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Tiger by the Tail

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Taiga-kun was leaving for America, Tetsuya’s parents told him. Taiga wouldn’t be coming over anymore. He wouldn’t stay at their apartment when his dad went away for business. He wouldn’t stop by after school for games and snacks. He wouldn’t huddle near Tetsuya on the playground and rest his chin on Tetsuya’s head just because.

He wouldn’t wrap his tail about Tetsuya’s waist and hold him close during the scary parts of the movie – because he was scared and Tetsuya’s presence calmed him.

It didn’t make sense to Tetsuya at all. Taiga-kun had been there since Tetsuya could remember. Taiga-kun would be there tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Because Taiga-kun was always there, and he always would be.

When Taiga’s family came over “to break the contract,” Tetsuya’s mom told him, Taiga pounced on Tetsuya the moment he entered, and they landed in an awkward heap. Taiga’s crystalline eyes and tiny claws dug into Tetsuya’s shirt, just short of breaking skin.

“Dad says we’re going to America, Tetsu,” Taiga muttered, though it didn’t seem real. Taiga would be back tomorrow. “He says we’re going away, and I can’t see you anymore.”

“That’s okay, Taiga-kun,” Tetsuya insisted. “You always come back.”

“But Tetsu! My dad says – ”

“ – that you’re going away,” Tetsuya said, though it still seemed unrealistic. “But that doesn’t mean you won’t come back.”

Taiga’s tail swung nervously behind him. His ears twitched, alive and fitful, so Tetsuya reached out to rub the back of them, causing Taiga to purr. The comforting sound echoed through Tetsuya, relaxing him and leaving him feeling safe and warm and content.

His hands shrunk into tiny paws. His sight and hearing grew sharper, and Tetsuya could now smell Taiga’s unique but familiar scent, an earthy musk with hints of cheeseburgers and soy sauce. Tetsuya glanced down at his own body, noticing the soft white fur and curled tail.

He was in his complete were-form, for the first time since his birth. Taiga laughed, a light-hearted, giddy noise, and he ducked his head to rub his cheek against Tetsuya’s, a formal greeting between packmates.

“Hey, Tetsu! You’re all fluffy!”

Startled gasps sounded behind Taiga, and the cub glanced back at Tetsuya’s parents and his own dad. “Hey, Dad! Look at Tetsu. He looks like a cotton ball.”

Tetsuya’s parents looked horrified, his mother’s hand covering her gaping mouth, while Taiga’s father looked distressed. Tetsuya, however, just enjoyed the look of pure joy on Taiga’s face and his continued purring.

“It’s wrong to separate them,” Tetsuya’s mother whispered, her voice too tight. “If Tetsuya is completely comfortable in Taiga’s presence – ”

“That is your omega’s problem,” Taiga’s dad replied, “not my alpha’s.”

“It will be yours, Kagami-san,” Tetsuya’s dad snapped – or as sharply as he ever did. “Mating bonds aren’t easy to break, and a loyal omega isn’t something to disregard. You may regret your decision.”

“Hm, perhaps.” Taiga’s father walked over and grabbed the tiger cub by the scruff of the neck, tugging him off Tetsuya.

Tetsuya barked; Taiga hissed and struggled against his father’s hold but to no avail.

“You have greater worries than my son, Kuroko-san,” Kagami remarked on his way out. “What alpha will ever love an omega who has given himself to another?”

Ten Years Later

“Taiga-kun is leaving again?” Tetsuya tried to keep the incredulity from his usually monotoned voice, but by the sour grimace upon Taiga’s face, Tetsuya knew he failed.

“I’ll be back before the end of break,” Taiga assured, sporting ears once more on the sides of his head, his long tail coming to squeeze Tetsuya’s waist.

Despite turning away and crossing his arms, Tetsuya found himself drawn against Taiga’s reassuring warmth. His own body responded traitorously, shifting with his animal attributes, and when Taiga rubbed his cheek against Tetsuya’s, dusting kisses across his jaw, Tetsuya sighed. His anxiety remained, even if his strong front crumpled.

“You’ll come back.” It wasn’t meant as a question, but his tone lifted at the end to indicate one.

Taiga’s eyes darkened with guilt and shame. The last decade weighed heavily upon both their minds, and it reflected in Taiga’s intense eyes. “Of course. I have a sensei back in America I want to see and some friends who still can give me an edge. I can’t – I can’t let Daiki or any of those Miracle jerks win the Winter Cup, Tetsuya. I won’t.”

“I’d much rather you be here,” Tetsuya admitted in a soft voice.

A soothing noise, a mixture between a sigh and a hum, sounded in the back of Taiga’s throat, and he pressed his forehead against Tetsuya’s. “Hey, now. It’s like you said. I’ll come back, Tetsuya. I promised.”

“But last time you went away for more than a decade.”

“And let five alphas spread their scent all over you.” Taiga’s sinister – sexy – smile did things to Tetsuya he wasn’t willing to accept just yet. “I won’t let that happen again.”

While Tetsuya submitted to Taiga’s familiar and calming ritual, his skin tingling and his tension melting, he leaned against Taiga’s strong chest, content to listen to his boyfriend’s heartbeat and feel his warmth.

Taiga’s claws dug into Tetsuya’s hair in a grooming ritual he liked to do before bed. His voice lowered, pitched to soothe and comfort. “Hey. You know I’m here for the long haul, right? No more leaving. No more breaking contracts. You and me. Bondmates.”

“What about your father?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Taiga’s arms enveloped him in a cradling embrace. “You’re my bondmate. That’s if…if you’ll have me.”

Despite his body and soul urging him to accept, Tetsuya’s mind kept reminding him of the day Taiga left that first time and the utter devastation that followed. No matter what his mother or father said, Tetsuya kept waiting for Taiga to return. He hoped and wished for years, but he eventually had to accept that his chosen bondmate left, that Taiga would always be someone he remembered and missed.

Tetsuya moved on and found others who would love him and bond with him. Though the Alpha Miracles rejected him and went to different high schools, he just couldn’t forget them.

They were his pack. And Taiga his bondmate.

Tetsuya didn’t know if he could ever stop feeling like Taiga ripped open his chest and stole his heart every single time he traveled to America. He didn’t know if he could trust Taiga not to leave him again, especially since Taiga still wore a token of his former bondmate.

So instead of surrendering his heart completely, Tetsuya snatched fistfuls of Taiga’s shirt and tugged him close. “Let’s see if you’ve changed your strips, Tiger-kun.”

Taiga kissed him, slowly and patiently until Tetsuya panted like the dog he was.

“What do you think?”

*^*^*

Tetsuya had been summoned. He believed it would happen eventually but didn’t expect a meeting of their pack before the start of the Winter Cup Tournament. Despite their split, Akashi-kun was still possessive of his alphas and omega, and Tetsuya set his back, chasing away the nervous energy that tingled in his gut. Outside of the arena, the alluring scents of the five alphas infiltrated his nose, and Tetsuya struggled to retain his human form.

He wouldn’t submit. He wouldn’t allow his omega status to ever yield to an alpha, for him to be seen as inferior to those whom he once called friends. He was an equal, and while his talent for basketball would never exceed the Alpha Miracles’, he could stand on the same court as them.

Still, he let out a relieved sigh when a large, stripped hand clasped his shoulder and a familiar tail wrapped around his waist.

“Well, you’re not fun,” Taiga greeted, ears popping up from the side of his fiery mane. “Don’t exclude me.”

“Kagami-kun,” Tetsuya breathed, leaning back against his mate.

Taiga’s reassuring scent engulfed him with its earthy accents and comforting reassurance, and Tetsuya stopped fighting, his own white ears appearing and a tail slipping out of the back of his sweatpants.

Tetsuya ignored Daiki’s fierce growl, the panther maddened that he would allow Taiga’s scent to change his appearance. Shintarou cleared his throat. Ryouta gasped and let out a pained noise of protest.

Tetsuya ignored them all, smiling up at Taiga. “You’re late.”

“But I’m back. We can talk later,” Taiga whispered. His fingers rubbed the back of Tetsuya’s twitching ear, a ghost of smile brightening his features before his expression darkened and eyes narrowed upon the red-haired alpha at the top of the stairs. “Akashi. Looks like we’re just getting started, huh?”

Tetsuya’s head whipped toward Taiga. How did Taiga know who Seijuro was?

“Kagami-kun,” Seijuro greeted, voice tainted with dark promise. “You were not invited.”

When Taiga stepped in front of him, Tetsuya immediately reached out, claws clamping down upon Taiga’s lively tail.

“Tetsu!” Taiga hissed, teeth showing under his curled lips.

But Tetsuya wouldn’t relent. “I do not need your protection – Taiga-kun!”

Taiga whirled at Tetsuya’s breathless warning, just in time to duck a pair of scissors aimed at his cheek. His tail lashed out of Tetsuya’s hold as his entire body shook from the sudden attack. His teeth brandished; a fierce, threatening growl rumbled deep in his chest.

Seijuro appeared rather elated, a tolerant smile upon his elegant face. “I’m surprised you were able to dodge that. In light of that display of grace, I’ll forgive you this time.”

“Forgive me? You just tried to – ”

“When I tell you to leave, you leave,” Seijuro continued. “Winning is everything. Winners are affirmed completely, and losers are denied completely. I’ve never lost at anything before, and I never will.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Akashi,” Daiki sneered, the black ears and tail of a panther forming, his fangs sharpening. “You summoned us just for that? Taiga already knows he’s going to lose. Tetsu and him have no chance against Touou.”

Akashi cocked his head to the side, considering. “And you believe you have a chance against me?”

“I won’t lose Tetsu! Not a second time.”

Something uneasy and cold settled in Tetsuya’s stomach, and he placed a hand against Taiga’s arm to push him aside. He barely made Taiga’s eyebrow furl, but he stood tall nonetheless. “What do you mean, Aomine-kun? You did not have me a first time?”

Daiki’s tail whipped about, ensnarling Tetsuya’s wrist and tugging him close. “Come on, Tetsu! Don’t play dumb. You know you were going to choose me over these idiots. If what happened in middle school didn’t happen – ”

“But it did, and I was not going to choose you, any more than I was going to choose anyone here.” Tetsuya watched as the pain hit Daiki, his confident façade beginning to crumble. “We were friends, Aomine-kun. All of us. Just because I’m an omega – ”

“It means you belong to us.” Anger laced Daiki’s words. His claws dug into Tetsuya’s light jacket. “We’re your alphas, and one way or another, I will have you after the Winter – ”

“Aomine!” Shintarou stood at his back, his own clawed hands upon Daiki’s shoulders. “Let Kuroko go. He is not yours. Not yet.”

Daiki hissed but did as requested, tail unfurling from Tetsuya’s wrist and claws detracting. Taiga flanked him in a heartbeat, taking Tetsuya by the shoulder and forcing him behind his larger form.

Tetsuya, however, found himself blinking. “I do not understand,” he muttered, peeking about Taiga. “You act as if I am some sort of prize you can win, but – ”

“Mah, Kuro-chin wasn’t going to choose,” Atsushi muttered through the crunching of his potato chips, “so we decided to choose for you.”

No. Tetsuya’s throat constricted; he struggled to breathe.

“It was quite simple, actually,” Seijuro continued, and Tetsuya registered Taiga whispering to him, telling him it was going to be okay. But how could it be, when Seijuro revealed a moment later, “We all wanted to claim you, Tetsuya. We did, at first, with our scent, but then each one of us wanted you for himself. So we decided this tournament would designate who would claim you as their mate.”

It was his fault the pack broke apart? All this time, the Alpha Miracles wanted to prove their dominance over each other for the opportunity to mate with Tetsuya? No, it was worse than that.

Tetsuya sucked in shallow, quick breaths, trying to curb the sudden rise of bile in the back of his throat. “You cannot just claim someone as your own without their consent. And I will not consent, not to any of you who wish to win me like I am a possession.”

“You don’t have a choice, Tetsu,” Daiki growled, low and unrelenting. “Akashi had your parents sign a contract. Whoever wins the Winter Cup, also wins you.”

Tetsuya’s trembling exacerbated ten-fold, wracking his entire body as his hands flexed and curled in Taiga’s sweatshirt. Everything seemed foreign, distant, shock numbing his senses. Shintarou and Seijuro’s muffled chastises of Daiki’s crass declaration barely reached Tetsuya’s ears. He struggled to think, struggled to breathe, as his own throat constricted and denied him sweet air.

Taiga’s worried face entered his vision, but Tetsuya couldn’t make out what he was saying. Blood pounded in his ears along with the repetition of Daiki’s words.

You don’t have a choice, Tetsu.

Seijuro forced his parents to sign a contract. He was already promised to an alpha, and the Winter Cup was no longer an epic battle to reclaim his closest friends, his pack. Instead, it was a tournament for ownership – because it certainly wasn’t for a partnership. The Alpha Miracles wanted to own him, like omegas before liberation, and he wouldn’t be won. He couldn’t be won, not like that. He wouldn’t allow himself to be.

He wanted a say in his mate, not be forced by five alphas whom at one time he loved with all his heart.

“Tetsuya.” Soft strands of hair dusted across his forehead. Lithe fingers brushed the fur along the curve of his neck. A pleasant warmth settled upon his head, and gentle, soothing words broke through his haze of disbelief and anger. “It’s going to be all right, Tetsu. They’re not going to win. You and me, right? And Seirin. We’re going to win the Winter Cup.”

Taiga-kun. Taiga pressed his forehead against Tetsuya’s, his strong tail adding coaxing pressure onto Tetsuya’s hips. His rich, alluring, alpha scent covered the others’ and encouraged Tetsuya to return to the present.

“It’s all right, Tetsuya. They can’t have you.”

Tetsuya gulped and panted, feeling very much like the dog he was. Owned. Collared. But he could only imagine the heartache Taiga suffered. He’d made Taiga wait and go through the courting process with his parents. No, he made Taiga court, where Taiga originally just assumed, but Taiga never complained. He coaxed. He teased. He even covered Tetsuya with his scent when allowed, and now none of that mattered. The Alpha Miracles already signed a contact for his mating, and Tetsuya would never be able to bond with Taiga.

He’d never gotten that far, hadn’t even thought much of it, but since Taiga came back, the tiger shifter had woven himself into Tetsuya’s life again. He stopped by most nights to eat dinner with Tetsuya’s family. He brought flowers for his mother and spoke basketball with his father. He even helped his grandmother when needed.

He met Tetsuya every morning on the way to school, walked him home every night – whether that was to Tetsuya’s place or Taiga’s. Taiga brought him milkshakes and sat next to him at lunch, and worked on projects with him. They’d become more than just friends. They’d become partners.

He almost began to think that perhaps he could stop waiting for Taiga-kun to leave again, that he could surrender completely the bond that had begun to form between them once more and admit that he needed the tiger. That despite more than a decade apart, Tetsuya never stopped thinking of Taiga has his alpha.

That being with Taiga-kun, unlike being with any of the Alpha Miracles, felt right.

But none of it mattered because Tetsuya was promised to five alphas, and a bonding contract could not be broken unless all parties agreed.

“Hey, stop that,” Taiga scolded, tail wrapping about his wrist and tugging twice. “I don’t like that look on your face. It’s like you just tried one of Coach’s dishes or something.”

Tetsuya looked into Taiga’s fiery eyes, the ones that spoke of anger and resentment, the ones that Tetsuya usually had to calm. Instead, Taiga played the role of the patient alpha soothing his flustered omega, and it didn’t suit him.

“You are the strongest person I know,” Taiga continued, clawed hand coming up to cradle Tetsuya’s flushed cheek. “It doesn’t matter what they say. We’re going to break their contract. We’re going to win the Winter Cup, and you’ll be free.”

Daiki let out a derisive laugh, and Tetsuya could feel Seijuro’s splintered grin. He ignored them both to see the earnest gaze in Taiga’s eyes.

He wanted to believe in Taiga-kun but faltered, hope dissipating before he could embrace it fully.

“How can you be so sure?” Tetsuya murmured, still leaning into Taiga’s hold. “You already broke your promise once.”

You left. How can I trust you again?

Perhaps he shouldn’t. He would never admit defeat, not until the last buzzer sounded, but he trusted Taiga once, and he wasn’t sure he could again.

“I’m here,” Taiga whispered, a deep thrumming noise sounding against the back of his throat. Not quite a purr but not quite a growl – it mollified Tetsuya in ways he couldn’t understand. “I came back, just like you said I would. I’ll always come back for you.”

Tears stung in the corner of Tetsuya’s eyes – from relief or frustration, he wasn’t sure. An incessant tingling caught his attention as it intensified and spread, and then Tetsuya blinked as Taiga’s breathing increased sharply. His eyes widened considerably. Fear and wonderment blended, and Tetsuya’s ears twitched. His paws touched the ground, and Taiga’s perfect lips and chest appeared so far away.

A collective inhale echoed through the group, and finally Ryouta came to his senses. “Kurokocchi’s a Shiba Inu?”

Shame flooded Tetsuya at his core. To both an alpha and a omega, a were-form was just short of nudity, but alphas presented themselves with little regard for modesty. A true, strong alpha flaunted his toned muscles and natural agility. They wanted to attract the most receptive of omegas, and a true were-form demanded attention, if not lust and desire.

An omega’s were-form represented fear and vulnerability. When forced into it by an alpha, an omega could only shift back after time and patience, allowing a fiercer alpha to dominate. But even then, an omega would not just shift at the whim of any alpha. They could through time and prolonged exposure, but omegas generally shifted into their were-form in front of an alpha for one reason.

Tetsuya blinked and panicked, despite his usual reserved nature. He wasn’t just in his were-form in front of an astonished and blushing Taiga-kun, but in front of five aggressive alphas, all of whom wanted to fight for his bonding.

He didn’t fear for himself and what they could do to him. He feared for them, and what they would do to each other.

“Huuuuuh?” Atsuhi drawled as he lowered his open back of potato chips “Kuro-chin, do you want some scraps?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Daiki scoffed, taking a step forward, hand extended toward Kuroko’s shimmering form. “Tetsu wants to be scratched behind the ears. All dogs – hey! What gives, Kagami?”

Taiga growled, ears pointed straight up, fangs showing. “Don’t touch him.”

Daiki’s expression twisted with a bitter grimace, anger lighting his eyes, and Tetsuya looked between his two closest friends before Ryouta stepped in, hand upon each’s chest.

“You’re upsetting, Kurokocchi!”

“He started it!”

“No, your face did!”

Over Ryouta’s shoulder, Daiki clawed at Taiga, trying with all his might to get at him. After an incensed snarl tore free from his throat, Daiki shifted into his full panther form and lunged at Taiga, who barely managed to his shift into his tiger physique in time. Enraged growls, swipes of blood, biting and clawing, Tetsuya couldn’t watch the fight, heart aching at the thought of his friends hurting one another because of him, because of what he was.

He took a step back, then another, and another, and eventually turned on his paws and ran.

“Tetsuya,” someone called after him – Seijuro? – but he refused to slow. Every step felt like a mile, but he forced himself to continue until he disappeared in the crowded streets of Tokyo.

Unlike the wolf and lion, panther and tiger forms of his potential mates, his were-form blended well into foot traffic, and he easily put distance between himself and the Alpha Miracles. He wanted to head home and hide under his covers until he graduated high school or died from utter humiliation – whichever came first. He didn’t really want to talk to his parents, though, and it would be the first place the alphas would look.

He wanted to see none of them, especially Taiga-kun.

He retreated to the basketball court where he and Taiga first played, huddling in the corner where no one would see his weak presence. He wasn’t sure how to think or react, his mind still reeling from his body’s physical reactions. He’d yielded to Taiga-kun. He’d allowed his instincts to take over in the presence of Taiga-kun – again and he wasn’t sure how Taiga felt.

Wanting to bond and actually bonding were two different ideals, and Tetsuya, despite their life together, wasn’t sure which one Taiga sought.

When he heard the jingling of a fence, Tetsuya remained in his were-form, whimpering as he folded his legs underneath him, his snout resting on his paws. A couple of children ran onto the asphalt. They bounced balls and took turns driving to the hoop, and Tetsuya watched, mystified.

A sharp ache lingered in his chest. He’d never felt so violated, so inferior as he did in that moment. Back in middle school, the presence of the Alpha Miracles made him feel cherished, protected, safe. He never considered his alphas hostile or even territorial, though Daiki used to lay across his lap in panther form and curl his tail about Tetsuya’s waist. And yes, the others marked him with their scent, claimed him as a part of their pack and scared away other alphas who dared to mess with their omega. But his friends looked out for him, not owned him. Daiki and Taiga’s fight in an alley almost six months ago proved that.

Now, he shivered to think of the Miracles’ intentions, especially with their own partners. Perhaps Shintarou never saw the tender gazes Kazunari sent when the hawk-eyed shifter didn’t think anyone was looking. And Tatsuya reined in Atsushi like a seasoned omega who dared to love an alpha beast. Ryouta hung off Yukio just as much, if not more so, than Tetsuya nowadays. Seijuro even smelled of another omega.

So why would they want him over their new packmates…unless they felt some sort of obligation toward him?

An uneasy sensation began in Tetsuya’s gut and slithered through his body. His dog form relented then, though his ears and tail remained. Of course, the edge of his nose twitched on its own accord when it picked up a rich earthy scent of the morning dew mixed with cheeseburgers. Tetsuya’s ears drooped against his head as Taiga took to the court, and he thought if he sat perfectly still, his best friend-boyfriend-mate wouldn’t notice him. Apparently, he’d spent too much time with Taiga because the larger tiger noticed him almost immediately.

Tetsuya briefly thought about shifting back into his full were-form and leaving, but no doubt Taiga would shift into a tiger and pounce, not allowing him to escape. And Tetsuya refused to scare the children on the other side of the court with the sudden appearance of a full-grown, hissing tiger.

Instead, Tetsuya waited, hugging his knees to his chest and refusing to look at Taiga even as he took a seat on the ground next to him.

“Y’know,” Taiga began, legs crossed, ears and tail appearing seamlessly, “it may seem wrong, but five alphas wanting you – that’s not bad.”

“They do not want me, Taiga-kun,” Tetsuya scoffed. “They see me as their property and wish to own me.”

Taiga grumbled, his furry tail ticking Tetsuya’s arm, but the omega retaliated, burying his claws in it for the second time that day.

“Ow! Tetsu! Will you stop that!” Taiga hissed, tugging back his now pained appendage, and Tetsuya refused to meet his frustrated and then wounded gaze.

“I do not want your comfort.”

Taiga’s tail fidgeted, though its owner stared straight at the boys playing across the court. “Never took you for a liar.”

Tetsuya whirled toward Taiga, eyes wide and questioning, and only then did Taiga meet his gaze, serious and hurt. “Your weird friends told me what it means when an omega shifts into its full were-form.”

Tetsuya waited, his body wire-strung and unmoving, though his insides practically vibrated. He couldn’t breathe, waiting on Taiga’s next words. Had the Alpha Miracles lied to Taiga? Perhaps they hadn’t revealed the true extent of Tetsuya’s affections. And yet –

“So when you reveal your omega form to an alpha, it means you accept them as your bondmate?” Taiga asked, though it sounded more like a demand. “How—How could you not tell me? Geez. You showed me what you were when we were five!”

He just couldn’t remember exactly what Tetsuya was.

Tetsuya glanced away, eyes uncertain, hands trembling behind his bent knees. “I did not want Taiga-kun to feel obliged. He still wears the ring from his former bondmate. If – If he wishes to return to – ”

“Damnit, Tetsu! I told you. Tatsuya is more like a brother to me.” His anger faltered. Taiga leaned back, and when he spoke, his voice barely broke the air between them. “Do you – Did you reveal yourself to me? Or were you revealing yourself to them?”

Taiga-kun was truly an idiot.

“I revealed my were-form to you earlier, Taiga-kun. On your birthday. As the others must have told you, they have never seen my true form before.”

Even during all their years together – playing basketball, sleeping over each other’s houses, sharing life – Tetsuya never revealed himself to the Alpha Miracles. Because he couldn’t. They weren’t his chosen bondmate, and despite all their years apart, Tetsuya hadn’t accepted another as his alpha.

Taiga’s clawed but gentle hand came up to cradle Tetsuya’s cheek, so tender, so reassuring. Tetsuya almost shifted into his were-form again. As it was, his tail twisted with Taiga’s, and he leaned into his boyfriend’s touch.

“They won’t win, Tetsuya,” Taiga vowed. “They can’t beat us. I’ll do anything. I’ll call my former sensei in America and tell her to get over here. I’ll practice every day and get extra practice from Kiyoshi-senpai. I’ll—I’ll even give up eating cheeseburgers.”

Tetsuya locked eyes with Taiga, searching deep within the sparkling gems. So much desire, so much desperation and fear, so much love. Taiga would do everything within his power to save Tetsuya from his horrifying fate – even sacrifice his own heart. A loyal omega, who returned an alpha’s affections, was a hard-sought treasure, one that took years of courting and priming to achieve. And once they bonded, few ever parted because the alpha would never recover. A severed bond might wound an omega, but it emotionally destroyed an alpha.

They shouldn’t continue their relationship. Better to break it off now and save Taiga from the eventual despair. There were so many variables when it came to winning the Winter Cup, from Kiyoshi-senapi’s health to Akashi’s dual personalities, and Tetsuya couldn’t guarantee they’d find the victory they sought. But he doubted Taiga would just let him go with a few muttered words and a lingering embrace, and Tetsuya didn’t want him to.

He’d always been called greedy, wanting things he shouldn’t – a pack full of alphas, a place upon the court with them, Taiga. And while he might not able to have to them all – he would take Taiga, for however long he would be allowed.

Tetsuya climbed over his boyfriend’s leg to sit in his lap and clasped Taiga’s cheeks, pulling him close until their noses practically touched. “I do not believe Taiga-kun must sacrifice his cheeseburgers. Perhaps he can just resolve buy me vanilla shakes.”

Taiga’s eyes sparkled. “You really like those things, don’tcha?”

“It’s not the only thing I like.”

Tetsuya quit the space between Taiga and him, pressing their lips together in a smoldering embrace. He deepened it, arms sliding over Taiga’s shoulders, fingers reaching for Taiga’s forest of red hair. Tetsuya ignored his fluffy tail, which shook fitfully, and instead moaned when Taiga nipped on his bottom lip and wrapped his tail possessively about Tetsuya’s waist.

Tetsuya pulled away, just slightly, to stare into the vulnerable eyes of his lover, and he asked a wordless question.

You won’t leave again, right? Tetsuya couldn’t deal with that again. He wouldn’t survive it, and even now, just the thought of the Miracles winning the Winter Cup sent a frightened shiver up his spine.

Taiga pressed their foreheads together, his piercing eyes staring directly into Tetsuya’s soul. “Never again. You waited for me long enough, Tetsuya. I won’t make you wait a second longer.”

So Tetsuya didn’t make Taiga. Even though his head screamed that this was wrong – that he was hurting Taiga-kun – Tetsuya lifted his chin and offered his sweat gland. Taiga hesitated, arms and tail squeezed his torso, stiff and demanding, and Tetsuya dropped his eyes to pierce Taiga’s soul.

It was open to him to wade him, and Tetsuya accepted the offer, thumbs brushing the tears that slid down Taiga’s cheeks.

“Then don’t, Taiga-kun,” Tetsuya urged in a strangled whisper. “Make me yours – now.”

Taiga’s alpha instincts took over; his sharp teeth glimmered in the moonlight. When they sunk into his neck, a rush of excitement, anticipation, and electricity shot up Tetsuya’s spine. It tore an animalistic howl from the depths of Tetsuya’s soul, arching his back, thrust his back against Taiga’s, and then a familiar warmth spread through Tetsuya’s body, settling under his skin.

Taiga. His bondmate.

Taiga lapped up Tetsuya’s neck, cleaning it of blood and sweat, and he whispered in a breathless admission, “Never again.”

He would never leave again.

Tears wet Tetsuya’s flushed face, and he leaned forward to take Taiga’s lips again. Again. And again. Then he went completely limp in Taiga’s lap, content and satiated, his chest resting against his mate’s. Sure, strong hands ran through his hair, down his arms, along his back. Petting. Grooming. Claiming.

They stayed that way, basking in the afterglow of their bonding, when someone cleared his throat. Tetsuya gazed over his shoulder and blinked at Shintarou, who stood at the edge of the court, fidgeting awkwardly with his eyes averted and finger-tape peeling. Tetsuya started. Shintarou always kept his tape impeccable.

“Not all of us signed the contract for the same intensions, Kuroko.”

Tetsuya narrowed his eyes and resituated on Taiga’s lap, enjoying his boyfriend’s warmth against his back. “A forced mating contract between any alpha-omega is deplorable, Midorima-kun. You should have known better.”

“Aomine and Kise, perhaps even Akashi, wish to mate with you, and you certainly cannot blame them.” He shifted, taking a step forward, though Taiga issued a snarled warning. “You offer a captivating allure – innocent, sweet…but challenging and determined. A strong mate for a strong alpha.”

Tetsuya remained silent, though Taiga’s hands and tail tightened about his waist. He’d give Shintarou patience. Perhaps Tetsuya owned him that much.

“But – Atsushi, despite his outer appearance, feared for you. You’re small, vulnerable. He feared you’d eventually run into an alpha who would take what you did not wish to give, and despite his attractions otherwise accosted, it does not mean he does not care for you.”

Tetsuya accepted what Shintarou inferred. Pack dynamics varied. One pack could have five alphas and one omega, another one alpha and two omegas. Just because Atsushi now had Tatsuya didn’t mean he didn’t love Tetsuya any less or wished to abandon his first omega.

It didn’t mean Shintarou didn’t want to protect Tetsuya, even though he wished to bond with Kazunari as well.

Pack bonds were hard to break.

Tetsuya’s ears flattened against his head, and despite Taiga’s grunt of displeasure, Tetsuya made his way to Shintarou. Hitting the older alpha in the ribs, Shintarou doubled forward with howl, but then silenced when Tetsuya rubbed his cheek against the shooting guard’s, a formal greeting between packmates.

“Thank you, Midorima-kun, for wanting to protect me.”

Shintarou blushed, flustered and stammering, until he finally managing to ask, “Why him?”

Taiga bristled and let out a seething hiss, but deflated once Tetsuya smiled back. “I have the tiger by the tail, and I’m not about to dismount.”

Cocking his head to the side, Shintarou blinked for a moment before he pursed his lips in exasperation. But he nodded nonetheless, though the spotted ears and slit eyes of a snow leopard overtook his usual stoic demeanor.

When he approached Taiga, the tiger shifter stood and glared up, not at all intimidated by the leopard’s harsh glower or increased height.

Shintarou’s claws extended. “Seirin defeated Shuutoku, so I will adhere to our contract. But if you ever hurt Kuroko – in any way – no contract will ever save you.”

Taiga’s lips lifted for a brief moment, showcasing his sharp fangs, before he hesitated. He forwent his alpha instincts and nodded once, an acceptance, an admission. If he ever harmed Tetsuya, he’d want someone to protect his precious omega.

Shintarou responded with a curt nod, then turned, scratching Tetsuya behind his ear once. Once Tetsuya panted, delighted, Shintarou allowed himself a brief, demonstrative smile, and left in a sure but slow stride.

Taiga exhaled loudly and leaned back against the court wall, freeing a tender smile. “One down, four to go.”

Tetsuya’s eyes watched Shintarou leave, back turned to Taiga, so Taiga didn’t see his contented grin. “Unless Midorima-kun beats Akashi-kun. From what Aomine-kun said, I believe the Winter Cup winner receives me. So Midorima-kun isn’t technically out of the running yet.”

Behind him, Taiga groaned and slid down the wall until his butt touched the ground. “Five to go? Still? Seriously!”

Now Tetsuya pivoted, ears flicking with excitement. “I will make it worth your while, Taiga-kun. I promise.”

Tetsuya’s tail ruffled. His ears fidgeted. His fangs showed. The mating signs of an omega ready to accept an alpha.

Taiga made a noise between a purr and whimper, and welcomed Tetsuya into his lap once more.

The End