Yes, You Are by Willa Okati
Oscar took a long drag off the vape pen he’d switched to -- something about fire codes. Darian didn’t know, he hadn’t been paying attention. He had a cigarette and if anyone wanted to get in his face about it, let them.
In case Darian hadn’t been paying attention, Oscar blew the smoke in his direction. “So,” he mused out loud. “You’re sharing living space with an Omega about as fragile as a broken jar, quicker on the trigger than a cheapshit pistol, and jumpier than a rabbit on the freeway.”
“Judas fuck, you want to throw some more metaphors in there?”
Oscar ignored him. “All of that, and your response is to go full chest-pounding Alphahole and beat your meat until the whole place stinks of jizz and ownership?”
“When you say it like that…” Darian rubbed his forehead with his unoccupied hand. All he needed right now was to set his hair on fire.
“Then it makes you sound like a jackass?”
“More or less,” Darian muttered under his breath. “And he brought me a Snickers bar, for fuck’s sake.”
“Long story. Makes no sense out of context.”
“I’m going to be a literature teacher, dude. I dig analysis on the macro and micro levels. But whatever.” Oscar shrugged and shifted back to facing forward, mirroring Darian, both of them contemplating the campus quad. He twirled his vape pen thoughtfully between two fingers. “He brought you a candy bar, tucked himself into bed like a lost puppy digging under some newspapers to stay warm, and delivered a line that would break the Grinch’s heart.”
Darian jabbed his cigarette in Oscar’s direction. “One more metaphor or simile and I’m kicking your ass.”
“You could try.”
“But…” Darian shook his head. “Yeah. When I woke up I could smell the anger, it was so strong. And he was so out of there, again, he damn near left a vacuum trail behind him.”
“Least something would have been doing some sucking.”
“Be cruder. I invite you.”
“You’re one to talk.” Oscar cocked his head sideways. “You want to blow off some steam? Make love, not war. By which I mean ‘go get laid.’ The sooner the better. I’ll volunteer as tribute if I have to. Wouldn’t be the worst way to spend a few hours.”
Darian looked sharply sideways, but as far as he could tell Oscar wasn’t joking. Huh. Like he’d said before it wouldn’t be the first time they’d gone there, and if he couldn’t get in a fight, fucking a fellow Alpha came almost close enough to do the same job. “No risk I’d get you pregnant,” he mused.
“You think I’d let you top me? Please, bitch.”
“I think I could make you want me to,” Darian said absently. He thought he saw a familiar face at the far end of the quad, coming out of the library and down the overdramatic stairs leading up to its doors.
Not hard to discern, since the owner of that face stood a good six to eight inches taller than most everyone else, Alpha or otherwise. And --
“Whoa,” Darian muttered, sitting up straighter to get a better look. That was a different side of Coby, right there. He held his head high. His shoulders were squared like a stack of bricks, his stride long, and his face forward. Darian would bet those hawk eyes of his were hard and cold. All different from how he’d been before and -- Darian couldn’t deny it -- just about as hot as hell.
“Huh,” Oscar muttered under his breath.
Darian ignored him, too busy watching Coby. He flinched every time he passed someone who caught his scent and stopped to give him a shocked and/or baffled face, but now Darian could see his hands were knotted into fists and he didn’t slow down once.
“Moody bastard, isn’t he?” Oscar asked. “Look at that. He’s copying you.”
“What?” Darian frowned at his friend. “He is not.”
“Yes he is. That’s the way you walk, like you’re stomping on the necks of your enemies. Or grapes.”
“You’re so full of shit.” Darian shook his head, but he couldn’t stop watching. Oscar was right. Coby hadn’t been one to stalk or bring his boots down that hard before, but he looked like a damn dire wolf hunting for the first throat he could rip open.
Coby caught his eye -- maybe he felt Darian staring -- and his fists curled into tighter knots. He looked away and stalked past without breaking his gait. Tough, moody bastard.
Darian kind of liked it. Even turned to watch him a little longer.
On the turn back, he frowned in confusion when what he saw was Oscar busily patting the grass. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure nothing caught on fire with all the flame in that gaze, ‘cause I see how it is now. You want him.” Oscar did Darian’s pride the kindness of not turning his way as he delivered that punctuated, underlined, and italicized declaration. “You want to fuck him till you break the bed. I know you.”
Darian growled under his breath, then mumbled, “Shut the fuck up.”
“Guess us having a quickie is off the table.” Oscar twirled his pen again. “Any idea what you’re going to do about the whole thing?”
“That won’t fuck it up worse than it already is? I don’t know. And to be honest, I’m pretty sure we’re not talking now. He’s different than he used to be.”
“Lots of things used to be different for both of you.” Oscar shrugged. “What matters is what you do about them now.”
Well, there was a thought. What was he going to do?
To be determined, Darian decided as he stubbed his cigarette out on his heel. But he would be giving it some thought. Bet.
Because Coby might have gotten a nose full of him last night, but he hadn’t been the only one.
Darian had scented how much Coby wanted him too.
* * *
Or at least thinking had been the idea. Darian hadn’t gotten through nearly enough by the time dinner hour rolled around, and he hadn’t had a chance to pick up any food for the room. If he wanted to eat -- and Alphas had all kinds of appetites -- he’d have to take his chances on what the skeleton staff cafeteria crew had cobbled together.
Darian wrinkled his nose. Fifteen feet away and all he smelled was meatloaf with a vegan option, plus green beans boiled until they were gray. Possibly grilled cheese sandwiches somewhere under there, and Alphas automatically got double servings of everything -- which was some kind of bullshit prejudice against Omegas now Darian came to think about it. He might pick that battle as one to fight.
The wrapper on the now-melted Snickers bar Coby had given him crinkled in his pocket with every step he took. He patted it, just once, as he walked in.
He sniffed the air. Huh. Maybe it was from having too much Coby on his mind, or the smell of melted chocolate so close, but he’d called the menu partly wrong: not meatloaf, but spaghetti with or without meatballs. Definitely grilled cheese. Darian made a disgruntled face as he weighed up his options, but what the hell. Food was fuel. He’d live for one night. Besides, might be a good idea to carb up before he ran into Coby again.
Darian took his place in a straggling line leading up to the hot food counter, then raised an eyebrow. Speak of the devil and he would appear, because be damned if Coby wasn’t there again, right at the front of the line. Head and shoulders above the rest and still pissed at the world.
Caught his interest, for sure.
What’d happened to change him so much? Aside from the obvious. Or… Darian cocked his head. Maybe that was all he’d needed. He remembered a few things Coby had had to say about the way his family viewed Omegas. Pretty likely he’d caught some serious hell ever since he presented a gender, especially if he’d done it later than most. Lots of pressure beforehand to Alpha up already, and then -- boom.
Yeah. Got Darian under the collar imagining what that must have been like, and Coby’d lived through it. Then add on top the fact that he looked like an Alpha, top to toe, but he had to deal with getting wet and opening up every time his cock thought about going hard. That’d fuck with anyone’s head.
Huh. Darian patted his hand over the Snickers bar, mind whirring away. Not paying that much attention to Coby himself, which as it turned out was what could be called a mistake. He jerked back to the present when he heard Coby raise his voice at the guy dishing out tonight’s processed proteins, and that was just out and out weird. Coby’d even been soft-spoken when he was angry with Darian. Yelling out of him sounded like he’d had to force it out, and it was so unnatural it made his throat raw.
“I’ve got an exemption.” Coby waved a yellow pass in the air. “I need that many calories in a day to function, all right? And that’s the minimum.”
“Can’t do it. Rules.” The cafeteria worker -- maybe sixteen, seventeen, pimple-faced and probably zit-assed, a brand new Alpha and so damn full of himself that it was almost coming out his ears -- shrugged with a smirk. “Next.”
Coby’s face went bright red, but he didn’t quit. “Surgeon General calorie guidelines for Omegas don’t apply to me. They can’t. I’m too big.”
“Not yet. Unless you want to fix that.” Zits looked Coby up and down with a leer that said exactly how he’d like to do the job. All he thought of Omegas, right there: good for nothing but fucking and babies, like Coby’s family insisted.
Darian made some fists of his own. How fucking dare --
Okay. No. That wouldn’t be allowed to stand. Lucky for him, Darian was an educator and he liked teaching lessons.
He put both hands in his pockets and swaggered forward to the front of the line. Cut in front of a dozen others, but nobody noticed given the high drama and tea spilling everywhere. Well, they could notice this, and he’d cross his hidden fingers Coby didn’t sock him in the face for it.
Casual, easy as anything, Darian slung his arm around Coby’s waist and stood, embarrassingly on tiptoe but whatever, to kiss his cheek. “Hey, babe. Thanks for saving me a place.”
To underline the point, Darian sent a wave of Alpha pheromones billowing out that nobody with a nose could miss.
Coby stiffened, but so did Cafeteria Boy. You smelled it right. I’m an Alpha, so chew on that.
Darian cuddled Coby a little closer -- which should have felt weird, foreign, but didn’t -- and ignored the little bitch behind the counter. “Anything worth eating tonight?”
Coby shivered at Darian’s touch, and Darian could feel how much he struggled between jerking away and otherwise, but he took a deep breath and stayed put. “If they’d play by the rules, maybe.”
“They’re not fucking with your exemption thing again, are they? They all know they could get fired for that shit.” Darian met the cafeteria worker’s eye and held it. “Don’t they?”
Swear to God, he’d never seen anyone dish up two portions of everything available quite so quickly. In to-go boxes, but while Darian wouldn’t have minded keeping up that steady stare at the sexist asshole with every bite Coby would probably be better off out of the limelight. He let Coby take the heavy boxes and kept his arm around the man’s waist. Pretty comfortable, actually. Long torso and low-slung hips on that man.
Some people, though, they didn’t have the sense to know when to quit. Once he’d shoved the boxes into Coby’s arms, the worker looked back and forth between them, sputtering verbal question marks. “But you’re… he’s…”
“He’s an Omega. I’m an Alpha. Welcome to us, the freaks of the known universe, and just so you know you could get fired for questioning anyone’s orientation whether or not it matches your idea of how the world should work too,” Darian remarked, more amiably than he’d spoken since he was a toddler with a whole cookie to himself. If the stories were to be believed, not even then. “Broke your brain, did we? Tsk-tsk. However will I live with myself? I don’t know, though, something tells me I’ll manage. Just. Fine.” He gave Coby’s waist a squeeze, half warning and half -- who knew. Time to blow this popsicle stand in any case. “Let’s get out of here.”
He half expected Coby not to follow him. But Coby did.
Then, he mostly expected Coby to shake off his arm once they were outside. Coby didn’t.
He fully expected Coby to explode all over him.
Coby kept his mouth shut, though his expression was so haunted it hurt to look at, and somehow Darian couldn’t find the right words to ask him what was wrong. He did say, in case Coby needed to hear it, “I won’t hurt you. You know that.”
Coby nodded once, only once, but Darian would take what he could get.
“Okay then.” He tugged Coby again, guiding him left, letting the big man set the pace, however fast or slow he wanted. “Let’s go home. We’ve got some things that need talking out, you and me.”
* * *
They made it almost two-thirds of the way back to their dorm in that uncertain state of truce and with Darian’s arm settled around Coby’s waist before Coby fidgeted for the first time and gave him a quick, sideways glance. “I…”
“You?” Darian asked, not looking back. It was kinder. He didn’t need the pressure of being looked at when he was trying that hard.
Coby shook his head and took a few more steps in silence. Darian noticed for the first time how Coby had slowed his steps to match Darian’s so that Darian didn’t have to skip-run to keep up with those stork legs of his.
Huh. Way to prove his point.
“I… I think that’s the first time since we’ve met you’ve gone five minutes without swearing. Or talking. It’s kind of unsettling.” Coby’s throat worked as he swallowed around whatever he was feeling. “I don’t… Look, you’re not a freak.”
Of all the things Darian had been expecting him to say, that wasn’t one. “I know I’m not.”
“But you said --”
“To Zit Face? Yeah, I did, because that’s the language he understood. I could’ve balls-out lectured him on gender bullshit for days, but it would’ve gone in one ear, through the gaping hole where his brain ought to be, and out the other side.” Darian scrubbed at the back of his neck with his free hand. “There, I cussed. Happy?”
“I think I am. You’re not you without a hair trigger and a filthy mouth.”
Darian snorted quietly. “I am what I am. And that’s not a freak. Neither are you, by the way. We’re different. So the fuck what? Who gets to say what normal is anyhow? Anyone who tries can come have a word with me.”
“I don’t know who’d dare.” Coby freed himself, ever so carefully -- or was it gently? -- from Darian’s arm, but he didn’t go far. He clutched the food boxes tight to his body and carried on walking side by side with him, though he kept looking forward instead of at Darian. “I was trying to be like you.”
Son of a bitch. Oscar had called that one. “Why?”
“Why do you think?” Coby gave him a mildly dirty sideways look that transitioned to an eyeroll before he let out a long exhale. “I wanted to fight too. Not with you. I mean, mostly not with you. I -- my family, when they figured it out -- I tried to hide it, but you really can’t --”
Darian held up one hand to stop him. “You don’t need to tell me any of this.”
“But I want to.” Coby’s jaw went hard, and he took the next few steps at a stomping stalk before swinging around to face Darian. “You know what it’s like. You’re the only one I ever knew who did, and that was before. Now? I’m not sure if I hate you for being what I can’t, or if I want to be like you used to, or if I --” He stopped himself. “Either way, I don’t know what to do, or even how. When I try to act like you, I’m not me, even if I don’t understand me anymore. It’s all so different, and I never thought I’d need to know so I didn’t learn. What do I even do with this me that I am, now?”
Darian rocked on his heels, frowning at Coby. “All you should be is you. Fuck the rest. Let everyone else figure out how to deal with it; it’s their problem, not yours.”
“You’re missing the point.” Coby came closer, bending at the waist to get their faces closer together. “I can’t do what you’re telling me to, I -- I’ve been alone in all this. I’m still alone, and I don’t know how.”
Ahhh. Now things started to make sense. Darian touched his thumb to his lip, thinking fast.
Before he could speak, Coby had one more surprise for him. He stood up soldier-stiff and said, equally stiffly, “So I’m sorry. All right?”
“I beg your pardon, but what the fuck?” Darian blurted in surprise, and it hadn’t been on purpose but there was this little flash of warmth inside when that made Coby almost-laugh. “No. Back up. Why are you apologizing to me?”
“For being a -- what did you call it back then -- an Alphahole?”
Sweet pitchforking hell. That he’d think he needed to apologize… Well, might as well take him off balance too. Keep ‘em even. “And I’m sorry too.” Darian could be the bigger man. So to speak. “For last night, and you know exactly what for, last night. You want to talk Alphahole behavior? There’s your ground zero.”
Coby almost laughed again, and even that made him light up from the inside. Made Darian’s heart twinge in empathy, so much so that he sighed out loud. God, this Omega needed help, and Darian wasn’t usually the one in this position, but he wasn’t a monster. Usually. Except to people who deserved it, and Coby didn’t.
He held out his hand, folded in a loose fist. Took Coby a second to get it, but when he did, he grinned and tapped an equally non-combat-ready fist against Darian’s.
Felt good. Made the air seem clearer. Cleaner. Easier to breathe.
Darian took a deep draft of it and nodded at the takeout containers Coby had somehow managed to hang onto. Grease had leaked out, staining their sides, and if it’d smelled like the wrong kind of ass in there, age hadn’t improved it. He gestured at it, wrinkling his nose. “Do you really want to eat that?”
“Oh God no.”
“Good. Get rid of it, would you?” They’d reached the front door of their housing, propped open with the trash can that should have been sitting to one side. Darian watched Coby drop the boxes inside and grimaced at the splat they made. “Well, that’s good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“I guess. What do we do for dinner, though?” Coby’s stomach rumbled right on cue, and he rubbed it.
Darian looked away, fast, because the spark of heat that inspired came from a place that wasn’t anywhere his brain needed to go. No thank you, and also fuck you, sir. Or not, as the case might be, because they’d just finished tidying away all the Alphahole bullshit and --
“You like pizza?” he asked abruptly, leading the way inside. “I’m going to order pizza. It’s supposed to be shitty and greasy and if we’re going to share a dorm room on a fucking college campus we might as well embrace the cliché. All the meats, all the veggies, and extra sauce and cheese. The kind of pizza you need a shovel and a stack of napkins to take the first bite out of. Sound good?”
If Coby’s stomach had rumbled before, now it roared. “Sounds amazing,” he said fervently. He rummaged in his pocket for his keys and had their room open in a flash. With the windows left open all day, the only thing the place smelled of now was the things that got ingrained from years of being lived in: dust, old sweat, dirty sneakers. Coby loped across the small space, easier in his movements than Darian had seen him so far as an adult and opened the closet Darian had chucked all his things in the night before.
Darian grimaced. “About that.”
“I’m the one who left his shit tossed everywhere.” Coby looked at him in a way that was as different as his walk. A lot less angry, a little more shy, a fraction hopeful, and a bushel more genuine. And warmer, even if it was a candle’s flame and not the sunshine somebody like him should fucking well have radiated. “It’s okay. I’m not mad.”
Talking to each other like human beings and not a weird Alpha and a don’t-wannabe-an-Omega kept getting easier. So weird. “What are you looking for?” Darian asked instead of saying thanks.
And because Coby understood how to speak his language, if not his own native tongue yet, he grinned back as he unearthed a bottle of -- oh, hot damn. Tequila, the good stuff, with a worm floating in the bottom and everything. “I like a good cliché too. Got anything to drink it out of?”
“The bottle itself works for me.” Darian took it when Coby passed it over and deftly unscrewed the cap. He took one gulp, then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and the bottle’s mouth on his sleeve. Passing it back over, he said, “You’re not alone now, and you’re not going to be again if I can help it. Deal?”
There went that smile again as Coby took the tequila back and gulped a mouthful for himself. “Deal.”
He passed the bottle back.
He wasn’t the only one who shivered, entirely without meaning to, when their fingers brushed.