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Mary Penner's Great Grandson

Chapter Text

“You!” a man with a particularly fine red beard barked and Nate sprang to attention. He was loitering by the door of the shipping office down near the docks, waiting to see if there were any messages to take. Usually that was Willy’s job but Willy was sick abed and Nate had come down before supper to cover some of his time. They couldn’t spare even the few pennies Willy made nightly. “You,” the man said again, gesturing impatiently. He had strolled past Nate, just another Observant down by the wharf, walked casually into the shipping office like a dozen others had that night to check if there were any pressing messages for him from home and then burst back out the door, agitated. Bad news, presumably. “You sail?” the man said, and Nate stood up.

“I can sail,” he said, halting. His Platt was bad and he understood more than he could say but the man ignored Nate’s crap Platt and grabbed his arm.

“I have to get to Victoria tonight,” he said, and Nate looked at him. Nate had learned not to turn down any task that might pay, bar one; this man didn’t seem intent on that one, though you never knew. “You help me take my sloop to Inner Harbour tonight, I’ll pay five dollars and food,” the man said, which was suspiciously high but of course it was already growing dark and there weren’t many prepared to leave now rather than waiting for the dawn.

“Two fifty up front,” Nate said. “What if we drown?”

“I don’t see what good two fifty’s going to do you if you drown,” the man said, but he seemed in too much of a rush to really haggle.

“Two fifty up front,” Nate insisted. “My sister needs it for food for the little ones. I’m a Bluenoser from down East and I can crew a boat; half now, half on arrival, I find my own way home and no fucking.”

“Done,” the man said, handing over two fifty. “Jordie Benn,” he added, shaking hands. Nate admired his beard. He hoped to grow one like that some day but so far no luck. “Who’s trying to fuck you?” Jordie asked idly. “This is an Observant town - no one should be making those offers.”

“This is a port,” Nate said, “and I’m an orphan. I got blond hair, all my teeth and a heap of brothers and sisters to feed; you think I don’t get offers?”

“You’re Observant, though,” the man said, taking in Nate’s hat and trousers. “Why isn’t the Community taking care of you?” Nate just shrugged. The fledgling Community of Gastown had given their family two rough rooms for all nine of them to live in, a measure of oats and the same of flour quarterly, and allowed the younger children to attend the Church School. Beyond that he and Sarah had been left to find their own way and they had managed to stay a day ahead of starvation but only that.

“I don’t need anyone to take care of me,” Nate said, and flagged down another message boy to run take the money to them at home.

# # #

“You got a lot of brothers and sisters?” Jordie asked idly once they were out of the port and underway. The trip would take at least six hours, the first half easy sailing, and Nate guessed Jordie thought they might as well talk to pass the time. Whatever had been troubling him was clearly still weighing on his mind, but he seemed like he had decided to try to distract himself.

“Eight,” Nate said, reclining on the anchor rope, hoping Jordie would break out the eats soon. “You?”

“Just two,” Jordie said. “A sister and an Omega.” He spoke with understandable pride. To have an Omega in the family was a very great thing.

“I got an Omega too,” Nate said. He wasn’t going to go around bragging about it like some but he wasn’t going to hide it either.

Shit!” Jordie said, sitting up to stare at Nate. “You’re the English boy with the Omega baby!” He stared at Nate intensely, as if his brain was whirring a thousand miles a minute.

“I guess,” Nate said, wary. “Why?”

“How’d you end up here anyway?” Jordie asked.

“My Ma was Mary Penner’s oldest granddaughter,” Nate began, the story of his reason for being in this benighted outpost well worn by familiarity. He had told it dozens of times. “Her Ma married a boy who took her to Halifax and my Ma grew up there outside the Community. We headed to Denver couple years ago but my Pa died on the way and six months later my Ma had Georgie. He was Omega so we came here for shelter.”

“Yes,” Jordie said, looking oddly excited. “Your mother was Mary Penner’s granddaughter, wasn’t she? And your father was English?”

“He was,” Nate allowed. Jordie was examining him with a very considering look and Nate didn’t entirely care for it.

“You looking to get married?” Jordie asked.

“Thanks,” Nate said. “I’m very flattered but I think your beard might be too much for me. I’d be too shy.”

“No,” Jordie said, ignoring his attempt at humour. “Are you?”

“I’m not quite eighteen,” Nate said slowly, not sure if he was dealing with an idiot. “I got no trade and my sister and I got seven little ones to raise so fathers aren’t lining up their daughters for me, no.”

“But you’re free to marry, if you wanted?” Jordie pressed.

“Free to do whatever I like,” Nate said, not pointing out that eight dependants and no money limited his options pretty severely.

“You got any hereditary madness in your father’s family?” Jordie asked, which was the kind of intrusive question Nate had grown to expect from the Observant. He’d never met people with such passion for eugenics thinly disguised as genealogy.

“No,” he said, too tired to drag the conversation out and knowing what Jordie wanted to ask. “No madness. And my Ma had ten children, one died of illness, my Pa was one of fourteen, his Pa was one of twelve, his Pa again was one of six but that’s cause his Pa was crushed by a rock at twenty six, so he’d done good work in the time he had; my Ma’s Ma had eight, and you know my great grandma’s family better than I do no doubt.” Mary Penner had been a famous Omega Daughter, her younger daughters the first to form the Victoria Kolonie and herself the mother of an unprecedented three Omegas among her fifteen children. Much of the Victoria Kolonie’s wealth and position was predicated on Mary Penner’s children, and she was still a name to conjure with.

Jordie looked suitably impressed. There was nothing the Observant loved so much as large, fertile families. “What did your parents die of?” Jordie asked, and again this was the sort of thing that passed for light conversation among the Observant, though Nate found it painful every time.

“My Pa drowned,” he said shortly, not touching on their wagon’s fall into the North Platte on the long trip from Springhill to Denver, cut short by disaster. “My Ma took pneumonia year after.” There was nothing extraordinary about the story. Many others had similar sad tales and Jordie’s real question, was there any constitutional weakness in the family, was sufficiently answered. MacKinnons were robust, but even they couldn’t stand against every danger.

“Hmm,” Jordie said. “And then your youngest brother is Omega?”

“Yes,” Nate said, wary. They had come to Victoria Kolonie looking for shelter when Georgie was born Omega but the Kolonie, for all its lip service to family and community, had done little. There had been many, many offers to take Georgie off their hands, all embellished with a gloss of concern as if they were doing the MacKinnons a favour but Jordie surprised him with his next question.

“And your Mother only had the one Omega?” Jordie said. No one had ever asked Nate that before, as Omega births were so rare.

“Funny you ask,” Nate said. “There was one just after me, Minnie, who died at two from the summer diarrhea, and I always wondered. Whenever my Ma talked about her she had a tone, and Ma didn’t seem so surprised when Georgie came. I always wondered if Minnie was Omega but they hid it and called her a girl.”

“Holy shit,” Jordie said. “Mary Penner’s great grandson with two Omegas in the direct line. Why are you scrounging for messages?”

“Mary Penner doesn’t seem to have done me much good,” Nate said. “Got to feed the kids somehow.” He didn’t bother pointing out he’d only been covering Willy’s job - he was too old for a message boy and had his own day labour job on several farms.

“Hmm,” Jordie said and looked like he was thinking deeply. “You ever considered setting out on your own?”

“What?” Nate said, fiddling with the frayed end of the rope. “Set out where? Who would take care of the kids?”

“Let the Community care for them,” Jordie said, seemingly off hand.

“Can’t see the Community’s done much of a job so far,” Nate said, prepared to get quite peppery about it. They had come to Victoria Kolonie seeking refuge when Georgie had been born Omega six months after his Pa died; Victoria leadership had done their damndest to pry Georgie out of their hands and when that failed, sent them to live in squalor in Gastown, ostensibly to assist in the creation of a new Kolonie. Nate’s Ma had died almost directly after of pneumonia and once a quarter the Gastown Elders swang by with entirely insufficient food aid, tried various bribes to get hold of Georgie, and then departed, disappointed once again. Nate was in no mood to hear suggestions the Community relieve him of responsibility. Nate gave Jordie one of his Ma’s patented chilling looks. “I know you weren’t suggesting I abandon those children,” he said coldly and Jordie shrugged as if it were nothing to him but he looked approving at the same time. “The Elders only want Georgie,” Nate said. “The rest of us can go hang, for their money, but I’ll be damned if I break up the family.”

“That’s a lot of family to feed,” Jordie said, and Nate nodded agreement. It was. “You ever taken any of those offers you mentioned?” Jordie asked, and Nate knew exactly what he meant.

“No,” Nate said, exasperated. “I haven’t. We gonna talk about how I’ve kept my virtue some more or can we eat?”

“Have you though?” Jordie pressed and Nate snapped.

“Yes!” he said. “I never done a thing!” Other boys in town, Nate knew, had and Nate didn’t begrudge them their decision; occasionally, on days he was especially cold or hungry, going without so the younger ones could eat, he wondered if he was a fool not to but he hadn’t, quite, been desperate enough yet to take up the offers sailors and coarse men had made him. He had no objection to men, although he kept that a close secret, but he had quite an objection to taking it up the ass dry for money while crushed against the back of a privy, which was what the offers had amounted to.

“Hmm,” Jordie said noncommittally, but he seemed satisfied with Nate’s answers, somehow. “Can you read?” Jordie asked, and Nate was surprised at the change of direction but answered.

“I can read,” he said, and that was true. He’d gone to a decent enough school until they left Springhill when he was fourteen. “English, not German though,” he added. He’d barely learnt enough Platt to get by - learning to read High German, a whole different language again, was beyond him.

“What were your people like?” Jordie asked and Nate was even more puzzled but answered that too.

“My parents loved each other,” Nate said, because he knew that had meaning to these people, and Jordie nodded approvingly.

Jordie went on, asking if Sarah could read, if she was a good girl, if she could cook, about the younger children; would Nate consider consigning Sarah and the others to a farm family as servants and keeping only Georgie close by to care for, how large was the house they were living in now, were the children healthy, was Nate sure he was insistent on keeping the family together. How did Nate discipline the younger children? Had he ever struck one so hard they bled? Had he ever struck Sarah? What did Nate do when they didn’t have enough food - who ate first? Had Nate ever worked with unbroken horses? Did he believe they had to be whipped or just tamed? Finally Jordie sighed and sat back. “Alright,” he said. “You want chicken or steak pie? I got one of each and a bottle of beer.”

“Oh, God, either,” Nate said, relieved by the end of the questions. He hadn’t eaten chicken or beef for over a year; they could afford salt pork once a week or so but that was it. “Gimee,” he said and Jordie handed the chicken pie over. It was delicious. Anything would have been; Nate ate twice a day, three if his employer fed him midday, and had missed his second meal hustling for messages, but the pie was particularly succulent. The pastry was perfect, crisp and flaky, the chicken was tender, the vegetables just right, the thick gravy that held the pie together was flavourful and rich. “I want to marry whoever made this,” Nate groaned.

“Funny you should say that,” Jordie said, and his tone was strange enough Nate looked over at him. “I got a little problem,” Jordie said, and laid out the situation. This was the news he had just received in the shipping office; apparently he had a ‘family friend’ who was in need of a quick marriage to redeem their lost Integrity. Very quick; Jordie proposed the same day they were to arrive in Victoria, and evidently it was of great importance to Jordie; he was willing to pay Nate two thousand dollars as a dowry for the favour.

Nate stared back at him; there was only one possible reason Jordie was willing to pay a dowry for a marriage this rushed and he wondered how he would feel raising Jordie’s child, beard and all. Still, it was an enormous, unexpected chance. Jordie appeared to be able to make good on the offer and the money was desperately needed. It would buy dozens of things they sorely needed but most importantly it could buy Nate and the other boys apprenticeships, the only possible way out of their poverty.

“Well?” Jordie said.

Nate looked at him coldly. If he’d gotten a girl pregnant, he’d have married her himself, not hired it out. “I’m gonna need more than that,” he said speculatively. “Double.”

“Can’t do it,” Jordie said, and it had the ring of truth. “What else would you take?”

“An apprenticeship,” Nate said. “I need an apprenticeship.”

“Done,” Jordie said quickly but Nate held up one hand. This all seemed much too good to be true.

“With articles of apprenticeship and all,” he said. “In writing. For the full seven years. And I’ll need my sister and all the little ones with me.”

“You want me to feed eight more people?” Jordie said, outraged.

“Nine,” Nate said. “Assuming this girl you want me to marry eats.”

“Oh it’s not a girl,” Jordie said, and Nate looked warily around him. It was pitch black and the water only a few degrees above freezing year round; there was no chance at all of survival if he went off the boat to escape what he now assumed was some weird fake proposal that ended with Nate ‘married’ to an ex convict with a taste for boys.

“Calm down,” Jordie said, accurately assessing Nate’s look. “It’s an Omega.”

This was even less believable. Omegas were rare and precious, the living incarnation of the Covenant between God and man and central religious figures of the Community, kept physically separate and pure from the contaminating touch of all but their Alpha and women closely related to them. Marriage to an Omega was for the wealthy and powerful, not Nate, although as the brother of an Omega he was technically numbered among the Blessed, Community members who had an Omega within the household. Omega marriages were practically affairs of state and involved years long negotiations and the exchange of tens of thousands of dollars. There was absolutely no circumstance under which Nate would be asked to marry an Omega. “I will fucking stab you if you touch me,” Nate said. He didn’t have a knife but Jordie didn’t know that and he now suspected Jordie was insane. Why would he create such an unlikely tale?

# # #

Four hours later they landed. Jordie had done a great deal of fast talking, blabbing on about his brother’s friend and something about a letter, and eventually produced several more meat pies, all of which had convinced Nate to stay peaceably on the boat, but none of which had convinced him Jordie was telling the truth. They had still been hashing it out when the wind whipped up and they had needed to stop talking and start sailing, and the conditions had stayed bad right into the Inner Harbour. Jordie tied the boat up and hustled Nate up the docks. He seemed in a great hurry to find someone. Nate still didn’t believe there was an Omega Jordie wanted him to marry, but he was willing to follow along behind and see what happened, given that he had no real alternatives and still hadn’t been paid his second two fifty. The meat pies had been good, and Victoria was a fully Observant community, unlike Gastown; Nate had heard Observant towns had Community Halls that would feed all Observant comers and he was interested to find out the truth of that. Maybe they had more pies.

“Where’s Segs?” Jordie asked several men as he passed and they all pointed up at the warehouse at the top of the hill. On their way up the hill, stepping double time, they passed a tall, pudgy Omega taking the morning air appropriately chaperoned by a young woman about his age and several married ladies. An Auntie stood about ten feet in front of him, preventing anyone from getting too close. Nate stared. He had never seen an adult Omega; Georgie was the only Omega in Gastown, though the Victoria Kolonie had said they would send two Omega Daughters soon, ready to produce more Omegas to found the new Kolonie. He had not known grown Omegas were so tall and doughy. Somehow he had imagined someone smaller than him, closer to a woman’s size, and he tried to imagine Georgie, grown up and hemmed in with attendants. Certainly the Omega had a beautiful face, enormous doe eyes and lovely pale skin, and he turned towards them as they approached. He tilted his head towards Jordie and lowered his eyes; everything he did seemed very mannered, irreproachably reserved and decorous.

“Alpha,” he said as they drew within hearing distance.

“Alright, Chubbs?” Jordie said as they passed, but he didn’t stop and continued on towards the warehouse. Nate followed after him, staring back.

“Are they supposed to be so tall?” Nate asked as they continued their climb.

“No,” Jordie said, sounding irritated. “Jamie’s the ugliest omega in several generations, but he’s my brother and I won’t hear a word against him, so shut your mouth.”

“Sorry,” Nate said. He hadn’t meant it as a criticism, but he supposed when someone was paying tens of thousands of dollars to acquire an Omega they got touchy when their possession didn’t look right. He could see how a 6’3 Omega could be a difficult situation. He followed Jordie up the hill. Before they got to the warehouse, they passed the Community Hall and Jordie gestured to Nate.

“Go on in there and wait til I come back,” he said. “There’ll be an Auntie or so about to feed you if you look pitiful enough.” Nothing loathe Nate hustled in.

There was indeed an Auntie, sitting by the fire but she leapt up when he entered. “Och,” the Auntie said. “Has anyone fed you today? You’re too thin.”

“No,” Nate said, trying to look pitiful and it seemed to work as he was propelled to one end of the long communal table and a bowl of oatmeal with cream was set in front of him, followed by corn porridge fried up with liver pudding and maple syrup for the top. The auntie reappeared briefly, considered Nate as he shovelled it down enthusiastically and then left to return with a tin of cookies.

“Whose son are you now?” she asked, and he mumbled through his mouthful.

“Mary Penner’s great grandson, Auntie,” he said, and her eyebrows shot up.

“Through the English?” she said, as if it were a bad word.

“‘Fraid so Auntie,” Nate said cheerfully. He was used to this reaction, and she snorted rudely and left, no longer sympathetic now she knew he was tainted, but she also left the tin of cookies and he opened it to inspect the contents before returning to his liver. Cream cookies; excellent.

Someone pulled out the seat across from Nate and sat down. Nate was too occupied with the largest meal he’d had in weeks to bother looking up but then a man’s voice at the other end of the hall caught his notice. There were several men milling about near the door, arguing, Jordie and an older man and someone Nate assumed must have been the missing Segs, a tall man with dark hair and beard. “No!” the dark haired man said loudly. “Not some stranger... “

“They’re coming after all,” Jordie said. “It has to be tonight.” Nate looked away; their fight was no concern of his, and his gaze passed over the occupant of the seat opposite him. It was an Omega, different than the first, this one a boy a little older than Nate.

The boy looked a great deal more like what Nate had imagined an Omega would, and he stared at him admiringly. He was beautiful, piles of dark glossy braids that marked him as Omega, a tiny waist and a sweet little face with lovely skin. He was wearing a pink shirt patterned with red birds and on him it was charming. His clothes were visibly of the highest quality and he had a sleek, well fed look of wealth but there was a deep bruise all along one side of his face, a nasty purple green that suggested it was at least a week old, and when he saw Nate looking at it he scowled. He moved stiffly, though he tried to hide it and he winced when he shifted in his seat. The boy noticed Nate staring and tossed his head disdainfully. “You’re not supposed to look at me,” he hissed. “Alpha?” The boy clearly wasn’t sure if Nate was eighteen or not and had to be addressed formally.

“Not yet,” Nate said cheerfully. “Sorry. Have a cookie?”

“Little Brother, then,” the Omega said, looking at him, surprised. Nate was used to it. He had been six feet tall since last year and his labour on the farms and meager diet had put wiry muscle on him and stripped away any baby fat. He knew he looked older than he was and exhausted by his responsibilities. Sometimes he dreamed of a day spent just lazing in the warm sun, sleeping in a grassy field, his stomach full and his family secure, but there was no point in dwelling on it now. “Alright,” the boy said and looked around carefully to see if anyone had heard; they had not, all their attention focussed on the argument going on at the other end of the table and he gestured at Nate to slide a cookie over. Nate pushed one over and the boy gave him a contemptuous look and pointed at his crown of braids that marked him as Omega; Nate realised his touch made the cookies base, contaminated, too base for an Omega to touch directly after Nate’s hand had been on it.

“Sorry,” he said again, took a napkin and carefully using the side he hadn’t touched, picked up three cookies and slid them across the table. The boy’s eyes widened with pleasure and he grabbed at the napkin. He had terrible manners and began to simply cram the cookies into his mouth. The older man down the end of the table who looked like his father noticed and strode forward to smack him on the back of the head, knocking the cookie from his mouth.

“Have a care, Omega,” he barked. He swept the napkin and uneaten cookies to the floor and then backhanded the boy who simply held still for it, absorbing the blow silently. Nate watched, mouth agape. He’d heard Omega discipline was very severe but this still seemed extreme.

“Your will, Father,” the boy gritted out sounding deeply insincere and his eyes flitted to Nate and then away. He looked humiliated and proud and like he was on the verge of doing something deeply unwise.

“Sorry,” Nate said, just to interrupt the stand off between them. “I gave him the cookie, my fault.”

The father turned his glare on Nate. Slowly, still looking at Nate, he put his hand on the Omega’s forehead. Even Nate knew that was unacceptable between a father and a grown Omega, and the Omega cringed, clearly uncomfortable and ashamed; the man pushed with his hand so the Omega was forced into an awkward position, head craned back and neck arched so the boy was forced to stare at the ceiling in discomfort. Nate could see the boy swallow several times but he was silent. All the people in the room were watching with varying degrees of dismay and Nate wondered that no one else was interceding. Nate tried hard to ignore it. He didn’t want to get into an argument about how to treat Omegas, or this Omega in particular - he wanted to eat his meal and see if he mentioned Jordie Benn had brought him, would they feed him even more. He had eight people to feed and food to scrounge for himself; he had no time for righting wrongs done to people he didn’t know, no matter how pretty. He had learned this lesson the hard way and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice; the Community had very rigid rules for conduct and believed strongly in physical discipline and Nate couldn’t afford to miss another day of work to nurse a beating.

“Look,” Nate said. “It was my fault, I’m sorry. Let me just move down the table and it won’t happen again.” He started to gather up his plate to shove down to the other end of the table but the man put out a hand to stop him.

“Len,” Jordie Benn said from the end of the room, but the man, evidently Len, ignored him.

“Apologise,” the man snapped, but he was talking to the Omega, not Nate.

“I apologize, Little Brother, Father,” the Omega said and Nate hoped that would be the end of it.

Properly,” Len said and the Omega stood, leaning away from his father and then dropped to his knees.

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble,” he said, looking at the floor, his hands folded in his lap. From this angle Nate could see the nape of his neck and an inch or two down the back of his shirt, and he looked away. It felt like the only dignity Nate could give him, and he was deeply sorry that he had given the boy those cookies and drawn this down on them. He looked up and met Len’s gaze, trying to hide his anger but doubtless doing a bad job of it. He had learned, just like the Omega on the floor at his feet, to bend to Observant rules but again like the Omega, he only did so under threat of discipline and it tended to show on his face.

“Who the hell are you?” Len said, clearly not liking his look.

“Mary Penner’s - “ Nate began but Len waved him off and reached towards the table. He knocked the cookie tin to the floor and smirked at Nate, clearly trying to start something. “Hey!” Nate said. Those were the only cookies he was likely to see this year and he’d had plans for them.

“Clean them up, you,” Len said to his son, who darted a look up at his father and then, still on his hands and knees, began to pick up the cookies. Nate watched him do it and told himself he wasn’t going to intercede. He wasn’t going to do anything stupid like get in the middle of this, and he wasn’t going to challenge this Omega’s father; he wasn’t going to do anything but eat as much as he could get and then depart with his two fifty and possibly the purloined cookie tin, but just as he had almost convinced himself, Len looked down, noticed the Omega trying to palm a cookie, and backhanded him flat to the floor. The Omega, who had borne all this with a silence that suggested he was overly familiar with the abuse, made a sort of involuntary grunt when he hit the wooden floor, the bruised side of his face impacting the floorboards and then lay still.

Fed up, Nate scraped his chair back and stood up slowly, trying to look menacing though it was heavy going as he still had a napkin tucked in his shirt and a mouthful of liver. “Leave him be,” Nate said, and Len smiled at him nastily. The Omega closed his eyes, resigned. Drawn by Nate’s motion, Jordie Benn, the man Nate assumed was Segs, and the Omega he had seen earlier, Jamie, drew nearer.

“Get up,” Len ordered the Omega. The boy sat up, lip bleeding but otherwise ignored his father’s order and Jamie grew visibly nervous. Even Jordie looked anxious but he did nothing. With his father in the room, there was no one with the right to challenge Len’s management of the Omega.

Len raised his hand and Nate watched as the boy shut his eyes, preparing for the blow and without thinking about it Nate shot his hand out and caught it before he could begin to swing. “No!” he said and tightened his hand around the older man’s wrist. Nate was shy of eighteen but he’d been man sized for over a year and doing a man’s work since his Pa died three years ago; Len was a wealthy man thirty five years older who ran his holdings from an indoor office. If Nate wanted to hold his arm in place, he could, and that was apparent to all the onlookers. The Omegas’s eyes opened and shot to Nate and then travelled down to where Nate was still holding his father’s wrist and there was a long, nasty pause as everyone waited to see what Len would do. It was broken by Jordie Benn.

“Len,” Jordie interrupted. “Leave him. We need to sort this out. This boy’s no threat to yours but we need to make some decisions quick, they’re coming and we got no time left for arguing. You want to preserve any part of your asset, you need to take what I’m offering.” There was another lengthy, tension filled pause and then Len pulled his arm out from Nate’s grip, shot him a contemptuous look and stalked away, silent, trailed by all three of the onlookers.

“Jesus,” Nate said, disgusted. “You want a cup of tea?” he asked the Omega. There was a stove, pumping out heat at the end of the long room, and on it sat an enormous kettle full of constant hot water. Beside it was a small table with many rough cups, ready for tea. The Omega, of course, could not drink from the shared cups - even Nate knew that. “Aunties,” he called towards the kitchen, “please can the Omega have tea?”

“Oba jo,” drifted back. “Tea in a minute.”

The boy looked surprised by Nate’s offer but nodded and climbed back into his chair. “I’m Tyson Barrie,” the boy said. “You can call me Barrie, since you’re still a Little Brother.”

“Only two more months,” Nate said cheerfully.

Och,” an Auntie called, a different one this time, bustling out of the kitchen to bring tea in a special Omega cup. Both the Omega cup and chair were identifiable by their light rainbow pattern of stripes. Nate had heard of this too but never seen it. At home they didn’t bother with the careful rules required even of an Omega’s family, though that was a secret kept close. Georgie’s seat was on someone’s lap and his cup and plate was shared with whichever brother or sister he sat with. Nate jumped up and went to meet the Auntie, carefully took the tray out of her hands and carried it to the table, the Auntie fluttering beside him. Both the Auntie and Omega Barrie gave Nate a funny look when he put the tray gently on the table and then looked at one another. “Thank you Alpha,” Barrie said, and then the Auntie looked at him funny, although Nate didn’t know what was so odd about what he’d said. Finally the Auntie shrugged and reached for the cup.

Räajenboagen,” the Auntie said, placing the cup onto the table before Omega Barrie. “Why you got to wind your father up, you stupid thing?” but the Omega just smiled at her a little. “You want sugar?” she said, and the boy nodded. “Cream?” she asked, but it all seemed rhetorical as Nate could see the tea was already heavily doctored with cream and, he assumed, sugar.

“You,” she said to Nate and banged a large tin mug of plain tea in front of him. “You came with Benn, eh?”

“Yes, Auntie,” he said. “Thank you Auntie.”

“You stopped Len from disciplining Tyson,” she said. “Not your place,” she added. “Watch it.”

“Sorry Auntie,” Nate said, genuinely sorry if he had made things worse for Tyson. “I got an Omega and we wouldn’t ever treat him so and maybe I got carried away.”

“Hmmph,” she said. “You have to respect the Covenant.”

“I do respect the Covenant,” Nate said, hotting up again. “I respect it so much I don’t go round slapping him across the chops every time he talks.”

“Hmmph,” she said again. “You still hungry?”

“Yes, thank you, Auntie,” Nate said eagerly, and she disappeared into the kitchen and quickly reappeared with a plate full of farmer’s sausage, white cream gravy, ham, shredded cabbage and glums koki.

“What is this?” Nate whispered to the Omega, poking at the glums. His grandmother had left her Observant community for marriage to an English before Nate’s mother was born and along with the language and parts of the Observant culture, there were many Observant foods he had not grown up with.

“It’s cottage cheese fried up with flour and egg,” the Omega whispered back, looking amused. “It’s good, try it.” Nate did, and like everything on the plate, it was delicious.

“Not bad,” Nate said, shoveling. He wished the children could have shared it; they were doubtless back home having dinner right now, coarse bread with bacon fat as always. They could afford no different and the children didn’t complain but Nate felt slightly guilty about enjoying such luxury. Still, every meal he ate here meant one they didn’t have to pay for at home, money that could be reserved for new boots or coats and that thought cheered him.

“You hungry?” Nate asked, vague ideas of Omega plates residing in the kitchen in his mind.

“No, thank you, Alpha,” Omega Barrie said formally.

“No?” Nate said. He had gotten the idea from Barrie’s rapid cookie ingestion that he was a keen eater and he was surprised.

“I’m being punished, Alpha,” Barrie said. “No food for the rest of the week.”

“No,” Nate said, absolutely certain. “That’s ridiculous. You’ll faint. No one’s watching - have some of mine.” He nudged his plate towards Barrie and then felt stupid. Of course he couldn’t eat from Nate’s plate; it was offensive to have even suggested it.

“Someone’s always watching, Alpha,” Tyson said, resigned. “You think we’re alone? We’re not. The Aunties are chaperoning from the kitchen.” He waved at the pass through to the kitchen and several hands waved back along with some laughter. He settled back with a sigh and watched as Nate finished his plate.

Yet another Auntie appeared. Nate was beginning to think they were taking turns coming out to have a look at him. “Good eater,” she said approvingly, taking his empty plate and trading it for a large bowl. “Rice pudding,” she said, dropping a spoon in front of him. “Pudding for the boy who respects the Covenant.” Evidently this Auntie was a little more liberal than the previous one.

“Thank you Auntie,” Nate said eagerly. He’d eaten more in the last twelve hours than he’d had in the past week but he thought he probably had a few crevices here and there he could cram the pudding into.

“And extra raisins because you stopped Alpha Barrie,” she added.

“Do I get a whole cake if I punch him?” Nate asked, joking.

“You get beaten up by the Kolonie and thrown in the hold of the slow boat back to the mainland if you punch him,” she said, serious. “Watch it.”

“Thank you Auntie,” Nate said around the pudding, and vowed to stay out of any further fights. He could take a hint and he needed to be whole so he could work to keep the children. He wouldn’t interfere in anyone’s discipline of their Omegas and he’d keep his mouth shut til he got home with his five dollars. Anything else was none of his business. Still, minding his own business didn’t mean he had to be rude. “Does it bother you when I eat in front of you?” he asked Barrie although he was almost done the pudding so the question was mostly politeness. The Omega shook his head.

“Can Omega Barrie have something to eat?” Nate asked the Auntie, still hovering by the table. “I think he might be hungry.” He wasn’t sure if the Aunties knew about the punishment and thought it was worth a try.

“I know he’s hungry,” she said to his surprise as Omega Barrie just sat, looking between the two of them. “He’s on punishment restrictions and hasn’t had a meal since last Thursday. He’s not allowed anything but tea. His father finds out we disobeyed, we’re in for it too.” She paused. “Last time this happened he fainted in church,” she offered.

“Go on, Auntie,” Nate wheedled. “Can’t he just have a bun or something?” Omega Barrie looked at him, surprised; evidently he wasn’t used to people advocating for him.

“Are you suggesting I question the direction of the Community Alphas?” she said. “I can’t start challenging Alpha headship, boy, that’s a good way to get a thumping.” She scowled at Nate. “Something you might want to keep in mind yourself.”

“Alright, Auntie,” Nate said. He wasn’t going to argue with her anymore, he was just going to wait til she went and then slip the Omega his tin of cookies, though it would pain him to see them go.

“I respect the Covenant,” the Auntie said, scolding. “I respect the headship of men and my husband and Alpha Barrie too, so when he says nothing but tea for Tyson, by god, that means nothing but tea.” She nodded her head sharply to punctuate her thoughts. “Good thing that tea’s got three spoonfuls of sugar, quarter cup of thick cream and a egg beaten into it,” she said off hand. “Nothing but tea for you,” she said firmly to Tyson. “And I hope you’ve learned your lesson!”

“Yes Auntie,” Tyson said, smiling into his tea cup. “Thank you for the advice.”

“Oh,” Nate said, mulling that over. What the Auntie was describing wasn’t really tea anymore; it was more a tea flavoured custard and presumably rich enough to keep body and soul together. He was glad to see the Aunties were on Barrie’s side. “Well. Can he have more tea then?” He turned to Barrie. “You want more tea?” he asked. He assumed he must but it seemed polite to ask, in case.

“Thank you, Alpha,” Barrie said, looking amused. He necked down the contents of his teacup and held it out to be refilled. Laughing, the Auntie bore it away. ”What are you doing here anyway?” he said to Nate, watching him eat the last of the rice pudding.

“Helped Jordie Benn sail his sloop over last night,” Nate said, wiping at his mouth and looking longingly at the empty bottom of his bowl.

“Oh, Alpha Benn,” Barrie said, and there was an admiring quality to his tone.

“Yeah,” Nate said vaguely, wondering if he could scrape the bottom of the bowl with his finger. Grudgingly he discarded the idea. He wondered where Jordie was; he wanted his two fifty and to head to the docks to find a ship back to Vancouver. He had put all thoughts of Jordie’s ridiculous marriage proposal out of his mind. He thought perhaps Jordie was harmlessly mad, a little, or playing some sort of deeply unfunny joke on him.

He nodded to the boy and headed out to find Jordie Benn. Luckily, Benn was just outside the Hall and even more luckily the elder Barrie had departed elsewhere. Benn and the tall man, Segs, were huddled together, talking rapidly in low tones while the Omega Jordie had called Jamie was stood an appropriate distance away, looking vague and pleasant. Nate approached them, detouring around the Omega; he noticed that although he took no obvious notice of Nate, as was correct, his eyes carefully tracked him and he seemed to be taking a very thorough, surreptitious inventory of Nate. Disconcerted, Nate nodded to him politely and sidled past til he got to the two Alphas. They were so intent on their conversation they didn’t notice him at first, and he heard Segs say “Better than the alternative, I suppose,” grudgingly and then both he and Jordie turned to look at Nate censoriously.

He looked back at them at a loss. It seemed to him an awful lot of people kept looking at him and he didn’t know why. “Oi!” Nate said. “I’ve got to head back. What about my money?”

“This is Alpha Tyler Seguin,” Jordie said, ignoring Nate’s demand and introducing the tall dark haired man from before. Alpha Seguin shook Nate’s hand civilly enough but looked extremely skeptical about him, which seemed unnecessary. What did Seguin care about who Jordie hired to sail his boats?

“Pleased to meet you,” Alpha Seguin said, although he looked no such thing. “I’m taking my husband and Omega Barrie for a walk down the dunes; I wonder if you’d like to come along.” Nate was not at all sure why he was being invited for a promenade among the gentry, and they were gentry if Seguin was married to an Omega and trusted enough to chaperone another, and he didn’t care why, either. He had plans, plans to quit this place and go home to spend his five dollars on boots for Tommy and some pork. He wasn’t interested in a walk. He opened his mouth to say so but Jordie beat him to it.

“Go along, MacKinnon,” Jordie ordered before Nate could say anything. “I’ll give you another five dollars for your trouble - we’re going to need you for the day.” Nate looked from side to side, puzzled by this. Five dollars was vastly over the going rate for a day of labour and he wasn’t sure what was so special about him that he merited this pay, but it was hard to turn the sum down. He eyed Seguin and decided he could take him if he had to, and nodded. Maybe he didn’t look persuaded because Jordie threw in a sweetener. “There’s dinner,” he said, waving at a large basket being lugged out of the Hall by Omega Barrie and Nate craned his head.

“Alright, Barrie?” Seguin said and Omega Barrie nodded. He looked strikingly beautiful when he was not scowling or sulky and Nate could tell he liked and trusted Seguin from the way he looked up at him, properly submissive but eager for the treat.

“Alright Alpha,” Barrie said eagerly. “Can Jamie come with me? I’ll change and meet you back in the Hall.”

“Of course Jamie can come with you,” Seguin said indulgently and gestured the tall plump Omega forward. He swept forward, nodding to his Alpha as he passed and caught up Tyson around the waist. It was strange, seeing them touch one another so freely and stranger still when Jamie took Tyson’s hand and held it as they walked away, following Jordie who had moved to chaperone them after a pointed look at Tyler.

“Come,” Jamie said, dignified as always. “We will make you even more beautiful. Today is a special day.”

Obediently Tyson trailed behind him still holding his hand, but he looked puzzled. “I’m already beautiful,” Nate heard him say as he moved away. “Today’s not special, anyway.”

Chapter Text

They didn’t take very long to change; Nate only had time to scrounge some bread and butter from where it was laid out next to the tea urns in the Hall and sample the various pots of jams while Alpha Seguin asked question after question oddly similar to those Jordie had asked. The Observant were very intrusive and peculiar, but that wasn’t news to Nate. What, Tyler wanted to know, did Nate think about women being able to read? Did they plan to allow Georgie to read? Had Nate’s mother been literate? His father? Had Nate’s mother been allowed to handle cash? Did his father speak kindly to her? Jordie had said Nate told him his parents loved each other - was that true? Nate’s sister was the woman of the house, and Nate the man; had Nate ever disciplined his sister so hard he’d injured her? Nate laughed. What, Tyler said, disbelieving, never? Never, Nate said. Anyone who was so unwise as to strike Sarah could anticipate a blow with a fire iron next time they fell asleep. Some disciplined with kneeling, or by demanding silence - what did Nate think of that? Had his mother been allowed to speak freely? Would Nate like to have a love marriage? Was Nate morally clean? Which biblical figure did Nate think he was most like? It was overwhelming; Nate had not devoted any time to thinking about which biblical figure he was most like and was just puzzling over that one - he was absolutely certain Jesus was not the right answer but wasn’t sure who was - when finally the Omegas returned to the Hall and the questions ended.

Omega Barrie had changed since Nate saw him last and he was wearing a walking suit of heavy tweed with a cream, high necked blouse and a very silly scarf that was perhaps meant to be a mimic of a man’s tie. It looked charming on him but like a costume, like a rich man’s interpretation of work clothes. His hair was up in some different, fancier way and it caught Nate’s attention. How did it stay up? Sarah had told him years ago that Omegas and rich women sewed the braids to their skull but that couldn’t possibly be right, could it? Surely not. “Do you sew your braids into your head?” he asked Tyson, aware only after he spoke it was perhaps an odd thing to ask, especially as it was the first remark he had directed to him since he’d reentered the room. Tyson looked at him out of the corner of his eye, as if considering how to respond.

“Not to my head,” he said slowly, as if Nate was a real idiot who needed assistance to understand the simplest thing. “Sometimes we sew them into each other so they stay put but not into my skin. Alpha.”

“Oh,” Nate said. “Right.”

Tyler was staring at Nate, clearly less than impressed; Jamie was looking at the ground, but Nate suspected he was hiding a smile, and Omega Barrie looked like he was on the edge of saying something quite insulting. Nate was, he reckoned, only there to help carry the picnic basket and would be well advised to shut up, so he just stared back at them, mute, and there was an awkward minute of silence, finally broken by Tyler. He sighed gustily and gestured to the door.

“Better than the alternative,” Tyler muttered to himself, and they headed off to the wagon.

 

# # #

 

The beach was entirely empty, no one to see them for miles around.

“Alpha lets us run,” Omega Barrie said to Nate in a challenging tone, as if he were telling a secret but also waiting for Nate to condemn them, but Nate didn’t see why they couldn’t run if they wanted to.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s go,” and he took off for the sand dunes above the beach. Tyson stood staring after him and then he let out a sort of whoop and chased after Nate.

“Beat you,” Nate said smugly ten minutes later, standing at the very edge of the dune and smirking at the boy. Tyson’s eyes narrowed and and he looked to one side and then laughed; Jamie had just come panting up the dunes. Tyson waited till he reached the top and then lunged, grabbing Jamie and knocking him down to the ground. Wrapped around each other, Jamie emitting cries of irritation, they rolled back down the dune. Tyler watched them go avuncularly.

“Alright there Bennie?” he yelled when they rolled to a stop. “Barrie?”

“Fine, thank you Alpha,” they called back in chorus.

Nate looked over at Tyler then back down at the two Omegas - they were laughing and wrestling and when they noticed him watching they sat up, mussed and red cheeked and charming. Nate thought he could imagine liking this Tyson, who smiled and laughed and bounced back up onto his feet and was trying to drag a protesting Jamie back up the dune.

“They’re delicate,” Tyler said to Nate, looking at him like he was checking to see if he understood. “They’re holy so they’re delicate, of course, but they’re not that fragile - they’re like race horses, they need to get out sometimes and run, so we come down here and play, but you can’t tell anyone.” He grabbed Nate by the arm. “Do you understand?” he said. “You can’t tell - do you understand what will happen if you tell?”

“I’m not going to tell,” Nate said roughly, pulling his arm away. “I don’t see why they can’t run and play if they like, even if they are Omegas.” He offered Tyler a secret in return. “We let Georgie play,” he told Tyler. “My Ma said it’s not good for anyone, even the Covenant, to sit all day and be silent, so we let him play and run about, though I don’t think the Elders approve. They say I’m not to touch him.”

“The Elders don’t approve of anything,” Tyler said casually. “But Jamie and I are married now, just five months ago, so I’m in charge, and I say Jamie can run, so long as no one sees.” He paused as if thinking. “Jamie doesn’t want to do anything bad, anyway,” Tyler told Nate with some pride. “He’s got a real natural born servants heart, you know?” Nate nodded agreeably. “He’s just so fine,” Tyler sighed. Nate said nothing. Jamie seemed very easy to live with and eager to please, but he was very tall, taller than either Nate or Tyler, a little doughy and no great beauty in Nate’s estimation. As if he heard him Jamie looked up from mid-dune at his husband and beamed at him. Tyler beamed back and Nate was reminded they had only been married a few months. Tyson turned towards Jamie growling and made a mock pounce and Jamie cowered and shrieked. Tyler rolled his eyes. “He’s a little pepperpot,” Tyler said fondly. “I hope the man who marries him can see it’s not sin, just high spirits.”

“I suppose,” Nate said, uninterested.

“His father is too heavy handed,” Tyler said, and Nate could agree with that alright. “You’ve got to be nice to him,” Tyler went on. “There’s some as can’t learn from discipline and he’s one of them; but he’ll do anything for you if he likes you.” Nate made a vague noise of agreement while surreptitiously rooting through the picnic basket. It looked like there was some kind of pastry in there but he couldn’t quite tell exactly what.“He’s very sweet natured,” Tyler said, sounding like he was trying to convince Nate. “And an excellent cook.” He sounded, Nate thought, like an over enthusiastic Auntie, intent on match making. “Anyone would be lucky to have him.” Not sure what to say in return, Nate busied himself with the picnic basket.

“Leave that,” Tyler said. “The boys will get it.” He flagged down the Omegas who were just cresting the hill and waved at the lunch. “Serve, please,” he said, and he said it in a fond tone, and appended the word please, and smiled; and Jamie and Tyson smiled back, clearly not offended at the order, but it was an order, nonetheless. Tyson bent to pick up the basket then winced and dropped it; Nate lunged and caught it before it hit the ground.

“You alright?” he asked, and Tyson scowled back at him.

“I’m fine, thank you Alpha,” he said coldly.

“Little Brother,” Jamie corrected. “Little Brother, his ribs are bruised.”

“Why’re your ribs bruised?” Nate asked.

“Fell down the stairs,” Tyson said and turned away, done talking about it, but to Nate’s surprise Jamie turned to face him and said the longest thing he had ever directed to Nate.

“Little Brother MacKinnon, his father disciplined him and knocked him down the stairs,” he said, catching Tyson and holding him in place when he tried to move away. “We thought he broke his ribs but they were just bruised.” Tyson wriggled in his hold and pressed his face against Jamie’s chest. Jamie looked at Nate as if he was willing him to understand and Nate did. “Don’t wiggle,” Jamie said to Tyson gently. “Stand up straight and be dignified.”

“Won’t,” Tyson said, rather muffled as he spoke directly into Jamie’s shirt. Jamie looked fondly despairing and sighed.

“Be nice,” he whispered to Tyson, though Nate could hear him, “serve, and show him how well you can do it.” Tyson made a moue and looked up at Jamie, irritated, but eventually turned away and bent to the basket and made a pretty job of serving the meal in formal style.

Not that it made much difference to Nate. Tyson could have flung the basket upside down onto the dirt for all Nate cared, he’d gladly eat as much as he could get either way.

Tyson was watching him with horrified fascination. “You always this hungry?” he asked.

“Yes,” Nate said. “Pass the cheese?”

 

# # #

 

Nate and Tyler were sitting on the dunes, idly picking at the lunch basket. Tyson and Jamie were wandering within sight but out of hearing, picking up shells at the edge of the water, Tyson examining them closely and then flinging most of them away while Jamie just stepped slowly and placidly beside him, never stooping to pick up a shell but sometimes accepting them from Tyson’s hand.

“He’s making a table top,” Tyler told Nate and then expanded when Nate looked confused. “It’s a fancy table for the parlour,” he explained. “You glue shells to the top until it’s all covered.”

“Oh?” Nate said, not very interested. Sounded like the hobby of rich people with too much time on their hands. “How’d you come to be married to an Omega so young?” he asked Tyler, who laughed a little and flopped back onto the sand.

“That’s Jordie,’ he said, staring up at the sky. “Jordie’s a schemer and you might as well just fall in with his plans, because he always gets his way. He wanted Jamie to be happy but of course that means nothing if it doesn’t aid his schemes or I can’t pay his bride price.”

“Are you rich, then?” Nate asked, rummaging through the basket again. There were little pickles he’d never encountered before, sweet and crisp, and tiny pickled onions to go with them and he crunched them up as Tyler talked. There had been more of those pies Jordie had given him on the boat, rich and delicious, and a sharp cheese, and apples, and corked bottles of lemonade, something he had heard of but never tasted before. There was still some bread and butter left but he thought he was, for once, full. There were also a dozen little tarts, decorated with tiny gleaming wild blueberries, wrapped in a cloth. He carefully put them back in the basket, then picked up all the remnants of their lunch and tidied those away too.

“Little bit,” Tyler said casually, “but not enough, really. Jordie gave him to me cheap because they have consanguinuity problems with most of the Kolonie, and we’re a love match, and to thwart the Maartens because they crossed him on a deal. The usual. Still cost my father $20,000 dollars though.”

“Oh yes,” Nate said faintly. He had a bit of bread and butter to restore himself at the idea of Tyler, only a few years older than he was, talking easily about a $20,000 dollar bride price.

“Also we threatened to violate his Integrity,” Tyer said, perfectly calm and Nate’s head snapped round, mouth still full of bread. ”It was just a threat,” Tyler said, looking at Nate condescendingly. “And Jordie knew it. But I said I might forget myself so much as to take his hand in church and Jordie knew Jamie’d agreed to let me do it, so he gave in.” He grinned at Nate, pleased with himself and Nate felt relieved. He’d thought Tyler had meant something much worse than an illicit touch of the hand.

“Tyson was going to be $150,000,” Tyler said casually and Nate’s heart practically stopped at the thought of so much money. Down by the beach Tyson was shrieking and hopping about, flapping his arms madly - it looked like he’d wetted his feet in the surf. Tyler followed Nate’s doubtful look and smiled. “Well, he’s very beautiful,” he said, “at least when he’s not shrieking, the most beautiful Omega in his generation. And his breeding is impeccable; he’s from an alternating line of Omega’s Daughters and Omegas back ten generations. There’s every reason to assume he’ll have at least one daughter. And of course, his father’s rich as Croesus, and connected. A firm hand and he’ll be a prize no one else in the New World has, especially as he’s got Jordie Benn behind him. He’ll make the man who marries him rich, and powerful, and chosen of God.”

“A firm hand,” Nate echoed. Tyler talked a big game but he certainly didn’t seem to value a firm hand when it came to Jamie, or even his own dealings with Tyson.

“Don’t you think Omegas need a firm hand?” Tyler asked. He was still reclined casually on the sand but he sounded like he wasn’t quite so casual as he was trying to appear, though Nate couldn’t figure out why he would care what Nate’s opinion was on the matter. Nate thought of Georgie, and of Tyson being belted down the stairs, and of his own experience being beaten by Mr. Hiebert, his Tuesday and Thursday employer who had whipped him with a willow switch so hard he couldn’t walk the next day and they had lost three day’s pay. The year they came to Gastown he had foolishly allowed Mr. Hiebert to see him picking up and kissing Georgie fondly on the cheek as he left for the day’s work. Mr. Hiebert had been waiting outside in his wagon and he had unfortunately seen; more unfortunately yet there had been passersby on the street who had seen Mr. Hiebert witness it, and Mr. Hiebert, a decent man who never disciplined anyone harder than he had to, had glanced at them, sighed, and picked up his switch.

Nate still worked for him, and respected him, and even liked him, a little; and more than that, Nate had learnt a valuable lesson about the rules the Observant lived by. But would he ever put any of his family in such hands? No. He would not. “No,” Nate said. “I don’t think they need a firm hand.”

“No?” Tyler said, as if he were waiting for more.

“No,” Nate said and laid back on the sand too. “I don’t think Omega Barrie’s so sinful he needs to be knocked down the stairs,” he said. “And we don’t discipline my brother, not like that at least.”

“What’s your brother like?” Tyler asked, interested.

“Well he’s awful,” Nate admitted. “But he’s two, you know.”

“Hmmm,” Tyler said noncommittally. “Is he beautiful?” and Nate made a face. The Observant cared deeply about beauty; the outward appearance reflected, in their view, the inward virtues.

“He’s two,” Nate said again. “He’s not beautiful, don’t be weird.”

“Well, but you know,” Tyler said. “Will he be? What’s the prospect there?” Nothing mattered more for an Omega, especially one from a poor family, than how they looked. Nate knew, although Tyler would never voice it, that part of the reason Jordie had allowed Jamie to be married for such a low price to such a young husband was because Jamie didn’t look right at all. He was too tall, too fat, too large and manly in frame to be worth much on the marriage market, despite his many values.

“He’s small and blond and has curly hair and big blue eyes,” Nate said gloomily, and it was all true. The Observant families with Omegas were mostly Russian in heritage; although there were intermarriages and natural variation, Orthodox Omegas were largely dark like Tyson and Jamie. A blond, blue eyed Omega was a rarity and as had been pointed out to Nate many times, the fairness raised Georgie’s value significantly.

“Lucky,” Tyler said approvingly and seemed set to say more but Tyson suddenly appeared, standing at their feet.

”You’ve eaten all the tarts!” Tyson cried. He glared at Nate then kicked sand at him.

“Hey!” Nate said, spluttering, sand in his face and eyes. “Quit that!” The command seemed to rub Tyson on the raw and he danced a little in place with irritation.

“I won’t!” he said and Tyler and Jamie, puffing over the edge of the dune, looked at Nate fearfully for his reaction. Direct contradiction of an Alpha deserved immediate and forceful discipline, even for an indulgent Alpha.

“Stop it or I won’t tell you where the tarts are,” Nate said with dignity and Tyson looked at him suspiciously.

“Where are they then?” he asked, but the idea that the tarts had been preserved calmed him down and he added a begrudging “Alpha.”

“Little Brother,” Jamie corrected and Tyson rolled his eyes.

Alpha,” he said, and Jamie looked at Tyler pointedly; “Where are the tarts, please.”

“I put them in the basket so they wouldn’t get sand in them,” Nate said, getting to his feet and dusting off his pants. Tyson had eaten quite matter of factly while out with them; it was clearly understood between he, Tyler and Jamie that no punishments would be enforced while out of sight, although of course all central Integrity rules had been strictly observed. There had been two sets of food, one for the Alphas and one for the Omegas, and Nate had carefully not touched the Omega tarts, wrapped up in their special cloth.

“How’d everything get back in the basket?” Tyson said, carefully picking through it in search of the tarts. He looked up at Nate, puzzled.

“I put it in,” Nate said and Tyson looked even more confused.

“You put the dishes away?” he said. “Why would you do that when there’s an Omega about to serve?” Nate didn’t know what to say to that so he just accepted his share of the tarts and was silent while they ate them.

“Alright,” Tyson said standing up and looking back at the basket. “I need more shells.” He looked over at Jamie, but he was stretched out in the sun, full of tarts, his hand almost touching his husband’s which was pretty daring stuff for the Observant, and he didn’t look interested in moving.

“You can go with MacKinnon,” Tyler said, half asleep, his hand creeping towards Jamie’s. “Jordie said.”

Did he?” Tyson said, sounding puzzled.

“He’s a Little Brother,” Tyler said, and Tyson looked consideringly at Nate. At seventeen, Nate was technically a Little Brother and would remain so until he turned eighteen, but he was aware he didn’t particularly look like it - Little Brothers were largely school aged brothers of Omegas, smallish boys left in ostensible charge of their siblings for convenience or out of necessity. An Omega could, for example, remain in the wagon outside a store if accompanied by a Little Brother, or walk from the house to the barn with them in tow - and Nate was six feet tall and covered in muscle. Nate thought perhaps Tyson was as puzzled as he was but he didn’t pursue the issue.

“Which shells are you looking for?” Nate asked, and Tyson looked over at him, confused. “I’ll help you look,” Nate said. “I got good eyes.”

“Alright,” Tyson said uncertainly. Nate imagined he’d never been allowed to be alone with an unrelated Alpha or Little Brother and Nate didn’t know why they were letting him now, but he didn’t really care. Tyler nodded at Nate approvingly as they headed down the beach, which was also puzzling but Nate shrugged it off as he started running.

 

# # #

 

“I’m sorry about the sand,” Tyson said, trailing behind Nate. Nate had let him win the race and then found him a great heap of shells and it had put him in a good humour. “You’ve been very nice about the food and all, and not telling, and I shouldn’t have got so mad.”

“That’s alright,” Nate said. He lived with seven siblings younger than him; he got worse on a daily basis. “Did you make the meat pies?”

“I did,” Tyson said, sounding wary. “Why?”

“Oh, well, then,” Nate said. “I definitely forgive you if you made those pies, they were delicious.”

“Oh, thanks, Alpha,” Tyson said brightly. The Observant rarely offered praise, and Tyson seemed unduly pleased by the little bit Nate had given him. Nate held out another double handful of shells and Tyson held open his bag so Nate could carefully pour them in without touching.

“Lots of shells,” Tyson said. “Maybe I’ll make you a table. Are you staying in Victoria long?”

“No, I’ve got to get back,” Nate said vaguely. He’d found a pool with sea anemones in it and he was occupied by poking them to watch their tendrils retract and then flower back out.

“I said,” Tyson repeated, coming to sit on the rock next to Nate, “I’d make you a table, if you like, or a box.”

“No thanks,” Nate said. He was vaguely aware fancy ladies, and apparently Omegas, occupied themselves with fancy shellwork but he had no great passion for a small box covered in shells. “You think you can eat these?” Tyson peered down into the tidal pool.

“No,” he said, looking at the anemones. “I don’t think so. But you can eat the mussels. And there’s clams out here a foot long. If you stamp next to their hole on the flats they squirt you.”

“Do they?” Nate said, intrigued. He so rarely had a moment like this, rested, with enough to eat and no work demanding attention; he was enjoying himself and smiled at Tyson. Tyson smiled back. The wind was whistling past them and it was pretty brisk but Nate was used to colder and Tyson didn’t seem to mind it either, sitting on the rock and dandling his hand in the tide pool without any concern for his fine clothes.

“You sure you don’t want the box?” Tyson asked, sounding as if he were offering a treat. “It’ll bring you luck, you know. And the other stuff. The other stuff’s important if you want to get on.”

“What other stuff?” Nate asked. Tyson looked uncharacteristically awkward.

“It’s a sign of favour,” he said, not meeting Nate’s eyes. “You know. You show it to people and tell them I gave it to you and then they think better of you.

“I’m OK, thank you,” Nate said. “Want to show me the clams?”

“Alright,” Tyson said, sounding puzzled. Nate supposed people rarely turned down an offer of his favour, but what use was it to Nate? Nate was only there to fetch and carry, not to mingle among the quality, and concerns about getting on in business were beyond him.

“You want to race again?” Nate asked, gesturing at the flat beach spread before them. The tide was out and there seemed a million miles of endless horizon laid out, no one to see, no one but the two of them there to run about and play.

“Yes!” Tyson said brightly, bouncing back to his feet, already running. “Go!” He was surprisingly fast, and they passed the remainder of the afternoon happily, gathering shells and trying to dig out a geoduck.

 

# # #

 

Nate suspected Jamie was trying to give him favour too, as he formally bid Nate goodbye at the docks. He appreciated his effort but didn’t understand why he felt Nate needed it. Day labourers did not change their stations, whether they had the favour of Omegas or no.

“Thank you Little Brother MacKinnon,” Jamie said loudly, eyes on the ground but well aware, Nate was certain, of the crowd of well off Alphas talking to Jordie within hearing distance. “I’m grateful for your diligent attention to our Integrity and good counsel.”

“Yes,” Tyson said, surprising Nate. “Thank you Alpha, for the afternoon and we would be glad to see you again.”

“Bow!” Tyler hissed and whacked Nate hard on the back until he jerked into the approved response. He’d never had to use it, not having met adult Omegas before, but he was aware of it. Right hand over his heart he bent forward, more than a nod but not a full bow. He could see the other men looking over at him, and tried to look like he knew what he was doing, but Tyson giggled a little.

“Very nice,” Jordie said dismissively, striding over to them having concluding his business with the other men. “It’s done,” he said to Tyler and Tyler gave a sort of relieved sigh. Even Jamie looked relieved, although Tyson didn’t seem to know what he was talking about and Nate certainly didn’t. Jordie turned to look at the entire group. “Hope you all behaved yourself,” he said, “Tyler?” Tyler looked considering then waggled his head at Jordie, a sort of begrudging approval - of what, Nate didn’t know. “Jamie?” Jordie said, and Jamie looked startled to be asked.

“Alpha?” he said, and looked shy. Omegas were not meant to be offering opinions in the public street.

“Go on,” Jordie said, and Tyler looked encouraging. Jamie looked pained but obeyed.

“Seems nice,” he whispered, and would say no more.

Who seems nice?’ Tyson said, intrigued. “Who’s nice?” but no one would answer him and Tyler hurried the Omegas off to the Community Hall at Jordie’s signal, Tyson still nagging as they left. “Me?” Nate heard him say as they went. “Am I nice? I kicked sand at him, that wasn’t so nice.”

Nate watched them go, wondering what they were talking about but not caring enough to pursue it. He was just about to press Benn for his money when a blond man, young, well dressed and extraordinarily good looking, snuck around the corner of the warehouse and looked cautiously about him. “I’m looking for Benn?” he said to Jordie. “That you?”

“Landeskog?” Jordie said, sounding as close to panicked as Nate had ever heard him. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d land midnight tonight at earliest.”

“Favourable winds,” Landeskog said, shrugging and pulling Jordie into the darkest corner behind the warehouse. Nate followed at Jordie’s signal. “I sent you a letter?” Landeskog said, speaking quietly.

“I got it,” Jordie said. “I got it and I want to know what you’re going to do about it?”

Landeskog looked about them and lowered his voice even more. He looked terrified and very young. “Brother Benn,” he said, and Nate could see he was near tears. “There’s nothing I can do. For God’s sake keep this quiet - they’ll kill me if they find out I told you. My grandfather is the head of the family, and the Swedish Orthodox Church and there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. I keep his commands and follow them. But.”

“But?’ Jordie said.

“But this can’t be right,” Landeskog said in a rush. “They came without notice to exercise Bilhah and nothing I say will stop them. They didn’t tell his father we were coming and they hope to force his hand with threats of demand for reparation. They’re going to insist on enforcing the contract without marriage and I know it’s biblical but it isn’t right. I have a twin sister, and - “ he ground to a halt, visibly struggling to control himself. He looked up at Jordie pleadingly. “I wouldn't let this happen to my sister,” he said.

Nate had no idea what Bilhah was, but it must be something awful if Landeskog was so worked up about it. Jordie was standing stone faced, looking back at Landeskog.

“Alright,” Jordie said, terse and intent. “OK, That’s what I thought. You got any money of your own?” Landeskog shook his head. Jordie put one hand out to Landeskog and took his arm. “Look,” Jordie said, and Landeskog listened intensely. “What if I gave you enough to run? I bought his rights off his father this morning after I got your letter - you marry him tonight and I could spare another couple thousand, maybe, but it’d be enough to set you up in a western town like Salt Lake or Denver as a homesteader.”

“They’d come after us,” Landeskog pointed out. “They want reparations and they won’t let go of me so easy either. I’m the only Landeskog son.”

“If you kept him strictly cloistered and quiet, you could probably get a couple years before they figured out where you were,” Jordie said. “News doesn’t spread so quick around here.” He bent forward. “You’d have to be very strict to keep him safe but so long as he was breeding by the time they found you, you’d get away with it. They can’t exercise Bilhah once you have a child if the husband’s living.” Landeskog looked uncertain.

“That’s no guarantee,” he said. “It could be years before he - you know.”

“You’d have to keep at it,” Jordie said casually. “You’re a young man, every second day without fail, even an Omega’ll fall in a couple years.”

“Really?” Landeskog said. Nate knew from back of the barn talk that the official Community line on marital relations was that they should be indulged in only when the Alpha was unable to resist, once a week or better, once a month, although he imagined this direction was rarely adhered to. Presumably the Orthodox were even more rigid in their application - Landeskog certainly looked pretty surprised at being directed in this way by an Elder of the Community. “I suppose,” he said, looking even more unsure. “How long do your rights to him last?”

“Twenty four hours,” Jordie said, and Nate had no idea if that was normal but Landeskog didn’t seem surprised.

“So someone’s got to marry him tonight,” Landeskog said, “or his rights revert tomorrow and they can exercise Bilhah if his father agrees?”

“That’s about the size of it,” Jordie said.

Will his father agree?” Landeskog asked. “My father’s in there talking to Elder Barrie and when he finds out you’ve got his rights, first thing he’s going to do is come offer you half the cash, and if you say no, send his men to try to take him and wait out the twenty four hours.”

“I don’t know,” Jordie said sourly. “How much cash you got?”

“We brought 30,000 in gold,” Landeskog said, as if it were nothing. “One fifth of the agreed on price no more, because of the letter.”

“For that Len would kidnap him for you,” Jordie said. “We got to get him married right now.”

Nate stared at them, fascinated. He had heard tales of this sort of maneuvering, but assumed they were exaggerated, though now that he considered, he didn’t know why he’d thought that. The Observant paid a lot of lip service to their beliefs, but would never let them obstruct a deal and Tyson was a $150,000 proposition, too much money to pass up because of scruples or law. He felt sorry for the boy, even if he had kicked sand in Nate’s eyes, and it made him uneasy about Georgie.

“And would you agree to Bilhah?” Landeskog said.

No, I won’t allow Bilhah,” Jordie said offended. “Barrie grew up with my brother and I’ll see them both safe whatever else I do. I got my brother married off to a kind man and I’ll do the same for Barrie.”

“Barrie, huh?” Landeskog said knowingly. “Can’t you marry him yourself? I don’t know anything about farming and I hear the winters in the West are brutal, worse than Sweden. I’m likely to get us killed.”

“Consanguinuity,” Jordie said shortly and Landeskog nodded. Many of the older Community families were so interrelated their marriage prospects were very limited.

“Let me ask you something,” Jordie said abruptly. “How Orthodox are you?” Landeskog drew himself up, offended.

“I’m staunch in my belief,” he said. “Those old men, they want to exercise Bilhah for their own reasons, none of them biblical, and I won’t stand by and see it done but I’m faithful, and a true believer.” This didn’t sound promising but Jordie pressed on.

“Will you take Omega Barrie and run?” Jordie pressed. “It’s got to be tonight.”

“I don’t know,” Landeskog said sounding very doubtful. “His Integrity is befouled, and he’d have to do penance. Does he have a meek and quiet spirit? I can’t support Bilhah but I’m Orthodox. I expect Orthodox silence and a meek spirit, nothing else.” Nate looked from side to side. He didn’t feel called on to offer an opinion but he felt the most casual acquaintance with Tyson Barrie would make it pretty apparent, that no, he didn’t have a meek and quiet spirit, and would be a terrible fit with this man’s beliefs. Evidently Landeskog gathered as much from Jordie’s expression.

“I don’t see how I can marry him,” he said. “Even if we ran, the odds of escaping are slim, and as I say, the Stockholm Kolonie doesn’t farm; we’re scholars. You got any other alternative?”

“Yeah,” Jordie said, sounding resigned. “I got an alternative, though it’s not ideal. I appreciate you doing the decent thing and telling me.” He shook Landeskog’s hand and watched him walk away. When he was out of sight, Jordie sighed and turned to Nate.

“MacKinnon, you slept since I met you?” Jordie asked, looking exhausted himself.

“No,” Nate said, of course he hadn’t. He’d planned on sleeping on the boat back to Gastown.

“Right,” Jordie said. “Well, come on. We’ll get you a cup of coffee. You can sleep later - I need you at the Hall right now.”

“I have to get back,” Nate demurred. His sister would be wondering why he hadn’t returned and Will could only cover his jobs for so long. He wanted his seven fifty and to head for the docks where no one required him to bow or to remember to finish chewing before he spoke.

“I’ll get you a spot on the boat tomorrow morning and we’ll give you breakfast,” Jordie said. “Come along, I got a job for you, something only you can do, ” and that settled, Nate did. He wondered what time supper was and what the job was. He hoped supper and the coffee was first.

Sadly they weren’t headed to supper. Tyler was standing outside the Little Hall, the old gathering room at the North end of the Hall, and Jordie just nodded at him. “Watch the door,” Jordie ordered, “They’re here,” and stepped inside.

Tyler caught Nate’s arm as he passed. “I said I’d support it,” Tyler said and Nate had one second of confusion and then suddenly realised what was happening. Everyone else had understood what he had missed; he had been engaged in an audition all afternoon, though he hadn’t known it. Tyson was the Omega Jordie wanted him to marry, and Jordie hadn’t been bullshitting after all. Gobsmacked, he trailed into the room.

Tyson was seated in the Omega chair and Jordie knelt in front of Tyson, closer than Nate had ever seen an unrelated Observant man get even to a woman, never mind an Omega, but still well shy of any contact. It was a strange reversal of the usual order, Jordie kneeling on the floor and Tyson seated and Nate felt the gravity of the moment, though he didn’t really understand what was happening. Jordie sighed, and looked up at Tyson who was looking about the room curiously. Evidently he was unaware of the plan too and Nate didn’t think it was going to be very well received.

“Barrie,” Jordie said and Tyson looked down at him, surprised at the name and Jordie’s posture.

“Alpha?” he said, and Jordie waved his brother over. Jamie came and knelt to the side, close enough to Tyson that he was able to touch him, though he didn’t. Jordie waved his hand and at his signal Jamie took Tyson’s hand but remained otherwise silent and unobtrusive. Tyson clutched his hand back but ignored him otherwise, his eyes still on Jordie. “Alpha?’ he said again, but Jordie waved him off and rooted in his pocket. He came up with a few stuffed dates wrapped in gay papers and put two onto the table and the second his hand was off them, Tyson snatched one up and greedily crammed it into his mouth.

“Be my good boy,” Jordie said. “Are you?”

“I’m always your good boy,” Tyson said, a little muffled by the date but clearly confident of Jordie’s affection.

“Then listen to me calmly and don’t get in a flap,” Jordie said. “Because you got one chance here and that’s all and I need you to be my good boy and take this chance. Will you?”

“I’ll do whatever you say, Alpha,” Tyson said obligingly, but even on a half day’s acquaintance, Nate knew Tyson would not do what Jordie said, not if a mood took him to do otherwise.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Jordie said, sliding the second date towards Tyson. “Because I’ve bought your rights off your father and I want you to marry this boy.”

What!?” Tyson yelped, a little muffled by the date. “What? This one here?” He looked at Nate very doubtfully. “I don’t want to marry you,” Tyson said to Nate petulantly.

“Fine with me,” Nate said, shrugging, He’d gone along with Jordie’s suggestion when he heard the amount of money he was offering but it had never seemed real; even now it didn’t seem plausible. Still, it seemed real enough to Jordie, who was audibly grinding his teeth at this exchange.

“Goddamnit, MacKinnon,” Jordie said. “Will you do it or no?”

Nate looked at Tyson, who was whispering frantically to Jamie. Jamie was nodding emphatically at Nate while trying to pretend he wasn’t. Nate thought of what it would be like to be married to a virtual stranger, of Tyson’s bruised ribs, of the offered two thousand dollars, and the eight brothers and sisters he was responsible for. He thought, really thought about how much longer they could hold out. One more winter, he reckoned; they’d been riding the ragged edge of disaster for a year and the children were all growing thinner and more sickly. Sometime this coming winter, he thought, one of the children would die, or grow so ill he and Sarah would have to bend to survive, bend in a way far less palatable than this. The money would change that. It would mean enough food, decent clothes and no more of the charity the Community had wielded like a brand, trying to pry Georgie away from them. They could live mostly off the interest if they were careful, set the younger boys up with their own apprenticeships and have a little left over to guard against the day.

“I’ll do it,” Nate said, feeling he had no real alternative - where else was he going to find two thousand dollars - and he had no idea if such an opportunity would ever come again, so he gritted his teeth. “I would be honoured,” he said and straightened up and tried to look presentable, though as Omega Barrie had already met him while he was busy shoveling eats into his face he wasn’t sure any attempts at respectability would do much now.

“No!” Tyson yelled, stamping his foot and at Jordie’s signal Jamie pushed his leg back down and then patted his cheek. Tyson curled into the affection but looked poutily at Jordie, head prettily cocked for maximum effect and eyelashes fluttering delicately over unshed tears. Jordie waved his hand again and Jamie turned Tyson’s head, very gently, to face Jordie. Nate realised Jordie was using Jamie’s hands to touch Tyson and was impressed both by the coordination of the movements and the appalling creepiness of having to use your brother to touch someone for you. “I’m to marry Landeskog,” Tyson said sulkily. “He wants me because I’m the prettiest in the Community and he’s the most handsome, and so we’re to marry. It’s been arranged for years.”

“You know that’s been off since you wrote that letter like a twit,” Jordie said but Tyson clearly didn’t believe him. Nate wondered what could have been in that letter.

“It’s alright, Alpha,” Tyson said confidently. “Landeskog will see me and it’ll be back on again.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jordie muttered. “You’re pretty but you’re not that pretty. You’re not Helen of Troy.” Tyson scowled at him and Jordie sighed and hunkered a little closer.

“Your Integrity is gone,” Jordie said kindly. “I’m sorry but it’s true and for an Orthodox it ends there. Now I got news while I was in Gastown; they’ve come to demand reparations and they’re going to exercise Bilhah,” Jordie said. “Do you understand?”

“But that’s not allowed,” Tyson said bewildered. “We haven’t allowed it since 1802, we don’t do that anymore.”

“The Orthodox do,” Jordie said grimly. “And Len’ll allow it if the price is right.”

“No, it’s not allowed,” Tyson said again, as if Jordie was confused.

“They will exercise Bilhah,” Jordie pressed. “Do you understand?” and Tyson looked at him, wide eyed, and shook his head. Nate didn’t either. Who was Bilhah? Had she been a concubine in the Bible, or a Patriarch’s wife? He wasn’t sure. “Cover your ears,” Jordie ordered Jamie, and obediently Jamie did, although Nate could see from his angle Jamie’s hands weren’t pressing firmly against them. He was damn sure Jamie could still hear. “It means no marriage but every man can have you,” Jordie said to Tyson, and Tyson looked back at him unmoved, as if he still didn’t understand. Nate understood, though, and his stomach sank. He suddenly saw why Jordie had conceived this cockamamie plan and how absolutely critical it was that Tyson play his part. “Every Elder can mate with you,” Jordie explained using the Platt word for animals breeding, beranen; it was crude and carried a suggestion of force but was the word used by most of the Community for the marital act between humans too. Tyson still looked blank. “Do you understand what that is?” Jordie pressed. “It’s martial responsibilities; has Jamie told you what that is?”

“Jamie won’t tell me anything,” Tyson said sulkily. “I know it’s, you know,” - he gestured vaguely at his lower half - “but Jamie won’t say, specifically.”

“Well good for Jamie,” Jordie said. “He’s always had more sense than you. But I’m going to tell you now, mating means the Alpha puts his thing inside you, inside your passage.” Tyson looked extremely doubtful, as if he thought Jordie was lying to frighten him. Jordie sighed again and produced one more date. Tyson gobbled it.

“You remember back a few years,” Jordie said, “when I caught you and Jamie out back unchaperoned by the paddock?” Tyson nodded, mouth full of date. “And you were watching the mare being served?” Tyson nodded again, eyes wide. “That’s how it is,” Jordie said and Tyson looked horrified. Nate didn’t know exactly what they’d seen but a stallion serving a mare could go very wrong and if young boys had seen an example of that, he could imagine they might well have been frightened.

“I know you saw,” Jordie said. He held up one finger to forestall Tyson’s denial. “Don’t lie!” he said, “I know you did, I was standing behind you. You recall how big it was? And how the mare fought but we held her down?” Jordie had picked a hell of an example; even now Nate was sometimes shocked at the violence of the stallions and a horse’s penis was certainly an intimidating sight, but he supposed that was Jordie’s goal - he wanted Tyson well frightened. From the looks of it he had achieved his end, though Nate thought he’d left a real mess for Tyson’s future husband to unpick. Then he remembered who Tyson’s proposed future husband was, and winced.

“Alpha Seguin does not do that to Jamie,” Tyson said doubtfully. “Jamie wouldn’t like it and Alpha Seguin wouldn’t do anything Jamie doesn’t like.” Jordie looked pained at this talk of his brother but went on.

“It’s Jamie’s duty to serve,” he said. “I’m not going to discuss it with you but Alpha Seguin does do that and so will your husband, but Bilhah means every Elder in the Community can have you, not just your husband, and they will.” Tyson looked mulish, as if he would refuse to believe Jordie out of sheer pig headedness and Nate was afraid Tyson’s contrariness was too strong for Jordie to crack but he was wrong.

“Landeskog’s not so bad,” Jordie went on. “But he’s not an Elder and he’s got no money of his own and he won’t be your husband, not once they exercise Bilhah, and he won’t be able to stop his father and the other Elders. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes,” Tyson said, sulkily, refusing to look at Jordie.

Do you?” Jordie said. “That means every evening maybe, and if you cry, or fight, or say anything at all, because remember, they maintain Orthodox silence - they’ll discipline you. And do you remember how the Orthodox discipline?” Tyson was silent. Nate had no idea how the Orthodox disciplined but he couldn’t really see how it could be much worse than the Observant methods.

“Closed hand,” Jordie said and Nate realised it was a lot worse. Jordie nodded his head and Jamie brought his hand up to Tyson’s face to force Tyson to look up at Jordie. “Closed hand, Barrie,” Jordie pressed. “Closed hand and the rod, and it’s not uncommon for wives to die. Do you understand?” He stood and his hands, already in fists, unclenched and then tightened again and Jamie took the cue and shook Tyson violently by the shoulders. “Do you understand?” Jordie said one final time, and Jamie stopped the shaking. Tyson was crying and he nodded, defeated.

“Yes,” he said quietly, and Jamie stroked his cheek sympathetically, of his own volition, Nate felt.

“And will you marry this boy?” Jordie said, gesturing at Nate.

“But Alpha,” Tyson whispered, ”I don’t want to. I want to marry Landeskog.”

Jordie closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them again. “Tys,” he said, the use of the first name shocking. “This is the best I can do for you. It’s not a question of want, you’ve got to marry someone now, this afternoon before Landeskog exercises his claim.” Tyson turned his face away. “Listen to me,” Jordie said, and Jamie put one hand on the unbruised side of Tyson’s face, very gently. “I bought your rights from your father - I put up my house, my business, everything. I won't be able to afford to marry for ten years now and all so I could give you this one chance and by God I won’t falter at the post. You will not go to them so they can exercise Bilhah, and I’ll stop your god-damned father if he tries.” Tyson loosed an involuntary titter at the insult to his father and Jordie smiled wryly.

“There’s a reason the Orthodox have to buy their Omegas,” Jordie said, calming down, “and that’s because no more are born into the Community because God has cursed them for their treatment of those Gifts. You deserve something better.” This seemed to resonate more with Tyson and he swallowed the last of his date and nodded, though he looked fleetingly at Nate as if he wasn’t sure Nate was that something better. He looked quite affronted by Nate’s very existence.

“He stopped Len from beating you,” Jordie pointed out, correctly interpreting Tyson’s look. “What more do you need to know?” He gestured at Nate encouragingly. “He’s a good boy doing his best,” he said, which was pretty poor praise, Nate thought. Nate tried again to look presentable. He knew he wasn’t especially good looking but he was tall and had all his teeth, and his pimples were much improved lately - he wouldn’t dare say they were gone, but better - and Sarah had said that if he’d just smile instead of looking dour he did well enough, but it wasn’t so easy with this pretty boy glaring at him.

“I was to marry Landeskog,” Tyson said, but it sounded like he was growing resigned. “We were going to be rich and the best looking couple in the Community.”

“Well you scotched all that with your stupid letter,” Jordie said severely, and Nate wondered again what could possibly have been in that letter. “It’s this boy this afternoon or Alpha Plummer.”

“Alpha Plummer!?” Tyson yelped, and even Jamie looked briefly put off. “He’s 82 and takes snuff!”

“Well then,” Jordie said triumphantly.

Chapter Text

“I picked you,” Jordie said, “because you seemed like a gentle boy. But I want to see blood.” Nate looked at him doubtfully as they stood outside the door of the bedroom Tyson was to join him in. They had hustled though the civil paper work, unusual for an Observant marriage, and a rushed religious ceremony that had been conducted by a dour faced Pastor with Nate and Tyson four feet apart, followed by a strained, silent wedding supper in the Little Hall, just the four of them and now they had arrived at the wedding night. Nate thought Jordie had hit on the right word - he was uneasily conscious he was a boy, not a man, but he was being called upon to do a man’s job, in several different ways.

“I want to see blood,” Jordie said again. “I don’t care what you have to do but there’d better be blood on that bed and you have to finish inside him. Don’t try anything clever, like a fake; they’ll be examining him after and they’ll know if you didn’t. You hear me?” Nate must have looked unsure because Jordie grabbed his arm. “Whatever you have to do to make the two of you married will be kinder than what will happen to him if you aren’t married. The Landeskogs will be contesting this. Do you understand me?” Nate understood him fine, he just didn’t like it. The fucking part, that wasn’t the issue; Nate was seventeen, almost eighteen, in rude health and possessed of what he reckoned were average urges for a man of his age. He could get a stiffy from a strong breeze, or a stray thought; once, deeply embarrassingly, from Albertus de Hoope age seventy eight going on at length about his pet pussycat. If something needed fucking, Nate was your man. It was the forcing he wasn’t up for. ‘Tender hearted’ his mother used to call him approvingly, but here in this new place that was a disciplinable offense. If he faltered, not only would he not have the money he’d been promised, but he suspected he would also incur Jordie Benn’s considerable disfavour. Nate shrugged Jordie’s hand off and opened the door to the room.

“Alright,” Tyson said, bouncing into the room from the other door and sitting on the bed. “What now?” He had chosen to avoid the cup at the end of the meal, which Tyler had told them contained a sedative, but he had drunk several unfamiliar glasses of wine and was as a result slightly merry.

“Ehmm,” Nate said. They both knew exactly what now but he was hesitant to say it out loud.

“Mating!” Tyson said cheerily. “Go on!” He flopped back onto the bed, feet still on the ground. He sat back up abruptly and looked at Nate. “Do you know how it works?” he asked, and Nate nodded. He did know how it worked. Mostly. Better than Tyson, anyway, he assumed.

“Do you?’ Nate said doubtfully and Tyson laughed.

“Not at all,’ he said confidently. “Married people do it and I think it involves your down there but Jamie won’t say.” He scowled. “I call that really mean of him,” he said to Nate. “I’d tell him.

“Please don’t,” Nate said sincerely.

“Alright,” Tyson said agreeably. “Alpha.” His Omega manners had, as predicted, failed him almost entirely as soon as there was no one watching.

Nate stepped closer to the bed and Tyson leaned away from him. He looked suddenly shy and stripped of good cheer. “Do we have to?” he asked Nate, and it was obvious what answer he wanted. It was the question of a child hoping against hope that perhaps this time a greater force would intercede in their favour. He looked up beseechingly at Nate and Nate looked back at him; he thought of Sarah, and imagined her in the same position as Tyson, afraid and at the mercy of an Alpha she barely knew; he thought of Georgie, who Nate was trying to protect from the same fate he was forcing on Tyson, and his determination wavered; perhaps they didn’t have to; and then he imagined Tyson, untouched through Nate’s weakness, incapable of lying, admitting to Landeskog Senior they had not consummated the marriage, and what would come of that admission, and he steeled himself.

“Yes,” Nate said, doing Tyson the courtesy of looking him straight in the face and allowing him to see Nate was unsettled too but determined. “I’m sorry but we have to.”

“I know,” Tyson whispered, and Nate could see he was resigned.

“I tell you what,” Nate said, giving Tyson what little he could. “How about we do it this once, to make sure we’re really married and then if you don’t like it we won’t anymore?”

“I’m not going to like it,” Tyson scoffed, but Nate could see he was intrigued by the deal.

“Some people like it,” Nate offered, though Tyson looked unconvinced. “Sorry,” Nate said again uselessly and held out a handful of purloined tarts, a little crumpled from their tenancy in his pocket but still tasty. He had not intended to give them to Tyson; he had pilfered them for his own use, too full at dinner to eat them but certain he’d be hungry again soon enough, but he offered them to Tyson now with only a faint pang. Tyson looked surprised at the offer but shook his head. “Nevermind,” Nate said, and he put the tarts carefully on the bedside table for later. “You want a kiss?” Nate asked, trying to think of something unthreatening, and Tyson brightened a little.

“Yes,” he said shyly, and then he reached out a hand towards Nate and it was so sweet and unforced and a little hesitant that Nate’s heart almost broke. “Yes, I would. Are you going to allow that?”

“Baby, I am going to allow any goddamn thing you like,” Nate said roughly, swallowing down everything that question made him feel.

“Really?” Tyson said, surprised. “Can I talk to Jamie, after? Is that OK, Alpha? Do I have to be completely cloistered or can I talk to Jamie still, sometimes?”

Would Nate allow him to talk to his friend? Jesus, yes, of course. “You can talk to whoever you like,” Nate said gently, reaching a hand out to touch Tyson’s cheek, the first time he had ever touched him. “You don’t have to cloister and I’m not going to hit you and I’m not going to let anyone else hit you and of course you can talk to Jamie whenever you like.”

Really?” Tyson said, clearly of the mind that he had hit the jackpot, pleased. “Thank you!” He smiled at Nate tremulously and turned over to kneel on the bed, hands on the headboard, head bowed in the posture of prayer. “You can do it whenever you like, Alpha,” Tyson said, peeking up at Nate from the side. “I won’t even fight, I promise!” he said, as if he were offering Nate a treat in return.

“Maybe not quite yet,” Nate said. “Let’s kiss a little first,” he said, catching Tyson’s hand gently. “Come here,” Nate said, climbing onto the bed next to Tyson and pulling him down to sit beside him. “You know how to kiss?”

“No,” Tyson said, looking up at Nate, wide eyed. “Do you?”

“Yes,” Nate said, bending forward to press his lips against Tyson’s, and for a moment they were both still, the kiss awkward and strangely dry, Nate’s chapped lips catching against Tyson’s softer ones. Everything about Tyson was softer than Nate and Nate was afraid to hurt or scare him, afraid to mark him up inadvertently but on the other hand Tyson had survived a lifetime of Observant discipline; Nate wasn’t likely to hurt him so long as he was careful. “You’re so pretty,” Nate said, gently touching Tyson’s unbruised cheek, marvelling at how soft and smooth the skin was.

“I know,” Tyson said, as if he was accustomed to hearing it but still enjoyed it, and Nate laughed a little.

“You smart as well?” Nate asked, partially to pique Tyson and partially because he really wanted to know.

Tyson cocked his head and regarded Nate, his dark eyes bright and alert. “Maybe,” he said carefully. “You want me to be?”

“Yes,” Nate said, and he really did. Two thousand dollars was not that much money, not with a family of ten and most of it already spoken for and there was going to be a long lean period while Nate worked through the start of his apprenticeship; they would need to call on every possible resource and a smart spouse was a very great resource indeed. “I need you to be,” Nate said. “Can you be smart about this? Do you understand why we have to do this?”

“Yes,” Tyson said, very unwillingly. “But I’m scared.”

“I’m scared too,” Nate said, and bent his head to match Tyson’s, their foreheads touching. They stayed like that for a moment and then Tyson sighed.

“I’m supposed to be praying,” he said and made to get back up to kneel beside the bed but Nate caught his arm.

“Fuck no,” he said. “You stay up here with me and I’ll treat you nice.”

“It’s not allowed, Alpha,” Tyson said hesitantly but Nate wasn’t having it.

“It’s allowed now,” he said. “You’re married to me and we’re going to do things the way I think we should.”

“Alright, Alpha,” Tyson said passively. Nate leaned forward and kissed him again and this time it was even less successful. Tyson didn’t respond at all and when Nate put his hand on his side he was shaking, a fine tremor he couldn’t see but only feel. It was hard to imagine any amount of kissing was going to get him in the mood. Maybe with days or weeks to get to know each other he could have been persuaded but they didn’t have that time.

“Just do it, please,” Tyson said, eyes squinched shut and body rigid.

“Come on,” Nate said. “Don’t be afraid. I’m going to be really nice to you.”

“Just get it over with, please,” Tyson said, sounding on the edge of crying and Nate wondered if he was right. Perhaps if they just got this first time out of the way Tyson would be less frightened of the unknown. Or perhaps it would put him off for life, Nate had no idea, but either way it absolutely had to happen that night. Jordie had been extremely clear; the likelihood of the marriage being challenged was high and there must be no doubt they had consumated it.

“Do you understand what happens if we don’t?” Nate asked and Tyson nodded silently.

“I understand,” he said quietly. “It’s either you or Landeskog and the others and I choose you,” which was, Nate thought, possibly the least flattering assessment of himself that he’d ever been offered; slightly preferable to gang rape. “Can’t we just get it over with?” Tyson asked, looking miserable, and Nate thought again maybe he was right. He had vaguely imagined - well, he didn’t know what, but something better than this, Tyson’s unhappy acquiesence, but he could see why Tyson might want it over and done with. Perhaps the anticipation was worse than the event.

“You sure?” Nate said and tried to kiss him again and he flinched back; Nate was beginning to feel like his attempts to engage Tyson were more unkind than not. Perhaps he would like the kissing better when there was no more pressure to complete the main act looming over their heads and they had known each other for longer than a day. Certainly if he thought about it, Tyson had no expectation of enjoying the act; Nate’s attempts at lovemaking were, from his perspective, simply drawing it out unnecessarily.

“Alright,” Nate said and stood up to take his trousers off.

Tyson’s eyes got very wide as he stared down and then scrambled away to the end of the bed. “Oh my god!” Tyson said, completely unfeigned and a little scared. “Are you sure? Inside?”

Nate was very very sure. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m sure,” shedding his shirt as well and then climbing back up on the bed. He considered Tyson for a moment and then decided there was no point in asking him to take his nightgown off; instead, Nate just drew him closer and pulled him into his lap. Despite everything, Nate was rock hard and his cock poked up between them. He ran his hand over himself, spreading the precome and Tyson looked on, aghast. “You sure you want to just get this over with?” Nate said doubtfully.

“Yes,” Tyson said, sounding very uncertain, but Nate thought both he and Tyson were on the edge of losing their nerve and then he thought of his mother, setting an arm; hesitation served no one. He tipped Tyson onto his back, Nate on top and Tyson looked up at him, eyes big and anxious. “Are you going to do it now?” he asked.

“I’m sorry,” Nate said, gasping, cock just brushing against Tyson. “I’m sorry.”

Tyson didn’t look like this was any consolation to him but didn’t resist. “Alright, Alpha, I know,” Tyson said, and pitifully, put his arms around Nate seeking comfort. He clung to Nate and shoved his face in the crook of his neck and then held his breath.

“It’s not so bad,” Nate said, whispering into Tyson’s ear, though he knew he was spewing a line of hot bullshit. He had no idea how bad it was, though everyone else survived it so it couldn’t be that awful. “Just this time, it hurts a little and then we're done,” he said and Tyson tightened his arms around him. “You’re doing so good,” Nate crooned and fitted himself at Tyson’s entrance. He didn’t think dragging it out was going to make it any better so Nate slowly pushed himself into Tyson - there was a moment of resistance from his body and then a sensation of breaking through something - and Tyson jolted a little, then arched away from him involuntarily. “Alright, baby,” Nate said, sorry for what he was doing but also overwhelmed by the glorious feeling. He eased another inch further inside and then it all went to hell. Tyson winced and tried to shrug Nate off him; Nate looked down at his face and he was clearly frightened. Without thinking Nate wrapped his arms firmly around him to roll them, thinking it would be less intimidating for Tyson to be on top. Tyson, reasonably enough, misunderstood Nate’s intent and began to thrash madly, getting one arm free.

“Just hold on,” Nate said, trying to explain to Tyson what he thought they should do.

“No!” Tyson snapped and began to fight in earnest, freeing his second arm and then milling about wildly with his nails, catching Nate in the face and aiming for his eyes. Nate grabbed frantically at his hands to hold him still long enough to safely withdraw and finally ended up with one forearm pressed hard across Tyson’s shoulders holding him down and his other hand holding both of Tyson’s wrists against his chest. They stilled there, both of them panting and glaring at each other. Nate paused to think and realised he couldn’t continue; there was unenthusiastic cooperation to avoid worse and then there was flat out rape, and he was over that line. They would have to stop and regroup; maybe they could find another solution, some compelling lie or falsehood the Community would accept. Then Tyson tried to head butt him.

“Jesus!” Nate said, annoyed, letting go of him so he could pull out. “Just hold still and I’ll - “

He lifted his arm, preparing to withdraw and Tyson, angry, which Nate guessed was better than fear, slapped him ferociously then bucked up trying to throw Nate off which had the unfortunate effect of pushing Nate a little further into him. Tyson, who Nate had already gathered never ever knew when to stop or what was good for him, shrieked with rage at this, writhed madly and pushed down in error, completing the connection. “Ow,” Tyson said in a small voice and started to cry. Nate looked down at where his groin was pressed against Tyson’s, bemused.

“That’s the worst of it,” Nate said, voice tight, desperately trying not to come right then. “You want me to stop?” and Tyson scowled and swiped at his tears. He looked more angry than hurt, and Nate could tell he was weighing the embarrassment of having to go through this entire process again against his discomfort.

Do you want me to stop?” Nate gritted out. He reckoned he had about thirty seconds left in him before he just came explosively whether he was inside or not.

“Oh, fine,” Tyson said disagreeably, flopping back so Nate could continue. Nate leaned down to kiss him, thinking it would offer a little comfort and Tyson pettishly turned his face away. Nate pushed forward a little more and Tyson’s eyes grew wider and wider but he made no objection and when Nate was fully inside, groin pressed up against Tyson as far as he could go, Tyson reached down between them and felt at the root of Nate’s cock where it entered him. “That’s not so bad,” he said consideringly and wriggled just a little. He winced and altered his movement to a circular sort of grind and Nate let out a kind of desperate wheeze. Tyson laughed. “Is that it?” he asked and mute, Nate shook his head and began to move. It didn’t take very long. He made a couple of careful passes and when Tyson didn’t complain, a couple more, slightly deeper.

“Oh,” Tyson said as he pulled back, and then “ohh!” as he pushed back in. He didn’t sound entirely displeased but Nate, focused largely on not coming immediately and on the all encompassing sensation of Tyson around him, didn’t have the time to examine that thought too closely as at that same moment his restraint snapped and he pushed forward hard one last time and came with a groan inside Tyson. There was a pause, filled by Nate’s panting breath. Tyson was lying still underneath him, somehow managing to convey boredom and resentment with silence but Nate wasn’t paying much attention. Like all young men he had tried knotting his fist in the past but this was ... he had not imagined ...

“What are you - ” Tyson said, and then his eyes got enormous and he made a real attempt to escape, fighting and pushing against Nate but this time Nate held him firmly in place because he really was going to injure both of them seriously if he ripped his way out of a tie.

“It’s just the knot,” Nate murmured, trying to be soothing, but Tyson took the confirmation amiss.

“You can’t do that!” he yelped. “You can’t knot Omegas! We’ll die!” He thumped at Nate’s shoulder with his fist but Nate just hung on to him tightly as the tie completed.

“You’re not going to die,” Nate said. If the sex had been about what he expected, the best thing he’d ever felt, knotting was nothing like what he’d thought. A great sense of rightness flowed through him, and he noticed how extremely pretty Tyson was, and how wonderful he smelled. He suddenly felt enormously fond of Tyson, who had been a pretty good sport about all of this.

“I am going to die!” Tyson shrieked, but even that seemed distant and almost charming. “I’ll explode!” he insisted, and Nate started to laugh. Tyson seemed to deflate, partially at Nate’s laughter and partially, Nate assumed, at the fact that he hadn’t yet burst in a shower of genitals. Nate wondered vaguely if you really weren’t supposed to knot Omegas or if that was more Observant bullshit.

“Explode from what?” Nate asked. “My dick? Or all the come?” He thought about his come, up inside Tyson, his knot plugging it in there, the come working its way further inside Tyson, making him more and more Nate’s, and he shuddered with pleasure. “There’s a lot of come.”

Irritated, Tyson thumped his shoulder again but he relaxed a little as Nate’s knot grew no larger and the threat of explosion seemed to recede. “What’s come?” he asked as if he was loathe to admit he didn’t know something but really wanted to know and Nate laughed again.

“I’ll show you later,” he promised and tipped them onto their sides. Nate was young and horny and he reckoned they’d have at least a full hour before the knot went down. Might as well get comfortable.

“C’mere,” he said. “I’m sorry it hurt, but you were awfully brave.” Even as he said it he realised what a load it was - Tyson had behaved quite badly, really, shrieking and carrying on, although Nate had a lot of sympathy for his position; he didn’t think he’d like to have to get fucked on command, especially by someone he’d only met that morning.

But Tyson was looking up at him with hopeful eyes and suddenly it seemed an absolute travesty to Nate that this boy, so pretty and, relatively speaking, brave, should be desperate enough for a friendly word that he would turn to a comparative stranger like Nate, who had just used him so badly.

Was I?” Tyson asked.

“Oh yes,” Nate assured him. God Tyson smelled terrific. Nate just wanted to get his mouth all over him, to lick and kiss his neck and mark it up, to bite at his juicy ass and thighs, to get him fully undressed and explore the parts of him that were still a mystery. “You were very brave,” Nate said and Tyson preened. “You’re so good,” Nate said, waves of satisfaction passing over him. Very distantly he knew it was the tie, working as it was designed to, holding them close physically and setting the stage for them to draw closer emotionally, but he didn’t care. He’d never felt anything like it and he just wanted Tyson to feel the same. “I’m sorry, baby,” Nate whispered, and let go of Tyson with one hand to stroke his hair back behind his ear. “Did it hurt very much?”

“Not so bad as all that, Alpha,” Tyson said, looking back at Nate with wide eyes. Nate ran his hand over the shell of Tyson’s ear and Tyson slitted his eyes with pleasure. That was so sweet that Nate just had to kiss him and they passed a happy half hour, kissing slowly and luxuriously, whispering to one another in between.

Tyson, Nate learned, had a sister, older than him, and both parents still living and although his father seemed brutally stern, Tyson was engagingly distressed on Nate’s behalf when Nate told Tyson he had no parents anymore, and then, moved by Tyson’s sympathy and closeness, a little about the worst year of his life, his Pa’s death in the icy water of the North Platte, the early birth of Georgie and the shock of that, the desperate choice to take shelter in the Community and his worries about Sarah and the younger children. He cried when he got to the part of the story where his mother died; it had been a year but it still felt like last week and discussing it brought all the fear and sorrow back to the forefront of his mind and he knew she would have been ferociously angry with him, angry that he had sold himself, angry at what he had done to Tyson, but that she would have understood, too, and he missed her so. She had been the pillar of the family, strong enough to keep them all together after his Pa had died, unafraid and sure, but even she couldn’t stand against the pneumonia that had struck suddenly and carried her away from them.

Tyson put his arms around him and cried too, sorry for Nate and then Nate was so moved by that generosity in light of what he had just done he apologized to Tyson once again, most sincerely, crying a little over that, and then Tyson began sobbing out his fear and disappointment and upset at the invasion of his body, no matter that it had been done as kindly as possible and was not the terrible thing that he had feared, and Nate felt even worse and cried some more, and somehow he wasn’t ashamed to have Tyson see him do it, and then they both recovered and wiped each other’s faces, laughing a little at themselves but Nate thought they both felt the better for it after, some of the pressure and intensity of the marriage and the act that had passed between them lifted.

“I really am sorry,” Nate said to Tyson. “It had to be done but maybe I could have been nicer.”

“I don’t think you could,” Tyson said, in a rare moment of good sense. “There wasn’t any amount of nice that was going to make me hold still for that but you were right, we did have to.”

Nate was struck by this extremely forgiving attitude and scrambled to make amends. “Well that’s not how I’d like to have begun, anyway,” Nate said, “and I won’t go on the same. You don’t have to unless you want.” He couldn’t imagine a greater concession; he had the legal and moral right to fuck Tyson whenever he chose, without a second’s concern about what Tyson wanted; he was reasonably certain not another man in the town would have made the same offer. Tyson certainly seemed to think so, anyway, mouth hanging open with astonishment.

“Didn’t you like it, Alpha?” Tyson asked, and Nate wanted to be clear.

“I didn’t like making you,” he said, “but the rest of it, I fucking love it.” Tyson blushed and changed the subject, and they talked a little more about where they would live and what they would do and Nate sketched out his circumstances for Tyson lightly; very lightly, as even his soft peddled description of his life made Tyson look concerned and ask pointed questions. Nate was very unsure how the petted belle of Victoria was going to translate to the harsh reality of Gastown but Tyson seemed sanguine.

“It’ll be alright, Alpha,” Tyson said certainly, stroking Nate’s hair away from his face. Somewhere in the last half hour of talk and kissing Tyson had grown confident enough to touch Nate and his hands were tracing curiously over Nate’s face and upper body. “It will. I don’t think you know what you got,” Tyson said and Nate pulled back a little to look at him curiously. “You got two fat pigs now Alpha,” Tyson said, using the Platt slang for Omegas, Spakjschwien. “You got the King’s Blessing and the Queen’s, and we’re going to make everything go right from now on.” Nate had heard this talk of Blessings and luck before from many sources in the Community, but he didn’t believe it. Georgie, god love him, had certainly brought no luck to the family.

“Omegas are lucky?” he said, “Don’t know about that. If you were lucky you wouldn’t have had to marry me.”

“Don’t know about that, Alpha,” Tyson echoed back. He had perked up something remarkable now that the worst of it was over and Nate was petting him sweetly. He was avid for praise and soft touches. Nate had felt hard up for affection since his mother had died but Tyson seemed worse off, as if he’d never had a kind word or caress and every little thing Nate did was rapturously received. “You been touching me and talking so nice. This might have been the best days work I ever did.”

“But I made you,” Nate said, bewildered and guilty. He knew he had had to, and he would do it again in the same setting but he had also enjoyed it and he knew Tyson hadn’t and it was wrong. He’d kill a man who did that to Georgie.

“Any man I married would have done the same,” Tyson said calmly. It seemed the tie was working its magic on him too, or perhaps it was just the closeness and the petting. “You were as gentle as you could be and quick and I appreciate it.” He paused to think and then went on. “I could try to love you, if you give me leave; I don’t think I’d mind, and maybe you could get fond of me, in time.” He looked shy and Nate knew this was going very far, even for bed talk, for an Observant. They didn’t regard marriage as requiring love, or fondness at all, but rather as a duty and a chore to be undertaken.

“I got to tell you,” Nate said, ducking his head to speak directly into Tyson’s ear so he didn’t meet his eyes. “Don’t spread it around but I’m a sap and I’ll love you in six months, maybe less. You’re so pretty and fine and light hearted and I don’t care if you’re a fat pig or not, I like you either way.”

Thank you,” Tyson said, clearly pleased by Nate’s words. “But I am a fat pig, Alpha, and I’ll see you right. Can I speak freely?”

“You can speak freely whenever you want,” Nate said. He didn’t see much could stop this boy, anyway.

“I wonder if you maybe don’t understand how it is in Community,” Tyson said. “Alpha. Not that I’m criticising you, of course.”

“Of course,” Nate said wryly. “Go on.”

“They’ll cheat you if they have a chance, Alpha,” Tyson said, surprising Nate. “They want your baby and they’ll starve the rest of you to do it so you got to give him up. Did you know an Omega’s owed an allowance their whole life if they’re in any need?”

“No,” Nate said slowly, everything that had passed since they’d arrived in Vancouver running through his mind and all of it taking on a very different tenor. “I didn’t know that. We haven’t been getting any allowance, that’s for sure.”

I know that, though, Alpha,” Tyson said, pleased with himself. He stretched luxuriantly against Nate. The tie was still going strong, holding them pressed close together and Tyson seemed to be growing used to it. He certainly didn’t seem to be in any discomfort. “And I know how to fix it too. The Elders need to be made to treat you square. And I know the youngest elder in Community, and he’ll do anything I ask.”

“Will he?” Nate said, a little displeased. “Who’s that?”

“Jordie Benn,” Tyson said smugly. “I’m his favourite.”

Are you?” Nate said. He didn’t really care for this talk of favourites. Tyson was his, and as proof of that he kissed him again and this time Tyson kissed back enthusiastically. Nate rolled them so Tyson was beneath him and bent his head to bite at Tyson’s ear and neck. Tyson sighed happily, relishing the attentions, and put his arms around Nate’s neck to better enjoy the closeness. “God your skin is fine,” Nate said. Jordie Benn could pick his favourites all he liked but Tyson was his, plugged full of his cock and smelling more and more like him by the second.

“Mmm,” Tyson agreed, and he was as relaxed and happy as Nate could have wished, lying beneath him and smiling up at him, giving little cries of pleasure and surprise every time Nate sucked gently at his neck. One handed Nate carefully pulled Tyson’s rucked up nightdress over his head, leaving him entirely naked and he looked shy about it for a minute but fell back into the pleasure when Nate leaned forward and licked at his nipple. “Oh!” he said surprised, and Nate could actually feel Tyson contract around him so he spent some time there to see if he could get more of a reaction and indeed he could; pinching and rubbing was well received but sucking threw Tyson into transports, wriggling and gasping beneath Nate, looking confused about what was going on but clearly enjoying it. Nate hoped to God Tyson liked it because he wanted to do it every day, as often as they could.

“Yeah?” Nate said, “OK?”

“I like it,” Tyson said, sounding puzzled, his pink little mouth open in a surprised O and his eyes squeezed shut; Nate switched his mouth to the other nipple and sucked even harder and Tyson’s eyes popped open, startled.

“OK?” Nate said again.

“You can, please, Alpha,” Tyson said; he sounded shy but also quite sure of himself so happily, Nate did. He brought his other hand up to pinch at Tyson’s nipple and Tyson arched up, pressing into it and began to breath deeply. Nate moved up to kiss Tyson and let one hand brush over Tyson’s groin; when Nate began to massage him with his thumb Tyson stiffened. “Oh!” he said again and pushed into Nate’s hand as Nate began to work him. Nate kept at it, moving from mouth to neck to nipple, keeping one hand at Tyson’s groin, pressing steadily until Tyson was flushed and short of breath, pressing into Nate looking for more, though he clearly didn’t know what it was he wanted. Nate had the distinct impression Tyson didn’t have words for any of this, much less any understanding of how bodies worked. Tyson wrapped a leg around Nate’s upper thighs, opening himself up even further and pulling Nate against him.

“Can I?” Nate panted, holding himself still by sheer force of will, and Tyson grunted assent. The tie was still complete and Nate had less than an inch of play but he ground forward against Tyson and then pulled back a little, again and again as Tyson ground back against him, panting and clutching at him. He didn’t seem to be afraid anymore at all; his hands slid down to grab Nate’s bum and push as if he’d like Nate to be even further inside. He slung one leg up around Nate’s waist, changing the angle slightly and Nate bent down and gave one nipple a particularly hard pull and Tyson arched up against him, one hand settled on the back of Nate’s head, holding him there and urging him on and then Tyson shuddered violently and his fingernails dug into Nate’s bum and surprising even himself Nate came again too, even harder than the first time, just as Tyson did.

“God,” Nate said, slumped boneless over Tyson. “Three months, if we keep this up.” He hadn’t realised how he’d missed just a friendly touch, skin against skin; he wanted to fuck Tyson again, as soon as he could get it up and everytime he’d hold still for it after that but he also wanted to sleep tucked up against him and whisper to him and take good care of him and let him take care of Nate. He wanted to love him, as soon as he could.

“What just happened?” Tyson said, sounding at a loss and Nate laughed.

That’s how it’s s’posed to be,” he said, half asleep, and then fell asleep entirely to Tyson muttering “Huh,” in tones of wonder.

# # #

He woke in the morning to Tyson’s fingers running over his ribs. Much of the fear and respect Tyson had regarded him with seemed to have departed in the night. They were still pressed together, as much by dried come as anything else, and Tyson was happily moving against him, busily exploring Nate’s body. Nate imagined it was pretty novel to him indeed, given that exposure of even wrists was verboten in mixed groups and Nate was completely naked. Tyson wasn’t looking at Nate’s face and didn’t seem to notice he was awake so Nate just laid there and enjoyed watching Tyson explore. He seemed to be intrigued with Nate’s body hair and Tyson’s fingers ran delicately over what little hair there was on Nate’s chest, and then to his armpit, and then down his side to his thighs where they stayed for some time, brushing back and forth against the fine hairs there and tracing out the shape of Nate’s quads. Finally they travelled back up the front of Nate’s thigh into his pubic hair but Tyson seemed too shy to explore much there - the hand moved instead back around to Nate’s bum. There was a brief pause for the hairs at the base of his spine, then both hands lightly cupped his buttocks, and a couple fingers delicately brushed the crack of Nate’s ass. Evidently this was especially interesting because Tyson craned forward to peer over Nate’s shoulder at his bum. Nate diligently faked sleep and was rewarded by the fingers pushing deeper until they brushed against his asshole and Nate jolted forward involuntarily. “What is that?” Tyson yelped at the same time and Nate dissolved into laughter.

Nate had to get a wet cloth and clean them up and then lie on his front trying not to laugh as he explained what assholes were to Tyson, who flatly didn’t believe him until Nate allowed him to take a thorough look. The awe was definitely gone.

“Hang on,” Tyson said, deep in thought. “If that’s an asshole, what’s this?” He gestured wildly downwards. “Alpha,” he added, belatedly.

“Not an asshole,” Nate said huskily, rolling over and pressing his erection up against Tyson. “It’s your pussy,” he said, reaching two fingers down to rub against Tyson. Last night there had been no chance for Tyson to enjoy himself at the start, and then they had been knotted and Tyson had been slick with Nate’s come, but now Nate was curious. He knew girls got wet if you treated them nice and he wanted to know if Tyson did the same. “Or maybe not,” Nate said doubtfully as his hand encountered the lips of Tyson’s passage, his balls and cock all at once. He spread his fingers widely and confirmed; he could span all three with one hand, an efficiency which was somehow pleasing. He returned to using two fingers to tease gently at Tyson. He seemed to like a sort of circular motion the best.

“Pussy,” Tyson said dreamily. “That’s nice.”

It wasn’t a nice word, not really, Nate knew, but he didn’t feel like discussing it right then. He was more focussed on Tyson who was relaxed and calm in his arms, happily allowing his attentions and even spreading his legs and murmuring in appreciation. He had expected anger and shyness, maybe crying, but evidently Tyson had stayed in the mood they had closed with last night and he was grateful.

“Mmm,” Tyson said. “Nice way to wake up, Alpha. Can you kiss me?” Nate obliged and Tyson hummed with pleasure and they laid there for some time, barely covered with a sheet in the morning cool, happily intertwined and exploring each other. Finally Tyson broke away and looked down shyly. “Did you mean it?” Tyson whispered, still cuddled close against Nate, naked and warm. Without thinking about it Nate pulled him even closer, arms around him and nuzzled into his neck. Nate was warm, lying on a comfortable mattress, sated from the last two days of good eating and pressed against Tyson’s soft, warm body, which was the most intimate thing he’d ever experienced, and he liked it very much. He hoped Tyson was finding some pleasure in the closeness too - maybe Nate was a romantic but he dreamed of a happy marriage like his parents, one where they both enjoyed their bed, of a marriage where the other partner grew to love him as they got to know each other. He hadn’t been so physically comfortable in many years and he had a future to look forward to as well, something he hadn’t been able to contemplate without fear for years now, and all due to Tyson, and he was grateful.

“Did I mean what?” Nated asked, distracted by the sweep of Tyson’s naked back and the way it flowed down into his ass.

“Did you mean it I can have anything I want?” Tyson whispered and Nate knew it was probably a bad idea but he also knew he was a sap and a pushover so might as well begin as he meant to go on.

“If I can,” Nate said, qualifying it a little. He hoped Tyson wasn’t going to ask him for anything too extravagant; they were not well off, still, and Tyson would need to adapt to that but Tyson surprised him.

“Can you make me do that again?” was all Tyson asked, “Like last night?”

“Do what?” Nate said between kisses. “Fuck you?” and Tyson hesitated. “No,” Nate said for him. “You don’t want me to, do you?”

“It’s kind of sore, Alpha,” Tyson said apologetically and Nate guessed that was fair.

“Sorry,” Nate said again, still guilty. “You want me to make you come, no fucking?”

“I don’t know,” Tyson said. “Is coming what that was last night after the knotting? Can you do it again? Can you do it without putting it in me?”

“Oh, baby,” Nate said. “Yes it was and yes I can. I can do it so many different ways,” and returned to his work with a will. He wanted Tyson to like it, and he wanted Tyson to like him, and he quite desperately wanted to roll Tyson over and climb aboard but he had said he wouldn’t and he wouldn’t; that was all. “You’re not afraid?” Nate asked, and Tyson laughed at him.

“I’m not afraid of you, you big old sap,” he said pertly, stretching out beneath Nate so Nate could admire all of him. He seemed quite restored to his old self, ready to receive the attention he knew he deserved and happy to explore this new pleasure. Nate was glad to see it. It was clear a Tyson was a pleasure seeking creature, agreeable by nature and only cross when disrespected or threatened. He didn’t need to be managed so vigorously as Jordie had suggested, but given time and space to be sensible.

“You ever touch yourself?” Nate murmured in his ear.

“No,” Tyson laughed. “That’s not allowed. Should I have?”

“Yes,” Nate said. “It’s allowed now. C’mere.” He heaved himself out of Tyson’s arms and sat up with his back against the headboard, legs wide so Tyson could fit in there with his back against Nate’s chest. From this position Nate could see down the front of Tyson’s body and he took Tyson’s hand in his and showed him how to play with himself while Nate kissed at his neck and enjoyed the show, his cock pressed enjoyably up against Tyson’s ass. Tyson moved rapidly from shy to eager to avaricious, spreading his legs and whining until Nate gave him a finger to ride and then muttering with dissatisfaction until Nate was sucking and kissing at his neck just right. Right meant, evidently, quite firmly, Nate’s teeth nipping and then sucking hard at his skin, leaving livid marks, each one causing shudders and happy noises as Tyson’s hand worked away below. He wanted to be treated kindly but by no means delicately and, Nate discovered, he did indeed get wet like a girl.

“Don’t you want to, Alpha?” Tyson said, turning to look at Nate, his face flushed

“Of course I want to,” Nate said a little tetchily. Obviously he wanted to - look at the state of him. He gestured sharply down towards his erection which was nestled between Tyson’s cheeks. It was a very fine position to be in but he thought if he didn’t get to come soon he’d die. Fair enough if Tyson didn’t want to be fucked after last night but Nate was going to have to get a hand on himself soonest.

“But you aren’t going to make me?” Tyson said slowly, and Nate could tell from his tone he was really asking.

“I said I was sorry and so I am,” Nate said. “I said I won’t make you and so I won’t.”

“Hmm,” Tyson said. He cocked his head to the side and regarded Nate consideringly, then seemed to make some kind of decision. “You’re awfully nice,” he said and moved his bum about a bit, massaging Nate’s cock and letting it move up and down in the snug bed it was in, and Nate’s eyes just about rolled back in his head. Tyson lolled his head back onto Nate’s shoulder and turned his head towards him for a kiss; Nate obliged and they fell into a passionate kiss, one of Nate’s hands at Tyson’s pubes holding Tyson against him, pressing him back rhythmically as they kissed until they were both panting and straining against each other. Nate thought he could easily come like this, rubbing against Tyson’s plump bum, Tyson stretched languorously out against him, unafraid and eager for more. This was more than he had hoped for last night, Tyson cheerful and a willing participant, and if that meant no fucking for the moment, that was fine with him. Tyson broke the kiss and smiled up at Nate, clearly pleased with himself.

“You can, Alpha,” Tyson said, gesturing down and Nate was puzzled. “Jeschlajchtsvekjia,” Tyson said helpfully, using the Platt word for the sex act, not beranen at least.

“I thought you were sore,” he said, and Tyson looked over his shoulder at him and dimpled.

“I was,” he said. “A bit. But I decided I like you and I want to do it once the Observant way to make sure.”

“Make sure of what?” Nate asked, but Tyson wouldn’t say, just smiled coquettishly again and tipped forward onto his hands and knees, giving Nate a hell of a view.

“Come on Alpha,” he said, rather muffled, as he stretched even further forward and laid his head on his forearms and Nat gave up any feeble resistance he had and with a faint moan moved forward to catch hold of Tyson’s hips. He scrambled to fit himself inside, trying to be slow and gentle but Tyson sighed with pleasure and arched even more and Nate just - fell forward and slammed himself inside and boxed Tyson in with his arms, stretched out over him, his face alongside Tyson’s, the better to hear him gasp and moan. He reached out his hands and threaded his fingers through Tyson’s and began to fuck him.

“Oh God,” Nate moaned directly into Tyson’s ear. “Fuck, baby.” He shifted his knees and gripped Tyson even more firmly and really went to town. “Thank you,” he grunted with each thrust. “Thank you, thank you,” He didn’t even understand what he was saying, but it seemed to be going down a treat with Tyson.

“Yes,” Tyson gasped. He was shaking his head and thrashing beneath Nate, enthusiastically pushing back to meet each of Nate’s thrusts and only his hands were still, their fingers still intertwined, Nate’s gripping his tightly. “Yes,” Tyson said, mouthing at Nate’s knuckles and Nate kissed the back of his neck and then leaned in as the excitement built and bit at the nape of Tyson’s neck and Tyson gave one little shriek, cut abruptly off when Nate bit down even more, then froze and every muscle in Tyson’s body clamped tight and he came with a yell and so did Nate, plowing into him and using his grip on Tyson’s arms to lever him back against him and hold him still. Nate was careful not to knot with Tyson as it had concerned him so last time; he thought that required its own conversation later.

He hadn’t known it would be like this, so much something they did together and yet so driven by the animals that lived inside them. He wanted Tyson ass up, face down, still beneath him and receptive, and he wanted Tyson saucy and unafraid, sitting atop him kissing and bossing Nate, and it looked like he was going to get both. He slumped forward onto Tyson who grunted and shrugged one shoulder, trying to push him off. Nate grumbled but rolled to the side so Tyson could breathe, then pulled him against him as they laid on their sides, panting.

“I thought so,” Tyson said when he could talk again. “You’re just good at that, even if we do it like the Observant do.”

“That was not Observant style,” Nate said. “I never smacked you once and you weren’t praying that I noticed.” Tyson smiled slyly but said nothing. “And we had all our clothes off,” Nate said. “I like you with all your clothes off,” he added for good measure.

“I like you too,” Tyson said shyly.

# # #

“Alpha,” Tyson said, quietly. “Alpha, can I ask for something?”

“Say Mac,” Nate urged, admiring him in the mirror. Tyson was doing something terribly fussy and cute with his hair; Nate simply didn’t know how he managed to get it up like that, a towering edifice of braids without a strand out of place. He knew Tyson using his first name was a non starter but being called Alpha indefinitely by someone he had just kissed and fucked and cried with was jarring. Surely Tyson could say Mac as a middle ground.

Tyson met his eyes in the mirror and gave him a little smile. “Nate Mac,” he said. “MacKinnon. You’re MacKinnon and so am I, now.”

“Yeah,” Nate said, pleased, and leaned in to kiss him again but Tyson had leaned away.

“Mac,” he said again. “Can I ask?”

“You can ask anything,” Nate said. Tyson had forgiven him for their terrible, compelled first time, then fucked him enthusiastically twice, and was comfortingly certain of what their next steps should be. He was beautiful and marriage to him meant Nate had saved his sisters and brothers from penury and Tyson smelled terrific, and Nate would give him anything he asked for. If Tyson wanted Nate to cut an arm off, he would consider it.

“Can you please not mess my hair or blouse before we go out?” Tyson asked and Nate laughed a little.

“Sure,” he said, surprised by the seriousness with which Tyson had requested something so small. “That all?”

“Thank you Alpha Mac,” Tyson said. “Do you have any rules you want to give me? Before we leave the room on the first morning you can give me specific rules for the marriage.”

“What do I have to do to stop them from hitting you?” Nate asked. It should have occurred to him before, but at least he had thought of it now. Tyson looked up at him, confused. “To prevent anyone from disciplining you,” Nate clarified. “Do I have that right?”

“You want to be the only one responsible for disciplining me?” Tyson said uncertainly.

“I want to be sure no one is hitting you,” Nate said. “How do I do that?” His hand was on Tyson’s neck, his thumb stroking along Tyson’s collarbone. “No one is to hit you,” Nate crooned, leaning down to kiss Tyson and Tyson looked up at him, surprised and pleased at the affection. Nate pulled him to his feet and pushed him gently against the door frame to kiss him a little more. “No hitting,” Nate said between kisses, valiantly keeping his hands off Tyson’s hair and shirt so he wasn’t rumpled when he emerged from the room. He planted both hands on either side of Tyson’s head, against the wall, and leaned forward to kiss him. Nate suspected Tyson was going to be awfully flushed, and there was no hiding that bite mark on the back of his neck, but he didn’t care, really. He was only laying off the hair and shirt because Tyson had asked. Finally, unwillingly, he pulled away.

“No one’s allowed to hurt you,” Nate said, smoothing Tyson’s shirt for him. “How do I do that?” he asked again.

“You could tell Alpha Seguin and he’d spread the news,” Tyson said, closing his eyes and enjoying the fussing. “He doesn’t let anyone discipline Jamie but him. He said if they touched him he’d give them what for.He opened his eyes and looked at Nate. “But what if I do something really awful?” he asked, looking like he had found the fatal flaw in Nate’s logic. “What then?”

“How about we both try real hard not to do anything awful,” Nate said. “How ‘bout that?”

“Well, but if I do?” Tyson pressed and Nate sighed. A lot of Jordie’s questions that first night on the boat were beginning to make more sense.

“Maybe we’ll just have to yell at each other,” he said, taking hold of Tyson’s shoulders and gently rocking him. “Hey? But there won’t be any hitting. I don’t hit my sister Sarah and I don’t hit you and I won’t have anyone else hit you either.”

“Alright Alpha,” Tyson said, looking unconvinced but still pleased and he pulled Nate a little closer. With clever fingers he straightened Nate’s collar for him and repinned it so the pins didn’t dig into his neck, and tidied the straw of his hat so it laid correctly. “You need new pants,” Tyson said, looking at them critically. “And a couple shirts cut closer, and better boots.” Nate opened his mouth to point out they couldn’t afford any of that and then shut it. They could afford it now, he supposed, and it would be wonderful to have boots large enough to fit. He was wearing cast offs that pinched something ferocious.

“You got two fat pigs now Alpha,” Tyson reminded him. “You can afford boots and some nice shirts so you look as fine as you should.” He fussed with Nate’s suspenders and smoothed his shirt against his chest. “And we’ll keep the old shirts for the barn and cut the pants down for your brothers, and I’ll get hold of everyone’s hats and show your sister how to sew the straw down flat so you all look fine,” he said decisively. “There’s no reason you should all go about looking raggedy and I won’t allow it. There’s only one Alpha in this province with two Omegas; might be the only one in the country, and you’re it and I’ll make them all treat you right but first you got to look the part.” Nate smiled and enjoyed the fussing, happy to be tidied. “Do you hear, Alpha?” Tyson said. “I understand you’re poor but you won’t be when I’m done. Omegas are lucky.”

Laughing, Nate tweaked his nose gently. “You going to make me rich?” he said, humouring Tyson. He knew marriage to an Omega was largely for the wealthy, bringing social and financial benefits but he imagined he’d seen the bulk of it already. He would never have gotten the apprenticeship without marrying Tyson, and that was enough for him.

Daring, Tyson tweaked his nose back. “I think I will,” he said, sounding absolutely certain and Nate suddenly saw the other side of what he’d married; Tyson was a bossyboots, just like Nate, just like Sarah, and cheap where he could be without losing face and clever, and on Nate’s side, something Nate hadn’t had in a year since his Ma died, and Nate laughed with relief and pleasure.

# # #

“Alright Alpha,” Tyson said confidently. “Here we go. Don’t worry when I cry.”

“Cry?” Nate said but there was a knock on the door and Tyson swept off to answer it.

They emerged from the room to the early morning and to Nate’s horror all the men of the Community were there by the door to greet them. Tyson seemed nonplussed - presumably he’d expected it. He gave Nate a sidelong look as they cleared the door and then hit the porch in a dramatic kneeling posture, head bowed deeply, eyes firmly on the ground and the crowd of men grew suddenly silent and then the noise rose up again, surprised. “Alpha,” Tyson murmured.

Nate gathered they felt he had managed to fuck some submission into Tyson and he felt a fool as he accepted their congratulations but he wasn’t going to screw up what Tyson had clearly orchestrated. Tyler and Jordie were milling about in the back of the crowd and finally Tyler came up to shake his hand and congratulate him. “How’d that go?” he said in an undertone and he didn’t look at Tyson at all, as was proper, but the foot closest to him tapped on the wooden porch twice and Nate noticed Tyson fake coughed once. They clearly had some sort of signal and Nate could only hope one cough meant ‘Fine’, or ‘well fucked’ rather than ‘in pain’ or ‘I hate my new husband.’ Evidently it did as Tyler nodded approvingly and clasped Nate’s hand quite warmly. “Good,” he said. “Glad to hear it,” and moved to the side so Jordie could take his place.

Jordie gave Nate a piercing look and took his hand in a crushing grip. “Well?” he said and Nate’s temper flared up. It was really none of Jordie’s business what they had done in the night. Nate squeezed back hard as he could and gave Jordie a cold look.

“None of your business,” he said in an undertone, and Jordie gave him a look back of mingled irritation and respect. He looked over at Tyson, still kneeling ostentatiously beside them. Tyson clearly saw Jordie looking and inclined his head a little further; it was practically half way to the porch floor and Nate thought he could not possibly be comfortable but it certainly looked submissive.

“Too much, as always,” Jordie sighed. “Still, I’d rather this than hysterics.” He looked back at Nate and released his hand. “Reckon you didn’t do too bad if he’s decided he likes you.” It was begrudging but Nate would take it.

The married women of the community emerged in a large group from the Community Hall, chattering and singing quietly. The first two among them were carrying pure white wool blankets and they swept up the stairs, the men scattering out of their way, and wrapped Tyson in the blankets. “No!” he cried and Nate looked over at him startled. He hadn’t thought there was anything in this to distress Tyson; he had been told there would be a brief reception in the morning, Tyson with the women for an appointment with the midwife and Nate on the Meeting House steps, drinking, and then another meal, this time breakfast and that would be the end of the wedding festivities.

Tyson cried out again and shrugged off the blanket. He tried to dart towards Nate and Nate turned to help him but Jordie gripped Nate’s hand, hard. “Wait,” he muttered, holding Nate still. “He’s fine. He’s supposed to be sorry to be separated from you, but he’s overselling it, like usual.” Tyson made it to Nate and fell back onto his knees, gripping Nate around the legs - Jordie had to do a bit of quick stepping and let go of Nate’s hand sharpish to avoid any contact with Tyson - and Nate stood for a moment looking down at him, bemused. Tyson was crying and carrying on at his feet and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do now. He looked around and no one gave him any cue; Jordie was rolling his eyes and Tyler was muffling laughter, so he simply decided to do what seemed good to him.

He pulled Tyson to his feet and put his arm around his waist and pulled him in close. “You alright?’ Nate said quietly and Tyson looked up at him, tears still streaming down his face and gave him a tiny, secret smile. “Don’t cry,” Nate said and reached for the white blanket. Silently one of the attendants handed it to him and he wrapped it around Tyson who looked extremely pleased with matters. “Go on, you,” Nate said, tucking the blanket in carefully; it was sharp and windy and Tyson was only in his shirt and pants. He thumbed the tears off his face and then kissed Tyson once, quickly - there was a sort of sustained inhalation from the crowd that suggested he shouldn’t have done that - and turned a very red faced Tyson around and gently shoved him back at the women with a pat on his ass. The women enfolded him silently and whisked him away with no further dramatics.

Tyler was cackling and Jordie was scowling. “Was that wrong?” Nate asked. “What was he supposed to have done?” No one thing seemed any stranger to him than another here. Was Tyson supposed to have flounced off wrapped in his white blanket, glad to see the back of Nate?

“He was supposed to shed a pretty tear, maybe two, and cast a longing look back at you if he really liked you,” Jordie said, stiff faced. “Not heave himself about like a character from a cheap novel, caterwauling.”

“Oh,” Nate said.

“And you weren’t supposed to help him,” Jordie said. “Kissing and touching like some kind of vaudeville show.”

“Sorry,” Nate said.

“You were supposed to slap him!” Jordie said, irritated. “For heaven’s sake! You’re meant to discipline him to set the tone, not pander to him.”

Nate said nothing but he could see how Observant marriages often felt like a chore if they began with obligatory slapping on the morning after. “Did you slap Omega Seguin?” Nate asked Tyler.

“Of course,” Tyler said pleasantly. “It’s my duty to demonstrate my headship; how else will he understand he’s to be obedient?” Nate looked doubtful. It was very hard to believe Tyler had ever raised a hand to Jamie. “It sets the tone for the marriage,” Tyler repeated. “If I hadn’t people wouldn’t respect me and they wouldn’t respect Jamie.” He looked pointedly at Nate.

“Oh, yes,” Jordie said sourly. “You gave him a mighty slap. Show MacKinnon how you did it.”

Tyler laughed and raised one hand. He cocked an eyebrow at Nate and when Nate shrugged his permission, Tyler swang his arm towards Nate in a slow exaggerated slap. When his palm made contact with Nate’s cheek it was moving so slowly it was more of an extended caress than anything.

“Got it,” Nate said, and he had. If they were to live here among these people, and it seemed they were, adherence to the form mattered.

“Jamie’s never forgotten himself once,” Tyler said, shrugging. “And if he did, why, all he’d need is a word. He’s got a true servant’s heart. But you’ll need to make the two orders good ones so everyone can see, just to make up for the slap.”

“Alright,” Nate said begrudgingly. The tradition of two stern commands at the breakfast had been explained to him and he thought it was bull, but if it meant people would respect Tyson, he’d do it.

They progressed towards the Community Hall slowly, every man stopping to shake Nate’s hand and wish him well, though many of the wishes seemed doubtful about Nate’s ability to control Tyson. It was beginning to be quite clear to Nate that Tyson was controlling himself, and public perception, just fine but he was willing to go along with the facade if it was to their benefit. He was just wondering what was for breakfast and what Sarah was going to say when he reappeared with Tyson in tow when Gabriel Landeskog emerged from the back of the crowd, stoney faced and ostensibly disapproving, yet Nate thought he could see a look of hope on his face.

“Congratulations,” he said very stiffly when Nate reached him. “Keep him safe.” Nate wasn’t sure what to say to that but the call for the men to be seated came and he stopped wondering.

# # #

There was a lengthy pause between the men being seated and the women entering the Community Hall - Nate slipped out to the privy and on his return Tyson was waiting for him on the back porch of the Hall, still wrapped in his white blanket. Jamie and Tyler were there too, ostensibly chaperoning but actually as far away as they could get, tucked in a corner seat and engrossed in one another. Tyson smiled at Nate shyly and Nate stepped forward and took hold of an edge of the blanket. “How you doing?” he said gently and Tyson scowled. He was ruffled and red faced, looking like a cat that had been petted backwards, and Nate wondered about the medical exam he’d just been subjected to. “You alright?” he asked again. “The Aunties treat you OK?”

Tyson made a face and pressed himself into Nate. Nate pressed back and then they were leaning against the wall, Nate holding Tyson there. “So rude, Alpha,” Tyson said, but he clearly wasn’t talking about Nate as he looked pleased to have Nate’s attention. “They made me take off all my clothes and looked for bruises and they didn’t believe we’d really done it because there weren’t any so then they felt inside.” He looked up at Nate, scandalized and Nate put his arms around him as comfort and Tyson clearly liked that because he wiggled with pleasure and snaked his own around Nate. “And then they said you had, you know, and I said you most certainly had, three times, and Midwife Auntie laughed,” Tyson whispered in Nate’s ear. “They made me say how, too,” Tyson said and then smirked at his own cleverness. “I told them how you did the last time, so they thought that was right.”

Nate was a little shocked on Tyson’s behalf - he had not really thought these prudish people would go so far - but he was also extremely glad there had been absolute proof of the wedding night and now there was no question they were married. They were married, he thought, and it suddenly seemed real to him for the first time. They were married, and Tyson was safe and Nate was owed two thousand dollars and an apprenticeship and it occurred to him he maybe should have told Tyson this earlier. “Jordie paid me to marry you,” Nate whispered back to Tyson, and Tyson stiffened against him.

“How much?” he demanded and Nate gulped and told him.

“Two thousand dollars!” Tyson screeched, outraged. ”Two thousand?” Nate leaned in and nuzzled at his neck, trying to placate him.

“I would have done it for free,” he said against Tyson’s neck. “Now I know you, I would have done it for free cause you’re so nice.”

“Free,” Tyson fumed, not soothed at all, but he arched his neck so Nate could get at it and pulled Nate closer against him. Willingly, Nate went. “You should have demanded ten thousand at least,” Tyson said. “Don’t you know what I’m worth?”

“You’re worth a lot,” Nate said agreeably, but he was confused. Surely Nate should have had to pay Len Barrie the ten thousand to demonstrate Tyson’s worth, rather than Jordie paying him? He didn’t understand the Observant at all.

“Why’d Jordie allow this in the first place?” Tyson said faintly, still moving under Nate’s attentions. “I like you fine but you don’t bring nothing, not even your parents.”

“I dunno,” Nate said truthfully. “He hired me to help sail his sloop from the mainland and when he found out I was Mary Penner’s great grandson he offered me two thousand to marry you.”

“You’re Mary Penner’s great grandson?” Tyson screeched. Nate stopped kissing, confused and slightly deafened by all the screeching. “Don’t stop,” Tyson said, pulling Nate back to his neck. “A Penner with an Omega in the direct line?” Tyson said, and it was disconcerting how he managed to make it sound like that fact was increasing his interest in the kissing. Still, Nate would take what he could get and he was willing to use whatever he had that advanced him over Landeskog.

“Two,” he murmured into Tyson’s neck.

Two?” Tyson said faintly, and whimpered with pleasure.

“I thought you were disappointed,” Nate said. “I thought you wanted Landeskog?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tyson said and he ducked his head so he was looking at Nate’s face. “The Landeskogs haven’t produced an Omega in three generations.”

“Oh, well then,” Nate said, bemused. Evidently Tyson had inherited the Observant passion for genealogy in full measure.

“And anyway,” Tyson went on, “I only wanted Landeskog because he was out of the run of all my other choices, what with being young and handsome.”

“Hmmph,” Nate said. He could do without the ‘handsome’ remarks. “What was the usual run?”

“Rich, a proven breeder, and old,” Tyson said. “A stern belief, to handle an Omega’s discipline and rich enough to afford the bride price because they don’t let us go easy, and it takes a while to build all that up so Omegas are almost always second wives to widowers older than our fathers.”

“You deserve something better,” Nate told him, quite certain that marrying cheerful spritely Tyson to a grandfather would have been a travesty.

“I deserve you,” Tyson said. “Two Omegas, and you want to love me, and you stopped my father’s hand.” He looked shyly up at Nate. “If I had known this was going to happen I would have written that letter on purpose,” Tyson said dreamily. “You’re so nice, and I like the way you touch me.”

“Yeah?” Nate said, hands sneaking under the blanket.

“I want you to do it some more,” Tyson said. “Tonight, if you like.”

“I’d definitely like,” Nate said, laughing. “You give me such a horn,” he added, hands busy under the blanket and Tyson giggled.

“What’s the horn?” he asked and Nate took one of Tyson’s hands and placed it against the bulge in the front of Nate’s trousers.

That’s the horn,” he murmured and Tyson looked shocked but then pressed his hand against Nate’s cock and watched avidly as Nate shuddered. “Ugh,” Nate said nonsensically. “Everything you do gives me the horn - just looking at you does it.”

Does it?” Tyson said intrigued and Nate put his hand over Tyson’s and pressed them together, hard, against his erection.

“You got no idea,” he said fervently. “You’re so pretty, and you smell so good, and your skin’s like velvet - and you’re sneaky and clever too, aren’t you?” Tyson nodded, entranced by Nate’s compliments. “And I like you,” Nate said. “I just like you, and I hope you like me, and tonight I’m going to lie you down naked and kiss you all over. You think you’d like that?”

“Yes,” Tyson said breathily. “Yes Alpha, I think I would.”

“Yeah?” Nate said, pleased. “You know where I’m going to kiss you first?” He placed his hand on Tyson’s crotch to demonstrate and Tyson rubbed against it like a cat.

“Shut up,” Tyler hissed, grabbing at Nate’s coat to pull them apart. Jamie was still seated in the corner, hands over his ears and looking shocked. “Are you drunk?” Tyler said to Nate, peering into his eyes.

“Little bit,” Nate said, shrugging Tyler off. “Don’t need to be drunk to tell my husband what I’d like to do to him.” Tyson smiled at him prettily and Nate grinned dumbly back. Maybe he was a little drunk, he thought, but what of it. There had been drinks on the Hall steps, drinks as he progressed through the crowd, and another round of toasts when they were seated.

“Christ,” Tyler said, disgusted. “You two get back in there and you don’t touch each other and you,” - he poked Nate in the chest - ”give Barrie the two orders, real mean like and you,” - he gestured at Tyson - “follow them, for pity’s sake.”

“Yes Alpha,” Tyson said, clutching his blanket around him and sort of bobbed his head obediently and hustled back into the Hall. Nate watched his bum as he departed.

“Come on,” Tyler said and marched Nate towards the door. “Get in there and don’t do anything stupid.”

 

Chapter Text

Nate was definitely not going to do anything stupid. He was going to eat the very fine breakfast the Community had laid on, give Tyson a couple easy orders so he could show off his obedience and enjoy the stunning change in his circumstances. His intentions were good and he managed to follow that agenda for a full hour, all the way through to the final course.

The Observant had not veered from their usual Sunday morning menu but even that was a feast to Nate. He had been too nervous to really enjoy last night’s supper but now, nerves settled, he applied himself fully to the breakfast. There was roast chicken, hot bread, cold bread, corn bread, farmer’s sausage three kinds, waffles with schmaunt fat, stewed tomatoes, stewed plums, blackberry platz, plume moos, fried ham, potatoes, and of course steaming hot coffee and tea. Nate managed to pause between the waffles and the second round of sausages to order Tyson to fetch him more coffee, as authoritatively as possible, although from the looks on those around them it had come out more fond than intended. No matter; Tyson made a production of it, leaping to his feet before Nate had finished the sentence and offering the coffee in perfect formal style. “Thanks, baby,” Nate said off hand and Jordie shot him a look from across the table, though Tyson looked pleased. Nate felt he’d satisfied the form and that was good enough, especially as Tyson had made such a show of obedience. He was just trying to think of another order when Tyson and Jamie rose in unison to serve the plain white cake that always completed a Wedding Breakfast.

It was the Omega’s role to serve the dessert at any Community gathering, bringing Blessings on the entire town through their contact with the food. It started out well, Jamie and Tyson working as a smooth team, and Nate could hear surprised murmurings that Tyson was being extremely well behaved and that perhaps the marriage had settled him down a touch. Omega service required all men over ten to place their hands on the table and hold rigidly still so that there was no risk of contact as the Omegas leaned in to place the plates before them and Jamie and Tyson had made it half way down the table without a problem when Tyson fumbled a dessert plate. It was nothing, really, one plate clattering against another and a fork falling to the floor but Len, who had been drinking steadily throughout the meal, pounded his fist on the table.

“You dozy cow!” he snapped and Nate saw Tyson cringe though he mastered his nerves and continued down the table. Jordie shot Nate a look and Nate scowled back; he wasn’t going to do anything stupid. He was just going to sit here and consider how best to give Len what for as soon as no one was watching. Nate could see the Landeskogs looking at Tyson judgmentally and Nate gave them a glare as well for good measure. The Observant went in for plain, sturdy furniture with no flamboyance to it and so the table was made of one huge cedar plank, waxed and polished, but only wide enough for a place setting on each side; the Observant saw no need for any greater width to allow table decorations or grand candelabra and Len Barrie was seated across from Nate, well within his reach, but it didn’t matter because he wasn’t going to do anything stupid. He glared at Len to remind him not to do anything stupid either and then turned to watch Tyson; Tyson swallowed and looked at his father nervously. Based on his brief experience of Len, Nate was hoping against hope nothing unpleasant would happen when Tyson tried to serve his father but was not optimistic and he was right not to be. Tyson reached his father’s seat, bent forward to serve the cake and Len knocked the plate from his hand. “Useless!” Len said and raised one hand to discipline him; Tyson froze, eyes shut, waiting for the blow. Quick as lightening Nate’s hand darted out, catching Len by the shirtfront.

“Don’t you dare touch him,” Nate said, enraged. “He’s mine now and no one’s to lay a hand on him.”

Len’s eyes narrowed and he tried to pull himself free; Nate tightened his grip and dragged him halfway across the table. It made a terrible mess and Nate spared a mournful thought for his slice of cake, then pulled back and punched Len in the face, knocking him to the ground. Nate looked up and everyone in the Hall was staring at him, shocked. “Anyone else have anything to say?” Nate barked, and there was silence. The Landeskogs were at the end of the table, whispering urgently among themselves and darting appalled looks between Nate and Tyson. Nate glared back at them. Nate wondered if they still felt they’d been done out of a deal; well, it was nothing to him if they were too stupid to see gold among the dross. He tightened his fist and looked pointedly at Landeskog Senior who looked quite taken aback. Jordie bent forward and put his head in his hands but Tyler had one hand up over his mouth and appeared to be hiding a laugh. Len Barrie was slowly rising from the ground, hand raised to staunch his bloody nose.

“Come here!” Nate snapped at Tyson and Tyson startled. Still holding the cake tray, he backed away from his father and then hustled around the table to Nate. “You alright?” Nate said gently.

“Fine, thank you Alpha,” Tyson said automatically.

“Good,” Nate said. “Here’s my second order.” Tyson stared at him, waiting.

“No one’s to hit you,” Nate said calmly. “You come find me if anyone tries.” He glared around the Hall, taking in the shocked faces and raised his voice. “MacKinnon Omegas don’t get hit. You dodge, or run, or fight, but no one lays a hand on you, d’you hear?”

“I hear you Alpha,” Tyson said, sinking to his knees before Nate. “Your will, not mine.”

Nate bent forward and put one hand to the side of Tyson’s face, guiding him closer, until their heads were beside one another, then whispered into his ear. “Sorry I yelled,” he said, and so close the marvel of Tyson’s body, and smell, and beauty was all around Nate and he lost his head, though he knew he shouldn’t; he kissed Tyson’s temple gently and then let go and pulled away. Tyson stayed on the floor staring up at him and there was a ringing silence in the Hall, finally broken by the scrape of Jordie’s chair as he got to his feet, looking like a man who deeply regretted what he had wrought.

“Out!” Jordie hissed. “Out, out, out, both of you!” and they went, trailed by Tyler, struggling to keep a sober expression and Jamie, perfectly dignified as always.

# # #

“I think we’ll skip the visit to the family,” Jordie said, hustling them all to the dock where the sloop and their bags awaited them. “Time for you to get out of town.” He looked pointedly at Tyler. “And you can go with them, I think,” he said. “Can’t you keep a straight face? I heard you laugh. Len won’t forgive that too soon.” Tyler didn’t look contrite at all. In fact, he looked quite pleased with Nate, though Nate wasn’t entirely certain why. “This is the worst deal I ever did,” Jordie muttered so the Omegas couldn’t hear. “I said two fifty, find your own way home and no fucking and now look where we are. It’s cost me two thousand dollars, I’m laying on a boat and I don’t even want to talk about the last.” Nate just grinned at him and Tyler started laughing again. “The pair of you,” Jordie said, looking between Tyler and Nate. “What a pair of idiots.”

“I told you,” Tyler said. “I told you Jordie, you know Len, I knew there was going to be trouble.”

“Well what was I supposed to do?” Jordie said, exasperated. “Not have the Wedding Breakfast because the bride’s father is an ass? We’d hardly eat of a Sunday if that was the rule.” He scowled and kept on scowling, right up to the point of waving them off. He undid the painter from the cleat and threw it aboard, still yelling instructions as the sloop slowly moved away from the dock. Nate ignored his bossing and turned to look at the two Omegas in the front of the boat.

They were cuddled up together in the prow, red cheeked in the cold wind and smiling. Tyler had located a large blanket for them and it was wrapped around both of them as they cheerfully perched on a heap of rope, clutching each other’s hands in excitement. Jamie had never left the Island; Tyson, more sophisticated, had but only on large trading ships and had never been allowed up onto the deck to be gawked at. They called out with pleasure at everything, all of it novel; Nate and Tyler’s arms when they sculled out of the harbour, the birds, the waves, the occasional fish that jumped, the cunning fittings of the boat. Midway to the mainland a pod of Orcas came by and they were ecstatic; closer to harbour there were curious seals and even, pleasing Tyson greatly though Jamie said it looked like a rat, an otter with three plump babies.

Everything about the day was perfect. The weather was sunny, the sailing easy, the wind strong in their sail; at noon Tyler pulled out a basket of sandwiches and savoury pies and they fell on them happily. After lunch, sail set and wind steady, Tyler suggested they could ignore convention and allow their spouses to sit close to them and Nate agreed eagerly. Tyler went over to Jamie and motioned to him to come out of contact with Tyson, then gave him a hand and hauled him to his feet. Jamie gave him a radiant smile and moved to sit by the stern with his husband; Nate then had the pleasure of cuddling with Tyson under the blanket, whispering and occasionally stealing a kiss. Tyson was in great spirits, extremely disposed in Nate’s favour after the events of the morning, orgasms and punching both; Nate devoted some time to detailing to Tyson what he thought they might like to try with regards to the former and blushing, Tyson agreed. They napped curled together in the sun and when Nate woke Tyson was carefully examining him from inches away. “You warm enough, baby?” Nate asked and Tyson lifted one hand to trace the scruff on Nate’s face.

“You’re very nice,” Tyson said, and Nate smiled, happy to be forgiven, happy to be warm under the blankets with Tyson, glad to be alive and young and married on such a beautiful day.

Later Nate took his turn at the tiller, sitting with Tyson beside him and then in his lap, showing him how to steer the boat and laughing at silly jokes as they grew increasingly comfortable with one another. Tyson had pink cheeks from the sun and his hair was charmingly mussed and Nate thought he had never seen anything so fine. Tyson seemed to feel the same way; he told Nate he thought his eyes were a very nice blue, and he felt his arm muscles admiringly, and then, in a very low tone, carefully checking to make sure Tyler and Jamie could not hear, that he liked his bum. Towards the end of the day, tired from the sun and fresh air and events of the past twenty four hours, he fell asleep with his head on Nate’s shoulder, eyes shut and relaxed. One hand on the tiller and one arm around Tyson, marvelling at his good fortune, Nate sailed on. It was as close to a honeymoon as they were likely to get.

# # #

Finally they arrived in Gastown. “Wait,” said Tyler, standing on the porch of the house the MacKinnon’s two rooms were in. “Hang on. Wait til someone goes by and sees you’ve got two Omegas visiting.” They stood on the steps, waiting in the fading light until a small crowd passed by; Nate didn’t recognize the two men and the lady with them, but evidently Tyler did. “Peter,” he said, nodding pleasantly. “Jakob. Mrs. Weins.”

“Mr. Seguin,” the older man said. “Goden Avend.” He was speaking politely but they were all staring intently at Jamie and Tyson. Every Kolonie was meant to have a couple Omegas at least, but people in towns of lesser importance or wealth could live much of their lives never coming into contact with them, and Gastown, of course, did not yet have adult Omegas and thus lacked official Kolonie status. Still, everyone knew of Jamie and Tyson, even if they didn’t know them by sight, and even to meet them in passing was great good luck.

Goden Avend,” Tyler said. “This is my husband, Omega Seguin,” he said, “and Omega MacKinnon, who used to be Barrie. We’ve come to visit his sister in law.” The lady audibly gasped and the two men looked doubtfully at Nate, but Jamie and Tyson stayed still and composed, nodding condescendingly to the strangers. Evidently Sarah had heard the steps on the porch as she opened the door and all heads turned towards her.

“Goodenowent,” Jamie said to her, loud enough the onlookers on the street could hear, and Nate ushered Jamie and Tyson to the doorway while Tyler stayed outside to prevent anyone else from entering. It was not a prepossessing sight unfortunately. Their two rooms were bad enough to start with - nothing but bare floor boards and unfinished walls - but the children were also in a state. Not a one among them had a fully adequate set of clothes, and Mary, Will and Tom lacked boots entirely; they were all underweight, sallow and a little dirty, and the whole bunch of them had caught Willy’s nasty cold and were barking and hacking like a colony of sea lions. Additionally Georgie, usually the prettiest of the bunch, had developed pink eye, a scorching case of it, and the blonde curly hair they had been ordered to stop cutting on pain of having no more food aid provided, was a tangled, dirty mess hanging in his face. The entire lot of them looked equal measures pitiable and repulsive.

Tyson took one look at them, lined up to peer at the visitors, sniffing and wheezing and in some cases dripping crud, and backed away very slightly. He did a sort of stutter step of horror, as if he wanted to flee the room and then saw Georgie and rocked forward, and Nate could see Tyson was either going to back away, repelled, or grab at Georgie, the baby Omega; either way it would be the wrong decision and alienate Sarah, whose opinion was the one that mattered. It was all going to go wrong and nothing Nate could do would stop it; then Jamie appeared in the doorway behind Tyson, took one slow, placid look around the room and defused the situation. He pressed against Tyson’s back and put one hand on his shoulder to keep him still and silent, then cracked the first smile Nate had seen him direct at anyone but Tyler and Tyson and spoke directly to Sarah.

Goodendach, Fru MacKinnon,” Jamie said. “I am Omega Seguin, and this is my friend, Omega Barrie. We have come to make you a visit.” He paused and looked at all the dirty faces peering back at him. “What lovely children,” he said. This was a patent lie; they were not lovely, they were dirty and starveling, but Sarah knew good manners when she heard them.

Goodenowent, Omegas,” she said, exhausting her Platt. “Will you come in?” She shot a confused look at Nate but held the door open and Jamie glided majestically inside, propelling Tyson ahead of him.

“So,” Jamie said, his manners impeccable as if he were visiting in one of the wealthy Victoria houses he was accustomed to, stepping forward to offer his hand to Sarah, a gesture reserved for other Omegas and women closely related to them. To offer it to Sarah was an enormous compliment. Sarah shook his hand, bemused. Belatedly, Tyson held his out and Sarah shook it too. “How nice,” Jamie said with every appearance of sincerity. He said it in painstaking English, too. Sarah, trapped in the house, spoke even worse Platt than Nate and had her back up about it. Nate didn’t know how Jamie had guessed that but he was profoundly grateful he had. “We have come to make you a visit,” Jamie said again. “Our presence makes this a cloister and we will be as at home, obajo?” He waited until Sarah nodded. Nate doubted she knew what she was agreeing to; Nate didn’t know what she was agreeing to, but he got the impression it was another compliment. “My friend Omega Barrie has some news, and everything will now change,” Jamie said. “But first, we will have tea.” There was a long pause as everyone, including Tyson, watched Jamie to see what was next. Tom blew his nose voluminously into his shirttail and Jamie pretended not to notice.

“So,” Jamie said again. “Tea.” He hefted a large hamper Nate had not noticed he was carrying onto the cheap deal table in the centre of the room and began to pull tins and boxes from it. He had cake tins, bread, tea, a block of butter, salt, pepper, new lettuce and an entire small ham. The children began to mill around in excitement and Jamie opened a cake tin, handed it to Tyson and shoved him into the centre of the children to make friends. “Yes, good,” Jamie said to Sarah as they watched Tyson move from shy to chatty in a minute. “Now we make sandwiches.” Sarah made a face and looked at Nate; he could see she was ashamed by their poverty and annoyed with Nate for springing this on her, but she wasn’t going to challenge two Omegas to their faces. The mainland had no resident adult Omegas; Nate had never seen one until the previous day and Jamie and Tyson were the first Sarah had ever met, but both Nate and Sarah knew they were the central religious figures of the Observant and not to be crossed. To have two in the house, unchaperoned, was extraordinary. They moved towards the table to start on the sandwiches but Georgie set up a wail; Tyson was surrounded by the older children and Georgie couldn’t get at the cake.

“Come here, baby brother,” Jamie said majestically to Georgie, and Georgie came to stand by his feet and stare up at him. Jamie held another cake tin out to him. “Will you give me the Blessing, Omega?” he said to Georgie, and Georgie, who normally resisted Blessing requests violently, being by nature rather unobliging and shy, surprised Nate and Sarah by giving Jamie a smile.

“He’s more like to give you pink eye,” Sarah pointed out but Jamie ignored that and bent forward; Georgie reached up correctly to pat Jamie’s forehead and spoke the Blessing, so well as he was able.

“I am the token,” he said. “Bless.” He didn’t know the rest of the words, but no one expected him to. “Bless,” he said back to Jamie, gesturing at his own forehead, and everyone cooed.

“I am the token,” Jamie said with perfect gravity, doing the full adult Blessing even though he was speaking to a two year old with a crumbling scone in one hand and a snotty nose. “I am the token of the covenant. My soul doth magnify the Lord, for he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” He leaned forward and kissed Georgie’s forehead.

Dank,” Georgie said and snatched up the largest cake from the tin. He crammed it into his mouth and headed directly for Tyson. “Bless,” he said, tugging on Tyson’s pant leg and patting his own forehead. “Bless!” he demanded again. Tyson looked surprised but pleased and crouched down to him and gave the traditional baby Blessing.

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” he said, kissing Georgie’s forehead. Georgie looked very unimpressed; he had no interest in the peace of his future children. “Cake?” Tyson said and passed the tin, and this was rather more to Georgie’s taste. He grabbed a large piece and waved it triumphantly, looking smugly at the other children.

“You’re not his brother,” Tom said doubtfully to Jamie. “I’m Georgie’s brother.”

“All Omegas are brothers,” Jamie said calmly. “All Omegas are sisters. We are made in the shape of the Lord, directly by the One who is Both, in their image and we are all related.” Tom continued to look doubtful. “So,” Jamie said. “Now you are also my brother, through this little brother Georgie, for both of us a little brother. Come and I will give you cake also to celebrate this our meeting.” Tom moved with alacrity, drawn by the cake; Jamie gave him the cake but also pulled out a handkerchief and instructed him to use it. “Good, good,” Jamie said with satisfaction. “Now you are tidy I will give to you even better than a Blessing, a ham sandwich.” Tom, between growing up English and living with Georgie, very much a mundane, frequently irritating two year old, was not terribly impressed by Omegas. Nate could see Tom was drawn more by the food than the talk of Blessings: still, he stood politely enough and fetched and carried at Jamie’s directions.

They made sandwiches as Tyson distributed them and when the children were settled Jamie made Sarah a large, well buttered ham sandwich and pretended not to notice when she ate it voraciously. He made her another sandwich and Tyson made Nate a sandwich and Sarah watched, agog, as Tyson handed it to Nate directly, allowing their fingers to touch. She had been shooting Nate looks the entire time but would never lower herself to ask what was going on in front of company.

“Mmm, yes,” Jamie said, handing Sarah a tin mug full of hot tea and surveying the entire family with satisfaction. “Much better. The family already has the Queen’s Blessing, but we bring it again with our presence, and a third time with food an Omega has made with his hands, and twice again as also there are two of us, and once more as your brother has the King’s Blessing.” Tyson looked shy and Nate abruptly figured out what the King’s Blessing must be, if the Queen’s was a touch appropriate for public viewing. Sarah didn’t make a revolted expression, so Nate reckoned she thought Jamie meant Georgie. “All things will now change. All things will go well, and we have one piece of news.” He regarded the family benevolently and everyone stared back. “We are for making a match,” Jamie said, “of your brother Alpha and this Omega.” Sarah was silent in disbelief.

Have made a match,” Tyson corrected him and Jamie shot him a look.

“Have made, yes,” Jamie said. “Have made a match.” He paused and waited for Sarah to respond but she simply stared back at him. “Have made them married?” Jamie tried, but he looked tired and his English was fading. It was more talk than Nate had ever heard from him and he suspected far more than Jamie would have produced for anyone but Tyson, to help him through this difficult introduction.

It seemed if Tyson knew little about mating or mastering his temper, he knew quite a lot about taking a prickly character like Sarah and converting her to his side within seconds. He had been cheerfully handing out cake and sandwiches among the children, and had sat on the floor to eat his own. Now he looked up at Sarah. “I married your brother,” Tyson said to Sarah, as if he were mentioning a tiny piece of news of no real account. He might have said he’d found some nice asparagus at the market, or finished knitting a sock in the same tone.

Nate?” Sarah said, as if it could possibly have been Robbie, age eleven, instead. “You married Nate? Why?

“Hey,” Nate said mildly, mainly for form. It was a valid question.

“Because I like him,” Tyson said, which was not at all what had happened and Nate gaped at him. “I like him fine and we’re going to be married forever and we’re going to get a big house and you’re all going to come live with us and Nate’s going to open another branch of Jordie’s fish concern and Alpha Seguin will build a house next door and maybe Jamie and I will have a baby at the same time and we’re all, you and I and Georgie and Jamie, we’re going to be the founding members of the new Vancouver Kolonie.” This was the first Nate had heard of any of this but it all sounded fine to him.

“Well,” Sarah said, briefly at a loss. “Good.”

“Alright,” Tyson said, talking to Sarah who he had correctly identified as the real force in the house. “We need to get you sorted tonight. I see you done your best but the Elders been cheating you.”

“Have they?” Sarah said, clearly thinking over the time since they had arrived here, just as Nate had. “What were they supposed to do?”

“An allowance to keep the family of an Omega and Community assistance,” Tyson said briskly, getting up from the floor. “And you just been struggling along - they’re trying to let you get into such a state you’ll let the baby go to a new family and they’ve damn near succeeded.”

“You got money?” Sarah asked, and a smile spread across Tyson’s face.

“I got money,” he confirmed, “and I got better than that. I got two Omegas, a brand new husband ready to do what I say and a tame Elder. We’re going to fix this all, today.”

“Good,” Sarah said, not wasting any time questioning this piece of luck. “We need fuel, and food, and soap so I can wash the children and the laundry, proper, right now. Can we go before the store’s closed for the day?”

“Yes we can,” Tyson said, not looking to Nate to confirm, as if he knew Nate would do whatever Tyson told him. “You need a doctor for the baby?”

“No,” Sarah said. “Just some witch hazel to bathe his eyes.”

“And beds,” Tyson said, looking at the heaps of dirty straw they’d been sleeping in, “and sheets and shoes and a new house. Things are in a state, though I see you kept them all alive long enough for the wind to change and I bet that wasn’t easy.”

“No it wasn’t,” Sarah said with feeling, and Nate looked at the two of them and remembered Tyson and Sarah were almost the same age, though Sarah seemed much older, worn down with work and bad food.

“Let’s go,” Tyson ordered Nate, and Nate picked up the shopping basket and turned for the door obediently.

# # #

They spent their second night married sleeping in a heap of clean straw on the floor of the rooms, Georgie snuffling between them. Once they had matters arranged as well as they could for the day, Nate had proposed Tyson go to the boarding house with Jamie and Tyler for the night. There were no mattresses or pailasses to be had ready made and the best they had been able to do was acquire a double cart load of clean hay to replace the old dirty stuff. “You coming, Alpha?” Tyson had said, as if he already knew the answer.

“I have to stay here,” Nate said. How could he leave Sarah to sleep on the floor with seven children while Nate went to the unfamiliar luxury of a boarding house? And besides, Georgie didn’t sleep well without him and he’d already been away two nights. Georgie was seated firmly on Nate’s lap and had insisted on staying there through supper, through all the talk among the adults, and showed no signs of releasing Nate’s shirt, clutched in one grubby hand. He had begrudgingly allowed Tyson to carry him briefly but then insisted on being returned to Nate. He seemed to like Tyson, which was lucky because it had occurred to Nate, a lot later than it should have, that he had not explained to Tyson that where the other children were brothers and sisters he cared for, Georgie was something a deal closer to his de facto child. Georgie had been calling Nate ‘Pa’ since he could talk, and they had given up trying to convince him otherwise. It had seemed a pointless argument. Oddly he had never called Sarah ‘Ma’, perhaps because he had some childish memory of his real mother, where he had never known his Pa, but it meant there was a space open for Tyson who had not known, as Nate had never told him, that by marriage he was now the parent of a two year old.

Tyson had given him a look but seemed unsurprised. “Wither thou goest, I will go,” Tyson had said, “and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.” Nate thought that was very nice; he’d had many biblical quotations levelled at him since they’d arrived in the Kolonie, but none so generous hearted. He knew Tyson didn’t want to sleep in a dirty room with seven coughing children and a chamber pot in heavy rotation and he appreciated him doing it anyway. He was surprised Tyson was willing but Tyson had surprised him the entire evening, heaving Georgie around, cleaning the room, wiping faces and blowing noses. He had occasionally glanced at Nate for permission, or Jamie for direction, but overall, Tyson-with-a-real-task was quite a different person than Tyson-required-to-bow-and-scrape. Nate relaxed onto the clean, good smelling straw, luxuriously covered with rough canvas, and heaved a sigh of content. The children had all been given a good wash and a large supper, then tucked into their makeshift beds happily with the promise of more to eat the following day and new boots all round. He reached for Tyson’s hand across Georgie and kissed his knuckles as a thank you but that was all they did. Eight brothers and sisters in one room were a more effective chaperone than anything the Observant could muster.

# # #

Their third night they spent in the one Omega approved boarding house in Gastown because Alpha Seguin insisted. The local Elders had got wind of the situation and per Segs, if they didn’t sleep in the sanctity of the boarding house, Jamie and Tyson would be judged. Tyson could not stay in a room alone and Tyler could not share a room with Jamie and Tyson. Tyler looked pleadingly at Nate; he wanted to sleep in the same room as Jamie, and only Jamie. Sarah and the children had mattresses now, plenty of food and the promise of the new house Tyson, Jamie and Sarah had sussed out that afternoon; and anyway, Nate kind of wanted to sleep in the same room alone with Tyson, so he agreed.

Unfortunately, due to expense and the difficulty of getting construction materials, the walls were paper thin, literally. They were simply paper pasted over the studs, and everything could be heard through them. Nate was sitting on one of the two small, hard beds in their room, thinking about how he was going to persuade Tyson into sleeping in the same bed, not the traditional Observant custom, when he heard Jamie and Tyler bidding one another good night in their room next door.

“Good night, Alpha,” Jamie said, placidly.

“Good night Omega,” Tyler said. His voice had a tone of suppressed longing but Nate could hear the two of them getting into separate beds. There was a long, silent pause as Nate sat alone in the room, wondering what Tyson was taking so long over in the washroom. Tyler’s voice came again. “Jamie?” he said, and even Nate could tell there was a great deal of meaning in the word.

“Yes, Alpha?” Jamie said eagerly.

“Goodnight,” Tyler said again, and Nate scoffed to himself. Chickenshit, he thought.

“Good night Alpha,” Jamie said. Nate imagined there was a tone of disappointment to it, but perhaps not. He scoffed again. Did Tyler have no imagination at all? There were a hundred possible gambits to get Jamie into the same bed as Tyler, short of ordering him to climb in, and Nate had thought of several of them with regard to his own plans for the night. Nate did not plan to be bidding his husband a quiet good night three days after being married and he was unimpressed with their gumption. He was meditating on their failings when Tyson re entered the room and he was distracted.

Tyson, it appeared, had been occupied in the washroom with letting his hair down and he swept into the room in a cloud of waist length waves. “Alpha,” he said, in quite a different tone than Jamie, and Nate thought to warn him about the sound travelling, but then Tyson smiled coyly at him, moved forward to push Nate onto his back, and climbed up into his lap. It appeared all Nate’s plans were unnecessary and Tyson was taking matters into his own hands. “Alpha,” he said. “Hi. You want to take your pants off?” Tyson drew Nate’s hands up his thighs and then even further under his night gown, demonstrating he was wearing nothing else. Now that, Nate thought, was the way to go about things, and he scrambled to obey. He thought no more about the walls until the morning, when a rather frazzled looking Tyler came to call them down for breakfast.

It was an exquisitely awkward meal. Everyone was too embarrassed to look at each other except Tyson, who was cheerily applying himself to the pancakes and smirking everytime anyone caught his eye, no matter how judgmentally they frowned at him. He was excessively smug, puffed up like a sleek, plump cat, pleased with himself and pleased with Nate and making no effort to hide it. They had done it three times the previous night, Tyson on top, Nate on top, and then finally, experimentally, standing up until frustrated by the angle Nate had pulled out, whirled Tyson around to bend over the bed and fucked him from behind. They had agreed they couldn’t pick a favourite, but that if they did it a great deal more, perhaps they’d come to a consensus; moreover, they agreed they each thought the other was awfully nice, and they were very glad to be married. Finally, early in the morning, they had done it again slowly, kissing and murmuring words of affection, Nate barely moving inside Tyson, Tyson with his arms and legs slung around Nate until, at Tyson’s urging, Nate knotted him for their second time. It was just as good as the first, though not so fraught with guilt and unfamiliarity, and they had laid tied together for an hour, talking happily of future plans.

Tyler shot Nate a baleful look; he looked like a man who had gotten very little sleep and no sex at all, and Nate gave him an apologetic look back; he was sorry for the noise and a little embarrassed, but at the same time he defied anyone to decline an offer such as Tyson’s last night. Tyson was a bossy, cheerful thing, no shyness or fear left in him. He’d ordered Nate to take off his pants, and then to take off Tyson’s gown, and then to admire him naked, and kiss him, and finally to hold still while Tyson tried something he’d thought of the day before and Nate had done so happily.

“Sorry,” Nate said to Tyler. “But you know.”

“I do not know,” Tyler said grumpily. “Though I know more than I wanted to, I’ll tell you that.”

Chapter Text

Nate need not have worried about how Tyson would translate to Vancouver. Tyson was not the petted child Nate had seen in Victoria - Tyson was a martinet, intent on changing their circumstances. It seemed like a game to him, but one he played in deadly earnest.

Another person might have found the situation difficult, newly married, little money and seven children to raise, but Tyson was entirely equal to it. He had no real interest, so far as Nate could tell, in cooking or dressing well or keeping house, but he had an enormous interest in advancing Nate’s prospects and avoiding as much work as possible and so he did all those things skillfully but only to the extent necessary; additionally, he had Jamie and Sarah and the big girls to help him, and he employed them like a Field Marshall. What he could not farm out to others he did himself, efficiently and well. “You don’t have to,” Nate said when he came on him sighing over the ironing two weeks after their marriage. For his money they could do without. What was the point of ironing anyway?

“Oh yes I do,” Tyson said intently, ironing a sheet ferociously, his arm snapping out and back as he swept over the length of the linen. “I’m going to make you rich so I can hire someone else to do this so first I’ve got to do it now. You don’t get rich unless the town respects you, and the town won’t respect you if you’ve got crumpled tablecloths.” Nate backed away, unconvinced but unwilling to argue. Tyson and Jamie and Sarah had formed a forceful and intimidating cabal and Nate had learned not to cross them on the subject of house keeping or social obligations. They had altered everything for the better, and if Tyson felt ironing was a necessary part of that, well, Nate supposed he would leave him to it.

Tyson had demanded a decent house and when one was located, sniffily refused it and demanded a better one and that someone swing by and whitewash the twelve rooms they now occupied. He and Jamie had maneuvered, by dint of pretending to faint in church on the first Sunday, a brand new Omega pew and rights for the rest of the family to the front pew, real estate previously occupied by the upper class, such as they were, of Gastown. He had demanded, and gotten, the promise of five Aunties and their grown up children to move to Vancouver to participate in the establishment of the church community, an Auntie Midwife, formal establishment of the Kolonie and the recognition of Jamie, Tyson and Georgie as founders that came with it and the allowance owed to an Omega in need, in full, retroactively for Georgie and going forward for Tyson.

Drunk on his own power, he had prepared to demand a peacock, a long and closely held desire, but Jamie had dashed the pen from his hand. Instead he had taken the back allowance and made a straight path to the General Store to reprovision the pantry and resupply their wardrobes and then, his house in order, trained his eye outwards to consider whose acquaintance in the town might best be cultivated. In the face of all of that, Nate didn’t feel he had any criticism to offer.

Tyson sighed again as he moved on to the last sheet.

“You want some tea?” Nate asked and Tyson looked up from his sheet, surprised.

“I’ll make it in a minute, Alpha,” he said, “Alright? I need to finish this while the iron’s hot.”

“No,” Nate said, “I meant, do you want me to make you some tea? I’m having some and I thought you might like …” He trailed off. Tyson was staring at him in a most disconcerting fashion.

Tyson set the iron down. “You’re going to make the tea,” Tyson said incredulously.

“Um, yes,” Nate said, puzzled. Should he not? He often made Sarah a cup in the evenings, when they could afford it, but this was the first day of their marriage they’d had tea in the house and it hadn’t come up before. They had everything in the house. Tyson had cajoled the grocer into an at-cost arrangement for the poor impoverished Omega founder of the Kolonie and that afternoon Nate had opened the larder just to stare at the full shelves and cupboards, happily eyeballing the boxes and tubs of a hundred good things to eat.

“Yes!” Tyson said eagerly. “Yes, I do want a cup of tea Alpha, and thank you very much.” He finished his sheet at lightening speed and set the iron to cool out on the back porch then bounced happily down the back steps to the Seguin house next door. “Jamie!” Nate could hear him yelling. “Jamie! He’s making me a cup of tea!” Nate heard the Seguin door open and slam shut, and then Jamie’s measured tread up their stairs. It sounded like Jamie and Tyson were standing on the back porch, arguing.

“You’re confused,” Jamie said in his placid voice and Nate heard Tyson stamp his foot.

“I’m not,” he said and dragged Jamie into the kitchen with him. They sat at the table watching Nate make the tea, heads following him as he moved about the room. Finally he set the tea in front of them and sat down himself. Tyson just beamed at him.

“Well,” Jamie said, at a loss for words. “Thank you Alpha. How… nice.” He was looking at his tea like it contained a spider and Nate realised too late Jamie couldn’t drink it. It was contaminated by Nate’s touch; in fact, they were either going to have to buy a new Omega cup for Jamie when he visited or boil this one for a solid hour to remove the taint. Tyson slurped his tea pointedly and smirked at Jamie but their brewing argument was cut off by Tyler’s arrival. Tyler had acquired the house next door, an ideal situation as it meant Jamie and Tyson could travel back and forth without a chaperone.

“Oh, there you are,” he said, looking at Jamie. “I wondered where you got to. You two ready for Fastmolkje?

“Oh God, not Fastmolkje again,” Nate said.

Yes, Fastmolkje again,” Tyson said and Nate could see he would not be swayed. It was the linchpin of all his plans.

Nate had been vaguely aware of Fastmolkje, or Little Feast, before, but he had been unaware daily attendance was largely mandatory, at least for those who wanted to be a power in the Community. Undeterred by his moaning Tyson had the MacKinnons, every one, up, pressed and presentable each evening at 6:15 on the dot, just in time to parade them to the Meeting Hall where willing or unwilling they participated in Community Fellowship and Dessert after evening service. So far as Nate could tell there was no real Fellowship, but a great deal of competitive dressing and glad handing. The women competed to out cook one another, the men gathered in a corner and talked business, and the young girls used the time as a sort of marriage mart. The young men made brief appearances to eat their fill, flirt with the girls and depart as quickly as they could. It was, however, absolutely central to the Observant social system and he was resigned to his part in Tyson’s schemes. It was a performance of piety and social positioning and Tyson had been reared to do it the best of them all.

That first day all ten MacKinnons had marched into the Hall, Tyson leading the charge with Georgie’s hand in his, Elizabeth and Alice clutching large pans of Mrs. Yoder’s pumpkin cake, carefully chosen for its economy. Everyone had been spit shined to within an inch of their life and promised unlimited dessert if they behaved nicely; terrible threats regarding misbehaviour had also been issued. Tyson halted in the doorway dramatically and trailed an approving eye over the children to be sure everything was in order. He nodded to Lizzie and Alice, indicating that they could set the cake on the buffet table. “Goden Avend, Parson Wiens,” he practically bellowed and then paused, waiting until every eye was upon him. Once satisfied he had everyone’s attention, he gathered up Georgie and sallied forward to meet Jamie, strategically stationed in the middle of the room and hovering over his own covered dish of apple platz. “Omega Seguin,” Tyson greeted him formally then kissed his cheek, glancing at everyone else in the room to make very sure they were aware none of them could even consider touching an Omega.

“Omega MacKinnon,” Jamie had said solemnly. “Goden Avend.” Jamie reached out for Georgie who willingly came to him; Jamie’s pockets had been seeded with a handful of hard liquorice candies and they’d made sure Georgie knew it. A pretty picture of good luck and beauty, they moved slowly and gracefully around the room, actors in a play, spreading Blessings and apple platz with their presence, their husbands trailing them and nodding agreeably by prearrangement. The other members of the congregation were largely delighted to meet them; Vancouver was not a prestigious location but that looked as if it might be about to change. Two Omega founders and a third Omega child, and both of them possessed of such young and affectionate husbands; if Jamie or Tyson could produce a child anytime in the next few years, it would establish Vancouver firmly as a competitor to Victoria. There were rumblings about the railway due to be built out to BC; when it arrived Vancouver would become the central port of trade on the West Coast and supplant unreachable by rail Victoria, and fecund founders would do much to promote that.

“You don’t have to do anything, Alpha,” Tyson had said when Nate asked what he was meant to do. Evidently his role was simply to be seen; no one expected him to broker business until they had at least one child. “Just sit there and look horny,” Tyson had instructed him. “All they care about is if you’re likely to get me going in the next couple of years.” Nate could do that, easily enough; it required no dissembling. “You might want to give me an order or two,” Tyson said thoughtfully. “Show them you’re in charge.”

“I don’t think I’m too good at that,” Nate said, thinking of their wedding and Tyson laughed.

“Alright,” he said, fussing with Nate’s shirt, “just don’t punch anyone then,” and sailed off. Nate sat and watched Tyson night after night at Fastmolkje. He could feel everything changing around him, and not just their material circumstances. Nate was… he was growing startlingly fond of Tyson; he liked him, of course, and he liked very much what his body could do with Nate’s body, and his beauty, but to his surprise he was also discovering he liked Tyson’s cheer and his nosy outgoingness, his brains, which Nate was gradually realising were a great deal more powerful than Nate’s, his interest in and knowledge of a thousand things Nate had never heard of, and his temperament. He was like a cork, always bobbing back upright where Nate did not. Nate had always been what his mother called moody, feeling everything too much, too happy, then too sad, too demanding of himself and too easily angered, but Tyson was even tempered and cheerful by nature, a balance to Nate and Nate a balance to him when he went too far.

And Tyson was pleasingly ready to meet him in his admiration, charmingly eager to discover what their bodies could do but also interested to hear about what Nate thought, and what he liked to do, and of his travels, not so very great but great to Tyson, who had been kept so firmly at home, and to go walking together in the evening down by creek, holding hands like a courting couple and talking shyly of how nice they each thought the other, and how perhaps one day Nate could take Tyson on a train, to see a little of the world, and to whisper with him in the night, talking of how they would like to be nice to each other, and the children, even when they were angry, and how they would go on together, taking the paucity of good things they had been given and creating more, together, and it all seemed a very good deal indeed to him, even if it meant he had to spend forty five minutes a day sitting at Fastmolkje making chit chat and looking horny but not excessively so.

# # #

He was glad of the changes, glad he could point to Tyson’s good work and his own affection for him when Jordie inevitably reappeared several weeks later. Jordie had arrived with a boatload of Tyson’s trousseau, consisting largely of furniture and boxes and boxes of household goods, forwarded in a jumbled heap by his still steaming father. Jordie had made the trip ostensibly to oversee the expansion of his warehouse but clearly in large part to assess the marriage and their circumstances. Nate wasn’t sure what gave him that right, but he didn’t see he had much recourse as Jordie was the man in charge of his livelihood.

“Oh, well, this looks alright,’ Jordie said, looking around approvingly at the clean if sparse house and the cheerful looking Omegas.

He was the first visitor from home to the new house and Jamie and Tyson had prepared a sumptuous faspa, a Kolonie interpretation of a British tea: scones, jam, finger sandwiches, zweiback with sliced meats and cheeses and little viennoiseries both Jamie and Tyson were very proud of. The children were paraded out in their new clothes, washed and brushed to within an inch of their lives and then, cowed by Sarah and Tyson’s gimlet eyes trained on them menacingly, they greeted Jordie politely and fled for the kitchen. Nate twitched at his Sunday pants and shirt; he wished he were back in the kitchen with the children, where there were large dishes of werenaki and platters of pork chops smothered in cream gravy, not some fussy light supper. “I saved you a plate,” Tyson whispered and Nate looked at him gratefully.

“Thanks baby,” he said, and kissed him. Jordie looked at them askance but it wasn’t for him to say, Nate figured. He could kiss his husband in his own house if he liked, and he kissed him again for good measure. Tyson smiled. He’d been doing a lot of that since they married; without the shadow of Observant discipline he was growing happier and bossier by the day. Nate had no objections. He was spending his nights with his cock buried in Tyson and his days in a haze of well fed good will and if Tyson wanted to devote himself to getting the leadership of the new Kolonie in a chokehold, well, again, it was fine with Nate.

“You look well,” Jordie said. For the reserved Observant, this was lavish praise. He was clearly pleased with his match making and gazed benevolently around the room, looking approvingly at Tyson and Jamie, both. Tyson seized the moment.

“Alpha,” Tyson said, in suspiciously smooth tones. “Alpha MacKinnon told me you paid him two thousand dollars to marry me.”

“I did,” Jordie said carefully.

“And an apprenticeship?” Tyson said.

“Yes,” Jordie said.

“We’ll need that to be a share in the company instead,” Tyson said bossily. “An apprenticeship isn’t enough and two thousand dollars is just an insult.”

“For God’s sake, Barrie,” Jordie said, exasperated. “I’m not giving him a share in the company - I paid your father thirty thousand dollars for your rights and that’s enough. Your boy can flip fish like any other apprentice and like it.”

Did you?” Tyson said, sounding very pleased. “That’s more like it. In that case we’ll need a share in the company once we been married five years or had our first child, whichever comes first.”

“I am not giving him a share in the company.” Jordie said. “And what if you don’t have any children, or die before five years?”

“If I die you’re to give him a share,” Tyson said.

“If you die I’ll kick him out on his ass before you’re cold,” Jordie said, shooting Nate an unfriendly look and Tyson stomped his feet. Nate sincerely hoped this was showy Observant negotiation and Jordie didn’t really hate him. The apprenticeship, he had been dismayed to discover, was in Jordie’s dried fish business and Nate had started at the lowest level, spending his days carefully turning small smelly fish over to dry evenly; he wanted to have some hope of moving up one day.

“You give him a share,” Tyson said.

“No share if you die,” Jordie said. “I’ll consider it after the second child.”

“He gets a share if I die,” Tyson insisted, “and a share for each child.”

No share,” Jordie said. “Half share after the first child, that’s it.”

“Full share after the first, half share if I die, three quarters share if I die in childbirth,” Tyson snapped.

“Full share once the first child lives a year, half if the baby lives and you die, no share if you both die,” Jordie offered. “No baby, he’s right out on his ass,” he added with relish.

“Half share if I die,” Tyson insisted.

No,” Jordie said.

Yes,” Tyson said forcefully.

No,” Jordie said loudly.

“BUT IT WOULD BE MY DYING WISH, ALPHA,” Tyson brayed, sounding intensely alive and also something like a donkey.

“NO SHARE IF YOU DIE,” Jordie yelled back. They both paused for breath and glared at one another. Tyson gathered himself and tried another tack.

“My one wish and you would deny it,” Tyson said. “I never would have thought it of you.”

“You told me a month ago your one wish was to eat an entire roast pig,” Jordie said. “And the month before that to see a peacock, and the month before that to be allowed to taste the cow’s salt lick. You seem to have a lot of wishes.”

“I just think,” Tyson said speculatively, grandly ignoring Jordie’s remarks, staring pointedly up into nothing, “I just feel, that Mary Penner’s great grandson deserves something better.”

“Mary Penner’s great grandson’s going to be flipping half dried oolichans until I say different,” Jordie said unmoved. “Hope you like the smell of fish.”

“I like it fine,” Tyson said contrarily. “I like him fine too and you did a good job choosing and I appreciate what you did for me. Thank you Alpha.” He smiled sweetly at Nate and then back at Jordie.

“Fine,” Jordie said, defeated. “Full share for the first baby, half share if you die.”

“Hmph,” Tyson said. “Another share for each child?”

You’re an optimist,” Jordie said. “Another share for the third and another at five and ten years; no share for the second because apparently I’m going to have to help feed all nine of you for some time.” He glared at Nate as if he were responsible for all of his brothers and sisters. “And they revert back to me if both of you die without issue,” he said.

“Done,” Tyson said, evidently well satisfied. “Loosen up your signing hand because you’ll be giving us that share in a year.”

“For God’s sake, Barrie,” Jordie said. “You can’t possibly know that.”

Tyson just looked smug. “Mary Penner’s great grandson,” he said. “I got a feeling.”

“I bet you do,” Jordie said rudely. “Tyler told me they got an ear full.”

“We’ll name a girl after you,” Tyson said, ignoring Jordie and Jamie’s scandalized look. “Because you been such a friend to us.”

“Well,” Jordie said, taken aback. “Thank you.” He looked genuinely moved and Nate had no idea what meaning any of this had to the Observant, but apparently quite a lot. “I would appreciate that.” He looked at Nate somewhat more kindly and Nate forbore from pointing out Tyson had not consulted him on any of this. He supposed they could throw Jordan in there somewhere for one of them, but he was damned if it would be used as a first name.

“And you’re not to marry Georgie,” Tyson added offhand, evidently feeling this was also subject to negotiation. Jordie snorted. Georgie had taken against Jordie on first acquaintance and made a creditable effort to bite him every time they were in the same room; a courtship didn’t seem likely.

“I don’t want to marry Mary Penner’s great grand shark,” Jordie said. “Thanks so much.” Sarah, seated in the corner, muffled a laugh at that and Jordie looked over at her and winked. She smiled back, then blushed and buried her face in her teacup.

“He just gets like that sometimes,” Nate said apologetically. Georgie was snuggled up in Tyson’s lap, washed and brushed to a high gloss, each individual golden curl shiny and beautiful, pulled carefully out of his face with one braid across his crown. He didn’t look like he would bite anyone, although Nate knew from personal experience he was like a viper when crossed. The pink eye had been defeated by baths of witch hazel and three large meals a day had put needed weight on him; he looked healthy and well cared for in his little tweed suit and sturdy boots with fancy toe caps like girls wore. He looked like a fat pig and Nate felt strange seeing it and strange hearing this talk of marriage for him. He understood why Tyson had brought it up while negotiating their future prospects; in fifteen years, when Georgie was ready to marry, Jordie could potentially be one of the prospects; not closely related, wealthy, powerful, twenty five years older than Georgie. Old. Nate had the sudden realization that Jordie could be a likely prospect to marry any children he and Tyson had soon, and was repulsed at the thought. He sighed; there was nothing to be done about it now, but he’d be damned if he didn’t let Georgie make his own choice. Unconscious of these plans for him, Georgie stared at Jordie and gnashed his teeth. Jordie gnashed back and Georgie made to get up and go after him.

“You can’t fault his nerve,” Jordie said, half admiringly and Nate glared at him.

# # #

“Why’d Jordie act like we weren’t likely to have a baby anytime soon?” Nate asked Tyler later that day. Tyler blushed but answered.

“They don’t get breeding easy,” Tyler told him, leaning forward and looking pleased to know something Nate didn’t. “They hardly catch at all, so you got to keep at it and it takes years. There been two now, in Victoria who had three, but they were married to young husbands and they liked them - most have one, or some none at all.”

“Huh,” Nate said. He had not known this but now he thought on it, it was perhaps good; they already had seven children in the house and Nate’s period of apprenticeship to get through - a few years before any more came would be wise. He felt a little sorry at the thought of a baby with Tyson’s curls and merry eyes receding into the more distant future, but he knew it was for the best, especially as Tyson was so busy conquering Vancouver.

Tyson started throwing up the next day.

“Guess what?” Tyson said the following month, throwing up into the used chamberpot which was just disgusting, Nate felt, just absolutely disgusting but he didn’t dare say anything. Tyson’s mood was triumphant but unstable and the possibility of having the chamberpot heaved at him was a live one.

“What?” Nate said. “Sorry,” he added, feeling responsible for the puking.

“What are you apologizing for?” Tyson said, distracted from whatever he was going to say.

“Sorry you’re puking cause I got you caught so quick,” Nate said, and he did feel bad, though it didn’t seem to be bothering Tyson much. He was incredibly smug. Evidently this was the quickest an Omega had ever gotten pregnant in Kolonie history and Tyson felt strongly it was a sign of the Lord’s Blessing on their marriage, but also patently a result of he and Nate being very superior specimens. He complained every morning over the vomiting but then perked right back up after and spent the rest of the day bossily organizing the new house and the children and sitting on the porch with Sarah and Jamie nodding superciliously at passers by. There were a lot of passers by - everyone wanted to see the pregnant Omega founder of the Kolonie and curry favour with him. Jordie had also accepted it as a sign of the Lord’s favour; he had let Nate move up from fish turner to fish packer. Nate wasn’t sure stuffing oolichans into barrels was an improvement over carefully flipping oolichans, but it made a change, he supposed.

“I would puke ten times a day for a hundred years if I had to,” Tyson said fervently. “What I was going to say was, Midwife Auntie thinks I caught the night we married. Do you know how amazing that is?”

“That happens all the time,” Nate said, and so it did. Sarah herself had been such a baby.

“Not to Omegas,” Tyson said. On examination, it appeared Tyson was pleased about the baby not because he was excited about the baby per se - “I’m sure it’ll be very nice,” he’d said, off hand - nor did he have the faintest idea how it had gotten there or how it came out - “What,” he’d said, appalled. “Really?”, but that he was eagerly looking forward to the increased power and authority this extraordinarily quick pregnancy would bring. “They can’t cross us now, Alpha,” he’d told Nate earnestly. “We’ve got the sanction of the Lord and no one can dispute it. We can do whatever we want.” Then he’d looked a little evil and cackled. Nate left him to it. Thank God for Jamie, he often thought - his tempering influence was a godsend, but then, thank God for Tyson too, who was wiley and clever and well connected and had an unassailable sense of what was owed to him and a willingness to demand it. They all of them, Sarah, Nate, the children and all, were benefiting from it and Nate was just glad Tyson was pleased.

# # #

Months later he was, in the event, almost alarmingly pleased with the baby when Nate was allowed in the room. Tyson had been tidied, his hair pulled loosely back and he was wearing the fancy bed jacket his mother had sent, all signs of the birth bundled away, the bed linen pristine and the curtains pulled back to let the sun fall on the baby, wrapped in many layers of fine white muslin. He looked a fine lady, expensively dressed and elegantly arrayed as he leaned back against the goose down pillows covered in silk but then he looked up at Nate and grinned, and he was his old self again.

“Look at her!” Tyson said, holding the baby out to Nate proudly and wobbling her alarmingly for emphasis.

“Be careful,” Nate said, taking the baby from Tyson. “You have to support their heads,” he said to Tyson and Tyson, to his credit, looked abashed.

“Sorry Nate,” he said; he had begun to use Nate’s name as soon as the midwife had announced it was a girl, entirely pleased with himself for his triumph in producing a girl, pleased with Nate for his part, pleased with the baby for her charming little face and curls, and evidently feeling that he now had the right to take up Nate’s long standing offer of first names, for the Observant as good as a heart felt confession of love. For all their affection, Tyson had always hesitated to use the word and Nate didn’t want to cheapen it by demanding it though he longed to hear and say it. The Observant were extraordinarily reserved about such matters. “Nate,” Tyson had yelled through the door, “come and see! It’s a girl!” but Nate had been barred from entry for over an hour, left outside to talk to Tyson through the door while the Aunties cleaned Tyson and the baby up. Georgie had done his part to distract Nate by having an absolute fit in the hallway over god knows what - Nate thought wearily that three year olds must be the most trying creatures in God’s creation.

“You did so good,” Nate said soppily to Tyson, bending down, baby in one arm to kiss Tyson. Tyson, contrary to all predictions and his previous stroppy carry on when met with an unpleasant sensation, had navigated labour with nothing more than a deeply concentrated look and an insistence that Nate hold his hand and walk with him up and down the hall. Midwife Auntie had eventually compelled Tyson to withdraw into the room designated the birthing chamber leaving Nate in the hall to worry and listen to a great deal of grouchy Platt back and forth. The arguing had tapered off after a while and then there had been a few sharp cries from Tyson, followed by, oddly, a shriek from the midwife and then a long, drawn out period of waiting and finally a triumphant laugh from Tyson.

“I did,” Tyson said, pleased with himself. “Look at her.”

Nate drew the baby against himself in one arm and sat on the bed beside Tyson to examine her. She was perfect; an exact female miniature of Tyson, her features and dark curls just like his. The only thing of his he could see were her eyes, a pale blue unlike Tyson’s brown, but that, Nate knew, often changed. He could feel the tears welling up - she was so beautiful, and Tyson was in perfect health, and had done so well and been so brave. Midwife Auntie shot Nate a judgemental look - he wasn’t sure if it was for the crying or the sweet talk but Nate was by now deeply, stupidly in love with Tyson and he didn’t see why he should hide it. He slung one arm around Tyson and drew him in close. “Thank you baby,” he said, kissing Tyson gently.

“A girl,” Tyson marvelled, looking down at the baby.

“A girl,” Nate agreed, swiping at the tears. He felt such a muddle of emotions; joy, pride, excitement at the thought of his own baby, terror, for the same reason, sorrow at the thought of his parents, not there to see this first grandchild.

“Was it hard?” he asked, ignoring the tears sliding down his face. “You feel alright?”

“It was hard, Al - Nate,” Tyson said, looking up at Nate cheerily and clearly pleased with himself. “But I was brave and now she’s here, a girl.” He looked at the baby again, triumphantly. “Though it did hurt quite a bit just there at the end,” he said consideringly. “I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.”

“Yeah?” Nate said, still gazing at the baby. He shuffled the swaddling a little so he could see her tiny, perfect hands. “What did you do then?”

“I bit Midwife Auntie,” Tyson confided to Nate, hanging over his arm to admire the baby with him. Nate laughed. He was in no mood to find fault with anything Tyson did, not if it produced these results.

“She should be glad to be bit,” Nate said, taking a page from Tyson’s unreasonableness. “Anyone would be glad to be bit for such a fine baby.”

“That’s right,” Tyson said, still looking smug. “Mary Penner’s great-great-granddaughter and an Omega’s Daughter. She’ll be lucky all her life and she’s brought us luck too. A full share in the business and born the year medical schools let women in; just the thing for River of Jordan MacKinnon.”

“What?” Nate said, but he was almost resigned. He had suspected some sort of awfulness like this, and he knew Tyson had not forgotten his promise to Jordie.

“You heard me,” Tyson said, and there was a real note of finality to his voice; “Did you bring me anything to eat?”

“Well I don’t know about that name,” Nate said, but he knew he was going to give in. They had a perfect baby girl who had entrenched their future, Tyson had good as said he loved him, and a name was neither here nor there; there would be other chances to choose names, Nate was sure.

“Yes, yes but what about the food?” Tyson said, accurately sussing out Nate’s readiness to roll over. “Just a sandwich or something? Nate?”

“I love you too,” Nate said, dandling the baby, thinking of their future. He felt sure in that moment it would be a long and happy one.

# # #

And it was.

Nate sat on the stone wall that bordered the docks now, a new addition in the last ten years. He had contributed heavily to the cost of it, like every public work in the Kolonie, and he was glad to see it felt sturdy and well built as he sat and swang his feet. He was wearing his Sunday boots, fancy elastic sided things, Empire calfskin or so the Eaton’s catalogue assured them, worn for church or days like today, a holiday, and he admired them as he waited for the wedding party. He had assisted with the loading of the last of the wagons, all full of dried fish headed for the train depot, and the rest of the day was his. He liked to come down and help load and unload the boats occasionally just to keep his hand in; it seemed wise to work at, not just oversee, every part of his trade. Just a little though; he didn’t miss the days spent slinging fish full time. It was good to be well off enough to not have to - indeed, he was rich, just as Tyson had promised and he could afford to never touch a fish again, if he chose.

Jordie walked up from the docks, just arrived. He was still sailing the sloop Nate had taken to Victoria with him so long ago, and his beard was as luxuriant as ever. “Alright?” Jordie said, shaking Nate’s hand. He looked a little teary eyed already, as if he’d been getting misty in advance of the wedding. He’d never admit it but he was a sentimental sap, Nate knew, and a secret cryer at weddings, though not, of course, at Nate’s wedding. Nate recalled mostly complaints about his failure to follow Observant tradition and then a lot of yelling but even that made him feel nostalgic on such a special day.

“Alright,” Nate said, emptying his pockets and handing Jordie, in order, a handkerchief, a bill of lading, and one of the special keys they used to pry the lids off their barrels. “I’m not supposed to cry so don’t you start.”

“I’m not going to cry,” Jordie said smugly. “I’m sitting next to Segs and he’s deputized to kick me if I do.”

He paused for a moment to straighten his hat and then turned back to help Sarah who he had left down by the boat struggling with a heavy wooden crate. Nate called a halloo down to Robbie’s boy Peter, the most recent apprentice, seated on the dock mending net and waved him over to assist Jordie. There was no reason Sarah should have to help lug the box all the way down to the park grounds; what was the point of being married to a wealthy man if she still had to heave great boxes of wedding china about herself? He would have helped himself but he was waiting for Tyson. They would go to Georgie’s wedding together, as they did everything.

“Mind you’re not late!” Sarah called to Nate in lieu of thanks, which was just typical. No matter how old they grew, he would always be her younger brother and in need of bossing. Anyway, he could see the wedding guests from there, milling down at the far end of the road, Tyson at their head; there was no way he could fail to be on time. The thing couldn’t start until the MacKinnons arrived.

He sat a little longer, enjoying the early summer sun and the moment of idleness; his hat was new and he took it off to examine the bits of straw that were poking him and then took out his pocket knife to carefully cut away the pokey bits. Tyson would go mad if he saw; Nate had ruined any number of hats the same way, cutting off the excess straw and making a hole rather than weaving the ends back in. It was a trick Nate never seemed to catch hold of, somehow - he thought perhaps you had to have been born into an Observant community to know it. He considered his work with satisfaction and then put the hat back on just in time because Tyson was hurrying down the street to him, in a great rush over something.

“Have you got them?” Tyson said, drawing near.

“I got them,” Nate replied, pointing at the flowers hidden in the shade of the wall, carefully covered with a dewy rhubarb leaf to keep fresh. “Come sit for a minute.” He stood up to catch Tyson around the waist and pulled him to sit beside him as they watched the crowd of wedding guests stream into the park and find their seats. Georgie had asked for a new fangled outdoor wedding under the pavilion in the park, and Nate was glad to give it to him. It was not a traditional Omega wedding at all but a modern one and the Kolonie did not approve, officially, and yet every man of them had accepted the invitation, marvelling over the fancy pressed paper, gilt edged and hand written in expensive calligraphy by an artist back East.

Georgie’d had many fancy ideas for the wedding; he had insisted on five kinds of cake - Orange, Coconut, Fruit, Gold and Silver cake and plain white- and scalloped oysters from Fanny Bay, pear & cucumber pickles, pressed chicken and beef, and a lavish display of expensive fruit. They had brought in a crate of oranges and baskets and baskets of local grapes, great bunches of green ones glowing in the sun, and rich fat purple ones piled up high on the buffet table near the pavilion. The oranges were resting two on each plate on the table, ready to be taken and savoured as wedding favours.

Nate could remember the first time he had eaten an orange; not yet rich he had been twenty seven and on the strength of the two additional shares in the business they had received for both ten years of marriage and the birth of their third child, they had hired a girl for the laundry and spent lavishly that year on food for the New Year celebrations. They had bought a ten pound box of mandarins and Nate could remember sitting beside Tyson on New Year’s Eve, tired and happy, eating the first one. The new baby Ollie had only been a few weeks old, small enough that the midnight New Year service had been Tyson’s first public appearance since his birth and Nate had always associated the pleasure of that quiet moment, the baby asleep in his lap, the other children tucked away in their beds, Tyson warm beside him, with the taste of oranges.

It had been a good start to a good year and Nate remembered it fondly. It had been the last time they had all been at home as one group, Sarah marrying Jordie the following spring and setting off a chain reaction of sisters marrying one after another, the little boys growing into young men and Georgie almost thirteen, a year of great import for an Omega. Tyson had been particularly happy that year. Ollie was an easy baby and the big girls were old enough to be a great help with the house; the two other ones out of diapers and with the appearance of an Omega third child, all concerns regarding the MacKinnon position in the Kolonie had ended and Tyson could afford to relax, a little. He was not by nature a quiet, placid person, and Nate liked his busy, cheery loudness; but Tyson soon after a baby was a little softer, a little muted but happy, a rare season of quiet, and Nate had liked that too. It remained only for Tyson to sit and receive his visitors and accept their congratulations. He had bought a bed jacket for receiving after the baby, a particularly flattering blue, and Nate remembered coming home each afternoon to see Tyson sitting up with the baby, waiting to greet him and looking so fine in the pale sunlight on his dark hair and soft blue jacket. Omega born Omegas were sometimes frail and they had had fears for Ollie but they had proven unfounded. He had been a fat little pig indeed, an enthusiastic eater and easy grower.

Now Tyson was wearing the same blue, a daring choice of colour for the parent of a marrying Omega; he ought by rights to have been wearing black to mourn the passing of the Omega from the family but instead he had on his best, a catalogue ladies jacket, fawn woolen cloth but with a velvet collar and a silk lining that peeped out; he had torn the lining out and redone it himself in blue silk taffeta, rich and lovely to celebrate Georgie’s marriage. Nate had a very fine matching waistcoat and silk tie. He squeezed Tyson’s hand and stood up to dust his trousers off and straighten the waistcoat. All the guests were seated and Nate could see Georgie approaching and it was time to prepare. “You remember the year Ollie was little?” Nate said. He could see Ollie now, racing up and down the road, too energetic to walk calmly beside his sisters as he should.

Georgie had been twelve, almost thirteen, ready to have his hair put up and begin observing strict Integrity and Nate and Tyson had spent hours talking quietly about how to proceed. They had considered every possibility, from leaving the Community to simply following tradition but in the end it had been Georgie who had resolved the issue for them; he had simply refused to consider anything but the most traditional path. He had announced he wanted his hair up so everyone could admire it; he wanted to enter into strict Observant Integrity, like his three Omega friends in the community; he wanted to sit in the Omega pew at church with Tyson and he wanted to learn to play piano and serve tea beautifully and he had, in the end, gotten his way. It had been, Nate thought, quite a different life for Georgie than Tyson though they were only separated by twenty years and the Community did not change much over that time; no one had ever dared to raise a hand to him and surrounded by an enormous family he could still touch, the Integrity strictures were easy to adhere to. Shy and quiet by nature it was easy for him to appear meek and submissive, or at least close enough to it to occasion little remark.

Georgie had had one final, surprising request: he wanted a tutor with a college degree, not a Normal school certificate, to teach him proper English and the sciences so he could prepare to go to a secular University and become a doctor and he got it. There had been some stutters at the start, the Elders pressing back against Nate importing an English to teach an Omega, especially this one who looked set to take on Tyson’s mantle as the most beautiful and valuable of his generation, but money and a blythe disregard for popular opinion had won the day. Mercifully the Women’s and Omega Medical School had been in Toronto; any other location would have posed an insurmountable problem, but Toronto had a flourishing Observant Kolonie and had leapt at the idea of having an additional Omega, if only briefly. Nate, less enthused, had considered simply moving the whole family to Toronto with him, but had ultimately settled on sending Robbie and his young family to chaperone. Robbie had married young and his wife, Martha, was a upright, bossy woman, more than equal to assisting Georgie in navigating life in a new Kolonie and among his Reform school mates. Georgie had flourished. He had, Nate knew, occasionally snuck out from class and gone to tea houses and cafes, even bookshops on occasion. Sometimes he took a stroll around a park, unchaperoned but for a crowd of his classmates, and Nate pretended not to know.

He had lived a modern sort of life and nothing would do but that he have a modern sort of wedding and a modern sort of cake. They had used the traditional Omega white cake, the same as Nate and Tyson had had at their wedding, but it was stacked up in modern round tiers and covered in royal icing, piped in ribbons and swirls and flourishes and tiny, intricate birds. Jamie and Tyson had laboured over it for days with the willing assistance of their daughters. There had been two yelling matches and a fit of hysterics, but in the end they had achieved something remarkable.

“I remember,” Tyson said and kissed him. “I remember everything.”

“Oh do you now?” Nate said nonsensically and he stood to pull Tyson to his side. He remembered it all too, for better and for worse, and he wouldn’t change a moment of it, at least not from the time he met Tyson.

Together they stood watching Georgie as he made his way to them. Normally he wore almost exclusively men’s clothing but for the wedding he had added a high necked white lace blouse, fine and delicate, to his suit. He had his hair up in a traditional Wedding crown but he had added two white ribbons, along with the Barrie and MacKinnon hair combs that Tyson had never had a chance to wear at his wedding and they gleamed among his gold braids, gold on gold, reflecting the sun. He had chosen to forego the traditional gold bracelets, thousands of dollars of gold, a burden his soon to be husband’s family could not support and one he didn’t need, possessed of his own trade to protect him, the first Omega in Canada to graduate as a doctor.

Nate watched him with admiration as he proceeded towards them with, his medical graduate pin on his lapel. Nate could read, and write, and figure and that was enough for him, but Georgie had always been the smartest of the bunch. Nate took a couple steps, still holding Tyson’s hand and met Georgie in the street. He could feel tears threatening and thought he should have organized with Tyson to pinch him. He had promised that he wouldn’t start crying like a sap, at least not right at the beginning. Nate had made a boob of himself at Rosie’s wedding, crying loudly through the ceremony, and Georgie had made Nate promise to not do the same again. This close, Nate could see that Georgie had subtly darkened his lashes and brows with kohl, and he knew that it was easy to smudge; he had been specifically and firmly instructed not to make Georgie cry before the wedding itself, lest he appear before the congregation looking like a racoon.

“Ah, Pa,” Georgie said, looking to make sure no one could see and then pulling out a clean hankie from his pocket and pressing it into Nate’s hand. “Come on now, no crying.”

“Alright,” Nate said, “alright,” and stuffed the hankie into his pocket so he could pin the boutonniere onto Georgie’s lapel, next to his pin. It was just a couple of Nootka roses and a bit of fern; Nate had picked them himself and Tyson had helped arrange them, but they were delicate and beautiful, like Georgie. Georgie smiled and kissed him on the cheek; he had to stretch up to do it as he had never grown over five feet.

“Thank you, Pa,” Georgie said. “You going to walk the last bit with me?”

“Reckon so,” Nate said, pulling himself together, and Tyson on one side and Nate on the other, Georgie walked down the dusty path, towards his five kinds of cake and expensive oranges but more importantly, towards his soon to be husband. His boy, waiting down at the end of the walk just to the side of the pastor, red cheeked and nervous, was a good one. Reform, but Nate didn’t care about that, though Tyson worried. No one could have treated Georgie with more respectful veneration than Cale. He was a farm boy, a couple years younger than Georgie and the first of his family to go to high school nevermind medical school, unacceptable in every way except that he liked Georgie and Georgie liked him and his cheeks flared a bright red every time he looked at Georgie and he was willing to live in Vancouver and assist Georgie in starting a practice. It was to be a modern kind of marriage too. There had been no settlement, no bride price or dowry for Georgie, though the Community had given them the house they were to live in and furnished it for them. To the Community, the prospect of two doctors, one of them an Omega, was well worth overlooking Cale’s unfortunate heritage and liberal leanings. And besides, the gossips assured each other; new blood was always necessary. Look at Alpha MacKinnon with his English father; three babies by an Omega, two girls and an Omega born Omega. Yes, they said to each other with satisfaction; they expected great things from Georgie.

They reached the front of the crowd and Nate, already starting to sniffle, handed Georgie off to his fiance. Tyson pulled Nate to one side of the crowd with the rest of the family, near the buffet table. Jamie, a little more portly every year but never less than dignified, trailed by his two tall and dark haired daughters, nodded civilly at Nate and hovered next to the cake awaiting the inevitable compliments. His dignified reserve would have been more impressive if Nate hadn’t watched him slap Tyson the day before, insistent the little icing sugar birds all face in the same direction, but Nate was still glad to see him.

Cale’s parents stood next to the huge block of MacKinnons, looking a little unsure but glad enough to be there; Tyler stood near them, whispering a translation of the Platt and the Observant customs. There would be no slapping today though, and if they were lucky, no punching. Cale had been carefully instructed to make only a token effort at the two orders

Nate settled in as the ceremony began and groped in his pocket for his handkerchief. He was definitely going to start crying. The listing of the names always moved him, so many gone before and so many missed, though he was glad to be here with those who remained, still alive and beside Tyson. It was good to be here, today, holding Tyson’s hand and watching Georgie marry a poor man he loved. They could have ended up in a million different places, Nate supposed, lived a hundred different lives but he was glad to be in this one with Tyson. He felt a great sense of satisfaction as he sat and waited for the words to start.

The pastor lifted his hand, signalling the beginning of the service and the crowd fell silent.

“George Graham MacKinnon,” Pastor Wiebe said, embarking on the first part of the ceremony, the Roll of Fruchtarnt, the formal listing of the Observant antecedents of the parties for the last three generations. “Child of Alpha and Omega MacKinnon, Omega son of Katherine MacKinnon and English, grandson of Anna Penner and English, Mary Penner’s great grandson…” and Nate started to blub.