Chapter 1: Disappointing News at Star Gate Bakery
The warm sweet scent of oven-fresh cupcakes rose through the air of Star Gate Bakery, and Daniel Jackson breathed it deep, surveying the bustling activity in his kitchen with satisfaction.
Lindsey Novak, his assistant baker, directed final prep on ten key lime cheesecakes commissioned by the MoMA for an exhibit of Florida artists opening that afternoon. One of the shop’s front counter crew stuck her head past the kitchen door, calling for an update on the palmier availability. And a teamster who had just off-loaded the bakery’s weekly shipment of flour wandered around with a clipboard looking for someone to sign-off for him.
The kitchen mostly tended to run itself, but the teamster Daniel could help. He walked over to the man, motioning at the paperwork. “I’ll sign it,” he said.
The teamster, a beta by the smell of him, gave Daniel a look and a sniff, then awarded him a patronizing smile. “Thanks, little buddy, but I need someone in authority.”
“Well, that’s good, because I’m the authority in this room right now,” Daniel said pleasantly, reaching over to ease the clipboard out of the startled beta’s hand.
Some of the bakery’s vendors didn’t seem to know what to make of Daniel: he was an omega but he was also head baker, the boss of the shop when Star Gate’s owner wasn’t around, and the beta and occasional alpha teamsters always tended to underestimate him. Aside from a few omegas, Star Gate’s workers were mostly betas, but they were a good group, respecting Daniel after years of working alongside him.
Handing the completed paperwork back, Daniel said, “Usually your people lay five or so bags on the pallet here in the kitchen.” He motioned to the empty spot against the wall.
The teamster eyed Daniel’s signature then the omega himself suspiciously. “Yeah, fuhgedaboudit,” he finally said. “Got more important stuff to do.”
As the man began to turn away, muttering darkly about uppity omegas who didn’t know their place, Daniel debated with himself over making a fuss, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He would ask Graham later to help him pull a few bags in from the pantry—
Bristling like a twitchy and extremely hostile chihuahua, Lindsey, a beta herself, stepped up suddenly, planting herself squarely in the teamster’s path. “Hey!” she said, face inches from the teamster’s, chin jutting out defiantly. “Stop tryin’a be a goomba and do your job!”
“You tryin’a tell me my job?”
“No, I am telling you your job!”
The resulting, and admittedly amusing, confrontation was successful (within five minutes the big beta trucker had sullenly carted in and stacked ten fifty-pound bags of flour on the kitchen pallet) but it was irritating and depressingly common, too. Being an omega in an alpha and beta world meant being defended by someone as slight as Lindsey, a woman who looked like a harsh sneeze would blow her away.
Shaking his head and putting the incident out of his mind, Daniel looked up to check the time, cheered as always at the sight of the big custom-made wall clock: it showed Star Gate’s logo of an old-fashioned wooden gate opening on an early morning garden, stars spangled across the sky as the first rays of the rising sun shot up.
It was late for him, nine o’clock, his workday more than half over. Now it was time to slow down and indulge. The morning’s compliment of artisan breads had already been proofed, baked and, for the most part, bought and eaten. Croissants and Kouign-Amanns, brioches and chouquettes, chausson pommes and Merveilles. Daniel might know how to bake every pastry imaginable, and he might be damn good at it, but his true passion was something much more humble. The lowly cupcake.
He looked over the multiple trays of undecorated little cakes sitting on his worktable, cooled-down and waiting for him. He’d never admit to the little thrill of anticipation the sight give him.
“Hey, Daniel!” Janet Fraiser slipped into the kitchen area through the double swinging doors leading to the store front, a cup of coffee in one hand and in the other one of the chocolatines Daniel had taken out of the oven just fifteen minutes previously. A petite beta whose brunette hair constantly escaped her no-nonsense bun in wispy curls, Janet was Daniel’s flatmate and a familiar sight in Star Gate’s kitchen.
“Morning, Janet,” Daniel said, pulling a first batch of cupcakes over and beginning to pop them out of the tray. When he’d left their Upper East Side flat at 3:45 that morning, walking along quiet New York City streets to catch a green line subway train, Janet had been sound asleep, having only just come in from her late shift at Metropolitan Hospital. “You going back into work later?” He sometimes worried about the long hours she had to put in as a surgical intern.
“No, thank goodness.” Janet took a healthy bite of her pastry, speaking around it. “Turns out seven straight days on duty is not only kind of illegal, it’s also not terribly safe when working in life or death situations. Who knew?” She gave a sarcastic one-shouldered shrug and took a swig of coffee. “Anyhow, I’m off for the next three days, hallelujah.”
“I’m sure your patients are as grateful as you are.”
Janet elbowed him hard enough to make him almost drop a cake. He glared at her smirk, then she finished off her chocolatine with finger-licking relish, pronouncing, “Hmm, spectacular, as always. Thank you for sharing your baking talents with us mere mortals, Daniel.”
He ducked his head to hide a pleased smile. “You’re welcome,” he murmured.
“So, have you heard anything yet?” Janet asked, lowering her voice.
He kept his head down, gathering together his frosting palette. “Heard anything about what?” he asked with entirely unconvincing casualness.
“You know what, Daniel, c’mon,” Janet prompted.
Daniel sighed, lining up a rainbow of color gel jars. “No, General Hammond hasn’t said anything to me.”
Janet rolled her eyes. “Daniel, you can call him George. Don’t be such an omega. He’s your boss, not your general.”
As an omega, even a late-blooming one, it had been drilled into Daniel’s head to always be polite. Daniel only just resisted rolling his own eyes. “Fine, George hasn’t said anything.” He shrugged, trying to keep his voice neutral. “It could be weeks for all I know.”
“I hope not. I don’t want you living on raman and leftover bread for too long.”
General George Hammond, retired from the U.S. Air Force and longtime owner of Star Gate Bakery, had announced his intention to sell the bakery a couple months previously, saying he wanted to spend more time with his daughter and grandchildren. The timing couldn’t have been better for Daniel.
He’d been with the bakery for five years now, since the age of nineteen. Starting as kitchen help, he’d worked his way up to head baker, quite an accomplishment for an omega, he knew that, but it wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to be his own boss. He didn’t want to have to depend on any alpha, even one as nice as Hammond, and he had worked toward this for years now.
As far as Daniel was concerned, his great-grandmother taught him everything he needed to know about baking, but to make his skills official and quantifiable he took a six-month baking and pastry arts program for a certification from the Culinary Institution of Manhattan. And he might only have an associate’s degree in business from Bronx Community College, but he was confident that would be good enough to run a bakery. Star Gate was a going concern after all, it wasn’t like he’d be trying to woo investors to start up a new business. He hoped it was enough at least. He was willing to continue his education for a bachelor’s if necessary, but god those two years of night classes were torture as it was: he found every single blessed aspect of business boring as hell.
A lot was riding on this bid to buy the bakery. Daniel had taken out a line of credit at the bank, tying up everything he owned or could expect to own: he’d borrowed money from his parents, he’d sunk in all his savings and all but a couple hundred dollars of his checking account. He’d even, to his parents’ horror, liquidated his dowry. An omega’s dowry was ridiculously old-fashioned, he’d told them firmly, and he’d never need it anyway. He had no intention of marrying. Ever.
The end result of this gamble, unfortunately, was that money was very tight for him at the moment. It would be hard to make the rent this month, which was due in…oh crap, three days ago. “The rent!” he blurted out, eyes wide, “It—it—!”
“Is paid,” Janet said calmly, taking a sip of her coffee.
Daniel frowned. “I don’t want you to—”
“You can pay me back when you’re rich.”
“Right,” he said unhappily.
The flat they lived in was sub-let from Janet’s aunt, a woman so rich she didn’t much care if her Upper East Side property remained empty while she enjoyed a leisurely several-years-long tour of Europe. Janet herself had a sizable trust fund, which was good because her first-year residency at Metropolitan didn’t exactly pay that well; it served mostly low-income patients, which was the very reason Janet had chosen it.
The beta woman was a few years older than Daniel but they had known each other for years, having grown up in the same Bronx neighborhood. When the little two-bedroom flat opened up, Janet invited Daniel to share the space and he had jumped at the opportunity to get out from under his parents’ roof. The two had a comfortably platonic relationship; as an only-child, Daniel had always thought of Janet as a beloved, if annoyingly overprotective, older sister.
Daniel had finally finished dawdling and just gotten his supplies organized when he caught a scent and his head shot up, nose twitching at the sudden onslaught of alpha, sharp and hot and somehow loud, a scent that had come to mean danger and caution and watch your damn back, Daniel!
But before he could act on any of those instincts he ducked his face into the crook of his elbow, sneezing violently three times, then blinking up to see what could cause such an overload of alpha pheromones in his typically isolated kitchen.
Four alphas, that’s what.
The first, his boss George Hammond, was familiar and his scent had come to feel paternal to Daniel. He was a rotund older man, what little hair remained to him greying, and his eyes twinkled benignly as he surveyed the kitchen.
The other three were new to Daniel. The largest was a tall black man, muscular and fit, shaved head gleaming in the bright kitchen lights. He stood with hands clasped behind his back, as if to mitigate the implicit and unavoidable aggression of his alpha presence.
The second was a female alpha, a cross-sex gender the opposite of Daniel himself. She was tall for a woman and quite beautiful with blonde hair pulled back in a French braid, wearing a well-tailored pantsuit in pale blue that matched her eyes.
And the last newcomer…
Sweet holy hell.
Daniel’s first thought was wolf. This male alpha was a predator, body fit and lean, carried with a fluid grace that was as unconscious as it was attractive. He looked to be a couple inches taller than Daniel’s own six-foot, and with the exception of a dark grey chambray shirt, he was a study in shades of warm brown, from his hair, silver-shot at the temples, to his well-worn leather coat, to his snug canvas slacks and low-heeled leather boots that matched the coat. The man glanced with interest around the kitchen before turning fully toward Daniel, piercing the omega with deep brown eyes under arched brows, an aquiline nose over firm lips completing a picture of sheer alpha perfection.
“I have an announcement, everyone,” General Hammond called out. “As of today, I’m officially retired from the bakery business.”
No one was surprised, but the expressions of regret and good wishes called out from his employees were sincere. Daniel wrenched his eyes from the new alpha, looking hopefully to Hammond, echoing the good wishes perfunctorily, his heart pounding. This was it, the bakery could be his. Maybe these three alphas were Hammond’s legal team, here to have Daniel sign papers—
“Everybody, meet Jack O’Neill, your new boss.” Hammond gestured to the alpha in the leather coat who smiled expectantly around the room.
Daniel stood numbly as the man, Jack, began to make the rounds, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with Star Gate’s staff. He started with Lindsey who smiled nervously, overcome by a case of the hiccups the high-strung beta got whenever she was stressed.
Right. General Hammond sold the bakery, sure he did, but not to Daniel. To this man. An alpha. Of course. What did Daniel expect? How could he have been so willfully blind, so naïve? So stupid. As if anyone would sell anything of consequence to an omega.
Face blank, Daniel looked Jack over again. Military. It was obvious and Daniel was a fool for not understanding sooner. Some knothead ex-Air Force buddy of General Hammond’s. A rich knothead ex-Air Force buddy, if the quality of his clothes was any indication. The bakery was probably just a tax write off to him, just a plaything, nothing special, not the center of his life the way it was to Daniel.
“And here’s the little omega who’s the heart and soul of Star Gate.” The general had worked his way over to Daniel and stood smiling paternally, as if he hadn’t just publically ripped out Daniel’s heart. He gestured Jack to where Daniel stood like a manikin.
This close Daniel could see that one of Jack’s brows was bisected by an old scar and the alpha’s brown eyes flicked intimately over Daniel, seeming to take in every last detail of him, starting at his face, the blue eyes and full lips that Daniel had been told marked him as a magnificent specimen of male omega-hood (read: good for a fuck but not much else), up to his short cropped ash-blond hair, the spikes he’d gelled up this morning probably long since wilted and his perpetually slouchy bakers cap perched askew on his head. Then Jack’s eyes lowered, travelling past Daniel’s tattered old Nirvana t-shirt and stained apron, down his favorite blue jeans, worn thin and soft with age, ending at his scuffed and holey Converse sneakers.
Daniel twitched under the scrutiny. No, he didn’t look like the typical omega (if there truly was such a thing). That was the idea.
Jack held his hand out to Daniel and, after a long uncomfortable pause as the taller man waited, a lifetime of manners kicked in and Daniel took the alpha’s hand for a quick shake. Jack’s grip was gentle as if he was being careful not to bruise Daniel, because of course omegas bruise just from normal hand pressure.
Daniel took perverse satisfaction in seeing the coating of flour dust he left on the alpha’s hand, but Jack just grinned and brushed his hands together to clean them off. “Guess I’ll have to get used to this, huh?” Jack said.
Daniel pursed his lips, irritated at the man’s good humor. He grabbed a jar of pumpkin orange color gel at random and fiddled with it compulsively to keep his hands occupied.
“So, uh…” Jack looked around at a kitchen-full of new employees, looking un-alpha-ly unsure for a second. Then he rallied. “So, like General Hammond said, I’m Jack.” He gestured to the blonde female alpha he’d come in with. “This is Samantha Carter.”
“Hello, everyone,” she said with a smile and little wave to the room at large.
“Sam’s sort of like my chief financial officer,” Jack continued. Then he bounced on the balls of his feet, hands in pockets and a smug smile on his face. “You could say she’s the long-suffering Pepper Potts to my fun-loving Iron Man.”
Sam raised an unimpressed brow. “Isn’t Tony Stark supposed to be a genius inventor?”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “So?”
“I’m not sure finding a new use for your electric toothbrush counts as a ground breaking invention.”
As the kitchen staff exchanged tentative smiles, the other male alpha observed, “Samantha Carter is long suffering, however.”
“And this is Teal’c,” Jack supplied promptly. “He’s the Colonel ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes to my Iron Man.”
Sam’s brows rose higher. “I’m not sure—”
“Ah, ah! Enough. I’m the boss.”
She smirked, but relented. “If you say so,” she said breezily.
The kitchen staff chuckled along openly now, the betas and omegas clearly charmed by the new boss and his friends. Janet nudged up against Daniel, saying softly, “It’s too bad things didn’t turn out the way you wanted, Daniel. But on the bright side, they seem like really nice people.”
Daniel bristled with irritation. He didn’t care how nice they were, his finances were screwed. God only knew how many fees and penalties he would end up having to pay. He didn’t have time to watch an alpha floorshow. Especially not one with a female alpha, he thought, old resentment rising up in him.
Sure, Sam could afford to give in to Jack in a disagreement. She was an alpha in her own right, giving way was seen as gracious and charming and diplomatic. If Daniel did the same it would be seen as simply the way things were, a properly subservient omega. In fact subservience on his part wouldn’t even be noticed at all. Male omegas were the lowest of the low, they were supposed to submit to everyone else. They were the freaks of nature who theoretically had the equipment to conceive and give birth to a baby, but who rarely ever did.
Half of the world’s population were betas, with equal numbers of each sex, male and female. They were usually thought of as the base population, accounting for most of the global workforce and able to sexually reproduce. Of the remaining 50% of the population, half were alpha and half were omega. Alphas and omegas were typically more attracted to each other than to betas, although not always (in the case of Daniel’s own parents, his father was alpha and his mother was beta). Alphas and omegas were also a little more attuned to gender differences than the usually tone-deaf betas, catching scent of pheromones faster and more accurately.
Alphas were the leaders of the world, the business trailblazers, the sports stars, the military heroes, the ones the betas looked up to like a middle child looked up to his jock older brother.
Betas were the middle-managers, the small business owners, the skilled laborers and the rank and file of sizable organizations.
Omegas were the fertile child-nurturers, the homemakers, the unskilled laborers; they were looked down on as too innocent to be trusted with anything important and were restricted for their own protection. They were the ones expected to find a rich alpha, marry young and do what they were told.
Most alphas were men and most omegas were women, but about a fourth of each gender were cross-sex individuals. So of the total global population, about 6% each were female alphas or male omegas. A female alpha was seen as unusual, but in an interestingly exotic way. Someone competent who could bring a different perspective from the typical male alpha.
But a male omega… What was the point of him? He was essentially barren, like an evolutionary dead end. A little too weirdly unnatural to be trusted with even traditional omega pursuits and good for recreational sex only.
Most of the kitchen staff had drifted back to their duties as Daniel stood there clutching his orange gel, thinking and glowering. The three alphas had continued talking, Jack ending up with an arm draped over Sam’s shoulders as they joked together about a trip to Times Square, but Daniel wasn’t listening. Who cared about their tourist plans? These self-satisfied alphas had just casually thrown his life into chaos.
Then Hammond was at Daniel’s side, a fatherly hand to his shoulder, guiding him a few steps away. “Sorry, son, but Jack’s just a better fit for business,” the older alpha said. He winked and continued cheerfully, “You don’t want to get caught up in owning a business anyhow. Late nights balancing the books, worrying yourself sick, talking to strangers. A nice omega like you shouldn’t have to do any of that.”
Giving a jerky, noncommittal nod, Daniel gritted his teeth. He wasn’t sure if the rictus grimace he managed to force out in any way resembled a smile, but he didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Stick to your baking,” Hammond advised, giving Daniel’s shoulder a squeeze. “That’s what you love best.”
It was all Daniel could do not to shrug the hand from his shoulder and tell the old man off. Who did Hammond think he was? Telling Daniel what he loved best, what he should or shouldn’t do?
But… While Hammond might be condescending, he really had been generous. He hadn’t needed to make Daniel head baker. Certainly there were no alphas working in a bakery kitchen, but he put Daniel in charge over betas and that was an unusual move for a man of Hammond’s generation. Yes, Daniel wanted more for himself, but he was grateful for what he already had and he wasn’t about to throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the kitchen.
His smile turned real, if a little sad, and he said with true gratitude, “Thank you, sir.”
This seemed to satisfy Hammond who nodded and gave a final squeeze to Daniel’s shoulder, moving away to give some good-bye handshakes to the other employees. Daniel was left staring blankly at the jar in his hand, half-listening to the three alphas’ chatter.
“And you know we’re going there for business not pleasure,” Sam said with the air of someone bringing an argument to its final conclusion.
“Didn’t I just say I’m fun-loving?” Jack asked.
Sam gave the other alpha a critical once-over. “You’re getting a little old to be described as ‘fun-loving,’” she said.
“I’m only 30!” Jack protested.
“Your birthday is next month,” Teal’c observed.
Jack shrugged. “So? I’m still 30 now. And stop ganging up on me.” There was a pause, then Jack said, “Anyhow, I don’t need you two anymore. I have new friends now. Friends who know how to do the most important thing in the world. Bake cake.”
Daniel looked up at that, realizing that Jack was talking about him, finding the alpha watching him expectantly. It was on the tip of Daniel’s tongue to say he was no friend of the alpha and Jack could bake his own damn cake, but this was his new boss. His dream of buying Star Gate might be dead, but he still needed a job. More than ever now. After all, there were other bakeries in New York. Not as nice, maybe, and not as prominent, but he’d just have to start looking. He would be his own man someday, he would.
Right now, however, he had an obnoxious alpha to deal with. He took a breath and plastered what he hoped was a pleasant expression on his face. “You want to sample a cupcake?” he offered, gesturing to the rows of different flavored little cakes sitting on the racks, cool enough to handle now. He looked between Jack, Sam and Teal’c. “Tell me what flavors you like and I’ll prepare one for each of you.”
Sam drew breath to answer, but Jack held up a hand, forestalling her. “George bragged that his omega was a wizard in the kitchen, whipping stuff up on pure instinct. So you tell us, what do you think we’d like?”
Daniel bristled at the man’s arrogance, not even sure what to be more insulted at, being referred to as a piece of property or being made to perform for the alpha’s pleasure, but then he saw the teasing smile that softened Jack’s words. Okay, unconscious arrogance rather than intentional cruelty. He straightened his back. Fine, it’s not like Daniel wasn’t used to it. “A challenge?” he asked, brows raised.
Jack’s smile widened. “Show us what you got.”
“Any allergies I should know about?” Daniel asked.
“Nah, we’re alphas,” Jack said, the other two nodding along.
Jack still smiled his easy smile, as if he honestly didn’t know how obnoxious and completely untrue that mindset was. As if possessing stronger than average muscles could somehow stop your throat swelling shut from anaphylactic shock. Yes, alphas were generally stronger and sturdier, but they were hardly indestructible.
Daniel confined himself to pursing his lips as he fussily reorganized his already organized equipment. No matter how discouraged he was by Hammond’s decision today, or how personally irritating he found these particular three alphas to be, he would give this challenge his best shot. He just wasn’t capable of intentionally doing a bad job.
“Oh, this is gonna be good,” Janet said, throwing a grin at the alphas and pulling up a stool to perch on.
If Daniel pursed his lips any harder they’d become fused. He consciously relaxed and cleared his mind, paying no attention as Janet introduced herself to Jack and his friends.
Okay. He couldn’t do anything truly fancy at the spur of the moment here, he could only use materials at hand. Fortunately for him and his customers, however, the materials at hand included Daniel’s cupcakes, which were, if he did say so himself with no false modesty, light and airy and moist and bursting with just the perfect amount of sweetness. It wasn’t really even bragging. (Or wouldn’t be if he was ever bold enough to say it out loud.) He might get the credit for the cakes he baked, but the recipes were all courtesy of his omega great-grandmother and he sent a quick prayer of love and thanksgiving up to his o-ma as he often did in the kitchen, wishing she were here to see him now.
He looked over to regard Sam first, Janet and the three alphas settling down to watch Daniel like spectators at a baseball game. Sam was beautiful, he couldn’t deny that, and it was Daniel’s experience that all women, regardless of gender, loved flowers, from the prissiest omega to the butchest alpha.
His mise en place work station was ready to go for cupcake prep and Daniel made short work of getting started, dropping some softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and setting up the paddle attachment. He turned it on and as it began to beat the butter smooth and fluffy, he first added a few drops of vanilla extract, then gradually sifted in some confectioners' sugar. Not too much, he didn’t approve of cloyingly sweet frosting. (If your frosting is so sweet people are scraping it off, then you’re doing something wrong, he thought with an internal sniff of disapproval.)
As the machine worked, Daniel glanced over to consider Jack, a man whose brown eyes seemed to cycle between mischievously playful and piercingly perceptive… Ganache, definitely. Daniel placed some heavy whipping cream in a pan on the gas stove and started it heating.
Back to Sam’s frosting, he poured in some whole milk (no low- or (shudder) non-fat products in his kitchen, thank you very much) and set it to continue beating for a few more minutes.
Returning to Jack’s ganache, Daniel grabbed some coarse pre-chopped semi-sweet chocolate, placed it in a bowl, and poured the heated whipping cream in. Adding a pinch of sea salt he began to stir with a spoon, the chocolate gradually dissolving, progressing from chunky, to lumpy, to grainy…
A quiet whisper came from Sam, “Wow. He’s not even using measuring cups or spoons or anything. Where’s the recipe?”
“They’re all up here,” Lindsey replied in a low voice, and out of his peripheral vision he saw her tap her temple with a smile.
Actually to Daniel it always seemed his baking came from his heart, not his head, but Janet was nodding. “I think all Daniel’s recipes originally came from his o-ma, right, Lindsey?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Lindsey said.
Not pausing his stirring, Daniel peeked into Sam’s frosting and saw it was ready, turning off the mixer with his elbow. Yes, he could have asked Lindsey to help, but he wanted to do all of this by himself.
The ganache was thick, smooth and gooey now and Daniel switched to a whisk, working steadily for a good three or four minutes to thicken it further.
As he whisked he looked at Teal’c, tipping his head to the side, considering, the big alpha returning the look placidly. Hmm, something sweet, but a little more substantial. Cream cheese, he decided. The prep for that was minimal and he would put it off for now.
His whisking arm was beginning to ache a bit at the effort, but he was rewarded at the end with a bowl of deep glossy ganache, testing it for smoothness by letting it drizzle down from the whisk. It was too hot to work with at the moment, so he set the bowl down far from any heat sources. It should be cool enough to handle by the time he finished with Sam’s roses, although he suspected Jack might like the immediacy of the warm chocolate anyhow.
Turning his attention back to Sam’s frosting, he spooned a generous dollop out of the mixer bowl, dropping it into a small bowl. He dipped a flat bamboo toothpick into a jar of red color gel, gathering up a good amount. Stirring the color into the plain white frosting with a blunt table knife, he mixed it thoroughly to produce a vivid red for the roses. Alphas, even cross-sex alphas, preferred bold colors. Next he took another bowl, preparing a smaller amount of pale green frosting for the leaves, adding just the barest drop of mint flavoring.
His small audience watching avidly, he prepped two pastry bags for the frosting. For the roses themselves, he snipped the tip off the end of one cone-shaped bag and dropped a petal nozzle down into place, wedged tight to peek out through the hole. He used the knife to transfer the red frosting from bowl to bag, packing it down and folding the top closed. For the green he left the bottom sealed for now, simply transferring the frosting and closing the top.
Setting the bags aside for now, Daniel looked over his cake flavor choices. He was limited to what was already baked, of course, but that was still a considerable selection.
For Sam, it would be more about the showy flower frosting than the cake itself and he grabbed a rich golden topped cake, saying to the alphas, “Vanilla for Sam.”
“Heh. Vanilla,” Jack said in the tones of a stoned middle-schooler, nudging Sam with his elbow and winking. “He’s got you pegged.”
“Shut it, boss, or I’ll peg you,” Sam said calmly.
Janet smothered a giggle.
“You can’t, Carter,” Jack explained with mock-patience. “See, that wouldn’t be vanilla.”
Janet laughed out loud at that, rocking back on her stool, and on the other side of Daniel’s work table, the eavesdropping Lindsey grinned through her hiccups.
That totally wasn’t a smile that Daniel struggled to squelch. Certainly not. All he felt was…irritation, yes, irritation that they were making off-color jokes about O-Ma’s cakes.
After peeling the paper cup off the little cake and laying a base of plain white frosting on the cupcake’s top, Daniel picked up a flower nail in his right hand. This was a smooth topped implement something like a giant thumb tack. Taking up the pastry bag of red frosting in his left hand, he squeezed the bag steadily, extruding a flat ribbon of frosting. With deft strokes almost too fast for the untrained eye to follow, spinning the nail as he went, he laid down the inner bud and unfurling outer petals of a diminutive rose, small and delicate as befitted a fairy cake. He gently removed it from the nail with a small pair of kitchen shears, carefully placing it off-center on the top of Sam’s vanilla cake. In short order he made two more identical flowers, clustering them together to cover the top of the cake, the contrast with the base white frosting making the red all the more vibrant.
Finished with the red, he picked up the green frosting bag, snipping open the tip with two cuts to create a small ‘V.’ Applying the frosting directly, he squeezed out three delicate little mint leaves onto the fairy cake. All finished now, he set the cake carefully on one of three plates Lindsey provided and presented it to Sam.
“Wow…” Sam breathed, holding the plate up high to get a better look at her cake and grinning with delight. “Thank you, that’s amazing.”
“You’re welcome,” Daniel said, giving something halfway between a nod and shrug, uncomfortable with praise as usual.
“Cool,” Jack said, leaning over for a better look at Sam’s cupcake. “Nice icing flowers.”
Jack gave Daniel what looked a lot like an admiring smile but couldn’t possibly be. “It’s frosting, not icing,” Daniel said shortly, then glanced away wincing at himself. He was always like this in social situations, especially around alphas, he always said the wrong thing—
“Frosting. Okay,” Jack said, nodding matter-of-factly. “Maybe someday you could explain the difference to me.”
Daniel stared at Jack in surprise, then abruptly blurted out, “Double chocolate, I think.”
Jack blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Um, your cupcake…” Daniel’s embarrassed mutter trailed off as he held up the dark chocolate cupcake he’d just picked out like a child at show-and-tell. He turned to his table, determined not to utter another word. He must sound like a complete moron, probably reinforcing every male omega stereotype in existence.
“Double chocolate,” came a musing rumble from Teal’c. “I believe, O’Neill, it is you that has been pegged this time.”
Daniel kept his head down, ignoring the juvenile snickering and absolutely not smiling. Did alphas have to make everything about sex?
Checking the ganache, Daniel found it still too warm, so he set Jack’s chocolate cupcake aside for the moment, and started on Teal’c’s. He already had an idea of what he wanted to do, so he grabbed a lemon cake from the rear of one cooling rack. There weren’t that many there, lemon wasn’t an especially popular flavor.
“Lemon for Teal’c,” Daniel said with nod to the stately black man, who returned the nod and opened his mouth to speak before Jack cut him off, “Ah, ah! No lemon pegging jokes. We’ve run that into the ground.”
Teal’c raised a dignified brow but merely said, “As you say, O’Neill.”
“Lins?” Daniel said. “May I have three or four raspberries?”
With a shy smile for the alphas, and an involuntary hiccup, the beta assistant baker handed Daniel a plastic berry basket of fresh raspberries she grabbed from the pantry shelves. He thanked her, then set to work, juggling several different actions to save time: he dumped about half of the raspberries into a blender and set them to puree; he combined butter and cream cheese, putting them in the mixer with a clean paddle attachment and beating them smooth; back to the puree, he pressed the juicy mess through a strainer to get rid of the seeds; back to the mixer, he added powdered sugar a little at a time to the cream cheese, finishing up with a few drops of vanilla. Finally, he added the raspberry puree to the mixer and let it all beat together for a minute or two.
He switched the mixer off, looking at frosting critically. The raspberry was mostly mixed, but there were streaks of bright red running through it that Daniel liked. Yes, it came out a little on the pink side, but he was guessing a man so obviously alpha as Teal’c could care less about the piddling trappings of his gender that lesser alphas needed to worry about.
Like he had for Sam, Daniel prepared a pastry bag for Teal’c, fitting it with an open star piping nozzle. After peeling the paper from the lemon cupcake and packing the pastry bag with the raspberry frosting, Daniel squeezed a simple but generously thick swirl to the top of the cake, and, as an added touch of whimsy, sprinkled the frosting with a scattering of fat pearlescent nonpareils, as well as three whole raspberries.
After plating the cupcake and receiving grave thanks from Teal’c, Daniel turned his attention to his final cupcake. Taking up Jack’s dark chocolate cake again, he peeled the paper off and placed it on the plate. Testing the now-cooled down ganache with a spoon, Daniel found it at the perfect point for pouring: just warm enough to drip and spread, but not so cool yet that it had thickened solid.
Holding the bowl close to the cake, Daniel scooped up a big spoonful, letting it drizzle on the cake-top, pooling wide, then slowly oozing over the edge in uneven drops, some dripping down as far as the plate surface.
“Lins?” he called, setting the bowl aside. “Could you please get me the biggest strawberry we have?”
“Sure thing, Daniel,” came the hiccup-bookended reply.
The beta sent him a nice big fat one in an underhand toss. Daniel had his paring knife ready, catching and crowning the strawberry in no time. He set it on a little cutting board to slice it into several thick, uneven pieces. Jack seemed like a man who appreciated chaos, so when Daniel placed the slices on the cupcake, he sunk them vertically into the gooey ganache at random. Finished, he presented it to Jack, a spiky mess of moist fruit and rich dark chocolate.
“Thanks,” Jack said, a pleased smile playing over his lips as he held the cake up to the light like Sam had done with hers.
If Daniel stared at those lips perhaps a little too long, well, no one was looking at him, they were looking at the three alphas who stood at the counter, ready to taste their cakes.
His little audience had slowly been growing as Daniel worked, the kitchen staff taking an unofficial break to see what their new boss thought of their chief baker.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Daniel,” Janet pronounced.
“Mise en place,” Daniel said with a shrug, then enlarged when he was given blank looks: “It’s easy when everything’s in the correct place to work with.”
Janet shook her head decisively. “Everything’s right here for me to work with but I’d still be trying to get the first petal of Sam’s rose done at this point.”
Daniel nudged Janet’s arm, pleased at her flattery even if he didn’t really think he rated it.
With unconscious ceremony, the three alphas each lifted their cakes for one last inspection.
“I hate to eat it, it’s so beautiful…” Sam said.
“Can’t eat your cake and have it too,” Janet observed with a grin.
Sam grinned back, then took a big bite. She chewed for a second or two, then her eyes grew big. “Oh my god…” she moaned around her mouthful.
Beside her, Jack took his own bite and Daniel, enthralled, watched the alpha’s eyes flutter closed as he chewed. Then Jack swallowed, flicked his tongue out to lick a spot of chocolate off his lower lip, opened his eyes to fix them on Daniel, and announced quite seriously, “I think I just came in my boxers.”
Without thinking, Daniel looked down to the alpha’s crotch. The snug canvas trousers had a button fly and Daniel could just make out the outline of five buttons restraining a bulge that proudly proclaimed ‘alpha cock.’
Daniel didn’t know whether Jack was really hard from eating a cupcake (doubtful) or whether he was simply always that big (oh my), but regardless, the omega couldn’t hope to stop the hot blush that rose up his neck and spread over his face.
“Agreed, O’Neill,” Teal’c said serenely, brushing his hands clean from where he had apparently gulped his little cake down in one go. “The cupcake was the gustatory equivalent of a particularly satisfying orgasm. I thank you for this experience, Daniel Jackson.”
Teal’c sketched a small bow to Daniel who stared dumbfounded, his blush intensifying until he felt his face flaming. Biting his lip, he ducked away to the tune of indulgent chuckles from the alphas and Janet and Lindsey and…pretty much the whole kitchen staff. Crap.
Tidying up his work station with compulsive industriousness, Daniel ignored the conversations behind him as Janet chatted with Sam, and Lindsey and the rest of the staff drifted back to work again. When his face had cooled and he trusted himself to glance up, Daniel found Jack observing him with a crooked smile.
“You have a little spot of frosting,” Jack said pointing to Daniel’s right cheek. “If I may?”
Daniel stared stupidly. “Um…”
Not waiting for more of an answer, Jack licked his thumb, then promptly ran it over Daniel’s cheek, the omega standing frozen like a rabbit confronted by a wolf. Oh god, had the alpha just scent marked him? With his saliva?
Jack placed his thumb to his own lips and licked the frosting off with a flick of his tongue, dark brown eyes never once wavering from Daniel’s.
Daniel should’ve been livid. He was livid. Really, he was. It was entirely uncalled for. It was rude, crude…and hot as hell. Oh god.
“I…” Daniel said intelligently.
Jack’s brows rose inquisitively.
“I gotta go,” Daniel concluded. He did actually. Have to go. Out that is. He was meeting his mom and dad. He might be leaving a little earlier than planned, but he did actually have somewhere to go.
He tore his eyes away from the alpha’s mesmerizing gaze, breaking the spell. “Lins, I’m leaving early, okay?” he called out in a rush, barely registering her reply of, “Oh, (hic) uh, sure.” Fumbling with his apron ties, he half-ran to the door and, pulling apron and baking cap off together and tossing the whole mess down behind him, Daniel slipped out through the kitchen and the bakery’s storefront, and out onto the busy Soho sidewalk.
He refused to think about how he didn’t wipe his cheek off.
It was hot and humid and stuffy on the subway, exactly the way Daniel hated to ride, but money was way too tight for a cab right now.
Daniel stood clutching an upright pole on the crowded yellow line train he’d boarded at Prince Street, back rigid, trying to project an air of back off. He was pretty sure it was hopeless, however. What with the temperature on the train and how hard he’d been blushing like a fool back at the shop because of those damn alphas, he probably reeked of omega pheromones right now.
He shouldn’t have let them get to him so much, he shouldn’t have let Jack get to him. He wasn’t even sure why. Daniel had met plenty of good-looking alphas in his lifetime and ignored them all. Why was Jack any different? Just because he had deep brown eyes and a gorgeous smile and his hand had felt so gentle when he touched Daniel’s face…
“My, my! I smell me a bitch in heat!”
Daniel stiffened as the voice of a man rose above the jumbling clatter of the train from somewhere behind him. Please god, don’t let it be Daniel the alpha had sniffed out, the guy sounded like a real piece of work. Shouting obscenities was bad enough, but mentioning heats in public was just plain crude. As if anyone could actually be in heat in August. Heats only came twice a year at the solstices (with the exception of the false-heat of a newly presenting omega, which was all the more reason to leave the omega alone), and no matter how much certain alphas liked to imagine omegas would spontaneously burst into heat at the slightest whiff of their supposedly virile pheromones, biology dictated that it just didn’t happen that way.
“Where that sweet stink coming from?”
Damn it. They’d be at 34th Street station in just a few minutes. If Daniel could just keep a low enough profile maybe whatever alpha that was back there wouldn’t—
A large warm body slid up behind him, the rude alpha, of course, with Daniel’s luck who else? The omega stiffened as the lurching train caused his own body to sync up involuntarily with the other’s rhythm.
“There you are, he-mega,” came the same voice, much quieter now, breath hot on Daniel’s ear. There was a sniffing sound. “You smell soooo sweet…”
Daniel shuddered and inched away, not looking at the alpha but forced to breathe in the aroused pheromones the man was putting out. With not the faintest hint of desire on Daniel’s part, the thick musty scent just made him nauseous. People sitting on the train car’s seats facing him had a front row view of the harassment, but they all looked carefully away to the ceiling, their phones, the floor, looking at anything but Daniel. Betas probably. Daniel couldn’t be sure in the rank alpha bubble he was stuck in, but betas tended to shy away from confronting alphas under most circumstances, and especially alpha/omega interactions.
“I bet you’d love my knot, hmm?” The lewd voice in Daniel’s ear made the omega cringe. “Make you feel good? Make me feel good…” The rocking of the train car became the rocking of a hardness against Daniel’s hip. “What else a he-bitch good for, huh? Make alphas feel gooood…”
Nausea spiking, Daniel had had enough. Sometimes if you ignored them, they’d go away, but this knothead wasn’t going anywhere. Still not looking the man in the eye, Daniel half-turned to give him a hard shove. “Leave me alone,” Daniel said loudly, hoping public censure would slow him down. “I don’t want you touching me.”
It didn’t slow him down. The alpha bounced right back up against Daniel, chuckling as their fellow passengers ignored Daniel as it he and his predicament didn’t exist. “Pretty bitch, why you be like that?”
The familiar anger at the unfairness of it all welled up in Daniel. Why was it okay for people to treat him like this? Alphas talked big about how they were all about protection and security for those weaker than themselves, but all Daniel ever got were crude sexual advances and insults. No one would put up with a beta being treated this way.
Daniel moved away abruptly, plowing through the packed car, squeezing between people. It was hard for him to blaze a path because no one moved for an omega, but the alpha following had it easy, everyone stepped aside for him.
The alpha snagged Daniel’s arm, bringing him to a halt, Daniel tugging like a fish on a line. Cringing at the feel of unwelcome skin touching his own, Daniel desperately twisted his arm, freeing himself and dodging behind a particularly burly beta man.
It made him sick to have to play the role that was expected of him, but he swallowed hard and said, “Alpha, I thank you for your attention,” and he could almost taste the humiliation in his mouth at those words, “but your advances are unwelcome!” Again he spoke loudly, hoping someone would pay attention this time.
The beta he was hiding behind spoke up. “Hey, man,” he said to the alpha. “Might as well leave the little omega alone.”
‘Little? I’m six feet tall, moron,’ was on the tip of his tongue but Daniel swallowed it down. The beta didn’t mean height anyhow.
At least the alpha stopped coming after Daniel, if only to talk to the beta. “You say that, man, but if you could smell him like I can…”
The beta chuckled and shrugged. “Best let him go, dude. You know how the cops are these days.”
Right, the cops. Who had been known, now and then, to actually stop a rape; and even, on infrequent occasion, to prosecute the alpha responsible.
As the alpha let loose an obscenity-laden string of curses, the beta said solicitously, “Better luck next time, man.”
Neither one of them spared Daniel a glance, talking exclusively to each other, as if Daniel himself wasn’t a real person, as if he only existed as a thing, a he-mega to be fucked now if possible or released provisional on future fucking.
Daniel seized the opportunity and moved away, not waiting to see what decision the two might come to regarding the age-old question of whether it really counted as rape if it was an omega. After all, if omegas didn’t really deep down want it, why did they smell so good? Not like when a rogue alpha attacked a beta, everyone agreed that was wrong.
Shoving his way through the crowd, Daniel slammed willy-nilly against anyone who stood in his way, aiming for the doors to be the first one out when the train stopped.
Right now Daniel was actually more irritated at that beta than the alpha. The unthinking contempt and casual cruelty never failed to amaze him. Even when someone helped, it just had to be in the most insulting, belittling way possible…
A dapper alpha complete with suit and attaché (must be slumming it to be on the subway), gave Daniel a disapproving glare when Daniel (sort of) accidently kicked him in the shin to get him out of the way. “Omega!” he barked. “That is not gentlemanly behavior!”
Right. Because omegas were like children whose behavior anyone could correct. Omegas always had to be polite and reserved, ladylike and gentlemanly. ‘Was that other alpha being gentlemanly?’ Daniel wanted to demand. ‘Tell me you didn’t hear what just went down back there and didn’t do anything because as long as it didn’t affect you personally you didn’t give a crap.’
But he didn’t say that. As the slowing train lurched and grumbled its way into the station, Daniel turned and waited for the doors to open, shoulders hunched, swallowing his comment down like he had earlier, just like he’d been swallowing down comments for the past seven years since he’d presented as omega at the ripe old age of seventeen.
Daniel’s parents hadn’t known what to do with him. Melburn and Claire Jackson had no real experience with omegas, and there were none on either side of their immediate families after death of Claire’s grandmother. Worse, he was a late bloomer.
Children are basically neutral, mini-betas who either continue as betas after puberty or, around thirteen or fourteen, go into a false-heat if they are omega, or a false-rut if alpha.
When Daniel had gone so long without showing any unusual signs, it was assumed he would be a beta. Melburn, an alpha, tried to hide his disappointment. He had wanted an alpha son. And beta destiny or not, Daniel had tried to be the alpha his father wanted. Both his parents taught at the Bronx High School of Science and he’d never been so happy as when he started ninth grade. Melburn taught history as well as coaching varsity baseball and football, and Daniel had thrown himself into sports wholeheartedly, wanting his father’s approval, trying to show that even if he was a beta, he could still be the competent and aggressive son his dad wanted.
And then came that day, that sudden and vicious wash of fever coursing through his body, leaving him confused and sweaty, staring dazedly at the whiteboard in calculus class. Thank god for Rodney.
Rodney McKay had been Daniel’s best friend since kindergarten when the little blue-eyed boy with the big mouth marched up to the sandbox Daniel was playing in, placed his chubby arms akimbo, and told Daniel he was building his sandcastle all wrong. That day in calculus Rodney’s analytical mind catalogued the symptoms Daniel had shared with him: the increasingly frequent stomachaches Daniel had shrugged off, the steadily-building headache he’d had when he’d woken that morning, and finally the sudden sweaty pallor of Daniel’s face. Rodney had hustled him out of the room with a snapped excuse to the teacher and into the nurse’s office. Daniel still remembered his friend’s mock-irritated voice telling him he was lucky Rodney could recognize an unusually dazed and confused Daniel as opposed to the usual dazed and confused Daniel.
A priming heat, or false-heat as it was also called, lasts about a week and is alleviated by ice packs, cold compresses, and lots and lots of masturbation. When Daniel finally left his room five days later, shaky but mostly back to himself, he found his world changed, in fact much more changed than his own body. He got to school to find that his father had pulled Daniel out of all the sports teams he’d been on without even asking Daniel, without even telling Daniel. The alpha said later, sitting in the living room watching a Yankees’ game on the television as he spoke, that he thought it went without saying that Daniel couldn’t be allowed to play sports anymore. Daniel had nodded although he hadn’t really understood.
His mom was just as much at a loss. Claire, a beta, taught English as well as French and Spanish. Daniel inherited a talent for languages from her that Claire used to foster, pushing him to consider a career in teaching, talking endlessly about which college would be the best fit for him. But after he presented, she stopped talking about college and a career. It was common wisdom to groom an omega for marriage; marriage was the end-game for omegas, right? She got Daniel’s eyes fixed and enrolled him in poise and decorum classes. She always said Daniel could take from the classes only what he wanted, but she expected him to want certain things now, as if the convulsion of his internal organs changed the real him, as if his physical body defined him.
Daniel finished off his senior year in what seemed like a constant state of bewilderment, at a loss of what to do with himself or his life. He’d spent hours, days in the kitchen, relishing the calm that baking brought him. Rodney poked gentle fun at him, but his parents approved, thinking it a charming traditional omega hobby to keep him occupied until he found someone to marry and support him.
But he loved baking, loved it now more than ever. It wasn’t just a hobby, it was his career, omega stereotype or not. And he would never be marrying. He didn’t need anyone to support him.
Chapter 2: An Unexpected Crowd at the New York Museum of Baking
Taking the stairs two at a time, Daniel came up out of the subway station, breathing in the fresh air of Herald Square gratefully. It was a busy place, the noontime sun streaming down on shoppers, tourists and trades people alike, the open area hemmed in by tall buildings in a variety of architectural styles, from ornate 1800’s era marble edifices to sleek plate-glass windows filled with haute couture.
Daniel pulled his phone out, firing off a text to his mom. (His dad barely knew how to make a phone call with his phone, much less handle a text.) ‘I’m here. Left SG early. Meet now?’
He was in line at a hotdog cart when the phone chirped: ‘At Macy’s getting your father underwear.’ Daniel snickered, stepping up to place his order. A second text came, ‘Meet you at museum in ten,’ as Daniel received his bacon cheese dog. He piled it high with onions, relish and sauerkraut and bolted it down as he strolled past the Bennett Clock, past the hustle and bustle of shoppers and outdoor eateries.
Tucked away in a corner of the square under the shadow of the Empire State Building was the New York Museum of Baking. There wasn’t much to it, but Daniel loved it and he’d been looking forward to showing it off to his parents for months now. The exhibits of old-time kitchen supplies and equipment, recipes and baking history never failed to remind him of O-Ma.
He didn’t have a long wait before he spotted his parents and he grinned at the sight. They looked every inch the high school teachers they were, from his dad’s button down plaid shirt, horn rim glasses and shock of messy grey-shot black hair, to his mom’s going-shopping-downtown ensemble of conservative blouse and skirt with matching handbag and sensible pumps, her ash-blonde hair pulled back in a neat and youthful ponytail.
His mom waved a hand at him but Daniel came to a startled halt in his move to greet them. Coming up beside his parents was another group: Janet leading Jack O’Neill, Samantha Carter and Teal’c, along with another man Daniel didn’t recognize.
“Hey, Daniel!” Janet called, grinning as she came up. “I brought a few friends to join you and your folks today!”
There was a jumble of introductions but Daniel turned away to lead them into the lobby, miffed but trying not to show it. He loved Janet, she was a great friend, but like a lot of betas she was a little tone-deaf when it came to social cues. Not as bad as Rodney, of course, but then who was?
At the museum’s entrance, Jack insisted on paying for everyone, winning a friendly competition among the alphas present. Daniel had to work hard not to roll his eyes. After they all had their tickets and entered into the little concourse that was pretty much the whole museum, and everyone else in their group was still occupied orienting themselves, Jack caught Daniel’s eye and said, “Sorry if we’re crashing your party here, but Janet mentioned a baking museum and…well, who could resist that?”
Head tilted, Daniel looked at him suspiciously. Was he making fun of Daniel? But Jack had his hands in his pockets, bouncing on the balls of his feet, looking around the museum as if he was a kid on Christmas morning.
“Um, that’s okay.” He shrugged, glancing up at the alpha sidelong, giving his lips a nervous lick. “Not like it’s private here or anything.”
Jack’s eyes fastened on Daniel’s mouth long enough that the omega’s brows lowered, then the alpha blinked and shook himself. He shoved his hands even deeper in his pockets and said, “Uh, sorry I touched you like that earlier, Daniel. I’m not sure what came over me.” He shrugged and gave a hopeful smile. “Chocolate high?”
Daniel couldn’t help but laugh. “Lay off the ganache, I guess.”
“Ganache? Is that what that chocolate icing’s called?”
Daniel stared at him. The alpha bought a bakery and didn’t know what ganache was?
Just then the man Daniel hadn’t met before came up with a laugh. “Looks like you need Baking 101, boss,” he said.
He turned out to be a beta named Jonas Quinn whom Jack introduced as “Star Gate’s new baker.” Daniel gave sharp double-take. Jack didn’t say ‘assistant’ baker, just baker. Star Gate already had a head baker, Daniel.
“We snagged him from somewhere in Canada,” Jack continued, as if that explained anything.
“Toronto,” Jonas supplied, then the handsome sandy-haired man gave Daniel an enthusiastic handshake and a blinding grin, his blue-grey eyes twinkling with what seemed to be permanently good humor. “The way I hear it, Daniel’s more pastry chef than baker,” he said.
Jack blinked with incomprehension, but Daniel shrugged and said, “Sometimes it seems that way. Star Gate’s kitchen brigade is kind of fluid.”
Jonas cocked a look at Jack. “You do know the difference, right, boss?”
“I know what a kitchen is, that’s all that’s important.”
Jonas winked at Daniel. “Anyhow, it’s great to meet you, man, I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“Sure,” Jonas said, renewing his blinding grin. “For an omega, you’ve given me some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Daniel frowned. “Shoes to…? I don’t—”
“What’s this?” Melburn said, drawing their attention. He had apparently just been talking to Janet and now studied Jack. “You’re the new owner of Star Gate?”
“Yeah,” Jack said with a grin that irritated Daniel all the more because it seemed so honestly happy.
“So you’re my Daniel’s new boss, huh?” The two alphas shook hands and Melburn wasted no time in quizzing the younger alpha on his background (born and raised in a little town in Minnesota), education (Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville followed by West Point), past experience (U.S. Air Force, retired) and current prospects (would you look at that, he just bought Daniel’s bakery).
This had the paternalistic air of an omega being handed off from one alpha to another like a piece of errant property and Daniel crossed his arms, scowling. To say nothing of the fact that Melburn knew Daniel’s dream perfectly well, and here he was in a friendly conversation with Jack. They were talking about baseball now— Oh dear god, they were bonding.
“How nice,” Daniel’s mother said, coming up beside him. “Mel’s always wanted a young alpha friend to talk to.”
Since he never got his alpha son, Daniel mentally finished.
Claire suddenly frowned, sniffing the air. “Good heavens, Daniel,” she said. “You reek of so much onion even I can smell it.”
Daniel ducked his head. “I had a bacon cheese dog,” he said.
She gave him an unimpressed look as the rest of the group smiled.
“I like onion!” he said defensively. He did. Onion tasted good…and tended to drown out other telltale scents.
Claire’s attention zeroed in on him, turning concerned as she took in his general appearance. “Why are you looking so ruffled, dear?”
Daniel shrugged, tugging his t-shirt smooth. “Things were a little tight on the train.”
Of course that didn’t fool his mom for a second. “Oh, Danny,” she said. Damn it, the woman had a bloodhound's nose for trouble, sharper than a beta should be by any rights.
That caught his dad’s attention. “Daniel, how many times have I told you to be careful on the subway?” his father asked.
“I am careful,” Daniel flared up. “How is it my fault if some alpha—?”
“You can’t change alpha nature,” Melburn interrupted with an impatient wave of his hand. “I can’t protect you when you’re out here on your own. If you would just take some simple steps, use the shirt trick maybe.”
Daniel’s irritation spiked. The shirt trick was a way to give an omega the scent of a protector when she was out on her own by wearing the shirt or other article of clothing from an alpha or beta relative or friend. Alphas would generally back off if they thought an omega was spoken for.
“I like to wear my own clothing,” Daniel snipped. “Thank you all the same.”
Looking nervously at the fuming Melburn, Janet offered, “I could always wear one of Daniel’s shirts to bed and then he could wear it the next day.”
Before his dad could say yea or nay, Daniel said, “Gross, Janet! Look, you’re a great friend and a wonderful flatmate, but I don’t want to smell like you all day.”
Janet couldn’t hold back a giggle at Daniel’s outraged expression.
“That’s not an unreasonable suggestion,” Melburn insisted.
“Yes, it is unreasonable,” Daniel said. “Why should I have to go to such lengths and make changes in my behavior when I’m not the one at fault?”
“Daniel,” his father sighed, as if Daniel was a fractious three-year-old. “You can’t change human nature just because it’s inconvenient to you.”
The unfairness was almost too overwhelming for Daniel to speak. Especially galling was the way all of them, alphas and betas alike, simply nodded in agreement, sympathetic, but adamant ‘the way things are’ was immutable.
“Right,” he said with a tight smile. “Life isn’t fair so let’s just not try to improve anything at all.”
His mother laid a hand to both her son’s and her husband’s arms. “All right, my dears. We’re here to enjoy the day, not argue over gender issues.”
Melburn scowled, but subsided with a grumble of, “Just be careful on the subway, son.”
Obnoxious or not, the love and caring was plain on his alpha father’s face, and Daniel gave a sigh of his own, nodding. “Okay, Dad.”
With air of someone who seemed to think he was helping matters, Jack said, “Omegas should take cabs anyhow, it’s safer.”
Melburn raised an approving finger at Jack. “Good thought.”
Typical alphas. Overly concerned when it wasn’t necessary, not concerned at all when it really mattered.
When Jack aimed a pleased look at Daniel, as if expecting thanks, Daniel returned a sidelong glare. “If only an omega’s salary could stretch to encompass an omega’s supposed lifestyle,” he sneered.
While Jack tilted his head in puzzlement, Jonas spoke up with determined cheer, cutting the sudden tension. “Yeah, we’re glad for our baker’s paycheck,” he began, giving Daniel’s shoulder a playful nudge, as if in solidarity, “but even the ninety thou’ I’m getting probably doesn’t go far in a city like New York.”
Daniel looked at him in disbelief. Ninety thousand a year? That was thirty thousand more than Daniel was paid and Jonas was brand new. But Jonas was a beta.
Fine. This is what it meant to out in the big bad business world. Things were cut-throat out here, Daniel knew that. As an omega he was at a disadvantage and he knew that too. He wasn’t going to throw a temper tantrum and run home crying like the spoiled brat everyone seemed to take omegas for. So he took a breath and smiled at Jonas and Jack and said, “What exhibit do you want to look at first?”
Jack looked around with renewed interest and Jonas pointed in one direction, drawing the group to an over-sized and rather over-blown painted wooden statue of a stereotypical Italian baker stirring a bowl dripping chocolatey batter, the man’s plump face smiling benignly. “This is from the old Mazetti’s Bakery, right?” Jonas said. “I went there once on a vacation to New York when I was a kid.”
“Oh, you know what that reminds me of?” Melburn asked.
Daniel regarded the statue quizzically for a second. The only other statue he knew for sure that his dad had ever paid the slightest attention to in his life was one of Babe Ruth, which this looked nothing like. He frowned at Melburn, ready to say as much, but he realized the question hadn’t even been directed to him, but to Jack.
Eyes lighting up, Jack snapped his fingers and the two alphas simultaneously said, “The Babe Ruth statue at Monument Hall!” Laughing, they high-fived each other and Jack said, “Oh man, the memories that brings back!”
Daniel sighed. “Dad, it looks nothing like baseball players in general or Babe Ruth in particular.”
“It looks just like Babe Ruth!” Melburn said defensively.
“Just look at those cheeks,” Jack said, still chuckling. Then he swallowed down the laughter, saying to Daniel, “See, there’s this statue in Monument Hall.”
Daniel just barely stopped an eye roll. Like he’d never been to Monument Hall. He’d grown up in the Bronx for crying out loud.
“It’s the museum at Yankee Stadium,” Jack continued. “You know Yankee Stadium?”
No, of course not, because Daniel was a flighty, timid little omega who’d never so much as set his delicate little foot on a playing field before. He gave Jack a look of wide-eyed innocence and said, “No, what’s that?”
Jack drew a breath to respond, but Melburn cut him off. “Daniel’s yanking your chain, Jack. I’ve been dragging him there since he was a baby. We live about five miles away.”
“Oh,” Jack said.
Crap. Maybe making a fool of his boss wasn’t the best idea. But instead of looking mad, the alpha grinned at Daniel. “Good one, you totally had me fooled.”
Daniel broke out in a relieved smile, cut short when his father scowled at him. “Good joke or not, I find it quite inappropriate behavior, especially considering all the money I spent on that Omega Decorum School.”
Daniel returned the scowl in full measure. Decorum School, now that truly was a joke.
Seventeen was very late for gender presentation. Daniel was well into his senior year of high school when he suddenly found himself transformed into a second-class citizen, just as he and his fellow students were beginning to stretch their wings, looking forward to graduation and their new and exciting grown-up lives.
He’d been expecting adulthood when he turned 18 that July, instead he ended up with another three years of minority complete with curfews and driving limitation (and even now he had another year to go before he could legally drink alcohol). He’d been expecting several years of higher education at Columbia University ending with a teaching degree. What he’d got instead was the withdrawal of the university’s previous acceptance letter (‘Unfortunately our quota of omega candidates is full for this year’) and Omega Decorum School (‘Of course there’s room for him, so what if he’s five years older than most of our students?’). He was stuck there twice a week for several excruciatingly long months, classes scheduled every Friday and Saturday night to ‘keep vulnerable omegas out of trouble on the two most dangerous nights of the week.’
The night of Science High’s biggest graduation party, a party Daniel wasn’t invited to anyhow, Daniel received lessons in balancing the household books. He’d aced AP Calc and he had to sit there while a dowdy middle-aged beta woman ‘taught’ him how to balance a checkbook. The following evening he learned how to host a party to advance his mate’s career. Everyone thought it was so cute when he’d gotten his associate’s degree in business last year. Cute but useless, just like him, just like any omega.
His father missed Daniel’s frown, already turning back to Jack. “So, when’s the last time you were at Yankee Stadium?” he asked the other alpha.
“Oh, man, it must be at least five years now. Before my first tour in Afghanistan for sure.”
“I’ll be at the game tomorrow,” Melburn said. “I’ve got two tickets.”
That’s right, Daniel had almost forgotten. While he wasn’t really dreading that his dad would ask him to go, he wasn’t necessarily looking forward to it either. But again, Melburn wasn’t talking to Daniel.
“They’re playing the Twins, right?” Jack said. And, whoops, that pretty much opened the floodgate to Melburn Jackson’s Yankees Lore, a bottomless store of facts and figures that only an alpha could love.
Okay, this wasn’t the quiet afternoon with his folks that Daniel had been planning. Jack and his dad were deep into an analysis of the Yankees’ season strategy and what could be expected in tomorrow’s game. Jonas was regaling the politely interested Teal’c with a detailed menu of the pastries he had eaten on his long-ago trip to Mazetti’s (which he seemed to recall with unusual clarity). His mom was talking with Janet and Sam, the two betas laughingly correcting Sam who had apparently just referring to baking as “cooking” (just as well Daniel hadn’t heard that; he’d been known to reach epic levels of snark over that deadly mistake).
Daniel scrubbed at his hair with a sigh. Okay, fine. He couldn’t really fault Jonas’s enthusiasm and everyone did seem to be enjoying themselves. Maybe he could just nudge them back on target.
“Um, hey, Jonas,” he said, deciding to engage the hyper beta’s enthusiasm first. “Have you ever seen these kinds of adobe ovens?” Jack and Melburn trailing, Daniel herded the group to a dome-shaped replica of an Acoma Pueblo baking oven. “They’re called hornos.”
Before anyone had a chance to respond, however, a sneering voice spoke up from behind them.
“Looking to upgrade Star Gate’s equipment with the latest prehistoric advances?”
The group turned as one to find two newcomers sauntering up.
“Harry?” Daniel said in surprise at the same time that Jack growled with disgust, “Frank Simmons.”
Daniel had no idea who Frank Simmons was, other than a smug alpha whose face seemed to have frozen in the act of smelling rotten eggs, but Harry Maybourne used to work as an assistant baker at Star Gate.
“Don’t look at me,” Janet said with hands raised. “Them, I didn’t invite.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Simmons?” Jack demanded.
Simmons’ lip curled in what would probably have been a smile on anyone else’s face. “We went to Spring Street to visit that lovely little hovel you call a bakery to pay our respects to the new…head honcho,” he concluded, the words all but curdling on his tongue as he performed exaggerated air quotes. “An odd little beta with the most appalling case of the hiccups directed us here.”
Poor Lindsey. She must have been desperate to get rid of them.
“Okay,” Jack continued through gritted teeth. “Mind telling me what you’re doing in New York in the first place?”
“Well, since you so kindly saw to it that I was in need of a job…”
Jack took a few seemingly casual steps closer to the other alpha and Daniel noticed an odd motion of his hand. “Yeah,” Jack drawled, “I would’ve preferred seeing both you and Senator Kinsey behind bars, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed.”
In apparent response to the hand motion, Teal’c moved over to the exhibit’s information label and asked at large, “How is it possible that mud could be used as a cooking implement?” When Claire and Janet followed him over, beginning a discussion, Daniel realized Jack was trying to distract the group from whatever confrontation was going down here. Well, Daniel wasn’t a child. Neither Melburn nor Jonas budged and Sam stayed at Jack’s side. If this was something affecting Star Gate, then Daniel wasn’t going anywhere either.
Simmons’ mouth remained in its sour curl. “I heard that you had become weary of the battlefield and dreamt of a life filled with peace and…” the curl grew even more derisive, “baked goods?”
Jack’s face remained expressionless. “And you came here to…?”
“Why, to share your illustrious vision, of course,” Simmons drawled with a grandiose gesture. “How could I leave my old…buddy,” he all but spit the word out in disgust, “to languish in the big city alone?”
“Good question,” Jack ground out.
“NID was expanding and had need of a marketing director.”
“Ah. I think I heard of that place,” Jack said. “‘Nearly Inedible Duds,’ is it?”
Daniel unsuccessfully tried to suppress what he would swear to his dying day was not a giggle. Jack awarded him a quick pleased smile.
“Neat Individualized Delicacies is a whole new concept in baking,” Harry said with some heat.
Jack blinked at him. “And you are?”
“This is Harry Maybourne,” Daniel spoke up. “He used to work at Star Gate.” Before he was politely encouraged to resign, Daniel amended mentally.
“Prepackaging is the next big thing for bakeries,” Harry continued. “Our products are a known quantity, no matter which NID you might go into—”
“And we have three branches so far,” Simmons interjected lazily.
“—a croissant or a muffin will always be the same,” Harry concluded.
“Same low quality,” Daniel muttered, then looked up to find that he hadn’t spoken as quietly as he’d thought.
Simmons’ nostrils flared in distaste, his eyes raking over Daniel, lingering in derision on the stoned happy-face of Daniel’s Nirvana t-shirt. “I hardly think an omega’s opinion is of consequence.”
Daniel’s spine straightened but he ignored the slur, sticking to the facts. “NID’s business plan is not meritless by any means,” he said.
Simmons looked startled, as if an omega articulating a cogent business observation was akin a dog spouting philosophy.
Daniel continued to ignore him. “That’s the whole concept behind a cupcake after all: a little cake made to order for a single individual. It’s NID’s execution I have a problem with. NID might as well be an automat, the supposed bakers have no input in the product and—”
“Fascinating,” Simmons said dryly, overriding Daniel with a smarmy simper as he turned back to Jack. “I’m afraid you backed the wrong horse on this one, O’Neill. NID’s eyes are set on international horizons.”
“Oh? Do tell, Simmons,” Jack gushed with patently false interest.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the upcoming United Nations Peace Conference and the luncheon that follows the morning session?” Simmons inspected his fingernails as he spoke. “The creme de la creme of New York City’s food industry will be there, although I’m not sure that covers Gate Star.” Muddling the bakery’s name on purpose, Simmons gave a mock-thoughtful frown, then continued before Jack would interject. “NID will of course be prominently featured. There’ll be heads-of-state galore, international mucky-mucks, et cetera, et cetera. What a shame Gar State won’t be there.”
“It just so happens that General Hammond did register with the U.N. vendor services a few months ago,” Jack said sharply, stepping up face-to-face with Simmons, the reek of hostile alpha pheromones beginning to spread in the museum’s chilled conditioned air.
Simmons looked perturbed for a second or two, then covered it with a sneering veneer. “So I can expect Snar Snape to be there on Saturday?”
Jack didn’t step away but the alpha must have caught Sam out of the corner of his eye shaking her head firmly, and his shoulders sagged. “Uh, what with the changeover and all I hadn’t really planned on it.”
“What a shame,” Simmons crowed, what passed for good cheer on his lugubrious face returning. “They say cupcakes are Gape Gap’s specialty. We’re doing cupcakes, too, aren’t we, Harry?”
“Sure are,” Harry said promptly.
“There goes your chance to be king,” Simmons sorrowfully.
Jack shook his head. “’The hell are you talking about, Simmons?”
Simmons looked around dramatically as if sharing a secret. “They say whoever,” and here Simmons widened his eyes dramatically and made finger quotes, “‘wows the big-wigs’ will be considered the unofficial king of New York bakeries.” He shrugged. “I guess that won’t be you, O’Neill. Too bad. Your finances are so very stretched, a little free publicity would have done you a world of good.”
Jack was silent, staring at the phlegmatic Simmons with narrowed eyes.
Glancing at Harry, Daniel said, “I don’t recall you being especially skilled with cupcakes, Harry. Quite the opposite in fact.”
Harry shrugged. “No extra problem for us, we’re so well organized at NID, it’s a breeze.”
“No, of course it’s no extra effort for you,” Daniel said dryly. “How hard is it to order and whip up more cake mix and frozen dough?”
Beside Daniel, Jonas looked Harry over with contempt. “Seriously? This NID place uses prepackaged mixes?” He gave a contemptuous snort. “There’s a difference between a baker and an ingredients mixer.”
“Prepackaged mixes?” Jack asked, looking quizzically from Daniel to Harry and back again.
Daniel shrugged. “Like I said, it’s a valid business plan. After all, that’s how Starbucks makes their money: codified recipes, standardized worldwide. But,” he continued, holding up a finger, “with Starbucks, even though they use the same recipe at every location, at least the coffee is prepared on the premises, not premixed and shipped out frozen.”
Having finally irritated Simmons enough, the alpha deigned to speak to Daniel directly. “That’s how it’s done in the big leagues, omega,” he snarled. “More volume means more sales and, follow closely now, that means more money.”
“Hey. Back off, Simmons,” Jack growled, pumping out a plume of pheromones and straightening up in an attempt to loom over the other alpha. Hopeless, as the two men were of a height.
Daniel glared at both of them. “I don’t need anyone’s protection. I’m not trying to start a fight and I’m not arguing against your business plan. I’m just saying, for your stockholders who simply want to make money, and your customers who simply want a sugar rush via a no-mess package they can shove in their briefcase, NID’s model is fine. But Star Gate’s goods are superior in every way.”
“Yeah, I’ve tasted his goods and he’s right,” Jack said with a smirk at Simmons who produced a pheromone plume of his own.
“Honestly, I don’t see why you seem to think we’re in competition at all,” Daniel said with a dismissive sniff. “Star Gate and NID are going after different demographics.”
“And playing patty-cake all day qualifies you as an expert in economics,” Simmons sneered.
Daniel bristled. “I have an associate’s degree in business.”
Daniel opened his mouth to retort when his father, who had been silently watching the two younger alphas from the sidelines, leaned forward to say softly in his ear, “Danny, let the alphas handle things their own way.”
Shutting his mouth with a pout, Daniel crossed his arms. Right. A discussion about business practices should always involve insults and gender posturing.
Dismissing Daniel utterly, Simmons re-fastened his eyes on Jack. “So, O’Neill, I presume we’ll be seeing you at the United Nations banquet hall day after tomorrow?”
Sam was frantically shaking her head ‘no’ again, but Jack only had eyes for his rival. “Damn straight,” he declared. “And you’ll be seeing me crowned king of New York bakeries.” Behind him, Sam closed her eyes with a pained expression on her face. “Right, Daniel?” Jack asked.
Daniel glanced up startled from where he stood rubbing at his nose, irritated from the aggressive pheromones. So much for not starting a fight. “Um, day after tomorrow? Sure, I guess we should be able—”
“In your face, Simmons,” Jack crowed, going up to his tiptoes in a fog of hostile pheromones that was all but visible.
“Charming,” Simmons stated flatly, nostril flaring in distaste. “But perhaps you’d care to sweeten the pot with small side bet of, oh, say ten thousand dollars?”
Jack’s face froze for a second.
“Jack…” Sam warned.
The alpha pheromone plume intensified with a smoky-burnt funk, more obnoxious even than the usual peppery bite. Even the betas noticed the pissed-off reek, Jonas taking a step back and Harry clearing his throat with a cough. Daniel half-turned, tucking his face into the crook of his elbow to smother a sharp sneeze.
“Bless,” Jack said, sparing Daniel a quick solicitous look before immediately rounding a smug smile on Simmons with a growl of, “You’re on, sucker.”
Alphas and their foolish one-upmanship, Daniel thought. And who would have to make good on these two idiots’ big talk? The omegas and betas working in the kitchens.
“I’m good to go, boss,” Harry said stolidly if rather nasally, as he appeared to be holding his breath.
“I suppose Star Gate is good to go too,” Daniel reported with much less enthusiasm, standing back to wave a hand in front of his face and get a clear breath.
Harry eyed him with a sneer. “You don’t sound very sure of yourself.”
“I try not to make promises I can’t keep,” Daniel said with a stiff approximation of a smile.
“Yes, I remember that was a problem you had when we worked together,” Harry said, smirking. “I guess it’s hard for a little omega to keep up with the big boys.”
“We didn’t work together,” Daniel spit out, instantly seething. “You worked for me, and very badly as I remember.” Then, finally able to verbalize what he couldn’t in subway earlier, he said, “And I’m taller than you.”
Harry glanced down at Daniel crotch significantly and smirked. “I meant the other kind of little.”
As Simmons snorted with amusement, Daniel flushed. “You wish,” he said.
Again with that old slur against omega men. Yes, the average alpha male’s cock was bigger than other sexes and genders, but there was no difference between beta and omega men, and Daniel himself was as big as, if not a little bigger, than the average beta. He’d been in enough locker rooms over the years to be sure of that. There was no way to argue this point now, however, short of demanding that everyone whip their cocks out and compare. Well, make that no polite way.
Claire and Janet, being betas and far enough away, were blissfully ignorant of the ever-thickening alpha plume as they inspected the adobe oven, but Teal’c had moved back to the main group and joined Jack in raising skeptical brows at Harry.
Still standing at Daniel’s shoulder, Melburn aimed a disapproving look at Harry and Simmons, saying, “Gentlemen, I truly hope this conversation is not about what it sounds like it’s about.” The veteran teacher’s voice dripped with the icy-cold authority that had sent generations of overly-rowdy high school students running, tails tucked between their legs. As the eldest alpha present, Melburn was the unofficial leader of the group, official leader, even, if circumstances dictated it. Daniel wasn’t sure if he was the youngest present, Jonas and Sam both looked to be around his age or a few years older at most, but regardless, as an omega, Daniel was at the bottom of the pecking order, even if the others had been newly presented teenagers.
Harry wilted in the face of the older man’s displeasure, shrinking back against Simmons, who capitulated to Melburn with a nod, giving a last dismissive sniff to Jack before turning away. “Come along, Harry,” he said. “Let’s look over the little omega’s museum.”
Daniel scowled, automatically looking to his dad, but Melburn was cracking a joke with Jack, something about wasting ‘A-mones’ that could have been put to better use in a ball game, the two alphas chuckling.
Simmons and Harry didn’t wandered away nearly far enough to satisfy Daniel, but Claire and Janet rejoined the group and the pheromones dissipated in the canned museum air.
Then Sam slipped up next to Jack, placed a discreet but firm hand on his arm and pulled him to the side. Daniel watched their intensely whispered discussion closely for reasons that weren’t really clear to him until he noticed his mother watching him in turn, brows raised. He cleared his throat, looking around, suddenly desperate for a distraction.
Thankfully his eyes lit on a display of across the room and he said with honest enthusiasm, “Oh wow, Mom, look!”
Maybe a little too much enthusiasm: as Daniel and Claire crossed the auditorium, Harry abandoned Simmons and drifted over to them. Daniel ignored him, refusing to give the beta more ammunition.
He drew his mom up to an ornate cherry-wood hutch, the antique cupboard acting as display case for a dozen old-fashioned recipe boxes, some open with the recipe cards artfully spilling out. “Must be a new exhibit,” he said, peering behind the beveled glass. “Look, that one with the rooster, it looks just like O-Ma’s!”
To him, O-Ma’s battered old tin had been a treasure box, filled with her wisdom and experience.
“Oh, I remember,” Claire said. “The box with the rooster on it.” Her smile grew mischievous. “O-Ma did like her cocks.”
“Mom!” Great, now even his own mother was making him blush.
Claire patted his cheek. “Sorry, sweetie, didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
Because omegas were like innocent little children. He shoved his hands in his pockets, scowling as he inadvertently met Harry’s eyes in the glass reflection. Why did that smirking beta have to be looking at the same exhibit as Daniel?
“You still have all her recipes?” Claire asked.
“Of course,” he said, scandalized at the thought of ever letting those treasures go. As if. His entire career was based on O-Ma’s recipes. “All the recipes and the box too.”
“You keep them at Star Gate?”
“No, they’re at the flat.” Daniel shrugged. “I have everything memorized at this point.”
Daniel and his mom walked back to the main group, Harry going over to speak to Simmons. The alpha stood gazing at a display of antique egg beaters, his frown caught somewhere between incredulity and contempt. As Daniel moved past, he thought he heard Simmons respond to something Harry said with a sardonic sigh of, “Thank heavens.” Looking back to where Jack and Sam still spoke together, Simmons called out, “See you Saturday, O’Neill.”
“Can’t wait, Simmons,” Jack called out to his retreating back. Sam laid a hand to Jack’s arm with an expression Daniel couldn’t interpret and he thought of what his father had said earlier, to ‘let the alphas handle it.’ Daniel was just a lowly omega, he couldn’t possibly be expected to understand an alpha/alpha relationship.
By the time Daniel and his mom joined up with the group, Jack and Sam had come over too.
“So, now that that ugliness is out of the way—” Jack broke off then continued with a smirk, “Heh. Literal ugliness, get it?” He raised his brows in anticipation, but was greeted with a coolly unimpressed look from Sam and a distinct lack of laughter from everyone else. He shrugged, undeterred. “Everyone’s a critic. Anyhow, Daniel, what’s the next exhibit we should see?”
“I really like the yeast exhibit,” Daniel blurted out without thinking, then he cringed. Those were possibly the nerdiest words ever spoken in the history of humanity and he waited for Jack’s derisive laughter, but the alpha actually perked up.
“Yeast like for bread, right?”
“Cool, I’ve always wondered how that worked. I used to think yeast was only in beer.”
Daniel smiled in pleased disbelief. “That’s actually what the exhibit’s about. C’mon.”
The exhibit was called ‘Yeast: Symbiosis At The Dawn Of Civilization’ and Janet gave a little snicker as they all walked up. “Civilization came from yeast?” she said. “Seriously? Who designed these exhibits?”
Daniel grinned. “Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s true.” Janet wasn’t the only one who looked unconvinced and Daniel continued, “Beer was first developed at least seven thousand years ago by the ancient Egyptians.”
“Ah,” came a pleased rumble from Teal’c. “I have heard of such in the past.”
“Yes, it’s recorded that the workers who built the pyramids were given a daily allotment of a loaf of bread and as much beer as they wanted.”
“That would keep me happy,” Jack said cheerfully, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“The oldest written reference to beer is in a Sumerian poem to Ninkasi the goddess of brewing. It contains a recipe for beer via barley bread.”
Daniel loved sharing knowledge and he often wondered how his life would’ve turned out if he’d presented as beta, having no doubt that he would have been a teacher. And that would have been great, but…he liked being a baker.
They spent some time looking over several huge stone pots which were the dough mixing vats of ancient bakers. He pointed into one, and said, “See the broken bottoms?”
Sam peered in. “That’s too bad,” she said. “Did they break during shipping?”
“No, they were already broken,” Daniel said. “They always broke eventually because the bakers kneaded the dough with their feet.”
“Ew,” Jack said.
Daniel shrugged. “You drink wine, I bet.”
“Point,” Jack admitted.
“They would just reinforce the pots with pieces of granite slabs and keep using them.”
“What’re these funky pots here?” Jonas asked, inspecting some bell-shaped pots that were displayed clustered around the hearth of a fake fire.
“Bedja,” Daniel supplied. “They pre-heated the pots and buried them in ash to bake the bread.”
Jack joined Jonas, leaning over to get a closer look. “Cool to think of people touching and using these things thousands of years ago,” he said.
Daniel stared at the engrossed expression on Jack’s face for longer than was strictly polite before dropping his eyes when Jack turned to look at him. “Um, yeah, it is,” he mumbled. “So, um, bread dates from around three thousand B.C., same as beer.”
Melburn glanced up from where he had been poking at his smartphone, brows lower in the profound confusion he usually exhibited when confronted by the device. “You know better than that, Danny,” he said sharply. “Bread is tens of thousands of years old.”
Of course his dad would only join in on the conversation in order to berate Daniel. “I’m talking about leavened bread, Dad. This is a yeast exhibit.”
Melburn deflated and Daniel continued quickly before the alpha could find something else to criticize. “So the ‘symbiosis’ part comes in because beer and bread went hand in hand back then. Activated yeast from lightly baked bread served as mash for beer, and the beer froth went back to start the dough. Bread may be nutritionally poor compared to high protein foods, but there’s a heck of a lot more of it, a quantity versus quality kind of thing.” He ended up with a challenging look at Janet. “Since bread and beer are thought by many to be the basis of all civilization and technology, that’s why yeast is the true basis of civilization.”
Janet threw her hands up in surrender, grinning as the others laughed. “Okay, you win, Daniel. We’d still be banging rocks together in caves if it wasn’t for yeast.”
Teal’c gave a curious tilt of his head. “One thing I do not understand, Daniel Jackson,” he said. “Where did the yeast come from in the first place?”
“The air,” Daniel said.
“Yeast just…floats in the air?”
“Yep, there’s always wild yeast hanging around. You’re probably breathing it in right now.”
Teal’c blinked, looking faintly alarmed.
“Oh, this I knew about,” Sam said, looking at a section of the exhibit that dealt with more modern times. “Pasteurization.”
“Right,” Janet said, coming up beside the alpha woman. “Louis Pasteur worked with yeast when he developed vaccines.” She looked over the display, leaning across Sam to point to one illustration. “There, 1885, the first rabies inoculation.”
Sam nodded, smiling at the shorter beta woman. “Disproving spontaneous generation in the process,” she said.
Jack gave a snort, saying with mock-dismissiveness, “Saving lives, whatever. Now finding a way to keep beer from going sour, that’s the real breakthrough.”
Daniel smiled. “Pasteur was also quite the humanitarian. He said, uh, what was it…?” Daniel searched along another section of the exhibit. “Oh, here: ‘One does not ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says: You suffer, that is enough for me.’”
“Wait, where are you reading that from?” Jack asked, squinting at the interpretation panel in confusion. “The English translation’s missing.”
“Oh. I, uh, I don’t really need it,” Daniel admitted. “I speak a little French.”
“A little?” Janet said. She elbowed Daniel in the side. “Don’t be so modest. Daniel’s fluent in a bunch of languages.”
Jack looked intrigued. “How many?”
Daniel had learned from harsh experience that nobody liked a smart omega and he said with a dismissive shrug, “A couple.”
Claire sighed in exasperation. “Try six,” she said.
“Cool,” Jack said, awarding Daniel one of his crooked smiles.
Daniel looked down, blushing yet again. He just could never get things right. Either he was accused of bragging and told to pipe down (his decorum teacher’s exact words) or he was told to stop being so damn shy (Rodney’s exact words). There just was no winning when it came to omegas.
And the way he was starting to crave those crooked smiles from Jack was not helping.
It had been over an hour now and Daniel caught his dad checking his watch. “So, uh, I guess that’s it for today,” he said, fidgeting as he peered up at the others.
“Thanks for letting us tag along,” Jack said.
“Yeah, man,” Jonas said, clapping Daniel on the back. “I had no idea this was here. Good call.”
Daniel nodded, his fidgeting easing. Despite the added people and even the two obnoxious interlopers from earlier, he was pleased at the outing.
As they all walked to the museum exit, Jack suddenly asked, “Hey, Daniel, so where you off to?”
Daniel eyed the alpha. “Back home to my flat I guess.”
“You want a lift?”
“Um…” Daniel’s brows lowered suspiciously.
Jack continued quickly, looking to Melburn and Claire. “What about you folks? On your way back to the Bronx?” he asked.
“That’s right,” Melburn said.
“You want a lift too? Save everyone a subway trip.”
Daniel suspicion only grew at Jack’s innocent smile, but his parents accepted Jack’s offer, the three of them steamrolling any half-hearted objections Daniel tried to voice. He hated when people made plans on his behalf, treating him like a child who didn’t know his own mind. His foul mood returned with a vengeance, then was promptly exacerbated by self-disgust. This was ridiculous. One minute he was mad as hell at Jack, the next he was swooning like a lovesick heroine in one of those florid old Omega Chronicles.
Out on the sidewalk, the group said their goodbyes, and Daniel, his folks and Jack split off from the others, Daniel losing track of where everyone else was going. Half a block’s walk took them to the garage where Jack’s ginormously large black SUV was parked at a ginormously expensive rate. Daniel tried to give his mom the front passenger seat, but somehow found himself sitting there, his parents settling down comfortably in the back, Jack throwing him a grin as the alpha started up the engine and pulled out into New York City traffic.
Thirty minutes later found them pulling up to Daniel’s childhood home, the skinny two-story clapboard house a bright white with dark green trim and shutters, the lawn and flower beds neat and well-cared for. The house was one of many in the little working class neighborhood of Mt. Eden tucked in amongst the old brick tenement houses that dominated the Bronx.
It had somehow been decided that Melburn and Claire would be dropped off first, a decision that Daniel had had no part in making, as he would have pointed out the illogic of it. The lion’s share of conversation in the car had been between Jack and Melburn, Daniel holding his tongue in what was definitely not a sulk. The alphas covered the two favorite subjects of alphas everywhere: 1. cars (an in-depth discussion of the many virtues of SUVs in general and Toyota Land Cruisers, the monster in which they rode, in particular), and, when they passed the storied House That Ruth Built, 2. sports (an in-depth discussion of the many virtues of America’s pastime in general and the Yankees in particular).
In the his folk’s driveway at last, Daniel and Jack started to get out of the SUV, but Claire said, “No, no, you two have to get going, we won’t keep you.” Daniel twisted around in his seat to receive a peck on the cheek from his mom and a squeeze to the shoulder from his dad.
The two exited the car and went to Jack’s open driver’s side window to say their goodbyes, when Jack suddenly said, “I’d like to take Daniel to dinner, if I may.”
Daniel’s first thought was, absolutely not. His next thought was, that’s an odd way to phrase a dinner invitation. Then he turned and realized Jack wasn’t talking to him at all. The alpha had directed his query at his parents. Of all the knotheaded…
“Oh, that sounds very nice,” his mom said with a pleased smile.
“Be good for Daniel to get out of an evening every once in a while,” his dad said with a definitive nod.
Then, finally, Jack turned to the flabbergasted Daniel, saying, “If you’d like, I was thinking of the Smith down on 2nd Avenue?”
And Daniel knew why Jack specified which restaurant, because a 24-year-old man who happened to be an omega couldn’t possibly be expected to go out-and-about in the big bad world without his parents knowing every detail of his whereabouts.
Daniel let a moment’s silence stretch out after Jack’s question before opening his eyes wide with mock confusion. “Oh, I’m sorry, you’re asking me? I didn’t think I was allowed any input.”
“Daniel!” Melburn barked. “Your snark is not appreciated, young man.”
Jack actually looked flustered, glancing back and forth between Daniel and his parents. “I’m—I apologize, I thought that was the procedure for asking an omega out.”
“Yeah, a hundred years ago,” Daniel said under his breath, but apparently not far enough under as Melburn geared up for another explosion. Claire forestalled him with a hand to his arm, then said to Daniel, “Daniel, please.”
Daniel slouched back in his seat like a fractious three year old.
“Yes, dear,” she said to Jack, “that is the tradition, and a very useful and safe one too. Daniel tries hard to be the perfectly modern omega, to his detriment at times.”
Daniel sprung up like an outraged jack-in-the-box. “Mom!”
Jack put a hand to his mouth, trying, and utterly failing, to hide a grin.
“If Daniel disappears we’ll know where to tell the police to start looking,” Claire continued blandly.
“I’m perfectly capable of going to dinner without ending up on the police beat,” Daniel said hotly.
“Well, then have a good time, sweetie.”
Daniel opened his mouth but nothing came out. Damn it. What just happened here? Were the three of them in league against him?
“Thank you, Mrs. J,” Jack said in an undertone, his voice annoyingly thick with gratitude.
Claire returned a blithe smile while Jack and Melburn exchanged goodbye nods. Daniel snapped his mouth closed, crossed his arms and glared steadily out the front windshield.
Several minutes of silence passed back on the road south to Manhattan before Jack said, “Sorry I put you on the spot with your folks, there. Seems like I keep doing the wrong thing around you.”
Yeah you do, is what Daniel wanted to say, but he only shrugged, not willing to forgive the alpha, but not wanting to seem too much the spoiled brat either.
“Uh, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to omegas.”
Daniel awarded him an unimpressed look.
“I thought you were an old lady.”
That startled a response from Daniel. “What?”
Jack glanced over with a smile. “George said his head baker was an omega and I immediately thought of everybody's stereotypical old omega grandma.”
Daniel gave a reluctant smile. “I learned almost everything I know about baking from my o-ma. She was my great grandmother on my mom’s side.”
“Cool. I wish I’d had an o-ma.” Jack voice sounded wistful.
Daniel had no idea what to make of that, and there was more silence as they inched through the thick traffic of the 3rd Avenue Bridge.
He definitely didn’t miss having a car. What kind of nitwit insists on driving in New York City? He sighed as he shifted to get out of the hot August sunshine streaming in through the passenger-side window, and redirected the air vent towards himself.
“Yeah, driving a car’s a bit of trouble,” Jack said, as if reading Daniel’s mind, “but I like being in control. Hate being at the mercy of a train.”
Ah. An alpha nitwit, of course. “I take the subway whenever and wherever I want,” Daniel said primly. “It runs all day and all night. No trouble and no expense, totally in control.”
It was true. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority had been a part of Daniel’s world as far back as he could remember, especially the green line trains. The green line ran like an arrow through his life, straight and steady, safe and dependable. It was always there for him, clattering along past his childhood home, to Yankee Stadium with his father when he was a kid, to Science High as a teenager, then later to grown-up adventure in the Big Apple, to Star Gate the love of his life in Soho, to the flat he shared with Janet in the Upper East, to the Culinary Institute downtown and the Bronx Community College back up north, even to Rodney in his Midtown studio. The green line was a friend more reliable than many in his life.
“Yeah?” Jack glanced over, scarred eyebrow cocked up. “Huh, I never thought of it that way. Okay, I’ll try the subway for a week, see if I like it.”
Daniel glanced at him sidelong, suspicious once again. An alpha taking advice from an omega? Did hell just freeze over? Relaxing enough to uncross his arm, he ventured, “Um, could we stop by my flat for a minute on the way? I’d like to change into some fresh clothes.”
“Sure, of course,” Jack said, and Daniel gave him the address on 89th Avenue.
They’d made it across the bridge and back to Manhattan at this point and Jack squinted up at the highway signs. “Okay, I know this,” he said, voice serious like he was gearing up for battle. “Harlem River Drive turns into FDR Drive and that’s the way we came, so I should take that, right?”
An alpha asking for directions? Yep, hell just froze over.
At the risk of getting his head bitten off, Daniel said, “FDR’ll be pretty packed by now. Better take 2nd Avenue and cut through East Harlem.”
But there was no head biting. Jack simply put his blinker on and made the exit, asking, “East Harlem? That’s a place?”
Daniel gave a huff. Tourists. “Yes, it’s a place. The Met Hospital where Janet works is in East Harlem, but we’re in Yorkville, east of the Guggenheim.”
“Ah,” Jack said his knowing tone belied by his look of blank confusion.
Daniel specified, “That’s the Upper East Side.”
The confusion evaporated. “Ah. I knew that.”
The alpha’s bald-faced lie was mitigated by an impish crook of his lips and Daniel aimed the resulting smile he couldn’t quite control out the passenger window.
It wasn’t too much longer before they were turning onto 89th.
“I’ll only be a minute in the flat,” Daniel said. “You can double park and wait so you don’t have to find a parking spot.”
As they crossed York Avenue they passed the corner deli and Daniel did a double-take, catching a glimpse of Janet through the shop’s big plate glass window. She sat at a table with a blonde woman and Daniel blinked in surprise. It was Samantha Carter, and the two women were looking down at something in Janet’s hand. Huh. That was odd. Had they come here straight from the museum? But why?
He craned his neck back as they went down the block, about to remark on it when Jack pulled up to the curb at Daniel’s building and said, “Don’t worry about dressing up. Something like what you’re wearing is fine with me.”
Daniel turned disbelieving eyes on him, brows lowering. “Thank you so much for your permission. I’ll just leave the ball gown in the armoire, then, shall I?”
Jack’s smile faltered. “Uh…”
Daniel got out, slamming the door behind him, fuming as he let himself into the building and sprinted up the two flights of stairs to the flat. Like he needed a knothead’s say-so to pick out his clothes.
Once inside, he peeled off his sweaty clothes and gave himself a quick sponge bath at the sink of the pre-war flat’s tiny bathroom. In his bedroom he picked out a paper-thin old Pink Floyd t-shirt, years of repeat washings making the logo of refracting light stretch tight over his chest. Next came a pair of scruffy black jeans and new pair of Converse high-tops, black and white houndstooth pattern this time. He grabbed a zip-up black jacket in case the restaurant’s air conditioning was too cold.
Going back down the stairs, he allowed himself a smug smile. He had been going to put on a nice button-down shirt and slacks, but this would show the alpha not to be so high-handed.
Daniel got back in the waiting car. Half-turning in his seat, he spread his arms to display his outfit. “Acceptable?” he asked, laying on the sarcasm.
But Jack wasn’t glowering at the implied disrespect the way an alpha like Melburn would have. His eyes, dark with dilated pupils, were fastened on Daniel’s chest. Daniel instinctively looked down to find that his nipples were plainly visible through the almost transparently thin fabric of the old white shirt.
“Yeah,” Jack said in a hoarse drawl. “More than acceptable.”
A spike of alpha arousal pheromones flooded the car and Daniel gasped, his nipples visibly perking up in involuntary response. The omega squeezed his eyes shut in mortification. “…Thanks,” he said in a small voice, shrinking back in his seat, folding his jacket across his lap.
It was quiet as Daniel stared straight through the windshield, afraid to look at the alpha, afraid to look at anything but the wide fluttering leaves of the planetrees that lined his street.
Then Jack cleared his throat and gave a forced chuckle. “I, uh, I always did like Pink Nipple—Pink Floyd.” He fumbled the keys, but got the car started and headed down the street.
Daniel took shallow breaths as they returned to 2nd Avenue and drove silently down town. Jack’s scent permeated the car, and, yes, the alpha smelled like paradise to Daniel’s omega nature. A creamy thick scent like moonlight on a sultry night. And, yes, more than just his nipples took notice: his pulse picked up, his cock twitched with interest, all the biological cues. But Daniel was more than his physical body and he breathed air from the vent, calming himself down, clearing his head.
Okay, Jack smelled great, but lots of stuff smelled great, lots of alphas smelled great, it didn’t mean Daniel had to check his upper reasoning at the door.
Roses smell great, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have thorns.
Jack pulled up to the restaurant, getting out and passing the key off for valet parking. Daniel, taking a moment alone in the car to gather his wits, was still sitting there when Jack opened the door for him, offering a helping hand in gallant fashion. Daniel didn’t take the hand, but he did mutter his thanks as he got out.
It was early, five o’clock was barely considered decent dinner time by New York City standards, and the usually packed bistro was half-empty when they were shown to a table overlooking the sidewalk. The Smith had an airy plan, the outer wall fronting 2nd Avenue consisting of sliding doors opened wide to the warm summertime air of the City, a faint breeze just managing to counteract the humidity.
At the table, Jack held the chair for Daniel and the omega’s mutter of thanks was grumpier this time.
“May I start you off with a drink, sir?” The waiter was a young beta man and he directed his question to Jack.
“Yes, thanks, I’ll have whatever lager you have on tap. Daniel, would you like something alcoholic?”
The official drinking age for omegas was 25, but it was understood that an accompanying beta or alpha could authorize a drink for an underage omega. On those rare evenings when Daniel wanted a drink, Janet usually had to order on his behalf.
Daniel gave a sour smile. “Yes, I’d like a glass of pinot noir, please.”
The waiter eyed Daniel doubtfully for a moment and Daniel had to concede the fact that he had for some reason voluntarily chosen to dress like a thirteen year old didn’t help, but the beta jotted the order down, saying, “Very good.”
Once the waiter listed the night’s specials and left, Daniel and Jack looked over their menus in silence. When Daniel put his down after a moment, Jack said, “Decided?”
“Yes, actually that prime rib special sounds good.” This was sort of a test. Omegas were expected to have tiny appetites and no desire for something as manly as red meat, but Jack just nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. How about the mac’n’cheese to start?”
“Okay.” As if anyone could resist mac’n’cheese.
When the waiter came with their drinks, Daniel noticed his glass was less than half-filled. Part of him thought it was just as well, as he didn’t drink often and was definitely a light-weight. But part of him swelled with the usual irritation at being treated like a child. The waiter took their orders, from Jack of course, leaving them with an assortment of breads.
Daniel tried the panini, tearing off a piece to dip into the oil and balsamic vinegar he had poured on his bread plate. After chewing a moment, he said, “Hm, this isn’t bad. Not store-bought but probably not baked on the premises. Must be from a local bakery they have a deal with.”
Jack tried a piece of his own, then grinned. “Nice to eat with an expert.”
Daniel shrugged, lowering his face to hide his pleased expression. Really, he shouldn’t be so easy to please.
“So, um, seen any good movies lately?” Jack asked after taking a gulp of his beer. He shot Daniel a self-conscious shrug at the look he got for asking such an obvious conversation opener.
Daniel shook his head, taking a first sip of his wine. It was good, not that Daniel was an expert. “No, I got out of the habit of going to the movies what with having to get up so early in the morning.”
“Oh, right. What time do you get up?”
“I’m up at four to get to Star Gate by five.”
“Yikes.” Jack gave a playful wince. “Yeah, we had to get up at the ass—um, at the crack of dawn sometimes for maneuvers, but not every day.”
“You know you don’t have to watch your language around me,” Daniel said huffily. “Just because I’m an omega doesn’t mean I haven’t heard naughty words before.” Before Jack could respond, Daniel continued, “And I don’t really mind getting up so early. You get used to it.”
They chewed a moment in silence was not quite companionable, then Jack said, “So, anyway, if you like action movies, Sam and I just watched one last night.”
Oh, yes, tell me about your date with girlfriend, Daniel snarked internally.
“It was called, ‘The Last Silence.’”
Daniel paused, bread halfway to his mouth, raising a brow. He had heard of that movie. “‘The Last Silence’?” he said. “The one about the brilliant and beautiful female alpha detective?”
“Yeah,” Jack confirmed enthusiastically. “It’s great. She gets involved with this weird case and it turns out there’s this male omega who—oh…” Jack trailed off, dismay dawning over his features.
Daniel beamed with a sarcastically bright false smile. “This crazy he-mega who’s so jealous of female omegas that he kills them and cuts their breasts off?”
Daniel tossed his bread down, leaned back and crossed his arms. “Forgive me for not wanting to waste my money on a movie that tells me I’m a crazy freak of nature who needs to be put down for the safety of normal people everywhere.”
Jack’s wince this time was not playful at all. “Uh, yeah… It, uh, it has a couple cool car chases,” he said weakly, giving Daniel a hopeful look.
Daniel stared back stonily. “For once, though, I was happy the omega was played by a beta actor,” he said. “Typical Hollywood portrayal of male omegas.”
“Okay.” Jack began to nod. “Okay, fair enough, but usually alphas are the bad guys.”
“And the good guys,” Daniel countered immediately.
Jack thought a moment, then snapped his fingers. “Boo Radley!”
Daniel sneered. “Really?” he said derisively. “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Boo Radley was crazy too.”
“But a good guy.”
Daniel shrugged, not willing to concede the point. “Maybe.”
Jack thought a moment more. “Forest Gump!”
“He was a beta in the movie!” Daniel protested. “And played by one.”
“But he was an omega in the book,” Jack said, “and everyone knew it.”
“And once again, mentally challenged,” Daniel countered.
“But not actually crazy and a good guy,” Jack concluded in triumph, raising his beer and leaning back with a grin as if his argument was won.
Daniel tried to purse his lips in disapproval but couldn’t quite stop a small answering smile. Jack grinned all the more.
There was something about that smile. Where another alpha’s smiles were obnoxious smirks, Jack’s were more like the innocent grins of a headstrong and carefree little boy.
The silence was a little more comfortable this time, and when the mac’n’cheese came out, piping hot and sizzling in their little cast iron skillets, the two men dug in.
When Daniel came up for air he found he’d eaten twice as much as Jack and the alpha cocked a brow at him. “Hungry, huh?” he asked.
Daniel passed the remark through his internal ‘Omega Dissing Detector’ (‘Odd’ for short) and as the alpha didn’t seem to be implying that omegas should be expected to eat like birds, Daniel just gave a shrug of one shoulder. “Apparently a hot dog, even a bacon cheese dog, isn’t enough for lunch.”
“I heard that,” Jack declared, scooping up another spoonful of his own. “So what about Steve Rogers?” he asked.
“Yeah, you know, the whole omega-to-super-alpha transformation. Is that, uh, typical anti-o propaganda?”
“Of course the movie tried to play it for laughs, lowest common denominator and all that, I mean how many jokes can you make about,” Daniel checked around the surrounding tables briefly before silently mouthing, “knotting” then spoke up again, “But actually I think it’s subversively brave of them.” He took another sip of wine. “Steve’s gender changed but the person he was, his soul if you will, stayed the same. Underneath all the new muscles he was still the same omega he was at presentation.”
Jack seemed to give that serious thought, finally nodding. “Good point.”
Peering up cautiously, Daniel said, “You know they never really specified what Tony Stark’s gender was.”
Jack thought it over a second, washing a mouthful down with his beer. “Huh. Guess I never noticed.”
“Some people even think he’s an omega,” Daniel said, and, watching Jack for his reaction, he continued, “They think he’s an omega who passes for beta or even alpha.” The fans weren’t in agreement about how someone could actually keep a secret like that. After all, deodorants could only do so much and there was no way in the real world to alter the way a person smelled.
Jack pursed his lips in consideration, then shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter I guess, he’s still cool,” he finally pronounced.
Daniel scraped at the bottom of his skillet, getting out the last gooey bit of cheese, not sure what conclusion to draw from Jack’s reaction, if any. Jack had compared himself to Iron Man back at Star Gate that morning, yet now he had no problem considering that Iron Man might be omega. As the waiter cleared their plates, Daniel studied his dining partner, head tilted in puzzlement.
Until Jack caught him looking and raised a brow in question.
“Um,” Daniel said, intelligent as always. He stood up abruptly, announcing, “I need to use the facilities.”
Jack rose along with him. “I’ll go too.”
They both wove through the tables, aiming for a hallway off the kitchen, Daniel frowning sidelong at Jack. “You know, I’ve been going to the bathroom alone since I was four years old.”
The look Jack gave him as they entered the men’s room was more stubborn than condescending. “I’m sure that’s true, but I’m your host for the evening and I will make sure you’re safe.”
…Okay. Daniel could see the reasoning, no matter idiotic he considered it. And he couldn’t deny that Jack’s forthright assertiveness was a little…hot. “Fine,” he finally said. But when Jack motioned him to an available stall, Daniel glared, infuriated all over again.
“Just because I’m an omega doesn’t mean I don’t have a penis,” he snapped. “I don’t need to sit to pee, thank you very much.”
Jack raised his hands as if trying to calm a particularly grumpy woodland creature. “All right, sorry.”
The smile quirking the alpha’s lips only irritated Daniel more and he said sarcastically, “The urinals are a risk I think I’ll just have to take.”
There were two urinals, both empty and Daniel walked to one, unzipping as he went. Jack joined him at the other and Daniel very carefully kept his eyes on his own business. Although his peripheral vision may have registered a girth and length that explained the bulge at the alpha’s button fly Daniel had noted earlier.
They made it back to the table without incident, getting there just as the waiter appeared with their entrees. Again the two men tucked in to their meals, Daniel finding the prime rib succulently moist, the smashed potatoes and flash fried Brussel sprouts perfect.
“Uh, Daniel,” Jack said after a time of silent eating, “I’m sorry if it seemed like I tricked you into coming on a date.”
Daniel frowned at the memory but ended up with a shrug. “It’s okay, this is nice.”
“I’m guessing you don’t date very much?” Jack prompted, brows raised as he took a bite of steak.
No, but you do, Daniel thought to himself, taking a gulp of wine. It was obvious that Jack was dating Sam, but why Jack would be wasting his time wining and dining an omega tonight was less obvious.
“I’ve been on lots of dates,” Daniel stated. “I’m not a virgin.”
Jack raised his hands in mock surrender which just pissed Daniel off more. “Didn’t say you were,” Jack said.
“I don’t date alphas,” Daniel found himself specifying.
“Not even during heat-tides?”
Daniel pursed his lips. Seriously, what was it with alphas and heats? Obsessed with their own knotted dicks is what they were. He took a fortifying hit of Pinot Noir. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no,” he said. “I only date beta men or women.”
If it could be called ‘dating.’ Serial casual hook-ups were a better description. He didn’t want anyone tying him down. Especially not an alpha.
“Last summer after Sol-tide I dated a very nice beta man,” Daniel said. Then took another sip of wine to hide his sudden realization: Sol-tide before last? Had it really been over a year since he’d dated?
The twice-a-year solstice ‘heat-weeks’ were basically world-wide parties. The days surrounding the first full moon following a solstice signaled a heat in omegas, a peak in fertility (and horniness), and this in turn provoked a corresponding rut in alphas. Single omegas had the choice of handling their heats alone, asking an alpha to help (friends or even family members), or going into an omega center for the duration. Single alphas had a harder time of it, doing their damnedest to convince an omega or two to spend the week with them, or, more pathetically, haunting the tightly locked omega centers in a futile attempt to convince someone to let them in.
Of course, the world’s omega population spending a couple weeks a year in a sex-crazed heat was one thing, betas could take up the slack, but an alpha in rut was useless for anything else, and when the alphas of the world were unavailable, the world pretty much took a vacation. Betas experienced neither heat nor rut but they loved heat-tides nonetheless. They mostly used those two weeks as an excuse to party and vacation, but every few solstices all betas would honor their social obligations and volunteer at omega centers to watch the children of alpha/omega couples or omega singles.
At the insistence of his parents, Daniel always came home to spend his heat-tides in the Mt. Eden Omega Center and Robert Rothman was the childcare coordinator there last year. He was a nice man, kind and caring, and the two had hit it off that solstice, seeing quite a bit of one another over the next few weeks.
“Are you still seeing him?” Jack asked.
“No,” Daniel said reluctantly. Robert was nice, but in the end that’s all he was. Nice.
“So, uh, if you’ve never dated an alpha, I take it that means you’ve never…” Jack put one clenched fist into the palm of the other hand, the universal gesture for knotting.
Daniel looked away in embarrassment, gulping his wine to cover his flushing face. Of all the crude… Whispering it would’ve been more discreet, at least the conservatively dressed middle-aged beta couple in the next table over wouldn’t be staring at Daniel in shock right now.
Daniel spun back, redder than ever, flapping a hand desperately at Jack. “Stop it!” he hissed. “And no, I haven’t!”
The trendy bistro was starting to fill up now and the closely packed tables of the popular venue meant there were quite a few people within potential ear-shot.
Jack leaned back, releasing his hands with a grin. “Sorry,” he said with a complete lack of apology. “But why not? Why no alphas?”
“You have to ask?” Daniel said, gulping at his wine again. “Because alphas are all a bunch of obnoxious, posturing, sex-crazed…” He glanced around. The beta couple was studiously averting their eyes. “Knotheads,” he whispered in scandalized conclusion.
Jack’s grin didn’t fade a whit. “Present company excluded, of course.”
“No, present company quite definitely included.” Daniel leaned back, feeling a little more in control as his blush faded and the wine gave him courage, crossing his arms and raising his brows in challenge.
Jack just chuckled and shook his head. “I’ve heard similar prejudices about omegas.”
That gave Daniel pause, a real observation, not just more posturing. “Okay,” he conceded, “that’s a valid point. But my prejudice comes from personal experience. Painful personal experience.”
Jack’s expression sobered. “I’m sorry if things have been rough for you. I, uh, I’ve never really known any omegas, especially male omegas, not really.”
Not outside of brothels he probably meant. But the honesty and openness in Jack’s face softened Daniel to the point where he abruptly found himself saying, “I presented late.”
Jack looked up at him sharply, a forkful of smashed potatoes paused halfway to his mouth.
“I was seventeen years old and in my senior year at high school,” Daniel said, spearing a Brussel sprout. “It was…” He chuffed a self-depreciating laugh and shrugged. “Pretty much a nightmare.”
“I’m sorry,” Jack repeated, still holding the forgotten fork.
Daniel shrugged again. “Not your fault.” He gathered up the last slice of his steak along with the Brussel sprout and some potatoes, eating it all together. “My girlfriend broke up with me,” he remarked conversationally. “She was a beta, presented a few years earlier—on time, unlike me. Well, she wanted children, and…you know, that wouldn’t be possible with me.” Even now Daniel couldn’t feel any anger, only an echo of the numb confusion his seventeen year old self had felt. Shauri had been so sad, so earnest.
Daniel shook his head, almost spilling his wine as he took another fortifying swallow. “No,” he denied. “I know, stupid to get so worked up about it, it was only a high school romance, probably wouldn’t have lasted anyhow. She’s in veterinary school up in University Heights now, dating a stockbroker, a beta man. I wish her well.”
They ate in silence a moment, then Daniel said, “Shauri was nothing but kind. It was the others…” Daniel chuffed out a laugh and shook his head again. “Like sharks scenting blood in the water.” Jack began to speak, but Daniel didn’t think he could stand hearing the usual platitudes tonight, so Daniel headed him off. “All in good fun, right? Alphas will be alphas. Only kidding around, don’t you have a sense of humor? Just ignore them and they’ll go away.”
But Jack didn’t try to say anything like that. “I wish I’d known you then,” he said, his eyes serious. “I would’ve kicked the ass of anyone hassling you.”
Unless Jack was one of the ones doing the hassling. But Daniel took the comment at face value. “I had a beta friend who tried to do that. Got himself beat up for his trouble at least once a week.” Poor Rodney. He just never learned when to keep his mouth shut.
“I’m glad you had someone looking out for you.”
The warmth of Jack’s voice joined the warmth of the wine, all of it going straight to Daniel’s head. He was such a lightweight, Janet typically spiriting his glass away and pouring it out into a potted plant at McClintock’s, their neighborhood bar. But overindulgence was the only explanation for the life story-cum-word vomit that proceeded to pour out of Daniel’s mouth.
“All those ridiculous old rumors from grade school were resurrected just for me,” Daniel said, gesturing with his wine glass. “I was on the football team, you know, a running back, I was damn good at it, a good solid beta position, made my dad so proud I could handle myself around all those fresh young alphas, my teammates, well, my ex-teammates because my dad saw fit to drop me from the team without even telling me, he thought it went without saying, so he didn’t, say anything that is, I had to find out when I reported for practice the first day back from my presenting heat, which I took a full week off for, you know, because my mom was totally panicking over having a delicate little omega for a son instead of the sturdy beta they all thought I’d be, and my dad, he, um…”
Daniel stopped his gesticulating long enough to swallow down some more wine, then looked up at Jack with a frown. “Where was I going with this?”
“Uh…” Jack closed his mouth which had been hanging open and handed the dessert menu back to the waiter. Oh. When had that come? “We’ll share the ‘s’mores in a jar,’ please,” he said to the waiter.
Daniel frowned. More decisions being made for him. “So, yeah, the guys at school, treating me like a…a thing, overnight!” Daniel said, probably too loudly if the heads turning at the surrounding tables was anything to go by. “My ex-teammates, ex-friends! From equal friend to brainless sex object overnight. But I was still me, you know, my gender was new, but my sex and orientation didn’t change.” A busboy approached, perhaps a little cautiously, and took Daniel’s empty plate away.
“Oh, that’s what I was leading up to,” Daniel said snapping his fingers. “The rumors about male omegas.” He set down the wine and lifted up a hand, preparing to count off his fingers. “First and foremost, the guys told me I would be helpless against alphas, just smelling an alpha would make me bend over for it, in heat or not.” He caught movement out of the corner of his eye as the beta couple in the next table swiveled to stare at him and Daniel tried to lower his voice as he continued, “That I wouldn’t be able to control myself.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one too,” Jack said, head cocked to the side, his crooked smile making a welcome appearance. “Wishful thinking on the alphas’ part, I think.”
“And the marking thing, don’t even get me started on that,” Daniel continued. “Like, an alpha would bite me on the neck and give me, like, a super hickey, and that’s supposed to change my whole body chemistry? Make me drop dead if my alpha doesn’t…you know.” He pointed significantly down towards his nether regions.
“Uh, I guess I do,” Jack said doubtfully, brows raised and lips twitching.
The waiter came with two plates and two spoons, giving one to each of them, and placing the ‘s’mores in a jar’ between them. It was warm chocolate mousse and crumbled graham crackers in a mason jar, topped with a crunchy milk chocolate bar and fat toasted marshmallows on a shish kebab.
Jack scooped the s’mores out, dividing them equally on the plates, and Daniel noted how nice it was that Jack gave them equal pieces, forgetting to be mad at the alpha for picking out a dessert without his input. Once he had his share, Daniel wasted no time breaking up his half of the chocolate bar and piling his spoon high with a piece of chocolate, mousse and crackers, and a rich gooey dap of marshmallow. He somehow managed to fit all that in his mouth, groaning with satisfaction as he chewed. “Hmm, I love eating things I can’t make myself,” he mumbled, licking the spoon for good measure.
“Uh, yeah, I love it too,” Jack murmured, wide-eyed.
Daniel wasn’t sure how Jack knew he loved it considering he seemed to have forgotten to actually eat his spoonful, just sitting there staring at Daniel. But no matter.
“Anyhow, Rob Makepeace, he was the quarterback,” Daniel said, piling up another spoonful.
“Quarterback,” Jack repeated blankly.
“Yes, the quarterback of the football team at my high school,” Daniel specified testily. Jack sure was easily distracted. “He was an alpha, of course.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack said, blinking and shaking himself. “Go on.”
Forgetting to lower his voice, Daniel stated, “Rob swore male omegas got pregnant from anal intercourse.”
Jack froze again, his spoonful once more forgotten mid-way to his mouth, joining the startled beta couple to stare at Daniel in disbelief.
“Anal intercourse,” Daniel repeated, nodding his head emphatically as if someone had disagreed with him. “I mean, how are intestines going to make a baby? There’s nothing there but fecal matter!”
A squeak of distress came from the vicinity of the beta couple, and Jack dropped his spoon back down to his plate, propping an elbow on the table to cover his mouth with his hand. Daniel ignored all of them, on a roll now. “Seriously, in what possible reality would sperm plus poop equal baby?” he demanded.
The clatter of a dropped fork came from the next table and Jack doubled up in his chair, coughing apparently to judge from the odd noises he was making.
“Oh, and speaking of which, Mike Griff, he was a linebacker, alpha again of course, he said male omegas had self-lubing anuses.”
Jack sputtered and choked as the beta woman whimpered, blotting her flushed face with a napkin.
“Yes, that’s right, you heard me. Self. Lubing. Anuses.”
Jack seemed to be having trouble speaking, and he cleared his throat for a moment before gasping, “Daniel, don’t you think—?”
“He said that the slightest whiff of alpha pheromones would get me wet like a woman,” Daniel continued blithely, taking a healthy bite of his s’mores. “He actually used the word lube, like actual K-Y Jelly would drip from— you know where.” He pointed his spoon downward, quite discreetly he thought, before using it to scrape up the last of his dessert.
“Like, how would that even work?” Daniel asked, finishing up his portion of the s’mores, then taking a scoop from the alpha’s since the still-coughing Jack hadn’t even started on it. Waste not, want not.
“Can you imagine how unsanitary that would be?” This seemed a very reasonable question to Daniel, but Jack didn’t answer, still trying to clear his throat from his odd coughing fit.
“Like, what possible evolutionary path would lead to self-lubing anuses?” he demanded flinging his hands out for emphasis, the spoon he still held coming perilously close to the shocked face of the neighboring beta woman. “I’d really like to know!”
With what seemed a herculean effort, Jack took a deep cleansing breath, picked up the spoon he had discarded earlier, and said matter-of-factly, “Well, I guess the lube would make it easier when it came time to give birth to the ass babies.”
“Ass babies?!” Daniel all but shouted in disbelief.
“Check, please!” called the beta man, frantically fanning his wife with a napkin as the red-faced woman collapsed backwards, trying weakly to loosen her collar.
“Aaaand, that’s enough wine for you,” Jack announced firmly as he carefully slid Daniel’s wineglass out of the omega’s reach, the last inch of liquid sloshing around.
Looking around himself, Daniel cringed at the nasty glare he got from the beta husband, the incredulous stares from other would-be diners at the surrounding tables, even a couple startled glances from passersby on the sidewalk, to say nothing of the disapproving frown from the maître d all the way over by the bistro’s entrance.
Daniel shrank down in his chair, pouting. “This is your fault,” he muttered to Jack. “I mean, really. Ass babies.”
Jack shrugged as he took the last bite of s’mores before it was all gone. “That’s what they called them in my school.”
Just FYI, the inspiration for the made-up movie The Last Silence (get it? ‘Last’ as in ‘omega’? Clever, huh? ;-) ) is The Silence of the Lambs.
Chapter 4: Sunset Over Central Park
Jack’s apartment wasn’t a penthouse, but it was pretty damn nice nonetheless.
Why exactly Daniel agreed to come up here, he wasn’t entirely certain, although it had made sense at the time. Sure, he’d been a little tipsy when they’d finished up and left the restaurant; or perhaps he should say when Jack ignored the scowls of their fellow patrons, dropped three one-hundred dollar bills on the table, gave a pleasant nod to the gaping waiter, and hustled Daniel directly through the open sliding doors and out onto the sidewalk.
“Just because I’m an omega doesn’t mean I can’t walk properly,” Daniel had complained huffily, smoothing his shirt with exaggerated care and teetering precariously amongst the bustling passersby.
Jack had only crooked a smile and raised a brow as he placed himself as a shield against the flow of pedestrians. “How about from now on we stipulate to me knowing that ‘just because you’re an omega that doesn’t mean you can’t do activities X, Y and Z’?”
Again, the smile Jack had given him was conspiratorial rather than supercilious, and Daniel found himself returning it. And when Jack then stated his intention of taking Daniel back to the omega’s flat, Daniel somehow found himself saying, “You know, I’d like to watch the sunset, if you don’t mind.” When Jack tilted his head quizzically, Daniel babbled on, “I never usually get the chance, I have to go to bed so early. Or else I’m taking a late class (well, late for me anyway), or I’m studying or something. So maybe you know a good place to watch the sunset? Not the Empire State Building,” he’d added quickly, just to be sure. You never knew with transplants.
Jack had rubbed the back of his neck before giving a smile that was half hopeful and half apologetic. “I actually know the perfect place.”
And here Daniel was, standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the south-west corner of Jack’s swanky 5th Avenue apartment, twenty stories high. He looked out as the crepuscular light of the setting sun retreated from the sky and the mottled green swathe of Central Park South butted up against the bulky buildings of 59th Street like an incoming wave hitting a stone breakwater.
Here he was, all alone with an alpha he’d known for less than 24 hours.
He took a deep cleansing breath. Screw it. Just because he was an omega didn’t mean he was a shrinking violet. “So, I take it this is the Stark Tower to your Ironman?” Daniel said over his shoulder. “Not as high tech as I imagined.”
Jack joined him at the window, hands in pockets, giving Daniel a sidelong grin. “C’mon, it’s a little high tech.”
“Where are the fancy electronics?”
“Well, I got a drawer-full of battery operated sex toys, if that counts.”
Daniel reddened, shivering at the thought, hiding his face as he turned back towards the window.
“Plus the electric toothbrush, of course,” Jack added.
Who had mentioned the electric toothbrush? Oh, it was Sam. Thinking of the alpha female and her apparent familiarity with Jack’s personal items brought a vague frown to Daniel’s face.
“Hey, let’s pull the couch over and sit down,” Jack said.
It wasn’t so much a couch as a love seat, but Daniel helped carry it over from the sunken living room it shared with the rest of Jack’s no frills furniture, couches and armchairs in understated shades of grey interspersed with metal tables and lamps. And thank god Jack didn’t object to an omega lifting something that weighed more than a feather. No one seemed to realize that being a baker was very physical work; lugging fifty-pound bags of flour around was no joke.
After they wrestled the seat into place, Daniel sat on the side nearest the window, sinking into plush down-filled cushions. Daniel was sober again, sober enough to feel embarrassed about his earlier behavior. He cleared his throat as Jack sat down on the other end of the couch. “Sorry I got so loud. At the restaurant. I don’t usually drink all that much, and…”
Jack just shook his head with a smile. “I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun on a date.”
Not even your date with Sam last night? The waspish question was on the tip of Daniel’s tongue, but he kept quiet.
“How about some coffee?” Jack offered.
“Sure, thanks,” Daniel said, and when Jack got up to go to the kitchen, he added, “Can’t Jarvis get it?”
Jack chuckled as he poured coffee beans into a grinder. “Unfortunately there is no Jarvis equivalent to my Iron Man.”
Daniel looked out at the window again. The apartment had a great view of the old gothic castle of the Arsenal, and peeking out from behind it, the Central Park Zoo. If Daniel squinted, he could just make out his favorite, the grizzly bear enclosure.
But as cool as the view outside was, Daniel found his attention distracted by the view inside: Jack bustling about the apartment’s open plan kitchen, looking oddly domestic for an alpha as he prepared two pour-over cups of coffee. While the kitchen had a few more fancy chrome gadgets than Daniel preferred, the strict functionality was softened by the dirty dishes in the sink and an open box of Froot Loops, the cereal half-spilled across the granite counter.
When the final touches were completed on the coffee (sugar, no cream for Daniel; cream, no sugar for Jack), Jack brought the two mugs back to the couch and handed Daniel’s off before sitting again…perhaps just a little closer to Daniel than before.
Daniel took a sip, truthfully declared the coffee delicious, and the two settled into a fairly companionable silence. Daniel tracked a flock of seagulls wheeling over the zoo, then looked down at 5th Avenue, craning his head to try and see the cross street.
“We’re at 65th Street, right?”
“Yeah,” Jack said.
“Huh. You’re just off the green line here, Hunter College station.”
“I am? Cool.”
Jack clearly didn’t understand the significance the green line held for Daniel but the alpha still nodded with pleased approval and Daniel smirked as he dipped his face to take another sip of the coffee.
“I wish we had some of your cupcakes,” Jack mused. “Those s’mores were pretty good but they were nothing compared to that Gucci stuff you made this morning.”
It took Daniel a moment to realize Jack meant the ganache and he couldn’t stop a laugh from escaping. He squelched it back down, however (it never paid to lose control when you were with an alpha), and said, “I don’t know that I want you to come—” He broke off, eyes flicking involuntarily towards Jack’s crotch, thinking that he really should’ve thought that sentence through before starting it.
“Oh, come in my pants again?” Jack’s grin was unrepentant. “Hey, it’s the ultimate compliment. I wanted you to know I appreciated your work.”
“And you thought public humiliation was the way to win my heart?”
“No!” Jack said defensively. “We weren’t laughing at you, we were laughing with you.”
“I wasn’t laughing,” Daniel said flatly.
Jack didn’t look guilty, if anything his gaze softened. “No, you weren’t,” he said quietly. “But you should’ve been. You should laugh a lot more, you’re beautiful when you laugh.”
Daniel clutched at his mug as if he could hide behind it, face scalding hotter than the coffee. He shook his head. “Women are beautiful.”
“Handsome, then,” Jack agreed easily. “It’s all the same to me. A rose by any other name.”
“Are you seriously comparing me to a flower?” Daniel asked, trying, and failing, for snarky.
“Yeah, I am,” Jack stated calmly, tilting his head. “You got a problem with that?”
Taking a shaky breath, Daniel said in a wavering voice, “So, uh, so tell me about yourself.”
Jack blinked, then leaned back with a smile. “Nice segue,” he observed.
Daniel ignored the dig with a stubborn set to his jaw. “Seems like I’ve been hogging the conversation, me and my tragic omega background. I want to hear about you. You keep saying you have no experience with omegas. Why not?”
Smile fading a bit, Jack stalled by taking a swallow or two of his coffee, then he said, “Short story: I come from a long line of alphas.”
There was a pause, then Daniel raised his brows. “And the long story?” he prompted.
Jack sighed. “Alpha dad and beta mom, a lot like you,” he began. “But alpha and beta grandparents as far back as the eye can see. Three brothers, all alpha. Mostly alpha cousins with the occasional beta thrown in for kicks. Mom and dad were both Air Force, and my brothers and I all went to military boarding school.”
“No omegas there,” Daniel guessed.
“Too right,” Jack said with a nod. “Not that I’m saying that’s a good thing. Uh, I don’t know if you’re into the whole omegas’ rights deal…?”
Daniel straightened and said firmly, “I am very much into the whole omegas’ rights deal.” Why was equal treatment under the law such a hard concept for some people?
“Good for you,” Jack said with another nod, looking for all the world as he was proud of Daniel. “Anyhow, after military boarding school came a military college, then came the actual military…”
“I’m sensing a trend here,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, pretty much. I’ve always been fed the party line, omegas are good for fun times and making babies, are to be spoiled and pampered, and kept safe and protected at all times.”
Daniel glared over the rim of his coffee mug and Jack chuckled, raising his free hand in protest. “You’re teaching me the error of my ways, Daniel, don’t worry,” Jack said.
Daniel risked a pleased smile at that, then asked, “So, why are you here in New York? You’re young, why aren’t you still on active duty?”
Jack’s smile faded away like the day’s sunshine. The shadows had crawled up to overtake them even up on the twentieth floor and Daniel shivered at a sudden chill as Jack stared soberly out the window at the Lower West Side buildings lining the opposite side of the park.
“I—I’m sorry,” Daniel stammered. “I shouldn’t have asked such a personal question, forget I even—”
“No,” Jack said firmly, his face emotionless in a way Daniel didn’t like. “It—it’s not a secret. There was…some trouble on a mission. My last mission. I had just made full bird—uh, colonel,” he explained at Daniel’s confused look. “We had a meet set with the local militia up in Mula Qasa, but…” He continued staring out the window but it wasn’t the darkening buildings of Manhattan he saw. “The Taliban got there first,” he concluded simply. Then he shrugged with a painful expression that was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile, saying as if in explanation, “People get killed all the time in war.”
Daniel couldn’t stop a flinch, immediately cursing himself for being a typical scaredy-cat omega. He avoided news of the war, or really any violence, he always had. He didn’t truly understand war. Why did alpha’s have to fight? Because, yes, it was almost always alphas that pushed the policies, pushed for the fighting. Why couldn’t they just talk things out?
Then Jack was guiding his face up, and the alpha’s hand on his cheek was hot from the coffee mug, the warm touch sinking into him bone-deep.
Jack’s soft smile was real this time. “Hey. Sorry.”
“It—it’s okay,” Daniel said, trying to stop the way his eyes were blinking, the way he leaned into the hand that still gently cupped his cheek. “We stipulated, right? I can handle it.”
“But I don’t want you to have to ‘handle’ it.” Jack looked at the hand he had on Daniel, releasing his hold so suddenly the omega almost lurched into the vacuum created. “Sorry, I—I shouldn’t be touching you.” He stared down at his hand, clenched in a fist, as if it were something dirty and dangerous that couldn’t be trusted around the innocent.
“All that lost life,” Jack said, “the children—” He broke off, then his voice hardened with determination. “I promised myself I wasn’t wasting another minute of the time given me, not another second spent dealing death and destruction. I wanted to live life…” He trailed off, looking out at the twinkling lights and deep blue shadows of the Manhattan twilight.
“In a bakery?” Daniel asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Jack chuffed out a laugh. “Yeah, a bakery, a place that holds someone like you.”
“What? I’m nobody.”
“Daniel, you’re everything,” Jack said, looking at Daniel like the omega was the densest person on Earth. “You are what we’re fighting for. You, in your band t-shirts and your aprons and your freaking cupcakes that taste like freaking magic.” He shook his head. “That’s what I want, what I’m looking for. After seeing—the things I’ve seen, doing the things I’ve done, the damned distasteful things I’ve done…”
The hopeless look on Jack’s face, that was wrong. Self-loathing on someone so gorgeous and special? Daniel wanted the fun-loving and mischievous boy back. He set his half-empty coffee mug down roughly, not caring if it sloshed, and grabbed Jack’s hand with both of his. He couldn’t explain, but he wanted to take Jack’s pain away. Daniel couldn’t be a soldier and fight a war, not for or alongside Jack, but he could do this, simple human contact and willingness to help.
He wanted…he wanted that scent back, the one from the car when Jack had looked at Daniel with his eyes so dark, the scent of arousal thick and creamy. The scent of moonlight filtering through wind-blown juniper on a crisp mountain night, moonlight dancing clean and clear on an alpine lake.
And he realized it wasn’t just a memory, he was smelling it right now, Jack’s eyes on his, Jack leaning close, Daniel rising to meet him, their lips touching, delicate at first, then firming. If Daniel thought Jack’s scent was heaven, his taste was even better, coffee and cream and the essence of alpha Daniel had never experienced.
They explored one another, Daniel’s fingers trailing along Jack’s strong jawline as his tongue quested deep into Jack’s mouth, Jack’s fingers tracing the shell of Daniel’s ear, teeth nipping and pulling gently at the omega’s full lower lip, the two of them stroking and probing at each other’s tongue as if jousting, until Daniel gasped for breath and they broke apart, staring at each other wildly—
And Jack backed off, letting go of the omega, saying, “Sun’s down,” with a grimace he probably meant to be a smile. “I’ll take you home now.”
The alpha picked up their discarded coffee mugs, carrying them mechanically to the kitchen to deposit them in the sink, Daniel watching silently.
When Jack came back, standing expectantly by the loveseat, and Daniel said, “No, I don’t want to go home,” he wasn’t sure which of them was more surprised.
And he didn’t want to go. This, right here, was where Daniel wanted to be, this was what Daniel wanted, Jack was what he wanted, for the first time, an alpha he wanted, a connection like no other he had ever known, not any of the brief relationships with betas over the years, not even his doomed romance with Shau’ri back in school.
He wanted this. Finally, he wanted an alpha.
“No, I know what I want,” he said firmly, calmly. “I’m not a child, that you can make decisions for me. I know what it means and I want to stay.”
And Jack relaxed, the tension bleeding out of him, his face softening and opening in a way Daniel had never seen in any of his past lovers. The alpha’s out-stretched hand didn’t change, but the offer was entirely different now when he said, “Come with me?”
The bedroom faced the east, sheer curtains tied back at wide windows, Central Park a dark rectangle with lamp lit paths like strings of fireflies, a galaxy of stars in building-shaped constellations beyond. A king sized bed of wrought iron dominated the room, pillows and comforter in grey and brown geometric patterns.
At the foot of the bed Jack turned Daniel to him, pulling the Pink Floyd shirt off the omega, kissing and suckling at the nipples exposed. “God I’ve been dying for a taste since you got in the car at your flat,” Jack murmured between licks, Daniel arching back at the sensations. “Hmm, taste as good as they look.” And Daniel whimpered, rising up to toe-tips when Jack nipped gently at the stiff nubs with his teeth, the alpha steadying him with strong arms.
Daniel took his turn next, unbuttoning Jack’s chambray shirt, pushing it off and onto the floor, stripping an undershirt off too until he could get to the chest underneath, a chest of warm springy hair that Daniel nosed through on his way down the alpha’s body, unbuttoned the fly of the canvas trousers and pushing trousers and boxers down to the floor, Daniel dropping to his knees, the omega taking his first view of an alpha’s dick outside of a health education book. Then he took his first touch, followed immediately by his first taste…
Jack gasped and groaned above him as Daniel explored with lips and tongue and fingers. God, the taste of him, musk and sweat and clean skin. Even only half-hard it was bigger than any beta cock he’d known, warm and veiny, Daniel’s mouth stretching wide to take him, the thick spongy cock-base a promise of the knot that would form at the height of lovemaking, thick and heavy balls hanging below.
Then Jack cupped the omega’s jaw, urging him to stand, kissing his mouth again before kicking his trousers and shoes off in a few quick motions, Daniel eagerly following suit with his own jeans and sneakers.
Jack guided Daniel to the bed, flinging the covers aside to lay Daniel out like feast fit for a starving man.
“When I first scented you at the bakery,” the alpha murmured, “I thought it was honey, warm honey. But it was you.”
He crouched on the bed, breathing Daniel deep. “Your scent,” he said, nosing into the sensitive skin behind Daniel’s ear, Daniel pressing his head back into the sheets as he shivered, baring his throat. “Hmm, you smell like summertime, sky as blue as your eyes. Like the morning sun heating up a garden of flowers, like cake straight out of the oven…”
The alpha explored him thoroughly, lips skimming sometimes, kissing deep sometimes, drawing blood to the surface of his skin, fingers tweaking and stroking, tongue laving flat or teasing soft, until Daniel squirmed, hands fisting in the sheet, all of him covered, touched, marked, claimed.
Jack was more aggressive than Daniel’s past beta partners, male or female, but it was okay, surprisingly okay. Well, not just okay, the sensations were a hell of a lot better than just okay, they were driving him out of his mind. But the fact that the alpha marked him was okay. Somehow when it came to Jack, being claimed didn’t make Daniel less, but more.
With a moist pop Jack pulled off from where he had sucked Daniel’s cock deep, tasting the omega’s precome with an approving hum. “God, I want to climb into you and wrap you around me,” Jack growled.
Breathless, Daniel managed to gasp out, “I want that too.”
He did. Daniel enjoyed anal sex, preferred it even when his heats gave him another option: every six months during heat-tide when the skin of his perineum thinned and softened, contracting to form his vaginal channel, the only time that he was even potentially fertile.
He had noticed a bottle of lube sitting on Jack’s bedside table and Daniel rolled over to retrieve it, offering it to Jack. “Would you help me get ready?”
Jack studied Daniel’s face. “We don’t have to do that,” he assured Daniel. “There’s lots of other things to do.”
Even an hour ago Daniel would have attributed Jack’s caution to considering omegas to be weak, fragile and inferior. But Daniel guessed otherwise, now. He felt special and beloved and cherished. “I want this,” he told Jack. “I want all of this.”
That crooked smile graced Jack’s face and he said, “Roll over a bit,” taking the lube and squeezing an amount out on his fingers. When Daniel obeyed, Jack slid behind the omega and they lay with Daniel’s back to Jack’s front. One arm Jack slipped under Daniel, bringing it up to stroke the smooth hairless skin of Daniel’s chest, gently tweaking his nipples. The other hand Jack squeezed between their bodies, finding Daniel’s entrance by touch, his lube-coated fingers circling and teasing at the tight puckered hole.
Daniel had always been told male omegas had more sensitive prostates than other men. He might even believe it if personal experience was anything to go by.
When Jack had brought him, whimpering, to the very edge, the alpha withdrew his fingers, gently returned Daniel on his back, and sat up. From the bedside table Jack retrieved a crinkly package, rolling on an alpha condom, one with extra width at base and a large well at the tip.
As Jack slipped between Daniel’s legs, he lifted the omega, nestling their groins tight. He grasped Daniel by the shoulders, leaning down for a kiss. But Daniel had a moment of fear as he was pinned under the superior weight and strength of an alpha, his lips stiff and unresponsive, finding himself somehow caught up by a force stronger than steel.
Then suddenly they were rolling over and Daniel blinked to find himself sitting up, kneeling with his legs bracketing Jack’s hips.
The alpha grinned up at him, boyishly mischievous again. “How about you set the pace?” he said.
Daniel frowned. Okay, that was a bit condescending, but Daniel was free to do as he wished here. He could leave, he could get up and leave, but…why would he want to?
A little nervous now, Daniel leaned forward, arching over Jack to grasp the sturdy wrought iron headboard, but Jack reached up and took Daniel’s hands in his own, lacing their fingers together, palm to palm, supporting Daniel.
“Are you strong enough?” Daniel asked.
Jack looked insulted, but he only said, “Yeah, you give me strength,” looking half playful and half serious. It was corny, but somehow Daniel could feel it was the simple truth.
Using Jack’s arms for balance, Daniel raised his butt high, placing himself on the bulbous tip of the alpha’s straining cock, easing himself down, rotating, pressing, letting his weight do the work until Jack popped in with a burning stretch of muscles.
Daniel paused, breathing through the burn, Jack’s fingers squeezing his own as the alpha sighed with approval. Then Daniel was moving again, taking his time, working his slow way down that thick length, advancing, retreating, going down a little farther every time, beginning to pant and huff with effort, relishing the contact of their hands, joining the two men in a circuit, energy building with each rise and fall, until Daniel touched down at last, grinding himself with a moan, feeling the wiry pubic hair and firm pressure of Jack’s balls against his ass, Jack groaning and thrusting up in response, the knot at the base of his cock beginning to swell.
Daniel lifted up, passing over the swelling flesh and falling back down. Again he lifted, the knot thicker this time, pulling hard to pass over it, and once more falling back down. A third time he tested the knot, pulling up but snagging tight on the fat collar this try.
Daniel had waited a long time to feel an alpha’s knot and he let stiffening flesh catch and hold him as he pulled, let it burn and tug and strain, their hands slick, tears and sweat stinging their eyes. Daniel pulled harder, as if checking the strength of a tether, as if he was a comet at the far icy-cold end of its orbit, tumbling at the limits of gravity…then letting gravity catch him again, the comet plunging into the welcoming flames of the sun, slamming down with a groan Jack shared, Jack swelling anew, bursting within him, the pressure and heat sparking in Daniel, emolating him from within, making him writhe, crying out as he spent in a great gush of cum, Jack arching up under him with a roar, passing a timeless eternity in that instant of flaring pleasure…
Then time resumed, their hearts beat again, breath gasped into starved lungs, muscles relaxed.
But it wasn’t over yet. With an alpha, there was more, a lot more. They were tied now, locked together by the stiff fleshy plug of an alpha knot. Daniel’s dick might be down for the count, but Jack’s was only getting started.
Daniel didn’t quite know how it happened, but suddenly he was on his back and his legs were on Jack’s shoulders, the alpha’s cock still pumping and pulsing, Daniel shuddering with aftershocks, pleasure spiking and fading in languorous waves. It was too much and Daniel turned his head, embarrassed, knowing he must look wrecked.
“Please let me see your face, Daniel,” came a plaintive growl from above him. “I want to see you, see every expression, see what you look like when your walls come down, when you let go.”
Daniel obeyed, staring helplessly up the alpha. His prostate was overstimulated, he knew it, any further rubbing would be painful, not pleasurable. But this wasn’t rubbing, being tied, this was pressure, the press of hot solid flesh rocking against him, within him, Jack’s hungry eyes glittering in the dim light, flicking over his face again and again and it was all Daniel could do to keep his eyes open and return the stare.
For long minutes Jack’s dick pumped the voluminous spend of an alpha, and every time the knot swelled against his prostate, pleasure sparked and shot through Daniel like electricity and another orgasm wrenched through him, his dick twitching dry on his belly, Daniel shuddering and arching again and again, Jack’s eyes drinking him in as he cried out wordlessly, helpless as wave after wave passed over and through him, swelling and cresting and rolling on…
…until Jack gathered Daniel up, laying them on their sides, still tied together, face to face, kissing again, kissing to the slow languorous rhythm of the alpha’s pulsing cock and a final wave caught Daniel, sparking a last long orgasm that flooded through the omega, making him shake and shiver, moaning into Jack’s mouth, until the rolling waves calmed and carried him gently to shore…
…and he found himself deposited back in the real world.
But that was okay, the real world was a nice place, folded up tight in Jack’s arms, the alpha’s cock still a presence within him, but loosening, shrinking down, easing off, Daniel curling up tighter, letting the alpha’s strong arms gather him close, wrapping his legs up around the other man’s waist, lazily watching as Jack’s eyes still greedily drank him in, feeling Jack’s lips pepper his face in kisses, listening to Jack’s gruff alpha rumble of god, Daniel and so perfect and all mine.
Daniel drifted to sleep caught in a conundrum: on the one hand he castigated himself for having resisted the idea of love-making with an alpha for so many years, but on the other hand, he suspected sex with another alpha would have been just that, sex, not the transcendent experience he just had.
Then he snuggled down further and left the thinking for tomorrow.
Daniel woke the next morning to the sound of curtains being drawn closed and an annoyingly bright light dimming to bearable level. Eyes still closed, he reached out instinctively, as if only one night of companionship after 24 years of single living had made him crave a partner in bed. The sheets were still warm, but where…?
“Shh.” There was a weight and a shifting on the bed beside him. A kiss was dropped to his temple and Jack said, “No need to get up, you’re sleeping late, remember?”
Oh, that was right. He had a vague memory of earlier that morning when he woke at four a.m., his body programed to leave for work as usual. Jack had shushed him back to sleep, telling him he could take the day off.
“Hmm.” Daniel snuggled deeper in his pillow now, reveling in the return of Jack’s warmth. He lay a long time, drowsing, drifting between sleeping and waking. Had he really found an alpha? An alpha unlike any other?
There came a vague electronic chirping and Jack slid stealthily from Daniel’s lax grasp. Must have been Jack’s phone because he heard Jack’s voice receding, saying softly, “Hey, Teal’c.”
The alpha must have stopped right outside of the bedroom door because Daniel could just make out Jack’s whispering voice. Still floating half-awake, Daniel listened idly to Jack’s side of the conversation.
“Nope, very nice night, slept like a baby.” He paused to listen, then said, “Yeah, omegas really are good for that.”
What? Daniel frowned, waking up a little, blinking into the pillow. That can’t be what it sounded like.
“Right, that’s all they’re good for: fucking.”
Daniel was suddenly wide awake, his heart pounding, listening with disbelief. Did the man to whom he had just opened himself and made love to just describe it as nothing more than a fuck?
“That’s why I’m getting rid of him as soon as I can. … Nope, not for long,” Jack continued, responding to something Teal’c must have said. “I don’t need him anymore, I’m going to fire his ass so fast it’ll make his head spin.”
Oh god. Daniel’s fists clenched into the sheets, breath coming in quiet pants, lying as still as possible so as to not attract attention, praying the distress pheromones he must be pumping out stayed masked under the blankets.
“Yeah, forget him, we got more important things to think about. … I may be moving a little fast though. … No, Jonas can handle everything from now on. I want Daniel out of there as soon as possible.”
Frozen, Daniel bit his lip, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Right. Jonas doesn’t need Daniel, he’ll be fine on his own. … We hired him to replace Daniel, he better be able to run a bakery on his own. … Especially once he gets Daniel’s recipe. … Yeah, good stuff.”
Daniel’s recipe? Get it? What did that even mean? And how would Jonas get it? The recipes weren’t even at Star Gate.
“True, but that U.N. reception should be a breeze, at least. … Daniel’s good for it. … Hey, I’m an alpha, I get to do what I want.”
Daniel squeezed his eyes harder, stopping a flow of tears by sheer willpower alone.
Jack was chuckling softly. “Oh, I’ll convince him all right.”
The alpha’s voice was filled with dark promise and Daniel drew a shuddering breath, muffling it against the pillow.
“Thanks, Teal’c. Really, I can’t wait to get Daniel the hell out of Spring Street. … Jonas’ll be perfect, he’s a beta—” He broke off speaking, then chuckled again. “Whatever, T. Look, let’s talk more later, I’m gonna take a shower and get started with the day. … See ya, big guy.”
Then came the quiet sounds of pulled dresser drawers and sliding closet hangers, and the shutting of a door. Daniel waited until he heard the muted thrum of a shower starting before he unclenched from what had initially been a cozy curl and ended up as a paralyzed rictus. He stumbled out of the bed, found and put on his scattered clothes, fingers clumsy and as numb as his brain. Then he was out the apartment door and down the elevator, shivering in the air-conditioned chill.
Chapter 5: Travels on the Green Line
Daniel made it back to his flat by 8:30, late morning for him, making his furtive walk-of-shame up the stairs and through the door. Janet’s bedroom was open and empty, and he thought that odd as he passed by, as she had said she wasn’t working Friday and would usually sleep late.
He needed to shower, needed to get the smell of alpha off him, needed to be free of that rich and creamy scent, the reminder of warm skin and nipping teeth and strong but gentle arms…
Daniel stripped his clothes off, jamming them to the bottom of his dirty clothes basket, and took the hottest shower he could stand, scrubbing hard and thorough, and not thinking, very carefully not thinking about anything.
Afterward Daniel slipped into a pair of comfortable old jeans and the first t-shirt he found in his drawer, featuring the bright blue logo of the band Yes, a retro ’70s look to the fat bubbly interlocking letters. He wandered into the flat’s tiny kitchen thinking of comfort food, when he stopped dead with a gasp.
His recipe box, his great grandmother’s prized recipe box with the stylized rooster in faded colors on the worn metal, it was fallen on its side on the formica countertop. The box usually held pride of place on an open shelf along with Daniel’s cookbook collection. Now it lay open with its treasure spilled out on the counter and floor: dozens of old index cards covered with the loops and whorls of O-Ma’s careful cursive writing, the recipes she’d held in her head for decades that Daniel had begged her to write down for him.
He gathered and flipped through them with shaking hands. He found all her savory dishes: pot pies and lasagna, chicken divan and corn chowder; and there were her baked goods: cruller and brioche, croissant and pan dulce.
But one was missing. His favorite, the one closest to his heart, the one most worn and dog-eared, the one O-Ma had presented to him with a grin, wrinkles and laugh-lines wreathing her sweet old face, the one entitled ‘Cup Cakes’ in elaborately scrolled and curlicued script, that one was missing. He checked everywhere, under the fridge, behind the toaster, any crack it might have fluttered into if the box had fallen off the shelf, but nowhere, it was nowhere in the kitchen.
It was gone.
Daniel stood there, staring at the stained old cards with unseeing eyes, Jack’s words on the phone with Teal’c echoing in his head, ‘Once Jonas gets Daniel’s recipe…yeah, good stuff.’
No, this can’t be right. Why would Jack do that?
He wouldn’t. He couldn’t have.
Even if last night meant nothing to him, he wouldn’t do something this cruel.
And when? Jack had been with Daniel the whole time since meeting him in the museum. Daniel hadn’t so much as glanced into the kitchen yesterday when he’d rushed in to change before dinner, so he had no idea when this had happened. Anyhow, who else had access to the flat but Janet? Janet—
His breath froze in his lungs. Janet, whom he had last saw with Sam…sitting in the corner deli…showing the other woman something in her hands…
Hands shaking harder than ever, Daniel got his phone from where he left it near the apartment’s entrance.
He noticed he’d received three missed calls from an unknown number, along with two text messages from the same number. Daniel ignored them, dismissing them from the phone unlistened to and unread.
He speed-dialed Janet, chewing on his lip as the call went through. Okay, fine, it must have been Janet, but maybe she needed a recipe for some reason Daniel didn’t know about. Something reasonable. Something that made sense.
Daniel winced suddenly, leaving off the lip chewing. He was sore from Jack’s sensuous nips of the night before. He pressed his lips flat and tight as he listened to Janet’s phone ring.
Janet’s voice was breathless as she answered, “Hi! What’s up?”
“Janet, where are you?” Daniel asked without preamble. “Were you home last night?”
There was a murky distortion as if Janet was covering her phone’s mic, then her voice came back even more breathless. “Yeah, I was home for a bit, then I, uh…” More distortion and what sounded like giggling. “I ended up going out.”
“Um, okay, but Janet, did you see— My recipe box, did you take anything from it?”
“Recipes?” she asked almost derisively. “Sweetie, don’t worry about baking, that’s all taken care of. Jack told you you’re finished at Spring Street, right?”
“I’m…what? What are you saying?”
The distortion rose again, then resolved itself into more giggling, but not just from Janet. A cheerful voice called out, “Is that Daniel?” It was Samantha Carter. “Ask him where he was last night!”
It took Daniel three desperate tries, but he managed to hit the ‘end call’ button before he heard anything else.
Daniel didn’t make a conscious decision to go to Star Gate, he just found himself there, walking east on Spring Street from the subway station, the familiar sights and sounds of the Soho neighborhood as hollow and unreal as a theatre backdrop. He passed by the shopfront, going up the alley to the shop’s service entrance, hands in his pockets, wanting nothing more than to be in a place where things made sense. He slipped past a delivery truck that was backed up to the loading dock, giving a nod to some of the guys and going into the shop’s back pantry.
One the kitchen brigade, a young beta man named Graham, looked up from where he was taking inventory at the liqueurs and extracts shelf. “Oh, hey, Daniel,” Graham said, blinking in surprise. “I thought you weren’t here anymore.”
Daniel scowled at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Uh…” Graham gave an uncomfortable shrug, eyes flicking toward the door leading from the pantry to the kitchen. “I don’t know. Maybe I misunderstood, but—”
Daniel turned away before he could finish, suddenly desperate to get to the kitchen, weaving through tall stacks of flour and sugar bags, and racks and racks of baking supplies to reach the door connecting with the bakery’s kitchen. He opened it halfway, peeking through to find Jonas Quinn at Star Gate’s biggest mixer, working on what looked to be cake batter. Lindsey was across the table from him, leaning forward with elbows propped on the counter, hiccup-free and looking considerably more relaxed than when Daniel last saw her.
Speaking loudly to be heard over the noisy mixer, Jonas was saying, “Seriously, Lins, can you believe him? Thinking he knows what’s what in a bakery? I mean he has a certain aptitude, but the details are totally beyond him. He’s out of his depth.”
Chin on fist, Lindsey nodded. “Yeah, I think I’m starting to see that now. It’s like he only looks at things from one point of view.”
“It’s simple biology,” Jonas said, running a spatula around the mixing bowl’s edge. “His gender is just working against him.”
“Well, not to worry, it’s just us betas here now,” Lindsay said with a grin.
As both betas laughed, Daniel ducked back out through the door. He stood frozen in the supply room, staring unseeing at a shelf filled with jars of crystallized ginger and candied orange and lemon peel.
This couldn’t be happening. His life was tumbling down around him and he had no idea why.
“Daniel?” It was Graham, approaching Daniel like the omega might turn on him at any moment. “Do you need help?”
Daniel shook his head wordlessly and brushed past the confused beta. Dodging back through the supply room, he took the loading dock at a running jump and continued in a jog down the alley.
Walking aimlessly down the crowded sidewalk, he tried to slow his heart rate, a useless exercise. What was he going to do? His money was all tied up and would be for another week at least, he already owed Janet for this month’s rent. He thought he was saving up to buy a different bakery? Forget about it. That was out of the question now, he didn’t even have a job.
He rubbed at his eyes, squeezing them shut and blinking. He wouldn’t cry. He was an adult. People get fired all the time. Fired from their jobs, their dream jobs that they loved more than anything in the world…
He took a shaky breath.
What did he do now? He didn’t want to talk to Janet again, not if she was giggling away with Sam (and what the heck was that about?), and he felt nauseous at the thought of talking to Jack. (Jack, his brown eyes so sincere when he said Daniel was everything he’d been looking for, everything he needed…)
So who else could he talk to? There was only one answer to that and he sighed as he pulled out his cell and put a call through to his mom. God, he was the worst sort of omega cliché.
Claire answered on the second ring. “Hello, sweetie.”
Ah, just hearing that lightened part of the tightness in his chest. “Hi, Mom.”
“So,” she drawled expectantly, and Daniel could hear the smile in her voice, “how was your date last night?”
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut again. “It—last night was okay, but— Jack’s not what I thought he was. He— God, everything’s so messed up!”
“Shush, dear, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Claire soothed, sounding indulgent rather than concerned. “Come home, sweetheart, we can talk here.”
Home. That felt like the place to be right now, and Daniel yearned for it. “Is Dad—oh, Dad’s at that Yankees game, right? Crap, I forgot, I was supposed to—”
“He found someone to go with him, don’t worry,” Claire said. “He should be back soon. Just come on over, everything will be okay. We can do some baking, huh?”
Daniel felt the worry loosen and his breathing ease. “Yes. Okay. That sounds great. I’ll be there as fast as the train will go.”
She sighed at the reminder of the subway, but only said, “You be careful, sweetheart. See you soon.”
Head down, hands in pockets, Daniel walked over the cracked and lopsided sidewalk on the last half-block to his parents’ house. He loved his old Mt. Eden neighborhood, an eclectic mix of big old brown brick tenement houses (the value of the now-swanky apartments probably inconceivable to the original inhabitants) and modest single-family homes. Outsiders could call it dull all they wanted, but these mundane streets held so many good memories for him.
In front of his parents’ little clapboard house, Daniel saw a black Toyota Land Cruiser that looked a lot like Jack’s. He frowned, his eyes fixed on the vehicle even as his body turned up the walk. Funny coincidence. He wondered whose car it was, most of the folks in this aging neighborhood preferred their ancient Buicks and Chevrolets. Shrugging, he took the front steps two at a time, bursting through the door without knocking and heading immediately for the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom!” he called out as he went. “What’re we baking?”
But as he passed the living room he jerked to a halt at the sound of laughter, eyes widening at the sight of his father and Jack O’Neill. They stood at the fireplace mantle, with a bottle of beer each, Melburn just putting back an old framed photo of Daniel in full running back regalia from when he had been on the varsity team.
At the sound of his voice, the two men turned towards him and Daniel could only stand there staring at Jack’s brown eyes as the alpha approached, once again frozen like a rabbit in the face of a wolf.
“What…?” he said intelligently.
“Oh, there you are, Daniel,” his mom said as she came up behind him. She carried a platter of mini-quiches, the frozen kind that offended Daniel by their mere existence but his father loved and insisted were as good as real food. “Here’s your bacon bits, Jack, dear. I know you alphas can’t survive even an hour or two without meat.”
She took a good look at the still-shocked Daniel and sighed with disappointment. “Really, Daniel? Is this the message you want to give people on the subway?” She gestured censoriously at his t-shirt and the large ‘Yes’ printed there. “Isn’t it time you grew up and presented yourself properly?”
Daniel couldn’t begin to process that and simply looked between the other three, ultimately fixing on his dad. “Why is he here?”
“Manners, Daniel,” his dad said in sharp reprimand. “Jack’s here because I invited him to go to the game with me.”
“Hey, Daniel,” Jack greeted softly, picking at the label on his bottle. Did the alpha look a little sheepish? No, couldn’t be. Not with the way he seduced Daniel and manipulated him into bed last night. Not with what Daniel overheard this morning.
Daniel shook his head, giving his dad a betrayed look. “You don’t understand. He’s not— Everything’s ruined!”
Melburn gave his son what Daniel privately thought of as his ‘coach look,’ the one that said you’d be doing laps if you didn’t straighten up and fly right pretty damn quick.
“Suck it up, Danny,” Melburn said. “You finally found an alpha to put up with you. You can throw a temper tantrum some other time.”
“Mel,” Claire warned, but she didn’t sound terribly serious about it.
Jack glanced uncertainly between Melburn and Daniel. “I, uh, I’m sorry if I took Daniel’s seat at the game.”
“Is that what’s bugging you, Danny?” Melburn shrugged, unrepentant, popping a quiche in his mouth. “I know how you hate going to the games with me,” he said. “It’s just not an omega thing.”
Daniel could only shake his head mutely. True, Daniel didn’t particularly like watching other people play games, but he had always enjoyed sports and playing on teams with his friends in school. Until they weren’t friends or teammates anymore. But he didn’t hate going to Yankees Stadium with Melburn, he loved it. Not for the stupid games, but to spend time with his dad.
Raising his beer in a salute and giving Jack a hearty clap on the back, Melburn said, “Finally got us another alpha here now. ’Bout time, huh?”
An alpha, like his dad had always wanted. Who needed an omega if they had an alpha?
Daniel blinked, sudden tears stinging his eyes. Oh god, he had to get out of here. Jack was blocking the front door, a tentative smile fading, brows lowering in what had to be merely a facsimile of concern.
Daniel spun around, dodging through the kitchen and out the back door in a flash, ignoring his mom calling his name, building up speed as he ran to the side yard, cutting through the loose board in the old fence just like he’d done a thousand times as a kid. He was out through the old shortcut and rounding the block on his way back to Jerome Street and the metro station in a minute flat.
At the station he raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time, wiping angrily at his eyes, feeling horribly exposed on the elevated rails of the Bronx green line, glad when a train came clattering up and he could dive into the sanctuary of its interior.
Melburn finally had the alpha son he’d always wanted. Fine.
The train hadn’t travelled two minutes before an alpha came sniffing around Daniel. Literally sniffing around him.
Perfect. Two days in a row. Probably putting out a bumper crop of pheromones, Daniel always did when he was upset. Just another joy of being an omega, the gift that kept on giving. Of course he’d had no problem coming back from Jack’s apartment that morning, smelling of sex was fine as long as he smelled of alpha, too. An alpha marking him, claiming him, making him private property off-limits to other alphas.
“Give us a kiss, little bitch,” the alpha murmured between snuffles.
To be fair, this one seemed a bit tipsy, the smell of alcohol overlaying stale sweat. An alpha couldn’t be expected to help himself if he was drunk, right?
“Just one kiss. C’mon, you can do that, can’t you? Nice little bitch like you?”
A construction worker blowing off steam after a hard day’s work to judge from the clothes. He had the right to appreciate a pretty omega didn’t he?
The larger man loomed over Daniel and…was his nose in Daniel’s hair? Gross, he’d be licking the omega next. Just giving the jerk a shove wasn’t going to cut it, not in the mood Daniel was in right now.
Daniel twisted, abruptly cutting his elbow up and clipping the alpha solidly on the chin. Daniel didn’t have a gym membership for nothing.
The man stumbled back with yelp, clutching at his chin, his tongue hanging out like a rebuked dog’s. “Oh thit!” he moaned. “’Oo ma’ me bi’ muh dung!”
“I’ll make you bite your dick if you don’t leave me alone.”
As the alpha stumbled away, massaging his tongue and shooting Daniel a blearily betrayed look, everyone else on the train stared at Daniel like he was unnatural, like he was the one at fault.
Omegas should be demure, giving shy pleased smiles at any attention they’re granted. Polite and prim and decorative. Not dressed in an old too-tight band shirt, faded jeans and tattered sneakers. Not sending an alpha slinking off with his tail between his legs.
An omega shouldn’t need to defend herself because a proper omega would never allow herself to be that position in the first place. That’s what his old decorum school teacher said. Miss Albright, a middle-aged beta who didn’t have the slightest idea what it meant to be omega. She always referred to omegas as exclusively female, even right to Daniel’s face. Just one more thing to make him feel like a freak of nature.
Maybe his fellow passengers were right, maybe he was unnatural, but he was what he was, and Daniel spent the rest of the ride glaring at anyone who dared meet his eyes.
It was late afternoon when Daniel found himself walking down 3rd Avenue and climbing up the front steps of a Midtown brownstone on E. 58th Street. If he wanted rationality right now (and he did, he really did), there was only one person to talk to, the one person who was ironically the most irrational person Daniel knew.
Rodney McKay answered the knock on his door and gave Daniel an affronted scowl. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. “You know I’m about to leave for the airport.” In demonstration he held up an open laptop in one hand and an unfolded shirt in the other.
“Rodney, you’re not going to dump me because you’re suddenly best friends with Jack O’Neill are you?”
The scowl grew deeper and more affronted. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“My life’s destroyed and I don’t know why,” Daniel explained in a tone of voice that absolutely was not a whine.
Rodney rolled his eyes, gusted a sigh that almost blew the laptop out of his hand, and motioned Daniel into the apartment with a tilt of his head. “Get a grip, man, and stop being such a drama queen,” the beta said, his caustic voice a balm to Daniel’s battered soul. “And who the hell is Jack O’Neill?”
Rodney led the way into his little studio apartment (apartment, not flat, Rodney insisted; why use antiquated language?), a place that reflected its owner’s function over form values as evidenced by the clean barren walls and sparse beige furniture.
Daniel gave a sigh of his own. “Jack’s this alpha,” he began, then trailed off, overwhelmed with the details of these last 24 hours.
Glancing back as Daniel followed him to the sofa-bed, Rodney’s eyes sharpened to a brighter blue, his mobile lips quirking into a smirk. “Alpha problems? Finally took the knotty plunge, eh?”
Daniel pouted. “Maybe,” he admitted. Yes, he wanted an outsider’s viewpoint, but trust his uber-blunt physicist friend to be too perceptive.
Rodney’s cramped flat looked like the beta’s armoire and dresser had vomited their entire contents onto the bed. A large suitcase sat expectantly beside the mess filled thus far with only a single argyle sock. Rodney thrust the wrinkled shirt he held into Daniel’s hands and said, “Make yourself useful while you explain to me what’s got your ’mega ’mones in such an uproar I could smell you from the other side of the door.”
Daniel looked down at the shirt, then at the mess on Rodney’s bed. “Seriously?” he snipped. “I’m an omega, so I’m good at packing?”
Rodney didn’t even spare him a glance, having perched himself on the arm of the sofa and begun furiously tapping away on his laptop. “You’re acting like a little bitch, Daniel,” he remarked. “Stop it. You know I don’t think that way.” He spared him one quick glance. “There’s one or two things you do better than me, unimportant as they are. So what?”
Somehow, unlike with anyone else, Rodney calling him a bitch made Daniel feel better. No, it wasn’t Stockholm Syndrome—at least Daniel didn’t think so; it was hard to tell when it came to Rodney McKay. He decided it was simply nice to have someone treat him the same as they ever had. Rodney’d been calling Daniel a bitch since their third grade teacher liked Daniel’s popsicle stick box better than Rodney’s. Him presenting as an omega was barely a blip on Rodney’s radar.
“Okay, fine,” Daniel muttered. He held up the aggressively purple plaid shirt critically. “You’re joking, right? You’re wearing this piece of crap to accept a Nobel Prize?”
Rodney smothered a pleased smile just a second too slow for Daniel to miss it, saying with faux-grouchiness, “Only going to Sweden for a conference, Daniel. Apparently dealing with idiot American scientists isn’t punishment enough. My so-called superiors want me to deal with idiot foreign scientists, too.”
“That’s going to be hard for you.”
Rodney brightened, looking gratefully at Daniel. “Yes, thank you for noticing, it will be.”
“With the language barrier, I imagine they won’t be able to understand your insults.”
The grateful look darkened to derision. “Oh, they’ll understand all right,” the egotistical beta said, adding, “And the Nobel Prize in Physics will come along in another decade or so, don’t you worry your pretty little omega head about that.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and tossed the shirt onto the floor on the other side of the bed. “Enough about your delusions,” he said.
“And speaking of your delusions,” Rodney said, “I take you didn’t get the bakery.”
Throwing three inexplicably identical Hawaiian shirts off the bed, Daniel shook his head. “No, I didn’t,” he said curtly.
“That’s too bad,” Rodney said tentatively, just as uncomfortable with emotion as ever. “You were the logical choice.”
“I thought so.”
“Well, c’mon, tell me your troubles so I can solve them like I solve everything.”
Separating a pile of underwear from everything else, Daniel began, “An alpha named Jack O’Neill bought Star Gate…” He trailed off once again, the brief respite Rodney’s sniping brought evaporating. He swallowed hard, folding Rodney’s wrinkled boxers angrily. “He bought Star Gate and fired me and now suddenly everyone’s against me.”
“Easy with the unmentionables,” Rodney cautioned, looking pointedly at the mangled underwear. As Daniel moderated his actions, smoothing the wrinkles with exaggerated care, the beta ordered, “Okay, continue venting.”
So Daniel packed while he spilled his guts (and Rodney provided commentary). The disappointment of General Hammond’s announcement yesterday morning (“The guy’s like everybody’s favorite grampy, Daniel. Nice enough, but senile. Forget about him.”), the three alphas charming the pants off everyone in Star Gate’s kitchen (“Pretty alphas are hard for a beta to resist. Just saying.”), the unexpected NID interlopers at the museum (“You attract weirdos like shit attracts flies, Daniel. …What?”), the date with Jack that ended so magically last night (“Gross. Gag me, Daniel.”), and turned out so horribly this morning (“You know what they say about eavesdroppers.”), the missing recipe (“Not exactly talking nuclear codes here. Who would do that?”), the crazy phone call to Janet (“Humph. She never giggles with me.”), Jonas and Lindsey at the bakery (“A three sentence sampling of a conversation isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. At least try to think logically, Daniel.”), and lastly, his parents replacing him in their affections with Jack O’Neill.
Rodney shut down his computer and closed the lid, looking up incredulously at Daniel. “They replaced you in their affections? Overly dramatic much?”
“Well, that’s what it feels like,” Daniel concluded stubbornly. He smoothed Rodney’s best suit flat and zipped up the garment bag it lay in, transferring it from bed to now fully packed suitcase and snapping it into place.
Jamming his laptop and about a reams-worth of graphs and print-outs into his satchel, Rodney demanded, “Why would your parents throw you over for some random alpha?”
“He’s not random, he’s everything they ever wanted in a son.”
“Yeah, everything except being their actual, you know, son.”
“You were there when I presented, Rodney,” Daniel insisted, zipping the suitcase closed. “You know how much my dad wanted an alpha. That was obvious seven years ago and it was obvious today.”
“Parents are always disappointed with their kids,” Rodney said airily, adding, “Well, except mine, of course. Your folks got over it ages ago.”
Making sure all the zips were secure, Daniel stood Rodney’s suitcase on its wheels and pulled the handle up. “Mom criticized my clothes.”
“Your mom always criticizes your clothes, you dress like a twelve-year-old.”
Daniel fiddled with the suitcase handle. “Thirteen,” he said sulkily.
“You’re right, the extra year makes all the difference.”
Daniel said, “My dad said I hate going to games with him.”
“That’s because you’ve complained about going to games with him for ten years now.”
Daniel crossed his arms and glared at Rodney. “Jack fired me and Jonas took over as head baker and Lindsey said I was never any good anyhow and Janet stole my recipe!”
Rodney dragged a hand through his hair, quiet as he thought for a minute. “Okay,” he finally said. “The obvious solution is for you to call someone and ask—”
“No,” Daniel said with an adamant shake of his head. “I turned my phone off. I’m not talking to them, I can’t, not yet.”
“That’s why I came to you. You’re the only one I trust right now.”
Rodney gave a weak chuckle as he shouldered his satchel. “Yeah, and if that isn’t the saddest thing in New York City…”
“It is, because you’ve betrayed me too.”
Rodney’s head shot up. “What!?”
From the bed’s clothing reject pile Daniel held up a t-shirt bearing the iconic Rolling Stones red tongue and lips. “I’ve been looking for this forever,” he said with a ghost of smile.
“Idiot,” Rodney said with a shake of his head. “You left it here the night you puked all over yourself after you tried to drink that 300 pound alpha under the table. I’ll have you know I’m still banned from that bar.”
Nodding silently, Daniel dropped the shirt back onto the bed.
“Daniel, just…” Rodney flailed his arms vaguely. “This can’t be what it seems to be.”
“Then what is it?” Daniel asked, his voice hoarse with desperation.
Rodney shook his head. “I don’t know, I don’t have enough information, but it’s not what you think.”
A muffled honking came from the street-side windows and Rodney’s cell chimed. “Taxi’s here,” he said after checking the phone’s screen. “Look, go ahead and hide here for a while—”
“I’m not hiding!” Daniel said, perking up with outrage.
“Weren’t you planning on staying here?”
“Yeah, but only because you asked me to keep an eye on your place while you were gone.”
“I only asked you to drop by every couple days to make sure I hadn’t been robbed.”
“Yeah, but I thought maybe I could spend the night, maybe stay here for a while to get away from everyone and…hide,” he concluded weakly. “Crap.” Daniel sat down on the bed like his strings had been cut, pulling the Rolling Stones t-shirt onto his lap like a security blanket and staring blankly at Mick Jagger’s tongue.
More honking floated up from the street. “Daniel, I’ve got to go.” Rodney grabbed the suitcase handle with one hand and gave him a single awkward pat on the shoulder with the other. “I’ll be back in two weeks to solve your problems after I’ve finished solving the Royal Academy of Sciences’ problems.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and waved a hand. “Have fun insulting the Swedes.”
It only took an hour of Rodney’s bare walls and sensible entertainment resources (read: excruciatingly boring science journals), before Daniel couldn’t take it any longer. All he could think about was crawling into a pair of strong alpha arms, looking up into brown eyes that seemed so passionate and trustworthy, opening himself wide, welcoming a warmth and fullness into his body that made him gasp with a joy he hadn’t even known he was missing…
But he couldn’t do any of that, because it wasn’t real.
There was only one thing that made him feel better when he was down and Daniel left the apartment for a quick visit to the store, wiping out what little money remained in his checking account. He stayed up late into the wee hours of the morning, but when he finally went to bed on Rodney’s messy sofa, only a few traitorous tears escaped his eyes, and he fell asleep with a lighter heart and a calmer mind.
Chapter 6: Star Gate Kitchen in the Light of Day
Armed with Mick Jagger’s big red lips and tongue, and a clean pair of Rodney’s underpants (decorated with the radioactive danger symbol; who could really say why Rodney did the things he did?), Daniel walked up to Star Gate Bakery mid-morning the next day, head held high.
He was going to show them he wasn’t an emotional needy little omega. He could play with the big boys and girls. Business and relationship setbacks were all part of being a grownup. He was going in there to clean his stuff out of his locker and leave a note for Jack asking that his last paycheck to be sent care of Rodney’s address. He would also politely ask that his recipe be returned. What he would do about Janet and the flat, he wasn’t sure yet. One thing at a time.
As for Jack… Well, sex was just that, sex. That’s the way it goes, right? True love was just a myth told to omegas to make it easier to take advantage of them. He would just have to learn to be as cynical as everyone else.
As he walked through the front door, he faltered at the sight of Star Gate’s logo emblazoned on the wall behind the counter, the cheerful invitation of the open gate and starry sky mocking him. Star Gate was his first real job, so far his only real job, it was everything he had ever wanted. It felt like home to him.
He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Avoiding the long line of customers that snaked through the storefront’s stanchions, Daniel slipped unnoticed around the busy counter and through the double doors into the kitchen…and came to a stunned halt, blinking in confusion at the sight before him.
His nice neat kitchen was a disaster. Well, Star Gate’s kitchen, it wasn’t his any longer after all. The carefully established mise en place was a scattered mess, unwashed mixing bowls with dried and sticking batter cluttered the work surfaces, abandoned frosting bags littered the counters at random, leaking a rainbow of colors, bags of flour and sugar leaned drunkenly against one another, spilling their contents willy-nilly, and most inexplicable of all, a refuse bin filled with discarded undecorated cupcakes overflowed in a corner, some cakes looking fairly normal, some misshapen and densely flat.
Alpha pheromones and loud voices rose over the general clatter of the kitchen, and maybe that was truly the most inexplicable thing. Because while one half of the kitchen hosted its usual daytime brigade going about its duties as well as it could in the constricted space, the betas and omegas of the workforce were shooting concerned and sympathetic looks across the room to the group of six individuals from whom the disaster evidently sprang: Jack O’Neill, Samantha Carter and Teal’c, along with Jonas Quinn, Lindsey and, oddly, Janet, all of whom clustered in panicked activity at the kitchen’s messiest work surface.
Daniel’s eyes riveted on Jack without thought, the alpha’s shirt unbuttoned in the hot humid kitchen revealing the shimmer of sweat at the hollow of his throat, his sleeves rolled up to show the dark hair of his strong forearms, the same arms that had held Daniel all through that night…
Shaking his head, Daniel tried to concentrate on what the group was saying.
“Oh, so you think just because I’m a woman I automatically know more about cooking than you do?” Sam demanded, arms akimbo as she glared at Jack.
“No!” Jack denied, and Daniel noticed the alpha sported clothes liberally streaked with sticky patches of drying cake batter.
“’Cause I’m just as much alpha as you,” Sam continued as if he hadn’t spoken.
“I know, Carter, jeez!”
Teal’c, the shine of his bald head dulled by a coating of flour dust, gazed phlegmatically at the female alpha. “Samantha Carter, I believe we are baking, not cooking.”
“Don’t you start!” Sam warned, pointing a finger smeared pink with frosting at Teal’c.
“Okay, okay, calm down everybody,” Jack ordered, attempting to straighten his shirt, his batter-sticky fingers leaving more marks behind. “Jonas, is this it? Anything else still cooking in the oven?”
“T, I love you like a brother, but I swear to god…”
“No, boss,” Jonas reported, looking harried as he dumped a tray of cupcakes onto cooling racks. “This is our last stand right here.”
“This batch is it then,” Jack declared, scowling at the little cakes littering of the tabletop. “If it doesn’t taste right—”
“It doesn’t,” Janet said peremptorily. She had picked up and taken a bite of one cake, giving it an offended look as she continued, “Sucks as much as the first three batches.”
“Fuck.” Jonas picked up another cake and stared at it like a gloomy Hamlet viewing Yorick’s skull. Daniel hadn’t known the usually manically cheerful beta was capable of such despair. Standing at his side, Lindsey laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
Jack gave Janet a strained smile. “You know you got a surprisingly bad bedside manner for a doctor.”
Janet, wiping cupcake crumbs off her tongue with a paper napkin, looked at the alpha guiltily. “Still an intern. Sorry.” She wadded the napkin up. “They’re, uh, not awful, really, just…not very good.” Turning to toss the napkin away, she caught sight of Daniel still standing by the door. “Daniel!” she said.
The other five spun around and soon all six of them were staring at him, Daniel fidgeting under their regard. “Um, hi…?” he said.
“Hi, Daniel,” Jack said, his voice as deep and commanding as ever, and good god, those eyes, once again holding Daniel so effortlessly…
He tore his gaze away and gestured at the trashed kitchen. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“We were trying to make the cakes for the U.N. luncheon,” Jack said slowly.
Oh, Daniel had forgotten all about that. Well, that was no business of his, not anymore. They should have waited to fire him after the Peace Conference banquet.
His voice taking on a hopeful tone, Jack said, “Are you here to help?”
Daniel crossed his arms confidently, or at least he meant to, his arms came up in more of a self-hug than anything. “I came to clean my locker out,” he said, voice not as steady as he could’ve hoped.
He would have thought satisfaction would be everyone’s main response to this announcement, not the expressions of disappointment and concern aimed at him. It was both odd and irritating: these people were the ones who drove him to this in the first place.
Jack flinched as if Daniel had slapped him in the face. “I’m really sorry for whatever it was I did to you,” the alpha said quietly. “I don’t know why you’re quitting, but I wish you’d had the decency to tell me.”
And Jack didn’t look like a smug manipulative knothead bastard feeding Daniel a line, he looked…hurt. He looked absolutely devastated. And that stoked the flames of Daniel’s anger. What right did Jack have to be hurt?
“Quit?” Daniel said in disbelief. “Are you—? Me quit? You fired me!”
Jack blinked. “I— What are you talking about? Why would I fire you?” He flapped an arm out, bits of dried batter scattering, adding with complete mystification, “And when?”
“Seriously?” Daniel said, anger ratcheting up. “That’s the way you’re going to play it? You’re going to pretend everything you’ve done over the past day just never happened?” He crossed his arms for real this time, glaring a challenge at the alpha. Then, layering enough snark and sarcasm to send his dad into an apoplectic fit, he added, “Oh and by the way? I don’t know when you fired me because, speaking of decency? You don’t have any. I had to overhear it in a phone conversation.”
Jack was still playing his fake confusion to the hilt, the bastard. “Overhear…? Overhear what?”
Still exuding righteous indignation, Daniel said, “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it’s kind of hard not to listen when someone’s talking about me. Yesterday morning you were talking to Teal’c. You said you were getting rid of me.”
Teal’c tilted his flour-coated head and said gravely, “Daniel Jackson, I fear you may have misinterpreted O’Neill’s half of the conversation.”
“I—” Nonplused, Daniel broke off, then rallied, “No, I didn’t, I couldn’t have. Jack said he didn’t need me anymore, that he was going to fire me so fast my head would spin.”
Jack had gone from looking thunderstruck to an odd mixture of relief and joy, clutching at his head in an exaggerated display of exasperation. “Daniel, you wonderful, gorgeous, infuriating omega, you,” he said. “I didn’t fire you. Teal’c and I were talking about—” He broke off, looking a little nervous now. “Uh, about someone else.”
Daniel firmed his crossed arms. “Right. Well, that’s convincing.”
Jack glanced at Teal’c, then Sam, the other two alphas giving him supportive looks. Jack straightened up and took a deep breath. “I was talking about my shrink,” he stated. “After my last mission, I was diagnosed with PTSD and assigned a psychiatrist.”
Eyes widening, Daniel studied the alpha who stood before him with parade-ground stiffness. Alphas didn’t admit to weakness, they just didn’t. For Jack to be saying this publicly was paradoxically a sign of the ultimate strength, and Daniel wasn’t the only one thinking so: Janet, Jonas and Lindsey were regarding Jack with the same renewed respect Daniel was feeling.
Then the full meaning of Jack’s words registered, and Daniel said, “Wait, you’re firing your therapist? But why? What did that have to do with me?”
Jack looked down to pick at the batter that crusted his fingers. “Uh, one thing good ol’ Doc MacKenzie recommended for an alpha with PTSD was, uh,” he shot a brief and embarrassed look at Daniel, “relations with an omega.” Daniel reddened and Jack hurried on to say, “Look, the guy’s a quack, he thinks omegas are only good for one thing, and, uh, that’s why I’m firing him.”
Jack trailed off, that same hopeful look aimed at Daniel, and Daniel chewed at his lip, not sure what to think. Quack or not, Jack used Daniel for the very purpose MacKenzie recommended. Maybe his girlfriend Sam just wasn’t cutting it and he needed a couple sessions in the sack with an omega. Any omega.
Okay, at this point Daniel had basically traded anger for confusion and was getting a headache to top it all off. He gestured weakly at the chaotic kitchen around them. “But what’s going on here?” He poked at a particularly dense cupcake. “Why the failed batches?”
“We tried to recreate your recipe,” Jonas said, “but it didn’t really work out.”
“Recreate?” Daniel said. “But you had the recipe.”
“No,” Lindsey said, tilting her head with a frown. “We only had what I could remember.”
Daniel still didn’t get what the fuss was all about. If they had wanted to borrow O-Ma’s recipe all they’d had to do was ask. But if they weren’t firing him, why would they have taken the recipe in the first place? Daniel shook his head, more confused than ever.“Why didn’t you just use Jonas’ recipes?”
“Nah, man,” Jonas said, shaking his head as his grin made a reappearance. “Mine are okay, but the boss wanted the real deal.”
Jack nodded. “I really wanted your omega cupcakes, Daniel.”
Daniel scowled. Now they were making fun of him. “They aren’t omega cupcakes,” he growled, derisive. Actually he’d heard a few of their regular customers refer to his cakes this way, but that didn’t mean anything, it was just friendly teasing.
Jack stared at him like he was particularly dense. “Yeah, they are,” the alpha said. “That’s what everyone calls them.”
“Everyone? Everyone who?” Daniel threw his hands up in frustration. “What are you talking about?”
Jack tilted his head, regarding Daniel as if just figuring something out. “Daniel, you do know your cupcakes are famous, right?” he said carefully.
“I don’t— What?”
“People come to Star Gate from all over the City for your baking.”
Jonas’ manic grin just grew wider: “You didn’t know? You’re a star, man.”
“I, uh, I thought you knew that, Daniel,” Lindsey said, looking a little bit guilty but mostly amused.
Janet looked at Lindsey with brows raised, then she gave a cavalier shrug and aimed a smirk at Daniel. “Well, I didn’t know, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
Daniel just stared, helpless with bewilderment, then Jack was walking up to him cautiously, slowly, giving Daniel every chance to back away or tell him to stop. The omega didn’t do either of those things. If anything, Daniel found himself leaning forward to meet the alpha the closer he came, like a magnet reacting to an irresistible pull.
“I’m not…” Daniel began before trailing off.
“Yeah, you are,” Jack contradicted with a gentle smile.
“Nobody knows…” Daniel tried, trailing off again. He shook his head mutely.
“Everybody knows,” Jack refuted in a murmur, suddenly right there, pressing the full length of their bodies together, cupping Daniel’s cheek to tip his face up.
And somehow that made sense to Daniel, which scared him all the more, but he melted into the alpha’s embrace, clinging to him, even as he said, “But I don’t get it, I was so sure. If Janet didn’t take the recipe, who did?”
“Wait, what?” Jack said, backing off a bit. “Someone took your recipe?” Daniel nodded and, after he explained his discovery at his flat, Jack asked, “Who else knew where they were kept?”
“No one. I mean, who would care? They’re more mementos from my o-ma than anything else. Her measurements would baffle anyone who hadn’t baked with her for years.” He chuffed a laugh. “I remember the first time she told me to add ‘an egg’s worth of butter.’ She measured stuff by jiggers or teacups or pennyweights, and ‘moderate oven’ was about as detailed as her temperatures went. Everything was by instinct.”
Lindsey gave him an admiring look. “That’s the way you bake, too, isn’t it, Daniel?”
“Yes, I guess,” Daniel admitted. “‘Baking powder as needed’ she always said. You just kind of get a feel for the day’s heat and humidity, and adjust accordingly.”
“Oy vey, I got me some big shoes to fill,” Jonas muttered scrubbing a hand down his face.
“I mean, the recipe box itself is so old it belongs in a—” Daniel broke off, eyes opening wide, the memory of Harry Maybourne’s face reflected in the display case glass at the baking museum.
“Harry!” Daniel said. “At the museum, he was right behind me when my mom and I were looking at the old recipe boxes and talking about how O-Ma’s box was in my flat.”
“NID’s baker?” Jack confirmed. “Maybourne, right?”
Jack’s face darkened. “Frank Simmons’ man.”
“But, but I thought Janet took it.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Who else could get into our flat?” Daniel said. “And you were so weird on the phone when I called you, and—” He broke off and scowled at her. “Janet, what were you and Sam doing at the deli after the trip to the museum? I saw you two looking at something.”
“Well, I don’t remember exactly, but I imagine we were doing what two people on a date always do, Daniel,” she said, supercilious expression spoiled by an impish smile. “Exchanging phone numbers.”
“A date? Really?” Daniel looked at the two women doubtfully, noticing for the first time how close Sam was standing to his beta flatmate.
“Yes, a date,” Janet confirmed. “It’s what people do when they fall in love.”
“You and Sam? But…” Wasn’t Sam Jack’s girlfriend?
“Yes, me and Sam. You need proof?” Janet put a possessive hand to the back of Sam’s neck and pulled the grinning alpha in for long and by all appearances tongue-filled kiss.
When they broke apart, Sam stroked a finger up Janet’s cheek. “Hmm, I love it, my bold little beta.”
Jack tutted in disapproval. “Not in front of the children!” he said, reaching a hand out to cover Lindsey’s eyes. Lindsey reared back with a glare while Sam cheerfully raised her middle finger at Jack, not so much as looking up from where she indulged in another kiss.
“Convinced?” Janet asked Daniel once she could get her lips free.
“Uh, yeah,” Daniel said faintly. “But—but still— Everyone kept talking about Jonas taking over, I know I didn’t imagine that.”
“Yeah, but I want to learn from you first,” Jonas said. “That’s the main reason I took this job, to learn from the best.”
“The best?” Daniel said, bewildered. Then he remembered the overheard conversation yesterday. “Wait a minute, I heard you guys yesterday, here in the kitchen,” Daniel said heatedly. “You said I was out of my depth in a bakery, that I didn’t know anything and my gender was working against me. You agreed with him, Lindsey.”
Lindsey gave a guilty hiccup and Jonas looked supremely uncomfortable, rubbing at the back of his neck as he gave Jack a sidelong glance. “Uh, yeah, Daniel, I wasn’t talking about you, I, uh, I was talking about Jack. Sorry, boss,” he added quickly.
“What?” Jack straightened up with a surfeit of wounded dignity. “I do so know what’s what in a bakery!” he insisted.
“Uh, yeah, not so much,” Jonas said reluctantly. “I mean you’ll learn, eventually. And, uh, I hope to still be working here when you do…?”
Jack eyed him with a severity only an alpha could truly bring off.
“You gotta understand, this is a bakery, not a military maneuver,” Jonas said defensively. “I was kind of stressed out about you leaving me to sink or swim yesterday morning.”
Deflating with wave of his hand, Jack said, “Fine. I guess I could learn a couple things.”
“Daniel, I would never say you didn’t know what you were doing,” Lindsey said tentatively. “We were actually talking about how much we wished you were here to take over because there were only betas in the kitchen.” When Daniel shook his head in confusion, she explained, “We were saying how it was the opposite of the old lightbulb joke.”
As if a literal lightbulb went off, everyone nodded in sudden understanding except Teal’c who raised a brow. “I do not know of this joke, Lindsey Novak,” he said. “Would you please recite it for me?”
Looking embarrassed to be the center of attention, the beta woman swallowed down a hiccup and began, “Um, how many betas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
Supplying the answer with a grin, Jonas said, “None, they always ask the nearest alpha to do it for them.”
“How many alphas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Janet said next, aiming the question at Sam, who answered through a chuckle, “None, after they finish fighting over the bulb, they’re all dead.”
Jack took up the thread then, gazing down at Daniel with his lips quirked in a crooked smile. “How many omegas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
Blushing, Daniel supplied the rote answer in a murmur. “Just one to screw in the bulb…” He trailed off, but Jack continued, “And the rest to help get the ladder and hold it steady, and then put it away afterwards.”
“And tidy up the toolshed while they’re at it,” Sam said.
“And put the old bulb in the garbage and take the garbage out,” Janet said.
“And go back and tidy up the supply closet the new bulb came out of in the first place,” Jonas said.
“And then clean up the kitchen and cook dinner,” Lindsey said, finishing the joke, everyone laughing as Teal’c nodded thoughtfully. “These are insightful observations,” he concluded.
Daniel smiled along with the rest, he always liked that old joke, especially once he had presented. It made it sound like alphas and betas were silly airheads and omegas were the only ones who actually got anything done in the world. His smile faded almost immediately, however, because he still had questions. “Okay, fair enough,” he said. “But I still don’t understand. So Jonas isn’t replacing me?”
“Daniel,” Jack said patiently, “Jonas is replacing you…here at Spring Street.”
“Jack,” Daniel said, just as patient, “Spring Street is all there is.”
“No, there’s the new flagship store at Times Square.”
Jack grimaced at himself and raked a hand through his hair leaving a trail of dried batter in its wake. “Something else you didn’t know, right?” he muttered. “I really messed this up.” Then he shook off his irritation and gripped Daniel by the shoulders. “Daniel, we’re putting Star Gate on Times Square, putting you where you’ll do the most good: front and center in a big picture window looking straight in on the kitchen.”
Daniel shook his head in mute disbelief and Jack’s face lit up with that boyish grin Daniel loved so much. “You’re gonna be a rock star.”
“Times Square?” Daniel said weakly. “I’m gonna be…?” He gave a nervous laugh. “I thought you said I was already a star.”
“You are, you are,” Jack assured him with a smile. “But more…garage band star. Now you’re gonna be full-on rock star.”
“I—I heard you guys that first morning, talking about Times Square, but I thought it was just tourist stuff.”
The three alphas chuckled and Sam said, “Yeah, Jack’s always up for playing tourist, but in this case it was actually business.”
Teal’c gazed approvingly at Daniel. “I believe in a short time you will become quite a trap for tourists, Daniel Jackson.”
Daniel frowned, trying to work that out. “Um…”
“Keep trying, T, you’ll catch on someday,” Jack said with a fond look at Teal’c. “Daniel, the thing is, no one’s expecting you to bake for two stores. We were hoping you’d share some techniques with Jonas, but we won’t make an issue of it if you don’t want to.”
“I—no, I do, I just…” Daniel flapped his hands ineffectually. “General Hammond didn’t tell me anything about this at all!”
Jack winced. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that. I love the man like a father, but George’s about three decades behind the times when it comes to gender equality.” He gave Daniel a serious look. “Daniel, I’m truly sorry. I’m supposed to be in charge and I dropped the ball, badly. I made a bunch of careless mistakes and I apologize.” He dropped his eyes, then looked at Daniel again with the same soft smile from the two nights ago. “I think maybe I was a little distracted.”
The last of his righteous anger leaking out like air from a deflating balloon, Daniel felt a blush rising up his neck. “I, uh, I didn’t think you were serious about me. I thought you and Sam…”
“Me and Carter?” Jack said in amused disbelief. “Yeah, she’s not too hard on the eyes I guess—” He flinched as a nonpareil bounced off his forehead, but continued doggedly, “But we’re both alphas. I’d kill her inside a week if she didn’t kill me first.” He managed to duck at the next incoming nonpareil. “Which is more likely,” he admitted under his breath.
Blush rising up like mercury in a thermometer, Daniel thought over everything he had done over the last day and his face flamed red with mortification. “Oh shit…” he clapped his hands over his mouth, embarrassed all over again at the swear word. “Oh my god, I’ve been such an idiot, I’m so sorry—!”
“No. Hey,” Jack said, ducking his head a little to see into Daniel’s lowered face. “This is all on me. I breezed in here like big alpha on campus and screwed everything up.”
“But the bet you made with Simmons…”
“Yeah, the U.N. thing would’ve made a nice intro for the Times Square store, but it’s no big deal, we’ll survive without it. And I could care less about the money.” Jack shrugged and gave a lopsided grin. “I’m really too stubborn for my own good. We could’ve gone with the same standard recipe the bakery uses when you’re not here, but I wanted it perfect. I’m just a big dumb alpha, huh?”
“I believe I have mentioned just that on numerous occasions, O’Neill,” Teal’c inserted serenely.
“Pot, kettle, big guy.”
Teal’c tilted his head, apparently not getting that reference either.
Chewing on his lower lip, Daniel thought hard. “Okay, well, I’m here now. We can’t just give up.”
Jack shook his batter-flecked head. “It’s too late. The delegates’ luncheon break is scheduled for…” He wiped yet more spattered batter off his watch. “Forty-four minutes exactly.”
Daniel visualized a map of Manhattan in his mind, then nodded decisively. “We can make that,” he said.
Jack looked at him like he was reconsidering his viewpoint on omega intelligence. “Yeah…” he drawled. “We can get there, but what’s the point without any cakes? You got two hundred cupcakes in your back pocket?”
“Um, yeah, actually I do,” Daniel said. He rubbed at the back of his neck self-consciously, peering up at Jack with a little smile. “I, uh, I was kind of upset last night and baking makes me feel better and Rodney’s studio is small but it has a great kitchen area with two ovens and, um…”
“And?” Jack prompted, the broad grin dawning over the alpha’s face leaving Daniel breathless.
“And, yeah, I kinda do have two hundred and fifty cupcakes just sitting around waiting to be eaten.”
Jack whooped and swept Daniel up in a hug, trying to spin the omega around in a circle before stumbling to halt. “Damn, you’re heavy,” he huffed.
Daniel laughed. He threw his head back and laughed with a freedom and joy that he wasn’t sure he had felt since that awful day when he was seventeen. Jack only paused his manic grinning long enough to give Daniel a resounding and noisy kiss on the lips.
“Let us do this thing,” Teal’c said with portentous gravity.
Jack clapped a friendly hand to Teal’c’s shoulder, a little cloud of flour dust poofing up at the impact. “Hey, T? Better leave the slang to me, man. That shit’s just sad.”
“As you wish, O’Neill.”
As their audience of kitchen staff sent up a cheer, a flurry of activity followed. Jack backed his SUV up to the loading dock, and the little group made short work of packing up a couple dozen cupcake transport cases as well as Star Gate’s multi-tiered display rack, folded up for travel. Jack turned down several volunteers; what with Daniel, Lindsey and Jonas all going, he judged the rest of the brigade better off taking care of the shop’s usual business.
Before they left, Daniel ducked into the tiny closet which constituted the shop’s employee changing room. He exited a couple minutes later, jumping down from the dock to join the others as they finished packing. Jack slammed the back hatch closed, gave Daniel a double take and promptly dropped his key chain.
Daniel looked down at himself. “One of us has to look presentable,” he said defensively.
The omega had put on his creamy white chef’s coat, double breasted with buttons covered in the same cotton twill, the Mandarin collar and French cuffs starched and crisp. He couldn’t do anything about his sneakers, but he swapped his jeans for a pair of dark grey scrub pants, topping the ensemble off with the snug white bandanna that he used as a baker’s cap.
Taking Daniel all in, Jack’s eyes darkened with appreciation and his tongue flicked out to moisten his lips.
“Oh,” Daniel said. And if he preened a little under Jack’s regard, well, just call that another first for him.
Twenty minutes later found the rag-tag group of seven on East 58th Street at the curb in front of Rodney’s building. The wax paper Daniel had lain on his cakes last night had kept them fresh and the SUV was fully loaded with a multitude of cupcakes, the vibrant colors muted by the two dozen opaque plastic carrying cases they sat in, stacked up in the trunk and on the folded down back seats.
“Okay, troops,” Jack called with a military braggadocio that was perhaps a bit ridiculous under the circumstances but mostly, Daniel confessed to himself if no one else, hot as hell. “Look, I’ll call ahead to tell them we’re running late, but someone has to get there in time to keep our vendor status or we’re out on our asses. We have a ‘drop-deadline’ of eleven o’clock sharp.” He glanced at his watch, then at the packed-tight vehicle and said, “We can’t all fit in the SUV now so we’ll need to split up. We’ve got about twenty minutes left. Whoever gets there first checks us in.”
“I’ll go in the car with you, Jack,” Daniel said immediately.
“Okay,” Jack said, trying to hide a pleased smile with a matter-of-fact nod of his head. He didn’t fool anybody to judge from the knowing smirks of his troops.
“Sam and I can grab a taxi,” Janet said. “There’s a cabbie stand on 3rd in front of the Hilton Courtyard Inn.”
Sam pulled a case of cupcakes out of the car. “We’ll need some product to hold our place,” she explained. Then, linking arms with Janet, the two women set off down the sidewalk.
Jonas tugged a case out next. “C’mon, Lins,” he said. “Where’s the nearest subway station?”
“The green line at Lexington,” Lindsey said with a grin. She put a hand to Jonas’ shoulder and steered him down the street, crossing over in the opposition direction Sam and Janet had taken.
Teal’c grabbed two trays, held them aloft double-handed, and declared with the solemnity of an Olympiad setting off with the lit torch, “I will proceed on foot.” Then the six-foot-four man took off at a fast jog, frilly apron flapping in the wind, a dusting of bright flour trailing him like a comet’s tail, startled pedestrians dodging right and left out of his path.
Jack and Daniel stared open-mouthed for a moment, then exchanged a wide-eyed glance. “Once seen, it cannot be unseen,” Jack intoned.
When Daniel made to go around to the passenger side of the SUV, Jack stopped him with a hand to his arm. “Think you could drive?” the alpha asked with a crooked smile. “I need to stay on the phone.”
Jack help up the keys like it was nothing, his scarred brow raised casually. Like an alpha trusting an omega to drive his expensive mammoth vehicle in city traffic with so much at stake was nothing, just one man working in a partnership with another man, a partnership of equals.
Daniel took the keys, feeling a smile bloom.
Jack’s eyes flicked over his face, his own smile fading as he licked his lips hungrily. “Oh, Daniel, the things you do to me.” Their lips met in a kiss but Jack broke it off way too soon. “Later, gorgeous,” he said with a wink.
Daniel gave him an entirely unconvincing scowl and they got in the car. Daniel eased them down 58th and turned right onto 2nd Avenue as Jack called the U.N. liaison, letting her know Star Gate’s status and estimated time of arrival. Then the two sat quietly as they waited through a long light at 56th Street.
“I tried to buy Star Gate,” Daniel said abruptly. Jack looked over in surprise. “I sunk every penny I owned into that bid and I was pissed that you got it instead.”
Jack raised his scarred brow but didn’t interrupt.
“All I saw was a playboy alpha with no understanding or love of baking.”
Nodding slowly Jack considered Daniel’s words. “You’re right,” he finally said. “Jonas too. I don’t really understand it. But I do love it.”
Daniel felt his face relax and he glanced over with a smile. “Yes. I get that now.” The light turned green and he inched forward with the rest of the congested traffic.
“You know what me and your dad talked about during that whole Yankees game?” Jack asked.
Startled, Daniel eyed the alpha a moment or two before replying, “Um, baseball?”
“No,” Jack said, then grimaced and amended, “Well, yes, partially. But more importantly, we talked about you.”
“You two talked about me?” Daniel raised his brows, unimpressed, glancing sidelong at Jack. “Great, I love being talked about behind my back.”
Jack had the gall to sigh in exasperation. “No, not in a gossipy way. In a father bragging about his kid way. In a wanna-be-boyfriend asking for advice way.”
The ‘boyfriend’ reference almost took Daniel’s breath away, but he remained steady enough to say, “Bragging? But— Dad’s nothing but disappointed in me.”
“Are you kidding? He’s impressed as hell with you. He said he was worried when you first presented, how you wouldn’t leave the kitchen, wouldn’t try dating.”
Too true, Daniel thought. Those had been some hard days.
“But then you took your baking hobby and turned it into a career,” Jack said.
Daniel shook his head. Trust his dad to think about things in the most pedestrian way possible. “I love baking,” he said. “It’s not about the money.”
“Hey, that’s the way dads think,” Jack said, his crooked smile back. “Especially alpha dads. They want their kids provided for, no matter what sex or gender. If you’d been the biggest butchest alpha around, he’d still be worried over your future.”
Daniel nodded slowly, lost in thought.
“And trust me, your dad’s proud of you,” Jack continued. “You saw the way he looked at you when you showed him up over the yeast bread thing.”
“I—I thought he was mad that I contradicted him in public.”
“Daniel, no. It’s like you see the best in everyone, except when it comes to you, then you only see the worse. I could see it on his face that day, but he mentioned it later, he’s proud when you off show your brains.”
“But he’s always telling me I’m rude.”
“Okay, yeah, he thinks you could be more polite, but he doesn’t want you playing dumb, don’t ever think that.”
His dad was proud of him? Daniel let that thought sift down through his mind, realizing the last time he truly considered that his dad thought well of him was before he presented. Thinking about it now…it felt good.
On a green line train rattling downtown, a beta rider hissed to his companion, “Lins, you can’t give them away. Every one of these is important.”
Lindsey looked up from where she had cracked open the carrying case that sat on her lap, two little girls sharing the seat next to her staring in awe, as if the bright sugary contents were riches beyond measure. Lindsey gave Jonas a look at least twice as mournful as the ones the girls now aimed at him.
Jonas tried to project alpha sternness before giving it up with a sigh. “Okay, come and get it,” he said, lifting the lid high enough that the enchanted girls could each retrieve a precious fairy cake.
Lindsey grinned and leaned over to give Jonas an impulsive peck on the cheek. As he gave her a startled look she turned away with a gulp and a hiccup, blushing, before she felt an answering peck to her own cheek and the blush deepen even as she began to smile.
In a yellow cab trundling down York Avenue, a beta cabbie listened with long-suffering patience as the two ladies he had just picked up at the Courtyard Inn wouldn’t stop arguing.
“Sam, just because you’re an alpha doesn’t automatically mean you’re always right. Lexington is roundabout but it’s the best route to take to the U.N. building.”
“Janet, just because you’ve lived in New York City for years doesn’t mean you know every last street of it. I researched this area and 2nd Avenue is the most direct route.”
“Ladies, please!” the irritated cabbie called. As if he needed to be told his business. He turned decisively down 56th Street, aiming towards an onramp.
“Oh, FDR Drive,” the smaller woman said with a sniff. “Humph. Well, I suppose this will do for a Saturday.”
“Yes. As long as it gets us there,” the taller one agreed.
“And for the record, I don’t really mind it when you go all alpha on me. Gets the blood pumping, you know?”
“And I don’t certainly mind you sticking up for yourself. Kind of a turn on, actually.”
Then there were no more words and the silence was punctuated by the wet slurp and smack of lips against lips.
“Ladies, please…” the cabbie groaned, staring in his rearview mirror in dismay.
A stalled delivery van stuck out into traffic perpendicularly, blocking the eastern lanes of 2nd Avenue, and as a big black Toyota Land Cruiser tried to inch its way past, the omega driver stuck his head out the open window and bellowed, “Hey! I’m drivin’ here!”
His alpha passenger laughed and said, “Daniel, it’s okay, you don’t have to beat anyone up.”
“But this is important to you, Jack.”
“Relax, we got it covered.”
“We’re running out of time.”
Jack stroked a knuckle down Daniel’s temple. “Nah, we got all the time in the world.”
Daniel fell into those deep brown eyes, until movement of the beleaguered van in front of him caught his eye and he craned his head back out the window, shouting, “Move it, you turkey!”
Coming off 1st Avenue and winding his way past media cameras and security checkpoints to the rear of the building, a large man wearing an apron and holding aloft two cupcake trays strode confidently through the catering vendor’s entrance of the United Nations Headquarters. It was 10:59 and 30 seconds exactly.
Chapter 7: Luncheon at the United Nations
Daniel and Jack found Teal’c at the vendor check-in desk, standing serenely as if the rivulets of flour-encrusted sweat streaking his face were nothing out of the ordinary. “Here my friends are now,” Teal’c said to the U.N. personnel when he saw the other two come up. “The bulk of Star Gate’s product is in the car they have brought. Two smaller loads will be arriving separately.”
Frank Simmons, glaring like a surly vulture, stepped forward from whatever shadows he had apparently been lurking in. “They should be disqualified,” he stated. “They’re late.”
The event organizer, an alpha, gave him an unimpressed glance. “They came in just under the wire, but they’re not late.”
Jack gave Simmons a sarcastically cheerful salute, then, under Daniel’s experienced direction, Star Gate Bakery got down to business. The three men took a rolling cart out to the car to carefully stack up the cupcake cases and transport them into the delegates banquet hall where the Peace Conference luncheon was being held.
It was a cavernous room decorated in neutral tones of cream and beige, and lit by brilliant chandeliers hung from the high ceiling. One wall consisted of tall windows overlooking the East River and the jumbled buildings of Brooklyn beyond, the Queensboro Bridge spanning Roosevelt Island a picturesque backdrop to the north-east.
Jack, Daniel and Teal’c were soon joined by their comrades and Lindsey showed Jonas how to set up Star Gate’s multi-tiered display rack. It was designed to look like a wooden garden trellis, with carved vines of sweet peas and sugar beans painted in muted greens seeming to climb the structure, interspersed and topped by sparkling silver stars.
But as nice as the rack was, it couldn’t compare with the cakes they delicately set on it, Daniel’s cakes that he had poured his heart and soul into the night before. Not a single one was like another.
There was red velvet marbled with cheesecake, orange clove crowned with curlicues of candied peel, crème brûlée topped by buttercream frosting, chocolate chip with baked-in cookie dough, delicate brown dulce de leche with extra sauce drizzled on top, spicy chipotle cinnamon chocolate topped with powdered sugar, black bottom cake with its sunken center filled with gooey rich cream cheese. And ever the crowd pleasers, Daniel’s frosting flowers, a garden of bright yellow dandelions, pink roses, white chrysanthemums and blue irises.
Daniel peeked in one carrying case and set it aside. “These ones were the first batch I baked when I was testing Rodney’s oven,” he told Jack. “We’ll put these out last.” Daniel suddenly felt odd, ordering an alpha around, but Jack just gave a matter-of-fact nod. “Yes, sir,” he said with no sarcasm whatsoever.
Teal’c had just placed a cake topped by a tall ribbon of pure dark chocolate on the crowning tier, and the others were shrugging into the extra chef jackets Daniel had brought for them (not quite as nice as his, but hey, who was head baker?) when the banquet hall doors opened and the conference delegates began to pour in with much pomp and circumstance.
It was Daniel’s experience that no matter what time of day it was or how many savory dishes held forth at the front of a banquet room, some people simply made a beeline for the dessert tables. Today was no exception. The delegates’ families had joined them for the meal and excited children led the charge, scrambling around white cloth draped tables and pointing at various inviting arrangements and mouthwatering treats.
NID’s table was right next door and the display looked nice, Daniel had to admit, looking over as he smoothed his jacket down, finally having a moment to look around at the competition. Harry Maybourne and his crew stood at the ready, Frank Simmons lurking in the background, all of them sneering in contempt at Star Gate Bakery’s last minute rush. NID didn’t have much variety, it was true, only a selection of three different kinds of cakes, but for each flavor stretched rows of cupcake clones, the frosting identical, machine-like in their replication. Yes, it was very nice. If you like that sort of thing, Daniel amended with a dismissive sniff.
After several minutes of desultory business, a royal family group approached led by a toddling son. They were British by the sound of them, a handsome father in full Royal Air Force regalia, the wife a beautiful brunette in a stylish lavender dress and matching hat. Was that…? Daniel’s eyes widened. He hadn’t realized this Peace Conference was quite so prominent. The little prince trundled up to the NID display, gripping the table to pull himself higher, peering at the neat march of cupcakes with chin propped on fingers.
“Look how tidy they are,” his mother said, coming up behind him indulgently. She had passed the prince’s baby sister off to her husband who stopped to speak to some other delegates. “Would you like one, Georgie?”
“Have one, p’ease?” the toddler asked Harry.
Harry simpered as he gave a cupcake to the little prince. “Yes, indeed, my boy,” he said grandly. “This is an old family recipe.” And his eyes cut over to meet Daniel’s, a smirk curling his lips.
Blood flushed hot to Daniel’s face, pounding in his ears. That bastard. It was him.
“That’s what makes NID so great,” Harry continued, blithely, glancing between mother and child. “Old tradition combined with modern techniques.”
The prince took a bite. “Ow!” he said loudly. He pushed the bite out of his mouth with his tongue and the piece of cake bounced to the tabletop with a ping as he rubbed at his pearly white milk teeth. “Too hah’d!”
Harry frowned, his geniality slipping. “Hard? Um, well, it has to be firm, you know, to hold up under, um, modern conditions…” He trailed off at the cool brow the duchess raised.
Next to Daniel, Jack chuckled and Daniel blinked, a slow-building grin dawning over his face. Jonas and Lindsey had tried and failed to reproduce Daniel’s cupcakes using what Lindsey could remember of his recipe. Harry on the other hand, had had the basic recipe all right, but by all appearances his offerings were considerably worse. Without knowing O-Ma’s style and having no true talent, the beta had produced a series of very pretty little cupcake-shaped rocks.
Giving Harry a last accusing glare, the boy put the partially eaten cake back on the table (the cupcake giving a resounding thunk not usually associated with baked goods) and turned his back, his eyes immediately lighting up at the sight of Star Gate’s display rack. “Mummy, Mummy!” he called as he ran to the new table. “Fai’wee cakes! Ehva’ so many!”
Daniel hung back, letting Jack take the lead and the alpha hunkered down to meet the excited boy’s eyes. “And each one is different, young prince,” Jack said. “Each one was made with love and destined for one person only.” He winked at the duchess who smiled warmly in return. Daniel almost rolled his eyes; Jack’s alpha charm seemed to work on any beta, regardless of station. Turning his attention back to the prince, Jack asked, “Do you want to pick out the perfect one for you?”
“May I, ma’am?” Jack asked the boy’s mother, and when she nodded, Jack picked the little prince up, leaning him over the selection until he had picked out one. Daniel smothered a grin. It was a ‘copycat Twinkie,’ sponge cake infused with marshmallow fluff, probably the only way the young boy would get ahold of a genuine piece of American junk food.
Back down on his feet, the prince took a bite, eyes getting big as he chewed and swallowed before saying, “Mummy! Best fai’wee cake ehva’!”
Deciding to try one herself, the duchess took her time choosing and Daniel wasn’t surprised when she picked up an elegant l’opera cake. It was made with almond meal and topped with a smooth shiny glaze, and the duchess closed her eyes in pleasure when she took a bite. “Oh my. I believe I have to agree.” She turned and called, “Will, come and try one of these wonderful fairy cakes.”
“Dessert before dinner, poppet?” her husband asked as he came up, readjusting the baby princess in his arms. He took a bite of his wife’s cake, considering as he chewed. “Hmm.” The prince began to nod in approval. “Cheers. Ace as always.”
“You bake d’ese, Mistah’ A’pha?” the young prince asked Jack, licking his fingers clean.
Jack laughed. “No, sir. It was my friend Daniel, here.”
With an embarrassed little wave, Daniel stepped reluctantly forward, trying not to blush too hard. Okay, he could do this. It was just a couple kings of England twice and thrice removed, no big deal.
The little prince pointed at Daniel delightedly. “’Mega,” he declared with the bluntness of a young child, immediately stepping forward to give Daniel’s leg a hearty hug. Daniel made to pat the boy’s head, then paused, terrified of causing an international incident if he touched a future king.
But the duchess only laughed. “Cook at home is omega,” she said. “And she’s just about George’s favorite person in the world right now, the little greedy gums.”
Daniel relaxed and gave the boy’s soft hair a stroke. There were nice things about being an omega and this was one them: the implicit trust of children and their parents.
The little prince had just released Daniel when two teenaged girls came running up. “Oh, we heard about these!” the older one said, then turned and called, “Dad, mom, c’mon! They have those omega cupcakes!”
“What kind of cupcakes?” the puzzled voice of a man asked.
When Daniel looked over to see who it was he almost passed out.
The leader of the free world and his wife wandered up, trailed by a comet’s tail of other delegates, staff, security, and media. To one side, Harry Maybourne stood wide-eyed, holding up his cupcakes forlornly, completely ignored as the entourage passed.
“Barack, I’ve told you about these,” the wife said with the long-suffering patience of wives everywhere. “I’ve been wanting to try one for ages. They’re baked from scratch with all-natural ingredients and just the right amount of sweetness.”
“Ah, I remember now.”
Walking up to Jack, the president looked to his fellow alpha first, but Jack said, “I’m just the owner of Star Gate Bakery, Mr. President. This is the baker, Daniel Jackson.”
Jack put a firm hand to the small of Daniel’s back, pushing the numb omega to the fore.
“So this is the young omega who’s put New York City on the map,” the president said with a teasing smile.
“Um…” Daniel tried to edge away but Jack planted himself behind the omega, preventing his escape. “Yes, sir,” he finally said. “Uh, I mean, I guess so?”
The president chuckled, his entourage along with him, cameras snapping and dazzling Daniel’s eyes. “I’d love to give it a try if you’d help me pick one out.”
Biting his lip, Daniel looked over the choices. He knew pie was the president’s favorite dessert and with shaking fingers, he picked out and offered a moist apple pie cake crowned with apple slices and cinnamon frosting.
The president took a bite, beginning to smile as he chewed. “This is amazing,” he finally said.
“Thank you, sir,” Daniel murmured, relief flooding him.
“I only wish my mama had your talent.”
“Oh, it’s not me, Mr. President,” Daniel said, speaking up now that he had something worth saying. “These are my o-ma’s.”
“The recipe that is. O-Ma was an amazing woman. I wish…I wish she was here today.”
The president’s smile softened. “I’m sure she would be very proud.”
“Yes, sir.” Daniel said with a shy smile as the president shook his hand and more camera flashes went off. When the president stepped aside, a flurry of activity descended on the Star Gate table as the entourage took turns picking out cakes, Jonas and Lindsey resupplying the display as fast as the empty spots came available.
The next thirty or so minutes passed by in a numb blur. To one side the duke and duchess let their little prince feed his baby sister a fingerful of maple buttercream frosting. To the other, the two First Teenagers argued over whose cupcake was better (while Daniel felt heartened by the elder’s loyalty to her honey cream cheese cake, he had to side with the younger’s devotion to her hummingbird cake; really, how can you beat something that has pineapple, banana and coconut?).
Meanwhile, Daniel himself had an in-depth conversation with the First Lady regarding his cupcakes’ health content, and afterwards dozens of people descended on the omega with compliments and suggestions and anecdotes from their own kitchens. His language skills were a little rusty, but Daniel found himself switching without thinking from Russian to French to Spanish and more.
The whole time Jack looked over at him with smug pride and a possessive gleam that should have irritated Daniel…except that he found himself looking at Jack with smug pride and a possessive gleam of his own. Jack, in his apron and jacket, a last few batter specks still clinging stubbornly in his hair. To ease the crowd at the table Jack had taken some of the cupcakes on a tray and he walked from person to person, humbly offering the cakes, making funny faces at any children he came across, speaking politely to everyone else, alpha, beta and even the occasional omega alike.
At the back of the busy Star Gate table, Jonas and Lindsey bumped shoulders and shared shy smiles as they resupplied the cakes. And Daniel smirked when he spied Sam and Janet behind a ficus plant with their arms looped around waists, feeding each other a devil’s food cupcake with bright white buttercream frosting.
Teal’c had stood apart from the crowd for the most part, looking around the large room from his tall vantage point until he caught sight of someone in the crowd and a tall statuesque brunette woman in an Egyptian military uniform sauntered up to him with a smile. “Shau'nac, my love, I had hoped to see you with the delegation,” Teal’c said in a deep rumble before drawing her in for a tender kiss.
An indeterminately long and exhausting time later, the crowd at last thinned, the delegates called back to the conference room, the families trailing away. The Star Gate table was entirely empty, wiped clean of every cupcake, a last few dejected children having been turned away.
The NID display, on the other hand, was almost as fully stocked as when they’d started, identical cupcakes still marching in cold and precise rows like plastic soldiers.
“I don’t know!” Maybourne fumed loudly, apparently in answer to some question of his underlings. “Throw the damn things away for all I care!” He slung his apron to the floor and stormed off.
Call him petty, but Daniel couldn’t stop a smug smile. He looked around for Jack to share it with, but couldn’t see him. Then he caught a vague whiff of the moonlight and warmth that he’d come to associate with Jack. He craned his head, sniffing, trying to see where it was coming from but reluctant to leave the table.
“We got this, boss,” Jonas said, looking up from where he and Lindsey packed things up.
“If you’re sure,” Daniel said. “I, um, I wanted to see where Jack had gotten to.”
Jonas and Lindsey glanced at one another, all but rolling their eyes. “No kidding, Daniel,” Lindsey deadpanned.
Daniel tried to frown but couldn’t stop a smile. He left the table and, following his nose, headed to the back of the banquet hall, pausing for a moment then speeding up as the scent he sought changed and merged, becoming caustic with alpha anger.
Half hidden behind thick draperies and temporary room dividers folded against the wall, he found Jack and Frank Simmons in a face-off, tension and incipient violence written in every line of their bodies. With the scents they were pumping out and the single-minded attention they paid to one another, Daniel knew they wouldn’t scent him and he stopped under cover of a hanging tapestry to listen.
“I want an answer, Simmons,” Jack demanded. “I want to know why you broke into Daniel’s home and stole his property.”
“Why?” Simmons responded, voice dripping with bitter sarcasm. “Why did we steal that useless recipe? Because NID cakes taste like crap, of course, and Maybourne can’t bake shit if it doesn’t come out of a box.”
“Well, thanks for your honesty, Simmons. Now give it back.”
“You’ve won,” Simmons spat out. “What does it matter now?”
“This is not about winning or losing some idiotic business deal, asshole,” Jack said. “This is about stealing a guy’s cherished memento from his freakin’ grandma. Now give it back and I won’t go have a long and informative conversation with the police.”
Simmons grimaced like he smelled something bad. Possibly so as Jack was reeking of aggressive pheromones.
“I also won’t rip your head off and shove it up your ass,” Jack grated out.
Daniel and Simmons both winced at that.
Trying to bluster, Simmons said, “Do you really think I would carry it around with me?”
“In order to avoid leaving incriminating evidence lying around? Yeah, I do.”
“Well, you’d be mistaken—”
Jack suddenly moved, crowding the other alpha against the wall. “I can smell it on you, you worthless piece of shit,” Jack growled, enunciating carefully, his voice deep and low. “I can smell my mate’s property on you and you have three seconds to hand it over before things go really, really badly for you.”
Daniel couldn’t see Jack’s expression but Simmons’ eyes widened and, as Jack’s hostile pheromones spiked, swamping the other alpha, Simmons frantically fished into his suit jacket’s pocket, producing an envelope with a visibly shaking hand.
“Thank you,” Jack said with exaggerated politeness, snatching the envelope and stepping back. “Now get the hell out of my sight.”
The ‘alpha voice’ was an old folktale, the voice that couldn’t be defied, that had to be instantly obeyed, but Daniel could almost believe it right now, watching as Simmons edged away and broke into a run to get away as quick as he could.
Jack watched the other alpha go, straightening his clothes as he called out, “I’ll expect that check on my desk by close of business Monday, Simmons!” before he sniffed the air and turned to see Daniel coming out from behind the tapestry. “I, uh, I got something for you,” Jack said, looking faintly embarrassed as he offered the envelope to Daniel.
Daniel opened it, finding the battered old index card with his o-ma’s spidery handwriting. If he closed his eyes and breathed deep he could catch the barest hint of O-Ma’s cramped and cluttered kitchen, the giant old wood-burning stove, the textured grain of her butcher block table and O-Ma’s wrinkled hands patiently guiding his own…
Daniel tucked the card back into the envelope, blinking as he slid it into the inner pocket his baking jacket, right over his heart. “Thanks, Jack,” he whispered.
Jack stuck his hands in his pockets, looking down as he shuffled his feet. “Um, yeah, no problem.”
“I heard you call me your mate. To Frank Simmons.”
Jack looked up, panicked and chagrined. “I’m sorry,” he blurted out. “It—It’s just posturing.” He gave nervous chuckle. “You know us knothead alphas, we can’t keep it our pants—”
“Did you mean it?”
Almost unwillingly Jack met his eyes, his face naked and vulnerable in a way Daniel had never thought an alpha’s could be, as helpless an omega’s, as helpless as Daniel’s own face had looked in the mirror yesterday morning.
“Yeah,” Jack said quietly, then his voice firmed, “Yes, Daniel, I did mean it.”
Biting his lip, Daniel said, “Not because your therapist advised you to?”
“No, Daniel. This is more than that. Much more.” He looked at Daniel, dark brown eyes bright with wonder. “This is everything,” he said simply.
Daniel closed his eyes again, letting Jack’s scent wash over him. No longer angry and posturing, Jack sent out waves of sincere and mate and mine and…love.
Reaching out blindly, Daniel felt himself being gathered up in Jack’s arms, felt the alpha’s heartbeat pressed up against his own, felt the warm lips brushing across his own, questing along his jaw as he tipped his head back, exposing his neck, offering himself as he never thought he would.
“I love you too, Jack,” he said.
Then their lips met and nothing more needed to be said.
The heavy weight of his alpha pinned him down, the warm comfortable scent filling his nostrils, as Daniel’s early morning alarm woke him from sleep. He snaked a hand out, managing to turn the annoying beeping off, then lay still for a minute, enjoying the quiet before the day began. Not much sound made it through the double-pane glass of Jack’s apartment—their apartment—windows anyhow, but in the predawn hours it was especially quiet.
“Rise and shine,” he whispered to his husband, the alpha doing a great imitation of a log. “Baker’s hours.”
“Fuh’ bak’r hours,” came the obscene and thankfully inarticulate mumbled reply.
“I thought you wanted to be a baker,” Daniel chided. Although truthfully they were both too lazy to properly be considered bakers. It was already six a.m., practically the middle of the day. “Be careful what you wish for, am I right?” Daniel said loudly, aiming to be as obnoxious as possible as he tugged at the covers the heavily sleeping alpha had stolen, trying to push the dead weight over to get a little more room.
Until Jack re-pinned him effortlessly, murmuring a sleepy, “Hmm, mine…” as he brought his mouth to the pulse point of Daniel’s neck and gave the warm skin there a slow lick.
Daniel shivered, melting with a gasp and a sigh. He gave up his struggle to get free for a moment, tilting his head back to give Jack more room. “Yours,” he agreed.
Jack roused, blinking, “An’ I’m yours, hmm?” he mumbled into Daniel’s skin.
“Mine,” Daniel agreed, combing fingers through Jack’s hair. “And don’t you forget it.” He snuggled his nose into the crook of Jack’s neck, breathing him deep.
“Hmm…” Jack gave a sleepy assent, then a throaty chuckle. “Don’t fuck bakers’ hours, maybe just fuck the baker?”
“How about the baker fucks you?” Daniel kept his voice light but his fingers tightened in his husband’s short hair, pulling Jack’s head back to look him in the eyes.
Tension thrummed through the alpha’s lean body, brown eyes widening doubtfully.
“Want you, alpha,” Daniel murmured, “just like this, all loose and warm and relaxed.”
“But will you respect me in the morning?”
“It is the morning,” Daniel said, but he knew what Jack was really asking. Will I be less of an alpha? Daniel wanted to laugh, because that was plainly ridiculous, what did a particular sexual position have to do with a person’s true nature? But he didn’t, Jack was sure to misinterpret it.
The trust Jack had in him was almost overwhelming. They had talked about Jack bottoming in the past, but it wasn’t in an alpha’s nature to relinquish control, not without good cause. Well, Daniel would give him good cause; this certainly wasn’t his first rodeo. Yes, he liked bottoming, usually preferred it, all other things being equal, but that didn’t mean he didn’t like topping too.
“Let go, my big strong alpha, let everything go and relax and put yourself in my hands.” He kissed Jack, deep and firm. “I promise to take good care of you.”
It was hard work but, god was it enjoyable, because while Daniel’s goal was to keep Jack relaxed, it’s not like this was a chore or anything. Nothing like a little nice, rewarding work first thing in the morning.
Daniel had heard alphas played rough with each other, but Jack had assured him he’d never indulged in that himself and Daniel wasn’t about to watch A/A porn. Besides he was omega, he specialized in gentleness, not force, and he ministered to Jack lavishly from head to toe and back again, frequently returning to that lovely cock to pay it proper attention (he’d yet to manage deep-throating the monstrous thing, but good lord did he love practicing).
As Jack writhed, murmuring encouragements, combing his fingers through Daniel’s hair, the omega licked and kissed away his husband’s tension, suckling and nipping, tweaking and stroking, returning him to his loose limbed sprawl. Daniel loved having Jack lazy and inert like this, knowing those impressive alpha muscles and reflexes lay quiescent for the time being.
From an attentive laving of the alpha’s heavy balls, Daniel traveled down to his asshole, pushing Jack’s legs up and out of the way. He teased the sensitive flesh there, prodding and circling it with his tongue.
This was something they hadn’t done yet and Daniel was eager to widen Jack’s sexual horizons. It wasn’t quite fair to say alphas were one-trick-ponies, because, yes, a knot was a hell of a trick, but still. Variety, spice of life, and all that.
He circled one last time and abruptly dipped his tongue in past the tight puckered entrance.
“Oh, shit, Daniel!” Jack all but yelped.
Daniel backed up an inch or two. “Good shit or bad shit?”
“Good!” Jack said quickly. “Holy buckets. Who knew how nasty omegas could be?”
Daniel gave an unimpressed hum. “You’ve obviously never been to an Omega Center before,” he said before dipping his tongue in again.
“Nugh…” Jack remarked.
Daniel had had the foresight to grab the lube before he started and he surreptitiously squeezed some out into one hand, neatly distracting Jack by flattening his tongue and licking a wide greedy stripe from anus to balls. Then, as Jack groaned in appreciation, Daniel slipped a finger into the alpha, giving a soft stroke to his prostate before the intrusion properly registered and Jack found himself much too occupied to protest as he arced up with a grunt of surprised pleasure.
“Yes, that’s what you’ve been missing all these years,” Daniel drawled, brows raised as he peered at Jack from around the sizable obstruction of the alpha’s dick.
Eyes wide, Jack started to reply, but Daniel prodded the spot again using two fingers this time, smirking as the alpha’s words were lost in a groan of pleasure.
“See, inside every man is a sweet little button…”
“I know what a prostate is!”
Hmm, if Jack had energy enough for outrage, Daniel obviously wasn’t doing his job right.
“God knows I’ve pegged yours enough—”
Daniel flicked his embedded fingers, adding a firm lick to Jack’s cock for emphasis.
Jack arced up again. “Oh, fuuuck…”
“My point exactly,” Daniel murmured. He teased the alpha for a while in this way but before too long they both needed more than just fingers in there.
He withdrew, lubing up his interested and very eager cock, but when he placed himself at Jack’s ass, the alpha was tense again, watching Daniel with a confused mix of lust and suspicion. This irritated Daniel much the way it had irritated him the day before when his experimental white chocolate soufflé cupcake collapsed as he removed it from the oven: he had worked damn hard for Jack’s boneless sprawl.
Fortunately for Jack, Daniel knew just how to get it back again, you see, inside every man is a sweet little button… Bingo. Jack’s breath caught and the alpha sank down into the messy sheets with a sigh.
“Yeah, relax, alpha,” Daniel whispered. “Let me take care of you for a change.”
Jack smiled indolently, gazing into his husband’s eyes, and Daniel took it slow, thrusting shallowly at first, only going deeper in stages as Jack got used to the unusual intrusion, reawakening the alpha’s flagging cock, stroking all the skin he could reach, dipping down for the occasional kiss.
All but purring with contentment, Jack muttered in a contemplative voice, “Is this how stupid you felt when you realized knotting was a good thing?” The snark cut off with a grunt as Daniel twisted his hips just so.
“Not wise to provoke the man whose dick is currently reaming your ass,” Daniel remarked with a mock leer.
“Oh yeah, and doin’ a damn fine job of it, too,” Jack sighed.
“You better believe it,” Daniel huffed. He was sweating now, a drop from his forehead falling to Jack’s belly, joining the sheen of the other man’s sweat. “And, yes, pretty much,” he admitted, answering Jack’s question sotto voce.
Jack grinned, then his eyes fluttered closed and he gave a whimper, writhing at a particularly well aimed thrust on Daniel’s part, the whimper going straight to Daniel’s cock. Jack reached out blindly, groping, trying to take himself in hand, but Daniel brushed him aside, running his own lube-slick fingers along the alpha cock that stood so proudly upright. “No, all mine,” Daniel said, his voice as close to a growl as the omega could come.
“I—I need more…” Jack gasped.
“And I’ll give it to you.”
Double handed, Daniel manipulated Jack’s cock, with one hand squeezing tight to the base to stimulate the knot (okay, so he’d done a little research) and pumping hard with the other, pumping in time to his own thrusts. Jack confined himself to gripping Daniel’s hips and urging him on in a hoarse rumble of, “More! God Daniel, more…”
And Daniel gave him more, more speed, more power, more everything, until a spark flared and grew, swelling into a nova, encompassing the world, and they toppled over into a place of no breath, no sight, no sound, just an endless blaze of pleasure.
When Daniel could finally open his eyes again, blinking the sweat away, he found that Jack had erupted like a geyser, copious amounts of alpha spend coating not only Jack’s belly and chest, but Daniel’s too, and the sheets and the pillows and—wow, was that some on the wall? He was afraid to even look at the ceiling.
The alpha’s knot had formed, smaller than it might have been in other circumstances, but still pumping out lesser gouts, and Daniel kept his grip tight, mimicking a tied channel, loving the throbbing heat, feeling his own cock twitching rhythmically with aftershocks.
“Okay,” he panted, “maybe not as good as the other way around…” And that wasn’t just flattery. If the cock in his hands was in his butt right now, he’d be pulsing with an endless series of orgasms. “But it wasn’t too bad, huh?” He looked down at Jack and his breath caught.
Jack lay watching him, his face open and trusting and filled with love. “Yeah, not bad at all,” he said, drawing one gentle finger along Daniel’s jaw line.
“Damn it, Jack,” Daniel growled, tears flowing down his face. He couldn’t wipe his damn nose, his hands were occupied, so he used his bare shoulder, glowering a challenge at Jack to say anything about it. He knew he looked horrible when he cried, face red and blotchy.
But Jack gazed at him like he was the most precious thing in the world. “You are so beautiful, Daniel Jackson-O’Neill. You are beautiful and you are mine.”
“Yes,” Daniel sighed, letting the tears fall where they may. “Yours.”
Subway rides were a lot more fun these days, sitting side by side with Jack. No, not as an alpha to protect him like he was a damsel in distress, but simply someone to share the ride with him. Although Daniel would never forget the expression on Jack’s face the first time Daniel had insisted the alpha sit down while Daniel remained standing in a crowded train. Jack had eventually pulled Daniel down on his lap and the omega couldn’t really object, first because he was laughing too much, then when he noticed a certain promising hardness twitching to life under him.
Today Daniel relished the contentedly happy look he had managed to put on Jack’s face. As they sat side by side on the rumbling train, Daniel traced the smiling lips with his thumb. “I put this here,” he said, half wondering and half smug, and then pretty much all embarrassed for having spoken that out loud.
Jack only smiled wider, then leaned in for a kiss. “Cheeky little omega, aren’t you?”
“I beg your pardon, I’m an official U.N. translator for the International Omega Outreach Initiative.”
“Part-time, volunteer,” Jack said, his teasing grin belying the pride Daniel knew the alpha felt when Daniel accepted the position.
“And I’m your business partner.”
“Not for another week you aren’t. We don’t sign the final paperwork until next Thursday. Right now you’re just my employee.”
“Oh, just your employee, huh?”
“My most valued employee,” Jack amended, laying a searing hot kiss on Daniel’s lips.
Daniel squirmed, trying to catch his breath. He broke the kiss, embarrassed by the presence of other passengers on the train, and angled away from his husband, pointedly taking his phone out of his pocket as a much needed distraction. Turning it on, he laughed at the top story on his Facebook feed. “Oh, jeez, look at the picture of Janet’s stomach Sam posted.”
This past Yuletide had been a wonderful revelation for Daniel, spending his heat with Jack. But it had produced unexpected consequences for Sam and Janet, and the beta had been a little pissed at an unplanned pregnancy so soon in the two women’s relationship. A female alpha siring a child was as rare as a male omega getting pregnant, and the alpha/beta couple had thought they had years of trying ahead of them.
Jack looked at the photo with a smile and a shrug. “Alpha’s love to brag.”
“I supposed Teal’c and Shau'nac will be next,” Daniel mused.
“Not as far as I know, but we’ll see when they come back from Egypt.”
“Jonas and Lindsey, then?”
“No way,” Jack said, shaking his head with a grin. “Lins won’t let anything interfere with the opening of Star Gate’s Brooklyn branch.”
Daniel frowned in contemplation. “Being head baker seems to go to a baker’s…head.”
“For everyone but you, dear,” Jack said with obnoxious condescension, patting Daniel on the cheek, then leaning over for another leisurely, and thorough, kiss.
Daniel pulled away with a sound that was quite positively not a whimper and returned desperately to his phone, calling up his calendar. “So, uh…” He cleared his throat. “We’re on for the game with my dad this weekend, right?”
Jack leaned back with a knowing smirk but only said, “Of course we are, like I’d miss a Yankees’ home game.”
Daniel scrolled on to the next calendar entry. “And then the Botanical Gardens tour with my mom.”
“Hush. You agreed.”
“I know. I’ll have my revenge when my folks visit.”
“They must be saints to have raised you without smothering you in your sleep.”
“I thought omegas were all sweet and gentle.” Daniel punched Jack’s arm. “Ow!”
Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel, pinning Daniel’s own arms down, a soft growl rumbling directly in Daniel’s ear. Daniel considered making a show of trying to escape before simply relaxing with a boneless frisson of pleasure thrumming through him.
They sat for a time. Jack nuzzling his nose at the crook of Daniel’s neck as if he were trying to filter the air he breathed directly through Daniel’s body. He squeezed extra tight in a way that Daniel didn’t mind at all, but usually meant there was something on the alpha’s mind.
“I can hear you thinking,” he said.
He felt the curve of Jack’s lips as the alpha smiled. “Speaking of parents and babies,” Jack said, “you’re gonna make a great dad.”
Daniel let his head drop back until their cheeks met. “So will you, my love.”
They would never have children the natural way, not like Jonas and Lindsey could, and not even like Sam and Janet. It just wasn’t safe for a male omega and Jack would never risk his husband that way even if Daniel wanted to try. They had decided on adoption, but not just any adoption. The usual age of presentation was somewhere around twelve to fourteen years old, but sometimes children presented very young, and the omegas among those children were at risk of exploitation: involuntary early marriage, trafficked into the sex trade, being pulled out of school and forced into domestic work, slavery in all but name. Some of these children suffered in foreign countries, some right here in the good ol’ USA. Jack and Daniel were laying the legal groundwork now, but soon, maybe in just a few short months, they would have their first child, some girl or boy who truly needed them.
Daniel hugged the arms that hugged him, knowing they must look like a couple of goofballs sitting there with dopey smiles on their faces, but he didn’t care. With Jack by his side, everything was better.
All his life he had avoided his own kind, even during heat-tides at the Omega Center he kept to himself or engaged in temporary relationships with betas. Now, finally, he felt confident enough to sit down with his fellow omegas at the U.N., speaking and interacting not just with the female omegas, but with the male omegas, too. So far he was only translating their frequently tragic stories, but someday he hoped to advocate for them as well, to work towards a day when omegas wouldn’t have to wear big obvious wedding rings or collars just to appear in public without being harassed, when no one felt pressured into a marriage or sexual situation they didn’t want, and when there was equal pay for equal work.
Now, with Jack at his side, he was ready for anything.
This particular morning he was ready for baking for an audience. It had been a bit of an adjustment, going from the relative quiet and quaintness of Star Gate’s old Spring Street shop to the crazed chaos that was Times Square. The store was quite a success, tourists ate the place up, literally in the case of the baked goods. The store was open 24/7 and even in the wee hours of the morning the people of the City That Never Sleeps peered into the windows to watch the bread dough rise, and popped into the storefront to grab a coffee and a bite to eat after a late show or when taking a breather between clubs.
Now, at eight o’clock in the morning, the day’s business was just starting to heat up. Several people recognized Daniel on the three block walk from Grand Central Station to the shop: an all beta family from San Jose, California asked him to pose with them for a picture (Jack did the honors); three alphas from a nearby construction site personally thanked him for the bear-claws they claimed were the only thing getting them through their tough days (Jack eyed them suspiciously but actually let them shake Daniel’s hand); and a skinny shabbily dressed young omega woman who clung to Daniel in a heartbreakingly long hug, whispering in his ear that she had been ready to give up even trying to better herself until the day she looked through that big window and saw Daniel working hard kneading his bread dough and realized it was possible for omegas to succeed in this world without selling their bodies. Jack stood at a respectable distance to let the two omegas talk, and Daniel ended up giving the girl a card with his contact numbers, writing on the back, “This card gives the omega bearer unlimited baked goods, ad infinitum,” signing it with a flourish that any Star Gate employee should recognize.
Passing through the storefront, around the counter and into the kitchen was another exercise in greetings with friendly patrons and co-workers, then he was exchanging street jacket for baking jacket and tying on his apron and bandana.
He took his place at the picture window, looking at the reversed logo etched in the glass, the stylized garden gate and stars with the words ‘Star Gate’ emblazoned across the top.
It had taken some getting used to, that big picture window exposing him to the entire population of Times Square, but he loved baking at Star Gate more than anything except Jack himself and within minutes he was absorbed in his work, hands a blur as frosted cupcake after frosted cupcake flew out from his workstation, only peripherally aware of the multitude of tourists snapping pictures on the other side of the plate glass.
Daniel let his thoughts wander as he worked. Six months ago he had no idea how small his dreams were, simply buying a bakery. Now, finalizing the purchase of half ownership of Star Gate, and paying fair market value all on his own thank you very much, was only the beginning of the story. He was helping omegas worldwide at the United Nations, he was married to the most amazing man in the world, and someday soon, a child would share their home, several children eventually Daniel hoped.
He may only be an omega, but Daniel could do anything he wanted, he had a world full of choices in front of him.
But one choice he had already made, the most important choice of all and one he would never go back on. His eyes unerringly found the tall form of his alpha from across the kitchen, some instinct seeming to turn Jack towards him, and brown eyes full of love and pride met his as the warm sweet scent of oven-fresh cupcakes rose through the air.
For people who are curious to see what was really said in the conversations Daniel misinterpreted, here is the full text of Jack and Teal’c’s phone call and Jonas and Lindsey’s conversation:
Jack & Teal’c:
[You sound well this morning, O’Neill. Did you have a nightmare last night?]
Nope, very nice night, slept like a baby.
[Dr. MacKenzie did say sleeping with an omega was good therapy for an alpha with PTSD.]
Yeah, omegas really *are* good for that.
[He does not seem to have much use for them otherwise.]
Right, that’s *all* they’re good for: fucking.
[He seems quite ignorant for a mental health care professional.]
That’s why I’m getting rid of him as soon as I can.
[He is your assigned therapist.]
Nope, not for long. I don’t need him anymore, I’m going to fire his ass so fast it’ll make his head spin.
[Dr. MacKenzie is beneath contempt.]
Yeah, forget him, we got more important things to think about.
[Such as Daniel Jackson. I am pleased with your joining, I believe you both have much to offer the other.]
I may be moving a little fast though.
[Will Daniel Jackson be returning to the Spring Street store?]
No, Jonas can handle everything from now on. I want Daniel out of there as soon as possible.
[You are moving fast, but not *too* fast I believe.]
Right. Jonas doesn’t need Daniel, he’ll be fine on his own.
[He seems competent, not at Daniel Jackson’s level perhaps, but well able to run a bakery. ]
We hired him to replace Daniel, he better be able to run a bakery on his own.
[His resume claims sufficient experience and we will have to trust that.]
Especially once he gets Daniel’s recipe.
[Ah, I heard Daniel Jackson speak of his o-ma and the lore she passed down to him]
Yeah, good stuff.
[It is indeed good stuff, although do not forget it is up to Daniel Jackson if he is willing to share his recipes.]
True, but that U.N. reception should be a breeze, at least.
[You were quite forward in volunteering Daniel Jackson’s services on a Saturday.]
Daniel’s good for it.
[I am unconvinced.]
Hey, I’m an alpha, I get to do what I want.
[Your imitation of a posturing knothead is disturbingly accurate.]
[Trading a day off today for working tomorrow will doubtless help your case.]
Oh, I’ll convince him all right.
[Please spare me the details of your coupling and allow me to congratulate you. Your dreams appear to be coming true.]
Thanks, Teal’c. Really, I can’t wait to get Daniel the hell out of Spring Street.
[He will shine on Times Square, and Jonas— ]
Jonas’ll be perfect, he’s a beta—
[And more amenable to orders than a certain headstrong omega.]
Whatever, T. Look, let’s talk more later, I’m gonna take a shower and get started with the day.
[Indeed, I will speak with you later, O’Neill.]
See ya, big guy.
Jonas & Lindsay:
Jonas: You know, there’s nothing but betas here right now, it’s not natural in a kitchen.
Lindsey: Heh. It’s like that old joke, how many betas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
J: (groans) Yeah but this time I don’t want an alpha, I want an omega, I want Daniel.
L: I heard that. I’m still learning stuff from him even after two years.
J: Exactly, I thought I was going to get training from an expert, not get thrown in the deep end like this.
L: Alphas. What are you going to do?
J: Jack totally pulled the rug out from under me. It’s like he thinks this is a military maneuver or something. A good kitchen runs on omega time, and that’s the way it should be.
J: Man, if Jack wasn’t the big boss…
(Starts up the mixer and Daniel peeks in the door.)
J: Seriously, Lins, can you believe him? Thinking he knows what’s what in a bakery? I mean he has a certain aptitude, but the details are totally beyond him. He’s out of his depth.
L: Yeah, I think I’m starting to see that now. It’s like he only looks at things from one point of view.
J: It’s simple biology. His gender is just working against him.
L: Well, not to worry, it’s just us betas here now.
(As they laugh, Daniel ducks back out through the door.)