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It's an hour before closing time when he shows up with his stocky frame and confident swagger—the omega that's made it his mission to reject every single alpha that even dares look his way. He's mouthy and bratty and hot, and Ian wants to fuck him so bad that he can't even judge the pathetic parade of alphas that try to impress him every fucking weekend.

Ian's coworkers don't get it, but they're both betas and happily married, so he doesn't really expect them to. By unspoken agreement, Ian handles the alpha-omega bullshit that goes down weekly, and in exchange they let him pretend to wipe the same spot on the counter for as long as the omega’s at the bar. Works for everyone involved.

“Guess you’re up, lover boy,” Chris whispers into his ear. “Maybe actually ask him out this time?” With a wink that’s meant to be conspiratorial but mostly comes out as condescending, he claps him on the shoulder and goes back to work.

Ian resists the urge to fix his hair and pull at his maroon shirt.

It won’t make a difference.

"Give me whatever you got on tap," the omega tells him as he reaches the bar and plops down on a stool that’s seen better days. He shrugs out of his leather jacket like a disgruntled grunge model, rough yet graceful, and the whole room stirs with want.

He seems to have officially abandoned his spot by the corner, this being the fourth week in a row that he makes a beeline for the seat right opposite Ian, and there’s some shuffling in the background as a couple of alphas switch tables to get a better view. The spot next to the omega is empty right now, but it won’t be for long.

It never is.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ian watches him roll up his sleeves, strong arms stretching the fabric as his biceps bulge, and he can't help but notice that he seems a little more dressed up than usual. Nothing crazy, a black dress shirt and—he cranes his neck a little—tight pants ripped at the knees, but the omega is a loose tank top and light wash denim kinda guy, so tonight's look is interesting. There's no acrylic paint under his fingernails, and he’s definitely wearing hair product, and that's—

Different.

Maybe he’s meeting someone? Maybe there’s an alpha out there that got lucky enough to land himself that and still has the audacity to show up late.

Ian would never.

Jesus, Ian would blow every cent he doesn’t have on a single date with the guy. That’s how badly he wants to spoil him. 

“Yo, Red.” The guy snaps his fingers twice, sharp eyebrows raised in his direction, and the only annoying thing about the gesture is how much it fucking does it for Ian. “Beer?”

“Right,” he says on an exhale, reaching for a glass and trying to keep his body in check under his icy gaze and close proximity.

Looking at him is bad enough, those plump lips and blue eyes and the charming little swoop of his hair where it’s longer on top and begging for Ian’s fingers, but standing within proper sniffing distance is a brand of torture that he tries his hardest to avoid lest he humilliate himself completely. It’s a good thing the bar’s general odor helps dampen his scent, the omega’s sweetness mixed with spilled drinks and cigarettes and the faint hints of sex wafting from the washroom; if Ian caught a whiff of the omega’s pure, unadulterated scent, if he buried his nose in the crook of his neck and breathed him in, if his touch made that sweet smell spike even further—

Fuck. 

Fuck fuck fuck.

“You okay there, Clifford?” he asks, brows furrowed. He takes a sip of his beer and licks his upper lip, his tongue slowly chasing the foam and making Ian’s heart stutter in his chest. “You look,” he gestures vaguely at his own face, “more like a lobster than usual.”

It’s not the first time they have a conversation—they’ve talked about sports and gentrification and, well, booze—but it’s the closest thing to a personal question he’s ever heard from those lips, and he’s pretty sure this is the omega trying to be nice to him.

Ian has no idea what he’s done to earn it. 

Has no idea how to smoothly respond to it, either.

He manages a weak, “Yeah, I’m good,” before he sidesteps to the right, away from the omega and solidly into the cold hard wall. His shoulder smarts from the impact, and he tries not to cringe at the look it earns him, a mix of concern and incredulity written all over the omega’s face. 

God, he probably thinks Ian’s a fucking idiot.

The omega snorts and shakes his head, but whatever’s on his mind is immediately replaced by irritation as soon as he spots a blond alpha making his way to the bar.

He's handsome enough, with broad shoulders and hazel eyes worthy of a steamy romance novel, but the omega has been approached by bigger and better, and not a single alpha has managed to catch his eye yet. Ian wonders what his type is, if he has a type at all. 

Demigods, maybe. 

Hot and rich and perfectly healthy demigods.

“You gotta be shitting me,” the omega murmurs bitterly into his glass, side-eyeing the approaching alpha.

“Thought I smelled something sweet.” The guy leers at him, literally asking for a kick to the crotch. 

Honestly, does nobody see the knuckle tattoos? That FUCK U-UP isn’t just for show; it’s both a threat and a promise. If the omega’s feeling extremely charitable, an alpha might get beer poured down their shirt, but if he’s having a bad day—

Well.

Ian’s had to ban at least five people since the omega started showing up, and it was both for the omega’s benefit and so Ian wouldn’t have to help him bury a body. Because he would help him, if it came down to it. There’s not a lot he wouldn’t do for him, truth be told. Fuck, Ian’s as pathetic as the rest of them, isn't he? But he at least has enough self-awareness to stop himself from hitting on the guy, so he thinks he deserves a few points for that. 

No omega wants an unreliable alpha, and Ian is the textbook definition of a disappointment; sometimes meds-induced limp dick, sometimes disorder-induced unpredictability, always a painfully underwhelming prospect.

"What's a pretty doll like you doing here all alone?"

The omega's jaw twitches. “Call me that again and I’ll turn you into a fucking doll, you dickless piece of shit.”

“Not into pet names, huh? No problem,” the alpha says easily, leaning against the bar and blatantly flexing every single muscle he can. Ian suppresses an eye roll. “What’s your name?”

“None of your fuckin’ business.” Always the same reply, and Ian simultaneously celebrates the omega’s disinterest and mourns the name he doesn’t get to know.

“Then what do I call you?”

The omega’s eyebrows telegraph exactly how stupid he thinks the alpha is. “I ain’t interested, Ken. Get lost.”

“Name’s Jack.”

“Literally did not ask.” He throws a pack of smokes next to his beer and absently pats his jeans for a lighter, frowning when he comes up empty.

Ian wordlessly slides his zippo across the space between them and has to hold back an embarrassing sound when the omega swipes a slow thumb over the engraving, his sparkling eyes focused on the precise lines of the revolver etched onto it. It’s absolutely no surprise that he’s into guns, but the confirmation has Ian’s blood going south all the same.

Jack clears his throat, opens his mouth to get a third strike, and Ian tells himself he’s only going to intervene because he doesn’t want any trouble when he’s so close to going home and jerking off to the thought of tattooed hands on an actual gun.

Ian squares his shoulders and says, smooth and commanding, “You heard him. Get lost.”

The thing is, it’s a gamble, because the omega doesn’t like white knights. Ian knows this. He’s watched him tear apart his supposed rescuer right alongside the original shithead alpha. Has heard him yell that he doesn’t need anyone fighting his battles for him, fuck you very much.

And yet the gamble leads to a bit of a revelation—although what, exactly, is being revealed is unclear—because Ian doesn't get a sneer or a death stare and is instead eyed very, very carefully.

Jack narrows his eyes at them both, hackles rising. He draws himself to his full height and asks, voice booming, “You his alpha?” 

Asshole. Like it isn’t fucking obvious that he isn’t. If that were the case, their scents would be so intermingled by now they’d have created a new one. Ian would’ve made sure of that.

Evenly, Ian replies, “No.”

He nods sharply. “So you wanna fight me for him?” A wolfish smile that doesn’t scare Ian in the least. “No problem.”

And, honestly, for a guy who says no problem so much, he sure seems to be looking for trouble.

“Listen, man,” Ian would fight the entire bar for the omega sitting in front of him, but it’s really not his place to do that, so, “I’m just trying to stop you from getting your ass handed to you.”

The smile widens, turning ugly at the corners. “Confident, are we?”

Ian snorts. Crosses his arms and shrugs like he doesn’t have a care in the world. “Oh, I’d take you down in a heartbeat,” and he truly has no doubt about that, “but I meant him, not me.” 

He doesn’t miss the shift in the air, the sudden sugary scent that invades his senses and pulls violently at him for a blissful couple of seconds. God, Ian may be strong, but he’s so fucking weak.

Jack’s eyes drift from Ian to the omega, smile dimming and doubt creeping in. “You wouldn’t actually fight me, though. You’re just a—I mean, you’re . . .”

The omega raises his eyebrows, cocks his head slightly to the right and drawls, “Please, I’m fucking dying for you to tell me what I am, Barbie.”

It lands exactly how the omega wants. “You wouldn’t stand a chance,” Jack growls, and not two seconds later the omega is on his feet, fist connecting with a solid jaw and sending the alpha sprawling backwards.

Ian’s infatuation grows three sizes every time that happens.

It’s fucking beautiful, watching him fight. Odds stacked against him, and he manages to defy biology like it’s nothing. Destroys every shitty alpha in his way, all light feet and lethal blows. 

A fucking artform, all of it.

Eventually, Ian does the responsible thing—this is his job, after all, and he is on permanent alpha-omega duty—and puts a stop to the carnage. Grabs Jack by the neck and throws him out with a cheerful grin and a “Told you so,” that earns him a resentful look.

The omega returns to his seat, completely unfazed except for a few rebellious strands of hair that have fallen out of place, and asks for another beer.

“On the house,” Ian says, because that’s what you do when a hot guy smells particularly good around you for three seconds and then proceeds to beat the shit out of a douchebag. 

“Thanks.”

After Ian's set down the glass in front of him, he grabs the cleanest rag he can find and a couple ice cubes. Casually leaves the makeshift ice pack next to the glass and rearranges a few bottles to look busy.

The omega lights the cigarette he didn’t get to smoke before, and then he reaches for the ice pack and places it gingerly on his knuckles. The sight of it has Ian so stupidly pleased—he accepted care from him—that he knows he’s wagging his metaphorical tail all over the place.

Jesus, get a grip.

He does the exact opposite, of course, and says, “They don’t deserve you.”

The omega blinks hard and stares up at Ian. “Huh?”

“I mean,” he combs his fingers through his hair, a couple locks falling over his eyes, “obviously you know that, since you’ve literally turned down every single alpha who’s ever stepped foot in this place, but. Y’know.” He shrugs. Winces. “You deserve better than that. All omegas do.”

Smooth.

Just—incredible work, truly.

“Hmm.” He licks his lower lip. Pulls it into his mouth with a calculating look. “You and me in a fight, freckles. Who wins?”

Ian considers it. Thinks of the way the omega uses his size and speed to his advantage. How their styles would fit together and what Ian would have to do to take him down.

He doesn’t say that there’s a lot of things he’d rather do with him than fight, hypothetically or not. “Me.” 

It’s gone in a flash, but the downturn of the omega’s mouth goes straight to Ian's chest. He’s disappointed in him, which means he’s thought about Ian long enough to hold him to some sort of standard. And a decent one, apparently, only now he thinks Ian’s just like every other asshole who’s ever underestimated him. 

Ian scratches the back of his neck. Tries, “It kinda wouldn’t be a fair fight, sinc—” shit. The disappointment is turning into anger, and why won’t he just let Ian finish his thought before he’s out for blood? He’s got a point! And a good one, too. 

“I’ve seen you fight, like, a lot,” Ian says placatingly, hands raised. “I know your moves. Know what to look out for and what could give me the upper hand.” The omega looks marginally less like he wants to murder him, so he goes on, “You’ve got excellent form and a mean right hook, but you don’t really know how I fight, so. I think I’d have a good shot.”

It works.

Ian breathes again.

All traces of anger gone, the omega gives him a slow once over. Sucks on his cigarette and exhales through his nose. “Nah. You’re big, but,” he smirks, “I can definitely take you.”

Right.

Right.

“I’m Mickey, by the way,” he says, standing up and holding out his hand. When Ian reaches for it, careful of his bruised knuckles, he’s pulled in until their faces are only inches away, “and you were wrong before, y’know?”

He swallows, gaze drawn to the smart mouth he's been fantasizing about for ages. “About what?”

“There’s one alpha in this bar I haven’t turned down.”

Ian's heart beats painfully against his ribcage, his throat going dry.

Mickey whispers against his lips, "You gonna ask me back to yours, or do I need to show up naked next time, Ian?"

Holy fuck.

"I—" God, is he really gonna have to say no to the best thing that can’t ever happen to him? "Fuck, I—"

Mickey frowns, eyes roaming over his face like he can figure out what's going on inside Ian’s brain if he looks hard enough.

Ian squeezes his eyes shut. Forces out, "I'm a shit alpha, Mickey. Trust me, I'm not worth your time."

Mickey's grip tightens. "How about you let me decide who's worth my time?"

He opens his eyes and lets go of his hand. "I’m sorry, I can't."

Somewhere in the bar, Chris is probably hitting his head against the wall.

"You can't," he parrots back drily. "You mean, like, you got yourself an omega already? That it?"

Please. Like that will ever be a possibility for Ian. 

He shakes his head. "No, nothing like that." 

"Then tell me why," he raises his eyebrows, "’cause there ain't no way I spent the last three months coming to this shithole and parading myself around like a fuckin’ bitch in heat only for you to give me some bullshit 'it's not you, it's me' speech."

Ian blinks, mind reeling. “What?”

“You think I come here for the cheap ass booze and the weekly asshole parade? Trust me, I can find those much closer to home.”

He’s hearing all the words coming out of Mickey’s mouth, but he doesn’t understand them. Can’t even begin to comprehend that anyone, let alone someone like him, would repeatedly go out of their way to be somewhere just because Ian is there.

Mickey goes on, “You may be the only alpha I’ve ever met that actually runs away from me instead of chasing me like a goddamn hound, but it sure as fuck ain’t ‘cause you’re not interested.”

Yes, well, it’s called self-preservation. Most alphas are too stupid for it, but Ian kinda needs it if he wants to live to see thirty. 

“I don’t run away from you,” he protests, because he does have some dignity, okay? “I just keep my distance.”

Squinting, he points out, “You literally walked into a wall today, man.”

He looks down, cheeks warm. “That had nothing to do with you,” he mumbles weakly.

Mickey rolls his eyes. “My nose ain’t broken, and I know yours ain’t either 'cause I see you holding your breath around me sometimes, so," he spreads his arms, "lay it on me."

The petty side of him wants to snap. Wants to tell him every single fucking thing that’s wrong with him and shut him up for good. Watch his face shift as he realizes he really shouldn’t have fucking pushed.

But then there’s that other part of him, the one that looks forward to seeing Mickey every week, that just wouldn’t be able to take the aftermath. Pity or disgust or regret or everything neatly rolled into one, he doesn’t wanna witness it.

Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Ian takes a slow breath and a step back. “Mickey,” his therapist would yell at him for what he says next, “I’m not taking you home, not tonight and not ever, so stop wasting your time and go find an alpha who will.”

Mickey’s eyes widen in disbelief, visible heat creeping up his neck. “You’re fuckin’ kidding me.” It’s meant to be rough and demanding, Ian can tell, but it falls flat. Sounds confused instead. A little hurt, maybe.

“No.” Ian juts his jaw and, because the petty side can never be buried completely, adds, “I know you’re probably not used to hearing the word, but I’m sure you’ll live.”

He expects anger, is practically inviting it into the conversation, that hot red thing that flares in Mickey every week and hopelessly tugs at Ian every time, but that’s not what he gets.

Mickey rubs his nose. Bites at his lower lip. “I’m, uh. Sorry if I pushed too hard. I—fuck, I’m an asshole, okay? I’m always an asshole, but I—”

He looks up at Ian as he chews the inside of his cheek. “Listen, we—we don’t gotta bang tonight but, like,” he waves his hand between them, the movement almost desperate, “let me buy you a drink instead? Or fucking breakfast tomorrow? I don’t fucking know, man, just give me something.”

That’s almost worse. A drink he can rationalize as a prelude to a one night stand, but breakfast? You don’t fucking offer that to some random guy you see once a week at a shitty bar unless you mean it.

Not unkindly, Ian says, “Trust me, Mickey, I’m doing you a favor. You barely know me.” After all, that’s the only reason Mickey’s interested in the first place. The second he catches a glimpse of what’s beneath the surface, he’ll run for the hills.

Mickey huffs, sharp and full of attitude. Ian’s heart beats faster, because it’s fucking dumb like that. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m tryna fucking change that.”

Yeah, and that’s not a good idea. 

It’s also fucking terrifying.

Mickey hesitates for a moment, then leans forward and grips Ian by the nape. Not roughly, just—like he needs a point of contact to make Ian understand.

“Hey,” he says, blue eyes boring into him. “I’m not asking for a joint bank account here, okay? Whatever bullshit idea you got in that ginger head of yours about what I want from an alpha, it ain’t it.”

He rasps out, “What do you want, then?”

“To talk about this over coffee and pancakes in a place where I’m not surrounded by at least seven shitheads that think they got a shot if you say no.”

Ian should say no. Nothing has changed, and so the only logical thing to do is say no.

It’s difficult.

It’s so, so fucking difficult.

There’s a delicate hand on him, the one that’s delivered so many vicious blows to other alphas, holding onto him like letting go is not an option. There’s a fingernail scratching almost imperceptibly at the short hairs of his neck, soft and comforting. There’s the knowledge that Mickey’s not exactly a conventional omega, and that maybe together they could—

Maybe they could—

“It’s only breakfast, Ian,” Mickey says, even though it’s not. 

Ian lets his eyes flutter closed. Sees a million scenarios and possible outcomes play out in his head. Opens his eyes and looks. At Mickey’s blue eyes and plump lips and soft neck. 

Ian breathes out and whispers, “Okay.”

Mickey makes a noise low in his throat, this pleased little rumble that escapes against his will if the resulting blush is anything to go by, and Ian has to physically stop himself from leaning forward and rubbing his nose against that beautiful throat, teeth suddenly aching to bite just a little. Just enough.