Bane’s heats were irregular, erratic things, so much so that Talia had teased him once that perhaps he was a beta, after all. Poor nutrients growing up in the pit had wreaked havoc on his system during his pubescence. Still, he had disciplined himself, forced them into something manageable, though bothersome. The soothing drugs that held his pain at bay were dangerously incompatible with heat-suppressant medication, and thus he considered himself fortunate that his cycles were usually much fewer and farther between than most, as unpredictable as they were.
His first had been a hell. His heat scent was a sweet musk to all others in the pit the moment he had differentiated; it had been later than most. He had been sure he was simply a beta, and it had been a relief. He had seen what happened to the few omegas that lived in the pit—they were constantly fought over, their heat cycles bartered by those who claimed them as “wives.”
He felt a sudden rush of hotness stabbing into his guts, and dropped down heavily to the floor. His wooden bowl spilled and scattered the bits of hard-earned rice to pieces on the filthy floor. His hand went to the knife he tucked into his pants. He was strong, but not enough to fight while in heat, still only a boy. He would be easy prey, and as he scrambled back to his cell he felt the heat in him rising and he wondered if that would be such a terrible thing, to be opened and taken, bred until he was wet and leaking from it.
For the first few hours, he hoped uselessly that it was just a strong cycle for a beta, that it would pass in a day, but it continued into the night and there was restlessness in the cells, prowling to determine whose omega was coming into heat. He slept restlessly clutching his knife and waiting to be discovered.
His body felt bathed in sweat, the chemicals and pheromones ravaging through him and putting him into a haze of need that became harder to fight with each passing moment. He felt truly lost when he finally slid his hand between his thighs and plunged his fingers into the slickness there, bit into his forearm and tried to muffle the noises, knowing his actions would be spreading his scent, making it easier for him to be found, but he could not stop and it still was not enough. Soon he might seek them out. He had heard stories. He knew the place of omegas, and it felt ridiculous to fight it.
A harsh but musical voice suddenly drifted to his ears, snapping him out of his fog. “Stop that. Do not be a fool.”
It was the woman. Everyone knew she lived in the cell beside his, but he had barely seen her, never spoken to her, only heard her speak in low tones through the thick quilts that covered her cell walls, talking to the doctor. He had been fascinated to hear her smooth voice as she sang to sleep to the little child she had borne there; it had lulled him on more than one occasion, as well, a moment of fleeting peace in their hell.
He ticked his head toward the voice and could see her, just barely, the quilt pulled back slightly from her bars. She was beta, and while his blood boiled for more, his brain whispered that she would soothe it. Her face, though, did not send the same message. It was harsh, closed off, disapproving.
“I cannot. I cannot bear this heat,” he whispered to her. It felt aching and empty between his thighs even while his fingers worked, the wetness in him spread and flamed his desire.
“Then you are an animal, like all of them.” She flicked her head towards the open area of the prison, and he recoiled. “And you deserve the same fate.”
It was a cold splash of reality in his face.
He forced his fingers from himself, forced himself to ignore the heaviness of his limbs, the ache in his cock, and sat up slowly, panting lightly with the effort. “What can I even do to avoid it?” It seemed hopeless. He would be found soon enough, anyway.
He could barely see her purse her lips, consider him for a moment, then she knelt and pushed something across the stone floor so that it skipped and clinked, clattered against his hand. A key.
He fumbled, took it between now clumsy fingers. “Why are you helping me?”
“You are young, too young. I have seen you before,” it was spoken as if it explained her every action. “You will come lock yourself into this cell, and then you will leave when it is over.”
“I feel as though I cannot move.”
“Then you will be all the easier to rape. Give me back my key.”
He clutched it to his chest, instead, and crawled against the floor to her cell, unlocking it and collapsing inside, barely managing to lock it after. She was sitting on a cushion in the corner of the cell, holding the small child, a few years along now, as it slept. He had never seen it, either, and while a small part of him was fascinated, he could barely focus on it or the sparsely-furnished room.
“It hurts.” He had never complained of pain before. He had suffered much in silence as he grew in the pit, but that ache, it was new and unbearable and he could smell her now, longed for the sweetness he could smell inside of her, longed to be ridden to completion, to spill into her. His desire must have shown in his eyes, for she fixed him with a sharp look.
“You must bear it. I will not ease it; I will not risk another pregnancy. It will last roughly four days, and if you start masturbating yourself hopelessly on this first night you will be pleading out for them to come ravish you by the third.”
He shook his head in refusal. “Never.”
She nodded in approval. “Then you will survive.” She patted her thigh once and he crept to her, pausing once to sniff the air for her scent and moan softly.
He nearly yelped when she cuffed the back of his head sharply.
“Are you nothing more than your instincts?” she asked him in a sharp, reprimanding tongue. He shook his head and laid it in her lap. She let him lie there through the night and sleep fitfully. He let it be enough to soothe him through his first night.
In the morning he learned of Talia, and in his briefer moments of clarity he played with her. Fell in love with her. She was light, and her sweet innocence made him forget his aches.
When the night came, her mother no longer faulted him for his need.
“It is the worst night,” she explained. “It cannot be helped. Do what you need to do to your body.”
He had worked himself into a frenzy with his hands. It had felt like he simply could not come enough, spending again and again but never feeling the fires cool. He had asked for her shamelessly. She simply smacked the back of his head as she kept it on her lap, letting her scent ease him but not touching him beyond stroking over his scalp.
“Why won’t you help me?” He choked out, feeling miserable.
“I am helping you. Are you nothing more than your instincts?”
She had asked the question many times throughout the night, and it chilled his heat each time. Each time he shook his head with new determination. When his heat finally broke, she sent him away, and he needed to kill 3 men, slit each of their throats, cut off their genitals as a warning, to keep himself from being taken, but he was strong enough without the heat to kill any who tried.
Each sporadic heat, he came to her, played with Talia in the morning, and laid his head in her lap through each night.
When he saw her attacked, he longed to save her, but he knew he could not save them both and so he had snatched up Talia, his light, and held her close, rocked her and soothed her, but knew in the back of his mind that he could not keep her safe. When his next cycle hit, there would be no cell to hide locked away in and they would both be torn apart.
She would have to make the climb first. He knew she could.
When the first signs of his heat struck him, he gathered her. The other prisoners had been waiting, and they fell on him. He could feel them claw at him hungrily as she rose.
They tore him to pieces. They ripped apart his face. They ripped into his insides, their cuts and blows so severe that they had destroyed his possibility of ever conceiving a child for them. It was a twisted blessing, for no babe but Talia survived the pit.
Even in the deepest of his cycle, he did not yearn for their touch.
He had never forgotten her words.
He would never be nothing more than his instincts.
He was not that same youth, now. He had conquered his own nature.
Barsad studied the maps carefully. They would need to be memorized; none of them could afford to lose precious time by being trapped in the maze of the sewer if there was an attack, a raid. His eyes were beginning to ache with strain, though. He had insisted on pulling a double watch the first night in their new dwelling. Bane’s men were intelligent, skilled, but it was such a vital time that he could not fathom leaving someone else to do the job. He had not slept for two days, however, and it was blurring his concentration.
A heavy hand rested on his shoulder suddenly, and he knew his focus was completely shot when he jumped from it.
“Barsad.” The tone was low with disapproval and he hung his head, accepting defeat.
“I will rest.”
“See that you do. You are impractical to me dead.”
Mother hen. He held back a slight smile, and then kept his head dipped down when Bane’s callous, rough thumb pushed into the muscle at the back of his neck. He sighed in gratitude and closed his eyes, feeling the tension ease there. They were alone, with merely a skeleton crew at the moment, bare-bones to set up an infrastructure, and that meant the open area they had claimed as a place of planning was empty.
“Where have you set up your pallet?”
He paused, knowing the answer would displease his brother. Bane squeezed the back of his neck, part a scolding reprimand, part loosening the muscles there more. “It is clear that you have not even set it up at all, have you, brother?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “Take your rest on my own. The work will wait.”
“Yes, brother.” He left tucking his proverbial tale between his legs at the mild scolding. He felt warmth in his chest, though, that his brother cared so about his well-being. The bedding was pleasant, warm from him having risen not long ago, and he fell to it, could not resist a frivolous moment of burying his face into the warm quilt there and taking in Bane’s thick scent, curling into a ball as its familiarity whispered pleasant things to his mind about his dangerous, intoxicating, brother.
Knowing his brother as he did had changed many opinions of Barsad’s view of the world, of society and how foolish humanity truly was. Differentiating as a beta meant he had spent most of his life on the outside looking in on a dynamics war. His heats were extremely rare, every few years or so, and mild. Though they certainly did not feel mild when they hit, in all honestly, he had seen Bane through his own and knew they did not compare.
He remembered well when puberty had hit him, when omega pheromones presented to him had stirred him but not to the level that they would have an alpha. When he did not begin a regular heat cycle, which would have marked him as an omega, he had felt, for lack of a better word, lost. He had always been certain he would be one of the two, and his heart had been content for either. The deep sense of desire to belong, of wanting to give his loyalty to another with gladness, had always been a part of his heart. It had seemed unfair that he would not fit into either dynamic that called for just that.
Betas were thought to have more options open to them, and yet even as a beta he felt his own nature being prejudiced against, as well. He had been indoctrinated into the belief that, as beta, he would never be able to understand the strong link of alpha and omega, the supposed pinnacle of all bonds, and all of the devotion and love he might feel in his heart would always be merely a pittance in comparison as his body did not have the same strong needs, the chemicals binding him to another. It was perhaps what led him to join the league, for what greater bond could there be than that? The bond of brothers and sisters fighting for a cause.
He had had been welcomed there as a brother, but inside he bitterly accepted the truth that he would never be capable of a true devotion like an alpha or omega, until he’d met them. When he had first seen them together, he had begun, for the first time, to question all that he thought he knew of the world, of dynamics. He had watched in secret, witnessing what he had thought at the time were two betas, holding a bond stronger than he had ever known possible. It had stirred his soul, made him feel that perhaps he could one day have what he desired. When he had learned the truth, it had been even more stunning.