The tide whisks you away from me, cursing and roaring, I wait for you,
Biding my unsavoury time with senseless stories and unimaginable fairy-talesn
Arrive home to relieve me of my troubles
And replace them with the delicate blossom of intimacy
That characterises us so completely
The rain pounded against the windows of the train carriage in heavy, persistent droplets as it journeyed through the English countryside. Louis found himself gazing out of the window on a bitterly cold morning in early September. The rolling hills and grazing cattle enclosed by weather-worn fences passed him from his position curled up in the corner seat of the final carriage. He sipped the steaming cup of tea clutched in his hand and watched the tendrils of steam rise up, fogging his glasses and obscuring his vision slightly.
Louis' luggage - with all of his belongings packed tightly inside - rattled reassuringly as the train slowed down to allow more passengers aboard; an elderly female alpha with a distinctly floral scent accompanying her young grandchild, two male betas chatting about the atrocious weather and a middle aged omega who sat primly on a nearby seat. Louis smiled at her, noticing a faintly earthy smell wafting towards him, and she reciprocated enthusiastically before turning her attention to a thick novel she extracted from her bag.
Louis' mother, who was sat opposite him, kept smiling anxiously, as though trying to reassure herself. "We'll miss you terribly, darling," she said, folding his hands in her lap. Often, when she felt overwhelmed or nervous, she twisted her wedding band as a self-soothing mechanism. She had once confessed to Louis that she found strength and comfort in the knowledge that she always had her mate by he side through difficult periods.
"If there are any problems at all make sure you contact the campus officers," his father said. He straightened his back and pushed his glasses up his nose, an indication that he planned on lecturing Louis. "Even if someone says something about your status or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you must let them the officer know. Remember, the law is on your side even if many alphas aren't."
"Don't worry about me, Dad," Louis said easily. "Everything will be fine. I'm going to be one of the first omegas to go here - they'll have to give us the best facilities they can provide to save their asses."
His parents exchanged a dark look.
"I'm not sure I share your confidence, honey," his mother said. "It's not omega facilities that we're most concerned about; it's the way you'll be treated."
Louis' father fixed him with a stare, voice firm as he recited the same words he had told Louis ever since he received his acceptance letter the previous month. "Louis, you've been very lucky. Your mother and I have made it our priority to ensure you're given the same opportunities any alpha or beta could ever be given. You attended the best omega-tolerant school in the country. We've never restricted you because of your gender- "
"I know, and I appreciate that, but- "
"Let me finish," he warned, leaning forward in his seat. He spoke more quietly as he became conscious of the other passengers eavesdropping on their conversation. "People at university won't afford you those same luxuries. Candling University is... traditional in more ways than you might believe. It's a historic, prestigious school, with conservative lecturers and board members. The fact that they opened up places for omegas at all... well, let's just say that it was completely unprecedented."
He sighed and his mother squeezed his shoulder. "I don't doubt that you'll get a great education there and impeccable omega facilities. I just-" he turned to glance at his wife, placing a hand around her waist, "your mother and I need you to understand that you're going to be treated differently than you're used to and you have to just accept that." His tone, resigned but firm, revealed to Louis just how anxious he truly was.
"Alright, but I'm not going to accept being treated as inferior in any way," he said louder than he had intended; he had attracted the interest of the other passengers. The two betas paused their conversation to listen to him, one of them sneering. Louis turned his attention back to his parents.
"And we wouldn't want you to accept that, darling," his mother assured. She smiled proudly, her eyes glittering as weak sunlight seeped into the carriage. "We're just warning you of the obstacles that you'll undoubtedly face over the next couple of weeks. I'm sure that you'll settle into a nice routine soon enough, though. The other students and lecturers will just have become accustomed to having omegas on campus first."
Her words couldn't calm the nerves that lurked in Louis' thoughts. He tried to distract himself with any positive thought he could muster, trying to ignore the scenarios he kept imagining.
They ate chicken sandwiches, and basil and tomato soup on the train and Louis' mother had brought him a slice of the homemade cheesecake he was so fond of for dessert. They were sated and comfortable throughout the journey, Louis' thoughts wandering towards the societies he planned to join, the other omegas he would be sharing a dormitory with as well as the magnificent campus he had been dreaming about. He had spent weeks admiring the Victorian architecture, the enormous library and the enchanting grounds, complete with gardens, fountains and historic statues. Naturally, his dreams had romanticised the reality, but he found immersing himself in such dreams was an excellent source of comfort whenever his thoughts unhelpfully supplied images of omegas being harassed, stalked or abused. Louis sighed, reciting the importance of remaining sanguine to himself; if he believed that his time at Candling would be without difficulty, perhaps that dream would materialise.
The train arrived in central London in the early afternoon. When they reached the bustling street outside the station the rain had stopped but the dark clouds and biting wind promised more unfavourable weather. Louis clasped the buttons on his denim jacket and held his cup of tea, still radiating some warmth. He placed his rucksack over his shoulder and his father carried his larger suitcases before they made their way through the crowds.
They passed frantic business-people wielding umbrellas like weapons, confused holidaymakers complaining about the rain and queues outside restrooms, and wide-eyed families pointing and gazing at the sights of London.
His presence received a variety of reactions as they quickly walked through the city; curious glances, unapologetic sniffing, pointed fingers from little toddlers. Louis tightened his jaw and set his gaze on the back of his father's head, unwilling to meet their stares. Male omegas were uncommon - approaching three per cent of the overall population and merely thirty five per cent of the entire omega population - but they were not unheard of. He still felt like an anomaly wherever he went.
Having spent both his childhood and secondary education in omega friendly environments, venturing into London - where opinions about omegas could be conservative or radical - meant that Louis needed to proceed with caution. Fortunately, they managed to reach the bus station that would take them directly to the university with minor difficulty.
Aboard the bus, the beta driver smiled derisively at Louis but declined to comment. Although betas could identify the gender of another through smell alone, they were unable to detect mood intensity in their mates as alphas and omegas could. Alphas had a heightened sense of smell, a trait which traditionally allowed them to distinguish between potential mates and competitors. Omegas were susceptible to identifying emotional intensity. Contrary to popular belief, no gender could detect emotions but alphas and omegas possessed the ability to perceive mood intensity.
They walked through the bus, his mother attempting to engage in conversation with him but his attention was focused on the audible gasp from one of the passengers. An alpha speaking obnoxiously into a headpiece shot him a look of undisguised contempt and aggressively opened a window on the bus. Louis rolled his eyes and coughed loudly as an unsavoury smell filled his nostrils. His father, a perceptive beta, could detect the change and placed a hand on his son's shoulder and tried to distract him, pointing out the dense crowds gathering outside the approaching bus stop.
Louis' heart climbed to his throat and swallowed uncomfortably, redundantly adjusting the strap of his rucksack as an ornate sign reading 'Candling University' came into view. He smiled nervously at his mother.
"This is it, honey," she said excitedly, bright eyes reflecting those of her son. They got off the bus, hauling Louis' luggage, his father muttering unsavoury swear words about his son's wardrobe, and walked wide-eyed towards the main entrance.
The manicured front lawn was filled with students and parents alike, small groups of freshmen with tour guides and returning students shouting greetings at their friends after a long summer. Louis and his parents were immediately approached by an enthusiastic beta with kind eyes wearing a name-tag reading 'Student Ambassador: Niall'.
"Nice to meet you, mate," he said. "I've been told to show you to your dorm whether you need help or not," he chuckled.
They passed through the thickest crowd outside the entrance building and underneath a tall archway where a group of female alphas stared at him unabashedly. Louis focused on the boy accompanying him while his parents followed the pair, both in conversation about the enormity of the university grounds. Niall spent the trip through the campus gardens, past the arts and humanities centre and to the newly-converted omega dormitory building taking animatedly about his course.
"I'm studying music, myself," he said. "Never been too academically inclined but I was offered a music scholarship for this year - my second year - so I reckon I'm doing something right." He brought his hand to the back of his neck modestly.
"Were you given accommodation here as part of it?" he asked, thinking of the astronomical fees his parents were obliged to pay.
Niall shook his head. "I'm staying in an apartment about a ten minute walk from campus this year," he said, pointing towards the general direction of his apartment. "Unless you've been appointed a roommate you get along with, you'll want to do the same next year, too," he advised.
Louis nodded and shared his uncertainty about how he would adapt to living with another person. Niall recounted a number of amusing run-ins he had the previous year with his beta roommate, Archie. ("I swear, mate, he was so intimidating - wouldn't talk to me for the entire first week. If I hadn't seen the size of his dick when he was wanking off, I would have thought he was an alpha!")
Louis decided that he would make an effort to befriend Niall. He hadn't shown any uneasiness about Louis' gender and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about learning more about Louis. He actively engaged in conversation with him, talking about his interests and the clubs and societies he planned to join.
"I played football at school as a defender so I'd really like to join the team here," Louis said, prompting Niall to speak at length about the devastatingly low position of the university football team in the league.
They walked towards the steps to the entrance of the omega dormitories. The baronial building had an attractive facade an was located directly beside a small, enclosed rose garden. In the foyer a long desk covered in large folders and university brochures was stationed with four female betas chatting excitedly behind it. They looked up in unison when Niall, Louis and his parents arrived. They were met with welcoming smiles and cheerful waves.
Niall hesitated in front of the desk, nodding towards one of the betas approaching them. "Right, this is where I leave you," he said, smiling at Louis. "I really hope you'll enjoy it here, mate." He hesitated slightly before nodding to himself. "I just want to tell you that I think it's great omegas are finally allowed to enrol at Candling."
He smiled warmly and left with a wave over his shoulder and before Louis could utter a word of thanks one of the girls from the desk approached him, a brochure and map clutched in her hand.
"Hi there, I'm Leigh," she said, smiling between Louis and his parents. He immediately warmed to her, entranced by her musky smell which was unusually potent for a beta. "Could I get your name please?" She crossed his name off a list of the fifty omegas that had been offered a place that year - "we regret that the numbers aren't higher but it's quite promising for the first year" - before briskly leading them up the winding staircase through the omega dormitory building.
"There will only be forty nine other students living here," she said as they passed doors, each separated by the names inscribed there but otherwise identical, "but we expect figures to rise significantly next year. It's a major aim of our Student President to achieve a gender balance here in Candling that's reflective of the overall population."
"What are the figures like at the moment?" his mother asked.
"Well, aside from improving omega numbers and making admittance for them easier, beta numbers are higher than most English universities but, naturally, alpha numbers are the highest," she said.
Betas accounted for over half the general population but alphas dominated the top universities and occupations with the most occupational prestige. In the fields of politics, business and law alphas were found in the majority, a contentious issue which raised questions about adequate gender representation in decision-making sectors of society.
"And this is your room," she said, opening the final door on the third floor corridor. A small placard reading 'Louis Tomlinson, Year One, Law. Zayn Malik, Year One, Art' adorned the dark wooden door. Louis and his parents filed into the room behind her, nodding appreciatively at the bright, airy room. The walls were painted pale blue, two single beds separated by a small table with brochures and manuals stacked in a neat pile.
There was a large window complete with cream curtains behind the beds overlooking the expansive grounds. There was an adjoining bathroom with white marble tiles and a vast array of specialised omega products in a small hamper. Louis derived a deep sense of comfort from the fact the Candling had readily embraced their first omega students. He re-joined his parents in the room as Leigh was explaining the omega facilities provided in the dormitories.
"Each individual room has a lock setting that deters anyone entering except the omegas living there. When an omega has a-" she paused slightly, blushing and meeting Louis' eye determinedly, as though desperate to convey her acceptance of omega issues, "a heat, his or her room will be provided with extra precautionary measures including scent diffusers.
"All of the brochures include an omega-specific section which outlines the newly implemented protection laws for omegas on campus. When you look through the brochures you'll also see that there are alpha only and beta only societies where specific gender issues and requirements are discussed. I'm sure Niall mentioned it but we're hoping that some of the omega freshmen will set up an omega society too. As one of the Student Ambassadors," she said, proudly pointing towards her badge, "we'd really appreciate feedback on the omega facilities here."
Louis was astounded at her unequivocal acceptance of him and his gender. He couldn't help but smile at her." Thank you very much," he said earnestly. "Everything you've shown us so far is fantastic. I really didn't expect Candling to launch such a great campaign for us."
She smiled sadly." Neither did I, to be honest," she admitted. "I'm a junior and it wasn't until the end of term last year - when Candling was announced as an omega-tolerant university - that I heard of any new initiatives to accept omegas. This building here," she said, indicating around her, "was originally the quarters for lecturers and professors until three months ago."
Her phone rang in her pocket and she immediately apologised. "I have to get back downstairs for the next freshman but please don't hesitate to talk to any of the students wearing badges - we're all here to help you settle in," she said brightly before waving to him and his parents.
Louis breathed a sigh of astonishment, sharing a look with his father. "I wasn't expecting that at all," he said, falling onto one of the beds and removing his shoes.
His mother smiled at him and sat beside him, placing an arm around his shoulder. "I'm so relieved, Louis," she sighed. "I can sleep comfortably tonight knowing that you'll be sharing with another male omega."
His father nodded slowly before interrupted their musing, thoughtful expression on his face." I've only met betas on campus so far, though. It seems as though Candling purposefully avoided appointing alphas to guide the freshman students around campus."
Louis' mother tilted her head." That makes sense, I suppose," she said. "Candling wouldn't want to station alpha Student Ambassadors near the omega dormitories if they want to prove their commitment to provide nonthreatening facilities for omegas."
"In theory that makes sense but, when you think about it separating omega freshmen from other alphas on the first day will do more harm than good," Louis mused. "I mean, we're going to be attending the same lecturers so why not just put forward the most exemplary alphas? Show that Candling alphas have embraced changing attitudes towards omegas rather than creating a division between the genders."
The door opened slowly as Louis' father was about to respond. Louis breathed in a pungent smell - similar to hot rose infused candle wax - before a handsome male omega entered the room. His black hair was styled and he wore an mild expression. His effortlessly casual demeanour changed as he smiled shyly at the group, nodding at Louis before introducing himself as Zayn.
"Are you here with your parents, Zayn, dear?" Louis heard his mother ask.
He shook his head. "Nah, my parents are working and the journey's so long I figured it would be best to take the train early this morning from Bradford."
"Us too," Louis said. "I've been to Bradford for a footie match before."
Zayn smiled in recognition. "Odsal Stadium, is it? Yeah, my dad drags me to a few of those games every year. If he's going to have an omega son, he at least wants one who's interested in sports, 'ccording to him."
"Right," his father sighed, "I suppose that's our cue to leave, Louis."
Louis' spotted his parents share a look, evidently aware that the two omegas would soon feel the need to speak with one another privately and openly. It was in omegas' nature to seek out people of the same gender and they formed unyielding, equally-reliant bonds which could compete with even the strongest mate bonds. Omega relationships were the topic of extensive research, though their identifiable demeanour around each other and highly attuned connections were often romanticised by society. Their natural gentleness and the reverence with which omegas were inclined to treat each other was equated with innocence and exploited by the alpha community.
"You'll be careful, won't you, son?" Louis' father whispered. He clapped with a firm hand on his shoulder.
Louis' reply was muffled in his father's shirt as he pulled him in for a brief hug. His mother was watching him with a watery smile, tenacious grip on her handbag as though restraining herself from embracing her son. She was determined to speak to him before she dissolved into tears.
"Louis, my darling," she said, stepping in front of him and wrapping her arms around his slender frame. "I just want you to know that we're incredibly proud of you. We want this to be the best experience of your life and we don't want anything - not your gender or anyone else's opinions - to threaten that. We'll-" she paused, sniffing loudly before laughing at the tears collecting in her eyes, "we'll miss you terribly."
Louis embraced her, breathing in the baked goods and honey that defined her scent.
"Don't worry, mum," he whispered, keenly aware of his roommate observing them from where he sat on the second bed. "I'll call you tonight after the introductory lecture for freshmen."
She extracted them from the hug and, closing her eyes and breathing deeply, composed herself. His parents exchanged well wishes with Zayn before leaving the dormitory.
"Your folks seem great," he offered.
"They are. I'm-" he hesitated, swallowing thickly, "I'm going to miss them."
Zayn smiled at him before standing from his position on the bed to embrace his roommate quickly, unable to ignore his quivering lip and shy demeanour.
"Come on, then," he encouraged, stepping back from the hug, "let's start unpacking before we have to leave for the lecture."
Louis nodded in agreement and the two omegas sat facing each other on the separate beds.
"So, you're studying art, then?" he asked, pointing towards one of the small bags on Zayn's bed from which he was extracting sketchbooks and pencils.
Zayn nodded, smiling at his art supplies like a mother would smile at her newborn child.
"I've loved art ever since I was young. My mother's an omega and she was determined to send me to university because she was never given that opportunity. I think she was disappointed when I told her the degree I wanted to choose but once I got accepted here, she didn't really care."
Louis smiled at him. He suddenly remembered the astonishment and pride on his parents' faces when he read his acceptance letter aloud. He heard his voice crack and his finger tremble.
"Well, you know my parents are both betas," Louis said, removing a small pile of clothing from his suitcase and dividing the items to place in the wardrobe. "They've always tried to make sure I have the same opportunities a son of any other gender would but they never really experienced the kind of systematic discrimination that we. They try to understand but...it's not the same, is it?"
Zayn shook his head and smiled privately. "You speak like a true lawyer," he said, amused. Louis raised an eyebrow in question and Zayn pointed towards the door. "Your degree in written on the sign."
"Found it difficult to choose my degree course, though," Louis said, opening his rucksack to remove his stationery and textbooks. "I considered gender studies for a while, but I eventually decided that law would allow me a certain path towards making a difference for omegas. When I pick my law modules next semester, I think I'm going to specialise my degree in gender equality."
Zayn piqued an eyebrow. "That's incredible, mate. At least I know that my degree will have a beta majority but choosing the most alpha-esque degree in the first year Candling open places for omegas," he said incredulously, shaking his head, "that's brave."