Shane emerged from his first ever rut drained of energy. He wished it was because he'd fucked Jalen to the point of exhaustion. Unfortunately, it was due to staying awake for two days so he didn't have another goddamn heat dream, while futilely stroking his cock just shy of chaffing. Now, the rut was over, but the frustration chewing at his nerves refused to turn him loose.
Thanks to the Zareen injection, changing him into something different - into an alpha, Shane had several new, powerful urges when it came to Jalen. He wanted to provide for him, give him anything he needed. And he wanted to protect and satisfy his mate. But for the first time in their lives, Jalen was avoiding him. Shane was damn near desperate to be with Jalen, every part of him yearning to be with his mate, but he couldn't force his way into the other man's space. He respected the distance Jalen had put between them, even though the separation was driving him up a wall. Because of that he was without an outlet for these new urges he was just coming to grips with. Hence, the frustration.
At least he had a few ways to work out all this roiling energy. Like now, in the flight simulator. He was completing one of the courses he'd missed during his time off. The controls and screen were different than he used in the Navy, but he'd already become accustomed to them during his short time in the Beals program.
The simulation had him engaged in a firefight against an enemy with small, speedy aircrafts. The goal was simple. Take out the speeders while avoiding hits to his own craft while protecting the slow-moving cargo ship flying with him. He'd already destroyed most of the fighters, utilizing head-on attacks and using himself as bait to draw fire away from the cargo ship. Two ships remained, and they were after him with extreme aggression.
He went into a nose-dive barrel roll to avoid a volley of fire, then manhandled the ship to pull up out of the roll, banking around so fast the sim shuddered. Behind the enemy now, he pressed down with his thumbs to fire both guns simultaneously. The blasts hit his targets dead on, and the planes exploded in front of him. Once the last remnants of the debris drifted away into space, the screen went dark and the same pleasant voice that had welcomed them to the Beals auditorium came from the speakers.
Shane let go of the controls, rolling his wrists while he waited for his results. After a few moments, the screen lit up again and the names and corresponding scores scrolled up like an arcade video game. His heavy-handed maneuvering and borderline reckless risks had paid off; his name sat at the top of the list. Of course, Jalen hadn't gone yet, so that might change.
Shaking his head at Jalen sneaking into his thoughts again, he pressed the button to open the door and stepped out of the simulator. Outside, Shane came face to face with a crowd of awed recruits. The screens outside the machine had his monitor on display, and apparently a group had gathered to watch his run. Someone gave a low, impressed whistle.
"Wow. That was amazing."
"Thank you," Shane said.
As he made his way through the crowd, Shane noted that some of the looks weren't just appreciative of his flying ability. That surprised him. He wasn't used to that type of admiration in a professional setting. A young man approached him with a flirtatious smile, but before he could say anything, an older guy tugged him back.
"Do what we talked about and breathe in."
The young recruit followed the directive, inhaling deeply. Then his shoulders slumped as he pouted.
From that exchange, Shane realized two things. One, something about his scent indicated he had a mate. And two, the word was out and people knew their bodies had changed.
Unsure how to address the recruit's disappointment, Shane offered the young man a somewhat apologetic smile. He gave the rest of the crowd one last nod of acknowledgement then headed out of the simulation room. On his way out, he passed Tevoris, who leaned against the wall next to the door, his feet crossed at the ankles and arms folded over his chest.
"How are things going?"
Shane didn't stop when he answered. "I just beat the course with the highest score in the program, so I'd say pretty well."
Tevoris straightened from the wall and followed him from the room.
"I'm not talking about the program. As you well know."
Shane looked at the alien. Since this was the one person who could give him some advice on his situation with Jalen, he decided to be honest. "Not well. I've never been so exhausted and frustrated in my entire fucking life." Cursing in front of others was out of character for him, but he was well beyond the point of caring about politeness.
"I disagreed with their decision not to disclose the full truth of the enhancement and the effects it would have on humans. Perhaps I should have tried harder to change their minds."
"You think?" His snark earned him a half-exasperated, half-amused look from Tevoris before he continued.
"On my home planet, alphas court the person they want to bond with. Don't you have equivalent traditions in your society?"
"Yes, we date. But I can't exactly take Jalen out for dinner and a movie while we're on lockdown here. Besides, he's not speaking to me anyway, so I doubt asking him out would help."
"Maybe you could present him with a gift? On Zareen that's how we express serious interest. You have access to the company store where such items can be procured."
Shane considered it. "A gift would be nice."
"What do you want to give him?"
Shane scrubbed a hand over his hair, thinking of all the ways he wanted to care for Jalen. In particular, how he wanted to make sure the other man was snug and warm in bed since he wasn't there to see to it himself. "Oddly enough, a blanket," he answered. Tevoris looked delighted at his answer.
"That's perfect! Omegas love nesting materials. And it's ingrained in alphas and bets to make sure our omega mates have a comfortable nest."
"Nesting?" Shane asked with a frown. Then he sighed and shook his head without waiting for an answer from Tevoris. "Never mind. We'll have to figure that out on our own, right?"
"Yes. Although..." He paused for a moment, coming to a halt in the middle of the hallway. "There is one thing I want to make clear."
Shane stopped too. "And that is?"
"Alphas don't take or use force. We invite someone to be our mate, and if the person we have the urge to bond with feels the same, they grace us with a yes. To do otherwise leads to disastrous consequences."
Shane detected an odd note to the other man's tone. "You sound like you've got a little experience with that."
Tevoris smiled a little, but it was tinged with sadness. He resumed walking. "Unfortunately, yes. I won't go into my own failed mating history, but do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I would never take anything from Jalen that he doesn't want to give," Shane responded with fervent honesty. Not only was using force not part of his personality, but he would never do anything to hurt Jalen.
"That's good to hear." After only a few steps, Tevoris stopped walking again and nodded at the door to their right.
Shane looked and saw they'd arrived at the Beals company store. Apparently Tevoris had been leading him there all along.
"Good luck finding the right gift."
Shane held his hand out. "Thank you for the advice." Tevoris seemed surprised, but he accepted the handshake before saying goodbye and striding off down the hallway.
Left on his own, Shane went into the store. Having the shop was a smart decision. Although the program provided the recruits with all of the basics, and they'd been allowed to bring a few extras, there were always items people would unexpectedly need on a prolonged stay away from home. There were different toiletries for those who didn't want to use the brand provided by Beals. Trinkets and t-shirts to take home to friends and family as souvenirs. And an unusually large supply of blankets. Apparently the Beals people knew about omegas and nesting and had prepared for it.
A woman with short, black hair and an Air Force emblem pinned to her black shirt stood in front of one of the tables, eyeing the stacks of blankets. Her nametag identified her as Lieutenant Wu. Shane politely nodded at her before he began looking over the choices too.
"Bonding with an omega?" she asked.
Shane looked back up and saw her watching him with a curious smile. "Yes. I guess this is an obvious sign."
"If it's not now it will be soon. It's odd, but I want to do anything they ask of me. Charlie mentioned the blanket on their bed wasn't soft enough, so here I am."
She chose a pale cream blanket with a satin border. Shane chose one in a deep, midnight blue with constellations embroidered on it in gold thread.
They walked to the register together, still chatting as they waited their turn to pay.
"I'm assuming everyone here is going through something similar."
"Everyone left you mean. They did the first round of eliminations two days ago. Those who were cut from the program didn't change for whatever reason. Guess they were resistant to it."
"Ah, I see."
"How did you miss that? Were you not at the assembly they had yesterday where they explained about the enhancement?"
"No. I was uh... occupied with my omega for a few days."
The confusion on the lieutenant’s face cleared, replaced by speculation.
"I think something is about to happen for us too. We've had a couple of really intense dreams. I started to go see the med team about them, but I didn't want to end up failing a psych eval because of it."
Shane shook his head. "Don't bother. We already did and found out they're a normal part of the Zareen mating process."
Her eyebrows drew together in a quizzical frown. "Mating process..."
Shane didn't see any point in keeping the secret as they'd been asked to do. This woman was clearly about to go through it herself and Beals hadn't exactly engendered a sense of loyalty in him with their unethical medical experiments. He explained about the heats and ruts.
She looked as shell shocked as Shane had when he'd learned of all this. To her credit, she quickly shook it off.
"Got any advice for me?"
"Yeah. Eat lots of carbs beforehand. You're going to need the energy."
She looked at him in shocked silence, like she was waiting for him to say he was kidding. When he didn't, she barked a deep laugh that was almost at odds were her petite frame.
"Okay, then. Thanks. I'll be sure to do that." Still chuckling, she paid for her blanket, waved goodbye to Shane and left.
After making his own purchase, Shane made his way to Jalen's room. A quick knock went unanswered and he didn't want to invade Jalen's space by using the guest code. But he didn't want to leave the bag unattended either. He doubted anyone would steal it, he just wanted to be sure Jalen knew the gift was from him. As he stood there thinking, the knowledge of what to do came to him.
Guided by instinct, Shane took the blanket from the bag and brought it up to his face. Then he rubbed the soft fabric over his skin, focusing at the juncture of throat and shoulder where the Zareen injection had pooled. When he was done, he wrapped the blanket back up and set the bag down in front of the door. Shane looked at the brown bag with the red Beals logo for a moment before going back down the hall to the elevator. He'd brought the gift. It was up to Jalen whether or not he accepted it.
* * *
"You look like I feel."
Jalen looked up from the Beals pilot manual he was blankly staring at to see Charlie standing in front of him. "Excuse me?"
"You look confused as hell, and I bet it's not because of that book you're reading. Mind if I sit down?"
Jalen nodded at the chair across from him. "Not at all."
Charlie pulled the chair out and sat down. "You're an omega too, right? I'm still learning to sniff that out."
Mindful of the fact that they were in the library, Jalen laughed softly. "Like a hound dog. And yes."
"It's weird. I just recently accepted being non-binary and now I have this extra thing attached to me that feels heavily weighted toward the feminine side. I was really close to withdrawing from the program after they informed us about the injection but Peyton convinced me to stay."
"Leaving the program was never an option for me," Jalen said. "Especially once we found out the change is irreversible. But I am confused about some of the details of being an omega."
They sat quietly for a few moments before Charlie spoke again.
"You know. There's someone we could ask about all this."
"They've already stated they don't want us asking questions or sharing information. Or at least, that's what they said when Shane and I met with the heads of the program privately."
"Pfft. That's the problem with you military types. You follow orders too easily. You need a rabble rouser like me to get some answers," they said with a grin. "Let's go find Tevoris. I bet he'll give us more information." Charlie stood up from the table and looked down at Jalen expectantly.
Jalen grinned too. He closed the manual he'd been attempting to read, and put it on the re-shelving cart. "Okay, then. Let's go."
They left the library together, determined to get some answers. As they wandered the campus looking for Tevoris, Jalen filled Charlie in on what the Zareenian had already shared. The other recruit responded with wide eyes and a whispered, Holy shit. That summed up Jalen's own reaction when he'd learned about going into heat, so he just nodded and continued walking.
Eventually they found Tevoris outside in one of the small courtyards. He sat with one of the other members of his team that they'd only seen in passing, both of them looking at the screen of a piece of technology that clearly hadn't been produced on earth.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but Charlie and I have a few questions. Is now a good time for a meeting?"
Charlie snorted and muttered under their breath, "So official."
Tevoris and the other Zareenian stood. "Now is fine," Tevoris said as the other man smiled and excused himself. "How can I help you?"
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, Jalen got right to the point. "We want to know more about being omegas."
"I see. That's not surprising, since the description Dr. Oliver gave during our meeting wasn't exactly clear."
"I heard it wasn't much better during the program-wide assembly."
"No, it wasn't." The wind blew, ruffling the tendrils of white hair at Tevoris's temples as he thought for a moment. "Dr. Oliver told you alphas are dominant, omegas are submissive and betas are in the middle. However, there's much more to it than that. And it's not a hierarchy of power as Dr. Oliver somewhat presented. It's more of a different set of personality traits that are typical for each class. Give an alpha, a beta, and an omega each the same problem and they'll all solve it, but using different skills and methods that are best suited for their class."
"So, omegas aren't forced to obey alphas?" Jalen asked with suspicion.
Tevoris's eyebrows shot up before he burst out laughing. "I can't speak for all worlds, but that's not the case on Zareen. Omegas can be soft and sweet but are also strong and fierce, as evidenced by you two bearing down on me with such determination. Trying to force an omega to obey would be like trying to force one of your domesticated cats to do what you want. From your culture's videos, I've seen that is extremely difficult."
"But omegas are more feminine?"
Jalen remained quiet as Charlie waited for the answer to the question that had been bothering them.
"The ABO classifications aren't tied to your society's definition of gender, although I can see why you would think so. The softness of an omega is a personality trait that is accepted in any gender and it's the same for alphas and betas. Look at your Lieutenant Wu for example. She's an alpha, but she didn't suddenly become more masculine."
"Huh," Charlie said with a slow nod. "Your society sounds kind of awesome."
"As a Zareenian I agree. But I have to admit that it is not perfect. There are those who don't approve when someone exhibits traits outside their classification. And life can be awkward for people that don't have the physical characteristics typical for their class."
Charlie frowned. "That sounds less awesome."
Tevoris gave one of his unconcerned shrugs.
"One last question," Charlie said. "What about the heats Jalen just told me about? Heats are usually for animals trying to breed. Does that mean any omega can give birth?"
"No," Tevoris said with a firm shake of his head. "There are planets where that is the norm, but it's not the case for Zareenians. Heats and slick are a result of our species evolving to facilitate bonding and sex between partners. As your people start exploring beyond your world, you'll find that this occurs fairly frequently among various races."
Jalen sensed Charlie relaxing now that their questions were answered. Unfortunately, the tension didn't leave his own shoulders.
"You have another question."
Jalen stiffened further, surprised at Tevoris so easily picking up on his disquiet. Charlie looked back and forth between him and Tevoris.
"You know what? I think I've got all the answers I want for right now. I'll leave you guys to talk alone."
They went back inside, leaving Jalen alone with Tevoris.
"You resisted your heat, didn't you?" Tevoris asked in his blunt way.
Jalen didn't bother to deny it. "How'd you know that?"
"An omega who has a good heat with their partner comes out the other side happy, with a vibrancy that only comes from being satisfied. You, however, look haggard. And you smell miserable."
"What does misery smell like?"
Tevoris wrinkled his nose. "Awful. Like burning hair. What happened?"
"We tried to go through with it for the good of the mission. But to me, it didn't feel right being intimate simply because lab created hormones gave us a false feeling of desire for each other."
A frown drew Tevoris's brows together before he shook his head. "That's not how our mating works. The Zareen DNA doesn't force you to mate with anyone and the attraction and desire you experienced can't be created from nothing. They have to develop naturally, just like with humans. Bonding only kicks in once that happens. Our physical pleasure is more intense than what humans usually experience. But there's nothing manufactured about it."
"Why did it happen so fast for us? The others in the program are just now realizing they've changed, while we've already had a..." He faltered, still embarrassed at giving a name to what his body had gone through. Tevoris supplied the word for him.
"It built on what was already there, on both sides."
When Jalen didn't reply to that, Tevoris asked him another question.
"How would you feel if you were accepted to the space program, but Shane wasn't?"
Jalen visibly flinched, his mouth pulling down into a frown. Space was their dream. They'd come this far together, they would reach the stars together. Apparently, his reaction was enough of an answer for Tevoris, because his lips curled up in a knowing smirk.
"I bet if I were to ask him that question, I'd get the same response. You two were already meant to be together. The Zareen mating bond just helped you get there."
Jalen thought about that, afraid to hope it could be true. He'd hidden his true feelings about Shane for years, pushed them down so far that he'd convinced himself he'd only ever think of Shane as a friend he just happened to think was attractive. Could Shane have done the same?
A beeping noise came from Tevoris's pocket.
"I have to go," Tevoris said as he silenced whatever tech made the sound. "Sit with this information for some time if you need to. But I hope eventually you learn to trust your instincts. They won't lead you wrong."
Jalen nodded his thanks and stepped aside so Tevoris could go wherever he'd been summoned. After a few moments of simply standing in the sunlight, letting the fresh air wash over him, Jalen went back inside too. When he arrived on his hall, he saw a small bag on the floor outside his room. Picking up the bag, he reached inside and pulled out a soft, dark blue blanket. He put it to his nose and breathed in, inhaling Shane's strong, comforting scent.
Jalen sighed. He went into his room and unfolded the blanket, admiring the gleaming gold constellations embroidered into the fabric. The gift was undoubtedly from Shane, and receiving it made him feel good and settled. It was as if something clicked into place, satisfying a need within him that he didn't even realize he had.
Kicking off his shoes, Jalen undressed down to his skivvies. He curled up in bed, arranging the blanket around him so that he was safe and warm, surrounded by Shane's scent. It was the best feeling. Thankful that he didn't have any other responsibilities for the day, Jalen closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Jalen took a few days to think everything over as Tevoris had suggested. He wanted to be one hundred percent at peace with his personal new normal before he added in a changed relationship with Shane. So, he observed his own behavior. His determination to reach his goals was still there. He continued to step up and be assertive in class. And most importantly, he was still a bad ass pilot, as proven by his name sitting at the top of the flight simulation leader board.
There were differences in his physical abilities and his body had changed in unexpected ways. But the core of what made up Jalen A. Morgan remained unchanged. Once he had that mental assurance, he was ready to talk to Shane.
Unfortunately, their schedules didn't immediately allow for a private discussion. He had a chance to offer Shane a smile across the cafeteria at breakfast, receiving a surprised, yet happy smile in return before they were both occupied with training. Then in the afternoon, they ran into each other in the hallway. He reached out and lightly touched the back of Shane's hand. "Can we talk later tonight?"
"I would love that."
The exchange was short but served its purpose. That evening, they were finally free to talk. Yet, Jalen purposely ate dinner alone. He didn't want to have such an important conversation while they were surrounded by other diners. Once Jalen finished his meal, he sought out Shane. The other man had just finished eating too. "Let's go outside," Jalen suggested.
Shane stood, and they walked next to each other in awkward silence until they reached an exit door for one of the interior courtyards. There were a couple of little stone benches placed under shade trees, but Jalen chose to remain standing. His stomach trembling with nerves, he turned to face Shane.
"I received your gift. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I hope you know there are no strings attached to it. I gave you the blanket because I wanted you to have it, not because I was demanding your attention."
"I know. I made the decision to talk to you completely on my own." He paused and grinned. "But the blanket did help me take several excellent naps."
The teasing comment eased some of the tension between them.
"I didn't know you were a nap-type person," Shane said in a more relaxed tone.
"I didn't either. It's just one of those things that I'm dealing with after the injection." That was as good a segue as Jalen was going to get, so he plowed on. "I thought the injection was responsible for something else as well. Turns out it wasn't."
Shane went still. "What something would that be?"
"Our attraction to each other."
The statement hung in the air between them, soft and fragile as cloud mist, yet so powerful and important.
His nerves increasing, Jalen had to look away from Shane's handsome face lit by the moonlight. He glanced down at their boots, noting the difference in size between them before he continued. "According to Tevoris, the Zareen DNA didn't cause us to seek each other out the way we did. The feelings were already there." He hesitated, looking up at Shane from beneath his lashes. "Do you think that's true?" Jalen held his breath, waiting for his friend's response. Shane had obviously been on board with their physical intimacy, but that wasn't a guarantee he wanted anything more.
"I know it's true. At least, it is on my side."
Jalen's shoulders sagged with relief, and the breath he was holding rushed out of his lungs, accompanied by a question. "Really?"
Shane smiled softly, and to Jalen's surprise, his eyes started to glow silver.
"Jalen, I've loved you since we sat next to each other in the barbershop to get our first high and tight. Probably before then, I just didn't recognize it for what it was. I never said anything because you dreamed of the Air Force, while I wanted to join the Navy like my father. So, I watched you fly out of my life, always hoping there would be a day where we could come together. The Beals Space Exploration Program was a better opportunity than I'd ever hoped for. Both for our careers and us on a personal level."
I'd planned to tell you how I felt once we were accepted into the program and finally in the same place, but then Beals and his crew decided to mess with evolution and things happened so fast. I was concerned you'd think such a high-pressure environment wasn't the right time for personal relationships. So, I convinced myself to focus on the mission, and once things calmed down I'd confess. That was wrong. I should have been honest about the way I felt before I touched you." He reached out and brushed a fingertip down Jalen's cheek. "Before our first kiss. And I'm sorry I wasn't." He started to drop his hand.
Jalen quickly grasped Shane's wrist, stopping him from pulling away. "I wasn't honest either," he said in a rush. "I never looked too closely at my feelings for you."
"Because I was afraid of what I would see. That I love you. That I've always loved you. I just... let it stay buried beneath the layer of our friendship because I didn't know how or even if I should mention it. It was easier that way."
"I don't want to do what's easy anymore. If I can be brave enough to try for a life in space, I can be brave enough to live that life with my best friend as my partner. Or maybe as my mate. I'm not sure which word to use."
Shane stepped forward, easing into Jalen's space. "I like mate. It makes me feel like you're mine and I'm yours."
"I like mate too," Jalen whispered. He leaned in close, seeking Shane's warmth. Shane slid his arms around him, hesitantly at first, then confidently and securely once Jalen nodded his permission.
"I know I've already told you, but I have to say it again. I love you."
Jalen tilted his head back to look up at his best friend... his mate. "Tell me you love me whenever you feel like it."
"I will. I promise."
With so much settled between them, Jalen felt safe enough to tease. "You should kiss me when you feel like it too." Shane's eyes glowed even brighter.
"I can do that."
He leaned down and Jalen rose up on his toes until their lips met in a kiss full of promise and relieved joy. It was tender and sweet, Jalen's lips parting on a sigh, Shane's tongue easing forward to stroke against his. They kissed there in the courtyard for long, quiet moments, just the two of them in their own world, pressed together so close that nothing, not even moonlight, could pass between them.
When they finally broke apart Jalen stayed in Shane's arms, breathing in his scent. It was different, pleased and aroused, and Jalen loved that he could tell the difference.
"We should get to bed soon. Do you need anything?" Shane asked as he rubbed Jalen's back.
"No, I'm fin-." Jalen bit his lip. "Damnit, that's not true. This is going to take some getting used to. But I need to spend time with you. Maybe you could come back to my room and cuddle with me for a while?"
Jalen blushed furiously at the request but it was what the omega inside him needed. And Shane apparently didn't think there was anything wrong with what he asked for, because he smiled, looking as eager as if Jalen had offered him a solo flight to the moon.
"I'd love to cuddle with you."
They went back inside and rode the elevator up to Jalen's room. The entire trip, they stood close enough for their arms to continuously brush together. Once they were behind a closed door, they kicked their shoes off and settled on the bed. Shane wrapped his arms around him and Jalen curled in close, like he'd wanted to do after their first time together, resting his head on Shane's chest. "This is nice," he said with a content sigh.
"Were you really going to wait until we were all the way in space before you told me you loved me?"
Shane chuckled, the sound rumbling in Jalen's ear.
"Not very alpha of me, huh?"
Jalen looked up at his mate. "No, I think it's perfect and sweet."
"You're perfect and sweet," Shane said as he squeezed Jalen in a hug.
Prior to the Zareen injection, Jalen might have thought that was an odd thing to say to him. But now, the part of him that was an omega basked in the affectionate words, and the intoxicating scent of possessive alpha that accompanied them. And Jalen was completely okay with that.
My apologies for my little unplanned hiatus! But I'm back, Shane and Jalen are together, and all is right in the world. Hopefully. One more chapter to go...
Thanks for reading!
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