I floated in and out of consciousness, relaxed. The earthy scent of allspice surrounded me, warm and comforting. The murmuring of voices threatened to wake me completely if I concentrated on what they said. So, I didn’t.
“I can’t believe it, Tanaka-san! To think there were so many times I almost had him in my reach only to grasp at shadows. And here he is lying in my lap where I can touch him like this.”
My head rested on a muscled upper thigh. Long, cool fingers caressed my forehead and down the side of my face. They brushed across my lips as a familiar, low-toned voice continued. “Watanabe, Eito at last.” He sighed. “Your photo doesn’t do you justice. From bishonen to ikemen in just ten years.
“These deep-set eyes, unblemished honey-brown skin over high cheekbones, in a soft square-shaped face with an angular jawline. Hair like this--the color and texture of a fine, velvety brandy can’t be captured in still life. And of course, this smell, hmm. How can a scent that aroused me almost painfully hours ago now seem so comforting?” He inhaled slowly. “It reminds me of sandalwood and a sweet fragrance somewhere between vanilla and honeysuckle. It’s much fainter now, though.”
The speaker continued increasing the volume as if he had looked up to address someone further away. “I didn’t expect a hidden ponytail under the hat. Apparently, he had more than a few disguises at his disposal.”
A nasal tenor responded from farther away. “Yes, I concede he does have a clean, youthful look about him, for an Omega, but he is too dark for my taste.”
“Well, Watanabe-san is just my type.”
The other voice sounded closer now. “How brazen, he doesn’t even wear a collar!”
“Well, there isn’t much point in wearing a collar if he wanted to impersonate a well-to-do Alpha or Beta, Tanaka-san. In any case, I’ve given myself a rut inhibitor. We can’t have him go into heat in the air.”
“Hmm, true. What is so special about this one? I would think any Omega would do. It would have been more efficient in terms of time and resources to use an escort service rather than chase around after him for months.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I intend to make him mine.”
“Well bite him already and make it so. There is no need to be so extravagant. ”Tanaka-san’s voice sounded bored.
“Tanaka-san. I didn’t set out after him simply to pursue him like in some silly child’s game. I seek his favor and affection.” I growled, “ Do not look down on my special person just because he is an Omega and you’re biased. He’s a much better human being than you think.”
“How so, Oshiri-sama?”
“He set up and manages several Omega-support centers in Japan, Hawaii and Australia. These centers provide services such as suicide hotlines, low-cost or free heat suppressants for low-income Omegas as well as rape-crisis support. He solicits private funding for scholarships and tutoring to help gifted Omegas get access to education not otherwise available to them. His subordinates say he is kind, hard-working and honest.”
“Is that so? I apologize for my ignorance. It is rare to meet an Om-, I mean a person of such character. Managing one charity is no small feat, but several? Internationally?
Still, one wonders about his need for disguise and why none of the cards in his wallet say Watanabe, Eito.”
“I look forward to unraveling the mystery for myself…Eh, Watanabe-san?”
“Ugh, so noisy.” I sat up slowly and looked around. I was on a spacious, private plane. Effectively trapped and caged. My heart sank.
Apparently, I had been lying in Oshiri-san’s lap. An older man in a business suit walked away to give us privacy.
“Are you feeling okay? Do you need a suppressant?” He reached over to me but I waved his hand away.
“I thought you may have hit your head when my men grabbed you, but the doctor said you had passed out from exhaustion and your estrus cycle. You slept for about an hour.”
I said nothing to that.
“It was fortunate you made it through the skirmish in the lounge unscathed. Are you sure you don’t need anything?”
I continued to say nothing.
“I apologize for the rough handling at the airport. I assure you I do not mean you any harm.” He reached out to touch me again, thought better of it and lowered his hand.
I scooted away towards the window. An ocean stretched out below us, no land in sight. “What do you want with me, Oshiri-san?” I rubbed the back of my neck. I intended the gesture to be casual but in reality I was anxious to confirm there were no bite marks. Nothing there, good.
“No need to use honorifics with me, we have history after all. Just ‘Haru’ is fine.”
I combed my fingers through my hair from my scalp to my shoulders. “What do you want with me, Haru?”
He smiled at my use of his name. “I… I feel a connection with you and for a long time now I’ve wanted to seek you out.”
Connection! Connection? This again. “So, did you stay at the hospital long--after I left you?” I had to ask. I wondered about his mental state. When I freed him, I dumped his unconscious body at a mental hospital. I left him wearing a Namahage mask, a straw cape, underwear, and nothing else. I clipped his ID to his fundoshi with a note.
Haru chuckled. “No, I’m not crazy and no, I do not have Stockholm’s syndrome. After my identity was verified, I managed to convince the doctors I was a victim of an elaborate prank. But, I actually did visit as an outpatient there for a time. I suppose I still doubted myself then. And, in case you have any concerns about it, the psychologist I worked with assured me among the key symptoms of Stockholm’s are a feeling you could be killed at any time and a feeling of complete dependence on your captor. You were careful enough with me to gain my cooperation early on and something about your presence felt comforting more so than ominous to me.”
I knew Dr. Kobayashi would take good care of Haru. I tilted my head and rested my chin on my fist. “How did you find me? For that matter, how did you find out my--uh, that identity?”
“May I call you Eit-?”
“No.” I interrupted bluntly.
“Then, Watanabe-kun?” Haru countered my abrupt response.
I rubbed my temples and sighed. “No, I don’t really go by that surname.”
“Omega-kun, then? Or how about Namahage-kun?” He pressed, his voice was teasing now.
I rolled my eyes. “Ha-ha, now with our roles are reversed, shouldn’t I be calling you that?”
When Haru was my captive, I wore a mask in the form of an ogre who admonished kids for bad behavior—the Namahage. I did it for effect and to hide my appearance--as well as to express a slightly twisted sense of humor. I chuckled. “Fine, you can call me Eito if you want and if it means you’ll let me go sooner.” I took a chance and met his eyes with my own. They were no longer dominating me, they were just eyes. Maybe it was my imagination before?
Haru regarded me. “You look even younger when you laugh like that.”
I opened my mouth and almost snapped, “The hell does that mean? I’m three years younger than you.” But I caught myself, pursed my lips and stared.
“I’ve got to admit, I kinda miss the blue hair and piercings. And now I can clearly see your true eye color as well.” Haru added. “In answer to your question, it was through the oni mask that I found you. Some of your blood was on the inside. I had it analyzed and found you through a DNA database. You were initially listed as a pure-bred Alpha but later the listing was rescinded as a false-positive test result. I followed a lead to your parent’s home. This is how I obtained your picture and why I was at the airport.”
“So, we meet again by coincidence?” I mused.
“I like to think it was fate.” Haru said. “Your younger brothers said they hadn’t seen you in over ten years, did you go there to see them?”
I looked down and away when he mentioned my brothers, I didn’t want to think about them or about my parents. That part of my life was over the moment they disowned me.
“No, I didn’t go there to see those people. I was there for business.”
“I see.” Haru fumbled in his pocket and handed me my hairband. I tied up my topknot tightly. “Interesting hairstyle you’ve got going on there. Very traditional.”
“I like variety. I keep it short in the back and sides for business and wear it down when I want to relax.” Some mild turbulence caused the plane to shudder. My gaze was drawn to the other man who rolled a small refreshment cart towards us.
“Eito, this is my attendant and executive secretary, Tanaka-san.” Haru’s attendant bowed politely, and then he offered Haru fresh coffee.
“Hello, Tanaka-san.” I returned his bow and used the opportunity to switch to a seat facing Haru.
“May I offer you something to drink?” Tanaka-san asked.
“Do you have any bottled oolong tea?” He handed me a can in response. “Thank you.” I said. He bowed again and returned the cart to the galley.
I sipped my tea. “So, where are you taking me and when are you going to let me go?”
“Let me have seven days of your time. If you do this for me I will take you anywhere you want to go at the end of the week. You have my word.”
“Seven days... as a prisoner?” I ventured.
“No, as my guest. ”
“And my things?”
“They’ll be waiting for you when we reach our destination.”
His word was good, I had known from our past experience. I relaxed a little. I couldn’t do much else.
”You once argued that sentience and logic separated us humans from beasts. I want you to consider another truth. Beasts can only focus on their daily survival, but humans can focus on really living. Love, passion, laughter, joy, warmth, companionship; these are for humans alone. Aren’t you so blinded by your fear to not be a victim of your own heat; so obsessed with logic and control, you can’t see you’re running away from really living?”
He caught me off-guard with this sudden attack. “No, I...never considered it from that perspective.” It’s true though. I was raised with everyone thinking I’d naturally be an Alpha, me included. Inwardly, I pitied Omegas and was grateful I wasn’t one..until the tests showed I was. Of all the emotions I felt when my world came crashing down, fear was the strongest. Fear of not being in control of my own body during my heats; fear of being abused and assaulted; fear of being rejected for belonging to the so-called breeding class. I shut myself off as a matter of survival without being totally conscious I was doing so.
He knew about one of my hide-aways and I wondered if he deduced my state of mind from just that and our brief conversations while I held him in captivity.
”You mean you don’t see the value in those things? ” Haru asked.
”No, it’s more like...things like love...I’ve seen the beauty of it and I’ve been supportive of it for others. But, I’ve always been an outsider. It’s just something I didn’t think I’d ever get to experience for myself. Maybe it wasn’t meant for me or something. ”
”But it is meant for you. I’m proof of that!” Haru’s voice and the emphasis of his words sounded almost desperate to persuade me.
I held up both hands, palms out and turned away. ”If you’re going to go on a rant again about fated pairs, I don’t want to hear it.”
”Your body reacts when I get close to you.” He pierced the bubble of my personal space and my heartbeat thumped faster. “Your scent gets stronger.” He moved closer still and inhaled. “Am I right?”
”I do have to keep my heart steady and I work harder to stay calm when I’m around you, but it doesn’t mean anything. Giving into pleasure won’t lead to anything good so I have to always keep my reason.” I shrugged. “I also make it a point to be alone most of the time. I don’t interact with any Alphas one-on-one if I can help it.”
”If you really think it doesn’t mean anything, then why didn’t you kiss me that time?”
“Well, I uh…” No way am I telling him I’m not good at kissing. I had sex friends, not lover’s in my past.
“Why don’t you sleep with me? It’s the only way to be sure.” He stood up and began unbuttoning his Oxford.
”Whaaaat?” Where did that come from? I couldn’t keep up with his pace and it irked me a bit. And why is he stripping? He pulled his shirt over his head after releasing the top four buttons. He wore a form-fitting t-shirt underneath. He slipped off his slacks to reveal runner’s sport leggings.
“Eito, do you…hate me?” His voice was steady, dead serious. I looked away from his penetrating gaze again. The view in the window hinted at a land mass breaking above the water up ahead.
“Eito?” He draped his clothes over the seat.
I hid my face in my hand. I did hate him at first. Ridiculously pampered, childish, arrogant. I lumped him in with all Alphas. I wanted to hurt him back then, but I restrained myself and taught him instead. I thought of him as just another Alpha using his privilege to rise above the law. After spending time with him I learned he had a fear of failure that was constantly at odds with a burning desire to work hard and achieve things with his own hands. He was a twisted perfectionist. He lived a life so sheltered he lacked even the most basic of life skills. But he was also brave, open-minded and willing to change; as well as sincerely penitent for the assault he committed in the maelstrom of his first rut. “No, hate is too strong a--”
“How do you feel about me then?” He slipped next to me again while I was sorting out my thoughts and I flinched when he crouched down and placed his hand on my thigh.
“ I..uh” Why did the lightest touch of his hand there set my pulse throbbing?
How do I feel about him? My body has never reacted to the touch of anyone like it does to him. I enjoyed the debates we had despite myself. His sharp mind engaged my own. Challenged me. But my heart? I wouldn’t stand by and see him come to harm but do I care more than this? “I..I wouldn’t wish you any ill, but --? I honestly don’t know.”
The aura of tension around him diminished somewhat. ”Just give me a week to show you what it’s like to really live.”
”It sounds like you’re offering me a choice.”
”Not really. I’m not letting you go so easily. But, I am offering you a challenge. Stay by my side for seven days and let me open your eyes to something new.” A voice over the speaker warned the plane was descending to a lower altitude.
”Why would you want to do this for me?” I asked.
“I like you. I’ve fallen for you-”
”Hnh, sounds like Stockholm’s-” When you don’t know how to respond to something, sarcasm is the best, I always say.
“Then, let me do it because you helped me once and I want to return the favor.”
“I wasn’t trying to help you on purpose.” I snapped.” You don’t owe me any favors.” Geez, I want to be anywhere but here!
“Here, step into this.” Haru held out something like fancy suspenders with a thong in the center.
I complied absently. “Look, I’m not going to sleep with you. I don’t want to. Anyway, aren’t you asking too much?” My thoughts were all over the place trying to keep up with the conversation. He likes me? He’s fallen for me? What am I supposed to do with that?
“Turn around, let me adjust the fastenings.” I turned away from him and heard a rustling behind me.
“The whole concept of really living involves taking a few risks here and there, doing things because it’s fun and exciting to do them. Sex is a perfect example.“
“Listen to what people say!” I said. He tugged me here and there and I heard a series of clicks.
“I heard you. So why don’t you want to sleep with me?”
“It’s just. Um, well what if you bit me? That level of intimacy involves a lot of trust.” The truth was I had been denying myself sex because I knew how addictive it could be.
“Haha, funny you should mention trust at a time like this.” Tanaka-san opened the hatch and we jumped out in tandem.