They had seen Blind Channel from a distance a couple of times now, but they hadn't talked to them or been up close and personal. Damiano couldn't help the twist of nerves in his stomach as they headed to the pre-arranged rendezvous. They were the two rock bands in the competition so, of course, the EBA wanted them to have an on-camera meet-up.
Damiano was not averse to this. Any publicity was good publicity and could only help them in the competition. What had him nervous was he had never in his life met anyone like Joel Hokka, one of Blind Channel's two front men. Hokka was a rarity among rarities, an out and proud alpha. Alphas and omegas were rare, evolutionary throwbacks that scientists were sure were dying out and most took heavy suppressants their entire lives so they passed as beta like the rest of the population.
Hokka was loud about it being ridiculous how alphas and omegas were perceived and set out to prove alphas were not dangerous and violent just because of their biology. Damiano had read about him and the man only took minimal suppressants to prevent himself accidentally going into rut.
Damiano on the other hand was not out and proud, and had been on suppressants since he was twelve to make sure no one outside his family and very close friends knew he was an omega. His parents had taken him to see a specialist the moment puberty hit to protect him from the stigma that accompanied his natural physiology. He was not brave enough to tell the world who he really was, not like Hokka.
Having never met an active alpha before, he was worried they might interact in a way he was not expecting, even with the medication he took daily.
"Don't worry," Vic said, leaning into him as they walked towards the other band, "we'll keep us between him and you."
He gave her a soft smile of thanks, before pulling on his mantle of rock band front man as they neared their rendezvous.
Everything was pretty normal to begin with. They did their staged introductions and answered a few questions. It was all very professional and perfectly put on for the film crew. Damiano kept finding his attention drawn to Hokka, or Joel as the vocalist had introduced himself, but he wasn't sure if that was nerves or something more chemical.
Damiano was not above admitting that Hokka was attractive, and no matter what he told the press, Damiano was very much bi. As a band they had agreed to let Victoria be the proud bisexual, mostly because if he came out, Damiano was worried someone might decide to dig a little too deeply. There was a ridiculous myth that all bisexual men had to be omegas wanting a good fuck or alphas on the prowl for a piece of ass. No one believed it anymore, but it would still be an angle for a story.
Ethan had been asked several times if he was really a beta after his "sexually free" self-identification.
Everything was fine until the cameras turned off. That was when the two bands really began talking. Damiano made the mistake of losing track of Hokka for a few seconds, only to suddenly be hit with the most amazing scent. His brain translated it as apples and sandalwood and cut grass. Suddenly he felt very warm, as a hot flush ran under his skin.
He turned to find Hokka looking at him with what he could only describe as a penetrating stare. Damiano froze like a deer in headlights. He had no idea what could have given him away, but he was completely sure something had. When their eyes met, Damiano had no doubt. Apparently, suppressants couldn't hide him from an alpha not fully dosed up as well.
"Oh, hey," Victoria's voice broke him out of his daze, "sorry, my phone just vibrated. Our manager is demanding our presence. It was great to meet you properly, but we've got to go. See you around when it's less busy."
Pleasant goodbyes were said, even as Victoria grabbed Damiano and began dragging him away. He was never going to be able to thank her enough as he mentally kicked himself for reacting so obviously.
They almost made it to the next set of double doors and safety.
They all paused and turned back, even though Damiano could feel doom approaching.
"Damiano, can I have a moment?" Hokka asked from where the other vocalist had followed them.
Victoria touched Damiano's hand, clearly asking what he wanted to do. He gave her a small smile and headed back down the corridor. Facing this head on was the only way to go.
"Hello again," he said as he walked up to the alpha, stopping a little way away.
"Look," Hokka said quietly, "I know that you know that I know, and I just wanted to tell you, I won't breathe a word to anyone, okay? I know I come on strong that those of us with alternative biology should be out, but it's your life and I respect your choices. I didn't want you to worry."
Damiano was a little taken aback. That had not been what he was expecting. He smiled, a very real one this time.
"Thanks," he replied. "I wish I could be as brave as you but.."
"Hell, there are still countries where you have no rights because of how you're made," Hokka said, "don't sweat it. Best of luck with all this craziness. I'll see you around."
"Yeah," he replied. "See you, Joel."
As he said the other man's name he realised something had shifted in his head. Blind Channel's vocalist had gone from possible problem to maybe friend over the course of a simple conversation. He walked back to the others.
"Okay?" Victoria asked as soon as he reached them.
"Yeah," he assured her. "Joel did figure it out, but he wanted me to know he won't tell anyone."
"Thank fuck," Thomas said. "Can we get some lunch now before we get dragged off again?"
And that was it, crisis over.
ESC was madness. There was always somewhere to be, people to see and Damiano was loving every second. Rehearsals were going well and they were climbing up the bookies rankings. It was all exciting and he'd all but forgotten Joel was anything but another competitor who was rapidly becoming a friend, as were the rest of the Finnish band. They had chatted in the green room and when they met around the hotel and Blind Channel seemed to be great guys. This year's Eurovision had a fantastic vibe going.
Damiano was, however, running just a little late after over sleeping by half an hour. Speeding through his morning routine, he was not overly surprised when his door burst in. What was surprising was that it wasn't Victoria come to chew him out for being late, it was Thomas.
"Did you hear what happened?" his younger bandmate asked.
"Do I look like I've been anywhere to hear anything?" Damiano responded.
He was still in a towel.
"Oh, yeah," Thomas said, as if he'd totally failed to register that before. "I was heading out front for a smoke and there are officials and police everywhere. Some religious crazy poisoned Joel Hokka."
"They what?" Damiano wasn't sure he had heard correctly. "How and how do you know?"
"They had the guy downstairs and he was yelling about it," Thomas replied. "And I asked someone," he added with a shrug. "Apparently he slipped Hokka some counter-suppressants and a stimulant to prove alpha's are dangerous and an offence against God or some such shit."
"Fuck," was about the best Damiano could come up with as he processed that. "Shit, that means he'll go into enhanced rut," he realised.
"That's what I heard," Thomas agreed. "It could put them out of performing live, they'll have to use their recorded entry. They won't even get a chance to make a new one."
"It could do more than that," Damiano said, "it could kill him."
"You heard then," Victoria said, coming in trailed by Ethan.
Apparently it was band-meeting-in-Damiano's-room time.
"How the hell could this happen?" he asked.
What with all the Covid regulations, it was hard to be where you weren't supposed to be.
"Apparently the crazy was one of their own delegation," Victoria provided the answer.
"Is there any news on Joel?" Damiano asked as he began pulling on clothes.
"Nothing we've heard," Ethan said.
"Fuck," Damiano said again, because it rather summed up his feelings on the matter.
He picked up the little pill holder he had been about to open when Thomas interrupted him and stopped.
"Damiano, what are you thinking?" Victoria asked, reading him well as usual.
Staring at the little ornate box he kept his suppressants in he tried to figure out what he was considering.
"I need to find out what's going on," he decided, putting the box back on the table.
"Damiano?" Victoria said, standing right in front of him as he pulled on a shirt.
"This could literally kill him," he told her. "Alphas have to wean themselves off suppressants to prevent overloading in a rut. Omegas can go cold turkey without problems except an elevated sex drive, alpha's can't. Joel might not have been on a high dose, but he has not only had his suppressants negated, according to Thomas he's been slipped a stimulant as well."
"There are professionals dealing with this," Victoria pointed out.
"Yeah, and we all know how good professionals are with cases like this," he replied, not bothering to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "They'll give him a massive dose of suppressant hoping it will take, which it is unlikely to do because of the stimulant, then when that doesn't work they'll lock him up for days to fend for himself while he's in agony, and that's if he doesn't have a heart attack or massive stroke because he's not getting anything he needs and his system is going into overdrive trying to find it."
Victoria couldn't counter that.
"The only thing that will help him is a willing omega," Damiano finished. "It would all be over in a couple of hours."
"Maybe they have one?" Thomas suggested hopefully.
"There's probably less than fifty omegas in this whole city," Damiano replied, "what are the odds?"
"You're on suppressants," Victoria pointed out.
"I didn't take my daily dose yet," Damiano said. "An alpha in rut would be more than enough to push me into being receptive."
Well that was the theory. He had taken great care to educate himself about his personal biology as a late teen, but a lot of it was educated guesswork, because no one had done all the practical research.
"The suppressant might have taken," Victoria added.
"That's why I need to find out what's going on," Damiano agreed.
Victoria caught his arm as he went to grab his boots.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"They're our friends," Damiano replied. "Maybe not close friends yet, but I can't stand by and watch Joel die if I'm the only one who can help."
"You've never been with an alpha," Victoria pointed out.
"Yeah, well if my reaction to him just being in proximity is any indication, I respond just like the textbooks say, so that's not going to be a problem," he replied.
"You're attracted to him?" Ethan asked.
Usually Damiano was pretty open about who he liked and who he didn't, but he'd kept his thoughts about Joel to himself. It had just been too complicated a subject for him to think about with everything else going on. However, the attack on Joel had changed that.
"Let's just say he pushes all my buttons," he replied.
He was attempting to lighten the mood, but Victoria was having none of it. She looked him in the eye for long seconds, before finally nodding, releasing his arm.
"Just be careful," she told him.