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Rise

Chapter Text

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, you're out of time
But still, I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise

- Rise, Katy Perry


I am an Omega, but I will not let that define me. They want it to, but I'm still in control of my destiny, regardless of their plans. 

This is my mantra, and so far it has carried me through whatever I've been made to deal with, even what I'm enduring now; despite the smoke and haze filling up my head. 

They've drugged me with something, and I can feel it burning through my blood. It's made me heavy and slow and compliant.

It's made me the ideal Omega. I wouldn't have cooperated otherwise. 

And they knew that as soon as they looked at me. Despite the chains, I was still fighting; would continue to fight. 

I'm still fighting inside my head, where they can't see, but my inner voice is screaming; caught in the tempest raging inside of me. 

The place where the needle was inserted throbs, there in the crook of my arm. It aches when I'm held in place before the crowd. I look out at the audience with bleary, unfocused eyes, and I can see the cigarette smoke hovering over their heads. It's thick and gray and when it reaches my nose it makes me gasp softly. 

"As you can see, this specimen is still quite young," the auctioneer is saying in his deceptively melodious voice, enticing an already intrigued crowd. "He is on the cusp of 18, has experienced no Heats, and -"

He pauses, I suppose for dramatic effect; the crowd seems to hang in the balance. I merely drift. 

" - he is completely untouched."

Now there's a rustle rippling through the audience like a dark wave, voices rising with a palpable excitement. The first threads of fear unravel within me, but I cannot move so I can't do anything with them; only pant and moan and try to stay awake. 

"Turn him," the hawker says to my handler, a Beta with a bland face that I will quickly forget as soon as I'm gone from this place. 

I find myself being placed on my hands and knees, turned from the crowd and made to expose myself. I whimper as I'm spread, and I can hear the hawker detailing my virtue and assets. 

"Pure," he says, running a finger over the slope of my backside, "and we have it on good authority that not even a finger or tongue has ever been inside of him. Completely virginal."

As soon as the words leave his lips the crowd is shouting, voices mixing and fighting against one another. 

"10,000!" 

"15,000!"

And so on, the numbers climbing into the astronomical. I shut my eyes, cold fingers of dread spreading over my backbone. 

The auctioneer, however, chuckles and manages to subdue the crowd in a voice that's warm and soothing as tea laced with honey. 

"Gentlemen, the bidding hasn't formally begun, as you well know, but since you're so eager." He clears his throat before turning to the Beta. "Show the crowd his face."

I'm being turned yet again, and now a hand is pushing under my chin to raise my face to the light. 

"Open your eyes," the Beta hisses in my ear. 

I shake my head but yelp when I feel my hair being tugged. 

"Do as you're told or it'll be the whip," the hawker says in my ear, "on your palms and the soles of your feet. You didn't like that the last time, did you?"

My eyes flutter open at the memory. They hadn't wanted to leave bruises where they would matter the most, but my hands and feet still ached. 

"Red curls and green eyes," the auctioneer, back in good spirits, announces, turning my face every which way as I listlessly stare ahead. "Quite unusual, yes, and very pretty. You won't find another one like this anytime soon. So, shall we start the bidding at...30,000?"

"30!" a gruff voice calls. 

"Such enthusiasm," the man smiles, still cradling my face. "On that note, I'm sure 35 isn't out of the question..."

It isn't, and soon the air is crowded with shouts until I'm so dizzy I can barely decipher what's being proposed; 100,000...150,000... until -

"500,000," a dark, arresting voice, like chamber music, breaks through the din. It has a sensual quality on its surface, but the underside of it makes me shiver; drawing and conjuring images of bloodshed and knocks on the window at night when you're alone. It's like fear incarnate. 

Silence descends and the hawker smiles a blank-faced, jackal's grin. I can understand why. My knowledge of the Auctions is limited since schooling of any kind has been outlawed for Omegas, but even I know that half a million dollars is an unprecedented amount to pay. He lets me go and, exhausted, I hang my head in silent defeat. 

"Now that's real money," he all but purrs, standing. "Is there anyone here that can challenge such a sum?"

The atmosphere is thick with jealousy and anger, I can feel it, but there's a current of reluctant admiration. A man of means, true means, walks amongst the fray, and the collective, wealthy in their own rights, can sense it. 

"Well, then," the auctioneer nearly sighs, "I suppose I have no choice...500,000 going once, going twice..."

My head rolls towards my chest as the drug, reaching its zenith, drags me down into an abyss I can't help but welcome now. I don't even have the strength or presence of mind to cry, even though I've been torn from everything that matters to me. 

I'm just glad that my mother passed away before she saw me reduced to this, her eldest son exchanged for mere handfuls of paper. It would've broken her heart, and I pray that her spirit isn't here to witness my fall from grace. 

"SOLD!" the hawker yells out in a warped, unreal voice; malfunctioning as I succumb to the pull of the drug. Like a stone being dropped into a bottomless pool, I shut my eyes and slide under; grateful that, at the very least, I'm being spared from looking my buyer -

(owner)

- in the face while in this state of complete disarray. For the moment, I can convince myself that I'm safe...

Until I'm forced to wake up, that is. 

Chapter Text

The Sickness was evil enough on its own but it was society's response to it that made it truly diabolical. 

This all happened while i was still in the womb, and when i was old enough to somewhat understand the ways of adults, the option for schooling one of my kind was already taken away, but i knew....

It didn't need to be said out loud. The Sickness had devastated the population, but it had also afforded those already in power to become more powerful. They saw their opportunity and they took it. 

Those born with the Omega mark, or those vulnerable to it when they came of age, were not exactly second class citizens, not like the Betas, but they still didn't have the rights afforded to the Alphas. There was, after all, a food chain, a social hierarchy that needed to be upheld, and it catered to those with the strength and ruthlessness to exploit it. 

It was the same as it had always been, but now the Sickness altered the fundamental biology of the populace; forever changing the males while decimating large swaths of the female population, rendering them barren.

All hope was lost until it was discovered that Omegas could be bred. In fact, it seemed they were designed for it, taking to reproduction even more naturally than women. This fact elevated them above Betas, who really only served a purpose as work horses, servants, and whatever else the Alphas decided on; plugging up holes when they were found. Glorified untouchables. 

Sometimes, i wish i were a Beta for that very reason, but no, I've been born with the Omega Mark. Everyone's is in a different place, but it always looks the same: a 4 leaf clover. Mine is on the inside of my left thigh and comprised of light brown pigment, similar to the freckles on my nose. 

Alphas have Marks as well, a sun with jagged rays. They joke about it, that it symbolizes the light they bring to the world; bright, raw forces of nature, not to be questioned or crossed. Their Marks are always in the same place: situated behind the right ear. 

Betas have no Marks, a fact which shames them. Women don't have Marks either, the few weak scatterings that are left, anyway.

I'm part of the last generation that was born from women and as such, I have a special fondness for them. They represent a time I'll never truly know and I'm sure I romanticize them to some point, but I loved (love) my mother dearly. She wasn't the softest woman, but she wasn't unnecessarily hard either. She had a terrible situation forced on her and she tried to make the most of it. 

I was actually very lucky to be born at all... most pregnant women afflicted with the Sickness had miscarriages or died, as did their young. From my understanding, my mother's labor was long and cruel, and I was early, but we survived and she said she always thanked God for that. 

I'm not sure if I can be so thankful, though. He allowed the Sickness to exist in the first place...He looked the other way while it grew and spread. He didn't ease the darkness in men's hearts that contributed to the collapse of society. 

He hasn't stopped the suffering. If anything, it worsens every year. The weak get weaker and the strong become stronger. 

Why else would the Auctions exist? Glorified meat markets where the wealthy and elite go to buy vulnerable, incapacitated Omegas that are being used to absolve others of their debts?

My father is an Alpha, but he has a gambling problem. He also went off the rails when my mother passed. He was the odd sort that still felt compelled to love his wife, even after the Sickness rewired his brain and body... it never took him completely. He never took an Omega replacement either; no, his mistress and lover became betting and doing it poorly. Very poorly. 

That's why I was sold. To pay a debt. Not even my own, but I suppose that doesn't matter anymore, does it?

Nothing truly matters. Not for myself, anyway. At least this will keep a roof over my brother's head... it will keep him safe for a while. He's a Beta, though, and they're never truly safe... but I promised my mother that I'd look after him as best as I could. 

They can sell my body but they'll never own my mind or soul. Those are mine. They will always be mine. 

"He'll need to be bathed." A stern-voiced female is speaking. I don't look up, but I try to find some softness in her tone; there is none. 

I was sent from the Facility almost immediately after being sold. The drugs are still swimming through me, and I'm barely able to keep my feet, head nodding. The only reason I'm still standing is because my Beta handler is holding onto me so tightly. 

"He was washed to specification before being transported," my handler replies, a large Beta with short nails that jab into my skin. "Standard protocol was followed."

The woman laughs. It's short and brusque, more like a bark than anything else. 

"The Master has his own set of specifications, I assure you," she says, "but no matter, that's for me to attend to, not you. Bring him in, quickly; you're letting the cold inside."

It is indeed cold; a deep, starless night that smells of snow, raw and clean. I am dressed in the Facility's winter uniform for one of my sort: woolen pants and shirt, a long hooded cloak over top in dark blue. Still, the sharp winds work their way under my garments and make me shiver. 

"A hot bath will put you to rights," the woman says, though not kindly. 

I manage to lift my head when my hood is pulled back. The foyer is dimly-lit and smells of wood; not freshly-cut, though. No, this place has an old smell, like the passage of years has worked its way into the very foundation. The woman has a slim face and wavy, blonde hair pulled into a tight bun. She is pretty in a closed-off way; lips the color of not-yet-ripe strawberries. She won't meet my eyes.

"You're striking, I'll give you that," she comments, taking a hold of my arm when the handler finally lets go. I stumble but she catches me; encouraging me to settle my weight against her. She is warm but her clothes (homespun, maybe?) are rough. "But they all are at the beginning."

I am led slowly through a cavernous home, hallways twisting over themselves like snakes; carpets of deep green and cranberry. There are portraits on the walls, people with white faces and dark hair and eyes; mirrors in ornate golden frames. Through my fatigue it all becomes a fog of opulence, and all I can truly focus on is putting one foot in front of the other. 

I'm also acutely aware of my scent, because my mother taught me the importance of aromas in this current society. I smell afraid, but there is rage present as well, aromas mingling; blood and earth. The girl at my side smells of something artificial but soothing; synthetic lilacs, perhaps?

"I'm Bebe," she says out of nowhere, momentarily startling me from my tired stupor. "I'll be helping to look after you."

"You're rare," I murmur, watching as the carpet beneath my boots turns into marble. It looks icy smooth and cold; swirls of grey and faint violet. I smell bleach and water now, the byproducts of careful, deliberate sanitation. I scan the floor until I see the bathtub, placed in the middle of the room on a dais; already full of steaming water. It is crystal clear, reflecting the golden, soft light from above. 

"I'll help you undress," she says tightly, not responding to my moody, nonsensical statement. But it's true nonetheless...she's rare, a dying breed. This idea alone fascinates me and makes me think of my mother. A sob escapes my lips before I can stop it. 

"Don't," she says, pushing the cloak from my shoulders. It crumples and falls to the floor as I stand there, trying to ignore how tired I am; so undeniably afraid. "It won't help, not now. If anything, it's just blood in the water to the others."

The others, I think, and for a moment I'm surprised. Then I remember where I am, in a veritable palace compared to what I've come from, and it makes more sense. My buyer no doubt has amassed a harem... he clearly has the means. They're all around me, aren't they?

Now my shirt is being unbuttoned and peeled away; cool air strikes my skin. She shushes me when I whimper but doesn't stop me from hugging myself tight. Soon, my pants are being pushed down, my linen underwear, and then I'm being guided into fragrant water that's so pure I can see to the bottom of the tub. In my state of mind it seems nearly fathomless; the ocean stretching for miles and riddled with salt and hiding creatures. Like this place, it is filled with secrets and intrigue, and I've been set adrift. 

I am warm now, though, and the water reaches my shoulders. Bebe lifts a jug and pours its contents over my head. I can feel my hair becoming flattened, heavy; dense curls saturated and resting against my nape. My hair has always been a trial, from a maintenance standpoint and from making me easily noticed; like a bright beacon, a crown of fire. 

"Pretty, pretty thing," a dark, beautiful voice says softly, very close. I startle, clutching at the edge of the tub and looking over to see that I'm being watched by a pair of merlot eyes. They are enchanting, romantic and dreamy, but honed to such a fine edge that it feels like I'm being cut by them; exposed. I am both lulled and terrified, pressing my thighs closely together to shield myself, what's left of my innocence. 

"No, no," the man says, rising to sit on the edge of the tub. "You don't need to do that. I'm not looking there, not yet." He picks up a sponge and dips it into the water, lifts it to watch the droplets fall and break the tension of the surface. 

His hair is so black that it seems to trap light, nothing bouncing off it; completely absorbed like a black hole sucking up whatever happens to wander too close. He is pale and smooth, satin snowfall, and his eyes are slanted with dark eyebrows arched over top. 

I am not refined or worldly, but even from my limited knowledge and experience I know that this man is appealing in a dangerous way. In a predator's way. He is a shark, a leopard, a bird of prey -

An Alpha that is ruthless in acquiring what it wants and believes it's owed. 

"Do you hear that?" he asks, dipping the sponge again. He becomes still, cocks his head. Silence, save for my heartbeat in my ears, graces the room. "The quiet? It's overwhelming, don't you think?"

I say nothing, because there is nothing to say to that. I recognize this man's voice from the Auction, and it scares me on a deep, visceral level. I don't trust him; he's given me no reason to. 

"It should be filled with something," he continues, rolling back the sleeves of his black sweater. "Little feet, tiny pitter patters...life. I am living in a dead household at the moment. It lacks purpose and direction."

"That's hard to believe when you have so much," I mutter, turning and covering myself as well as I can. Quick thoughts of taking down laundry from the line flood me; golden sunset and that cerulean sky edged by magenta. Early evening, when the winds are warm and full of nightfall. It was hard work -

(Women's work... Beta work)

but I had enjoyed it. I had gloried in taking care of my family, even before my mother passed. It had made the days feel fuller, but shorter at the same time...not so relentlessly monotonous. 

"They've all died, my progeny," the man says quietly, "either in the womb or coming into this world. I've only held them after they've already gone. That sort of loss changes a man in ways he doesn't immediately notice."

"Don't talk to me about loss," I say, even if I am sorry about the death of innocence, regardless of its origins. Still, I need to appear strong and resistant in order to survive this; unreachable. "I've had everything taken from me."

"You can blame your father for that."

I look up sharply, ready to fight, but the action makes my head pound. He watches with a grave, detached expression. 

"I read your file before I bought you," he says, coming around the dais and settling behind me. Up close i can see that he's elegantly slender but tall. He's like a dark arrow. "I know that your father used you as a bargaining chip to save his own ass."

I stare at the water, eyes and skin burning with a shameful ache. I take a deep breath but the burn still builds in my throat. "He didn't have a choice."

"Oh, he had a choice," the man replies, drifting the sponge over my shoulders. I recoil but he reaches out to hold me fast, long fingers cool and sinking into my skin. "He just chose what was easiest for him while you get to pay the price."

"You bought me," I seethe, "like I'm cattle... stop acting like you're in a position to judge anyone!"

The wetness on my skin makes the slap more painful when it comes, and before I know it I'm whimpering low in the water; cringing away from the man who's merely watching impassively, hand still raised. 

"Let me make a few things abundantly clear," he says softly, "you will not raise your voice to me, ever. That sort of conduct calls for immediate correction. Do you understand?"

I stare at him, eyes straining. My face is stinging terribly and that's when I notice he's wearing a large ring with a garnet stone. It must've caught my skin when he struck me. I watch the way it reflects the light, wanting to disappear... almost feeling drunk. I'm so tired, and I'm so broken. I don't want any of this to be real. 

I don't feel connected to my body when he reaches out and takes a hold of my chin, jerking my face up so I'm forced to meet his eyes, flashing deep red and terrible. I can see myself trapped in them, and my heart crumples in my chest. 

"I want us to understand each other," he says, sliding his thumb over my bottom lip. "I didn't bring you here to be unkind to you. Quite the contrary, actually." He laughs and it sounds jagged like pins poking me. "Why would I invest so much money into something just to destroy it? Really, does that make sense to you?"

I can't tell if he actually wants an answer, though my mind has snagged on a very telling point:

Something. I'm a something to this man. An it. 

"Your scent is exquisite right now," he breathes before rubbing a cheek against my hair. He sighs deeply, his grip still firm on my chin. "It was so subdued when I walked into the room but now it's overpowering... raw. You're so pure and new; just what I wanted. I saw your picture and I knew I needed you for my own."

I cringe at his words, and i become aware of his odor: spicy like fresh rainfall on warm greenery, but with an undercurrent of something wild and feral. I almost cry out when I realize my body is responding to it, but I frantically remind myself that my biology is one thing and my mind is another. The two may intertwine like strange ribbons but they are still separate. They have to be. 

My will is my own.

"You've been taking the drugs to repress your natural urges," he says idly, "double, sometimes triple doses, right? That would explain your lack of Heats. It's the only conclusion that makes sense."

I still don't speak. My cheek is warm and throbbing; a tiny heartbeat trapped under the no-doubt bruising skin. 

"Or maybe you're experiencing a late puberty," he muses, still exuding his heady animalistic scent. I shudder, feeling like I'm wrapped in it like it's expensive silk. He drops the sponge and takes his hand away, watches me for a moment as I begin to shake from weariness and apprehension. "The Facility's medical history on you was irritatingly brief... especially on that point." Rubbing his chin, he suddenly snaps his fingers. 

"Stand."

Rather than obey, I hug myself tighter; rub my face and look at the water. It's trembling and I can see my wavery form, distorted and only seeming half-real. I have an animal's eyes, too large and red from scrubbing away weak-willed tears. I yelp when my chin is grabbed once more and I'm forced to look into those arresting eyes again. 

"Untouched, they were sure about that, though," he says. He shakes me. "When I tell you to do something, I expect you to comply immediately. Unless you'd like to be punished? Is that what motivates you?"

My eyes settle on the garnet ring and I shake my head quickly. He appears pleased and I'm queasy when I feel the relief flood my insides; warm, reassuring. Hating myself, I stand with his help, the water sluicing over my skin along with the dusky light. 

"Put your hands behind your back," he says quietly, watching and assessing me like I'm a painting or exhibit... certainly not a person. I obey, though, too tired to fight right now. His eyes rove over my form and it's like being touched until he reaches out -

"Please," I say, shifting back; water sloshing. 

"Be still, I only want to see your Mark," he murmurs, voice gentling. "I just want to see you... there was so much smoke at the Auction, and too many eyes looking at you. It stole my enjoyment."

A whine that has been trapped in my throat escapes when he mentions the Auction and touches me; careful, deliberate fingers encouraging me to spread my legs so he can better see my inner thigh. His thumb strokes over my clover and I have to look away, the sensation of being fondled too much... his scent... those awful, beautiful eyes...

I begin to sway when I feel his lips graze my Mark, and he's easy to catch me before I fall, cradling me against his front as he whispers words of encouragement and praise. 

"Dear thing, precious one... my little Kyle," he says, my name dribbling over his cruel lips like wine. There's power in the way he says it, authority, and I'm helpless to fight it right now. "Be good and I'll care for you always. You'll be my favorite and I'll see to it that you want for nothing."

He runs fingers through my curls and my eyes close. I want to disappear. 

"Bebe," he calls, tone hardening until it's stone. I hear footsteps, quick little clicks rush over. 

"Yes, Master Damien?"

"He needs sleep. Dress him warmly and put him in the corner room - alone. I also think he's developing a fever." He growls low in the back of his throat. "It's the damn poison they use at the Auctions. Sure, it makes them docile, but it's too harsh."

"Yes, sir."

"Stay with him all night if need be, and make sure the others don't disturb him. And," he tucks one of my curls behind my ear and his voice is velvet again, "dress him in the satin, I think. It suits him."

I moan faintly when I feel him lifting me with strength he shouldn't possess, head lolling. I crack my eyes and catch his reflection in a mirror across the room, my mind trying to hold onto his name. 

Damien. Damien. Damien

It's as uninviting as the starless sky outside, twice as cold and frightening, but I feel comforted actually knowing it. If I'm going to survive this, I'll need to know as much about my strange benefactor as possible. Shutting my eyes, I try to ignore his scent, but it's slow-growing, insidious... too tempting and lovely, and for the moment I just want to sleep. 

Right now it's the only escape I have, and I tend to take full advantage of it. 

Chapter Text

I open my eyes to see that I'm covered by an arc of white; yards of delicate lace dripping over the canopy above me. Looking around, I see that I'm lying in a four poster bed of dark wood. It's situated in a large room filled with windows that let in the sunlight, soft yellow and fragile. 

Sitting up, my head aches, my body thrums; residual stiffness and heaviness sitting in my muscles from the drugs. My mouth is dry and when I shift I almost sigh to feel softness against my skin. 

My head had been so cloudy the night before when I was taken from the bath and prepared for bed, so I hadn't really noticed my clothing. In the clear light of morning I can see that it is a frothy white nightgown, short-sleeved and falling to the middle of my thighs. It's edged with lace much like the canopy above me; delicate and airy. 

Decidedly feminine. 

I'm not really sure what to make of it. At home I'd slept in my underwear most of the time, at the Facility I'd worn a simple set of heavy linen pajamas. With a chill, I remember the man's words from last night:

"Dress him in the satin. It suits him."

Not just a man, though. Damien. My "owner" has a name, and while he's not the typical alpha in stature, he's still imposing. Lifting my hands, his scent is all over them, and it makes me shiver to bring it in; anger washing in with the latent, unwanted desire. There's a pull deep in my belly and it feeds my restlessness, making me stand shakily on bare feet. 

The carpet is like a cloud under my soles as I pad over to the window, shrouded in creamy, frail curtains. The gown wafts around me as I move, trailing longer in the back than it does in the front. I look out, blinking in the sun and admiring the way it strikes an expansive green lawn, the gardens filled with roses of every conceivable color. I sigh, thinking of my plot at home, tucked into the forest on the outskirts of town; tending to it with my brother while my father was working or away. We hadn't lived in such opulence but we'd been happy with simplicity; we hadn't needed more. 

"I see you're an early riser, that's unusual around here," a voice speaks behind me and I'm pulled slowly from memories. I turn from the window to see Bebe there, dressed in her black and white uniform and setting down a tray. She still smells of lilacs, and it winds together with the aroma of the food she's brought. She straightens and frowns at me, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. "Come away from there. I'm sure there's a draft so close to the window."

"Where is he?" I ask, afraid that he'll materialize the way he had last night. 

Her frown deepens before she comes over to stand beside me. She's diminutive but seems much taller than I; stronger. She wraps an arm around my shoulders and urges me away from the window, fingers pressing when I try to resist. 

"Are you referring to the Master?" she asks, guiding me toward a table set close to the fireplace. 

"Maybe he's your master, but he certainly isn't mine," I mutter, sitting and eyeing the full tray with suspicion though its contents smell so good. My mouth waters and I cringe because my body is constantly betraying me. At home, breakfast had been simple because none of us had been adept at cooking, not like my mother. At the Facility, meals had been tasteless but filling.

"He owns you," she says flatly, readying the meal; lifting the cover to reveal a plate full of eggs, fruit, and pancakes. There's fresh juice and oatmeal besides. Her words steal most of my hunger, though. "So, yes, he is your master. Eat."

I shove the tray away, glaring at her. "He has money. He bought me but he doesn't own me. You can own objects, not people."

"Suit yourself," she replies and moves to place a cool hand on my forehead. To my surprise, she smiles. "No fever. The master will be pleased."

I huff and look away, eyes catching on the food and my mouth waters involuntarily. It all smells so good, so indulgent, especially in comparison to what I'm used to eating. I gulp, twisting the fabric of my nightgown. 

"Just eat," she murmurs. "You're not proving anything by depriving yourself." Beginning to tend to the fire, stoking and building it up, she adds, "besides, we have ways of feeding you that are far from pleasant if you resist... just bend a little and make your life easier. And mine, honestly."

It's with reluctance that I eventually heed her words and eat, first a small bite of pancake and then more, quickly discovering that everything tastes even better than it smells. Soon, my plate is almost clean and my mouth and tongue are sweet from the fruit; fingers sticky with juice. 

Bebe is obviously pleased when she returns to me, having tended the fire and tidied the room; pulled garments from a large wardrobe and laid them across the bed. She smiles and it's bordering on kind, and I'm surprised at how welcome this is. 

"Isn't that better?" she asks. 

I say nothing, ducking my head and detesting myself for being so easy, but I am afraid of hunger, of deprivation, on top of everything else. I've lived it, going without, and it hurts. 

"Let's get you dressed," she says briskly, gesturing toward the bed. I look and frown at what's been chosen for me. 

More feminine garments; a dress with a full skirt and yards of lace. Petticoats. Bloomers. 

"Your master has strange tastes," i say, standing and going to inspect the articles. I lift the dress and find it heavy, the fabric a deep, rich green. "Can't I wear pants and a plain shirt?"

"He likes pretty things," she says, peering at me, eyes narrowed. "That's probably why he chose you. Undress, and let's see how these fit. I'll probably have to take them in and shorten the skirt."

I'm made to undress down to my bare skin, displayed before a standing mirror and blushing at my nakedness, when really I should be used to being exposed by now. Bebe is efficient when she dresses me, bloomers, petticoats, stockings, and then the ostentatious dress that looks like it belongs more on a doll than a person. 

"Just as I suspected," she sighs, adjusting the lay of the fluffy, gathered skirt. "It's too large in the waist, you skinny thing."

I consider my reflection, large eyes and bright hair, made brighter in contrast with the green of the gown, and scowl. 

"I look ridiculous."

"Surely you've heard of Alphas that prefer their omegas in more...stylized clothing," she says, beginning to brush my hair. "You know, to accentuate certain attributes, though I dare say you haven't really grown into your figure yet."

"Yes, I realize I'm underdeveloped," I snap, annoyed by my knobby knees, my bony arms; not possessing the wide hips most omegas covet. I'm a slip of a thing, always have been. 

"You'll fill out after you've started having heats," she promises, tying a minty green ribbon into my curls. "The hormones will do their job and you'll flourish. Now," she adds, giving my sash one last tug, "off with you."

"What?" I stare at her, apprehensive. 

"The master said you're to go out and get fresh air if you're well today," she explains, going to clean up my breakfast dishes. "You've no fever, so out you go. You may walk through the gardens and explore... the gate around the manor is locked so you can't wander too far."

For whatever reason, panic floods me at this prospect, set adrift in such a strange, unwelcome place; large like it would swallow me whole. 

"No, thank you. I'll stay here."

She gives me a stern look, some of her coldness from before returning. "It isn't an option. I have my orders and work to do. I don't need you underfoot." Going to the wardrobe, she drags out a delicate parasol that matches my dress. She offers it to me with a flat expression that brooks no argument. 

"It's chilly but the sun is strong. Wear a coat."

It isn't too long before I find myself outside, bright sunlight dazzling my eyes as I study the grounds, intimidated at their immensity. I have the parasol clutched in my hand, the coat's hood obscuring my face, and I'm left to wonder what I'm supposed to do with myself. My shoes, patent leather Mary Janes, sink into the snowy grass when I begin to walk, and I'm relieved that it's really nothing more than an ice dusting... burned away as the sun rises. 

Immediately, I am drawn to the rows of roses, frosted and delicate, because they make me think of home, and I wonder what my brother is doing without me. I choke back a low sob, ashamed at my weakness. Instead, resolutely, I admire the blooms in so many vivid colors, reds and yellows and pinks, spanning out alongside the other flowers that thrive, the vegetable garden beyond. 

Soon, the sun is climbing and beating hot on my back, like I'm being observed even by the sky, and I find that I've lost myself there in the garden; vulnerable to my thoughts of home and worry. Hugging myself, I'm afraid that Damien will visit me here, that I'll succumb to his scent, which is as disarming as the sweet perfume of the roses. Somewhere in my wanderings I find a watering can, and I fill it from a tap, bare hands chilled in the cold. 

I imagine I must look a sight, a misplaced omega in doll's attire holding a parasol and watering roses, but I endure, and try to remember home, wish myself far away. I worry for my brother and father and wonder how they'll survive without me. I ache knowing my brother is essentially fending for himself, what with my father's weakness for gambling and the bottle besides. 

I think of our house on the edge of the woods, the way the sun would gild the leaves in the morning and just before sunset... the trickling of the nearby river, how it used to fill me with comfort right before falling asleep at night, my brother snoring gently nearby. 

And, for whatever reason, I remember the way my mother used to sing to us if we couldn't sleep or after waking from nightmares. Just her voice and candlelight, and that was more than enough. 

Somehow, through it all, i manage not to cry but it's a trial. 

"Shall I bring you a basket to gather your flowers in?" an accented voice suddenly speaks at my side, making me look up; startled. 

Before me is a pretty boy about my age, flaxen-haired, with large blue eyes. He is delicate and pale, slender, and dressed very similar to myself; fluffy dress of deep blue but lacking a cloak or parasol. 

Another omega. He can be nothing else.

"What?" I ask, lowering my parasol and blinking in the bright sun. 

The boy points to the roses, smiling. "You're watering them so lovingly...i could only assume you'd like to take some with you. Am I wrong?"

"I didn't know i was allowed," I tell him honestly, feeling shy. 

He laughs and it's bright, putting me at a tentative ease. "Of course we're allowed, you ninny." He swept his arm wide to indicate the expansive garden. "It's not like we're going to run out anytime soon."

"Well, that's true," I say. I nod, suddenly deciding I would like to cut a few blooms to keep; feeling greedy. "Yes, a basket would be nice, and shears, of course."

Still smiling, he nods as well.

"I'm Pip," he tells me later, as we're snipping the flowers and laying them in the basket he provided. "Forgive my rudeness, I should've told you sooner."

"Don't apologize," I reply, admiring a yellow rose, turning it every which way. "I'm Kyle."

"Oh, I know," he says, "everyone already knows your name."

I look up, vaguely bothered by this. "Who's everyone?"

He laughs again, behind his hand, and while I want to be annoyed I can't manage it. He's just so jolly, which is a far cry better than what I've experienced in this place so far. 

"You'll meet them soon," he promises, tucking a pink rosebud behind his ear. He postures for me, assuming a coy expression. "What do you think? Does it suit me?"

I wave this question away. "But when will I meet them? How many Omegas does Damien have?"

Giving me a look, he tuts. "You shouldn't do that."

"What?"

"Call him by his name. He won't like that." Standing, he brushes his clothes. His scent is faint but sweet, much like the flowers surrounding us. 

I huff, standing as well. "Truthfully, I'm not concerned."

He stares at me, a knowing light in those wide eyes of his, before he looks away toward the road beyond the gates. "Oh," he says softly. "It's him... well, of course it is, it's Friday, after all."

"Who?" I ask turning to look as well. In the distance, I see a tall figure walking by, dark-haired. We aren't close enough for me to make out his features but he's lean enough, though his shoulders are wide. 

"Craig Tucker," he whispers, like we're conspiring instead of having a simple conversation. "He's so handsome, but he's terribly unorthodox."

I watch the man as he walks, his shadow disappearing under his feet, indicating that noon is upon us. I frown. 

"What do you mean?"

Pip continues on, sounding delighted at being able to gossip. "He's an alpha with means, and he refuses to take an omega. Not one!"

I stare, annoyance plucking at me. "So?"

"It just isn't done," Pip assures me, turning back to the roses. "I'm sure you know that, though."

"I don't. It should be his choice, I think, and Omegas shouldn't be 'taken'," i add, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice. "We aren't chattel."

"As I live and breathe, a progressive omega," Pip says, "I've heard of your type but I never thought I'd meet one in the flesh."

I stare at him, incredulous. "Do you like being owned? Do you think of yourself as property?"

Shrugging, his tone affects indifference. "There are benefits to being Bonded. Security, for one thing, and status. Besides, it's just part of who we are, Kyle... we were born to find an Alpha to care for us. That's our lot."

"Did he buy you too?" I ask in a whisper. 

At this question, Pip's cheery demeanor finally cracks a little and I see a tightness come to his mouth. 

"No. I was fetched from an omega orphanage right before I was to be turned out. My parents are dead and I'm essentially alone in the world." He laughs but now it's shaky and lacking humor. "If the master doesn't want me than no one does."

I look at him, horrified. "He adopted you so he could mate with you? So you could Bond?"

"We aren't Bonded, Kyle," he replies, his posture and face becoming friendly again, but closed-off. "The master hasn't Bonded with anyone. We haven't earned that privilege yet; none of us."

-------

Another servant fetches us when the time comes, a flush-cheeked girl in a uniform identical to Bebe's. She has wild brown curls that fall over her shoulders, bouncing when she approaches at a swift clip.

"It's time you came in, the both of you," she says, eyeing the basket of roses and the two of us kneeling side by side. "It's lunchtime, and you missed your cello lesson, Pip. The master will not be pleased if i tell him."

"She won't tell," pip murmurs in my ear before standing. "She's too nice."

"I heard that, and no I'm not," she snaps, giving me a once-over when I stand. "You're Kyle."

I nod, looking down at the basket in my arms. 

"I'm Rebecca," she says, "I attend to Pip. Bebe sent me to bring you in. She has your lunch set up in your room."

Ushering us inside, I cling to Pip for a moment, unhappy about being separated from the friendliest person I've encountered in this place so far. He presses my hand, reassuring. 

"I'll see you at dinner," he says, cheeks pink from the cold air; eyes like cut sapphires. "It'll be a lark."

Lunch is as filling and satisfying as breakfast was, consisting of a warm stew, fresh bread, and fruit. 

"I know it isn't pertinent at this juncture, considering you're still developing your cycle, but the master insists that you eat foods that will aid your fertility," Bebe comments as she turns down the bed for me. 

I nearly choke when I swallow, coughing and taking a large drink of water. "Fertility? Cycle?"

She sighs. "I swear, they aren't doing your kind any good keeping you so naive about such matters." She looks at me a long moment, considering. "When did you stop taking the medications to prevent your heats?"

I shrug, embarrassed by such a forward question. "Two weeks ago or so. As soon as my father..." I gulp, hurting at the thought, "as soon as he decided to give me up."

"To pay a debt." Her voice isn't unkind but it wounds me either way. 

"Yes," i murmur, wiping quickly at my eyes. "They took me to the Facility, to ready me for the Auction, and I wasn't allowed to take my medication with me. I've been without it ever since."

"Why were you taking it?"

I blink, having not thought about this for so long; not since I'd presented. "My mother insisted. She was afraid for my safety...told me that I'd be most vulnerable during my heats. She said my scent would intensify and attract the wrong sorts and that i wouldn't be able to protect myself."

"Smart woman," she says, before biting her lip hard. Plumping my pillow, she adds, "She wanted to wait until you were older and stronger, so she slowed down your puberty."

"Yes," i say, dipping my spoon into my bowl. "I've heard it isn't uncommon."

"It isn't."

Afraid of this subject, its implications, I try to refocus. "Who's Craig Tucker?"

She stands up abruptly and stares at me, eyes narrowing. "Why do you ask?"

"Pip told me he's an oddity as far as Alphas go," I reply, surprised by her response. "I believe the term he used was "unorthodox". Is it true? Or was he teasing me?"

Huffing, she comes over to tend the fire, movements stiff. "Pip likes to talk. I wouldn't put much stock in his words, though... he's a playful sort. Undisciplined."

"But -"

"Eat," she interrupts, poking a log and making it crumble into ash. "And then you'll take your nap."

I'm almost certain I'll be unable to rest until I find myself opening my eyes and the light in my room is different; dusky and soft. I blink and glance at the clock on my bedside table, surprised to see that hours have passed since lunch. The fire is still glowing, but it's dying down. 

For several moments, I just lie there trying to get my bearings and consider my circumstances. I think of Damien's tastes, his obvious need to turn omegas into baubles for his pleasure... the way he seems to swoop in to claim the most vulnerable of us when we have nowhere else to turn; a classic, sly predator. Creatures are easier to control when they have no other options, a fact he seems to delight in. 

I sigh, turning my head to regard the waning light as evening falls, my thoughts turning to the man Pip had spoken of, the unorthodox Craig Tucker. I wonder what his reasoning is to not have an omega. It's practically unheard of, an Alpha not actively seeking a mate, and my curiosity grows. Of course, Pip could be wrong, or lying, but i still can't help but speculate.

Sitting up, I've only time to set my feet to the floor before Bebe is bustling in and turning on the lamp. She gives me a knowing, satisfied look. 

"I knew you'd sleep," she says, going to the wardrobe to choose yet another gown for me. This one is white, almost virginal in appearance. "You were nodding over your lunch, after all."

I'm reluctant when she beckons me to the vanity, my nightgown rustling when I finally obey. Sitting, I regard myself in the glass as she begins to attend to my hair. 

"The master will be taking his meal with you all this evening, so you must be on your best behavior," she says. 

My mouth feels dry at this bit of information. "How many of us are there?"

"Four."

I grimace. "What, are we just collectibles as far as he's concerned?"

Tweaking a curl, she raises an eyebrow at me. "There are many Alphas that take multiple omegas. So long as they have the means."

"It's an archaic notion," i mutter. "Taking us, trying to own us. I'll never be comfortable with it."

She sighs, arranging my hair prettily, treating me once again like a little doll with a sewed-up mouth. "Your comfort is the least of society's concerns," she finally says, refusing to meet my eyes in the mirror now. "The sooner you learn that, the better."

------

My gown is cumbersome this time, with a long train that drags the floor as i walk, as I'm not mindful enough to always gather the excess. I hate it, and tell Bebe as such while she escorts me to the dining room. 

"The master wanted you dressed in white," she answers, as if this is going to pacify me. If anything, it makes my stomach clench, revolted that he can dictate even what colors I can wear in his presence. 

I nearly trip, catching myself at the last moment. "I don't care what he wants! He can take this dress and -"

"Hush, now," she hisses severely, stopping before a large set of doors. She turns to me, her face savage now. "You will behave this evening, do you hear me? If you don't, I'll be punished as well, and I'll not have it."

I'm surprised to hear myself whine, a small sound in my throat. I've been more prone to it, this sort of utterance, ever since I discontinued taking my medication. It's as if all of my latent omega characteristics are emerging at once. I shudder.

"I don't want to cause you trouble," I admit, and it's true. I know she has a job to do, but she has to understand my fears and hatred of this place; my dynamic. Someone has to. 

"If that's the case," she says, opening the door, "then watch your mouth and follow the others' lead. If you do that, you'll be fine."

A moment later, she's pushing me into the dining room and I almost stumble, righting myself and flushing to see several pairs of eyes on me. Straightening my gown, I bite my lip so hard it stings, dropping my gaze to the jewel-toned oriental rug. In my peripheral, I can see a long cherry wood table with ornate chairs; a large glowing candelabra sitting in the center. 

Damien laughs, low and melodic, before a chair scrapes back. I smell him, potent and heady, before he touches my arm, and I almost swoon; suddenly lightheaded. His aroma is the same as before, wild and daunting, but i respond to it nevertheless. 

"You look lovely," he says, putting his hand under my chin to raise my head. Our eyes catch, his still rich with their merlot quality. I feel captured until I shake my head. He laughs again and places a hand on my neck, making me start terribly. 

Another thing my mother had warned me of comes to me then, loud in my mind:

Never bare your neck to an Alpha if you can help it. Unless you want them to touch you there, don't give them the opportunity. An Omega's neck, particularly the nape, is their most vulnerable place. 

Frantically, I pull away, my breath trapped in my lungs. He watches closely, his smile positively wolfish now, and breathes deeply. 

"I don't think I've ever met an omega with such a unique scent. It's even stronger today than it was last night. Remarkable." Coming close, he presses a hand to the small of my back, urging me. "Come, you'll sit next to me, and I can introduce you."

Going to the table, he pulls out the chair to the right of his own at the head, and i sit. The eyes of the others are heavy on me, and for a moment I can't look up, but I manage. First, I notice Pip, who nods cheerfully, outfitted in another blue gown, this one of soft velvet. I nod back, a little more at ease. 

Damien sits as well and lifts his goblet of wine, swirling it gently. Eyes sharp, he speaks. "You two have met," he says, gesturing to Pip.

"Y-yes," i stammer, wandering headlong into unknown terrain. "Outside in the garden."

"We had such a nice talk," Pip chirps. "Didn't we, Kyle?"

Though "nice" isn't exactly the word I'd use, I agree anyway, wanting to appear easygoing. "And we picked roses."

"By all means, pick as many as you'd like, my dear," damien says graciously. "Fill your room with them."

I bristle slightly at being called "my dear" but I leave this alone as well. It wouldn't do to cause a stir without a plan in mind. No, best to tread carefully, not just for my own sake, but for Bebe's as well. I wouldn't say we're friends exactly, far from it, but I wish her no ill will. 

"I had a garden at home," I offer, leaning back when Rebecca enters the room with a tray and sets out the first course, a bowl of golden-colored, thick soup. "No roses, though... we had it for more practical purposes. There were wildflowers, though."

Damien turns to another blonde boy on Pip's other side, a fidgety looking thing with hands constantly worrying together. He's less pretty than Pip but cute in an endearing way; an air about him that inspires a need to protect or to take advantage, depending.

"Your father had a farm, didn't he, Butters? Before he sold you to me."

"Oh, yes," Butters says timidly. "He used to work me from dawn until dusk."

Damien looks amused now, languidly picking up his spoon. "And did you have flowers?"

Butters looks at me before he shrugs. "No, sir. We had vegetables and stuff... but our harvests were never very big. My father said i didn't work hard enough."

 

Before I can stop myself, I ask, "your father sold you?"

Butters nods slowly before looking into his bowl, mouth drooping softly. 

"You didn't need to ask him that so suddenly," another voice spoke up, the boy sitting across from me with wavy chestnut hair. I'm startled to see him glaring at me, his cheeks terribly flushed and his hazel eyes rimmed with flashing gold. He looks strangely familiar. "That was rude," he adds, eyes snapping; becoming brighter. 

Appearing even more amused, Damien takes a small bite of soup, watching me all the while; no doubt interested to see how I'll handle this. 

Clenching my dress in my hands, I try to save face. "I wasn't trying to be rude, it's just -"

"You should just apologize and be done with it, instead of offering excuses," he cuts me off, radiating hostility and something else; such a sweet, cloying odor it's nearly stifling. I'm taken aback, as it's atypical for an Omega's scent to be that strong to another of their kind; I've never smelled anything like it. There's a metallic twinge to it, like fresh blood. 

"Mark, my darling," Damien chides gently, "I know you're in a delicate way but it won't do to talk to a new family member like that." Sniffing the air, he sighs, and like Mark, his eyes flash; crimson, though, instead of gold. "Apologize."

Baring his teeth at me, Mark growls. Reaching over, Damien gently squeezes his nape until he whines, plaintive, and i shudder because I've heard myself make that same pathetic noise when under duress. I never want to make it under Damien's hand, though. 

"Mark," damien says again. 

"I'm sorry," he says, turning his head so Damien has more access to his throat. "Forgive me."

"No, I should be apologizing," I say, holding up my hands. I look at Butters, who raises his head a fraction. "I wasn't trying to be cruel, I just," I falter, unsure how to convey my meaning, that I could view him almost as an ally, considering our reasons for being in this place are so similar. "I'm sorry for what happened to you."

Butters smiles then, a slight gesture, but it seems genuine. "It's alright. I'm over it now, and besides, master damien is so good to me."

Something in his eyes, on the underside of his words, tells me there's a lie somewhere in his statement, but i don't press. 

"My father sent me to the Auctions," i say, beginning to eat, the soup a bisque made from butternut squash. "So, if you ever need someone to talk to -"

"I still can't believe you bought him," Mark says, almost snarling. "Why? You didn't need another one of us. I can give you what you need if you'll just give me time."

I stare at him, and it's obvious that Mark will not be placated, even when Damien growls low, the sound terrifying even when it isn't directed at me. Shuddering, Mark shuts his eyes tightly and arches away when his nape is squeezed again, this time much harder. 

"Calm yourself," Damien says lowly. "I will not tolerate this sort of behavior."

Mark whines like he's in pain now, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. In the corner of the room, I notice Rebecca watching with wide eyes that are too bright, like she's trying not to cry. Coming forward, she whispers something in Damien's ear and he nods.

"Fine, take him. I'll be up shortly." Releasing Mark, he withdraws to drink more wine, eyes reddening further until they rival the color of bloodshed. "And don't forget to lay out the strap."

She stops while reaching for Mark, who's sweating profusely now. She pales, mouth trembling. "But, Master, given the circumstances -"

"He'll need to be punished first, for speaking out of turn," he says, turning to look at her. "Unless you'd like to join him; go first?"

A tear slips down her cheek while she gathers Mark close. "I'd gladly take his full punishment, if you'll let me."

"That's not an option, now go."

Wiping her face, Rebecca hushes Mark as she helps him to his feet, somehow holding him back when he strains to get away, reaching and begging for Damien all the while. His eyes are blazing and his scent intensifies until it's like another presence in the room. She all but drags him out the door, desperate and keening. 

The others keep their eyes on their plates as they eat, while Damien sips his wine. He catches me looking at him, wide eyed and disbelieving, and he smiles, one canine sharp against his mouth.

"You aren't eating, darling. Aren't you hungry?"

Slowly, I set down my spoon. "My appetite has left me all of a sudden."

"Mark's theatrics don't exactly make for proper entertainment over dinner, do they?" he smiles and pats my hand. "I'll forgive you this once if you don't want to eat, but don't make a habit out of it. You need to build up your strength."

My already tight stomach tightens up even harder at these words, calling to mind Bebe's talk of foods that would "aid my fertility". I struggle not to make my discomfort obvious on my face. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Butters looking at me with obvious sympathy. Pip watches as well, expression thoughtful. 

"Please," i say quietly, uncomfortable about being the subject of scrutiny, "may I be excused? I'd like to lie down for a while."

Damien methodically taps the stem of his wine glass before answering. "I suppose. If you're not feeling well, of course."

"I'm really not."

"Very well." He sighs and looks at me for a long moment, eyes sliding over me like a strange, viscous liquid. My stomach jumps. "Will you be alright heading back to your room alone, or should I send for Bebe?"

I shake my head, hating the idea of keeping her from her duties because I can't handle myself, like I'm a glorified wayward child. I rise from my place. "Please, I'll be fine on my own."

Taking my hand, his garnet ring flashes in the candlelight, calling to mind how he'd struck me just the night before. I swallow hard, staring at it. 

"You're shaking," he murmurs, almost sounding pleased. 

Still gazing at his ring, I touch my tender cheek; anger and confusion making my tongue loose. "You frighten me, sir."

"Oh?"

Looking up now, I give him a look of pure defiance. "And I think you like that, inspiring fear."

I hear Pip and Butters gasp softly, but Damien looks positively gleeful, an almost feline look of contended pleasure coming over him. He's so handsome he borders on being unreal, but his is a cruel brand of beauty; disarming and misleading. 

"I hope you feel better soon," he finally says, lifting my hand to kiss it softly; lips like feathers against my knuckles. The contact almost makes me moan, suddenly weak-kneed. He smiles slowly. "Go, and sleep well, with only sweet dreams."

Finally he lets me go and I stumble from the room, staggering through long, lonely corridors lined with portraits of the dead. I trod on my dress now and then, nearly falling, but I manage to find the hallway that leads to my room. At the far end, I can hear mournful, pained screams and I'm sure it's Mark, suffering in a locked room. I listen for a moment until it becomes unbearable, the misery in his outcry, until I can't stand it anymore. 

Clamping my hands to my ears, I rush into my room and shut the door. Mark's screams become muffled but they linger; ghosts in my head. I whimper softly and try to forget the sensation of Damien's lips on my hand, the way my body had reacted to his touch. Not for the first time, I'm angry with my biology for being so strongly ruled by pure instinct. Just his scent is enough to inspire something in me, and i loath it. 

Lying on my bed, I look out the window and try to quiet my mind. I think of home again and wonder what my brother's doing in that moment. Is he thinking of me too, and if he is, does the thought hurt him the way it hurts me? I curl tighter, pressing my fist to my mouth until a fair amount of time passes. I don't sleep but I drift, flitting through memories, terrified of the nightmares coiled and waiting underneath my pillow.

Chapter Text

Am I falling in love
With the one that could break my heart?

- Break My Heart, Dua Lipa

But in my life
I never meant to cause no harm
Never hurt nobody
Just wanna take this chance to fly

- Siames, Summer Nights


I don't fall asleep until right before dawn. The dark blue of the sky was just starting to turn at its edge (white-yellow and gray) when my eyes, which were burning from tears and fatigue, finally dropped closed. 

I was kept awake by fear and worry, of course, but mostly it was the screams ringing down the corridor that truly haunted me. But that's hardly surprising, I suppose. 

Mark sounded like a wild animal, alternating between hysterical sobbing and growling like he was unhinged; punctuated by those awful, awful screams... like he was in pain and very afraid. Inconsolably so. 

But the thing that made me the most afraid was the profound silence that occurred out of nowhere; suddenly, the quiet so deep that i could count every thump of my heart in my ears. Beyond that, I could hear the wind blowing lonely and the immense house settling, like it was groaning and weary. 

I am not awake before Bebe comes to tend the fire this morning. She has to wake me, shaking me lightly until I sit up quickly, frantic and looking around. 

It takes me a moment to remember where I am, having expected to see my brother lying in the bed next to mine.

Bebe watches with a grave expression before she speaks, "come and have your breakfast, then. The morning is already getting away from us."

I stand and she wraps me in a filmy dressing gown, the sort starlets wore in old movies I'd seen before my mother died. Before it was decided that omegas shouldn't be exposed to too much media. 

"It will give them too many ideas and then they'll ask disruptive questions," the Alphas in power decided; the ones who made the laws that governed our new, strange society. "It will only make them unhappy. We must protect them."

"It's colder today than it was yesterday," she remarks as she takes the lids off of the full breakfast tray. I sit in silence, watching. "So you have the option of visiting the garden before your lesson. If you'd rather stay inside, you may."

This grabs my attention and I look at her sharply. "Lesson?"

Bebe stirs cream and sugar into my porridge. She nods. "The Master wants his omegas to be accomplished."

"His omegas," I mutter, not bothering to hide my disgust. "Ornaments to line his shelves with, that's all we are to him."

"Eat before it gets cold," she chides, handing me a spoon. "And you're to finish it all," she adds. "I've been informed that you barely ate any dinner last night."

"How could I?" I snap, almost rising up. "After what happened? Mark, he was -"

"Beginning his Heat," she finishes abruptly. "It's to be expected that he'd be volatile."

I blush to hear this and I'm annoyed by it; like I'm so innocent and sheltered. But still, I hadn't realized. I'd never seen anything like it; the gold in Mark's eyes, his sweet scent, the feverish flush of his skin. 

"Damien was cruel to him," I say, staring into my bowl. "He said he was going to beat him, and then he screamed... for hours. You heard him, didn't you? You had to."

Her face is blank as she begins laying out my clothes. "I did."

"Didn't that bother you? Someone should've helped him!"

She looks up, and there's a spark in her blue eyes now. "Suppose he didn't want help? What then?"

I blink, confused. "Why wouldn't he? If it had been me -"

"Well, it wasn't," she cuts me off, "and if it were, who's to say how you'd respond? From what I understand and from what I've seen, omegas in Heat act purely on instinct. And your instinct is to-" she stops and then her cheeks grow red. She frowns. "It isn't my place to stop anything the Master does. That's a great way to get sacked and then where would i be?"

Deflating, I finally spoon up a bit of porridge. "I hadn't thought of that."

She sighs. "Why would you? It isn't your problem."

"I'm sorry," i say softly, not entirely comfortable looking at her now. Instead, I focus on my food and soon my belly is pleasantly full, the hot tea taking the unspoken chill from my bones. When I'm just about done, Bebe comes over and there's something softer about her now; more approachable. 

"I understand your concern," she says quietly, tidying up, "but there are things you still don't understand; about this place and about your dynamic. For now, you must simply obey. If you don't... well, the Master is not above punishing you to make a point. I don't want to see that happen."

Unbidden, the sounds of Mark's screams come to me; late at night and gathering with the shadows. I say nothing and I don't resist when she implores me to stand so I can be dressed. 

"I'll go to the garden," I say, watching my reflection as I'm turned into a doll yet again. The dress is mint green with a very full, layered skirt; the waist cinched tight with a wide, long sash. "To see the roses. If I'm allowed," I add, the words like acid on my tongue. I already sound so cowed. 

"You may," she says, focusing on my hair now. "Just be ready when someone comes to fetch you for your lesson. We mustn't be late."

I take a deep breath before I ask, "can you tell me anything about it?"

She seems to consider this, tying a matching ribbon into my curls. "The Master loves music. He wants you to learn an instrument; though which one I'm not sure."

"He wants me to perform," I say, catching her eye in the mirror. 

Smoothing out my skirt, she ties my sash tighter, making my middle ache. She nods. "It would please him," she finally says, almost like it's an apology. 

-----

The sky is iron grey and full of clouds today; chilled as the winds cut through the grounds and rustle the roses, scattering their petals. 

"It's like technicolor snow," Pip says when he comes to join me. He's wearing a vivid red cloak, the hood pulled up. He balances a basket on one arm. "I didn't think I'd see you out today because it's so cold."

"I'm used to it," I reply, snipping off a bloom. I smell it before placing it carefully in my own basket. "Before I came here, I worked outside all the time."

He smiles and cuts a rose for himself, this one a buttery yellow. "So did I. I used to tend to the gardens at the orphanage."

We glance at one another and I can feel something shift; a camaraderie of sorts seeming to develop between us. Working side by side, we move along the row of bushes, choosing the roses we fancy. 

"About last night," Pip finally offers, blowing on his fingers to warm them. "I'm sure that came as quite a shock to you."

"Yes," I admit. "I wasn't sure what was going on, but Bebe told me. Are Heats always that dreadful?"

He becomes quiet a moment, still warming his ungloved hand; skin pink from the chill. "They're not the same for everyone. With mine, I become very paranoid. Like I need to hide myself." He makes an impolite sound with his lips. "Mark has always been dramatic, though. The way he acted is hardly the norm. He just wanted attention."

"It seemed like he was in pain," I say. 

"I'm not saying Heats aren't uncomfortable," Pip retorts, raising a brow. "Anything that's completely beyond your control isn't going to be entirely pleasant, but Mark was out of line." He lowers his voice. "The way he spoke to the Master, well, that was simply unforgivable. Don't you think?"

I say nothing, chewing the inside of my cheek until he laughs behind his hand. "Forgive me, I almost forgot. You're progressive so you probably don't agree."

I flush, almost feeling like he considers my point of view a joke; a hobby I picked up to pass the time. "You're right, I don't. Damien was wrong. I don't need a crash course on our dynamic to know what's right and what's wrong." I pause, remembering. "At least that girl stepped in, Rebecca? That was very brave of her."

Pip stares at me for a moment. "She's his sister, of course she'd come to his defense."

It clicked then and I feel foolish. "They do look alike, don't they?"

"Twins often do," Pip says wryly, though it doesn't seem like he's trying to be unkind. He looks beyond me then and his eyes widen with unconcealed interest. "Well, well, this is unexpected."

I turn to look as well, and there is the same man from yesterday; tall, with dark hair being blown into casual disarray. "Craig Tucker," I murmur. 

"What do you suppose he's doing?" Pip asks, nudging me. 

"How should I know? I'm new here, remember?"

Taking a hold of my arm, Pip gently tugs me towards the gates, our shiny black shoes crunching in the icy frost on the grass. "I'm just saying it's unusual. Typically, he only walks by on Fridays, to go to market. At least, that's what I've heard."

I watch, taking in more details as we draw closer. The front of the estate is very wide, so it's taking a fair amount of time for Mr. Tucker to pass by. I stare at my leisure, suddenly very hungry to learn more about him, this alpha that hasn't claimed an omega. I know I'm being forward, some would say crass, certainly brazen, but he's such a puzzlement. 

"Oh, he's handsome," Pip whispers, almost like he's awed. "Don't you think so, Kyle?"

I feel warm when I realize he's right. Mr. Tucker has smooth skin, and even though he's frowning, there's something gentle about his features. "You act like you've never seen his face before," I whisper back. 

"Not this close. I never would've dared to approach alone. It would be unseemly."

"Then why are we doing this? Aren't you worried about upsetting the Master?" I nearly gag as the word passes my lips. 

"We're allowed to be curious on occasion," he replies, "it's part of our biology, after all."

This was news to me, but I don't argue, content to watch the alpha draw closer. Without warning, though, Pip holds up a hand and calls out, "good morning!" in a clear, very loud voice. 

My heart pitches when Mr. Tucker stops and looks our way, too quickly for me to react, and I find myself frozen before him; staring straight into his eyes, and I'm caught. 

"Oh," I say softly, clutching my cloak tightly beneath my chin. I become very still as we regard one another, and I'm entranced to see that his eyes are the clearest shade of grey I've ever seen. They're almost silver, but they aren't cold. Quite the contrary, they are serious, but warm somehow. 

Inviting

They're beautiful, truly lovely, and my face becomes hotter at the wanton realization. Suddenly, the chill, along with the whole wide world is gone, and all that exists are myself and those eyes, entrancing me. Dazed, I become aware that a deep voice is breaking the frosted quiet. 

"Good morning to you as well."

Pip, who''s hidden behind me after calling out, is nudging my back sharply. "He's speaking to you. Say something or he'll think you're a fool!"

It was then that the winds pick up and the snow begins to fall, and I am groping for words inside a head that suddenly feels empty. Heart pounding and mouth dry, I decide to point out the obvious.

"It's starting to snow."

"Great," I hear Pip mutter. "Now he knows you're a fool."

I want to disappear, awash in humiliation. I wait, knowing ridicule will no doubt be forthcoming. 

"So it is," Mr. Tucker replies, lifting his dark head to regard the sky. "Unsurprising, I suppose. I smelled it in the air when I got up this morning." He looks at me and it almost seems like he's going to smile; he doesn't, but his lips twitch. He points towards my basket. "Gathering flowers, are you?"

"Yes, sir. Roses. The garden is full of them." I hold up my basket so he can see better. 

He nods thoughtfully. "I've seen them from afar; they're lovely. Unusual that they bloom so healthily at this time of year, but I suppose that only makes them prettier." He shrugs and tips his hat then, bowing his head; a gesture almost unheard of from an Alpha, especially when offered to an omega he doesn't intend to claim. "I won't take up anymore of your time, then. I wouldn't want to distract you from your roses."

"No, sir," I say faintly, even though he couldn't be further from the truth. I take a small step forward and I feel Pip taking a hold of my cloak. 

"Good day," he calls, turning away. In an instant, he's on his way, boots striking the street as he walks. 

"Goodbye," I almost whisper, that hazy feeling still engulfing me. I watch until he's out of sight; a strange but comforting aroma reaching my nose suddenly. I breathe deeply, ready to swoon over it; intoxicated. More than anything, I realize, is my desperate, unexpected need to hold onto it. 

"What was that?" Pip asks, coming out of hiding and looking down the road as well. "He was nice, wasn't he? Even though he's an alpha?"

Slowly I come back to myself and this place, the snow-touched garden that belongs to the man who purchased me. I sober quickly at the thought, disheartened when the aroma dissipates; it had been reminiscent of freshly turned earth and water rushing over rocks. 

It had seemed free, and for a moment i had felt like i could simply take flight and leave my terrible situation behind. 

"We can't assume anything," i say, the snow beginning to collect on my eyelashes. I blink it away. "It was just small talk. I'm sure it meant nothing to him."

I ignore the ache in my chest when I say that. 

"Still, he could've ignored us, or yelled at us for speaking out of turn. But, he didn't," Pip looks at me, clearly amazed, and I almost laugh because it's all so sad; us being thrilled over something as small as not being berated or overlooked by someone above our station. "And the way he looked at you, Kyle," he adds much more quietly. 

Uneasy, I decide to tread carefully. I make an attempt at flippancy to distract him. "Oh, so you were actually watching instead of just hiding? It was very nice of you to put me in such an awkward position, by the way."

I begin to walk, glancing down at my roses every now and then, seeing them in a new light. I hear Pip hurrying behind me. 

"It was an impulse, forgive me," Pip says, coming up beside me. "I didn't mean any harm, and truly, I didn't think he'd respond; I really didn't."

I sigh, wanting to change the subject. "It's fine, Pip. Just don't do that to me again...I have enough to worry about already."

"Cross my heart," he smiles, making an X motion over his chest. "I'm glad we can still be friends."

I'm struck by the childish nature of such a statement but I'm also warmed by it. After all, I certainly don't have an abundance of friends. I touch the outline of his arm, hidden beneath his cloak. 

"Me, too. And since we're friends, I figured I could ask you something."

"Anything," he replies, moving through the swirling snowflakes to gather more roses. I follow. 

"I've been told I'm to have a lesson today but Bebe wouldn't tell me very much. I remember Rebecca saying something about you playing the cello."

"The Master loves music," Pip parrots Bebe, though he doesn't realize it. "We all play instruments."

"I see." Searching, I find a particularly large red rose and snip it, laying it with the others. I wonder for a moment whether anyone's ever cultivated grey roses. 

Or silver, I consider, very much enjoying the idea. 

"What do the others play?" I ask, stooping to tug at a weed. The earth is rich under my hand and its smell is wonderful. The same ache in my chest from before returns. 

"Well, I'm the cello, Butters is the flute, even though he still hasn't gotten the hang of it, and Mark plays the harp. He's quite good," he says, not sounding particularly pleased. 

"What are the lessons like?" I ask before panicking slightly. "He doesn't teach us, does he?"

Pip laughs like this is the most absurd suggestion in the world. "Of course not! The Master is very accomplished at the violin but he would never lower himself enough to teach. He has tutors come to look after us."

"That makes sense," I mutter, feeling foolish but relieved all the same. Standing, I brush at my skirt and look toward the mansion, movement in the haze of snow catching my eye. 

All at once, Rebecca is before us, wearing a rough cloak of what appears to be homespun wool. She is pale, appearing tired with dark shadows under her eyes; mouth pinched. 

"You'll catch your deaths out here," she says. "Don't you have sense enough to come in out of the snow? And Pip, you have a lesson; I'm not letting you miss this one."

I study her and her resemblance to Mark is all I can see now; wanting to ask her how he is but not daring. I'm also terrified that Pip will say something about our impromptu meeting with Craig Tucker. I wait, my chest tightening. 

"Why must you always ruin my fun?" Pip asks instead, but he gives me a sly wink; any quicker and I would've missed it. 

"I'll have none of that," she snaps, evidently not in the mood for levity. "Come along, now." She looks at me, eyes narrowed. "Bebe sent me to fetch you along as well. You're to meet her in the front parlor."

"He doesn't know where that is," Pip says, giving her a look. "It's straight down the hall and to the left when we go inside. You can't miss it, surely."

I thank him as we follow along behind Rebecca, the wind more blustery now and driving particles of ice into our cloaks; the temperature dropping. My face soon feels stiff with cold. 

Once inside, we split apart, and I'm left to my own devices; wandering the grand house alone. Lowering my hood, I rub my cheeks, trying to bring the feeling back into them; the long hallway grey and overrun with shadows thrown by the lights lining the walls. 

Soon enough, I'm close to what I assume is the parlor, and I see Bebe waiting for me; she waves for me to hurry. I do, though it's without spirit.

"I've been waiting ages," she scolds, taking me in hand and swiftly relieving me of my cloak and basket. Before I can reply, she's straightening my hair and dress. I'm being poked and prodded until i push away in frustration; eyeing my stolen roses and wanting to protect them. 

"I'm sure I look well enough," I snap. "I'm just meeting my tutor, right? What does it matter what I look like?"

Bebe becomes savage in an instant; speaking in a tight, furious whisper. "It always matters what you look like. If you're not up to standard who do you think answers for it? Who do you think is punished? It isn't just you."

I stare at her, shamed. I always seem to feel ashamed these days; for my petulance, my fears and unhappiness; everything. I just feel so trapped; so terribly alone; a bird flinging itself against the bars of its cage without thought for the damage it can do. I find myself bowing my head.

"Just remember everything you do is a reflection on me," she hisses, continuing to fuss over me. "It's not just your skin you need to worry over... if you're inclined to think of others at all."

Stung by her words, I feel like I've been slapped as she opens the parlor door and ushers me in. I allow myself to be led, eyes downcast.

"We apologize for keeping you waiting," Bebe says, cordial once again. "Such tardiness is unforgivable and I assure you it won't happen again."

I say nothing, still staring at my shoes; eyes burning. I'm waiting to be chastised again, probably more harshly, but instead, a delicate voice responds:

"No apology is necessary, i promise. I've enjoyed your front room so much that I've scarcely noticed the time. Such a lovely parlor! I've never seen anything like it."

I look up as Bebe responds. "You're too gracious, and I thank you. I'll certainly inform Master Damien of your praise." Clearing her throat, she covertly jabs me in the side and I almost cry out, stopping myself at the last moment. "This is Kyle. He's acclimating to his new home so I'm afraid he's still rather shy. It's nothing personal."

Raising my eyes more, I'm aware that I'm already starting to avoid eye contact; to keep my gaze lowered. 

Subservient

I flush hotly, more from concealed rage than anything else, ready to snap until my eyes meet the stranger's, and I hold my tongue. She's smiling and it seems real, genuine, and I'm at a tenuous ease. 

"Kyle," she says in that same soft voice, "it's truly a pleasure to meet you."

"Go on," Bebe says when I hesitate, nudging me forward. 

"Hello," I reply, admiring the strange shade of her hair despite myself. It reminds me of carrots, like the ones my brother and I grew back home; her tresses woven into two thick braids that fall over her shoulders. The ends are tied with black thread. 

Silence falls, and it seems heavy, until the girl speaks again. "Why don't we sit for a moment and get to know one another a little better? Would that be alright with you?"

I nod, studying her simple dress now; the color of violets. She's very slender with white, slim hands. 

"I can take things from here," she says, turning to Bebe. "I'll call for you if there's a problem."

I gasp when Bebe pinches my side, hidden in the folds of my dress. I stand up straighter. "Behave," she tells me under her breath. "If you don't, I'll know. Trust me."

I say nothing; starting to learn that silence can be very protective. I sink into it until Bebe departs, and I'm alone with my tutor. I find myself looking anywhere but at her, scanning the unfamiliar room and realizing immediately why she commented on it with such admiration. 

It's a wonder, even more ostentatious than my own room with the canopy of lace over the bed and large fireplace. There's a fireplace in this room as well, but it's immense and made of creamy colored stone, with several large columns on either side of the blazing hearth. Over top, the mantel is very high and imposing; even if i got on my tiptoes I wouldn't be able to reach it. 

Above it all is a giant portrait of Damien, and while it manages to capture his dark, peculiar beauty, the artist could do nothing to conceal the strange, unsettling nature of his eyes; twin pools of dark merlot. They seem to bore into me, moving past the layers of my dress and right into my bones. Just seeing them is enough to make me cringe, and I try to remember Craig Tucker's eyes instead; how they'd seemed so kind in comparison. 

Which makes me cringe for a different reason. 

Fool. I'm such a ridiculous, little fool. 

"Come and rest yourself," the girl says, settling onto a couch of rich green velvet. She gestures to a tea service on the table before her. "Shall I pour you some?"

"You don't have to serve me," I tell her quickly; too loudly. More softly I add, "that is to say, I've been served and doted on since I came here. It's really not what I prefer, not that I seem to have a choice."

She seems intrigued. "So you haven't always lived in luxury."

I shake my head and draw closer, still not comfortable enough to sit. Fleetingly, I glance over and see a piano in the corner of the room. I stare at it before looking back at her. "Quite the opposite. Before I was brought here I lived in a little house on the edge of the woods. We didn't have servants or anything like that."

In a smooth motion, she lifts the teapot and proceeds to pour the steaming liquid into a china cup exquisitely painted with sugar pink flowers. "Why don't you tell me about it," she suggests, adding milk and sugar to the cup. She smiles as she brings the cup to her lips. "Help yourself if you'd like."

I'm puzzled. No one else in this strange place has seemed especially interested in my past life until this moment. I'm not even sure how to respond, filling the silence by making my own cup of tea. Finally, I sit, but I take care to keep distance between us when I do. 

"What am I to call you?" I ask, trying to get a feel for this strange person. She smells sweet, like talcum.

"Oh, yes, of course," she says. "Where are my manners? I'm Tricia."

"That's it, just Tricia?" I fumble with my teacup. "I don't have to call you Miss Tricia?"

She waves a hand. "I'll have none of that. I'm not some grand lady of standing, Kyle. My name is Tricia and that is what you may call me."

"Tricia," i say, trying it out. "And you're my tutor."

"I am."

I take a sip of tea and promptly burn my lips. "I know I'm to learn an instrument but no one will tell me what I mean to play." I give her a look after looking again at the piano. "Perhaps you can shed some light on my problem."

She laughs and it's a nice sound; not derisive. I relax slightly. 

"I should hope so," she replies, setting down her cup and standing with a rustle of skirts. She moves across the room and goes to stand beside the shiny black piano, placing a hand on it. "This," she says simply. "You know what it is, I assume."

My cheeks become warm. "Of course i do. Even if I've never seen one in person before I've seen pianos in my parent's old books and things. And on TV before it was taken away."

"That was a pity," she says. "They keep omegas so sheltered, don't they?"

"That's one way to put it," i mutter, going to stand next to the piano as well. I study it, comprised of sleek black lines and the interior a strange mix of wires and wood. It all looks very complex. 

I'm curious despite myself. Lightly, I place a hand on the instrument and find that it's cool and very smooth. "You can play this?"

She nods. "Not as well as some but I'm pretty good I've been told."

"And you just go around teaching omegas how to play as well?" I watch her from the corner of my eye. 

"Yes, it's how I earn a living. I'm just lucky that I enjoy my work, i suppose. Not many women do, truthfully."

I think of Bebe and Rebecca and feel a pang of pity for them. The world is hard on women because they're considered unnecessary; i can only assume that they're not overly satisfied with their lot and wonder for the first time how they came to work for Damien in the first place. 

"Well," Tricia says, breaking into my thoughts. "Shall we start?"

Suddenly nervous, i pull my hand away. I glance at her, feeling a twinge of rebellion mixed with my curiosity. "Can you play something for me first? Please?"

She seems to consider this, cocking her head. "Want to test my skills, do you?"

"No," I say. "I just want to hear the music. It's been so long since I've heard any now that I think of it. My mother used to sing to me before she died and I recall enjoying it very much."

Her eyes, which are striking, i notice, are reminiscent of sea glass i saw once in a book of my father's; a luminous teal color. They seem to darken at my words. 

"I understand." Pulling out the bench, she sits and gently lifts the lid, revealing the row of polished keys. I want to touch them as well but I refrain. She looks at me expectantly. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to hear?"

I don't want to admit I really don't know the names of any songs, so I just shake my head. 

"Well, then," she says, resting her fingers on the keys; delicately curved. "Maybe this will do."

I hear the wind shrieking against the tall, curtained windows and the fire crackling before she begins to play, and then everything seems to disappear as the music washes through the room. It makes me think of the brook near my home and the way it gurgled to itself as it swept over rocks; or the sound of the wind as it whispered through the tall grasses of the meadow where we picked wild raspberries. I'm suddenly transported, lifted up, and I'm gone from that place and far away; home again, and I can feel my brother beside me and my mother's still alive. My father hasn't become a hopeless gambler willing to sell his child; we're all together again, happy and sound. 

When the melody ends my chest begins to ache and I reluctantly return to the moment, realizing my eyes are wet. Tricia is kind and doesn't mention the tears i wipe away. 

"Could I learn to play something like that?" I ask. 

"In time and with practice, yes," she replies. "It'll be hard work, though."

"I'd like to try," I say, hungry for that feeling of freedom again; if nothing else. 

She smiles and for a moment she seems familiar somehow. She points to a large basket next to one of the couches. "Well, then, we're already off to a promising start. Would you bring me my basket, please? I have my music in there."

I fetch it and bring it over, watching as she draws out a large book. She opens it to the middle and points to the page; festooned with lines and little black marks with tails. 

"This is the song I just played for you," she explains, placing a finger next to the letters at the top. "See?"

I flush hot when I realize she expects me to read what's written. Looking down, I place my hands on my knees and squeeze. "Could you tell me what it says, please? I...I can't read."

She sucks in a breath. "Oh, I'm so sorry, of course. What's gotten into me? You just seemed so -"

She stops and shakes her head. "I was going to say you reminded me of someone else, but that's just my foolishness. Forgive me, please."

"Of course," i say quietly. 

Slowly but without condescension, she reads aloud the title of the song, trailing her finger beneath the words. "Clair de Lune. It's French for 'moonlight'."

"Clair de Lune," I repeat, wanting to commit the name to memory. "Moonlight. How beautiful."

"So I can assume you liked it?" she asks in a teasing way. 

"Very much," I reply, giving the question serious thought. "I can't say that the music made me feel happy, though. If anything, it made me feel...I don't know, restless?" Worrying my hands, I avert my eyes. "That's stupid, isn't it?"

"Not at all," she says, placing a hand briefly on my arm. "It makes me feel the same way." 

"For a moment," I admit, unable to help myself because my heart just feels so heavy, "I could see my family, the way we used to be. It was nice, more or less; even if they're gone now."

"Music makes me feel closer to the things I cherish, too," she says softly. "It can be an escape."

I nod, a fleeting comfort warming me with her choice of words. 

An escape. That's all I want right now; more than anything. 

"If you don't mind my asking, who taught you to play?" I ask, suddenly wanting to know more about her; this odd girl with the vibrant hair and the sea glass eyes. "Isn't it unusual for women to be skilled in something like this?"

"It is, but I come from a family with forward thinking individuals," she replies, opening another book to the first page. "My brother being the most open minded, even though he's an Alpha."

"Oh," I say, trying to imagine such a person. "So, he

taught you?"

She nods. "Everything he knows, and he's still a better player than I am." She giggles behind her hand. "I'd never admit that to him, of course."

"Now, then," she says briskly, becoming serious once more. "We need to get started, otherwise we'll never be done in time."

"In time for what?" I ask, almost forgetting anything beyond our meeting. 

"Goodness," she says, glancing toward the portrait over the fire. "I thought you knew. Your maid, Bebe, told me that we needed to finish right on time so that you'd have time to prepare for luncheon with your Master. She said you'd be dining together, alone."

My blood runs cold at her words, every part of my body seeming to reject this bit of news outright. I haven't been alone with Damien since the first night I was brought here, and that meeting had been more than enough. Touching the cheek he'd slapped so easily and without remorse, I look up at his portrait as well, my eyes wide with a growing, creeping terror. 

"I didn't know," I say faintly, all my pleasure borne from the music being robbed at once. 

She's quiet for a time before she places a hand on my own, rousing me from the paralyzing fear and misery that has suddenly gripped me. 

"He isn't that cruel, is he?" she asks in a whisper filled with pity. It's enough to make the tears fill my eyes, burning. I can't hold them back. 

"He is," I say, refusing to look at her. More than anything, I want to beg her to play that song again, to play anything, really; to fill up the air with a melody that will help me rise from my surroundings once again, if only for a little while. 

Chapter Text

I'm bathed in water scattered with rose petals for the occasion; precious oils added to "soften my skin" and make it glow, according to Bebe. 

Unreceptive to such pampering, especially for the reason I'm enduring it, makes me scowl at the trembling surface of the water as she brushes out my hair. We're in my private bathroom, the air heavy with steam and the scents of the perfumes swirling in the tub I'm steeped in. The room is light with gold fixtures and a walk-in shower; the bathtub is comprised of cool, milky marble. 

"You could've told me, instead of letting my piano tutor be the bearer of bad news," i mutter, watching my unhappy reflection. I slap at the water. "And all of this hardly seems necessary for a simple luncheon."

With a monster, besides. 

"There's nothing simple about it," Bebe replies, setting the brush aside to take up a jug on the rim of the tub. "Close your eyes and tilt your head back."

I comply, and soon my hair is saturated with more perfumed water. Despite my foul mood, I try to be as compliant as possible for Bebe's sake; suffering through my curls being thoroughly washed and my body scrubbed with a soft cloth; all over, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. I whimper and try to forget myself. 

"The Master is particular about cleanliness," she says after all is said and done, helping me as i rise from the tub, a little lightheaded because of the heat. "That's why we bathed you when you first arrived. You can't depend on the facility you came from to handle those sorts of things properly."

"I was clean when I came here," I snap. "You act like I was an animal dropped on your doorstep."

She dries me with a thick towel (harder than she really needs to, I think) before leading me into my room where I'm told to wait to be dressed; once again in front of the full length mirror. I shiver despite the fire on the hearth, glancing away because I really don't enjoy looking at myself this way. 

"Nonsense, I'm just saying their ways and standards are different from ours. Common." Briskly, she helps me into my underthings: underwear, stockings, slip; all of it soft and edged with delicate lace. 

I hate it, all of it. I miss being able to wear clothes that are simple and functional. These are excessive and I'm not comfortable in them. I tell her so. 

She ignores me. 

"I took regular baths at the facility and at home," I add, squirming as I'm forced into yet another gown; this one a clover green satin and form-fitting. It dips low in the back and leaves my arms bare; the train long and extending from gathers at the back; sheer and airy. It's threaded with gold and floats when I walk. "I didn't run around wild in the woods or something... we were civilized."

"Focus on the here and now, please," she says, drawing me toward the vanity and making me sit. She attends to my hair, drying it and then forming the curls as they should be; winding them around her fingers. "Your life before is over. You're here, for better or worse, so dwelling on the past is pointless."

A feeling of melancholy makes me look down at my hands. How can I make her understand that all I have left is my past; memories of my brother and father. They're still out there, and I want nothing more than to go to them; be with them again. 

"What about you?" I ask softly. 

"What about me?" She winds a golden ribbon around my head; wraps it again, so its left to dangle down my back. It holds my hair away from my face. 

"Where did you come from? Before you came here?"

She purses her lips and I know I've made a mistake in asking her something so personal. I look down again. 

"My parents are dead, and I'm an only child," she says without emotion. "I got this job because I knew someone who already worked here. I started when I was younger and worked my way up... all of the staff answer to me now, for the most part."

"It's better than being on my own," she adds, making up my face now. She pinches my cheeks to make them rosy, dabs gloss on my lips; darkens my eyelashes with mascara. "I never knew where my next meal was coming from, and I didn't have a safe place to sleep. I never want to go back to that."

She nods, appearing satisfied while looking into my face. "You'll do, I think. Even as far as the master's concerned." Suddenly, she smiles and she's soft again; tucks a curl behind my ear. "And I would've told you if I'd known, but the master can be very abrupt. I didn't know you'd be having luncheon with him until the last moment."

"I don't want to go," I say, reaching for her on impulse. The day had been pleasant enough so far, meeting Tricia and hearing her play; knowing there was an outlet available to me that could help me forget my circumstances. That beautiful music; it had held me aloft for a few precious minutes. 

And then there had been that brief encounter with Craig Tucker, but that was foolish to think about, wasn't it? He hadn't been cruel in that moment but that didn't necessarily mean he was kind, regardless of how gentle his eyes seemed. 

"He asked for you," she says, stepping away. "It's rare that he wants to eat with one omega by themselves. I imagine it's because you're new... he wants to know you better."

"He doesn't really want to know me," I reply, going to the mirror and appraising myself; a stranger in an elegant gown. I want to cry from frustration and find a way to escape; despite the snow and the frigid cold, the fact that I'd no doubt be hunted down and dragged back -

"He wants this." I stare at my reflection; the doll I'm being turned into gazing back; somber and quiet. 

The ideal, obedient omega. 

-----
I'm delivered to a room that seems to be comprised almost entirely of windows, each of them floor to ceiling; skylights above. 

"The sunroom," Bebe tells me, looking around. "On a nice day it's actually very pleasant."

"It figures he'd want to meet here on a day like this," I say. The room is eerily lit by white-gray sunlight that struggles through the many windows; obscured by the still falling snow. I look out into the haze and notice the snow is blowing sideways from the ferocity of the wind. "The storm's getting worse."

Bebe nods. "You may not be able to go out to the garden tomorrow."

This bothers me but I try not to show it. I go to the window and touch the glass, cold under my fingers. "I hope Tricia is safe getting home." I glance over my shoulder to see Bebe looking out at the snow as well. She appears resigned to it. "Does she live far?"

Bebe seems to come back from another place in her thoughts, becomes stoic. She points to a chair, a velvet-covered wing back. "I don't know. That isn't pertinent information for me to have; I'm only concerned about her conduct when she's with you. Sit, the Master will be here soon and he'll want to see you in an attractive position to receive him."

I sit stiffly and arrange myself in the way she instructs. I feel ridiculous.

"Smile," she says, fluffing out the airy back of my gown so it lays just so over the arm of the chair. "Trust me, it's better if you do."

My face feels like it's cracking when I force it into position. I'm sure i look deranged and her expression seems to confirm this. 

"Omegas aren't supposed to be this trying," she sighs. "You realize that, don't you?"

"I'm not beholden to the stereotypes attached to my dynamic," I reply, freezing up with fear when Damien walks into the room then, unhurried and graceful; moving the way smoke would waft; exactly as it wants to and at its own pace. We lock eyes and a whine immediately builds in my throat. 

He smiles slowly, so beautiful but there's just something about him that sets my teeth on edge. I tense, pressing myself back against the chair as he approaches; dressed in black like always; sleek and refined like a panther. His eyes, those terrible merlot eyes, sweep over me as if to devour me whole. 

"Lovely," he murmurs, his scent reaching me before he does, and it's overpowering. My body responds on its own; the whine gathering until I have to swallow it down. He speaks to Bebe without looking at her. "You put him in the gown i requested; I thank you."

"I had it custom made for you, my dear," he adds. "To complement your coloring... it suits you, don't you think?"

I manage to look away, even though it's a colossal effort; his gaze drawing me in like he's an asp. "I want to wear the clothes I wore before, that I was used to. I don't understand all this." I lift the fabric, letting it slip through my fingers like green water. "These are for you, not me."

"Kyle," Bebe says, a warning tone in her voice. I refuse to look at her. 

Damien laughs as if my petulance is suddenly charming; it's musical but unnerving, like a song being played in the wrong key. "It's alright, Bebe. You may leave us now."

She bows her head before shooting me a tight-lipped look after I raise my eyes:

Do as you're told, it clearly says. 

She takes her leave and I'm left alone with someone who both horrifies and lures me; the dichotomy dizzying and leaving my senses in turmoil. I hug myself, wanting to retreat into my head where he (hopefully) won't try to follow. 

He sits adjacent to me, leaning back and crossing one long, lean leg over the other. The light from the lamp flashes off his garnet ring, dazzling me for a moment. 

"Please," he says, making a motion with his hand. 

I stare, not sure what he's expecting from me. I stay still. 

"Stand so I can admire you," he says gently. "It would give me pleasure to see you completely and to make sure your gown is as it should be."

I hug myself tighter, my nails digging into my chilled, bare arms. "You couldn't possibly mean that."

He clasps his hands, fingers interlocked, under his chin. "I do, though. If your garment does not meet with my satisfaction I will have it sent back and corrected. Surely you can understand i only wish to make you happy."

I don't believe that for a moment, of course, and I'm appalled at how easily he can lie; without any sort of hesitation or care. 

"Sit down, stand up, go here, do this," i say, my patience unraveling. "I'm not on a stage like I was at the Auction and I refuse to perform for you!"

Silence falls between us, and I hear the snow hitting the windows like glass shards. I'm screaming inside my head, though, because even though I'm putting on a defiant facade I'm deeply, almost unbearably afraid of this man. I will myself not to start shaking. 

"Your face is still bruised from the last time you spoke out of turn to me," he says quietly. "Tell me, does it hurt? Can't you still feel it?"

"Is that all you know how to do?" I whisper. "Threaten and beat us? You said you didn't bring me here to be unkind to me but evidently you lied. Everything you say is a lie."

"Untrue," he replies before sighing softly. Out of the corner of my eye I see lower his hand where it comes to lay on the armrest, bringing his ring into stronger focus. Just seeing it makes me sick, the way it had cut into my cheek when he'd slapped me. "I can do much more than that for you. I can make you comfortable, I can pamper you...I can ensconce you in a lifestyle that many would envy."

"In fact," he adds, "I don't think you realize how fortunate you are, given your station. Many omegas are taken care of, yes, but not in the fashion you are; you are like royalty here. You will never go hungry, you will never want for anything; eventually you will bear children and they too will enjoy these gifts."

"I want to go home," I say, my eyes burning. I blink quickly. "I don't care about any of this, money and what it can buy. We were poor and I was still happy... it didn't matter to me. Please."

"Home," he says slowly and my blood is chilled at the way the word curls from his lips. It doesn't sound right, like it's a foreign concept to him. "Now that you mention it, I've taken it upon myself to check in on your family. Not too long ago, actually."

I look up quickly, alarmed. I don't want Damien anywhere near my past, he'd only find a way to twist and taint it. He's still smiling but its changed; become less amorous and more cunning. 

"What are you talking about?" I ask. 

"Gerald Broflovski, an Alpha who used to practice criminal law until illness left him debilitated," he says, the light playing on his white teeth and making them look decidedly sharp. "Although, everyone who knows him well enough knows the truth, that alcohol stole his aptitude and his practice. Who else? Ah, yes, little Ike Broflovski -"

"No," I say, sitting forward. "He isn't a part of this, he -"

" - a Beta," he continues smoothly, "and quite young; not even a teenager, and without any prospects from what I understand."

"That isn't true! My father made a lot of money when he...he," I falter because what I'm about to say is going to hurt, but I bear it, "when he sold me. I heard the bidding, I know what you paid, and it was more than enough to make sure my brother is well taken care of."

"Dear one," he practically purrs, "there are so many ways of the world that you don't understand, and why should you? You have beauty, you're desired... you don't need anything else. Ah," he says, looking up when Rebecca enters, rolling a large silver cart. She's drawn and subdued. 

"Luncheon, sir," she says. "As requested."

"You may begin serving after we're seated." Rising, he offers me his hand. 

I'm thrown off by the sudden turn in the conversation, some of the fire in my anger dying because I don't like how smug Damien seems. What does he know about my family? Will he even tell me? Heart aching, I think of Ike and I'm so afraid for him -

So afraid that I acquiesce and accept Damien's hand, hoping that if i bend a little, he'll answer my questions. Flushing with humiliation, I allow him to lead me to the table set up for us, complete with a glowing candelabra. He pulls out my chair. 

"I want you by my side," he says, tucking me in when I sit. He touches my shoulder lightly before pulling away to sit as well, and a shiver works its way up my back.

"Close," he smiles, unfurling his napkin and laying it across his lap. He snaps his fingers in Rebecca's direction. "Now, please."

She serves the first course, a small salad with tomatoes and greens i don't recognize. It's dressed lightly with what looks like oil, vinegar and herbs. I poke at it with my fork, not especially hungry given my company. 

"Don't be shy," Damien says, swirling the wine in his glass when Rebecca pours it. "It pleases me to see you enjoy yourself, and I chose the menu with you in mind."

I frown, stabbing at a curly bit of lettuce and placing it in my mouth. It's bitter, but I chew dutifully and swallow, taking up my drink afterward and tipping it to my lips. I notice Damien and Rebecca watching me closely as I drink the pink liquid; sweet but with a strange flavor beneath the sugar. 

"What is this?" I ask, wrinkling my nose. 

"Lemonade," he replies. "Haven't you had it before?"

I set down my glass. "Yes, but this tastes strange." Noticing his eyebrow slowly raising I'm quick to add, "but I like it. It's just different from what I'm used to."

He's assauged but Rebecca frowns, looking away when I try to meet her eyes. My stomach jumps, but I continue to eat, washing down the bitterness with the sweet drink. By the time I've drained my glass I decide that I was imagining things -

"This is delicious," I say, indicating my empty glass. "May I have more?"

"Anything for you, my dear," Damien replies, a light building in his eyes that resembles fire. I'm mesmerized suddenly, more intrigued than afraid. 

Rebecca refills my glass and now I can feel my body relaxing; loose-limbed, I lift the drink and sip, licking the strange sweetness from my lips. I touch my mouth to gather the extra drops, sucking them from my fingers without abandon. 

The next course is roast beef and scalloped potatoes; artfully arranged and topped with a savory gravy. I breathe deeply of it but Damien's aroma fills my senses instead; wild, yes, but oh, it's so gorgeous -

It makes me think of home, where the forest is hushed and the winds move through the leaves, the brook is cold and the stones on the bottom are slick like ice. The garden i tend with Ike is simple but full, and I can smell my mother's bread baking in the oven -

"I...I feel strange," I hear myself say, looking down at my hands. It's almost like I can see the blood moving in my veins, warm, and I'm so content with it all; this moment, this room, the gown hugging me, and most of all Damien being so close, and his scent is strong. It envelopes me. "Why do I feel this way?"

Damien looks at me like I'm the only thing that's ever mattered to him. His eyes are filled with that fire, almost glowing, and the whine that's been hidden filters from my lips. "What way is that, my Kyle?"

"Like I'm not really awake," I say softly. "I'm seeing my dreams, my family. We lived in the woods and I had a garden."

"Like mine?" he asks. This time he refills my drink himself, lifting the cut glass pitcher with such careless elegance; it shimmers in the light of the candles. 

"Oh, no," I reply, giggling behind my hand because it's such a silly thought. Surely he must know that his garden is lovelier than anything I've ever seen. So many roses, even in the heart of winter. "We grew vegetables, mostly. There were roses, but not nearly as many as what you have here."

"My brother and I," I begin, and that sharp pain is back, digging in my heart, and I find myself reaching out to grab Damien's cool, smooth hand. "Please, tell me what you know. Is he okay? Is my father taking care of him?"

"Shh," he soothes, smoothing the curls that have escaped the ribbon in my hair. "Don't upset yourself. Eat, please, and we'll get to that in time."

I drink instead before cutting into my meat, because I crave the sugar on my tongue. I breathe deeply and Damien fills my senses like sunshine breaking through heavy clouds. Warmth floods me low in my stomach, making me press my thighs together when it spreads to the secret place between my legs. I flush hot. 

"Tell me about your piano lesson," Damien suggests. "Did you find it engaging?"

This is an easy question to answer because I'd genuinely enjoyed myself with Tricia; her presence, and the sweet, uplifting voice of the instrument she'd played. 

"I loved it," i say, touching my neck. My glands feel sensitive under my fingers; aching. "My tutor was so kind, and she plays beautifully, like she was born to do it. I felt comfortable with her."

"She came highly recommended," Damien says, watching me even closer now, like he's waiting for a certain response. "Her playing seems to affect even the most unrefined of us -"

"Oh, yes," he says fondly, "I know how my dynamic can be. Kings of the mountain, in control of all we see and touch... some of us are so terribly plebeian." He sighs, drinking more wine before cutting another piece of meat, the red juice of it seeping across his plate. "It's because we came to power much too quickly. We weren't prepared, and not every alpha is worthy of their dynamic."

"The lesser of our kind capitalized on the misery and weakness of others, but no matter, that isn't for you to worry about," he says, lightly touching my cheek. "My family was already accustomed to power; I'm used to and comfortable with what I've been afforded, dynamic or no."

I yawn, not exactly tired but beginning to drift. My brain is a haze, red at the edges, and the anger I felt before seems miles away, like it never existed in the first place. "Your family?"

"My father is a man of means," he replies simply and with a certain finality that tells me to drop the subject. "But I'm glad that your lesson was to your liking, my dear. I figured that if anyone could prepare you for your debut-"

I wake up slightly, but it's like struggling to break the surface of a lake I'm submerged in. "Debut."

I don't pose it as a question because it's such a strange idea to me; a concept so far removed from who I am that it borders on being laughable. 

"Yes," he says without humor. "I am respected among my peers, revered, and when I choose to take a new omega the community watches. They will want to see you, and I expect you to represent this household with honor."

He's soft when he touches my cheek, and I nearly swoon into the contact, for I'm so weary and my head feels like it's full of stars. I nuzzle him instead. "What do I have to do?"

"More to drink, please," Damien murmurs to Rebecca who still looks so ill at ease. She refreshes my glass and I'm compelled to speak to her. 

"How is Mark?" I reach for her, deflating at the surge of discontent in her eyes. She backs away, going to retrieve the next course, I can only assume. 

"Kyle," Damien says, and while he isn't chastising me exactly, he sounds strern. "You forget yourself. Rebecca is working, my love. She doesn't have time to play."

He speaks to me like I'm a child, and ordinarily i would never accept this, but I'm so still inside, almost like I'm frozen. I breathe in Damien's scent again and tilt my head, baring my neck to him. The light flares stronger in his eyes. 

"My omegas are known for being accomplished and dedicated to the crafts i choose for them," he says. "You are worldly without overstepping your bounds. You know your place, and what's more, you cherish it. Your only focus is to please me, and to elevate this household."

"I don't know if I can do that."

"Of course you can, why else would I have chosen you?" he watches as Rebecca clears our plates. "Out of everyone at the Auctions, you were the one I saw... everyone else became nothing compared to you." He nods. "Ms. Tucker will teach you and I have no doubt that you'll surpass even my expectations. You have some time, of course; I'm planning the affair for midwinter."

Through my haze, something blooms in my mind, and some little part tells me to fight, to wake up to what I'm hearing. To truly listen. 

"Tucker," i repeat, feeling numb when a dish of some strange yellow substance is placed before me. "That's her full name? Tricia Tucker?"

"It's sherbet, to cleanse your palette," Damien says, gesturing to the dish. "And yes, that's her name. She comes from a worthy enough family, I suppose. If she didn't, she wouldn't have stepped foot in my home. Although," he adds, trailing off, dipping his spoon into the cold confection.

"Yes?" I ask. 

"It isn't important," he replies, placing a hand over mine before lifting it. He pulls it to his mouth and presses his lips softly against my knuckles; lingering, and watching me with those strange eyes the whole time. 

I almost moan, the heat gathering in my belly, down where I've started aching at strange times - ever since I stopped taking the medications that inhibited my impending puberty. I don't understand any of this, but I know that I feel good, and I want the feeling to keep going... it's different from the way my body has felt pleasure in the past; being hugged by my mother before she passed, feeling the cool waters of the brook during the heat of summer, lying in soft grass beside my brother to look at the stars when we were children. 

This feeling threads into what seems to be the core of myself, a place I've been denying, and now that I'm aware of it I'm not sure how to respond. I just feel so dazed, and my mouth is filled with a confusing bitter sweetness. 

"I'm not sure what you want from me right now," I admit, leaning my head in my hand. "You're talking about presenting me to a society i don't understand, like I'm an object, and I shouldn't want this, but all I can focus on his pleasing you." I look up and my eyes are wet. "What's happening to me? Why won't you tell me about my family?"

The look he affords me is one of immeasurable tenderness, but once again I can see the satisfaction there, like he's won something that had eluded him before. Still holding my hand, he tugs me close until my face is close to him, and his scent is all I can feel; it becomes the air I breathe, nearly suffocating me. 

"If you obey," he says, and his voice is warm against my lips, "I will tell you what's become of your brother. In fact, I'll deliver him from his fate, whatever that may be, but if you don't -"

He breathes deeper, holding me so tightly i cry out. "I will make sure you never see him again, him or your father. They will disappear and you'll never know what happened to them. Do you understand?"

Before I can help myself I sob and I almost collapse in his hold, but he stops me; pulling me close to murmur soft assurances against my hair. His voice is kind now, but it travels to my heart and makes it hurt like it's being squeezed. 

"My Kyle, my darling," he says, "this is for your own good, I promise. You're chained to your past but it can't serve you now. I can. Do as I tell you and you'll be safe... you only have to serve me, and by doing so you'll serve yourself. Can't you see that?"

"Now," he adds, letting me go abruptly. He sits back and watches me with eyes full of orange-red fire. He's fiercely and terribly beautiful, like a false idol or a siren; something put on earth to remind man of just how foolish he is; how helpless. "I wish to see you, the way I asked before."

I am cold and empty without him holding me up, and I'm left feeling adrift. Weakly, I look at my hands before gazing at him for instruction. 

"Stand and show me yourself," he says softly. "Do as I tell you, and show me that you know how to obey. Don't you want me to be proud of you?"

In that moment, looking into his hellish eyes, I feel gone, lost, but memories surface in me; thoughts of my brother, our corner of the world, and I rise from my place like my body doesn't belong to me anymore. Dimly, I move away and I can feel the airy panels of my gown floating like wings behind me, and I turn to look at Damien, waiting. 

"Beautiful," he murmurs. "Your aroma has changed, little one. It's responding to mine, and it's so sweet... sweeter than anything I've ever experienced. Do you realize just how lovely you are?"

"No," I say, because I don't. I truly don't believe I am, but I want to believe that he's telling me the truth, because what else do I have to hold onto right now? My hands are empty. 

"You'll see," he smiles, lifting his hand, making the gesture he had before. "I'll make you see. Now, turn for me, let me look at you."

Slowly, I obey, almost feeling hypnotized as I revolve for him; spin the way a ballerina would turn for her audience, spellbound and craving their adoration. My gown flutters around me and the snow falls silently in the panes of glass at my back, and I close my eyes and surrender to Damien's will. 

In my mind, I try not to see myself as I am in that moment, and rather as I wished to be, even though my instincts are acutely heightened and my true desires are muted. Once again, I am glad that my mother can't see me this way, and more strangely yet, I'm relieved that Craig Tucker can't either; wherever he happens to be as the world outside is devoured by the unrelenting snow. 

Chapter Text

Shine a light through an open door
Love and life I will divide
Turn away 'cause I need you more
Feel the heartbeat in my mind

It's the way I'm feeling I just can't deny
But I've gotta let it go

We found love in a hopeless place

- We Found Love, Rihanna


The rest of the afternoon turned into a muddled blur after I gave into Damien; a strange dream filled with more commands and conversation; the bittersweet taste of the lemonade resting on my tongue the whole time. 

When I come back to myself I'm lying in my own bed and my head is consumed with a vicious ache; throbbing at the temples. My mouth is dry and there's a terrible taste there and I'm desperate for water. I manage to sit up though the world spins, and the room is full of shadows; warm from the fire crackling in the fireplace. 

"I was starting to think you'd simply sleep through the night," Bebe's soft voice comes to me through the gloom. I turn to see her sitting in a chair not too far from my beside. She turns on a lamp, making me blink rapidly at the sudden illumination. Like a gift from heaven, she offers me a glass of water that had been waiting on the nightstand. "I'm sure you'll want this."

"Yes, please," I croak, taking it and drinking greedily; drips of water sloshing my chin. When I'm done I sigh, handing the glass back before falling against my pillow. I'm so terribly exhausted and oh, my head...

"Here." Taking my hand, she slides two white tablets into it before refilling my glass. "It'll help your head."

I take them and look at her, eyes narrowing. "How did you know my head would hurt?"

She's passive when she replies, even more so than normal when I ask questions like this. "This isn't my first day on the job, Kyle."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I've learned to anticipate certain events. You're not the only omega I've attended to, you know." Standing, she goes to build up the fire again. 

I watch, a terrible sense of apprehension building in my gut. What makes it worse is that I can remember very little of my afternoon with Damien, although I can recall posturing for him, allowing him to fondle and caress me, and I hadn't fought...I hadn't fought at all after a while...

"What did he do to me?" I ask faintly. I begin to rise from the bed but my legs are too weak to hold me up; I fall, feeling more and more helpless as the seconds tick by. A hateful whine passes my lips and I cover my mouth. 

I sound so weak. I hate it. I hate it so much!

Keeping her back to me, Bebe continues tending the fire. I'm simultaneously grateful that she can't see me this way and angry as well - I feel like she doesn't want to look at me. 

Clenching my hands on the coverlet I conjure all the strength I still possess. "Damien did something to me, I know it! And I know you do too, so tell me the truth! I never would've acted that way on my own! He made me -"

I break off, more memories materializing; being in front of the window and turning for him, and then he'd come over, had taken me into his arms -

I'm horrified and I touch my mouth, and it's like I can still feel his lips resting there. I'd never been kissed before, not there, and while i hadn't had grand dreams for the first time it happened, I hadn't wanted it to be like that; against my will and unwanted. With someone I despise. 

"It isn't enough that he bought me," I say, voice trembling because I'm almost blind with rage and an unspeakable sorrow. "It isn't enough that he thinks he owns me, but now he's finding ways to control me? My own body?"

"Your body doesn't belong to you," she says, still not looking at me. "It's devoted to your instincts, the ones you can't fight or bargain with... they're starting to wake up. You can't stop it. It's inevitable."

"Damien just helped them along," she adds in a much softer voice. "He's good at that... molding omegas into what he feels he needs."

Frantically, I look around, feeling cornered, sick. My eyes fall on the glass on the beside table, the way it sparkles under the lamplight, and I'm hit with a realization that almost makes me vomit. I retch but manage to control myself. 

"The drink," I say. "I knew it didn't taste right, I knew...I knew and I still drank it like an idiot." I look up at her, momentarily dazed by the way the firelight becomes trapped in her light hair, the back of her uniform plunged into shadow. "And he watched the whole time, knowing, and Rebecca, too. How could she do that? Damien I understand, but her...she knows how he treats us...her own brother; like we're animals, like we're nothing!"

"She has a job to do!" she yells, finally turning to look at me with a fierce, almost pained expression. "We all have jobs to do! Our loyalty is to the master, not his omegas, and you'd do well to understand that!"

I draw back when she approaches, raising an arm. I've never seen her this way, so full of her own fury, but there's something to it that doesn't just seem like anger. It almost feels desperate in its own right, and while I'm still ready to fight, I know it won't be satisfying to do it with her. 

She's not the one I'm truly angry with. Yes, she plays a part in this whole ugly place, an integral part, but we're both captives of it; this broken society and its cruel rules. 

"Rebecca and Mark were half-dead when they were discovered stealing from the master's garden," she continues, looking right in my eyes; her own a blazing blue. "They only had each other and were determined to stay together after the sickness killed their mother and their father changed. The sickness got into his brain and made him crazy, made him try to kill his own children. That's after he tried to -"

Her eyes flick away for a moment, then back, more intense now. "Mark's father tried to mate with him, take him as an omega; his own son."

The nausea I'd felt before comes back with a vengeance now, and it's a wonder i don't vomit right at her feet. "That's awful," I whisper from behind my hand. "I can't even imagine something so terrible."

"This world is cruel to us," she says, moving to sit beside me; hands folded in her lap. "Many of us are only doing what we can to survive, no matter what it involves. No, we're not proud, most of us, but we can't let the shame stop us either. There's nothing noble about starving to death or wandering in the cold."

The tears are falling before I can speak next, and they're hot on my face. "What did he put in my drink?"

"Something to make you more docile, bring out your natural instincts to please and obey," she says dully. "The same hormones that were being suppressed by the medications you took before you came here. He's speeding up your puberty, and while it's a questionable practice it's hardly uncommon."

"And it worked, didn't it? You responded to him... to his scent. You were," she sighs, "attracted to him."

"I couldn't even think straight," I say, crying. "It changed everything, the way i felt, the way things smelled...I wasn't myself. That wasn't me."

"It is you, though. The omega part of you, and isn't that everything when you get down to it? You can't escape your biology, Kyle, and Damien knows that."

"He's disgusting," I reply, having never felt this level of hate for anyone before. Even my father, whose selfishness put me in this position in the first place. I pause then, something she'd said clicking into place. "Speeding up my puberty? That means he's trying to make me go into Heat sooner, right? So he can..."

Almost wild with terror, I rise from the bed and this time i can actually keep my feet. Thankfully I've been taken out of that ridiculous dress i wore for Damien and I'm wearing a simpler gown of white; still longer than I'd like, the train drags the floor as i walk without direction. 

"I have to leave, I can't stay here," I say, nearly incomprehensible as I try to formulate a plan. I grab a cloak from the chifforobe and try to find some suitable shoes, but all I can see are those ridiculous Mary Janes that Damien seems to favor for me. I pick up a pair and hurl them at the wall. "Don't I have any clothes that aren't just frivolous bullshit?!" I grope among the finery, an idea coming to me. "My clothes from the facility, where are they? I had boots-"

"All of the clothes you arrived in were burned," Bebe says, still sitting on the bed and watching with a grave expression. "What you see here is what you have, until Damien adds to your wardrobe as he sees fit. You won't find any boots or heavier items, no jackets... nothing to protect you from the snow other than your cloaks, and even those wouldn't keep you warm enough. Your garments are designed to flatter you, not protect you from the elements."

"Isn't that convenient?" I snap. "Why should I have anything useful as long as I'm pretty? Fine, I don't care, I'll just wear every cloak I have... I'll put on extra stockings so my feet at least stay a little bit dry."

Bebe had gone to the window while I was speaking, and she delicately moves to pull back the curtain, bringing into focus the world outside; darker now with nightfall, but I can still see the snow falling thickly. 

"They're saying that it's going to snow for days," she tells me. "It's the worst storm we've seen in a century, at least that's what I've heard."

"I don't care," I say fiercely, trying to find a bag now. If I can make it to the kitchens somehow, maybe I can find some food to take along. "I'd walk through fire to get away from this place."

She drops the curtain. "Kyle, you aren't thinking straight. You'd be frozen to death before you were even a mile away."

"I'll hold on as long as I have to. I grew up in the woods, not like a pampered lapdog. I can take care of myself." Frustrated, I accidentally tear a gown - a turquoise affair with an annoying train of rows upon rows of lace - unable to find a bag that isn't the size of a coin purse. "I'll just keep going until I find another place to stay."

Coming over, she watches my fruitless search for a moment before kneeling beside me. Gently, she puts a hand on my arm and I become still, looking at her with aching, tired eyes; my head feeling like it's going to explode from the pain inside of it. 

"There isn't another place for miles," she says. "The Master owns all the land around here, so much that even i don't know how far it goes. There are outposts here and there that belong to other Alphas, but everyone in this area is loyal to him. They also know he's recently purchased a redheaded omega. You'll get no help or shelter from them."

Before I can stop myself I blurt out, "I'll cover my hair. They can't tell I'm an omega just by looking at me, especially if I wear a lot of layers."

"They'll smell you and when they become suspicious, which they will, they'll look for your Mark."

Tremulously, I reach to touch the Mark on my thigh, hidden by my skirt. I also bring a hand to my neck, where the sensitive glands are; the source of the majority of an omega's distinctive scent. I want to tear off everything that labels me as my dynamic, rip them from my skin. 

"More importantly," she says quietly, "where would you go? To be with your family?"

A sob slips out before I can stop it, the pressure of the snare I'm trapped in becoming that much tighter. The whole hateful afternoon with Damien is waking up in my head now, and I can remember what he'd said about my family; the awful threats he'd made. 

"They will disappear and you'll never know what happened to them."

"He'll hurt them, won't he? My father and brother?" I slump, staring listlessly off into space. It isn't like I don't already know the answer. "If i try to run?"

"He would have them killed," Bebe replies. "Without a second thought. To make a point, he'd do almost anything... he's probably the most ruthless Alpha I've ever met, and I've met a lot of them, Kyle. That's why I'm trying to help you see reason, repeatedly...I don't know how to make you understand."

"Damien always gets what he wants, regardless of who's in his way. He'll crush anyone." Lapsing into quiet, she stands and begins to clean up the mess I'd made. 

For several long moments i can only sit there in the ornate disarray I'd created, a sea of gowns and frippery, and I'm beyond crying now, so deep is my grief and hopelessness. Until that moment, I suppose I had harbored some small hope, a light, that I'd be delivered from my circumstances before Damien could claim me completely, but now I see the writing on the wall. 

In order to keep my family safe, I'll have to give in, and that doesn't mean just a little... it means entirely, until I'm no longer the Kyle I've always been. I would become a stranger to myself, and lie beneath a monster and bear his children; crushed in his grip until there was nothing left to take. 

"Let me do it, it's my mess," I say without emotion after some time. Picking up a dress and going to hang it up, my voice is meek now; beaten down. I can't look into Bebe's face, deeply ashamed at my outburst, how futile it'd all been. "I don't want to make your job any harder than it already is."

-----

I rise late the next morning because my sleep was troubled, punctuated by nightmares that have me shaking when I open my eyes. My head still aches and so does my body, particularly my neck and my chest, my hips and between my legs. I feel feverish and lethargic, struggling even to sit up so I can look out the window. 

The world is lost in the snow when I pull back the curtain, so much that I can't see the lawn or the garden; everything as far as I can see is white and frozen, and still the snow continues to fall. 

"Come and have your breakfast," Bebe calls, her voice different from before; less authoritative and more maternal. I feel a shift between us, as if we've reached an understanding that will shape our relationship going forward. 

I sit at the small table before the fire without argument, watching as she uncovers the myriad of dishes: fruit, oatmeal, waffles, eggs; fragrant tea and a glass of orange juice. I stare at it and become aware of my thirst, but something in its vivid color makes me stop when I reach for it. 

Knowing what I do about this situation, I look at Bebe with suspicion. "I'm not eating or drinking anything until you tell me whether or not its been drugged."

We regard one another and I can see the battle going on in her head, but finally she seems to give in; speaking as she begins laying out my clothes. "Medications to encourage your development. Aid in fertility."

"Have you been slipping this stuff to me the whole time?"

She turns so I can't see her face, straightening my dress, smoothing the wrinkles much more than is really necessary, I think. "Yes. In much smaller amounts than what you were given yesterday."

"No wonder I didn't notice," I mutter, disgusted with the deception and myself for being so gullible. Revolted, I push the tray away. "I can't do it, not when I know what I'm consuming. That's asking too much and you know it."

She looks at me over her shoulder. "So, your plan is to starve yourself, then?"

"If that's the end result, so be it. I promised not to run away...I never agreed to stuffing this poison down my throat."

She nods and goes back to readying my attire. "It takes a long time to die from starvation."

"I can be very patient when I need to be."

"The Master will notice what you're doing before it comes to that," she adds. "He'll retaliate."

Fear grips me from this small statement alone. "Surely you could bring me something that doesn't have -"

She cuts me off with a curt shake of her head. "Don't put me in this position, Kyle. In many ways my hands are just as tied as yours."

Swallowing hard, I look back at the tray, my stomach sinking and already beginning to churn with hunger. My meal with Damien already seems like it was lifetimes ago, and I didn't have any dinner last night because I was too upset to eat. 

It's with extreme reluctance that I lift my fork and poke at my eggs; they're sunny side up, the yolks golden orange and bloated. I pierce one and it leaks across the plate, oozing slowly. 

"Much smaller amounts?" I ask, not lifting my eyes. "The drugs, I mean."

"Yes, much smaller," she replies. "Damien only gave you as much as he did yesterday in order to make you easier to handle. As a general rule, you'll only take a fraction of that amount so it won't shock your system. It could make you sick and damage your ability to conceive."

"I see," I say softly, an idea swiftly forming in my head. 

I know I can't go without eating completely, but what if I only ate as little as I could get away with? That would slow everything down, and maybe, just maybe, I could figure a way out of this nightmare. 

Looking up, I see that Bebe is still preoccupied and not watching me. Quickly, I take a napkin and stuff it with fruit and a waffle; concealing the bundle in one of the many folds of my nightgown; squashed as small as I can manage. If I'm successful at hiding it, I can throw it into the fire as soon as Bebe departs.

The rest of the meal is eaten with trembling fingers and a growing sense of anxiety, but I manage to choke down enough food to satisfy Bebe, who looks everything over with grave approval. 

"Let's get you dressed," she says, gesturing to yet another gown, this one more in line with what I'm used to; fluffy and full-skirted. 

I seize up, the bundle heavy against my leg, and I'm slow to stand, making sure to keep distance between us. 

"Um, if you wouldn't mind," I say, trying to think quickly, "are you sure I have to wear that dress? There's just something about it that I don't much care for."

Obviously surprised, she looks between me and the garment in question. "What's wrong with it?"

"Well, it's blue," I say, trying to be casual as I move closer to the bed. "I thought Damien preferred me in green?"

She frowns, clearly becoming annoyed. "Since when do you care about that?"

I shrug, trying to appear indifferent even though I'm shaking on the inside. "If I'm going to give in and put up with all this, shouldn't I try to please him as much as possible? Wouldn't that make both our lives easier?"

"Well," she says, and I can tell she's actually giving serious thought to my words. She scowls at me suddenly. "You know, you could've said something while I was laying everything out; saved me some trouble."

"You're right," i say quickly, "I can put it away if that'd make -"

"Oh, never mind," she interjects, an edge to her words. "Go and sit while I attend to this. It'll take longer if I have to babysit you the whole way."

Feigning a demure nature, I sink onto the bed, waiting long enough for her to turn her back and then swift as a rabbit I stuff the napkin of food deep beneath my bed, making sure the skirt is just so right before she faces me again. She holds up a green dress and sarcastically asks if it meets with my approval. 

I simply nod my head and smile, determined to be the most compliant omega she's ever had to look after; for as long as it takes. 

I'll throw the mess in the fire as soon as I have the chance. 

-----

"I'm starting to think the snow is never gonna stop, fellas," Butters says as he clumsily attends to his needlepoint. From what I can figure, he's trying to stitch a picture of a kitten in a basket but it looks terribly lopsided, like the kitten is drunk on something. 

He sits across from me in the day room, an area set aside for Damien's omegas to occupy themselves when going out isn't an option. It's bright and filled with comfortable furniture; all very feminine in shades of mint and rose, complete with a fainting couch. Pip is lounging there now, crocheting and similar to a pretty layer cake in his icy blue and white frock with the impossibly large skirt. 

"It'll stop when it stops," he says without interest. He lifts his eyes and meets mine. "Shame we couldn't go out to the garden, don't you think?"

I'm flipping through a book of pictures that are very inoffensive: flowers, mountains, trees. It's so boring I can barely keep my eyes open, but I was told the book was designed for omegas; wordless and soothing. Glancing at the others, I almost wish I could knit or sew, anything to keep my idle hands busy; anything to stave off the seeming endlessness of this afternoon. 

"I'd give anything to be outside," I say truthfully, looking toward the window and the snow falling, falling, falling. "Just to get some fresh air... anything."

"Yes," Pip says, but now he seems amused. "There are very interesting things to be found outside. People, too. Isn't that right, Kyle?"

I look up quickly and I see him watching me with a sly expression. Butters continues to jab at his needlepoint but he glances at me too; innocently curious. 

"I suppose," I say carefully, raising an eyebrow in Pip's direction, subliminally telling him to clam up because it's obvious what he's doing; baiting me about speaking with Craig Tucker, when he was the cause of everything. I'm starting to see that he likes to tease so I try to shift the conversation in another direction. 

"I hope Mark is alright," I say, looking at my book again; a picture of pink foxgloves looking back at me. I wish it were roses instead. "I've been worried about him since that night at dinner."

"Oh, that was terrible," Butters says in a hushed voice, and I can tell he truly feels worried about Mark's fate. "I felt so bad for him, but I'm sure the master took care of him... he usually knows what's best."

"Mark was going into Heat," Pip says, sounding very bored. "That's why he was acting that way, it's nothing remarkable."

"I heard him screaming, though," I say. "Late into the night. It was horrible."

"No surprise there," he replies. "Heats are supposed to be intolerable until, well..." he trails off and goes back to his crocheting, the blanket he's making already a large yellow square. 

Anxiously, I sit forward, not sure if I want to hear this but morbidly curious either way. "Until what?"

He doesn't look at me now but smiles slowly. "You don't know?"

I bristle. "I have a good idea, but I can't say i know for sure. This is all new to me."

"Me, too," Butters adds, appearing very nervous suddenly. 

"I swear, you two act like you know nothing about your own dynamic," he scoffs. "You never would've survived in the orphanage... they'd have eaten you alive. But, I suppose I can tell you -"

"Oh, please, please," Butters says, dropping his needlepoint. I frown, not really caring for how Pip is drawing out his own importance. 

"If you know then tell us," i say sharply. "Otherwise, don't bother."

"Ugh, you're no fun," Pip sighs. "Fine, have it your way. Mark stopped screaming because Damien gave him what he needed, what any omega in Heat wants from their Alpha."

"Cake? It's cake, right?" Butters asks, wide eyed. "Or a new dress?"

Even i have to roll my eyes now, closing my book slowly. "Butters, no. He means -"

"Sex, you moron," Pip says, giving him a hard look. "The Master had sex with him." Looking around, Pip lowers his voice, cupping a hand around his mouth. "They fucked."

My skin crawls to hear him say that, both from the imagery it creates in my mind but also hearing something so filthy from his lips. It just seems wrong; like a puppy with venomous fangs.

Butters blushes a deep scarlet and presses his hands to his mouth. "Why would they do that?"

We both stare at him now and I'm left to wonder whether he's a little slow, terribly naive, or a combination of both. I clear my throat. "Butters, you know why Alphas and Omegas mate, right?"

Worrying his hands, he looks down like he's ashamed. "To have babies, I guess."

Picking up the conversation, Pip asks, "then why are you asking why they had sex? The Master wants children more than anything and Mark was in heat, so..."

"I know, it just seems so serious, I guess; having babies and all," Butters replies. "I don't think I'm ready."

I glance between them. "Have either of you had a Heat since Damien brought you here?"

Pip frowns. "I have, but it was right after I came here. They didn't feed us enough at the orphanage and I was underweight, plus I had the flu. The Master was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle mating, so we didn't do anything."

"My Heats are irregular," Butters pipes up. "They don't seem to happen when they're supposed to so it's been a while since I had one. Besides, I've only been here for two months."

"Two months?" I ask. God, that sounds like a lifetime. I look at Pip. "What about you?"

"Almost a year," he mutters."I do everything I can to bring on another Heat, eat what I'm told to, take my medicine, exercise. Nothing seems to work."

"I found out I'm being given medicine to help mine along," I mutter, my rage surfacing all over again. "I was taking suppressants before I came here, but Damien drugged my drink during lunch yesterday -"

"What?" Pip asks, sitting up and setting his crocheting aside. There's a strange look on his face; a mixture of dismay and anger. "What are you talking about? You ate lunch with the master?"

Unnerved, I nod. "Yes, he invited me... we ate in the sunroom together. He asked about my piano lesson and he," I look out the window, "he made me perform for him. After drugging me. It was awful."

"Perform for him? What do you mean, Kyle?" Butters asks, sounding very lost. "I didn't know you could dance."

"He didn't dance for him, you imbecile!" Pip yells, catching both of us off-guard. Sitting up, he peers at me. "Did you?"

"No, he... had a dress made for me and had me model it for him. I couldn't refuse," I say, pressing a hand to my forehead. "He kissed me, though. On the mouth."

"Oh," Butters gushes. "A new gown and a kiss? That sounds so romantic."

"Yes, very romantic," Pip agrees, though he doesn't sound nearly as starstruck. "What are you complaining about? It sounds like he was just trying to be kind to you."

"He doesn't know anything about kindness," I snap. "He basically told me he'll go after my family if I don't do what he says. Does that sound kind to you?"

"Why wouldn't you want to do what he says?" Butters asks. "Isn't that what omegas are supposed to do? Find an alpha and do what they're told? That's what my father always said... and he was never wrong. At least that's what he told me, anyway."

"I'm not just going to blindly obey someone like Damien," I say. "If I ever find an Alpha i can respect, one that respects me too, sees me as more than just an omega, then maybe I'll change my mind. It's almost like love doesn't matter to him, like he can't even feel it -"

"You're a fool," Pip says in a tone I've never heard from him; icy and biting. Standing, he throws his tiny blanket on the floor. "Love is a myth, at least the sort you're talking about."

Completely taken aback, I can't find my voice, but he goes on; every word like a knife being flung at me. 

"The Master took us in when he didn't have to," Pip practically spits, "he's fed us and clothed us; we have a roof over our heads and security. We don't have to worry about being hurt or abused by Alphas who don't give a damn about us -"

He stops, and for a moment I think he's going to cry, but he takes a deep breath instead. "We're safe in here, and the master doesn't let anything touch us that shouldn't. How is that not love?"

I'm startled into silence, and in his words I can almost feel an almost tangible sadness there. I speak softly. "I guess you could call that love if that's how you see it, but I don't. If Damien truly wanted to love me I'd be here because I wanted to be, not because I was bought... not against my will. I wouldn't be drugged against my will and without my knowledge. He'd ask me what I want and he'd listen to my answer but he hasn't." I shrug, and now I really wish I were alone somewhere; perhaps out in the garden with the silent roses. "And he won't."

"Have you even given him a chance?" he asks, eyes bright. "Or are you too distracted with trying to prove him wrong? Huh?" Closing his eyes, he places his hands on his chest. "He didn't send someone to get me from the orphanage, did you know that? He came by himself, and before he brought me home he showed me everything I'd never seen before, beautiful shops, the city; the nice part, anyway... and he did it to make me happy. Just me. No one else. Even though he knew my past...he knew what had happened to me. He didn't care."

"Pip," I say, feeling immense amounts of pity and shame. "I'm sure Damien cares about you."

"He does, I can see it in his face when he looks at me," he replies, wistful, and then his eyes snap open. He looks around like he's woken from a dream that he dearly wished to finish. "God, what am I even talking about right now? I feel out of control. See? My face is flushed; it's nerves."

"Maybe you're starting a heat," Butters says hopefully, and I want to hug him for his optimism. 

"Maybe," Pip says, going to sit, his skirt fluffing around him like mounds of rich whipped cream. He looks lost in a sea of ruffles, like a child playing dress-up. I lean forward, hands on my knees. 

"Damien isn't happy with me, I promise," I say, wanting to put him at ease. "I'm not obedient, I say whatever's in my head... he doesn't like me. I'm not what he wants. I wouldn't be surprised if he returned me. Asked for a refund."

He glances at me and finally smiles, but it's small; tenuous. "I'm sure he won't do that."

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see," I reply, the nervous bunched-up feeling relaxing in my chest. My muscles loosen and I nearly fall back against my chair in relief. It's not like I need to be at odds with anyone in this place, and I like Pip. He's been kind so me so far, and I don't want to hurt him even if I don't necessarily understand him. 

"Are you guys fightin'?" Butters asks, looking nervously between us. His cheeks are very pink now, and he's actually quite pretty when the lights hits him in just such a way; calling to attention his pale, vulnerable softness.

"Are we?" I look at Pip and wait. 

"No, I don't think so," Pip replies, but there's a decided melancholy in his bearing when he looks away. "You know how it is when omegas get together... there's always a misunderstanding."

The afternoon finally winds down as the storm continues, and by the time lunch and then dinner arrive, I'm thoroughly done with the day. I never realized just how exhausting being idle can be; it's taxing in a different way than what I'm used to, leaving me melancholy and listless. 

"I suppose you've had enough," Bebe remarks as she cleans up my dinner tray. 

I've actually had very little but I pat my stomach anyway; the napkin of food tucked safely away in the layered ruffles of my dress. For once I'm actually glad that Damien insists on these ridiculous clothes.

"I couldn't eat another thing," I say, already eyeing the roaring fire. I was gratified to see that the remnants from my breakfast and lunch had burned nicely away; crumbling into gray ash. 

"You eat like a parakeet," she replies but she doesn't seem to be in a bad humor. "How was your afternoon with the others?"

"Better than having lunch with Damien," I say. "And no one can tell me how Mark's doing."

"He's resting," she says simply, tidying my room and turning back the covers for when I retire. "Master's orders."

Her response perplexes me. We don't do any work in this house; essentially we seem to serve as much purpose as a vase on a mantel - why would any of us need to rest?

"Why?" I ask. "That hardly seems necessary."

"Heats are exhausting, and the master wants him to take it easy until we know whether or not Mark has conceived."

This forces a shudder from me. "I should've figured." Glancing at the fire, I touch the bundle under my dress. "What if he isn't pregnant? What then?"

She sighs. "Then the master will keep trying until he gets what he wants."

The next few days are much the same; an endless and boring swirl of snow and lying around the mansion; us omegas wiling away the long afternoons in the day room. We keep the conversation light, I suppose to avoid another potential row, but Pip is kind enough to start teaching me how to crochet. 

"You can make little things for your future children," he smiles, seemingly ignoring my look of unmitigated horror. 

I continue to eat very little and pocket the rest, taking great care to make sure the fireplace doesn't give away my secret. Still, I can feel subtle, disturbing changes in my body; random aches and a growing sensitivity to certain smells; particularly Damien's. If he's anywhere near, I can pick up on his scent and it makes my body react with a pulsing need; heart racing. 

Thankfully he's been preoccupied with his business (whatever that is; something illegal and unsavory, i imagine) and attending to Mark, so I've seen very little of him. I'm still very bothered by the change in my body, of course, and the lack of food and drink is making me lethargic. All of this plus the storm is making me feel like I'm swiftly losing my mind. 

Finally, after 4 days of unending snow, I wake up one morning to the sun shining brightly and the sky beginning to clear itself of clouds. I'm so relieved that i nearly start crying, but I contain myself and put on a chipper face at breakfast. 

"May I go out to the garden today?" I ask, watching for the right moment to stuff a pancake into my napkin. Bebe's preoccupied with making up my bed so I have a chance to hide my bacon as well. My stomach grumbles and I ache with thirst, but I'm determined. "Since it's so sunny out?"

Fluffing my pillows, she seems to consider this. "I suppose that would be alright. You do have a piano lesson later this morning, though."

My heart soars at this bit of news. Tricia Tucker! I have to resist asking Bebe if my piano teacher is related to the strange Craig Tucker - her response to those sorts of questions seems to be annoyance more often than not. Besides, I have to figure the two are related, even if Tucker doesn't seem to be a very unusual surname. 

It's with great enthusiasm that I greet the outdoors again, rushing toward the garden despite the bitter cold and the blanket of snow covering the grass. It looks like someone's been out shoveling and salting so there are paths and most of the walkways are clear. 

The roses are hiding under the snow but I gently brush the white frost from their petals. Soon they're shining under the sun, the light catching the melting ice and dazzling my eyes. I breathe deeply of their sweet, wonderful scent, and for a moment I actually feel happy, so glad to be out of that mansion for a while. I feel like I can breathe. 

I set about pruning and weeding as best I can with the snow piled up, all the while looking over my shoulder to see if Pip will be joining me. I also find myself looking beyond the gates, churning on the inside at the prospect of seeing Mr. Tucker again. 

I know it's foolish and there's really no sense in having an interest in a perfect stranger - an Alpha at that - but he'd been so cordial when speaking to me. He hadn't acted like i was a nuisance or beneath him, and his eyes....

I feel my cheeks becoming warm at the thought so I press my hands to them. 

"Calm down," I mutter. "I'm sure he doesn't even remember speaking to you. Who are you to him? No one."

I keep telling myself this but that doesn't stop me from looking up now and again to see if Mr. Tucker is walking by, and when I finally spot a figure in the distance, my heart goes wild. I can't even say why it does, but it's beating so fast, and I'm moving toward the gate before I realize what I'm doing; feeling almost hypnotized.

I'm cautious, though. After all, someone could be watching from a window and it may not even be Mr Tucker approaching, but some of my unease dies down when I catch a very familiar scent on the breeze, and I clutch my cloak beneath my chin, almost swooning. 

He's almost here, nearly walking by, tall and dressed in simple dark clothing, hat on his head shielding his eyes, and I can hear his boots clicking on the pavement. I draw closer to the gate, even closer than I'd been when we'd first met, and wait; my basket of roses resting on my arm. 

I must appear so strange, a lone omega in a dark green cloak, waiting in a field of snow, but I can't help myself; fool or no. When he finally passes by, I find my voice at the last moment and call out:

"Hello again."

He startles like I've woken him from a reverie, stopping to look at me. Our eyes meet for a moment and it's like electricity coursing through me, but he quickly looks away, scanning the grounds with a frown. 

"You're alone out here? Where's your friend?"

I blink, having not expected these questions. Why would he care? Nodding, I reply, "yes, sir, it's only me. I'm not sure where Pip is... maybe it's still too cold for him to want to join me."

"But it isn't too cold for you, i take it."

I pause. Is that a note of teasing in his voice? It's hard to tell with all his gruffness. "Not at all," I finally say. "I'm used to this sort of weather, having grown up in the woods."

He takes off his hat then to reveal his shiny black hair, and with his face no longer in shadow I can see the clear beauty of his eyes. I suck in a breath. They're just so gentle and different from Damien's. He turns his head to rub his neck and a pang of fright appears in my stomach to see his Mark behind his ear: the Alpha sun. I associate that with the worst in their dynamic: power, narcissism, the ability to preserve life or destroy it. 

He frowns deeper now, almost like he can tell i was momentarily afraid. He gestures to my basket. "Gathering your roses again, I see."

Boldly, I dare to come closer, so close that I can make out the rough homespun he's wearing; certainly not the quality an Alpha of means would wear. His boots are scuffed and dirty. His angular jaws are dark with stubble.

"It is strange that Damien's roses bloom in winter, isn't it?" I ask, feeling strange and provocative speaking my owner's name to another. "I remember you making a comment about that when we spoke before."

"Did I?"

"Yes, sir."

His mouth twitches. "You call Mr. Thorne by his first name?"

I'm thrown for a moment but recover quickly. "Is that what Damien's last name is? I hadn't known."

"How long have you been here and you still don't know his last name?"

"I'm not interested in knowing anything about him, sir," I say flippantly before I can catch myself. I cover my mouth, wide-eyed. For a moment, I'm terrified; having spoken ill of an Alpha to another of his kind; it's simply not done. 

But I'm nearly speechless with surprise when Mr. Tucker's mouth not only twitches again, but he smiles - it's small, but it's there, and I feel like I'm lighting up inside at the sight of it. I become pleasantly warm, and I make a play at being demure. 

"Forgive me, sir. I shouldn't have spoken out of turn like that."

Putting his hat back on, he watches me for a long moment, and I have a chance to catch his scent again. It's glorious, rich and spicy like a forest. It calms me in a way I've never felt before. 

"I respect honesty," he says, and although he's not smiling now he doesn't seem upset either; merely serious. "I will never fault someone for speaking their mind."

I raise a brow. "Even an omega?"

"Especially an omega," he says. "They seem to be the ones with the most to lose for doing so. Wouldn't you agree?"

Sadness grips me then, but don't avert my eyes when I reply, "what if you don't have anything left to lose?"

We regard one another for a moment, a wind passing through and scattering some of the rose petals from my basket. I feel numb with cold and weary from not eating enough; thirsty to the point of distraction, but in that moment I also feel so light, like I'm floating and watching myself from above. 

"What's your name?" he asks. "If you don't mind my asking."

"I'm Kyle," I say without hesitation. "And you're Mr. Craig Tucker."

He raises his eyebrows. "How did you come to know that?"

I shrug. "Omegas talk, sir. We've ample time on our hands to gossip and speculate."

"You mean to tell me you spend all your time tending roses and talking about folks you barely know?"

I cover the smile on my mouth. Now I know he's teasing me, and I adore it. "I'm learning the piano too, actually. I have a lesson later this morning."

His eyes narrow and he nods, looking beyond my shoulder and back toward the mansion. "Mr. Thorne is known for having the most cultured omegas. Do you enjoy it?"

"I do, very much, but I'm only starting out. I scarcely know anything yet."

"And do you have a good teacher?" 

I look for a clue in his expression to see if he's talking about Tricia, but his face gives nothing away. I decide to play along, not feeling brave enough yet to ask him anything truly personal. 

"She's wonderful," I say with complete honesty. "She's kind to me and plays the most beautiful music... I'd give anything to be half as talented as her."

He seems pleased by this, but becomes somber in an instant. "It takes a lot of work to play the piano... even more if you want to play competently, but your heart needs to be in it, too. That's the only way to really bring out its inner beauty."

I gaze at him, admiring the conviction in his tone. "You speak as if you know this from a personal standpoint, sir. Do you play?"

He begins to speak when he stops short, looking again beyond me and quickly closing himself off; suddenly aloof. Like a stranger again. I want to reach for him, beg him to go on, but I hear footsteps behind me and my heart stutters; frantic with surprise. 

"Good morning," he says, nodding in that old-fashioned way he has, but not to me. 

I glance over my shoulder to see Pip there, and he looks so startled; like a deer that's not sure if it should stay or flee. His eyes slide to mine and I feel ashamed for some reason, like I've done something wrong. 

"Kyle, Bebe sent me to fetch you," he says and I can hear the fear in his voice. He doesn't acknowledge Mr. Tucker's greeting. "You're needed inside."

"Of course," I reply, some of my happiness and bravado already evaporating. I turn to look at Mr. Tucker and he seems so far away suddenly. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Don't apologize," he says politely, but there's nothing personable about him now. There might as well be a canyon between us. "It's too cold to be out for long, anyway. If you'll excuse me." He nods to Pip again. "Good day."

Pip still doesn't answer, watching with slowly narrowing eyes as Mr. Tucker walks away. As soon as he's out of earshot he looks at me, a suspicious pull to his mouth. "Have you lost your mind? What were you doing talking to him?"

I blink, amazed. "I've spoken to him before, remember? As I recall, you called out to him."

Pip flushes. "That was a joke, and we were together. Do you know what the master would do to you if he knew you were speaking to an Alpha by yourself? Flirting with him?"

"I wasn't flirting!" I yell, starting to become angry. "You don't know what you're talking about!"

"The Master has whipped omegas for much less than that," he replies. "I've seen it, and he doesn't hold back... why should he? The rules are very clear."

My composure crumbling, I brush past him, devastated that the nice moment I'd spent with Mr. Tucker was being ruined; angry that I was constantly being shoved back into a box i simply didn't fit in. I swipe at my eyes, already hot with frustrated tears. 

"Kyle, wait! Please!" Pip calls, running to catch up. He grabs my arm. "I'm not trying to upset you, I'm just worried. I don't want you to get in trouble."

I look down at my basket of roses, finding fleeting comfort in their delicate beauty. For a moment, I can imagine leaving a whole bouquet at the gate for Mr Tucker to find... so he could carry them home and hopefully realize they were a gift from me. 

So he'd know that I was thinking of him. I sigh, looking at Pip with wet eyes. 

"Please don't tell anyone," I murmur. "It was innocent, I promise."

"I know," he says, taking my hand and squeezing it. "Your secret's safe with me."

Chapter Text

Can I be the only hope for you?
Because you're the only hope for me
And if we can't find where we belong
We'll have to make it on our own
Face all the pain and take it on
Because the only hope for me is you alone

- The Only Hope For Me is You, My Chemical Romance


I'm starting to see the similarities between them. The shapes of their noses, the tone of their skin; even the same sort of lips; the small quirk about them right before they smile. 

I'm sitting beside Tricia and we're having tea before we begin, but I'm so preoccupied with stealing glances at her that I've barely had a thing. Besides, I'm so nervous about eating or drinking that the array of snacks laid out is making me faintly ill.

"I made good time this morning," she comments, lifting a sugar cookie to nibble on it. "Despite the snow, of course."

I nod, cradling my teacup in my hands. "I was in the garden when you arrived. Looking after the roses."

Speaking with your brother if my assumptions are correct. 

"Poor things," she says, delicately stirring her tea. "I'm sure they suffered from the storm."

"Actually," I reply, setting my cup down. "They didn't. They're as healthy as ever."

"Strange." She glances quickly at the portrait of Damien over the fire. "Still, I'd like to believe that any alpha who enjoys roses has at least a little kindness in them."

"Your brother, the one you told me about," I remark carefully, "does he like roses?"

"Very much so."

"And he's an Alpha?" 

Something in my tone must've conveyed my less than innocent interest; she looks at me oddly. "Yes, I told you that before. Why?"

Trying to play it off, I wave my hand as if the subject was of no consequence. "Idle curiosity."

She still looks suspicious but lets it go, gesturing to the spread before us. "You're not hungry?"

I look at the rows of petit fours and cookies; the tiny tea sandwiches, and while I'm hungry on a purely physiological level, I just can't allow myself to eat more than absolutely necessary. 

"They're putting hormones in my food and drinks," I admit softly, "to encourage me to go into Heat quicker."

"Ah," she says. "I've heard of that being done. From what I've heard it's pretty standard. With some Alphas, anyway." She looks into her teacup with a frown. "So you believe they've put something in this food as well?"

My stomach twists and I feel terrible for not warning her sooner. "I don't know, I can only assume... I'm sorry, I should've told you."

She pats my hand lightly. "Don't worry, love. Omega hormones won't bother me... I'm not built the same way you are so don't fret. However," she adds, putting down her cup, "I can't say that I think it's fair that they don't seem to be giving you a choice in the matter."

"I don't have a choice in anything I do," I mutter. "Things just happen to me and I'm supposed to stay quiet and go along."

She smiles slowly. "Like taking piano lessons?"

Now I'm sure that she and Mr. Tucker are related; the way they tease is nearly identical, and there's something about their eyes, that same clear beauty, even if they don't share an eye color. 

"He's your brother, isn't he?" I blurt out before I can stop myself. "Mr. Craig Tucker?"

She blinks, clearly taken aback, and I'm sure she thinks i must be out of my mind; not that I can really blame her. After a moment, she seems to regain her bearing, and relaxes. 

"Yes, he is. How did you know that?"

"Well, Pip, that's another omega here, pointed him out to me when I first got here," I explain, trying to stay calm but it's difficult. I'm just so elated that Mr. Tucker is related to someone I like so much. "And, well, I've spoken with him. Twice. Just before I met with you, actually."

"That makes sense, i suppose," she says. "He escorts me here for your lessons, after all." She looks at me from the corner of her eye. "He actually spoke with you?"

"Well, I spoke to him first, technically," I say, Pip's sudden impulsive greeting ringing in my head. "But he was very, well not exactly friendly, but -"

"Polite?" she asks, raising a brow. "Yes, he can be very polite when he feels like it."

I look down at my hands, clenched tightly in my lap. I hope i didn't make a mistake by telling her all this, but then again I've never been known for my patience or self control. 

"He didn't scold me for speaking to him. He almost seemed like he didn't mind, it was nice." Sighing, my hands loosen slightly, and I try to relax. "And when Damien told me your name, I just figured..."

Shrugging, I look up, and there's an ache in my throat. "He's just so different from the Alphas I've met before."

"There's a reason for that," she says, and while she doesn't seem annoyed by this conversation she does give off a feeling of wanting to be done with it. She rises and smooths her long skirt; today she's wearing a dress in a bottle green shade. "But it isn't my place to talk about my brother's affairs, especially in the home of another Alpha. It isn't proper."

Crestfallen, I suppose I can't argue with that, so I merely nod. I can't keep the disappointment from my expression, though. She softens, and reaches for my hand. 

"Come, we have a lot of work to do if you're going to be ready for your debut." Leading me, we go to the piano. 

"Debut," I repeat, just as I had with Damien, because the idea is still so bizarre to me. "What exactly happens during a debut?"

She sits and gathers her basket onto her lap. "Essentially you're presented to society, other Alphas and their omegas. It solidifies your status as Damien's omega, and gives him a chance to showcase your virtues and abilities."

"So I'm basically being paraded around and shown off," I say flatly. "For the amusement of Alphas."

Tricia taps her nose, a wry smile on her face. I roll my eyes, already thoroughly disgusted with the whole business. 

"And this is a typical practice?" I ask. 

"With wealthier Alphas, yes. The upper echelon of high society." She opens a book of music. "Really, it's just a way to show everyone how much money they have and to see who has the most desirable omegas. It's nothing but social posturing."

I touch the piano, still entranced by its sleek beauty. "And I have to play for them?"

"Yes, it's expected."

I look at her. "I'm scared, though...I've never done anything like that before. Will I get in trouble if what I play isn't perfect? Damien is so exacting."

Patting the spot beside her on the bench, she holds up the book. "That's why we need to practice as much as possible. Thankfully, I'll be coming to give you lessons quite often so we can work together. I'll make sure you're ready."

Joy floods me to hear this; happy that I'll get to see her more, and also the prospect of seeing her brother. Trying to appear indifferent, I ask, "and your brother brings you here?"

She's quiet for a moment. "He likes to make sure I'm safe... it isn't wise for a woman to travel alone in areas populated with a lot of Alphas. They can become hostile."

I find this interesting, having never really had to think about it. My mother had usually traveled with my father before she died and I'd never really known any other women very well. "Why is that?"

"They view us as expendable and useless," she says, her mouth tightening. "Unless we're serving them somehow, Alphas would be content to see us gone. We can't give them children and they aren't inherently attracted to us... and Betas can very easily do what we do; tutor, work as maids, do manual labor."

"Can't Betas try to mate with omegas, though?" My skin crawling at the notion. "I would imagine Alphas wouldn't want them around if they can cause that sort of trouble."

"Betas are... lacking in that regard, and they don't have the same needs and desires as Alphas. Besides, Betas are often castrated if they're going to be working close to omegas." 

I'm horrified when she says this, thinking immediately of my brother. "That's barbaric! That can't be true!"

She stops flipping through the book to glance at me, her expression almost uneasy now. "You've never heard of that before? But Kyle, it happens all the time. I know omegas aren't allowed to go to school or anything like that, but surely your parents..."

I shake my head slowly. "I guess my mother thought she was protecting me by shielding me from all of this, but now I'm starting to realize she did me a disservice... all of this is so new and most of it makes me sick. I can't believe we just let Alphas run things this way... it's like they don't have to answer for anything because they make all the laws."

"That's true. There are very little consequences for them, but I can understand why your mother tried to keep all this away from you. I think she was trying to be merciful." She drops her focus and touches one of the keys, its somber, solitary note very soft in the quiet room. "Not all parents are that kind."

A surge of curiosity hits me like a sharp wind. "Do you live with your parents and brother?"

Becoming rigid, she lifts the book and plunks it down on the holder. "My mother is dead and I'm estranged from my father, as is my brother, and yes, I live with Craig. We live on an estate not very far away. Now," she adds, "enough chit-chat. It's time to work."

So many questions are on my tongue that it feels heavy, but I nod, not wishing to make her angry with me, not when I want to be her friend so badly. "I've been thinking of the song you played since I saw you. It was so beautiful."

"Well," she says, tapping her chin, "how's about this, if you work hard and stay focused during the lesson, I'll play it for you again. And," she stops, considering something, "perhaps i can convince your master to let me give you recordings to listen to when we're apart. It'll help you learn."

"Oh," I breathe, "I'd love that. We had electricity when I was growing up but we never had a stereo or anything like that. We could never seem to be able to afford them and they're so hard to get."

"Alphas do like to control technology, don't they?" She sighs. "They like to control anything that might bring pleasure to other people, in any way they can." Smiling at me, she presses my hand. "I'll see what I can do, okay?"

"Now then, we'll start from the very beginning," she goes on, all business again. She presses a key down. "This is middle C, and -"

"Isn't that a letter?" I ask, already feeling discouraged. 

"Well, yes, but -"

Ashamed, I feel my face growing hot. I simply loath having to talk about the fact that I can't read, and it isn't like I haven't already told her. "I don't know any letters. I can't read or write. Won't that make this even harder?"

She considers me, and then looks towards the open book, festooned with music notes and more words I can't read; little symbols and letters that are completely foreign to me. "Well, it won't make it any easier, will it?"

"That's encouraging," I say, not wanting to be rude but deflated all the same. 

"Well," she murmurs, tossing one of her long braids over her shoulder. "I'll just have to teach you the letters, won't I? I mean, the whole alphabet isn't used in piano but... well, we can't have you just learning half of something, can we? That'd be slacking, and I'm sure your master wouldn't want that."

A small light blooms in my heart when I hear this, and I look at her, unable to speak for a moment. She couldn't possibly mean....

"You'll teach me the alphabet?" I ask, hardly daring to hope. It's one of our society's strictest laws for omegas: they are under no circumstances allowed to be taught to read, write, or do any sort of math. To expose them to such things is akin to asking for enormous trouble. "Does that also mean that you'll..." I gesture to her book. "I'll actually be able to know what it says on my own?"

"Just talking like this is dangerous," she says very softly, like she's afraid that someone's listening in. "You'd be severely punished by your master, possibly banished, and I'd be imprisoned." Firming her mouth, she gazes at me, her pretty sea glass eyes bright. "You know this, don't you? An educated omega is a threat."

I nod, and while the light is burning in me, filling me with a strange hope, I don't want Tricia to be a casualty of my unorthodox desires. I would never forgive myself. 

"I'm sorry. I can't ask you to do something like this," I say. "Just teaching me the alphabet, or even just the letters needed to play is more than enough. I should be grateful enough for that."

She nudges me softly and leans in, still speaking very quietly, and I almost don't catch what she says:

"It wouldn't be the first time."

I'm speechless again, simply amazed by the secrets Tricia has inside of her. "You mean you've taught another omega?"

She nods. "Someone who's very, very dear to me, and my brother, too."

Something in the way she says this makes an unexpected pang lance through my middle. "Oh," I say, tucking a curl behind my ear. "Did he know?"

"Who do you think came up with the idea? If he'd had more time for leisure Craig would've done the teaching himself."

Warmth spreads through me then, pleasant like sunshine as I imagine Mr. Tucker - Craig - sitting beside me instead and helping me learn, giving me another little smile like he had before, but not as guarded this time; affectionate. We'd lean over the same book, and maybe he'd brush my shoulder with his when pointing something out -

I almost sigh at this, and I realize suddenly I'd been taken from that room for a moment just like I'd been when listening to Tricia's music. It had all turned into a beautiful, impossible dream for a few moments -

I had risen beyond my constraints. 

"Why would you do this for me?" I ask, trying to ground myself again. "It's such a huge risk, and there's nothing for you to gain."

"Like I said before, you remind me of someone," she says vaguely. "And it gives me hope to meet an omega that hasn't completely given into their dynamic... you're fighting, you want to better yourself. You don't just want to be Bonded and bred. I guess I just want to... encourage it."

"Besides, I have no reason to accept the Alpha's laws," she adds, her voice bitter. "I think they're wrong... not just for your kind, but for Betas and women. We're all suffering in our own ways." She shakes her head. "But enough of that. Here."

She places her right hand on the keys, delicately curves her fingers, and begins to play, naming each key as she goes:

"C, D, E, F, G, A, B, then C again." She plays the same keys again, more slowly, making the sound of each letter as she goes. "That's the C Major scale, see? Now you try, just like I showed you."

I try, stumbling over the keys, feeling awkward and shy in front of her. She's kind, though, and walks me through it until I can play the scale forward and back. I do it a few more times, smiling widely when I'm done. She beams at me. 

"You just played your first scale," she says. "How do you feel?"

"Slightly more confident," I reply, oddly proud for having accomplished something so small. What I'd done pales in comparison to Tricia's grand playing from her last visit. I look at the book. "Is what I just played in there?"

"Yes," she says, pointing out the letters and naming them while I watch closely, letting it sink in. "Now, with regards to reading, the letters in the scale are in a different order than the alphabet, so let me show you."

She draws out a small book covered in pretty blue paper and opens it, revealing blank, lined pages. She pulls out a pen too, and begins to write, a row of letters; just like the scale, she names them in turn. 

"This is the foundation you need to learn in order to read," she tells me. "In many ways the principles of learning the piano and to read and write are the same; you start with the basics and build up. You'll begin with scales for the piano, and you'll learn your letters in order to read. And then, eventually, I'll show you how to write."

I'm mesmerized and I feel so excited, just listening to her speak, and she makes it seem so simple - so possible. I study the row of letters. "Please, may I keep this? I won't let anyone find it; I've gotten very good at hiding things."

"Only if you're very careful," she says, a shadow of worry passing over her face before disappearing. "Here, you can have the pen, too. Your first assignment will be to copy the letters as best you can while saying their names. Remember the sounds?"

We repeat them together several more times before she nods. Turning back to the piano, she has me play the scale again a few times before having me repeat it with my left hand, and then finally, she has me play the scale with both hands at the same time, my fingers tripping over the keys until I want to scream with frustration. 

"Patience," she smiles, leaning against me for a moment. "That's the most important part of all this, I think. Give yourself time to learn."

----- 

For the next week, I manage to ignore my unhappiness by attending to my studies as much as I can, taking care to hide the precious articles Tricia had given me as meticulously as possible, finally settling on a space deep beneath my mattress. My bed is so covered with frills that I doubt anyone will ever look too deeply, at least that's what I hope. 

In addition to laboring over my scales, I recite my alphabet whenever I'm alone, singing the little song Tricia taught me to remember the names and order better. I make the strange sounds of the letters as I gather roses, always when Pip can't hear, giddy when I manage to recite them without hesitating. 

Late at night, I wait until the house is dark and hushed to copy my letters on the pieces of paper Tricia gave me, writing until my hand aches; always taking care to throw the evidence in the fire. When I feel confident that I've learned the alphabet well enough, I get rid of the original too; breathing a sigh of relief and accomplishment when I do. 

Through it all, I try to have courage even as my strength begins to dwindle from hunger and thirst, and my body starts to betray me in more noticeable ways: aches all over, sensitive neck glands, heightened sense of smell, and even changes in my figure, despite the weight I've lost. 

"Well, your waist is smaller," Bebe frowns as she dresses me one morning. "But your hips are rounding out. See? They're wider."

I almost whimper when I look at my reflection, dressed only in a slip and stockings. I'm very thin but she's right, my hips are becoming more curved; taking on the omega shape. Soon my thighs will become fuller, and possibly my chest, though not every omega develops in this fashion. I look away, angry that even though I'm doing everything I can to turn the tides, my body continues on its course. There's nothing I can do to completely stop it. 

"I'm going to have to take this dress in, just like the other one," she adds, coming around to look in my eyes, her own displeased. "Your face is becoming gaunt, and your hair isn't nearly as shiny as it was when you first came here." She places a hand on my forehead and it feels so cool and soft. "You feel very warm. Either you're close to a Heat or you're sick."

Appalled, I pull away. "I'm sick. There's no way I'm going into Heat, I can't be."

"Oh?" She asks, reaching to touch my neck, and I almost whine because my glands feel so swollen and sensitive. She clucks her tongue. "Let me guess, you feel more tired than usual."

I shrug this off. Yes, I'm tired, but it's because I'm starving myself, not for any other reason. 

At least I pray that's the case. 

She begins touching me all over, making me shudder and shy away; hands searching and pinching. I moan, so sensitive that my skin aches, particularly below my navel; in the soft area of my pubis.

"Please," I beg, humiliated. "I'm sick, that's all."

"If that's the case, then back into bed with you," she says firmly. She goes to grab my nightgown. "I'll bring you some hot tea. Does your head hurt?"

Truthfully, it does, a throbbing at my temples, but I shake my head. I'm afraid that if I say too much she'll call for a doctor. Without protest, I allow her to dress me and tuck me into bed, all the while looking toward the window where the sky is a clear, vibrant blue. 

"But the roses," I say, giving her a look of pleading. 

And Mr. Tucker. What if he walks by and I'm not there? Will he even notice?

"The roses will survive a day without you," she says kindly, bringing me some tea leftover from my breakfast. "And you aren't having your next lesson until tomorrow, so you can take it easy and rest."

Sadly, I nod, turning my head on the pillow to find a cool spot. I hurt and I feel strange, but I'll stay strong. After all, what other choice do I have?

The day is spent in a sort of feverish stupor as I flit in and out of dreams both good and terrible, until finally night falls and I wake up completely to a room smudged with shadow; the fire flickering in the hearth. I'm disoriented and fretful for being even more idle than usual, but at least I feel better; less achy and warm. 

A strange sensation passes through me, though, and I feel as if I'm being watched; the delicate hairs on the back of my neck rising. I look to my side to see two flickering scarlet orbs seemingly floating there in the darkness, and I have to slap a hand to my mouth to keep from screaming. 

A soft laugh meets my ears, and now the hairs on my arms rise; body recoiling at the discordant sound. It's eery, and gives me the same feeling as being alone at night when a strange tap sounds at my window. I clutch the covers tighter to my chest. 

The lamp on my nightstand is turned on then, throwing the room into brilliant focus. I blink and almost scream again to see Damien sitting very close, occupying the same chair Bebe had used when keeping vigil in the past. He's seated in his typical posture, legs crossed; his cheek resting in his hand. He's smiling. 

"Your eyes," I manage to say, "they were red just now. I mean, they were more red than usual - brighter."

Like blood, they'd resembled the color of freshly spilled blood. 

"Just your mind playing tricks on you," he says soothingly. "Bebe tells me you were unwell today. How are you feeling now, my Kyle?"

"Better," I murmur. "You didn't have to check on me."

"It's a pleasure, especially to see your face so calm as you sleep," he replies before lifting his face to scent the air. His eyes close for a moment before opening slowly. They flash bright red again, I swear it. "I don't smell sickness on you, thank goodness, but there is something new about you. A change of sorts. I'm certain of it."

"I'm the same as always," I reply defiantly, trying to take shallow breaths in order to avoid smelling his scent as strongly. It doesn't work, and I'm drawn to it, to him, and the aches that had died down are being fanned again. 

"Your instincts are waking up," he says, "and your body is responding. You can't stop something that's already begun; your only recourse is to bow and accept what your biology already knows and what it's trying to tell you."

"Because you've been poisoning me," I hiss. "Because you can't earn anything fairly... you only know how to take and ask for more, even when there's nothing left."

"Oh, there's plenty to be found in you, little one. I'm beginning to think that what you have to offer me is endless." He stands and comes to sit beside me, looking down as if he's searching my face. I cringe away, huddling under the covers; I think momentarily of the pen and paper i have hidden beneath me and I'm almost paralyzed with fear. 

It's even more frightening to have Damien in my room; he's never come to visit me before, and I was beginning to think I might be safe from him here. I start to perspire, the sheets sticking to me. He smooths my sweat-slicked hair from my forehead, his touch so surprisingly gentle i almost feel like I'm hallucinating; like I'm caught in a fever-dream and I'm too delirious to realize it. 

"Don't be afraid," he says softly. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you believe me, my sweet darling?"

I shake my head weakly, beginning to feel slightly hazy. It feels like fire is racing in my veins, mixing with my blood, and all I can really focus on is Damien's aroma. It wakes up my pulse which becomes hectic, and I almost want Damien to hurt me in a way that might feel pleasurable too. 

"You're so warm," he almost sighs, stroking his hand along my cheek. It comes to settle on my neck and he squeezes softly. 

I arch off the bed, a gasp coming from me that I've never heard before, and I'm so wonderfully hot; nerves on fire, that sweet beautiful ache making itself known between my thighs, and I spread them without really thinking about it. I begin to whine softly, low in my throat. 

"Shh, calm yourself," he says, leaning so that his hand is on my other side, and he's above me; locking me in. He nuzzles my throat, breathing deep, before kissing me softly there. 

On sheer impulse alone, I bare my neck, and I can't believe I'm suddenly so wanton, but the desperate need is growing inside me. He laughs quietly against my skin. 

"The same as always, are you?" he teases. "Is this who you really are?"

I wake up slightly at the way he's mocking me and turn my head away, humiliated and infuriated. He rests his forehead against my curls and breathes in their scent. "Don't be like that... you should be happy about all of this. It's perfectly natural."

I've been thrown into a furious battle with myself just by his mere presence and I can't decide if I should fight or give in, but my body is telling me what it wants, and my family...I can't let anything happen to them because I've displeased this monster. 

But I think of Tricia and the possibilities she's brought me, those hours attending to study and the quiet euphoria they've given me....

And what about Mr Tucker?

I whine, and it's the most plaintive, pathetic sound I've ever made; ripped from deep inside me, but I can't stop it, and I can't find the words to express myself because I'm just so confused and torn. 

Damien sits up and gazes down at me, briefly touches my face before taking my hand; he rests it in his lap and strokes it. 

"I'm so relieved that you aren't ill, though you do look like you aren't eating enough." His eyes narrow, and I'm left again with the sensation of being stripped down to my bones. "Do you take issue with the food you're being served, my love? If so, I'll talk to the cook immediately on your behalf."

"Oh, no, it isn't that," I say quickly, lulled by the way he's petting me. "I've just never had a big appetite."

"Either way, you must keep up your strength," he says. "How else will you keep playing such lovely music in the afternoons?"

I start even though I know I shouldn't be surprised that he's heard my playing. The house is massive but Damien seems to be everywhere at all times; malevolent. I think again of the contraband I'm hiding and begin to tremble. 

Wordlessly, Damien places a hand behind my ear and begins to scratch softly; he manages to find a sensitive spot that makes my toes curl against the sheets in pleasure. I relax. 

"That's better," he says. "You've been practicing so diligently; I'm enamored with your dedication."

"I've barely learned anything yet, just some scales," I mumble sleepily. "Hardly enough to talk about, really, but Tricia is a good teacher... she encourages me."

"Perhaps I'll give her a raise," he says thoughtfully. "Based solely on your glowing praise."

I yawn. "That would be kind of you and I'm sure Tricia would be appreciative."

"And it would make you happy?"

"Very much."

Still scratching behind my ear, he says, "then it's done. I'll arrange everything. Just know that i expect great things from you. And in only a matter of weeks... time is truly of the essence, my dear."

I glance at him sluggishly, and even though I'm half-gone I have the presence of mind to be uneasy. "Weeks?"

"Your debut has already been arranged for 3 weeks from now, to coincide with a monumental announcement of my own." He lifts my hand and kisses it. His dark appeal, unsettling as it is, becomes more evident in the face of his obvious felicity; he's practically vibrating with it. 

"What's going on?" I ask faintly, reeling from this news. How could I possibly be ready in just 3 weeks?!

"I've told the others already, and they're as happy as I am," he says. "Tonight, at dinner...an affair that would've benefited from your presence but I knew you needed your rest."

Almost coming out of my skin with apprehension, I find myself pleading with him. "Please Damien, just tell me."

Immediately, his fingers squeeze my own until i think they're going to break. I mouth wordlessly against the pain; overwhelmed by his strength, it borders on being inhuman. 

"You do not call me by my first name unless I say otherwise, is that clear?" he asks me softly; conversationly. "It's unseemly."

"I, yes," I gasp out, almost crying now; eyes wet. "I won't do it again, just stop! Please!"

"What do you call me, my Kyle? What am I to you? I want to hear you say it."

The pain is excruciating, and for a moment I truly believe my bones are going to crack. Caught in a place of extreme helplessness, I hear myself giving in, and my heart almost breaks when I say:

"Master, you're my master! Please!"

Instantly, his hold relaxes and he's pulling me onto his lap, cradling me like a child. I stare dimly into space, slow trembles working their way through my body. I swallow a defeated sob.

"You said you weren't going to hurt me," I whisper. 

"Dear one, I won't harm you unless it imparts a lesson. I would never cause you pain without a very good reason, and you did so well. I'm proud of you."

I sag against him, utterly spent, both from his strange, twisted logic and the affect he has on me. It's truly overwhelming. "I'm tired."

"Yes, and you may sleep soon, but first, my good news," he winds a lock of my hair around his finger. "But good really isn't fitting for it's so much more than that."

"As you know, Mark has recently been indisposed," he says, going back to stroking behind my ear. I sigh and close my eyes; trying to ignore the deep throb in my hand. "Poor dear's been in such a state, but it makes sense given his condition."

Wearily, I burrow deeper into his lap, just wanting to sleep for as long as I can. "His condition?" 

My eyes snap open as the realization hits me. "You don't mean -"

"He'll be glowing by the time your debut arrives," he replies softly. "He already is, because he knows he's pleasing me. He's doing what he was born to do."

Nausea builds in my throat. "You're getting what you want."

He hugs me closer. "I usually do, my love."

-----

I'm deemed well enough to attend my lesson the next day, although I'm forbidden from going to the garden first. I try to argue the point with Bebe that I'm not sick and that the fresh air will do me good, but I might as well be talking to a brick wall. The disappointment of missing an opportunity to see Mr. Tucker makes my heart ache, but I find solace in seeing Tricia again. 

This time we bypass the tea and treats entirely and jump right into the matters at hand, although Tricia makes a point to thank me for securing a raise for her. 

"Damien actually did it?" I ask, amazed. I rub my bruised hand when I say his name, but I refuse to call him master when he's not present. That's asking far too much. 

"Yes, I met with him when I got here, and he told me then," she gushes, her cheeks still pink from the cold outside. "That also gave me the chance to ask him if I could give you this."

She pulls a peculiar little device from her basket and sets it before me. Timidly, i pick it up to study, and a memory stirs in my head. 

"I've seen something like this before," I say. "In a movie...a long time ago before our TV stopped working."

"It's archaic," she replies grimly, "but it'll work well enough. It's a tape player, and this," she adds, pulling out a flat rectangular object, "is a tape. It seems only the wealthiest alphas have access to the more updated forms of technology... or they make it so expensive that it's almost impossible to buy."

"I was told your family is wealthy," I say carefully, not wanting to convey my deep hunger to learn more about her and Craig. 

She sighs and fits the tape into the player, clicking the object closed. I can still see the tape through a clear window on the front. 

"We come from money, yes, but we try not to rely on it," she says. "It's there but Craig and I want to make it under our own power... that's why i tutor and he -"

She stops and waves a hand. "That's not the point. This is." Pressing a button on the top, there's a crackling, clicking noise as the object comes to life, and then -

Music fills the room, beautiful piano music, and I'm entranced. 

"Oh, it's wonderful," I say softly. "And I get to borrow this?"

"Yes," she smiles, pulling out even more tapes from her basket. "It's part of your study, to listen to as much music as you can."

We listen to the music for a few moments more, and I can feel that same sensation in my chest; of being lifted up above the world. Too soon, though, she snaps it off to show me how to use the device properly. 

"It's really very simple," she says afterward. "Don't you think?"

I nod, elated. "Is it you playing? It reminds me of your music."

"Some of the songs are my playing, yes," she replies, going to sit at the piano. "But not all."

"Oh?"

Sighing, she pats the bench beside her. "I've made recordings of my brother playing as well. With his permission, of course."

Now I'm even more excited, almost breathless with it, and I look at my new bounty with anticipation. I'll actually get to hear Mr. Tucker's music whenever I want. It's like a dream. 

"Kyle," she starts to say, and there's a solemn note in her voice that alarms me. For a moment, I'm afraid I've done something wrong, but then she just shakes her head. "Come, let's begin."

She has me perform my scales a few times before moving onto a different one - G Major - and for the next hour she coaches me on that, and others besides. 

"I want you to be comfortable with the major scales," she tells me. "Remember, you need a solid foundation to work from, but I think you'll learn quickly. You clearly practiced."

"I did, every day."

"Did you practice anything else?" She gives me a meaningful glance. 

I nod before pulling a tightly folded piece of paper from my dress. I open it to show her the alphabet I'd labored over, trying to make it as neat as possible. She gives me a look of pride. 

"Very good," she says. "And their names?"

I sing the little song she taught me and she smiles even wider. 

"I think you're ready for the next step." Reaching for her basket, she withdraws a small book and shows it to me. It's brightly colored and has the letters A, B, and C on the front. "This will help you apply the sounds of the letters with actual words," she explains, opening it. "See? A for apple, B for bear, and so forth. Take it, it's yours to keep so long as you hide it well."

"I've been doing a good job so far," I reply, taking the book into my hands and flipping through it. I'm suddenly taken with a feeling of affection and gratitude for her, and I can't stop myself from taking her hand. "I don't even know how to thank you for all this. It's more than I ever could've asked for."

"You can thank me by learning and enjoying yourself," she says warmly. "Besides, you've already secured me a higher pay... we're helping each other."

A thread of fear coils in my stomach, and I let go to rub the hand Damien had nearly crushed. "How can I perform in just 3 weeks time? If I fail I can only imagine what Damien will do to me..."

"You'll be fine," she assures me, and she sounds so confident that i nearly believe her. "Why, look at what you've already accomplished in a week; you've learned your letters, you can write them... I've taught you so many scales already, and you don't seem nearly as nervous when playing."

"I feel like I'm flying away when I hear the music," I murmur. "I adore it."

"Then be kind to yourself," she says. "Everything will come in time, and I'll help you every step of the way."

After my lesson, I'm not allowed to relish my acquisitions for very long before Bebe bustles into the room with her sewing basket and measuring tape. She has me undress down to my undergarments and proceeds to measure me for what feels like hours, making meticulous notes in a little book. I watch with curiosity, excited that I can recognize the letters now even if I can't read the words yet. 

She sighs afterward, giving me a thoughtful look while tucking her pencil behind her ear. 

"What?" I ask, drained from the simple act of standing in one place for an unbearably long time. 

"The Master wants me to start working on the gown for your debut, but with the way you're changing it's going to be very difficult," she replies, beginning to pack her things away. "But I'll manage. I always do."

A finger of anxiety scrapes up my back. Things are already starting to move so terribly fast. "You're starting now?"

"If I don't it'll never be done in time, not with all the extra work we have what with Mark's condition." She rolls her eyes. "Lord, preserve me. I just hope I can survive the next 3 weeks."

"Me, too," I say faintly. "Am I really changing that much?"

She nods. "Of course the master is pleased, although he says you're getting too thin." She glances at me. "Can't you tell? It's like you're becoming a different person in front of my eyes."

I don't reply, thinking of the secret I'm keeping with Tricia; the stolen conversation I'd had in the garden with Mr. Tucker, and I know that what she's saying is true... even if she doesn't know the full truth of it. 

Later on, long after midnight has come and gone and I'm finally alone, after I've sat by the fire and practiced my writing; flipping through the book I've been given and getting used to it, I lie in my bed and gaze out the window at the frozen night. I become lost in the swirls of stars that salt the blue-black sky and I drift, growing wings as I listen to the music Tricia's given me. 

I try to imagine Mr. Tucker playing it, almost as if he's in the next room and I can see him whenever I want; and what's more, he wants to see me too, and he smiles when I approach. I think of him and wonder where he is on such a cold night, hoping that he's happy; and even more importantly, that he's content. 

Chapter Text

The gown is the most ornate garment I've ever seen. 

I stare at myself in the numerous mirrors surrounding me while Bebe pins and adjusts; forehead furrowed in concentration. My arms are aching from being held up, the dress is heavy, and even worse, the material is itchy. 

"Are we almost done?" I ask, just wanting to collapse - even if that means drowning in this ridiculous gown covered in tiny pearls and crystals. The skirt is huge and full and shaped like a bell, held up with layers of petticoats to make it perfectly circular. It just touches the floor when I walk. 

Standing, Bebe pulls at my sleeves; they bare my shoulders and run smoothly into a sweetheart neckline (at least I've been told that's what it's called).

I just want to take the damn thing off. Even my other dresses seem less annoying in comparison. 

"Hush and stay still," Bebe mutters. "If this dress isn't perfect the master will have me thrown out in disgrace."

"He would, wouldn't he? Over something so trivial." 

"The dress is a symbol," she replies, standing back to study me. "It represents your purity and devotion to your dynamic as well as your Alpha. That's why these sorts of gowns are always white. It tells others that you're untouched but unavailable all at once."

I give her a deadpan look. "That's nauseating."

"That's the world we live in," she says flippantly. "Well, other than a few minor adjustments here and there, I think it's just about finished."

I heave a sigh of relief; hopefully that means I'm through with the endless round of fittings. "So, I can take it off?"

"Yes," she says, moving around to undo my bodice; a long series of tiny pearl buttons. 

Finally I'm free and back in a less involved dress. I'm horrified that before I realized it I've become accustomed to wearing dresses; almost feeling relieved to be in one that's much lighter. 

"Can I go out?" Going to the window, I see that it's overcast but it isn't snowing. 

"That should be fine," she says, packing up her sewing supplies. "Just be ready when someone comes to fetch you for your lesson."

I nod before i throw on a cloak and rush out of the room; soon I'm outside and the air is cold and crisp. It smells of clean snow and a fire burning far away. I breathe deeply as I head towards the garden, wanting to run just because I'm so glad to be out and away from that insufferable gown. 

The wind flutters the roses as I tend to them, snipping a few now and again as I hum softly; glad to be outside, excited to see Tricia and possibly get to speak with Mr. Tucker.

It's been a while since we've spoken, mainly because I was confined to the house after being "ill" (Damien's orders) and I can never seem to get a moment alone when I'm outside, what with Pip always joining me. 

Not that I mind spending time with him, but after the way he'd reacted to me speaking with Mr. Tucker, I didn't want to upset him again. 

Not to mention he's been in a pretty foul mood since Mark's pregnancy was announced. It's created a flurry in the household, but I've been trying to lie low and attend to the things that are helping me keep my sanity: music and studying. 

And thinking about Mr. Tucker, but that just creates its own problems, I suppose. 

I'm not out for very long before I hear footsteps and then Pip's beside me, pink-cheeked from the cold and frowning. He takes up some shears and begins viciously hacking at the roses. 

"Wait!" I cry. "You're not just cutting the branches, you're hurting the roses, too."

At his feet are numerous petals, bright like drops of blood in the snow. He stops and looks around, but he almost seems dazed. 

"Here," I say, gently taking the shears from him. "You've been in a bad temper for two weeks now. Are you finally going to tell me what's wrong?"

Tight-mouthed and sullen, I almost think he's going to tell me to mind my own business (as he's done in the past) but he finally huffs out a breath and shrugs.

"It's this business with Mark," he says. "Haven't you noticed how much everyone is fawning all over him? Like he's the first omega to ever get knocked up by his Alpha."

"I'm sure it's because Damien is so obsessed with having a child," I reply, amused by Pip's colorful choice of words. I'm starting to notice a mean streak in him that wasn't immediately obvious. "They want to be extra careful."

"And he's just eating it up, all that extra attention, from the help and from the master," Pip snaps, turning away. "It's like the rest of us don't exist."

Truth be told, I've been relishing Damien's inattention. Without his presence to trigger me, my body's sort of calmed down with regards to its awakening. I'm still having aches and fevers, the occasional racing heart, but other than that I feel more like my old self - even if my figure is still slowly changing. I've just responded by taking in even less food and drink. 

"And you, you're walking around with your head in the clouds, and Butters is basically useless," he adds, throwing up his hands. "This is all so frustrating!"

I frown, trying not to become irritated with him. Clearly, he needs someone to listen. "My head isn't in the clouds. I'm just getting ready for that ridiculous debut... dress fittings, dance lessons, learning about deportment. What, do you think I'm having fun? I'd rather be doing anything else."

He glances over his shoulder at me, a knowing expression on his face, and I immediately tense up. Surely he can't know about any of my indiscretions, right? Aside from -

"You'd rather be gawking at Craig Tucker," he says before smiling slowly; smugly.

My face flames. "That isn't true. Quit joking around."

"Oh, I'm not, I've seen the way you look at him when he goes by," he replies, coming over to me. He seems to be in a better mood suddenly, and I know it's because he's getting the chance to tease me. "I'm surprised you haven't worn a hole clear through him, you're so focused."

Taking my own shears i go back to the roses. I clip a few, but my hand is shaking terribly. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Come off it, Kyle," he chides. "You didn't really think you were hiding it, did you? You're not exactly subtle."

"Look, just because you're angry about Mark, doesn't mean you can take it out on me," I snap, finally starting to lose my temper. Maybe Pip thought he was being funny, but if the wrong person heard this sort of talk I'd be in terrible trouble. Doesn't he realize that?

"It isn't my fault that Damien's more interested in him right now than you," I add, resorting to pettiness. "You'll just have to do something to get his attention, won't you?"

Without looking at him, I continue snipping roses until I feel a cold, wet object hit my face, and I nearly drop my shears. I stand there, stunned, before I reach to touch my cheek and my hand comes away covered in melting snow. I look at Pip, my mouth and eyes wide. 

He was forming another snowball and smiling at me like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. 

"Why, you -" I break off, scraping the water from my cheek. "That wasn't funny!"

"Oh, I'd say it was. Hilarious, even," he retorts. "Ready for another?"

"No, are you?" Dropping my things, I start to gather snow, packing it into a ball. Before I can finish, I'm being pelted with more snow; Pip's laughter ringing in the clear air. 

"Gotta be faster than that!" he crows, taking off across the yard, moving pretty quickly for someone in a dress and Mary Janes. 

I follow, lifting my skirt and cloak so I won't trip, enjoying the feeling of cold air on my face, my heart pounding from exertion. I'm getting ready to rear back and fling the snowball at his retreating back when I hear him call out. 

"Hello! Good morning, sir!"

I freeze and look up, and of course Mr. Tucker is striding by the gate, though he's slowing down to stare at us. He's dressed in his simple, dark clothing, hat on his head, and he's looking right at me; expression somber.

I drop the snowball and shake my hand to bring feeling back into it, flustered and too warm in my cheeks. I don't know what to say, being caught off-guard, so I stand there in awkward silence. 

Mr. Tucker, however, is not at a loss for words. He tips his hat, nods, and greets us in his deep voice.

"Good morning to you both."

Coming up beside me, Pip puts on a demure, coy facade; acting the part of a typical, well-mannered omega. I'm not buying it for a moment. 

"We were exercising," he explains, much more outgoing than the last two times he'd been in Mr Tucker's company. "Weren't we, Kyle?"

"Uh, yes," I say. "More or less."

He raises an eyebrow before making eye contact with me, and I nearly melt inside. "Well, I hope you were enjoying yourselves. I'm glad to see you together. It's safer that way."

I open my mouth to ask a question but stop, remembering him asking before if I was alone. Now it makes sense if he's concerned for our safety, but why should he worry? We aren't his omegas, after all, and the fence around the property is so tall; it'd be very difficult to climb. 

"Oh, we were having a jolly time, sir," Pip says sweetly, and I'm suddenly very uneasy. There's just something about his tone. "Especially Kyle, although I dare say he was very distracted."

My heart is hammering in my chest now, but Mr. Tucker just seems politely interested. He glances at me. 

"Were you? By what?"

Oh, he's so handsome, and while I'm enjoying the opportunity to study him up close again, so close i can see that he's nicely tanned from the sun, I can't help being terribly nervous because of Pip's presence.

I grope for an answer, and I feel so graceless. "I, well, i was...distracted thinking about my piano lesson later this morning." 

Pip laughs before Mr Tucker can reply, and he takes my arm. "Stop being so modest, Kyle; that's not why you were distracted, you ninny." He pulls me closer. "I mean, that wouldn't explain why you kept looking toward the street, right?"

I feel like I'm going to ignite my face is so hot, and I can hear my heart in my ears. I can't believe Pip is doing this to me, and I can only pray that Mr Tucker won't read between the lines, and if he does, to be merciful about it. 

He frowns deeply, and I realize that I've never seen him angry before; stern, yes, but nothing more severe than that. I'm afraid that he's going to chastise me for being a nuisance, but he seems to be focusing on Pip for now. He just stares for a long moment, and Pip's fingers tighten on my arm. 

He stares long enough to make Pip noticeably uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot, until he finally relents and turns to me, and his face softens even if he doesn't smile. 

"Are you still enjoying your lessons?"

Still awash in humiliation, I manage to nod. I must look so young and foolish to him; a bothersome omega without any sense. 

"I'm glad. My sister speaks well of you. She says you're a pleasure to teach and that you're learning quickly."

Pip makes a little squeaking sound under his breath but I'm so surprised and delighted by this unexpected praise that I can't contain myself. 

"S-she really said that? About me?"

He gifts me with a rare smile, so lovely on his usually guarded face, and I'm even more euphoric. His scent travels to me on the wind then, and I'm so overcome with it that I feel a strange sensation build in my throat, a vibration; it creates a peculiar sound. 

Horrified, I realize I'm purring. I'd heard of this happening when omegas are particularly calm or pleased, but it had never happened to me. I immediately force myself to stop. 

Now Pip's nails are digging into my arm so hard i think he's going to draw blood. "We should go," he murmurs close to my ear. "Now."

The smile has disappeared from Mr.Tucker's face, and I'm afraid he's heard my response to him. I resist letting Pip draw me away, though, not ready to say goodbye yet. 

"Thank you," I tell him. I'm not even sure why I'm thanking him, maybe for telling me what Tricia said, for ignoring Pip's cruel teasing, for treating me like I'm not completely useless -

Perhaps I'm thanking him for everything, but still, I just want him to know how much I think of him, dream of him, even though we're almost strangers...I don't care. I just want to know him in any way I can. 

"Kyle, let's go," Pip says louder, tugging on me. Reluctantly, I allow him to begin pulling me away, but I keep watching Mr. Tucker, snatches of his scent coming to me and making me feel almost hollow with want. 

We lock eyes again and for a moment he almost seems sad, wistful, and then he tips his hat in that old-fashioned way he has and he's on his way. I watch until he's out of sight, and then I'm being yanked harder by Pip. 

"You told me it was innocent," he says, stopping and panting softly. "And I believed you! I've never felt so stupid."

Holding my head high, I have to fight the urge to cry or run after Mr. Tucker, but instead I put on a facade of extreme indifference.

"He doesn't mean anything to me." I narrow my eyes, angry in my own right; hurting, too, at the sound of the lie passing my lips. Pip had put me on the spot, had knowingly made the situation awkward, and I knew it was because he was angry about Mark and Damien. "Besides, you're the one who spoke to him first. You were also trying to embarrass me, weren't you?"

Blue eyes snapping, he lets go of me. "You'd only be embarrassed if you had feelings for him. Otherwise, you'd just laugh it off. Right?"

"That's ridiculous. I just don't enjoy being accused of things that aren't true."

"Oh?" he asks, becoming sly. He straightens his cloak; assuming an air of superiority that's even more trying than his misplaced anger. "Then why did you start purring? And don't try to deny it, i heard you. I'm sure Craig Tucker heard you too."

I don't have an argument for that, and he can tell, so he keeps going. "How could you do that to the master? After all he's done for you?"

"What has he done for me, Pip?" I ask, my voice trembling. "He's hurt me, threatened my family, treated me like an object." Shuddering, a tear slips down my cheek. "I'm afraid of him... I'm afraid all the time, of what he'll do, of what he'll make me do, and I know that you think what he's doing is love, but it isn't. It can't be. If that's love then I don't want it."

We look at each other for a moment, and I see a myriad of emotions flit across Pip's face; many of them contradicting one another. He lets out a breath, and that's when I see the tears standing in his eyes; not falling, but there, gathering. 

"What do you know about being hurt?" he asks stiffly. "I mean, really being hurt? Huh?"

I can't tell if he really wants an answer, but I don't want to broach this subject either way. "Pip, please, let's just drop this. I don't want to fight."

"Fine," he says, rubbing at an eye and i can tell he's trying incredibly hard to appear stoic, but it just isn't working. "I'll let it go. But you need to stop what you're doing with him. It's dangerous."

"I'm not doing anything. I just thought we could maybe be friends, or at least talk once in a while. That's all." Really, that's all I could hope for given my circumstances. 

Pip scoffs before taking my hand again, and we begin walking back toward the mansion. "Omegas and Alphas can't be friends, Kyle; it just isn't done. Anyone who tells you differently is either a fool or a liar."

-----

I know something is different about today's lesson as soon as I see Bebe waiting for me at the door to the front room. Her face is pinched as she straightens my dress and smooths my hair. 

"What's going on?" I ask, still off-balance because of my exchanges with Pip and Mr. Tucker. "Is something wrong?"

"The Master is sitting in on your lesson today," she replies tersly. "And before you say anything, I didn't know his intention until a few moments ago, otherwise I would've told you."

My heart feels like it's sinking into my stomach and I feel the same fear inside that I'd had when Damien visited my bedroom. This was just another facet of my life that I'd thought was safe from his influence, maybe because I'd come to enjoy or depend on it in some fashion, but I've been hopelessly naive, I know. 

There is no part of my existence in this household that is beyond his reach. He is simply everywhere at all times. 

I accept what Bebe tells me without speaking, but I think my expression tells her everything that's in my heart. She pats my shoulder. 

"You'll be fine," she whispers, opening the door. "Just behave."

Behave. I'm so sick of having that word lobbed at me, like I'm an animal in need of training and being taken in hand. 

I walk into the room and the atmosphere is noticeably different from the other times I've met with Tricia. It's heavier, somber; a thick tension in the air that could be cut with a knife. 

Tricia is in her usual place before the fire, with the table of tea and snacks set up, but when I turn my head i see Damien sitting in a large chair covered with dark red upholstery. As always, his legs are crossed, his face leaned on his hand, and he's dressed all in black. 

He smiles when he sees me. I don't return the favor because my face feels frozen. 

"Good morning," he says, rising to greet me, all fluid grace. He takes my hand and kisses it softly, the firelight glinting off his garnet ring. He looks down at me with his brand of affection; predatory but polite. "Were you out enjoying the roses, my dear?"

I nod before glancing at Tricia. She's watching with an inscrutable expression, her hands tightly clasped in her lap. There had been so many things I'd wanted to tell her today, about my studies, the music she'd given me, speaking with her brother....

"I've been having the most engaging conversation with your tutor," he says, leading me to the couch so I can sit. He strokes my cheek before he proceeds to sit as well; back in his own chair. He taps the armrest methodically. "She has nothing but good things to say about you. Isn't that right?" he glances at her, his eyebrows raised. 

You may speak, he seems to imply. 

Clearing her throat, Tricia doesn't sound nearly as animated as usual, but Damien has that affect on people I've noticed; almost like he can suck the air and color out of any room he enters. 

"Kyle is progressing wonderfully," she says before looking at me. "I told your master that it's obvious that you want to do well, practicing every day and being attentive during your lessons. I wish every person I taught had your enthusiasm."

I'm quiet due to nerves until Damien gently chastises me. "Kyle, you've been given such a lovely compliment. Don't you have something to say?"

"Thank you," I murmur, beginning to feel faint because it's hard to take a full breath when I'm this uncomfortable, and Damien's aroma is already getting to me; cloying in the small room. 

"Much better," he praises, and I cringe inwardly at being treated like a child in front of someone I respect as much as Tricia. 

"But is he ready to perform?" Damen goes on, still tapping the armrest. "That's what I'm most concerned about. After all, he'll be presented to what can be a very unforgiving society, and I don't want anyone to be embarrassed."

"We've been working very hard on the song Kyle's going to play," Tricia replies, and I'm gratified to hear some of the strength coming back into her voice. "It's not a difficult piece, of course, and it sounds more complex than it really is. It's perfect for beginners."

He considers this, looking toward the fire. His eyes flash, the glow caught in them. My stomach clenches, as do my hands. Tricia reaches to touch my arm for just a moment and i breathe a little easier. 

"I wish to hear it," he finally says, looking at me now, his eyes fixed. "Will you play for me, my Kyle?"

I'm screaming inside my head but I nod. What other choice do I have?

Behave. 

Tricia and I had ultimately decided on Bach's Prelude in C Major for my debut. She'd played it for me and I'd been intimidated at first, but after she'd walked me through it, step by step, and with unending patience, I'd persevered, and while I wasn't anywhere close to being on her level, I still felt proud of my progress. I could play it all the way through with only a few mistakes (usually).

But now, as i sit down at the piano, exactly in the same way I always do; back straight and stretching out my fingers, my music spread before me, I can't settle at all. I'm afraid, and I can feel the weight of Damien's presence all over me, like he's much, much closer than he actually is, still seated in his chair. 

But the feeling is there, and I'm consumed with a dread that makes me clumsy and slow. My hands feel so heavy. 

"Here, I'll start the metronome," Tricia says. "Don't be nervous, Kyle, you can do this. It's no different than playing for me."

She doesn't sound certain of this, though, and I know she's trying to offset Damien's influence. I give her a grateful look before I begin, the song I've come to know intimately filling the cracks of silence in the room. 

I start out well, almost better than usual, until I feel a shift and I see movement in my peripheral. I make the mistake of looking away from the music to see Damien beside me, very close, and the fear that floods me makes my hands useless, stumbling over the keys until the music is a hopeless, painful mess, and I'm blinking back furious tears. 

Damien doesn't tell me to stop, proving once again that his cruelty is without a ceiling, and he allows me to keep playing even though I manage to become even worse, until I'm stumbling toward the finish like a runner with a broken leg; artless and pathetic but pretending that everything is okay, that I'm content and accepting of my own poor performance. 

When the song finally, mercifully ends, i can't look at either of them because I'm so ashamed and angry, both with myself and Damien. He has to know what his presence does to me. I take a breath and I'm horrified when a sob breaks through. 

The quiet in the room is almost as ugly as my botched playing, but Damien's obvious disapproval is uglier. 

"And this is the result of daily practice?" he asks quietly. "And your tutelage, Ms. Tucker? Is that what I'm being led to believe?"

Tricia turns off the metronome before replying. "With all due respect, sir, this is the first time he's played for anyone other than himself or I. He's nervous, which is a perfectly normal reaction for anyone."

"Fair enough, but his response seems excessive, even for a first-time performer."

Placing a hand on my shoulder, she squeezes softly. I lean into the touch. 

"Perhaps if you didn't watch so closely, sir. Maybe that would put him more at his ease -"

Damien laughs but it's lacking humor. "Are you telling me not to look at my own omega in my own home?"

Her hand tightens. "Of course not, sir, but I think Kyle is so focused on pleasing you that he can't give his playing the attention it needs. He wants to make you proud, and it's disrupting his concentration."

"I see," he says, and while he still sounds irritated, he really does seem to be considering her words. When he speaks again, it's with authority. "Kyle, look at me."

I obey without a second thought, like my head is being pulled by an invisible string, and this terrifies me beyond reason. Until this moment, I hadn't realized just how profoundly I'd been reformed by my circumstances and my fears. 

I'm disappearing. I can feel it. 

Damien's eyes pull me in, just as they always do, with their terrible beauty, and I have to remind myself that I'm not falling. I'm grounded. Somewhere inside of myself, I'm still Kyle, the real Kyle, the boy who'd once had a family he loved, had once run wild and barefoot through the grass; had looked at the stars on a clear night and admired their faraway light.

"Is what she saying true? You wish to please me, my love?" 

I nod. It's not like he's interested in the truth, and I suppose I do want to please him on some level so he won't hurt me. So he'll leave me alone for a little bit longer. 

"So I distract you? Would it be easier if I made my presence less known while you play?" his voice is soothing now, almost like a balm for my senses, but I'm still leery.

I look down at my hands. "Only if it wouldn't displease you. I would never ask you to do anything that went against your happiness."

He sighs. "Precious creature, I'm only truly happy when you are, so if it would help you in any way, I'll abide your wishes. However," he adds, "I'll need reassurance that what I've just witnessed won't happen in front of my colleagues and their mates."

"Sir?" Tricia asks, and I can feel the tension in her through her touch.

"You'll need to be in attendance when he performs, I think," Damien says. "To aid his confidence and to calm him. He seems to have formed an attachment to you of sorts, and i can tell you're fond of him. It would be beneficial."

She lets go of me. "Mr. Thorne, sir, I couldn't possibly attend the debut of an omega, especially if I'm not a member of the household. It simply isn't done."

"Are you saying it's improper?" He asks with amusement. "I'm hardly concerned about that, not when I've been known to rewrite the rules when necessary. No one would question my decision to have you there and if they did, they'd face backlash."

"But, sir, it isn't safe. All those Alphas -"

"You may bring a guest to put you at ease." He taps the piano. "Even your brother, i suppose, the one who escorts you here. The best buffer between you and Alphas is another Alpha, I'd imagine."

I hear her sharp intake of breath while my heart begins to pound. Mr. Tucker at my debut? That'd be wonderful and agonizing all at once.

"Not to speak out of turn, sir, but my brother would never agree to that. He doesn't hold stock in debuts or the matters of high society. He's divorced himself from those sorts of affairs."

"But he cares about you, doesn't he? And your livelihood?" Damien counters shrewdly. "Why else would he take such pains to bring you here, regardless of the weather?"

"I will not take advantage of his love for me," she replies, and I can hear her old fire coming back. It thrills me but I'm afraid for her; she has no idea what Damien is capable of, not like I do. 

"You care for your charge, don't you?" he asks, reaching to place his hand on the back of my neck; not squeezing, just settling its weight there. I whimper softly before I can help it. "Kyle adores you. Haven't you stopped to consider what your attendance means to him?"

Oh, he's so loathsome. He knows exactly what he's doing, and while I want to yell at Tricia and tell her not to fall for his manipulation, my voice is lost; consumed by his touch, his smell... everything. I'm hazy again, lost in the fog. 

Her voice is strangled now when she replies, but I can hear the rage in it; the disgust. "I'll talk to him about it, sir, but I can't make any promises."

"Tell him there's a bonus in it for you if all goes well," Damien says, all smiles now; even if his are full of fangs. "After all, money talks, and it usually has a lot to say."

-----

Some of my pleasure for the piano is stolen after Damien's interference, but I keep going. I practice, I study, I tend to the roses; anything to endure, but the thought of my impending debut is never far from my mind. 

The household is a whirlwind of nervous activity as the day of reckoning draws closer, and I'm subjected to countless lessons and fittings, so much that I become even more listless than before. I'm scolded for daydreaming during dancing and etiquette lessons, and I nearly collapsed the last time Bebe forced me into my gown; weariness from worry and starvation almost causing me to pass out. 

"I have to take this damn thing in again," she says, tugging on the bodice of my gown fiercely. "I just adjusted it the other day! Are you eating at all?"

"Yes," I lie, but I'm too tired to expound. 

"I just bet you are," she mutters, and I can hear the hysteria in her voice; the undeniable stress. "How am I supposed to finish everything if i have to keep fixing the same things over and over? I'm only one person."

"I'm sorry." I mean it, too. I like Bebe, even if she's just another cog in this house, the system crushing us; i understand why she's doing what she's doing. 

We're all just trying to survive, aren't we?

It's only at night that I feel some of my energy returning, my drive, and I can only figure that it's because I'm alone and not being watched and assessed every moment. I can breathe as I study the books Tricia has given me; precious articles that I hide as well as I can. 

I've surpassed the ABC book she'd given me, and now I can read very simple stories and I devour them like they're cake, always wanting more. I've learned nursery rhymes about cows jumping over moons and wives kept in pumpkin shells; a girl and her lamb, and a maiden traipsing through the woods in a red frock, her plans upset by a very crafty wolf. 

I've already learned so much but it isn't enough, I want more, and while Tricia assures me that it will come in time, I'm still impatient. I'm angry because I could've known all of this already, but the laws had held me back -

The Alphas have held me back. 

She tells me about wonderful stories she's read, about mythical creatures and tragic princesses, fallen kingdoms and the world beyond my door; so far away, but still it's there. I just have to reach out my hands and take it. I'm waking up to it all, the grander scale, and instead of being intimidated, I want more. I want everything. 

The day before my debut in exceptionally tired during my lesson, but Tricia doesn't berate me. If anything, she's even more patient than usual, listening to me play the same piece over and over, giving tips and pointers as I go, finally letting me rest for a moment. 

"You know the song as well as you know your letters," she says, picking up her basket. She pulls out a book and offers it to me. "For you. You don't have to give it back. It's a gift."

I look at the cover and labor over the words, sounding them out the way I've been taught. 

"The L-Little M-Mer -" i stop, frustrated, but try again, telling myself to take my time. "The...Little...M-Mer...maid." Delighted, I look at her. "The Little Mermaid!"

"Very good," she smiles, pressing my hand. "It's more advanced but I think you'll like it, and we can read a little when I visit. It'll be our next project."

"Thank you," I say, holding the book in my hands like it's gold. In many ways, as far as I'm concerned, it is. "I can't wait to start it."

"Are you still worried about performing?" she asks, packing her basket; her signal that she's preparing to leave. 

I'm truthful with my reply, because I feel like we've come to a place where honesty is expected and paramount. "Yes. I know I can play the song, but it's the crowd that scares me... Damien and all those Alphas. I know I'll be punished if I don't do everything perfectly."

"Funny that they expect perfection from you even though they're so incredibly flawed," she replies. "Well, I'll be there, so hopefully that'll help."

I'm without words momentarily, digesting this news, but before I can talk myself out of it, I'm hugging her; harder and with much more feeling than I've allowed myself in a long while. When I realize what I'm doing, though, I quickly pull back and I apologize profusely; face hot, hands trembling, but I'm still so incredibly happy. 

"I don't know what to say," I admit, because I truly don't; my gratitude is so large that I almost don't know what to do with it. "Just... thank you. So much."

"Please, you don't have to," she says, but her face is flushed, and she doesn't smooth the braids I'd mussed. She's so pretty in that moment, and her eyes are so bright, like the sea, that I realize I'm starting to love her for her endless kindness. 

"I'll be right back," I say, making a snap decision. I rise and begin to turn away before saying, "don't leave yet!"

I rush to my room and gather a vase full of roses I'd collected just the day before, bright red and the best i could find. I carry them back to Tricia and hold them out almost shaking with my need to convey my appreciation for her. 

"Take them with you," I say. "I know they aren't a lot, but I want you to have them. Please."

She gazes at them for a moment before she takes them into her hands, cradling them like they're something precious, and then she looks at me. "I'll cherish them. Thank you."

Chapter Text

The day of my debut begins very early when I'm roused from sleep just before dawn. The sky is still mostly black; just a hint of the sun on the horizon. 

Chilled and nearly nodding, I'm sat before the fire in my dressing gown and served a much lighter breakfast than usual: tea, cream of wheat, and a fruit salad; nothing too heavy. 

"You don't want to feel bloated while wearing your gown," Bebe explains. "You'll have enough to focus on without that getting in your way, too. Hurry and eat, we need to begin."

For the sake of the occasion, and because I already feel faint, I allow myself more than usual, relishing the sweet strawberries and the honey mixed into my tea. Soon, Bebe has tended the fire and built it up, the orange flames bringing much needed light and warmth to my shadowed room. 

"Hurry," she says again, more urgently now. 

I'm made to soak in what I'm told is a milk bath; oils and honey added to further soften my skin and accentuate my paleness. The surface is littered with small daisies. 

I'm scrubbed vigorously until my skin is pink, my hair washed thoroughly. It's grown quite a bit since I've come to this place and when it's wet it almost reaches my shoulders. 

I'm then subjected to the most grueling beauty routine I've ever endured; my nails trimmed, filed, and then covered in a clear polish -

"I thought I was wearing gloves, though," I say, studying my shining nails in the weak morning sunlight. "No one will even see them."

"What if you soil a glove and have to take it off?" She counters, working on my other hand now. "You'd risk showing off unkempt nails? It'd be a disgrace."

I sigh. "Why should anyone even care about the state of my nails?"

"People often care about things that don't directly affect them," she replies grimly. "It's human nature."

I'm rubbed down with lotion before I'm put into my undergarments; an ivory set that is exceptionally delicate; silky underwear, stockings, even a garter. They're so light i can barely feel them on my skin. 

"At least I don't have to lace you into a corset, you skinny thing," Bebe comments. 

She works on my hair next, meticulously drying it again with a towel before using a wide-toothed comb to gently work out the tangles; using the hair dryer sparingly. She then reforms the curls as carefully as possible after rubbing a sweet-smelling substance into the strands; winding them around her fingers until they're bouncy again. 

She then braids the sides and ties the two with a band, joining them at my crown, letting the rest of my hair fall freely; long winding curls. She completes the look by pinning fresh white flowers where the braids join; dotting additional flowers along the curve of the braids, making it look like I have a crown of flowers. 

"Lilies," she says, holding one up for me to smell. "To match your bouquet. They represent purity and fertility."

I turn to look at myself in the mirror, still in my undergarments but with flowers in my hair. It's hard to believe that what I'm seeing is real, and my eyes are dull, reflecting my dissociation from myself. 

Who is that person? It can't really be me. 

I have tea and a very light early lunch (barely-buttered toast and consumme) before she works on my face. She starts by plucking my eyebrows, quickly becoming annoyed with me when I squirm; tears coming to my eyes. She tells me to stay still or she'll tie me to the chair. I want to believe she's kidding but in this place you never can tell. 

When my eyebrows are deemed appropriately shaped, she rubs serum into my skin, and a special cream is applied around my eyes. Then there's moisturizer, toner -

"How much stuff do you need to slather on my face before you're finally done?" I snap, almost reaching my limit with being poked and touched. "Isn't it enough that you practically scraped my skin off while I was bathing?"

"I was exfoliating it," she retorts. "And all of this is necessary if you don't want to make a fool of yourself tonight."

"I hate this," I mutter, staring darkly at my reflection. 

"Nobody said you had to like it," she says. 

After that, I sink into a sort of stupor as she applies more goop to my face: foundation, powder, bronzer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara. By the end I feel dizzy and my face is terribly stiff, like I'm wearing a mask. 

Yet when I look at myself, I'm amazed that for everything she's done, I don't look like some sort of grotesque clown. Yes, my eyes have been shaped with liner and look larger because of the mascara, but I actually look somewhat natural. Prettier, I suppose, but I still recognize glimpses of myself. 

I'm dressed next, putting on my layers of petticoats and then finally my gown, the pure white garment snug and hugging my waist; shining with intricate tiny pearls and silver gems. It's as itchy and uncomfortable as it's always been, the skirt swaying when i walk, my shoulders cold from being bared. I look even more ridiculously thin than usual in comparison to the fullness of the skirt. 

"Step in," she says, placing my white high heels on the floor, also decorated with pearly encrusted bows on the backs. 

Obliging, I sway for a moment before getting my balance, and I'm reminded of the hours I've spent learning to walk in these things; a stack of (omega-friendly) books on my head. I've improved, but I still feel as ungainly as a newborn foal. 

She then rolls my long white gloves over my hands and up my arms, and finally, I'm being presented with a bouquet of white lilies and orchids; the stems secured with an ivory ribbon of satin.

"There," Bebe sighs, drawing an arm across her forehead. "I think you're just about ready, thank goodness."

"Not quite," a dark voice speaks behind us, and we both turn to see Damien in the doorway. He's dressed in a sleek three piece black suit, his tie and vest scarlet; a single bright red rose in his lapel. His hair is impeccably styled, swept back, and I can barely breathe because he's so beautiful. 

As much as I despise him, I have to admit he's one of the most handsome men I've ever seen. 

Though he can't hold a candle to Mr. Tucker, of course. 

"Oh." I look at my reflection in the full-length mirror and I remember that Mr. Tucker will be in attendance this evening, and he'll see me in this ostentatious gown, my hair ornamented with flowers. He's never seen me in anything but my cloak.

What will he think? Should I even care?

"You're perfect," Damien says, coming up behind me so I'm gazing into his dark red eyes through the mirror's reflection. He places a hand on my waist and presses, drawing me against him. "Completely perfect, but you still need one more thing."

"Do I?" I ask, feeling feverish; nerves and his presence making me weak. He smells divine. 

"Here," he says close to my ear, placing something unfamiliar and cold around my throat; a necklace of sparkling diamond and blue gems. "Sapphires," he adds. "I've been told they symbolize loyalty."

I blanch at his words, and suddenly the ornament feels like it weighs a million pounds; hugging too tight, like it's going to cut off my air. He kisses the nape of my neck and I gasp, terrified that he'll choose this moment to bite me there, where I'm most vulnerable. 

He laughs instead, nuzzling my throat. "Oh, my love, you're a vision. You're ravishing, but I'm not surprised...I saw your beauty the moment I laid eyes on you, and now everyone will see that you're mine. I couldn't be happier."

"I don't understand why you're exposing me to other Alphas, though," I murmur, reaching to touch the necklace. "If I belong to you, why put me in a situation that can only breed aggression. I know how you alphas are."

"Mm, it amuses me, dangling something before them that they can touch for a moment but they can't keep," he says, still nuzzling me; arms wrapped around my waist. "They can admire you, and want you, but they'll never have you. Not the way I do. There's power in that, you know; having something that others can only dream of and covet."

I watch his reflection as he tells me this, and I want to tell him how unspeakably cruel he is, but I stay silent. I don't see the point of reminding him of something I'm sure he already knows -

Besides, he'd probably take it as a compliment. 

-----

To say that I was overcome with fear before entering the grand ballroom that night would be a severe understatement. 

I was petrified to the point of near immobilization, every part of me shaking like a tree subjected to a stiff wind. My stomach jumped and turned, I began to sweat, and my mouth was so dry it felt like I'd swallowed a desert. 

You see, I'm not the best under stressful circumstances. I know that some people rise to these sorts of occasions like they were born to walk through fire, but when greeted with duress, I typically fold like an origami crane.

I was trembling even before I was drawn into the fray, my hand on Damien's arm as he led me into the cavernous ballroom; lit up and shining with golden light, a monumental chandelier hanging over our heads and burning with hundreds of tiny lights. 

There were marble columns strung with mother of pearl bunting along the walls, and the far wall was nothing but floor to ceiling windows, showcasing the dark night sky to perfection; the stars sparkling like the gems lying heavily around my tight throat. 

Oh, it was so beautiful; the twinkling lights and the ceiling painted with rose-cheeked cherubs, but I was so terribly, unspeakably afraid, for i could feel the weight of so many eyes on me; assessing and deciding my value. 

It was like being back at the Auction.

I try to keep my head held high, though, wanting to give off an aura of confidence i don't necessarily possess. They don't need to know the truth, though; these strangers, these Alphas, don't need to know what's inside of me. 

My spirit, my thoughts, who I actually am, belongs to me. 

At least I keep telling myself that, even as I'm assaulted with a plethora of Alpha pheromones, the faint sweetness of their omegas, laced with anxiety and excitement; mixing with the scents of foods and flowers. It's all so much, and I'm exhausted by the time we reach the stage that's been set up; the shining, black piano waiting in quiet, innocuous repose, but it isn't time for that just yet -

No, it's time for me to perform in a different way, to be led out onto the stage and left alone under a hundred lights, the eyes of the crowd on me; where I'm meant to sink into a very specific posture that's unique to my dynamic -

The Omega Curtsy.

I was told during my grueling lessons that if I were to get this wrong that I might as well run from society and never show my face again, no matter how pretty it is. It's an elaborate maneuver that involves holding my arms out just so, fingers delicately curved -

(like I'm playing the piano)

- i sweep my leg behind me, gracefully fall to one knee, and then allow myself to sink completely to the floor, where I bow my head and touch my face to the skirt of my gown; breathing in short little gasps as I wait; my dress pooled around me in a dreamy circle of white material. 

It's the ultimate posture of subservience, exposing my neck and back; subliminally announcing that I'm a slave to my dynamic, my alpha, and the opinions of his esteemed colleagues. 

I wait, my heart pounding in my chest, sure that I've failed, but then there's a soft murmur of what seems like admiration, and then the applause begins slowly, building on itself until it's a roar, and I'm blinking back tears because I'm so relieved and grateful that I've pleased them, but I'm disgusted with myself for even caring at all. 

A soft touch is laid on my nape and I can hear Damien praising me; quiet words filled with compliments and encouragement. 

"You were beautiful," he says when I lift my head, eyes dazzled by the lights and so much happening at once. He helps me to my feet and steadies me when I sway, had swimming, and the crowd eats this up too; laughing like they're utterly charmed to see a fragile omega being propped up by their stronger, virile Alpha. 

"They adore you," he whispers in my ear before kissing my cheek, a chaste, acceptable show of affection in polite society. He growls lowly, though, squeezing my hand until I wince. "They want you. I can feel it. Can't you?"

I'm speechless, ready to be out of the limelight until I'm forced to play. I scan the crowd for Tricia and Mr. Tucker but I can't find them. 

Suddenly my side is being viciously pinched and I almost cry out, only silencing myself because Damien's in my ear again. 

"Smile, my love. Why aren't you smiling? Don't you want them to see how happy you are?"

Tears pluck my eyes at his words, his fingers still twisting my skin, until I comply; a wide, fake smile crossing my face. The crowd responds immediately, almost sighing in unison. 

"Very good," he murmurs, finally letting me go, my side burning under my gown. "That's my brave boy. Always so well behaved."

I want to run from him more than ever in that moment, regardless of his beauty, his aroma, his unfailing charisma and assurance that he'll always get his way, but I stay, shackled to his side. 

Think of Ike and father, i tell myself over and over. Think of them, not yourself. You can handle this. You'll survive. 

Finally, I'm led from the stage, my dress like a cloud around me, floating, and I'm still smiling that helpless smile as Damien draws me into the crowd. It's a sea of gowns and tailored suits, none of them really standing out until I'm being introduced to a rotund, outspoken Alpha.

He's stuffed into his suit; a jarring difference from Damien who looks like he was poured into his attire. He stares at me and I'm automatically put off by his piggy eyes and disagreeable mouth. 

"So, this is the newest pony in your stable, eh, Thorne?" he asks, lifting a glass and gulping from it. I'm mesmerized by the way his double chin undulates. He smacks his lips. "He's not bad looking, is he?"

"Many seem to find Kyle quite pretty," Damien replies, holding me closer. "Don't they, love?"

I suppose I'm expected to answer but I really don't want to talk to this person. He's extremely off-putting to me. Still, I obey, looking at the man and nodding. 

"Yes. I guess."

"Modest little thing," the man says, rolling his eyes. 

"Darling, this is Mr. Eric Cartman," Damien tells me, as if I could possibly care at all about any of this. "He owns a great deal of land to the North of here. Deals mostly in corn and cattle."

"Now why are you telling him that?" Mr. Cartman asks. "Omegas don't care about business. They only care about what you're gonna buy them next."

I bristle and a memory stirs in my head, of my father telling me a long time ago about an Alpha who'd bitten off more than he could chew; overextending himself until he was unable to pay the mortgage on his estate. He'd had liens placed on his salary and holdings until finally the bank threatened foreclosure. 

"Nobody cares for him much," he'd told me. "He's always shooting his mouth off, but that's a Cartman for you. They're all trash."

Smiling sweetly, I gaze up at him, feigning innocence before asking, "tell me, are you still very much in debt, or did you manage to avoid losing your estate all together?"

He stares at me, eyes narrowing slightly. "Excuse me?"

"My father's a lawyer," I reply, all wide eyes and seeming innocence, "and he once told me about a Mr. Cartman who couldn't pay his bills. That was you, wasn't it? Oh, unless I've mistaken you for someone else, in which case I apologize emphatically."

His flabby face is beet red now, and I'm supremely gratified until I'm being pulled roughly away, Damien yanking me into a shadowed alcove where no one can hear us. He backs me up against the wall, the cool marble pressed against my skin. Placing a hand on the wall next to my head, he leans in; eyes seemingly on fire. 

He stares at me, his face consumed with anger, until I'm trembling. 

"What did I just hear?" he asks softly. "Did I really just witness my omega disrespecting an Alpha right in front of me? In my own home?"

Throat constricting, I'm finding it hard to catch my breath, but I try to speak, to defend myself. 

"You heard the way -" 

He silences me immediately with a finger pressed to my lips. "Yes, I heard what he said, and I know that his company is beyond foul," he says, "if I had it my way I'd crush his skull like a blood orange, but that's not the point."

"The point is that he's your superior and a guest in my home," he adds, biting off each word. "My father and I both do a great deal of business with that walking cesspool, and I expect you to bear that in mind. Every Alpha in this room is above you in the hierarchy. You're only slightly elevated because I found you worthy enough to purchase. You will treat them with respect. If you don't, it's the same thing as spitting in my face and I assure you, you will be punished -"

With that he grabs my chin, hard. I gasp, his fingers sinking into my skin. 

"- if I ever get the impression that you're forgetting your place in all this. Is that clear?"

Eyes watering, I hear myself whining before I fully realize I'm the one making the high-pitched sound. He shakes my face. 

"Answer me properly."

"Y-yes, it's v-very clear," I stammer. 

In a moment, he's back to his usual self, smiling and looking at me with adoration and deep affection. He kisses my mouth, his tongue slipping between my lips for just a moment before he's pulling away. 

"I like that you have a smart mouth," he murmurs, "but use it with discretion, please. Omegas have lost their tongues for less than what you've done."

He winks, and my blood chills.

After that, I keep my thoughts to myself, which seems to please Damien and everyone I'm introduced to. The majority of the Alphas i meet aren't completely awful, even if they talk to me like I'm nothing more than a child. 

"What a pretty necklace," a huge Alpha comments, leaning closer to get a better look at my throat. He's scruffy and speaks with a thick accent i don't recognize. "Wherever did you get it, mon cher?"

Damien nudges me softly when I hesitate. "You may answer, darling. Don't be shy."

Clearing my throat, I lightly touch my necklace, the cool row of sapphires. "It was a present, sir."

"How nice! From whom, may I ask?"

I want to say "Damien" so badly I can taste it, but I refrain. After his reaction to my prior disobedience I have absolutely no interest in incurring his anger further. Still, when I do speak, it leaves a bitter flavor on my tongue. 

"My master," I say softly, acting demure but really I just don't want the whole room to hear me uttering those humiliating words. 

The Alpha clucks his tongue and nods. "Your master must be very kind to give you such lovely trinkets."

Swallowing down some bile, I merely nod, smiling as I do. 

"Oh, he's just as charming up close as he was on the stage," the man says to Damien, almost like I'm not there. "And you acquired him at the Auction? What a rare find; usually the pickings are so slim."

I wince, his words bringing back vivid memories about being drugged and beaten when I'd resisted; leaving marks only where they wouldn't matter. At least as far as my handlers were concerned. Now I can recall the sobs and screams of others like me, being held captive and terrorized before facing the auction block. 

I stumble, remembering, the memories so ugly that it's making it very hard to stand here and listen to someone speak of the Auctions in such a cavalier way. 

"Do you need to sit for a moment, my love?" Damien asks, steadying me. "Maybe have something to drink?"

"Yes," I reply faintly. "Please. Just for a moment."

"Excuse us, Christophe," Damien tells the Alpha. "You know how omegas are at events like this... the excitement is sometimes too much for them."

"Oh, yes, yes, of course." Christophe smiles, a sharp canine glittering in the candlelight. "You must save me a dance, little one. It would be an honor."

Moving away, I feel dizzy until Damien helps me to a chair against the wall; one of many. Other couples are there, drinking and talking, but they don't pay us any mind. 

"I'll have a drink brought to you," he says. "You do look a little pale."

"It's just a little warm in here." Fanning myself, I try not to convey just how terribly miserable I am. 

Damien touches my cheek before turning to scan the room. "There's Bebe. I'll have her bring you something." Looking at me, he seems to consider something before saying, "will you be alright on your own for a while? I'd love to stay with you but I need to make my announcement about Mark before the dancing begins."

This is the best news I've heard all night, getting to be alone for a moment, so I nod enthusiastically. 

"No one will bother you," he says, straightening his tie. "They know if they do they'll have to answer to me. I'll come fetch you for our dance in just a little while."

"Yes, sir," I say, elated to see him walking away. 

I sag in my chair while breathing a sigh of relief, casting off my good posture in favor of total relaxation - which is hard to do in that tight, itchy dress. Covertly, I scratch my side, wincing when my fingers brush the area Damien had pinched so hard. 

I watch the crowd for a while, the posturing, swaggering Alphas and the soft-spoken, retiring omegas, all in their finery, and I'm suddenly deluged in loneliness. I've never felt so terribly disconnected in my life, and I almost wish I could enjoy all of this, but the truth of it is so sinister that I can't be seduced by the glamor and candlelight.

I've worked myself into a deep state of melancholy by the time Bebe shows up with my drink, a bubbly concoction in a delicate fluted glass. 

"You're a regular wallflower right now," she says, pretty in her own right; dressed in a different uniform than usual; a crisp black dress with a ruffled white apron over top. 

I drink greedily, mostly grateful to be back in the company of someone I know at least a little. "Oh, I've been social, trust me. Damien paraded me around like a poodle on a leash."

"You did very well up there," she replies, nodding toward the stage. "Your curtsy was perfect."

I sigh. "Thank you. I suppose I can be grateful for that."

"You should be. Butters almost fell off the stage during his debut." She hides a smile behind her hand. 

"Poor thing," I murmur. "Where are the others?"

"Making the rounds. They're used to these sorts of things... they know what the master expects."

"Yes, he expects us to perform with smiles on our faces. We're nothing more than a pack of dancing monkeys."

"Oh, Kyle."

"It's true and you know it. We all know it," I say, looking into my glass; the bubbles rising. 

"Please, just try to enjoy yourself a little tonight," she says, already turning to go back to work. "Nothing is ever all bad. You'll see."

Soon she's swallowed up by the crowd, leaving me alone again. I polish off my drink and hiccup softly, patting my chest. I glance to my side to see a dark-haired omega sitting with his Alpha, the pair quietly talking. I'm amazed to see that they seem civil with each other, though I know appearances can be deceiving. 

Still, this only compounds my feeling of alienation. I look down at my lap, wishing I were back in my room with my books, listening to Mr. Tucker's piano music on my little tape player. 

"How can the guest of honor be alone at his own party? I don't think I've ever seen anything sadder in my life," a deep voice says from in front of me. For a split second my heart soars because I think it's Mr Tucker, but when I look up I meet an unfamiliar pair of blue eyes. 

"I'm resting," I reply uneasily. "That's all."

He has a boyish look to him, as if he's as uncomfortable in his fancy clothes as I am; tugging at his collar like it's too tight. His hair is dark and smooth, and he has a pleasant face for an Alpha; firm chin and a nicely shaped nose. 

"Mind if I rest with you for a few minutes?" he asks. "These shoes are killing my feet, and if I have to listen to one more stuffshirt prattle on about their projections for next quarter I'm convinced I'll lose my mind."

I blink, having not expected this exchange just out of nowhere, and from an Alpha besides. Straightening up, I shift so that there's space for him to sit, moving my skirt out of the way. 

"You may sit if you like," I say, clasping my hands in my lap. 

He does, sighing as he settles in beside me. I sneak a glance at him, a pang registering in my middle at the sight of his Alpha Sun. I squeeze my hands tighter. 

"I'm Stan, by the way," he says after a moment. "Stanley Marsh, but just Stan is fine."

"Pleasure to meet you," I say. "I'd tell you my name but it's already been announced to God and everyone so what's the point?"

"Fair enough. Kyle," he says, looking out at the other party goers. "Mr. Thorne knows how to throw a party, huh?"

"I suppose. This is my first party, so I really don't have anything to compare it to."

He glances at me, clearly amazed. "Really? How is that possible?"

I raise an eyebrow. Another Alpha with Rich Man's Syndrome, I suppose; so accustomed to wealth and privilege that it's unfathomable to consider that others aren't always so blessed. 

"My family," I start before pausing, "my real family, I mean, is very poor."

"What does your father do?"

"He used to be a lawyer, but he stopped practicing after he became sick." I avert my eyes after telling this little white lie. After all, he doesn't need to know my father's a drunken gambler that sells his children. 

That doesn't exactly seem like proper party conversation. 

He seems impressed, though. "That's more respectable than my old man. He globbed onto my mother's money before she passed, and managed to find someone a lot smarter than him to invest it. He made out pretty nicely."

"I'm sorry to hear you've lost your mother," I say. "I know what that's like."

"I miss her," he says, surprising me. I've never heard an Alpha admit something like that. "She was a smart woman, too good for my dad, really, but the sickness got to her. I still have my sister, though, even if she lives to terrorize me."

I have to laugh, a soft giggle that I hope doesn't offend him. "Really? An Alpha intimidated by a woman? I never thought I'd see the day."

"Oh, it happens, much more often than you'd think. Take him for instance," he says, pointing into the crowd. I look, trying to follow until I realize he's gesturing to -

"Mr. Tucker," I whisper, becoming breathless. 

Stan pauses, glancing at me with a puzzled expression. "You know him?"

"I, yes, yes, I do," I say, following Mr Tucker as he navigates the fray. I've never seen him look so handsome; dashing in his suit with the white tie and vest. "I mean, not well, of course. His sister is my piano teacher."

"Now there's an Alpha that holds his sister in very high regard, probably because she won't have it any other way," Stan says. "They're a very strange pair."

"That's what I've heard. Oh," I say, touching his sleeve gently, "there she is, Tricia."

Through the sea of people, I can see Tricia walking at Craig's side, stunning with her hair up and dressed in a flowing gown of clover green silk. She turns her head slightly and I'm stunned to see a vibrant red rose in her hair; the exact shade as the bouquet I'd given her the day before. 

She's holding her brother's arm as they stop and speak with people now and again, and I'm just so glad to see them that I can feel some of my sadness lifting from my shoulders. 

"It's odd to see Tucker here," Stan comments. "He usually avoids these sorts of events like the plague." 

Managing to tear my eyes away from them, I look at Stan. "Do you know why that is? Tricia said something similar before."

He shrugs. "I can only figure that it has something to do with his falling out with his father. Now there was a scandal."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, from the way I understand it, and I could be completely wrong, of course, Craig was set to take over his father's business, but he refused. You just don't do that, you know? Especially when your father's as prominent an Alpha as Thomas Tucker."

I nod slowly, trying to imagine what would possess Mr Tucker to make such a decision. Not only he, because Tricia had told me they'd both rejected their father - and his money. 

"What sort of business is his father in?" I ask. 

"That's the part that no one can agree on," Stan replies, pulling on his collar again. "Some say he's an arms dealer, that he dabbles on the black market... he might even be a drug kingpin; no one can say for sure. We just know that whatever he's doing is something no one's willing to talk about in mixed company. In fact, we probably shouldn't be discussing this at all." He laughs. "I just enjoy conspiracy theories, I guess, and you're surprisingly easy to talk to... for an omega, anyway."

I tilt my chin defiantly. "And here i was starting to think I'd actually met a decent Alpha. Shows what I know."

There's silence before he laughs again, and I breathe a sigh of relief. 

It was then that I notice Damien walking onto the stage with Mark in tow, resplendent in a dress of delicate blue; daisies in his hair. He's beaming from ear to ear. A hush falls over the room as Damien begins to speak. 

"I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. You've honored my home with your presence, and you've also honored my newest omega by being so kind to him. But there's another reason I'm celebrating tonight, one that's been my most fervent desire for as long as I can remember."

He lapses into quiet as the audience murmurs, only going on once all is silent again. During all of this, Mark is watching us all with a very satisfied smile, and I'm sure that wherever Pip is in the crowd, he's positively fuming. 

"I've recently been gifted with the news that one of my omegas is with child,

the lovely creature you see before you." Reaching, he pulls Mark close. "Won't you join me in celebrating our wonderful fortune?"

Applause breaks out, the loudest coming from the Alphas, which hardly surprises me. Some of the omegas I'm able to see look jealous, and others merely appear afraid.

Stan whistles lowly. "He's trying again, huh? That omega of his better be careful."

The way he says this makes a shiver run up my backbone. "Of course he'll be careful... anyone in his condition would be. It's just common sense."

He shifts. "That's not really what I mean."

"Then what do you mean?"

"Just how much do you know about Mr. Thorne, anyway?" he asks. 

"Next to nothing, honestly. I only know what he wants me to know, which isn't a lot."

"Makes sense," he mutters. "In a lot of ways, he's even more infamous than Craig's father. I believe he comes from old money; really old money, but how he keeps adding to his fortune is anybody's guess."

"He did mention that he does business with that Cartman guy," I say.

"Well, that should tell you something right there. Cartman is as crooked as they come." Letting out a breath, he adds, "look, if you want to know more, just check out the forest behind his mansion. That'll explain everything better than I ever could."

"Forest behind the mansion," I repeat slowly. I'd never been there before; mainly focusing on the front garden because the roses are there - 

Not to mention Mr. Tucker. 

"How do you know all this?" I ask. 

"Most of this is common knowledge, among the Alphas, anyway. We're typically as enamored with intrigue as any omega."

"You do realize omegas don't just lie around gossiping, right? I don't even know where that idea started."

He fidgets again before he glances at me. The smell he's giving off changes a little, but isn't making me uneasy - yet. 

"I'll bear that in mind," he says, giving me a carefree smile. 

I smile back. "And I'll bear in mind what you've told me. Thank you."

It's then that the atmosphere in the room seems to shift, becoming anticipatory, and everyone begins to clear the floor; moving off to the side. I watch for the Tuckers but they're hard to see in the crush. I catch a glimpse of Pip, though, and he doesn't look very happy. 

"The dancing is set to begin," Stan says softly. 

"I'm not looking forward to it," I mutter. "I've practiced for hours but I still don't have any rhythm."

Damien breaks away from the crowd and walks towards me, catching my eye and I can feel the tension building back up in my muscles. I go rigid and sit up very straight, and when he's before me he offers a hand. 

"Shall we?" he asks, and because I'm not allowed to refuse, I accept his offer wordlessly; placing my hand in his. 

I'm swept onto the dance floor where everyone stares, and it's a wonder that I don't trip over my feet, but when the music begins, a slow, dreamy waltz, Damien pulls me close against him; his strong hand on my waist. We begin to move, and he's such a capable dancer that it makes up for my obvious flaws. 

With the candlelight in my eyes and my mind full of the wonderful music, I can almost convince myself that I'm dancing with someone I could come to love, but when I look into Damien's eyes, the dream collapses because I can see the hunger in them. His scent is even stronger than usual, and with all the other mingling pheromones of the Alphas, I feel like my senses are being overloaded.

Becoming hazy, it's all I can do to keep up with him, but I notice that he shifts to fit my rhythm, as chaotic as it is. The other people in the room become a blur in my peripheral as I'm whirled around the floor, my gown whispering across the smooth wood.

"You've improved," he comments softly. "I saw you practicing with Bebe and you weren't nearly this light on your feet."

"I'm only as good as the person I'm dancing with," I reply, my heart and voice much too loud in my ears. I close my eyes when I start to feel dizzy. "I don't feel well all of a sudden."

"Only a little longer, and then you can rest," he assures me, holding me closer; tighter. 

It's becoming very hard to breathe now, and I can feel myself lapsing into a warm state of confusion. By the end of the dance, I open my eyes to see that other couples had joined us at one point, but I could've sworn it was just Damien and I for the entirety of the waltz. 

"Bring him another drink," Damien calls to someone after he's led me from the floor. All at once, a glass is being pushed into my hand; I drink, and it's the same bubbly liquid from before. Damien laughs. "Go easy, little one. I'm sure you're not used to champagne."

I nod, but I'm still much too hot, and I'm beginning to ache in that strange way from before, but it's so much more intense this time. I whimper and move to sit down. 

"I don't feel like myself," I say, rubbing my arms. My skin is so sensitive that the brush of my soft gloves is enough to make me shiver. 

Leaning, he brushes his lips on my forehead. When he pulls back, he's smiling more widely than I've ever seen; an expression of true delight. His aroma becomes even stronger and his eyes are red, bright red; he blinks and the fire in them dies down. 

"All this excitement is going to your head," he says. "Don't you think?"

"I don't know," I reply, pressing a hand to my forehead. 

"Rest yourself," he soothes me. "Bebe, water please. No more champagne for him."

"Yes, sir."

"Master, you promised you'd dance with me," Pip says, breaking through the haze in my head. "I've been waiting all night." He looks at me and gives me a tight smile. "Brilliant curtsy, Kyle; really, I've never seen you look so pretty."

I nod, taking the water that Bebe hands me. I'm dizzy with everything happening so quickly. 

"Of course, darling, I was just about to fetch you," Damien says, gently pulling a lock of Pip's hair; blonde hair that's also decorated with flowers like mine. Pip purrs loudly. 

I drink my water quickly, some of my faculties slowly returning. The scene before me is surreal, with couples gliding across the floor. 

"Attend to him," Damien murmurs to Bebe. "We'll have him play soon...I don't think he'll last for much longer at this rate."

She nods, giving me a worried look. Damien takes Pip's hand and they take the floor, Pip smiling so widely i think his face might shatter. 

"What did he mean?" I ask, drinking more water. It feels like there's a fire growing inside of me that no amount of water can put out. 

"Hush, you'll be fine," she says, adjusting the flowers in my hair. "The Master just knows that these sorts of affairs are hard on omegas that are unaccustomed to our ways."

I start to reply but like a dream, Tricia comes into my line of sight, lovely as ever, and she grabs my hands. 

"You look beautiful tonight," she says, and unlike the other compliments I've received, this one doesn't seem nearly as superficial. There's warmth in it, and I'm so grateful i nearly start to cry. "We saw you on stage and couldn't take our eyes off you... you should be proud."

"Thank you," I say, rising to hug her, ignoring Bebe who's telling me to stay still. "And thank you for being here."

She hugs me back, her arms slipping around me very easily, before she pulls away. She's glowing, eyes bright, before she turns away. 

"Craig, come over here, please."

This is the first time I've seen Mr. Tucker without a gate between us, and for a moment I can hardly believe that he's really here, close enough to touch, but he is, and it's almost more than i can handle. 

He approaches, even more handsome up close, and my heart stutters to see a rose in his lapel; a bright red rose to match the one in his sister's hair. 

"Are those my roses?" I ask Tricia, suddenly much too shy to speak to Mr. Tucker. "The one in your hair and..." I glance at her brother, but I can't look in his eyes. Not yet. 

"Yes," she says. "We decided they were too pretty to be kept in a vase, and you were so kind to give them to me."

"I wish I could give you more," I reply. I turn to look at Mr. Tucker's shiny black shoes. "Thank you for being here, sir. I know these sorts of events aren't really in line with your interests."

The rush of the music and din around us fills my ears until I hear him say, "Tricia is very fond of you, Kyle; you don't have to thank us for anything."

Oh, the way he says my name is delicious and I realize he's never said it before, but then again I've never spoken his first name either. It just feels so intimate. I blush and I suddenly feel even warmer, that fire in my middle burning brighter. 

I'm tripping over what I should say next when I feel my hand being roughly grabbed. Before I can respond, I'm being yanked so viciously that I nearly fall, catching myself at the last moment. I look to see that Mr. Cartman is holding onto me with his meaty hand, and his mean little eyes are boring into my own. 

Revulsion floods me, and I try to shake him off, but he's surprisingly strong, making me think that there may actually be some muscle under all that fat. He yanks me again and I cry out; it almost feels like he's going to dislocate my arm. 

"Dance with me," he says. "I want to give you a try."

Every fiber of my being wants to say no, but I hold my tongue because I've already crossed this man once tonight; if Damien gets wind of me defying him again, I don't even want to think of what he'll do. Instead, I plead, pathetic; my pride crumbling to dust. 

"Please, I don't feel well," I say. "If I could just sit -"

"Omegas don't choose when they obey, they just do it," he cuts me off. "After the way you spoke to me earlier I can see that you don't understand that, so let me teach you."

Fury erupts in me, and I find the wherewithal to pull my hand away. I rub it and somehow manage to stay silent, but I'd dearly love to give this pig a piece of my mind. 

He frowns, face reddening like it had when I'd taunted him. "Someone needs to beat you until you learn to obey," he growls. "Clearly, Thorne's been too soft with you. If you belonged to me -"

"I'd throw myself off a balcony before I let that happen," I snap before I can stop myself. I freeze, horrified. 

Mr. Cartman looms larger now, nearly eclipsing me, and I cringe when I see him lifting a hand -

"That's enough," Mr. Tucker says quietly, moving around to shield me. "You don't need to go that far."

"I suggest you mind your own affairs, Tucker. The omega needs to be corrected; how else will he learn?"

"It isn't your job to teach him," Mr Tucker replies calmly. "Especially as a guest in another Alpha's home; you forget yourself."

"No, you seem to forget that not everyone shares your views about sparing the rod," Cartman snaps. "No wonder you can't keep an omega to save your life. You're soft, you're gutless-"

"I would stop right there if you know what's good for you," Mr Tucker interrupts, the softness of his tone much more effective than if he were to shout. "Trust me, I'm being merciful by warning you now."

Mr. Cartman just laughs, and he sounds like a donkey braying. I notice people are turning to look at us now, and I hug myself, wanting to disappear. 

"Like anyone's afraid of you. Whatever, fine, defend this scrawny piece of trash, though I don't know why you would. He was bought at the Auctions, after all, and we know what kind of omegas end up there...leftovers... the throwaways that no one wants. Sure, they fetch a decent price, but it's because they're taboo. They're no more than two-bit whores...purchased to breed until they keel over."

The words are like knives being plunged into my back, and I can't stop the sob traveling up my throat, because this horrible man has spoken my meanest, cruelest thoughts of myself out loud, and for everyone to hear. In front of people I admire, and it hurts, it hurts so much. I hate that it does, but I can't deny it. 

"Kyle, shh, it's okay. Don't listen to him," Tricia says, putting an arm around me. "None of what he said is true."

Through my tears I can see the tension in her brother's stance, the way his hands have clenched into fists, but he doesn't move to strike. 

His smell has changed, though; become much stronger, and it surrounds me until I can't even see straight; feeling weak and faint and much, much too warm; like I'm burning away. The aches in my body that were unbearable before hit me all at once, and I have to choke back a scream as I double over. The glands in my neck feel so sensitive that I'm afraid they'll burst. 

I whine, high-pitched and terrified, feeling like I'm coming apart, vision hazy; sounds are too loud, the room is too bright, and then I feel a wetness between my thighs, and I shake with shame, sinking onto my knees. 

"Craig!" Tricia cries, pushing my skirt out of the way to get closer. Bebe kneels next to me, too; her hand pressed to my forehead. 

"He's burning up," she says. "With all of the Alphas in here his condition could cause a riot. I'll go get the master."

I whimper, disoriented and terrified because I pray that what I think is happening isn't starting now. It can't!

I'm hit with another wave of what feels like cramps and I moan. Tricia's trying to sooth me. 

"Pick him up," she says, speaking over my head and her voice sounds like it's coming to me from very faraway. "We need to get him out of here."

Vision blurred, I feel strong arms scooping me up and I'm being held against a warm, broad chest, and that smell, that wonderful, intoxicating aroma is so much stronger now, and I give in to my instincts to nuzzle and rub myself against this comforting presence. I begin to purr loudly but I don't care. Being wrapped in this scent is the only thing that relieves the terrible ache and fire so deep inside of me. 

"You'll be okay," a voice rumbles, and it's strong like thunder and so noble. I purr louder to show my appreciation, burying my face in a soft, silken shirt. Pressure is applied to the back of my neck and I still for a moment, calmed. 

My head is heavy but I manage to look up and I'm face to face with Mr. Tucker; he's grim, and I can see that his usually clear grey irises are scarlet around the pupils. He doesn't look back at me even though I'm making no point to hide the way I'm gazing at him. He almost seems like he's holding his breath as he carries me from the ballroom. 

"We should wait," Tricia says nervously. "Until Mr. Thorne comes."

Mr. Tucker nods, not moving to stop me when I nuzzle him again. The wetness between my legs becomes more noticeable, but at least some of my discomfort has abated. 

Too soon, much too soon, Bebe's back with Damien, and he walks over, sniffing the air as he approaches. I'm sure I feel Mr. Tucker's arms tighten around me and I gratefully press closer. 

Damien matches Mr Tucker in height but he's much leaner in stature; still, his presence seems large, stifling. I begin to tremble as soon as he reaches for me, but his touch is soft on my cheek, stroking gently. 

"Still not feeling like yourself, I take it," he says, smiling. 

This time his eyes are bright red and they don't change; they blaze, almost like they want to burn me. I try to turn my head so I can nuzzle Mr Tucker but Damien grabs my chin like he had in the alcove. 

"Bebe, come over here," he says. She obeys, face expressionless. "Look in his eyes, do you see the gold?"

She nods. "Yes, sir. There around his pupils."

"How close would you say he is?"

"Right on the edge, sir."

"Perfect," he murmurs. "I can smell it on him, too. It's beautiful." Without acknowledging Mr Tucker, Damien lifts me from his arms even though I try to hold on, whining loudly. He clucks his tongue. 

"Petulant thing, let's have none of that." He takes that moment to finally address the other Alpha. "Pity you won't get to hear him play, but there will be other opportunities, I imagine."

Mr Tucker doesn't reply, but the look on his face tells me he likes Damien about as much as I do. Tricia goes to her brother and takes his arm, her face filled with worry. 

"Will he be alright?" She asks anxiously. 

Damien laughs like she's told a joke. "Of course," he says lightly before kissing my sweat-drenched curls. "I'll take very good care of him."

------

Things become a blur after I'm taken back to my room. Damien lay me on my bed and kissed my forehead, looking into my eyes again and seeming very, very pleased at what he saw. After that, he left me in Bebe's care, and I was undressed down to my bare skin; the flowers taken from my hair. 

I was bathed in cool water to make me more comfortable, but even after that I felt terribly feverish; the windows opened to let in the winter air bringing me minimal respite. She dressed me in a thin, white nightgown of slippery material that still felt far too heavy. 

I fell asleep that night after tossing and turning for hours, crying out from the aches in my bones and that heat always burning in my skin. My dreams were hectic and when I woke up my sheets were wet from sweat and something else; the moisture coming from between my legs. 

"Slick," Bebe says mildly as she changes the bedclothes. "It's perfectly natural and you'll just produce more the closer you get, so don't worry."

I flush anyway, embarrassed at this new turn of events. I'm also petrified, because I simply can't accept what's happening. 

"Maybe it's something else," I say, looking at her with tenuous hope. She shakes her head. 

"You'll be starting your first Heat soon," she says. "It's always the most difficult, but I'll try to help as best I can."

After she leaves, I'm met with hysteria that makes it impossible to keep still, and I go to the mirror to study myself. I'm speechless when I see gold circling my pupils, bright against the green I'm used to. 

Omega gold. I've heard of this too, from Pip. It starts to build the closer you are to your Heat, and once your irises have completely changed, it signals to your Alpha that you're ready. 

But I'm not ready. Not at all. I don't want this, at least not with Damien. 

I wrap my arms around myself when I think of Mr. Tucker, and I sigh, remembering his strength, his scent -

I'm possessed with the unbearable desire to have his aroma close, and I go about looking for my opera gloves from my debut. I find them and breathe them in, immediately calmed when I capture the Alpha's scent. 

"Craig," I whisper, and I feel so giddy. I go to the closet and pull out that ridiculous dress I was forced to wear, and press it to my face as well. 

A thought comes to me then, that I'd very much like to be surrounded by these items, this aroma in particular, and almost without really knowing what I'm doing, I throw the items on the floor and then go to grab my pillows and blankets from the bed. I drag them over, going so far as to strip the sheets as well. I then spend the majority of my morning constructing a bed on the floor, circular and soft and full of things that make me feel more comfortable. 

When Bebe comes in with my lunch, she stops and stares at my creation before nodding. 

"So you're nesting, I see," she comments. 

"Hmm?" I'm preoccupied by the smells coming from the tray she's set down, suddenly so ravenous It's all I can do not to lunge at it. "Nesting?"

"Not all omegas do it," she replies, lifting the lid off my lunch, revealing a much bigger helping than I'm used to. My mouth waters. "But others adore it. You're just creating a safe place to mate."

I freeze, glancing at my "nest" and feeling a shudder move through me. "I kind of did it before I really realized what was happening."

"I can bring you more blankets and pillows if you'd like," she says, tending the fire; building it up so it roars. 

I slink to the table, embarrassed, and sit. My lunch is roast today, with potatoes and vegetables; lemon pie for dessert and rolls with butter and honey. I want to stuff it all in my mouth as quickly as possible. My stomach feels so empty even though I ate a huge breakfast mere hours before. 

"Please," I say, picking up my fork. "If you would." I jab at my roast and in a flash, I've torn off a huge chunk and wolfed it down. Bebe watches as I devour half my plate in a matter of minutes. 

"It's like I can't eat enough," I say. 

"Also natural," she says, patting my shoulder. "You won't be interested in food at all when the time finally comes."

The day wears on as I alternate between working on my nest, satiating my almost uncontrollable hunger, and falling into deep sleeps out of nowhere. My dreams are frightening, full of red eyes and claws, and always when I wake I'm burning up, and my nightgown is damp. I'm having a harder time keeping my thoughts straight as I seem to fall further into a warm and overpowering delirium; the rational parts of my brain giving into my baser, more primal nature. 

I'm nearly incoherent when I'm bathed again that night, and I sleep like the dead until morning. 

The next day is almost identical, except my thoughts are even less clear, and my eyes are almost completely deluged in gold. 

By the third day, I can barely remember who I am, and I'm so hot that I'm panting; driven to lie in my nest in the fetal position; my belly cramping. I don't touch my dinner when Bebe brings it, and she tries to sooth me with a moist washcloth on my face. 

"Soon," she murmurs. "Soon."

I dream of Mr. Tucker that night. He comes to me in the garden but there are more thorns than roses on the bushes, and I end up cutting open my hands when I try to gather some for him. He takes my hands into both of his and laps at the blood with his tongue; eyes blazing scarlet. I blink and when I look again, he's become Damien and I scream and scream -

I scream myself awake, and the dark night is pressing against the cold windowpanes; the stars glittering sharp, and the moon is a giant eye gazing in at me. I sit up and wrap my arms around my legs, rocking, but the nightmare stays with me; it refuses to leave. 

"It's time, little one," a voice glides like a knife through the quiet, that sinister voice that's both musical and full of sharp fangs. I wince, shutting my eyes, but another reaction takes hold of me, something down deep where the fire is out of control now, and I can't seem to remember why I was fighting all of this so much. 

Wake up! an inner voice screams at me. You don't want this! Not with him!

Oh, I'm so terribly confused and hazy, and when I catch Damien's aroma i feel myself falling into an abyss of heat and such a deep, agonizing need that I don't fight at all when he places a hand on the back of my neck. In fact, I lean into the touch, turning my head to nuzzle the hand of my master. 

Please! that inner voice yells again, but it's eaten up by an unseen force. It just isn't strong enough when I feel this way; not when Damien is so close and my body's calling for him. 

"Good boy, my sweet Kyle," he murmurs, his voice velvet. He slides his hand along the slope of my neck and down to my shoulder, where he slips off one of the thin straps of my nightgown. He does the same to the other side, the garment silky like water against my hot skin. 

"Stand," he tells me and I obey without thought, standing slowly. Reaching, he gently pulls on my nightgown until it falls like a breath down my body to pool at my feet. 

For the first time since I was brought here, I'm standing naked before him, and I can feel his eyes on me before he touches me; his nails dragging softly down my abdomen. He grips my hips to pull me close, and he kisses my belly; below my navel and down to my pubis; airy little touches of his lips and tongue. 

"Does that feel good?" he asks, gently helping me to spread my thighs, where the slick is already sliding down the backs of them. He kisses the insides of my legs, lips grazing my Mark.

I can't speak, but I manage to whine, hands threading in his hair instinctively. I can barely remember who I am; almost like I've been hollowed out and I'm only left with this feeling -

I need to feel him. 

I need him to feel me. 

That's all I desire. Everything else drifts from my head; forgotten and unneeded.

He stands and begins to undress, and I watch in a daze as his body is revealed; virile, strong. His smooth skin is pale and firm, and his limbs are strong with lean muscle. My eyes drift to look at his lower half, and I whimper when I see his cock, because I've never really seen one before, not like this, and I'm not sure how to respond. 

"Dear one," he says, and that's when he kisses my mouth, his body pressed to mine, warm, and it's as if I can hear and feel the blood rushing quick through his veins. He tastes me, lapping at my mouth; licking into me when I part my lips. 

It's all I can do to stay on my feet, but I begin to sway, and he's easing me into my nest, lying back with my arms above my head, and I open my eyes long enough to see the moon, that cold ancient eye watching us, before he's touching me all over; tongue grazing my throat, my nipples, even between my legs, where I'm so hard and hot; arching against him and rubbing desperately. 

He holds me tightly when I shiver, when the sensations he's waking up in me become too much, murmuring encouragement in the moon-glazed darkness. He calms me, and I don't fight when he turns me onto my stomach, lifting my hips -

He grabs me harder now, making me gasp with surprise, and when his nails sink into my skin, I cry out in shock. 

"Present," he growls, leaning over me and taking a hold of my hair. "Now."

On instinct alone, I raise myself into the air, my back arched, whimpering as he threads his fingers through mine, tensed and braced against the floor. He kisses my nape and nips softly but doesn't bite, rubbing himself against my slicked entrance. 

I whine, but he nips me again, just a little harder. I can feel him pushing into me, how hard and large he is, and I mouth wordlessly against the sensation, thinking suddenly of my dream; Craig and I in the garden, my hands ruined by thorns, and I shriek when Damien thrusts himself all the way -

Time seems to collapse, and I can't see anything but blue shadows in front of my eyes, and I wonder if I'm still connected to my body. 

But then he begins to move, and the heat inside of me, that inferno, is dying down until I can finally bear it. He presses in until his hips are flush against my backside, his knot rubbing my opening, and he waits for a moment; leaning down to bite at my ear, laughing softly. 

"You're mine," he murmurs, and his voice is discordant music, filling up my mind. 

------

When I come to, I blink a few times to clear my eyes, but I'm still deluged in fog. I feel drugged and half-asleep, my head heavy. My body still aches but in a different way now, and I become aware of a throb; where Damien had been; in a place no one had ever touched me before. 

I moan softly because I'm somewhat more coherent than I'd been before, but I still don't truly feel like myself. 

The room is still dark but now there's a fire on the hearth, and when I look over i see Damien sitting before it; dressed in a robe. He turns his head to look at me, eyes still hellish red, and he smiles slowly; invitingly.

"Come to me," he says, beckoning. "You must be thirsty. I had Bebe bring us some water and food."

I slowly crawl out of the nest, aware of my nakedness, the way Damien watches me; the firelight spreading over my skin. Flushing, I grab a sheet and try to wrap it around myself. 

"No," he says. "Do not cover yourself. I enjoy looking at you."

I obey, even though I'm not as inclined to now that my mind's a little clearer. I join him, feeling even more naked because he's clothed. 

He instructs me to sit close, offering me a glass of water that I consume quickly. He pours more from a cut glass pitcher. 

"Eat, you'll need your strength," he says, pushing over a plate of fruit and cheese. 

I pick up a grape but don't eat it. "My strength? Why? Aren't we done?"

He's amused by this, reaching to tug one of my curls. "Silly thing, we've only just begun. Heats typically last for days. They come in waves."

"Oh," I say, putting the grape back. I look down at my hands resting on my bare thighs, and I can see bruises on my skin from where he'd gripped me. 

"Tell me what's on your mind," he says softly. 

I don't want to. Hasn't he already asked for enough? I recall what Stan had said, that strangely friendly Alpha I'd conversed with, about looking in the woods behind the mansion.

I couldn't possibly ask about that, not at a time like this. 

"I suppose I'm almost disappointed that I didn't get to perform," I say instead. "I practiced so much."

"That was a shame," he agrees. "I had a feeling you'd succumb, just not that quickly. I thought for sure you'd get to play first, but we'll find another time."

"Succumb?" I ask, something in his tone making my stomach tighten. "What are you talking about?"

"Stress can be a wonderful motivator for an omega," he replies, picking up the grape I'd discarded. "Especially one that's so close to a Heat, even with all their attempts to stop it from coming. Open."

He holds up the grape and waits. Dignity cracking apart, I open my mouth and let him place the grape on my tongue. My heart is pounding, and that feeling from before is building in my middle again, but I can't give in yet. 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He picks up a strawberry now and offers it to me, leaving his finger for me to suck before drawing it away. My face flames, thighs pressing together, the need rising again. 

"You weren't fooling anyone, Kyle, trying to starve yourself. Stubborn, foolish boy. You can't stop what's inevitable."

I bow my head, knowing I'd been irrational, but it was the one thing I could control, and I feel icy fear in my chest. If he figured that out, what else does he know? I think of the books stuffed under my mattress and I can't help but start to tremble. 

He misinterprets my response, though, and stands to come and sooth me, taking my hands and coaxing me to rise. He kisses my lips, licking the leftover fruit juice from them. 

"I planned your debut for when I knew you'd be at your most vulnerable," he murmurs against my mouth, kissing along my jaw and down to my throat. He bites gently, setting his teeth there for a moment. 

The fire's rekindling inside of me again, even though I'm appalled by what he's telling me. 

"I could smell it on you, nearly so ready, but you love to fight, don't you?" He asks, laughing softly as he reaches to grip my backside, pulling me close. "But you couldn't fight everything happening at once... all that fear in you, that excitement, everyone looking at you. You could smell their lust as much as I could. Why, it was all over that Alpha that defended you."

I gasp, my eyes widening and some of the haze breaking. "Mr. Tucker," I say faintly. 

"Yes," Damien says before biting my shoulder - hard. I scream, and he soothes the area with his tongue, hot and wet. I try to pull away but he holds me fast, threading his fingers through my hair so he can yank my head back, exposing my throat. 

"Stop," I manage to say, wanting to hold onto myself for a little longer. "I need time to think -"

"How am I supposed to stop now?" he smiles. "When you've already made me wait for so long?"

I whimper when he pulls me over to the nest, throwing me down and holding me in place so I can't get up; ignoring the way I'm pleading; screaming until my voice gives out. 

This time, it takes me a lot longer to bend to his whims but I do; grateful when my instincts and mind take over. I'm eclipsed by his strength and need, closing my eyes until I fall back into the flames. 

Chapter Text

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. 

Chapter Text

The wind is picking up as the car follows a winding drive, finally stopping in front of an impressive mansion. We had to be allowed passage through a massive set of gates before making it this far; the tall iron structure even more imposing than the one circling Damien's property. 

The mansion is less ostentatious than Damien's and looks newer; it lacks the former's timeless old world charm, but it's pretty enough, I suppose. The large front door is flanked by bushes shaped into almost perfectly constructed orbs; I've never seen anything like them. There's a giant window over the door as well, and through it I can see a shimmering chandelier that seems to be comprised of diamonds; all lit up and fighting the evening gloom. 

I'm tired and irritable from being in the car for so long, especially when I'm being subjected to Damien and his ever-shifting moods. It's as if he can absorb my energy and warp it in any way he sees fit; either draining me or giving me vigor; making me lapse into fear, melancholy, or euphoria at any given moment. Just his presence is taxing, and I want to bolt from the car as soon as Clyde opens the door. 

Damien, however, doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry, turning to regard me with an expression that's both frightening and puzzling. It's as if he's preparing to punish me for something I haven't even done yet; something he assumes I'll do, which hardly seems fair. 

"I feel a preemptive warning is necessary," he says, which only fuels my anxiety. "Are you giving me your full attention?"

"Yes."

"We'll start there," he replies. "I've been lenient with you so far with regards to the way you address me, but in mixed company, you will show me the respect I deserve as your Alpha. Who am I to you, Kyle; i want to hear you say it."

It begins. I should've figured that any "favor" Damien does for me is a double edged sword. True, he treated me to an outing, but it's obvious he's not going to make this venture easy. If anything, he seems to revel in making me perform in front of his colleagues and strangers alike. 

It's my debut all over again. 

I'm chewing the inside of my cheek when he reaches out swiftly and grabs my chin, which seems to be one of his favorite methods of bringing me in line. He squeezes until I whimper. 

"You're giving the matter too much thought, my love. You have merely to answer a very simple question and your penchant for hesitation is very trying. Now, we'll try again. Who am I to you?"

He lets me go and waits, and as ever I want to tell him exactly what's on my mind, but because he seems like he's in the mood for violent retaliation (but when is he not, really?) I swallow my pride again, and give him what he wants. 

"You're my master."

"Very good," he praises. "You will address me as such going forward. You won't pick and choose when to obey, you'll simply do it; and that begins with something as small as my title. Now," he adds, gesturing to the mansion. "We're here for a number of reasons. Yes, i wanted to take you out so I could spend time with you, because I find your company pleasant enough, but we're also here to rectify a past transgression."

"I don't understand," I reply, quickly continuing when Damien's eyes start to narrow. "Master."

"You'll see," he replies, smiling, but it isn't warm. "But I want you to know, regardless of what's about to happen, that i expect you to be respectful and mindful of your place - and everything that entails. I don't think i need to remind you of what may happen if you try to stir the pot."

I want to beg him to explain, to give me some idea of what's going on, but I know it's futile. If Damien truly wanted me to know what was about to happen, he would've already told me. He's made it very obvious how much he enjoys surprising me; turning what could be simple into a game. If anything, he seems to thrive on it. 

My shoulders sag. "Yes, master."

He strokes my cheek, taking care to use the hand with the garnet ring. I get the impression this is a subliminal message, too. 

Nothing can ever be simple with him. 

"Watch your step, my darling," he says as I step from the car. He assists me this time in Clyde's place, taking my hand and leading me to the wide double doors. He laughs softly to see me studying the orb-shaped bushes. 

"Topiary," he says. "Perhaps you can try it in the garden at home."

I nod, watching as he knocks on the door, lifting the brass knocker shaped like a lion's head. "I'll never understand the tastes of the nouveau riche," he comments dryly. "It's as if their aesthetics are born from their idea of the upper class, rather than their experiences interacting with them."

I don't reply, mainly because I have no idea what he's talking about, but it seems like Damien doesn't expect an answer anyway. I wait, shifting to stand behind him, the howling winds biting at my nose and hands. 

The door opens and I watch the golden angle of light fall across Damien's black shoes. A soft, girlish voice speaks:

"Good evening, Master Cartman has been expecting you. Won't you please come in?"

A million alarm bells go off in my head when I hear that name, and before I know what I'm doing I'm shaking and grabbing onto Damien's jacket out of pure terror. 

"No, please," I furiously whisper, remembering that horrible man from the party; how he'd grabbed me, hurt me; belittled and degraded me. "I can't, master! I don't want to see him again!"

"Excuse us," he says to the girl, who looks on with soft green eyes; her long hair held back with a clip in a Guinevere style. She's wearing a maid's uniform similar to the ones Bebe and Rebecca wear. 

Dragging me away, Damien is quick to slap me hard across the face, almost making me fall, but he holds me up. Clutching my arms, he pulls me close. 

"Did you already forget everything I just told you?" He shakes me viciously. "What kind of fool are you?"

I start to sob. "But I'm afraid of him! Don't you care about that at all? He was so cruel to me at the party; he's disgusting, he's foul -"

He slaps me again, brutalizing me into numb, trembling silence. I can taste blood in my mouth. 

"Be still and silent," he growls lowly. "You will not shame me this way, or I'll whip you until you can hold your tongue."

Whimpering, I hang my head, swallowing tears; warmth flowing from my nose. I raise my hand to touch my face, horrified at the sight of blood on my fingertips. I hold it up for him to see but I don't speak. 

"I suppose that's the penance one pays when they forget their master's orders," he says grimly. He slips a hand into his pocket and draws out a handkerchief, gently dabbing at my face. "You'll wash up when we get inside, but don't make me correct you again. Regardless of how it seems, I don't necessarily enjoy using force."

I stay quiet, covering my nose and mouth with my hand as he pulls me back to the house. The maid steps back as we enter, and I catch her eye for a moment before quickly looking away. 

"Sir, if I may," she says after shutting the door, garnering Damien's attention. She nods her head toward me. "I can clean him up so he's presentable to my master and his omega. If that would please you."

"It would," he replies, letting me go. "Go with her and do as you're told."

"They're in the front room, sir," she tells him. "Do you know the way?"

"Very well." He adjusts his clothing, looking so polished and calm you'd never know he'd just gotten done assaulting me. He gives me a hard look before turning away, leaving us alone. 

"Please," she says softly, taking my arm. "Come, I'll put you to rights."

I'm taken down a long corridor filled with mirrors in gawdy, bulky frames; the carpet a dark red. She opens a door, revealing a small washroom. 

"Rest yourself." She points to an ornate stool covered with gold velvet. I sit while she goes to the sink, turning on the water. 

I'm still shaking, the blood on my face drying and making my skin feel tight. I stare blankly ahead, not even wanting to think; trying to find a safe place inside my head to achieve respite. 

"Now let me see," she murmurs, kneeling before me and gently washing my face with a warm washcloth. 

I come out of my stupor long enough to study her face; her long eyelashes and creamy skin. She smells like something warm; like cookies baking. 

"I'm Heidi, by the way," she says. Now she's wiping the tears from beneath my eyes; the trails they'd left. 

"I'm Kyle," I whisper. "Thank you for doing this. You didn't have to."

"I would've wanted someone to do it for me," she replies, "if I were in your place."

"I shouldn't have reacted like that. I know better." Biting my lip, I'm afraid I'm going to start crying again. "I've just met your master before, and we didn't exactly get along."

"I'm hardly surprised. He doesn't really get along with anyone, even his sainted mother whom he claims to adore." Sitting back on her heels, she nods. "Much better. Do you want to take a look?" She gestures to the mirror. 

"No, not at all," I say. I stand, dizzy from a growing ache in my head and cheek. "I suppose we should go before they come looking."

"I could bring you some ice to put on your face," she suggests. 

"I'll ask my master if that's okay," I say. "He might not want me to draw attention to myself like that."

It's not long before we're entering the front room, a cavernous place with a vaulted ceiling and very tall windows that look out on expansive, snowy grounds. The fireplace is massive and very wide, burning brightly with a crackling fire. Above the mantelpiece is a portrait of our benefactor for the evening -

"Darling, you remember Mr. Cartman, don't you?" Damien looks at me, a glass in his hand; the liquid within glowing; backlit by the fire. He extends a hand and I go to him. 

Fear keeps me from looking up as I cross the room, but eventually I raise my face and there is that contemptible Alpha again; just as corpulent and vile as I remember. He's in a dark blue dress shirt and charcoal slacks; the look completed with cream-colored suspenders. He looks like a pig masquerading as a human. 

He smirks when he sees my face. 

"Kyle, say hello," Damien says, drawing me close to his side. 

"Good evening, Mr. Cartman," I say mechanically. "I hope you've been well."

"I'd be better if my dinner were actually prepared on time," he barks, looking sharply at Heidi. "Go check with the cook and see what the holdup is."

"Yes, sir." She retreats from the room. 

Mr. Cartman stares at me, making no attempt to conceal the way his eyes study my face, dragging downward over my body. Just this act alone is enough to make me feel unclean.

"Are you going to be more pleasant company than the last time I saw you?" he asks, sipping from his own glass; the drink within a strange shade of green. 

My emotions tumble over themselves, rage, humiliation, despair; mixing and turning into something poisonous while I stand in the presence of someone I already hate, even though I've only spent a handful of minutes with him. 

Finally, I nod, because my throat is too tight for me to speak right now. 

"Actually, we should clear the air before proceeding, I think," Damien says. "To right a prior discourtesy on behalf of my charge."

I look up quickly. There's a thread of amusement in Damien's tone that's more disconcerting than overt aggression. 

He's playing another game. 

"I'm listening," Mr Cartman says, going to sit in a leather-covered wing back chair. "What do you propose, Thorne?"

"Well, to address the elephant in the room," Damien says, beginning to slowly undo my cloak, "Kyle was very rude to you in the past, and I find rudeness, especially with regards to your differences in status, unspeakably ugly."

Mr. Cartman nods. "The prettier they are, the sharper their tongues; that seems to be the trend."

Damien removes my cloak and I can feel the other Alpha's eyes practically devouring me; sliding down my belly, along my legs; finally settling on the place where my hands are folded before me; covering the area below my pubis.

I shiver, beginning to feel ill.

"Darling, you're going to give Mr. Cartman a formal apology," Damien says, reaching to place a hand on my neck. He squeezes and I gasp. 

Suddenly, I can smell the odor emanating from Mr Cartman, and though my experience is limited with such things, I recognize it for what it is: arousal. Aggressive, predatory arousal. 

Damien's scent is strong too, but it's more anticipatory; the two mingle and it's all I can do not to vomit. 

"You are going to kneel and show him your neck," he says, gently pushing me forward. "Only then can we wipe the slate clean and begin again."

Shifting, Mr. Cartman spreads his thighs, placing his hands on the armrests of the chair; fingers sinking into the leather and making it creak. He waits, his eyes lit up. 

I can see the red growing in them. 

Feeling naked from the way he watches, I silently start to cry as I drop to my knees, the action hindered by my short dress, sure that this putrid swine is trying to catch glimpses of my thighs. Sinking down, I bow my head and lift a hand to pull my hair aside, exposing my neck; closing my eyes as I purposely reveal an omega's most vulnerable place. 

An eternity seems to pass before Damien speaks, "now what do you say, my love?"

I flinch, but I obey. 

"I'm sorry I was rude to you, sir."

Cartman lets out a small sound, half between a growl and a moan before I hear him moving, and then I feel a very soft, almost feminine hand on my cheek. I open my eyes and this loathsome creature is touching me, the stink of his arousal bombarding me, and it's all I can do not to bite his fingers off. 

"You're actually very appealing when you're acting the way you should," he murmurs. "I almost wish I'd gotten to purchase you myself."

I'm so repulsed and frightened by his presence and the look in his eyes, the red seeping into his irises like bloodshed, that I start to whine, almost feeling like i might lose control of my bladder and wet the floor if I don't get away from him. 

But this only seems to add fuel to the fire, and he wraps one of my curls around his finger and tugs, gleeful when I cry out. He drops his other hand to my collar and tugs, loosening the ribbon tied there. I panic and pull away, crawling to Damien and taking a hold of his clothing. I shakily manage to stand. 

I press closely to him, trembling and staring at Cartman with pure, abject fear. I've never been exposed to someone I find so terribly revolting. Not even Damien scares me this much. 

"Shhh," he soothes, kissing my curls and hugging me to his side. "You're alright now. You did beautifully, my Kyle. I'm pleased with you, and so is Mr Cartman. Can't you tell how much he admires you?"

I can't speak. I don't want to, I just want to leave and put as much distance between myself and this place as possible. Cartman collects himself and stands, righting his clothes, but his eyes aren't returning to normal. 

"Now I can see why you paid so much for him," he says. "There's fire in him; just enough to keep him interesting. It's when they lose their bite that the fun stops."

I look away, hiding my face against Damien's arm, and I'm disgusted that I'm turning to him for comfort. But in this regard he's truly the lesser of two evils, as bizarre and farfetched as it may seem. He hugs me tighter, his arm slipping around the curve of my waist.

"This will help you remember to be good, won't it?" he whispers to me. 

Sobbing, I can't find any words. His fingers gather some of my dress and squeeze, and I can smell a change on him; something sinister, dark -

He's very, very satisfied right now. 

Heidi comes back then and speaks quietly to Cartman. 

"Fine," he says, waving her away. He looks at us. "Dinner's finally ready. Good thing, too, I've built up quite an appetite suddenly."

The dining room is as ornate as the rest of the place; dominated by a very long dark wood table. Like a row of sentinels, there's several candelabras running up the middle, all of them lit and glowing. The dishes are fine porcelain with a blue willow design, the cutlery heavy gleaming silver. 

Damien pulls out my chair before sitting beside me, close. After thoroughly subjugating me he seems very calm and relaxed; even more attentive toward me than usual. Under the table, he slides a hand over my thigh before creeping between my legs, stroking softly just for a moment before pulling away. I sigh quietly under my breath, my face flushing. 

Cartman joins us shortly thereafter, a newcomer with him who's petite and brown-haired; the long tresses gathered into a loose bun. He has a plain face with freckles on the bridge of his nose, his tongue appearing too large for his mouth. 

"Good evening," he lisps, moving slowly, and that's when I notice his stomach is very large; clearly swollen with Cartman's hell spawn. "I'm sorry I didn't greet you sooner but I've been napping."

"He needs a lot of rest," Cartman says gruffly, actually pulling out a chair for his omega. "We're getting very close, after all."

Damien watches with unusual intensity while the omega sits, his hand on the slope of his belly. "Oh, honey, he's moving. Please feel." Delicately, he takes the Alpha's hand and settles it gently on his front. He smiles, looking up at Cartman with adoration. "Isn't that so nice?"

Cartman is gruff but allows all of this, pulling away to sit at the head of the table. "Nice enough, I guess." Looking at me, he gestures to the omega. "This is Scott."

"How do you do?" he asks, nodding. His eyes are strangely blank, like he's looking through me rather than at me. 

"Hello," I say, disturbed by his affect; really, just disturbed with everything I'm seeing. 

"You're looking lovely," Damien comments. "How far along are you?"

"Almost 9 months," Scott says proudly. "But I'm not complaining. Daddy takes such good care of me. I never have to lift a finger."

Lifting a napkin, I press it to my mouth because I'm afraid I might gag. 

"We were just at the doctor," Damien says, his tone darkening. 

"Oh? Good news?" Cartman asks, leering at me. If Scott notices, he makes no comment; smiling vapidly. 

"Kyle's healthy but I think he's still too young. He's only begun to have Heats."

My face becomes hot. Damien's discussing intimate details of my life like I'm not even present; acting like the information belongs to him. 

"Ah, so your little spectacle at the party was pretty significant, I take it," Cartman says, leaning back as the first course is being served; a salad of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes. "You're lucky you weren't attacked by every Alpha in the room."

"Oh, what a terrible thought," Scott says, appearing genuinely distressed on my behalf. "I couldn't come because I'm not supposed to travel very much these days, but daddy told me what happened, Kyle. I hope you weren't very scared; it's so confusing the first time it happens. At least it was for me."

"You were well taken care of, though; weren't you?" Cartman asks. 

"You made it so much easier," Scott replies, patting his hand. 

I almost have to spit out the tomato I'm chewing but I manage to swallow. Damien remains quiet, listening, I suppose. He eats very slowly, like it's a chore.

"Of course Tucker had to insert himself into the situation," Cartman says out of nowhere, making me suck in a breath that goes down the wrong pipe. I begin hacking. 

"Easy," Damien murmurs, rubbing my back. 

Cartman glares at me once the coughing subsides, like I'd done it on purpose. "Anyway, I would've been out for blood if I'd seen someone handle my omega that way. The nerve of it all."

"Goodness, what did he do?" Scott asks, blinking. 

"Nothing," I reply, shrinking to feel myself becoming the center of attention. "I mean, nothing deliberate, anyway. He was trying to help."

"That's rich," Cartman laughs, his mouth full of half-chewed lettuce. "An omega trying to assess a situation from their own juvenile perspective. You don't even know what you're talking about."

Damien clears his throat softly then. We all turn to look at him as he drinks from a glass of red wine. "Kyle is just expressing how he remembers the situation, there's nothing wrong with that."

Cartman scoffs. "Tucker has always enjoyed pushing the envelope. Sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong, interfering in matters that don't concern him. It doesn't help that he's a fucking bleeding heart liberal, always spouting off about omega rights. As if he's in any position to judge given his background."

"Besides, he has no idea how to handle omegas," he adds. "He doesn't understand that discipline is the key."

"I'm so much happier when I know what's expected of me," Scott says, nodding. "If I'm doing something wrong I should be told and punished accordingly, so it won't happen again."

I feel so nauseated by this conversation that I gently lay down my fork. Damien continues to eat, giving no indication as to his state of mind. 

"I don't know, Thorne, I just got the impression that his intentions weren't exactly innocent," Cartman says and his obvious hypocrisy is so infuriating that i growl very low in my throat. Damien's nails dig into my thigh and I stop at once. 

"Good boy," he murmurs. 

"How many do you want, Kyle?" Scott asks, rolling a tomato between his fingers. His pupils are very large. 

I falter, unsure of what he's really asking me until my eyes drop to his stomach, so full and round. I touch my own, and it feels more emaciated than ever. 

I slip into robot mode; wanting to disappear until this evening is over. "As many as my master wants."

Scott is charmed by this answer. "That's how I feel, too! Daddy wants to fill every room and there's so many. I don't know if I can keep up!" He glances at Cartman. "I hope they all look like you."

I keep my face smooth but I'm screaming myself hoarse inside my head. For a moment, I take a step back, like I'm becoming removed from myself, and I have to wonder if I'm looking at my future; cracking the universe apart to possibly see where my current road is leading me. 

Me, mindless and blindly devoted to Damien, huge with his child; more of them at my feet, screaming and clinging to my skirts. I look up and see Damien smiling and satisfied, eyes red as he takes another of his omegas into a room and locking the door; hearing the grunts and moans within. 

I'm just one of many, feeding his need for progeny, lying back and being taken and taken and taken until the world dissolves and there's nothing left at the end of it all; just an open, gaping heart and the screams of the children i was forced to carry and birth. 

Feeling cold, I manage to come back to myself, and hear the others chattering, having not realized that I'd stepped into one of the possible outcomes of my life, the one I'd be forced to live if I didn't find a way to change my circumstances. 

But how could I? The odds are stacked against me in every way. 

"Love, you've barely eaten, I thought we were past that," Damien says. "Don't you like it?"

"My cook is renowned for being the best," Cartman adds, giving me a look loaded with scorn.

His eyes are still red. 

"I'm so sorry," I say. "It's just been such a long day, and -"

I break off before picking up my fork. "Actually, I believe I'm pretty hungry, after all."

"I remember when I was like you," Scott comments, his tone still light but there's something underneath it, something a little less superficially pleasant. "Thin without really trying, but now it's such a hassle. I guess love changes things."

I nod but I'm so bothered by Scott. It's not that I dislike or pity him... he just genuinely scares me. Covertly, I watch him, wanting to understand what makes him tick, needing to know what's going on behind those glassy, hazel eyes. 

When the next course is brought, a thick tomato basil soup, Scott claps his hands in delight, turning his head to look at Cartman. That's when I notice the florid scar on the back of his neck; the uneven marks dotting his nape. 

I stare, nearly hypnotized until a bowl is being set before me, and Scott looks across the table; the candles reflecting off of his vacant eyes. 

"This is my favorite! Daddy lets me have it all the time now that I'm having a baby." He dips his spoon into his bowl. Raising his eyes to meet mine, he smirks but it's swift. "I just feel so lucky... so incredibly blessed with everything I have." He touches his stomach again for emphasis. 

I grit my teeth when Damien's nails dig into my skin again, but through it all I smile; large and wide. In that moment, I'm someone else; someone I don't recognize and I'm glad, because I loathe them for their weakness. 

------

Our room is too busy, too fancy. 

It screams "look how much money I have!" from every surface. The bed is huge and heavy, with massive posts at every corner; the walls are covered in wallpaper swimming with flowers; blue, pink, yellow; like candy-colored ribbons that an omega would have on a very specialized gown. 

The windows are large and look over the grounds, each of them decorated with gauzy curtains, and the bathroom is filled with golden fixtures and a bathtub that resembles a swimming pool. 

I'm uneasy as soon as I step over the threshold, but Damien is in a dark mood and doesn't have time for my misgivings. 

"We have to bathe before going to bed," he says, opening one of the suitcases waiting on our -

(Our)

- bed. He begins pulling articles out as I creep around the edges of it all, trying to accept what I'm being given. 

He turns to look at me eventually, annoyed to see me keeping to the shadows; lurking in corners. Hiding. 

"What are you doing? Come over here."

I do, but I'm slow, slinking. I make it obvious I'm afraid. 

"We've never shared a bed," I say, glancing at it; the solemn, hulking beast taking up much of the wall. 

"That's true," he replies. He starts to undress, every movement quick but methodical. "Is that an issue for you?"

Of course it is, but I don't say that. 

"I'm not used to it."

"You'll adapt, won't you?" he snaps. "Now undress and stop being difficult. I'm exhausted after dealing with that nonsense downstairs."

"May I run the bath for us?" I ask, hungry for space. "I don't mind." 

"Fine, go on. Make it hot. Very hot." He waves a hand before pulling off his shirt, and his pale beauty is evident in the scant lamplight. 

In the bathroom, I figure out the fixtures and start the water, steaming and clouding the air. I add bubbles and salts and oils that I find in the cabinets, and soon the room smells of roses and mint. 

"That'll do," Damien says, coming into the room and taking my arm, aggressive as he yanks me away from the tub where I'd been sitting, watching the water rise. 

"You still don't know how to obey," he growls, and I'm afraid he's going to strike me again, but instead he begins undressing me, but he's brutal about it; turning me to rip my dress open, the buttons popping off to scatter on the floor. 

I'm terrified into silence at this, feeling my dress being yanked down and off, and then he's turning me to face him and my shirt is torn open, revealing my slip...I stand before him in nothing but my undergarments, shaking and barely able to breathe. 

"Finish while I watch," he says, going to sit on the edge of the tub. "Take everything off until I can see all of you. Now."

The room is filled with steam and the scents of rushing water, of salts and oil, and I hug myself tightly before I unfold like a rose and I'm performing for him again. I slip my ruined shirt from my shoulders and it falls, and then I'm pulling my slip over my head. 

"Good boy," he murmurs, turning off the water. "Keep going."

I'm blank again, removed, but I slip off my stockings, lifting each leg to roll them down, tossing them aside, and then I slip my fingers beneath the soft material of my panties, silky with the bow on the front, and push them down over my hips; slowly, my eyes closing. 

I'm too slow, though, too reserved, and Damien comes to me while my eyes are closed to tear the panties off, and I'm being held against him, naked and panting. 

"His face, did you see his face? That disgusting animal," he says, tipping my head back to kiss my throat, leading me and easing me into the bath. The heat is more than I expect and I pant softly, but he rests his teeth on my neck until I relax. 

"He wanted you, he wanted you so much, just like at your debut, but he can't have you and it kills him. He's stuck with that mindless sow downstairs, so fat and clumsy --"

"Master, please," I murmur, not sure what's happening, but I can smell something very odd on Damien; something beating hot and fast in his blood and it's different from what he's shown me before. 

Anger. Rage. True unbridled fury. 

Usually he doesn't seem to let himself feel anything too deeply. 

"They were laughing at us, didn't you hear them?" he whispers. "Not out loud but it was in between the words, hidden, but not enough for me not to hear -"

He kisses my lips then, biting at them, drawing blood, but when I start to whimper he pushes me under the water, submerging me and I'm lost in the murk and echo. I fight though, and I can feel his body tensing next to mine, and he's pulling me up, allowing me to breathe -

He breathes heavily, drawing me to his chest, and I'm just so grateful that he let me rise, lifting my head from the water. He lapses into silence, turning me to straddle his lap, the way he had when we'd fucked the last time. 

He stares at me, eyes hard, flinty, flashing crimson like a dysfunctioning light bulb. "He wants to fuck you, have you, claim you. He wants to bite you. But I'm sure you already know that."

"I saw the scar on Scott's neck," I reply, feeling Damien's hardness beneath me. 

"Pip wants me to do that to him, Bond with him. I don't want that with him at all," Damien replies, placing his hands on my sides to span my waist. "Little thing," he murmurs. "I like how small you are... you're delicate in a way i can control."

I watch him, my skin cooling down the longer it's exposed to the air; my bottom half so comfortable beneath the water. Earlier he'd been annoyed at my smallness, but now he seems so conflicted... it's hard to tell what he wants or needs from me. 

It makes me wonder if he even knows; I'd never seen him like this before; unrestrained and not perfectly poised.

"Cartman's omega was an idiot even before he was bitten," he says, seeming to savagely enjoy lavishing his cruelty on that poor stupid boy. "Really, it's hard to tell the difference."

Drifting his hand down to the curve of my ass, he begins to spread me, touching my entrance softly. I wiggle, wincing. 

"Stay still," he says. "I want to touch you."

Arching, I shy away from his fingers. "But I'm not in heat."

"So?"

"Well, what's the point? I can't get pregnant right now, and isn't that -"

Plunging his fingers into me, he appears very pleased with my expression of shock and open-mouthed surprise; a faint line of drool falling from the corner of my lips. 

"I'll take you when I want to, which is often," he growls, opening and teasing me, little squeaks eking from me as he presses and turns and -

"Oh," I sigh, closing my eyes. He's touching that special place I'd discovered before, and the stars are dancing in the darkness. "Oh, please, please -"

"Please, what?" he stops, taunting me now with his smile, his eyes, the fingers that hold my thigh tightly. 

Dazed, I come back to myself, and I can think much clearer without his fingers inside me; twisting and perverting my sense of reason. I move away until I'm on the other side of the tub, washing quietly and ignoring him. I know I should be afraid but I'm so ashamed of my weakness, and besides, there's no audience here for me to posture for. 

The sounds of splashing tells me that he's attending to himself as well, and I figure that it's all resolved until I'm being pulled up from the water and dragged out of the tub, fighting as my feet slide over the cold tiles. I fall but that doesn't stop him, taking a hold of me, fingers squeezing, and then I'm thrown across the bed, still wet and dazed, and he's holding me down by my throat. 

"There was one thing that pig was right about," he murmurs, eyes flashing like they're bloodied. "Discipline is necessary, isn't it? Otherwise you'll never learn, and if you never learn, I'll never get what I need from you."

"Damien," I say, fighting against his hold, but this only makes him tighten his grasp. Drawing back, he slaps me across the face until my eyes are blurred with tears, until I'm begging him to stop. 

"Master, master," I whimper, trying to reach to touch his face, to be soft, and it seems to make a difference for a moment. 

But not for long. 

"You're so young so you don't know," he says, taking my arms and slamming them down, pinning them to the bed, "but alphas want their omegas even when they aren't in heat, especially when they like to fight and disobey."

"Stop, stop!" I'm lying beneath him and he's so warm, like he's on fire, and we're looking at each other like we're really seeing each other for the first time. 

"I wanted you as soon as I saw you, because I had a feeling you could give me what I need," he whispers, biting my neck hard, making me gasp silently from the pain; my glands so swollen and full. I press my thighs together but he's forcing them apart. 

"Can't we give each other what we both need?" he asks, and he sounds like he's lost his mind. 

I scream, and he kisses me hard, his tongue tasting and licking into me, and this is all so surreal but so vivid, because I can feel and taste the way he's breaking down, but I'm not sure why it's happening to fast; so suddenly. 

I freeze to feel him pressing against me, and then he's pushing in, and the pressure and the heat is unimaginable. He's inside before I can blink, and the stillness inside me is so profound that I can feel every little cavern of my body, every secret place, and I'm sure Damien can feel them too -

"You're so good," he whispers so softly against my ear. "So, so good...I feel like I could actually learn to love you someday. Do you feel it, too?"

I look at him, and he's beautiful, but it's a venomous beauty. He's so cold, so far away, like something I can never reach; a star burning itself out in space. 

I think of Mr Tucker and wonder if he found my roses. I left them so long ago but did he find them? I pray that he did, that he put them in a vase and set them on his table. 

I start to cry, breaking like glass under Damien, and he shushes me, pressing warm kisses to my cheeks and throat. 

"Sweet one, I'm not trying to hurt you this time," he murmurs, beginning to move; in and out, in and out. He's making the bed move as he rocks his hips against me, sliding in, further and further; he draws out, beginning the rhythm again. 

It's like a waltz in Hell but there's no music. Damien seems to be in a state of euphoria, though. He keeps holding my arms down, his fingers tight around my wrists, and he's going so deep, so terribly deep, but eventually he touches that place again that takes me out of myself. 

I turn my head to watch the moon, and for a moment I don't recognize it; that cold eye. Damien's fucking me harder now, faster, and his pants are wet next to my ear. 

I shiver and close my eyes tightly. 

Chapter Text

And all of the steps that led me to you
And all of the hell I had to walk through
But I wouldn't trade a day for the chance to say, my love, I'm in love with you

The Words, Christina Perri


When I wake up I feel like I'm being held underwater again; my breath trapped in my chest and my hands reaching out before I realize I'm in bed. 

An unfamiliar bed. I've been tucked in, covered by a soft, fluffy comforter. The last thing I can recall before falling asleep was being under Damien. My arms were trapped, held tightly in his hands; he was pushing inside of me and I was holding my breath, eyes shut -

Turning my head, I see Damien beside me, his dark hair splashed against the white pillow. He's facing away from me, the blanket drawn down to reveal his long back. I watch his side rise and fall with his breaths, the nape of his neck exposed. 

The moon is casting its pearly light into the room, and the color of the sky tells me it's most likely hours until dawn. 

I ache everywhere. There are throbs in my hips, my backside, my arms, my face. I lift my hands to see the bruises around my wrists from Damien's strong fingers. I feel used and lethargic, but my mind won't let me go back to sleep - especially with Damien so close. 

It's like I'm suffocating in that bed, that room. I sit up slowly, keeping my eyes trained on Damien's back the whole time, listening to his breaths; trying to detect a change in them. Slipping from the bed, I almost stumble but catch myself on the nightstand, legs weak. 

I have to get out of here. I need to catch my breath. I need to think. 

I'm naked, my skin littered with goosebumps even though the air is warm. I sniff the air and I can smell my aroma - scared, sad - mingling with Damien's anger and arousal. It's disorienting, like perfume mixing with the metallic scent of blood. 

I scan the room for my suitcase, seeing it on the chest at the foot of the large bed. I creep to it on tiptoe, still hyper aware of Damien's presence, his soft breaths. Every sound is magnified as I pull the zipper around, opening the top and groping through the stacks of garments. 

Simple, something simple; that's all I need, but everything is so involved, so needlessly elaborate. I fish out panties and another pinafore dress, this one blue velvet, as well as a white blouse with puffy sleeves. 

I dress quickly, forgoing stockings and all the other unnecessary stuff I'm usually layered in, but I'm grateful that Bebe at least packed my slippers. 

Gotta get out of here, I need space. I'm sure I'll get in trouble but I don't care. I'm starting to realize that I could be perfect and I'd probably still be punished, so what does it matter?

That is if the door isn't locked and Damien has the only key - which would hardly surprise me. Thankfully, the knob twists easily, I'm slowly pushing the door open, and I'm finally away; released into the dim hall.

I move without caring where I'm going, so long as it takes me further from him. He'd been brutal this evening, even for him; using me and speaking vitriol, talking about love, as if he has any idea what that is. All he knows is how to inflict pain and instill fear. 

Yes, there's something in his nature that seems to torment him, but I can't worry about that. He makes his misery other people's misery - it's unforgivable. 

I wander, almost getting lost several times when I turn down strange corridors. I consider finding the kitchen to beg for a drink but I don't want to run the risk of coming across someone unfriendly. The halls are hushed and shadowed; tall windows showing the stars outside and on occasion the white moon. I can hear the wind blowing mournfully. 

Eventually, after looking in several doors, I find a large room with walls covered in books, stacked neatly on shelves. There's a large desk in the center of it all, and a ladder that leads to more books on a second landing. 

I'm in awe as I step inside, looking around. From what I understand, Damien has a library somewhere in the mansion but I've never seen it. I wonder if it's anything like this place; filled with a musty, papery smell. There are atlases framed in gold on the walls, a clock with a swaying pendulum ticking on the mantel of a wide fireplace. 

I begin to feel calm as I wander the room, running my fingers over the spines of the books; some big, some small. Some bound in leather and others of cloth; all of varying colors. Some have gilded pages, and the moonlight strikes them, dazzling my eyes. 

It's hard to believe that Cartman has such a wonderful room. He doesn't exactly seem like someone who reads for fun - or at all. It's probably for appearances, to make visitors think he cares about learning or bettering himself. I'm sure it's all a show, it has to be. 

After what I'd endured, the thought of curling up with a book and being transported to another world sounds like heaven. It'll help me feel closer to the things that bring me comfort; learning and the people who seem to care for me a little; Tricia and hopefully Mr. Tucker. 

I choose a book that looks a little simpler than the others, a small collection of poetry, and settle into a large armchair next to the window. I curl my feet beneath myself as I sigh and start to read, not knowing all of the words but enough to get an idea of the message, and soon I'm forgetting about the aches inside of me; the fear that always follows like a shadow. 

My eyes become heavy after a while and I fall asleep before I know what's happening. My dreams are sweet; filled with blue-white clouds and a long, long winding road, passing between trees and far into the distance is a little white house on a hill. It reminds me of the cottage i grew up in, modest and unassuming. There's someone standing in front of it and I can't make them out, but i hope that it's Mr. Tucker waiting for me. 

I'm nowhere near reaching it when I'm being violently awakened; shaken and dragged from the chair. I'm thrown to the floor before I'm even able to open my eyes. 

When I do, though, I'm horrified to see Cartman looming over me. Sucking in a breath, I scramble away, my hands and knees burning as they scrape against the carpet.

"What are you doing in here?" he barks. He's dressed in a robe; dark blue pajamas underneath. He's giving off the same horrible smell as before, but it's even more pungent now. "I didn't say you could come in here!"

"I-I couldn't sleep," I say, managing to pull myself up by using the desk. I'm already shaking so hard that my voice is vibrating. "I'm sorry, I'll put everything back the way I found it."

"That's not the point," he snaps, glancing at the book I'd left behind on the chair. My pulse quickens when he reaches for it. "What were you doing with this? It's not like you stupid omegas can read...I doubt you could even if we tried to teach you."

Fury flames in my belly but I keep an even tone. "There are some pretty sketches in there...I wanted to look at them."

He smirks. "Have your owner buy you some omega picture books, then. You don't just come into someone's home and snoop around. It's uncouth."

He would know, wouldn't he? I've never met someone I wanted to attack more. My hands clench. 

He throws the book down and approaches me. I back against the desk, reviled in every conceivable way. He's drinking me in again, and I cover myself with my arms. 

"Sneaking away from Thorne in the middle of the night, huh?" he asks. "Maybe you were hoping we'd run into each other."

"Never," I say, my rage finally slipping through. Trying to be civil with him is like swallowing tiny mouthfuls of poison; I can only take so much. "On the contrary, I ended up staying in here because I assumed you never used this place."

His expression is becoming dangerous. "Oh?"

"I'd be surprised if you've read even one of the books on these shelves," I snap. 

He laughs. "And you could?" Pausing, he looks at me more closely and a little light erupts in his piggy eyes. Turning away, he goes to snatch up the book and flips through it. "There aren't any pictures in here, you liar."

I keep my face and voice smooth even though the terror is growing exponentially inside of me. "I misspoke. I thought there might be pictures in it...omega foolishness, I guess."

He's still staring at me with that light in his eyes, though, and I'm beginning to think he might not be as stupid as he looks. What a horrible possibility. 

"Omegas don't typically gravitate to these sorts of places," he says. "It's not in their natures."

Gritting my teeth, I bite back my words. He's goading me, I know it. 

"I mean, after all, what are omegas really good for? Why do they exist? To serve. And who do they serve? Their betters." He snickers, walking toward me again, but slower now, like he's stalking me. "Your dynamic is mindless window dressing. Oh, you look good, most of you, but that's the extent of it, really. Aside from how you look and how you feel when lying on your back, what else is there? You don't have real thoughts or worries or wants. I imagine being you is similar to being a vase - only there to make the room look better and capable of being filled - if your owner decides to fill you."

During his whole speech my anger was becoming so large that it was starting to scare me; the intensity of it, the desire to give into violence; tear this repulsive slug apart, watch him suffer the way he's made me suffer. 

And countless others, I'm sure. 

"May I just say, that you're the worst human being I've ever met," I reply, my hands shaking. But not just from fear; no, that potent anger is burning through me and devastating my resolve to be silent and good. "And I use that term, loosely; human. I've seen roaches with more value than you."

He grins. "There's that snap, that bite. Just like I told Thorne, you have fire in your belly. It hasn't been stomped out yet."

"It never will be, and not by you," I reply. "I refuse to be beaten down by someone I could never possibly respect - you have nothing to offer anyone. You're garbage. In any other society you'd be living in a gutter."

"Oh, I have nothing to offer? Are you sure?" He asks, putting his hands behind his back. He's very close now, and his stench - that stink of want and hunger - is crawling into my senses. I try not to breathe through my nose. 

"Absolutely," I say. "There's nothing i could possibly want from you."

"Even information about your family?" his lips peel back from his teeth and they look terribly sharp. 

I'm so blindsided by this question that I don't have the wherewithal to remain aloof, and it must be obvious from my expression that he's found the chink in my armor. He laughs, high-pitched and grating.

"That's what I figured. Everyone has a weakness."

"You're lying. You don't know anything about my family," I say, but I can't be sure. Cartman has money and is surprisingly cunning, not to mention how ruthless he is...

"Oh, I know plenty," he says, his tone hardening. "After you crossed me at the party I did some research about the omega with the smart mouth. Kyle Broflovski. Purchased by one Damen Thorne for a ridiculous sum. Son of Alpha Gerald broflovski, a failed and disgraced lawyer - at least he was."

"Was?" I ask, clasping my hands in front of my chest. 

"Your mother's dead, taken by the sickness, and your brother, the beta, little Ike broflovski. Well, he's still around, isn't he?"

Now my heart is a buzz, my blood rushing fast in my ears. "Please, just -"

"A bunch of Jews living your pathetic lives in your sad, little cottage, until your father made a bet he couldn't pay back, several actually, and to some very unforgiving people. So, what does he do? Trades the only real collateral he has, his smart-mouthed, virgin omega. Oh, he knew from the beginning he'd get a good price for you - mainly because you'd never been fucked and because you're so pretty."

"I hate admitting it, but you are, but you've got that tongue, and you refuse to control it." He comes to me then, pushing me up against the desk. "How'd it feel, huh? Being sold off by your own father? He knew who he was giving you to... everyone knows the type of Alphas that enjoy the Auctions."

Biting my lip, the tears that have been gathering in my eyes slowly begin to fall. "Just tell me what you know. Are they okay? Please, I haven't heard anything about them since I left, and it's been so long -"

"Apologize first, and maybe I'll tell you," he says. 

I stare up at him, the desk digging into the backs of my thighs. "B-but I already did."

"You apologized for being rude at the party, now you need to apologize to me for tonight; sneaking into my library and mouthing off."

I feel like I'm eating my own heart when I crumble and softly say, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Placing a bloated hand on my shoulder, he pushes me down. "On your knees. Do it properly."

I whine but I don't fight. If this was happening under any other circumstances, I'd lunge at him without a second thought, but if he knows something about my family -

I can give in for them. I can turn off my mind and become someone else as I sink to my knees. I can turn myself into a stranger while I pull my hair away from my neck, letting Cartman stare at my exposed nape; my eyes on the carpet, not really seeing what's in front of me. 

I'm not Kyle while I do this. I'm someone I can toss away when all is said and done. I don't know them and they don't know me. 

"So smooth," he says under his breath, placing his hand on my neck and stroking it. I cringe away, and my bladder feels uncomfortably full again. I just pray I don't have an accident but he's so repugnant. He's so completely awful. 

"I can see why he hasn't Bonded with you yet. It all changes after that." Slipping his fingers around my neck, he presses. I whine louder. "Shhh," he murmurs. 

"Is that why Scott is like that?" I ask haltingly. "Because you two Bonded? Is it always like that?"

"More often than not," he says, yanking me close so I stumble onto my hands. "It's a tradeoff... no resistance, but that spark dies. It's the only thing that makes any of this interesting."

Trembling, I don't want to hear anymore. "Please, my family."

"Not yet. I have to try you first. It's not like Thorne will care, I'm sure. He knows he has to keep me happy and he's already had you."

I'm on my feet in a second, moving around the desk. I stare at him and I'm sure I'm in the presence of a monster that's emerged from Hell.

"No," I whisper. "Not that. I won't."

"Then I can't tell you about your family," he says flippantly. 

"Please, there must be something else," I plead. 

He moves with surprising swiftness for someone so large, but he's on me before I can respond, and I'm being pushed onto the desk; my arm twisted behind my back. 

"I've told you before, you don't get to choose how you obey. You just do it," he sneers, sliding a hand down my side, over my hip; soon it's under my skirt, crawling up my thigh. I feel a finger slip under the material of my panties and I cry out.

"No! Stop!"

He twists my arm more viciously and I sob, my panties being dragged over my hips, and I'm bare in front of him; his awful fingers spreading me. Fear prompts me to become reckless and I grope across the desk, my hand sliding over something cold and hard. 

Eyes shut, I twist as hard as I can, feeling something twinge in my arm before I'm bringing the object up, swinging it hard as I can and I hear something crack. Cartman curses before he starts screaming, and I think I'm going to start vomiting right there. 

"You bitch, you dirty fucking little WHORE!" he yells. 

I open my eyes to see the blood streaming from his temple, thick and red; the scent in the room has changed and now it's choked with agony and desperate fear; fury. 

I yank my panties up and stumble away, my arm throbbing; the tears in my eyes like a veil pulled across my vision. I'm panting and whining; the noises wet in my ears. 

"I'll kill you, I'll fucking kill you! You'll die the same way your father did!" Cartman screams, immobilizing me just as I'm about to run from the room. I stop, staring at nothing, my hand on the doorknob. 

It's as if I can feel a part of my soul dying, like it's been lit up and falling into ash. It's the same way I felt when my mother passed; numb but so raw. I'm being pulled apart. 

I turn, and Cartman is still scraping the flowing blood from his face, but he's grinning like a jackal because he knows he's hit his mark. 

"That's right, he's dead, had his throat torn out by Alphas he tried to screw over. Guess his luck finally ran out," he says, sounding almost hysterically gleeful. "Not that he had much to start with, right? There's nothing more pathetic than a gambler who doesn't know when to stop."

The pain is akin to being stabbed, there in my heart; it feels fractured, torn in two. My skin is hot, buzzing. I almost lose my footing but I reach out to take a hold of a shelf. 

"What about my brother? Where's Ike?"

"In the wind, as far as I know," he says, sounding less interested now. "Without someone to look after him he won't last long... if he's still alive, that is."

Backing up, I hit the wall and slide down. My insides are dissolving. 

"Come over here and let me fuck you, take your medicine, and maybe I'll find your brother. Maybe I'll even take him in, hire him on as help," Cartman says, driving the knife deeper into my side; twisting it. 

But I just haven't fallen that far yet, even with everything that's happened. "No," I whisper. "Never."

"Have it your way. I'll just tell Thorne about your behavior tonight and then we'll see where the chips fall, won't we?"

A soft knock comes at the door then and I'm just sure it must be Damien coming to collect me, to terrorize me for sneaking out, but instead a woman pokes her head in. She's pretty with a gentle expression and her brown hair gathered into a large bun at her nape. 

"Eric, honey, you're making a lot of noise. Can't you sleep?"

Turning, she catches sight of me, crying but blank faced on the floor. She immediately comes over and gathers me into her arms, pressed softly against her perfumed, full bosom. 

"You poor child, what's wrong?"

I'm at a loss for words for a moment. It's almost like I'm being held against my mother's warm front, but I try to stay connected to the here and now. Reaching, I take a hold of her robe and bury my face in her chest. 

"My father's gone, and the master of this house tried to hurt me," I murmur. 

"Hurt you? Whatever do you mean?" her voice is soft, like a lullaby. 

"He wanted to... be with me but I said no because I'm devoted to my alpha, and I know he's Bonded with someone. It didn't seem right, so he tried to force himself on me."

Okay, so I twisted the narrative a little but it was mostly the truth. 

"Is that so?" She asks, a steely edge showing up in her words. "Eric, is what I'm hearing accurate?"

"Mom, this doesn't concern you, just -"

"Answer me, Eric. Now."

Oh, how quickly this oversized man child is reduced to an actual child, and he's sputtering and trying to make excuses. I'd laugh under different circumstances. 

"Okay, we had a disagreement, but he hit me with a paperweight! See?!" he points to the blood still cascading down his face. 

His mother waves this away, though, holding me even tighter. "How many times have I told you you can't treat your guests this way, Eric? I've had it up to here with you and not listening to me!"

"Mom, are you even hearing me right now?! He probably gave me a concussion for fuck's sake!"

"Language!"

I take this opportunity to speak softly to her, "he said he's going to tell my Alpha that I was disobeying too, when all I wanted to do was relax in this pretty room for a while."

Her arms tense around me as she helps me to my feet, smoothing my clothes and hair; kissing my forehead. 

"Don't worry about any of that. He won't say a word, I promise."

"Mom! You can't just make a decision like that on your own!" Striding over, Cartman is so incensed that he looks like he's about to have a coronary. His mother doesn't back down, though; if anything she seems to take on more strength. 

"You shame yourself and this household, young man, now apologize this instant!"

"But, mom -"

"Now, Eric!"

Giving me a look loaded with venom, his eyes are lethal when he regards me now, but, miraculously, he folds. "I'm sorry."

I nod, more out of gratitude to his mother than anything else, and then I'm gently being ushered from the room. Cartman's mom pats my cheek and gives me a fond look. "Heavens, where are my manners? I'm Leanne. If you ever need anything or my son upsets you, please let me know."

"I'm Kyle," I reply. "And thank you."

Turning down the hall, I'm barely more than ten steps away before I hear Leanne shouting at her son, and if I wasn't so completely hollowed out with grief I'd probably pass out from laughter. 

-----

I don't feel especially connected to reality by the time I return to the room, but I'm immensely grateful to see that Damien is still fast asleep; twisted up in the blankets and lying on his stomach. The sky is lightening now, pink on the horizon. 

I take a scalding hot shower and scrub myself raw, trying not to think but I can't help it. A million memories float through my mind like embers, turning into butterflies that scatter and fly away. 

I can remember my father as a younger man, back before the drink had really taken him; helping me tend to the garden, or teaching me to fish. He'd take me out in our creaky little rowboat and drip water on me from the oars, laughing when I squealed. 

I recall how he tended to my mother when she began succumbing to the sickness, sitting by her bed and not talking, just holding her hand and helping her to eat and drink when she could muster the strength. I can see his blank, lost expression when she died; watching as the pine box that held her body was wheeled to the cemetery. He'd laid tiny primroses on her grave. 

We lost him to his urges after that, his need to bet even if he lost more often than not; smelling of beer when he'd finally stumble home from the bar. There was something dark inside of him that grew after my mother died, and everything that was good went to the grave with her. 

I still loved him, though, as best I could. He wasn't a bad man, just a foolish, selfish one. He hurt in a way he couldn't explain, so he gave into his compulsions. 

I still loved him even when they came to take me away to the Facility, when I found out I'd been  sacrificed to pay his debts. He hadn't been able to look at me as I gathered my things, but he'd cried when I hugged him before leaving. 

I'm wilted and sore by the time I'm done bathing, and I dress in a frail nightgown before climbing in beside Damien. He stirs and reaches for me, pulling me close, but he's gentle. He looks at me with sleepy eyes. 

"You bathed again?"

"I don't feel well," I say, and because I'm so sad and lost i reach for him too, and I bury my face in his chest and begin to sob. 

"Oh, my darling, my darling," he sighs, wrapping his arms around me. He kisses my hair but he's asleep in the next breath. 

When I finish crying I lie in his arms and watch the sun rise; filling the winter sky with its orange and yellow brilliance. 

----

The ride home feels much longer than the initial trip, and I spend most of the time staring out the window. Forests and houses pass, that same blue river from before, but none of it seems to matter. It just becomes a blur that lulls me until I sleep. 

We stop for lunch again and Damien orders for me, frowning when I barely touch my food. 

"Is there something on your mind?" he asks, setting down his coffee cup. "You barely ate any breakfast, too. This is unacceptable."

Breakfast had been eaten in the company of Cartman and Scott, a lavish spread that was rendered inedible as soon as I saw Cartman's mean, ugly eyes. He watched me the whole time but he kept his mouth shut.

"I don't feel well," I say, which is how I've been responding to all of his inquiries. 

"I understand that, but you can't starve yourself," he replies. 

I want to tell him to shut up and mind his own business. I want to admit that my father's dead (unless Cartman's lying, which wouldn't be too outside the realm of possibility) and I'm terrified for my brother, out in the world alone with no one to care for him. We don't have any relatives that can take him in, and I have no idea where he could be. 

Instead, I choke down some soup to keep the peace. I don't want to talk to Damien about any of this. I'm sure he'll just find a way to use it as leverage against me and I just don't have the strength to fight him right now. 

This seems to appease him though he watches me more closely after that, pulling me close in the car and placing a hand possessively on my thigh. 

"Your apology had everything to do with business," he says at one point when we're very close to home. "Cartman's the scum of the earth but if I don't have him in my corner things can become very difficult."

I get the feeling his father, this fabled entity that i keep hearing about, squeezed Damien until he folded; probably told him to get his temperamental omega in line and get him to play nice. I smirk. If I had a different relationship with Damien I'd tell him the easiest way to control Cartman is through his mother. 

I stay silent, though. 

I want to ask him why he took me when I wasn't in heat. I want him to explain his breakdown, but I have enough on my mind without having to consider that. Clearly, we both have things in our heads that consume our thoughts and loom over our backs. 

Maybe we're more alike than I thought, which genuinely nauseates me. 

When we finally return, Damien helps me from the car, his hand tight on mine before we part in the foyer. He leans to whisper in my ear:

"I may come to your room tonight."

My heart is cold but I nod, watching as he walks away; tall and assured again in his black clothing; head held high like he's never had a weak moment in his privileged life. 

He doesn't come to my room that night or the next, but on the third night he knocks after midnight. I'm lying on my bed trying to read and when I hear it I'm frantic to stuff my book under the mattress. 

He's aggressive as soon as I open the door, pushing me back into the room and growling low in his throat while pulling at my nightgown. Soon it's off and he's backing me toward the bed, kissing me slow and deep, his tongue inside my mouth. 

I sigh softly, tired and scared, but still too sad to fight back. I don't have any energy. 

"I couldn't sleep, I kept thinking about you," he says against my ear, pushing me down. He climbs on me and pushes his knee between my thighs. I look away toward the fire and try to drift. 

"Why can't I stop thinking about you?" he asks. He's licking along my throat now, needy little nips being placed on my skin. 

In my daze of grief, I find myself speaking honestly. "Maybe because you know it's very easy for me not to think about you."

There's a quick intake of breath before he raises his hand as if to slap me, but he stops at the last moment, looking at me with blazing eyes before turning me over so I'm facing away from him. 

He takes me hard that night, very hard; brutal, but he manages to find that sweet place inside of me and exploits it, making me gasp softly with every thrust and movement. 

He consumes me for hours. 

By the end I feel boneless, and he kisses my nape gently before departing. 

"I could bite you right now, you know," he says idly. "Then you'll think of me all the time."

"I don't think forcing me to think of you would satisfy you," I reply, still watching the flames jump in the fireplace. "I think you'd consider that cheating. Cheap. Where's the victory in it."

"Clever, difficult boy," he replies, setting his teeth on my skin but not biting down.

The next day I'm exhausted and listless, standing at the window and watching the snow sifting down like sugar. I'm thinking of Ike, I'm wondering where he is, wanting to reach across the miles to find him. 

I'm thinking of my father's body... did they bury it? How will I find it so I can pay my respects?

"You've been moping around ever since you got back," Bebe says, pulling my attention away from my thoughts. I blink, trying to clear the white sunlight from my vision. 

She's giving me a hard look, her hands on her hips. Going to the closet, she grabs out a cloak and throws it at me. 

"You need some fresh air. Go outside and look after the roses. You've been neglecting them."

I look down at the garment, still feeling detached but I obey, slipping it on and slowly leaving the room. I walk like I'm submerged in water, my body aching from Damien's influence, covered in bruises and bites. 

When I step outside I shade my eyes, the world feeling too big, too bright. I'm afraid of it. It stole my parents from me; my brother wandering alone in it. Trying to find his way. 

Even the roses don't lift my spirits, but I tend to them, pruning, weeding; drifting my fingers over the soft petals. I don't gather any, and when I'm done I wander away to look up at the sky, filled with swirling snow and clouds. It's uninviting and I feel like I'm becoming lost, leaving the earth as I gaze upward. 

What if Ike is lost in the snow right now? What if he's trying to find me? How can I save him when I'm trapped here?

All at once, my chest feels like it's filling up with water and the pressure becomes too great, all the tears and sadness I've been holding inside coming together at once to make me crumple. Kneeling, I cover my face with my hands and sob because I can feel my heart breaking. 

It hurts so much, this feeling, of wandering alone... of being surrounded by people who only want to use me instead of wanting to love me. They're only thinking about what I can do for them instead of remembering that I'm a person; vulnerable, soft, I need someone to care for me simply because they want to. I need someone to love me because they truly see me as I am, and they accept everything I have to give. 

My eyes are aching by the time my tears finally start to slow, but I don't want to look up, I want to hide behind my hands, in the darkness. 

"Please, are you alright? Kyle?"

A warm, deep voice comes to me through the wind and snow, and the way it says my name is so beautiful that I'm breathless for a moment. I slowly look up, squinting through the torrent to see a face that almost makes my heart stop. 

Mr. Tucker, he's there, right beyond the gate and he's watching me with those clear, wonderful eyes. 

Before I can stop myself, I'm on my feet and I'm going to him, holding up my skirts and cloak, not seeing anything but him. His aroma comes to me on the wind and it's gorgeous, lifting some of the sadness from my shoulders almost without effort. 

I stop, though, when I'm close, and the wind passes through, ruffling my hair. I see him lift his face to scent the air and he sighs, looking at me again with those eyes; those kind eyes that I've seen so many times in my dreams. 

"I've come by every day since your debut," he says quietly. "I know it was foolish but I was compelled."

Feeling hazy, I take a step towards him. Every day? Then does that mean he found the roses? Please say he did, please say he kept them, that he knows why I left them. 

"I wasn't here. Damien took me away for a while," I reply. "And I've been keeping to myself recently."

He nods, his face, so handsome and not nearly as closed off as usual, is somber. "May I ask why you were crying?"

The dam breaks and the tears fall, but I feel safe crying in front of him. "I'm so sad, I don't know what to do."

"Please come closer, you feel so far away," he says. "You always feel so far away. Ever since I first saw you I've wanted you near."

I go to him then, taking a hold of the bars of the gate and leaning my head against the cold metal. Something is waking up inside of me, a light, and it's helping to ease some of my pain. 

"I hate to see you so sad," he murmurs. "If I can help please let me."

"Did you find the roses i left?" I whisper. "Please say you did."

Wordlessly, he reaches into his pocket and draws out the ribbon I'd used to tie the bouquet together. He lays it across his palm like it's something precious and I begin to cry again, but my heart is aching for a different reason now.

"Oh," I say because I can't find words for the emotion I'm feeling. 

"I see you in my dreams every night," he says quietly, closing his hand around the ribbon. 

With a boldness i didn't know i possessed, I reach to touch his face, the smooth slope of his cheek, and he seems to shudder at the contact. He turns his face to lightly kiss my fingertips. 

That's when I hear a voice and footsteps through the haze, forcing me to wake up. 

"You should go," he says, already backing away. "I don't want you to get in trouble."

"No," I say, still reaching for him. "I don't want to let you go."

"Come tomorrow around this time, and I'll meet you. I promise." Smiling a real, true smile, he tips his hat; retreating. "You'll be in my thoughts."

"You're always in mine," I whisper, stepping back. I watch him go before Pip finds me, scolding, but I don't hear him. All I can hear in my head is Mr. Tucker's voice, creating light where none had been before. 

Tomorrow, I think, that light growing brighter in my heart, filling me up.  

Chapter Text

Don't turn away (Don't give in to the pain)
Don't try to hide (Though they're screaming your name)
Don't close your eyes (God knows what lies behind them)
Don't turn out the light (Never sleep, never die)

I'm frightened by what I see

But somehow I know that there's much more to come

Immobilized by my fear
And soon to be blinded by tears
I can stop the pain if I will it all away
If I will it all away

Whisper,  Evanescence 


I stay up late that night because I can't sleep. I'm euphoric, I'm floating, I'm nervous...

I'm everything, simply everything; nothing but emotions that I can't process because they're so new. They overwhelm me. 

I see his face whenever I close my eyes, there in the darkness. I can hear his voice and I can recall his scent, just the memory of it calming me, and I can feel his touch; the light press of his lips to my fingertips. 

I keep thinking it may have been a dream borne from grief but it can't be. It had to be real, the ribbon, the kiss, what he said -

He thinks of me. He's thought of me since he first saw me. It's more than I could've hoped for, really. 

It's been ages since I've looked at my reflection, mainly from shame and fear, especially since Damien's taken me (and so often) but now I find myself approaching the mirror. Slowly, yes, and with hesitation, but I want to see myself...I want to see what Mr Tucker sees when he looks at me. 

I'm still thin but I'm not as gaunt. My face is a little fuller and rosier now that I've stopped starving myself. My hair is still obnoxiously bright, of course, but it's shiny and the curls are fat and long, trailing almost to my shoulders. 

My eyes are large, but they've always been large, catching the light of the fire and glimmering green and shadowed. They still look afraid and too wide, young, but they seem less naive than before... they seem to reflect some of the things that have happened to me, being forced into Heat, mounted, taken countless times. 

The hurt is in them now. New hurt and pain. They're less trusting and more suspicious. 

My lips are pink, bruised from being kissed too hard and bitten... and my cheeks are blue-violet with bruises from Damien's hands, drawing back and striking me whenever he feels the need. 

But Mr Tucker's touch had been so careful, so soft. He'd treated me like something breakable. 

I touch my face and wonder if he finds me pretty. Does he like what he sees?

My cheeks become warm when I look at the rest of myself, my eyes drifting downward to the body that's been exposed and touched without permission; moved and stroked and violated until I'm crying or sobbing with pleasure. It's a foreign place to me even if Damien's hands have been all over it, tracing its new curves; the slopes coming into being as I mature. 

I'm wearing a nightgown that's transparent in the firelight, so it's easy enough to push it from my shoulders, letting it fall in a creamy puddle around my feet. I'm breathing heavily as I look down, afraid, but slowly I look up and regard myself, and I'm astounded at the change that's taken place in the short time since my heat. 

I'm so thin, still so pale, but I'm becoming curved, my hips widening and preparing to support my future young. My thighs are fuller but they don't touch, speckled with light brown freckles. My privates are still small, as they're supposed to be, and when I turn i blush to see the round plumpness of my backside; the narrow length of my back. 

I touch my chest and it's flat, so I suppose I won't become round there, my clavicle sharp as are my shoulder blades. All of my weight is in my bottom half, and I can understand why Damien seems to focus on it so much when fucking me; gripping my hips and stroking my thighs. 

What if Mr Tucker saw me like this, though? Naked, draped only in firelight? Would he like it? Would he find me pleasing?

Turning back to my reflection, I tentatively lift my hands to touch myself as I never have before; imagining that my touch is Mr Tucker's touch, gentle and loving, and I can't wait to see him again, to hear his voice. To look in his eyes. Oh, he's my fondest dream, and I want to be beautiful for him...I want him to desire me the way I desire him. 

I turn to consider myself from the side, the thin slope of my belly, when I hear the hard knock at my door, and I'm desperate to cover myself, lifting my gown and pressing it to my front, but the door is opening before I'm truly successful. 

Damien's there, red-eyed and somber as he quietly shuts the door, watching me as he walks into the room; gaze drifting down my form, openly drinking in my nakedness. He growls lowly in his throat. 

"I suppose i caught you at a delicate time," he says, keeping his distance. 

I don't know what to say. How can I possibly explain myself? 
"I didn't think you'd be coming tonight. You were just here," I say, slowly beginning to dress. 

He watches, his eyes following as the frail fabric falls over me. He's impassive. 

"I will come to you whenever I want, and you will be ready to receive me at all times," he replies. "Is that clear?"

I think of Mr. Tucker's kindness, his touch; it's burned into me so I can carry it always. It makes it harder to accept Damien's presence now. I say nothing. 

"You will speak when I address you!" he yells and I flinch. 

"Why me?" I murmur. "Pip wants you so badly, and Butters only wants to please you. Why would you seek out the omega who wants you the least?"

A tremor passes his face but it's gone as soon as it comes. "Maybe that's why."

He walks around me then, deliberately seeming to keep a wide berth, and I watch, afraid but not as fearful as he'd like me to be, I think. It's not like I don't know what he's capable of, and I have the promise of Mr. Tucker to keep me afloat. Regardless of whether he realizes it, he doesn't have the same hold over me as before. 

"The others are amusing when I need them to be, but they're hungry to please. It's all they desire," he says. "But you, you don't care about that as much, do you?"

I stare at him, muscles taut and ready. I keep the emotion from my face. "Do you want the truth or the answer that will please you, master?"

He laughs, the firelight drenching his eyes and they're red like blood. He's slim and refined like an arrow, and he has to know that he's as appealing as a bright, poisonous flower. 

"That's why I'm here," he says, licking his lips. "That's why you've crept into my thoughts and won't leave. Everyone has always worked to please me before you. Don't you fear me?"

I nod slowly. "Yes."

He considers this. "Just not enough."

"How much is enough?" I ask. 

"I guess we'll know when we get there," he replies, slowly walking toward me. He glances between me and the full length mirror. "You were looking at yourself."

I blush, and it spreads down my throat, pink and warm. 

"Why?" he asks, right beside me now. "Isn't it enough that it pleases me to look at you?"

"Or," he adds, "did you want to see yourself the way another might see you?"

I fidget, unable to keep still. It's as if he's reading my thoughts, and I don't want him in my head. 

"Perhaps," he murmurs, reaching to turn me gently toward the mirror, "you were admiring yourself, hmm? Do you think you're pretty?"

I look away, growing warmer. "No, not at all."

He clucks his tongue. "Oh, what a shame, to have such beauty and not see it." Stepping behind me, he traces his hands up my sides, his elegant fingers outlining my burgeoning curves. 

"I've seen all of this, more than anyone else," he says next to my ear. "At least when you're at your most vulnerable. I've touched you more than anyone. Haven't i?"

My eyes are still averted, but that doesn't stop him from placing his hands on my chest, dipping below my nightgown's neckline, and then he's tearing the garment apart; slowly, taking his time. 

I shut my eyes now. "Master, please." I'd only wanted to look at myself out of innocent curiosity, to better understand who I'm becoming, to see myself through the eyes of someone who might wish to love me -

Damien's trying to shame me, turn my body into an instrument for his desire, and it's working; I'm beginning to shake, my courage failing as he strips me. 

"Open your eyes, my love," he whispers. "I want you to watch while I do this."

I shake my head but he sets his teeth to my nape, threatening, and I slowly look, raising my eyes to meet his in the mirror. 

He's smiling; in his glory. 

He tears my gown like it's tissue paper, achingly slow, the firelight passing over my flesh as it's revealed, and soon I'm naked before him, and it's so much worse because I'm being forced to see what he sees; the desire in his eyes and the fear in my own as he watches me; hands spanning my waist. He pulls me back against him, and I can feel his arousal against my bottom. 

"But will I take you tonight? Oh, of course I will, but so quickly? You've been so disobedient... you remind me of a wayward child." Cupping my privates, he kisses my neck while pinching one of my nipples sharply. 

I swallow my cries but I'm beginning to shake. Usually he's swift in taking me, preparing and slipping inside me before I know what's happening, but tonight it seems like he wants to toy with me...

Another of his games. 

"Fetch your hairbrush, please. Bring it to me."

I look at him, my forehead furrowed. "I don't -"

"Now," he says mildly, going to sit on the chair before my vanity. 

Oh, I hate the way he won't tell me his plans, but I obey, slinking to the vanity and lifting my large silver brush. I balance its weight in my hand before he's calling to me, his hand out. 

I place the article in his palm and wait, watching as he considers it, tapping it against his opposite palm before it clicks.

"No," I murmur. "You couldn't possibly -"

"Across my lap, Kyle," he murmurs. "Now. If you don't comply I'll tie you to the bed. Which will it be?"

"But, why, how -"

Spreading his thighs, he waits, giving me a look that brooks no argument. I swallow and look at the brush flashing in his hand, and it seems so much heavier now that i know what he's planning to use it for. 

I whine and this makes him smile. "Many Alphas discipline their omegas this way, Kyle. In fact, I've heard that most omegas come to crave it."

I frown, making it obvious what my thoughts are:

You aren't my alpha and I'm certainly not your omega. 

I still concede, though, because this is preferable to being strapped down, and as soon as I'm laid across his lap, he strokes the curve of my bottom; running the flat of his hand down over the back of my thigh. 

I squirm, pushing my toes against the carpet. 

"Be still," he says softly, touching my cheek, my curls. "I'll be easy with you tonight, until you learn."

A whine builds in my throat, and I can feel him becoming harder beneath me as he continues to rub, teasing over my entrance before moving away. 

Then he's still, not touching me at all, and the tension grows in me until I can barely keep still, and that's when he brings the flat of the brush down hard on my skin, making me cry out in pain and surprise. 

I'm wide eyed and staring at the wall, tears building in my eyes when I feel him rubbing a soft palm over the place he'd struck. He's murmuring encouragement to me but I can barely hold onto it, and then he's striking me again. This time I'm wordless as I strain to get away, but he holds me fast. 

"Good boy. Easy," he says, rubbing in soft circles before he's striking me again, and now I'm beginning to tremble, rising up on my toes, shifting so my backside is higher in the air; my instincts waking up and telling me to give in and behave. 

"Yes, like that." He sounds so pleased, and then he's spanking me with an even, solid rhythm, never so hard that I'm screaming, but with enough force to remind me that I'm being punished. 

Little gasps escape my throat, and soon i realize I'm dropping into a state of relaxation i hadn't anticipated, the heat in my skin making me feel boneless and pliable, and there's drool drifting over my lips. Time passes without me really being aware of it, and when he finally stops i come to, blinking and disoriented. 

He sets the brush aside to pet my hair and scratch behind my ear, running his palm over the warmth blooming in my bottom, shushing me when I whine again, because I feel so sleepy and removed. I'm panting softly but it's like I'm waking from a cat nap. 

"Still, be still," he says, reaching to take something from my vanity and before I can say a word he's applying something cool and soothing to my skin, rubbing in circles; down over the slope of my buttocks and to my thighs, where I'd been struck as well. 

Before he's done I'm already starting to cry, because I'm so confused by this combination of softness and force, and as ever Damien has left me feeling so lost; taken out of myself and groping for understanding. 

Through my haze of tears, he turns me onto my back and lifts me easily, carrying me to the bed and laying me down. I'm still crying softly but I can see him undressing through the wet veil obscuring my vision. 

He climbs on top of me and smooths the hair from my face, kissing me on the mouth like I'm an apple he's tasting, and I'm still so tired that it's all I can do to remain coherent. 

"Tell me how good it felt," he whispers, kissing me deeper. 

I shake my head, and he laughs softly. "You were purring, Kyle, whether you realize it or not." Kissing down along my throat, he easily parts my thighs. "And you're wet with slick."

I moan, covering my face because I can feel it now, the wetness between my legs, and I hate him all the more for making my body react however he wants. He doesn't care if he's being invited; he takes without asking, like my very blood belongs to him. 

"I'll be soft since you've already been punished," he says, turning me over and holding my arms against the small of my back. He lifts my hips and spreads me, sliding in easily because of my arousal. He sighs and he's still for a moment, adjusting to my tightness, moving until his hips are flush against me. 

"No one feels like this," he says like he's lost in thought. "Everyone else would've cried the whole time I beat them, but you moved with me... you adapted to give me what I needed."

"I did nothing," I reply, hiding my face in the pillow. I feel so terribly ashamed. 

"Oh, but you did," he whispers, pulling out to thrust into me again; slowly, drawing it out so he can prolong the affair. "You did."

-----
The aftermath of my punishment is obvious as soon as I sit down to eat breakfast the next morning; my backside aching even more against the hardness of my chair. I wince, shifting to find a more comfortable position but that proves impossible. 

Bastard. He knew what he was doing. He wanted me to have the bruises as a reminder of him; forcing me to think of him in one way or another. 

"Are you alright? You've a strange look on your face," Bebe says, giving me a look. She pushes my cup of pills towards me and it's all I can do not to flip it over. 

"Can I have a lock put on my door?" I ask, lifting my orange juice. I look at the pills with disgust. 

"A lock? Whatever for?"

I glance at her, my lips tight, and something seems to come together in her head. She nods before going to prepare my clothes for the day. 

"There's no lock in the world that would keep him out," she says idly. "If he wants to enter, he will."

"He should go to Pip's room, then," I mutter. "At least he wants him."

"It's unusual that he's coming to you in the first place. After all, he's typically not the sort of Alpha that seeks relations outside of an omega's heat. At least that's been the trend I've noticed."

"I guess I'm just lucky that he seems to enjoy tormenting me," I snap, rising with a twinge of pain. I move gingerly to lean against the bed. 

She holds up a dress, a fluffy, cute one. I hate it. Why does Damien dress me like a child most of the time?

"Not that one," I say, slowly coming over. I rifle through the garments, wanting to find something that will bring me confidence when I meet with Mr Tucker. My heart flutters.

"Since when do you care enough to pick out your own clothing?" She asks, giving me another of her pointed looks. 

"I want to have some say over my existence," I reply, drawing out a rose-colored frock of soft silk; the collar and cuffs made of delicate tulle. "I'm told where to go, what to eat...I don't even get to decide when someone's allowed to enter my room -"

(Not to mention i have absolutely no choice over who gets to fuck me.)

"I should be able to choose what I'm going to wear, even if it's from a selection made by someone else." I study the gown, liking that the rose is draped with a transparent overlay that will float when I walk. Giddiness rises in my breast, thinking of meeting Mr Tucker while wearing it. "This one."

She sighs but helps me dress. "This is probably part of the reason he's preoccupied with you," she says. "Every omega I've attended to in this place either comes to us already eager to please or they very quickly adapt to what's expected of their dynamic. It's as if there's something wrong in your wiring."

"No," I say, looking at my reflection; the soft rose fabric hugging my body under the sheer material. I flush, remembering Damien watching me in the mirror the night before; perverting what was supposed to be a moment of intimacy i wanted only with myself. "There's nothing wrong with me... everyone else has fallen asleep and accepted the way of things. I refuse to do that, regardless of the way I was born. I will choose who I become."

I spend the morning and early afternoon in euphoric anticipation, the pain from my bruises paling in comparison to what I'm looking forward to. Thoughts of my father and brother darken the edges of things, but I try to stay positive. 

I outline what I'll say in my head but it all sounds so wrong, so foolish. I can't simply gush and fawn all over him, can I? That would just irritate someone so serious and stoic. Nervously, I listen for any noise at the door while I look through the book Tricia had given me; piano music playing, an eery nocturne, turned down low so I can act quickly if Damien decides to surprise me again.

Finally, after a late lunch that I barely touch, I ask Bebe if I can go outside for a while. She nods, watching with narrowed eyes as I hum, fixing my hair in the glass before putting on my cloak. I keep it open and don't pull up my hood, wanting Mr Tucker to see my gown and the matching ribbon in my curls. 

I'm a little fool, but I'm almost delirious with excitement as I rush outside, feeling lighter than I have in ages. 

Thoughts of Damien fade as I step into the sunlight; all the pain and fear and sadness left behind me as I go to the garden to gather roses - scarlet ones - and I wait. I just pray that Pip doesn't come out to join me. I don't think he'd say anything but I don't want to hear his scolding, and it hurts me to know that he's been wounded by a deceptive alpha in the past. 

They can't be all bad, I pray. I know that I'd assumed before that they were, but they can't all be like that, just like not all omegas are the same. 

We can choose who we are. We are more than our dynamics. We have to be. 

I can detect his aroma on the cold air before I see him, and then he's there, striding behind the gate; shadow stretching long across the pavement. I sigh, holding the roses in both hands as I approach. I breathe deeply and I feel myself relaxing; the aches in my skin even seeming to die down. 

He smells like my long ago garden, my home; greenery and the fruits of the earth; the wind whispering in the pines at night. 

He tips his hat before looking at me in a more reserved way than before, but still, his scent tells me so much -

He's happy to see me, pleased at the sight of me, and I'm nourished simply by the sight and presence of him. 

"Good afternoon," he says. "I hope it wasn't very hard to meet with me like this. The last thing I want to do is cause trouble for you."

"Oh, no, not at all," I reply, approaching, drawing as close as I had the day before. I don't want any distance between us, and hadn't he said that he wanted me near? I look down at the roses in my hands. "I've thought of nothing else since yesterday."

"Aren't you cold?" he asks, flicking his eyes to my open cloak; my uncovered head. 

I blush, not wanting him to know that I was putting on a show for him. "Not very."

"You're lovely," he murmurs, surprising me to reach through the bars, lifting my hood and drawing it over my hair; holding me close after, looking at me with the sun at his back, shadowing his face. "You're always lovely, but I don't want you to take ill."

I tilt my face, overcome by this closeness; lips parted slightly. Mouth dry, I hold up the roses. "Will you take them?"

He smiles, taking them into his hands, and he's cradling them like they're made of glass. "The others you gave me are fading... now I'll be able to replace them."

"Where do you have them?" I ask, hungry to envision his home, where he takes his rest. I want to see his life in my mind even if I can't share it with him. 

"On my kitchen table," he says. "In a plain little vase, where I can see them when I eat my meals. They brighten up the room."

"I have roses all over my room, all colors," I reply, leaning against the gate. "They're the only thing I'm allowed to decorate with so I cut as many as I can."

He nods, becoming grave. He glances toward the mansion looming like a spectre behind us. "Are you comfortable, at least? Warm and given enough to eat? You were beautiful at your debut but you looked so frail...I worried. I worry still."

"Comfortable," I repeat faintly. "Well, that's a relative term, isn't it? I have food and pretty things, but no, I can't say I'm comfortable, sir."

He lapses into silence, looking at the roses and turning them. "Everyone who does business with your master knows that he's cruel. It's common knowledge."

"He isn't my master," I reply quickly. I tilt my chin defiantly. "He bought me but he doesn't truly own me. I belong to myself."

His expression is unspeakably sad now. "I had heard you were sacrificed to the Auctions. I hadn't wanted to believe it, knowing what I do about them."

I'm curious now, even more so than before. "What do you know of them?"

"Too much. Far too much." He shakes his head. "I lost someone dear to the Auctions."

I cover my mouth, hurting for him, for this person I don't know. His usual seriousness is being taken over by obvious grief, and I reach to touch his face, wanting to comfort him. 

"I'm sorry, sir. Please, tell me about them if it would help."

He leans into my touch. "I'm more concerned for you. I can see the bruises on your face, I smelled your fear when he took you from the debut...I want to help you but our whole world is governed by these disgusting laws. An Alpha can be imprisoned for trying to help an omega without going through certain channels."

Seeing an opportunity, I throw caution to the wind and make a desperate plea. "I'll try to look after myself, but please, if you could aid me in something else."

"Anything," he replies, putting his hand over my own. "You only have to ask."

Biting back a sob, my words are thick when I speak. "I've recently learned that my father may have been killed after mixing with the wrong people. I don't know if it's true but it makes sense, my father always took chances... bit off more than he could chew, and I could see that ultimately leading to a bad end."

Squeezing my hand, he looks at me with a mixture of sorrow and worry. "How did you come to find this out?"

"That horrible man, Mr. Cartman -"

He growls, eyes flashing. "Scum. There's few I loath more than that filth, the way he treated you at the party..." he bears his teeth before sighing. "I'm sure he delighted in telling you."

"That's putting it mildly, but there's more," I say, grateful that Mr Tucker hates that foul beast as much as I do. "It's my brother, sir. He's young, very young, and a Beta. He can't take care of himself all alone and we don't have relatives that could take him in." Crying freely now, I cling to his shirt, the simple cloth rough against my fingers. 

"I'm scared for him... I'm afraid someone will hurt him, that he's lost somewhere. I don't know if they took our home because of my father's debts...I don't know if there's any money left from when I was sold. He's all I have left in this world, and I promised my mother I'd take care of him before she passed."

Sobbing, I lean forward and rest my face against the cold bars, spent and so tired from being afraid for so long. This is the first time I've allowed myself to share my grief with another, not wanting to hide; wanting to lean on someone and beg for comfort. Mr Tucker's presence is just so warm, and his aroma, his touch, is like finally finding the winding path back home. 

"Shhh," he says softly, touching my cheek and resting his face against my hooded curls. "It'll be alright, I won't let you face all of this alone. I'll help, I promise."

He is soft and quiet as I cry myself into silence, shaking and warm-cheeked; shivering when the winds pass through. I'm raw and exhausted, the bruises on my skin beginning to wake up and plague me. I want to beg him to take me far, far away... we'll look for Ike together and then -

Then? Oh, I could barely dream of such a possibility, us together and happy. But Damien owns me, at least for now, and I don't need him on my heels while I try to find Ike. 

"Where's your home? Where did you come from?" he asks quietly. "I'll start there."

"The Western Forest, close to the Elkhorn Slough. We had a white cottage on the edge of the woods. We had roses." I brush some tears from my cheeks. "It was small but I loved it, I still do. My mother," I add, choking down another sob, "is buried in the meadow close by... there's a little silver marker on her grave. I want to find my father's body so I can bring him home...he belongs next to her."

"I understand," he murmurs. "And your brother, what's his name? What does he look like?"

I'm wounded when I realize this is the first time anyone's asked for his name; so long in this place and this is the only time anyone's taken a true interest. "Ike. He's almost 13, small for his age with dark eyes and hair... he has a scar on the back of his head from when he was younger. He hit his head on a rock while we were wading in the creek." Looking down, i fall into memories and they're the color of rich sunlight. "He's smart and he knows it, but he's so little. I wish i could leave and find him, but -"

"Be calm," he murmurs, but he doesn't force me into docility the way Damien would, choosing instead to caress my cheek until I'm nuzzling him, not caring about appearing wanton. I begin to drop into a safe place inside my head, relaxed and unafraid. When I return to myself I'm purring, loudly and unrestrained. 

"You aren't alone anymore," he says softly, his words almost carried away on the wind. "Let me help...I want to. If it would make you happy, that's all I care about. That's all I need."

-------

It's as if I'm walking through a dream for the rest of the golden afternoon, even after Mr Tucker and I parted. He didn't kiss me but I think he wanted to, choosing instead to rest his cheek against my head, breathing deeply of me; hand reaching to touch my neck, passing over my throat glands and making me shiver. 

"I'll do what I can," he'd murmured. "Just take care of yourself... it was already asking too much to have you meet me. Don't do anything to anger Damien. His history is a dark one."

"He likes hurting us," I had told him, holding on for as long as I could. "It makes him feel strong, i think, knowing that he holds our lives in his hands."

I'd changed into another, simpler gown once I was back in my room, stuffing the other dress far back in my closet. Mr Tucker's scent clings to it, and I want to preserve it, like rose petals flattened between the pages of an old book. 

I'd spent the rest of the day practicing my piano, my head filled with sweet memories, some of my fears abating because of Mr Tucker's promise. I believe him even if I barely know him...I have to believe in something or I'll go mad. I close my eyes while I play, wanting to ignore Damien's portrait over the fire. 

When evening falls, I'm ushered to dinner with the others, Damien in attendance at the head of the table. When I enter the room his eyes flash red but I don't show my fear, the small light from Mr Tucker's kindness glowing inside me. 

Even if he doesn't know it, I'm fortifying myself against him. If I reach beyond Damien and search for my own salvation there's only so much he can do to hurt me. He can touch and try to break my body, my flesh, but my spirit is beyond him; growing wings and readying to take flight. 

I'm subdued during the meal, only partially listening to the others chatter while mechanically eating my food. I'm seated next to Damien and his presence is even more repugnant now that I've basked in the kinder, richer light of an Alpha that doesn't thrive on fear. 

A real Alpha, one that's actually capable of loving their omega; wanting to find and cherish their value. Help it grow. 

"Oh, Mark, you're already so round," Butters chirps, looking at Mark's ripening belly with unconcealed admiration. "Can I touch it, just for a second?"

Head held high, Mark is the very picture of pride; his bearing making it evident that he's relishing in the envy being lavished on him. He gives Butters a look that's both put-upon exasperation and obvious satisfaction in having his full focus; his awe. 

"Only if the master says you may," he replies haughtily before turning to Damien. "Sir?"

Damien blinks as if he's been asleep with his eyes open, lifting his wine to drink it languidly. "If it would please you, darling."

Butters coos when he caresses the slope of Mark's belly, seemingly not noticing the way Pip is staring them both down, his fork held so tightly in his hand that his knuckles are white. We catch eyes for a moment and he snarls but I stay silent, going back to my food. 

I wish to be anywhere but here, the atmosphere stifling, and Damien is rubbing my thigh on occasion, making me flush. 

I try to think of nothing but Mr Tucker, the food becoming difficult to swallow until Mark is asking to be excused. 

"I need to use the bathroom," he murmurs to Damien who waves him away, more focused on his bloody meat. 

Mark rises, his silvery gown catching the candlelight as he gracefully moves away, but then he's crying out and clutching at the lower part of his belly, and the sounds he's making are frightened and primal. 

"Master, it hurts," he whimpers, going to him but falling to his knees. He reaches for him. "Help me, please."

Rebecca rushes forward from her place in the shadows, kneeling beside her brother and taking him into her arms. "I've got you," she says, looking to Damien as well. "He hasn't been feeling well the past few days, sir, but I thought it was just something he ate."

Growling, Damien slams his hand on the table before standing, his eyes blazing. He looks at us in turn and bears his teeth. "Out, all of you. Go to your rooms and stay there for the rest of the night."

We make the mistake of not moving quickly enough and he growls again. "Now!" He shouts. "I won't say it again!"

We scatter like fearful birds, the sounds of Mark's moans heavy in our ears, though before I depart i see Pip looking back with a gleam in his eye; a small smile flitting over his mouth; quicksilver fast and then it's gone. It makes the hair rise on the back of my neck. 

-----

The evening feels so much darker and longer that night, the lonely hours stretching themselves out until it feels like they're going to break. I'm taken back to the past to hear Mark's sobs and screams from down the hall, and while I wish to comfort him we've been confined to our rooms. 

I wouldn't know what to do, anyway. I have no experience with pregnancy and bearing children. I can only pray that Rebecca is right and that it was something he ate, something that will pass and he'll be alright. I'm sure they called the doctor, kindly Dr. McCormick, he'll know what to do. 

On edge, I can't settle, so I pace and fret and wring my hands. I try to read but I can't concentrate, the words blending together. I attempt to write, but my hand is shaking too hard. Finally, I turn on my music and try to forget myself, going to the closet to pull the rose gown from the back, pressing it to my face and thinking of Mr Tucker, allowing his scent to calm my fears. 

The fire is dying down by the time I fall asleep, fitful and filled with terrible dreams, all while the music continues to play. I wake up frequently to silence, restarting the player, not even getting under the covers, choosing instead to lie across my bed; shivering in an airy gown. I curl up, thinking of Ike, Mr Tucker -

The screams from the hall have finally stopped, but the sudden silence is terrible. I turn up the music and shut my eyes, drawing my knees to my chest and i drift. 

The music is still playing when I feel the atmosphere in my room shift, and I'm opening my eyes to a fire that's almost gone; the shadows growing like vines up the walls; eating up all the light in their path. 

I sit up, disoriented and chilled, just wanting to crawl under the blanket, but I feel a heaviness on my skin. My heart begins to thud, and I look up, coming face to face with Damien, his eyes scarlet in the gathering darkness. They shimmer like wine, like blood, and I'm met with such a deep, visceral fear that I become cold; nerves tight. 

He's sitting in the chair at my bedside and this brings back vivid recollections of another time, being held down; his fingers crushing my own. He had soaked up my fear like it sustained him. 

"You were talking in your sleep," he says, his voice faraway, like it's being spoken across a void. "You sounded afraid. Were you having a nightmare?"

Backing away, I stand, but I have to hold onto the bed or I'm afraid I'll crumple. I've never heard him like this, so detached. Removed. I'm too afraid to answer. 

He isn't looking directly at me, eyes trained on the dying fire. "I asked you a question," he says quietly. Slowly, he shifts to look at me, pinning me down with his gaze alone. "You will answer me."

I mouth but I can't find the words. I don't know what to say that won't feed his obvious low-simmering discontent. He shifts again, as if to rise, and I say the first thing on my tongue. "I didn't dream!"

The music is frenzied now, discordant, and usually it fills me with an almost painful whimsy, but right now it makes me feel like I'm losing my mind. This sensation only intensifies when Damien begins to laugh, low in his throat, and then it's quickly unraveling; the sounds of a madmen amusing himself in a padded room. 

Trembling, my legs feel heavy, and I fall when I try to back away, landing on my hip, my hands propping me up. Damien watches, his laughter dying down but the music plays on and on...

He stands and it's slow, deliberate. He's always so graceful, like vapor flowing, but now it's like a dream, like he's walking backwards but the world is rewinding and he's moving forward; closer. He comes to me and he's a shadow in the deepest parts of my mind; the parts that hold my horrors. 

"You would even lie about that, your dreams," he says lowly. "I heard them in your voice. I could almost feel them. And you would still tell me an untruth. Why?"

"Master, please," I whimper. "I don't know what you want right now."

"Foolish whore," he replies, almost regretful now it would seem. "You can't hide from me. You think you can, and I suppose that's your right, even if you're wrong." Lifting his face, he scents the air. "Something's off here. Your scent is different, my Kyle. It's changed."

Kneeling down, he takes a hold of my chin and I'm breathless with terror to see the blood on his hand; drying and deep red. I can smell it, metallic and thick. 

"So aloof, you hold yourself so still but I see you," he says. "I see you, and the parts that you're hiding will be found."

I can only whimper. He squeezes my face and I try to go back to that afternoon; the sunshine, that soft touch...

I'm not alone. I'm not alone. You can't hurt me the way you want if I'm not alone. I'm untouchable. I'm beyond you. 

"I've never met someone so unreachable," he muses, like he's reading my thoughts. I gasp. "But I'll bring you down to earth where you belong. However long it takes, you'll think of me, you'll see me."

"You can't have everything you want," I mutter. Jerking away, I want to spit in his face, and that's when I see that his other hand is covered in blood too. I choke back a scream, watching as he stands, his hands going to his belt; gore-covered.

He takes it off easily, the leather hissing when it's pulled from his slacks. 

"Present," he says quietly, twisting it so it becomes a loop. 

You can hurt me but you'll never have me, Damien. 

"No," I whisper. 

Coming forward, he takes my hair and yanks me onto my knees, ripping my gown up. He holds me down, still calm when he speaks. 

"Present or you'll never know where your father's body is," he says easily. "I'll let it rot like the garbage it is and you'll never lay him to rest."

His words are daggers, striking to kill, and I'm so numb that it's easy to drag me into position. I should've figured he'd know about my father, but does he know about ike?

Please, I whisper to the universe. Please, don't let him find Ike, not before I can. 

"Present," he repeats, and like a doll, I obey. I raise myself into the air, bared and docile; made pliable through his unending, ceaseless cruelty. 

He rubs the welts and bruises he left before, latching onto my soft whimpers and imploring me to relax. 

"Why are you doing this?" I ask, coiled because I know he's drawing out the expectation of the pain that's coming. He knows the anticipation is often worse than the punishment itself. 

"We're walking a line together," he says, spreading my thighs just so. "Can't you feel it? That small place between love and hate. I've never felt anything like this before. I want to see you in every state of mind... fearful, begging me to fuck you harder, crying, happy...I want it all. You can give me back all the things I've lost; we can find our way home together."

That's when the belt moves like black liquid through the air, connecting with my skin and making me jolt forward. I almost fold but manage to stay upright, my hands scraping at the carpet. The pain is so great that I can't even cry. 

"You may cry," he says, touching my back for just a moment before he's striking me again, harder. "In fact, I encourage it."

But I refuse to, if it'll bring him pleasure i won't give in. Instead, I retreat into my head until I nearly disappear, each strike of the belt like fire. I'm screaming on the inside but I won't give him the satisfaction of hearing it -

No, I'll turn further away from him, the darkness filling my room. I'll look toward the light and I'll search for the white house on the hill, down the path with trees on either side....

I'll keep searching until I find it, shining in the sun; the roses out back. That fabled garden. I'll come home someday, and I'm sure Ike will be waiting for me when I do, opening his arms, and maybe Mr Tucker will be there, too. And Tricia. We'll be together and safe and happy. 

Someday. 

Chapter Text

"Kyle? Kyle, come on, wake up. Please."

I'm cold, very cold. Almost numb. I shift and my body isn't really cooperating, but I try again, opening my eyes and blinking the sleep from them.

They're heavy. They feel like they've been glued shut but finally they're cleared, and I can see that I'm lying on the floor in front of the fireplace. It's dark and I'm on my stomach.

"Thank goodness," Bebe says, pushing the hair from my face. "I've been trying to wake you for a while. For a moment I thought..."

She trails off but I have a pretty good idea of what she thought, if the pain waking up in my skin is any indication.

"Here, let me help you," she adds, taking a hold of my arm and gently easing me from the floor. I can't help but moan softly in my throat from the pain.

It feels like it's everywhere, but it's most prominent when I put weight on my backside; deep, throbbing aches blooming all the way up my backbone. I feel like I've been torn apart.

"You're bleeding," she says quietly. "Let's get you taken care of, and then I'll bring you your breakfast. Here, take your time, go slow."

I rest against her when I'm finally on my feet, finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other; walking in a daze, a waking coma. I passed out last night while Damien was beating me, so my mind is blessedly devoid of the details for the most part...

I can remember the lash of his belt, though, he's made sure I won't be able to forget it.

In the bathroom, I lean against the wall as Bebe runs the water. I can tell she's trying not to look at me, and I suppose I can't blame her. I shiver, rub my arms; attempt to drift. Flashes come to me, unwanted, of being forced to kneel, Damien talking his unhinged nonsense, the blood drying into maroon streaks on his horrible, cruel hands....

"Mark," I say, looking up. "How is he?"

Grim-faced, she lets the water run into the deep, wide tub while she undresses me. My nightgown is ruined, torn partially up the back and saturated with blood. She peels it from me as gently as she can before quietly dumping it into the trash.

I'd sooner burn it.

My hands are shaking when I climb into the water, sinking in slowly because I'm afraid of the way it's going to hurt and, oh, it does...I hold my breath before hissing through my teeth when the warm water sloshes over my welts and bruises. They're like a ladder up my back and down the backs of my thighs.

Bebe pours cupful of water over the back of my neck and shoulders, running in rivulets down my skin. Soon the water has a faint rosy cast. I smell sick and afraid and tired.

"I didn't do anything to him this time," I murmur, staring blankly at the water. "I woke up and he was in my room, and he sounded like he wasn't even connected to reality. He was raving."

"It was a difficult night," she replies and leaves it at that. She washes my hair, emptying out the water eventually to let me soak for a little longer.

It would seem that most of my interactions with Damien lead to hot baths, anything to cleanse me of his influence.

Much like the aftermath of my heat, she dresses me warmly after applying medicine and bandages to the worst of my wounds. My appetite is scant when she serves me breakfast but takes care to watch me as I take my pills.

After that she attends to my room, making no comment as she cleans the blood from the carpet in front of the fire.

The house is so silent that the air feels like it's made of glass; clear and getting ready to shatter with the smallest provocation. I watch the fire grow and pop, listening for the ashes to drop, lost in my thoughts.

Eventually, I fall asleep with my head in my hand, propped up in my chair. Bebe helps me to bed but holds my hand for a few moments before leaving my side.

I fall into a dreamless sleep where the pain can't follow me.

When I wake I'm cloudy and afraid because I can't think straight. I try to focus on my thoughts but they slip away before I can hold onto them. My pains are deep, like they're in my bones; throbbing and pulsing, warm against my gown and sheets. I look toward the window and it's grey.

Bebe comes to me and rests a hand on my forehead. She looks concerned and this makes me more afraid.

"You have a fever," she says. "How do you feel?"

"My head aches, like it's stuffed with cotton. It's hard to think."

"Well, you're staying put for now. Let me get you some medicine."

"Please, I just want to sleep."

"Soon, but I want to nip this in the bud if I can."

I'm dosed with something vile, the substance like liquid licorice as it thickly courses down my throat. She pats my hand.

"It'll help. You might have caught something lying on the floor all night."

Rage comes to the surface quickly when I hear this. "It's not like it was by choice."

She turns away. "I'll bring you some water to have here at your bedside."

I try to growl but I lose my drive. I'm just too tired. I turn on my side and curl into my pillow, trying to fill my head with pleasant thoughts, but they're jumbled. The fever is playing tricks on me, splicing together memories, turning them into a kaleidoscopic mess.

I shut my eyes tightly and pray for sleep, for oblivion. Eventually my prayer is answered.

I slip through dreams and the waking world like a needle through linen; moving from one place to the other but never seeming to exist in either. Sometimes everything is filled with shadow and other times the light is so bright that I feel like I'm being burned; faces and voices drifting into my head, some familiar while others are like ghosts of people I've never met.

I often see the white house on the hill. I hear ike's laughter, I feel Mr Tucker's hands, but when all is said and done I find myself back on the floor with Damien mercilessly beating me until I manage to escape. I shout and run through corridors that won't end, trying to open doors and banging on the windows; screaming and screaming until my voice gives out.

When I finally wake up the lamp is lit, flushing the room with its golden light, and when I manage to come back to myself i see that every surface is covered with vases filled with roses. I rub my eyes, sure that I'm still dreaming; the fever up to more of its trickery.

But, no, they're still there, and while I routinely decorate with roses it's never to this extent. I use plain glasses to hold them in, whatever I think won't be missed, but these vases are stunning; comprised of cut glass, delicate porcelain, crystal -

They glimmer in the light, and the roses are in every shade from the garden: yellow, pink, scarlet, orange -

There are even orchids and lilies and tulips.

I slip from my bed, clutching my dressing gown closed as I look around in awe, smelling the flowers and taken by their beauty, the way they brighten the room, my spirit. It's like being back in my garden, out in the sun with the wind at my back.

But there's an undercurrent here that doesn't feel right, and a sinister voice in my head whispers to make me open my eyes and see -

That's when I notice the ornate little box on the table in front of the fire. I go to pick it up, my back aching and my head still so hazy, and I see that it's carved from golden-colored wood. Likenesses of animals peer out at me, carved seamlessly into the wood; curious and hidden among trees. I'm charmed, tilting to see every angle before opening it.

Soft music plays, tinkling like a lullaby, and I recognize it as the song i was rehearsing for my debut but never got to play. I cover my mouth, the sounds of the melody making me long for Tricia and Mr Tucker.

The thing that truly makes my breath catch in my throat is the article in the box, the diamond and sapphire necklace Damien had given me before presenting me to the crowd like an offering. I hold it up for a moment, considering it, before slowly putting it back and closing the lid.

I look toward the fire and think about throwing the box and the necklace to the flames, but I set it aside instead. I look around and the ugliness washes back in.

I'm surrounded by smoke and mirrors. I don't know if what I'm seeing is a bribe or a genuine apology. Yes, I can make a pretty educated guess as to which it probably is, but it is disarming that Damien managed to find things I'd enjoy and go to the trouble of lavishing me with them. I have to wonder if he's done that with anyone else, and if he has me under his thumb, why go to the effort at all?

Why does he have to be like this? It's as if the misery of others is his life's breath, the sustenance that keeps him going. He loves to have me always guessing and floundering while he oversees the chaos.

I lift a hand to knock the box off the table but I can't do it. If he were here I'd probably throw the damn thing in his face, though.

Depraved bastard.

Once Bebe sees that I'm up and around again, she brings me dinner but makes me eat in bed, propped against a mountain of pillows. The food is tasteless but I eat enough to satisfy her.

She touches my head and nods. "The Master will be happy that your fever's broken."

"Doesn't have the courage to face me himself, does he?" I ask, sipping more soup.

"His hands are full right now."

"Not too full to give me peace offerings, if that's how I'm supposed to interpret all of this," I reply, waving a hand at the roses.

"Kyle, listen to me. You don't want to antagonize him right now. It's the worst possible time." She begins clearing my tray away.

"He woke me up just to beat me. I don't even have to speak to make him angry, it seems. Besides, you could tell me what's going on... shouldn't I know so I can better protect myself?"

She sighs. "It's so complicated, and really, I'm not supposed to say anything."

I raise my eyes to see the worry in hers. "It's Mark, isn't it?"

She hesitates before she slowly nods. "He's sick."

My heart drops. My interactions with him were minimal at best, and he hadn't always been pleasant, but I certainly have nothing against him. "What about the baby?"

"I don't know," she says, turning away. "He's being kept away from everyone. Closer to Damien's room."

"Kyle," she adds, "I'm afraid for him. I don't -"

She stops speaking, glancing at me like I've already heard too much. I don't press but it's rare for me to see her this way - she's usually so composed.

"Never mind. I won't worry you over things you can't change, anyway. There's no point."

"I wish I could help."

"So do i," she says, stopping to smell a rose on the way out of my room.

Days pass before I see Damien again. He comes to my room late at night and almost catches me reading, but I'm quick to hide the book away; I'm almost finished with it, having had a very hard time concentrating.

He stands next to my bed just looking at me for a moment until he softly reaches to place a hand on my face. I flinch and his eyes flicker.

"I've been meaning to come to you sooner," he says, "to see how you are."

"What, after you left me on the floor?" I ask, reviled by his scent, the feel of him on me. "After beating me for no reason?"

He still looks at me with tenderness. "Let me see your back."

"Why, so you can gloat?"

"Kyle."

Sighing, I rise and remove my gown, exposing my healing wounds to him, some still covered with bandages. I've avoided looking at them but Bebe told me they're doing much better.

As always, Damien makes me wait before he touches me, so when his fingers glide across my skin the contact is magnified. I make a small sound in my throat but don't speak.

He traces his fingertips next to my bruises and marks, not touching them but getting close. He doesn't press, and his skin is cool. He's gentle when he speaks, "You're healing quickly."

I say nothing. What is there to say?

"Here," he says, pulling me down to cradle in his lap. He wraps an arm around my waist and lays his head against mine. "I'll have your room filled with flowers every day, all kinds."

"I can pick them myself," I reply. "If I'm ever allowed to go outside again."

His arms tense around me but his voice remains gentle. "The box was made just for you, from wood from the trees in the forest you grew up in."

"I don't want your gifts." Stifling a sob, I look away. "What about my father? How long have you known about his death?"

"For a while."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It would seem you already knew, didn't you?"

"I had it thrown in my face by that pig," I seeth. "You know which one I'm talking about."

"Ah, yes. He told me you two had a nice chat at one point."

Infuriated, I move away from him. "We didn't have a nice chat! He attacked me, and when I fought him off he told me my father's dead! I'd love nothing more than to rip him to pieces!"

"Bad things happen to creatures that wander away from home, my love," he replies, giving me an enigmatic look.

I stare at him, dumbfounded. "Are you saying I deserved to be attacked? Don't you care...I thought Alphas were supposed to care if someone touched their omega. You treat me like your property!"

He laughs. "You want it in every way possible, don't you? You don't want me but you want me to be concerned for your welfare. You want care but you also want me to leave you alone. My dear, don't you get tired of confusing yourself?"

The venom of my hate is almost too much to contain but somehow, somehow I keep it inside.

"Where's my father?! I want to bury him properly! So he can rest in peace!"

Standing, Damien goes to the window where the wind is howling and the snow is coming down; just speckles, though, not heavily like before.

"It'll be a long time before the ground is thawed enough to bury anything," he muses. "But if it would please you I'll look into it."

Cold creeps up my back at his tone. It's like his body is still in the room but the rest of him left. "It doesn't please me. Don't you understand that I'm devastated about this? Both of my parents are gone, I'll never see them again."

"Your capacity for forgiveness is staggering," he replies, still looking out the window. "He sold you and yet you mourn him. If my father had done that I would've torn off his head myself."

"I don't doubt that. But unlike you, I loved my family. They weren't perfect but I can overlook that... that's what you do when you care about someone."

He glances over his shoulder at me. "Is that so?"

Stomach clenching, I pick up my gown to shield myself. "But even i have my limits."

He laughs again and it's razors under my nails. "I will bring you your pound of flesh if it's within my power."

"What's your angle?" I ask. "I know you don't do anything without a reason." I begin to dress. "You know what? Never mind, don't bother. I don't want to make a deal with you, it can only hurt me."

"Are you sure," he turns, eyes flashing red and I hold my breath. I don't know if he'll keep his distance.

"I'll let him go," I lie. "The way you would. Perhaps I should take a page from your book. I mean, you seem pretty content most of the time."

He smiles, slow, and his teeth are sharp, brutal. He goes to the table and picks up the little box, opening the lid to listen to the song play; slow and winding down.

"It's been a while since you've had a lesson," he comments idly.

I watch him, going to pull on a robe, anything to add layers between us, to keep those eyes from cutting me any deeper. "You've kept me pretty busy, haven't you?"

"I'll arrange it," he says, snapping the box closed and setting it down. "I think it would make you happy, and if you don't want me to find your father -"

"I don't."

"Then I can encourage your talents. And you seem to be very taken with Ms. Tucker."

"She's kind," I say softly. "Truly kind. She wants to be my friend, I think."

"Friends are so important, aren't they?" He asks. "They pick you up when you fall, look out for you... they feed and enrich the soul."

"They help you when you need it," he adds, and the look on his face drives ice into my belly.

Curiosity rides on the back of my fear. "Do you have any friends?"

"I have those that are beneficial to me when I need them."

"That doesn't really sound like friendship to me," I reply.

His eyes drift over me. "Are you offering to be my companion, then?"

I raise an eyebrow. "That's a leap in logic, even for you."

He smiles so widely he looks like a different person for a moment, and his scent changes; twists and almost becomes bearable, but it's still much too strong.

"Which are your favorite?" he asks.

"Sir?"

"The flowers, which do you like the best?"

I think a moment, and I'm taken back to Mr Tucker, the scarlet roses I've given him. I gesture to a vase full of them. "These, I suppose. They're romantic."

He touches one, breaking it off to hold in his hand. "They are, aren't they?" Giving me a fond look, his smile hangs on and my stomach clenches tighter.

The next morning I wake up to a room filled with vases of nothing but scarlet roses. There's a new trinket laying atop the little box; a silver chain with a charm shaped like a piano. It's studded with diamonds.

"Oh, how lovely," Bebe sighs, holding it up to the light. She has smudges of sleep shadow beneath her eyes. "You can wear it to your lesson today. I'm sure your teacher will find it fetching."

"I'll never wear a gift from him unless I'm forced," I say, looking round at all the roses. "Why is he even doing all of this? There's no reason, and it certainly won't make me care for him or forgive him. He has to know that."

"Hope springs eternal," she says, laying the necklace aside. She presses a hand to her head for a moment.

"Why don't you sit down?" I ask, noticing her pallor as well. "You seem so tired."

She shakes her head. "I haven't time, but thank you. I need to get on with things."

I'm quiet a moment, watching her. "I'd be wasting my time if I asked you about Mark, wouldn't I?"

"It isn't my business to give," she says, looking down at her hands before slowly clenching them shut. "So, please don't ask."

I'm not allowed to go outside before my lesson because I'm not deemed "well enough" according to Damien, but I watch from the window to see Mr Tucker go by, a small figure in the distance. My heart aches at the sight like it's an open wound.

My spirit lifts considerably when I see Tricia,  though, and we embrace like old friends. She holds me carefully, like I might break.

"I've worried for you since your debut," she says, drawing back and studying my face. "I can't tell you how relieved I was when Craig told me he'd seen you, that you'd spoken."

We sit before the fire, my hand in hers. "He found me in an embarrassing state, I'm afraid." I try to laugh it off, but the sound is brittle. "Crying like a child in the garden... what he must think of me."

She's quiet a moment, the firelight caught in her sea glass eyes, and I'm suddenly taken with such affection for her. I'm just so glad to be in her company again.

"He thinks very well of you, Kyle," she says softly. "My brother is a man of few words, but the ones he's spared for you have been very fond."

The burdens on my heart seem to lessen when I hear this. If anything, I'm filled with an almost delirious felicity to know that he speaks of me at all, but to know that his words are kind....

"I think well of him, too," i say, dropping my focus to the lovely floral pattern on her dress. "More than anyone I've ever known. I feel calm with him, his scent alone...."

I think of it, and it's as if I'm being embraced from afar; Mr Tucker's scent, his warm presence. I could become lost in these memories for they're some of the happiest I possess. It's sad, I know, because they're brief and there aren't many of them, but I can't help but return to them when the world is cold.

"He told me he's going to help find your brother," she says. "And your father. Oh, Kyle, I'm so sorry to hear about what happened. If there's anything I can do to comfort you please let me know."

"Just being able to see you is enough," I say. "More than enough, actually."

"I've brought you something." Reaching into her basket, she draws out a few books, pretty colored slips of paper, and a little golden pen with pearl accents. "Actually, the pen is from my brother."

I take it, cherishing it already. It fits nicely into my palm, and I can already anticipate writing little notes with it, even if my penmanship still needs a lot of work. Still, I take a slip of paper and write "thank you" as neatly as I can. I hold it out to her.

"Will you give him this? I want him to know how grateful I am, for everything."

She takes it but she seems very reserved, looking up to study Damien's portrait. "We've already taken things so far, i suppose it makes no sense to try and go back now." She glances at me and her expression is very grave. "Kyle, are you in love with my brother?"

The suddenness of this question makes my heart lurch, and my face is flaming; hands worrying together. My first impulse is to lie but I don't want to have deception between Tricia and i; I have too much affection for her to resort to that.

I nod slowly, biting my lip hard. I can't speak because there's too much to say. It was hard enough revealing something that's tucked so deeply inside my heart.

"I knew it," she murmurs. "Every time he's mentioned you light up, and the way you responded to him at your debut... well, at least my suspicions have been confirmed."

"I can't help it," I say, but then I think better of it. "Well, I'm sure I can, but I really don't want to. I enjoy loving him...I want to love him. If I had any control over my life I'd want to be with him and care for him in any way I could."

She takes my hand and presses it to her bosom. "I'm not asking you to defend yourself, Kyle. Love is probably the most important force on earth, but I just don't want you to get hurt, that's all."

Tears build in my eyes, my throat tightening as I look at Damien's portrait now; handsome, yes, beautiful, but his type of affection is violence smoothed over with rooms of red roses. I find myself leaning against Tricia and crying until I feel sick.

"I know I'm just perpetuating my own misery, wanting something I can't have," I say. "But thinking of him keeps me going when I don't think I can. You, too. I love you both, and I'd give anything to be with you, and my brother..."

I sit back, rubbing at my face. "Do you think he'll be able to find him? Damien already knew about my father's death, he seems to know everything all the time. I don't want him to find my brother so he can use him to hurt me."

"Craig is already working on it," she says gently. "And knowing him, he'll move heaven and earth to help you... that's just his way when he cares for someone."

After this meeting, I'm somewhat lighter but my melancholy always nips at my heels, a little snapping animal that follows me everywhere I go. I try to distract myself with reading my new books and listening to music, and now I have the pleasure of practicing my writing with the pen Mr Tucker so graciously gave me.

I write little notes to him, secret musings of the heart that I can't say out loud, but getting them out helps with my sorrow and seems to bring him closer to me. I pour out my fears and desires, the mean little thoughts I sometimes have, but mostly I write of my loneliness; things I've lost and yearn for, the things I want so badly but can't have.

Ashamed, I feed all of these admissions to the fire, watching the sheets of paper curl and burn away in the flames. I feel like I'm burning along with them.

Damien still fills my room with roses and gives me more trinkets, but I refuse to wear them; happy that he's been so preoccupied with his own matters that I've scarcely seen him, and he hasn't come to my room late at night to force himself on me.

When I'm finally allowed to visit the garden again, it's on a grey day that feels lost in time; errant clouds wafting across the sky to cover the weak, cold sun. The world feels so static and i along with it, constantly wondering when the tides will turn and something will happen, either good or bad.

The cold is biting as I look after the roses, but even their beauty can't deliver me from my thoughts today.

I'm restless. I want to run to the gate and climb over it; run without regards for where I'm going. I just want to escape and become untouchable, a bird in the sky or a snowflake carried along on the wind until it comes to rest far, far away in a silent forest.

I look toward the street and it's empty, but before I can truly dwell a flash of movement catches my eye; a blood red cardinal soaring overhead, carried aloft by drafts, wings spread wide. It flits over the grounds until it disappears behind the mansion, and the words that strange Alpha had spoken to me at my debut suddenly return:

"If you want to know more, just check out the forest behind his mansion."

They'd come to me on occasion since I'd heard them, but they had frightened me just like everything else about this place. Besides, I'd learned that wandering to places not meant for me could have terrible consequences, but I had to wonder....

My shoes are passing through the snow before I can stop myself, bringing me closer and closer to the mansion. I walk by familiar trees and bushes, fountains and shrubbery, until I'm rounding the corner of the building, and the path before me is less sunlit. It's colder back here, and I hold my cloak tightly as I slow my pace.

The forest beyond looks fragile, with the skeletal clutches of trees and the bright white of the sky peering between the naked branches. The cardinal from before is a bright lick of flame, sitting on a branch and preening. The wind moves through, miserable and clattering tree branches, making me shudder.

Soon I'm at the edge of it all, and I can't help but feel that this forest is nothing like the one I'd known growing up. This one feels dead, uninviting; like I'm being watched as I consider it. I shiver, both from the wind and this horrible, pervasive feeling of dread spreading over me, like it's covering me; mouth, nose, until I can barely breathe.

I look over my shoulder now and again as I walk along the path, less densely packed with snow because some of the trees still have their needles, shielding the confines of the area. The air is chilled and smells of pine, spicy, and the snow with its clean purity. I trudge along, my cloak dragging behind me, until I notice a break in the trees before me, almost like a doorway, and I approach more cautiously.

Why is my heart pounding like this? It's so fast, and I feel dizzy, the slow-moving fear like acid in me. My eyes are so fixed on what's beyond me that I take no care to notice what's in front of me, and suddenly I'm tripping and falling over icy stones, and I'm falling headlong down a sloped path, rolling over and over until i finally stop, and I'm breathing heavily, eyes open to the wide sky above; the edges jagged from the trees circling.

When I'm able to collect myself, I sit up and shake my head, finally looking around and when I do i can't understand for several moments the horror I've fallen into.

Mounds of dirt laying side by side in even rows, each of them marked with silvery headstones, each bearing a name. I stare, terrified to see the omega mark, exactly like the clover on my leg, gracing the top of each one. Shakily, I stand, not even bothering to dust myself off, the mud and snow clinging to my cloak.

I'm without words, because what can I truly say about what I'm seeing? I'm standing in the presence of the dead, all of my kind, and I know, on some level, I know, that I'm looking at what could become my future.

The terror is reaching a fever pitch even before I notice the freshly turned earth of what appears to be a new grave, and my blood is ice in my veins. My mouth is dry, and I realize I'm crying, the tears frigid on my face.

"You shouldn't be here," a voice speaks from behind me, and I scream, unable to keep the sound inside; it's too large, too overpowering, the fear that created it. I whirl to see Damien there, and he's watching me with a grim, detached expression.

"You should be tending to your roses," he says, slowly starting toward me. "That's where you belong, not here."

I'm revolted even more by his presence now, standing in this place with him, the whispers of the dead all around us. "Are all of these," I begin, my voice so soft it nearly becomes lost. "Are these the omegas who...I mean..."

"They fell out of my favor," Damien says quietly. "I won't keep anything near me that doesn't in some way make me happy. They were all disappointments, poor things. They tried, though, and I suppose I can remember them fondly for that."

"Is it because they didn't give you children?" I ask, looking again toward the grave that's just been started.

"Partially."

I clap a hand to my mouth to stifle a sob, retreating from Damien and going to the mound of newly turned earth. I stand next to it before kneeling, feeling weak.

"Mark," I murmur, my voice thick. I pick up soil to let it slip between my fingers. "Please, please tell me -"

"He wasn't careful enough. I'm sure that's what happened," Damien says, and his voice is bitter now; angry. "He took chances, didn't rest as much as he should... he didn't obey, Kyle. He took something from me, something so important... how can I forgive that?"

My mind goes back to that awful night when Damien had beaten me so brutally. "The blood on your hands..."

"An eye for an eye," he says softly, "and really i didn't truly mean to do it. It wasn't my intention, but fate had other plans."

"It wasn't fate, it was you!" I yell, rising and wanting to go to him and beat him, make him feel firsthand the pain he causes in others. "You only care about yourself and what you want! None of us are even people in your eyes. We're just objects you can pick up and use when you want, and when our novelty wears off or we don't satisfy you you throw us away like garbage! But we aren't garbage!"

"Have you ever stopped to consider that the problem isn't us, it's you?" I spit out, enjoying the taste of my vitriol on my lips; it's almost cleansing. "Maybe the universe doesn't want to see more of your kind and it's stepping in to stop you. The deficiency isn't with the omegas you choose, it's with you!"

Moving quicker than I've ever seen him, he's across the clearing in an instant and slapping me hard across the face; so hard that i fall, and I find myself in Mark's future grave. I shriek, so wild with terror that I sound like an animal, and I'm sobbing until I gag.

"Oh, my sweet darling," Damien sighs, reaching to take me into his arms while I'm disarmed; gathering me close and kissing my curls to sooth me. "You don't need to be afraid. I'm starting to think that even if you don't give me children I'd like to keep you... look at you. Come to love you."

"You can't love anyone," I murmur, pushing against him. I sag, spent and exhausted. This is too much, all of this is just too much for one person to bear.

"I can love you in my own way," he says, lifting my face to kiss my mouth, and in my frantic terror i bite at him, catching his lip and making him bleed.

He grunts softly, the only indication that he felt any pain at all, but then he's smiling and dabbing at the blood with his fingers, watching it drip over his pale skin. He looks at me again and his eyes flash red, filling with desire.

"I never know what you'll do, I can't predict you," he says. "It makes me want to watch you just to see what you'll do."

Drawing back, I cringe away from him, crazed with the blood on his face. In my head I'm screaming for Mr Tucker, Tricia; my heart is weeping for Mark, and I know now that regardless of anything, I need to get out of here, away from this mansion filled with nightmares.

I need to run before I become just another grave, tucked away in the forest, forgotten by the world; almost like I'd never existed in the first place.

Chapter Text

"I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
     and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

- Jeremiah 15:21

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! 

- Isaiah 14:12


Mark is buried on a bleak winter morning; stark winds clattering the trees and shaking the needles from the pines. His coffin is rolled down the path on a cart as the rest of us follow, a dismal procession dressed in black.

The grave I'd come upon had been completed, made much deeper, and when I look into it it's like gazing halfway to Hell. There's a silvery headstone now, the omega mark etched into it and Mark's name beneath.

Rebecca is inconsolable but her grief is the quiet kind; eyes red from tears, faraway and lost. She's pale in her mourning attire, hair pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. She won't make eye contact with anyone, sinking beside the grave as the coffin is slowly lowered.

I didn't see Mark before he was placed in his coffin, but I want to believe he appears peaceful in death; peaceful in a way that eluded him during his life. At the very least, he's escaped this house and Damien, but that's a small consolation, isn't it? The whole affair is an unspeakably cruel joke.

Damien is silent as he oversees the matter, dressed in black attire as always, this time in a long coat that flutters when the wind blows. He throws a handful of dirt onto the coffin and implores the rest of us to do the same, not objecting when Rebecca throws white flowers in as well.

He says a few meaningless words about fate and bearing up under difficult circumstances. I try not to vomit from his hypocrisy but I notice Pip nodding slowly as Damien speaks. I want to slap him, slap them both, but I'm numb.

I've been numb ever since I found the cemetery and learned of Mark's death.

No, his murder. I will call it what it is. I will see things for what they are, even if everyone else chooses wanton blindness; wanting to believe Mark died from a catastrophic miscarriage. They only see what they want to; they only hear the things that make it easier to keep going day by day.

I refuse to do that. Mark will be vindicated, we all will, someday. I promise. 

Once the coffin is covered, we prepare to go inside, but when I turn toward the mansion i notice a stranger has joined us. I nearly cry out when Bebe grabs my arm hard, her nails digging in. She sucks in a breath and begins to tremble.

Grimacing, I let her hold onto me while I study the newcomer. He's huge, tall and powerfully built; stacked with muscle that's obvious beneath his fine tailored clothing; a black three-piece suit with a scarlet tie and a red rose flaming on his lapel. He wears no coat.

He looks on passively, but there's a cruelness about his beautiful face; etched among the angular jaw and dark stubble. His hair is pitch black and impeccably styled, his sideburns sharp and joining with the shadow of his facial hair. His eyes are crimson and remote, settled under dark brows. His mouth, though, is almost gentle and delicately shaped.

Something deep in my instincts responds to him, telling me to be afraid of his beauty. Be fearful, they say, this man is enticing like a rose, yes, but roses have thorns, don't they?

I'm also aware that this person gives off the same presence as Damien, but it's magnified until it's nearly painful.

"Is that Damien's father?" I whisper to Bebe. She clutches me tighter.

"Be still and silent," she tells me in a fierce voice, but the terror in it is palpable. "For both our sakes."

I sink into myself and watch Damien's face change as he regards the interloper. He's reserved, inscrutable, but the way his eyes spark is like watching a lit match fall on dry wood. They blaze, and when he smiles both of his canines are prominent; glinting in the weak winter sunlight.

"I had heard you might be in attendance today," he says in a deceptively innocuous tone. Anyone truly listening, who knows what Damien is capable of though, will hear the malice woven throughout.

"I cut my trip short," the man replies and the sound of his voice is lulling until it settles into my skull, and then it makes my head pound; like the voice is inside my brain. It's like several voices speaking at once. "After I heard the news. Burying another one, Damien?"

Rebecca starts to scream after this question is posed, and Damien whirls to look at her, at us all. He catches my eye for a moment but it's fleeting.

"All of you, go back to your rooms and duties! Now!" he shouts before pointing to Rebecca. "And shut her up before I take matters into my own hands."

Bebe rushes to Rebecca, leaving me alone with a throbbing arm. She helps her stand and hugs her close, quieting her, but she continues to sob behind her hands.

The rest of us move toward the mansion in a silent, terrified herd, and I put an arm around Butters' shoulders. He looks so frightened, large blue eyes bright with tears. Pip is stoic, head held high but there's a small tremble on his lips now and then.

The path seems much smaller when we pass the man, and even as we go by i can feel the heat pouring off of him, like there's an inferno burning inside him, and his smell is unlike anything I've ever experienced; like blood and honey, metal and sugar. I cover my nose covertly, trying to stay small, but the man's voice cuts through my head again.

"You," he calls, and somehow I know he's speaking to me. I freeze, letting go of Butters to look up at him, dwarfed by his sheer size, his presence. He's like a leviathan. Our eyes meet and I'm disoriented for a moment, swaying, but I manage to keep my feet.

I can't speak, my voice is gone. He manages to hold me with his eyes and I'm immobilized; the cobra and the mouse. He smiles slowly, and it resembles a knife slash.
"I wish to see more of you," he says, waking up a brand new horror in me. He looks at Damien. "Have him brought to us so we can be properly introduced."

Damien growls softly but doesn't argue; a miracle in itself. "Bebe, prepare him and bring him to my quarters; be quick about it."

She doesn't immediately respond, and this is enough to drive the dagger of fear deeper into me. Finally she seems to find her voice but it's faint.

"Yes, master."

-----

I'm stripped of my mourning clothes and bathed in scalding water, scrubbed before I'm dried; skin lotioned and perfumed with scents I'm not accustomed to: fruity, reminiscent of freshly cut apples.

Bebe's face is drawn as she dresses me this time, putting me in underthings I've never seen; white lace so delicate i still feel naked when it's on. The panties have a tiny blue ribbon on the front that matches the bow on my camisole; both so sheer and brief that you can see my skin beneath.

I'm dressed in a white gown with an empire waist; the fabric soft cotton with a skirt that's shorter in the front, baring my calves. The back is long, just reaching the floor. The sleeves are airy, exposing most of my arms; the neckline modest.

My hair is fashioned into a simple updo with a blue ribbon woven into it, and aside from some gloss on my lips and mascara darkening my lashes, my face is bare. Bebe pinches my cheeks to bring color into them before slipping silver sandals onto my feet.

She stands and looks at me, but her gaze gives the impression that she's not appraising her work. It's almost like she's trying to memorize my face, commit it to memory.

"I know i say this all the time," she says softly, "but this is the moment when you need to hear this the most: behave. Do what you're told and don't fight. Please."

"I was right, wasn't i?" I ask, still trying to comprehend what I'm about to walk into. "That's Damien's father."

She nods, ducking her head to adjust my clothing. "Lucifer. I've only seen him twice and that was enough."

"Why is he here now?"

"Death usually brings him to this place. It attracts him." Wiping her face, she moves around me to smooth the back of my gown. I look at myself in the mirror, red hair and pale skin; dressed in white and polished to a high gloss.

I'm becoming an offering again.

"Why would he want to meet me?" My voice is dead now; resigned. "I'm nothing to him. Just another omega his son anticipates burying eventually."

She stifles a sob. "Because you're new, I guess; i don't know. He's never asked for anything like this before."

Standing, she comes around and before I can react she's hugging me close. "Please, just be good, Kyle. I'm begging you. You can't die on every hill and I don't want you to get hurt... if you need to fight, fine, I can't stop you, but choose your battles carefully. Please."

-----

I'm brought to a part of the mansion I've never been; Damien's wing, and it's dimly lit with golden sconces lining the walls. Portraits of red-eyed strangers watch as Bebe and I go past and I feel like I'm back in the cemetery; mired in the presence of the dead, spirits watching and assessing.

She stops before a large set of double doors, glancing at me before knocking. Soon, Damien's voice filters out and she twists the knob. I hesitate but I refuse to show my fear so quickly; I enter, squeezing Bebe's hand before the door is shut behind me.

I'm in a room that's similar to Cartman's library, but this one is much larger and grander; the shelves reaching higher and piled with so many books i can barely believe my eyes. An immense fireplace takes up most of the far wall, the flames within back lighting Damien as he sits at his ornate desk, throwing his face into shadow. I can see his eyes glimmering though, their intensity matching how they'd been before when first regarding his father.

The air is dry and smells of leather, old books, and the cologne Damien prefers, all twisted up with something else; an aroma that undulates through it all like a serpent; decaying and old. It's similar to the smell I'd encountered in our cellar when I was a child; rotting leaves, standing rainwater, things that have suffered and expired in the walls, left to molder and turn to bone.

Through it all, though, is the scent of Alpha arousal, and I find this element most repugnant of all.

Damien stands and moves around his desk, slow, never taking his eyes from my face. He reaches out an elegant hand to me.

"Come to me," he murmurs gently. In his other hand he has a tumbler, refracting the light leaking from the fire.

I implore myself to shut off my mind as I obey, imagining myself far away; back home, with Mr Tucker, anywhere but here. I do this when Damien is using my body, consuming it with his need, and I feel this situation warrants it as well.

Damien is soft when he touches my face, sliding his hand to cup my cheek. "I want you to meet someone, my darling."

"Your father," I say, sliding my eyes away, becoming aware of heat on my back, and soon there's laughter behind me; dark. It's filled with its own horrors, fangs and people screaming late at night when they wake to see a stranger standing at their bedside.

"Clever creature," Lucifer says in that disconcerting voice. It's like claws dragging up my back. "Did you come to that conclusion on your own, or did you have help?"

"On my own," I say, looking at Damien again. He brushes a thumb across my lips.

"Marvelous. And I suppose you know my name, child?"

I wait, looking to Damien still for direction. I can only assume that I'm being baited and tricked so they have a reason to punish me.

Not that Damien's ever really needed a reason to use force where I'm concerned.

He speaks softly, "if you know his name you may say it, my love. You won't be chastised."

I'm still leery, but the tension is taking hold of me. Perhaps if I comply and perform this will all be over with sooner.

"Lucifer," I say, my mouth dry. I swallow. "Your name is Lucifer."

Silence, and then, "And you're Kyle. Do you call my son by his first name?"

"I have, yes."

"And did that work out in your favor, little one?"

I look Damien directly in the eyes when I answer, my voice strong. "No, sir. He's beaten me for using his name."

He laughs again, and it's obvious he's enjoying this whole spectacle immensely. "Use it now, then, speak it aloud and there will be no repercussions, I assure you."

My muscles tense before I obey, taking venomous pleasure in defying Damien to his face. Even if I'm being tricked, knowing that I'm standing in the presence of someone who outranks Damien, someone obviously higher in the food chain, is immensely, savagely gratifying.

"Damien," I hiss, and his pupils dilate; cold droplets of obsidian lost among scarlet. His grip tightens on me but he doesn't strike me -

But I can tell he wants to. I drink in the sensation like it's mana from heaven.

"This one has a heart of fire," Lucifer muses. "It's a pity I missed his debut, I'm sure it was glorious." He clears his throat. "My child, come closer that I may get a better look at you, if you please."

Damien lets me go but it's with reluctance. His smell is warping, becoming cloying. "Go," he growls, "and don't shame me."

I flounder for a moment before I turn away, and I look to see that Lucifer is sitting in a large chair in the corner of the room; legs crossed and holding his own tumbler. He's removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his immaculate white shirt. He watches me and I him, and this convergence seems to create more heat in the room; it nearly crackles.

I'm slow to move but I'm very aware of my steps, my breath. I walk like I'm perched on the edge of a high place, knowing that if I look down I'll see oblivion, possibly my own death.

Lucifer watches, and I can see the similarities he shares with his offspring; the coiled animal tension. He's a predator with the face of an angel.

I stop before him, arms at my sides, and the liquid heat of his eyes practically incinerate my skin. He studies me, sipping his drink slowly. Slowly he lifts his head to scent the air and becomes more serious.

"My son has had you," he comments. "Many times. He's enjoyed you."

I say nothing but my cheeks are beginning to warm.

"On your back, your front... he's twisted you to fit against him, beneath him, and I imagine you've enjoyed the feeling once or twice. Isn't that so?"

I hold my head high. He's trying to make me feel shame, but I won't. Not for his enjoyment. "My instincts gave in but I didn't, sir."
"Is that why you feel comfortable coming to this place dressed in white? Are you still pure in your own eyes?"

"My purity isn't valued or decided by who's touched me," I say. "I decide my own worth and value. I'll wear white if I want to, but if I were to choose red I would feel the same. I am more than the things that have happened to me."

He nods, setting his drink aside. "You realize what speaking out of turn can cause, don't you? You understand the potential ramifications of your actions and words if you aren't careful with them?"

I nod.

"Then why do you speak so freely, and with a tone and bearing many Alphas would consider insubordinate?"

Taking a deep breath, I speak in my clearest voice. "If Alphas are as strong as they believe, then they should be able to handle the opinion of one omega. If they can't, they're weaker than I can fathom. And if that's the case, I will not bow and grovel for them; I'd sooner show more respect for a pig or a beast of burden. Many Alphas make it hard to tell the difference."

He begins to tap the arm of his chair, over and over, and while there's a coldness growing in me, I stand tall; aloof. I'm a statue before him, and yes he can touch me, hurt me, but he can't take away my spirit, my fundamental makeup.

"Now I can understand why my son purchased you for such a high price," he murmurs. "Bought you for such a great deal, and with my money besides. You are an anomaly among your dynamic, and while I can smell your fear i can't feel it."

"His mother was the same way," he adds, "a fierce beauty, with eyes very similar to yours. I almost came to love her, and I probably would have if she hadn't died giving birth to the miserable whelp."

A pang reaches my heart then, because I'm always vulnerable to those who have lost their mothers. I turn to look at Damien but I'm swiftly brought back to Lucifer's attention.

"You will not look away from me," he says, his large hand wrapped around my arm, making it look slight enough to snap like kindling. "And your head will not be above mine. I may take your defiance in stride, but you will not be elevated above me. Kneel."

I bite back a whine as I'm forced to my knees, pulled to settle between Lucifer's now spread thighs. He strokes behind my ear.

"If you were mine," he says softly, "I would put that sharp tongue to work so it couldn't spew such vitriol. I'd have you sit before me and warm my cock, holding it on your tongue for hours, and only when I was ready would I fuck your mouth. You'd fight at first, but soon you'd be begging for it, wouldn't you? I know your kind... you tell yourself you don't like being taken, but on some level you do... the place that's purely devoted to the carnal. You want to be filled."

I jerk away but he holds me fast. "Your scent is different from the rest of my son's collection. You're ripe. There's space inside of you to nurture life. Is that why you purchased him, Damien? It wasn't just his pretty face that enticed you."

"I had a feeling about him. Probably the same one you're having now."

Lucifer considers this, reaching to touch my face with his hot hands, and I almost gasp at the heat of him. He slides his fingers down, pushing the sleeves of my dress down to expose my shoulders. I hold my breath.

"I imagine his heats are irregular because of his youth, but there's one growing in him. It'll be here soon," he says, lifting my face to look into my eyes. I see devastation and burning cities in his irises; complete unmitigated chaos. "Very soon. Do you feel it, son?"

"I do. There's a sweetness about him."

"My son will take you again," Lucifer says quietly, pressing a finger to my mouth, slipping between my lips. "Many times, I imagine, and he won't be gentle, but he'll fuck you to preserve our lineage. Your belly will be filled with his seed and he'll hope for a miracle, but if it doesn't come -"

Swiftly, he takes a hold of the back of my neck, drawing me up and close until I'm lying against his chest. His other hand cups my backside, searching until he feels for the cleft, and his fingers are dipping-

I gasp and try to pull away, but he holds me tighter.

"If your union doesn't yield a child, I will take you for my own."

Damien, who's been conspicuously removed from his father's overtures, comes to life in an instant.

"You can't do that! I bought him, he belongs to me!"

Lucifer is a beast on the turn of a dime, dragging me up to sit in his lap, snarling at his son. "You bought him with my money! He belongs to you as much as anything else you have! I've given you everything and what have you done with it? Nothing that I can see, and now you can't even give me another link in our dynasty! You're weak, and weakness shouldn't be rewarded!"

Gripping me harder, I bite back my fear and pain, and I can't even think of being in this man's hold. The idea is enough to make me shake, and he smooths a hand up my thigh, pulling my dress along with it; revealing my flesh.

"The contracts from the Auctions are clear, little one," he whispers in my ear. "His signature may be on it, but my money bought you. Don't forget that." He laughs quietly. "I won't let you."

"Contract," I say faintly.

"You're legally bound to him, but there are loopholes... if your Alpha is infertile or can't provide for you, the contract can be broken... if someone puts up more money, they can buy him out. There are ways." Snapping his teeth, he adds, "the contract is void if the Alpha who bought you meets an untimely end. What do you think of that?"

I can't keep my composure now. "Let me go, please."

"Heart of fire," he says, a dark thread cinching his words tight. "I will honor your wish, but I have a favor to ask of you first."

Damien approaches, and in my fear I almost reach for him, but I stop myself. Once again, like my interaction with Cartman, I find myself seeking asylum with him and I know this is wrong in every conceivable way.

"He's mine," he snarls. "The money that changed hands was from my account, and in the eyes of the law that's all that matters."

Lucifer smiles, genteel again, almost gracious. "I concede this point, son, but I'm not asking for much. One favor, and that's all."

"Fine, but anything more and I'll have something to say."

"So fearsome," Lucifer replies, but his voice is bright with obvious mockery. "I should've crushed you when you were born, but it was your mother's dying wish that I preserve you. Foolish, sentimental woman."

"Get on with it, father. You don't have a captivated audience at the moment."

Stroking the curls from my eyes, Lucifer looks at me like we're lovers. "The wonderful thing about omegas, amongst their other virtues, is their mark. Your little clovers, and it's so perfect... something delicate and coveted...a four leaf clover, symbol of luck. Potential good fortune." Sliding a hand down my form, he sighs under his breath. "But they're always in a different place, and a curious Alpha is left to wonder, 'where will i find it on this one'? It could be anywhere -"

He begins to touch me then, all over; the curve of my neck, my chest, the slope of my waist and across my hip, finally coming to settle a hand on the heat between my legs.

"So little, just the way I like," he purrs. "Will I find it here, lamb? If I spread you will I see your clover so perfectly hidden?"

With a strangled sound i manage to break away, standing and feeling more violated than I've ever been. I breathe heavily and Lucifer just waits, folding his hands and smiling a beguiling grin; all fangs and deceptive charm. Looking at him is like looking into Mark's grave, and I can almost see my death staring back at me.

Becoming wild with fear, especially after everything that's already happened, I whimper and retreat, mindless of where I'm going until I collide with Damien, and he's holding me close, embracing me and shushing me so, so softly.

He's unusually tender, kissing my forehead, my cheeks, finally my mouth, and his lips are soft, almost loving.

"I know you're afraid," he whispers, kissing me again, hands tangling in my curls. "Anyone would be. Don't you think I know what he is? I was raised by him, and believe me, I've had my fair share of his anger, but he only wants to look at you, not use you. I won't let him. Please," he adds, cradling my face, tipping it. His eyes have died down and now they're smoldering, and this is the softest he's ever looked at me. "Show him your mark and then you can go back to your room."

I shake my head, frantic. "Please, no -"

"You will do it," he says. "But I want you to do it under your own power... I'll help you start, but you'll finish."

Slowly, he turns me away, and I'm facing Lucifer again, and I can feel the buttons of my gown being parted. I whimper and my strength crumbles; I sob, but it's quiet.

"No," I whisper. "I can't."

"You will, and I'll be proud," he says close to my ear, sliding his hands into the back of my gown, down over the slope of my back. They're warm, but they lack the fire of his father's. I shut my eyes and try to forget myself, thinking of Mr Tucker.

Please, come and find me in this place. Take me away. Please, please take me far away...I don't care where.

"I'm waiting, child," Lucifer calls, and I wince.

I try to imagine that white house on the hill as I step before Lucifer, holding my gown to my front even as it gapes in the back. His eyes are on me and I can feel them, and in my fear the anger is waking up, louder and pulsating.

I'll kill you both, so help me, God, I think, sliding the dress from my shoulders and feeling it fall to my feet. One day you'll be at my feet and I'll show you the same mercy you've shown me. I swear.

"Come closer, lamb," Lucifer nearly sighs.

I obey, and my rage, my need for retribution, is the only thing that keeps me from crumbling as he fondles me, tracing his burning fingers up the slope of my calf, along my thigh, until finally it finds my clover; lingering.

"Oh," he says. "It's hidden so nicely.... only the person that owns you can enjoy the sight of it."

"No one owns me," I seeth, but I can feel the heat growing in me, and I'm beginning to feel the fire waking up; deep, deep inside, and I'm panting already. "I'm my own person, even if you refuse to see that."

He scents the air again. "It's starting, Damien. It's still far away, but the blood is hot in him... ready. He's ripening like an apple on a tree."

"I'd hoped it would hold off before we had to travel to Cartman's," Damien mutters. "His omega had their child, but I'm sure you already know that."

"Yes, the bitch has whelped, and you must go to pay your respects," Lucifer muses. "Very well, if you must handle your affairs in the household of another, so be it. I just hope you realize what's at stake."

"You'll not have him," Damien growls. "Kyle will bear my child, many of them, and when he does i will Bond with him. That's always been the plan... the omega who gives me what I need will be bound to me for life."

"Such a romantic thought, but a foolish one," Lucifer replies, pulling me onto his lap. I feel faint now, and still crying; the pain and need waking up in my skin, my bones.

"I'll have you before too long, and I won't wait for you to have my children to Bond with you. I'll do it first thing," Lucifer whispers in my ear before nipping it. "You'll be completely mine from the beginning, the way it should be, pretty thing."

I can only sob quietly, but the anger hasn't died in me. I'm already planning, calculating, and if I can get word to Tricia and Mr Tucker that I'll be traveling with Damien soon, perhaps we can plan an escape. I know it's farfetched and dangerous, but I cling to this notion, even as Lucifer strokes hot, searching fingers across my clover.

I can see the letter I'll write and press into Tricia's hand to deliver to her brother; shaky and imperfect in my childish scrawl:

Save me...deliver me from evil before it's too late... do it before I'm taken away so far that I can't even remember who I am. Don't let me forget myself because it's all I have now, that and my love. 

Please, please carry me away. Anywhere, as long as it's safe... as long as I can be with you. Even if you don't love me back, I don't care; just let me be with you, somehow. 

I beg you. 

 

Chapter Text

After my meeting with Lucifer, Damien lavishes me with twice as many roses as before; a few white ones scattered in among the scarlet like glowing stars. He gives me more jewelry, gowns; even boxes of chocolate.

I reject them all. I hope he realizes that my refusal of his gifts is akin to a rejection of him, but I don't think he can even consider that. I almost get the impression that he seems to think we're closer because we share a common enemy. He also seems to think i can be bought, which has never been the case.

But he's taken hold of a strange notion that he can court me, even after everything that's already happened; the beatings, degradation, rapes...

He's doing everything out of order, trying to romance me now; pampering me.

It makes no sense, considering he's still willing to use force with me. The night i was forced to meet with Lucifer, Damien came to my room and was twice as aggressive as usual when taking me; possessed of a need to reclaim his "territory", I suppose. He held me close afterward, speaking of his hatred for his father and the love he had for the memory of his mother.

"He likes to blame me for her death," he'd said into the dark, his eyes remote. "But it wasn't me, it was him... he didn't cherish her enough, I'm sure. He doesn't have the capacity."

"And I suppose you do," I had said, not keeping the edge from my voice.

"I can learn," he'd muttered, turning me over to begin again what had already been taking hours. "With your help, I can learn."

I want none of him, of course, not his presents, not his affection; his version of apologies and devotion. He's a monster, cut from the same vile cloth as his father; two sides of the same coin.

I do feel sorrow for him having never known his mother, though, and I think it's unspeakably cruel that his father would blame him for her death. Still, i can't become bogged down with pity, not when I need to save myself from all of this, and quickly.

"Damien's had a new gown made for you, for when you travel to Mr Cartman's," Bebe says, just a few days after my newest descent into misery. She presents it to me and it's lovely, I have to admit; soft white and satiny blue, with a long skirt and billowy sleeves. The collar appears to be edged with ermine.

I turn my nose up at it.

"He shouldn't have bothered. I'll wear it because i have to, but it doesn't change anything. I've told him this."

"Oh, I'm sure he responded well to that," Bebe says, hanging the dress up.

"About as well as you'd expect, with a smack," I say, looking at all of the trinkets he's given me; all kept in the little box with the animals on it. "The only difference is that he's started to kiss me after he hits me."

"Kyle," she sighs.

I look at her quickly. "Don't even think about telling me that he's trying or that I'm special to him, that he's never acted this way before. That may be the case, but I can't change my feelings. He's my burden and I will never love him."

"I just want you to make things less difficult for yourself," she says, pulling one of my curls. "That's all. You're probably the most contrary person I've ever met."

"I pride myself on it," I reply, sticking my tongue out at her. I'm glad to see her smile, even though I'm being difficult. She's been melancholy since Mark's death, for obvious reasons, but she's confided to me that she's very concerned about Rebecca.

"She told me it's like part of her heart is gone," she'd said in a moment of openness. "Sometimes I think she's simply going to grieve herself to death."

I'm about to ask about her when Bebe becomes brusque, almost like she's trying to convince herself that we haven't become friendlier since I've been here.

"Well, you're all finished with your breakfast and you've taken your pills. Don't you want to step outside before your lesson?"

I do, very much, but I find myself lingering as I pull on my cloak. I watch her as she tends the fire, tidies; all the little things she does every day for me, and I realize that I'll miss her when I finally manage to escape from here. I've wanted to tell her of my scheming, but I don't want to put her in a position where she'll be forced to either keep my secret, or brutalized until she tells the truth.

"Why are you standing there gawking?" She asks, giving me a look as she fluffs my pillows. "Usually you're out of here like the devil himself is after you."

I shake my head and pull up my hood. "It's nothing. I was just lost in my thoughts, I guess."

She turns back to her work. "Well, off with you. I'll see you later on."

"Yes, ma'am," I say cheekily, but I'm still slow to leave.

Outside, the world is lit up by the bright morning sun. It illuminates the snow fields as I walk to the garden, reaching to feel for the letter in the pocket of my cloak; praying that Mr Tucker comes by, so I can try to explain myself; beg for his help.

It's a shameful thing, I know, putting him in this position, but I can't stop seeing the look in Lucifer's eyes; the feel of his hands on my skin, scalding me with his heat. I didn't think i could be more afraid of someone than Damien, but his father has proven me wrong -

Even if I'm not subjected to Lucifer than Damien will manage to put his child in me, and then Bond me to him; turn me into a mindless puppet like Scott is to that horrible, piggish Mr Cartman.

Everywhere I turn my options are nightmares, and every path is like walking on hot coals. I have to throw myself on someone's mercy, just long enough to get away -

Even if Mr Tucker doesn't care for me the way I do him, maybe he can help just a little, and if I survive i promise one day I'll pay him back in any way I can; him and Tricia. I swear.

I'm lost in thought, not even minding the roses, when I hear steps and then Pip is there, fetching in his blue cloak; pink-cheeked and glowing in the light. My stomach drops, as does my heart. There's no way I can approach Mr Tucker with Pip around; not in this regard. It's far too risky.

"Pleasant morning," he says, gathering roses in his basket; the yellow ones he favors.

I'm quiet a moment, not sure how to respond to him since Mark's death. I keep thinking of his look of satisfaction when Mark had collapsed in the dining room, the way it had chilled me. I don't want to believe he's that spiteful, but his conduct has given me pause.

"It's not as cold today," I say, trying to keep things light.

"I'd tend to agree," he replies. "Before we know it it'll be spring."

"Hmm."

We work in silence for a while, but truth be told I'm too nervous to really do much with my hands; the tension obvious between us and the letter in my pocket weighing me down. I keep glancing toward the street, but I keep it covert.

I'm hoping Mr Tucker will go by but at the same time I don't. It's not like i can really say anything, but maybe I can convey my need of him with my expression alone.

"The master's father is very handsome, isn't he?" Pip asks me out of nowhere, completely throwing me off-guard. I can only stare for a moment before I turn to look at him.

He's smiling but there's a coldness to it I don't particularly like.

"Excuse me?" I ask, moving away. He follows.

"I couldn't believe he just showed up like that," he says. "But I suppose it makes sense, given the horrible thing that happened."

"He didn't come to pay his respects," I mutter.

"And he told you that, I take it?"

I glare at him. "Among other things, yes."

He snorts, clipping another rose. "Figures."

"What's that supposed to mean? It's not like i wanted to talk to that monster at all."

Pip sighs, his expression becoming glacial. "Are you going to start complaining about being the favorite again?"

Hurt, I turn away. I know Pip has his reasons for being jealous, but if only he knew... if only I could make him understand, but we're bound and shaped by our experiences, and we come from such different circumstances.

"Pip, if I could, I'd tell Damien to think only of you, but I don't have that kind of sway over him. You have to realize that."

He doesn't reply for a moment, but when he does his tone is stiff. "He won't look at me. He's too preoccupied with you, even though you can't stand him. I just don't get it, Kyle. I go out of my way for him... do whatever he wants, and gladly...I never fight, I never talk back. I'd give him all the children he wants, but..." he bows his head. "It's because my Heats are so messed up, it has to be. I'm starting to think that my upbringing ruined my chances...I was starved for too long..."

"Or maybe," he adds, covering his mouth, "maybe I was ruined when that Alpha..." he stops, shutting his eyes. "I'd give anything to have the master look at me the way he looks at you. He watches you like you're the sun, the moon... something he wants but can't touch. It hurts so much to see -"

He lapses into quiet abruptly, and his scent is strong with distress. I whine before I can help it, wanting to comfort him, but he shrugs me off.

"I don't want your pity," he snaps.

"It isn't that," I say quietly. "I just thought we were friends."

"Of course we are," he replies, softening, but the hurt is still all over him; making his lips tremble. "And... I'm sorry that I felt so happy when Mark -"

He stops, grabbing a hold of me. He's looking toward the street, prompting me to turn, and I almost call out when I see Mr Tucker going by. He isn't looking at us but he has to know we're watching; he has to.

I clutch at my cloak, pulling away from Pip, but I don't dare go to him. I can only watch and yearn -

Please look at me...I need you.

Almost as if he's heard my silent plea, he stops, and for a moment he's still, his shadow long before him, and my heart pounds, so frantic and loud in my ears. The wind blows, and I swear I can smell Mr Tucker's heavenly scent, and the yearning is almost unbearable.

"Kyle, what are you doing?" Pip asks, taking a hold of me and yanking me back to his side. "Why are you purring? You're being ridiculous again."

Touching my throat, I can feel the vibrations emanating, and I can scarcely find my words, coughing.

Mr Tucker turns his head and across the distance our eyes lock, and it's like I'm being lifted high above it all, and I want to run to him. Oh, I want to so much, but a small voice, my reason, speaks to me.

It tells me to wait and bide my time.

Mr Tucker and I regard each other for another aching few seconds before he lifts his old hat and nods. My knees become weak but I stay standing, though I clutch at Pip a little tighter.

"The nerve of some Alphas," Pip murmurs. "Especially the handsome ones..."

"They're all the same, aren't they?" I ask faintly, but they're not. I know in my heart that they aren't.

------

Tricia takes me into her arms as soon as she sees me, laying my head against her shoulder. I allow this, clinging to her like a child.

"I heard about the death in your household," she says, hugging me tighter. "It's awful. I'm so sorry, Kyle."

"I wasn't close with him," I reply, not wanting to inflate my importance in all this, "in fact, we hardly spoke, but I know the circumstances of his death..."

"Here," she says, taking my hand and leading me to sit before the fire. "Tell me, please. Unburden yourself."

The tears are quick now that I'm in the presence of someone I feel I can trust, and I pour out my heart; every bitter detail: Mark's murder, the blood on Damien's hands, Lucifer... the whole ugly situation.

By the end Tricia is silent and pale, looking toward the flames jumping in the hearth, and I'm so guilty for laying my tale of woe at her feet.

"Forgive me," I say softly, wiping at my eyes, wincing at how raw they feel. "You've already been so kind to me, taken so many chances, and I'm piling all of this on you... it isn't right."

"How can you say that?" She asks. "Aren't we friends?"

"Friends don't hurt each other like this... they lift each other up, make them better. I haven't made you better at all."

"Listen to me," she says, taking my hands in hers, and her lovely eyes, so much like the sea I've read about in stories, are regarding me, "I feel happier for having known you, watching you grow... you've let me teach you, confided in me, trusted me... that's a precious gift and I don't take it lightly."

"I just want to be able to give you something in return," I reply, tears still falling down my cheeks. "But I have nothing but myself, and what good is that? I'm weak, I'm pathetic -"

"I won't listen to this," she interrupts fiercely. "Look at where you began; sold by your own father, and to someone cruel, who's hurt you, and you're still fighting, you haven't given up. And you're still worried about bothering other people... Kyle, please, stop degrading your own value! You've learned to read and write and make music... not because you were forced but because you wanted to! You want to better yourself! That's an astonishing accomplishment!"

"But I'm still so afraid," I say, bringing her hands to my mouth to kiss them gently; held aloft once again by her kindness. "Every day i wake up and I'm afraid... and i can't help but feel lesser for not being able to create my own destiny...I have to beg for the help of others; put them in danger because of my situation. It's unforgivable."

Her eyes are bright from the fire and unshed tears now, snapping but full of determination. "My brother and I want nothing more than to help you, Kyle. Please believe that."

Taking my hand from one of hers, I hold back a sob as I grope to take out the letter I'd written, begging for help, and I duck my head when I hand it to her.

"I was going to give it to your brother if I ever found a moment alone, but the opportunity didn't present itself. Still, please give it to him, and apologize to him for me for my clumsy writing. I rewrote it three times."

She takes the letter, the unassuming article I'd slaved over, and tucks it into her pocket; drawing out a slip of paper of her own. She holds it to her breast, her eyes downcast as she speaks.

"I gave my brother the thank you note you wrote, and you should've seen the look on his face when he saw it...pure joy. Admiration. I haven't seen that expression from him since... well, in forever it feels like, and he wanted me to give you this in turn."

She offers me the slip of paper and my hands shake as I open it, covering my mouth as I read Mr Tucker's words, his penchant for brevity evident even in his writing:

Anything for you.

I reread it about a hundred times in the span of a minute, and then I'm holding it to my chest and closing my eyes; euphoric, floating, and it's as if I'm looking into Mr Tucker's eyes across a great distance, just like before, and he's able to see straight to my heart, where the fire burns out of control.

"Heart of fire," Lucifer whispers in my ear, and the moment, the breathless happiness, grows terribly cold.

I open my eyes, sightless until Tricia's likeness swims before me, and I'm a muddle of terror and need; hungry, ravenous want....I read the note again and i want to wrap myself in it, become lost in Mr Tucker's arms, his scent....

"Did you tell him how I feel?" I ask softly.

The fire gutters and pops, the ash crumbling before she answers, "no, but I think he suspects... something about the way he says your name, the way he responds when I say it."

"Kyle, my brother was in love once," she adds, touching my knee. "A long time ago, but it didn't end well."

I nod, remembering something he'd said. "The person he loved... were they given to the Auctions?"

"Yes. It destroyed Craig... he's never been the same since it happened."

"I can understand that," I murmur. "It's such a cruel business." I put Mr Tucker's note in my pocket, folded small. "I'm sorry."

"So am I. We were both close with him, we all grew up together and they fell in love soon after they both presented. We were always together, the three of us."

I drink in this information, hungry to know more about the enigmatic Mr Tucker but hurting for him all the same. "Is he the one you taught to read and write?"

"Yes. He was jealous that we both could read all these wonderful stories... he got tired of hearing them secondhand so we taught him all we knew, despite the danger."

I cover her hand with my own, gently pressing. There are tears in her voice but i can tell she needs to talk about this. "What was his name, if you don't mind my asking?"

She shakes her head, swiping hard at her eye. "Tweek...a strange name, I know, but it fit him. He was one of the softest, kindest people I've ever met. He was like a brother, almost." Suddenly, she rubs her face with both hands, making a play at appearing unaffected by this talk. "Will you listen to me? I shouldn't be dragging you down memory lane at a time like this."

"I'm just saying, my brother is very aloof when it comes to matters of the heart... he guards himself." She takes my hands again and squeezes them. 

"Who can blame him?" I ask, looking down at our joined hands. "I'm not asking him to love me...I just, I don't know...I want him to think of me sometimes as someone he could consider a friend. That would be enough."

I bite my tongue after letting this white lie slip out. She studies me and I'm certain she caught it, but she lets it go.

"So you're traveling to that horrid Alpha's home soon," she says instead. "That will give us an opportunity, i think."

Sitting forward, my heart starts to thump a little faster. "Really?"

Her face is becoming shrewd as she ruminates. "It'll be tricky with all of those Alphas there, of course, but with scent blockers -"

"I've heard of those," I say, remembering something my mother had told me long ago. "She tried to get some for me but never could... they must be very hard to come by."

"They are," she replies. "Most doctors won't prescribe them because they don't want to upset their Alpha clients, but we don't necessarily have to go through legal channels here, do we?"

I blink. "Do you have ties to the black market?"

She taps her nose. "My family has connections. Normally I wouldn't consider utilizing them, but in this regard... we'll do what we have to, okay?"

Curiosity plucked, I try to resist prying but it's hard to resist, especially after I'd spoken to that Alpha at my debut, the one who'd been so full of gossip and speculation.

"I've heard your father is a powerful man," I say carefully.

Becoming somber in an instant, she nods. It's like I can see a brick wall being slowly built between us. "Yes, he is, and he knows it. He revels in it."

I clear my throat. "I've heard your brother, well, that is to say -"

"They don't see eye to eye on things, and I'm sure they never will, but given the nature of my father's business, I can hardly blame him." Her voice is hard now, and bitter.

I rub my neck, wincing at the sensitive nature of my glands. Lucifer was right, I can feel something building in me day by day; I'm trying to fight but it's not like you can change the tides.

"What does he do?"

Taking her hands away, she stands and smooths her dress; exuding restlessness. She goes to the piano and plunks out a tune before bringing her hand down to make a loud, discordant noise.
Standing, I go to her, regretting posing the question. I should've known better. "I'm sorry, please forget I asked. I wasn't trying to upset you."

"No, it makes sense that you'd want to know," she replies. Sighing, she sits before the piano. "My father is probably one of the cruelest men I've ever met. Oh, I didn't see it when I was a child, and neither did Craig, but we didn't need to know how he made his money then... he was just our father, you know? Anything beyond that didn't matter."

"When we got older, though, and he started to groom Craig to help in the business, that's when we knew that all of our wealth... our comforts, were bought with what was essentially blood money. Profiting off the misery and suffering of others."

Chilled, I sit beside her and wait, not pressing. She turns to look at me, her eyes wet, and her mouth shaking when she says, "Kyle, my father is one of the main Alphas behind the Auctions... the omega trade. He helps to collect and distribute your kind, and he probably takes the largest cut when all is said and done."

It takes a moment for this to sink in, but when it does my heart feels wounded, my stomach clenching.

"All of the prominent Alphas around here have a hand in it," she adds. "They all capitalize on giving their kind what they want the most... pretty omegas without any means to protect themselves. It's disgusting."

"I just don't understand," I murmur. "Omegas are usually subservient and eager to please by nature... why degrade us this way? Most of us seem to want Alphas, to be Bonded and taken care of."

"It heightens the thrill, I guess," she says, "to know you have someone in your hand without agency. Most of the omegas in the Auctions are there because their families are destitute, or they're seen as a burden..."

I wince. "To pay a debt."

"Yes, I'd say the majority are offered up to settle debts," she says quietly. "When we really came to understand what our father was, it was like having the bottom pulled out from under our lives. You should've seen the way my brother reacted... he was like another person. It actually scared me a little."

"Eventually, we decided that we couldn't live with someone that found that way of living acceptable, so we left... our father didn't cut us off from his wealth, but we refuse to use it. Just the thought makes my skin crawl, so we're finding our own way."

She puts her arms around me and hugs me so tightly i can't catch a breath for a moment. "Oh, Kyle, I'm so sorry! I never wanted you to know this about us. I look at you and my heart breaks because I know on some level we helped put you in this awful situation, and I hate it! Sometimes I can't even stand looking at myself!"

I hug her back, just as fiercely, blinking my tears away. "Stop that. I don't want to hear you blaming yourself for what your father's done. That's his cross to bear, and if there's any justice in this world he'll eventually have to answer for his actions. You have nothing to be ashamed of at all. You and your brother have given me hope and kindness i haven't found anywhere else... because you're good, because you refuse to be like everyone else."

Pulling back, I look into her eyes, still so pretty but so sad now. "I aspire to be like you; strong, giving. You make the world feel less lonely... you both add light to it."

Finally, she manages a smile even if it's small, and she's wiping the tears away. "We both walk around with so much guilt, have you noticed?"

I nod. "We do, don't we, and not about anything we've done either. We're carrying the burdens of others."

Sitting up straight, she becomes resolute in a moment, casting aside her sadness and replacing it with her usual quiet strength. "Well, walking around lamenting our circumstances won't change a thing, will it? Let's make a plan, and then I'll discuss things with Craig. We're going to save you from this... you and your brother."

"Has Mr Tucker heard anything about him? About ike?" I lean forward and hold my breath.

"He's on the trail," she replies. "He was able to track his movements to a Beta workhouse not too far from here, but he'd moved on by the time Craig got there. But it's a good start... at least we know he's alive and hopefully well."

I breathe a sigh of relief, even though I'm still so afraid for him. "Thank goodness."

"Okay, I'll play while we work things out, that way they won't become suspicious that very little music seems to be played during your lessons," she teases, nudging me. "Sound good?"

I lean back, feeling a little warmer now; more hopeful. "It sounds wonderful."

------

We set out for Cartman's estate a little over a week later, which gives me the opportunity to see Tricia one more time so we can sew a tenuous plan together. It isn't perfect because of our limited contact and time, but we do the best we can, and I'm over the moon when she tells me that Mr Tucker is more than willing to help. She even teases me for being too shy to call him by his first name, but I don't pay her any mind; relishing our camaraderie and praying that everything will work out.

I'm so afraid, but it's exhilarating to know that I'm going to do something instead of letting everything happen to me. I'm going to try to take a hold of my destiny; escape this terrible ordeal, and maybe, hopefully find something better.

"You've been very quiet, my love," Damien says as he places a hand on my thigh, sliding his thumb along the soft material of my gown - naturally the one he'd had custom made. "Penny for your thoughts?"

I look away from watching the scenery flow by as the limo moves along, blinking my eyes. For a moment I'd forgotten he was there, as well as Pip and Butters; having already escaped in my head to greener pastures.

"Oh, nothing much. Just enjoying the view," I say, trying to play nice so I don't incur his wrath; but not so nice as to appear suspicious.

He looks out the window as well but he doesn't seem impressed. "It's nice enough, I suppose. I've seen it too many times to really get excited anymore."

Butters bounces on the seat across from us, happy as a frisky puppy. "I can't believe I'm in such a nice car! My dad had a truck but it wasn't nearly as fine as this!"

Pip gives me a cool glance before looking out the window too, arms tightly crossed. If Damien notices his sour disposition he doesn't mention it, squeezing my leg. I sigh softly, my body responding to the contact even if my mind abhorrs it, the warmth building in my bones as my Heat draws closer. It's making my skin tingle, my glands sore... my body  sensitive and my emotions all over the place.

Damien leans to kiss my cheek, nosing the gland under my jaw; he breathes deeply, not seeming to care at all that we're not alone. I flush, biting back another sigh, embarrassment making me squirm.

He misinterprets this as an invitation for more, and he nips my throat gently. I can feel Butters staring at us with his wide eyes. Pip clears his throat very loudly.

"Please," I murmur, feigning shyness instead of slow-growing fury. "Not in front of the others, master."

"I love when you call me that," he says softly, nipping me again. "It always sounds the most provocative coming from you." He speaks close to my ear, making me shiver. "Because I know you hate saying it, isn't that right?"

"It's degrading," I reply. "You have a name, after all... why not just use it?"

He laughs, pulling me closer. "Petulant thing... maybe I'll take a page from my father's book and fuck that mouth of yours until you can learn to use it properly."

Just having him mention Lucifer is enough to fill me with cold dread, and the whine I emit reveals my fear. He softens, taking my hand. "Never mind him, darling. Your heat will be here soon... everything will be fine. I'll take care of you."

"Master, are you still planning on taking us out for lunch? You'd mentioned it before," Pip suddenly says, his voice bordering on shrill.

Damien slowly turns to him, his expression hard. "I know what I said, and yes, we'll stop. Are you not enjoying the trip, dear one?"

The term of endearment doesn't match his tone, almost making it seem derogatory. All of my sympathy goes to Pip as he wilts, sitting dejectedly back. He lowers his gaze. "I'm enjoying it very much, sir. Thank you."

"That's good to hear, for a moment I had my concerns," he replies, dismissing him as he too sits back, his hand tight on me; warm and claiming.

Pip doesn't speak again until we're almost to our destination.

-----

Cartman's estate is as gaudy and ostentatious as i remember it, but now it's made worse because of all the other Alphas present, their omegas in tow. They mill about in their suits like they own the world, while their omegas walk at their sides or just behind them, eyes on the floor and only speaking when directly addressed.

I hate it all, the posturing and swagger; the overwhelming differentiation of how the dynamics are treated and expected to act. It makes me physically ill, but I obey and do as I'm told as Damien leads us through the fray; three puppies on a leash.

He'd insisted that I wear the diamond and sapphire necklace i was given for my debut, and it sits heavily on me; feeling like a collar locked around my throat. Damien slides a finger on it every now and again, always touching and keeping me close.

Very soon after arriving, he tells Pip and Butters to go and mingle, which I've come to understand is inappropriate in occasions like this; omegas are typically supposed to be kept close to their alphas for protection.

Damien doesn't seem to care, though; spurning convention to suit his needs, which is more than typical for him. Instead, he slips an arm around my waist, presses a glass of champagne into my hand, and forces me to do the rounds with him; talking business and bragging the way Alphas do.

Once again, like my debut, the Alphas i come into contact with treat me like a child, all while making it clear that they're scenting and assessing me.

It's nauseating.

"Such pretty eyes," one of them says, peering into my face. He smells too strong, almost feral. I shrink away. "I've never seen quite that shade of green before, and look," he glances at Damien, teeth sharp when he smiles. "The gold at the edges. Such anticipation, Thorne."

Damien pulls me closer and gives his own predatory smile. "Isn't it lovely? I'm counting the hours, I assure you."

Another Alpha is even more invasive, reaching to pull on one of my curls. I yelp and move away, clinging to Damien because the look on this Alpha's face frightens me; it's almost ravenous.

"Calm yourself, darling," Damien murmurs. "They only think you're pretty... they wish to admire you. However," he adds, glancing sharply at the forward Alpha, "I would ask that you keep your hands to yourself. You can covet from afar, unless you'd like me to relieve you of some of your fingers."

They both laugh and it sounds depraved, because I can hear the threat in it; the violence smoothed over with bravado. I feel assaulted just by being in this room with so many converging pheromones and intentions; omega fear and distress coupled with Alpha desire, lust, and aggression. It's overwhelming, and the heat that's waking up in me is making it hard to concentrate.

I need to make my move soon, otherwise I might lose myself to my instincts.

Damien is leading me around Cartman's spacious living room, making greetings when yet another Alpha approaches us, a very lovely, dainty omega clinging to his arm; eyes downcast under long, sandy eyelashes. His hair is fluffy and blonde, held back on one side with a diamond-studded barrette shaped like a bird of paradise. His gown is airy, the silken material a soft green.

The alpha he's holding onto is huge and not particularly attractive, with a scowl on his face and just a general air of meanness about him. His hair is sort of scraggly and dirty blonde, his eyes hard like chips of granite. He gives off a threatening vibe, cloying and off-putting. I find myself involuntarily moving away as he comes closer, but Damien keeps me in place.

"Boyett, it's been a while," he says, "I was disappointed that you missed my Kyle's debut."

"Couldn't be helped, not with this one knocked up and fixing to drop any day," the Alpha practically barks, his accent a strange southern twang that grates on my ears. "Couldn't travel so far away in his condition and I wasn't about to leave him. Didn't want to take a chance."

"Naturally," Damien says, fixing his focus on the little omega who still hasn't looked up; hand tightening on my arm. "I take it the birth went smoothly."

"Well, it's not like this is the first time my Tweek has been through this," he replies, drawing himself up straighter, chest puffed out.

He keeps speaking but as soon as I hear that name it's all I can focus on, and my heart lurches as I stare more voraciously at the omega, hardly believing it. I'm so startled that I speak out of turn.

"Your name is Tweek?" I ask, my voice faint. Damien growls softly.

"You shame yourself," he says, giving me a little shake. "Interrupting an Alpha when they're speaking, and having not been addressed. What's come over you?"

I cower, still watching Tweek, who finally looks up to regard me with pretty hazel eyes that are terribly blank; two shimmering pools that are unbelievably shallow.

I suck in a breath. I've seen this look before, and it's just as terrifying this time; the loss of self, almost like they've been hypnotized, hollowed out and rebuilt.

The look of one who's been Bonded.

Tweek glances at his Alpha and pulls lightly to get his attention. The Alpha grunts in response.

"May I speak to Mr. Thorne's omega, sir?"

"I suppose."

"Thank you, sir." He looks at me, and while he's smiling and so pretty, there's nothing, absolutely nothing, behind his eyes. "Yes, my name is Tweek. How do you do, Kyle?"

I'm shocked into silence until Damien shakes me again. "I, well, it's," I mouth helplessly, trying to envision this Tweek learning to read and write, demanding the opportunity; being in love with Mr Tucker and being loved in return....

Tears threaten my eyes. The way Tricia had spoken of him had made me think that Tweek had died, but this is so much worse... I'm witnessing his living death and my possible future if I stay.

"Please excuse us," Damien says, yanking me away until we're in a corner, away from the crowd. He grabs my chin, demanding i look into his face; eyes blazing.

"Are you trying to humiliate me?" he asks in a harsh whisper. "If so, mission accomplished; you made us both look like fools, and in front of someone as loathsome as Trent Boyett. He's only one step away from being white trash."

"Then how did he afford to buy his omega from the Auctions?" I ask, reeling from everything; forgetting my composure.
Damien becomes very still, eyes narrowing and sparking. "What do you know about that?"

A tremor moves through me, and I remind myself to keep it together; everything, my freedom, my heart, my body, is on the line. I can't fall to pieces now.

"Gossip," I mutter. "Omega gossip, master. I'm sorry."

"And here i thought you might be above idle chatter," he says, loosening his grip a little. "I couldn't help noticing you seemed unusually interested in Boyett's omega. Would you care to share why that is?"

Flitting my gaze across the room, I see Tweek walking with his Alpha with that same dazed expression; footsteps light like he's walking on air, his head clearly in the clouds. My eyes burn again but I refuse to cry in front of God and everyone.

"He reminds me of someone I used to know," I lie. "That's all."

"Hmm. Well, you should know that not every omega sells for the same price you fetched. Most don't, in fact. Some are practically giveaways."

I whimper at his callousness, and I can't stand the thought of being in this place, locked at his side, for another minute. It's time to move.

"Master," I say, touching my head lightly as if I feel faint. "I'm not feeling well...I think I'm getting closer. May I lie down somewhere so I don't disrupt the party?"

He peers deep into my eyes, his own boring their savage beauty into my skull, scenting me as he does so. He touches my glands and presses his forehead to mine; grabbing my hip to draw me closer against him. I can feel him hardening, his ardor evident.

"Fine, but don't think I won't take you here if it comes to that," he murmurs. "I'll speak with Cartman about having a room prepared for you until this whole affair is over with."

I sigh, laying my head against his shoulder. "Thank you, master."

It isn't long before Cartman has Heidi show us to a room (after giving me his dirtiest look, of course), and Damien is lingering, watching as I acclimate myself to the quiet space; a large bed covered in a blue comforter dominating the room.

For a brief, horrible moment, I think Damien is going to stay with me, his eyes glowing a brighter crimson as he nuzzles my throat; biting and teasing.

"So sweet," he sighs, grabbing my hips. "You're almost there, soon we'll have everything we need...I can feel it, this time is going to be different, and then I can shove it down my father's throat, the dirty son of a bitch."

I whimper, swallowing my pride and going for broke; acting like a pitiful, weak omega that is on the cusp of fainting because I'm feeling the slightest discomfort.

"Oh, my head, it aches so badly," I whine, rubbing my temple. "I think i should rest or I won't have the energy for, well..."

"Lie down, my love," he urges, pushing me to sit on the bed. I lie back and he touches my face, softer now when he kisses my lips. He smells of need and arousal, another vague scent under it all; one I've not encountered with him yet. It's soft and disarming.

"Shall I have something sent up to help with your pain?" he asks, pulling away to gaze into my eyes.

I shake my head. "I'll sleep... that should help."

"Very well." Brushing the hair from my face, he stands, but speaks again before turning away to leave. "I think I'll adjust your accommodations when we return home."

Taken aback, I almost sit up. "What?"

"I'm going to have you moved into my room," he replies. He begins to leave, giving me no time to argue the idea. "It would please me...I enjoy having you close, and if you're having my child I need to keep more of an eye on you."

"Sleep now," he adds, going to the door and opening it. He looks back for a moment and smiles, and it's almost kind. "I'll come check on you soon, my Kyle."

With that, he softly shuts the door. It isn't long before I hear the lock being twisted; a sound I'd anticipated when developing a plan with Tricia. I wait, holding my breath until I can no longer hear his footsteps, and then I'm swiftly sitting up.

I move quickly but try to be as light as possible, going to the bathroom attached to the room and grabbing hand towels and anything that I think will come in handy if the plan goes awry; a hand mirror, gauze, first aid supplies.

Rushing back to the room, I shake a pillow out of its case to make it into a bag, stuffing my spoils inside; fishing out a small tin from the bodice of my dress that Tricia had given me; scent blocker, just in case. I apply it to my glands, savagely ripping off my necklace and tossing it on the floor in the process.

Gently, I add the tin to the mix before setting the bag next to the window. For a moment I'm afraid that it's going to be bolted or locked, but after messing with the latches, it swings wide and the cold winter air is pouring over me. I breathe it in and consider my descent, happy that I'm only on the second floor, but even so the drop is steep. Luckily, if I slip, the snow will help cradle my fall.

Going back to the bed, I rip off the comforter and yank up the sheet, tearing at it with my teeth until it shreds. I pull it apart and quickly fashion a crude makeshift ladder, pulling on the knots to tighten them. After a moment of deliberation, I tie it around the base of one of the thick bed posts, grateful that the piece of furniture is so bulky and heavy; confident that it'll hold my weight.

Going to the window, I take up my bag and clamp it in my teeth, looking down and assessing that I'm not too far from the room where the party is taking place, but pretty sure that the windows below me won't reveal me to the guests.

I wait to make sure I won't be interrupted and then I throw the ladder over the ledge, pulling on it to make sure it's securely tied to the bed. It holds, and with my heart pounding frantically, I rise up on my toes and throw my leg over the window sill. Taking a ragged breath, I pull my other leg over as well, and I sit for a moment, just contemplating what I'm about to do; terrified, yes, but absolutely ready.

Praying for deliverance, I turn and take a tight hold of the sheet as I begin to lower myself, hand over hand, my feet braced against the cold bricks. They're slightly icy and I slip, almost screaming but I keep my teeth clamped on my bag, telling myself to get it together and deal.

You know you can do this, so fucking do it, already!

I'm halfway down when a noise above me makes me freeze and I look up, ready to just let go and hope for the best when Pip is looking out, clearly confused until he looks down and we see each other. His eyes widen until they're big as saucers.

"What the hell are you doing?!" he whisper-shouts. "The Master sent me to check on you! You're supposed to be resting, not doing whatever this is!"

I can only shake my head and plead with my eyes, considering i have a pillowcase stuffed between my teeth.

Please, oh please, oh please, oh please.... don't turn me in, just go away...I can't take this anymore, can't you see that?!

We stare at each other for a few pregnant seconds, my arms aching, everything aching; the fear and adrenaline burning in me. Finally, his face changes, and he gets that cold expression he sometimes assumes.

"What are you waiting for, huh? If you want to go, go. I'll tell the master that you were sleeping." He waves his hand. "Go, hurry!"

My gratitude is so immense that I almost let go, feeling weak, but I hold on and continue, almost near the bottom when one of the knots fail and I'm falling, landing with a thump in the soft, half-melted snow. Looking up, I see that Pip has retreated and closed the window after pulling up the ladder, and I offer up a silent thanks as I scramble to my feet, taking up my bag and running across the expanse of lawn toward the gate; the entrance kept open with so many people visiting the estate.

I run faster than I can ever remember running, my throat burning as I suck in frigid air. I look back on occasion, the sun falling now as evening approaches, the lights in the mansion glowing like amber against the purplish sky. Turning forward, I think I'm in the clear until I notice a white car coming down the road, slowing as if it's going to stop and turn into the drive. I'm close to the gate now, and I dive into a scattering of bushes, yelping when the sharp leaves scratch my cheek and tear at my dress.

Tricia had told me they'd be in a dark car, so I know it's not her and Mr Tucker. 

I huddle, waiting and trembling, and the car passes by; my chest hurting from how hard my heart is beating. I touch my cheek and see that it's bleeding, and so are my hands. I take this opportunity to reach into my bag and pull out the tin, applying more of the thick salve to my glands, concentrating on the ones in my neck and wrists the most; not wanting to leave a trail of scent everywhere I go. I wipe the blood away with a towel, too; wincing.

I wait for a moment longer before I look out to see that the road is clear again, climbing from my hiding place and taking off at breakneck speed.

I almost sob with happiness and relief when I'm through the gate and across the road, moving toward the dense forest on the other side; reaching it. The plan is that I'll wait in the foliage near the road for the car that's coming to fetch me, but a faint sound from behind me makes my heart almost leap out of my mouth.

Crouching down, I can see a dark figure very far away, moving swiftly through the snow, and distantly i can hear them screaming, my stomach dropping into my shoes:

"Kyle! Where are you?!"

Damien. He already knows that i ran!

How can that be?! Did Pip tell him?! Why would he do that? Wouldn't he be happier with me gone?! Almost crying, I slap a hand to my mouth and try to think, mindlessly backing up in my terror and not paying attention to where I'm going.

When I slip in the icy mud I go down quickly, losing my footing and falling down a sloped, snowy path, crashing through foliage and banging into trees as I go, breathless pain waking up in me as I'm whipped by branches and rocks tear into my skin and clothing; a sharp pain twinging in my shoulder.

I almost think I'm never going to stop falling until I finally begin to slow, but then I'm dropping over an outcropping and straight into a sluggish, icy creek, and the frigid water makes me gasp; side aching when it connects with a jagged rock, slicing into my dress and leaving a long cut up my side.

I huddle there for a moment, trying to catch my breath and realizing that I can't, the shock of what's occurred almost too much for me to handle; the pain absent for a moment until my initial shock wears off, and I'm moaning low in my throat, dragging myself up and across the creek; hands raw and becoming numb.

Above, far up the bank, possibly on another planet, I can hear Damien shouting my name; others joining in, and through my pain and fear I wake up a little, managing to get to my feet. I stumble but catch myself, my stupid Mary Jane shoes useless on the icy rocks. With a growl, I kick them off and stuff them in my bag, which I'd somehow held onto as I fell; not wanting to leave evidence that I'd been here.

I haul the bag over my shoulder after using one of the towels to wipe the blood from my face and eyes, crying out when the weight of it makes my shoulder throb.

"Kyle! You know I'll find you!" Damien shouts but he still sounds reasonably far away. It fills me with horror, though; the anger in it so thick i can almost sink my teeth into it. "Stop being a fool and come out! If you do, it won't be as bad for you, I promise!"

I decide to stay in the creek, moving slower but praying they can't track me as well with the water washing away any scent the blockers don't cover; my tracks minimal. I move as fast as I can, even though I feel like I'm going to fall apart, every step agony and every breath a struggle.

Tears fall down my face as the evening starts in earnest, the light beginning to fail, and I move further and further into the forest, lost and hopeless, praying that somehow, somehow Tricia and Mr Tucker find me.

Damien's shouts are knives driving themselves into my ears until I feel like I'm going insane, crying silently, biting my lip until it bleeds; feet numb, hands useless. My dress is saturated and so cold, clinging to me and weighing me down. I clutch my side and my hand comes away bright with blood. 

"Please, please," I whisper, coming to the end of the creek and climbing out, stumbling and clumsy as I break down; mind, body. I can't hear Damien anymore but I know he's close behind me, I can feel him; breathing heavily on my neck and ready to bite, reaching out with his awful hands to snare me back.

I'm sobbing now, barely able to see, and I trip and fall, feeling a snap in one of my wrists as it twists under me. I choke back a scream and can see darkness growing at the edges of my vision. Nauseated from the cold and agony, I start to retch, crawling before making it to my feet, slipping again when my legs give out.

I resort to dragging myself, knowing I can't go much further, already on the cusp of passing out. I keep going somehow, blood metallic in my mouth. I'm clumsy from my injured wrist and shoulder; the unbearable cold, and when the sun finally sets completely, I give up the fight, so exhausted that I barely remember my name or what I'm trying to accomplish.

Like a fatally wounded animal, I drag myself as far as I can, finally collapsing onto my side under a dark outcropping of earth, the roots of several large trees dangling thickly through and creating a thicket of sorts. I push myself back as far as I can, stopping to catch my breath every now and again, pulling my bag to lay my head on; almost certain that I pass out for a time because all is blackness suddenly; soundless and almost blessedly warm.

In my dreams, if that's what they are, I feel like I'm vapor, wind; nothing almost, and totally weightless. There's no pain and I'm so thankful I can't articulate it, passing through the world and almost hungry for the end of everything. On the edge of my reality, though, I see a light growing, and I'm sure it's the sun. I turn away from it to shield my face.

"Shhh, we've got you, be still."

A voice, low and gentle, breaks through it all, and i can hear myself crying; frantic and trying to escape from whatever's holding me; certain it's Damien lulling me with kindness right before he strikes. The voice soothes me again, and my dreams part like water, and I'm opening my eyes. For a moment, I can't truly see, and I start to whimper, begging for mercy.

"Oh, my God," I hear a pretty voice say, and it's thick with tears. "We need to get him out of here, he's really hurt."

"I know. You go on ahead and make sure it's clear. I'll follow once you give me the signal. That'll give me time to fix him up a little."

A soft touch on my head, and then I'm being cradled closer, rocked like a baby, and it's almost like I'm back in my mother's arms. I reach to take a hold of whatever I can grab, and i can feel warm fingers taking my mostly numb hand.

"Just close your eyes, it's okay. You can sleep for a while...it's safe. I promise."

I blink and manage to clear my vision, sluggishly moving my head to look at the person holding me, and my whole world is lit up for a moment as I find myself gazing into Mr Tucker's clear eyes again. We just look at one another for a long moment and I start to cry, so glad to be with him... no matter the circumstances, I just want to be near to him in any way I can.

"Craig," I whisper, laying my head against his chest and shutting my eyes, breathing him in; soaking in his warmth and kindness; his very presence. For a breathless moment my agony disappears and all I know is him and his gentle heartbeat; everything else in the world an afterthought, and I'm truly, unspeakably happy for the first time in so long. 

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

Common love isn't for us
We created something phenomenal
Don't you agree?
Don't you agree?
You got me feeling diamond rich
Nothing on this planet compares to it
Don't you agree?

Who needs to go to sleep when I got you lying next to me?

- Physical, Dua Lipa


Tricia allows me to wallow in self-pity for most of the day, but when evening comes she makes it clear that I'm being ridiculous.

"You're both acting like children, carrying on this way," she says, pulling the blanket off of me. I blink against the lamplight, my eyes swollen from crying. She puts her hands on her hips. "Now come out and help with dinner or we're going to have a problem."

Sighing, I stand, smoothing down my dress, my kerchief askew; I fix it as well, glancing at my reflection. I'm a sight; red-cheeked, red-eyed. I certainly don't want to see Craig like this but with the way Tricia's looking at me I don't think I have a choice.

"What are you even arguing about, my brother won't tell me anything," she sighs, offering me a long woolen sweater. "But that's nothing new...a clam is more talkative than he is."

Sniffling, I follow her outside, the scent of the already burning fire strong on the breeze. Overhead the stars are trembling and silver; the sky a deep blue-violet.

"We aren't arguing," I reply, going into the main building to the old kitchen to help her chop vegetables. We pass through the dining room where Craig and I had been and I cringe to see the piano... remembering his teeth on me, his hands...

God, it had felt good, and I'd actually wanted it. Normally the feeling of someone touching me is unbearable because it's against my will, but being with Craig was so, so different.

"Then what the hell is going on?" Tricia plunks down an onion and begins to slice it. "You two were getting along so well, or at least I thought you were, but what do I know?"

"We were talking about Tweek -"

"Christ," she sighs, placing a hand on her forehead. "That'll do it, but he needs to talk about it. He never does."

I begin to wash potatoes so I can peel them. "He started talking about taking advantage of me," I add, "that I'm not thinking straight and I don't understand my own feelings. I'm sick of being told that, and it's always from Alphas. They always think they know better just because of their dynamic. I thought he was different."

"Kyle, he is, he's just trying to protect you -"

"I don't need to be protected from this!" I yell, slamming down the peeler. "I know how I feel... it hasn't changed, if anything it's only gotten stronger! I love him!"

My stomach drops when I hear a throat being cleared behind me, and Tricia touches my arm before turning away. "We're almost done in here, Craig. How's the fish coming along?"

He's gruff when he speaks. "Make a little more than usual, please. We'll have three more for dinner."

Her hand tightens on me as I turn to look at him as well, instantly afraid. He's still in the same shirt and jeans as before, hair mussed. I almost whine when his aroma hits me, but I swallow it. We look at each other for a long, burning second before he turns to Tricia again.

"They're just passing through the area on their way up the coast. They said they have family up there but they're running low on supplies."

"I don't think this is wise," she replies. "How can we be sure that they aren't spies for Damien? He could've sent them here."

"I questioned them extensively," he says carefully. "I don't smell ill intent on them, just exhaustion and hunger. Believe me, if I'd gotten any feeling that they had bad intentions i would've already sent them on their way."

She sighs. "Well, you normally have good instincts, but I just don't know."

"There's a child as well," he adds quietly, and any misgivings I'd been harboring disappear. I grab three more potatoes from the sack and prepare to wash them.

"We'll share what we have," I say, watching Craig until he has no choice but to look at me. He does and I smile, not wanting to nurture any animosity between the two of us. "It's the right thing to do."

The newcomers are polite but quiet as they eat their food, all of them dark-haired, except one of them, the obvious omega, has a red patch in his tresses. He hides behind bangs that fall over one eye, deferring to his Alpha over most things. The alpha is slim and very pale, his hair curly. The child, no doubt a result of their union, looks very similar to them; pale and dark-haired with large shadowed eyes.

Craig keeps their plates filled, all the while making sure he's standing between myself and the strangers; never turning his back. His scent is thick with quiet warning and it mingles with the other's conflicting scents; omega skittishness and Alpha defensiveness.

"Don't get so close to the fire, hon," the omega called "Pete" calls to the child. "Come away from there, please."

"Listen to your mama," the Alpha, Michael, adds.

The little one, another omega, obeys but it's reluctant. He goes to his mother and lays his head on the other's shoulder. "I'm tired and bored."

"I know, baby."

Michael sets aside his plate to regard Craig. "Thank you for your generosity. It's much appreciated."

"We'll put together a bag for you to take along," Tricia says, beginning to stack the plates.

"Oh, no, you've already been so kind," Pete says, lifting eyes that are bright from the flames. I can see pride in them, too; it's obvious he's not comfortable taking what he considers charity. "Darling, tell them they don't have to do that."

Michael puts an arm around him and pulls him close, a simple gesture I've never seen displayed between a couple like this. There's nothing aggressive about it. He speaks softly to the omega while their child clings to them.

Looking up, Michael is firm when he speaks for them. "We'll only accept your kindness if you allow us to give you something in return. My mate and I insist."

Craig nods before feeding the fire. "I'm not opposed to keeping things even and fair, but just know we aren't giving in order to take. You're welcome to what we have."

The child begins to whine then, clearly worn out and becoming fretful. He crawls into Pete's lap and buries his face in his mother's chest.

"He can sleep in one of the rooms over there," Craig offers. "They're close and clean."

"Would you like that, Firkle?" Pete asks, combing his fingers through the child's hair. "You don't have to go if you're scared... you can stay here with us."

Michael kisses Pete's temple. "He'll be fine. Come on, let's tuck him in."

Pete joins Tricia and I as we do the dishes, withdrawn as he dries the plates. I can't help but gaze at him, deeply intrigued about where he's come from, his relationship with his Alpha... I've never seen anything like it, like them.

"Where are you all from?" I ask, handing Tricia a pan to rinse. "Have you traveled far?"

Pete shrugs, his smell changing to slight fear. It makes me want to whine, reassure him that I mean no harm and that I'm merely curious. He sighs softly.

"We've traveled from the Florida region. The ocean is different down there. Warmer. Clearer."

"I'd never seen the ocean before a few weeks ago," I reply. "I grew up near the mountains."

Pete looks up, eyes veiled by his bangs. "There's nothing here, though. Why did you let your Alpha bring you here?"

I flush. "I don't have an Alpha. We're just..." I trail off. "I really don't know what we are to each other."

"Hmm." Pete gives me a look before turning away to take up another plate, and that's when I see the scar on his neck; an obvious old bite, white and pink, pearly almost. I gasp and almost drop the forks I'm washing.

"Kyle?" Tricia asks, but she sounds faraway. "Are you okay?"

"Y-yes," I manage, looking away when Pete turns back. I have to fight the urge to look in his eyes, to try and find the emptiness in them that I'd seen in other Bonded omegas. I had to be seeing things, though. Pete seemed so coherent, almost outspoken in some ways; certainly not mindless and being controlled.

None of this makes sense.

"I'm sorry," Pete says suddenly, and his voice is his own, as are his eyes. They have to be. "I wasn't trying to be rude, I just saw the way he watched you and I assumed. It's the same way Michael looks at me when he doesn't think I'll notice."

Grabbing the counter, I can't help myself now. "Did he force you to Bond? Did you have a choice at all?"

He blinks, clearly confused by my questions, not to mention my desperate intensity. He looks at Tricia before answering slowly. "Of course I had a choice. I've wanted to Bond with Michael since we both presented... in fact, he wanted to wait, but i didn't see the point. There's no one else for me."

"And you can still think for yourself? He doesn't... control everything you do?" I ask.

"I defer to him because I want to, but when I have something to say, he listens," Pete replies, giving me an odd look. "He provides order for me, and structure, as well as protection... we take care of each other. Why?"

I place a hand on my forehead, my perspective blown wide at what he's saying. Everything I've seen is contrary to what I'm hearing, and I'm not sure i can accept it so easily. I have no idea what is real, what's expected... my whole worldview is being challenged, and in an instant.

"Is he okay?" Pete asks Tricia.

"I'm sure he is, just give us a few minutes, I think. Go outside and tell them we'll be done shortly."

Pete leaves then, but not before giving me another perplexed look. Tricia continues washing up. "Michael said they have wine to share," she says cheerfully. "Why don't you grab some of the nicer glasses, huh? We'll make it an occasion."

I obey, but I still feel removed, the smooth wine glasses cool under my fingers. "I don't understand any of this," i say faintly. "They're Bonded but he's still... he's still a person. I didn't think it could be like that."

"I didn't either," she replies softly. "I mean, I'd heard that it could be, but I thought it was just gossip. It's nice though, don't you think?"

I nod slowly, hazy; my heart a slow throb in my chest. In the distance, over the rushing water in the sink, I can hear the rumble of Craig's voice outside and it's like thunder settling through my bones, calling to me.

I spend the rest of that strange evening nursing dark red wine and watching Pete and Michael across the fire; the way they speak to each other, touch each other; smile and regard one another. The ocean, the beach, the stars, everything else fades away as I try to understand.

Craig and Tricia loosen up from the wine, laughing and trading stories with Michael, Pete occasionally chiming in but mostly leaning on his Alpha and staying close. Michael kisses him often, looking at him in a way that makes my chest feel hollow with want.

I realize with painful clarity that I want what they have more than anything, the desire so deep it feels like a knife twisting in my stomach. I whimper softly and sip my wine, but I'm quiet as the night wears on, and I find myself drifting, watching the waves roll in over and over; losing myself until I'm being jostled awake, and Craig is smoothing the hair from my face before lifting me into his arms.

I cling, resting my head against his chest, hand fisted in his shirt. "I think i had too much wine..."

He laughs softly before carrying me to my room, where Tricia is there to receive us. Through a haze I'm helped into bed where I fall fast asleep, curling into my blankets.

That night, I'm visited with terrible nightmares, the first ones I've had since being brought to this place, and when I gasp awake I'm moist with sweat and I'm trembling. I sit up slowly and see Tricia asleep in her bed across from mine, the curtains open to let in the milky, soft moonlight. Gathering up my sweater, I pull it on and stand, weak-legged as I try to orient myself.
I'd seen Damien in my dreams, his fearsome red eyes, the way they flashed when he was angry or ready to take me, hurt me, and I can see now that his fury and his desire are wrapped together until they're interchangeable. Perhaps he can't even tell the difference anymore, and that's why he's so willing to use violence towards me. Maybe in his mind, love and rage are the same; strong emotions he can't control but make him feel powerful. Unstoppable.

The room feels like it's closing in after such dreams, and I grope to throw the door open so I can break away, my bare feet carrying me to the beach where the fire still glows softly; orange and red turning the smoldering wood to ash. The sea is roiling but the sky is clear, deep like the water and scattered with points of salt that sparkle.

I walk slowly to the water and take deep breaths when the cold water passes over my feet, sharp, and I become aware of the heat gathering low in me, that feeling from before, and I can't fathom it because I've been taking my suppressants, but still -

"It's nice to know I wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping," a weary voice speaks from behind me, and I turn to see Craig there. He's watching me and I can see the hints of red slow-growing in his eyes, and they're similar to the fire dying down. "Sorry, I shouldn't be happy about your misfortune."

"I had a dream, about Damien. Figures if I had a nightmare he'd show up," I mutter, looking back toward the sea. I feel flushed despite the cold winds passing over me, and I open my sweater; the bite making its way under my frail dress.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I shake my head. "I'd like to talk about anything else, actually."

"Understandable." His voice sounds nearer now but I don't turn around. "I shouldn't have let you drink so much wine, but truth be told i didn't want to stop you from enjoying yourself."

I shiver, because that possessive note he assumes sometimes is there in his voice, and with anyone else I'd snarl and bite, but I crave this from him; this guidance, this seeming protection - even from myself.

"I wasn't enjoying myself," I reply, a snap in my words. "I was trying to understand something."

I can feel him very close now, his heat, his aroma, and I drop my arms to my sides, allowing my sweater to fall slightly from my shoulders. He growls softly behind me but it might as well be right next to my ear.

"Understand what?"

"Pete and Michael, they're Bonded. Did you notice that?" I almost moan when Craig's warm breath meets the back of my neck, and I lean my head slightly forward, exposing myself. "And Pete wanted it... he asked for it."

Hot, gentle hands slide down over my neck and to my shoulders, helping my sweater to fall further, and I lean back to feel Craig's hard chest against my back. I sag, allowing him to hold me up, assisting me with his strength. I turn my head to feel soft kisses being pressed to the curve of my throat, my nape.

"The result of a Bond is  predicated on the intent," Craig murmurs, nipping me like he had before in the dining room. I sigh, baring my neck more, subliminally offering myself to him.

Please, please... just don't stop. Not this time.

"If the omega wants it, and the Alpha too, then it builds a connection between them the way it's supposed to, but if the omega is forced, their mind shuts down as a way to protect itself." His arms wrap around me now, pulling me flush against him, and I can feel his cock hard against my backside. I push against it, wanton and so hungry I'm panting, mouth deliciously wet.

Craig is kissing my nape now, down and over the place between my shoulder blades, and I sigh, that molten need rising in my core, and the slick is dripping between my thighs. I can smell myself, my arousal, and I can smell his intent; ravenous to claim and mark what he considers his territory.

"You told me i only wanted you because you're kind," I gasp, my sweater being pulled from my arms now to be discarded on the sand. I'm standing there, feet sinking into the wet beach, my thin dress the only thing between myself and Craig's body; his tensed, coiled muscles. "You told me i didn't know what I wanted, but you understand now, don't you? You have to."

Gathering my hair, Craig kisses behind my ear, soft when he speaks, and my stomach dissolves with anticipation so potent it's all I can do to stay on my feet.

"I've wanted you like this since the first time we met," he murmurs. "That first morning in the garden... that moment I saw the bewitching redhead holding his roses and looking at me with those wide green eyes...I smelled your scent and I knew, and I had to stop myself from climbing the gate to get to you."

I giggle, delirious as I turn to face him, and I find myself looking into his eyes, and I'm lost, lost, so beautifully, wonderfully lost for a moment until he's cradling my face with his hands. "I wish you had," I whisper, letting him tilt my face to look up at him. "I wanted you to, and I wouldn't have stopped you, even then."

Growling softly, he's gentle at first when he kisses my lips, but soon he's wild, nipping my mouth, licking into me to taste me, and our tongues slide together. I sigh low in my throat and I want to tell him I've never been kissed this way before, and I'm sure i never will be again unless he's the one that's doing it -

I cling to him, my hands crushing his shirt, and I just want to feel him completely against me; no covering, simply bare; skins sliding and slick and hot.

I want him to take me right there, under the moon, the stars; the salt resting in our hair as the ocean roars its angry but mesmerizing song. Whimpering, I break away long enough to speak, and my voice is nearly a sob as I let all of my guards down at once, and I come to him naked and devoid of any pretense. "I love you...I just love you so much, Craig. I've loved you for so long."

"Shhh," he whispers, and he lightly kisses my cheeks, my mouth. "You don't need to cry... not when I love you, too. You can feel it, can't you? Every time I look at you... I'm just reminded of how much I need you, how much I want you. Just you."

My eyes fill with tears and I laugh brokenly. "How can you say something like that and not expect me to cry?"

He kisses me again, deeply, but he's smiling when he pulls away. "Tender heart...I was so afraid that Damien would try to ruin that part of you, but I'm starting to see that's impossible."

I sink into him then, his nearness, and I'm floating through a dim, star-filled euphoria until he's speaking close to my ear, his hands reaching to cup my ass, pulling me up against him.

"What do you want, Kyle? Tell me."

I feel drunk, and I have to wonder if some of the wine is still lulling me, so it takes me a moment to answer. "This, what we're doing. Anything you want."

He sighs, pulling away and leaning his forehead against mine. His fingers sink deeper into the plump skin of my backside. I lean against him.

"Please, just... put it into words what you need from me. Don't you want to do that? Just open up and say exactly what's on your mind?"

I consider this, though his scent and arousal are making it hard to think, not to mention the fact that he loves me, oh, he loves me....

I swallow, pushing a hand under his shirt to feel his skin. "I want you...I want you the way I've been taken in the past, but... is it wrong that I want you to make love to me? I want you to hold me down and fuck me, but that's what Damien did, so doesn't that make it wrong?"

He shakes his head, reaching to pull up my skirt, exposing my skin to the wind, the spray of the sea. "If you want it that's all that matters... it's your decision, Kyle."

Sighing, I begin to unbutton his jeans but I lose my nerve, despite the fact that I want this so much I feel crazed with the desire. I stop, holding my hand to my mouth, my lips pulsing from being kissed so hard.

"I don't know, Craig. The only thing I know about sex is doing it when I don't want to... I'm not sure how I'm supposed to act when I actually crave it, but I do. With you. That's all I know for sure."

"Here," Craig says, taking my hands and sinking down onto the sand, bringing me with him. He cradles me close and I calm, breathing him in and listening to the waves, and when he kisses me again, I willingly lie back and allow him to cover me, his body heavy and making me feel so safe.

He undresses me slowly, carefully, pulling my dress off and tossing it aside, and when I'm naked before him he looks at me with that glow in his eyes. I lie still and he grips my waist, sliding his hands up my sides while kissing my stomach, making me writhe against him. He sets his teeth to my skin and I still, tangling my fingers in his hair.

"Let's go slowly this time," he whispers, reaching between my thighs to feel the slick wetness there, his fingers gentle when they slide over my entrance. I groan, arching, but he isn't aggressive when he enters me, opening and teasing.

Oh, I've never been touched like this. Normally when Damien fucks me it's quick, with very little preparation... if I'm slick it's entirely accidental and to make things easier for him, but Craig is touching me like I'm precious, like I deserve to feel good.

I'm moaning and it sounds hungry, needy, like I'm a thirsty slut and I suppose I am for him, but I try to overlook my shame. "Please keep going," I murmur, flushed. "That feels so good...I like it."

He kisses my forehead and slides another finger in, and I become even wetter, and I'm hiding my face against his warm, fragrant chest. I whine and he doesn't shush me, doesn't tell me to quiet down, and soon he's touching that place inside of me that Damien has manipulated before. I stiffen, pressing myself closer to him.

"There, there," I beg, my sight hazy. "It always feels like I'm about to come apart when I've been touched like this. I love it...I hate that I do, but it's so good..."

"Oh, baby," he nearly sighs, capturing my lips now while he continues to stroke that place, and it isn't long before I'm coming apart, my cock stiff and there's even more wetness between us. I groan, looking away and hot-cheeked, but he holds me tight against him, praising me; voice filled with affection and obvious love.

I relax, lying back against the sand to see the stars, and they feel larger somehow; closer. I'm dazed, drifting, and it's all so beautiful i can barely stand it. There's something waking up in me, and I'm sure Craig can sense it, smell it, and I'm afraid because I've been trying so hard to keep it from coming.

"My heat, I can feel it," I say softly. "I think it'll be starting soon, regardless of the suppressants."

He tongues at the soft skin between my thighs, the wetness there, and grabs my legs to part them a little more. He licks at my come, my slick, and it's so intimate that I'm not sure how to respond, opening up and trying to catch my breath.

"I'll help you through it if you want," he murmurs, licking along my pubis and up my belly. "I know it can hurt if you don't have relief... that's what I've been told, anyway. I don't want you to hurt."

"But I could get pregnant, right?"

"Yes, it's a very real possibility."

"And if that happens, then what? Are we going to settle down and play house?"

Becoming playful, Craig bites one of my nipples and makes me yelp. "Maybe. Wouldn't you like that?"

I want to be annoyed but he's so sweet when he kisses across my collar bone, up over my neck, and then we're kissing so deeply i fall into my mind and drift on tides that are gorgeous and so dreamy i almost forget my worries entirely.

"That isn't fair," I say faintly when he finally sets me free. "I can't think straight when you do that... or anything. You shouldn't be allowed to touch me when we're attempting to have a conversation."

"Not allowed to touch you? Are you trying to kill me?" he asks, nosing against my throat glands and breathing deeply. "I didn't think you were capable of being so cruel, Kyle."

"Oh, please," I reply, trying to push him away but it's a weak attempt at best. "So you'd want to have children with me, just like that?"

He looks at me without an ounce of mirth on his face. "Of course. I'd love for us to have a family together."

I'm immobilized by this direct response, and I stare at him. "You... you really mean it?"

"Kyle, why would I lie about that?"

"I have no idea... it's my experience that Alphas lie all the time."

"Well, I'm not other Alphas," he growls, biting my neck harder before leading my hands to his jeans. "Wanna help me out?"

Cheekily, I turn my nose up. "I don't know. Do i?"

A soft growl. "Kyle..."

The fire gives its last dying gasp before it collapses completely, sending sparks into the air and making me start; clinging close. He chuckles lightly and gathers me to his chest, fingers running over my backbone and making my skin tingle.

"Why don't we go inside, huh? To my room?"

Nuzzling him, I smell under his jaw, where his wonderful scent is strongest. "Spend the night in a strange Alpha's room unchaperoned? Sir, what kind of omega do you take me for?"

Tugging one of my curls he laughs again. "Oh, hush."

I almost forget to grab my sweater before we run to his room, laughing behind our hands, giddy and carefree. He lets me in and the door is barely shut before he's taking me into his arms again, and I'm being pressed against the wall, naked and shivering under his hands.

"They're so hot," I say, kissing each of his fingertips in turn. "I like it."

"Oh?"

I nod, tugging at his shirt. "I want them all over me."

He snickers. "And here I thought you might be shy."

"Like all those retiring omegas you've been with?" I ask, only half-kidding.

Turning me, he backs me toward the bed until my legs hit the edge and I fall, flush against the coverlet, arms up and he's looming over me, watching me with that heated expression again; consuming me before he touches me.

I suck on my finger, the slick thick between my thighs again, and I look at him with all of my lustful, filthy thoughts floating to the surface. I spread myself and he breathes in my aroma, eyes becoming even more red; twin flames in the dimness. He begins to strip, pulling off his jeans, his underwear, until he's as naked as I am. My gaze falls over him, every muscle and slope, the flat planes of his stomach, and down to the thickness between his legs. My eyes widen.

He crawls onto the bed and covers me again, looking into my eyes before he leans to kiss softly along my jaw, hands reaching to take my wrists to pin them over my head.

"You want me to hold you down?" he murmurs, biting my shoulder.

I nod. "Yes, please. Sir."

"You don't have to call me sir."

I groan, writhing and twisting beneath him. "What if I want to sometimes? Isn't it my choice?"

"Petulant thing," he growls, biting harder before swiftly flipping me onto my belly, and he's kissing down my neck, my back, along my vertebrae before he reaches my backside, one hand spreading me as the other keeps my hands in place.

"Ah," I mouth, arching and presenting instinctively, thighs spread, and then I can feel his wet mouth, his hot tongue licking my opening, sneaking into me, and he's eating me out like I'm a meal laid before him.

I almost cry because it feels so good, and I want to be shy to be so open, but God, I don't want him to stop, I never want him to stop, and i arch more, opening wider; pressing back against him.

"So sweet," he murmurs, swiping me with his tongue, teasing. He nips the insides of my thighs and I cry out, hiding my face in the bed.

"Please," I gasp, not even sure what I'm begging for. "Oh, please, Craig... please, please..."

He fucks me with his tongue again, deep, and I squeak. "Please, what? Tell me what you want... tell your Alpha what you need from him."

I sigh. My alpha... why does that sound so satisfying coming from his mouth? I lay my cheek against the warm comforter, breathing heavily and trying to keep my thoughts together.

"Fuck me, please," I whisper. "Please, Alpha... and do it hard."

"Oh, my omega likes it hard? I would never have guessed..."

Flushing, I smile. I drift for a moment until I feel his hardness against me, his thick cock, and I can scarcely catch my breath before he's pushing in, no, shoving, and my mouth opens wide; eyes closing.

I had always imagined we'd be gentle and slow the first time but this is so much better; the way he withdraws only a little before shoving back in, and his hips are pressed so hard against my ass, and I'm pushing back against him, trying to match his rhythm....

I'm speaking words I've never said before, filth, begging him to fuck me until I can't walk or think, and he gives it to me so good; deep, so deep, and I can't form coherent thoughts, only knowing that i want more. I want it all. I want to be fucked until I'm screaming and I do, loud and primal and letting out all the frustrations I've kept locked inside.

"Harder, harder, so much harder, deeper...Alpha, please, please... give your omega what he needs... yes, yes..."

"Jesus, Kyle," he snarls, bending to bite my back, over and over, never breaking skin and I'm whimpering softly. He becomes still for a moment, panting quietly next to my ear, and we just lie together; him warm and heavy on top of me, and I beneath, twisting to fit and match him -

And we do, i can hardly understand how well we blend together; cock deep, the curve of my back and ass meeting the lines of his belly, his hips. We're unmoving for a while, panting, and he shifts on occasion to open me deeper, wider, and I'm exquisitely, mindlessly full; his aroma all over me and lulling me into a beautiful soft complacency.

I begin to purr, lifting to nuzzle him, and he bites my ear.

"I love when you do that," he says roughly.

I purr louder, wanting to tease and please him at once. "Good, because you'll be hearing me do it a lot... it's your own fault, you know."

"Well, I guess I'll just have to live with that, won't i?" He laughs but it's tremulous, moving again, pressing hard against my ass before drawing back; he thrusts in again, hitting that lovely little spot and making my toes curl.

"God, you're good at this," I murmur, mouth and lips wet.

"I'm not gonna last much longer," he replies, resting his cheek against my back.

I laugh coquettishly. "We'll just have to do it again, won't we?"

"All night, I think."

I sigh, enjoying the feeling of my slick sliding down my thighs, the scent sweet and mingling with his aggressive musk. The fire is building, growing out of control in my bones, but we have time... time enough, anyway.

I push back and he takes this as a signal to move, and he's slamming into me, over and over until my mind is nothing but color and light, and he's growling loudly as he comes hard, filling me with so much warmth, and I'm pliant and boneless under him -

At the end he bites my shoulder viciously, but not hard enough to break skin; making me rear back against him, and he takes a hold of my hair, licking and teasing the column of my throat. It feels possessive and raw and real, and I love it...I want him this way, this is my choice, and I refuse to apologize for or turn away from my desires.

I finally feel free, and when we finally come back to ourselves I don't hide myself when I turn and he takes me into his arms, kissing me, stroking me, and I open myself to this; heart, soul, spirit. I accept him and what he has to give, because I want it so much, and so genuinely.

"I tried so hard to behave," he mumbles after a while, sounding slightly sleepy. I'm resting my head on his chest while he plays with my hair. Our aromas fill the room along with the scent of sex, and it just makes me want to do it again.

And again.

"Why? What good ever came from people behaving?" I ask, sliding a hand to touch his cock, curious and wanting to explore. He sucks in a breath.

"I'm starting to think you might be a bad influence," he replies, placing his hand on mine to help guide me; easing my hand along the shaft.

"Oh, and that's a bad thing?" I ask flippantly, squeezing him gently.

He can't speak for a moment. "God, no. Do you hear me complaining?"

-------

God help me but I never knew sex could be this good.

We do it again and again, and every time I think I'm too tired or it can't feel good anymore, I'm surprised that it does; only seeming to get better. Craig slips inside me or fucks me with his lips, his tongue, and I'm falling again; dropping like a stone into a pool without a bottom.

We do it slow, fast; aggressive, careful, and by the end, when the sun is starting to rise, I'm sticky with sweat and our arousal, sore and throbbing between my thighs, and I'm aching from bites and being held tightly, but Jesus, I'm riding a high -

I'm nestled under his arm and tucked to his side when we finally lose the last of our energy, and I'm dozing as he kisses my head, my temple; hands threading through my sweaty curls. My nails scape across his chest, through the dark hair there, and I have to fight the urge to reach down and cup his cock, coax it back to attention. I bite my lip imagining it.

"You have that look on your face again," he murmurs, startling me.

I look up, trying to clean up my thoughts. "I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, you know exactly what I mean. You wanted to do it again."

"Don't you?"

"Kyle, of course I do, but I have to drink something. I'm dehydrated." He snorts. "I can only wonder why."

Stretching long, I curl against his side like a cat before sitting up to gaze down at him, so beautiful in the morning light, even with the shadows under his eyes, his messy sex-hair. I begin to feel aggressive and I want to grab him, remind him that he's mine, but I hold back, my hands flexing against my thighs.

"Maybe we should get up," I suggest, rising and enjoying the feeling of his eyes on me. I don't dress, purposely leaning across the table in front of the window to pull back the curtain. "The sun's almost all the way up. What do you think?"

He doesn't reply and I glance back at him. He's staring at me but he doesn't seem to be listening. Bending deeper, I present myself, spreading just a little.

"Craig, are you listening to me?"

When I look back again he's already up and coming to me, hands tight and gripping my hips, and I'm presenting, already slick, when there's a knock at the door. He groans, leaning to touch his forehead to my back.

"Figures," he mutters. He pulls away and I reach to grab a blanket, wrapping it around myself. Craig pulls on a robe, giving me a look before answering the door.

"Craig, can you get the fire started? I wanted to give our guests breakfast before they went on their way," Tricia says, still sounding fatigued. Sticking her head in, she waves at me. "Good morning. You want coffee?"

I nod, sharing a glance with Craig.

"Tricia," he says, rubbing his neck. "Don't you have any questions for us?"

She blinks, yawning lightly. "No, why would i?"

I come over to Craig, standing closer than usual, very aware of my nakedness beneath the blanket; the feeling of his hands and tongue still all over me. I bite back a growl, shifting to stretch out my neck. Suddenly shy, I manage to look at Tricia from the corner of my eye.

"We may or may not have spent the night together," I say.

She stifles a laugh. "Really? You don't say? I mean, I never would've known if not for the racket you two made all night."

I pull the blanket over my head like a hood, wanting to hide in the darkness. "We didn't."

"Oh, believe me, you did."

I cover my face with my hand while Craig whistles, rising up on his toes. "Sorry about that, sis. Hope you were able to sleep, anyway."

"I'm sure that was the least of your concerns. Anyway, Craig, the fire. Chop chop. I want to have breakfast sometime this century." Winking at me, she moves away, her braids bouncing against her back.

When she's gone Craig and I can't look at each other for a moment, and I'm afraid the awkwardness is going to leak in now that morning has come, but Craig laughs a little before nudging me.

"I don't think she was surprised at all."

I shake my head. "Nope, not for a second. But that's a good thing, right?"

"Well, yeah, but she's going to tease us - relentlessly."

Opening the blanket i take a hold of his arm, hugging him close. "I don't mind at all... I'm too happy to mind anything right now."

Breakfast is boisterous in comparison to how subdued dinner had been. We eat bacon and pancakes and drink coffee while the sea rolls in; our guests appearing much more rested than before. Their little one tries to build a castle with sand that's too dry and pouts when it collapses.

I still watch Pete and Michael, the way they dote on each other; Michael usually speaking for them while Pete has his say in the background, calmed by his Alpha's presence and appearing to be an anchor for his mate.

It's so nice, and this time when he joins us to wash the dishes Pete is much more talkative.

"Thank you so much for everything," he says, stacking plates in the cupboard. "You're the kindest people we've met so far, not that we've seen many others on our trip." He catches my eye. "Your Alpha, I mean Craig, made us feel so welcome... will you tell him how much I appreciate it?"

I nod, blushing while Tricia gives me a little knowing smile. My Alpha.

Finding some courage, I manage to say, "I think what you have with Michael is so lovely... I've never seen a relationship like yours."

He becomes thoughtful. "Where did you say you're from?"

"The west... we're a long way from home."

"I've heard things are different out there," he replies. "Alphas with more traditionalist leanings, but they aren't all like that. Not everywhere, anyway."

I smile, touching my nape. "I'm starting to see that more and more."

Soon they're on their way, after Tricia and I have packed some food for them. We say our farewells and I notice that Craig is standing closer to me today, taking care, once again, to shield me from having another Alpha too near.

After, Tricia announces that she's going to do some laundry and Craig is going to chop wood. I decide to clean our rooms and before we part Craig touches my face, sliding a thumb across my bottom lip. I close my eyes and sigh, so euphoric; the sun shining down and warming my hair, my shoulders.

"Let's meet out here when we're done. I'm planning on fishing later," he says softly.

I open my eyes and I can still see threads of red in his irises, his pupils slightly dilated. My body responds, my glands aching, my scent growing sweeter. I nod, kissing his thumb lightly.

I tidy the rooms, humming the whole time, walking on clouds, floating, almost. I blush when I enter Craig's room, smelling our scents, the way they mingle, and I want to climb into the bed we'd shared and wrap myself in the blankets. Instead, I strip the mattress and carry the linens to be washed, watching Craig from the corner of my eye, hard at work and I almost sink to my knees right there.

We've been together and he loves me... he loves me...

The days pass after that in a tide of almost hazy bliss. Most of the time I feel drunk, intoxicated on being in love and being loved; being watched and touched with fondness and affection I've never felt before. The taste of Craig's lips on my own become a sustaining force and when he takes me into his arms the whole world seems to slide into focus.

We do chores together and go for walks along the beach, curl up in the sun and read, sometimes with his head in my lap. I move into his room and share his bed, gladly surrendering my body to him. I want him to have me... he tells me he wants to belong to me, too.

We want to belong to each other. 

It's beautiful. It's all so beautiful that it can't be real. How can this life exist in the same world as people like Damien; alongside Alphas that only want to hurt and dominate omegas? I'll never understand.

One evening, we're walking along the beach when we start to discuss Bonding again. The idea of it had been nagging at me ever since we'd had our guests, but I wasn't sure how to talk about it.

"So, is it really true? Bonding can be a good thing?" I ask, taking his hand, enjoying its heavy warmth. "Every omega I've seen that's Bonded just seems like a shell... like they've died on the inside."

"That seems to be the trend where we come from," he replies, lifting my hand to kiss it. "In my travels I've seen Bonded pairs like Pete and Michael before...I knew they existed and I'd always heard that the Bond was mutual, not forced. That makes all the difference."

"I suppose it makes sense," I murmur. "I guess I'd want to shut down too if I was being held against my will like that...I mean, that's how I tried to cope with Damien, I could just never do it enough. I was always aware of my misery."

Craig growls lowly, a sound I've come to adore. It's protective, claiming... but in a way I can accept.

"That fucking monster. So many of my kind are monsters... it's a hard fact to live with, being associated with them."

"You're in a separate group," I assure him, leaning my head against his arm. "I could never think of you in the same way as them... it'd be impossible."

He kisses my head and I purr. Becoming somber, I sigh under my breath. "Sometimes I feel sad for being so happy."

He stops and turns me to him, cradling my face. The stars are wild above us, and his clear, kind eyes, threaded with red, are looking at me like I'd personally hung every single one of them. I lean into him.

"You're allowed to be happy, Kyle. I want you to be."

I think of Tweek and Ike... Mark and Pip; everyone that's been hurt along the way and I move to lay my head on his chest. "I want everyone to be okay, not just me...I know it's childish but I keep imagining a world where we can all be here together, helping one another heal."

He gathers me into his arms, rocking me. "That's still the plan, Kyle. We'll try to help as many people as we can, trust me. We won't turn our backs on anyone."

Eyes burning, I take a hold of his shirt, voice low now. "I'm so sorry about Tweek, Craig. I saw him at Cartman's...I saw the Alpha that bought him. I couldn't believe it, I'm just... I'm just so sorry. I don't know how to say it any other way."

Holding me tighter, his voice is thick when he speaks. "I am, too. What happened to him is one of the biggest regrets of my life, but maybe there's a way to bring him back. Maybe Bonds can be broken."

Leaning back, I study his face, searching. "Is it possible?"

"I don't know, but I can hope," he says, his eyes wet. He hides his face in my curls and pulls me tighter. "Sometimes that's all anyone can do."

We spend another night together and he's tender with me this time, overly so, because I'm beginning to ache very deep in my bones; my blood heating up. I feel more tired these days and we both know what's coming; he can smell it on me and I can see it on the horizon.

"I want you to take care of me during my Heat," I whisper, my head tucked in the curve of his neck. "It'll be here very soon."

"Are you still taking your suppressants?"

"I am, but I can't stop the inevitable, I guess." I snuggle closer, kissing his throat. "Maybe it's because of you... being close to you. Loving you. My body's telling me what it wants."

He curls an arm tightly around my waist. "And what does your body want?"

"You, just you... and anything you can give me." I blush, turning my face toward the shadows gathered against his skin.

"So, if I spend your Heat with you and end up..." he trails off, sliding fingers over my shoulder. "You'd want that?"

I nod. "Only with you. I think you'd be a good father. In fact, I'm sure of it."

Chuckling, he pulls away to sit up, easing me onto my back so he can gaze at me. Gently, he parts my thighs so he can slide between them, his cock already becoming hard and brushing me. I moan softly.

"Sweet omega," he sighs, loving me with his eyes, lit up in the blue dimness. "My omega."

I open like a flower before him, touching his chest. "My Alpha."

I'm dreaming of sitting on a high place and watching stars fall from the sky when Craig kisses me awake the next morning, but there's something different about him when I look into his face; an excitement, a wild pulse he seems to be having trouble containing.

He nips and kisses me until I'm giggling, naked and warm under the sheet. I lie back, my head sinking into the pillow.

"Well, good morning," I say, still half-asleep. "You're in a good mood."

He settles his weight on me, smiling wide. "I'm in a great mood, actually."

"Are you going to tell me why or are you going to wait for me to die of suspense?"

"Kiss me first."

I do, and when he's been thoroughly lavished with affection he tells me what I've been waiting for so long to hear:

"I found your brother."

It takes a moment to sink in and I'm sure I'm only hearing things, but when I look into his eyes I know it's true -

I can only look at him as long seconds pass, but then I'm crying and sitting up, hugging him; almost delirious with joy.

"Where? Where is he? Is he okay? When can I see him? Oh, Craig, please -"

Placing a hand on my nape he helps me to calm, nuzzling my glands and leading me to smell his as well; his scent bringing me back so I can focus. I wiggle against him, practically vibrating with new energy.

"He's a servant on the Black's estate. He's well taken care of from what I understand."

I nod, worrying the inside of my cheek with my teeth. "Are they as awful as the rest?"

"They're conservative but not nearly as depraved as Damien. They have traditional sensibilities but they aren't known for using violence to enforce them."

"That's good, at least." Rising, I pull my hands through my curls. "How far away is this place? Can we go fetch him today?"

Craig's face changes then, takes on the stubborn cast it sometimes assumes. "You're staying here, Kyle."

I narrow my eyes, my own expression no doubt dissolving into stubbornness as well. "I have to be there when you get him... he'll have no reason to trust you otherwise, and he'll be afraid. I have to take care of him, Craig; it's been too long."

He growls but I don't back down. "It isn't safe. You're supposed to be in hiding, remember?"

Getting on my knees, I go to him and place my hands on his chest. "I'm not asking to get out of the car or be there when you pick him up, but i need to be there when we bring him home. I have to, please."

"And besides," I add, nuzzling him, "Tricia and I wouldn't be safe here without you. Isn't it better if we all stay together?"

Silence falls and I become aware of all the little sounds in the room that make up moments both small and profound; the sound of his heart, the blood rushing in my ears; our breaths. He sighs and I can feel the tension in him change, making my heart soar.

Placing a hand under my chin, he lifts my face so we're eye to eye, his expression stern, but there's something else there; a quiet, deep fear. On the wings are love and devotion, helplessness.

"We need to be careful. Do you understand?"

I nod, so happy I can't help but kiss him until I'm breathless; not resisting when he takes me into his arms and guides me to the bed, possessive now when making love to me.

We set out even before the sun has fully risen, Tricia yawning on occasion but just as elated as i am when she hears the news. She quickly puts a bag of food and supplies together, ushering me into the car and chiding Craig for seemingly dragging his feet.

We're quiet on the way, all lost in our own thoughts, but the energy in the car is ripe with hope and excitement. Craig drives much faster than is typical for him, and the scenery flies by as we backtrack, taking us back to less hospitable country, but I'm not truly afraid.

At least that's what I tell myself.

"Do the Blacks live close to Damien?" I ask after we've been traveling for hours.

Craig shakes his head. "They're a reasonable distance away but they're still too close to him for me to feel comfortable."

"We'll be alright, Craig," Tricia murmurs.

"When we arrive i want you two to stay in the car," he says, looking at me in the rear view mirror. "I'll park far away and walk... I'll make sure no one can see where you are. I'll handle the negotiations."

"What are they asking for him?" Tricia asks, touching his shoulder.

He laughs, a short bark lacking humor. "A fair amount, even though they got him for free from what I understand. They can tell I'm desperate."

Sitting forward, I try to get a better look at his face. "I don't understand. They're making you pay for him?"

"Of course. Nothing is exchanged in our world without a price, that includes people. Especially when it comes to omegas and betas."

"I know that firsthand," I mutter bitterly. Becoming anxious, I say, "I can't let you pay for him, Craig. We didn't discuss that."

"We didn't need to," he replies. "I'll gladly pay whatever I have to to get your brother back for you." He glances at Tricia. "I'll have to dip into father's money."

The blood drains from my face. "You can't, I won't let you!"

"It's done," he says, a note of finality creeping into his voice. "I promised myself I'd never use that money for creature comforts, knowing where it came from... but if I can use it to keep someone from suffering I can accept that. It's the only reason to use it, Kyle."

The day passes swiftly and soon it's evening. We stop for dinner and to sleep for a few hours, Craig and I curled together in the backseat, my head in his lap. Before too long, though, we're up and moving again; the sun overtaking the white moon, and I can feel the warmth in my blood, my senses becoming jumbled as my Heat approaches and the miles fall away; leading me back to my brother.

The Black estate is a massive, stately dwelling on the edge of a large forest, surrounded by a high black fence. I can see snatches of it through the trees when Craig parks the car. My heart is frantic, my distressed scent filling the car, and he turns to look at me, taking my hands.

"Be calm," he says, kissing my forehead. "I'll do what needs to be done, settle the debt, and soon you'll have your brother back. I just need you to be patient and wait. Stay in the car."

I nod, leaning my head against his and I can smell his strength, his warmth; it runs through me like my own blood and I'm able to stop shaking.

"Please be careful," I whisper.

"I promise." He looks at me again, and I almost fall into his eyes like they're the sea, the sky I've seen over the ocean back home...universes trapped in his irises that I've only come to know because of our love for each other.

He leaves then, his back fading into the woods, and I can feel him taking a piece of my heart with him, but I pray everything will be alright. Tricia is quiet in the front seat but she reaches back to take my hand, squeezing it. We cling to each other and wait.

I'm not sure how much time has passed when I hear rustles in the trees, my eyes opening and I realize I must've fallen asleep, the fatigue of stress and lack of rest falling on me. Tricia is dozing, her breaths soft, and I swallow a whine building in my throat. I smell afraid and my mouth is dry as I peer into the gloom of the forest, but then, oh, then -

Craig is back and he's not alone, and before I can stop myself I'm climbing out of the car, running on feet that have grown wings, and I'm on my knees and pulling my brother into my arms; tight, crying already and speaking nonsense.

"Ike, it can't be," I sob, almost not believing he's real, but he is; his slight body pressed to my own. He's grown, lost weight, but he's here and he's real and I'm touching him -

He laughs and hugs me back, his skinny little arms winding around me the way they used to... the way they had back home when I'd carry him to bed after he'd fallen asleep in the living room. He clings to me and the memories flood back, of tending the garden and wading in the creek, looking at the stars at night... watching them fall and being together.

Together.

"Let me look at you," I say, pulling back and looking into his face, his soft brown eyes. His face is becoming angular and losing the roundness of childhood, but he still has his freckles, and I cry harder, looking into his face after so much time apart.

He stares at me, becoming serious, and I know he must have so many questions. I'm not even sure where to begin but there's time now... there's time.

"I was starting to think I'd never see you again," I say, standing. I can't stop touching him, I can't let go, I can't. I glance at Craig and the tears begin again. "Thank you... how can I repay you?"

He's about to speak when a sound like a whip crack breaks across the forest, making me scream and causing the birds that had been in the branches to rise and scatter in a flurry of feathers. Ike is trembling and pushing into my arms, but I can't get my bearings until the dust settles and my eyes clear.

When they do, though, the whole world seems to collapse around me to see the blood blooming and turning Craig's shirt red, and he's on the ground, groaning and grabbing at his shoulder. I can't understand for a long, pregnant second, only aware of the devastation taking over my joy, and I'm screaming before I move to go to him.

"I wouldn't do that," a voice calls from the shadows, and it's all I can do not to become paralyzed right there, almost falling to my knees. Frozen, I hold Ike tighter and his hands clench my sweater.

That voice, that terrible voice; comprised of nightmares and blood and misery. It's every ugly, depraved thing in the world at once, and it's back in my ear; all around me.

"Damien," I whisper.

"Kyle, run! Don't worry about me, just go! Now!" Craig shouts, almost breaking me from my stupor.

Stepping from the shadows, Damien is once again near, blending into my line of sight; eclipsing it, eclipsing everything. He looks the same, handsome, dressed in black; eyes a scorching, simmering red. Instinctively, I begin to shake and Ike starts to cry quietly.

He comes closer, moving with all of his poisonous grace, and he's watching me like he's trying to decide how to wound me first; pick me apart little by little or just bite my head off right there. He smiles, becoming something that should stay hidden in the dark; a beast, a demon.

"Try to run and I'll have him killed with just one word," he says pleasantly, gesturing to Craig. He looks down at the wounded Alpha. "Try to help Kyle and the result will be the same. There are people all around us and they're all ready to do exactly as i say. We've been waiting for you... as soon as I found out Kyle's brother had been taken in by the Blacks I knew it was only a matter of time. I let you come to me to keep things simple."

Blanching, I look around frantically, but I can't see anything except for Tricia; pale with her hands pressed to her face in silent horror.

"You won't see them," Damien says, his voice a weapon in and of itself. "Not until it's too late. Do as i say, obey, and I'll let all of you live. Even the filth you see before you."

Going to Craig, they regard one another, Damien tall and resolute, and Craig snarling at him, the blood pouring from him. I can smell it, but it's mixing with Damien's foul odor; making me faint.

"I should've known," he snarls, some of his composure evaporating. "A little bird told me that something was going on between you two, a flirtation, but I disregarded it. I never thought an omega of mine could be this defiant, this foolish.. even one as unique as my Kyle. A whore with an angel's face."

"Shut up!" Craig roars, beginning to sit up, but Damien quickly pushes him back, grinding the heel of his shoe into Craig's wound, making him scream.

Sobbing, I beg him to stop, but Damien continues, taking savage pleasure in causing Craig unspeakable pain.

"The only reason I haven't slit your throat is because of your connections in this community," he says lowly. "I do business with your father, a lot of business, and I'm sure he wouldn't take too kindly to me murdering his son - even if he deserves it."

Still screaming, Craig is pale now, his eyes starting to flicker, unable to fight when Damien moves to press his foot against his throat, slowly putting more and more weight on it. I cry out, ready to be sick, and i pull away from Ike to go to him, getting on my knees and taking a hold of Damien's coat, begging for mercy; half-mad from seeing Craig suffer.

All for me. It's almost too much to bear.

"Please, just stop," I sob. "I'll obey, I'll do anything you want, just don't do this. I'm begging you."

Damien considers me, and while he doesn't remove his foot, he lessens the pressure. His eyes flash and he's running a gentle hand through my curls.

"My feelings haven't changed," he murmurs as if to himself, like he's in awe of this revelation. "I can still look at you and want to love you... need you. How is that possible?"

I bow my head. "Please, Master."

His hand tightens in my hair and he grips me hard, shoving me back on my heels.

"Show me your neck," he says softly. "Bare yourself to me in front of him, and I want you to look at each other as you do... so he can see and understand who you belong to."

"No, you don't have to do that," Craig whispers, his voice coming in painful fits and starts. "Please, Kyle, it isn't worth it. You're worth more than any of this."

Damien lets go of me then, prompting me to look up. He watches from above, and it's as if we've never been apart, not when I'm at his feet again; forced to my knees.

"I'll let you decide, little one," he says. "Just know that there are very real consequences for the decisions you make."

Coldness is once again moving through me, turning me numb, and in an instant all of those days in the sun start to disappear one by one, and despite the way my heart is crumbling, I ignore Craig's pleas and the sobs of Tricia and Ike behind me. Trying to turn off my thoughts, I obey, pulling the hair from my neck and baring it, watching Craig and dying inside to see the misery in his eyes; consuming him.

Damien sighs, reaching to ghost his cold hand over my neck; soft and searching. "You didn't let him take you completely," he whispers like he's in a psychotic ecstacy. "On some level you wanted to come back...I can feel it."

"No, never," I whisper, cringing when he continues to pet me. "I never wanted to come back."

He laughs, kneeling to look in my eyes. "Lost creatures always find their way home, don't they? Back where they belong... if you give them enough time. That's all you needed, after all. Time."

"Please," I sob, breaking.

He shushes me, kissing my mouth, biting down hard enough to draw blood; licking it away, making me taste it, too. "Be still and let me enjoy you for a moment, my love. It's been so long, and I've dreamed of this moment; having you back, and this time I'm never letting you go. I'll kill you before that happens."

Chapter Text

In my field of paper flowers
And candy clouds of lullaby (Flowers)
I lie inside myself for hours
And watch my purple sky fly over me (Flowers)

Don't say I'm out of touch
With this rampant chaos, your reality
I know well what lies beyond my sleeping refuge
The nightmare

I build my own world to escape

- Evanescence, Imaginary

----

44 days I have been held here

I will never see the light of day
Please save me from reckless, violent hearts
Bodies rest in graves of cold concrete

- Mr Kitty, 44 Days


My hands are bound for the trip; tightly behind my back. Damien sits across from me in the limo, looking out the window as we move away from everything I hold dear; Craig, Tricia -

"Ike," I whisper, hanging my head and crying quietly.

I'd been given a choice and I decided to leave him behind, because I couldn't imagine bringing him back to Damien's; it was simply too cruel a prospect.

Ike had cried for me as I'd been dragged away, reaching for me as Tricia hugged him from behind, her face broken from pain as well.

"I told you he could've stayed with you," Damien murmurs. "I honored your decision."

Hanging my head, I can't speak for a moment because I'm sobbing too hard. "I didn't want him to see me like this... I'd never be able to explain, it would only hurt him."

Damien hums, tapping a finger over and over on the armrest. "And how do you think you'd appear to him, Kyle? What do you think he'd see when looking at you now?"

Looking up, he's out of focus for a moment because of the tears in my eyes but I blink them away.

"He'd see a prisoner," I say faintly. "He'd see a brother who's been damned by his dynamic and sold like cattle to a monster. He'd see someone who's destined to be bred and controlled for the rest of his life."

Dropping my eyes, I shut them tightly. "He wouldn't see me anymore... he'd only see what you've turned me into."

There's quiet while I sob, until Damien gently says, "I wouldn't have let him come to harm in my household, Kyle. Yes, I would've kept you two separated until we'd handled our personal affairs but he would've been looked after; taken care of. I assure you."

"I don't want you to take care of him!" I yell, staring at him with hate and fear and rage, so much rage. It's burning me on the inside. "I don't want you anywhere near him! He doesn't deserve to be exposed to someone as disgusting as you!"

He nods, looking away again. His face relaxes into a mask that's utterly inscrutable, and I don't care enough to try and guess at what's beneath his surface. Instead I cry, shifting my arms but my wrists are too tightly bound; so much that I think I can feel blood slipping down my hands.

I still try to get free, though; struggling despite the pain it causes. 

Seeing the mansion again fills me with stark terror, like a monster's jaws are slowly opening and I'm willingly walking into them to perpetuate my own consumption. I start to shake even before my door is opened, and I resist with everything I have as Damien drags me from the car, frantic like an animal; rearing back and biting viciously at him.

I manage to catch his arm and sink my teeth in, biting deep before he slaps me so hard across the face that my ears ring. Expressionless, he rears back to slap me again, over and over until I can barely see straight. Through my daze, I can feel him dragging me into the foyer and throwing me onto the floor, where I curl on my side and hide my face, shivering.

"Take him and see that he's cleaned and dressed in something proper," he tells someone, but I refuse to look up; my mouth metallic with blood; tears and mucous mixing and becoming viscous on my face.

"Yes, master," a soft voice replies, making me clench tighter.

Bebe.

I'm more cooperative with her but I'm still very hard to lead when she has me rise from the floor, putting an arm around me while guiding me up the stairs.

"Please," I whisper. "Please don't make me go back up there...I can't... I'll do anything..."

"Shhh," she hushes me, her face carefully blank.

I'm expecting her to lead me back to my room so when she doesn't I balk, digging my heels in when she turns down an unfamiliar passage, and Damien's smell becomes even stronger, choking me.

"No, don't take me to his room. No! No!" Twisting, I fight, nearly falling but she hauls me back up.

"I don't have a choice," she snaps. "Now stop acting like a child!"

"But you do have a choice, you do! All of you!" I yell, slackening. "And you know it!"

"Kyle," she sighs. "Please, this isn't easy for me... you have to understand that."

Dissolving into sobs, I can't answer; moving when she moves me but feeling so much weight in my heart and chest that I can hardly keep my feet. We're in a dark hall that seems to go on forever until she stops at a set of mammoth double doors.

"Let's just get through this," she mutters, throwing the door wide and I'm drawn through, head down. Damien's smell is so strong in here that it's making me nauseated and weak, but most of all is the terrible sense of what's growing in me, the warmth; the terrible aching fire wrapping itself around my bones.

"I don't have a lot of time," I plead. "My Heat is coming, I can feel it, and you know what Damien wants when it happens... he's going to force me to have his child. You need to help me escape -"

Voice thick, Bebe comes around and places her hands on my shoulders. Her eyes are red, her lips tight. "Listen to me, please. The Master will find you wherever you go... you could run to the ends of the earth and he'd still find you. You'd always be running and when you weren't you'd be looking over your shoulder. Kyle, you need to give in! You're lucky he's letting me care for you at all because he wanted to choose someone else, someone who'd have no problem hurting you to make you obey - just let me help you in the way that I can; the way I'm allowed."

"I'd run forever if it meant getting away from him," I snarl, fighting my restraints and biting back a whimper when they cut deeper. Sinking to my knees I'm almost blind with grief and fury. "Craig...I want to be with him...I don't want to be here!"

Quietly, she slips behind me and checks my wrists, sucking a breath between her teeth. "These are going to get infected if I don't get them cleaned up."

"As soon as you remove the ropes I'm running for the door," I hiss.

"It's locked," she replies simply. "And there are guards stationed outside. I'm not even sure if he'll let you go to the garden anymore." Letting out a frustrated sound she begins to untie me. "I can't believe you tried to run away... fool, you're a fool. What were you thinking?!"

"If you were in my position you would've done the same thing, don't say you wouldn't."

It's with some effort that my bonds are untied, and just like I promised I rise and run to the door, fighting with the knob but finding it locked, just like she'd told me, but I still try. My sweaty hands yank on the knob, beat on the wood, frantic and screaming the whole time. Like a feral creature I'm mindless and focused on my terror and need to escape, forgetting everything else.

Finally I reach my limit, though, my hands throbbing from my efforts; wrists bleeding thickly from being tied, and I turn to look at Bebe with wide animal eyes; cornered.

Trapped. I'm completely, hopelessly trapped. It's terrifying, this idea, and it's like I'm sinking underwater where I can't catch my breath; like I'm suffocating.

She can't look me in the eyes when she approaches now, taking my arm and helping me to my feet. "At the very least we need to get you bathed and dressed. Hurry, the master won't be happy if he comes to check and you aren't ready."

"I don't care," I say, pulling but my strength is failing me now. "I hate him. I hate anyone who stands by and watches him do what he's doing and doesn't stop it... they're just as guilty as he is, if not worse."

I can tell I've wounded her because I can feel a new tension in her bearing, but she doesn't respond.

Before too long, I'm stripped of the sweater and dress that Tricia had given me, and I grope to keep the garments because they have Craig's scent on them.

"Don't, just let me keep them," I beg. "Just so I still have a piece of him, anything."

"They have to be burned," she says, and the pain is in her voice. "I'm sorry."

I'm crying again and becoming slack when I'm led to the full, shimmering tub, and when I step in I nearly scream at how hot the water is, like it'll peel the skin from me.

"He says you need to be cleaned as if you were never gone, like you were never touched by anyone else," she murmurs, imploring me to sit. I'm so immobilized by the pain that I sink, gasping and clawing at the slick porcelain.

I'm then scrubbed so roughly that I can't help but scream the entire time, fighting the brush she uses, the harsh bristles feeling like they're tearing me open. I'm held in place and I can see my blood, pink in the water, and I finally sink into a place in my head where the pain recedes but is always on the edge of my consciousness; looming like a faceless presence.

Exhaustion falls on me near the end, and I can barely stay upright when I'm helped from the bath and dried, skin aching -

I ache all over. Everywhere I've been touched hurts, but the pain in my heart is what makes every single step a trial.

It's like sliding back into the past as I'm prepared the way I used to be... rubbed with lotion and powdered; dressed in silk that's like a soft breath on my skin; hair dried and arranged the way Damien likes it; a soft white ribbon tying my curls back.

By the end I'm staring into space like I've simply disappeared, and when Bebe hugs me I can barely acknowledge she's there, only waking up when she's gone and the door is slowly opening -

Damien's scent assaults me before I see his face, and I'm moving away quickly; sliding off the huge, ornate bed with the blood red coverlet. Looking up,  I see that it has no canopy but has thick, solid posts of dark wood, the headboard intricately carved with cherubs who appear to be caught in righteous agony.

A chill travels up my spine as more of the room comes into focus. I'd been drifting and not paying attention, but I'm feeling sharper now that Damien is close again, and i can see that his chambers are the most involved of any room in the mansion; cavernous and dark, the walls lined with oil paintings of lurid religious scenes.

The fireplace almost takes up an entire wall, the mantle held up with large columns, and over top, high on the wall, is a portrait of a beautiful young woman with large green eyes. Her hands are folded in her lap and she's wearing a sumptuous white gown that bares her shoulders. Her long dark hair is the same shade of pitch black as Damien's; shiny and up in a bun to reveal a slender, pale neck.

The firelight crackles beneath this portrait, throwing shadows and filling the room with almost stifling warmth, but that could just be Damien's proximity to me... every step closer he takes makes it feel like my throat is closing up.

"Stay away," I say lowly. "Don't come near me."

"I won't touch you," he says, approaching more slowly now, almost like he's afraid to startle me. His eyes sweep over me, glinting. "You look lovely. Don't you feel better after your bath?"

"She scrubbed my skin until it bled," I reply, my voice breaking. I hug myself tightly. "She took away my clothes... she said you're going to have them burned."

"I am, yes," Damien relies, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt to reveal his throat. He also unbuttons his sleeves so he can roll them up. "Darling, those garments didn't suit you. They were beneath you."

"You don't give a damn about that," I growl, baring my teeth. "You wanted them gone because they smelled like Craig, which is exactly why I wanted to keep them!"

He mulls this over before nodding. "That's partially true."

He's so calm, eerily so, which only inflates my fury. "I've been with him, many times, and I loved it...I loved every second he touched me, every moment he made love to me. I slept beside him, did everything with him... we love each other completely, and loving him only reminds me of how much I hate you, you son of a bitch. I hate you more than I can even put into words... you make me sick, you make my skin crawl. If I could I'd tear out your heart and force it down your throat; anything, anything, to make you feel an ounce of the agony you've put me through!"

Breathing heavily, I stare at him but he's impassive, still moving around and seemingly making himself comfortable. Overwhelmed with ire and loathing, i pick up a heavy statue of an elk and hurl it at him, deeply dismayed when he moves out of the way. It shatters on the hardwood floor into a million pieces.

I pick up another object - a bulky vase - and prepare to launch it at him, but he holds up a hand. "Throw one more thing and I'll make sure you regret it. Don't force my hand."

I throw it anyway, hardly caring about threats. Why should I care about anything anymore? I've been ripped away from everything I love; everything precious. The only thing that lies ahead is pain and servitude; degradation and despair.

Little does he know that backing me into a corner and leaving me nothing is the worst possible scenario for him, not me. If I have nothing to lose anymore than that means I have no reason to behave.

He dodges this object as well, but only narrowly, and I can see that he's slowly becoming angry; eyes glowing and his jaw set.

"I warned you," he says lowly, reaching into a drawer in his side table. He pulls out a set of silver manacles and I can't help but flinch at the sight of them. Backing up, I look for something to throw when he starts toward me, but there's nothing within reach and I can't take my eyes off of the shackles in his hand.

"Stay still," he tells me, rounding the bed and making me retreat until I hit the wall, hands up to protect myself. "You earned this, you know you did. I had no intention of punishing you tonight...I merely wanted to help you get settled in your new room."

"This is your room," I spit, shaking now, a cold sweat sliding between my shoulder blades. "Not mine. Don't you have a dungeon you can throw me in? I'd prefer it to staying with you!"

"That mouth, how I've missed it," he sighs, reaching to touch my face, possibly my hair, but I lash out and try to bite him again. He pulls away quickly and with almost unnatural swiftness slams me hard against the wall, my head colliding with the wood and making me see stars for a moment. In my daze, I can't put up a fight when he whirls me around, my front pressed to the wall as he pulls my arms behind my back.

"No, stop! Stop!" I shriek, feeling the manacles being locked into place, cold and heavy. I try to pull my arms apart but they can barely move a few inches.

He's breathing deeply next to my ear as he presses his body weight against my back, hand sliding up my hip. I scream when he kisses my neck softly.

"Calm," he murmurs, biting my nape - only a little but enough to steal my breath. "Keep fighting and I'll do it right now, Kyle. Do you want to see if I'm kidding?"

I frantically shake my head.

"Good, now are you going to behave?"

"Only enough to get by," I snarl. "But I'm not calling you master...I refuse."

"As you wish." He pulls away and leaves me against the wall, still shackled but able to breathe a little easier with his presence gone. I turn, and I can see that he's going back to settling in, tossing aside things he's pulled from his pockets.

"I believe we'll take our supper in here tonight. What do you think, love?" He glances at me.

"If i have to eat with you than I'm not eating."

"Suit yourself."

I blink. He's being so calm, save for our last little altercation. It's making me even more uneasy than I'd normally be when confronted with him. Pushing from the wall with my shoulder, I tiptoe along the perimeter of the room, always keeping him in sight. He doesn't look at me, choosing instead to take up a book he'd had on the nightstand. He proceeds to take a seat on a large couch before the fire, crossing his legs.

"You may join me if you'd like," he calls. "I'll even start the book over and read to you. Would you enjoy that?"

Shrinking away, I say nothing. He has to know he's making me even more nervous by not retaliating the way he normally would.

That must be his angle. Lull me into a false sense of security and then lash out; draw me in close and then snare me like an insect in a spider's web. I stay quiet, watching. Evening is already falling outside and the draperies over the windows are heavy and let in very little light. The room is bathed in shadow and I sink into it, backing into a corner and watching Damien from afar.

"You must be tired," he says gently, not looking up. "After all, you've been through so much... you don't have to talk if you don't want to. I'll read to you as long as you like."

I still say nothing, sliding along the wall to sit on the floor. I pull my knees to my chest and try to twist so there's not as much pressure on my arms. I hear him sigh softly before opening the book. He begins to read, and I'm surprised that he has a very nice voice when telling a story. It seems to smooth the jagged edges of it, making it easier on the ear; almost dulcet.

The fire crackles softly as I listen, Damien's smooth voice like smokey music in the air, and the story is dense but interesting. It's about a man who becomes a convict after stealing bread to feed his sister's hungry family, and soon I'm so wrapped up in the tale that I start when there's a knock at the door.

"Enter," Damien calls, setting the book aside. He peers at me through the gloom and smiles softly. "If that's where you'd like to sit i can have cushions brought to you that will make it more comfortable."

I say nothing still, looking away from him to see Rebecca entering with a silver cart loaded with trays. I can smell the rich scent of beef, my impending Heat making me more sensitive to smells and more hungry than usual. I tell myself I'm going to resist.

Rebecca sets the food on a small table in an adjacent sitting room and departs after also cleaning up the remains of the objects I'd thrown, catching my eye for only a moment. She's lost weight, her face thin; eyes dim. She looks almost nothing like the girl she used to be. 

"Come along," Damien says, standing and going to the table. He waits, pulling out one of the chairs as well. "Please, I know you're hungry. I can smell it on you, and with your heat drawing closer -"

"No," I snap. "I told you I wouldn't eat with you."

"Then I'm afraid you'll have nothing because I won't make the servants do extra work on your behalf."

"Fine."

"If it's a matter of your hands not being of use to you right now, I could feed you or if you promised to behave -"

"Fuck you," I cut him off, all of my hate loaded in my voice.

He clears his throat and sits, unfurling his napkin and placing it in his lap. He pours deep red wine from a bottle that was on ice before speaking again.

"I would ask that you come nearer while I eat, then. I would enjoy your company very much."

I just snort, pushing back against the wall. A subtle twitch of his mouth is the only indication that he's at all displeased with my response, but he drinks his wine instead of coming after me. I wait with tensed muscles for the other shoe to drop but it doesn't come, and Damien tucks into his meal with vigor, the wonderful aromas wafting to me and making my mouth water.

I close my eyes and try to imagine myself far away, back with Craig and the others, eating fresh fish on the beach... watching the waves roll in, feeling my hand in his, the touch of his lips on my neck... loving me, wanting me.

A sob escapes and I shut my mouth, grinding my teeth together. Damien doesn't respond, continuing to eat. Soon his glass has been refilled again and his plate is nearly clean. He dabs at his lips with his napkin before looking toward me.

"Are you absolutely certain you don't want anything to eat?"

"The thought of food is nauseating with you around," I mutter, trying to ignore the pains in my shoulders, my skin; the way my arms have gone numb from being locked behind me.

He just shakes his head and drains the wine from his glass, standing to run a hand through his hair. Smiling again, he gives me a playful look before returning to the couch and the book. He opens it.

"Now where were we?" he asks pleasantly.

The hours pass slowly as he reads and the fire gutters. I begin to nod despite myself, the stresses of the day laying heavily on my shoulders. I hurt, though, and the lack of feeling in my arms is starting to get to me, as is my full bladder. I squirm, trying to find a more comfortable position, whimpering softly before I can help it.

"Do you need to relieve yourself?" Damien asks idly, making me flush hotly with sudden shame. "I can help if you'd like."

"I don't need anything from you," I bite out, awkwardly getting to my knees; stiff and tired. I struggle to get to my feet, graceless of course, but managing on my own. I stagger toward the bathroom and feel through the dark for the toilet, feeling foolish and going back to turn on the light.

Blinking, the light is too bright and I catch my reflection, looking away quickly to see myself in a white silk sheath dress that clings to me; wrists locked together at the small of my back.

I feel like such a ridiculous, lowly creature. Worse yet, I look like one, too. I look toward the toilet and bite my lip, squeezing my thighs together as my need to empty my bladder intensifies.

Groping with my numb fingers i try to lift my gown but it proves impossible, and soon I'm rubbing against the wall, the counter, trying to ease the thin fabric up enough to give me enough leeway to relieve myself without making a mess. I groan, the pain growing in my bladder and arms, until I'm almost crying because it's so frustrating. Having my arms locked is making what should be a simple task almost impossible, and it just reminds me of how terribly helpless I am in this situation.

And I'm sure Damien had anticipated this turn of events, just like everything else. Angry tears rise in my eyes but I refuse to let them fall.

"Are you sure you don't want my help?" Damien's voice wafts from the doorway, and I turn to look at him with abject hatred. He watches with impassive detachment, his eyes a muted merlot. "I really don't mind."

"I'm sure you don't," I say, my throat tight as I try to hold onto some of my dignity. I lean against the wall and look down, my hair falling into my face. I'm tensed because the urge is so strong to empty my bladder. I bite my lip as hard as i can but I can feel my resolve dying. Ashamed, I don't look up when I speak. "Please, I can't hold it anymore. It hurts."

"Poor, sweet baby," he says, coming to me and delicately taking a hold of my gown. He lifts it above my hips. "This is why I told Bebe not to put you in undergarments...I didn't want to complicate things for you."

"So you knew you'd be shackling me," I mutter, my voice lost as I try to pretend this isn't happening.

"I had a feeling," he replies, helping me to the toilet so I can sit. He steps back but doesn't leave.

I can't help but start to cry quietly as I continue to hide my face. "Can't you go away? I don't want you to watch me!"

"Why are you crying? I don't think any less of you because you have needs just like everyone else."

"I don't care!" I shout brokenly, looking up to meet his eyes. "This is humiliating and you know it! Just go away!"

"If that's what you'd prefer," he says, tugging one of my curls lightly before finally leaving.

It takes a while for me to feel comfortable enough to do my business, knowing Damien can hear and hating it; hating everything. I finish, though, and wait, trying to collect myself before rising, unable to lower my dress but at least being capable of flushing.

Wanting to hide forever, I hold my head up as I come back into the room, feeling him watching -
Knowing he's smiling, too. My bottom half is bare and chilled, exposing everything. I slink back to my corner and sit, appalled to see a soft cushion waiting for me to rest on.

"I hate you so much," I mutter.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he replies, going back to the book. "I can't say that I feel that way about you. If anything, I'd have to admit I'm obsessively devoted to you."

I say nothing. He starts to read again, melodious voice like fingers dragging down my skin. I shift, my skirt easing somewhat over my hips. I sag and lay my head against the wall, my eyes closing.

I don't realize I've fallen asleep until I'm being lifted and cradled next to a warm chest, and in the watery dreams I'm floating in, I think it's Craig holding me, loving me....

I moan, rubbing my cheek against this warmth, until an unwanted aroma meets my nose and I wake up with a horrified gasp. I begin to panic and struggle, but Damien tries to sooth me, rocking me like a babe in arms, and I'm fighting harder.

"No, I don't want this from you! I don't want anything from you!" I cry, pushing against him. "All you do is hurt me... you enjoy it... you thrive on it! I hate you! I want Craig, let me have Craig again, please! I'll do anything!"

Sobbing, I collapse against him; spent and afraid and aching. "Please... just take me back to Craig...I love him. I need him. He needs me too, and so does Ike. I just want them, and Tricia; not you."

I can feel him kissing my curls, murmuring words of what he thinks is love, telling me he adores me; wants nothing more than me. I cry harder.

"Oh, my love, my dear one," he sighs. "You're so tired, I know. So tired and so lost, and you've been led astray... your head has been filled with so much conflicting information, but I'll help to clear it. I'll take care of you, forever...I want to, and I need you to take care of me. We need each other... we're both so alone, can't you see that? Can't you feel it? It's in everything we do... that emptiness."

"The only emptiness i know of is inside of you," I whisper. "You're a void, a black hole... that's all you'll ever be."

Kissing my head, he holds me tighter. My head lolls against him. "That isn't true... I'll prove it to you. You'll see... you'll see. I know you will."

Slackening, I fall into my mind and grope for memories of my time on the coast, standing in the sun. I disappear, becoming removed, even as Damien continues to hold me.

"We'll sleep now," he murmurs, pulling back the covers to try and tuck me in, and I frantically push against him; wild like a wounded animal; a poor, untamed thing that can't stand to be touched by the diseased hand of man.

"No! I'll sleep on the floor, just don't make me lie next to you!" I sob. "Please, I'm begging!"

Sighing, he relents and slides to the floor, cradling me as he places me on the soft rug next to the massive bed. Trembling, I curl up like a petrified dog, folding into myself and just wishing him far, far away.

He strokes my curls softly before moving away, and I'm grateful for this respite until I feel something cold clamping around my ankle. I suck in a breath, feeling like I'm drowning when I see the manacle around my ankle to match the one on my wrists. I yank my foot hard, and a long chain skitters on the floor like a silvery serpent. I start to breathe heavily, almost feeling faint.

"Be still and calm yourself," he says, gazing down at me. "This isn't a punishment...I just want to keep you safe from yourself. If you need anything, let me know, and I'll come to you."

Losing myself completely, I begin to scream, loud, shrill shrieks until my voice fails me, and when it does, I swallow until my voice comes back, and I'm screaming again; throat burning like fire.

Damien stands and watches me, eyes like bloodshed in the dim room, but he doesn't relent. He seems resigned to this, almost like this is his divine calling, to make me bend until I snap; to break me.

"Get some sleep," he says gently. "Things always look brighter in the morning."

------

Even though I'm exhausted, the night passes slowly. I doze on and off, hiding under the blanket Damien gave me, my head nestled in the pillow he'd also provided...

My dreams are agonizing, filled with Craig, my brother, hearing Tricia promising me that she'll look after Ike for as long as it takes. I keep seeing Craig laid out on the forest floor, bleeding profusely, and I ache for him, yearn for him... calling for him in a voice that seems strangled.

"Craig, Craig, Craig," I whisper, curling deeper into myself. "Help me... come get me... even if I'm weak and pathetic and stupid. Please...."

"Kyle?"

Damien speaks, and I immediately shut my mouth, trembling. I pray he'll leave me be, but I can imagine him coming to my side and pulling me from my blanket, yanking up my skirt and taking me again and again; fucking me until I scream and I bleed from raw, broken flesh -

"Oh, please," I beg, huddling in the darkness. "I'll go to sleep, I'll stop crying -"

Pressure falls on my side and the surprise is painful when it hits, adrenaline flooding me and burning to the ends of my fingers; making them throb. I ready myself to be attacked but it doesn't come, the pressure warm and soft as it strokes my side.

"Just sleep," Damien murmurs. "You're safe... you're adored. I'll stay here and keep watch. Do you want to get in bed? Nothing is going to happen if you do."

Desperately, I shake my head. "No, I can't. I'll stay here and I'll be quiet. Just go away."

"Are you sure?"

I nod, and even though I'm hidden under the blanket Damien seems to understand. He takes his hand away. "Dear little one," he murmurs. "I want to love you, even if you don't want me to. Even if you don't want me... but you will. I know you will."

I shut my eyes and look for pretty things in the darkness... the sea, the sun; roses...a long road winding through the most beautiful, peaceful country. Just for me, just for me.

Eventually, Damien finally leaves, but I can still feel the weight of him on me... his presence. He's all around me again, sinking into my mind and my dreams; everywhere, going on forever.

-----

I'm stiff and cold when I wake the next morning, curled into myself, my arms still locked behind me. I'm numb in so many places but that doesn't stop the pain... no, the pain endures because it always finds a way, doesn't it?

When I peek from the blanket I can see scant sunlight falling through the drapes, and the fire is already flickering. I don't hear anything else but that doesn't mean anything. Once again, my bladder is full, and I lie there for several minutes loathing my weak, needy body.

"I know you're awake," Damien says, and he sounds very close. I huddle, trying to hide, but he pulls the blanket away to expose me to the chilled air. "Come on. I'll help you up and get you washed."

"I don't want your help."

"That's unfortunate, I'm going to assist you anyway. Stop being foolish."

I resist but it doesn't make a difference; he reaches and pulls me to my feet after removing my ankle chain, catching me when I sway and almost fall. He chuckles, kissing my forehead, and I'm swept into his arms and carried across the floor.

I struggle but he places his teeth on my nape. Becoming still, he explains what's going to happen before he does it.

"I'm going to take off your shackles and you're going to obey. If you don't, I'll hold you down and bite you - you'll be mine, a mindless, little doll. Is that what you want?"

I snarl. "Are you listening to yourself? You're admitting that the only way I'll stay with you is if you force me to be with you. Don't you have any fucking dignity?"

His eyes smolder before he grabs my nape, hard; fingers sinking in and I can feel myself relaxing against my will. "Obey. I don't want to hurt you but I will to make a point - even if I care deeply for you."

With that, he holds my nape and refuses to leave as I use the toilet, shaming me as I urinate. After that he runs a bath and he washes me himself, stoic as he runs the water hotter and hotter.

"He's still all over you, I can smell him everywhere... in your hair, on your hands," he mutters, scrubbing harder. I blank out during this and come to when he's dressing me; once again in something frail and light.

"I love being able to see you," he sighs, running his fingers, his nails, down the slope of my back.

That's when I try to attack him again and he slams me to the floor, his knee on the small of my back and digging in, making me whine until I wind down like a sluggish clock. He only gets up after he's nipped my back and slipped the manacles back on.

"You'll learn, it's early yet," he says, leading me over to the table and forcing me into a seat where he tries to get me to eat breakfast. I resist, tilting my head away when he offers everything we've been served; ham, fruit, waffles -

"No!" I yell, purposely knocking into the table so half the plates fly off. He slams down his fork and I can tell he's actively holding in the impulse to slap me mercilessly across the face.

"You need to eat," he growls. "Your Heat is coming and -"

"I don't care! Let me go!" Rising, I kick over my chair and send it across the floor. I bump my hip against the table and relish the way the rest of the plates shiver. I want to destroy everything I touch, especially him. I move to hit it again, but Damien jumps from his chair and knocks me back, pushing me onto the floor so he's on me; holding me down.

"Help me!" I howl, writhing and throwing myself from side to side. "Someone! Please!"

He slams a hand on my mouth and I try to bite at it, and that's when he takes a hold of my hair, viciously yanking my head to the side, exposing my neck.

"I should kill you, it'd be so fucking easy," he says, an edge in his voice that's new; pure, unbridled rage. It makes me freeze, staring up at him. He appears unhinged and I can't help but laugh, long and loud; right in his face.

"Weak, you're so weak!" I crow, laughing harder.

Lifting his hand, he makes it seem like he's going to slam his fist into my face, but he stops at the last moment, and he climbs off of me instead. He sits for a moment, catching his breath, and then he rises. He storms from the room and when he comes back Bebe is with him.

"Clean all of this up, clear the room," he says, indicating the breakfast food, the dishes. "No, wait. The juice and water jugs, put them over there."

Wordlessly, Bebe does as instructed, placing the drinks next to the fireplace, moving to stoke the fire but stopping as soon as Damien tells her to step away.

"Do what I said and clean everything up, then leave us. And," he adds, "if I find out you've come back to this room at any time, without my direct permission, I will fire you and make sure you never find another job in this area. You'll be blacklisted. Do you understand?"

She nods, hurrying to obey and then leaving. She doesn't look at me at all.

Damien, however, gives me a cold stare before he comes to me and drags me back to the bed, snapping the chain around my ankle again and tugging on it to make sure it's secure. He checks the chains on my wrists as well and they're tight as can be without completely cutting off my circulation.

Kneeling before me, he takes a hold of my hair and forces me to look at him; eyes bright, savage. They cut into me.

"I'll be leaving you on your own today while I attend to business," he says. "You are to entertain yourself, and I expect you to have a better attitude by the time I return tonight. Is that clear?"

Biting my lip, I try to pull away but he holds me fast; tangling his fingers deeper into my curls. I groan in pain.

"Answer me. Now!"

"Fine!" I shout in his face. "Go! You'll be doing me a favor!"

He smiles but it's jagged, broken; like a mirror that's been dropped. "That remains to be seen."

Pushing me down, he leaves the room and I can hear the door being locked. It isn't long before I'm on my feet, going to the door to press my ear against it, listening.

All is silent except my quick breath and rapid heart, but I hear nothing from the hall. Turning, I grab the door knob and try to twist it, but it doesn't budge.

Of course, but I already knew it was locked. Still, it was worth a try. I kick the door and look around the room, thirsty from screaming and panting. My eyes fall on the pitchers that had been left and I go to them, almost falling when I reach the end of my chain.

The pitchers are just out of reach, even when I strain against my chains. I look around for something to draw them toward me, but there's nothing at hand that will be of help.

This is when reality starts to sink in, and I try to walk to the bathroom. This too, is just out of my reach, and the horror is building in me. Already my bladder feels heavy, full, and I'm frantic to find a way out, but there is none.

All I have at my disposal is the rug next to the bed, my blanket and pillow, and the bed itself. I run to check the bedside tables but they're empty.

And Damien had said he'd be gone all day, and the day's barely begun...

"Son of a bitch," I mutter, forcing myself to slow my breaths. I sink onto my rug, refusing to use the bed. I clench my teeth and try to think, to plan, but what can I possibly do? There's no where to go. There's no one to help me.

He's trying to make me crack, I know this. It isn't like he's hard to read, but goddammit, how am i supposed to fight against all of this?

But I suppose that's the point, isn't it? I'm not supposed to fight, I'm meant to crumble. Leaning against the bed, I stare at the ceiling and try to lose myself, but I'm so afraid... I'm lonely, and....

"I just want you, Craig," I whisper, beginning to dissolve, pressing my face into my knees. "Please, I need you, and Ike and Tricia... anyone..."

I hate myself for being weak, and I cry until I feel wilted and hot and tired. Sinking onto my side, my stomach grumbles and I curl tighter, trying to empty my head.

I can do this. I just have to be strong, even if I don't feel strong... if I pretend long enough it'll become true.

Won't it?

---

I never realized how many hours there are in a day.

I mean, I guess I've never really had to think about it because even in my darkest moments I always had something to distract myself from how slowly time passes....

Books, music, writing; the garden. Dreaming. There's always been something to focus on, but not today. I try to sleep for as long as I can but I can only doze for so long, and when I wake up I'm back in that silent room, cut off from the world and reminded of my pain, and oh, the quiet; the deep, relentless quiet that forces me to be alone with my thoughts.

My body is agony, from my swollen, cut up wrists to my aching shoulders; the bruises on my face and how harshly my skin has been scrubbed. Worst of all is my bladder, and as much as I try to ignore it it feels like it's filling up fuller and fuller; bulging like it's going to burst like the udder of a cow that isn't milked in a timely fashion.

When sleep proves impossible i try to recite poetry to myself, and stories. I sing all the songs I can recall and compose letters in my head that I'll probably never get to send, and through it all my bladder plagues me, my head throbs, and the silence is threatening my sanity.

I watch the sunlight crawl across the floor and it's so slow, like taffy oozing on a hot summer sidewalk, and I challenge myself not to look at it for a while, excited to see how much its shifted but it always seems to stay the same.

I try standing and pacing, and that helps for a while until the pressure in my bladder makes me stop, succumbing and sinking to my knees and praying for relief, almost wishing that Damien will come back and show me some sort of mercy, but that makes me so angry that I berate myself for my weakness.

It isn't until the room becomes a little darker that I begin giving up and start screaming into the blank void around me, squeezing my thighs hard together and beginning to tremble and sweat: cold but almost feeling feverish. My voice echos around the room, surrounding me, and I keep going until it dies in my throat; panting before I can muster up the strength to start again.

By the end I'm begging in a small whisper to be released from this agony, and I close my eyes and imagine i can hear the door opening, but it never does, and finally I begin to sob like a little child as I give in and let go, the wetness seeping from me and ruining my gown, the rug beneath me, and when I'm done I'm shivering and babbling to myself, nearly incoherent when the door finally creaks open, and I'm crying anew, shoving my face into the side of the bed.

The quiet is an eternity when I hear footsteps approach, and I can't look up because I've been shamed, left to soil myself because that's how little power I've been afforded.

"Sweet Kyle, my love, my darling," Damien says, kneeling to touch my shoulder. I cringe away and he makes quiet sounds to calm me, reaching to stroke my nape before pressing his fingers there. I don't fight, cold and wet and unable to look at him. "Here, I'll help clean you up, and then you can have something nice for dinner. I'll read to you, too. Would you like that?"

All I can do is sob, and I don't fight when he releases me. He doesn't even shy away from my ruined gown, taking me into his arms to carry me to the bathroom, where he draws a warm bath. He adds rose-scented salts to the water and undresses me carefully, rubbing my aching shoulders when I lean against the side of the tub.

I stare blankly at the water, thoroughly humiliated and so deeply tired it's all I can do not to fall asleep right there.

He bathes me tenderly, whispering soft praise in my ear, before drying me and dressing me in a warmer, more substantial gown. After, he coaxes me to eat a little dinner, hot soup and bread, before I begin resisting again. He clucks his tongue and scratches behind my ear, wiping my mouth and kissing my lips.

I just stare into space, lost. I allow myself to be taken to the couch where he continues the story from before, and I fall fast asleep with my head in his lap, drifting and trying to forget everything; my name, my existence -

My unspeakable shame.

Later, Damien helps me from the couch but doesn't try to force me into bed, gesturing to a new rug and a freshly cleaned floor as he snaps on my manacles.

"Bebe came into clean while you were napping," he says cheerfully before nuzzling my temple. I pull away quickly, almost snapping at him but stopping myself. He's patient, though, and doesn't chastise me. "Lie down, love, you've had such a long day, haven't you?" He stops, peering at me. "Do you need to use the facilities before I tuck you in?"

Like glass being driven into a wound, i know he's trying to make a point, and I feel hot, the warmth spreading from my cheeks to my throat. I shake my head.

"Fine, go on, then, and I'll make sure you're comfortable. Unless you'd like to get into bed -"

I shake my head more vigorously. He laughs softly and pats my cheek. I sink and curl up on the rug in the fetal position, not resisting when he snaps the chain around my ankle. Covering me with a blanket, I retreat into it until I hear him walk away.

-----

The next morning is almost identical to the first, after I've awoken with fresh, unbridled fury. This time, though, Damien isn't as reluctant to use force, and he slaps me across the face after having to tackle me to the ground again.

"You need to learn," he mutters, holding me down. "And I'm going to make you, do you hear me?"

I snap at him and he rears back to slap me again, catching me with his garnet ring and making me yelp when it cuts my cheek. Tears gather in my eyes and I crumple slightly. He sighs. Gently, he wipes the blood from my face with his thumb.

"Foolish thing, why are you being this way? You can't win; I won't let you."

"Let me go," I reply defiantly, but this time I visibly wince when he draws back to strike me. He stops and smiles, cupping my aching cheek and gazing into my eyes.

"Better. I'll take little improvements... they add up over time. Besides, you know i like your fire, so long as it's reasonably controlled."

Moving off of me, he straightens his impeccable shirt, black and sleek, before looking at me with affection.

"I'm going to be out again today. I trust you can keep yourself occupied."

I try to keep the panic from my face, glancing toward the bathroom far across the room, and he crosses his arms, watching me thoughtfully.

"I guess you didn't enjoy having an accident yesterday."

I grit my teeth, wanting to point out that this is a profoundly stupid and obvious comment, but I stay quiet.

Sliding a hand through his hair, he continues to ruminate before touching my cheek softly. I flinch and his eyes brighten.

"I'll lengthen your chain so you can use the bathroom. Would you like that?"

I nod, dying little by little on the inside.

"But I want a favor in return," he adds, narrowing his eyes.

"What?" I say, unable to keep the bite from my tone.

He glances toward the bed. "You'll sleep beside me tonight."

Enraged, I almost lunge at him. "Never!"

He's smooth when he shrugs, turning away. "Have it your way. I think i should add I'll be out later today. See you tonight."

He moves to the door, making no indication that he's going to change his mind, and I'm biting my tongue so hard tears are coming to my eyes. His hand touches the knob and something twists deep in my gut, and I can hear myself crying out his name.

He turns, regarding me passively.

Lips trembling, the shame and humiliation are vivid in me as i remember the day before, being reduced to a wayward child without dignity.

"Please, I'll... I'll sleep in bed with you. Just don't leave me alone without... just," I falter, wishing I could cover my face with my hands. "Please."

In an instant, he's pleased again, and he tries to reach for me but I move quickly away. "Don't. Just don't."

"Fine, I'll give you your space for now." Moving past me, he unlocks my chain and adds more slack, looping it back around the thick post of the huge bed. I look at it with mounting fear, dreading the evening i can't stop from coming.

The day passes as excruciatingly slow as the one before it, even with my added freedom of being allowed to use the bathroom like a civilized human being. Without anything to keep myself occupied, I doze and lie on the floor, trying to find shapes in the shadows on the ceiling. I hum and make up more stories in my head, wishing I had a pen and paper to write them down.

My stomach growls because I refused to eat very much, and by the end of that long, miserable day I'm so bored and lonely that it's physically painful.

Damien sweeps in eventually to find me listlessly lying on the floor, trying to make myself sleep. He looks down at me with that thoughtful expression again.

"Why don't we have a nice dinner together and then we can continue our book. How does that sound?"

I roll my eyes, rising to my feet. I don't want to admit that having something to do, even if it involves Damien, is a welcome change of pace compared to absolutely nothing.

I'm resistant to eating again which displeases Damien.

"You aren't proving anything by starving yourself," he says, offering me a bite; feeding me by hand because my hands are still shackled. "And I know you're hungry because your Heat is growing."

"That's exactly why I don't want to eat. I want to make my body as inhospitable as possible," I retort, stomach clenching and yearning for the delicious food being offered.

He slowly sets down his fork, visibly becoming elevated, but he stays calm. "Well, I've had enough. How about reading in front of the fire, hmm?"

I roll my eyes and look away. It's not as if I have a choice.

I refuse to lay my head in his lap that night but he doesn't comment, reading aloud late into the evening. I'm just glad that the story is exciting and very long, deriving meager comfort from this if nothing else.

He stops when I begin to nod, stroking my face to wake me. "Time for bed," he murmurs, watching me with a disconcerting hunger. "You ready?"

I'm awake instantly, sliding off the couch and moving away. "I'm not ready for this," I say, looking toward the bed, the manacles feeling tighter than ever. With those on i won't be able to fight him off at all.

Standing, he advances on me. "You promised, Kyle. Remember, a favor for a favor?"

"How is what you did a favor?" I ask brokenly. "You only made it so I can use the toilet like a person instead of an animal... it's the least that you could've done."

"Is it really that simple, though?" He asks. "What i did was give you back a piece of your dignity... even after you questioned whether I have dignity of my own. I would say that's vital to the human spirit. What do we really have without it?"

I begin to cry, it's almost like I'll never run out of tears where Damien is concerned. His logic is just so twisted and backwards, but he manages to make the most bizarre, cruel actions make a perverted sense.

Oh, how i hate him.

"Have honor, Kyle," he adds quietly. "Follow through with the things you say you'll do."

"I'd prefer the floor, thanks."

He sighs, beginning to unbutton his shirt slowly.

"Very well, but that's going to have consequences. First, I'll take your rug and your pillow, you may keep the blanket for now, and tomorrow you'll go back to soiling yourself like a filthy little animal. Does that sit well with you?"

Moving back, i hit the wall and hang my head, unspeakably weary and exhausted by all of this; mind games, manipulation. He doesn't even have to touch me and he's hurting me.

"How can you say you want to love me if you're willing to treat me this way?" I ask faintly, desperately. "Everything you're doing flies in the face of love... this can't even be considered decent."

Coming over, his shirt is open, revealing his long torso, and he considers me a moment before speaking; gently taking a hold of my chin. "You ran from me... and not just away, but to another Alpha. You were with him, and you glory in that; throwing it in my face. You delighted in hurting me not only with the action itself but speaking of it after the fact."

Growling softly, he brushes a thumb across my lip. "Many Alphas in my position would've killed you outright, or they would've thrown you into the street after killing your lover, but I've done neither. I've brought you back, and to nicer accommodations than you had before... because I adore you, and I want you near."

"Yes, I need to be harsh with you, because you're undisciplined, you're disrespectful and reckless. I want to make you better than what you are, and take care of you in a way that fits your station, but if I have to burn the field to reap the fruit, I will. My actions are only a result and direct response to your actions, Kyle."

"So, to put it plainly, I'm being exceedingly tolerant and forgiving in this regard. Many wouldn't blame me for simply tearing out your throat. Now," he points toward the bed. "What is your decision? I'm tired and I don't want to discuss this all night... I'm growing weary of the subject already."

Looking from him to the bed, it takes everything in me not to snarl and bite the way I want to, but he's shown me what happens in those cases. If I use force, he counters with more force; if I try to withdraw, he withholds basic dignities.

He's thought of everything. He always does.

I hang my head. "Please don't do anything... just let me sleep."

He lets me go. "I have no intention of taking you tonight, Kyle."

Walking away, he continues to undress, his sleep attire a pair of soft linen pants and no shirt. He turns down the bed and looks at me, waiting.

I can feel pieces of my heart crumbling as I slowly make my way over, and as soon as I'm chained again, I lie down in the cool sheets and he covers me, touching my cheek afterward. Damien climbs in beside me but doesn't draw me near, not saying a word when I scoot to the edge as far as I can go, huddled and shaking -

Waiting.

He merely yawns and douses the light. "Pleasant dreams, my love."

-----

Time becomes strange in the following days, because they all seem to blend together; a series of monotonous events and hours that are unremarkable but also crushing.

The routine becomes set: awaken after a night spent next to Damien, being bathed and dressed, breakfast, and then I'm chained to the bed (arms still locked as well), and then I'm subjected to agonizing hours of loneliness and boredom until Damien returns. We have dinner and then he reads to me until I'm too tired to keep my eyes open -

The same thing, every single day.

It isn't long before i start to splinter from the solitude and fear; the worry and anxious anticipation of what's going to happen next. Damien only hits me when I lash out, but even that's died down because I don't have the same energy I once did.

What's even more frightening is that I've almost started looking forward to his return at the end of the day, and even though i try to hide it, i know he can tell. My scent changes, becomes lighter, when he walks through the door.

He feeds me out of his hand, still annoyed that I will only take very little, but he seems so pleased with himself and why shouldn't he be? He has all the power.

I try to amuse myself by making up stories and pacing, trying to escape into my head, but I can only do so much. I've even started talking to myself to keep the silence at bay, but I'm falling so far that sometimes I don't recognize my own voice, and the memories I once clung to don't really make me happy anymore. They just make me sad and serve as reminders of how horrible my situation really is.

What can I do? What can I possibly do to save myself? I don't regret my time with Craig at all, but it hurts to remember that sort of happiness....

It hurts to remember anything before all of this. That was truly another life, another Kyle. I don't really even know who I am anymore... I'm starting to think I don't want to.

The tides begin to turn when Damien looks at me strangely one evening, the glow in his eyes deep and flickering like faraway little flames. He brushes fingers over my throat, squeezing the swollen glands there and I whine softly, almost moving to nuzzle against him.

"Very soon," he murmurs. "You're right on that edge, my love."

It's true, my Heat is almost here. The hunger and fire are growing in me, as is my compulsion to begin nesting and hiding; body aching and waking up with that deep, frantic need. I look down.

"It's said that omegas are at their most appealing right before their heat," he muses. "Would you agree with that?"

I say nothing. I've learned that silence is usually safe - most of the time.

"You've been doing very well the past week," he adds, scratching behind my ear; that little spot he's managed to find that feels so soothing when touched. I sit still but I want to squirm, push closer.

Bastard.

"So well," he continues, "that i think you deserve a reward."

I finally look up, flashing my teeth to make him aware that I'm listening but my animosity hasn't waned. He gives me an affectionate smile.

"We didn't really have an occasion to celebrate your homecoming properly, so I've arranged a dinner party for tomorrow."

I look up, ears pricked. "A what?"

"A dinner party. For you. Doesn't that sound nice?"

I stare at him. Yes, the idea of seeing other people is very appealing, as is getting out of this room for a while, but I know him too well. This is most likely just another one of his cruel games.

Shaking my head, I manage to keep my tone respectful when I reply. "No, thank you. I'd prefer not to attend."

He laughs. "Silly thing, I'm not giving you a choice; I just wanted you to be aware. Besides, you'll have fun... it's a change of pace, and I know you need that more than anything."

The break in our routine comes swiftly and jars me from my stupor, beginning early the next morning. I'm awoken to an empty room and Bebe tending the fire, and for a moment I feel like I've gone back in time.

She turns to look at me and I can see the pity in her eyes, the sadness, but she approaches this development with a resignation typical of her personality. She helps me rise and removes my chains, making no comment as she does. I'm so embarrassed to be seen this way that I don't address it either, hoping we can both pretend that the shackles simply don't exist.

She coaxes me to eat a little and then I'm bathed in soothing warm water; hair washed with fruity smelling shampoo, and then I'm rubbed with lotion, oil... but there's something off about today's preparations.

I first notice the deviance from the norm when she lays out undergarments radically different from what I've worn in the past. I stare at them.

"You can't really...I mean," I say, blushing hot. "You have to be joking."

"Master's orders," she mutters, picking up the panties with obvious distaste.

They're made of delicate golden lace and fit snugly on my hips when she slides them on me. The material curves under my ass, almost accentuating the roundness of my cheeks, but there's nothing to cover my backside properly; it's fully exposed, the same for my front, my privates on full display where the filmy lace splits. A satin bow is attached to the band in back, right above where the opening is, only drawing more attention to it.

I might as well be naked for all the cover they provide. I glare at her.

"What's going on? I'm not wearing these; I can't believe i even let you put them on me."

"The Master told me you'll be beaten with a whip if you don't obey," she says, laying out golden sandals with long satiny straps. "Please, Kyle. Just don't argue. I'll be beaten, too... or turned out."

"We could run right now, you and me," I say, becoming desperate; my scent changing to fear on a dime.

"Here," she sighs, lifting my foot to place the sandal on it; she places the other one as well. She then begins laboriously tying them up my calves, the soft ribbons winding until they reach just above my knees.

"I don't understand. Why is he making me wear these things? He said it was just going to be a dinner party," I say, my throat tightening. "I mean, I know I'll wear a gown as well, but -"

She gives me a long look then, and all of my terror resurfaces. I cling to her apron and cry, begging her not to be a party to whatever Damien's planning.

She hugs me, finally letting down her guard, and she apologizes with tears in her voice. "I have nowhere to go if I'm sent away," she murmurs. "Damien will poison my name for as far as he can... I'll never find work, at least not with a reputable family."

"Go to the coast, they're different there!" An idea siezes me. "You could go and work for Craig and Tricia! They're kind, they're good -"

"They've left the area from what I understand," she says quietly. "I don't know their whereabouts, and I have no way of getting to the coast... it's very dangerous for a woman to travel alone, especially far. Now please, just let me get you ready."

After that, I silently cry the whole time she works. My hair is done in a much more elaborate way than usual, with golden ribbons and little gems scattered to catch the light; matching gems glued to the corners of my eyes; still more nestled in my navel. Glittery powder is dusted on my cheeks and shoulders.

By the end i can barely recognize myself, and I look more like an object than anything else; a graven idol -

A statue.

She throws a filmy cloak over my shoulders that drags on the floor when I walk. I clutch it beneath my chin, very aware of my near nakedness beneath.

"Please, I can't do this. Whatever he's planning, I can't," I say over and over. I look at myself in the mirror and I nearly collapse.

Damien enters the room then, smiling to see me, and he comes to take my hand and turn me round, marveling and lavishing compliments that only compound my humiliation.

"I won't look under your cloak just yet," he says, his sharp canines wicked. "I'll wait to be surprised like everyone else."

It's a wonder that he's able to convince me to leave the room at all, but when he brandishes the aforementioned whip I comply, holding my cloak as tightly as I can while being led down long corridors; a prisoner facing their own impending execution.

Mingling scents of Alpha and rich foods invade my senses as soon as we step into a large banquet hall. The tables are very long and loaded with dishes; arranged to create a sharp U shape around a raised platform in the center. There are golden chains coiled on it, waiting, and the terror rises in me until I'm fighting Damien's hold, snarling and snapping and biting; wild with abject horror.

He subdues me quickly and efficiently; a hand gripping my nape, the other touching my glands, rubbing them. I whine, still trying to thrash, but a warning snarl from him drives ice into my heart, my belly. I clench my thighs together, shaking violently. There are many people seated at the tables, already eating and drinking, and from what i can see they're all Alphas; some familiar and others new.

"I'll throw you in and lock the door if you embarrass me tonight," he murmurs in my ear. "They'd want you regardless, at any time, but so close to your Heat you're particularly irresistible. They'll be on you before you hit the floor, and I won't stop them; I'll let them have you. All of them. They'd probably end up killing you."

"Why? Why are you doing this?" I fight his hold, but when he tells me he'll give me to the crowd, I almost crumple to my knees.

"To make a very important point," he replies, taking something from his pocket. "You seem to operate under the idea that being with me, cared for by me, is intolerable, even though it can always be so much worse. Tonight I will do my best to change your way of thinking... just think, any one of those beasts out there would tear you apart if given half a chance, but I protect you. I shield you."

"How are you protecting me? You're feeding me to them!" I sob.

"Not so, I'm just letting them look and maybe fondle a little. Admire. Now, lift your head."

I pull away but he yanks me close, and soon he's wrapping something around my face; forcing something cold and hard between my lips. It makes it impossible for me to speak. I try to pull it off but he grabs my wrists and holds them at the small of my back.

"This is also a consequence," he says savagely. "For running. For disobeying... for defying me in such a profound way. Yes, you'll be admired but also degraded... consider this a reward wrapped inside of a punishment."

"Go, and don't fight me," he murmurs next to my ear. "Don't start a battle you can't win."

I'm forced into the dining room and a collective silence falls, deep and heavy, and I can feel every eye on me, judging, assessing; coveting. I look at the floor, cringing.

"Gentlemen, our evening's entertainment has finally arrived!" I recognize that hateful voice - Cartman; of course he'd attend a party this depraved. I don't look up, my face burning.

There's laughter and titters after this declaration, and then everyone seems to be speaking at once; voices on top of voices, and the scent of their greedy arousal is wrapping around me, making me faint; mouth already watering.

Warmth blooms in my belly, slow-smoldering as I'm led to the platform and made to stand before everyone. I shut my eyes as Damien kisses my nape.

"For your pleasure," he announces, beginning to untie my cloak very slowly. I keep my eyes tightly closed but they're already wet. "I'll be serving you dessert a little early this evening. I trust no one minds?"

This is met with thunderous applause and cat calls. He chuckles lowly.

"Fucking animals," he whispers so only i can hear, and then he's pulling my cloak open to reveal my almost nakedness, and the smells in the room, the sounds, everything it would seem, intensifies to such a degree that it nearly makes me dizzy.

I wobble but he rights me, and the moisture is building on my tongue with the gag pressed into my mouth. I whimper.

"Be still," he says, and then he's locking the golden chains around my ankles, my wrists. They're only long enough for me to be able to stand, but i can barely move in any direction. He even attaches a chain to the back of my gag so I can't lower my head; I'm kept at attention, locked in place, and i can feel everyone looking at me, consuming me with their eyes, their lust, and the smell of it all fills up the room like heady, sinful perfume.

"Are we allowed to touch?" someone asks, but I don't recognize their voice.

Damien considers this, running a finger up the curve of my naked back. "Yes, I think so. But leave any marks and you'll have me to deal with."

This draws another laugh and several sighs. Damien kisses my neck, my shoulder, before leaving me alone; I feel his warmth fade away, and I hate myself for wanting it back; desperate for anything even remotely familiar.

I stand there, lost in the darkness behind my eyes, chained and exposed, while the din clouds my head. I feel hot, nearly feverish, and I'm only made warmer to have them talking about me like I can't hear, or worse yet, that they know I can and they simply don't care.

"So pretty, don't you think?"

"Nice hips...perfect for carrying children."

"He hasn't whelped yet, has he?"

"Look at his hair...I wish my omega was blessed with that color."

And on and on; every part of my body is picked apart, assessed and analyzed in meticulous, humiliating detail. I try to drift, to sink into a safe place in my head, but I can't; I'm too aware of being a spectacle, and all of the pheromones are fooling with my head. I sway, wanting to fall to my knees, but my chains prevent this.

A voice speaks close then, pulling me from my thoughts, so much that my eyes blink open, and I come face to face with Cartman. I try to snarl, but my gag stops me, and my mouth is filled with even more wetness. He stares me down, right in my eyes, and his own are being overtaken with crimson; his scent perfectly barbaric in its cloying lust.

"I was waiting for someone to muzzle you," he murmurs, smirking. "It took a while but thank goodness for small favors, right?"

I growl low in my throat. He laughs and reaches to pinch my nipple hard, and I strain against my chains.

"Hmm, I can't tell if you like it or not," he says, pinching the other one. I jerk, heat building in me.

He walks around the platform so I can't see him, and the tension is thick in me until i feel prying fingers on my backside. I arch but can't move, whining loudly. He laughs and continues to fondle me, finally spreading me gently.

"Very nice," he says, just looking for a moment before rubbing the pad of his thumb over my entrance.

I try to scream but it comes out strangled, and I try to pull away, the hateful chains feeling tighter and tighter. I'm horrified at the ache growing stronger in me, deep in my hips, between my legs; ribbons of fire lancing me. Sweat beads on my skin and I want to pant, but that only makes my mouth wetter.

He continues to fondle me as other Alphas approach; i recognize some from my debut and Cartman's party; Christophe and even Trent Boyett. Soon it's just a sea of faces and Alpas around me, and I'm shivering as I'm touched and caressed; nipples grabbed, hands on my hips, thighs spread as far as they can go; hands and fingers and even tongues everywhere.

I tilt my head to look at the ceiling, crying and so hot, my mind dissolving and becoming fuzzy, like I'm leaving myself behind somewhere. A hand reaches to cup between my legs and I can't stop myself from moaning quietly, which elicits a very pleased and primal sound from the crowd.

"Look," someone remarks, "he's aroused. He enjoys being observed like this. Little slut."

"Here," another voice chimes in, and I'm being stroked quickly, making me stiffen but it feels good, hot. "He's becoming slick... isn't that a pretty sight?"

It's dripping from me now, down my legs, and I can smell my sweet arousal. An arresting force is taking over me and I almost begin to purr, a strong desire to bend over and present overtaking me.

No, no, a small voice in my head whispers before sinking and fading away into a red fog. You don't want this. You don't!

I'm falling into my instincts now, pushed over an unseen edge at being exposed this way; met with desire and ravenous want; stroked and petted and kissed; tongues on me, my neck, my throat. I'm parted by someone else's hands while fingers grope between my legs, and I'm moaning deep and loud in my throat.

I'm quickly forgetting myself and I don't care, and through it all one scent seems to dominate the rest, and I seek it out, whining with want; painful, urgent need. I cry for it in my head, and I feel so empty when all i want is to be filled; taken, hard, fast; without mercy.

It's beginning to hurt, this overwhelming desire, and I'm yanking helplessly at my chains, and I can hear the laughter and taunts in my head, but suddenly my face is gently being cradled, and I'm looking deep into eyes made bright and fearsome with the hunger in them.

"My love," Damien says, gently touching my glands and I almost faint, but he keeps me close. "You're ready, aren't you?"

I try to understand what I'm hearing, but I'm past that, and all I can think about is the physical, the emptiness in me, like my heart's been torn out, and I'm so unbearably devoid of something fundamental. A memory stirs for a moment, though, of being held softly and adored; clear grey eyes and a star-filled sky that seems to stretch forever; becoming eternity.

I can't hold onto it for long before it flies away, this thought, and then all I can see is Damien, and I'm clawing for his scent, the feel of him, because my body has been his before, and the memory is in my bones, my blood.

I feel myself nodding because I'm not allowed to speak, and there's an inferno rising in his eyes until I feel consumed by it. He leans to kiss my cheeks, my forehead, biting hard into my shoulder and I moan louder, wanton.

"Don't worry, little one," he murmurs, beginning to unlock my chains. "I'm here and I'll help you if that's what you desire. Let your Alpha take care of you the way you need."

Chapter Text

I'm being burned alive from the inside out, I'm sure of it. The room is sweltering, my skin is covered with sweat; it drips down my face and arms, running along the length of my back. I'm fading in and out as every second passes, and the aches in me are profound; hips, glands, between my thighs.

Damien removes my chains but not my gag, and after he parts the fray he leads me to where he's been seated; right in the center of the head table in the largest, most luxurious chair.

"You can sit with me, my sweet love," he says, pulling me onto his lap, and I moan softly to feel the hardness of his cock beneath me. I rub against it, wanting it; needing it -

Ravenous for it. I want it so deep inside and taking away this endless, pulsing ache; this terrible hunger and emptiness. All of my other thoughts have burned away in the face of this compulsion, and I'm mindless and blind to maintaining my dignity or distance -

I am nothing but physical need now that my heat has truly started to take hold.

Taking my hand, Damien gently places it on his cock, encouraging me to stroke him. "Is that what you want, my Kyle? Is that what you need?"

I nod, touching and feeling; suddenly fascinated to experience the sensation of the length hidden beneath his clothes. It's so very hard, and the memory of it being in me, filling me, makes me nuzzle close, nosing at the glands in his throat. He growls lowly, clearly pleased with my abrupt change of attitude.

"They can all see you," he murmurs, indicating the crowd. "They can all see my pretty omega acting like a little slut... doesn't that bother you?"

I shake my head, saliva making my lips wet; dripping. I want to taste him...I need him to devour me. He bites my shoulder softly and touches my curls, almost in a reverent way.

"I think we should have dinner before retiring to our room," he says, "After all, this party is for you and it's barely begun. We don't want to be rude, do we?"

I whine loudly and he shushes me, running a finger over one of my nipples, making it harden under his touch. I shiver, and rub closer to him.

"You'll eat from my hand, even though you aren't shackled, and you will behave," he says, stroking my back. "Is that understood?"

I want to beg him to fuck me, not eat dinner, but somewhere in my haze I know what can happen if I go against him. Reluctantly, I nod.

"Sweet one," he says, undoing my gag and setting it aside. I swiftly wipe the wetness from my mouth, and he watches with eyes that seem to eat me alive. He touches my swollen bottom lip, smiling when I try to suck on his finger. 

"We'll find a way to keep you occupied while your alpha finishes, but first," he says, plucking up a cluster of red grapes; he twists one off and offers it to me, pushing it between my lips. I accept it and slide my tongue over his finger.

Drawing back, he offers me another grape, and once again i accept it, sucking on him. My cock is becoming harder, and soon he reaches to cup it, and I instinctively spread to give him better access.

"Naughty thing," he murmurs, gathering the fluid glistening on me. He offers it to me and I greedily suck it away, relishing the saltiness; my desire intensifying at tasting my own arousal. "And look how wet you are," he adds, spreading slick over my thighs. I nuzzle him, searching for his aroma and finding it, letting it calm me.

"I would like you to kneel beside me, I think," he muses. "I'll feed you and the others can admire how pretty you are, and then we'll decide how to keep you entertained when you're done."

I resist slightly when he has me slide from his lap, but soon I'm kneeling next to his chair, and he feeds me little morsels; bits of chicken, vegetables; more sweet fruit, allowing me to lick his fingers clean. He praises me softly, only becoming stern when my posture comes into question.

"Back arched slightly, head up, part your thighs a little more...I want to be able to see you, and so do the guests," he says, placing a strawberry slice on my tongue. "There, that's better."

They're still watching me, all of them, the Alphas that swarmed me while I was chained. Their hands and tongues woke something up inside of me, and now I'm seeing the world through a veil over my eyes; soft, red; urges that are primal and usually ignored are rearing their heads. My Heat is working its way through my bones, swimming in my blood, and I almost feel powerful because of it; released from my normal fears and worries.

"Drink," Damien says, placing a cup to my lips and tipping sweet red wine into my mouth. I lap it up, begging for more. He laughs softly and scratches behind my ear. "Greedy."

I finish the whole glass and I can feel it spreading warm down my throat and into my stomach.

"Would you like more to eat, my love?" he asks.

"No, thank you," I say, rubbing my head against his leg. "Can we go back to our room now?"

He stares for a moment, a wild spark lighting in his eyes, and his pleasure is evident by his aroma; thick and circling me, announcing his arousal and heightening aggression. He maintains control though.

"Not yet," he replies. "I'll decide when we leave. Omegas don't make those sorts of decisions, but, i can offer something to hold you over. It might even help you to relax."

I rise onto my knees and place my head in his lap. "Yes, please, please."

He sighs. "You're so sweet this way, aren't you?" Lifting my head, he begins to undo his slacks, sliding the zipper down. I watch, mesmerized, moving away when he spreads his thighs. He implores me to kneel between them and I do. He draws out his cock, hard and thick, and I can see the cum on the tip like translucent pearls.

"Open," he says. When I do, he gently guides my mouth onto him, and he settles heavily across my tongue. He draws a deep breath, placing a hand on the back of my head. I try to suck but he clucks his tongue, garnering my attention. "No, you'll just hold me like this, warm in your mouth. It'll please me and I think it will relax you to focus on nothing else. Can you do that for me, my Kyle?"

Hazily, I look up at him and nod carefully. His musk is strong and taking over my senses, calming me somewhat but also making me hotter between my legs. I reach to touch myself but he clucks again, sterner now.

"You don't touch yourself without my explicit permission. Will I need to bind your hands?"

Trembling, I shake my head. He curls a hand behind my ear, stroking. "Be still, I won't punish you so long as you obey, now calm yourself while I finish."

I attempt to obey, to please, but I'm very aware of my needs, the slick trickling from me; my exposed backside on full display for a roomful of guests. I flush hotly, already so feverish, and my cock twitches between my thighs, begging to be stroked. Worst of all is the clawing ache of needing more than anything to be filled, knotted; fucked until I'm screaming and raw; possibly bloody from how forcefully I'm mounted.

I whine softly before I can help it and Damien slides his fingers through my curls, shushing me under his breath.

"Calm," he says, drinking wine. He pulls me closer so more of his cock is in my mouth, and I try to focus on how large it is, the way it tastes; its satisfying weight, and before I know it I'm starting to drift, falling into a place in my mind that I don't visit very often. I almost feel safe, at the very least content, even if my body is pleading to be taken - soon.

"Very obedient, isn't he?" an unfamiliar voice speaks somewhere behind me but I don't try to look at their face. "Sitting there so quietly, not even fidgeting."

"Yes, he's doing beautifully," Damien says, petting me. I begin to purr quietly.

"So adorable," the other Alpha comments. "It was so generous of you to share him with us... but I have to say only having a taste is going to be very frustrating."

Damien chuckles, clearly drinking in the envy of others. "A taste is all you'll have, I'm afraid."

"Even if I were to make an offer?"

Damien's thighs tense, gripping me a little tighter. "An offer."

"Yes, a generous one, of course. Merely to spend a few hours alone with the dear one."

Slowly, Damien sets down his fork before replying, and his scent is changing. I stop purring, whining softly, but he finds that spot behind my ear and strokes it; nails grazing. I quiet myself.

"What an unseemly proposition," he says in a controlled tone, but it's soft. Warning. "I certainly hope this is a clumsy attempt at humor on your behalf."

I sense the other Alpha's tension behind me, and I scoot closer to Damien, wanting to climb into his lap.

"I assure you, I was not intending to offend you, Thorne, but you have to understand-"

"I would ask that you stop insulting me in my home during what is supposed to be a special occasion," Damien cuts him off. "And you're frightening my omega. That is not something I take lightly."

Mouth wet, I slide my tongue beneath Damien's cock, wanting to show I'm grateful for the way he's protecting me but he pays me no mind.

"I apologize emphatically," the Alpha says, but I can tell his words are steeped in bitterness. "I meant no harm."

Damien picks up his fork again. "Very well, but I should like to eat in peace, if I may."

"Of course, excuse me."

Damien is still unsettled after this conversation, his displeasure evident in his scent, his posture; his touch and voice isn't as soft now. I try to be as still and obedient as possible, beginning to drift again until my eyes close.

I become lost in my head as the party continues, soft voices in the distance and the sound of forks scraping plates; all the while keeping Damien warm. The fires start to recede little by little but the gnawing void within me doesn't go away. Every now and then I shift slightly, mouth dripping, but I keep the hard cock on my tongue; cradling it to please him.

"Sweet love," he says eventually, parting my reverie until my eyes open, and he's holding my face; stroking my cheeks with his thumbs. I look up and meet his eyes, and I'm happy to see that he's relaxed again. "Are you ready to retire to our chambers?"

I nod, only taking my mouth off of him when he guides me to, and I keep kneeling as he bids farewell to his guests. Some of them speak to me and I blush, becoming shy, which only seems to please them more.

"They adore you," Damien says, snapping his fingers and accepting my cloak when Bebe brings it over. He wraps it around me and I stand, falling against him because my legs have gone numb from kneeling for so long.

He lifts me and I quickly rub my cheek against him, resting my head on his chest. He kisses my curls and carries me from the room.

I fully expect to be taken as soon as we're back in our chambers, but Damien takes me to the bathroom instead.

"Their scent is on you," he explains, running a bath. He adds salts to it that smell of vanilla. "Come to me."

I do, standing before him as he sits on the edge of the large tub, and he pulls me closer, his hands low on my hips. He kisses my stomach before slipping his fingers under the band of my panties.

"Pretty thing," he murmurs, reaching to slide his hand to cover my cock, the other spreading my backside and stroking my entrance. I almost sob at the sensation, and the fire in me begins to rekindle. He breathes deeply. "Soon you'll be completely gone... you won't even be able to think straight."

I gasp, rutting against his hand shamelessly. "I already can't really think... everything is a fog..."

"Good," he says, taking his hands away to begin pulling the panties down, slowly; clearly trying to tease me as I start to tremble.

"Please," I whisper, closing my eyes.

"Please what?"

"Please, I need you to," I say, trailing off because articulating the want is much more difficult than feeling it. "It's going to start hurting again... because I'm empty. I'm so empty."

He considers me, running a cool hand up the inside of my thigh, stopping to linger over my clover for a moment. "Patience," he tells me, and his eyes resemble fresh, open wounds, and I know that this is going to be another test.

I can't help but whimper, afraid of the pain waiting for me, that'll grow and steal my voice. I want to beg, but I'm still aware of myself enough to hold back, but I'm falling so quickly, and Damien knows it -

He can smell it. He can feel it in my skin and see it in my eyes. I turn to the mirror and can see the gold growing in them, my irises bright.

Squeezing my ankle, Damien silently commands me to lift my foot so he can slide the panties off, repeating this action with the other side before untying my sandals as well. He takes my hand and helps me into the bath, which is hotter than I'd prefer, but in my state of mind I simply sink and wait to be washed.

He's careful with me, but thorough, washing my hair and rubbing me down everywhere with a soft cloth. I try to press against his hand whenever I can, trying to get some relief as I dissolve further into my instincts.

"You did so well," he says. "You made me proud... and for the most part those animals minded their manners even if some felt the need to make suggestions that were completely unacceptable."

I glance at him, foggy and starting to pant, the heat building and seeming to be climbing up, up...a crescendo on the horizon. Damien's eyes are brightening, but his manner is one of quiet anger again.

"You let them touch me," I say faintly. "Why does it bother you that they want to be with me, too?"

"No one will have you that way except for me," he replies, giving me a look of thinly veiled contempt. I shrink away but he grabs my arm. "I have to live with the fact that you've been with someone else. Do you understand just how hard that is for me to accept?"

He shakes me hard. "Do you? Say something."

I become lax as my head is consumed with more fog, swirling and red. "I can't...I don't know. I barely remember anything... I'm sorry. My mind -"

"Yes, yes... you aren't really yourself right now, are you? It isn't fair to ask you these sorts of questions, I suppose," he says, digging his nails into my skin. "But one has to wonder if what I'm seeing right now is the true Kyle and the other is just a facade...I mean, only a greedy, filthy slut would run off and offer himself to another Alpha, knowing he already belongs to someone else. Isn't that so?"

I whimper, trying to pull away because the pain he's causing is starting to feel too good. It's too real, and it makes me want more, but he keeps denying me. His words also touch on something in my brain, deep in the recesses that have been pulled back into the darkness; memories, sweet ones. They are full of light and affection, and I start to cry quietly.

"It wasn't that," I manage to say. "I was looking for something else, something important."

"Oh, and what was that?"

I shake my head, pressing my hand to my temple where a thrumming ache is growing and stealing my thoughts away. "I can't remember... it's all mixing together."

"How convenient for you," he mutters, finally letting me go. I sag against the tub, panting. Watching me, he seems to be considering something before he smiles again, but there's a quality to it that makes prickles crop up along my back. "Well, let's get you out of there and situated, shall we?"

I'm dried and brought to bed, but Damien doesn't dress me in anything.

"I like you this way for now," he says, turning me away to grab at my backside, running a finger through the slick still dripping from me; becoming more pronounced. "Slutty little thing."

Pressing back against him, I try to indicate my intense need to be taken, but he denies me again, kneeling to snap my chain around my ankle. He leaves my hands free before going to sit in front of the fire. He opens a book - a different one than what we'd been reading together - and begins to read quietly, paying no attention to me.

I'm at a loss as to what I'm supposed to do, so I just stand for a moment, aching and watching. Finally, I walk over to him slowly, my chain dragging loudly on the floor in the quiet.

"Is there something you needed, my love?" he asks without looking up.

I can't speak for a moment. Damien knows what I need, he has to. I wouldn't be surprised if he deliberately exposed me to so many Alphas at once just to perpetuate my heat, and now he's acting like I'm not even here.

"Yes?" he looks up, placing a finger in the book before closing it.

I flush, biting my lip. Once again, talking about the need to be fucked is so difficult, even in this state of mind.

And I'm sure he knows that. Trying to appear strong despite the pain, i just shake my head.

"Nothing, I guess."

He smiles slowly and opens his book again. "Well, just let me know, love."

Turning away, I'm not sure what to do with myself, and I'm leaking slick profusely. I'm hard as well, and there's pain growing exponentially in my hips, my bones... simply everywhere. Hands twitching, I pace for a while and try to find the safe place in my head that I'd found before, but it eludes me.

I glance at Damien on occasion and I can feel a thread of anger towards him, but it's minimal compared to the strength of my desire and need.

"Perhaps you should try to make yourself more comfortable," he suggests, turning a page. "You seem so restless, my dear."

I say nothing. He's goading me, I know, and if I were in a different frame of mind I'd attack him, but all I can do is try to smooth my breaths and ignore what's happening inside of me. I glance toward the bed and my hands twitch again.

Soon I've pulled all the blankets off and thrown them on the floor, close to the wall so I can build my nest with something solid to press it against; creating more security. I breathe in the aroma clinging to them, feeling some relief because it smells of Alpha - of Damien. It's thick and seems virile, almost protective, and I bury my face in the blankets so I'm surrounded by it.

I hear movement behind me and look to see Damien there, watching. He seems amused, eyes sharpening as they become more and more bright.

"Do you need more blankets?"

Letting out a quiet whine, I crawl from my nest and go to him, rubbing my face against his legs, trying to cover him in my scent. My glands are full, and i wince when they're pressed.

He allows this before kneeling to smooth a hand over my cheek. I lean into it and then he's touching between my legs. I moan, louder than before; less ashamed about announcing that I like this, that I want more.

"Lovely," he says, gathering slick on his fingers, placing them in my mouth so I can taste myself. "Don't you taste good, my love?"

Mouth wet, I nod.

"Do you ache, my Kyle?" he asks, smile widening.

"Yes, so much," I reply thickly. "Everywhere."

He considers this. "Is it unbearable, though?"

I whine, wanting to lie, but i know what he'll do to me if I lie. I think. I shake my head.

"Give it time, then. You'll get there." He kisses my cheek. "For now I believe it's time for bed."

Mouthing wordlessly, I grope for him but he moves away. I watch as he readies for bed, dismayed and overwhelmed.

"Will you be sleeping in your little nest tonight?" he asks, throwing a blanket on the bed that he retrieved from the closet.

I don't know how to answer until I feel myself nodding. At least here I'm comfortable and feel closed in; something I seem to crave during a heat. If I tried to sleep next to Damien I'd probably go crazy with longing, knowing he's there but refusing to take care of me yet.

"If that would make you happy," he says, lying down and turning out the light. "Goodnight, my darling."

----

I manage to sleep after a very long time of tossing and turning, but I'm awoken late at night to shivering, unspeakable pain running all through my veins. I lie in my nest for a few agonizing moments before I begin to whine softly, and I can smell my arousal and fear saturating everything.

Damien continues to sleep undisturbed, his deep, even breaths coming to me in the darkness, and I clutch my middle where the emptiness feels the worst, and try to talk myself through the agony.

"Oh, please," I whisper, biting hard on my lip to stifle myself, but soon my hand is creeping between my thighs where it's so hot and sensitive, and I'm rubbing desperately; my other hand spreading myself and sinking into my entrance, providing very little relief.

I sob quietly, writhing now, trying to achieve some sort of calm, and the way I'm stroking myself feels so good even if it isn't what I'm craving -

I've never really touched myself like this before. It's strange and I'm clumsy with my movements, but the pressure is building in me, and I know I'm going to let go soon, and I want it so, so much; I'm frantic for it.

"Didn't I tell you you're forbidden to touch yourself without my permission?"

Becoming still, I look up, and through the haze in my head I can see Damien standing over me, eyes snapping with fury; jaw set and tight. I take my hands quickly away and sit up, trying to back away; hitting the wall and cowering.

"It hurts, I can't stand it anymore," I say, my voice cracking. "Please, I'm so empty!"

"If you had obeyed i would've taken care of you right now," he replies, leaving my line of sight. "And after I did you a favor by not shackling your hands. Well, clearly, my compulsion to trust you was premature."

Coming back, he holds up the manacles and I try to scurry away, but he catches me by the ankle and draws me back; immobilizing me with a hand on my nape, squeezing hard.

"Be still, you earned this for deliberately disobeying," he mutters, pulling my hands behind my back and shackling them. "Get on your knees and bend over so your face is on the floor."

"Please, I can't. I just want -"

He raises his hand and I flinch, moving to do what he commanded. Awkwardly, I get on my knees and bend until my cheek is pressed to the cold, hard floor.

"Spread your thighs and arch your back."

Closing my eyes, I obey.

"Good. You're going to stay in this position until I decide you've learned to listen."

I start to cry harder, opening my eyes and gasping. "I can't! I need you!"

"You need me to what?"

Sobbing, I can barely speak when I crumble into nothing, and all the pain and need is converging on me in a sea of heat and torment. "I need you to fuck me, Damien! I need your knot! Please!"

He walks slowly over until I can see his feet. I strain to look up and he's watching me passively despite the fire burning in his eyes. I can smell his arousal, his anger, and it's like I'm being taunted; only making me hungrier, the slick falling down the backs of my thighs.

"You will stay as you are until I decide to relieve you of your pain," he murmurs. "I told you I was going to make you learn. I haven't forgotten even if you have."

"No," I sob. "I can't, I can't -"

"You will," he cuts me off, a little more gently now. Reaching, he strokes a hand along the curve of my back. I moan but he moves away. "You can endure. Maybe this will help you realize what i felt like when you ran away... how deeply it hurt."

Sobbing harder, I want to reach for him, go to him, but i dare not move. I wait, crying out for him, my body coiled with need as I suplicate myself to please him; to crawl back into his twisted favor.

"You may cry but don't speak," he says, going to climb back into bed. "Move and I'll make you start from the beginning. Don't disappoint me again."

Shutting my mouth I continue to cry, the tears falling over my nose and landing on the floor in cold drops. The slick is warm on my skin, and my arms and back and knees are already beginning to hurt. I whine softly, wanting to call for Damien but biting it back; keeping it all inside where it can only plague me more.

Trying to fade away, I wait, and the moonlight drifting under the drapes is pearly on the floor. I try to focus on it as the minutes pile on me like stones.

I'm nearly incoherent by the time I can feel Damien's presence near me, and I know I'm well and truly gone, given over to the most basic, primal needs attached to my dynamic. My blood is fire and so are my bones, my veins. I'm just heat and emptiness, and I'm saturated with slick and sweat and tears.

"Look at you," he murmurs, and his voice seems so dim to my ears; it's like I'm drowning. "You needy, messy little thing... so sweet and wanting your alpha so badly. Don't you?"

"Alpha," I repeat, almost unable to speak at this point.

There's a moment of nothing before I feel fingers stroking along the slope of my back, and they're trailing down over my entrance, teasing.

"So wet and ready," he says softly.

I try to move but he places his hands on my hips tightly. "Don't move. I want you just like this."

I still, and he begins to tease me again, rubbing my entrance with circular touches. I whine and he places a finger inside of me, not deep, but it still feels so good that I shift to make him go deeper. He laughs softly and adds another finger, opening me a little wider, and i almost come apart right there; sensitive from being made to wait for so long.

He pushes in farther, twisting them a little now, slowly. "Does that feel nice?"

"Yes, yes... so good," I whisper.

Placing a hand on my back, he goes deeper. Before too long, he's brushing my sweet spot and I arch, coming immediately, the fluid dripping on the floor as my cock throbs. I gasp, breathing in and out like I've run a race as I continue to let go, so relieved but still so ravenous.

"There," he says, slowly sliding his fingers from me, making me feel that much emptier. "Did that make my omega happy?"

With the cum leaking from me, I can feel myself becoming hard again, and I shift my hips, spreading my thighs a little wider. "More, please, don't stop. I need you so badly."

"Oh, do you?" he asks,  stroking me again. He places a hand over my wet cock and pulls a little. I convulse, nearly crying now. "Where do you need me, my love?"

"Inside, deep," I pant, losing my thoughts...I can barely remember my name, who I am. I don't care. This need is all that matters - being filled, made to drip with my Alpha's seed.

"Here," he murmurs, spreading my entrance wide. "Where you're so slick and needy. Hmm?"

I can only moan, arching deeper; curling to present myself more completely. After an agonizing moment of nothing I can feel new wetness being pressed into me, and Damien's hands are on my hips, nails sinking in. I push back and his tongue is licking into me further, tasting and making my vision haze.

I make guttural, nonsensical sounds; mindless now with this new pleasure. I feel even more wet, and Damien is cupping my cock, pumping.

"I've never tasted anyone so sweet," he says, kissing along my entrance and up my back. "What is it about you? You're in my head... you're always there."

I push against him, curling my toes, my hands straining from where they're locked at the small of my back.

"Please," I whisper.

"Shhh, let me give you what you need so badly," he says, shifting and then i feel warm pressure on my entrance, and he's going so slow as he sinks his cock into me. My mouth opens but I can't make sound, feeling open; wide, so wide, already, but it isn't enough.

His breathing becomes heavier the more he pushes in, and when he's fully within me he rests his hips against my buttocks, and finally, finally some of the gnawing ache is satisfied.

I'm so full and I love it, his thick hardness opening and touching those places that have been screaming for relief. He's still for a long time, hands gripping, and he ghosts his fingers over the curves of my hips, my belly... the bones of my pelvis.

"Always so tight," he says softly. He moves then but only a little, almost like he's adjusting himself, but it pulls a pleasured whine from my mouth. "Does my omega like being filled like this?"

I nod, starting to drool.

"I'll go slow, then, so you can savor it; being fucked by the only alpha who's allowed to touch you." Drawing back slowly, he thrusts in, making me arch deeper. He waits before doing it again, and soon he's set a nice easy pace, when really I want him to go fast; hard. I want him to make me scream.

I fall into his rhythm, inching forward as he thrusts, and I push back to meet him, over and over; delicious pressure building until a fever pitch is reached, and I come hard, splattering the floor again. I sigh, flushed and warm, and manage to find a thread of my voice.

"Harder."

Damien stops, thick and hot inside me. "What?"

Breathing deeply, my throat is ragged but I speak, not recognizing my own voice. "Please...fuck me harder...knot me..."

He pulls me back roughly, savage suddenly. "You want me to fill you up, Kyle?"

I nod slowly, closing my eyes.

"So you want to have my children... you admit that you belong to me? That you'll always belong to me?"

I've evaporated under his touch, and I'm no longer tethered to anything that could remotely resemble reality. I'm just feeling and need; blood, flesh, and this all-consuming heat.

I nod, giving in because I don't have the strength to consider denying him what he wants. I can't even remember why I was fighting him in the first place. I'm doing what I was meant to do; succumbing to my alpha and offering myself as a vessel; to carry life, to be owned.

"I adore you," he says, no longer slow or tender; fucking into me like he wants to hurt me, wound me, and I let him; hands locked and completely at his mercy. He thrusts fast and hard, growling low and tearing his nails into my skin; hips colliding with me, and i gasp; breath hot, almost leaving me.

I can feel his engorged knot brushing my entrance, and he's thrusting brutally; hard, hard, so hard, making me moan, nearly screaming, and my thighs are trembling as he gives it to me like I need.

When he thrusts so deep that I feel his knot entering, I scream out his name, and I'm so full, so blessedly full -

The pain is beautiful because I asked for it, craved it, and he thrusts again, and then his smoldering seed is pouring into me, filling me the way an omega needs to be filled, and none is leaking out because I'm so tightly closed; a large cock plugging me like the panting, dirty slut that I am, that I was born to be.

He doesn't speak but he growls again, leaning to bite hard at my back, teeth sinking in and making the pain bloom up my spine; sharp, profound.

"You're mine," he whispers, still filling me. He reaches to stroke my belly. "You'll always be mine. I'll kill anyone who even thinks of being with you."

"Yours," I say faintly, only able to focus on the seed flowing into me. I'm so wonderfully full, so used, and finally some of the yearning is abating. I almost cry from the relief.

He gives another few, more gentle pumps inside of me, and then becomes still; waiting. I slacken, closing my eyes, already ready to collapse, but he keeps me aware with how tightly he holds my hips.

Finally, he sighs, slipping out slowly, regretfully, and I moan low. He squeezes my backside. "Stay as you are; don't move."

"I'm so tired," I say, but I obey.

"We've only started," he replies, leaning and licking along my backbone. He stops at my nape and sets his teeth there, gingerly sinking them in until i suck in a breath. He chuckles, pulling away to nuzzle my temple instead.

After that, my mind is even more of a haze as I fall into what my body wants for me; hormones rushing, blood hot. My skin is slick with sweat, and i lick the salt from my lips as Damien mounts me again; having released my hands so I can reach for him, pull him close.

We're in my nest and the room is hot, Damien deep inside of me, holding my arms down as he fucks me hard. He bites at my throat until I whine, turning my face to give him better access, and he sighs against my skin. He stills, hips pressed to mine, and his cock is so, so deep inside of me. He's already knotted me a few times, and my stomach is rounder with his seed.

"So good," he murmurs, kissing my mouth, coaxing me to open. He licks into me and I reciprocate, hungry for him even though I'm covered in bites and sweat; trickles of blood where his teeth have sunken deep into my hot flesh. My thighs feel weak, there are bruises all over... and I want more, hardly satiated. I can feel his knot nudging me, and I beg for it.

"Again," I moan, wrapping my legs around him and squeezing him tight.

"I want to finish with you on your knees again," he replies, nipping my bottom lip. He helps me turn onto my stomach and I grab a hold of the blankets that are filled with our scents, our sweat; rife with spilled blood and cum. He takes a hold of my hair and yanks my head back, breathing heavily against my ear as he knots me again, and his wondrous heat is pouring in me.

"Take it," he growls, wrapping a hand around my cock even though I've already come so many times, but I spill into his hand; gasping soundlessly. He grunts as he convulses again, and his cock is deeper in me than it's been the whole time. Bringing his hand to my mouth, he has me lap the mess from it; smeared over my swollen, aching lips. He waits, making sure he's done before pulling out. He catches some cum rolling down my thigh and dips his finger in me to press it inside where it belongs.

I hide my face, somewhat coming back to myself. I'm drifting, though; pleasantly warm and tired.

"Stay still, I'll get you something to drink," Damien says softly. I feel him move away and I stay as I am, ass raised even though I'm trembling with weariness.

He's back before too long, patting my hip, and he eases me onto my back. I blink tiredly, removed and floating in a strange, timeless euphoria.

"Sit up for me," he says, taking my hand. I rise and he places a cool glass to my lips, filled with cold water. I drink greedily. Once I've had my fill he feeds me by hand; fruit and warm bread with honey. He runs warm fingers over my shoulder and down my arm.

"I've been so hard on you," he comments, calling my attention to an angry red bite mark on my forearm.

"I like it," I admit, licking honey from the corner of my mouth. "I want to feel used by you... it's like my body craves it."

"Omegas crave strength from others that they don't possess," he replies. "They need structure and discipline... control. You realize this, don't you? It's in your biology."

I touch my head where the ache has only intensified. "I'm still not thinking straight... there's just too much going on inside of me. I'm not myself."

He watches, drinking some water as well, and while his eyes are still a deep red, they've died down a little bit; fires waiting to be stoked. "I know. Believe me."

He eats some bread and offers me more, pushing it into my mouth so I can tongue the honey from his fingertips. His eyes begin to blaze a little hotter and my body responds immediately, slick gathering and sliding; hips aching to be grabbed. Damien lifts his face to scent the air, smiling.

"You're ready again, aren't you?"

Lying back, I nestle into the blankets that smell of us and watch him, feverish and covered in sweet- smelling sweat. He crawls over and parts my thighs wider as he lays to cover me, kissing my mouth, tasting of honey. I sigh and open my lips, allowing the kiss to sink deeper, surrendering. The fog gathers thickly again as he lifts my hips to roughly enter me, staying still before burying his face in the curve of my throat.

I wrap my arms around him, fingers playing over his smooth skin, the muscles there, and I lose myself again; falling as he fucks me deep, pulling moans from my lips that are shameful; greedy -

Foreign to my ears, like I'm far underwater and my true self is still on the shore; calling, begging me to resurface before it's too late.

The next day passes in much the same way: fucking, dozing, eating a little; drinking a lot. I'm filled over and over, crying out, begging, moaning... taken every way Damien can imagine, and soon I'm a boneless, bruised shadow of a person that can barely keep their eyes open. Damien is the messiest I've ever seen him, hair disheveled and eyes wild; covered in scratches from where my nails have dug into him. We both smell of sex and blood and sweat; sweet and metallic and faintly musky.

The hours blend together, morning into afternoon to evening; sunlight devouring moonlight as I melt into him. I cease to exist as I am for the majority of the time, becoming nothing but potent sexual energy for Damien to feed off of; both of us sustaining the other until the fog slowly begins to lift and I come back little by little.

It's a painful awakening when it starts, and I'm aware of a rage igniting itself far on the edge of my awareness. It grows slowly, falling into the fog on occasion, usually when Damien is inside of me, twisting me to fit against him; knotting and filling me while biting my shoulders, my lips.

When the fury becomes stronger, refusing to be ignored, the humiliation sets in to accompany it; flashes of memory coming back relentlessly to taunt me; being exposed, objectified; made to perform for Damien and his disgusting company.

I'd been chained and swarmed without the ability to protect myself; thrown to the wolves, and then I'd begged for Damien's attention, had knelt before him and -

Hugging myself, I dig my nails into my arms and try not to think of warming Damien's cock while others watched, and he loved it; seeing me on my knees, serving him like a mindless puppet.

"Get off me," I bite, snapping from the fog like I'm being tugged from a stifling, dark room; brought back to the light and forced to face it. I'd been sleeping with Damien curled close, his arm thrown over me, weighing me down. We're in my nest on the floor and I'm appalled at the scent of Damien everywhere, all over me; suffocating me. Kicking him away, I stand, unfettered because at some point he'd released my chain because I'd been too lost to even think of running away.

He sits up blinking the sleep from his eyes, and regards me passively. A frown tugs his lips. "Is there a problem?"

"Of course there is, you son of a bitch," I snap, limping away, my whole body a collection of bruises and bites and deep pains. Jesus Christ, what did he do to me while I was out of my mind?! "You've been taking advantage of me for days, and I let you! I fucking let you and I hate myself for it!"

He groans, rubbing his face. "So you're going to devolve into this again? Histrionics and combativeness?"

"What, did you think forcing yourself on me was the way to my heart? You're demented." Stopping, I almost cry when I feel moisture leaking from me. "I hate you so much, I hope you realize that."

"You begged me for it," he replies, not angry, not particularly happy; merely matter of fact. "You asked me to fill you and I did. I took care of you, Kyle; at your request."

Whirling on him, I look for something to throw and find it, grabbing a wine glass from the table and launching it at him with all of my strength. He's up and dodging it in an instant, ignoring the way it collides with the wall and seems to explode. Instead, he advances on me and I swiftly grab a wine bottle, smashing it on the table and brandishing the jagged remainder.

"Stay away from me," I snarl. "Come any closer and I'll twist this in your face."

He growls, circling me, eyes flicking to the bottle now and again. "Kyle, I'm warning you."

"You're a monster," I seeth, "blaming me for you taking advantage of me... waiting for my heat to come so you could pretend I wanted you. I never wanted you! I never will!"

"Well, it hardly matters now, does it?" he asks coldly. "I knotted you every chance I had, which were many, and we both know what that means, don't we?"

Something shatters in my chest when I hear this, like it was fragile and made of glass, but I don't let it show. I bear my teeth, wishing so badly to jam the sharp glass in my hand right through his venomous heart.

"You're sick," I spit. "And there's no guarantee that you were able to... that..." I break off, covering my mouth. I almost gag. "I pray to God that you failed. I'd rather slit my own throat than have your child... no part of you should be passed to the next generation."

He laughs, shaking his head. "Are you sure you feel that way? If you don't have my child my father intends to have you. Is that preferable to being with me? Really think about it."

Freezing, the dread that had been clawing in me, the filth that seems to be living not only on my skin but inside of it, becomes unbearable, and with furious tears in my eyes I rush at him; swinging the bottle; slashing and going for every vulnerable spot i can reach.

I catch him off guard, and for a moment he doesn't seem to understand what's happening, which gives me an advantage. I jab at him, shoving the broken bottle against his chest and slicing it open, blood pouring out and dribbling down his pale skin. He gasps and I feel unmitigated triumph before he knocks the bottle from my hand and grabs me roughly by the arm. Rearing back, he slaps me hard enough to make my nose bleed; quickly doing it again and again. I scream brokenly and it comes out watery, but he doesn't stop.

"You will never raise a hand to me again," he growls, taking me by the hair and throwing me to the floor. "If you do i can't be responsible for my actions, regardless of how I feel about you."

I curl up and just begin to sob, crying until I retch. My mind is nothing but misery and agony; covered with his smell, his touch. He's burned himself into my skin and it makes me hate myself so much. I'm unclean, I'm spoiled... no one will want me now. He's ruined me.

"Craig," I cry before I can help it. I miss him so much, beyond anything I can put into words, and it guts me. I hug myself and start to scream, praying for death, oblivion, anything to take me away from this nightmare.

Suddenly I'm being grabbed again, and Damien is fury personified, shaking me and forcing me to look at him; startling me enough that I stop sobbing.

"I don't want to hear his name again," he says, shaking me harder. "I'll beat you the next time you say it!"

"You'll beat me anyway!" I scream, the blood hot on my face. "Look at me! Look at what you've already done!"

He squeezes my arms so hard that i wince, slackening, and I'm sure he's going to strike me again when he's pulling me close; hugging me fiercely against his bleeding chest.

"Why do you have to be this way? Why can't you just give me a little, anything... just something to show that you care for me at all; that you want me to care for you? I don't understand!"

I can't speak for a moment, shocked into silence because of the pain, the vulnerability, in his voice. Compassion, a small trickle of it, makes me want to soften because I would for almost anyone else, but not for him; I can't.

"I don't care for you," I say lowly, beginning to struggle. "You're a curse I can't seem to get rid of... being here with you is a punishment for a crime i can't remember committing. I loath you, everything about you. You think you can get whatever you want if you're brutal enough, but that won't work with me... you may break me eventually but you'll never make me love you."

He tenses and his breath hitches, but he only hugs me tighter, pulling me onto his lap. He leans his head against my hair, stroking it softly for long minutes. I wait, attempting to imagine myself elsewhere, and watch dust motes float through errant streams of sunlight.

Finally, he breathes heavily, clearing his throat. He pushes me away and stands. "Let's take a bath," he mutters. "We're both a mess. Come along."

-----

I slip into a deeper state of despair after my Heat is over and I fully come back to my senses, ashamed of my conduct; disturbed that I took an active role in perpetuating my own destruction. I know an omega becomes nearly mindless during a heat, but I just can't stop mourning the fact that I accepted Damien, that I begged for him.

I can't even look at myself in the mirror, avoiding my reflection; even when I'm in the bath I don't look at the water. I try to disconnect from my physical self, and I pretend my body is another entity entirely; far away and belonging to someone else.

I don't want to exist anymore, and I know Damien can tell. He watches me even more closely, and he hasn't tried to do anything to me in the few days since we were together.

I begin waking up to vases full of roses again, and he starts to add touches to the room that i suppose he thinks will please me. One morning the little box with the animals carved on it is on the table next to my side of the bed. Perched on top is a silver bracelet with charms shaped like musical notes.

"You enjoy music so much," he says, looping the delicate article around my wrist. "I thought you'd like it. Do you?"

I stare at it and blink back tears. It's pretty, I have to admit, but seeing the notes reminds me of the piano, which leads to Craig and Tricia. I cover my mouth and look away.

"It's fine," I murmur. "May I put it away now, please?"

He pauses, turning my wrist to watch the charms catch the light. "You don't want to wear it?"

I shake my head. "No, thank you."

Quietly, he removes it and places it in my palm. "If that's what you'd prefer."

The next day a different piece of jewelry waits for me: a necklace with a pear shaped diamond on a long chain. I lift it reluctantly and watch the sunlight reflect off of its many faces, dazzling my eyes. I put it away without comment, but I can feel Damien watching me as I do.

I still endure long days by myself, chained to the bed but allowed the use of my hands on the condition that I don't try to attack Damien - it's easier said than done. I spend the lonely hours looking out the window but there isn't a lot to see. I continue to make up stories and I talk to myself, but I'm disintegrating as the days pass. I feel tired and listless; my stomach tight and my appetite nonexistent. 

One evening, after he's returned and we're eating dinner, he asks me what he could give me since I don't really seem to care for jewelry.

"What would make you happy?" he asks, pushing his plate away.

I keep my eyes on my plate, pushing my food around. I could tell him the truth but he already knows it and he won't give it to me anyway; freedom, being released from this place, from him.

"I like the roses," I say blankly.

"I know that, but what else would you like?" He presses, exasperated. "Maybe a new gown?"

I shake my head.

He taps the table slowly while I pick at my food. Softly he asks, "what about books? I know you like those."

I look up quickly, having never expected to hear that from him. He watches, lifting his glass and swirling the wine within.

"Books that you would read to me?" I ask, my heart pounding so hard i feel a little nauseated.

"No, not exactly," he replies. He drinks some wine while I try to understand his meaning; blood running cold.

"I'm not sure what you mean," I say carefully, averting my eyes.

"Cartman told me he caught you in his library," he says nonchalantly. "He said you had a book... it made him suspicious."

"Like you can believe anything that pig says," I mutter.

"True, but I had your room searched after you ran away," he adds, and now my heart is racing. "I found the books under your mattress... along with paper and a pen."

I can feel the blood draining from my face before I abruptly push away from the table. "That doesn't mean anything, just because I had those things doesn't-"

He holds up a hand, nonplussed. "Kyle, I'm not angry. If anything, I'm impressed."

I narrow my eyes. This has to be another trick. "Impressed? Why?"

"First I want an answer," he retorts. "Can you read and write, yes or no?"

Tilting my head, I don't try to hide my defiance. "Yes, I can. I hate that Alphas won't let omegas learn. It isn't right; we can do anything the rest of you can, you just never give us a chance."

He nods, appearing thoughtful. "And I assume you won't tell me who taught you."

"Never."

"Of course not, although I have a pretty good idea of who it was, anyway." He rubs his mouth. "Fine, would books please you, then?"

I glare at him. "What's the catch here?"

"Excuse me?"

"You don't do anything without a reason, and now you're offering to give me books... you're acting like you're fine with me being literate, even though it's illegal. Are you just looking for something else to hang over my head?"

Setting down his glass, Damien's expression is enigmatic now. "I didn't have an ulterior motive in this regard, but I can see why you'd feel that way. Are you still hungry? You've barely touched your food."

"I've had enough."

"Very well." He continues to eat, clearly fine with dropping the subject.

Twisting my hands in my gown, I can't help but worry that he's baiting me; I'd be a fool not to suspect something like that, but there's a matter that nags at me. I clear my throat and he glances at me, eyebrows raised.

"The pen you found," I say, nerves rattled. "May I have it back? It's important to me."

"Oh? Then why didn't you take it when you ran away?"

I flush, touching my throat; heat spreading down it. "I wasn't thinking straight, I guess."

Tapping his plate he considers this. "I'll think about it."

"Fine." Standing, I walk away, leaving him to eat alone. I can feel his gaze hot on my back but I refuse to turn around.

Days pass and the roses keep arriving, scarlet and bright. Despite my disinterest he gives me new gowns and pretty little trinkets to decorate the room with; throw pillows, rugs, paintings of forests and pretty, happy people dancing and laughing.

Looking at them just makes me feel lonelier, but it does lift my spirits slightly to see some of his darker influence being erased from our chambers. Soon the room is filled with flowers and he even allows me to keep the drapes open so sunlight can chase away the shadows.

Our routine is much the same as it was, but I'm starting to go stir crazy being confined to this room. I want to see the garden, I want to feel the sunlight and the wind; I yearn to see a different face and hear anyone else's voice. I've taken to crying for hours in the afternoons because I hate feeling this helpless and alone.

One morning I wake up to the drapes already thrown wide, the early sunlight sifting across the bed, soft and warm. I rise and stretch, my thin nightgown airy as I go to the window to look out. The sky is a pale blue and I sigh because I'd dearly love to spend my time outside on a day like this.

"Good morning," Damien calls, making me turn to look at him. He's already washed and dressed, and our breakfast is waiting on the table. "Did you sleep well?"

"About as well as can be expected," I reply, turning away. "It's going to be a lovely day out there," I add. "Wish I could say the same for in here."

"Come and eat," he says, "It'll get cold."

Breakfast is subdued, but I can't help but notice that Damien's had the roses in the crystal vase refreshed. They're full and healthy, sitting in the middle of the table.

"I'll be later than usual today, my love," he says near the end of the meal, frowning at my plate; the food I've barely touched. "I have several errands that need my attention."

"It's just as well," I reply coolly. "The hours drag on regardless... what's a few more at this point?"

"Perhaps you'll find a worthwhile way to pass the time," he remarks, smiling.

I snort. "Doubtful."

I bathe and dress in a gown of Damien's choosing; light blue with a full, gathered skirt. After I pass his inspection my ankle chain is snapped into place and I sit on the bed as I watch him readying to leave.

"Would you like anything special for dinner?" he asks, pulling on his dark coat.

I shake my head. Food doesn't really matter to me anymore; it's just a necessity, and all of it seems to taste the same in my current state of mind. Nothing's really tasted good since my reckless journey to the coast, but that's because of the company I kept, not necessarily what was being eaten. Besides, my appetite is so off, and I just don't feel hungry these days; my stomach always feeling unsettled. 

"You need to nourish yourself," he says sternly. "After all, you could be -"

"I thought you were leaving," I interject, nervously worrying my hands together. "I'm fine on my own, but that's already obvious, isn't it?"

He sighs, coming to kiss my cheek, ignoring the way i recoil. "Try to find something to do. You're smart, you'll think of something."

I growl softly under my breath, glad to see him leaving for the most part. A curl of longing plucks at me, though, which i try to ignore. I sit for a moment and watch the trees moving in the wind outside, imagining i can feel it too; cool on my face, in my hair.

I'm about to settle in for another long, monotonous day when my eye catches on something out of the ordinary; my side table drawer is slightly open. It's strange because I always keep it closed because it's empty. There's no need to disturb it.

I go to it, curious and apprehensive. I just hope that Damien didn't leave me a nasty surprise, but when I slide the drawer open I'm met with a wonderful sight: dozens of books, and what's more, I've been given paper and -

"Oh," I murmur, lifting the little golden pen Craig had given me so long ago. It catches the light and it glints. Bittersweet tears burn my eyes as I study it.

The books I've been given are plentiful and new to me, consisting of fairy tales and plays and poetry. I hungrily lift them and read each cover and back, almost shaking because this discovery will change everything. I won't have to stare into space and try to entertain myself as the hours unwind; now I can fill my mind with the words of others, and it'll almost be like I'll have someone else to talk to; a door opening to new worlds.

My joy is poisoned by the fact that Damien has given me these gifts, of course. I can only suspect that he's trying to curry favor with me or use the books as a way to punish me if I disobey, but for now I'm so happy to be able to read again that I set my worries aside. Settling on the bed, I begin to read, to devour story after story; the golden pen in my hand and the sunlight like silk as it flows across the floor.

It feels like barely any time has passed when Damien returns that evening. I'm curled on the couch, lost in a book, and when the door opens i don't immediately look up. In fact, I take no notice of him until he comes over and lightly touches my neck. Blinking, I look up, and he smiles at me; tender. He appears intrigued.

"I see you found your surprise," he says.

I nod, slowly closing the book; annoyed at being pulled from a prettier, safer place. I set it aside, quickly tucking the pen in my pocket. I don't look at him, not sure what sort of response he wants from me.

"Are the books in line with your tastes?" he asks, moving away to begin settling in. "If not I can get you others... as many as you like."

"They're fine, thank you," I reply primly. I gather my pile of books and carry them to my side table, shutting them away.

"I just noticed that you had a lot of fairy tales, and Cartman said you had one of his poetry books." He snorts. "Though I'd be very surprised if he's ever read for leisure, or at all."

I almost smile but stop myself, covering my mouth. He continues to make himself comfortable, rolling up his sleeves and unbuttoning the top buttons of his shirt; something he does every time he returns. He seems to be very devoted to routines, and I hate myself for picking up on his patterns.

"Did you have something you wanted to talk about?" he asks, startling me. I hadn't been aware that I'd been staring at him.

Blushing, I look away. "Why didn't you punish me? I don't understand."

"Punish you for what?"

I roll my eyes. "For learning to read and write; for hiding my books and things from you. It's illegal and you seem so...traditional."

"I'm traditional in certain regards, yes. I expect you to listen and obey, to defer to your Alpha, but I don't find ignorance attractive. I never have."

I look at him, surprised. He's pouring himself some wine but doesn't offer me any. I'm forbidden from drinking alcohol until we know whether or not -

I shake my head. I can't even think about what may be happening inside of me.

"So you don't agree with the laws, then?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.

"Not all of them, no."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Understandable." There's a knock at the door then, and Rebecca arrives with our dinner. She looks even more gaunt than the last time I saw her. She's silent as she lays everything out, leaving quickly.

"Come," he says, pulling out my chair.

Dinner is pork loin, roasted potatoes, and asparagus, but I don't have much of an appetite. Damien doesn't disguise the way he watches my consumption, his mouth pressed flat with growing irritation.

"I've had enough," he says, setting down his fork abruptly. "You barely ate any breakfast and you never touch the snacks i leave for you to have during the day. You're going to eat everything on your plate."

"I'm not hungry," I say softly. In fact, my stomach feels unsettled, but I'm not going to tell him that. It's none of his business.

"I don't care, Kyle. Do as i say or you're not leaving this table."

I have to stifle a laugh, wanting to tell Damien that he sounds more like my father than my Alpha - not that I've accepted him as such. I stare at my plate, the smell of the food becoming more unappealing as the minutes pass.

"Kyle," he growls, that little warning note in his tone. "Do as you're told. You can't starve yourself; it'll be detrimental to -"

"Shut up! I don't want to talk about that!" I yell, clamping my hands to my ears.

Reaching, Damien takes a hold of my arm and yanks it away so I'm forced to listen. "Ignoring the possibility isn't going to change anything! I refuse to let you make stupid decisions that'll only hurt you in the long run! Stop being irrational and face the fact that you might be pregnant!"

Tearing my hand away i begin crying immediately, angry and nauseated as that ugly, repulsive word - pregnancy - rings through my head like a death knell. Recklessly, I grab some food from my plate, not bothering to use a fork, and I stuff it into my mouth; making a mess as I sob hysterically.

"Fine, you want me to eat?! I'll eat then!" I yell, cramming more food between my lips, ignoring the way it makes me want to gag; my stomach jumping and writhing.

Damien's at a loss for words for a moment, actively disgusted as I eat like an animal, but then he's reaching to push the plate out of my reach. "What the hell is wrong with you?! Have you lost your goddamn mind?!" he shouts.

Sobbing uncontrollably now, I feel a lurch in my stomach as the food I'd forced down starts to come back up, and i race from the table, nearly tripping on my way to the bathroom. I barely make it to the toilet before I begin vomiting violently, my mouth filling with bile as I kneel on the floor. I begin to shake, sweat breaking out on my forehead and face.

It has to be because I ate when I didn't want to, but I'm so sick of Damien harping on me about it, controlling every tiny aspect of my life. And hearing that word, that word... it's like being forced to swallow a mouthful of needles.

I vomit until I go slack, and I rest my sweaty cheek against the toilet seat, drifting; stomach unsettled, a throb building in my head. I'm covered in cold sweat and I'm shaking as chills move through me.

"Did that help?" Damien asks from the doorway. He sounds exasperated. "Really, Kyle, you didn't need to take things that far...I'm only trying to take care of you."

"I'm aware of that," I snap. "God knows you tell me enough."

"It bears repeating, I think; until you accept it. Here, let me help clean you up."

"No!" I shout, standing slowly on my wobbly legs. "I'm fine on my own, I don't need you. My stomach was upset, that's all. That's why I didn't want to eat."

He watches me and I know he isn't convinced. "Fine. I'll have Bebe bring up something to help settle your stomach."

I wave him away and angrily flush the toilet, nerves tingling and my stomach still rolling over. The nausea is sitting in the back of my throat, and even thinking about food is making me feel sick again. I splash cold water on my face and close my eyes, thinking of anything that will ground me; that'll distract from how awful I feel -

And how terrified I'm quickly becoming.

Several days later, I rise to wide open curtains, more roses, and another stack of books on my side table. I say nothing, taking breakfast with Damien, the atmosphere frosty (mostly from me, I must admit), and I can feel him watching every morsel of food i put in my mouth.

"I'm not eating if you're going to watch me," I finally say, putting down my fork. "I'm not a sideshow."

"How are you feeling?" he asks, sliding a muffin on a plate closer to me.

Truth be told, I feel a little better than yesterday but I'm still slightly nauseated. I drink some ginger ale, annoyed that he made a point of saying it's just for me.

"I'm fine," I snap. "I told you my stomach was just upset. That's all."

He only nods, but I can see that telltale light in his eyes; the one that sparks when something has either intrigued or delighted him. I eat enough to satisfy him, overlooking how sick I feel when I'm done. I take deep breaths and drink more ginger ale, ignoring Damien's little smile.

The day is spent peacefully as I read on the couch, the fire burning merrily. At one point, though, I nod off and Damien finds me fast asleep when he comes in; sitting on the floor with my head cradled in my arms on the couch. He kisses me awake and I back away quickly, having been enjoying a pleasant dream before he spoiled it.

"Have a nice nap?" he asks, smiling that unsettling smile again.

Rubbing my eyes, I ignore him and put my books away. I still feel exhausted but I chalk it up to sleeping in a strange place in an uncomfortable position.

Dinner is a trial but I endure, choking down steak and salad, but I turn my nose up at the cake I'm offered for dessert.

"Really?" Damien asks, giving me a look. "You normally love sweets... that's why I had them make this for you."

"Well, I don't want any," I reply, downing some water to help ease my nausea. "And my steak was overcooked."

He sighs. "I thought you liked it that way."

"I want it rare next time," I say, something about the idea very appealing to me.

He gives me a thoughtful look which only infuriates me. I leave the table, trying to think of anything that will distract me from running to the bathroom again.

We read that evening, which is typical, but now we both have our own books. I can feel him looking at me every now and again, but I purposely keep my eyes on the page, but I can't focus on the words.

"Will you read to me?" he asks suddenly, prompting me to lower my book and stare at him. He's bathed in firelight, the glow reflecting off his dark hair. His eyes glimmer but he doesn't seem to be teasing me.

I swallow, biting back a yawn. I'm still so tired. "Why?"

He shrugs and it's almost boyish. "I just miss reading together, and I like hearing you speak. You're so quiet most of the time."

"I wonder why that is," I mutter. I sigh, touching my cheek; resting my head my hand. "I'm a little tired, truthfully." I pause, wanting to tell him to leave me alone, but I would like to continue my book but I'm too weary to focus properly. I slide it over so it's between us. "Why don't you read for a while?"

He picks up the book and studies the cover. "Other Voices, Other Rooms*," he says. "Do you like it so far?"

"I think it's lovely."

"Well, if it would please you." He opens the book and I point to where he should begin. Soon his voice is like smoke in the room, rising and lulling me. I lean my head against the couch, listening until my eyes slip shut.

I wake up early the next morning, even before the sun has fully risen, to find myself in the large bed with Damien's arms around me; my head nestled on his chest, and I'm horrified. I pull away, stifling a scream when he tightens his hold, groaning in his sleep.

"Let me go," I say tremulously, still fighting. "I don't want to be held by you; I hate when you touch me."

Finally he awakens, and he releases me before sitting up to turn on the light. We both squint at one another, eyes adjusting slowly. He frowns.

"You reached for me in your sleep," he says huskily. "After I tucked you in you were restless, but you settled after -"

"Don't lie," I cut him off. "And if that did happen it's because I was having a dream and mistook you for someone else."

Growling, he shows me his teeth. "I don't think I need to ask who you were dreaming about."

"It's none of your business anyway!" Moving away, he grabs my arm and drags me back.

"Let's get something straight here," he says lowly, "everything you do, everything about you, is my business. There is nothing about you that I won't find out about, and that includes things you don't even realize yet, or maybe you do and you just don't want to accept them."

Feeling cold, I stare into his eyes and that light is burning brightly, deep, and I can see it for what it is; knowledge, a realization, and it makes me so completely afraid that I lose all of my fight instantly. I hang my head and cover my mouth, the sickness rising in me that I've been trying so desperately to deny.

"Your smell is different," he murmurs. "It changed a while ago, and I could tell as soon as it did. You're carrying yourself differently, too; more carefully, almost like you're trying not to draw attention to yourself. And you're so tired all the time."

"Please," I say faintly, shutting my eyes. "Stop. I can't hear this. I don't want to."

"Ignoring your reality doesn't change it," he says, becoming softer. He holds me more gently but doesn't let go, pulling me so I'm right against him. He breathes in my scent deeply before sighing, his hand sliding up my leg, lifting my nightgown.

"I don't want to do this with you," I beg, turning my face away. "Haven't you done enough already? How much do you want to take from me?"

"Calm yourself, I'm not going to do anything to you. I just," he stops, rubbing his hand over my hip; it settles flat and warm on my belly, low. "Right there," he adds, nuzzling me. "You know, don't you? You have to."

Nausea's building in my throat but I swallow it down. I feel achy in my back and hips, and so, so exhausted. I shake my head.

"I can't accept it, it's too awful," I whisper.

"How can you say that? Isn't having children the thing omegas want the most?" He's still stroking my stomach, his fingers curling possessively.

"I don't know," I manage to say, my voice coming out shallow. "I just...I don't want this with you, if it's true. You know that."

He lapses into silence, his hand weighing heavier on my stomach. I shift but he won't let me go. "You'll change your mind... how can you not? We've created a life together. It'll give you a new perspective. It has to."

Covering my mouth, I jerk away; bile rising. My stomach is in knots but I don't know if it's because of the reality crashing down on me or the way Damien twists and perverts everything between us. Rising, I rush across the room where I barely make it to the bathroom before I'm sick again; sobbing quietly as I press a hand to my stomach.

Chapter Text

legs and limbs and lips
all open with your fingertips
you make holes in me
and little slits
you use as mouths
for you to kiss

close my plastic eyelids
you say this is the love we all hope to find
so don't cry, don't worry
you're supposed to bleed the first time

- Flowers of Flesh and Blood, Nicole Dollanganger

----

We hide in the places where mice make their holes

Our skin getting cold under moth eaten clothes
I feel my lips turn blue, i'd do anything to be held by you through the night
The doors are all closed, we peer through key holes
Tucked away in a place where flowers can't grow
Your skin turns to dust in my hands and i'm left holding onto a pile of sand

They say open up the window and stand in the sunshine

But you hide in the shadows cause the light goes right through you
You're a ghost, you're a ghost, you're a ghost, you're a ghost of my mind

- Fleurs Captives, Nicole Dollanganger


Over a week passes and my condition doesn't improve. If anything, it worsens, and my nausea seems to linger all the time, regardless of what I eat. It sits in my throat, on my tongue, and it makes eating unbearable. Even the thought of food makes me want to vomit most of the time.

My sense of smell intensifies as well, which only aggravates my nausea. Every scent is magnified to an excruciating degree; Damien's aroma, food, the roses. It's like I'm a bloodhound. Bebe cut her finger on a piece of porcelain from a dish that broke and I could smell the metallic heaviness of her blood from several feet away*.

Exhaustion seeps into me to the point where I'm napping several times a day, and I drop off very early in the evening; often while Damien is quietly reading to me. In the morning I wake up and i want to go right back to sleep, curling into the blanket and hiding until Damien has to force me to get up.

"You look pale," Damien says one morning at breakfast. He's studying me with a critical eye while I'm trying to choke down some food.

I glare at him, my mouth filling with wetness; a telltale sign that I'm going to be running to the bathroom soon.

"I'm naturally pale," I say icily. "Even more so now that I'm not allowed to go outside."

"And whose fault is that?" he asks in an infuriatingly calm voice. He lifts his orange juice to his lips.

I stab a piece of melon with unnecessary force before bringing it to my mouth, staring at it and trying not to smell its cloying, sugary scent; my stomach already clenching. I've had one pancake and a few bites of eggs but I already feel too full.

"I don't want to talk about this right now, okay?" I mutter. "I don't have the energy to argue with you... I'm using all my strength to keep my food down."

I place the melon in my mouth and immediately gag, bringing a napkin to my lips so I can spit the morsel out. I take deep breaths before drinking a few gulps of water.

"You don't really seem to be improving," Damien observes, which only adds to my annoyance. "You can't keep pretending this isn't happening, Kyle."

"This is bullshit," I snap, pressing my hands to my cheeks. I count to ten in my head to distract myself but it doesn't work; the nausea only grows. "All of it. You have no idea what this feels like, you never will, and the fact that I'm in this position against my will... it's taking everything in me not to attack you right now."

"Attack me and I bind your hands," he says simply. "And that sort of language is intolerable, by the way; I've been meaning to mention it."

I stare at him, a little muscle in my cheek beginning to twitch. "Excuse me?"

"Your penchant for using obscenities is beneath you," he replies. "I'm going to insist that you speak in a respectful way, especially now that -"

"Don't say it or I won't be able to keep my food down," I growl, clenching my hands.

"Even if we don't say it out loud we both know the truth, Kyle. Avoiding the topic doesn't change it."

"I'm just sick," I reply. "That's all. It has to be because of my conditions here... being a prisoner with you. Anyone in my position would start to break down after a while."

Crossing his arms, he gives me an incredulous look. "Now you're just being wantonly delusional. You know what you're saying can't be accurate."

"Maybe as far as you're concerned," I snap, my stomach jumping. I press a hand to it and close my eyes, praying for the heaving and turning to stop but it's relentless. "You're just so desperate to spawn that you'll clutch at any straw you can."

Eyes flashing, his irritation is obvious. I see his hand flex, the one with the garnet ring, but he doesn't make a move to strike. "One of the principle and most fundamental desires of mankind is to pass on its genetic material. It's wired into our DNA, alpha or omega."

I roll my eyes, still touching the slightly bloated curve of my belly. "Right, that's what it is... it isn't you on a power trip or trying to prove something to your father."

He's slow to respond but when he does his tone is low and deliberate, making the hair rise on the back of my neck. "I will overlook your obvious attempts to bait me because of your delicate condition, but just know my patience only extends so far."

"In any case," he adds, "there's no point in arguing about this when a simple trip to the doctor can clear up the whole situation. You can't dispute hard evidence, now can you?"

"I can try," I say stubbornly, even though my heart feels significantly lighter at the prospect of seeing Dr. McCormick and Karen again; they'd been so kind to me before. I just hate that I'll be reunited with them because of such dire circumstances. "You're taking me to the doctor?"

"Of course I am. It's a natural course of action, isn't it?"

Trying to keep the hope from my voice, I look down. "Are we going to travel to see him or is he coming here?"

Damien is silent a moment; long enough for me to look at him. He's studying me; eyes narrowed. "What would you prefer?"

I sigh. "I think you already know the answer to that."

He nods thoughtfully. "I suppose i do, but do you deserve what you want?"

Gritting my teeth i know I have to tread carefully if I'm going to feel sunlight again anytime soon. "I honestly don't know. I'll let you decide for me."

"Hmm." He hums under his breath, tilting his head to rest his face against his hand. He's quiet, only heightening my anxiety - and he knows it.

"I'll defer to you," I murmur. "Isn't that what you want?"

"Typically, yes. I've told you that."

My stomach lurches again then, and I catch a whiff of bacon and it's all I can take. Swallowing thickly, I stand. "Excuse me, please. I need to use the bathroom."

Rushing from the table, I quickly find myself back in what is becoming a very familiar, hateful spot; kneeling before the toilet, the cold porcelain becoming slick from my sweaty hands as I heave and sob. I close my eyes and endure, because at this point it's really all I can do.

-----

Several days later, I'm napping on the couch when Damien wakes me, bringing my hands to his lips to kiss them softly.

"Have a nice day?" he asks, sitting beside me when I rise, slowly coming back to my senses. It's gotten to the point where i can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, not realizing I'd nodded off until I'm being roused.

"I guess," I reply, yawning and blinking to clear my eyes. "I finished my book."

"Oh, good, you seemed to be enjoying it," he smiles fondly, pushing my curls from my eyes. "I have some news for you."

I wait, trying to keep my eyes from slipping shut. My back aches and my bladder feels full even though I've had little to drink. I shift, attempting to get comfortable but that seems impossible these days.

"I've made an appointment for you with Dr McCormick. We leave the day after tomorrow."

My spirits lift, but they drop when he adds, "we'll be visiting my father's estate before returning home, though."

I'm instantly repulsed, pulling my hands from his. "You don't even like your father and you know how I feel... why are you putting us through this?"

"I don't have a choice, he insisted."

I want to tell him that he's a grown man and should have any choice he wants, but I don't. Knowing Damien as I do, this would only annoy him and cause problems for me down the line, and I don't want anything to get in the way of going to see Dr McCormick.

"I've already told Bebe so she can begin packing your things," he says, standing and removing his coat. He carefully sets it aside before he begins his usual coming-home ritual: rolling up his sleeves and unbuttoning the top couple buttons of his shirt. "Does that please you?"

"I get to go outside and see other people," I say, Damien's aroma so strong; stifling me. I delicately place a hand over my nose. "I'm thrilled, to say the least."

Giving me a look, he doesn't comment, but he doesn't seem irritated either. I sigh and lay my head against the couch, already ready to go back to sleep.

The next day I manage to pull myself together enough to compose a note to Craig, Tricia, and Ike; fully intending to somehow slip it to Karen or Dr McCormick during my appointment. In it I detail my apologies for how things turned out, my worries for them, and all of my love and longing. I reread it several times, changing certain parts, but it never seems sufficient...I have so much to say but one letter just doesn't seem like enough.

Still, I try, and when I'm somewhat satisfied I fold the pages as small as i can and hide them away; prepared to deliver them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

As the hours pass i become more and more excited at the idea of getting to leave this place for a while, and that almost takes away the dread that's filling me day by day; almost ignoring my weariness and aches; my near-constant nausea.

The morning of our trip i manage to wake early, going to the window to look out at the sun just rising; frail light breaking through the dim deep blue sky. I want to throw the window open and embrace the world; announce that I'll soon be back among the living. I'm smiling so widely that my face aches.

"Good morning," Damien calls, his voice rough. "You haven't been up this early in a while."

"I'm excited," I admit, turning from the window to see him sitting up and watching me; hair messy and eyes half-open. He always sleeps in just linen pants so he's shirtless, sleek and slim like a feline. "I haven't been outside in so long...I can't tell you how much I miss it."

"If you behave during our outing I may be able to give you some of your freedoms back," he yawns, stretching; turning his head and groaning when his neck pops. "But we'll just have to wait and see."

Breakfast is quiet and for once my stomach isn't just jumpy with nausea but because I'm excited. I drink some juice and eat half a bagel, resisting when Damien tries to coax me to eat some ham.

"You need to eat more protein," he admonishes gently. "The doctor will tell you the same thing."

"I'm sure he will," I say, taking a bite of ham to appease him. I swallow some nausea but it doesn't detract from my anticipation.

Damien dresses me in a red plaid pinafore dress with a ribbon around the collar and lace along the edges of the short, full skirt. There's even a red Alice band to go with it that keeps the curls from my eyes. I stare at myself in the mirror, turning covertly to the side to see if my belly looks different; it doesn't.

"You always make me wear such childish dresses when we go out like this," I remark, slipping on my lace-edged socks and black Mary Janes. "It's kind of ironic considering you paraded me around naked in front of a roomful of people."

"That was different," he replies, straightening his collar before pulling on his black suit jacket. "When I take you out i expect you to represent your dynamic with dignity. I want you demure and sweet, although with your tongue that's proving to be quite a challenge."

"I think you like that," I say cheekily, my mood so light that I can't resist the urge to tease him a little.

He gives me a passive look before he helps me into a light cloak, securing it beneath my chin. He pats my cheek gently. "I think we're just about ready."

When I'm finally reintroduced to the outdoors, I'm almost intimidated to step into the light again, but when I do I just stand for a moment, drinking in the wind, the aromas. The sun is barely above the horizon and filling the world with its orange-yellow light; the sky strung with gauzy clouds.

It's gorgeous, and I want to run to the garden and visit the roses, but Damien urges me toward the limo with a hand on the small of my back.

"We need to go, darling. I don't want to be late."

The trip is uneventful but that doesn't lessen my enjoyment, looking out the window to see the trees and houses rush past. Damien keeps me close, his hand on my thigh. Every now and then he touches my belly gently; soft brushes of his fingers like he's afraid to hurt me; the secret i may be carrying. The look on his face is one of quiet awe, which makes my apprehension start to bloom.

By the time we've stopped for lunch (where I subsequently threw up most of what I'd eaten in the cafe's restroom), my anxiety is rising with every mile. I'd been so elated about going out that I'd neglected to truly confront the reason, and now that we're so close to our destination it's all I can think about.

"Everything will be fine," Damien assures me, stroking my nape. I pull away, my scent changing to one of nervous fear; my fingers tapping the armrest incessantly.

"Fine is relative," I say, my voice high with growing panic. "Your version of fine is significantly different from mine."

"I just meant he isn't going to hurt you," he says, tucking a curl back that's slipped from my Alice band.

"I can't say that I agree." Looking out the window, my already unsettled stomach is full of flutters. Terror is waking up in me and making me very quiet and still. I almost hope that if I'm silent enough the universe will forget about me and I won't have this horrible possibility confirmed.

It can't be true, I won't let it. This thought repeats itself as the sweat beads on my forehead. I mean, my mind hates Damien so my body has to as well... it'll reject anything that's even remotely associated with him.

I realize I'm being irritational but I maintain this line of thought until the limo pulls in front of the doctor's office. I'm clammy and cold at this point, my heart pounding, and Damien practically has to drag me out of the car; growling when I try to climb back in.

"You're being ridiculous, now come on, we're already behind schedule." Annoyed, he wraps a hand around my arm and jerks me toward the entrance.

Becoming desperate, I dig my heels in but to no avail, and soon I'm in the waiting room, huddled next to Damien as I begin to shake. Other Omegas and Alphas in the room politely pretend not to notice the meltdown I'm having in their presence while Damien quietly scolds me.

"You're embarrassing me," he says into my ear before pressing his nails into my arm. "Be still or I'll punish you right here. Don't test me."

"I don't want to do this," I whisper back, my bladder aching with anxiety and fullness; bile rising up my throat. "Please, I don't want to know."

He gives me a severe look, eyes glinting, and i shrink into myself; looking down at my lap. Tears rise in my eyes that slowly fall down my cheeks. The minutes tick by sluggishly as we wait, and Damien keeps a possessive hand clamped tightly on my arm.

When Karen calls us back we share a look of mingled sadness and worry, and she's extra patient and careful with me when checking my vitals and getting my weight.

"You've lost almost ten pounds since the last time we saw you," she says with obvious concern, writing everything down on her clipboard. She glances at Damien and her mouth tightens. "Was that deliberate, or...?"

"He's always been a finicky eater," Damien supplies smoothly, "and we've recently dealt with some upheaval that created a fair amount of stress, so I'm sure that's a contributing factor. Not to mention," he adds, smiling now, "he's been very nauseated. Haven't you, love?"

I nod, gratified to see the compassion in her eyes as well as her obvious dislike for Damien. "I'm throwing up pretty much every day... it's really hard to keep anything down."

She nods, noting this on her form as well before handing me a gown. "Undress and put that on, please. The doctor will be in shortly."

Lingering, she gives me another soft look before leaving, shutting the door behind her. Making sure the note I'd written is tucked deep and safe into my dress pocket, I begin to slowly undress with Damien's assistance. Soon I'm in the gown, shivering and filling the small room with the smell of my fear; trembling on the exam table. Damien stays near, rubbing my back.

"Calm," he murmurs, pressing my nape. "It'll be over soon."

Dr McCormick enters the room not too long after that, smiling brightly but it doesn't reach his eyes. He shakes Damien's hand and then my own, holding me a fraction longer than is customary, studying me with the same expression Karen had; emanating concern and compassion.

"So, what's been going on, Kyle? It's been a while since I've seen you," he says, covertly taking a hold of my arm to inspect the wrist I'd broken. He nods as if he's satisfied with how it had healed.

I glance at Damien, waiting for him to intervene because he always does, and this time is no different.

"Kyle has been feeling sick lately," he starts, taking my hand. "Vomiting, lack of appetite... he's tired and run-down even though he sleeps all the time. Is there anything else, darling?"

Clearing my throat, I look at the tiles on the floor as I speak, my voice muted. "My sense of smell has gotten a lot stronger and I have to pee all the time. Oh, and my back aches and so do my hips. I feel bloated."

The doctor slowly nods while he listens before looking over the clipboard Karen had handed him. "It says here you recently went through a heat. When was that?"

"Almost a month ago," Damien says.

Dr McCormick glances at him, his bright blue eyes narrowing. "And I take it Kyle wasn't using any suppressants or protection  when you..."

"No, he wasn't taking anything."

"I see." Pulling on a pair of gloves, he asks me to lie back on the table. I obey, whining softly when he parts my gown, his hand sliding over my side where he'd stitched it up. Our eyes meet, and I think he can see how afraid I am. "This won't hurt, I promise," he says gently.

He examines me the way he did last time, having me raise each arm so he can rub my chest, soft around my nipples. I groan because it feels different this time; more sensitive. He frowns before moving down to my belly, touching and prodding carefully, and his frown deepens. Damien watches closely, a rare look of apprehension on his face.

"Is everything okay?"

The doctor nods, touching my pubis now, my privates; reaching between my legs, making me wince when he brushes my overly sensitive glands.

Karen enters then, and Dr McCormick takes his hands away, sighing softly. "Do you have his urine results?"

"Yes, right here," Karen replies in a subdued way, handing a slip of paper to her brother. She gives me a quick sorrowful look before turning away, making my heart plummet.

Silence fills the room as I reach to cover myself, sitting up slowly; everything spinning for a moment.

"Well? What are his results?" Damien asks, his tone bordering on aggressive. I close my gown more tightly, hands shaking and breath coming faster.

The doctor looks up, unsmiling, before heaving a pronounced sigh. Damien's hand tightens on my shoulder until I wince.

"Congratulations," he says mildly, holding up my results. "Looks like you two are expecting."

Damien is clearly over the moon as he draws me close, kissing my hair and praising me. I just stare blankly for a moment that feels like a hellish eternity before I begin to cry, great heaving sobs that make my looming nausea even worse. Damien hugs me tighter, shushing me.

"Oh, my love, my love... he's only confirming what we already suspected," he says gently. "And this is a good thing, a wonderful thing... you'll have someone to care for, a family of your own. Doesn't that make you happy?"

I'm crying too hard to answer, covering my face with my hands and wanting to simply slip into the darkness and disappear.

"Is this a normal response?" Damien asks the doctor, a thread of concern in his voice. He almost sounds nervous.

"It can be," the doctor replies. "I'm afraid Kyle's going through a lot right now... the hormones can make him weepy, despondent, and feeling sick and tired all of the time can certainly take an emotional toll." He sighs again. "Not to mention this is a huge change... being scared is perfectly normal."

"What can I do to help?" Damien asks.

The doctor doesn't answer for a moment and I look up, eyes wet. He's looking at Damien with an expression i can't interpret, but it doesn't seem particularly friendly.

"You can help by being supportive and understanding while he adjusts. And it's imperative that you keep his stress levels low... stress can be incredibly detrimental during a pregnancy."

Fighting the impulse to jump off the table and hide behind the doctor, I clear the tears from my eyes; still shaking. Everything feels so horribly surreal.

"I'm not allowed to go outside or talk to anyone," I say, cracking through the invisible barrier that's been constructed around me; created by Damien's need to control and intimidate. "I'm alone all the time and I hate it."

"Kyle," Damien says, his tone telling me to shut my mouth.

"And he uses force when he's angry with me," I add defiantly.

Dr McCormick looks at Damien, eyebrows raised. "Is that true, Mr Thorne?"

Drawing himself up straight, Damien squares his shoulders, unflinching when meeting the doctor's eyes. "I didn't realize I'm on trial here."

Shaking his head, the doctor pulls off his gloves and goes to wash his hands. "No one said you were, but I'm obligated to take Kyle's concerns seriously, and he doesn't sound happy about all of this."

Damien squeezes my nape so hard that I almost cry out, biting it back at the last moment. The message is clear, though: keep your mouth shut or you'll regret it.

"Kyle's acting out because he's being punished," he says carefully. "He ran away and had an illicit affair with another Alpha. My response is appropriate in this regard. Anyone would agree."

Turning, the doctor leans against the counter and crosses his arms. "I suppose, given the circumstances." He flicks his focus to me quickly as if to convey that he doesn't believe what he's saying for a moment.

"As for using force, Kyle, like any omega, needs and craves discipline and structure. That's been well established, and I'm not going to apologize for being devoted to a traditional mindset. Kyle knows this, but he's often petulant... as you can plainly see."

"Fine," the doctor replies, his tone suggesting that Damien needs to be silent and listen. "I'm not in any position to tell you how to run your home, Mr Thorne, but I will tell you this. Given your history, I know how much you want this pregnancy to be successful, and the best way to make that happen is to create a healthy environment where Kyle can thrive."

"I completely agree," Damien says firmly, still holding my nape.

"That means he needs to be calm," the doctor adds. "His stress levels need to be low and controlled. He needs fresh air and exercise and sunshine. In short, you can't keep him confined indoors if you want this to work, and you certainly can't use corporal punishment either. That's a disaster waiting to happen."

I give Dr McCormick the most pronounced look of gratitude that I I'm allowed given the circumstances, but he's focused solely on Damien. I can tell he wants to say more but he refrains, waiting for Damien to respond.

Damien, meanwhile, is rigid and his scent is rife with aggression and quiet fury. It's extremely unusual, almost unheard of, for someone to dictate Damien's actions or make suggestions as to how he should correct his conduct. I think that's a huge part of why he turned out the way he did.

"I will make sure that Kyle is comfortable in any way I can," he bites out, every word harsh; his tone abrupt. "His needs are my needs as far as I'm concerned."

"Then treat him the way you'd treat yourself," the doctor says without skipping a beat. "In fact, you might want to treat him even better than that, if you truly intend to get what you want."

I stop trembling then, and the look the doctor sneaks me tells me that he's trying to save me in his own way; maybe not from what's growing inside of me, but at the very least from Damien's myriad of cruelties. I touch my mouth, overcome, once again, at his kindness.

Damien, however, seems less receptive to essentially receiving a lecture, but he nods anyway, still holding me tightly. There almost seems to be a new level of possessiveness creeping into his bearing already.

"Yes, of course, you're right," he says easily, the only indication of his displeasure by the way he squeezes me so hard. I keep my face blank, already spent from my newest revelation. "I'll handle him like he's made of glass and why shouldn't I? Kyle is my entire family... everyone i cherish is right here." He softly nuzzles my temple.

"I have no doubt you'll do exactly that," Dr McCormick replies, turning to me and he slowly becomes grave. We regard one another the way we had when I'd run away and he'd put me back together; my broken state and his deep desire to help.

Who knew we'd find ourselves in this place again, and in this sort of situation? It's enough to truly break my heart, but right now it feels like it's being crushed - slowly.

"Take care of yourself and eat well," he says softly. "Rest when you need to but make sure to move as well... go for walks, go outside." His eyes flick to Damien momentarily. "Try to go easy on yourself and listen to your body. If something feels wrong, and I mean anything, please tell Mr Thorne so we can help you. Okay?"

I nod, unable to speak at the moment because I'm afraid I'll cry if I try. I'm just so grateful he didn't call Damien my Alpha, but I think he knows that would hurt just as much as the news of my pregnancy.

"You'll be doing a sonogram today, won't you? Just to make sure everything's as it should be?" Damien interjects.

"Yes, of course. Let me jot a few things down, make a few notes, and then we'll get a look at your little one."

Pressing my hand to my mouth, I make a small sound to get their attention. They look at me, Damien concerned and the doctor wary.

"I think I'm going to be sick again. May I use the bathroom?"

The doctor nods, speaking before Damien can. "Sure, Karen can help if you'd like. And you can get dressed."

"I'll go with you," Damien says.

"Oh, Mr Thorne, I actually need you for a few minutes, if you don't mind," Dr McCormick speaks up. "Don't worry, Karen will take good care of Kyle. Won't you, sis?"

"Absolutely, and we can get your blood work out of the way, too," Karen smiles, having watched silently through the whole exchange. "What tests will you need, Kenny?"

"The standard set for now, I'd like to check his hCG levels," he replies, "and later we can do genetic testing if you'd like, Mr Thorne."

"Anything you think is for the best, do it."

"Come on, Kyle," Karen says, helping me down from the table. I quickly gather my clothes and go with her, Damien watching all the while. Dr McCormick begins asking him questions immediately.

Once in the small bathroom, Karen hugs me tightly as soon as the door is closed. "Oh, Kyle, I'm so sorry," she whispers. "When Tricia and Craig came back and told us Damien found you -"

"They were here?" I ask in a harsh whisper, pulling away to look at her. "Is Craig alright? Did they have a little boy with them?"

She nods, wiping her eyes. "Kenny removed the bullet from Craig's shoulder and said he'll be fine, and there was a boy with them. They said he's your brother."

"Ike," I say, so immensely relieved to know that they're okay, at least physically. "Did they say where they were going?"

She shakes her head. "They didn't want to tell us in case anyone ever finds out we helped, to protect us, I guess, but they did say they'll be coming back soon to see if we've seen or heard from you."

"Then give them this, please." Reaching into the pocket of my dress i pull out the letter and hand it to her. "And tell them I miss them every day... and that I love them so much."

"I will," she promises, slipping the article into the pocket of her scrubs.

"And please," I add, my voice brittle, "tell them I'll find a way to be with them again... I'll never stop fighting until I do."

-----

After I'm dressed and I've had my blood taken, I'm led into a room full of dimly familiar equipment. I've been here before, the first time I was brought to the doctor, so I know what to expect, but that doesn't mean I'm not afraid.

I'm just afraid for a much larger, more terrifying reason this time around.

The doctor tells me to lie down on a long padded chair as he starts readying for the exam. Damien stays close the whole time, adjusting the pillow under my head while Karen places a blanket over my hips and legs.

"Just lift your dress a little," she says softly, helping me with my skirt. "We have to be able to see your tummy."

I stay quiet through all of this, numb from the shock of the news. Yes, I had known on an intellectual level that there was something different about me, but all of this is making it so utterly real; like the bitter pill of my reality had been sitting on my tongue but now it's being forced down my throat.

Damien takes my hand as the lights are turned out, the glow from the sonogram screen casting eery shadows; bathing the doctor's face in white. He's on my right and Damien's on my left, hovering, and I suddenly feel so trapped that i want to scream.

I stay silent, but I'm screaming myself raw inside my head.

"Are you alright, love?" Damien asks.

I nod, not turning to him. Dr McCormick comes over to adjust my dress and the blanket before picking up a bottle that he vigorously shakes.

"It's going to be a little cold," he says apologetically. "You ready?"

"Yes," I say so softly my voice is barely audible. I wince when the clear gel is squeezed onto the warm skin of my stomach. Just seeing it feeds my nausea.

"Let's see what we have here," the doctor murmurs, lightly pressing the wand to my belly and rolling it through the gel, spreading it around. Instantly, my insides are on display on the screen, black and grey and white. Damien's grip tightens on my hand.

"There's your uterus." The doctor points before moving away to measure it; using the cursor to gather dimensions, moving rapidly and clicking away. "It looks good, just the right size at this point... nice thick lining, but not too thick. And there are your ovaries." He points again, at two black shadows in a sea of grey. He measures these as well.

Sliding the wand around, he clucks his tongue. "You have a tiny cyst on your right ovary but we'll keep an eye on it."

"Will that cause issues?" Damien asks.

"Most likely not, but I'll check on it the next time, just to be on the safe side," the doctor replies, shifting the wand again. He sighs deeply. "And here," he adds, more subdued now, "is your little one."

Pointing, he indicates a tiny object settled in my uterus; bean-shaped and deceptively innocuous in appearance. I suck in a breath, hardly able to believe that that thing is inside of me right now; growing, feeding on me.

I choke back a sob.

"Oh," Damien nearly sighs, drawing closer. "Oh, Kyle..."

He clears his throat. "How far along are we, doctor?"

"Well, based on the size of Kyle's uterus and the timing of his last heat, I'd say you're just a little over three weeks at this point. See that flicker? That's the heartbeat."

I whimper. There's another heartbeat inside of me...thrumming along. I shut my eyes for a moment, trying to understand what I'm seeing.

"Can we hear it? The heartbeat?" Damien lifts my hand and kisses it. "Wouldn't you like that, darling?"

Opening my eyes, I'm frozen, but I nod just a little.

Dr McCormick glances at me before adjusting the wand. He flips a switch and then the room is filled with a rapid thump, and it's all I can do not to vomit on the floor beside my chair.

"It's healthy," he says. "Right on target, in fact."

Damien seems to be overcome for a moment before he kisses my hand again, leaning to kiss my temple; nuzzling my curls.

"What a perfect sound," he says softly, more vulnerable than I've ever heard him.

"Everything looks good so far," Dr McCormick comments, flipping the switch and silencing the heartbeat; the sound having already driven itself into my head to nest deep in my brain. "Here, I'll print some pictures for you to take along."

Damien is positively euphoric in the car afterwards, poring over the pictures he'd been given and talking endlessly about them.

"The doctor seemed pretty optimistic," he says at one point. "Of course, it's still so early and anything can happen, but I don't know. This time feels different to me, like it's meant to be... maybe i was just being tested before, to see if I'd give up. But no, I found you... and I'm starting to think that's how all of this needed to happen, in just this way. What do you think?"

I'm gazing out the window where the sun is just beginning to set, trying to empty my head, so I don't answer for a few moments. Truthfully, I don't want to talk at all, especially to him, and listening to him spew this sort of nonsense isn't helping with my nausea.

"I don't really have an opinion," I reply, not bothering to look at him. We've been on the road for hours by now, drawing us closer to Lucifer's estate, and the fear is strong inside of me; the dread. This is just another battle in a seemingly endless barrage of battles that I'll have to meet and overcome.

He lets out a long breath, the rush of the wind outside loud in my ears; the drone of the wheels endlessly turning. "We both know that isn't true. You have an opinion about everything, Kyle."

I shrug, still watching the window. The sky looks like it's catching fire where the sun is sinking, flaring orange and blood red. "What does it matter what i think? It won't change anything, will it?"

"It matters because I want to hear your thoughts," he says stiffly. I can hear the anger resting in his words, still small, but it'll grow quickly, knowing him.

I finally look at him, this dark creature with the handsome face and severe moral deficiency. How strange he looks to me right now, with the uncertain frown on his face and sonogram pictures in his hands. I stare at him, making sure my face is an unreadable mask.

"I don't have to share them with you. You've already taken over my body, I won't let you have my mind, too."

As expected, his rage is swift, and he raises a hand, the dying sun catching the garnet ring. I give him a cool smile.

"I wouldn't do that, Damien. Remember what the doctor said about physical punishment?" I place a hand on my stomach. "Think of what you stand to lose if you can't control your impulses."

Growling, I can see the war of conflict on his face; his desire to keep me in line, his dependence on violence, but there's a vague, soft doubt there; his desire for offspring so strongly rooted in him that I can imagine he's being torn apart inside.

Good.

He slowly lowers his hand and it's all i can do not to laugh.

"It looks like you didn't really think things through, did you?" I ask, still touching my stomach. "You were so focused on the goal that you didn't think about the sacrifices you'd have to make along the way."

His eyes flash, becoming as shiny and crimson as his ring, and I can feel the rage drifting from him in waves. I bask in them.

"I always knew you had a vicious streak in you," he replies in an acidic tone. "Maybe that's why you caught my interest, not just to fuck you but to actually crawl into that head of yours and take a look around."

"I think you'll see that, in my own way, I can be just as cruel as you," I say airily.

"Oh, I have no doubt you are... you made that apparent when you ran off to spread your legs for someone else. How'd it feel, Kyle; lying on your back while another Alpha fucked you? Did it make all your dreams come true?"

It takes everything in me not to scratch his eyes out, but I keep my voice even when I reply; my tone sugary but my words poison. "It felt wonderful because I actually love Craig, Damien. He didn't have to wait for my Heat to start in order to make me want him, but you, well...I only begged you for it because I wasn't myself, and you knew it. The only way I'll ever want you is if I'm so far gone I can barely remember who you are."

"Whore," he snaps. "You dirty little whore."

"That doesn't seem to bother you," I reply indifferently. "You still wanted to have a child with me, didn't you? Besides, you have multiple omegas that you're screwing... you're a much bigger whore than I am. At least I wanted to be with Craig because -"

"You are going to shut your mouth right now," he says quietly. "Do you hear me? Right now, or I'll -"

"Or you'll what?" I interrupt. "Remember, I'm not just Kyle anymore, right, so what can you really do?"

"I should've figured you'd pour out a sob story to the doctor," he retorts. "Why wouldn't you? But, oh, if he only knew what you've put me through, the way you delight in getting to me in any way you can. I've done things for you that I've never even considered doing for anyone else. I feel things for you that I don't even understand, and you're still aloof... it's like you're filled with venom; like you enjoy it."

"I can only wonder why. You've tormented me from the moment we met... and that's after you bought me. I'm just property to you. Admit it."

Reaching, he takes a hold of my chin even though I try to avoid his hand, yanking me close. "You may think this attitude of yours will put me off loving you, but you'd be wrong. One of the main reasons I'm so attracted to you is because you're never boring. You challenge me, and as much as I despise your disrespect, I can't help but admire it, too. You intrigue me, Kyle. I've had many of your kind and they all bow eventually, but not you. I don't think you're even capable of it."

Sinking his fingers in, he smiles when I whimper softly. "You should want this child as much as I do; for your own good. Don't forget what's at stake here. If this pregnancy isn't successful my father will take you, and rest assured he's far worse than I could ever be."

Pulling, he still won't let me go, and I can see pieces of the old Damien meeting with the parts of him that seem to love me in their own sinister way. Against my will, I start to tremble, the sweat gathering on my forehead. It's almost like I'd forgotten how savage he can be when push comes to shove.

"Worse than you? That's hard to imagine," I lie, my courage failing me but I still keep the ice in my voice. "You're a living nightmare."

He smiles before kissing my lips softly, nipping gently before pulling away. "Nightmares don't create themselves, my love. They always have to start somewhere."

------

The first word that comes to mind when I finally see Lucifer's estate is "palatial", the immense mansion easily five times larger than Damien's impressive home. The brick residence is a sprawling collection of columns and sloping roofs lost in acres of fields as the limo carries us closer.

"My father has amassed a great deal of his wealth through the wine that he makes and sells," Damien explains dryly. "What you see are his vineyards. People from all over the world purchase his products... and they don't seem to mind the ungodly expense."

"He grows grapes even in cold weather?" I ask, staring at the sea of fields, the spaces in between the rows flashing by as the car rolls onward. "I mean, I know it's spring now but it's still so cool outside."

"Yes, he's especially known for the ice wines he creates. The grapes have to be harvested at just the right time and at a very specific temperature." He laughs humorlessly. "It's actually a huge risk, that sort of harvest, but my father thrives on risks. They're his life's blood, I think."

When the limo pulls in front of the mansion, Damien is still for a moment. "I'll warn you now, the attitude you've displayed this afternoon will not go over well with my father. You've met him already but that was only a hint of what he's capable of. Do you hear me?"

"More or less."

He sighs. "Where do you think I learned to love challenges, Kyle? Show him your teeth and you'll only be driving the nails into your own coffin."

Clyde opens the door then and Damien steps out, adjusting his coat before offering me his hand. I take it reluctantly and climb out as well, staring up at the majesty of Lucifer's home.

"You grew up here?" I ask faintly.

Damien regards the home with a sullen indifference, nodding. "Yes, when I wasn't being packed off to boarding school. Come along."

He pulls me to the front entrance; a rounded door situated under a large glass dome that's lit with golden light. On either side of the door are bushes perfectly shaped into cubes, nestled in ornate porcelain pots of blue and white. The door is comprised of blonde wood and shiny panes of glass, affording a glimpse of the majestic foyer within.

He rings the bell, which puzzles me. "You can't just walk in? Isn't this your home, too?"

"It was never a home," he mutters, running a hand over his hair, his coat; smoothing everything.

Soon the door is opened by a pretty young girl with soft orange hair in a braid over her shoulder. She's wearing a white blouse and a black pencil skirt, her nose splashed with freckles.
"Oh, young master," she smiles at Damien. "Your father said you'd be paying a visit. It's nice to see you again."

"Hello Sophie," he replies, pulling me closer. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Much too long," she says, glancing at me. "And you've brought someone. How wonderful!"

"Kyle," he says curtly. "My father, where is he?"

"Oh, where he always is at this time of day. Drinking absinthe in the den. Well, come in, come in. It's cold out there...you'd never know winter is over."

We're ushered into the foyer where a fountain is bubbling quietly; made of marble with three women in flowing togas holding up a large rounded bowl in the center. A chandelier made of thousands of teardrop crystals seems to drip overhead, washing everything in brilliant light. Sophie's heels click on the floor as she leads us down a winding corridor.

The "den" is enormous, filled with firelight and dark, heavy furniture; the fireplace marble with a large clock ticking away on the mantle; the pendulum swinging back and forth. Above it, like most of the homes I've been in, especially those of well to do Alphas, is a gigantic painting. The subjects are Lucifer and the same woman whose likeness hangs above Damien's fireplace; ebony hair and pale skin, with large green eyes. She's in another white gown that accentuates her fragile, willowy figure; her hand in Lucifer's as they gaze at the onlooker.

Lucifer is sitting in an impressive armchair, legs crossed as he reads, a glass glowing in his hand with green liquid inside. I'm nauseated to see a pretty omega resting at his feet, propped on an embroidered cushion and leaning his head against Lucifer's leg. His eyes are glassy and vacant.

Blinking, Lucifer looks up when Damien clears his throat. He touches the omega's head softly, as if trying to wake him from a nap.

"We have company, honey child," he murmurs. "Remember your posture."

Suddenly a loud screech erupts from behind us and I almost scream, clinging hard to Damien.

"Remember your posture, Bradley! Your posture!"

Turning, I see a parrot sitting on a perch next to a huge golden cage. It's bobbing its head and turning just so to stare at us with one beady eye. It squawks and opens its wings to flap them; its plumage a collection of reds and blues and yellows.

"Quiet, you horrid thing," Lucifer calls, but he sounds amused. "You're frightening such a pretty guest. That's unforgivable."

Turning back, I see that the omega is still kneeling on the floor but his posture is rigid now; head up, back carefully arched, thighs slightly parted -

Cringing, I can recall sitting in the very same way; next to Damien's chair as others bore witness to my humiliation.

Lucifer strokes a hand through the boy's flaxen hair as he regards us; brazen red eyes so similar to his son's. He's elegantly dressed in a white button-down and dark slacks; hair slicked back and stubble gracing his sharp jaws.

Lifting his nose, he scents the air and his smile grows until i can see his glistening canines.

"You have news for me," he says, discordant voice plucking all of my nerves at once.

"News! News!" the parrot screeches.

Ignoring the bird, Lucifer continues. "Important news. Isn't that right, son?"

Damien nods but his eyes are cold, even for him. "Do we have to discuss this here? I'd rather do this without that disgusting bird repeating everything we say. Christ, why hasn't that insufferable thing died yet?"

Lucifer sips his absinthe slowly, still fondling the omega. "Very well. We can attend to matters over dinner. That'll give you two a chance to clean up and dress yourselves in attire befitting the occasion." He glances at me, eyes raking over me and seeming to settle on my belly. I move so close to Damien I'm practically standing on his shoes.

"You'll do, Damien," he adds dismissively, "but you know what I expect from an omega that has the privilege of dining at my table."

"Privilege!" the parrot shrieks. "Damien! Filthy brat! Keep your fucking mouth shut!"

Damien whirls around then, radiating rage when he shouts at the parrot. "Shut up before I snap your worthless neck!"

The bird stares at him before it starts talking again, "Filthy brat! Filthy brat! Learn your place!"

Lucifer begins to laugh uproariously, the sound mixing with the horrible taunts coming from the parrot with the dead eyes. I turn to look at him and he's all cruel smiles and mirth. He gestures to Damien and the bird.

"As you can see they've never really gotten along."
-------

Our room is generic and lacking personal touches, almost like we're staying in a high-class resort instead of someone's home. I look around, still unsettled from Lucifer's greeting; my stomach rebelling already. Damien is quiet but still ferocious as he opens our suitcases, glancing at me when I don't move or speak for several minutes.

"Is the room not up to your standards?" he asks sharply. "Make sure to tell my father, he'll love that."

"I just thought we'd be staying in your old room," I reply, realizing now that that had been a stupid expectation.

Damien snorts. "My room was gutted as soon as I left home for good. The old fucker couldn't wait to change it into a guest room or whatever the hell it is now. Unless you couldn't tell, my father isn't exactly the sentimental sort."

"I'm beginning to see that," I reply softly. Stopping before a full-length mirror, I turn and touch my stomach, relieved to see that it's still flat. How long do I have, though, before I begin to see the changes that are already happening inside of me?

"You'll need to change," he mutters, making me start; almost thinking he's managed to read my mind before I notice him holding up a long white gown.

Coming over, I study the garment. It's made of frail fabric, reminiscent of what I'd worn in Lucifer's presence before. "Why do I have to wear white? What's wrong with what I'm wearing now?"

"He has his preferences," Damien replies simply. "He likes omegas that he's not fucking to wear white for him... he covets purity, probably because he's never been innocent a day in his contemptible life."

"I'm hardly pure anymore, Damien. Not after what you've put me through."

"You are in his eyes," he says, "until he's had you, at any rate. Not that he ever will. Now stop arguing and get ready, please. I just want to get this evening over with."

The gown clings to me, hugging my body until it widens into a full skirt, right at my knees. It drags the floor. It's very modest in the front but I blush to see the back, which is practically nonexistent; the fabric dipping low, exposing me to right above my backside.

"You look lovely," Damien breathes in my ear, standing behind me as I study my reflection in the mirror. He slides his hands around to settle them low on my belly, kissing my shoulder, my neck.

"Regardless of how you feel, I couldn't be happier about the news... you just need time to adjust, I think. Even if you hate me for now you can't hate what we've created," he whispers again, kissing my nape; biting softly. 

"Keep telling yourself that," I say, turning my face away. Closing my eyes, I don't want to imagine what's waiting for us downstairs; the blank eyes of that vacant omega haunting me already.

Chapter Text

Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone. Her castles shall be overgrown with thorns, her fortresses with thistles and briers. She shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the Lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. 

- Isaiah 34:14

----

Hell has a name — "satan's den"
Got the lock on the trailer, got the tape recorder in
He's gonna strap her to the bed, spread apart her legs
And pull the soul out of the body that its in
And when he's done he will give her to the earth
A starving animal will always feed
God as his witness he'll smile
As he watches her bones slide between its teeth

- In the Land, Nicole dollanganger


Dinner is rack of lamb with mint jelly and figs scattered about the plate; roasted red apples as well. It's served amidst other dishes, dozens of them, on a long dark cherry wood table that could easily seat twenty or more guests, but it's just the three of us sitting around it: myself, Damien, and Lucifer, taking up the head.

His omega is present as well, but he doesn't have a chair; he kneels next to Lucifer on another embroidered cushion; posture perfect. He doesn't speak and won't  make direct eye contact. Lucifer speaks to him softly on occasion and scratches behind his ear, charmed when the boy quietly begins to purr. I watch covertly, repulsed and fascinated by their interaction.

I hadn't gotten a very good look at the omega in the den because I'd been so terrified of Lucifer, but seeing him now fills in the details I'd missed. He's slim and narrow with small hips and a frailty about him; hair soft and neatly cut. His eyes are a light blue and very lost, such is the way of those omegas that seem to have been Bonded against their will. On his nape his Bonding Mark is slightly jagged and blooms like a pearly pink flower. He's dressed in nothing but black lace panties that are very similar to the ones I'd worn during that horrible dinner party i was forced to attend. Around his throat is a black collar with silver rings. His clover is low on his belly, right above his left hip bone.

Lucifer is soft when he slips the boy (Bradley, if that strange parrot is to be believed) a few bites of food, apples, lamb, and some bread. He doesn't let the boy drink from his cup but has Sophie bring a dish of water to set on the floor.

"You may drink before you attend to your Alpha, kitten," Lucifer says as he strokes the omega's cheek. "Go on."

Wordlessly, the omega crawls from his cushion and across the floor, not very far away but clearly as a way to prolong this posture of abject humiliation. I can only watch, eyes wide, as the boy stops before the dish and stoops to drink, ass in the air like an offering, pink tongue flicking to gather drops of water. The slim curve of his back shines in the light emanating from the candelabras lining the center of the long table.

"Impressively well trained, isn't he?" Lucifer suddenly asks, making me jump; turning to see him watching me with his Hellish, flickering eyes. He's smiling as if he's perfectly delighted to see me watching the degradation of another of my kind. "You know, he didn't come to me like that... no, he needed to be taken in hand; the poor dear."

I say nothing, remembering Damien's warning that a petulant attitude would be my undoing in this setting. Based on the little I've witnessed so far, I'm inclined to agree.

"You might as well cut out his tongue for how often you allow him to speak," Damien comments, lifting his goblet of wine to drink deeply.

"The thought had occurred to me, but then he wouldn't be able to service an Alpha the way he was designed," Lucifer sighs, snapping his fingers.

The omega immediately looks up and returns to Lucifer, slinking and slight as his knees rasp over the hardwood floor. He greedily accepts the pets that Lucifer lavishes on him, kissing fingertips that pass over his lips.

"Sweet child," Lucifer murmurs, pulling away to unzip his pants. "You may have your dessert now because you've been so well-behaved. Would you like that?"

Bradley bobs his head and I have to look away as he crawls under the table; the implications clear as to what is about to transpire. Under the table, Damien settles a hand on my thigh and squeezes.

"Good," Lucifer murmurs in a wet voice. "Just like that, keep your alpha warm."

My stomach lurches and I have to press a napkin to my mouth.

"Calm," Damien says softly, not looking at me when I turn towards the table again.

Hand trembling, I reach for my water glass when Lucifer speaks.

"You don't let your omega have wine, son? Doesn't he know that's what our family is known for?"

"Kyle can't have wine," Damien replies simply, cutting a chunk of lamb.

Lucifer looks at me and I want to hide beneath the table, but then I remember that Bradley's already under there, his face pressed between Lucifer's thighs -

"You can't have wine?" he asks, teeth flashing in the candlelight. "What sort of nonsense is that? There has to be a very good reason."

He gives me a knowing look; a savage sparkle deep in the crimson of his irises. I clear my throat, a whine building slowly.

Damien squeezes me until I sigh softly.

"Father, don't insult us with such clumsy baiting. I'm sure you've already guessed what's going on. Kyle," he adds sternly, "you need to eat. You know how important your nutrition is - especially now."

I lift my fork and poke at the lamb, put off by its aroma; gamey and strong. Nothing on my plate looks appetizing, my nausea increasing the longer I'm subjected to Lucifer's unsettling presence.

"At least have some green beans, and you said you like roasted potatoes," Damien says, trying to coax me like I'm a child. I bite my tongue to avoid snapping back. I'm surprised he hasn't already followed his father's lead and fed me by hand.

"You won't get anywhere coddling an omega like that," Lucifer comments wryly, cutting into his meat. "That's always been one of your biggest downfalls, Damien. You need to be firm; after all, aren't you the one in charge?"

"Oh, of course not," he goes on, tone becoming deceptively sweet. "If that were the case, you wouldn't have had an omega escape. Isn't that right?"

Damien takes a drink of wine, not answering for several long moments. In the silence, i can hear Bradley sigh under the table. Lucifer reaches to stroke the boy's head languidly.

I want nothing more than to stand and sprint out of this room. I stay still, though, a thin sheen of sweat standing on the back of my neck.

Cutting another piece of meat, Damien stabs at it with his fork. "Well, now I know why you insisted that we pay a visit; needed an opportunity to ridicule me,  is that it?"

"Ungrateful whelp," Lucifer replies smoothly. "I merely wanted your company, as well as your lovely Kyle's presence, but I'd heard gossip and had concerns. Tell me, little one, how was your adventure? Did you make it very far before the snare wrapped around your neck?"

I can't tell if he truly wants an answer or if this is merely a rhetorical question; the pressure of not knowing how to respond only making my nausea worse. Damien is gentle when he chastises me.

"He asked you a question, my love."

Stomach pitching, I set down my fork, reaching to brush a curl behind my ear; needing something to do with my hands as Lucifer stares at me expectantly. He smiles slowly.

"I, well," I begin, my voice catching from nerves. I cough softly. "I went to the coast... to the ocean."

I look down, feeling Damien watching me as well; making me grow very warm. We hadn't really discussed the details of my time away because mentioning anything related to Craig infuriates him - although that doesn't stop him from throwing my supposed "infidelity" in my face from time to time.

Lucifer clucks his tongue. "The ocean? But that's so far away, child. I'm sure you couldn't make it there on your own. The world isn't very kind to unchaperoned omegas."

"It isn't very nice to chaperoned ones either," I retort before I can stop myself. Damien growls while Lucifer laughs loudly.

"There's that savage little mouth I remember," he says, pouring himself more wine. "Now continue, please. Regale us with the story of your stolen sojourn on the coast." He sets down the bottle and lifts his glass, swirling it. "And don't leave out the details."

Damien sits up straighter, jaw clenched. It's become painfully evident that Lucifer is using me like a knife to dig between his son's ribs. If I didn't despise him so much I'd almost feel sorry for him, but as it stands I'm just acutely uncomfortable being a pawn in their ongoing feud with one another.

"There isn't a lot to tell," I say softly, folding my hands in my lap. My heart aches to hear these words from my own lips; the profound untruth wrapped around them.

There's so much to tell, after all. I hadn't just run away; I'd run to be with Craig because I'm in love with him. Desperately so. He's all of my dreams at once, but I'm never going to say something like that to Lucifer. I doubt he'd understand.

"I stayed with friends for a while after I escaped Mr. Cartman's estate," I continue. "We drove to the ocean."

"Which ocean?" Lucifer asks.

"I'm not sure," I lie. "I was never told the name."

He nods slowly. "Go on."

Damien is still now, not eating or drinking; just sitting and listening.

"I don't know what you want to hear," I admit, trying to buy time; to distract. "I ran and wish I hadn't been found. Your son already knows this."

"I imagine he does," Lucifer agrees thoughtfully. "But you're leaving out the most important part, aren't you?"

I glance at him reluctantly. "Sir?"

"You ran away to be with someone else, didn't you?" he narrows his eyes slowly; smile dissolving into a smirk.

I nod, my chest tightening.

"And you let him have you, did you not?"

Pushing away from the table, I can't control my anger now, because it's borne from devastation; aggravated by Lucifer's incessant prying. "He didn't have me! It wasn't like that!"

Lucifer watches, bringing his hands up to rest his chin on; elbows on the table. "Then what was it like?"

"Father," Damien says lowly.

Lips trembling, i swipe at my eyes quickly. "It was real... it was actual love, not these sick games the rest of you play. I don't think any of you even knows how to care about anyone but yourselves."

"Kyle." Grabbing my arm, Damien yanks me close, eyes blazing. "That's enough."

"Is it, son?" Lucifer asks. "Your omega is admitting to being in love with someone else, a rival. You've lost control of your household, but now I'm starting to wonder if you ever had a handle on it in the first place."

"Why, because he hasn't turned me into that?" I ask, pointing at Bradley. "Is that all omegas are to you? Animals that you get to play with and fuck when you're in the mood? You're disgusting!"

"Silence!" Damien shouts, shaking me before raising his hand, and our eyes meet; mine filled with fury and hurt and his unreadable; like he's temporarily taken leave of his senses. He's bringing his hand down when I choke out a sob and he stops, eyes widening.

Lucifer just watches, serene and unruffled. "Don't lose your nerve, Damien. Your omega's spoken out of turn, hasn't he?"

"I can't do this, not right now," Damien says faintly. "Not with Kyle's condition... it isn't safe."

"His condition," Lucifer repeats. "So what i smelled on him is the truth... he's carrying a child."

"Yes," Damien replies, slowly letting me go. He seems dazed, outside of himself. "We just had it confirmed at the doctor... right before we came here."

"And is it yours?" his father asks, tone sharpened to a cutting edge.

Damien looks at him with more hatred than I've ever seen in his face; it's like a storm rising. "Of course it is! How could you even ask a question like that?!"

Dropping his smile, Lucifer gives his son a scathing glance. "He ran from you and spread his legs for someone else; probably repeatedly. Isn't that enough reason to be concerned?"

"He wasn't in heat then," Damien spits out caustically. "He didn't become fertile until after I found him again, so stop trying to create doubt. Why don't you try actually being happy for me, or is that beyond your scope?"

"Of course I'm thrilled for you, Damien, but I'm not blind to the possibilities you may be unwilling to consider. However, if you're confident that the child is yours then that's all that matters." Lifting his glass, he adds, "Shall we toast to such a momentous occasion?"

Damien is grim when he relents, lifting his glass as well; not high, but enough to appease his father. I watch as they clink glasses, the small amount I'd eaten violently beginning to rise from my stomach. I cover my mouth.

"May I be excused?" I ask carefully, trying not to gag. "I feel sick."

"Yes, my dear, of course," Lucifer replies. "I'll have Sophie accompany you." His face becomes wolfish. "Just to err on the side of caution, of course. You understand."

Dinner is much more quiet after I return, my mouth sour even after I'd rinsed it. Bradley is still kneeling between Lucifer's legs, and I almost get the impression that he's fallen asleep. I sneak a dirty look at Damien, wanting to tear into him for putting me in that same position before; taking advantage of a vulnerable moment for sick personal gain.

I hate them both, Lucifer more than Damien, but they're both so awful that it almost doesn't seem to matter. I also feel unsettled, immensely so, for actually having a thread of compassion for Damien. My father was hardly what you'd consider an honorable man, but he had acted out of desperation; Lucifer seems to glory in cruelty because it amuses him. Like it feeds a hunger in him that nothing else can satisfy.

I also want to ask him why he seems to despise his own son so much but I refrain. I doubt I'd get a straight answer from him, anyway.

Dessert is pomegranate cake but I eat very little, my appetite having diminished to practically nothing during the course of the meal. Lucifer allows Bradley to come up for air long enough to have a few bites, but soon he's settled between his Alpha's thighs again.

Damien is tense and subdued beside me, also eating much less than unusual. It isn't long before he's pushing his plate away and removing the napkin from his lap.

"As always, it's been a pleasure," he says, pushing back from the table, his hand on my nape. "However, it's getting late, and Kyle needs his rest now more than ever, so we're going to -"

"Have Sophie bring him to my chambers within the hour," his father interjects, plucking a red bead of fruit from his plate.

"I won't agree to that unless I accompany him," Damien replies, fingers digging into me harder.

Lucifer shakes his head, chuckling. "You seem to think you make the rules in my home, son. You forget yourself."

In my head I can hear the parrot screeching "Filthy brat! Learn your place!" and I shiver.

"Either way, I have final say over where Kyle goes," Damien says sharply, "and where he doesn't go."

"Damien," Lucifer replies quietly. "You are walking a very, very fine edge right now. I would suggest that you reconsider your tone. Kyle will be brought to my chambers alone, and you will accept it. Unless you'd like to find out the consequences for obstinance?"

Damien's scent shifts then. Before it had radiated hostility but now it becomes acrid; nervous. He bares his teeth, taking me by the arm. Without a word, he drags me from the room.

-----

As requested, I'm delivered to Lucifer's lavish quarters not too long afterward, having sat through a tedious, nerve-wracking lecture from Damien.

"Don't give him more information than he needs," he'd said frantically. "Just answer his questions but to the point; don't fill in the gaps with superfluous details."

"Why does he want to see me, anyway?" I'd asked, my palms already sweating and sticky. "What's the point of any of this?"

"To get to me. That's always his goal... it has been since the beginning." He'd looked at me, then; wild and disheveled; a far cry from his usual poise. "Just don't let him get into your head... once he's in there you can never get him out. Trust me, I know this from personal experience."

Now Sophie is knocking and I'm awash in apprehension, mostly wondering why any of this is necessary. Hadn't Lucifer terrorized us enough at dinner?

The door opens and Lucifer is there, massive and seeming to take up the whole doorway. His expression is one of sly benevolence.

"Perfect timing," he says, opening the door wider and stepping back. "Please come in, child. Sophie, you may leave us."

She curtsies and leaves me alone, skin crawling as I enter the room, having to walk past Lucifer as I do. I'm waiting for him to grab me but he doesn't.

My stomach is already being tied into hard little knots. It clenches tighter when I hear the door close behind me.

Lucifer's chambers are in another realm of opulence; spacious to the point of being intimidating. My childhood home could fit inside this place with its plush golden carpet and intricate ceilings; covered in paintings of a unicorn being hunted and captured.

There's another fireplace where the flames burn; ostentatious with its large, heavy mantel of dark wood. The same dark-haired woman is on prominent display over top; another oil painting that showcases her fragile beauty, but her eyes... there's just something about them. I drift closer to get a better look.

They appear restless, almost like there's a storm brewing inside of them; large and green and luminous. They belie the soft nature of her mouth, curved pink and smiling gently.

"Don't be deceived," Lucifer says, coming up behind me until I can feel his cloying, dense heat on my back. "Damien's mother was very kind in her own way, but her temper was well known."

I hug myself, so nervous to have someone like Lucifer standing behind me, making conversation. I nearly shudder, but I'm intrigued by this woman; really, I'm very interested in Damien's genesis in general. It's odd looking at the person who carried him, cradled him in her womb; nourishing him with her own body. I slide a hand down to carefully touch my stomach.

"Her eyes give her away," I say, leaving it at that; keeping in mind Damien's warning not to engage unnecessarily.

"They do, don't they?" He sounds closer now, and soon large, hot hands drape on my shoulders. I stiffen. "In many ways, my Lilith was very controlled for most of her life... but the truth was always in her eyes. She was a force all on her own, my tempest."

"Lilith," I repeat, finding it hard to focus with Lucifer so near; the pressure of his hands like the sun burning my skin.

From seemingly out of nowhere, there's a resounding screech close by:

"Lilith! Lilith! Parva soror! Amor tantum mihi*!"

I cringe to hear the parrot's scream again, looking around warily but I don't see it. I do, however, lay eyes on Bradley, who'd heretofore been so quiet I'd missed his presence entirely upon entering the room. He's kneeling next to a wing back chair, staring into space; as always, his posture is perfect.

He's like a statue, a thought that quietly infuriates me because I've been turned into one before; always for the pleasure and amusement of Alphas. Pulling away, I turn toward Lucifer, determined to keep him in my sights for the remainder of our tête-à-tête.

"I would prefer that you not touch me," I say, regarding him with pronounced distaste.

He considers me, his eyes rivaling Lilith's now; possessed of the same intensity. "Why, because you belong to my son?"

"I'm my own," I reply. "I will maintain this opinion until it's stripped from me."

Nodding, he goes to a small cart that's stocked with bottles and glasses. He pours wine into two goblets, lifting them and coming over to offer one to me.

"I won't tell Damien if you won't," he smiles.

"Damien! Filthy brat! Cut a switch!" the bird is like a demon; formless and screaming.

"Where is it?" I ask, casting my eyes around. The room is immense and there are doors leading to yet more rooms; a nesting doll that opens up and another pops out over and over; endless. "If I have to listen to it I want to be able to see it!"

"As you wish," he says graciously, nodding toward a set of doors that are wide open. The filmy curtains adorning them, white and see-through, are fluttering back in the late evening breeze. "This way, little one."

I follow him out onto a sprawling balcony, rounded and decorated with plants and flowers; white chairs, a table, and even a chaise lounge. The parrot is sitting on a large perch close to the door, preening now.

"Your wine," Lucifer reminds me, placing the cup in my hand. "It's some of my vineyard's finest."

"I really don't want it," I reply.

"You're worried," he says. "Concerned?"

I shake my head. It can't be that, of course. I don't want to have this baby; in fact, I've never wanted anything less, but a nagging doubt, a tendril of worry, is holding me back from doing something I find morally objectionable.

It has nothing to do with preserving a life that's been foisted on me. At least, I don't think so. 

"My dear, it really doesn't matter," he sighs, looking up at the night sky where the moon is keeping court with the stars. "Drink the wine, don't drink it... deny yourself or indulge, but the result will be the same."

The way he says this makes a cold finger of dread slide up my spine. "What do you mean?"

"Do you know how many children have been lost in this mindless pursuit of his?" Lucifer asks, almost like he's bored. "He's put his seed in more omegas than I can remember, and all of them have come to the same end... either expiring while birthing or miscarrying...or from Damien's hand when his anger takes control of him. Why should this time be any different?"

"How can you be so callous about something so awful?" I ask, starting when the parrot flaps its wings suddenly. "Isn't part of the reason Damien wants children because of you? To create an heir to take over your holdings?"

"Partially, yes," he says, sipping the wine slowly. A star falls, careening against the edge of the world; leaving a streak of white in its path. "And don't confuse practicality with callousness. I can just accept the lay of the land even if he can't."

"Why do you treat him with so much contempt?" I look into my wine glass, dark and fragrant; my stomach turns.

"Why shouldn't i?" He parries without a pause to mull over my question. "He's been a thorn in my side since he was born."

A pang strikes my heart before I can fortify myself. Lucifer's animosity is so casual, so natural to him, it would seem. He seems to accept his feelings towards his son with the same matter of fact simplicity as one would regard the sun rising in the morning or knowing that they'll die one day; a foregone conclusion that can't be altered.

"But still, he's your child... your blood. That has to count for something," I say, going to sink onto the chaise. A wind kicks up and whispers against my uncovered back, working a chill through my bones.

He looks at me with a wry expression. "Oh, the irony... being told that I should care for my child simply because we share blood, yet here you are, pretending not to care about what's growing inside you; the creature that shares your body. Tell me, Kyle, do you love what's been forced inside of you?"

This question is sickening and he has to know it, because he appears so satisfied after asking it. He's even more adept at making me uneasy than Damien is, but i suppose his son had to learn his tactics somewhere.

"I'm not discussing my personal feelings with you about this," I seeth. "You don't need to know."

"And yet you feel like you have the right to ask me about my feelings for my son? I hadn't pegged you as being a hypocrite, lamb." He laughs like he's enjoying himself immensely. "If you must know, and really, i don't mind disclosing my reasons because I'm never ashamed of how I feel, I was saddled with Damien when I never wanted him in the first place. I wanted his mother, not him. Lilith is the only thing I've ever encountered that almost encouraged tenderness in me."

"Parva soror! Parva soror*!" the parrot screams, bobbing on its perch.

"What's it saying? What does that mean?" I ask, already feeling overwhelmed. The scariest part about all of this is almost craving Damien's presence; as a buffer, a shield; being forced to acknowledge that as much as I despise him, I hate his father so much more.

"Oh, it's Latin," Lucifer says dismissively. "That was the language Lilith and I used in mixed company growing up; to keep our secrets where they belonged, between us. She was my parva soror and I was her magnus frater*."

"You grew up together?"

"We knew each other our whole lives," he says, a current of bitterness filtering into his tone now. "She kept me moored and I protected her from the world. When the Sickness started wiping everything out and changing all of us, i kept her from harm. I thought she would be spared but then we made a mistake...I told her to get rid of it, that thing inside of her, feeding on her,  but she refused. When she wanted something she always got it, one way or another."

"Sounds familiar," I mutter.

"She decided she already loved the child because we made it together. She said she couldn't imagine not keeping something that may share my likeness. Sentimental nonsense, really, and what good did it do? She got sick right before Damien was born, and when he passed into this world she was snuffed out like a candle. In the blink of an eye, i lost my Lilith but gained a son."

"I promised her I'd keep him," he adds after taking a long drink. "I didn't promise her I'd love him."

The cool breeze picks up again, and I can't sit still. Setting the goblet down, i stand to go to the railing and look out over the vast swaths of vineyards stretching far and away; seemingly going on forever. I try to imagine Damien growing up in a place like this, raised like a little prince with all of his father's spoils, but it seems so cold, so dark; living always in the shadow of his mother.

"You act like Damien is to blame," I say softly. "That isn't fair, it isn't even rational. He was a baby - completely innocent. You two decided to have sex knowing what could happen."

"I could say the same for you," he replies.

I turn to look at him, furious because he knows what he's saying isn't even remotely the same. "Your son took advantage of me when I wasn't even in my right mind and you know it! Omegas are nearly powerless when going through a heat! He raped me, and it wasn't the first time, not by a long shot!"

Coming over, he watches me for a moment, eyes glowing, before he grabs my arm and pulls me close. He lays a hand on my cheek and caresses me, ignoring the way I'm struggling. "You really expected him to resist how sweet you are? Even sweeter when you're wet and aching for it? I'm sure you begged for it, to be fucked until you were screaming. Oh, I would dearly love to hear you like that...putting aside your stubborness and succumbing to your true self."

"It isn't the truth," I snap, wanting to bite at him. "It's my dynamic, it isn't me."

"In my eyes there's no difference. Omegas are born to please their Alpha and to be bred. You've managed to do both... but whether you're successful remains to be seen."

"I hate him," I say, breaking now. "I hate both of you... you create suffering wherever you go."

"Whether you love me or not is of no consequence, but I have reason to believe my son would care about how you regard him. He's grown very fond of you."

"I don't care! I'll always hate him!"

"But will you hate your child?" Lucifer counters, pulling me so close that my front is flush against him; his hardness evident and pressing into me. I choke back another sob. "I don't think anyone would blame you if you did, but would you be able to live with yourself?"

"Get away from me!" I yell, twisting away and managing to break his hold, but truth be told I think he decided to let me go on his own; making me believe i have any power in this situation. "I'm amazed Damien didn't turn out worse than he did with you for a father!"

The parrot bobs again, flapping before actually taking flight, and I can see a chain unwinding as it comes to rest on Lucifer's shoulder; a silver shackle around one willowy leg. "Damien! Filthy brat! Shut your mouth! Shut your mouth!"

Lucifer strokes the creature's head. "You never cared for the brat either, did you? He threw rocks at you, didn't he?"

"Brat! Brat! Cut a switch!"

"You wish Lilith never left us," he says softly. "She adored you... her pretty bird."

The bird trills quietly before speaking, "Parva soror! Ego adoramus te!"

"Parva soror," I repeat, touching my stomach before really thinking about it; like I'm compelled. "Magnus frater... but what does all of it mean?"

His smile is savage now. "Why don't you ask Damien? He knows. Now, enough of this, let's go inside; I'd like to give you a tour, if I may."

I want to ask why he thinks a tour is necessary, but I don't, pulled along as he leads me inside. The parrot flutters away to sit on its perch again as we pass by the fire, and Damien's mother - Lilith - watches with her stormy eyes. Lucifer snaps to Bradley and he follows, crawling.

"Show our guest where you sleep at night," Lucifer says to the omega, holding me tight; fingers digging in and making me writhe. We're in Lucifer's grand bedroom, dimly lit; immense. His bed is a beast against the far wall, the headboard an intricate collection of swirls and swoops. Silver chains dangle from it with cuffs attached.

Bradley crawls across the floor, and as my eyes adjust to the dreamy half-light of the room, a large structure comes into focus that he climbs inside; the light bounces off of it and for a moment I'm not sure what I'm looking at, but then it becomes horribly apparent.

It's a giant golden cage, similar to the parrot's downstairs, but on a much bigger scale. Lucifer draws me closer and i can see that the bottom is littered with more embroidered pillows and -

"Oh, my God," I whisper, covering my mouth in terror. There's already another omega in the cage, sleeping on his side; dressed almost identical to Bradley. "I don't... you can't... this isn't real. I'm not seeing this."

"I wanted to give you a taste of your inevitable future," Lucifer whispers in my ear. "I'll take care of you the way an omega should be cared for... not all of this freedom Damien gives you. You'd never be able to escape from me."

Pulling me around, he draws me back against him, and he kisses my nape; sliding his hands under the fabric of where my gown is wide open in the back. They rub across my skin and settle on my stomach, his fingers teasing low on my pubis. I moan, immobilized by just how cruel and depraved he is, sobbing to see the omegas curled in their cage; Lucifer's little, voiceless pets.

That's all we are to him; animals who don't deserve a voice. All we deserve in his eyes is what he's willing to give us.

"This will fail, just like all the other times," Lucifer murmurs, stroking the still-flat plane of my belly, breathing heavily against my skin. "Damien's weak... anything he creates is weak, too. If you don't die like the others, you're mine."

I gasp to feel him reaching to rip my gown apart, and I clutch it to my front when it falls; hiding myself, my nakedness. I sink to my knees and cry, glancing at the omegas to see them vacantly watching me with sleepy, hollow eyes.

It's too much, and I scramble to my feet, expecting Lucifer to snatch me back as I run to the door, but he lets me go; desperately trying to hold my dress against myself as I escape from the room and down long, shadowed corridors. I run like I'm being chased, wanting to leave everything I'd witnessed and heard in that room behind; left to fester in the darkness where it belongs.

When I'm close to our room I collapse, legs weak, heart pounding; sobbing uncontrollably. I hug my dress tightly and wish for Craig, but even as I'm wishing for him I'm thinking of Damien too, and I can see him in my mind's eye as a child, and I allow myself to feel sorry for that version of him, the innocence before the corruption.

I brush my fingers over my stomach and cry harder, for the unwanted and unloved; the rejected. I don't know if my heart is large enough to feel love for this being within me, but I'd like to think that I won't hate it; at the very least, let me be able to accept it as my own.

"I'll try," I cry, shoving my fist into my mouth to stifle myself.

I close my eyes and drift, remembering those green eyes that had lifelessly watched us; shutting down as my sobs subside. I'm so tired... after everything, I feel hollow and gone; like a ghost, a wraith. Dimly, I wonder if Lucifer's omegas, those poor lost boys with the blank eyes, will be warm enough while they sleep in their cage tonight. Do they hug each other when they crave comfort? Are they even allowed?

"Kyle, oh my God, what did he do to you? Jesus, what did that son of a bitch do to you?"

I open my eyes a fraction to see Damien next to me, and without really giving myself time to think I reach for him and hug him close. I wrap my arms tightly around him, tighter than I ever have, and I tell myself over and over in my head that I'm not hugging Damien as I know him; I'm trying to comfort the Damien he could've been if he'd had a different, kinder beginning.

I'm trying to love the child he'd been, long ago.

"I'm sorry, I'm just so sorry," I whisper against his ear.

He allows this for a moment before he pulls away, and then he's studying me; eyes flicking rapidly to take me in as I try to collect myself. He looks down and touches the ruined gown, mouth tight.

"Did he," he starts before swallowing thickly. "He didn't...?"

"No," I reply lowly. "I think he just wanted to make you assume he took advantage of me. He wanted to get into your head, just like you said."

He stares at me gravely. His eyes are muted, almost sorrowful. In this moment, he looks more human than I've ever seen him; allowing the breaks in his facade to show momentarily. "He got into yours."

Biting back tears, I nod. I cover my face with my hands, ashamed of my weakness.

"Come on," he says gently. "I'll run a bath... we need to get you cleaned up."

The bathroom is intimate because it's smaller than I thought it would be, but it's impersonal. Just like our room, it doesn't feel like we're in someone's home - especially not Damien's childhood home. He runs the water and adds bath salts he finds in a cabinet; sweet-smelling, soft. They make me think of the apple pies my mother used to bake when I was very small.

He undresses me carefully, tossing aside the torn gown without really stopping to look at it. He rubs a hand over my stomach, pulling me close to press his lips to the soft, sensitive skin there. I look away, uncomfortable to see him this way; vulnerable and so different from the way I've always known him.

I slip into the water and it's blessedly hot, cleansing, and Damien bathes me like I'm a sick child that's too weak to wash themselves; pliable, unresistent. I fold myself into what he wants from me in the moment, too tired and too saturated with all I've seen and heard to be combative.

In a way, I feel like i need to be close to someone, anyone, because what I'd witnessed had been so terribly cold; so depraved. I've seen so little of the world, but so many parts of it are cruel and grim and dark... I'm craving light and warmth, anything pure, and it feels so far away; further now that I've been exposed to Lucifer's unspeakably brutal nature. As such, I let Damien pet me and attempt to sooth me, leaning into his touches because I'm afraid to be alone right now.

"I know i shouldn't ask," he says as he washes my hair, "but what did he tell you? Anything significant?"

"He makes his omegas sleep in a cage," I say blankly. "And there's a portrait of your mother over his fireplace."

"There are portraits of her all over this place," he mutters, pouring water over my head; fingers trailing down my back. "He never wanted me to forget her sacrifice... as if I ever could."

"Lilith," I say and his hand tightens on me.

"Figures he'd shove her down your throat, too," he says through clenched teeth. His eyes are waking up again; burning. "She's always in the room when I'm with my father... he makes sure that she is. I can't escape her, but I don't want to...I wish I had known her. I think I would've loved her."

"Her eyes," he adds, clearing the water from my face. He looks at me with such longing that I'm almost afraid, like he's not seeing me as I actually am. "In every painting they're always so fretful... troubled. I can see the rage in them, like she's being held under glass and wants to breathe. She just needs to breathe, Kyle."

He cups my face, still studying me. I feel hazy, water droplets falling down my skin. I shift onto my knees. "You had the same look in your eyes when I first saw you, and I wanted to understand...I needed to capture you so I could see it up close, that look. Your eyes have always been your own and they give you away constantly."

Sighing, he leans to kiss my mouth gently; a vague touch that he doesn't deepen. I swallow, feeling like I'm wilting under his hands in the hot water.

"Parva soror...magnus frater," i breathe softly. "What do those words mean? Lucifer told me you'd know."

Growling, his touch is no longer careful as he pulls me up from the bath; grabbing a towel to rub me down, harsh and making me cry out. I endure, though, becoming boneless and quiet so he won't find a reason to hurt me tonight.

I'm dressed in a filmy nightgown and brought into the room, where the lamp is burning its low, subdued light. My shadow mixes with Damien's as I'm led to the large bed with the blue coverlet. He hands me a glass of water and a pill.

"I told the doctor you have trouble sleeping a lot of the time, so he gave me this. Take it."

I'm reluctant, of course, but I obey, swallowing the pill down and sipping the water. I set it aside, watching as Damien paces the room, a tensed creature that's filled with too much at once; anger, need, a strange sadness. I say nothing, drawing my knees to my chest so I can rest my chin on them.

"We'll leave early tomorrow, as soon as the sun rises," he mutters in a manic, unhinged voice. "He got what he wanted... he had the opportunity to humiliate me because you ran away, and then he made me second guess the baby." He glances at me sharply, coming over to grab my shoulders.

"It's mine, right? It has to be, if it isn't I'll rip it out of you myself. Right now."

The medicine I'd been given is wafting in my blood now, and I'm truly too dazed to react quickly, but I clutch at myself regardless; covering my stomach. "Of course it's yours, but even if it wasn't i would never let you do that... you'd have to kill me first."

His expression becomes thoughtful when I say this, and then he's slowly pushing me onto my back so he can cover me; holding me down with his warm, heavy weight; smelling now of something different and altogether pungent -

Desire. Arousal.

"You do care," he murmurs, bending to kiss my throat, nipping softly. "You'd fight to protect your child... even if it meant your death?"

"Damien," I say, turning my head. "Please, I'm only doing what's right... don't look for meanings that aren't there. After all, your mother -"

"I don't want to talk about her," he says softly, biting and sucking bruises into my skin. I whine and he covers my mouth with his, kissing deep; licking into me and tasting. He goes slow, like he's enjoying my sweetness, like I need to be savored.

The chemicals are making me forgetful and loose, and it's very easy for him to slide up my nightgown above my hips, reaching a hand between my legs to stroke my warmth. He laughs against my throat.

"You're wet for me, aren't you?"

I shake my head, bleary eyed and exhausted, feeling him pulling my arms above my head so he can trap my wrists. I struggle, but I feel like I'm in a dream, my thighs carefully parted and I can feel him hard against me.

"No, I don't...I don't want this," I manage to say, but my voice becomes lost; turning into ether. I moan softly when he kisses me again, speaking low; gentling and coaxing me.

He's touching me the way Craig had touched me once upon a time; when he'd made love to me next to the ocean, and I'd given myself over. Tears come to my eyes, remembering, and I want that feeling again so much... I'm starved without it.

"Oh, my darling," Damien whispers against my skin when he's inside of me, full and thick; he's still for a moment, holding my arms tightly, and when I take a breath he moves. He's slow, careful, and he rests a hand on my stomach as he thrusts gently.

Burying his face in the curve of my throat, he sighs, and I want to cry but I'm having a hard time thinking; floating in and out of coherence. I hear him speak and it's like another breath in the dim room:

"I love you."

I hold my breath now and I shut my eyes, feeling him so deep inside me; hand still curved over my stomach, and it's as if I can feel another heartbeat within; steadily ticking like a little clock and reminding me that it's only a matter of time. There's only so much time.

He whispers again, sounding so lost; forlorn. "I love you so much, Kyle."

In my head I'm becoming blank, falling, and I can see the eyes of his mother; tempestuous and nearly mocking, watching and yearning to be free. It's like her shadow is stretching across both of us now.

"Please," I start to cry, "please, please, please."

Damien stops, taking his hand from my belly to hold my face. "Please what? Kyle, look at me."

Heart aching, I open my eyes to look at him, and I pray that he can see what he's doing to me; that he can actually feel through his own desires to remember that there isn't an object lying beneath him; no, I'm a person with a voice, and even if it's silent right now I'm still screaming for someone to listen.

"Are you okay? Why are you crying? I thought you wanted this," he says, searching my face. "You were wet... you made it seem like what I was doing made you feel good. Doesn't it feel good? Am I hurting you?"

I nod, the tears rolling over my face. "Yes, you're hurting me, Damien... even when it feels good, it still hurts. I'm scared."

"Oh, baby," he says, cradling my face with his hands. "My baby...I wasn't trying to scare you, not this time. I don't want to punish you, not after you've been so good for me."

"Your father is a monster," I whisper, my voice cracking. "He enjoys hurting omegas... we're nothing to him, and he taught you to be the same way."

"That isn't true, I adore you. I just told you I love you," he replies, his face becoming less soft. "My father would never say that to an omega."

Moving again, he moans low in his throat; tensing as he adjusts to my tightness; I wince, clenching around him and he tangles his hands in my hair.

"You're so good, you're always so good. Just like this," he says, thrusting deep again, and he's touching that sweet little spot inside of me.

"I can't," I pant, "please, just stop. If you care about me at all, you'll stop."

He's still brushing that secret place, and my toes are curling; breath hitching, and my body wants to be used, it's begging for it, but I didn't ask for this.

"Damien, you said you love me... if that's true, then," I sigh, his hand reaching down to grab at my hip, and I can feel him; he's so close, so close. He's teetering on an edge only he can see.

"I need you so much," he moans, biting hard at my throat, but then he's drawing away, and that fullness is receding as he looks down at me, eyes on fire, and we regard each other; both breathing heavily.

"I'm not here for you to use," I say, laid out beneath him; wrecked, my nightgown hiked up and my thighs spread. I can smell my arousal and his, mingling and becoming heady. "You can't just take without asking."

Growling, he moves away, running his hands through his hair. "Damn you," he says fiercely. "How am I supposed to be this close to you and not touch you whenever I want? You're mine, you belong to me!"

"But I don't," I say, sitting up. I pull down my gown to cover myself. "And you know it."

Sitting, he hides his face in his hands, breathing through his teeth. I can see the tension in his hands, the way the veins stand up in his arms. He's shaking.

"We need to get out of here, away from him," he says. "I can never think straight when I'm around him, and now he's gotten to you... the fucking jackal. If I could I'd kill him myself."

My curls are wild and I try to make them behave, gathering my hair to twist against my nape. "Tell me what those words mean, please. I asked your father but he wouldn't say... he wanted you to tell me."

"Of course he did," he says harshly. "It's just another way to degrade me, even though he's the one who should feel ashamed."

"I don't understand."

He laughs, a harsh, biting sound, and looks up to meet my eyes. His eyes are crazed, teeth bared. "Parva soror," he says slowly. "Little sister. That's what that means; and magnus frater? That means big brother, Kyle. Do you get it now?"

Chapter Text

Hold me spoon me and I'll pretend
In your arms that I am pregnant
With your baby, yeah your baby
Your two babies softly sleeping

- Blue Moon Motel, Nicole Dollanganger

---

You bought a star in the sky tonight

Because your life is dark and it needs some light
You named it after me, but I'm not yours to keep
Because you'll never see, that the stars are free

Oh, we don't own our heavens now

We only own our hell
And if you don't know that by now
Then you don't know me that well

- Buy the Stars, Marina


As Damien promised, we're up with the sun the next day and ready to leave in an impressively short amount of time; I in another childish gown of mint green and Damien in black, as always.

Lucifer isn't awake when we head downstairs and I'm sure Damien breathes a sigh of relief the same as i do, the car brought around and our bags tucked away. Soon we've climbed into the backseat and we're off, the sun having barely broken the horizon as we're borne along the winding road. We leave the estate behind with its vast fields of grapes; barely speaking. We're both trapped in a grim silence, a stasis of sorts.

I'm unspeakably tired and nauseated as I look out the window, nearly removed from myself after the events of the previous day. Damien is unusually subdued, almost like he's holding his breath, and he won't meet my eyes when we happen to glance at each other. He exudes unease and an air of embarrassment, which i suppose is to be expected, given what i know now....

His mother and father, siblings after all. I can't possibly ask him about what he told me, and I certainly won't ridicule him for their indiscretions. Their sins aren't his, after all. We can't be punished for the trespasses of our parents... then humanity would always live under a cloud of shame; generation to generation. At some point, we either have to forgive, forget, or move on -

It's not as if my parents were perfect by any means, my father especially. I'm in no position to judge.

"I expect you to keep my family's secrets," he says quietly when we're very close to the mansion. "Not because I'm ashamed, of course, but still, it would be unseemly to talk about in mixed company. Or at all."

I nod, not looking at him. "They aren't my secrets to tell."

He coughs softly, then, "Thank you."

I glance at him, detached. "I imagine you'd punish me if I spoke out of turn, anyway."

Looking very young suddenly, Damien gazes out the window, past me. "I don't know what I'd do, actually. I don't really want to think about it, either."

We don't talk for a while after that, both of us nursing our thoughts, I guess. Seeing Lucifer was as awful as I knew it would be, and my mind is a horror show of silent omegas with dead eyes and that cage littered with pillows. I can feel Lucifer's hot breath on the back of my neck, can hear him all but promising my death or slavery to him -

Back in the room, Damien removes his coat and lapses into his routine: sleeves rolled up, his top buttons undone to expose his throat. He sits on the couch in front of the cold fireplace and looks at the sonogram pictures, eyes roving. He doesn't smile but there's a tenderness about him that strikes me as obscene. I watch, wanting to touch my stomach but avoiding it; afraid, suddenly, of the contact.

In actuality, my terror is growing slowly in me; the sensation of being trapped in this room, my body, with Damien. I'm trapped in so many ways, and they just keep morphing and tangling together to create a more intricate web; no matter how I move, even when I stay perfectly still, it tightens around me.

I see Damien softly stroke one of the pictures and my disgust overwhelms me.

"You do realize you've put something inside of me that could kill me," I say lowly. "You may be holding pictures of my impending death, so if you could stop being so sentimental I'd appreciate it."

He doesn't look up. "The doctor said everything looks fine so far. Better than fine - good."

"So far," I repeat tremulously. "Things were fine with Mark too, weren't they? At first. Until they weren't, and you couldn't handle it."

"That was different," he mutters.

"No, it wasn't. Don't try to tell yourself that now. Don't lie."

He looks up, eyes snapping, coming back to themselves; probably because he's away from his father. His strength is returning. "I didn't love him."

"You can't just destroy everything you don't love," I reply, sickened by his logic. "And there you go lying again; you don't love me. You don't love anything."

"I know how I feel," he says. "I stopped last night, didn't I? When you asked me to?"

I can't help but laugh, the bile already rising and sour in my throat. "I can't...I don't even know what to say to that. What can I say? If that's your threshold for expressing love... you might as well put me out of my misery now before this inevitably fails." I gesture to my stomach. "I have no reason to believe this will end well, and neither do you."

Hanging his head, Damien goes back to studying the pictures. "I can hope, can't I?"

I don't know what to do with myself after this exchange, being unable to settle into reading or writing. I want to pick up one of the vases filled with dying roses and launch it at the wall. My stomach is jumpy and I have to run to the bathroom after a while, dry heaving but unable to bring anything up; the nausea just sits in my throat, exhausting me.

Eventually, Damien sighs and speaks, still not looking at me. "About what the doctor said."

I wait, pacing and worrying my hands; I'm coming out of my skin.

"He said you need sunshine and fresh air," he goes on, resigned. "I need to make sure you're calm, that I'm properly taking care of you, right?"

I cover my face. "Damien, please get to the point."

"I'll let you go out to the garden for a short while, with supervision, of course, if you can promise me you won't try anything foolish."

My heart feels like it's skittering and sort of skipping in my chest, and it's making my fear worse; the beat a thrum, like I've overdosed on something. I look at him, the sleek fall of his hair; his white nape. "What can I even try? There's a gate, a fence... guards, most likely. I wouldn't be surprised if you had guard dogs at this point."

"Kyle."

I go to him and grab the back of the couch. "Yes, yes, I want to go outside. Please. Just for a while...I need to get out of here. The walls are closing in."

Glancing over his shoulder, he considers me and I don't hide my mounting hysteria. It's too big, and it's growing along with the creature I'm holding. I'm being eaten up, I can feel it.

"Not for very long," he says.

He walks me outside after I wrap a cloak around myself, and I'm giddy to be back outside. Yes, I know I just returned from going out, but this is different. I look toward the faraway gates and I'm breathless until I realize that Craig won't be walking by; those days are behind us. I can leave roses for him but he won't find them.

"Visit the roses," Damien says. "I'll fetch you shortly... just know you're being watched even when you don't think you are. Behave."

I don't respond, moving away instead. The air is cool but it feels like spring, the grass a tender, soft green. The sun pours over me like syrup. I keep my hood down as I go to the roses, slow and then I'm running. I want to run until I collapse, until I'm so exhausted I can drop into bed and sleep for hours.

I want to escape not only this place but myself.

It's a struggle to catch my breath by the time I'm back in the garden, and the roses surround me. They shine, fluttering, and I reach to touch them. It's like visiting old friends and I'm just so grateful to be out of the room. I want to cry but i stop myself, aware that I've been crying since the beginning and it hasn't changed a thing.

I take up the shears and snip a scarlet rose, lifting it to my face.

"Craig," I almost sigh. We hadn't had roses at the beach, but we'd had the stars, and they'd opened up over us at night like white flowers. We'd laid in the sand and he'd told me stories about the constellations while pointing at the sky. He'd even taken my hand to help me trace the pictures; trembling points of light.

We'd waded in the water up to our knees... I'd tasted the salt on his lips when he'd kissed me. It had all been so much like a dream, and after everything's that's happened I have to wonder if I'm remembering things as they actually were, or if I'm sweetening the memories to make the present more bearable.

"Kyle?"

Opening my eyes, I turn to see Pip there, and it's like time has reversed. He's watching me, his own hood drawn down, but there's something different about him. He won't look at me straight on, his face slightly turned away. He keeps his distance as well, mouth taut.

"I don't know what to say," he says. "I knew you were back, but i didn't think he'd let you out."

"His hand was forced," I reply, wanting to ask why he won't look at me, but I don't. "There's been a change and now... everything's different, Pip."

He nods, his expression stiff. "I heard about what he did to you, that party he threw with all the Alphas."

I shrug helplessly. "He wanted to punish me for running away."

"You had another Heat, didn't you?"

I look away, snipping another rose. "I'm pregnant." I say this so quietly I almost can't hear my own voice.

I hear his footsteps in the grass and then I'm being grabbed and turned, and I look to see him completely; heart constricting at the sight of wounds raked across his right cheek and over his eye. They've scarred, becoming pink and shiny.

"Oh, Pip," I whisper. "Oh -"

"He wanted to punish me, too," he says tightly. "For not stopping you."

My throat burns. "I'm so sorry."

"How could you let yourself get caught?" He asks, his tone making it seem like he'd enjoy slapping me. I can't blame him. "You were free... you got what you wanted, and you couldn't hold onto it. And now you're back and -" He breaks off, looking at my middle with gritted teeth.

"I don't want it." As soon as the words leave my lips I know they're the wrong thing to say, especially to him. "I mean -"

He turns away, lifting his hood and covering his scars. After a moment, his shoulders start to shake and I hear him crying quietly, stifling the sounds with his hand.

I collapse inside, knowing I must appear so cruel and spoiled, but that isn't the case. Still,  how can I make him understand? I can't, not when he wants what I have - trying to make him see my side will only make me look worse, like I'm rubbing it in; being callous.

"Can I," I start, at a loss even before I've really said a word. "Can I hug you? Please? Can I do anything?"

His face is red when he regards me, eyes furiously bright. The scars on his face are so stark, so cruel. Wordlessly, he reaches for me and I open my arms, holding onto him tightly. I bite my mouth to stop from saying anything, but I can't help it.

"It'll kill me," I whisper. "I'm sure it will, and if it doesn't Damien will... as soon as it doesn't go the way he wants. I'll be buried next to Mark and then, well. It won't matter anymore, will it?"

He shakes his head, holding onto me harder. I can feel the frantic hum of his heart, his frailty. "How can you say that so easily? Do you really think that's what i want, Kyle?"

"I don't know," I say honestly. "I wouldn't blame you if you did, I guess."

"Fine, so I was almost relieved when Mark," he stops, gulping. He's trembling now. "But I regretted it, okay? I wanted to be him so badly, and now I want to be you, but I don't want you to end up the way he did. I don't want that for any of us."

"It's a very real possibility."

His voice is wet and he sniffles. "I know. I won't lie and tell you it isn't, I just hope it doesn't turn out like that. But at the same time it's so hard for me to accept what's coming... you'll get bigger and rounder every day and I'll be reminded of what I can't give him. I'll hate you but I'll still care about you, and it'll tear me apart."

Pulling away, I look into his eyes, and I'm gutted to see that his scars extend across his eyebrow too. "I wouldn't want this for you, Pip. I want you to have more...I want you to have love. It exists, I've felt it."

His pupils dilate. "Is that why you ran?"

I nod. "I'm in love with Craig Tucker... he took me away, and if it were up to me I'd still be with him. I would be having his child, not Damien's, and it would've been my choice."

"I had a feeling, the way you looked at him," he says somberly. "Really, the way he looked at you from behind the gate, too. There were times when I was out here alone and he'd walk by... he'd look over and his face would change when he saw it was just me, i think."

Still holding his hood up, he frowns. "But you two barely spoke... how did you manage to fall in love?"

"We spoke more than you saw," I admit, still holding him. It feels like he's lost weight which worries me; he'd already been thin. "And I don't know...I would smell his scent, look in his eyes and I'd feel something I couldn't explain. It was enough."

"Don't give me that love at first sight garbage, please," he says, pulling away. He tightens his hold on his hood, turning just so to hide his scars. "You fell in love with his kindness and then I suppose you fell in love with the rest of him. Maybe. Do you even really know him?"

Stung, I begin snipping more roses. "I know that I care for him far more than Damien."

"That leads me to believe that you care for Damien somewhat," he says shrewdly. I freeze, understanding how he could interpret my words that way, and that truly scares me.

"I pity him to some degree," I mutter. "It isn't the same thing."

"What's there to pity? Didn't he get what he wanted?" Now he's bitter again, and I'm beginning to feel dizzy at how this conversation is unwinding; emotions upon emotions upon emotions, and I'm already tired.

"It's more than that," I say carefully, thinking of Lilith; Damien's childhood. He was nurtured in poisonous soil and obviously mistreated; it isn't an excuse but it's a reason for his behavior, which i can't overlook on good conscience. I can't tell him that, though; I can't really say anything so the knowledge just rots inside of me. "He wants what he wants for the wrong reason, and even if i end up having this child i still don't think Damien will be satisfied. He'll never be truly happy so he spreads his misery around. That's what I pity."

I catch a finger on a thorn then, groaning softly. A bead of blood oozes up, feeding my nausea, but I lick it away anyway; closing my eyes at the metallic flavor. I suddenly want very tender meat, rare; it's not the first time I've thought of it longingly. Mostly I have more aversions to food than active cravings.

"Do you feel different already? You have to, right? Did you know immediately?" Pip asks, and now he's bitter and slightly wistful.

"I'm tired and I'm always nauseated," I sigh, still sucking on my finger, drawing out the blood. I think again of being eaten up from the inside. "Even when I don't eat i feel sick. It's always there. And yes, I guess I knew very quickly...I mean, I didn't realize i knew necessarily, but I didn't feel like myself and I was very aware of it." I shake my head. "I'm not making sense, I know. It was like there was a presence in me I couldn't explain, like I was never alone. I suppose I'm not, though. Not anymore."

"But I am, in a way. This is alienating because I don't want it to happen," I say softly. "I think that's the part that's scaring me the most right now... knowing I don't want this but it's happening anyway. Every moment it's happening and it's inside me all the time. I can't get away from it."

"Kyle," Pip says but his voice fades away. He makes a small sound and he suddenly seems afraid. I turn to see Damien striding across the lawn toward us. Pip is shrinking into himself and he reaches for me.

"Here," I murmur, pulling him close. He turns his face again, hiding in the shadows of his hood.

"Are you alright? You're flushed," Damien says, not taking his eyes from my face, barely sparing a glance for Pip. "You've gotten too much sun, you aren't used to it."

"I'm fine," I reply curtly. I squeeze Pip to reassure him. "Pip and I have been catching up," I add, giving Damien a look loaded with scorn.

Damien's eyes slide to Pip without turning his head but he doesn't really seem to be processing what he's seeing. His detachment is obvious and it only feeds my disgust for him. Pip isn't looking at him, his eyes on the ground; teeth digging into his bottom lip.

"Hello," Damien says like he's throwing the word out without thought. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

Pip just nods, not melting at the attention; aloof, almost, but he's trembling lightly. I can tell he's trying not to cry again.

I want to leave marks on Damien's face the way he'd done to Pip but I don't move, glaring at him; blood on my tongue and holding the other omega tightly but not enough to hurt. He's been hurt enough.

I'm quiet after I'm brought back to the room; reviled, sad. I had gathered the roses I'd cut into a basket, denying Damien when he offered to carry them. I also reject him when he tries to assist with replacing the old roses with the new, fresh ones. I set some aside to press the petals into books, wanting to preserve them, aware that Damien is watching even though he's pretending to read.

I keep seeing the scars on Pip's face, remembering the way he'd clung to me, and I could feel his fear when Damien approached. It creates a current of anger and remorse in me that simmers for the whole afternoon. I keep it inside, though, knowing if I try to speak I'll probably start crying and I'm so tired of crying.

I'm so tired of everything and this has barely begun.

-----

The rage is in the background of everything as the days pass, mixing with my sorrow until I'm so lethargic i can barely think. I'm not getting better but I didn't think I would; still nauseated and tired and so irritable. My sleep is fretful, my appetite is abysmal, and I don't know what to do with myself.

Mostly I tend to wander, rearranging the roses in their delicate vases; unable to settle. I look out the window and pace, pulling on my hair and chewing my nails. Damien watches with a worried, narrowed expression but doesn't intervene - at first.

After a particularly hard night, one spent tossing and turning; waking from dreams with sweat saturating my gown, I finally get up in the hours before dawn to try and rest in front of the toilet, cool and shivering on the white tiles. I'm dressed in something frail and my skin is hot and pink, stomach lurching. I ache and there's a bad taste in the back of my mouth; sour and strangely metallic.

I almost want to vomit so the feeling will go away, but I can't. My body is keeping me in a constant limbo of wanting to be sick but it refuses to pull the trigger. There's no relief and it's clawing at me. I sigh softly to feel a burning pain behind my sternum, a new development that began a few days ago.

Eaten alive, my mind whispers.

Shaking from lack of sleep, I sit on the toilet to empty my bladder, heavy-eyed and almost wanting to lie on the floor on my stomach until I finally drift off when I'm done. I rise to flush when I notice pink in the water, mixed with the urine like rosy ribbons. Immediately, i begin to breathe faster, clutching at my heart as it starts thumping harder.

I'm terrified, broken from the daze I've been walking in, and I sink down. My skin hurts, nerves burning, and I can't help the whine that begins; unaware of it until it's filling the empty, silent room.

"Kyle?" Damien's sleepy voice calls to me and it's all I can do not to hide. I'm still staring at the pink blood in the bowl, faint, but it came from me... and the pain, the clawing, strange pain inside of me. I don't understand anything that's happening.

Damien comes to the door then, usually pale face flushed from interrupted sleep. His eyes are a dull red but they widen when they see me crying quietly, leaning next to the toilet; hand jammed against my mouth.

"What is it? What's wrong?" he asks, coming to me. He looks into the toilet and stills, his breaths becoming shallow.

"I didn't," I start, my mouth thick with saliva. "It just started...I haven't seen blood before. That's blood, right?"

He nods slowly, crouching down. The color is gone from his cheeks. "Are you in pain? I mean, in... down there," he growls, reaching to touch my belly. "Here, do you hurt here?"

"No, the pain is up here," I say, moving his hand up to my breastbone. "Like something's gnawing at me all the time. It's sharp if i breathe too deeply but usually it's dull."

His eyes brighten. "Why didn't you tell me? How long has this been going on?"

Dully, I shrug. "A few days. I didn't want to talk about it because it scares me... it makes all of this feel so real."

"Kyle, it is real," he snaps, rising. "Get that through your head - this is happening and you have to deal with it." He viciously swipes the hair from his eyes. "I'm calling the doctor. Stay put."

I do, drifting and almost feeling like i temporarily don't exist; stepping out of myself like I can watch from above, a casual observer. I still avoid touching my stomach but I can feel the heat of Damien's hand on my skin, working itself into me. I shut my eyes and silently look at the darkness, squeezing my eyelids until electric lights dance and pop.

Damien comes back soon, voice calm when he speaks but there's tension all through him, pouring from him. He has the phone pressed to his ear and I stare at it, having only seen it a few times. Typically Damien doesn't bring it to the room but I'm not sure why it would matter anyway - I don't know any phone numbers.

"Yeah, it's pink," he's saying, looking into the bowl. "No, there's not a lot... mostly urine. No, no clots." He looks at me, eyebrows knitted. "You didn't see any blood clots, right?"

I shake my head, my temples throbbing.

"No," he says. "No, he said his sternum hurts but not his stomach..." kneeling, Damien listens before reaching to place a hand on my forehead. I hold my breath, a drop of sweat drifting down my chest. "No, he doesn't have a fever. Chills?"

He looks at me and I shake my head again. I'm beginning to come down from the initial shock and now I'm so tired; exhausted all the way to my bones.

"No, no chills. Does it hurt when you pee, Kyle?"

"A little. It burns."

"He said it burns," Damien says, biting his lip as he listens. He nods and I want to tell him the doctor can't see him but I stay quiet. I curl up against the wall, feeling stale and sticky from sweat. I smell acrid and I know that's my lingering fear.

"Okay, yeah," Damien goes on, covering his eyes with his hand. "Fine. Thank you."

He disconnects the call and just stands for a moment, eyes still obscured until he drops his hand. We stare at each for a while, the sounds of the house settling coming to us; the running of water in faraway pipes. Damien moves to flush the toilet, closing the lid softly.

"The doctor doesn't seem concerned," he murmurs. "Based on your symptoms he believes you may have an infection... he wants you to drink more water and rest. I have to monitor your temperature and he'll prescribe antibiotics just to be on the safe side."

Sighing, he leans against the wall and slides down to sit on the floor as well. We're quiet for a long time, breaths mingling and absorbed into the silence, the tension.

I press a hand to my chest, trying to ignore the feeling of phantom fingernails scraping underneath my bone, inside my skin. I'm shaking and cold now, but my cheeks are hot.

"You have to talk to me," he finally says. "You can't just stay quiet about how you're feeling. How can I help you if you won't tell me anything?"

"If something really goes wrong what can you do?" I ask dimly. "What can anyone do if my body decides it's done with all of this?"

"We can't think like that," he replies. "What good will it do? It'll just make you more stressed. In fact, the doctor says the pain in your sternum might be from anxiety, at least partially."

"Big surprise," I mutter, bracing myself against the wall. "I could drop dead any second or something could just die inside of me...I guess anxiety makes sense, huh?"

"You were crying," he replies quietly, looking at the tiles. "Were you... was it just for yourself or because you thought. I don't know. I know you don't want this to be real, that on some level you're still denying it, but would you be sad if -"

"I don't have the energy for this," I say, angry that I'd allowed him to have a glimpse of my vulnerability. "What do you want to hear, huh? That i don't like the idea of something dying when it can't even fight? Of course that would bother me, but I'd feel that way about anything. It isn't because this is mine, or ours. It may be inside of me but I don't feel like it belongs to me. Okay?"

He doesn't reply, standing slowly like he hurts too. I don't know what he thought he was going to hear but I'm sure he hadn't wanted the answer I'd given him.

"You smell sick," he says, going to the tub and starting the water. "Take off your clothes and I'll bathe you. Then you're going back to bed."

The hot water makes me droop, a thread of real, true tiredness finally pulling me down into a place of complacent fatigue. I don't resist when Damien washes me, and his touch is unusually careful as he wipes the sweat from my skin. He lingers when he washes my hair, kissing my nape as I stare at the rippling water; clear, my hands clenched on my thighs.

Soon I'm dressed in fresh night clothes and I'm tucked into bed, propped on pillows and drowsy from hot tea and a sleeping pill. The window is faintly rosy with dawn light and i ask him to draw the curtains.

"Sometimes I can't stand the sun," I admit, turning my head on the cool pillow. I feel hazy and unreal, trying not to remember the blood I'd seen in the water. Lying this way, the pain seems to break and I'm limp from the relief. "It makes it harder to hide."

Sitting beside me, Damien takes my hand and lays it on his lap. "I didn't realize you wanted to hide."

Fatigue makes my tongue loose, my thoughts slipping through my head like raindrops off the eaves of a house. "I do. I'm always hiding. I'm always scared." I sigh, shifting my head because the pillow is moist from my hair, sticking to me. I study him, the shadows under his eyes. He's still so disheveled. "You shouldn't have punished Pip the way you did. He had no control over me running off... none at all."

"He didn't tell me he'd seen you until I forced the information from him," he says softly, his anger already waking. It never takes long. "If he'd told me you had gone out the window sooner I would've probably been able to stop you. Then you wouldn't have -" He stops, hand tightening on mine. "Well, we both know what it could've prevented. Besides, his loyalty should be to me, his Alpha, not you."

"I think he wanted to tell you but he was trying to be kind," I say, glancing toward Lilith's portrait over the fire. Her green eyes seem to cut into me and I look quickly away. "At any rate, I was the one at fault. Not him. You're cruel to him when all he wants is for you to think of him." I giggle, punchy from the pill and coming down from being so frightened. "But that's your thing, isn't it? Being cruel. You can't be any other way, can you?"

He looks at me and I know he's considering slapping me, it's there in his expression, the pull of his mouth. He doesn't, but the threat of it is all over him. "I'll be easier with him if that would please you. Or I could send him away so you don't have to look at him and be reminded of my cruelty."

I sit up but he gently pushes me back down. "I didn't mean it, Kyle. At least I don't think I did."

"You can't just say things like that. Isn't it enough that you have final say over everything... do you have to lord your power over us constantly? How am I ever supposed to love you if you always act like I'm beneath you? Do you even care?"

He gives me a look of almost feline calculation, eyes narrowed. "Do you have it in yourself to love me, Kyle? Everything you've said so far has been to the contrary."

I close my eyes, the nausea rising but i think if I'm still enough I might be able to avoid it. Maybe if I try to work with it we can reach a tenuous compromise. "Well, if that's what you want, you're going about getting it in the worst way.... you're making it impossible."

"But, no. I probably can't love you, not after everything you've done. But Pip could, I think, if you'd let him."

He pushes my hand away. "You need to sleep. We aren't even really talking about anything... you're tired and resentful because you cried. You hate that i saw you, because you can't take it back."

"Fine," I say thickly. "If that's what you want to believe. I don't care."

I'm confined to bed for several days after this incident but I don't fight it. I'm sad and listless, even more so than usual, after seeing the blood; after crying, because, yes, I'd been terrified not just for myself, but for something that's a complete mystery to me.

It had caused a new fear to come to life when really I hadn't needed any more. Fear rules my life, that and anger, and now I have to wonder constantly if something is going to happen out of nowhere - will there be more blood? Will it be the sign that the end is beginning?

What will the end be? And when?

The worry leeches the energy from me, coupled with the sickness, until I'm sleeping as much as possible. I only get up to use the bathroom which creates more terror because I'm always waiting to see the blood. I can anticipate it pouring from me but it won't end until everything's gone. I become paranoid, refusing to get up unless I absolutely have to.

Damien tolerates this even though I can tell he's annoyed and concerned; monitoring my scant food intake and my refusal to truly engage. I avoid talking to him as much as possible, reading or giving one word answers. I hide in bed and try to be still, wanting to be forgotten; wanting to forget myself.

The nausea and the pain in my chest make me moan when I'm alone, crying under the covers. I cry as much as I can when Damien isn't around to see it. The hormones are messing with my head, making me weepy over even small things; the roses dying and having to be thrown away, finishing a book I'd really enjoyed because I wanted it to keep going; when the sun is too bright and I'm hoping for rain.

I feel like I'm losing my mind, and I'm probably well and truly on my way until Damien decides he's had enough; bringing in a stack of books one day and setting them on my nightstand.

"Books about pregnancy," he says, tapping the top one. "I want you to read them. I think they'll make you feel better because you'll have a more thorough understanding of what's going on."

I stare at them, my eyes swollen from having sobbed my way through throwing up my breakfast; a pitiful glass of juice and dry toast. I curl deeper into the blanket, still avoiding touching my middle. I feel bloated, though.

"I checked," he adds, lifting one of the books and flipping it open. "Seeing a little blood is totally normal as long as it isn't profuse or bright red...especially if you're not having pain. Doesn't that make you feel better?"

Pulling back the blanket, I peer up at him, my voice muffled when I speak. "You read them?"

"Of course I did," he says, raising an eyebrow. "You're having my child and nearly catatonic, clearly because you're scared... what else am I going to do, especially since you basically refuse to talk to me."

"Yeah, and you're not allowed to use force to get me to open up," I snap, annoyed and confused that I'm actually touched by his gesture. I scowl. "I wonder how long you'll be able to hold onto that kind of restraint."

He slaps the book against his hand and I flinch. "I took the doctor's words to heart, Kyle. I want this to work."

"Why wouldn't you? You couldn't possibly imagine not getting your way, could you?" Picking up one of the books, i study the cover; a heavily pregnant omega cupping their stomach tenderly. "I can't believe I might end up looking like that. Can you imagine it?"

"It's hard right now," he admits, sitting beside me. He looks at my face, thoughtful before he moves to touch my cheek. I try to back away but he shakes his head slightly. "Don't, I'm not going to hurt you. I just haven't really gotten to... I've been trying to give you space because you're so miserable."

Pulse accelerating, I reluctantly allow him to stroke my face, fingers tracing down to settle over my clavicle; across my nipple. I bite back a moan.

"I'm so sensitive and it aches, not just here," I say, touching my sternum. I flush, indicating my chest, my nipples. They're bigger and darker, making me wince when my nightgowns brush them. They always seem to be hard, too. "I think I'm getting bigger...I don't like it."

He considers this. "The books talk about that, too. Lactation."

"I don't want to do that," I say, flushing deeper. "Breastfeeding. I don't want anything that close...I don't think I could handle it. It's too much."

"You won't know until you try, right?" He strokes a fingertip over my nipple again before squeezing it lightly. I groan, arching before I can help it. His eyes flash, turning from merlot to crimson.

"I'm too sensitive," I say softly, embarrassed. "Like I'm one raw nerve."

"You've lost weight," he replies, pulling away from my chest to focus on my ribs. "It worries me. I know it's still early, but. I'll ask the doctor about it when we see him next."

Damien's hand is getting perilously close to my stomach, making me antsy. He hasn't touched it since that night in the bathroom, and I'm fighting the urge to snap at him if he gets too close.

It's just too intimate, even more so then touching my chest. It doesn't help that his casual attention to my nipples has made me slightly hard, trying to hide this fact by piling my blanket on my lap.

I also can't deny that I'm developing a protective streak, but I tell myself it's because I want to avoid potential discomfort. If something disturbs that part of me the result could be catastrophic.

"It's hard to put on weight when everything just comes back up," I say, shifting so his hand ends up on my hip. He frowns.

"What are you doing? I'm not being rough."

"I don't care, I don't want you to touch me here." I gesture to my stomach.

His frown deepens, turning dangerous. "This is my child, too. Don't forget that."

"Yeah, well it's inside of me," I retort, pulling up the blanket, making him take his hand away. "That counts for a lot, including who gets to touch me there."

He growls and I growl back, my smell becoming sharp. His is aggressive, and he reaches to touch me anyway, recoiling when I bite at him.
"I said no!" I yell, nearly managing to get away before he's grabbing my arms and pinning me down, hovering above me as his eyes blaze. I struggle and he squeezes harder, making me slacken before I start fighting again.

"How dare you?" he grits out between clenched teeth. "You can't be the gatekeeper when it comes to this - I won't let you."

Wanting to give myself over to hysteria, I take deep breaths. I'm very hard now, my cock and nipples alike, and my bladder is full; heavy and aching. I'm conflicted and angry, but I'm filled with sudden adrenaline. I breathe in his smell and almost shudder, not completely rejecting its feral, possessive undertones.

Damien seems to take note of this and becomes excited, nuzzling at me; nipping my glands and kissing my jaw. I groan deep in my throat, my senses on overdrive and everything aching at once. He bends to kiss my mouth and i allow this for a moment, tasting his desire, before I bite at him again, catching his lip.

"Fuck!" he yells, letting go just enough to give me the edge i need, and I scramble away. I pant, standing at the bedside and fixing my nightgown, the transparent silk clinging to my belly in an almost suggestive way. I'm so hard, my cock feeling heavy, but I ignore it - mostly.

Damien's mouth is bleeding when he looks at me, the blood matching the almost unhinged ferocity of his eyes. He doesn't wipe it away, just letting it fall. "Come here."

"No."

"Kyle."

"I thought you said you actually listened to what the doctor said," I say,  preoccupied by the glossy blood rolling over his chin. "You said you wanted to make this work."

Finally, he rubs the blood away, smearing it. "I do."

"You can't just grab me if I tell you no. That isn't making anything work... that's doing exactly what you want."

"Why won't you let me touch you there? You can't keep me from what belongs to me. This is just like," he bares his teeth, wiping furiously at the blood again.

I stare at him, disturbed because I have a feeling about what he's alluding to. "It is just like that. You don't have a right to my body just because you decided you did. You can't just fuck me when you want and you can't touch me whenever you feel like it!"

"You are the most infuriating person I've ever met!" He shouts, startling me. "You can't make anything easy; everything's a fight!"

"I could say the exact same thing about you!" I yell back, pulling my nightgown from my nipples. My body is haywire right now, complete chaos. My mouth is filling with saliva and I can taste orange juice in my throat, rising from my stomach.

"Jesus," I moan, turning to run for the bathroom. I'm violently ill, vomiting until I'm completely empty. After, I stay in the bathroom for a long time, trying to compose myself.

When I come out, Damien's reading one of the pregnancy books, his face a storm cloud. "I'm trying to look up a reason for why you're acting this way, but I'm pretty sure it's just in your nature."

"It's not like I've ever tried to hide it," I snap, stopping when a dizzy wave hits me. I slink over to the bed and sink down, clutching my head. "You have no idea how awful this feels, so why are you making it harder?"

"Unless you failed to notice, I was trying to help," he retorts, shaking the book in my direction.

Grunting, I glance at the books, swallowing residual bile before going to lift one. That same big-bellied, happy omega smiles back at me vacantly, and I have to figure anyone that seemingly happy had to have been forcibly Bonded.

I open it, studying the table of contents, unfamiliar words like "trimester" and "round ligament pain" jumping out at me.

"Come sit next to me and we'll just read for a while," Damien says, not looking at me. "I won't touch you."

"Are you sure?"

"Not unless you want me to," he replies flippantly. "You seemed to like some of it, at any rate. Don't think I didn't notice."

I grimace. "I'm basically a pile of hormones. Any response on my part is completely involuntary."

"Uh huh."

"Keep going and I'll throw your "help" right at the back of your head," I say, considering the book's heft.

"Try it and see what happens, Kyle."

Pulling on a long sweater, I carry the books over, sitting as far from him as possible on the couch. He doesn't look at me, and there's still blood in the corner of his mouth. As promised, he doesn't try to touch me and we spend the afternoon reading quietly; a whole world opening up that frightens me, but I feel better because some of the mystery is lifting.

I still don't thank him for the books, though; that's a step I'm not ready to take yet.

-----

It isn't long before I've made my way through half of the books, obsessively reading them every chance I get, which isn't difficult considering how much time I still spend in bed. They help me to relax, putting in perspective the things that are happening to me, even if my symptoms only continue to worsen.

Damien keeps his distance even though he still controls everything down to the smallest details: my schedule, my food, my clothes. I retaliate by withholding physical contact and staying aloof, making it obvious I'll snap and fight if he gets too close.

I also think he's very concerned about losing control if he starts something I won't let him finish.

As such, there's even more tension between us than normal, but we manage to co-habitate without too much upheaval. It also helps that I'm allowed to go to the garden on days when I feel strong enough. I spend time with Pip who looks at me with shadows in his eyes, but our outings are typically peaceful.

He even, surprisingly, offers to show me how to crochet, something we'd started at one point but abandoned after life intervened - not to mention the fact that I'm very slow to learn, my hands not nearly as skilled as his.

We sit in the grass, the sunshine cascading over us, while the spring winds flutter through our hair. Butters even joins us, shy after our time apart, but soon he's his bubbly, friendly self again. He works on a long afghan he's been knitting for a while it would seem, while Pip laboriously walks me through the steps of learning to crochet a granny square.

"See, you can just make one large square and turn it into a blanket, or you can make several and then sew them together," he explains, watching as I clumsily loop and wrap yellow yarn around my hook. He keeps his face in shadow, the weather too warm now for us to wear cloaks; obviously ashamed of his scars.

"They're fading," I say, glancing at him; afraid I'm overstepping his boundaries.

He touches his cheek self-consciously. "I don't really want to talk about it, okay?"

"Sure, of course," I say quickly, dropping my stitches and almost screaming from frustration. Out of the corner of my eye, I can feel Butters staring at me. I turn to smile at him uneasily.

"What's it feel like?" he asks, glancing at my stomach; still mostly flat except for some slight bloating at the bottom; a new, unusual curve developing. I still refuse to touch it.

I consider this, realizing it's a hard question to answer even though it shouldn't be. After all, it's happening inside of me, but how can I explain something he can't feel? It's like trying to describe the flavor of milk to someone who's never had it.

"I feel full," I say carefully. I glance at Pip to see him watching me intently. He's working on a more complicated crochet project; a sweater for Damien that he seems too sad to talk about. "Heavy, if that makes sense. I can't suck in my stomach as much now."

"Do your gowns still fit for the most part?" Pip asks, rapidly crocheting; looping several stitches in the amount of time it takes me to do just a few.

"Yes, but I can't tie the sashes as tight. I don't really want anything touching me around the waist, anyway."

"Do you have cravings?" Butters asks. "My mother told me she always wanted waffles when she was pregnant with me."

"Not really. Well, okay, I crave the idea of rare meat, but eating it is another story," I say, swallowing. "Mostly everything just makes me feel sick."

"I'm sorry," he says and I can tell he really means it. He brightens. "But I bet the master is over the moon, huh?"

Pip and I exchange a glance. "Naturally," I say coolly.

"I just hope you'll be okay," he goes on, worrying his hands now; a difficult task when holding knitting needles. "I mean, after, well."

The three of us look at each other then, and a damper falls over the moment because we're all thinking about Mark. I wonder if Butters realizes it wasn't a miscarriage that killed him, but I don't ask. I have reason to believe Pip knows the truth, especially now.

"His sister visits his grave every Sunday," Pip says, pouring lemonade that's been set out for the occasion; pink and cold in a glass jug. There's tea cookies and sandwiches too, at Damien's insistence. "She leaves flowers. Not just on his plot, actually."

"You've gone back?" I ask, surprised.

"I had to," he murmurs, touching his face again; quick, and I'm not sure he even realizes he's doing it. "It felt wrong not to, after...I wanted to apologize."

"For what?" Butters asks, accepting a glass when Pip offers it to him. A wind passes through and ruffles the satin ribbons on the sleeves of his white muslin dress, and for a moment he looks like a sweet little doll, gazing at Pip with his wide, innocent eyes.

Pip and I exchange another glance but it isn't derisive. He sighs and actually smiles fondly at Butters. "You know, if I could be you for one day, I think I'd be really happy. It seems so peaceful."

-----

The weeks slowly pass and I manage to finish all the pregnancy books, actually going back to underline passages I want to reread in order to gain a better understanding. I study the diagrams of the fetus as it grows, the way it changes the omega's shape, and while I don't feel connected to the images in a way that I can apply to my own situation, I'm hungry to learn as much as I can.

It still doesn't really feel like it's actually happening to me, though. I'm aware of my body, but I don't really feel like it's mine; like it belongs to someone else. I embrace this notion as much as I can; it makes my discomfort and fear less immobilizing if i pretend it's happening to a stranger.

It certainly can't be happening to me, at least that's what I keep telling myself.

But there's no denying that there's a fullness in my belly now, low, just like I'd told Butters. There's a heaviness inside of me that won't let me forget it. It's as bad as the nausea and growing aches; the cloudiness of my brain, and the overwhelming fatigue. I carry it everywhere like a boulder chained to my ankle, this deep, pervasive weight.

I refuse to look at my reflection or my body when I dress, still wearing the garments Damien chooses for me, but I won't let him get close enough to clothe or bathe me. I won't let him see me naked, a development that elicited quiet rage on his part, terse words, but his hands seem to be tied right now.

He doesn't want to create stress and he also doesn't want to fall prey to his compulsions if he gives into them. He watches, though, always, with a longing and desire that frightens me. Sometimes I feel like his want is enough to hurt me, just with its power, but I can't let that influence me. I want to be an island he can't touch, that no one can reach unless I let them. I'm insulated and removed from the world for now.

I fall into a routine of attending to the garden, spending time with the others (mostly Pip, who still doesn't want to talk about his feelings towards Damien; staying quiet about the changes in me, too), reading, and trying to outrun myself; scared of my thoughts. Terrified of my own body.

In a lot of ways my life is like it was before I ran away, especially after Bebe is allowed to start coming into the room more often, tending the fire and to me when I'll let her (which isn't often), but it's also been irrevocably changed. I can't go back to being the person I'd been, the person who'd run to Craig and Tricia; who'd dreamed of finding his brother safe and sound.

I don't recognize that person anymore, not really. They seem so naive and idealistic to me now, a young, little fool.

A child.

I'm not allowed to be a child anymore, not while I sit here and crochet and pretend I'm not making a blanket for my unborn baby; pregnancy books stacked next to me and the pain always in my chest; the nausea in my throat.

"That thing is getting pretty big," Damien says from his end of the couch. He doesn't look up from his book. "I didn't think you'd keep up with it this long."

"It's distracting," I reply. "Gives my hands something to do."

"Are you going to keep it for yourself?" he asks nonchalantly, but I know what he really means. "It'd look nice on our bed, don't you think?"

He emphasizes the word "our", as if to remind me that even though I've shut him out that doesn't change the reality of my situation. I sigh. Our conversations are never simple because we're always saying more than just the words leaving our mouths.

"Maybe I'll give it to Pip," I say idly, dropping a stitch and wanting to throw the whole mess into the fire. "You know, as a way of saying thank you for teaching me."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture." If he's annoyed, he doesn't let it show in his tone. "You two have certainly gotten closer, haven't you?"

I look at him a moment, elegant and relaxed in his dark shirt with the collar unbuttoned; venomously beautiful even in repose. He doesn't seem to care, though; accepting his own handsomeness the way he does most things that don't necessarily make him happy; detached and bored with the idea.

I want to tell him my closeness with Pip is predicated on our shared destruction at his hands, but I don't feel like engaging enough to create an argument; not that kind, at least. I want to annoy him, though.

"I think I'll teach him to read," I say, focusing on my blanket again. "He needs a distraction, too."

I hear a page turn and wait, pulse picking up just a little. "Do you think he'd be receptive?"

"Yes, actually. I've noticed he enjoys learning."

Damien clears his throat. "You're putting him in danger, you know."

"I'll tell him to do it in private, but I'm sure he'll know that already. Besides, he can keep a secret."

Damien closes his book, quiet for a time. I look over to see him gazing at me and his eyes are infernos. My pulse quickens more. "I know he can, trust me. Fine, you may teach him, but I get the impression you weren't asking for permission."

I lower my blanket and just look at him, hoping my eyes are conveying that he's right in his assumption.

The next morning, Damien drops a surprise in my lap as I'm trying to figure out how to spend my day. He comes from the bathroom freshly washed and shirtless, pale in the sunlight. I don't mean to stare but my eyes stray to his chest anyway, finding the scar I'd left there from the broken bottle. I have to cover my mouth when I almost smile.

"Be ready to leave shortly," he says, slipping on a shirt, not buttoning it for a moment as he looks at me.

I blink, already wary. "We're going somewhere?"

"Yes, the doctor," he replies simply, hands straying to his buttons. "It's already time for your next check-up. My, how time flies."

The car ride is quiet and I occupy myself by crocheting, having to stop when my nausea rises again. We sit far apart, each at our own window, but Damien's hand is tensed in his lap; garnet ring catching the light on occasion.

I'm smooth as an undisturbed pool of water on the surface, but inside I'm complete entropy. I'm sure springing this outing on me is a small act of malice on Damien's part, not giving me a chance to adequately prepare, so now I'm floundering. I'm also devastated that I won't be able to give Karen or Dr McCormick a letter for my loved ones, but I'm elated at the prospect of seeing them again; kind faces to break up the monotony of the unknowns and quiet fears.

I'm calm when we arrive this time, exiting the car and pointedly ignoring Damien's hand when he offers assistance. We're not long in the waiting room, thankfully, the sharp, medicinal smell of the office always putting me on edge. I'm grateful that things are moving quickly.

Karen is as sweet and patient with me as always while getting my vitals, frowning softly when she gets my weight. Damien is watchful but quieter this time, almost fading into the background while all of this unfolds.

Thankfully, I don't have to undress for this visit, lying back on the table and lifting my dress when the doctor arrives; Karen laying a blanket over my legs.

"Very lovely to see you both again," Dr McCormick smiles when he sees us, eyes alit with their usual warm glow. He rubs his hands before pulling on a pair of gloves. "How's everything been?"

Damien doesn't immediately reply, letting the quiet build in the room for a moment. "Fine, for the most part."

"For the most part," the doctor repeats. He glances at me, forehead furrowed. "Have you seen more blood?"

I shake my head quickly. "No, just that one time."

"Well, that's good," he says, coming closer. "It's completely normal in the beginning to see a little pink in your urine, Kyle. Even later on it isn't necessarily cause for concern."

"I know, as long as there aren't clots or pain, too," I say. "I read that in one of my books... they've really helped put my mind at ease."

He stops. "You've been reading?" He flicks his eyes to Damien, and I can tell he's confused. After all, he knows that I can read, no doubt because of the letter I'd given to Karen, but he doesn't know I've told Damien.

"It's okay," Damien speaks up. "Kyle and I have an understanding. I gave him the books so he wouldn't be so afraid of what's happening."

The doctor no