I flinched at the click of a door opening. Several items were brought in and placed on the floor. There was a muted thud when the door was shut.
“He left the lights off? Really?” The Voice was back. “That was real petty of you Onryō-san.” I heard a loud bump. “Ow!” There was a scramble for something and then the lamp was turned on.
“Na-Namahage-san?” I felt numb. Even my voice sounded lifeless.
He entered the cell with the bucket. “You don’t look like you can manage it yourself. I’m gonna wipe you down, okay?”
I nodded and looked down at the ground. The water was thankfully heated this time. Namahage-san sponged my skin clean with the quick, detached efficiency of a nurse’s aid. His fingers, hidden by blue latex gloves, dunked the sponge in the water just before it cooled and applied it again. He poured the remainder in the drain at the front of the cage, then, he brought in a large duffle bag.
Why did his quiet, gentle presence feel so healing? Was it comforting because I was no longer sitting there in the dark, alone and hurting or was it something more?
He tossed a fresh towel to me. It was still warm from the dryer. I wiped my face and placed it across my lap. I watched him without much interest as he busied himself. He laid out a futon and folded the blanket. He reached into the bag again and pulled out cotton boxers and a dark grey yukata. He folded those also and left them on the blanket. He used the soiled towel to clean the floor.
“It’s good Onryō-san left you alive, right? It was touch and go there for a moment.”
“He said I have you to thank...so, thank you.”
“The cameras were useless with the lights off.” He finally spared a glance in my direction. “I couldn’t see a thing.”
He asked, “Do you think you could eat something?” I shook my head, ‘No’.
“Do you want to talk about what happened? Did he--?”
I sighed. “He gave me an object lesson on being an Omega; but he didn’t go all the way.”
“I...see.” He picked up the soiled towel and the empty duffle bag and left the cage. “Onryō-san didn’t forgive you, but he will let it go. He won’t come here again nor will he go after you.” He tossed the gloves in a waste basket and brought in a large bento box. “For when you feel up to eating something.” He locked the cage behind him.
“Why?” I asked.
His steps faltered to a stop. “Because it’s been a while since you’ve eaten.”
“No, why didn’t you leave me to be arrested back in Vegas?”
“Oh, that. The, ah, earbuds you wore allowed for two-way communication. And I could hear everything happening in the stairwell at the casino...You could have raped Omega-kun. He wouldn’t have been able to stop you in the state he was in. Even if he wasn’t in heat; with the difference in your size and strength you could have pushed him down easily.”
“I don’t quite follow you--” He picked a key up from the lamp table and walked around to the back of the cell.
“There is no doubt humans are animals, however, the difference that sets us apart from beasts is we have the ability to rise above our instincts through reason. You impressed me. Twice.”
“Huh?”I was still in shock so I couldn’t grasp what he was saying. He unlocked the cuffs and I rubbed my wrists. Pin pricks of pain tingled as blood began to circulate properly in my arm. I crawled over to the futon and rummaged through the clothes for the boxer shorts. I stood up to don the underwear and the yukata, then belted the obi around my waist. I felt a little more like myself.
“If you were nothing more than a rabid, rutting animal. I’d have had you put down. But you fought your way out of your rut on your own. You’re a different person now than you were years ago. You’ve grown. Changed.”
I sat cross-legged on the futon and slapped my face a few times.
He opened a large bottle of water and poured it in an electric kettle. The water was boiling in minutes.
“Tea?” He offered.
I nodded. “I can manage.” I got up, stretched and paced to the front of the cell.
“The problem is, what am I going to do with you now? I’m not really in the business of abduction.” Namahage-san mused. He handed me a mug.
“Thank you,” I said accepting it. “By the way, you never answered my second question.”
“Pardon?” He asked. He pulled out a chair from under the lamp table and sat down.
“Will you give me everything you have on Omega-kun?” I asked..
“Hmm. Well, Information is not free. And, you don’t have anything I want in trade.” He sipped his tea through the grinning mouth of the mask. “What do you want with him anyway?”
“I don’t want to hurt him or anything. I just want to talk to him.”
“About fairytales and happily ever after.”
“I know enough about him to tell you, you’re wasting your time.”
“Are you a masochist? That guy hates Alphas, didn’t he tell you? The way you are now, you don’t stand a chance. Your looks, money, position--none of it will sway a guy like him.”
“What do you mean by ‘the way I am now’?” I slurped at my tea. Green matcha with a hint of mint. I swirled it around my mouth before swallowing.
“Listen, let me put it like this. There is an Omega right here in front of you and I hate you because you are an Alpha. Change my mind.”
“Is it really fair for you to discriminate against me because of my gender? I didn’t ask to be born an Alpha. And to be perfectly honest, being an Alpha isn’t all sunshine and poppies. I had to study, play sports, socialize and work twice as hard as everyone else just to meet their expectations--only for people to write off my success as, ‘Oh, he’s so popular and smart just because he’s an Alpha’.”
“Oh, boo-hoo for you.” Namahage-san snarked. “Even if you did nothing but sit on your ass, as long as you exude those precious Alpha pheromones, you’d still get to enjoy all the privileges of being an Alpha.” He spat. “Better opportunities in education, better healthcare and nutrition, better jobs, extended credit and an unlimited get out-of-jail-free pass. Even mediocre Alphas are living their best life. You’re an elite born to a wealthy family and heir to the leading pharmaceutical company. You’ve got it better than most.”
“What do you want from me?” I was feeling frustrated and he could probably hear it in my voice. “I just told you I didn’t ask to be born an Alpha and I didn’t ask to be born into the Oshiri family. I didn’t ask for all the hidden perks that comes from being an Alpha. Why can’t you look at me? Just me. My gender is only one aspect of me, I-”
“It’s really funny you should say that.” Namahage-san interjected. “The person you intend to pursue is an Omega, and therefore defined by his gender in our society. “Think about what you were taught about Omegas in school. I was fortunate to have attended a public school exclusive to Alphas so I know the twisted views about gender they instill in young minds.”
He took another sip of his tea and continued. “We were taught Omegas were smaller and less intelligent, and therefore easier to dominate or manipulate. Well-bred Omegas are sought after trophies that show-off the vitality and wealth of their Alpha. The worth of an Omega is measured by their seductive beauty and ability to have children because they had nothing else to offer. They emphasized Omega pheromones could be used to trap Alphas into having sex even if the Alpha didn’t want it, and Omegas can trap Alphas into marriage if they should become pregnant.”
“And your point?” I asked.
“My point is someone like you who was likely taught these things in middle school and high school would have to change his very way of thinking to be able to do anything other than look down on Omegas. That way of thinking won’t endear Omega-kun to you.”
“My mother was a bit overprotective of me and homeschooled me herself along with private tutors, up until I reached high school age. She taught me it was for the survival of the human species that we developed the second genders. Omegas are precious because their bodies are strong enough to bear many children. An Alpha x Alpha pairing may only produce one child in a lifetime though the average Alpha x Omega pair can produce several. She said Omegas were highly valued because they nurtured the children and taught them how to love and understand each other. Moreover, the drive to protect our precious person was the only reason why Alphas were physically stronger and more aggressive.”
“This conversation isn’t going anywhere, we both keep saying the same things in different ways. A glass of water may be half full or half empty, the only solution is to just drink it, dump it or fill it up already.”
“Is this how you always end a losing argument?” I asked.
Namahage-san sighed. “All I’m saying is your mother’s teachings certainly put an interesting spin on how to perceive Omegas without really saying something different.”
“My mother was an Alpha and she too had found her soulmate for her first marriage. Her partner was attacked and killed but the suspect was never found. Her family later pressured her into re-marriage with the Oshiris for the financial and political benefits. Having a child was part of the marriage contract requirements, so here I am.”
“So your mother was at least sympathetic to the plight of Omegas having bonded to her soul mate--even to the point she so carefully raised you as a human first, Alpha second. She also seemed to put a romantic spin on Alpha x Omega relationships and ingrained it in you. We aren’t the beasts we once were when the secondary genders developed. The strength and aggression of the Alpha may have had a strong survival impact thousands of years ago, but today it is a means to oppress not protect.”
“You keep lumping me into this simplified and standardized conception of Alphas rather than acknowledging the differences and judging me individually.”
Namahage-san shrugged. “Omega-kun would probably do the same if he gave you the time to converse like this. Your ‘not all Alphas’ argument would have to be proven by actions not words to be believable because you still reap the hidden perks and benefits of being an Alpha whether your thinking is liberal or traditional.”
“There is more than one way to get my feelings across. Why do you put so much emphasis on logical arguments and reasoning? Why does the head have more sway than the heart?”
“The fact you are an Alpha is enough that some people don’t want to get to know the rest of you. I’m sure it must hurt not to have everything go your way. Can’t be helped.” He shrugged again. “I suppose the one thing you could do is use your privilege to help Betas and Omegas. And I’m not talking about making some grand ‘look at me I made a charitable donation’ gesture. I mean operate behind-the scenes; hunker down in the trenches, interact with real people, volunteer your time. Use your power to advocate for change in government legislation.”
“If doing this will get him to look at me--all of me. I’d be willing to do it.”
“Wow, that is some impressive confidence you’ve got there.” He held up his teacup in a mock toast and then brought it back to his lips to drink. I almost laughed, almost. He continued. “So you have some romantic notions… Let’s say you get him to give you the time of day... Didn’t you mention your lover just died?” I flinched at the mention of Rebecca. “Yet you’re all ready to jump into another relationship. If your partners mean so little to you, won’t anyone do? Surely, your father has lined up a few lookers to consider.”
“Rebecca has been dead for two months now. I met her three months before then. We enjoyed each other’s company. We were compatible in bed. We were both eager to start our own family to fill a void our current families left in our hearts…”
“So why did this love end so tragically?”
“I wanted to give her everything but I couldn’t get my father’s approval.”
“I see. Was she an Omega?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t just because of that. She had no social standing. She was a waitress from a modest family. She loved books, so she was well read but she couldn’t afford college.”
“Why did it matter so much? Getting your father’s approval, I mean.”
“It was something we both wanted. Sure, we could have been comfortable on my salary alone if my father disinherited me. But I wanted her to be more than comfortable, I wanted her to be able to live like a princess--she wanted it too and we wanted to pass it on to our children as well. She wanted me to pair-bond with her so she could escape the heats and she thought that would force my father’s hand.”
“I get it.” He cleared his throat “I don’t pretend to be an expert in these matters, but three things occur to me. First, you were in love with the idea of being in love--this is why you couldn’t commit the way she wanted you to. Oh and by the way, even a couple head over heels in love still have to work at the ‘happily ever after’ part. It doesn’t just happen like magic.” He shook his head.
“Second, Rebecca was ready to settle down with any Alpha, but you were quite the catch- hence the push for you to pair with her.“ He paused to give me a chance to retort but I didn’t.
“And last, putting together what I know of your father from countless interviews and corporate biographies along with what you’ve shared, I figure he isn’t the type who will give his approval for any marriage partner other than who he chooses for you. It’s how he’s been controlling you all this time. You need to ‘man up’ as they say in America; tell him it is your life and you worked hard to be able to make your own decisions and you don’t need all the extras, you can get by on your own without the Oshiri name. I think then, you’d be pleasantly surprised by his response.”
I considered his words carefully as I finished my drink. Even I felt I had moved quickly on from Becca, I had thought it was just because I had found my fated pair in Omega-kun. Was I really just in love with the idea of being in love? Am I now just in love with the idea that I found my soulmate? “I think I can eat something now.”
I retrieved the bento box and placed the empty mug in its place. Then, I took the modest dinner back to the futon.
“Well then, Alpha-san, should I leave you to eat in peace?”
Calling me ‘Alpha-san’ brought on images of the eerie Onryō-san mask floating towards me in the dark. I shivered. “Please call me Haru, or anything else but ‘Alpha-san’. And...would you please stay with me while I eat? I don’t want to be alone right now.” I couldn’t see his face nor hear his real voice but Namahage-san’s familiar presence was comforting to me somehow. I wasn’t embarrassed about asking him to stay either, though if it was anyone else, I might not have asked. I just felt he wouldn’t judge me or look down on me.
“Then I’ll eat as well.” The Voice turned his chair away from me and lifted his mask up over his hair knot. He pulled out his own bento box and placed it on the table next to him.
I opened mine and grabbed my chopsticks. The dinner included white rice with a hint of mirin, seaweed salad, shrimp tempura, still crispy and warm; and strips of raw salmon and tuna steak accompanied by pickled cucumber. “These are all my favorites.” I said. “Itadakimasu - thank you for the food.”
Moments later, I was stuffed and the box was empty. I brought it up to the gate of the cell and left it just outside the bars. Namahage-san re-donned the mask and turned his chair back around. “Glad you liked it. I use this place rarely, but when I do I like to make use of the kitchen.”
“You cooked all this?” I asked.
“Everything but the seaweed salad.” He said matter of factly.
“I’m impressed. I burn rice.” Cooking definitely was not my specialty.
“Pfft! I’m not surprised. You’ve lived a pretty pampered life. You’re used to others taking care of you and you take it for granted.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Take your associate Tanaka-san, for example. He followed my instructions because I told him Oshiri-sama’s life depended on it--he assumed I meant your father. It was only after you confirmed you were okay when he realized you were the one in danger. My guess is your father appointed him to his position and you just blindly trusted his judgement. There isn’t anything wrong with it but you should choose your own support and have a better understanding of their agenda and motivation. A healthy dose of paranoia is one of the keys to survival.”
“I’ll consider your advice. But, tell me honestly, you were never going to kill Tanaka-san were you?”
“No, he was never in any real danger, but his cooperation was key.”
Hmm, I thought so. He operates with a clear purpose and meticulous planning. “May I have some more tea?” I held out my mug.
“Sure, the water is still hot.” He unplugged the kettle and brought it over to me.”Hold your cup steady.” I watched him fill my cup.
“Uh!” I gasped, spilling the contents slightly. Was that a keloid scar on his thumb...No way... I-is he my Omega?
“Sorry, did I burn you?” He asked.
“N-no, it was just the steam hit me, I think.” I sat back down on the futon and sipped. If I reveal what I’ve noticed, I’ll lose him.
I wanted to get back to how I could woo someone who didn’t like me just because I was an Alpha. Let me try a different route and talk about the benefits of fated bonds. “So what did they teach you about bond pairings and fated bonds?”
Namahage-san sighed. “Fated partners are so rare, they may as well be legend. Tales of near-telepathic communication between fully bonded, fated pairs and how they can sense each other’s truthfulness, feelings, even the state of their health by the subtle changes in pheromones.” He shook his head. “Geez, what would be the fun in a debate or difference of opinion if you know what your partner will say or do?”
I chuckled. “Extrasensory perception aside, I know for a fact it is not a legend, fated mates are real. When I smelled Omega-kun’s scent and touched his bare skin, it was as if my life flashed before me and I realized how incomplete I was until the moment we came together. With this connection I felt I was made whole.” Still, I wonder did he feel the same? It didn’t seem like Omega-kun was lying when I asked him directly. “I don’t know for sure if something similar happened to him in the same moment; maybe Omegas need to be charmed by the so-called, ‘mating dance’? After all, they are what we Alphas compete for and not the other way around.”
He shrugged again.“Still, the one thing that doesn’t change between common pairings and fated soul mate pairings is the Alpha can force their Omega into submission and complete obedience. It is not an attractive proposition to anyone who values their freedom.”
“I was taught that just as Alphas have an ingrained desire to protect their Omega and their offspring; Omegas are driven by their instincts to entrust everything to their Alpha unconditionally. It’s a defense mechanism and it is one of the reasons why they defer to their mated Alpha. It goes back to what I said before, the reason why we are capable or larger and more powerful is so we can take on the responsibilities of providing and caring for our destined mate.”
“Is there any guarantee you could offer Omega-kun that you would not crush his mind and heart and force him into submission? It’s something to think about if you do ever track him down.”
I was still processing this new revelation; Omega-kun and Namahage-san were one in the same. “No,” I said. “There isn’t any kind of promise I could make to win his trust. But, I would hope his instincts would be able to feel me out and determine I could never hurt him physically, mentally or emotionally.” I stared at my cup.
“You see Alphas become attuned to the needs of their Omega because if their partner’s physical and emotional needs are not met it will adversely affect the Omega’s ability to bear children. Since all of our urges revolve around reproduction and survival, it would be contrary to our instincts to break our precious person. Don’t you see the value in a fated pair bond for both parties?”
“Well, it’s interesting in theory, to say the least.” He admitted. “DNA tests can prove an Alpha x Omega couple who feel they were destined for each other are compatible at a genetic level. However, not much research is available on how fated mates recognize each other.”
He mused. “Of course, scientists have made plenty of observations about common pairings. For the majority of pairings there are few benefits for the Omega aside from a reduction in the intensity of their heat and the ability to attract only their pair with pheromones. Alphas, on the other hand can bite and bond with as many Omegas as often as they like without any physical side effects. Only an Alpha with stronger pheromones can capture a bonded Omega, re-mark them and make him or her their own. This may be why Alphas are so possessive and demanding of monogamy from their partners while whoring around themselves. However, the body of bonded Omegas are forever altered to violently reject sexual advances by anyone other than their bond.”
“I have no interest in having my own harem of Omegas. I only want my one, fated mate. I don’t even have to bite him if he doesn’t want to give me the gift of his trust.”
“And yet, there is already one Omega out there right now who was partially bitten and bonded to you, though his heart belongs to Onryō-san.” Namahage-san’s tone was cold. “Of course, Omega-kun would never know unless you told him.”
Any argument I could make was effectively shut down then and there. I studied the steam rising faintly from my cup.
“Betas are truly enviable, they don’t need pheromones to realize they love each other and they have true balance of equality with their partner. No doubts, no complications or power struggles, just transparent honesty.” Namahage-san’s words sounded wistful now.
Aha! I see. What he wants is a slow, steady burn. No whirlwind romance will move this guy. He wants a lover who is patient. A lover who is willing to share in the benefits of the relationship as well as the burdens of responsibility. In an Alpha x Alpha relationship there would be more parity than in an Alpha x Beta or Alpha x Omega coupling because of the dynamics of our natural instincts. This will be tough on me, I may constantly have to hold back the urge to be the aggressor. Then again, Omega-kun may have to struggle with being more passive and going with the flow. Does this mean he would hold back his instinct to trust as well? I needed more time with him. I almost hoped he would never set me free.
What I said was, “You make it sound as if Omega-kun would try to stifle his natural desire to trust his Alpha. Is it just from the paranoia of him moving around so much due to his lifestyle? The one thing that made me happy to be an Alpha was thinking I could find my soul mate out there and have a deeper connection than just love and affection, I never considered a long-term relationship with anyone other than an Omega.”
“I think it would be good to work on building trust gradually with someone like him- the four rules: do what you say you’ll do; honor your word; be consistent and honest; speak from the heart. Of course this kind of open communication isn’t something we’re used to from a cultural standpoint.” He finally finished off his cup and set it down.
“Speaking of having a ‘healthy dose of paranoia’ as I mentioned earlier. You’re pretty naive to trust me... I put something in the tea to help you sleep--but it could have been poison. If you finish your cup, you’re guaranteed a deep sleep of a minimum of twelve hours.”
“Is there a catch in there?” I asked.
“As I said earlier, I’m not sure what to do with you. If you choose to finish off the draught. I’ll take you with me to an alternate location. If not, I’ll leave the door open and you can leave at your leisure tomorrow...If you choose to come with me there will be three conditions. One: Answer my questions completely and honestly, as you have been doing. Two: Continue to control your base desires. And three: Give me your word you will complete a task I ask of you. If you meet those conditions to my satisfaction, I’ll give you information in change for a personal favor sometime in the future--something akin to what you did in Vegas.”
I downed the drink in three gulps. I want more time with you. I want to get closer to you and I want you to know me. I didn’t even have to think about it.
“Well this is unlike you. You are already prepared to abandon your responsibilities to your family and to your company for an unknown length of time? I expected you would mull it over longer. At least until the tea cooled bit more.”
“Maybe I just need a vacation.” I yawned. Drowsiness was setting in on me faster than I could’ve anticipated.
“Just out of curiosity,” I began, “What you said earlier about my volunteering and whatnot… I was wondering what you did with half a million dollars in diamonds? You seem to be doing well for yourself.” Is he really using his wealth to do some good as he urged me to do?
“You mean, ‘as an Omega’. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I was a late bloomer and I had no distractions to keep me from concentrating on my studies and since I don’t need much to live on; I invested nearly all of my income in the stock market instead of in savings accounts. But you don’t want stock tips. You want to know if I’m a hypocrite, don’t you?” He chuckled. “Well, sorry to disappoint. A portion of the diamonds went to Antwerp to be traded on the European market; a portion went to India as you found out firsthand, and a portion of it went to Dubai for the African and Asian markets.”
I could hardly keep my eyes open as he droned on. “Once they are converted into the currencies of the local countries, the proceeds will fund charitable organizations which provide suppressants, condoms and contraceptives, even day-after pills to prevent pregnancy, as well as monies for scholarships, school supplies and food. Some of the middlemen take a small percentage as their payment, but I personally don’t see any of it. I don’t need it.”
The last thing I remember thinking was, I’ve been abducted by...Robin Hood?