Book: The Mating Habits of Werewolves

Previous: Chapter Fifteen
Next: Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Sixteen

Lovers talk

 

"Naveen," I greeted him, too firmly for cordiality.

He looked up at me from where he was toeing off his work shoes and seemed to brace himself. "I’ll talk to you. I planned to, just give me five minutes, ok?"

I wasn't feeling very generous after fretting the day away after Rami had left for Yorkshire and Naveen had somehow managed to disappear for his morning job at four am. It was eight now, and his shift had ended four hours ago.

"I will make tea," I said. I didn't really want any – it was just something to do so that didn't feel complete useless.

"I’m sorry I’m late. I should have texted you,” he said, stepping into the kitchen a minute later. I didn't dignify that with an answer, just glared at him.

“Rami texted me, about going to Yorkshire, and…” he trailed off. “You know how sometimes you leave me hanging in the middle of a conversation because you just need to be alone?”

I nodded, reluctant to give ground.

“Well, I really needed to be alone,” he said. “Or, well, not alone, just… forget about it for a bit.”

“So you went to Lucien’s place,” I guessed.

That seemed to please Naveen. “Yes, and we just… we watched a show and ate popcorn. Kirby told me to remind you about lunch tomorrow…”

I raised an eyebrow. “Good thing I asked, then.” I took a sip of my tea and gestured towards the extra cup and saucer I had set on the counter for him. Both Rami and I had honestly tried to make Naveen’s tea to his specifications, but even when he stood behind us and told us what to do we somehow never managed it quite right.

He snorted. “Like you don’t have three alarms on your phone to remind you,” he teased me, and started the elaborate teabag placement ritual perfectly brewed tea apparently required.

I shrugged. I did.

“I don’t want to… to push you. But I’m worried about Rami.”

Naveen’s shoulders tensed and he lowered his eyes like I had turned into Medusa and my gaze could turn him to stone. "It wasn't my fault… not exactly. I just said yes."

"Yes to what?" I asked as patiently as I could manage.

He glanced up at me before focusing his gaze on his knuckles again. "To what you said no to."

"What I said no..." I started, but the penny dropped before more words could. "Fucking?!"

"Well, not just..."

"He let you fuck him." Saying it out loud felt almost sacrilegious.

"He brought it up and we talked about it and he said... he said fucking was important for him. And… yes."

"And it was bad," I murmured almost to myself.

"No," Naveen told me a little angrily. "It was good."

"It was?"

Naveen nodded shakily and I realised it must have been quite a shocking experience to him as well, after a life of imagining his identity hung on the fact. "He didn't think it would be. He wanted to know how you had felt but... it is really important to him, a... a connection. A way of connecting that's just, more intense, I guess. And it felt so... to get to do that with him – it was crazy hot, Devlin, but it also left me feeling like I had been inside his head. Like he had seen inside mine, too. Figured it out from my pulse or my breathing or something, I don’t know…"

"And that's why he left."

"I don't really know. He texted me to say he was leaving and I haven’t really texted him back. I didn't think I should press..." He threw me a sideway glance at that and I realised he thought his experience with me was a model to follow in this situation. I was about to object but realised I couldn’t argue that it wasn’t a good idea to leave someone alone to process a very emotional experience.

"You know he was wrong, don't you? What you did with him was nothing like..."

"What?" Naveen said. "Of course I know that. Rami... he knows that too. I think what he wanted all along was to be close to you. Even if the only way he could be was to do something he didn't... he hadn't thought he wanted."

"So he thought fucking would get him closer to me?" I asked incredulously.

"By the Moon, Devlin, you can be really thick for someone so smart: he wanted to make love to you."

I was silent at that, and Naveen seemed to think the conversation was over because he walked up to the fridge and started taking things out.

"Sex...” I started to say. “That's not how it works. You can't just have sex with someone and expect to feel close to them."

Naveen paused, but didn't turn. "Can't you? So you can hold someone as they fall apart and then just walk away? You don't feel anything?"

I looked away, trying to collect my wildly swirling thoughts. I hadn’t felt close to them when they had fucked me, no. I hadn’t even felt close to me. But thinking of Jiang in that club, the way we had laughed together after a few drinks and a few sloppy kisses. Or the way Dan had assumed it was okay for him to show up to my room two days after we first slept together just because he wanted to see me; and had been right. The terrible, almost painful intimacy of being inside someone else’s body for the first time, the pleasure mixing with terror because in that position, it was impossible not to know you could hurt them. Impossible to look them in the eye afterwards and not feel a stirring of connection. “I do. But not… not love. Love is something else.”

“Well, maybe it is for you, but not for Rami and not for a lot of people. That’s why they call it making love.”

“So if I don’t fuck him… he will leave,” I said, finally understanding.

Naveen set down his plate and came back to me, leaning in and covering my hands with his, his intense eyes focused on mine in a way I was coming to find reassuring. “No. He won’t. Look at what’s happened; I did it, and he’s taken off like his arse’s on fire.”

I looked up at him. “What the fuck am I supposed to do then?”

“Fucked if I know,” Naveen admitted. “Do you think I should call him?”

I shook my head. “Maybe text him. But not about that.”

Naveen let his head hang from his shoulders with a sigh, fine dark hair spilling forward and leaving his face in shadows. His hands were still on mine, so I had to move pretty fast to stand up and catch his wrists so he didn’t stumble. He looked up in surprise, and he looked tired.

“Stay there,” I told him, and circled the table till I could put my arms around his middle, pressing my torso close to him. It pushed my growing belly right against his spine, but I had found I could bear it if I didn’t have to look at him at the same time. He let go of the table and swayed in my arms, letting the nape of his neck rest on my shoulder. “Devlin, can we… just, go to the couch? My feet are killing me.”

“Are they?” I asked in surprise. Werewolves rarely experienced physical discomfort during everyday life.

Naveen nodded, or tried to, I suppose – mostly he moved his head a little where it was resting on my shoulder. “There was a wedding, and two of my colleagues called in sick. I think there’s a summer flu or something going around.”

“Then let’s go to bed,” I decided, and Naveen stiffened in my arms as if I had electrocuted him. I pretended not to notice, just like he pretended not to notice the growing softness in my middle. I let go of his waist and took his hand instead, not stopping my talk as I dragged him to his own bedroom. “I’m not exactly a fan of verticality right now. I had never realised it would mess with your balance so badly.”

When we got to his room, Naveen hurried to smooth down the covers over the sheets, then took off his shoes and socks and put them outside the room, to which I definitely had no objection, but he seemed ready to start tidying the whole room that very moment despite his obvious exhaustion. I toed off my slippers and crawled on the bed. “Naveen.”

He froze from where he was piling up some random detritus on his desk and turned my way, looking like I had caught him doing something illicit.

“I know you are messy, we live together. Can you come here so we can cuddle?”

He nodded, clearly nervous. So much so that I had to ask, “Are you worried about something in particular?”

“Worried?” he repeated. “I’m not worried, I’m excited!”

My heart fell. “You don’t think I meant…”

His eyes widened. “No! No way. I wouldn’t even if you asked me.”

“What?” I asked, wondering if we were even speaking about the same thing.

He exhaled, then sat down at the edge of the bed and leaned in to take my hand in his, looking apprehensive. “Don’t take this wrong way, okay? I just… I wouldn’t feel comfortable having sex with you right now.”

“You wouldn’t?” I couldn’t help but ask. Two months ago he had told me he wanted me so badly it was driving him crazy, so crazy he had decided he needed to stop talking to me to be able to bear it.

He shook his head. “I know what I said but… I didn’t get it. Now I do, and… I have done enough damage. We have all done enough damage, starting with your brother and not excluding you. It was your choice to ask me and Rami and to do it when we did it. And I get it – you wanted it out of the way, you wanted it to be over. But I don’t think it went well.”

“No.” I closed my eyes and let my breath out slowly, thinking not just of the sex but of the way I had given away my unease right now. The way I wanted to be able to touch him easily but couldn’t help but tense. I didn’t know what was worse: losing control of my body to someone else, or to my own fucked up psyche.

“I didn’t think you were worried, after you said no,” he explained, thumb making small circles on the sensitive skin between my thumb and forefinger.

“I wasn’t… rationally. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what you were feeling.”

“We can’t help what we feel, but that’s all. You know we wouldn’t…”

“I know that,” I interrupted. “But if you want me, you can make me…” Naveen’s thumb stopped, and I turned and put my left hand over his, my eyes still on the bedspread. “I can’t help what I’m feeling either.”

Naveen exhaled slowly. “Will you hold me for a bit? I feel about ready to crawl out of my skin.”

“Come here,” I told him, pulling gently on his wrist.

He put his knees on the bed and rolled closer, back towards me, till I gathered him close and put my right arm around him, chin hooked over his shoulder.

I wasn’t oblivious to, or ungrateful for, the way Naveen had so easily followed my lead regarding what kind of touching was acceptable, but it hurt to hear him say that he knew how fucked up the experience of being fucked and bred had left me. Because it was true, and, despite all the sense Rami had insisted it made, I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to be beyond such petty things as trauma, just as I was beyond broken bones and cancer.

But once pointed out, I couldn’t really deny that I had spent two whole months without willingly touching another person, and I hadn’t even noticed. I held Naveen tight to me, as if this contact could ward off its previous absence, or help me remember a time when I had reached out. But I hadn’t – I knew it just as much because of how relieved I felt to be allowed myself contact as from how unsure I still was of it.

I had been avoiding not just their conversation, but their presence. Their bodies had come to be dangerous because, quite simply, they had hurt me deeply with them. The wolf hadn’t felt it as pain, but it understood my quickened pulse and sweaty palms as signs of fear easily enough and, combined with its natural respect for Alphas, it hadn’t objected to my cowering in my room. A space that had been always mine in name, but into which I had invited Rami and Naveen regularly, till all of sudden, I couldn’t. By now, their smell had faded from the room and the wolf considered it a hideout more than a den.

That was my problem, really. I had noticed. I had been happy to ignore both my body and theirs, pretend that the only thing that still existed was my mind, flying swiftly through the lectures, notes and the papers my colleagues sent me to review. It was the only thing I had ever wanted for myself, after all, and they had told me they would not only not stop me from doing it like I had assumed, but actually move their whole lives anywhere I choose to work.

Rami and Naveen seemed to have a wildly different conception of an Alpha’s job description than Brennan did. For them it wasn’t simply an Omega’s physical integrity they were meant to guard, but also their psychological and emotional wellbeing. I didn’t think they really expected me to do the same for them, and it irked me, but I also knew the demands the relationship had put on me would have made it impossible for me to actually do anything of the sort.

I had been right to choose them both. Whatever the consequences, fertile or not, I don’t think either of them would have stayed long without having the other to support them when I failed to do more than keep myself afloat.

But I couldn’t continue to be that selfish forever. Not just because it wasn’t fair, but because I had never been able to see those I cared about in pain without trying to help. And, although I wasn’t sure I could ever return the depth of their feelings for me, I did care about them.

I believed in Naveen’s need to touch me as much as I believed in the universal human need for touch, in the way babies would die if given sustenance but not human warmth, in how isolation was the worst punishment given to prisoners who misbehaved. And I had made a concerted effort to satisfy it. I hadn’t bothered being subtle because, after all, a starved person would not miss food when presented to them, no matter how well disguised or small the portion. But I hadn’t expected Rami to bring it up directly, to make it sound like I was forcing myself through it in the same way I had forced myself through the fucking. I liked touching them. Or at least I did once I had my arms wrapped around Naveen, and he had melted into them with evident enjoyment, clearly not intending to do anything but lie there till I told him otherwise. For a moment on the beach, I had managed to enjoy touching Rami, too, even if he had made the whole thing awkward by asking about the babies.

Naveen had passed out long enough ago that even my superior circulatory system couldn’t keep my arm from falling asleep. I held him tightly against me and pulled till I could half roll him on top of me. He complained sleepily but didn’t wake, and I managed to get my arm out before curling around him again, shifting my hips to make room between us for my belly, noticeably fuller by now that the first trimester was coming to an end.

I was still upset enough that it comforted me to get to hold Naveen from the back so that he wouldn’t be able to touch or see it, and so I wouldn’t have to look him in the face while he felt it pressing against him. But when I was alone with it, I mostly forgot, and sometimes I remembered for a good reason, like something I was reading making me think of the insanely complex process of sperm and egg becoming an embryo, and an embryo, a baby. I didn’t quite want to think about what they would look like, but I wondered if they would be faster than normal, or if that was Naveen’s personality as much as it was a physical ability. Or, would they be more aware of their environment, was that a neurological difference? Or just Rami being Rami?

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The distinctive purr of the 208 interrupted my reading late the next afternoon and, before I knew it, I was on my feet and heading for the front door. When I opened it, Rami’s black car wasn’t even around the last curve that led from the main house to ours. I stepped down the porch steps, jostling my belly uncomfortably in the process, and kept going. I reached the machine before the rumbling had even stopped. Rami got out, looking absentmindedly relaxed like he always did when driving in silence for a long time and his face split into a grin when he saw me. “Devlin!”

I threw myself at him, arms around his neck, fingers tangling in his hair before the second syllable of my name had left his lips. I didn’t want any mollycoddling and I wasn’t going to take it. I took to his lips almost vengefully, determined to prove Naveen wrong, my body wrong, the world at large wrong. I was stronger than any of them, I thought, and nothing could be taken from me if I didn’t let it be taken. Rami’s startled whimper just made me more determined; I could do this, I could control myself because clearly I could control him. He couldn’t stop himself from kissing me back, tongue soft and slick, and then he put his arms around me and pressed me close to him. And it was like a bucket of freezing water had been dropped on me. Thankfully, Rami noticed instantly and took his hands off me, backing himself into the car to separate our bodies.

“I’m sorry,” he said, eyes wide and scared.

I took a step back of my own, panting. It was only when I stumbled that I realised I wasn’t out of breath because my mouth had been busy – of course not, it had barely been a minute or two. Rami took hold of my wrist to stop me from falling, and I immediately tried to yank it out of his grasp.

“Devlin! You almost fell!” he scolded me, but I couldn’t really process it then. My vision was blurring and I truly didn’t feel steady, but I wanted him to stop touching me. “Sit down,” he told me. “Sit down and I will let you go.”

In the end, he had to take my other wrist so my attempt at kneeling didn’t turn into a free fall onto my face. By the time I was safely on the ground and he finally let go of my hands, tears were running down my cheeks and I was shaking so hard I had to lean down and put my forehead against the ground, fingers digging painfully into the gravel on the path. Rami didn’t try to touch me, just told me to stay and went into the house. Not that he needed to say anything; I don’t think I could have moved if my life had depended on it.

I don’t know how long I was there on the ground, crying like a child whose world has been shattered. After a while it wasn’t even me crying – not really. It was like a performance I was watching. Something else my body was doing that I had no involvement or say in. I didn’t even feel upset anymore, just tired. I just wanted to stop shaking, but I didn’t know how to fix whatever was wrong with my nerves or my tear ducts, whatever was wrong inside me, deeper still.

Rami knelt next to me, a calculated whole body length away, and he had tissues and a glass of water. “Can you sit up?” he asked. It didn’t feel like I could – I felt too awful for it, but I did it anyway.

I took the tissue and cleaned my face, blew my nose and dropped it to the ground in a way that would have normally made me twitch with ecological rage.

“Drink some water,” Rami said, neither an order nor a request. I drank – there seemed to be nothing else to do. Then I took another tissue and poured some water on it, or mostly on it, seeing as my hands were still shaking and I spilled half on the ground. But I wet the tissue enough to clean my face of the salt of tears.

“Are you better now?”

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said and my voice came out embarrassingly scratchy and raw.

Rami seemed to sag. “By the Moon, Devlin, you scared the shit out of me.”

I opened my mouth to apologise. Instead, I said, “I need to keep trying.”

“Devlin…” he sighed. “Let’s go inside.” He extended a hand to help me get up but I ignored it, determined to be stronger than my weak body. It could push me down, but I would get up again. I got to my feet with no trouble. I was used to the unwieldy ways of my body by now. I had no choice but to be.

“Fine,” I spat, and left him behind, slamming the door open on my way in to relieve some of the tension; the humiliation at my failure and the anger at his questioning what I was capable of with my own body.

When Rami finally walked in a couple minutes later, he dropped his duffel and another bag by the entrance before making his way to the sofa area where I was pacing.

“Do you think you have to do this?” he asked, sounding almost angry himself. “I remember what you asked me, if I was leaving because you wouldn’t sleep with me. You have to know that’s crazy. You cannot not know how I feel. What you mean…” he exhaled. “If I never do more than hold your hand for the rest of our lives, I will dream of touching you every day and be happy for it,” he insisted, and maybe it was true. I certainly was in no state to try and listen to his body to find out for sure but, after all, he had Naveen and he would have a child soon, too. He didn’t really need me anymore.

It was I who had been left with nothing. “What if I’m not happy with it?”

“What’s going on?” he frowned, seemingly surprised by this, as if it had not crossed his mind that the person who was broken might not wish to be, as if he had imagined that I wasn’t just afraid but happy to remain so. To believe myself safe by keeping my distance even, if that meant I could never kiss someone again. I didn’t see why any of it needed to be explained; I didn’t want to be safe, I wanted to be really okay again.

Rami took a seat, even as his eyes followed my restless movements. “Last time we spoke you were not… you weren’t getting hard.”

“I wasn’t,” I gritted out, growing angry that he was bringing it up, even though otherwise I would have had to do it. “And I’m not. That’s why I need your help.”

Rami watched me, horror spreading through his face like fire on petrol. “You want to use it? You hate it more than anything and now you want to use it and… and I have to believe nothing’s wrong?”

“Something is very definitely wrong. I want to get hard and I can’t!” I shouted. Why was it that all my conversations with Rami ended in fights lately? He had been so much easier than Naveen at the beginning and now…

“What if you wait…?” he asked reasonably, and licked his lips as if to postpone his own words. “What if we find someone for you to talk to about it? It doesn’t have to be fixed right now to be fixed.”

I stopped walking and turned to look down at him, directly in the face, as threatening as I could be. He didn’t react. “That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? It isn’t happening to you,” I said bitterly. “It wasn’t you who lost a fucking body part and now can’t even…” I choked and gasped for air. I couldn’t quite tell if it was anger or fear, or both. What if I never managed to have sex again? What if they had not just bred me but broken me beyond repair?

“I know,” he said, too calm by half. “I know it wasn’t me. I know it isn’t me. If I could make it be me, if I could take the pain for you, I would. And it’s stupid to say but… that was why I told you what I told you. I have been trying to find a way to connect with you since the beginning, and it seems the only thing you are willing to show me is your pain. And then only because you can’t help it.”

I couldn’t quite believe he was blaming me for protecting myself – or my mind, at least, since I wasn’t allowed to protect my body. He said he wanted to understand, but if he had understood even a little he would have understood that having him look inside my head was the worst thing I could imagine.

He wasn’t vulnerable. He wasn’t made vulnerable and forced to stay so. He had tried, of course, because bottoming was intrinsically submissive and vulnerable for him. But he wasn’t now, he had got up and walked out of that bedroom and other than his memories, nothing had truly changed.

“Is that why you let Naveen fuck you?” I asked, intending to shock, wanting to turn the tables, wanting to be strong for once, even if I could only get that by making him feel weak. I could get myself off the ground, my muscles still worked; but I couldn’t stop being afraid of falling again. My mind wasn’t as easily convinced I was safe.

Rami flinched, and I should have been sorry. I should have remembered that he was an Alpha but I was the man he loved. Instead, I watched him flush and avert his gaze, clearly discomfited, as he shook his head and I felt nothing but satisfaction.

“No,” he said.

He looked so much younger then, young enough to have had sex for the first time and be embarrassed about it, even. Suddenly, I understood the impulse that must have overtaken him so often: to protect. Because he needed protecting, because a few words right then and I could have made him cry, and by the way he was hunching into himself on that couch, Rami knew it. But he wasn’t walking away. He wasn’t trying to protect himself. He was willing to trust I wouldn’t hurt him. Like a lowering gun, I felt my rage subsiding, air coming easier into my lungs, hands unclenching on the back of the opposite couch. And I could ask what I needed to know, not what he didn’t want to tell me. Even if this time they were perhaps the same thing.

“Was it… bad?” I asked, softening my tone so much Rami looked up in surprise. He must have thought I was deranged. I wasn’t sure he was wrong.

I hadn’t doubted Naveen’s account – at least, I hadn’t doubted that Naveen believed it. But it was just an account. I was relieved when Rami quickly shook his head.

“It was good.” He licked his lips and rearranged himself so that he was no longer quite facing me. “Really good,” he added quietly, almost like he didn’t know if he was pleased about the success of his little experiment. He shifted, then got up. “I need tea.”

I followed him to the kitchen, where he studiously kept his back to me while going through the ritual of boiling water and getting the milk. So distracted was he that he didn’t even offer me any. I was, in truth, more interested in him than any beverage, and I was trying to drink less anyway to stave off the effect that having almost constant pressure on my bladder had on my toilet habits. I took a seat at the table, watching the set of his shoulders and listening to the beat of his heart, as if that would guarantee, somehow, that he was okay.

“Had you had sex before…?” I trailed off. I didn’t want to speak about what he and I had done in the same terms as what he and Naveen had done. It was another world; no, another universe.

“A one night stand. And then… a friend, except we were friends before… when we were blowing each other and jerking off together. Then he let me top him and…” His spoon rattled loudly against the porcelain of the cup. “I got confused. I thought what I had felt when I was inside him could carry over, could become… I dunno, a relationship.”

“And he didn’t,” I finished for him; it was obvious it still hurt to speak of it.

“No, he didn’t. He dumped me,” he said, then sighed, dropping too many sugar cubes in his tea as some sort of consolation for heartbreak. “It was one of the reasons I was happy to book it. Back home, it was impossible to avoid him. That’s why I haven’t visited, really.”

“Is he an Alpha, too?”

“Ah, no, he’s not a Wolf.”

“A human in your pack?”

“Yes. One of my uncles married a human woman, and she had a little boy. He grew up with us, more or less.”

“You were dating a human?” I repeated uselessly.

Rami took a seat in front of me, cup in hand and frowning. “I wasn’t dating him, didn’t I just tell you?”

“But you wanted to,” I answered as calmly as I could manage, “I thought it wouldn’t be your thing, it’s all.”

“Why wouldn’t it be my thing?” He sounded genuinely offended, like I had suggested he was racist.

I stared. Then looked down my own body. “Because you wanted children. And a human man…”

“A human man couldn’t have given me any?”

I nodded.

“I didn’t… it wasn’t children I wanted. I mean, I did,” he clarified, “but what I really wanted was to find someone who would… someone who wouldn’t leave, someone who wanted me to stay.”

I swallowed. “So you came here because he didn’t want you. But why did you stay?”

“I thought… I thought they were right about me needing an Omega. And it wasn’t like I was committing to anything by moving here for a while so no harm done, really. I could have walked away any time,” he said this casually, then stopped cold. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m not… you know I’m not trying to be asshole, right?”

He looked so stricken, but in truth it was perhaps the first time an Alpha had admitted to me that he had advantages over me, a freedom that I should covet. It didn’t make him any less privileged or me any freer, but it did make him less of an asshole that he knew it, that he heard himself when he talked.

“Yeah, if you notice you are being an arse that automatically makes you less of one,” I explained.

He laughed a little. “That’s why I liked you, that first day. You were openly annoyed at things and didn’t hold back at all just because you had two Alphas you were supposed to impress. I didn’t think you cared if you impressed me. I guess… you didn’t. But that was impressive.”

“Because most Omegas go around cowering and agreeing with everything you say?”

Rami shook his head. “Because most people walk around worried about what other people think. Like, not the people they love, but random strangers or their colleagues or whoever.” He took a good gulp of tea, grimaced because it was cold and continued, “Even me. I mean, I’m pretty laid back, but I care more than I want to. I can’t really help it. But you don’t, you’re too sure you are right to care.”

I had always been told that I was too headstrong, too independent, too convinced that I was right and unwilling to listen to other people’s opinions. I had never understood why I needed to listen if they were mostly wrong, why it mattered who was older or more powerful if they didn’t know the answer to the question or the solution to the problem. It wasn’t that I didn’t care – I cared too much, but not about what people imagined they knew; about what they really knew.

“So you just decided you wanted to have a kid with me because I have no social skills,” I concluded, not sure how I meant it.

He shook his head, and said wonderingly, “It was crazy. We had a single date. And Naveen was there. When you asked me to… when you asked me to have a kid with you, we had never even spent any time together alone.” He met my eyes. “But you asked both of us and I thought you saw it, too, what I had been feeling when I was with Naveen. And if you saw it, I thought… what are the chances that I will find an Omega smart enough to see something like that so quickly and who wants to be part of it?”

“I had no idea you were together,” I said, “or that you even got on.”

Rami snorted. “I know that now, but just… it seemed destined or something. Or maybe I just wanted it to be because… because I wanted you both.”

“I flipped a coin.”

“What?”

“I flipped a coin to decide,” I found myself explaining. “I figured I couldn’t choose anyway, I might as well…”

“But a coin can’t fall on both sides...” Rami objected.

“That’s what I thought, too,” I said, lost in the haze of memory. It had been such a strange moment and I had forgotten all about it until now. “But it kept spinning and then it fell down the drain, and I couldn’t find it again.” I looked up and met his eyes. “I thought it was magic, but maybe it was just fate.”

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Next: Chapter Seventeen