Doctor Lazu called me on my mobile so I knew it was her right away; if nothing else, Jiang had taught me to back up my contacts. “Hello?”
“Devlin.” She sounded pleased, and I immediately tensed in anticipation. “I thought I would give you the good news ‘in person’.” She laughed at this.
I couldn’t wait for her, though. “Do you have a place for me then?”
“Yes. I had to talk the admins into it, but they granted me enough for an assistant teacher salary. It’s not much, but the project, Devlin. I would work on it for free.”
I laughed, then, remembering her fancy shoes and impeccable suits. “I’m sure you would, but you don’t have to.”
“Well, neither do you, thanks to my rhetorical skills. It’s not a lot but you can get a flat near campus, even if you never actually want to leave the lab to go back to it.”
At this point I wasn’t sure if she meant the salary was bad enough that the flat would be a dump or if she was still going on about what the project was, and I almost didn’t care. Just the idea of being out of the house had me itching to start packing.
“I remember how obsessed you were with wolves,” she said then, and I changed my mind fast.
“The project is about wolves?” I asked. I can’t be this lucky, I thought.
“Wolves and dogs,” she said, voice almost dripping pleasure. “We are doing a complete historical evolutionary follow up, all the links – or, well, everything we can find. We are going to work with archaeological findings to map the whole thing.”
Extracting DNA from old bones was insanely difficult – in other words, extremely expensive. “How did you get the funding for this?”
“The anthropologists, actually. They want to use it to explain shifting hunting patterns in human societies. They think having dogs or domesticated wolves could have been a real game changer, letting humans track properly, offering another line of protection against predators…” There was a voice in the background, and Lazu tsked and said, “Oh, listen, I have to go. I will talk to you soon. See you next Monday.”
She didn’t actually mean the next Monday – I had a week and a half to be in London. She’d even offered up her guest bedroom. I had promised her that I could find a flat that fast. I wasn’t sure I could – like everybody else in the country, I knew how expensive the capital was – but, after all, my boyfriend was a native, wasn’t he? He could deal with it.
“We are going to London!” I told Naveen, or more exactly, the back of Naveen’s head, as he was wearing sound-cancelling headphones to watch his weekly episode of Castle. He sensed me anyway, and fumbled to pause it before he finally removed them. “I got the job,” I said, feeling my face about to split from how hard I was grinning.
“Seriously?” Naveen’s eyes widened and his mouth reflected my crazy smile back at me. Without the aid of supernaturally fast reflexes, he would have dropped the laptop. But there were always your super-senses when it was time to save your expensive technology from a painful end.
“Yes!” I said. “Doctor Lazu just called me. She wants me there by next week. She even offered to let me crash, and that’s not all: I’m going to work with wolf DNA. They want to find out how wolves became dogs…”
I didn’t let him finish, feeling like I didn’t have enough time everything I needed him to know. “I need you to find us a flat, because I know London is crazy expensive but that’s basically all I know about it. I have been there… three times? Including the time we drove down to see Lani.” I had a thought. “Do you think Lani would mind meeting with me again?” I asked him. “Because he did say it was possible to hide a pregnancy with some wardrobe tricks, but he never actually told us what the tricks were, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t even sew.”
“Another Omega skill you skipped?” Naveen guessed.
I rolled my eyes at him, in too good of a mood to take offense. It was true anyway; something being deemed appropriate for Omegas had often been reason enough for me not to want to do it. “Not really… I think my mum doesn’t like to do it, so she just did other stuff in exchange for it. I have never seen her with thread and needle, that’s for sure, and she always cooked way too much for four people.”
“I know how to sew. I kept getting holes in my school trousers and there was a good chance my dad would have something more important to do before I had to go back so…”
“Did you just tell me you used to literally poke holes in your trousers?” I teased, pretending to be scandalised, but laughing too much for it.
“I didn’t say ‘poke’!” Naveen squealed, but he was blushing a little. I leaned over and swiped my thumb over his right cheekbone.
“You didn’t have to,” I told him, liking the image of Naveen getting hard at random times, helpless to stop his body from its still boundless passions. He was looking up at me, looking captivated by something, and I realised I couldn’t pull my eyes away from him, like something was pulling me close. I planted a knee on the sofa next to him and took hold of his face to kiss him. I was ecstatic with the news from Doctor Lazu, but I wasn’t unaware of my environment or the fact that Naveen and Rami had both insisted in only kissing me while the other was in close proximity to keep them from freaking me out by mistake. I did it anyway, which was crossing a line after so many lines had already been crossed, but I wanted to so badly I wasn’t even afraid he would touch me.
Naveen didn’t kiss me back, just froze, making a pained sound as I pushed my tongue into his mouth, relishing the taste of cheap beer and onion crisps and Naveen himself. Enjoying his stubble rubbing against my face, smoother than it had ever been in my life thanks to pregnancy hormones; enjoying even his immobility a little. An enthusiastic partner is a delight, but someone who will surrender himself completely to your care is another, and I had been watching Naveen closely as he let Rami take care of him. I let myself suck softly on his tongue before reluctantly pulling back, licking the last of his taste from my lips and looking at his face for clues. In straightening, I noticed that for all that he hadn’t responded to the kiss, he was holding me back, his hands softly propping me up to help me keep my balance on top of him. His fingers were half on top of the mound my belly had become, and by the shell-shocked expression on his face, Naveen had already noticed. But I hadn’t. I hadn’t, and now that I had I… I didn’t mind. I swallowed and took the plunge, taking hold of his wrists and prying them off me before pushing them straight up under my shirt. He reacted instinctively, curving them gently to cup the underside of my belly and help support the weight of our children inside me. He gasped softly, and his breathing started coming harder, eyes darting crazily around till, finally, he looked up to meet mine. I gave him a small smile, as if to say: see? I told you I was okay.
“Is this okay?” He asked, shakily.
“Apparently,” I smiled, and almost laughed. “I feel fine,” I told him, grin taking over my face again. “Maybe a job is all I needed.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, then quietly added. “I can feel them moving...”
“I’m pretty sure that’s just me breathing, but if you say so...”
His eyes slid down between us and he asked, “Have you thought of names?”
“Names?” I repeated, too distracted by the feeling of his hands on me after so long, by his heavy gaze on me without any of the hesitance I had gotten used to. Then I understood. “Baby names?”
Naveen nodded. “Yeah.”
“No,” I told him honestly. I tried to think about the whole thing as little as possible, and as my current situation proved, I was pretty good at putting things out of my head. “Have you?”
“Ah, well, yeah, I… But it’s your decision, of course.” His thumbs started rubbing circles on my skin, nervously and probably without conscious input from him, too.
“It’s your gift,” Naveen explained.
“To you?” I asked softly.
“What? No! Not a gift you give away! A gift like… an ability!”
“I would like to give it away,” I replied. I wondered if he would accept it, if somehow he could have the ability to carry the children he wanted to have so badly. But it was a stupid question; he couldn’t really answer it truthfully when he knew well it couldn’t really happen.
His shoulders slumped. “So it doesn’t really help at all… being an Omega.”
It was a little irritating that he was still even thinking it might, but then again, he had a whole life of being told that being an Omega meant wanting children, and liking to cook, and sew, and, presumably, make beds and scrub toilets, too. How could I honestly expect a few months of me telling him otherwise to compete with a lifetime of that? And he wasn’t asking anymore. He knew I was telling the truth, even if he couldn’t quite believe me yet.
“No,” I patiently explained. “Doesn’t do shit for me. Just the wolf.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. Just bad luck.”
“No, I know that. I’m sorry I’m so bad at getting it. That I… that I believed what they told me about you, instead of believing you.”
“I guess it never occurred to you before. Is your dad very traditional?” I shifted so that I could get my other knee on the couch and slowly sat down on his lap, Naveen’s hands following my movements as if he thought I needed them there. I didn’t, but they felt nice, sliding a little to my sides till he was holding my hips instead, forearms pressed against the sides of my bump as if he couldn’t bring himself to relinquish the contact completely.
“Not very, but yeah. He’s happy having a part time job and just being home the rest of the time… well, I think he is.”
“What about your father?” I asked, using the word he did to refer to his sire. I had asked and nobody else used ‘bearer’ the way Lani did; most male couples went with the familial and formal versions, for the Omega and the Alpha respectively.
“A workaholic. Thank the Moon my uncle is Dominant or I would be studying business or dunno… dentistry. Whatever made the most money.”
“Well, you are working. Isn’t that enough?”
“Working a minimum wage job?” He snorted. “That ‘lacks ambition’,” he explained overemphasising someone else’s cadences. “I had to play the Alpha card to be allowed to get to Windermere when Brennan issued the invitation.”
“The Alpha card?” I repeated, pretty sure I wasn’t going to like his explanation of what that meant.
Either Naveen’s instincts were getting better, or I hadn’t said is neutrally as I’d hoped because he froze, then continued with obvious reluctance. “I am not… I’m not really that dominant? I mean, I don’t want to get fucked, but out of bed I’m a pretty laid back guy.”
“Lots of Alphas are,” I agreed. “Nothing to feel insecure about when you are told from day one you are the best already.”
Naveen shook his head. “No, that’s not it, it’s like… after you present as Alpha everybody assumes you are going to be wilful and determined so you… you wing it. I presented fairly late, halfway through year 7 and suddenly my dad started being softer on me when I broke things or made too much noise or whatever. It was almost expected… so I went a little wild,” he admitted with an embarrassed smile. “My father had to give me a stern talking to, and then he told Adam to keep me out of trouble till I settled. He’s the oldest of us Alpha kids. Well, he’s not a kid anymore – he has three, actually.”
“Your brother is called Adam?” I asked, feeling embarrassed all of sudden that I didn’t know more. This Adam would be my kid’s uncle, after all.
“Yes,” he said, then clarified, “It’s an Indian name, just sounds the same.”
“Did your dad choose the names?”
“Yeah, he’s very traditional about names.”
“Did he grow up in India?”
“Oh, no, I think that’s why the names. It’s like the only thing left?”
“What about the language? Do you speak Hindi?”
“Urdu. And nope.”
“My dad’s Urdu isn’t great because my grandma was Irish and my grandpa was too busy being Dominant and a businessman to teach their twenty-one kids another language.”
“Female Omegas also have multiple births, you know, and it was the war years. Most of the Alpha boys didn’t make it.”
I frowned. “What about the Omega boys? Weren’t they drafted?”
“Well, my dad was too young and Vishnu – ” he stopped to roll his eyes at the name “– got out the obvious way: he got pregnant.”
“Did that work?” I asked, surprised. “I mean, it wouldn’t show right away and…”
“It worked. They changed his status to female…” He gazed at me. “I never thought it was normal for male Omegas to do that…” He shook it off and I let it go without comment. “The important thing is he survived, anyway.”
“What about his Alpha? I wouldn’t think anybody could convince an Alpha who had just bonded to leave his Omega behind…”
“It wasn’t like that. It was a mating, not a bonding, and Valeria is in the States so she’s not going to accidentally mate with a close relative.”
“Valeria’s an Alpha?” I asked. Female Alphas were more common now but they had still been pretty rare back then. Still, there was no way a female Omega had left her pack on her own.
“Yes. They say it’s because her dad had to leave. It made her stronger.”
“Stronger?” I sneered.
“More aggressive!” Naveen amended. “It’s just the way they tell the story!”
“It makes no sense anyway, plenty of kids got left behind all through history and there weren’t any female Alphas around here before the eighteen century.”
“I don’t know if it’s true…”
“I want to find out,” I said, realising as I did that it was true. I had been thinking up questions all the while, but I hadn’t really put any of them into words.
“I have been studying wolves because it was the closest I could get… but I want to study us. I want to know how we work so I can change things…”
“No – really change things, not just learn how to cheat the system.”
“But for that to really work… you would have to change human laws, wouldn’t you? Because of course they don’t work for male Omegas… and how could you? Humans don’t know about us.”
I shrugged, trying not to move too much on top of him. Naveen and I were the same size normally, which meant that with the extra weight I had put on, I must have felt heavy on top of him. Of course, Naveen was also a werewolf – he could lift me now and he would easily be able to lift Rami even if he was unconscious. “Maybe that’s something that will have to change,” I said, focusing on the conversation once again. I understood humans were greedy for anything that might extend their lives, but I didn’t see how hiding from them forever, hoarding our secrets, left us any better off.
Naveen looked stunned, and before he could outright object, I changed the subject. “I think you should choose the names, you and Rami. You wanted a kid. For me they are just… an unexpected gift.”
“Unexpected or unwanted?”
“Both,” I admitted. “But sometimes you end up liking what you get.”
Writing this book wasn't something I planned. I didn't submit a proposal or talk it over with my advisor. It just happened to me. As I lived my life. As I learned to live it, really. I wrote notes on what I learned because that's just the way I work. I needed to put it down to be able to process it, but now I think maybe a lot of people need to read it, too. Omegas and Alphas both, and one day maybe humans, too.
How does one go about publishing a guide to something that isn't supposed to exist, though? Well, like this: you leave the sex in, you leave the pain in, and the uncomfortable parts without any big scientific words to hide you are scared and it isn't objective anymore. It isn't science. It isn't true. Except, what else could it be?