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caught in the crowd

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Sometime a nose was just a nose.

“It’s not so unusual.” The doctor says but his mother still looks like she’s about to cry.

Dejan stares down at his swinging feet instead of watching the heartbreak cross her eyes again. He is young enough to know he should pay attention to the specialist, but old enough to know however many warnings and positive outlooks are buried under his words, it cannot be changed.

Dejan doesn’t need a super nose for football and that’s what he wants to do.

-

He makes a joke out of it, an everlasting one at his expense because what else is he supposed to do. Around ninety-seven percent of the population had an enhanced sense of smell and he was just one of the unlucky ones. On the upside, he didn’t have to take a leave of absence like some of the alphas when an omega managed to time their heats awkwardly. Omegas preferred alphas over betas to lend them a helping hand through their heats anyway, not that Dejan hadn’t had offers before. It was just rarer and less inconvenient for him.

“So what did you smell last week?” Loris asked, while Milly quickly ducked out with his hair still wet and red cheeks. It wasn’t exactly polite to ask, especially in their locker room where omegas outnumbered the betas and alphas on the team. Dejan shrugged while struggling to put his socks on damp feet.

“Adam just smelled like burnt sugar, but he always smells like a bakery so it wasn’t terrible. Leiva once forgot or something.” He flaps his hand around in the air wildly because Dejan actually wasn’t sure what happened to trigger the older omega and he would never ever presume to know why Lucas would come to practice smelling terrible enough to give him a sneezing fit but it had happened. “And, man, he smelled awful even to me. It was like pepper and wasabi mixed with a dash of skunk. It was gross.” He shudders at the memory.

“Oh, so you can tell when an omega is in heat?” Loris was still fascinated with the fact that Dejan had a normal sense of smell. He didn’t mind the questions really. It always happened once the news spread among his teammates, especially new ones. Adam’s shit scheduling had just tipped the hand of fate.

“Not really, my sense of smell is blunted. I’ve just gotten better at paying attention. Couti’s been here forever and I’m still not sure if he smells saltier after he scores or if it’s just sweat. He’s not on the repulsing scale so I assume he smells nice to most people but I don’t really get a read on it. Too subtle.” Dejan stands up, knees protesting the inactivity of the last few minutes.

“And what do I smell like to you?” Ah. Dejan grins at Loris’ admittedly good poker face.

“A little minty. Cool but herbally or earthy.” He can’t really pinpoint it besides the spearmint. Loris shifts on the bench, looking up at him.

“My next heat is in October.”

Dejan nods, shouldering his bag and putting his hands in his pockets. He may not be able to smell interest but there were other ways around it. There was always a way around his broken nose if he paid attention to the obvious.

-

Marko wrinkles his nose after the United game.

“Lay off the breath mints. It’s giving me a headache.” He complains.

Dejan just laughs before throwing his towel in Marko’s face.

-

“You smell different,” is the first thing Mateo says to him after the game. Dejan raises an eyebrow. He didn’t exactly have the overactive scent glands that omegas had to produce any sort of calling card of a smell. Some betas did but Dejan wasn’t one of them. He sniffed arbitrarily at himself but only caught his cologne and his body wash.

“It’s bitter.” Mateo makes a face still trying to figure it out. Dejan shoved his shoulder jokingly before going into his bedroom to hide anything potentially damaging and strip out of his outer layers.

Mateo was still hovering by the door like he wasn’t sure if he was welcome to come in.

“Kova, I’m not pissed at you for your team beating mine. You know this doesn’t have anything to do with that. Maybe there were some words against Hazard in the locker room but I showered the bad energy away. Seriously, come on.” Dejan can see Mateo debating it before stepping towards him. A few months ago, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation.

Dejan had been surprised when Mateo had asked him to spend this heat with him.

They had decided to stop their arrangement during the world cup qualifiers. Three years of heats together had been enough for Mateo to call it quits, because Dejan had wanted to keep Mateo with his strange caramelizing onions smell and Mateo didn’t want him for a relationship. It had started without any sort of expectations because Dejan wasn’t stupid. He just ended up stupid.

It was severely stupid to say yes to this proposal, but Dejan needed to do this.

“You would think with all the alphas on Chelsea, you’d have found someone to spend the night.” He huffs out, taking off his shirt.

In fact, he’s sure management must have had words with Mateo, especially with his shifted schedule after the world cup. It’s been almost two months since he’s been with Chelsea. Omegas took a few weeks to establish some sort of emergency contact, a month at most if compatibility wasn’t very high on the team.

Mateo was fever-warm under his touch.

“I told them I could handle it.” He breathes out softly. “I didn’t want to take advantage of being one of the only omegas.” Dejan laughs, but it isn’t nicely, because he hears what Mateo didn’t want to say. He didn’t want to fuck someone over again, not like he did to Dejan. It would’ve been touching if he could get out of his own head enough to appreciate the sentiment.

“You should’ve called Mario or Luka.” He says before kissing him roughly.

It wouldn’t have been convenient then.

Mateo gives as good as he gets and Dejan doesn’t want to think. He only wants to feel as Mateo yields to the violent urge of getting off as many time as he can in as many ways. He can give him a goodbye like this, all biting his way down his chest and impatient hands on his cock. It isn’t until Mateo sobs out pleas that he kisses him again to quiet him.

He’s not his alpha. He’s not an alpha at all, but he know Mateo and he knows what he needs.

-

The morning after, he gets woken up by his phone blaring in the other room. Mateo sleeps like the dead, so he doesn’t bother to tiptoe to the living room. He scratches at his chest, picking up the insisting call.

“Yeah?” He doesn’t sound all that happy, but it could be blamed on the time easily.

“Coffee?” the offer comes across as amused. “Starbucks since you are grumpy.” Mo chuckles and Dejan rues the day Milner decided to introduce the word into Mo’s vocabulary. The memory reflexively puts a smile on his face, and suddenly coffee sounds like the best idea ever, even as he glances back to his bedroom.

“Okay, but don’t go to Costa’s before picking me up. That’s cheating.” He warns before going into the bathroom.

“Fine, fine. Ten minutes.” Mo hangs up. Dejan doesn’t bother going back into his room, knowing he had left a sweatshirt on the couch and had track pants in his training bag.

Mateo could see himself out if he didn’t get back in time.

-

Ivan is the first one to brave the storm clouds hovering around his head.

Everyone knew he held a grudge against Spain and it had a name that started with Sergio and ended with Ramos. Dejan had missed the last game but he would show up the alpha this time. Especially after dismissing his comments in the press conference earlier. Designation politics weren’t always taken seriously but Dejan would be damned if he didn’t take every opportunity to pick a fight with the asshole.

“I know you want to defend Salah but he can take care of himself.” Dejan tenses up even more.

He sees Ivan look to Ante out of the corner of his eye.

If Ante had a problem with his brooding, he could say something himself and not send his beta to soften the blow, Dejan thinks darkly.

“Alphas have their own way of handling things. Dej. I know it’s hard to let it go, especially when he was injured but you shouldn’t try to brawl for his honor or at least tell us if you need the back-up.” Ivan puts a hand on his shoulder before going back to Ante’s side.

What no one realized was Ramos had deliberately been after Mo. Sadio had been close enough to see it as it really was. It had been a challenge and a put down. Alpha posturing at its finest and if Ramos thought that was the end of it, that Mo was less of an alpha for not defending himself in the middle of a match then Dejan would just keep bringing the fight to him.

He gets reamed out by no less than four people for what he says after the match.

Yet the worst had been Mo’s prickly silence after a single text message.

Ramos is not your problem.

And he can practically taste the disappointment on the back of his tongue. The phrasing was reminiscent of Hendo’s team talks after a loss or a particularly scrappy win, full of mistakes they could’ve avoided. The win over Spain is sufficiently soured with that.

The loss to England makes it even worse.

-

“Who exactly are you trying to impress with this bullshit?” Luka doesn’t even knock, much less shout. His anger wasn’t outwardly demonstrative. He was adept at making you feel like you killed his dog without elevating his blood pressure.

“I thought you were done yelling at me.” Dejan doesn’t cower in the face of his upset captain. He meets it head on with sarcasm because he clearly had a death wish.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot. I’m not even close to being done since you have a hard head and can’t learn willingly. I let all your soap opera with Mateo go because you handled it like adults or at least you handled it so it didn’t affect the team. This petty shit with Sergio has got to stop now. I don’t care where it started because we’re ending it.”

“No,” Dejan stubbornly says. Luka’s gaze sharpens like a bird of prey’s, calculating which weak spots to rip into for maximum effect.

“Dejan, I could care less who you’re fucking. You’re not fucking over the team for Salah’s alpha feud.” Luka is curt and exact with his words.

Dejan stands up, a red haze descending on him.

“I am not fucking Mo, and he didn’t make me do anything. This isn’t an alpha feud. It’s my fucking fight against Ramos.” Luka makes a pained face, pinching his nose in irritation before shoving Dejan back hard enough for him to stumble back to his bed.

Your fight” Dejan can hear the quotations in Luka’s drawl, “because of your alpha. You think I don’t know what an attached beta smells like? I know you have” he cuts himself off to swear in spanish for the satisfaction of confusing him, but Dejan thinks it might be something along the lines of shit-for-brains. “But you smell like him and clearly you feel the need to defend your territory, so I’d say if you ever got the guts to fuck, you would bond.”

Dejan freezes, anger draining into something like panic. A high whine of terror filled the white noise of his mind.

“I don’t-I can’t smell that.” He spits out bitterly. Luka rolls his eyes, having exactly no time for his self-pity.

“And I guess you don’t have eyes to see how obvious you two are around each other. Charlie called the two of you back in March with your little coffee dates.” He unlocks his phone and scrolls for a second to pull up his conversation with Charlie to direct his attention to the picture attached to a bunch of laughing emojis.

It was of them in the showers after the Fulham game a week ago.

“He’s not-it wasn’t-your omega needs a better hobby.” He stutters out. Luka looks less than impressed at his defense of the admittedly incriminating-looking photo.

“Oh, I know. Like I said, I don’t care and I don’t want to know, but maybe you should fix shit in your own backyard before picking fights with the biggest dog around to prove your love. Seriously, knock it off with Ramos. The more you give him a reaction, the more he’ll try to get under your skin. Trust me on that.” Luka ends the conversation with that final piece of advice.

“You know you just called Ramos a dog, right?” Dejan grins.

“Fuck off.” Luka calls out before leaving.

-

It’s after a run and some basic drills that Dejan gets the nerve to ask Sadio the question.

“What do I smell like?” Sadio looks at him like he’s gone crazy. Usually, it’s someone else asking Dejan that as an ice breaker and to laugh at his unusual answers.

“Sweat.” He replies.

Dejan pokes him in the side at the quick answer.

“Funny. Seriously, what do I smell like?” Betas didn’t carry much of a scent as a whole. Alphas wore their scents close to the skin and omegas practically wafted out their scents to any interested parties. It was evolution designed neatly to fit a system where omegas could lure in a mate while alphas could scent-mark their claim. Betas were the ones who didn’t lose their heads, who could break up the alphas, who could comfort the omegas. Betas were neutral ground as far as evolution was concerned.

But humanity didn’t exactly follow the guidelines all the time.

“Sweat, all the products you use, and…” Sadio shrugs lightly. “Cinnamon.”

Dejan had never, ever in his life heard that one before.

“Like soap cinnamon or good cinnamon?” He had once had snickerdoodles that ended up tasting like soap after a while. He accused Adam of poisoning him but no one else believed him until he had googled it for them. His genetics were clearly against him in more ways than one.

“Like roasted nuts they sell on Christmas.” Sadio says more reluctantly.

Oh. Dejan gets an especially thrilling feeling of happiness.

“And what does Mo smell like?” There were enough group hugs and celebrations for Sadio to know and by the way he looks around wildly for help from their unaware teammates, Dejan had probably looked a little to eager for the answer. Sadio takes a long time to stretch out his calf before sighing.

“You should talk to Mohamed, not me. This is private.”

Dejan snorts, it was private in name only. He wouldn’t have known about the scent-marking if it hadn’t been pointed out by other people.

“He smells a little like curry to me, the spices really, like heat but not hot peppers.” Sadio suffers through the explanation with a wince. Dejan smiles, those who had better noses than he did could never resist on correcting his usually food-related descriptions because scents had layers he couldn’t pick apart. Sadio, while a good friend, would still politely fall into the trap. He just had to wait it out.

They switched places and sat facing each other.

Sadio broke like a soggy cracker.

“Spices, yes, roasted coffee beans, cardamom, garlic, dirt in the sun, and those green nuts Milly has at his house.”

“Thank you.” He says smugly, before turning to look at Mo laughing at Firmino. “I just needed to know if it was true.” Dejan trusted Luka and Mateo and the rest but it was different to hear it from someone who knew them both. It felt more real to hear it from Sadio.

Sadio stretched out his arms and motioned him to grab on before they got into trouble.

-

Opportunity doesn’t strike so Dejan has to make the time.

After he had sent Mo an invitation to hang out, he had reached out to Charlie with a frantic ‘how the fuck do I do this’ to which he replied with a string of suggestive emojis like the thirteen year old girl he truly was on the inside.

Luka sent him a helpful suggestion of asking Perisic ten minutes later.

Rakitic told him to use his words, not his dick.

Charlie seriously, seriously needed a better hobby than gossiping. What time was it in Moscow anyway. He should be doing something more useful than wasting Dejan’s time. Lokomotiv clearly didn’t keep him busy enough.

like you did? he fires back quickly to Ivan and decides to ignore the Croatian phone tree in order to inspect his living room again. The television was on for background noise. One of the old fast and the furious movies was playing. He turned it off quickly, finding it too distracting to come up with a plan. His phone buzzed angrily from the kitchen counter before the silence took over.

Maybe he should turn the television back on, or maybe he should change. Basketball shorts and a t-shirt didn’t really seem like the right kind of clothes for this type of situation.

A soft knock stopped him in his tracks.

Right. He opens the door with a sweaty palm.

Mo looks completely normal, smiling before moving past him to sprawl on the couch to wait for whatever Dejan had planned. It’s so normal that Dejan hesitates even bringing it up. They could play a game, or find something to watch on Netflix or any of the ordinary daily things he’s done with Mo since he came to Liverpool.

“You know I can’t smell good.” He taps his nose. Mo frowns.

“I can’t smell interest from an omega. I can’t smell heat. I can’t smell anger or sadness. I can barely smell alphas. People tell me you smell like coffee.” He stops to a halt.

Mo graciously nods, but Dejan for once can’t tell what he’s thinking.

He takes a seat on armchair with a few wild gestures to gather his thoughts.

“Was all the coffee a sign? A claim?”

“No, you drink fake coffee. I don’t smell like that. Coffee was just coffee. We go for fun, just like hanging out. We learn about each other. I’m happy with this.” He smiles wide, teeth showing. His happiness has always been contagious.

It makes Dejan smile back. Nerves suddenly disappearing because there wasn’t any expectation here. Mo doesn’t want something Dejan cannot give or be or do. Mo just wants Dejan as he is.

“Okay,” He picks up the remote. “Scary movie?”

-

Charlie is going to send you a cake. Ivan’s message is at the top of his notifications.

He groans, rubbing at his eyes just to make sure he read that correctly. ‘No cake’ he sends to the three of them separately, emphasized in capslock.

you didn’t put out, did you? Rakitic is the worst kind of morning person. Dejan gets up, stretching out and yawning. The movie had been slow and ultimately more boring than the premise led them to believe. The old man hunting werewolves one they found later on was much better.

“Fuck off, Ivan.” He grumbles out loud while weighing the merits of saying nothing, eventually just throwing the phone back on the bed.

The sound of rushing water and humming reach him as he pokes his head out.

Mo had stayed over and borrowed his shirt from the looks of it. That was alright, seeing as he usually went without one in the mornings. Dejan drapes himself over Mo. His arms loosely holding him. It’s almost like they were at training for all that it’s familiar, except half-naked.

They stand together for a moment, just watching the water boil, and Dejan couldn’t be happier, even if Ivan was right.

“What’s that for?”

“Pasta,” Mo doesn’t move out from under him, comfortable.

“For breakfast?” He’s very skeptical.

“You’ll see.” Mo laughs, looking up at his face. Dejan doesn’t kiss him, but there’s plenty of time to get there.