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And Winter Comes

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Hikaru sat in Yo-Ka’s lap, his head on his shoulder, their arms around each other. They were watching Tsuzuku feed Tatsuya in the dining room, a whole bunch of omegas cooing around him and the baby instead of preparing dinner like they should. Yo-Ka and Hikaru had been on laundry duty and were done for the day, their arms tired from carrying the heavy baskets down to the lake and up again. Asanao had promised to make them some sort of trolley, and Yo-Ka swore to himself that he was going to hold him to that when he felt his aching muscles. Well, at least he was more fit than he’d ever been Before, he mused, leaning his head on Hikaru’s.

It had taken almost four months, but Reo was finally allowed out of bed for more than short moments at a time, and he was sitting next to his mate, watching his little family with a smile on his lips. The whole ordeal seemed to have aged him, adding grey to his hair, and if the age difference between him and Tsuzuku had been noticeable before, it was glaring now. But the couple seemed even happier than they had been, despite how tired Tsuzuku looked from lack of sleep and Reo from his injuries.

“I’m so glad everything’s fine now. I’m never going to forget hearing him scream like that when Tatsuya was born. I can’t imagine having to go through it knowing your mate is unconscious and everything. I wouldn’t have been able to,” Yo-Ka admitted softly in the ear of the small body snuggled up in his lap.

Hikaru nodded, scrunching up his little button nose at the thought of being pregnant, and even worse, having to give birth.

“I’m never ever getting another mate,” he mumbled with conviction.

“Well, sweetheart, you can’t,” Yo-Ka laughed.

Hikaru stared at him. “What do you mean?” he asked, eyes even bigger than usual. He looked incredibly small and boyish at that moment. As if his usual cuteness isn’t enough, Yo-Ka thought.

“Omegas can only mate once, didn’t you know?” Yo-Ka continued, a little surprised Hikaru wasn’t aware of this commonly known fact. “Only alphas can mate again. It’s something about scar tissue over the nerves from the first bite, I think. Tatsurou explained it to me once. So, no more alpha for you!” Yo-Ka laughed at Hikaru, who suddenly looked very elated, his eyes sparkling.

“So you mean I’ve worried for nothing?” he said, pouting his plush lips, and he looked so adorable that Yo-Ka couldn’t help letting his fingers run through the soft, black hair, caressing his cheek.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know!” Yo-Ka said. “I keep forgetting how young you are.”

He smiled at the omega, admiring his pretty face. All the bruises and cuts were healed, and Yo-Ka marveled at the soft skin and perfectly formed features. He really is perfect. Hikaru couldn’t help noticing and blushed a little, fidgeting with Yo-Ka’s sweater.

“So how about you,” he asked shyly. “Do you want a baby? Or a mate?”

Yo-Ka tilted his head as he looked at the smaller omega curiously. Would he dare say…? But if there ever was a moment, this was it.

“Well,” he said slowly, gently brushing Hikaru’s hair from his face again, “I’m not needing babies of my own, or a mate. Not an alpha anyway,” he added, feeling his voice tremble a little and wondering how much of it was noticeable.

Hikaru looked at him, wide-eyed, biting his lip. “Not… an alpha?” he whispered shakily, needing to hear it spelled out in case he had misunderstood.

Yo-Ka leaned his forehead on the younger omega’s, his breath brushing against the other’s lips as he whispered the words.

“There is someone I want, though. Someone very close to me. That is, if he wants me back. And only when he’s ready for it.” He gently lifted Hikaru’s hand to his lips, pressing them ever so softly to the small fingers.

Hikaru’s breath hitched, and he swallowed before he managed an answer, his voice equally trembling.

“He wants it. He really, really does. And if it’s slow and gentle, he thinks he’s maybe ready for it,” he whispered, feeling a tear run down his cheek. He couldn’t say if it was from happiness, relief or just emotion, but he didn’t try to stop it.

When their lips met, he felt like he had finally found his way home.

. . . . .

From across the room, Koichi watched the two with a smile on his face. He had seen this coming forever, and had just been waiting for it. He knew some of the alphas thought it was weird, but they accepted Kaoru and Tatsurou without a problem, so they would just have to suck it up in Koichi’s not very humble opinion. He couldn’t see why two omegas in love would be any different than two alphas, or an alpha and omega for that matter. Alphas were just their usual brand of stupid, he thought, relieved at least Hazuki didn’t seem to think any of it. They rarely fought over anything, having the same opinions on most things, and paired with lots of love, it was what made their relationship so comfortable.

Sometimes, when he thought back on their first chance meeting, he couldn’t believe how far they’d come in a little over a year. They were mated for one, and they were like an extension of each other, always in sync. There was only one thing worrying him. Not that he really wanted it, it was just… shouldn’t he be pregnant by now? Everything was amazing between them in bed, and it wasn’t as if his body didn’t go through the motions, his heat always on time. So why wasn’t it happening? Was there something wrong with him?

It had been worrying him for a while, but he didn’t want to raise the subject in case he would start something. He didn’t know if Hazuki even wanted a kid, or if he expected Koichi to have one soon, or what the alpha would do if he turned out to be sterile. Would he still want him? The alpha sure looked happy when one of the kids came his way though, always playing with them whenever he could. He probably really wanted a kid, Koichi decided, but was too nice to bring up the subject. It was the only thing they never talked about, and the longer he took to raise the question, the harder it was. It was getting to a point where the whole discussion felt like forbidden territory. He looked back to Tsuzuku and Reo, Reo holding his young mate close as Tatsuya fed with content little noises, and sighed deeply. It looked so…

With great effort, he tore his eyes off the scene of domestic bliss and made his way into the kitchen garden to start on the belated dinner chores. Fall was here, and the harvests were making dinner a joyous affair. Of course they had to put as much potatoes, carrots and the likes away to last them until they could have fresh vegetables next year, but they still had some fresh vegetables to feast on that made this season extra special. He picked some herbs before he ventured over to pick some chard and spinach. When he was back in the kitchen, most of the omegas on kitchen duty today had managed to draw themselves away from the abundance of cuteness in the dining room, and had started preparing the fish that Yukke and Miya had brought in an hour earlier.

As they cooked, Kochi felt a little off his game, almost dropping the precious salt on the floor and spilling water all over himself. Ryoga came up to help, and eyed his friend a little worriedly.

“Are you ok?” he asked, quietly.

Koichi just nodded. He didn’t want to talk about it. This was between him and Hazuki, or at least… it was supposed to be. He sighed heavily but smiled at Ryoga.

“It’s fine. I’m fine. Let’s just finish dinner,” he said, turning back to the pots and swearing when he burnt his pinkie on the hot stove, shoving it in his mouth and sucking on the burnt finger.

. . . . .

Toshiya looked around the dining room at a lot of tired faces. They had been working hard all summer, trying to finish as much as possible before winter fell and they had to pause a lot of building. They were nearly done with two large cottages, built to take two couples each, and they had finally fixed Tatsurou’s old cottage, putting on a new roof and insulating the walls so it was inhabitable again. But between all the building, taking care of the crops, hunting, fishing and building defenses around the island’s weak points, they had no time to do anything else.

Still, Toshiya called to a gathering that evening. They had things to discuss, and best sooner rather than later, he thought, as the alphas gathered around their largest table. The omegas threw glances at them, but stayed away, leaving the planning to the alphas knowing they would get the important news later that evening anyway.

Toshiya went straight to the point.

“Winter’s coming, and we have some problems we need to address while we still can. We’ve talked about them here and there, in smaller groups, but it’s time we make some decisions,” he said, looking around at his friends, solemn eyes meeting his.

“First of all, I think we can agree we’ve emptied the nearby towns of things of value, and now that the tool shed is filled and we’ve got all the supplies we need for our houses and ourselves, we have to start planning better on how to make things on our own or fix stuff that breaks. There’s no more going out to find what we need anymore, especially if we need to venture far. We can’t afford for everyone not to be here in case something happens, or for that matter, lose someone on the roads.”

They all mumbled in agreement. The last year it had been increasingly hard to find something of value out there, and they had gathered enough tools, nails, sheets, clothes, pots and pans, mattresses and furniture to last them a long time. But things broke with time and use, and they knew they had lots to learn when it came to fixing them.

“I have an idea,” Toshiya continued, “but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. So far we’ve had to do pretty much everything at once, everyone pitching in where it was needed. And it’s worked up until now, giving us all a base to stand on when it comes to building, farming and so on. But let’s face it, Hazuki is better at taking care of the crops than you are, Satochi. And I would prefer it if Kaoru never held a hammer again, to be honest.”

They chuckled at that, Kaoru throwing his hands up, admitting defeat.

“I second that,” Tatsurou laughed. “I’d much rather not patch him up once a week.” Kaoru squinted at him through his curly locks, pretending annoyance but not really putting any effort into it.

“Yeah, I think we’ll leave Satochi and Yukke to do the heavy building,” Toshiya grinned. “And that’s kind of my point. Maybe it’s time we specialize a little more. I mean, with winter coming up, we will have much more time to read all those books we’ve gathered, and if we all agree on who should read up on what, we’ll save time learning one thing well instead of ten things so-so, and it might really help us in the spring. What do you think?”

They thought about it. It made sense that everyone focused on something they were good at, even though there would still be times when they needed all hands on deck for certain things. One after another they nodded, agreeing to the idea.

“Dibs on not having to read that thick-ass book on weaving,” Kyo suddenly offered, making everyone laugh.

Toshiya smirked, shaking his head. “No, I didn’t think you would. Any ideas?”

“On what, Kyo weaving? I think he’d look cute doing it.” Aoi quipped, and they all laughed again.

Ichirou hummed a little, leaning forward. “I know it’s all old-fashioned and shit, and they might say up yours, at least Ruki probably will. But if the omegas agree, maybe it would make sense that they took care of the more domestic stuff? That would keep them closer to the kids. I mean, they have done that mostly already, but still.”

“As long as I don’t have to weave,” Kyo grinned. “And good luck in getting Ruki to take care of the kids.”

They smirked at that, images of the loud-mouthed little omega with a kid on his lap floating through their minds. Not likely, no.

“Isn’t the point here to do what you’re good at?” Kai offered. “Most of our omegas are stronger than we think, both physically and mentally. And sure, those with kids will want to be near them, but for the rest, I think they should be able to choose just like us. I mean, I’d prefer to help with the cooking. It’s heavy as well, lifting pots of food for that many people. And we all know I’m no star when it comes to building stuff either,” he added, waving his bandaged thumb in the air.

Toshiya nodded. “I think you’re right. There’s no point in us forcing ourselves to learn stuff we’re no good at when there is stuff that needs to be done that we are good at. And exceptions will always be made. I really wouldn’t feel safe knowing Shinya was working with cutting down trees, but somehow I doubt he’d choose that anyway. I figured we could maybe make a list of stuff we need to learn that we’re missing today as well as stuff we’re already doing but could get better at. And then everyone could put their name up for something they think would fit them, and we’ll start from there. Obviously some things we all have to do on some sort of rota to share the burden, like latrine duty. And maybe some will have to get their second choice, but at least we’re getting started. I feel like we’re just floating along here, and it’s worrying me a little.”

Tatsurou raised his hand immediately. “I think it sounds like a great idea, and I just want to say I would really like it if Kei and Tomo could train medicine under me. And then I can study some of the more advanced medical books we found and look more into natural remedies. They boys have both agreed to do it, and I’m honestly scared shitless of what would happen if I got killed or something, and there’s no more nurse here.” Kaoru flinched at the word “killed” and grabbed Tatsurou’s hand hard, getting an apologetic glance from his lover.

“Of course, that’s already in the plan,” Toshiya said. “But I’m glad you brought it up. Anyone else have any thoughts already, apart from Kai cooking?” He looked around the table, noticing Reo looking a bit grim.

“Reo?”

The alpha glanced at him. “Yeah, no, not really. I guess that’s the problem. It’s a good plan. I just don’t know where I can help right now, and I kinda hate feeling all useless like this.” He sighed, a pained expression passing over his face. Yukihiro put his hand on the greying alpha’s shoulders, patting it for comfort.

“We’ll find you something,” Toshiya said, sounding confident. “There is always stuff we need to do, and not everything is heavy. You’ve got to have time to heal, but come spring you’ll probably be up and running again.”

Reo nodded, looking tired but relieved, and their leader looked around the table again. “Anyone else?” When no one answered, he wrote their decision down on a piece of paper before he continued.

“Ok, so, number two is more worrisome. People. I know this community is growing fast and we can barely keep up, but if we are to defend this place we need more people that can fight. We used to be more alphas than omegas here. Now, the omegas outnumber us. Even if those assholes we let go spread the word like we wanted, they saw how many we are. What if someone comes back in larger numbers? And there are bound to be others who have heard of us but didn’t hear of the failed attack.”

The mention of another attack made the others sit up more straight, looking uncomfortable.

“But how do we get the right people here?” Yukke asked. “So far it’s been up to chance, and if we’re not going scavenging in the towns anymore, the chances of meeting new people are down to almost zero.”

“Maybe some kind of recruiting trips?” Reika offered. “It’s dangerous, but so is being too few. We’d have to weigh benefits against dangers if we need more people here.”

“You’re right. Which leads us to number three. We need to improve our defenses, and not just finish the dock that Kaoru designed. Because there is another thing we need to take into consideration for a winter here that we’ve ignored so far.” He made a small pause, to see if anyone would get it. The group looked at him, frowning in confusion.

“Damn. Ice.” Yukihiro’s groaned word made them all pause as the realization sank in.

“Oh fuck,” Aoi muttered, burying his head in his hands.

“Yup,” Toshiya said. “Ice. When I was last up here in the winter, maybe seven or eight years ago, we walked over to the island on the ice.”

He looked around, meeting dejected faces. “We’ve had mild winters for two years now, and the ice never really settled on the entire lake, plus it was too thin to walk on. We can’t count on that happening every winter. Also, there is no time to fortify the whole island with palisades, that would take years considering the island’s size and our numbers. So we need to come up with a plan. We should have ages ago, but…”

The mood had turned decidedly worse the more Toshiya spoke. These were serious things to consider, and somehow they had managed without thinking of it for so long, their location working in their favor. But now they had to man up and prepare for things they hadn’t ever done, any of them.

“Did anyone remember to pack their copy of ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu?” Kyo offered grimly, the joke met with complete silence. He immediately took it back. “I’m sorry, bad joke. Just some gallows humor,” he said, making an apologetic grimace.

For a moment, there was silence, as they thought it through, their hearts heavy.

“Well, we’re not gonna solve everything here and now,” Kaoru finally said. “How about we make some sort of smaller groups to discuss this, see if we can come up with ideas. What do you think?”

Toshiya nodded. “Good idea. We’ll get stuck if we think more about this now. Any volunteers to think over our defenses?”

Everyone squirmed a little on their seats, unsure about that large responsibility, but eventually Reo sighed. “I guess I can do it, so I can contribute in some way.”

“Good, I’ll put you down as the leader of the group if that’s ok?”

Reo nodded, tilting his head questioningly at Kaoru. “It could be useful to have an engineer’s perspective on this, telling us what is possible to do and not.”

Kaoru grimaced, but the thought had merit, and he agreed.

“Yeah, ok, I’m in,” Satochi muttered, and Ryo nodded as well.

Toshiya wrote the names down, and then he looked up again.

“Anyone for thinking about recruiting?”

“Not me,” Aoi groaned. “I have poor bullshit detection and a bad track record.”

The rest snickered a little, the newer faces looking nonplussed. “I brought in Reita,” Aoi explained with a grimace.

“Yeah, well, so did I,” Yukke muttered. “Fair’s fair. We both made a mistake on that one.”

Soon enough, they had decided that Reika, Die and Toshiya would form the group, and the notes were jotted down with the rest. Toshiya sighed. He wasn’t done, but he wished he didn’t have to say another word. Of course these weren’t new things, they had discussed most of them at different points, but they hadn’t really had time to do much about it. He knew they needed to talk about and decide on these things, but he’d hardly ever seen his friends so down before, their shoulders heavy with the weight of their worries. Best do it like a band aid, he thought, just rip it off.

“One last thing. Food. We’ve got to figure out better ways of storing food for longer times, in case we can’t go hunting for a long time for some reason. I mean, these past winters we relied on keeping fresh meat frozen with ice from the lake, and we could still hunt, but that leaves us vulnerable to changes in weather. And what if for example another group of alphas comes to attack and manage to put us under siege? Sure, we can always fish from the ice, but what if we’re snowed in? Like I said, we’ve been lucky to have mild winters for two years now…”

“Didn’t feel very mild when you were out there sleeping on the floor somewhere,” Hazuki muttered, but quickly waved at Toshiya to continue with an apologetic nod. Toshiya sighed, knowing his friend was right, but went on.

“… but the winters aren’t usually this mild up here. Also, the more people we become, the more we will have to hunt, and the more vegetables we will have to grow, and it all needs to be stored right so it will keep. I know they used to salt meat and fish so it wouldn’t spoil, or dry it. I just don’t know how. We need to figure it out, now.”

To everyone’s relief, Kai put his hand up. “I can do that research. If I’m gonna cook, it’s only natural it falls under my duties, right?”

After that, they quickly finished up the meeting, seeing it was getting late, anxious to get some rest. If rest would ever come, Toshiya thought, considering all the thoughts that kept spinning around in his head. When he got back to the cabin, he found Shinya already asleep, curled up under the blankets with his shoulder length, incredibly silky, hair draped over the pillow. He looked so tiny and fragile, lying there, and Toshiya had to stop and admire him for a while before he did anything else. He felt so utterly blessed to have this little omega in his life, and he would do anything in this world to keep him safe and happy. After a few moments, the alpha undressed as quietly as he could so he wouldn’t wake the sleeping beauty. He carefully climbed into bed and curled up around his lover, letting his scent overwhelm him and calm him down.

Sometimes he wished this hadn’t been his island to begin with.