He knows Lewis is not feeling well when he backs out of their usual Friday night pint. He has been looking pale all day, acting grumpy.
‘Headache, sir?’ James asks him, genuinely concerned.
Lewis shrugs. ‘Feeling a bit off, that’s all. Might be going down with something.’
Before he sets off home, James makes his boss promise to text him and let him know how he is over the weekend, in case he needs anything. He is told not to fuss, but the real lack of venom in Lewis’s admonition tells him just how bad the poor man is feeling.
By Saturday evening, James has still not heard anything, and he is almost beside himself with worry. Desperate for news, he rings Laura.
‘Have you heard from him?’
‘No. What’s wrong?’
‘He really wasn’t too good yesterday. I’m thinking of going round to check on him.’
‘He won’t thank you for that, James.’
‘I know, but I’m willing to risk his wrath to make sure he isn’t collapsed on the floor with a heart attack.’
‘It’s probably just flu,’ she soothes. ‘There’s a nasty virus going round.’
‘Even more reason to check, then. Given his age.’
He can hear her shaking her head. ‘He won’t thank you for saying things like that either,’ she laughed.
‘He won’t thank me at all,’ he tells her, managing a smile at the thought of Lewis’s outrage. ‘But I’m willing to risk it to know he’s safely curled up on the sofa with a Beechams Powders.’
‘Okay, well, let me know if you need anything,’ she says, and he knows she means advice on how to handle a grumpy patient.
‘Thanks, I’ll keep you posted.’
When he knocks on the door, there is no answer. That’s when he realises how worried he really is. Because he’s going to do the unthinkable, something he never would have dared to do otherwise. He’s going to use the key Lewis gave him years ago to let himself in, for the first time without Lewis’s express permission. The flat has always been sacrosanct in James’s mind. He would never have dreamt of intruding before, but some instinct inside is telling him that the lack of response is serious. Lewis could be lying in there dying, and he can’t stand out here and allow that to happen because of some territorial etiquette he’s got stuck in his head. So he slips the key into the lock with shaking fingers, and pushes the door open.
The pheromones hit him like a wall. It’s a choking miasma of sex so thick that he has to hang onto the door frame for a moment just to stop his legs from buckling. The he realises he’s letting the olfactory red flag out, and he smartly closes it behind him. If Lewis has an omega in heat in here with him, he daren’t risk the rest of the neighbourhood working that out, or they’ll have a riot on their hands. Still, he has to lean back on the wall to try and clear his head for a moment before he moves on.
He calls out.
No answer. Instinct tells him someone’s in here, though. He can feel himself beginning to react to the scent, breaking out into a sweat, starting to get an erection. He’s praying that he can keep a grip on himself and get through this. He’s never been close to an omega in heat before and he doesn’t know how he’ll react. His alpha status is untested, mostly dormant. On the whole, his system works like that of the normal population.
It’s a puzzle, though. Lewis hasn’t said he’s with anybody, and never mentioned if one of his kids is omega, so James is at a loss to know who could be in here, pumping out all these sex hormones.
He calls again: ‘Sir? Are you there?’
Then, from the kitchen comes a muffled groan. James is in there like a shot, but nothing in his life has prepared him for the sight that greets him.
Lewis is lying on the floor on his side, and it is clear he has been there for quite a while. He is twitching and moaning, wheezing and plucking at the buttons of his shirt, some of which are undone. His knees are drawn up and now there is no doubt where the pheromones are coming from because the poor man’s trousers are soaked through, and he’s lying in a pool of his own juices. His hair is soaked too, dripping with sweat.
James drops to his knees but he is too terrified to touch or help. This can’t be happening. Lewis is way past the age when heats should happen, and besides, James has never heard the faintest whisper that he could be an omega in any case.
Lewis squints at him,’ Oh, God, lad, help me. Help me?’
All James can think of to do is to grab a glass and fill it from the tap. He presses it to Lewis’s cracked lips. Most of it spills onto the floor but some gets in.
Lewis moans, and the sound goes straight to James’ groin. That’s when he knows he can’t deal with this himself. He can feel the desire to mate pressing up under his diaphragm and filling his cock. He’s already sweating badly. The ache in his chest is becoming an outright pain. He’s loved this man for too long to be objective. He is sure Lewis wouldn’t want this, and he can’t take advantage of his condition to fulfil his own desires, no matter how long-held. It would be the end of their friendship, their trust, the end of life has he knows it, the end of everything he holds dear and he can’t, he just can’t risk that. He loves Lewis too much. So there is only one thing to do, and that is to protect Lewis from himself. But he daren’t leave him. He’s heard how bad heats can be, and he can see that his friend is suffering dreadfully. There’s only one thing to do, and that is to make him as comfortable as possible.
Lewis is a big man, and right now, also a dead weight. He’s almost incapable of moving himself, and James has his work cut out to heave him off the lino. He throws Lewis’s arm over his own shoulder and pretty much drags him down the corridor to the bedroom, where he manages to lay him out on the bed.
Lewis begins to thrash and moan.
‘Oh, God, help me, for god’s sake help me!’
James can’t. He just can’t. Everything, every fibre of his body is telling him to pounce on Lewis and satisfy him, but he can’t.
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,’ he pants.
He forces himself back through the bedroom door and shuts it hard, then sinks to the floor and starts to cry.
Everything he has longed for for seven years is in the room at his back, and he can’t reach out and take it.
Sniffing back tears, he manages to fumble out his mobile.
‘God, what’s wrong?’ She can obviously hear his tears in his voice, though he is trying to force down the sobs.
‘He’s in heat, Laura! He’s in heat and I don’t know what to do! I’ve locked him in the bedroom, but I can’t leave him. He’s in such a bad way – I found him collapsed on the floor. Tell me what to do, just tell me and I’ll do it, anything.’
He gives her a rundown of Lewis’s symptoms, and he can hear her voice become more serious with every one.
‘Now listen to me James, listen very carefully because I’m going to ask you to do something you may find hard. I’m not asking out of anything but medical need, okay?’
‘I need you to go in there and mate with him.’
‘What? I can’t-‘
‘Listen to me, James. This is very important! A man his age shouldn’t be experiencing a heat. His heart is being put under extreme stress. At most he’ll have one or two waves left to get through, by the sound of it, but the sooner the heat can be ended the better, and there’s only one way to do that. He needs to be served. Now you can sit behind that door with your precious integrity intact, and listen to him die, or you can go in there and do what needs to be done to save his life.’
‘He’d never forgive me!’
‘If you don’t do it, he’ll never have the chance!’
‘Oh God. Just tell me why? Why is this happening? He shouldn’t be-‘
‘I can’t tell you that without seeing him, and even then-‘
‘You could come, you could give him something-‘
‘James, even if I could get away, you wouldn’t be able to let me near him.’
‘Of course I would!’
‘No, you wouldn’t. Trust me, I can hear it in your voice. The alpha hormones are already in your blood, you wouldn’t let anybody near him, not even a beta like me. And even if I could, there’s nothing synthetic that I could give him that would do as good a job as what you can do for him. You need to do this.’
‘I can’t,’ he sobbed.
‘I know you love him,’ she said, her voice softening. ‘I know you’re scared of losing what you have together, but you’ll lose it anyway if he dies. Please, James, you have to listen to me. He needs you more now than he ever has. Go to him. You don’t have to bond with him. Just mate with him. That’s all.’
Something in her voice calms him. He drags his palm over his face to wipe away the tears.
‘Okay, what do I have to do?’
She splutters on the other end of the line. ‘Come on, do I have to draw you a picture?’
‘I’ve never done this before,’ he snaps back.
‘Look, he’ll be open and well lubricated. It doesn’t take any special technique, he’ll be more than receptive. It’s just like with a woman but in the other hole, okay?’
‘You aren’t inspiring me with confidence, doctor,’ he sniffs.
‘Just trust your hormones,’ she says, and he can hear her smile. ‘Instinct is the best teacher. You’ll know what to do.’
‘And you reckon he’ll only need one round?’
‘Two at the absolute most. He must be crawling the walls by now.’
‘Pretty much.’ James can hear the groans coming from the bedroom. It is an exquisite torture. ‘You’re sure about this?’
‘I can’t guarantee he’ll survive if you don’t. At the very least, his heart will be strained. There could be permanent damage.’
‘Right,’ he says, climbing reluctantly to his feet. ‘Right. I’ll ring you when he comes out of it.’
‘Okay. Good luck.’
He presses the red button and stares at his phone for a moment. Then he puts it down with shaking hands on the bookshelf by the door, takes a deep breath, and goes back into the bedroom.
Tomorrow, James must come to Lewis's rescue...