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The Clock Strikes Twelve

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In the dead of night, Will could hear the echoes of thunder and see the stark flashes of lightning illuminating the blackened sky from the attic window. He worried for his dogs, which were forbidden from entering the house and were instead kept in a shelter he had built outside. There were few comforts he could give them as he had little himself, but what he could share, he did. Turning over, Will attempted to block out the smell of sweat and the cool dampness of his sheets as he tried to fall back asleep. The bed seemed larger without someone there to occupy the space alongside him. It was during the quiet of the night that Will's omegan instincts called out for him to find an alpha to keep him warm and safe, his body craving the comfort and security an alpha could bring him.

Each morning Will woke while the first dregs of sunlight touched the manicured lawn outside, well before the rest of his family. Will resented this on principle but enjoyed the blissful hours of solitude where it seemed as though he might be the only person left in the world. Stumbling around the room, Will yanked on his clothing and splashed water on his face in an attempt to become somewhat functional as the day began. Never a morning person but forced into rising early, Will tried to rid himself of the urge to throw himself back onto his still damp bed and spend a few hours with only his own thoughts for company. When time allowed he’d make his bed first, taking comfort in arranging his own space and relishing in the moments of solitude in which his mind was not bombarded by the emotions of those around him. Will even took some solace in his work, finding something soothing within the consistency of his routine as he scrubbed floors and prepared breakfast in the early hours of the day. It was once his step-family awoke that his quiet isolation was shattered by their increasing demands.

This morning was no exception, with Freddy and Matthew emerging from their room, tracking the smell of breakfast like bloodhounds. Initially, they talked between themselves, bickering and gossiping before they turned their attention to Will. Hunched at the kitchen bench, studiously avoiding eye contact, Will tried to subvert the expectations of his own gender as the omegan side of him still futilely hoped to receive praise, needing to feel valued and protected. Bitterly, Will had managed to subdue this part of himself as years with the Du Marier family passed without comfort or reprieve. His thoughts were often consumed with the need to disguise his secondary gender, the threat of discovery looming constantly over him. Despite having no idea of his true gender, Matt would occasionally attempt to offer encouragement, something omegas typically could not help physically responding to. However, Will's empathy easily detected his intentions when he could bear to look closer at Matt. With a second of eye contact, Will would become immersed in the slick roiling depths of his mind as he greedily waited for Will's reaction. Matthew was merely seeking to endear himself to his isolated step-brother in a ploy to garner his affections. As a beta, Matt's clumsy attempts at praise were ignored almost effortlessly, having a far less intense effect than that of an alpha. Instead, Will ruthlessly trained his body not to react, to curve itself towards the giver of kind words or to bare his neck in gentle submission.

The eggs he'd made were greeted by indifference by Matthew and outright derision by Freddy.

"Seven years making these and no improvement? How sad to have so little ambition." Freddy taunted, gesturing with his fork towards Will, sending egg scattering across the tabletop and floor. Will suppressed a smug smile at hearing Freddy's disappointment at another lacklustre meal as he had viciously tamped down on the instincts that were telling him to improve and instead stayed victoriously mediocre when it came to cooking. As he had yet to be told directly to refine his culinary skills by any alpha, he was able to continue serving bland and nearly unappetising meals, knowing they would never attempt to cook for themselves. Will anticipated the command to clean the eggs that Freddy had spilt and attempted to begin without being told, hoping to avoid the sick jerking feeling of his body being taken out of his control. As an alpha, only Freddy and Will's step-mother Bedelia had the power to command Will to act outside his own desires, which was a consequence of his omegan biology. It was theorised that this was an evolutionary response to omegas acting recklessly while in heat, allowing their alphas to protect them from harm. Fortunately, omegas were rare enough that many believed them to be a myth and some knew nothing of their existence at all. That fact, coupled with homemade scent blockers allowed Will to live as a beta, though he constantly feared discovery. The fading memory of his mother's whispered stories of omegas being forced to live in servitude to the most powerful alphas, unable to make any choices for themselves, was a fate more reprehensible than Will could fathom.

"Clean this up" Freddy demanded, forever revelling in the fact that Will was under the control of someone younger than him. At sixteen, Will was only a year older, the middle child of the three, though Freddy looked much younger and frequently used his youthful appearance to present an innocent facade to the rest of the town. His flaming copper curls and boyish exuberance disguised his cunning nature and allowed him to gather and share gossip unobstructed. Comparatively, Matthew was much more reserved, being far more soft-spoken and even-tempered, though this too was used to conceal his true nature and the darkness Will had glimpsed beneath his calm exterior. Will felt his body moving before he fully registered Freddy's words, moving quickly to clean the mess so the awful sensation of his limbs working without prompting would end sooner. He felt completely disconnected from his actions and could only sit back in the recesses of his mind and watch himself move outside of his influence.

He kept his derisive expression hidden as he worked, knowing better than to encourage Freddy's malicious nature or to catch Matthews heavy-lidded regard. Once the food was set down in front of both brothers, Will made a hasty retreat back into the kitchen to grab his own meal and see to his chores. His siblings were heading to a luncheon at Lord Crawford's, as although they lacked money, they still retained some connections with other people of influence. Will looked on with some relish to see that both the boys' clothes were conspicuously shabby, although Will had already been commanded to mend them several times. Will also noticed with satisfaction that Freddy was wearing the ostrich feather hat which he thought made him look rather dashing. Will was of the opinion that the colourfully dyed plumes made him look like an overstuffed parrot. Freddy had a penchant for animal print, thinking it made him look exotic and aristocratic whereas in reality, he tended to appear mangy at best. Sometimes he felt guilt over the streaks of cruelty that saw him enjoying his step-brothers' embarrassment and disappointment over their lack of finances and social position, but those feelings never lingered long.

Will's own clothing was threadbare, doing nothing to keep out the chill as it rubbed harshly against his skin. Omegas were particularly drawn to soft fabrics and had an intense desire to be immersed in warmth and comfort, though Will did his best to ignore these cravings. Instead, Will set off into the garden where he knew his step-mother was unlikely to venture, knowing she would not awaken until it was time to leave for the luncheon with her biological sons. Of the three of them, Will was most wary around Bedelia, her icy exterior and piercing eyes made him feel as though she could determine his secret at any moment. Being a stronger alpha than Freddy, it was also more likely that she might scent him if he ever forgot to apply his scent blocker. He hurried further into the yard until he could see the outskirts of the doghouse, a grin slowly appearing onto his face as he neared.

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The yapping of the dogs started up as Will approached the shed. Hidden at the back of the property, the dogs were kept out of sight from any visitors or guests. Will felt more anger at their treatment than he did at his own, cooped up all day, the dogs were only allowed out for hunting and those with a pedigree were shown off on occasion to visitors.

Will sped up as the barking intensified. His pack was one of the sole sources of comfort and their attention soothed the lonely omegan side of him that craved contact with another being. As soon as the door was opened, Will was tackled ruthlessly to the ground and swarmed by his furry companions. The fluffy pile of them drove him to the ground and he was mercilessly assaulted by drooling tongues and happy nuzzling. After being drenched in slobber and making sure to give each dog individual attention, Will herded them to the fields towards the outskirts of the property where they could roam freely. The dogs were his single indulgence, he worked jobs around town to pay for their upkeep and as long as they stayed out of the way, they were tolerated by the other members of the household. What scared Will was knowing that his pack could be used against him, Freddy sometimes hinted at putting them all on the streets if Will didn't behave. He would've given them away, but they were just as unwanted as he was.

Ducking back into the house to put on his cloak, Will prepared himself to enter the marketplace. Being surrounded by so many people, feeling their disdain and revulsion towards him meant he frequently found himself on the verge of collapse. Freddy had made it a point of pride to spread countless rumours about Will, suggesting his reclusiveness was due to believing those around him were inferior and that hinting that Will's sight was a gift of the devil. The pointed scorn was painful to his omegan nature, it demanded he bend in supplication or beg for forgiveness, making trips into town far more arduous. As always, Will crushed the part of himself that craved approval and resigned himself to another day of skirting the edges of a world he had never been invited to be a part of.

He had tried over and over to avoid the influence of alpha commands, but not even blocking his ears with clay and closing his eyes could prevent him from being influenced against his will. Heading down the cobbled road to town, Will avoided eye contact, acquiescing to his omegan need for submission as well as attempting to avoid being spoken to, for fear of having control of his actions taken away from him. His fear of being controlled made forming any sort of relationship especially difficult, leaving Will completely isolated from everyone around him.

Seeing all the coloured stalls and busy workers failed to fill him with the childish joy it used to as a kid, now the once awe-inspiring sights filled him with a sense of dread that coiled around his bones and weighed down his heart. Over time the town had prospered under the rule of the King, as had many other villages across the land. Many outsiders whispered that witchcraft or sorcery was the source of the area's good fortune, rumours which the locals tended to ignore as they enjoyed their newfound prosperity.

After picking up various groceries, he had a system of carefully leaving the money required on the counter so he didn't have to interact with the shopkeepers. Many had known him since he was a boy and trusted him not to fleece them of any of the costs. The fact that he had known some since boyhood made it harder to accept their belief in Freddy's lies, but Will was too scared of being commanded that he could hardly defend himself. Heading home quickly, Will forgot to mind where he was going and collided headfirst into another body. Will jerked his head up on instinct and regretably made eye contact with the local chief of police, Jack Crawford.

"Just the man I was looking for." Jack smiled warmly. Jack was one of the few who tolerated Will, but Will's single glance into his eyes had revealed his true intentions. Will was simply another tool in Jack's arsenal, made for putting away the criminals that he couldn't catch himself. Will didn't even need to respond before Jack followed up with a request.

"We've got another murder down on Hollywell and we could use your help." Jack frowned. "Bedelia told us you were home sick today?" Jack's confusion over Will's seemingly good health quickly dissipated as he refocused on his true purpose with a single-minded intensity. "Come with me now and take a look at the scene, see what you can see." Will, unable to resist an order, set his jaw and followed mutinously behind Jack, cursing his biology with every step they took. He glared holes into the back of Jack's coat as they traversed across town, making sure to kick gravel as they walked down less-used paths in the hopes it would dirty Crawford's pant legs. He indulged in this petty behaviour until they got closer to the scene, then he folded in on himself in an attempt to avoid any further interactions. Setting his groceries down outside the hunting cabin, Will stepped inside as Jack cleared the room.

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The first thing Will noticed was the girl's eyes, closed as if sleeping while her body below was cut apart like meat. Tendons glistening wetly in the fading afternoon light. Will allowed himself to fall into the scene. There was love here, an overwhelming possessive, consuming love. Love in the shape of greed, enduring hunger fashioned into the form of care and kindness. Underneath was a sense of incompletion, his work had been interrupted. Will felt an urge surge within him to shield her from the view of the other detectives, she was his to own and devour, his to honour and protect. He could feel his incisors lengthen and his irises burn as they turned to gold, his omegan instincts rising to challenge those around him in defence of her.

Will gasped, jerking suddenly to shake the killer from his mind, covering his face with his palms to shield his eyes from view. He pushed past the men stationed outside the cabin, stumbling into the wilted sunlight before crouching down to retch into the bushes. Standing, Will wiped his mouth, the taste of bile lingering in his mouth and the feeling of another's sickly tormented thoughts imprinted in his mind. He could see Jack's shadow looming over him and he felt himself shrink himself down, responding instinctually to Jack's frustration and disappointment.

"What did you see?" Jack was brusque and to the point, utterly unconcerned with Will's reaction. He was single-minded in his pursuit of answers, looking always to the greater good rather than the individual cost. Will was compelled to answer, his mouth moving, his thoughts revealing themselves to Jack without his conscious input. Will felt like a puppet being played by another's hand.

"He loves someone who looks like her, its paternal, devotional, and she's leaving him."

"Goddammit Will! What am I supposed to do with vague hints like that, half the men in the village have a brown-haired daughter." Jack was pacing angrily, his frustration mounting with every new body. Will went over the scene again in his mind, searching for clues, just wanting this whole thing to be over and for Jack to back off.

"Jack, come take a look at this." Beverly, one of Jack's crew was beckoning him over. "The tools used to take her apart were left behind, I think we should take a closer look at all of the hunters operating in the area." Jack was nodding, his attention having already slipped completely from Will, forgetting he was even there. Will felt an undercurrent of resentment at the fact that he had been forced to see the depths of the mind capable of committing such a crime when simple detective work could have saved him the effort.

Without waiting to be dismissed, Will hurried back down the path away from the cabin, hoping to avoid any more unwanted contact or alpha commands. It almost made him long for the monotony of his chores, at least then his will was his own. The afternoon was growing cooler and Will soon found himself shivering as he trudged back to the house, tugging the edges of his jacket closer around him to ward off the chill. Back at the house, Will busied himself with the minutiae of life in the Du Marier household. The family had taken on the name of the eldest alpha, but with his dad only a lowly beta, Will had been made to keep Graham as his surname, a reminder that he was always an outsider.

Dinner began to approach and Will found himself cautiously overcooking the food once more, making sure to save some scraps to take to his dogs later. Will found himself luxuriating in the small rebellions he was allowed, despite knowing that a single command could leave him producing five-star meals for the rest of his life. He didn't know how long the commands lasted, and while he wasn't particularly eager to find out, he couldn't quite stop himself from provoking the alphas around him.

The clatter of footsteps and the creak of the gate were the only warnings Will received before Bedelia, Freddie and Matt sauntered into the dining room. There was an air of excitement and anticipation that they brought with them, infused in their erratic movements and rapid speech. Will felt only apprehension at the thought of anything else throwing his life into disarray. He only had a few months left before he would be eighteen and legally allowed to live by himself. He was operating under no illusion that the family would simply let their unpaid labour go, but Will planned to sneak away. All he needed were his dogs and a river to fish in, that would be enough. He didn't need a mate, he would be perfectly fine on his own, he was sure of it.

Will was not permitted to eat with the rest of the family, but he was required to serve them their meals before taking his own in the kitchen. Pouring wine into Freddie's glass, Will could feel his superiority and derision clearly, evident in his tight-lipped sneer and the cruel slant of his eyes.

"This is all so terribly exciting." Freddie's announcement was immediately followed by a sly glance towards Will, who had yet to find anything exciting at all about serving food or pouring drinks. Matt appeared nonplussed but Bedelia's gaze was cool and calculating.

"We will require new clothes, and it would be best to order quickly before the whole town is mobbing the tailor in search of something to wear." Ever practical, Will could tell Bedelia was already considering what favours she could call in to ensure they got their outfits prepared before anybody else, though for what event, Will was unable to discern. Will also had no interest in asking, Freddie's thinly veiled attempts to provoke his jealousy were easily visible, and he wasn't about to give him the satisfaction.

Wil retreated back into the kitchen, resigning himself to waiting until the others were finished so he could do the dishes, finish his evening chores, and throw himself into bed for another restless sleep. He could hear their voices trickling through the closed door into the dining room, and Will gave into his desire to eavesdrop, creeping closer to the doorway while making sure his shadow didn't block the light. He could make out snatches of conversation, mentions of a ball in the palace and their plans to catch the eye of someone influential who would save them from their genteel poverty. Will couldn't help but feel a little curious, he had heard of the royals' reputation and their reclusiveness, they barely left their castle these past few years and speculation over their disappearance from public view was rampant. He dismissed his interest quickly, there was no sense in wondering over the ball when he certainly wouldn't be permitted to attend.

Even still, Will went to bed that night feeling a little more melancholy than usual, and in the sanctuary of his room, he allowed himself to admit that it might have been nice to be someone else for a single night. To allow himself to flirt and dance and be normal, if only he wasn't bound by his own biology and the words of any alpha around him.