Alec hated the auction house. He hated everything about it.
He despised the people that came there, flaunting their fancy clothes and jewels and cars and their partners like big birds, trying to impress a mate with their colourful feathers and bottle caps. For these people, the only thing that mattered was money and what they could buy with it. And that showed. Especially here. The auction house was a place to see and be seen. The place to show how happy your marriage was, even if at home, you threw paperweights at each other’s heads and made the maid flee the house with a threat of: ‘if you tell anyone anything about what you’ve heard…’ The place to spend money like water on art you wouldn’t look at again twice just because you could. Just for the bragging rights of being able to tell visiting guests that yes, you owned a Rembrandt, and would they like to see it? And they would all stand in front of a million dollar painting in a room nobody used for anything other than cleaning and they would make empty comments about the piece and how ‘such excisit taste you have.’ And nobody would give a crap about the paining other than the scribble in the bottom right corner.
He hated the building, which always seemed cold to him no matter how hot it was inside. The high ceilings and bright lights of the foyer stripped the hall of any warmth and the theatre… Nothing could possibly warm up that place. Not as long as it was filled with cold-hearted patrons and stone-faced employees. He hated the way it smelled. Years of alpha’s roaming the halls stinking up the place with so many clashing smells they never seemed to disappear. And every night, as the night went on, that smell only got stronger as each and every one of those alpha’s seemed keen to show their dominance in every way possible.
But most of all, he hated the wares. As long as it was just pieces of art up for sale, that was fine. He loved art. Any form of it. And they brought in beautiful pieces. He never bought any though, because he refused to support this place in any way. Not by money. Not by appreciation.
Sometimes they sold animals. Tigers, snakes, lion cubs. Anything exotic the people here loved. Animals that would suffer horrible treatment not fit for wild animals before being dumped god knows where.
But on some nights, they had something more special.
The nights went like this. The first Friday of the month, the auction house would open its doors to the elite of the city and its surrounding area. People would flock in and gather in the main hall to ‘socialise’, as they called it. Then, about an hour after opening, the doors to the theatre would be opened, and people would take their place on the stands.
There was no program or booklet. Everyone that came here knew how this went. There would be five items up for sale. After the fifth, the night would end, no matter how late or early it was. The lucky new owners could come to the reception in the main hall and claim their piece.
That was exactly how this night had went, up until this moment. Because right now, they were bringing something ‘more special’ up on stage.
And Alec’s heart stopped.
The dark haired boy on stage was an omega, anyone could tell. He was looking down at the floor, shuffling along with the people holding him by his elbows. His hand were bound behind his back with a pair of cuffs that were tight enough for Alec to see how they dug into his skin, even from his family’s place high up on the stands. And even if his body language didn’t give him away, society would.
No alpha would ever be treated like this.
And Alec could feel his blood betting to a boil. Beside him, his mother and his sister – Isabelle – threw him strange looks, but he didn’t care. He knew he must’ve been releasing a shit load of pheromones right now, but he. Did. Not. Care.
He wanted that boy on the stage more than he’d ever wanted anything. It was a feeling he didn’t understand. He’d never felt anything like this. He couldn’t smell the boy – of course he couldn’t, not with this company – and he couldn’t see his face. It wasn’t about lust, or love, or anything like that. It was something strange and peculiar. The moment he laid eyes on the other, he had this feeling in his chest. He wanted to protect this omega with everything he had.
The voices around him faded to background noise. He barely heard the auction master tell the audience that: ‘this is a perfect omega for someone who stood their ground, captured just last week after running away. Knew when to obey and never opened his mouth unless he was asked something.’ But: ‘the new owner would have to have a strong hand to make sure this omega learned their place and would be something you could flaunt.’
Alexander didn’t pay any care to the bidding going on around him as he went to the auction houses’ website and logged in using their family account.
He then proceeded to place a bid of 15 million dollars.
He waited until everyone else had left. Isabelle didn’t want to leave his side, worried that he’d do something stupid. As if he hadn’t already spend a copious amount of money to buy an omega from an auction. If she wanted to prevent him from doing anything stupid, it was already too late. Not that she could’ve stopped him anyway. Thinking back to the boy’s small frame on the big stage, he could once again feel anger rising inside, but he pushed it down. He didn’t want the boy to first meet him while the waves of anger literally radiated off of him.
He’d probably already been through enough.
“Ah, mister Lightwood. Congratulations on the buy. You have impeccable taste, if I may say so. Please, come this was.’ Mister Davis was the head of sales, which meant he knew his customers and brought them their pieces to take home with them after signing the paperwork. ‘Now, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, the omega has run away before, but do not worry, we have him perfectly cuffed up for you.’ Alec’s stomach churned at the idea, but he swallowed down the bile and simply nodded. Not that Davis was looking at him, as he was currently busy opening one of the back rooms.
As soon as the room opened, the smell of omega hit him in the face. There were so many emotions in it – fear, sadness, humiliation – it left him reeling, his mind completely taken over by the urge to go in. Help. Protect. Get him out of here. Hold him. Keep him safe. Instead, he was rooted to the spot as mister Davis stepped in and grabbed the omega boy, forcing him up from where he was sitting against a wall.
“Get up you useless omega. And show some respect to your new master.” While Alec opened his mouth to tell Davis off for talking to the boy like that – the omega. His omega. His property. The thought made him sick again – the other boy slowly lifted his head.
Just enough for two golden brown eyes to appear.
They made eye contact for about one second. One second in which Alec's heart stopped once more, breath caught in his throat. Then, the omega’s eyes dropped back to the floor.
The boy was trembling.
He hadn’t stopped trembling since Alec had first seen him, even though it was a warm night. He still couldn’t believe he had bought an omega. A thin, shaking omega which as sitting in his passenger seat wearing nothing but cuffs, a t-shirt and jeans. No socks. No shoes. No jacket. He hadn’t been able to take the cuffs of in the view of the auction house no matter how much he wanted to. He couldn’t risk someone seeing them, or thinking he was treating the omega wrong by giving him back reign of his own hands and deciding to step in.
He knew the kind of people that dwelled by the hall.
He couldn’t believe people could treat omega’s this way.
The boy, on his side, hadn’t said a word, and the silence in the car was weighing heavily on Alec.
“I’ll take off the cuffs as soon as we’re safely in my home, I promise.” Glancing over while they waited in front of a red sign, the boy didn’t give any sign of heaving heard what he just said. He had his face turned away, staring out of the passenger side window, hands lying motionless in his lap.
Alec wondered if he thought of jumping out into traffic and running away while they were standing still and he looked ahead again, hands tightening on the steering wheel to stop them from reaching out. To touch the boy. To grab. To caress. To sooth. To stop.
He didn’t know.
Time ticked by.
The light turned green.
Alec started driving again.
“Are you cold? You can have my jacket if you want to?” They were now driving down a three-lane way. Cars were speeding past them at speeds one would expect on a highway, not in New York City. The chance of the omega boy jumping out now were pretty small, if he was as much as a flight risk as the employees of the auction house made him out to be.
Glancing sideways, he caught the minimal shake of his head in answer of his question. All right. So he did listen when he told him something.
Alec couldn’t help but heave a sigh realizing that wasn’t right. That he paid attention didn’t mean he’d listen. It didn’t mean anything he’d say would be believed. It didn’t mean the other would do anything other than simply answer his questions, but right now, it was enough that he paid attention.
It would have to be enough if Alec ever wanted to do make him listen. And he planned to. He wanted the omega to trust him. To know that he wouldn’t treat him like other alpha’s. That he would keep him save and hide him from the world which had landed him in that god-awful place to be sold like a piece of meat. A will less statue meant to keep around the house like a pet. Something to show off to your friends and dump when he caused problems. When he ran away for example. You could just have the police round him up and bring him back. Sell him like the animal you pretend he is.
Alec had seen dogs being treated better than some people treated their omega.
It was disgusting.
The next question escaped without him even thinking it over entirly. He just know that he should’ve asked sooner and couldn’t keep on calling the boy next to him ‘the omega’ any longer, even in his head.
Pulling over on the side of the road, he put the car into park and turned in his chair to face the other. The boy he’d bought. He was still sitting there quietly, nog looking at Alec. On first glance, nothing had changed about him, but looking closer, Alec could see how rigid his shoulders were. And not only his shoulders, but his arms, his back. Even his hands were clutching at each other. He’d tensed up all over as if he expected something bad to happen.
Alec slowly reached out a hand to touch it to his elbow. The minute his fingertips touched bare skin, a flinch went through his entire frame, just for a second. Fear filled the car by the second as Alec didn’t stop touching him. There was no other movement though. No pulling back. No shaking him off. No telling him to stop. And even though Alec wanted to take that as a good sign, he knew it probably wasn’t. But he couldn’t hold himself back from keeping that small point of contact. He wanted to let the scared boy knew he wouldn’t hurt him, and the alpha inside screamed at him to do that by establishing contact. It didn’t matter that it didn’t work right now. It would. It had to.
So he didn’t pull back either. Kept the tips of his fingers resting just above the tip of his elbow.
“What’s your name?” He asked. The sentence came out as a whisper, even though he didn’t mean to. To his own ears, he sounded soft, vulnerable, but he felt instinctively that anything louder, anything even a little bit more harsh or stern would only widen the gap between the two of them.
He wanted them to stand on the same side.
At hearing his question, the boy residing in his passenger seat turned his head a little, though he still didn’t look up. Instead, he held his eyes trained on the gear shift between their seats.
“Magnus,” came the answering whisper. It was so soft Alec had trouble making it out. Even though they were close by in the little room the car provided, the name seemed to fade out. Disappear into the silence between them, or dragged away by the passing traffic.
Even so. Alec heard him.
“Magnus.” The voice seemed to echo in his head and his fingers slipped further along his skin, almost holding, but not yet. Just touching more of him. “I know you might not believe me right now, but I promise. I will keep you safe. I will make sure nothing bad will ever happen to you.” The omega – Magnus, Magnus, Magnus – didn’t answer.
Instead, he turned away, looking back out of the window.
“We’re here,” Alec said softly as he parked the car in front of his building. It was a flat located in one if the nicest areas of Brooklyn. Even though he didn’t like the ‘rich world’ – the people his parents associated themselves with – he loved his apartment, and he couldn’t have bought it without his trust fund. It was big – larger than someone who lived alone and had no intentions of bringing someone else home would ever need – with windows stretching across the entirety of one of the walls, and open kitchen and a guest room that had never been used by anyone other than his siblings.
Now it would be Magnus’ room.
During his contemplation, he’d walked around the car to open the door for his new omega, as Magnus had trouble opening it himself with his bound hands. Immediately after opening it, Magnus’ smell wafted out. While he’d been inside himself, he’d gotten sort-of used to it. Now, the fear was once again unmistakable, flowing out onto the street.
Swallowing, he held out a hand to the frightened boy.
“Will you let me help you out?” He couldn’t bring himself to help him without his consent, as he’d touched him before. That was small, meant to calm. A touch so light it had barely even been there to begin with.
He could still feel it on his fingertips.
But this… He would have to really hold on to Magnus. Hold his hand, maybe his elbow and stabilize him as he helped him out of the car.
He would have to use some of his strength.
He didn’t want to hurt Magnus by using it around him if he didn’t want him to.
Not answering, Magnus swung out his legs, before using his elbows to push himself out of the car. Upon seeing the movement, Alec immediately stepped back, giving the smaller boy the room he would need, while staying close enough to intervene if anything went wrong.
He shouldn’t have worried though. Magnus stumbled a single step right after getting out, but he straightened himself and regained his balance before Alec had made more than an aborted move in his direction.
“I’m fine,” he murmured, not looking at Alec and instead keeping his gaze locked on the pavement. He hadn’t looked at the alpha at all. Not since that first glance back at the auction house, when they’d locked gazes for one small moment. Alec didn’t think he could get those eyes out of his mind, no matter how shortly he’d seen them.
“It’s just this way. We can take the elevator up.” Normally, Alec would take the stairs to stay in shape and get in some easy training, as he couldn’t go to the gym every day but liked to stay fit. However, judging by how fragile Magnus looked, he didn’t think the omega could scale the seven levels.
He held the glass doors open for the shorter boy – who walked past without acknowledging him – before they rode the elevator up to the top level in silence. The further they climbed, the more Magnus’ fear seemed to mingle with grief and resignation. It seemed like a strange combination, but Alec was so tuned into how his omega felt, he was sure he wasn’t misreading his emotions. They filled up the lift so there was no way to escape them, even if he wanted to. He had no idea how he smelled to Magnus, but he hoped he seemed calm and soothing. However, judging by the inner turmoil that had been going on ever since they’d first met, he probably seemed rattled and nervous. Restless no doubt. Maybe confused. Sad. So many emotions were going on inside his head – and heart – he didn’t have a solid grip on them.
“We’re here, come on in,” he announced the moment they reached the top floor, turning the key in the old lock. Ever since he’d moved in, the door had been utter crap. You had to lift it up and pull it towards you to be able to unlock it.
It was part of the loft’s charm.
As he let Magnus into the main room of his apartment, he closed the door behind himself before moving over to where Magnus was standing next to the entrance. Alec had to bow down so he could look at the other’s face. He tried to catch Magnus’ eyes, but the omega turned his head away and to the side before closing his eyes so that Alec could once again only catch a glimpse of soft brown eyes shot through with red.
Trying not to scare the other away, he slowly reached out with one hand, touching the cuffs that were still wrapped around his wrists.
“I’m going to take these off of you now, all right?” He asked in a soft voice, doing his best not to touch Magnus’ skin. He was trembling once more, the tremors unmistakable from this close by. Alec could see his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed a few seconds before slowly nodding.
Not looking away from Magnus, Alec blindly took the keys from his back pocket. He’d gotten the set at the auction house, right after signing the papers that market him as Magnus’ owner.
His hands fumbled with the keys in his hurry to take them off, and the moment they unlocked, they fell to the ground with a loud clang.
The moment they hit the wooden floors, Magnus flinched. The sudden motion caused Alec’s careful but fumbling fingers to touch his raw, red wrist, which in turn once more caused Magnus to pull in his hands. He folded them against his chest, taking a single step back, hitting his back against the wall. His chest was rapidly rising and falling, eyes scrunched shut so tightly tiny wrinkles formed around them.
Alec could feel his heart break.
Smelling all the emotions that radiated from his omega, every nerve in his body screamed at him to get close, hold him to his chest.
He curled his into fists and took a step back.
“It’ll be all right,” he whispered, but it felt hollow. Empty words that didn’t actually do anything to calm either of them. Not Alec’s anger at the people Magnus lived with before, that made him flinch away from a simple touch like that. It continued to shimmer under the surface, the need to protect the other and hurt anyone who would ever even try to hurt the small omega. Not Magnus’ anxiety, cowering against the wall, not opening his eyes and pulling his hand to his stomach in a way that could neither hide their quivering nor the angry red skin where the cuffs had shaved away at them.
How long had Magnus worn them?
They stood there for moments – minutes, hours, days – before either of them dared to move.
Alec took a single breath and turned away, his heart ripping as he made his way to the kitchen.
“Would you like something to drink? Some tea? Coffee?”
“No thank you, alpha.” The voice was so quiet it wasn’t even a whisper. Deciphering the words, Alec stopped at the corner of the breakfast bar. Looking over his shoulder to where Magnus was still standing by the wall next to the door. The boy was worrying his hands together, eyes down and shoulders hunched. Making himself appear as small as possible, as if he didn’t want to take up any space.
“You don’t have to call me that. Please call me Alec,” his voice was kind, Magnus’ posture triggering his alpha, making him want to make Magnus at home. Feel safe. Anything to make his stop looking like that. It was a feeling he was still baffled by – he’d never felt like that about an omega before – but was rapidly becoming familiar with. “And you don’t have to keep standing there. You can come in and take a seat.” Once more, Magnus shook his head. Somehow, he managed to slink even further into the wall.
A feeling of resignation fell over Alec. The task stretching before him seemed to get bigger and bigger with every moment he spent with his ‘buy’.
But he refused to regret it.
He would never regret buying Magnus.
He would do whatever it took to protect him. Make him feel alive and confident, not this shell of a person hiding in plain sight.
“Then, do you want me to show you your room?”
The time it took Magnus to even enter the guest room was more than Alec normally took to get ready for bed. The omega boy was panicking, the smell almost paralyzing – shaking, panting, silent tears streaming down his chin.
At first, Alec didn’t even notice Magnus breaking down. He’d walked past to open the door to the guest room, and because of the fear Magnus had been emitting ever since their first meeting, he didn’t notice the spike. Didn’t notice how terrified Magus became in the span of mere seconds.
However, the second he turned around, his heart stopped. Magnus was pressing himself into the wall. Eyes screwed shut. Arms curled around his chest. His breathes were laboured, where seconds before, they had been relatively normal.
“Magnus!” Rushing forward, Alec couldn’t stop himself from reaching out – touching the side of his neck. Immediately, Magnus flinched away, pushing himself into a corner, away from where the alpha was still standing with his hand outstretched. His lips were moving, but Alec had to take another step towards him before he could hear his whispers.
“No. No. Please, don’t. No. Alpha, please. Please. No, no, no.” The whimpers were chanted like a mantra, as if they could keep the bad things away, whatever they might be. Under Alec’s watch, he was curling up even more, shoulders hunching forward and sliding down the wall he was leaning on, until he was curled up on the floor in the corner. His breaths were speeding up, and he was shaking his head. Alec stood frozen, not daring to move, watching in total shock as the omega broke down in a matter of moments. It all happened so quickly, in just a couple of heartbeats. He didn’t have time to reach forward to hold him up, even if that would’ve been the best choice.
Which he knew it couldn’t possibly be.
The way Magnus had recoiled from him…
“Magnus…” He didn’t know what to do. Tears were streaming down his omega’s face and he didn’t know what to do. Upon hearing his voice, Magnus softly whimpered. His hands moved from his sides to cover his ears, but the crying and the shaking didn’t stop.
He was breaking down in a million puzzle pieces right in front of Alec’s eyes, like a house of cards blown away by a single gust of wind.
He had to close his eyes and cup his hands over his nose and mouth, taking deep breaths to calm himself down.
It took at least five minutes before a sense of calm returned to his heart and he could focus back on the omega in the corner.
“Magnus. Listen to my voice.” He knelt down on the wooden floor, curling up his hands to withhold himself from reaching out. “I’m not going to touch you again. I’m sorry. No one will touch you. You’re safe here. Just breath. Listen to my voice. Focus on breathing, just calm down.” Staying back, he just kept talking to the boy like that, voice soft, trying to calm him down. They stayed like that until his knees hurt and his legs went numb from staying in the same, kneeling position for such a long time. “Just breath. You can calm down, you are safe here.”
Magnus was sitting there, shaking his head, hands moving from his ears to his hair, to covering his eyes. Back to his hair, pulling at the strands. His teeth were biting his bottom lips so hard the skin turned white.
They both stayed on the floor until Alec thought Magnus’ breathing had slowed down significantly, no longer panicked and rushed, but deep and measured. Even though it was still irregular, Alec deemed it save to shift positions, blood rushing into his knees and feet so suddenly pinpricks erupted all over them. It hurt, but that didn’t matter at the moment.
“Can I… can I hold you?” When no reaction came, Alec started to slowly shift towards the curled up boy.
When Magnus didn’t answer, he touched the omega on the shoulder. The first moment he touched him, Magnus’ breath seemed to hitch, but he didn’t flinch away, which Alec counted as a win. Testing his luck, he curled his arms around the other’s shoulders. Second by second he moved closer, until his omega was pulled into his chest.
He felt hot against Alec’s bare skin and was pulled as tout as a bowstring under his hands. He didn’t react to Alec in any way though. He just sat there and let himself be held.
Alec counted it as a win, but really, he feared they had made no progress whatsoever.
Short chapter because I wanted to post and this needed to get out of the way.
I need to admit, I'm really unsure about this story. I love all of your comments and am so glad you all love it, but it's so different from every other story I've written so far, it's very hard. I also want to make sure Magnus' past and problems aren't made light of.
The moment Magnus closed the door behind himself was the last Alec saw of him. There was no lock on the door, but Alec wasn’t planning on intruding on his privacy by coming in uninvited. He knew Magnus was probably still shocked and afraid - not probably, he knew he was. He could smell it. - and would need some time on his own to calm down, maybe come to terms with how thing were now. And if Magnus needed time and space of that, Alec would gladly give it to him.
Anything to win his trust.
So, after watching the omega disappear into the guest room, Alec went to put away the papers that marked Magnus down as his before moving into the kitchen to start a late dinner.
While cutting the vegetables, he couldn’t help but wonder what Magnus could possibly have been through. He couldn’t be much older than him, but he seemed so weary of everything. It was as if the weight of the world bared down on his shoulders, leaving them permanently bent down and forward, folded in on themselves.
Who had owned Magnus before? They’d said he’d run away, but was that even true? And if it was, what had they done to him that warranted running away? There were a lot of omega’s that were treated badly in the circles Alec’s parents lived in. He’d grown up watching omega boys and girls being hit by the people that were supposed to protect them – partners, parents, brothers. Was that what Magnus had gone through? Growing up being hurt, beaten down day after day until he was bent and broken?
Or had it been worse?
Had he been raped by the people that owned him without means to defend himself because he didn’t have any right to? Who would listen to the story of someone who was really just a glorified slave? They didn’t have anything to say about their life, so who would ever believe them? Who would believe Magnus? Had he tried to get help before he ran, but had been without luck? Had he been stuck between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to turn because no one would help?
While finishing up the dish, the alpha promised himself he would always listen to the other. Whatever he’d tell him, whether it was a call for help or a story about his past or him telling Alec about his day. He would always listen. Always be there for him.
Knocking softly on the door, he called out: “Magnus? I made dinner. It’s here on the table outside the door if you’re hungry.” He placed the dish down and put some cutlery with it along with a glass of water.
Things went on like that for the next couple of days. Some sort of rhythm was being established in which Alec would make breakfast, make lunch and then dinner. He’d knock on Magnus’ door to make his presence known before telling him he made something and leaving the dish outside the door. He’d ask if he needed anything or if he wanted to talk, and there would be no reply, and then he’d take the uneaten dish from the previous meal back to the kitchen in order to be thrown away.
Once, he’d ordered some clothes online – jeans, simple shirts, some underwear and socks as he didn’t know what he’d like - and once the box came in, placed it with the food, telling the omega it was there.
The box was still untouched.
He didn’t see Magnus during any of these days. Didn’t hear a single sound from his room. He only knew he was still there because the smell of mega became apparent as soon as you approached the door.
Some days, Magnus would be sad, or angry, or feeling helpless. Once, the alpha picked up on a smell so sour and bitter it almost made him gag, and his mind supplied: self-hatred.
Between cooking for Magnus and worrying about Magnus and thinking about Magnus, Alec would do some work in his office, which was - conveniently – next to Magnus’ room. Something that didn’t help with his concentration. He’d talk on the phone – out on the balcony, where he was sure Magnus wouldn’t be able to hear him – to his sister and tell her that no, she couldn’t come over. And that yes, the rumours where true and he was the one to buy the omega boy at the auction house. And also, as the days went by: there’s still no change. How long can someone survive without food, Iz? I don’t know what to do.
It went on like that for a week before Alec decided he had to do something. There was a limit to respecting other people’s privacy and that limit was right now. He wouldn’t let Magnus starve himself to death. He already cared too much for the small boy, his heart clenching with worry whenever he thought about him. Even though he wanted to other to trust him, he also had to make sure he was safe, as that was the promise he’d made himself. And if he had to protect him from himself, that was fine.
“Magnus?” He knocked on the door one last time. “Magnus, I’m coming in. Are you decent?” He didn’t know why he bothered to ask. There was no reply, but he hadn’t expected there to be any.
He turned the knob and stepped into the bedroom, looking around in search of the other boy. The whole room stank of upset omega, the same smell he’d been able to pick up on outside, but it was stale. The scent was strong, but dulled and flat, as if someone had last been here two days ago and the scent lingered.
“Magnus?” The other wasn’t on the bed or in the chair in the corner. Alec walked around the bed – going as far as looking underneath – in search of his omega. All the windows were still closed, but Alec wasn’t really worried Magnus might’ve climbed out as they were seven stories up. That left only one place, as there was no way Magnus had sneaked out without Alec noticing.
The alpha turned to the small ensuite bathroom.
“Magnus? Are you in there?” His words were accompinated by a soft knock to the wood. The smell of omega was slightly stronger here, but it also seemed more sour. Turning the knob, the door opened without protest. It wasn’t locked.
Ales didn’t know whether that was a good sign or not.
He dreaded what he was going to find inside. How had he waited this long? What if Magnus had hurt himself somehow? What if he actually was gone, and the bathroom would be empty? His heart clenched and his breath hitched, panic rising up inside.
No amount of worry however, could’ve prepared him for what he’d find inside.
The small omega was curled up in the small space between the toilet and the shower. He’d made himself so small it took Alec two seconds to even locate him, but the moment he did, he rushed in from the door opening, falling to his knees with a painful shock he couldn’t care less about.
Though there was no blood to be seen, he sniffed the air again to be sure. The coppery smell of it was nowhere to be found, settling the panic in his chest a bit, but that didn’t mean nothing was wrong.
Not lingering on all the things that could’ve happened in the past couple of days and refusing to spend this time reprimanding himself for not being there looking for the other, he jolted into action.
The alpha pressed his fingers to the other’s pulse point, letting out a relived sigh when it came through strong and steady. The skin however, felt icy cold under his fingertips and Magnus didn’t react to the touch in any way.
He didn’t pull back. Didn’t flinch. Didn’t stir. There wasn’t even a hitch in his breathing.
It was nothing like the Magnus Alec had come to know the day he bought him.
Acting on instinct, he wrapped his arms around the curled up boy – pulling him close to his chest before lifting him up in the air. Magnus felt cold and limp against him, and if he didn’t know better, he’d think he was dead.
He didn’t want to think about that.
He refused to think about that.
Because he didn’t want to leave Magnus in the guest room by himself, he took him to his own bedroom. The whole room was decorated with warm wood, and he placed the omega on top of the matrass and folded the duvet over his small form. A small part of his mind noticed Magnus tensed up a little the moment he was covered. He hoped – feared – he would wake up and show him he worried about nothing. Frown up at him and move back. Tensing his muscles and flee the room without a word, leaving behind only the smell of fear and a black pit of disappointment in his stomach.
He just melted back into the matrass however, boneless and lifeless.
By this time, Alec has calmed down enough to be able to really look at him. His lips were cracked and his skin looked dry and grey. His breathing came laboured, as if his lungs had closed up. His smell was sour and bitter at the same time.
It smelt like sickness.
When had he last drunk something? Alec knew there were glasses in the cabinet above the sink in the ensuite of the guest room, but had Magnus used them? Was he trying to do this to himself on purpose? Had something else happened which caused him to break down, unable to drink something? Why hadn’t he called for help? Was he so afraid of Alec he didn’t dare call out?
A million questions bounced around in his head as he made his way to the bathroom, filling up a cup with water and getting a clean cloth out of the kitchen. Once he had everything, he placed himself onto the bed next to his omega. One hand, he used to support Magnus’ head, and with the other, he dipped the cloth in the glass of water, using it to dribble the liquid between his lips.
It was slow progress. The glass didn’t seem to get any less full and he dribbled water on himself each time he moved the cloth from the nightstand to Magnus’ mouth. After what seemed like hours, the glass was half empty and Alec deemed it enough for the time being. He placed the cloth on the bedside table and used his free hand to card his fingers through the other’s hair. It was soft, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t really clean. Gazing down on his still-sleeping face, the alpha liked to think he looked better than before. His cheeks were less grey and his eyes had started moving behind his eyelids, more like he was dreaming instead of comatose.
Some people would call him ridiculous, but he’d missed Magnus. Regardless of the short time they’d spent on the day he bought him, and the circumstances under which they’d met, he’d grown immediately attached to the tiny omega. His quiet demeanour, fidgeting hands when he was nervous. His heart longed to see Magnus when he’d grown comfortable in his own skin. Comfortable around Alec.
And besides that, he was the most beautiful omega he’d ever seen.
Caramel skin. Slim fingers and wrists. Eyelashes gazing his cheeks in deep black streaks. And those alluring eyes that continued to evade him.
There was no way he was letting something like this happen again, he thought to himself. He wouldn’t let Magnus hurt himself.
He dipped the cloth in the water once more, and started dribbling more drops between his lips.
When Magnus woke up, he became aware of his surroundings in a very specific order. The first thing he noticed was that he was warm, placed on something soft and underneath a thick duvet.
The second thing was the smell. The moment he picked up on it, he wondered how he could've missed it up until now. Was he really so out of it?
The smell of alpha was everywhere. It clung to the bed he was laying in, filled up the air around him and it was on him.
It was in his hair and clung to his clothes - which were thankfully still on - and skin. It was sweet and musky, but most of all it was strong. A strong smell which spoke of a strong alpha. It was a smell that'd already been printed in his memory during the short time they spent together.
Alexander’s smell was strong, but soothing, and his body seemed to melt back into the bed after its first initial tense. He didn’t want that. He wanted nothing to do with Alec. He didn’t want his body to betray him like this by calming down just because he smelled him. And he also didn’t want to feel the subtle heat pooling deep inside his stomach. He refused to, pushed down every natural reaction his body might’ve had to feeling safe and warm, surrounded by an alpha’s smell. He was more than just an omega, more than these feelings he had no control over. He crushed every feeling that stirred inside with vigour, not leaving a trace of their presence.
If the alpha caught a whiff of him like that in his own room… in his own bed… There was only one possible outcome to something like that.
He immediately sat up and pushed his fists into his eyes.
The third thing he noticed was the soft music that filled the air. It was the sound of a violin, an unknown song drifting through the air. Not that Magnus knew a lot of music. He only heard what his previous masters – alpha’s – listened to on the radio.
This was nothing like that. Like the scent, it was soothing and calm. Loving and lovely. Afraid of moving and disrupting the soft sounds. He didn’t move a muscle as he sat there, but it still sent his heart racing when suddenly, the notes ended abruptly. The violin made a noise that couldn’t possibly be meant to come out of it. It sounded like the poor instrument was dying, high and awful before making way to silence.
The quiet hung over the apartment like a thick blanket.
The bedroom door opened.
How had he not heard Alec moving around in the apartment? He thought to himself as he curled up into himself further. His hands didn’t leave his eyes, as he knew how alpha’s could take one wrong look. In their world, one look could either mean: take me, I’m all yours, or: I will never respect you.
However they interpreted it, it never ended well for him.
Because he was an omega, and he was simply asking for it.
He could feel Alec’s eyes on him, but refused to look up. To acknowledge. They both knew he’d probably saved Magnus’ life, and he didn’t know what would come now.
Emotional manipulation? Anger? Him being returned to that cold, cold room back at the auction house?
“You’re awake,” came the first reaction at least. The emotions behind the words were clearly there, but although Magus prided himself for being able to read people, he couldn’t distinguish them.
That made him tense even further.
“Magnus?” Alec’s voice was now even softer. Barely a whisper was left and it sounded… worried.
If Alec had wanted to physically hurt him, wouldn’t he have done so while Magnus was still unconscious? Or did he like a struggle? Maybe he really was worried about Magnus, because he didn’t want his money to go to waste. He’d been an omega all of his life. He knew the kind of money that was sometimes paid for them. Was there any chance Alec cared for him as a real person? He knew the answer to that question would be no. It’d always been no. No alpha had cared for him thus far, why would Alexander be different?
His mind was a swirling riot of thoughts, voices and emotions. Fear and anger at his situation were clear up front.
None of them moved.
Why didn’t Alec move? He’d clearly cared for Magnus when he was unconscious, what was stopping him from claiming him now that he was awake?
As if reading his thoughts, the alpha asked: “Can I come closer?”
Thinking of Alec coming closer. Sitting next to him. On the bed. Touching him. It made his heartrate spike and fear clogged up his throat. He couldn’t look up. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t bring himself to answer. Couldn’t bring himself to run away, even though everything in him screamed at him to run, move, hide, flee.
“All right. I’ll just stay here then.”
At that, Magnus finally moved.
Had he heard that right? Was Alec really staying over there?
He lowered his hands far enough so that he could glance out over them.
Curled up like he was, he could watch Alec’s red-socked feet standing at the threshold.
The silence stretched on and on. Alec’s scent was radiating into the room until the very air was saturated with it. It grew heavy and sat on his chest.
“Are you feeling better?” Did he dare answer? Magnus was used to this: give an alpha a finger and he takes your hand. But Alec stayed back, and he sounded so worried and almost afraid himself, as if dreading the answer, and very slowly, he nodded.
“Good…,” the alpha breathed out. “I’m… going to make some breakfast then. You can use my bathroom to freshen up if you want to. Or you can use your own… Whatever you want.”
And just like that, he was gone.
Magnus felt like he could breathe again.
He hadn’t expected Magnus to be awake. Even though he’d been asleep in his room for over a day now and it was past due for him to wake up, somehow, he hadn’t counted on it when he opened the bedroom door. He’d seemed mildly distressed, his smell filling up the room, but it wasn’t as bad as the stench that’d come out of his room the first days. Sure, he was tense, curled up and refused to look at him, but the terror had subsided into distress.
However he smelled though - seeing the omega sitting there, on his bed filled him up with a strange sense of pride. His inner alpha had puffed up with happiness at the sight. At his omega on his bed.
It was not like that though. There was no way Magnus would be ready for anyone to take him to bed anytime soon, no matter how much Alec would want to. He wouldn’t do anything the omega wasn’t ready for or wanted, because that was what it meant to be a good alpha.
Making his way back to the bedroom with the bowl of soup he’d warmed up in the microwave, he let his eyes rake over the other boy’s form where he was now sitting on the edge of the bed. Soup might not be the greatest breakfast, but it was already late, and Magnus needed fluids. In the time it’d taken Alec to put the soup in a bowl, heat it up and make his was back over, he’d barely moved. His hands were clamped together in his lap and his head was turned down, looking at them. His small shoulders were hunched up and his feet bare on the carpet. He looked sad and breakable and anxious all at once.
What’d happened to make him this way?
“Magnus?” He whispered, making the other flinch hard enough to possibly pull something. It broke his heart. “I made you some soup. Would you like to eat in here, or maybe in the living room?” It didn’t feel good to let him go back to the guest room after what’d happened.
“The living room,” Magnus answered. His voice was soft enough to be almost lost in the space between them.
“All right,” he turned around and made his way over to the couch in the living room. Behind him, he could hear the soft padding of Magnus’ feet on the wooden floors. The couch was long stretched and placed in the middle of the living room. Two matching chairs were placed beside it, forming a rudimentary square. Not looking back out of fear to scare the omega boy away, he placed the bowl of soup on the coffee table and walked further along to the kitchen to make two sandwiches.
“You can sit wherever you like,” he told Magnus over his shoulder right before he turned into the kitchen. The other was standing behind the couch, looking at it like it was the single most daunting piece of furniture he’d ever seen.
His hands clenched when Alec spoke.
Alec felt his heart sink.
He went along and made the sandwiches.
While he busied himself with the soothing, repetitive movements, he could hear Magnus slowly moving around in the living room. He stilled his own actions, placing the bread down on the counter to listen. It sounded like he was sitting down and picking up the bowl if the slight scrape was anything to go by. Then a soft tick as it was placed back down. Silent footsteps. Picked up again.
After that, it stayed silent for a long time, and Alec resumed buttering the bread. There was a slightly heavy feeling in his chest, like he should feel guilty for listening in to Magnus in the other room. It wasn’t like he was doing anything wrong in listening to him. There wasn’t even something juicy going on, it wasn’t like some kind of voyeurism.
Still, it felt like an evasion of privacy, making the alpha feel bad about himself.
He just wanted to know Magnus was okay.
When he walked back out again, he saw the small omega boy sitting in one of the chairs. His posture almost perfectly mirrored the way he’d been sitting on the bed before: all hunched shoulders and nervous energy he didn’t act on in any way but still filled the room with its slightly tangy smell. He was holding the bowl of soup with both hands but it didn’t look like he’d actually eaten any of it.
Alec sat down on the other chair, as far away from Magnus as possible, not wanting to crowd him. He hadn’t been given permission to come closer, so he wouldn’t.
“You can eat it, you know. Please.” Please eat it. I don’t think I can handle finding you like that again. I can’t live with myself knowing I let you starve. Please. There’s no way I would ever hurt you, just please take care of yourself. Please live. Please don’t do this to yourself.
He simply watched as Magnus started eating, not otherwise moving or reacting or acknowledging in any other way that he’d heard him talk.
With a silent sigh, Alec dug into his own sandwich.
After they’d finished eating, Alec stood up with his plate and went over to Magnus without really thinking about it. He only stopped halfway through as he saw the omega tensing up once again. He’d relaxed slightly during the meal, but now he lapsed back, hands gripping the empty bowl so tightly Alec feared it might burst.
Immediately, he took a step back, berating himself for not thinking, even though he and Magnus hadn’t really spent time together in which he could practice being more in tune with the omega boy.
“It’s all right Magnus. I just wanted to get your bowl so I can place it in the dishwasher.” He didn’t look up from the dish, staring into it as if it contained the secret of the universe in its depths. His jaw clenched and then he whispered: “I can do that myself, alpha.”
“But I’m already up, and you can use some more rest. It’s no problem.”
They stayed there for a few more moments, neither of them moving an inch. Alec standing in front of the couch and Magnus curled in over himself on the chair – before Magnus almost violently trusted his soup bowl out towards him. There were so many emotions coming from him – fear, anxiety, doubt, distress, shame, defeat -, Alec really hadn’t expected him to give into his request, simple though it was. However, relieve flooded him as he took the bowl and returned it to the kitchen so he could place it in the dishwasher.
It wasn’t until after he’d closed it that he realized this was the first time Magnus had talked to him when he hadn’t asked a question.
The next day, Alec had to leave to go to work.
“I’ll be back by five, and if you need anything, please, please call me. Don’t hesitate. I don’t think I can bare…” He broke off whatever he wanted to say and looked the other way. An unknown smell came from the alpha, something Magnus’ hadn’t experienced by any other alpha before.
He didn’t know what to make of it.
He didn’t know what to make of Alec.
He’d been nothing but polite and respectful, not touching Magnus ever since he woke up, and he seemed to be worried most of the time. Still, who knew what he was up to? He must’ve bought Magnus for a reason, and he simply didn’t believe it was purely to protect him, even though that was what Alec made it out to be. How could he trust someone he didn’t know? He might have an actual skeleton in his closet for all he knew.
So the moment Alec left, Magnus got up, going to Alec’s bedroom. Of course he’d been there before, but when he was, he hadn’t paid much attention to his surroundings. When he looked at the bed, his breath hitched in his throat, remembering when he’d last been in there. The way Alec had moved next to him, sitting next to him and touching his leg.
An alpha’s bed had never been a safe place.
An alpha’s scent had never seemed soothing before.
He pushed past the bed and towards the dresser, trying to ignore the strong smell filling every nook and corner.
On top of the dresser as well as on the wall above it were several photos. Alec was the one to stand out in most of them, but he was rarely alone. There were a lot of pictures of Alec with a beautiful girl by his side. They both had raven hair, and their smile was the same as well. In fact, they looked so much alike she had to be his sister. Maybe even his twin? There was a boy as well, but he didn’t look like family. In fact, he was the total opposite of Alec and his supposed sister. He was the day to their night: blond hair, golden skin and shining eyes. Who was this golden boy? A distant family member? A friend? Alexander’s ex-boyfriend?
Looking up at the photographs on the wall, there was a small boy. Alec as a child? But in the picture next to it, he saw the alpha holding the little boy on his arm, both waving at the camera. Maybe his little brother? They both looked happy. In fact, Alec seemed relaxed and cheerful in most of the pictures. Alec with his sister and little brother. Alec with the blonde, Alec with a tiny redhead under his arm, Alec dressed in a tux, smiling at the camera. It was like a snapshot-story of a happy life filled with happy moments.
Magnus had to look away.
Taking a deep breath to calm his fraying nerves, he turned to the closet, opening up the double doors.
There was no reason to feel bad for what he was doing, he told himself. Alec had bought him and brought him here without his consent. He had the right to know who he was living with, hadn’t he? And Alec hadn’t told him he wasn’t welcome in his bedroom. In fact, he’d been the one to bring him here in the first place.
Inside the closet, everything was black. Black shirts. Black plants. Black jackets. Pushed all the way to the left were a few splotches of colour, if you could call it that – dark blue, green, deep red.
He closed the doors again and looked around the room.
Everything was as simple as his wardrobe: white furniture, black bedcovers. The walls white with one painted light blue. Big windows looking out over Brooklyn. A bookcase stuffed to the brim, just like those in the living room. Walking towards it, Magnus recognized some classics like Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, but also a lot of books he didn’t recognize the title of. At the top shelf, there were books on music, violins, sheet music and biographies of people whose name he didn’t recognize, like Giuliano Carmignola and Stéphane Grappelli.
Placed to the side of the bookcase was a brown leather case, engraved with the name Stradivari in a cursive script.
That explained the music he’d heard when he’d woken up in Alec’s bedroom. Alec played the violin.
With everything he found in his room, Magnus seemed to find another piece of a puzzle which grew more and more complicated with each added piece. Alec was like an enigma he couldn’t figure out, he mused as he walked out of the room, taking care to close the door behind him.
In the living room, the air was cleaner. More filled with a combination of both of their scents than purely and only Alec.
Smelling both of them tighter made his throat close up.
This was not how it was supposed to be. He was not supposed to be here, to share this space with an alpha who couldn’t possibly respect him.
His shoulders hunched in on themselves.
He should be allowed to be on his own. His own person. Instead, he was forced to live with this guy whom he only was with because he had had the most money when he was up for sale. Because the alpha could buy him like a piece of meat, and soon he’d be treated like one as well.
Why didn’t he deserve to be happy?
Sinking down to the floor behind the couch, he curled in on himself.
Why couldn’t he be happy? Why wasn’t he allowed to? Why did he have to be born an omega? If he’d been a beta, everything would be fine. He’d be allowed to have a job which wasn’t in sex trafficking. He wouldn’t be sold like he wasn’t even a person. He wouldn’t have been with five different alpha’s already.
Why could he never be happy?
He stayed on the floor until he could hear Alec at the door. The lock turned, and he snapped up his head.
He’d wasted the entire day away.
The apartment looked a mess. The remnants of breakfast were still stacked on the counter. The floor could use a vacuum. Alec’s bed was a heap of randomly arranged pillows and sheets. There was no food on the table.
He hadn’t done anything.
His mind blanked.
The only thing he could think of was how he’d be beaten or… worse.
He could only hear Alec struggling to open the old door, calling out to him to let him know he was there.
Could only feel the impending sense of dread in his chest, stacked upon a layer of hysteria.
And he did the only thing he could think of.
He shot up and dashed to the room which’d been pronounced his, slamming the door behind himself and looking around himself for something to board it with.
Alec could hear the door slamming closed the moment he stepped foot inside the apartment.
“Magnus?” He called out, walking into the living room in search of the omega. Taking in a whiff, he could smell something akin to fear, no, panic in the air.
“Magnus?” He turned his head, the door to the omega’s room was closed and he could hear distant sounds from behind it. “Magnus, are you all right?” He knocked softly. Sobs came out from somewhere in the room, but no answer came. Worry started stirring in his chest: what’d happened? Did something go wrong when he was at work? Was he hurt?
Different scenarios flashed before huis eyes.
Magnus on the floor, covered in blood.
Magnus on the windowsill.
Magnus locking himself in the bathroom once more, trying to starve himself.
“Magnus, I’m coming in!” He didn’t want to intrude on the omega boy, but he couldn’t let it come as far as it did last time.
His heart tried to beat out of his chest as he turned the handle to the room, but was met with resistance.
“Magnus!” He called out once more, pushing against the door with his shoulder. It moved an inch - enough to let him look into the room. The wooden dresser was shoved in front of the door, but he couldn’t see the other boy. The sobs had quieted down some, but he could still hear distant noises coming from his left.
From the bathroom.
The room reeked of hysteria and something sour.
Pushing against the door and dresser once more, Alec didn’t let up until the crack was big enough for him to squeeze through. Once he was inside, he rushed to the bathroom without a second thought, the only thing in his head being: Magnus, Magnus, Magnus.
“Magnus!” Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t this.
Magnus was crouching in front of the toilet, hands clutching at it as if it was his lifeline – knuckles white and the veins on the back of his hands standing out like cords. His hair was plastered to his forehead and he was heaving heavily. Even though the omega’s muscles tensed up when he set foot into the bathroom, his eyes didn’t open. He kept them pressed shut, as if opening them would unleash some kind of wrath he didn’t want to face.
The sour smell he’d noticed earlier was vomit.
“Magnus...” Alec didn’t know what to say or do. He took two steps closer – almost crossing the entire bathroom because of how small it was – before slowly crouching down.
The moment his knees touched the floor, Magnus threw up once more, and Alec felt his heart break.
What’d happened to the omega to make him this sick?
Had he eaten something wrong? But they always ate the same thing.
Or… he once again noticed the extreme fear that filled the air like a poisonous gas.
He’d worked himself into enough of a frenzy to make himself throw up.
“Can I… Can I touch you?” The smaller boy turned his head to the side, away from the alfa and shook his head, but after a second, the motion stilled. They both sat there, frozen in time: Alec by Magnus’ refusal, and Magnus pinned in place in fear.
Then, Magnus slowly nodded and Alec let out a breath he hadn’t even noticed he was holding. As fast as he could, he crept towards his omega – sweaty hands slipping on the tiles and breathing short as he approached him, raising a hand to try and touch him.
Did he really want to though? What if he’d only agreed because he wanted to keep Alec happy? They hadn’t touched each other since Magnus’ had been in his bed and – now was not the time to think about that!
He placed a single hand on Magnus’ back, the sweat on his palm making it stick to the fabric. The shirt was already stuck though, and the alpha could feel heat radiating from the omega’s back – the shirt was damp before Alec ever even touched it. Beneath his fingers, Magnus’ back and chest heaved, the tense muscles jumping and tightening with each laboured breath.
It took moments for him to realise Magnus was talking. Soft words were mumbled, cutting the oppressing silence surrounding them.
No, not words. Just a handful of words really.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry alpha, I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry, so sorry,” the constant mumble kept up as Alec stroked up and down his back, afraid of wrapping him up in his arms, no matter how much he wanted to. He wanted to hold the omega close to his chest, wrap him up and comfort him so he knew he’d never have to feel sorry again, but he couldn’t. There were still lines – walls – between them.
“Shh,” he could only reply, “it’ll be fine. You have nothing to be sorry for Magnus. You did nothing wrong-“ Magnus started shaking his head, but Alec simply went on, “- and you will do nothing wrong. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. Just breath.”
It took almost half an hour for Magnus to calm down. After a few minutes, he’d scooted away from Alec’s careful touch, making the alpha’s heart break a little in his chest, but it was still more then he would’ve hoped for.
After the toilet was flushed, they sat there in silence. Magnus was leaning against the tiled side of the bathtub, and Alec was opposite him, the toilet between them as a physical representation of the distance between the two of them.
When finally, there were no more tears and the only sound filling the room was the two of them breathing, Alec dared voice his proposal. He’d been thinking about it a lot today, but the current events and the lingering scent of fear only proved how much it was needed.
“Do you want to build a nest in the apartment?”
At the sound of his voice, Magnus’ shoulders tensed once more – but as soon as the words registered, his head shot up and for a second, Alec gazed into the most beautiful eyes. Eyes he’d only caught a glimpse of before. They shone with hope, even though they were red-rimmed from all the tears.
The sight didn’t last all too long, as Magnus looked back down almost immediately.
A sense of loss and sadness came over Alec, but he refused to believe he’d never see those golden eyes again.
“Are… Are you serious, alpha?” Alec closed his eyes to simply listen to the sound of Magnus talking again, and with a tiny smile on his lips, he replied: “Yes. Of course. You deserve it, Magnus. I want you to be… happy here. You can pick any place and use anything you want.”
His words were rewarded by another glimpse of those hazel coloured eyes, as they peeked out from underneath long lashes.
“I… I…,” Magnus stammered. Alec simply smiled encouragingly, and nodded for him to continue. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. Completely.” Alec took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the reasons he’d come up with during the day, choosing the one he thought would make Magnus see that he wasn’t joking, that he could build a nest here it he wanted to. “I mean it Magnus. I want you to be happy, and you obviously aren’t right now. And since I can’t let you go…-“ the omega boy looked away again “- you need your own safe place here.
“I promise I won’t touch it. And you can choose any place at all. Even the middle of the living room,” he joked, trying to startle a laugh out of Magnus, but a single shake of his shoulders was all the reaction he got. “Do you want to?” He then asked, looking expectantly at the curled up boy sitting opposite him. It stayed silent for a long time, but Alec didn’t dare disturb it. Magnus was wringing his hands, bringing them up to his mouth and back down, only to bring them up again. Bit his thumb and stopped. Lowered his hands. The omega was the epitome of nerves, and Alec started to suspect he would say no, simply because he didn’t truly believe he could say yes.
Alec hadn’t been clear enough.
Hadn’t been able to persuade him into taking care of himself.
Couldn’t even take care of the one omega he wanted to take care of like no one else.
“Yes. Yes, I want to.”