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Never Say Die

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The student union smells like a pit of hormones.

It's not, what you'd call, a refined space. Not by any means. Mostly, it's crammed with the wild pheremones of unmated Alphas; pulsing in time with the music, eclipsing the regular waft of Beta and Omega scents. Mingling in your nose, it's unmistakable: bitter, raw spice. Woody. Other Alphas make your hair prickle - confined spaces and sweaty bodies make you want to claim out some territory. Bark at anyone who steps a little too close.

But this isn't undergraduate school. You're not walking into the pit of death.

Breathe.

"Vodka coke" Rey grins, handing you a rippled glass of dark liquid. She's got this look about her; the one all those Omegas do. Dark, short cut hair: femininity in the curve of her jaw. Her scent radiates life. Something crisp and beautiful and oddly feminine; decidedly radiant. She smells like fresh oranges, like sugar and scones and crisp apples. They all do - they all smell like that. Like something delectable. A delicious food; a warm comfort. You know plenty of Omegas - well, plenty of female ones.

Fucking figures.

You wrap your fingers around the cool glass; pulling it to your lips and downing it. A buzz in your pocket: two buzzes. Probably Finn filling up your voicemail box with drunken calls about seeing a cute dog or something.

"Gonna nip outside. There's..." you gesture with your hands eccentrically, earning a huffed laugh from Rey. She's good like that - the closest friend you've got, easily. She listens. Gets your erratic humour.

"Stay out of trouble, buddy. And if you see-"

"-Yeah, yeah. I've got it" you huff "go for the jugular."

She toasts you as you shuffle through the crowd; pulsing bodies rammed too close together. The booths are utterly squashed in: leather sticky with stale beer and old musky scents. Your head is nearly pounding in time with the music - is this place ever even cleaned down? Is disinfectant really that hard to come by?

But the balcony is so much better; the summer night air hitting your skin and cooling the sweat on your brow. Your dress flutters in the breeze. Nothing fancy - short and black. Red lipstick. A dash of eyeliner. You don't want any of these schmucks getting any ideas. It's not shameful; not even a little. Being an Alpha doesn't make you lesser. Maybe, when you were a teenager, that shit clung to you like a thin sheen of sweat - but times are changing. Female Alphas don't get shirked like they used to anymore. Hell, there's even some...some real and legitimate sense that you're something special. Something to be curated.

Which is easy for them to say. Easy for Betas to sit back and sip their lot. You're not ungrateful - you're not. The whole obsession with Alpha and Omega pairings being the only way to get by is gross and outdated and tasteless. 

That doesn't stop the pining, though.

"Thought you didn't like this place."

It's a voice that sends your lip curling; turning you to whirl around on the concrete floor as your hand braces yourself against the wooden balcony.

Ben fucking Solo.

"That's none of your business, Solo."

He licks his lip - and it fucks you off. Everything about him fucks you off, in some sort of...some sort of systemic domino effect of bullshit only he can pull off.

The guy's your absolute, grade A-type bullshit ass arrogant Alpha prick. Built like a brick house; ripping muscles all stuffed under a button up shirt. The top buttons are always just a little disheveled - as though he's trying to shove his scent glands right up into unsuspecting faces. Tousled black hair, pointed nose. Bumpy. Like he's broken it one too many times from putting it where it isn't wanted. Brown eyes. Pouty lips. Freckles.

He's hot - of course he's hot. He had to be hot, didn't he? He can't leave anything to chance. That's not how Ben Solo works. He doesn't do that whole fumbling student schtick you see in 9am tutorials. He's pressed, he's on time. Law student or something. Rich parents.

Prick. 

"Cat got your tongue?" he clucks, flashing a slight smirk at you as he shoves his hands in his pockets. His pheromones dart off in all directions: punchy and heady. Like dragging a spoon of cinnamon over your lips. Your Alpha senses keen upward: eyes heavy on his. Keep him in your gaze. If he lunges; you'll be faster.

"Sorry; I'm curious. Did my tone not spell it out for you? Won't you just fuck off?"

He mockingly rolls his eyes; chewing the inside of his cheek. His nostrils flare as he takes you in: no doubt weighing up how much he can torment you before you snap and bite off his head.

"Something I said?"

Your grip on the balcony railing tightens. A group of students shuffle by; Ben's tall form shuffles closer to you. 

Your chest threatens a rumble.

"She was cut up, you know" you spit, pulling up an index finger and jabbing it at his chest. "You spend three weeks following her around like she's your one and only, and then her heat comes and you promise to be there, and you just...dissolve? Without so much as a text?"

Rage darts from your pores; heady and thick. You can almost smell it yourself - you imagine half the Alphas at this bar can smell it, too. Soaking into the walls.

Ben doesn't flinch.

"If you're so worried" he shrugs, brow darting upward "you're her best friend. Why don't you just-"

You fucking tried. You tried. But you hear the air leave Ben's lungs as you throw him up against the brickwork; fisting at the top of his collar as your chest heaves. His pupils dilate thickly; anger, surprise. He's surprised. Part of you knows that's the only reason you were able to force him back up to the wall - he's probably two hundred pounds, easily. He could easily just throw you from the ledge of the balcony.

Scents dance in your periphery. You're drawing an audience. Alpha fighting Alpha. It's a dance as old as dances can be.

"Shut up" you hiss; baring your teeth as you lean up on the balls of your feet. "Before I rip your throat out through your nose."

Ben's pheromones are point blank shooting you in the face; and now you're closer, they're...entangled. Plasticky. The cinnamon smells like that shitty syrup you get in coffee shops - it's marred with chemical dryness that oozes from the pores in his neck. It's a smell that comes with blockers - illegal blockers. They help Alphas stop rutting on every poor Omega in their periphery. But Ben's are disgustingly strong - which just about figures. Figures he'd be a sex addict.

He eyes you with a heaving chest; projecting threatening undertones, challenging you to act.

You're so sick of him.

"You smell like shitty blockers" you growl. "They're illegal. Or do you not give a fuck about the law so long as you're the one applying it?"

It's absolutely one hundred percent not something anyone in civil society would ever, ever bring up. But you've snapped - you're too far gone. Rey is wonderful; she's your closest friend, and he'd rather see her treated like dirt than admit his own misgivings or fears. He deserves this. Worse than this.

Something fractures. Ben's pupils swallow his iris; his scent scatters. In that momentary weight of shock, his head dips just enough that his gland is exposed to you - exposed just enough that it's a subconscious victory. Submission keens at his spine as you hum deep in your chest; adrenaline flooding you as his pheromones relent to yours. It must be humiliating for him - an Alpha so arrogant, so highly regarded - to submit to your gritty gaze.

"They're legal" he says dryly.

You scoff; letting go of his shirt.

"Right."

And just like that: Ben's gaze drifts to the crowds. Away from you. Eyes down. It's victory; you can taste it.

"Tell me why, then" you shrug angrily, folding your arms over your chest "if you're not hiding anything: tell me why."

Alpha voice breaks through: and Ben's hands shake in his pockets. He's trying to fight it; trying to fight a direct order from a victorious sparring partner.

His plush lip trembles. You're acutely aware of just how anxious he is - just how much he's suddenly, irrevocably fearful under your watch. It's something heady and odd and dangerous - something you don't quite understand. Perhaps he's not the arrogant prick you see him for.

"...Don't ask me to do that" he whines. He tries so, so hard to use his Alpha voice - but it's a mess. His voice wavers as though he's a teenage boy - wavering with uncertainty, with darting inflections. It only weakens his position as he huffs a breath, trying to move away from you and back into the safety of the pulsing bar.

You maintain your gaze. Lip set. Jaw square.

Ben pushes away from the wall; and in a moment of madness, you grasp his wrist.

His pulse flutters so wildly under your hand that it muddies your brain. Your fingers can barely lapse the muscle of his arms; they're huge, bulging things. Hands large and calloused. But even so; you grip as hard as you can. Thumb on his wrist scent gland, an automatic motion with no bearing on any attempts to control him whatsoever. But everything swerves. His dark waves of hair fall across his forehead as he weakly tugs his wrist; as though your grip is iron and not the weakest response imaginable.

His dark eyes are almost raw. He's vibrating with energy; shuddering and shaking in his shirt at your demand. What the fuck? Is he really that high on blockers that your scent is knocking him this hard?

The most embarrassing whimper cuts his throat: low and dark and desperately anxious. The plasticky smell almost seems eclipsed by a whole new curl of fragrances; too fast for you to comprehend. Spicy, delicious, intolerably strange. Synthetic and not. Laced with so many drugs that confusion rattles your gut.

"Alpha" he groans, squeezing his eyes shut as his breathing comes in thick and fast "please".

And just like that; your grip releases. Shock radiates from you as you watch his broad back dart for the exit.

He doesn't look back.

Chapter Text

The nurse's office is astoundingly bright white.

It feels like being a kid, staring off at the TV as static claws at the background. The white bits burn onto your vision: white plaster walls, greyish cloud cover from the pretty white window. Your hand thumps unceremoniously, as if to remind you not to get too comfortable.

The click from the doorway sends your head shooting up; her thick brown hair pulled back and eyes darting through your chart. She flips through blood work results as though she's working through an explanation. When her brow starts actively jolting downward as she taps a nail on one number, you start to feel a little tense.

"Would you mind if I ask you some questions?"

Oh shit.

"Sure, of course." You try to flash a winning smile. Judging by the way her lip curves downward: it only works in part.

She takes a seat opposite you, tucking in her white blouse and fumbling for a pen. Your hand aches again, and you glare at it like it's screwing you over.

"You won't get in trouble" she swallows "this is all entirely confidential. But I need to know, miss, if you've been using any unprescribed hormone therapies."

Your blood runs cold.

What the f-

"I've-" you try to get the words out, but there's a lump in your throat the size of Jupiter "-no. I've never used...not anything. I mean, I'm not even on blockers-"

"-And you've never used any prescribed medications intended for use by another designation to alter, deteriorate or otherwise impact symptoms of your designation?"

Of course you haven't. Jesus Christ. What is this? You're here for a fucking allergic reaction to hand cream. This is absurd.

"Never." You shuffle uncomfortably, feeling sweat on your brow. "What's wrong with me? I thought I had an allergic reaction?"

The nurse looks like she's not entirely convinced. She scribbles something out, then jots down a note in the margin of your chart.

"You did. To Fluoxymesterone mixed into Sartarogen. It's a drug combination that's illegal to prescribe, with exception to very specific cases. In some female Alphas, it causes burning, skin degradation, early onsets of ruts and more long-term impacts if untreated."

What.

"How...But I haven't..."

"You haven't come into contact with anyone you suspect could be using Sartarogen to scramble their scent, have you? Sudden increases in vasopressin can cause men to sweat it out and trigger its half-life, which could have rubbed onto your skin."

Contact. Scent. Skin. Illegal. Burning.

Ben. Ben fucking Solo. You grabbed his goddamn wrist five days ago.

WIth the same hand that now looks like you grabbed a red-hot poker iron.

You're going.

To fucking.

Kill.

Him.


 

Ben's office is in the much nicer, much fancier part of the law building that you've been in. One of the walls to the corridor is entirely made up of glass: from here, you can see a city sprawled forth like a rich tapestry of colour. It's a lot nicer than yours - hell, even the vending machines in the rec rooms of your building don't even work. You've got to rugby tackle them just to get one of those mini-Mars bars from the flappy dispensing bit.

Your boots on the carpet sound, in your ears, like the drums of war. You hope the whole floor can hear you pounding: wrath incarnate. Alpha Woman, here to take her prize and leave him dead in the dirt. Anger is your closest ally: it melts through the pores in your skin, even in the broken, red-chapped parts of your palm. It's feeling much better now - antihistamines have leeched the poison from your fingertips. But there's still the threat that it'll screw your cycle over, which is awesome. Super, super awesome. It's not like you need to schedule weeks off for that sort of thing well ahead of time; no, no. 

You're going to rip his pretty Alpha dick off.

You give a rap on his door, knocking it as though it might fall off the hinges. A brief pause makes you wonder if he's already left for the day - but then the handle clicks.

Today, he's gone for all-black. Black t-shirt, black jeans. The shirt is practically indecent: it shows a myriad of sins as it sticks to his torso, flush against the muscle of his chest. Hair looking unkempt. Burgundy shoes.

He's a walking pin-up for Alphas. He looks like he could break your spine without breaking so much as a sweat in the process.

He runs his fingertips through his hair nervously; leaning against the door frame.

"What do you want?"

He can probably smell your hostility. Smell that you're pissed the fuck off. Smell that you want to be here about as much as he does. The guy's eyes look almost bruised from sleeplessness - worse than you've ever seen it. You've got to wonder whether the faculty cutbacks are taking a strain on his sleeping patterns, or whether there's something else keeping him up at night.

You swallow thickly. It crackles in your throat - the angry, bitter vindication you were feeling as you marched down the corridor dying in the wake of the man before you. He's not going to listen to you. He won't let you in. Not unless you're willing to play ball.

"Can I come in?"

Ben's face scrunches up at your question: scrunches up in a way you don't quite understand.

"I'd...rather you didn't."

Oh. La dee da. We'd all like a lot of things.

You make a hitched, frustrated noise.

"It's important."

It's not quite Alpha voice - but it's close. Close enough that Ben's body language stiffens like he knows he's being threatened. But he doesn't push the issue, even as he moves back from the door to let you in.

It's nice. Less neat than you'd expected. Piles of books on the counter; awards lining the walls. Framed publications. Who frames their publications? The guy must be reeking of self-confidence. The last publication you managed to get pressed ended up on the 'never look at again' pile. Various hot tea packets on a little shelf affixed to one of the walls. Almond milk. He's got a stack of papers to grade lined up on his desk neatly; and it makes you think of all the good reviews he gets from tutoring. He's more human than you gave him credit for.

But the smell - it's the smell that knocks you back to square one. It's overwhelmingly strong - syrupy cinnamon. Less plastic; so much less. It's warm on the roof of your mouth in a way that should make your stomach curl; but it doesn't. The artificial, sticky burning smell is all but gone. Ben's natural scent is so much less invasive than you'd have ever thought it to be. Almost comforting. Soft.

You go to close the door, to click it shut as is custom.

Ben almost growls.

"Leave it."

So you do - you leave his door ajar and go to sit on the plastic seat on the other side of his desk. He must be worried you'll murder him, you think. Not off the cards at this point. He takes a seat at his desk; his cheeks flushed red. Chest barely moving. Like he's...waiting.

"I need to know, Ben."

He doesn't look at you; brown eyes in his lap as he sucks at the inside of his lip nervously. Pheromones dart around him - they're too sticky with plasticky drug residue for you to have a read on. Something's blocking your ability to actually sift through his emotional state, you now realise. It's subtle, very subtle - subtle enough that you expect, if  you weren't looking for it, it'd go totally unnoticed. 

"Know what?"

You huff a laugh: leaning an elbow on your knee as your flex your fingers.

"I know you're on Sarta-whatever. When I grabbed your scent gland, I got an allergic reaction. You're lucky I don't sue."

Ben shoots up from his chair; staggering backwards towards the wall of glass. His fingerprints push against it as though he's trying to sink back into it.

"No, no no" he chants under his breath, dark eyes rimmed red with swallowed tears "Christ, no...I can't be...That's not..."

You're so stunned that it's hard to focus on the way his panic taints the air; the way it tastes like bitter lemon and wild discomfort. Somehow, all notions of anger fly out of the window: all of it. All of the legitimately directed feelings that he's conjured up just...dissipate. It's unnerving, really. How quickly his tone snapping back pushes you into unfamiliar territory.

You don't know what to say. Your mouth stays firmly clamped shut: watching as Ben's chest tries to take in air. He looks like a caged animal: pupils wide, scrambling in his office like a cornered cat, looking to claw out of its skin.

Shakily, he paws at his hair: thick black locks running through his fingers. His eyes squeeze shut; with one shaky breath, he pulls himself together just enough.

"I've got a prescription" he says, licking at his cracked lips "I've had one since I was fifteen. It's not...Shit, you must've thought I..."

"Thought what?"

He pauses, biting at the words.

"Was abusing it or..." he groans, running his hand over his face, the crook of his nose. "Oh fuck, that's why I've been so lightheaded. I thought it was just the weather but it's not, it's not, I knew this would happen sooner or later and it's happening now and I don't know what to do!"

You palm at your hand; watching as the ridges of healing skin pucker at your touch. It's not his fault. He's not abusing it. It's not his fault. He didn't know.

It's not his fault.

Shit.

"How..." you swallow "...Ben, what does it do?"

Ben stills. Stills as his eyes fall to yours; fall to yours with such intensity they feel as though they're burning through you. Dark chocolate against the palest white of his skin. Somewhere on the wall, a clock slowly ticks off, plastic on plastic as the cogs click into place.

His movements are slow - they're so slow. Slow as he moves on shaky legs across the room, clasping and unclasping his palms. With a soft push, he closes the door; pushing his muscled back to it. The guy's 6ft 3; an Alpha. And you're suddenly acutely aware he's got you caged in this little office-

"Don't" he says quietly "I'm not going to hurt you. I just need to..." he chews his plush lip. "See. See if this is just a momentary lapse. Look, I know you hate me. You have every right to. But I want to try something. I'm not going to touch you at all."

Alpha voice. It shudders over you in waves; he's telling. And you're fine with that: you genuinely are. Ben Solo might be a dick, and he might've caused you incredible annoyance - but now you just want to know. You have to know.

"No funny business" you warn, stumbling to your feet. Your boots feel clammy: heart all up in your ears. Nervous. He's making you so fucking nervous.

Ben doesn't laugh. His approach is cautious: his scent rising, burning on your tongue as his shoes scuff the carpet. His dark hair drifts in wafts as the air conditioner moves through the room: soft waves on the ocean. Midnight black and shining.

Freckles dust the bridge of his nose; the sound of his breathing just lightly wisping through the space between you. His lips tremble just enough to pull you closer; gravity bringing you to him, drawing you in. You're suddenly, acutely aware that beneath the layers of taut muscle and hard bone, there's something...beautiful. Soft. Intense.

"Ben..." you swallow cautiously; his forehead dipping lightly as he stands a hairs breadth away. Being in this proximity, so close to another Alpha: you should be fearful. Should be. But you can't help yourself; you dip your head lightly, letting him catch the spicy scent at the join between your neck and shoulder.

"Shit" he whispers - so quietly you're not even sure he's said it at all. "Oh God."

He's unstable - so unstable on his feet. Vibrating like a live wire as he takes in your scent: sipping it like it's soothing an ache so acute that there's nothing else for it.

And it's like wildfire. Wildfire as it careens through you: sudden and hard and blisteringly warm. In the wake of your presence, the chemical fragrance is burned away to nothing - burned away as it has been over the last few days, ever since you grasped his scent glands. And fuck, fuck: Ben Solo smells like heaven incarnate. Cinnamon buns, warm chai lattes. Hot chocolates on cold nights. Log cabins and warm firesides and cider at Christmas.

It echoes through your bones: your whole being shuddering as you lock eyes with his. Deep black pupils, framed by lashes; cheeks dusted with blush.

It's chemistry. It's biology.

Like pieces falling into place.

"Who else knows?" you tremble; fingertips reaching out to skim the trace of his bicep in his shirt. His eyes stay locked on yours: lips slightly parted at your ministrations. You just...need to touch him. Need this to be real. It's more biology than conscious want by now - it's reactionary.

A whimper hits the back of his throat.

"My parents. My doctor. A few close friends. I've..." his eyes flutter shut; swallow cracking at his throat "...had an ex-girlfriend. A Beta. She knew. I've never met..."

A female Alpha my own age. 

You laugh quietly; taking in his scent. Fuck. It's getting stronger the more you skim his shirt: the more you let yourself be taken by the moment.

"Me neither. That is, I've never met an..."

Ben's eyes squeeze shut. Anxiety - he's anxious.

"You can say it" he breathes, brow furrowing. "I want you to."

And you want to - you do. It's like your brain knows; knows that if you say it, it'll give him something intangible. Something just out of his reach.

"Omega. Like you."

 

Chapter Text

"Hey there, hot stuff."

Poe sidles up with this slanted half-smile, this award-winning-publication-producing-grin that just makes you grip the flute of your champagne glass a little too tightly. He's all confidence in a grey suit; hair slicked and brown eyes that never give a thing away. If you were getting that much money on grants, who knows? Maybe you'd be half as cocky as this guy.

Fucking engineers.

You down the fizzy liquid, cocking a brow. There's some sort of weird celebratory gig for the new Vice-Chancellor on: the champagne is comped, which almost makes up for the very average company and very dreadful funding proposals.

"Did you say something?" you scowl.

Poe's smirk just tilts up further - all Alpha, no humility. He's not a bad guy, he's just...a lot. And judging by the way his gaze strokes your throat, he's got some pretty big notions about Alpha-on-Alpha pairings. Maybe it'd turn him on if you threw him onto the buffet table and broke his skull: break him out in a rut if you bit his stupid hand off.

Decisions, decisions.

"I hear you tore Solo a new one at the Union. Really tore his balls off." Poe shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants, shrugging. "Pretty hot."

"Yeah," you sniff. "He bothered me with inane shit while I was trying to have a quiet drink."

Poe doesn't take the hint.

"Yeah well, guy thinks he's the next Big Thing. Every cross faculty meeting with the guy about the faculty mergers is fucking--"

Poe's smirk dies down as Rey's heels click on the marble floor, her hair curled at the ends in pretty flicks that catch the low lighting just so. Sunshine orange scent swirls in the warm air, and you're immediately perking up. It's just so...so easy with her. Maybe it's biological, or maybe it's just the way she is. But there's a simplicity in things around her - it's refreshing. Nice.

She wraps you in a tight hug, and your heart picks up just a little. Can't help it - Omega scents just do that.

"Sorry. Parking was terrible. Ran out of spare change and then the machine ate my ticket." Her eyes dart to Poe, her throat bobbing. "Dameron."

Poe's pupils dilate just a little bit.

"Rey."

The balance in the conversation is thrown off just a little bit by the dynamic: Poe's scent sitting on the roof of your mouth and making your hair stand on end. It's something you get used to in some ways, but there's an atmosphere that literally can't be worked around. Nature is a bitch.

Poe leans back a little further against the wall. "Saw your paper in the Cambridge Archeological Journal last week. Looked good. Congrats."

Oh. This is unbelievably awkward.

"...Oh. Thanks."

Instinctively, you scan the room for the nearest tray of champagne. Any excuse to make a dash, any excuse to just--

Poe beats you to it.

"Cool, yeah. I'm just..." he gestures at something, steps sloppy as he pushes off and strides away as though he's searching for any bastion he can in a storm of stunted conversation. Rey's wide eyes slowly meet yours...

And you both burst out laughing.

"What was that?" you gasp, eyes beading from laughter. "Is he okay?"

Rey blots her mascara with her finger.

"Ever since we went to that networking conference last year he's been totally emotionally constipated around me. Think walking in on me getting changed might've had something to do with it?"

You grin, puffing up your chest mockingly and putting your thumbs up. "Saw you in the nude in Amsterdam. Looked good. Congrats!"

Rey swats you with her palm, but her resulting laugh lights up her face, pushing crinkles to the corners of her eyes. Somewhere off in the background, a delicate piano solo plays: the room is starting to fill out and God, the scents in here are swirling enough to make your mind start to jumble. It's always like this - what's with academia and hiring so many damned Alphas that don't get how to use spray blockers?

"Ugh." Rey gags, hiding her face. "Prick at 6'oclock."

The smile on your face fades as you swivel, leaning over your shoulder across the packed ballroom to get a look through the crowd. Through the sea of pretty formal wear, there's one man standing taller than the rest: charcoal suit hugging at his thick muscles, tie loose around his collar.

Ben Solo.

He looks like a damned movie star - he's got these eyebrows that are so strong, lips that are so full. Hell, his hair is just like that? Where is the humanity?

Ben adjusts his cufflinks, smiling politely as one of the older lecturers leans in to say something brief. A strand of his hair flicks over his face, and you've got this sudden compulsion to just--

"Are you ok?"

Rey is staring at you as you whip back around, the look on her face crinkling into worry. You realise you must've been staring for a lot longer than you thought.

Crap. Crap.

"Uh, yeah." You lick your lips, regaining composure. "Just been a long week."

You don't know if you're imagining the feeling of dark eyes on your back. You're not sure you want to.


 

The rain is relentless.

 It beats down on the concrete as you lean back in the marble alcove, staring out across the city skyline. Clouds obscure the stars, the smell of cold night air lingering on the roof of your mouth. You're far enough away from everyone now: far enough away that you can catch your breath for a moment. Give yourself a short reprieve before you head back in.

Nobody will come looking for you out here - it's out of the way. Rain will scare them off.

Good.

This feeling in your stomach won't abate: it curls up there, something of an unease that makes you feel off. You scratch at the back of your neck, your gland twitching and sending tingles through your skin. The weather does this: makes you all nervous, all out of sorts when the storms roll in.

You shiver with the weight of it.

The sound of boots on the wet concrete make you snap up, folding your arms and rubbing to maintain warmth as you shimmy deeper into the alcove. There's a splash: the sound of someone rushing through a puddle. 

Ben.

His hair is dripping in the darkness, running rivers down his cheeks and setting little droplets on his lashes. The white of his undershirt sticks to every crease of muscle, and you just want to...

"Nice night," he huffs against the drumming of the rain, shoving his hands in his pockets and standing alongside you. He really is huge. Huge, for a--

"Don't tell me," you thumb at the sleeve of your dress, sucking your lip. "You're escaping the speeches."

Ben chuckles, and you realise--fuck. He has a damned nice laugh. Low, baritone: it reverberates deep in his chest as he kicks a stray pebble with the heel of his boot.

"What gave me away?"

"Well it's not like you're here for the pleasure of my company."

Ben's smile dies down, his face hardening as he swallows. For a few brief moments, he follows your gaze out across the skyline: then, with a slow movement, his eyes shift over to you. Lingering on the side of your face. Lingering on you.

When you turn to him: he snaps away again.

A shiver finds its way at the base of your spine - your feet shift.

And he slowly shrugs off his jacket.

"You're cold," Ben licks his lips, shuffling closer to you. "Here."

You make a move to protest, but it dies in the wake of the warmth embracing your shoulders. The charcoal suit jacket is far too big for you; the sleeves drape limply at your hips, the collar dipping low.

But God, the smell of it. The smell of it.

It's like everything wonderful rolled into one--intense, so intense. Warmth and cinnamon and richness, tart and lightly spiced and homely. Instinctively, you sniff the collar, and Jesus. You're never giving this jacket back. Ever. To anyone.

You hug the shoulders closer, bringing it in to your core. Has anyone ever smelled this good?

Ben's lips part, his expression unreadable, eyelids heavy with something. He seems to be just...lingering next to you. The rain hammers; you inhale his gorgeous jacket, and he's just...there. He runs a calloused hand through his hair, the watch on his wrist glinting in the far-off light.

Nervous. Excited. Nervous.

His scent flickers between emotions that seem to sharpen and falter with every breath he inhales. His mind is racing in time with his pulse: he's caught somewhere else.

You can smell it on him.

You can...smell it on him?

"You..." there's a lump in your throat, and shit, this is inappropriate, but at this point... "you stopped your suppressants?"

Ben's eyes flit out into the distance. After what seems like an eternity, he gives a subtle nod.

"Four days ago."

Oh. Wow.

His brow quirks, and he inhales sharply as he does a little half shrug.

"I've wanted to change them for a while. This was just...proof. Proof they've run their course."

He doesn't sound quite so certain. His scent fluctuates with fleeting anxiety, tart on the roof of your mouth in a way that makes you antsy, makes the hairs prickle on your neck. The rain drums harder still; Ben stares at his shoes, swallowing hard enough that you can see his throat bob in the dim light.

You sigh.

"I do feel a little guilty..."

"--Don't."

And he says it with such certainty, such conviction, that oh: it's gone. Just like that.

"You know," you fold up your arms, letting his suit jacket envelop you in its delicate scent "Poe tried to come onto me earlier. In the middle of the damn crowd. Ballsiest move."

Ben's brow furrows, his eyes darkening.

"Dameron?"

"Mmmmm."

Ben runs a palm through his hair: this time, it's a quick, irritated thing.

"Asshole" he mutters.

You try to hide your smile by stretching out your lips, but it's a fleeting victory as it crinkles at the corners.

"You don't approve?" you jest, picking your heel up off the floor and giving him a playful, soft kick on the thigh.

He almost growls.

"No," he spits, gritting his teeth. "Not exactly."

You flick your wrist dismissively, earrings jingling. "He's not really my type."

Ben's head snaps around: wet shirt clinging to his muscles in the low light. A trail of water drips down his cheek, falling to his collar in a way that makes him look so devastatingly handsome. There's something in his stare - something hopeful.

"Because he's an asshole?"

You lick your lips.

"That's not the main reason, no."

Ben takes a step towards you: his boots splashing on the concrete. His scent dances in the air, and crap, it's good, it's so good.

His nostrils flare, and yes. You can see he's caught yours: see how his eyes darken and his cheeks grow rosier from the pounding in his veins.

"Because he's an Alpha?"

You hug his jacket close, your heartbeat speeding up. Somewhere off in the distance, thunder illuminates the sky in a flash of white.

"I've got nothing against screwing an Alpha."

Ben steps forward, and Christ: his nose is almost skimming the curve of your jaw as he leans in. The thick, rich waves that roll from him now cause you to shudder - cause your gland to ache and tingle with something you've never felt in all your life.

Compatible. He's so compatible.

"Ben..."

He breathes in--this shaky, pained breath--and a quiet groan leaves him. His entire body trembles, every muscle suspended.

Waiting.

"Me." It's breathless, it's almost soundless: punched from him in the darkness like the weight of the stars is pushing down on his chest, "this. You--oh God, I--you want this. You want me."

Your veins ignite as you nod, desperate and keening, and in one fluid movement: you crush your lips to his.

If the scent of him was incredible, the taste. God, the taste makes you whimper against him and wind your hands through his hair, pulling at his dark locks hard enough that he pushes closer to you, closer still. Eventually your back hits the marble column, and Ben can't help himself: his body pushes flush to yours as your neck cranes against the smooth marble. Through his thin suit pants you can feel a hardness--your brain reels at the thought of it.

Omega cock. So close.

Holy shit.

"Please" Ben groans against your mouth, fumbling as his lips slide to push against your jaw. "Please, please."

"You're so good, Ben. So good--"

He thrusts against you, and your whole body burns with the weight of his scent, his touch, the thick muscles that push against you. This is electricity, it's lightning, it's fire incarnate.

"I've..." Ben's hair licks at your cheek, his nose tickling your jaw "...I've stayed up every night, every fucking night since that day at the Union. Christ, every night I've pumped my cock raw to the taste of your scent on the roof of my mouth and I--" he shudders, and fuck, fuck, you might just cum here, just cum here if this incredible Omega just keeps pushing you like this "--fuck, there's slick in my jeans. I haven't made slick in...I don't know but God, I can feel it, feels so fucking--"

Your gland is starting to itch like crazy; it's wild and it's confusing and you're losing sense and time and all semblance of reality.

"Kiss my gland." You're keening to him, tilting your neck "I need you to, Ben."

And it's the Alpha voice: it's there in your chest. Ben's whole body stiffens, his heart picking up as he gives in to the command that speaks to his very bones. His lips find the ridges and whirls of your gland, the patch of skin on your neck...

Eagerly, he sucks.

And everything turns bright white.

You cum like that; pressed against that archway. His cock hard against you, his lips hungrily sucking as he groans like a parched man finding water in the desert. You writhe and keen and sob from it; too far gone to cover the noises that fall from your lips. Ben's body arches over you, and his scent is rolling with it: yes, yes. His teeth can't help but move against you, making your legs threaten to give out as the rain pounds in time with your blood.

Somewhere over the sounds of the rain; a door opens. Chattering growing closer, filling the air as you bathe in the afterglow, underwear soaked and eyes drooping as Ben sucks rhythmically.

"We have to go" you whisper huskily "Ben, we have to go back. I have papers to pick up from Kaydel--"

Ben slowly moves from your gland, breathing sharply from the effort. He seems to ache in every movement: uncontrolled and wanting, pulling away with such reluctance that your heart burns.

"I'm sorry," you murmur quietly, leaning your forehead against his "I want to keep going. I want--"

"If I had cum now," he whispers urgently, kissing your cheek "It might've...crap, I felt like I was going to...it was going to..."

Oh.

Oh, God. You know he doesn't want that.

Know what that would mean.

You tear your eyes away, out to the pouring rain, and it physically hurts you.

"Go." Ben swallows. "I'll be fine."

"What about you?"

He laughs breathily.

"There's slick in my jeans and my gland's up. I'll take my chances in my apartment."

Slick in his jeans. Fuck. Fuck.

"I'll call" you swallow thickly "I'll...I'll call you."

Ben kisses you once more: plush lips red and swollen as he licks into your mouth. When he pulls away, you groan in protest. He backs off like every step is agony, like every moment is acid in his veins.

"You'd better."

And then you're left alone in the little alcove: smelling of Omega, dripping wet with cum and rain...

Ben Solo's jacket draped around your shoulders.

Chapter Text

"I'm not going."

Maz takes a deep sigh behind her desk: a clock with little cats on it ticking over to the hour. She's kind and gentle and sweet and old, so old, and with a mindset that matches a time long before - when the world had a landscape far different from the one that stretches before you.

She understands, of course. Mentored you through undergraduate - knows the score. Knows from your papers how much this feels like your hand being forced.

Understanding won't get you grant funding, though.

Doesn't put bread on the table.

"I can't make you, you know. We both know that'd be a lost cause." She thumbs the paper handle on her teabag, warm steam fogging her thick glasses. "But the opportunity is invaluable. To present your findings at this specific conference--"

"--In Jackson."

Maz sips her tea. "In Jackson."

You don't even know where to start.

"Do you know," you lick your lips, irate "what they do to aberrants in Jackson, Maz? Did you even read my dissertation, or did you just palm it off to the ethics committee?"

Anger bubbles. Seethes beneath your skin, prickling on your gland - red hot, fizzing in the air. It's not her, not really: it's the world. It's the game you play and the pieces you line up: it's the way you find a thousand inescapable runs of luck in being born here. Here, in this state, and not somewhere else. Not in the far flung reaches of the law; not in the clutches of a backwards government.

The inescapable run of luck that you're not an aberrant designation born in Jackson, Mississippi.

"Female Alphas are in no danger from the Mississippi State Department. You know that."

You grit your teeth. "Not my point. And you know it isn't."

Maz's eyes crinkle as she drums her fingers against the side of her mug.

"You have an opportunity to influence state policy. We're already sending half of the law faculty, some from medicine. Consider the good it could do - the good your work could do, across designations and state lines. It's a chance to see it put into public focus."

That's enough. This is enough.

You sweep up your files and book bag in your arms; teeth grinding and heart pounding as you grunt an acknowledgement. Outside, the sun dries off wet tiles, shiny from the rain - littering the campus with the scent of dull brickwork. Betas twine their fingers with Omegas on the way to economics class: an Alpha laughs as he ties his shoelace on the lawn.

You throw the door open, stepping into the sunlight.

Fuck this.


The hotel lobby is pristine.

Sharply edged, all grey-and-green couches at weird angles and glass coffee tables. Looks like a kid took a leaf from The Sims 3 and decided to start shoving in sets from "Deco Interior", what with the globe lights that hang ridiculously low. It's all very Not What You Expected while also being Exactly What You Feared You'd One Day See, and there's no escaping that dawning realisation as your suitcase rattles over marble.

The band around your wrist clinks - silver plated and stupidly overdone, a bold "A" with "♀" printed next to it like some sort of ridiculous bangle. There's a red LED at the back somewhere that seems to blink in some sophisticated manner: and Lord Above, You Are Going To Rip This Fucking Thing Off So Hard--

"Good evening, maam. Do you have a reservation?"

Her petite little fingernails tap on the keyboard, and look: no band. Nothing.

Must be nice.

"Oh, yes. Sorry. I've got my pass right--"

Your band clinks as you try to rumage through your coat pocket, and despite herself, the woman behind the counter gives this flashed smile of sympathy. It's fleeting - but you're sure you didn't imagine it. Right?

Surely not everyone here can look at you with the same scorn the guy at airport security did when he snapped that band on your wrist?

Surely not.

You hand her the slip: she takes it and types away. When she's done with whatever administrational work is required, she palms you a crappy looking keycard with the letters "302" on the front. Lime green and grey - always lime green and grey. Maybe Jackson has a penchant for Ikea.

Probably not, actually.

"Door's up on the lifts to the right. Breakfast starts at 8am, and room service ends at midnight. Alcohol is only permitted between 4pm and 10pm, and must remain in the restaurant area for..." and she actually pauses like this isn't something she expects to say, like the words bite at her lips as she tries to make the right shape, make the-- "...individuals on your floor, ma'am. We hope that's not too inconvenient."

So no minibar, then. What's even the point in this trip if there's no minibar? Are they at least comping the coffee? Does Hux get a minibar, for having a degree in being buttered toast levels of normal?

This trip already sucks, and the panel doesn't even start until tomorrow.

Swiping your key (with slightly more aggression than intended) you make it through the lift doors.

And the weirdest thought hits you: there's no scent in here at all. Nothing. Like the whole thing has been sprayed down with bleach: right from the airport to the lobby, from the plane to the elevator. It's like walking through a town with only disinfectant as company - only stale air and grey carpets.

Your room is bland as the rest of it: green sheets, grey carpet, single window. Painting of a flower that looks like a child did it...

Hey! Free coffee!

You dump your suitcase at the end of the bed, examining the mug and the little brown packets. It's instant, and it's old, and it's...

Decaf. It's fucking decaf.

So what, Alphas don't even get caffeine in this state? Where's the UN?! Isn't this a violation of human rights?

You rifle through the packets with annoyance that makes your mouth prickle - this bubble of legitimate hysteria that coils in your throat, threatening to spill over. Interior decorating and coffee aren't the point, are they? That's not the reason you feel this...this sense of submersion. Because Jesus, this isn't the world. Except it is - it's real for these people. So many states now scramble to repeal protective statutes for Alphas and Omegas - it had been getting better. It had been, and it was...it was fine.

It's fine - until it isn't.

Your phone buzzes aggressively - one vibrate, then two. Light flashing as you huff a breath and plonk down onto the crisp sheets; eyeing off the texts in your inbox.

Ben (Uni): Hey

Ben (Uni): Here yet?

Oh...he's here? You...You hadn't expected that, somehow. It snaps into your mind that Maz told you legal was attending, and crap - of course. Of course he'd be here.

Wait - can he be here? Is that allowed? There aren't...aren't any...

There's a reason Omegas aren't invited here. And so it sets you to wondering all sorts of things.

Wondering whether he's safe.

You hesitate on the buttons, one hand itching your gland with an antsy movement.

You: Just got here

You: Super weird flight

Ben texts back pretty much instantly.

Ben (Uni): Yeah

Ben (Uni): Wouldn't even give me a Coke on the plane

Ben (Uni): We're at an Italian place two blocks away from the hotel

Your heart picks up, somehow. Sheepishly, you bite your nails: blood rushing to your face as you fumble to grab your deoderant from your purse.

You: We?

And he doesn't respond instantly - doesn't respond and it's...it's darker, harder to see through a fog that claws at you. 'We' can mean anything: 'We' can mean the whole of the US Navy, can mean 'Me And The Receptionist From The Lobby'.

It can mean 'Me And A Gorgeous Blonde Alpha', and that's the one that makes your stomach curl.

Ben (Uni): Poe

Ben (Uni): Hux

Ben (Uni): Phasma from Pharm

Ben (Uni): Some guys from Arizona 

Ben (Uni): Don't know who else

Oh thank God. Thank God for stupid Poe fucking Dameron and all the boring drones that tend to gravitate to him.

You: Oh

You: Cool

You try to be relaxed. Try to maintain this aura of not giving a toss as you spray on some deodorant, fishing out your mirror and touching up your lipstick. You'll pretend not to know what he's getting at - see if that prompts him.

You want it to prompt him.

Ben (Uni): Sorry, not being clear

Ben (Uni): Come join?

And then there's a brief pause.

Ben (Uni): Would be really nice to see you

Oh. Your heart skips a little: flutters under the weight of that admission in a way you're not used to. Ben Solo, making your heart skip and your gland itch. Now there's something you would never have seen coming, those weeks ago. It's a little dangerous here: a little more scandalous.

You can't deny that makes it even more delicious.

You: Give me 15

You: I'll meet you there

Ben (Uni): :)


 

He's so fucking handsome.

It's Hell, and it's Heaven, and it's everything in between: every stupid thing your teenage self would've craved in the long nights alone. In the space between ruts - what if you'd had Ben Solo, just for a moment? Just to press your lips to, when it all became too much?

He's wearing this soft navy sweater - a lighter blue collar pokes out from underneath, just a bit disheveled on its way up his neck. His hair is glossier, thicker, darker than you've ever seen it: his cheeks flushed as he swigs from a green beer bottle. The bracelet on his wrist jingles, clinks against the glass as his plush lips find the top.

The bracelet flashes red. "A" is plain on the front.

Oh my God.

He's still fronting as an Alpha. His paperwork's uncorrected.

He must be using short-term blockers or suppressants or something, something to keep up appearances. How? How is he doing this? It's so, so much work.

Your heart aches for him.

You clutch your purse as you shuffle to the table - the warm ambiance of the restaurant putting you at ease somewhat. Scents mingle: finally, finally. Alpha scents - familiar ones. This place smells of fresh baked breads and deep spices, spices that would usually have you gritting on edge.

Now there's relief. Comfort in the irritation. Even Poe Dameron - whose scent makes your whole jaw prickle with anger - is a welcome sight as you slide into the rickety chair opposite Ben. He eyes you with a flush of relief; something akin to a nervous smile that you return for a brief moment.

Care is important here. Caution, too, is something to be savoured. At best, you and Ben being too familiar will be office gossip when you get home. At worst? Two "Alphas" showing intimate familiarity might provoke something from the locals. Could draw attention to Ben he doesn't need.

These lies are tenuous. Dangerous.

Treacherous.

"Hey there hot stuff."

Ugh. Poe.

You grab a paper menu and immediately put it up as a barrier as Poe slides in next to you: drumming his fingers on the wooden table and flicking at the corner of your page. He's like a kid - persistently harmless, but persistently a pain in the ass. Needs to have his existence acknowledged by the nearest woman every three seconds, or he might just disappear.

"Don't you have someone else to bother for a few minutes? I just got here and I'm trying to avoid making any bloody pulps out of men for my own health."

Poe whistles, flicking your menu some more.

"I like a girl with attitude," he wiggles his brows.

Ben grits his teeth.

"She said no, Dameron." He picks at the label of his bottle, tearing off a piece of sticky paper. "Don't be a fucking creep."

Poe whistles in provocation, and Jesus. If he so much as puts a finger on Ben you might just flip this table right over: take the drinks and the complimentary bread and stuff them in places they ought not to go. You try to distract yourself by scanning through the pasta dishes; it works in part, but your mouth is prickling with aggression that flares in your scent. You smell next to nothing from Ben; occasional slivers of cinnamon, something tart and deep.

Short-term blockers. A lot of them.

"What's with you all of a sudden?" Poe raises his brows, nostrils flaring. "Going soft?"

"Poe," you lick your lips. "Why don't you just f--"

"--Can I take your order?"

Every. Person. Snaps. Around.

The scent is ridiculous. Obvious. Unsuppressed. Thick and strong and sugary-sweet, and enough to make you feel slightly insane. Every Alpha at the table goes deathly still, and you are no exception.

He's young - tall and broad, sharply handsome. Golden-blonde hair and thin lips; white shirt dipping at the collar a little to reveal what looks like an intricate tattoo, drawn from puckered skin.

But it isn't. It isn't

It's a branding mark; burned into the skin of his gland in a way that looks as though it'd be endlessly painful. The bracelet on his wrist is silver, just like yours: but the symbol matches up with the puckering on his neck. The LED blinks blue, and nobody is in any doubt of who and what this man is.

Male Omega. Local. 

He smells like fucking heaven - smells like nothing else. It's madness, how quiet everyone suddenly goes. Even the Betas, who have no concept of what's occuring, are so absorbed in this rare curiosity that they gape, too.

Most of them have probably never seen one - not a real one. A real Omega man: standing here, brand as clear as day. In your city there's nothing this barbaric, nothing so cruel and detestable: and that makes it even harder to look away. You want to: you want to stop feeling like you'll drool, like you're hyper-aware of every way this stranger's chest falters.

He looks at you, too: at the bracelet on your wrist. An unsupressed male Omega, meeting a female Alpha without blockers. 

The room could snap in half.

"Carbonara," Poe says breathily.

The table each rattle off orders until the waiter reaches you and Ben: frozen, infinitely, in a moment. You don't even remember the menu; you're not quite sure where you are, not sure why your head is swimming like this.

"I'll..." Oh boy, your mouth is dry. Dry as the desert: tongue aching. "...Margarita. I'll have a margarita. A medium. Please."

Please.

And then your eyes dart to Ben, and oh god, you wish they hadn't. 

He won't look up - he's so still. Still and blank and hollow, like time is moving through him. Around him. He's sheet white, freckles contrasting his skin as he shivers. It's awful: it's awful.

The waiter swallows nervously, clicking his pen as his scent darts through the air.

"Sir?"

Ben doesn't respond. Doesn't hear anything.

Tentatively, you reach over the table. It's dangerous and stupid and fuck, fucks sake. But even though his scent is masked, his distress is the boldest thing in the room. It's stark and unavoidable: the sharpness of his hollow form.

You squeeze his thumb - and Ben Solo, who is stronger than anyone you've ever met, flinches. Physically, genuinely flinches.

"Ben?"

Ben's face is pale as death as he swallows; staring at the salt and pepper shakers through glassy eyes. When he glances up: it's this distant, cold thing. The light of a star, far off in the dark.

"The same."

The waiter hastily scribbles something, eyes down. It's so clear Ben wants this to be over, wants this whole interaction to end and this whole--

"And...what size did you--"

"--Medium," you half-growl, all tense in your throat. Your gland prickles, whole body angled to Ben. "He wants a medium."

And right at that moment, Ben's phone goes off. This annoying beep, consistently screeching in your ear as you eye off the waiter defensively. Or is it...is it something else? Your head swims, dazed as the beeping grows louder. Someone says your name - the waiter's head snaps up, golden hair drifting in the ceiling fan.

His eyes go wide.

"I'm...I'm so sorry," he shakes his head, stepping back. He almost knocks into another table; stumbling gracelessly away from you. "I didn't mean...Please, I'm sorry."

It's all so strange - and stranger still is the constant, cold beeping. You hazard a glare at the source, only to find it isn't a phone at all.

Your band beeps, LED blinking rapidly.

"What the..."

Everyone at the table bristles. Ben's chest heaves just out of the corner of your view as you knock the bracelet against the table with an unceremonious clunk: cursing under your breath. Patrons at the restaurant begin to notice: begin to shuffle around. It's increasingly more anxiety inducing, and every whir makes Ben clench his fists even tighter.

And of course, idiot Poe Dameron takes this moment to bring his wrist right up to your face.

Hissing like a pissed off cat, the smell of Alpha spice runs right through your bones: flooding your blood with this venomous sense of cold, unyielding anger. God damn it! What's his fucking problem?! Angrily, you try to throw his stupid, obnoxious wrist back in his lap.

The beeping stops.

"What the Hell, Dameron?!" you spit, gritting your teeth. "What don't you get?! Leave me alone!"

Poe snorts; his stupid cheekbones turning up in a half-smile, brow cocking.

"So you've never been to Jackson before. That figures." Poe runs a quick hand through his hair. "Bit of advice, sweetheart: don't start getting a rut over every guy with an Omega dick you see. It's unbecoming."

"I wasn't. And you're becoming a real asshole."

Ben's full lips twitch, just a little. Brief, even though his knuckles are still tight on the table. Crescents still digging into the woodwork. Body tight as a bowstring.

Poe just snorts in response, but hey: at least Ben smiled. Even if it's fleeting.

Momentary.

Isn't everything?


 

Sleep doesn't come, that night in a sterile room.

You try to get an early night - try to tuck yourself into the scratchy sheets, long before sleep would usually find you. The events of the day have left you harrowed; worn down. You knew they would. Knew this conference was a total mistake - right from the get go. Why? Why did you let Maz, of all people, talk you into this?

 

The room is draftier than meets the eye: cold, without reprieve from the dropping temperatures outside. Something about the sterile walls is just...choking you, somehow. This sense that you're isolated, far from home. Unsafe and alone and shivering in your skin - band on your wrist glinting in the dim light. The silence is deafening.

Closing your eyes does nothing to slow the images.

The golden haired Omega - he stares at you through glassy eyes. Scent a mix of heady want and subtle distress: brand on his gland that must have burned through nerves and tissue. Can he ever be mated, now, with the skin broken in such a way? Is he forced to a life of loneliness and servitude, because of his designation?

His face shifts - and you see Ben.

Ben, Ben, Ben. Ben with glassy eyes. Ben with tight lips and hollow smiles and clenched teeth. Ben, with perfect hair and a band on his wrist, blinking blue light on his skin.

Ben with puckered skin and a brand at his throat.

Your eyes flash open.

He left the restaurant in a hurry - said little of anything to anyone, on the way back. Shuffled wordlessly, head down, in front of the group as though he was being waited on. His step was urgent and distant and very, very careful: and you knew then, what he was thinking. What he was seeing, all through the streets on a cool summer evening.

You all brushed by a young girl - eighteen, you hope - in plain clothes, eyes distant. Stomach swollen, brown hair plaited as a Beta man held her hand. Her wristband glinted silver, blue lights twinkling as she stepped in time with him. Thin brand, stamped like a tattoo. Not quite a burn, but a disfigurement nonetheless.

She passed Ben first - and he barely looked up.

Barely--but he did.

And God, God, God - even Poe Dameron, who has a witticism for every  stupid thing, was silent as the grave.

So you slipped into hotel rooms, sober and quiet. Showered, without words forthcoming.

Now you're here, and it's like the band is not just snapped on your wrist: but all across your throat.

And so you get up - get up, in tatty pajamas and loose hair, stumbling to the door as you pocket your phone. Get up and fumble at the handle, pulling out into a sterile, brightly-lit corridor. Without any thought for the wellbeing of either of you, your feet lead you to the place you're so desperate to reach. Lead you an inconspicuous door in the middle of a corridor in the middle of a strange city: waiting on the precipice of something.

Your gland aches in time with your heart when you knock on the door. Quiet, so quiet - almost as though every part of you leans towards resisting, somehow. Leans towards turning from this place and going back to your cold, lonely room.

But maybe every part just isn't quite enough.

The handle turns cautiously - a slither of warm light from the room as a dark brown eye meets yours.

"Hey." Your voice wavers, bare feet itching on the carpet.

Ben pushes the door open just a little further: bare chest exposed to the harsh light. Oh God, he's so fucking beautiful - freckles and muscles and sharp edges, thick and strong like nothing else. He runs a hand through his hair nervously before responding, curls of dark hair licking at the wood of the door, the corners of his ears.

"Hey," he says quietly.

"You're still up."

He nods, sucking his cheek. "You too."

Awkward. This conversation is so, so awkward.

"Listen, Ben...are you okay?"

It bunches in your throat--thick, choked from a place of effort. You can see the red rims around his eyes: purple bruises on his eyelids from rubbing at them. A hollowness that punches the air around him; knowing full well the answer is there on his lips. Unsaid - unseen.

When he nods: it whispers uncertainty.

Your gland prickles; discomfort on your tongue.

"Because," you quietly add, gritting the words out. "...I'm not."

Ben leans his head against the doorframe; pyjama pants loose on his hips as he chews his lip in thought. It's red: he's been working at it, no doubt, the way he does when nerves get the better of him. A curl of hair falls over his eyes as you rub your folded arms, generating a little warmth.

The door opens wide; Ben steps away.

"Come in," he says, dark eyes heavy with something cautious.

Relief floods through your veins - heady as you pad through into his room, taking in the space. It's a carbon copy of yours; save for the neatly organised clothes on the dresser and the laptop on the desk. A frayed copy of The Shining is pressed up against the worn lampshade, along with a pillbox and a water bottle.

And the smell of it - just...your skin flickers with goosebumps at the taste, all richness and lovely warmth: all Ben. Cinnamon and chai and long winter nights, snow kissing at your skin. Your brain flares with the sensation: Omega. Familiar, compatible, Ben.

He locks the door behind you, and yeah. You can see why. If anyone steps into this room; his cover's shot. The scent of him is obvious in the sheets, drenching into the carpet.

It's the most lovely thing you've ever smelled.

Strong, bare arms wind around your waist from behind, muscles tensing as Ben brings you into him - band on his wrist warm against the thin fabric of your top. His nose finds itself in the crook of your neck, as it always does in these moments in between: dark hair cascading to your shoulder as he nuzzles into you. God, it feels so good: he smells so good, feels so warm around you, so safe...

"Ben," you whisper, tracing patterns across the veins of his arms. They web and dart like lightning between the constellations on his skin, goosebumps sprouting as you touch him anywhere you can. When he noses across your hairline, you turn in his arms - turn until your chest is flush to his.

Your hand cups his jaw, and fuck. Fuck.

The lump in your throat is heavy; lead and iron and pain, right the way down.

"I'm sorry," you whisper, teary-eyed. "I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry, Ben. I'm so sorry."

The air tastes of distress and anxiety. Tastes of pain: bitter and sharp, and your biology ticks away from it. You want to take him somewhere safe, somewhere warm. Somewhere they'll never get him, never hurt him.

You'll raze this whole city to keep him safe.

You hardly know him. But you'll do it.

You cup along his jaw, and he...his fingers twine around yours there, pressing you closer to his cheekbone. Plush, red lips find the curve of your palm, nibbling kisses all across the surface. His eyelids flutter shut at these ministrations, and the world is so quiet. You exist in this moment: a sacred place, between the worlds you have created.

He always meets you right between.

"You're here. I'm here with you." Ben trembles, jaw tight. "What else is there?"

You shake your head. "I kept seeing him, and all I could think of--"

"--In another life."

The bracelet on his wrist rides down his forearm; you give it a flick with your free hand, watching the pulsing red light.

"Those brands...it's just horrifying. To hear it is one thing, but this..." you don't know what to say. Don't know how to collect yourself. "I see it. I mean, I've seen it since I found out, but...it's so clear to me now. Why you've done this, all this time." You press your forehead to his, taking in the scent of him. The feel of him around you; the feel of him swirling in your lungs. "I can't take this feeling. Two more days of this. Of you being--" unsafe

Vulnerable.

"They won't touch you. They'll never touch you." Your words are venom: Alpha, dark and thorough. There is no room for anything more; no space to argue, to calm you down.

Finite.

Ben licks his lips, face inches from yours.

"Stay with me," he huskily says. "Stay tonight. Forget them all. Forget the world." He kisses slowly at your cheek, and oh. Your core lights up as you feel a hardness on your stomach, pressing through his baggy pants. "Stay. Please. Just...stay."

His eyes are hungry in the low light; pain and want in equal measure, swirling in the night.

The room tastes of caramel: sugar and fire.

"Okay," you whisper.

Okay.

 

 

Chapter Text

THEN

 

"Did you hear? Paul from 2J presented on the weekend."

"No way! Dude, that's gross!"

"Now he's freaking out that they're gonna tag him. Figures."

"Could be anyone next..."

"Solo's always looking like he's pissed off. $5 says it's him. Bet he pops a knot on the excursion and cries like a baby."

"He's a fucking freak."

Ben taps his pen against the side of his desk, trying to distract himself from this hell he's living in. Rain drizzles outside; somewhere, there's thunder in the distance.

Paul's dad was an Alpha, so the guy was probably fucked from the start. It's a shame: now he's got to get registered like a criminal and live the rest of his life on government-prescribed drugs while he does it. They all wear these weird silver bands and look depressed every day. Ben's not familiar on the specifics, but it just seems like there's pretty much no good option if you present in this state.

Omegas have it worse. Ben tries not to think about that.

Both of his parents are Betas, even if everyone says mom should've been an Alpha like grandpa. It's almost impossible - designations run nearly absolutely along gender lines, and they're rare as anything. Most people never have to worry about it; Ben's sure as fuck glad he's in that camp, as opposed to waiting around to see which path his DNA wants to take him on.

He just keeps tapping and runs his eyes over his homework, scratching an itch under his jaw.

The thunder grows closer, and the itching doesn't stop.


Three weeks later: Ben gets sick.

He's staying at Dad's that weekend, feeling itchy all over and way too hot for this time of year. The thermometer says he's got a temperature, and Ben's pissed. He was hoping to see a baseball game tomorrow with friends, but now he's got the flu or something and he's going to be stuck in bed trying not to die. Fucking figures.

Dad's still at work, so Ben sort of just lays in bed and eats pizza rolls, nibbling at the corners and trying to savour them. His whole body is aching and burning, these cramps in his stomach that make him feel weirdly tightened up inside. It's like he's got an elastic band jammed deep in him: it keeps getting tighter and tighter as time goes on, until it starts to hurt so badly that he starts to wonder if this really is the flu.

He's worried it'll snap.

He falls asleep sometime around 11pm after downing a few painkillers - the TV in his room is still buzzing when he wakes, groggy and sore, at about 3am.

And everything turns to absolute shit.

The sheets are soaked with his sweat and cum; fuck, he doesn't know how. He's had wet dreams before but this is...God, this is something else. He's panting and pent up, screwed up way too tight again, and he's involuntarily thrusting against the mattress before he knows it. His blood's on fire and his skin's prickling and his cock feels about four times as sensitive to everything: every thrust against his damp sheets making him drool, making him sob and whimper at the back of his throat.

What the fuck is happening? Is he in a rut?

Don't ruts usually come on slower than this?

The cramps get worse, and Ben starts to feel like reality is getting crossed with something else. He flips into his back and pulls off his soaked boxers, fingers grasping at his rock-hard cock and making the world spin. He runs his hand along the length, and Ben's swearing under his breath as he feels ridges that definitely weren't there before. Warm bumps near the base - when he grips them tighter, his eyes roll back.

Holy shit.

His stomach muscles pull tight and then go absolutely slack; in response, his cock twitches and spits out this clear, hot liquid. It's not even close to an orgasm, but fuck - the relief of the cramps not feeling like a punch in the gut is ectstasy nonetheless. It's so good that he throws his arm back over his eyes and moans, blinded to any thoughts other than coming, coming hard and coming now.

Ben's neck prickles; while he runs his hand over the bumps again and itches the spot under his jaw while doing it - he cums.

He cums so hard that he feels nausea and an ache in his heart he can't place. Something about it feels so wrong. Unnatural. Like spilling his spend all over his stomach is something of a loss he should grieve for.

It's fucking nuts. The whole thing is nuts.

And then when the aftershocks die down; the cramps start again.

He sobs and burns, and resumes pumping himself raw until he passes out in tears of exhaustion.

And wakes to keep going.


Ben is told the odds are around one in two-hundred thousand.

Out of morbid curiosity, he takes to Google and finds he had a higher chance of:

  • Being killed by a vending machine
  • Being killed by a falling coconut
  • Getting hit by a meteor
  • Becoming a saint
  • Coming down with the literal plague

So he decides, in simple terms, that the universe wants him dead in the least elegant fashion it can think of. 

This is a death sentence. There is nothing else to it.

April is the family doctor, and by all rights she should be reporting it. She should send off his files for assessment; make that phone call to the government and have Ben taken away. She should do that, because failing to do it is a felony that carries serious prison time, and could see her treated the same way - if not worse. He's expecting her to do it when she takes his mom out of the room and he hears Leia burst into tears.

He doesn't want to live a life suffering like this.

He considers something terrible. 

But April doesn't report him, and he's not hauled off. She writes him three prescriptions: one for an incredibly high-grade suppressant, one to trick his body into thinking he's just coming out of a rut, and a third to combat the depressingly long side-effects from the other two. He'll have to keep taking these for years: he's not sure how long, and neither is she.

Could be forever. Could be until he's old enough to get out of this state - until he's in a position where he can move to somewhere he won't be tracked like an animal and carted off to somewhere awful.

It's dangerous. Maybe even stupid.

He won't be able to get away with pretending to be a Beta - a small price to pay, all things considered. The gland in his neck is too prominent to be anything but a presentation, so for now: this is his life. He'll front as an Alpha and pray to God above that it never, ever catches up to him.

April scrawls out paperwork; a few weeks later, he's made to sign the registry and given an ID chip. They snap a silver bracelet on his wrist and tell him he's essentially bound to a whole other set of laws. No alcohol (it's not like he's old enough anyway), no sexual activity (that one fucking sucks), no loitering past curfew or going on unscheduled holidays or skipping school or excessive sugar. He's on a controlled diet to keep him from going on some weird rampage and it's...

It's fucked.

But being...being what he is? That's worse. That's the worst thing he can imagine. Omega women are given some freedoms as long as they're pliant and willing, but Omega men are seen more like vessels than people. They're taken away and kept somewhere, and there are rumours about it that are so harrowing that they've got to be true. Stories that Ben starts to see pulled tight before his eyes in his sleep - drugs that keep them in heat, make them unable to think of anything but need, make them beg for relief while theyre strapped down and used by wealthy Beta women.

Rumours that Omega cum cures infertility. Is more potent than anything else.

Is like liquid gold for those who can afford it.

Ben just tries to sleep,

And play along,

And forget.


NOW

 

Ben Solo has always, always been prone to desperation.

It's part of his designation, he thinks. Part of something that was wound into his DNA all his years ago - this painful longing for something he can't quite describe. He wants every beautiful woman to notice him; he wants every publication to be the best he's ever written. He wants to be happy, and to be free, and to find centers of himself that he never knew existed.

Ben Solo wants so much. He wants too much, and too quickly, and for too long.

But it scares him now more than it ever has - how much he wants this.

Wants you

The hotel room is bathed in warmth as Ben tucks back the edge of the quilt; settling himself in right next to you. Every part of him craves to just dispense with all of this - to just pour out his heart to you. Tell you what a dumbstruck, whimpering mess of a man he is for you. To tell you how you fill his every sense: how just kissing you that night in the rain has made his world fill with colour again.

But he doesn't.

He swallows down nerves, and you - you just push your way into his chest. Run your cheek along the hard muscles of him; making his breath hitch on a beautiful gasp that he wishes he could contain. Your scent is just...

...God. Oh, you're just the most perfect thing he's ever seen.

Hard arms push you flush to his chest, fingertips gliding through your hair as he cradles you tight. Every part of this nest is drenched in you - it’s madening and soothing and endless. How can anyone truly comprehend it? The way you make him a paradox of himself?

“Your heart”, you huff a breathy laugh, “it’s so fast.”

He hums in response. Plush lips find your hairline as he drinks you in - savouring the taste of your warm body. Needing it like he needs the very air he breathes.

“You don’t need to be nervous. I don’t want you to fear this, Ben.”

But how can he ever stop fearing this? Fearing what you do to him?

A precipice exists; you both linger on it, staring out into a dark space. Even in the safety of this nest, there is a sense that this is a threshold. 

This means something, now.

His bare chest ripples against your shirt with his breath: hitching in the cold night. He wants to explain - wants to have the words to tell you that he's breaking apart. He should be stressed; should be feeling like the events of the day are wearing him thin, making him feel ethereal and distant. But all he can think of is the way your skin is warm and soft, the way you're tangled to him like a song he can't stop humming.

The way his grey sweatpants aren't fitting right to his body; his cock hard and throbbing, yearning for your hands around it.

“You just–” he licks his lips, feeling dizzy “–you make me feel…”

You wait for his response so patiently, nuzzling closer to his collarbone. Your breath tickles at his jaw, and oh God - his whole body tenses. Ben feels as though you can almost taste the delicious way his bones ache for your touch - skin seeking yours, begging to be closer than you can ever hope to be.

It’s precarious. Beautiful.

“It’s intense,” you pull the blankets further up, right around your shoulders, “I feel like I can’t be close enough to you. I’m never close enough to you.”

Ben audibly takes a shaky breath.

"Yeah. Me too."

Woah. Profound. Nice work, dickhead.

Your hair smells of spice and detergent; he huffs at it, trying to bury his face in your scalp and picture a world where you're back in his bed.

Your teeth imprinted on his neck.

His stomach cramps, and shit. Shit. No, stop thinking about that.

"Tell me about you", he swallows hard, "I want to know you."

He does. But he also wants to find some distraction - wants to bring his mind to somewhere less chaotic before he tries to play with fire. Everything has to be in balance - too much wanting will tip him right over the edge. If he were back at home now he'd deliberate following that right the way through: but this isn't home. This isn't home, and he isn't safe, and you shouldn't have to deal with that without preparation first.

Your breath is cool across his chest; little goosebumps on his flesh.

"Well..." your nails dig into his ribs, "took the social science pathway - wrote my Masters on social expectations of Alphas relating to--" you laugh "--whatever. It wasn't that interesting."

"It sounds interesting already."

"It wasn't. Trust me."

You chew your lip.

"Anyway, took a gap year for a bit. Got a job as an intern making next to nothing. Came back and finished my PhD at Berkeley: ran around for a bit before moving to New York."

Ben whistles. "Didn't know you were a Berkeley grad."

"You're following me on Linkedin. How could you not know?"

Ben chuckles, running a hand through a thick lock of hair.

"Like you'd know where I got mine."

"Chicago."

Oh.

"Fuck."

Your resulting laugh is infectious - his body lights up, his pulse fluttering from the way he feels he's pleased you. It's a sensation that's so strangely foreign to him. Almost decadent in its nature as his brain reels with hormones that beg him to keep going, to make you laugh again and again until you're breathless with joy he's given you. Until the only room left in your heart is for him: occupying every cell in your body with happiness and Ben.

It's the scariest thing he's ever felt, and he hopes he never stops feeling it.

The room goes quiet for a moment. Somewhere outside, car horns beep in the night.

"You said you started suppressants at fifteen."

He sucks his cheek, the nervousness returning. He sees that male Omega in the bar flash before his eyes: sees his mother crying in the doorway.

"Yeah."

"What was it like? I mean..." you swallow "...I know Chicago has pretty relaxed tagging laws..."

Ben's hand twitches on your hipbone. Shadows dart on the wall.

"I'm not from Chicago" he says quietly.

He feels you stiffen. "Where?"

Another pause.

"Indiana."

He already knows what you're thinking. Already knows you're one of the smartest, most worldly people he's ever met. Of course you know what they do to male Omegas in Indiana - of course you'll have read the articles, seen the papers.

Ben holds you just a little bit tighter: a squeeze of his muscles. Please don't pity me for this.

"Oh."

And then you shuffle upward a bit, the pillow dipping beneath your face. The scent of you...God, the scent of you...

"I'm sorry" is all you offer.

He doesn't know what to say.

"It doesn't have to be who I am", his voice wavers, "I don't have to be that man. I haven't been him for years now."

Ben isn't quite sure what that means: whether it's directed at you, or to him, or to the universe. Whether he's talking about being an Omega, or whether he's just--

"What if I like him?" you purr, your lips slowly pressing at his cheek. Your hair tickles his lips; his body shivering with something way beyond his control.

He's halfway through formulating a sentence in response when your lips move down - down, down across his jaw. Down to the dip in his neck: to the place that tenderly throbs, keening for something he never thought he'd get.

And they nip and suck, damp over his gland.

Ben groans so loudly that he swears half the floor of the hotel will snap up in their beds. Holy shit. Holy fucking shit; oh my God.

His brain goes absolutely, catastrophically haywire in a way he's never felt before. His ex-girlfriend used to kiss at the skin there and it felt exquisite, felt like something hot and heavy to him. But something in your scent and saliva and skin lets his body know what you are: lets him know that he's here with a female Alpha, lets him know she's fertile and ready and all over him.

"Please."

Touch him. Don't touch him. Kiss him or leave or fuck him or go now, go now and get out of here before he agrees to be yours forever.

Please, just--

Your purr rumbles through his skin: in response, Ben's eyes roll back. Oh God. His cock strains and aches; half-drunk, he thrusts against your hip slowly. His body just wants relief, wants to channel this wildfire in his veins.

And then his stomach tightens. Muscles ache as he cramps - and shit. He's too turned on to stop. He has to stop thrusting and feeling this stimulation but he literally couldn't even if he tried.

"You taste so good", you murmur into his skin, sucking the edge of his gland "my sweet Omega, you taste so fucking good."

Oh god. No. He can't unclench. He can't let this happen. They'll smell it on the sheets - he's fucked if the cleaning staff catch any scent of him, and he smells so strong right now. If he smears slick on these sheets--

"Alpha", he's paralysed by desperation, rutting against you and feeling it go straight through him, "we have to stop, we have to stop. They'll smell it. Please, please--"

Your lips cease, and Ben wants to fucking scream. His whole body aches, burns under the weight of wanting you, under the weight of needing you to come back and touch him all over again. There's this drunk haze in your eyes, pupils black with want.

"Then let me taste you. I want to taste what you're making for me."

Ben's eyes shoot wide. He has to do everything he can not to just cum right here and now at your words: has to focus before he makes a mess of himself at the thought.

"Are you sure?" his voice is pinched; desperate, "...Fuck, Alpha..."

You don't even hesitate to push back the sheets and pull down his tracksuit pants, and oh God. Oh shit. His dick's angry and swollen looking, and the ridges on it he only ever has during heats or moments of intense desire are everywhere and bumpy as hell - making self-consciousness shoot through him. He'd hoped his dick wouldn't look like something from a damned sci-fi novel when you first got to see it: but beggars can't be choosers.

He's half expecting you to suddenly proclaim you won't be putting that thing anywhere near your mouth. Lord knows he wouldn't.

But instead; you hum appreciatively at the sight of him.

"Beautiful. Someone's a desperate Omega, aren't they?"

Yes.

God yes.

Ben's black hair flicks around as he nods, watching as you move back your hair to get better access. Your warm breath on his cock makes it twitch; makes the bumps pulse and his cramps feel insane. Oh god, he's going to leak slick into your mouth. Holy fucking hell, he'd never even dreamed...

"Relax", you hum, "let me take care of you."

And when you grab the base and slide him between your lips: Ben Solo becomes a whimpering, sobbing mess.

His stomach instantly snaps back, warmth pulsing from his cock and into your throat so incredibly. You swallow it down with a beautiful sound of appreciation - vibrating in your hollow cheeks as you bob to take him in. Tears roll from Ben's eyes at the exquisite, incredible overstimulation: his whimpers sharp as his head drops back into the pillow with force.

His legs tremble from the weight of forcing himself not to fuck wildly into your mouth, the hot spread of your tongue begging him to make more slick just for you.

"Oh fucking--" Ben chokes on spit, groaning, "--I can't...Oh God, Alpha, I'm not going to last. Fuck..."

More slick pulses out of him, sending tingles right up through his cock. He can feel the way his body is begging for him to just give in: just cum hard down your throat, let himself be overtaken by the beautiful fire.

God, this desire is so pure.

The scent of you...it's maddening. He can smell how wet you're getting from taking his cock: he can smell what it does when he calls you 'Alpha'. The spice sits on the roof of his mouth and has his mind keening, wishing you'd be biting down on his gland: claiming him as your playing to fuck, to taste. 

He'll be yours. He doesn't care how soon it is - doesn't care about anything but you mounting him and fucking him and using him, any way you want.

Pleasure mounts; your mischievous smile as you suck just slightly harder bringing his body to the teetering edge. His eyes begin to roll; heart thundering so fast that it's all he can hear.

"Oh God, I'm going to--"

And then; bright white.

He's cumming and cumming and cumming, long thick ropes of it that you swallow down hungrily - his legs kicking out and his breath burning and his hands fisting every inch of the blanket. His lips ache from being bitten, words smeared across his lips that he's unaware of: almost exclusively your name, over and over. Spilling out like a prayer he can't stop making.

When you pull away and collapse back beside him, tucking you both back in: Ben is still whimpering under his breath. Still bathed in intense aftershocks.

You press your lips to his nose, and Ben just reaches. Reaches for you to pull you as close as he can: closer than he's ever pulled anyone.

"You're so good. I'm so pleased, Omega."

And when you both finally fall asleep - it is entwined together. One entity, drifting through to pleasant dreams.

It's enough that he almost forgets the cruel world that lives outside this wonderful den.

Almost.

Chapter Text

It's the shrill buzzing of your phone that makes you blearily rouse from sleep, aching as your hand slaps along the beside table.

Your eyes are blurry, but shit: is it still dark out? Is this what the weather's like in Jackson?

Pitch black doesn't fit with your knowledge of 10am starts.

But when your hand finds your phone and clicks the light on, you realise it isn't your phone making a shrill 'cuckoo' noise in the darkness.

And it's 3 in the fucking morning.

Your sleeping partner makes a mufled groan against his pillow; hissing a cuss under his breath as he finds his mobile. Ben shifts away from your skin, sliding his thumb across the pad of his phone and shutting off his blaring alarm.

"Sorry," he runs a hand through his hair, sniffing.

"Everything okay?"

You miss his warmth already as you settle back into the covers; reaching for your Omega with a yawn. You manage to snake your arms around his muscled torso, and Ben sits up in the dark.

His voice is musky: sexy and low, all muffled with sleep.

"Pills," Ben groggily adds.

You hear the sound of his pill box shaking, closely followed by the cap of a bottle unscrewing as Ben downs several gulps and the handful of contents. After a few seconds of waiting for the water to go down; the blankets shift, and Ben leans back down into your embrace.

Even in the complete dark, you can almost see the vulnerable sleepiness in his expression. Eyes fluttering shut, his hair mussed as he pulls you back into his chest.

Wraps himself around you tightly - and his scent tighter than even that.

The mix of sleepy pheromones and the subtle undercurrent of Omega is just...beautiful. So calming and right: like breathing in the most soothing balm for your soul as you listen to the steady sound of his heart. Someone so huge ought not to be so gorgeously soft - right down to the very breaths that he takes against the pillow.

You never knew anyone could make you feel this steady.

Not in all your days.

"How often?" you whisper, leaning up just enough to kiss the underside of his jaw. Tiny traces of stubble ghost over your lips; in the dark, Ben's throat bobs.

"Hmmm?"

"You take those at this time every night?"

Ben pulls the blanket up tighter over your shoulders; muscles in his arm flexing as he shifts slightly.

"Nah. Just while I'm--" he's cut off by a yawn, making his chest shudder as his jaw flexes. "--Coming off the scramblers. For the side effects."

Cycling. It's to stop him cycling too early - stop his heats breaking through when he's still adjusting.

It shouldn't make the space between your hipbones buzz. Shouldn't, in polite society.

But thinking of Ben in--

No. Stop.

"Don't go."

It's low and groggy and rumbles in his chest: this quiet request that wrings from his tired lips. Ben's thigh tangles between yours, and the material of his sweatpants brushes your inner thigh.

"What?"

He's quiet, for a moment. 

"Tomorrow. For a while," he swallows hard, "stay."

Of course.

It's hard to imagine wanting to leave at all.

You nod softly, and Ben's exhale is filled with relief.

And you fall back into dreamless sleep with your Omega curled peacefully around you.


You wake up the next morning to the sound of retching.

Your toes wiggle, eyes reluctantly pulling open in the unfamiliar room. The bathroom door off to the side is pulled shut; Ben's scent still fresh on the sheets of the empty bed. 

Distress coils in your stomach, and it physically aches right through you. Makes your chest squeeze as you peel back the sheets and cross the room, rapping your knuckles against the off-coloured door. Morning light is streaming through the windows, so at the very least Ben's gotten some haphazard sleep.

He retches again with a wet choke - and your bones hurt under your skin at the thought of it.

"Ben?"

He coughs; spluttering as he heaves a breath.

"Don't come in."

It's halfway between a command and a plea; smacking into your soul with such force that you feel it careening inside of you. A part of you reels from being ordered to desist - still fractured from years of seeing Ben Solo as the haughty Alpha you'd despised.

Another part of you just can't miss the pleading in his voice; forcing you to wring your hands and sigh.

"You okay?"

Ben groans, the sound of it reverberating through the bathroom walls. Distress stings your nostrils, and...God. Oh God.

"These meds suck."

Shit. Poor Ben.

"What can I do?" you ask, irritated and halfway to distraught. Your heart pounds, driving you so close to just bursting down the door.

This is horrible. Horrible.

More wet sounds; and Ben spits and chokes.

"Stay," he gasps through the haze. "Please."

Ripping your hands away from the door, you pace over to the window. Back to the door. To the window. Back to the door. Too pained to leave; your palms sweat as you roll your lip between your teeth. It feels like an age as your faded pyjamas grow itchier on your skin. 

Rationally, you know this'll be okay. This is fine - it happens.

But the Alpha in you can barely breathe. Barely think.

And that's when the band on your wrist gives a few sharp beeps.

The LED blinks a deep red; silver glinting as you freeze on the spot. Shit - shit. Not again.

You curse under your breath as your skin prickles, keening for Ben's safety so much that your hands tremble. The beeps become more violent, and fuck, fuckfuckfuckfuck--

"Breathe," you close your eyes, taking a deep breath. "It's fine. Breathe. Breathe."

What if he dies? What if he's miserable? What if you've made him feel like this? Feel awful?

What sort of Alpha are you?

You heave a shaky breath.

"He's fine. I'm fine. Deep breaths."

The beeping slows; red light dancing on your wrist as you toy at the metal. It seems to take another endless eternity, but as you sink back against the wall: strong hands take yours.

"Look at me," Ben tenderly says, rubbing his thumbs over your clammy pulsepoints.

Scenting them just briefly.

And your eyes drag open.

In the low light of the room - Dear God, he's so handsome. Flushed and red-eyed, distressed as it toys at the corners of his mouth: but beautiful nonetheless. Ben's breath smells of fresh mint as it fans over your face, a sad smile creeping to the corners of his lips when he bends to be level with you.

The beeping stops, and your breathing falters.

"Sorry," you shake your head, running a hand through your hair, "shit, Ben..."

"Nausea - that's all. Nothing serious."

The freckles on his face are dusted so softly by the light as you sniffle; wiping away tears you hadn't even felt tracing over your cheeks. Ben coaxes you back to the safety of the bed, and without hesitation you fall back into his waiting arms.

Nothing serious. Your Omega's fine.

Nothing serious at all.

Ben pipes up, breaking the pensive silence holding you both in the scratchy nest of sheets.

"Came on so fast," he swallows thickly, running his fingers over your skin appreciatively, "tried not to wake you, but..."

"But you're okay."

You don't mean it to come out as a question. Really. It's intended to just be a logical statement - but the way your voice hitches...

"Yeah. Promise."

Okay. Good. Okay.

"Those medications really take a toll on you."

Ben huffs a laugh, shrugging as he kisses your shoulderblade. The feel of his lips on your skin makes your body break into shivers - the lovely sensation of him bringing your racing pulse back down to something more managable. Something softer; a place only an Omega can coax you to reaching.

It's heaven and hell, and every beautiful moment that winds them together.

"The change has been..." his face contorts, sucking the inside of his lip. "...Challenging..."

"I can't even imagine."

Ben just leans back against the pillows, bringing both of his arms up behind his head. From this angle his biceps twitch, and holy shit. Holy shit, he's built as anything.

You'd suck his dick again in a snap.

He chews his tongue, and that signature pout he takes on when a thought crosses his mind moves over his face.

"Can I ask you something?"

You roll onto your stomach; leaning in to face him as you balance your weight on your elbow. From this angle, Ben's heavy lidded eyes take you in with this...this brilliant softness. This lovely honesty that sends your heart reeling, even in the calmness of the moment.

"Go for it."

He clears his throat. 

"How long did you hate me for? Before that night at the Union. Were you gunning for my guts before I stood Rey up?"

Oh.

You never really thought he'd...

Honestly slams into your desire to protect him, and both throw eachother to the floor to find a victor. It's so complex: how he muddles your brain, pulling it apart like wet tissue with a quirk of his lips.

Omegas are the strangest, most beautiful things the world has ever created.

So fucking dangerous.

Amusement colours Ben's flushed features, and his lips quirk up at the corners just so.

"Long pause," Ben whistles.

You chuckle.

"Your pheromones are holding me hostage."

Ben's resulting blush is so beautiful that your heart sings, and your laugh grows deeper when you move to answer him honestly.

"I didn't hate you. I don't think. I mean," you trace your fingertip over a muscle on his stomach, and it twitches under your touch, "you drove me nuts. Always being oh-so-perfect. Striding around like you owned every inch of the Faculty. It drove me up the damned wall, watching you move through the world like you could take what you want from anyone at any point. And I guess you blowing off Rey was just..." you sigh, shaking your head, "...a reason. Motivation. To want to punch you, but...properly? That's fucking terrible justification."

"Makes a weird amount of sense."

"No kidding."

Ben chews the inside of his cheek.

"I knew."

He what?

You raise your brows. "Knew?"

"Knew you'd scent me if I didn't step back." Ben runs a hand through his thick locks, rolling his lip between his teeth. "You have to understand what it was like - knowing I've never met a single female Alpha before in all my life. And there you are. Focused and determined and lovely as anything. I knew I was condemned the moment I caught the scent of you; this stupid Faculty meeting we had years back in--"

"--Fletcher Auditorium. I remember. That tedious introduction seminar with the free quiches. The Dean made us all shake hands; I remember thinking you had these massive mitts when you came over. My whole hand just melted into yours when you shook it."

Ben swallows, and you smile with interest.

"Come on then - lay it on me," you gesture with your hand, twiddling your toes. "Tell me what was rattling around in your brain."

He pauses, for a moment.

"I felt like I was dying. I felt awful."

Oh.

The strange emotion must filter to your expression, because Ben strokes a warm hand through your hair.

"You don't--" he winces. "--Books and movies make it sound so good, when that Alpha guy catches the scent of an Omega. They make it sound like it's this moment of clarity, and the world comes into focus. Maybe it's different for Omega guys, but I remember everything washing over me; this smell that made my whole body feel like it was a lead weight, dragged towards you. My veins hurt and my mouth was so dry and I remember thinking 'fuck, if I even touch her I'll pass out on the damn floor'. And the pain when I did it...I don't think my heart slowed down for days after. Couldn't stop tasting you on my tongue; just..."

You want to say something.

Anything.

But Jesus - what can you say? What can you say, after all these years living this life?

After all these years of of not knowing?

You think he'll continue; but Ben's hands drop from behind his neck. One calloused hand slowly takes your chin in his fingers, and there's a palpable moment.

A sound hangs in the back of his throat: eyelashes fluttering as he chews down a thought. Chews it, and swallows it whole.

And crushes his lips to yours.

There is a profound silence in the morning light; existing in a slow moment, somewhere in the air. This gorgeous way the world holds its breath, in these hours between hours - his lips soft and yielding, tongue darting over the curve of your lips in the hungriest way, as Ben Solo shows every inch of needing you. How could you deny him it? Deny him this moment; your hand reaching out to bring him closer into the very soul of you?

Wanting more of something you can barely comprehend?

Ben's free hand reaches to smooth at the small of your back, and in response - you lean forward, pressing your chest against his as your lips push deeply to his. Your resulting gasp for breath makes pheremones prickle through the air: these deep, needy promises that hover between you both, right as your hands find the bare plains of his chest--

It's the sound of your phone's alarm that brings you both parting in frustration; your jaw clenched as Ben's breath heaves from his chest.

You have to go. Presentations start soon: need to shower. Read through your notes.

Breathe.

"Don't go."

Ben's whisper is almost breathless; his hair mussed, chest trying to gain some traction as he holds you loosely. Vulnerability lingers in the warm depth of his eyes, and God: how you just want to drown in it.

To never, ever move from this stolen moment.

"I'm presenting," you huff, halfway through a laugh as your forehead falls against his, "need to practice."

He groans; Ben's forehead pushing more urgently against yours.

"Stay here. Stay here with me."

"And do what? Order room service?"

Ben's lips tease at yours, and Dear God: his teeth nip at your bottom lip. 

Everything blurs, your thighs rubbing together when you lean in to drag the scent of him even deeper into your chest. The muscles of him are tight against your wandering hands, even as your phone bleeps angrily...

"Let me fuck you," he begs, and the whimper in his voice is almost disguised. "I want to fuck you so much. Want you to wring me dry; I need it, Alpha--"

"--Ben."

"You want it too. Just stay here - we can just--"

"--We can't."

And it's finite - even if you wish it weren't. 

If you could fuck him right now...

"Ben," you shake your head, pulling away from the gorgeous scent of him. Sheets shift as you roll to grab your phone; flicking off the alarm and pocketing it in the threadbare material of your shorts. "You think I don't want to? You think I--?" You huff, balling your fists. "I want this...too much. And I'll fuck up right now. We'll fuck up - the both of us."

Ben doesn't say a thing at all; strong jaw working at his teeth in the morning light.

"When we're home," you tell him, soft smile filtering to your eyes, "we could..."

"Yeah. We could."

The way the warm blush filters over his cheekbones as you sit up makes your heart oscilate for him. Makes you crave to turn around and tell Ben Solo how much sleeping next to him has dragged him right through your blood - how seeing this vulnerability in him has struck a match you can't comprehend.

You want to tell him every little part of how he looks like heaven itself, even as you kiss his cheek. Even as he leans in as though to bathe in the moment; needing to make it last just a second longer.

You want to.

When you tear away and put your hand on the cold handle of the door...there's no limit to how much you feel you should've held him tight. Told him how he moves you; how he's changed you, exactly as he told you you'd cast a spell on the very fabric of him.

But you don't look back at him.

You try to focus, as you step out into the cold light of the corridor.

Should've told him.

Should've.

Should've.

...Didn't.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the conference goes by as smoothly as you'd expected.

Your talk is a bit fumbled, but Hell - who isn't just slurring out words to pass the time? It's all just bland pie charts and questions that drag well beyond your scope of reference. There's a mush in your mind whenever you're seated and pretending to listen: thoughts tangling around dark hair and brown eyes...

...Thoughts of his gorgeous cock.

You can still picture the delicate flavour of his slick if you close your eyes. Salty, but with this undertone of marshmallow and sugar that made your whole body throb with pleasure and wanting. Christ: was anyone ever made to be more perfect for you?

More gorgeous, in every way?

You don't see him at any of the talks you're slipping in and out of: though it's not really all too surprising. You tend to avoid the legal department where you can, and often just gravitate towards the free endless coffee and egg sandwiches. Eventually (and thankfully), evening draws in, and you stuff your last pile of clothes into your wheeled suitcase and pull the lock on your hotel room door shut.

It'll be good to get out of here.

The end of the hall sees Hux leaning up against the white paint wall; a conference pamphlet fisted in his hand. He's always got this...this blantant arrogance about him that permeates every tiny damned detail of his expression, and this is no exception.

You nearly stop dead in your tracks when you realise who he's talking to.

He's wearing this stunning suit that hugs every inch of muscle on him: buttons on the white undershirt looking like they're faltering under strain, tie disheveled as he tugs on it, laughing at some stupid joke. Ben's hair is immaculate, and God, holy fuck, you could just--

"Bailing out early?"

Hux's grey eyes examine you with this bored expression; barely taking you in as he shifts to lean his weight against a doorframe. Ben glances your way for the briefest moment before dropping his eyes, nervously shoving his huge hands into his pockets.

You stop right beside them, letting the wheels of your case squeak behind you. Here, in the narrow hallway, you can smell the clean fragrance of Hux's cologne, but God, it does nothing to dull the way your body floods with warmth at Ben's incredible scent.

Trying to keep up the bored facade, you shrug.

"Not really needed for day two, so I figured I'd get home tonight instead. Papers to write."

Hux's scowl deepens.

"Meanwhile, we're stuck in this sorry city for another night. Solo was just lamenting the shitty company."

Ben's scoff is high in his throat, and he sucks his cheek as he looks your way.

"Dameron's wearing on me."

"No kidding," you add, leaning on your case. "He's an idiot."

"Think he's taken a shine to you," Hux sneers.

"Yeah," you sniff, "the feeling's not exactly mutual. I've got other prospects in the crosshairs."

You don't miss the way Ben's cheeks flush a darker shade of pink, making him swallow thickly and shuffle on the spot. He's trying so hard to fill a space he's learned to carve out - trying so hard to act as though he never touched your skin, never kissed your lips. Trying, for the sake of his safety and sanity, to pretend you don't move him.

But every time he takes a breath around you: you sense the depth of the lie.

See, in micro-movements, the way he's under this spell.

"Lovely."

Hux just sighs to himself, waving a nonchalant goodbye to Ben as he slinks back into his hotel room and lets the doorhandle click behind him. There's no semblance of acknowledgement for your sake; but then again, Hux never did like anyone he couldn't later use for his personal gain.

Asshole.

Ben's hand comes up to straighten his tie in the deserted hallway, now suddenly feeling much more barren than you first thought. There seems to be an endless walk around Ben to get to the elevator, and your suitcase just...

Before you know it, Ben's lifting the handle from your fingertips and slowly wheeling it down the corridor. You take his wordless invitation to follow, feeling half-drunk on the slight spice of his scent that fills your lungs so beautifully.

He wheels it into the elevator, and you follow in silence as the metal doors close behind you.

Ben takes a shaky breath.

"Cameras?" you ask, staring forwards at the closing doors beside Ben. Your hand snakes around the handle, just lightly brushing his pinky finger as you both stare at the silver walls.

"Yeah," he swallows, "no microphones, though. Privacy laws."

His fingers twitch at your touch, and electricity shoots right up through your body. Heaven help you: the scent of him coils in your stomach, and you're just...so desperate to kiss him. Needing it beyond your own understanding - fuck it, you could just press him up against the wall. Press him there, palm his cock and kiss him senseless...

Ben says your name, and it's punched from his lungs like a request.

"Being alone with you is..." he starts, and his knuckles whiten on the handle.

"...I know."

He rolls his lip between his teeth.

"You don't. You honestly don't."

You hazard a look at him, and God - he's flushed. Flushed with desire, eyes dark and hungry; cock hardening with every second you spend slowly descending in this damned elevator.

"Promise me," you say with resolve, "promise me, Ben, that you'll stay safe tonight. That you'll let me know that you're safe."

And Ben - stupid, wonderful Ben - leans in close enough that his lips are level with your ear. His breath swirls on the shell of it, and his back just softly bends to lean down towards you as he whispers, quiet as anything:

"Yes, Alpha."

It takes every cell in your body to walk out of that elevator. Every fiber of your being to put one foot in front of the other: every piece of your resolve to tug that handle from his grip and leave him behind, without looking back, as you walk into the lobby without him.

If you were anywhere else in the world...

...You wonder if you'd ever have the willpower.

But you walk to your cab, Ben's scent burning through your blood - and head to the airport.

Leaving him here, amidst all of this uncertainty.

And try, as hard as you can, to accept it.


Being at home helps, even if it's only a little.

The flight is less weird going home than it was flying in: they actually let you have access to caffienated drinks, which is the academic's bread and butter. And once you touch down; the metal band is unclipped from your wrist, and Dear God, does it feel good.

The moment you're free of it, you gulp in a deep, deep breath.

It feels like heaven when you finally collapse on your bed: plugging in your phone for charge and stretching out in the crisp sheets. Most of your clothes are still hanging limply out of your half-opened suitcase, which you know is a dumb move you'll have to deal with tomorrow, but...

Whatever. The flight was long enough that you can't think of anything less appealing than dealing with that now.

You resolve to just grab your pyjamas from last night for now. Throw them on as opposed to rifling through your drawers, looking for something that should actually fucking match. What's with pyjama bottoms always getting lost down the back of a drawer? T-shirts running in the wash?

Is the Lord trying to get you to be naked? That it?

You fold open the plastic top of the case and fumble through the pile, assaulted by the scent of stale hotel on the fabric. Ugh...

...but something in there...

...Oh yes.

God yes.

Your threadbare pyjamas from last night are there. Limp and not quite clean, but so strongly scented that your brain short circuits for a moment. Your cunt clenches, and fuck, oh fuck--

Ben's scent is everywhere. On every thread and seam, on every crease and strap. That gorgeous subtle cinnamon and sugary chai smell that brings the shirt up to your face, forcing you to huff on the fabric and scramble back onto your bed. You've not even torn off your clothes yet - so obsessed with the pure essence of this incredible Omega that you can't think of anything else.

You can smell the whole story of the night, and it's like nothing you've ever experienced.

Smell the way he clung to you, when he woke from restless dreams. Smell the way his cock ached with need all through the night; the way he lay awake in the morning, nauseas and aching, shivering and holding you close to try to combat the anxiety that burned right through him.

You can smell the way he craves you.

The way if he let himself go - truly, genuinely let himself go - he'd writhe for days. Hard, dripping, begging you: please, Alpha, knot me.

It's such a beautiful thought, and you just...you could get lost in it. Get lost in this, as you pull off your shirt and work at the zip on your skirt. Needy as you gasp into the fabric of your sleeping clothes and snake your hand down, down, following the curves of your body--

BZZZZZ.

Your phone vibrates once. Enough to make you freeze, but not quite enough to--

BZZZ-ZZZ.

Annoyed, you lean across with a grunt and unlock your phone with the pad of your thumb. Two texts flash up on your phone, and when you see the name: your body flushes with warmth.

Ben (Uni): Alpha

Ben (Uni): Fuck

Your eyes widen, and you immediately flip over and start typing.

You: Ben??

You: What's wrong?

Oh shit. Oh no.

Your heart is up in your throat, and fuck - didn't you tell him to be safe? Didn't you tell him to be cautious?

How will you ever forgive yourself, if anything happens to him?

Images flicker in your brain: burned on brands, and Ben's huge hands reaching for yours.

Why didn't you protect me, Alpha? You could've protected me--

BZZZZ-ZZZ.

Your eyes snap open.

Ben (Uni): Your scent

Ben (Uni): is on everything

Oh.

Ben (Uni): all over the sheets

Ben (Uni): all over my skin

Ben (Uni): on my cock

Oh.

You: is that good?

Your cunt feels so hot in your underwear; buzzing at the thought of Ben smelling your scent on his cock. The way that's such a symbolic thing for you both - the way that means, in some fucked up, primal way: that he's yours.

You sucked his cock, and now it's all for you.

Every drop of cum he makes is yours to drink up.

A few moments pass, and you wonder if you've been too cold with him. Too distant, when he needed you to show him, without any doubt, that you're craving him as much as he's craving you.

But then: you get a call incoming.

It makes it to the second ring before you answer, jamming it to your ear.

"Hi Ben."

The line crackles, and Ben's breathing is sharp when it reaches your ears.

"Hi."

You lick your lips, falling back on the sheets as you stare at the ceiling.

"I can smell you, too. All over my pyjamas."

"You're everywhere," he says breathily, so quiet down the line as though this is a sacred place. "You're in my blood, Alpha."

Your cunt aches at the admission: burns in your veins as you reach your spare hand down towards your underwear. The needy Alpha in you squirms for something to pin and bite; squirms for his skin on yours.

Touch me, Omega. 

"Right where I want to be."

Ben cusses under his breath.

"Can't stop thinking of you...you sucking my cock. I tried not to call--"

"--Omega, I'm laying on my bed with my fingers in my pussy and your scent on my lips," you shiver, curling your fingers into your cunt, "and I'm gonna knot my toy tonight thinking of fucking you raw."

And in response, he makes this...this sound.

It goes straight through blood and bone and space - goes through every cell in your body and pulls you, desperate and keening, into this deep, dark place.

It takes a few seconds for you to realise what the sound is, and when you do...

...you bite down on your fist to stifle the whimper that escapes you.

It's a chirp; real as you've ever expected and nothing like you'd imagined it. The most incredible sound only a male Omega makes, when they're in frustrated need too strong to resist. It's a soul-deep call to an Alpha that rips from their lungs and begs, through the line, for you to touch him. Just touch him, and hold him, and make him feel seen.

There is no word for how sacred it is, to hear him fall apart like this.

"Ben," you gasp, working circles in your clit, "Omega, tell me what you want to do to me."

The sound of skin on skin is unmistakable through the phone line, and Ben's ragged breaths tear right through your resolve.

"Alpha, I...fuck, I want to...want to feel you...feel your knot, milking me dry..." he chokes, and a smaller, more urgent chirp breaks his lips, "...fuck me through my heat...use...use me. Fuck, Alpha, promise me you'll wring me dry."

"Yes," you groan, and shocks go right through your cunt. "I'll knot you for days. I won't sleep. I'll just--"

You're cut off as you feel your body shudder and peak: feel stars dance over your vision while your cunt spasms, not quite able to find anything thick enough to knot around. Pain lances through your legs as your body cramps from the failed attempt your pussy makes to knot, and fuck, it's not enough to dampen the flame that licks through your spine.

Not enough to stop you wanting to fuck him, as you pant and twist, toes curling and hands shaking.

"Ben, fuck - my body just tried to knot for you."

Your laugh is breathless in disbelief, even as you hear Ben swear down the line. You can just picture him now: dark hair plastered to his forehead, lips barely parted as he pumps his cock in his huge fingers. The way his head would loll to the side and he'd groan into the pillow, trying to slow down to keep this knifepoint of pleasure balanced just right.

"Alpha," he chirps, and you can hear the hoarseness in his voice, "holy shit, Alpha--"

The line cracks when he groans; muffled by something you imagine must be his fist as you hear him try to keep down the sound of a powerful orgasm. Ben's breathing is eratic and pained as you both lay there, states apart, cracking with the same electricity holding you both hostage.

"Christ," he half-whispers, laughing to himself, "that was..."

"Yep."

The cramping in your abdomen slowly falls into a slight thrumming, and with it, the tension in your body dissipates into a different sort of longing.

Remembering his body twined with yours; face inches away in the dead of night.

Ben starts to fall quieter, and you can tell that textbook anxiety of his is filtering in. Silence, when not filled, makes his brain tick away.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly.

Your eyes flutter shut, revelling in the post-orgasm haze that rolls over you.

"For what?"

"I know I'm being...eager..."

Oh, your sweet, insecure Omega.

"You say that like I want you to stop."

Ben chuckles, and the sound is just so lovely.

"You don't?" he asks, as you hear the sound of sheets rustling.

You'd roll your eyes if he were in sight right now.

"This isn't a story," you tell him, "where we chase back-and-forward with miscommunications to further the plot. I like you, Ben. I don't intend to stop here."

"I think I was just...scared. Scared when you left today, and it felt so finite. I keep thinking I'll scare you off. I'm just..."

I'm not enough for you.

He doesn't say it, but fuck: he may as well have.

You can feel it.

You feel that same uncertainty, and it's beautiful and tenuous.

"When you get back: let's catch up. Grab dinner, or see a movie or something. Let's just be us, without worrying about any of them."

Ben's smile is evident as he speaks:

"That sounds perfect."

When you both say your goodnights and curl up into bed; you fall asleep with butterflies in your chest and a joy in your heart.

He's safe. He wants you.

And you dream of his hand in your hand,

And your teeth imprinted on his neck,

And your heart being safer with him than anywhere else in the world.