Chapter 1: The gift
“He’s at it again.”
Ash looks up from the pile of papers on his desk. His glasses fall down the bridge of his nose. “I thought you said you had it under control.” He leans back, watching as Shorter scratches the back of his head like he always does when he has unpleasant news to share.
“He lied. Like he always does.”
Ash bites his lip. “I want to avoid bloodshed.”
“What is really the worst that could happen if you called for Arthur's death?”
“Innocent people will die.” Ash replies. “No more bloodshed. We’re still recovering from Dino’s war.”
“True...” Shorter agrees. “But it was worth it.”
Ash's eyes go dark for a second. He still remembers the day it all ended. All the noise. The screams. The blood that painted the walls. He knew storming Dino’s safe house would end in many casualties, but at the time, he’d been willing to risk it all to end the war one way or another. To end Dino’s rule of the New York underground. To make it his own.
It had been six months since then and things were finally starting to go as he wanted them. All that was left were some loose ends.
And Frederick Arthur was the worst among them.
“What did he do this time? I already ordered the trades to his turf be increased by 10%. Give him what he wants as long as he keeps delivering the merchandise.”
“That may have backfired.” Shorter purses his lips. “He’s making demands for you to resign your claim on his territory. He’s using the increase as a reason to prove his point.”
Ash rubs the bridge of his nose. “I just want the merchandise.”
“I understand, but as long as you keep paying him whatever he wants, that just gives him more power. You need to get rid of him. He needs to die.”
“No more death.” Ash grits out.
Shorter groans. “Fine. I hope you don't regret that.”
“Cause he’s here.”
Ash grinds his teeth as the double doors open. If there was something he hated more than Arthur being a thorn in his side, it was that he didn’t abide by the rules of the second gender. There were cultural and societal norms passed down by their ancestors that everyone knew and obeyed.One of them being that betas did not address alphas without being acknowledged first. This could be as complex as asking for permission to speak or as simple as an eye to eye look followed by a simple nod.
So when Arthur kept his gaze on Shorter as he steps into the room Ash utters a deep barely audible growl. “Your presence has not been requested.”
“Chill, chill,” Arthur grins.
“You are out of place.” Ash clicks his lips.
“Why are alphas always so short tempered?” Arthur continues forward, ignoring every warning Ash gave him.
“You’re in my territory!” Ash barks. His fangs are showing, lips pulled up tight.
“Come on, boss.” Arthur flashes a hint of fang as well. “I’m here to celebrate and to bring gifts.”
Shorter steps in between the two and the tension instantly decreases. “Gifts?” He asks.
Arthur nods. “From our dear friends in the East.”
Shorter’s smirk is clear on his face. “You got Japan.”
“ We got Japan.” Arthur smiles.
Ash purses his lips. They’ve been after the Japan trade routes ever since the war ended but Dino’s old alliances had refused to work with him ever since.
So how the fuck did Frederick Arthur manage to get them to agree.
“What's the catch?” Ash crosses his arms and clicks his tongue. A small warning not to lie.
Arthur clicks back.
Ash almost punches him in the face. He wanted to knock Arthur out and drag him out of his territory so badly.
It was all pure instinct and probably the reason Ash hated Arthur so much. Arthur was a beta that had the ticks, mannerisms, and instincts of an alpha. He was as far as he could go in the second-gender spectrum without being a pure alpha like Ash. He was even higher than Shorter who was about 50% into the alpha spectrum while still a beta. If Ash would guess, Arthur was around the 80% range.
“Boss ain’t stupid for sure.” Arthur smirks. “The Yakuza have sent a gift for you. To seal the deal.”
“Through you?” Ash snickers. “They must not be serious.”
“They wouldn’t have sent this gift if they weren’t serious.”
If there was one thing Ash learned during the war, it was that Frederick Arthur wasn’t trustworthy. Arthur was a person that rooted for the winning side. He didn’t hesitate to stab Dino in the back when it benefited him and Ash was certain he would do the same to him if he wasn't careful. Arthur could not be trusted. This charade had to end.
Arthur suddenly whistles.
Ash hears bells.
And the soft patter of bare feet on the floor.
Two gorgeous women, clad in kimonos of black and red, open the double doors. Between them stood a girl. She kept her head down, strands of short black hair adorned with white flowers covered her face. She wore a red kimono, held together by multiple white sashes with specks of black.
She smelled like ginger and fresh grass on a fall morning.
Ash feels his center warm at the sight of her.
The two women lead the girl into the room, the bells at her feet chiming with every step she took.
“The Japanese Mafia has sent this as a gift to seal the new trade deal.”
The women stop ten feet from the group of men and the girl kneels on the floor, slowly looking up.
The scent of grass fills the room.
Ash wonders if anyone else can smell it. If anyone else can—
The omega’s brown eyes glance up at him.
It isn’t a girl.
Arthur moves forward and offers the omega a hand. He takes it slowly, allowing himself to be presented as intended. Arthur leads and bows—it looks fake, practiced— he guides the omega forward towards Ash. “Your gift, Lord Alpha. Direct from Japan. A rare, pure male omega.”
Ash holds his breath.
The omega stares at the floor.
The omega bows, his eyes downcast as the bells chime with each small movement. Ash smells nothing but ginger and grass. He’s already enraptured by the omega, as though his every sense is being pulled forward. Closer.
The women on each side kneel with a slow pull of their kimonos, they keep their eyes cast to the floor as well.
Then Ash notices Arthur grinning.
He has to be careful. If this omega is a real gift from the Yakuza, then he has to be real careful.
One of the things he remembers from Dino’s association with the Japanese criminal underground was that they hold honor and respect above all else. When he was ten he’d witnessed a negotiation with the Yakuza that went awry. Some men had calculated a shipment incorrectly and the beta Yakuza boss had ordered them to kill themselves. Each man torn their own bellies with a small knife like it was nothing.
At the time, Ash hadn’t understood how people could follow so blindly, or how leaders could be so cruel. And then he got older and he was forced to do cruel things as well. Every nasty thing Dino ordered him to do… until he decided enough was enough.
If this omega was really a gift and Ash refused it? Would his owner order him to die? Would those small hands hold a knife?
Ash shakes the dark thoughts away. No. Omegas were just too valuable. Pure omegas were even more rare, and a male one? He hadn’t seen a pure male omega in almost seven years. People would pay insane amounts for one on the black market. It made no sense the Yakuza would give away such a valuable item, much less to him, the ungrateful young alpha that had killed his benefactor and stolen everything.
“Excuse us.” Ash pushes Shorter forward and they both enter his smaller private office. He keeps the door slightly open so they can still keep an eye on the group of strangers and Arthur.
“Holy shit,” Shorter grins. “You lucked out. An omega!”
“Don't raise your voice,” Ash warns, very aware of the ajar door. “This is too convenient. Way too convenient. A pure male omega? The last time a pure male omega appeared on the black market was seven years ago. Dino bought it for two million dollars.”
“Damn.” Shorter bites his lip. “What happened to him?”
“What do you think?” Ash snarls. “He rented it until he got his money back and then some, and when it finally got pregnant sold it for twice as much.”
“Maybe he’s not really an omega,” Ash continues. “They sell scent markers now that masquerade as second-genders.”
“Why would anyone want to pretend to be a pure male omega?” Shorter pushes his sunglasses up his nose. “After what you told me, it seems like a stupid idea.”
“To get close to me.” Ash glances at the open door. “To be alone with me.”
Shorter purses his lips. Glances at the omega with it’s head still bowed. “God, your mind is scary,” he lowers his voice even more. “And a tad paranoid. Even if he were masquerading—which, for the record, I think it’s an insane proposition—he’s definitely not an alpha. If he happens to be some assassin, you can take him down in a second.”
Ash glares. “You don’t know shit about assassins.”
“Look. You want my professional opinion as your second in command or as a beta?”
“Good. Cause they’re the same.” Shorter grins. “Bed the omega as soon as possible. That’s the only way you can tell if he really is who he says he is. I’ll be by your door the whole night in case something happens.”
“And if he has a tiny sharp needle and stabs me in the eye with it while I’m taking my clothes off?”
“Then you’ll be a pirate! Rawr.”
Ash purses his lips. “I hate you sometimes.”
“Nah you love me. Why else would you keep me around?”
Ash rolls his eyes.
Shorter opens the doors once more and they return to the main office. The omega still waits obediently, as the women continue kneeling by his side. He only moves the slightest bit as Ash steps in front of him—tilting his head upwards. “Is there trouble, Lord Alpha?”
The soft voice catches Ash off-guard. It reverberates like a song in his head and the world spins for a moment. He feels like he’s back home, back when he still believed the world was innocent. When he could still run around in the grass fields near his plain house and hear the ocean in the distance. When his mother was there to watch him and Griffin would bring his favorite ball to play.
He flinched with the vividness of the memories. Something was off about this. Omegas didn't have this type of effect on alphas. Something wasn’t right.
“No trouble.” Shorter cuts in. “Just… we wish to be respectful to your customs.” He bows. “My Lord Alpha wants to make sure all customs are handled properly and that this arrangement goes well.”
“I am Ranko,” the woman on the left speaks up. “First attendant. My partner is Akio, second attendant.” Both women stand up, pulling the omega up with them and taking its hands and raising them forward, towards Ash. “Our Lord Alpha Okumura of Japan offers this omega to the Lord Alpha Lynx of New York. To mate with. To bond with. To breed with and beget cubs in order to join the families forever.”
“Forever?” Ash stares at the palms offered to him.
“This is the gift our lord offers. He will offer no others to restore the alliance that was broken when the Lord Alpha Golzine was murdered. By you.”
Ash wants to growl but keeps it in. He has to be careful, so careful. The gift of a mate? One chosen by the Yakuza. A spy for all he knew. An assassin. A—
The omega looks up without the attendants noticing. A quick flick of eyes, barely a glance, that quickly return to the floor.
Ash misses what the woman says next.
He needs to interrupt this “ritual” or whatever it was, he needs to sort out what was going on and think about what to do. Because if this was real, if this omega was really for him. If the Yakuza wanted to bond him with a stranger just to guarantee a permanent business alliance, then there would be no more takeovers. But— if Ash accepted this gift and this omega became his bonded mate, then he would never escape the Yakuza and their business dealings would be permanently affected by this bond. By a forced alliance he didn’t ask for. He needed more time to think. More time to consider if there were other options.
“I want to be alone with him.”
Both women glance at each other cautiously. “My apologies Lord Alpha, but we cannot allow an alpha alone with an unmated omega.”
“You throw this offer at me without notice. You do it through an unofficial source of mine.” Ash glares at Arthur. “Then you expect me to accept without doing my due diligence?”
The women glance at each other again.
Shorter steps forward. “I give you my word no untoward advances will be made by my dear Lord Alpha.”
Ash resists smacking Shorter on the head.
“I will remain by the door and keep watch. As second in command, I know my master better than anyone. I guarantee the safety of your charge.”
“That isn’t allowed—” Arthur starts.
“Shut up, Frederick.” Ash snaps. “I am your master, am I not?”
Arthur shows a hint of fang, but grudgingly bows. “Yes, Lord Alpha.”
“Go back to your sector. I’ll contact you when your presence is needed.”
Arthur nods before leaving, but Ash can see the fury in his eyes.
“Leave me with the omega.”
It’s an order. An order from an alpha.
Everyone except the omega slowly leave the room, though Shorter winks through the door gap just before it closes.
And just like that, they are alone.
The omega stays unmoving. His head is bowed down and hands are clasped together in front of himself.
Ash approaches carefully and stops with four feet between them, and acceptable distance for unmated pairs. “Do you know who I am?”
The omega nods. “Lord Alpha Lynx of New York.”
“Can you please give me your name?”
The omega glances up. Ash almost tells him he doesn’t have to keep looking at the floor, but he’s trying to respect his customs. “Eiji, my Lord Alpha,” he offers with a small nod, the bells at his wrists chime with the movement.
Ash bites his lips as his nose is overpowered by the lovely scent of grass. “Hmm… can you please take those off?”
“Of course, Lord Alpha.”
“Ash.” Ash corrects without thinking and instantly regrets it. He doesn’t go out of his way to give his name to strangers, much less strangers with associations to the enemy. He just couldn’t seem to help himself, and for some reason, he doesn’t care “You don't have to call me alpha, just Ash.”
Unblemished fingers unlatch the small wristlets with the largest bells. As Eiji removes them, Ash notices that they have been covering his glands. As the scent becomes stronger, Ash feels the urge to press his nose against that soft looking skin and lick it. It takes a lot for him to fight the instinct and remain still.
Eiji raises his wrists towards Ash, this time the women aren’t doing it for him. He’s offering them himself.. Ash stares. “I don’t understand. Why do you show me your wrists?”
“Didn’t you want me to remove my scent blockers so you could smell me?” Eiji asks. “To see if I could be a good mate for you?”
“I’m sorry.” Ash steps back from the omega. The scent is already making his heart pound. This could go bad very quickly if he doesn’t act soon. He can feel it on every inch of his skin. The urge to close the small space between them, the urge to take what was offered.
He’d never experienced something like that with other omegas, even during his ruts or their heats. But then again he’d never met a pure omega before.
This was a dangerous gift. The Yakuza knew exactly what they were doing by sending him this rare possession. Ash would be forever enthralled by it. Forever entwined with it and manipulated by it. He had to stop it before it began.
“I’m sorry.” Ash’s voice lowers in an almost unwanted hush. “But you are a gift I cannot accept.” It was better to be straightforward. He needed things to be clear, and the truth was that despite what urges he felt, this omega was a stranger. Ash had no idea who he was really affiliated with and why Arthur had been chosen to bring him to Ash. It was too great a risk. A risk he couldn't take.
“You do not want me?” Eiji asks, his eyes matching Ash’s gaze.
“No. Yes. It’s not like that.” Ash stutters. This was hard. Those little dark, doe eyes were already making his brain malfunction. So much for the theory that Eiji wasn’t a real omega. Unless he had some strange Japanese perfume that made alphas crazy, he must be pure. It was the only thing that could explain Ash’s sudden wavering of clarity, as his ability to think clearly became more muddled by the second.
“You do not want me.” Eiji repeats. His eyes seem to stare past Ash, impossibly wide.
Shit, shit. Did he make the wrong choice? He can’t insult the Yakuza, this could be his only chance to gain their trust, the only chance for the beginning of a beneficial partnership for all. Even if Arthur had arranged it. He just hated being in the dark about details. He hated not knowing what was happening.
“You do not want me!” Eiji smiles wide and starts taking off his earrings before moving his fingers to the sash at his waist.
“What are you—”
The sash falls into rivulets on the floor, along with the omega’s silk red and white kimono. Underneath the garments, he is wearing nothing but a plain black dress shirt and pants.
“What...?” Ash reaches out and Eiji smacks his hand away hard.
“Mm Mm no. You don't want me, so you can't touch me now.”
Ash tries to process it, but nothing makes sense. Nothing. “I thought you were here for me.”
“Yes.” Eiji smiles widely. “But then you said you didn't want me, and that means I’m free.”
The omega is dancing.
He is dancing around the room singing I’m free, I’m free and Ash has never been more confused in his entire life.
“I can do whatever I want now.” Eiji glances around the room then does a twirl followed by a cartwheel and almost crashes into a bookshelf, Ash reaches out to help him but the omega smacks his hand away again. “Nope. No touchy.” Ash feels like screaming as Eiji steadies himself and looks at the bookshelf he almost knocked over. “Wowwww… You have a lot of books.”
“I like to read... wait! Don't change the subject.”
“So snappy.” Eiji hurries to the book shelf glancing at the titles, then reaching out a hand and letting his fingers run along them. “Ohhh business, psychology, science… it’s true what they say about you.”
“What do they say—”
Eiji grabs one of the books. It’s a first edition of 1984, and Ash hears sirens in his head. “Don't touch that!” He snatches the old book from the omega’s hands and presses it closes to his chest. “This is an original copy! It’s going to be donated to the library one day.”
Eiji grins impossibly wide. “You’re a nerd.” He laughs and twirls and the little bells still at his ankles chime with every movement he makes. The smell of grass comes again, the smell of the ocean and home.
Ash can’t help it but he’s suddenly filled with desire. He wants this crazy twirling omega in front of him. The logical part of his brain knows it’s just a physiological reaction to the scent. The logical part knows that alpha’s will always always be vulnerable to omegas. But the rest of him simply doesn’t care.
Ash grabs Eiji’s wrist mid-twirl and pulls him tight against his chest. The omega’s back crashes into him and fuck, he smells so good. Ash grabs hold of Eiji’s waist to keep him close while he sniffs at the gland on his neck.
It smelled like home home home.
“No!” Eiji screams and frees himself, turning to slap Ash as hard as he can.
Ash feels it hit him hard, as though a bucket of cold water has just been poured over his head. He stands frozen there for a second, just trying to regain his control and wrap his head around whatever the hell he’d been doing. “I’m sor—”
Eiji slaps him hard again and bolts.
The urge resurfaces. And fuck—
Omegas are taught never to run from alphas. It’s the first lesson they are given as soon as they present. Because alphas will always chase, alphas will always hunt. Alphas will always be faster, and when they catch those little fleeing omegas nothing good ever happens.
Eiji throws the doors open and runs down the hall.
And Ash chases him.
Shorter is smiling at Ranko and Akio. Both women seem uncomfortable with allowing their charge alone and unsupervised with an alpha, so Shorter is doing his best to assure them that they have nothing to worry about.
Bonus if he gets a date.
“How many families were under your Lord Okumura again?” He asks nonchalantly.
Double bonus if he can get some information.
Ranko eyes him up and down, her bright hazel eyes narrowing in disgust “We are here to meet and speak with Lord Alpha Lynx. Not you.”
Shorter feels his heart tip tap. He just might be in love.
“I thought you said we were going to be families from now on. If my master bonds with your charge, that would make us family.”
“The lord alpha would have to accept first,” Akio mentions excitedly, her hazel eyes catching Shorter’s. Ranko gives her an unfriendly look and the younger girl apologizes and tilts her head down.
Shorter sees his chance. “I think he will accept,” he lies. Marriage and bonding are the furthest things from Ash’s mind. He’d even refused to take a temporary companion when he went into ruts. Insisting of having his own personal heat cell close to his room. Shorter always had the task of keeping watch over his stubborn friend, making sure he had food and liquids, making sure he didn’t pass out from stupidity. And all the while, Shorter made sure to tell him what a dumbass he was through the small cell door, and that he should just let one of the willing omegas from the group share his ruts with him, like Shorter did.
Ash always snapped at him to mind his own business.
Shorter always shrugged and threw more energy bars through the little cell slot. And he patiently waited until the rut ran its course— slowly, painfully, and awful.
But if Ash had an official mate… an omega to spend those ruts then…
Maybe he wouldn't be such a stubborn butthead.
“I know I'm not supposed to tell you this, but just recently my Lord Lynx requested I start searching for a bonding partner for him. So Lord Okumura’s gift to him has perfect timing!”
Lies. All lies.
Akio looks up at Ranko who keeps watching Shorter carefully. He can tell she’s trying to decipher if the words are honest or not. Shorter likes that, that she’s willing to doubt him. She’s a trustworthy attendant. “I’ve heard the opposite,” Ranko’s voice is careful.
Shorter hides his grin. “Trust me. You will be satisfied, my lord alpha is the most composed, and controlled master you’d ever meet—”
The office door suddenly slams open, hitting the wall with an extremely loud bang. Shorter moves to put himself between the noise and Ranko and Akio, watching as the omega bolts towards the opposite end of the hall.
“Master Eiji!” Ranko calls immediately. Eiji either ignores her call or simply doesn’t hear it and just keeps running. Shorter swears, as five seconds later, Ash rushes into the hallway chasing after the omega.
Akio lets out a panicked scream.
“Shit!” Shorter starts running after them.
Eiji feels the soft, strange comfort of the expensive carpeting beneath his feet as he runs down the unfamiliar hall.
His breathing is ragged and his heart thumps loudly in his ears.
He knows he’s being chased. His skin tingles all across his body—every inch of him is on high alert, every inch is conditioned to recognize when he’s being hunted.
He tries to run faster and faster, but he knows it’s futile, he knows he’ll be caught. And he just wants to scream.
Eiji hears the growl close to his ear just before he’s tackled. The alpha grabs him and holds him tight to his chest as they both stumble on the plush carpet.
The tongue on his neck comes fast, a slow heat-filled lick that made his entire body shiver and then teeth—
Another body stumbles against them, pulling the alpha off of him and before he realizes what has happened Ranko and Akio are by his side, covering his scent glands with new wristlets and a collar.
God how he hates collars.
He hates everything.
Snaps and growls come at him from a distance, Eiji glances over his shoulder to see the beta from before tackling and keeping his alpha Lord down onto the floor.
Ranko gets close and whispers in his ear. “What happened, Master Eiji?”
Eiji barely glances at her, his eyes unable to leave the sight of the fighting alpha and beta. “I showed him my wrists like I was supposed to. He said he didn't want me, so now I get to go home.” Ranko purses her lips, her eyes glance at the alpha, then back at Eiji. “Father said I could go back home if he rejected me. You said he wouldn't want me. He didn’t. He—”
Across the room, Ash stops snarling and goes limp as the beta pumps his fist in the air, giving a loud whoop of victory as he sits atop the alpha.
After his breathing calms and his heart stops thundering,. Ash realizes how incredibly stupid he’s just been.
Never on his seventeen years on this earth has he lost control like that. Not even when he presented. Not even when—
Shorter’s victory woohoo was the last straw.
Ash pushes himself up and shoves Shorter of off him with a glare. Shorter just grins. “Back to normal?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Ash mumbles. “Thanks.”
Across the room, Ranko and Akio help Eiji up. Ash stands up too, noticing that Eiji is wearing wristlets again and a collar. He looks frightened.
“My sincerest apologies,” Ash bows towards the group, recognizing at least this small bit of their culture.
Ranko takes a step forward. “Lord Alpha Lynx,” she nods towards him. “I want to apologize as well for my charge. I believe the gift Lord Alpha Okumura has sent has not behaved accordingly towards you. Because of this Lord alpha Okumura has authorized me to extend further conditions.”
“Conditions?” Ash watches as Eiji stares at Ranko.
“Yes, Lord Alpha.” Ranko bows lower. “As to avoid further miscommunication, here are the rules of the exchange. Alpha Lord Okumura wants business to resume between the Japanese and the American underground markets. To seal this deal, Lord Alpha Okumura sends this pure omega as a gift for Lord Alpha Lynx to mate with, to bond with, and to breed with and beget cubs. If Lord Alpha Lynx rejects the gift, the omega can return to Japan. If Lord Alpha Lynx rejects the gift and still desires a business association with Japan, then Lord Okumura demands an additional 25% of the annual returns he had with Dino Golzine to restore the business relationship. If Lord Alpha Lynx rejects both the gift and the new terms then the alliance between the American and Japenese markets will be severed forever and Lord Okumura is free to reclaim what once belonged to his family.”
Ranko bows as she finishes.
“That’s not what I agreed to!” Eiji suddenly snaps. “Father said I could go free if I wasn’t wanted! And he said he didn't want me!”
“Master Eiji!” Ranko’s voice is firm. “I mustn't remind you you are an omega. Now please be quiet.”
“But—” Eiji bites his lip down in anger. “It’s not fair,” he whispers.
Ash immediately feels an unsettling anger deep within him. This was probably why the Yakuza had gone through Arthur in the first place. Because if Ash had heard this “deal” from the get-go he wouldn’t even have entertained the idea. The terms were not only insane, they came with a thinly veiled threat of war. A war that he possibly couldn’t win.
Ash watches as the omega’s lips quiver. It leaves a sour taste in his mouth. This is wrong. Twenty-five percent… That was around sixty-five million dollars. He either paid sixty five million every year to deal with the Yakuza or he took this omega or… they would go to war.
Ranko and Akio kneel down in front of Ash, pulling Eiji with them even as he visibly resists.
This was wrong. This was wrong.
Ranko and Akio take Eiji’s wrists and offer them to Ash once more.
“You must choose now, Lord Alpha Lynx.” They remove Eiji’s wristlets. The scent of grass fills the room. “Will you accept Lord Alpha Okumura’s gift? The percentage? Or forever sever the business between Americans and Yakuza?”
This was wrong.
He couldn't afford the sixty five million, he was struggling as it was to maintain order and profits in the ashes of Dino’s empire. If the Yakuza became his rivals, if he lost their business, then everything he had done would have been pointless. All the blood he spilled would have been for nothing. He would lose everything and everyone. How many lives depended on him now, how many people that he swore to save and protect, that he was willing to kill for.
But he could save everyone. He could protect everyone right here and now.
All he had to do was sacrifice one life.
Ash pushes the pull of the scent deep down where he can’t feel it anymore and glances down at the omega whose lip still quivers and hands shake.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, and there is a flicker of light in those gorgeous brown eyes for a second before it’s quickly snuffed out. “I will accept Lord Alpha Okumura’s gift and take this omega as my mate.”
“No…” Eiji’s voice filters and dies as Ranko and Akio stand up, their hands heavy on Eiji’s shoulders keeping him on the floor.
Ranko bows towards Ash. “As per custom, we will bear witness as you mark this omega and make it yours.”
“Wait please…” Eiji cries out softly as he tugs at Ranko and Akio’s kimonos.
Ash approaches, following the direction of the attendants. I’m sorry I’m sorry. He kneels in front of Eiji, keeping his eyes sharp, trying to push the heat in his core down. The urge to stop and protect instead.
Ranko removes Eiji’s collar to expose his neck glands.
“Please I want to go home, please…” Eiji begs as Ash reaches to touch his soft skin. “Please… please...”
Ash holds Eiji’s head gently. “I swear on my life to be a good mate for you. I’ll protect you and keep you in comfort.”
“Please don’t. I want to go home,” Eiji cries.
The bells at Eiji’s feet ring when Ash grabs Eiji’s neck and licks his gland. He hopes his words bring the omega some comfort. Some form of peace in this horrible moment. But as he bites down and sinks his teeth deep into Eiji’s soft flesh until he can taste blood, and as the scent of home fills every inch of him… All he can hear are Eiji’s screams.
The hands on his shoulders keep him down.
Run run! Why aren’t you running?
Eiji takes a strangled breath. His body feels like lead. Like no matter how hard he tries it won’t do what he wants it to do.
Shove them away. Run!
But he can’t.
The alpha’s tongue on his skin is hot like fire and Eiji doesn’t have time to think before Ash’s teeth sink in.
He screams because it’s the only thing he can do, his fingers desperately searching for anything at all to latch onto, until they find the ends of the alpha’s jacket. He clings, the terror traveling through his entire body no no this wasn’t happening...
The world becomes a fragmented thing. It becomes the searing heat on his neck and the roughness of fabric as his fingers reach for an alpha he doesn't know. The knowledge that he will never go back home. That his father used him as a bargaining chip. He was lied to! He couldn’t pretend anymore his father cared about him. He never intended to let Eiji choose. Never! He was lied to! He was used and—
Eiji suddenly hears crooning—adeep, guttural sound that’s coming from the alpha marking him. Warm hands hold his neck and waist and pull him closer.
Eiji nuzzles against the alpha, realizing the pain is gone and all that is left is warmth.
And in this unfamiliar land.
In this unfamiliar house.
In these unfamiliar arms.
...he feels safe for the first time in his life.
The katana releases a shrill cry as Eiji runs it against the stone floor.
Eiji looks up and watches the man in front of him purse his lips with a thin impatience. “My apologies, Blanca-sensei.” He bows and sheaths the katana, placing it gently back on its mount behind him.
“I’m here to teach you to handle a gun, please refrain from using your katana during my lessons.”
“Yes, sensei.” Eiji bows.
Eiji finds himself in the training room. His body burning like nothing he’s ever felt before and he can’t breathe. He can’t breathe. He’s struggling to suck in air, hunched on the floor and he can’t even scream. Blanca asks him what’s wrong but growls when he touches Eiji’s shoulder.
He was locked in a room for five days. No one came to see him. Food and water was thrown inside the room with unkindness. And Eiji just begged and begged for someone to help him. No one did. He was fourteen.
“Father please…” Eiji had never begged in his life before. Had never knelt before him like their subordinates did. He’d always had power before. Always stood right next to his father. Was always feared.. “Being an omega doesn’t change—”
And in that moment, Eiji was afraid. His father’s gaze was no longer proud, no longer reassuring. He walked towards Eiji with slow steady steps and gazed upon him as though he were no longer human, as though he were only a thing. Watched him like one watches a thing.
The blows came hard and fast. Striking Eiji across the face and forcing him onto the floor.
It took a minute for the room to stop spinning. Another for Eiji to push back the tears that had spilled.
“Useless.” His father had said. “You ruined everything.”
Never before his father had hit him. Part of him wanted to fight back because he was trained to fight back. But it was all swallowed by the shame.
Omega. Omega. He was an omega.
“When the time comes. I will choose a mate for you and you better spread your legs wide and bear strong little alpha’s or I swear I’ll…”
Eiji hears bells breaking through the fog of memories.
He wore bells on his wrists. On his ears. On his ankles when they dressed him up and took him to America.
“Our intel is very good.” His mother had reassured him. “He will refuse.”
“And I can go back home and father will let me choose my own mate?”
“Yes.” she had smiled.
It had all been lies.
Ash tastes the blood and swallows as soon as it hits his tongue. The skin breaks easily under the pressure of his teeth and the omega’s screams quiet as he deepens the bite.
Part of him remembers when Dino tried to force a bond on him before he presented. The intense pain that made him lash out and scratch the old man’s face. The beating he got for it.
It was akin to madness, that alphas had such power.
And when Eiji starts whimpering and Ash feels fingers latching on to his jacket, he realizes he’s no better. He’s just as cruel. Just as abusive of that power.
Ash wraps a hand around Eiji’s waist and without thinking, starts crooning. The sound is rhythmic and deep, a vibration that provokes Eiji to nuzzle against him and Ash to bite harder.
When Ash finally breaks the bite, he licks off the blood from Eiji’s neck. Soft breaths fall on his skin. He stands, picking up the unconscious omega in his arms. The omega that now belongs to him. Eiji’s fingers still cling to his jacket.
“Congratulations, Lord Alpha.” Ranko and Akio bow in unison. Akio takes a step back while Ranko offers the collar Eiji had on previously. “For you to keep your omega.”
Ash keeps his eyes on Eiji. “I don’t need those.”
“It’s customary to—”
“I do not need those.” Ash shows teeth. He’s getting tired of these customs. The unsettling feeling of forcing a bond on someone unwilling is still churning inside his stomach.. But he’d done it almost without a second thought. Despite his unease, he needed to accept it and bear the responsibility of it.
Ranko bows carefully. “I will give them to your second, in case you need them in the future.”
Shorter takes the collar and things Ranko offers.
“Shorter.” Ash calls him to attention. “Please take our guests to the mansion. We will meet tomorrow to wrap up the details.”
“Yes, boss.” Shorter nods.
Ranko shakes her head. “We will stay close to your chambers, Lord Alpha. As per custom, we need to confirm that you have broken and bedded this omega and made it yours.”
Ash suddenly scents a thread of intense fear coming from Eiji. It prickles along his spine, and Ash feels it like he’s the one terrified. He does his best to appear calm, but he can’t help but press Eiji closer to him. “No.” he says firmly.
“It is custom—”
“This is my omega now. Not yours.” Ash growls softly. “You will follow my second to our guest house and rest there. Food will be provided for you, and we will meet in the morning to settle the rest of our affairs before you return to Japan.”
“I have given my orders. I won't repeat them.” The scent of sour apples tints the air, enough for the attendants and even Shorter to back away a step. Ash hates using pheromones like this, but he’s done with this conversation. He’s done with taking orders from people he doesn’t know. He just wants to take his omega to a safe place and—
Shorter bows before leading the two women away and when the door closes behind the trio, Ash can finally breathe, he can finally think.
“Are you really not going to have sex with me?” The voice is barely a whisper. Ash shudders, every inch of his skin aflame with the urge to protect.
“You were awake?” Ash asks, even if that wasn’t what he really wanted to say.
“Yeah…” Eiji looks down and Ash is suddenly hyper aware of Eiji’s body in his arms.
Put him down. He can stand, he tells himself, but he doesn’t want to. My omega, my omega .
“I feel it.” Eiji continues. “The bond. I feel it…” Tears pool in Eiji’s eyes. He blinks and they fall in quick succession down his cheeks. “I can’t go back home now. He lied to me. They lied to me. I—”
Ash holds Eiji closer as the omega succumbs and starts weeping in his arms. He wants to say something reassuring, but there is nothing that will make this better. Nothing.
He expects Eiji to push him away any second. To yell, to demand to be released. But Eiji just weeps, and the longer he does it the more Ash feels the tension leave the omega’s body until there are no tears left.
When the spell ends. Ash puts Eiji down gently, and makes sure the omega is steady on his own two feet. “Do you want me to treat the wound?” he asks.
Eiji blinks at him. “I thought alpha’s liked to leave the mark untreated for as long as possible. I heard it guarantees and more secure bonding.”
“Urban legends.” Ash stays close to Eiji, resisting the urge to grab Eiji’s hand. “I’ve seen bonds happen, and we always treat the omega if he or she wishes to be treated. Only once did I see a bond that needed to be remade, but it was a bad coupling. It shouldn't have happened in the first place.”
“Right…” Eiji swallows and fidgets, but Ash doesn’t get the sense he wants to flee. “As the Alpha Lord, all pair bonds must get your approval right?”
“That’s true,” Ash answers. “But I wasn’t always the Alpha Lord—”
Eiji suddenly flinches and looks behind him. Ash scents the fear in the air so thick he can almost touch it, and quickly pulls Eiji’s back against his chest and growls towards the door.
But no one comes.
“Do you smell cherry blossoms?” Eiji asks out of nowhere.
Ash sniffs the air. “No. It smells like fresh grass on a rainy morning and the ocean crashing into the rocks.”
Eiji stiffens slightly in his arms. “Did you grow up close to the ocean?”
“Yes. My family had a small home near a cliff by the ocean. When my mother and brother were still alive.”
Eiji reaches up to touch Ash’s hand. “When I was growing up our home was surrounded by cherry blossoms. Me, my mother, and sister would all sit together and have lunch beneath the largest tree. When I was small, even my father was there.” Eiji hiccups and Ash knows he’s weeping again.
He hates it.
“I wasn't lying when I swore I’d give you a good life here.”
“Spare me.” Eiji laughs, but it’s a bitter, mocking sound.
“I swear, I’ll release you as soon as I can. You can go back to your home with your family and your cherry blossoms.”
Eiji wipes away his tears angrily. “Please do not mock me.”
“I’m not!” Ash sighs. “You’re not the only one that has been taken from their family. I know what that feels like. I know all too well what happens to omegas and alphas in the black market. I cannot promise you that I will return you to your family immediately. I need your help to discover what the Okumura’s want and to guarantee they won't be a danger to myself and my people. But after everything is done. After everything is cemented, then I swear I will let you return to your family and live the life you want. Even if we are mated.” Ash realizes that his holding Eiji’s face as he makes him this promise. His fingers rubbing against soft warm skin and oh… oh… he doesn’t mean anything he said. He doesn't want to let go. Doesn't want to tell Eiji he can leave and be free. He’s known this omega for only a day and he wants to keep him by his side forever. But doing so would make him no better than all the other alphas that abused their power. That abused their people. And if all this death and bloodshed was for anything, it was to stop the cycle of abuse he’d experience his entire life. To offer others choice.
Eiji closes his hand around Ash’s arm.
Ash bites his tongue. He was such a fucking hypocrite.
“You…” Eiji presses his fingers into Ash’s skin as if testing if they are real. “You don't know who I am, do you?”
The words take Ash aback. Gently, he lets go of Eiji. Watching the curious look in the omega’s eyes.
“Who you are?” He doesn't understand. “A pure omega. Stolen from your family and forced to be here by Okumura’s hand and now mine.”
Eiji laughs bitterly. It makes Ash’s stomach turn.
Eiji looks up and meets Ash’s eyes and for a moment Ash feels as if the air vibrates around them, like the world shifts out of alignment, dislodged from its rightful place.
“My name is Okumura Eiji.”
Ash feels the air get sucked out of the room.
“I am the firstborn son of Okumura Hōen. I was heir to the Okumura Yakuza clan until I presented as an omega when I was fourteen. And my father saw no worth of me, other than to be sold to an alpha — you — so he could make money. I will never go back to him. I don’t belong anywhere anymore except—” Eiji touches the mark on his neck, his fingers come out stained with blood. “Except…” Eiji’s eyes close and he suddenly drops. Ash snatches him quick before he hits the floor. He pulls the omega close.
Okumura Eiji, Okumura Eiji.
The Okumura Eiji. Expert swordsman and sniper. The most deadly assassin in the Okumura family.
That Okumura Eiji.
Ash feels he can’t breath.
Then the rise and fall of Eiji’s chest stills and he lies lifeless in Ash’s arms.
Ash screams for help.