We were meant to wait twenty-one days to announce the pregnancy to the pack, but we all knew it had worked. My scent had subtly shifted and my sense of smell was going haywire, so acute I couldn’t bear to enter the kitchen if anything even slightly spicy or smelly was around. Rami had dutifully emptied our fridge of any offending food, but even so, a clove of garlic might prove too strong for me if raw. I had had almost exclusive use of the master bedroom’s bathroom before, but I had to ask them to avoid it all costs now lest they ruin my smell eliminating cleaning sprees. Beyond that, we didn’t speak of it and most of the time I managed to pretend nothing was different. I wasn’t in denial, exactly, I was just used to keeping the unpleasantness of my life far from my mind. I stayed in my room and worked on finishing the articles I had never had enough time to write during my studies, and when my mother called me yet again to invite me to lunch I told her I had work to do. She was my mother, but I could refuse another Omega if I wanted, and she must have been feeling guilty enough not to get my brother or her sister to invite me instead.
Both Rami and Naveen were having a hard time respecting my space the way they had before – they seemed almost magnetically attracted to wherever I happened to be. Several times a day I’d find one of them darkening my doorway and looking at me beseechingly, as if I was denying them such a small favour by withdrawing my presence. It wasn’t strange for an Alpha to react that way to an Omega who was expecting their pup, but I couldn’t see any difference in Rami’s and Naveen’s newly found need to know I was safe at all times. Did their wolves think of mine as their mate, and it did not truly matter to them whose child I was carrying?
They never said anything about their new behaviour or their need for my presence. They could have without making it an order, but they were drawing the line further back still. And it was such a small kindness, a courtesy almost, and it felt so dangerous: because I was starting to believe they were in earnest about giving me choices when they could. And not just that, but also that they could do it, that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by their need to control me like Brennan had been.
They would come up with activities to share with me, an endless stream of offers to go to the cinema, the theatre, drive to the city, or a zoo. But when I refused, they would just nod and let me go back to my work. Mealtimes were the only exception, which they insisted I had to attend even if half the food had to be thrown out to avoid making me nauseous. I didn’t push them about it – I knew I had to eat more even if I had never felt less like eating at all.
I pushed the chicken around my plate. It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry; when the food didn’t make me queasy, I was starving all the time, but that they were giving me my weight in food at every meal.
“I’m not ignoring you,” I explained, not looking up. Their conversation came to an abrupt halt, cutlery clattering as if to announce my intention to tell them something important. “I’m working,” I added. “I always spend most of the day working.”
“We didn’t think you were,” said Naveen.
And I huffed, looking up in sudden irritation. “Why is it always we?”
Rami shrugged. “We talk things over, what’s wrong with that?”
“Why don’t you talk things over with me?” I replied, suddenly furious. “I’m not a child. I’m older than either of you and you never…”
“Whoa,” Naveen raised his hands. “Devlin, we are not conspiring against you. We just… well, you are busy, so we talk to each other.”
It was true that neither of them had a job in town yet. We had only been back from Scotland for a week and neither of them had bothered with a job right after moving into their newly adopted pack. After all, they had each only had half a chance of being offered a reason to stay. Strangely enough, it seemed they had spent all the time before my arrival getting to know each other, and I often felt like a third wheel with them. Not unwanted, but out of the loop of their conversations.
“You just told us you were busy,” Rami pointed out in his infuriatingly reasonable tone. “So we… I try not to bother you. I haven’t been able to stop checking on you… lately. And I’m sorry, I don’t want to impose but I feel like I need to check on you. I don’t know why, you’re perfectly safe.”
“And perfectly capable of defending myself,” I added.
“Yes,” Rami nodded amiably, and I tried not to be irritated by his compliance. “You are safe because you can protect yourself and because you are in the next room over and there’s no danger. But the wolves don’t believe it, it seems.” He shrugged, no more bothered by his wolf’s irrational behaviour than by anything else in the universe.
“The wolves are stupid,” I replied with a level of immaturity I hope never to sink down to again. I shook my head. “I don’t want you to feel you can’t talk to me. This…” I waved my hand between us. “It’s going to be a disaster if you don’t talk to me.”
Naveen’s eyes widened at my words. “Do you mean…?”
I waited a beat, then asked, “Do I mean what?”
Rami opened his mouth but closed it, once again, he seemed to be following Naveen’s train of thought much better than I was. Naveen had to swallow before speaking. “Do you mean this… for now? Or…?”
And then I understood: a bond, a mating bond, a permanent bond, not simply breeding but belonging. I hadn’t meant that – I hadn’t even thought about it. It was one of the few choices I did have. I couldn’t refuse breeding but I didn’t have to give myself over, soul as well as body. A bond was consensual. I had to look away from Naveen’s face, shining with hope I didn’t share. “I don’t know about that. For now, I guess.”
Naveen didn’t speak, but he didn’t need to for me to feel his disappointment.
“We will talk to you,” Rami promised. “But you are not… you need a break, Devlin. So take it. We are here if you want us, and, well, even if you don’t, the wolves will drag us to your room a few times a day,” he added, trying to joke and utterly failing at putting the right amount of teasing into his voice.
I looked up only to nod but it prompted Rami to continue, “I want this to last, but even if it doesn’t. I will be there for you. I know I pushed you, but I won’t leave you at the edge. No matter what.”
I nodded again, needing to look away from the intensity of his gaze but finding it hard. Then Rami himself looked down, picked up his cutlery and resumed eating.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that promise. I didn’t want him to feel indebted to me, but it felt like he was. I was… pregnant, carrying a child he wanted and I didn’t. I had let him do it to me because Brennan had left me with no other choice, but I had chosen to let him. And he had chosen to let Naveen go first, but that didn’t seem to stop him feeling responsible for me.
But I didn’t want him to care for me out of some perceived debt; I wanted it to be real.
I want it to be real, I thought, back to my bedroom door and the privacy almost wasn’t enough to cope with the force of that knowledge. Why would I want that? It was Dan I loved. Why would I want Rami to really care about me beyond his Alpha instincts?
“We have to say something,” Rami said at breakfast that morning. It was the twenty-third day since the breeding.
“Do we?” Naveen asked, before proposing, “Haven’t we been trying all along? Can’t we just miss it for a while longer?”
“The moment another wolf walks into a room Devlin is in, they will know. And they will know we knew and we didn’t say. What is the point of postponing it anyway? It’s what Brennan wanted, if anything he will be pleased.”
I shuddered. “That’s the problem.”
I felt myself stiffen. “It hasn’t occurred to you that it will be fairly humiliating for me to have my brother check on me like I’m an animal he’s bred,” I spoke quietly but forcefully. I wasn’t really resigned enough. I was still angry. I wanted to stop being angry, I could have dealt with being sad instead, or apathetic, but no, I was furious. I didn’t know if I could take Brennan coming over to see for himself that his orders had been obeyed.
“No,” Rami admitted after a long pause. He turned to Naveen, who shook his head at him in exasperation.
“Ah, Rami, it’s so obvious you don’t have brothers. Of course! Brennan has basically won the match and he will rub it all over Devlin’s face.”
“Thank you,” I told Naveen a tad more acidly that I had meant. He shrugged.
“He won’t be disrespectful to you,” Rami gallantly declared.
“Disrespectful?” I snorted. “So you think it’s very respectful of him to take over my life, make me move back home, set me up in a house and have me fucked by men he chose for me?”
“You chose us…” said Naveen, apparently forgetting his previous insightfulness as soon as it was about him.
“No, I chose both of you instead of just one.”
“You could have had someone else…”
“No, I couldn’t have. Brennan gave me two choices only. And even if I could have chosen someone else, I couldn’t have chosen something else. I had no choice about what was going to happen to me. Don’t pretend otherwise.”
Naveen stood up and I realised my words had cut deeper than I expected. He must have known everything I had said was true, but he was acting like he was hurt. “We will do as you wish,” he said formally. Then he turned and fled the room.
I turned to Rami, seeking some sign on his face. He didn’t seem surprised, just weary. He sighed. “Maybe try and not remind Naveen of it so much?” I stiffened and he shook his head. “I know it’s true. We both do. But… we are trying, Devlin. And you asked us.”
“I know you had to ask someone,” he interrupted angrily. “But you didn’t ask someone else, you asked Naveen and me and that… that should mean something. We should mean something.”
They should have. It was true. I should have appreciated the way they were willing to accommodate me. But although I was grateful for those things rationally, although that kindness had made me ask them both to stay, it did nothing to assuage the anger that burned in me. I couldn’t let myself be angry at Brennan, not when he had so much power over me and had shown himself so willing to misuse it, but I couldn’t keep the bitterness to myself, either. I wished I could call Sarah again – she would have heard me rant about it and added some well-placed fuel of her own devising. Or Jiang, who would have probably offered me pot and, when I refused (turned out, if my inhibitions were lowered, the wolf got to come out and play), stayed up and watched shitty TV with me till I fell asleep. Or Dan, who wasn’t very good with my anger but who would feel so bad on my behalf it would only take some cuddling to make the whole situation look less dire.
I had been dreading Brennan’s visit so viscerally that I almost expected to be disappointed. I haven’t had a hard life – my fears have been, more often than not, unjustified and gone unfulfilled. But I wasn’t wrong this time.
Rami had called him and asked him to stop by after I categorically refused to share a meal with him, no matter how small. I pretended not to notice when he walked into our living room and stayed where I had strategically placed myself next to the geranium, in full flower and therefore strongly scented.
Rami took it upon himself to be welcoming. “Would you like a drink?” he offered my brother, with Naveen standing quietly by his side.
Brennan gave him one of his friendly but patently fake smiles, the ones he had given teachers to get out of trouble. “Sure, if it’s no trouble… coffee would be nice.”
I should probably have stayed by the geranium, but I took a step towards the kitchen to go make it, desperate to get out of his presence. I wasn’t fast enough. His eyes snapped to me and he bridged the few steps between us and embraced me warmly, kissing my cheek and gushing something about being an uncle. Rami had been right, of course – to a werewolf a pregnant Omega smelled completely different.
I didn’t respond, staying stiffly in his arms and keeping my eyes lowered. It was the best I could do. I couldn’t stop myself from tensing when he slid his hand from my back to my front, right under my shirt, as if he had every right to my body. Only the wolf’s caution kept me from flinching, or, worse, punching him.
“I guess it’s too early,” he commented. Then led me to a chair so he could kneel at my feet and put his ear against my belly. “Two heartbeats,” he commented with pleasure and I closed my eyes at the news, managing not to shudder. He’s wrong, I thought, trying to slow down my own heartbeat before Brennan noticed how agitated I was and started asking me questions. It’s not possible, it’s only been one cycle.
But it was like a puzzle piece slotting into place. It would explain the way Naveen and Rami had been behaving, for one, and... I was too worried to wait. I needed to know. As soon as Brennan straightened and turned away from me I tried to listen deep inside myself. I couldn’t focus, all I could hear was him saying in a booming voice that reminded me of my father, “That’s excellent! I imagine we will be able to tell them apart quite easily,” he said to Naveen and Rami and I heard them laugh but I didn’t think they found it funny, either.
I breathed in and out, visualising my toes and travelling up: ankles, calves, knees… and then I reached my middle, a part of myself I couldn’t visualise because I didn’t even know what my insides would look like anymore. It turned out it didn’t matter, as soon as I got to my belly I could hear it. Them. Oh, God, them. There were two distinct heartbeats, slightly out of sync with each other. I just sat there, thinking, two, two. I closed my eyes and tried to see what was inside me, but it didn’t matter how superhuman my senses were, they were still limited by the laws of physics: I couldn’t see inside myself. It was probably for the best – I might have just lost it completely if I had seen anything. It’s almost over, I told myself. It wasn’t completely true, but Brennan would leave. He turned back and patted my stomach once more before clapping Rami and Naveen’s shoulders in congratulation and taking his leave.
The moment the door closed, Naveen was kneeling next to me. I had wanted to leave the room but hadn’t managed to get my feet under me. “I didn’t know how to tell you,” he said, taking hold of my hand and gripping it too hard. “I knew you would be upset and…”
“You knew?” Rami asked, sounding betrayed. That made me look up. I had thought it was me who was being kept out of the loop, as I always was. Naveen turned to him, face stricken. “I noticed yesterday. I swear! I just… I didn’t know how to bring it up. I thought… I thought I was wrong.”
“I don’t understand how it’s possible,” Rami said and for once, he was speaking to me, completely ignoring Naveen. “I wouldn’t… I didn’t know it was possible,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t have…”
I wasn’t sure how it was possible either. Omega males didn’t discard their eggs, but they still only produced one every cycle. And it had been my first. The likelihood of two eggs dropping at once during a first cycle, which was often completely infertile… but then I realised the obvious: menstrual cycles were infertile in young human females. Not wolves, wolves were able to conceive from their first oestrus and in wolves, the number of pups varied depending on the season and the abundance of food. And age: younger bitches’ litters were smaller. It was assumed that their bodies would later regulate once they had grown larger. But if age, not the number of pregnancies, was the key factor... I was a good six or eight years older than the average Omega on his first breeding.
And I had let two Alphas mount me to activate my reproductive cycle. And then again, during my heat. It hadn’t occurred to me the number of Alphas would matter either – after all, you can only turn something on once. And within one cycle, you could only get pregnant once. Unless you were me, and the universe hated your guts enough to fuck with your newly created ovaries.
Oh, God, I was so stupid. I felt my stomach knot with fear and had to breathe deeply more than a couple of times before I could calm down enough to think. Naveen rubbed my back almost obsessively, as if that could somehow help me breathe or change how fucked I was. “I need to get a scan,” I said to no one in particular.
“Isn’t it too early?” Naveen suggested. “My sister had to wait for ages to…”
I jumped to my feet, dislodging him. He fell on his arse, a pleasant result, if anything could have given me pleasure in that moment. It would turn out he was right about the scan, but at the time I was too outraged for facts, and Naveen, with his damned secret keeping, was not too far down on my shit list. “If Brennan can hear heartbeats, a scan can…”
“Can I?” Rami interrupted, almost like the question had slipped out. I glanced up at him.
“Can I please listen to them?”
I hesitated, but I had never seen his face that open before, and there was nobody I could call for a scan at seven on a Thursday evening. I had heard them, but what if I was wrong? Brennan had told me there were two heartbeats and that meant I wasn’t an objective observer. Not that Rami would be but…
I nodded and retreated to the armchair before changing my mind. I didn’t want to ever sit there again and think of Brennan’s fucking hands on me. In fact, maybe I didn’t want to even see it ever again. I took the settee instead, and sat smack in the middle. Rami didn’t sit next to me, though, he knelt at my feet, eyes on my midsection. He didn’t touch me. Just stayed there for a moment and then glanced up at me. “You remember what I told you, right? I got your back.”
I didn’t say anything, just took his hand in mine and put it on my belly. It didn’t feel any different, not even if you took into account how nauseous I felt right then, because I had been feeling some variation of nauseous for about two weeks straight. I saw him swallow before he lifted my shirt, then he turned his head and put his ear to my skin. I looked away, unable to think about what he was listening to for longer than a moment. His stubble itched as he tried to find a good position, but I stayed still, not breathing, just so he would hear properly, so he would tell me…
Rami’s throat clicked as he swallowed thickly. “I can hear them,” he whispered, so softly I wouldn’t have been able to decipher it had I been human.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Naveen take a step closer to us and my eyes snapped to him.
He froze in place. “Are you pissed off at me?” he asked. “I didn’t… fuck, I wasn’t even sure, Devlin. I have heard babies before but it’s not like I’m an expert, and I was sitting next to you on the sofa with the TV on, not pressing my ear to your stomach!”
“You promised you’d talk to me,” I said, quietly because he was angry and the wolf was trying to pull me back.
His face fell. “I know. But I wasn’t ready to talk. I didn’t tell Rami,” he offered.
It was true, of course. It was also… twins. I couldn’t deal with Naveen right then.
“I want to be alone,” I declared. Rami tensed where he was still pressing close to me, then got to his feet and offered me a hand up. I shook my head and got up on my own. I had had enough contact to last me a while. What I needed was a door between me and the whole world.
Of course, that wasn’t possible. It wouldn’t be for a long time to come now that part of the world was inside me. But I would take what I could get: being away from anybody whose presence, or voice or breathing could remind me of what was happening to me.
Eventually, I forgave Naveen for his reluctance to be the bearer of bad news. But I still didn’t speak to them about the pregnancy. If I needed anything, I asked for it. They asked for directions but not for names, looking at my face for clues but not asking if everything was ok when I returned from an appointment. I didn’t ask them to come to the consulting room with me when I went to see my mother’s childhood friend, an Alpha woman who had become an obstetrician of some renown. It was mostly Rami driving me back and forth, and I was glad for it; I don’t think Naveen could have kept his silence that long without Rami there, no matter how much he wanted to respect mine. I barely spoke to my doctor about it, but she seemed happy to draw blood and collect pee, and after I closed my eyes and turned my head the first time, she stopped talking during the ultrasounds.
The knowledge settled something in me, though. I didn’t want to talk about it with anybody but I couldn’t ask Kirby and Clara not to speak of their own pregnancies and one day I just blurted out a question about when the stupid morning sickness was going to go away; and after Kirby gave be a comprehensive history of her own experience, it just didn’t seem worth it to keep pretending.
A few days later, I reluctantly agreed to have lunch with my mother, knowing full well she would ask about it. I was wrong, though, she made me one of my favourite meals. Not accidentally, chicken pie and vegetables was mild enough in all respects not to make wonder why on Earth I had thought I was hungry. Then she shared her usual gossip with me while I nodded along, only half listening, mostly focused on the food.
“Devlin,” she said after a long pause and I looked up to meet her eyes, so like my own, and suddenly I wondered if the babies would have her light blue eyes. My eyes, too, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at myself in the mirror. “It’s okay to be scared.”
I stared, not sure how to articulate how angry I was. But then I realised something else: she was right – I was scared. I was terrified out of my mind. The anger was real enough, but it was becoming harder to hold on to as the very real concerns for my future overwhelmed me. I hadn’t wanted a child, much less two, but more pressing was the fact that I didn’t know how to care for one. I didn’t know what they needed, or how to protect them, or how I could continue to be myself without abandoning them. Because I couldn’t abandon them, they were mine.
I nodded at her, then shrugged. “I know.”
“Everybody is, the first time,” She explained, then laughed. “And the second, really…”
I nodded again, keeping my eyes averted.
“I know it’s… I know you didn’t think about this the way other Omegas do. But I will help you. I’m still young and you are my son. There is nothing in the world more important to me than you and Brennan. I will make sure you are okay, Devlin. I will make sure you have time for your work, I know how important is to you.”
I looked up in surprise at that. My mother had never given any sign that she knew that before. “Why didn’t you tell me what Brennan was planning?” I asked. I had never been able to let go of that pain. In truth, I had never been quite able to believe she loved me since I had found out.
“Devlin, your father had just died,” she said, eyes filling with tears.
“You just told me there’s nothing as important to you as I am…”
“There isn’t,” she insisted. “But he was my mate. And he wasn’t supposed to die. He was supposed to…” She choked and had to swallow before she could continue. “I was not… I was not in a good place, Devlin. I hope you never have to find out what it is like to lose your mate. If… if I had been myself, I would have spoken with Brennan before he set things in motion.”
“Didn’t Kirby speak to you?” I thought she must have known what I was talking about because Kirby could hardly have many reasons to speak to my mother. “About Scotland? About his conditions?”
“Yes, she did,” my mother said, frowning even as she dried her tears with a cloth handkerchief she had produced from somewhere. “And I spoke with Brennan. You went to Scotland and…”
“That was because Rami and Naveen spoke to him,” I objected.
My mother heaved a sighed. “Was it? Do you truly believe I have been sitting back and letting a man as young as your brother lead our pack?”
“Well, most of the Omegas are pregnant just like he wanted, aren’t they? And the Alphas are all going crazy over it, too.”
She gritted her teeth and carefully folded her handkerchief into perfect squares. “I am aware of that, Devlin. And I told you: I was grief-stricken after your father passed. I am better now and I am doing my best to curb your brother’s impulsivity.”
“Are you?” I challenged.
“Has he been unreasonable with you again?” She asked, and I realised that, other than checking I was truly pregnant, Brennan hadn’t tried to interact with me at all.
“It’s too late now,” I said, finally.
“You are still alive,” she replied and got up to throw away the rest of her uneaten meal before leaving the room.
By the time I was nearing the two month mark, Naveen took to avoiding me. He went from checking on me regularly to keeping his gaze trained on his plate during meals and vowing out of movies in the living room and trips to the nearest mall. He still responded when I spoke to him, but he seemed reluctant in a way he didn’t with Rami.
By then he had started working at a local restaurant a few shifts a week but he was by no means busy, just making sure he was not in the same room with me. I waited a week, trying to make certain I wasn’t imagining things, mostly watching how he would cuddle with Rami on the couch or greet him with a kiss with all the ease he no longer had when passing me the salt shaker. I thought maybe I should ask Rami about it. It seemed only fair; they talked about me all the time, didn’t they? But it seemed like if I did and Rami told me, Naveen wouldn’t even be there to see that I was trying, and if he was angry about something I wouldn’t even get the chance to apologize. I didn’t want to feel better about fucking up – I wanted to fix things between us.
So I waited for him in his room that night. He came in fresh from his shower, skin gleaming and towel wrapped around his hips. He stopped cold when he saw me.
“Devlin…” he said, eyes luminous in the moonlight filtering through the open drapes.
“I think we need to talk.”
“Um, okay,” he said. “Can I…?” He gestured, clearly meaning get dressed, and I blinked at him in confusion. It almost seemed like he wanted me to look away.
But that wouldn’t make any sense. “Sure, go ahead,” I said and didn’t look away, just to see what he would do. He hesitated, then went to his bureau and put his underwear on under his towel. I inhaled deeply, confirming what I suspected: he was aroused.
“Normally it’s before a shower one has a woody,” I commented and Naveen jumped, dropping the towel and turning towards me enough that I could see the bulge.
“I can’t help it, Devlin. I don’t think…”
“What can’t you help? Getting erections? Nobody can…”
“Needing you,” he spit out, cheeks burning.
“Needing me?” I repeated.
“Yes,” he gritted out. “So badly I’m going crazy and now you go and come into my room at night and watch me change!”
“I thought you were mad.”
“Why would I be mad?” He asked like he thought I was being absurd.
I shrugged. “I don’t know why. I know you stopped coming to my room to talk to me. And looking at me at dinner and just… started avoiding me. What was I supposed to think?”
He sighed, closing his eyes for a second. “I told you how Alphas in my pack act during…” He licked his lips and gestured towards me. “After.”
I shuddered. He had told me how Alphas would mount the Omegas they had impregnated while in wolf form. In my pack the only context in which animal sex had made an appearance was dirty jokes. “It can’t be a real physiological need, if it only happens in your pack.”
He hung his head, letting himself fall back onto his armchair still only in his boxers. “Maybe. Maybe I just… want you. Like I always do.”
I swallowed, and deflected with the practical. “Have you and Rami stopped…?”
Naveen looked up, frowning. “No. But you have stopped joining us.”
I looked back in silence. How could a man who was getting sex on the regular end up so desperate for a particular person that he needed to avoid them? And why was that person me? Was there some truth to that abhorrent habit of his pack? Some enhanced sexual attraction between partners that would… but what purpose would it serve? Strengthen their bond? There was no bond between us, though. Alphas were always around for the sake of protecting their pregnant partner, but I just couldn’t see why they would need to be around and fucking them to do that. Surely sex without reproduction could only be a distraction?
“Devlin?” Naveen asked and I realised I had got lost in my own head.
“I’m thinking about it. There must be something we can do that would help you.”
“You could come back?” Naveen offered rather weakly, as if he didn’t want to but couldn’t help but voice it.
My head snapped up. “Come back?” I repeated, incredulity slipping into my voice just as inevitably. What they had done… No, what I had let them do, had made me feel like I never wanted to be touched again as long as I lived. The idea of sex hadn’t even crossed my mind in the last two months. I hadn’t got hard while awake at all since, and when I woke with an erection I could wait a few minutes and it would fade on its own. None of the insistence or desperate need I had been dealing with since puberty seemed left in me. I shook my head. “No. I… no. I can’t.”
Naveen started to object, “You could just watch like…”
“No,” I repeated, shaking my head still and feeling my breathing come faster. I got to my feet and for a second my vision doubled. I walked out of the room without the wolf voicing a single objection.
For some reason unfathomable to me, Kirby wanted a baby shower. I stared at Clara over the remains of our lunch, waiting for an explanation, but she just shrugged.
“She’s happy, Devlin,” Clara told me tiredly, “Happy mothers want to celebrate they are having a baby.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t get how she is actually happy,” I said.
“Because this is what she wanted. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise, she told us, she’s always said that she wanted to get married and have a family. Have you even met Lucien?”
“Once,” I admitted. When I hadn’t been able to put it off anymore, I had gone to lunch with Kirby and him and dragged Rami and Naveen along as buffer. It had been no long after the second time I had slept with them and I had almost jumped out of my skin when Lucien had shaken my hand in greeting. Thankfully, he had assumed I was surprised because people in our pack tended to kiss Omegas regardless of gender and had charmingly explained in his pack they only kissed close relatives. “He was nice.”
“Nice?” Clara repeated incredulously. “He treats Kirby like she’s the queen of the universe!”
I tried to think back to that dinner. I remembered Kirby had been exultant, constantly bringing up her fiancé’s accomplishments and their plans together. But what had Lucien been doing besides smiling besottedly back at her? “I guess so,” I told Clara, her face closed up and I hurried to clarify. “I mean, he looked like he thought she had hung the moon! But I didn’t really… I wasn’t paying attention, I guess.”
“There’s a surprise!” She rolled her eyes at me. “You lost in his own head!”
“I wasn’t ignoring them or anything, it was just a hard time for me,” I tried to explain.
“Devlin, I love you like a brother,” she told me firmly, “But I don’t think you remember other people exist most of the time.”
It wasn’t untrue but it wasn’t completely accurate, either. “I do better when I want to remember other people exist…”
“Yes, I told you; I had friends at uni. And a boyfriend, do you think I ignored all of them and they still stayed?”
Clara sighed. “No, I don’t really… It’s just that when you came back and this happened, I guess I was hoping we would become friends again.”
“Again?” I asked. “I didn’t realise we had stopped.”
“Well, we did.” She snorted. “You went off to live in another country and when you came back for the summer you went into your room with your books and didn’t even really try to spend time with me. I mean, what did you expect? For me to sit here and wait for you to care?”
“I…” I swallowed, at a loss for words. She was right. I had done those things. I had come back and pretended I wasn’t here except when my mum or dad demanded I show up at dinner or family functions. I hadn’t reached out to Clara, or Kirby. I had been so desperate to keep the person I had become in Scotland alive that I had deliberately ignored the people that had been in my life before that point. “I’m sorry,” I finally rasped out.
Clara didn’t say anything for a long moment, face hard, then she turned her face, lips pressed together. I didn’t think it was anger she was hiding, she was proud of her anger. I had hurt her.
“I am really sorry, Clara,” I insisted. “I wanted to be normal, to be just a guy, you know?”
“And guys don’t have friends?”
“Guys aren’t Omegas, guys don’t have…” I swallowed. “Guys don’t have babies. And I just… when I came back I remembered that’s what I was, and the only thing I wanted was to forget.”
“Even if that meant forgetting about all the people who love you?”
“That was… I didn’t mean for that to happen, but I needed… I needed there to be a me.”
“There was always a you, Devlin, and you always managed to let us in without disappearing before.” She seemed to genuinely want to understand what was going through my head but I couldn’t really explain beyond that. Why had I felt that talking to Clara would make me less? It wouldn’t have really taken anything from me to talk to her about books or school, maybe tutor her in Maths like I used to do when she was little… It just had felt that way. It had felt that giving a single inch would mean admitting my life in Windermere was real, and that I was really an Omega.
I shook my head. “Only just.”
“What about now?” Clara asked, blue eyes intense. “What happens now?”
I had planned my career, what to publish and who to contact, but I didn’t have any plans for my life. How could I when it was so completely out of my control? Except Clara was right, there was nothing keeping me from being her friend, from supporting her while she went through this. There was no reason I had to do this alone, or leave her to do it alone. “I try harder,” I promised, as much to myself as to her. “I’ll… I’ll have lunch with you guys any time you ask. And I will help you plan the baby shower.” I looked up at her face, hoping for a clue that it was enough. She didn’t seem quite convinced. “What do you want me to do, Clara? Just ask.”
She took a sip from her water bottle, then met my eyes and did, “Come have dinner with me and Matt.”
I had never even met Matt, and even if Clara had put off an actual mating, he would still always be important to her as the father of her child. “Of course,” I said.
Clara smiled a little. “Do you have pen and paper? We need to make a list.”
Naveen never mentioned his request again, and neither did Rami, but I knew they had spoken of it. I didn’t complain about not being included. In that, at least, Rami had been right: I deserved a damned break after everything that had happened to me. I didn’t have any reason to force myself to think about Naveen – or probably both of them – still wanting me in their bed and make myself panic at the thought of their arousal inciting mine.
A few mornings after, Naveen smiled at me and offered me some crackers when I made a face at the eggs he had prepared. I nodded and he got me some spreads to go with them in uncharacteristic silence. Or well, uncharacteristic for Naveen, it was something Rami would have done and I figured it was to his advice that I owed the peace I was getting. I didn’t ask. I was glad he was talking to me again, but too afraid of what he had told me in private to risk engaging much with his chivalrous gestures.
I turned to Rami instead and prompted him for his plans. It was late July and although the pack had enough money that there was no need to worry about essentials, people with super-strength tend to get twitchy without any work. Work that Rami hadn’t tried to find since we had come back from Scotland.
“Well, I have been thinking of starting at the college.”
“Oh, that’s… great!” I said. “What do you want study?”
He glanced up at me with such an unwarranted firmness that I knew he was unsure. “Design and construction.”
“Ah, the visual arts,” I smiled. “Completely beyond me, but pretty. Is there a maths component?”
“Ah, yeah, I think so.” He took a sip of coffee. “It’s not art, anyway, it’s more like materials and durability and stuff like that.”
I shrugged and conceded, “Well, you are the expert, I guess.”
“What are you going to do, Devlin?” he asked out of the blue. “I mean, do you know?”
“What…” I felt my eyes fill with tears and Naveen, who had just set the butter down, snatched one of my hands in his fast as lightening. I startled and tried to pull back. “Is this some joke?” I got out through the impossible blockage in my throat.
“Of course not,” Naveen told me earnestly. “You did so well in your thesis and normally you would look for a teaching or research position, right? That’s what Rami means. It looks like you haven’t looked and… well.” He glanced down. “There’s restaurants and colleges everywhere.”
My hands closed into fists, my left crushing Naveen’s own painfully. He didn’t take it away. I left my hand around his, and opened my right to cover my eyes and nose, and just breathe behind its protection.
“You thought we expected you to stay home,” Rami said after a minute. He sounded disappointed, but I couldn’t tell whether it was I or something else that had prompted his disillusionment. He was right, of course, most Omegas stayed home while they had young children. I had known that and that was why I had been so desperate to finish my studies before it happened – with a PhD and a published thesis, I could continue publishing without leaving my room and I would be listened to. I was never going to be listened to in the pack, in my home, but the world would hear me. I wouldn’t be trapped.
“I know you haven’t said yes to bonding,” Rami explained, and I felt Naveen’s tension ratchet up through the hand I was still holding. “And that’s fine. You can have as long as… as far as I’m concerned, you can have forever. But for now, we want to take care of you, to make you happy. You have given up enough as it is, and it doesn’t matter to us where we live, if… it’s like Naveen said, there’s colleges and restaurants everywhere. If you want to find a job…”
I let out a bitter laugh. “How am I supposed to hold a job? I will start showing soon!”
“Maybe we could ask my uncle,” Naveen offered, and quickly explained. “He’s a lawyer.”
“He’s an Omega.”
I stared. No Omega in my family had every worked outside the home. Selling homemade jewellery or clothes or food was fine, obviously. Going to university was rare enough but accepted as long as it was in one of the caring professions: my aunt Marissa was a certified nurse and my cousin Cecilia had finished her B.A. and gone ahead for teacher training before returning home to form a family. Their skills were one of the things that allowed the pack the independence it needed from the human world, and as such were tremendously valued. But they were still Omegas, and their primary responsibility was to look after the children of the pack, their own and others’. Cecilia home-schooled the little ones, who couldn’t really be trusted to attend school before they had learned the difference between child and pup. Marissa took care of everybody, but since werewolves are a healthy bunch, it was mostly the pregnant Omegas and the very young pups. And I had centred my studies on the biology of large canids, because I loved it, yes, but not without knowing it was one of the few things I would be allowed to pursue. If my father hadn’t been our pack’s Dominant Alpha and had a soft spot for his only Omega child, I’d have probably majored in medicine instead.
“But… he works?”
“Yeah, he’s older so I don’t know how it came about. I know he went to King’s College – he never shuts up about it,” Naveen explained, before my stunned expression made him frown. “Is this strange for you?”
“None of our Omegas work. Didn’t you notice?”
“Um, not really. I thought it was this whole mass breeding thing that had everybody off track,” he admitted. “That… that sucks. And like, why would you need twenty adults to look after forty children? It’s crazy impractical.”
“So it’s not just him, your uncle? Other Omegas in your pack work as well?”
“Yeah, of course! My dad is a gardener. He can make anything grow, which with London’s weather is nothing short of magical…”
“Your dad…” I repeated, realising even as I said it that I had never asked about Naveen’s family. His dad was a male Omega, like me.
Naveen rolled my eyes at me, more amused than offended. “You are not the only one to be a little surprise, I’ll give you that, but in your case it seems a little hypocritical.”
“No, I… well, I never asked about your families.” I turn to include Rami. “I have been quite self-centred, haven’t I? It’s not like you didn’t have a life you left behind, too.”
“You did ask,” Rami pointed out. “We chose to leave our lives behind, remember? You aren’t self-centred, Devlin. It’s not self-centred to want things for yourself.”
I swallowed, not sure if I could afford to hope. “Your uncle is up in London?”
“Yeah,” Naveen gave my hand a last squeeze and went to get his phone from where it was charging on the kitchen counter. “I will find out when we can go see him.”