The Colbert family was nothing if not traditional. When Lorne Tuck got pregnant at nineteen after going into heat for the first time, his alpha did the right thing and proposed, making him Mr. Ω. Colbert within the season. Faithful Catholics both, they obeyed the papal dictum against hormone control and went on to have as many children as biology saw fit: three alphas, seven betas, and one omega, the youngest, a boy who was his omega father's special favorite.
It was no wonder Stephen grew up the pampered baby of the family.
The pampering would be blamed later, mostly by his alpha father, for Stephen's more non-traditional life choices. But when he was young, all Stephen wanted was to be just like his omega father. Except for the part where he wanted to go to college, and that wasn't so bad, was it? A modern young omega ought to have a little education under his or her hat. And university was a great place to meet eligible alphas who were moving up in the world.
Never mind that, before he even arrived on campus, Stephen had already met the first two loves of his life: Charlene, and the stage.
Charlene was a distant cousin, a talented painter, and a generous alpha. When Stephen, then only a high school junior, felt the signs that his omega dad had taught him to recognize as first heat, he had gone straight to the art room. The nurse's office had a room designed for the relief of omega students; they didn't make it that far. Charlene ended up having her way with him behind a sculpture of a dolphin made entirely of wire and packing peanuts.
For the next couple of years they went steady, even during the long stretches between Stephen's first few cycles. When Charlene went to Hanover on the strength of its fine arts program, Stephen went to Dartmouth on the strength of its being a fifteen-minute drive from Hanover. His plans were vague but huge: breeze through this stupid history degree while making his mark as a performer, have a wedding with Charlene and a couple of her babies at some point in there, and then juggle being a fabulous television star who broke barriers for omegas everywhere with taking care of his angelic and photogenic children.
As it turned out, his alpha had other ideas.
"Just because I'm not a beta doesn't mean I want all the kids I can shoot out!" she yelled at Stephen toward the end of their last fight, after he had thrown the half-empty box of sperm suppressant pills at her head and she had slapped him across the face. "You should be thanking me! You want a career too, right? If I'd knocked you up back in high school you wouldn't even be here!"
"You had no right!" wailed Stephen, on the verge of tears. "Not without telling me! Papa blew up at me because he thought I was sneaking contraception. Daddy at least believed me, but that just made him scared there was something wrong with me. And all this time it was your fault! I had a right to know!"
When his next cycle arrived, Stephen holed up in the omega dorm, barely leaving his room. The health center got him a medical leave from his classes; a couple of fellow omega and beta classmates brought him homework; his RA made sure he ate. His head was a fog. He couldn't focus for three minutes at a time on anything other than desperate, unfulfilled fantasies. With Charlene to provide relief, he had never stayed in heat for more than four days; this time it was a full seven before the cravings melted away. It was the most miserable week he'd ever survived.
Three and a half months later, he strolled into a frat party and invited any alphas who were interested to take turns.
So Stephen was an omega in his thirties with no children. So what? He had a fabulous life, including a job as the most talented cast member on an award-eligible basic cable news program, replete with friends and fans who loved him in all the ways that mattered. Including the all-important sequence of alpha friends-with-benefits.
He never gave a thought to taking birth control. Much less hormone blockers. Would've broken his poor omega dad's heart.
(Also, heat sex was fantastic.)
Even when he didn't have a friend on hand, like Steve at Second City or his boss in Patterson Springs, it was never hard to find a local alpha on drowners (one brand's slogan: "the fastest way to stop your little swimmers") who couldn't resist. The first time two alphas got into a bar fight over him, he was so entranced that he would have let the winner bend him over the countertop if one of the bouncers hadn't shooed them into the bathroom. One winter in New York he ended up in fivesome: an alpha woman who just wanted the stimulation necessary to impregnate her beta girlfriend, a fellow omega man who was only too happy to make out with Stephen, and another alpha to make sure the two omegas walked away satisfied.
Life was good.
It wasn't just alphas who wanted him, though of course they found him particularly delectable. Betas tried to pick him up on a regular basis. True, they wouldn't be able to appreciate the full intensity of the topping-Stephen-Colbert experience, but he was flattered by the attention. Although Jon never even asked, Stephen could tell that he was in the same camp, even if maybe he didn't really understand it. Some betas were so clueless about their own sexual needs. It was tragic.
At forty, Stephen had a baby, all right: a delicate infant of a television masterpiece, which needed his care, nourishment, and amniotic fluid (metaphorically speaking) to shepherd it into being.
"I'm going to be only the fourth omega in the country with a TV position this relevant," he crowed on the phone with his dads. "I'm going to be a role model! A hero for little omegas all across America!"
"I hope parents don't let their little ones watch you," said Papa roughly. "What kind of model of morality are you providing for them, eh? This is the problem with omegas in the workforce! They forget all about family values!"
"He's just worried about you," put in Daddy, once it was down to just him and Stephen on the line. "We all are. This is such a huge step for you, sweetheart, and since you don't have anyone around to take care of you...I'm worried you're in over your head."
Stephen slept badly that night, without really understanding why. His parents were wrong, after all. With the money he was due to pull in once this thing took off, all he would have to do for any kind of caretaking was hire someone to handle it. And how could the series not take off? How could anyone not catch sight of him and instantly want to see more?
(Unless they were Charlene. She didn't count.)
The series took off like a rocket, strapped to a bomb, floating in nitroglycerine. An explosive turducken.
On the brink of its second anniversary, Stephen decided to celebrate by finally making out with Jon.
"This is a bad idea," panted Jon, though his arms were still fast around Stephen's shoulders, his hips so flush against Stephen's that they could probably take each other's measurements even through his stunningly boring khakis.
"I've had better ones," admitted Stephen, hoping that by throwing Jon a bone he could convince Jon to shut up and get back to kissing him. (That sort of thing worked with Stephen all the time.) "But you can't help not having an alpha dick, and as long as you can refrain from saying anything mean about our President while you're inside me, I'm sure it'll work out."
He nuzzled Jon's neck, a trick which wasn't necessary with heat sex, but with betas you had to make a little more effort. The tension in Jon's limbs didn't slacken. Maybe he wasn't a neck-nuzzling person? "It'll never work," he said desperately. "I mean — it's nothing personal, but I — I only date betas, all right?"
"So we won't date." Stephen rolled his hips, and judging by the way Jon moaned and nearly ripped Stephen's shirt, he was definitely a hip-rolling person. "Even if we tried, it wouldn't last. I've had hundreds of alphas, you know, and some of them can get pret-ty possessive. We can...." For the first time, his fears broke through to the surface. "We can still have sex...right?"
What if he'd been imagining it all along? If Jon had never wanted him that much after all? If everybody else —
Jon dragged him the rest of the distance to the couch, shoved him down to land on top of him, and kissed him again. Stephen all but melted with joy. That answered that.
"And he stays awake and talks to me after," said Stephen dreamily, boneless against the wall of Steve's hotel room while Steve alternately peeled off their suits and ground his pelvis against Stephen's. He wasn't at the point of panicked desperation yet; if they were slow but thorough, they could head it off at the pass. "And he plays with my hair! It's sweet. It's the sweetest thing. He's sweet."
"You never let anyone play with your hair," pointed out Steve, undoing his pants. "You tell people who try that you use special imported Peruvian hair gel formulated to burn off the epidermis of intruders."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Steve. My hair is extremely tousle-able. I've always said so. It's one of my best features."
"Uh-huh. And George Bush will go down in history as our greatest president."
"I accept your apology," said Stephen, swinging up onto the bed to let Steve haul pants and boxers over his bare feet, then getting on all fours. Over his shoulder he continued: "And sometimes we watch the old Adam West Batman together. The episodes aren't on sale anywhere, did you know that? But he used his magical secret rich-person powers, or maybe just taped them all during reruns, I didn't ask. And...." He broke off with a moan, wet for Steve's fingers, pushing his hips backward in a needy search for more of them. "And sometimes Gipper comes and watches with us. Did you know that Jon's favorite breed of —"
"Fascinating," interrupted Steve, throwing his socks across the suite and hopping up to kick Stephen's knees farther apart. "So are you trying to tell me something here?"
Stephen craned his neck for maximum sulking. "I'm trying to tell you Jon's favorite breed of dog. I didn't think I had to tell you to hurry up and get inside me."
"Whatever you say," said Steve, and grabbed his hips.
"It's not — oof — not like that, with Jon," panted Stephen, clinging to the headboard. Just because Steve was now pounding him into the mattress didn't mean he was going to let the man off for being wrong, after all. "I've got needs — he knows it. Besides...deny — ah! — everyone else in the world — all this? Come on! It's good — Jon's not here. It's good...Jon...."
"Okay, let me see if I can phrase this differently," said Steve...
...and then he pulled out, which made Stephen wail. Not because Steve had already knotted (thank God), just because chatty or not, Stephen was far enough gone to be desperate for it.
A couple of unbearably long seconds later, Steve dropped his phone in his hand and pushed back inside him all at once. "Call your boyfriend, you idiot."
Stephen fumbled, one-handed and sideways, with the screen. The names blurred together, but when the call connected, the voice was unmistakably right. "Hello...Stephen?"
"Jon," moaned Stephen, trying to remember what he was supposed to say next. "Jon. Jonnnnn."
Jon said something sharp and disapproving, and the screen went red.
Steve paid Jon a call of his own. Stephen, still a little foggy (okay, a lot foggy) with post-orgasmic bliss, didn't really follow it. He caught the part where Jon asked if Stephen was still on Steve's knot, and corrected Steve when he tried to deny it, but when Steve shouted him down he didn't put up much of a fight.
Really, why did Stephen have to fight so much all the time? Life was good. People were nice. He was loved — gladly, with enthusiasm, any time he needed. It was great to be him.
Still, hadn't there been something he was worrying about...?
Eh. Worry was for losers. He snuggled against Steve's chest and announced, with smug satisfaction, "I like you. You can stay."
In one dream, he was in heat and Jon was an alpha, only Jon made him sit still and refused to touch him, explaining that it would have to wait until Jon was finished painting him. In another, he was pregnant but didn't know the father, and had gone back to live with his parents (in his childhood home, never mind that they hadn't lived there for years), who refused to tell him who was taking care of the Report while he was away.
And somewhere in the shallows above dreaming, it came back to him. Jon was going to be mad. Not just because they had possibly interrupted an Emmy-winner hookup, but because Jon had been clear about the I don't date... thing, and Steve had said boyfriend....
A touch on his forehead drew him into wakefulness.
"Go 'way," mumbled Stephen, pressing his face into the cushy pillow. He would yell at Steve later. Definitely before they next had sex, but not right this instant. He had misery to wallow in first.
"Sorry!" said a hushed, not-Steve voice. "Didn't mean to disturb you."
Stephen was up like a shot, elbows digging into the mattress, blinking against the sudden brightness. The sheet that someone had drawn over him slid down his back, pooling around his hips. There were still stars out the window; he had only napped, and the light was from the bedside lamp. Jon was pulling back into his seat in the nearby armchair, wearing the collared shirt he'd had on stage with the cuffs unbuttoned over a less-expensive pair of pants, and a charming blush.
"I tried to call," he said sheepishly. "You were already asleep. Steve told me how to get up here. We've been talking...he went into the next room to sleep, give us some privacy...it was like ten minutes ago, I haven't been staring at you here for hours, I swear...."
"It wasn't my fault!" blurted Stephen.
"I didn't say anything about us dating! Steve was obviously confused because I happen to talk about you all the time, up to and including while he was trying to get my clothes off, but what I told him was that we were having meaningless sex between friends. He's the one who got the wrong idea!"
Jon shook his head, as if to clear it. "Stephen, before you say anything else, tell me one thing. When you called...were you trying to invite me to join you?"
Stephen blinked. "What else would I have been doing?"
Jon muttered something that sounded like Omegas! "And when Steve got 'the wrong idea', was it because he could tell that you wanted it to be the right idea?"
"No!" said Stephen, once he had parsed the sentence. He wasn't about to fall for the only person (not counting one-off encounters during heat, where it wasn't said, just understood) who had told him up front that it was never going to happen. Deliberately set himself up for another Charlene? One was plenty for a lifetime, thanks. "No, you were very clear about that. No dating. Not gonna happen."
"Okay, but what if I changed my mind?"
"Jon, if this is a trick question...."
"I love you, all right?"
Stephen caught his breath.
"And, listen, I don't know how well I can handle dating you and...and sharing you when you need it, but I definitely can't handle this whole sex-while-pretending-it-doesn't-mean-anything deal either, so if we could try...if you wanted...."
He didn't have to finish the sentence. Tears were already rolling down Stephen's face. In what he hoped was a delicate, endearing omega-type way, he squeaked, "You love me?"
Jon shrugged. "Yeah."
Stephen made grabby-hands in his direction.
Within moments he was sobbing contentedly against Jon's chest, both of them under the sheets, where Stephen was naked and still kind of sticky and clingy as a kitten. "I will excuse your flip-floppery," he informed Jon, hooking one leg around Jon's waist and nudging a thigh up for him to straddle. "Just this once."
"So, uh, exactly how much more...?"
"Not much! I mean, I'd be happiest if you just kept me in here all day, and went for it as often as you could get it up. But if you want to go out and about, all I need to be functional and not-miserable...let's see, with both you and Steve, it'll be even less...maybe four or five more times?"
"Over the next three days? I can handle that."
"No, Jon, he means over every day. You really are a beta, aren't you?"
"Shut up, Steve. And put some pants on before room service gets here, will you? That thing is a public safety hazard."
Seven or eight weeks later, Stephen was rifling through the cabinets under Jon's bathroom sink. Bottles of non-salon-grade shampoo, a box of Dayquil, razor blades, a half-empty box of condoms, ibuprofin, toothpaste, but no sign of....
"Looking for something?" asked Jon, poking his head in.
Stephen sat back on his heels, hanging on to the countertop for balance. "My dads are very traditional," he said, blinking rapidly.
"I have gotten that impression, yeah."
"So they're going to want a church wedding," Stephen continued. "And for me to legally become Mr. Ω. Stewart, even if I keep using my maiden name for professional purposes. And I don't know how you feel about baptism, but it would make them really happy if you just went along with it...."
"Whoa, okay, hold up," said Jon, leaning against the doorjamb. "Isn't this moving a little fast? And even when we do get married, you know I'm a Jew, right? We've got nothing against baptism per se, but it's...not for...oh my god, Stephen."
Sniffling, Stephen nodded.
Within moments Jon had him wrapped in an embrace, one hand splayed protectively across his stomach next to Stephen's own. "It's okay," he said firmly. "I don't know how we're gonna pull this off, exactly, given our track record on communicating like responsible adults so far...but we'll figure it out. I'll be okay. Will you?"
"F-fine!" said Stephen, wailing hardly at all, really. "I've only been preparing for this my whole life."