Nathaniel gasps out his breaths as he runs. There’s a stitch in his side that’s so painful he feels nauseous. He’s been running for so long, dodging in and out of cul-de-sacs and empty neighborhoods. He has no clue where he is, just that he must keep running. It was the last thing his mom screamed at him before she…
No. He can’t think about that. He can’t remember the sight of a clawed hand puncturing her chest. Can’t let himself smell the hot metallic blood that splashed over his face. All he can focus on is the last choked scream of his mom telling him to run.
He can’t hear anyone behind him. There hasn’t been any sound of his pursuers in long enough that he can probably hide. Nathaniel is fast, has been running all his life feels like, so he knows how to get away. He might not be as strong or have as much stamina as an Alpha, but if anything about being an Omega has ever worked to his advantage, it’s his instinct for safety. His mom, a Beta, was watchful through repeated exposure to danger and abuse, but she didn’t understand the instinctual, bone-deep need to run and hide when even the faintest whiff of danger cropped up.
Nathaniel stops moving and inhales deeply. There is no scent of the Alphas that were responsible for his mom’s death, no scent of bloodlust or excitement. Just abandonment. This is clearly a neighborhood that’s been left to rot. Nathaniel picks a house with in-tact windows and heads to the back. The sliding glass door is open and he uses his sweater over his hand to shut it so his scent doesn’t linger.
The house smells of mildew and decomposing things. Nathaniel screws up his nose in disgust, but he’s learned that these sorts of smells are good for hiding. Betas are practically nose dead and Alphas don’t have nearly the same sensitivity that Omegas do. Harsh smells can cover up the stink of fear Nathaniel knows is pouring off him. He shouldn’t have run as hard as he did, but he had to get away. Had to run the way his mom told him to. He can only pray to a god he doesn’t believe in that no one would follow him this far.
His father’s men would go to the ends of the earth to find him and drag him back, but he doesn’t think the people who killed his mom were sent by Nathan. He didn’t recognize any of them, and all the times before when they were found, Nathaniel always recognized at least a few people from his father’s employ. No, these were people separate from Nathan. They had to be. But who else cared enough about a Beta and a concealed Omega to come after them? To kill his mom? Had she pissed off more people than just his father? She was always keeping secrets from him, talking to people on phones and in shady places. Had she done something to one of them?
Nathaniel finds a small storage closet under the stairs. The door is swollen shut from water damage, but he manages to force it open and shut it after him. There’s no lock on the inside, but no one should think to find him here. There are damp cardboard boxes that stink up the small cupboard, and that should be good enough to cover his scent. There’s a bare bulb with a chain attached to it, but Nathaniel knows better than to turn it on. The best thing for him to do is push himself next to the stack of moldy cardboard boxes and wait out the rest of the day before figuring out his next move.
He doesn’t have any of his stuff with him—his duffle is still at the house they were squatting in, along with his mom’s binder and their phones. It’s probably better he doesn’t have his phone. But that means all his clothes and emergency rations are gone. He’ll have to go to the next safe location his mom was going to bring them to by himself and get the money she left there. It’s the only way he can survive on his own.
A noise at the front of the house makes Nathaniel freeze. He hunches down and closes his eyes, letting his other senses pick up the slack to tell him what’s going on. It’s hard to tell over the smell of the soggy cardboard, but he picks up the faintest scent of Alpha. It makes his stomach clench.
The noise turns into the front door opening and slamming against the wall. Nathaniel flinches. Nothing good ever comes of slammed doors.
“I know I saw someone come in here,” someone says, not bothering to be quiet about it. He sounds arrogant and excited. Nathaniel can smell that excitement flooding the house. It smells sick and greedy—he doesn’t want to meet the owner of that scent. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” the person says.
Nathaniel is silent in his cupboard, but knows his heart is racing. It’s probably audible. He smells like fear and sweat and no matter how strong the cardboard is, someone might still be able to smell him.
There’s a second scent, then, anxious, but still discernibly another Alpha. “Come on, Riko. We’re needed elsewhere.” This one sounds like he’s used to being listened to, but Nathaniel can still smell his anxious brand of fear. It’s sour, maybe enough to cover up Nathaniel’s scent.
“Shut up, Day,” the first one says. “I’ve found something sweet to eat.”
Nathaniel tries not to even breathe, tries not to alert them in any way to where he is, but the door to the cupboard wrenches open and the scent of the Alphas fills up the tiny room.
“There you are,” the Alpha says with a grin.
As soon as he’s brought outside of the house, Nathaniel tries to bolt. He has to try. It’s his last bid at freedom, probably at life if they decide to deal with him the way they dealt with his mom. The Alpha called Day watches him with wide eyes but the one called Riko tackles him to the ground. He’s still grinning and the look in his eyes makes Nathaniel quiver.
“Ah, ah,” Riko says. “Don’t make me sever a tendon.” He says it so casually, like the act of extreme violence wouldn’t be more than a minor inconvenience for him. It’s the same tone of voice Lola always used when she was practicing on him with her knives.
Nathaniel lifts his chin up and tilts his head to the side, submission given by instinct alone. He knows how to appease Alphas like Riko. He’s been doing it all his life.
Riko leans down immediately and presses his nose to the junction of Nathaniel’s jaw and throat. He inhales deeply enough that Nathaniel can feel his chest expanding and pressing against his own. “Oh,” Riko says, voice gone gravelly. “Even sweeter than I thought under all that Beta stink. Did you roll around in her clothes to cover this up?”
He’s exactly right, but Nathaniel knows better than to say anything.
“You need to follow along and be good, or I won’t hesitate to pluck out those pretty eyes, understand? Omegas don’t need to see to be useful.” Riko says. He licks up Nathaniel’s throat while Nathaniel tries his hardest not to gag. How can someone who looks so close to his age be so unimpressed with the gore he’s threatening?
“I won’t run,” Nathaniel whispers. He will, as soon as he has even a hint at a chance, but Riko doesn’t have to know that.
The Alpha hums a note, licks over Nathaniel’s Adam’s apple. He seems to like whatever combination of fear and discomfort that he can taste off Nathaniel. “I don’t know if I should believe you.”
“Riko,” Day says, clearly uncomfortable. “The Master will be waiting.”
That makes Riko stop. He contemplates Nathaniel for a moment longer before getting up and hauling the Omega after him. “I suppose you’re right. Mustn’t keep Uncle waiting for very much longer. He’ll be oh-so excited with the present we’ve bought him, though.” Riko pushes Nathaniel towards a sleek, black car parked at the curb. He wonders at how he didn’t hear the vehicle pull up while he was hiding, but panic has made him stupid before. Usually, his mom would—
No, stop. Don’t think about that.
Nathaniel is pushed into the back seat and Riko climbs in next to him, Day in the driver’s seat. It gives Riko more opportunity to be unnecessarily handsy in ways that make Nathaniel’s skin crawl. The Alpha reminds him so much of Lola, of the way she stroked his hair or touched his neck when she looked at him, how she always managed to be around when he was fresh out of his baths and no one else would notice him gone. He has no clue what the Alphas wanted of him, but it couldn’t be anything good. Not after what happened to his mom.
“Where have you been hiding?” Riko muses out loud. He’s got a bleached curl wrapped around one finger that he tugs on enough to hurt. “The Beta bitch was nosing around in business that wasn’t hers. She got in the way. But you?” He leans in close, looks between Nathaniel’s eyes rapidly until a smile grows on his face. “I think you’re wearing colored contacts.” It’s a non-sequitur, or sounds like one, but Nathaniel knows better. His blood runs cold at Riko’s words.
“How old are you? What’s your name? When did you present?”
Riko’s rapid hail of questions is too much, too fast. Nathaniel doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what lies he should tell to keep his secret safe. If Riko’s people had the house they were squatting at, they would know Nathaniel’s current identity, but would Riko know it already? Know it for the lie it was? An expensive one, but one that could be figured out.
“We’re here,” Day says, breaking Nathaniel’s inner panic. Riko gives him one last lingering look before leaving the car and dragging Nathaniel after him.
The warehouse isn’t much of a surprise, not if his mom was getting into the business of people who dealt slights with death. Nor were the Alphas and Betas roaming around with automatic weapons and dark suits. They all turn to face Riko when he exits the vehicle, nodding respectfully to him and, surprisingly, Day when he stepped next to them. Nathaniel can’t help but shiver at the feel of all those eyes on him, curious and looking. He smelled more like Riko and Day than his mom’s soothing Beta scent, but they had to smell his own Omega fear under it.
Riko brings the three of them to an office at the top of a staircase. It overlooked what on a quick glance Nathaniel could tell was a process of some sort of drugs. He quickly averts his eyes, not wanting to see more than he already has. There’s an Alpha outside the office door, but he lets Riko pass without a word.
“I see you’re back from your little adventure,” the man sitting behind the desk says dryly. He looked like Riko, but older, and was clearly an Alpha from his scent. His voice was quiet, but he sounded like the sort of man who was obeyed with only one order. Nathaniel didn’t like how much he reminded him of his father. “What have you brought?”
“Something interesting,” Riko says. “The Beta had a pup with her. An Omega.”
The man’s face doesn’t change, but Nathaniel can smell the hint of interest from him. He stands and rounds the desk, coming towards them. Riko and Day step away and Nathaniel wants to as well, but he knows better. Not with three unknown Alphas trapping him in a very small room with nowhere to run.
“Your name,” the man says.
Nathaniel stays silent. He isn’t prepared for the backhand to his cheek and ends up sprawled at the man’s feet. It didn’t hurt that badly—he’s had far worse—but the surprise makes him clutch at his face.
“You will speak when spoken to,” the man tells him dispassionately. He motions at Riko. “Take off his shirt. I need to see something.”
His words make Nathaniel panic again and he immediately starts to struggle when Riko bends down to grab at him. “No!” he shouts, kicking and scratching at the Alpha. Riko curses and grabs his hands, slamming them down on the floor hard enough that Nathaniel cries out. It feels like the right one might have broken.
“Stop struggling or I’ll break them both,” Riko hisses.
The fight is drained out of Nathaniel at that and he sobs out a breath when Riko grabs the hem of his shirt and pulls it up viciously. There are so many scars on his torso, so many reminders he doesn’t want to face, doesn’t want anyone to see. He squeezes his eyes shut and cradles his hand to his chest.
“The Wesninski whelp,” the man finally says. Nathaniel’s eyes fly open and he gapes up at him, pure terror thrumming through his body. “The Butcher described these wounds, told us he and the Beta would be disguised, but this was something they couldn’t hide.” He gives Nathaniel a cold once-over, as though satisfied with his conclusion. “The Butcher will be pleased he’s been located and his debt can finally be paid.”
“Nathaniel,” Riko breathes, eyes wide and mouth curved up in glee. “This is Nathaniel Wesninski? The Omega that was supposed to come to the Castle when he presented?” He sounds almost giddy. It’s more unsettling than the older man’s cool aloofness.
“One in the same.”
Nathaniel has no clue what they’re talking about—what debt his father owed or what Castle Riko is talking about—but nothing good could come of people who knew his father, knew what he did, who Nathaniel really was.
The man looks down at Nathaniel one last time before going back to his desk. “My name is Tetsuji Moriyama. You father owed my family a debt and paid with you. You belong to me, and by extension, to my nephew. I am your Master. I will not be disobeyed. You will serve your purpose, or you will die. Is this understood?” Tetsuji sounded almost bored.
When Nathaniel didn’t answer quickly enough, Riko reaches out and grabs his hurt wrist, squeezing until Nathaniel lets out a reedy noise. “Answer him,” he growls.
“Understood,” Nathaniel whispers. He feels light-headed and ready to pass out from the agony in his wrist and the demands that have been put on his body and mind in so short a span of time.
Tetsuji waves his hand in what is a clear dismissal and doesn’t blink when Riko hauls Nathaniel up by his wrist. Nor did he seem to notice Nathaniel’s choked-off gasp and the ashen color he goes at the pain.
“He’s yours to do with as you please, Riko. Take him elsewhere.” Tetsuji went back to the laptop on his desk.
“Of course, Uncle.”
“Master,” Day murmurs.
Riko pushes and shoves him down the staircase and out of the warehouse, back to the car. When he gets in, he takes the driver’s seat and Day the passenger. Nathaniel huddles up in the back, trying not to put any pressure on his wrist but knowing nothing could be done unless it was splinted or wrapped.
“Oh, Nathaniel,” Riko says, meeting Nathaniel’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “I was right. You are a sweet treat, just for me.”
Riko drives them all in the car for a few hours away from Tetsuji. Nathaniel spends the time trying to rest and not think about his throbbing wrist. Thinking about pain never made it feel any less terrible. He watches the scenery pass outside the window and ignores Riko and Day talking to each other up front.
Well, Riko is the one who speaks the most. Day is quieter. He doesn’t smell as much like anxiety as he did before, but he still smells unhappy. Nathaniel wonders what he has to be upset about. He wasn’t the one who had his mom killed and his freedom taken in one day.
He’s been trying not to think about her, either. She wasn’t always a good mom and her lessons were usually as violent as his father’s. But she protected him, kept him safe and away from Nathan for as long as she could. Neither of them had been under any illusions about how long they would be able to survive on the run. They both figured they would die within a few years, but Nathaniel never thought his mom would go first. She was too smart for that and he was the one who was careless.
He was certainly careless enough to get caught.
They pass through wrought iron gates to an estate that looms dark and brooding on top of a hill. There are black metal ravens on top of the gate and it says Evermore on a bronze plaque next to the gate. The word sparks a feeling of recognition in Nathaniel’s memory, but he doesn’t quite know what it is. Maybe something his mom had said, when he was younger? It niggles like a loose tooth, the familiar sound of the word. He’s distracted from his thoughts by Riko’s chuckle from the front seat.
“I can’t believe we were lucky enough to find you again after so long,” he says. Nathaniel isn’t sure if Riko’s talking to him, or just musing aloud. “I was always told you would come to us eventually, but when that Beta woman stole you away, we thought you’d be gone forever. Especially after the Butcher decided to cut his losses on you.”
Nathaniel shudders at his father’s moniker being spoken again. How does Riko even know who his father is? Riko and Tetsuji both spoke of him as if he was a personal acquaintance. That can’t bode well for Nathaniel. People who know who his father is, who speak of him so casually, are never safe for Nathaniel to be around.
“We have so much missed time to make up for,” Riko continues as they pull into a circular driveway. There are more men in suits standing outside the dark, looming mansion, but they aren’t holding guns in their hands like at the warehouse. Nathaniel has no doubt they’re armed, though. Riko turns around and looks at Nathaniel with a smile that sends chills up his spine. “We’ll have to get started right away.”
Unsurprisingly, Riko doesn’t take Nathaniel to see someone about his wrist. He shows Nathaniel around what he proudly calls Castle Evermore and tells him about all the places he never expects to see him.
“You’ll have a room next to mine, of course. Day is right down the hall, so don’t think of trying to sneak out past him. There’s always security walking around, so you won’t be able to get out, but Day and I are more than enough to take you down if need be,” Riko says. He has a nonchalant air about him as he talks, like he’s used to having his commands obeyed without question. Day doesn’t say anything to contradict him, so Nathaniel figures he is.
“The Butcher promised you to us when you presented, but that Beta bitch ran away with you, right? Thought you were too good for the likes of me?” Riko turns and corners Nathaniel against the wall, looks down at him with narrowed eyes. “Is that why she ran with you? Didn’t want you to have to bend over to someone she didn’t choose for you? Surely, she didn’t think you could get away for long. Not with the Butcher after you.”
Nathaniel presses back against the wall, trying to get away from Riko and his Alpha scent and the way he’s looking at him. “I—I don’t know why we ran. She just woke me up one night and put me in the car and we’ve been running ever since.”
Riko searches his face for a long time. “Well, you won’t be running anymore. And you won’t keep this atrocious disguise on, either. No more contacts, no more ugly bleach. You’ll wash the stink of that Beta off you. I won’t have it.” He finally steps back and Nathaniel can breathe again. “I think that’s the first thing we’ll take care of. I’m tired of smelling her on you.”
They go to a room that’s darkly furnished with a huge bed in the center. Day hesitates on the threshold after Riko pushes Nathaniel towards a door on the other side of the room.
“What are you still doing here?” Riko asks, not even turning to look at Day. “Don’t you have something else to do?” Day gives Nathaniel a searching look and the smell of his anxiousness gets sharper. Riko snorts. “Fuck’s sake, Day. Get out of here. I don’t need you for this.”
Nathaniel doesn’t know what “this” is, but it probably won’t be anything good for him. He wants Day to stay, even though he doesn’t want to be stuck in another room with two alphas. Day seems more afraid to do anything than most Alphas Nathaniel has known.
“Out,” Riko snarls, finally turning to flash his teeth at Day. Day flinches and turns, leaving the doorway quickly. Riko stalks over and slams the door shut, grumbling about idiots who have no sense. Riko grabs the back of Nathaniel’s neck and pushes him to the other door, opening it and revealing a bathroom.
It’s a nice bathroom, with a huge marble sink and a shower hidden by a glass door. There’s white tile on the floor and walls with black ravens inlaid. Off to the side is a huge claw-foot tub.
“A shower would be quicker, but you seem the type to enjoy being pampered.” Riko steers Nathaniel to the tub. “Get undressed,” he says and drops his hand from the back of Nathaniel’s neck.
Nathaniel stares at the tub, then looks back at Riko. “Can…in front of you?”
Riko sneers. “You’ll have to get much more comfortable around me, Nathaniel. Might as well start now. Take your clothes off.”
There’s never been a time Nathaniel has been comfortable being naked around others. Even his mom averted her eyes when they had to change in close quarters. She didn’t like to look at the evidence of Nathan’s abuse any more than Nathaniel did. Nathaniel held physical reminders of their time under the Butcher’s rule that his mom didn’t—she was a Beta and produced a male heir the way she was supposed to. It wasn’t her fault Nathaniel was an Omega and not an Alpha the way Nathan expected. Nathan hated his “freak” son and wasn’t afraid to show it with knives and fists and once, an iron.
But Riko doesn’t leave very much room for argument. Nathaniel struggles to undress with his throbbing wrist. After a few minutes of watching him fight his clothes, Riko clicks his tongue and slaps Nathaniel’s hand away.
“I hope you’re not always this useless,” he says as he tugs Nathaniel’s shirt off and works on his jeans. “I won’t always be here to do things for you, you know.”
Nathaniel’s stomach clenches at Riko’s words. They echo things his mom used to say to him all the time, when he failed at some simple task or another she set out for him. “Sorry,” he mumbles, looking down at the tiled floor and not Riko’s scowling face.
He toes off his worn shoes when his jeans fall slack, then bends down to take off his socks one handed. He’s left in just his boxers and Riko gives him a look and reaches around to turn on the taps for the tub. There’s a stopper on a chain that he puts in the drain before moving over to a cabinet next to the sink.
“Get in,” he says brusquely.
For just a moment, Nathaniel considers keeping his boxers on when he climbs into the tub, but he doesn’t think Riko would appreciate it. He’s learned, over the years, what’s necessary to keep punishments at bay. Risking Riko’s anger when he’s already hurt and vulnerable isn’t the wisest choice. He slips his boxers off and climbs into the tub, wincing at the heat as he sinks down.
The hot water quickly relaxes his tense muscles, though. He keeps his injured wrist up and out of the water, unsure if it would be bad to expose it to heat. Nathaniel no longer thinks it’s broken—he’s broken bones before and knows how it feels when they go untreated for too long. This feels more like a bad sprain, with bruising and swelling that makes his wrist look a bit grotesque.
Riko comes back just as the water hits Nathaniel’s chest. He turns it off and drags a stool to the side of the tub to sit down on. There are a few bottles of toiletries tucked under one arm. He stares at Nathaniel where he’s huddled at the end of the tub, knees pressed to his chest and tucked under his chin.
“I remember seeing a picture of you from before the Beta took you,” Riko says suddenly. Nathaniel hates the way he says the Beta, like his mom was something dirty. “Is your hair still auburn? I’m sure your eyes are still just as blue under those contacts. You looked remarkably like your father in that picture.”
Nathaniel winces at the reminder. He hates looking so much like his father—he can see Nathan in every mirror he looks into. His mom sometimes struggled to look at him if he didn’t have his contacts in or if his hair was as close to its natural shade as she ever let it get. Riko tracks the flinch with his head cocked.
“Take out the contacts first,” he says.
It’s never been safe to not have them in unless he’s sleeping, but he’s had the contacts in all day and his eyes feel dry and irritated. It’ll be a relief to have them out, even if it means Riko can see him. He takes them out and puts them into Riko’s outstretched hand, sure he’ll never see another pair of brown contacts as long as he lives. However long that might be.
Riko shakes his hand over the floor until the contacts are gone, then reaches over to grab Nathaniel’s chin, tilting his face back and forth. “A marked improvement,” he murmurs. “We’ll have to do something about your hair later. I’m loathe to look at it any longer than I have to.” Nathaniel would point out that Riko doesn’t have to look at him at all, but his smart mouth has gotten him into trouble enough times before that he knows better than to say it. “Regardless,” Riko continues, “this should work to get that Beta stink off you.”
He picks up one of the bottles from before and uncaps it, pouring some thick body wash into his cupped palm. It doesn’t smell like any of the soaps his mom used to buy; the thick, cloying scents that would block out his natural Omega smell, or the Beta formulated washes that made him smell just like his mom. This smells like nothing, which isn’t actually a relief.
“Turn to face me, and put your legs down for fuck’s sake,” Riko says. Nathaniel does as he’s told and Riko nods. He lathers the soap between his hands and then puts them on Nathaniel’s shoulders. It’s not a touch Nathaniel is comfortable with, he doesn’t like to be touched, but he knows better than to shy back from it.
The way Riko smooths his hands down Nathaniel’s arms and over his chest reminds him too much of Lola. The way she used to follow him wherever he went, the way she always touched him when no one else was watching. She was another Alpha whose casual cruelty Nathaniel learned to fear. She didn’t take no or tears or his fear as an answer as much as she relished in them.
“It’s really too bad that others have been here before me.” Riko traces a hand over the iron burn, across the bullet hole and a few other raised scars from various knives. “I don’t like when others touch what’s mine.”
“Yours?” Nathaniel can’t help but ask. Tetsuji had something like that, too. About belonging to him, about Tetsuji being his Master.
Riko smiles and it’s not a kind expression. “You really don’t know? The reason the Beta took you and ran off?”
Nathaniel shakes his head. “She never said.”
“The Butcher works for my family, the Moriyamas. He’s our leashed killer. But he owed us a debt and when he admitted you were an Omega and not the Alpha everyone assumed you’d be, you became the repayment. Omegas are worth a lot, breeding Omegas are worth even more. You were promised to this branch of the Moriyamas, to me. That’s who you belong to. But then your bitch of a mother took you, five million dollars, and ran. Your father has been desperate to get you and the money back since then, to pay his debt to us.”
Riko cups Nathaniel’s face in his soapy hands, rubs his thumbs over his cheekbones. “I was very disappointed when you didn’t appear at my side the way you were supposed to four years ago. I had so many plans for you.” He smiles again, that same unkind slash across his face. “But now you’re here.”
Despite the hot water, Nathaniel feels cold. He’s heard people talk about Omegas like they’re nothing more than breeding stock, of course, but he’s never heard it applied to him. Maybe his father had said something about not needing a useless breeding bitch for a son when he was particularly mad at him, but nothing about selling him off to pay a debt because of his secondary gender status.
They’d known since he was 10, of course. The same time everyone else was tested for their biological gender. His father had stated for a fact Nathaniel would be an Alpha—with an Alpha father and a Beta mom who came from Alphas, it was guaranteed. But when Mary’s face became white and frightened from the printed results, Nathaniel knew it wasn’t good news. The beating that night had removed any doubts he might have had that Omegas were worth less than dirt in his father’s eyes.
Since his mom had taken him, no one had ever thought of him as anything but another Beta—his mom did her best to disguise his scent and the moment anyone looked at him twice they were gone to their next location. He’d also not had his first heat, so there was no reason for anyone to bother with him.
The look of hunger and interest on Riko’s face said he was more than willing to make up for all that lack of interest from others.
“As I said, it’s a pity someone else has marked you before I could,” Riko says absently. He stops touching Nathaniel’s face to stroke over one ropey scar that cuts across Nathaniel’s collarbone. “Maybe if you’d come straight to me instead of letting that Beta drag you across the world for no good reason.”
He says it like any of this was ever Nathaniel’s choice—his scars or his mom running with him. He doesn’t say anything though; he gets the feeling Riko isn’t actually trying to have a conversation with him. Maybe he just likes the sound of his own voice.
“No matter,” Riko continues. “We have plenty of time for fun.”
They’re interrupted by a knock on the door that makes Riko frown. “What could possibly be important enough to interrupt me?” he snarls out. Nathaniel flinches instinctively from the smell of rage that floods the bathroom.
Whoever is at the door hesitates before speaking. “The Lord is on the phone for you,” a male voice says. He sounds apologetic and Nathaniel can’t smell any other Alpha aggression, so he assumes they’re a Beta.
Riko frowns and takes his hands from Nathaniel completely. “Finish here then go to the room directly next door. There will be clothing waiting for you.” He gets up and leaves before Nathaniel can ask about his hand. It’s probably for the best.
Nathaniel takes his time in the bath, washing the suds off of his body from Riko’s roving touches and then washing his hair one-handed. It’s a struggle not to move his right hand, but he’s had more than enough practice being careful with his injuries before. There’s a towel sitting on a shelf beside the sink, so after Nathaniel unplugs the tub and lets it drain, he stands and goes to fetch it. He leaves a trail of water that he makes sure to clean up before drying off completely. He wraps the damp towel around himself and ventures into the room he assumes is Riko’s—he can’t imagine the Alpha letting Nathaniel bathe anywhere other than his own bathroom with all the talk about Nathaniel being his.
There’s a set of clothes laid on the bed that Nathaniel hesitantly picks at. Black briefs, shorts and shirt. Unsurprising with the décor of Riko’s room. Nathaniel is less than pleased at the short sleeves, but it’s warm in the manor. He has a feeling Riko wouldn’t care to hear Nathaniel’s preferences on clothing length anyway. He dresses carefully and then leaves the room.
The hallway is empty when Nathaniel steps into it, but he doesn’t feel safe from scrutiny. There’s the room directly next door that Riko ordered him to go to, and down the hall is Day’s room, but there don’t seem to be any other rooms in the hallway. He could run, he remembers the tour Riko gave him. There would be people, probably with guns, but Nathaniel has been running from people with guns for years, now. He might be able to make it back to the front door, out past the gate and back towards freedom. All he has to do—
But there’s nothing to run to, is there? His mom is dead, his father knows where he is. These people know exactly who he was. Could he escape, run by himself and keep running? Figure out how to get to his mom’s next stash and buy a new identity for himself? Or would he just be running from twice as many people as before? Would it be worth it, to run from his father and the Moriyamas? How long would he make it until he was caught again?
Nathaniel doesn’t know how long he stands there in Riko’s doorway, contemplating what he should do, before the other door down the hall opens and Day steps out. He looks startled to see Nathaniel in the hallway and he frowns, hesitating at his own door.
“You should be in your room,” he says finally. There’s disapproval in his voice, a hint of nervousness as he looks around the hallway to confirm that no one else is there. Nathaniel wonders if he can smell the subtle emotions on himself the way Nathaniel can.
There’s a snide remark on the tip of Nathaniel’s tongue, something that would probably make the Alpha’s frown deepen, but Nathaniel knows better than to let the pain in his body react for him. He bites his tongue instead and goes to the door next to Riko’s. He notices the lock on the outside that looks recently installed. It doesn’t make him feel any better about the whole situation.
Day steps away from his door, finally, and makes an aborted movement towards Nathaniel. He stops when Nathaniel flinches away. “Just…do what he says, alright? Don’t make him angry,” he says.
“He doesn’t have to be angry to hurt me,” Nathaniel says before he can stop himself. Day’s eyes flick down to the still swollen wrist that Nathaniel has been cradling against himself and the unhappy look on his face worsens.
“Go to your room, Nathaniel,” is all he says after a long pause.
Nathaniel does, but only because it looks like Day will stand there until he listens.
Riko doesn’t come back for him at all that day. Someone comes up hours after Nathaniel enters his new bedroom and brings him dinner. It’s a Beta woman who doesn’t look at him as she sets his tray down. He’s had nothing to do but sit on his bed and stare at the blank walls since he first came in, so anything new has his interest instantly.
The woman doesn’t look a thing like his mom—she’s tall and black—but she smells enough like his mom’s base Beta scent that Nathaniel can’t help but relax a bit. He’s surprised Riko let another female Beta anywhere near him, but maybe she was supposed to be some sort of comfort to Nathaniel after all the events of the day.
“My name is Thea,” the woman says. Her voice is devoid of emotion and when she looks at Nathaniel, it’s at a point over his shoulder instead of his eyes. “If you need anything, you will let me know.” She doesn’t sound a thing like the ‘help’ his father had around the house back in Baltimore. Nathaniel guesses she’s probably far more dangerous than the maids his father used to employ, judging by the bulging muscles in Thea’s arms when she shifts at his silence. “Is there anything?”
Nathaniel motions to his right wrist resting on a pillow in his lap. “I need a splint for this,” he says quietly. He’s not sure if Thea will actually do anything about it. She just said Nathaniel would let her know, not that she would take care of his needs.
Thea glances at his hand and frowns a bit. “You will eat everything on your tray,” she says instead of answering his request. “You’ll need to be in much better health.” She doesn’t say for what, but the words are still ominous enough. Thea leaves without another word and Nathaniel hears the faint click of the lock engaging.
The door wasn’t locked, before, but he doesn’t feel more trapped than when he could open it himself. He’s had hours to think about his situation, and he knows how stupid and futile it would be to run from his room into the unknown territory of the manor. Riko might have given him a tour, but that doesn’t mean Nathaniel knows where people usually are, or what doors would be locked from him. He can run when he knew more about the house and the movements of the staff within.
He’s hungry and the food on the tray smells good, but Nathaniel doesn’t actually want to eat. He can hear his mom’s voice reprimanding him for not eating when he has the opportunity, but it doesn’t feel safe to eat what’s been provided for him. If someone’s drugged it or even put poison in it, he’d never know until it was too late.
His wrist has been throbbing nonstop for hours, but the pain keeps Nathaniel awake and sharp. He’s exhausted, from the morning and from his own aches and thoughts, but the pain keeps him present. It doesn’t feel safe to sleep, either.
There’s a knock at the door that jerks him out of his own thoughts. Nathaniel frowns and looks at it, wondering if the person on the other side really is waiting on him to say something, or if they’re just being courteous. Before he can decide on what to do, the person enters the room.
It’s only slightly a surprise when it turns out to be Day.
“Nathaniel,” he says softly. He glances over his shoulder and then comes into the room, keeping the door slightly cracked open after himself. “Thea said no one had come to see about your hand.” He sounds awkward and unsure, but there’s a medical pack in his hands that Nathaniel is keener on than whatever Day has to say to him.
Day takes a look around the room, noting the distinct lack of anything other than a small bed and a dresser filled with clothing that Nathaniel has already rifled through. He makes a face at the uneaten tray of food, but doesn’t say anything about it as he comes to sit next to Nathaniel on the bed and holds out a hand.
“Jean is much better at this than I am, but he’s…unavailable,” Day says as he turns Nathaniel’s hand this way and that to look at the bruised and swollen skin. Nathaniel doesn’t remind Day that he has no clue who Jean is, let alone care that he’s apparently busy. “Riko doesn’t…he doesn’t mean to do things like this. His temper just gets the better of him, sometimes.” Day opens the med kit and brings out a roll of ace bandages. “This should be fine, I don’t think it’s bruised too badly.”
“Nice to know you’re a medical professional,” Nathaniel says before he can stop himself. He bites his lip quickly, but it’s already out and he’s preparing himself to be hit.
Day huffs out what sounds like it could be a laugh and continues to wrap Nathaniel’s wrist. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble if you talk like that to him,” he says softly. When Nathaniel’s wrist is completely wrapped, tight and stiff to keep him from moving it, he holds onto Nathaniel’s hand and looks at him. His expression is earnest and Nathaniel isn’t used to seeing that on Alphas. “I’m not your enemy here,” he says. “I know you didn’t…choose…to be with us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think of me as a friend.”
Nathaniel takes his hand back and doesn’t miss the hurt look that flashes across Day’s face. “I don’t even know who you are. You helped some psycho kidnap me and lock me up in this weird house where I don’t even know what’s going to happen to me, and I can’t leave. Why would I be your friend?”
The concept of friendship is an unknown one to Nathaniel—even if he was inclined to be friendly towards Day, he’s never had friends. His mom told him friendship was a weakness to be exploited. There was no need in Nathaniel’s life for friends or lovers, not when they had to constantly be on the run in order to be safe. There was no time for anything other than each other and keeping ahead of his father.
Day looks a little hurt, but he doesn’t lash out at Nathaniel. “I get that, I really do. But you need someone here who cares about your wellbeing. You can’t isolate yourself from people trying to reach out to you.” Nathaniel continues to give him a blank look and Day shakes his head. “You don’t trust me, I get that.” He looks back at the door that’s still cracked just a bit. “You don’t have to, not right now. I hope you do, but I won’t push.” He looks back at Nathaniel and smiles. It looks crooked on his face, like he doesn’t do it very often, and it makes him look younger. “I have to go, but I’ll try to stop in on you, see how you’re doing, as much as I can, alright?”
“You’re free to do what you want,” Nathaniel says with no little bitterness.
Day’s smile wavers the slightest bit. He gets up and goes to the door but hesitates before he leaves completely. “My name’s Kevin, by the way,” he says carefully. “See you, Nathaniel.”
He leaves and Nathaniel hears the sound of the lock clicking after him.
Nathaniel spends the next few days locked in his new room with absolutely nothing to do. Thea comes in and brings him food and takes his dirty clothes away. She never has anything to say to him unless he asks for something, and even then, she usually just gives him a look and doesn’t confirm anything. He can’t tell if the Beta dislikes him or is just surly by nature.
Two days after Riko picked him up, a Beta male comes for him and brings him to a bigger bathroom on the first floor. There’s a chair waiting for Nathaniel and an array of hair products and dyes on the counter. Nathaniel is used to the procedure of dyeing his hair, but not to people other than him or his mom doing it.
He’s not used to the way the Beta carefully puts the dye through his hair, either. His mom usually just pulled a comb through his hair until everything looked covered and then shoved his head under the sink faucet. The Beta takes his time making sure everything is right before he finally washes the dye out of Nathaniel’s hair. Then he picks up scissors and cuts the raggedy mop Nathaniel had been sporting for the past few months.
When the Beta holds up a mirror for Nathaniel to look at himself in, he flinches back automatically. His hair is back to his natural shade, and the cut puts his bright blue eyes on display. If not for the darker color of his skin thanks to his mom, it would be just like looking at his father. The similarities are too much, as it is.
He goes back to his room and is thankful for the isolation and lack of mirrors to look at himself in. He doesn’t want other people to look at him and see his father’s features. He’s slight and short like his mom’s family, but he still looks too much like Nathan to bear looking.
The days are long and boring without anything to do, but Nathaniel knows how much worse they could be. He has a lot of time to remember his father’s house in Baltimore; the mini-mansion that looked like it came straight from a magazine on the outside, but had layers of rot underneath. His new bedroom is dark and it reminds Nathaniel of how black the basement always was. With nothing to do but lie in bed and remember, Nathaniel thinks of Nathan’s dark furies and Lola’s manic grins whenever Nathaniel fucked up enough to deserve punishment. It didn’t ever take very much—Nathan had a short temper and the very slightest thing would set him off. Nathaniel was just the easiest target to take it out on when at the house.
Nathaniel wonders if it will be the same here, but so far no one has come to him with any ill-intent. Other than the first day, Riko hasn’t even made an appearance. The wrap comes off of Nathaniel’s wrist, and although it’s sore and still bruised, it’s functional and won’t need too much longer to heal.
He’s contemplating whether he should do wrist exercises when Kevin comes into his bedroom. It’s unusual for him to come any time other than at night, when the house has quieted down. He looks nervous, which isn’t actually that unusual, now that Nathaniel has had to get to know the Alpha better.
Kevin sits down on the bed and wrings his hands together. It’s a nervous habit Nathaniel has noticed him doing, and it always makes him look like a rodent washing its hands. Nathaniel would point that out, but Kevin doesn’t seem to be in the laughing mood at the moment.
“Riko’s coming back tonight,” Kevin blurts out. His eyes dart to the slightly-open door and then back to Nathaniel. “He’s been away on business, but he’ll be back. He’s expecting you to be ready for him.”
The words sent chills down Nathaniel’s spine. “Ready how?”
Kevin looks over at the door again. “Riko has expectations for you, you know that right?”
“What sort?” He knows the answer to that, of course, but he doesn’t want to think it.
“You know,” Kevin repeats. “He talked to you about your place here, didn’t he? That’s what he said when we discussed it.” He sounds slightly annoyed, but Nathaniel knows now that’s how he always sounds when he has to repeat things he thinks someone should already know. He’s not actually mad at Nathaniel.
“Don’t call him that, not while he’s here. He won’t like that.”
“Okay. He asked about my presentation once, but I wasn’t able to tell him I haven’t had my first heat yet.”
Kevin looks pained at this admission. “You what? God above.”
Nathaniel glances away, weirdly ashamed. “Mom said it was normal, because of the way we lived and the suppressants—”
Kevin suddenly reaches out and grasps Nathaniel’s chin, ignoring his flinch. “Have you told anyone else about that?” Nathaniel shakes his head and Kevin’s shoulders drop. “Maybe I can get—”
“Kevin. How good to see you, here in Nathaniel’s room.” Riko is leaning casually against the doorframe of the room, but he looks anything but. There’s suspicion written in every line of his face and Nathaniel gulps.
Kevin flinches away from Nathaniel, hand dropping to his side. “Riko,” he says quickly. “I was checking on the progress of Nathaniel’s health. I’m told the nutrition plan we have him on is designed to make up for his poor childhood.”
Nathaniel can smell the faintest scent of fear from Kevin as well as the dwindling anger from Riko. It seems the excuse worked.
Riko uncrosses his arms and comes into the room proper. He shoots Kevin a look that has the Alpha hurrying to the door to take his place. “I don’t remember asking you to check on that. I’m updated on Nathaniel’s progress frequently.”
That doesn’t make Nathaniel feel secure, but it does confirm his suspicions about being remotely monitored. It’s good he didn’t try to escape after all. The thought of Riko watching his every move, even when he isn’t in Castle Evermore, is chilling.
“But I guess it’s good to know you have a vested interest in Nathaniel’s health,” Riko continues. He reaches out and cradles Nathaniel’s left cheek, rubs his thumb over the bone while Nathaniel tries not to physically recoil. “He’s so important to my plans and it’ll be your job to watch him when he’s with pup.”
Nathaniel shoots Kevin a look and isn’t surprised to see the brief flash of horror written on the Alpha’s face. It’s wiped away quickly but he needn’t have bothered since Riko only has eyes for Nathaniel.
“With pup?” Nathaniel ventures to ask.
Riko smiles and taps Nathaniel’s cheek. “As soon as the doctors approve. It’s important to start building my legacy now. You’ll be even more intoxicating full up from me. Aren’t you happy you’ll be fulfilling your purpose?”
Nathaniel must hesitate for too long because Riko’s smile disappears. He slides his fingers up into Nathaniel’s hair and grips it tight enough to sting.
“You were kept alive for one reason, and one reason alone, Nathaniel,” Riko says. His voice is ice cold and pitched low. “Your whole existence is to further my line. To give me the prestige due. Once you’re with child, father will have to—”
Riko cuts himself off from whatever thread he was going down. He shoots Kevin another look that has him scurrying from the room, door quickly pulled shut behind him.
“There’s no reason you need to know about that. You were born for me, to do whatever I wish, and that’s all that should matter to you. You want to please me, don’t you Nathaniel? You want to make me happy?”
The look on Riko’s face is hard for Nathaniel to figure out. His father never looked at Nathaniel like that—with need and what could be desperation. His mom certainly never looked at Nathaniel as if he held the answers to some infinite problem she was trying to solve. No one has ever looked at him as anything more than a burden at best or a waste of space at worst. But there’s something else in Riko’s expression that makes Nathaniel’s stomach twist sickly.
“Yes,” he says quickly, watching as the smile spreads across Riko’s face again. “I want to make you happy.”
He has a feeling that’s the only way he’ll be able to survive.
It starts simply, at first. Riko brings Nathaniel to his room and they share meals together, Riko talking about his day and his schedule and whatever else happens to catch his interest. Nathaniel would think it’s some weird form of courting, but Riko doesn’t seem to care if Nathaniel talks. Seems to prefer otherwise, in fact. Riko spends the time he’s not talking about himself feeding Nathaniel off his own plate and watching with satisfaction when Nathaniel doesn’t try to object.
He likes feeding Nathaniel sweets, brings them by his room throughout the day and stares at the way Nathaniel eats them. Nathaniel doesn’t have the courage to tell him he doesn’t like sweets, that they make him want to gag with their cloying flavor. He doesn’t think Riko would care for his preferences.
Riko moves on to more physical things, quickly enough. He likes to watch Nathaniel take a bath, helping him wash his hair or clean his back. He smiles indulgently at Nathaniel when he says he’s fine with showers.
“Maybe when you were with that woman,” Riko says, running his fingers through Nathaniel’s curls, ostensibly to shampoo them, but Nathaniel knows Riko likes touching his hair. “But my guess is you were far more used to being pampered at home, weren’t you? I’ve been to the Butcher’s house in Baltimore. Very extravagant. You had free reign of the whole thing, didn’t you?”
Nathaniel doesn’t disabuse him of the notion. He never had free anything in his father’s house. If Nathan wasn’t in one of his black moods, he had either business associates over or the mostly legitimate elite of Baltimore that he wanted to impress. There was no room for Nathaniel. If he disrupted his father’s plans in any way, he was punished. Even his mom couldn’t do more than convince Nathan it was better to have Nathaniel stay in her rooms, to keep him out of trouble.
His father had never raised a hand to his mom, not that Nathaniel ever remembers seeing. He always thought it was because of the Hatford family—Nathan wouldn’t want to risk angering them and bringing down their wrath. But Nathaniel didn’t belong to them; he belonged to Nathan. No one could truly keep him safe from his father. He suspected the Hatfords didn’t want the stress of an Omega to deal with, which is why they kept their distance after he was tested and after his mom took him and ran.
He’d always wondered why she hadn’t just run back to her family and taken him with her, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t want him. It wasn’t legal to outright own Omegas anymore, but their legal status was still tricky and usually defaulted to the Alpha mate or parent. Nathan would have been within his rights to demand the British government turn Nathaniel over to him and the Hatfords wouldn’t have wanted to deal with that headache, he’s sure.
If his mom had left him to Nathan and gone back to England, she would have been safe, Nathaniel knows. His father would have been furious over Mary leaving, but he would have still had Nathaniel, and he could always find another wife. Lola probably would have offered herself at the first opportunity. If Nathaniel was already promised away, then Nathan would have been fine with just keeping his useless Omega son while his wife went back home.
Instead, she took Nathaniel after he was tested and a not inconsiderate amount of money, and they both ran. Not that it did any of them any good, clearly. Maybe it really would have been better if Nathaniel had just gone to Riko the way he was supposed to in the first place. He wasn’t so bad, even if he tended towards a little creepy and didn’t like keeping his hands to himself. Nathaniel had dealt with both those things his whole life.
Of course, things could never quite stay the way Nathaniel hoped.
“Move up,” Riko says, pushing at Nathaniel’s back when he’s in the tub again one day. Nathaniel moves to the middle of the tub and watches Riko curiously. It’s a departure from their regular interaction and deviations always tend to make Nathaniel nervous. He got his paranoia from his mom after all, but paranoia kept them safe right up until the moment it didn’t.
Riko strips his own clothes off and Nathaniel looks away quickly. His stomach feels queasy again and he thinks back to the few times he showed interest in either of the different genders. He can almost feel his mom’s fingers wrenching out his hair, nails leaving scratches like claw marks on his arms and back. The way she would shake him until he felt dizzy enough to throw up. The revulsion she created in him at even the thought of physical intimacy, let alone emotional.
Not that Riko picks up on any of Nathaniel’s turmoil. He’s been told before that Alphas are nose dead to emotions and Nathaniel believes it. Unless Riko just enjoys the sour stench of terror, he must be nose dead.
The water sloshes against the sides of the tub when Riko slides in behind Nathaniel. It goes up from his midsection to his chest and Nathaniel tries to concentrate on the lick of warm water against his cold skin to keep from thinking about why Riko is suddenly sharing his bath.
“Come on,” Riko murmurs. He wraps his arms around Nathaniel’s stomach and pulls him closer until Nathaniel is pressed between his legs, back against his firm chest. “That’s not so bad, is it?” Riko’s breath against his neck makes Nathaniel shiver. He pulls his legs in closer, but Riko still has his arms wrapped around his stomach. The touch makes Nathaniel’s skin crawl.
“You’re reluctant to touch me, which is understandable. That woman took you away during prime contact years. You should have gotten used to me and come to want me ages ago. As soon as you were tested and negotiations for you were completed, you were supposed to be by my side. None of this hesitance would exist.” Riko slides one hand up Nathaniel’s chest to encircle his throat while he leans down and noses at the back of Nathaniel’s neck. “We just have to get you accustomed to me, that’s all,” he says.
Nathaniel doesn’t think he could ever become used to someone like Riko touching him. Not after his mom’s violent instruction and Riko’s terrifying implications. He doesn’t want to become used to it. Complacency leads to death, that’s what his mom always taught him. He had to keep running or he would die, and getting used to something like this would surely kill him.
His head feels so jumbled and confused. Thoughts of whether he should just let Riko have what he wants warring with his mom’s harsh warnings and lessons. His own desires to be free and not have to worry about the monsters in his life. The hot water and the panic from having someone so close is making him dizzy and boneless.
Riko chuckles and picks up Nathaniel’s hands. He lays them on his own thighs, bracketing Nathaniel’s hips. They’re firm and muscular, harrier than Nathaniel’s, but that’s not much of a surprise. Nathaniel has always taken after the stereotypical Omega characteristics; he was whip-thin while on the run with his mom, but he’s gotten heavier since coming to live with Riko. He can already see where that extra weight will curve out his figure. Riko is only a handful of inches taller than Nathaniel, but it’s clear he’s built like an Alpha. Everywhere he’s pressed against Nathaniel feels solid. Nathaniel doesn’t doubt Riko spends a lot of his time working out as well, since Kevin always seems to spend his time between the gym and the library while he works his way through some history degree or another.
“You’ll come to enjoy me,” Riko says confidently. He’s still got his mouth pressed against the top knob of Nathaniel’s spine and it makes Nathaniel shiver. “Just like you’ll come to accept your place in life.”
Nathaniel closes his eyes.
The newest change to Nathaniel’s life are the school lessons with Kevin during the daytime. Riko makes some offhanded remark about Kevin being better than other tutors before shoving him into the library and wandering off. Nathaniel looks at Kevin sat at a desk and waiting for him. With a sigh, he takes the seat next to the Alpha.
Their lessons are interesting most of the time. Kevin has a tendency to ramble and go off-topic if Nathaniel doesn’t reel him in. He’s not great at math which is fine since Nathaniel is objectively good at it. He does have a talent with languages which surprises Nathaniel though.
Kevin’s Japanese is proficient, obviously, but his French is too, and that interests Nathaniel far more. Riko hasn’t made any mention that he wants Nathaniel to learn Japanese, but he hasn’t asked about other languages Nathaniel might speak, either. Hasn’t forbidden him speaking in anything other than English, possibly because he doesn’t think Nathaniel can.
Europe was the first place his mom took him after they escaped, though, and Nathaniel speaks like a native. French, through Canada as well, later, and Germany from his time in Austria and Germany and Switzerland. His Spanish is lacking, but he can communicate in several other languages passably.
He asks Kevin what the date is in French and has to hide his smile at the way Kevin flounders and drops the book he was reading from. Kevin’s eyes dart around the room like he’s making sure no one else is there, which is stupid. Nathaniel knows no one is around and Kevin should be able to smell that easily enough. But Kevin is a twitchy Alpha, one not at all confident in his own strength.
“You can’t let Riko hear that,” Kevin hisses in English.
Nathaniel rolls his eyes and continues speaking French. “Why not? He speaks in Japanese all the time around me. What does it matter what I speak?”
“He doesn’t like things he doesn’t understand. He nearly beat Jean to death for it once.” Kevin is prone to overreaction and exaggeration, but Nathaniel doesn’t think he’s actually being figurative.
He’s met the French Beta once when he came to bring Nathaniel’s meal instead of Thea. Taller and darker and infinitely more afraid. He looks the way Nathaniel is sure he always did in his father’s house; wary and cautious and just waiting for the next blow. He’s surprised Riko put that expression there, but maybe he shouldn’t be. Riko’s the reason for Kevin’s fear, too.
“Why do you have those tattoos?” Nathaniel asks when he’s supposed to be working on a math packet. He’s not sure if the Master has enrolled him in a high school program or if his identity is still as dead as it was when they ran from his father.
Kevin splutters the way Nathaniel knew he would, but dutifully answers in French. Nathaniel has been pushing and pestering him to since he figured out Kevin could speak it and Kevin has finally relented to it.
“Riko’s hierarchy,” Kevin says slowly. “He’s number one and I’m his brother, so I’m his number two.”
Nathaniel has never gotten a satisfactory answer about the brother thing, or why Kevin still thinks of Riko as anything other than his jailor. He’s just as trapped in this castle as Nathaniel is.
“Do you think he’ll make me three?” he asks, reaching up to touch the skin under his left eye. Riko has a habit of rubbing there with his thumb whenever the fancy strikes him. Maybe he’s imagining the number he’ll put there?
“I don’t think so. You’re not really third in his eye, are you?” Kevin hesitates and looks around the library, even though he knows no one is there. Nathaniel wouldn’t have spoken up if someone was. He knows that by now. “You’re very important to Riko. You know that, right?”
Nathaniel shrugs and looks away. What he is to Riko makes him very uncomfortable to think about, so he tries not to most days.
Kevin continues on like he doesn’t recognize Nathaniel’s discomfort. He’s good at that. “You’re probably the most important person in Riko’s life. I don’t know if he would ever say that to you, but I can’t think it’s anything other than true. I’m sure he’ll come to love you very soon. He’s always wanted someone to love.”
That’s the one thing about Kevin that Nathaniel really hates—he keeps trying to humanize Riko even though they both know what he’s really like. It’s like he thinks all the bad things Riko does aren’t really who he is; that he’ll go back to being the boy Kevin used to know some day. Nathaniel doubts it. Riko doesn’t seem in conflict with who he is.
There’s nothing Nathaniel could say to convince Kevin otherwise. He knows it would be futile to try.
“Ah, on that note,” Kevin starts, sounding more awkward than usual, if that’s at all possible. “You said you were on suppressants, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Nathaniel says, heart beating wildly. He still hasn’t had his first heat, but he knows he’s been here long enough that Riko will start to wonder soon.
Kevin studiously keeps his eyes on the page he’s reading. “I can’t get you suppressants, that’s too risky. But we can get you contraceptives. I assume you aren’t ready to start a family yet?” There’s a dull flush to Kevin’s tan skin showing his obvious discomfort.
Nathaniel wraps an arm around his stomach and has to swallow against the feeling of too much saliva in his mouth that usually triggers his gag reflex. “I’m only fourteen,” he says dully. “And I don’t ever want to have kids.” He, of anyone, knows how kids can be used against their parents.
“Fuck,” Kevin spits out, turning to look at him suddenly. “Fourteen? You’re lying, right?”
“I turn fifteen in a few weeks,” Nathaniel says mulishly. He’d been taken in November and it’s not like he’s forbidden from knowing how much time has passed.
Kevin covers his face with his hands. “Oh my god,” he says. He sounds slightly hysterical and Nathaniel edges away subtly. “Fifteen in a few weeks, oh fuck.”
“Well how old are you?” Nathaniel can’t help but snap. He hates when people bring up his age, like it makes any difference to his lived experiences. He’s older than most people with what he’s had to go through. Kevin can fuck off with his dramatics.
“I’ll be eighteen next month,” Kevin says, face still buried in his hands so it comes out muffled. “Riko is the same age.” He pauses and then lifts his face from his hands. He looks horrified. “Oh my god, he’s got a child bride. The way he talks about you and you’re—” He turns to Nathaniel. “Does he know? That you’re still a kid?”
Nathaniel refrains from saying I’m not a child, even though he wants to. He has a feeling it wouldn’t make Kevin any happier. “He knows my father,” he says instead. “He knows I was supposed to be here five years ago when I was tested.” He doesn’t have to explain any further, thankfully.
It’s hard to imagine himself knowing at ten he would be paired with someone he’d never met before in his life. He’d known, sort of, that he’d probably end up in a political pair, like his mom and father had been, but there was no real reality of it happening when he was that young. To think there was someone out there who knew exactly what would happen when he was thirteen is slightly unsettling. Riko’s been thinking about him, imagining him and what he’ll be for five years. Nathaniel doesn’t know if that kind of obsession could ever breed love.
Kevin pinches the bridge of his nose and Nathaniel wonders if this will be the thing that changes his mind about Riko. He somehow doubts it. “I’ll get a contraceptive as soon as I can. He’s going to be impatient about your heat soon, and there’s nothing I can do about that, but I can make sure nothing…else…happens, until you’re ready.” He can’t even say get pregnant. Nathaniel knows Kevin is a coward, but even this seems like too much.
“I won’t ever be ready,” he says stubbornly. There will never come a time where he wants to be pregnant, to have kids. He doesn’t want someone to knot him and claim him and do what they want with his body. He can only hope that his heats never come, if that’s the case. He’ll deny that to Riko, even if he has to give everything else up.
Kevin’s pained silence tells him how much he thinks Nathaniel’s opinions matter.
Unsurprisingly, Riko’s patience does not last very long.
He throws Nathaniel onto the bed in his room, pressing him into the sheets while Nathaniel tries his hardest not to struggle. Riko’s hands are tight enough to bruise as he holds Nathaniel down. He’s got his nose in the junction between Nathaniel’s neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply like he’ll be able to discern Nathaniel’s secrets.
“There was no scent of heat at that nasty hideout you were in, and I know you’ve been here long enough that you should be onto a new cycle. So why haven’t you gone into heat yet? What’s stopping you?” He presses his body flush against Nathaniel’s on the bed.
“I—I don’t know.” Nathaniel’s heart is rabbiting in his chest, so fast it hurts. He’s trying everything he can not to think about the bulge he can feel against his thigh.
“You’re lying,” Riko snarls. He tips Nathaniel’s chin up so he can see the furious pulse pounding at his throat. “Tell me now.”
Nathaniel yelps at the none-too-gentle press of teeth against his throat. “I haven’t presented!” he shouts, unable to stop himself.
Riko goes still on top of him. After a few moments where all Nathaniel can hear is the ragged sound of his own panting breaths, he pulls back. His expression is confused, gaze searching. “But you’re an Omega. Presentation coincides with adolescence for Omegas.”
The clear bewilderment in his voice would usually make Nathaniel laugh, but nothing about this situation is funny. “Mom said it was normal. Delayed presentation because of environmental factors.” His voice is shaky and he can’t make it stop.
Dark fury fills Riko’s face and scent again, but this time Nathaniel knows it’s not directed at him. “If she wasn’t already dead, I’d rip that bitch apart with my claws,” he says. Nathaniel doesn’t let himself wince. “You’re not lying?” he asks. “You’ve never had a heat before?”
Nathaniel knows his face is red but he can’t think of any use for being embarrassed. Riko has already seen him in far more compromising situations. Asking about his presentation can’t be any worse than that. Somehow it is. He shakes his head.
If pressed, Nathaniel would say that the look on Riko’s face at that revelation is something akin to delight. His pleased, aroused scent fills the room and Nathaniel shivers at how potent it is. How overwhelming. His own terror smells like the tiniest off-note in a bouquet of happiness.
“That,” Riko says, leaning back down to press kisses over Nathaniel’s jaw, “is something we can fix.”
Riko is called away on business before he can do any of the ‘fixing’ he was talking about. It’s a small amount of relief to Nathaniel, but he’ll take anything he can at this point. Just the thought of what Riko is going to do sets his stomach churning with nausea and he finds it hard to get out of bed. Thea has little patience for what she calls his hysterics, so Kevin spends more time with Nathaniel than usual.
He’s sympathetic, of course, but there’s nothing he can do to stop whatever it is Riko is going to do. He says he has no clue what it’ll be, either, but somehow Nathaniel doesn’t believe him. Probably it’s the way Kevin can’t bring himself to look Nathaniel in the eye, or the slight sour smell of guilt he carries around him now.
Either way, Nathaniel is dreading whatever Riko’s come up with.
“I don’t want to present,” he says to Kevin while his back is turned. Nathaniel is wrapped around a pillow in bed, unwilling or unable to come out of his room. “I don’t want to lose control like that.” He’s never had a heat, but he knows what it entails. His mom might’ve been pleased he hadn’t presented, but that didn’t stop her from telling him every excruciating detail of what was in store for him.
Kevin makes a sympathetic noise and runs his hand over Nathaniel’s back. It would be soothing if Kevin had a soothing bone in his entire body. As it is it just feels awkward and forced. “I’m sorry, Nathaniel. I know it doesn’t seem it now, but things will be okay. Alphas aren’t the brutes popular fiction depicts us as. Riko will take care of you.”
It’s a hollow promise. Kevin knows just as well as Nathaniel that Riko isn’t gentle; he likes causing pain and terror. He likes winning. There’s nothing to say his treatment of Nathaniel during such a vulnerable time will be anything less than brutal.
Nathaniel pulls his comforter up above his head until Kevin gets the hint and leaves.
“My name is Smith and I’ll be your endocrinologist while we figure out what’s gone wrong with you.”
The doctor is tall with brown hair and brown eyes and obviously an Alpha from his scent. He doesn’t look at Nathaniel when he speaks but at Riko. It’s like Nathaniel isn’t even in the room.
His Beta nurse smiles at Nathaniel, though, when she walks him through taking a blood sample. She’s got kind eyes and she telegraphs every movement she’s going to make towards him before she does it. She’s enough to bring Nathaniel’s terror to heel and help him breathe normally again.
Riko and Dr. Smith are discussing possible causes for his delayed presentation. Well, Smith is listing reasons and Riko is listening carefully. Nathaniel tries not to pay attention to them and phrases like hormone imbalance or immunosuppression or chromosomal irregularity. They’re too scary to listen to.
The best-case scenario for Nathaniel is that he’s barren, can’t have heats or children. But he knows that if that’s true, Riko will have no use for him. He’ll be as good as dead. The Butcher of Baltimore didn’t abide by useless things, and nothing Nathaniel has learned about Riko makes him seem like he’s any more inclined to tolerate them.
“It’s probably just stress,” the nurse says softly while she puts a band aid over the draw site. “Nine times of ten it’s stress, but you know how Alphas are. Always going on about worst-case scenarios.” She smiles at Nathaniel and brushes the curls back from his forehead in a gesture that feels foreign. Possibly she’s going for momly, but it’s not something Nathaniel’s mom has ever done for him that he remembers. “I’m Abby, it’s good to meet you, Nathaniel.”
Nathaniel wonders how much Riko is paying Dr. Smith and nurse Abby to come out to Castle Evermore to take a look at him and figure out what’s wrong. He knows there are Moriyama physicians, but endocrinology is a specialty. What will Riko do if it turns out Nathaniel is barren and he’s wasted all this money on nothing?
“Oh dear,” Abby says when the thermometer she’s put under his tongue has beeped and she’s taken a look at the results. “You’re running a slight fever, you poor thing. Well, that’s always a good thing when looking at heat cycles. Fevers are the first sign. Of course, you know that,” she says with a smile.
He hadn’t known that, or maybe his panic had made him forget. It wasn’t like he admitted to feeling bad or sick when he was with his mom. They didn’t have time for that, and she usually made him feel worse by the time she was done convincing him he was fine enough to go on.
Smith orders Nathaniel into a hospital gown, oblivious or uncaring of Nathaniel’s discomfort over undressing in front of other people. Smith doesn’t acknowledge Nathaniel’s extensive scarring, but Abby’s eyes go very wide and she slants the quickest of looks at Riko sitting in the corner of the room going through his phone. When she looks back at Nathaniel, he subtly shakes his head, trying to tell her Riko didn’t have a hand in any of it. He’s not sure if she believes him by the careful way her face goes blank.
Omegas might not technically be personal property anymore, but there’s still not much protecting them legally from whatever their Alpha wants to do to them. Domestic violence doesn’t exist when one partner is unable to go against whatever the other wants. Proving Riko harmed Nathaniel—or really, any Alpha at all—would be next to impossible. The only time actions would be taken to protect an Omega would be if the Omega was pregnant, or if the perpetrator was someone other than their bonded Alpha.
Nathaniel thinks about anything other than being an Omega, especially a pregnant one, as Smith examines him. He doesn’t have much experience with doctors other than the back alley ones his mom had to take him to the very few times he absolutely had to have medical attention. This somehow feels more humiliating with the uncaring way Smith looks at him and the way Riko is still in the room acting as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. At least Abby looks sympathetic at Nathaniel’s side.
“We’ll have the bloodwork results back in a few days,” Smith tells Riko once he’s done with the physical examination. “That will tell us which direction to move in much better than just looking at the boy. He seems completely average on the outside, but the results will reveal any abnormalities we’d need to look at for further testing. Until then.” He’s brisk with his handshake for Riko and the way he leaves the room, not once speaking to Nathaniel.
Abby helps Nathaniel back into his clothes, even though he doesn’t need it. Riko watches for a moment before leaving, phone already pressed to his ear. Obviously, the Beta doesn’t worry him, even though Riko seems to have huge contempt for most Betas, women especially.
“Don’t worry, dear,” Abby says absentmindedly, buttoning the last button on Nathaniel’s shirt and then patting him on the shoulder. “Everything will be alright, I’m sure of it.” She pulls Nathaniel in for a hug which he immediately tries to pull away from. “Birth control, from deux,” she whispers into his ear, stilling his motions. She slides something into his back pocket and then pulls away, smiling at him fondly. “Chin up, Nathaniel.” She looks like any other oblivious middle-aged woman as she smiles at him.
She’s the we Kevin mentioned, before, or part of it. Nathaniel hadn’t paid any attention to the pronoun, thought Kevin was just far too into himself like always. To think he has something like connections to the outside world, and the courage to defy Riko, is unbelievable. If Nathaniel didn’t have the proof in his pocket, he wouldn’t believe it.
Riko is waiting for him when he leaves the room, an impatient tilt to the line of his shoulders. He looks Nathaniel over and then draws his lip back. “You smell like Beta,” he grumbles, pulling Nathaniel in and wrapping his arms around him. The hug is far less comforting than the one offered by Abby, but Nathaniel doesn’t let himself even think about trying to pull away. “We’ll have to burn these clothes to get the stink off.”
As long as Nathaniel gets the pills Abby put for him in his pocket first, he doesn’t care what Riko does with his clothes.
The next few days, Riko is obviously impatient for results, but he’s surprisingly gentle with Nathaniel. They bathe together, which has become something almost normal for him, and Riko has taken to pulling Nathaniel into his bed at night so he can sleep wrapped around the Omega, but nothing untoward ever happens. He might be waiting to know whether or not Nathaniel will be of any use to him
Nathaniel’s been taking the birth control given to him by Abby. It’s hidden in a hollowed-out hole he made in one of the slats under his mattress with a knife Kevin conveniently misplaced during one of their lessons together. He got it back the same way once Nathaniel was done with it.
There’s a real feeling of relief at knowing no matter what the outcome of the results, Nathaniel won’t be getting pregnant anytime soon. Not as long as he can help it, anyway.
Riko takes him to the same office he was in before. Smith and Abby are waiting for them. Smith looks incredibly bored, but Abby looks uncomfortable and that clues Nathaniel in to the fact that he’s not going to like what Smith has to say.
“There’s nothing wrong with the Omega,” Smith tells Riko with no preamble. “Due to childhood malnutrition and stress, his development was delayed. With proper nutrition, a stable environment and care, his heats will start within the year.”
That sounds like what Nathaniel expected, but his anxiety doesn’t abate. He has a feeling Smith isn’t done.
“That’s it?” Riko asks. “I just have to wait? There’s nothing that can be done?”
Smith’s gaze slides over to a case on the desk Nathaniel hadn’t noticed before. “I didn’t say that. Heats can be artificially created or stimulated, with the right cocktail of drugs.”
“It’s not recommended,” Abby says quickly even though Smith narrows his eyes at her. “The body knows what’s best for itself. Waiting and letting Nathaniel’s natural heat catch up with his health is the best for him.”
Riko looks between the two before dismissing Abby with a wave. “You can make him have a heat? How soon?”
Smith smiles. It’s not an especially nice smile. “As soon as you’d like.”