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in a life is another life

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The scent of pup and nest reached her before Eliot had even opened the door. Something low down inside her clenched, and Julia felt her cock tighten. An unbidden image appeared of herself biting the back of an omega’s neck and pumping them full of pups –

Which was not exactly likely, given that she was a beta and dating an alpha. She swallowed hard, hoping she didn’t seem too flustered as Eliot kissed her cheek in greeting. She’d thought he’d be covered in pup-barf and have dark rings under his eyes, but her impression was of smooth fabrics and elegant fingers.

“It’s good to see you,” he said. “Quentin’s been missing you.” As he took her coat, he added, “We haven’t let anyone else into the nest yet.”

Julia could feel her pulse in her temples. What if she was horrible with the pup? What if she dropped it? “I thought you would’ve asked Margo.”

“She’s coming in a few days. We’ve been calling each other, but...” He paused. “She’s not too sure about pups.”

Julia bit her lip. That decided it: she was going to be great at this. Engaged and supportive. She wasn’t sure why she needed to prove she was the better friend, but it felt very important.

Eliot brought her to the entrance to the nest. He and Quentin had sold Quentin’s father’s house and replaced it with a traditional style house, centred around a denning room. Before the pup, the nest had been a quiet space, full of soft furnishings, a faint smell of omega suffusing the air. Julia had often found Quentin in there when parties had got too loud for him. Now the door was screened with a curtain, so they could open it without letting in any unexpected light.

“You go ahead,” Eliot said, his hand on the small of her back. “He’s waiting for you. I’ll go make coffee.”

Feeling a little like she was being tested, Julia slid through the door. The scent of pup and omega here was stronger than she’d ever experienced: a complicated, intimate smell that made her mouth dry and her cock twitch. She imagined a scent like this would be overwhelming for an alpha, so maybe that was part of why Margo hadn’t come yet. Even Julia found it strong enough to make it hard to focus on anything else.

Quentin was lying on a pile of cushions underneath the skylight. The pup was on his chest: after a moment, Julia realised he was nursing. His shirt was open, revealing small, rosy breasts, one of them obscured by the pup’s head.

“Hey,” he said, levering up onto his elbow. He gave her one of the smiles that crinkled up his whole face: she’d known for years that a smile like that meant he was really happy.

“You look...” Julia didn’t know how to finish the sentence. He looked tired, his hair tangled, his clothes rumpled, and he looked fucking radiant, like one of those awful Renaissance paintings of omega-and-baby that were presented as the ideal of parenthood.

Julia hadn’t thought anyone actually looked like that.

“...Happy,” she said, at last.

And he did. But – it wasn’t like the room wasn’t some kind of pre-modern den: the circular space was comfortably furnished with a bed, changing tables, sink, and decorated with soft hanging and padded cushions in russets and golds. Someone – presumably Eliot – had gone to some trouble with the lighting, so the sockets were recessed into the walls, and spread a soft glow. But – she felt like she’d stepped back in time, to a world where omegas lived in nests while big brave alphas hunted mammoths for them.

“I think they’re nearly done,” Quentin said. “Then you can hold them.” He stroked the pup’s back, his hand covering them almost completely. “Though, honestly, they’d happily nurse all day.”

Julia sat down carefully next to him. The pup nuzzled further into Quentin’s chest, like they’d never come up for air. The breast they weren’t sucking looked raw and painful, the tip very red. Quentin wasn’t one of those omegas who’d had breasts before he got pregnant, and Julia had a completely inappropriate desire to touch them. It was kind of like Quentin’s bump had been when he was pregnant – new and strangely compelling.

“It’s OK,” Quentin said. “Nursing is kind of weird. You can look.”

Julia felt herself flush. She wrapped her arms around her knees, ducking her head. “I like your boobs.”

Quentin laughed: a surprised, warm chuckle. “So does Eliot,” he said. “They’re kind of tender, and they get in the way. How do you deal with having them all the time?”

“You get used to it,” Julia said, with a shrug. “Besides, maybe it’s different when they’re just decorative.”

The pup made a snuffling, snoring sound, and Quentin touched their cheek, gently easing his nipple from between their lips. They sighed. “OK,” he said, “There’s probably about ten minutes before they realise they’re not getting milk and get mad.”

He sat up, and deposited the pup into Julia’s arms. She felt completely unprepared: the smallness of the pup, and yet their warmth and density. She’d never been more afraid in her life that she was going to drop and break something.

Quentin put his hand on Julia’s back. “Don’t worry, you’ve got it. Here.” He helped her to organise the pup in her arms, the head settling into the crook of her elbow, the little body leaning into her chest.

Julia looked down at the pup, and felt a rush of – protectiveness, maybe. Like her body had already decided that this strange, dense bundle was precious, and she’d do anything to keep it safe. In the warm light, she could make out their little face. It was so delicate it seemed like an image scratched on sand, and yet whole and complete.

“Wow...” Automatically, her body was moving, rocking the pup a little. “Q, they’re perfect. How did you do this?”

“I know,” Quentin said, with a smug and happy sigh. As he buttoned his shirt, Julia caught another glimpse of the hollows between his breasts, the line of his throat. He looked beautiful she thought: like all those gawky, awkward years had been preparation for this moment of parenthood, when he, too, was perfect.

Heat rose in Julia’s throat, and she swallowed hard. She wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t that far gone.

“Do you know the gender yet?” Julia asked, touching the baby’s cheek.

“It’s way too early to know,” Quentin said. And it was – it could be months or years before it became obvious whether the pup was an omega, beta, or alpha, let alone whether they were male, female or something else. “But their nest-name is Teddy.”

“Teddy,” Julia repeated. “I wish your dad was here, Q.”

“Me too.” Quentin touched her hand. “It’s nice that you remember him too.”

Ted was the best adult Julia had known in her whole childhood. She wasn’t going to forget that. She touched a tiny hand with the tip of her finger. “I could look at them all day.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I do.”

Eliot reappeared, bringing a scent of coffee with him. Quentin looked up with such pure adoration on his face that Julia had to look away. She didn’t think she’d ever look at anyone like that, but maybe it was an omega thing. Eliot set down a French press, cups, and a plate of pastries.

“That smells amazing,” Julia said. Inhaling hard: grateful for something to cut through the nest-room scent, which was still making her emotional.

“I got the Danishes at the bakery down the block,” Eliot said. “They’re really good. But no coffee for you while you’re holding Teddy: you could spill it on them.”

“I’m happy to wait.” She was too. There was something so honey-sweet about this moment, holding Teddy so close, that she felt she’d be happy forever.

But just as Eliot was pouring coffee, Teddy began to cry: a strange, mewling sound, unlike the cries of an older baby. Quentin moved to take them, but Eliot said, “Have something to eat,” and stood up with Teddy, rocking them against his chest.

Quentin watched Eliot with an oddly predatory expression on his face, before he snagged a pastry from the table.

“Pass me a coffee?” he asked, with his mouth full.

Time seemed to move strangely in the nest: Julia thought she’d only been there for ten minutes, and then she looked up at the skylight and realised the sky was darkening. There was something about the quiet room that was completely separate from the rest of the world. That was how a denning room was supposed to be: a place where the pup and omega felt contained and safe, and the omega could concentrate on caring for their pup without encountering anything to stress them out. Some omegas didn’t use a denning room at all, or though the whole thing was demeaning, but others said it was the most comfortable way to take care of a pup.

“I thought I’d get stir-crazy,” Quentin said. “But I don’t, really. I got out for walks in the mornings, but I’m always thinking about my pup.” He shrugged. “The hormones will subside over time. I think we’ll have a ninety-days party.”

“I want to,” Eliot said. “But we don’t have to if it’ll stress you out. We can go to the zoo or something.”

Traditionally, a ninety-days party was the first time a pup left the nest, though people now admitted that was kind of intense, and the pup had usually had many outings before that time. The party still symbolised the omega entering the world once again, and celebrated the pup.

“It’s kind of old-fashioned,” Julia said. “But you two are pretty traditional.”

Eliot made a faint, choking sound. Then glanced at Quentin, and nodded. “I know. I spent so many years thinking I needed to rebel and it turns out I’m very happy taking care of an omega and pup.”

“You’re about as different from your parents as someone could be,” Quentin said, gently. “I think that’s pretty rebellious, El.”

“You’re sweet.” Eliot touched his cheek. Quentin was holding Teddy again: in the crook of his arm, they began to mewl. Quentin opened his shirt, and the baby, with surprising strength, rooted out his breast. They made a loud smacking sound of appreciation.

“I should probably go,” Julia said. Although leaving felt surprisingly difficult: she could stay here forever in the quiet of the denning room, admiring Teddy and Q.

“It was great to see you,” Eliot said, with a note of relief in his voice. Julia could understand that: he’d tolerated her in the nest with his pup and omega for a long time. He probably wouldn’t have acknowledged that consciously, but his hindbrain was definitely telling him to remove the intruder.

Quentin juggled the pup carefully so he could lean towards her. Julia reached out to hug him, smelling his milky warmth. Teddy was pressed between them: they wriggled. Julia stroked their chubby arm and kissed Quentin’s cheek, and he smiled, surprised and pleased.

“Come back soon, Jules. I miss you,” he said.

She agreed, and realised that all her earlier trepidation was gone. She wanted to come back. She wanted to hold Teddy, sing to them, to talk with Quentin.

Eliot helped her to her feet. “He wasn’t kidding: you have to come back soon. You’re one of three people who doesn’t make him anxious.”

“Three seems generous,” Julia said, smiling, but she knew it wasn’t entirely true. Quentin wasn’t anxious the way he had once been: he was calmer, and confident that Eliot would deal with anyone who really did freak him out.

She kissed Eliot’s cheek too, not to show favouritism, and he seemed to take the gesture as his due. He patted the back of her head with one of his big hands, and said, “You look good, Julia,” before ushering her outside.

The air was cool, breezy. Fallen leaves scurried at her feet: she inhaled deeply, letting go of the clinging smell of Quentin’s nest, and replacing it with the city odours. For a moment she was light-headed, almost giddy: she wanted to run down the street like she was a kid, fleet-footed and unencumbered. She could do anything – she was Julia, and she needed only her own company.

Then she remembered that she was due to meet Kady when she finished up at the office, and after they’d eaten, there was that committee meeting with Hedges. She walked soberly to the bus stop.

**

“How was it?” Kady said. She never kissed Julia hello, but she gave her a small smile, and a raise of her eyebrows, as though that was as far as she was willing to go in admitting that yes, she was glad to see her.

It was warm in the lobby: the building airy, modern, and appearing completely divorced from its magical function. Julia tugged at the hair trapped under her scarf. “A lot,” she said. “But good. Quentin seemed happy.”

As they walked out back outside, she leant into Kady, linking their arms. “For a minute there I wanted to pump an omega full of pups.”

Kady’s nose wrinkled. “Do you have to use the verb ‘pump’?”

“It seemed appropriate.”

Kady snorted. She looked sidelong at Julia. “Do you really think you have it in you?”

“To knock up an omega? Because I’m a fragile little beta?”

“No, because you’re selfish and independent, and if you had a pup you couldn’t stay up all night doing magic, and...” Kady tightened her grip on Julia’s arm, “Getting fucked by your scary Alpha.”

“You’re not scary,” Julia said, smiling.

Kady fixed her with the force of her gaze. It was a familiar stare, and yet every time, Julia paid attention. Kady was powerful, dangerous, and Julia’s cock tightened, her vulva grew wet: she felt small and yet powerful in her own way. Kady looked at her like that, Kady wanted her, and that made her more important than anyone else in the world. It was a good feeling.

“I take it back,” Julia said. “Jesus. Do we really have to go to the meeting? Now I need you to fuck me.”

Kady laughed. “You don’t have the attention span for a pup, either. Be grateful I’m here to make you see things clearly. Where do you want to get dinner?”

Julia shrugged. “You pick.”

The sky was dark, and all the street lights were shining. Julia felt the same pleasure as when she was alone in the city for the first time: magic was behind every door. And she was going to fuck a beautiful woman.