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“First time here, Mr Phantomhive?”

The decor is exquisite without a doubt- the walls are covered with a shimmering amber wallpaper, the hardwood floor carpeted with dark vermilion. Tables complemented with a rich walnut tablecloth, the edges embroidered with lustrous gold that glimmers under the warm light. Sepia candles lending their radiance to the ambience, the faint wisps that they exude mesmerising. Lightly perfumed with rose, the pleasing scent testament to the cultured tastes of the owner.

But it pales in significance to the reason why Ciel is here- it’s because of that alluring scent underneath everything in the room. It’s intoxicating, the hot coil in his stomach forming unbidden. It’s the scent of freshly cut timber, reminiscent of long-forgotten trips to a lake while the sky weeps and lightning crackles. It’s heavenly, a drug that he can’t get enough of. He drinks it in, the flavour lingering on his tongue like the finest ambrosia.

Slowly, he turns towards the petite beta addressing him. He’s in a haze, drunk on the scent of sweet, sweet omega. So painfully obvious it is that he’s on the verge of surrendering to his primal instincts, alpha red rimming the normal cerulean eyes. The scent screams comply, obey, submit- and he loves every moment of it.

Despite this, he knows he’s better than that. He’s not some primitive savage, even though biology dictates as such. And so he dips his head to regard her levelly, refuses to lower himself to the compulsion to take . For now.

“Indeed, Miss…?” His throat is dry, with the words forced out through rough edges.

“Ran Mao. On behalf of Mr Lau, we extend to you our warmest greetings to the Blue Lotus.” Evidently, the words slide off her tongue from rote practice. The toothy grin that she plasters on her face is artificial, for beneath the veneer of exuberance Ciel can see utter exhaustion.

All he does is to tilt his head in acknowledgement of her words. “Miss Ran Mao then. I would like to view your omegas available today.”

A vague nod is his only answer, her stilettos clicking against the floor as she leads him to the display room. Easy it is to get distracted by the scents buffeting his senses, but he is nothing if not singular-minded. His goal is that room, the low voices a herald to his arrival.

As she flings open the door with a flourish, the murmuring rapidly hushes into a deafening silence. So quiet that one can hear a pin drop, the only sound of the grandfather clock ticking away. Clearly, they are well trained.

“Mr Phantomhive, how nice to see you here.” Ciel’s head snaps around, the mild voice breaking the quavering tranquility of the atmosphere. Notes of lotus are what hits him first, a fragrance that hearkens back to the man’s visibly Chinese roots. His chosen robes also reflect that fact, with intricate golden dragons intertwining each other in a seamless symphony. His eyes are closed, giving a false impression of the man’s unassuming air- but Ciel knows better. Beneath the facade, danger thrums and chokes the air with the bitter tang. It’s a show of pure alpha, another session of asserting their dominance or “dick-waving” as he calls it.

“Mr Lau, thank you for welcoming me so warmly.” Polite society dictates that he extends his hand to a fellow alpha, despite his urge to laugh at his display. It’s the same old dance all over again, and he wonders at the futility of it all.

Lau’s fingers brush against his outstretched hand ever so slightly, showing just the barest modicum of respect towards him. It’s a lie if he doesn’t seethe inside, but he’s a maestro at covering up his true emotions. A deep breath, then an exhale. The urge to bare his fangs at the other alpha has passed.

“I would be most pleased if you would give me the opportunity to view your omegas, Mr Lau.” He offers a thin-lipped smile.

“Of course, Mr Phantomhive.” His voice is serene again, strolling leisurely along the lines of omegas. It’s then he finally gives his full attention to the kneeling omegas, their scents a veritable assault on his senses.

They’re the picture of a perfect omega- their eyes trained on the floor, their hands clasped together demurely on their lap, their heads lifted ever slightly to present their necks to the new arrival. It’s submission in every meaning of the word, and he’d be damned if his mouth doesn’t salivate at the sight.

They’re beautiful. The females dressed in flowing dresses, the thin fabric leaving nothing to the imagination. Hugging onto their slender bodies, a provocation one other than him would not be able to ignore.

But his tastes lie in a different direction. His footsteps drift over to the line of male omegas. They prostrate themselves to him, dressed in suits that flatter their broader forms. Hunger is what shows in their eyes- dark and keen and wanting. Ciel is well aware that he cleans up well, especially when he slicks his hair back and sprays on the pheromones. It still flatters him, and a smirk dances on his lips.

He could have his pick of any omega here- or more. His wallet sits heavily within his pocket, a reminder.

So he does, taking his time as his eyes sweep across every male omega. It’s animalistic and incendiary, leaving every omega scorched his fiery gaze.

The omega at the end of the line is what catches his eye, the studded collar and leash around his neck something none of the others have. He picks up the leather leash, feeling the warm weight lay heavily in his hand. He’d be a fool to not savour the experience, even as he recognises the collar for what it is: to break an omega’s will.

Lau pipes in, answering Ciel’s unspoken question. “He still needs a lot of training. He’s nowhere near a proper omega yet. Sebastian Michaelis.” The omega’s name is spat out like a curse.

A sharp jerk from the kneeling omega, his crimson eyes heavy-lidded as he regards his handler- no, owner. Despite his prone position, defiance still blazes in those eyes, a curl of his lip speaking volumes. His scent is coloured by the tart resentment that coats it. Still, it comes off in waves, akin to full-bodied champagne, with a smoky overlay. It’s heady, masculine and tastes sublime.

Ciel drapes the leash on the neck of the omega once more, reaching into his pocket. Lau’s eyes widen in alarm, and he speaks hurriedly.

“We have betas on the roll if you would prefer their company instead, Mr Phantom-” A not-so-subtle reminder from Lau that there were better choices, better trained than the one before him. However, he’s made up his mind.

“No. I’ll take him.” He presses the cold hard cash into Lau’s open hand, their transaction complete. As his fingers wind around the leash, the omega stumbling upright in surprise, he smiles.

He always did like the dangerous ones, after all.

 

*

Omegas are to be seen and not heard. You’re an alpha’s pet, and that’s all you’ll ever be. Act like it. Those words usually accompany the crack of a whip, Lau’s hands callous as they grab the nape of Sebastian’s neck to force the typical omega response- collapsing at the knees, pleading for forgiveness. Anything to appease an angry alpha. But he clings on to the meagre scraps of his pride, stares belligerently at Lau even as the volley of flogs lands on his body and slices the skin. Even as he bites his lip so hard that it bleeds, even as he crawls back into the pile of broken straw euphemistically called a bed.

His momma always did say that he had a stubborn streak a mile wide. At least, before she sold him to the devil.

Nevertheless, he knows exactly how Lau functions. This alpha is all new, however. The alpha can do anything he likes to Sebastian, and he can’t protest since it’s all on his dime. If he shoots a fearful glance at Ciel drumming his fingers by his side, his eyes distant as he gazes at the traffic, he thinks it’s justified.

And he can’t even ask. Proper omega etiquette, they say as the faceless alphas lick their lips. He would laugh sardonically if he could still remember how to laugh.

The alpha must feel his apprehensive stare boring a hole into the back of his head, for he turns around. He smells of the sea- the salty tang washing over his hypersensitive senses, mixed with the faintest hints of apricot. It’s a soothing scent, but their circumstances are anything but.

“I’m Alpha Phantomhive, and you will address me as such in the event we are going to,” Ciel speaks clearly, his hands grasping Sebastian’s face as he inhales. He can’t get enough of that intoxicating smoky scent, blending with the most outstanding liquor he’s ever had the privilege to taste.

“Alpha Phantomhive.” The staccato to his speech is uncharacteristic, but the words rest unfamiliar and heavy on his tongue. He still rues the day any god ever made him an omega, the instinct to lean into the alpha's touch something he barely resists.

“You are accompanying me to a business event from one of my company’s shareholders. You must have heard of Funtom Corporation,” he adds, but it's clear that it's a command. Sebastian can't get out of this. “They have outdone themselves this year- raking in unprecedented sales. So they offered me an invitation to their annual ‘look how successful and powerful we are don’t you wish you were this awesome’ party,” he snorts.

“Is that the official name, alpha?” Sebastian deadpans.

“You should see the invitation they sent,” he replies neutrally, parting his mouth to savour the sweet woodsmoke again. He’d be lying if there isn’t the urge still to grab the omega by his collar and debase him. Rut against him on the wall, make him come screaming his name on his lips, a curse, a prayer, a revelation. Feel his knot filling that tantalising heat. It’s the fact that he’s a gentleman holding him back. Because underneath that bubbly champagne he can scent old iron sticking onto his skin, and he can see from how the omega curls in on himself that he’s injured. He’s not about to force himself on someone hurt, no matter how tempting it is. His mother really did raise him better than that.

Sebastian only nods, the sarcastic retort trapped in his throat as he lowers his head. It’s killing him to act like an omega around Ciel, the scraps of pride he has left screaming at him. He’s met too many alphas to act otherwise in their presence, however. Lau, god forbid, is safe in the most fucked up way possible. As much as he pushes the boundaries of how an omega is supposed to act with him, he knows Lau will never kill him for that transgression. Hasn’t tried to, anyway. Lau always did love his money.

But other alphas will, and he’s seen them do it. Seen how their pupils are blown wide by alpha red, seen their claws tear apart the omega before them. All alphas are the same in the end.

He can’t resist if he’s dead.

He offers a tight smile to Ciel, feeling like his face might crack under the pressure from it. “Would Alpha Phantomhive advise on my role at the party, and how you would like me to act?” It’s not all beating that goes on there, although the sharp sting of his wounds is still keen in the chilly air. Lau teaches them how to mingle in a crowd, how to speak to the upper crust of the society, how to blend in. He was selling high-class whores, after all, and they had to live up to his reputation.

“You’re going there as my plus one. Contrary to popular belief, business people do gossip a lot, and there’s been a rumour going around that I’ve taken a vow not to take a mate.” Absurd though the notion may be, it’s damaging to his reputation. Alphas and betas cannot fathom not wanting a mate, a visceral need that surmounts all reason. He’s looked on as odd at best now, and when he walks he hears whispers trailing him as heads lean together. It’s bad for business, that’s all there is to it. Not at all about how that scent calls to him like nothing does.

Sebastian’s back on familiar ground now- he knows how to do this, to impress people, to flatter alphas like the rarely acknowledged shadow he is. Ridiculously easy it is, he slips in and out like a wraith- a whispered word, a caress, a sultry look- and they are sold. He may sneer at Lau, but the man reads people like a book and has taught them his secrets.

“We’re here.” Ciel’s words cloud the air as he pushes open the door of the car. Sebastian waits the requisite amount of time as the alpha exits, before getting out with his head bowed. The suit fits well on his stature, but the material does him no favours in the weather. He’s almost… grateful as Ciel tugs at the leash, his stride confident as they head towards the mansion with orchestra music arcing through the air.

At least he’ll be warm in there. He doesn’t dare to hope for anything else.

 

*

Ciel offers handshakes to the new movers and shakers of the business world. It’s a cutthroat industry, and he’s learned to never underestimate the power of connections in the shady alpha-dominated world. Over and over again he repeats, his arm sore from doing it so many times. The only constant: the omega by his side.

He marvels at the patented demure expression Sebastian offers to the alphas around him as they press in swarms, their eyes nearly manic with the prospect of an unmated omega in their midst. It’s respectful but not an iota of him is submissive, with the way he trails after Ciel a very clear warning to the alphas to back off. Sebastian dances a very fine line, with jagged spikes at the end of the ravine the consequence if he fails.

Jealousy spikes the air as they weave around the crowd skillfully, the alphas heeding the omega’s warning but their ravenous stares still lurk from the shadows. Their eyes linger just a tad too long on the studded collar decorating Sebastian’s neck, and he is sorely tempted to go all alpha over his new toy and shoo them away once and for all.

Sebastian isn’t his though, and he’d do well to remember that. Only by the power of filthy money is ownership his for the night. Money can really buy everything, if he has enough. An attestation to how fucked up the world is, but he isn’t in a philosophy class and it makes his head hurt.

Finally, the mob settles down to low chatter as the emcee on stage proclaims the highlight of the night to be beginning shortly. They have a table all to themselves in the east of the ballroom, draped in a white tablecloth. The colour of purity. It’s irony at its finest, with how many underhand dealings happen and how alphas back stab each other to climb an inch higher on the social ladder. He refuses to dwell on it too much, and focuses his attention on Sebastian sitting beside him.

He can feel the eyes of all the alphas trained on their table, the weight of their collective gazes suffocating. Arousal, thick and choking smothers the air with alpha pheromones. He wrinkles his nose at the stench, as the beta waiters do so as well and spray the air with scent blockers to dampen it slightly.

It’s a visible struggle for Sebastian to not react as the suppressed omega in him wants to, needs to. He can see how he squirms in his seat, worries those plump lips and clasps his hands together too tightly. God, he wants to mark those badly bitten lips so much. The omega blurs any reason he has left in him, and he has to call upon the last vestiges of his self-control to stop himself from snarling and leaping at him.

Control. Control. Control. Ciel recites to himself, over and over again. He’s clearly convinced his fellows in the industry that he still desires a mate, and knows that he won’t hear that rumour for quite a while. Mission accomplished, he thinks. Now to get out of the place in one piece with the omega.

That’s the hard part.

 

*

 

Sebastian inhales in the crisp night air as they exit the car parked next to the Blue Lotus. Alcohol is in his system and blunts his senses, but he’s still himself. He’s beholden to the alpha beside him for not taking advantage of his weakened state, as many others would. He wants to thank the alpha, but the words stick to his throat like honey and he can’t make the sounds. It’s better than he deserves.

He can see Lau’s shadow at the window, watching them. They do look good together, he must admit.

A hush falls over them as Ciel cradles his face once more, forcing their eyes to meet. The scent of the sea is still ever present, but now it’s coated with the bitter smell of alcohol.

“I… did enjoy this, Sebastian.” He would have stumbled from the sheer shock of an alpha calling him by his given name, with only the alpha’s tight grip on him preventing that from happening.

Laughter fills the air, and he relaxes marginally. He’s not in trouble. It’s pleasing to the alpha, evidently- the tang of salt now richer, flavoured with nectarines.

“If you ever want to meet up again…” Ciel reaches into the breast pocket of his suit, palms the hard paper within. “Here’s my business card with my phone number on it,” he says as he scribbles on it rapidly with a pen.

Sebastian accepts it numbly, and inspects the nondescript paper inscribed with silver cursive. Alpha Ciel Phantomhive, CEO of Funtom Corporation. Beneath the words, there’s a string of messy numbers. He nods and says nothing.

If Ciel is disappointed, he doesn’t show it. He offers a wink to the mute omega, before clambering into the car and telling his chauffeur to drive him somewhere. Sebastian faintly recognises it as the infamous district of the rich and famous, and he can’t say that he’s surprised.

Shakily, he exhales as it finally falls silent. His trembling hands reach for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket- he doesn’t care if it’s going to kill him one day, he doesn’t have a future anyway. It’s practiced motions as he flicks the cigarette lighter to ignite the cigarette held between his lips.

Inhale. He holds the smoke in his lungs, letting it work its magic as tension falls from his body. The warmth that he always craved but never got. Exhale. The plume escapes his mouth, and he watches as it floats away.

He stares at the paper, turning it over in his hands. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever done, but he knows it’s the right one as the flames from his lighter lick the paper. He drops it to the ground as the swirling eddies fan the fire, observes as the paper chars black as charcoal. Returns to the ground as ashes, and he turns to walk away.