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Rise

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“What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
  Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind;
    In the primal sympathy
    Which having been must ever be;
    In the soothing thoughts that spring
    Out of human suffering;
    In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.”

- William Wordsworth


".... do you need help...?..."

"...... no, it's okay, I've got him; just get the door...."

There are voices swimming in the darkness, but I feel trapped; lost and alone.

"... here, just wait, and I'll go get him... Karen told me he had a house call earlier but he'd be back in time...."

I'm numb, but there's light in front of me, I think. I'm just so tired and confused. I'm aware of movement but I don't really feel connected to my body.

"...shit, he got pretty banged up, didn't he? Come on, bring him back here."

I moan softly and I feel pressure around me; warmth. I'm being shushed but it's gentle.

"Karen, grab supplies for a lac, and bring a gown. We need to get him dry and warmed up. Quick."

"I'm on it."

"Put him here, be careful with his head."

I'm being placed on a hard surface that crinkles, and the air is dry and smells sharp. Memories are coming back of this odor, of being poked and prodded, examined; made to strip, and the terror is taking away some of the numbness. Whimpering, i slowly open my eyes and blink; I'm met with whiteness and blurred movement. I begin to whine, loudly and ceaselessly until my hand is being taken and softly squeezed.

"Well, hello there," a friendly, familiar voice says at my side, and Dr. McCormick's cheerful face is swimming into my field of vision. I pull back in surprise, trembling harder; the sudden movement waking up all the pains in my body; throbbing, burning, aching.

"Try to stay calm, he won't hurt you. He wants to help," another voice speaks, and Mr Tucker is there, coming to brush the curls from my face. He gazes into my eyes and some of my trembles ease, especially when his aroma reaches my nose. "Is that okay?"

I'm confused but I nod, not taking my eyes off of him until the doctor is speaking again.

"I heard you took a tumble, Kyle," he says, snapping on a pair of gloves. He looks me over, his blue eyes becoming a little less animated. "Quite a few tumbles, actually. Wanna tell me what happened?"

I don't, not really, mainly because the experience had been a living nightmare and I have no reason to really trust this person because of his connection to Damien. I keep my mouth closed, staring at him.

Tricia is beside me then, anxious-looking and pale. She places a hand very lightly on my arm. "I know it's hard to believe given what's already happened to you, but you can trust Dr McCormick, Kyle. He's a friend."

My voice is rusty and faint when I speak, and the effort is incredibly taxing. "H-how is t-that possible? Damien brought me to him before. They acted like they were f-friends."

"Fair question," the doctor says, drawing my focus back to his face. He's grim. "I have to play nice with a lot of Alphas in order to help your kind at all...I hate it but that's the lay of the land. I got into this business to be of service to omegas, though; not the Alphas. I promise you that."

I want to believe him so badly, and part of me does because he'd been kind to me when I'd seen him before; he'd even shaken my hand like I was a person instead of property. But still, I'm afraid; deeply afraid of everything happening. It's all so confusing and filled with pitfalls.

"Kyle," Mr Tucker murmurs, crouching so we're eye to eye. His face is so soft, and he places a warm hand on my cheek. "Please believe that we would never put you in danger. I'm just asking you to trust us... trust that we really want what's best for you."

He strokes a finger down my cheek, brushing lightly over the gland in my neck. I shiver, leaning into the touch and wanting more; craving it. Sighing, I nod, looking at him with all the affection and trust I can muster. He smiles slowly; small, but it fills me with warmth.

"Thank you," he says softly.

I manage to take my eyes away from his, though it's a struggle, and I look back at the doctor who's been quietly watching this exchange. I clear my throat again, wincing.

"I escaped," I start, everything rushing back into my memory like a flood. "I managed to get away by climbing out a window, but Damien figured out I'd run away before I could be picked up, and I ended up falling down an incline in the forest." Ducking my head i blush hotly, knowing I probably look so stupid and clumsy. "I panicked and slipped...I fell into a creek and used it as a path... they chased me, and I was so scared that I just...I don't know, i couldn't think straight. I tripped and hurt my wrist, my shoulder...I landed on some rocks and cut my side..."

He nods. "May I take a look?"

Fear siezes me but I stay still. "Yes."

Gently, he peels away the tattered remains of my gown, studying my side where the wound snakes through my skin. "Gonna need some stitches, I'm afraid. Not many, but a fair few."

I choke up at these words, shaking again, when Karen comes back with supplies and a gown. "Okay, everyone out. I need to get Kyle situated and we don't need an audience."

"May I help?" Tricia asks me.

I nod, my voice lost as I try to wrap my head around what's about to happen. After the others have left, the door is shut and I'm helped from the table, nearly collapsing when my feet touch the floor, but with their help i stay standing.

Carefully, they take me out of my gown; the article ruined from moisture and mud; torn on stones and rocks and covered with my blood. I watch with a muted satisfaction as it's discarded.

"He had it made for me, just for the occasion," I say blankly as my undergarments are removed as well, leaving me naked and shivering in the stark lighting. I wrap my arms around myself, ashamed.

"It's alright," Karen murmurs, helping me into the gown and letting me use her strength to climb back onto the table. Tricia takes my hand.

"Lie back," she says, "I'll stay with you until you're all done, if you want."

"Please."

"Do you want Craig in here, too?"

I clutch my gown around myself, and while I want Mr Tucker close I don't want him to see my body; not like this. "I don't know. Can you tell him to stay but not look at me...I don't want to offend him..."

"I'll tell him," Karen offers and when I nod she leaves.

I start to cry quietly then, from the pain, the fear, the humiliation; everything descending until I'm falling apart. Tricia gathers me close and rocks me, reassuring me softly.

"This isn't your fault, you aren't in trouble... you're okay and soon you'll feel better. We'll make sure of it."

"I'm just so sorry," I sob, "I couldn't even run away correctly, and now I've made even more problems for you."

"None of that," she says. "Remember, we aren't going to blame ourselves for the bad things other people do? And you made it, Kyle... you got away. You did wonderfully."

I hide my face in her bosom then, aware when the door opens and the others return. I don't look up even as the doctor examines my side, telling me what he's going to do before he does it.

"Just gonna wash the area first so we can numb it," he says gently, "then we'll stitch you up good as new."

I scream behind my lips when I feel the needle in my side, but then I'm numb and the relief is immense. After that, I drift as I'm attended to, looking up now and again to see Karen assisting and Mr Tucker standing by, somber-faced and focused. His scent fills the room and i relax further, my tears drying up.

"Good, now that that's squared away, let me take a look at what else we have here," the doctor says, pulling my gown apart after having me sit up. He's stern when he speaks again, his hands softly touching my back.

"You have old bruises and cuts back here," he says, "all down your back. Can you stand, please?"

I do, awkwardly and with Tricia's help, and he touches the healing wounds on my thighs and backside. He growls and I flinch.

"Damien punished me," I whisper. "With a belt."

"Son of a bitch," Dr McCormick mutters. "He's one of the worst offenders I've seen when it comes to corporal punishment."

Looking up, I'm relieved to see that Mr Tucker is looking away, but his expression is harder now; jaw set.

"Well, I'll get all these cuts tended to, and I'm almost positive your wrist is broken and your shoulder is slightly displaced," he sighs. "I've got my work cut out for me but we'll put you to rights."

I sigh, thanking him before a pang registers low in my belly and I'm panting, aching between my legs; the heat rising in my bones, my blood. "What about," I gasp out softly, "my heat...I can feel it coming and I just can't...I don't want..."

I cover my mouth. God, this is humiliating.

"I've got suppressants for that," he tells me. "They're heavy duty because I can tell you're close, so they may make you feel sick."

"I don't care, I'll take them. Anything to give me more time."

"Very well. Karen?"

"I'll get them," she says, turning to leave.

"Might as well grab some more scent blocker, just in case, and pain meds. Probably something for nausea and anxiety." He smiles at me. "We'll set you up, don't worry."

The next couple hours are a blur as I'm tended to, washed and bandaged. The doctor takes something called an xray, laughing at my look of amazement when he shows me my bones; tender when setting my wrist and splinting it; popping my shoulder back into place and patting my back when I cry softly from the terrible pain. 

By the end I'm almost shaking from exhaustion and emotional upheaval; nodding on the table and hazy from suppressants and pain medication. I coast through my blurry wonderings, barely able to form coherent thoughts; head heavy and tongue thick.

"He needs to rest," the doctor says to Tricia and Mr Tucker. "He's been through quite a lot. Where are you guys planning on going? Damien's ruthless but I'm sure you already know that... he won't make any of this easy."

"We know," Mr Tucker says gruffly. "We won't tell you our exact destination just to protect you, but it's far. Our grandmother's old place."

"It needs some work, but we think it's for the best," Tricia adds, opening a bag and pulling out some clothing; thick pajamas and a coat. "Let's get you dressed, Kyle."

Karen helps and soon I'm warm and somewhat comfortable, though I'm unsteady from the drugs in my system. I sway but I'm caught in strong arms, and my senses are filled with Mr Tucker again. In my haze I nuzzle close to him as he lifts me, and I purr softly; not caring that I'm being forward.

"We need to move," he says. "I want to be on the road before dawn and it's close."

"Right," the doctor says. "Karen put together a bag of meds and supplies for you to take. Keep his wounds clean and bandaged, and that splint should stay on..."

I fade out then, so weary from it all and so content being next to Mr Tucker; slipping into the darkness again and allowing the waters to close over my head, letting go completely.

--------

I come to and I'm lying in the back of a car, the countryside moving swiftly beyond the window and turning into a white and brown blur. The light is bright, the sun a watery disc behind heavy clouds.

Shifting, I see that Mr Tucker is driving and Tricia is sitting beside him, reading a book. Soft music plays in the background and I'm confused as to where it's coming from. I groan when I move, the pain lighting up in my nerves, prompting Tricia to turn. She looks tired, purple shadows under her eyes, but her voice is chipper.

"Hey there. You hungry?"

I consider this, and I become very aware of how hollow my middle feels, my stomach growling softly. "A little."

She fishes in a bag at her feet and draws something out, offering it to me. It's wrapped in wax paper, and when I open it I see that it's a sandwich made with thick bread. I take a bite and sigh, tasting cheese and turkey; almost tearing up because I'm just so grateful.

"Eat it all," she adds, taking out a thermos. "You can't take your pain meds and suppressants on an empty stomach. How do you feel?"

"Okay, but I'm starting to hurt again," I say, guilty for complaining. "But -"

"Do I need to stop?" Mr Tucker asks, watching me in the rear view mirror. "I can if you have to relieve yourself."

Flushing, I shake my head, ignoring my slightly full bladder. He's already seen too much of me at this point; we don't need to discuss this too. I finish my sandwich quickly, sitting up and whining low at the pain. I accept the cup Tricia hands me, as well as a handful of pills.

I take them, slowly drinking the juice. I close my eyes as I try to get my bearings.

"Better?" Tricia asks.

"More or less, thank you." I open my eyes to look out the window again, leaning heavily against the door. "Where are we?"

"We've left Colorado. A while ago, actually," Mr Tucker says, accepting a sandwich from Tricia. He smells so good, but there's a tensive weariness about his aroma now. "The trip should take about two days, give or take. With minimal stops, of course."

I try to understand what I'm hearing, but it's so big. I've never been so far from home; my worldview so small that I almost feel like we've simply left the planet behind. I also can't believe that they're going out of their way for me like this... what's the payoff for them?

"I hope I'm not disrupting too much," I say carefully. "I mean, if you need to drop me off somewhere and I go on alone, I completely-"

"Let's get this out of the way right now," Mr Tucker says, cutting me off. "We're going to help you as much as we can, and we aren't going to abandon you, Kyle. Do you understand?"

I shake my head, grateful but still so confused.

He sighs. "Have you seen the ocean before?"

I shake my head again.

"Well, you will soon enough... hopefully you'll like it."

"Craig," Tricia sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. "You're only making this more confusing."

"How?"

"Think about it, please. This is a lot to drop in his lap all at once."

I'm still trying to adjust to the idea of traveling to the ocean; this train of thought hampered by the drugs filtering into my blood again. "The ocean, really? Which one?"

Tricia glances at me. "The Atlantic."

"Oh." I blink, my eyelids starting to droop. "Well. I'm not even sure what to say to that, but I've always wanted to see it. Especially after reading that book you gave me."

"Oh? Which one?"

"The Little Mermaid."

She's delighted and begins rummaging in yet another bag. "Would you like to read something now? I've brought so many books...I figured they'd come in handy."

I'm nodding already, though; head lolling to the side as sleep begins to overtake me once more. I hear Mr Tucker's deep voice through my fatigue.

"He's exhausted, Trish. Let's just let him be for now."

"You're right. Here, Kyle, lie down and I'll cover you up, okay? That way...."

Her voice fades slowly away and once again, I'm taken by the darkness; falling into corridors filled with dreams and whirling clouds of stars.

Time passes in a blur as we travel long roads seemingly without end. I spend the majority of the time flitting in and out of sleep, weary from healing and medications; lulled as the car moves along and I listen to music and my companion's soft voices.

Soon it's all a haze of sleeping, eating on occasion, pills, and stopping to use the bathroom or get some fresh air, which Tricia insists on. She frets about me being cooped up in a "stuffy car" but I assure her that it's paradise in comparison to where I've been.

Through it all, Mr Tucker maintains his taciturn leanings, always making sure that we aren't being followed or watched; vigilant at every moment. He's soft when he does speak but there's an air about him that seems hectic, like he's sitting on a lot of energy and strong emotion he's afraid to let go of. There's been many times where I've discovered him looking at me and our eyes lock, and that energy grows until I'm overwhelmed with it; turning away to hide the way I flush.

We're traveling in strange country that's entirely new to me, having been raised in the forest and near the mountains. The terrain flattens out eventually and there are wide fields, the skies vast above us. The houses are scattered and many are derelict; the businesses we pass few and far between. They too are mostly falling into disrepair, and we don't see nearly as many vehicles as I thought we would.

"We're kind of in no man's land out here," Mr Tucker explains at one point when I'm able to stay awake for a fair amount of time. "In fact, this area and the one we're traveling to are still pretty empty... when the Sickness began to spread it started in major hubs in the east and then moved west. We were all fortunate to be as far away as we were, or our parents were, at least."

"The devastation was worst in this region, though, where we're taking you," he adds. "They haven't rebuilt nearly as much out here as they have out west... most places are shut up and abandoned. It's quiet for the most part, which is for the best, i think."

"Damien doesn't have allies out here?" I ask, cradling my broken wrist in my lap; it throbs on occasion with a deep, vicious ache, but my head is finally clearing from the pain medication and I like it that way.

"Oh, I'm sure he has acquaintances all over, him and his father alike, but the attitude is different out here, a little less backwards. They won't have as much support."

I consider this, some of my apprehension abating at the confidence in his voice. Some, not all, of course. "How long are we going to be out here?"

He looks at me in the rear view mirror, the setting sun casting dark shadows to play over his face. His mouth is firm. "As long as it takes."

The first time I see the water I'm mesmerized, pressing my face to the window before rolling it down, filling my nose and lungs with the salty tang of the sea winds. We're crossing over a long, high bridge and the water stretches on forever; gray and shiny as silver coins; the sun resting beyond it where white birds hover against the clouds.

I'm amazed, so much so that I can't speak for a moment, but Tricia laughs and reaches back to touch my knee.

"Isn't it pretty?"

"I've never seen anything like it...I never thought I would, either." A shard of sadness breaks into my mood. "I bet my brother would love this. I know he would."

"We'll find him, Kyle," Mr Tucker says, leaving the bridge behind as we roll into a city that's obviously seen better days; entering a roundabout with a large statue of a fish with a sharp nose at its center. It's crumbling and one of the fins has been knocked off. The buildings we pass are products of what have to be bygone days; advertising summer sales and boats for rent, swimsuits and beach towels. The streets are eerily empty save for a few stragglers, and signs of encroaching nature are all around; cracked roads and sidewalks with grass growing wild in the crevices; bushes overgrown and trees sprawling and not cut back.

The atmosphere is unsettling, like we're the last people on earth, but Tricia and Mr Tucker are unfazed as the car rolls along, drawing us closer to the immensity of the ocean, until we pull into the lot of a large building that, like the trees, sprawls itself out wide; a bigger building at its center and others lined up with a series of doors down their fronts. A faded sign sags at the top of a decaying pole that reads "The Oceanic".

"Our grandmother owned this place in its heyday. Before she passed from the sickness it was one of the most popular motels this side of the inlet," Tricia says proudly, opening the door to step out; opening mine as well. "You should've seen it back then, Kyle; it was wonderful."

"I can tell," I say, weakly climbing out as well and looking all around; the buildings weathered and worn, but through the ravages of time I can see glimpses of what used to be, and I'm intrigued. The motel sits right next to the water, a sloped beach leading down to the waves. I stare at it longingly until Tricia takes my arm.

"Would you like to get a closer look?"

For whatever reason, I find myself glancing at Mr Tucker to see his response to this suggestion. He's watching the water and frowning, but he nods when he notices I'm looking at him.

"That should be okay," he says. "It'll give me time to bring in our bags and check out the rooms. Clear them out."

"Come on," Tricia says, pulling me gently toward the water, going slow because I'm stiff and still hurting in many, many places. I'm just grateful to be wearing normal shoes again; a pair of boots that are a little too big for me. I'm in a pair of what has to be Tricia's old pajamas, the fabric a soft pink. Over top I'm wearing an oversized coat that I'm practically swimming in.

Stepping into the sand is an odd sensation, like I'm sinking, but Tricia keeps me steady as I get used to it. I can't take my eyes off of the sea, and up close i can see that it's so many colors at once; green, dark blue, gray; rivulets of creamy foam lying like a lattice over top. When the waves crash against the sand the sound is violent and powerful, making my heart pound with delight.

"I love it," I say, coming closer but not enough to get splashed, already shivering from the frigid winds; the temperature seeming to fall the longer we stay. In the distance the birds scream and the sun descends like it's been dropped; sinking through clouds that seem to catch fire as the day slowly dies. Turning to Tricia, i hug her arm closer to my front. "Thank you. For everything."

She just smiles, and in this moment I can see just how alike her eyes are to the sea, and I'm sighing with a deep contentment i didn't now I could feel anymore.

-----

Tricia and I share a room that smells musty at first, but with the windows and doors thrown wide it gradually airs out as the days pass. There are two beds, each with a dark green coverlet, and plenty of space for our clothing and incidentals; a small bathroom adjoining it that's very convenient once Mr Tucker gets the water running again. That and the electricity, and soon I'm learning that he's actually very handy; capable of doing most of the maintenance on his own.

"It's just his way," Tricia explains one afternoon as we watch Mr Tucker chopping wood that we'll use that evening to cook dinner over, down on the beach where he's assembled a pit. "He does all of this at home on the farm."

"So that's what he does," I say, trying not to be too obvious in my admiration of Mr Tucker's form as he swings the ax with what appears to be effortless ease; sweat dripping down his face from under his old hat. I can smell him, his wonderful, calming aroma. It's everywhere, it seems; in my room, on my clothes... it's like I'm wading through it, and even with my suppressants I'm weak to it, my body thrumming and yearning terribly for him. Responding to him completely.

But he seems to be keeping his distance from me, waking early to do chores and staying out most of the day, only really coming around to take care of things around the motel and to help with dinner at night. That's the only time I really have an opportunity to be near him, and I drink it in until I'm floating with happiness and a low-simmering frustration.

Mostly I'm spending my days with Tricia, reading and learning; being tutored from all the books she brought. My mind is opening up as she fills it with math and history and the sciences, and it's so fulfilling that I've become ravenous for more. We read stories together and discuss them, what they mean to us, and i become aware of concepts like symbolism and themes; metaphorical language and pathos.

I'm healing even if the process is slow, and fortunately I didn't break the wrist of the hand I favor, so I'm able to practice my writing. We sit together for hours and listen to the ocean roar to itself, reaching beyond this place through every book we explore.

I've seen Mr Tucker reading at night, after he's taken his dinner and relaxed a little, going to lie in one of the hammocks he's strung up close to the beach. I sit next to the fire, my hands cool in the sand and watch, never tiring of looking at him, wanting more than anything for him to look at me. To want me the way I want him; needful and almost scary in how deeply the obsession is beginning to run.

Now I'm looking at him chopping wood and that desire is enough to make it hard to breathe. I set my book aside, unable to concentrate on it. My belly is fluttering and I feel so restless, tired of staying mostly indoors and hiding away.

"Did you want to take a walk?" Tricia asks, lowering her book as well. She gives me a knowing look, an understanding in her eyes that makes me feel warm. I look away, my focus immediately straying to her brother.

"I guess," I say, beginning to rise when she calls out to Mr Tucker.

"Craig, come over here, please!"

I freeze, watching as he drops his ax and clears the sweat from his brow. He comes over, his shirt dark with perspiration, the clean smell of his extertion mixing with his natural musk. I almost swoon as he approaches but I stay still, my hands clenching on my coat.

"Did you need something?" he asks his sister, pointedly not looking in my direction.

"You're going fishing before too long, right?"

"Yes, that was the plan. Otherwise dinner will be only vegetables and potatoes."

"Well, I'm planning on taking a nap soon, and Kyle needs to stretch his legs, I think. Can he join you?"

Embarrassed, I duck my head when Mr Tucker finally looks my way, grateful for Tricia's assistance but riddled with shame all the same. I must look so desperate -

Which, in truth, I am. I just didn't want Mr Tucker to realize it.

There's silence, save for the ocean's sound, until Mr Tucker speaks in his quiet way.

"You aren't too tired? I fish down at the inlet, there at the end of the boardwalk, and it's a ways from here."
I keep my eyes averted when I answer, elated that he doesn't seem to be rejecting the idea outright. "No, sir. I believe I can keep up, but I'll let you decide. I don't want to hold you up."

He sighs softly. "Very well. I'll finish with the wood and then meet you out here when you're ready to go. Is that plan to your liking?"

I can only nod but on the inside I'm joy and excitement, so much that my hands are shaking.

Tricia hums softly as she helps me get ready. I told her it wasn't necessary but she insisted, offering me a dress to take the place of the worn out garments I've been wearing; comfortable and reminiscent of the clothes I'd worn at the Facility before being purchased by Damien.

I stare at the pretty gown, green with a full skirt, and I'm surprised that I'm drawn to it.

"I didn't wear these sorts of clothes before going to live with Damien," I say. "At first I didn't understand and I hated them, but now, I don't know...I almost feel like I prefer them. Is that typical of my dynamic or just a preoccupation unique to myself?"

"I think it's a little of both," Tricia replies. "From what I understand, as an omega matures, they tend to gravitate towards things that are considered feminine, but not all of them do that... it really seems to depend on your preferences."

"It's all so odd," I reply softly. "It's like I'm only starting to get to know myself now... like I've been a stranger to my own mind and dynamic  my whole life."

"The Alphas like to keep your kind in the dark and naive," she says, helping me dress; still clumsy because of my injuries. "It makes it easier to control you."

After I'm dressed, Tricia helps me with my hair, offering a satin ribbon to tie my curls back with, and I'm sad to see the bruises still lingering on my face, the ghost of a cut on my cheek. She kisses my head.

"You look very pretty, I promise."

"Does Mr Tucker like omegas in dresses?" I ask, shrugging on one of her nicest cloaks.

"I think he likes you to wear whatever you prefer," she replies, opening the door for me and i step out into the cold sunshine. Across the way I can see Mr Tucker waiting. Tricia gives me a little nudge.

"Have fun," she whispers.

Mr Tucker nods when I approach, taking up his supplies; a basket, a tackle box, and a fishing rod.

"May I carry something?" I ask timidly.

He seems to consider this, glancing at my splinted wrist for a moment. He then offers me the rod. "If it becomes too cumbersome let me know."

I take the rod and lean it against my shoulder, falling into step beside him as we move away from the motel. We go out to the sidewalk but he walks in the street, making it so the height difference between us isn't as profound. He looks straight ahead, stoic as always.

I'm at a loss for words, truly. I've been dreaming of a moment like this, being alone with Mr Tucker without barriers, for so long, that now that we're together I realize I have no idea how to talk to him. Scrambling, I allow the silence to stretch on as we walk along.

"How are you feeling?" he finally asks, not looking at me. "Should we stop to rest?"

"No, no, I'm fine. My strength is returning every day," I say quickly.

"I'm glad to hear that."

Silence falls again, and a soft wind moves through, bringing his scent to me. I sigh before I can stop myself, blushing furiously.

"Have you fished before?" he asks. If he noticed my utterance he doesn't mention it.

"Yes, I used to fish with my brother in the creek back home all the time. He was always better at it, though."

"If your wrist wasn't hurt I'd let you try today. If you wanted, of course."

"Thank you, sir. That's kind of you."

We walk a little further, and while my heart is racing I'm beginning to relax slightly. He's just so gentle and I know I have nothing to fear in him, I'm just so scared of the way i feel; the intensity of my admiration.

"About your brother," he says. I perk up. "I've been tracking him since we've been here. I have connections back home that work in the underground and I've asked them to keep an ear to the wind regarding him."

"Tricia told me he was last seen at a Beta workhouse but he'd moved on before you could find him," I say.

"That's right. I found out recently that he was most likely taken in by one of the prominent families as a servant, but I've yet to figure out which one. I'll let you know as soon as I find out anything."

I breathe a deep sigh of relief. "So he's safe for now."

"Hopefully. Damien has a far reach, though, and he's as spiteful as they come. We need to locate Ike before he does, but I'm confident it can be done. Once we've found him, I'll go to fetch him and bring him here to you."

I stop, the wind bringing me his scent again and rustling my cloak, and I clutch at the fishing pole, the tears already building in my eyes. He turns, worry on his face to see me quietly crying like a little fool with no sense.

"Should we go back? Maybe it was a mistake to take you out so soon after everything," he says, coming to me. I can feel his warmth.

I shake my head. "It isn't that. I'm just so grateful for what you've done... you and Tricia. You've been so kind to me, and you aren't getting anything in return."

He's quiet before turning away. "I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but your gratitude is more than enough for now."

Puzzled, I wipe my eyes and follow after him, but he's wordless until we reach the inlet. The sea is crashing against large rocks on the shore, and out in the middle of the water is a long cluster of even larger rocks.

"A jetty," he explains, setting down his basket and tackle box. "Helps protect the coast from the larger waves. And see there, out beyond it, that stretch of land?"

I look to see where he's pointing and nod, going to a railing but not touching it, unsure of its sturdiness.

"That's the island where the wild horses live," he says, coming over and standing close. "Maybe we'll go there sometime. There's a way to drive to it, but it's rather far away."

"I would like that," I say, gazing at the faraway island, the waves; the sea birds crying and taking flight. My hair falls into my eyes and I push it away before turning to him, and he's looking out at the water, too. I offer the fishing pole, our eyes meeting briefly before he goes to ready it.

Soon he's cast his line into the water, and I watch for a time before I stroll away, out over the rocks that dapple the sea, and I'm charmed at the little crabs that scatter away, the way the water pools around the stones and gathers in hollowed out places. There are tide pools teeming with life and I crouch, dipping my fingers into the cold water; tiny universes at my feet.

On occasion I look back at Mr Tucker to see him casting his line again, and my heart is full from the sight. A fantasy builds itself in my head, that he's in love with me too, and we live by the sea permanently, maybe in a little cottage like the one i see in my dreams; white and simple. We take walks in the evening on the beach before dinner, and at night we lie side by side while the waves crash in the distance.

I try to envision what being with him would be like; taken into his arms and held close. I'm sure he'd be gentle, loving, especially so during my heat when I'd need him to fill me so badly.

I sigh, rising and looking back, and he's beckoning to me. I go to him, taking care not to slip on he slick, salt- covered rocks.

"You were out a little far, I was starting to worry," he says, pulling a wiggling fish off the hook. He tosses it into the basket and gives me a look of apology. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't tell you where to go. I'm sure you've had your fill of that."

"I have but i get the feeling you don't wish to control me as much as you want to keep me safe," I say, smiling. "At least that's what I hope."

He lets out a long breath as he baits his hook again. "That's all I've wanted since I first saw you."

"I've never doubted that you'd do anything in your power to keep me from harm," I murmur, cheeks burning. "You're kind... that's something I realized the moment I met you. It almost seemed like too much to believe."

Standing, he casts his line, the sun setting over the water now and throwing bloody rays across it. "I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, though. I'm far from perfect and I'm not always kind. In a way I suppose I'm trying to make up for things from my past... things I'm not proud of."

My heart hurts to hear him speak of himself this way, and I want nothing more than to comfort him. "Tricia told me about your father's business. You can't blame yourself for the things he's chosen to do. You walked away... from power, from money. A lot of Alphas wouldn't have done that."

"You're right about that, but the damage was already done." He's tone is sharpening now, and I'm afraid I've overstepped myself. He sighs. "Would you like to take a look at the boardwalk before we head back? I've been meaning to show it to you."

It's amazing how swiftly my emotions can change depending on his tone or the way he looks at me, but now I'm switching to elation once more.

"Yes, please."

After he's caught enough, his basket stuffed with riggling, silvery fish, he hands me the fishing pole again and we walk from the inlet to the boardwalk; up a set of crumbling stairs. As we ascend, a long stretch of shops and a crumbling, pitted walkway appear before us.

"It isn't what it used to be, but then again nothing is," he says, helping me up the stairs, his hand on my elbow. Before I can relish the feeling he takes his hand away. We stroll along slowly, and I'm speechless at this strange place.

It's like a decaying fairyland, rife with old shops that have mostly shattered windows and bright pictures of odd foods everywhere; faded, but I can tell they used to be bright and eye catching.

They have strange names like 'Jessica's Fudge House' and 'Dumsers'. I peer into doorways to see that the shops have been ransacked, the tables overturned and broken glass everywhere; dust and cobwebs strung like veils across the mess.

"They were mostly gutted very soon after everything really went to Hell," he explains, leading the way. "Anything worth taking is already gone, I suspect."

"It's like walking through a graveyard," I say, rubbing my arms. I try not to think about the cemetery behind the mansion but that proves impossible. Still, it feels like we're being watched by those that have long since passed on.

"I like to keep places like this in mind, just as a standing testament to how mankind handles its problems," Mr Tucker says quietly. "I've been reading up on the sickness and from what I understand the catastrophic fallout could've been avoided if we'd worked together to keep it contained... but most of us were too selfish to work together." He sweeps his arm wide. "And here we are. Pretty grim, huh?"

"It's sad," I murmur. "I would've liked to see this place before it turned into this."

"And I would've loved to bring you here," he replies. He clears his throat, walking ahead. I hurry to keep up, staying close.

For a time there's shops on either side of us, all in disrepair, until we break away and the shops are all on one side, the view opening up to reveal the beach and the ocean. My eyes widen to see strange machines shining under the dying sun; collapsed and twisting like metal serpents.

The largest is shaped like a giant wheel, listing to the side and stretching out over the water. The waves beat against it, splashing among the beams and works. I've never seen anything like it.

"A ferris wheel," Mr Tucker says, stopping to observe. "This used to be an amusement park. Hard to tell now, huh?"

I stare, hardly knowing what to think, the sun almost gone now. A stiff, cold wind moves up the alley between the shops, whistling and sounding lonely. I shiver and move closer to him.

Out of nowhere, he puts an arm around my shoulders and it's all I can do to not begin purring right there, my face flushing pleasantly. He turns me back toward where we came from, the sky falling into a shade of dusky purple. The stars are coming out, and all I want him to do is hold me like this, closer, until I drown in him. Until we stop being separate... where I can forget where he ends and where I begin.

"Let's head back," he says, letting me go but he's slow to withdraw his arm. "It's getting late and it'll be too cold soon."

Night has fallen completely by the time we have dinner, the fire a burning red flower on the beach; the smells of fresh fish and wood smoke filling the cold air. I huddle close to the fire and watch as the siblings work together to make dinner, Mr Tucker overseeing the fish and Tricia attending to the potatoes and vegetables.

"We'll need more supplies soon," she comments, using a long fork to turn the sliced potatoes over.

"I'll take care of it," he says, looking at me across the fire. I smile and his lips twitch. He looks away.

"Can I help?" I ask. "I'm feeling so much better and I want to do something. Please."

Mr Tucker clears some sand from his hands while he seems to think about this request. "I suppose you could come along when I fetch supplies. If that would interest you."

Tricia and I share a look before she goes back to the potatoes, a small grin on her face. I nudge her lightly.

"I would love that."

"Very well," he says, refusing to meet my eyes now, but his scent changes; making me shudder deliciously under my cloak.

Dinner is pleasant but that's nothing new. I feel like I've been living a dream, being around people who love each other and care for me, all of us working together to make the long days pass as comfortably as possible. We sit on the beach to eat, the fire glowing and throwing shadows, talking about our days.

"How was fishing?" Tricia asks. "You certainly caught a lot."

"They were practically leaping out of the water at me," Mr Tucker says, taking another helping. He eats more than Tricia and i combined, but I like to see him enjoying himself.

"Would you like more vegetables?" I ask, taking up the pan.

He holds out his plate, nodding. I give him a large portion. In that moment, I realize I really don't mind serving him; the idea of us taking care of each other very appealing. It would be my choice, and I wouldn't resent the responsibility. I'd cherish it.

"Mr Tucker took me to see the boardwalk," I say, settling in beside Tricia. "I can only imagine what it was like before... all those huge machines."

Tricia snickers behind her hand. "There you go again."

I blink. "Huh?"

"Calling my brother 'Mr Tucker'. I think it's so amusing."

I blush hotly. "I've called him by his first name before, you just didn't hear me. Besides, I want to be polite."

Setting his plate aside, Mr Tucker places more wood on the fire, causing an avalanche of sparks that waft into the dark night sky. "I was actually very happy when you called me by my first name, Kyle. I'd like it if you did it more often."

"Really?" I ask, my voice a little too high.

He nods. "We're equals, aren't we? And I was starting to think that we're friends, too."

Oh, I want to be so much more than that with him, but this is a step in the right direction. Heart fluttering, I clutch my cloak beneath my chin. "Of course we're friends. Craig."

I press a hand to my mouth, ignoring the way Tricia giggles. The name was sweet on my tongue, just like the first time I'd spoken it to him; wrapped in his arms and held to his chest, next to his heart.

"That's better," he murmurs, and there's a change in his voice. I look up to see him smiling at me, the firelight turning his eyes bright; vivid pools that I'm trapped in, and gladly.

-----

The days slide together after that, becoming weeks, and I can feel myself opening up like a flower that first feels the sun. I heal and become stronger, the stitches in my side finally dissolving, and eventually my splint is removed; my wrist still weak and vulnerable to the cold, but Tricia wraps it snugly.

Every day is a dream that I can't believe is possibly real, but they are, and I gather them together to hold close when I become afraid, but with Tricia and Mr Tucker's - Craig's - influence, my mind starts to repair itself, and I can almost, almost imagine a happier future, free of Damien... free of pain and forced, humiliating servitude.

I continue to take my suppressants but I become lax about my scent blockers. We haven't seen anyone else for days, weeks, and my heat feels like it's worlds away... I've no fear of it, so long as the medications are in my blood. In fact, I've tossed aside so many omega stereotypes, being seen and not heard; demure and soft. Retiring.

No, I pitch in and help, getting my hands dirty along with Craig. We clean the motel and he begins to open up to me, talking about turning the place into a refuge for other omegas like myself; the ones that have run away, need help... need to hide for a while.

We're standing in the dining room of the main building when he tells me this, and my heart becomes a bird that beats against my ribs, and if I wasn't hopelessly in love with him before, this would be enough to draw me to him; helpless and starving for him.

"Are there others like me, willing to run?" I ask, wiping the top of an old brown piano, the dust tickling my nose. I'm in a simple slip dress, my hair lost under a kerchief. Craig is in worn jeans and a white tshirt; tight, sticking to his back as he rearranges the old tables. I sit down on the piano bench and watch, hot, but not from the work.

"I believe so," he says. "I knew someone like you once, and he tried to run... but they found him. They sold him."

Chest aching, I tuck a curl behind my ear. I can't hold back my thoughts, hoping that we're past the point of needing to hide from one another. "Are you talking about Tweek?"

He turns sharply to look at me, eyes blazing, and for a moment he reminds me of Damien; but only for a fleeting, inconsequential moment. "You already know."

I nod, sliding my hands down my thighs to my knees, and I press them together because there's a need growing in me, despite the suppressants. I feel wetness between my legs, the scent of my own slick reaching my nose to mingle with Craig's aroma. I shudder.

"Tricia told me."

"Of course she did," he mutters. "Did she also tell you that it was our father that sent him to the Auctions?"

I want to be surprised and shocked, horrified that one's own father could be that cruel, but given what's happened to me, I can't even muster up the incredulity. All I can do is hurt for him, and if he was willing, I'd open my arms and let him rest his head against my chest for a while.

Instead, he continues to work, talking as he goes, and I listen because I think that's what he needs the most right now.

"He said Tweek wasn't good enough for our family... oh, he was good enough to be taken in because distant friends needed someone to look after their son, but us being in love, wanting to be together, was just a step too far."

Coming over, he stands before me and his musk, his rage, is palpable, and I lean back, ducking my head in what I've come to learn is a classic subservient omega pose. I'd detest doing it for anyone else, but for Craig it almost feels natural...I want to defer to him because I know he won't force me; he'll let me make my own decisions.

"We were going to run away, him and i, and we were so close, but my father got to him first...sold him off, and he didn't even care who bought him, the boy he called a son. He said he considered him one of his own, but who sells their children? Who does that?!"

Closing my eyes, the tears come slowly, and I cover my face before he can see. All I can hear are my sobs and his ragged breaths before I feel his arms around me, and he's whispering apologies; begging for forgiveness, but I don't know why. He has nothing to be sorry for; even so, my heart is an open wound, raw, and I'm aching so deeply for both of us.

"Craig," I whisper, taking a hold of him as well, legs parting slowly. I pull him close and he's breathing heavily against my ear, lips grazing my neck, and I'm welcoming him completely. "Oh, Craig..."

His scent is so beautiful now, like heaven, and I'm leaning back and baring my neck; opening like the flower I've become over the past few weeks. He's the sun, and I've flourished in his light. He bites me tenderly, and I'm begging under my breath for more, more....

"Please," I say, closing my eyes and gripping him tighter, his strong muscles under my fingers. I arch to meet him, wanting him so desperately... like he's water or air.

"Kyle," he gasps, nipping me again, his hands in my hair, but he growls low, and he's pulling back, making me cry out because I'm so lonely and empty without him. He stares at me, and I can see the red growing in his irises. "Have you been using your scent blockers?"

I shake my head, panting. "It didn't seem necessary."

He growls again, stepping back and raking his hands through his hair. "We can't do this, it's wrong."

I reach for him but he moves away. "Why? How can you say that?"

"You're only drawn to me because you've been hurt. I can't take advantage of you like this... it isn't fair. You aren't thinking straight."

Anger rises in me, along with the need and sorrow. I bare my teeth. "Don't tell me how I feel... I've wanted you since the first time I saw you!"

"That can't be true."

"Why? Are you inside my head now? Do you know my thoughts?"

He wipes sweat from his face, his skin tanned from hours in the sun. "I'm not saying that, it's just... we barely know each other, right? What if you want me because I've been kind to you? If I take advantage of that than I'm no better than Damien. Right?"

Standing, I straighten my dress, and I'm very aware of my posture and bearing because I'm hurt and embarrassed. I want to appear aloof and untouchable, somewhere far away where words can't reach, but on the inside I'm breaking apart like glass, like brittle candy... his words have struck and drawn blood, and while I know he's not trying to wound me or make me feel foolish, he has just the same.

"I can understand why you would feel that way," I say, my lips trembling. "But I feel like i know you very well, or at least I can understand some of you, and what I don't know i want to learn, more than anything. It isn't because you've been kind, it's because of who you are...I admire you, Craig, and I'm happy whenever I see you. I'd give anything just to be near you, but..." I hang my head. "You're right. I'm being childish. I guess I just needed an Alpha, my better, to tell me how I feel. Otherwise, how would I ever know?"

He sighs heavily. "You know I didn't mean it that way."

"No, of course not," I manage, right on the cusp of tears. "Forgive me. Another omega misunderstanding."

"Kyle, please -"

"I need to go," I say, turning away to hide my face as the tears start to drop. I rush out of the room, and I can hear him calling my name, but I don't look back. I'm too ashamed at the clumsy way I attempted to make love to him, trying to entice him -

I run until I'm back in my room, and I ignore Tricia when she calls to me, clearly concerned. I climb into bed and cover my head, shutting my eyes and humming loudly, anything to drown out the intense abuse of my thoughts; chanting that I'm stupid, I'm a child -

That I'm just a little fool without sense, who will never understand how the world works, and that's why I'll never, never have someone like Craig Tucker, even though I love him more than I can possibly say.