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The Liquid Measure of Your Steps

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“This place is fucking ridiculous,” John says, and he means every word, from the heavy red velvet curtains to the gilded chandeliers hanging over a scattering of white-cloth topped tables. The stage that dominates one end of the room is even worse, the curtains highlighted with gold braided fringe and three brass poles set in the center. It is all very … “It’s like every cliché from every porn mag come to life in one room.”

Sherlock looks up from examining what was left of a stage footlight that had exploded a few hours before, injuring the young alpha dancer on stage. “You can’t tell me you’ve never been in an omega club,” he says. “Not even for a Bonding Toast?”

“Well, yeah, when Mike bonded with Alyssa, but it wasn’t like this.” John holds out a plastic baggie for whatever scrapings of evidence Sherlock had gathered. “Maybe a bit more low rent. Smells nice, though,” John admits, and it does, the warm musk of unbonded alpha seems to have permanently soaked into the table cloths and the ridiculously plush carpet. John tries, and fails, to suppress a tiny shiver that makes its way down his spine.

“Oh, for God’s sake, do try to control yourself,” Sherlock says, rolling his eyes. “Two days from estrus and you’re practically useless.”

John snickers. Sherlock always does get in a strop when John was near heat but it is, in its way, hilarious. “Unlike an alpha, I can actually keep two thoughts in my head at the same time, thanks,” John says and pockets another sample Sherlock hands him. “I can’t help it if you find sex too distracting for your brilliant, perfect mind to process.” Unfortunately.

Sherlock sniffs him again and grimaces. “Who’s it going to be this time?” he asks carelessly, and John’s ears perk up just a bit. He rarely asks about who John’s going to spend his heat with.

“Clayton. Jerome. Maybe both.” John grins, and drops his voice an octave to purr, “And they promised to be on reduced suppressants.”

Sherlock growls at him, and John is secretly triumphant to see, just for a moment, the glitter of alpha dominance in his eyes. “Ugh. Tart.”

“Prude.”

“Breeder.”

“Animate cock.”

“Better than pregnant,” Sherlock announces, and John shoves him, Sherlock shoves back, and they both laugh at their own ridiculousness. Sherlock may be the secret star of many of John’s more lurid fantasies, but in the here and now he’s John’s best friend, and it’s better that none of that messy hormonal stuff gets in the way of that anyhow.

………………………………………………………….

Besides, John never stood a chance. Sherlock had made his disinterest in mating, heats, or anything of that sort quite clear from the moment they met.

“I’m on high levels of suppressants,” he’d announced, in the same tone of voice he’d used to tell John his name. “And I don’t get distracted by heats, so if you’re wondering about my bond compulsion, I don’t have one. I don’t intend to bond. At all. With anyone.”

So John had never pressed it. As gorgeous as Sherlock is, as tempting as the tiny hints of his artificially dampened-down scent are, John refuses to use his pheromones to entice. He prefers a naturally-developed attraction rather than a heat-induced one.

Sherlock, however, seems fairly immune to both.

It all works out okay, though. John finds plenty of alpha friends willing to help him out during heat; bonding suppressants make this option so much more appealing than when John was a teen. John’s just happy there are some suppressants now available, a synthetic bonding hormone alphas can take that lessen their response to unbonded omegas. All the fun of sex in heat, but no more pesky bonding hormones fogging up alpha brains, and no accidental bonds forged in heat, which were always suspect anyway.

John’s gone through dissolution once, despite his mother’s sighs of disapproval. Application to the court, three weeks of waiting, a single injection, and it was over. John sure as hell wasn’t going to be responsible for some mooning alpha always trailing after him, despite the tug of a bond, especially when said alpha was almost 10 years older than he was and desperate for children.

Not long after they’d moved in together, John asked Sherlock what that desire for a bond was like. Despite his medical training and time around all genders in all sorts of situations, he’d never considered actually asking an alpha their perspective before.

Sherlock had paused, brow furrowed in thought. “I’m surprised you’d ask,” he’d said. “It’s hard to describe to an omega who can’t experience it.”

John shrugged. “Try me. I know what I was taught, but you know, that’s just books. I’ve not lived with an alpha long-term before.”

“It’s not nearly as bad as it was when I was a teenager. Well, as it was up through my twenties, actually. It feels like a craving, almost. A nagging sense of waiting for something you can’t quite find.” Sherlock shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “Thank God for suppressants,” he’d added, then he quickly changed the subject and that, as they say, was that.

………………………………………………………………………

The victim of the exploding footlight is Simone Cline, a pretty alpha with a long sweep of chestnut hair and bright green eyes, and John is taking very shallow breaths in the communal dressing room where she keeps her things between dances.

None of the alphas that dance at the club are on suppressants and the smell of them, that dark, smoky, musky scent is thick in the air. John was so close to heat there had been a moment when John considered staying outside while Sherlock searched Simone’s things, but Sherlock simply waved him in. John sits awkwardly on a small stool and tries to ignore half a dozen young, beautiful, half-nude alphas watching him.

John is startled when “May I get you something to drink, sir?” is purred over his shoulder by a young female with red lips and wide, dark eyes. She’s caught him out, and her body is responding to his without even realizing it. Poor dear.

“No, nothing, thanks,” John says, and shifts his seat closer to the wall.

“Are you sure?” she asks again, and gently touches his knee. “I’m certain we could find something to your taste.” Oh God, John thinks, that’s all he needs, to be propositioned in a room full of alphas while he’s so close to heat. He’s the oldest in here. He’s got to be the adult for all of them.

“Sorry,” he says firmly. “Not this time.”

Her smile fades a bit and she blushes, embarrassed. “All right,” she says. “I hope I didn’t—“

“No, not at all. Awkward timing for me to even be here. It will be fine.” The alpha nods and slinks away, and John sighs in relief.

Sherlock glances at him as he’s searching Simone’s bag. He must notice the remnants of discomfort on his face, because his nostrils flare, he drops the bag and takes two long strides to stand in front of John’s chair, his back to John and arms crossed. John can almost bet he’s scowling by the way the other alphas in the room suddenly look very busy getting ready to go on stage.

“Did you have to?” John murmurs.

“Shut up. They were all looking for an opportunity. Now they’ll leave you alone. Simple expediency.”

“I hate to admit it, but you’re right. Once we get back to Baker Street I might just stay there for a while.”

Sherlock sighs the sigh of the endlessly put-upon. “Don’t be ridiculous. The days of roving bands of unbound alphas marauding in the streets and raping omegas have been over for 200 years.”

“Oh, I know. But still, it’s uncomfortable, yeah? For them and for me.”

“That’s their problem,” Sherlock bites out. “They need to learn control. I’m finished here. We need to see her room.”

John jumps up and strides after him. “Oh, give her a break, Sherlock, she wasn’t doing anything other than being … excessively polite.”

Sherlock snorts derisively. “I have no use for alphas who can’t contain their baser urges. She’s a bond-bite waiting to happen.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not like it will be a big deal if she does.”

Sherlock ignores him, and John puzzles over it. The young alpha dancer in the club was behaving as almost every unsuppressed alpha does at that age – aggressively forward, but not violently so. Sherlock can’t have thought … well. He was being more territorial than she was, even if he shrugged it off as a matter of convenience.

There’s no way he’d been actually jealous. John’s pretty sure.

……………………………………………………………………………………

“Fairly certain Simone got her decorating taste from the club,” John says, as he steps through the door of Simone’s tiny flat. It’s narrow, with one long window across the living space providing the only natural light. All of the sparse, cheap furniture is done up in reds and golds and purples, plush velvet throws on the chairs and floor and gauzy handkerchiefs on the lamps. As John walks through the tiny kitchen he catches sight of a large metal tub filled with bottles of wine and water and baskets of fruit and nuts and sweets. He locks eyes with Sherlock and knows they’re thinking the same thing.

“She was courting someone,” Sherlock says.

“I didn’t think anyone did that anymore,” John replies. “I mean, I think my gran was courted.”

“People still do it, if a bit less overt,” Sherlock says. “ You can tell Simone got her ideas from watching too many Regency dramas. And probably the club. Question is: who, exactly was she courting? She’s obviously trying to impress someone, but she’s so young I can’t imagine she’d have thought the best way to do that would be by putting together a full courtship ritual. Someone else had to have suggested it. It’s ridiculous.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I think it’s actually sort of sweet. Old-fashioned, yes, but obviously it was important to her. ”

John realizes after a minute that it’s awfully quiet in the room. When he looks over, Sherlock looks thoughtful, his brow furrowed as he trails his fingers over the elegant pyramids of fruit.

“What?” John asks.

Sherlock shakes himself and makes a dismissive sound. “Desperation. You saw it, in that room. Unsuppressed alphas, some of them very young. Impressionable. Ah,” Sherlock says, and picks up a small box wrapped in dark blue paper with a tiny silver bow on top. He quickly unwraps it and turns it around to show John the watch inside. A Tag Heuer watch, intended for a male – not top of the line, but not cheap, either.

“There’s no way she could afford that,” John says, and his stomach feels a little queasy with the implications. “Not on her salary.”

“Indeed not. Now we just need to find out how, and who it was for.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

They make their way back to Baker Street in the dead of the night and John decides sleep is in order, because God knows when his next opportunity might be. Between managing Sherlock and his cases and work and then throw four days of heat into it, well. John’s lucky if he sleeps at all.

But he does this time, and he wakes with the sun full and high in the sky, gleaming in an obnoxious patch right on his stomach where he’d forgotten to completely close the curtains. It just adds to the warmth; the lazy, cocooned, sticky sweetness of his body in early estrus is still tolerable and the heavy arousal in his groin is comfortable and lush.

John flips the duvet down off of the end of the bed and stretches before slipping a hand down his pants to rub his fingertips teasingly down his cock. He loves this part of heat, the early wash of it, when things aren’t so rushed and demanding. It’s these days he wishes he had a mate; a lover and not just a fuckbuddy. An alpha to please and who would lavish him with attention and affection. A … bondmate.

God, listen to him. He sounds like a mooning teenage alpha, or one of those omegas on the talk shows that blather on about the thrill of knowing an alpha would be their bonded at first sight. Must be his age. John roughly pulls at his cock, forces himself to fantasize about all the possibilities inherent in his next heat with Jerome and Clayton and absolutely not the long, slim lines and unearthly eyes of his unbonded and horrifically repressed flatmate.

……………………………………………………………………..

John creeps downstairs after, hoping to hide his ramped up pheromones behind a fog of clean skin and after shave. However, when he gets downstairs the flat is empty, even the dust motes quiet and still in the sunlight. John shrugs, wondering what Sherlock managed to discover that sent him off in the middle of the night. Sherlock’s ability to find out anything from anyone at any time has always fascinated John, the sheer force of his personality bending anyone and everyone to his will.

John steps into the shower and washes, taking his time to scrub all of his scent markers well – his neck, backs of his knees, his armpits and the inside of his elbows, washing away the surface signs of his heat. He’s still sensitive, and the warm water streaming over his cock makes gooseflesh rise.

John opens the door with a wash of steam into the cooler air of the hall. The air currents shift and swirl, and John catches the tiniest bit of Sherlock’s warm toffee scent from his open bedroom door. If John were a lesser man he’d have a nice wallow in Sherlock’s bed, but as it is, he simply drifts closer and leans against the doorjamb to greedily, and a bit guiltily, let Sherlock’s subdued scent wash over him. It takes a moment before John registers that it’s a bit stronger than usual, some deliriously beautiful musky notes underpinning Sherlock’s normal scent. John breathes deep, letting the alpha pheromones settle his nerves.

John would be lying to himself if he didn’t at least admit that Sherlock could be an amazing bondmate; brilliant and controlled and understanding and thrilled to remain childless for the time being. And on top of that, he’s gorgeous. Pretty. Long, slim lines and beautifully defined muscles and, John’s fairly sure, a cock just made to ride. But he is John’s best friend, a man who saved him a hundred times over when he was sent back from Afghanistan a broken, hollowed-out shell of himself, and the reconstruction of that life around Sherlock has left John a bit untrusting of his own perceptions. Gratitude isn’t the best thing to build a life on, after all.

He jumps when the front door slams. Sherlock is home and bounds up the steps two at a time, faster than John can get completely out of the hallway. He’s busted, the steam too long gone and the heat too dissipated for Sherlock to believe he just got out of the shower. So he snatches up the first thing to hand on the kitchen worktop – a catalogue for a hideously expensive clothing shop – and hopes the desperation in his playacting doesn’t come through too clearly.

Sherlock breezes into the kitchen, carrying a bag and a cup of coffee. He looks delighted, which is rare, and hands John both bag and coffee with a flourish. John takes them carefully.

“You brought me coffee. And…oh, a crème de fleur. You never do that.” John takes a sip of the coffee. Doesn’t taste drugged. “So, you solved the case, then?”

“Oh, yes. Simple little matter, really, if you know who to talk to.” Sherlock looks revoltingly smug.

“Okay, I know you want me to ask. Who did you talk to?” John takes a bite of his pastry. It really is rather good. Too bad Sherlock didn’t bring two.

“In any sort of theatrical production, if you want to know the gossip behind the curtain, you don’t ask the performers. You ask the tech staff. In this case, the deejay.”

“Who told you exactly …”

“Something we’re about to go verify.” Sherlock gives him a critical once over, glances behind John and down the hall. “Once you’ve finished wallowing.”

John nearly chokes on his coffee. “Pardon me?” he croaks.

“The clothes, John,” Sherlock says, and drifts a bit closer. “You lust after them but can’t quite seem to make yourself commit to buying anything.”

“Buyer’s remorse,” John says, and the air feels a bit stifling. John tightens the belt on his robe. “You wear it for a while and decide it may just not work for you, but it’s not like you can return it. And there’s no going back after that.”

Sherlock leans close, so close that John has to fight not to sway close and lift his chin Jesus Christ John keep it together he’s not going to scent you, you daft idiot, he’s not interested in that and Sherlock almost, almost does when he dips his head to whisper “I think you’d find they’d suit you well,” before he brushes past John to go into his bedroom and close the door.

John lets out his breath in a single long gust and rubs a hand over his neck. There’s no way Sherlock was flirting with him. But what if he was? John walks toward the stairs on shaky legs with a semi-erection growing harder with the memory of Sherlock’s breath on his ear and decides that whether he was or not, John needs to do one thing.

Get even.

……………………………………………………………………………..

The cab ride to the suspect’s house is quiet, Sherlock tapping away at his mobile and John alternating between staring out of the window and surreptitiously watching Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. Sherlock certainly looks composed, but when they take a sharp turn, Sherlock has to brace himself on the seat with one hand and his eyes meet John’s for one breathtaking moment. John stares, lost, before remembering himself and winking at Sherlock, just to see what he’ll do.

What he does is glance down and study his mobile, and if his ears are just a little bit pink, John very kindly doesn’t point it out.

………………………………………………….

Archer Tregenis is short, stocky, charming, throwing off the scent of an omega in his last hours of heat, and John is seething with jealousy.

“I couldn’t believe it when Kev told me. You know, Kevin Ferguson, he owns the club? She was so lovely, Simone. One of the best there, and so sweet.” Tregenis sniffs delicately and wipes his eyes with a tissue. He blinks at Sherlock and offers him a sad, pathetic smile, specifically engineered, John thinks, to trip Sherlock’s desire to comfort an omega in distress. Too bad he’s never met Sherlock before.

John rolls his eyes and looks around at the ridiculous flat, all done up in white – white carpets, white walls, white furniture - with very obviously expensive trinkets scattered around. Did everyone in this case have bad taste?

“Oh, Mr. Tregenis, I think you can do better than that,” Sherlock says. “Everyone knows you were dating Simone. It was the worst kept secret among the dancers.”

Archer pales a bit and clears his throat before standing up and walking toward the window. He stands there for a moment while John and Sherlock exchange pointed glances behind his back. John’s considering whether or not the confrontational route would be best when Sherlock holds out a hand to still him.

Tregenis heaves a dramatic sigh and finally turns around, hands outstretched in a plea. “We couldn’t say anything,” he says. “It was against the conduct code. She was making excellent money in the VIP suite, so she didn’t want to lose the job. And Kev, well, we’re friends, too. He would have been furious.”

“Were you aware Simone was planning a courting evening?” John asks.

“No,” Tregennis says, quickly. “I mean, we talked about…we’d discussed bonding, of course, but it wasn’t really in the cards for us. She was lovely, but she just didn’t have that … something. You know?” Tregennis drifts closer to where Sherlock is seated on the ridiculous white sofa, so close John can see when the first hit of Sherlock’s scent reaches him. The sofa is big enough for four, but Tregenis sinks down barely an arm’s width from Sherlock. John grits his teeth, praying for control, but when their combined scent reaches him, dark honey warmth and sickly sweet blooms, John feels like he’s been knifed in the heart.

“Do you mind?” he grits out before he can stop himself, and Sherlock’s eyes flash to his.

Tregenis smiles at John, wolfish and sharp. “Oh, did I get in the middle? Dear me, I’m always doing that. I’m so sorry. But he does smell delightful. You’re going to have a fantastic time in a few days. I envy you.”

“Because you had to go it alone this time?” Sherlock interrupts, eyes narrowed. “I may have very little use for the general intricacies of human behavior, as John will tell you, but your callousness toward the death of someone you supposedly cared about is nauseating even to me. So let’s just be straight with each other, shall we? I know you didn’t kill her.”

John’s stunned. “He didn’t?”

Tregenis shrugs and leans back into the cushions. “Of course I didn’t. Why would you think I’d do that?”

Sherlock stands, looming over Tregenis with his hands in his pockets, a picture of restrained power. John hates it when Sherlock tries to do it to him, but vicariously revels in it when he does it to anyone else.

“Because she was your meal ticket. Your financier your, as they say, ‘money shot.’” John snickers and Sherlock shoots him a dirty look. “Find a young, naïve, unsuppressed alpha, add an older, experienced omega who needs a little support, and stir. Promises in the dark, a bond held tantalizingly close, a beautiful flat, but oh, you need a little help with the rent this month. Or your car is in the shop. Or isn’t that new watch just lovely, and by the way your heat is on in a week, perhaps we should do. Something. About. That.” Sherlock emphasizes his words by leaning over Tregenis on the sofa, hands resting on the back on either side of Tregenis’ head, and its not arousal John can smell now, it’s fear. Tregenis sinks into the sofa as far away from Sherlock as he can get, face ashen and afraid.

John holds himself deathly still, because if he moves, even an inch, he might actually drop Sherlock to the floor and fuck him senseless. Oh God, he’s starting to get wet, he can feel it.

Sherlock takes a deep breath and John wants to close his eyes, terrified to see the moment the smell of his arousal registers. It’s not like Sherlock had never smelled it before, but this feels different, a response to Sherlock being…well, Sherlock, and his body is betraying his heart in ways that will be difficult to miss.

Sherlock exhales, locks eyes with John for a searing moment that John can feel reverberate through him like an earthquake, his foundations crumbling to dust under the heat of Sherlock’s gaze. He can feel the promise in that look, and understands.

Sherlock turns back to Tregenis and grabs him by the shirtfront. “You haven’t technically committed a crime,” he snarls. “But know that you’re the lowest sort of scum, the sort that preys on the innocent, on the young. How many others have you pulled this scam on?”

“Um, well, ah ... at least ten, maybe more.”

“Jesus Christ,” John says. “How the fuck do you get away with that? You don’t actually bond with all of them, do you?”

“No, well, sometimes, I just get a court order, it’s no big deal, really. I’m on the Pill, I don’t get pregnant. Seriously, where’s the harm? They have a few nice months and I get the rent paid.”

Sherlock looks disgusted. “I’d call you a whore, Mr. Tregenis, but in whoredom everyone is clear that its a business transaction. You trampled on people’s hearts, and for some, it might have stayed with them forever.” Sherlock suddenly lets go of Tregenis’ shirt and stands up, staring at John, eyes alight with the flash of all of the pieces falling into place. “It … it did. It stayed. You,” he says, pointing to Tregenis, “Who was the last person before Simone.”

“Ah, Gillian. Gillian Clark.”

“Another dancer at the club. You let her bond you, didn’t you?”

“It was an accident!” Tregenis whines. “She said she was fine, and we were fine, and…well, it got a little crazy during heat, you know how it goes, and then it just happened! I got an order, she supposedly had followed it!”

Sherlock looks as if he’s about a moment from losing his temper, and when John gestures toward the door he miraculously follows the unspoken instruction and strides toward it.

John shakes his head, a sick feeling settling into his stomach. “You’re an idiot, Mr. Tregenis. She is still bonded to you, is what Sherlock is getting at, right Sherlock?” Sherlock nods. “You should have gone through the dissolution together. You just couldn’t face it, could you? Seeing what you’d done, watching it happen.” John has a flash of an image, a man with tears in his eyes as the injection works its way through his veins, burning off all traces of his bond as John feels the same, and they stand facing each other with relief, and regret. John stands up and follows Sherlock to the door. “Grow up, Mr. Tregenis. Own your mistakes. Your bondmate killed that girl, and while you might not have technically committed a crime, you’re still responsible for it.”

“What?” Tregenis squeaks.

Sherlock opens the door and ushers John out before turning back for one parting shot. “Gillian killed Simone. Your bonded did that. Well done, Mr. Tregenis.”

………………………………………………………………………

As soon as the doors close on the lift, the tension climbs.

They have 26 floors to go, and the scent of arousal mixed with frustration is coming from Sherlock in waves. John’s shoulders ache with the tension of holding himself in, to keep a tight rein on his own desires, but with ten floors to go Sherlock growls, reaches over, slaps at the emergency stop button, and crowds John against the wall to bury his nose in John’s neck. John gasps with the suddenness of it before he melts into Sherlock’s embrace.

“Dear God you smell amazing,” Sherlock says, and the vibration of his lips against John’s throat threatens to buckle his knees. “I could take you right now. I know you’re wet for me; I can smell it on you.”

John gasps and tries not to whimper, the edge of his heat creeping up on him, ready to pull him under like a tidal wave. “Like you have room to talk,” he says, and his voice is barely above a whisper. “You want me, I can feel it.” John reaches down and palms Sherlock’s heavy, full cock, making him tip his head back and groan. “I could fuck you right here, and you’d beg me for it.”

“I would,” Sherlock agrees, and brushes his nose up John’s neck until he can trail his lips across John’s cheek. “You parade your conquests under my nose, John. I can smell them whenever you come back home, no matter how well you wash. I thought I was going mad.”

John reaches out and pulls Sherlock’s hips to his and shivers. “You said you weren’t interested. You said high levels of suppressants but I’ve been able to smell you for days.”

“I wanted you to. To smell me, and know.” Sherlock presses kisses at the corner of John’s mouth, and John turns into it, seeking Sherlock’s lips for a proper kiss. Sherlock won’t let him, though, and pulls away slightly. “I reduced my dose, hoping an encouragement would help you get over your … reluctance to broach the topic. Do you like it?”

There isn’t much John can say to that so he wrap his hands around Sherlock’s neck and kisses him hard, his tongue pressing at Sherlock’s lips until Sherlock opens his mouth and the heat of him, the taste, Jesus, leaves John floundering. He wants him, oh, how he wants, the burn of it spreading through his body like fire and he gets a knee between Sherlock’s legs and is considering just going for it right there in the lift when the speaker crackles to life.

“Oi! We’ve got cameras in there you know!” John groans in frustration at the tinny, staticy voice and his head thumps back against the wall. “Turn the damn lift back on or we’ll have you hauled in.”

Sherlock hisses frustration but steps away, hits the button and lets the lift start back down. He runs a hand through his curls and gives John a wry smile. “Perhaps we are a bit too … public. We should at least hand Lestrade our murderer before we remove ourselves from the field of play for a few days, I suppose.”

John thinks that sounds like a spectacular idea, but then remembers how he’d previously planned to spend his heat and groans. “Damn, I’ve already got plans with Jerome and Clayton—” he starts, as they exit and walk through the lobby. Sherlock stops in his tracks and pulls John to him, heedless of the even more public location.

“Don’t tell me you want those two cretins above me. Not after that,” Sherlock growls, his hands possessively tight on John’s hips. “Let me share your heat,” he adds and the words are a low, seductive curl in John’s gut.

John has no interest in denying him whatsoever. “Okay, we’ll call Lestrade,” John says, and he can’t help but tangle his fingers with Sherlock’s own. “And then I’m all yours.”

Sherlock looks down at their entwined hands for a moment, and then up at John. “Mine,” he says slowly, and the words sound uncertain, a bit cautious. “Mine,” he says again but more strongly this time, and the lascivious smile he gives John bodes very, very well for the next few days.

…………………………………………..

It takes John the entire ride back to the club to will his cock to go down and the rest of him to stop blushing, sweating, or leaking in turns. It’s coming on hard, now, a kick of adrenaline-fueled arousal giving his heat a head start like petrol on a fire.

Sherlock takes one deep breath and falls into a zen-like state that leaves him almost immediately cool and distant, starkly professional though occasionally John will catch his eyes darting over John’s body, between the rapid-fire texts he’s sending off to who knows where. When the cab stops, Sherlock patiently pays the driver and follows John onto the pavement. His control is impeccable, and John can’t help but wonder what it will be like to test it. He’s still a bit stunned he’s going to get the opportunity.

“Lestrade should already be here,” Sherlock says. “I don’t intend on staying any longer than the absolute minimum required.” He looks at John again with a smirk. “I’ll have a hard enough time with you in this room as it is. A dozen unsuppressed alphas watching you now? You’ll be lucky if I don’t lay a claim before we leave the room.”

John tries and fails to suppress the shiver that rocks him from head to toe. “Oh my God stop talking now. What about all that maturity and control, hmmm?”

“All out the window the moment you kissed me.” Sherlock pauses with one hand on the front door. “If you thought the smell was strong yesterday, it’s going to be worse today after the show. Are you ready?” At John’s nod he opens the door and they pass through the bar, thread the tables in front of the stage, and slip behind the curtain to the backstage area.

John’s trying to breathe as shallowly as possible, but the fog of alpha pheromones in the air leaves his clothes feeling tight, and sweat drips down the back of his neck.

Sherlock knocks on the dressing room door. There are a few muffled thumps, a sharp bark of laughter. John leans against the door and tries not to beat his head on the wall.

The door cracks open. “Who is it?” a young man asks. “Oh wait, it’s you,” he says sourly, once he gets a better look at Sherlock. “But at least he brought you,“ he adds, smiling salaciously at John. “You best come in, then.”

They file in and John finds the same spot on the wall he occupied yesterday, while Sherlock walks into the middle of the room and does a slow, thorough circle, examining each of the dancers in turn as they stare back, a bit bewildered, glancing John’s way every few seconds as if they needed to assure themselves of where he was at all times.

“I know you’re all hoping I’m here to tell you who killed your friend, Simone,” he starts. “And as you can see I’m not interested in belaboring the point. I have … ah. Somewhere to be.”

A snort comes from the doorway and John finds Lestrade leaning there, waiting with a huge grin on his face. “All right there, Sherlock?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “About time you showed up. You almost missed the best part.” Sherlock paces the room, walks up to each dancer in turn and, rather more politely than usual, sniffs the air around them. He ends up standing in front of a tall woman, dark-haired and round and lush, and she stares at her folded hands as if there was nothing on earth more fascinating. John doesn’t blame her. He’s been on the other end of that all-seeing gaze before, and to say it’s uncomfortable is putting it mildly.

“Hello, Angel,” he says, and John’s jealousy flares for a moment until he realizes that Angel is likely her stage name. This must be Gillian Clark, Tregenis’s bonded.

“What?” she says. “Why are you standing there like that?”

Sherlock’s lip twitches annoyance. “Because even if I couldn’t tell you’d been relegated to the backstage work, based on your street clothes and lack of stage makeup, the confirmation is that I can smell it on you. You’re bonded, therefore you can’t dance, therefore you’ve been demoted until you break your bond or you’re fired, whichever. You’re lucky you’ve been given some time to decide.”

Angel pushes her hand through her short hair. “I don’t know why that even matters, I just screwed up, didn’t I, now I’ve got an order but just haven’t gone to do the deed. You know how depressing it is.”

“I do,” Sherlock says quietly, and John startles. He does? “But Archer Tregenis isn’t the omega for you, Angel. He lied, and you’re going to prison for it. You should have taken the injection when it was offered to you months ago.”

John notices the room has gone completely still and not a single person is paying him any attention, the smell of his heat fading into insignificance behind the scene playing out before them. Sherlock looks like Justice personified, tall and straight and proud, easily eclipsing every other alpha in the room. The brilliant diamond of his intelligence, his ability to understand not only a case but the people behind it, never ceases to amaze.

He’s also showing off, John realizes. He didn’t need to be here – they had the name, they knew where the suspect was, and he could have texted Lestrade when they left Tregenis’ place. Sherlock just wants to preen, wants to strut, to showcase his best qualities to an omega he was about to bed in heat. The idea of Sherlock making a suit, of allowing himself the vulnerability of even a subtle courting, tugs at John’s heart. Sherlock catches his eye and gives him a wink before he turns back to Angel.

He’s played Angel so perfectly John can see it in her eyes when she stops fighting the inevitable. Angel slumps back against the wall and covers her face with both hands. “He was fucking her,” she whispers. “Have you ever felt what it’s like to smell your bonded after they’ve shared a heat with someone else? He didn’t care, he’d already gone through the dissolution. Didn’t even seem to bother him, even then. And she didn’t give a damn, either. She knew he was mine, but it didn’t stop her.”

“God knows what Tregenis told her, Angel,” John says. Despite knowing he’s dealing with a person who committed murder, he still feels a pang of compassion for her; lied to and duped and taken advantage of. “He was pulling the same scam on Simone, you know. If you’d have only waited, he would have thrown her over, too. You didn’t have to kill her.”

“I didn’t mean to! I just wanted to stop her dancing for a while!” Angel slides down the wall and clutches her hands in her hair. “I never meant it to be that big of an explosion! It was just supposed to pop, maybe cut her legs, make her look ugly for a few weeks. Not … not that.”

John looks at Lestrade. He’s grim, his lips pressed together. He takes a deep breath and gently helps Angel stand up from the floor. “Come on up, Ms. Clark. We’ll need to get you down to the station. Let’s get your coat, okay?”

Angel shuffles forward before stopping in front of Sherlock, head bowed. “He never was mine, was he?” she asks sadly.

“No, he wasn’t,” Sherlock says. “And while you fell for the scam, you also bought into the lie. A bond alone isn’t the thing that makes your life, Angel. It’s the person you share it with.” Sherlock looks at John with a half-smile on his face and John feels the butterflies start up in his stomach again.

…………………………………………………………………

There’s a low, heady buzz of arousal between them the entire way back to Baker Street, a fog of pheromones so potent the driver puts up the scent-proof window behind him, opens his own windows and resolutely refuses to look back. Sherlock fiddles with his phone like a reflex, picking at the buttons and twiddling it until John presses his fingers to the inside of Sherlock’s wrist and he takes a quick breath and stills.

“You were absolutely amazing,” John says. “I never get tired of seeing you do that, you know?”

Sherlock smiles, proud and a touch smug, glowing under John’s praise. John quickly kisses Sherlock’s fingers and they wait, smiling dopily at each other until the cab pulls up in front of the flat.

John pulls out his wallet to slide money through the small slit in the partition and almost has a heart attack when Sherlock opens the door before the cab stops moving and jumps out. He darts across the pavement, quickly unlocks the door and pounds up the stairs. John blinks, pays the cab, climbs out and stands on the pavement for a moment, a bit bemused, before shrugging. He’s not sure why he expected Sherlock to wait for him, after all. As he walks into the hall he meets Sherlock coming back down the stairs, face alight and hand outstretched to take John by the elbow.

“Sorry, I needed to, erm. Yes. I had to check on a few … Anyway. Shall we?” John suppresses a bubble of laughter as Sherlock politely guides him up the stairs, uncharacteristically chivalrous. Restraint is evident in his posture even as the smell of him as his body ramps up to match John’s heat leaves John’s head swimming.

Sherlock pauses outside of their closed sitting room door for a moment before he throws it open and steps back.

And John’s jaw drops.

The entire sitting room has been transformed – piles of papers and other detritus tidied away, the sofa and chairs piled with soft blankets and jewel colored pillows. The chairs have been pushed to the side to make space for a comfortable pallet on the floor in front of the bright little fire in the hearth, and candles glimmer on the shelves and tables, reflected in the mirror over the mantelpiece. John slowly walks through the room, awed.

“When did you do this?” he asks.

Sherlock tugs on the cuffs of his jacket and clears his throat, “You’d be surprised what can be accomplished with the phrase ‘money is no object.’”

“And you…oh wow. Wine, too,” John says, and the buckets on the kitchen table are filled with bottles of wine and water and juice, all on ice; baskets of pastry and fruit and nuts are artfully arranged on the worktop. It’s a place transformed, and John is still admiring when Sherlock takes his hand and leads him down the hall to the bedroom. When John steps through, he stops dead at the full force of the implications of what he sees.

Sherlock’s bed, usually neatly made with grey duvet, is now stripped, his bed bare but for clean, dove-grey sheets. There are two bathrobes hanging on a coatstand that’s been dragged into the corner, and towels are stacked on the bedside table. A small ice bucket with a carafe of water is set up near the bed. The entire room has a warm hue from a single lamp with a multi-colored glass shade, and, most tellingly, the shades are drawn and windows sealed. It’s a dark, warm, snug, secure chamber, just for the two of them.

This is not a space for a quick tumble. This isn’t even a one-heat stand sort of arrangement.

John can’t even form words. This … this is a statement, a declaration of intent. It was not the work of a day; Sherlock had to have planned for this in advance. He’d been on lowered doses of suppressants for at least a week, perhaps more. Sherlock, who abhorred the lack of control that went along with being unsuppressed; Sherlock, who disdained the concept of a bond, who had nothing but contempt for people who couldn’t maintain their composure when presented with a hormonal urge.

Sherlock, who, at this moment, is looking at John like he wants to devour him, and John slowly climbs onto the bed, kneels in the middle, and bows his head, exposing his neck in a gesture of trust and approval.

Sherlock is behind him in a flash, chest pressed against John’s back and murmuring in his ear. “I didn’t know if you’d … you’ve found it acceptable,” he says, pressing kisses against John’s bonding zone, the juncture of neck and shoulder. “It isn’t too much? You seemed to find it charming, at Simone’s.”

John sighs, hums pleasure at the pressure against his back. “I do, yes.”

“Excellent. Then I’ve made my suit well.”

John clears his throat. “You have, and this is all really pretty flattering, but should we, um … are you trying to tell me you want to talk about bonding? Because it seems a bit soon for that.”

Sherlock’s arms are now wrapped around John’s, and he’s slowly unbuttoning John’s shirt from top to bottom while he nuzzles the fine hairs at the nape of John’s neck. “Perhaps sometime, but no, not today. I only wish you to know my intentions, in that I don’t intend this to be a one-heat shag, at all. I’ve been interested for quite some time, but despite your inclinations toward me you never would let yourself believe it until I let you smell it. The evidence of your own nose would be too undeniable, even for someone as untrusting of your own perceptions as you are.”

“Ta, Sherlock,” John says, and arches into the bright spark of pleasure that is Sherlock’s hands on his nipples. “I do so love being insulted in my own courting bed.”

Sherlock huffs annoyance even as he traces his fingers along the waistband of John’s jeans, leaving John shivering. “It isn’t an insult. You think you’re too dependant on our friendship to trust your own independent assessment of my feelings. You’re afraid to lose our friendship if something were to go wrong. That you’ll regret this. That I’ll regret this.”

“You won’t?” John asks, and dammit, his voice sounds a bit nervous, even to his own ears. Sherlock pulls away and urges John to turn around so they face each other. His face is serious, his expression intense and focused.

“No. I’ll never regret anything I experience with you. Especially not this.”

John considers for about ten seconds. But really, there’s nothing left for his heart to decide.

“Then you’d best go lock the doors now,” he says, cupping Sherlock’s jaw and pressing his thumb to the corner of Sherlock’s mouth. “Because I don’t intend on letting you get farther than the sitting room for the next four days.”

…………………………………………………………………..

Night has completely fallen by the time John manages to stop kissing Sherlock long enough to get them undressed. Everything feels sensitive, hushed and serious, and John wants this to be right, wants to burn off everything extraneous in the blast furnace of heat and know that what is left will sustain them. The hum of arousal John has carried with him for days has bloomed, the bone-melting burn of pheromones in his veins leaving him trembling under Sherlock’s hands, desperate for connection. Sherlock, however, seems intent on taking his time, and he lifts John’s arm and presses his lips to the sensitive underside of John’s wrist before he drags his nose up to the hollow of his elbow. Every scent marker is lavished with attention, Sherlock probing the dips and planes of John’s body with his tongue as John sighs and moans and arches beneath him.

 

John captures Sherlock’s hand in his own, kisses the palm before pulling him to lie flush on top of him. John’s legs wind around Sherlock waist, an instinctive move as natural as breathing, and Sherlock’s cock is hot, pulsing against John’s hip, the knot still small but unmistakably present. John knows there’s definitely somewhere else he’d rather it be, the ache of heat making its demands known in the lift of his hips.

“Patience,” Sherlock says, as he disentangles himself to kneel between John’s thighs. The the only source of light now is the lamp, the bright colors scattering across Sherlock’s skin like stained glass. His eyes are dark in the shadows, hair wild, and John isn’t sure how he managed to capture Sherlock’s attention to this extent. There’s nothing fleeting in the way Sherlock is cataloguing John’s body, nothing ephemeral in the hold he has on John’s thighs as he bends to taste where John is soft and open and wet.

The first touch of Sherlock’s tongue leaves John moaning, too wrapped up in pleasure to be in the least embarrassed by the sounds he’s making. Sherlock licks and teases John’s hole with his finger, humming with delight every time John jerks or shivers. Sherlock has to be aching by now, his cock fully hard and heavy between his legs. But he doesn’t touch himself, his focus on John alone. John has one hand in Sherlock’s hair; the other is pulling on his own cock, and he’s barely aware of his impending orgasm before it’s ready to crash over him like a wave.

“Jesus, don’t stop, please don’t, Sherlock, don’t, don’t …” John begs, and Sherlock doesn’t, not exactly. He simply kneels up and pushes in, his cock stretching and filling John with a single, smooth thrust that tips John over the edge and he comes, shivering and panting Sherlock’s name as Sherlock fucks him with long, steady strokes.

“John,” Sherlock grits out, overwhelmed, the scent of him intensifying as his rut begins to take hold. “Fuck, you’re gorgeous. Let me have you properly, now, come on, let me take you,” he says. John is still a bit wobbly from his first mind-shattering orgasm but game for anything Sherlock wants at this point, and allows himself to be pushed and pulled and prodded until he’s over on his knees and elbows. He never fucks this way, it’s too risky with a casual partner, but he wants this, Oh God how he wants. Sherlock slides back in and yes, that’s it, that’s why bonding happens like this, the lineup of neck and mouth and cock and the interior opening to the uterus all falling together perfectly and leaving John reeling.

“It would be so easy, wouldn’t it?” Sherlock murmurs in John’s ear, and his voice is like warm honey, dark and liquid and sweet. “To have you, to truly make you mine?” Sherlock buries himself to the hilt, knot pushing past what little resistance there is to nestle just in the right spot, and lightly presses his teeth to John’s bonding gland just under the skin of his neck.

John groans at how exquisite it feels, how right it is to be here, even as distant warning bells go off in his mind, but no, this is Sherlock, we agreed and he won’t, before Sherlock simply presses hard with his tongue, pushing bonding hormone out into John’s bloodstream.

John shivers, the adrenaline kick of that much bonding hormone in his veins making him feel high, giddy, and he knows right then, as Sherlock muffles a curse and comes, his knot locking John to him and his teeth leaving John’s skin unmarked, that he wants to have that conversation again.

……………………………………………………………………………..

“You doubted I’d stop, didn’t you?” Sherlock asks the next day. He runs his hands down John’s thighs, taut and flexing as John rides Sherlock’s cock in lazy, undulating circles.

“No,” John sighs as Sherlock’s partially hard knot tugs and pulls at him deliciously. “Didn’t doubt. Had to tamp down on some instincts, though. I’d not had anyone behind me in years.”

“Yet you let me.”

“’Course I did. I trust you. You said you wouldn’t, and you didn’t.” John spreads his hands over Sherlock’s chest, letting Sherlock take some of the weight as he leans forward to kiss him. Sherlock kisses back slowly, sucking on John’s tongue a bit before pulling back.

“I wanted to, though,” he says, and he looks slightly ashamed.

John stills, assesses his heart, his mind. They’ve gone through the fire and still John feels nothing but transcendent. Sherlock’s face is so open, so sincere, that John knows its time to take a leap of faith. “So did I.”

Sherlock grins, relieved. “You have, before,” Sherlock says, and it’s matter of fact. No sense in denying it, not to him.

“Yeah. I was young. Nineteen. And you?”

“Yes. High as a kite. Twenty. Stupid and reckless.”

Well, that explains quite a bit about the nature of his need for control. “We probably shouldn’t be having this conversation with your cock still up my arse, you realize.”

“Then fuck me and we’ll have it when your greedy arse has had enough.”

“With you?” John says, and circles his hips, grinning when Sherlock groans and throws his head back on the pillow. “Never.”

“Tart,” Sherlock snarks, and John laughs, relieved at the utter normality of it.

“Animate cock.” His friend, his Sherlock, his alpha.

“I swear I will never complain about your heats again. Not as long as you keep doing that.”

John laughs, delighted. “Absolutely. Only for you, now.”

Sherlock’s eyes pop open. “Noone else,” he growls, and thrusts up hard under John. Oh, God, he’ll feel that in a few days. “Mine,” Sherlock adds, and then looks slightly horrified at himself. “Sorry.”

John feels a surge of affection, and a hit of territorial pride that he can’t quite control. “No apologizing. Next time, I want your bond. And only yours. You’re mine,” he says, and grins as Sherlock growls and flips John onto his knees to take him again, and again.