Once upon a time there were three children. Their names were Matthew, Jessica and David, but they tended to go by Matt, Jess and Dave. Initially, they led fairly different lives and didn't have much in common, except that they were all in Australia.
At some point, however, they found themselves all living in the affluent East of Melbourne, in the same street. It was the best street in the best suburb in the best city in the best country in the world, but the street was very long, and their houses were the three worst houses in it, so it wasn't as great as it sounds.
Nevertheless, they began to see each other around and their parents, all being new to the area, got to know each other. It was only a matter of time before the children got to know each other, too.
Matt, Jess and Dave were quite close together in age and place of residence, so, even though they all went to different schools, they often ended up spending their afternoons and weekends relaxing together. They usually met up at Dave's, since his house was between Jess's and Matt's and he had a cool shed in the back yard, which felt very far away from parents, siblings and homework.
Dave was an inquisitive little fellow, and loved to tell the others about things he'd learned recently. He would tell them about art, cultural events, history, science... whatever he happened to have come across recently. They in turn would mostly respond by telling jokes and laughing about all of it. Dave didn't mind, though, because he enjoyed ridiculing the things he talked about, too; that was the other thing they had in common.
Pretty soon, Jess and Matt began to share the things they were interested in, as well. Sometimes they ended up making fun of each other, as children often do (for example, Dave had not been able to take Jess's passion for Riverdance seriously at all and often joked about how dumb it was, and Jess would loudly groan at Matt repeatedly sharing the same two sporting facts), but it was mostly in jest. On the whole, they enjoyed learning from each other, sharing their joys and fooling around. They were becoming friends.
On one afternoon, Dave was telling Matt and Jess about how bodies are embalmed before open-casket funerals. He had been looking into what happened to bodies after death, and embalming had struck him as one of the most unpleasant things in common practice. Naturally, that was the one he most wanted to share with his newfound friends.
Jess was finding the whole discussion thoroughly unpleasant and felt moved to question what kind of person would voluntarily become an embalmer. She was pretty grossed out just from hearing about it.
"Oh, they're definitely serial killers or something," Dave said. "It's like, someone comes up to you and says, 'I've got a disgusting job for you. It's gonna pay really badly. Would you like to do it?'"
"Do I get to be alone with dead bodies?" Jess responded, managing briefly to appear genuinely intrigued by the idea, before succumbing to giggles.
After some more hypothesising about the mental states of funeral directors and embalmers (especially embalmers), Dave went on to describe how the insides were sucked out and replaced with formaldehyde. "Then the anus and vagina are often stuffed to prevent leakage." He looked at his friends' disbelieving stares. "I'm not kidding. This is straight from a funeral website."
Jess looked like she was about to cry.
Matt's eyebrows were raised. "So, this is what happens for open caskets. Why is anyone doing that? The next time you see an open casket, next time you watch My Girl... Macaulay Culkin really went through a whole lot for this role."
This helped lighten Jess's mood a little bit and she wheezed with laughter. "They stuffed his vagina!"
This was the conversation that made them realise they enjoyed creeping each other out, and they soon began to seek out gross or unsettling facts and stories to share with the others. Dave and Jess openly enjoyed doing this from time to time, but Matt claimed that he never did it intentionally. The other two found this difficult to believe, as he sometimes told them about serial killers or presented them with disturbing unsolved mysteries and was then (somehow) surprised by their reactions, even though he was easily upset by such stories.
Jess quickly realised that, while she saw them just as creepy stories, Matt was much more aware that the people involved were real and, although he was normally quite talkative, he said very little when Dave or Jess told him about murders and tragedies.
In next to no time, Jess began to playfully tease the other two, both when they were trying to tell her something and when she was supposed to be "teaching" them. One of her favourite running gags was that Matt was really old compared to her and Dave, even though there was barely more than a year between them. She would also go on about how tiny Dave was, which was perhaps a bit more accurate; he was pretty small, and always had been, although she sometimes made it sound like he was the size of a toddler, which was a slight exaggeration.
As they got to know each other better, she found new things to tease them about and in time, they began to join in, making fun of each other for things that were, at best, vaguely based in fact.
This chapter includes some quotes from the Do Go On episode "Cremation, Burial or Other". Well worth a listen if you're looking for some fun, gross nonsense: https://www.planetbroadcasting.com/our-shows/do-go-on/episodes/10-cremation-burial/
They met up and talked vaguely educational nonsense almost every afternoon. Their friendship was a constant in all their lives, and it had not occurred to them that something might get in the way of it.
Once, Matt told the other two that his class had started sex education that day. Dave and Jess had touched upon the basics a few years before, but they hadn't had the big preparatory lesson Matt had just experienced.
"It kind of freaked me out, honestly," Matt told them.
Jess frowned. "Why?"
"'Cause, you know..." Matt shrugged and gestured around him, as if that was supposed to explain things. He could tell from Jess and Dave's expressions that he would have to elaborate a bit.
"I'm a boy, right? I've always been a boy. That's what I've been, my whole life. And now that's just gonna change? That's pretty weird, right?"
"Well," Dave said, "you'll still be a boy."
"But I'll be something else, as well. Being male is going to become secondary to... whatever else happens. 'Whatever else', that freaks me out, too: not knowing what I'm going to be. I mean, right now, I just wanna be me. I don't want to be... anything else."
"You'll still be you," Jess reassured him. "Look, it happens to everybody. Everybody presents at some point, and yes, it means you're gonna change, but you'll also still be Matt. It's gonna happen to all of us, and no matter how we present, I'll still be Jess, Dave'll still be a pipsqueak..."
"Shut up, Riverdancing idiot!" Jess just rolled her eyes.
"We'll still be us; it's just, this is what happens when you grow up."
"Do you think you know what you're gonna be?" Dave then asked. It was something he had wondered about in passing, but he'd never given it that much thought, hoping that he would grow up and fill out a bit before he needed to worry about presenting. It had always seemed very far away, something for older Dave to deal with. But if Matt was already learning about it at school, that meant it would probably start to be important soon.
"Yeah, I've thought about it a bit." Matt felt hesitant, but he decided to go on and say everything that had been on his mind. "And they were saying that, like, it's usually kind of genetic, so I'll probably be a beta, because everyone else in my family is. But I'm also already pretty hairy, which they said can sometimes be a sign that you're going to be an alpha, and that really freaks me out, because I don't really want to be an alpha."
"I don't really think it matters what you are, though," Jess said. "Not like it used to, anyway. You don't have your life prescribed to you; you can do whatever you want, even if you're an alpha."
"It's easy for you," Matt retorted, a little more aggressively than he intended, "you've got all sorts in your family, so they'll be fine with you no matter what, and there'll always be someone to give you help and advice. If I'm not a beta, I'll always be the odd one out. Also, alphas are scary," he finished, staring dejectedly at the floor.
Jess didn't understand why Matt was making a big deal of this and she was starting to get annoyed. "My dad's an alpha! You think my dad is scary?"
"No, of course not, your dad is great. But being an alpha." His eyes grew wide whenever he thought of it. "They're huge, and aggressive and... have you ever seen an alpha's penis?" It took him too long to realise the implications of that question, and Jess could see the regret on his face as it sunk in. "I'm sorry Jess, I didn't mean it like that."
"That's fine," Jess sighed. She was pretty over this conversation already. "You just need to relax, Matt. It's not gonna happen for a while yet, and when it does, you're just gonna have to deal with it like everyone else does."
Dave had been pretty quiet throughout the whole conversation, not wanting to say anything that would make things awkward or tense. But for the first time, he was wondering what growing up would mean for them and the future of their friendship.
Such thoughts were soon pushed aside, however, and were replaced by other things that seem important to a child. When they talked about the Queen, for instance, Matt found himself outnumbered, as Jess and Dave were quite fond of her. Matt maintained that, while he didn't think she was a bad person, he didn't like that she was born into the role of supreme leader, as he put it.
Dave felt a little defensive. "Well, she's not as bad as some supreme leaders in the world."
"Oh, yeah," Matt responded. "Are we gonna rank them all? All right, Dave; you kick us off."
Dave didn't hesitate. "Kim Jong-Il, number one bad guy. Living!" he quickly amended. "Living!"
Matt nodded. "Then we've got Queen Elizabeth II would be number two. It's in her name." He was pleased to see that Dave wasn't so fond of the Queen that he would object to this joke.
They then got on to talking about her childhood and Matt remembered that Princess Elizabeth had once performed the Nazi salute.
"Accidentally." Dave was getting defensive again.
"It's no accident! She did it on purpose," Matt retorted.
"Yeah, like in the 1930s," Dave amended, "before Hitler was that ba- well-known to be a..."
"Before he was that bad," Matt interrupted him. "Before Hitler was that bad. He's a bloody monarchist, and a Nazi sympathiser. What else you got, Dave?"
Despite (or, more likely, because of) Dave's protestations, both Matt and Jess thoroughly enjoyed claiming that he was a Nazi sympathiser and proceeded to do so almost every time they met up for many months afterwards. He didn't mind as much as he pretended to, knowing that they were only joking, except when they made those jokes in public. Other people, he explained, might not realise that they were joking. As such, Dave the Nazi sympathiser became one of many private jokes.
Some more Do Go On quotes, this time from the episode on Queen Elizabeth II: https://www.planetbroadcasting.com/our-shows/do-go-on/episodes/13-queen-elizabeth-ii/
"It's crazy," Dave was saying, "that there was such a long time I didn't know who you were."
Of course, the time they had spent not knowing each other had only been a few years, but that seemed an awfully long time to them. After all, their whole lives had only been a few years at this point.
"Yeah," Jess said. "Do you ever reckon there'll be a time when we're old, say Matt's age." She cast a glance in his direction and wiggled her eyebrows. "And we look back on this time and we go, 'Wonder what they're doing', 'cause we've been out of touch for so long?"
"No," Matt responded, shaking his head. "I don't think you'll ever get to my age."
Both Jess and Dave agreed, grinning.
Matt began to ramble about how hard it was to catch up to someone else's age, especially if that person was older, until Jess interrupted him: "Could you stop?"
"Yeah, I can stop." Matt was all set to start rambling about stopping and starting and how many times he had done it in the past, but Dave spoke before he could.
"It's called death," he said with a chuckle.
Jess smiled and rolled her eyes. "Well, don't do that. Anyway," she sighed, feeling unusually sentimental, but not wanting to upset the light-hearted mood they had established. "I just hope that I never lose you. Matt, please, do go on."
When Jess had her sex education a while later, she didn't tell the others. She didn't think it was important and she hadn't really learned anything new anyway. She knew that, no matter what happened, they would all be fine. They would be free to live their lives and would most definitely not be held back by their biology.
When Dave had his sex education, around the same time, he didn't say anything, either. In his case, it wasn't because he didn't think it was important; it was because he was scared.
He had learned about the differences between the three genders, in much greater detail than he had before. They weren't just different physically; there were differences in their emotions and behaviour, as well. He had known that, of course, but it had never felt so real before, or so relevant.
Alphas were big, strong, aggressive. They were always in charge and always wanted to get their partners pregnant.
Betas were more laid back and kind of just did what they wanted; they were all different from each other. They changed the least during puberty and led the most varied lives.
Omegas were subservient to their alphas and always submitted. They were weak and needy and wanted nothing more than to have a lot of babies.
That was what Dave took away from those lessons, at any rate.
Everyone said that it was impossible to tell how someone would present ahead of time. Yes, there were sometimes indicators, but you could never be sure.
No, there was definitely no way to know for certain, but...
When they discussed omegas, Dave felt as if every child in the class was casting him furtive glances. Sure, you couldn't tell how someone would present, but Dave was an exception. Dave would obviously be an omega. Everyone knew it.
Tiny Dave, the smallest child in the entire year. How could he not be an omega, with his little body? When he had started school, his hands had been too small to hold a pencil properly. He had needed special classes to deal with it. They had never met anyone else so small in stature.
But Dave didn't want to be an omega. The very idea terrified him. It made him feel ill.
Everything he knew about them felt so foreign to him. All of their traits seemed alien. He didn't want an alpha controlling him, running his life and telling him what to do all the time. He didn't want babies. He definitely didn't want to be giving birth to babies. The idea that presenting could make so much about him change frightened him.
He thought of the words he'd heard used to describe omegas. Submissive. Needy. Pliant.
He stopped his mind from going further. He told himself that everyone else might be wrong, and even if they weren't, he wouldn't be presenting any time soon, so there was no point in worrying now.
But he just couldn't bring himself to believe that.
Perhaps surprisingly, about a third of this chapter is closely inspired by a conversation in the episode "Why Do Girls Wear Pink and Boys Wear Blue?" I was listening to it and thought this bit had to go in. https://www.planetbroadcasting.com/our-shows/do-go-on/episodes/117-girls-wear-pink-boys-wear-blue/
Lots of people say they were scared of presenting. It's perfectly normal. There's nothing wrong with me. It's okay to be afraid. It'll feel fine when it happens.
You don't really believe that, do you? You don't actually think you'll just magically feel different on the day you present?
Well, everyone else does! Why should I be any different? It'll be the same for me as it is for everyone else.
Ah, but everyone else is only scared of presenting as something they aren't meant to be. You're scared of being an omega, and that is what you're meant to be.
Well, maybe it isn't. Maybe I'm not supposed to be an omega. Maybe it's all a mistake.
Is that why you're afraid? Because you're a mistake?
No! I'm not a mistake! It's just my biology is wrong... I'm turning into the wrong thing.
If you're turning into the wrong thing, then it isn't going to magically get better. You'll slowly lose control over yourself until you're just another omega; your biology will be all that matters.
You're right. Oh God, you're right. I'm going to change so I won't be me anymore. I'm going to turn into something else and Dave'll disappear and there'll be nothing left of me. It'll kill me.
It's going to kill me.
And I can't tell anyone. Because they wouldn't understand.
Considering that his favourite colour was green, and that both Dave and Jess said that their favourite colour was blue, Matt had become curious as to why pink was considered a girls' colour, while blue was seen as a boys' colour.
After doing some research, he reached the conclusion that it was all a marketing gimmick and probably had very little (if anything) to do with differences between the genders. After all, he had discovered that this custom of connecting genders with colours had only come about in the last century.
Dissatisfied, he told Jess and Dave about it the next time they met up.
"I think you'd kind of struggle nowadays to find anything that wasn't pink for a girl," Jess mused. "Not in terms of clothing. Like, there'd definitely be a lot of pink, but there is some variety. But, if someone you knew had a baby and you wanted to get a card, all the 'It's a Girl' cards are gonna be pink. I would purposefully look for something that isn't, but you would struggle."
"Yeah," Matt responded, "for the most part that's probably true. I imagine, probably, in response to that, people are probably starting to offer alternatives."
"Mm," Jess agreed, doing her best not to smile, "probably."
"Because there's a market for it," Matt went on. "People who don't wanna do that necessarily."
"Probably," Jess said again. She was smiling now. "You said 'probably' about eight times in that sentence."
"Probably, yeah." Matt was smiling too now. "Well, I don't want anyone to think that I'm being definite in anything that I'm saying."
Dave was surprised to discover, upon looking at his watch, that they had been discussing colours (specifically, pink and blue) for over an hour.
"That's another thing," Matt was saying, "it's not like children's gender is binary. That's pretty clear now, right? So, it's quite bizarre that there's only two colours?"
Dave nodded. "Great point."
Matt paused for a few seconds. "It feels like it's only a matter of time before it's abandoned. There will be people, for a while, saying 'PC Police' and stuff. But they'll get it." He was feeling rather hopeful by now.
Discussing this thing that had been bothering him had really ended up helping.
Jess woke up and stared at her bedroom ceiling. Her thoughts felt unusually loud, but also remarkably slow.
Has the ceiling always been that colour? The colour looks different. Don't be silly, Jess! How could the ceiling just change colour overnight? I'm sure it's always been that colour. But it feels different. And it definitely didn't used to hurt my eyes so much to look at it.
Also, why is it so hot? It's July! It should not be this hot, and I should not be this sweaty. And on a related note, my skin was definitely not this red the last time I looked at it. I feel so weird. And not in a good way.
I wonder what'll happen if I sit up.
Whoops! That was a bad idea. I think I made the room fall over. This is not good. And now my stomach's trying to escape through my ears. Oh God, I'm going to be sick.
Am I dying? This seems like what dying probably feels like. My whole body's falling apart. The room's collapsing. Yep, I'm probably dying.
Or am I not dying? Maybe I'm just really, really sick. In all honesty, I think that would be worse. I feel so terrible. I really hope I'm just dying. Then it'll all be over soon. Or maybe...
Am I presenting? Everyone says that presenting feels like shit, and I sure do feel like shit right now, so I'm probably presenting.
How long did they say this goes on for? How long until the floor stops turning?
Come on Jess, you just learned this! How could I have not paid attention when they explained how presenting works?
And what am I? They must have mentioned that part. How can you tell what you're presenting as? I seem to remember them saying that presenting as a beta is the least shit. But how shit is that? I've got nothing to compare it to! For all I know, this is the least shit presenting can feel. God, that's a terrible thought. I can't imagine feeling any worse than this.
I should probably go ask Mum. She's presented before, she'll know what to do. She'll be able to tell me what this shit means.
But first, I have to pee. And probably be sick, too.
Jess arrived at Dave's earlier than usual that afternoon. Dave asked her if school had finished early for her, and she told him she hadn't gone that day. She didn't elaborate and Dave thought that she seemed awfully energetic.
She got more and more restless while they waited for Matt. By the time he finally arrived, she was bouncing up and down with excitement.
"Guys," she started immediately after closing the door, "I have a penis!"
"What?!" Dave asked, his eyebrows rising rapidly.
"Um, Dave," Matt responded quietly, "I think she said she has a penis."
"Yeah, I know, Matt. It's just... You didn't have one yesterday." He turned to her, almost confrontationally. "Right?"
"No, it grew in the night." Jess was grinning from ear to ear and still bouncing from one foot to the other. "It's still really small, like a baby's, but it's going to keep growing. I'm so excited; I feel all grown up!"
Matt got over the surprise of this revelation first and went to congratulate her. Dave was still standing by the wall, as if it was giving him support, so Jess said, "Dave, could you stop staring at me? It's not like you don't have a penis."
"Sorry," he said quickly. "It's just, you've presented... and you're an alpha. I'm just- This is exciting, isn't it?" He put on a smile and did his best to seem happy about this turn of events.
They spent some time talking about being an alpha, the changes Jess would be experiencing, how she was feeling and so on. Now that she knew what she was, Jess was only too happy to talk about it in detail.
Matt asked whether people smelled different to her now. "A bit," she said. "But it's not very strong yet. It's supposed to get gradually stronger until my first rut, but that's probably still months away. You guys still smell the same as before."
After a while, they started to talk about other things, like the Zodiac Killer, whom Jess had been reading up on. The boys managed to get caught up in the story and briefly, the significance of the day's events was forgotten.
But when they were back home, by themselves, both Dave and Matt remembered how nervous Jess's presenting made them. It meant that it would be their turns soon, and they were far less relaxed about the whole thing than Jess had been. But neither of them wanted to spoil this for her. Despite not spending all that much time talking about it directly, she seemed overjoyed to be an alpha. Matt hoped that he would feel the same when his time came. Dave just became more worried.
This time I don't expect anyone to be surprised to hear that there's a bit of "Why Do Girls Wear Pink and Boys Wear Blue?"
Chapter 5: The Second Presentation
Dave and Matt didn’t see Jess for a few days during her first rut. It weighed on both their minds, but neither of them had the courage to bring it up to the other.
When it was over, Jess seemed reluctant to talk about it, too.
“It sucked,” was all she said. Matt wanted to hear a little more, though. Part of him wanted to be prepared, in case he did turn out to be an alpha one day.
“I’ve never been so angry at everything,” Jess elaborated, after a little prompting. “I was just angry at everything and wanted to attack everyone.”
Dave felt a little awkward, but there was something he thought it was important to ask: “Were you horny, too?”
Jess raised her eyebrows at him, but answered nevertheless. “So horny. That was probably a big part of why I was so angry. Really angry. Really horny. Couldn’t think straight. It was horrible.
“Dad says it gets better, though. When you’ve got a mate, obviously that helps, but he says you just get used to it and better at handling it, anyway. So that’s something to look forward to, at least.”
Dave was struck at this point that Jess hadn’t really changed much since presenting. Physically, he didn’t think she’d changed at all (well, apart from growing a penis, but he hadn’t ever seen that, he just knew because she’d told him). And she didn’t behave differently around him, either. He would have expected her to get all aggressive and possessive.
Although, now that he thought of it, Jess had always been kind of aggressive. Even her laughter was somewhat confrontational, a least if you weren’t used to it. So maybe she’d always been something of an alpha?
He supposed that she was quite lucky, presenting such that she would hardly have to change at all.
Matt presented a few months later. It was a Thursday, so Jess was playing netball and the two boys were alone in the shed.
After a little idle chitchat, Matt decided to come right out with it. “I presented this morning.”
“Oh?” Dave didn’t think he could say anything more than that. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. His hands were getting damp. He had secretly been fearing this moment for many months now. If Matt was an alpha, like he suspected he might be, it would spell the end of these afternoons together.
Everyone knew that alphas could be friends with other alphas, that was obvious; they could even be friends with betas, since there was no risk of becoming attracted (betas could be friends with anyone, the lucky bastards), but an alpha could not be friends with an omega. He had learned that alphas and omegas wanted nothing more than to breed with each other and, if they were unmated, they would find it almost impossible to be around each other without trying to jump each other.
As such, Dave had already resigned himself to the fact that, when he presented, he wouldn’t be able to see Jess anymore. Sure, they would see each other around, but they wouldn’t be able to spend time together socially. In other words, they couldn’t be friends anymore. He had become so used to these afternoons together, him with his two best friends. It would be so difficult to say goodbye to having fun with Jess. He didn’t think he could bear to lose Matt, too. When he imagined Matt and Jess staying friends while he was off being an omega, the two of them meeting up and having fun without him, it made his chest ache.
“Yeah.” Matt went on, slowly. “I was nauseous, sweaty. Just like Jess said.”
“And did you also discover that you have a penis?” Dave did his best to appear light-hearted, even though he was panicking inside.
Matt rolled his eyes. “Yes, Dave. I do indeed have a penis. And I also… Like I said, I was sweating all over, but it was really wet between my legs.”
Dave frowned. Jess hadn’t mentioned anything like that, and it didn’t sound right when he thought of what he’d learned about betas, either.
“Turns out I’m an omega,” Matt said, looking intently into Dave’s eyes.
Dave felt his eyes growing wider. Matt chuckled at his expression.
With that one short sentence, Dave’s emotions had launched him from terrified to ecstatic. Matt was an omega! That meant that they could stay friends. More than that, when Dave presented, he would have one of his best friends to help him through it. He would have someone who had experienced all the same things, just slightly before him. No matter how awful being an omega turned out to be, he wouldn’t be alone.
Then, just as quickly, his heart sank again. Matt had presented as an omega. That meant that he would have to suffer through all the things Dave had been fearing. As much as he didn’t want to go through all of it alone, he also didn’t want one of his friends to be forced to bear the burden of being an omega. As soon as he realised this, he began to feel guilty that he had been glad to hear Matt’s news. And on top of that, while the two of them could now remain friends, they would both have to say goodbye to Jess. Matt had already presented, so he would have to do it now. And then she would be the one left without friends. Now Dave felt incredibly downtrodden.
At that moment, the door opened. Jess had just gotten back from netball practice.
Chapter 6: What is an Omega, Really?
Jess stood in the doorway for a second, just staring at the other two. Then she wrinkled her nose and her eyes zeroed in on Matt.
"Matt? Is that you?"
Matt smiled sheepishly. "If by 'that' you mean the vile stench of omega, then yes, that is me."
Jess gasped. Loudly, as she was wont to do. "You presented?" Her voice had become unusually high-pitched and Dave was worried by how excited she seemed.
Both boys' hearts leaped into their throats when Jess threw herself at Matt, but they calmed down as soon as they realised that all she was doing was crushing him in a congratulatory hug.
"Matthew!" she shouted. "That's so great, congratulations! How do you feel?"
Matt shrugged. "Fine, I guess."
She pulled away and looked him up and down. "You smell great," she said with a friendly smile.
"Really?" Matt shuffled around uncomfortably.
"Yeah. Like pre-presentation Matt, only better. Sweeter, I guess."
Matt considered this for a moment. "You smell good, too," he said. "Musky, sort of."
Jess cocked her head to the left. "Musky. I like that."
They regarded each other silently.
"So," Dave said slowly as he watched them. "Are you two okay? To be together, I mean?"
Jess grinned happily. "Yeah. We're okay. Right, Matt?"
"Yeah." Matt returned the grin. "We're okay."
And so, it turned out that Dave had been wrong about everything. Not only was one of his best friends now an omega (something he had honestly never even considered might occur), but the fact that the other was an alpha hardly seemed to matter. Matt and Jess were still good friends, just like they had been before.
Jess, with her relaxed attitude towards... well, most things, really, never thought that how any of them presented would have an effect on their relationship, and Matt and Dave just went along with that. Despite what they had been taught at school, this ended up working just fine.
Neither Matt nor Jess ever seemed overcome with lust when they saw each other. Sure, it would be unwise for them to see each other during Jess's rut or Matt's heat, but Jess was already keeping track of her ruts and always stayed at home when they came on. Matt would do the same when he started his first heat, so there was no danger in them staying friends.
Dave's fear of presenting had now almost disappeared. He still wasn't wild about being an omega, but where he had previously thought of it as turning from one thing (himself) into another (?!?) (he didn't even want to think about it), he now realised there wasn't actually that much change involved, at least not at first. Most of the changes were fairly gradual. Matt, much like Jess, had not been transformed into another person; on the contrary, he seemed to be becoming more at ease and comfortable with who he was all the time. Dave might even say that he was becoming more himself.
When Dave voiced this one Thursday, Matt confessed that presenting had come as a huge and unexpected relief.
"I never really talked about it, but I was pretty scared of becoming an alpha. And I sort of hoped that I would be a beta, like my parents, but I wasn't thrilled about that, either. It never occurred to me that I might be an omega. I mean, who ever heard of a hairy omega?"
"Matt," Dave said after a pause, "you've said before that you're 'hairy'. You are a fourteen-year-old with a full beard. Don't you think that goes a little beyond just 'hairy'?"
Matt waved this aside. "You're right, Dave, I am extremely hairy. My point still stands, though. If anything, being extremely hairy makes it even stronger. I guess, what I'm trying to say is, I've realised that I was so worried about presenting, because part of me kind of knew I was meant to be an omega. Like, of course I didn't like the idea of being an alpha, or even a beta, because it's not what I am. I feel like now I can finally be me, without worrying that I'm supposed to be someone else."
Dave was beginning to suspect that he had been putting too much emphasis on physical appearance. They were still children, after all, and couldn't be expected to look like adults the moment they presented.
Jess didn't look like an alpha (yet); she looked like a girl. Matt didn't look like an omega; he looked like... a bearded child. With that in mind, it seemed like Matt might never look like Dave's preconceived idea of an omega.
Really, their behaviour hadn't changed the way he'd expected, either. He'd already noticed that Jess had always been a bit of an alpha, and he was now starting to realise that Matt might always have been a bit of an omega.
That wasn't to say that Matt couldn't assert himself or that he always submitted to someone more domineering; on the contrary: Matt held strong opinions and tended to stick to his guns, but he was never aggressive or confrontational. He took others' feelings into consideration and was always polite and friendly, from what Dave had seen. And, Dave remembered suddenly, he was a vegetarian. That was pretty typical omega behaviour.
Boy, were they lucky that their personalities had already fitted with how they ended up presenting.
Dave was eager to learn as much as he could from Matt. Sure, he had learned it all at school, in detail (too much detail for his taste), but Matt made it feel so much more personal, real and, most of all, good. He seemed so happy about who he was and what he felt.
Dave had never said outright that he wanted to be prepared for when he presented, and Matt never mentioned it either, but he knew why Dave asked him things he had never asked Jess about. Of course he knew. But he didn't mind. In fact, he enjoyed having someone to talk to and confide in who didn't make him feel strange and different.
"It was kinda weird," he told Dave after his first heat had come to an end, "but not completely in a bad way. I did feel... different, though."
"Different in what way?" Dave asked.
"Well, you know I'm usually fine to make my own decisions, right? Like, I don't really want other people telling me what I can and can't do. But during my heat, I just wanted someone else to take over and tell me what's what and do everything for me. I wanted someone to take care of me, like I was a little kid."
"By 'someone', do you mean an alpha, specifically?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "An alpha." Then he sighed. "Any alpha, really. I kept thinking about every single alpha I know, even though I'd never thought about most of them in that way at all before." He didn't think it was necessary to explain what he meant by "in that way".
Dave swallowed. "Did you think about Jess, too?"
Matt was quiet for a few seconds. "Look, I tried not to. Whenever I thought of her, I'd try to imagine someone else, who I didn't know that well, because... you know, that's not how I want to think of Jess."
"Did that work? Imagining someone else?"
Matt grimaced. "Sorta? I mean, it didn't work perfectly, but it's over now; it hasn't made things weird between us, so I guess it's fine."
"Do you think..." Dave's eyes had grown wide. "Do you think Jess thinks about you during her ruts?"
They said no more on the subject.
Dave wasn't entirely convinced, but every day Matt showed him that no problem was insurmountable. If Matt was able to cope (and cope well, with most things), then Dave would be able to cope, too.
Chapter 7: We Join Our Protagonists at Dinner
The three friends were just sitting down to eat dinner (at Jess's house, for a change). Jess's mum had roasted a chicken.
When Matt politely declined the meat and took only vegetables, Dave frowned slightly. "Oh yeah," he said. "I forgot you aren't eating meat anymore."
"I forgot, too," Jess said sheepishly. "Well, I didn't forget, I just forgot to tell Mum. Sorry, mate. And Mum; sorry for not telling you."
Dave sat in thoughtful silence as they ate. He was quite a slow eater, so when everyone else was finished, he had eaten less than half his meal. In fact, Jess's parents had already gotten up and left, with instructions to Jess to clear up when everyone was done. Matt and Jess, however, remained seated to keep Dave company.
"Do you think there's a connection?" he said, staring off into the middle distance. Jess turned to face him directly.
"A connection between what and what, Dave?"
Dave seemed taken aback to hear her speak and looked around the table as if he had been unaware that there were other people in the room.
"Oh," he said, surprised that this wasn't clear. "Do you think, Matt," he pointed at Matt to make it perfectly clear whom he was addressing, "that you stopped eating meat because you're an omega?"
"Dave, Matt became a vegetarian months ago, way before he presented."
"I know, but-"
"No," Matt interrupted, his eyebrows slightly raised. "I don't think there's a connection. Anyone can be a vegetarian, you know."
"Well..." Dave frowned, failing to pick up that Matt was already getting slightly offended and Jess was all set to follow, despite being neither vegetarian nor an omega. "You know, the typical image of a vegetarian is either an omega or a female beta, so..."
"Dave." Jess didn't know what to say. She settled on: "Finish your food. We're all done already. And stop being a dick."
"I'm not being a dick!"
"You are a bit, mate," Matt said, looking at his empty plate.
Now all of them were offended.
"Oh, come on!" Dave cried. "I- I don't mean it like that! It's just... You know!"
"Oh, I know exactly what you mean," Jess huffed. "And in response, I would like to announce that I am giving up meat for... life."
Matt sighed in exasperation. "Jess, don't start saying things-"
"I'm not just saying things, I mean it. I've been thinking about it for a while, and I don't want to eat animals anymore." She raised her voice here to shout, "Mum, Dad, no more meat for me, thanks! What do you think of that, Dave?"
Dave was seething but doing his best not to let on. "I think that's great, Jess, and I wish you the best of luck with it."
Jess smiled humourlessly as she gazed at him. "You don't think I can do it." Her voice had risen significantly over the course of the conversation. "You think, because I'm an alpha, I can't be a vegetarian!"
That was exactly what Dave thought, but he would be damned if he was going to admit it. "I think you can do anything if you put your mind to it, Jess. All I meant is that there's a tendency for vegetarians to be omegas or female betas." He was backtracking, as well as upsetting his two best friends, but that was better than admitting that he had said something stupid.
"Great," Jess responded. "I'm glad to see how open-minded you are." She didn't look glad, though.
It was unusual for them to argue like that.
And it was unusual for Matt to wish that he wasn't an omega.
Jess never ate meat again.
One day at school, a concerned friend came up to Jess during break.
"Jess, are you not eating meat anymore?" she asked, one hand on Jess's shoulder.
Jess nodded in response. "Yeah, I've given it up."
Her friend appeared to grow even more concerned at this blasé confirmation. "What, like you're a vegetarian?" she asked, for some reason whispering the last word.
Jess frowned. "Yep," she agreed. "I'm a vegetarian."
Her friend considered this briefly before asking, "Are alphas even allowed to do that?"
Jess sighed. "Yes. We are. Turns out that alphas can do anything if we put our mind to it."
It was meant to be sarcastic, but her statement seemed to be taken quite seriously for a while after that.
A very short while.
At first, Jess was almost a bit of a celebrity amongst her schoolmates. But then it turned out that an alpha who didn't eat meat wasn't actually that big a deal and they got bored of talking about it very quickly.
Matt had three siblings and, as such, his family was used to having many people around. None of them had ever had a bedroom all to themselves (although they were currently down to two per room), so, on a weekend when two of his siblings were away, Matt took the opportunity to invite Jess and Dave over for a sleepover.
After a fun-filled evening of dinner (free of both meat and arguments) and a movie, they were sent off to bed, Matt and Dave to one room, Matt's younger sister and Jess to another.
Jess lay staring silently into the darkness for several minutes, until the house had grown quiet. She then got up slowly, wondering how she had never noticed how much noise bed covers made when they shifted.
Her feet pattered across the floor until she reached the door, turning its handle so loudly that surely everyone in the street had heard it.
After passing through the doorway, she turned around and locked eyes with Matt's sister, who pointedly rolled over to face the wall.
Jess closed the door, all ready to pretend she was going to the toilet if she met anyone in the passage, but it was deserted.
The door to the boys' room was much quieter and when she stepped inside, even though they had made no arrangements, neither Matt nor Dave seemed surprised to see her there.
"Aw, there you are, Jess," Matt whispered, grinning. "Dave was just telling me about the Denver Airport."
Jess raised her eyebrows and almost left on the spot, but Matt's grin gave her pause. Perhaps there was something out of the ordinary going on at the Denver Airport (although it was just like Dave to get excited about an entirely unremarkable building).
Matt continued: "It's shaped like a swastika."
Jess sat down at the foot of Matt's bed. "Go on."
Dave did go on, in hushed whispers, about the airport's unusual architecture, about the conspiracy theories around what was underneath it (Jess's contribution was "Mole People") and about the bizarre pictures that used to adorn its walls. During this section, Jess interrupted several times to query, "In an airport?!" Just to be sure there were no misunderstandings.
When he mentioned the giant blue horse statue with glowing red eyes, nicknamed "Blucifer", Jess lost her composure and could no longer hold back her laughter.
Matt shushed her frantically and shoved her face into his blanket to muffle the sound.
Dave, panicking, lay back and pulled a blanket over his head, hoping to avoid getting into trouble by feigning sleep. True, if Jess was making enough noise for Matt's parents to come investigate, they probably weren't going to believe Dave had managed to sleep through it, but he was scared enough to give it a try.
Fortunately, nobody came to check on them, and Jess managed to calm down eventually, giggling quietly at Dave's ridiculous reaction. They carried on talking (quietly) late into the night, until they fell asleep, Jess crawling under the covers at the foot of Matt's bed.
She awoke early and snuck across to the next room so that nobody (apart from Dave, Matt and Matt's sister) would know she had slept in the same room as the boys.
Of course, they had completely failed to keep the volume low and were hardly secretive about it, so everybody knew. But nobody ever acknowledged it.
No direct quotes here (at least not intentionally), but I took some inspiration from the "Wild Conspiracy Theories" episode, as well as some of Matt's stand-up comedy.
Chapter 9: The Third Presentation
After a few weeks of barely seeing Matt and Jess during exams, Dave was very glad when they were able to spend an afternoon together again.
Unfortunately, Saint Kilda were playing on that afternoon and Matt insisted on watching the match, so Dave and Jess were watching it, too. Dave didn't really understand why Matt insisted upon watching every Saints game, not just because he himself wasn't much of a sports fan, but because the Saints never won. Surely it was depressing to watch a team that was so unsuccessful? He just didn't get it.
But then, he wasn't much of a sports fan. He spent most of the match just chatting with Jess. Quietly, because there would be objections whenever they spoke loudly.
Thank goodness Jess was there, though, because Dave didn't think he would have been able to stand the boredom otherwise. They were engaged more in idle chatter than a real conversation, but even idle chatter was fun with Jess. More fun than watching an AFL game, at any rate.
"Dave," Jess said quietly with a sidelong glance in Matt's direction, "one of my friends sent me this video of a penguin chasing a butterfly. It is the cutest thing I've seen in my life; I've got to show it to you!"
Before she got the chance, though, they were distracted by enthusiastic cheering and air-punching from the other occupants of the room. Dave figured that probably meant the Saints had scored, but he hadn't actually been paying attention.
Nevertheless, when Matt looked at him, a huge smile plastered across his beard, Dave couldn't help but reciprocate. On the brief occasions they had seen each other recently, they had always been pretty stressed, so it was nice for them to be able to relax and enjoy themselves, even if this wasn't one of Dave's preferred activities.
"See?" Jess said. "There's another stereotype shattered." Dave wasn't sure what she was talking about. "When I was little," she went on, "I'd always hear that alphas loved to watch sport, you know, and TV shows and things, and omegas would rather be... I dunno, making sandwiches or something. And here's Matt, having the time of his life, while I'm..." She trailed off.
"You'd rather be making sandwiches?"
Jess didn't respond, so Dave carried on. "Matt's always liked football, though."
"Yeah, he has. Long as we've known him, at least. And he's always supported the Saints, even though they've never been any good." Jess's voice had dropped throughout the sentence until Dave could barely hear her, even though she was sitting right next to him.
"I'm not saying that those sorts of stereotypes are never accurate, but... putting people into boxes like that, and telling them what they should enjoy and how they should be... I don't think that's really helpful for anyone, that."
Dave nodded. He could certainly attest to the truth of that. He thought of all those nights he had spent worrying that who he was didn't match up with who he should be. Now that he'd seen his friends start to grow up without completely changing their personalities, and still fit into the world, it all seemed so silly. He almost felt angry at how unnecessary it had all been.
He looked at Matt, who had been so worried about sticking out from his beta family, now fitting in just fine, watching his favourite team do badly, just like he always had. How he presented hadn't ended up mattering in the slightest.
Well, Jess had been saying as much from the first time they'd talked about presenting.
In the end, the Saints did win, this one time, and Dave was so surprised, he felt genuinely happy, even though he had thought he was completely uninvested. And Matt and his family, they were simply overjoyed.
Maybe Dave did understand it after all. Because if you supported a team that always lost, winning was something special, to be cherished. There was much less chance of disappointment if you set your sights low.
Dave woke up feeling different. He wasn't in pain, he didn't feel sick, he couldn't pinpoint what it was that felt different, but he definitely felt different.
It normally took him a long time to muster the energy to get out of bed, and even longer to wake up properly, but this morning he got up easily and went to look at himself in the mirror. He looked different, too. Again, he couldn't say what it was that was different, but he definitely looked different.
Somewhat in a daze, he walked through the house until he found his father in the kitchen.
"Morning, Dad," he said.
"Morning, Dave," his father responded, frowning. "Did you have someone sleep over last night?"
"Have you been spending more time around your beta friends?"
Dave's eyes had expanded to the shape of saucers. "I don't have any beta friends!" he said in a rush before running towards his parents' bedroom, where his mother was getting ready for work.
"Hi, Mum!" He tried to keep his voice low, but it was all in vain.
"Hi, Dave," his mother said, glancing in his direction. "Have you presented?" she asked nonchalantly.
"I dunno. Why do you ask?" He was also speaking a lot more quickly than he would have liked.
"Because you smell of beta. You've definitely presented." She wasn't even looking at him anymore.
Dave could hardly believe what he was hearing. How could she be this calm? "Are you sure?" he asked.
His mother looked a bit annoyed as she answered. "I'm your mother, David. Of course I'm sure."
"Aren't you surprised?"
"No. Why would I be? I've always known you'd be a beta."
"What?! Why didn't you tell me?" he practically shouted.
Dave's mother finally paused her efforts in order to look at him. "Why would I tell you?" She stood for a moment, considering him. "Did you not know?" she asked quietly.
Dave didn't answer; he was already running from the room. He couldn't remember ever feeling this excited.
He would have liked to tell Matt and Jess straight away, but they were probably already on their ways to school and would have to wait until later.
No, first he would go to his school and everyone would see him, they would see how different he looked now that he had presented. He imagined the looks of surprise on the faces of his classmates and teachers when they realised that they had been wrong about him. That they had been wrong all this time. A voice in his head pointed out that he had been wrong, too, but he paid it no mind. He felt free in a way he hadn't since childhood, since before he had ever given a thought to presenting.
He would go to school and everyone would see him, really see him, for the first time. And after school he would wait for Jess and Matt, or perhaps he would go to them, for a change, and he would tell them. Would he need to tell them? Surely, they knew him well enough that they would see the difference on their own. And, having presented themselves already, they would be able to smell the difference, too, just like his parents had.
He briefly wondered if Matt would be disappointed. He shook his head. Matt was his friend and would put Dave's happiness first. After all, it had been Dave, and not Matt, who had been keen on having two omegas in their friend group. No, Matt would be happy for him, because Matt was a good and supportive friend, a better friend than he himself was, and a better friend than he deserved.
And Jess... Jess had never cared one way or another anyway. She would be happy no matter what, and when she saw him, she would crush him in an overjoyed hug, just like she had done with Matt, and Matt, being such a good friend, would join in and Dave would be able to smell them properly for the first time and they would carry on being friends forever and nothing would get in the way of that ever again.
(that's one ? from each host)
And they lived happily ever after.