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The shower was still running in the adjacent bathroom, water droplets beating a staccato rhythm against ceramic tiles, while Jaehyun stood indecisive before the wardrobe, scanning the content, absent-minded, eyes flickering over the various garments hanging inside - fine-knit sweaters, silk button ups, plain cotton t-shirts and linen jerseys, in several colours, like shell pink or vibrant aquamarine. Shifting his weight to the other leg, he carelessly sorted through the rack, pausing momentarily to consider a clothing article, then quickly disregarded the item; in all honesty he was killing time, impatiently waiting for the telling snick of the stall door sliding open, wet feet pattering across hardwood floor, pear and cherry notes hovering in the air, settling, lingering on his skin.

“The denim tunic would look nice,” suggested a voice behind him, timbre akin to velvet skimming along his spine, causing goosebumps flourish above his nape; hunching, folding himself into Taeil’s chest, the elder’s chin resting in the jut of neck, arms bracketing his waist, Jaehyun reached out gingerly, touching the soft material, pensive, “I will help you fasten the buttons,” added his mate, smiling gently. Pleased, he nodded, allowing the omega to dress him with affectionate hands, adjust the neckline, unravel the creases, fold up the sleeves, intimacy a poignant hush blanketing the room, only the morning traffic clamor filtering through the windows - finally, warm palms rested on his chest, and Jaehyun looked down, meeting Taeil’s eyes, veined gold, sunlight accenting the green flecks in his irises. “Let’s have breakfast?” asked the elder, grin radiant, illuminating his sharp features, no trace of wariness tainting the bright expression, a prompt reminder for Jaehyun that he shouldn’t fear snide remarks, judgemental stares, malignant gossip shadowing his leave anymore; shrugging off the tension, strain having built in his muscles, a knee-jerk reaction, an innate flight response, he pecked the omega on the lips, trailing after his mate to the kitchen, their pinkies linked.

Sitting on a stool, the cool metal bar tickling his bare toes, silently he watched how Taeil prepared their meal, humming a nonsensical tune as he kept stirring the soybean paste stew, hips swaying imperceptibly, mindless of the female anchor rattling news, apathetic, in the background; serving the fragrant rice into bowls, he placed a few sweet potato buns in the steamer, chuckle fond when he caught Jaehyun gulping noisily at the sight. The scent of coffee gradually suffused the area, prodding the younger to abandon his seat so he could fix the drink appropriately by adding milk and dropping a sugar cube each into the mugs, spoon clacking, scraping the bottom - stifling a yawn, he deposited the cups on the granite counter, carefully avoiding the simmering pot in the middle.

“Any field trips planned today?” queried Taeil, passing him the braised mackerel, untying the apron he had been wearing atop his work clothes, then perched on the chair beside the beta, murmuring the customary “I’ll eat well,” gesturing the other to dig in, “I’m staying at home,” replied Jaehyun between two bites, munching on a piece of radish, “A couple records need editing, and I’ll probably film the next installment for the microwave series.” Accepting a slice of pickled green chili pepper, he considered the options - even though their fridge was stock full with fresh ingredients, right now he craved savory comfort food: creamy pasta, rich flavours, spices, yeast bread; taking a sip from the coffee, he hummed thoughtfully, mind on the potential dishes, his mate nudging him out of distraction, urging him to focus on the meal.

Jaehyun started running a food blog nineteen months ago, having found himself unemployed despite his training at a prominent culinary arts school and the framed certificates lining his walls - the original channel had been launched displaying cooking videos, restaurant assessments, travel vlogs, the portfolio slowly expanding to include tutorials, Q&A sessions, thematized serials. Three thousand subscribers later he received sponsorship deals, business inquiries, invitations flooding his email account, meaning a steady cash flow, upgraded living conditions, better yet, a flexible schedule that he could tailor to his own wishes, without people condemning the choices, the lifestyle he adopted, embracing his identity, refusing compromises - Jaehyun had walked the path of conformity, abandoned pieces of him along the way, and learnt he never wanted a repeat performance ever again.

“Call me whenever,” told him Taeil, crouching in their foyer, tying his shoelaces a pretty ribbon, messenger bag strapped across his back, dwarfing his petite frame, “Remember, the suppressants are in the medicine cabinet, the instruction states half a pill every six hours,” a frown creasing his forehead, the omega shuffled forward, briefly nuzzled against his mate’s collarbones, as a token of reassurance, fondness. The younger returned the hug, grateful, heart swelling, huddled even closer, “We’ll be fine,” Jaehyun promised, swinging them to an inaudible melody, the two dancing surrounded by mud covered shoes and rain stained jackets; “See you later, captain,” the beta bid goodbye, kissing Taeil farewell, then pushed him out the apartment door, laughing at the stubborn tufts of hair poking through the other’s baseball cap - “Such a bully,” came the good-natured whine.

Taeil waved before entering the elevator, leaving the dreary task of loading the dishwasher to Jaehyun, who puttered restlessly around the flat afterwards, second-guessing his own words, anxiety crowding his mind: perhaps asking his mate to stay would have been the wiser decision in retrospect; slumping on the sofa, he stared fixedly at his phone, feeling stupid and terribly inconsiderate. He was positive the elder would rush home, notwithstanding the consequences, risking docked pay, public admonishment, immediate dismissal - granted he could easily acquire a new job elsewhere since software engineers were high in demand, furthermore the omega graduated at the top of his class, showcasing intrinsic capabilities regarding computer technology. Whimpering, Jaehyun pinched himself, inhaling deep in order to regain his composure, knowing the first days were the hardest, the transition both mentally and physically exhausting, albeit the mating bond alleviated the repercussions tremendously; rolling off the couch, he climbed to his feet, determined that he could keep his promise, fight the discomfiture vexing him, encumbering his limbs.

*

Traditionally, betas occupied the middle level in the power structure, holding onto numerous positions, involving assorted guardian duties, procreational responsibilities and obligations concerning the maintenance of their pack; accordingly, they were educated in diverse topics, expected to handle politics, mediate disputes - children gained the necessary skills in kindergarten, becoming seasoned experts by high school. Like most youngsters, Jaehyun was encouraged to mingle, cultivate a wide a network of friends, acquaintances, get hands on experience about subcultures, group dynamics, besides adults usually overlooked slight mishaps, quirks if the particular beta showed valuable traits: high emotional intelligence, outstanding sociability, great communication proficiency, ingenuity. Cheerful and quick witted, he was unanimously adored, praised for active community engagement - maybe excessively immersed, remarked a small, critical party, alluding erratically fluctuating preferences, although no clear bias, read the fine print in his sophomore year evaluation report, later attributing the phenomenon to adolescent hormonal changes, increased sexual drive and shifting environment. Jaehyun indeed hung out with different circles for extended periods, switching crowds depending on his actual mood: sometimes he preferred running with alphas, occasionally the omegas appealed more to his disposition; nevertheless, he was always comfortable within his peers, welcomed their presence eagerly for reaching common ground among themselves was simple, however versatile, fickle his generation was perceived.

Identity and gender hadn’t been subjects he earnestly contemplated, too caught up in fulfilling course requirements, passing technical exams, stable relationship a cursory thought amidst flings, one-night stands, casual hook ups - they were all rivals essentially, thus romantic notions were avoided, condemned even, frequent partner changes part of the daily routine, pattern. Initially Jaehyun revelled in the variety which suited his capricious need of physical intimacy and stress relief, then self-consciousness, timidity arose as whispers, malicious talk spread in the corridors, reporting what a hypocrite he was, altering his behaviour so he could beguile, tantalize his victims into bed, dumping the unfortunate blokes the minute they concluded the business. Despite the rumours barely making a dent in his popularity, the events had shook Jaehyun who began analyzing his actions, the reason behind his attitude, demeanor; a painstaking, slow process, yield ambiguous, supplementary research on sexuality, orientation further muddying the waters, though his intuition denoted he was looking at the right place in pursuit for answers. After having browsed through countless articles, blog entries, the phrases, terms drifting meaningless, the conclusion was elusive per se, but he ultimately secured a vague concept, a rough outline of his inner workings, one he saved for detailed future inspection, acknowledging he lacked the essential maturity, life wisdom to claim anything definite - he was in for a bumpy ride, that much was certain.

Persisting, facing obstacles while everything, the world, himself, was in flux, constant motion, was terrifying, disquieting; at times Jaehyun would ponder whether he had bitten off more than he could possibly chew, tackled an issue oversized compared to his abilities, resources; in the end sweeping the problems under the proverbial rug seemed far less complicated, undemanding. Still, he understood the simple resolution bore a high price, repercussions he would regret bitterly years down the road, so Jaehyun discarded those pernicious ideas and resolutely pressed on, chasing the goals he had envisioned, steeled his spirit against doubt, foreboding creeping upon his apprehension in the wee hours of the morning - the first giant leap was setting up his Youtube channel. In the following months he moved in and out of flats nonstop, haunted sales, organic markets, webshops, ordered the cheapest, inexpensive coffee, biscuits on the menu in order to gain reliable internet connection, nearly free electricity, reduce his current expenses anyhow he could manage - he also took part-time jobs, small gigs to pay the bills: he tried party hosting, waiting tables, manning the cash register. By Spring he could finally afford better accommodation, a tiny studio apartment at the edge of an old industrial district, the surroundings bleak, crumbling, grey warehouses littering the horizon, trees scarce, grass yellow, yet the neighbourhood was tidy, streets well-kept, the locals friendly, almost cordial in nature, including his landlord, a portly middle-aged alpha, teaching at the community center.

Amongst the new tenants was Moon Taeil, a shy omega with dainty hands covered under long sleeves, collarbones flashing into view from the loose collar of the oversized shirts he apparently favoured, cheeks rising sweetly whenever he laughed, the sound ringing mellifluous in the halls, making Jaehyun wonder how the other’s voice would resonate, glide over his senses up close, personal.

“My mother and sister are your fans,” said the elder one evening, taking a gulp of the roasted corn tea Jaehyun had prepared for a DIY broadcast last week, watching the beta flit around the cramped kitchenette, scuttling in the triangle of refrigerator, stove, workstation, simultaneously julienning the carrots, and sautéing the beef in an iron skillet, “Mum swears by your kimchi recipe.” Preening, the younger glanced at Taeil, who was grinning sunnily, a bit mischievous, having noticed his reaction, “Really?” Jaehyun stuttered, leaning above the chopping board, busying himself with slicing a cabbage, his ears burning red, “Please convey her my gratefulness,” he blurted out, awkward, nonetheless inexplicably pleased as the omega giggled faintly, hardly masking his amusement.

Their weekly dinners started when Taeil dropped by, unexpected, toting complimentary gifts - fresh honey apples, crisp pears, ripe persimmons - arranged tastefully in a wicker basket, asking to take care of him, fidgeting hesitantly on the beta’s doorstep, unsure if he was welcome or not, gaze bright otherwise, neon light casting gossamer shadows upon his fluttering eyelids. Stunned, Jaehyun had stared at the other, blank, moments passing before he ushered his perplexed neighbour inside, offering him a seat, then fled to the kitchen, plugged in the electric kettle and washed the fruits, attempting to calm himself - Taeil looked ethereal, awash in the colours of sunset, his tantalizing scent permeating the living room, the picturesque scene awakening the vast yearning the younger invariably felt in his proximity. The beta knew exactly what the symptoms, the undeniable attraction, pull indicated, the implications elevating his heart rate, pulse thudding, causing his hands shake; Jaehyun put down the paring knife along with the apple peeled halfway, exhaled sharply, sagging against the pulpwood cupboard - he desperately wished his mate, who was innocently perusing the bookshelf next room, would be able to embrace all of his flaws, imperfections that even he couldn’t accept entirely.

“Jaehyun-sshi, do you need help?” called out Taeil, effectively sidetracking the younger’s rumination, peeking in from the foyer, polka dotted socks conspicuous on his scuffed floor, a worried frown marring his features, “Did I come at a bad time, perhaps?” he asked, disappointment an acrid cloud enveloping his aura, leaving a bitter aftertaste on the beta’s tongue; “Of course not,” he denied quickly, “in fact, I was thinking,” a brief pause, their gazes clashing, “would you like to stay for dinner?”

*

Jaehyun woke to the entrance door clicking shut, the sofa cushion yielding underneath his mate’s weight; instinctively, he shifted closer, pushing his nose into Taeil’s firm stomach, inhaling the musky scent, the amber and nutmeg notes bolder, more pronounced in the afternoons, making him wiggle in satisfaction, letting the gentle warmth assuage his frazzled nerves. The omega chuckled, slowly reclining on the couch, pulling the younger atop himself, their frames slotting together, snug, and combed his fingers through the beta’s curls, scratching behind the ears tenderly, “How was your day?” Jaehyun mumbled, still drowsy from the nap, nudging his head under the other’s chin, contentedly basking in the elder’s presence, “Same old, except Youngho spilled iced americano on the prototype 3D printer,” recounted Taeil, tone amused. Snickering, the younger tucked his leg between his mate’s jeans clad thighs, sprawling boneless within strong arms, “I bet Hansol wasn’t very impressed,” he commented wryly, huffing with laughter - the omega often entertained him by rehashing the day’s events, droll commentary lending the completely ordinary episodes a humorous sheen which he appreciated; getting a little lost in each other, they would spend hours lying idle, discussing whatever topics occured them.

“I requested home office for this week,” announced Taeil in the lull of their conversation, patting his mate’s bottom to appease the younger before he could actually protest, muffled whines escaping his throat nevertheless, “Let me take care of you, baby,” whispered the elder, shushing Jaehyun’s low whimpers, caressing his nape, palm a sure pressure, soothing, “Hush now, sweetheart.” The beta swallowed dry, allowing the mellow heat, the affection ground him, calm the mechanical response ingrained on a visceral level, “I’m sorry,” he apologized, wheezing, the emotional, mental strain taking its toll: submitting was the roughest part of the transition, during which he generally resolved to taking suppressants, the medicine curbing the adverse reactions caused by the flux transpiring inside him. “Don’t be silly,” consoled the elder, cradling him protectively, “Should I fetch the pills?” he queried, concern distinct, placing a kiss on Jaehyun’s temple, who hastily clinged onto his biceps, pinning the omega down, “Stay, please,” he grunted, grip tightening on his mate, muscles tensing, body a rigid cage trapping the other underneath him, “Love?” asked Taeil, making no effort to shake off his touch, “Baby, I’m not going anywhere.”

Growling, the beta moved to hover over his prone mate, bluntly asserting his dominance, rumble building deep in his chest; he pounced on the elder the second Taeil bared his neck, a bold invitation, a straightforward plea for a claim - mouth hot, teeth working insistently above delicate skin, Jaehyun savored the helpless moans, the sensual gasps he coaxed out of the omega. “Touch me,” he told, commanded his mate, sitting up to straddle narrow hips, laying Taeil’s hands on his knee, the small of his back, sighing, content, when the other unashamedly fondled his buttocks, sneaked thin fingers beneath the cotton tunic, the garment having ridden up previously, exposing pale flesh which easily gave under adventuring caresses, eager strokes; rising, the omega sucked on the younger’s lips, clever tongue curling around Jaehyun’s. Feverish, the beta reciprocated the filthy kiss, grinding downwards, hips undulating languidly as he swallowed the elder’s startled groan, drank in the sight of his mate falling apart at the seams, awash in pleasure, “Don’t be shy,” he murmured into the omega’s ear, licking the outer side, “I know you have been dying to feel me up since morning,” plucking at the shirt buttons, he tugged the neckline lower, revealing pebbled nipples. Taeil dragged him close, latching on a rosette bud, the suction applied compelling the younger to surrender, spine arching, grasp taut in the other’s hair, so he could press toward the source of stimulation, nerve endings buzzing, flaring from the raw sensation, “You are unfair,” hissed the elder, stare riveted on darkening marks, pupils dilated, blush colouring his cheeks - Jaehyun smirked, fiddling playfully with the starched collar still unfastened, “Then punish me, mate.”

Snarling, the omega flipped their position, manhandling the younger until he was lying supine among decorative pillows, crushing the meticulously ironed covers, and crawled between the beta’s spread knees, meantime shrugging off his linen chemise, toned abdomen flexing with the movement, letting the other undo his pants, keen climbing notes when Jaehyun palmed him through the boxer shorts. “I’ll be your good boy,” he promised, thumbing below the crown, swollen head visible at the elastic seam, observed greedily how the damp patch grew progressively larger, “because you are so patient with me, my kind omega,” smearing precum over the engorged tip, he freed Taeil’s erection, and started jerking him off lazily, rhythm heedless, friction harsh, but the elder didn’t seem bothered, face contorted with passion. Hastening the speed, Jaehyun clenched his fist encircling the shaft, and flicked his wrist on the upward motion, digging the heel of his palm in the slit, the act evoking a quashed curse from his mate whose forearms quivered, rib cage rose and fell rapidly, jaw slack, a drawn-out whine emerging past his swollen lips before he spilled opalescent liquid upon the beta’s tummy.

“You ruined my shirt,” complained the younger, pretending to be upset while he continued milking Taeil’s cock, indulging the omega with sloppy kisses, their pheromones heavy clouds hanging overhead the living room; “Brat,” lamented the other, heaving, infatuated grin betraying his true sentiments, “It was mine, anyway,” he retaliated, pushing Jaehyun’s calves higher. The beta raised an eyebrow, insolent, breath hitching as the elder sat back, rummaged behind the cushions, then snapped the hidden lube bottle open, coating his fingers with the viscous fluid, positioning a single digit at the younger’s entrance, gaze predatory, “How about we make a bigger mess?” voice lilting, he pressed in, careful, keeping eye contact, gauging the other’s reaction. Jaehyun moaned at the tentative stretch, rim fluttering around the appendage which was soon accompanied by another, Taeil working him loose, fingertips applying delicious force along his sensitive walls, “More, please,” he pleaded, hiccuping, defenseless against his mate’s ministrations, the wet squelch of the elder scissoring him apart heightening the fervor that addled, scrambled his brain until he comprehended nothing else other than desire. Adding more lubrication, the omega thrusted, hard, wiggling his pinky finger inside the younger who screamed, feeling overwhelmingly full, erect member leaking sticky precum on his belly, the denim garment long forgotten, rumpled under his armpits, shoulder blades, the material creasing further as Taeil shoved the clothing away, and dipped in, lapping at the translucent droplets. Hauling the elder up, Jaehyun licked off the precum glossing bruised lips, distracting himself from the sudden emptiness in his nether region, then wedged his thigh between slender legs, trousers soaked from the natural slick the other’s body produced, “Ride me, babe,” shameless, he begged, helping Taeil kick off his baggy jeans, underwear, mount his lap, pliant butt cheeks cradling the beta’s drooling shaft.

Panting, the omega slid along the ridge of Jaehyun’s stiff cock, hips rocking, swiveling, tempo languorous, pausing momentarily after the crown breached his hole, muffled whine gaining volume with each inch his body accepted; petting his mate to offer comfort, the younger endeavored staying inert, breathing through his mouth so he could regain a measure of self-control, despite the pleasure zinging up his spine. However, Taeil slammed down, bouncing fast, driving the air out of the other’s lungs, cloying scent washing over, engulfing the beta’s senses, destroying his inhibitions - Jaehyun growled, grabbed onto the omega, working the elder on his dick, grinding upward; he luxuriated in the warmth sheathing his erection, drunk on his mate’s wanton moans, sultry cries.

“I’m close,” stuttered the elder, thighs trembling as he clamped tight around the younger, groaning into their messy kiss; he fitted his cheeks on the beta’s sturdy chest afterwards, affectionately nuzzling into Jaehyun’s palm, “I got you,” answered his mate, quickening the pace, lunging forward, motion frantic, blood rushing in veins, perspiration beading above his brows. Looking at his omega, Jaehyun felt boundless admiration, fondness choking him, love resonating through their bond, the very breath Taeil expelled, the luscious taste of his mouth slanted over his, their skin brushing, touch feathery, his own name bursting forth when the elder climaxed, eyes unseeing, lithe frame spasming minutely; “Jaehyun,” he uttered, a little smile adorning his features, even though he was doubtlessly overstimulated, the younger still chasing his orgasm, “Let it go,” whispered the omega, interlacing their fingers, coo soft while his mate pumped him full of semen, dick twitching with every spurt.

Gasps diffusing in the evening stillness of their apartment, Jaehyun scattered adoring pecks on the elder’s sweat damp tresses, action sluggish, afterglow fizzing, sparkling beyond his eyelids; wriggling on top, Taeil hummed, sated, “Laundry will be terrific,” he grumbled seconds later, rim twitching reflexively, the beta having ground deeper, attempting to keep his seed buried inside. “Tomorrow,” asserted the younger, tumbling his boneless mate underneath himself, snuggling near, basking in their intermingled pheromones, “We can even make soap bubbles,” he added, delighting in the elder’s happy grin pressed against the corner of his mouth, “Really?” queried Taeil, his elation palpable - whereas Jaehyun detested cleaning up the detergent residue stuck on the bathroom tiles, the troublesome chore appeared insignificant, trivial in the face of the genuine joy his omega radiated;

“I promise,” he said, a thousand vows, pledges underlying his simple words, remaining unspoken.