I stirred to the sounds of flowing water and the muted clanging of metal. It was bright. I shielded my eyes and I sat up. What? I rubbed at my neck. What is this-- a collar? I dropped my hands and placed them on either side of me on the soft futon. I hadn’t slept this comfortably in some time and it was a relief I didn’t dream about Onryō-san or anything else, for that matter. I looked around for the source of the sounds. Namahage-san was in the kitchen area--I assumed preparing breakfast. I stood and stretched. The robe I had worn previously was folded on my bed, I put it back on.
We were in a wide open sunroom with a domed glass ceiling. The path between the sleeping area and the kitchen wound through an intricate garden of plants, stones of varying sizes and colors and a small pool with a fountain flowing over a rock waterfall.
“Good morning, Namahage-san.” I followed the winding path towards him.
He looked up from the stove. “Welcome to my panic room away from home. It’s closer to 2 pm than morning, though.”
“Can I help?” I asked as I came closer. To the left of the kitchen was a den of recessed floor space with a low table with two sofas on either side.
“No. I’m making a simple dish of omurice with a side of pancakes and fruit--nothing fancy. If you need the bathroom, it’s through the door over there. The restroom links with a workout room but don’t expect much. I only have an elliptical machine and a few resistance bands- no weights.” He pointed behind him. “When you’re finished you can just sit down on the sofa.”
I used the facilities, glad he’d provided a toothbrush and came back to the living area. The table was already prepared with a tea set, chopsticks and napkins. I poured tea for both of us, then sat back.
“You went all out on this..’panic room’, you said? I wonder how often or how long you seclude yourself in places like this. Do you not like to interact with people?”
“I have talked more in the last week than I have in a while, but I don’t see myself as a hermit--either way, it doesn’t concern you. Give me a moment and I’ll show you around.” He brought ketchup out of the refrigerator and turned back to the counter. His back was straight and his movements were a fluid natural grace.
“I want to remind you again of the rules. If you should break any of them, we part ways immediately. Rule number one: You answer my questions completely and honestly. Rule number two: Continue to control your base desires if you have urges. Rule number three: You will complete a task I ask you to complete some time in the future.” Namahage-san turned around.
I nodded. “As I indicated before, I’m fine with those conditions.”
“Good... Well, this room is both practical and aesthetic. The electricity is converted from solar paneling outside. The air is kept fresh from the foliage and circulating fans while at the same time the garden provides fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. I stock the pool over there for when I want fresh fish. There are hidden sideboards for compost and recycling in the kitchen. To unlock them, say ‘compost’ or ‘recycling’.
The refrigerator has eggs and tofu. The stand alone freezer contains frozen meats and shrimp and the cupboards should contain the oil, spices and seasonings you need. There are even several bottles of sake--some are marked for cooking and the rest for drinking.”
“Do you have a thing for self-contained spaces?” This space was made for a single person to live comfortably as a hikikomori nearly indefinitely. He seems both fully prepared as well as quite comfortable with being alone. What would make this person consider sharing his space with another?
He side-stepped the question. “As you may have guessed, having a cell brought here or binding you is troublesome. To ensure you respect my personal space, the collar you’re wearing will constrict automatically if you should come closer than three feet of me--though I can activate it at will at any distance. It’ll beep once in warning as you close the gap, but once the constriction starts, it will continue for about two minutes--until you pass out and I reset it.” He walked over with a platter for each of us.
He was wearing a different yukata and mask from yesterday, this one was white and had a wider opening around the mouth. “Just how many oni masks do you have?”
He chuckled as he laid out the plates and sat down. “I needed a new one to allow me to eat in front of you. It would be a pain to keep my face hidden.” He said this but still angled himself on the sofa opposite me so I couldn’t see him directly. I want to touch him. To be this close to my one true pair and not be able to reach out to him was--. Something in my chest tightened. Agony.
“Once again, thank you for the food.” I said. This is delicious. We ate in relative silence. “It’s been ages since I had anything resembling a home-cooked meal. I count myself lucky to have it twice in a row.”
“Hmm, well... You’ll need to provide for yourself going forward. I will not always be available to babysit you. There are several cookbooks on the counter.” He gathered our plates and headed for the kitchen. “I’m sure if you put your mind to it you won’t burn the rice.”
He grabbed the remote on the counter and punched a few buttons..
“So, umm, did you learn to cook like this from books?” I asked as he sat back down across from me.
“Shh, not now.” As he shushed me a screen slowly descended from the ceiling. Within moments our side of the room darkened and the screen changed from white to blue. “This won’t take long, but this is something I’ve been looking forward to so hold on to your questions till afterwards.” He pressed another button on the remote and the BBC news anchor announced the next story.
“Earlier this week in Las Vegas, what was originally described as a scuffle among guests turned into the biggest bust the US has experienced since the seizure of over 21 tons of cocaine $6.9 billion found in a Sylmar, California warehouse.“
“In this case, 250 firearms and thousands of pounds of ammunition-enough weapons to arm a small militia; $1 million in cocaine, heroine, and marijuana; and an unprecedented $6 billion worth of black market heat stimulants were confiscated from the Hotel Mesoamerica resort.”
As the news anchors discussed the economic value of the goods found, Namahage minimized the window and opened another, this time it was the CNN Breaking news.
“But it isn’t all folks. More than eighty-six Omega men, women, and children forced into modern day sex slavery were rescued. At least fifty of the victims were on the International Missing Children List. After medical treatment and extensive mental health counseling, they will finally be united with their families.”
The news anchor continued. “Meanwhile, the list of perpetrators participating in the VIP-Alpha organization continue to grow as those arrested plea for reduced sentences or amnesty in exchange for information. So far the roll call includes:
Seven politicians hailing from Cambodia, China, India, Korea, Russia, Nigeria and New Zealand have been arrested for their alleged involvement on site--human trafficking is the one instance where diplomatic immunity does not apply. Per the ABO World Accords, extradition will only be offered in the cases where human trafficking penalties are more stringent in the home country.
The CEO from English Petroleum, EVP of Marketing from THOT Industries of Germany, a member of the Board of Directors from BxB France Finance, Insurance and Investments; and the CFO of the Netherlands-based, Dualever corporation.
A host of sports and entertainment celebrities have also been rounded up for questioning.”
Namahage-san shut off the television. The screen recessed back into the ceiling and the lighting in the room slowly brightened. He dropped his chin to his chest and said nothing.
The silence eventually grew uncomfortable. I was dumbfounded at how I narrowly avoided being among the list of businessmen arrested at the hotel. “It looks like the raid was successful. All the masks are off.”
Namahage-san raised his head. “Successful? Is that what you call it? Only eighty one Omegas were freed from captivity and these were only the consorts those assholes brought with them to flaunt or trade but there are hundreds of thousands of victims out there and they’re losing hope every minute. I was counting on liberating at least a thousand.”
“I’m sure those who’ve been indicted will have their residences searched, they’ll turn up more people being held captive. You just have to give it a little more time.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. Yeah.” He turned his head away and lifted the mask to wipe his face on his sleeve. When he settled himself, he was all business.
“You asked me something about cooking earlier? Yes, there are cookbooks on the shelf on the counter there.” He pointed.” The spices and ingredients for most of the dishes are in the kitchen, somewhere.”
I had already forgotten the question, but he obviously wanted to change the subject... “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He rummaged through a small messenger bag by the sofa. “Anyway, you asked for me to share information with you on Omega-kun, not myself. Do stay focused, won’t you?” He brought out a folder. “Here.”
“I was just making small talk.” I said as I opened the file and scanned through the contents.
This tells me nothing. Omega-kun could just be one in a long line of identities Namahage has created. How do I get to the real him? “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this file isn’t helpful. Just knowing the information contained here wouldn’t be enough for you to find him when he didn’t want to be found.”
“You asked me for all the information I had on your target and this is it.” Namahage-san topped off his cup and took another sip of tea.
“You don’t even have his real name listed in here.” I added.
“His name is unimportant. He is a computer hacker with an affinity for mathematics and algorithms. He is adept at creating counterfeit identities for several countries, he uses pseudonyms so often he may not even remember his name. He stays off the grid completely--uses disposable phones only, has no personal bank accounts--”
I interrupted. “Omega-kun told me he felt paranoid enough to leave his apartment and spend the night on the streets. How did you anticipate this? Or did you have him followed?”
Namahage-san shrugged. “You Alphas used to be revered for your hunting abilities but your senses have been dulled beyond the ability to sniff out sex. I find it funny you would come to me for help.” That is true. Damn! This is so irritating. I was starting to realize I was going through all the motions of being an Alpha but I hadn’t fully embraced using my Alpha instincts to the fullest. If it were my father, he would have realized this was his mate by scent alone.
I just stared at him and waited.
Namahage-san continued. “Any hunter worth his honor has the ability to think like his prey. You look at this file as if it’s meaningless information but there is actually a wealth of knowledge in there.”
“For example?” I asked.
“Here you have a known Omega who doesn’t want to be found by the authorities but still needs to stay visible enough for his clients to reach him for his livelihood. Every major government keeps a census of its population of Omegas--supposedly to estimate future population growth.”
“Right, AO Corporation uses data like this to project market needs for the production of estrus-suppressant drugs.” Oh! “How does Omega-kun obtain his heat medications? It can be difficult to stay off the grid when you need regular, traceable prescriptions.”
“It’s true. See, you’ve already got the hang of it...They say a mind once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions or something.”
“Namahage-san, what did Omega-kun do for you to punish him with this task?”
“A five- year’s supply of suppressants was stolen about a month ago from AO Corporation--it was tagged to be donated to a charity in Oahu, Hawaii. Two of the culprits in the theft confessed there was a third person who fit Omega-kun’s description.”
Given my position in the finance department, I knew about the theft. I also learned the specific batch of the product was found defective and was set to be destroyed not donated to charity. It was why AO never pursued the thieves; a quality batch of medications had been donated instead. “Ah, so when you found out he was the third party you approached him either as a client or as a gaming comrade?”
“You could say so, yes, it was how I found him originally... As a client who needed a valid membership ID to enter the VIP lounge. Also, on this particular occasion, he requested to be paid via Western Union and I learned he retrieved his funds from a location near a popular rave. I figured his plan was to find a partner for the night once the club closed so Iured him with a decoy. I inadvertently ended up saving him since the Alpha club was able to track him after he hacked their systems.”
“I see. How is it you have so much insight into how Omega-kun thinks?” I may be reaching but I’m hoping he’ll let something slip. Something I can use to get closer to him.
“He and I are kindred spirits who value our privacy. It isn’t much of a stretch for me to get into his noggin.”
I looked around. “Yes, you both seem set on keeping others at a distance for your own survival. “Umm, I wonder-?” I stood and gathered the dishes. “I’ll give washing these a go.”
“I’m glad to see you were actually raised with some manners even if you’ve never washed dishes before; lucky for you I have an electric dishwasher there so you only need to place them on the racks”...”So, what were you wondering exactly?”
“When you told me how Omega-kun hates Alphas- it’s difficult to defend my position without knowing what it is he hates about Alphas. Maybe he resents Alphas because we don’t have to struggle for survival. But it still doesn’t make sense.” I opted not to use the dishwasher; going through the motions would help me think; so I ran soap and water into the sink and started scrubbing.
“How so?” He asked.
“Living day-to-day like this has got to be lonely. Focusing on just existing can’t possibly be a fulfilling way to live. At least having a partner, someone he could depend on to share the burden-”
“And you think you’re the partner for the job? You, an Alpha? You’re already looking down on how he lives. Making assumptions about whether he is happy or fulfilled or whatnot. Who are you to judge?”
Evidently I had hit a nerve with Namahage-san because frustration broke through his normally calm demeanor. “Namahage-san, I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m really referring to my own experience. I feel as though I met the other half of my soul and now he’s gone. I cannot accept this sense of loss.”
“You keep overlooking or outright ignoring two key pieces of information. He is an Omega and he is overly cautious of all people, but especially Alphas. As an Alpha, you could force him to submit to you with your pheromones or your physical strength and he would be helpless against it. Once you pair bond with him, he wouldn’t even have the will to resist, he’d lose his very identity.”
My hand slipped as I was placing the second plate on the drying rack and it shattered at my feet.
“No, that isn’t how it works. The bond goes both ways. As his Alpha, I would only use my abilities to protect and nurture my mate. I could never hurt him physically nor mentally--it would be against both my instincts and my heart.” I have to get him to really look at me, to get past his fear.
“Step out of the shards so I can sweep this up.“ Namahage-san was already there with a broom and dustpan. I stepped back.
“And as far as losing his identity,” I continued, “Doesn’t this happen to all couples regardless of gender? Isn’t ‘two people becoming one’ the very definition of being a couple?”
“Ow! Damnit.” Namahage-san cut his finger as he bent to pick up the dustpan. I stepped forward to help.
Beeeep! The collar at my neck constricted. I thought he said there would be a warning! I can’t draw in a breath to cough. I clawed at my neck to try to pull it off.
“It’s a malfunction. This isn’t supposed to happen! Try to stay calm, you’re releasing your pheromones.“ …”Damn! The remote isn’t working!”
My lungs burned. My vision filled with spots and then everything faded to white.
“San...Oshiri-san! Breathe, you have to breathe.” He alternated between blowing air into my mouth and massaging my chest. My neck was free of the collar.
I flailed on reflex as I gulped air and headbutted him hard when I sat up. “Namahage-san, I’m sorry. It was an accident. Are you okay?” He had fallen over with a thud. Had I knocked him out? I picked him up as my breathing steadied and carried him to the sofa. His mask had fallen halfway off. It was him. My fated pair. I pulled the mask off completely and let it drop to the floor.
God, he is beautiful. I could never grow tired of looking at this man. I’ve wanted to touch him for so long. The spell of him drew me in like a flame to a moth. I caressed his forehead and the side of his face trying to memorize every curve and bone. His skin was buttery smooth. I ran my thumb over his soft, full lips and bent down to him. I could smell it again, a sweet, earthy smell I’d come to crave. It was stronger, thicker than before. His eyes flew open.
“No! Stop it! S-stay away from me.” The clear counter-tenor was back, he was using his own voice now. Namahage-san pushed me away and scooted as far back on the sofa as he could;the voice changing adapter- no larger than the size of a quarter, fell loose from his clothes and onto the floor from the sudden movement. He looked at me with horror. “Where’s the mask?”
“I’ve seen you now, Omega-kun, why do you need it?” I asked puzzled.
He found it himself and held it over his face. “Your pheromones are still strong and you’re erect from the near asphyxiation. The mask is designed to mute the effects of your scent.”
“You don’t need to be afraid of me, my soulmate. I just want to love you.” I pulled his waist toward me and loosened his obi. It reminded me of the dream. I kissed the path up his stomach into the crease of his chest. He squirmed underneath the weight of my body but I held his wrists still. His skin tasted both sweet and salty. He smelled so amazing. I want more.
I ground my body against him and pulled my already throbbing cock next to his. He trembled and his stifled moans teased my lust. I was aroused beyond thought. I want to hear more of his sweet voice. I tugged his underwear down and squeezed and stroked our members together. My hand was hot and sticky from precum. His scent grew stronger. Yes. More. Just a little more. I will make you mine. I imagined him writhing beneath me.
“Mmm.” His nipples were erect and I bit and sucked the left one. “Haah.” I’m close I may come as soon as I enter him. Gotta slow down but it feels so good. I wanted to see his feel good face so I looked up into his eyes. He didn’t have the look of ecstasy I expected. He had bitten his lip hard enough for blood to drip down the side of his mouth and mingle with his tears. His eyes were shut tight. I released him and moved back.
It sobered me from the trance. I screwed up. “O-Omega-kun? Are you okay? I’m--I’m sorry. I don’t want to do anything you don’t like. I’m sorry. I promise, I won’t touch you again without your permission. Omega-kun?”
He stood up in silence and re-arranged his yukata and obi; he looked away from me. “Alpha-san. I gave you what you asked for and now I want the favor you promised in exchange.” His voice was flat. “I need blood, urine and semen samples. You can provide the semen now, since it’s convenient. The receptacle for it is in the bathroom’s medicine closet behind the mirror. When you’re finished, insert the tube into the slot by the door.”
When I returned from the bathroom, Omega-kun was gone. I messed up again. How will I ever get him to trust me like this?
I found a note on the kitchen sink and a cup with herbs. It smelled like the same concoction he’d given me to sleep before. The note instructed me to drink it at 9 pm. The timer on the microwave displayed 5:39 pm.
With nothing left to do, I picked up a cookbook and sat down. Maybe I can cook him something in apology? Really, I had nothing--nothing I could win him over with.
By seven-thirty, I was on my second attempt at making the rice just right and my third attempt at mahi mahi simmered in sake sauce. I only had to add hot water to the miso soup packet but I was still rather pleased with myself on the results. Finally, I picked fresh spinach, purple cabbage leaves and grape tomatoes from the garden. I shredded a carrot into the salad. Five bandaids later, I arranged both meals on the table and waited. He can easily see what I’m doing on camera if this place is set up like the former warehouse.
“Please come back, Namahage-san...I promise to behave.” I said out loud, hoping he could hear me. Eight o’clock came and went and my stomach growled in anticipation. I gave in to temptation and ate. At a quarter of nine, I placed plastic wrap over his untouched dishes and sat them in the refrigerator. I heated a measure of water and added it to the herbs. I drank the tea without bothering to strain it and returned to the bedroom area.
I woke up the next morning on cool, soft grass. I was being roughly shaken by two large men in white uniforms. “Huh?” I struggled in their grasp. “Where am I?”
“Sir, are you Oshiri Haru?” An older man with a touch of grey and glasses approached us.
“I am.” I said. I stopped struggling and stood still. Looking around, I could see we were in a rural area, and yes we were standing just inside the gates to a large estate.
“Your family reported you missing several weeks ago when you didn’t report for work after returning from America. This morning we found you outside the gates dressed in nothing more than this mask, a fundoshi with your ID with a note attached and straw cape.”
“What did the note say?” I asked.
“On one side it had your name and on the other it said, ‘Thanks for the meal, I don’t mind slightly crunchy rice’.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I giggled like a loon.
“Ah, Oshiri-sama?” The man with the glasses wrinkled his forehead, he looked more concerned now.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. A friend played a practical joke on me is all. Where is this place though?”
“Oshiri-sama, welcome to Tokyo Psychiatric Hospital. I am Dr. Kobayashi. We’re here to help you. Just stay calm, our treatments will have you out of this institution and back as a contributing member of society in no time.”