Naveen, of course, gave no sign that anything odd had ever happened, either between us or between him and Rami. As far as I could tell he hadn’t told Rami about it, and he certainly hadn’t told me if Rami had apologised. Since they seemed back to normal with each other, I thought they might have talked after I had collapsed into an exhausted sleep, but for all I knew they were just pretending it hadn’t happened. I always had the feeling I was missing half their conversations as it was, so it wasn’t anything new; but I wished I knew Naveen hadn’t told, that I could have something of my own with one of them instead of always being subjected to their combined will and interests. It was hard enough to say no to one of them, to be forced to constantly feel outmatched not just biologically but numerically seemed taking it a step too far. But I was also pretty sure that they didn’t intend to exclude me – no, they had known each other for longer and they were both Alphas. In their heads, it probably looked like keeping some things from me was a way to protect me.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop when it should, so of course the next afternoon we still had to fly to Edinburgh and drive to St. Andrews. I resolved to stay quiet and try and get as much sleep as possible. When I had to be awake, I had my thesis to reread and make notations on. I hadn’t found any major typos since my last read through and I was starting to think I could rewrite it from memory with little trouble, were all copies of it to be mysteriously destroyed. But if I wanted to speak in public and sound like I knew what the hell I was talking about I needed more than knowledge; I needed confidence. So I marked up pauses and made up analogies and pretended there was nothing odd about our silence.
St. Andrews was my city, but since we weren’t going to my flat, I didn’t see much of a point on playing guide. I let them find a hotel and book rooms, was somewhat relieved they had booked me a single connecting to their double through a shared living area and then just retreated into the shower. I had tried to keep my eyes closed during the cab drive but it didn’t matter much, my other senses were much harder to block out. Windermere was not heavily populated, but St. Andrews was still practically deserted in comparison, especially in summer when a third of the population had gone back home. Combined with all the rock both on the ground and above and it even felt different, the pressure of the air up high completely different to my sensitive skin and hearing. I couldn’t help it, I had been sitting in that cab and hearing the thick accent of the driver, Glaswegian by way of India, and the yearning to be home had fallen upon me like a wave. Except we drove to a hotel I had never been to, instead, and everything I recognized felt like a stab to my weakening willpower.
I agreed to eat when Rami ordered room service, but didn’t speak to either of them beyond replying to their questions: my flat was close, the university a little farther off, my oral would be in four days, in the morning, the weather wasn’t likely to get any warmer or sunnier. I felt both profoundly sore and numb to it, like the pain was so great I just couldn’t express it. Letting it out seemed not just dangerous but suicidal. To be home and yet cut off from everything that made it home was a very special kind of torture. I think they could tell – it wasn’t just the fact that we hadn’t slept together since that night Naveen had run away. But I didn’t particularly care at the time as long as they kept retreating to their room without any expectation that I would follow. I was so focused on my work I forgot they were even there most of the time, and it wasn’t surprising I missed Rami leaving. Used to ignoring their presence, it took Naveen knocking on my door twice before I reacted enough to tell him to open it.
“Are you upset about what I told you?”
I tried to blink my sleepiness away; I had spent the last hour unsuccessfully trying to read over my thesis’ conclusion. “What do you think?” I asked him neutrally. I couldn’t summon any anger or sadness.
“I’m sorry I told you like that,” he told me, and he did look it.
“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” I pointed out. “My wolf will become female, and it will let you mount it. Although I don’t get why, real wolves would know it’s pointless to mount a pregnant female.”
Naveen shook his head. “It’s not a wolf thing, it’s a werewolf thing. Alpha werewolves like to make sure their Omegas smell of them so they mount them often during pregnancy,” he explained, then seemed to realise what he had just said and blushed fiercely.
“How do you know this?” I asked, still leaning back on my pillows, as if I didn’t have a care in the world, as if my core muscles weren’t clenched so tight glass could have been broken against them.
“Well, I… I have seen it? Wolves aren’t very concerned about privacy. And it’s pretty obvious when a wolf is pregnant so… we asked and they explained it was something mated pairs did.”
“Ok,” I exhaled, keeping the image as far from my mind as I could manage by will alone. “You need to get this very clear right now: that is never going to happen between us.”
“I will not shift,” I explained, choosing to assume his objection would be practical. “You told me: I don’t need to till it’s time.”
He hunched his shoulders. “Yes, of course. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
“Good.” I said. “Can you close the door for me? I need some quiet to get through this.”
I hadn’t planned to see Dan again. I should have: we had been together for three years and he deserved to at least be reassured I wasn’t dead in a ditch. Not to mention to be told I was breaking up with him, even if I couldn’t tell him why. And maybe that I would be leaving him with a whole flat to himself. I assuaged the guilt a little by leaving an envelope with one month’s rent on the table for him. It was the least I could do, give him a little time to find a flatmate or figure out how to get out of the lease.
It was also as much as I could do. If I had to leave him… no, if I had to tear myself away from him, leave my heart in literal shreds… I couldn’t do it and have to look him in the eye as well.
I got to our flat at 10, twenty minutes after his shift started, and I was finished packing my stuff by one o’clock. I only took the clothes and some toiletries, and the books and papers I had accumulated through an undergraduate, masters and PhD. But I didn’t take anything from the kitchen or any of the pictures we had hung on the walls. Maybe it would have been kinder to, but if I had to see something that reminded me of him and the life I was walking away from… I didn’t think I could bear it. The idea of seeing Dan himself was even more unthinkable, but fate hadn’t had enough with using me as a punching bag. The key rattled in the lock and before I could extract myself from the sandwich I was halfway through making, it was swinging open. Dan’s eyes flickered about before he found me in the open plan kitchen.
“Devlin,” he said. He sounded close to tears.
I watched him back, hands at my side, so surprised I couldn’t even explain myself.
“Sarah said she saw you come in,” he explained. “I couldn’t get away sooner.” He took a step towards me and promptly tripped over the suitcase full of my clothes I’d left next to the front door. He looked down, startled, then back up at me, confusion writ large on his expressive face. “Devlin?”
“I was going to leave you a note,” I said, voice scrapping out like my throat was full of broken glass. It wasn’t true; I had thought about it but in the end it had seemed that since I couldn’t tell him the truth, whatever story he made up to explain my absence would be better suited to help him get over me than what I could come up with. That wasn’t true, either; it was just that I didn’t want to lie to him. I had never been allowed to tell him the truth, but by omitting certain facts I had shared enough about myself to let him know me. Not Devlin the Omega, but Devlin the guy who liked science, too much garlic on everything, and bad offensive comedies. And he had liked that guy, he had come to love him. And so had I. I had loved Devlin the student, and I didn’t want him to disappear, if only in Dan’s memory and Sarah’s and Alexis’. I thought I could remain a smart guy with a brilliant future and all the options in the world. It wouldn’t be me, but he would exist, somehow. It was less than nothing. It was selfish. But I was being asked to give up so much already… I just couldn’t bear to give up more. I didn’t feel strong enough. Maybe they were right, maybe Omegas were weak, or maybe that was bullshit like I had always thought and it was just me.
“I… something’s happened, with my family. I have to go. I convinced… I came back for my thesis but that’s it. I’m going back to England. For good.”
He looked around at the packed bags. “And you are leaving me.”
I looked at his feet. He was no Alpha, he was just human, but I had never felt more like throwing myself onto my back and showing someone my belly. I felt like the lowest scum, like I wouldn’t deserve it if he pissed on me if I were on fire. I couldn’t say it, though. I was leaving him, because I was being made to, because being with him had never been a choice I was allowed to make. I had been stupid to think I could have him, to have this place we had made a home.
“Devlin,” he said and I realised he was closer and that I was crying.
“Fuck,” I rubbed at my face with the back of my sleeve. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I just… it’s my fault. I shouldn’t cry. It’s not fair to you.”
Dan came closer still, and took hold of my elbow, cupping my neck with his other hand and making a circle of our bodies. “But why are you crying? If you really wanted to leave, you wouldn’t be crying.” I kept my mouth shut, but that’s all I managed and that was never going to convince someone who knew me as well as Dan did. His eyes were wet, too, a deep hazel that wasn’t really brown. “Devlin, honey, I can help you…”
And that snapped me out of it. I turned my face away from him, swallowed. “No. You cannot.”
“Why not? Just… just tell me. Whatever it is, we can figure it out…”
I shook my head.
“But why…?” He pressed, sounding desperate, then his voice changed, “Is it your family?” He asked, sounding hurt and defeated. And I realised what should have been obvious: Dan loved his own family beyond reason. He wouldn’t ask me to give up mine to be with him.
I nodded, not wanting to incite any more questions.
He exhaled shakily. “I love you,” he said, firm and sure. He had said it before, of course, but never when he was about to cry.
I clenched my fists, trying to keep the answer back but then one of his tears fell on my hand and I realised: I was only hurting him more. “I love you, too,” I admitted, and pushed my forehead to the hollow between his neck and shoulder. He was smaller than me, but I didn’t mind having to bend to fit into his arms. He held me, small but strong. More important still, he held me. He wasn’t comforting me because he wanted something but because he loved me and wanted me to feel safe. Even when I was hurting him, even when I was leaving him. I clutched at him before making myself add, “I still cannot stay. I can’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, please, just…”
Dan pulled back from me. Well, he tried to, I was too distraught to be careful of my strength and he wasn’t actually able move me at all. “Devlin,” he murmured, kissing my hair. “I just want to kiss you. Lemme…”
I let him, and he found my mouth with his, soft and sweet but with an edge of desperation that took over the moment I opened my mouth to his tongue. And then we were kissing like there was no tomorrow, because there wasn’t. And it unfolded from there like there was no other possible way for it to go: we got to the bed somehow and I fell on top of Dan, still kissing him like mad. I wanted so badly for this to be normal, more than I wanted to fuck him I wanted to be able to stay in this moment forever. I can give up coming, I thought, if it only means that this moment doesn’t end. Then I remembered that I couldn’t ejaculate much anymore and I felt my cock soften between us. But Dan was too frantic to notice, at that moment he looked up and demanded, “Condom, now.”
And I realised he wouldn’t know. We had never stopped using protection, even though we had been exclusive for years. I thought of the feeling of come dripping out of me, drenching my thighs with someone else’s release; and I was glad for it. I didn’t want Dan to know what that felt like. I also couldn’t help but remember the burn of it, and I was a little too careful with the lube for Dan’s taste.
“God, Devlin,” he said it like he was cursing me. He thought I was trying to delay it for my sake. What an idiot I was, Dan knew how to relax to get stretched, he was looking forward to it: this was nothing like what had been done to me.
“Do you want something?” I asked him teasingly.
He got a little angry at that, eyes steely and determined. “And you don’t?”
I stopped smiling and just said it, “Please tell me.”
His eyes widened at that, he obviously got that something odd was going on with me but there was no way he could guess at what. “I want you,” he offered, a little dry but nonetheless clearly true. “I want you to get in me and never leave.” And he crushed our mouths together in demonstration.
The moment it was over I knew I shouldn’t have done it. It was fucked up on so many levels that it didn’t even feel right to hold Dan close to me in what had been our bed less than a month earlier. Dan loved me, I knew he did. It wasn’t fair of me to lead him on, even if I had broken up with him just before fucking him. But it wasn’t just that, the rest of it wasn’t right either. The knowledge of what I no longer was in my family’s view but forever, for whoever looked upon me, marked on my body, a lack so fundamental and obvious that some would refuse to call me a man. And what would happen to me because of that, the way my body was even in that moment changing to accommodate someone else’s desires, the way I was becoming what Brennan had decided I needed to be. For the first time, it wasn’t a mere omission but an outright lie. To be in that bed next to Dan was taking up the space that belonged to someone else, someone we had both loved and who was now gone. That life was over, done.
It was done. It was becoming my mantra of sorts. It’s done and it cannot be undone. Move on, I told myself, and didn’t let myself lean in and kiss the freckled back of his shoulder just before I left his bed and his life forever. I got my bags downstairs and stashed into a taxi mostly because I didn’t want him imagining I would take it back. And then I gave the driver the address of the hotel where I was staying with Rami and Naveen. It was impossible they wouldn’t be waiting for me when I had left my cell behind after they had let me go say goodbye to my old life on my own.
I was right: the lift hadn’t even stopped and Rami was yanking the door room open. He didn’t come to me, though, just watched me, waiting. I took a step forward, dragging the single suitcase I had brought with me, and his nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed. He knew. I had known he would, but I hadn’t realised he’d be this angry. The wolf couldn’t predict others’ emotions and I had been too upset to care about what it would be like for Rami to have me return reeking of sex, of someone else. I froze, watching him back and too afraid to move. The wolf could perceive the danger, but without any clear signs from the Alpha, it didn’t have any more of a clue about what to do than I did. Then, without a word, Rami just turned and walked back into the room. I hesitated, but followed. I had nowhere else to go.
“Wasn’t it him?” I heard Naveen ask, just before I crossed the doorway. He stopped in his tracks, staring at me in horror. I was so relieved he wasn’t angry as well I almost stepped closer before I remembered what I smelled like. I dropped the suitcase and took a step back to close the door and lean against it.
“Devlin,” he said, like my name meant something to him. “You…”
But he couldn’t finish – instead, he turned to Rami. Rami wasn’t looking at me, but he must have felt Naveen’s gaze on him because he spoke.
“You let him fuck you.” He said it factually, not a hint of anger in his voice, like after thirty seconds he wasn’t even surprised I had done it.
Like nothing else could be expected of me. I was an Omega, of course I would spread my legs for anybody who fucking asked. I had been afraid a moment earlier but those words galvanized a fury I had been carrying with me for as long as I had known him. “I fucked him,” I sneered.
Rami turned to look at me, mouth twisted down. This tipped Naveen’s previous horror into sadness, he dropped down on the sofa behind him with a heavy thud. I felt like killing them. Wasn’t I even worth getting angry at? Or did it not count for them because I hadn’t been the one getting fucked? Or because Dan was human? It seemed like no matter what I said, no matter what I did, I would never be treated like a person: just a guy who had fucked up.
Naveen sighed. “Oh, that’s…” He shook his head, looking, of all things, sympathetic, “You must really love him.”
“What?” I asked.
“To do that for him,” Naveen explained.
“For him?” I repeated incredulously, I clenched my hands to keep them to myself and laughed. “Do you think it was a hardship for me? I love it!”
Rami frowned. “You’re an Omega, you can’t really…”
“And weren’t you an Alpha when you got on your knees for Naveen?” I turned to Naveen. “Did you stop being an Alpha when you showed him your neck?”
Naveen visibly flinched. But Rami had an answer, “That isn’t real sex. I wouldn’t actually let him mount me.”
“It isn’t real sex?” I snorted. “Are you fifteen or something? Of course it’s real! Just as you were really having sex with me every time you came all over me.”
Rami frowned at me, but didn’t try to pursue the argument. Instead he asked, “If you really think that, why would you prefer that to just sleeping with us?”
“Because I don’t have a real choice about having sex with you! Just when. And I like looking at you together, I like that you are doing it for me. I like that I get to have my own fucking orgasms that way, it makes… it makes everything else feel less like something that’s happening to me. If I choose it, I can… it’s almost like I’m choosing the rest, because I want it.”
“But you are not choosing it,” Rami interpreted. “If you could choose, you would be a top.”
“When I could choose,” I clarified. “Yes, I chose to top.”
Naveen got to his feet and I found myself pressing back against the door. He didn’t come any closer, though.
“Do you really…?” he started to ask, and the doorbell rang. The hotel staff had brought my boxes and remaining bag up. It took a few minutes to get them all inside, but the moment the door closed Naveen approached me again, real close this time, even if he wasn’t touching me.
“Do you really want it? Us? When it’s like that?” His eyes were wide and earnest. “Because it can always be like that, nothing easier.” He turned slightly. “Right, Rami?”
Rami swallowed, “Except for…” he stopped, apparently realising there was no good way to say ‘except for when we fuck you to breed you.’ Then he went on, “But it can be like that, the rest of the time.”
I thought about it. I didn’t really want them, not even when they were naked together, kissing and tangling and completely unaware of my presence. I was attracted to them but I didn’t want to date them or something even more permanent. But that wasn’t a choice I was allowed to make. I wanted them enough, plenty even, to have sex with them, and that would make everything else easier. If I could be intimate with them on my own terms, the times when we did it on terms neither of us had set wouldn’t mean I was losing control, it could just be it was my turn to make some concessions.
“I am not making any promises,” I explained.
“Will you… are you saying you will go back to him?” Unlike Rami, Naveen did seem upset at the idea, even if he was trying not to let it show. Not to hide it though – he was trying to keep it out of his voice and body language so the wolf wouldn’t affect my answer. It was nothing but common decency, not holding a knife to someone’s throat when asking them a question, but it made something in my tremble with gratefulness all the same. And a moment later, fury that I had something to be grateful for.
I stood there, shaking with it and thought of lying, of cruelly describing what I would do to Dan. But I didn’t let it out. Naveen wasn’t telling me what to do, and he could. If he did, I would probably have to obey. If not him, then Brennan. And just thinking of Dan made my mouth feel thick and my eyes fill with tears. I couldn’t speak his name, not even refer to him in any way. And a fantasy – a fantasy that implied I would get to see him again… “I will not see him again,” I said. Not a promise, but I felt my shoulders slump in defeat anyway. I took a deep breath to keep the tears at bay and then another, just concentrating on my body, on the smells in the room, trying not to think of his scent on my skin.
Naveen took a step closer then, I saw him raise his hand towards me, slow and hesitant. And I took a step forward, just the one. I was asking and he answered, his arms swiftly coming around me and holding me close. I buried my face on his shoulder and focused on his hands slowly drawing circles up and down my back. I kept my hands down, my nails digging into my palms, too sharp to risk touching him. He smelled like metal and hard plastic and human and wolf, and just… Naveen. I would have known his smell anywhere. It had been on my skin for so long I would never forget it. I had hated his smell, but it comforted me now. And then I remembered what I smelled like: Dan. I jerked in his arms, trying to get away. Naveen’s hold tightened, then loosened. “What…?”
“I’m sorry, I know I smell…”
“Oh, Devlin, I wouldn’t take him from you.”
“I just don’t want to lose you. I wish… I wish you could feel that way about me. But I wouldn’t take him from you. I can see it’s hurting you. It’s the last thing I want…”
It was so much like what Rami had told me after Naveen had fled, such an unexpected confession. The implication was clear: he wished I could feel it, because he already did. But my answer couldn’t be any less hurtful. There could be no lies, not even if I had been physically capable of them, and the truth would only wound. I didn’t need to say it, anyway, he knew I still loved Dan. It wasn’t him taking me away from this life and the man I loved, though. I knew that much. “None of this is your fault. It was Brennan who decided…”
“I’m sorry anyway, for whatever part I’m playing in this,” he whispered into my hair, quietly enough I thought that even Rami might not have heard.
But I did, and something in me unwound at that. It didn’t mean I was suffering any less, but it did mean I wasn’t alone in it. It is a very small comfort, to know somebody cares about your pain, but when the pain seems so abysmally large, it isn’t little.