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“How did you hear about this place being available?” Dean asked.

The four alphas entered the elevator at Packhouse Plaza and Tharn pushed the button for the top floor. He leaned back against the wall of the elevator. A drummer to the core, his fingers thrumming out an unconscious rhythm as they talked.

“A friend of my brother, P’Thorn, is selling it,” Tharn replied. The elevator opened into an expansive, sunny hallway with a single large, wooden door.

“Is it the only one on this floor?” Win asked, looking around.

“Yeah,” Dean replied. “Each floor is a single packhouse. That’s why it’s such a prized place.”

“Lucky us,” Win said as Tharn unlocked the door and went inside.

It opened into a large great room, living, dining and kitchen combined, two large skylights letting in natural light. The pale blue walls exuded calm and the wood and glass of the mid-century modern design gave the large space warmth and style.

“Wow,” said Win as he sauntered into the room with his arm draped around Pruk. His eyes were drawn to the high, bright ceiling. “This is massive.”

The Pack Leader stood in the center of the room, taking in the space and assessing their needs in that quiet way of his. The others let him be; they were well used to how Dean processed information and spread out to check the other rooms.

Win and Pruk explored together, Win coddling their baby Alpha. Though the same age as the others, Pruk’s quiet reserved nature meant he struggled to reach out for affection, so they made sure he always felt cared for.

In contrast, Tharn, the newest Alpha was outgoing and gregarious, settling into the pack as though he’d always been there.

When their individual tours were completed, they reconvened on the sofa.

“What do you think?” Tharn asked Dean, the last to join.

“I like it,” Dean said quietly. “I think it will serve our needs well.” He gave his friend a grin and was given one of Tharn’s bright, sunny smiles in return. “Well done, my friend.”

Tharn basked in the praise.

Dean looked at Win and Pruk. “What do you two think?”

“I like it,” Win said. “Bedrooms are great, the 4 corner ones are all suites for the alphas. The other 4 bedrooms are well arranged with shared bathrooms in between and will do nicely for guests or for our omegas while they adjust to the pack. It’s good.”

“I agree,” Pruk said with a smile. “Lots of room, well maintained, updated, perfect for us. Nice balcony space too.”

Dean nodded. “We’re in agreement then. Do you want your family lawyer to handle this or mine?” He asked Tharn.

“Either works, but having yours do it makes the pack money transfer simpler,” Tharn replied.

Dean nodded. “Make the call. Let them know we want it and our lawyer will be in touch.”

Standing, he walked over to one of the suites by the front door. He wanted to be away from the balcony, he knew how noisy that could be and he valued his quiet time. He turned back to his friends as Tharn hung up the phone. “Done?” he asked and smiled when Tharn nodded. “Excellent.” “This is my room,” he said and disappeared into it to consider the furniture he would need. He spent a few minutes assessing before the familiar melancholy settled into his chest. He’d hoped to find his omega by now, searched every new face carefully and bit back sighs when they failed to stir his heart. Perhaps this year would be the year.

“Dean?” Win said, entering the room and pulling Dean out of his thoughts. Win was Dean’s close friend and his second in all things; in charge anytime Dean was unavailable.

“Yeah?” .

“You ok?”

Dean nodded. “Yeah, I’m alright. Just thinking. It’ll be good to have a place to be that’s not home.”

“I agree,” Win said, draping himself over Dean’s back and resting his head on the Alpha’s shoulder. “I’m looking forward to having something my brothers can’t take away.”

Dean patted Win’s hand where it rested on his chest. “You have better brothers now.”

Win’s eyes closed and he nodded. They stood there like that for a long moment before Win spoke. “Maybe this will be the year.”

“I hope so,” Dean said quietly. “C’mon, let’s rejoin the others.

“Did you choose rooms?” Dean asked as they wandered back in. They pointed out their chosen quarters, Tharn by the door like Dean, Win opposite Dean and Pruk opposite Tharn.

“I’m glad we found a place before term started,” Pruk said as he sat cuddled with Tharn. “Near school. That’ll be nice for late nights practicing.”

“Agreed,” Dean said, giving a nod of approval to Tharn for looking out for Pruk. “Close to P’Jeed’s bar too.”

“That’ll be nice after gigs,” Tharn said with a smile. “I can get in some practice while you guys are swimming.”

“I’m just glad to not be a fresher anymore,” Win said with a grin. “Sophomore is much better.”

Walking over, Win dropped into the two alpha’s laps and draped an arm over each shoulder, grinning at the collective ‘omps’ that they made when he fell on them.

Laughing, Dean offered a hand to Win. “C’mon you goof,” and pulled him to his feet. Then Dean offered a hand to Tharn while a grinning Win pulled Pruk up next to him.

“You’re just looking forward to picking on the freshers on the team,” Pruk said, nudging Win’s shoulder.

Win threw his arm over Pruk’s shoulders, laughing, as they made their way to the door. “I’ll let you help.”

“Let’s go celebrate,” Tharn said as they entered the elevator. “We have a pack house.”

oOo

Dean and Win made their way into the grocery store to get supplies for the beach trip. Dean was there physically but his mind was on yesterday’s tryouts and more importantly, the eyes that locked onto his for a moment. For ten long years he’d looked and waited for a mystery face, one he’d dreamed about and hoped he’d find. He’d found him. As he contemplated how to best approach his future partner, he felt a bump and turned to his companion’s exasperated face.

“Dean,” Win said, “did we forget to buy anything?”

Dean shook his head to clear it and tried to focus on his friend and their task. “We already bought a first aid kit.”

“What about,” Win started as he pulled up and leaned over to look at the bottles on the shelf.

“Definitely, no alcohol.” Dean’s tone was firm.

“Just a few?” Win asked, “Don't be too strict.”

Dean sighed, rubbing his temple against the threatening headache. “Who will be responsible if someone gets drunk and drowns? Just go buy soft drinks and water.”

“Fine. The water is over there.” Win pushed the cart and Dean followed. He caught a movement and a soft voice in his peripheral vision as they walked. Win began to load the drinks and the moment niggled in his mind. He turned and went back to the previous row. There was a small man reaching high above his head for something out of reach. A strange sense of deja vu hit him. There was something familiar about him. A scent that was faint, drawing him closer. Stepping forward, Dean easily pulled the bag into the waiting hands.

“Thank you,” the young man said as he turned.

Dean’s breath caught as their eyes met and widened. For a long moment, they just stared at each other. Finally, Dean took a deep breath and smiled, hoping his nervousness wasn’t too obvious. “Hello.”

For a moment, Pharm just looked at him. Finally, he smiled shyly. “Hi, P’Dean.”

A sense of relief flooded Dean and his smile grew. “What’s your name?”

“Pharm.” The young man ducked his head slightly and his eyes slid shut for a moment before returning Dean’s gaze

Dean began to sense that Pharm was very shy but the brightness of his smile filled him with warmth. In that moment, the years he’d spent looking for Pharm melted away. Before they could speak again, a shrill voice broke the mood.

“Dean! Where the hell are you? I can't carry all these by myself.”

Dean looked over at Win, his irritation clear on his face. When he looked back, Pharm was turning the corner at the end of the aisle.

oOo

The first time Pharm and Type met did not go well for anyone.

Alex was all over Pharm. “It’s going to be so good, you and me,” he was whispering among all the other awful things that Pharm was only half listening to. Heart pounding in his chest, feeling like he was frozen in place beneath the alpha, Pharm just wanted Alex to go away. Everything was so hard with Alex.

“P’Alex, I can’t bond with you.” Pharm had tried telling the Alpha calmly that he wasn’t interested in bonding, that he had someone else, that even if he didn’t, he would never want Alex.

The alpha barreled right over all of his protests, swatting them away like flies. “You can. You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you.”

Pharm did not want to cause a scene. He was not sure he was even capable of causing a scene. Drawing attention to himself was painful and the omega avoided that at all costs but Alex did not seem to understand that Pharm was serious when he said no in a reasonable tone. Pharm was contemplating actually raising his voice when Alex was ripped away from him.

“What the fuck are you doing, you oily asshole!”

Pharm skittered away automatically, wanting nothing to do with an alpha fight. The newcomer had Alex in a tight grip on the front of his shirt.

“Get off me Type, this isn’t your business.” Alex was trying to pull away but was being pushed off balance and could not get any leverage.

“The fuck it’s not! You think I don’t know this kid is already spoken for?”

Was his name Type? Was that what Alex had called him? The guy was still pushing, expanding the distance between them and Pharm. With every step they took away, Pharm found it easier to breathe.

“They’re not bonded yet,” Alex growled.

Type got right up in Alex’s face and that is when Pharm realized that the one defending him wasn’t another alpha at all. He was omegan. While every bit as tall as Alex, Type had the distinctive narrow shoulders and softer curves of his secondary gender.

His curves were the only thing soft about him. While Alex may have been broader, Type matched the alpha pound for pound in muscle and sheer raw fury. It was no wonder Pharm had first mistaken him for another alpha.

“You steaming pile of horse-shit,” Type spit. “You think because you’re some big bad alpha that you can take whatever you want? Is that it? You think omega’s are weak, asshole? Think we can’t defend ourselves. I bet you think you can take me. Want to try? Fuck, let’s do it. Right here. Right now.”

Alex’s eyes widened in panic at the suggestion and Pharm could not blame him. Type was loud, foul-mouthed and positively crazy.

“Now, Type calm down,” Alex said, backing away.

“Fucker! Don’t tell me what to do!” Type bellowed and lunged at him. Alex was halfway across the room and still running before Pharm could blink.

Pharm had time for one deep breath of relief before all that wild anger was turned on him.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you.” Type was storming back, his finger pointed right at Pharm. “It’s omegas like you that give us a bad name.”

Pharms shoulders tensed when Type slammed a fist into the table in front of him. He wasn’t as knotted up as he had been with Alex but Pharm still was not happy about being yelled at.

“It’s your responsibility to defend yourself. You can’t just sit there and expect someone else to come riding to your rescue. That’s not okay.”

Unlike with Alex, Pharm was no longer frozen in place. Speaking out was hard, and Pharm was definitely not used to being yelled at, but here with just the two of them, Pharm was able to pull himself together enough to protest. He had opened his mouth to do just that when Dean stormed in.

“Type, what are you doing?” Dean was moving fast, Win and Team right behind him. He had not raised his voice, but then Dean never did. The threat in his question was still perfectly obvious to Pharm. Type seemed to miss it all together.

“Telling your boyfriend off for being a pansy,” Type snapped at the incoming alpha.

Dean took up position between Pharm and Type, an arm around Pharm’s shoulders. Team took up position behind Pharm with Win right beside him. It was a wall of protection that Pharm was grateful for.

“Get out.” Dean said quietly and this time Type got it.

Pharm was not sure how to explain what happened to Type as the realization that he had screwed up flickered across his face. He looked alone and small standing there across from Pharm’s friends. Then his hands clenched and he squared his shoulders and the impression was gone. “Whatever,” he tossed over his shoulder as he stormed out, almost running over Manaow as she was rushing in.

Then everyone was looking at Pharm. Dean shifted down until his head was lower than Pharms, taking his hands. “Are you alright?”

Manaow did not give him time to answer, she was practically crawling over the table to get to him. “What happened? Someone said they saw Alex in here harassing you but that looked like Type? Were you and Type fighting?”

Pharm did not know how to begin to explain what had happened and certainly not while everyone was staring at him. Instead of answering he tried to direct the conversation away from himself. “Who is he?”

“Type?” Dean asked. “That is Tharn’s new boyfriend.”

Pharm could not help his groan as he buried his face in his hands. Tharn was the only alpha in Dean’s pack who was not a member of the swimming club. Pharm had been introduced but as he spent his extra time at the cooking club and Tharn was a musician the two of them kept missing each other, spending very little time together.

Dean’s pack was comprised of Win, his best friend, and Pruk, both third year alpha’s like Dean. Both of them were part of the group that ran the swim team. Tharn was a bit of the odd man out as he was not a swimmer like the other three, but from what Pharm could tell it never bothered the musician. Tharn was good humored, fun to be around and always smiling. Trying to figure out how he fit with the aggressive omega he had just met made Pharm’s head hurt.

It was small as packs went but Team and Manaow, both unbound omega freshers like Pharm, had been adopted in when Dean and Pharm had started officially dating.

Pharm had been so excited that not only had he found an alpha that had been able to understand Pharm’s crippling shyness but that he was the leader of a pack that was full of people that Pharm got along with. Pharm could not help thinking that having Type in the pack would take a lot away from what had been a safe place for him.

Then he had a strange thought. Type had not sworn at him, not once. The curses he had thrown at Alex had been varied and provoking, and while Type’s volume had not dropped one decibel the curse words had completely stopped. He had called Alex a steaming pile of horse shit and had called Pharm a pansy. It wasn’t that Pharm was happy with the insult but the difference between the two was striking.

Was that intentional? Did it mean something? Pharm’s head hurt. He did not know how to explain this to anyone else and he did not want to think about it any more.

“Hey, look at me.” Dean gently pulled Pharm’s face out from behind his hands. “Are you alright?”

Pharm nodded.

“Pharm, I need to hear it,” Dean softly encouraged. Helping Pharm vocalize his feelings was something the two of them were working on.

“I’m okay, P’Dean.” At least for now.

oOo

The start of term swimming club award ceremony was a big deal. The only school event that competed with it for notoriety was the football initiations as the gags and creative pranks that came out of that were legendary.

The swim club awards happened a couple months after try-outs. It was a prestigious and formal event. All the incoming and returning swimmers were evaluated on their speed and endurance for the four different competitive strokes: Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly.

At the awards relay teams were announced as well as which stroke each swimmer would specialize in for the year. Two swimmers would be given special recognition. There was a “Most Improved” award based on individual performance, as well as a “Best Incoming Fresher” for the newbies.

Everyone who followed the swim club even casually knew that the “Best Incoming Fresher” award was going to Team.

The sophisticated reputation of the swim club was in direct contrast to their greatest rivals the rough and tumble footballers. Hazing was not something that happened in the swim club. Someone had forgotten to tell that to Mew.

Team hid in a small bathroom just off the main auditorium where the awards were being held. It was ten minutes before everything was scheduled to start. He did not have time to go home. There was no way he was going out there.

Mew, Team's roommate, had cornered Team hours before with a wild story about how all the freshers were supposed to dress up like girls for the event. Team had known Mew long enough not to believe him at first. Surely something this drastic would have been announced at practice earlier. He could not imagine Dean agreeing to such a thing. But as his friend and several of the other freshers started changing into dresses and doing their hair and make-up, Team had finally accepted that this was happening and allowed them to squeeze him into a sparkly blue dress with thin shoulder straps and heels.

The other boys abandoned him soon after. He’d lost track of time practicing in the heels and had been running late. He snuck in the back door hoping to join the others without drawing any attention. That had been the only thing to save him. Coming through a side door he had caught sight of the others before any of them saw him. All of them were in formal suits and ties, not a dress or even a smear of makeup to be seen.

His reprieve would be short lived. Team did not have time to go home and change. He had scrubbed off the make-up and pulled the stupid flowers out of his hair. There was nothing he could do about the dress or the heels. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.

The bang of the bathroom door as it knocked over the trash can he had wedged in front of it had Team tearing himself off the ceiling.

“What the…” Type’s loud protest died as he caught sight of Team. The swimmer quickly wiped the tears off his face. “They got you, didn’t they?”

As the most valuable fresher on the football team it was not a surprise that Type recognized hazing. Team nodded miserably. It was all over now. Type would laugh and go get everyone to stare at him and tell him how dumb he was and how he had ruined the whole thing and Dean would kick him off the team and …

“What the hell are you waiting for!” Type demanded instead of laughing. He was already pulling off his suit jacket.

“What are you doing?”

“Strip already. What, do you need an engraved invitation? The shoes might be a little tight but I wear a wide so it should be fine. Good thing I look good in blue.”

Team watched in stunned disbelief as Type continued to disrobe.

“Don’t bother with the nylons. Those fuckers take forever to put on and no one will notice them in the suit. The world will just have to deal with my hairy legs.”

Team finally got his act together and started trying to reach for the zipper. He turned around twice before Type pulled him over and helped him get the dress off. In a few minutes it was done. Type’s suit fit Team like it was made for him. The quality of the material was much higher than anything Team had ever worn previously. He looked sharp and put together and like a proud member of the swim club.

Type looked ridiculously good in a dress. He moved in the heels like he was born in them. The hairs on his legs were not thick enough to be noticed. He stood tall and proud in the bathroom, like he dared the world to laugh. He held the door for Team. “You go first. I’ll sneak in later. Maybe no one will notice.”

Both of them knew that the chances of that were slim. Team walked right into Type, throwing his arms around him. “Thank you.”

“Hey, none of that.” Type pulled back and slapped him hard on the shoulder. Team forced himself not to flinch. He had been to enough football games to know that’s how the players showed affection. “Go out there and knock ‘em dead.”

Team nodded and strode out into the world, happy and confident. He almost laughed when the eager look on the other freshers faces fell when they saw what he was wearing. Dean gave him a bit of a side eye as he slipped into his seat but nothing was said about his late arrival. It was going to be a great night.

oOo

Dean was at the podium making announcements when he heard the rumble of the audience. He looked up and watched in stunned disbelief at Type as the footballer made his way down the aisle and dropped into the seat near the front that Dean had saved for his packmate and his new boyfriend. Tharn gave Dean a worried look before leaning over and whispering urgently into Type’s ear. The omega just shrugged and settled back in his chair.

Dean was angry. How dare he. How dare Type show his disrespect for the swim team by coming in a dress and heels. That he looked good was beside the point. That this was probably some sort of hazing event orchestrated by the football team was irrelevant. Type should have said no.

As the President of the Swim Club, Dean worked hard to maintain a high brow, sophisticated atmosphere around his team. They were not the footballers, whose loud crazy antics led to repeated discipline actions by the school and behavior problems.

It was the work of years to develop the self control he drew on to continue with the program. He would not allow Type’s immature actions to impact the joy of the evening for his team. Especially for Team.

The young omega had worked so hard. Win had taken a special interest in Team from the beginning. Under the alpha’s attentions and despite his challenges Team had been diligent in his attendance, focused in his practice and impressive in his performance. That he was also Pharms best friend just added to Dean's natural protective instincts. He was determined that nothing was going to ruin the evening for the omega he hoped one day would join his pack.

As the evening wore on Dean could not help his eyes wandering back to Type and every time he did he got more upset. By the time the evening was over he was furious. Team had received his award with a happy smile and a fetching blush. Dean noticed in a vague way that the other swimmers in his class did not seem as enthusiastic in their cheers as he thought appropriate and made a mental note to discuss the importance of supporting each other at practice. He also watched with some confusion as Team tossed a particularly wide smile in what appeared to be the direction of Type.

Tharn’s boyfriend had gotten on his feet to cheer with everyone else but Dean was obviously mistaken if he thought the omega had cheered extra hard. Type had shown his disrespect for this whole process by coming in that ridiculous outfit.

Dean had a hushed conversation with Win and Pruk as the evening wound down. The two alpha’s were quick to hustle Team, Pharm and Manaow behind stage for their own private congratulations while he went to handle the ugly confrontation.

Tharn was trying to urge Type out of the building quickly but Dean intercepted them. “Tharn, I would like to speak alone to Type.”

Type stood there, head high, shoulders squared. His defiance only solidified Dean’s resolve.

“I’m not leaving,” Tharn stated.

It was not a surprise, but Dean had hoped to spare his friend this. The only thing he could do now was make it quick.

“Type, your behavior is unacceptable. Your hostile treatment of Pharm, your obnoxious behavior as part of the football team and finally the disdain you have expressed toward the swim team tonight has left me no choice. Tharn is my friend and will always be welcome, but my job as the leader of my pack is to provide a safe environment for all it’s members. You need to be aware that if you choose to continue your relationship with him that you will never be welcome, either in our home or as a pack-member.”

Through the speech Dean had watched Type closely. By the end of it the proud footballer had fallen away completely. Type squeezed his eyes shut, as though he could hide away from what was happening. He was visibly shaken.

Next to him Tharn’s mouth was open in unspoken protest. Dean could read the devastation on the Alpha’s face. With this declaration Dean had put his friend in an awful position. He could either give up the pack that had been support and family to him for the last two years or give up the omega he had chosen for his own. Dean hoped Tharn would choose them but knew the decision could very easily go the other way. “I’m sorry,” he told Tharn and then bowed out.

oOo

Type felt the arms of his alpha go around him. The comfort he felt in Tharn’s arms always shook him to his core. He felt disconnected from himself, as though he were drifting away. It had been a long time since he hurt as intensely as he did now.

He laid his head on Tharn’s shoulder. One of them was shaking. Or maybe both of them were.

It was so unfair. He loved Tharn so much. How could things have fallen apart so quickly? Should he have protested? Would have it made a difference? Probably not.

Type had seen it in Dean’s eyes. The alpha had made up his mind before he ever opened his mouth. He had not come for a discussion but to deliver the ultimatum. It wasn’t even a surprise, not really. Type knew he did not fit. He was a rough and tumble boy. He was loud and full of energy and both of his parents had always encouraged that. His friends had always been the same, communicating in rough explosions of energy and emotion. He spent way too much time with alphas, trying to match them in muscle mass and endurance and succeeding for the most part.

Tharn and the pack he belonged to were completely different. They all were refined in a way Type never would be. Maybe tonight had been a misunderstanding, but the truth was things would never have worked out between him and Tharn. He had allowed himself to live in a fantasy world, but the wake up call had come and it was time to move on.

Type’s heart felt like it was breaking in his chest. “I’m sorry.”

“Why did you do this?” Tharn said, still struggling with how they got there.

“It doesn’t matter.” Type felt like he was burning from the inside out as he gently pulled away. “It was always going to end this way.”

“Type,” Tharn tried to pull him back into his arms but Type stepped further away.

“You should find yourself someone better.” Type felt like he was going to be sick. “Someone like Team. An omega who would be good for you.”

“No,” Tharn said, chasing after him. “I don’t want anyone else.”

Type let the alpha catch him one last time. He put his hand on that beloved face once more and let the moment stretch out into an eternity as though it never had to end. “You will,” he finally said and then ran, the sound of his name echoing in his ears. Type was a footballer. Running was something he was good at. Even the heels couldn’t slow him down. No one ever caught him if he did not want to be caught.

oOo

Dean watched from the stage as Type took off, Tharn racing after him. The pack leader had to admit quietly to himself that he was surprised. He had expected Type to demand Tharn leave his pack and stay with him. That he was willing to let Tharn go spoke well of him. Dean just wished it was enough to undo everything else.

He was sad and a bit depressed as he entered the room where the others were still celebrating Team’s success. “Dean! You’re here! Did you see my award?” Team showed off the “Best Incoming Fresher” medal hanging around his neck.

Dean forced a smile. It did not fool anyone.

“Are you alright?” Pharm asked, coming up to him. The tender embrace of the omega he loved helped to ease his smile into something more real.

“Where’s Type?” Team’s unexpected question had everyone staring at him.

Manaow was the first to brave a response. “He wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion.”

“Of course he wasn’t,” Team said with a shrug as though Type’s wardrobe choices had been completely expected. He looked back at Dean. “Where is he?”

Dean had thought the hard conversation was over. Had Team and Type become close somehow and he had missed it? It changed nothing. “Team, Type’s disdain for this event and the swim team was not something I could let stand.”

“Type’s disdain?! Type was the whole reason things worked out.” Team was getting agitated and Win wrapped himself around the omega to help calm him, shooting Dean a confused look.

“What are you talking about?” Win asked.

Team settled back into Win’s arms but still fidgeted restlessly. “The freshers were hazing me,” he finally admitted.

“The football freshmen?” Dean clarified, already wanting to go to war with the football team if there stupid initiation practices had spilled over onto his team or pack.

“No. Ours.”

Win and Dean exchanged another shocked look. Win pulled Team into a chair and knelt down in front of him. “Tell us what happened.”

Team looked around and squirmed. “Type would be the better one to ask. He understands this stuff better than I do.”

It occurred to Dean for the first time that he had not asked Type what had happened. That shook him. Dean prided himself on his fair attitude and his even hand at making decisions. He did not just assume. He always asked! But he hadn’t done that, not this time. The pack leader had the sinking feeling he might have made a horrible mistake.

Kneeling down next to Win, Dean looked up at Team. “I need you to tell me, please.”

The story came out in bits and pieces. Team’s limited attention span made it difficult for him to focus on one thing for very long but this was important and he kept at it until the whole thing was out.

Dean felt sick.

Type had saved Team. There was no other way to describe what had happened. The football playing omega had seen a friend in trouble and had literally given the clothes off his back to help. Dean sat on the cold tiled floor clutching Pharm to him and admitted to the group what his own assumptions had been and his ultimate failure to even ask for an explanation.

“Fuck,” Win said. It was an appropriate response worthy of the missing Type.

“Dean,” Pharm said, holding on tightly. Dean lifted his head, hoping for some words of encouragement and comfort from his precious omega. That hope died at the pain filled look in his eyes. “The other day when you came in and found Type yelling at me…” Dean had the feeling he was not going to like what was coming next. “Type had just run Alex out of the room.”

“So Alex was harassing you!” Manaow said in triumph and then immediately looked sheepish for her outburst.

“Then why was he yelling at you?” Dean asked.

Pharm climbed into Dean's lap. “He was trying to get me to stand up for myself. I don’t think Type is good at being encouraging, or at least not the way you do it. I mean, I didn’t really get it at the time, but I have thought about it a lot and I think that’s just his way of trying to help me.”

Pruk dropped down on the floor next to Win and Dean and pulled Manaow into his arms. She looked delighted to be there. Win pulled Team down into his arms as well. Now they were all sitting on the floor in their formal clothes.

“What are we going to do?” Win asked.

“Tharn may never forgive me for this.” Dean admitted.

“Type will,” Manaow said, still smiling up at Pruk. She shrugged a bit when everyone turned to stare at her. “What, that’s who he is. Team and Pharm here can hold a grudge for months. Guys like Type burn hot and passionate but they get over things quick. You tell him you're sorry, he might rant and rave a bit, but in a few days it will be like it never happened.”

Dean nodded. It made sense. “Either way I need to apologize. Does anyone have Type’s number?”

The room full of blank stares was not encouraging. “Tharn would have it,” Pharm offered.

That was another apology he needed to offer, but Dean had hoped to maybe have Type with him when he went after Tharn. Type may let things blow over quickly, but Tharn was unlikely to let things go that easily. Still, it looked like there was no help for it. “I’ll go track down Tharn.”

“And tomorrow at practice I will have a serious talk with our freshman,” Win said, cuddling Team closer. Hazing was not something that happened in the swim club.

oOo

When Dean found Tharn he was at the pack house gathering his things.

“Where are you going?” Dean asked as he pushed open the door to Tharn’s room.

“I can’t be here. My omega is missing. He is out of my life because of you. I’m going home and I just can’t look at you right now.” Tharn says all of this without raising his eyes from packing. The lack of eye contact from such a warm direct alpha was painful. This whole situation was a nightmare. Tharn didn’t know that Dean was sorry, that he knew he screwed up. All Tharn knew was that his heart was broken and it was Dean’s fault. His movements, usually so fluid and graceful, were tense and jerky.

This conversation could end so badly. It was critical that Dean got it right. He started with the most important piece. “I screwed up. I said things I should not have said, that were not true or fair. I did not ask for an explanation. I judged him based on what I saw on the surface, never taking the time to look any deeper. And I did it repeatedly.”

Tharn stopped, back to Dean, tense and still, but listening. It was a start.

“I need to apologize,” Dean said. ”To you and to him. The pack is less now than it was and all of us know it. He wasn’t officially a part of us yet, but already acting like a protective pack member. It wasn’t what I was expecting to see, so I missed it until it was already too late. He did nothing wrong. That was all me.”

“Why should I listen to you after what you have done? You don’t like him. You never liked him.” Tharn still had his back to Dean, staring at the wall. “What changed? Because if this is just you feeling guilty then it’s not enough.”

“Type was rescuing Team from hazing.”

Tharn turned, his face a scrunched study in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“After you left, I talked to Team and the pack. The freshmen swimmers ganged up on him, on Team, and convinced him that they all were dressing in drag. It was meant to humiliate him. Type found him before and switched clothing so that Team wouldn’t be embarrassed. That’s why he was in the dress. He was wearing it in Team’s place.”

“It was Type’s suit.” Tharn sank down on the bed, pride and distress warring on his face “Team was wearing Type’s suit. I thought I recognized it.” He was quiet for a moment and then met Dean’s eyes for the first time. “I guess I’m not surprised. Underneath all the loud and obnoxious, he’s a quiet hero. You should have trusted me, that I would fall in love with someone who was worthy. You should have asked.”

“You’re right on both counts. I was a poor pack leader and an even poorer friend. I thought being in charge would be so easy. I thought I would always know the right thing to do. I’m sorry. I should have done a better job at listening. If you want me to step down as pack leader I will, but please don’t leave us. We’ll find Type and explain and I’ll beg him to give us all another chance. Please don’t leave.”

“I’m not ready to forgive you yet. But you being willing to admit you screwed up is definitely helping. I am angry and hurt. But I love this pack and I love you and I love Type. Is there a chance we can fix this?”

“There’s more.”

“Isn’t this enough. Type is innocent and upset, out there somewhere in a dress and heels. We need to find him.”

“We do. We will, all of us.”

“And when we do, are you going to be able to let the rest go? He yelled at Pharm and I know that’s a line for you. Just like you yelling at Type was a line for me.”

“He was protecting Pharm too.”

“When he yelled at him?” Tharn turned to fully face Dean.

Dean took that as an invitation to move into the room and he sat down on the bed next to his friend. “Alex was harassing Pharm again.”

“Someone needs to take that guy out and teach him a lesson in boundaries,” Tharn grumbled. “Wait, was Type yelling at Pharm or at Alex?” His confused look returned.

“From what Pharm said today, and it was just today that he was able to talk about it, Type came and drove Alex off.”

“That’s my boy.” The pride and longing in Tharn’s voice pulled at Dean’s heart.

“He did yell at Pharm afterwards and that’s what I saw when I came in, but Pharm says he was trying to convince him to stand up for himself. I don’t know that Type realizes how intensely Pharm struggles just to communicate some days. Talking it through with the pack, none of us think he meant any harm.”

Tharn closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he looked Dean straight on. “We have to find him.”

Dean was relieved to be included in that statement. It was going to be a long night.

oOo

The smell of chlorine at Saturday morning practices was usually enough to wake Win up, caffeine or no but after a night spent fruitlessly combing campus even that wasn’t working to pry his eyelids off his bloodshot eyes. It was like a zombie parade, with Dean leading the way because at least the guilt was keeping his eyes open. Pruk was staggering along behind Win, just as tired.

They would have called off practice if it wasn’t for the anticipation of torturing freshers, or maybe that was just Win. Dean had given both Win and Pruk the choice to put this off. The whole pack had pulled together in the search for Type. Dean was taking his responsibility for this mistake seriously and would have left the others to rest.

“You’re exhausted,” Dean had said. “If you want to put this off another day we can cancel.”

Win considered it as he lay draped across Team, Pharm and Pruk on the pack house couch. Dean and Manaow had each claimed one of the overstuffed chairs on either side. Tharn was still out looking. Win had to admit it was tempting to ditch the whole thing, grab Team and cuddle up in his bed for several much deserved hours of rest. It was Team's face that pushed him off the couch. “Nope, let’s go teach those freshers a lesson.” Everything was worth it for the smile he got from Team.

Now they were here, the team lined up in front of them, freshers hiding behind their teammates in the hopes of being forgotten. Fat chance.

“Gentleman,” Win announced grandly. “It is a glorious day to be a swim team fresher. The practice we have carefully constructed for you will be one you will remember for a very long time.”

Win still hadn’t managed to pry his eyes open, but the resounding groans were music to his ears.

Dean stepped forward from the line of swim team leaders. “Last night there was an attempt at hazing. Despite the failure, there were serious consequences to my pack. I am not happy, gentlemen. The rules on hazing are clear. If you want to participate in this type of behavior please feel free to resign your position on this team now.”

Win peeled up one eyelid to verify that no one moved. Positions on the swim team were highly coveted. It was not a surprise.

“If this happens again removal from your position on this team will not be optional,” Dean concluded. Every freshmen head was down on their chest. Not one of them would meet their eyes. “The rest of you have normal practice. Freshmen report to Win at the deep end for two hours of sprints.”

“May god have mercy on your souls,” Win said with a grin. “Because you will get none from me.”

Win grabbed Team who was heading off to join the other freshmen and redirected him to the area where the juniors were practicing with kick boards. Head down on those boards while your legs kicked away one could almost fall asleep, not that Win knew that from experience.

As for the other freshmen, continuous sprints were one of the worst things you could do to a swimmer. To push your body hard across the pool and back in a front crawl or ‘freestyle’ without more than a breath or two of rest before you were off again was exhausting. They were timed of course, but that was the trap. The faster you swam the more time you had to rest between sprints, but then the more rest you needed. It was a no win scenario, especially for freshmen who did not yet have a feel for how fast they should go to keep their strength up. It would be a hard lesson.

But Win had worse planned. Once they complained enough about this he would switch them up and make them do it with the Butterfly. The Butterfly was the most beautiful but physically demanding stroke. It made Win feel better just watching.

“Win!” Team’s voice broke the alpha’s sleepy contemplation of his victims. The omega’s voice sounded sharp and urgent. He was pointing to the stands. Win’s eyes immediately tracked to where Pharm and Manaow were seated. Manaow’s piercing shriek echoed across the pool deck as Win focused on Pharm actively struggling against Alex.

“P’Dean!” Win was already moving but he was on the wrong side of the pool. Surely Alex would not be stupid enough to force a bond on Pharm right here in the open? Because that is exactly what it looked like was happening. Dean and Pruk were moving now too, but none of them were able to go full speed. Bare feet on wet pool deck was slippery. There was a reason the rule was no running. They weren’t going to make it.

Alex was getting more aggressive and even Win could see his teeth bared. Pharm was trying to protect his neck while Manaow fought to pull the alpha off.

Another shout echoed across the pool. Tharn had emerged from the upper staircase above the struggle and was jumping down steps at a breakneck speed. It took a moment for Win to realize that Tharn had been shouting a name, had been shouting “Type!”

Dean veered towards the stands like he was going to run straight up the wall. It was another frantic moment before Win could see why. There was Type coming out of nowhere, moving faster than them all and way too close to stop short.

The world seemed to slow down. The fast moving omega hit Alex hard. Pharm hit the railing while the other two boys flipped right over it. Alex was on the inside and managed to get a hand on the bar, slamming hard into the concrete wall above the pool deck.

There was nothing for Type to hold on to and he fell head and back first the two stories towards the unforgiving floor. His clothing whipped around him as he flailed to turn and face the upcoming impact. Dean closed the last couple steps after Type was in the air. His long legs pushed him up into a leap any footballer would have been proud of. Kicking high off the wall gave him even more upwards momentum. He met Type’s falling body half way, wrapping around him as they spun.

Collision with Dean slowed the downward momentum and turned both boys in the air. Dean had his back to the ground but Type had been spun around. He was now face first, his arms extended with Dean wrapped around his back. The boy knew how to take a fall. He hit with his hands, pushing into a roll, taking the alpha with him. The smack of skin on impact was still too loud.

They rolled twice and then lay still.

Pruk got to them first.

Pharm was screaming Dean’s name and Manaow had her arms wrapped around him as they both stared at the two bodies lying so still on the floor.

Tharn hit the railing next to the two omega’s with a shout. “Type!” He looked down at the scene in confusion. “Dean!” he called in panic a moment later.

Pruk looked up. “They’re okay. They’re both breathing.”

“What happened? Why is Dean down?” Tharn asks.

“He tried to catch Type mid air and slow him down,” Pharm responded, his voice tight with panic. “He threw himself right in the way.”

“They’re both okay,” Pruk said again.

The tension eased for the first time since Win had looked up and seen Alex. Tharn was looking down at Pharm’s attacker as though trying to decide whether to pull him up or let him fall. Win had never seen the other alpha look that mad.

After what felt like an age Win finally made it to the two crumpled boys. They were both breathing hard, eyes closed and obviously in pain. “Did you hit your head?” Win asks.

“No,” Dean responded. “I landed on my hip and side.” The jacket he wore was ripped but there did not appear to be any blood.

Pharm was two breaths behind Win with Manaow at his heels. The omega dropped to his knees by Deans head, his hands going to cradle the alpha’s face.

“P’Dean!” His voice was still frantic.

Dean’s good arm came up and his hand covered Pharms. “Pharm, there is nothing to worry about. Be calm. You’re doing great.”

Pruk went to move the lead alpha but Win stopped him. “Let’s not move either of them yet. Type?”

“My wrists took the worst of it,” Type replied through gritted teeth. He had both hands pulled tight against his stomach. The skin on his arms was shaved off in a painful road rash and bleeding. He pried his eyes open and looked at Dean. “You saved my life. That fall… if I had landed on my head it would have broken my neck.”

Dean dragged his eye away from Pharm. “Gotta take care of pack.”

Type shook his head. “I’m not…” as though not sure how to finish that thought.

“Yes you are,” Dean declared. “And me being an idiot does not change that.”

They laid there, staring at each other for a long moment before Type turned his head away, the corner of his lips twitching as though he were fighting a smile. Then the omega inched forward and rested his forehead against Dean’s side. “Okay,” he said softly.

Tharn’s voice broke in from above. “You are obviously suffering under the delusion that I am going to help you up.”

Looking up Win saw that Alex had managed to pull himself back up to the railing and had a hand reached over as though asking for help to get across. Tharn stood on the other side, glaring.

“I vote you push him off,” Win called up.

“I second the motion,” Type agreed.

“You heard them,” Tharn said with a smile that was almost gleeful. He moved forward threateningly.

“No, no, no,” Alex protested trying to lean away. He slipped and ended up hanging from the rails again.

“So what are we going to do with him?” Tharn called down.

“Campus security,” Dean called back.

By this time most of the team had gathered around the fallen duo.

“Has someone called medical?” Win asks.

“They’re on their way,” Team responded, coming up and handing Win his phone and a T-shirt.

“Security?” Dean asked. Pharm was petting his hair.

That call was made.

By the time the medical team got to them, Dean was sitting up on his own. Tharn stayed with Alex until Campus Security relieved him and then came to take up a position at Type’s side. He pulled the omega’s head up in his lap as the medical team wrapped Types wounds. Type nuzzled in like a kitten, a far cry from the aggressive loud-mouth the rest of the pack was familiar with.

“You okay,” Tharn asked Dean who was allowing Medical to poke and prod at his injured side as he wrapped himself around Pharm.

“I’m alright. Just take care of him,” Dean motioned to Type with his head.

“Thank you,” Tharn said, seriously.

“Pack takes care of pack.”

The smile Tharn gave in return rivaled the sun.

Win cuddled Team closer as he watched the exchange. Everything had worked out. The pack was safe and together.

“Nap time?” Team looked up at him and asked.

“Yeah, we’ll finish torturing the freshers another day.”

Another round of groans from that part of the team met his announcement.