There were two typical consequences of getting shot: surviving and dying. Unlike most men, John Watson had had cause in his life to experience both.
The entirely atypical consequence of getting shot was waking up completely unharmed in an alternate reality. To his eternal confusion, John had experienced that one as well.
Then he met Sherlock Holmes and things really got interesting.
"The response time for the police is appalling," Sherlock said, wearing an expression that made it look as though he thought that Lestrade and the others were taking their time just to annoy him.
Normally, John would have been tempted to agree with him - Sherlock had been even more intolerable on this case than usual and John wouldn't have been jumping to his aid if he'd been Lestrade - but they'd just caught a murderer, which tended to make the Yard forget about irritating Sherlock in favour of getting the murderer in police custody as soon as possible.
Not that that was soon enough for Sherlock. The man was pacing back and forth at the edge of the road in a flurry of expansive hand gestures and rapid-fire complaints that had been growing steadily more emphatic as the minutes passed. John, who wasn't particularly interested in listening to Sherlock complain, did his level best to ignore him.
A stray curl of wind stroked John's side and he shivered.
There was a pause in the steady rhythm of Sherlock's voice, which suggested that John had missed a cue somewhere.
"That's nice," he settled for, wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to retain some body heat. He didn't know if it was the whole parallel universe thing or the fact that he'd lived in the sweltering dry furnace of Afghanistan for so long, but he couldn't help but find this London - Other London, he'd taken to calling it - remarkably cold for March.
To be fair, the fact that he'd very recently fallen into the Thames probably had something to do with it.
Sherlock made an impatient noise. "Really, John. You could at least try to pay attention." Sherlock, of course, looked as perfectly put together as always; he hadn't been the one taking a swim, after all.
"Sherlock," John said, in a tone of voice that he found himself using more and more often the longer he knew Sherlock. His teeth were chattering steadily and John forced out his words between them. "I am cold and wet and I want to go home. I'll listen to you natter on later, okay?"
"I do not natter," Sherlock said, offended, because clearly that was the most important part of what John had just said.
John rolled his eyes, too busy dripping and shivering to get into it with Sherlock right now. "Maybe not, but I'm more interested in getting a cup of tea and some dry clothes than listening to you complain about the Met. I've got no real interest in contracting hypothermia."
Sherlock paused and, wonder of wonders, actually took a moment to look at John. His sharp eyes skipped over John's numb lips, the shivers wracking his shoulders, the ineffectual tuck of his hands into his armpits, and the water dripping from his hair and weighing down his clothes.
John endured the scrutiny stoically, absently amused by the fact that he could actually see the deducing going on in that mad, brilliant brain. The genius at work, he thought, grinning to himself.
Suddenly, Sherlock's hands went to work on the buttons of his own coat and, before John had quite realized what he was about, Sherlock's coat was draped over John's shoulders.
John blinked. "Thank you. That's… surprisingly nice of you." The coat was warm and heavy; it wrapped around John like an embrace and John sighed a little in relief when he immediately started feeling a little less like a John-shaped ice lolly.
Sherlock sniffed. "Hardly. Scotland Yard's finest are incompetent enough without you distracting them."
"Dist-" John started indignantly, then paused when he realized that he recognized the particular sort of irritation on Sherlock's face.
John sighed. "Another one of those omega things?"
"Quite so," Sherlock said, somehow contriving to sound even more put out about it than John did. Which John didn't really think was fair. "A distressed omega, especially an unbonded one, triggers protective instincts in both alphas and betas. Since the response team is likely to be comprised of little else, we'd get nothing done until you'd been dealt with."
John made a face. "Oh, for- I'm not distressed, I'm wet. No one needs to 'deal' with me. I can do it myself."
"Their biology suggests otherwise."
"But not yours, obviously," John said. He waved the overlong sleeves of Sherlock's coat for emphasis and was gratified when Sherlock's expression went even more mulish.
"You're the one who wants to go home," Sherlock said. He looked about five seconds away from crossing his arms over his chest and engaging in a truly epic pout. "I would have thought you'd appreciate the expediency."
John very carefully didn't smile. "I do. Thank you."
Sherlock dismissed John's gratitude with an elegant shrug and started pacing again. John hugged the coat tighter around him and tried to ignore how good it felt to be wrapped up in Sherlock's familiar scent.
Three months ago, John had been mugged, shot and left for dead in an alley. Then, as far as he knew, he'd woken up, unharmed, on a bench in Russell Square Gardens. Only, it hadn't been the Russell Square Gardens that John knew. Or the London that John knew. Or the entire bloody planet that John knew. Maybe not even the entire universe that John knew, for that matter.
It wasn't so bad, all things considered. John had seen and read enough science fiction to know that he could have done far worse falling into an alternate dimension. In a lot of ways, the place he'd dubbed Other London wasn't all that different from London-London: taxes still had to be paid, cabbies still showed flagrant disregard for the rules of the road and England still couldn't win a World Cup to save its life. John's own pocket of reality hadn't changed much either: he'd still been discharged from the army after getting invalided out, he still had an empty bank account and an intermittent hand tremor that made it hard to get a job, his sister was still an alcoholic. So yes, there were a lot of similarities.
Which made the one major difference stand out even more than it already did. Which was rather a bloody lot.
Because John Watson's personal life might not have changed much, but finding out that his trip had come with a new gender had been quite the turn up indeed.
Well, not an entirely new gender. John was still very definitely a man, thank God, and the approximately fifty-fifty ratio of men and women on the planet hadn't changed, but John now had to contend with three new gender subsets that were nothing like what he was used to.
About 50% of the population classified as betas. They had the regular plumbing that John expected of men and women, with no additions or retractions. They had no particular scents or pheromones to set them apart from the rest of mankind and their biological impulses were characteristically mild, trending neither towards extreme dominance nor open diffidence.
The next 25% were alphas. Alphas were typically known to be aggressive, territorial and authoritative, although this was as much stereotyping as biology. Alphas had strong instincts that could render them incredibly, violently irrational in the wrong situations. Their scents were sharp, spicy and left absolutely no doubt as to their virility and social dominance.
The last 25% were the omegas. Stereotypically speaking, omegas were meant to be the nurturing type, perfectly capable of taking action but genetically predisposed to prefer peaceable solutions to problems. The biological impulses of all genders encouraged the treatment of omegas as something cherished but fragile. Their scents were sugary and light and encouraged either calmness or rampant territoriality in other people, depending on the situation.
John's sister, Harry, was an alpha, which apparently only served to make her even more likely to get under his skin in ten words or less than she already had been.
Sherlock, unsurprisingly, was an alpha, although John was sure the man would have been bossy, preemptory and frequently intolerable no matter his orientation.
John was an omega. Because the universe - or universes, he supposed - were funny that way.
It was another fifteen minutes before the police arrived, by which point Sherlock was practically frothing at the mouth from impatience and John's joints were starting to ache from the chill. He no longer felt like he'd been locked in an industrial freezer though, which was a welcome change.
Lestrade had scarcely climbed out of his car before Sherlock was insulting the lot of them with a truly impressive use of his vocabulary. John fought the urge to sigh; why was the man pathologically incapable of being civil?
"John?" Lestrade said suddenly, cutting straight through Sherlock's diatribe to throw a concerned look over John. "Christ, are you okay? What happened?"
John fought the urge to sigh again, for a very different reason.
"Took an unscheduled swim," he said, keeping his tone deliberately light. "Nothing a change of clothes and a cuppa won't fix."
Obviously unconvinced, Lestrade raked his eyes up and down his body, worry and protectiveness painting bold streaks across his face. John fought the urge to growl. The last thing he wanted or needed was coddling from every alpha that walked past. Especially for something as non-fatal as a dunking in the river.
John's forbidding expression must have been a sight because Lestrade coughed and looked deliberately away.
"Right, yeah, of course. Glad to hear it." Lestrade jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Sherlock. "But next time, let this one do the swimming, hey? The lads would get a right laugh out of it."
It was meant to be funny, but John couldn't quite appreciate the humour properly when he knew that Lestrade was being more honest than he wanted John to think.
Because Lestrade, like everyone else here, automatically assumed that John needed looking after. In their minds, it shouldn't have been John jumping into the Thames - which John quite agreed with actually, but more because nobody should be jumping into the Thames, not because he was less suited to it than Sherlock by virtue of his reproductive organs. By Other London standards, Sherlock was a failure of an alpha because he let John put himself in danger. Which was absolute tosh, in John's opinion, but he'd discovered that even evolution disagreed with him on that score.
So John managed a faint smile. "If Sherlock ever falls in the river I'll make sure to take pictures," he promised. "But hey, at least His Highness staying dry meant that I could take his coat."
John gestured up and down at the ridiculous drape of Sherlock's Belstaff around him; the cuff of the overlong sleeve flopped over his fingers with the motion. It made John feel like a kid playing dress up, but the motion served its purpose: the tension in Lestrade's face visibly eased at the realization that Sherlock hadn't left John to contract hypothermia, at least.
"Now that you've finished fussing over John, don't you have a crime scene to manage, Lestrade?" Sherlock asked, in a decidedly bored tone of voice.
"Maybe if you spent more time being helpful and less time going on about everyone's idiocy, I'd be finished sooner," Lestrade shot back, finally turning his attention where it was meant to be.
"It's hardly my fault you hire imbeciles." Sherlock stepped closer, crowding John until he could feel the heat of Sherlock's arm against his side. "We'd like to go home at some point. John needs rest."
Lestrade's eyes darted back to John and John could see his protective instincts rising again.
"Ignore him," John said, because there was only so much of this he could put up with in one night. He put some iron into his voice to keep Lestrade on track. "We're fine. I'm fine."
"If you say so," Lestrade said after a moment, and John was mollified to see Lestrade's sense of professionalism stepping in to take the lead. "You two stay where I can see you while I get things sorted. And no running off. You got that, Sherlock?"
Sherlock ignored him utterly. Nothing new there.
Lestrade muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath and went off to tell his men how to do their jobs.
John rolled his eyes. "Subtle," he said to Sherlock, sotto voce.
Sherlock answered that with a look that managed to be at once haughtily disdainful and smugly self-satisfied. John wondered sometimes if Sherlock practiced making faces in the bathroom mirror or if he was just naturally talented at being a pain in the arse.
Sherlock's mobile beeped and he pounced on it with the enthusiasm of a hunting cat, abandoning John in favour of pacing a few yards away where he had less chance of being interrupted.
John shook his head and watched everyone bustling around the scene, feeling damp, weary and strangely removed from it all. No one approached him, though John didn't doubt that at least a few of them wanted to.
He made the members of Scotland Yard uneasy, John knew. Although the Yard had a decent number of omegas on the bankroll, they weren't usually to be found investigating crime scenes and they definitely weren't expected to be chasing after serial killers and thieves and all manner of other unsavory sorts. Though Lestrade's team liked John well enough - well, most of them anyway; Anderson didn't appear to like anybody - and intellectually knew that he was perfectly competent, their instincts got in the way. Which was embarrassing for everybody involved. Mostly John.
Standing there, with water still dripping from his clothes and his damp hair plastered flat to his head, John decided that the easiest way to deal with this situation was to ignore it. He didn't miss the glances that Lestrade's team were throwing at him, worried and gentle but, thankfully, tempered by the way John was swaddled in Sherlock's coat.
He likewise saw the glances that they all threw Sherlock immediately afterwards. Those looks were heavy with grudging approval and something else that it took John several long minutes to realize was resentment. It about then that John realized that, by giving John his coat, Sherlock had done more than help ward off the chill.
He'd marked John as his property. In an effective but incredibly juvenile fashion.
John didn't even bother trying to curb his sigh this time.
"I knew you'd catch up eventually," Sherlock said suddenly, standing again at his side and looking amused.
"Wonderful," John deadpanned. "I always wanted to be relegated to possession."
"Why, John," Sherlock said, with suspect innocence. "And here I thought you'd be pleased to know that you rank higher than the coat. I don't allow just anyone to drip all over it."
And John figured that he had to be a lunatic for the way that made him start giggling, but that was okay because Sherlock joined in with him. They garnered even more sideways looks, but John was fast becoming used to it. And better to be looked at for being inappropriate than for being an omega.
John mainly resented being an omega because it was the cue for the rest of the world to see him as less than the sum of his accomplishments. He was a soldier and a doctor and a man mad enough to hitch his cart to Sherlock Holmes - not the sort of person who needed protecting from anything but his own idiocy.
It was a biological throwback, John knew, to a time when omegas had depended on their packmates for survival. Though the human race was long past living in caves and howling at the moon these days, some central elements of the gender hierarchy had persisted.
Scent was one of the more obvious ones in day-to-day life, although it was perhaps not as irritating as what John had taken to calling the Voice. The Voice was something distinct to alphas and derived likewise from a pack society where leaders were expected to lead and everyone else was expected to obey. When alphas issued commands to betas or omegas or, if the alpha was determined and forceful enough, other alphas, the Voice gave the listener the instinctive urge to obey.
Not that John surrendered to it, as a rule. John Watson was no one's pushover. But that constant tug towards obedience was immensely unwelcome.
Still, these were only small, day-to day-problems - inescapable but relatively easy to contend with. The other, rather more unpleasant, truth was that omegas were biologically geared towards dependence because they bore the brunt of the human race's need to bear children. Even the men.
Really, if John had ever considered the hypothetical existence of alternate dimensions and the marginal likelihood of him ending up in one, a uterus was one thing he'd still never have suspected he'd end up with.
Three days after John's minor altercation with the Thames, he was followed to the shops by a remarkably unsubtle black town car. He successfully ignored it for about a quarter of an hour, before reluctantly concluding that it was probably less of a headache just to give in and get it over with.
"If he's going to waste my afternoon, I expect Mycroft to do my shopping for me," John said to Mycroft's assistant as he climbed into the back seat of the car. "I'd like to eat sometime tonight."
She, of course, ignored him.
Mycroft Holmes was Sherlock's older brother. John had first been kidnapped by Mycroft only days after arriving in Other London. By that time, John had already learned about his new gender and, more importantly, had already met Sherlock. Sherlock had involved them both in a case about a serial killer cabbie during which Sherlock acted like the brilliant, reckless prat he was and John shot the aforementioned cabbie before Sherlock could get his fool self killed. Then, because he was clearly a glutton for punishment, John moved into 221B.
All of which was perfectly mad, in a wonderful sort of way that John could have been tempted to explain away as a dream or the product of massive trauma to the brain if he'd been unwilling to believe that he actually had traveled to an alternate universe. It had been meeting Mycroft Holmes that had ultimately convinced John otherwise.
Because John's subconscious could never have come up with someone like Mycroft Holmes even if he lived a thousand years.
The car took him to Mycroft's office, which made John wonder just what Mycroft needed him for. Usually, Mycroft's preferred meeting places trended towards abandoned garages and burnt-out warehouses. John thought that whole charade was as much for Mycroft's love of the theatrical as out of a need for secrecy. In that instance, at least, he was very much like his brother.
Mycroft had a cup of tea waiting for him when John walked in.
"John," he said. He was wearing that thin, not-quite smile that said nothing at all.
"How good to see you."
"Hullo, Mycroft," John said, settling into a chair and taking a sip of his tea. Just how he liked it. Of course. "It's been a while. I was beginning to think that I wasn't worth kidnapping anymore."
"Borrowing, John," Mycroft said smoothly, as though that was the issue here. "Sherlock would never forgive me if I took you away properly."
John rolled his eyes. "I get the feeling that there's very few things that he would forgive you for in the first place. So? What do you need me for today? Because Sherlock used all the milk for his invisible ink experiments and I want to get to the shops before they close."
"John." Mycroft wove his fingers together and leaned forward to rest his hands against the immaculate surface of his desk. "It has been eleven weeks and three days since you first arrived in this reality."
John had never figured out how Mycroft knew that John wasn't… from here. He wasn't really sure he wanted to know, either.
"I have mastered reading the calendar, yes," John said, because sarcasm was as good a defense against Mycroft as any.
Mycroft arched a deliberate eyebrow. "My brother has clearly been a poor influence on your behaviour. Such a shame. I want to talk to you about the fact that, at some point in the next few weeks, you will most likely go into estrus."
Estrus, in John's opinion, was irrefutable proof that omegas had lost every genetic lottery in human existence.
Not only was John able to get up the duff - through his arse - but Mother Nature had decided to help this process along by giving omegas an estrus, or heat, cycle.
Three times a year, omegas went through heat and were, apparently, overcome with the urge to shag everything that moved in order to improve their chances of conception. It was also the time when omegas were most likely to make a permanent mate-bond with an alpha or beta, if they hadn't done so already. The whole thing sounded more than a little dubious to John.
By all accounts, the sex was great, though. So that was nice.
"I had noticed," John said, a little tightly. "What business is it of yours?"
"I simply wish to be sure that you are appropriately prepared."
John scowled at him. "I invaded Afghanistan. I'm fairly sure I can handle a heat."
Mycroft made a mild, agreeable sound that was in no way, shape or form an actual agreement. "Nevertheless, your recent arrival mean that this will be your first estrus cycle and I rather doubt that your no-doubt exemplary military service record provides adequate preparation for this particular situation. I am given to understand that the experience is… singular."
Mycroft was a beta. Which, considering that he ruled most of Britain, was probably the most terrifying thing about him.
John sighed. "What do you want, Mycroft? Because I really don't want to talk to you about my sex life."
"Nevertheless, I intend to be certain that there will not be any unintended eventualities that result from your condition."
"Do you…" John blinked, thought that through once more. Mycroft waited with the infinite patience that he appeared to have for everything except Sherlock. "You think that my… my cycle is going to, what? Make me jump Sherlock?"
"Or the reverse," Mycroft said, far calmer than John would have been if he'd been talking to Harry's wife Clara about her and Harry's sex life. "I'm sure you've noticed that people, particularly alphas, react quite predictably to omegas in any state of distress. Omega pheromones become considerably more pronounced during estrus."
"Well what would you suggest, then?" John asked, a little huffily. "It's a bit too late to be trying to put me on suppressants. Going to kidnap me for my own good? Again?"
"Dear me, John, not at all. The Holmes' have a small estate towards Dover," Mycroft said casually, as though every family was part of the landed gentry. For his part, John hadn't been aware that estates came in 'small'. "It is rarely occupied and would be a suitable place for you to reside so that you can pass the next few weeks undisturbed."
John snorted. "Sherlock would go spare if I took you up on that."
Mycroft inclined his head in just the barest fraction of acknowledgement.
"I have been reading up on this, you know," John said, trying very hard not to sound defensive. "I know how to take precautions."
Granted, the majority of literature on the subject was more of the 'preparing for heat with your mate' and 'a child's first heat' varieties than anything actively useful, but John wasn't about to admit that.
Of course, considering that this was Mycroft, John was certain that he didn't need to.
Sure enough, Mycroft didn't even bother to make his answering 'of course' sound anything close to sincere. "In that case, I shall count myself satisfied that you have the situation in hand. I do trust, however, that you'll get in touch if there's an issue?" It wasn't really a question. "The offer of a safe place to pass your cycle will stand."
John nodded, because he wasn't fool enough to disagree. Not only was it a utter waste of time to think that Mycroft ever left well enough alone but John also honestly didn't know how ready he was going to be for this. Knowing that he had Mycroft and his terrifyingly efficient staff waiting in the wings in case everything went tits-up actually went a ways towards helping John feel more settled about the whole miserable situation.
"Wonderful. My driver will take you back to Baker Street," Mycroft said then, a clear dismissal if John had ever heard one. "You'll find your groceries in the boot. And do tell Sherlock that he should consider M&S chocolate digestives in the future. Sainsbury's own are positively dreadful."
The next day, a box arrived at Baker Street addressed to John. He carted it up to his room, away from Sherlock's nosey presence, and pulled it open with some trepidation. It contained several concise, practical reports on the stages of heat and how best to anticipate them, a sturdy-looking keypad lock that would affix to the inside of John's bedroom door, sanitary towels to catch the natural slick that his body would produce to avoid such pesky needs as lube, birth control pills that John resigned himself to taking in the event of a worst case scenario and, embarrassingly, a wide selection of dildos and plugs to help him 'deal' with the worst of the physical cravings.
John wasn't sure which part was worse, the fact that he was apparently going to enjoy stuffing himself with plastic pricks or the fact that someone in Mycroft's employ had purchased said plastic pricks for him.
This whole experience was clearly going to be delightful.
John would very sincerely have preferred never acknowledging his new physiology, but he was both a doctor and a sensible human being and he knew that ignoring problems would only make it worse when they came back to bite him in the arse later. Possibly literally, in this case.
So he went and had a full physical.
"Well, Dr. Watson," Dr. Sawyer said, as she gestured for John to sit up. "You're about a half stone underweight but, other than that, you're in very good health given your situation."
"Which one?" John asked, deliberately light. "The medical discharge or the fact that it's heat season?"
Dr. Sawyer grinned. "Both. I see from your file that you were on suppressants in the army, correct?"
John nodded. One of the first things he'd done upon concluding that, yes, it looked like he was going to be in Other London for the duration, was get a copy of 'his' medical file. He'd also convinced 'his' friend Mike at Bart's to let him have a full set of x-rays done, which had been an experience and a half. John wouldn't have thought that there was any space in the male body for a uterus but this world apparently lived to defy his expectations.
"Are you on suppressants now?" Dr. Sawyer asked.
John shook his head. "No, I've… I'm not, no."
She made a note in his file. "And you haven't gone through an estrus cycle since your return to England? It's quite normal for the body to take several months to reset itself after prolonged suppressant usage."
"I'm aware," John said, not because he necessarily was but, as a doctor, he doubtless was expected to. "And no, I haven't. Not yet, anyway."
Dr. Sawyer smiled at him kindly. She was really quite pretty. "Well, I can tell you that it's just a matter of time. Your reproductive organs are perfectly healthy and fertile. And you're still well within the age range for healthy pregnancies if you decide that you want children."
"Oh." John found himself looking down, staring at the bare stretch of his legs beneath the hem of the medical gown he was wearing. "Good. That's… good."
"Not the settling down type?" Dr. Sawyer asked, and John could hear the more-than-just-professional curiosity in it. Most omegas were the settling down type, after all; it was simple biology.
John offered her a thin smile. "Haven't found the right one yet, I guess."
"Apparently not." The smile she gave him in return had a hint of speculation in it. The old John, the not-omega John, would have returned it in a heartbeat, but John wasn't sure he needed the complication right now. His life was bloody well complicated enough as it was.
John's mobile chose that moment to beep with an incoming message and John sighed, just a little. He could guess who that was.
The expression on Dr. Sawyer's face smoothed back into professionalism and she stood up with a smile. "I'll leave you to get dressed then."
"Thank you, Doctor," John said, and they exchanged a quick round of pleasantries before Dr. Sawyer took her leave and John got off the exam table to reclaim his clothing. He took a quick glance at his phone.
Lestrade wants us. Why aren't you here? - SH
John rolled his eyes, even though there was no one to see him do it.
Went for a physical, remember? he sent back. Coming home now.
Don't bother. Meet me at the crime scene. - SH
The next message was an address in the East End and John sighed again as he got dressed. Sometimes he wished that doing what Sherlock wanted wasn't usually the most interesting part of his day.
On my way.
"Finally," Sherlock said, when John arrived, with a peevishness that made it sound like he'd been waiting for weeks. He hardly even bothered waiting for John to pay the cabbie before he was sweeping off towards the blue and white police tape, bee-lining for Lestrade.
John trailed along quietly in his wake, wearing the carefully bland expression he'd learned standing in the ranks. No one bothered to give him a second glance, which was just how he preferred it.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said as they drew up. His eyes flicked to John and away in a fashion that made John think he would have looked longer if the circumstances had been different. "John."
"Where's the body?" Sherlock demanded, which was about as far as his understanding of 'pleasantries' went.
Lestrade didn't even bother sighing before gesturing with one hand towards the alleyway. "This way."
The victim was sprawled across the pavement in an untidy splay of limbs that spoke of a sudden drop rather than a careful placement.
"A couple of kids found him this morning," Lestrade said. "Estimated time of death is between ten and two last night."
Sherlock nodded distractedly, all of his attention on the body in front of them. Though he was no Sherlock, John automatically began observing the scene as well.
The victim was male, somewhere in his early thirties, skinny as a rail and looking as though he'd missed a few meals recently. His hair was dark, overlong and tangled, while his clothes were a mishmash of bits and pieces cobbled together into what John recognized as the standard wardrobe of someone living rough. The cause of death was a knife wound between the fourth and fifth ribs, a killing blow but inexpertly administered; it would have taken him a while to bleed out. His clothes had clearly been rifled through, though what anyone would have wanted to steal from a man like this, John couldn't imagine.
"Homeless," Anderson said from the sidelines, in a tone of voice that just dared Sherlock to contradict him.
As always, Sherlock was more than happy to oblige. "Wrong," he said, crouching down next to the corpse. He pulled out his pocket magnifier to get a closer look at the hands and didn't bother looking up to add, "living rough for the last two, no, three days, but that's all."
Sherlock stood in one sharp, smooth motion. "Why am I here?" he demanded of Lestrade. "Even you and your tiny brains should be more than capable of solving this one." A pause. "Well, except Anderson, obviously, but he's been bringing down the bell curve long enough that you should expect that."
Anderson bristled while Lestrade looked grimmer than John would have expected.
"How do you know he's not homeless?" John found himself asking, both to break the stalemate and because he never got enough of hearing Sherlock's deductions. "He certainly looks it to me."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Hardly, John. His hands are soft, not used to the wind or weather, and the grime under his fingernails hasn't embedded itself beneath the cuticles. He has no bed roll and no belongings, both of which are vital for life on the streets."
"They could have been stolen?" Lestrade offered.
"Unlikely. The personal possessions of people with no worldly wealthy tend to be of sentimental value and, thus, are of little value. True, the more practical items could be coveted but it's obvious by his attire that this was not the case. His clothes were clearly chosen to disguise his identity rather than out of need for warmth, which is the first concern of anyone living on the streets, especially considering the winter we've had. Add that to the fact that he's an omega and omegas tend not to last long on the streets without support, and it's obvious that he doesn't belong here."
The dead had no scent, so John wasn't sure how Sherlock could tell the man was an omega without taking off his trousers - and, even then, he wasn't sure how easy it would be to tell the difference between betas and omegas. An alpha's knot would be hard to mistake, it was true, but John definitely hadn't suffered any shrinkage since arriving, so all the differences between betas and omegas ought to be internal.
"Amazing," John said, because it was. And Sherlock's ego might not have needed the boost but the man behind it did, and so John was glad to offer praise where it was due.
Sherlock waved him off. "So I'll ask again, Lestrade: why am I here? Your dead omega clearly isn't so important that there's pressure from your superiors to get this wrapped up and even your pathetic excuses for brains can surely tell that this was a random altercation brought on by impulse rather than planning. Possibly because the deceased was an omega and it attracted the wrong attention, more likely because of a territory conflict with the homeless who already live in this area of the city. Why are you wasting my time?"
Lestrade squared his shoulders and looked Sherlock straight in the eye. "Because this man's alpha went to prison for his murder four months ago."
"His name's Colin Fuller," Lestrade said, while Sherlock mostly ignored him to go over the crime scene again. John could practically feel the excitement bubbling up inside him at this new development. "Thirty two years old, bonded to an alpha by the name of Sheila Fuller. Lived in Tottenham and worked as-"
"An accountant," Sherlock interrupted. "Yes, I know. When did he go missing?"
"End of December. Last seen at a company Christmas do with his wife."
Sherlock made a thoughtful noise. "And why did they arrest her? Clearly the rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated."
Lestrade shrugged. "Wasn't my division, so I can't say for sure. I'll get you the case files. Lot of domestic trouble between them, though, and the alpha had a reputation for being extremely territorial."
"Aren't all alphas?" John couldn't help but ask.
"There are varying degrees," Sherlock said, not looking over. "Aren't all omegas homemakers?"
"Touchy," John said. He glanced at Lestrade. "So Fuller, what? Faked his death? Ran away to get away from his wife? Why not just get the bond dissolved?"
Bond dissolution was something that John had looked up when he realized just how much potential for disaster there was when everyone's instincts took over; forewarned was forearmed, after all, and John had no particular desire to get accidentally life bonded to someone on the merits of a good shag.
"Hmm," Sherlock said, in the tone of voice that meant that John had missed everything, as usual.
"Alright, genius," John said, surrendering to the inevitable. "Let's have it. What happened to him?"
"Abduction," Sherlock said easily. "Look at the clothes he's wearing under his layers." Sherlock rucked up the grimy shirt with his typical unconcern for the dignity of the dead, to reveal a generic white shirt and the waistband of a pair of equally generic blue trousers that reminded John of hospital scrubs. Though John couldn't see how they automatically screamed 'abducted' they were certainly at odds with the rest of Fuller's ensemble.
"He's obviously been kept in a contained facility that is concerned for the health and cleanliness of its captives, but is considerably closer to a prison than a spa retreat, given the fact that he is nearly a stone underweight and shows no sign of engaging in any kind of physical activity in weeks. The fact that he was known to have been arguing with his alpha was likely a prime factor in his selection since the boneheaded police officers who processed the case would have looked no farther than the convenient domestic violence angle."
"Hey now," Lestrade protested.
"But what for?" John asked. "You said that his hands are soft, so he hasn't been doing hard labour, and I don't see any signs of physical mistreatment."
"Well done, John," Sherlock said and John steeled himself against the flash of pleasure the praise prompted. "Lestrade, I need to see every case the Yard has relating to the disappearances or supposed deaths of omegas in London over the last three years."
"Three years? Why?"
"As a starting range." Sherlock fished out his mobile and started messing about, which did nothing whatsoever to slow down the rapid-fire rhythm of his speech. "Hard to know how long the organization has been active, although it's doubtful that it's much longer than that considering they managed to let this one escape and he's clearly no paragon of stealth or intelligence. They've also failed to install tracking chips in their captives, otherwise this body would no longer be here. Pay particular attention to unbonded omegas and omegas with troubled relationships with their bond-mates."
"Just omegas?" John asked, abruptly conscious of the fact that he was the only omega on the crime scene aside from Fuller's body. "Why?"
Sherlock's answering eye roll nearly knocked both of his eyeballs right out of their sockets. "I'm aware that it's barely used, John, but do try and use your brain. Abducted for neither ransom nor mass labour. What other uses might someone have for omegas, in particular?"
"A prostitution ring?" Lestrade guessed.
"Partially," Sherlock agreed.
Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "How can it be 'partially' a prostitution ring?"
Sherlock made an impatient sound. "Isn't it obvious? What potentially valuable bi-product is the traditional outcome of sexual intercourse during an omega's heat cycle?"
"Bi-prod… are you talking about babies?" John asked, more than a little incredulously. Sherlock might have had the emotional sensitivity of a bag of rocks, but calling children 'by-products' seemed a bit beyond the pale even for him.
Not that Sherlock seemed to be aware of this. "Selling omega heats is a lucrative business," he said, most of his attention still fixed on his mobile, "as heat sex is widely considered superior to both sex between non-omega couples and sex with extra-estrus omegas. Contraceptives mitigate the likelihood of pregnancy without interfering with an omega's hormonal impulses, so there's no particular need to prevent pregnancies, but why spend all that money on contraceptives when you can just let them get pregnant and then sell the offspring? Clever, really."
"Christ." John looked again at Fuller's body. "Poor bastard."
Lestrade frowned. "Hang on. If this organization of yours is doing such a good job, how'd this guy wind up knifed in a back alley?"
"Bad luck," Sherlock said. "He escaped from wherever they were holding him only to get attacked on the street by a homeless alpha junkie with very specific opinions on territory ownership. Good news for us, though," he added, because the tragic irony of Fuller's situation was apparently only interesting on a superficial level, "since it's revealed the existence of a well-established omega abduction, prostitution and progeneration ring. They'll probably start tagging their omegas after this to make it more difficult for them to escape, but that's no matter."
Lestrade looked skeptical. "And just how do you figure that?"
"I despair of you utterly. Because we're going to catch them, Lestrade, what else would we be doing?"
"Right," Lestrade said, somewhere between long-suffering and actively irritated. "And how are we going to find them?"
Sherlock sniffed. "Obvious."
John resisted the urge to sigh. "Well, why don't you explain it to us thick people?"
Sherlock slid his phone back in his pocket. "Follow the paperwork, of course. John," he said, with a beaming smile. "How do you feel about adopting?"
The next morning, John woke up with the bed sheets tangled around his ankles and an unfamiliar heat spreading through his limbs.
John sighed and slumped back onto the bed. "Brilliant. And so it begins."
Thanks to Mycroft's notes, John knew exactly what he was in for, for all the comfort it brought. From this point, he could look forward to approximately a fortnight of being led around by his prick. Today, John's symptoms were far too mild for him to resort to locking himself in his room and wanking himself silly, but the effects of estrus were cumulative: his symptoms would get progressively worse with each day that passed. Ultimately, he was going to go into 'heat fever' which would render him utterly incapable of thinking about anything other than getting shagged into the floor by the closest alpha or beta.
His scent would start changing too, his body's natural pheromones thickening in tandem with the rising heat inside him. A quick check before he got into the shower made John think that that part hadn't quite kicked in yet, although he didn't know if he'd be able to tell; his pheromones weren't designed to affect him, after all.
On the whole, though, it really wasn't as bad as John had been fearing. A low grade arousal was trying to make itself known somewhere in the back of his head, but it was an absent thought at best. The army had given him plenty of practice at ignoring the demands of his libido when necessary. This was nothing that John couldn't handle.
His temperature was slightly higher than normal, not enough to be dangerous, but more than enough to make John want to release the top few buttons on his shirt almost as soon as he'd fastened them. His skin felt tender, like the beginning stages of a sunburn, and he was unimpressed to notice that an unflattering flush was sitting high on his cheeks, faint but unmistakable if anyone knew what they were looking for. Still, John fancied that most people wouldn't realize that he was in estrus for another day or two at least.
Sherlock, of course, noticed immediately.
His reaction was pretty much what John had expected.
Sherlock burst through the door of the flat with the enthusiasm and panache of an actor taking the stage, already talking a mile a minute. "Molly found traces of fertility drugs and lorazepam in Fuller's system, which proves that once again I-" Sherlock stopped. "You're in estrus."
John very deliberately didn't look up from his newspaper. "Well spotted, you."
Sherlock strode over to John's chair, shoved the newspaper down with one hand and raked his eyes over every inch of John.
John looked back, unamused. "I was reading that."
"Don't care. When did your symptoms start? How high would you rate your current level of arousal? Is there a thermometer in your medkit?"
The last was said over Sherlock's shoulder as he bounded for the stairs and John rubbed a weary hand over his face. "Sherlock," he said, in the firmest voice he could muster. "I am not an experiment. Stay out of my medical supplies."
John had never met another adult who made pouting look so natural. It was something to do with the shape of Sherlock's mouth, he figured. And the fact that he was a giant infant.
"Why? It wasn't certain that you would have an estrus cycle due to your foreign origin-" Christ, he made John sound like an exotic plant "-and we're in an ideal position to measure the effects of heat off an impartial base-line since you have no prior experience. Besides, the tests will be almost entirely non-invasive."
"It's really quite amazing that you think you're being reasonable right now." John shook out the worst of the creases in his newspaper and turned away from Sherlock's petulant expression. "My heat is not a science project. Full stop. Bugger off."
"You're being entirely irrational."
John calmly turned the page. "Wrong again. Would you mind making some tea while you're up or are you too busy throwing a wobbly right now to do both at once?"
Sherlock sniffed, as though the entire concept was beneath him. "You have wretched timing, by the way," he said then.
"Because that's clearly my fault," John said, more amused than put out. "Why?"
"Come now, John, we can hardly claim to be interested in adopting with you looking and smelling-" Sherlock waved a hand at him "-like that."
John's brow wrinkled as he frowned. "I didn't think it was that obvious yet."
"It's not. But not even an idiot like Anderson would believe that you're infertile right now." Sherlock started pacing, four neat steps towards the fireplace, about face, and back the other way; his recent decision to stack every book they owned at oblique angles across the floor meant that there wasn't the space for him to go any further.
"Remind me again why we're interested in adopting?" John asked, resigning himself to the fact that he wasn't going to finish reading the paper any time soon. He watched Sherlock stride back and forth. "Because I'm not sure this flat is a healthy environment for a child to grow up in."
"Yes, yes, very funny, John. As always, your razor-sharp wit astounds me."
"Oh, leave off. Are you going to tell me or do I have to guess?"
"Isn't it obvious? The easiest way to locate the prostitution ring is to find out what's happening to the offspring."
"The agency that's giving them up for adoption," John realized.
Sherlock nodded. "Just so."
John looked at him suspiciously. "Are we going to spend the entire day walking in and out of adoption agencies?"
"No need," Sherlock said. "I know which one it is."
"How on Earth-"
"Simple," Sherlock said, when John was certain that it was anything but.
Sherlock grabbed the nearest laptop - John's - and typed something into the search bar, still talking mile a minute. "I factored in the approximate inception date of the ring, accounted for the standard gestation period, compared this date to the reputations of the private adoption agencies in the country, and further narrowed the search based on the services offered by each agency. And here we are." He turned the laptop around to let John see the professional-looking website he'd pulled up. New Beginnings Adoption and Consultation Centre," Sherlock said. "The most elite adoption agency in the United Kingdom. Known particularly for its ability to provide prospective parents with the ideal child within a year of their signing on."
"How does that prove that they're involved in a prostitution ring?" John asked, scrolling through the website.
"By itself, it doesn't. The picture becomes more damning when we include the fact that 52% of all the children given up for adoption at this agency are anonymously donated."
"I don't think that donated is quite the word you should be looking for." John frowned. "52%, huh? That seems like… a lot."
"Exactly," Sherlock said, more than a little gleefully. "The prostitution ring provides the agency with an opportunity to breed children at the behest of the clients, either by allowing said clients to purchase an omega's entire heat and contribute their own DNA to the process or by choosing an appropriate stud for the procedure. Then the agency puts the birth down as an anonymous drop-off, thus avoiding the need to provide documentation of the child's parentage."
"Wow, okay. Jesus." John thought about that. "So you wanted to pretend to be a couple looking to adopt? How were we supposed to pull that off when we're not married or mated or whatever you call it here?"
Sherlock collapsed abruptly onto the sofa. "You smell enough like me," he said, dismissive in a way that John probably ought to have taken offence at. "Infertility would have been a perfectly serviceable excuse for an incomplete bond."
"Riiight. So, what are we going to do instead?"
Sherlock's answering grin was in no way reassuring.
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