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As far as Harold can tell, nothing about the latest number is unusual: Ms. Coleman is an omega woman in her thirties, a high school English teacher. She has lived with her alpha for the last three years. Her financial records are fine, her phone holds only selfies and pictures of dogs. Mr. Reese is staking out her house, and Harold isn't altogether sure if this is professional paranoia or Reese's own brand of self-imposed busy work.

On the other hand, a stakeout doesn't seem like a hardship. Harold and John are both accustomed to keeping odd hours, so staying up at 2AM is nothing out of the ordinary. It's a pleasant night, and Reese is sitting on a bench in the small park across the street from Ms. Coleman's home. If anybody investigates, Reese will claim to be Mr. John Williams, a resident of the gated community containing Ms. Coleman's house, out for a late night walk.

A walk might be pleasant, in fact. If nothing shakes up, and Reese doesn't need him, Harold might go himself. He's waiting in the house rented under the Williams identity, just in case.

"Finch." Reese's tense voice shakes Harold's attention into place. "Is there a reason for Coleman to be headed out at this hour?"

Harold frowns and re-checks his data. "Not as far as I can tell. Can you keep an eye on her without..." he hunts for the precise word he wants.

"Spooking her?" Reese sounds amused. "I can track her at a distance." After a pause, Reese says, "I can smell her," his voice suddenly tense.

Harold's hands freeze in place.

Reese turns out not to need any tracking ability. Ms. Coleman is coming to him: the tracker they put on her phone flashes on Harold's screen, approaching the green dot marking Reese's location. Ms. Coleman doesn't appear to be in a hurry, but her aim seems very definite.

The next voice Harold hears through Reese's headset does not belong to Reese. Presumably, it's Ms. Coleman. "Hey, I don't think I met you before. You live around here?"

She doesn't sound suspicious in the least, which is curious. She's a 4'11 omega; Reese is a physically powerful alpha, a stranger to Ms. Coleman. His every movement hints at his proficiency in violence. Of course Harold knows Reese is no danger to her, but how could she know that?

"Moved in a little while ago," Reese says. His voice sounds odd to Harold's ears.

"Can't sleep either?" Ms. Coleman asks. "I don't know, it was just so hot all day and I was so tired I could barely move, and now it's nice I just want to...." she trails off. "I'm Tiffany, what's your name?"

"My name's John," Reese says. "Tiffany, you do know you're in heat, right?"

After a second of silence, Coleman says, "Shit." A moment later, she says, "I'm going to fucking kill Joshua."

"Not if I do it first," Reese growls, so low that hopefully only Harold hears him.

A little digging shows the rest: Joshua - Mr. Coleman - has swapped Ms. Coleman's heat suppressants for placebos in hope she'll conceive. This would be bad enough by itself, but getting off suppressants changed the insulin dosage that Ms. Coleman needed. She likely would have slipped into a coma halfway through heat, and it seemed doubtful that Mr. Coleman would disclose his behavior to the medical staff before irreversible damage was done.

Harold relays all this information to John, along with (after consulting Dr. Tillman) the exact dosage Ms. Coleman needs to take to counter these side effects. Reese conveys it to Ms. Coleman.

In addition, Reese forcibly ejects Mr. Coleman from the home he shares with Ms. Coleman, and sees her safely inside before triggering the heat lockdown on the house.

By that time, Reese's breathing is labored to a degree that isn't warranted by the amount of physical violence he's had to do. (Harold is somewhat dismayed that he knows this.) "Mr. Reese? Are you alright?"

"I'm affected," Reese says tersely.

Harold blinks. He didn't realize it was possible for an alpha to be this... functional... when having a sympathetic reaction to an omega's heat, but of course Reese's endurance is incredibly high. "I see. I'm at Williams' address, you can come here. It's not equipped for the situation, but we'll make do."

Reese's voice is grim when he says, "It has heat locks. It'll do."

~~

The house indeed has heat locks. It also has a large bed already made, and water bottles, so those are some aspects of Reese's comfort that Harold needn't worry about.

He's not altogether sure how most alphas handle this, and there's no time to do research. All Harold has to rely on are vague memories of his college days, Nathan groaning into his pillow in the background while Harold tried to focus on his studies.

The house is large enough that Reese and Harold would both be spared that embarrassment, at least, and Harold would still be close enough to offer assistance in case of emergency.

He unlocks the door, holds it open when he sees Reese approaching through the security camera. Reese propels himself inside with clench-jawed single-mindedness. Harold closes the door and triggers the heat locks.

As soon as he does, Reese turns around, zooming on Harold. Reese's pupils are distressingly dilated, covering the iris almost entirely. "Finch," he says, low and raspy. "What did you do?"

"I activated the heat lock," Harold says, confused.

One moment, Reese is standing a few feet apart from Harold; the next, Harold is pinned to the wall, Reese's body shoving him, radiating literal heat in addition to the pheromones Harold can't perceive. "You should have gotten out while you could," Reese says. He's shaking, a motion that would be imperceptible if Reese's thigh weren't shoving its way between Harold's legs.

It's odd, almost, how afraid Harold isn't.

"I could try circumventing the heat lock," Harold says, doubtful, then yelps when Reese's grip on him tightens.

Reese loosens his grip immediately, body tense. Harold abruptly realizes that Reese must be trying very hard to pull away.

"I won't let you leave," Harold says. Reese exhales, his shoulders sagging just a tad. "I can wait in the other room. You won't have to even know I'm here."

Reese gives a short, mirthless laugh. "I can't wait in the other room." He shoves his pelvis against Harold, making his arousal unmistakable.

"Oh dear," Harold says faintly. This never happened with Nathan. In fact, Nathan admitted freely that when he was in heat, he found Harold of less interest than his mattress. That, at least, had some scent of omega clinging to it, parting gifts from Nathan's conquests.

There's something pressing into Harold's hand. He looks down and jerks away at the sight of the gun that John is attempting to give him.

"Just hit me on the head," John says. "I'll show you where, how hard, you can do it."

Harold flattens himself against the wall, pressing his open palm to it. "Absolutely not!"

A muscle ticks in John's jaw. "Fine. I'll do it myself."

"You'll do no such thing," Harold says, distressed enough to compress fear into something sharp and cold that he can wield with efficiency. His voice comes out resonating with deep conviction.

John drops the gun.

Harold would kick it out of reach, but he's worried about setting it off, and in any case doesn't want to risk losing this miraculous control he gained. "Go to the bedroom. Lie down."

John backs off. Harold takes a deep breath as John steps away, his movements just shy of mechanical.

One thing at a time. There's nothing in the house intended to serve as restraints; John might have a set of handcuffs lying around, but Harold does not relish the thought of what those things might do to John's poor wrists, especially if he becomes agitated.

He opens the storage closet, and his eyes fall on a set of luggage straps.

"On your side," he tells John, once he follows him into the bedroom. "Hands behind your back. Cross them."

The luggage straps are black and simple, with a few extra buckles; Harold loops the strap around each of John's wrists separately before binding them together and cinching, then winds the remaining length around John's waist and cinches again. Then he ties John's ankles together in a similar way.

"A hogtie'll be harder for me to get out of," John rasps.

"If you're thinking well enough to get out of bonds," Harold says, "I should hope you can think well enough to realize why you shouldn't." The words, once said, strike him as harsh. He lays his hand on John's back, over his spine. "At least try to tell me, if you can."

John drags in a desperate breath. In a raw voice, he says, "What if I can't, Harold?"

Harold considers. "If for some obscure reason you're determined to mount me," he says, "that would probably be awkward, and possibly painful. However, I don't think it's likely to do lasting harm, and I don't see any gain in saving me potential pain by inflicting certain pain on you."

After another moment, he adds, softly, "I give you my consent to anything that you might need to do to me now. The situation is far from ideal, but it's not your fault in any way."

John arches his back and sobs. The buckles rattle alarmingly, but hold.

"Would it help if I lay down next to you?" Harold says, doubtful. He worries that saying this would amount to coercion, under the circumstances, and yet he can't help but want to give John as much comfort as he may.

For a long moment, John is silent. When he finally says, "It might," his voice is so quiet that Harold almost misses it.

John is like a furnace, and Harold can feel him trembling. "In a hole in the ground," Harold says, reciting to himself from memory, "there lived a hobbit..."

~~

John comes in his clothes three times before Harold finishes telling the story. Each time is heralded by John's shaking becoming stronger, escalating into twitches and shifts. Finally his entire body spasms so strongly that the first time it happened, Harold was afraid John was having a seizure.

John could have dragged himself closer, wriggled close enough to rub against Harold's thigh or belly. At first Harold appreciates this as a minor blessing.

By the third time, he is ready to change his mind. "Is it always like this?" he asks John. "So strong, I mean. You look like you're about to do yourself damage."

"I'll be fine," John says, after a pause long enough to make Harold suspicious.

Harold breathes deep and tries to draw on that essence of command that worked so well earlier. "The truth, please, Mr. Reese."

John makes a pained noise.

Harold would give any amount of money and a significant amount of time and effort to spare John this experience. He reaches out without thinking, puts his hand on John's chest. John hunches like he's trying to curl up around Harold's hand. "Please tell me," Harold says, softer.

"I need to knot something," John grits out. Is it just the exertion, or is he flushing at telling Harold this? "There's toys for that."

"But none we can order to reach us in time," Harold finishes the thought. "Even if they did, we couldn't open the door to receive a package while you're in heat." He does need to invest in a heat door for his safe houses. These things do slip one's mind when one isn't personally affected: he makes note of it for the future.

"It'll pass," John says. Is it only exhaustion coloring his voice, slurring his words, or is he suffering more than he lets on?

That question, Harold realizes, has a depressingly obvious answer: it's John. Of course he's suffering more than he's letting on.

Harold sits up. John makes a desperate noise and tries to follow him. Harold lays a hand on John's shoulder. "I'm getting you water," he says. The commanding voice is coming easier with practice. "Rest and wait for me." Thankfully, John subsides, even if he noses listlessly at the sheets where Harold lay.

The answer is clear enough. It comes to Harold as he brings a jug of cold water, a plastic cup and a straw from the kitchen. John is still on the bed when Harold returns, his eyes closed and his breathing shallow. His color does not look good.

"If I untied your hands," Harold begins, and John twitches violently. "Alright, that's a no, then?"

"That's a no," John says, hoarse.

Harold pours water into the cup, brings it close enough for John to drink from the straw. "If your hands are currently occupied, what about mine?"

He just manages to snatch the cup away before John's sudden movement knocks it out of his hand. John arches his back high, makes a keening noise and struggles against his bond before subsiding.

"Is that a yes?" Harold hazards.

John twists again. "You don't have to." But the words out of his mouth are blurring together, his breathing even shallower.

"I don't wish in the least to violate your consent," Harold says. "But this seems fairly hazardous to your health. If it's my consent you're concerned for, I said already that you have it. I haven't changed my mind, John, nor have I decided to start lying to you."

"I'm fine," John says.

He's not, but Harold's not about to argue that part. "Suppose so," he says. "Suppose that me intervening will only make the difference between discomfort and comfort, or even pleasure and the lack thereof. If you would let me, I would still do that, and gladly."

Slowly, reluctance written onto his features, John turns to lie on his back. Harold spares a moment to worry for John's hands, taking his weight in this less than ideal position, then consciously lets that worry go. There are more urgent things at stake.

Harold opens John's pants quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. He blinks a few times when John's cock springs free: dear God, he'd always thought those stories about alphas were pure exaggeration.

He mustn't gawp, though. John is hurting. His cock is nearly all purple, veins standing out sharply. Harold puts a tentative hand on the base, where the flesh has turned alarmingly dark. "Here?"

"Yes." The word is more wheeze than voice. "Hard." John gives a full body flinch when Harold tries to squeeze. Harold's grip slackens, and John surges up towards him. "Even pressure." His sigh once Harold complies is so relieved that Harold feels elevated by proxy.

Once Harold has both hands on the base of John's cock, he gives thought to the question of how to actually stimulate John into climax. This turns out to be a moot question; John's cock pulses and twitches once, twice, and then Harold is taken by a spurt of alpha come to the chest.

"Sorry," John says, once he's regained his breath. He looks much better. Color is rapidly returning to his face, and to Harold's relief, soon John falls into fitful sleep.

"It's nothing," Harold says softly to the sleeping form. He looks above. "No chance this is the end of it, is it?"

The heat locks' indicator light glares red. Harold sighs. "I suppose I should have guessed."

He does have an idea, though. He'd better move quickly. He doesn't want to leave John alone for too long.

~~

Harold is slightly tense until he opens the closet to find the small sewing machine there. It's a prototype manufactured by one of the companies he owns, and he took it with him ostensibly to test it out in field conditions. He runs his hands over it, enjoying the sleek design.

A potent sense memory flashes: John's fragile, soft skin under his hands. Harold almost drops the machine. He sets it on the desk in the bedroom before he can do further damage.

He's slightly more certain he has the other component he needs, but he still sighs out relief when the first aid kit does, in fact, contain a blood pressure cuff.

As Harold picks it up, he hesitates. The material is rough. John will probably not emit one sound of dismay if it abrades his skin.

Harold brings the cuff to the table, too, then removes his jacket. He runs his hands over its silk lining and takes a good pair of fabric scissors.

~~

John wakes up with a groan, trying to reach for Harold.

Harold lays a hand on John's shoulder. "I'm right here. Do you want me to come back to the bed?"

He regrets asking the question, the cruelty of forcing John to choose pain or indignity. But John nods, small yet noticeable. Harold takes his improvised contraption and gets on the bed.

John twitches when he sees what Harold's holding. "What's this?"

"Improvised knotting toy," Harold says. "I'm not averse to using my hands on you, you understand, but I thought it might save you emotional turmoil. Of course, after your heat, we can always discuss me milking you again."

John's face reddens abruptly, his eyes rolling. Harold flinches, afraid he's hurt John, when he sees John's cock - still exposed - jerk and spew come.

It doesn't soften afterwards; not by much, anyway. It hangs heavy and full between John's hips, its tip still wet. Alpha cocks have been symbols of strength for ages. It's the first time Harold has seen one close up, and it's startling how vulnerable it looks.

"Shall I?" Harold says, holding up the contraption. John bites his lip and nods.

It fits John quite well, considering Harold worked from memory and not measurements. John makes a soft noise as Harold inflates it, making it grip John's knot tighter.

Harold has to hold the contraption in place, so it doesn't fall off when John's thighs buck and thrust. Even so, the makeshift toy seems to be doing its job reasonably well: John comes again soon, and drifts off into sleep once more.

Once John is asleep, Harold lifts the contraption to clean it as well as he can. He's halfway through wiping John's hips when he realizes he might be crossing John's boundaries.

John blinks awake as Harold debates this question with himself, so he shares the concern. "John, would you prefer to be cleaned or left alone?"

After giving Harold a long, inscrutable look, John says, "I'd like to be clean." His voice is hoarse and quiet. Soft. "If you don't mind."

"I wouldn't have offered if I did." Harold resumes wiping down John's thighs. John is really very beautiful. Alpha aesthetics never particularly appealed to Harold: he always found the media's depiction of alphas crass if not downright pornographic, and of course knowing Nathan - not to mention being around for his collage heats - had taken a lot of the glamour out of the equation.

John is... well, he's John. The scars on his skin are testaments to lives he saved, his muscles a silent reminder of how his training and past have shaped him. John's skin is a little rough, and Harold finds himself wondering whether John would enjoy it if Harold rubbed lotion on him.

Perhaps another time. "Would you like to use the device again?" Harold says.

John's lips twitch, almost invisible. "So that's what you're calling it now?" Followed by, "Yes."

~~

The end of John's heat is heralded by the lockdown's indicator light turning green and the sound of the doors unbolting themselves. John himself is sound asleep, sprawled over the bed.

A moment ago, Harold would have said he's quite desperate for a way out of the lockdown. Now, he looks anxiously at the doors, wondering if perhaps he should lock them again until John has woken and eaten, regained a little strength.

It's a silly thought, as silly as Harold smoothing a thin blanket over John's shoulder. A symbolic gesture with no content. He smooths the blanket again.

John's eyes flutter slowly open. Harold considers urging him back to sleep, but John sits up before Harold can do or say anything.

"How are you feeling?" Harold says, instead, and, "Let me bring you some water."

John gulps the bottle Harold brings him down, and Harold busies himself with ordering food rather than look at John's throat working, at his wet and open mouth.

Finally, the food is on its way and John has put down the bottle. If Harold wants to avoid a very awkward conversation, he'd best make his excuses now.

For a long moment, Harold wistfully considers a world where he was more committed to cowardice. Then he says, "I'm honestly not sure if I helped you or made a bad heat worse by harassing you during it."

John blinks at him.

The awkwardness is already excruciating. Harold may as well be clear. "I'm attracted to you, and emotionally attached," he tells John. "There is little I'd like less than making you uncomfortable by making this plain if it's not mutual - but I would like," he swallows, and forces the words out, "I would very much like for it to be mutual." He looks down, momentarily unable to look John in the eye. "Contingent, of course, on your-- mmph!"

The last words are swallowed in John's mouth, as John tackles him, pins him to the bed and kisses him breathless. Harold thinks he might have bitten John's lip rather hard by accident, but John appears not at all deterred. He kisses with all the single-minded enthusiasm he wouldn't let himself show during heat itself.

"That mutual enough for you?" John says, when they finally retreat for breath.

"I'd say so, yes." Harold, dazed, raises his hand to touch John's lower lip, which is more swollen than just kissing should account for. "Should we--"

John kisses him before he finishes the sentence. Harold notes that he should probably not let John make a habit of this.

He'll start just as soon as John stops kissing so damnably well.

~~

It's 8PM when they exit the house, clean and orderly, heading for the library. John has Harold's hand tucked in his with propriety that might not be good for their cover. Harold can't bring himself to care.

Someone hurries towards them. Harold tenses for a moment, but John is relaxed, so he doubts there's any real danger. This is confirmed when he can see that it's Ms. Coleman.

"John!" she says, then blushes prettily. "I mean - oh, I don't know your last name, I don't mean to be inappropriate." She reddens further. "I mean. I was just worried, did you make it home okay, after...?" Her voice fades and her eyes widen when she notes Harold. Her nostrils also widen, in a dainty fashion. "Oh, are you his... mate?" she asks Harold, sounding puzzled.

"I'm a beta," Harold says, just as John replies, "Yes," tightening his grip on Harold's hand.

Ms. Coleman blinks, but she smiles. "Well! It definitely looks like you had a good time." She gives Harold an earnest look. "John is a good person. Take care of him."

"I'm well aware, and I try my best," Harold says, a little touched despite himself.

John's grip on him becomes crushing for just a moment. Then John says, in an ordinary voice, "Harold? I need to get in the house, I forgot something."

Harold is perfectly certain they left nothing behind, so it's not much of a surprise that John pins him to a wall and kisses him breathless as soon as the door closes. "Is this a habit of yours?" Harold asks as soon as he's able. "This inclination for pinning people to walls."

John's eyes glint. "Why, do you like it?" His hips shift subtly closer to Harold's. John isn't aroused, and it would be surprising if he could be so soon after heat, but Harold is not immune to John's charms or his proximity. "Oh, hello." His thigh makes its way between Harold's, an echo of how this day began.

It's an effort to speak. "We could wait," Harold says feebly. "Until you're feeling more..."

"More what?" John's voice comes out raw, half-snarling. "More yours? More grateful for how you see me, how you take care of me." He steals another quick, hard kiss. "You put lining from your jacket on that thing, don't think I didn't notice."

"It was just a jacket," Harold says, bewildered.

John looks at Harold, then kisses him once more, this time soft and lingering. "You took care of me," he says. "Now let me take care of you." He rubs the bulge in Harold's pants.

Harold stares at the ceiling as John sinks to his knees, unable to come up with any kind of coherent objection, except, "You do take care of me," he says, petting John's hair, still wet from his earlier shower. "You bring me tea. You brought me a dog."

"I did," John acknowledges, undoing Harold's buttons. "But maybe we can talk about that later?"

"Later," Harold agrees, fervently, as John takes Harold in his mouth with an appreciative moan.