You will imagine me naive when I tell you this, but it wasn’t innocence; it was hope. And distance, too, perhaps. You see, an Omega is only an Omega when Alphas are around, the rest of the time he’s just a guy. I was just a guy, truly and sincerely; I had a career in mind I was passionate about and, even if I was pretty quiet, I made friends easily. There was nothing about me personally that explained the blow fate had dealt me with my very particular biology. At eighteen I had left home to study in Scotland, not on a scholarship but in a university prestigious enough for its connections to royalty and academic excellence that it was still hard to get into. I pretended not to notice that most of my family was too concerned about having me far away from them to be proud about my achievement. I pretended it was normal to be driven there by my younger brother so he could make sure I was safe in my single dorm room. Safe from what? You might ask. Other shifters. As a werewolf I have the strength, speed and resilience of two men my age and health, but as an Omega I am vulnerable to Alphas like no puny human man could be.
Like most shifters, I grew up in a pack. My father led it, the Alpha of alphas, what we call a Dominant. And had I been born an Alpha, I would have followed in his footsteps. Nobody was crass enough to tell me any such thing, but children have an instinctive understanding of power. But by the time the hormonal shifts of my teenage years, it became obvious I would never lead the pack. Omegas served a very different function: they kept the pack alive. Unlike humans, shifters who could bear children were born as both girls and boys. Omega males were rare and so were Alpha females, which, according to historical records, had not even existed for the first five hundred years of the history of the packs of the isles, even if they were common in other countries. So I beat the statistics and believe me, they whooped me right back. It wasn’t just leadership of the pack that I had lost but any right to decide about my own future. As an Omega, I had to wait for an Alpha’s decision on anything. I didn’t know it then, of course.
Two years later my brother Brennan killed a wild coyote without even shifting completely and we knew who would become Alpha after my father. Nothing much had changed when my Omega status became obvious: I was just a boy, after all, and boys get told what to do no matter what they will one day be when they are grown. But when Brennan proved himself an Alpha, he also proved himself my superior in the hierarchy of the pack. He would inherit and control every single Alpha and Omega shifter that was part of it. Imagine you take a ten year old and tell him he will one day command every adult and child he knows; would you fault him for trying to do just that?
I had always been quiet and I had little interest in the roughhousing of boys, preferring the company of adults of either sex or denomination. I wanted to learn, to understand. And nobody begrudged me that. My father had enrolled me in a private academy when I had reached secondary school age instead of making me go with the other children of the pack to the local school. There had been a single other shifter there, an Alpha girl from a pack of fliers who avoided me as devoutly as any bird would a wolf, so I had spent my teenage years feeling normal. Well, some people would have probably taken issue with me being gay, but I wasn’t allowed to date. In all honesty, I don’t think I had the social skills to manage it in any case, so that particular prohibition passed me by without much angst on my part.
So I didn’t say anything, and at some point I think I forgot that being intimate with another person was even a possibility. In my world, where every person in my family would know immediately if someone’s smell was on me and how much they had touched me by how intense their scent was… maybe it is only fair to say it actually wasn’t.
In theory I could have made out with a boy at recess, even had actual sex somewhere secluded but I knew almost instinctively that any behaviour that even appeared suspicious would result in the end of my academic career. I couldn’t live without that, so I kept all my impure thoughts for the solitude of my bed and ignored my friends’ bafflement at my complete lack of interest in dating.
By the time I arrived at my first party in St. Andrews I remembered all at once that the world I had only caught glimpses of actually existed. I had spent my first year secreted away in the university library trying to somehow absorb what seemed like the entirety of the biological knowledge humanity currently possessed, alternating weekends with visits home. But after my visits had been discontinued to festive occasions, I suddenly started to have time to feel lonely for the first time in my life.
At first I had enjoyed my newfound freedom: my wild adventures including a number of museums specializing in animal biology and a spa. Just what my pack might have expected of me. No wonder they had become convinced I was too boring to be in any danger, to go by what I did at home on weekends: read a fuckload for school and listen to music as loud as I could bear with earmuffs on just to feel like I had some privacy in a house too old to have soundproofing.
But for Intro to Chemistry I had had to form a study group, and it turned out Sean lived in the single two doors down from mine. Sean was a smart guy but he made it clear he also knew how to have fun. He reminded me of Tomy from secondary school, sweet and with a certain way with words that gave his jokes an edge that made them stand out from classic teenage humour. And yeah, like Tomy, Sean was pretty good looking too. But because I had had to wait till my phone charged (God forbid I failed to answer if somebody thought to check on me), I had told him that I would meet him there.
So I was alone at a party, and as lost as a blind pup. The low light and smoke didn’t do much to stop my supernaturally good eyes from finding all the attractive guys in the room at a glance, and the smell of barely repressed sexual tension in the room wasn’t helping either. Teenagers were bad, but young adults without any type of supervision, confident their IDs allowed them to do as they wished… well, the repression mechanisms were failing, to put it politely. Or, to be blunt, there were people making out against every conceivable surface: couches, and walls, the floor and a piano that was probably too expensive to be making the sounds it was under that guy’s arse.
With the smells of sex, smoke and alcohol I also discovered something even more freeing: there was not a single person in that room who wasn’t human. I let myself grin, feeling my spine straighten and my body thrum with power I always had but was rarely allowed to enjoy. I was a top predator in this room. I could do whatever I wanted and nobody would dispute my right to do it. I approached the first guy I had seen: he was leaning against the back of a sofa with a half empty cup of not-that-cheap bear. A posh lad, then, I thought. He looked up at me, eyes the bluest of purples, and seemed surprise to find me there.
“Hello, there,” I told him, smiling with a confidence I hadn’t known I had in me. I didn’t even know if he went for… oh, and then I did. His body language telegraphed welcome, legs parting and head tilting back in involuntary submission. He wasn’t shorter than me, he was just positioning himself that way.
“You’re drinking something nicer than that shit they have in the kitchen, aren’t you?” I asked him. I hadn’t even bothered to check what was on offer, but I could tell the difference between what was in his glass and what had been in the ones on the table next to me like a human might be able to tell apart a telephone and a television. Shifters metabolize alcohol faster than humans, and beer could never get a shifter drunk before he had to piss it all away, so there was little point in drinking shitty ethanol.
He licked his lips. “Yeah, couldn’t stomach that.” He glanced at my eyes, a little nervous. “Do you want some?”
I grinned and took the glass from his hand, feeling him startle and ignoring it. I took a sip, savoured it. It was okay if not brilliant. Then I looked back at him and took another. “Thanks,” I told him, passing it back.
And that’s how I met Jiang. It wasn’t the most romantic, maybe, but he made out with me before the night was out and when I went back to my room I didn’t need to be afraid that my brother or my cousins would rat me out and I would end up having to drop out of school. Some might say the freedom went to my head when I tell them that after two months Jiang and I weren’t just dating but spending most nights together, and that at the six month mark I went and got myself a double bed. My dad asked me about it when it showed up on his credit card bill, but easily believed my carefully prepared spiel about being a big guy and needing space to stretch with my books. I wasn’t lying, technically, since I did study in bed, and on through the shitty sound quality of a mobile ‘technically’ more than did the trick.
As an Omega, sticking to the facts is a skill you learn early and learn well, no matter how good you are, nobody can be good enough to be as good as an Omega is meant to be. For example, I’m not really a big guy by my standards. I’m just 5.9 and I grew up surrounded by Alphas, who tend to average around 6.3 and often go over it, but technically I am pretty tall for a bed designed for humans. Of course, it’s not much good if the Alpha interrogating you decides to order you to tell the truth outright, or if you can’t come up with the right facts quick enough. But it’s something. When you have little, you have to take something.
It didn’t last with Jiang, no hard feelings between us. In fact, feelings of all types were missing, except for the goodwill one naturally develops towards the generous provider of one’s orgasms. We had fallen in lust with each other and in love with the freedom being away from home gave us both. Jiang because his parents were really traditional and couldn’t have coped with him being gay. Me because Omegas were supposed to be chaste till they mated so the pack knew whose children they bore. Of course even when I knew very little about my own biology, I knew a human male couldn’t get me pregnant. I still never let Jiang to fuck me, which in the lust department might have been something of a deal breaker. I just couldn’t disconnect the act from the uncomfortable prospect of getting bred. It was something that on most days I managed forget was in my future.
Maybe because our parting had been amiable, Jiang would sometimes invite me to party with him and his friends. I didn’t much like the loud party scene: I had never been good at filtering out excess noise and had grown up with other people with super-hearing, so I hadn’t needed to learn. But I was happy to drink some wine in good company in the flat Jiang shared with four other guys. And that’s how I met Dan.
He was slouching on a couch, dressed in tight jeans and wearing more than a hint of eyeliner. But that wasn’t what made me look twice as he sipped at what was certainly the cheap beer people who were not Jiang’s boyfriend got at these parties. His eyes were glued to the back of a paperback from the pile on the coffee table. It takes a special kind of addict to do something like that at a party. He was an English and lit major and it turned out he had got an invite to a science-heavy party by virtue (or lack thereof) of having made out with the right guy at a LGBT social.
“Me too,” I told him. He laughed and my fate was sealed.
I was at the computer when Brennan called me and I hadn’t spoken to my father for over a week. That’s what I always remember: my brother saying my name and then his voice breaking over the word Dad... and immediately searching back in my memory for the last time I had spoken to him. As if, somehow, I could assess the extent of the damage by how long it had been since he had talked to me.
“Tell me,” I barked at poor Brennan.
“There was an accident...” he said, but trailed off before explaining anything useful.
“And it was really bad... he... he couldn’t... he couldn’t heal, Devlin,” he said, begging me to understand.
But it didn’t matter how much he begged, I couldn’t. “What?” I asked. “That’s not possible, the rate of healing is...”
“Devlin,” Brennan interrupted, “He didn’t.”
“He is... he is...” I couldn’t say it, I thought, but I forced myself to finish. “He’s dead?”
“Yes,” Brennan said, and I thought he was probably crying, somewhere secluded where nobody could see the mighty Alpha falling apart as if he was just as fragile as the rest of us.
I didn’t mean to, but I put the mobile down on the desk in front of me. I would have dropped it down an elevator shaft if that’s where I had been, my fingers going numb with shock.
“Devlin?” Dan was there, touching my cheek and forcing me to turn my head to look at him. I didn’t know how long I had been sitting at the table. The phone was silent now. “God, Devlin, what happened?”
I opened my mouth to respond and felt my eyes fill with tears, and had to close it again to keep in the sob that wanted to escape me. Devlin pushed the computer aside and dragged my chair sideways so he could put his arms around me.
“Shhhh...” he soothed, leaning close, his smell enveloping me like a layer of peace and calmness. I breathed him in, helpless to resist the offer of comfort and once my lips had parted, I started to cry. Tears and snot, and I was shaking so hard that Dan climbed onto my lap to keep hold of me. I clung to him, digging my fingertips into his clothes because I was afraid of pressing too hard on his skin. But I held on and he let me hold on, till it seemed like I could breathe again, even if it was still a little hard, a little wrong. What else was it supposed to be, but wrong? Dan got up long enough to get me tissues and then knelt at my feet and met my eyes.
“Do you think you can tell me now?” he asked me in a small but steady voice.
I nodded, then exhaled. “My dad,” I said, and stopped, closing my eyes. Dan didn’t need more than that, though.
“Oh, Devlin, I’m so sorry.” He sounded like he was about to cry. He surged to his feet and got his arms around me again. “I... do you want to come to the sofa?”
I did. I got up and followed him to our tiny living area and let him curl himself around me, as if he could truly protect me from the world with his body. It was beyond him, but he tried anyway.
Brennan called me back the next day to talk about funeral arrangements and ask if I wanted him to book my flight for me. He didn’t phrase it as an order or anything. I had been away from home for months at a time for the last six years, and although we both knew that he was technically my Alpha, neither of us felt it that way. It was all about my dad and how crazy it was that he was gone, and how I needed to be there to say goodbye, and so our mum wouldn’t completely collapse. Pheromones don’t go over the phone, you see, and I had never seen Brennan when he was my Alpha, and I had been away so long... it just felt normal. Awful, heart wrenching, but normal: the conversation anybody would have with their brother at a time like that. I told him I needed to stay a little longer to finish my work on my thesis, and he said he could handle things for a couple more days, but to come on Saturday because mum would be freaking out pretty bad by then.
“I’ll be there,” I promised, and proceeded to cry myself to sleep. Dan was a sweetheart about the whole thing, woke me up with breakfast and made me speak through it till I started crying again. He held me close with all the power of his average-sized future professor’s body. He was beautiful, a little taller than me and lean. I had lied to Brennan. I had turned my thesis in early so I could take Dan on a hike in Sky, as an anniversary present of sorts. The only schoolwork I had left was defending my thesis and that wouldn’t be for another month. I just needed more time. More time with my dad, really, but also more time to process what had happened, what life would be like now, how in my mind I would reach for him and find nothing.