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How The World Turns

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Lee Taeyong is born to a Beta mother with a tired smile and a distant Alpha father with cold eyes.

In a family that follows the social caste system sedulously, Taeyong is named an Omega on his third day of life and his father storms out angrily, demanding a retest and then bitterly admitting defeat when the blood test concludes that yes, the supposed heir to his company is not only an Omega, but a male Omega.

Taeyong grows up in a big lonely house, filled with dark corners and shadowy rooms he’s not allowed into. For the most part, his parents let him be, leaving the maid to raise their son while they do business.

Taeyong grows, but so does the company, and there’s an infinite number of things for them to do, so Taeyong is left to his own devices for most of his childhood, entertaining himself by struggling through the books in the dusty library and roaming the woods behind the house, finding stray cats that accidentally wander past the gate and laying in the grass under the shade of the big willow tree at the end of the property when it’s sunny.

The first thing he learns about life is that he’s lower than Alphas. Society deems Omegas as the bottom of the scale, his father views Omegas as the bottom of the scale, and so Taeyong views himself as the bottom of the scale.

Female Omegas, as well as female Betas are fertile. Male Omegas, however, are, as it says in many of the heavy dusty books he’s looked at, genetic dead ends. The same processes happen, but with no viable results.

Taeyong is virtually useless.

The second thing he learns is that Alphas do not treat Omegas with respect. He’s walking down the dirty city streets, hand tight in his mother’s as they make their way down another block to the boutique they’re looking for when he trips and falls, landing right on his knees. He’s five, separated from his mother and in the middle of the sidewalk, eyes pooling over with confused frightened tears, and no one stops to help.

In fact, some people shoot him looks when they spot him wailing on the ground, staring like he's less than them. It’s the first time in his life Taeyong feels ashamed of his societal ranking.

Eventually, his mother does find him and disapprovingly clicks her tongue at his scraped knees and tears, but buys him an ice cream on the way home with a secret smile and a promise that we’re not going to tell your father, are we Taeyongie?

And Taeyong’s known since then that the world does not value Omegas, no matter how much the informational books in the library say that every ranking is important to society.

Another thing the book in the library talks about is something much more frightening—soulmates.

The soulmate principle in equal parts terrifies and excites Taeyong. On one hand, he’s always wanted to know what kind of person he’s supposed to be with, when he’ll find the person, how old he’ll be when they meet. On the other hand, he knows how controlling Alphas are, how scary their voices get when they’re angry (and he’s seen his father get angry far too many times not to be scared), and apprehension overwhelms him.

The idea itself is very simple—a person made solely for you, who you will find by chance, or, in statistically probable cases, not at all. There are romance novels Taeyong’s mother likes to read, stories of people finding their soulmates, of perfect Alpha and Omega couples who fall in love the second their eyes meet.

Betas are lucky, Taeyong secretly thinks, because they don’t have their fate drawn out for them. With the majority of the population being Beta, soulmates are fairly rare. Taeyong’s sister is a Beta, and she’s never had to worry about it. Taeyong, however, has stayed up many nights thinking about the Alpha somewhere out in the world who’s supposed to be his.

Taeyong can’t imagine falling in love with an Alpha, especially not at first sight.

-

The first time Taeyong meets his soulmate, he’s ten years old and on the playground at school.

He’s running around when he accidentally makes eye contact with the boy. The last thing he expects is for his knees to buckle when he’s on his way to the swing set, bashing them on the hard pavement as he falls. He cries out at the sharp ache which draws the attention of everyone in the vicinity, and then there’s a crowd gathered around him.

Taeyong isn’t focused on that though—he’s more interested in the weird tugging feeling in his chest, pulling him towards the boy that had been the cause of his fall.

He’s standing off to the side, staring curiously like he doesn’t know why Taeyong chose to just collapse the second their eyes met—as if he had a choice, his legs had given forcibly—and Taeyong squints up at him. “This is your fault,” is the first thing he ever says to his soulmate.

The Alpha’s smiling face drops at the words, looking appropriately confused and affronted. “Wh—“ He starts to say, but then there’s a teacher at the scene.

Taeyong knows what this is, even at his age. He’s seen it happen before, Omegas collapsing at times, others fainting, others not being affected outwardly but simply knowing. His mother had explained it to him a long time ago, but she’d told him he’d find his Alpha when he was ready, not unprepared with scratched up bloody knees on a playground, tears in his eyes from how bad it stings.

“Come on, you two,” the teacher is saying, gesturing towards the building in the general direction of the office, “You should have a conversation with the counselor.”

But Taeyong doesn’t want to have a conversation with the counselor. He just wants some bandages, maybe to call his mom and wail over the receiver for her to come get him.

The boy steps forward then, holding an arm out to help Taeyong up. “I’m Jaehyun,” he says, smiling brightly.

Taeyong stands by himself, resentful when his knees ache. He ignores the troubled expression on Jaehyun’s face when he rejects the hand. He wonders why Jaehyun is not on his knees.

He sulks all the way over to the counselor’s office, sinking into the seat in front of her desk, sullen even when she excitedly attempts to explain what happens when Alphas or Omegas find their soulmates. She’s enthusiastic, exclaiming about how hard it is to find your match sometimes and how they should be lucky they’d found each other so early. The whole time, Taeyong wonders when school is going to end so he can go home.

“Of course we need to call your parents,” the counselor says, sending Taeyong spinning out of his stupor.

“Call my mother,” he interjects quickly, “My dad’s on a business trip so he won’t pick up.”

It’s easier than the truth at least—Taeyong’s father is much too busy to be bothered about trivial matters like this. Jaehyun turns to him curiously. He must feel the nervousness swirling around inside him when he talks about his father. Taeyong swallows and continues. “I don’t think we have to call my parents at all. It’s not like this is important, is it?”

The counselor coughs into her fist, surprised. “Of course it’s important, you two are going to spend your lives together! You could be married one day!”

Taeyong turns to Jaehyun, getting his first good look. He snorts. “I doubt it.” There’s no way he’s marrying someone with a stupid grin and that dumb earnest expression on his face.

Jaehyun, whose face had been falling steadily at every cruel remark Taeyong has been making, looks close to tears now, and Taeyong wants to ask, “What kind of Alpha cries so easily?” just to see if it will push him over the edge.

Instead, he settles back into the chair and glares at the counselor, arms crossed stubbornly in front of his body. After a rather intense stare down, the counselor finally sighs. “I’ll call your mother,” she relents, “But you two should be happy about this—it’s the beginning of your lives!”

Taeyong scowls. He’s already living, thank you very much, and he doesn’t need some Alpha around to tell him what to do.

Still, a half hour later his mother is walking into the school office, clicking around in her tall high heels, meticulous as usual. Taeyong doesn’t feel nervous, but there’s the echo of trepidation fluttering in the pit of his stomach—it’s Jaehyun, he realizes, he’s feeling what Jaehyun feels.

There’s something connecting them, invisible but surely there. A string, wound around Taeyong’s being to Jaehyun’s, stretched taut as if willing them closer to each other. Taeyong wonders what would happen if he tugs on it, pulled until it snaps.

Something about the way Jaehyun looks at him makes him think that he’d enjoy watching the despair on the other’s face very much.

Taeyong’s mother gives him one exasperated look like what did you do this time, then he’s being sent out along with Jaehyun, who drags his beat-up shoes against the ugly green carpet. The waiting room is all claustrophobia-inducing off-white walls and outdated magazines, and there’s absolutely nothing to look at except for Jaehyun sitting across from him, swinging his lanky legs idly as he stares down at his hands, which stay knotted together in his lap.

He doesn’t look very Alpha as far as Taeyong is concerned—he hasn’t looked up from his thighs in the past ten minutes and his lower lip is trembling.

Taeyong is petty. He walks across the carpet and drops into the chair next to Jaehyun and then asks in his haughtiest voice, “What kind of Alpha cries in front of their Omega?”

Jaehyun looks up, blinks rapidly and twists his fingers into the hem of his shirt. “I’m not crying.” He lies but his flushed face gives him away, and Taeyong is feeling particularly vicious right now so he hums goadingly.

Jaehyun opens his mouth to speak, but before he can, his eyes focus on someone behind’s Taeyong’s shoulder and he lights up. “Mom!” he exclaims as a lady walks in. She’s the exact opposite of Taeyong’s mother’s short styled hair and neat suit, dressed in sweatpants and a worn shirt, her hair thrown up in a casual bun, glasses perched haphazardly on the bridge of her nose. When she smiles at her son, Taeyong sees the wrinkles around her eyes.

He keeps his eyes down as Jaehyun fills her in but graciously leaves out the part where Taeyong keeps sending him dark thoughts and pushing away any attempt at contact.

When Jaehyun’s mother kneels in front of his chair and grins at Taeyong, he doesn’t know what to do except flush and extend a hand out for her to take. Instead, she surprises him by pulling him into a tight hug and warmly saying, “It’s so nice to meet you, Taeyong. I’m so happy you and Jaehyunnie found each other already.”

Taeyong forces out a smile and murmurs his thanks, all the while wondering if the adults are ever going to realize he doesn’t even know Jaehyun, much less want to marry him.

Jaehyun’s mother disappears into the office as well and Taeyong reverts back to silence, ignoring Jaehyun’s hurt that manages to reach him even when he tries to shut the elder out.

After a couple seconds, Taeyong looks through his eyelashes, trying to figure the Alpha out. Jung Jaehyun is slight, dressed in the same uniform as him, but Taeyong’s is in much better condition, un-creased and meticulous while Jaehyun’s tie is done casual and loose, his appearance disorderly. His hair hangs unruly and longish, bangs slipping into his eyes. He’s small, scrawny for an Alpha.

He’s unimpressed, to say the least.

A while later, Jaehyun’s mother peeks her head through the door of the office and tells them both to come back in.

Back in the counselor’s office, Taeyong tolerates more talk of plans for the future before he reaches his limit and wonders aloud, “How come everyone’s assuming I’m going to spend my life with him?”

The pained look his mother shoots him could freeze over oceans, but the counselor gives an empty airy laugh and says, “How could you not? You’re soulmates.”

“But-“

“That’s enough, Taeyong.” His mother says tightly.

Taeyong drops it.

-

At dinner that night, Taeyong’s mother excitedly recounts the incident to his father and sister. His sister, a Beta, sighs and wishes aloud for a soulmate. His father just stares in calculative way and asks if Jaehyun’s family is well off.

Late that night, tucked into bed under his thick sheets, Taeyong goes over all of the information he knows about Jung Jaehyun.

He has an annoyingly bright smile. He’s smart enough that he’d skipped a grade, so he’s younger than Taeyong by a year and a half. He’s shorter than Taeyong. He has dimples. He’s an Alpha.

That last factor. Taeyong decides after a lot of careful thinking that he doesn’t need Jung Jaehyun anywhere near him. Alphas are trouble, and he doesn’t want another one of them telling him what to do.

-

The next day when Taeyong is sitting at lunch with the other Omegas in his class, what he’d been fearing ends up becoming reality. Jaehyun approaches and asks tentatively, “Can I sit here?” He points at the empty seat on Taeyong’s other side, and just as the Omega to Taeyong’s left nods shyly, Taeyong shakes his head.

“No,” he says, and leaves it at that. When Jaehyun doesn’t move, he turns and faces the Alpha, sighing slowly. “You can leave now,” he says, pointedly staring at him. There are whispers from around him, quiet accusations, surprise at him being rude to an Alpha. Taeyong doesn’t care.

Jaehyun’s face falls, scuffing his shoes lightly on the tile floor. “Oh,” he mumbles quietly, “Okay. Bye, Taeyong.”

Taeyong watches his back retreat with contempt, rolling his eyes when the others demand to know why he’s being so mean. They’re all supposed to be innately demure, quiet and controlled, but Taeyong’s always been just a little too brazen to fit in.

The day after, Jaehyun approaches with a wide smile and crinkled eyes, but Taeyong brushes him off again. This becomes a routine, Jaehyun always appearing at Taeyong’s side with the same question and the same smile, but Taeyong refuses his advances every day without fail.

Alphas are trouble and Taeyong doesn’t want to let himself get involved.

-

Moon Taeil comes to Taeyong’s life with all the force of a bulldozer.

With him, he brings half a sun-melted chocolate bar, a slightly chipped friendship ring, and a wide grin promising, “We’re going to be best friends, just you wait Taeyong.”

Taeil, who’s been stuck in an Omega-only school for the majority of his life, is extremely fascinated by the Alpha who asks if he can sit with Taeyong at least once a week. The answer is always the same though—a blank look and a firm denial.

Taeil worms his way into Taeyong’s life like a rapidly spreading infection—swift and destroying every wall of defense in his way. Taeyong is both scared and confused, but Taeil is also extremely nice and shares the soft chocolate chip cookies his mother packs him at lunch every day so Taeyong lets his guard down (very slowly and cautiously, but Taeil is a patient Omega.)

To Taeyong’s very obvious disapproval, Taeil also makes friend with a number of Alphas, Jaehyun included. Taeil’s concept of it’s simply not done isn’t very good and soon he has a whole club of smitten Alphas following him around at recess.

Fortunately, Jaehyun is not part of the bunch. Unfortunately, he still follows Taeyong around like some sort of stray dog. In the hallways, Jaehyun waves enthusiastically whenever he sees Taeyong, and much to the Omega’s horror, Taeil has taken to waving back just as eagerly.

“He’s a good Alpha,” Taeil says one day at recess when Taeyong is listing out reasons for the older boy to join him in spiting Jaehyun. “He’s not mean or bossy like some of the other ones, and he doesn’t make you do what he says.”

Taeyong frowns, squints across the sunny schoolyard to where Jaehyun is sitting with some Betas, and twists his face in disgust, which makes Taeil giggle. “If he tried to tell me what to do I’d probably kick him. He’s so ugly.” Taeyong says finally. “You wouldn’t want an ugly soulmate like that, would you?”

Taeil laughs out loud at that and slaps Taeyong’s arm lightly. “He’s not that bad, Taeyong.”

Taeyong is about to ask for evidence on Jaehyun being not that bad but then the bell rings and Taeil stands up, brushes the nonexistent dirt from the knees of his uniform, and sprints away to join his class, which also happens to be the same class as Jaehyun.

Taeyong scowls and watches Jaehyun walk over to Taeil and duck down to say something to him. Taeil throws his head back and laughs, and Taeyong feels something in his stomach churn.

It must be revulsion from having to look at Jaehyun’s ugly face, Taeyong rationalizes on his way to his own class.

-

In February, Jaehyun turns nine and Taeyong receives an invitation in the mail. It’s handwritten in Jaehyun’s scrawl and has tiny crayon flowers around the border, and while Taeyong’s mother coos about how cute it is, Taeyong notes how much better his own handwriting is, even if Jaehyun is in the same grade as him.

Taeyong throws it away the next day, but it’s not before his mother has written down the date and time in her planner, much to Taeyong’s chagrin.

A week later, Taeyong is sitting in Jaehyun’s house surrounded by a bunch of Alphas and Betas who he doesn’t know the names of. He’s sticking close to Taeil, the only other Omega there, but unfortunately for him, Taeil is popular and surrounded by people at all times.

Mostly, he’s sitting by the table with his legs drawn up to his chest as people eat and laugh and converse around him.

Jaehyun’s house is small but it’s nicely decorated and Jaehyun’s best friend, a nice Alpha called Johnny, sits by Taeyong and tries to get him to talk, and Taeyong really shouldn’t be so bratty, but being rude around Jaehyun is a habit by now.

Taeyong sits, pouty and sullen as Jaehyun tears through presents with delight, and then suddenly Jaehyun is plopping down next to him with a wide grin. Scowling, he turns away but Jaehyun taps him on the shoulder enthusiastically. Taeil, that traitor, is talking animatedly to a girl at least a head taller than him. “Do you need something?” Taeyong asks snidely to Jaehyun when the Alpha doesn’t stop trying to get his attention.

Jaehyun’s smile is crooked like his teeth. Taeil had called it endearing. Taeyong had told him to get braces. “I want to show you something.” Jaehyun reaches his hand out a little hesitantly.

Taeyong doesn’t take his offered hand but stands up. “Fine.” He relents.

He follows Jaehyun upstairs, leaving behind the rowdy voices of the children in the den. He’s lead to a room that must be Jaehyun’s, he realizes after a second.

It’s neater than he’d expected, and for that, Taeyong is thankful. If there’s anything he hates, it’s an unclean room. Jaehyun’s bed is made and all his things are put away on shelves.

Taeyong feels out of place. He crosses his arms tightly in front of his chest and asks, “Why did you bring me up here?”

Jaehyun awkwardly shifts his weight from foot to foot. “I know it’s my birthday but I wanted to get you something. I don’t know what you like because you wouldn’t tell me but Taeil told me your favorite color is black so… I made you something.”

 Taeyong has half a mind to turn around and walk back downstairs, but he stays in place, remembering the way his mother had whispered in his ear, “please play nice, for once,” before dropping him off. “Fine.” He says instead.

A wide grin of relief breaks out over Jaehyun’s face. Gesturing to the armchair in the corner of the room, he offers, “You can sit if you want. And close your eyes because it’s a surprise.”

Taeyong perches on the edge of the chair and holds out his hands. After a second of Jaehyun staring, he closes his eyes.

He hears the slide of a drawer opening, and then a pause as Jaehyun walks over. Taeyong isn’t expecting the gentle brush of Jaehyun’s fingers over his wrist and he nearly tears his hand away in surprise. It takes all his self-control to keep still and not peek.

“Okay,” Jaehyun says in a quiet voice. “You can open your eyes.”

 Taeyong glances down. It’s a braided bracelet, black and shot through with red.

Taeyong doesn’t want it.

It’s very well made, and Taeyong kind of can’t believe that someone like Jaehyun took the time and consideration to make this for him, and it’s cute, but he doesn’t want to accept anything from the Alpha. It’s an archaic practice; courting and wooing Omegas with gifts. Of course, Taeyong knows this is not that, but it just feels like giving in somehow.

But Jaehyun is already tying it around his wrist with his careful hands, and Taeyong finds the sharp rejection getting stuck in his throat.

Instead, he pulls his hand back the second Jaehyun lets go and mumbles, “Thanks.” He’s sure his cheeks are flushed.

Jaehyun’s shy smile becomes a wide grin when Taeyong doesn’t make any effort to remove the bracelet. “So you’ll keep it?” He asks eagerly.

Taeyong thinks about ripping it off and throwing it to Jaehyun’s feet. Then he thinks about the nervousness in Jaehyun’s smile, the warmth of Jaehyun’s fingers against his wrist. “Yeah.” He finally mutters. “I guess I’ll keep it.”

Jaehyun’s grin looks like it could split his face in half. He automatically goes in for a hug but stops when Taeyong cringes away.

“Sorry,” he says automatically, but he’s still smiling.

Taeyong looks down at his wrist until Jaehyun leaves the room to go back downstairs, counts to twenty, and slowly follows after him.

“Where did you get that?” His mother asks him by way of greeting when picking him up.

Taeyong meddles with his seatbelt in the back of the car, not wanting to tell the truth, but unwilling to lie. “Jaehyun gave it to me.” He finally says darkly, “He made it.”

He leaves out the part about him not wanting it in the first place, especially when his mother croons over how cute Jaehyun is, and how good of a son-in-law he’ll make some day. Taeyong scowls at the back of the passenger seat and says nothing.

-

Intimacy feels weird to Taeyong.

The Alpha on the screen kisses the Omega rather passionately. Taeyong looks down at his lap.

Taeil asks from his side of the couch, “Have you ever thought about it?”

“Thought about what?”

“Kissing an Alpha.” Taeil’s voice is dreamy, a little far away.

Taeyong scowls down at his thighs. The thought’s entered his mind once or twice, but he’s always quick to dismiss it. The only Alpha he’s technically supposed to kiss is Jaehyun, and he can’t stand the idea of that.

He fiddles with the bracelet around his wrist absently and mumbles, “Not really.”

Ever since he’d let Jaehyun put it on him, the Alpha had doubled his efforts to say hello and smile at Taeyong in the hallways and during break. While he’s not exactly overbearing- he’s just saying hello, after all- Taeyong feels annoyed for some reason.

“Kissing is kind of gross,” Taeil admits with a giggle. “But if you had to kiss one person then who would you choose?”

Taeyong doesn’t even need to think about it. “You.” He says immediately.

Taeil’s eyebrows rise up into his hairline. “Me?” He exclaims, blinking owlishly. “But- but what about Jaehyun?”

Taeyong bites his lip. “I hate him, though. I don’t want him anywhere near my face.”

Taeil stares at him for another second before he bursts out laughing. “You’re really weird, Taeyong.”

Taeyong kicks him.

-

The next time he sees Jaehyun, he tries to imagine it.

Kissing, that is.

Lips on lips. Jaehyun’s shorter than him, so he’d probably have to bend down. Would he be able to taste it? Would it be wet? Taeyong’s kind of disgusted even thinking about it.

Taeyong comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t really want to kiss anyone, including Jaehyun.

When Jaehyun sees the bracelet on his wrist at school and lights up, he corrects himself quickly. Especially Jaehyun.