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Mission Alpha

Chapter Text

Most people’s primary impression of John Watson was of a smallish, harmless alpha with bad taste in jumpers. It took a surprising amount of work to keep it that way.

Not that it was hard work, necessarily - John really did enjoy the occasional quiet night in, eating takeaway and watching nothing in particular on the telly - but it was work nonetheless. London was drastically different than the constant heat and energy in Afghanistan. At least there, John could break the monotony with an occasional “accidental” encounter with insurgents, finding ways to get himself assigned to patrols he knew perfectly well would stumble across trouble sooner rather than later. MI6’s intelligence was leaps and bounds better than the army’s, even if they refused to share details more often than not.

He got chewed out for it every time, of course. John’s taciturn superiors were less than impressed with his insistence on actually firing his gun every once in a while. They were definitely not impressed when he took a bullet to the shoulder and spend four months in hospital and then rehab. John was practically climbing the walls when they finally released him to an army-pension bedsit in London with the less-than-encouraging orders to “stay put and for fuck’s sake don’t get into any more trouble.”

Staying put was boring. Thank god for Mycroft Holmes.

***

The assignment came on a Wednesday, which until that afternoon had been the same as any other Wednesday since John was discharged from hospital. Wake up, shower, glance at the newspaper (which only reiterated how much the rest of the world was now passing him by), then off to therapy with Ella. She wasn’t an MI6-appointed therapist, which meant John couldn’t actually say anything, but it would have looked suspicious if he’d blown off a therapist entirely so he went and dithered and pretended he was just a washed-up army doctor and a lonely alpha and an ex-soldier who missed the glory days. All of which were true, if he was being honest with himself, which made Wednesdays even more depressing.

This particular Wednesday stopped being quite so boring, however, when the sleek black car pulled up alongside him as he limped back from his session and a tall man in an impeccable suit beckoned him from the back seat.

“A word, Doctor Watson.”

John inwardly rolled his eyes, but there wasn’t much point in resisting. Even if the car’s occupant had been a foreign agent rather than the thoroughly British bloke he seemed, John wasn’t exactly in a position to put up much of a fight. He got in the car.

“Mycroft Holmes,” the man said, extending a hand. John eyed it but accepted the gesture.

"John Watson. But you already knew that."

“Oh, Doctor Watson, I know quite a bit more than that, I assure you. Excellent work in Kandahar, by the way. Your superiors were quite pleased.”

John looked the posh bloke over more thoroughly. “A statement by which you intend to show me you don’t fall among that particular group.”

“I’m rather . . . outside the formal structure, you might say.” The man fingered the black umbrella he had currently propped over his knees. “Although the matter for which I hope to engage your assistance isn’t exactly governmental.”

“Why should I trust you?” John replied. Giving the bloke the initial benefit of the doubt was one thing, but accepting missions from unknown sources was definitely another.

“Alpha bravo three-seven-zero delta. That is your personal code, I believe?”

John nodded and relaxed into his seat. Every agent had his or her own alphanumeric code, used only when establishing a new information channel to or from headquarters. It was theoretically possible that some foreign power had intercepted a list of codes and was now attempting to fool him into compliance, but it was unlikely. Much more probable the man was exactly who he said (or hadn’t said, really) - someone much higher up the MI6 ladder than John was. “Tell me, then,” John said.

“It’s a domestic matter,” Holmes immediately replied. “I have a younger brother. Sherlock. He’s . . . a handful at the best of times.”

“How much younger?”

“Seven years - he’s thirty-four. And an unbonded omega.”

Shit. John could already tell where this was going, and he didn’t like it one bit. “Matchmaking, I assume? The answer is no.”

Holmes flashed a thin smile. “I haven’t told you a thing about him yet.”

“And still my answer is no.”

“You’re an alpha, John, unbonded and laid up in a third-rate bedsit for the foreseeable future. You lack both the money and the physical prowess to attract an omega on your own, not with your psychosomatic limp and your sister’s needing to be rescued from addiction-related crises every few months. You haven’t had proper sex in ages.”

“I’ve got no problem finding willing women, thank you very much.” His reply sounded sulky, even to his own ears.

And Holmes just smirked. “Settling for women isn’t generally your lot, is it? Before your assignment in Afghanistan, you had an easy time pulling omegas on a fairly regular basis.”

“I’m not here to talk about my sex life.”

“Oh, but I am.” He stroked his umbrella again, a near-pornographic gesture given the current topic, and regarded John steadily. “My brother has never taken a partner, you see.”

John blinked. “That’s . . . not healthy. He’s going to give himself permanent hormonal damage soon, if he hasn’t already.”

“You see my problem,” Holmes said. “Thirty-four years of stubborn independence, without the slightest regard for his well-being. Even if he were interested in companionship, which he isn’t, his abrasive personality drives potential alphas away with distressing regularity.”

“And you want me to pretend to be that elusive alpha who stays?”

Holmes nodded. “Sherlock is in need of . . . someone very specific. I think you could be that someone.”

John sighed. “What, exactly, would this mission involve?”

“Think of it less as a ‘mission’ and more as a ‘life situation,’” Holmes urged. “My brother is currently looking to move into a two-bedroom flat on Baker Street. I’ve been threatening to cut off access to his trust fund for two months now, and he knows I intend to do so soon. A flatshare is the only way he can afford to stay in central London. I want you to be his flatmate.”

“Flatmate - not his alpha?”

“I expect that will come in time.”

“And he won’t think anything is strange if his brother just happens to introduce him to an unbonded alpha and suggests we live together?”

Holmes smiled. Large jungle cats would have quailed at that smile. “Sherlock is unconventional - your orientation won’t bother him, as long as you keep your hands to yourself and don’t express any too-conservative views on ‘an omega’s place’ or the like. As for the introduction . . . I have something in mind.”

***

Mike Stamford wasn’t MI6. He wasn’t even military. He was, however, well-placed as an instructor at Bart’s and also as an occasional acquaintance of Sherlock’s. Less than a week after John’s strange kidnapping-slash-conversation with Mycroft Holmes, John received a text from a blocked number.

Regent’s Park, 1 PM. S mentioned need for a flatmate to Mike Stamford this morning. Revive your old friendship with a chance meet at the third bench past the water on York Bridge.

***

“John? John Watson?”

John turned and pretended to not quite recognize his old acquaintance.

“Stamford, Mike Stamford. We were at Bart’s together. I know, I know - I got fat.”

He wasn’t lying - the omega had filled out quite a bit in the intervening years - but soon they were drinking coffee side-by-side in the pleasantly warm sunshine and John found it surprisingly easy to slip in a comment about finding a new flat. Stamford’s plump cheeks almost quivered with anticipation as he suggested John come along to meet a friend of his who, by spectacular coincidence, had mentioned needing a flatmate just that very morning. John nodded genially and wondered whether the rest of the assignment would be quite this easy.

***

“Afghanistan or Iraq?”

Sherlock Holmes was absolutely nothing like John had pictured. He looked very little like his brother, for one - same height and public school bearing, same perfectly tailored wardrobe, but that was about it. Mycroft had also failed to mention his little brother’s penchant for deducing completely random tidbits from almost-impossible-to-see clues on John’s person. It was alarming how accurate Sherlock was, actually, given absolutely no information ahead of time. John found himself struck dumb at how quickly the man rattled off his history. Sherlock didn’t mention anything about MI6, and John couldn’t tell whether it was because he hadn’t seen it or whether he knew immediately and just had decided to keep the information to himself. The latter possibility was definitely more disconcerting. When the omega disappeared through the doorway with an offhand comment about his riding crop, John couldn’t help but stare.

“Yeah, he’s always like that,” Stamford said with a grin. “Cheers.”

***

They went to look at the Baker Street flat the next day. John also had an awkward conversation with Sherlock over dinner, chased a taxi through the back streets of London (cutting across more than one rooftop), completely forgot his psychosomatic limp even existed, and shot a serial killer from fifty yards away and through two double-paned windows. It was a thoroughly acceptable assignment, and John found himself taking on the mission with more enthusiasm than he ever expected.

Chapter Text

“What are we going to do about your heat?”

Sherlock froze, halfway through the act of placing a new sample under his microscope. He set the slide down slowly and turned to pin John with an intense stare. “Pardon?”

“I know you hate anyone repeating themselves,” John said, “but I’m serious - do you know when your next heat is? And do you have anything planned?”

Something in Sherlock’s expression shuttered. “I’m not looking to be bred, John, so if you’re implying-”

“God, no,” John interrupted. “You think I wouldn’t have figured that out sometime in the last month? What you do with your body is your business, and I’m not trying to interfere. I’m just asking because if I need to go stay with Sarah for a few days, I’m going to need some advance notice so I can warn her and pack a bag. And if you’ve got your own bolt-hole somewhere or if you’re planning to skive off to an omega clinic, it’d be nice to know that too. So I don’t start worrying about you having been kidnapped or murdered or whatnot.”

Sherlock frowned. “I don’t like you staying with Sarah,” he muttered.

“She doesn’t like it either, which is why I save it for when you’re being a total arse,” John replied cheerfully. “And why I make an effort to pick up shifts at the surgery whenever she asks me to - it’s useful to have her owe me a favor every once in a while. It keeps me from having to kip at Harry’s.”

“I don’t like you there either.”

“Not your bonded so not your problem, yeah?” John leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “Honestly, I’d just as soon not have to leave, either - even if you lock yourself in your room, the flat would smell like your heat for days afterward and that would just be bloody awkward for both of us. Bad enough dealing with having omegas around at work, even when I’m not the attending doctor. But I’m not going to kick you out, especially at that time in your cycle, so I thought we ought to get it on the table now.”

“You’d get erections.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, and John didn’t miss the way the detective’s gaze bounced down to his lap and back up to his face. “If I went through my heat here.”

“Wasn’t going to be quite that blunt about it, but yeah.” It wouldn’t be the first time - Sherlock was bloody gorgeous even if you didn’t count the omega hormones blanketing everything his in the flat - but the topic of sex and orientation hadn’t come up once in the five weeks they’d been sharing the flat and John sure as hell well wasn’t going to push. He only accepted Mycroft Holmes’s “mission” because he had nothing else to do and was effectively retired from MI6 at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. John damn well wasn’t going to be sold as a stud service, though, secret mission or no.

“Can’t you just . . . ignore them?”

John mentally rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t work like that, Sherlock. I can control my behavior, though, up to a point. And I can make myself leave before that point comes. Thus the question: any idea when your next heat is due?”

Sherlock held his gaze for a moment, then dropped his eyes and shook his head. “I’m assuming you’ve noticed already, but I don’t have an alpha.”

“Hence why nobody’s come to kill me for sharing a flat with you. Ta, I got that.”

“I mean, I’ve never had an alpha.” Sherlock crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen doorframe, looking for all the world like a sulky teenager. “Never wanted one.”

John forced his face to stay blank. “And?”

“. . . And you’re not going to yell at me? Tell me I’m being stupid, endangering my health? Not going to prattle at me about how it’s an omega’s place to be kept and cherished and all that rot?”

“Do you want to be kept and cherished?”

Sherlock shook his head.

“Then no, I won’t. I mean, yeah, it’s not healthy to go for so long without spending your heat with an actual person, but you do loads of unhealthy things and none of them have killed you yet so I try to keep my mouth shut.” John shrugged. “I get it, I really do - you’d be miserable if you were bonded to some alpha who didn’t appreciate The Work and how much that means to you. You deserve better than that.”

Sherlock’s mouth opened, then shut again. John got the strong impression Mycroft Holmes was an idiot - yes, Sherlock needed an alpha for his health and all, but anyone who thought Sherlock could be tricked into forming a bond through sheer hormonal desperation needed to have his head examined. John could definitely see the appeal of getting closer to this gorgeous omega - god, he’d have to be blind not to - but Sherlock would see through any attempts at manipulation faster than John could dream up the lies. And that wasn’t worth the temporary pleasure of sharing a heat.

“Look.” John stood and rolled the tension out of his shoulders. “I’m assuming you were saying that your heats are uneven because you’ve never shared them with anyone, right?”

Sherlock bit his lip and nodded.

“So you don’t know when your next one is due. When was your last one?”

“Four months ago,” Sherlock said quietly.

“Right. Good. Could be any time in the next month or so, then. Anything you need me to do?” John winced, suddenly realizing how that sounded. “I mean,” he amended, “anything you need me to smuggle you from the clinic? Sometimes omegas find a rotation of caffeine and heavy-duty sleep aids helpful to-”

“I’m fine,” Sherlock snapped. “I have done this before, you know.”

John held up his hands in an instinctive apologetic gesture. “I know, I know. But sharing a flat with an unbonded alpha might throw things off, is all I’m saying. Be prepared for that. I can track down some articles on it, if you want. There’s been quite a bit of medical research, even just in the last few years.”

“I’ve read them.”

“Of course.” John eyed his flatmate. Sherlock was emitting waves of distress - the pull wasn’t as strong as it would have been if they were bonded, of course, but it made the alpha in John want to wrap the detective in a blanket and bundle him over to the sofa and just hold him until the distress went away. Which would undoubtedly have made the distress worse, if he tried it. Hormones were annoying.

Best to play it all off as nothing important. John huffed out a breath, nodded, and brushed past Sherlock as if nothing had happened. “Just let me know, then. I’m making tea - want some?”

Chapter Text

The reappearance of the black car the next day wasn’t completely unexpected. John was already most of the way to the Tube station, Oyster card practically in hand, but the car was pulled up alongside the kerb and Mycroft Holmes was smiling politely from the other side of the back seat and it was easier on his leg than walking another six blocks to work, anyway. John got in.

“Was going to call you, actually,” he said as he shut the door behind himself and turned to face the other alpha more fully. “Thought you might know about the ten thousand pounds that suddenly showed up in my bank account last night.”

“We never did discuss an exact amount - you’ll get another twenty thousand once you’ve seen my brother safely through his next heat, and additional funds for each subsequent heat you help with. He should be due soon, or so I understand.”

John repressed an eyeroll - an alarming habit he seemed to have picked up from Sherlock, he realized. “I’m not complaining about the amount. More worried that you paid me already at all. Have you never done this before?”

Mycroft managed to look offended. “I’ve assured myself you’re an honorable man, Doctor Watson-”

“No, not that either,” John interrupted. “Look - have you ever even met your brother? He uses my computer constantly, even when his own is two steps away. I can’t have mysterious transfers into my account - he cracked my laptop password in less than an hour, and it wasn’t at all obvious. I don’t expect my bank account to fare much better.”

Mycroft frowned. “I can arrange for a separate trust, if you’d prefer.”

“I don’t really care about the money,” John said. “The more important point is that I’m not going to be spending your brother’s heat with him.”

There was a long, accusatory silence following that pronouncement. John knew, intellectually, that silence was an interrogation tactic - hell, he’d used it himself plenty - but this time he was the one who cracked first. “He’s probably got a week or two left.”

His somewhat-employer merely blinked at him.

“Until his heat, I mean,” John clarified. “He’s still getting some benefit just from living with me, hormones around the flat and all that. Not as good as sharing a heat with someone, but it should help regulate the heats eventually. I’m not for sale, though, and I’m not going to take money for sleeping with anyone. Assignment or not.”

Mycroft cocked his head to the side slightly, assessing him. Something sharp was building in the air, a primal alpha stand-off, but hell if John was going to back down. The elder Holmes wasn’t the first one to try to intimidate him.

Eventually Mycroft nodded, breaking the tension. “A compromise, then - your earnings in a trust for your sister, for next time she needs . . . assistance. Rehab is expensive, and she’s more likely to stay if it’s the best facility Britain can offer.”

John blew out a long breath. Having Harry more or less taken care of would be a fucking huge weight off his shoulders, to be honest. “Yeah, okay.”

“But you have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship with my brother?”

“Not unless he changes his mind on the virtues of bonding. I’ll be his flatmate, nothing more. I mean, he is bloody gorgeous, but I can hardly see him settling into a domestic life of cooking supper and cleaning up after me and bearing my children.” John shuddered. “No thanks.”

“Very well then.” Mycroft withdrew a slim file from the briefcase on the seat between them and passed it to John. “That gives us more options with this.”

John took the file and flipped through it. A dossier. The first page included a picture of a pretty blonde woman, slender but not overly thin, probably about John’s own age. He skimmed the text. Mary Morstan.

“Our best guess is that she’s American, although beyond that our sources peter out. She passes well for a London native. And she’s been asking about you.”

“Me?” John took another look at the picture. Shot from mid-range, far enough to see most of her torso but not her full figure. Reasonably fit, pale skin, makeup but not too much, hair done artfully in some complicated twist. Pretty but not remarkable. “Can’t see why I’d interest anyone - I haven’t been in the loop on anything useful in months. I doubt I’d have any information to extract, to be honest.”

“We don’t know.” Mycroft looked peeved at having to admit that. “It could pertain to your activities in Afghanistan, it could be an attempt to get to Sherlock, or possibly through Sherlock to me. We don’t even know whether she’s aware of your history in MI6.”

John closed the folder and let it rest in his lap. “So what are you suggesting I do? Now that I’m back in England, I rather assumed anything that came up would fall more in MI5 territory.”

Mycroft nodded toward the file. “Just be aware. I expect she’ll approach you sometime in the next few days - an ostensible chance meeting, most likely. If you’re not courting my brother, then perhaps you can make a point of welcoming her attentions. For now.”

“Yeah, okay.” It would hardly be the first time John was required to flirt in service to his country, although he hadn’t particularly expected to have those skills called upon again after leaving Kandahar. At least here he wasn’t risking becoming the subject of an honor killing if the omega’s family found out just exactly who their darling scion was spending his heats with. Flirting with women took an entirely different skillset - playing up his softer qualities, playing down the alpha ones - but hell, that’s what he had left, wasn’t it? Fluffy jumpers and a cane and a part-time job doing locum work in a second-rate clinic. Not exactly an omega’s dream mate. For picking up women, though, it was perfect.

Oh - one more thing. “Mycroft?” John waited until he had the other alpha’s full attention. “I feel like I should make something completely clear before we go any further: I don’t work for you. I am not your employee, or your agent, or anything else. I’m accepting whatever reduced fee you wish to give me for living with your brother, but that’s the extent of our transaction. If that’s not adequate for you, tell me now and I’ll get on with finding somewhere else to live.”

Mycroft regarded him steadily for a long moment, then nodded. “You will alert me if anything changes.”

“Not necessarily,” John countered. Hell, I’ve been living with Sherlock for almost a month and a half now - I know how to deal with a Holmes. “I’ll call if there’s something I feel you need to know, but I’m not spying on Sherlock and I’m not going to manipulate him. Quite aside from everything else, I’m ready to get out of undercover work. You may buy my presence in the flat, the effect of my proximity on your brother’s hormonal balance, but that’s it. If and when I decide to leave is my own business.”

“Already making plans to leave?”

John smiled grimly. “I always like to have an escape route.” He glanced out the window and reached for the door handle. “Speaking of which, this is my stop. Good luck, Mycroft.”

***

“You didn’t take the Tube today,” Sherlock announced from his sprawled position on the sofa.

“Yeah, had a run-in with your brother.”

Sherlock sat up quickly. “What did he want?”

“What do you think?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and lay back down. “Obvious. You told him I’m not going to bond with you, I hope?”

“In slightly more colorful language, yes. Mostly I told him my life was none of his damn business.”

A ghost of a smile hovered at the corners of Sherlock’s lips. “I’d have loved to see that - Mycroft did always hate not getting his way. I bet you surprised him.”

John ducked into the kitchen so Sherlock couldn’t see his face. You have no idea.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was unusually quiet for the rest of the week. John took to practically dousing himself in aftershave in the mornings - it didn’t entirely cover over the scent of Sherlock’s approaching heat, but it made it possible for John to at least be in the same room with him without constantly having to hide his lap. Sherlock seemed distracted, too - staring off into space for minutes at a time, then jolting and eyeing John with a slight frown before launching himself to his feet and going to sulk in his bedroom. They both pretended everything was normal, John watching the telly or poking at his blog and Sherlock being Sherlock, but the impending heat was obviously bothering Sherlock more than he was willing to say. John wondered whether the detective had ever actually had a flatmate before, alpha or otherwise - Mycroft had insinuated Sherlock only resorted to a flatshare as a last resort, but that didn’t mean Sherlock hadn’t tried it before. If so, it had probably ended badly. John didn’t want to ask.

Saturday came, and with it, a call from Sarah - two doctors out with the flu, could John cover an afternoon shift? It was an excellent way to get out of the flat without making it obvious he really just needed time away from Sherlock’s scent, and John accepted gladly. Six hours and twenty patients later, he was finally on the Tube platform three blocks from the surgery and almost maybe possibly ready to go home and face Sherlock again without making a fool of himself.

“Oi!”

As the car doors opened, the waiting crowd lurched forward and jostled the woman behind him. She lost her balance, slamming into John’s shoulder and dropping her bag, which burst open and vomited books all over the cement floor. John caught himself, then her, then finally had a chance to look at her face.

It was the agent from Mycroft Holmes’ dossier. John froze for a moment, then let her go again.

“You’re going to miss your train,” she said quietly. “Sorry about that - someone knocked into me.”

As far as “chance” meetings went, it was a pretty good one, John had to admit. Mary Morstan looked slightly different than she had in her photo - softer makeup, a casual ponytail, and a fuzzy lavender cardigan. If she’d only been a redhead, she’d probably have been his perfect type. Someone had done their research.

“There’ll be another,” John answered. “Here, let me help you with those.”

Together they got her books back into the bag. John couldn’t help but notice a few of the titles.

“PTSD? You’re in the medical field?”

Mary smiled, but shook her head no. “Librarian, I’m afraid. Nowhere near as exciting. I was just . . . doing some research.”

“Oh?”

The train pulled out with a dry rush of wind, leaving John and Mary on the platform alone.

“My . . . my brother has it,” she admitted, blushing beautifully. “He just got out of the army about a month ago, back from Afghanistan, and he’s having a hard time. Coping with London. I wanted to read up on it a bit.”

If John hadn’t known she was playing a role, he’d have said the meeting was fate. Mary had the perfect blend of shyness and openness to really draw him out, and the books were an excellent touch. She hadn’t needed to be at all aggressive - the entire encounter was scripted to allow John to play the gallant one, helping an attractive woman in distress and earning her gratitude and possibly her company. The best disguise would probably be to just act like himself.

“Up for a cup of coffee?” John found himself saying. He’d definitely had worse assignments . . . “It’s the weekend, so we’ve got half an hour until the next train for the brown line comes through and there’s a shop right upstairs. Unless you were waiting for something else?”

“No, no,” Mary protested. “Coffee is - I like coffee. Thank you.” She smiled suddenly and offered her hand to shake. “Mary, by the way.”

Bingo. “John.”

He took the chance to study her further as they wandered up to the cheap chain coffeeshop. Things he noticed as an alpha: weak scent of jasmine, naturally a bit submissive (although that may have been an act), shy around the other alphas on the crowded platform but not frightened of him (ditto). Things he noticed as a red-blooded British male: she was prettier in person. And she had a beautiful smile. Things he noticed as a former MI6 agent: nothing. Which was disconcerting.

John ordered his coffee and took a seat across from her, putting on his best “easygoing harmless bloke” persona. Neither her appearance nor her manner really rang any alarm bells. Either she was fantastically good at undercover work or Mycroft was wrong. (Although if so, what were the chances he just happened to bump into an entirely innocent girl named Mary who also happened to be accidentally in the crosshairs of the British government?)

“So what do you do, John? You already know about me.”

John rather doubted that, but he didn’t let it show on his face. “Nothing exciting,” he lied. “I work part-time at a clinic a few blocks from here. It started out as a locum position, while one of the other doctors was out on maternity leave, but it’s been pretty steady since then.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “You’re a doctor? That counts as exciting.”

“Not really,” John said. “Up until about six months ago, I was in the army - London really can’t compare.”

“No, I suppose it wouldn’t.” She took a prim sip of her coffee and dropped her gaze to the table. “My brother says the same thing.”

“Was he invalided out, then?”

Mary smiled sadly. “He won’t say. Won’t talk about any of it, really - hence the books. He was never the most level-headed alpha anyway, but since he got back . . . I just want to help him if I can.”

John could see where this was going. “Let me guess: depression, mood swings, occasional bouts of yelling for no reason at all?”

Mary gaped at him. “How did you . . . you work with PTSD patients?”

“Took a bullet in the shoulder,” John admitted. “Spent four months in rehab, came home with my own PTSD diagnosis. It’s a bitch to get past. Pardon my language.”

She giggled into the rim of her cup and shot a quick glance at him through her eyelashes. “You speak from experience, then.”

“Kinda, yeah.” Everything he’d said so far was essentially public record, by now, but John still felt a bit of the old familiar thrill of going up against an enemy who may or may not know you know who they were. The best strategy was usually a mix of easily-verifiable truths and hard-to-disprove lies, all delivered with a smile. John was good at smiling.

“Would you-” Mary broke off, blushing. “Sorry, this is really forward of me, but would you be willing to walk me back to my flat? I didn’t want to say anything, but with missing the train and all, it’ll actually be quicker than if I wait for the next one to come around. I have to go through a few streets I hate walking alone, though - there’s a construction site a block away and I’m sick of getting catcalled from horny alphas.”

Ah, there it is - the hook. John pretended this was a perfectly natural thing to ask. “I don’t mind at all - we can chat while we walk. If you want. I’m in no hurry to get home.”

“I’d like that.”

***

Mary’s flat was about halfway back to Baker street. John learned all about her library (small, housed on the second floor of a museum John had never heard of, specialized in British literature), her brother (Sebastian, been in the army for three years, short temper but Mary swore he was brilliant), and her parents (killed in a car crash six years earlier). In turn, he told her practically nothing of substance, but she nodded and smiled and asked polite questions anyway. It was a pleasant walk.

The flat wasn’t in a bad neighborhood, necessarily, but it wasn’t a great one either. The buildings themselves were just old enough to start falling apart but not old enough to have any sort of charm involved in their construction. Mary indicated a four-storey brick monstrosity and shrugged. “Not perfect, but it’s what I can afford.”

“Mary?” A head popped out an upper window, followed by a massive pair of shoulders. “Who’s that bloke with you? Bringing home strange men?”

Mary shot an embarrassed look at John. “That’s Sebastian,” she said in a low tone. “He . . . doesn’t like me speaking to other people, really. I don’t get out much.”

“Protective alpha?” John guessed.

“Um . . .” Mary looked down. “Only when I make him mad, really. If I do what he asks, he really only just yells.”

So that’s how it’s going to be. John studied the alpha out of the corner of his eye. Sebastian Morstan was easily Sherlock’s height, if not taller, and had a good three stone on John. That said, it was impossible to guess how well he’d fight unless John ever got the chance to see him in action. How far were he and Mary planning to go to appeal to John’s protective streak?

There was no need to provoke them today, at any rate. John ducked a silent nod to Sebastian (a gesture usually done by a weaker alpha conceding to a stronger one, but the distance between them now made the subtleties a rather moot point) and turned his attention back to Mary. “Now it’s my turn to be a bit forward - any chance I might see you again?”

She bit her lip and blushed. “I . . . maybe? It’s possible you may find me at the same Tube stop at the same time next Saturday, I suppose.” She flicked up her gaze to catch John’s eye. “I’ll wait all afternoon if I have to.”

John laughed. He couldn’t help it. “John Watson,” he said. “Look me up between now and then and see if that changes your mind.”

Chapter Text

John had expected Sherlock to pounce on him when he got home and interrogate him about Mary, but he didn’t expect there to be literal pouncing. He was taken by surprise as he stepped into 221B and was almost knocked over by eleven stone of dressing gown and wild consulting detective. Only the subconscious knowledge that it was Sherlock kept him from reacting with a takedown or a punch to the jugular.

“Woman,” Sherlock growled, pressing his nose to John’s neck. “You’ve been with a woman and she was aroused by you. Her scent is all over your clothes.”

“Yes, I know, thank you,” John said, and pressed gently but firmly against Sherlock’s chest. The detective backed off, but continued to hover an arm’s length away, inhaling with great huffs of breath. “What’s gotten into-” John froze as it hit him. “Your bloody heat has started, hasn’t it?”

Sherlock groaned. “Heat, damn bloody heat, hate it, hate the hormones. You usually smell so good, John, smell like tea and your shampoo and alpha, but now it’s all wrong. All, all wrong, too much woman, not you - she’s muffled your scent and I hate it. Get it off, John. Get it off and smell like you again so I can lick it off you-”

“God, Sherlock.” John took a deep breath - which was a mistake, because the omega pheromones Sherlock was practically radiating were making him a bit lightheaded - and willed his mind to clear a bit. “Listen to me,” he said. “You don’t want this, remember? We talked about it last week and I asked you to try to give me some notice before your heat actually started. So I need to know: how long have you been feeling like this?”

Sherlock leaned into John’s splayed hand, straining to get closer, but he gulped in a deep breath of his own and closed his eyes. “Ah. Sev-no, eight hours. Was starting to feel prickly just before you left.”

“Okay. Right. Good.” John nodded. “You’ve got another hour or two before your heat proper, then. Will you be okay with me going upstairs to pack a bag? Just - stay right here, yeah?”

Sherlock swallowed hard and blinked a few times, visibly trying to clear his own foggy brain. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I’ll just - I’ll just be in my room.”

“No, it’s fine - I’ll only be a minute. I promise I’ll be right back.” John couldn’t resist reaching up to cup one sharp cheekbone, a gentle almost-caress. “Take a second to just breathe, okay?”

Sherlock nodded, nudging into his hand, but then launched himself in an undignified flop onto the sofa. John dashed up the stairs and threw a few days’ worth of clothes into a duffel. He probably missed something important, like pants or socks or whatnot, but right now it physically hurt to be away from the needy omega downstairs and he knew Sherlock probably wasn’t doing much better. In a sudden flash of brilliance, he grabbed the t-shirt off the top of his dirty laundry bin and tossed it over his shoulder before heading back downstairs.

The sight of Sherlock writhing against the sofa cushions brought him up short. The detective had thrown off his dressing gown, leaving himself in just his pajamas, and he was squirming like his skin was too tight for him. His eyes were closed and his head thrown back and he was already panting as if he were in the middle of a really good fuck. John forced himself to stand still and count to three before approaching.

“Sherlock?” He dropped his duffel near the door and held out the old shirt. “Here - I know the scent isn’t fresh on this one, but it’s not tainted with . . . well, with the woman I ran into today. You can use it if you want.”

Sherlock opened his eyes and pinned John with a slightly quizzical look. Only slightly quizzical, because any confusion was nearly drowned out by the desperation in his gaze, but John knew him well enough by now to understand.

Fuck it. “Sherlock - do you trust me?”

Sherlock licked his lips and nodded.

And damn it, the sight went straight to John’s cock, but he worked to keep his voice light and neutral. “I’m going to come sit with you for a few minutes, okay? Not for - not for sex, just . . .”

“. . . because your alpha pheromones will help me get through my heat more quickly,” Sherlock finished for him.

“Yeah,” John said. “I’m not making a move on you, I’m just trying to help. Even without an alpha for the - for the heat itself-”

“To fuck me,” Sherlock said bluntly.

Fuck. “Uh, that. Yeah. Even without that, living with me and absorbing some of my own scent should make it a little easier on you. So. Um.”

Sherlock shifted over slightly, even though there was already plenty of room on the sofa next to him. John sat.

And Sherlock immediately shifted to curl around him, face pressed into John’s trapezius where his scent was the strongest, one long leg thrown over John’s lap. Not straddling him, not quite, but definitely closer than they’d ever been before. John held himself perfectly still while Sherlock twitched and shifted and finally went limp with a long, contented sigh.

“Good?” John asked.

“Mmmmm,” Sherlock murmured sleepily against his neck. “You smell nice, John. Thank you.”

“You too.” John knew, intellectually, that this was just a short phase early on in the heat - the omega’s natural inclination to relax after having procured an alpha for the arduous mating ahead - but he must have truly been a selfish bastard because if this was all of Sherlock he was going to get, he was damn well going to enjoy every second of it. Even when Sherlock was so out of it that he’d use words like “thank you.”

“I’d heard about this before, you know,” Sherlock mumbled. “Stages of heat. What chemical changes go on inside an omega’s body when an alpha is available. First time I’ve tried it, though. With an alpha. ‘Snice.”

“Yeah, you say that now,” John said. “I’m going to have to go before your actual heat kicks in, though, and it’s going to be hell on you for a bit. Only a little while. Then it should be like your normal heats, except probably shorter. We’re tricking your body into thinking you’ve already been bred.”

“Stay?” Sherlock asked, a plaintive thread in his voice. “I’d let you breed me for real. I want you here.”

John let out a shaky breath and ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, that’s . . . not going to happen, Sherlock. Ask me sometime you’re not in heat. Then, maybe. But not now.”

“But I need you now!” Sherlock wriggled his hips, working his arse more firmly into John’s thigh. “I’m so empty, John - fill me, please. I want your fat alpha knot inside me, stretching me. Fill me with your cock. God, John, I need you to fuck me.”

Perversely, the porn-like pleas were what pulled John away from the brink of a hormone-induced bad decision and helped him shove Sherlock gently away. “Sorry, mate. I think it’s time for me to go now.”

“But John!” Sherlock tried to press closer, then when that didn’t work, he stood and stripped off his pajama shirt and trousers and pants in one lithe movement. His cock was erect and already twitching, and the scent of aroused omega redoubled. John fought the need to inhale, just one last whiff of that tantalizing pheromone-

He grabbed his bag and bolted.

Chapter Text

Sarah wasn't thrilled about John showing up on her doorstep unannounced and asking to crash on her lilo for a few days, but she let him in with no questions asked. Not asking didn't seem to preclude her from assuming, though.

"Always knew I couldn't hold your attention when up against an omega roommate," she said bluntly while holding the door open for him to come in. "Didn't expect to see you avoiding him this soon, though. Trouble in paradise?"

John blew out a harsh breath and hitched his duffel higher to keep the strap from digging into his scar. "It's not like that," he muttered.

"Oh, please. Even I can smell his heat on you. Can't believe you left him like that - he must have really pissed you off. Don't make him wait too long, or he'll be too far gone to actually call and apologize."

John made his way to the spare-bedroom-slash-study and dumped his bag on the nearest flat surface. "Not going to talk about it," he said over his shoulder.

Sarah snorted from somewhere behind him. "Now that I believe. Don't blame me if he spends all night pleading with you to put him out of his misery, though. Or goes out and seduces the first alpha he can find. Solo heats can be a bitch."

***

Aberration over. Airing out the flat now. -SH

Bring milk? -SH

***

John was on his lunch break at the clinic when he got the texts. Forty-eight hours - Sherlock had never said how long his previous heats had usually lasted, but two days was on the low side for an unbonded omega without an alpha’s knot available. Hopefully that meant John’s pheromones helped.

“That from Sherlock?” Sarah asked, nodding toward John’s phone.

“Yeah - safe to go home, apparently.”

“I’d wager that’s not true, not with that mad bent he has for blowing up your kitchen.”

John shrugged. Yes, living with Sherlock tended to involve a touch more danger from unexpected places (no one expects a desiccated scorpion to be stored in the silverware drawer), but it kept his days interesting. Sherlock’s aversion to boredom was catching, it seemed.

“He has another alpha, then?” Sarah asked curiously. “I mean, you didn’t mention anyone before, but you didn’t charge back home after an hour or two either.”

“Sherlock is . . . not your typical omega.” Understatement of the year.

“No possessive friend to show up and throw you out during his heats?”

John’s mind flashed back to one of his earliest conversations with his flatmate, in which Sherlock declared adamantly that he didn’t “do” friends and John definitely ought not to assume that being an alpha conferred special privileges. That prickliness dried up about the time Sherlock discovered John didn’t expect him to do all the cooking and cleaning, and in fact was perfectly willing to clean the flat for both of them most of the time. They never came out and talked about their dynamics, but Sherlock clearly had a chip on his shoulder the size of London Bridge about it and John wasn’t actually as stupid as Sherlock seemed to think. He knew when to keep his mouth shut.

Aloud, though, he just hummed noncommittally and finished off his sandwich. It wasn’t Sarah’s business, really, for all she had just put him up for the last two nights. Sherlock was Sherlock and that was that.

***

“You forgot the milk.”

“Hello to you too, Sherlock.” John hung up his coat and eyed his flatmate. Even with all the windows open, the flat still smelled like omega pheromones and sex. Which was having the predictable effect on his body. He ignored it. “Never promised to bring any, and you don’t drink it anyway.”

“I need it for an experiment.”

“Of course.”

Sherlock was sitting in his armchair like a proper person for once, elbows and knees and shoulders all in the right positions, and it was throwing John off. When Sherlock sat he usually lounged, melting into the shape of whatever container he happened to be ensconced in. Most of the time, that meant slouching into his seat with his legs drawn up into uncomfortable-looking angles and his head lolling against the low back. More than once, John had considered moving the chair closer to the window, just to see whether Sherlock would roll over and bask the way a cat would.

“I burned a candle,” Sherlock said suddenly.

“Um . . . okay?”

Sherlock nodded toward the mantel, where a gutted candle did indeed sit perched next to the skull. “The wrapper claimed it would smell like clean linen, but it really only contained some of the more common fragrances used for laundry detergent - no smell of linen at all.”

“The bastards.” John tried what he hoped was a soothing smile and lowered himself into his own chair across from Sherlock. He knew they needed to talk, Sherlock knew it, and now the only question was which one of them would cave first-

“Right. I’m headed out. You’ll want some privacy to deal with your erection.” Sherlock stood abruptly and would have gotten entirely out the door before John had a chance to speak if John hadn’t grabbed his hand as he brushed by.

“Wait, Sherlock - sit.”

Sherlock frowned down at him. “You want to talk - I’d rather not.”

“We should anyway. Or this will be just as awkward the next time you have a heat.”

Sherlock took a deep breath, then slowly sat down. Not actually meeting John’s eye. “You want me to apologize,” he said dully.

“Um.” John settled deeper into his chair, purposely giving an impression of comfort and ease despite the prickling in his spine. “No apology necessary, you know. Just . . . you said some things-”

“I stripped naked and begged for your cock in my arse.”

Yeah. That. John fought the urge to shift his suddenly more urgent erection into a less painful position. “It was your heat talking, Sherlock. I know that. I meant before that.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “You offered your services for later. I haven’t changed my mind - I have no interest in maintaining a partner.”

“I know that too.” What was it going to take to get through to the brilliant berk? “The fact is, though, we’re both unbonded and living together. And both of us will be - are - going through hormonal changes as our bodies try to cope with that. I’m not pushing to bond with you, I’m just trying to get some acknowledgement that you understand how this works.”

Sherlock looked down, suddenly losing much of his confident posturing. “It’s all new to me,” he finally said after several seconds of silence. “I haven’t lived with an alpha since Mycroft presented and then went off to school, and that’s obviously a bit different.”

“Yeah, okay.” That wasn’t entirely a surprise, given what Mycroft had said about Sherlock refusing an alpha up until now, but it was good to get it in Sherlock’s own words. “I’ve never actually lived with an omega before, either,” John admitted. “Shared some heats, on occasion, but never with someone who - yeah. Not the same. So this part is new to me too.”

“I never said I haven’t shared a heat with anyone,” Sherlock said softly. “It just wasn’t my heat.”

John blinked. “Another omega?”

“I was . . . curious. It’s hard to think straight while in the middle of one, and I wanted to see what it looked like from the outside.”

That sounded completely like Sherlock, and John had to muffle a horribly inappropriate giggle. “Come to any conclusions?”

“Mostly that Victor Trevor was a complete arse, and that omega heat pheromones are entirely lost on me.”

“Yeah, I . . . yeah.” John shook his head to clear it from that mental image, of Sherlock and some unknown omega writhing on a bed together. It was definitely not helping him ignore his continuing erection. “How about alpha pheromones, though? Did my jumper help?”

Sherlock’s flush was obvious, even with his head ducked and his face hidden. “Maybe,” he mumbled. “I’ll give it back later.”

John interpreted that as yes, very much, but I’m mortified to have given in to biology. They sat in silence for a minute or two more, not actually looking at each other.

“The cuddling was nice,” Sherlock said out of the blue just as the tension was becoming thick enough to suffocate on. “Thank you for that.”

“It’s fine.” John finally looked up, caught Sherlock’s eye. “We can . . . we can do that more, if you want. Not as a prelude to sex or anything, just . . . because it feels nice. I can tell when you’re anxious and I keep wanting to hover but I don’t want to impose. Only if you want to,” he finished lamely.

Sherlock didn’t say anything, but he did fix John with a long, searching stare. And then slowly unfolded himself from his armchair and came over to drape himself in John’s lap. John’s erection was poking him in the hip, but they both pointedly ignored it. They sat perfectly still, an awkward half-embrace, until Sherlock finally relaxed the rest of the way and let his cheek rest against the top of John’s head.

“Good?” he murmured.

John brought an arm around Sherlock’s waist, stabilizing him so he wouldn’t slide off on to the floor. “Good,” he whispered back.

Chapter Text

The sheer pressure of not talking about it was building to a boiling point when a new case came in and they finally got a reprieve. Sherlock said “dognapping,” so John visualized a rich old lady and a yappy pomeranian. The Earl of Sanbroke and his missing golden retriever were a welcome surprise.

The Earl turned out to be a surprisingly attractive fortysomething omega with a bright smile and a permanent laugh in his voice. He had spent thirty thousand pounds and nearly six months training his guide dog, and he was understandably broken up about her loss. Without “Goldie” (Sherlock had a lot to say about the inanity of that name), the Earl’s blindness left him practically confined to his house. If his alpha boyfriend hadn’t been willing to come along on occasional errands, he would have been essentially stranded.

The case took a full three days, but they were three days of action. John didn’t mind a bit. Sherlock was absolutely in top form, dashing from one lead to another, generally just being breathtaking while doing it. Even better - to John’s mind - was how all that dashing about left them a whirlwind of opportunities to touch each other.

It was never anything sexual, but at the moment John didn’t really care. The first night involved a moonlit slog through a muddy forest path in the park, tracking the dognappers’ physical trail, and Sherlock allowed John to brace them both against accidental falls by holding his hand in the dark. With gloves, but still. The second day was more made up of pacing around the flat and Sherlock muttering and John making a lot of tea, but that evening they ended up on the sofa side-by-side and John didn’t flinch away when Sherlock leaned in and inhaled a long whiff of his scent.

“This actually helps,” Sherlock announced, and then popped back up off the sofa to pace again, hands flying madly as he gestured to himself while thinking. “John, I’m going to need to take samples of your pheromones after this case so I can study them. Clearly I’ve been overlooking something.” He threw his head back and growled at the ceiling. “But what? The dog couldn’t have gone from the garden without the housekeeper hearing the gate, but she obviously wasn’t lying about serving supper late - the evidence was all over the kitchen. Therefore the relevant paradox is in . . .”

John leaned back against the Union Jack pillow and let Sherlock rant. It was fascinating to watch, actually - rather like seeing a tiger pace back and forth at the zoo. Except here, Sherlock wasn’t safely behind two chain-link fences and a thick pane of plexiglass. Nothing stopping him from abruptly abandoning his monologue and pouncing on John right where he sat. John rather fancied he could picture exactly how it would go - Sherlock turning that laser-bright focus on him, observing his interest in the line of his shoulder or the depth of his breathing, then a sudden switch flipping in that magnificent brain. Sherlock would break off mid-rant and stalk him, prowling closer and closer until he could sink down onto the floor between John’s thighs and trace those sinfully long fingers gently up the inner seam of John’s trousers-

“John. John. I was talking - why weren’t you listening?”

John blinked and shook off the daydream. “I assumed you weren’t actually talking to me,” he said.

Sherlock shot an exaggerated look around the flat. “Who else would I be talking to? I was being brilliant and you were missing it!”

“Sorry,” John said, and sat up straighter so he could pay better attention to Sherlock’s raving.

***

The third day was more running, with a sloppy rugby tackle thrown in for good measure. The dognapper was - as Sherlock finally got around to deducing late the previous evening - the Earl’s alpha boyfriend of not quite two months. The man had displayed the good sense to be elsewhere when Sherlock and John got back to the Earl’s Mayfair residence, but when he finally returned he went and did something monumentally stupid (pulling a knife on Sherlock) and John was forced to take him down before anyone got hurt. The scuffle left Sherlock with a small cut over his right eyebrow, John with mud on his new trousers, and the alpha with both a broken wrist and a fractured ulna. John ended up catching his breath on the bench in the Earl’s back garden while Sherlock burned off the rest of his excess energy in random bursts of verbal bloodletting directed toward anyone who ventured too close. Thirty-eight was definitely getting too old for field work, John decided - sitting felt marvelous. Maybe retiring from MI6 hadn’t been that bad an idea after all.

He was so engrossed in observing his flatmate, he didn’t realize the Earl had joined him on the bench until the man spoke. “You’re not actually together, are you,” the Earl observed.

John tore his gaze from where Sherlock was berating the housekeeper. “Sorry?”

The Earl jerked his head toward Sherlock. “With him. I can’t see if you have bonding marks or not, obviously, but you don’t smell like it. Your scent is halfway in between - not bonded, but not just acquaintances.”

“I . . . yeah,” John admitted. He rarely talked about his relationship with Sherlock to anyone (except Mycroft, and that was only under duress), so he didn’t know what made him say something now. The Earl had been nothing but kind to both of them, though, and he did seem like a genuinely nice omega. “We’re just friends. Well, that and flatmates. Sherlock is independent that way.”

“Ah.” The Earl cocked his head, almost as if he could see John’s face and was studying it. “You’re more traditional, then - an omega’s place is running the home?”

John smothered a laugh. “God, no. I mean, yes, I’d probably like to settle down and maybe have kids someday, but it’s all I can do to get Sherlock to wash a bloody dish every once in a while. If I left all the traditional chores to him, the flat would be uninhabitable within a month. I’m more in favor of both parties doing what they’re comfortable with and working it out from there.” He snorted. “For us, that means I do all the work while Sherlock runs around doing-” - he waved vaguely in the direction Sherlock had been yelling from only a minute ago - “-whatever that is he’s doing right now. Being Sherlock, I guess.”

“I see.” The Earl smiled faintly. “And do you ever . . .” He let out a little hum and sighed. “Sorry, I’m bollocks at this, so I’ll be blunt: I seem to find myself without an alpha and you smell fantastic. Your blog makes me laugh and I was very impressed at the way you disarmed Howard right here in the middle of the back garden. Goldie seems to like you, too, which is good enough for me. Any chance you’d be interested in dinner or coffee or something?”

“I . . .” John had to blink several times to assimilate the unexpected offer. “Are you sure? I’m short, I’m informed I have terrible taste in jumpers, and I’m only marginally employed at the moment. To be honest, I’m not exactly in your league. I’m not even positive I’m in a league anymore.”

“I don’t care about your height, I can’t see the color of your jumpers anyway, and I’m rich enough not to care about money most of the time,” the Earl answered immediately. “I do know you have a good handshake and a very nice voice and it’s sexy as hell to know you broke my ex-alpha’s arm after what he put Goldie through. I’ve been following your blog almost since the beginning and it’s always a bright spot in my day. So to speak.” He tapped his sunglasses and flashed a genial smile. “Not to brag, but losing my sight has made me very good with my hands.”

John was tempted - truly, honestly tempted. It would complicate the mission with Mary (whom he didn’t actually want anyway), and the . . . whatever-it-was . . . with Sherlock (who didn’t want him), but the Earl was open in a way John rarely encountered in another person. And he was definitely good-looking, in an affable way. Plus John would have been lying if he’d said having someone hitting on him because they actually liked his blog wasn’t a huge booster shot to the ego. Sherlock would probably pout, of course-

“He’s taken,” Sherlock announced pointedly from the behind them.

John turned and stared. “Sherlock?”

The detective returned his quizzical look with a hard stare of his own. “We may not be bonded but he’s not ‘on the market,’ Lord Sanbroke. Please do remember that.”

“Of course,” the Earl replied easily. “Sorry, Dr. Watson. I do sometimes miss undercurrents like that without the visual signals to back them up. Hope I haven’t offended you.”

“No, of course not,” John said automatically, his eyes still on his flatmate. “I’m flattered, really.”

“Time to go, John,” Sherlock said, arranging his scarf around his neck and tossing the tail over his shoulder. “If we stay longer, they’ll make us do paperwork.”

John went, but not without a last puzzled glance over his shoulder. The Earl and Goldie were both sitting perfectly still, casual but motionless, until after John and Sherlock were out of sight.

***

The cab ride back was tense but silent. “Care to explain what the bloody fuck that was?” John demanded as soon as they were back in their own flat. “Because from my perspective, that seemed like you cockblocking me just for the hell of it.”

“Nonsense,” Sherlock said, tugging off his scarf and coat. “I have no idea where you’d get that impression.”

“Maybe from you telling him we were together? Honestly, Sherlock, I’ve been more than accommodating - I do the bloody cleaning, I give you your space, I even make the damn tea. But you don’t get to flounce around the flat, ignoring me, then suddenly decide I’m your personal possession and declare you don’t share your toys.”

“You’re not a toy, John.” Sherlock took up residence on one end of the sofa and held out an arm. “Come here.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re angry with me and it makes me want to curl up around you until my body heat and my pheromones get you to settle down. Please. I don’t like when you’re mad.”

It was the please that did it - that, or the undeniable truth that Sherlock was, indeed, feeling distressed. John sighed and allowed himself to be tugged down next to Sherlock. And damn it, yes, feeling Sherlock’s arms around him and Sherlock’s nose nuzzling his collarbone did help release some of the tension he had been carrying. “What am I, then?” John asked quietly. “I thought you didn’t want this.”

Sherlock was quiet for so long John thought he’d fallen asleep, but at least he shifted his weight and spoke. “I don’t want to be owned.”

“Nobody could own you.” No matter how much your brother tries. John resolved to smack Mycroft Holmes at the next possible opportunity.

“I don’t like being an omega,” Sherlock admitted. “Nobody takes me seriously. I have to work twice as hard to get half as much respect. My body betrays me, puts me out of commission for days every time I have a heat. You’re an alpha - you have no idea what it’s like. But you’ve come the closest.”

John tightened his arm around Sherlock’s shoulder, which caused Sherlock to burrow more closely into his jumper. “I know you don’t like it,” he said. “But you don’t get to throw a wobbly over me either. You may not want to find a partner, but I do. Maybe not today, but eventually. Your little tantrum today was totally out of line.”

“So date women. You can have sex and you’ll still always keep coming home to me.”

John gently eased Sherlock off him. “I don’t want to always come home to you, Sherlock,” he said. “Not if it means I have to put off finding a real partner indefinitely. I wouldn’t object to ending up with a woman, of course, if that’s what it came to, but a gorgeous omega propositioned me today and you ran him off by claiming something you don’t actually have.”

Sherlock’s expression went carefully guarded, a look John had dubbed the pre-sulk, and he shuffled back a bit further so no part of their bodies were touching. “If you date an omega, you’ll leave me.”

“Maybe eventually, but you can’t know that. It was just an invitation for coffee.”

Sherlock shook his head. “Dating an omega means you’ll disappear for ages when he's in heat. I don’t want to give you up that long - I might need you. At least if you’re dating a woman, I can always distract you if I have to. I have the chemical advantage.”

The arrogant prick! . . . John stood up abruptly, just done with this whole conversation. “Fuck you, Sherlock. I’m not a possession and I’m not an experiment. Don’t try to manipulate me, and I won’t treat you like a helpless little omega. Pull that shit on me again, though, and I won’t stick around for more.”

The slamming of his bedroom door didn’t quite cover the sound of Sherlock’s distressed whimper.

Chapter Text

The next day was Saturday again, which meant another chance to see Mary. That wasn’t until the afternoon, though, and Sherlock was being an arse right the fuck away by screeching on his violin at six-bloody-thirty in the morning. John gave up on sleep sometime around seven and resolved to just get out of the flat instead.

A leisurely breakfast out (alone, thankyouverymuch) and a large cup of coffee helped a lot. John settled onto a bench at a park he’d never been to before and pulled out the book he’d just bought. Ten pages in he realized it was going to be boring as hell, but it was better than putting up with Sherlock when they were both mad at each other so he struggled through another four chapters. He eventually got engrossed enough that he almost didn’t notice Mycroft Holmes until the man came and sat down right beside him.

“You’re a hard person to find when you’re angry at my brother,” Mycroft commented.

John grunted in response, but he did put the book down.

“He’s done something tactless again, hasn’t he? I did warn you.”

John really didn’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want to deal with Mycroft Holmes now, of all times, but definitely didn’t want to talk about Sherlock. Mycroft didn’t seem inclined to leave, though, so John pasted on a nonchalant smile and shrugged. “I’m used to it by now.”

“How is he?”

“Sulking,” John admitted. “He’s eating more, though, and he actually sleeps on purpose sometimes. We just finished a case yesterday.”

“I heard - the matter for Lord Sanbroke. Charming man, isn’t he?”

“. . . Yes?” John couldn’t tell whether Mycroft was intentionally alluding to Sherlock’s behavior or not, but he wasn’t about to volunteer anything. “He’s got a lovely dog, I thought.”

“Indeed.” Mycroft twirled his ubiquitous umbrella against the bench, the nylon swishing softly as it moved. “John - has there been any change in the nature of your relationship between yourself and my brother? Perhaps as a result of the Lord Sanbroke case?”

Not really. Just that he’s being more of an arse than usual. “Be assured I’ll tell you when there’s something you need to know.”

“Of course.” Mycroft nodded, but his eyes said he didn’t believe a word of it. “What of your interested female suitor?”

“Ah. I’m meeting her again this afternoon, actually. Our first encounter went well, I thought - she seems absolutely my type. Other than her hair - she should have known to dye it red. Maybe her research didn’t cover that tidbit? Blondes aren’t my first choice, usually.” Sherlock would have known.

“Anything more you’ve learned about her?”

“She’s living with an alpha. Says he’s her brother Sebastian.” John met Mycroft’s eye. “I’d easily believe that he’s ex-military, and they both pass well for native Brits. Sebastian, as presented to me, is a loud-mouthed blowhard with a habit of violence and bullying behavior. Mary seems to be trying her best to help him get under control, despite his less-than-chivalrous attitude toward her. I’ll probably be expected to step in at some point to prevent some sort of abuse. Doubt it will be today, though - bit early in the ‘relationship’ for that.”

Mycroft held John’s gaze for a long moment before casually tipping his face up to enjoy the sunshine. Just two blokes out enjoying the weekend. One of whom is in a bespoke suit and runs half the government. Probably doesn’t even own jeans. “You have it under control, then,” he said.

“Again - I’ll let you know when I have something more.” John glanced at his watch. “I do have several hours to kill, though - any chance I could look over her files before I meet her again?”

***

Mycroft’s assistant provided John with both a thick stack of paperwork and an absolutely divine roast beef sandwich. He sat at the small work desk in the back room of Mycroft’s nondescript government building and tried to absorb as much information as he could. Mary Morstan’s file was still sparse, but Sebastian Morstan (previously “Moran,” actually - coincidence?) had a much larger collection of information. Two years in the American Marines, then dishonorably discharged for some nebulous reason. Tracking down the how and the why took the better part of three hours and still yielded no real answers. Something involving Afghanistan, that was clear, but the details either weren’t in the file or John just wasn’t able to make the connections. Sherlock would have solved it in minutes, he knew, but the thought settled in his stomach like a rich supper and weighed him down. Sherlock could have helped, but he couldn’t possibly be allowed to find out about John’s MI6 experience because then he’d know why John was living at 221B and he wouldn’t tolerate John’s presence long enough to explain. And as much as Sherlock would probably be right to be mad, John didn’t really want to move out.

He gave up around noon. He wasn’t likely to get any more out of the files, anyway, no matter how long he stared at the reports. Still several hours until the time he’d met Mary at last week, but she said she’d wait “all afternoon” and it seemed prudent to appear even more eager than she was, so it would be worth making an appearance early. At least he still had the rest of his book.

John turned his phone back on while he walked. Four texts from Sherlock, all on the theme of “I command you to come home this instant.” John sent a single “Later” and turned his phone back off. Sherlock was a surprise best sprung on Mary at a future date (assuming she didn’t know about him already - unlikely as that was).

He plopped onto the nearest bench to where he and Mary met before, pulled his book, and settled in to wait.

***

“You came!”

She was wearing a different cardigan today, a pale rose with a pleated cream skirt. The same soft makeup, just enough to accentuate her wide eyes and her delicate skin. Slightly more cleavage this time - she’d caught him looking before, then. Not going to play the total innocent?

“Of course I came - I was worried you’d have changed your mind.” John marked his place with the edge of the book’s dust jacket and stood, showering Mary with a bright smile. As if he’d spent the entirety of the previous week anxious over the chance to see her again. “I thought, maybe - if you have the time? - we could go downtown and take a turn around Regent Park. Or wander through the zoo, if you’d rather. It’s a beautiful day and it would be a shame to waste it. That is, if you’re interested?”

She graced him with a brilliant smile to match his own and took his arm demurely (despite the fact that he hadn’t really been offering it). “That sounds fantastic, truly,” she said in a slightly breathless tone. “I actually - I told Seb I had to work again today, but I don’t. I actually have four or five more hours left before he’ll expect me home. So I’ve got all the time in the world, if you want me.”

Oh, I definitely do. Just not for the reasons you think. “Fantastic - dinner then too, if you want. It’s not every day I get the chance to escort a gorgeous woman around London.” John tilted his head slightly to the side, as if he wasn’t sure whether he was allowed to be flirtatious or not, but of course Mary giggled sweetly and nudged his shoulder with her own in a convincing show of modesty.

“I think I like you, John,” she said, and held his gaze with a silly little smile on her face until their train finally came.

***

They spent three hours at the zoo. John was hyper-aware of their outwardly-banal conversation, constantly analyzing it for any hidden questions that might illuminate what Mary wanted out of him, but she kept everything completely superficial as befitted a first date. It actually took some work to keep from mentioning Sherlock’s name - it seemed like John’s instinctive answer to everything was “Sherlock said . . .” or “When Sherlock does that . . .” or “Before I met Sherlock . . .” and if he gave in to that, he’d have to explain the whole story about how they became flatmates. (Not the whole story, obviously, not the parts about MI6 and Mycroft Holmes, but “I met him when he was whipping a corpse in the morgue” didn’t seem like first date material.) Mary did ask about several topics which could have included Sherlock if John had wanted to, but she didn’t push when he sidestepped the questions, so that whole hypothesis was inconclusive.

“Tell me more about you and your brother,” he finally said once the not-quite-about-Sherlock questions had run their course. “You said he got back from Afghanistan recently?”

“Little over a month ago, yeah.” Her voice held a resigned sadness John found achingly familiar - he’d heard it in all his mother’s phone calls for months, until he met Sherlock and stopped moping about quite so much. “He was over there for less than a year. He hadn’t really even intended to go - originally when he signed on with the army, they promised him he could stay local. Chippenham’s less than an hour away from where we grew up. He -” - she sucked in a deep breath - “- he had an omega back home. Nigel. They hadn’t formally bonded, yet, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time. Our parents were never rich, though, and Sebastian wanted to do right by his soon-to-be family, so the army it was.”

“What happened?”

“Nigel died during Seb’s first month abroad. He and Seb had been talking about both going off birth control - had a big fight about it right before Seb left, actually. I was upstairs and heard more than they probably wanted me to. Whatever they meant to say, the reality was that Sebastian left on bad terms and they were barely speaking to each other when Nigel died. And of course Sebastian couldn’t get leave to come home, because Nigel wasn’t actually his bonded.”

“Wow.” Fake story or not, John had seen similar scenarios play out more than once among army alphas and it was a hell of a thing to have happen to you when you were trapped in a desert getting shot at and couldn’t do anything about it. The drive to protect your omega was there, even when you were three thousand miles away. “His death was unexpected, then? An accident?”

“There was a fire.” She shot him a wobbly little smile. “The inspector said it came down to shoddy wiring in the attic plus a leaky roof - after the fight, Nigel insisted on renting somewhere cheap to live while Seb was gone anyway. Said they could find the perfect home later.”

“I’m sorry,” John said, automatic but sincere. “Nobody should have to lose an omega like that, bonded or no.”

“Yeah, I . . . I get that it’s an alpha thing, I suppose.” Mary drew John off to the side of the path and gestured for him to join her on a slightly damp park bench. “Seb says I’ll never understand.”

That was probably a bit harsh, but there was a grain of truth to it. There was no shortage of mated pairs of every possible permutation - alphas with alphas, omegas with women, women with other women (as Harry could attest), and so on - but there was something more about an alpha-omega bonded pair. Something backed up by hormones and pheromones and biology and while falling in love with a woman would be very nice indeed, it would never be quite the same. John might not be able to trust Mary (or whatever her real name was), but she was right about not understanding.

Which only served to remind John of his purpose here. Play, don’t be played. “He really cares for you, doesn’t he? I mean, I only saw him the once, but . . .”

Mary sighed, and John imagined he could see her shifting gears into “completely rehearsed mode.” Practiced tilt of the head, downward glance, rueful expression. “Sebastian wants what’s best for me,” she said. “I don’t always agree with him about what’s best, but he’s my brother and he’s an alpha and I do know he cares. Wants to care. It’s hard.”

“Yeah, that I do understand.” John reached out and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and wasn’t entirely surprised when she didn’t seem to want to let go.

Chapter Text

“You had a date today,” Sherlock announced as John got back to the flat that evening. “With a woman. Took my advice, then?”

“Shove off,” John answered, but he didn’t really mean it. It was nice to be home. Complete with the sulking consulting detective taking up the entire sofa and the exploded remains of some mystery experiment coating a large part of the kitchen table. “I met her last week and she was kind enough to ask if we could meet up again. We walked around the zoo and had dinner, but I’m sure you deduced that already.”

Sherlock rolled off the sofa and came to stand very close to John, leaning in to sniff his jacket. “Italian,” he said, sounding surprised. “John - you didn’t take her to Angelo’s, did you?”

“And have him think I’m cheating on you? No thanks,” John answered. “Found a little place near Hyde Park.”

“Ah.”

“Jealous much?”

Sherlock leapt back, his practiced sneer a second too late to fully conceal his hurt look. “You were very clear about your feelings in that regard,” he muttered.

“Was I?” John stalked closer, backing Sherlock up against the sofa - not threatening, but not letting him twirl away in a pique either. “Sherlock, you just smelled my coat. You’re mad at me for daring to spend time with someone else. Get over it.”

“I wasn’t . . .” Sherlock put up a valiant fight, holding John’s eye as long as he could, but eventually their physical proximity and his omega biology got the best of him (as John had known it would). Sherlock ducked his head until his nose was just barely skimming John’s trapezius and made a small, distressed sound. “I don’t like it,” he finally said.

“I know.” John didn’t let his posture change at all, not a muscle twitch, but he did bring a hand up to cup Sherlock’s shoulder. “I don’t like being mad at you either.” He let out a sharp huff of laughter. “If nothing else, the book I read today was total crap. Would have rather sat around the flat grousing at you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

John pulled away, but only to swing around and take a seat on the sofa. He patted the cushion next to him, inviting Sherlock to sit. “It’s complicated.”

Sherlock accepted the invitation with alacrity, all but curling up in the space next to John, not quite touching but close enough John could feel his body heat through the fabric of his clothes. “Doesn’t have to be,” Sherlock said. “Just don’t get mad at me next time.”

“Don’t piss me off,” John said, and sighed. “You can’t have it both ways, you know. I like doing this -” - he waved vaguely at their two bodies almost-touching - “- and I do respect your decision not to settle down with an alpha. But that also means you need to respect my right to have a life that doesn’t revolve around you. Even if you think it’s stupid. Even if it means you don’t know where I am and what I’m doing every minute of the day.”

Sherlock pulled back, just far enough to look John over from head to toe. “Lasagna for dinner,” he announced. “With tiramisu for dessert, which you split with your date. You got a spot on your cuff. Before that, you spent at least two hours at the zoo, probably closer to three. Shared a bench for quite a while, mostly in the sun, you’re going to have a bit of a burn on the left side of your neck. Moreso than the right, because she put her head on your shoulder for part of it. Prior to that, you-”

“Yes, you’ve proved your point,” John interjected.

“-you took the Tube to Regent’s Park. Three separate stops - no need for that, not with Regent’s Park within walking distance of here, so the third stop was for a purpose. Picked her up? Or - no, you actually met her at the Tube station. John, really?” Sherlock shook his head, dismissing whatever objection had made him pause. “So Baker Street to somewhere else and back to Regent’s Park, then the same in reverse. Has to be another stop on the brown line. Near her home, then.”

“Okay, Sherlock, that’s-”

“But of course - you walked her back to her flat last week, how could I forget? Right, so that was easy enough. You sat on the platform at her stop for ages, though, reading your ‘total crap’ book. Why, one might ask? Because you were killing time between your pre-arranged meeting and something else. You were already in the neighborhood. You were -” - he leaned over and swiped a finger along John’s sock, just along the edge where it met his shoe - “- somewhere slightly dusty, industrial-strength cleaners but a less-used section of the building, correspondingly cleaned less frequently. Why would you . . .” He frowned, then delicately touched the tip of his (dusty?) finger to his tongue. And froze. “Mycroft.”

Fuck.

Sherlock’s eyes were wide, now, scanning over John’s entire body. “John. Explain.”

John briefly considered trying to lie. He very much doubted he’d be able to spin a story fast enough to fool Sherlock Holmes, though, especially now that Sherlock was so incredibly alert. Alert and affronted. “You tell me.”

Sherlock’s lip curled up into a sneer. “Why didn’t I see it before? Mycroft can’t stand for there to be any bloody pies without his fingers in them. He’s always meddling. I don’t know why I expected you to be any different.”

“Sherlock-”

“No,” Sherlock snapped. “I’m halfway done, might as well finish. Brownish dust residue on your socks indicates you’ve been in that super-secret hidey-hole he calls an office. Set you up at that little desk in the back room, right? Gave you a dossier on me, I expect. ‘A Study of the Sherlock Holmes In His Natural Habitat.’ What’s he offering you - money? Or has he been paying you this whole time?” He sucked in a sudden breath, his face blanching. “Oh. Oh. He’s mad at you now, isn’t he. Because I didn’t let you fuck me. Missed an opportunity to get me bonded. You passed up a good payday, there.”

“Sherlock.”

But Sherlock was on a roll now. “I expect you were an excellent find, Doctor - army-trained, science-minded, unusually tolerant of eccentricity, and poor as a churchmouse. Ripe for the plucking. Except you were supposed to be the one doing the harvesting, I’m sure. Worming your way into my flat and into my arse. Did he have some stern words for you today, then? Or just that impassive stare before he threatened you into submission? No wonder you went out looking for a woman to fuck - perhaps you felt a bit out of practice. It’s been a while for you, after all. Maybe-”

“Sherlock, shut the fuck up.” John rolled before Sherlock could react, straddling the omega’s hips and pinning him down to the sofa. “I’ll explain it all if you’ll just shut up and listen to me already.”

“I don’t see how you could possibly have anything to say I’d care to hear,” Sherlock snapped back. “Get off me.”

“No.” John settled himself further, grinding his pelvis into Sherlock’s thighs, and matched Sherlock’s angry stare with one of his own. “I am going to tell you the truth, and you are going to sit here and listen. Without interrupting. And then, if you want to leave, you may do so. But you have to listen first.”

Sherlock was crap at listening, of course. There followed a brief tussle - Sherlock trying to heave John off his lap, John locking himself down and caging Sherlock’s flailing limbs with his own. His MI6 training wasn’t for nothing - despite Sherlock’s height advantage when standing, John was no stranger to subduing another body when necessary. He finally resorted to crushing Sherlock’s nose against his carotid, trusting his alpha pheromones to intercede on his behalf and cow Sherlock into submitting, at least for a few moments. It didn’t work on every omega, wouldn’t usually have worked on anyone like Sherlock, but their cohabitation did have some useful side effects. Sherlock snuffled a few times and stilled.

“First off, I told your brother to go to hell.” It somehow seemed important to get that on the table right off the bat. “He did approach me with a financial offer, and I told him I wasn’t a whore. No matter what price he was offering.”

Sherlock was still tense, every line of his body stiff, but he didn’t respond with a scathing retort. It was a good sign.

“Secondly, I’ll remind you that you pretty much tried to jump me last weekend.” John loosened his grip on Sherlock’s nape, massaging rather than gripping. “I know it was your heat talking, but if I had wanted to fuck you without your consent, that would have been a prime opportunity.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“Because of exactly what I’ve been saying the whole bloody time we’ve been living together - I’m not that type of bloke. I may be worried about you, concerned that you’re working yourself into an early grave by trying to redefine your body as ‘transport’ and denying it everything it needs, but I’m not a rapist. I don’t know why that bloody well surprises everybody.”

Sherlock let out a slow, steady breath - tickling John’s collarbone - but stayed silent.

“Thirdly.” John had to take a second to remember what his argument was supposed to be. “Thirdly, despite how I got introduced to you in the first place, I made the decision to be here. I chose to live with you, no matter your biology, no matter your temperament and sulky fits and utter inability to clean the bloody kitchen. I like you, Sherlock Holmes, and that’s not about heats or knotting or poorly-directed bribes. And I thought you liked me too. When I came back from Afghanistan, I . . . Christ. Sherlock, just - please don’t throw this away because you’re angry with me.” He took a deep breath, had to consciously stand and back away instead of just clinging to Sherlock and trying to soothe his distress with gentle touches and murmured promises. “I said I’d tell you the truth, though, and it’s your choice. You can leave now if you want to. And I’ll move out if that’s what you want.”

Sherlock sat perfectly still on the sofa for several more seconds. Then stood up and walked out without a word.

Chapter Text

When two hours passed with no sign of Sherlock returning, John finally had to accept that it was time to call Mycroft. He normally tried to minimize contact - standard practice for undercover missions, although John was trying as hard as he could to not think of his current living situation in that light - but Sherlock in a strop was prone to do something stupid and picking up the pieces afterward was always three times the work. Anthea answered on the first ring.

“He’s here, Doctor Watson.”

Thank God. A great deal of John’s anxiety disappeared.

“Mr. Holmes is trying to calm his brother down,” she continued, “but he doesn’t seem to be making much headway. Your presence would probably be appreciated, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Appreciated by whom?” John couldn’t help asking.

“Me.” There was a hint of exasperation in her voice. “Both brothers would no doubt see it as interfering, but I’ve never seen either of them act so childishly before. And for Sherlock that’s saying quite a bit. I doubt they’ll break this stalemate on their own.”

John rather suspected she may have been right, although he didn’t say so aloud. Anthea gave him the address - a ridiculously posh neighborhood - and he promised to be there as soon as possible.

Would have been faster with one of Mycroft’s ubiquitous black cars, honestly, but John didn’t mind spending the money on a cab just this once. He spent the ride nervously bouncing his leg and trying not to think about what he was going to have to do. Retrieving Sherlock Holmes better be bloody worth it.

“Thank you for coming,” Anthea announced, meeting him at the gate before he had time to worry about the inevitable security system. It had to be serious, then - she wasn’t even holding her phone. “They’ve devolved into silent sulking with occasional volleys of insults. Last time Sherlock was like this, though, he went out and got high immediately afterward, so you can see why I’m worried.”

“Shit.” The drug issue felt more like a legend than anything else, based on how Lestrade had made his first meeting with Sherlock sound, but Sherlock had been clean ever since John moved in (as far as he could tell). Relapse was not good. “Lead the way.”

The Holmes brothers were facing off in what looked like a formal parlor. John took in the details automatically - large windows, well-lit private garden outside with a high wall for security, electric fireplace crackling merrily, a glowering brother on each of the two sofas. Pretty much exactly what he would have expected for Mycroft Holmes’s personal residence.

“John,” Sherlock growled. “Come to bring me to heel?” He held his head high, but John knew him well enough now to recognize the signs of strain on his face. Sherlock was shaken, badly, and trying desperately to hide it. Even though the current occupants of the room - Anthea included - could all read him better than anyone else on earth. John longed to touch him, just a hand on the shoulder for reassurance, but clearly that was the last thing Sherlock needed.

“The contrary,” John said in a carefully regulated tone. He drew himself up to his full height and stared Mycroft square in the eye in what couldn’t be mistaken for anything but an alpha challenge. “I’ll take this from here.”

Mycroft frowned, but didn’t back down (yet). “Doctor Watson, I really feel-”

“No.” John pointed at an uncomfortable-looking antique chair near the window. “You may sit there and observe, but do not speak. Anthea, please leave. Your employer will come get you when necessary.”

Out of the corner of his eye, John saw her nod and back out the door, closing it behind her. Mycroft held his gaze a moment longer, then broke eye contact and stood. He didn’t flinch or look at the floor, signs of submissive behavior to a dominant alpha, but he did go sit quietly in the chair John had indicated. John nodded once and turned to Sherlock. Who was obviously thrown off by his brother actually following directions.

“Your turn, Sherlock,” John announced. “Ten minutes, ask me anything. Go.” He knelt down right there on the rug, put his palms flat on his thighs, and waited.

The room was silent except for the crackle of the artificial fire. John could literally feel Sherlock’s confusion - kneeling was an omega’s place, not an alpha’s. It was the ultimate submissive pose - what a traditional omega would do to await his alpha’s pleasure (or displeasure), reduced only to a servant in his own household. And in this case-

“Why are you kneeling?”

“Because I don’t want you to feel like I’m using my status as an alpha to intimidate or influence you.” John looked up, letting Sherlock see the honesty on his face. “You’re mad that I’m an alpha, so we’ll take that out of the equation for now.”

“It’s not because . . .” Sherlock’s lips thinned in frustration. “How did you meet my brother?” he asked instead.

That was an easier one. “He literally picked me up on the side of the road.”

Sherlock glanced at Mycroft for confirmation, who nodded.

“Why you, then?”

“I had a skill set he needed, I assume,” John answered. Time to confess. The thought was less awkward than he’d assumed it would be. “Unbonded alpha, army pension, no close family, and -” - he took a deep breath - “- and he was familiar with my work in MI6.”

Sherlock took a good ten seconds to close his mouth. John could practically see his mind palace rearranging to accommodate the new information. “You . . . worked for my brother?”

“No - I truly did meet him for the first time that day, shortly before I met you - but I get the impression he had researched me beforehand. Which meant he was somewhat higher up the command structure than I was.”

Sherlock nodded absently. “So you weren’t actually in the army, then.”

“I was,” John corrected. “There was a question of some . . . illicit business being conducted under the umbrella of our armed forces maneuvers in Kandahar. I was assigned to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers to obtain information from inside the unit. In all day-to-day aspects, I was an army doctor.”

“And in other aspects?”

“I undertook intelligence-gathering missions for MI6 as necessary.” John glanced at Mycroft Holmes, who was watching him with a carefully detached blank expression, but fuck it. It was Mycroft’s own fault if he hadn’t given Sherlock clearance already - the omega could deduce pretty much anything about anyone once he put his mind to it. And John wasn’t going to lie to his flatmate any longer, even by omission. “We narrowed the culprits down to a small group of locals and a few higher-ranking military officials, both our allies’ and our own, but I got invalided out before the operation concluded. I don’t know the results.”

“Right. Good.” Sherlock’s tongue darted out to moisten his lips in an unconscious tell John had learned to recognize as Sherlock being totally out of his depth. “Tell me what happened when you got back, then. What did Mycroft say when he hired you? And what did he ask you to do?”

“He told me he had a younger brother in need of a flatmate.” John very deliberately did not look in Mycroft’s direction. “When he told me you were an unbonded omega, I accused him of matchmaking and turned him down. He assured me his request was merely for me to share a flat with you, although he heavily insinuated that you’d be a good mate for me once we got to know each other.”

Sherlock frowned. “How much did he offer to pay you?”

“We never got that far.” It was a relief that he could answer in the negative honestly. “He tried to pay me shortly before your heat, I told him to go fuck himself - only slightly more politely than that - and said I wasn’t a whore. Also that I don’t work for him.”

“So he’s not giving you anything?”

John sighed. “He’s putting money aside in a trust for Harry, or so he said. For the next time she needs rehab. I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know how much, but I trust your brother to be reasonable. I told him he could pay me for my presence in the flat, but nothing more.”

Sherlock looked strangely stricken by that. “So . . . you’re really only still living with me because Mycroft is paying you.”

“No!” John wanted to get to his feet, to assure Sherlock of his sincerity, but he forced himself to stay on the floor. Non-threatening. “I’m helping take care of his sibling so he’s helping take care of mine. That’s it, I promise. Sherlock - I’m living with you because I like you, because I don’t give a fuck whether you’re an omega or an alpha or a bloody elephant in a bespoke suit. You’re my friend and I’m trying to show you that you can trust me.”

Sherlock closed his eyes and let out a pained whimper that called to all of John’s alpha protective instincts at once. “John, I . . . how can I know? How can I possibly tell?”

“I was hoping that the honesty would be a start,” John said quietly. “Sherlock - I’ve never lied to you. Never. I’ve neglected to tell you about things, on occasion, but I have not one time ever told you a lie. I said it to your brother and I’m saying it to you now - I’m done with MI6, done with undercover work, and I’m not interested in any of that any longer.”

“Okay.” It was almost a whisper. Sherlock took several deep breaths, then turned his attention to Mycroft. “Can you leave us alone for a while?”

Mycroft nodded, stood, and silently left the room. John stayed where he was, eyes on his lap, even when the door snicked closed behind the elder Holmes. Even when he heard Sherlock pop to his feet, pace for a bit, then sink back on to the opposite sofa.

“John, can you . . . come sit with me? Please?”

Thank god. John fought to keep his relieved sigh from actually being audible. “Yeah, sure.”

Sherlock shuffled over to make room. The moment John settled into the (surprisingly comfortable) cushions, Sherlock turned and engulfed him in a limpet-like hug.

“I’m still mad,” he sniffled into John’s collar. “This is just biology.”

“I know.” John dared a soothing hand over Sherlock’s shoulderblade, and Sherlock melted into him further. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. I hate being an omega.”

“I know,” John said again. “Sherlock - it’s fine. Take as long as you need to.”

“Even if it’s longer than ten minutes?”

“No time limit.” John finally bit the bullet and gathered the trembling omega into his lap, carding one hand through his dark curls and tightening the other around his shoulders. “I’m sorry for not telling you earlier, Sherlock - it was probably still illegal for me to tell you anything now, but it’s not like I’m going back out in the field anytime soon.”

“That’s why you wanted my brother in the room.”

“Partly. I also wanted you to know that he and I weren’t conspiring to keep secrets from you. I do trust you, Sherlock.”

“John . . . I still don’t want an alpha. Not like that.”

“Hey.” John pulled away just enough to force Sherlock to look up at him. The omega’s eyes were suspiciously moist and his shoulders were still shaking, but he didn’t hide his face. “We’ve got this, yeah? Nothing to do with your brother or my former job. Just two blokes trying to catch criminals and write ridiculous blog posts and be there for each other when needed. I wasn’t lying, Sherlock - you’re my best friend, and I’m not trying to make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

Sherlock bit his lip, but his expression lightened. “Does that mean you’ll stop harping on the state of the kitchen?”

“Don’t get your hopes up, you arse.”

Chapter Text

They took a cab back to the flat together. Sherlock was clingy the entire way. John tried not to look too obviously happy about it, but it was hard. The closer Sherlock burrowed against his shoulder, the more John could smell the heady blend of expensive shampoo and distressed omega pheromones and the more he wanted to haul Sherlock bodily into his lap and hold him there until they’d both had their fill of the physical contact. They settled for Sherlock leaning heavily against John the entire ride and John’s fingers tracing lazy figure eights on Sherlock’s knee.

“I have no idea why this is affecting me so much,” Sherlock murmured.

“I find that hard to believe.” John abandoned the figure eights to give Sherlock’s leg a gentle squeeze. “You said it before - it’s just biology. Whether you want it or not, your body is that of an omega’s and you react the same way any omega would to certain stimuli.”

“I never have before.”

John had to think for a moment to word his response. “Sherlock . . . have you ever had someone to do this with? Someone you trusted?”

Sherlock sat up a bit at that, pulling his leg away and putting some distance between their bodies. “You’re assuming that I trust you. After what you’ve done.”

“I . . .” Shit. John looked down and shook his head. Then snapped his gaze back up to Sherlock’s face. “Fuck it. Yeah, I do. I know you trust me - you told me during your heat, and I know you weren’t lying. Not about that. You’re still angry with me for not telling you everything earlier, but two seconds of reflection would tell you why I had to do what I did.”

Sherlock expelled a long breath. “Because I wouldn’t have listened, even if you had tried to tell me earlier.”

“Was I wrong?”

He shook his head.

“And now that you know, can I trust you to proceed in a rational way? Not sulking and throwing tantrums and refusing to talk to me?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You make me sound like a bloody five-year-old.”

“You act like a bloody five-year-old sometimes. We’re here.”

They got out and John paid (like always) while Sherlock let them into 221B. John shut the door behind them, hung up his coat, then settled onto the sofa, blatantly leaving the other side free just in case Sherlock wanted to stay close. Sherlock immediately flopped sideways into the remaining space, curling up with his toes jammed against the armrest and his head in John’s lap and his knees tucked up to his chin as he lay on his side.

“Is this too much?”

“It’s fine,” John answered. “More than fine, actually - I can feel it when you’re upset, you know. An actual physical need to hold you and take care of you. I know you don’t usually want that, but the chemistry exists whether we want it to or not. And you smell bloody fantastic when you curl up against me.”

Sherlock snuggled deeper into the sofa, pressing his cheek against John’s thighs. “I don’t understand this,” he admitted. There was a definite sense of bewilderment in his tone. “You’re letting me . . . but you’re not demanding sex. I don’t understand.”

“Do you want me to demand sex?” John gave up the struggle to keep his hands to himself and let his fingers card through Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock murmured and gave a happy wriggle, so he kept up a gentle, soothing rhythm. “I suppose it would be a traditionally alpha thing to do, in our situation.”

Sherlock made an unhappy noise deep in his throat. “I don’t . . . think so?”

That brought John up short. “You’re not sure?”

“This is all new to me.”

“Ah.” John moved his questing fingers to Sherlock’s nape, right over where he’d bear a bonding mark (if he were ever to consent to one), and Sherlock let out an involuntary moan.

“I feel like a cat.”

“You look like a cat,” John said. “The way you never use furniture for its intended purpose - you always flop onto it sideways or backwards or upside-down, and then you melt into the cushions. Lord knows I’d probably sprain something if I tried to emulate you.”

“Mmm, I don’t know,” Sherlock purred, his voice low and breathy. “You may be more flexible than you think, given the right inducement.”

Fuck. “Sherlock.” John withdrew his hand and gave Sherlock’s lower shoulder a sharp tug, encouraging him to sit up. “That, right there? You can’t do that.”

Sherlock scrambled to a sitting position, but his brows were drawn in confusion. “What?”

“That. The flirting.” John could feel himself already getting hard, scant inches from where the back of Sherlock’s head had been just a moment earlier, and he tried to will his arousal to dissipate. “Touching and - well, cuddling - is one thing, but please don’t make it more than that. You want me to treat you as more than a brainless, bond-hunting omega - so don’t act like one.”

Sherlock opened his mouth to argue, but shut it again a moment later. John knew he was right, knew Sherlock hadn’t really meant anything by the comment, but damn it, he wasn’t a saint! It was a hell of a lot easier to treat Sherlock as “just a flatmate” when they both pretended their secondary genders didn’t exist. Even when it was obvious they did. And willpower only went so far over the power of a biological drive-

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said.

John blinked. That was unexpected. “Did you just apologize? To me?”

Sherlock scowled, but he didn’t retract it. Instead, he stood and stalked over to his own armchair, putting enough distance between them that John couldn’t directly smell him anymore. “Tell me more about MI6.”

Chapter Text

“Mary and Sebastian Morstan. Ever heard of them?”

Sherlock shook his head no.

“They may be after us. You or me. Or Mycroft, possibly. I can’t tell.” John scrubbed his hand over his face. His fingers still smelled like Sherlock’s shampoo. “I really did leave MI6 when I came home from Afghanistan, but apparently it’s not that easy to get out.”

“Tell me what you know,” Sherlock demanded.

And so John did, as thoroughly as possible. Sherlock interrupted with occasional questions, but for the most part he just sat and fixed John with that eerie all-seeing stare of his and listened. He usually only did that when he was truly fascinated with a potential case, so it was hard not to feel a bit flattered. It was rare that any one single thing was capable of catching Sherlock’s entire attention at one time. John wound up the (disappointingly sparse) brief and sat back - time to let him do that thing he does. Sherlock’s leaps of logic were distractingly sexy, sometimes, but right now John was just happy to get the burden of silence off his shoulders.

“I’ll need to see pictures,” Sherlock announced. “To assess for any actual familial resemblance. Their whole files, if possible.”

“We can probably get one of your brother’s minions to ferry them over.”

“You have plans to meet Ms. Morstan again?”

John shrugged. “Not as such, but we exchanged numbers and she said she’d call me. I thought it best not to push it until we had a better idea of what they wanted.”

Sherlock stared off into space for several seconds, brain obviously whizzing along. “Text her,” he said finally.

John glanced at the time on his phone. “It’s after eleven - bit late for a text. What would you suggest I even say?”

“Late is fine. Makes it look more spontaneous. Say you had fun today and you can’t bear to go to sleep without telling her how much you enjoyed her company.”

John stared at his flatmate. “Sherlock, that’s . . . I hesitate to even say it, but that’s sweet. Actually romantic.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Just because I never express the sentiment doesn’t meant I’m not capable of mimicking it when necessary. Haven’t you ever had to pretend to be in love before? For Queen and Country or whatnot?”

“I . . .” John thought back. “It wasn’t really ‘in love,’ but I did have to maintain a secret relationship once. His name was Aarif, and his older brother was one of the kingpins in that business in Kandahar. He ended up being our best source of information for a while. It wasn’t entirely acting, though - Aarif was a remarkably bright omega, considering the restrictive culture he lived in. His family was wealthy enough that he’d been allowed a tutor, so he spoke excellent English and knew more random academic tidbits than I did. Helping him through his heats wasn’t exactly a hardship.” He’d been a stunningly gorgeous young man, too, which hadn’t hurt, although John wasn’t about to mention that part aloud-

He broke off that train of thought at the look on Sherlock’s face. “What is it?” he asked.

Sherlock hmmed and looked away, obviously embarrassed to be caught showing any sort of emotion. “Nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing.”

Sherlock grimaced. “Curiosity, then,” he admitted. “I was just wondering what it was like.”

“Faking being in love? Or sharing a heat?”

“The latter.”

God, was that a blush stealing up Sherlock’s neck? John didn’t let even a hint of what would probably be a damningly fond smile show on his face. “It’s . . . there’s really no way to describe it, honestly. There’s all the fun of sex, of course, but it’s somehow more than that. No shame, no worrying about whether your partner is enjoying themselves, because you know they are. You’re guaranteed to get off, several times in a row - as often as you can stand to - and so are they. So it’s really all about allowing your primitive side to take over. It’s . . . freeing, actually. I hope someday you’ll be comfortable sharing your heat with someone, even if you don’t ever want to bond - there’s the obvious health benefits, of course, but it’s also just an indescribable experience.”

“You did just describe it,” Sherlock pointed out. “Rather superlatively, I might add.”

“Yeah, well, it’s really that good.” John couldn’t suppress a bit of a nervous laugh. “Your choice, of course - I stood up to your brother to defend that for you - but I’d encourage you to not write off sharing your heat someday just because your brain gets left out of the party for a while. As long as you take precautions - use contraceptives, pick a partner who’s not an arsehole, don’t bond if you don’t want to - you can let yourself go and your brain really just isn’t needed.”

Sherlock didn’t look entirely convinced, but he did ponder that for a while. “The only sex I’ve ever shared with a partner was my experiment with Victor,” he finally said. “It didn’t . . . your description sounds completely different.”

“Well yeah, obviously. There’s a reason you don’t hear of omega-omega pairs all that often. I mean, they exist, but our pheromones really aren’t designed to work that way. Most omegas who won’t or can’t pair with alphas prefer to date women so the whole pheromonal thing is moot anyway.”

“Which brings us back to Ms. Morstan.” Sherlock pursed his lips, clearly done with the whole “sex” topic of conversation. “Text her and then ask Mycroft to deliver the files - I’m not going to bed yet anyway. There’s got to be something his minions have missed.”

*************

Sherlock was still up when John came downstairs early the next morning. No reply from Mary, but he hadn’t really expected one - foreign operative or not, she still had to sleep sometime. Unlike the lanky git currently sprawled over the sofa in his favorite “thinking” pose. A familiar pair of manilla folders lay on his stomach.

“Didn’t even hear anyone bring those by,” John said.

“Yes you did - you just didn’t wake up.”

“Same thing.” John wandered on into the kitchen and filled the kettle. “Tea?”

Sherlock hummed something which could have been “yes” or could have been “I’ve deleted the existence of all hot beverages.” John got down two mugs anyway, then went to use the loo while the water heated. It would have been too much to ask to get Sherlock to actually stand up and come put the teabags in the water, of course, so John took care of his morning hygiene needs as fast as possible. It didn’t take a genius to realize this was going to be a “need caffeine” kind of day.

“So.” He set the timer on the tea and wandered back out into the sitting room. “Please tell me you’ve had some fantastic revelations, because I’m drawing a blank on what to do next.”

Sherlock waved one hand vaguely in the air. “No hurry.”

“No h- Sherlock, you just had me text her last night. I’ve got to follow that up with something.”

“She didn’t answer, though.”

“Not yet.” John thumbed his phone on and glanced at his inbox anyway, even though he’d already checked it as soon as he woke up. “You think she will?”

“I think the speed of her reply will tell us something about her level of autonomy in this enterprise,” Sherlock answered. “If she has to double-check orders with a supervisor - or with headquarters - it will naturally take her a bit longer to respond.”

“Can’t Mycroft just . . . I don’t know, tap her phone or something?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Except it’s absolutely trivial to detect that sort of manipulation, and if she’s worth her salt she won’t do anything work-related from the phone number she gave you, anyway. I assumed you’d know this.”

“Didn’t deal a lot with this sort of espionage,” John answered honestly. “I was mostly focused on figuring out what they knew about us - troop movements and such. And then the drug thing. You’d be surprised how efficient a resisting force can be even in areas there’s no reliable electricity.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sherlock said, “but I suppose other people would.”

John had to laugh at that. So Sherlock. “Okay, that’s true. In the meantime, though, what should we do?”

Sherlock smiled and inclined his head toward the kitchen, a split second before the timer beeped. “Start with drinking your tea.”

Chapter Text

It ended up being nearly a week and a half before John heard back from Mary. He gradually stopped panicking every time he got a text - helped in large part by the fact that Sherlock seemed to be back to normal again, or at least as normal as he ever got.

Need new vacuum; old one has insufficient suction for wind tunnel simulations. -SH

Found three of my four mold growth samples - where did you put the other soup bowl? -SH

Corrected the error on p134 of your neurochemistry textbook, but the marker bled through. -SH

Need more milk. -SH

If it had been anyone other than a fellow operative, John would have assumed he was being politely rejected. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Why go to all the effort of establishing contact only to suddenly go silent, though? He sent two more messages, the next two evenings, but after that he resolved to wait until she initiated something else.

***

The “something else” turned out to be showing up at the flat on a Tuesday afternoon. John had the day off and Sherlock was listlessly torturing his violin. They both froze at the sound of the buzzer, then Sherlock launched himself down the stairs without actually putting the violin down first. John settled into his chair with his laptop close at hand, ready to perform the more diplomatic parts of the client interview-

“John!” Mary announced, upon stepping into the flat and seeing him there. “God, I’m so glad you’re here today. I know I should have called first, but I honestly didn’t know what to say and figured it would be easier to explain in person.”

“Oh. Okay.” John looked up at his flatmate with a carefully neutral smile. “Sherlock, this is Mary. Mary, my flatmate Sherlock. Um.” He turned his attention back to her - peach blouse, conservative skirt, sensible flats. Straight from a workday at the library, or just calculated to appeal to me personally? “I wasn’t - I didn’t know you knew where I lived.” Crap, that was more accusatory than I intended. “I mean, I don’t mind, but-”

“I’m sorry,” she said, reddening prettily. “You just - when you walked me home that first time, you said I should look you up. That you had a blog. And then I saw you and your flatmate were detectives, and I really need some help right now, and I didn’t know what to do, and I hoped-”

“Sit,” Sherlock interrupted. He pointed to the sofa, then pulled one of the chairs up from the table so they were all roughly equidistant from each other. Mary sat. “Tell me when your brother went missing.”

John blinked. “Sherlock-”

“No, he’s quite right.” Mary choked on a nervous laugh. “You - in your blog you said he could do that, but it still caught me by surprise. Did you look me up too, then?”

Sherlock waved vaguely. “Boring - it’s written all over you. Residual smell of alpha on your clothes, but nothing fresh - someone you live with, then, but who hasn’t been home recently. As you’ve been nominally dating John, it’s clearly not a husband or a romantic partner - brother, then. And the make-up covering the bruises on your wrist and your cheek indicates he hit you at least the once before he left. It’s most likely as part of a pattern; habitual abusers tend to use a higher grip on the forearm like that because it allows their victims to hide the evidence once they’ve both gone back to pretending nothing is wrong. You waited several days to come to John because you didn’t want him to notice how your brother treats you.”

John stared at Sherlock in amazement. He’d seen Sherlock do this countless times, of course, but this was the first time he knew Sherlock had a more direct source of evidence (the dossier currently buried under a towering stack of papers in Sherlock’s bedroom) and yet Sherlock was able to construct a plausible chain of evidence for his deductions anyway. He only barely stopped himself from announcing “Brilliant!” out loud. Sherlock’s lips quirked as if he heard it anyway.

It was more important to reassure Mary he didn’t suspect anything, though. John didn’t have to fake a concerned expression as he gently captured her hand and turned her arm to examine the spots where - yes, there was a faint difference in color between the concealer and her natural skin tone. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Mary gently tugged her arm back and nodded. “I’m - he’s right, of course, but I’m fine. My brother doesn’t always realize what he’s doing, not when he has one of his flashbacks. But I need you to find him.”

“What do you think happened?” John asked. “Did he just . . . disappear?”

“Not exactly.” She ducked her head, then twisted a bit to look up at Sherlock. “I already told John about this, but before Sebastian left, he had an omega named Nigel . . .”

Sherlock listened patiently through her entire story, which was a miracle as far as John was concerned. He didn’t even ask questions until she was done recounting Sebastian and Nigel’s tragically shortened courtship - how Sebastian left for Afghanistan, how he and Nigel had been perfect for each other, how Nigel died in the fire. When she started repeating herself - clearly not sure how much detail to give - Sherlock stepped in.

“I assume Sebastian received some new communication concerning his former partner? Letter he wouldn’t show to you, perhaps, or-”

“It was a voicemail,” Mary interrupted quietly. “Seb - he asked me to listen to it too, so he could make sure he wasn’t going crazy. And we both thought . . . I’d swear it was actually Nigel on the phone.”

That's unexpected. Although perhaps it shouldn’t have been - no run-of-the-mill case would have captured Sherlock’s attention, after all. “What did he want?” John asked, schooling his features into bland surprise and inquisitiveness. Sherlock merely looked bored, like always when they were interviewing clients, although John could detect his keen interest in the way his eyes never strayed from Mary and the way his lips kept twitching upward into the ghost of a smile.

“He didn’t - he didn’t want anything, particularly,” she answered without having to think about it. Well-rehearsed, then, or a central detail to her plan. “Just said he was calling to let Sebastian know he was alive and fine and if Seb was back from the war for good, he wanted to reconnect and explain. I don’t have the voicemail itself - Seb took his phone with him when he left - but I have the piece of paper he wrote the address down on. He left it behind when he took off. I went on my own, when he didn’t come back the next morning, but . . .”

Sherlock looked down at the proffered slip of paper and hmmmed. “Not the area of town I’d choose for a lovers’ reunion - nothing but industrial buildings on that block.”

John privately thought that was probably exactly what Sherlock would choose for a romantic rendezvous, if he ever did romantic, but it was the kind of inside joke which would have sounded much worse in front of the woman he was supposedly kinda-sorta-dating so he kept his mouth shut.

“So . . . you’ll look?” she asked, brown eyes wide. The ingenue in distress and awaiting her savior. The look triggered a brief stab of resentment inside John - does she really think I’d be that easily manipulated? - but he let a little of his interest in the proceedings show through. With luck she’d misinterpret it as concern for her “brother.” Although on that front . . .

“What about you?” he asked, sidestepping the question. “I am a doctor, you know - anything still sore?”

She pressed her lips together and shook her head. “I - it’s okay, really.”

“No, it’s really not.”

“He didn’t mean to. It just . . . happens, sometimes. When something triggers his PTSD. He doesn’t even know it’s me. Sometimes he wakes up out of these horrible nightmares, gasping - he’ll never talk about them, but I know they’re about Afghanistan. I just pretend to ignore them - I think he prefers it that way.”

“Mary . . .”

“John.” She cupped her hand over the back of his and drew him in for a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. “It’s just how he is - it’s part of why I’m hoping to figure out how to help him get better. But right now I’m more worried that something is wrong - he’s never gone this long without at least calling me before. And the thing with Nigel - it can’t be him, I know that, but if it’s not it’s someone who impersonated his voice and speech patterns exactly. I don’t know what to think.”

“Give us two days,” Sherlock said confidently. “And keep your mobile on.”

***

“It’s a trap,” John announced as soon as they’d shut the door behind her.

“Of course it’s a trap,” Sherlock countered. “That’s the best kind of case.”

“It’s a trap specifically for you.” The butterflies had yet to settle back down in John’s stomach. “Those bruises - you were right about the make-up and the bruise pattern, but I would have never noticed them on my own. It was a test to see how observant you were.”

Sherlock snorted. “She purposely slept on Sebastian’s side of the bed to refresh his scent, too - I suspect she didn’t realize how accurately I can date the presence of an alpha’s pheromones. His scent was much fresher than those bruises were - gone no more than two days, give or take a few hours. Not her brother, obviously - they have a sexual relationship. He did actually leave, though.”

“That’s . . .” John blinked a few times. “Why am I even asking? Of course you can time an alpha’s presence by smell. I suppose you can deduce exactly how long I’ve been gone every time you come in the flat, even when you weren’t paying attention when I left.”

Sherlock’s gaze was suddenly sharper, meaningful. “When it’s you,” he murmured, “I’m always paying attention.”

Chapter Text

“I’ll admit I’m surprised - there really was a Nigel.” Sherlock slammed his laptop closed with a bit more force than was strictly necessary and resumed the pacing he’d been doing off and on for the better part of the last twenty-four hours. “No evidence to suggest it was anything other than was officially recorded - a twenty-two-year-old omega who perished in a house fire caused by faulty wiring.”

John looked up from his own computer. “You think they combed the obituaries for someone who fit the profile?”

“Likely.” Sherlock growled in frustration, then collapsed back into his armchair with a dramatic flail of his arms. “Still doesn’t get us anywhere, though.”

“So - trap.” John sighed. “You’re going to suggest we just go and see what happens, aren’t you?”

Sherlock shrugged, which was an impressive feat given the awkward angle of all four of his limbs in relation to the chair. “Why - afraid of a little danger?”

“I try to be reasonable about danger, you twit.” John knew when he was going to be giving in, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. “At least let me get your brother in on the loop.”

Sherlock pouted, but he did eventually acquiesce to Mycroft rigging them both with some minimal equipment and providing a back-up force to remain on call at a discreet distance. Only to be summoned if absolutely necessary, of course. John vetoed either of them actually wearing a wire (“trivial to pick up the signal, and then we’d lose the advantage of surprise because they’d know we came prepared”) but allowed the vitals trackers.

“Really not fond of allowing my brother to inject anything into me with a needle,” Sherlock grumbled.

“It’s just for emergencies,” John reassured him. “And I’ll do the injection if you’re so bloody squeamish. The microchip just records temperature and heart rate and only emits a broadcast if the numbers go outside normal ranges. If you don’t want our backup listening in on our conversations, these are the way to go. Optimal, really, in these types of situations - even if something goes wrong, they won’t know that we’ve got a way to communicate until it’s already activated. I practically wore one around the clock in Afghanistan - it’s no big deal.”

Sherlock relented. Insertion was tricky - the tiny casing had to fit snugly against the femoral artery, which involved John putting his face entirely too close to Sherlock’s crotch - but by 2 AM Thursday morning they were ready to go. John threw his gun in his coat pocket and then they were off to investigate what was probably a huge mistake.

***

“Much as it pains me to say this, you were right about it being a trap.”

John kept his eyes closed, but he shook his head in an attempt to shake off some of the residual grogginess. His memories since leaving the flat were a bit fuzzy - they’d arrived at the seemingly-empty warehouse, Sherlock had dragged him around the warren of upstairs offices for a while, and then - nothing. John rolled over onto his back and groaned. “Really wish I’d been wrong.”

“If it helps, I didn’t see anyone either. I suspect we were gassed.” There was a clinking noise and a shuffle - Sherlock moving? John forced his eyes open.

“Bloody hell.” It took a moment, with his slowed mental faculties, to fully take in the sight of Sherlock Holmes chained naked to a wall. Literally chained - there were what looked like leather cuffs around his wrists and ankles, straight from the kinkier variety of sex shop, but the cuffs were all connected to a bolt in the wall with what looked like nautical chain. Heavy-duty, anyway. It took a moment longer to realize that he himself was in the same state. “Bloody hell,” he repeated.

“My sentiments exactly.” Sherlock had the grace to look a bit sheepish, at least. “I suspect you took a bigger breath of it than I did - I’ve been trying to get you to wake up for nearly ten minutes now.”

“Sorry.” John tried to force his thoughts into some semblance of coherence, but failed miserably. Sherlock bloody Holmes, naked. Again. “Um. Yeah, sorry. But what the fuck?” He raised one leather-wrapped wrist and inspected it. Sturdy construction, serious padlock, thick chain - not worming my way out of these. Not without losing some fingers, at any rate, and that still wouldn’t address the cuffs around his bare ankles. Stuck, then.

Sherlock glanced meaningfully up at the vent in the wall, which John interpreted to mean be careful because we are being watched and/or overheard, but then he sighed and slumped back against the wall behind him. “Now we wait,” he drawled.

“Well obviously. For what?”

“For the phanthoterazine to take effect.”

John goggled at him. “A heat inducer? Sherlock, are you sure?” He eyed the stretch of floor between them - even if they both pulled their chains to the maximum length, there would still be a good meter of space separating them. Not really conducive to a forced bonding scenario-

Sherlock gave him a significant look. “I’m sure. You do recall my history.”

Right. Sherlock’s mythical past with experimental drugs. Phanthoterazine wasn’t exactly a recreational substance, though - it was mostly used for omegas with hormonal problems who couldn’t go into heat the normal way. It had some rather unpleasant side effects and tended to make the omega’s heat uncomfortably strong, so nobody in their right mind would take it for . . .

Oh. Sherlock was still staring at him, but his lips quirked into a hint of a smile when John suddenly got it. Side effects. Inhibitors. Frequent narcotic use was a significant factor in rendering phanthoterazine unreliable - it magnified the pheromonal output of the omega, but removed almost all the mental “high” of the heat. Meaning Sherlock was about to smell very delicious, very quickly, but he wasn’t going to actually be feeling any of it. “Shit,” John said aloud. “Sherlock - why?”

“One possibility is that your Mary is secretly a matchmaker working for my brother.” Sherlock snorted. “Given the chains, though, I think it’s much more likely that your presence is supposed to goad me into a heat more quickly.”

Yes, John supposed it would - now that Sherlock pointed it out, John could already smell the tantalizing omega pheromones starting to fill the small room. He cleared his throat to distract from the effect that was having on the rest of him. Hopefully his increased body temperature and heart rate would set off his vitals monitor before anything truly embarrassing happened. “I see that,” he said, “but . . . why?”

Sherlock literally rolled his eyes at that. Not even going to pretend he’s feeling the effects of the phanthoterazine, then. “Seriously, you can’t think of a reason Mary and her brother would want me in heat? Desperate for an alpha’s cock? Ready to present my arse to whoever could fill it first?”

Fuck. John didn’t realize he was literally growling until after the sound had escaped his throat. “They want you to bond with someone.”

“I’m quite the catch, if you haven’t heard.” There was a heavy note of bitterness in Sherlock’s voice. “A virgin omega with a hefty trust fund. Which will be released into my alpha’s control on the occasion of my bonding, by the way. I suspect your presence will serve a dual purpose - to speed my heat along and to also provide an . . . incentive . . . should I refuse to cooperate at the moment of bonding.”

“They’ll threaten to kill me.”

Sherlock nodded slightly. “You’ll see I really have no choice, then. All we can do now is wait.”

***

They waited. It took fewer than ten minutes for John to give up on hiding his erection - they were both naked, after all, and it wasn’t like he was fooling anyone. Sherlock smelled bloody delicious. He was starting to sport an erection too, John noticed, although in Sherlock’s case it appeared to be somewhat of an afterthought.

Fuck. There were very few things John feared, after all his time in service of his country, but being literally chained to the fucking wall and forced to watch while Sherlock was raped was apparently near the top of the list. If only the bloody vitals monitor would kick in-

“Sherlock.” John widened his eyes, forced himself to look a bit farther gone than he actually was. Sherlock would be able to tell the difference, he was sure, but whoever was watching them might not. “Please - tell me. What you’d let me do to you if I could reach you.”

Sherlock frowned, but then the incongruence in John’s words hit him and he blinked in surprise. “You want me to . . . purposely rile you up?”

John very deliberately slid his palm up his naked thigh - pausing over the site of the monitor - before dragging it over his bollocks and letting it rest on his cock.

He could see the moment when the realization hit. Sherlock sucked in a breath and pursed his lips in a silent “oh.” Which, damn it, was already tempting enough to have John’s cock literally jumping in his hand.

“You smell so good,” John admitted. “And Christ, if I’m never going to get to fuck you for real, the least you could do is describe it to me. This is bloody awkward, but maybe once I’ve had a wank I’ll be able to think more clearly.”

“Doubtful.” Sherlock’s gaze was locked on where John’s hand was slowly sliding up and down his cock, though, and he was putting on a good show of gradually becoming convinced. Gradually being overcome by hormones, at least. “We’re not going to be able to avoid the awkwardness, though.”

“Nope.” John slid his thumb over his slit and groaned aloud. “I’ve kept my hands off for so long, Sherlock - fuck, I don’t care if Mary or her brother are watching us. I want to come and I want that sinfully gorgeous voice of yours narrating as I do. Come on - you’re wet already, aren’t you? I can smell it.”

Sherlock bit his lip, but after a long moment he nodded. It was like something had snapped in the room - the tension which had been building was suddenly gone, replaced only by the knowledge that - as bloody strange as this was - John was going to be getting off and Sherlock was going to be helping make that happen. The sooner they got John’s heart rate up, the sooner they could be rescued. All that was left was to give in.

“Right then,” John panted. “Tell me.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock spent several long moments just observing. In the past, that level of intense scrutiny - almost always when John was trying to hide something embarrassing - had usually left John more annoyed than aroused. With omega pheromones already thick in the air, though, arousal was a foregone conclusion.

“You’ve wanted this for months,” Sherlock finally announced.

Damn it - we’re really going to do this now? John groaned and shook his head, even as he tightened his fist. “Not really the time, Sherlock.”

“It’s true, though - ever since we first moved in together. You want to be all progressive and liberal, but when it comes down to it, all you really want to do is to fuck me into submission.”

God, even just the shape of Sherlock’s lips as the formed the word “fuck” . . . John shivered. “Only when you’re being a prat.”

Sherlock ignored his weak attempt at humor. “Some would say that’s always.”

“Yeah, well.” John attempted a nonchalant shrug, but it came out more as a full-body shiver. “Moot now - we’re both about to get completely, stupidly horny for each other. Well, me for you. You for . . . whoever, I guess.” It hurt to even think about. “I hope you won’t think less of me for wanting to tear their fucking spinal cord out with my teeth. And you’re not even all the way into your heat yet.”

“You would, wouldn’t you?” Sherlock shifted, sprawling elegantly over the floor on his side of the room, and let out a quiet moan. “Bollocks. It really is beginning to kick in - I hate it when I start to feel empty like this.”

“Tell me.”

“Like - it’s like an itch that won’t go away. No, that’s not it.” He squirmed slightly, shifting his arse on the cold wooden floor. “More like - when a limb falls asleep and has that pins and needles feeling as blood returns. Not the sensation itself, but that anticipation. Knowing that no matter what you do, you can’t get the feeling to go away until it resolves itself on its own. Except in this case, I know there is something. Theoretically.”

“Tell me,” John repeated. “Describe it to me. In detail. How you’d want me to help you.”

Whether or not Sherlock was genuinely feeling any mental effects from the phanthoterazine, he was definitely a bit flushed now. He shifted again and a fresh burst of pheromones filled the air. John couldn’t prevent himself from inhaling deeply and groaning. Sherlock naked would have been breathtaking in any circumstance, but Sherlock naked and chained down and smelling like that was a whole new dimension of ineluctable.

“Theoretically, then.” Sherlock bit his lip and eyed John. Who wasn’t even pretending to not be fisting his cock. “Theoretically, I’d start daydreaming about how your cock would feel inside me. How big it would be, how it would feel so amazing as you pumped in and out of my arse. How your knot would start to grow, bit by bit, until it was catching on the rim of my arsehole with each thrust.”

“Hell yes,” John whispered. “Give it to you so hard.” The words were corny, too much for any other time, but it was all his poor brain could handle. Sherlock wouldn’t care. Sherlock wanted his knot-

“Mmmm.” Sherlock twisted onto to his side, propping his head up with one hand. He slowly ran the other palm down his bare chest, skimming over his erection as it passed by. He was fully hard too, now, John noticed, his smaller cock flushed and delectable and standing out from a perfect nest of dark curls. “How would you want me, John? On my back? On all fours, presenting my arse to you like some pagan offering?”

“Fuck.” John dragged in a shaky lungful of air. This was wrong, it was just play-acting on Sherlock’s side and all-too-real on John’s, but they didn’t really have a choice, did they? And apparently he trusted Sherlock, he really did. Sherlock caught his eye and nodded slightly. Nothing overt, just a tiny acknowledgement that yes, he understood.

That nod said let go. It said I trust you too. It said I won’t judge you for your desires.

John let go.

“Want to see you,” John admitted. “Want to see your face, the first time. When you come just from having my cock inside you.”

“Oh God.” Sherlock’s wandering hand finally made it back to his cock for two rough pulls, then a lengthy pause. John might not have even noticed the tremor if he hadn’t been looking for it.

Gotcha. Unaffected, my arse. Actual heat or not, Sherlock wanted him. “You’ll be begging for it,” John added. “I’m going to pin you down and hold you there so you can’t get away, and I’m going to fill you ever-so-slowly. One delicious inch at a time. You’ll be absolutely gagging for it by the time I’m ready to really give it to you. You’ve heard my army nickname, right?”

“Three Continents Watson?”

John grinned. “That’s the one. Not that I mean to brag, but Sherlock - I didn’t get that nickname by being lackluster in bed. Far from it.”

Sherlock moaned, low and dirty, the sound going straight to John’s cock and causing another delicious tremor to go through him. He sped up his strokes.

“Fuck - you want that, don’t you? Want me to bend you practically in half and use your wet little arse?” John could practically picture it, could imagine Sherlock folded so far his knees were bracketing his ears, his dripping arse open and ready. “You’re going to make a pretty picture,” he growled. “All that lovely pale skin on display, those long limbs quivering as I pound into you. Let me hear what you’ll sound like with my cock filling you.”

Sherlock whimpered. Just once, but somehow that single tiny whimper was more erotic than a whole bevy of pornographic shouts and moans. He rolled to his back, granting John a beautiful profile view of his flushed erection, and planted his feet flat on the floor. With the hand not currently wanking himself, he reached down and plunged two fingers into his arse. “Want to feel it,” he whispered. “John . . .”

“Yes,” John murmured. “Just like that. Think about what it’ll be like when you’ve got the real thing - your fingers are really no substitute for my knot. Imagine it - thick and hard and pressing just there where you feel so empty. I can make it better, Sherlock. I’m going to knot you and fill you so full of my come you’ll be sloshing with it. I’m going to pump you so full you’ll be able to taste it in the back of your throat.”

“Oh God.” Sherlock closed his eyes, his breath coming in short gasps. “John, please. Fuck me. Knot me and fill me up. Make me yours - make me come and bite me so I’ll be yours forever. Everyone will know I belong to you.”

“Fuck.” John’s vision blurred and he nearly doubled over as he came. The orgasm gave him a little relief, but nowhere near enough - Sherlock was still right there, naked and ripe and writhing. Why was he all the way over there? John sat up sharply and went to stand, forgetting about his own chains until they went taut and he nearly overbalanced. “Sherlock-”

“Mmmm.” Sherlock slowed his own strokes, but his fingers were still idly questing in and around his arsehole. “Feel better now?”

“You’re too far away,” John said by way of an answer. There was something, something to do with- right. Mary? But Mary didn’t matter, all that mattered was Sherlock, Sherlock and his dizzying smell and the way the muscles in his thighs bunched and tightened as he shifted his hips while rogering himself on his fingers-

“So empty,” Sherlock murmured. He pulled his hand out - fingers glistening with his body’s natural lubricant - and attempted to re-insert all four fingers at once. “Can’t think when I’m like this, John. Make it stop.”

“Oh, I will.” John’s cock was already hard again, his knot swelling against his palm. He made another abortive attempt to yank free from his bindings, but they held fast. “Can’t reach yet.”

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

“I don’t care.” He tried kicking at the eye bolt screwed into the wooden baseboard, but all it did was bruise his heel. “Can’t reach you - can’t fuck you. Why am I chained down?”

“Because it was a trap.” Sherlock rolled closer, as far as his own chains would allow, but they still were nowhere near enough to touch. “Come on me, John - you can make it go this far.”

Hell yes. John pulled closer, too, and smeared the remains of his last orgasm down the shaft of his cock. Going to paint his body from here, going to stripe it all over that little pink arsehole-

The sound of the door shattering made them both jump. Anthea strolled through the doorway, a large pair of bolt-cutters replacing her usual Blackberry. John vaguely registered the change, but right now all that was important was fucking Sherlock-

“Finally!” Sherlock moved back and sat up against the wall, offering his manacled wrists up so Anthea could cut the locks holding the leather cuffs closed. The difference in demeanor was striking, almost dizzying in how quickly he snapped back to his normal self.. “Let me guess - most of my brother’s security team are alphas.”

Anthea wrinkled her nose. “An unfortunate oversight. No one else trusted themselves to come even this far up the hallway.”

Other alphas. Smelling HIS Sherlock. John growled out loud. “I’ll fucking tear them apart.”

“No need.” Anthea eyed John for a moment, as if assessing the threat, but then calmly handed Sherlock the bolt-cutters so he could take care of his own ankles. “The Morstans failed to take into account your prior drug history, I assume.”

“You assume correctly.” Sherlock stood up. For one glorious moment John thought Sherlock was going to come over and present his lovely arse, but Sherlock seemed to know exactly how far John’s tether allowed him to go and he stayed out of range. “Mary and Sebastian?”

“Being taken care of.”

“Good.” Sherlock paused and looked down for a long moment at John. “He’s . . . going to need a minute,” he finally said.

“We brought separate cars for you and Dr. Watson.”

“Excellent,” Sherlock said, then hesitated. “I'll see you at home, then. We can . . . talk more there.” And walked out the door.

Chapter Text

By the time Anthea returned a few minutes later bearing a change of clothes in John’s size, John was significantly more clear-headed - and wanted to sink through the floor. She didn’t make eye contact as she freed him from his restraints, but then she didn’t really have to. John’s obstinate semi-erection, the result of Sherlock’s pheromones still lingering in the air, was mortifying enough.

I can’t believe I actually did that. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Sherlock had been overcome, too . . . but no, he’d been acting for Mary and Sebastian’s benefit. And John had been stupid and hormonal enough that he couldn’t tell the difference. He knew Sherlock didn’t actually want him like that, knew Sherlock valued his independence, and yet he’d gone and let his lizard brain take over anyway. Had practically encouraged it. Surely he’d have been able to work himself into enough of an emotional state (other than blind lust) to set off the vitals tracker-

“He said he’d be waiting for you back at Baker Street,” Anthea announced, cutting smoothly into John’s self-pitying mental diatribe. “The car is outside when you’re ready to go.”

He wasn’t ready. He was very definitely not ready to face a clear-headed Sherlock. 221B was home, though, and it’s not like he had any choice. John went.

***

Anthea rode with him, which wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that she barely glanced at her blackberry. There were a few initial bursts of activity, texts by the look of it, but then she let the phone fall to her lap and they looked out their respective windows in silence for several minutes.

“It was Afghanistan after all,” she announced suddenly.

John blinked at her, but gave her the chance to pick her words herself.

Which she seemed to appreciate. “The . . . initial contact,” she added after a moment. “Mycroft still hasn’t been able to find actual proof, but it circumstantial evidence points to the man calling himself Sebastian Morstan being one of the individuals behind the drug ring you were investigating in Kandahar. He recruited Mary Morstan specifically to get to you.”

“Great.” So Sherlock was nearly raped because of me. The thought made John sick. “Good to know I’m such an interesting bloke.”

“It appears their target shifted once they became aware of your . . . relationship . . . with Sherlock,” she continued in a soft but matter-of-fact voice. As if she were reciting a mission debrief. “Not because of his association with his brother or with you - purely because he was a rich omega who had yet to be legally claimed.”

“What, like Sherlock wouldn’t immediately contest a forced bonding?”

She shot him a significant look through her lashes. “The Holmses are high-profile, John. You know as well as I do what kind of stigma - and media circus - would ensue if he tried.”

Right. “Like Sherlock has ever cared what people think of him.”

“Not of him, no.” She smiled faintly. “But what about of you, John? Would he put you through that? And his parents? Despite their relative estrangement from their younger son, the senior Mr. and Dr. Holmes would suffer significant social repercussions if Sherlock’s situation were to become known. Much more than they already are for their son being an unbonded omega well into his thirties.”

John forced a shrug. “Sherlock can protect himself. He’s been doing it for ages now.”

“How about a child?” She looked away - just for a moment, but the lapse was telling. She was shaken by the day’s events too. “It would . . .” She squared her shoulders and met his gaze head-on again. “Any offspring created during Sherlock’s heat, contested or no, would be the heir to a significant fortune. The child’s finances would usually be controlled by his or her alpha parent whether or not the bonding was ruled legal. Add in Sherlock’s drug history and dangerous profession and it’s practically a given that his alpha would gain primary custody. Do you think Sherlock could handle that?”

A child. John shook his head automatically, but his brain was still shorted-out because of that one word. Sherlock, a . . . father?

It wasn’t like the thought had never occurred to him - the entire week before Sherlock’s previous heat, Sherlock had gone around making the flat smell of omega pheromones and just about all John could think about was how Sherlock would look rounded with pregnancy. He couldn’t help it. But abstract hormonal thoughts were one thing and the actual real possibility of a child was something completely different. John knew with absolute certainty that - outside the dubious influence of heats - Sherlock had no interest in ever reproducing. John himself was more ambivalent to the idea: it sounded great when he was turned on and randy, but babies were a lot of work and a child really wouldn’t be compatible with their ever-changing lifestyle in 221B. Still, though . . . Sherlock pregnant. Christ. No matter how shaken up John was feeling, Sherlock was probably worse.

They definitely needed to talk.

***

“John.”

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock had obviously taken a quick shower before John arrived - his hair was still wet and he had presumably just flopped onto the sofa in his robe and pajamas. (Covered from neck to ankles to wrists, John noted - feeling in need of the extra barrier, or just out of respect for his flatmate’s hormonal balance?) John crossed to sit in his own armchair and waited for Sherlock to make the first move.

“I . . . apologize,” Sherlock finally said, keeping his gaze on the ceiling. “That would have been awkward without the vitals trackers.”

“It was awkward already, you git,” John said. “But it could have been a lot worse. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

“I’m fine.” The answer came too quickly, and John sat up a bit straighter so he could take in Sherlock’s tense posture.

It didn’t take much deducing. “No you’re not.”

“I’m . . . ” Sherlock sighed. “All right, no, I’m not. As much as I try to keep telling myself my body is just transport, that was . . . more than I bargained for.”

Ditto. John cleared his throat. “You’re okay, then? No lingering effects from the phanthoterazine?”

Sherlock rolled his head so he could meet John’s gaze. “What you really mean is ‘Do you think less of me for giving in to the pheromones?’ And the answer is no, of course not. You did what you had to do, and you can hardly be faulted for your predictably pedestrian biological response. It was a logical course of action, a valid way of reliably setting off the vitals tracker, and given the circumstances it was an obvious choice for you rather than me to do it. I know you didn’t mean any of it.”

“You’re sure of that?” John barely remembered what he’d actually said aloud, but he knew what fantasies had been running through his head and none of them had really been all that new. It’s bloody well time to stop dancing around this. Either Sherlock would recoil in disgust or he wouldn’t, but it wasn’t fair to either of them to pretend anymore. “You figure you deduced it, somehow? Or do you just mean you don’t want me to be interested in you?”

All motion on the couch stilled. Sherlock didn’t even start breathing again for several seconds. When he did, when he sucked in a lungful of air and blinked and opened his eyes wide with such a confused, hopeful expression in them - John found himself kneeling on the floor near Sherlock’s head without really having any idea how he got there.

“I’ve tried to keep my distance,” John murmured with his nose pressed against Sherlock’s dark curls. “I’ve tried to show you how much I respect you, how amazing I think you are. And you keep saying you don’t want to be owned so therefore you don’t want an alpha. But I think your reasoning is flawed.”

“Oh?” Sherlock’s eyelids drifted closed. Far from pulling away, he actually straightened his spine so he could nudge his temple up closer to John’s mouth. “I don’t - I don’t want to be right on this one, John.”

“You’re . . .” John pressed a gentle kiss to Sherlock’s scalp to buy himself time to compose his words. “You’re assuming that I’d make you choose between me or The Work. You’re assuming that I’d want you to fit some mass-produced, idealized version of what an omega should be. That by bonding with me, I’d be annexing you into my domain and you’d cease to be you. But don’t you see?” He pulled back and cupped Sherlock’s cheeks in his hands, more or less forcing Sherlock to open his eyes and look at him. “Sherlock - you are the single most incredible thing I have ever seen. How could I possibly want to destroy that? Why would I want you to be like every other omega if I’ve already seen what you’re like as you?” He planted a second, quick kiss to Sherlock’s lips. “God, it’s been amazing just being in your orbit. You really can’t blame me for aspiring to be your binary star.”

Sherlock’s eyes were still bright with emotion, but his forehead crinkled. “Astronomy reference?”

Git must have deleted more than just the solar system. “Not the point.”

“It’s central to your analogy,” Sherlock insisted.

“Less important than your response to the whole I’m bloody well mad for you thing.”

“That’s . . .” Sherlock’s face split into a slow, brilliant smile. “You are, aren’t you?”

Wanker. “An I’m mad for you too wouldn’t go amiss.”

Instead of replying, Sherlock surged forward and returned John’s perfunctory kiss with enthusiasm. His non-verbal answer involved tugging John practically on top of himself and coaxing John’s tongue with eager little feints of his own until John finally snapped and took over control of the exchange. Sherlock relinquished it with a muted groan and a boneless wriggle which reminded John exactly what they had - or hadn’t - managed to get up to before being rescued.

“Tell me what you want,” John breathed against him.

“You.”

“Mmm. More specific.”

Sherlock drew back a bit and skewered John with a wide-eyed look of joy. “Everything, John. I want everything. If bonding can really be like you say - if I can have you and still be me - then I’d be a fool to resist this any longer. And seeing as the phantom heat from the phanthoterazine will probably progress through the rest of the symptoms sometime in the next few days, I want you to stay here so we can indulge as soon as possible.” He tightened his arms around John’s torso, crushing their bodies together. “This may surprise you, but I’m a bit out of practice. And I want the sexual intercourse when I bond with you to be superlative for both of us.”

John resolved to spend as much time as possible in the next few days ensuring Sherlock got as much “practice” as he wanted.

Chapter Text

“Promise me you’ll continue to record your observations if I can’t.”

“Not a chance.” John glanced toward the six-page spreadsheet Sherlock had affixed to the door of the refrigerator. Nope, still almost entirely incomprehensible. “I plan to be busy.”

“But John . . .” Sherlock wrapped two long arms around John’s waist from behind and buried his nose in John’s hair. “This is valuable data. The only way I’ll get a chance to examine behavioral changes during heat decoupled from pheromonal interference is if I take phanthoterazine again, and I’d really rather not do that. Not now that I’ll have you to spend my heats with.”

Like hell. “Damn well better not,” John growled, and spun in Sherlock’s arms to shut him up with a thoroughly dirty kiss. “No drugs. Well, other than our birth control.”

“An impartial observer next time, then.” Sherlock arched one eyebrow. “Would have to be a woman - Molly might, if I complimented her enough first. Or Mrs. Hudson - she’d be happy to watch you fuck me through the mattress. She’s been hoping for ever so long-”

“Shut up.” John felt a delicious wave of possessiveness wash through him, and for once he didn’t have to fight it. My omega. MINE. “I’m not sharing you - ever. Not even for an experiment.”

“Guess you’ll just have to be observant, then,” Sherlock said with feigned reluctance, “and I can interview you about it later. Because I estimate we only have an hour or two left before I’ll be thoroughly mindless and begging for your cock in my arse.”

John licked the sensitive spot just over Sherlock’s carotid which he’d only yesterday discovered set the consulting detective to shivering. “Best get recording while you can then, hmmm?” he murmured in Sherlock’s ear. “Don’t mind me - I’ll just be warming up.” He punctuated his words with a gentle bite to Sherlock’s earlobe, earning himself a shaky moan in exchange. “Got to be in top form before the main event, after all. And I’ve been practicing so hard these last few days.”

***

Seeing Sherlock out of his mind with lust - and being clear-headed enough himself to notice - was a novel experience for John. They’d spent two and a half hours in a sort of heat-induced limbo, with Sherlock determinedly measuring his own blood pressure and respiration and heart rate every five minutes while John did his level best to invalidate the data by making Sherlock’s heart beat as fast as possible. So far, his favorite method of taking Sherlock’s pulse was definitely by mouth, licking and sucking at the skin over various major arteries until Sherlock swore and entirely lost the ability to keep count in twenty-second increments. Eventually Sherlock sat up and stripped the rest of the way, his eyes dark, and dragged John to bed. They left Sherlock’s spreadsheet on the kitchen table.

“Yes,” Sherlock murmured. “Need you now, John. I’m literally going to die if you don’t get your cock inside me right this very minute.” He flopped over on his stomach and ground his bare arse back against John’s hip, the only part of John he could easily reach. “Get undressed and fuck me.”

“Thought you wanted data?”

“Want your knot,” Sherlock groaned. “Please - you’re not this cruel. I need you.”

“Yeah, okay.” John undid his belt and trousers - which he’d very deliberately been keeping on as long as possible - and dropped them both to the floor. It meant a lot for Sherlock to let him see this, he knew. It had been amazing enough that Sherlock had let his defenses down over the last few days and allowed John to see him naked and needy in the throes of orgasm. It was light years beyond that to know that Sherlock trusted him enough to see him through his heat like this, when they both knew Sherlock would be reduced to his basest, animalistic state and John would still be relatively clear-headed. Sherlock was entrusting John with the care of his transport and his mind both, and the significance of that still left John a bit dizzy.

“I’m so empty,” Sherlock whined. “John . . .”

“God, you make a gorgeous picture.” John laid one flat palm on Sherlock’s writhing arse and took a moment to just look. Pale skin, dark curls already tousled into fuck-me readiness, Sherlock’s entire body twisting in long, graceful arcs against the mattress. Begging. And John was the only alpha to ever see him like this. God fucking damn.

The relief when he finally eased himself into Sherlock’s drenched hole was nothing short of a religious experience. Sherlock howled, buried his face in his pillow, and came in an explosive burst of limbs which left him sprawled flat on his stomach. His orgasm would have knocked John out of him if John hadn’t had the foresight to wrap an arm around Sherlock’s too-thin ribcage and hang on tight. He waited just long enough for Sherlock to recover, then started a pattern of thrust-and-nudge strokes which kept Sherlock completely unable to catch his breath and brought John to the edge of orgasm in less than a minute. He pressed close against Sherlock’s back as he moved, nuzzling the nape of Sherlock’s neck and breathing deep at where the pheromones would have been the strongest if this had been a normal heat.

“Going to bite you,” John murmured directly into Sherlock’s ear. “The next time you come, I’m going to fill you with my seed and I’m going to knot you and I’m going to bite down right here-” - he nuzzled at Sherlock’s scent gland - “- and we’re going to bond. And you’ll have me for ever and ever, just as I’ll have you. That sound good?”

“Yes,” Sherlock groaned. “Make me yours, John - please.” He wriggled backwards, skewering himself further on John’s cock and forcing John’s growing knot tighter up against his hole. “Just - knot me, now!”

He didn’t have to ask twice - the edge of desperation in his voice was enough to have John already pushing harder, forcing Sherlock’s body to take just that little bit more. The moment everything gave and John popped fully into Sherlock’s slick arse, they both let out matched cries of relief.

“Bloody buggering hell.” John slid a hand down over Sherlock’s cock, even though they both knew it was unnecessary - Sherlock was already keening, his muscles locking up in preparation for another orgasm and then his first relief of the heat. John felt it, too, the tightening in his groin, the little hesitation before-

Fuck. It didn’t take thought, just instinct - Sherlock arched his back when he came, baring that beautiful pale column of neck, and John covered the entire scent gland with his mouth before biting down hard enough to break the skin. They both jolted and then John was coming too, his knot swelling the rest of the way and locking their bodies together even as the unique chemicals that made up Sherlock filled his mouth and rolled through the rest of his body. They tasted the way Sherlock’s pheromones smelled - nothing definable, nothing John could compare anything to, but reminiscent of all the times Sherlock would flounce around the flat or end up pressed against John in the cab after a long chase or just when he’d fall asleep on the sofa with his legs stuck up in awkward angles and John could study him at his leisure. He smelled and tasted like home and John’s entire body tingled as the bonding swept through and took hold. Below him, Sherlock was moaning and shivering in tandem.

“God, that was . . .” Sherlock trailed off as another long shiver overtook him. “I can feel you in me, John. I can actually feel you inside me.”

“I should bloody well hope so,” John deadpanned, and nudged his knot a bit more firmly into Sherlock’s arse. The movement provoked an entirely satisfactory groan.

“Not - not that,” Sherlock grumbled. “I mean I feel you. The bond. The chemicals in your saliva, chasing their way to my posterior pituitary gland and altering my own internal chemistry to be more like yours. I want - I need you to kiss me, John.”

That was something John could do. The angle was awkward, still locked together as they were by John’s knot, but John managed to get his lips on Sherlock’s and whole volumes of information were shared through their kiss. All John’s promises to protect and cherish his omega, to be the best bondmate he could be, to be Sherlock’s helpmate and partner and lover and keeper and friend, all were returned in kind by Sherlock’s ardent desire to reciprocate. To welcome John as alpha and partner instead of owner or lackey. To love John as best he could.

They snogged until John’s knot finally softened. Even then, they exchanged tiny, wordless kisses while John got them both cleaned up a bit and brought Sherlock a cup of water and a piece of toast with his favorite raspberry jam.

Had to keep up their strength, after all.