Omega Custody Centers have a bit of a mix reputation. Goodnight’s investigated them, in depth, and they’re actually fairly well done, especially the ones that are done in conjunction with both nonprofits and the government. The one in town is actually lovely. The Betas and Omegas who work there are friendly, warm, and compassionate and they all seem to understand, without words, the myriad of reasons an Omega goes what is basically a regulated boarding house of sorts, if you don’t count the visiting area cells.
But most people do. Most people can’t get past what they think are the origins of the OCC. For reasons Goody really does understand, people get OCCs confused with the old Omega Markets where families bought and sold their children to the highest bidders to be anything from sex slaves to beloved spouses based on the price, separated by the triangle trade slave markets only by proprietary and a few legalities restricting what an Alpha could and couldn’t do to their bought Omega, before the Dynamic Rights Amendment was passed.
They came fifty years later, as far as Goodnight knows. He studied them in college. They popped up during the suffrage movement - Omegas and female Alphas and Betas created OCCs as a safe place for unmated Omegas to go when they didn’t have a mate, where they could have their heats in peace, where they could still have a chance at finding a partner but weren’t forced into a catch-22 choice of exposure or involuntary handing themselves over to an Alpha for ownership. The only thing they really have in common with the old Omega Markets is the display aspect that lets Alphas can come and look at the residents offering themselves. Of course, that bit is where the slur “pound” comes from for Omega Custody Centers.
Goodnight is honestly a little surprised when Sam uses that term to when Goodnight tells him he’s going to hand himself over to the Lincoln Omega Custody Center.
“You can’t go to the pound, Goody,” Sam practically shouts. “The idea of those places is so that an Alpha can go around picking you out of a line up and then, what, pulling you out to play with and putting you back if you’re not to their specifications? That’s degrading You’re a man, not a dog. ”
“What I am is tired, Sam. Respect that.”
“And you think what? Handing yourself over to the first knothead who sees you is going to cure your exhaustion?”
“No. I don’t know?” He drags a hand over his face. “Maybe? But at least it won’t be up to me to figure it out for awhile.”
He aches for a sip of the beer that sits on the coffee table in front of him, unopened, and the idea that it could make this better. Then he does his best to talk himself out of wanting it. He is trying not to be so destructive and that includes drinking but half a second later he caves and cracks it open. Fuck it, he thinks as he chugs down the microbrew his friend probably spent way too much money on, the OCC will help him when he goes.
For now he’s going to just drink Sam’s beer and try not to feel guilty over being weak and pathetic. He has at least decided to do something and that’s a step. It is.
“If that’s what you need-“
“Don’t,” Goodnight warns. “Don’t go there.” He could not go into the place with Sam Chisholm then, he can’t go there now, he won’t be able to go there in the future. The man is an excellent leader, a fantastic commanding officer and a great friend but he is not what Goody wants in an alpha. He feel wrong all the way down to his bones when Sam touches him. Sam is too open, to flexible, and he just can’t.
“It has to be better than putting yourself on sale,” Sam says plaintively.
“It’s not like that.” Even doing what he's doing, signing up as a potential full custody client isn't about being sold. It's about putting himself out there, completely, but safely. He doesn't even know if he really wants a mate so much as he wants to try at trust again, at family, at connecting with someone outside his unit in a way he can actually accomplish because time has taught him that as he is, he cannot manage. He doesn't date. He doesn't go online and flirt. He spends time with the guys, and he loves on his cat and he plays at the bar three nights a week to stay busy but he knows his limits. They're many and thanks to his damage, they're mostly interpersonal.
So he's aware that it doesn't work for everyone. He is. And shit, maybe it won't work for him. The last person he spoke to at the OCC said that in the last year they've only had two clients go actually mate the Alpha who took them fully into their custody. But giving it a shot is at least something different. It's better than Sam and Red and Jack and Faraday looking at him sadly, like a broken thing.
Kind of like he is right now. “No? Alphas don’t got to pay a fee to take you home?”
“That's for Alphas who stay on site for their ruts mostly and it's about balancing the expenses cost they cost the Center. Sam-“
“This ain’t the 19th century, Goodnight.”
“Maybe I need it to be,” Goody snaps. He clicks his teeth shut before he can say anything else because Sam is staring. His dark eyes are huge and sad and Goodnight knows that he just cannot understand.
How could he? The man’s an Alpha. He’s never had the kind of needs Goody does.
“Goodnight,” Sam tries and flails.
“You helped me put out the fire, Sam, and I’d have died without you.” So many times he’d have died without Sam overseas. So many times they all would have died without Sam. When he got back though, that’s when he really would have died. But he’s alive now, he just hasn’t got enough on his own to actually live. “But I gotta look through the ashes myself.” He points his bottle neck and his own head at Sam in a gesture of deference. “But you gotta let me.”
“Rain ain’t nothing but wet,” Sam murmurs softly. “Okay, brother. What do you need from me?”
He beamed at his best friend and felt something settle inside him. His family had cut him off when he’d refused to suppress in college. The Ranger division he was with in the desert, they were his people and no one more than Sam. He needed his approval so much more than even realized. “You could help me pack?”
“Oh man,” Sam laughed, shaking his head. “No, Goody. Just throw everything away. Your wardrobe is terrible. No Alpha’s going to pick you if you bring your own clothes. Just stand there naked. It’ll be better than those terrible vest things you wear.”
Goody makes a wounded noise in false protest. “A three-piece suit is classic elegance, Chisholm. And what about if I come back on the weekend, or a break between heats?”
“Then don't burn them. Just lock 'em up because those things are pompous ridiculousness and you look pompous and ridiculous when you wear them.”
Sam catches the couch cushion Goodnight hurls at his head laughing. He tosses it back and begins talking about how they can sublet Goody’s apartment and how Horne would probably jump at the chance to care of his cat and suddenly, it’s real to Goody. He’s doing this. He’s going to give himself over to the Omega Custody Center for the chance at a future. It may not work but, then again, maybe it will.
Billy watches Emma hand over her driver’s license with his arms folded across his chest. “Emma, are you sure-“
“Sir, unless you’re here as a potential custodian, I’m going to have to ask you to wait in the lobby,” the Omega man across the desk from Emma says firmly. He has a thin leather collar around his neck and a name tag that declares him to be Martin. “ORPPA privacy laws do not allow for Alphas who are not custodian applicants to have access to Omega Custody Center information.”
“And if I were?” Billy asks. He does not like the idea of Emma going into this alone. He’s suspicious of this whole damn process - picking a person out of a line up for sex like a dish off a buffet to take to rut. It was unnerving and a little too close to prostitution for his liking.
“Then I’d need you to fill out the information form and give us your primary form of ID to copy. I’d need also two contacts I could reach to verify your identity before I let you leave with an Omega. Depending on what you were signing up for, I’d also need you to agree to a background check, a release of health records, a series of home visits, private interviews, and additional health screenings.” Martin waves a hand. “That stuff is usually is only for full custody though. If you’re just here for temporary custody or onsite custody, we wouldn’t need more than the basics.”
Billy stared. “You guys aren’t fucking around.”
Martin smiled at him wanly. “Everyone knows what the misconceptions are of Omega Custody Centers but the Omegas who come here are consenting adults. They have given us something close to power of attorney for their heats and their trust for the rest of the time. We’re not a brothel, we’re a shelter and a refuge. We do our level best to keep our clients safe by following state and federal guidelines.” He puts Emma’s license on the small scanner on his desk and closes it. He hits a button and light glows at it makes a copy. “This is how.”
“And it works?”
“Billy,” Emma hisses. “You are embarrassing me.”
Martin nods. “Worked for me. Worked for Anna in Accounting and Dan in Marketing and Kelly in Human Resources and Tonya and Henry and Erin and Gavin in Case Management. I’d say ninety-percent of the Omegas on staff were clients at an OCC somewhere in the country at one point.” He shrugs. “We came back because it helped us and we want to give back but I think you’ll find thats the story for most social service employees.” He gives Emma a warm smile. “We’re certainly not in it for the money.”
“I don’t reckon so,” Emma laughs, taking back her ID. “Old hat at this then?”
“Something like that.” Martin glances over at Billy. “So, you having a seat in the lobby or do you need a clipboard?”
Billy drops into the comfortable looking chair next to Emma and holds out his hand. He has no intention of taking custody of anyone or anything but hell if he is going to let his partner go into this place alone. “Give me the clipboard.”
“Of course,” Martin says, handing it over, gracing Billy with the same warm smile he gave Emma earlier. “You want to give me your ID while I give you guys the intro spiel?”
Billy sighs and fishes out his phone. He opens the case and pulls his ID out of the wallet on the inside. He hands it over and Martin nods.
“Excellent. So, Emma, Billy, welcome to the Lincoln Omega Custody Center. At the moment we’ve got thirty-two temporary and two full custody candidates. Our clients stay in the dormitory which is attached to this building but is locked at all times. Clients are allowed to come and go from the dormitories as they please when they’re not in heat but they can only enter and exit the building with a staff member regardless of the time. You will not be entering the dormitory at all, unless a temporary candidate wants to share their heat with you. If that is the case, you will only be allowed in with the monitoring of a staff member and you will only leave the heat room with the Omega in your custody.”
“Sounds more like they have custody of us,” Emma laughs, sprawling back in her chair. It’s the most relaxed she’s looked since she came off her suppressants a month ago.
“Yes,” Martin says. “That’s the point. We want our clients to be empowered, secure, and safe during this vulnerable time. Custody is a legal term and one that does apply in some cases but the reality is that in the OCC the Omega is the one who has the power here and that’s the way we like it.”
Emma nods in approval and Billy watches her. “So how does it work?”
“Those who are on the verge of heat and are interested can spend time in the visitor area.” Martin sighs. “You’ve probably heard this place called the pound?” They both nod. “That’s the visiting area. It’s a hallway of about twenty rooms, glass walls facing outward, scent and sound permeable, with a door. If you find an Omega you’re attracted to, approach their room. Knock and introduce yourself. Be polite. If they’re interested, they may invite you in. If they don’t, move on. If you don’t move on, you will be moved.”
Billy nods. “Reasonable.”
“We think so. If you’re invited to share a heat, we’ll see what happens from there. Jenny’s going to take you from here. She’s a Beta. We like to have Betas manage the meet and greet portion so that there’s no scent confusion.”
“It’s kinda amazing,” Emma says. “You’ve thought of everything.”
“OCCs have been around for decades. There have been a lot of mistakes made. We just do our best to course correct when they happen. Are you done with that?” Martin asks, gesturing to Billy. He nods and passes back the paperwork. Martin exchanges it for his license. “Great. I’ve IMed Jenny. She’ll be here in a second. You two can get some coffee and chat while I answer these emails or I can answer any questions you might have.”
It’s a no brainer on the coffee. The stuff is terrible for Billy’s nerves but he didn’t leave the restaurant until after three last night. Or was it this morning? Saturdays were always hell in the best possible way but any caffeine he can get his hands on is a good thing, especially considering he’s let his esteemed business partner-come-best friend drag his ass out to the Omega pound at ten am on a fucking Sunday when he could be asleep.
The coffeemaker is one of those little single-serving Keurig things that make flavored cups. He throws in the Cinnabon brand cinnamon roll one because the only other option is Boston cream donut flavor and he just, he can’t. A man has to make a line in the sand somewhere and that’s his.
Emma watches him with her arms folded over her breasts, making the fabric of her denim jacket pull at the elbows. She’s clearly amused by the way he stares at the machine like it holds the secrets of the universe. He can hear it in her voice when she asks “You okay?” even if she is managing to hold back a smile.
“I don’t know,” Billy says, glaring at the K-pod. “I don’t know. These flavors are disgusting.” Then he looks up at her because he knows what she means. “Are you really sure about this?”
“It’ll be three days. A week at the most. I’ve been needing to come off the suppressants for ages, ever since I finally got Pa’s affairs in order but with the restaurant in previews and then finally opening and then with you up for a James Beard Award, things were out of hand. But I have time now. I deserve to take this time and take care of myself.“
“These places have been around for almost a hundred years in America, Billy. Just because they don’t have them in Korea doesn’t mean they’re bad.”
“Do you?” She asks, hip checking him gently. “Because you seem freaked out.” She smiles at him. “Are you freaked out?”
“It’s like an animal shelter.”
“I really hope you wouldn’t fuck a dog, Billy. My estimation of you as a man would drop significantly.”
His coffee is done, thank fuck, so he doesn’t answer her. It is too fucking cinnamon-y and somehow too sweet even though he didn’t add sugar. It’s a nightmare in a cup but he drinks it because it’s still coffee. He needs Jenny the visiting area tour guide to get here about five minutes ago to have kept him from making this terrible decision.
“Remind me why I’m here again?”
“Because you’re an overprotective nuisance who wouldn’t stop hassling me about my poor life choices unless I let you come along to see that I wasn’t actually going to a brothel or a-“ She pauses, more to fuck with him than for dramatic effect. “How did you put it?”
Billy glares at her. He’d been drunk at the time, which of course doesn’t stop her from holding it against him. “Sex buffet.”
She positively beams at him. “Yes. A sex buffet.”
“Sorry for being a friend, Emma. I’ll try not to care in the future.”
“Oh, don’t tease me.”
“No teases here, guys,” a voice cuts in, smooth and calm cuts in. They both turn and find themselves face to face with a beta woman who is taller than both Billy and Emma with smooth ochre skin and a wide white smile. “Billy, Emma, I’m Jenny. If you’ll follow me? It’s through here.”
Billy doesn’t stop himself from watching her ass sway in her jeans and flats as she leads them through a doorway and down a corridor until they hit an industrial metal door that loudly proclaims PRIVATE LOCC PROPERTY. DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT STAFF SUPERVISION. ALL TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. She pulls at a lanyard around her neck and uses a swipe card and two different keys on her keyring to unlock the door. Then she steps through, holding it open to let them in after her and closing it securely behind her.
Billy doesn’t know if she says or does anything else from there because he is hit with a wave of heat pheromones so strong he is almost knocked over. Emma reaches out and puts her hand on the wall, leaning against it heavily like she’s about to fall.
God, he’s hard. He’s so fucking hard and almost…hungry’s not the right word. Food is his life so he knows hunger and that’s not this but it’s the same kind of feeling. It’s a clawing ache low in his gut that’s as much want as it is a desperate, biological craving. He’s felt this before, during his ruts but those always come on slow. He’s never been hit like this before, like lust is an actual physical need.
Jenny is talking but it takes a minute for him to tune her back in. “As I said, it can get a little confusing and intense, all the pre-heat scents mingling together.”
“You should bottle this. You’d put beer out of business,” Emma groans. “I know a guy.”
“If you don’t think there are people out there who have been trying since the dawn of science, you haven’t read the right books,” Jenny says warmly. “But look at you two, all in control of your faculties, proving dynamicist assholes wrong about Alpha and Omega sexual impulses yet again. This is one of my favorite parts actually, because we’ve got this place full of basically concentrated heat scent and I have never seen an Alpha lose it. Not once and I’ve been at the LOCC for like eight years.”
She doesn’t pull out a Heat Rape is Still Rape button or anything but she doesn’t need to. Billy and Emma both get her point and they both agree with her. Billy has a t-shirt with that on it from college somewhere in his closet in the boxes of things he never unpacked so he meets her smug grin with the best look of solidarity he can muster under what are truly trying conditions because yeah, he’s not losing it but fuck. Fuck this isn’t easy either.
“Figures,” Emma agrees smiling at her, batting her lashes a little despite the way she could barely stay upright a minute before. She looks steadier now, Billy notices. He is ridiculously jealous of her composure.
“In our experience, the best thing for an Alpha to do is just take a deep breath, wait a moment, get accustomed to pheromone exposure, and then go say hello. If there’s someone you have a connection with biologically, you’ll be drawn to them once your nose adjusts. If not, you’ll probably find someone you like just by talking. I meet with everyone who comes through here,” she pulls out her phone and fiddles with it. “Yeah, looks like everyone we’ve got with us this weekend is pretty great.” She looks down at her phone again and smiles. “Oh man, and Goody is with us again? Awesome, he wasn't here last time I was on duty. No matter who you take custody of, you’ve got to meet him before you go. He’s a trip.”
Billy tips his head at that. “A trip?”
“Yeah. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Goodnight.”
“Goodnight is his name.” What the hell kind of Disney princess name was that?
“Yep. Like I said. The man’s a character.” She waves a hand down the hallway that is visible through yet another door. “You guys ready?”
This last door is glass. Through it, Billy can see that one wall is painted painted in an intricate pattern of pastel tessellations while the other lined in the glass Martin had mentioned which reflects low yellow light from the overheads. When both of them are standing on their own, neither swaying or shaking from the scents filling the room, they give her a nod and Jenny opens leads them into the visitor’s area.