"Mr. Holmes," Larry Platt, Chief of Public Relations for New Beginnings Adoption and Consultation Centre, said warmly, pumping Sherlock's hand like he never wanted to let go. "New Beginnings is so grateful for your generous donation to our cause."
"So you've said," Sherlock said, with impressive restraint. John had expected him to tear the man a new one ages ago. "At length. Now, if you'll carry on with the tour, I'll be able to see how well my money is going to be spent."
Platt's smile wilted slightly around the edges. "Oh yes, of course. Right this way."
Platt continued down the corridor with Sherlock at his heels and John at Sherlock's heels. John had spent most of their time at New Beginnings alternately walking behind Sherlock -being quiet and getting ignored -, and standing around beside Sherlock - being quiet and getting ignored. The lack of attention wasn't entirely unwelcome; John had spent most of his life being one of those people who faded into the background, and the barely-there prickle of his heat under his skin was making him hyperconscious of the amount of space between him and everyone else in the room.
"This is the prenatal ward," Platt said, as they approached a large set of double doors. "Gravidae from our affiliated maternity home are moved here in their final trimesters to ensure good conditions for the birth."
"Gravidae?" John asked.
"Pregnant betas and omegas," Platt clarified, as though it was obvious. It probably was. Platt frowned a little. "I'm sorry, but didn't you say that you were a doc-"
"You see to the births on site?" Sherlock interrupted, with a warning look at John. John resisted the urge to make a face at him. "Why not at a hospital?"
"Protecting the privacy of our gravidae for one," Platt said. "A lot of them don't want to go on record at a hospital. From a business perspective, it also allows New Beginnings to monitor the children from the moment of birth, which makes it easier to profile each child and his or her needs."
Bollocks, John thought to himself. Nothing in Sherlock's countenance gave away his own skepticism, but if even John could tell the man was lying, Sherlock had definitely picked up on it.
Platt pushed the doors to the ward open and John walked straight into a wall of pheromones that sent the faint warmth under his skin to burning. He faltered, wrapped up in the smell of successful breeding, of anticipation, of fertility. All John could feel was a yearning to be just like them, those unseen betas and omegas who were carrying children inside them.
It was terrifying.
"John?" Sherlock's voice asked, and John realized that he'd slowed, unconsciously trying to put some distance between himself and that feeling. Sherlock's scent was thick in John's nose, tempting in all sorts of frightening ways.
"Sorry," John said, with a weak attempt at a smile. "It's a bit…" He gestured back the way they'd come. "I'm just going to-?"
"Yes, fine. I'll fetch you from the lobby when I'm done," Sherlock said, and John bristled at the indignation of being told what to do.
He swallowed back his instinctive urge to tell Sherlock where he could stuff it, executed a military-sharp pivot and strode away with his chin held high.
The 'want baby!' urges faded as quickly as they'd come, and John made his way back to the lobby with open relief. There was a couple speaking with the receptionist when John walked in, so he settled himself quietly on one of the chairs, took one look at the collection of parenting magazines on the table and decided to stare at the walls instead.
Like the rest of the building, the reception area was lavishly decorated in a way that made John very aware that he and his army pension could not have afforded to make an appointment here, let alone adopt. The building was more like a manor house than an office, complete with sweeping staircases and towering windows. The company logo hung on the wall above the staircase like a coat of arms; John let his eyes trace the curl of grape-heavy vines around a stylized Ω, pondering over the ripe, glossy-looking apple in the centre and the bee circling around it.
"They're a symbol of fertility," a voice said, and John turned to see that the receptionist - alpha, he registered absently - had finished with the couple and was now standing a few paces away wearing a charming smile. "The bee and the apple," she added, when John tilted his head, confused. "Pollination and new life and all that. New Beginnings' motto is 'be fruitful' for a reason."
"I see. The pun's a little tragic, isn't it?"
Her grin went slightly impish. "That's what puns are for. Is everything alright?" she asked then. "Where's your alpha?"
"He's not-" John started, before remembering that Sherlock had introduced them that way - to seem less anomalous, John, do keep up. "He's in the maternity ward," John said instead. He offered the woman a self-deprecating smile. "I wasn't expecting it to be so… overpowering."
The alpha clucked her tongue sympathetically. "Mr. Platt should have warned you. The maternity ward can take some getting used to. Was your alpha okay? The pheromones can be as hard on them as they are on omegas."
"He's sort of a special case," John said. "Nothing much bothers him."
"Except your heats, right?" she said, with a wink. "A little loss of control does the body good."
Torn between amusement and embarrassment, John managed a smile. "He might not agree with you there. A little too fond of logic."
She waved a hand. "His loss. Can I get you a coffee while you're waiting for him?"
"That," John said. "Sounds like an excellent idea."
He chatted with the alpha - Natalie - for a time, subtly grilling her about the company even though he was sure that Sherlock would already have deduced the lot of it. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and John couldn't help but shake his head over the fact that Sherlock had clearly decided to carry on with the rest of the tour without him.
John's coffee was long since gone by the time Sherlock appeared, striding out of the ether with his usual overly dramatic flair. "John!" he called. "Come with me!"
John shot a helpless look at Natalie - and promptly regretted it when her pupils dilated automatically in response - before falling in step behind Sherlock. "What?"
"I need you to distract an idiot," Sherlock said in an undertone, the sharp ring of his shoes on the floor all but drowning him out.
"And what idiot is this?" John asked gamely.
"Thomas Keegan," Sherlock said, in his rapid-fire 'your tiny little brain is wasting my time' voice. "Chief Adoption Services Liaison. He's a beta who thinks his beta wife was cheating on him with an alpha. He's right, which is more luck than judgment on his part since he's an idiot-"
"You think everyone's an idiot."
"-and, as a result, is unlikely to respond well to questions from an alpha, or a beta, for that matter. As an omega, you're completely non-threatening."
John rolled his eyes. "You do realize that's total bollocks."
"Of course I do," Sherlock said. "That's why it's perfect. The fact that you're in estrus will make things even easier; your scent will be wonderfully distracting."
It just stood to figure that Sherlock would gleefully capitalize on John's heat as a way to manipulate other people.
"What do you want me to find out?" John asked.
"Nothing. Just keep him busy. I need a look at his files. Here we are," Sherlock said then, and pushed his way into an office without bothering to knock. "Mr. Keegan," he said, with a wide talking-to-normal-people smile. "This is John."
Keegan stood up behind his desk, offering John a smile and a handshake. "Thomas Keegan," he said. "Nice to meet you."
"And you," John said. The press of his palm against Keegan's made his skin tingle.
Sherlock's phone rang. "Oh, I've got to take this. Awfully sorry," Sherlock said, already heading for the door. "Won't be a moment."
The door swung shut behind him and John was left in Keegan's office, wondering what in the hell to do now.
Keegan raised an eyebrow. "Is he always that… abrupt?"
John smiled. "That's a polite way of putting it. And yes, pretty much. Do you mind if I-" he gestured to one of the chairs.
"Oh, no, go right ahead." Keegan sat as well and laced his hands together on the desk. "So your mate said that you had some questions about our operation, is that right, Mr. Holmes?"
"Doctor," John corrected automatically, on the grounds that it was the easiest thing to correct out of the many things wrong with that sentence. "I- uh, know it's a bit below your pay grade, but could you explain the process to me?" John asked, with what he hoped was a winning smile. "For adoption?"
Keegan gave him a polite once-over. "For yourself?" he asked, delicate but dubious. John didn't blame him, when John was smelling the way he did. It didn't take the results from John's physical exam to know that John's body was more than capable of carrying a child.
Christ, what a bonkers thing to say.
"No, uh-" John thought fast. "For my sister. She and her wife are both alphas and well-"
As far as excuses went, it was a surprisingly good one. Keegan was already nodding. "We often have same gender couples experiencing that issue. It's particularly difficult for alphas. How long have they been mated?"
"Four years," John said, which was probably wrong, but it hardly mattered. He listened with half an ear while Keegan talked to him about their adoption process, making acknowledging sounds in the appropriate places.
By the time Sherlock returned, John had three different pamphlets on adoption, a request form and Keegan's card so that 'Harry' could talk to him about booking a consultation. John looked at the earnest expression on Keegan's face and wondered if John himself was meant to be taking note of the man's number as well. It was hard to tell these days.
There was a rap on the door and Sherlock walked in without bothering to wait for Keegan to call him in. "Have you got the information that you were looking for, John? Good, let's go."
The words were delivered with the casual authority of the Voice, which didn't matter to John since he'd been ready to do exactly that for a good hour by this point. It was rather more effective on Keegan, who looked surprised at the ease with which Sherlock had told him what to do.
John let Sherlock deal with the process of extracting them from the building, which included another round of effusive thanks for Mr. Holmes' financial support and an invitation to dinner with the CEO of the company.
John waited until they were in a cab zooming back to Baker Street before he spoke. "Does Mycroft know that you stole his checkbook?"
Sherlock waved a hand. "He shouldn't have made it so easy to find," he said, which meant 'of course not, don't be stupid' in Sherlockese. "It's not as though he's actually going to pay them. He only needs to make it look like the money's been transferred until my investigation's finished."
"Mm hmm. And what's to stop him from cancelling it right away?"
"The fact that he'll consider this a favour that I owe him," Sherlock said. The look on his face made it clear that Sherlock was looking forward to disproving Mycroft of this notion.
John shook his head. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
"How about that maternity house Platt was talking about?" John suggested. "Do you think that has anything to do with it?"
Sherlock hummed thoughtfully. "Doubtful. It's too closely connected to their legitimate business practices. They'll be using it as a smokescreen."
"But you're sure that this is the right adoption agency."
"Oh yes. There's no doubt of that."
"So now we know where the children are going," John said. "But we've still got to figure out where they're coming from."
"Not to worry, John." Sherlock fished in his pocket, pulled out a memory stick and offered John a smirk. "I know where to start."
John couldn't help a rueful smile. "You were terrorizing Keegan's secretary while I was talking to him, weren't you?"
"Really, John, I don't know where you get this idea that I terrorize people."
"And here I thought you were supposed to be clever." John sighed. "Bet I can guess what we're doing tonight."
"You weren't going to do anything with your time anyway," Sherlock said, with supreme confidence. "Don't worry. You'll still have plenty of time to masturbate."
Sometimes, John really hated his flatmate.
John and Sherlock settled into a pattern over the next few days. Well, as much of a pattern as they ever managed to follow. Neither of them were turning out to be particularly good at routines.
John's heat continued to be largely unobtrusive, which he appreciated. He earned some confused double takes whenever he was out of the flat, which John first thought was because he was outside at all, but the number of other omegas on the streets who smelled faintly of hunger and melted sugar soon put paid to that notion. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that it was a combination of the fact that he was still unmated at his age - incredibly noticeable now that his body was putting out 'open John season' pheromones - and the fact that he was out in public alone.
The first point was irritating and rather laughable, but John had to admit that the second was a valid concern. Alphas especially had taken to standing too close when he was in the shops or waiting for the tube, their scents rising in response to John's - encouraging him to lean over and bury his face in their clothes. While John was confident of his ability to 'convince' any man or woman that he was most decidedly not looking to get chatted up right now, he knew that, eventually, it wouldn't be just one alpha at a time. And he didn't like trusting his odds that far.
Touch started becoming a problem, as well. Skin to skin contact sent his pulse skyrocketing, especially if the person touching him was an alpha or beta. John's tendency towards long sleeves made it less of an issue than it would otherwise have been, but he needed to be highly aware of where his hands were to avoid any accidental and inappropriate flares of desire when accepting his change at the local chippy or taking the Tube.
John hadn't got to the point where he was going to have to ask Sherlock if he'd accompany him every time he left the flat - which was going to be such a treat - but he knew he'd have to do so eventually.
He was rather looking forward to forcing Sherlock to come to Sainsbury's with him, though.
When he wasn't too preoccupied by either his hormones or the mundane details of not starving to death, John had the dubious honour of helping Sherlock investigate the prostitution ring.
Sherlock went to work on the data from Keegan's files, while John got to go through three years' worth of missing persons cases to see if any of them fit the criteria Sherlock laid out for the victims. It was a tedious, time-consuming affair that kept John up far, far later than he really appreciated.
Sleep deprivation was something that John was used to. Between med school and the army, John would have washed out years ago if he hadn't been able to get by on not nearly enough sleep. Unfortunately, Sherlock had taken this as encouragement to experiment with just how little sleep John needed to function. John still hadn't decided whether Sherlock was exploring the impact of sleep deprivation on ex-army soldiers or was trying to do away with John's need for sleep entirely.
Which was bad enough on its own, let alone when John had the ever-rising symptoms of his heat distracting him from even the simplest of tasks.
"Go to bed, John," Sherlock said irritably, at some miserable hour of the morning on the fourth day.
John blinked muzzily at him. "Hmm?"
"You need sleep."
"Since when do you care if I get any sleep?" John asked, feeling suddenly more awake. "Usually you just push me out of the way if I fall asleep on top of the files."
"You're more susceptible to your hormones when you're overtired," Sherlock said matter-of-factly. "Your chair is now three point seven inches closer to mine than it was two hours ago and you're inclining towards me across the desk despite the fact that it's putting weight into your bad shoulder."
A dull flush filled John's cheeks and he jerked upright quickly enough that he nearly overturned his chair. "Sorry."
Sherlock made an absent noise, not bothering to look up from the file he was reading.
John coughed. "Right. I'll just pop off to bed, then. Don't go running off without me tomorrow."
Sherlock didn't say anything and John firmed his jaw.
"Sherlock." Still nothing. "Sherlock, I mean it."
Sherlock made a shooing motion. "Yes, yes, fine, go away. And try to wank quietly, if you would."
Just for that, John was going to have the loudest wank ever.
The next morning, John woke up feeling like he'd fallen asleep in the Afghan sun: hot, itchy and desperate for any kind of relief from the ache in his bones. He dragged himself over the door, grimacing at the slick slide of lubricant between his buttocks, unlocked it and went out onto the landing.
"Sherlock!" he called down the stairs, in a voice that sounded like he'd spent the entire night drinking whiskey neat. "Have you run off yet?"
There was a rustling sound, and then Sherlock's deep voice answering, "I'm going to take it as a given that you realize what a ridiculous question that is."
John ignored him. "Are you going to run off in the next half hour?"
More rustling. "No."
"Good." John went back into his room, locked the door and shakily pulled out one of the ruddy dildos from the box under his bed. Then he tried very hard not to think about what he was doing, and got on with it.
Half an hour later, John felt messy, sated and still nearly as randy as he had been when he'd started. It was like being a teenager all over again. He let himself out of his room and headed straight for the loo, pausing briefly to shout, "eat some breakfast!" over one shoulder as he went.
John poured himself into the shower to wash off the worst of the sweat, slick and ejaculate, wondering absently why sex had to be even messier in this world than it ever had been at home. The quick wash, coupled with the fact that he'd actually got a few hours of undisturbed sleep, left John feeling surprisingly fresh when he finally wandered out into the sitting room, dressed in a light cardigan and the most comfortable pair of jeans he owned.
"Finally," Sherlock said. He was standing in front of the sofa, staring at a map he'd taped to the wall. There were half a dozen drawing pins at random points on the map and John saw a photo of Fuller tacked up there as well, along with notes from some of the cold cases John had been looking through. "How can it possibly take you so long to toss off?"
"Does Mrs. Hudson know that you're sticking things to her wall?" John said instead of answering. He started towards the kitchen, only to have Sherlock block his way.
"No, no, stop," Sherlock said, and grabbed John's wrist.
John's breath hissed out sharply at the contact and he tore himself free with a frantic jerk. His skin tingled where Sherlock's fingers had been, suddenly cold without that touch, and John's carefully banked arousal rose up sharp and swift until John could hardly breathe through the want.
John backed up until he nearly hit the wall, hardly aware of the way he'd brought his arm up to his chest, opposite hand wrapped around his wrist where Sherlock's had just been.
"Damn it, Sherlock!" he growled, fighting the urge to breathe in the familiar, heavy scent of Sherlock and never come back out. "We talked about the touching!"
Sherlock, for his part, looked almost startled by John's reaction. "Your sensitivity to physical contact has increased."
"I had noticed, thank you," John shot back, rubbing at his skin.
"Is it that extreme with everyone?" Sherlock asked, with his deducting face on.
John felt his cheeks heat. "No experimenting with my heat, remember?"
Sherlock made an impatient sound. "This is important, John. Do you or do you not lose control when people touch your skin?"
"Lose control?" John repeated, wrinkling his nose at the words. "No. It's distracting and embarrassing but it's nothing I can't work through."
"Hmm. That hardly explains your behaviour just now."
"Well, you caught me off guard," John muttered. "And it's worse with you because," he bit his lip and forged bravely onwards, "because we live together, I think. My hormones are in tune with your scent in a way they aren't with other alphas."
"Hmm," Sherlock said again, looking thoughtful.
John belatedly realized that he still had his hand pressed close to his chest and he lowered it, feeling silly. "What was all that in aid of, anyway?"
"Oh, I need your help." This time, Sherlock settled for gesturing imperiously until John sighed and walked over to stand in front of the sofa.
"I was going to make myself breakfast," John said, though mildly.
"Later." Sherlock shoved the box of drawing pins at John. "I need you to mark off the points on the map that I tell you to."
"Couldn't you do this yourself?" John asked.
"I have other avenues of inquiry to pursue." Sherlock stepped back, leaving John staring at the map. "First location: the Putney Exchange on Putney High Street."
"Right, okay," John said, swinging his eyes towards Wandsworth.
The tapping of keys filled the air and John realized that Sherlock was talking to him while going through the data from New Beginnings. Bloody overachiever. "Next! 68 Parkh-"
"Leave off a minute, Sherlock!" John found the first location and inserted the pin. "Right, that's done it. What was the next one?"
"Don't forget the picture," Sherlock said.
"Of the missing omega who worked there, John, do keep up."
"Give me strength," John muttered. "Care to tell me which one that is, your Excellency?"
Sherlock responded with a remarkably unhelpful gesture towards the stack of files on the coffee table and John sighed.
"Any chance of me getting a cup of tea out of this?" he called, as he started digging through pile.
There was no answer from Sherlock, but a few minutes later, John had a cup of tea and a plate of toast shoved under his nose.
"It's expedient," Sherlock said, when John turned an incredulous look his way. "I have no desire to listen to your stomach complaining all morning. And you get surly when you don't get fed at regular intervals."
"I didn't think you even knew how to use the toaster," John said, not entirely joking.
Sherlock sniffed. "Really, John. Haven't you realized by now that I can do everything?"
"Liar," John said confidently and surprised a genuine grin out of Sherlock. And if he chose not to point out that Sherlock clearly wasn't as immune to the need to take care of unhappy omegas as he thought, well, that was John's lookout.
"Done," John said finally, a good three hours after he'd started working on Sherlock's map. "Thank Christ." He set the box of pins down with relief, rotating his shoulders to get rid of the lingering stiffness.
"Good." Sherlock abandoned the files on the table and came over to join John in staring at the now very busy London map. John watched Sherlock's pale eyes track across the constellation of red drawing pins, skipping frequently to the photos and notes radiating out from them.
"Right, glad that's over. You hungry?" John left Sherlock to his staring contest with the wall and headed towards the kitchen. "I think there's still some Chinese takeaway left from the other night."
"I need to go out," Sherlock said abruptly. He blurred into motion, swirling into his coat and scarf before John had even finished processing his words.
John made an abortive move towards his own coat. "You want me t-"
The door slammed loudly with Sherlock on the other side.
"-come with," John finished with a sigh. "You could at least have said thank you, you prat!" he yelled at the door.
The door burst open again. "Don't leave the flat," Sherlock ordered, hanging off the doorknob to counterbalance his dramatic almost-entrance. "I don't have time for you to get molested today."
He left again, the slam of the door followed by the clatter of his feet on the steps. A moment later, John heard the front door go as well and he was left standing alone and adrift in the middle of the sitting room, with irritation and unwilling arousal curling inside him.
John looked again at the mess he'd spent the entire morning sticking to the wall. He sighed heavily. "Bollocks."
John was getting podgy.
Sherlock hadn't returned to the flat by the time John went to bed that night, so John had taken the opportunity for a slightly louder wank before falling into a hot, restless sleep.
The morning opened in much the same way all of John's mornings had since his heat had started: with a lot of sweating, panting and fervid but unsatisfying orgasms. Still, John hadn't been feeling appreciably more miserable than he had the day before, which was a blessing. He'd actually been almost cheerful as he climbed into the shower, washed off the mess and dried himself off.
But then he'd looked in the mirror.
John frowned at his reflection, in some vain hope that stern disapproval would reverse whatever cruel twist of fate had him softening about the middle. The muscles of his stomach were hidden by a thin, protective layer of fat that John would have sworn hadn't been there last month. Granted, he'd been eating more lavishly since coming to Other London, but that really wasn't saying much considering that he'd been living mainly on army rations and tea beforehand. And it wasn't like the occasional chip butty wasn't going to be offset by the sheer amount of time he spent running all across God's green Earth to try and keep Sherlock alive.
Yet, here he was. Podgy. Even his face was rounder than it should have been. Maybe he should take up jogging or something.
"It's normal," Sherlock said, when John tromped disconsolately into the sitting room a few minutes later. Sherlock was studying the map on the wall, impeccably dressed as always and looking as though he'd been standing there all night.
Which he could have been, John supposed. The man was a bloody ninja sometimes.
"I didn't even hear you come in." John slumped wearily into his chair. "And what's normal? I wasn't aware that anything passed as normal around here."
"You're worried about your weight," Sherlock said, not sparing John a glance. "You needn't bother. It's weight distribution, not weight gain."
John stared at him. "How could you possibly-"
"You spent an extra three and a half minutes in the bathroom after your shower, in addition to the previous increase of time brought on by your heat-induced masturbatory habits. You're wearing a jumper that is oversized and shapeless even by your dubious standards-"
"-and, in addition, you came straight into the sitting room instead of preparing breakfast as you would normally. Obviously contemplating skipping it. You might as well go ahead and eat; it's your body's reaction to your heat, not a reflection on your diet."
"It is?" John frowned a little, trying to remember if he'd read that in any of the documents that Mycroft had sent him. "Some kind of uterine expansion?" he guessed.
Sherlock shook his head. "Omegas are designed for child rearing. Softness is subliminally associated with safety by both adults and children, further establishing omegas as non-threatening. Additional weight in the abdominal region is also good protection for unborn fetuses and fleshier hips make better supports for carrying children."
"So it's going to go away after my heat's done?" John asked hopefully.
"No," Sherlock said baldly, because he was a horrible person. "These physical changes are part of the natural hormonal shift that comes with an omega's first heat. It would have happened years ago if you'd been born in this world but, as it stands, you're experiencing it retroactively." Sherlock darted a glance and an amused quirk of his lips in John's direction. "Congratulations, John, you're essentially going through a second puberty."
John groaned. "As if it wasn't bad enough the first time around. This just keeps getting better and better."
"It's not worth worrying about," Sherlock said dismissively. "Most people won't notice anyway."
"I'll notice," John grumbled, but it was half-hearted at best. "Well, in that case, I suppose it's time for breakfast after all. Will you eat some toast?"
"Tea for me," Sherlock said.
"I'll rephrase that: I'm making toast and you're going to eat some. How's the investigation coming?" John added, as he climbed to his feet and padded into the kitchen. "Thanks for running off without me, yesterday, by the way."
"There's something missing." Sherlock tapped one finger against his chin, clearly talking more to himself than John. "John, I need you to go upstairs."
"Have you been hiding things in my bedroom again?" John asked.
"No," Sherlock said absently. He scribbled something on one of the photographs and kept staring.
"Then why am I going upstairs?"
John huffed. "Oh, I'm so sorry. Am I breathing too loudly?"
Sherlock sniffed. "Don't be tedious, John. You know perfectly well to what I'm referring."
"Right, yes, of course I do. Because God forbid I can stand in my own kitchen."
"Upstairs, right. Or do you want I should take your brother up on his invite out to your manor house?" John asked, with heavily false solicitude. "Get out of your hair."
"Don't be stupid, John, that's hardly conducive to- oh, oh, of course!" Sherlock's entire face lit up with understanding and he leaned forwards so that he was practically nose-to-map. "Where is it, where is it, you have to be here you- ha!"
Sherlock stabbed a finger at the map. "Here!"
John walked over to have a look. "What is it?"
Sherlock whirled on him with the elated, triumphant expression that heralded a barrage of arrogant brilliance. John's stomach tightened and he took a deliberate step back to put Sherlock out of arm's reach. Sherlock noticed, of course he did, but John couldn't bring himself to feel flustered by the fact.
Luckily, Sherlock restricted his reaction to a raised eyebrow, clearly more interested in the case than John's prick. Which was more than fine with John.
"It's a hotel. Come along, John!" Sherlock said, before John could ask how he knew that. "It's time we paid a visit to Lestrade and told him we've solved his case for him."
John rolled his eyes. "First off, you haven't solved it for him since we've still got a prostitution ring to shut down. Second of all, neither of us are going anywhere until after breakfast."
Sherlock looked unimpressed. "Really, John."
"Really, Sherlock," John agreed. "Deal with it." He went back into the kitchen and opened the cupboard over the sink, skirting carefully around the suspiciously unlabelled containers that Sherlock had left there. "Do you want blackberry or strawberry jam?"
"Neither," Sherlock said.
"Marmalade it is then."
Sherlock pouted at him. "John."
"Not listening, Sherlock. You can whinge all you like; you're still eating at least one slice of toast."
"Have you always been this ridiculously intractable?"
John considered. "Actually, I think all these hormones are mellowing me out. Aren't you lucky? Flick the kettle on, would you?"
Sherlock managed a cup of tea and nearly three-quarters of a piece of toast before he jiggered both of them out the door and into a cab.
"Lestrade's not at the Yard," Sherlock explained, when John gave him a sideways look for the apparently random address he gave the cabbie. "We're going out to the crime scene."
"I'd ask how you know where said crime scene is, but I don't think I want to know."
Sherlock's mouth lifted in the ghost of a smile. "Where's your sense of adventure, doctor?"
"I'm saving it up for when the running starts," John said. He smirked. "Obviously."
In the close confines of the cab, John's scent was obvious and heavy and John could see the cabbie - beta, mated thirteen years, prefers women, stop worrying about it, John - giving them looks in the mirror. Sherlock, unsurprisingly, hardly seemed to notice at all. For his part, John pushed himself up against the door and ignored how good Sherlock smelled. Resistant to his nature though he was, John was neither a robot nor Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock's scent in close quarters was far too tempting for John to want to get any closer than he had absolutely to.
The cabbie dropped them off at the address that Sherlock had given him. It was a sign of how much time Sherlock spent swanning around crime scenes that no one even questioned it when he ducked under the tape and held it up for John to pass through. Which was not to say that they didn't garner any attention at all, though, because they did.
Or, rather, John did.
"Heading to war, soldier?" Sherlock murmured, amusement clear in his voice, and John belatedly realized that he'd squared his shoulders and lengthened his stride into a march in response to the widening eyes and blatant stares that his scent was attracting.
"I'm standing with you, aren't I?" John shot back, refusing to be embarrassed. "I'm always heading to war."
Sherlock's little smirk turned into a proper smile, bright and pleased.
Unsurprisingly, Anderson was the first one to block their access to the scene. Anderson and John had got off on the wrong foot almost immediately, both because Anderson and Sherlock clearly hated each other and because Anderson was a small, insignificant little beta who liked to make himself feel more like a man by looking down on others. In John's case, the fact that he was an omega was apparently Anderson's cue to be a chauvinistic arse at every given opportunity.
Sure enough, Anderson's nostrils flared as they approached and a leering smile crossed his face. "Well, well, Freak," he said, being deliberately loud. "Smells like your bit of rough is kinkier than we thought. Looking to get arrested for knotting in public?"
"Anderson," John said pleasantly. "You say one more word and I will pitch you out of this crime scene myself."
Anderson scoffed. "You're the one disrupting the scene coming here smelling like that. How are we supposed to work with you stinking like an omega whore house?"
"Leave it off, Anderson," Lestrade said, before John could follow through on his threat and break the man's wrist while he was at it. Lestrade cast a quick look over them and John braced himself as he watched Lestrade's nostrils flare and his eyes go dark with intent.
To John's surprise and relief, Lestrade restricted his comment to a low, "Everything alright, John?"
"Of course it is," Sherlock said. "Otherwise he wouldn't be here."
"Shut up, Sherlock." Protective concern - and a bit of possessiveness - turned Lestrade's eyes gentle. "John?"
John nodded firmly. "I'm fine."
Lestrade nodded back. "Alright then. Now," he said, louder. "How about you two explain what you're doing on my crime scene when I know, for a fact, that I didn't invite you."
"Informing you that I've found your prostitution ring," Sherlock said, bringing every inch of his public school accent to bear.
"You're welcome. Now, I need you t-"
"Sherlock," Lestrade said. "You may not have noticed, but we're kind of in the middle of something."
Sherlock followed the sweep of Lestrade's hand towards the body slumped over the steering wheel of the car they were standing next to.
"Obvious," Sherlock said immediately. "It was his work partner. Sleeping with this man's wife. Did it for the insurance policy. Now will you listen?"
Lestrade sighed. "You lot keep at it!" he called to the assembled police officers and then walked Sherlock and John to a point out of the way of the main thoroughfare. "Alright, Sherlock, I'm all ears. You know where they are?"
"No," Sherlock said, in such a way as to make it sound like he wasn't directly contradicting what he'd just said. "But I know how they're choosing their targets and I know where to go to catch them in the act."
"Brilliant. Smashing. Hip hip hooray. Don't suppose you're going to tell us?" Lestrade asked.
John stifled a grin.
"They target omegas in poor relationships with their relatives or mates," Sherlock said, pointedly ignoring the pair of them. "Omegas whose sudden and complete absences could be explained away to stupid people as something other than kidnapping."
"So they make it look like murder and pin it on their family?" John asked. "Like with Fuller's wife."
"A missing person's case without a body is more likely to be dismissed as a runaway than a murder," Sherlock corrected. "Especially when there is due cause to believe that the missing person was dramatically unhappy in their home life. No need to supply a body, either."
"No one's going to believe that someone just up and leaves without a word," Lestrade said. "I don't care what you think about the police; there's no way that sort of thing would fly."
"No," Sherlock agreed. "But it would when a great deal of money had been recently removed from the omega's bank account and a suitcase containing clothing and toiletries from the house. Both easy enough to obtain with access to the omega's wallet and address. It's also likely that the members of the ring wait for omegas to leave of their own volition, to visit their parents or whatever it is that people do when they're sick of their relationships and want somewhere to go and feel miserable."
"Sherlock," John said, gently chiding. Not that Sherlock was actually listening, of course.
"So, they're taking people who run away from home?" Lestrade asked, a frown creasing his brow. "How the hell are we supposed to figure out who their next target is? Let alone how the ring finds them in the first place."
Sherlock's answering sigh was heavy with impatience. "Sometimes you give Anderson a run for his money in the idiocy department, Lestrade."
"Sherlock!" John said again, sharper this time.
"It's fine, John," Lestrade said, looking somewhere between pleased that John was on his side and embarrassment that John was standing up for him. John resisted the childish urge to step on his foot. "I'm used to it. Any chance of getting an answer without insults, this time?"
"Well they're not watching every door in the city to see when appropriate candidates run away from home, if that's what you're asking. Where do you people usually stay when they don't want to go home and they can't stay with their friends?"
"The hotel," John realized. "The one on the map. You think that the staff is tipping off the prostitution ring when suitable victims show up."
Sherlock gave him an approving smile. "Not all of them, obviously; not every person who hates their life actually has the nerve to walk out of it, even temporarily. But yes."
"But there are as many hotels as buses in London," Lestrade said. "How can they bank on omegas using that one, specifically?"
"It's amazing the number of support groups and relationship counselors there are in London," Sherlock said, which didn't sound much like an answer until he added, "And even more amazing how many fliers they provide about 'safe havens' in the city. The ring likely has people in place to encourage unhappy omegas to use their hotels, but it's also amazing the effect that subliminal messaging has on the distraught psyche."
"Brilliant," John said, meeting Sherlock's triumphant grin with one of his own. "Is that where you were yesterday? Investigating relationship counselors?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Not for the entire day."
"Wait," Lestrade said, drawing Sherlock's attention back to him. "None of this helps us catch the ring. It'd take a miracle to get a warrant with that complete lack of evidence and, even if I got one, there won't be anything to find at the hotel."
"That's why we're going to use bait."
Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "Bait."
Sherlock nodded and John had a flash of realization a bare moment before Sherlock said, "John can do it."
"What?!" Lestrade demanded, before John had decided how to respond to that. "Sherlock, you can't be serious!"
"Why not?" Sherlock asked. "It's heat season and the ring is now short one omega who undoubtedly had several buyers lined up; they've had Fuller more than long enough to prepare his portfolio. Given that the heat cycles of most omegas have already begun and the fact that it is far too late for any omega still on suppressants to come off them in time for this cycle, they'll be desperate for a replacement."
Lestrade looked dangerously close to bursting a blood vessel. "So you're going to gift wrap John for them? Are you completely out of your tree?"
"John fits the required parameters," Sherlock said, as though that was the biggest potential stumbling block to his madness.
John thought about Fuller: younger than John, dark haired, slender. He raised an eyebrow at Sherlock. "Are we talking about the same dead body, Sherlock? Because besides my gender, I can't see a whole lot that I have in common with the poor sod."
Sherlock made an impatient sound. "As always, you fail to look beyond the superficial details. They'll have buyers for a male omega of below average height with no prior pregnancies. Weight is negotiable, especially since John's solid enough to endure multiple couplings in a short span of time, which is good for business. The view from the back will be the most important for their clients and John has an attractively rounded posterior-"
"You know what?" John said, face flaming. "Consider me convinced and please stop talking."
Sherlock blinked at him. "You asked."
"The more fool me," John agreed.
"You still can't send John," Lestrade said and John bristled despite himself.
"Why not?" he asked, apparently with more steel to it than he'd intended, judging by the way Lestrade's eyes widened.
"I- you, John you can't seriously be considering this. You're a civilian." He turned to Sherlock. "We'll get one of the omegas on staff t-"
"You haven't got anyone suitable," Sherlock interrupted him. "93% of all omegas employed by Scotland Yard are desk workers and are, understandably, ill-equipped to work in the field. Furthermore, all of them are bonded. Are you honestly so determinedly short-sighted that you believe any alpha or beta would let their omega mate walk into a trap when you can't even keep from trying to coddle John who clearly finds himself contemplating bodily harm every time someone treats him that way?"
"Seriously, Sherlock," John said. "You can stop any time now."
Sherlock appeared not to agree. "You've also missed the incredibly obvious fact that, unlike your other options, John is the perfect candidate."
"Am I?" John asked. "And how's that then?"
"You're unbonded, childless and can easily explain your sexual frustration away as a result of the row you've had with your fictional alpha. In this scenario: me."
"Sexual frustration?" Anderson sneered suddenly and John fought the urge to groan aloud. When did he get there? "Always knew you were a freak. You've got an unbonded omega in heat between your sheets and you don't even know what to do with i- fuck!"
John had Anderson by the neck and slammed up against the closest wall in six seconds flat. "I," he said calmly to Anderson, who was staring at him with widely bugging eyes that made him look even less attractive than usual, "am not a thing to be talked about. Nor am I going to tolerate insults from the likes of you. The only person who gets to choose what to do with me is me, and I would appreciate it if you would remember that."
Without warning, he released Anderson's neck and watched him stagger. "The next time you talk about me - or any omega in your unit - like that, I'm going to issue a formal complaint with your superiors. Oh," John said, and didn't let his affable smile drop for a moment as he added, "And if you ever touch me again, I'll break your fingers. Self-defense, of course."
Message delivered, John spun away with a perfectly executed parade turn, leaving Anderson gaping after him, thankfully silent for once.
Sherlock watched him stalk over with a decidedly amused twinkle in his eyes. "Well," he said, not so much being tactful as relishing the moment. "You do realize that-"
"Mention hormones to me and I'll shove you against a wall too," John warned, though he could feel a laugh threatening in the back of his throat.
"Given the fact that I was about say that your rather combative relationship with your hormones was another factor in our favour, I shall refrain."
"It's still combative," John offered. "Just not the way you're thinking."
Sherlock's eyes sparked with humour. "Either way, they won't be expecting it."
There was a beat, and then they both broke out into giggles, while Lestrade made a face at the pair of them and Anderson sulked like a wet cat in the background.
"If you're quite done," Lestrade said, in his 'I work with children' voice. "How about you explain what you're talking about."
Sherlock responded with his 'I have very little faith in the Met's ability to string a full sentence together between the lot of them' voice. "Unless this operation takes considerably longer than it needs to - which it won't, since I'm organizing it - John is unlikely to fall victim to his biology and so doesn't have to fear instigating his own rape."
John just about swallowed his tongue. "Sherlock!"
"Er," Lestrade coughed, with an apologetic glance at John. "Biology isn't exactly something that you can turn off, Sherlock." Except for you, maybe, Lestrade didn't say, but he didn't really need to.
Sherlock didn't look bothered. "How far into his heat is John right now, Detective Inspector?"
Lestrade blinked and turned to John with a question in his eyes.
John waved a hand. "Oh, go on then. He's going to be insufferable until you do."
"Right." Lestrade approached and took a deliberate sniff. His eyes roved across John's body, taking in the sweat beading along his hairline, the open button on his shirt and the state of the front of his trousers.
"Well?" Sherlock asked impatiently.
"Four days," Lestrade said, with a certainty that surprised John. "Maybe four and a half."
"You!" Sherlock said to two officers who were standing nearby and trying very hard not to listen. "You agree?"
John groaned. "Sherlock, I am not a circus act."
"Quiet, John. Well?"
Hesitantly, the two officers approached and John consciously relaxed as they took him in.
The first, an alpha, agreed almost immediately. The other was a beta and, while she took a moment longer to decide, she also agreed with Lestrade.
Which meant that John really couldn't fault Sherlock for the smug triumph plastered all over his face when he said, "seven."
John earned himself a double-take from absolutely everyone in hearing distance and he tried to focus on exasperation rather than embarrassment.
"What did I say about talking about my sex life in public?" he asked Sherlock.
Sherlock looked entirely unrepentant.
"How are you even upright seven days in?" Lestrade demanded, with what John recognized as worry. "Christ, Sherlock, you shouldn't have let him come out."
Pursing his lips, John fought the urge to tell Lestrade off for that.
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. "John's fine. Aren't you, John?"
"Perfectly fine," John gritted, feeling his shoulders square again.
"Like you," Sherlock said to Lestrade. "The criminals will erroneously conclude that John is not as far into his heat as he actually is, which will keep them from putting him to work-" John winced "-immediately since omegas in heat fever are both easier to control and more entertaining for their clients. They'll also likely find it unnecessary to drug John during the interim since the fever will be on him imminently and they won't want him still suffering the effects of the drugs while servicing-" John winced again "-their clients."
"There a reason you know so much about sex trafficking, Freak?" Anderson asked snidely.
"Anderson, go away," Sherlock said, calmly dismissive. "No one wants to hear you speak. Ever. Well, Lestrade? Ready to stop complaining yet?"
"And what do you have to say about this mad idea, John?" Lestrade asked, which John appreciated very much. He could see how much it went against Lestrade's instincts to offer him the choice instead of insisting that he stay safe.
Unfortunately for Lestrade's blood pressure however, John had made his decision long before they'd started arguing. God help him. "If Sherlock thinks he can figure out how to make this work without me ending up as a baby-making sex slave for the rest of my life-"
"Of course I can, John, don't be stupid."
"-then it looks like I'm your best bet. So let's figure out how to get me abducted by a prostitution ring." He leveled a warning finger at Sherlock. "And if you say one word about putting a tracker up my rectum, you will not live to regret it."
In the end, the plan was very simple.
"I feel like I'm about to book a room at Hare's lodging house," John remarked as he thumped down the stairs with his duffel bag over his shoulder. "End up on the dissection table if I'm not careful."
Sherlock blinked at him owlishly. "What?"
"Burke and Hare?" John tried. "The Scottish serial killers who murdered their tenants and sold the bodies to a medical school? There's even a children's rhyme about it."
"Fascinating," Sherlock said, staring at John as though he was some rare species of poisonous insect.
"The further proof that, despite the gross similarities, there are still differences to be found between this world and the one you came from."
It was John's turn to blink, surprised. "They didn't exist here? Are you sure?"
The look Sherlock gave him was positively withering. "As if I would not know about a notorious pair of serial killers."
John had to grin. "Fair enough. Gives me a story to tell you when this is all over, anyway."
"I'll look forward to it. You're ready to go?" It was more a statement of fact than a question.
"Should be, yeah. Packed enough clothes for a week away from home."
"Good." Sherlock glanced out the window. "Your taxi is here. Lestrade and I will be monitoring the hotel."
In the original plan, Sherlock had been planning on keeping tabs on John alone. Lestrade had about had an apoplexy. John didn't envy them that stakeout.
"Right." John threw a stern look at Sherlock. "If I wind up as a high-rent baby-maker, I'm going to be more that a little put out with you."
"An understandable reaction." Sherlock's expression was uncharacteristically sober as he added, "Stay safe. And try to behave like a normal omega, for once."
John found a smile for him. "I always behave like an omega. Since when do you approve of normal anything?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow but said nothing as John headed down the stairs and out to the waiting cab.
The cabbie pulled into traffic and John took a deep breath, trying to get himself into the mindset of a distraught boyfriend who'd just packed his bags because his partner was a prick. Though it had rankled at the time, John was glad now that Sherlock had suggested that he think of Sherlock as his mystery alpha; Sherlock had plenty of bad habits that John could use as fodder for his fictional breakdown.
John had the cab drop him off around the corner from the hotel, then trudged through the streets with his rucksack over his good shoulder and a small carry bag in his other hand. Neither of them were particularly light, which wouldn't have bothered John eight months ago when he was used to carrying his kit and medical supplies from one location to another, but now, months of forced inactivity and the very real ache of his wounded shoulder were conspiring together to make for quite the unpleasant walk.
A bell over the door jangled as John walked in and the heavyset woman behind the desk looked up at him.
"Hello," she said, in a strong cockney accent. "An' welcome to-"
John stepped closer and her smile faltered when she smelled the ripeness of his scent, the undeniable proof that he was an omega in heat.
"How sturdy are the locks on your doors?" John asked. He was uncomfortably aware that the effort of walking coupled with his heat were making him look decidedly red-cheeked and sweaty.
"Cor," the woman breathed, openly surprised. She was a beta, which fit in with Sherlock's theory; an omega in charge wouldn't project the sense of safety that distressed omegas would be seeking while an alpha would have been too much of a liability. "Don't often see people out and about in your state, luv, I can tell you that."
"The locks," John said again. "How sturdy are they? I'm going to need a room with a strong lock."
"I- they're in good condition, but I'm still not sure I should be renting out to you. How far along are you?"
John bit his lip instead of raising his chin the way he wanted to. "Six days," he said, which Sherlock had said was about the farthest he could push it back without making it obvious that he was lying. They needed his kidnappers to believe that he was still a couple of days away from proper heat fever or else John might end up being put to 'work' before Sherlock and Lestrade could rescue him.
The beta's eyebrows shot up. "And you're out in public?"
John huffed out something that wasn't a laugh. "Guess so."
"You got someone meeting you here?"
"Is that against the rules?" John hedged, not quite an answer.
She raised her hands. "Only if you're charging for it."
John didn't need to fake being flustered when he caught up with that insinuation. "What? No-no, oh no. I'm not. It's just me," he concluded lamely.
"Hmm." Her eyes were thoughtful as they skimmed over him. "You traveling somewhere?"
John shook his head with a determinedly bitter snort. "Not in the way you're thinking."
"No offense meant, but shouldn't you be at home in your condition?"
"Isn't a place on Earth I'd rather be less," John said, fighting to hit some believable balance of wary and talkatively distraught.
Omegas like to talk, Sherlock had told him, though God only knew where he'd got his information. John wouldn't have put it past him to be spying through windows to observe the esoteric social practices of the domestic omega or some such nonsense. Come across angry and defensive enough and they won't wonder about why you're telling them everything.
The woman made a concerned, cooing sort of sound. "There, there, pet. S'there anybody I can call for you? You're in a right state."
"No, no, there's nobody." John fumbled in his pocket for the pamphlet that Sherlock had appropriated from one of the relationship counselor's offices, brandishing it like a theatre ticket. "I saw your hotel's name and I just want a place to stay so he, so he doesn't- God, he is such a-" John let his voice break, channeling every ounce of frustration he had about Sherlock leaving three sheep's bladders in the bathtub last month into making this sound plausible.
With another soothing hum, the woman came out from behind the desk. "Your mate?" she asked gently. She was, John thought, a much better actor than he was.
"Not for much longer," John said, aiming for upset and falling somewhere closer to angry. Near enough. He drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry, you don't need to be listening to the end of my relationship. The locks?"
She got close enough to pat his arm; John refused to flinch. "Don't you worry about all that," she said. "The doors are all up to code and the locks are more than strong enough to keep out admirers." She gave him a significant look. "Known or otherwise."
"Not much chance of the second," John said. He bit his lip. "Probably hasn't even noticed I've left. Keeps right on talking as though I've nothing better to do than listen to him."
The beta clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "Shameful. Let's get you checked in then. Alright, luv?"
John decided to be amused rather than irritated by the use of pet names for a highly trained soldier - even an ex-one. There was enough about this mess to be irritated about without adding to the list.
He managed to check in amidst much cooing and subtle probing by the woman and did his best to play the emotionally distraught omega. A gifted actor, John Watson was not, but it didn't seem as though the woman was paying much attention. Which was exactly the reaction that Sherlock had anticipated; between the distraction of John's scent - less potent to betas but still very hard to ignore - and the anticipation she'd be feeling about finding a suitable omega at zero hour, the woman wasn't going to be looking for holes in John's story.
Once he extricated himself from the proprietor, John made his way to his room. It was on the first floor, which didn't surprise him; if he'd been planning on cornering someone, he'd want the windows too high to jump from as well.
John locked the door behind him and slung himself across the bed with a relieved exhale. The pressure against his arse made him uncomfortably aware that he needed to replace his sanitary towel soon or risk soaking the seat of his trousers, but the thought of getting up again was undesirable in the extreme. Deciding that he simply couldn't be arsed to deal with it right now, John turned on the telly instead. He had no way to check in with Sherlock and nothing to say even if he did. Nothing to do but wait.
Step one complete.
Now all he had to do was get his mind off sex and he'd be all set.
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