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Omega Protocol

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            “’Ey, think we gotta live one.”  The soldier stepped back to allow the scientist to approach and steadied his rifle, slightly off-balance due to the plasma retro-fit in addition to conventional bullets.  They’d managed to avoid contact so far, but he wasn’t green enough to assume that a long-abandoned lab was clear.  He’d seen enough movies to assume that everything in this facility could kill them all.  Even the microscope.

            “Goddamn miracle,” Dr. Jonathon Morrow grumbled his customary tune.  “No business starting human trials so soon.  They’d have had better success sticking the survivors in an iceberg.  I have half a mind to hunt down these hacks’ descendants and giving them what for.”  The ancient computer’s glow reflected off his glasses.  He claimed to prefer the outdated lenses, but Private Cole “Ajax” Jackson had a feeling the doc liked the old-fashioned look of them.  He also thought Morrow was an arrogant ass.

            “Ajax, wanna crack open a cold one?”  From his post close to the door of the dust layered lab, PFC Raúl “Chimi” Ortiz waggled his black eyebrows at Jackson.

            “You first.  You ain’t got no balls to worry ‘bout freezin’ off anyway,” he shrugged and kept an eye on the small figure that Morrow was fussing over.  Despite the banter, Ortiz’s eyes constantly flickered to the interactive faceplate of his helmet where only he could see the video feed of the cameras they’d placed earlier at the entrance.

            “She appears to be stable enough for transport,” Morrow reported over his shoulder even as he transferred data from the cryogenic unit to the tablet in his hand.

            “Rooster, Brick, TPT at L31, F3,” Jackson ordered into his comm.  He registered the confirmation while on mental autopilot as he listened to the doctor’s mumbled assessments.

            “Would you point that somewhere else?”  Morrow tilted his head to indicate Jackson’s weapon, which was trained on the racked-out female.  “Don’t bother quoting procedure to me, Private.  Even if she were conscious, her muscles have atrophied.  Assuming her brain is still capable of basic motor functions after having essentially been locked in a freezer for nearly two hundred years.  And that’s not accounting for the premature implementation of the Omega Protocol.  She’s not a threat.”  The older man’s fingers flew across his tablet, noting his own observations.

            “Yah, Ajax, afraid o’ a little Omega-sicle?” Ortiz teased.

            “Shit, Chimi, you’s dumb as Brick?  ‘Little Omega’s’ redundant,” Jackson shot back, but he did ease up.

            “HACT’s here.”  Ortiz and Jackson set to shifting the bulky pieces of equipment that formed uniform rows in the large lab, hulking in the gloom like the dinosaurs that they were.  Some even had honest to God analog buttons.

            “Request for pickup of one Sleeping Beauty?”  Private Masen “Rooster” Fitzwilliams, who stood in the doorway, was barely taller than the doctor, nearly a foot shorter than his teammates.  Morrow impatiently waved him over and they quickly stuck the lift pads to the plastic cocoon and its precious cargo.  After tapping a few commands into the commband on his left arm, the massive casket rose into the air to hover approximately half a meter above the floor.  Morrow and Fitzy sneezed at the cloud of dust that billowed into the stale air from the currents created by the movement.

            “Hold, doc, you’re going with?” Jackson asked when Morrow moved to follow the floating coffin.

            “There’s very little here that could possibly be of more import than that girl,” he replied with a quirk of one steel grey eyebrow.  “And even if there were, it couldn’t be as nearly time sensitive.  As it is, bringing her out of dormancy will take time.”

            “Kay, we’ll keep sweeping.  Anything we should keep peeled for?”  It wasn’t like Jackson had any authority over the obnoxious asshole.

            “Paper records,” came the answer.

            “Paper?” Ortiz and Jackson asked in unison.  There was next to no chance of something so fragile lasting for nearly two centuries in any sort of legible state, but they had to follow the doc’s orders, even if they were about as useful as tits on a bull.

            “Yes, paper, gentlemen,” Morrow repeated condescendingly.  “You’ll have to dig for anything useful.  Good luck.”  He turned on his heel and followed his prize out the door, leaving the two soldiers behind.


 

            “Good afternoon, Captain Reed.”

            “Dr. Morrow.”  The Alpha acknowledged the Beta with a nod as he approached the tube that the medical team was fervently bustling around.  “I read your preliminary report and wanted to come see for myself.”

            “As you can see, we’ve replaced some of the programming with modern standards.  Ideally, we would transfer her to a newer pod entirely, but the risk to benefit ratio is too poor to make an attempt.”  Morrow meticulously cleaned his glasses on a shirttail before replacing them on his wide nose.

            “Yes, you said as much in your report.”  Reed reined in his natural impulse to push for answers while still inflecting his voice with steel.  Although Morrow was a Beta, he was not made from the same stuff as the Betas on his team.  The doctor would not respond well to the same approaches he used with his people, becoming prickly and temperamental until his ego was soothed.  Gritting his teeth, Reed had to remind himself that technically every human on this planet was his.

            “Barring any complications, she may be revived in two days.  I cannot provide you with a proper timeline due to the irregularity of the situation.”  Somehow, he managed to sound both apologetic and annoyed with Reed at the same time.

            “She’s clean?”

            “Captain, I would not have risked the entire operation.”  Morrow drew himself up in indignation.  “I assure you that I thoroughly scanned her before determining the viability of bringing her here.  She carries no illness or disease that would pose a risk to anyone, not even in her own day.”

            “I believe you, doctor.  We can’t afford to be too cautious.”  Reed peered through the dusty lid at the pale, heart shaped face within.  Had she been an Alpha, or if he otherwise suspected that she was a danger to the mission, he would have had her and her tube immediately incinerated.  There could be no challenge to the carefully cultivated power balance.  According to her birthdate, she shouldn't even have a dynamic, yet there she was.  This wilderness was not tamed enough for an Omega, which was why there were deliberately none in their group.  And that careful balancing act was about to be disturbed.

Chapter Text

            “The revival process can start at 1000,” Dr. Morrow announced to Captain Reed, Lieutenant Lorcan Triggs, and Dr. Mai Nguyen.  “In theory, she should be fully conscious in thirty-six hours.”

            “Devil’s advocate here.”  Triggs raised his hands in a pre-emptive placating gesture.  “What are the benefits of waking her up?  Do you even need to?”  The scientists stared at him in horror and outrage.  The captain’s face remained impassive, but he did not miss the flare in his superior’s eyes or the tightening of his jaw that warned him to tread carefully.

            “Her dynamic aside, she’s not likely to survive much longer in that antiquated casket,” Dr. Nguyen snapped, her soft hands clenching into fists against the top of the conference table.

            “I don’t see the issue,” Triggs said.  To an outsider, his logic would appear cold and bereft of empathy.  Reed knew that his lieutenant recognized the need to protect the unit, and he asked the reprehensible questions to spare his commanding officer the social repercussions.  Triggs didn’t much care for the opinions of civilians.

            “The system we’ve grafted onto the original unit can keep her stable for a week at most.  It’s a miracle the pod didn’t disintegrate on the way here.  The plastic of the twenty-first century simply wasn’t meant to last this long, they probably only intended to keep her in stasis for a short period.  If we don’t do this now, it’s likely she may never wake.”  Morrow shook his head even as his eyes glowed with enthusiasm.

            “Do it,” Reed ordered.  He couldn’t spare the resources to take her back home, even if she would survive the trip.  Every person there was bursting with curiosity, but he would not permit the frozen girl to detract from the objective.

            “The next question to address is how to explain to her that nearly two centuries have passed and the massive changes that occurred since then?” asked Nguyen.

            “She’s an Omega, so an Alpha should be there in case she becomes hysterical.”  Triggs spoke as though any possible mental and emotional problems from one hundred and eighty years of sleep or from the changes done to her before she went to sleep were easily resolved through manipulating her dynamic.

            “Perhaps,” Morrow mused in distant thought as he considered the possible outcomes of the proposal.

            “Perhaps not,” Nguyen disagreed.  “She was, is, one of the first of her kind.  How much, if any, instinct does she have?  Would an Alpha be a calming or an intimidating presence?  Until we know more, it would be best to limit stimuli.  We could keep her sequestered in part of the med bay and gradually tell her the truth as she adjusts.”

            “We would have to remove nearly all of our equipment,” her colleague frowned.  “But it is possible.  And in a closed environment, we could get a pattern of her hormonal cycles, confirm fertility, and biological compatibility with modern males.”  The gleam of excitement had returned to his dull brown eyes.

            “I wonder if she will thank us when she learns that we saved her for her potential to bear children.”  There was the edge of a sneer to Nguyen’s dry tone.

            “Assuming she’s capable,” muttered Triggs.

            “Enough.”  Reed’s voice never rose.  It didn’t have to.  The force of his will and the respect each person present held for him lent weight to his words.  “I expect regular updates.”  Acknowledging the dismissal for what it was, the two doctors quietly exited, leaving the room to the captain and his second in command.

            “Arguing to allow a female Omega to die?”  He cocked an eyebrow at the lean Beta to his left.  “That’s taking Devil’s advocate to the extreme.”

            “Is it wise to bring a weakened woman into an unsecured colony?” countered Triggs, questioning his Alpha in a way that he never would have had they not been alone.  “And an Omega at that?  You saw the report, she thought she was treated for cancer.  On top of all the other shit, she has no idea what’s been done to her.  It’s not like there’s another Omega to help her adjust.”

            “I am aware,” he frowned.  Just because he allowed his second in command to question him didn’t mean that he was happy about it.  “She’ll have to adapt, otherwise she’ll not live long in this world.”

Chapter Text

            Why is it that every institution of any kind had the same checkered ceiling tiles?  At least this one didn’t have the mysteriously creepy yellow-brown stain like the last one, but there was a small hole in one where it looked like a corner broke off.  The bed was more comfortable, too, and fancier.  Instead of a worn control pad on a corkscrew cord that was always tangled, there was a plastic display that lit up when her hand hovered near the rail.  Never having much patience for electronics, let alone reading the user manual that popped up, Emma pressed random buttons.  One button glowed continuously after she smacked it.  The feet and the head both raised before she quickly learned how to lower them again.  Let’s hear it for button mashing, she though with a small smile.

            “Good evening, Ms. Emma.”  The warm-skinned woman who entered the room lacked scrubs, white coat, or anything else that traditionally proclaimed her profession, there was still that air about her to indicate letters after her name.  Emma could always pick the doctor out of any crowd.  “I’m Dr. Nguyen, how are you feeling?”

            “Like got run over,” she croaked through a rusty throat.  The good doctor nudged a rolling side table closer so her patient could reach the cup of water on it.  After bumbling a couple of times, she managed to pick it up by squeezing it between her wrists.  For some reason her hands weren’t working quite right.  Luckily there was no issue in using the straw.  The doctor was saying something about muscle weakness and motor skills.  Emma was just happy to not be six feet under.

            “Thanks,” she gasped when she finally came up for air.  The doc was smart enough not to offer help when she fumbled the cup back onto the table, Emma would’ve bitten her head off if she’d tried.  “You’re new.”

            “I’m afraid that there was a fire at the hospital.  You’re at a military base since we were the closest facility equipped to handle patients in Last Chance.”  There was genuine regret on the older woman’s face as she relayed the destruction of the experimental treatment program, but something still twigged as being off, although her fog riddled mind couldn’t puzzle it out.

            “What about Dr. Cunningham?  Nurse Joyce?  The others?”

            “I’m afraid they didn’t make it.” 

            “Geez,” she breathed, sinking her head back to stare the ceiling tiles.  The room spun as Emma absorbed the enormity of her statement.  Dr. Cunningham was nice, if a bit distracted at times, and certainly a genius of some kind to develop gene treatments for cancer from stem cells.  And Joyce always knew when to use the carrot and when to use the stick.  Or when to sneak in junk food.  The few others she’d met in the program were just kids.  What cruel god saved them from the Big C to let them die in a fire?  So many lives gone, but why did she survive?  The question must have shown on her face because Dr. Nguyen spoke up.

            “By that time you’d already slipped into a coma, so you were transferred to a different room, which happened to be the closest to a fire exit and the farthest from the fire,” she explained gently, but didn’t try to come any closer.  “And since your body uses less oxygen when comatose, there was very little damage due to smoke inhalation.”

            “Lucky me,” said Emma bitterly.  Feeling suddenly fidgety, she stroked her hands over the soft fuzzy blanket.  The sage green was a nice reprieve from the cool white of the room, sheets, and hospital gown.  The only other colour was the glossy black of Nguyen’s neat bun and her grey slacks, her blouse was cream, too.

            “How long was I out for?”  As she inhaled to respond, a gurgling emanated from Emma’s stomach to fill the room.

            “Long enough for your appetite to return,” she smiled.  “I’ll have someone bring you dinner.”

            “I’m not,” she protested as Nguyen retreated.  “Hungry.”  No matter where you go, doctors were all the same: about ten minutes of semi-listening before declaring what you’re going to do.  With a sigh, she closed her eyes and was thankful when sleep pulled her under before she could remember the faces of the dead.


             “’Ey, boss,” Private Barbara “Barbie” Wilson greeted the captain.  Despite most people’s assumptions, her nickname was pre-determined by genetics rather than her name.  The Alpha female stood a little over six feet tall, most of which was leg, and her curves persisted despite training and military lifestyle, to her frustration.  Although it was cut short, there was no hiding those golden blonde curls.  “Found some clothes in storage in M3 that might fit the Omega-sicle.”  She held up a bulging pack.

            “Her name is Emma,” Reed frowned at the female.  “Heard you found evidence of Plague Riders?”

            “Months old.”  Barbie’s exquisite features wrinkled in disgust at the mention of the savage, disease-carrying nomads.  “Looks like they holed up in one of the outbuildings along the western perimeter for a week or so.  Probably during a late winter snowstorm.”

            “You took care of it.”  It was a statement, not a question.

            “Lit it up like it was New Years,” she grinned ferally, referring to the most popular holiday, which typically involved bonfires and fireworks.  It was on January 1st, 2052 that the True Armour Program was announced and their people were born.  Reed nodded his approval.  “I’ll just take this to Nguyen.”

            “Wilson.”  Automatically, her spine went even straighter at the sound of her name.  “She’s not your brother.”  Her jaw tightened almost imperceptibly.

            “I know, Captain.”  After holding each other’s gaze for a heartbeat longer than was comfortable for either of them, she strode towards the med bay.

Chapter Text

Patient is exhibiting a few, faint Omega traits.  She appears to find comfort in arranging her bed and pleasing textures and colours, which may be a precursor to nesting habits.  Difficulty maintaining eye contact for long.  She has not yet been exposed to the Alpha members of the expedition.  Since her only interactions thus far have been with Betas, our intent is to build upon what is already becoming familiar. 

She seems to be hiding extreme remorse over the perceived loss of her previous medical staff and acquaintances due to a fire.  Whether this is due to compassion inherent to the Omega dynamic or survivor’s guilt remains to be seen.  Until she comes to terms with this grief, Dr. Nguyen and I have determined that it’s in her best interests to maintain the ruse that she slept for only a few months and is still back on Earth.

-Patient File: Emma Sokoloff, entry by Dr. Jonathon Morrow

 

            Physical therapy was invented as a civilized and legal form of torture Emma decided.  Each day she was so exhausted that when she curled up in bed, she fell asleep as soon as she pulled the blankets up to her nose.  If the conventional cancer treatments made her felt like she’d been beaten with a bag of rocks, therapy was like being stretched out on a rack before being beaten with a bag of rocks. 

            At least she no longer needed help eating or going to the bathroom.  Showering was still beyond her, so she made do with a sink full of warm water and a washcloth while she sat on the toilet.  Any time that help was offered, she snarled at them, prizing what little independence she regained.  And if she stank, no one commented.  Her sense of smell had certainly seemed improved, as did most of her senses. 

            Then again, the dozens of meds from before no longer fogged her mind and body, which meant she was thinking clearly enough to question why she was on a military base instead of in a civilian facility.  The given explanation was that Dr. Cunningham had received government funding and since most of his research was destroyed in the fire, they wanted to figure out what he had done.  Since she didn’t have to pee in a cup or get poked with needles too often, she didn’t mind being their guinea pig while recovering.

            “Hi, Emma, how are you feeling?”  Mihaela, the nurse on duty, meant well, but if one more person asked that question, Emma was going to throw a bedpan at their head.  Empty or not.

            “I was wondering if I could make a call?  There doesn’t seem to be a phone in my room.”  She ignored the pleasantries because with a rotating medical staff it became tiring rather quickly when they’d seen each other a few hours ago.

            “I’m afraid that communication is restricted due to security.”

            “Oh.”  Emma chewed on her bottom lip.  Having no better understanding of military protocols than a fish had of rock climbing, she supposed that made sense.  “Could I send a letter?  No return address and I’ll leave it unsealed so that way you can check that I’m not revealing the great secret of where the linen closet is,” she whispered conspiratorially.

            “A, a letter?” she blinked.  “Sure, I’ll find some paper and a pen for you.”

            “Thanks.  Paperless systems can sure make it hard to find something as simple as a pen, right?”  Flashing another smile, she continued the slow lap of the nurse’s station, leaving a very bemused Mihaela in her wake.


            “The engineers have begun installing the solar panels and windmill,” reported Triggs as he shared the assessments with Captain Reed’s tablet.  Once the energy deficit was resolved, they could relax the enforced blackout hours.  “If the med bay wasn’t drawing so much power-”

            “We still have a week before they’re functional, but the generators can handle it until then.”  Reed scanned the estimated timelines.  “And the plans for the perimeter?”  The lieutenant was already sending the file.

            “We have visuals to the north as far as sector D, O to the south, as well as the automated sniper’s nests along the main routes.  Expansion has been slow going due to how long it’s taking to clear each sector.  I could send the patrols out further.  Pairs of scouts?”

            “Do it, but no farther than the next sector out.  And no further south than the river.”  The rudimentary bridge was too exposed and the explosives wired to it would be sufficient insurance.

Chapter Text

The patient is regaining strength quickly, and is becoming restless in the restriction of her movements.  She’s already asking when she can return home.  Mihaela didn’t know what to say when she asked to mail a letter to her family.  So she promised to send it off and hid it.  I fear she’s too intelligent to believe the prevarication for much longer.

-Patient File Emma Sokoloff, Dr. Nguyen

 

            Emma contemplated screaming at the top of her lungs until someone would finally allow her to go home.  She felt fine.  Better than fine, in fact.  Not up to running a marathon or anything, but then she’d never been that athletic.  They kept making noises about observation, fear of relapse, and more tests until she stopped listening.  She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d seen the sun, which was painfully obvious by the overall hue of fish belly white she was sporting.  It might not have been so bad if her window wasn’t boarded over from the outside, preventing her from any glimpse of the outside world.  All the windows in the wing were the same way.  Before she could launch into her latest tirade at the poor nurse, Dr. Nguyen waylaid her.

            “Emma, would you like to join me in the lounge?”  The lounge was where Nguyen liked to meet with her.  The small sitting room was far more comfortable than an office or even her room, but she wasn’t fooled at the doctor’s blatant attempt to put her at ease.  Emma curled up in the overstuffed armchair she preferred and sat a patchwork throw pillow on her lap.  The splash of vibrant colour and variety of textures was soothing against the otherwise cold austerity of the hospital.

            “When am I getting discharged?” she demanded without preamble.

            “That’s what we’re here to discuss.”  The doctor ignored the bluntness of the question that had been asked with ever increasing frequency over the past two weeks.  The smell of her anxiety and distress had been affecting everyone who entered the med bay, spreading like an emotional virus.  No one could bear an upset Omega.  Unfortunately, the situation was about to get worse. 

            “You are aware that Dr. Cunningham had been working closely with the military to develop your treatment?”  The smaller woman nodded warily and clutched the pillow a fraction closer.  “The procedure changed your DNA.”  Wide brown eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “You’ve probably noticed that your senses have grown sharper during your recovery.”

            “That’s because I don’t feel like crap anymore from the old drugs or the tumour eating away at my brain,” she protested.

            “Your previous vision tests were leaning towards prescription eyewear,” Nguyen continued gently.  As much as she resented Morrow for leaving this responsibility to her, her colleague was wholly lacking in compassion.  Mad Morrow was more likely to keep Emma ignorant in order to run more tests.  “Now you’re 20/20.  Your hearing has improved as well.”

            “What are you trying to say?”  Her previously sweet scent dipped even further into sourness.

            “The treatment was intended to not only cure your cancer, but to improve you as a whole.”

            “So this is like one of those super soldier tropes, like in the movies?  And now you’re performing experiments on the populace under the guise of curing disease?”  Anger warmed her scent and her cheeks, but she gave no indications of incipient violence.

            “You’re not stronger or faster,” Nguyen shook her head.  If the girl only knew how close to the true aim of the Protocol she was.  “But your healing time is markedly different.”

            “And now you’re not going to let me go?”  Tears welled up in the young woman’s eyes, but she refused to let them spill over.  It was the closest she’d come to crying since being revived.

            “Not yet, I’m afraid.”  As much as it pained both of them, Emma was not yet ready to be released.  Moreover, they weren’t prepared for a confused and unmated Omega running unrestricted among the general populace, nor was the base secure enough for anyone to be comfortable with her safety.

            “Well, if you need your guinea pig, I’ll be in my cell.”  She stood and stalked out of the room, the colourful pillow clutched in one small trembling fist.


            To her immense frustration, Emma’s captors didn’t seem to realize that they were under attack.  She’d done everything she could think of, short of setting something on fire, which was out of the question for obvious reasons.  She stole anything she got her hands on, then planted randomly in the work spaces of people who were most definitely not the owners.  The cameras in the hallways were constantly bombarded with spitwads until the lenses were completely covered.  She even festooned the nurse’s station with toilet paper.  No matter where she hid, they always found her.  A hunger strike was not an option because she needed to regain strength.  And she had no doubt that they were fully capable of inserting a feeding tube.

            One week, she didn’t shower, but eventually caved and bathed when she could no longer stand it.  Perhaps there was something to this allegedly enhanced sniffer.  As much as she hated to admit it, she could smell subtle differences in people.  It was sometimes as simple as personal body products, but sometimes it was as if she could detect the subtle, natural odour underneath.

            After a few weeks of this cold war, Mihaela smiled as she had all along when Emma approached.  “Could I please get some music or books?”  She’d already plundered the meager library in the lounge.  It was mostly mysteries and bodice rippers.  The latter she’d avoided entirely because she had no desire to risk getting hot and bothered when she had so little privacy, even if her sex drive was contemplating waking up from hibernation.

            “What kind do you like?”

            “Most kinds of rock, science fiction, fantasy,” she shrugged.  “But at this point I’d settle for just about anything.  Just no romance novels.  Heck, I’d take a Where’s Waldo?

            “I’ll see what I can find,” Mihaela smiled again.

 

Chapter Text

The subject is exhibiting comfort nesting behaviours.  She has taken a small couch, lamp, and area rug from the lounge, a night stand from another room, and established a nook in a corner of her room.  She has several colourful blankets and pillows that were provided for this eventuality.  At night, she ensures that the sheets and blankets are tucked in and pulled straight.  Then she places one pillow between her legs as she sleeps curled on her side, with another pillow at her back, and hugs yet another pillow.  After the pillows are in place, she rolls slightly back and forth until the covers are slightly tucked under her and the pillows, undoing the straightening that she did previously.  Lastly, she pulls the covers up to her nose before falling asleep.  She seems to be unable to rest unless fully cocooned.

With the addition of music and reading materials, her stress levels have been considerably reduced.  I daresay the nurses are glad for a reprieve from her passive aggressive outbursts.  Who could have expected that superglue would still be effective after so long if it was unopened?  They’re still determining the best way to get the chair off the ceiling.

-File: Emma Sokoloff, Dr. Morrow

 

            Barbie nodded in confirmation as Chimi silently entered the old hydro station.  There’d been sign of NAD’s, Nasty Ass Dickriders, aka Plague Riders to civvies, which was five by five since the station was up in the foothills a few hours out from base.  Brick and Rooster, or Brooster as she liked to call the pair, babysat the Turd.  Its name came from the turtle-back style of armour, pre-dominantly brown woodland camouflage pattern, and the weapons bristling from it like so many peanuts after eating one of the vegetarian MRE’s.  Sometimes she wondered what whoever oversaw designing military vehicles thought of the nicknames assigned to their brain children by the grunts who actually used them.

            She moved to follow him, but was thrown backwards by the door when it was blown off its hinges.  Rolling to her feet, adrenaline burned through any injuries, there was no sign of Ortiz, but the cement building hadn’t completely collapsed.  Once the ringing in her ears stopped, her comm spit out a string of curses to make a Marine blush, if they spoke Spanish.  She gave a small smile knowing that meant that if he had the breath to turn the air blue, that was a good sign.  And she could hold it over his head when his mama arrived.  Omega or not, that woman would slap the shit out of her Beta son if she heard one foul word and he wouldn’t raise a finger in defense.

            “Hold tight, we should be able to get you out without dropping the rest on you.”  Barbie had to repeat herself a few times before he finally heard her.

            “Roger that,” he grunted.  Those dogfucking NAD’s didn’t know C4 from dogshit because he was still mostly protected by the way the supports had collapsed to form a sort of triangular arch over him.  The only real injury, aside from his pride from not noticing the tripwire, was the chunk of concrete on his leg.  He was no band-aid, but trying to free himself seemed like a bad idea.  Instinct overrode logic, though.  It wasn’t until his hands were shredded that he stopped and let the pain and blood loss black him out.

 

The Plague Riders seem to be using the area to winter over.  Eight nests have been found, four with stashes of supplies.  One in the hydro station was rigged with IED’s.  PFC Ortiz was injured, expected to make a full recovery.  Their movements may prove a risk to logging and mining efforts.  Patrols have been increased.  PFC Ortiz thinks he may be able to cannibalize some old cameras left behind by the original science team to set up more visual feeds along the perimeter.

Omega Emma doesn’t seem to have any specialized skills, but she may be useful in a support role, assuming she’s not subject to heat cycles like most Omegas.  Her integration into daily life here will be a precursor as to what to expect when the next group of exiles arrives.

-Planetfall day 63, Captain Niklaus Reed

Chapter Text

            Ortiz smelled her before he saw her.  The sweet, heady scent of an Omega that threaded throughout the med bay.  The Sleeping Beauty from the old research facility.  Remembering the orders the boss had given regarding tech around her, he tucked his tablet that he’d been playing a game on beneath his pillow as the door swung open enough for her to slip in.

            “Hi.”  The little morena smiled shyly.  “I’m Emma.”

            “Raúl Ortiz,” he smiled back.  “But you can call me Chimi.”

            “Chimi?”  Her head tilted with curiosity, her dark, chin-length hair swinging with the movement.

            “I ate a chimichanga once in front of the guys.  Pendejos.”  He drew out an exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes.  Her eyes widened and a pink flush spread across her pretty face before a giggle bubbled out of her.  “Hablas español?”

            “Un poco.”  One narrow shoulder rose and fell, but she didn’t offer up any more information.  He’d have to watch his tongue around her.  Only Barbie spoke Spanish, and she was used to his cursing, but this girl wasn’t used to jarheads like him.  Besides, his mama’d have his hide if she heard him talk like that, especially in front of the chica.  “What’re you in for?”  Emma looked at the cast encasing his left leg and the bandages on his hands.

            “I’m a one-man demolition team,” he winked.  “That building didn’t stand a chance.”

            “I don’t think you’re supposed to be under the building being destroyed,” she laughed.  “Are you bored?  There don’t seem to be any TV’s in this place.”  Of course there weren’t because space had been at a premium when they set out, although there were a couple of projectors set up in the dorms.  Not that she’d been let out of this fishbowl for movie nights.  “I don’t think you’re a romance fan, so I brought Stephen King, Clive Cussler, and a copy of Dracula.”  She held up the three books she’d been cradling in the crook of her arm.  Actual paper books with thin, flimsy covers.  The novels that Rooster had found in storage were evidently appreciated.  “Pick your poison.”  On two of the covers, the authors’ names were written in a garish font larger than the actual title.

            “Whatchoo think?”

            “Well, we’ve got a car that attacks people, vampire that attacks people, and apparently mutant fish that attack people,” she rattled off as she shuffled through the selection.

            “A car?” he asked skeptically. 

            “Really, it’s the car that caught your attention and not the mutant fish?” she asked with a half-smile and arched brow.

            “What can I say?  I’m a guy,” he shrugged and then glanced down at his shredded hands.  With the bandages there was no way he could manipulate the thin pages.

            “Then I guess you’re stuck with me,” said Emma, noting the issue immediately.  She pulled up the only chair in the room and cracked the cover of the well-preserved book. 

            “Could be worse,” he shrugged.  Her brows drew together.  “You could be my CO.  Next to him, your voice is an angel’s.”  She smiled hesitantly as if she were unaccustomed to being hit on.  As an Omega surrounded by Alphas and Betas, mostly coarse males, la perdita was going to have to get used to it.


            Five days later they’d finished all three books and Ortiz was itching to run, fight, anything physical to burn off the feeling that he was going to crawl out of his skin if he was going to be stuck in med bay one minute longer.  He could’ve been released back into the general population three days ago, but Nguyen asked him to stick around keep Emma company.  Couldn’t blame la gordita for being bored out of her mind and lonely after two months in this place.  Hell, he was climbing the walls after less than a week.  Since he couldn’t go back to active duty yet, he’d agreed.  And it meant that he could watch the perimeter cams when the Omega wasn’t around, freeing up an able-body for duties elsewhere.

            “Mi culo me mata,” he muttered, squirming to relieve the deep ache in his buttcheeks.  Emma tilted her head slightly like she did when something piqued her curiosity, but she wasn’t going to pry.  A moment later understanding lit up her face when she’d mentally translated his complaint. 

            “Wait here.”  She jumped to her feet and dashed for the door.

          “Where’m I gonna go, conejito?” he asked of her retreating back.  A few minutes later she returned with what looked like an aluminum, plastic, and vinyl deathtrap.

            “Voilà, your chariot, señor.”  She bobbed a little bow and fiddled with some knobs and levers, clever hands maneuvering out of the way what looked like footrests.

            “Uhhh…”  No one could accuse Ortiz of cowardice, but that thing looked nothing like the wheelchairs he was used to seeing, while they could hardly expect to have hover capable ones in exile, he was not expecting this contraption.  Seeing his hesitation, she reached to pull the covers back, but paused at the last minute.

            “Um, you’re dressed, right?”  He smirked in response.  Huffing, she called his bluff and yanked back the covers to expose his soft shorts that fell to his knees.  Somehow, they managed to wrangle his tall frame into the wheelchair and she knew the exact height to set the support for his busted leg to be comfortable.

            “You a nurse, chica?”  It was a common profession among Omegas.  Maybe she’d been one before True Armour?

            “Nope.  Spent my fair share in them, though.”  She executed a tight turn he wouldn’t have suspected was possible of the creaky device and rolled into the hallway.

            In the lounge, they played checkers, chess, and go fish.  It took them an embarrassingly long time to realize they weren’t playing with a full deck of cards.  Now that she’d lulled him into complacency, she hoped he’d forgive her for what she was about to do.

            “So, what am I going to beat you at next?” she asked, approaching with two mugs of hot chocolate.  Her foot, clad only in socks, slipped on the linoleum.  Mugs went flying and she fell against his chair, spinning him, broken leg first, into the table they were sitting at.  “I am so, so sorry, Raúl!”

            “Está bien, torpe.”  Cocoa dripped down his grimace of pain, his arms, and his legs.

            “Oh, your bandages!  I’ll go get Mihaela.”  Emma stuck her head out into the hallway and called for help.  As expected, Mihaela came running, took in the situation, and whisked Ortiz away, who was grey with agony, presumably to get him cleaned up and meds.  The nurse’s station was deserted.

            The button that unlocked the ward’s doors had to be pressed continuously.  The minute it was released, the locked activated.  Emma pulled from her pocket the pen she’d used to write her letter, which she now doubted was ever mailed.  A long strip of cloth, torn from a bedsheet that was currently stuffed under the small couch she’d commandeered, was tied around the middle of the pen to form a makeshift rope.  Holding the base of the pen against the seat of the office chair at the desk, she raised its height until the pen tip pressed to the button on the underside of the counter.  The dull buzzing that was her reward sounded deafening in the silent hallway.

            Once in the doorway, she didn’t stop to savour the imminent freedom.  She had no delusions that it would last long.  Instead, she checked that the short hallway was empty before tugging on the rope to retrieve the pen.  A raised chair might not raise too many questions, but there was no sense in leaving a bright red arrow leading to her.

            Heart pounding, Emma darted down the hallway to peek before choosing a direction.  The sound of booted feet echoed from another turning behind her and she ducked into what proved to be a janitor’s closet to catch her breath and take off her socks so that her bare feet would have better grip on the linoleum.  Once the panic subsided, she listened at the door before dashing out.  Before she could figure out which direction to go, voices carried from the way she came.  Blind with fear, she barreled around a corner and into a wall.


            Captain Niklaus Reed stared down at the dazed female sprawled at his feet.  He knew her inside and out, more so than the other members of the expedition because she was an unknown.  He knew her age, height and improving weight, and the insidious form of cancer that would have taken her life had she not had the courage to volunteer for a treatment that should not have been implemented for years.  And yet he was mildly surprised that she’d engineered an escape.  She had no way of knowing that she’d be immediately picked up on the cameras, which were closely watched around the clock.  Despite the cleverness and grit displayed in her escape, fear filled those wide brown eyes and soured her sweet scent.  She flinched away when he stooped to offer a hand.  Barely suppressing a growl, he picked her up and set her on her feet.

            “Why are you barefoot?” he demanded, barely managing not to growl.  The building was secure, but broken glass littered the base and it was easily tracked inside.

            “I don’t have any shoes.”  She looked like she was wondering if he was slow.  Then calculation flickered in her eyes as she wondered how to twist him to her advantage.  “I don’t suppose you could show me the way out?  I got a bit turned around.”  Wide innocent eyes again, the fear leaching from her.

            Nguyen and Mihaela came up the hallway behind her, following the scent of their wayward Omega.  The stopped at the look he shot them over her head of thick, chestnut hair.  He swung the female into his arms and strode back toward his office. 

            “Hey!” she squealed and squirmed in a vain attempt at wiggling free.  “Let me down, I can walk!”  He permitted it until she tried to slap his face, then he slung her over his shoulder.  Then she truly kicked in earnest, but with no greater success than before.  A firm swat to her rounded ass startled her into quieting.

            “There’s glass everywhere, you might hurt yourself.”  There was no sense in testing her newly strengthened immune system, not when they had a finite amount of drugs and medical supplies.

The hulking brute dropped her into a chair.  The room spun as her blood pressure equilibrized after being toted around like a sack of potatoes.

“I am Captain Nicklaus Reed,” her manhandler decreed, looming over her with his arms folded.  She suspected he could easily be the tallest man she’d ever met, perhaps over a foot and a half taller than her five-foot two self.  His shoulders, as she already knew, were so wide there had been no danger of her slipping off.  Not that those arms bulging under his grey long-sleeved shirt had any problems keeping her right where he’d wanted.

            “Drs. Morrow and Nguyen believed it was best to acclimate you slowly, but you have proven impatient.”  Acclimate her to what?  Life as a lab rat?  She didn’t voice that thought aloud.  Not that she was intimidated or anything.  From a large pocket in his black pants, he pulled what looked like a tablet, only it wasn’t any type she immediately recognized.

            “You weren’t in a coma for a few months.  You were cryogenically frozen, a suspended animation, for 183 years.  The date is April 16, 2218.”  He handed the tablet to her.  It was set to a news site.  The date at the top confirmed what he said, but the headlines of current articles made no sense.  “Phase 2 of TA Exile Underway.”  The top article was “True Armour’s Legacy.”  It gave an overview of the history of certain types of genetic experimentation on earth-bound humans.  Most were illegal, which was circumvented by off-world testing, and the resulting benefits, even though the descendants of those so changed were exiled to a habitable planet under the guise of colonization. 

            Reed popped a hip onto the desk and stretched out his legs as he watched the Omega peruse the newspaper.  Initially, she smirked at his proclamation, which died the more she read.  Then the colour drained from her face, leaving her the same sickly pallor she had upon awaking.  And her fear returned.  He’d seen shock enough times to recognize those glassy eyes and distant expression.

            She only managed to read a few articles before she tried to hand it back with shaking hands.  He had to steady her hands before her number fingers would finally release their grip.  No one would go to this much trouble for a practical joke, not enough to create an entire site full of news with a complex history that was beyond her.  This was real.

            He put in a call to Dr. Nguyen on his comm, who was not far, as he’d expected.  Once she’d retrieved the stunned female, he realized that she’d not cried once.  Not upon hearing the fictitious story of the fire, when she learned that she was restricted to the med bay for the foreseeable future, nor now when discovering that everyone she had ever known was dead and gone long ago.  He wondered if that was a sign that she would survive, or if it meant that she was broken.

Chapter Text

Subject is extremely depressed since Captain Reed’s disclosure.  She’s not resumed her daily activities, engaged with staff, nor has she eaten.  If she doesn’t recover by tomorrow morning, we may have to intervene.

-Patient File: Emma Sokoloff, entry by Dr. Jonathon Morrow

 

            Emma had no idea how long she lay wrapped in her warm, snug cocoon.  For all she knew, she’d slept for years again, only to wake to yet another new world.  And she didn’t care to meet it.

            “Hola, tramposa.”  She was fairly certain that Raúl didn’t call her a tramp, but she couldn’t muster the energy to ask him what it meant.

            “Go ‘way.”  She pulled the covers tighter around her head and shoulders.

            “Can’t.”  He was much closer now.

            “So?”

            “So I wanna get some air con una pollito.”  His voice was normally lightly accented, unless he was trying to sweet talk her into something, then it grew heavier.  Right then it was thick as mole sauce.

            “Did you just call me a chicken?”  A head surrounded by a dark bird’s nest popped out of the blankets, reminding him of an indignant chicken.  But he wasn’t stupid enough to tell her that.

            The soft cocoon was ripped away.  “Apestas!”  She didn’t know that word, either, but she could guess by his wrinkled nose.

            “Then lemme alone,” she glared and tugged futilely at the blankets he held out of her reach.

            “Mi bebé hermana’d say you’re being childish.  And she’s twelve,” he scowled down at her.

            “Yeah?  Well how’d you like it if you woke up tomorrow and found out she’s dead?  Along with your entire family?  Everyone you’ve ever known!  Dead, dead, dead!” she screamed at him.  Distantly she knew she sounded hysterical, but didn’t care.

            “I’d hope she lived a long and happy life with many fat bebés,” he replied evenly.  “Now’re you done feeling sorry for yourself and gonna come outside with me or do I have to drag you out of there?”

            “You can’t-”  She blinked at his leg.  “You’re walking!  And your hands!”

            “Bienvenido al futuro, chiquita,” winked Raúl, spreading his uninjured hands and gesturing to his leg, which was in a light brace instead of the cast.  “Now shower.”  He folded his arms and stared down at her.  She glared back, but eventually withered under his scrutiny.  It galled her to give in, but fighting him on it would have been truly childish because he was right.  She did stink.  Grumbling, she stomped off to the communal shower room, otherwise he wasn’t likely to leave her alone.

            Once she’d cleaned up and dressed, he dragged her outside.  If she’d doubted Captain Reed’s revelation, the vivid blue sun high in the sky was proof.  The small settlement sat at the edge of a lake, fed by a river that poured down out of the hills that rose behind the cluster of buildings before growing into rugged mountains.  The trees that dotted the landscape looked like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, the tall and skinny ones were an unnatural rust orange while the short puffy ones looked like clusters of feathers.  The wilderness, largely untouched by human hands, was eerily peaceful.  No traffic, sirens, or flashing billboards for as far as the eye could see.

            “What happened?”  The pollution-free air felt strange, but in a good way.

            “We did.”  Raúl’s customary smile faded to leave a hardened stranger in his place.  “The program that made us what we are was called True Armour.  There are three flavours: Alpha, Beta, and Omega.  They started in on us grunts, slipping it in with all the other fucking immunizations.  Then a select few with dinero got to choose, got to be Alpha, cabrones grandes.  The rest of the population got to be Beta, like me.  And then the Omegas, like you.”

            “Runts of the litter?” she asked sardonically.

            “A cute runt.”  He reached out to ruffle her hair and she batted his hand away.  “Once they started in on clueless civvies people figured out what was going on.”

            “And they got scared,” she murmured, remember the articles she’d seen on Reed’s device.

            “There were the usual riots, but who’s gonna fuck with a ‘genetically enhanced’ US military?” he smirked without humour.  “It was when the first generation started having kids that the rest of the world really pointed out that it was illegal.”

            “On Earth.  But they got around it by developing it here.”  A queer feeling of displacement settled over her, as though the years she’d spent asleep were suddenly weighing her down.  She sat cross-legged on the thick grass in front of the building that housed the medical center.  Chimi stretched out beside her, leaning back on his hands.  The stiff breeze coming off the water tousled his dark curls.

            “Then it was no longer an ‘experiment’,” he agreed.  “Things hit the breaking point about five years ago.  We could either get sterilized and live in internment camps or ‘go back to where we came from’.”  Emma snorted at the echo of a common refrain said to non-white Americans of her day.  Some things never really changed, unfortunately.

            “But they white-washed it by calling this a ‘colony’,” she nodded at the buildings surrounding the common green that they sat on.  “Where are we anyway?”

            “Hipparchus.  It’s in the Orion constellation.”  The information meant little to her.  “So are you ready for a big girl’s room now, or do you want to go back to hiding?”  She smacked him in the arm in answer.


 

            “Barbie, sitrep.”  The Captain’s voice barked at her through her comm’s headset.  Continuing to ignore him for a moment longer, she got her sweet spot.  Beat, exhale, squeeze, beat, pop, and squish.

            “Gettin’ a little target practice in, boss.  Just a pair of NAD’s.”  Reed was both harder and easier on her for being both female and Alpha.  Any time she went off-mission solo, she was generally off the hook as long as she could back it up with logic.  But if she took others with her, drew in NAD’s, or encouraged others to go lone wolf she’d be put on crop duty faster than she could spit.  Not that she minded hard labour, or tilling in manure, but being under a civilian Beta’s command, even temporarily, made her skin itch.

            “You’ve had your fun, they got the message.”  Like most vermin, where there was one, there were more lurking nearby.  “Come on home”

            “Aye, aye, Captain.”  Her SO didn’t bother with his usual quips about starting their own navy by tossing her in the lake for using the wrong terminology.  From what she understood of “normal” military culture, the familiarity they had in their unit would never have been tolerated.  Then again, “altered” humans like them had long been banned from the very institution that helped create them.  Instead, they’d formed their own militias on the reservations to which they were restricted.

            Many people, both here and those yet to come from Earth, expected her and Captain Reed to mate, although there was no attraction there.  Everyone was required to eventually contribute to population growth, which meant that the chain of command tended to blur under the unusual circumstances.  And until their foothold stabilized, she had no intention of settling down with rugrats, no matter how hot the captain was.

Chapter Text

            “Barbie, sitrep.”  The Captain’s voice barked at her through her comm’s headset.  Continuing to ignore him for a moment longer, she got her sweet spot.  Beat, exhale, squeeze, beat, pop, and squish.

            “Gettin’ a little target practice in, boss.  Just a pair of NAD’s.”  Reed was both harder and easier on her for being both female and Alpha.  Any time she went off-mission solo, she was generally off the hook as long as she could back it up with logic.  But if she took others with her, drew in NAD’s, or encouraged others to go lone wolf she’d be put on crop duty faster than she could spit.  Not that she minded hard labour, or tilling in manure, but being under a civilian Beta’s command, even temporarily, made her skin itch.

            “You’ve had your fun, they got the message.”  Like most vermin, where there was one, there were more lurking nearby.  “Come on home”

            “Aye, aye, Captain.”  Her SO didn’t bother with his usual quips about starting their own navy by tossing her in the lake for using the wrong terminology.  From what she understood of “normal” military culture, the familiarity they had in their unit would never have been tolerated.  Then again, “altered” humans like them had long been banned from the very institution that helped create them.  Instead, they’d formed their own militias on the reservations to which they were restricted.

            Many people, both here and those yet to come from Earth, expected her and Captain Reed to mate, although there was no attraction there.  Everyone was required to eventually contribute to population growth, which meant that the chain of command tended to blur under the unusual circumstances.  And until their foothold stabilized, she had no intention of settling down with rugrats, no matter how hot the captain was.


            Emma and Raúl had talked until almost dusk, which was about 1800 he explained.  Thinking in terms of military time, let alone a 26-hour clock, was strange.  Kahlil Haddad had wandered over with a brilliant smile and introduced himself as “Head of HR, but unable to fire anyone ever.”  He escorted her to get her belongings and then took her on a tour of one of the biggest buildings, which was evidently a dormitory of sorts.

            The room was small, barely wide enough for a futon mattress that lay directly on the floor against the far wall.  A series of shelves cut from native wood took up the right wall.  Immediately, she opened the window and pushed back the rough, unpainted shutters to look out at the inner courtyard.  Best of all, it wasn’t a hospital room.

            “Thank you.”  She put her bag of possessions on a shelf next to a large, sturdy bottle of water and a glass.

            “Dinner’s in twenty, and remember, you can ask any of the women to show you how to use the timer controls for the shower if you need a refresher.”  Kahlil hadn’t gone any farther than the doorway, already respecting the room as her territory.  While not as tall as Captain Reed, nor as wide as Raúl, he would’ve taken up most of the space.  The small gesture did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.  “What did you do before?”

            Before what?  Being packed on ice?  The stint of government lab rat?  Cancer?  “I was a student.  Literature.  Not very helpful here, I know,” she said apologetically.

            “I didn’t ask if you had skills that were useful now,” Kahlil sternly pointed out, but not unkindly.  “Come find me in the morning, we’ll find something to keep you out of trouble.”

            “Are you an Alpha?”  Dark brows rose slightly at the innocently posed question, but he didn’t laugh at her.  After all, she hadn’t grown up learning to identify dynamics at a glance and a sniff.

            “I am,” he answered carefully.

            “I should have known, you’re bossy, but in a sneaky way.”  She gave him a wry half-smile.  He chuckled and walked away, knowing that she was going to fit in with the Alphas and Betas just fine.

Chapter Text

The Plague Riders breached our northern perimeter at 0300. Two cameras were destroyed and one remoted turret disabled. This band rode a type of gliding reptile that we have yet to encounter in the wild. They launched from the foothills. Since the creatures appear incapable of true flight, early detection devices are being placed at higher elevations. -Captain Nicklaus Reed, Planetfall day 93

            Most nights, people gathered in the common area if it was raining to watch something on the projector, or simply socialize.  If it was clear, some game or the other was played outside, football and soccer were definitely the leading favourites.  Emma usually kept to the edges and listened, trying to absorb a foreign history and culture.  When word got out that she was crafty, any clothes that required mending were brought to her.  While everyone else could fire a gun or repair a tractor or install solar panels, she was evidently the only one who could wield a needle and thread.  Ajax found a stash of knitting needles and yarn in one of the supply crates, so she kept her hands busy even in her “off-hours.”

            A collection of scraps was going and she had wrangled a few people into helping make a quilt in exchange for teaching them how to sew.  Someone had suggested that it be a gift for the first couple to be “mated.”  From the context, it seemed to mean married.  In a strange way, it made sense because there was no minister to perform weddings and there was no license issued.  Then there was the fact that apparently, even though no one said so aloud, fertile couples were expected to procreate.

            She really didn’t know how that worked.  That is to say, she knew how it worked.  She’d had cancer, she hadn’t died.  People didn’t date, not that there was any place to go.  But when she watched from her corner in the common room, or mossy spot under the tree on the green, she noticed little things.  Lena, one of the nurses, made sure that Miles, one of the engineers, got a portion of his favourite foods if he was late coming in.  Or he would bring her a plate if she was busy with someone in the med bay.

            Rooster found some paints and brushes packed in with the few entertainment stuff brought along on the first ship.  After cobbling together a wooden frame, he stretched and tacked to it a square scrap of a rodent-eaten sheet, which was prepared with chalk he dug from a formation in the hills and some egg whites.  No one had seen the canvas or paints since they disappeared into Mihaela’s room, but she would pick at the paint spatters on her hands and hum to herself when she thought no one else was around.  As for the soldier, well, he constantly looked like the cat who ate the canary as he went about his duties.

            They put Emma to work in the kitchen garden in front of the main barn.  Larger fields with crops like wheat were to the north, but lacking familiarity with the equipment and generally being more of a hindrance than a help, they set her to the garden, greenhouse, and tending the chickens.  Although considered light for nearly everyone else, it was much harder work than she’d done in a long time, even before the Rip van Winkle act.  And it was way better than kitchen duty.  They kept her on dishes for her shifts after the one time she’d tried to help cook.  Miles’ wounds were almost healed now, anyway.

            “Come on, Ms. Fluffybutt,” Emma crooned to a fat, speckled hen in her nestbox.

            “Fluffybutt?”  The gravelly masculine voice behind her rang with amusement.  “You named them?”

            “Of course.  You have you make friends or they won’t let you near their eggs,” she continued in her singsong voice as she reached under the cranky chicken, who clucked a warning.  “And how can you be friends with someone if you don’t know their name?  Aha.”  The hand scanner pressed to the egg confirmed it was unfertilized.  “The captain and I thank you,” she said solemnly and lightly petted the brooding hen as the egg was safely stowed in her basket.

            “You don’t name livestock.”  Reed arched an imperious brow at her from where he stood outside the chicken run and attached coop.  “How will you feel when Ms. Fluffybutt is dinner?”

            “Ssh!” she hissed, waving her free hand.  “Not in front of them!  And to answer your question, that’s why I won’t have anything to do with butchering.”  She latched the coop and then the door to the run behind her before stepping over a tunnel of wire running from the coop through the kitchen garden for the hens to pick at any pests that might eat the crops.  “Was there something you needed, Captain, or did you want to discuss appropriate naming practices for domestic fowl?”

            “What did you study in college?”  She huffed as he eased the basket of eggs from her arm and settled it in the crook of his elbow, but didn’t resist so as not to break them.

            “Literature, primarily English and American.  Why?”  She fell into step beside him, fully aware that he significantly shortened his stride to accommodate her.

            “And ‘Fluffybutt’ is what you come up with?”  The glint in his aquamarine eyes was his version of outright laughing at her.

            “Ophelia and Yseult would be too tragic.  Margery or Sappho too high-handed.  Henrietta too obvious.  What would you suggest?”

            “Fried, Baked, Strip, Thigh, and Breast,” he declared without pause.  She managed to simultaneously laugh and blush at the erotic mental images that surfaced at his list.  “You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

            “Working out here occupies my hands, not my mind,” she shrugged, but she was grateful for the physical work.  “Where are we going anyway?”  They were rounding the barn now, but there was nothing out back except for the compost and manure pile.

            “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”  Reed approached a creature tethered to the side of the barn.  It was a woolly goat-type of animal with two rows of short horns on its head.  A tufted beard waggled as it munched the grass it was cropping.

            “Hello, buddy,” breathed Emma, inching closer.  The critter sniffed at her hand and ignored her in favour of lunch.  His coat was soft under the coarser guard hairs with a long staple.

            “Would you be able to spin the fur into yarn?”  Last week, Deon teased her, asking if she could weave, too, and if she’d guessed Rumpelstiltskin’s name.  Evidently, she could do both, having grown up on a farm with sheep, and chickens, as she’d informed Deon before refusing to sew a button to his pants.  The last time he’d seen the horticultural specialist, he was wearing a belt that was cinched a little too tightly and asking her to teach him to sew.

            “I’m from the early 21st century, not the 19th,” she frowned up at him.  “What makes you think I can spin?”

            “Can you?”

            “Well, yes, but that’s not the point.”  He had to swallow back a smile as she sniffed haughtily.  “I think so.”  She pulled out a few loosened hairs and pulled them between her fingers to estimate the texture and staple length.  “I’d need some tools, though.  They might have to be made.”

            “Good,” he said as if it was decided.  “Winters can be harsh here, and the less reliant we are on off-world supplies by fall the better.  The next wave of settlers will have a few youths in it, perhaps you’d be interested in a teaching role once we have children and it gets too cold to tend the garden.”  Again, he managed to make it sound like an order and not a suggestion.  She was interested, but that wasn’t the point.

            “I didn’t realize I’d be staying.”  The Omega looked lost as she continued to pet the animal.  “I thought you’d send me home when the next group comes.”

            “What makes you think you would be accepted back on Earth?” he growled.  Out of all of them, Omegas suffered the most at the hands of the humans.  Between the prejudice and her anachronism, her chances of survival were non-existent.  “You’d be outcast, the same as us, for being an abomination.”  Flinching from his sneer, she hunched in on herself.

            “I’ll give a list of what I need to Miles.”  She walked towards the garden, leaving Reed standing with the basket of eggs.  To his surprise, he found a growl rumbling out of him.  He really didn’t like the idea of the little female walking away from him, no matter how much he liked that bubble butt.

Chapter Text

Subject’s hormonal levels are balancing to typical for a healthy Omega of her age group.  Although I have confirmed that she is fertile and biologically compatible with modern males, it is too early to determine whether she has mating cycles.  Until she’s established a routine, the current course is to refrain from broaching the topic with her in order to avoid another bout of depression.

-Patient File: Emma Sokoloff, entry by Dr. Jonathon Morrow

 

            Emma had no idea what was wrong with her.  Over the past few hours Captain Reed’s scent had gone from yummy to positively mouth-watering.  That morning she found herself starting to follow him from the cafeteria even though she’d just entered.  Then she’d snapped at Deon when they were watering seedlings in the greenhouse.  After lunch, she claimed exhaustion, which no one questioned since she was still recovering from years of sickness, the True Armour program, and the faulty cryogenic freezing. 

            The sunlight filtering through the window was too bright, so she drew the shutters to leave the room in comforting dimness.  The window, however, remained open a crack as usual to let in fresh air, albeit wider than normal.  Although instead of resting, she frantically cleaned her already neat room.  It wasn’t hard to stay tidy when you owned very little.  Then the bed needed to be remade, but not in its customary configuration.  The pillows were arranged against the two walls the futon butted up against.  Then a few layers of soft, fluffy blankets topped by a cool sheet.  Another sort of roll on the floor against the edge of the mattress, forming a sort of bumper.

            By the time it was satisfactory, Emma was sweating despite the cool breeze.  Her shirt felt like it was strangling her from the way it clung, and the denim of her jeans was constricting and rough.  Maybe she had a fever?  Delirium might explain her strange, compulsive urges.  Maybe my immune system isn’t as strong as theirs? she thought.  After all, she was only a prototype.  If she was sick, she couldn’t risk spreading it to the others, not when medicines were so dear.  Unable to bear the thought of being confined to med bay again, she was determined to ride it out.  So she curled up in her nook and tried to sleep.

            Reed was heading for some grub and looking forward to some serious rack time before an early morning patrol when he caught the scent.  Several thoughts besides the obvious raced through his mind: calling in the closest females to handle it, if there was an isolated area to move her to, tying himself to a tree, and throttling Morrow and Nguyen for assuming this wouldn’t happen for months yet, if at all.  However, none of this happened. 

            Instead, he found himself following the dark, luscious scent that he drank in like a fine wine.  His fist hovered over her door.  There were a hundred and one reasons why this would be a Charlie Foxtrot and yet couldn’t bring himself to walk away.  The siren song of pheromones definitely had his grey matter FUBAR.

            The door opened, but he didn’t remember knocking.  Rutting was like that in the early stages, losing chunks of time like his brain was AWOL and his cock was in charge.  Naturally the bastard thought this was a grand idea, especially when the concentrated pheromones in the room spilled out in a rush to entice an Alpha to her.

            Reed had to suppress a groan at the sight of dusky pink nipples straining against the thin tank top she wore.  And, God help him, she wore only panties below.  He managed to jerk his eyes up to her face and froze at her blown pupils and the white teeth that worried at her plump bottom lip.

            “Captain, is something wrong?”  It took her two tries to speak with a mouth gone completely dry.  No wonder when he was staring like he wanted to rip her to pieces.  Instead of answering, he rushed past her, shutting the door behind him.  Locking in his deeply masculine musk to mingle with her own scent.  She found herself staring at the way his tapered waist swelled out to a firm ass that deserved a medal for the way it filled out his pants.  Thankfully he was shutting the window and didn’t notice the ogling nor the way she had to drag her eyes up to his face.

            When he did turn to face her, the fierce light in his aqua eyes made her heartrate triple.  She tried to speak again, but only managed to twitch her lips a little.  The predator locked in with her followed every move.  Then he did the strangest thing.  He growled.  A primal sound that couldn’t possibly be formed by human vocal chords.  It rolled over and through her, vibrating her breastbone before settling to sit low and warm in her belly with a hum.  That was when she wet herself.  Or at least that’s what she assumed the liquid was that ran down her thighs.

            “Um, maybe-”  There was no chance to ask him to leave so she could die of mortification because he was pressing her down onto her curiously made bed.  The soft blankets forming cushions felt like a thousand tiny feathers tickling her hypersensitive skin.  Oh God, she could smell herself.  Niklaus didn’t seem to mind, judging by his flaring nostrils and dilated pupils. 

            “Wait,” she gasped, a small hand against his chest.  Her eyes managed to focus on his face.  Then all rational thought flew out of her head when he settled himself over her.  Instinctively, she spread her thighs to cradle him, but he remained braced above.  The overriding need to have his warm weight pressed against her forced a faint whimper from her.  Curling one hand in her short hair, he nuzzled the velvety skin below her ear, deeply inhaling the drug of her scent into his lungs. 

            “You’re in Heat,” he purred.  Involuntarily, her tension eased, her body instinctively reacting to the cues of an Alpha.  “If you do not mate, the fever will spike and severe cramps can last up to a week.  If the need is satiated, this should pass in a few days.”  He continued to stroke her hair.  When she realized she was leaning into his hand she jerked away and struggled for control again, trying to block out his soothingly sensual voice.  “Soon you’ll start keening, crying out for males, and there’ll be fights over who gets to rut you through your Heat.”

            “You make it sound like we’re all animals,” she sighed with growing horror even as she arched into his ministrations again.

            “Our genes were spliced with animals, that’s why we were banished, we were ‘abominations.’  If you don’t accept me, Kahlil will most likely win the right to mate you.”  He seemed more enthralled with stroking her hair than the horrible implications of his words, as if this was an everyday occurrence.  Perhaps it was, but in the months she’d been there, none of the others seemed to go through whatever this was.

            “You say that like I don’t have a choice.”  Distress shredded the spell of her scent, sparking an entirely different set of instincts in the captain.

            “At that point, you won’t care, little one.”  He purred again to soothe her.  “You’ll be wet and ready for the first male to get to you.  If you don’t decide soon, you’ll lose the choice.  You feel it growing stronger, don’t you?”  Already, her skin had grown warmer and the sour note of anxiety was overwhelmed again by the hormones raging through her.  These subtle signs had latched deep within him like a thousand tiny hooks.  “You get one chance to say no,” he forced through gritted teeth.  Those doe eyes blinked as though he were speaking Greek.  “If you say no now, I will walk out, but I won’t be able to for much longer.”

            “Condoms,” she finally gasped weakly.  “I’m obviously not on birth control.”

            “There isn’t a single contraceptive device on this planet,” he chuckled against her collarbone, eliciting a soft moan from her.  “But females of our kind don’t usually conceive during their first heat.”

            “That’s reassuring,” she grunted sarcastically before the Alpha claimed her mouth in a way he never had with any of his other lovers.  Then again, none of them had been an Omega in heat.  Eager little noises and another wave of arousal spurred him on.  His stiff dick railed against the layers between him and the damp warmth of her core.

            “Please.”  Her faint plea against his lips and the way she wantonly ground against his pelvis nearly undid him.  Reed reared up and reached back to pull off his shirt, he growled as her hands chased the fabric over the topography of his chest.  The sound made her writhe in time to the rhythm of her panting.

            Later, Reed would be ashamed of how quickly he stripped and was inside her.  But in that moment, he was in heaven.  Entranced, he watched the expressions shift across her face like shadows of clouds on a windy day.  Dark eyes would try to meet his before rolling back into her head.  She grimaced with each new inch she took before relaxing into apparent bliss.  Then as she fluttered around him, the pleasure nearly shredded his control.  Once she adjusted, he would repeat the process.  Her small hands flitted like butterflies with a mind of their own, as though she didn’t know what to do with them.  Petting his chest and arms, then clawing before falling to clutch at the sheets only to start over again.

            Oh God, he was huge.  The slow burn as he stretched her past her limits was so delicious she thought she might die of it.  A whimper escaped her and Niklaus smirked.  She wasn’t sure if the embarrassment, pain, or rapture would kill her first.  Seeing actual emotion on his face, the glow in his brilliant eyes, unnerved her more than the stranger her body had become.  And that stranger was delighted at being so full of this perfect male.  This perfect mate.  A voice in the back of her head pointed out that she should be worried about that stray thought, but set it aside to worry about later.

            Reed managed to hold himself back until she no longer winced.  He rocked into her slowly.  This was only the start and there was no sense wearing themselves out until the Heat and the rutting took them over completely.  That was what his brain said.  His dick wanted to pound her tight sheath until she dripped with his seed and they passed out.

            Emma forgot what her objections had been.  She’d forgotten that she even had them.  All that existed was the two of them and the sensations that short-circuited her higher reasoning.  The few times she’d had sex before had been okay, not great.  This, on the other hand, was so overwhelming it threatened to shatter her to pieces.  She had never climaxed with anyone before, so when orgasm crashed over her like a tsunami, she didn’t realize at first what was happening until she clenched almost painfully around him.  Her vision went white and her spine bowed as she screamed out her ecstasy to the world for what seemed an eternity and all she had ever known was the wracking waves that left her wrung out and exhausted.

            “Wha, what is that?” she asked with a hoarse voice when she finally came down to Earth, or rather, Hipparchus.  Alarm and pain filled her eyes as she looked down to where they were joined.  The head of his penis seemed to swell and bump against her cervix.

            “That-” he grunted as he spurted deep within her again, “is my knot.”

            “Your what?”  He grabbed her hips before she could recoil.  Neither of them would enjoy the attempt at separating so early.  “Let me go!” she yelped in panic and flailed at him.  He calmly pinned her wrists above her head in response and let more of his weight press down on her soft body.

            “Your- our- anatomy is different from a human’s.”  He deserved a standing ovation for managing to speak coherently through the aftershocks that were effectively mini-orgasms as his seed rhythmically pumped into her.  “When males of our kind orgasm, a knot forms on our penis to lock us together while releasing semen over time.  You probably feel a new ring of muscle?”  Judging by the look of frozen terror on her face, she did.  “Both work together to ensure the greatest possible chance of insemination.”

            She stared at him, wondering how could he sound so calm and clinical after that?  “Couldn’t you at least have pulled out?” she snapped.

            “There’s a protein in my sperm that helps ease your hormones and prevents cramping,” he answered as steadily as if he wasn’t very intimately tethered to an angry, panicked woman he kept pinned underneath him at the moment.

            “How long will we be stuck like this?”  She vaguely waved a hand as much as she was able and refused to meet those impossibly blue eyes that watched her intently. 

            “About thirty minutes, so get comfortable.”  With that aim in mind, he rolled onto his back and draped her over his chest, one arm banded around her waist in case she tried to retreat, which was a distinct possibility if the stiffness returning to her body was any indication.  In hopes of calming her, he stroked the buttery soft skin of her back in long strokes.  He wasn’t surprised when hot tears splashed onto his chest.  All his adult life, he’d avoided Omegas, not wanting to be responsible for someone so weak and fragile.  Fate certainly had other plans when the Relocation Council nominated him to lead the landing party.  Now he not only was responsible for nearly a hundred people, but he was trying to comfort an upset Omega.

            Emma’s quiet sobs eased and he relaxed his hold on her.  By that time, the knot deflated enough that while it wasn’t pleasant, it was enough.  She couldn’t scramble off him fast enough, ignoring the stinging tearing from pulling away so soon, and snatched up a blanket to cover her nakedness.  He lay there still, unashamed in what was definitely a very glorious birthday suit and a satisfied grin to hide the discomfort from the early separation. 

            “Get out,” hissed Emma, throwing his clothes at him.  The captain dressed leisurely, unphased by getting hit in the face with his own underwear.

            “I will,” he promised while carefully tying his boots.  “But remember what I said.  You have an hour or two before it hits again.  I recommend you rehydrate and try to get some sleep.”

            “I will take your advice under consideration,” she sneered and held the door open for him.  Rooster happened to be walking by at that very minute.  He got a wide eyeful of the situation, and a noseful, and very wisely kept his mouth shut and scurried on about his business, encouraged by the glare of an Alpha.

            “Triggs, I’m going to be out of commission for the next four days,” Reed announced to his second in command when he saw him on his way to get some food.  He hadn’t bothered showering.  Calories were more important to get him through the next few days, and as an added benefit everyone who smelled him would spread the word that the female was off-limits.

            “The Omega’s gone into heat,” Triggs said with blatant distaste as he got a whiff.

            “Get used to it, we’re going to have a lot more of them soon enough,” he shrugged as he continued on his way.  The lieutenant was less than pleased with the reminder of having more vulnerable targets to protect, but right then the captain didn’t care.

            Although Reed followed his own recommendation after hitting the kitchen, Emma did no such thing.  She opened the window to air out the mix of their scents and sex.  Then she stripped the bed and put on all fresh linens from the communal closet.  Once that was done, she darted into the showers and scrubbed herself raw until her time was up.

            Too ashamed to show her face, she locked herself in her room again.  At some point, someone knocked on her door.  She remained still and silent until they left.  Her body had betrayed her.  Again.  Only this time there was no fixing it, short of drastic surgery, and she was certain no one on this planet would help her with that.

Chapter Text

Subject entered her first Heat planetfall day 106 at approximately 1600.  She secluded herself in her room before it was detected.  Nesting behaviour has not yet been confirmed, although there are reports of bedding missing from the communal supply closet in her wing.  Keening was heard coming from her room by several at 1800.  Captain Reed was the first to respond and has been assisting her since.

-Patient File: Emma Sokoloff, entry by Dr. Jonathon Morrow

 

            “Where’s el jefe?” Chimi asked when Barbie showed up at his Turd instead of the captain.

            “Dinnit you hear?” Brick called from his own vehicle on the other side of the garage.  “That lil’ bitch gone cock crazy an’ the old man’s ‘helping’ her.”  He was too busy lewdly thrusting his pelvis in time with his words to notice Chimi and Barbie stalking towards him.  “Damn, I can’t wait to get me a hot piece of Omega ass so’s I can bug out for a fuckathon.”

            Barbie got to him first, her right hook dropping Brick like a ton of his namesake.  Chimi and Rooster allowed the beat-down to go on for a few minutes before they pulled her off him.

            “He’s not worth the medical supplies to patch him up, muñeca,” Ortiz told her.  As it was, the pinche estúpido was going to need to see the doc.

            “Wha’ the fuck was that for?”  The demand was muffled by a broken nose.

            “You think this is a fucking joke?  That Omegas are just a goddamn sex doll for you to fuck?” she screamed in his face.

            “Shit, Barb, was just a joke,” Rooster mumbled, flinching when she whirled on him with green eyes blazing with a fury hotter than the blue sun in the sky.

            “Three months from now there’s more of them coming.  Is that really how you want to start this?  Taking and fucking every Omega you can get your hands on?” she spat at his feet.  “That makes you no better’n Earthers.  If I so much as catch a hint of another one of your ‘jokes,’ I’ll castrate you with a rusty spork.  Then I’m gonna give your balls to Mad Morrow so he can figure out what the hell’s wrong with you and weed it outta your little swimmers before using them to give kids to sterile mates.”  Brick paled under her tirade, as well he should since he remembered what she did to him back in basic after he didn’t take the hint that she wasn’t interested in him.  At least the chemical burns didn’t leave too many scars.  “Now, shit for brains, go find Ajax and tell him he has to cover your shift.  Then haul your pathetic ass down to Nguyen and you tell her exactly why you earned that ass-kicking.”

            “’Ey, Brick.  I hear shit like that outta your mouth again pensaré en un castigo muy bueno, pero suena más aterrador en español, pendejo,” added Chimi as Brick hustled away.


            Emma woke in sweat-soaked sheets.  At some point, she remade the nest, but she couldn’t remember exactly when.  Blearily, she reached for the cup of water by the bed only to knock it over when a spasm ripped through her abdomen.  The pain she could handle.  It was the aching hole growing in her chest, screaming that something, someone was missing, that was driving her mad.  She clawed off her clothes and wanted to continue through her own skin to relieve the torture.

            “You are a human.  You are not an animal,” she chanted as she rocked back and forth, trying to ignore the constant dripping down her thighs.  Even if she had lost everyone she’d ever known, there was no real cause for the deep sense of loss.  But the affirmations of friendship couldn’t fill the pit of loneliness that whispered dark things to her.  Things that she refused to allow a voice.  At least until the migraine kicked in, allowing all that her darker half had been feeding her to pour into every recess of her mind.  You don’t have to suffer, they sang.  He is out there.  Give in to him and he will take care of you.  It’s his duty.  Call and he will come.  You need this.

            "No, no, no,” she muttered and curled even more tightly into a ball.  Burying her face into pillows to muffle the wails she wanted to let loose didn’t help because they were laden with his rich musk, feeding the hunger burning throughout her body.  The ache sharpened until it felt like a hot knife slashed through her womb.  When she lost the battle for control, a long, low-throated scream filled her ears and convinced her that she’d lost her mind.

            Reed snapped awake at the first note of keening.  Not pausing to don a shirt, he strode to the Omega’s room in his shorts.  The closer he got, the harder he became until he thought he could beat down the door with his prick alone.  Everyone he came across took one look at him and quickly jumped out of the way of an Alpha in rut.  The door was locked, but he had the security override command.  The smell of sweat, feminine arousal, and blood washed over him in a staggering wave.  Her keening became more frantic when she smelled him, her eyes screwed shut in agony.  The blood came from long furrows clawed into her belly, arms, and breasts.

            “Shh, shh,” he purred as he peeled off his shorts.

            “Please, hurts,” begged Emma breathlessly, limbs writhing with the force of her need. 

            “I’m here.”  He continued to purr as he knelt on the bed.  When her thighs began to part, he stopped her and guided her onto her hands and knees.  A growl rumbled out of him at how beautifully she presented to him, causing another gush of slick to seep from her enticing folds in response.  She had washed his scent off her skin, but his essence was still deep inside her, mixing with her own juices.  He rumbled with possessive pride.  Pressing her cheek against the sheet, she arched her back in submission, and spread her knees.

            She screamed with relief when he gripped her hips and plunged into her hot, tight cunt.  Unlike before, he immediately set a brutal, demanding pace.  After a few thrusts, she couldn’t withstand the merciless pounding and collapsed under him.  He yanked her back to the angle he wanted and held her there.  She came quickly and her rippling climax pulled him along.  As his knot swelled, she whined and pawed futilely at the sheets, trying to escape the alien, too-full sensation even as her body clamped down on him.  He pressed her flat against the mattress with his greater mass and gripped the back of her neck firmly.  She went utterly limp and quiescent under him, silently sobbing into a pillow.

            Once he could, he rolled the female to face him.  The chalk white of her skin despite their exertions was concerning.  Where she should have been hot, she was clammy.  Glancing around the room for water, he noticed the fallen glass and sighed.  Perhaps Triggs was right and Omegas lacked all survival instincts.  Rising with a groan, he refilled the cup from the liter bottle on a shelf.

            “You should’ve listened to me,” he scolded and pressed the cup to her lips.  “Drink.”  She huffed in indignation at his tone.  “Drink it or wear it.”  At that, she drank it all and a second before falling asleep.  Sighing, he chugged some himself and dampened a washcloth he found on a shelf to clean her wounds.  She never stirred while he tended to her.  He huffed softly in exasperation as he finally curled around her, keeping himself between her and the door.  To his pleasant surprise, she mewled happily and wiggled into his embrace, still unconscious.  Smiling against the back of her neck, he held her tighter as he fell asleep.

            The next time Emma woke, she found herself stroking Niklaus’ semi-erect manhood while he still slept.  Self-disgust propelled her into the corner where she drew her knees up to her chest.  He came awake at the sudden movement.  Seeing no threat, only the Omega cowering in the corner, he stretched and drank some more water before offering her the cup.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked when she’d drained it.  Well, he knew what the primary problem was, which she wasn’t yet ready to address.  Emotionally at least, because he could see and smell the fresh slick glistening on her nether lips.  He had to admit she had impressive willpower.  As long as she was going to deny her needs, he would play along.

            “What’s wrong?” she repeated incredulously.  “Are all women like this?  Is this going to be a monthly thing?”  She shuddered at the thought of having to go through this every twenty-eight days.

            “No to both.”  He folded his hands behind his head, biting back a smirk at the way her eyes greedily tracked the slight shifting of his member as he got comfortable.  “I think Omegas cycle every other month.  I can’t remember exactly, Nguyen could tell you.”

            “But she didn’t,” she grumbled.

            “Yeah.”  He agreed with her irritation towards the doctor.  “Short version is our illustrious creators wanted a caste system built into our genetics.  Alphas, like me, were meant to be the top of the food chain.  And Omegas, mostly female, were intended as companions to Alphas.”  Anger boiled through her scent despite his carefully chosen words.

            “They wanted to make me into a sex slave?”  The way she growled was kind of cute and a little bit sexy, but he wisely kept that thought to himself.  “Is that why you’re being so ‘helpful’?  You want your own fuck toy and broodmare for the ‘good of the species’?”

            “If I wanted that, you couldn’t stop me from dragging you off to my room,” Reed glowered and sat up.  True to her biology, her arousal spiked and she cast her eyes down to appease an angry Alpha.  Or maybe the concept appealed to her primal instincts and she was ashamed.  Or it was her Heat.  He didn’t really care why.  The rut was taking over and he wanted her.  Ignoring her tears, he pulled her underneath him and plunged into her without warning.  Soon the sniffles turned into reluctant moans as he fucked the female.  His female.

            The knot dragging through her channel, pressing against her G-spot, triggered her climax and she screamed herself hoarse in her pleasure, no longer caring if anyone heard.  She no longer remembered that anything existed outside of their nest.

            Reed smiled at the small female whimpering at the loss of his seed seeping from her when his knot eased and her pussy relaxed.  Shaking off the animalistic urge, he gave into the possessiveness.  She shuddered and gave a happy sigh, never waking, when he slipped two fingers into her folds.  Using their combined fluids, he coated her pulse points.  It would take days to completely wash away his scent, marking his territory for all to smell since he couldn’t leave a visible mark and avoid Claiming her.  Rumbling with contentment, he tucked her against his side to sleep.  A faint smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

            The pleasure of fucking an Omega helpless in her Heat went beyond the physical, satisfying the most primal aspects of his nature.  His mouth watered, teeth itching to sink into the soft, white flesh that arched between her neck and shoulder, to Claim her as his mate, to fill her so full she’d swell with his child.  Then his frontal lobe kicked in again as he looked down at her sleeping form and pointed out that she was practically a child herself.  It was imperative that he maintain the presence of mind to avoid becoming too attached.

            A high whine of fear filled the room, waking the Alpha.  Far too soon, Emma found her temperature spiking again, accompanied by a gush of slick, which she now knew meant she hadn’t actually wet herself.  Then the fog of hormones swamped her mind, dragging it into quicksand so instincts could take over. 

            It clawed at Niklaus from within to see his female afraid in their nest, where she should feel completely safe.  Worse, she seemed to be afraid of him.  His snarling probably wasn’t helping, although her body responded to the sound.  Switching to a purr, he encircled a dainty ankle with one hand and pulled her towards him.  One startled squeal and then she undulated against him, urging the Alpha to knot her, to ease the burning.  She was doubtless sore from the frantic, repeated couplings, but he couldn’t bring himself to slow his rapid thrusts.  As though she sensed his thoughts, she snarled and pushed back against him, hard.  Tiny nails dug into the hand gripping her right hip, urging him on.

            Any time that he wasn’t pounding into her hard enough, or didn’t respond quickly enough when she was ready for another round, she’d claw and bite until he gave her what she wanted.  After three days, as the haze of sex and pheromones lifted, he noted with pride that they were both covered in scratches, bites, bruises, and most importantly, each other’s scent.  He’d lost all semblance of restraint and marked her for all to see, yet couldn’t dredge up any remorse.  While they would heal and fade, she would be considered his until she chose otherwise, saving her from the attention of Alpha males who would want her more now that they knew she was a complete Omega.

            Wincing, Emma had to pick crusties out of her eyes before she could even open them.  Her entire body felt as though she’d been beaten black and blue, and her vagina…  Shuddering, she remembered an impossibly large cock plugging her, repeatedly, as she was tied to him, clamped down on him.  She wasn’t sure which made her feel dirtier: the acts of the previous few days or the dried semen, slick, and sweat coating most of her body.

            Thankfully, Niklaus was asleep, wearing just as much bodily fluids and marks as she was.  Snatching up her toiletries bag and towel, she stumbled and dashed for the showers, which were vacant since it was the wee hours before dawn.  Gritting her teeth against the pain, she cranked up the hot water as high as she could stand and scrubbed every last bit of skin until she was raw and a few wounds re-opened.  She welcomed the sting as a distraction from the strange new part of her brain, or instincts or whatever, th was content and whispered that the past three days were right and natural.  That she was lucky to be mounted by a strong male.  If there was anything in her stomach, it would’ve come up.

            Afraid to return her room, but more afraid to linger any longer in case someone came in, she trudged back to her room, stopping only to grab clean bedding.  The room was empty, for which she whispered a thankful prayer to every deity she could think of and tried not to think about why his absence felt like a hollow in her chest.

Chapter Text

She’s refused to undergo an examination, in fact, refusing to speak to any medical staff as she feels she was betrayed by our reluctance to burden her with the knowledge too early.  I have asked Private Barbara Wilson to speak with her because she has yet to leave her room other than to use the bathroom and declining all meals.

-Patient File: Emma Sokoloff, entry by Dr. Malia Nguyen

 

            “What do you want?” she asked Barbie tiredly, partially hiding behind the door.  Dark circles under her eyes stood out like bruises on her too-pale face.  Emma liked her well enough, but hadn’t gotten to know her any better than she did anyone else, which was to say only superficially since she didn’t like talking about family or the past, only the here and now.  And she wasn’t alone in that.

            “Came to talk.”  The Amazon shouldered her way into the room and looked around.  “You guys make the coziest nests.”

            “Nests?” she shifted nervously before giving up the hope that she could quickly get rid of the soldier and shut the door, turning to hug herself.

            “Nests, hidey holes, nooks,” the blonde nodded at the bed with its arrangement of pillows and blankets.  “Love den,” she added with an eyebrow wiggle.

            “Nookie nest,” Emma gave a small smile.

            “Ooh, I do like that one.”  Barbie wagged a finger at her and shrugged, “The best I got to that is fuck shack.” 

            “Slut hut.”  The smaller woman laughed bitterly, the humour suddenly drained from her as though it never existed.

            “Nothing wrong with enjoying sex,” she shook her head.  “Sometimes I forget you’re old-fashioned.  Remember, we’re all about propagating the species here.”

            “Let me guess, you’re here to give me the birds and bees talk because I’m not talking to anyone from medical.  Please, tell me more about how I’m a broodmare,” she planted her feet and folded her arms to back up her confrontation.

            “I want to tell you about my brother,” said Barbie.

            “Your brother?” she blinked.

            “He was an Omega like yourself.”  Emma eased down at the non-sequitur and sat in her nest, offering a pillow to her guest since there was no chair.  She was not about to let anyone else in her safe place for a good while.  She’d finally gotten rid of his scent, even though she’d hated doing it.  And damn if she didn’t miss it still.  She was pathetic for missing him.  Ugh, the man had been so cold while fucking her into a stupor and it was obvious he wasn’t interested in anything more than getting laid.  He saw her as an annoying burden and didn’t want any of his men to get distracted by Heat.  Triggs had made that view very clear when she’d bumped into him on her way to the bathroom.

            Barbie accepted the cushion and placed it behind her back as she sat against the wall with her forearms loosely resting atop her drawn up knees.  “I was wondering where that blanket went,” she nodded at the bed.

            “I’ll wash it and return it to you,” Emma blushed furiously and avoided looking at the pink camouflage fabric, remembering how the soft fleece felt brushing against her nipples when Niklaus took her from behind.  “I don’t even remember how half of this stuff got here.”

            “No big, as long as it’s washed,” she shrugged and tried not to shudder at the thought of it being returned to her with Reed’s scent, or worse.  Then again, there was no trace of Reed in the room, as if the petite female scrubbed away any and all reminders of him.  She wondered if she had to kick her SO’s ass.

            “Your brother was an Omega?”

            “Stuart.  Can you tell our parents were big into old names?” she rolled her exquisite green eyes.  “He taught grade three and he loved it.  Came home every day with juice some kid spilled on him, or paint from some project that wasn’t quite dry when it got turned in.  Treated every stain like a badge of honour.  He loved those kids.  Most Omegas are like that, taking care of people in some way.”

            “How does it work for men?”  Her cheeks flamed.

            “I’d say you have a pretty clear picture of that by now,” teased Barbie, causing Emma to blush harder.  “Sorry, couldn’t resist.  Males have ruts, triggered by a female in Heat.  Except for Omegas, male or female it’s all cyclical for you.”

            “So you don’t have Heats?” she stumbled over the word and turned pink again.

            “Beta females have a much, much milder version.  I get ruts but don’t worry, they’re only triggered by a rutting male or one in Heat,” she winked.  “But Alpha males and Omega females win the fertility lottery.”  They sat in comfortable silence for a long while as Emma absorbed the impromptu sex-ed.

            “What happened to your brother?”

            “Idiots.  See they thought that we’d screw anything that moved, more so for Alphas and you Omegas.  That we used the excuse ‘we can’t help ourselves’.”  She took the words and compared them to her recent experience.  If it weren’t for Niklaus, she might’ve been desperate enough to jump even Morrow’s bones after the second day.  But only if he came to her.  She wouldn’t have been able to emotionally or physically leave the safety of her nest.  “He lost his job over some bullshit reason, but it was really because they all thought he’d… do something,” she sneered.  “No one’d hire him.  Work was hard enough to find for the rest of us, but the rumours the parents spread about him...  He ended up with a human sugar daddy because he had no other options.  That piece of shit dogfucker strangled him and the cops looked the other way.”  From the tight set of Barbie’s jaw and cold green fire of her eyes, Emma didn’t have to ask what happened to the human.

            “I’m sorry.”  Inwardly, Emma snorted at the trite words that had pissed her off so many times, no matter how heartfelt they were.  She reached out squeezed the hard beauty’s hand.  Barbie smelled the sour note of fear the clamminess of the hand on hers.

            “You won’t have to worry about that happening here.  We don’t have the resources to keep prisoners for long.”  The Omega shuddered at the implication.

            “Could you stop your captain, if you had to?” she asked gently.

            “In a heartbeat.”  She believed the steel in the sniper’s voice.  “Why?  Do I need to do something about it?”  Barbie’s eyes and voice turned cold, much like how she imagined the other woman looked when she took down one of the megafauna natural to the area.  A few weeks ago, she watched in awe as the blonde calmly shot something that closely resembled a woolly mammoth in rut that tried to trample their crops.

            “No,” she shook her head, remembering with no small amount of shame how she’d begged Niklaus to fuck her until she was sweaty, breathless, and a puddle of goo.  And he’d obliged her.

            “Then why are you hiding?”  The bluntness that Emma normally appreciated was rapidly becoming irritating.

            “I’m not…” she trailed off at the withering look Barbie gave her.  “I’ve only slept with one guy and that was only because I thought I was going to die.  Now this happened, everyone thinks I’m a slut, Morrow wants to run more tests, one of which is a freaking pregnancy test, and Niklaus didn’t like me much to begin with and he left without saying a word!”  The words poured out faster and louder until she had to pant to catch her breath.  Barbie wisely didn’t laugh, instead she pursed her lips in thought as she listened.

            “Screw Morrow,” she snorted.  “If you’re worried about it, go see Nguyen, but you’re not obligated to jump at his say so.”

            “Yeah, that was the plan,” she muttered.  “Asshole won’t take no for an answer.”

            “Leave him to me,” she bared her teeth ferally.  Emma’s dark eyes widened, brows raised.  Logically, she knew that the other woman was her friend, but one couldn’t reason with the hindbrain.  “As for the rest of us, you think we haven’t seen an Omega in Heat before?  The res I grew up on was pretty damn small.  The unmated ones had this really cool sort of tree fort off by themselves they’d hole up in with wall to wall pillows and blankets and futons.  And from what I heard, the best sex toys.”  She winked one baby blue, causing the smaller female to blush and giggle.

            “What you heard?  You weren’t allowed in?”

            “Omegas only,” Barbie shook her head.  “There was a retractable ladder to make sure of that.  Unless there was someone an Omega had an eye on, then the locking mechanism sometimes would fail and fall down if the Alpha just happened to be walking by.”  They snickered together.  “No one’s gonna give you grief for it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great gossip fodder around here, but no one’s gonna think you’re a slut or, or a floozy.”

            “A floozy?” she asked in bewilderment.

            “Ya know, another one of those old timey words from back when they punished women for having a libido,” she waved a hand dismissively.  Emma’s stomach started to hurt from all the laughter.  “Things’ve changed, especially for us since I don’t have to tell you our sex drives are higher than a human’s.”

            “So that was what, just scratching an itch and it meant nothing?”  The mere thought of it sent an ice pick through her chest.  Unconsciously, she rubbed a fist over the invisible wound.

            “Only the captain can answer that, I’m afraid,” Barbie said, not unsympathetically, wrapping an arm around her narrow shoulders.  “But I doubt you’re going to find out hiding in here.”

            “Ok fine,” she rolled her eyes and climbed to her feet.

            “Good, because plan b was to drag you out of here by your hair.”  Barbie just laughed at the scowl Emma threw her.

Chapter Text

            Emma decided to test Barbie’s assertion that no one was going to treat her any differently.  She rarely ate with the soldiers, partly because they were so tight knit she felt like an outsider, no matter how much they treated her like a combination of mascot and little sister.  The uncouth men were the truest litmus test around.

            Two broad backs parted to make room for her at their table.  She wondered if they heard her coming, then mentally smacked herself.  They smelled her.  The new olfactory sensitivity took some getting used to.  She settled on the bench in time to hear Raúl call Ajax a “puta,” the slur hitting a little too close to home for comfort.  A slight frown and quirked eyebrow had him flushing and quickly changing the subject.

            “Geez, Brick, what happened to your face?” gasped Emma when she saw who sat kitty-corner to her.  His blunt features were mostly a swollen mass of dark blue bruises tinged with green.

            “Ya know, I’ve been askin’ him dat for years,” Rooster drawled, which prompted Brick to come back with a quip about his friend’s manhood matching his short stature.  She rolled her eyes and took a bite of eggs.  They weren’t her favourite breakfast, but after a week of sporadic eating, they tasted divine.  The banter continued, or rather, devolved.  All in all, it was a pretty normal meal for their table.

            “He didn’t Claim you?” Raúl’s brows knitted and he stared at her neck.  His right hand shot out to slam Rooster back down when the other man was irate enough to try climbing over the table to get to Jackson.

            “Huh?” she stared at him.  He looked to Barbie for help, but she had Brick in a headlock, who looked a little too happy about having his head pressed against her breast even though he was turning purple.  “Spit it out, Chimi.”

            “It’s kinda like marriage, but permanent.  No divorce,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck and looking everywhere but at her.

            “I would remember saying vows.”  A haze of hormones and ecstasy blurred their time together (she refused to use the word “Heat” like she was some kind of animal), but she’d remember that, wouldn’t she?

            “Uh, it’s not like a wedding.”  Still avoiding her eyes, he stole Rooster’s hashbrowns, who was currently trying to pin Ajax on the floor behind them.  She let him take a bite of his purloined potatoes before jabbing him in the ribs with a finger.  “It’s a bite,” he admitted with his mouth full.

            “A bite?”  The blood drained from her face as she mentally tallied the number of bitemarks left on her body and Niklaus’.

            “Here.”  Chimi tapped the side of his neck when he saw Emma blanch.  “Over the scent glands.  Dominant partner bites the submissive.”

            "I am not submissive!” she cried indignantly, then immediately blushed at the sexual connotations of the term in her own time.  Raúl looked meaningfully at Barbie, who had Brick in sort of leglock around his head, then back at her with a studiously bland expression.  “Why would it be a bad thing if he didn’t bite me?”

            “Claim,” he corrected around his food.  “Not saying it’s bad, just surprised is all.”

            “Why a bite?” 

            “No one really knows how it works, but there’s supposed to be this link.  Like the two can feel the other.”  He shifted in his seat and scrubbed at the stubble on his chin.

            “What, like ESP?  You’re kidding, right?”  She could wrap her head around extraterrestrial colonization and suspended animation, but telepathy was too much to swallow.  Turning to straddle the bench, she barely registered the others leaving, having resolved their respective spats.

            “’Ey, I’m just repeating what I’ve heard,” he shrugged.

            “Ok, putting all the woo-woo crap aside, why would it be surprising?”

            “Look, you got instincts, right?  Eye contact, nesting, stuff like that?” he sighed.  Emma nodded warily.  “He’s got that going on, too.  To lead, protect, and, well, take a mate.”

            Marriage and children were a long dead dream for Emma.  What he was describing, the implications of it all, was a wave that threatened to crush her when she had just managed to come to terms with a new life and a new world.  Hope and fear burst in her chest until she thought it would choke her.  Or was it her new instincts and her higher reasoning in conflict?  She didn’t know anymore.

Chapter Text

            Reed glared at the face on his commpad lying on his desk and had to remind himself that punching the screen wouldn’t actually hurt the object of his anger, which was most likely why the caller didn’t come in person.  Unfortunately, his murderous contemplation meant that there was silence for his potential victim to fill.

            “I’m not asking for a romance novel,” Morrow protested, spreading his hands wide.  “It’s merely a few questions.  For example, does she have O glands?  Did she demonstrate the lordosis reflex?  Was her lubrication that of a base human’s or more along the lines of what is commonly referred to as ‘slick’?”  The wood creaked under the grip he had on the edge of the desk.

            “Listen very closely because I’ll not say this again,” he growled, leaning over the device.  Rage beat hot in his chest, urging him to tear out the man’s throat.  To destroy the threat to his mate.  “If I so much as smell you near her and she’s not in need of a doctor, I guarantee that you will require medical attention.”  The scientist paled and hastily disconnected.

            The door slammed behind Reed, echoing like thunder down the corridor.  A few heads popped out of doorways, then quickly disappeared when they saw him striding their way with his upper lip curled into a snarl.  Anyone else he came across scurried out of his way as he approached the common areas of the dormitory, his mood growing fouler at the hint of her fresh spring rain scent threading through the tapestry of odours.  The fact that it was stronger than it had been the day before meant she finally emerged from hiding, placating him slightly.

            There was no other sign of her on his way to the garage.  He wasn’t sure if his disposition worsened because he didn’t see her, or because he was pissed with himself for wanting to see her.  The little Omega had seeped into his skin, his brain, until he was consumed with thoughts of her.  The driving need to hunt her down and Claim her was equally as strong now as it was during her Heat.  A rational voice in the back of his mind pointed out that, that instinct woke once she fully recovered and moved out of the med bay, when her natural perfume lost the underlying hint of sickness.

            If it was simple lust, he could masturbate and be satisfied with memories of her writhing under him, her silken walls rippling around him.  Yet he inexplicably found himself smiling at the ridiculous names she gave the livestock, he once found her petting a diminutive rodent that looked a little like a flying squirrel with huge bunny-like ears.  And the silly dance and hum she did when she was happy and thought no one was watching, the song an ancient one from her childhood involving coconuts.  That sweetness and purity of soul were what drew him to her, yet were exactly why he couldn’t Claim her.

            Other Alphas evaded him.  They each had their own spheres, helping to avoid typical Alpha posturing and territoriality by compartmentalizing their authority.  And they had a tacit understanding to avoid each other where appropriate.  If any of them approached now, he’d see them as a threat and react accordingly.

            Chimi and Barbie whirled when the Captain stormed into the garage.  They warily watched him stalk over to the locker they stood in front of, and snatch a rifle and ammunition.

            “Who are we buryin’, boss?” Ortiz asked, no hint of aggression or challenge in the Beta’s voice.

            “I’m taking point,” he snapped, loading the weapon.  The look Chimi shared with Barbie didn’t go unnoticed.  He slammed the locker shut and bared his teeth at his subordinates.  Logically, Reed shouldn’t even be in the field in his current frame of mind, and certainly not as a scout, but he needed to run feral.  Run and fight until he dropped from exhaustion.  To kill someone.

            They let him go a full thirty minutes before stopping to blow off some steam.  Plasma blasts weren’t nearly as satisfying as the crack and kick of live ammo.  At least wind didn’t affect blast trajectory nearly as much as standard bullets, and it was certainly windy that day on the ridge.  And he’d have the ass of any of his people for wasting a finite resource on potshots at herds of…  What did Emma call them again?  Moofalos?  Growling, his shot went wide and scorched a tree with golden deciduous leaves.

            “She’s been asking about you,” Barbie said from behind him, watching their six.  There weren’t many threats this close to the settlement, these daily patrols were what kept it that way, but complacency killed.  Reed ignored her and fired again.  This one scored a long line across the top of a red boulder the size of a TURD.

            “Why dinnit you Claim her?” asked Chimi before taking his shot.  The bastard brought down a yearling, spooking the rest of the herd with its death bellow, turning the ravine into a churning mass of colossal bodies.

            “Fuck,” he snarled, lowering his rifle and setting the safety before whirling towards them.  “What?  Are we going to braid our hair and paint our nails?”

            “Red would look good on you, jefe,” he said dryly, setting his own safety and slinging it over his shoulder.

            “Pigtails, too,” agreed Barbie over her shoulder.

            “Everybody looks good in ‘tails.”  She nodded her agreement with Chimi’s assessment while their Captain stared at them.

            “You two think this is funny?” he demanded, hands balling into fists.

            “No, we don’t,” Ortiz said flatly, folding his arms across his chest.  “We’re all tired of you snarling and all but demanding we bare our necks.”

            “And I had to be there for her when you left without saying a word.”  Wilson flashed steely blue eyes before returning to her watch.

            “Pendejo did what?”

            “You both can go fuck a NAD,” snapped Reed, heading for the TURD.

            “Gladly,” Barbie said flatly, stepping up to him.  “If you can look me in the eye and tell me that whatever this is,” she gestured to him and back towards the colony, “isn’t affecting your ability to command.”

            The rage that had been festering in him since he left Emma’s bed flared into an all-consuming inferno.  His fist shot out before his higher reasoning could process what his body was doing.  The female sidestepped easily, but made no move to retaliate.  Her grim disdain doused his feral state as completely as if he’d jumped in the cold lake.

            “Fuck!” he shouted, thrusting both hands into his hair.  That he could grab fistfuls of the stick straight sandy strands was a sure sign that he was in dire need of a cut.  Aquamarine eyes wild, he spun towards the nearest tree and pummeled the trunk with his fists.  The roar echoing through the forest would bring any number of predators or NAD’s down on them, but he was too far gone in his maelstrom to register potential threats, which should have been a giant warning sign.  Over and over he laid into the bark like it was a punching bag until his knuckles dripped blood and he felt a bone or two crack.  The stress plaguing him drained away to leave a systemic ache in its wake. Sinking to his knees, utterly spent, on the soft loam and carpet of plant debris, he dropped his sweaty forehead to rest against the smooth, paper-like bark.  Inspecting the damage to his hands, he popped a couple of joints back into place with disturbing crunches.  He turned with a sigh to sit against the trunk with his knees loosely drawn up.

            “I can’t Claim her.”  His voice was gravelly from the recent abuse.  The two soldiers remained silent, watching from a short distance.  He draped his forearms over his knees and flexed his hands to test their mobility.  “I’m the only Alpha she’s known.  If I took her now, she’ll grow to resent me.  I would deprive her of all options before she even knows she has them.”

            “What am I?  NAD shit?” snorted Wilson.  Reed tilted his head to her with one brow quirked in question.  “And Kahlil?  You can hardly swing a dead sabretooth without hitting an Alpha.”  The metaphor referred to a native feline that resembled the prehistoric Terran species.  While it was an exaggeration, there were at least a dozen Alphas in the tight-knit colony, most of which she had undoubtedly met.  Reed’s eyebrow shifted slightly, bringing his expression from confusion to questioning her intelligence.

            “Oooh, ‘know’ as in biblically,” she feigned dawning understanding.  “So, you want her to shop around?  Hmm, I wonder who she’ll pick for her next Heat?”  Reed shot to his feet, fists poised to lash out again despite the agony that seeped through the rising adrenaline levels.  A warning growl spiraled along the ridge with the eddies of the breeze.  “That’s what I thought.”  Barbie practically oozed smugness.  “Here’s a radical concept, have you tried talking to her?”

            “She won’t understand,” he said dismissively.

            “Dios me salva de primeros arrogantes,” muttered Chimi, who had taken up watch during their exchange.  Both Alphas turned to the Beta, one in puzzled curiosity and one expectantly.  “I told her about mating.  She seemed to get it.  What you don’t get’s that maybe she’s tired of things being taken out of her hands.  You better start treating her like an adult, cabrón, or you’re gonna lose her.”

            “You two have never given two shits about my private life before.”  The captain eyed the two subordinates in suspicion.

            “Still don’t,” snorted Chimi.  “But someone’s gotta look out for la mariposa.”  Reed bared his teeth to reveal his larger, sharper canines to the smaller man.  The Omega was his to protect.  By assuming that responsibility, the Beta laid claim to what was the Alpha’s.  The thought of tearing out his throat dragged him back down to Earth, or Hipparchus, whatever.  He grabbed the aggression that was riding him hard and forced it back into the dark recesses of his psyche.  Wrestling the bestial part of himself was exhausting after having kept it caged for so long.  He scrubbed a hand over his face and realized he couldn’t remember the last time he shaved when he felt the stubble.

            “If it helps, I could try and set her up with that hot engineer,” teased Barbie, resting a hand on a cocked, curvy hip.

            “Don’t push it, Wilson.”  His voice was strained with the suppressed need to fight, mount, Claim.

            “Come on, boss,” she smiled and bent to scoop his rifle from the ground where he dropped it.  She was right, he really did need to get his head together if he lost track of his weapon.  “You still gotta provide for your mate.  Maybe we should try for one of those elk on steroids?”

Chapter Text

            Emma stared at the flames leaping from the pit to lick at the bubbling, black streaked carcass slowly rotating on the rod shoved through the column of its body.  She couldn’t remember to which layer of hell to which Dante attributed this gruesome tableau.

            “One would think that men would’ve outgrown the drive to kill and roast their meat over an open flame by now,” she said to Mickayla, a wry moue twisting her soft lips.

            “If anything, our kind has it worse,” the honey-blonde nurse giggled.  Emma cornered her earlier for an Anatomy 101 crash course.  To her credit, Mickayla didn’t ask why she didn’t go to Dr. Nguyen or Morrow.  Apparently, her grudge against them for withholding information was common knowledge.  “We all have this need to take care of each other.  For Alphas, it’s protecting and bringing home the bacon, or whatever that thing is,” she gestured to the grotesquerie in front of them.

            “A moofalo,” Emma offered helpfully.

            “A moofalo?”

            “It looks kinda like a cow and a buffalo had too many drink and made some poor life choices.  Well, if it still had hair and horns, it would.”  Mickayla double blinked and a twitch pulled at the corners of her plump mouth.

            “Omegas tend to be nurturing.  And we Betas run the gamut,” she gestured to herself.  “You’ve still got some men of all dynamics thinking they need to be providers, and some women feel more like caregivers.  But it all comes down to the individual.  A good portion of it seems to be instincts, although environment and experiences play a huge part according to studies.  And I’m boring you to death, aren’t I?”  In all honesty, Emma stopped listening, instead seeing Niklaus’ behaviour during her Heat in a new light.

            “If you’ll excuse me, I think Morrow’s coming this way,” she said apologetically.  The man had been hounding her for details of her Heat and hadn’t backed off even though she threatened to hide old, rotten eggs in his office.  Maybe she could sic Barbie on him?

            “Go, I’ll cover for you.”  Mickayla made a shooing motion and moved into the doctor’s path to intercept him.

            Emma fast-walked away, pretending she was going for some more juice set out on one of the tables moved outside for the occasion.  One of the local berries made an excellent lemonade substitute, no sugar required.  Before she could reach for the pitcher, though, a tall Alpha (although that was redundant, wasn’t it?) took the cup from her and refilled it.  What was his name again?  Robert?  Ronald?

            “Thank you,” she said automatically.  Shifting awkwardly as she watched, Mickayla’s words ang in her head.  Was this an Alpha thing?  Sheesh, and she thought dating was difficult in her own time without any of this presentation crap.  Roland!  That was his name.

            “You’re welcome,” he smiled wide enough to flash enlarged canines as he passed the drink back to her.  She noticed that Alphas and Betas both had larger eyeteeth than her own, the largest of all belonging to the former.  She ran her tongue over hers and made a mental note to ask Mickayla about that.  Were most Omegas’ canines like hers or maybe she missed out on the dental upgrade because she was genetically changed rather than naturally born this way.  Dentine wasn’t nearly as malleable as soft tissue and she really should be paying attention because Roland was saying something about… stargazing?

            “…the telescope in the old lab can get fantastic views of the Orion Nebula.”  Ooh, this was awkward.  He was attractive, but he didn’t smell right.  Not bad or even off-putting, his scent just didn’t do it for her.  Before she could summon an appropriate response, a familiar smell and an arm enveloped her.  Startled, she looked up to the glower on Niklaus’ face directed at Roland, who bared his teeth (at what point did they count as fangs?) in blatant challenge.  The responding growl coming from Niklaus set the hairs at the back of her neck on end.  If either one of them tried peeing on her to mark their territory, she would grab the serving fork from the table and give them homemade Prince Alberts.  And why in the name of Shakespeare’s ghost was her clit suddenly throbbing?  The two men glared at each other for what seemed an eternity before Roland sauntered away.  Emma peeled away from Niklaus’ side where she froze in uncertainty, a touch of fear, and inexplicable arousal.

            “What on Earth is wrong with you?”  She had to come up with something else because “Hipparchus” didn’t have quit the same ring to it.  The captain looked down at her with something dark and unreadable in his captivatingly blue eyes.  “You’ve avoided me for the past week, you leave without so much as an insincere ‘call you,’ and now you show up all snarly!”  She was getting louder and louder, and her gesticulations were getting bigger and more dramatic.  In short, she was causing a scene.  Oh well, it’s not like they had daytime soaps here, if those were still a thing in this century, so she might as well provide the drama.

            “Why would I call you when we live in the same building?”  His head tilted to one side like he usually did when confronted with an enigma.  The cuteness level of that particular habit had no effect on her mood whatsoever.  None.

            “That’s not the point!” she cried, waving her arms wildly.  “You don’t get to ‘help’ me through… that, disappear, then scare someone off for talking to me!”

            “He wasn’t talking, he was courting.  I am here now and I am the only one courting you.”  Niklaus’ voice dropped an octave and his heated expression was doing all sorts of funny things to her insides.  As well as more southerly regions.  She swallowed audibly as he stepped forward to crowd her space, forcing her to tilt her head backward to maintain eye contact.  His gaze dropped to the line of her throat exposed by the posture. 

            Growling again in a way that summoned memories of sweating bodies entangled in a nest, he picked her up under thighs.  She squeaked and instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist.  The smirk and flaring nostrils were clear indicators that he could tell how wet she was where she ground against his firm abs.  The blush had no doubt reached her ears by the time he sat on a bench, his back against a table, and her astride his lap.  The ridge of his erection pressed into her core, causing her brain to short circuit, then completely shut off at the feel of his nose nuzzling the hollow behind her ear.

            Tentatively, she leaned forward to bury her face in the warm skin of his neck.  He smelled like the evergreens on a rainy day (did they count as evergreens if their feathery needles were golden?), baking cardamom, and bright citrus.  How had she never noticed the complexity before?  She wanted to lap it up all day.  The world and its attendant concerns of such blatant PDA fell away as she looped her arms around him and melted against the wall of his chest.

            Reed smiled against her soft, delicate skin.  He felt like an addict who went too long before finally getting his fix.  A drug in the form of the warm weight on him and snorted in cinnamon and sugar, old books, and a cup of tea on a cold day.  The world fell away in the cloud of his high, retaining only the portion of his awareness that was always on guard for potential threats.  Why had he denied himself this?  Oh right, something about giving her space, letting her enjoy the barbecue before approaching, which was shot all to hell when he saw an Alpha courting her. 

            And just like an opiate, the high didn’t last nearly long enough.  Emma sat up and blinked lazily as though waking up from a nap and realized where she was.  She turned and interesting shade of red and promptly scrambled to her feet.  He leaned his elbows on the table behind him and patiently watched her pace, nibbling at a hangnail as she composed her thoughts.  By remaining seated, he conceded the tactical advantage, which she might not consciously realize what he was doing but her instincts would.

            “Are you just looking to get laid again?”  His placid and somewhat amused attitude quickly darkened.  He gave her the look that, that accusation deserved, which was lost on her because despite her indignation she still wouldn’t meet his eye.  “I feel violated!  My life, the one I should have had, was taken from me.  Not that it was great, nor expected to be very long, but it was mine.  Hell, my whole world was taken from me.”  This was the meltdown for which they had been waiting since she appeared to adjust far too readily.  Certainly took her long enough.

            “Then that happened and I-I don’t know if I even wanted it.”  The manic pacing stopped and she wrapped her arms around herself, but the sour tang of fear rolled off her.  Reed forced himself to remain seated.

            “Are you saying I raped you?”  Her face, once a sickly pallor, lost its new healthy glow as she paled.  The stench of fear grew stronger.

            “It’s weird, like I don’t remember everything, just bits and pieces,” Emma said in a small voice to the ground.  “And then I wake up covered in bruises and bite marks.  What am I supposed to think?”

            “Then you don’t remember begging me?  Or leaving marks of your own when I didn’t fuck you fast enough?  I recall waking up several times to you riding me, so if there were any advantages taken, I assure you that it went both ways, little one.”  Her colour quickly returned in a furious blush and her guilty expression before she turned away told him that his words brought more memories to life for her.  He wiped the smug grin off his face before she turned back.

            “I’m sorry,” she apologized with a sigh and tucked a wayward lock of hair behind her ear.  “I just…  I don’t…  What exactly are you looking for here?  Because I will not be a broodmare.”  At that, he did stand, slowly stretching to his full height so as not to startle her.  She watched him from the corner of her eye, still huddled in on herself.

            “I want you for a mate.”  He cupped her narrow chin to tilt her head so she would look at him with wide, dark eyes full of every emotion she felt.  His hand nearly encompassed the whole side of her face.  “And while I would love to see you swell with our child, there’s no need to rush into that.”

            “What made you change your mind?” she asked suspiciously, withdrawing slightly, but not breaking contact.  “Or is this because I’m literally the only Omega on the planet?”

            “This planet, yes,” he corrected her.  “I’ve known a lot of Omegas.  But I…”  I love the way you smell, I love your resiliency, I love the silly way you have with animals, I love your curiosity, I love your passion, I love your kindness, I love the way you taste… “am not going to walk away from this.”  She stared at him for so long he began to wonder if there was something between his teeth.

Chapter Text

            “Ok,” she said at last with a single nod.  The brief answer felt inadequate for the momentous decision, yet she couldn’t formulate anything even remotely appropriate.  Not that she could think beyond the emotions roiling through her, too many and too delicate to name.  Throw in braces and a bad case of acne and it was like being in high school again.

            Grumbling under her breath, Emma gave in to the strange urge that had been bothering her since she first caught his scent.  Then she held onto Niklaus, who watched curiously, for balance and climbed up on the bench.  She rubbed her face all over his neck and face, and for good measure, ran her hands through his ridiculously soft hair (seriously, it was like puppy fur) until he smelled like her.  When she finally pulled back to peer at him, he wore the biggest shit-eating grin.  Probably because she now carried his scent as well, which sent warmth curling low in her belly.  And since when did her nose become an erogenous zone anyway?

            “Let’s go get that drink.”  Niklaus picked her up at the waist and set her gently on the ground, startling an embarrassing squeak out of her and widening his grin further.  Pointedly ignoring him and the not so sly glances people sent their way, she straightened her clothing before accepting his proffered arm.  “The big elk?  I brought it down.”

            “Big strong Alpha slay tasty meat beast,” she grunted, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

            “Meat beast very tasty,” he grunted back at her, making her chuckle.  “Must provide for little Omega.”

            Emma might not have agreed to courting if she knew that meant he would hover.  She’d had enough of that in her time, and could tolerate it to some degree, but any time an Alpha or a male got too close he’d start posturing and intimidating.  On one hand, his presence kept Morrow away.  And on the other, he was scaring off some of her friends.  The breaking point came when he straight up growled and stood between her and Raúl and Barbie.  He paid her protests and tugs at his arm no mind.

            “It’s ok, chica.  He’s gonna be a little over-protective for awhile.”  She shot him a glare around the Alpha’s heavily muscled arms before hauling back and smacking said Alpha’s ass as hard as she could.  Although it was hard enough she wasn’t certain who came off on the worse end of that.  Niklaus stiffened, jumped, and spun in the time it took for a heart to beat.  A giggle died on her lips when she saw the sparks practically shooting from his eyes.

            “Stop trying to separate me from my friends,” she snapped, fists on her hips.  They were regaining their former curves now that she was in remission.  Dr. Nguyen didn’t expect a relapse, but since none of their kind had, had cancer, there were no precedents by which to go.  “If you’re going to go all Neanderthal, then this is not going to work.”

            “I can’t…” his hands balled into fists at his sides and his voice was rough.  His eyes were wild as if something that never knew civilization lived within him and was in control at the moment.  “I don’t like seeing any Alphas with you.  Not right now.  Every instinct is screaming at me to protect you.”

            “They are not a threat to you or to me,” she said gently, taking his fists in her hands.  A stray breeze blew a strand of hair to tickle her cheek, but she didn’t let go of him to brush it away.  “And you are human, you don’t have to do anything just because they programmed it into us, or however they did it.  You are better than that.”

Niklaus’ cerulean eyes softened with the wondering smile that stretched his lips into something other than the hard line he’d been wearing all afternoon.  Slowly, he reached up to brush the errant bit of hair away and she leaned into the warm comfort of his palm, sharing a small smile of her own.

            “But if you’re going to act like a dick, I will squirt you with a spray bottle every time you get all snarly,” she scolded and then her nose scrunched up in thought.  “Are squirt bottles still a thing?  Are there even any on this planet?” 

            “If not, I’m sure you would come up with something,” he chuckled a deep brass rumble.  “I am not fully human, Emma.  None of us are.  Most of the time we’re just like everyone else, but when push comes to shove, our feral side comes out.  And when I saw that Alpha with you earlier, I wanted to tear his throat out.”  If he were anyone else, she might be afraid, yet she knew with every fiber of her being that he would never hurt her.  It was silly since it came from her gut and not a place of logic, but she knew it surely as the sky was indigo.

            “Will I get cannibalistic cravings, too? Because I don't like zombies and don't want to start munching on brains,” she grinned up at him.

            “Perhaps,” his mouth pursed as he as he pretended to muse.   “We’ll have to wait until more Omegas arrive, then we’ll see how you react when I talk to some cute thing.”  The mere thought of it had her growling and digging her nails through his shirt and into his chest.  Although he had to feel the prick of it, he smirked.  The wind shifted again, bringing the aroma of woodsmoke and roasting meat with it.  A forgotten memory tugged at her until her face fell.  “What is it, little one?”  Strangely, she would normally take umbrage with anyone calling her something like that, instead it made her feel all warm and gooey inside.

            “I was just remembering my last barbecue,” she said somewhat apologetically.  When he stayed silent, she hesitantly continued.  “It was my kid brother’s high school graduation.  Our parents and aunts and uncles made such a fuss over me because I was in the middle of chemo.  Stuck in a chair, could barely eat anything or walk anywhere, bald as a bowling ball…  By all rights he should’ve been jealous, but he made sure I was having fun and drove the family off when I needed some air.  I wonder what happened to him.”  The melancholy she’d been stuffing down deep settled around her like a heavy, stifling blanket.  He settled a large, rough hand on the back of her neck, which was oddly soothing.

 

 


            “Come with me.”  Niklaus took her tiny hand in his, the fine bones felt so delicate under the thumb he stroked across the silky skin on the back of her hand, like a bird.

            “I realize you’re used to giving orders, but it might have escaped your attention that I don’t respond to them all that well,” she said archly, though she didn’t break their contact.  “How about you ask me to go with you instead of commanding?”

            “What is this?  I did ask,” he frowned.  At that she did pull away to fold her arms under her breasts that were rapidly filling out now that she was no longer sickly thin.

            “This is what’s called ‘setting boundaries’,” she said in an exceedingly patient tone that strangely set his teeth on edge and soothed him.  “And one of those is being given edicts.”

            “That was obvious when you decided to break out of medbay,” he said dryly.

            “Now, see that wouldn’t have been necessary if I hadn’t been lied to, and yes, I intend to hold that grudge for a very long time,” she sniffed.

            “Here.”  He sat down on the tall grass and pulled her into his lap, where she wiggled until she was comfortable and he was erect.  Ignoring his arousal, he wrapped his arms around her to show her his commpad, thick fingers flying over the screen.  “This was what I wanted to show you, only on a bigger screen.  What was your brother’s name?”

            “Matthew Steven Sokoloff,” she answered, peering at the device in curiosity as he ran a quick search.  One of the first few results was a rather comprehensive obituary of a handsome man with kind eyes not unlike his sister’s, although set in an older face, who passed away at 105 surrounded by three generations of loved ones.  Her little brother went on to become an oncologist, like he always wanted ever since she was first diagnosed.  Graduated top of his class from UC Berkeley, he became one of the foremost specialists in his field, spending part of each year working with Doctors Without Borders.  Or at least he did until he met his wife while working overseas.  They eventually settled in Houston to raise three kids, two boys and a girl named Emma “in memory of his beloved sister.”  All three followed their parents into various facets of the medical profession.

            She was quietly sobbing before she finished reading the article.  Feeling helpless, he purred, stroked her back, and rocked her as she spent the next hour looking up her parents, at pictures of her sibling’s family, and reading about their descendants.  About fifty years back, an enhanced human married into the clan and their children and grand-children were expected to arrive with the next landing.  At that, she turned her face into his neck and bawled in bittersweet happiness that she would have family again, no matter how far removed.

            “What if they don’t want anything to do with me?”  Her words stuttered with hiccoughs as she wiped away the tears for the umpteenth time.

            “They’d be fools not to.”  Reed carded his fingers through her shoulder-length tresses, fascinated by the silky texture.  He could play with it all day if she’d let him.  “There are too few of us to ignore family ties.  Unless they’re knotheads, then I could always growl at them for you.”

            “Knotheads?” she giggled weepily.

            “I believe the human term is ‘dickhead’.”  The reference took her a moment to parse, then she laughed again, the vibrations making her bubble butt making parts of him stand at attention.  He brushed away a tear that escaped and pressed a kiss to her temple.

            “Thank you.”  Emma turned in his arms until she sat on the ground between his knees, her feet bracketing his hips.  His hands supported her, nearly spanning her entire back.  The fragile trust in her red-rimmed eyes broke something inside of him.  He surged forward and covered her mouth with his.  She opened enthusiastically for him, welcoming him in with coaxing caresses of her tongue.  Tangling his hands in her hair, he kissed her until she clawed at his shoulders and made eager little noises low in her throat.  His mouth watered at the taste of her and with the growing need to Claim her.  When she was ready, he would mark her for all to see that she was his.

Chapter Text

            Reed’s head snapped up at the sound of several shouts coming from the party down by the lake.  All playful bickering melted away as easily as shrugging off a jacket. The hard Alpha in front of her, searching for the threat with eyes that were two chips of ice, was a stranger.

            “Stay here.”  Emma ignored the shiver that danced down her spine at the sheer menace radiating from him, but hummed an affirmative under his glacial stare.  But the instant he ran towards the chaos, she remembered that most of the soldiers carried handguns inside the settlement, if they went armed at all.  NO matter the technological advancements over the past two centuries, she doubted that those were capable of bringing down an ursine that made a grizzly look like a cub.  She dashed for the garage and the weapons cage.

            Skidding to a stop at the storage area, she realized that she’d forgotten one important factor: the cordoned off section was also referred to as a locker, meaning it was locked.  But there was what looked like a Hummer if it’d crashed into Epcot Center.  Thank Tesla that push-button starters were still a thing and keys weren’t necessary.  After all, it wasn’t like they had to worry about grand theft auto.

            After scooting the driver’s seat forward nearly a foot, she gunned the engine and slammed into the wire enclosure, snapping the lock and buckling the door.  Leaving the vehicle running, she grabbed several rifles in the crook of her left arm and hugged a couple of boxes of ammunition to her chest with the other, dumping them in the back.  The interactive console was confusing, so she randomly tapped options as she got into position to ram the overhead door.  Luckily, it eventually ground upwards and she surged onto the gravel road.  Brontë’s bra, this ‘roided out SUV could charge like an angry moofalo.


 

            Humming “Ride of the Valkyries,” Emma sped towards the barbecue.  The soldiers were trying to chase the cave bear from hell away from the compound and the civilians either hid or ran past her, shouting for weapons.  She threw it into park and tumbled out almost before it stopped moving.

            “Reed, Ortiz, Wilson, guns!” she yelled and threw open the back door to reveal the cache.  There were more soldiers than the three, but they were the ones most readily recognizable to her at a glance.  They peeled off to arm up, communicating between themselves and their colleagues in brief jargon that made no sense to her.  Chimi groaned when he tried to get behind the wheel, only to find he couldn’t fit.  Barbie opened a hatch in the roof and popped out, ready to fire.  Reed ordered her back to safety with a glare that sent chills racing through her.

            Reed shoved his anger at being disobeyed away to deal with later.  Their sidearms distracted the bear, allowing all non-coms to clear, but it pissed off the creature.  The adrenaline, or whatever its equivalent was, sped through the bear, making it somewhat numb to the shots peppering its green-grey fur.

            Barbie and Chimi harried the thing, trying to herd it back beyond the perimeter and Reed laid down consistent fire to prevent it from turning on the TURD.  More soldiers and a couple of TURDS were trickling back after arming up and took up points to force it back while keeping a safe distance.  All was going as smoothly as if it was one of their drills.  Until Mihaela decided to run down to Rooster, who feigned death due to his mangled leg.  Since the TURD was turning for another sweeping arc around the barbecue pit, the damn nurse was the immediate threat.

            “Shit piss fuck damn,” Reed muttered.  He charged down the slope, firing and shouting like some fucking moron in a shitty action movie.  The hero with the stupidest stunts because they looked cool but lacked any tactical value.  “Hey furball!  Over here, fuckface!”

To his dismay, his brazenness paid off.  The giant-ass bear turned on him.  Who’d have thought that something the size of a TURD could move that fast?  He was rapidly coming to regret his brilliant strategy as he ran for all he was worth.

            “Mihaela, get your ass back!” he ordered the Beta.  Damn fool woman instead drew her mate’s sidearm and shot at the beast from her crouched position over Rooster.  If she hit him, he was going to tan her hide.  Er, have Rooster tan her hide.  The smaller man would have his hide if he touched hers and his brain was running away instead of focusing like he needed to.

            Reed ran hell-bent for leather in the opposite direction of the two lovers and towards the TURD, which had rounded the barbecue pit and sped back towards the critter.  He had to angle away from both the Betas and the vehicle to keep friendlies, including himself, out of the line of fire while continuing to draw it away. 

It felt like pure adrenalin pumped through his veins as he zigged and zagged through the makeshift tables and chairs while Winnie the Pooh from Hell tore after him, knocking the furniture out of the way.  Barbie and Chimi timed their attacks to avoid hitting friendlies, meaning they weren’t getting as many shots in as any of them would have liked.  At least he didn’t have to worry about any of that when something crashed into his head and the world went dark.

            He supposed that it was cliché that upon waking to see Emma’s beautiful, tear-covered face filling his vision his first thought was, Am I in heaven?  Yet it was the truth.  At least he could blame the stale adage on the head wound.  He opened his mouth to… he had no idea what he was going to say, really, but she beat him to it.

            “You can yell at me all you want after you get that looked at,” Emma said with enough steel in her voice to pass for an Alpha.  As much as he hated to admit it, she had a point.  His vision was dimming again in a whirlpool of nausea and dizziness.  But after the perimeter breach, he couldn’t afford to be seen as weak or else morale would plummet, possibly leading to other incursions.  As if she heard his thoughts, she huffed.  “Injury isn’t a weakness, it’s what happens when a dire bear clocks a human.  Everyone is safe, the Anti-Care Bear, Satan Bear, is gone.”  As usual, he didn’t understand her retro reference, though he did understand the way she laid a gentle kiss on his forehead and carefully stroked his arm.  He was wrong earlier, this was heaven.


             Emma paced in the familiar med bay lounge, biting her nails to the quick, and waiting for word on Niklaus’ condition.  It was unsettling to realize that she was the one in this position for once.  How the hell her family had done this for so long she would never know.  She stuck her head out and found the door made from a red native wood remained closed.  The sound of footsteps drew her attention the other way in time to see Niklaus’ second in command striding towards her.

            “They’re still working on him,” she shook her head, gesturing to the room they had him in.  “But I know where there’s a fresh pot of coffee.”

            “Actually, I was looking for you.”  Although she’d never before exchanged two words with the lieutenant, she was well aware from his stares and scowls that he didn’t like her.  Naturally this meant that his confession came as a bit of a shock.

            “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” she joked weakly when the silence between them grew too long.

            “You did.”  Uh oh.

            “I’m sorry about the locker.  Can it be fixed?” she winced.  There would be children running around soon.  While they were unlikely to be in that particular garage, kids were still kids, and she couldn’t bear the thought of any innocents at risk because of her.

            “Oh, it’s fine,” he waved a hand dismissively.  “I wanted to thank you for your quick thinking.  You might have prevented more casualties.”

            “I just happened to be closest,” she shrugged and glanced at the door again.  Still shut.

            “Nevertheless, you probably saved someone from getting seriously hurt.”

            “How did it get in, in the first place?” she asked.

            “The windstorm the other night wreaked havoc on our detection system,” he replied.

            “Windstorm?”  She didn’t remember anything of the sort.  Sure, the wind coming off the lake could be quite strong, but she couldn’t recall any unusual gales.

            “You were indisposed at the time,” he said delicately.  When it sank in, Emma flushed crimson until he took pity on her and continued with the explanation.  “The tech crews are still working on repairs.  There are extra patrols in the meantime, but their primary objective’s to protect the repair teams.  That section was deemed a low priority because the river acts as a natural barrier.  Apparently, it’s a popular fishing spot for the bears.  So thank you.  And for dragging his stubborn ass down here.”

            “You’re not going to stay?”

            “I think he’s in good hands,” he said with a small smile.  “I’ll try to keep the grunts from storming the castle for now.  Enjoy the quiet while you can because I’m not sure how long I can keep them out.”

            “The Princess Bride?” she asked cautiously.  Not only did most people not get her references to movies, music, and events she was familiar with, she doubted it was the type of movie Lieutenant Triggs would watch.

            “Of course, it’s a classic,” he said as though it was obvious and turned on his heel to leave.  Emma stared after him, wondering if the indigenous plant life included giant people-duplicating pods.

Chapter Text

            Emma paced in the familiar med bay lounge, biting her nails to the quick, and waiting for word on Niklaus’ condition.  It was unsettling to realize that she was the one in this position for once instead of her loved ones.  How the hell her family had done this for so long she would never know.  What were they told when she disappeared?  Apparently she was determined to dwell on ugly thoughts of one type or another.

            Huffing in frustration, she stuck her head out and found the door made from a red native wood remained closed.  The sound of footsteps drew her attention the other way in time to see Niklaus’ second in command striding towards her.

            “They’re still working on him,” she shook her head, gesturing to the room they had him in.  “But I know where there’s a fresh pot of coffee.”  Pretty sad consolation prize, but at least it was better than the typical hospital fare.  Although she didn’t drink the stuff, she became a connoisseur of the aromas and could identify gut rot with one whiff.

            “Actually, I was looking for you.”  Although she’d never before exchanged two words with the lieutenant, she was well aware from his stares and scowls that he didn’t like her.  Naturally this meant that his confession came as a bit of a shock.

            “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” she joked weakly when the silence between them grew too long.

            “You did.”  Uh oh.

            “I’m sorry about the locker.  Can it be fixed?” she winced.  There would be children running around soon.  While they were unlikely to be in that particular garage, kids were still kids, and she couldn’t bear the thought of any innocents at risk because of her.

            “Oh, it’s fine,” he waved a hand dismissively.  “I wanted to thank you for your quick thinking.  You might have prevented more casualties.”

            “I just happened to be closest,” she shrugged and glanced at the door again.  Still shut.

            “Nevertheless, you probably saved someone from getting seriously hurt.”

            “How did it get in, in the first place?” she asked.

            “The windstorm the other night wreaked havoc on our detection system,” he replied, referring to the panoply of cameras, motion sensors, and heat detectors that encompassed the settlement.

            “Windstorm?”  She didn’t remember anything of the sort.  Sure, the wind coming off the lake could be quite strong, but she couldn’t recall any unusual gales.

            “You were indisposed at the time,” he said delicately.  When it sank in, Emma flushed crimson until he took pity on her and continued with the explanation.  “The tech crews are still working on repairs.  There are extra patrols in the meantime, but their primary objective’s to protect the repair teams.  That section was deemed a low priority because the river acts as a natural barrier.  Apparently, it’s a popular fishing spot for the bears.  So thank you.  And for dragging his stubborn ass down here.”

            “You’re not going to stay?”

            “I think he’s in good hands,” he said with a small smile.  “I’ll try to keep the grunts from storming the castle for now.  Enjoy the quiet while you can because I’m not sure how long I can keep them out.”

            “The Princess Bride?” she asked cautiously.  Not only did most people not get her references to movies, music, and events with which she was familiar, she doubted it was the type of movie Lieutenant Triggs would watch.

            “Of course, it’s a classic,” he said as though it was obvious and turned on his heel to leave.  Emma stared after him, wondering if the indigenous plant life included giant people-duplicating pods.  She wasn’t left to her confusion for very long because the door finally opened to emit Dr. Nguyen, who joined her in the day room.

            “He has a mild concussion, so we’re going to keep him overnight.  Having treated many an Alpha, I know he will over-exert himself.  Here we have restraints,” the doctor smirked.  “He needs to rest: physically and mentally.  That means no work for at least three days and then we’ll see about putting him on light duty.”

            “Thank you,” she smiled with no small amount of relief.  “Can I see him?”

            “He’s awake, but remember no exertion,” Nguyen admonished with a stern look.  “Emma, I’m sorry for-”

            “Stop,” she held up a hand.  “I get why you did what you did.  I probably would’ve had a nuclear meltdown if it was dumped on me all at once.  But I’m going to be mad for a little while.  I’ll get over it, I just need to let it run its course.”

            “That is oddly well-adjusted,” the older woman said with an unreadable look on her face.

            “If you’re in a rush to get in my good graces, you could tell Morrow that if he so much as thinks about my Heat again, I’ll set Niklaus on him.  Then tell Raúl and Barbie they can play with the leftovers,” the Omega flashed a mischievous grin.

            “I will if only to see his complete and utter bafflement.”  Her bright laughter echoed through the empty room.  “Now run along, I can see you’re practically twitching to go see him.”  Emma wanted to argue that point, but she really didn’t have a leg to stand on.  She managed to walk, not run, to his room.  Ok, so maybe it was more of a speed walk.  She wasn’t a moment too soon because Niklaus was already trying to climb out of bed.


             “And just where do you think you’re going?”  Reed looked up to see Emma standing in the doorway, hands on her hips and brow deeply furrowed.

            “Gotta check on my people, take inventory, assess perimeter,” he muttered and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  The room swam as his senses scrambled to catch up to his body.  He marshalled his roiling stomach and pounding head before attempting to stand.

            “Everyone’s fine because they’re not pigheaded Alphas who tried to take on a bear five times their size,” she scowled and stomped over to him in her diminutive boots.  “Inventory’s covered and Triggs is on the perimeter.  Now get back in that bed before I get Nguyen in here to strap you down.”

            “That hardly sounds like a deterrent.”  His smirk was weak due to the state of his stomach, which was gearing up to stage a mutiny, but he did slowly lie back down.

            “Just know that Chimi, Barbie, and Ajax like me better than you.  So, if you have any clever jailbreak schemes, remember it’ll be them tying you down and not me.”  The little Omega adopted the classic Peter Pan stance: feet shoulder width apart and fists on hips.  Although that evil leer would never have graced the countenance of the puckish character.

            “Now I’m going to be sick,” he smiled as she tucked him in.

            “Your concussion must be a doozy, you’re making jokes,” she frowned in mock concern and clambered up on the bed, tucking herself against his side.  Moving gingerly, he wrapped his arms around her small, warm body.

            “What are you doing?” he asked, trying to not let on how happy he was to have her there.  His head still hurt like the freighter they’d traveled here in had landed on it, but having her in his arms made it feel less like the proverbial freighter had full cargo bags.  He inhaled to draw her natural perfume deeply into him.

            “Did you just sniff me?” she demanded incredulously, pushing away to stare at him.

            “It’s…” Niklaus sighed because words escaped him.  He never was very eloquent.  Blunt and the point was more his style and the two times he’d tried to explain things to her in his usual manner she’d spiralled into depression.  How did he begin to describe the role scenting played in the bonding process?  She probably didn’t remember doing it in her Heat since she only followed her instincts when the hormones were at the helm. 

            Instead of risking the inevitable bout of hoof-in-mouth disease, he gently pulled her face to his neck.  At first, she reflexively tensed, but didn’t resist.  Then she breathed in and melted into him, giving off the delightful smell of happy Omega.  The hand curled around her shoulders stroked her.  The grin stretching across his face probably made him look a damned fool.  As long as his people weren’t there to give him a hard time, he didn’t care.

            “You smell funny.”  Emma turned slightly to him with her brow furrowed in puzzlement.  The way her lush bottom lip jutted in a partial pout made him want to nip at it until she opened for him.  Probably not a good idea in his current condition considering he wouldn’t want to stop there.  As much as he wanted to make her scream her pleasure, it wouldn’t do his raging headache any favours.

            “Most likely because of the concussion,” he shrugged the shoulder she wasn’t leaning against.

            “Tolkien’s tankard, my nose has superpowers!”  She sat up wide-eyed, making Niklaus wince at the exclamation.  “Oh, sorry,” she whispered with a wince and petted his arm in apology.  “Is that how you knew I was, you know.”  She toyed with a lock of hair that fell across her bright pink cheek.

            “In Heat?”  It might have been mean to tease her, but she was adorable when she blushed, especially when she tried to hide by nuzzling into his chest.  “You smelled delicious,” he whispered darkly and swore he could practically feel her flush scalding him through is shirt.

            “And now?”  The edge to her tone warned him to tread cautiously.  As sweet and agreeable as she was, she still had claws when needed.  And he liked claws every now and then in play.

            “It’s starting to grow on me,” he said noncommittally, reaching with his free hand to pull her leg over his.  She giggled and let him entangle their limbs further.  They were still intertwined and sound asleep when Nguyen checked in thirty minutes later.  The injured Alpha’s vibrant azure eyes blinked open to stare at her in warning as she approached his Omega, simply watching her drape another blanket over Emma.  His gaze didn’t leave her until she turned off the light and crept out the door.

Chapter Text

            Emma fought waking up.  The bed was so comfortable and she was enveloped in the best smell in the entire universe.  Now that she was more attuned with her sense of smell she realized that it was deeper than a mere sense.  His Christmas-y smell of evergreens, warm spices, and sweet oranges was an embrace that made her feel safe, loved even.  And with that slightly terrifying thought she decided to get up. 

            Grumpy, sleepy noises turned to surprise and then happily trilled as she stretched and the curve of her butt encountered a ridge of resistance.  The arm that wasn’t serving as a warm, if rather hard, pillow under her head curled around her waist.  He nudged her shirt aside to stroke the soft, ivory skin of her belly.  The rough pads of his fingers left tingling trails that bled outwards to leave her feeling awake in an entirely different way.

            “Niklaus, you’re supposed to be resting,” she scolded breathily as he dipped below her waistband.  Heat curled in her abdomen and seeped lower, waking other parts of her body.

            “I am feeling restive.”  His mouth barely brushed the delicate curve of her ear as he spoke, sending electrical shivers throughout her body.  He purred in contentment at his Omega’s determination to care for him and the way her pupils were already blown with arousal despite the mock glare that she threw his way.  Rosy lips parted in response to his rumble that he couldn’t resist nipping.  A husky sigh was his reward after he released the soft, plump flesh.

            “Not here,” she said firmly and pushed him away with a small hand.  Or rather she tried to push against his chest, firmer than her attempt at sternness, and she ended up being the one who moved.  “Hospitals are the least sexy thing ever.  I will never understand people who have a thing for ‘sexy nurses’ because they’ve obviously never spent much time in a hospital and I have a tendency to babble before I fully wake up so just ignore me and what is probably a horrible case of morning breath.”  Niklaus’ deep chuckle vibrated through her bones and he pulled her closer, although he moderated his caresses to silky flesh not covered by clothing.  “How are you feeling?”

            “I won’t be riding any moofalos any time soon, but I think I can handle one of those, what did you call them?  Geeps?” his kissable lips twitched into a crooked grin against the rumpled nest of her hair.

            “Geep.  Goat and sheep, the latter half of the word being sheep, the plural of which is still singular like fish or moose.  Therefore, geep is also the plural,” she responded with feigned primness and lightly poked his chest with a forefinger.  “And you’re too big, you would kill one of those poor things.”

            “It’d tenderize the meat,” he teased with a sly quirk of his brow, taking her hand in his and pressing a featherlight kiss to each of her fingertips.  She unsuccessfully tried to stifle a giggle, but didn’t pull away.

            “And hardly humane!”  Her cupid bow mouth twisted into a mock scowl and she nudged his leg with her foot.  He pinned the appendage with his limbs and felt her heartbeat and breath quicken.  He made a mental note to remember her response to being restrained.  She was virtually the epitome of an Omega, which made him wonder if she had been so before the Omega Protocol experiments or if her nature had changed after them.  Considering she most likely would have been even more freaked out, he was inclined to believe her personality hadn’t much changed if at all.  Or maybe it was because his stomach turned at the thought that she was internally and not just physically twisted into something she never should have been.  The concept that her personality could have essentially been created for him, or an Alpha like him, was morally repulsive.  Not that being corporeally manipulated to suit an Alpha was much better.

Niklaus’ quip died on his lips at the sound of someone clearing their throat in the doorway.  With a squeal, she frantically extricated their entwined limbs and spun to leap out of the bed, but her legs were still tangled in the bedding.  She fell to the floor with another squeak before he could catch her

            “We will never speak of this again,” said Emma, her tousled head glaring over the edge of the bed as though daring them to laugh.

            “I’m here to judge him, not you,” Dr. Nguyen only looked up from her commpad long enough to wink at her.

            “I’m just gonna…”  The furiously blushing Omega bolted without finishing her sentence, her hair, now grown to shoulder-length, flying behind her like a dark banner.  He frowned his displeasure over her departure at Malia.

            “Don’t look at me like that,” she arched an imperious brow at him, slender fingers continuing to fly over her device.  “Be grateful she stayed the night, she hates medbay and only began speaking to me again last night.  Don’t worry, she’ll be back.  Especially when I tell her you are good to go, which is not this minute so put those feet back on the bed, Captain.”

            Still grumbling, he followed her directive.  As much as it galled him to take orders from a Beta regarding his own care, it would be unbearable if she had to remove him from command even temporarily.  He was certain it wouldn’t affect his standing with the troops, but it would certainly affect his pride.

Triggs wasn’t kidding when he warned her about people checking in on Reed.  First it was Rooster and Mihaela, the former abashed and the latter reluctantly repentant, both grateful for the life of their mate.  Technically they weren’t bonded yet, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time.  It was still weird to think or use terms like “mate” and “bond” instead of spouse and “married,” but at the same time felt right.  Emma tried not to think about that too hard otherwise she was certain she’d give herself a headache.

Ajax was the next to drop in, quickly followed by Brick, tailed by Barbie and Chimi.  Each visitor smiled at her with amused indulgence when she declared their time was up and Niklaus needed to rest.  They took to calling her things like Tiny Bouncer and the Little General.  She didn’t really care as long as they obeyed.  Even Niklaus put up only a token protest when she confiscated his commpad.  She could smell the smug satisfaction on him.

            Watching the diminutive female bristle and bare her tiny teeth at his soldiers was immensely satisfying to his inner Alpha, and hilarious when they backed down from her.  Thankfully, he was soon released with instructions to take it easy for the next week.  He was looking forward to spending some time alone with Emma.  Too bad she had other ideas.

            “I have to go feed the chickens and make sure the garden gets watered,” she protested when he tried to convince her to stay after seeing him safely ensconced in his quarters.  Despite knowing they all had their own responsibilities, he wanted to tempt her back into his arms.  “And don’t look at me like that,” she scolded.  “I’ll be back with lunch and a project to work on while you tell me more stories about what I’ve missed.”

            It was hard to be sullen when faced with a brilliant smile like that, especially when she laid a sweet kiss on his forehead.  If she was going to trust him, he had to trust her.  Trying to keep her always at his side without a moment’s reprieve would only drive her away, which was something some Alphas had yet to learn, like his own sister.  So, he stole another kiss and leaned back on his bed to nap until she returned to him.

            He recovered rapidly, or at least what she was used to thinking of as rapid in terms of healing before the magical Super Soldier Serum.  After seeing the commandos fight, she was more than willing to believe the Evil Scientists’™ original goals were to build a bigger, better, badder Homo sapiens.  Maybe she was messed up or maybe whatever they did to her screwed her up in the head because remembering the battle excited her in a way that violence should not.

            At least he’d stopped snarling at any Alphas who talked to her.  Speaking of things that really shouldn’t get her all hot and bothered, the animalistic noises were oddly erotic, even if he was irritated with someone else.  Yet she didn’t become intimate with him again.  The ease with which he could manipulate her body was overwhelming, and more than a little scary if she was honest with herself.  He was patient, perhaps even amused, when she would kiss him goodnight before retreating to her own room.  As Neanderthal as he could be at times, the respect he showed for her boundaries was greater than a couple of her boyfriends had ever had.

As Mihaela promised would happen if she wasn’t pregnant, her period started a few days later.  The nurse explained that if her cycle didn’t make an appearance after two weeks, then it was time to panic.  Apparently, her scent would have changed by that point as well.  But unmated Omegas had fairly low fertility rates, especially during their initial Heat because they typically didn’t ovulate the first time.  (Mihaela used the word “estrous,” which Emma thought might have been worse than “Heat”).  So Niklaus was technically correct about her chances of getting knocked up.  The prevailing theory was that the primary cycle was to attract a mate.  It certainly appeared to hold true in her case.

While no one said as much, they seemed to expect that she would bond with him.  Some were surprised that she didn’t move in with him soon after her self-imposed exile ended, and not because housing was limited.  Construction was ongoing and another building seemed to virtually spring up overnight like the three-foot tall mushrooms that looked a bit like amanita muscaria only blue and just as poisonous.  Perhaps going straight from a sex-athon to shacking up together was common now, but she couldn’t commit so readily.

She was still getting accustomed to her health, the alien planet, and her strange new instincts in a burgeoning society; she was not ready to complicate this process by inextricably tying herself to Niklaus.  The only problem was, she wasn’t sure if she would ever fully adapt enough to have a relationship and not feel utterly reliant on them to navigate these challenges.

Chapter Text

            “Come on, where’d your fluffy butt go?” Emma muttered in a singsong voice as she crouched to search under the fern-like underbrush.  If ferns were indigo and more like feathers.  A faint clucking came from twenty yards to her left, a little farther into the woods.  She crept as quietly as possible towards her prey, trying to not let the detritus rustle under her ultra-light boots.

            “I promise to stop them from cooking you.”  For a while, then I’ll eat you deep fried and with barbecue sauce, she finished silently as she opened the pouch of seed she carried.  “Here chick, chick, chick,” she called when she got close enough to toss the feed within temptation distance.  A head speckled with white and nearly black popped up from a bush of dark green heart-shaped leaves and tilted to one side to curiously eye the offering.  Darting out, wattle wobbling, she greedily pecked at the treat, ignoring the human until she was snatched up.

            “Aha!  Be glad I’m not stuffing you in a sack,” she said to the fat, squirming hen tucked under her arm.  Her free hand stroking the sleek, dappled feathers and the bird settled down.

            She’d been so caught up in her hunt, she didn’t see her own stalker until she turned to make her way back down to the base.  He, at least it looked like a he, stood more than a foot taller than her.  Skins draped from his shoulders to mid-thigh with more wrapped his lower legs and feet.  They were rent in several places and at least one set appeared to be from a set of claws.  The overall effect was a cross between Grizzly Adams and Conan the Barbarian.  He smelled like an Alpha, but nothing like any of the ones she knew.  He smelled… wrong.  Every instinct, both new and old, screamed at her to run.

            “Sorry, Fluffybutt,” Emma whispered as she tossed the bird at the stranger’s face.  The hen cooperated by flapping, squawking, and generally scrabbling with her claws at his heavily bearded face.  She sprinted around him and only made it a few yards down the slope when a freight train slammed into her.  Breath exploded out of her, so she couldn’t scream before a rock rushed up at her head, knocking her unconscious.


            “What the hell?”  Both Kahlil’s and Reed’s heads looked up from the post they were setting at the sound of frantic clucking coming from the opposite direction of the coop.  Like all the Alphas selected for initial landing, they could cooperate and even take carefully phrased directions from each other in areas where they had no experience.  Haddad consulted the captain on security measures, and Reed learned how to put up fencing.  He was cleared for physical exertion, as long as it wasn’t high stress, so he kept to the settlement.  And he could keep an eye on the Omega as she worked without being obvious about it.  His female had been standing watch over him just as much as he had been her.

            “That’s Fluffybutt.”  Reed frowned at the chicken that burst from the woods, running for all it was worth.  His companion arched a slightly amused brow at his fellow Alpha.  “Emma named the chickens,” he shrugged.  Kahlil scratched his short beard to hide a knowing smile.

            “Emma, are you missing one of your birdbrains?” Haddad called out in the direction of the chicken run built on the leeward side of the barn.  There was no response.  A chill slithered down Reed’s spine as he trotted around the side of the barn, the other male close on his heels.

            “Emma!” the captain bellowed in what she’d termed his “Alpha voice.”  The whole flock fell silent.  No answer, yet her lingering scent was still strong.

            “She can’t have gone far.”  Kahlil’s nostrils flared, obviously taking in the Omega’s scent, too, as he opened the door for the hen waiting at it.  Reed fought his instincts to tear into the other male for sniffing after his female.  Or into himself for letting her out of his sight.  Instead, he turned the violence into something more productive.  Niklaus was already following her scent trail towards the woods when he remembered to report in on his comm.  Haddad kept pace with him, the civilian’s slower speed barely noticeable.  Five minutes later they smelled the blood.

            “She was following the damn chicken.”  Kahlil pointed out a loose feather trampled in the dirt.  The captain was too busy inspecting a crimson stained stone to pay him any attention.  Even if he hadn’t seen the tracks, the gut-churning stench of Plague Rider confirmed his fear.  Growling, he launched himself out of his crouch to follow the trail.

            “Reed, wait!”  He whirled and snarled at whomever presumed to command him.  “We have no weapons and we’ll be outnumbered.”  Haddad spread his hands to show he offered no threat.  “You’ll do your female no good if you go in unprepared.”  The calm logic managed to bring the soldier down from the feral edge, temporarily soothing over the storm of violence surging within him.  Racing back down the slope, he barked orders into his comm.


            Consciousness was painful Emma decided.  Her head throbbed with a migraine as bad as any she’d ever had when her own brain had tried to kill her.  At least it distracted her from the stench that surrounded her and the rough ropes biting into her wrists.  Wait, she was tied up?

            Light speared through her cranium when she opened her eyes.  Crude hemp bound her wrists and thickly wound several times around a pole as thick as her leg.  It was set deeply enough that it barely wiggled when she tugged.  The source of the stink crouched in front of her and exhaled close enough to make her eyes water.  The smell wasn’t so much body odour or halitosis, it was the same sense of wrongness that her kidnapper exuded, as if something deep within him was rotten.  This one moved strangely, almost like a gorilla, using his hands as much as his legs.

            The thing leaned forward and drew his tongue across her cheek to leave a slimy trail which her skin tried to crawl away from.  Unless she wanted to smear it over other parts of herself since she had no clothes, she had to endure it.

            “Sweet.”  A nauseating gurgle bubbled out of him as though in a grotesque parody of Niklaus’ purr.  He was going to be so mad at her for wandering off, but she would welcome any castigation if it meant she lived through this.  She would let him yell at her until he was blue in the face, even in his Alpha voice, if he appeared right now.

            A filthy hand gripped her left breast like a vise, thick horny nails sliced into the tender skin.  Squirming away only resulted in being pressed harder into the dirt.  A pair of hands grabbed her ankles and jerked her across the dirt, rocks raking her backside, until her arms were pulled taut at the end of her leash.

            Long fingers grasped her face, gagging her with his breath that didn’t appear to have ever met a toothbrush.  Those disgusting talons moved to her hair, stroking the strands, and she was helpless to do more than turn her face away.  His weight evaporated and she stared up at the first one who had taken her.  He threw her molester to the side as if he was no more than a dirty shirt.

            The arousal in his scent made her stomach turn.  She had only smelled it on Niklaus before.  To associate it with anyone else made her want to lash out, to drive off the offender.  Somehow, she didn’t think he was being kind when he produced a flint-knapped knife and sheared through the bindings around her ankles. Her fears were confirmed when the feral being grasped an ankle in each hand and peeled her legs apart, despite straining muscles in a vain attempt to keep them closed.

Chapter Text

Observation of the subject is complicated by the interference of her Alpha, who has threatened me in her defense.  At approximately 1400 yesterday, she was abducted by the native nomadic inhabitants.  (Although “native” is relative since they are descendants of the first generation of failed test subjects for the Alpha and Beta Protocols).  Her Alpha is exhibiting feral behaviour, which indicates a mating bond may be possible… unless one of the nomads bonds with her first, of course.

-The rest of Dr. Morrow’s recording consists of sounds of something colliding with flesh and       groans before cutting out

 

           “They’ve most likely got a base in the foothills,” the Captain called out over the noise of gear being checked and either strapped on or stowed in one of the vehicles.  TURDs were rugged, but couldn’t always make it over steep terrain and through narrow ravines so they’d take a couple of the hoverbugs for speed and maneuverability.  Through the feral rage pushing him to get to his Omega as fast as possible, Reed felt pride at the precision speed with which his troops assembled.

           “Don’t know numbers or what kind of heat they got, we’re going in blind.”  With the adrenaline pumping through him, he slipped from the crisp, perfect English he’d picked up when dealing with humans and back into the rough, clipped sentences of the soldier he was at heart.  “This is a volunteer mission.  Anyone wants to back out now, now’s your chance.”  As much as it galled him to add that, he couldn’t force them to follow him into this shitstorm.  No one so much as batted an eye.  A “normal” human might have wondered at the wisdom of sending in an entire squad for one person.  Each individual was vital to their survival, and their instincts wouldn’t let them leave one of their own in danger.

           “Boss, I think I speak for everyone when I say let’s go slice some ‘NADs,” Barbie smirked.

 

“Most species bare their teeth in threat, aggression, or dominance.  The display is a reminder that they can rip open a soft throat.  This behaviour presents in so-called ‘altered humans.’  Do not make the mistake that simply because the teeth are shown and the lips stretched wide it is a smile, especially if the one in question is an Alpha.”

-Excerpt from “Behaviours of Altered Humans” by Constant Baker

 

           Filthy hands tipped with thick, horny nails dug into the hollows of her hips and tilted her to align the head of his cock with her entrance.  Emma sobbed and wailed as he rammed into her, kicking at him uselessly with her bare feet.  Leaving her no time to adjust or even catch her breath, he slammed into her repeatedly, chasing his own pleasure.  She jerked with each thrust, gasping for air on each withdrawal.  The invasion went on for what felt like hours, pounding her body into the dirt.  She turned her tear-streaked face into her arm and prayed that he wouldn’t knot. 

           At first, she couldn’t place the noise, almost like a woodpecker, but once she did she never thought she’d be so glad to hear gunfire.  Her rapist pulled out of her, spun and snarled, snatching up what looked like one of the rifles from base, only clunkier, rougher.  She took the opportunity to curl into a ball.  Each time her captor returned fire, her heart leapt into her throat.  Each blast could mean the death of a friend.  Blood, aggression, and pain drowned out the smells of the forest and the cluster of huts. 

           Some time later, she realized over the ringing in her ears that the gunshots had stopped because she could hear the sound of booted feet pounding into the packed dirt.  Peering from behind trembling fingers, she watched the captain bring the butt of his gun down on the head of the strange Alpha.  Each impact she felt vibrate through the ground and into her bones.  Over and over and over again until blood and brains oozed into the dry soil.  She tried to stifle her sobs with her hands, tried to not alert the violent Alpha to her presence.

           He came and stood over her, blood splattered over him in a fine mist.  Indigo eyes glowed with fury and his scent was too similar to the man he’d just killed.  His clothing and weapon were the last vestiges of civilization to him.  Screaming, she scrabbled backward, heedless of the rocks slicing through her soft backside. 

           Spinning to face the threat causing his Omega to cower in fear, he found only the bodies of nomads he’d cut through to find her.  He dropping to his knees at her side and buried his face in her neck.  One hand still on his firearm, he pulled her head towards the scent glands in his neck.  Instead of being calmed, she recoiled and beat at him with her bound fists.  Her sweet scent soured and her screams rent the air.  Rearing back, he stared into wide eyes set in a bloodless face.  She was afraid of him?  Footsteps and a familiar scent heralded the arrival of Chimi and Rooster.  Their Beta status was the only thing keeping him from attacking them on sight.

           “Alpha,” Rooster greeted him, lowering his eyes respectively although his attention was on the hysterical female.  “Your Omega’s hurt, can I help?”  He shrugged the medkit off his back, slowing at the warning snarl from his CO.

           “Jefe, you’re covered in blood and scaring the shit out of her,” Ortiz murmured.  After a long, tense moment in which he wondered if Reed was going to attack him, the Alpha stepped back with a warning growl.  The soldiers approached with careful, deliberate motions.  Working seamlessly and quickly, they cut Emma free.  All the while they explained what they were about to do, just loud enough for the other male to hear.  Soon, they had her wrapped in an odour-free blanket and safely cradled in Chimi’s arms.

           The captain wanted to wash away the nomad’s stench from his mate and replace it with his own to remind her and everyone else to whom she belonged.  Yet every time he approached, she cowered from him.  His inner Alpha was going berserk since his mate needed protection and comfort, but refused to accept it from him.  Still, she required help, which was the only thing let him stand aside and watch his subordinate carry his Omega back to the vehicles.  He still wanted to tear his throat out, though. 

           Hovering as closely as she allowed, he only came out of the feral haze once she stopped reeking of panic and pain, even though it was only because she passed out.  His inner Alpha still rode him hard, pushing him to scent her despite his mind knowing it would only be another violation.

           The crimson feral mist settled over him again when they barred him from following her into the examination room in medbay.  Hands curling into fists, he cast about for something, someone to punch.  The hallway was silent as he spun, seeing only his soldiers circled around him.  The quietness allowed him to hear someone speaking in one of the offices facing the nurses station where they were gathered.

           “…unless one of the nomads bonds with her first, of course.”  A humourless grin twisted his mouth and he pivoted towards the occupied office.  The wall of people parted to allow him to pass.

Chapter Text

            Waking up to yet another bland room and ensconced in a bed that quietly registered her vitals made Emma want to scream, but the pounding in her head made her reconsider that urge.  Easing to a sitting position woke other pains in other places.  She winced, hissed, and grunted with each shift until she managed to swing her legs over the edge.  Geez, and she’d thought she was sore after getting knotted through her heat.  That was nothing compared to this.

            “We have got to stop meeting like this,” she muttered with a rueful pat to the mattress.  The bed must have tattled on her because a knock came at the door a minute later.  “Unless you’re Dr. Nguyen or Mihaela, go away.”  The door swung open to reveal Captain Reed.  Since there’d be no getting rid of him, she sighed and waved him in.

            “Where do you think you’re going?” he frowned.  She suppressed a shiver.  Since when was she afraid of disappointing him?  She must have hit her head harder than she thought.

            “To my own room,” she replied.  As inappropriate as it was, he wanted to kiss those primly pursed lips.  He could have fallen to his knees in gratitude that she hadn’t lost the spark of temper whenever he’d overstepped his bounds as she saw them.

            “You have a concussion.”  He could hear the edge of a growl to his voice, but she barely batted an eye.  “Do I need to sit on you to make sure you stay in bed, like you did to me?”

            “I did not sit on you!”  Her protest died as his grin grew.  “But that explains the headache.”  Grimacing, she squirmed to lay back down.  Her features were too pale and drawn for his comfort.  He’d crossed the room before he knew it and had to stop himself from touching her at the last minute.  Fists held uselessly at his side, he couldn’t force himself to turn away from her.  “Ok, fine, please help me before you have an aneurysm or something.”

            Slipping one arm behind her shoulders and another under her knees, he picked her small form up and laid her back down a bit higher on the bed.  She stiffened with a sharp inhalation and dug her fingers into his shoulders, mouth pressed into a thin, white line.  By the furrowing of her brow, he presumed she was hurting rather than afraid of his touch, yet he didn’t linger more than he had to.  If he wasn’t so focused on being gentle, he would have noticed the delicate sniff she gave his shoulder as he withdrew.  He hooked a foot around the chair in the corner and dragged it behind him while she fiddled with the bed controls until she was comfortable.

            “You’re not afraid of me,” he observed once she settled back with a contented sigh that was music to his ears.

            “Should I be?” she quirked a brow.

            “After…  You were after.  Afraid, that is.”  The memory of her dark eyes wide in terror still speared through him like a lance.  Now they were focused on the ridiculous pink camouflage blanket pushed to the footboard.  He took the bundle of fabric and unfurled it to drape over her legs before retaking his seat.

            “You were scary then,” she confessed in a tiny voice, still unable to look at him.  “You were…  you smelled kinda like him.”  With a heavy sigh, he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, wracking his brain to come up with the words to explain.

            “I was feral,” he began, studying palms that a short time ago were covered in blood.  “When we or someone close to us is in danger we go a little berserk in their defense.  I was… I was worried about you.”  For someone who was a member of the Council, negotiating the terms of exile, and accustomed to commanding people he found it ridiculous he was tongue-tied.

            “Is it only Alphas?”

            “Any dynamic,” he shook his head.  “Although we are more susceptible to it than others.”  She gnawed on her bottom lip until it was pink and swollen.  He ran his hands over his face to shake thoughts from his mind that he had no business thinking.

            “I didn’t know there were other people here,” she said to finally break the silence.  “On the planet.”

            “You weren’t the only person experimented on here,” he began.  Waiting for him to collect his thoughts, the Omega reached for the water on the side table.  He nudged it closer so she didn’t have to move as far.  “The early Alphas and Betas weren’t easily controlled.”  She snorted at the idea of trying to control the Captain, or Barbie, or Chimi, or anyone she knew in the here and now.  “They were stronger than the scientists, and more of them, almost all of them permanently feral.  Before long they killed their creators and had the run of the planet to themselves.”

            “I guess I should be grateful that they didn’t find me back then,” she murmured, eyes a little too glassy.  “Otherwise this might have happened sooner.”

            “This shouldn’t have happened at all.”  A crack punctuated his snarl.  He followed her startled gaze to the piece of broken armrest in his hand.  Scowling, he tossed it into the corner.  “What were you doing out there, anyway?”

            “I’m s-sorry,” she whispered, hunching in on herself.  “I was too afraid of losing even one of the chickens.”  The one flock was all they had.  They couldn’t afford to lose a good layer.  His silent glowering was worse than any yelling he could have done.  To her shame, she trembled uncontrollably, still unable to look up from her fists tangled in the sheets.

            “And what if we lost you?  Over one chicken?” he asked softly.  She recoiled as if he’d struck her.

            “Technically, I’ve lived for far longer than I should have,” she mumbled, plucking idly at the soft blanket.  It was Barbie’s, which, last she saw, was in her room.  It still carried that smell of home, such as it was.  “Besides, I’m a liability and a drain on resources.”  A growl like the one he used at the nomads’ camp erupted from his chest.  Before she knew what she was doing, she tilted her bowed head to the side, exposing the line of her neck.  Niklaus moved so quickly all she saw was a blur at the corner of her eye, then felt a bruising, tearing pain before everything went black.

            What had he done?  No one knew if she could be Claimed, being the first of them.  The instincts didn’t develop until the second generation, there was no precedence for bonding with one of the originals.  What if she couldn’t and there were problems?

            “What-?” Dr. Nguyen rushed in, summoned by the noise, and stopped when she saw the bite.  If she wanted to harangue him for his rashness, she put it aside for the little female.  After an agonizing eternity, the doctor had results from the bed sensors.

            “Well?” he barked.

            “Does she know what you did?” she snapped back.

            “Is she ok?”

            “Answer my question, Captain.”  She spat his title derisively, hands on her slim hips.  “Did she agree to this?”

            “No.”  His molars ground painfully with his need to shake her until answers spilled out.  He would accept any censure as long as she would be fine.  The Beta’s right hook caught him by surprise.

            “After all that she’s been through, you…” she hissed, words failing her in her anger, and shoved him out of the room while he was still recovering from the shock of being attacked by the normally mild-mannered doctor.  No matter how deserved it was.

            “You can’t keep me from her.”  Only Emma’s need for Nguyen’s care kept him from fighting back.

            “Oh, but I can.”  She folded her arms and spread her feet as if she’d be any kind of barrier between him and the door.  The protective rage pouring off her would have done credit to any Alpha.  “Mihaela, please grab an Alpha grade sedative.  Don’t worry about needle gauge, I doubt the good captain will cooperate anyway.”  She activated her comm wristband.  “Lieutenant Triggs, I recommend that Captain Reed be relieved of duty due to mental instability.”  She paused as she listened to his response.  “Come to med bay and see for yourself.  I suggest that you bring a couple of your people to make sure he cooperates.”


 

            The throbbing ache at the juncture of her neck is what woke her.  She didn’t recall getting injured there.  There was a strange tension at the edges of her awareness.  It sharpened, feeding into her own.  The voices arguing in the distance wasn’t helping her calm down any.  The monitors barely started to beep a warning over her agitated state when Nguyen came bustling in.

            “You need to calm down,” the doctor crooned.

            “You do realize that telling someone to calm down doesn’t work, right?” she asked with a cocked brow.  Nguyen ignored the snarky response as she turned off the alarm and studied the readings.  “What happened here?” she asked, gesturing to the thin skin bandage on her neck.

            “You were bitten.”  Her blithe tone sent the fine hairs on Emma’s neck to prickling.  She froze.  Bitten?  That didn’t match up her with recollections of the assault.  Sure, memories could get fuzzy while protecting the psyche, but she was fairly confident that it wasn’t from the nomads.  Wincing at the pull of the wound and the pain between her legs, she swung her legs over the side of the bed.  The doctor moved to stop her.

            “Let me up.  I’ve spent enough time in hospital beds to last a couple of lifetimes,” she glared up at the Beta.  With a sigh, Nguyen helped her to stand.  “Now, is this what I think it is?”  She pointed to the mark.

            “It is,” she nodded with as much grace and solemnity as Emma had seen when she was given the diagnosis.

            “Is there any way to break it?”  She knew she was rapidly approaching hysteria, but couldn’t bring herself to care.  The squirming knot in her chest wasn’t easing up, which wasn’t helping any.  Rubbing at it with the heel of her palm wasn’t making it loosen.  She was pretty sure she’d only succeeded in bruising her breastbone, but she couldn’t stop, wanting to carve the odd sensation out of her like a parasite.

            “Emma…” Nguyen began soothingly.

            “Answer me!”  The doctor wet her lips and sighed, shaking her head.  Continuing to dig at her chest, the Omega began pacing the small room, her quickening steps mirroring the manic spiral of her thoughts.  I’m trapped.  I was finally starting my life.  Free of illness.  Got a job.  Making friends.  Real choices.  He ripped that away from me because he thought I couldn’t function as an independent adult.  Because of what they did to me.  It’s all been taken from me again!

            A slender hand gently tugged her wrist away from her breast.  Startled, she looked down to find her own smeared with crimson.  Nguyen said something, but she couldn’t hear over the pounding of her own heartbeat and ragged breathing.  The older woman was leading her towards a hospital bed.  No, she didn’t want to go back.  She was better.

            Shivers wracked her body and she sank down to the floor, ignoring the twinges in her backside.  Dropping her forehead against her drawn up knees, she tried to breathe through the impending panic attack.  Thoughts buzzed in her mind like the inhabitants of an upended wasp nest.  Society might have drastically changed during her extended snooze, but she was pretty sure both parties still were supposed to consent.  A curiously soothing sensation bloomed between her breasts as if in response.

            The foreign feeling had the opposite effect.  Anxiety shot through Emma like poison.  The doctor was speaking to her, but a curious droning filled her ears, drowning out all sounds.  She jumped to her feet and dashed for the exit, all physical discomfort forgotten in her terror.  Throwing the door wide open, the hall was thick with people who turned to stare at her in surprise.  Cold sweat trickled along the hairline of her temples and slithered down the small of her back.  Footsteps from behind spooked her into jackrabbiting again, leaping to her right.  As if someone had pressed play on a paused movie, motion erupted in the corridor.  Bodies roiled and she ducked and dodged, diving through at least one pair of legs.

            Flesh covered coils of steel wrapped around her from behind and lifted.  She threw her head back, but dazed herself against a chin instead of a nose.  Her bare feet collided with at least one set of genitals and a face before they were pinned.  A sting in her arm brought ice seeping into her blood.  Her last coherent thought was, I don’t want to wake up different again.

Chapter Text

Emma was getting real sick of this shit.  If she never saw another hospital bed again, she’d be the happiest person on the planet.  She couldn’t get out of it fast enough and swung her legs over the side so quickly she got dizzy.  At least this time she was still in her own clothes.  She desperately wanted to go home but had to bitterly remind herself it no longer existed.

“If you beep at me one more time, I swear I’ll set you on fire,” she pointed a stern finger at the bed.  The threat brought to mind the first time she’d woken up here and her mood plummeted.  She’d felt shredded with guilt until she learned the truth.  Anger resurfaced, then joy that she was alive after all.  Her emotions were all over the map.  She dug the heels of her palms into her eyes until they ached from the pressure.  God, she was a mess.  The sensors must have snitched on her because the instant she started moving Nguyen came in.  The yo-yo now swung towards resentment.

“Mind telling me why you roofied me?”  By the doctor’s blank look, apparently that word was no longer in circulation.  The future was shit, but that seemed to be one thing they got right.  Hope pinged inside her chest.

“You appear to be having a reaction to the Claim.”  Confusion, but in normal amounts instead of an overwhelming wave.  “Your mating glands, the ones that allow an Omega to bond with an Alpha, are abnormal.  The binding proteins normally released mix with the Alpha’s saliva and the enzymes in the saliva enter your bloodstream.  We don’t fully know yet how this exchange works, but it somehow creates the bond.”

“Thanks for the birds and the bees talk, doc, but all of this would have been way more helpful about a month ago.  Little too late now.  Just tell me what’s going on.”  Nguyen dipped her head with the universal expression acknowledging that she deserved the rebuke.

“Your gland should have healed and gone back to releasing hormones normally.  Instead, it’s still dumping everything,” she explained.  “You can expect mood swings, fatigue, weight fluctuation, muscle weakness and aches, changes in libido, unstable blood sugars-”

“So, I get to feel like I’m going through puberty and chemo at the same time?  Awesome,” huffed Emma.  “What’re we gonna do about it?  And God help you if you say, ‘wait and see’.”

“It’s been less than six hours,” she frowned.  “If it doesn’t resolve itself in two days, we’ll look at options.”

“Great, let’s look at them now.”  Nguyen sighed.

“Fine.  You’ll be sedated, an incision will be cut right here,” she drew a neatly trimmed fingernail in a line approximately three inches long on her own neck.  “The gland will be removed, either partially or completely depending on a multitude of factors.  If it’s the former case, the gland will have to be exposed.  A little ball, it looks kind of like a miniature brain about the size of a grape, it’ll dangle by connective tissue and nerves during the excision.  Afterwards, what’s left of it is tucked back inside and cauterized with lasers.  The procedure might not resolve the issue, might make it worse, or it might cause other problems.”  The clipped response had its intended effect because her stomach felt like it was trying to turn itself inside out.  Evidently nausea was another of the fun symptoms.

“Ok, you win.”  Emma raised her hands in defeat and slumped back onto the bed.  Ah fatigue, my old nemesis.  “How is he?”  She was pissed at him, but also strangely worried about him, too.

“He’s…” Nguyen sighed.  “He’s worried about you.”

“He should be more worried about when I get my hands on him,” she growled, and got to her feet with a little less alacrity than before.  Nguyen folded her arms and watched Emma put her shoes on; the doctor’s lips were getting thinner by the second before she finally caved and rattled off a list of proscribed activities.

“The bond… your condition will affect him, too,” she warned.

“Good.”


A sniper’s job was far more boring than most people thought: crawling through mud, long hours in cramped quarters staring through a scope, finding creative ways to relieve one’s self while unable to change position.  Unfortunately, it also means a lot of uninterrupted time to think.  Normally he could focus on the task at hand: watch, determine trajectories, and tune out all the mental noise.  But not today.  Today, his thoughts kept intruding on the focused calm.

“I just want to go home.”  Her broken whisper played on repeat in his mind like some insidious form of torture designed specifically for him.

He hadn’t meant to do it.  In his feral state, he’d felt it had to happen otherwise he’d lose her.  Yet he still might lose her anyway.  He finally had a mate, despite himself, but felt hollowed out rather than complete.  He’d destroyed the greatest gift he could ever have been given.  If he could rewind time, he’d have better self-control he tried to tell himself.  But he knew that was a lie.  The terror of losing her still ripped at him as it had then.  He wanted- no, needed- to apologize, to explain.

  Not that he’d had much of a chance to talk to her.  She pointedly avoided him.  Other than to hurl root vegetables at him when he dared show his face in the mess hall while she was peeling potatoes.  He hadn’t known she was there; he couldn’t scent her over the smell of baking bread.  That didn’t mean he didn’t try.

“Why won’t you let me apologize?” he’d begged.

“Take your apology and shove it!” she’d shouted and thrown another tuber.  She had good aim; it’d caught him in the head.  Once he was away from her, and calmed down, he’d actually been proud of the tiny bruise he’d sported for a couple of hours.

After that, the general consensus back at base was that if he approached her before she was ready, he’d be the guest of honour at a blanket party.  Which was why he was currently perched in a crow’s nest on the perimeter keeping overwatch in the pissing rain.  Not that he felt much like being around other people.  Not after the way they looked at him.

“What makes you think you get to speak to her after what you did?” Barbie had spat in his face, white-knuckled fists at her sides.  His inner Alpha hadn’t even seen it as a challenge.  He knew he deserved it.

“I never meant to hurt her.”  The trite words sounded hollow even to himself.

Kahlil had proposed punishment and said something about setting a precedent for when the colony was fully populated.  Everyone was at a loss about what to do; how could they penalize him without making her suffer more?  For now, they’d stripped him of command and all but exiled him to a rotation at the farthest station.  An exile in exile.  He scoffed at the thought.

Back on Earth, they’d been too busy with surviving in small groups amongst the largely hostile humans and then emigrating to anticipate dynamic-on-dynamic crime.  Sure, there’d always been petty theft and the like, but nothing like this.  And he got to be the first.  His parents would be so proud.

Chapter Text

My asshole in law has been given a year to live, give or take 6 months, so updates will be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Chapter Text

Emma woke drenched in sweat, trying to catch her breath.  The room stank of fear. At least she hadn’t woken up screaming again.  Last time that happened, several concerned neighbours had shown up at her door.  With a deep sigh and a grimace, she peeled the sheets off her sticky body. Her skin pebbled immediately in the cool, night air.

Dr. Nguyen had tried to get her to take medication for the terror she felt constantly lurking at the edges of her being, waiting for the chance to overwhelm her.  She refused to take them. She’d needed drugs to survive for long enough; she was loath to use them to scrape by in her new life. Sure, the nights she could sleep were full of nightmares, but at least she wasn’t wandering around in a fog.

She went to clean up.  Currently she shared a bathroom with the betas, which took some getting used to since it was co-ed.  Apparently, they were segregated by dynamics, not gender (that had been a fun conversation with Kahlil).  And being the only omega, they would have had to set aside an entire washroom just for her. Not that it really mattered because the toilets and showers were in stalls, and the latter had small, individual changing areas.  There hadn’t been enough space on the ships to allow urinals when food, building materials, and medical supplies where of greater priority.

Yet lately she wasn’t entirely comfortable showering with men in the room, which was ridiculous because she had nothing to fear from them.  It seemed like everyone had gone out of their way to check on her or form a buffer around her whenever an alpha was in the vicinity, especially if that alpha was Captain Reed.  One of her beta friends would inevitably stop by her room with food when she forgot to eat, often staying to keep her company while she ate and then offering to take the plates back to the kitchen.

Even hanging out with Barbie wasn’t the same.  Her rosemary and vanilla scent used to be comforting; it was still nice, but that calming quality had disappeared.  Now it was inexplicably irritating, overwhelming to the point of nausea. The change could be attributed to, in order of least to most horrific: acclimatization, the roller-coaster her body was going through, the bond, or what happened when she was kidnapped.

Few people were likely to be up and about with pre-dawn leaching the sable velvet from the sky, meaning she had the place to herself.  She saw the water spraying across her skin, but all she could feel was the ropes digging into her wrists, rocks slicing into her back, her legs wrenched apart…

Eventually she became aware of the frigid tiles under her backside and hot tears falling on her chilled flesh.  Judging by her hair, which was wet but not dripping, the water had automatically shut off some time ago. The clacking of her chattering teeth echoed in the enclosure and every muscle ached from shivering.

She rubbed a palm over her breastbone.  That squirming feeling like something alien lived in her chest was back.  She now knew what it meant; he was nearby.

A forest green towel flew over the locked partition to land within reach.  She pulled it around her shoulders with shaking hands. Her heart felt like it had been replaced with a glass copy: hollow, cold, and easily shattered.

“Can you hear me?”  

Emma grunted.  Her mouth didn’t seem to want to cooperate to form proper words.

“At least that’s an improvement even if you’re still not talking to me.  May I come in?” Another non-verbal noise. “I’ll take that as a yes.” There was a faint click of the lock.  A biometric panel controlled the doors and the amount of hot water a person could use, preventing marathon showers, but also remembered temperature and pressure preferences.  The door eased open to reveal Niklaus, eyes averted, holding another towel.

Her head turned slowly, twitching slightly from being rigid for so long, still unable to speak.  He met her stare and his angular features softened. Keeping his gaze on hers, he crouched down, enfolded her in the towel, and scooped her into his arms.

“Is this ok?” he murmured.  She attempted to nod, but was too tired and instead nuzzled sleepily into his shoulder, her damp hair soaking through his shirt.


 

Reed felt like he was drowning under the torrent of emotions that coursed through him: relief, fear, hope, guilt…  He tamped all of that down so she wouldn’t feel that mess through their bond. He could admit to himself that his inability to cope with emotional intimacy had driven them to this point, but there would be time for unpacking that later.  Right now, he needed to take care of his omega.

Turning with her tucked against his chest, he nearly tripped over her discarded clothing.  He stifled a curse and glanced down at his precious burden, her lashes fluttered like tiny moths against the deep bruises under her eyes.  She was exhausted but fighting the weight of sleep. Stubborn creature. Stubborn enough to destroy his walls and create wondrous chaos of his neatly regulated life, that was for sure.

Burying his nose in her hair, the dark, wet tendrils snaking across her shoulders, he inhaled deeply.  Her scent was a balm to his battered heart, returning colour to a world steeped in grey shadows. While he had never been one for religion, he found himself thanking a faceless deity that she allowed him to hold her again.  He wouldn’t even know what name to call upon; there had never been time for frivolous luxury such as faith in a higher being when he’d been groomed to protect his people since before he could shave. He’d learned to trust in himself, his comrades, and his gear, in that order.

Shifting Emma, which was easier than it should have been because she had lost much of the weight she’d gained, he pressed his hand to the security panel.  Just like the shower stall, the door to her room opened in response to his emergency override command. He’d never needed to use the code before; it felt as if any discomfort to her was a crisis to him from the moment she first slammed into him.  He might as well have been the one knocked onto his ass, unfortunately he had acted like one due to his wounded pride.

Stepping into the room, he nearly gagged.  The heady petrichor of her natural perfume had soured and he had to force himself forward through the nearly palpable wall of fetor.  Carefully settling his mate in her nest- which was really just a sloppy mound of fabric, a far cry from the cozy refuge she’d constructed during her heat- he cracked the window.  On far side of the courtyard the dawn painted the sky in vibrant blues from Prussian to Egyptian and lightening to cornflower where the sun crowned the horizon. The corner of his mouth twitched.  Evidently, he was discovering poetry in addition to spirituality.

A noise he felt rather than heard drew his attention back to the Omega, who was twisting in her sleep, attempting to find a comfortable position amidst the mess.  He briefly allowed himself a fond smile before setting her den to rights as best he could without waking its occupant. New bedding helped fumigate the room, as did bundling her dirty clothes off to the laundry.  But there was one item he couldn’t pry from her.

“No, mine,” she mumbled, still mostly asleep.

He gave a corner a hesitant tug.  She drew it up under her chin like it was a stuffed animal, revealing a rather familiar logo.  He leaned in and sniffed; under the layers of pain and depression, beneath the strata that was Emma Sokoloff, he sensed himself.  It was faint, to be sure, but it was his marker, nonetheless. How she’d pilfered his shirt, let alone when, he couldn’t begin to guess.

As he knelt there, gawking at her like the first time he saw an azure sun, she grunted in complaint and shivered in the cool, fresh air.  Grinning and shaking his head, he carefully stretched out next to her, leaving several centimeters of space between them. As he settled a blanket over them, she wiggled closer and burrowed her tousled head against his ribs.  Her furrowed brow finally smoothed and a few deep breaths later, she appeared to slip into REM. Curling himself around her, he fell asleep while watching her sleep in the pale morning light.


 

Emma floated up through the fog of unconsciousness, gradually becoming aware of sunlight through her eyelids.  As pleasant as it was, she preferred to remain exactly as she was: comfortable, safe, and warm. She tugged a fold of blanket up to block out the light and squirmed closer to the heat source, a solid and breathing heat source.  Jerking backwards, she blinked blearily and finally managed to focus on a black t-shirt a few inches from her nose. Peering up, she had to tilt her head back to find his face.

Niklaus’ normally stoic countenance melted in his sleep, leaving behind a remarkably serene expression under the rough stubble.  A sudden snore erupted from him and she had to stifle a giggle but couldn’t stop the shaking of her shoulders. His eyes flickered open, the normal brilliance of them dulled somewhat until he managed to get them to cooperate enough to look at her and his face softened again in one of his rare smiles.  Her breath caught in her throat.

In their snug cocoon bathed in dappled sunlight, laid bare before each other, she felt for the first time like she was home.  Tears prickled, but she lacked the moisture to spare. Shimmying up higher in the bed, she slanted her mouth over his, opening readily at her first tentative lick.  He rolled onto his back and she went with him to end up partially splayed across his chest with a grunt when their lips smooshed together with the movement.

He had always seemed as if a portion of his mind was elsewhere; she’d assumed that had to do with the demands of keeping a hundred people safe on an alien planet.  Even in the midst of her heat (or as she called it in her head “the weirdest and most inappropriate sex ed ever”), he kept some part of himself detached. Now, however, the full force of him was present and focused on her, which was more than a little intimidating if she was being honest with herself.

She wished she could burrow into the blankets to escape the intensity of him (and not look like she was a child in doing so), afraid that he would see the fractures inside and fear that she tried so desperately to bury in the dark recesses of her mind.  But how could you hide from someone whose soul was tied to yours?

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t punch you in the ‘nads,” she pushed away enough to fix him with a proper glare.

“I’d deserve it,” he admitted solemnly.  “Then I’d take my balls and go home and I wouldn’t bother you again”

Emma blinked in shock, and then burst out laughing, Niklaus soon joining in.  The joke really wasn’t worth the peals of laughter, but the dam in her chest broke and the emotions that poured out needed an outlet or she would explode.  She no longer felt numb. Warmth bloomed in the shattered hollow space in her chest, melting the icy shards and dulling their edges. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

“What happened to my n-nest.”  She still tripped over the term, but it truly was the best descriptor.

“That wasn’t a nest,” he snorted.  “That was the unholy spawn of the world’s largest pile of dirty laundry and a trash heap.”  He chuckled at her shocked indignation.

“It was not!”

“I found petrified toast growing what I think may have been an entirely new species, one neither Terran nor Hypparchan.”

“You did not,” she gaped, unsure if he was yanking her chain or not.

“I did.  And I gave it to Mad Moreau for study.”  The spark in his bright eyes gave lie to his words.

“I hope he’s allergic to it,” she muttered with a wry twist to her mouth.

Niklaus laughed, the timbre of it thawing the broken ice in her chest a little more, and hugged her tightly to him.  Resting her head in the crook of his shoulder and basking in the heat of him, she could feel the pieces of herself knitting back together.  Tears stung again, but this time they came from a very different place.

Chapter Text

“Talk to me.”  Emma looked up from where she was idly tracing invisible designs on the ridges of his abdomen.  It was the first time the Alpha had solicited her thoughts on anything.

“About what?”

“What happened last night.”  Pulling away from him, she curled in on herself.  Or rather, she tried to.  Niklaus let her withdraw slightly, but his half-embrace held firm when she would have turned away.  “Nice try.”

“How did you know…?”  That I tried to literally curl up and die?  He merely looked at her.  Right, the thing between them that she’d been studiously trying to ignore.  “I thought that they’d threatened to string you up by your thumbs if you didn’t leave me alone?”

“I think it involved honey, rope, and those giant fire ants.  Or was it the death wasps?”  She giggled at the mental picture, which was no doubt his intent.  “I couldn’t just sit there with my thumb up my ass while you destroyed yourself,” he admitted once the laughter subsided.  “You’re not talking to anyone.  I figure I’m already on your shit list, might as well make you talk.”

“You’re going to interrogate me?  Kinky.”

He didn’t dignify that with a response.

She lay there stiffly.  Bracing his free hand behind his head, he tilted his face, eyes half-lidded, a little more towards the faint light filtering in.  One could have been fooled into thinking he was dozing if they couldn’t see him rubbing small circles against her back.

When she finally did speak, her voice was raspy due to a dry mouth and being quiet for so long, not because of any lump in her throat.  “I didn’t fight.”  The words were barely even a breath.  He waited until it was apparent she wasn’t going to continue.

“What did you do?”  Turning to shelter her with his body, he petted her hair.  This was a softer man than the one she’d first met, yet neither was he treating her with kid gloves like nearly everyone else was.

“I threw Fluffybutt at his face and ran.”  Nik chuckled and she joined him, although hers was partly a choked sob.

“I knew something was wrong when your damn chicken came back squawking her head off.  For that alone, she’s earned a stay of execution.”  For all that she’d threatened to fry the bird at the time, Emma had to agree.

“I should’ve fought back,” she murmured to the scar on his chest that had suddenly become fascinating.

“With what?  A chicken and harsh words?”

“There were sticks.”  She wasn’t being defensive, she was pointing out facts.

“He was twice your size and had a spear,” he said in the same flat manner he did when dressing down one of his people for doing something mildly stupid.  It had very rarely been directed at her.  “You did the smart thing.  Chances are he’d have killed you where you stood for challenging him.  Running was your best choice.  He was still faster, but you didn’t just stand there, did you?”

“No.”  God, she’d rather go through chemo again than have this conversation.

“And the head wound didn’t help, did it?”  Worrying at her bottom lip, she shook her head.  “What else do you think you could’ve done?”

“Don’t patronize me!”  Her ire lent her the fortitude to meet his gaze.

“I’m not.”  A low, hard statement.  “I’m trying to break you out of this spin you’re in.”  When she would have ducked her head again to hide her vulnerability, he gripped her chin and stared into her eyes.  “You’re too focused on what you think you should have done when the truth is you chose the course that ensured the greatest chance of survival.”  The steely commander was back, yet there was nothing cool or distant about him now; the fiery intensity that lay just beneath the surface wouldn’t permit that.

“I’m tired of feeling weak.”  She shook her head and her hair fell across her eyes, reminding her that she always suffered from the most horrendous bedhead.  Sitting up, she worked her fingers through her hair in an attempt to get it looking less like a camel had chewed on it in her sleep.  How does it manage to be both greasy and frizzy?  “I’m tired of not having control over anything that happens to me.  They took me from my home- my planet!- and changed me without my knowledge. then to freeze and forget about me.  I’m still not sure how to feel about… my heat.”  She had hated feeling that helpless and out of control.  “Then that happened, and you did this!”  A hand waved at the scar on her neck.  “I don’t even remember the last time I could make a major decision for myself.”  Her voice broke and trailed off.  “I don’t even know if I can trust you.”


 

Reed felt like someone had cut him off at the knees and allowed a herd of moofalo to run over his body.  His mate didn’t trust him, and he’d given her precious little reason to.  She had scooted away from him to sit with her back against the wall.  Already he missed the warm weight of her against him, leaving him cold, which was a rare sensation for him.

“From what I understand this is permanent.”  There was no divorce for their kind.  “What are my choices?  Do I get any or are you going to keep dictating to me?”  The hunch of her shoulders was a knife to his gut.  “Makes me wonder what the point of living is if this could even be called a life.”  He had taken bullets that hurt less than her speech.

“Don’t you dare give up now.  You’ve survived too much for that.”  It came out roughly, bordering on a growl, but she didn’t flinch.  “Besides, you still have a chance to make me regret claiming you.”

“Spite as motivation to live?”  A wry twist to her mouth.

“If it works.”

“You’re saying you don’t already regret this?”

“Not yet,” he smirked.

“Oh, you are going to regret saying that.”  A small smile bloomed but faded before reaching its fullness.  “What were those things?”

Blowing out a breath, he sat up to sit against the other wall, perpendicular to her.

“Not all of the original test subjects were as successful as you.  The original batch of Alphas and Betas were feral, attacked the research team, and escaped.”  They had also committed unspeakable acts in the process, but she didn’t need to know that when she had already had a glimpse of it.  “Those are their descendants.  We call them ferals or nomads because they cycle through different outposts depending on the season.  Rooster started calling them nad’s, short for Nasty Ass Dickriders.”  The term wasn’t one he’d normally use in front of an Omega, but the crude phrasing startled a chuckle out of her like he’d suspected it would.

“They’re like cavemen, like they devolved?”

“The going theory is that when they were tinkering with the genetic code, they went a little too far back in our evolutionary timeline.  The next team thought to get around the intelligence issue by splicing in animal DNA to get the strength and stamina they were looking for,” he explained.

“Wait, you’re saying they killed the first team and then sent another?”  Her eyebrows climbed towards her hairline.

“It was merely a ‘setback.’”  His lip still curled at the memory of the classified reports he had been privy to as part of his training.  While those back on Earth might not want their kind around, they still wanted to experiment with a colony on an exoplanet, just not with “proper humans.”  That meant certain information had to be shared or else risk inevitable failure.  “The second succeeded, despite another concerted attack from the ferals.  They decided it was safe to return because at that point they could argue that we counted as an extra-terrestrial species and thus exempt from the ban on tinkering with human genetics.”

“That’s a twisted sort of logic that sadly makes sense.”

“No one told you?”  They had agreed to keep the nads’ existence from her to avoid adding to her stress load, no one suspecting that she would wander beyond the protected core, but he’d assumed that someone would have told her after the incident.  Part of him was glad that she had come to him, hoped that she trusted him enough to tell the truth.

“I think Barbie tried, but I really didn’t feel like talking.”  She smoothed a pillow and fussed with its placement.  “Where do we go from here, Nik?”

He knew what he wanted to do, which was keep her close where he could protect her.  What he said was, “What do you want?”

Emma was silent for so long he wasn’t certain she would answer.

“I want to learn to defend myself.”

“We can start this afternoon.”  The response didn’t even require thought, it was automatic.  Like any Alpha, he wanted to be the one to protect his Omega, but he wasn’t arrogant enough to think that she would stay within a protected bubble anymore.  “First, we get some food into you.”

She opened her mouth, most likely to argue, but the rumbling of her stomach interrupted.  “Um, would you mind stepping out so I can get dressed?”  Instead of pointing out that he’d already seen her in her birthday suit, he slipped out into the hallway and tried not to think of her wearing nothing but his mark.

Chapter Text

Emma took her time brushing her wild hair into some semblance of a braid and tugging on clean clothing.  She told herself that if anyone gave her the side-eye, at least she was much cleaner than she’d been recently.  And she could probably set Niklaus on them. Grinning at the ridiculous thought of sending her Alpha after someone like a guard dog, she stepped into the hall.  The knot in her chest released a little to see him leaning against the wall in wait for her in apparent ease, which was belied by the way his head snapped to her.  She hadn’t realized the tightness was there until she found she could breathe again.

        His brows furrowed as he stared down at her like he was examining every facial pore.  Blushing under the scrutiny, she slipped her hand into his on impulse. The heat of his rough palm seemed to travel up her arm and settle around her like a blanket, leaving her feeling safe and warm.  She was distracted by the sensation and he had to gently tug her along to get her moving.

        It had been awhile since she’d last had that sense of comfort, the same one she had just woken up to.  The last time had been when he was recovering from the bear attack, which felt like months ago instead of merely weeks.  Although she had been the one to hold him then, and he had let her.

She had been so proud of herself for getting by on her own for the most part since she was released into the general population, and she had needed that time to figure out who she was because the disease had denied her that.  Instead of wallowing in despair and mourning after Khalil had snapped her out of the spiral of self-pity, she’d focused on how to contribute. Who knew that the hobbies she’d used to while away hours sitting in waiting rooms, undergoing treatments, or simply bedbound would become valuable skills?

        “Nik?”

        “Hmm?”  The baritone rumble set the fine hairs on the back of her neck on end sent a shiver through her that had nothing to do with a chill.

        “Is… are we,” Emma racked her brain for the right terms, “altered humans community oriented?”  She eschewed “pack-minded” because of the animalistic connotations; she still wasn’t sure how she felt about the word “heats,” let alone having them.

        “More than the run of the mill variety?  Yes, and it’s compounded by exile, especially for Omegas surrounded by military.”  He cast a sardonic grin and wink her way.

        “Oh.”  She mulled that over.  “Where I’m from self-reliance is- was- of utmost importance, and I’ve never really had that.  I don’t want to be dependent, but…” she trailed off and bit her lip, looking anywhere but at Niklaus.

        He stepped in front of her, forcing her to stop in the middle of the corridor, and cupping her cheek in his hand, gently tilted her face up to him.  When they had first met, she had thought that his eyes were cold as two chips of ice. Now they blazed like the unusual sun above and she wondered how she could have ever believed that.

        “We are not built to be independent,” he said firmly, stroking her cheek with his thumb.  “You haven’t had many opportunities to notice, but we Alphas are shit at taking care of ourselves.”  She blinked, unable to imagine the captain needing anything from anyone. Memories surfaced of when he’d been injured and she’d practically had to sit on him to force him to allow himself to heal, not that her weight would have been much deterrence had he been truly determined.  Yet he was content to remain in med bay as long as she was with him. “And we don’t do well if we don’t have anyone to care for.”

        Unnerved by the caress of his words and the tenderness in his expression, she removed his hand from her face by twining her fingers with his and got her feet moving again.  Her heart danced a tattoo in her chest as if it was coming back to life after hibernation.

        “I never had anyone, not like most people.”  He spoke slowly, haltingly, like he was having problems formulating his thoughts.  She rubbed a thumb over his in silent encouragement. “I was selected for officer training, for this specifically, when I was a kid.  My parents, both Alphas, were more like instructors when I was home on leave. My soldiers are the closest I got to family.”

        No wonder he was such a hard-ass.  If they weren’t in a public area, Emma would have wrapped her arms around him until the tension filling him eased.  Instead, she squeezed his hand and shifted closer to him so their body heat mingled.

        “I don’t know how to be me outside of my role.”  His voice, normally a little rough anyway, grew hoarse and he cleared this throat.  “So, I can’t promise I won’t be a knothead, but I will try to ease up.” A muscle ticked in his jaw as he scanned their surroundings, like he habitually did, not that there were any threats in the dormitory.  His usually thick, masculine scent had grown thin and sour.

        “And I promise not to go chasing chickens again.”


 

        Nik swore his heart felt like a giant fist had grabbed it and squeezed hard, wrapping his arms around her much smaller body and tucking her against him, he scented her hair until he could properly breathe again.  If Emma hadn’t accepted the contact, he probably would have lost his shit. Actually, scratch the “probably.” She hooked her arms around his waist since he was too big for her to hug properly.

        Eventually, they made it to the mess hall and he settled her in a quiet corner.  She must have sensed his need to do something, either that or she lacked the energy to argue, because she let him dish up a plate heaped with toast, oatmeal, eggs, and some of the local fruit that resembled a durian and tasted like pomegranate.  He wondered what she would name them. Durmanate? Pomerian? He couldn’t wait to find out.

        “I can’t eat all this!” she exclaimed, staring at the pile of food with wide eyes.

        Ignoring her protest, he tugged her into his lap.  She perched stiffly, back ramrod straight and not touching him any more than necessary, all the while darting furtive glances around the room.  He didn’t care; anyone looking their way was more concerned for her than their cuddling, anyway. Besides, such casual affection was normal between Alphas and Omegas, or so he’d heard.  And if not, then it should be, in his opinion. He nearly got the first spoonful into her mouth when she realized that he was trying to feed her.

        “What are you doing?” she hissed in a whisper and jerked back to glare daggers at him.

        “Taking care of what’s mine.”  And if in the doing he reinforced his claim while making amends in front of those who’d torn a strip off him for not taking care of her after the attack, then that was the cherry on top.

        “I am a person, not a thing to be owned,” snapped Emma.

        “Never said you were.  You look me in the eye and tell me I’m not yours.”  The Omega in his lap squirmed to avoid his gaze and he stifled a groan as the heat between them multiplied and pooled between his legs.  “I am not a tame man of your time. I won’t sit around with a thumb up my ass and watch you neglect yourself,” he growled. “You threatened to strap me to a bed once to make sure I took care of myself, if I recall.  How is this any different?”

        “For one thing, we have an audience.”  Pink dusted her cheeks and she looked up at him through thick eyelashes.  Damned if he wasn’t ready to bend her over the table and take her in front of everyone to cement his claim, but then he’d have to slaughter everyone who witnessed how exquisite she was when writhing in pleasure.

He took a bite of fruit to feed his other hunger and hid a smile at the way her nose twitched at the burst of scent as he swallowed.  This time she didn’t fight him when he popped the rest of the piece into her mouth.

        “Mmm.”  Those dark lashes fluttered closed so she could savour the taste.  He wanted to lick the juice from her slick lips. Instead, he managed to get some more food into her, which she readily accepted with more little hums of delight.  As hard as he was for her, he was content to feed her.

        “I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” he murmured, watching the line of her throat move with each swallow, and stroked a hand down the short braid of her hair.

        “Then why didn’t you say anything?  You were such a jerk.”

“You think I should have claimed you then, fresh out of a faulty cryosleep?  Less than six months of waking on a strange planet and in a new body?” he scoffed.  “You barely knew what was happening to you, mating and all that aside. You deserved a chance to settle in.  And the Alphas you knew consisted of Barbie, Kahlil, and that nerd.” There was no need to mention his own misconceptions about Omegas, which she had thoroughly shattered by simply being herself.

        “Roland,” she corrected and giggled at his responding scowl.

“When it comes to you, I would kill any other male or Alpha who looks at you twice,” he promised and brought her forehead to his with a hand cupped to the nape of her neck.  He wanted to explore the soft and velvety skin there with his mouth.

        “Why aren’t I running?  What you’re saying, it’s insane,” she stared at him, the words barely more than a whisper.

        “It’s what those scientists did to you.”  Niklaus traced her bottom lip with a rough finger.  Holding his gaze, she drew his thumb into her mouth to drag her teeth along the calloused flesh.  He hissed in a breath and his cock punched against his fly in a demand for freedom. Ignoring the little bastard, he continued, “They made us this way.  If I could, I would dig up their bones, smash them into pieces and piss on the dust for what they did to you. But they also gave me you and for that I will be grateful until they put me in the ground.”

        “You think I was created just for you?”  She jerked away with a snort.

        “No.  Seeing you escape from med bay when you barely had the energy to make it through the day, then try to pick a fight with an Alpha, that showed a spirit I could respect.  I’ve never had anything for myself, it was always about training. Even my free time involved strategy or war games, like paintball.”

        “That sounds fun,” she offered tentatively and ran a hand along the arm he kept around her.

        “Only if your idea of fun involves marches with a full pack and surprise ambushes,” he snorted.  And at the time, it had been. As he grew older, he recognized it for the smelting pot it was, one to strip away any skills other than the ones his parents and trainers wanted.  After all, you didn’t want any impurities in the weapon you were forging. “I’m selfish when it comes to you. I want my name to be the only one you scream.”

Chapter Text

            Once Emma had, had her fill, Niklaus set about cleaning their shared plate with quick, efficient bites.  That left her free to focus on how hard she was not paying attention to anyone glancing in their direction.  She told herself that they weren’t the only ones in a relationship and casual affection was only natural.  They were all adults here.  Just because wracking her brain didn’t turn up any memories of other couples canoodling in public and she couldn’t remember anything standing out one way or the other.

            Maybe it only felt like all eyes were on her because it was the first time she’d stuck her nose outside of her room since… since the incident.  And speaking of noses, hers was full of strange Alpha scents.  She was familiar with most of them, but none of them were her Alpha.

            And that alien line of thinking ratcheted her anxiety up even higher.  The new instincts she’d woken up with, which had only grown after he’d… bitten her, were like trying to live with a stranger in her own body.  Her throat started to close up as if trying to block out the barrage.  Her lungs couldn’t keep up with the pounding of her heart.

            Dimly, she was aware of a large hand gently pulling her close.  At first, she resisted, but lacked the strength and, for some reason, the will.  She nuzzled into his throat.  Velvet gave way to roughness where his dark stubble sprouted.  His natural cologne cleansed her of the melange of Alphas and the stress melted from her so suddenly she might have melted onto the floor if not for Nik’s arm around her.

            “I’m tired of feeling this way,” she sighed.  Her Alpha made a questioning noise and rubbed large circles on her back.  “Brittle.  Afraid.  Weak.”

“You are not weak,” he growled, jerking back to look her in the eye.

            “I didn’t say that, I said I feel like it.”  She looked down at her hands, which were loosely folded in her lap.  “I-I think I’ll go.”  Although she had no idea where since she wasn’t ready to get back to work, but she also didn’t want to go back into hiding and she certainly wasn’t up to being around any more people.

            “Nice try, but we’re talking about this whether you like it or not.”

            “I think you’ll find I don’t respond to orders a well as your soldiers do,” she frowned.

            “You don’t seem to mind them in the bedroom.”  His voice dropped to a sultry register with a hint of sensual threat that set her cheeks to flaming and his already bright eyes to twinkling.  He was playing with her.

            Emma had never had a lover to play with.  Her limited experiences had been with boys who were terrified of breaking her; there hadn’t been room for play.  She had no idea how to respond, especially when her stomach was all tied up in knots.

            “That’s different.”  She jutted her chin at him, which appeared to only amuse him more.  A slight jab of her elbow into his solar plexus cut his chuckle short but did nothing to dim his grin.

            “I want to snarl and say that I’ll protect you,” admitted Niklaus once he sobered up.

            “That’s-”

            “But that wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now, short of keeping you tied to my bed.”  She snorted and rolled her eyes.  Chances were, his bed was a futon on the floor and therefore lacked any tie points.  Then she shook her head like an Etch-a-Sketch to reset her train of thought.  Judging by his dark look, it had been his intention to derail her in the first place.

            “Remember how well keeping me locked up worked for you last time?” she asked with a wry twist to her mouth.

            “Hmm,” he pretended to muse.  “I think that concussion affected my memory.  We might have to jog it.  I know where I can get my hands on some rope.”  She laughed and clapped her hands over his mouth to stop him from talking.  He kissed her palm with a salacious wink and she lightly pushed him away with a giggle, his jaw scratchy under her touch.

            “Then let’s teach you fight back,” he said once the laughter subsided.

            “B-but I can’t,” she blinked, but her mind already racing past the automatic protestations.  Why couldn’t she?  She didn’t have to worry about a fragile body any more, in fact, she was in remarkably good health, her recent funk notwithstanding.  He continued to pet her as she thought his offer through, occasionally getting a syllable or two out before she reconsidered her response.

            Nik was correct.  No matter how safe she felt with him, they couldn’t spend every minute of every day together.  Going around tied at the hip was not healthy, she reminded herself even as the thought became more and more appealing.

            “Okay,” she nodded, then more firmly, “Okay.”


 

            Emma was acutely conscious of the way her new curves filled out and shifted under her clothing as she crossed the green with Niklaus.  It was the first time she’d been outside since…  well, it had been awhile.  All of her clothes had been scrounged up from storage or donated and had required hemming or major alterations since they were mostly sized for Alphas.  That meant that nothing she wore was exactly skin-tight, but she was still painfully aware of other people seeing her body and the fact that it was soft and rounded, not hard and lean like nearly everyone else on the planet.

He stared down anyone who glanced their way too long and no one dared approach, for which she was eminently grateful.  Although his glower wasn’t all that different from what she was coming to think of as his day face.  Seeing her Alpha go into protective rage mode wouldn’t help her nerves any, not after seeing him… do what he did to the feral Alpha. 

            It wasn’t just the feeling of exposure that had her anxious.  Emma had always disliked conflict.  Since she’d been on Hipparchus, she learned that she really, really hated it.  Her parents had always espoused the values of peace and what she was doing now felt like a betrayal of them, but she was not about to continue living in fear and she didn’t think they’d want that for her, either.

            Once they were in the gym, he kicked out the handful of soldiers who were working out and locked the doors.  He set about laying out some blue mats in the corner.  Computers had become clear plastic and glass, there was a cure for most cancers, but evidently some things hadn’t changed.

            As Nik worked quickly and with obvious practice, his face relaxed somewhat.  She suspected that she was the only one allowed behind his walls to see the man without the uniform.  Although he did look good in his customary black pants that hugged his derrière before falling in tantalizing folds that hinted at the densely muscled legs she knew lay beneath.  And the way he filled out those sleek fitting tops.  Or better yet, when he’d stripped off his shirt…

            Emma realized he’d addressed her but hadn’t a clue what he’d said.

            “Shoes.”  He wiggled long, pale toes as emphasis.  Men’s feet had never done it for her, but the long, graceful lines of his seemed rather elegant.  She wedged off her shoes and padded over to him.

            They hadn’t even started yet and her heart was already thundering in her chest.  Whenever Emma had stood up to him before, it was with the certainty that he wouldn’t hurt her, and she was correct in that assumption.  But now she knew on the deepest level what he was capable of.  Despite the trust she had in him, the instinct to survive recognized the potential in his big body.

Chapter Text

             Emma was acutely conscious of the way her new curves filled out and shifted under her clothing as she crossed the green with Niklaus.  It was the first time she’d been outside since… well, it had been awhile. All of her clothes had been scrounged up from storage or donated and had required hemming or major alterations since they were mostly sized for Alphas.  That meant that nothing she wore was exactly skin-tight, but she was still painfully aware of other people seeing her body and the fact that it was soft and rounded, not hard and lean like nearly everyone else on the planet.

             Soft like prey.

             He stared down anyone who glanced their way too long and no one dared approach, for which she was eminently grateful.  Although his glower wasn’t all that different from what she was coming to think of as his day face. Seeing her Alpha go into protective rage mode wouldn’t help her nerves any, not after seeing him… do what he did to the feral Alpha.

             No one she had known in her previous life would ever have imagined doing that to another person, feral caveman or not, let alone actually doing that even if they were physically capable.  She tried not to dwell on the fact that she was stranded on a planet far from home in every sense of the word and surrounded by people who were no doubt capable of the same violence. And they were the same ones in charge of keeping order.

         It wasn’t just the Lord of the Flies -esque musings that had her on edge.  Emma had always disliked conflict. Her time on Hipparchus had taught her that she really, really hated it.  Her parents had always espoused the values of peace and non-violence. What she was doing now felt like a betrayal of them, but she was not about to continue living in fear and she didn’t think they’d want that for her, either.

             The sun blazing overhead was noticeably warmer than she remembered from her last ill-fated venture outdoors and she longed for a pair of sunglasses, but it’s not like there was a drug store she could pop into and she was fairly certain that valuable cargo space wasn’t wasted on things like sunglasses when it could go to food, seeds, and medicine.

Once they were in the gym, he kicked out the handful of soldiers who were working out.  One of them started to protest, but a buddy whispered in his ear and he stared at her with wide eyes until an elbow to the ribs got him moving again.  They shuffled past her while she studiously ignored them to look around the place.

             There were various pieces of equipment that vaguely resembled ones she’d seen on TV, but never actually used.  She hoped he wasn’t going to put her on one of those things, or worse, ask her to lift weights. He didn’t; instead, he set about laying out some blue mats in one corner.  Computers had become clear plastic and glass, there was a cure for most cancers, but evidently some things hadn’t changed. They even had that funky smell she remembered from one gymnastics class she took in grade school.

             As Nik worked quickly and with obvious practice, his face relaxed somewhat.  She suspected that she was the only one allowed behind his walls to see the man without the uniform.  Although he did look good in his customary black pants that hugged his derrière before falling in tantalizing folds that hinted at the densely muscled legs she knew lay beneath.  And the way he filled out those sleek fitting tops. Or better yet, when he’d stripped off his shirt…

         Emma realized he’d been talking, but hadn’t a clue what he’d said.

         “Shoes.”  He was obviously repeating himself, wiggling long, pale toes as emphasis.  Men’s feet had never done it for her, but the long, graceful lines of his seemed rather elegant.  She shook herself out of that line of thinking. How long had it been since she’d had thoughts like that?   And of all the ridiculous thoughts for her brain to suddenly start spitting out... 

Emma wedged off her shoes and padded over to him.  They hadn’t even started yet and her heart was already thundering in her chest.  Whenever she’d stood up to him before, it was with the gut-deep certainty that he wouldn’t hurt her.  But now she knew on the deepest level what he was capable of. Despite the trust she had in him, the instinct to survive recognized the potential in his big body.  That primitive part of her crouched in wait, watching warily.

             He guided her through some stretches, neither of them saying a word.  She felt awkward and probably looked ridiculous. If he laughed (although smirking was more his style), she swore she’d throw one of his boots at his head.

             After that, he showed her some basic stances, speaking just enough to explain what each one was for.  Other than that, he quietly observed her. The silent scrutiny was unnerving and she wanted to hide, make herself as small as possible, anything so he’d stop staring at her, especially as he circled behind her.

             Better yet, she wished she could download some kung fu into her brain and skip straight to getting her life, such as it were, back on track.  Unfortunately, real life wasn’t like the movies and she couldn’t skip over the grueling work with a montage set to music that made her seem like more of a badass than she really was.

             “Straighten your shoulders.”

             A large hand pressed between her shoulder blades and she cracked.


 

             Reed braced himself against the onslaught.  She was too close to put any proper strength behind it, and throwing from her wrist and elbow rather than the shoulder.  The physical blows he could take; what he couldn’t handle was the raging storm of emotions that trickled through the temporary blockade he’d put on the bond between them.  He felt scraped raw, like someone scooped out his chest with a serrated blade. A dull and rusty one.

             Emma quickly burned through what little strength she had.  He caught her as she sagged against him, careful to cradle and not imprison.  They sank to the floor together where she curled up in his lap and cried into his chest, hot tears soaking into his shirt.    He’d never had to deal with tears outside of specific training situations, so he’d never understood people who couldn’t handle criers.  In his mind, the obvious solution was to fix the issue that caused the distress in a civilian, but there was nothing to fix here, no one to fight.  Without a course of action, he was at a loss. He’d known that her newfound equilibrium wasn’t going to last, but even knowing this was coming, he’d had no way to prepare for it.  He couldn’t exactly treat her like one of his soldiers with PTSD. She was too precious to him for his usual emotional distance.

             He purred for her.  It was something he’d heard about, but never experienced before.  He didn’t even know what it was supposed to sound like. With only instinct to guide him, he probably sounded like a frog with a head cold.  Since he’d reached adulthood, the lack of nurturing parental figures had never been so painfully obvious until now and he was bitter he didn’t have an example to follow.

             She shook with the force of her sobs.  Each shuddering gasp broke him a little more inside.  He sheltered her with his body and stroked her hair as she fell apart.

         Reed would slip away in his mind when he was a child soldier, imagining himself sliding off his bunk, invisible, and leaving the military compound.  He would run, fleet and silent, through the woods with no trajectory, mission, or objective. In his imagination, he was free to play, explore, to simply be without obligations or duty.  Sometimes it felt so real he would look down and be amazed he wasn’t spattered with rain and mud. His hair should have been wild and his cheeks wind burnt. It was his refuge whenever a birthday passed without so much as a call from his parents.  Or he was battered and bloody from sparring with adults three times his size.

         Emma was the one to truly set him free, breaking the chains he’d wrapped himself in to keep from feeling anything too human.  Too soft. Being around her calmed the part of him that was always on alert, planning shift rotations, assessing who was close to burnout.  When was the last time someone worried about him burning out? It was like he’d been holding position for so long he hadn’t felt the strain until he could relax.

             He wished he could do the same and free her from her prison of fear and pain.  In his arms, she felt as frail as she had when first revived. Purple bruises under her eyes highlighted their normal luminosity to fever-bright levels.  Her body trembled like a leaf from every muscle locked to the point of strain. The skin of her face was drawn tight to give a skull-like effect.

       This wasn’t the Emma he knew.  She was buried somewhere deep within.  He wanted to see that mischievous gleam in her eyes when she would tease him.  He had to make sure she felt safe enough to emerge again.

         The first step was regaining her self-confidence, and to do that, they needed to stop treating her like a child or an invalid.  She deserved to be seen as the adult she was. So he waited and thought about how to help her find herself again.

             After what felt like ages, she stopped crying and sagged limply against him, sniffling every few minutes.

             “I should make handkerchiefs.”

             He made a questioning noise.

             “Not really any tissues around here, and I’m not about to waste valuable toilet paper.  If we run out of that, there’ll be a riot, and I’ll be the one to start it.” She sat a little more upright, but still kept her face turned down and away from him.  The shame and embarrassment rolling off her and through him had him wanting to nip her for thinking she had to hide anything from him. “It won’t take much, there are enough random scraps and I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

             Instead of replying, Reed grabbed the water bottle he’d set off to the side, unscrewed the cap, and handed it to her.  She gulped down several swallows and passed it back with a murmur of thanks. Although she ducked her head again, he noted her red and blotchy face and swollen eyes.  Something in him twisted at the sight.

             “I, uh, should probably go, uh…”  She swiped at her nose with one wrist and waved her other hand vaguely towards the locker room.

             “Kay, and when you get back, I’ll show you how to actually throw a punch.  If you’d put any force behind it, you’d’ve broken something. Go clean up and I’ll put you to work.”