Gentle beams of sunlight shone through little shop windows, illuminating the cobblestone street, the rain puddles from the previous day glistening as the sun emerged. It was a sight I was blessed to see every day. Well, except for Saturdays and Sundays. It was nice to see the city wake up with the sun, lights flickering on, buildings suddenly shining with light. And every morning, I’d witness it with my best friends.
Despite how well the morning should have been going, I was undoubtedly in a sour mood. Like someone hit me over the head with a shit-ton of bricks. Even as I arranged a bouquet of flowers, which I prided myself on doing meticulously, my mind was a barrage of muddled thoughts. My eyes felt heavy, like at any moment I could drop and I’d happily sleep the day away. I felt sluggish. Fucking exhausted. And that warmth that was creeping up on my skin didn’t make me feel any less shitty.
I mean for fuck's sake, it was spring. There’s no reason why I should be feeling so feverish, like I was suddenly exposed to a summer day’s sweltering heat. I let out a drawn-out sigh, a pitiful little sound. Isabel seemed to pick up on my foul mood, because suddenly she was striding over to me, her reddish-brown pigtails bouncing with each step. She stepped behind me, her arms enveloping me in a vice-like grip. She snuggled her face into the crevice of my neck and I immediately felt lighter. Like a weight lifted off of my shoulders.
“Feel better?” She mumbled softly, as if the usual volume of her voice would ruin the effect of her scent. I closed my eyes, softly exhaling through my nose. I have a brief nod. The ache in my joints was still there, along with that heat, but it wasn’t as bad. Not when Isabel's soothing scent was washing over me like that.
I blinked my eyes open and swiveled my chair towards her. “I don’t know why I’m so out of it, Izzy. Thank you, though. It helped.” I smiled at her gently, but even that took effort.
Her brows knit together, her vibrant viridescent eyes boring into mine like she was trying to decipher a puzzle. As if overcome with an epiphany, her eyes went wide. “Lee,” she said gently, plopping down on the seat next to mine, “How long has it been since your last heat?”
My mind was suddenly blank, all thoughts, muddled or otherwise ceasing as the words emerged from her lips. My eyes averted to my hands, now intertwined in my lap. I didn’t even notice I’d stopped working on the arrangement. “I-I don’t remember. Last month, maybe? Two?” I bit my lip as I struggled to recall. It didn’t matter, though. It was approaching, and it would not be merciful.
I outwardly groaned, rubbing at my temples exasperatedly. She placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, her eyes soft. “It’s alright, Lee. I thought you seemed pretty unfocused. I don’t blame you. How about you go grab a bite to eat and try to regain your energy? If you still feel bad after, I could give you the day off,” She offered.
I was hesitant, but eventually, I just nodded. I stood up on shaky legs, and Isabel firmly held onto my arm as I did so. “Are you sure you’ll be ok, Lee?” She said, her eyebrows pinched together worriedly. I nodded again, forcing a smile onto my face. She frowned at me, like she knew it was fake, but shrugged it off. Right then, the silence was interrupted with a series of growls that erupted from my stomach.
“I hear there’s a nice bakery just across the street. Why not go there? You always crave sweets when you’re in heat.” I contemplated it for a bit before I finally nodded my head again, words failing me. Cotton in my mouth.
I cleared my throat. “You sure you’ll be fine here all by yourself? I mean, Farlan isn’t here yet-“
“Yes, yes, I’ll be fine, Lee. Just relax and get some food. The shop will be right here when you get back. Learn to worry more about your own wellbeing, Levi,” She gently lead me towards the shop door.
“Alright. Thanks, Izzy,” I pushed open the door, the little bell atop it ringing. I turned in time to see Isabel wave me off, her lips upturned into a sweet smile that was uniquely her.
As soon as the cool morning air hit my heated skin, I groaned. It felt heavenly . I stood there for a moment or two, just relishing in the morning coolness. I exhaled a breath, my body relaxing all at once. I was reluctant to start moving again, but I did, eventually. With each step my hunger seemed to grow, my mouth watering as I thought about all of the delicious sweets they might have.
Usually, I did not indulge in anything even remotely sugary. Only when I was nearing my heat did I have these uncontrollable cravings. The bakery wasn’t very hard to find. In fact, it seemed to stand out. It was on the corner, surrounded by numerous white tables, where customers were delighted in a plethora of desserts, chatting and laughing happily, despite how early it was.
It was also, of course, very noticeably pink . The other buildings on the street weren’t nearly as vibrant or colorful. Luckily, the street wasn’t very busy, and I crossed it with ease. I pushed open the glass door, the bell ringing upon my arrival.
The air was thick with the smell of baking bread, coffee, and frosting. All at once, they seemed to invade my senses, my mouth watering for the second time that day. I looked up to the counter and my breath caught in my throat.
I didn’t notice his scent at first, too enveloped in the multitude of other smells in the bakery. Among those aromas, there was something very different. Something woodsy, like the forest, but also crisp and salty. I remembered that smell, even after all those years. Like the ocean, and though I’d only ever gone as a child, I could remember it with surprising clarity.
He was gorgeous. Perfection made flesh. Maybe it was the near-heat talking, but I couldn’t drag my eyes away from his stunning emerald green eyes and golden, tan skin. He tucked a stray strand of chestnut hair behind his ear, then wiped his hands off onto his green flour-stained apron.
Briefly, for just an instant, I could see something black and swirling on his wrist. Like ink, but I knew what it was. It was rare, but I had one, too. A soul mark. I couldn’t make out what his said, but I couldn’t stand thinking about it for long. I shook myself out of my stupor and trudged forward, legs as heavy as lead.
I stood in front of the counter, the man smiling at me brightly, his eyes crinkling at the edges. “What can I get you, sir?” He said, his voice velvety and deep. It sent shivers down my spine, the rightness of it.
Then there was a searing pain in my wrist, as if I were being branded and burned. I’d only felt pain like it once before, but there was no way-
But there was. I’d memorized those words long ago. Years. There was no mistaking it. I stood there, staring at him, speechless. I must have looked stupid in that instance.
I couldn’t seem to make out any words. As if there was cotton in my mouth. Thankfully, he broke the silence.
“Could I interest you in our Bunny Buns? They’re our specialty!” He said enthusiastically, his hands intertwined on the counter.
I nodded dumbly. I didn’t have a single clue what I had just ordered. Didn’t care. Not when he was right there. A man I never thought I’d meet. It was getting hard to breathe.
He immediately made his way over to the display case and pulled out a few rolls that were distinctly bunny-shaped, just like its name implied. They were lightly dusted with powdered sugar and- was that honey? I bite back a moan.
He gently put them in a paper bag, folding it precisely, but with enough speed that I knew he’d done it hundreds of times. “That’ll be nine dollars, sir.”
I fumbled to grab my wallet from my back pocket, and scoured through it, grabbing the cash and extending it out to him with a trembling hand. As he went to grab it, his fingers brushed against mine, warm, calloused, and heavenly .
He took the money, his lips upturned in a gentle smile. He pushed the bag towards me and I grabbed it, my hands still shaky. I swiftly turned towards the door, nodding my head in thanks, my face undoubtedly red. I had to leave. Now .
“Thank you! Please come again!” He called out from behind me as I pushed the door open.
Once again, I was greeted with cool morning air, but this time, it did nothing to soothe my heated skin. My heartbeat wildly in my chest, like an animal fighting to escape its cage. That’s what it felt like, too. My omega was roaring at me.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Turn around. He’s right there. Your mate. Your alpha.
Against my instincts, I stepped forward, hurriedly weaving between crowds of busy people, which earned me a couple of nasty looks. Within minutes, I was inside of the flower shop, panting as if I’d just run a race rather than meet my soulmate.
Soulmate. Your alpha. My omega repeated like a mantra.
I only saw him briefly, but he was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever laid eyes upon. And I had run out of there like a fool . Guilt washed over me. It felt wrong to be away from him, and I was tempted to turn around and run back to that quaint little bakery.
I leaned up against the glass door buried my face in my hand, my other hand tightly squeezing the paper bag he gave me. Was it me or my omega that wanted to see those ocean eyes again? Was it really my choice or fates? I shook my head, frowning.
“Levi, you got here later than usual,” I heard Farlan say from the counter. “Lee, you okay? You don’t look so good.”
I could hear the worry in his voice. Still, I didn’t dare look at him. I just needed a moment. Alone .
I just nodded, my eyes glued to the ground like it was the most interesting thing in the world. I walked forward, past Farlan, and into the back room. I closed the door behind me and let out a deep sigh.
This was not at all how I imagined my day would go.
I leaned up against the wooden door and lifted my wrist. On the underside of it, words swirled beautifully. The same words he’d uttered to me in that bakery.
Whenever I first got my soul mark, I didn’t think much of it. It was rare, and some people never ending up finding their soulmate. I thought I’d be among those people.
But you’re not. He’s right across the street. Waiting for you. Your soulmate.
Thinking about this longer would do no good. Not until after my heat. If I sought him out now… It wasn’t a good idea, not now. Not when my heat was flaring up and making my skin hot to the touch, my scent sweet to drawn in an alpha.
I toed off my white platform shoes, and I immediately felt more comfortable. I made my way across the plush, faded, rainbow rug and plopped down onto the couch, and practically ripped into the paper bag.
Jenseits Des Meeres was printed onto it in a big, swirling font. Just like the words on my wrist. I didn’t know what language it was in, couldn’t even begin to pronounce it, but I liked it all the same.
I reached into the bag and pulled out those delectable-looking buns. I bit into it, practically moaning as I relished in the taste of it. It was soft, like what I’d imagine a cloud would feel like, and the combination of powdered sugar and honey was absolutely heavenly .
I finished the three buns with ease, and even after I devoured them like a starving man, I craved them. Craved them like I craved that man. I could feel my heat creeping up again. Maybe another day or so before it really began.
And I’d be miserable again . Alone. Lonely. Sure, Isabel came over to take care of me, but I had no one to spend it with. No alpha to call my own and take care of me and-
Go to him, my omega repeated.
I would not . I’d never been in a relationship, but I sure as hell wouldn’t whore myself off to some stranger, soulmate or no. My heat was altering my judgment. Things I’d never even think of thinking appearing in my mind in the wake of this alpha.
I’d spend my heat alone, just like always, cuddled into my sheets, Muriel stretched out on the bed with me as we lounged and watched shitty reruns. I’d indulge in some sweets, just like the ones Isabel always brought me. Most importantly, I would not be tempted to see him. Or at least, I hoped so.
There was a sudden knock at the door, and within seconds, Isabel emerged from the hall and into the break room. “You feeling okay, Lee? You seem… flustered? Did something happen?” She asked, a gentle smile plastered on her face.
I hesitantly sat up, my fingers fiddling together nervously, my eyes glued to my lap. “I… suppose you could say that. Something big, but…”
There was a sudden weight beside me on the couch, and I felt Isabel’s arms come around me comfortingly. “It’s okay, Lee. You can tell me anything. You know that.”
I nodded. I’d known Isabel ever since we were kids. Farlan, too. Through thick and thin, we were always together.
“I think I met my soulmate today,” I said finally, the words lifting a weight off of my shoulders. A weight I didn’t even know was there.
She grabbed my shoulders and turned me towards her. An enthusiastically wide smile split her face, her green eyes lit up. “Oh, Lee! I’m so happy for you! Did you say anything? Oh my God! I can’t believe after all of these years you finally found your soulmate!” She wrapped her arms around me again, tight, like a snake would wrap around its prey.
“Um… not exactly. I, uh, didn’t say anything. Like, at all.” I grimaced, waiting for her reaction.
She pulled back almost immediately, her eyes boring into mine, suddenly very serious. “Why didn’t you say anything, Lee? You’re not the type of person to freeze up like that. Was he sketchy or something?”
I shook my head lightly. “No, not at all. He only spoke to me for a couple of minutes, maybe, but he definitely seemed nice. That bakery you told me to go to,” I looked into her vibrant eyes, “He worked there.”
“Then you can easily see him again! You didn’t speak to him, but when you do…” She drawled off.
I nodded. “He’ll feel it, too. He’ll know about our connection. Isabel, I’ve never been in a relationship. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m not as extroverted as you or Far.” My eyes averted back to my lap.
Isabel places a tentative hand on my cheek, raising my head so I could look at her. “Lee, even Farlan and I didn’t start out easy. Hell, we were all childhood friends. It didn’t make it any less hard. But you and that man are soulmates . Doesn’t that make it easier?”
I contemplated it for a couple of seconds. “I suppose it does. I don’t exactly have a clear head right now, though. How do I know if it’s me or my instincts that want him?”
“You’ll know, Lee. You’re the omega who never submits to his instincts, after all.” She grinned, softly patting me on the shoulder.
“You’re right. Thanks, Izzy. I needed that.”
“No problem. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? You can go pick up some stuff for your heat. You’ll probably be needing stuff for the whole week. Or I could pick it up after work if you want and drop it off at your apartment?”
“That works. Sorry for making you go through all of this trouble, Izzy.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. We omegas have to stick together,” She grinned, her eyes crinkling at the edges.
I stood up, picking up the bag and throwing it in the bin. I looked at Isabel one last time before I exited the room. As I walked through the shop, I saw Farlan at the counter.
“Feeling better, Lee?”
I nodded and smiled at him. My thoughts were a mess, threatening to erupt and split my head open, but he didn’t need to know all of that.
“I’m heading out. Sorry about leaving so early.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Get some rest!” He called out as I pushed open the door, the bell ringing melodically from above.
This time when I stepped out, it was slightly warmer. It felt more like spring. I turned left, all while my instincts screamed at me to turn the other way, see my alpha.
When had I started calling him that? My alpha.
He wasn’t. And maybe he’d never be. I didn’t even know his name, after all.
Thoughts like that seemed to put a damper on my mood. How had I already grown so attached to someone I’d only seen for a couple of minutes? That I didn’t even talk to?
It didn’t make sense. And despite my instincts roaring in my head, I continued down the cobblestone path, my steps firm.
I would not be a slave to my omega. If I ever saw him again, it would be my choice. There was a battle in my head, and I knew that soon, I’d have to come to a decision. I wondered what that decision would be.
Perhaps fate already decided for me.