It's not just a matter of physical attraction, John thinks, studying the crime scene in front of him. If it were that, he'd lock himself and Sherlock in the flat on Baker Street and shag him silly for three days. But there are two problems with that: first, Sherlock is on a case and it's looking to be a long one; second, alpha or not, Sherlock isn't one to be swept away by his hormones. Which means a long conversation about consent versus disinterest.
John wouldn't necessarily mind having that conversation with Sherlock. Only he has a sneaking suspicion Sherlock would take any such discussion as the preliminary to the whole complicated mess of bonding. He shouldn't -- Sherlock has made his desires (or, more accurately, lack thereof) on the subject very clear. Only John's had to wonder over the last few days, on the evidence of a handful of sidelong, considering glances since his own scent has started to change, if Sherlock's stance on the subject isn't undergoing adjustment.
Since Irene Adler, John hasn't bothered denying the complexity of his attachment to his flatmate. But his heat's in two days, and he's looking for a good shag. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sherlock has just about finished his examination: no corpse this time, but enough blood for two bodies, John estimates. He momentarily lets his attention drift, considering the other people at the scene. Not a lot to choose from, here; in a way managing his heats had been easier before he'd been invalided back to London. A larger pool of candidates: fellow army blokes, a handful of nurses. And they'd mostly been younger, as well, John included.
Here, though -- Sarah and Jeanette and the other beta girls in the middle were all out of the question. John had either burned those bridges himself or Sherlock had burned them for him. Likewise Anderson was out of the question -- married, for one thing, the affair with Donovan, another, Anderson's personality the largest stumbling block of all -- though it has been a while since John's enjoyed the company of an alpha during his heat. Simpler to spend the time with a beta; more chance they'll end up actually pleasing each other rather than just fucking mindlessly. Not that mindless fucking doesn't have its place, and not that he hasn't been with a considerate alpha or two or five.
Lestrade, now. Sherlock has straightened and is practically in the DI's face, though he's merely running through his observations rather than accusing Lestrade of stupidity or short-sightedness. John's always been impressed by the beta's refusal to back down no matter how hard Sherlock pushes; his relative unflappability makes sense given the number of other alphas he has to deal with daily. Some of whom he meets on the worst day of their lives; all of whom are inclined to try to push him around.
Lestrade has found some way to consistently push back without starting a pissing contest biology would prevent him from winning. And his divorce has been final for a couple of months. He's not a bad looking bloke. Broad shoulders, strong hands. Graceful.
John tilts his head, feeling the hint of a smile curl one corner of his mouth. Clever, certainly. John has always gone for smart. Though his caseload is heavier than Sherlock's and John's not sure how willing he would be to take a few days off on such short notice.
All the more reason to make a moment to ask, then.
He realizes he's been caught staring, that Sherlock had glanced up to look for him. Ready for "Come on, John!" he pushes off the wall. But Sherlock doesn't speak; the bridge of his nose has wrinkled. Lestrade turns to follow his gaze and John momentarily ignores Sherlock in favor of giving Lestrade a tiny shrug and a quick grin. No mistake: a calculated choice.
Sherlock's eyes narrow and he says something to Lestrade in a voice pitched not to carry. Lestrade looks back at him, eyes widening, then at John. He doesn't know exactly what Sherlock said, but he can guess, so he gives Lestrade a nod and a little shrug in the brief interval he has before Sherlock has borne down on him less like the wrath of God than a toddler in a strop. Intriguingly, Sherlock doesn't speak to him; he sweeps silently past and out of the room. John, naturally, follows.
Sherlock's silence continues after they're installed in a cab, going John has no clue where. Sherlock taps his fingers on the door handle, staring out the window. John pulls his phone out of his jacket and nearly drops it when it chirps.
Are you in need of rescue? -- Mycroft Holmes
John doesn't even bother to hide his grimace. He's grown accustomed to a certain level of surveillance in his life, and he has no doubt both Holmeses had him figured out within minutes of their respective first meetings.
No, I'm here of my own free will. he sends, though the more he thinks about it the funnier the idea gets: Mycroft riding in on his black charger to defend John's questionable-at-best virtue. Or no, he'd send "Anthea," probably; fetching John from his brother's clutches has to count as legwork.
Let me know if that changes. Or if you'd like him out of the flat for a few days. -- MH
The grimace has turned into a grin; from the corner of his eye he sees Sherlock shift.
Or arrange a comfortable few days in an appropriate hotel for you, and your chosen companion.
That suggestion had to come from whichever of Mycroft's staff is to hand.
Mycroft Holmes, are you flirting with me? His smile is now a smirk; he can easily picture the discomfited look on Mycroft's face when he receives the text.
"I'm glad my brother is entertaining you," Sherlock says; John spares him a glance but doesn't bother asking how he knows; he's sure the shifting expressions on his face gave him away. "I believe, however, you were planning to text Lestrade before he interrupted you. There's no need."
That merits a sharper look. "Sherlock --"
Sherlock waves a hand at him, only incidentally sending a waft of his own appealing pheromones John's way. "I won't need you with me, but I will need information. So you can see him in person, which is your preferred method of arranging an assignation anyway."
John's lips purse; he's torn between amusement at Sherlock's phrasing and irritation that he's been dragged off on an unnecessary jaunt across London.
"If you're not going to need me, why am I here?" he asks; Sherlock huffs.
"You certainly weren't going to say anything to him at the scene," he answers, "for reasons I won't pretend to understand. Also, I didn't realize until Mycroft texted you that --"
"Blood bank, or slaughterhouse?" John interrupts.
"That much blood was one of three things -- a minimum of two victims, blood from a blood bank, or a large animal such as, say, a cow. You're not acting with the single-minded fascination and delight you'd have if it were a bodiless multiple homicide."
Sherlock stares at him. John shrugs. "I've seen more than my fair share of spilled blood, Sherlock."
"Mm. Yes." Low and thoughtful; and Sherlock's eyes scan John -- face, body, hands, back to his face before Sherlock turns away again. "Slaughterhouse."
"Which is the real reason you're sending me back to the Met." John gives him a long look. "You've been around me the last few days. Your sense of smell should be pretty ramped up as well."
Sherlock's breath catches, as though he was trying not to inhale too deeply. "I'll be fine."
John rolls his eyes. "Yes, of course. Transport."
"Oh, good, you follow." Sherlock says; John, who doesn't quite but who knows a losing battle when he's in one, shakes his head. The cab stops; Sherlock bounds out and John resignedly directs the cabbie back to New Scotland Yard, shifting over into Sherlock's lingering scent and heat.
Time alone in the cab from the far reaches of London back to New Scotland Yard means time to think. To consider his options further, and to regretfully come to the conclusion he had probably better not ask Lestrade to share his heat after all. John is confident he and the DI can handle the casual encounter without complicating their day-to-day relationship; Lestrade has taken his divorce a lot harder than he lets on and is unlikely to mistake an offer for an overture to something long-term, and John knows very well what he wants.
John hates to admit it, even to himself, but he has to factor in Sherlock's response to any partner he chooses. And choosing Lestrade — assuming Lestrade says yes — will risk the delicate balance between the two of them, risk a relationship both men would deny is anything but professional. Something they both rely on.
The cabbie tries to chat him up a little when John pays the fare; he's polite but doesn't encourage him. Even before Jefferson Hope, he'd not been much for hooking up with total strangers. Which really doesn't leave him a lot of options in the here and now.
He pokes his head in the building just long enough to determine that, as expected, Lestrade and company haven't yet returned from the crime scene. For a moment, he considers settling down in the waiting room but a quick glance decides him otherwise; he leaves a message for Lestrade to call him when he gets back and ducks down to Feathers for a quick cup.
Despite the shy flirtation from the young beta girl serving as greeter, John's mind is back on the case by the time he's settled at an outside table with a cup of tea and a menu. He leaves his jacket on; the air is brisk so he has the fenced-off seating area mostly to himself.
Slaughterhouse and an excessive amount of blood. The Met will come up with not-human soon enough, he knows; that blood test doesn't take nearly as long as a DNA assay would. He spares a moment of worry for his mad flatmate -- likely whoever'd brought the blood to the scene either worked at that specific place or was related to someone. A threat, maybe, to the men working at the site?
He politely passes when the waiter stops to take his order. Whatever answer John comes up with, he'll at best be partially right and is more likely to be completely wrong. He pulls out his phone, sets it on the table where he can see the screen. Sips at his tea, glancing across the street. His eye is drawn to a young Japanese man wearing a t-shirt adorned with one of Raphael's putti.
He picks up his mobile, considering. It's a little past noon. Better to text first, then; Mike might not even have his phone on him.
Is Cupid available? he sends. He's grinning, a little; wonders how long it's been since someone last called Mike by the med-school nickname.
Given even Sherlock turned to Mike in his search for a flatmate, John is more than happy to bet he still lives up to it.
Mike rings him back before his tea's gone completely cool.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Three hours, two texts ("At Barts. Bring Lestrade." and "Bovine afterbirth."), and one unexpected chase through the halls of Barts later, the case is solved and the criminal apprehended. John isn't sure what to think; their perpetrator — an Alpha — had firmly believed the worksite foreman — a beta — caused the miscarriages of his wife, the perp's sister — also a beta — so he could be with a completely oblivious male omega on the construction team.
Lestrade hadn't looked any less confused than John had felt when Sherlock had rattled it off and then swept out of the room, but they were both in agreement that the end result could have been a lot worse. A higher body count.
John steps out of the shower, once again bemusedly wondering how he's come to a place where a man smearing cow's blood and placenta throughout a construction site is the better of the possible outcomes to a given scenario. He dries off carefully and wraps himself in his robe; Sherlock had been thoroughly lost in his mind 'palace' almost from the moment they'd come in the door. Deleting things, John assumes, or re-ordering what new information he'd gleaned about slaughterhouses and their workings.
If he'd been able, John would happily have set about deleting the waft of charnel smell Sherlock had carried with him. His stomach churns a bit at the memory.
Sherlock hasn't moved when John crosses through the kitchen to the landing, still stretched out on the couch with his hands tucked under his chin. John takes the stairs, considering.
He trusts Mike, and the man had never steered John or anyone else wrong when they'd been at school together, but he still prefers to have had at least one conversation with a potential fuckbuddy before they are too hormone-addled to string more than a few words together.
Though Mike had been pretty addled himself when they'd spoken.
"And what about your flatmate?" he'd asked, when John had explained what he wanted.
"He's Sherlock. I expect he'll have vanished by the time I get home and I won't see hide nor hair of him until he's sure the flat's thoroughly aired out." Though Mycroft's offer of a hotel room grew more tempting as the hours ticked by.
Mike knew a beta looking for a few days' company — on leave, and shipping back out in a week, so she and John have at least that in common as well as biology — and John is meant to meet her for supper at Feathers in a little over forty minutes.
Thirty minutes later, he's decently dressed in a dark blue jumper he knows suits his eyes and a dark pair of trousers. He'd had to close his window almost completely thanks to the chill breeze blowing in, so instead of heading directly downstairs and out he pauses in the front room.
His coat's still hanging on the hook next to Sherlock's, but neither scarf nor Sherlock are anywhere to be seen. John hadn't heard the front door close, so he presumes Sherlock is in his bedroom.
"Sherlock," he calls out, turning toward the kitchen, "have you seen my —"
A motion out of the corner of his eye catches him and he finishes " — scarf?" a little weakly; Sherlock has come up the stairs to stand in John's space. Pale eyes scan John's face at the same time his long-fingered hands strip off his own scarf and wrap it gently around John's neck. It's warm with Sherlock's body heat and smells of wool and faintly of chemicals and heavily of Alpha and Sherlock to John's sensitive nose; the combination of gesture and scent sends a little thrill of want through John.
"If you must do this, you'd be better off with Lestrade," Sherlock says, something acrid-sharp and bitter in his tone. He sweeps past John to his bedroom, closing the door with a rather final click.
John's left off-balance for some span of racing heartbeats before he shakes off confusion and desire to head out into the London evening.
A short chapter -- if I'm right, there will be two more chapters before we reach the end of this story.
If I'm wrong, it'll be longer. :)
Sorry for the delay! Life happens when we're not looking, I guess.
John arrives at Feathers precisely as arranged; Mike's beta would have been easy to pick out of the crowd at the Maitre'd's stand even if she weren't wearing a pair of well-scuffed and worn in combat boots. John smiles at himself, aware in that moment how his own perceptions have been coloured by Sherlock's intense attention to detail.
She turns when he says her name, dark brown curls falling over her eyes and brushed away in a gesture so automatic he wonders if she even knows she's done it.
"Doctor Watson? Hi." She stretches out a hand to him; they shake. Her grip is firm and her skin a little cool and dry; some of her callouses have started to flake. She's been back for a little while, then. And she doesn't look away when he meets her gaze, instead breaking into an easy smile even as her nostrils flare a bit.
They exchange inconsequentials while they wait for Mary's name to be called. She's stationed in Kabul, where she manages motor pool repair for her unit; she tells him she plans to start her own shop when she settles back home. It's a small town, so there won't be a lot of work, but she's confident she'll manage to make do.
He catches her glancing at him sidelong, nostrils flaring, whenever the breeze teases around his hair. And it's not about his scent, he realizes, but something almost troubling her if the tiniest turn down at the corner of her mouth means anything.
She waits, though, until they're in the restaurant and starting to strip off their outerwear, to say, "Mike didn't mention you have an alpha."
John pauses in pulling off his jacket, puzzled until he remembers he's wearing Sherlock's scarf and not his own. He shakes his head.
"Couldn't find my scarf," he says, "so my flatmate lent me his."
She nods with another sweep of fringe off her forehead; John intends to make a little teasing joke about needing a haircut before she goes back while he pulls off the scarf, but there's a tiny problem.
His fingers refuse to pull the scarf away from his neck.
There's an awkward pause, a moment that stretches out forever before John lets his hands fall to his sides and Mary's smile takes on a friendly rather than potentially letcherous cast and she gestures at the chair.
"Apparently, this was a mistake," he says, apologetically, but he sits; Mary settles in across from him.
"Body-brain disconnect," she says, easily; when he raises his eyebrows and returns her smile she continues. "My family's mostly betas on both sides, but my aunt's an omega. She told us how it happened to her; she thought she hated the alpha in question."
"Tell me she didn't bond with him," John groans; the last thing he needs is Sherlock deducing this and deciding they don't need to talk.
Mary sips at the glass of water the waiter has just set down in front of her. "No, nothing so stupidly fairy-tale as that. But she did say the sex was phenomenal."
He chuckles a little and shakes his head. "I'm sorry."
"Make it up to me," she says, "stay for supper. If you can. It's been a while since I've had a chance to talk to someone on this side who knows."
He nods, understanding completely. "I'll enjoy that."