my favs:

I don't think royal meat even tastes any different from non-royal meat.

Not that he was qualified in measuring dragons.

Omegas don’t need to have children. Hardly any do. -- Hmm, and since he also says somewhere in there that omegas are sterile, I guess that means they just don't get to have families at all. :(

She looked up at him very fiercely, like his doe-eyed surprise wasn't enough. "Your people dislike you because of the way you were born, something you can't control. That's stupid."

“Explain.” Her nose wrinkled. “Please.” She said ‘please’ the same way she expressed sympathy, like it was a foreign concept. By this point it was almost endearing.

"What are you- oh my lord!" An embarrassing squeak escaped Jared. She was naked. He leapt back involuntarily, one hand raised like a shield, telling himself to not look, close his eyes- too late, he was really, really looking- What in heaven's name was she- wait. She had a- -- I choose to take that last bit to mean that she's an alpha. :D

This is just the best thing, and totally made my day yesterday. And then I had to think awhile before I could write an appropriately enthused comment. And if more ever happened to appear, I would read the heck out of it.
gryfndor_godess
Nov. 19th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
I read it through twice, and I ended up all weepy both times. ACTUAL TEARS FROM MY EYES, OKAY?

THAT'S LIKE THE NICEST THING YOU COULD SAY.

I love her interrogating Jared, and how her manner changes as she gets more of his story

I am so glad you like them! They were SO much fun to write this way.

I choose to take that last bit to mean that she's an alpha. :D

:DDD Mebbe

Thank you so much for the long and detailed and thoughtful comment and for telling me the lines you liked! I am pleased as punch that it delighted you. ♥
livejournal
Nov. 22nd, 2013 12:14 am (UTC)
recs
User snickfic referenced to your post from recs saying: [...] writing things recently that made me all fluttery, I liked them so much. Explaining to Dragons [...]
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