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The Unplanned and the Unexpected

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The wall of the house was still warm from the slowly setting sun, and Asanao leaned back against it to soak up its warmth before the slight chill of the night came. It was still only August, and plenty of time for them to get back to the island before the cold season came, but the nights still held more chill than they had a month ago. He watched Ju-ken and Inoran go through and re-pack the things they had gathered on the wagon, making room for more. He had offered to help, but his two companions declined, saying they would only step on each other.

They had been on the road for three weeks, travelling to one of the bigger cities in the area, trying to fill up on things they couldn’t get in the towns near the island anymore. The towns had sustained them for years, but just as it had been in the olden days, bigger cities had bigger opportunities and a larger selection. With all the building they were doing, they were always in need of more tools, especially now that they were going larger, building a school. Kaoru and Yukke had compiled a list of specialist tools, screws, bolts and knickknacks that they wanted in order to make life easier during the building process. The engineer had even told them exactly where to go, giving a description he hoped was still valid. It was to a specific warehouse he knew to have some quality tools of the large variety, rather than the DIY versions at the local hardware store. Kouki and Minase had also compiled lists of things like books, crayons, pencils and (if they could find some in good shape), paper for the kids to use in school. And then of course there was Kai’s list, where TONS AND TONS OF SALT was on top in bold letters. As much as you can find, was the order, and they had found a lot. Salt was luckily among the things that didn’t go bad with time, and they had found massive amounts in restaurant kitchens and stores that sold in bulk. Below salt, in more humble letters, Kai had written ‘Some sugar would be nice’, and the group had smirked at the note but picked up enough sugar to make jam and fruit preserves of this year’s harvest.

With the horse and wagon, the trip was a lot easier to rationalize than if they had had to walk the entire way and carried the things back home. Asanao didn’t really mind the journey, and Inoran was rather happy to be out and about for a while. It was worse for Ju-ken who was a bit homesick, longing for his darling Mahiro, but he managed by talking the ears off the other two about his new boyfriend’s talents and abundance of cuteness.

Five years had made a world of difference to a city Asanao had once known pretty well. He had been here often enough for visits, but the once bustling streets were completely devoid of people, plants and trees already taking over the streets slowly. Still, they had made some great finds, and they were happy with their haul as they started their slow trek back, taking one last rest in a house in the suburbs before they moved on out into the forest. It felt strange to sit here on the stairs of a normal family home, looking out over similar homes in all directions, while on the street, a wagon was parked instead of a car. He shook his head with a crooked smile on his lips. It was so easy to forget about the rest of the world when they were on the island, their own little paradise.

While Inoran and Ju-ken shuffled things around, he decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood, see what had become of it as it was left to its own devices. He wasn’t worried about running into any rogue alphas, not any more. The violent roaming packs of asshats had died out over the years, not smart enough to make it once the canned food ran out. The islanders still had some small hope of eventually running into another group of survivors at some point, but so far everything was quiet, and Asanao doubted he’d see any more newcomers in his lifetime.

He told Inoran and Ju-ken where he was going, just in case, and sauntered off down the street, now and then peeking into houses and gardens out of pure curiosity. He made sure to keep track of where he was going – suburbia streets could be a maze even Before – and walked in a straight line until he came upon a bigger road. Turning around, he walked two streets over and doubled back to where he came from.

A peek into a large garden made him stop and stare. This garden looked a lot more well kept than what he had seen so far. Coincidence? But no, those were vegetables in neat lines, ready for harvest. Intrigued, he carefully opened the gate and walked in. He looked around but couldn’t see anyone around. The garden was as still and empty as every other garden he had seen, but yet, those vegetables were too neat to have sown themselves year after year. They weren’t the happiest vegetables in the world, like someone was trying without the know-how, but still, here they were. He leaned down and carefully reached out a hand, lifting some large leafs to spot three ripe zucchinis underneath. This was no accident.

He rose again, looking around with a frown. Someone was here – the only question was how many, and where? The garden was of a good size and almost all the grass had been converted into beds for growing, but it wasn’t enough to support several people for a whole winter. Of course, there could be other gardens like this one around. Just because he hadn’t seen them didn’t mean they weren’t there, but somehow he felt this was the work of one or possibly two people, no more.

It wasn’t a movement, not really, more like a shift in the corner of his eye. He spun around, looking carefully around. Nothing. But it had been there, he was sure of it.

“Hello?” he said, puzzled. “Anyone here?”

It was dead quiet, and no matter how much he looked, he couldn’t find anything to indicate that the flicker he thought he had seen had been real. He sighed, and turned around again to look at the vegetables. After a few weeks of the type of food that Kai had made to keep for a long journey, with lots of dried, salted and pickled things, the fresh vegetables looked delectable. Still, this was someone else’s survival, he was sure of it even though he had no proof. So he threw one last longing glance at the vegetables and turned back to the gate, stepping back out onto the street again. He would talk to the guys – if someone was here they had to a least try to find the person and feel them out to see if they were a good fit for the island. No one deserved to live alone like this for the rest of their lives, not when there was a community ready to open its arms for the right person.

He threw a last glance over his shoulder and walked off, counting the streets until it was time to turn the corner to get back to where he had started. Ju-ken and Inoran were done, sitting on the stairs and discussing Mahiro (what else?) when Asanao came back, walking up to them with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“What’s up with you?” Inoran asked, jumping on the chance to talk about something that wasn’t Ju-ken’s new sweetheart.

“I think someone’s here,” Asanao answered, sitting down next to the other two. He proceeded to tell them what he had found, and Ju-ken and Inoran looked at him in disbelief.

“Are you sure?” Ju-ken said doubtfully. “It seems a far stretch to think anyone has survived alone like this for so many years.”

“I know, but I’m sure,” the alpha answered. “This city must have been deserted pretty early on, since it seems the sickness was the problem here. And if whoever it is was clever enough to keep hidden when roaming gangs came After, he could have made it. Or they, I don’t know. There could be more gardens like this, and so there could be a whole bunch of them hiding.”

“Either way, we need to keep close watch tonight,” Inoran said firmly. “We can’t risk a whole gang coming to try to take the horse and our food during the night.”

The others agreed, and Ju-ken offered to take the first watch, the other two going to sleep. Inoran took the night shift, and woke Asanao in the early morning hours to report that everything was calm. The alpha yawned and nodded, getting up and stretching a bit to limber up. He was still a bit tired and groggy, and as Inoran went to sleep he walked outside, shrugging in the cool morning air. He checked on the horse, and then turned his head to look up the street in the morning mist.

He froze, suddenly staring. There, further up the street, a lone figure was standing in the middle of the road, looking at him. He couldn’t see the persons face, and in the dim morning light it was hard to say if it was an alpha or omega. He looked around quickly, trying to see if this was an ambush with more people sneaking up on him, but no. The figure was alone.

“Hi,” the alpha said calmly. “I’m Asanao. Are you the person with the garden?”

It didn’t surprise him that there was no answer. He tried again. “Do you want to come over and talk for a while? I’m not going to hurt you or try to take your food, I promise. I’d just like to talk.”

The figure was like a statue, no movement or sound, and the alpha was about to speak again when the figure suddenly moved, backing away into the mist. “Wait,” Asanao called, but sighed as he realized that whoever it had been, he was gone. Inoran and Ju-ken soon came rushing out of the house, awoken by their comrade’s shout.

“What is it? Where? How many?” Inoran was still buttoning his jacket, his head swirling around to look in every direction at once. When Asanao told them of what had happened, he frowned.

“So you were right, there is someone. Alpha or omega?”

“Hard to tell in this light,” the alpha shrugged. “He was alone, though, so you can go back in and rest for a while longer. I’ll be fine even if he comes back.”

“Mmm,” Inoran said, pursing his lips. “Well, maybe. Call if you need us?”

“I will.”

With a short nod, the other two went back inside for a few more hours of sleep before they had to get ready for the day.

. . . . .

Almost three hours later, the figure reappeared. This time, the light was stronger and the mist not as thick, and Asanao could get a better look of the person standing there. It was an omega, had to be, as short and thin as he was. He wore a sweater that was much too large for him wrapped around the small limbs, the hood shading his face as he peered at the alpha keeping guard.

“Hello again,” Asanao said finally, tired of the staring contest. “Want to come over and say hi this time?”

The omega stayed silent, just watching him, and the alpha sighed. After all he had seen and heard of life out here After, he couldn’t blame the guy for being careful. “If you want, I can talk and you can just listen, how about that? I’m Asanao as I said, and my two friends who are still sleeping are called Inoran and Ju-ken. We’re here to find things we need to build our new school on the island where we live. There’s this warehouse here where we found what we needed, so everyone will be happy when we get back, I think.” He babbled on, casually telling the omega about the island, without giving too much away. After about twenty minutes, he thought he saw the statue actually move a step or two, and after another fifteen minutes, the omega actually came slightly closer. He was still out of range for the alpha to reach if he had wanted to, but he was close enough for Asanao to study his face.

He was very thin, but not really starving. A pretty face with a narrow chin framed by straight black hair, and suspicious eyes peering at him from under the hood. The alpha smiled softly, trying to look as non-threatening as possible, which he realized was a feat for him. Nevertheless, he tried, and the omega had almost started to relax when Inoran suddenly showed up in the doorway and startled him badly. He shrieked, the first sound Asanao had heard him make, and turned and ran up the street as fast as he could. When he reached the corner he stopped, looking back uncertainly when he realized he wasn’t being followed. Inoran came up next to his friend and peered at the omega with still sleepy eyes.

“Hi,” he called suddenly, waving a bit. “I’m Inoran. Nice to meet you!” And then he turned his back on the stranger and yawned his friend in the face.

“Breakfast!” he stated. Asanao just shrugged and looked over at the omega, still standing at the street corner, before he started picking down their frying pan and a kettle from the wagon. Inoran disappeared into the garden for a moment and came back with some sticks from a dead bush and a broken wooden box. He piled it all up in on the street a bit away from the horse and started making a small fire, while Asanao got the salted meat out. He thought for a second, but soon decided the best way to entice the newcomer was to cook some of their precious eggs. Kai had gathered and carefully put 15 eggs into a cool bag for them when they left. Since then, they had made sure to keep them out of the sun and dipped the wet towel in any cool water they could find. By now, they had five eggs left, and Asanao took two out of the bag and handed them to Inoran, who raised an eyebrow but took them without a word.

Meanwhile, Ju-ken came padding out of the house, equally yawning. He stretched and paused suddenly with his hands in the air as he spotted the omega. He cast a glance at Asanao who just nodded a silent ‘yes, we know, we’re mostly ignoring him’. Ju-ken hummed, looking back at the omega who was standing on tiptoes again, ready to run. And then the sound of salted meat and eggs hitting the frying pan took all of the alpha’s attention, and he fixed the water for the kettle while Asanao fetched four plates. Inoran carefully divided the scrambled eggs and meat equally onto the plates, and when he was done he put the kettle on the hot embers, before he handed one of the plates to Ju-ken and one to Asanao. The two alphas watched surreptitiously as Asanao took the plate and trotted off up the street towards the omega.

“I’m just gonna put this over here for you,” he said loudly enough for the omega to hear, ignoring the fact that the small figure backed away even further. Once he was at a safe distance from the other alphas, he put the plate down on the street and retreated to his friends to dig in on his own breakfast. The smell of cooked eggs and meat was heavenly, and where they sat and ate, they could see the omega dither while drooling over the food. Eventually, hunger won over caution, and he slowly made his way over to the plate, snatching it up and backing away. When the alphas didn’t move a muscle, he stopped again, sniffing the food. And then he finally started eating with gusto, shoving the eggs into his mouth so fast he barely had time to chew. The meat was gone a second later, and he licked the plate thoroughly before he set it down on the ground again.

“Taste good?” Inoran called, making a thumbs up at the omega. The only reaction was a stare, but the alpha just shrugged and went back to making tea. The ritual was repeated, and Asanao retrieved the plate and set down a mug of steaming hot flower tea instead before he went back to his friends. After some hesitation, the omega picked up the tea and fell back again, but this time he sat down carefully on a low stone wall surrounding a house as he slowly and reverently drank his tea.

“So,” Ju-ken said quietly. “Do we stay a while longer and try to win his trust slowly or do we talk to him now and head back today no matter what he says? We’ve already stayed two days longer than planned.”

“We can’t stay for long,” Inoran said with a sigh. “We haven’t got enough food, especially not if we plan to bring him with us all the way.”

“He’s got food,” Asanao said. “He doesn’t really need us to eat, even though the island would of course be safer for him in case his crops fail or freeze, but he doesn’t know that. He’ll hardly trust us if we just tell him, anyway.”

“No, that’s true. But if he’s really alone, the company of other omegas might be enough to convince him?” Inoran said.

If he believes us, and dares to travel for two weeks alone in the company of three alphas.” Ju-ken looked doubtful, and Asanao was inclined to agree. Still, he didn’t like leaving the omega to fend for himself, all alone and exposed like this. It couldn’t be good for his psyche to not have any company at all for such a long time.

“Let me try,” he said finally. Ju-ken just nodded and Inoran made a hand gesture that said ‘be my guest’. The alpha nodded and slowly got up, setting down his mug and slowly walking over until he was at the point where he had left the plate and mug. The omega eyed him suspiciously but didn’t move away, and he even managed to look a little surprised when the alpha sat down on the street. Asanao smiled at him before he shrugged.

“Ok, so, I know you won’t trust me whatever I say, but I’ll just come out and say it anyway. We live in a village with a lot of other people. There are alphas, omegas and kids there. We have a good life, and we’re good people. We have food, and we work hard for it but we never starve. We have a great chef, Kai, who makes the best damn deer steak After. I could go on and tell you everything, but you wouldn’t believe me any more no matter how much I told you, so I’m just gonna say that you’re welcome to join us. You’d be safe with us, no one will hurt you, and you’ll have friends to talk to. Would you like that?” He paused, tilting his head and peering at the omega, who was just staring back at him. For the longest time they sat and stared at each other, and eventually Asanao heard his friends start packing up their things.

When the omega hadn’t said anything or given any indication as to his thoughts on the matter after an hour, the alpha was beginning to give up. He sighed and started to slowly get up from the ground, a little stiff from sitting for so long on the asphalt. “We’ll get ready,” he said. “Think about it. If you’d rather go on your own, I can draw you a map, but I think you’ll find it more comfortable to ride the wagon with us.”

He was just about to turn away when the omega spoke, a raspy voice who was clearly not used in a long while. “My food,” he just said, and Asanao turned back to peer at him. “We can harvest it and bring it if you like? I’m sure Shinya would love it if we could dig up some plants and bring them. He’s in charge of the kitchen garden and the green houses.”

The omega blinked, squinting at the alpha in disbelief. Greenhouses? Asanao just nodded in answer to the unspoken question. When the omega didn’t say anything else, he started going back to the wagon. “Think about it,” he repeated, and then helped Ju-ken with strapping the horse to the wagon.

After about an hour of getting everything in order, slowly to give the stranger time to think, they were done. Asanao looked back at the omega. “Are you coming?” he called, but the omega said nothing. Instead, he got up and moved away a bit, which Asanao took as a no. He sighed deeply. “There’s nothing I can say to convince you?” he asked, but had come to expect the lack of response by now. “You know what? I’ll just leave you a map, and mark the road to our island. And you can come later if you change your mind.”

He fetched one of the maps they had picked up for the school, and with a pencil he marked the way to the island. When he was done he put the map down on the street, smiling a little sadly at the stranger. “I hope you change your mind,” he said before he climbed up on the back of the wagon with their precious cargo. At the street corner, the figure stood still as a statue and watched them roll off down the street, away from him.

. . . . .

It bothered Asanao for most of the day. He didn’t like leaving the omega there, and the other two sensed his bad mood.

“It had to be his choice, you know that,” Inoran said, his friend just answering with a grunt. They had to go slower than they had on the way there, the cart much heavier, and they took frequent stops so the horse could rest. Each time, Asanao glanced back the way they had come, thinking about going back alone to make one more attempt to persuade the younger man to join them. But when he voiced the idea, Inoran and Ju-ken both frowned and asked him not to, partly because they couldn’t spare the food and partly because of the risks involved with traveling alone. It made the alpha increasingly irritable to just roll away from someone in need like that, and it didn’t matter that Ju-ken said the omega was hardly in need since he had food and had made it on his own for five years.

Late in the afternoon, a strap in the horse’s harness snapped, and they had to pause to check it out. “We might as well stay here for the night and fix it properly,” Inoran muttered as he examined the strap, and the others agreed, setting up camp and letting the horse graze on a small meadow by the road.

They had settled in for the evening when Inoran suddenly turned his head to listen. “Hear that?” he asked, the others listening intently.

The sound of feet on gravel, slightly rushed. Heavy breathing. And then, there he was. The large hoodie was open now, and he was sweating profusely and panting harshly. He wore a backpack on his stomach and another on his back, his hands carrying two other smaller bags. At the sight of the alphas, he stopped, dropping the bags in his hands on the ground, stumbling slightly from exhaustion. Asanao got up and walked over quickly, catching himself at the last minute and stopping just a few meters from the omega.

“Are you ok?” he asked worriedly, and the omega looked up at him, swaying on his feet.

“No.” That raspy voice again. “Thirsty.”

Ju-ken came up next to Asanao, carrying a water bottle, and he handed it to his friend without a word and stepped back. Asanao smiled and held out the bottle to the younger man, hoping he would have the courage to take it. For a moment the omega just stared at the bottle, but then he stepped up quickly and snatched it out of the alpha’s hand before retreating. He drank eagerly, some water running down his cheek and continuing down his neck. Half the bottle was gone before the omega took it from his lips.

“I’m glad you decided to come,” Asanao said as softly as he could, the omega pursing his lips and eyeing him suspiciously. The alpha sighed. “Come on,” he said, nodding towards the others. “Let’s get you settled in. Can I take those bags for you?”

The omega stepped away, leaving the two bags on the ground as he walked around the alpha in a wide circle and unceremoniously dumped his other two bags on the cart. After a glare at the other two, he opened a bag and dug around until he pulled out two carrots. He pointedly ignored Inoran and Ju-ken and held the vegetables out to Asanao.

“Trade?”

Asanao smiled. “Of course. What do you want in return?”

“Meat.”

The omega didn’t waste words, Asanao thought, but then again, if he hadn’t spoken in years it wasn’t that surprising. He looked at his friends quickly, Inoran shrugging and Ju-ken looking slightly amused. Instead, he just walked over to the cart and took out a piece of salted meat that he offered the omega. Apparently, he was getting into the younger man’s good grace, because this time, their fingers almost touched at the exchange. Once the omega held the meat, he quickly stuffed it in his mouth, chewing and swallowing as if it would disappear otherwise. The alpha picked out a knife to cut the carrots, but when he turned around with the knife in his hand, the omega gave off that horrifying shriek again and ran off, not stopping for at least 50 meters.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” the alpha called after him. “I’m just gonna cut the carrots!” To show he meant what he said, he quickly cut the vegetables in two halves and handed his friends a half each before he put away the knife and took a bit of his half, holding the last piece out towards the omega. “Here, come get your share.”

It took a bit more coaxing, but eventually a very suspicious figure approached, licking his lips as he eyed the piece of carrot. “Traded it,” he murmured questioningly, peering at Asanao.

“And now we’re sharing it,” the alpha stated, still holding the vegetable in his hand. Narrow eyes peered at him from under the hood that was now pulled up again, but before Asanao could react, the carrot was gone from his hand, the omega chewing quickly and swallowing. Asanao smiled, feeling much better now than he had earlier in the day. He really hadn’t like the idea of leaving someone behind.

“We were getting ready to sleep,” he said. “I’m taking first watch. You can sleep wherever you like, but we’re bunking over there.” He pointed at their sleeping bags on the grass next to the road, the omega squinting and clearly thinking about it. Then he took two bags and walked to the other side of the road, getting ready to head into the forest. He stopped as the alpha called out. “Wait! Will you tell me your name?”

The omega thought about it for a while, before he jumped over the ditch and climbed into the darkness below the trees. Just before he was out of sight in the undergrowth, he turned for a second, looking straight at Asanao.

“Ryo.”

And then he was gone.

. . . . .

Ryo (Girugamesh)

Ryo

Chapter Text

The next morning, the alphas got up and made breakfast. They had been up and about for half an hour, but there was still no sign of the omega when breakfast was ready. Asanao scanned the edge of the forest worriedly. He called the omega’s name a few times, but nothing happened. Inoran and Ju-ken exchanged an amused glance behind his back at their friend’s fretting, but pretended like nothing had happened when Asanao turned to them, frowning.

“Do you think he left?” he asked worriedly, but Inoran shook his head.

“He left two bags here.”

“Yeah.” Asanao went up and looked into one of the bags, seeing it stuffed with vegetables. “It’s all food. He wouldn’t walk away from that.”

He turned to the forest again, making one more attempt. “Ryo! Breakfast!” When nothing stirred, he climbed over the ditch and made his way into the forest edge, looking around for the omega. “Ryo!” It took the alpha ten minutes to find him, bundled up in his hoodie underneath some low branches. He leaned down worriedly. Was the omega ill? “Ryo?” he asked softly, but the small body remained still. Carefully, Asanao reached out and shook his shoulder, and jumped back in surprise when the omega suddenly let out a shriek as he woke up, throwing himself backwards and clambered up against the trunk of the tree.

Asanao was just as stunned as the omega, and for a few heartbeats they just stared at each other. Then the alpha let out a soft huff, shaking his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Breakfast is done, and I’ve been calling for you but you didn’t hear.”

Ryo glared at him, before he relaxed slightly. “No sleep,” he muttered, and Asanao tilted his head, looking concerned.

“No? That’s no good. Were you worried about us being close?”

“Yes.” The alpha hadn’t expected such a blunt reply, but he was starting to understand that the omega said what he felt, without filtering it first. Probably happens when you have no one around to use your social skills on, he thought, feeling sorry for the younger man. He got up and gestured at the clearing. “Well, breakfast is ready. We’re leaving soon.”

Ryo nodded and gathered his things before he followed the alpha back out onto the road. Inoran looked up when they emerged, nodding at two plates. “We’re done. That’s yours, why don’t you eat up quickly and we can get going.” He and Ju-ken got back to work, putting the horse’s harness on, checking so the fixed strap was ok.

Asanao nodded, grabbing his plate and stepping aside so the omega could take his without getting too close. They ate in silence, and then the alpha helped Ryo put his bags on the wagon. The omega refused to climb up at the alpha’s wave, and instead chose to walk after the others, far enough away to feel safe. Asanao nodded in understanding and walked up next to Inoran and Ju-ken at the front, choosing to walk partly to save weight so the horse would have an easier time, and partly to give the still suspicious omega some extra space.

Most of the week passed like that. They were walking some way apart, Ryo listening to the alpha’s conversations and only offering a word of his own when he got a direct question, and only if the question was asked by Asanao. At one of their stops and while the omega was off into the woods to take care of nature’s call, Ju-ken couldn’t help grinning at his friend as they were discussing dinner. “Maybe I should ask Ryo if he can donate a zucchini so we can have something fresh,” he said, smirking at Asanao. “Oh, wait, no. You’d better ask.”

Asanao made a face at him and Inoran chuckled, shaking his head. “Well, if we do want an answer, you’d better be the one to ask,” he said, giving Asanao a pointed look. The alpha shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, ok, fine. He trusts me more than he trusts you, and even after he’s seen my face in daylight. It’s weird.”

“Maybe he sees your good heart,” Inoran suggested, his tone of voice surprisingly soft, and his friend just blinked but didn’t have time for a retort before the omega dove out of the bushes and glared suspiciously at them. Asanao threw the others a warning glance – keep your damn mouths shut - before he turned to Ryo and smiled carefully.

“Say, Ryo, I wanted to ask you if you were up for a trade? Some fresh vegetables for something else? Name your prize for a zucchini.”

He watched the thoughts flicker behind bright eyes for a moment, before the omega scurried over to his bags and took out a zucchini and some slightly sad pak choi. He reached out his hands towards the alpha, biting his lip.

“Share,” he said simply, and didn’t even back away when Asanao smiled and took the vegetables out of his hands.

“Thank you.” The alpha gave a slight bow, and when he stood back up, he was met by a careful smile. Ryo was pretty when he smiled, and Asanao felt himself blink, slightly stunned. And then Ju-ken moved and the moment was gone, as the slim figure immediately backed away and rounded the wagon so that he was sheltered by it from any possible harm. The alpha sighed and looked at the omega in exasperation.

“Ryo, I’m not gonna hurt you. None of us will! Besides, even if I had wanted to, which I just want to stress that I don’t, Mahiro would kick my ass to the moon and back if I even laid a finger on you.”

Apparently, Ryo was skeptical. He pouted and narrowed his eyes at the alpha, and Ju-ken just threw his hands up and turned to the other two. “I give up,” he said jokingly, ignoring the newest member of the group as he started making dinner instead. The omega stayed away while the others fixed the food, but when it was time to eat, he tentatively sidled slightly closer and carefully sat down at an equal distance from the three of them. When Ju-ken poured their tea, the alpha was about to hand Asanao Ryo’s mug as well as per usual, when the omega suddenly reached out his hand as if to offer to take it directly. His eyes were wary and he was tense, but he didn’t back down when Ju-ken carefully handed him his mug. And though he pulled back as quickly as possible without spilling once the mug was in his hands, he still held his ground. His breathing was a little uneven until he had finally calmed down, and by then, the mug was empty. The alphas exchanged looks but didn’t say anything about it, as they put their things away and got ready for the night. Progress.

. . . . .

They were almost there, only two more days to go, when they stopped by a small brook with clear, cold water to fill up their bottles. Asanao walked to the back of the cart to retrieve them, only to stop and just look. Ryo had eventually taken to riding the wagon after over a week, not used to walking such long distances without pause, and now he had somehow managed to curl up among the boxes and crates, hiding partly under the tarp that protected it all from the occasional bad weather. He was asleep, the face relaxed and unguarded, and Asanao followed the soft curves of the face with his eyes. He was much prettier like this, without the frown and the suspicious glaring, and the alpha felt something stir within that shocked him to the core. He hadn’t felt that little prickle in his chest for many years, not since… He frowned and swallowed, his voice gruff when he turned to Ju-ken.

“He’s asleep,” he muttered, stomping off towards the brook with bottles in his hands. His friends looked after him, surprised, and when Ju-ken turned to Inoran, the other alpha had one eyebrow raised, his lips pursed as he looked after the alpha’s retreating back. Asanao stayed away for a while, washing off in the brook after he had filled their bottles. The other two let him have his space, sensing he needed it for some unknown reason, and instead they chatted quietly while they waited for him to come back so they could continue.

After maybe ten minutes, Ryo stirred, sitting up to rub his eyes tiredly. At the sight of only two alphas, the wrong two, he paled and looked around for the one he trusted at least a tiny bit more. Asanao was nowhere to be seen, and Ryo jumped down from the wagon, starting to back away from the others nervously as he looked around.

“Hi,” Inoran said, trying to sound calm and soothing. “It’s alright, Asanao’s just getting more water. He’ll be right back, I promise.”

Ryo didn’t say anything, which surprised no one, but he stopped a bit off and stared at them accusingly, as if they had done something to make Asanao go away. When the alpha finally showed up, his stern face even more grumpy-looking than usual, Ryo shifted nervously from foot to foot. He walked closer, looking at the alpha tentatively, sensing something was off but having no idea what. The alpha’s angry frown apparently made him nervous, and when he didn’t receive his usual smile, he backed away again with wide eyes. Asanao didn’t notice, too caught up in his own thoughts, and Inoran walked over under the pretense to help with the water bottles.

“You’re scaring him,” he mumbled in his friend’s ear, giving him a pointed look. Asanao looked up, uncomprehending, until it dawned on him what the other meant. He glanced over at Ryo, seeing his trembling lower lip, and sighed deeply, his shoulders slumping.

“I’m sorry,” he said, turning to look at the omega, trying to ignore the memory of the softness brought by sleep. “I’m just having a bad day. Nothing’s wrong, I promise.”

But even as Ryo relaxed and he turned back to taking care of the water bottles, he felt the lie still burning on his tongue. Something was wrong, very wrong. Aki, baby, I’m sorry I even thought about it. I miss you. I won’t do it again.

. . . . .

The old-fashioned wind up watch on Inoran’s wrist showed three fifteen pm when the wagon rolled down onto the beach. No one was there, the boat on the island, but the new raft with railings that they used to transport horses and cargo across the lake was pulled up and secured to a tree with large chains. Ryo watched it warily, clearly wondering if that was their only mode of transport. He flinched when Ju-ken pulled the horn out from its hiding place in the bushes and put it to his lips, the sound rolling over the lake and echoing for a long time after he had put the horn away again. Asanao was busying himself with the horse and wagon and didn’t notice anything going on until Inoran leaned in and mumbled in his ear.

“You’d better talk to Ryo. He’s freaking out.”

The alpha looked up and over at the omega, who was slowly backing away up the road, his hoodie pulled up so that all Asanao could see was the narrow chin and teeth biting a lower lip. He sighed and handed the reins over to his friend and stepped around the wagon.

“Hey, Ryo, it’s ok,” he tried. “We’re just letting them know we’re here so they can come over on the boat and pick us up.”

The slight figure seemed to become even smaller as the omega shrunk into himself, clearly very scared by now. He was hugging one of his backpacks to his chest, full of food, just in case. He’s probably wondering what he’s gotten himself into, Asanao thought, remembering more than a few other omegas that had come to the island wide-eyed and terrified.

“Listen,” he said, “there might be only alphas on the boat since they’re stronger when it comes to rowing, ok? But I promise there are lots of omegas over there as well, and kids.”

Ryo turned to him, and the alpha could see his face better now, but if anything it made him more discouraged. The omega’s eyes were almost black, and the suspicious peering from the very first day was back, now with a sharp tinge of fear. Asanao was concerned. He had thought they made progress, but fear was a strong motivator for distrust.

“You know what?” he continued. “If there are only alphas on the boat, we send them back to fetch an omega or two before they disembark. How does that sound?”

Ju-ken and Inoran exchanged a look at the promise, knowing how their friends would feel about rowing back empty-handed again, but kept silent. Ryo thought about it for a second before he gave a quick nod. That didn’t stop him from moving behind a bush hanging out over the road, watching the lake from behind cover. The alphas let him be and kept on with what they were doing, now and then looking out over the water for their friends. When they finally spotted the boat, Asanao pointed it out to the omega, whose only response was to hide further behind the bush.

Luckily, when the boat hit the shore, the first one off was Mahiro, who bounded over the beach to throw himself in Ju-ken’s arms. “You’re three days late!” he exclaimed, pouting and smacking his alpha lightly on the arm. “I worried myself sick!”

Ju-ken laughed and ignored his boyfriend’s muffled protests as he pressed a hungry kiss to Mahiro’s lips. The omega stopped struggling after half a second and threw his arms around the alpha’s neck, tangling his hands in the long black hair. “I missed you,” he mumbled the second their lips parted, his eyes shining as he looked at Ju-ken.

The loving moment was interrupted by a shriek, since the others had joined them on the shore – all alphas – and Satochi unknowingly had come too close to Ryo’s hideout. Everyone froze for a second, staring at the rustling bush, but then Asanao quickly snapped out of it. He grabbed his friend’s arm and pulled him back from the bush, waving at him to put away the knife he had drawn instinctively at the sound.

“Ryo?” he called. “It’s ok, it’s just Satochi. He’s nice even though he looks like something dragged him under the bus. Kind of like me, you know?” he joked, hoping that would make the omega relax. The rustling stopped, but that was it. “Won’t you come out and say hi?” the alpha pleaded. He saw the islanders’ confused glances behind him, but he didn’t want to explain bluntly without giving Ryo a chance to come out on his own. Ju-ken leaned over and whispered something in Mahiro’s ear, gently pushing him forward towards the shrubbery, and the omega gave his boyfriend a shocked look before he carefully walked up to Asanao, irritably waving at him to fall back. The alpha obeyed, and stepped back to where Kai, Yukke and Aoi stood staring.

“Hi,” the omega called, peering through the bushes. “My name’s Mahiro. I live out there on the island with these guys. What’s your name?”

Silence met him, and Mahiro carefully stepped to the side to where he could glance around the bush without coming closer. Apparently he saw the omega from his new position, because he suddenly threw a hand over his mouth, gasping. “Oh honey! Oh god, are you ok? Look at you, we need to fatten you up, poor thing!” He continued to fuss, walking forward as if he couldn’t even imagine that the omega would ever mind, and the alphas heard him continue his fussing behind the bushes. They waited for a while, and then Mahiro suddenly stepped out into sight again, pulling Ryo after him by the hand. The newcomer seemed to be in shock from the fact that someone held his hand, but that couldn’t hold a candle to his expression when Mahiro started bossing the alphas around.

“Don’t just stand there and ogle! Get to work so we can get this little darling home and give him some real food and some clean clothes. Off you go!” He waved his hand irritably at them, and to Ryo’s amazement, the alphas all shrugged and actually did get to work. Ju-ken threw his lover a kiss that Mahiro pretended to catch, but a second later he was back to fussing over his new companion.

“How are your feet? Your shoes look all worn out, we’ll find you new ones. Are you cold? You look cold all wrapped up in your sweater.” And without more ado, he pulled Ryo into a hug as if to warm him, and the omega stiffened, blinking in shock at what just happened. But since nothing worse than a hug happened, he eventually relaxed into the embrace. Asanao watched surreptitiously as the omega leaned his head carefully on Mahiro’s shoulder. He stopped suddenly, realizing that silent tears were trickling down Ryo’s cheeks. Mahiro seemed to understand just what was going on immediately.

“Oh sweetie, have you been alone for that long?” He held the other omega gently, caressing his hair as he glared at the alphas to keep going and stop ogling. “I promise there will be lots of people to take care of you and hug you from now on. You’re safe now.”

That made Ryo cry even harder, an overwhelming burst of tears that contorted his face completely. Asanao felt a stab in his heart as he watched the omega’s distress. They had tried to be kind to the omega, make him feel safe, but none of them had stopped to think of exactly how he had felt when he met people for the first time in who knows how long, or how brave he was to dare come with them. He felt a bit guilty at that, but at the same time, he knew it wouldn’t have made any difference. They were alphas, and so there was no chance of them doing in years what Mahiro had managed to do in less than ten minutes.

They packed the boat with some of their haul, including Ryo’s bags so he could see them at all times, and then Asanao, Ju-ken, Kai and Yukke left the others on the beach and rowed Mahiro and Ryo back to the island. They were met by a startled dock crew consisting of alphas, all backing away at Mahiro’s insistent waving, and the omegas climbed out of the boat first of all. Mahiro threw his arm around Ryo’s waist and led him up to the village, leaving the others to take care of the rest.

. . . . .

Ryo caused quite a stir for the few people that were working around the houses, but Mahiro quickly marched him past everyone and up into the library, where he made sure to ban everyone but Yutaka, Uruha and Kei so that the new member of their community got a chance to breathe and meet a few of them at a time. Ryo was already wide-eyed from seeing over ten people at once on the way up, an he was still not saying a word. His small body was wrecked by shivers, which stopped only after Yutaka had held him for a long time. The older omega’s fussing outdid even Mahiro’s, and Ryo seemed to revel in it, leaning into the other and letting himself he thoroughly hugged. After an hour, he finally allowed Kei to look him over, after squinting at him in disbelief when he was told the omega was a nurse. Kei did a quick checkup, relieved to see that the omega had a lot fewer scars than he’d seen on many others. He was also reasonably satisfied with his weight, all things considered. At least the man wasn’t completely starved, and that was a big plus in the nurse’s book. When he was done, a knock on the door startled his patient, who dove back into Yutaka’s arms quickly. Mahiro frowned and went up to open the door, stepping aside to let Kouki in with Kana on his arm. The boy was crying, his fingers rubbing his eyes as he fought not to sleep.

“Sorry,” Kouki said softly, ”but someone misses his ada and won’t sleep without him.”

Kei smiled and got up from his seat, accepting the child into his arms, shushing and rocking the boy softly. “Hello, sweetheart. Did you miss ada? Hm? Did you miss me?“ Kana immediately stopped crying, falling asleep almost instantly against his bearer’s chest. The nurse smiled and pressed a kiss to his head before he looked up to Kouki, who was studying Ryo curiously.

“Thanks for bringing him,” Kei said, smiling. “Kouki, this is Ryo. Ryo, Kouki is our kindergarten teacher, and once the school is built properly he’ll start teaching the older kids to read and write.”

Kouki smiled and said hello, but Ryo mostly stared at this tall and smiling omega, who was a teacher of all things? Uruha stepped in, realizing the newcomer was completely overwhelmed, and waved unnoticeably at Kouki.

“I think you need some food and then some sleep, sweetheart. Why don’t we ask Kouki to get you some food and then you can take a nap on the couch,” their omega leader said, Yutaka nodding in agreement.

It wasn’t really a question, and the others immediately followed the command. Their new guest was too tired to notice, and slumped against Yutaka while they went about fixing him a futon and some food. As much as he enjoyed his meal, it wasn’t the complete shock of finally getting something to eat that many other newcomers had shown, and the islanders shared a surprised glance as the omega ate hurriedly but not hysterically. When he was done, Mahiro took his plate. “Taste good?” he asked, smiling widely at the omega’s nod. Ryo soon started to look very sleepy, and at Yutaka’s gentle encouragement he shuffled down until he had his head in the older omega’s lap, ignoring the futon in favor of a human pillow. Once he was asleep, the other omegas looked at each other.

“I’ll stay with him,” Yutaka offered. I’m guessing we’ll have a meeting at dinner, so you guys go. Hide will tell me after.”

The others nodded, leaving the two alone to walk downstairs, where everyone had gathered, buzzing among themselves while they waited for Toshiya and Hyde to start the meeting. The two leaders soon hushed everyone, asking Asanao, Inoran and Ju-ken to come up front. After thanking them for finding so many of the things they needed, Toshiya smiled.

“But the most surprising find was a new member to our community. Please, tell us. How is this even possible?”

Before anyone could say anything, Ju-ken pointed to Asanao. “He’d better tell the story. He found him, and he’s apparently more trustworthy than the rest of us,” he quipped, grinning at Asanao’s glare.

“Yeah, well, maybe since I found him he trusts me more. Either that or he could feel that you’re an asshole right off the bat.”

Inoran laughed, but they were soon pulled back to the seriousness of the situation by a raised eyebrow and a frown on Hyde’s face. Gathering his thoughts quickly, Asanao told the story of the garden of vegetables, and how they had ended up with an omega companion on the road. Everyone gasped as they heard what Ryo had managed to do, and a sense of quiet respect for his efforts settled over the room.

“So he’s been alone for five years?” It was Subaru, looking sad at the thought, and the alphas quickly hurried to correct themselves.

“We don’t know for sure. He doesn’t say much. So far, he’s mostly spoken in one or two-word sentences, and mainly about food or water,” Asanao explained. At this, Mahiro rose, waiting on Toshiya’s nod before he spoke.

“He’s overwhelmed by so many people. He needs his rest and to get used to us all slowly. That’s all I wanted to say,” he murmured before he sat down again, cheeks blossoming after having everyone’s eyes on him like that.

“Of course,” Hyde said, smiling. “Please, everyone, I understand that you’re curious, but give him some space for a while. Let him come to you when he’s ready.”

A murmur of agreement followed his words, and then the meeting dissolved, everyone digging into dinner. In the library, Ryo slept heavily, head in Yutaka’s lap, the omega caressing his hair. In the dining room, Asanao sat at a chair, surrounded by friends who were happy to see him again, and did his best not to think of dark eyes peering out from under a hood.

Chapter Text

Asanao woke up the next morning, stretching lazily and just letting himself enjoy the feeling of lying in his own bed again. He had slept well, and he vaguely remembered dreaming about their trip, though of course everything had been different. They had found a carousel to bring home for the kids and mounted it on the wagon, and then the entire way to the island, Ryo had ridden it while laughing happily.

Ryo…

The alpha swallowed and squeezed his eyes shut, putting his hands over his face. It's only natural you’d dream of him, he tried to tell himself. He's new, you found him. Of course your mind will add him to your dreams. But still, his mind replayed the sight of the omega’s dark eyes under the hood, the false memory of him laughing excitedly in the dream…

Damn. He didn't want to have to face this. He’d been happy with Akinori. And when he lost him, the pain had been unbearable. It was like if his heart had been ripped out over and over again during those months while his mate got steadily worse and worse, until… He couldn't do that again.

People had given him space after, and for that he was grateful. He couldn't stop thinking of Aki all the time, seeing his cheerful face, hearing him joke and laugh only to realize his mate was gone forever. To even think about the possibility of meeting someone else was completely impossible. He was sure he would spend the rest of his life as a lonely widower. And to feel his mind and body betray him like this, to make him see Ryo as anything other than an omega in need, even if it was just a small twinge… No. He couldn't. Wouldn't.

With a growl, he pushed himself up and got out of bed. He dressed quickly, trying to push the images out of his mind through action. As he stomped off towards the big house, he absolutely did not wonder if Ryo would be down for breakfast today.

. . . . .

Ryo was nervous and wide-eyed as he slowly followed Yutaka and Uruha down the stairs. He had been given new, clean clothing, in his size no less. It felt strange and uncomfortable to not be able to hide in his large hoodie, but the older omegas had assured him he didn't have to stay and eat in the dining room. He could just look in through the door and then go straight upstairs again if he wanted to.

And so he carefully stepped down into the hallway, peering around him nervously. There were two alphas standing in the doorway, talking. He didn't recognize either of them and he immediately took a step up the stairs again, Yutaka turning to him at the sound.

“It's ok,” he said sweetly. “This is Toshiya, he's our leader together with Hyde, and that's my mate Hide.” The alpha responded with a smile at Yutaka, and he leaned over to kiss his mate’s cheek. Toshiya gave Ryo a reassuring smile and bowed shortly to the suspicious omega.

“Hello Ryo, it's a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to our island.”

The omega didn't respond, but stepped back down the steps until he stood right behind Uruha, half hiding behind him seeing as Yutaka was too close to his alpha.

“Won't you let us show you the dining room?” Toshiya asked, making a small gesture at the room, stepping out of the way so that the omegas could pass. Uruha frowned.

“You're still too close, Toshiya,” he said, making a shooing gesture at the alphas. They both got the hint and bowed, stepping inside to take their seats. The obstacles gone, Uruha gently led Ryo up to the door so he could peek inside.

And what he saw was people. Everywhere people, in masses, chatting away as if it was normal to fill an entire large room with people from wall to wall. Ryo couldn't really take it all in, his warning instincts on red alert. And then someone looked his way, and it spread, and now they were all looking at him and he nearly panicked at so many eyes directed his way and everything was new and unfamiliar and scary and he couldn't find his bearings in his own head. And then a familiar scent wafted in from the side, and at the same time something moved and made a noise in the corner of his eye (the fact that it was just a baby waving his arms in his bearer’s lap didn't register in his frazzled mind).

Ryo squeaked and quickly left Uruha’s side to throw himself at the familiar scent next to him, and he buried his face in Asanao’s chest before he even realized what he was doing. But the alpha smelled safe, and he craved safe right now, and above all, something his overwhelmed senses at least faintly recognized from beyond the last twelve hours.

Asanao blinked, surprised to suddenly find himself with an armful of trembling omega, but no matter how confused and conflicted his feelings were on the matter, he was not one to back away when he was needed. So he gently put his arm around Ryo’s slim frame, looking around the room before he turned the omega around and led him back up the stairs. Uruha and Yutaka exchanged a glance before Uruha went to get them breakfast and Yutaka followed the other two upstairs.

. . . . .

“Ryo, you can let go now,” Asanao tried for the third time, but the omega still just shook his head and crept even closer, shivering slightly. The alpha threw an exasperated glance at Yutaka, but the omega just shrugged. If Ryo felt safer in Asanao’s lap, that was where he should be, his eyes seemed to say. The alpha sighed inwardly and settled in on the sofa, doing his best to ignore the omega scent just beneath his nose. Still, he couldn’t miss the hints of fear and insecurity in the scent, and his instincts told him to hold the small body closer to his chest, to shield him from harm.

Ryo weighed almost nothing, feather light in his lap, and he fit into the alpha’s embrace too well for comfort. Asanao found himself comparing him to the memory of Akinori in his lap, a much taller and sturdier build than this tiny little bird. And then he caught himself, closing his eyes and shaking his head to clear it of all such thoughts. I can’t go there. Drop it, now. He opened his eyes again to see Yutaka looking at him strangely, and he frowned at the omega, wordlessly telling him to mind his own business. Thankfully, Yutaka obeyed, and a moment later, the door opened and Uruha and Mahiro came in with breakfast for them.

Ryo finally let himself be coaxed to let go of the alpha by Mahiro. The young omega managed to get their guest to sit and eat breakfast with his arm wrapped around the slim shoulders for comfort. “Are you feeling better now?” he asked worriedly. “I’m sorry we overwhelmed you on your first day here. Everyone says hi and hope you’ll forgive us.”

Ryo nodded shyly and kept eating, but he stirred anxiously as Asanao moved to get up and leave the room. “No. Stay.”

The other omegas turned to stare at him, these the first words they had heard Ryo utter. They immediately caught themselves and went back to what they were doing, but the two omega leaders eyed each other meaningfully. Clearly, Asanao was the key to make Ryo open up, and they would take full advantage of that fact no matter the alpha’s wishes in the matter. Neither of them was blind to the internal struggle that Asanao went through, but they both quietly agreed that this connection was good for both the alpha and their new omega resident.

Asanao, on the other hand, tried to convince Ryo otherwise. “But I need to work,” he said, looking apologetically at the omega. “Your new friends here will take good care of you, and I can check in on you later today if you like.”

But Ryo just shook his head and left Mahiro’s side to crawl back into the alpha’s lap. “Stay,” he mumbled again, settling in and burying his face in Asanao’s neck.

“I’m sure Toshiya and Hyde will say it’s fine,” Uruha said quietly, giving the alpha a pointed look. ‘You will stay there and look after him’, it said, and Asanao resigned to his fate with a sigh.

“Ok, fine, I’ll stay,” he mumbled, settling his arm around the omega and leaning back on the sofa. “If you agree to go down again tomorrow when everyone has eaten and have a look around. There will only be a few people there then, and you need to get out of this room eventually.”

Ryo nodded into his neck but didn’t speak again, and soon, silence fell as the others went about their chores for the day, looking in on the two now and then to make sure everything was ok. The omega didn’t let Asanao leave until it was time for dinner, and the alpha let out a sigh of relief as he closed the door to the library behind him. This was all just too much. God, Aki, what am I gonna do?

. . . . .

The next morning, Ryo got his breakfast in the library, and his team of omega guardians waited until most of the others were out of the house and off to work before they took him downstairs to look around. The kitchen team was still working, taking care of the dishes, and Ryo made wide eyes at everything. He carefully avoided Kai, despite the alpha’s genuine smile, but carefully waved hello to the omegas. He didn’t say anything all morning, but blinked confusedly at Mitsuki, who couldn’t help sliding his arm around Aryu a little possessively when they got in for an early lunch. The word mine was written all over his face, and Ryo carefully stepped back a step and hid partly behind Yutaka’s shoulder. Mahiro glared at Mitsuki in reprimand, but the omega just pulled his boyfriend with him into the dining room.

Uruha brought Masa and their children with them to the library to have lunch, hoping that Shou and Tora would be able to make the omega relax a bit more. At first, it seemed disastrous, as Ryo froze up completely when sweet little Hiroto climbed up into his lap. The omega seemed in shock at first, unable to move at all, and Uruha wondered if he should ask the boy to climb down. But then, Hiroto threw his head back and looked up at Ryo, looking concerned.

“Don't be scared,” he said, reaching out to pat Ryo’s arm. “I’ll let you play with my toys if you like.” He hesitated for a second, glancing at his bearer, before he decided to bring out the big guns to help this scared adult. “Me and Saga have a secret place. I can show you where if you promise not to tell ada,” he whispered loud enough for Uruha to hear every word.

Ryo blinked, but he smiled at the boy. “Thanks,” he managed to whisper, looking up at Uruha with an adoring look in his eyes. Meanwhile, Hiroto continued to talk, happy that his comforting words had worked their magic. Uruha smiled at them, relieved to see his son could make Ryo relax enough to be able to eat his lunch finally. The dynamic duo that Uruha had wrongly bet on would be the key to opening Ryo up were soon gone, too into their own game to even notice they had a new omega on the island. But Hiroto stayed where he was, happily telling his new friend about the island, making sure Ryo knew where the swings were, where to look for pretty flowers and where the best raspberries grew. Kiyoshi slept in Masa’s lap, and Ryo eyed him curiously while Hiroto babbled on in the background, but he didn't say anything.

When lunch was over, Ryo seemed a lot calmer. He even smiled and waved goodbye to Hiroto as he ran off to play with his friends, and when Masa got up to leave with Kiyoshi on his arm, the other omega got up and walked over, gently lifting the boy’s hand with a finger, caressing the tiny fingers with his thumb.

“Pretty,” he offered quietly, and Masa smiled widely.

“Thanks,” he said. “He’s my sweet little darling.”

Ryo weren’t about to say anything more, but the two smiled at each other in understanding, and it seemed to the islanders that there was hope about their newcomer fitting in with them eventually.

After lunch, Uruha and Yutaka took Ryo upstairs to get him a room of his own, and the omega stared in wonder at the bed and his clothes, that had been washed and laid out on it. After looking around and being told who lived next to him, he even let himself be persuaded to take a quick tour outside. They stepped out on the porch, Ryo with a firm grip on Yutaka’s arm as he looked around. When he saw no immediate danger or any crowds nearby, he let the older omega lead him down the stairs slowly. They strolled over the grass, Uruha and Yutaka pointing out who lived where.

When Uruha was called away to separate his two sons who were fighting over a toy, Kei and Mahiro joined them instead, and Ryo seemed more or less at ease once he had gotten used to the layout of the place. Eventually, the islanders felt they could chance showing the omega their latest construction site, hoping the sight of several unknown alphas didn’t freak him out.

As it happened, Asanao was out in front of the school talking to Yukke when the group came walking over. Seeing the alpha there, Ryo dared walk close enough to see what they were doing, despite his hesitation about Yukke’s presence. The alphas looked up and nodded, and then went back to discussing the angle of the piece of wood Yukke was holding. Ryo smiled widely at Asanao, looking curiously at what he was doing. But at the lack of reassuring attention from the alpha, he seemed to shrink back and become insecure again. Mahiro cleared his throat meaningfully, raising one eyebrow at Asanao, who looked confused for a second before he noticed the omega hiding behind Yutaka. Ryo suddenly looked small and scared again, and it took a moment for Asanao to understand why. The omega had decided he was his strong alpha protector, and now his protector didn’t seem to care about him.

Damn. Asanao didn’t want to be Ryo’s babysitter, but he could see that was what the island omegas were aiming for, and probably what Ryo needed. He sighed inwardly, frustrated. Not that Ryo wasn’t nice, but how would he be able to work, or do anything at all, if he had to be there to support the omega every second?

Of course, it sounded like a lame excuse even to his own mind, and he sighed inwardly, giving in to the other omegas’ glares. “Hi Ryo,” he said, making a face at Mahiro before he turned to their newcomer. “It’s nice to see you outside. Did they show you everything?”

As he continued to talk to the omega about the island, Ryo slowly came back out of his shell, and before they finally left, he offered Asanao a quick hug. The alpha stood and watched their backs as they disappeared up to the big house again, and he didn’t notice at first when Yukke came up and stood next to him.

“You like him.” It wasn’t a question, but Asanao snarled and denied it heatedly instantly. Yukke seemed taken aback by the force of the denial, and threw his hands up and retreated to the building. He threw a glance over his shoulder at his friend as the other alpha made a grimace and started taking his emotions out on the log with the help of his saw. Maybe someone needed to talk to Asanao about this?

. . . . .

Yukke wasn’t the only one to notice Asanao’s mood swings and angry frowns every time someone said something about Ryo. Toshiya eyed him worriedly, and he and Hyde whispered between themselves while throwing glances at the alpha. Tatsurou made a few attempts to raise the question but was faced with Asanao turning his back on him and walking off. It was Hazuki who finally took matters into his own hands, and dragged his friend away down to the lake for a private chat.

“Ok, stop it,” he said as they reached the shore and he finally released Asanao’s arm. “You are being an ass.”

“What?” Asanao muttered, glaring at his friend.

“So you like him. Stop being such a piss-ant and just admit it already.” Hazuki pointed at his friend with an accusing finger, Asanao growling in response. Hazuki sighed and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Listen, the others might say that they know how you feel, but they don’t. I do. I lost a mate as well, remember?”

Asanao shrugged the hand off of his shoulder and made a face, but he didn’t say anything. It wasn’t like he could deny it, no matter how much he wanted out of this conversation. Hazuki wasn’t deterred by his glaring, and continued to Asanao’s chagrin.

“I know it takes time to move on, and I know it’s fucking hard. I love Kou with all my heart, but it took me a long time to accept that Yusuke wasn’t with me anymore, and if he had been alive…” He didn’t finish the sentence, not wanting to say that Koichi wouldn’t be his mate in that case. They both knew the mate bond was pretty good at keeping alphas faithful to their omegas, and it was clearly a painful thought for Hazuki. Still, Asanao wasn’t moved by the sight of his friend’s sadness. Yes, he and Hazuki shared the same loss. But his friend had been able to move on, and he wasn’t ready for that, dammit!

“Koichi is your soul mate,” he said accusingly. “He’s alive. Akinori was my soul mate. He’s not.”

Hazuki looked sad, shaking his head. “Yes, he is, but when I was with Yusuke… I thought he was my soul mate. I really did. And then I met Kou and… things changed. Feelings. Perspectives.”

Asanao couldn’t keep back another snarl, anything not to give in to the tears that threatened to fall if he gave up on the anger. He couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put a crack in his furious façade, and so he kept quiet, his jaws clenched as he looked out over the water, away from Hazuki.

“Listen,” the other alpha tried, “maybe he doesn’t have to be your soul mate. Maybe you two don’t start anything at all, and if you do, maybe he’s not right for you in the end? But you owe it to yourself to try. What do you think Akinori would have told you to do?”

“Leave him out of this!” Asanao yelled suddenly, the anger welling up again in violent bursts. “Don’t you talk about him as if you knew him! Just because he was friends with Yusuke doesn’t mean…” He stopped, clenching his fists hard enough for his nails to dig into his palms. Hazuki sighed but backed away, raising his hands in the air.

“Ok, ok. I’m sorry. And I don’t mean…” He sighed, looking for the right words. “I know it’s hard. But think about it. And just… don’t take it out on Ryo. He doesn’t deserve that.”

With that, he turned and left, leaving Asanao to sit on the sand and try to sort out the pain, as darkness slowly fell over the world.

. . . . .

The following week passed by without anything in particular happening. Asanao kept clear of Hazuki, still angry about their conversation, but he had at least taken one thing his friend had said to heart. He didn’t take out his frustrations on Ryo, but instead did his best to be supportive of the omega. His jaws hurt from clenching tightly when he went to bed every night, but at least he didn’t make the omega feel threatened. And Ryo made progress, even coming down for dinner one week after his arrival at the island. He was white as a ghost and stiff as a board the whole time, but at least he sat with them through the entire meal before he went to his room, closed and locked the door and fell exhausted into bed.

Another week, and Ryo started daring to go places on his own, without an omega escort. This meant he often visited the alpha – going from one safe spot (Yutaka) to another (Asanao) and back again, much as children do when they learn to walk. Eventually, he even dared to walk out into the woods with Hiroto and Saga as his guides. He was even shown the secret place, forbidden for all other adults (which Uruha and Yuuki knew absolutely everything about, while pretending to have no idea of where it was). The children showed him the path down to the small stream where you could build dams, and they happily played with the water until they were all completely soaked, Ryo included.

On the way back, they took the direct path over the meadow, and the omega couldn’t help pointing questioningly at the two headstones on the hill. Hiroto shrugged, too young to really remember who the two people buried there were. Some people who died ages ago, he explained, disinterested. The omega looked over his shoulder as they walked away, noting the little bouquet of flowers by one of the headstones. At least someone was still missed, he thought, before he was pulled away by the hand, Hiroto pointing out yet another good place for berries.

Once they came back to the big house, they were not only wet but also full of berry stains, and Uruha and Yuuki couldn’t help shaking their head at the three of them. “You look about the same age, just in different sizes,” Uruha said, smirking at Ryo’s embarrassed grin, before the bearers took their children to change and wash off. Ryo continued up to his room to do the same, bounding up the stairs. He didn’t notice the alpha watching him from the doorway to the dining room as he walked past, hair on end and a happy grin on his face. Asanao backed into the dining room, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, willing his heart to slow down to a steady beat once again.

Chapter Text

“He's weird though,” Ruki said, making a face.

“Yeah, but so are you and you don't even have his excuse,” Byou countered to everyone's laughter.

“Yeah, but he doesn't have to be scared of us omegas,” Ruki tried, trying to save face.

“I don't think he's scared of anyone really,” Mahiro said. “He's just cautious and not used to people. I mean, we don't even know what he's been through or if he's had anyone to talk to for years. Give him a break.”

Ruki wasn't sure why, but he felt some sort of need to assert himself. Maybe it was the fact that Kyo had said that morning that he felt sorry for their new omega, or that everyone defended Ryo immediately, or maybe that Ruki’s opinion was being frowned upon by the others. Most of all it was probably because he had woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Either way, he put the plates down on the table with a bang and glared at Mahiro.

“Well I’m glad you found a new best friend then, Mr Holier than thou who thinks he’s so fucking perfect!”

Mahiro knew Ruki didn't really mean anything by it, and he was about to just soothe his friend's ruffled feathers a bit when they were interrupted.

“Mean!” Ryo stood in the doorway, his eyes shooting rays at Ruki. At first, they all thought he meant what Ruki had said about him, but then Ryo stepped in and threw his arms around Mahiro, glaring furiously at Ruki. “Mean,” he repeated, hugging Mahiro tightly. “Kind friend,” he added with a much softer voice, directed at the omega in his arms.

Normally, that would have been it. But Ruki had a shitty day, and Ryo was angry because someone was picking on his friend, and things just exploded. When two breathless omegas came to fetch Kyo and Asanao respectively, the alphas were both shocked by what they saw in the dining room.

“Ruki, what the hell are you doing?” Kyo barked, at the same time as Asanao let out a surprised “Ryo!”

The two omegas suddenly stopped everything, Ruki with his mouth still open from shouting and with his hand firmly in Ryo’s hair, and Ryo with Ruki’s arm in a twist.

“What is going on here?” Kyo demanded, Asanao still just staring at the omegas.

“Mean!” Ryo said firmly, releasing Ruki’s arm and pointing at him menacingly as the other omega also let go and stepped back. Ruki glared, but when he was going to defend himself to his lover, he suddenly couldn't find the words.

“He… I… He said…” he sputtered.

Kyo watched his mate for a moment, before he turned to Asanao and rolled his eyes.

“Ok, you deal with that one and I'll deal with mine,” he said, and then he just stepped up and grabbed Ruki, tossing him over his shoulder and stomping off to their cabin under Ruki’s loud complaints. The other alpha looked after them with his mouth hanging slightly open before he looked back at Ryo with a slightly lost look on his face. How the hell do I get into these situations?

“Ryo,” he started hesitantly, “what was that all about?”

Ryo pouted. The alpha had never seen him look so feisty as he did now, his eyebrows furrowed and his fists clenched. Now that things had calmed down a bit, Mahiro dared come to his rescue and explain what had happened. “So basically Ruki had a bad day and Ryo just wanted to defend me,” he concluded finally. “Which was sweet but really unnecessary, Ryo,” he said, turning to the other omega.

“But… but… mean!” Ryo said firmly, looking confused and a bit upset that Mahiro didn’t take it more seriously. He stepped away from his friend and frowned at him. Asanao looked around for help from Yutaka or Uruha, or maybe Masa. But no one was around, and seeing as Byou and company had fled the scene, he sighed. It seemed he would have to be the one to explain the intricacies of the omega community here. Because that's my expertise, he grumbled in his head. But I'll be damned if I do it alone. He reached out his hand to Ryo.

“Come on,” he said. “I think we need to talk. You too, Mahiro.”

Hesitantly, Ryo took his hand and let himself be led away to his room, Mahiro following them upstairs with a nervous look on his face. At the alpha’s prompt, the omegas sat down on the bed while Asanao closed the door and grabbed the only chair in the room.

“Ok,” he sighed. “I know you just wanted to help your friend, and that's admirable. But you can't go around picking fights with people here. Ruki is just Ruki, and he sounds worse than he is. You'll get used to him in time, but until then, just.... take it easy, ok?”

Mahiro nodded, grabbing Ryo’s hand. “He didn’t mean anything by it, I promise. He’s just a little spiky, but it's because he's insecure. Deep down he’s super sweet, I swear.”

Ryo looked doubtful, and Asanao hurried to assure him it was true. If Ryo and Ruki kept getting on each other’s nerves, it was gonna get rough for Ryo around here, and Asanao really didn't want that to happen. He needed him to step back a bit, observe before he talked.

“Listen, Ryo,” he tried, smiling in an attempt to soften his words. “You always say what you think and I respect that. But sometimes you need to let things go a bit, to preserve the peace. You know what I mean?”

The omega frowned, pouting. “No,” he mumbled. “Lie?”

“Not lying,” Asanao sighed. How would he explain this? “Just phrase things differently? Not always say everything you’re thinking? You know, just talk to people, like we all do.”

Ryo looked down into his lap, and Asanao could’ve bitten his tongue. Yeah, because Ryo had so much practice in talking to people lately. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Mahiro beat him to it, letting go of the omega’s hand to wrap his arm around his shoulders instead.

“Ryo,” he asked softly, “how long have you been alone? Just you?”

The omega just shrugged, still looking down into his lap.

“You don't know?” Mahiro petted the omega's hair. “Were you alone from the start? After it all happened?”

Ryo shook his head, biting his lip.

“No? Who was with you? Boyfriend?” At Ryo’s shake to the head, he continued. “Friends? No. Family? Ok, all of your family? No, ok. Brother? Yes? Was he older than you?”

The questions continued, answered by nods or shakes to the head, until they had established that Ryo’s older alpha brother had been with him at least one winter, until he had left to find them food and not come back. Ryo had been alone since then, with no one to talk or interact with at all. At the beginning, there were still groups of people passing through the city, but after nearly being caught and raped by a group of alphas, the omega had stayed clear of any and all groups. And then people had stopped coming altogether.

The two islanders were stunned by Ryo’s story. They had realized he’d been alone for a long time, but four years? That was beyond staggering. Mahiro couldn't hold back a few tears, and he glanced at Asanao only to see the alpha just as teary-eyed.

“Ryo,” the alpha said, his voice gruff from emotion. “You're with friends now. You won't be alone again, I promise. We’ll take good care of you. Just let us, ok?” He took a deep breath, not sure what more to say. Oh, right, the fight. “And please, talk to Ruki and see if you can patch things up. For me?”

At Ryo’s nod, he got up and stood a little awkwardly in front of the omegas until he finally just murmured his goodbye and walked out, leaving Mahiro to comfort his friend.

. . . . .

Ruki and Kyo came back to the big house at lunch, the omega's hair suspiciously ruffled and his body language a lot less tense. He didn't even hesitate before he went up to Ryo and apologized, before the omega had any chance to approach Ruki himself. They soon made up, and everyone breathed a little easier once the two had hugged and gone their separate ways.

Asanao had a quick talk with Toshiya, Hyde and Tatsurou and explained the situation. The others looked dismayed at the news of Ryo’s solitude, and the nurse seemed thoughtful.

“I’m not sure what to do to help him, other than give him time,” he said. “I’ll talk to Shinji too, but he said it himself, he’s more of a surgeon than a psychologist. I don't think he'll have anything to add.”

Toshiya and Hyde looked at each other before the short alpha shrugged. “I’ve got nothing. I think this one is best left to the omegas. Let Yutaka and Uruha continue to deal with it.”

The others nodded, but as they went on with their day, Asanao couldn't help thinking about the little omega and what he had been through. Would he ever be able to move on, for real?

. . . . .

Mahiro woke up in the middle of the night from an elbow to his stomach. At first his sleep-addled brain thought it was Ju-ken, until he woke up enough to realize that his alpha didn't stay in his room tonight. Who then?

He sat up and peered into the darkness, trying to see the face half hidden under the blankets. Ryo. Mahiro went from annoyed to heart wrenched in the two seconds it took him to distinguish the little anxious frown on his friend's forehead as he lay cuddled close, deeply asleep. It wasn't hard to imagine the other waking up alone in bed after a nightmare, thinking he was alone again, and desperately seeking the comfort of another person’s body next to his.

He lay back down, carefully sliding his arm in under Ryo’s head, and then he pulled his friend in close and closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep. He almost regretted the decision in the morning, feeling like a punching bag after a night of being kicked and elbowed by a sleeping Ryo. But his friend's face when he woke up made it worth it, and Ryo seemed a lot calmer than usual for the rest of the morning. Ju-ken grumbled a bit when he realized this would become a regular occurrence, but shut his mouth after Mahiro had scolded him for not caring about their newcomer’s horrific background. However, it didn't stop Ju-ken from muttering to Miya that Asanao better get his head out of his ass soon so that he could have his boyfriend back.

. . . . .

As the weeks passed, things slowly settled with their newest resident. Ryo dared talk to people more, though it was still mostly in one or two word sentences. He seemed less watchful, not as nervous around crowds anymore. After that first night in Mahiro’s bed though, the omega refused to sleep alone, and Ju-ken was starting to look more than a little bit frustrated.

Still, things were running along as usual, everyone doing their chores for Autumn. Ryo settled in without question in the kitchen garden with Shinya and his team. One day, the omega came out with little Shoya on his arm, only to find Ryo halfway through weeding the soybeans. Shinya just quietly made sure the omega knew what he was doing, and then went about his business, silently deciding to inform Toshiya at lunch that he had a new worker in the garden.

Asanao also relaxed more with time, now that it seemed Ryo had found his place with them. The omega still looked to him for safety, which the alpha still provided when needed, but Asanao felt a little less crowded, not as tense.

And so they made it to late September without any more incidents, before things suddenly took a nosedive.

. . . . .

Asanao looked up, staring at the young omega that was standing in the middle of his cabin with his hands on his hips.

“What?” he asked, mouth going dry. He didn’t hear that right, did he?

“Fuck me!” Ryo repeated.

He had heard that right. Asanao felt about to faint, his stomach suddenly twisting into a knot.

“But… what? Ryo…” he stammered, mind blank for a second. But then the omega stepped closer, and his scent nearly drowned the alpha’s senses completely. Oh. Right, ok.

“Ryo, you don't have to find someone to have your heat with. We have a natural suppressant here, and…” His breath caught as the omega stepped right up to his chest, leaning in and sniffing his neck. He felt his cock twitch as the sweet, delicious scent filled his nose, and it was enough to get him to snap out of it. He quickly stepped back and held Ryo away so he couldn't follow as he circled the omega to get to the door.

“Let me get you some help, ok?” he said shakily. He opened the door and stuck his head out, desperately looking around for someone until he saw Daichi and Hiyori come walking over the grass carrying laundry baskets.

“Hey, guys,” Asanao yelled, “over here!” He waved the two confused omegas over, quickly grabbing Ryo’s hand and pulling him out of the cottage, handing him over to a startled Hiyori. “Can you see to it that he gets some meds?” Asanao asked, pleadingly. Once Hiyori had Ryo in his arms, he too picked up the scent and understood the situation. He smiled and nodded, taking the omega firmly under the arm and leading him away up to the big house.

“Come on,” the alpha heard him say, “let’s go find Tomo or Kei, ok? They’ll help you.”

Asanao sat down heavily on the stairs, shivering as he watched them go, Ryo turning to look at him every few steps.

His pants were uncomfortably tight, and it was enough to make him feel sick to his stomach. Aki… Please help me.

. . . . .

Later in the evening, when he had calmed down and deemed the medicine had worked enough for it to be safe again, Asanao went up to the big house. He looked around for Ryo, not sure if he wanted to see him or not, but Daichi saw him and came over.

“He's up in his room with Mahiro,” he said, clearly expecting the alpha to go up there immediately.

“Oh… Um… Ok,” Asanao said, blinking a bit uncertainly.

“I think he might need to see you,” came Tomo’s soft voice from behind him. “He's a bit confused by... everything.” Asanao was glad the omega didn't spell it out. By his rejection, was what he meant. Of course Ryo was confused. Here he was, almost in heat, ready and willing, throwing himself at someone. And then the alpha of his choice turned him down, just like that. That would mess with anyone’s head. Asanao sighed deeply and nodded.

“I’ll go talk to him,” he said quietly. “I guess I do owe him an explanation.”

“You don't owe him anything, no matter what some want you to believe,” Tomo said gently with a glance at Uruha across the room. “But it would be a nice gesture. I think he'd appreciate it.”

Asanao was a bit surprised by Tomo’s soft speech, but he found himself smiling. It felt good to have someone here who didn't want to force him and Ryo together by any means possible, and he nodded gratefully.

“Thank you,” he said, not bothering to explain what for. Tomo seemed to understand anyway, and Asanao felt a bit lighter as he walked up the stairs. That was, until he came in to find a shivering Ryo in Mahiro’s arms.

Mahiro glanced at him when he came in, but continued to caress his friend soothingly over his back.

“Ssh, it’s ok, sweetie,” he said, apparently in the middle of a conversation he didn't want to halt just because of the appearance of an annoying alpha. He glared at Asanao to stay out of his way, and the alpha sat down on the chair by the window as quietly as possible. Ryo blinked at him and turned away to hide his face against his friend’s shoulder. Mahiro pressed a kiss to Ryo’s hair, before he asked a very personal question.

“But what about your heats before you came here? Did you have suppressants?”

Ryo shrugged, leaning into his friend's arms. He looked so small and vulnerable, and Asanao’s chest hurt at the sight. “Beginning,” he mumbled.

“You ran out?” Mahiro asked, eyes widening. At Ryo’s nod, he swallowed. “But then what did you do?” he said, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“Got heat. Woke up after. Found way home.” Ryo’s voice was barely audible, but it pierced both the islanders’ hearts.

“Oh my god,” Mahiro whispered. “You mean you actually went into heat and went out to try to find an alpha? And suffered through all of it alone, only to wake up somewhere and not know where you were?”

Ryo nodded, sniffing and not looking at either of the other two. Asanao closed his eyes, trying to keep his emotions in. He couldn't even imagine the horror of waking up somewhere and having no idea where he was or what he had done. From Akinori, he knew that an omega’s memories after a heat were hazy at best. What this guy had been through was very different from what some of the others suffered through, but it was no less horrifying.

“Did… Did you ever find an alpha?” Mahiro asked, his voice trembling a bit. At Ryo’s shake to the head, he closed his eyes and let out a sob. From what Asanao had understood, heats without a partner were hell, painful and exhausting both physically and mentally. And Ryo had done it not once, but many times. Oh god. Asanao felt sick. Ryo was seriously strong to have made it through something like that, without any support whatsoever. He watched the thin figure in Mahiro’s arms with compassion.

But still, despite the horror and the pity, the alpha couldn't help be impressed by the omega’s strength. And when Ryo finally looked up and their eyes locked, he felt that feeling stir inside again.

No.

His stomach clenched and ice filled his veins, and he got up from the chair quickly. “I’m sorry for turning you down, Ryo,” he said hoarsely. “It's got nothing to do with you.”

And with that, he left, feeling his legs tremble on the stairs down. Tomo waited downstairs, eyeing him, and Asanao realized his face must be ashen. “Um… Ask Mahiro,” he said shakily, before he fled to the relative safety of his cabin. He tried to calm himself down, but it just wouldn't work. He couldn’t get Ryo out of his head – what he had been through, what he stirred up in the alpha’s chest. Frustrated, he started pacing the cottage, trying to just breathe. But the emotions just kept colliding in his head and chest, and he felt like he would explode with every new step he took, until he finally snapped. Without thinking, he grabbed whatever was nearest, which happened to be a wooden bowl, and hurled it into the wall.

The crash brought some sense back into his frayed mind, and he covered his face in his hands and took a deep breath, and then another, and another. Finally, he was able to function like a normal person again, and he went to retrieve the bowl. Luckily, it was sturdy enough to withstand the impact, and only a fine crack along the edge showed that something had happened to it. With a deep sigh, the alpha put the bowl back down on the table and sat down heavily on his chair, leaning his head in his hands. What the hell am I supposed to do?

. . . . .

Two days later, Ryo went to look for Asanao. He hadn’t seen much of the alpha after what had happened, and it unnerved him. With the alpha staying away, he became increasingly nervous and craved his reassurance more than ever. Things were going to be ok. They had to be, he told himself.

He tried everywhere – the cottage, the library, the construction site, the docks – but the alpha was nowhere to be found. Eventually, Ryo asked Tomo, who gave him a strange look before he answered.

“He's probably at Akinori’s grave. It the anniversary of his death, and…” He trailed off, looking slightly uncomfortable.

Ryo thought about it. “Mate?” he asked quietly and bit his lip when Tomo nodded solemnly. “Now?”

“No, years ago,” Tomo said. “But he really misses him a lot. They were like soul mates.”

Ryo blinked, feeling uneasy. “How?”

“Probably cancer. He was really ill for months before...” Tomo looked away for moment, taking a shuddering breath at the memory. “Anyway, so that's why he's a bit grumpy. Didn't Uru or someone tell you? I mean, they should have, considering… just considering.”

Ryo shook his head. No one had told him anything. He lifted his head and eyed Tomo questioningly, a hint of fear in his voice.

“Where?” he whispered.

Chapter Text

Asanao stood in front of Akinori’s headstone. He had cleaned up around the stones, freeing Pitty’s flat headstone from the tall flowers that had grown up all around it and hidden it from view. Once that was done, he started brushing dead leaves off the top of the other two headstones. He was stalling and he knew it, but his mind was in turmoil and he didn’t know where to begin. He had placed the flowers beside his mate’s headstone and gotten rid of the old ones, and now he finally sat down, looking at the stone as if it could talk back.

It wasn't the first time he had come here to talk to his mate, no matter how weird it might be to others. But talking to Akinori, pretending he was still here, listening… It made things easier somehow. It made him able to think in a way he never could on his own. Today though, it was hard. He couldn’t sort through the feelings in his head. Instead, he just stared at the stone, memories from years ago trying to take over his mind. Finally, he gave in, closed his eyes and let them come.

It was a grey day, rainclouds hanging heavily over them while they walked into the clearing, as if the skies themselves grieved as much as he did. The grave was already dug, and Akinori’s body was down there, wrapped in a white sheet. The headstone was raised, and all that was left to do was say a few words and then fill it up with black, moist soil. Asanao felt numb as he watched the grave, more feeling than seeing the presence of the others as they all lined up around him. Some cried, and Asanao’s chest ached to do the same, but it was as if his body had gone into lockdown. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. He could only stand there, completely still, and watch the hole in the ground where the love of his life lay waiting to be covered by a heavy darkness.

His fingers ached from clutching the large flower Uruha had quietly supplied, but still he didn’t loosen the steel grip. He needed to touch something real, to feel the pain physically so he could divert some of the pain in his heart to something that he could handle.

Toshiya stepped up, gently laying a hand on his shoulder, his eyes concerned. “Do you want me to start?” he asked softly, waiting for Asanao to nod wordlessly before he walked up to stand beside the headstone. The words were probably kind, and beautiful, and thoughtful. After all, it was Toshiya. Still, Asanao didn’t hear them. He just stared at the name on the headstone, reading it over and over. While everyone else added their memories of Akinori, speaking softly as if they were afraid to disturb the silence, the alpha traced each letter in his mate’s name with his eyes, burning the sight of them into his mind.

He didn’t notice the quiet that came when they had all said their farewells, while they waited to see if he would speak. He didn’t react when Yukke and Kaoru started filling the grave with soil, his eyes still fixed on the headstone. He didn’t move when they eventually left, Toshiya putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently before he went back to the big house, leaving the alpha alone. He just stood there for hours, the flower wilting in his hand, while the rain slowly started to drizzle down onto the world. When darkness started to fall, Toshiya came to carefully loosen his grip on the flower and help him to put it down on the grave, before he led the alpha home to his cabin.

The first tears only left his eyes after midnight when he was alone in the silence of a cabin that should have held two, where he could no longer hear Akinori’s voice softly telling him everything would be ok.

Asanao opened his eyes, the world blurry from behind the veil of tears. His beautiful Akinori, funny, happy, always cheeky and joking around. Even when the end was near, he kept his sense of humor, trying to cheer his mate up with stupid jokes. He let out a deep sigh, shaking his head to clear it of the memories that had stained his face with tears. A deep breath, and then he threw himself into it.

“So…” he said tentatively. “I’ve… Well, you know what’s happened. And I… May the gods help me, but I kind of like him, Aki. He’s not you of course, he never could be, but he’s pretty, and he’s strong willed, and honest, and good hearted. And he… He kind of depends on me, and it makes it so hard. I don’t want to let him down, but at the same time I don’t want him to depend on me. I don’t want to have these feelings stirring in my chest, I don’t want my body…” He stopped, even now not being able to acknowledge the fact that his body clearly wanted Ryo, no matter how conflicted his mind was about it. Instead, he shook his head.

“I know, you would tell me to stop worrying, to have fun. To move on. God knows you told me enough times during your last few weeks. But Aki, I can’t do it. He trusts me to take care of him, but what if I can’t? What if something happens to him? What if I fail him? What if he...”

He took a shuddering breath, pinching his eyes shut for a moment before he looked up again, reading the name and date on the stone like he had so many times before, letting it calm his mind before he whispered the words into the stillness.

“I can’t go through it again, Aki. I can’t. I failed you, Aki, and I just... What if I allow myself to feel things for him, and then lose him? I can’t do this one more time. I won’t.”

He sighed deeply and turned his head away, no longer able to look at the stone, his heart aching too much. And so he found himself staring into Ryo’s large eyes, the omega standing quietly on the path at the edge of the clearing, just watching him. For a long moment, their gazes stayed fixed on each other’s, anxiety shooting like arrows between them. And then Ryo blinked and shuddered, and hastily turned away. His steps were quick and uncertain as he made his way back up the path to the village. Behind him, an alpha fell apart in agony.

. . . . .

Ryo kept his distance for the next few days, and it tore at Asanao. He felt guilty, but he couldn’t make himself approach the omega and say something. Eventually, Hazuki cornered him in his cabin and asked what had happened between the two, and Asanao broke down and told him the entire story. He had fully expected Hazuki to roll his eyes or say he was weird, but the alpha just listened and nodded.

“Don’t blame yourself,” he said once Asanao had finished. “So he overheard you revealing how you feel. It’s not a bad thing. Sure, it’s hard for the both of you, but isn’t honesty better?”

Asanao sniffed and looked down into his lap. “But it’s not his fault that I’m such a broken piece of crap,” he mumbled.

“Stop it.” Hazuki’s voice held a sharp warning. “You’re not a piece of crap, and broken? You have every right to be. And he’s broken too in a way. He won’t judge you for it.”

“But I talked to my dead mate’s grave,” Asanao objected. “If he doesn’t find me creepy after that, I don’t know what will convince him.”

Hazuki sighed. “Has he said you’re creepy?”

“No. But he hardly says anything, in case you hadn’t noticed. And he stays away from me.”

“Maybe he just wants to give you some space?” Hazuki suggested, trying to pull his friend up from the black hole he was digging for himself. Asanao just shrugged and studied his fingers as the silence fell between them.

. . . . .

No matter how hard Hazuki tried to help, Asanao just seemed to fall deeper into his personal hell with every passing day. He stayed in his cabin whenever he could get away with it, only coming out to work and, occasionally, to eat. For whatever reason, Ryo still kept his distance, and Yutaka reported that even though he seemed ok, he was even more quiet than usual. He still played with the kids, and to the adults, he seemed the same. But sweet and sensitive Hiroto had started wearing a worried frown, anxiously trying to be near his adult friend, patting his arm and climbing into his lap whenever he could. Ryo let him, and if Uruha hadn’t known his son so well, he would have thought things were the same as always. But the way Hiroto snuggled up to Ryo, and the way Ryo leaned his cheek on Hiroto’s head, convinced the omega that something was very wrong indeed.

“We need to do something,” he told Yutaka and Tomo when a week had passed.

“I don’t think we should meddle,” Tomo said, frowning a bit. “Let them deal with this in their own time.”

“It’s scaring Hiroto!” Uruha half-snarled, his bearer instincts coming out.

“So talk to Hiroto and tell him that grownups can get sad too, but that it passes,” Tomo insisted, getting irritated. “Nothing good will come out of forcing them. They’re both hurting for different reasons, and they have to be allowed to feel what they feel.”

Yutaka looked between his two friends, a bit anxious by the tension. “Guys, please,” he intervened. “Let’s try to calm down and we’ll discuss this later, ok?”

“But…” Uruha started, snapping his mouth shut suddenly when Ryo walked passed them on the way out.

Tomo sighed, looking after the omega and his little miniature best friend as they walked outside to play with the falling leaves. “A week,” he said. “Please, let’s just give it one more week.”

Uruha huffed, but finally agreed with a short nod.

One week.

. . . . .

Night had fallen once Ryo finally came to crawl down in Mahiro’s bed, having wandered restlessly through the house for at least an hour before that. The other omega lifted the covers and made room, pulling him close. Hiroto wasn’t the only one who had noticed something was off, and Mahiro sighed as he held his friend.

“Won’t you go talk to him?” he asked for the umpteenth time in the last week, but Ryo just shook his head like always and dug himself into Mahiro’s chest, refusing to look at his friend. “But he likes you,” he tried. “It’s been hard for him because he loved Akinori so much and lost him in such a horrible way, but he really does like you.”

He was met with complete silence, and just like every night, he gave up and closed his eyes with a deep sigh. He was already in dreamland before he could feel the wetness against his chest as Ryo cried himself to sleep.

. . . . .

Asanao missed Ryo’s presence. He couldn’t even pretend to himself that he didn’t. It cut his soul every time he saw the omega turn away when the alpha came into the room, and yet it took him five more days to reach such a state of desperation that he sought the omega out.

He waited until Ryo had handed Hiroto, Saga and Takashi over to the babysitters after a day playing house at their secret spot. The omega didn’t see him as he walked off towards the privy, and Asanao nervously hung back until he came back out, hoping no one would come by while he waited. When Ryo showed up, he halted his step as he caught sight of the alpha, and then he looked down, picking up speed to get away as quickly as possible without eye contact. Asanao sighed deeply, and reached out to put a hand on the omega’s arm as he was about to pass.

“Ryo,” he pleaded, speaking softly. The omega stopped but didn’t look at him. “Can we talk for a minute?” A short shake to the head met the request, and Asanao felt his chest constrict and his voice quiver as he added a quiet “Please?”

Ryo sniffed, still refusing to look at him. “No,” he mumbled.

“Ryo…” To his surprise, Asanao felt a tear trickle down his cheek, and he dried it off quickly. The motion caught Ryo’s eye, and he uncertainly lifted his head to glance at the alpha. “Please. I’m sorry you heard me say those things and I’m sorry it hurt you. But please, just let me explain,” he begged.

The omega hesitated for a while, intently studying the bushes next to them while he thought about it. After another minute of agony for Asanao, he nodded, but didn’t make a move to go anywhere. The alpha took a deep, shuddering breath, before he smiled weakly. “Thank you,” he murmured. “Let’s go to my cabin and speak in private.”

He saw Ryo flinch at the thought of them being alone in his cottage, but before he had time to suggest another spot, the omega set off against the building. He didn’t look to see if the alpha would follow, and he didn’t wait for the other to catch up before he pulled the door open and stepped inside. Once Asanao reached the cabin, he found Ryo already seated at a chair, arms crossed over his chest and his gaze firmly fixed on the wooden bowl on the table. The crack in it was clearly visible from where he sat, and the alpha swallowed at the thought of what had caused it. He closed the door and walked over on unsteady legs, sitting down.

“Do you want something? Tea? Water?” he asked, stalling. At Ryo’s shake to the head, he sighed and nodded. “Ok. I just… I need you to know it’s all me. I need you to understand that none of this is your fault or even has anything to do with you. And in order to prove it, I think I should tell you what happened.” He paused, looking down at his shaking hands and clutched them together to stop some of the trembling. “Is that ok?” he asked quietly.

A heartbeat. Two. Three. Then Ryo nodded, almost imperceptible. Asanao nodded as well in confirmation, not really knowing why other than that he was trying to reassure himself this was going to be ok. With barely more than a whisper, he began telling his story.

“Akinori and I met through a friend. We fell in love that first night, and everything moved really quickly from there. We became boyfriends instantly, and he moved in with me after only a month. We got mated after a year, and we would have done it sooner if his family hadn’t insisted it was the minimum time we had to wait.” He took a shuddering breath, getting up to fetch a glass of water and sipping it for a moment, gathering his thoughts.

“He was the love of my life. We were together for eight years before the world fell, and I loved every single day with him. We always felt the same way about everything, laughed at the same things, agreed on everything from politics to the color of the living room rug. I couldn’t imagine life without him, and life before him seemed like it must have been dark and dreary in comparison. If soul mates exist, we were it.” Asanao felt the tears starting to fall again, but he couldn’t have stopped them even if he tried.

“And then everything happened, and Toshiya brought us here. We were scared of course, but we had each other, and so I thought everything would be ok. The world could burn all it wanted, as long as he was with me.”

He let out a sob, his voice barely carrying the words now. “But Aki started feeling unwell soon after we got here. He lost weight really fast, and he was tired all the time. This was before Tatsurou came here, and we had no nurse and no meds, or any clue what to get for him either. He got weaker and weaker, and when Tatsu got here, we went to see him as soon as the worst business with Masa was over. I could see in his eyes when he laid eyes on Aki that he knew it was too late already, but he went through the motions and did an examination. He said…”

Asanao’s voice broke and he had to take a break for a minute. Ryo still stared at the bowl, and Asanao was too busy with his own grief to see the silent tears that trickled down his cheeks. Eventually, the alpha took a deep breath and continued.

“He said it was probably cancer, and that he was really, really sorry, but there was nothing he could do at this point but try to make Aki more comfortable and make sure he wasn’t in as much pain. I know he took it hard as well, not being able to help. And those last few weeks were… hell. There’s no other way to describe it. Aki did his best to keep his chin up, and he smiled and laughed, but it was a hollow laughter. He was in pain, and he slept most of the time. When he was awake, he tried to convince me everything would be ok, but how could it be… Nothing would ever be ok again. I tried to keep it together for his sake, but I broke inside, and he knew it of course. There’s no hiding such emotions through the bond, and we broke together. The last morning was…”

He broke it off, unable to describe it, taking deep breaths to steady himself. “After, things were… I was numb for a while, and then I cried for weeks, and then I got angry, and then it started all over again. It took me forever to be able to just go through an entire day without breaking down. I stayed in here a lot, it was so much easier than having to deal with people and their sympathetic looks. It was like a large part of me was missing, a huge void where he was supposed to be.”

Asanao looked up at Ryo for the first time since he started talking, for the first time noticing the other’s tear-stained face. “Ryo… I’m damaged goods. You don’t want me, trust me. I still feel that void where Akinori used to be, even though it’s not as huge and pitch black as it used to be. And it wouldn’t be fair to you for us to get together when I’m still…” He trailed off, sighing. “I like you, Ryo, I really, really do. And I hate that you’re hurting because of me. But if we had gone off for your heat, I would have felt like I was using you. And I respect and like you way too much for that.”

He fell silent, not knowing what more to say. For a long while they sat in silence, not looking at each other, lost in thought. Eventually, Ryo looked up.

“Some day?” he asked quietly.

Asanao couldn’t help a surprised huff. “I don’t know, Ryo. Maybe. But why would you wait for me, not even knowing if it would ever happen, when there are others that could make you happy now? Inoran maybe? And Arimatsu is single, and a great…”

He didn’t get to finish the sentence before Ryo shook his head violently, glaring angrily at the alpha. “No!” he exclaimed, a little agitated.

“Ok, ok, sorry.” Asanao hurried to apologize, holding his hands up. “I just… I hate to see you sad,” he continued ruefully.

“My decision,” Ryo muttered, glaring at him.

“Of course it is, I didn’t mean…”

“I’ll wait,” the young omega stated, pouting.

Asanao blinked, staring in surprise at the younger man. “Ryo…”

I’ll wait,” the omega said again, firmly. And with that, he got up from his chair and rounded the table. He wrapped his arms around the alpha for a quick hug, before he stalked off, slamming the door behind him. On the chair, a shocked alpha sat with his mouth hanging open. It took him another half hour to gather his wits and get up from his seat, thoughts swirling in his head for a long time after Ryo had left.

Chapter Text

The following weeks passed slowly, and though Asanao wouldn’t call them happy, at least he wasn’t completely depressed. Ryo and him were on friendly terms and talked now and then, if tentatively. The omega seemed happier as well, more at peace. He didn’t chase after Asanao as much, and he dared to leave his friends’ sides and actually start talking to others as well. He still spent most nights in Mahiro’s bed, and the times when his friend told him that he wanted alone time with Ju-ken, Ryo snuggled down with Yutaka instead. Hide raised his eyebrow the first time he was banned from his own bed and made to sleep on a futon in the library, but he knew his mate and his soft spot for stray youngsters, and accepted it without question.

Uruha wasn’t about to settle though, even though Ryo wasn’t as distraught anymore. He finally accepted Tomo’s insistence to wait and let the two deal with things themselves, but he couldn’t stop nagging Tomo and Yutaka to reconsider. It did help their case that Hiroto was calmer as well, going back to being the happy little boy who dragged his adult friend around to play. Uruha grumbled and still kept a sharp eye on Ryo and Asanao, but at least he let things happen without interference.

The next adult to become accepted into Ryo’s circle of friends was, a bit unexpectedly considering their start, Meto. For the first part of Ryo’s time on the island, the two eyed each other suspiciously and kept their distance. After the fight between Ruki and Ryo, Meto glared at Ryo every time he saw him. It didn’t seem to matter that the two fighters had long since made up, or that Meto and Ruki wasn’t even that close of friends. Something about Ryo just seemed to irk the youngster, but since Meto was, well, Meto, no one really understood his reasons. Not even Kaz, who sighed and shook his head when Hyde brought up the subject one night as they lay snuggled down in bed together.

“I have no idea. He just frowns when I mention Ryo, and then he makes this face that I can’t interpret. I tried to talk to him, but he got pissed and gave me the finger, the little punk! And then he ran off and hid behind Kuina so I couldn’t yell at him.”

Hyde chuckled. “You two are too funny sometimes, you know that?” he grinned, ignoring Kaz’s huff and pressing a soft kiss to his boyfriend’s cheek. “You would think that they had something in common with the whole ‘not talking’ thing,” he offered thoughtfully. “And they’ve both had a rough time out there. I don’t really understand where the animosity comes from.”

“Me neither,” Kaz said, shrugging. “But so far they’re only glaring at each other suspiciously, so I’ll let it slide unless something else happens.”

“Mmm.... But you know, there are other things that I can let slide…” Hyde mumbled huskily and let his hand wander downwards, grinning widely at his boyfriend when he stared at the pretty alpha on his arm.

“Seriously? You can go from angry Meto to sex in like two seconds flat?” Kaz couldn’t help being amused, and his lips twitched even as he tried to sound scolding.

“Hey, we’re naked – well, almost – and in bed. I can go to sex from any subject in less time than that,” Hyde chuckled. He teasingly let his hand slip into Kaz’s sleep pants and close around his lover’s cock, grinning at the gasp that followed. Meto was completely forgotten by the both of them for the rest of the evening.

. . . . .

It was no exaggeration to say that Kaz was surprised to see his mate out and about with none other than Ryo only a week later. The two omegas were laughing, heads close together as they were studying something in one of Meto’s well-read magazines. They didn’t speak, but it didn’t seem like they had to in order to understand each other.

“How did that happen?” Kaz asked Yutaka, stopping him as he passed.

“I don’t know,” Yutaka confessed. “Yesterday they didn’t want anything to do with each other, and today they’re bosom buddies. I have no clue as to what happened between then and now. But it’s a good thing, right? So does it matter?”

“No, I guess not,” Kaz shrugged. “I’m just curious. Meto doesn’t usually change his mind about people just like that.”

Yutaka hummed in agreement but couldn’t give any further information. As it turned out, neither could anyone else. No one knew what had happened between the two omegas during the day, and eventually Kaz asked Asanao, even though he had a feeling the alpha might get uncomfortable by the implication that he would know what Ryo was up to. But the usually gruff alpha just looked surprised at the question.

“What, they’re friends now? How did that happen?”

“That was what I was gonna ask you,” Kaz said and made a face. “No one seems to know, and the more of a mystery it becomes, the more curious I get,” he admitted with an embarrassed smile.

Asanao laughed. “Yeah, well, I don’t know. But are you sure you’ve asked everyone?”

“Uhm… yes?” Kaz frowned, confused.

“Even the teeny-tiny bestie?” Asanao asked, smirking at his friend’s dumbstruck face. “That’s where I’d start if I wanted to know what’s going on with Ryo.” He suddenly blushed. “Not that I ever…”

Kaz waved his hand, trying not to laugh at Asanao’s eagerness to explain how he wasn’t at all interested in anything Ryo was doing. At all. Ever. Certainly not enough to have talked to Hiroto about it. Absolutely not.

“Thanks for the idea, I just didn’t think of the kids. Too obvious I guess,” he smirked, chuckling to himself as he left a crimson faced alpha behind and went in search of a little boy.

. . . . .

Hiroto was currently sitting in his ada’s lap when Kaz found him, telling Uruha about his day (explaining all about the dirty clothes and the smudges on his face at the same time).

“And then we went down to the dam we made, and we found even more rocks so it’s huuuuge now ada, almost like a beaver dam! And the water was full of pretty yellow leaves so we picked them up, and Saga stepped in the water so he was all wet, and…” The chatter would have been endless had Uruha not noticed Kaz standing there, looking at Hiroto curiously.

“Look darling, uncle Kaz is here,” he said, diverting his son’s attention to the alpha.

“Hi uncle Kaz-san!” Hiroto exclaimed, smiling widely, his hair standing in all directions at once. Uruha was just in time to stop a muddy little hand from pulling at the strands, doing his best to lessen the amount of boy that needed to be washed up before dinner. Kaz smiled back. It was impossible not to smile at Hiroto, everyone’s little sweetheart.

“Hi,” he said, sitting down next to the other two and reaching out to ruffle the boy’s hair. “Sounds like you’ve had a good day?”

“Uh-hu!” Hiroto nodded eagerly. “Saga was all wet and…”

“Was Ryo with you?” Kaz interrupted before the chatter could take off again. “To help Saga when he got wet I mean?”

Uruha cast him a curious glance but didn’t say anything as Hiroto happily threw himself into the new topic. “Uh-hu, ada says we’re not allowed to go to the stream without an adult,” he offered, Uruha smiling at him.

“That’s right, you’re a good boy, my darling. You remember that, right? Every time?” he inserted, pressing a kiss to his son’s hair, seeing as it was the only part of him that was (mostly) clean.

Hiroto grinned happily at his ada’s words, eager to show he had listened and done the right thing. “Today we had two adults with us!” he said, Kaz looking at him intently.

“You did?” he asked. The child beamed at the sudden interest in his day and nodded vigorously.

“Uh-hu, because Takashi brought uncle Meto,” he said.

Kaz smiled. “That’s nice. Did you all play together?”

“Uh-hu,” Hiroto nodded. “Ryo-san and Meto-san didn’t play with each other at first, but when I teached them how, they learned.”

“Taught, honey,” Uruha said absentmindedly, grinning at Kaz.

“Uh-hu, that’s what I said,” the boy nodded. “I taughted them how to play and then they had fun too.”

Oh, so that’s how, Kaz thought, smiling widely. There seem to be no miracles Hiroto can’t perform.

“That’s good,” he said. “But you know what? I think your daddy have finished making dinner soon, and you can’t go eat with those muddy hands, can you?”

Hiroto stared at his hands as if he hadn’t noticed the state of them until it was pointed out to him, and then he looked wide-eyed at his bearer. “Sorry I got dirty, ada,” he mumbled, giving Uruha a big smile meant to appease him. The omega had to suppress a laugh, kissing his son’s hair again. “You’re lucky you inherited your father’s dimples, you little rascal,” he mumbled affectionately. “Come on, let’s go get you washed up, shall we?”

Hiroto pursed his lips. “Ada, can you help Saga too?”

Uruha looked surprised. “Sure honey, but I think Saga’s ada can do that.”

“But he will be too fat to do it!” Hiroto looked serious, only adding to his bearer’s confusion.

“What? Why? Saga’s ada is really thin!”

“But adaaaaa! He’s gonna have a baby! You get really fat when you’re having babies!” Hiroto claimed.

Kaz caught the sudden spark of interest in Uruha’s eyes as he looked closely at his son. “Really? Why do you think he’s gonna have a baby, darling?”

The boy was completely oblivious to the change in his ada as he happily gave away the secret. “Because Saga says his ada told his daddy last night, when he was going to sleep.”

“Oh?” Uruha’s smirk grew wider by the second, and he couldn’t quite hide the eagerness with which he replied. “I’m sure he can help Saga clean up, but just to be sure, why don’t we go ask him, hm?”

Hiroto nodded happily and wriggled down from his bearer’s lap, reaching out to grab his hand. Kaz grinned as he looked after the two as they walked off to find Saga and Yuuki, Hiroto’s chatter starting up again. Looks like Meto has a new friend and Uruha has a new shiny thing to focus on, he thought, chuckling to himself.

. . . . .

Another few weeks passed without much happening, apart from the sudden announcement of another baby. Everyone was a bit surprised that Yuuki and Ichirou gave the news so early on in the pregnancy, before they were even a hundred percent sure, but Yuuki just shrugged and said that there was nothing that could be kept a secret with two little boys around. Asanao was relieved by the news, if only because Uruha and the other omegas seemed to focus all their efforts on Yuuki and forgot to throw sinister glares his way.

They all worked hard with getting everything ready for winter, and the evenings were pretty quiet affairs with most of them yawning and going to bed early. Asanao had started to find a balance in his life again, one where he could keep his thoughts of Ryo on the backburner a bit. It felt good to concentrate on work. He didn’t exactly avoid Ryo per se, he just got on with work and then went to bed. It let the idea of the omega mature in the back of his head without having to actually confront the feelings of hurt and confusion every day. That was, until a loud knock on the door brought reality back with a bang.

He had stayed up later than usual tonight, taking some time to read a book and sip a cup of flower tea in his pajamas before he crawled down under the thick duvet. The knock startled him, and he immediately got up to answer the door with a worried frown on his face. Visitors this late usually meant trouble, and he steeled himself for the news.

What he wasn’t prepared for, though, was to find Hyde outside his door, a pouting Ryo behind him.

“Uhm… hi?” he stammered, looking confusedly between the two. Hyde looked tired and slightly annoyed, probably from being chased out of bed to deal with… whatever this was.

“Listen,” the leader grumbled. “I need you to take Ryo in for the night.”

“Wait… what?” Asanao blinked, ice suddenly filling his gut. Ryo in his cabin? All night?

Hyde sighed, realizing he needed to explain himself a bit better. “Well, Mahiro asked for some alone time with Ju-ken tonight, so Ryo went to sleep with Yutaka. Only he and Hide didn’t know that Mahiro and Ju-ken had plans, and they had gone to bed early and had some fun of their own. So apparently Ryo decided to bunk with Meto, and he trudged over and crawled down next to Meto while he was sleeping. It took like three seconds before Kaz woke up and mumbled something about Meto being pissed off.” The alpha threw a tired glance over his shoulder at Ryo. “He had to go separate them. Apparently this one kicks in his sleep, and Meto wouldn’t have it.” He looked back at Asanao, his eyes pleading now. “So Kaz is calming Meto down, but Ryo needs somewhere to sleep tonight, and everyone’s sleeping. You were the first one he accepted when I tried to suggest names. Besides, you have a spare bed.”

“But… His own room?” Asanao tried desperately, knowing it was of no use. Hyde didn’t even have to say anything, just look at him tiredly. The alpha’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded, defeated. “Fine,” he sighed.

“Thank you,” Hyde said, giving his friend a look that said that he understood, but was very grateful all the same.

Asanao just stepped aside, Ryo slipping past him quietly. The alpha took a deep breath before he closed the door after Hyde and turned around to eye the omega. “Your bunk is over there,” he pointed. There’s an extra blanket on the chair if you get cold during the night.”

Ryo just eyed him through his bangs, and Asanao couldn’t tell if the omega was angry, upset or… ashamed? There were just these huge dark eyes staring at him, and he had to shut them out and look away to calm himself. “There’s tea left in the pot by the fire if you want it. Goodnight,” he muttered and turned his back on Ryo, making his way to his own bed and lying down with his back to the omega.

The silence in the room was deafening. Ryo didn’t seem to move at all from what he could hear, and after a few minutes, it had irked Asanao’s nerves enough. He turned around and looked at the younger man, noting the slumped shoulders and the hanging head. He sighed deeply.

“Ryo…” he tried, but didn’t get any further before a quiet mumble interrupted him. He strained to hear it. “What did you say? I can’t hear you.”

Ryo sniffed, wringing his hands. “Sorry,” he mumbled again, just a tad louder.

Asanao shook his head tiredly. “Ryo… There’s nothing to apologize about. Just go to bed and sleep, ok?”

“Disappointed you.”

“No, Ryo… You didn’t disappoint me. You couldn’t know Meto would be upset with you.”

“Should sleep in my own bed.” Ryo sounded like he was about to cry now, and it tugged at the alpha’s heartstrings. He sighed yet again, but threw the covers off so he could rise and walk over to the trembling body, clearly fighting not to cry.

“Ryo,” he said softly, reaching out to gently pull the other into a hug. “I understand why you don’t want to be alone, ok? I’m not angry with you, or disappointed. It’s just… I haven’t had another omega sleep in here since Aki, and…” He didn’t continue, but it seemed he didn’t need to, because Ryo’s arms were sliding around his waist now, and the young man buried his face in the alpha’s strong chest.

“Both lonely.” Ryo’s hoarse whisper made Asanao swallow harshly and squeeze his eyes shut, fighting the swell of emotions inside. He leaned his cheek on top of Ryo’s head, hugging the small body tightly in comfort. Whose comfort, he didn’t know.

“Yeah,” he whispered. “We are.”

They stood there for a long while, until the fire had burned down completely and the cabin had gone completely dark. Asanao finally stepped back, letting go of the omega. He let his hand slide gently through soft hair before he unthinkingly leaned over to press a chaste kiss to Ryo’s forehead. “Now go to bed, ok?” he whispered, as if speaking loudly would disturb the darkness. The omega nodded quietly, but just as Asanao was about to turn towards his own bed, Ryo got up on tiptoe and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek.

“Thank you,” he murmured before he scurried off to his bed, crawling down under the covers so that all of him was out of sight. Asanao stood for a second and just stared after him, before he shook his head and crawled down underneath his own covers. His feet were a bit cold from standing barefoot on the floor for so long. Was Ryo’s feet cold as well? He stopped himself quickly from asking, and instead buried himself under the covers, fighting to push all thoughts of the omega out of his head so he could finally get some sleep.

. . . . .

Asanao woke up to the sound of the fire crackling. He fought through the lingering veils of sleep and sat up, stretching his arms lazily over his head. Ryo was crouching down by the fireplace in his pajamas, busy hanging the water kettle over the flames. He glanced over his shoulder at the alpha. “Tea,” he offered quietly, and Asanao couldn’t help smile softly.

“Great, thanks.” He slowly got out of bed and padded over to the omega, reaching for the jar on the mantle piece. “So have you gotten used to the taste of the flower tea yet?” he asked, reminding himself that Ryo hadn’t had the island specialty for long. The omega nodded, standing up and reaching for two cups that he held out for Asanao to fill with tea.

“Tastes good,” he said quietly, his smile a little unsure.

“Yeah? That’s good. It’s thanks to Shinya’s ingenuity,” Asanao smiled. “It’s nice to have something warm to drink now that coffee and regular tea are off the menu.”

Ryo nodded, smiling a bit more confidently now. “Shinya is nice,” he said, sipping his tea.

“He is. So, what are your plans for the day?” Asanao asked, swearing quietly as he burnt his tongue on the hot tea.

“Meto. Apologize.” Ryo looked a bit sad, but he perked up when Asanao smiled encouragingly.

“That’s good. You’re learning to talk to people,” he said. “Give and take a bit.”

Ryo’s sudden sunny smile threw him off guard, and he quickly looked away, ignoring the extra beat of his heart. “So, what else? Play with Hiroto and Saga?” he asked, trying to sound like nothing had happened.

And so their conversation continued over tea, dealing with small, normal things that couldn’t upset anyone. It felt ok, Asanao thought. Good, even. Just the fact that he had someone to talk to in the morning felt good. He had been on his own for a while now, and it was actually nice to have some company as he got ready for the day. Not that he planned to make it into a habit, but still. Nice.

. . . . .

“What?!” Asanao stared at Hyde and Toshiya, not believing his ears.

“I know it’s not ideal, but you’ve got an extra bed, and Mahiro’s heat is starting today. And Yutaka’s helping with baby Yutaka who’s got a cold, so he’ll be spending his nights at Manabu’s until the baby is well again. Things went ok tonight, right? Please? It’s just for a few days. A week, tops.”

“But…” Asanao tried to find his voice to protest. Still, all of his excuses rang hollow. Yes, he had the extra bed. Yes, things had gone ok during the night. He didn’t want an omega to sleep in his cabin? He got uncomfortable when thinking of his feelings towards Ryo? Both things true, but were they enough to say no and not help his friends out? He knew Mahiro had given a lot of love and effort into helping Ryo, and to not give him some time with his boyfriend during his heat was just selfish. But still…

He looked into Toshiya’s puppy eyes, sighing deeply. “Ok, fine,” he muttered. “But only until Mahiro is back from his heat, ok?”

“Ok!” Hyde and Toshiya both smiled happily, while all Asanao could do was sigh and frown. This would be a trying week.

Chapter Text

To Asanao’s surprise, the first few nights with Ryo in his cabin had gone well. The omega showed up in the evening and they had a cup of tea together. After the cups were cleaned, they crawled into bed, Ryo not putting up any fuss about having to sleep in a bed of his own. In the morning, the omega had gotten into the habit of starting the fire and fixing the tea for them before they got dressed and went up for breakfast.

Even more to his surprise, the alpha was enjoying it. They chatted easily, despite Ryo’s lack of eloquence. Asanao had grown to appreciate the short, to the point statements. He found that the omega often hit the nail on the head in three words or less, and he was very perceptive about what happened on the island. Without anyone telling him anything about Shinya and Satochi’s past, he pieced the basics together just by observing the four people involved in the former drama. Asanao filled in the missing pieces for him, marveling at how Ryo could see something that the two couples probably thought was all behind them. But he was good with subtlety, and noticed the things people did subconsciously, even more so the more he got to know them. Which of course made Asanao feel see-through, once he realized how much Ryo picked up of his insecurities and nervousness. Suddenly he saw some of the things the omega had said and done earlier in a new light, realizing the younger man had understood more than he had previously thought about his grief and guilt.

On the third day, the alpha sat quietly at the table after dinner, the others talking and laughing around him. He was studying Ryo, who was sitting with Hiroto in his lap and Saga next to him, just listening to the boys talk. At first, he had seemed normal, smiling and laughing with them, but the longer they sat there, the more Asanao noticed a sadness creeping over the narrow face. A lip that nearly quivered, black eyes that were half closed so they wouldn’t show too much emotion, a nearly invisible sigh of relief when Uruha and Yuuki collected their sons for bedtime. Satochi turned and asked Asanao about a detail of the school roof, and while the alpha looked away to answer, Ryo got up and slipped out of the dining room. When he looked back to see the empty chair, he furrowed his brows, a certain unease creeping over him.

He excused himself minutes later and went to look for the omega. He found him in their cabin (my cabin, he quickly corrected himself). Ryo lay curled up on his bed with his back to the room. The alpha slowly took off his shoes and jacket, wondering how to proceed. He wasn’t good with dealing with emotions, he knew that, but he hated seeing the tension in those scrawny shoulders.

“Ryo?” he murmured, hesitantly walking over to the other’s bed and sitting down. He very slowly reached out to put his hand on a hunched shoulder and flinched when Ryo pulled away from his hand, folding in on himself even more. “Ryo, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

A tiny shake to the head, that was all, but that was ok. At least it was something. “So what is it then? Won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

He kept on coaxing the younger man gently, until Ryo finally sat up, turning a tear-filled face towards him and sputtered one single word. “Brother!”

Asanao blinked, trying to make the penny drop faster by pure will, but Ryo collapsed in a heap of tears before he could grasp the meaning. He quickly caught the omega in his arms, pulling him close and caressing his hair as Ryo cried desperately on his chest. Brother? And then slowly, the cogwheels in his head turned completely, and he understood. Memories.

Since the announcement of Yuuki’s pregnancy, Saga and Hiroto could talk about nothing but the fact that Saga would be a big brother now, just like Shou. There was a constant debate on whether it also made him older and more important than Hiroto who was just a little brother, the boys both having firm, differing, opinions on the matter. No doubt, that had been the topic during dinner as well. And Asanao remembered all too well the discussion when they had found out that Ryo’s older brother had left to get the two of them food and disappeared forever.

He closed his eyes with a sigh and leaned his head on Ryo’s, tightening his hold on the shivering body. “Oh Ryo, I’m so sorry,” he whispered. The only answer was another bout of tears. It took a while for the well to dry, but Ryo stayed put, leaned against Asanao’s chest even after the tears had subsided. The alpha didn’t move, keeping his hold on the omega, sensing the younger man still needed closeness despite the dried tears.

“Won’t you tell me about him?” he asked quietly, gently brushing Ryo’s bangs out of his face. It took a while for the omega to answer, and the whisper was hoarse when it came.

“Nii.”

“Was that his name?” Asanao kept stroking the silky black hair, speaking softly.

Ryo nodded. “Older. Three years.” He whined in the back of his throat and crawled even closer to the alpha, refusing to look him in the eye. “Protected me. Always.”

And slowly, the whole thing came out, bit by bit. It was a story about a loving, strong alpha who stuck by his baby brother all his life, protecting him against bullies, arguing parents and life’s disappointments. He had kept Ryo safe through the first year of mayhem After, and taken a few hits himself for it, but they had always been a team. And then Ryo had gotten ill, and Nii decided to go find food alone rather than drag his feverish little brother out into the cold. And that was it. He never came back, and no matter how much Ryo searched, he never found a single clue to tell him what had happened. It was heart wrenching, and Asanao had to close his eyes to keep the pain in while listening.

“Oh Ryo, I’m so, so sorry,” he whispered, his hands never once stopping the caressing motions. “I wish I could get him back for you, or at least tell you what happened, but I can’t.”

The omega shook his head quietly and just dug himself further into Asanao’s embrace. Eventually though, they started shivering in the night, and the alpha had to let go to start the evening fire that had been forgotten in the storm of emotions. He pulled a warm blanket around the omega’s narrow shoulders and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead.

“Hang on, I’ll just light the fire and make us some tea, ok? Warm you up a bit?”

Once he was done, he turned back to the omega, handing him a hot cup of tea that the omega carefully wrapped his thin fingers around. He looked uncomfortable, looking at the alpha through his bangs as Asanao went around and got the cabin and himself ready for bedtime. Once he was done, Ryo had finished his tea, and the alpha carefully took the mug and washed it quickly before he turned to watch the small body on the bed. Ryo was fidgeting with the blanket, looking at everything but Asanao. The alpha sighed and went over to sit next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders.

“You need some sleep, Ryo. I know this has been awful for you, but it’s late and you need to rest.”

The omega sniffed. “Don’t want to.”

Asanao sighed. “Ryo…”

“Not alone,” the omega mumbled. He looked up at the alpha with those big black eyes that always made Asanao swallow. “Please?”

Damn it. But he couldn’t find it in himself to refuse, not when the tears were slowly filling up in those black pools again, not when the lip started to shiver. And so he sighed and nodded, getting up to crawl down into his own bed but holding the covers up for Ryo to climb in with him. It took only a moment’s hesitation, and then Asanao had the smaller body molded to his side, an arm over his chest and a face buried in his shoulder. It made the alpha’s chest hurt and burn for a whole lot of reasons, but he closed his eyes and let it happen, pushing his own thoughts and needs into the back of his mind. Tonight was about easing Ryo’s pain, not listening to his own.

And so they fell asleep like so, snuggled close together, while the embers slowly died down and left the cottage in darkness.

. . . . .

Asanao was a bit stiff when he woke up the next morning, not used to sleeping with another body next to his. Ryo was still sleeping heavily, plastered against the alpha. His eyes were puffy and his nose a bit red, and he looked completely exhausted even in his sleep. No wonder, Asanao thought, considering the number of times he had woken up during the night to the omega crying. He had done his best to comfort, and it did help, at least he thought it did. But then Ryo would fall asleep again, and another nightmare made its way into his mind and woke him up, crying from loss and longing.

The alpha tried to extricate himself as carefully as possible so he wouldn’t wake his bedmate – Ryo needed every minute of sleep he could get right now. He slid out of bed and started the fire, tiptoeing around while he did his morning routine. He was just about finished when he heard rustling from the bed and a quiet whine, and he turned around just in time to see a head full of messed-up hair pop up from beneath the covers.

“Gone?” Ryo whimpered, blinking against the morning light as his eyes searched for the alpha.

“I’m right here,” Asanao soothed, grabbing a cup of steaming hot tea before he walked over and sat down on the bed next to the omega. “Here, have some tea. Maybe it’ll feel better after.”

“No,” came the pouting answer, but Ryo still took the mug and sipped at the tea.

The alpha tried a careful smile. “Listen, I know you’ve had a rough night. Do you want to sleep in? I can tell Shinya you’re coming in late today.”

Violent headshakes met the suggestion, and before long, Ryo had gulped down the tea and climbed out of bed, getting ready for breakfast. When he was done, hair combed back down and face washed, he looked slightly better. But the tears of the night were still evident on his face, and Asanao fully expected to have to face Yutaka and Uruha, questioning him about what he had done to the omega.

. . . . .

He wasn’t wrong. As soon as they stepped into the big house and Ryo disappeared into the dining room, not only did the watchful duo appear, but so did Tatsurou, Hyde and Toshiya. The alphas’ eyes were less accusing, but no less questioning. Asanao sighed and indicated towards the sick room, leading the little group away to privacy. He was relieved to see that Tomo joined them, and he hoped that his levelheadedness would rub off on Uruha as well. As soon as the door was closed behind them, the barrage of questions started, especially from Uruha who was less likely to give him the shadow of a doubt than Yutaka.

“What the hell have you done to him?” Uruha snarled, at the same time as Yutaka worriedly asked “What happened, why is he so upset?”

Asanao held up his hand in defense of the onslaught, and Toshiya stepped in and stopped the accusations before it would get out of hand.

“Let’s just wait until we’ve heard what he has to say, ok?” he said, giving the two omegas a firm glare that actually shut them up, much to Asanao’s amazement.

“It’s because of Saga and Hiroto,” he started, quickly continuing as he saw Uruha’s chest puffing up, the omega getting ready for another angry outburst. “Or, the big brother thing, I should say,” he added. “It reminded Ryo of his brother Nii, that he lost a few years back. I think the realization and grief just caught up with him. He bawled his eyes out before bed, and then he woke up crying several times tonight as well.”

Uruha’s mouth suddenly formed an ‘o’ and Yutaka looked very troubled by the news. Tatsurou sighed, but shrugged. “It had to come out eventually,” he stated. “Better now when he’s got company to help him deal with the emotions. I’d offer to talk to him, but somehow I don’t think he’ll want to.”

“Probably not,” Asanao said. “Besides, right now it seems to be more about holding him when he cries, so that he can let it all out.”

“And did you?” Uruha wanted to know. “You didn’t let him cry alone, did you?”

“No,” Asanao said, a tinge of red creeping into his cheeks. “He desperately wanted to sleep next to someone, so I let him, and held him when he cried.” He looked down, not able to face the others. “I think it helped,” he mumbled.

“I’m sure of it,” Tatsurou smiled before the omegas could pitch in. “I know it must be… difficult… for you as well, but he really needs support right now. And I’m glad you’re there to give it.” Toshiya and Hyde nodded in agreement.

Just as Yutaka was about to open his mouth, a knock on the door interrupted them. It opened to show Kei’s head popping in, before he opened it fully. “See, he’s in here,” he said to someone behind him. A second later, Asanao found himself with an armful of omega yet again, sobbing into his shoulder. “Ryo?” he said in surprise, carefully putting his arms around the smaller body.

“Miss Nii!” Ryo wailed against his chest, clutching at the alpha desperately.

“Oh, honey…” Yutaka said, very near tears himself at seeing his protégé in such a state. Uruha clutched his shirt over his heart, swallowing as he watched the omega sob heartbreakingly in Asanao’s arms.

Tomo cleared his voice quietly to get the attention of the others. “I think maybe Ryo could use some time out of the house,” he said, his meaningful glance at Uruha clearly saying that the omega could use a break from his bestie and the current obsession with brothers. “Maybe we could take a walk in the forest? You can go with me, Cazqui and Uta and pick some firewood and mushrooms? Would you like that, Ryo?” he asked softly. The omega still clung to Asanao, not really wanting to let go, but he eventually nodded.

“Good,” Tatsurou said. “I think that sounds like a great idea. Some fresh air and less of a crowd, but still with people around.” The nurse smiled at Ryo and then he put his hand on Tomo’s shoulder, squeezing gently in a ‘you did good’ gesture. Tomo smiled back, and then he turned to Yutaka.

“Could you maybe help set it up? Talk to Cazqui and Uta before they leave for the day, and make sure we have what we need?”

The older omega nodded, leaving quickly to get everything in order, and after a quick nod, so did Toshiya and Hyde. Uruha walked up to give Ryo a quick hug and a kiss to the forehead, before he too left the room, presumably to talk to his son and best friend and see if he could divert their attention from the topic of big brothers. That left the two nurses, Ryo and Asanao to stand around quietly and wait for Yutaka to return. Asanao felt a little awkward, but at least Ryo wasn’t crying anymore, just holding on to him tightly.

Finally, the group of mushroom pickers arrived with baskets and Wellingtons for Ryo to borrow, and they set off. Tomo had to do some convincing to get Ryo to leave Asanao’s side, but eventually they left hand in hand, Ryo walking very close to the nurse. The two alphas looked after them, Asanao sighing deeply without thinking.

“Is it that difficult for you still?” Tatsurou said softly, eyeing his friend. The rugged alpha flinched when he realized he had been made, but shrugged and sighed again.

“I guess not. A bit better, maybe. But it’s… You know, I’ve missed Aki for so long, and I feel like I’m betraying him by feeling protective of another omega. And then I feel like I’m betraying Ryo when I can’t give him everything he needs from me. But then again, he’s not ready for something more… And neither am I. I think.”

He realized he was rambling a bit, but Tatsurou let him, nodding. “It’s never easy to deal with grief, and right now, you’re both suffering. But you’re doing good, Asanao. You’re there for him, and he gathers strength from you, that much is obvious. Mahiro is a darling and is fantastic, but Ryo is never as calm and at peace with him as he is with you. The fact that he’s been able to let these emotions out finally… That’s a testament to you being his rock, allowing him to dig down deep and pick up the pieces of his life that he’s hid away.”

The nurse looked at Asanao, making sure he heard him loud and clear. “I know this is tough for you, but if you can manage… I would like to ask you to keep Ryo with you, in your cabin, at least until he’s through this. He needs you. Mahiro and Yutaka can be there for him, but they can’t provide the strength and safety that Ryo requires right now.”

Asanao sighed, closing his eyes, making a face. He didn’t know what to say, his emotions in turmoil, and Tatsurou seemed to understand because he reached out and patted his back.

“You don’t have to answer now,” he said soothingly. “Mahiro is still gone for a few more days, and Manabu still needs Yutaka’s help. You’ve got a few days to feel it out, think about it, before you have to decide anything. Ok?”

Asanao swallowed and nodded, his shoulders tense and his thoughts whirling. Eventually, though, he forced himself to start moving, walking into the dining room for breakfast. No one said anything but he could feel their eyes on him, and he looked down into his plate all breakfast, trying to clear his head. It was a relief to get to go out and start working, and he threw himself into the work, focusing on the feeling of firm wood beneath his hands as a contrast to the confused turmoil of his mind.

Chapter Text

Ryo looked more relaxed when they got back from their excursion a few hours later. He snuggled up to Tomo, holding on to his arm with one hand, a basket full of mushrooms in the other. The omegas disappeared into the dining room to take care of their loot for the day. Cleaning the mushrooms and putting them out to dry took most of the afternoon, and so it wasn’t until dinner that Ryo came to sit next to Asanao. The omega leaned his head on the alpha’s shoulder while he ate slowly, a faraway look in his eyes. Hiroto came by and crawled up into Ryo’s lap for a while, but to Asanao’s infinite relief, the boy didn’t say a word about brothers. Maybe Uruha had been able to explain why Ryo was sad? The kids weren’t stupid, after all. With the amount of trauma the islanders had seen, it was inevitable even for the children to understand how people could miss friends and family, and be sad about it.

After dinner, Hiroto climbed back down to go to his ada, and Asanao found himself with a sleepy omega snuggled up against him. No wonder, considering how little Ryo had slept the night before. Eventually, the alpha decided to help the younger man to bed. He could feel Uruha’s eyes following him, and he would have sighed, but for the first time he also noticed Kai eyeing his mate with a worried frown on his usually cheerful face. Was there something else going on there? And then Ryo stumbled, and Asanao let his musings go to help the omega get his shoes on without falling flat on his face from tiredness.

If he had thought Ryo would get into his own bed, he would have been wrong. With a quivering bottom lip and large doe eyes, Ryo stood next to his bed hugging a pillow tightly, pleading wordlessly to be let into Asanao’s bed. Remembering Tatsurou’s words, the alpha sighed but let the omega climb into his bed without comment. They settled in, Ryo falling asleep quickly. Asanao, however, spent a few hours awake, mulling over their nurse’s words in his head. Could he really be strong for Ryo? Help him through this, preferably without breaking down himself? No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t reach an answer, and he was almost ready to fall asleep himself when Ryo’s nightmares started.

The first kick and whine took him by surprise, but when he realized the omega was dreaming, he wrapped him closer in his arms and pulled him to his chest, trying to be that strong shoulder everyone told him he needed to be. It was almost a shock to realize that Ryo stilled quickly, his body relaxing and his breathing slowing down. Asanao watched him for a while, but the omega seemed to have settled back into a calm sleep. Maybe I can be useful after all?

But he was too tired to think about it, instead closing his eyes and burying his face in Ryo’s hair, holding him close and breathing in his scent as he fell asleep.

. . . . .

“I’m worried about Uru,” Kai confessed to Tatsurou, the two of them alone in the sickroom.

“Oh? Why’s that?” The tall nurse looked surprised at his friend, noticing the thin lines of worry on his forehead and the tense muscles in his shoulder. Gone was the sunny smile, and it worried Tatsurou in turn.

“He’s become so… testy, I guess. His mood is going up and down like a rollercoaster. One second he’s over the moon about the babies coming, and the next he lashes out. He’s always been calm and steady, someone to lean on, but lately he’s become upset about everything. Like about all of this with Ryo. But it’s not only that – he almost threw a fit at me the other night when I couldn’t get Shou to leave Tora and go home to bed quickly enough. It’s not like him.”

Tatsurou hummed, nodding thoughtfully. It was true that Uruha had seemed a lot more emotional lately, but he had guessed it had something to do with Ryo and the fact that he awoke maternal instincts in the older omega. But if Kai had noticed his mate being irrational and overly emotional in other areas as well, maybe something else was up.

“Has he complained about feeling unwell or anything of the sort?” he asked. Kai sighed and shook his head.

“No. But he won’t really talk to me. When I ask if he’s ok he just says he’s fine and stomps off.” The alpha looked sad, and Tatsurou reached out to pat his back in comfort.

“Want me to try to talk to him?”

Kai shook his head. “No! He’d kill me for coming to you.” He pulled at his black locks in frustration.

“Maybe we should ask Yutaka?” the nurse suggested. “He can ask him as if he’s the one who noticed, and we wouldn’t have to bring you into it. Maybe it’s easier for Uruha to open up to another omega?”

Pursing his lips while thinking about the suggestion, Kai finally nodded. “Yeah. That could work. Maybe. But we’ll have to talk to Yutaka on the sly, so Uruha won’t see us, or he’ll put his thorns out immediately and refuse to talk to him.”

Tatsurou sighed, but he couldn’t argue with the logic of that. “Ok. I’ll think of a way to talk to Yutaka without Uruha knowing it.” He looked at his friend worriedly. “Hang in there, Kai. I know you’re worried about your mate, but it could be nothing.”

The alpha made a grimace, but nodded. “Yeah. It could be,” he tried, clearly not believing it.

. . . . .

The days up to Mahiro’s return passed slowly. Ryo had fits of crying now and then both during the day and in the darkness of night, when he was snuggled up in Asanao’s bed. The alpha did his best to comfort, and by the time Mahiro was back, he had gotten used to the small body next to his. While Mahiro caught up with the latest news on his friend and hugged him tightly when he heard about his brother, Asanao slipped off to talk to Tatsurou and tell him it was okay, the omega could stay on in his cabin until he was feeling better. He refused to examine his own reasons for this too closely, simply stating that he wanted to be there for Ryo now that he needed support.

Whatever the reasons, things continued in much the same way for over a month, past the first snow and the finishing of the roof on their school. Sometimes Ryo even started the evening in his own bed, but he always woke up from nightmares some time during the night, and woke Asanao in turn as he padded over and crawled into the alpha’s bed to cling to him and cry for a bit.

In a way, they had settled into a routine that felt safe and comfortable for the both of them, despite the sadness. Mahiro almost seemed jealous at times, but he soon forgot it when Ju-ken sidled up and wiggled his eyebrows, reminding the omega of why it was nice to not have anyone but his boyfriend in his bed at night. Uruha was still on edge though, and when things seemed to go as well as they could for Ryo, he found other things to be upset about. He still refused to talk to anyone about it, though, and even Yutaka found himself facing a wall when he tried to pry gently into his friend’s mind. Asanao was mainly glad the omega had given him and Ryo some space, but Ryo seemed worried, affected by Uruha’s edginess.

Still, Uruha’s mood swings aside, Asanao thought things seemed to be better overall. Ryo cried less and less, and sometimes managed whole conversations about Nii without breaking down in tears. When December came around, Ryo had basically gone back to sleeping in his own bed. Not that Asanao would have refused him if he had wanted to continue to share, but the alpha sensed that maybe Ryo was trying to prove to him that he was doing better and didn’t need the alpha’s protection. He felt that the omega tried to give him space, and he sometimes remembered Ryo’s words from earlier. I’ll wait. Was he still waiting, Asanao wondered, or had he given up and settled for their friendship instead? Because by now they were definitely friends, not just an alpha protecting an omega. No, they were on equal terms, both of them giving and taking just as much. It felt strange but good, and the alpha breathed much easier than he had two months ago.

“You look happier now,” Hazuki told him one day, the two out shoveling snow off the paths between the cottages. “I haven’t seen you smile this often since I got here.”

Asanao blinked, pausing in the middle of a movement. “What?” he mumbled, frantically trying to think about it. Did he? Was he? Well, yeah. Maybe. He couldn’t deny that the dark hole inside of him seemed to be smaller now. He missed Aki, of course he did. He thought about him daily. But he also thought about his roommate, and about his other friends, and the kids, and their work, and....

Hazuki straightened his back, leaning towards the shovel for a moment's rest. “You’re more involved with the community lately. You stay after dinner for a while rather than going to your cabin straight away. You talk to more people. And you laugh out loud when someone does something funny, like when Ruki tried to convince Kyo to build him a snow palace.” He smiled at his friend. “I like it. We all do.”

Asanao didn’t know what to say. He guessed Hazuki was right, even though he hadn’t thought much about it himself. And immediately, he felt that all familiar pinch in his heart, the feeling of betraying his late lover. “I… “ he started, but couldn’t bring himself to continue. Hazuki frowned lightly, looking concerned.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked.

“No. No... It’s just… I miss Aki so much, and…” He shrugged helplessly, a deep sigh forcing its way through.

The other alpha nodded solemnly. “But Ryo has helped a bit with the ache, and now you’re feeling guilty,” he concluded, shocking Asanao. Was he that see-through? He didn’t have time to ponder it before Hazuki continued. “I know the feeling,” he said. “But it’s not helping anyone. Aki wouldn’t want you to feel guilty about it, you know that. And maybe you’re feeling like you’re betraying him, but it’s just not true. Ryo… He makes you happier. And I know Akinori would have wanted that for you, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And if you stop to think about it, so do you.”

Asanao could feel a lump growing in his throat, and he quickly looked away, getting on with the work without answering is friend. After a moment, he heard Hazuki sigh behind him, and then the other alpha also grabbed his shovel and continued, not pushing it for the moment. They worked the last hour in silence, before they went in for dinner. Asanao sat quiet for the rest of the evening, and after dinner, he quietly slipped away. Hazuki watched him go but said nothing, instead turning back to Jun on his arm, cooing at his son and tickling his little round tummy while the boy laughed happily.

Ryo also watched Asanao go, his eyes narrowing as he seemed to think about whether he was going to follow his roommate or not. In the end he seemed to decide against it and settled back against Tomo’s side. He completely ignored the fact that Tomo already had K’s arm around him, and snuggled up against his friend’s other side, leaning his head on his shoulder. His eyes wandered over the crowd, observing everyone in turn, noticing moods and feelings and putting them away into his mental archive. Right now he was eyeing Hiro, standing in the middle of the room and talking to Aoi. Setsuna was deeply asleep, draped over his dad’s arm and shoulder, looking like a ragdoll. His arms and legs hung limp and his bottom lip glistened with saliva, threatening to drip onto his adoptive father’s sweater. Ryo studied them for a long time, tilting his head, until Tomo gently poked his side.

“Hey there, what’re you thinking about?” his friend asked, lifting his hand to tug gently at Ryo’s bangs.

The younger omega pursed his lips for a second, before he offered a single word. “Adopted.”

Tomo looked confused for a second, looking between Ryo and the alpha with the child on his arm. “Well, yeah… He is,” he frowned, glancing at his friend. “But Hiyuu and Hiro both adore him.”

“Mmm,” Ryo mumbled, not providing any more information. After a while, Tomo couldn’t help to pry further, after a glance at his own boyfriend to see if he was paying attention. He wasn’t, deep in conversation with Tatsurou on his other side.

“Do you want kids yourself? In the future, I mean?”

Ryo furrowed his brows as he thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “Don’t know,” he said, apparently rather indifferent to the thought at this time. It made Tomo even more curious. If not for wanting a baby, why was he staring so much at Hiro and Setsuna? The child’s head was slowly starting to slide down his dad’s shoulder, but before he could end up in an uncomfortable position, Hiro caught him and gently put him back onto his shoulder, pressing an unthinking kiss to the boy’s head while he continued to chat with Aoi.

“Loved,” Ryo suddenly stated, startling Tomo. Did he mean the baby or himself? But no, it had to be Setsuna he was talking about.

“He is. His new parents love him to bits. It doesn’t matter that he’s not their biological son.” He watched Ryo’s face, noticing the slight pain that flickered through the young man’s eyes. “You’re loved too, you know,” he offered quietly, squeezing the other’s hand gently.

Ryo shrugged, sighing. “They learned to love. Maybe…”

Tomo flickered his eyes to Hiro and his son, before watching Ryo with a new understanding. “You mean that Hiro and Hiyuu learned to love someone who wasn’t theirs to begin with, so maybe Asanao can learn to love you?” he asked softly. The look on Ryo’s face told him he was right, despite the omega’s attempts to hide it as he swallowed and looked down into his lap. “He loves you already, Ryo,” Tomo said, gently stroking his fingers through the omega’s hair. “He’s just not ready to admit it to himself just yet, or to you. Ok?”

Ryo sniffed and nodded, before he sat back up, discreetly wiping his eyes. “Bedtime. Goodnight,” he said, getting up and moving away before Tomo could say anything else. “Goodnight,” the nurse offered quietly, looking after his friend as he made his way to the door to go be with his chosen alpha.

. . . . .

Ryo lingered for a while in the cold night, walking slowly down toward the cottage, breathing deeply and watching his breath make smoky clouds in the air. He paused just outside the door, wiping his face clean of any lingering emotions, before he took the final step forward and opened the door to his home.

Asanao sat on a chair by the table, an untouched cup of tea in front of him. His eyes were closed and he seemed far away. He opened them slowly at the sound of Ryo entering the cottage, and for a few moments they just watched each other, before the omega turned away and started taking off his jacket and shoes in silence. Asanao squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and sighed, before he seemed to shake it off. He nodded at the fireplace where a pan still held steaming hot water.

“There’s enough for a cup of tea if you want,” he mumbled, getting up from his chair. “Should I make you one before I go to bed?”

Ryo finished hanging up his jacket and turned to look at the alpha, thinking about it. “Yes please,” he finally said quietly, watching the alpha nod and set about making the cup of tea, placing it on the table. He gave the omega a quick smile, before he walked over to his bed, starting to change into his nightwear quickly.

Ryo sat down, looking into the hot liquid as if it could give him the answers he were looking for. When Asanao offered a quiet “Goodnight” he simply nodded and continued to look into his tea. It took at least half an hour after he had heard Asanao climb into bed before he gulped down the last of it and got up, getting ready for bed. He threw a glance at Asanao, the alpha completely buried beneath his duvet, and with an almost imperceptible grimace, he climbed into his own bed and pulled the covers up around him.

. . . . .

Asanao worked his way down Akinori’s lithe body, kissing and caressing the soft skin gently. It felt familiar, but yet new, and he kissed a familiar scar on the stomach before moving down to the soft thigh. And there, a birthmark he hadn’t seen before, in the shape of a heart. He lifted his head to say as much, and looked straight into Ryo’s dark eyes, the omega biting his lip and writhing beneath his hands. The alpha let go in shock, looking down at the birthmark again, only to find it gone. Breathing unsteadily, he touched the spot gingerly.

“Stop it, you’re tickling me!” Akinori scolded him, the muscles of the thigh twitching as if to get away from his hand. Asanao looked back up at his mate’s face, blinking uncertainly.

“What are you doing? Get on with it!” the omega smirked playfully, letting his hand tangle in the alpha’s hair and pressing lightly in an attempt to make his lover continue his ministrations. Asanao blinked, swallowing. What was wrong? One second, he had… What had been wrong? He couldn’t remember. Nothing was wrong, he was here with his mate, and he was going to enjoy the rest of their night together. With a grin at his mate, he went back to kissing the soft thigh, licking and nipping lightly with his teeth. He slowly worked his way closer to the omega’s cock, and when he finally gave it a careful lick, the gasp it elicited made him smirk and look up. Into dark eyes, so dark and deep that he almost drowned in them.

Ryo…

. . . . .

When Asanao woke up, he was sweating profusely, and his legs were completely tangled up in his bedding. He had to fight his way free before he could turn to the side, only to see Ryo’s empty bed. Blearily, he looked around the room. No Ryo. With effort, he heaved himself up from the bed and looked at the clock hanging over the door. Ten past six. He would’ve thought he was late, considering Ryo was already gone, but apparently the omega had gotten an early start of the day.

Asanao’s head was heavy, and it felt like he was trudging through mud as he went through his morning routine. It wasn’t until he had had his first sip of flower tea that his mind caught up with him, and he remembered the dreams of the night. He suddenly felt sick to the stomach. The whole night, Aki and Ryo’s faces and bodies trading places beneath him, and just as he thought he was pleasuring one, the other moaned his name.

Oh gods. He hadn’t talked in his sleep, had he?! Ryo hadn’t… It wasn’t why he was missing this early, right? Asanao’s chest tightened with fear at the thought, and he quickly threw his shoes and jacket on, going up to the big house to try to find Ryo. Behind him, the tea stood forgotten at the table, steam rising into the cold air above it.

Chapter Text

The house was still quiet, only the kitchen team awake at this early hour. Well, almost. Atsushi and Uta sat at their usual table, the first two to wake as usual. Kiyoharu, also an early bird, had soon learned to wait with breakfast even though he was awake, leaving the dining room for the two love birds. Instead, he helped making breakfast most days, claiming he was awake anyway so he might as well be useful.

Unfortunately for Asanao, there was no sign of Ryo though. Atsushi raised an eyebrow when Asanao asked if they had seen the omega, but he wisely let the matter lie and just answered that they hadn’t seen him. Instead, the major focused on his boyfriend, who was resting his head on the alpha’s shoulder and clipping his eyes tiredly.

“You haven’t seen him either, have you, sweetheart?” Atsushi asked, Uta blushing at the sentiment but shaking his head while stifling a yawn.

The kitchen team was equally non-helpful, Ruki even glaring at him suspiciously, and Asanao sighed. “Is everything alright?” Kai asked worriedly, and the alpha gave a strained smile.

“I think so,” he said. “I just need to talk to him, that’s all.”

Kai nodded and turned back to his kitchen work, and for a second he looked so tired that Asanao got worried. This thing with Uruha must really be putting a strain on their chef, he thought, feeling slightly guilty about being happy that the omega was off his back. He just hoped it didn’t turn out to be something serious. Shaking his head slightly, he stretched his arms over his head and straightened his back, everything popping back to place as he looked out of the kitchen window to gather his thoughts. Where to go next?

But what was that, in the back of the kitchen garden? Movement, ever so small, but now that he’d seen it he could just about make out a black head of hair peeking up over the park bench. Ryo. Asanao quickly waved goodbye to the others, too busy with breakfast preparations to see him, and slipped out the back door. He walked as quietly as possible, his jittery nerves making him shiver. Ryo was sitting on the park bench, his back towards the approaching alpha, and he had hidden his face in his hands. Was he crying? Oh no. Asanao felt his chest constrict at the thought, and his voice sounded thick and strange when he spoke.

“Ryo?”

The omega flinched, but didn’t make any other movement, his hands firmly covering his face. Asanao sat down next to him on the bench, and for a moment everything was still, before the alpha reached out a shivering hand and put it tentatively on Ryo’s shoulder. The omega stiffened, but said nothing.

“Ryo, I… I had a strange dream tonight, and… I… Did I say anything… stupid?” Asanao mumbled, feeling very much out of his depth. Ryo didn’t answer, but he did turn his face away from the alpha, taking the hands down. It hurt Asanao’s soul, and he closed his eyes for a second not to see the tension in the narrow shoulders. “Ryo, please…”

“My name,” the omega finally whispered, still turned away.

“Your name?” Asanao blinked. There was more to it, there had to be, judging from the omega’s posture. He didn’t really want to know, but he had to, for Ryo’s sake. “Did I… What else?”

The omega sniffed, his answer a little muddled as if from held-back tears. “Only my name.” He couldn’t hold back a sob now, as he continued. “Angry.”

“Ryo, I wasn’t angry with you at all, you mustn’t…”

“Disgusted,” the omega broke in, his shoulders hunched now. Asanao stared at him, shocked. Did Ryo actually think…? God, how had he sounded tonight?

“What?! Ryo, no!” Asanao couldn’t stop himself, he grabbed the omega’s shoulders and turned him around, forcing Ryo to look at him. “Never disgusted, I swear. Not even in my dreams could I be disgusted by you.” He spoke as earnestly as he could, but it cut his heart to meet those big tear-filled eyes, and he had to take a deep breath before he could continue. He hated how his voice quivered when he spoke, but he couldn’t let the omega believe something like that. “I was… surprised. I swear I wasn’t angry, and most definitely not disgusted. But in the dream, you see, I thought…” He had to stop and take another breath. He couldn’t tell Ryo all of it, he just couldn’t. Not when he didn’t even understand it himself yet. He fumbled for words for a moment before he spoke. “I was dreaming about Aki, and when I turned around, sometimes you were there instead, when I thought it would be him. I don’t remember all of it… But I know I was confused, and surprised, but that was all. Please, you believe me, don’t you?”

Ryo watched him closely, still shivering as he tried to decipher the alphas eyes and see if he was being truthful. Finally, after a long moment where Asanao thought his heart was about to break, the omega nodded. A second later, he was buried in the alpha’s arms, Asanao holding him tightly against his chest.

“It was just a dream,” the alpha murmured into his hair. “And even if I had been angry in the dream, which I wasn’t, it wouldn’t be real. And disgusted, god, that’s so far from…” He broke off, sensing he was about to say something he wasn’t ready to say. But the words still wanted to come, he could feel them about to well from his mouth. And so, in an effort to hold them back, he pressed his lips to the omega’s forehead instead. Ryo hugged him back tightly, but at the unexpected kiss, he pulled back just a fraction and turned his face up to look at the alpha in surprise. And he seemed so vulnerable, and so beautiful despite the tears, and so… They moved slowly, their breathing getting more shallow as Ryo carefully lifted his face a little further, his lips only a hairs width away from Asanao’s now. Their breaths mingled, and the alpha could almost feel the warmth of those lips on his own. Just a fraction more and they would be…

No. He pulled back and looked away, taking a deep breath to steady himself. “Ryo, wait… I can’t. I told you, I don’t want to take advantage of you, and besides, you’re upset,” he mumbled.

Ryo still had his face turned up, confusion and frustration fighting for dominance. And then he shook his head, pulling Asanao’s head back to him with a firm hand on his cheek. His eyes were pleading, desperately trying to convince the alpha to take the leap.

“Use me,” he whispered. “It’s ok.”

Asanao made a strangled noise and pulled back, standing up so that he was out of Ryo’s reach. “No! I can’t... How can you even say that, like it would be ok to take advantage of you? I don’t want to hurt you, Ryo, but I’m not ready for this. Please… I’m sorry.” The look on the omega’s face was enough to make Asanao want to crawl under a rock and hide for a year, but he just couldn’t. Not yet.

He mumbled another excuse, before he turned and left, his feet carrying him away to anywhere but here.

. . . . .

Inoran was surprised to come to work after breakfast and find Ryo frantically chopping up firewood, completely drenched in sweat. “Ryo? Are you ok?” the alpha asked, frowning. Neither Ryo nor Asanao had been at breakfast, and Inoran wondered what had happened for the omega to need to get rid of his frustrations with the aid of a sharp axe. Ryo just huffed and put another piece of wood on the chopper, swinging his axe vehemently and chopping the piece in two with a loud thwack.

“Ryo… You’re exhausted. Please, you need a break, and at least some water.”

The omega turned to him, glaring at him viciously. “No! Idiot!” He turned back to grab another piece of wood, and Inoran frowned.

“Hey, I’m just trying to help, no need to use names,” the alpha said. Ryo swung round, pointing at him with the axe, and Inoran took a step back and held his hands up.

“Not you!” Ryo growled, before he turned back and swung the axe again. Thwack. The pieces of wood flew in different directions, and Inoran sighed. Ok, so something had happened. This was not his expertise, and besides, Ryo had already gone through half of the firewood that was supposed to be cut up today, so it didn’t matter if he took a few moments to go get Tomo, or Mahiro. Or maybe Yutaka. Someone. Right? Right. The alpha quietly backed away, the sounds of an axe splitting wood following him all the way up to the big house.

. . . . .

Asanao’s feet carried him away into the forest on their own, the alpha dazed from too many emotions bubbling within. He didn’t realize where he had gone, until he found himself at the graves, and he stopped to stare at Akinori’s headstone for a long while. The top of the stone was covered with snow, and his breathing turned to mist in the cold air as he read the name to himself over and over again, like he had so many times before. When he finally felt calmer, he took a deep breath, closing his eyes.

“I dreamed about you tonight,” he said softly. “And he was there too, and it was so strange. I’ve never dreamt like that about anyone but you before, and it was a bit of a shock, I guess. And even worse, I made Ryo upset. Aki, what am I gonna do? I wish you were here to tell me how to deal with all of this. I can’t make all these decisions without you. You were always the one who knew how to go on when things got rough, and I’m lost without you. Baby, please. I need you to guide me. I just… need you.” His voice broke, and he opened his eyes again, looking at the stone as if it could talk back to him. Silence. Of course, silence. But still he stayed, stood there for hours looking at the stone, sorting through his thoughts and emotions to try to understand them.

When he finally turned away and walked back to the house, he was cold to the bones and no closer to an answer than he had been that morning.

. . . . .

Tomo had finally managed to convince Ryo to come inside for a rest and some breakfast. After he had washed off the sweat, Mahiro and the nurse shut the three of them into Mahiro’s bedroom upstairs and talked for a long while. When it was time for lunch, Ryo was calmer again, though the slight frown and pout stayed on his face. Asanao was back for lunch, but the two sat at different tables, only throwing each other surreptitious glances when the other didn’t notice. Everyone else did, but only Tomo and Mahiro knew what had happened, and no one asked them and they didn’t tell. Still, the islanders all had a general idea, or, as Byou concluded, “All alphas are idiots.”

With the snow, there wasn’t too much to do outdoors, and so a bunch of omegas took their newest friend under the arm and dragged him to the library after lunch to work on handcraft and whatever they could do indoors while the babies slept on their duvet. Ruki, who hadn’t really been around Ryo a lot since they had their fight, surprised the others when he came by in the afternoon with a bag full of clothes for their newest arrival.

“It’s nothing,” he said with a disinterested shrug, “I just realized you don’t have a lot of clothes, and we have stuff stored so I figured you should have something warm to wear while yours are being washed.” When he sidled off like nothing had happened, Koron running and yapping after him, Ryo stared after him. Tomo chuckled, patting the other’s back.

“Seems you’ve made a new friend,” he grinned at Ryo, who was still staring after Ruki’s disappearing back. “He might play it off like it’s nothing, and yeah, we have things stashed away. But in order to make room for all the resort guys we had to cram it all into the attic, and there are boxes like everywhere. He must’ve crawled around up there and spent hours looking through boxes in order to find you the right stuff.”

Ryo gaped at the nurse. “For me?” he said, wide-eyed. Tomo nodded, the happy grin still on his face.

“Yes, for you. He probably saw that you were upset and wanted to cheer you up in that special Ruki way. He doesn’t know how to use words to be friendly, you see, so he does it with clothes. Just accept it and be happy. Come on, let’s see what he found for you!”

They went through the bag, and Ryo discovered that every item fit him perfectly, and more than that, was in a style he liked. He looked down on his old oversized tee and hoodie on a chair and frowned, stroking the new shirt he had on happily. It was nothing special, just a simple tee, but it was clean, it fit, and it was his.

“See? Ruki’s good,” Tomo laughed as his friend went around the room to show off his new clothes to his friends. The new jeans were tighter and the shirt was more form fitting, and suddenly the omega’s nice figure could be seen clearly. Oh yes, this would catch a certain eye.

Yuki smiled at the omega’s glee, and tilted his head and pursed his lips a bit. “You know, I didn’t want to crowd you when you were new here, but we could do something about that hair now as well, if you want? Get rid of the tangled and damaged bits?”

Ryo lit up. “Really?” he asked, smiling even wider.

“Of course! Total makeover, After edition,” Yuki laughed.

And so they got started, everyone happy to see Ryo feeling better as Yuki cut off the long mess. Once he was done, Meto stepped in with a black eyeliner at the ready. Ryo hesitated a bit, eyeing Meto’s overly blackened eyes, but he sat still and let his friend work on him. As it turned out, Meto could be surprisingly subtle when it came to others, and Ryo wasn’t the only one to admire his new look in the mirror.

“You look amazing!” Koichi said, and Mahiro stepped up to give his friend a big hug.

“Just you wait until he sees you,” he whispered in Ryo’s ear, making sure no one else heard. The sudden pink blush on Ryo’s cheeks might have given him away a bit, but everyone pretended not to notice, and it was in high spirits they all wandered down for dinner later.

. . . . .

Uruha was scared.

He had spent the afternoon in their cabin hiding from everyone, including his mate. No, he wasn’t feeling well at all. There were strange feverish moments that changed into frozen shivers at a second’s notice. He couldn’t control his mood, and got angry and upset about everything, But what scared him the most were the weird sensations in his stomach. They couldn’t be described even if he’d tried, it was just a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.

Uruha remembered Akinori ‘s illness all too well. It had started with little things, where he was feeling strange and had symptoms none of them could figure out. And little by little, he got worse and worse, until…

Uruha was scared. If he too had… cancer… what could they do about it? Sure, they had a surgeon now, but there was no way to know where the cancer was, and it wasn’t like there was chemo After. Was he going to die? But Shou was still so young and needed his ada, no matter how grown-up he thought he was. And Hiroto, his little baby boy, so careful and sweet and sensitive. He would be crushed if his ada left him. And Kai… His strong but still infinitely sweet and gentle mate. Would he become like Asanao? A recluse, staying away from others, not even able to give in to his obvious feelings when he had love and happiness staring him right in the face. Asanao hadn’t been like that when they first met, not until Akinori died. The alpha had been open and friendly, laughing often, and so, so in love. Just like he and Kai was. Would Kai go down the same path? But no, he had the children to look after. But could he do that alone? And if he shut his feelings off into some godforsaken corner of his heart, how would that affect Shou and Hiroto?

It was too much. Uruha’s chest was clenching and he started having trouble breathing, panic filling his mind until there was no way out and he crawled under the duvet and pressed a pillow over his head to shut the world out. When the panic attack had finally subsided, the omega crawled back out and got up, feeling unsteady and shaky. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Almost dinnertime. He had to show up for dinner or people would start wondering, and he’d have to explain himself. And he couldn’t, he just couldn’t, if he started talking about this he’d… He felt the panic starting to rise again and shoved it down with such effort that he felt his whole body clench into a ball. My secret. He took a shivering sigh and went over to the washbowl, pouring some cold water into it and then washing his face thoroughly.

Before he left the cabin, the omega took long deep breaths, trying to loosen his tight muscles, and then he finally schooled his face into a mask of ‘Uruha as usual’ before he stepped outside and made his way up to the big house for dinner.

. . . . .

Asanao had just set his plate down on the table when Ryo stepped into the room with a tittering gang of friends after him, all of them looking in the alpha’s direction. Asanao didn’t see them. He just stared at Ryo, his eyes taking in every little detail. The omega looked so different. He had new clothes that complimented his body rather than hid it away (and it was a very nice body indeed), and his hair was cut and styled in a way that suited his facial features perfectly. It was brushed until it gleamed, and Asanao felt a sudden urge to touch it, see if it was as soft against his fingers as it looked. And the eyes… Oh god, the eyes. He had a little makeup on, enough to frame them nicely and make them pop. And suddenly, those eyes turned to him, and Asanao felt his breath hitch and his mouth going dry. Next to him, he could hear laughter, but he didn’t register it until Hazuki put his hand on his shoulder and gently guided him down on his chair.

“Your mouth is open,” his friend half-whispered in his ear, and Asanao shut it immediately, cheeks burning. That didn’t deter Hazuki at all. “He looks good, ne?”

The alpha turned to blink at Hazuki, and his friend laughed again, patting his back. “Ok, breathe, will you? You won’t be able to keep looking at him if you pass out, you know.”

Asanao’s cheeks were so red by now that he looked like he would explode, to everyone’s amusement but his own. Even Ryo gave a small, satisfied grin at the reaction before he sailed through the room to go get dinner, sitting down at a table where Asanao could see him clearly so that he could ignore the alpha completely and still be admired.

“Ooohh, he’s making you work for it now, eh?” Aoi’s voice filtered in from his left side, and Asanao didn’t know what was worse, that everyone was staring at him and having fun at his expense, or that Ryo was so pointedly not. He ate quickly before he excused himself, hurrying back to the cabin where he closed the door and leaned his back to it and closed his eyes. Oh shit.

Ryo looked a little smug when Asanao hastily retreated to the amusement of the alpha’s friends, and he smirked a bit when Mahiro leaned over and whispered in his ear.

“Told you.”

. . . . .

Ryo's new look

Ryo

Chapter Text

When Ryo got back to the cabin, Asanao had already gone to bed. He had his back to the door, and the omega stopped for a moment and just watched the alpha before he started taking his shoes and jacket off, looking dejected. Asanao pretended to sleep while Ryo went about his bedtime routine. He heard the omega sigh as the makeup came off, and the pause while he looked at himself in the mirror, assessing his own features. The alpha wanted to turn around, to tell Ryo he was fine the way he was, that he was beautiful. But after today, how could he? Instead he listened as his roommate shuffled his feet to bed and climbed in, pulling the covers up over his face and curling up to a little ball.

Asanao was still awake when the quiet sobbing began.

. . . . .

His dreams were jumbled and strange once he finally went to sleep, long after Ryo had stopped crying and fallen asleep. In his dreams, they danced around each other alone in a big dancehall, swirling this way and that, never quite touching. And somehow Asanao knew this dance was supposed to be done while holding on to each other, but he never seemed to get the timing right and Ryo kept slipping through his fingers, until the omega finally took a bow and left Asanao alone on the dance floor.

He tried not to think too much of the meaning of the dream when he woke up, but it was hard not to. Especially since the other bed was empty and Ryo was nowhere to be found. Asanao buried his face in his pillow and growled, angry with himself, with how unfair it all was. It was difficult not to believe Ryo had taken his bow and left the dance floor, sick of waiting for an alpha that couldn’t act as a normal person. And who could blame him, Asanao thought bitterly as he got dressed.

Ryo was almost done with breakfast when the alpha showed up, and he ignored Asanao as he sat talking to Tomo. Before the alpha could even get his plate, Ryo was already up and heading for the door, Tomo in tow. The two disappeared upstairs, and Asanao tried to ignore the thumping of his heart and the lump in his throat as he sat down and started to eat.

. . . . .

“What happened last night?” Tomo asked softly, seated next to Ryo on the sofa in the library. His younger friend shrugged, looking away.

“Nothing,” he finally mumbled.

“Are you sure?” Tomo coaxed carefully, not wanting to make his friend too uncomfortable.

Ryo shrugged again. “Pushed too hard,” he mumbled.

“You or him?” Tomo put his arm around the thin shoulders and leaned his head on the other’s in comfort.

“Me. Backing off. Not ready.”

Tomo had to take a double take of the statement in his head, despite the fact that he was pretty used to Ryo’s way of talking now. “Ok,” he said finally, a bit hesitant. “So you mean he’s not ready and you’re giving him a bit more space for a while?”

Ryo’s nod was followed by a sudden sob and then the nurse found himself with an armful of omega. He sighed and held his friend. “Shh, it’s gonna be fine. Give him time and let him come to you when he’s ready,” he said soothingly. A sudden thought struck him when Ryo didn’t answer. “You’re not giving up on him, are you?”

The vicious glare and the vigorous shake to the head made him chuckle, despite the tear-streaked face. “Good,” he said, reaching out to carefully dry the young man’s cheeks. “Just you wait, he’ll come around.”

Ryo sniffed, but he nodded again, a bit more sure of himself now. I’ll wait.

. . . . .

Asanao wasn’t happy. Ryo still stayed with him in the cottage, but he had pulled away. They co-existed peacefully, but the snuggling at night and the long talks over tea in the evenings were gone. The omega wasn’t really evasive, not quite. He just didn’t actively put himself in Asanao’s way, and they didn’t really see that much of each other despite sharing a cottage.

The alpha hated it. He had gotten used to their routines, and this new regime was just nerve-wracking. He didn’t know what to do, what to say, how to act. Ryo had moved on, that much was obvious. And even though he didn’t flirt with anyone else, Asanao felt the sting of a lost chance in his heart every time he saw the younger omega smile or tilt his head cutely, that gorgeous new haircut showing off his features perfectly. Still, no matter how much he wanted things to be different, the ghost of Akinori held the alpha back and made him leave things be. The black cloud was looming over his head once again, and though quite a few people frowned worriedly, everyone kept their opinions to themselves. It could be, of course, that more and more of them noticed Uruha’s strange mood, and most of their energy was spent worrying about their omega leader instead of about Asanao. The mood was tense all around in the village, making for small spats and arguments breaking out almost daily.

Still, they all kept going, and November had slowly turned into December before something really broke.

. . . . .

The loud banging on the door woke Tatsurou, Kaoru muttering a sleepy curse next to him as he too was dragged from his slumber. The nurse got up quickly, hissing at putting his feet on the cold floor despite the socks he had worn to bed. Quickly checking so his pajamas were presentable, he opened the door to find Kai on the doorstep, two confused and crying children in his arms. The alpha stumbled in, trying to put the boys down without success as they clung to his neck, crying. The alpha himself looked about to cry as well, looking harried and pale.

“Gods, what’s wrong?” Tatsurou exclaimed, fear gripping him instantly.

“Uru… I need you to come,” he stammered. “Something’s wrong, and I can’t… And the boys…”

“I’ll take care of the boys. You two go,” Kaoru’s deep voice behind him and the warm hand on his back grounded Tatsurou and stopped his racing thoughts, gearing him into action. He nodded and quickly threw on some clothes while Kaoru and Kai gently persuaded Shou and Hiroto to cling to Kaoru’s neck instead. Neither child wanted to give up on his dad’s touch, but finally Kaoru had them both in a firm grip and held on as the other two alphas ran out into the night towards the chef’s cabin.

“He’s just shaking, and his breathing… I don’t know what to do.” Kai was crying openly now that his sons were safely out of harm’s way. Tatsurou didn’t have time to ask anything before they reached the cabin, and he wasted no time on taking off his shoes or jacket before running to his patient. Uruha was lying in their bed, bundled up into a tight knot, his muscles clenching and his eyes squeezed tightly together. After a quick once-over to see that the omega wasn’t bleeding anywhere, the nurse pulled the blankets up around him to keep him warm and grabbed Uruha’s wrist. His eyes widened at Uruha’s racing pulse.

“Uruha,” he said softly, “talk to me. Are you in pain?” He carefully examined his patient, frowning worriedly at the shallow breathing and the heart rate, but he couldn’t find any obvious trauma. Reassured that the omega wasn’t physically hurt, he turned to the other option, and after treating Subaru and Shinya, he was pretty sure what he was looking at. He gently took Uruha’s hand and stroked it slowly while he waved a trembling Kai forward, asking him with hand gestures to caress his mate over his hair and back.

“Uru,” he said softly, “it’s a panic attack. It’s awful and very, very scary, but it won’t hurt you. Try to breathe with me, deeper breaths…” He continued to talk in a soothing voice, reassuring the omega that he would be fine and that it would pass, until eventually Uruha’s muscles started to unclench, and his breathing slowly evened out. By then, Kai was a complete wreck, but he grabbed his mate and tugged him into his arms protectively when Uruha started to sob quietly.

It took a long while before he was ready to talk, but finally the omega told them everything. The way his temper had the best of him, and he could do nothing to control it. How his body felt different, strange, like it didn’t belong to him anymore. The scary days when his stomach hurt and his head spun. The dry mouth and the fever. The panic attacks. And the ultimate fear – that he was like Akinori. That he would die and leave his family behind.

Kai was crying his eyes out, clutching his mate tighter and tighter in desperation at each new confession, and Tatsurou was starting to fear for the alpha. He had to do something to stop this from continuing to spiral downwards, and he knew just how to do it.

“You’re not dying, Uruha. You’re going through the change.”

The sudden quiet and the shocked stares were almost amusing, if the subject hadn’t been so serious. Tatsurou tried a small smile, and he sat back slowly, willing his own tense muscles to relax so that the couple could see how he shifted out of the catastrophe gear and back into his normal pace.

“Naturally, we’ll do a thorough examination, but I am one hundred percent sure this is not cancer. And I’m positive that you will be here for a long time yet.” The nurse wanted to reach out and pat Kai’s back as the alpha suddenly slumped, crying from relief now, hugging his mate as he made sure the omega’s pajamas were completely soaked with tears. But the alpha held back, fixing Uruha’s wide-eyed gaze with his own, as the omega started stammering.

“But…But… I checked! I read the books, and I asked Yutaka when his change came, and I’m way too young. There’s at least ten or fifteen years left before the change sets in! This is not… It’s not!

“I’m sorry, Uru, but it happens. Some omegas go through the change very early, some go through it very late. It’s not common, that’s true, but it happens. And the symptoms match. The only symptoms that are not from the change are the dizziness and the panic attacks, and those are from you worrying and keeping your fears inside instead of talking to someone. I promise you, absolutely nothing points to cancer.”

“But…” Uruha shook his head, silent tears trailing down his cheeks. “It must be cancer, I can’t be… I’m too young, and I should still be able to have children, and…”

Kai lifted his head suddenly, his face red and wet from tears, but he looked determined now. “Uru, baby, I love you, but you’re an idiot.” That effectively shut the omega up, and he turned to stare at his mate instead. Kai wasn’t about to stop now, not when he finally had found his voice again.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me? We could’ve gone to Tatsu ages ago! And instead you made the kids scared, and you scared yourself enough to get sick for real, and I… I thought you were…” Here, the alpha’s voice broke, and he started sobbing again. “I thought I was losing you, baby. God, I was so damn scared! And then it turns out it’s just the change?!”

Uruha’s bottom lip started quivering again, and he clutched his mate desperately. His voice was rough from tears when he spoke. “I’m sorry, Kai. I thought… I was so scared I was dying, and I couldn’t do that to you. I couldn’t tell you. How would you and the kids deal with me wasting away like Akinori? I couldn’t…”

Tatsurou carefully shifted off the bed, wanting to give the mates some privacy while they talked it out. The couple turned their heads towards him as he moved, and the nurse smiled softly. “I’m gonna leave you two alone to work this out. We can talk more about this tomorrow, and do that examination just so you can relax completely, Uruha. Maybe we can find some way to help you through the change as well, there are things we can try that would make it easier on you. But for tonight, we’ll keep the kids with us so that you can talk. I’ll let them know everything is ok with you both, ok? And you can pick them up for breakfast tomorrow. How’s that?”

Kai gave him a weak smile and a grateful nod, but Uruha held up his hand to stop the alpha from leaving. “Are you… Are you absolutely sure it’s the change?” he asked quietly, biting his lip and closing his eyes at the nurse’s solemn nod. “So I won’t be able to… I can’t give Kai any more children?” he whispered, shivering now. Tatsurou didn’t have time to answer before Kai broke in.

“What? Uru… Baby, how can you even… We have two amazing boys, why would we ever need another?”

The omega was crying again, shaking his head. “No, I know, but… Won’t you think I’m no good any more? That I’m past my expiration date?”

Kai’s sigh was a deep body one, and he shook his head in disbelief before he gave off a strangled little chuckle. “God, Uru, you’re such an idiot sometimes. I love you forever, no matter what. And honestly, isn’t Shou giving us enough grey hairs to last us a lifetime? What if we had another like him? We should just be thankful Hiroto is a little sweetheart, not dream of another one.”

Tatsurou was thankful that the two only had eyes for each other now, because he had to bite down hard on a chuckle at the alpha’s words. Even Uruha laughed through his tears, smiling at his mate as the nurse quietly backed out of the cabin and shut the door behind him.

It was freezing outside, and Tatsurou quickly made his way back to his own cabin, slipping in quietly in case the boys were asleep. It was dead quiet in the cabin, and he could just make out their shadows over on the bed. He carefully took his shoes and jacket off in the darkness, before he tiptoed over to the bed. Once his eyes had gotten used to the darkness, he stopped dead and just stared. Stretched out on his back was Kaoru, one child on each arm, deeply asleep and burrowed into the engineer’s sides. Hiroto’s little arm was slung around the alpha’s neck, and Shou had a firm grip on Kaoru’s pajama shirt. Tatsurou couldn’t help smiling softly at the scene before him. His lover could claim not to be good with children all he liked, but here he was, the safe and steady rock for two scared little boys. The nurse watched his sleeping boyfriend for a few minutes, burning the image into his mind, before he carefully slid into bed next to them. The movement woke Kaoru up from his light slumber, and he turned to his lover with worry in his eyes.

“It’s ok,” Tatsurou whispered. “Everything’s fine. Uru’s well, and they’ll pick the kids up tomorrow morning. They needed the night to talk things through.”

Kaoru relaxed and nodded, smiling in relief. The nurse leaned over Hiroto to give his alpha a sweet kiss before he lay down, feeling the stress of the last month finally leave him completely. He fell asleep in minutes, his arm stretched over two little boys and the man he loved more than life itself.

. . . . .

Asanao woke from a sound, and after a moment’s confusion, he realized it came from Ryo’s bed. The omega was clearly dreaming, mumbling, tossing and turning. The alpha could make out little whimpers of ‘Nii’ among the words, and he rubbed his eyes tiredly. So the omega was dreaming about his brother again. It had been a while now, but it still happened now and then. He heard the omega jerk awake a minute later, a heartbeat of silence, and then quiet sobbing.

He felt uncomfortable, lying there quietly listening to the omega crying over in his bed, all alone. But Ryo had moved on, and so he didn’t want Asanao’s hugs anymore. But then again, this wasn’t about love, was it? It was about Ryo needing company and a friend, and perhaps he wouldn’t mind the alpha giving him that when he was sad. But Ryo would probably prefer to be rid of Asanao completely now, why would he want a grumpy alpha around to comfort him? But Ryo couldn’t exactly go to Mahiro now, could he, not with Ju-ken there in his bed, and maybe… The sobbing continued while he mulled it over and over and over in his mind, and eventually, he just couldn’t take it anymore. He turned over in bed, peering through the dark at the small bump huddling under the duvet.

“Ryo?” he whispered. “Are you ok? Do you want to come over?”

The sobs stopped immediately, and for a second Asanao thought he had messed up. Of course the omega didn’t want him, why would he... And then the sheets rustled as Ryo threw himself out of bed and stumbled the few steps over to the alpha’s side of the room. Asanao barely had time to hold up the blanket so that Ryo could get in with him before he had the omega plastered against him, sobbing into his chest. He blinked in surprise, but snapped out of it and put his arms around the little body, caressing Ryo’s hair gently. And it felt so good to have him there again, to feel the warmth of the omega against him, to have the sweet scent envelop him. Asanao closed his eyes tightly, fighting down the sudden pain in his chest, as he concentrated on being there for Ryo. Just being a friend. Nothing else. Nothing else.

. . . . .

The knock on their door came early. As Tatsurou got up to answer, Shou and Hiroto sat up in confusion, their hair standing every which way as they fought to understand where they were and what was happening. When the door opened to reveal their parents, they both woke up for real, crawling all over Kaoru in the haste to get out of bed. Tatsurou grinned at his boyfriend’s ‘ouf’ as Shou put a knee in the alpha’s stomach while he made his way to the floor and over to his ada’s open arms. Uruha kneeled on the floor, his arms around his two boys, kissing them both on the hair over and over. The nurse looked the couple over worriedly, but a tired smile from Kai calmed him. They both had dark rings under their eyes, but what else could be expected after the night they had had? Kai had his hand on Uruha’s shoulder, and he smiled down at his little family while the boys hugged their ada half to death.

“Ada are you sick?” Shou asked, at the same time as Hiroto said “Are you ok now ada?”

Uruha smiled at his two sons. “I’m fine, my little darlings,” he smiled, tears of a different kind welling up as he held his two children close. “I won’t be sick like that again, I promise. Everything is fine now.”

Hiroto looked up at his father. “Are you ok too, daddy?” he said, eyes wide with worry. Kai smiled widely, kneeling next to his mate and leaning over to press a kiss to the boy’s forehead. “I’m fine sweetie, everything’s fine. I was just a little scared yesterday, just like you were. But now ada is fine again and there’s nothing more to be scared about, ok?”

Hiroto nodded, biting his lip. “I was really, really scared,” he mumbled, and it made Uruha hug him even tighter.

“I’m so, so sorry I scared you, my little darlings. I swear it won’t happen again. You don’t have to be scared anymore, I promise.”

Shou made a little sound in his throat and threw himself around his ada’s neck again, and Hiroto burrowed into his parents as his father’s arms enveloped all three of them. Tatsurou stood beside them, trying to hold back his emotions at the moving scene, and he gratefully turned into Kaoru’s strong chest when the alpha came up next to him.

After one final hug, Kai and Uruha stood back up, picking up a child each as they nodded gratefully at the other couple. “Thank you,” Kai said, looking between them. “Thank you so much, both of you.”

“For everything,” Uruha filled in, pressing a kiss to Shou’s hair as he hugged him tightly to his chest.

“No worries,” Tatsurou smiled, meeting Uruha’s eyes. “See you at ten?” he asked, and Uruha nodded, a slight tinge of pink on his cheeks as he looked down. “See you then,” he mumbled, and then the little family turned and left the cottage to go up to the big house for breakfast.

The two alphas looked after them, Kaoru’s arms around his lover’s waist. “Want to tell me what happened?” the engineer asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure,” the nurse answered lightly. “If you tell me how come you knew exactly how to calm the boys despite not knowing how to deal with children.”

He laughed out loud at the look on Kaoru’s face, and leaned over to kiss him before his boyfriend could get grumpy and pull away. “I love you so much,” he mumbled against the alpha’s lips. “Don’t you ever change.”

Chapter Text

An extensive examination only confirmed what Tatsurou had said. Once the omega was dressed and they were done with the first part, the nurse managed to persuade Uruha that it was ok to go get Yutaka, and then left the two to talk alone until lunch. It was a much calmer and happier Uruha that emerged from the sickroom two hours later, Yutaka’s arm around his waist. Kai had had to hand Hiroto over to Ryo to go make lunch, and the boy was nestled against his friend’s neck, holding on tightly until Uruha stepped into the dining room. Ryo put Hiroto down quickly before the boy could throw himself to the floor and hurt himself, and watched with a smile as the child ran as fast as he could across the room and threw himself in his ada’s arms. Uruha drew the boy close and kissed his hair over and over, a single tear trickling down his cheek as he laughed and lifted his little baby into his arms.

Shou came bounding down the stairs with Tora’s hand firmly in his as soon as he heard his ada’s voice, and Uruha soon found himself stuck in a chair for the rest of the day, his children refusing to leave him for even a second. It allowed Yutaka and Tatsurou to quietly go around, relieving people’s fears by letting everyone know things were ok and Uruha would be just fine. The omega himself smiled gratefully at them, having given his permission (secretly happy not to have to do it himself). Mostly people were too happy to find out everything was ok with their friend, to be upset with how he had acted as of late. They were all too used to pain and death not to be aware of how emotions like fear could get the better of you.

Asanao couldn’t help being a bit annoyed with how he had had to take the brunt of Uruha’s irritation, but he had to admit that it was easier to forgive now that he knew the cause for it. Ryo merely seemed relieved, which made the alpha feel a bit ashamed of his emotions. It seemed, once again, that Ryo was a better man than he was, and it made him feel, yet once again, that he wasn’t worthy of the omega. Maybe it was for the best that Ryo had moved on, he thought, sighing to himself.

Deeply immersed in his usual self-loathing, he wasn’t prepared when Tomo spoke right next to him. “He’s still waiting, you know.”

Asanao blinked at him, taking a few moments to answer. “What?”

“Ryo. He’s still waiting.” Tomo looked up at him, meeting his gaze straight on.

Asanao wanted to protest, to say ‘no’ or ‘why’ or ‘he can’t be’, but Tomo had already turned his back and walked off when the alpha found his voice again. The younger nurse left the alpha wide-eyed and stammering, having lost his emotional footing yet again, and he didn’t even notice Ryo eyeing him from across the room, a tiny frown on his face that was soon wiped away as Mahiro showed up with a hug at the ready.

. . . . .

About a week later, things were back to normal in their little community. Even Hiroto dared leave his ada’s side for longer moments of time, which was how Ryo found himself in the rather awkward position to watch two friends have sex through a keyhole.

The day started as usual, breakfast and then some chores before they had some free time on their hands. As winter had really struck, temperatures dropping down to freezing, only those who really had to ventured outside to shovel snow or feed the animals. The abundant snowing made the former resorters uncomfortable, waking up unwanted memories, and without saying anything about it, the islanders stepped up and took the brunt of the work with shoveling the snow. Which was why Ryo watched Asanao through the window when the kids came up and wanted him to join in on a game of hide and seek. As Saga started counting, all of the children plus Meto, Kouki and Ryo disappeared in different directions to hide.

Since the children and the other two adults took the best hiding spots on the first two floors, Ryo found himself on the third floor, looking around for a place to hide while there was still time. He could hear Saga’s shout of ‘Coming to get you!’ from the stairs and quickly ducked into the room Kuina shared with Minase. He looked around to try to find a good hiding spot, when he heard steps on the stairs outside, and quickly ducked into the tiny closet, hiding beneath sweaters and coats. He had just about closed the door when the door to the room opened, but a peek through the keyhole revealed, not Saga, but Ruki and Kyo. What were they doing here?

It wasn’t until it was too late to do anything about it that he realized what was going on.

Ruki gripped Kyo’s shirt firmly with one hand as the other reached out to lock the door. Kyo smirked, apparently amused as he scolded his mate lightly.

“And just what are we doing in here, huh? Do you think Kuina and Minase will appreciate us using their room?”

Ruki pouted. “I don’t care.”

“Tsssk… So needy.” Kyo raised his eyebrow and made a pretend scowl, but instead of moving away he stepped up closer to his mate.

“Shut up,” Ruki muttered, squinting at the alpha. “I’m not waiting, and I’m sure as hell not going outside into that giant freezer. You should know what to do by now. Or do I have to teach you?” he added cheekily, yelping as Kyo suddenly grabbed him and spun him around. The alpha pushed Ruki against the bed, facing Ryo’s cupboard, and shoved him forward so that the omega fell to his knees. Ryo couldn’t see much of Kyo, only his face and shoulders sticking up behind the other man. But he wasn’t stupid enough not to understand what was happening when the alpha pulled Ruki’s pants down in the blink of an eye, grabbing his mate’s wrists with one hand while he unbuttoned his own pants with his other hand. Ryo’s eyes widened behind the keyhole – was Kyo hurting Ruki? Should he do something? But he remembered all too well the fight he had had with Ruki, and the promise he had made to Asanao to take it easy around the omega. Also, he wasn’t sure Ruki would want to be seen like this. And to be honest, Kyo was kind of scary. What would he do if he realized they had company?

He didn’t even have time to finish the thought before the alpha thrust harshly into his mate, making Ruki yelp again. Ryo held his hand over his mouth in order not to do the same, and he felt his breath hitch when Kyo grabbed his mate’s hair with the other hand, pulling at it harshly so that Ryo could finally see Ruki’s face. It was contorted with an emotion that Ryo at first mistook for pain, but he soon realized he was wrong. Oh boy was he wrong. The harder Kyo pulled at Ruki’s hair, the faster and harsher he snapped his hips to pound into the omega, the louder Ruki’s moans became. Soon, he was a blubbering mess completely lost in bliss, and Ryo could only look on as the alpha drove his mate up to and over the edge. As soon as they had both come, the mood changed in an instant, and Kyo pulled Ruki up against his chest, holding him tightly as he shuddered from aftershocks.

“How are you feeling, baby?” he mumbled affectionately in Ruki’s ear, and was met with the largest and most blissful smile Ryo had ever seen. “Amazing,” the omega sighed, reaching up behind him to put his arms around Kyo’s shoulders. “Again?”

The alpha chuckled and nuzzled his neck, finishing off with a sweet kiss to his jaw. “We’re still connected, baby,” he grinned, “and once I can pull out, you need to go clean yourself up, and I need to go work. One quickie is all you get until tonight.”

Ruki’s pout did absolutely nothing to change his mate’s mind, and so he gave up eventually and enjoyed the moment as well as he could instead. Ryo was rather thankful once the twenty minutes of intense cuddling had passed and the two separated and got dressed, leaving the room without ever having seen or heard the omega hidden away in the closet. It took Ryo at least half an hour to overcome the equal parts shame and arousal he experienced from what he had seen. Once he dared leave the confines of the closet, he tiptoed downstairs, looking around carefully so that no one saw him and suspected he had seen something out of the ordinary. When Hiroto came running and asked where he’d been, he lied and said that he had fallen asleep in his hiding place, and the boy apparently bought the lie and moved on, other things having caught his attention. Ryo took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax, and spent the rest of the day doing his very, very best to forget what had happened.

. . . . .

It all came back to him now. Every memory from the closet that he had suppressed, every moan and whimper he had heard, every blissful expression he had seen. He was lying in his bed, tucked under the blankets, watching Asanao with big dark eyes, as the alpha took off garment after garment to wash off the sweat from the day’s heavy work. He didn’t try to be sexy, of course he didn’t. He was just himself, only tired enough not to think about the fact that Ryo could see him and be self conscious about it. Instead he was natural, strong, beautiful – all of it just Asanao being Asanao.

So Ryo lay there, watching the hard muscles play under the alpha’s skin, feeling his mouth water at the chocolate-y nipples on a chiseled chest. He tried his hardest not to think about what it would feel like if Asanao grabbed him like Kyo had done with Ruki. If he’d put those sinewy hands on Ryo’s hips and thrust into him. If he’d nuzzle him from behind while they were still connected, sated and content.

He swallowed deeply and turned around in bed, pulling the blanket up over his head, doing his best to hide the scent of arousal under the covers as he fought to stop his wild thoughts. He could hear Asanao move around, but the alpha didn’t say anything or indicate in any way that he knew what the omega was going through. Once the other was in bed, he fell asleep almost immediately, completely exhausted from shoveling snow all day.

Left in the darkness was Ryo, feeling his whole body tingle with arousal while his mind was still battling the shame and the loneliness.

. . . . .

For days, Ryo wouldn’t look Asanao in the eye, and the alpha couldn’t understand why. Tomo had claimed Ryo was still waiting for him, and yet the omega behaved as if he couldn’t even stand looking at him. It irked at him, but he couldn’t figure out a way to ask that wasn’t weird, and so he threw himself into work, shoveling the masses of snow that still kept falling. It was at times like these he wished the cottages weren’t so far apart, every path having to be shoveled at least three times a day in order not to become trampled into perilous ice instead. The work took its toll on the body, and his back was aching more with each day.

On Saturday night, about a week and a half before Christmas, he came in after the late shift and collapsed face down on the bed, too tired to even wash off. Ryo sat on his bed, already changed for bed, watching him with dark eyes as the alpha shifted with a deep groan.

“Hurting?” the omega asked quietly, and Asanao offered another groan and a nod in answer. He ached all over, and no matter how he put his limbs, he couldn’t find relief.

“Massage?” Ryo’s question came so unexpectedly that Asanao stiffened, thinking he had heard it wrong. But no, the omega got up from the bed and padded over, his motions somewhat insecure but still determined as he climbed onto the bed next to the alpha. “Shirt off,” he mumbled, and maybe it was lucky for them both that Asanao had his face hidden into the pillow so that he couldn’t see the crimson that spread like wildfire over his roommate’s cheeks. The alpha hesitated and was about to turn to look at Ryo, but the motion sent a shockwave of pain through his tired body and he gave in. A massage was probably not the smartest thing to happen between them, considering the ambiguity of it and their complicated feelings for each other, but right now, Asanao didn’t care. Anything that could make the pain go away was a good thing, and so he nodded and fought himself onto his knees long enough to clumsily pull his shirt off, before he flopped down on the bed again with a deep groan.

Ryo started out softly, feeling through the muscles to find the knots before he started working on them for real, and though it felt strange at first, Asanao soon forgot about it as nimble fingers made his muscles unwind and relax. He only flinched when Ryo straddled him and sat down lightly on his ass to get a better angle, and soon, the awkwardness was gone again as the heavenly massage continued. Asanao felt like one giant puddle of putty once Ryo declared himself finished and climbed off, going to get the alpha a glass of water which he drank gratefully. Ryo was already back in his own bed, hiding under the covers, when Asanao could get himself to function enough to get his pants off and climb under the covers.

“Thank you,” he mumbled tiredly, and just before he fell asleep, he though for a second that he felt the sweet scent of omega arousal. He was asleep before it could completely register, and still, his dreams were sexy and emotional. On his end – once he finally managed to fall asleep - Ryo’s were fitful and jumbled, filled with missed opportunities.

. . . . .

Tomo looked up as Ryo plopped down next to him on the sickroom bed. The nurse was doing inventory and sat with a list of medicines in one hand and a pencil in the other, both of which he had to put aside as Ryo cuddled up to him and hugged him tightly.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked, hugging back. Ryo shook his head and sniffed, his lower lip jutting out in a pout that reminded Tomo of the children.

“Akinori. Tell me,” he mumbled.

“Tell you what? About his illness?” Tomo asked. Ryo shook his head, before he made a huff and nodded.

“Everything,” he said finally. “Him and Asanao.”

The nurse leaned his head on his friend’s and nodded quietly. Maybe it was time for the full story, at last. And so he started to tell it all from what he had seen and known. Ryo sat quiet and listened, nodding when things the alpha had already told him came up. Eventually, Tomo ran out of words, and he looked down on his friend. “That’s sort of all I know,” he said. “I didn’t know them that long before Aki got sick, but I could tell they were devoted to each other.”

“How was he?” Ryo murmured, biting a nail as he listened tensely to Tomo’s story.

“Akinori? He was funny and kind. He always played tricks on people for fun. Practical jokes and the sort, but never in a mean way.”

“Made Asanao happy.” It wasn’t a question, but the omega nurse nodded anyway.

“He did. Even when he was really ill, he tried to joke so his mate would laugh and be happy.”

Ryo bit his lip and thought about something for a long while, and Tomo almost thought their conversation was over when Ryo spoke, his whisper hardly more than a breath. “Liked me?”

It made Tomo’s heart bleed, the fear and pain encapsulated in those few words. “I think he would have, sweetie,” he whispered. “I think he would want Asanao to be with you. He wanted his mate to be happy again, after he was gone.”

Ryo hid his face against the nurse, his small shoulders shaking slightly. Tomo held on through the storm of emotions, gently stroking his friend’s back, until Ryo managed to get himself under control again.

“Asanao still faithful. Why?” he mumbled eventually, looking up at Tomo with slightly red-rimmed eyes.

Tomo sighed and reached out to thread his fingers through Ryo’s hair, pulling his bangs behind his ear. “Akinori… He was important to him. Asanao did whatever Aki wanted. Sometimes I think Aki decided everything in their relationship, just because that burly-looking alpha yielded to his mate’s every wish. So I guess he feels a little lost now that Aki can’t be here to tell him what to do or how to feel. You’ll have to forgive him. He needs guidance.”

Ryo cuddled up to the nurse again and nodded, apparently deep in thought. After a long while of pensive silence, Tomo picked up the inventory again and finished it with his friend leaning on his shoulder. He was just about done when Ryo seemed to have reached a decision.

“Come with me?” he asked, suddenly standing up.

“What? Where to?” the nurse asked, confused.

“Talk to Akinori.” And with that, Ryo turned and stomped off into the hallway to gather his clothes.

“Talk to… what? Wait, Ryo! What?” Tomo threw his things on the bed and rose, hurrying after his friend, his brows furrowed in confusion.

. . . . .

Asanao saw the two omegas trudging off through the snow into the woods just as he finished his shift. He leaned on his shovel and looked after them, frowning slightly.

“Where are they going?” Hazuki asked next to him, so tired he almost stumbled when he leaned his shovel against the porch.

“I don’t know,” the alpha answered, looking over his shoulder at his friend. “Are you ok? You look like shit.”

“Why thank you,” Hazuki yawned. “Yeah, just tired. Jun had a tummy ache all night, and once he settled, Jin woke up and decided to have a grumpy day.”

Asanao gave the other a lopsided grin. “The joys of fatherhood, huh?”

“Mmmm. Sleep is overrated anyway, or so they say. Anyway, it was my turn, Kou stayed up all night yesterday, so it was only fair.” He yawned widely again. “I’m gonna go inside and rest. You coming?”

Asanao hesitated, looking up at the forest edge again. He remembered all too well when Cazqui fell through a hole in the snow and got his foot stuck. What if Ryo took a wrong turn? Tomo was there, but who was to say that they wouldn’t both slip and fall? And Tomo wasn’t strong enough to pull Ryo up if he got stuck anyway.

“In a minute,” he said, leaning his shovel next to Hazuki’s and starting to follow the omegas’ path. He missed the wide grin on his friend’s face as he turned back to the house and walked inside.

. . . . .

Asanao stepped carefully once he realized where the omegas were heading. He was curious, but apprehensive. What the hell was Ryo up to now? He finally snuck up and stopped behind the last tree before the clearing, where he could see and hear them from behind, but still be relatively hidden in case they turned around. Ryo was talking, but there was something odd about it that Asanao couldn’t put his finger on. The omega sounded a little nervous and stuttering, but that wasn’t it. He strained to listen.

“I know… you’re… close. Attached… to each other. But he… should be… happy. He deserves to… We deserve to… be… happy. I want… to… be there… for him… always.”

Ryo took a break and swallowed, shaking his head in frustration, obviously fighting with the words. And then it struck Asanao. Ryo was trying to speak in full sentences. He was fighting to be eloquent and humble, to sound like someone Akinori would respect, and it was putting a strain on him. The realization made the alpha tear up, his throat constricting and his chest hurting. Ryo was trying so hard for him. It wasn’t just the words, even though they were heartfelt and moving. It was the way he tried to be more, be better, so that he would be approved by the man lying in the ground beneath him. And he did if for Asanao, of all people. For me. It was enough to make Asanao choke on a sob, and for a second he was scared the omegas had heard him, as Tomo turned his head just a little to listen. But the nurse turned his head back and just grabbed Ryo’s hand, trying to help him and give him extra strength. Eventually the younger omega seemed to give up, just saying what his heart wanted him to say.

“I want him. Can I? Please?”

Before he could expose himself, Asanao backed away, a hand over his mouth as he bit down on his emotions at the words – spoken strongly and with dignity. He didn’t start sobbing until he was at a safe distance, and he stumbled all the way back to his cottage, half blinded by the veil of tears.

Chapter Text

Asanao was grateful when Ryo didn’t show up at their cabin until after dinner. Toshiya had spotted his friend coming back from the forest, eyes red from crying, and after making sure the alpha was ok, he quietly arranged for Kai to deliver dinner to the cabin so that Asanao could let his feelings settle before he had to face anyone.

“Relax, think things through and come up when you’re ready,” the leader had said softly before squeezing his shoulder and walking up to the big house to make arrangements.

And Asanao did think it through, thoroughly. For the first time, he actually sat down and tried to think about what he felt and why, not just drowning in his emotions. Well, there was a good hour of two of that first, of course. Also, the occasional panicky backlash during the course of the evening, obviously. But once he had calmed down a bit, he started scrutinizing his feelings carefully. Ryo’s words and actions had really hit him where he was the most sensitive. To see him ask Akinori for Asanao’s heart was gut wrenching. It made him wonder what Aki would have answered, and the answer was so blindingly obvious that it made him frustrated and angry. Aki always said he wanted me to move on, he thought bitterly, and yet here I am. Here we are, he corrected himself. Ryo was just as much a part of this tangled mess as he was. As strange as it sounded, Aki was too. He was no longer there, and yet he was; in every laughter, every joke, every shadow when Asanao lay awake at night.

But lately, Ryo was there too, and that was ok. Aki wouldn’t have minded sharing the space. He would have joked about Asanao being frigid for not taking advantage of the opportunity, or smacked him over the head for his stupidity. The one thing the alpha couldn’t see him do, was say no.

Akinori would have liked Ryo – Asanao was certain of it. They were so different, the two of them, he mused. Akinori was forward, but in a completely different way than Ryo was. Where Aki was pliant, Ryo soldiered on; where Ryo yielded, Aki would have gotten himself into trouble by arguing. Where one was tall and lanky, the other was small and birdlike. Where one sought everyone out and made friends in an instant, the other hid and allowed people in one by one. Aki could be childish, but Ryo was childlike. They both loved to laugh, but where Aki’s was free and unbridled, Ryo’s was still slightly guarded, as though loud noises could still betray his position to others. And yet, somehow, they both fit with each other as two differently shaped pieces of a puzzle. And more importantly, they both fit with him.

Asanao found himself wondering if they would taste differently too, before he stopped himself and shook his head. No. Not that. Soon, but not today. No thoughts of kisses, or the texture of their skin, or…

Deep breaths.

Deep, deep breaths.

. . . . .

When Ryo got back in the evening, the alpha was calmly making tea for them, nothing giving away that he had any idea of what had happened during the day. When Ryo eyed the empty dinner plate on the table curiously, the alpha just shrugged and claimed he had needed some alone time to think, before he handed Ryo his cup and sat down at the table. The omega took his seat somewhat hesitantly, but once they were both settled, things felt almost like they had done a few weeks earlier, before everything got out of hand. They talked, joked and teased as usual. When they finally got to bed, they both had smiles on their lips, having laughed together for the first time in what felt like ages.

Things continued to run smoothly between them as Christmas drew nearer. Now and again, Asanao flailed back into emotional uproar, but he managed to pull himself back from it every time by examining his thoughts rationally, something he never would have been able to do only a few weeks ago. The fact that the holiday was coming made everything easier, because the omega’s mood changed drastically because of it. It was Ryo’s first Christmas After, and when he realized they were actually going to have a real celebration, with a tree and good food and music, he became just as ecstatic as the kids. Asanao looked on as the omega ran around looking at everything they put up, his eyes sparkling. Ruki did his thing, making wreaths, table decorations and just about every decoration known to man. Since most of the resorters also celebrated their first Christmas on the island, Ruki got his fair share of admiration, and he was prancing around, sucking up the compliments like a sponge.

Of course, Christmas was also a time of remembrance, and Toshiya and Hyde held a simple ceremony in the morning of Christmas Day, hoping that the rest of the day would be easier to handle that way. It seemed to work – the tears fell freely until noon while they all remembered their friends, but after lunch the mood seemed to be a bit lighter. By afternoon, they were in good cheer, laughing and talking, only the most important of chores getting done. Even feeding the animals turned into a fun event, as they all helped out while singing carols. Everyone laughed as the goats made weird faces at Uruha when he tried to sing along. The omega frowned at the animals as Kai wrapped his arm around his mate and kissed his cheek.

“We can’t all be amazing singers, sweetie,” he chuckled, just barely avoiding the joking slap in response.

Dinner was outstanding, even by their now high standards. Those who had their first real island Christmas dinner ate in stunned silence, and by the time the kitchen crew served dessert, they were all full already. Still, no one could resist the goat cheese Kai and Yo-ka had made as a surprise, and only Atsushi and the pregnant omegas turned down a glass of the wine they had found in a hidden cellar in the nearest town during the summer. (Only one glass each though – lessons had been learned from Christmas past.) Asanao and Ryo sat next to each other during dinner, and the alpha had to laugh at the glee with which his roommate took everything in. After Ryo took a tiny bite of the cheese, he quickly declared himself too full and pushed the piece over to the alpha, who downed it immediately. He almost regretted it, considering he could hardly move afterwards, but the smile on Ryo’s face as he accepted the gift was worth the discomfort.

After dinner, there was music and dancing. They all helped clear the tables before they were pushed up against the walls, making a space in the middle of the room where those who wanted to could dance. Meto found a box to turn upside down and use as a drum, and he was joined by Kaz and Ju-ken who picked up the guitars and started to play a happy tune. To everyone’s surprise, Hyde stepped up and started to sing along, and soon, the whole floor was full of people dancing. Though the musicians changed during the evening, the dancing continued until late in the evening.

Asanao had decided to stay in his seat and watch, leaning back with a smile while the others danced. He followed Ryo with his eyes, smiling at how he danced around with Hiroto standing on his feet, the two besties laughing their heads off. He grinned at the goofball dancing that the omega and Meto got up to, bouncing around the room, and he watched with a soft look in his eyes as Mahiro wrapped his arms around his friend and the two danced close, leaning their heads on each other’s shoulders like only lovers or the closest of friends would do. Now and then Asanao was joined by someone who needed a break, but when they threw themselves back into the fray, he was content to stay on the sidelines.

When Ryo came dancing over to him, sweating and grinning widely, he was about to say no. But the omega didn’t listen, taking his roommate’s hands and dragging him up from his seat. And he looked so happy, so relaxed, that Asanao didn’t have the heart to turn him down. So he let himself be led onto the dance floor, dancing a little awkwardly at first, but soon allowing the rhythm to get to him. The band at the moment consisted of Subaru, Die and Kuina, and they started up on a merry tune that had them all spinning around. Before he knew it, Asanao had his arm around Ryo’s waist and his other hand holding Ryo’s much smaller one, as they twirled around with everyone else. It felt good – warm and safe – and for a moment he felt completely and utterly happy. The feeling took him by surprise, but instead of folding into himself at the realization, the alpha let it happen. Yes, he was happy, and that was perfectly ok.

Once the night was over, they were both exhausted, partly from the dancing and partly from laughing. When they finally got dressed and stumbled towards the cabin, the evening had turned into night, and the cold made the snow glisten in the moonlight. The cabin was equally cold, and Asanao got to work starting a fire to warm them up, while Ryo quickly washed off and stumbled into bed, hiding under the covers to keep the cold out. Once the fire was crackling joyfully, the alpha turned to look at Ryo, grinning at the bundle of duvets he had hid beneath.

“Did you enjoy your day?” he asked unnecessarily.

Ryo’s head popped out of the duvet, and he nodded emphatically, beaming. “Perfect!” he exclaimed, before he dove right back down under the covers with a loud ‘brrrr’.

“Cold?” Asanao asked, simply to make conversation. He knew the omega must be cold, because he himself was cold. They had worked up a sweat from the dancing and all the people gathered in one room all evening, and stepping out into the cold night had been a shock to their bodies. An ‘m-hm’ was all the answer he got from under the covers, and he smiled softly.

“It’ll be warm soon, just give the fire a chance.” Asanao checked on the fire again, satisfied it wasn’t going to go out. Still, he dithered, looking between Ryo’s and his own bed. He was cold. Ryo was cold. His bed would be really cold. Maybe…? Or not… Or should he? Finally, after a few minutes of the same thoughts going round and round in his head, he made a decision. He walked over to his bed and undressed quickly, shivering in the still cold room. His pajamas were freezing, and he hissed when he pulled them on. And then, before he could change his mind, he turned and took the few steps over to Ryo’s bed, lifted the covers and slid under them to spoon behind the omega.

He felt the smaller body stiffen in surprise when Ryo realized what was going on, but he didn’t say anything. Asanao even thought his bedmate was holding his breath – he was so utterly still – but he bit down on his own insecurities and threw his arm around the slim waist, snuggling up close. “Cold,” he mumbled. “This is warmer.” He thought he heard a faint, shaky murmur of agreement, and since the omega didn’t move from his grasp, he decided this was probably ok. After all, it was just for keeping warm, right? No harm done.

It was awkward for the both of them for a while, trying to get a grip on the other’s feelings on the matter, but eventually, they started breathing more normally again. And it was warmer, no doubt about it. Soon, their combined body heat had made the bed nice and warm, and it helped them to relax even more. Without thinking, Asanao hugged his bedmate closer, nuzzling into his hair.

“Still cold?” he asked, reaching up to rub Ryo’s arm for warmth. And though he really wasn’t, the omega nodded, afraid that if he said no, the alpha would stop touching him and go away again. Instead of leaving the bed, he was shocked to find Asanao start rubbing his hip and thigh, trying to warm him up. His breathing came quicker at the touch, not daring to even move in case this wonderful thing would disappear on him.

The alpha continued to rub gently over Ryo’s body, hugging him tightly. Of course, this was more touching than they were used to, but then again, when the omega had his breakdowns over his brother, he was most definitely plastered just as tightly onto Asanao. So after all, this was really business as usual, getting warmer, right? No harm done.

Eventually, he couldn’t close his eyes to the fact that Ryo was most certainly warm by now. The omega felt like a furnace next to him, and yet, Asanao had problems stopping the motions of his hands. They were less rubbing and more caressing, even a tiny hint of exploring by now. Ryo felt so different under his fingertips than Akinori had done. Everything was unfamiliar, new, unexpected. The way his hips curved, the way his feet were small enough to almost fit on top of Asanao’s, the way his head leaned on the pillow. Also, the sounds of his breathing, the scent that filled their little cave under the covers, the softness of his hair. It was fascinating, and Asanao took it all in slowly, filing information away in his mental archive, familiarizing himself with Ryo in a way he hadn’t allowed himself to do before. But after all, it was just some gentle caressing, nothing sexual about it, right? No harm done.

The sheets rustled when Ryo carefully turned around, as if he was afraid that sudden movements would scare Asanao away like a shy animal. Once he was facing the alpha, he shuffled closer, lifting his arms to wrap them around the other and burying his face against the strong chest. Asanao allowed the younger man to settle comfortably before he held him again, continuing the soft caresses. He let his fingers play with the silky hair, feeling the contrast between the shaved side and the longer hair on top. Slowly, the fingers moved downward, feeling the shape of the head and continuing down the neck, massaging lightly as they went.

Ryo was so slim Asanao could almost count his vertebrae, but instead of being horrified or put off, the alpha smiled to himself as he thought of how much less so the omega was now than when he had come here. He had never been truly starving thanks to his vegetable gardens, but he was incredibly thin when he got to the island. Now, he was starting to get a roundness to his face, his limbs looking less like sticks and more like the other omegas here. Asanao let his hands feel the muscles in the omega’s back, strong despite his small stature, and he felt an unexpected calm come over him.

This was nice. It was warm, and soft, and very, very nice.

When his hands reached the lower back and started to get precariously close to the swell of Ryo’s ass, the omega was hardly breathing, frozen in place as he waited to see what the alpha would do. Asanao felt it and shifted to watch Ryo’s face for discomfort, when he felt a surprising sensation from his groin. He pulled back and looked down in confusion at his own cock, hard and leaking through his pajama pants. It was standing at attention, poking at the omega’s thigh, and it was the long-forgotten sensation of grinding against someone else that had halted his motion. He blinked a few times, not quite grasping what he was seeing and feeling, trying to take in the fact that not only was he hard, but so was Ryo. He looked up and met a panicky gaze, the omega almost shaking from fear of what this would mean. His hands hadn’t left the alpha’s sides, and Asanao could feel the fingers twitch slightly, as if Ryo was struggling not to grab his sides to keep him where he was, to keep him from fleeing as he had so many times before.

And he looked so scared lying there, biting his bottom lip to keep it from shivering, that Asanao just wanted to reassure him, comfort him. Without thinking, he closed his eyes and leaned forward and pressed his lips gently to the omega’s, feeling instead of seeing how the omega exhaled and let his fingers finally close around the alpha, gripping him tightly as if to keep himself level inside a whirlwind of emotions. Their lips moved softly against each other’s, almost hesitant. But it was ok, Asanao reasoned. After all, it was just a kiss to reassure Ryo, make him feel safer, right? No harm done.

Neither of them tried to deepen the kiss, but the alpha could feel a tension in the smaller body, as if the omega was fighting to hold himself back. He tried his best to convince Ryo through his kisses and caresses that things would be ok, that he was perfect the way he was. Ever so slowly, it seemed he was getting through, as the omega relaxed bit by bit. They both closed their eyes, exploring the other’s lips with their own. And even though Asanao knew Ryo was reassured by now, he felt himself continue to kiss, to touch. It was as if he couldn’t make himself stop, even if he had wanted to. Except, he didn’t. He enjoyed this far too much to stop.

After at least fifteen minutes of gentle kissing, Asanao felt the tip of a tongue graze against his lips, so lightly it could just as well have been written off as an accident, if it hadn’t been for the sudden tension in the muscles beneath his fingers. He smiled into the kiss, before he prodded gently with his own tongue, asking to be let in. With a gasp of relief, Ryo granted his wish. He did taste differently, and it was glorious. Asanao leaned into the kisses to try to get more of the taste that was so truly Ryo.

As their kisses became more fervent, so did their caresses. When Asanao’s hand finally slipped in underneath Ryo’s shirt, the omega let out a tiny whimper. He suppressed it immediately, still frightened to scare the alpha off. He was impatient, but if it meant he would get his longed-for prize at the end of this achingly slow process, he would do absolutely anything to get there. Even if it included just waiting for the alpha’s actions instead of responding like he wanted to do. And so he lay there, letting Asanao tease his body until he was about to burst, his cock throbbing and slick making his pajama pants completely soaked between his legs. When the alpha finally started tugging at their clothes, Ryo took a deep breath of relief, only to bite down on a moan as Asanao’s lips brushed over his nipple a second later.

Asanao looked on in fascination as the omega tried to keep himself under control. He still couldn’t help writhing a bit, his hips wanting to buck against his bedmate, and Asanao thought it was intoxicating. He was so beautiful naked, his skin remarkably soft and free of scars despite the life they lived After. The alpha took him in, going over his entire body slowly, discovering the birth mark on his left hip, the slight right curve of his cock, the unusually pink nipples. It was all so, so gorgeous. Every inhibition he had ever had completely disappeared at the sight. The strong scent didn’t help, or rather, it did. He leaned into Ryo’s neck and took a deep breath, letting the sweetness rush through his veins and into his brain, white sparkles flashing behind his eyes.

The slightest nudge was all it took for Ryo to roll over on his back, willingly spreading his legs to make room for the alpha. As Asanao followed, settling between the pale thighs, he hesitated for a second when a thought almost entered his mind. No harm done, this was just… No. There was nothing ‘just’ about this. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was taking responsibility for it. He wanted to do this. It had absolutely nothing to do with comforting Ryo, or keeping warm, or even having some fun while they still had a Christmas high going on. He wanted this, and he felt stronger for admitting it to himself.

Ryo noticed his hesitation, and as the fear rose in his eyes again, the alpha shook himself out of his thoughts. Before the omega could panic, Asanao caught the plush lips with his, kissing him deeply as he positioned himself and ever so slowly pushed into his new lover. Ryo gasped into his mouth, wrapping both legs and arms around the alpha’s hard body when he started to move inside of him. The pace was languid, almost teasingly slow all the way through. They kept their voices down, moaning and gasping quietly in each other’s ears as they felt the bliss wash over them as the tide. The tide rose and rose, until Ryo finally let out a loud moan and arched his back as he came. Asanao groaned as the omega’s muscles clenched around his cock and pushed him over the edge, milking him while the knot locked them together firmly.

It took them both a while to come back down to earth, just holding each other tightly while they breathed heavily into each other’s ear. Somehow, the simple feeling of the other’s breath against their skin felt so intimate that it almost felt as if they were still making love. Eventually, Asanao rolled over onto his back, tugging his lover with him so that they both ended up in a comfortable snuggle. They stayed like that, not speaking, for a long time while the alpha’s fingers stroked Ryo’s skin and hair softly, his eyes closed. When Ryo stirred a bit, he opened his eyes to look into dark pools full of the most important question there could ever be between them.

“Ready now?” Ryo whispered breathlessly, cradled against Asanao’s chest, clutching at him almost desperately.

Asanao thought about it for only a second before he smiled. “You know, I think I am,” he whispered back, holding Ryo tightly as the omega started crying.

. . . . .

Asanao was dreaming of Akinori again, as so often before. But this time, there was a difference.

The alpha was lying in bed with his arms around Ryo, much in the way they had fallen asleep. The omega was slightly puffy around the eyes from crying, but he had a beautiful smile on his lips as he slept with his head over Asanao’s heart. As the alpha looked up, Akinori came walking through the cabin without warning. He had a smile on his lips as he leaned down to press a light kiss to Ryo’s hair, before he turned to give his former mate a kiss on the lips. Asanao watched him silently as the omega straightened up, letting his fingers trail along the alpha’s jaw. He looked so incredibly loving as he whispered in Asanao’s ear. “Promise you’ll be happy, my love. I’ll keep an eye on you, always,” he breathed, before he turned around and walked away, blending into the shadows of the dark room until Asanao couldn’t see him any longer.

The alpha woke, disoriented, and pulled the covers down a bit so he could pop his head out and look around the cabin. It was completely empty, apart from the two of them in bed. He turned his face and watched Ryo’s sleeping face, suddenly feeling calm and collected again. This was his choice now, and he would stick with it, with this amazing omega in his arms. It would probably be a rocky road ahead, but it’d be worth it in the end.

He smiled to himself as he pulled the smaller body even closer and buried his face into soft hair, nuzzling Ryo’s neck as he went back to sleep.