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Sweet Juniper, Sour Blood

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The dim lights are giving him a headache. Or maybe it’s just the smell. One hundred of Birmingham’s finest at this event, among them only a handful of alphas. And yet it’s those alphas who apparently, despite being rich and “sophisticated” people, are incapable of keeping their fucking scents at bay. A mix of their nauseating pheromones, smoke and unbearable amounts of sweat fill the air, all unnoticed by the blissfully ignorant betas around them.

Tommy stands by a cracked window, all pristine glass with gold lining its thin wooden panels, where he is attempting to breathe in some fresh air. Just a couple more hours. For Ada. His eyes dart across the white marble hall. There’s people in tuxes and gowns drinking champagne from chilled glasses. Hushed conversations and fake laughter. Resentment in the waiter’s eyes. It’s all too familiar to him and yet he can’t get used to it. Not entirely.

His sister smiles happily at him from across the room, surrounded by what she calls wallets in suits and he nods back. It’s an event she’s been wanting to organise for a while now, her idea of giving back to the community. Gather some rich philanthropists and give them some alcohol and some food while you pester them to donate to local welfare programs. Apparently, it’s working well tonight, though probably only because of Ada’s silver tongue.

She’s been having an issue with their wealth for a while now. Never got used to the money once the Shelby’s clawed their way out of poverty. Tommy can’t blame her. It feels as if they’re still playing at being rich.

Tommy had taken over after his father left and helped establish a legal betting company. The Shelby Family betting company. Led by the only omega in a family full of alphas. That alone affords him a great deal of respect amongst commoners.

He’s not amongst commoners now, though, and there are constant reminders of where these people think Tommy’s place should be. Omegas are rarer than alphas and have achieved a great deal of equality, but to these people… they are nothing more than things to be owned.

Tommy is pulled from his reverie as his nostrils fill with gasoline. A familiar figure walks up to him and he has to hide his disgust.

“Evening, mister Shelby,” a happy greasy man leans onto the wall next to him. Billy Kimber. One of his competitors, or well, he was until the Shelby’s pulled the rug out from under him and took his territory. Not the happiest man back then, but he’s turned to other things. He looks well, but he’s a nasty man. Tommy is glad his body agrees. Though not always happy with his omega side, they seem to both be repulsed by violent alphas.

“Evening, Kimber.”

“You look lovely,” the man smiles and Tommy wishes he could disappear. Being an omega in high end societies comes with many downsides and Kimber is a manifestation of one of the more frustrating ones. Can’t break this one’s nose. It’ll have consequences. Need to be nice. Docile.

“Thank you, Kimber.”

“Though I bet we would all appreciate it if you let your scent flourish a little more,” he leans in, too close for Tommy’s liking, making him stifle a cough at the hefty smell of gas that washes over him, “can barely smell that pretty flower of yours.”

Tommy leans away, “I’ll consider it,” he finishes his drink and takes a couple steps back, “have a pleasant evening, mister Kimber.”

Kimber smiles back and Tommy has to turn away to stop himself from breaking teeth. Balcony. He needs to get to the balcony.

There it is.

The cool air of spring pushes away the disgusting stench left on him by the offending alpha inside. Like they have no fucking manners. As he leans onto the railing, Tommy is able to breathe easier. All his fucking life he’s had to fight to be taken seriously. All the fucking jokes he’s had to fake laughs at. All the fucking… leering gazes and unwanted touches. But he’s endured it all. For the good of the family.

He takes a deep breath and holds it. Because he can. They’re next to a forest, Ada made sure of that. She likes nature, all Shelbys do. The balcony extends over a small patch of green that is separated from the thick pine forest by a dark iron fence. Pine. Aunt Pol’s scent. To Tommy it always just smelled like home. He lets his forehead rest on the cool surface he’s leaning on.

He wouldn’t be who he is if it weren’t for Pol, the only other omega in the family. She’d shown him that he didn’t have to become a broodmare, that omegas can be strong leaders, that they can achieve great things. She helped him endure. He owes her everything.

His mind slips back to those days. Back when he couldn’t just step away the way he had now. When he wouldn’t have broken teeth that came to close. When he had to run and hope his feet carried him fast enough. When he had to… when he… His body shudders at the thought and his faint juniper scent turns acrid.

A new fragrance mixes with the fresh evening air. Subtle and probing, as if asking permission to be there. Tommy breathes it in. It smells of the British countryside after a summer storm. Fresh mud. Alfie Solomons.

“Evenin’ Tom,” the man announces himself and Tommy glances back to see him stood at the precipice, a silhouette of a friend in front of a golden lit room. One arm holding a drink and the other tucked neatly into his pocket. The suit looks good on him, though he undoubtedly hates wearing it.

“Evening Alfie,” Tommy leans with his back against the railing now, fishing out a cigarette from his pocket.

“You’re wilting,” Alfie walks over and stands himself next to Tommy.

“Am I?” he says impassively while lighting his cigarette. It might not cover the scent, but it helps with the nerves.

Alfie hums, “hm, yes you are. Boys in there give you any trouble?”

“They always do, Alfie.”

“Right,” Alfie nods. His scent grows a little stronger, but he’s always known to keep it in check around Tommy. He’s one of the few alphas outside of his family who don’t consider their scent a grace upon the people around them. One of the few who don’t immediately posture when they see an omega. One of the few Tommy considers a close friend.

He remembers the first time they met. It was all the gossip around town that the Garrison was bought by a mad alpha from London. The family wanted to meet with him to ensure their status as “special” guests wasn’t threatened. Tommy also wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be questioned as an authority figure. Any new alpha in town was a potential enemy, but he knew how to deal with them at that point.

Opening the door Tommy felt his eyes on him immediately, but Alfie has always been different from other men, other alphas. He was crude and careless with his words, but not only with Tommy. Even if he called him treacle, he called Arthur sweetheart and John poppet. It always felt fair.

There’s also the scent. Reminds him of the trips he used to take with his mother and Polly. They’d go across wide fields or deep into the forest and spend weeks just living in nature. There was heavy rain and a warm fire and boots covered in mud. Tommy had never been happier.

Alfie carried that scent with him wherever he went. To say Tommy was drawn to him would be an understatement, but he knew he couldn’t allow himself a slip up. He’d worked so hard to be where he is now. He’s given up too much to become just another stereotype. An ambitious omega swept away by a charming alpha into… what did his father say again? The life all omegas are meant to live, barefoot and pregnant cooking dinner for their strong alphas.

No. Tommy would never become that. He fought his urges to make himself small, deliberately spoke louder and argued twice as much as he’d have wanted. When he noticed himself scenting the counter in the bar he smashed a glass against the wall.

And yet…. And yet every Sunday, he’d stop by early and have a chat with Alfie before their family meeting at the Garrison. They’d talk and argue and laugh. Before he knew it, they were friends. The mad Londoner had become close with the entire family at this point. Well, except for Arthur. Something about their scents not mixing well or something, the two never could stand each other.

Tommy wonders if they’ve already spoken tonight. Judging by the lack of screaming, he’d say no. Maybe Linda is keeping Arthur away, she hates it when he’s upset like that. She’s a better little omega than he could ever be.

He doesn’t want to think about that right now. Tommy’s eyes fall onto the drink in Alfie’s hands. Looks like whiskey.

“You don’t drink,” he comments. Alfie’s shoulders are touching his, but Tommy tries not to focus on that warmth. His juniper is getting sweeter now, something he can’t really stop, but he can keep it faint enough not to cause any ruckus. Alpha’s hate being manipulated by scents as much as omega’s do.

“Nah, don’t be daft. I don’t touch that poison.”

Tommy raises his eyebrows at him, “what’s with the whiskey then, eh?”

“Looks right, don’t it?”

Tommy chuckles and so does Alfie, who hands him the glass, “for you, mate. Figured you’d need one after being crowded in there with those dressed up animals.”

“Thank you,” Tommy answers and gulps down the alcohol. They stand in silence for a while, looking back into the ballroom. It’s not long before Alfie breaks into one of his usual tirades and Tommy listens. He knows he’ll soon have to return to the fray but for now he’s just content in this little bubble.

It’s Ada with her emerald green dress that matches her eyes who comes looking for him first, preceded by her dusty smell of coal.

“Can’t hide out here all evening, miss Carleton is dying to speak to you,” she scolds playfully. As he’s dragged from the balcony he turns to say goodbye to the peaceful scene, taking one last deep breath of pine and mud before descending to his personal hell once again.