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dripping with alchemy

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The most important thing to remember was that Rhys had never expected he would need to know how to handle the whole omega thing. As far as he’d been concerned, it was never going to be an issue. Until suddenly, it really, really was.

The entire problem started when Rhys was twenty-two. He’d only presented as omega a year before university, which was late for presenting, but not uncommonly so. By the time it’d snuck up on him, his mind was on other things. He was busy with the plan.

The plan had been straightforward. He was going to pack up and move off Eden-5 to one of the orbital universities. He would get his degree, double-majoring in business and ECHO networking, the most versatile and useful fields he could think of. He’d work his ass off to make himself into a highly desirable candidate for Atlas or Hyperion. Or Maliwan, he supposed, but Rhys hoped it wouldn’t come to that. They were his safety corporation, basically.

Anyway. In ten years, he’d be upper management and his life would be perfect.

That was the idea, of course. Things never went so smoothly, though.

Things went off the rails when he was halfway through his degree and cramming for his Advanced Data Recovery exam. His heat fell onto him like a ton of bricks the night before the exam.

It’d been unexpected, to say the least. Rhys had only been an omega for a year or two, and already his heat cycle was a mercurial bastard. It was highly irregular, sometimes staying silent for months at a time, then hitting him for two weird, uncomfortable days before releasing him again. Another time, he was struck by two separate week-long heats in the span of three months.

Point being, Rhys had no way to predict that his heat would show up in time to ruin his chance when he had a test that would make or break his grade.

So, Rhys missed his exam, but was allowed to get another chance at it. Omegas got some leniency with the whole heat cycle thing so long as it didn’t become a habit.

The fact that Rhys passed his class was beside the point. The heat thing was irritating and getting in the way of his carefully constructed life plans.

But that was what suppressants were for.

One doctor’s visit and an auto-renewing prescription later, and Rhys never had to worry about his heat cycle ever again. 

Well. That was the theory, anyway.

 


 

This was how Rhys’ morning routine went from twenty-two to twenty-nine:

Rhys’ arm sat in its recharge cradle across the room from his bed. The alarm programmed into the palm computer went off, buzzing loudly until Rhys was forced to get up and turn it off. Forcing himself to get out of bed helped him actually wake the hell up, otherwise he was happy to sleep in for another hour. Which, when you had classes, then an internship, then a data mining job, then a personal assistant position, then a personal assistant to the President of Hyperion position… sleeping in wasn’t allowed.

Rhys stood blurry-eyed and plugged in his arm from muscle memory, booting up the locomotion and letting it initialize and get ready for a day of work.

He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and swallowed two vitamin tablets and one oval yellow pill, washing it all down with water from the faucet.

On a good morning, Rhys had breakfast. Since he started working for Handsome Jack, though, he got dressed and hurried out the door, checking his messages on his ECHOeye to see what Jack wanted for breakfast, picking it up on the way. From there, he’d tail Jack for most of the day, keeping his life organized and as on-schedule as possible.

It was a familiar routine, and Rhys liked it that way. His life had enough excitement lately that it was nice to have something stable and easy.

Unfortunately, it couldn’t remain stable and easy forever. Something had to give. The universe was cruel like that.

This morning, Rhys woke up feeling a little off. He went through his morning routine with a sour feeling in his gut, a frown creasing his brow as he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He looked like he hadn’t slept. But he had. But he felt like he hadn’t. Weird.

On his way out the door, he fired off a fast message to Jack, asking him what he’d like. Jack’s reply was even faster than usual; he must’ve been waiting on Rhys to ask.

The largest size coffee possible and a hot bacon sandwich. Normally, that would sound really great to Rhys. Today just thinking about it made him feel queasy.

But, what Jack wanted, Jack got, especially first thing in the morning. Rhys rode up the elevator, holding the hot cup in his metal hand and the sandwich in his other. The sandwich was wrapped in wax paper, fresh from the food cart in the Hub of Heroism that Jack liked the most.

Feeling oddly lightheaded, Rhys took a deep breath on his way up to Jack’s office. He could smell the hot grease and the hazelnut cream, and his stomach twisted, so hard and sudden that he swayed back against the wall.

Man. He was in bad shape. At least he could sit down at his desk soon. If worse came to pass, he could stay in the office today and direct Jack along his schedule remotely.

That would have worked out fine, if he hadn’t passed out and nearly brained himself on Jack’s desk.

Rhys didn’t know exactly how that happened, except that Jack had looked up with a pleased grin as Rhys handed over his breakfast. When he’d unwrapped the sandwich and Rhys caught a whiff, the nausea rolled over him with all the force of an ocean wave, and then he was falling.

Next he knew, he was opening his eyes and looking up at Jack’s narrow-eyed stare.

“Hello? You in there, Rhysie?” A hand tapped Rhys’ cheek briskly. “Eyes on me, pumpkin, come on.”

“Nngh.” Rhys swatted Jack’s hand away and made to sit up. Halfway up, he stopped, head spinning.

“Been a while since someone fainted from my very presence,” Jack said with a wry smirk. “And here I thought you’d grown past your little fanboy crush.”

“I really might throw up on you if you don’t stop,” Rhys moaned. Shutting his eyes and leaning his head back against Jack’s desk, he said, “I might need a doctor.”

“If I’m honest, you do look a bit on death’s door, yeah. Come on, up,” Jack said, his hand planting firm against Rhys’ spine, his other grasping Rhys’ elbow, bodily hauling Rhys to his feet.

Rhys braced himself on the desk. “Right, lemme, uh…” He blinked his eye on, checking his calendar. “You have an update from the shielding R&D team in an hour, so make sure--”

“Yeah, yeah, got it.” Jack threw himself back into his chair, attention already slipping off Rhys. “Get gone, cupcake.”

Rhys shut his eyes, tipping his head back. “No food names, oh my god.” Gingerly, he pushed away from the desk, trundling slowly back to the elevator. “I’ll be back.”

“Yeah’huh,” Jack said, distracted.

“One hour! R&D!”

Jack said nothing, but that was fine. Rhys was having trouble caring, one arm folded over his stomach protectively as he left the office. 

It’d be fine. If he was lucky, he’d only miss the beginning of the day and everything would be fine.

 


 

What Rhys hoped for was for one of the people in Medical to wave a scanner at him, maybe prick his finger, and send him back with a vitamin shot, something easy .

Rhys liked when things were easy.

Instead, he-- well, they did start with a fast scan. And they did take a pinprick of blood. One of the nurses asked him to run diagnostics on his ECHOeye’s visual feedback, which was fairly standard. Some input lag from the eye, even a small enough amount to be subtle, would have set him off and answered why he felt so terrible.

It wasn’t the eye, his self-tests came back clear. By the time he was done, his doctor had returned with a dour expression on her face.

“Could I have you change into this, please?” she asked, holding out carefully folded scrubs.

Rhys sighed, taking them, figuring he wouldn’t be getting back to work as quickly as he’d like after all.

There was something distinctly unpleasant about sitting on an examination table. Scrubs were just not a warm enough barrier between the skin and the hard sterile surface. And it was petty, but he hated the weird color and shapelessness of the clothes. It was like wearing potential blackmail; Rhys would not be caught dead in anything so untailored and poorly coordinated at his own free will.

The doctor let herself into his examination room and shut the door silently behind her. “Mr. Sommerset.”

“You could call me Rhys.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Should I, ha, should I start to worry? I was sort of hoping for a quick fix, doctor…”

“I have no doubt, but I need to clear up some things about your chart. It’s a little confusing.” She settled into the chair next to him, powering up the ECHO in her hands. “I think we have some discrepancies here.”

“Okay,” Rhys said slowly, leaning back again. His hands folded on his stomach, his thumb rubbing circles against his navel. He still felt off, though sitting still for a while certainly helped.

“Could you confirm your age and planet of origin?”

“Twenty-nine, and Eden-5. I have full shots for being from the Edens, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

She shook her head. “No, I can see that, the information is here. I’m just verifying some things. Any known allergies, particularly to medication?”

“No, ma’am.”

“How long ago was your cybernetic surgery?”

Rhys blew out a breath, thinking. “I had the shoulder mount installed when I was… 17, I think. It’s been upgraded twice, and I had the ECHOeye interface put in three years ago.”

“Any other surgeries before or since?”

“Nope.” He watched as she tapped at the ECHO diligently. “I’m a little confused, is there… any sign of tampering with my record? Data loss?”

She hummed to herself for a moment, frowning at the screen. “Well, some. So far it seems limited to your endotype being listed as omega.”

“Oh, um.” Rhys shrugged. “I am, though. An omega.”

The doctor lifted her head slowly, her eyes narrow on him over her glasses. “An omega.”

“Yeah. The chart’s got it right.”

She didn’t look thrilled to hear this, setting the ECHO down on her lap and staring hard at Rhys, lips pressed together. “Mr. Sommerset, I’m an alpha myself and I… am getting a remarkably strong read off you, as a beta.”

“That’s just my suppressants, though,” Rhys explained.

“Suppressants,” she repeated slowly. “There was nothing in your file about suppressants.”

“Well, the prescription pre-dates my emigration to Helios, so maybe that’s why?”

“Your chart says you’ve lived here for years, sir. Where did you-- when did you get this prescription?”

“Uh.” Rhys suddenly felt nervous, sitting there in his scrubs and socks. “I… I can pull it up on my ECHO if you give me a moment, I have it somewhere.”

“Please do. In the meantime.” She stood and went to the cabinet, pulling out a packaged needle. “I will need another blood sample. We need to-- your lab work was done with the assumption you were a beta, this changes things.”

“Yeah, sure.” Rhys offered his hand, let the doctor prick his finger. As soon as she had his sample, she excused herself and left.

There was a feeling of dread in Rhys’ gut as he waited for her to return. It was never a good thing when someone in Medical wanted your blood, and Rhys tried to keep calm, rubbing the sore tips of his fingers together.

When his doctor returned, she had a new ECHO in her hand. “You have that information for me?” she asked immediately.

“Yeah, ‘course. Here.” He opened his palm, projecting his prescription into the air before between them.

Her eyes flicked over the text, her brow furrowing further and further as she did. “You’ve been on suppressants for seven years? Mr. Sommerset, when was the last time you took a break from this regimen?”

“Uh,” Rhys said, staring back at her through his transparent screen.

“Well,” she said, clipped. “I think I can tell you why you’ve begun feeling so unwell. The fact it took this long to happen is a miracle.” The doctor tapped on the new ECHO, shaking her head. “Your body chemistry is severely off-track, likely due to having your natural hormone cycle cut off for such an extended period.”

“Oh,” Rhys said, lowering his hand and powering it down. “That’s… bad?”

“It’s fixable. However, you will need to cut off your suppressant useage immediately.”

“For how long?”

She tapped a nail against the ECHO. “Looking at your bloodwork, your age, and the sheer amount of time you’ve spent on this regimen… six months at the absolute least.”

“A-are you serious?”

“Please understand, Mr. Sommerset. A renewing prescription like yours taken without re-evaluation for years, it was deeply dangerous. We’re lucky you felt the need to come in for this. You are remarkably lucky none of your organs have been damaged in this time period.” She shook her head, face drawn and severe. “I’m revoking your prescription and will be sending a medical bot to your quarters to pick up your remaining suppressants. And I’m starting you on new medication.”

Rhys had no idea-- this was not part of his routine, that was for damn sure. He couldn’t help pulling his arms around himself, hugging himself tightly as he watched the doctor type. “So, I… Doc, I presented late and I’ve not been an-- an omega. I don’t know how that…”

She glanced up at him, expression softening. “I won’t condescend to you and say I know how you feel, Mr. Sommerset. But I would not do this if it were not vital to your health. Your body’s hormone levels are very, very skewed. We’re going you have you on medication to promote your natural hormone production as well as supplements to do the heavy lifting until your body can catch up and remedy the damage done.”

“Okay,” Rhys murmured. “Okay.”

She nodded, standing. Working efficiently, she plugged her ECHO into the computer against the wall, then took out another ECHO, handing it to Rhys. “This is a copy of your lab results, your new prescriptions, and some reading material. I’m including a short-term anti-nausea medication for you, to get you through this transition period.” As he took it, she placed her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll refer you to an endotype specialist, in case you have questions. This was a potentially dangerous situation, Rhys, but I see no reason you should not bounce back from it, healthier than ever.”

He nodded. “Six months. You said six months.”

She smiled, briefly, a flash of teeth there and gone. “Six on the inside, eight or nine on the outside, barring any complications.” She lowered her hand. “Take a few days off. When you feel able, return to light work before easing yourself back into things. And be certain to take your new medication. Who knows?” Her shoulders lifted. “Being an omega again might suit you." 

“Yeah,” Rhys sighed. “Maybe.”

 


 

As he made his way home, he sent off two messages.

To Jack, he sent: Not dying, but pretty sick. I’m on forced sick leave, but will be back soon. I’ll update you later.

To Vaughn, he sent: omg bro can u come over asap, need u man!!!

The doctor had not been kidding about the suppressants. Rhys hadn’t been home more than ten minutes before his doorbell rang. A medical bot, which appeared to be one of the loader bots refitted with smaller arms and a friendlier pale pink chassis, waited patiently as Rhys fetched his old medication.

The bot dumped the pill bottle into its chassis. “Remaining medication within acceptable parameters.” It held out its hand, a set of three new bottles resting upright on its palm. “Please take your new medicine. It is advised by your doctor to take them with food.”

“Right.” He took them from the bot, looking down at the new, unfamiliar labels. “When do I start taking them?”

“Stand by.” The bot’s eye lit up, an apparent connection being formed. “Today.”

Great. “Thanks,” Rhys muttered.

“You are welcome. Have a nice evening.” It turned, and left, walking stiffly down the hallway.

Rhys watched it go for a moment before shutting the door, wandering to his sofa and sagging down tiredly.

He read the label on each medication twice before scanning them all with his ECHO eye. Omega hormones. Because he was an omega. Right.

It wasn’t like he didn’t want to be an omega. He didn’t have any self-loathing or resentment towards how he presented. It’d always just been about what was easy. Being an omega wasn’t bad, it was just inconvenient sometimes.

Though it wasn’t like he’d ever really given it a chance.

“Well,” he said slowly, uncapping each bottle and tapping out one of each pill. They sat heavy in his palm. “Might as well get started.” Closing his eyes he swallowed them all with a sip of water, slumping back against the sofa and waiting, as if he would feel it immediately.

He sat there a long time, just waiting.