Will's ears pricked up when he heard the sound of gossip as he passed by the fence.
About two hours earlier, he'd snuck through the security perimeter that enclosed a large part of the city. The rich part. Kept resplendent and ignorant in a literal bubble. He hated the place. Pristine and sleek. Clean, to the point of sterility. It wasn't natural and certainly no way for a Canis Sapien to live. And yet, live here they did as was confirmed by the chatter the otherside of the fence.
Will only came here on refuse day, knowing that the servants would be placing the disposal units outside for the automated drones to collect. The trick was to time it right - get to the good ones before the drones did, bust them open for the goods and then scarper before someone came to attend to the mess. Or worse, the Licence Enforcer was called. But Will was slight, quick, and smart - all the attributes necessary to do this and not get caught.
This particular house he had been near before. There were two Canis here and he had plundered their bins several times. One of them had some recurring gastric issue and the excess pills were often discarded. Will had hoped this was the case today because those pills were great for stomach upsets and one of the pups in the allotment was pretty sick. He'd been lucky, the pills were there but now his attention was captured as he rounded this next house - a new Canis on this block.
Gossip was always interesting in these well-heeled neighbourhoods if just for the triviality of it. Fancy pets who wanted to chatter endlessly about this or that - what new bejewelled collar they had been given, or what spa their owners have taken them to. How would such pampered idiots survive in the real world? It was such a joke, Will spent a lot of time in these neighbourhoods rolling his eyes. Not that he was above raiding their bins for the refined scraps of such pedigree fools.
Once, it had made him sad - for them. But at some point he'd had to accept that there was only so much he could do about the situation. There was nothing he could do to help them.
His ears twitched forward, taking in more of the conversation as he passed by, slowing.
A soft and accented voice was speaking.
“It didn’t hurt really, but she’s never struck me before.” The Canis Sapien on the other side of the fence lamented. It got Will’s hackles up. How did these idiots not understand they were still imprisoned no matter how well they were treated? Much less when their owners inevitably turned on them. Homo Sapiens could not be trusted.
“Don’t take it too seriously, not at a time like this,” a comforting voice chimed in as Will moved closer to the fence, angling himself to see through the slats. Three Canis Sapiens sat in the garden, one cross-legged on the floor and the two older sitting in the low chairs designed for their kind - to keep them always seated lower than the Homo Sapiens. Those were the two from the house he'd just visited, clearly having a social call with the new pup neighbour.
“A time like this?” The younger one asked, looking up at his elders. As he did so, his scent wafted on the breeze - a delicate but tangy thing, like blossom and citrus. Will wasn't sure the last time he'd come across such a beautiful omegan scent. Especially amongst the pampered, with their shampoos and lotions. The fresh air of the garden seemed to have lessened any products the humans made this one use, leaving it crisp like an citrus grove.
The other one, his hair a white blonde and his ears short, sharp points, continued kindly - “she’s expecting a baby, Hannibal.”
“Oh.” The adolescent - Hannibal - replied, before his brow furrowed. “What’s a baby?”
The two older Canis looked at each other for a moment, that uncomfortable realisation between them that they had to explain reproduction to this kid. Will snickered.
“It’s… it’s what the humans call their pups.” The white haired one replied, his expression was that of someone desperately hoping that they didn’t need to explain any further.
This was more amusing than Will could have even imagined. He had to be of a similar age to the pampered pet and yet he’d grown up knowing all about sex and pups. He knew plenty of pups when he was younger, he’d even helped some of the parents evade the Licence Enforcers when he’d grown. It was amazing how sheltered these pets were. Frustratingly so.
He trotted to the gate and looked through the bars there. Will had to admit the omega was beautiful. He had an athletic build, and long fluffy ears that pooled at his shoulders. Will could imagine him easily with them pulled back and tied, revealing more of the handsome and well structured face. Oh yes, this omega was a very refined pedigree, that much was clear. When he spoke the accent cemented Will's immediate thought that he would be of some purebred lineage no doubt dating back to the days when humans first enslaved Canis and Cattus. Not that they called it slavery, Will's lips twitched into a sneer at the thought.
Perhaps it was the scent or the ridiculous and amusing conversation, but Will found himself slipping through the gate and daring to get a better vantage point. He hadn't intended it, he'd meant to walk off. But as he could hear the older Canis talking to the the fancy pup about how adorable human children were, Will clenched his jaw.
"A cute little bundle of-"
Will cut off the other Canis with a sharp tongue - "a cute little bundle of trouble. They scratch, pinch, pull ears. Ah but hey any Canis can take that, right? It's what they do to your happy home. You think you're happy now, you think they love you. But-"
"Wait a damn minute." The silver haired Canis cut him off and Will huffed. "Who are you to barge in anyway? Don't listen to this..." he waved his hand as though Will weren't even worth a derogatory name. "He's just a stray, pay him no mind." He scowled but clearly didn't want to physically do anything about the stray's presence.
"The voice of experience is what I am. Just wait till Junior gets here." He was snarling now and couldn't even help it. The omega's eyes were wide at him and Will almost wanted to stop but if anything it made him even more angry that these house pets were so damn stupid. "How do you think strays become strays?"
“Oh.” Hannibal’s face was drawn in a pained realisation that actually made Will feel bad for being so salty. He clenched his jaw knowing full well he only spoke the truth.
“Don’t listen to him.” The silver one shot him a glare. “You should leave, we’ve no need for mongrels and their radical ideas.”
Will huffed a laugh to cover his annoyance. Damn uppity pets. He started to the gate but then turned back to the young Canis. “I’m done here anyway, but just remember this puppy, a human heart only has so much room for love and affection. When a baby moves in, the pet moves out.”
Hannibal shook his head, frowning deeper. “No, that’s not true. I… I have a license. They gave me a collar - the greatest honour a human can bestow. A badge of faith and respectability.” Hannibal stated, haughtily.
Will barked a laugh. “Wow. It’s so entrenched you don’t even get it do you? You’re a slave. They may not ask you to work, but you are still here at their whim. Not by choice. You’re not free.” He growled the last, before he pushed the gate wide and left without deigning to close it.
Will took to the streets with his usual pace and wariness, keeping to the shadows until he was back through the perimeter. Across the derelict land that had once brimmed with industry, and into his own neighbourhood. This rundown end of the city that housed the poor and strays alike. There were some humans there - sick and disenfranchised, those that other humans decided not to help.
Will took from his satchel a pack of dried spaghetti. It was passed its use by date, which likely was why it had been thrown out, but the pack was undamaged. There had been two and he would eke the other out himself, but this one...
He trotted into the rundown tenement building he was passing and up to the fourth floor. Tony was likely asleep, so he pushed the broken door open and left the spaghetti just inside. Tony was a human who had been living there about a year, Will had helped him settle in, as much as he could. The man was broken - he had no family and a failed business. When he started to deteriorate mentally he was abandoned by humans. Will on the other hand was happy to hear stories of when he ran his own restaurant. It was talking to Tony - some of the things the man said about Canis - that made Will realise things weren't as he had thought.
The pampered pets probably knew even less. No idea where they came from and what had been done to them.
As Will went back out to the street and continued on his way, he tried to quell his anger at the thought. It wasn't like he'd never run into dumb pets before, he wasn't sure why it was bothering him so much this time. Why he was so bothered by the fate of some pampered omega?
Will shook the thoughts from his head, what the hell did it matter if they were kept as pets? What were the other options anyway? Starving half the time, sleeping rough or near as, trying to keep warm. But one day he’d take off to the other city. He’d planned to for the longest time, but there always seemed to be some other stray needing help. Needing food or shelter. Some poor sucker thrown out on the street with no idea how to survive and an expired license that would get them picked up and impounded now their human had lost interest in them.
It brought him back to the pup he had met today. Such different lives they had lead and yet it might be only a matter of time before that fool was on the streets too. Once the baby human arrived and his owner’s interest in him was lost.
The stray's words stayed with Hannibal.
He had spent long months as his mistress’s belly grew, terrified that he would be thrown out on the streets. He had no idea how to live without the care and comfort of Homo Sapiens.
His concerns had gone from hoping that his owners found a suitably pedigreed alpha to whelp him once his heats hit peak fertility, to hoping that they didn't revoke his license.
But it all turned out to be a worry over nothing, as Jimmy and Brian had reassured. When the baby arrived, it was strange to have another creature in the house that was also reliant on the humans as much as he - more so even. But she was so tiny and helpless, he couldn't help his omegan instinct to give her care too. They called her Mischa and sometimes she smiled and gurgled at him.
His owners continued to be kind, the baby grew day by day and Hannibal knew that he himself was getting closer to them choosing an alpha for him.
Hannibal had worried about nothing. They wouldn't decide to breed him if they had no intention of keeping him. They would be such a happy family - the humans and their baby, Hannibal and his litter - until they reached an age to go to The Institute as all young ones did once weaned. There they would be raised as befitted their pedigree before finding loving homes of their own as he had. That was the way for Canis Sapiens and he couldn’t ask for better!
Until one fateful day.
Hannibal’s owners were going away to visit with the owners of a pedigree alpha they were hoping to match Hannibal with. Mischa was several months old, she could sit and pull sweetly at his ears as she babbled at him - and Hannibal had every intention of keeping her safe whilst the humans were away.
Then Aunt Murasaki arrived.
Hannibal ran, on and on. His vision blurred with the tears that were rolling with little effort from his eyes.
The mask cut into his face and he bared his teeth behind it. It covered his nose and mouth, almost his entire face. A muzzle specifically made for Canis Sapiens, that he had only heard tales of - horror stories told in the dead of night at the Institute. He never thought for one moment he would wear one.
When Aunt Murasaki had arrived her ways had been cold and strict, but not unkind. Not until the manipulations of the Cattus Sapiens she brought with her.
Bee and Delia were sleek and sour, haughty and cruel - they teased him mercilessly. He did not rise to it, which seemed to anger them all the more.
Hannibal put up with it, knowing it to be temporary, and trying hard to be the good Canis he was supposed to be for his humans. So he did not rise to it when they pulled his ears; when they stole his treats; when they locked him in the pantry… or when he saw them crush underfoot a fledgling that had fallen into the garden.
But when he’d seen them slink towards Mischa, who sat drinking her milk bottle and gurgling at them happily, he had a bad feeling. The constant provocations had not been aimed at her so far, but Hannibal could suddenly see the cruel glint in their eyes. She was his weakness and they had made him the subject of their cruelty.
He had walked over slowly as they made a show of cooing over her - the first time they had paid her any kind of attention.
“Don’t hurt her.” His words had been a plea and a warning. They had turned and smirked at him in unison.
“Whyever would we hurt her?”
They turned back to Mischa then and Bee looked as though she intended to pick the baby up. Hannibal’s jaw clenched, and he had become rigid - not wanting to do anything either way to upset this situation.
The upset had come anyway. Bee had snatched the bottle away from Mischa, her smirk widening. Mischa had immediately wailed her unhappiness and Aunt Murasaki’s footsteps were suddenly thundering towards the nursery.
In a flash, during which Hannibal had remained frozen in his uncertainty, Bee had spilled the milk all over Mischa and the floor. Delia laughed and took the bottle, splashing the remnants on Hannibal before crying out.
“Quick mistress, quick! That terrible dog.”
“The terrible dog is stealing from the baby.”
The two of them grinned widely at him as Hannibal stood, blinking and terrified. After a moment he started towards Mischa, wanting to sooth her tears but then Murasaki arrived and was on him. Yelling at him not to touch the baby, hitting him with a book she had in hand, until he was forced away from Mischa and out of the room. The door was slammed shut on him and as Mischa’s tears were hushed by Aunt Murasaki, the only remaining sound was the snickering of the Cattus.
The muzzle had come then.
A day and a night he had stayed that way, locked in the conservatory and not allowed back into the main house even to sleep. He was fed plain food, not his usual fair, and no treats.
When the door had opened, he looked up in the hopes of seeing his owners, but instead it was the Cattus Sapiens that taunted him.
“They will be home soon.” He had muttered under his breath, attempting to comfort himself.
Delia must have heard because she laughed - musical cruelty.
“Oh yes dear they will. And they are bringing an Enforcer with them.”
“Mistress told them everything.” Bee hissed through a smile. “How you cannot be trusted with the baby.”
“You have to go.” Bee nodded. “Either the Enforcer will take you or… Maybe you should run?” She sounded almost concerned, but Hannibal knew it was false - he knew his owner’s would believe him over the Cattus. But even so they terrified him.
Delia nodded. “Oh yes, little doggy, you should run!” She opened the conservatory door into the garden and smiled sweetly.
So Hannibal had ran. He would return once his owners did, surely they would fix all this?
He didn't realise how far he had gone, and what danger he might be in, until he stopped to look around and it was clear he was far beyond the city perimeter.
Will looked up at the commotion. A couple of trouble makers he knew, those that helped themselves before other Canis, were shouting at the other end of the alley.
It took Will a moment to realise that they taunting someone - a figure huddled next to the large bins that were never emptied any more. Perhaps they’d hidden there to unsuccessfully escape. He might not have intervened - just another pissing contest over turf - but then he caught a glimpse of their victim and realised it wasn’t another street pup, it was the pampered omega he had met many months before.
Something in him boiled up. All those random thoughts he’d had since their meeting, and now seeing him attacked like this - Will growled and his hackles tightened and stood on end.
"Hey." Will called out, grabbing the attention of the mongrels. "You want to come for me instead?" He barked at them. They puffed themselves up but remained further back. His reputation held a lot of weight and he was perfectly able to back it up if it came to blows. They certainly knew that.
One of them stepped towards the pet again, an eye still on Will for his reaction. Will took another step.
"Touch my omega and I will rip out your throat." He rumbled deep in his chest, exuding as much bullshit alpha aggression as he could. What clinched it though was the omega's answering whine at his words - to the interlopers it clearly sealed their claim on each other. And no one was surely fool enough to come between an alpha and omega.
These two were no exception, muttering curses under their breath as they stomped from the alley like petulant children - all the while keeping a wary eye on Will.
Will took in a deep breath and let it out heavily. This wasn't how he'd planned to spend his evening, and yet now he seemed to be responsible for some delicate little omega. He made his way over to where the omega - Hannibal, he reminded himself - still hid and stood before him, reaching a hand down.
"Come on, you shouldn't be walking around these parts in the dark. Let's get you to the Enforcer on the perimeter... you've got a licence, he'll take you home." Will grumbled. He hated going near Enforcers and only ever did it to distract them whilst other Canis evaded capture.
When the omega looked up with sorrowful eyes, Will's jaw clenched.
"Who put that on you?" He asked, anger and pity brimming at the sight of the muzzle.
"She... she thought I'd attacked the baby, she thought I'd hurt the baby..." He looked like he might continue, but equally like he might cry, so Will just nodded, trying to make clear Hannibal didn't need to say anything more.
"Come on... let me help." He flexed his hand again until the omega took it and gingerly stood.
"Will reached around him and, all too expertly, unbuckled the mask until it fell away and dropped to the floor.
The omega's skin was a little raw from tears and the rubbing of the mask. Will stroked his thumb over some of the worst of it.
"I might have some salve for-"
The omega shook his head. "I don't want to be any bother-"
Will cut him off with a snorted laugh, "oh, you've already been that."
The omega's face broke into a demure smile as he blushed. Will felt butterflies in his belly.
It had taken Will a while to coax the whole story from him as he started to walk the omega to a slightly safer part of town. And in some respects it was even worse than Will had assumed. To live with humans was bad enough, but -
"Say no more." Will shook his head. "I get the whole picture. Aunts, Cattus, muzzles. Well... That's what comes with living with humans."
He took a glance and could see the omega about to defend his owners, so he changed the subject - he had no interest in debating this with a pampered pet.
"Have you eaten? Uh, Hannibal isn't it?" Will was sure the name was memorable enough for him to have not gotten wrong, and yet the omega puffed himself up as though indignant.
"Only my family, and Jimmy and Brian call me Hannibal." It wasn't so much a correction as it seemed to be an uncertainty over what he should allow Will to call him.
"Huh. Ok." Will shrugged. "What do you want me to call you?"
The omega looked put on the spot at a question he had clearly not expected. "Um... my family told me that when they introduce me to an alpha I should introduce myself by my full pedigree name." There was a slight frown at the word alpha and Will knew it was yet more uncertainty - Will clearly wasn't the sort of alpha he'd ever considered he would be introducing himself to.
"Yeah? What's your full name?" Will couldn't help the tease in his voice. The omega was weirdly adorable. It was like he lived in his own little bubble, a little suit that kept him from being seen by the rest of the world. That much Will could see clearly - which obviously made the omega feel exposed in some way.
Hannibal cleared his throat. "Count Hannibal Lecter VIII"
Will couldn't help the bark of laughter that jumped from his throat. After pulling back to a chuckle he said - "Wow, well... that was even more pretentious than I assumed it would be."
The omega reddened with a blush that didn't hide the anger he had clearly schooled himself to control. Or been schooled. He had so many emotions and yet kept a cool and aloof demeanour unless rattled. He must have been trained at an expensive institute.
"I'm sorry." Will apologised and held up his hands, smiling all the same. "We're from very different backgrounds. I’m sure you've made plenty of assumptions about me too."
The omega looked away at that and they continued to walk in silence for a few minutes before Will rejoined -
"So, what do I call you?"
“Hannibal.” The omega finally allowed quietly, and Will didn’t have a witty retort for that.
“Okay Hannibal.” Will smiled. “I’m Will.”
Hannibal let out a light laugh that surprised Will. He looked over at the omega and enjoyed the weirdly devious smile on his face as he said, “in my head, I’ve just been calling you the stray.”
Will huffed a laugh before taking Hannibal’s elbow to guide him towards a side alley from the one they were in.
“This way… it’s a shortcut back to your neighbourhood. But I know a guy, we can grab you some food on-” Will started but Hannibal froze, stopping dead in his tracks and making Will stumble.
“I… I don’t think I want to go back. Not right now. Aunt Murasaki and the Cattus-”
Will nodded and cut in. “It’s ok… I get it… But…” he looked around him and then back at Hannibal. “These streets are not the place for you. Pampered pet like yourself wouldn’t last five minutes, even without the muzzle.”
Will thought for a moment, hating where his brain was taking him because he really didn’t want to be responsible for some ridiculous house pet, and yet… was there another option?
“When are your owners home?” Will asked gruffly, begrudgingly even.
That made Hannibal look clearly unsure and maybe a little upset. “Tomorrow. They went to see a prospective alpha so I can-”
Will held up his hand. “I don’t need to know the gory details of your arranged knock-up.” He couldn’t help the note of distaste in his voice or in his expression.
Where he had before looked upset, Hannibal now scowled at him. “You don’t know anything about my life… or my owners! I’m sure they will find me a perfectly respectable match who will give me-”
“Perfectly respectable pups.” Will shook his head and let out a light laugh. “Sweetheart, you have the world all wrong. Don’t you want to be free? Don’t you want to choose for yourself who will father your pups? Maybe even someone you like? Someone you might see for more than the three days of your heat that it will take them to whelp you?”
He was surprised to see the anger in Hannibal’s face. “You don’t understand my world. Can’t you see that I’m happy? I want this! Even if it’s as distasteful to you as your lifestyle is to me!” He started to stomp off.
“Now, wait just a second.” Will growled, catching up with him and keeping stride. “Firstly, this isn’t me judging you. I’m trying to help you. I… I just want you to see your situation for what it really is before you decide you are happy with it. And secondly,” he grabbed Hannibal’s arm and pulled him to a stop so that they were both glowering at each other. “Secondly, we’ve already established that you know nothing about my life or my situation so don’t start judging me either!”
Hannibal huffed. “And yet, you presume to know my situation, what it is to be a pet?”
“Hannibal…” Will spoke softly, he looked down and away, not able to meet the omega’s eyes as he admitted - “I used to be a pet.”
When he looked up Hannibal was frowning at him as though he had spoken gibberish. Will sighed and tilted his head as he smoothed back some of the hair that grew long at the nape of his neck. The little gasp from Hannibal was enough to know that he accepted the evidence before his eyes - the two inch long, deep and angry scar left by the collar that used to sit there.
They had walked in silence for a few long minutes, before Will said -
"I'll take you to my place for the night, then we can work it out from there. At least you'll have a roof over your head until your owner's get back."
There was a note of hissed disdain in the word owner that made Hannibal feel terrible. It had never occurred to him before that strays hadn't always been strays - even though Will had intimated as much the first time they met. Of course, many were born strays to stray parents, but not all. They had to come from somewhere. But it had never settled in his comprehension that any of them had been pets at any time in the same sense that he was.
Hannibal nodded, grateful but unsure what to say. Until of course he said the wrong thing.
"Um, do strays live in houses?"
Will's lip curled into a slight snarl as he looked across at Hannibal before answering gruffly. "Some. I do, kinda. Some don't - they live on the streets. Either because they are unlucky or... some of them, some that had owners, are broken. They find it hard to live inside houses, or with others. They need to be alone and in open spaces."
Hannibal swallowed. He really couldn’t marry what Will was telling him with his own experience of humans.
"I... I can't imagine what anyone would do that would get them thrown out of their homes. I just don't see how a human-"
"You don't huh?" Will cut him off and turned on him, stopping the omega in his tracks. "You still think everything is pretty flower boxes and fine cuts of meat. You're deluded." The alpha shook his head.
"I didn't mean... I-" Hannibal started, hating that he'd put his foot in it again with his clear lack of understanding anything beyond his pampered life. He put his hand gently on Will's arm. "What happened to you? Why are you a stray."
Will scoffed and then looked at him, seeming to lose some of his ire when he realised the concern in Hannibal's eyes was genuine.
"As with most mongrels, my parents were strays, but I don't know their stories. I was caught by the License Enforcers when I was a pup. They took me to a rehoming shelter and after a while a man came and adopted me - Jack. He was a private detective, trained me up - we have better sense of smell than humans. Especially alphas." He shrugged and Hannibal was unsure what to do with the sadness he could see in Will's eyes. Will had enjoyed his life, probably even become attached to his human. "Then, well then he met Bella. She was sweet, but then she got pregnant and everything changed. Jack decided to give up his business and get a steady job in security and... I was suddenly superfluous. Not considered to be a family friendly pet." He spat the last word with disdain.
"You ran away?" Hannibal asked, thinking of his own rash behaviour that had landed him here.
Will huffed a laugh. "If only I'd been that smart. Nah, see sweetheart, I was an idiot - like you. I didn't get it back then, I thought we were friends, not equals sure. I was his pet but also his colleague. It did not for one moment occur to me that..." He shook his head as though he couldn't believe he had put such trust into a human. "He gave me away to some guy he knew, Mason. Fucking evil piece of shit.” Will drew a sharp breath. “Maybe Jack knew, maybe he didn't. Maybe he didn’t care. He ran Canis fights… would just keep us chained up and starve us until we were ready to turn on each other and people paid to watch and bet on us. My collar was too tight… cut right into me, that’s the scar. At least until the weight started to drop off. I… I still don’t know where I got the strength, but when I was untied to be taken to fight, I got away. I just ran and ran until I collapsed. Somehow I was here,” he indicated the broken down buildings around them. “Other Canis helped me. Been here since, helping others.”
Will took a breath and Hannibal didn’t know what to say. It was impossible that someone made Canis fight each other for sport. That couldn’t possibly be, but why would Will lie?
Will shook his head. “I was with Jack three years and he couldn't even look me in the eyes as I begged him to let me stay with him." The words were growled as though Will were angry at himself for having begged, Hannibal was sure he wouldn't do the same now. "I’d been on the streets as a pup, adjusting wasn't hard, and I learned a lot when I was a working with Jack. So since then I've been trying to help others that find themselves on the street. And help them get to-"
Will cut himself off and gave Hannibal a sharp look as though he realised how freely he had been speaking considering how little he had said before.
"Anyways, just another sob story your highness." Will smirked, pulling back his bravado.
Hannibal frowned, realising his hand was still on Will's arm he removed it slowly. "I'm sorry that happened to you but-"
"Oh kiddo, there's no but." Will laughed and shook his head. "You still don't get it. We aren't shit to them. You still think our situations are so different? Do you think that once your owners hear what has happened while they've been gone they'll keep you? Nah, those Cattus were right, you'll be off to the shelter. If you're lucky you'll end up with another nice family, until they get bored of you too."
"I don't... I don't want a new family." Hannibal narrowed his eyes, wanting to hate Will for his nasty words. But he had been about to protest, as Will likely assumed. He had been about to say 'but that would never happen to me'. Maybe Will had thought that once too.
Will chuckled and started to walk away, leaving Hannibal to fall into step with him.
"The only family you can rely on is your own. I mean, your own flesh and blood. Those pups that you're so eager to have sired on you. That they'll send off to a finishing Institute as soon as they are weaned and get a nice little paycheck for them."
Hannibal felt the blood drain from his face. Another thing that hadn't occurred to him. Not really. Put like this it was a hard truth to acknowledge. They wouldn’t be sent right away he knew that but it had never really sunk in what that meant. He had never really aligned it with his sparse and sad memories of his own mother. Would they send all of them?
"They... they might let me keep one." Hannibal offered weakly.
Will's voice was low and gentle when he replied, none of the cutting bitterness of before. "Sweetheart, you could have a litter of two or three, maybe four. And you get to keep one? Are you going to choose? Are the humans? Will you be able to decide a favourite amongst your own flesh and blood? Will the humans just want to keep the one that is the prettiest, or most obedient?"
Hannibal trembled at the words, tears stinging the corners of his eyes. He came to a stop and Will did a moment later. The alpha turned and pulled Hannibal close, his nose falling to the alpha's scent gland. The strong scent was calming and comforting, as Will seemed to have intended.
"I'm sorry Hannibal. I hate that you're upset. But it's best for you to know... to understand the truth, that-"
"We're slaves." Hannibal finished on a sob.
Will felt terrible. His words had clearly upset Hannibal, but it would be equally cruel to shield the omega from the truth.
Hannibal had been quiet the whole rest of the walk to his place. Through the alleys, out into the little wasteland where Will lived. He had a little shack to himself, although it was no more than a makeshift bed in a shed, it had a vegetable patch surrounding it. This whole area used to be allotments before the sprawl of the city overtook it and then died - as far as he could tell. Now it was just another abandoned area beyond the perimeter of the city. The Licence Enforcers didn't even venture so far from the city, they would be terrifyingly outnumbered by non humans.
"It's not much... but it's mine." Will said by way of a welcome as he pushed open the half wedged door. It then ground to a halt up against his tiny table, leaving only enough room for them to squeeze in one at a time.
He went in first, turning on the little lamp on the shelf above his bed, so that Hannibal could see as he proceeded.
"You like tomatoes?" Will asked as the omega entered cautiously. As he waited for a reply, he watched Hannibal's eyes slowly close as he took a breath. Will flushed, realising his concentrated scent lingering in his tiny home was soothing to the omega. Will cleared his throat - "I grow my own and can make...uh, pasta. You want pasta?"
Despite being on home turf, literally, he felt somewhat vulnerable - like he was rolling over and exposing his belly.
As the omega's eyes adjusted to the dim light, Will was surprised to see his smile brighten. He looked almost excitedly at Will.
"This is lovely! This is all yours?"
Will frowned. How could a pampered pet think this hovel was anything in comparison to what he was used to?
"I only... I have a bed in the family room. It's... comfortable, pretty… It has lace trims... But... I..."
It had never occured to Will that rich human pets might not have their own rooms. He hadn’t had one with Jack, he’d had something a little similar to this - a kennel in the yard.
"You can stay as long as you like." Will found himself blurting quite unintentionally. He had planned to return the omega to his home the next day but as Hannibal’s scent started to fill the enclosed space and mingle sweetly with his own, Will’s resolve dissipated.