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My heat lasts for almost 6 days, and in that span of time I lose track of how often Damien mounts me; the days turning into a blur of dozing, eating on occasion, taking in as much water as I can, and being subjected to Damien's insatiable appetite. 

He takes me from behind more often than not, but sometimes he puts me on my back, looming over me while my thighs are hugging his sides, or he slips my legs over his shoulders; going slow and deep, not allowing me to look away as he uses me. Regardless of the position, his movements are possessive and deliberate, and he enjoys holding me down, pinning my hands to the floor or held tightly behind my back. 

I endure it as best I can, sometimes feeling intense pleasure that makes me almost cry, my eyes unfocused and my body begging for more -

But other times, more often than not, he seems to enjoy hurting me; smiling with malice to hear me sob or beg him to stop....

I actually think those are the times he enjoys himself the most. 

The first time he knots inside of me is incredibly distressing, the pressure and fullness almost more than I can bear, but I clench the blankets in my hands and try to imagine myself somewhere else....

In a garden, perhaps; not Damien's, but somewhere far away. Back home, maybe, and ike's there helping me weed; complaining about his hay fever and asking me what I'm making for dinner. Or maybe I could go to the seashore I've only read about in books, like in the story Tricia had given me as a gift; where the little mermaid has her garden of red flowers and the statue of her beloved prince. 

Or I could be with Mr. Tucker wherever he is, but that hurts to think about, because at the moment I want him more than anything else. I can't stop myself from wondering what he's doing.

Damien finally groans and shudders after what feels like an eternity, and when he pulls out I can feel the wetness trickling down my legs. He kisses my back before he sighs and sits, pulling me onto his lap to cradle me close; stroking my hair. 

"It'll be over soon," he murmurs, the disappointment evident in his voice. "Your eyes are returning to normal, and your scent is much less obvious." He nuzzle my throat. "It's sweeter... before it was sort of metallic."

"Hmm." I'm drifting, trying to forget myself. I don't refuse the water that Damien offers me, taking little sips; crunching the ice cube he slips into my mouth. He then feeds me soft slices of pear, having me lick the juices from his fingertips. 

"So good," he praises, kissing my shoulder, my neck; lifting my hands to press kisses to them as well. "I think you'll be done after one more time, like this."

Shifting me, he guides me to straddle his lap while facing him, sliding me down onto his length, slowly, pushing upward little by little until I'm fully seated and he's very deep inside me. His breaths are coming in little pants as I adjust, wincing at how used i feel; so open and full. 

He slides my arms around his neck, kissing the tender skin on the underside of my wrist. "How do you feel, my love?" He bites softly, catching my skin with his even white teeth. 

I'm breathing heavily, trying to stay still, but I'm saturated with so many sensations: being filled and stretched, the heat of him, and the ache that finally goes away when he's inside me like this. 

He lightly pinches my hip, grinning when I yelp. "I asked you a question, I expect an answer."

I roll my hips to help relieve myself of some of the pressure, the subtle tiny shift in position making me moan low in my throat. 

"Sore," I manage, panting. "I feel so sore."

He's delighted with this answer. "That's to be expected. But don't you feel sore in a nice way...a way you don't necessarily mind?"

I look away. I hate talking to him about these things, because I know he relishes teasing me; making me uncomfortable. He seems to think it's cute, seeing an inexperienced omega being crushed under his thumb; not knowing how to fight back because they're still so new. 

He takes that moment to thrust into me; hard, holding my hips in place as he does. I hold onto him tighter, leaning to hide my face against his shoulder. 

"Yes, like that," he says softly, thrusting again. "Trust me...I know how to take care of you."

I sob with every movement, every hard thrust that seems to touch something very special inside me; making my toes curl, my mouth wet. Suddenly it feels so good that I'm speaking nonsense, forgetting how much I truly hate this; being fucked by him. 

"More," I whisper, closing my eyes. "More, please. Don't stop."

He squeezes my hips tighter, running his thumbs along the curves of of my pelvis. He thrusts again and I'm seeing stars in the darkness behind my eyelids. 

"Your turn," he murmurs. "Show your master how you ride his cock. Can you do that for me?"

I'm frozen for a moment, having not been asked to do anything for him this whole time; made to lie back and accept what he gives me. I feel helpless because I'm sure if I do this wrong he'll find a way to punish me. 

He laughs softly. "Just rise up on your knees, little one... not so high that you lose me, but as much as you can, and then lower yourself slowly. Here."

He helps me rise onto my knees and I feel him slide out of me, taking away that delicious sense of fullness, before guiding me back down. I let out a long breath i didn't know I'd been holding. 

"Now you, all on your own," he says, becoming stern. He slaps my hip sharply and I immediately comply, rising up, feeling his thick cock moving inside me, the friction unimaginable, and then I'm sinking down; repeating this until I've got a steady rhythm going, Damien praising me as he starts to breathe a little bit heavier. 

I'd just managed to hit that spot inside of myself, the one that makes me almost mindless with pleasure, when Damien growls and pushes me back so he's on top again, spreading my thighs wider so he can go deeper; legs bent and pushed up so I'm almost folded in half. 

He's aggressive now, biting my throat, my shoulders, my collar bone, reaching to capture both my arms at the wrist, shoving them above my head so he can hold them down. 

"Look at me," he bites out, and I obey, our eyes locking as he finishes, filling me up with heat; my vision hazy. He kisses my mouth deeply, moaning low, and I'm afraid of how good he's making me feel right now. The pain i can understand because it's expected, but this is entirely different. 

I'm so exhausted at this point that I'm shaking, lying under his weight as he gets his breath, kissing me languidly before he finally sits up. He looks down at me, usually sleek hair slightly mussed, and I'm relieved to see that his eyes have gone back to their usual shade of deep red. 

We regard each other silently until he reaches to touch my belly, sliding his hand so it's resting flat beneath my navel. I ache there, like the muscles are very taut, but the coolness from his skin could almost be considered pleasant. 

"We'll have to wait and see," he says quietly. "It's very unusual for an omega to conceive during their first Heat, but it's happened before."

He says this so casually, but I'm disgusted either way. After all, I don't want to have his children but the thought of having to endure this sort of thing over and over until he gets what he wants from me --

It's unbearable to consider. 

Sitting up, I hug myself, not wanting him to see me like this anymore. I reach for a blanket and he doesn't protest when I drape it over myself. 

"You suddenly look so melancholy," he says, an eyebrow raised. "Didn't you say i made you feel good?"

I shrug, not even wanting to look at him now. What is there to say after everything that's happened? I tried to stave off the inevitable and I folded, and I'm reminded again of just how hopeless this situation feels. 

Damien ended up getting exactly what he wanted, but he'd already told me that was usually the case. It's a horrible notion to contemplate but he hadn't been lying. No, he'd imparted a bitter truth to me and now I'm being forced to deal with the aftermath, cruel as it is. 

"You're tired, you must be," he says, rising and stretching his long body. He goes to slip on his robe. "I'll have Bebe bring you something to eat and run a bath for you. You'll want to sleep for most of the day, I imagine."

I raise my eyes, watching him move with such confidence; the king of his castle, overseer of his domain. He doesn't carry himself like a person who's stolen something vital from another; there's no remorse in him, no shame. His bearing suggests that he feels that everything is absolutely as it should be in his existence; bent to his control. 

I don't want him to see me cry, not over this, because it'd be letting him see too much of me. It'd be like placing my heart in his hands and watching him crack it open; revealing my secrets, my shames, my dreams... everything that should solely belong to me. 

No, I wait for him to leave, and then the tears come, sobs that start low and are pulled from a very raw place inside of me. They're quiet, these tears, and I hold my breath for a long time while shedding them. They don't cleanse me, though; they don't even seem to sooth the hurt I'm feeling. It's just too large. 

The only thing that seems to help at all are the last vestiges of Mr Tucker's scent. It clings weakly to my debut gown and gloves, but even that is starting to fade; Damien's scent mingling with and nearly obliterating it entirely.

Still, I curl into a ball inside my nest, the blanket wrapped around me and pulled over my head like a hood; knees bent and pulled to my chest. I breathe in what remains of Mr Tucker's scent and cry, praying that the pain will go away, at least a little. 

------

I've fallen into a deep sleep when Bebe comes, and she rouses me gently, helping me to sit up and stand; her arm around my shoulders as I shakily walk to the little table before the fire. She takes the blanket from around me and dresses me in a soft robe instead. 

"Try to eat something," she says, pouring me some hot tea. There's orange juice and toast, pancakes, eggs, a slice of ham; a bowl of melon and pineapple. I stare at it all, wondering if I'm still being fed hormones. After all, what does it matter now?

"There's nothing in it," Bebe says when she catches me staring blankly at my plate. "You do need to take these, though." She takes the lid off a tiny cup and pushes it towards me. It's filled with pills. 

"Why?" I ask. 

"Pre-natals and vitamins, just in case," she replies. "You'll start taking those every day. They're good for you."

I bite back a smart remark. As if anything that's happening right now could be good for me. Still, I choke down the pills and once I start eating, I quickly become ravenous and finish everything I've been served. 

After that I'm bathed, made to soak in a hot tub that's had medicinal salts poured into it to ease the aches in my muscles; the numerous dark, finger-shaped bruises on my skin. I wince when the water washes over the many bite marks left by Damien's sharp, cruel teeth. 

Bebe's quiet during all of this and so am I. Maybe we just aren't sure what to say to each other. She's exceptionally gentle, though; washing the sweat from my hair, ridding me of what Damien left behind. When she empties the tub I quietly ask her to fill it again, and to make the water as hot as possible; as hot as i can stand it. 

I stay in for as long as possible, drifting. My eyes are heavy and want to close, but I soak in the heat until I'm faint. I float, gazing up at the ceiling as the steam drifts upward, making the room feel like I'm in a dream. 

Bebe dresses me in warmer, thicker pajamas than usual, soft and comfortable, before tucking me into bed. I'm so tired at this point that I stumble as I'm climbing in, falling exhausted against the sheets. She draws the blankets to my chin before smoothing the hair from my face. 

I'm just about to nod off when I see her dismantling my nest, my gown and gloves scooped into her arms. I sluggishly sit up, alarmed. 

"Don't take those!"

She stares at me, obviously having not expected my outburst. "Kyle, all of this needs to be laundered. For obvious reasons."

Feeling like I'm wading through water, I throw back the covers and slide out of bed, hobbling over to her. "Please, just let me keep the gloves."

She looks at them and then back at me. "I don't understand."

I'm at a loss for words. How can I explain myself without revealing the true reason for my desperation? I scramble, plucking an explanation from thin air. 

"They have Damien's scent. It helps me feel calm when he's away."

Her eyes narrow and I'm sure she doesn't believe me, but finally she relents and offers me one of the gloves. "You can't keep both. Besides, his scent is all over your room... why this? It's ridiculous."

I clutch it to my chest, calming down already. "It has sentimental value. Sorry, I guess it's an omega thing."

"Is that so?" She sighs and returns to her work before glancing at me. "Get back in bed, you look like you're about to collapse."

Holding my treasure tightly, I obey, going back to bed and falling into a dreamless sleep; Mr. Tucker's scent lulling me as I descend. 

I sleep for a long time after that, only waking to eat and use the bathroom, Bebe assisting me as I practically sleepwalk everywhere I go. I'm consumed with such a bone-deep weariness that it's all I can do to keep my head up. 

It's disorienting, sleeping so deeply and for so long. Whenever I'm awoken the sun is always in a different position, its light slanting at varying angles on the floor; sometimes very long, and other times almost nonexistent. At night the stars swim behind the windowpanes, keeping court with the silent moon, its glacial glow like ice across my bedspread. 

I drift through all of this, unsure of how much time is passing, but I'm happy to sleep, to escape. When I'm asleep, I don't have to think about what's happened to me. 

But too soon, I'm finding it harder and harder to drift off again, flitting through fitful states of being half-awake; unsatisfying and punctuated with reality blending with my dreams until I'm unsure of what's real and what's just in my head. 

Finally, Bebe wakes me completely, ignoring my protests as she coaxes me from my bed. 

"Master's orders," she says. "He said you've slept long enough."

"Right, because he would know, wouldn't he?" I snap, irritable and achy. An anger is waking up inside of me now that some time has passed; now that I'm relatively rested. I let it grow, relishing it because it's much more invigorating than my sorrow. 

"Actually, yes," she replies, stripping my pajamas from me and helping me step into a dress; one I'm accustomed to, with a fluffy skirt and a long sash. "He's helped many omegas through their heats... he's hardly new to all this."

"Helped," I repeat before sneering. "That's an interesting take on the situation."

"Kyle, I really don't have time for this. I have a lot of work to get done today." She begins pulling the blankets and sheets from my bed. "Eat your lunch and stop giving me an attitude."

Stung, I sit down and begin to eat, boiling with rage inside as I take my pills. I glance at her. 

"Am I allowed to go out to the garden after this? Please?"

She looks at me for a long moment before glancing at the window. It's sunny outside. She sighs like she's very tired. 

"Fine, but only for a little bit. The Master did say he wanted you to get some exercise."

I bolt my food after hearing this, rushing to throw on my cloak before hurrying out the door. I'm stiff but it feels good to be moving again. 

When I'm outside it's like looking at a whole new garden; a new sky. The trees seem different, stripped of their leaves beneath the watery winter sun. Even the air seems to have a foreign smell, sharp and very cold, wafting under my sensitive nose. I step carefully through the snow, cracking the ice with my shoes; not running to the roses the way I normally would. 

I feel strange, which i suppose makes sense given what's happened to me, but I didn't think it would be this surreal. Who am I now? How do I fit into the things I used to love, that gave me comfort? Will they be the same?

Is anything allowed to stay the same even if I've changed?

At least the roses are still beautiful, dotted with ice that look like tiny crystals in the sun. Their leaves are smooth and glossy like they've been polished. I smell one, a soft pink rose, and its aroma is sweet. Soon I'm tending them, pruning and gathering, my basket on my arm, and I can almost pretend that I'm still untouched. 

That I'm still clean. 

I'm lost in my thoughts when I hear footsteps and then Pip is at my side, looking at me like he's not sure what to make of me. 

"I didn't think you'd be outside today," he says. His tone is off, not necessarily as friendly as he normally is. 

"Oh?" I ask, knowing I can't avoid this conversation; might as well get it over with. "Why is that? I'm the same as always. Can't you tell?"

"Oh, please," he snaps. "How could you possibly be the same, Kyle? I saw what happened at the party - everybody saw what happened at the party. Leave it to you to go into Heat in the most dramatic way possible."

"Yeah, because Damien set me up," I snap back. Moving away, I continue trying to focus on the roses. Pip tags along like a little dog nipping at my heels. "He knew exactly what he was doing, putting me in a stressful situation so my body would just..." I grope for the words, "give in, I guess. He forced my hand."

"So, he's clever, you already knew that," he replies. 

"He's a monster," I say, my tone icy. "And I know you like him, Pip, but I don't. I can't. Especially now."

"He made you feel better, though, didn't he?" he asks, the question making my skin crawl. "That's what an Alpha does for their omega... takes care of them during their Heat. Right?"

"He held me down and forced himself on me!" I yell, rounding on him. "He didn't take care of me! He used me! He took advantage of the fact that my mind wasn't working, and -"

I choke back a sob. "He made it seem like something else at first, and he was tender... he kissed me, he was soft with me, but he wasn't like that the whole time. How can I make you understand what it was like? He made me feel awful for feeling good while he... violated me, because I know that I shouldn't have liked it at all!"

"Quit being a child," he says. "You're supposed to feel good, it's just a part of who we are; omegas crave their alphas, especially when they're in heat. It's simple biology."

"He's not my alpha," I mutter. 

"Well, neither is Craig Tucker, so stop chasing after him."

I feel like I've been slapped, not only because of his words but because his tone is so cutting. 

"I'm not chasing anyone," I say, turning back to the roses. 

"Everyone in that ballroom saw him leap to your defense and then carry you away," he retorts. 

I bow my head. "He was helping me... what's wrong with him trying to be kind?"

"They also saw you rubbing all over him like a mindless slut," he adds caustically. "Purring and making a spectacle of yourself. How do you think that makes the master look?"

I cover my mouth, my lips trembling. I can barely remember what happened at the party, so hearing this is very unsettling. "I wasn't thinking straight-"

"And he didn't stop you, he let you do it," he cuts me off. "You don't do that. You just don't. You both disgraced yourselves."

I look at him then, and his face is unfamiliar in its aggression, but I can see another telltale emotion there, and it makes me want to be patient, even though he's tearing me apart with these accusations. 

Sorrow. 

"Well, then it's my disgrace to bear," I say. "It doesn't affect you so it doesn't concern you. Right?"

"Just because Craig Tucker seems nice doesn't mean that he is," he says. "Lots of Alphas put on kind faces until they let you see the truth, and then it's too late. At least the master never hides his intentions."

"Yes, he's very direct with his cruelty, isn't he?" Stooping, I begin arranging the roses in my basket, stacking them carefully; the same shade as the ones I'd given Tricia -

And by extension Mr. Tucker. 

"That's better than making us believe a lie," Pip says quietly. A wind passes through, rustling the roses, but I'm looking at him. He gazes at the sky, the sunlight falling on him. "I knew an omega once, at the orphanage, and he fell in love with an Alpha that seemed very kind. He'd do favors for the omega whenever he could, would share his food because the Alphas were always given more."

"The Omega looked up to him, admired him. The Alpha made him feel safe when no one else could, and he came to depend on him more than anyone else he'd ever met. He thought they were friends, and eventually he began to love him and thought maybe they could be together someday. When they grew up and left the orphanage."

"But one day the Alpha asked the omega to meet him in the forest. He said there was something he wanted to show him, something the omega would like very much, and because he'd never given the omega a reason to distrust him, the omega agreed."

Pip's voice is faraway now, faint. I want to tell him to stop, but I can't speak. 

"So the omega went, and when he found the Alpha, he was so happy, because it was just the two of them... it was all he wanted. But then the Alpha changed, and he suddenly seemed like someone else, someone the omega had been taught to fear. He tried to run but the Alpha caught him, and he began to hurt him, even though the omega told him he loved him, to stop -"

"The Omega told him he'd gladly give what the Alpha was already taking, but it didn't seem to matter. What the Alpha wanted was the omega's fear... and it was as if the omega could see the face that had been hidden from him all along, and it was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen."

He falls into silence now and i have no idea what to say. Pip's face is so blank and removed, like he's stepped out of his body, like he truly believes he's talking about someone other than himself. I clear my throat. 

"What happened to the omega?"

Pip looks at me, still detached, and he shrugs. "He's alive for the most part, but he's different. He knows that it's dangerous to hope for too much... to be content with what he's given, as long as it's bearable. As long as he can survive it."

I pick up a rose to study it, soft petals trembling. "He sounds very strong," I say gently. "If I could, I'd give him a hug... I'd tell him there's nothing wrong with loving and wanting to be loved. He shouldn't punish himself for what others do."

Pip lifts his hood and holds it tightly beneath his chin. "He wouldn't believe you." Sighing, he turns away. "It's too cold out here. I think I'll go in and ask the cook for hot chocolate. Do you want some, too?"

"Yes, that'd be nice," I say. "I'll join you in the day room in just a few minutes. I think I'd like to gather more roses for my room."

"Don't be long, please." He walks away without looking back. I watch, my heart aching for him, and I wonder again how the world can be so unforgiving. What's the rhyme and reason of it all?

Carefully, I snip a few more roses, the pretty scarlet ones, until I've compiled an acceptable bouquet; reaching to take the ribbon from my hair that Bebe had tied earlier. I wrap it around the stems, the satiny blue of it lovely against the dark green, and tie a lopsided bow. 

I look toward the gate, inky black against the falling sun; orange and yellow mixing with the blue of the sky, and I wonder if Mr. Tucker will be walking by anytime soon. I also think of the omega from Pip's story and want to cry for him, lost and scared in the forest; having his heart taken away. 

I slowly rise and walk across the expanse of lawn, approaching the gate and looking both ways but the street is empty. Kneeling, i reach between the bars and place the bouquet in a clump of grass, hidden from view from the mansion but visible to a passerby if they're vigilant. 

I leave it there and pray that Mr. Tucker finds it, that he realizes it's from me and takes it home with him. I pray that he's truly kind and that what I've seen of him so far is the truth -

I pray that I can believe in him, because I'm slowly and painfully waking up to the fact that I'm falling in love with him; despite our circumstances, I'm drawn to him in a way I've never felt for anyone else. 

Come and find me, take me away with you. These are the words I want to say as I leave the roses behind, heading back to the mansion. But I don't have the courage yet, I don't know if I ever will. 

Still, they're the truth, and even if I'm whispering them into a void, they'll always be the truth; regardless of where I go from here.

Regardless of where I find myself at the end of it all. 

-----

After leaving the roses, I fall into a state of listlessness because I'm confined to the mansion; kept from the cold and snow, which seems to get worse as the days pass. The sky is dark and so is my room unless the fire is lit, which Bebe attends to vigilantly after Damien tells her to keep it burning at all times. 

I spend the hours, countless as they are, looking out the window at the driving snow, watching it pile up; covering the roses and turning the world a caustic, unforgiving white. When I'm alone, which is often, I try to read as well, the lovely story about the mermaid, but I can't concentrate. There's too much worry inside my head; pretty thoughts of underwater kingdoms and love can't seem to find a place - they're consumed with sadness and fear. 

I think of Tricia and Mr. Tucker and wonder what they're doing. I wonder, too, if they're thinking of me, and I even try to write little notes to them, but I'm still learning, and I don't want to send them something that will make me look like a fool. I tear up all of my attempts and feed them to the fire, and when I want them close, I turn on my tape player and let their music fill my room; lying on my bed and crying silently into my pillow. The glove I'd salvaged is kept close, but eventually Mr. Tucker's scent fades and it stops being special; it just becomes another glove and no longer brings me comfort. 

I often creep down to the parlor and practice the piano, too, my cold fingers running through my scales, over and over until I'm dizzy; finding comfort in the repetition. I play until my hands hurt, and then I keep going, a single candle burning in the darkness; illuminating my music and casting long shadows across Damien's portrait. 

Sometimes I feel like I'm completely alone in this silent, creaking house, especially when it's late at night and the winds are screaming at the windows. I touch my belly and try to feel for the life that may be growing inside, and I'm filled with such a potent horror that I find it hard to breathe. My sleep is full of dreams, some of roses and others of blood, but I'm never rested when I wake up regardless; it's like I'm dreaming awake, and I'm walking through this strange world with my eyes shut.

"Wake up! Up!"

I'm shaken awake, swimming upward from the murk of dreams to see Bebe's face illuminated by the small lamp on my bedside table. She's frowning like she's already annoyed with me, but she's soft when helping me rise from my bed. 

It's still dark outside but the wind isn't blowing, it seems to have died down since I'd fallen asleep, and I'm comforted by this as I take my breakfast in the usual way before the fire. 

"Why did you wake me so early?" I ask, sipping my tea, letting its warmth seep inside of me. I still shiver, though, more from being sleepy than anything else. "It doesn't look like it's anywhere near dawn."

"It isn't, but the master is taking you out today, and he'll be upset if you aren't ready when he comes to fetch you," she replies, laying out my clothes. 

Stunned, I set down my cup. "Out?" I look toward the window, and I can't conceive of anything past the tall iron fence. I'd stopped thinking of that long ago - the world beyond. "But... where? Why?"

"He's taking you to the doctor," she says. "Now hurry."

I'm bathed in extra hot water because Damien is so preoccupied with cleanliness; scrubbed until i feel raw and skinless. Then I'm dried, lotioned, primped until I want to scream with frustration. I'm put in a traveling suit that's more mature than what I'm used to, but still childish in its own way: a dark blue pinafore dress over a pure white shirt with full sleeves; a matching blue ribbon in my hair and around the collar. 

I'm just wrapping my traveling cloak around myself when Damien arrives, clad in traveling attire of his own; a sleek black jacket, dark slacks, and black leather gloves. 

He assesses me before nodding, pulling the hood over my hair. He looks at Bebe who hefts a large suitcase from the bed. I stare, not really sure of what's happening. 

"We'll be staying overnight somewhere because the doctor is far, and the weather may turn again," Damien explains, pinching my cheek. 

We wait in the foyer as the car - an actual car - is driven in front of the mansion; stopping in the circular drive and idling like a coiled dragon; emitting puffs of exhaust. It's black and impossibly long. 

"Come along," Damien tells me, taking my hand and leading me outside into the cold pre-dawn. He waits for a faceless Beta to open the back door, and he ushers me inside, where it's warm and the seats are soft, buttery leather. He climbs in beside me and the door is shut. 

"Are you warm enough?" he asks, turning to regard me with a smile on his face. 

I nod, and he pats my cheek like I'm an obedient child. I look around in awe, trying to see everything at once. 

"I take it you've never been in a limousine," he says, amused. 

I shake my head. "I've never been in a car before - any kind."

"How did your family move about, then?"

"We didn't, not a lot, and if we had to go far we took a wagon."

"Let me guess, drawn by horses?"

I nod, moving to push the buttons on the panel under the window. He laughs, shifting to kiss my cheek, my lips; his hand resting on the curve of my small belly. 

"Still so thin," he says, displeased. "Do you feel different at all?"

I look down at myself, touching my stomach as well. I blush, having forgotten in all the excitement of this venture that the last time I'd really been with him he'd taken me -

(fucked me)

claimed me, even if he hadn't Bonded with me. I press my thighs together, remembering. 

"Not really," I admit. "Not physically, anyway."

"Well, let's hope for the best," he says, sliding his hand down so it rests snugly on my thigh. My cheeks are hot, but I don't move away. 

The sun rises golden and fat as the car carries us further and further from the estate, and I'm drawn to the window to see the trees and houses flying past; some cottages like the one I'd grown up in, and others massive like Damien's home. 

It's been so long since I've been away from that place, confined behind high, black bars, that I'm giddy with excitement, so charmed and euphoric that I forget to treat Damien with absolute (and completely justified) derision. Instead, I point things out to him, other cars, signs; the bridges we cross over, and especially the wide expanse of blue when it arrives on the horizon. 

"It's the Gunnison River," he explains. "Isn't it lovely?"

Indeed it is, sparkling under the sun and so immense. I press my hands and face to the glass and marvel until we're on the other side, and even then I'm entranced. 

"You're such a delight," he says suddenly, taking me by surprise. "I like seeing things with you like this... it's like getting to experience them again for the first time. I feel so young."

"But you are young, aren't you?" I ask, puzzled. 

"Not like you are," he replies, giving me another of his enigmatic smiles. 

At noon, we stop at a small roadside Cafe for lunch, and I see the driver for the first time; a soft-faced Beta named Clyde. 

"Watch your step," he says, helping me from the car and righting me when I almost stumble. "You alright now?"

"Yes, thank you," I say, curtsying before him to show my gratitude. He watches with wide, amber eyes until Damien takes my arm and leads me away. 

"We don't posture like that for the help," he says, but his tone isn't unkind. 

He orders for the both of us in the restaurant, which is to be expected i suppose; not that I've ever been in a cafe before. I keep my eyes down until a sparkling pink drink is set before me, topped with pretty pieces of sugared fruit; lemons, strawberries, even a ripe red cherry. 

"Oh, it's too nice to drink," I say, watching the bubbles rise and pop, over and over. "I can really have this?"

"Of course," he replies, stirring a scant amount of sugar into his coffee. "And if you want another you only have to ask."

Lunch is a sandwich and soup, but I'm too nervous to eat very much, not with the way Damien is watching me so closely. 

"Don't you like it?" he asks. His own plate is filled with a steak (rare) and roasted vegetables. 

"I can't eat when you scrutinize me," I reply, hoping that my honesty won't be met with punishment; praying that being out in public will protect me. 

Suddenly, he's taking my hand and holding it gently. I look up, astonished at his unexpected softness. 

"I just like to see you enjoy things," he says simply. "I'm not trying to chastise you... if you told me you wanted cake for lunch I'd order one for you right now."

There are murmurs around us, and I can hear the other people in the cafe comment about the benevolent Alpha pampering his naive little omega, treating him with such understanding kindness, and I hear myself telling Damien that I'm sorry for being difficult; that I'll eat my lunch and enjoy it. 

"Thank you for taking care of me," I say, and it's like I'm reciting a script that was written for me long before this moment ever happened. 

After that, we climb back into the car and I'm sleepy from waking up so early; eyes burning and heavy with fatigue. I find myself nodding off and trying to fight it, until Damien lays my head in his lap and implores me to take a nap. 

I look up at him through a haze of lethargy, and I can't believe this is the same man who instigated my heat; prompted me to succumb, and then preyed on me for 6 days straight. 

Flashes come to me, of being back in my room and being held close to him, soft lips grazing the insides of my thighs and touching the heat between them, encouraging me to let go and when I do it's like my bones are turning to water; I'm dissolving and when I become coherent Damien's licking my arousal from his lips in a decidedly feline manner. 

"Close your eyes," he tells me now, softly. "It's okay. We have time, and then you'll be rested when we finally get there." He then threads his fingers through my curls, scratching my scalp until I almost begin to purr, and I'm curling on my side to nuzzle closer to him. 

"Good boy," he murmurs before I fall into dreams; that airless chasm. "My sweet Kyle."

He wakes me while I'm in the middle of a pleasant dream, shaking my shoulder until I open my eyes, blinking to clear the sand from them. 

"We're here," he murmurs. 

I sit up, rubbing more sleep from my eyes, yawning hugely, and try to get my bearings. Damien gives me a fond look before the door is opened and he's stepping out, offering his hand for me to take. 

The dwelling we've traveled so far to get to is modest but neat; a small house of rosy red bricks and a large apple tree in the yard, though it's naked at this time of year. I shiver looking at it, fear building in my stomach and the frigid winds fluttering my cloak. 

"Come along," Damien says, taking my hand. I follow, staring with wide eyes at the golden plaque beside the green front door. It takes me a moment but I'm able to figure out what it says before I'm pulled into the house:

Kenneth McCormick, M.D.

The inside of the house is dim and warm, the foyer long and leading to a room with small couches and a desk. A small woman with her brown hair in a messy ponytail looks up, a pencil behind her ear. 

"Do you have an appointment?" She asks, cute with a snub nose spattered with freckles. 

"Yes," Damien replies, drawing me to his side. "Damien Thorne; I set up a 2:00 appointment for -"

"Oh, yes, of course," she says, standing up and coming around the desk. She looks at me with soft hazel eyes. "This must be Kyle."

He nods but I stay quiet, intimidated. "Forgive him, he can be rather shy in new situations."

"Completely understandable," she replies. "Well, he's all registered so you'll just need to sign a few forms." Reaching behind her she grabs a clipboard and hands it to Damien. "I'll go let the doctor know you're here."

She leaves the room, her ponytail bouncing. My mouth feels dry and I can't help but stay close to Damien as he handles the paperwork."

"Nervous?" he asks, smiling. 

"I've never been to a real doctor before," I reply. "My mother used to treat us with home remedies and if there was something she couldn't handle she'd go to the medicine woman near our home."

"You have nothing to worry about." He caps his pen, a heavy implement of gold and mother of pearl. "This is the only doctor I trust with my omegas; he's very good."

That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence, but I stay quiet, watching as the girl returns. 

"Follow me," she says, leading the way down a hallway filled with doors. Damien presses his hand to the small of my back when I hesitate. 

"In here." She indicates a white, cool room with a large padded table with silver implements attached to one side. It's covered in paper. There's a lot of equipment that makes me nervous, and I don't like the smell in here. It's very sharp. 

I start to shake.

"Let me help you with that," she says, reaching to take a hold of my cloak. I back up, holding it tightly around myself. 

"Let me," Damien says before looking at me with a soft expression. "She isn't going to hurt you, okay? Now please cooperate."

With that, he undoes my cloak pin and opens the garment; peeling it from my shoulders. I shake harder and start to whine. 

"Calm," he murmurs, placing a hand on the back of my neck. I quiet slightly but I'm still shaking. He looks at the girl. "Maybe it would be better if you tell him everything that's going to happen before you do it."

She nods, turning to me. "Kyle, my name's Karen. I'm Dr. McCormick's nurse, and before the doctor checks you out, I just need to get a little information from you. Is that okay?"

Reluctantly, I murmur, "I guess so."

She smiles. "Wonderful. Now what i need you to do is step up on the scale so I can see how much you weigh. Can you do that for me?"

I realize they're both speaking to me like I'm a child and I'm ashamed, but given my reaction to all of this i suppose it makes sense. I do as she asks and climb on the scale, watching as she pushes little bars around until it balances. She clucks her tongue and writes on a clipboard. 

"Now we'll get your height," she says, pulling up a little bar that she places on my head. She clucks and writes once more. 

Then she takes my temperature, my blood pressure -

"Ow," I wince when the cuff tightens on my arm. Damien kisses my forehead, amused. 

After having me leave a urine sample (thankfully I'm allowed to do that in the little bathroom attached to the room - alone), she grabs a folded article from a cabinet and hands it to me. 

"Undress and put that on," she says. "I'll go get the doctor."

When she leaves, I look over at Damien with alarm. 

"I don't want to take off my clothes."

He shakes his head slightly and sighs. "Darling, the doctor can't examine you unless you undress."

"Can't I just lift up my skirt? I don't know why I have to be naked for this. I've never even met this person," I reply, beginning to feel hysterical. I feel cornered, like I'm back at the Auctions and being stripped down, or I'm being violated the way I'd been during my Heat.

"Kyle," he says, that stern note creeping into his tone. "Do as I say, please."

Holding back tears, I start to undress, very aware of Damien watching the whole time. My skin feels chilled in the dry air, and I'm still trembling. I try to put the strange paper robe on over my slip, but he stops me. 

"Kyle. You have to take everything off. Stop being difficult, I don't want to have to punish you here." He sighs again, heavier. "And we were having such a nice day, too."

I want to snap, to bite, but I comply, removing my clothing as quickly as possible and then covering myself. He gives me a satisfied pat on the hip. "Thank you."

There's a knock at the door then, and after Damien responds it's opening and a blonde haired man walks in dressed in very plain powder blue clothing. He's tall and gives off no discernable scent. I look for an Alpha Mark behind his ear but don't see any. 

A Beta. I relax slightly. 

"Damien, it's always a pleasure to see you," Dr. McCormick says, cheerful and smiling. He seems to take up the whole room with his presence. They shake and then he turns to me. "You must be Kyle."

I nod and then, amazingly, he's offering me his hand, and we shake - almost like he views me as an equal. 

I relax even more. 

"Is this your first time at the doctor?" he asks, looking at some paperwork. 

"Yes."

"So you're probably a little nervous, huh?" He gives me a sympathetic look. 

I nod, very relieved that he seems to understand. 

"Well, I'll try to make this as fast and easy as possible, okay? Why don't you hop up on the table and we'll get started? Karen? Can you come in here, please?"

I awkwardly climb onto the table while trying to stay somewhat covered, feeling Damien watching. 

"You recently had your first Heat, right?" He rubs his hands together. 

Nervously, I nod. When he starts to pull apart the gown, I seize up with fear. He's gentle, though, and pats my arm. 

"I just need to do a little exam, okay?"

I look at Damien and he nods, crossing his arms. After that, I don't fight, but I'm still frozen with anxiety. 

"Lift your arm," he says in a soothing voice, rubbing my chest, around my nipples; I whine softly because I'm so sensitive, but he doesn't rebuke me. He checks my throat glands, my nape, easing his hands down to my lower belly. He presses lightly. 

"Very nice," he says, feeling around, pressing some more. I squirm. "Very, very nice."

I almost leap off the table when he starts pressing on my pubis, my groin, my private parts; the glands situated in between my legs. I close my eyes and try to fly away in my head, because as nice as he seems this is just so uncomfortable; invasive in a way I'm completely unprepared for. 

"Oh, there's your clover," he says, tapping my Mark. "You omegas and your clovers... always in a different place. It's so cute."

I open my eyes and try to smile even though I just want this to end. The only way this could get worse is if he tells me that I'm pregnant with Damien's child. 

Sitting up, the doctor slips off his gloves and tosses them in the trash before going to wash up at the sink. He glances at Karen. 

"Are his results ready?"

She nods, handing him a little slip of paper. He reads it and narrows his eyes. 

"Well?" Damien asks quietly, and my blood runs a little colder, all of my muscles clenching. 

"I'm sorry," he says, turning to him. "Kyle's in excellent health but his test came back negative."

"I see," Damien says, and his irritated disappointment is palpable. "But based on your assessment he seems likely to conceive without issue?"

"I'll do some blood work, of course, and a quick sonogram to make sure everything's as it should be, but after looking him over he appears to be very healthy. Honestly, one of the healthier omegas I've seen in a while."

"Well, that's reassuring," Damien replies, but his eyes are still hard; his hands tightly clenched in his lap. 

An involuntary shudders moves through me as I slowly sit up, feeling slightly dizzy. The doctor looks at me and offers a kindly smile. 

"Your Heats will probably be a little irregular at first, just because you're young, but don't be alarmed. They'll smooth out soon enough and then you can expect one every 3-4 weeks."

"Every 3 to 4 weeks?!" I blurt out, horrified. I hear Damien growl softly.

Dr. McCormick laughs, though. "Just eat well and get your rest, but don't forget to exercise. The healthier your habits the better your chances are at having a little one soon."

"I'll make sure he takes good care of himself, doctor," Damien says, giving me a severe look. 

"I've no doubt," he says, giving me a wink. "You have one of the most attentive Alphas I've ever met - you're in good hands."

Oh, if only he knew the truth. I just nod again. 

"Well, get dressed and then we'll get your labs and imaging taken care of, then you'll be on your way. Sound good?"

"Thank you, doctor," Damien says. "And thank you for fitting him in today, I know how busy you are."

"Of course, I was surprised you didn't want a house call, though. I can't remember the last time you actually came to me," the doctor replies, filling out yet another form.

"I just thought Kyle would enjoy a little outing. The weather's been so nasty lately, and he's been so well behaved." His eyes flash slightly. "More or less. I wanted to reward him."

"You're one lucky omega, huh?" Dr. McCormick looks at me with friendly blue eyes that are clearly blind to the reality of my situation. 

I don't reply, choosing instead to slide down from the table, the gown crackling as I move. I just want to get dressed and get out of here as soon as possible. 

I suppose it could be worse, though; at least I'm not pregnant.

There's a noticeable shift in the atmosphere after we leave the doctor's office. I sit as still as i can in the car while Damien stares out the window, finger tapping his leg over and over. His garnet ring flashes in the sun, making me writhe inside from anxiety. 

It's at times like this that I'm acutely aware of just how much Damien frightens me. He runs so hot and cold, and his moods shift so easily from kindness to displeasure that I never know what to expect. It's hard to believe this is the same man that had treated me to lunch just hours before; had let me lay my head in his lap. 

I also want to ask him where we're staying the night because the sun's already beginning to set, but I don't want to make him angrier. Rather, I slide into the corner and try to make myself as small and quiet as possible. 

We ride in silence for a long time before Damien speaks quietly. "Your arm doesn't hurt from the needle, does it?"

I touch the crook of my arm where Karen had taken the blood; terrified at the time at the sight of the needle but enduring it all the same. 

"Not very much, no," I murmur. 

He nods, still gazing out the window where the sky is darkening. He lets out a long breath. "I know it was foolish to hope, but I couldn't help myself, you know."

He sounds so deflated that I almost feel sorry for him, but my sympathy can only stretch so far. "May I ask you a question, please?"

He finally looks at me, his features inscrutable. "Yes, my love. What is it?"

I twist my cloak in my hands, sure that I'm going to earn myself a punishment for being forward, but I have to know. "Why are you so preoccupied with having children?"

To my utter shock he actually smiles, and it's soft and a little wistful. "It's the one thing I can't purchase. Yes, I know that I could adopt or even buy a child - you can pretty much buy anything these days, but it wouldn't be the same. The child wouldn't carry my family's blood, it wouldn't share my likeness at all. I only want to hand my legacy over to someone worthy of it."

"I suppose I'm trying to prove something to myself, and to my father, of course, that there's nothing beyond my reach. Whatever I want I can have, whatever I wish to do will be done. So far, this is the one thing that's eluded me, and I can't accept that. I won't."

His eyes flash crimson again, and after seeing them that way during my heat, the way Mr Tucker's irises had begun to turn red as well, i have to wonder if this change is the result of desire, fury, or both. Having an emotion too strong to adequately contain it. 

I look down at my lap, where my hands are still twisting my cloak. I'd expected him to tell me that he wanted children because it's what Alphas glory in; finding omegas and mating with them, increasing their numbers and showing off their prowess; letting the world know how strong and virile they are, but what I'd heard sounded more vulnerable than that. It was like Damien was actually admitting that he was afraid of something. 

Failure. 

"You really seem to value your father's opinion," I say softly. 

Like a door being shut, Damien's reply is abrupt and curt. "I don't wish to discuss that subject with you. Is that understood?"

"Y-yes -"

"Yes, what?"

"Master," I say quickly. "Yes, master, I'm sorry."

"Fine," he snaps. Pushing a button, the tinted window separating us from the driver slowly slides down. "How close are we, Clyde?"

"About 15 minutes, sir," he replies.

"Very well." He slides the window back up. He goes back to ignoring me again in favor of looking out the window. The sun has completely set now.