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Consorting With the Enemy

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For his entire life, Arthur had been taunted by the names on his wrists.

Everyone was born with two tattoos: the right wrist for your soulmate, the left for your mortal enemy.

For Arthur, he had the same name on each wrist.

As a child, he remember undergoing countless tests and checkups to determine whether or not he was a fluke but really, he just had bloody awful luck.

The absolute worst.

His soulmate was only the beginning, followed by his father abandoning his mother with four young children, his oldest brother being arrested for assault, then his second brother and mother dying in a car accident. To put the cherry on the cake, Arthur was an omega but was never able to have a full heat. Figures, he’d be a worthless, infertile omega. Being an omega, there wasn’t much he could do to support him and his youngest brother.

His life only got worse, and it was a steady downhill coast until he landed where he was now: rock bottom.

Clad in a fishnet bodysuit, tight leather shorts that just barely covered his cheeks and heeled boots, Arthur made his way off the stage of the club. Jeers and whoops followed after him as he tried to blend into the dark background. As soon as the next performer appeared on stage, the attention left Arthur and he slipped through the crowd, unnoticed, looking for a customer to take into one of the back rooms.

Unlike so many others of his coworkers, Arthur had no illusions of his worth; anyone would do, as long as they had money and was not an undercover cop. He was too bony, too pale, too blotchy, too damaged. No one wanted a broken omega. But as long as he kept the money flowing, Roma would keep his brother alive and well.

It was a worthwhile sacrifice.

~~~

After a particularly long and grueling session with a sweaty and hairy man who was a little too old and very much too heavy, Arthur stumbled out of the room with his shorts full of green paper and the rest of his body shining and sticky with bodily fluid. Most of the fluid did not belong to him. It was four in the morning, and he could go home now.

For a second, Arthur’s heart thumped a little harder at the thought of his brother, asleep in an apartment somewhere nice and warm.

At least one of them was alive and happy.

He never got to visit, but he was given detailed updates meant to torment him. But, he heard about his brother being well, and that was good enough for him.

Just as Arthur was about to enter the locker room, Roma appeared with a box in his arms and a sinister grin on his face.

“About to leave? Tough luck, sugar. Take this out back and burn it, yeah?”

Without waiting for a response, Roma thrust the box in Arthur’s chest and shoved him towards a back exit. Laughing, Roma turned around while Arthur stumbled to keep his balance. The sound of his boots thumping against the ground echoed down the hall. Under his breath, Roma muttered something about “cheap whores...can’t do anything right” which was clearly direct to and meant to reach Arthur’s ears.

Outside, Arthur dumped the box with its contents in an old trash can. Pulling a pack of matches out of his pocket, Arthur lit one when he suddenly heard a click and a spotlight landed on him.

“NYPD. Put the fire out and your hands on your head.” The command came from an unfortunately all too familiar voice.

Surprised, Arthur dropped the match and felt his body collide with a hard, stone wall seconds later. On the ground, the match bounced once, flickered, and died.

“Well, well.” The voice belonged to a police officer, one who Arthur had many encounters with and was probably out to get him. “Look what we have here. A little slut. About to burn some incriminating evidence? Trying to protect your sorry behind?”

With his bones crushed painfully between a rock hard wall and a rock hard body, Arthur’s eyes welled with tears. “Don’t you have a partner?” He asked softly. So soft, Alfred almost missed it.

“What’s it to you, slut? Trying to get your filthy hands on him?” The officer broke out in a deep, mocking laugh.

Still laughing, he eased his weight off of Arthur only to pin his arms behind his back and snap metal cuffs around his bony wrists. Alfred made a sound of disgust when he noticed the bodily fluids from Arthur that now stained his previously pristine uniform.

None too gently, he dragged Arthur down a block to where his patrol car was parked. Arthur found himself shoved into the backseat, yet his mind did not register the new bump from where his head collided with the roof of the car. What would happen to his brother now? This was, what, his fourteenth arrest? He was out of chances and Peter would be thrown to the streets.

“It would be in your best interests to answer me, slut.” An acidic voice burned through Arthur’s thoughts.

Eyes downcast, shoulders hunched, and knees drawn up under his chin, Arthur responded softly. “Arthur Kirkland.”

Abruptly, the atmosphere in the car changed.

Ever so slightly, Arthur raised his head. In the rearview mirror, he could see a pair of blue eyes clouded with confusion. “C-could you repeat that?”

“Arthur Kirkland.”

The officer turned in his seat to look at Arthur, in all his filthy shame, through the bars between them. “Okay...Arthur...and would your soulmate happen to go by Alfred Fitzgerald Jones?”

Slowly, Arthur nodded and the officer immediately buried his face in his arms.

“Oh fucking hell,” he moaned.

~~~

A tense conversation and car ride later, Alfred pulled up in front of a row of townhouses having ended his shift early.

Alfred helped Arthur out of the car, brows furrowing as he touched the dried stains coating Arthur’s body. Wordlessly, he released Arthur’s wrist from the handcuffs but kept the right wrist in his grasp. Softly, he ran his fingers over the ink on Arthur’s wrist, almost admiring the letters spilled over the stark white skin. After releasing Arthur’s wrist, he gently nudged Arthur up the path towards his house.

Inside, Arthur felt very much out of place, seeing how clean and bright the house was. Small, sure, but comfortable and very much out of his league.

Completely at ease, Alfred toed his shoes off and disappeared behind a wall.

“Take your shoes off and go clean yourself up,” he called to Arthur, who was awkwardly standing in the foyer, unmoving. “Bathroom’s down the hall. First door on the left. Leave the door unlocked and I’ll get you clothes and a towel, yeah?”

Silently, Arthur followed his orders. Neatly, he folded what meagre clothing he had in a small pile on the corner of the marble counter.

In the shower, Arthur’s carefully placed facade shattered and he immediately burst into tears. The water scalded his back. He wasn’t so much washing as he was simply sitting there, knees pulled up to his chest, arms holding his legs in place and a steady stream of tears and snot dribbling down his chin.

What would happen to his brother now? His only family, would he be thrown out into the streets? Or worse, would he be forced to replace Arthur’s role? Peter was just barely thirteen, still a child, and at least one of the Kirkland children should have a happy ending. What was Alfred trying to play at? Was this some sick joke the universe was trying to play? It made sense now, how his soulmate and mortal enemy was the same person, but did that mean Alfred would have him resold to another human trafficker? Having run into the officer before, Arthur knew what Alfred thought of his lifestyle.

What would become of his life now?

At promptly 6:00 AM, Matthew Williams walked out of his bedroom to find his brother pacing in the kitchen with a mug in hand and empty coffee pot behind him. Alfred was still in his patrolling uniform, though it was now stained and wrinkled, and his hair was a mess, given how many times he had run his hands through his locks.

“Okay,” Matthew said, crossing his arms and leaning on the doorway, “What did you do now?”

With crazed eyes, Alfred turned to his brother. “I met my soulmate.”

Matthew opened his mouth to congratulate his brother, but Alfred interrupted him before he could get the words out. “He’s a prostitute. I arrested him. I threw him into a goddamned wall. What did I ever do to deserve this!? He’s going to hate me because Matthias has probably arrested him like fifty times now! Oh my God I’m so screwed.”

Ignoring Alfred’s dramatics, Matthew cut straight to the point. “And where is he now?”

Alfred moaned. “Oh God he’s been in the shower for two hours this is not okay I totally forgot about him holy shit.”

With the first item of clothing he found in his closet, Alfred barged into the bathroom to find some scraps of clothing and a shivering soulmate curled up in the shower with red eyes and even redder skin.

Alfred swore, setting his clothes aside. He immediately turned off the water, now burning cold, and gathered his soulmate (soulmate!) into his arms, wrapping a fluffy white towel around Arthur’s shrivelled, shivering body.

Arthur kept his eyes downcast and face hidden by his hair. Slowly, gently, Alfred placed a finger under Arthur’s chin and carefully lifted his face so Alfred could see him.

Alfred did not like what he saw.

Arthur’s temple was bruised from where his head collided with the stone wall of the club, his lips and cheeks were still swollen from the rough handling of his customer a few hours earlier, and his eyes, oh his eyes. Eyes that were once green and vibrant were now lifeless and bloodshot. Lifeless eyes that were ringed with dark circles. When was the last time Arthur had gotten a good night’s sleep? He raised his eyes slightly to look at Alfred’s face, but Alfred felt he was being looked through, rather than at.

Alfred pulled Arthur into his lap, on the bathroom floor, to try and offer some heat. Arthur was still shivering, but the water hadn’t been cold enough for any real danger. The worst Arthur might suffer would be a nasty cold.

A long moment passed, Arthur still shaking and Alfred rocking back and forth in what he hoped was a comforting motion.

Slowly, Arthur’s shaking ceased.

“You okay?” Alfred asked.

A choked sound came from Arthur’s throat, but he tipped his head forward in a slight nod.

This left Alfred at a loss. ”Uh, so I’ll step out now and make breakfast while you get dressed, and then we talk?” Seeing Arthur’s eyes peer blearily through heavy lids led Alfred to backtrack on his statement. “Actually you sleep first. You can take my bed, yeah?”

But with his head on Alfred’s chest, Arthur could hear how his soulmate’s heart was pounding, how Alfred was just as unsure of what to do.

~~~

Arthur woke up to a brightly lit room he did not recognize. His sore joints and bruised skin cried out in pain as he slowly pushed himself into an upright position. Groaning, he dragged himself out of a ridiculously comfortable bed. It was time to face the storm.

Alfred heard the pitter patter of bare feet slapping against the wooden floorboards and braced himself. It was noon and while Arthur slept, Alfred had been running through various scenarios under which a much needed conversation could take place, none of which appealed to Alfred at all. He had also filed through every resource available to him, to find out Arthur’s background. Father, gone. Brothers, jail, dead, dead. Mother, dead.

No wonder Arthur always looked so defeated.

When Arthur stepped out of the hallway, clad only in Alfred’s oversized shirt, Alfred took a moment to admire his soulmate. So thin, so pale, Arthur was half wasted away yet he exuded an ethereal grace, a fallen angel rising once again. Arthur was so small that Alfred’s shirt fell to mid-thigh, neatly covering his butt, and the neckline fell to reveal a bony, white shoulder. Wisps of gold blond hair stuck out in every which direction, courtesy of Alfred’s pillow. The sunlight painted Arthur an attractive figure; he was glowing.

For a few seconds, Alfred admired his soulmate’s portrait in the sun before addressing him.

“Hey,” he started softly, “You’re probably starving. I’ll get you some food, you just take a seat anywhere you want. We have a lot of talk about.”

Arthur perched himself on the edge of a chair nearest the door. His eyes darted around the room, taking in everything and staying on nothing.

Terror: an emotion Arthur was very well acquainted with; one he was feeling right now, sitting on a chair in the house of a police officer. His soulmate. Dread filled his stomach as Arthur realized he was terrified of his soulmate. This was never something that had occurred to him before, and he hated himself for being so afraid of someone created by the universe to love and cherish him forever.

Alfred returned with a mug of hot milk and a bowl of leftover soup and a granola bar. Wide eyes studied his every motion, fearful and prepared to bolt any second.

Setting the food on a side table nearby, Alfred handed the mug to Arthur and knelt at his feet. Blue eyes lined with dark shadows and heavy bags shone with amazement and regret.

Silence ensued, broken only by the sound of Arthur sipping at his milk.

Breaking the silence, Alfred spoke. “I guess I should start with an apology for my words and actions. There really isn’t an excuse for what I said and did, but it’s tough working in the red light district. You’d know better than me, how people are, so I guess I’ve stopped seeing people as humans and I’m so, so sorry for that.”

With downcast eyes and holding the cup in front of his mouth, Arthur spoke. “Why did you bring me here?” At Alfred’s shocked look, Arthur continued, his voice steadily growing increasingly bitter. “I am a prostitute. A slut, a whore. I have nothing to offer you. I’m an omega with no education. I’ll only be a hindrance.”

“Because you’re my soulmate.” Alfred reached for one of Arthur’s hands, gently stroking the backside with his fingers. “And I want to give us a chance. I’ve been dreaming about meeting my soulmate forever, about raising a big family and coming home every night to a beautiful mate and maybe we started off badly, but I think it’s worth a shot.”

Tears filled Arthur’s eyes, blurring his vision, and dangerously close to overflowing. “I can’t have heats. You said I was a worthless whore yesterday! Do you know how many alphas I’ve been with? I’m just a dirty, disease ridden omega whose body can’t even carry out proper omega functions. I can’t have heats. You’ll never have a family if you stay with me. You don’t want me. Just let me go. It’ll be better for both of us.”

Alfred’s expression hardened and his grip on Arthur’s hand tightened. “There is a reason why your name is on me, and why my name is on you and I will never give up with a fight. You are not some toy to be used and discarded. You’re my soulmate, Arthur, give me a chance.”

Tears were now flowing freely out of Arthur’s eyes as he cried bitterly. “You wouldn’t even be giving me a chance if it wasn’t for the stupid tattoo. Stop pretending you care. I can’t leave. My brother needs me. Roma will throw Peter onto the streets if I don’t work for him!” Arthur was openingly sobbing now, mug of milk abandoned with the food.

But Alfred was merciless. “Peter? Youngest brother, right? He’s dead.”

Contrary to Alfred’s expectations, Arthur did not collapse. Arthur did not burst into fresh tears. “Dead. Of course.” Arthur’s tone was flat, lifeless. “Roma never let me see Peter. I should have known...”

Alfred released Arthur’s hand and stood. He moved so he wrap his arms around Arthur’s shaking body. Arthur accepted Alfred’s embrace, leaning into the alpha’s warmth.

“Stay with me,” Alfred said. “I'll be here for you.”

Arthur no longer feared his soulmate, he hated himself for easily falling for the alpha who had tormented his life for so long.

That night, Alfred went off to work and Arthur lost himself in his dreams.

~~~

Peter was calling out for him. “Arthur! You jerk! Why aren't you helping me? How could you leave me to die? Don't you OK now what they did to me? Do you even care?”

Every word was accentuated with a hit in the chest that Arthur could have easily blocked, but he found himself unable to move. His arms dangled uselessly at his sides.

Peter began to morph into Roma.

“You useless slut. You really think you can get away from me, from your family? You need me, I'm all you have. You're just a whore, and nothing helps whores except for dirty money. That soul mate of hours will be throwing you out on the streets in no time and you'll be crawling back to me before you know it.”

“Arthur,” his mother called. “Why would you disappoint our family this way? You are supposed to be in school, become a lawyer to support us. Why can't you do anything right? I didn't raise you to be a disappointment.”

Hands were reaching for him from every direction, grabbing at his neck, covering his face. Blackness was closing in on him as the hands slowly choked him to death.

Arthur sat up, gasping for air and drenched in sweat. With shaking hands, he touched his tears and felt wetness. Tears were streaming down his face in never ending waves and his nose was running controllably and his mouth was too dry and his chest hurt and his entire body was shaking so uncontrollably and his entire bed frame was banging against the wall. Arthur didn't register the racquet he was making until his room lit up.

In the doorway stood Matthew, whom Arthur had woken up in his dream induced fervour.

“Shh,” Matthew said, passing Arthur a box of tissues. “Whatever it was, it was just a dream and you're safe here. Should I call Alfred?”

With tissues pressed against his face, Arthur shook his head violently. Alfred was out on his shift, patrolling the streets for scum like Arthur. No need to interrupt his work.

Matthew sighed, unsure of what to do. If Alfred were here, his alpha pheromones would calm Arthur immediately.

Unfortunately, Matthew had to improvise as best he could. For half the night, he sat beside his brother's soul mate, trying to comfort a highly distraught omega and consider how to proceed from here.

~~~

After waking up sweaty and anxious to yet another nightmare, Arthur had enough. He couldn’t stay here, not someplace so nice and safe and peaceful. All he had ever been was a whore, and it wouldn’t be long before his alpha threw him out. Alfred, for all his surface deep smiles and sweet words, was on a different level. Alfred was someone who made Arthur feel things, strange things, things he didn’t allow himself to feel. Things he couldn’t afford to feel. He was a useless omega: broken, worthless, ugly, and dirty.

It was only a matter of time until he found himself back on the streets.

So Arthur had to stay one step ahead of Alfred.

It was for the best.

He waited in his room until 10:44 in the morning, when Matthew was at work and Alfred was asleep.

At the front door, Arthur paused. Through a window, he could see a vicious wind forcing the trees to bow, a dark, overcast sky just waiting to burst. On a counter sat Alfred’s wallet, a fine work of Italian leather gifted to him by Matthew at his graduation from the police academy..

Just an arm’s length away, Arthur stared the wallet.

It didn’t take long to make a decision.

Swiping the wallet off the counter, Arthur removed every card, removed anything that could potentially be traceable.

And then he left.

~~~

A tentative peace had settled in the Jones household since Matthew first discovered Arthur’s nightmares. Matthew spent increasing amounts of time working because he could no longer stand the tension in his own home. Arthur and Alfred may have been peaceful, but the tip toeing over glass was a weight on his shoulders that Matthew didn't want. Besides, it was not his place to interfere with his brother’s relationships.

When Alfred suddenly called Matthew at work four days later, Matthew was so, so close to pretending he was busy and ignoring the call. Nothing good ever happened whenever Alfred called.

When Matthew answered on the last ring, he was instantly hit by a wall of panicked rambling.

“Mattie! Oh my God Arthur disappeared and I think he stole my wallet and I don't know what to do like should I be trying to go find him. I can't really go to the cops because I really can't have my coworkers knowing about my soul mate like do you know what Matthias would do to me!? I'd become a laughing stock and I am not okay with any of this.”

“Alfred, shut up.” Matthew put on his lawyer voice, ready to admonish his brother's idiocy. “What were you thinking, leaving Arthur and your wallet unguarded? You're a dick, Alfred, but I thought you would at least know better than to think someone who you've tormented for months would be so accepting. Honestly, I barely know anything about Arthur but it's so obvious that he's been through a lot. Really, I know alphas are insensitive but you are on another level. Regular alphas tricks aren't going to get you out of this on, Al. You're going to have to work harder. And you're going to have to tell the others at some point or else Arthur's going to think you're ashamed of him.”

Alfred was quiet. “So should I go after him?”

Rubbing the corners of his eyes, Matthew groaned. “Do you realize how sad it is that you're asking a beta for omega advice? I would wait outside wherever Arthur used to work. He's bound to show up eventually.”

Without any acknowledgement of thanks, Alfred hung up, leaving a cloud of tension in Matthew's office. At this rate, Matthew was hoping he'd never meet his soulmate.

~~~

Alfred camped himself in the same place where he had arrested Arthur a mere week earlier: the back entrance of a seedy club. He sneered at the dirty wrappers and used cigarettes that lined the pavement.

Years ago, Alfred was young, an idealist, who wanted to make life better for people who worked in such places. Misfortune was what brought them here, right? Everyone deserved a second chance. Especially omegas who had so few options otherwise.

Then he entered the police academy and learned very quickly that anyone who had the audacity to associate themselves with seedy establishments were simply lazy bums who couldn’t be bothered to make something of themselves. The instructor was a tough conservative red neck from the countryside, and Alfred despised him, but he really drilled this lesson into Alfred’s mind.

On the field, Alfred learned that any successful officer did not pity the criminals. Be stoic to the core and one would never be tricked by a criminal. And Alfred thought at first that it was more important to understand situations, especially when dealing with omegas, but when the first few months on in the field left him arresting teen shoplifters and drug dealers with no issues other than boredom, Alfred lost faith.

The pavement was lined with garbage left behind by drug addicts, shameless prostitutes, and scheming gangs. And it was addicting for Alfred, the feeling of power when locking up yet another wasted whore, another screaming druggie. He was turning high risk people into proper citizens, just like a good officer was supposed to do.

Five hours after Alfred had set himself up in front of the back entrance of the seedy club Arthur used to work at, a familiar figure began to approach.

Arthur was still clothed in what Alfred had last seen him wearing last, a loose hoodie and baggy jeans. Arthur was staring at the ground at he walked; Alfred couldn't see his face but recognized the washed up frame and mousey steps that he associated with his soul mate.

Approaching Arthur, Alfred taunted him a little. A little teasing never failed to lighten a situation, after all. “Now, how much would I need to pay to keep you around forever? It seems a house wasn't enough, you greedy little pig.”

Arthur looked up, expressionless. His eyes were devoid of all emotions, save for a hint of surprise. Without a word, he kept his hands at his sides, moving as much as a statue, as Alfred stuck his hands into Arthur's pockets to retrieve his own wallet.

“I hope you don't mind, but I'll have to take this back,” Alfred said, smirking, as he held up his wallet. “Can't have it falling into the hands of the wrong people.”

He closed his fist around Arthur's wrist in a bruising grip and dragged Arthur away. Like a puppet, Arthur let his strings be pulled.

Alfred walked away victorious; Arthur walked away a prisoner.

That night, locked in his room, Arthur fell into a nightmarish sleep he was quickly growing accustomed to.

~~~

Three days after Alfred brought Arthur back, Matthew pulled Alfred aside after breakfast for a much needed talk. Arthur quietly slipped away to lock himself in his room as he had done for the entire time he had been under Alfred's roof.

“We need to talk,” Matthew said flatly.

Alfred, who was doing the dishes, looked at his brother in acknowledgement before turning back to the sink. “Sure, ‘bout what?”

“Tell me,” Matthew said, crossing his arms, “what do you really know about Arthur?”

Alfred paused to think for a moment. Matthew didn't wait long enough to hear Alfred's response.

“You should know, Arthur's been having nightmares ever since he got here.”

Alfred dropped the plate he was holding and it dropped in the soapy water with a clunk. “No way! Arthur would tell me if he was having any problems. I told him to come to me of there were any issues. He's my soulmate. What would you know about him?”

Sometimes, Matthew wished he could just strangle his brother a little bit. “I know that Arthur is an emotional wreck, that he's terrified of you, and that he hasn't slept at all in about three days.”

Alfred dried his hands. “But I haven't done anything since we met! I saved him!”

“And that's what you're doing wrong. You can't treat Arthur like you treat me or anyone else because Arthur's an omega. Honestly, I think you're an idiot for avoiding omegas just so your soul mate would be the first omega in your life. You don't know how to deal with them at all. Omegas are emotionally sensitive and Arthur’s emotions are a mess. Can't you tell from his scent?” Matthew was so, so close to wrapping his fingers around Alfred's neck. At his sides, his hands closed into angry white fists.

“I thought he was naturally a mess? I mean I talk to him everyday and he never said anything.”

Sighing, Matthew pushed Alfred out of the kitchen. “Go talk to Arthur. Now.”

So Alfred did.

Without announcing himself, Alfred barged into Arthur’s room.

Curled up on the ground, in the corner of the room, was an extremely tired omega. Dark shadows ringed his eyes, illuminating the haunted green stare Alfred was faced with. Skin that was pale in the first place was now ashen and ghostly, not a healthy look on anyone. And, if possible, Arthur had lost even more weight in the two weeks since he met Alfred.

Trying to be gentle, Alfred knelt in front of Arthur.

“You need to sleep.”

Arthur shook his head.

“It's not good for you to stop sleeping. Tell me, what are your nightmares off?”

Arthur just continued shaking his head.

“Can you talk? Because I'm pretty sure you've said like twenty words in the last two weeks and it's good to talk things out.”

“Not all things.”

At a loss, Alfred simply wrapped Arthur in his arms, hoping at least his scent was comforting if he himself wasn't.

What use was listening to Matthew if Arthur was just going to be hostile?

~~~

After his shift that night, Alfred walked to his Chief's office. Ludwig Beilschmidt was a tough guy, but knew exactly how to push his men and would likely be understanding, if not sympathetic, to Alfred's situation.

“You may enter,” a gruff, German accented voice said from behind the door.

“Hey Chief,” Alfred said, stepping into the room. “I kind of have a favour to ask you.”

He received a curt nod so he continued. “So I met my soul mate about two weeks ago, on the job, and he's kind of a wreck so I need to take a little time off to clear things up.”

Having been in a complicated meeting with his own soul mate, a cute little Italian who owned a pasta restaurant, Ludwig was sympathetic to his officers’ soulmate drama. “Take all the time you need,” he said. “I expect you will inform Kohler of your current situation. I wish you the best of luck.”

Grinning, Alfred saluted his boss and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind him.

Walking into the locker room, Alfred called out for his partner knowing they were the only ones there. “Hey Kohler! I'm gonna have to take some time off.”

“Why’d you do something like that?” a voice called back to him.

Rounding a row a lockers, he faced his partner. “Soul mate drama.”

Matthias winced, “Man, I feel you. Let me tell you, Lukas and I were a mess when we first met. I mean it doesn't help that I tried to hit on his brother but we figured it out. Look on the bright side, least your soulmate isn't that whore we always arrest.”

Seeing the look on Alfred's face, Matthias let out a low whistle. “Shit, man, you're gonna have your work cut out for you. He's a right mess, that one.”

Running a hand through his hair, Alfred sighed. “Don't I know it.”

Matthias’ expression softened. “You should give him the benefit of the doubt, though. I mean, he never actually did anything wrong. We just needed to use someone to set an example.” Matthias was making a clear effort to be comforting, but he only succeeded in further agitating his partner.

“You know, I didn’t want anyone to know I ended up with some dirty omega whore for a soulmate. We can’t just start looking at bums like they’re our equals.”

Biting the inside of his cheek, Matthias shook his head. “Man, I have to disagree with the academy there. You know, every time I’ve taken the omega in, he’s been nothing but pleasant. Practically polite. Doesn’t make a fuss about anything, just sits in the cell. Answers all our questions. Hey, you should take a look at his file. There’s some more stuff here that you don’t have yet. He’s pretty messed up.”

~~~

When Alfred returned to his house, Matthew was watching Sunday morning cartoons on the couch and Arthur was nowhere to be found.

Walking out of Arthur's empty room, Alfred looked at Matthew from the hallway. “Where’s Arthur?” he asked.

Without looking away from the TV, Matthew said, “I sent him out to get cereal.”

Confused, Alfred stared blankly at his brother. “But we have cereal? And Arthur doesn’t go outside ever? Why would you send him outside? I thought you lawyers were supposed to be smart?”

Still watching Tom and Jerry running around on their flat screen TV, Matthew responded in an irritatingly nonchalant tone. “Arthur could use some sun. He can’t keep himself imprisoned in his room forever. Besides, he hated being useless.”

Accepting Matthew’s explanation, Alfred decided to take advantage of Arthur’s absence and take a look inside Arthur’s room to see what the omega did to pass the time.

The room was plain; tussled blankets on a bed, a simple wooden table with a chair, and a messy pile of papers strewn about the desk.

Taking a closer look, Alfred found the papers had angry, red scribbles of a disturbing matter. The stark redness stained pictures and nonsensical phrases over the sheets of white paper.

The sheet on top depicted a person, broken and bent, with blood dripping from the head in the centre of the page. Red scribbles covered the remaining white spaces. On the back, the words ‘I’m sorry’ covered every inch of the paper. Another sheet was covered only with slashes, an angry web of slashes and broken glass.

By no means was Arthur an artistic prodigy, but the crudeness of his images were highly unsettling. A third sheet displayed a hanging child, faceless. Then was a spilled bowl of blood. A family without faces, only blood dripping. Headless animals. Dismembered hands. A page dedicated only to eyeballs dripping blood. Red liquid dripping from a towel. Another page of crudely written apologies. A face without eyes and a mouth sewn shut.

Alfred reached his breaking point when he saw a picture of a grim reaper’s scythe piercing through Arthur’s chest. The rest of the page consisted of one phrase repeated over and over: I want to sleep.

With all of Arthur’s papers in his hands, Alfred stormed into living room, where Matthew was still watching cartoons.

“What the hell,” Alfred said, dumping the paper on Matthew’s lap,” is this!?”

Matthew sighed. “This,” he said, picking up one of the pages, “is how Arthur is dealing with his nightmares. Alfred, Arthur needs help and you need to stop treating him like a regular omega. Stop looking at him as your inferior and see him for who he is.” Matthew rattled the paper he was holding for emphasis.

Defeated, Alfred’s shoulders sagged. “I’m a shitty soulmate.”

Matthew nodded, “The worst.”

“But I do care about him. I think? I don’t know anymore.”

Setting the papers to the side, Matthew stood. He gave Alfred a knowing look. “Well I know you’re going to do the right thing.” He picked up a large police file and thrust it in Alfred’s chest. “And the right thing begins with learning Arthur’s past.”

~~~

Alfred rapped his knuckle against Arthur's closed bedroom door.

The door opened a crack, revealing hollow cheeks and tormented eyes.

“Hey, we need to talk.”

Arthur was still for a long moment, before retreating into his corner. Alfred followed and knelt on the ground in front of Arthur.

“You haven’t been sleeping.” Alfred said this as a statement, and Arthur nodded. His sleep deprivation was obvious, with the big bags under his eyes and dark rings lining his eyelids.

Gently, Alfred reached for Arthur’s hands and gripped his fingers. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Arthur shook his head. “Not today.”

“I want to help you. Will you let me do that for you?” Alfred’s hands were a burning warmth in contrast to Arthur’s icy fingers.

“I don’t know.” Arthur’s eyes were wide and suspicious.

But Alfred refused to give up. He reached for Arthur’s face, cupping Arthur’s cold cheek, and stroked the soft skin with his thumb. “Are you scared of me?” He asked, looking straight into Arthur’s eyes.

“I don’t know.”

Arthur was numb. He didn’t know anything anymore.

~~~

A little white bottle sat on Arthur’s desk.

It contained sleeping pills.

It had been a week since Alfred forced him to see a doctor, a week since he was given sleeping pills and two days since he first saw a therapist. Two good things came out of the doctor: his heats would come once he was no longer malnourished, and he was prescribed the pills.

The pills were magic pills. Arthur was supposed to take one, just before he went to bed, but he found they worked so much better when he took two, three, four of them at once. Because then he couldn’t dream at all, couldn’t do anything but sleep. And he just kept taking more and more until he had taken a month’s worth of pills in the span of ten days and he was so, so dizzy but it was all okay because he was finally numb and his chest didn’t hurt anymore and he could see Peter again, see his mum again, and everything would be okay again because these were magic pills that stopped the pain.

Across the hall, Alfred heard the crash when Arthur’s body hit the cold, hard floor.

Alfred’s body was instantly pounding against Arthur’s door, without having thought about what he was doing. Balled fists hit the door so hard the entire frame shook. “Arthur! Answer me! Arthur open up this goddamned door before I break it down!”

The door wasn’t locked.

It only took fourteen seconds for Alfred to realize that.

It only took another forty seconds for the hospital to dispatch an ambulance to the Jones residence.

Four minutes later, Matthew was leaving his office.

Another four minutes and paramedics finally started loading Arthur’s body on a stretcher.

Four hours later, Alfred was allowed to see Arthur again.

The room was empty. So was Arthur’s stomach because they had flushed all the drugs out of his system.

Arthur was awake when Alfred took a seat beside his bed. Alfred didn’t ask why.

Alfred simply gathered Arthur into his arms and cried. “Please don’t do that ever again.” He whispered into Arthur’s ear. He laid chaste kisses all over Arthur’s hair, forehead, face.

And all the suppressed emotions in Arthur began to rise up and now he was crying and his chest hurt and he hated it and he didn’t know what to do because he had been numb for so long that he didn’t know how to deal with himself anymore and years of suppressed pain and suffering rose up against him and he couldn’t deal with it because it was just too much but he couldn’t form the words to convey how he felt to Alfred and all he could do was cry with Alfred. Big, ugly sobs filled the little white room.

Arthur and Alfred stayed like that, in a tight embrace because they couldn’t let go. Alfred had been so, so close to losing a soulmate he didn’t even know; Arthur had been so, so close to being free.

In the doorway, Matthew watched the pair through sad eyes. Pressing a few buttons on his phone, he began to make plans for Arthur to enter an inpatient rehabilitation centre.

~~~

Arthur was most definitely not okay. But, the designated three days for suicide watch were up and the hospital was short on staff and really didn’t have time beyond the necessities and it was ridiculously easy for Arthur to slip outside and disappear down the street.

He didn’t have shoes and his clothes didn’t fit and his chest hurt so, so much. Arthur’s mind was filled with images of his family, of the abuse he suffered for Peter only to find out Peter had been long dead. Dead because Arthur chose to trust the wrong person.

Lost in his thoughts, Arthur paid no attention to where he was going. His feet moved on their own will. They made twists and turns through the dimly lit streets. Some people were giving him strange looks, but Arthur didn’t notice. Arthur was lost in his head until his feet stopped moving and he slowly regained a sense of reality.

He was on a bridge. A high bridge.

It was getting dark.

Arthur climbed onto the rail, past the protective barrier.

Because Arthur was not okay, Alfred was equally distraught when he arrived to pick up his soulmate only to find that his soulmate was no longer there. The doctors and nurses had no idea when Arthur left or where he would be but all Alfred could do was sit in front of his phone and wait for a call from Ludwig. Because Arthur was a high risk missing person, and the hospital’s only solution was to pass on the responsibility of Arthur onto the police.

At both Matthew and Ludwig’s bidding, Alfred stayed at the hospital in case Arthur chose to return there.

Then his phone vibrated and Alfred picked up on the first ring, without looking at the caller ID. “Did you find him?”

On the other end, Ludwig cleared his throat. “Yes, he is sitting in my office now. You may come pick him up now.”

It was incredibly rude, and against protocol, but Alfred hung up on Ludwig and was out the door before the chief had even finished talking.

When Alfred stepped through the entrance of the police station, all eyes immediately turned to him. Everyone had gathered in the front entrance, his coworkers, friends, partner. Everyone.

Matthias clapped a hand on Alfred’s shoulder in sympathy. “Tough luck, man.”

The room had erupted in hushed whispers.

“They found his soulmate on a bridge. Apparently he was about to kill himself.”

“I heard his soulmate is some omega prostitute who does drugs.”

“The omega tried to kill himself a few days ago! I’m so glad my soulmate is a normal omega.”

“I feel terrible for the guy. Jones is a great officer, a good man, and a respectful alpha. Can’t believe he ended up with some mess for a soulmate. He deserves better.”

Alfred did his best to hold his head up high amongst the indiscreet gossiping. His cheeks were tinged red in humiliation and anger. He could feel the pity everyone had for him and it only fueled his anger. What do they know about Arthur?

Two short knocks announced Alfred’s entrance and he entered Ludwig’s office without waiting for Ludwig’s invitation. Curled up in a blanket, Arthur was seated in a plush chair that dwarfed his figure. Without acknowledgement to his boss, Alfred immediately pulled Arthur into his arms.

“Oh my God, you’re okay. I love you so much, please don’t ever do that again.” Alfred repeated those words over and over like a mantra and the pain in Arthur’s chest returned and he cried.

The soulmate pair cried on the ground of the police chief’s office, and Ludwig realized just how lucky he was that his own soulmate’s greatest flaw was simply obliviousness.

~~~

Doctor Elizabeta Hedervary-Edelstein had her work cut out for her when she was assigned a new patient: Arthur Kirkland.

“Tell me everything.” Elizabeta was a tough woman, and most patients didn’t have the strength to contradict her. Arthur Kirkland was no exception.

“Alright,” Elizabeta said, after listening to Arthur’s story through his own words, “you say that you’re numb because you don’t want to feel the pain anymore. Do you have any positive emotions that you’re suppressing?”

They sat facing each other, Arthur hugging his knees on his bed and Elizabeth in an office chair, in Arthur’s room at the inpatient rehabilitation centre.

Arthur crossed and uncrossed his feet while thinking. “I don’t know. Every time I feel something it’s always pain.”

Elizabeta took quick notes on everything Arthur said. “Are there any positive emotions you might feel? For instance, your soulmate. Do you believe you have no feelings about Alfred?”

Arthur’s gaze bounced around the room, focussing on anything but Elizabeta. “I think I like him. But I don’t want to like him. He was a jerk and said terrible things to me and hurt me and-”

Elizabeta interrupted him. “But people change, yes? Can you think of situations where Alfred has been nice to you? Times when he almost made you feel good?”

At the end of his session, Elizabeth left Arthur to his own devices and closed the door softly behind her. She was immediately approached by Alfred when she stepped into the hall.

“Hey doc, how is he?”

“In a lot of pain.” Elizabeta elaborated on her words after seeing Alfred’s look of alarm. “He’s coping with it by shutting off his emotions, but we’ve made a reasonable amount of progress over the last three weeks. The nightmares are mostly gone and he’s gained quite a bit of weight. It’ll be some time before he can be released, but we’re making good progress. Arthur will likely make a full recovery.”

Alfred smiled, but his eyes were sad. “That’s great news. Is it okay for me to visit him now?”

“Of course, you know where to to find him.” Before Alfred dashed off, she placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a wonderful soulmate. Arthur’s lucky to have someone like you supporting him. You had a rough start, but it’s the time spent together that counts and you’ve been working hard for Arthur’s sake.”

Alfred’s expression brightened up considerably at her words. “Thanks doc, see you around.”

Elizabeta waved at Alfred’s retreating back.

In front of Arthur’s room, Alfred knocked twice before pushing open the door.

“Hey Artie, how do you feel?” Alfred seated himself in Elizabeta’s vacated chair.

Arthur shifted his legs into a cross legged position. “Okay. Did you go back to work?”

Alfred pulled the chair forward so he was closer to Arthur. “Yeah, the chief accepted my transfer so I start working with domestic disturbances tomorrow. My new partner is this girl who’s crazy talented with knives and she kind of scares me. Elizabeta says you’ve been doing good.”

“Yeah...” blushing, Arthur looked down. “Actually, I was thinking of trying for a GED.”

“That’s awesome! You can totally do it. You’re going to surpass Mattie someday and he’ll have no idea what happened!” Alfred was ecstatic, knowing that his soulmate was taking steps to move forward with his life.

Arthur looked somewhat uncomfortable with the thought, and Alfred moved beside Arthur. He pulled the omega into his arms and stroked his hair. “Don’t you worry about anything,” Alfred murmured, “I’ll be behind you every step of the way, no matter what happens.” He was pleased to note how he could no longer feel the outline of Arthur’s ribs through his clothing. Another step towards recovery.

Hearing Alfred’s words helped Arthur relax his muscles, and he curled even closer into Alfred’s chest. Arthur loved Alfred’s musky alpha scent and it never failed to comfort him.

When Alfred had to leave, he gave Arthur a goodbye kiss and gave Arthur an encouraging grin.

“Don’t forget that I love you!”

~~~

Months later, Arthur returned home to Alfred’s immense pleasure. It wasn’t long before he had some interesting news.

“I feel hot.”

Alfred almost cut his finger off when Arthur suddenly barged into the kitchen.

“And why is that?” Setting on the knife, Alfred abandoned dinner to sit with his soulmate.

Arthur gazed at Alfred with wide, innocent eyes brimming with tears. “It’s too hot. Why is it so hot?”

Alfred smiled and gathered his omega into his arms, setting Arthur in his lap. “Why Artie, I do believe you are getting your first heat. Looks like you finally managed to gain enough weight your body will stop rejecting your heats.”

Arthur barely registered what Alfred said, instead burrowing his nose deep into Alfred’s shirt to inhale that strong alpha scent.

Perhaps Alfred had been his worst enemy, but Arthur was wholly in love with his mortal enemy now and had no regrets about his life.

Sometimes his luck wasn’t so bad after all.