Unlike everyone else, John didn't mind when Sherlock texted him for hours on end.
For Sherlock, it served more or less the same purpose as speaking aloud – it helped him to organize his thoughts by trying to explain them to someone of John's intellectual capacity. His thoughts ran so fast sometimes that it was something he needed to do, and John was really the perfect sounding board because John actually listened. And when Sherlock was done, John would ask questions. Most of those questions tended to be obvious and somewhat beneath him, but it meant John attempted to understand, John was paying attention, and John cared. Really cared.
That was new.
Sherlock wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
He knew what he wasn't going to do, and that was let Mycroft take it from him.
On John's second day at the house Sherlock had found him sitting at the dining room table with his social care worker, a single beta with messy dark hair who sometimes would tap John on the shoulder and had three times in an hour leaned close to point out a paragraph from a book.
Not that Sherlock was counting.
She was meant to be helping John put together his bonding contract, which she was clearly uncomfortable doing since John had already bonded. Sherlock had offered to help John do it several times, but John had always just smiled and said that Molly was the expert, so he'd better let her do it. As if anyone who wore that sort of jumper could possibly be any kind of expert in anything other than ugly jumpers, or possibly the unexpected consequences of having too many house cats. If she were any sort of expert, then it wouldn't take her four hours a day for the better part of two weeks to fully advise John of all his rights and responsibilities, and to put in all the provisions they agreed on. In that time, she'd made John laugh 23 times and had brushed him with her long hair 12.
Sherlock had glared at her the first time they'd met, back at the omega safe house, and she'd never tried to talk to him since. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
"You really should be nicer to her, you know," John told him while they were having lunch, just after Molly had left.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sherlock sniffed, stabbing his roast rather more aggressively than it required. He was aware of John watching him.
"She's really helpful, and I'm not sure I'd feel as confident about all this if she weren't encouraging me. It's kind of an awkward situation, and you're being so…" he trailed off when Sherlock glared.
Sighing, John changed tacks. "Would it help if I met her someplace else? I feel like I'm intruding on your house. She has an office we could go to, if that would be better for you."
The thought of John alone with her was completely unacceptable. Sherlock reached for his water glass with such force he nearly tipped it over. "Don't be stupid. This is your home, too. You can have whatever guests you want. It doesn't bother me in the slightest."
"Right," John said uncertainly. "Well, as long as you're sure."
John was fit into Sherlock's sessions with his tutors fairly easily, mostly because John could use the lessons that Sherlock had done the year before. Sherlock's main strengths had always been in the sciences and maths, though John tended more toward the humanities. He looked at Sherlock's advanced chemistry texts rather dubiously.
"I'm not sure why you're even bothering," Sherlock told him. "You're already bonded."
"...And I don't need O-levels to have children. Yes, you've said that already. I know I'm only an omega, but I would actually like to make a few choices in my own life, Sherlock."
"I didn't say you shouldn't," Sherlock said, stung. "I just meant that you should study what you want to, not all the things they make you do for exams."
"One of those options might be taking my exams, actually. Your brother told me I could do whatever I liked. Maybe a proper career would fit in there. I'll need a real education, then, not just picking and choosing."
"I can help you with them, if you like," Sherlock offered. "Your exams."
John looked like that amused him, for some reason. Unimportant. "I think I can manage. I liked school," he said. "I always expected to go to university eventually."
"What did you want to study?"
John shrugged. "I never really cared much, honestly, although I did rather have my heart set on University College London, mostly because it was in London and would let in betas. Harry was the one with the academic aspirations. She always wanted to be a solicitor. I think we both really just wanted to get out of Towcester and away from our Dad. University always seemed like the best way to do that. I suppose it doesn't really matter now."
"You can still go to university," Sherlock pointed out.
"I can still be tutored at the university level," John corrected. "Not quite the same thing."
"No," Sherlock agreed, "just the two of us here is much better."
As soon as Lestrade had dropped him off and pulled back into traffic Sherlock had turned away from the house and back to the street, his hand clutching the stolen pill bottle tightly. He knew Lestrade would miss them as soon as he got back to the Yard, but there was only a 30% chance that he'd actually come all the way back for it right away. It was far more likely he'd come tomorrow, which gave Sherlock plenty of time to analyze the pills himself.
He flagged the first cab he saw, having it take him directly to Bart's.
The nice thing about having an organic chemistry tutor who also taught at Bart's was that Sherlock could (and did, and did, and did) take advantage of Bart's extremely well – equipped lab. While technically he wasn't supposed to use any of the equipment without someone "assisting" him, Sherlock had been ignoring that rule since he was nine, and the medical students had more or less gotten used to him.
He immediately took over the mass spectrometer and one of the microscopes, dumping a few of the pills out on the table so he could get to work. He picked one of the pills up and grinned at it for a moment. He loved this part, the puzzle spinning in the air in front of him, and knowing without a doubt he would have it answered. Even the process of it was thrilling, the tested and true methods and instruments. This was his element, his true home. The fact that he was doing all of this for John made it even better.
He didn't want to contemplate too much what it would mean if the pills turned out to be fakes. He would have to depend on Mycroft for John's heat suppressants, and Mycroft was far too selfish to provide them of his own free will – Sherlock knew that much.
Still, he knew that the odds were that the pills were fakes. Despite what the omega had told John, it was so dangerous for a doctor to give out suppressants that he almost couldn't believe that one would do so – and then turn around and give the same pills to Lestrade without even real proof that he even knew an omega. The easiest explanation was that the pills were fake, and that patients would be too afraid to go to the police to report the cheat, knowing that their alpha would surely hear that they were trying to get black market suppressants in the process. In a way, it was almost the perfect scam, because even if the perpetrator were caught, the punishment for the scam was far, far less severe than if it weren't a scam. Sherlock almost admired the thinking behind it.
He was expecting the scam; what he found was actually far stranger.
Most of the pills' chemical makeup were utterly predictable for suppressing heats: drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol were the main active ingredients. They were set to mimic the hormones emitted during pregnancy, convincing the omega's body it already was pregnant, so that it wouldn't go into heat. The pills also contained a number of inactive ingredients in varying amounts: lactose monohydrate, povidone 25000, magnesium stearate, macrogol 6000, hypromellose USP, titanium dioxide, ferric oxide, and trace amounts of one that Sherlock certainly hadn't been expecting: pentachlorobiphenyl.
The pills, as they were, would suppress heats, the drospirenone and ethinylestradiol would see to that. It was the pentachlorobiphenyl. There was no reason for it. Not for the pills to do as they were supposed to. Pentachlorobiphenyl was a known polychlorinated biphenylorganochloride, a known toxin. The miniscule amount in each pill was not enough to actively make any omegas sick, Sherlock knew that. It certainly wasn't a case of poison pills, no matter what Lestrade had worried about. It wasn't nearly enough for that, so why was it there at all? It was an anomaly that served no purpose, and that bothered Sherlock more than anything.
He drew up his knees and hugged them to his chest, thinking. Obviously, the omegas would take a lot of the pills, over months, years, possibly even decades. Over that amount of time, they would suffer effects as the chemical built up in their system. Over that amount of time, they would have a high chance of being rendered infertile.
Why anyone would want to make omegas infertile he had no idea, since such a notion was almost unthinkable. Unthinkable to an alpha, anyway. He knew he would have to try to sort it out eventually, because there was definitely a puzzle there that was worth solving. But that wasn't the important question, not immediately. The important question was this: should he tell John about it?
If John took the pills and were rendered infertile, would that be such a terrible thing?
Sherlock knew that John didn't want children, at least not yet. Sherlock had to assume that John would never want them with Mycroft. He knew that Mycroft wanted heirs for the line, and absolutely knew that his brother didn't deserve to have them with John.
John hadn't signed a binding contract, so Mycroft could conceivably force him to have children whenever it was convenient for him. When that happened, John probably wouldn't have time to spend with Sherlock; he'd be far too busy doing other things.
That was the worst part.
If John were rendered infertile, none of this would matter anymore. If he were rendered infertile, there would be no point in ever having another heat. Technically there'd be no reason for John and Mycroft to even see each other again, although all the literature seemed to suggest that as bondmates they needed to.
John was too kind-hearted to be trusted to make the decision that made the most sense. It was so, so very tempting for Sherlock to decide for him. He could solve all their problems. Except… except. If John ever found out, he would probably hate Sherlock for years at least. He certainly wouldn't trust him, possibly ever, and while Sherlock would not have thought twice if it were anyone else, it was John. John not wanting to have anything to do with him was worse than John pregnant. John not wanting to have anything to do with him was worse than anything.
Sherlock sat in the quiet lab for a long time.
It was just after dawn when Sherlock let himself back into the house. John would be asleep, he knew; John tended to sleep until at least 7:30 unless Sherlock woke him up earlier.
So far, John hadn't appreciated being woken up as much as Sherlock had thought he would.
Sherlock needed John to be in at least a neutral mood for the conversation he was planning to have with him. He locked himself in his room and picked up his violin to while away the hours until John woke up of his own accord.
By the time he went down to breakfast John was halfway through his eggs, the Times laid out before him on the table. He looked up and grinned when he saw Sherlock, which never ceased to send a small frisson of warmth up Sherlock's spine. No one else had ever been particularly happy to see him in the mornings.
He pulled out the chair across the table from John's, snagging John's teacup and sipping from it. John rolled his eyes but his smile didn't waver, so Sherlock knew it was all right. Sometimes it was hard to tell.
"I got a text from Harry this morning," John said, reaching for the pot to refill his cup. "The announcement about my bonding's in the paper."
"Mycroft would've waited this long only as a sap to all the other alphas who applied for you. Typical. I assume the announcement was kept to a bare minimum?"
"Yeah. It's barely mentioned. Harry couldn't believe it. I guess Mycroft needed it to seem plausible, that it'd all been done normally." John flipped the paper closed and pushed it aside. "There's no point in even trying to explain the truth. Who would believe it?"
Sherlock cocked his head, watching him. "Was there an alpha you especially liked in the batch of interviews? Someone you were considering?"
John thought about it. "It's hard to tell," he said at last. "We were only on the first round of interviews. I suppose there were a few who seemed like there was potential with. We managed to get along, anyway. They liked the tea, unlike some people."
"They were morons. You could've done better."
"I did, didn't I? I mean, Mycroft is younger than most alphas when they bond, but he's got a lot of that rubbish that everyone thinks is important: money and family and all that. On paper, I did pretty well for myself."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Your standards are abysmally low."
John shrugged. "What can I say?" he asked around his toast. "I was born into a beta family. I just can't be expected to know any better."
"True," Sherlock agreed. "How unfortunate for you."
"Harry's upset, anyway. She and I were talking all through the process. After the interviews I'd text her all of my impressions. Then I suddenly bond to someone she's never heard of. I imagine she's a bit hurt, and I'm not entirely sure what I can do to fix it."
Sherlock paused in stealing the last corner of toast from John's plate. "Did you text her about me?"
"Definitely," John said, stifling a laugh. "You tend to make an impression."
Sherlock knew that was true, but he had no idea why John might find it amusing. He moved on to the more important point. "You haven't explained the truth to her?" Sherlock was surprised by that. As much as John complained about his sister, they seemed close enough.
John's amusement vanished abruptly. "Not over the phone. I haven't even figured out where to start, although I guess it'd be the safer option; when I tell her about sneaking out and going all the way to London unsupervised she might actually kill me. Or you. Mostly me, though. I was thinking of inviting her down for the weekend. She could use some time away from Dad, anyway. Do you think that would be all right?"
Sherlock drained the tea cup again. "Mycroft won't care."
"I'm asking you. I was hoping, well. I was hoping you'd be nice to her. Really nice, Sherlock. Can you manage that?"
Sherlock frowned at him. "Of course I can manage that. I'll be perfectly pleasant."
John didn't look entirely convinced, but he nodded. "Thank you. I need to show her that I'm all right, that I'm happy. Then she'll worry less, and with any luck won't actually feel the need for violence."
Sherlock leaned forward. "Are you? Happy?"
"I don't know yet," John said honestly. "I'm not unhappy, if that helps."
"What do you think would make you happy?"
John had to think about it for a moment, pushing his empty plate away. "I don't know," he said, shrugging helplessly. "I think I just need a little more time to get used to things."
"Do you think having children would make you happy?" Sherlock asked bluntly.
"What?" John blinked at him. "I don't… I don't know. I assume I will have them, eventually, but I don't want them right now, and it wouldn't make me happy, I don't think, if I did. Eventually…maybe? Probably. I mean, in all the pamphlets and everything, they talk about this sort of drive that omegas have, to have children. We're just hardwired that way. It's just part of being an omega. I haven't felt that yet, but I've only really had one heat, and I wasn't bonded then. Well, I suppose I've had two if you count the bonding heat, but it wasn't really–"
Sherlock cut him off. "So you don't know whether you'll want children at all?"
"No, of course I don't know. But… I didn't think I'd want to bond, either. I knew I had to, and it was safer and necessary and so forth, but the actual fact of it didn't seem appealing at all, being connected to a total stranger. Who would want that? But then when it was actually happening, it was different. My body knew what to do, what it needed. It wanted to bond. My brain just didn't have any say anymore. I imagine getting pregnant will be like that, too." He sighed. "Part of me hates that, that I'm just this bundle of hormones and I don't have any say in any of it, but I don't know that there's any way around it. My bad luck to be born an omega, I guess." He flashed Sherlock a small smile.
"But what if you didn't have to?" Sherlock pressed. "What if you never had to worry about getting pregnant? Wouldn't that be better?"
John thought about it. "I don't know, Sherlock. Just because I don't want children right now doesn't mean I won't ever. I'm only sixteen. I don't feel up to the responsibility of it, I suppose. I would like to think that I eventually would feel better about it, when I'm older and have my own life sorted a bit. Plus, I think Mycroft would like at least one for the Holmes family line, so that would be something to think about."
"You can't let him make you do that, just because he wants it."
"He's not making me do anything, Sherlock. He's my bondmate. If he feels he needs a child, I'm the only one who can give it to him. When you get right down to it, that's my job, as an omega. That's the only reason you alphas care about us at all. Well, that and Frenzy."
Sherlock huffed at him, frustrated. "It's not your job, John. You didn't choose to bond with him, and he can't expect anything from you. You're not obligated to do anything for him, and certainly not to have children for him. He doesn't deserve that. He doesn't deserve you."
"I'm not saying that's what it will be like. Mycroft hasn't said a word to me about children, but he did say he wouldn't force me into anything, that he'd grant any request I had. Your brother doesn't seem the type of person to make those promises lightly. If I don't ever want to have children, I'm sure he won't make me. I'm not saying I would. I just… might. Someday. I don't know, all right? I don't know what I'll want in five years, or ten. No one can tell the future, Sherlock. I like having the choice be there for me, when I'm ready to make it." John reached out and touched Sherlock's hand gently, trying to make him understand. "I don't want to argue with you about this. I'm sorry, but it's just something that Mycroft and I will have to work out eventually."
That wasn't good enough, of course, but he couldn't explain why not to John without explaining all of it. John's not knowing wasn't something he had been prepared for. Sherlock had always known, as far back as he could remember, that he'd never wanted children, had never wanted to bond and go through the horror of Frenzy constantly. He couldn't imagine anything worse than being completely in the grips of his body's impulses and needs for days on end; the tiring, disgusting physicality of it.
He had known that the physicality of Frenzy wouldn't bother John in the same way, but he'd been counting on the fact that it would be with Mycroft, of all people, as the sort of thing that would. Sherlock himself couldn't imagine anything more dreadful, and it wasn't just because Mycroft was his brother.
John sighed. "I don't want to talk about this anymore, okay? I'm sorry, Sherlock. I know you don't get on with your brother, but this really is something he and I need to figure out. It's just the sort of thing that isn't anyone else's business," he said apologetically. He squeezed Sherlock's hand once before he let it go, picking up his breakfast dishes and headed toward the kitchen.
Sherlock followed him, watching as he carefully rinsed the dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher. Sherlock had told him numerous times that he didn't have to do that, that there was a housekeeper precisely for that sort of thing, but John insisted on cleaning up after himself. He was completely ridiculous about it, really.
As he was apparently determined to be ridiculous about everything else.
"Lestrade and I went to that doctor," he said, watching John turn to him in surprise. "The doctor that omega told you about. I wanted to see if the suppressants would work on you."
John's brow furrowed. "Lestrade took you to get illegal heat suppressants? How did you even –"
"It doesn't matter. Lestrade was able to persuade him to give him a month's supply of the pills." He watched John closely, trying to gauge his reaction. He only looked interested, but not particularly eager. "I tested them last night, at Bart's. I wanted to see if they were real suppressants or not."
"Were they? Emma seemed to think they worked."
Sherlock nodded. "Yes. They had the right hormone supplements to work effectively as suppressants."
John smiled. "Really? That's good. You really got them for me? That's – thank you."
Sherlock rubbed his finger along the seam of the wallpaper. He could feel John scrutinizing his expression. If he asked, Sherlock would tell him. He would never risk John's hatred, not for something that may only ever be a possibility anyway. If John asked. If.
"Sherlock? What is it?"
Sherlock swallowed. "They may also possibly make any omega who takes them unable to ever get pregnant."
The teacup John was holding clattered onto the counter. "What?"
"Well," Sherlock clarified, "they may not. There was a toxic additive in the pills, but only a miniscule amount. Honestly, it hardly even counts as –"
"What do you mean, Sherlock?" John asked sharply.
"It would only affect you if you used them for years."
"Are you sure? I mean, there's not some mistake, or…"
"I'm sure I didn't make a mistake," Sherlock snapped, offended. "The additive is far too specific to be a mistake. It wouldn't make the omegas sick; there would be no outward symptoms, just the chemical slowly building up in their systems until there's enough to wreak havoc on the reproductive system. It's actually rather brilliant."
John was gaping at him like a fish. "But why would anyone do that to omegas?"
Sherlock shrugged. "No idea. Well, quite a few ideas, actually, but no theories as of yet."
"Sherlock – Emma's taking those pills, and God knows how many others."
Sherlock waved his hand impatiently. Trust John to care about the wrong part. "I'm sure Emma will be fine. You said she doesn't want to have children with her alpha anyway. Maybe she even knows and approves of what the pills are doing. Chances are, most omegas who are taking illegal black-market heat suppressants probably don't want to have children with their alphas. The pills are probably doing them a favor by removing the possibility."
"No, she – no. I'm sure she doesn't. Trust me when I tell you that no one would want to just have it all be out of their hands. They would always want the choice. We need to – to warn them somehow."
"It's not like they'll just come forward," Sherlock pointed out. "If they're taking these pills in the first place they've broken both the law and their bonding contracts."
"Do you think anyone else knows?"
Sherlock ticked off the possibilities on his fingers. "Whoever made the pills obviously knows. Whether the doctor who distributed them does is less certain. It's unlikely that any of the recipients of the pills would even think of testing them. I imagine the worst thing they would imagine happening is that they wouldn't work, and they'd know as soon as they had a heat. I just got back from the lab this morning, so I haven't told anyone, besides you."
"We need to tell Mycroft," John said decisively.
"I don't see any reason to drag him into this," Sherlock grumbled.
"He's the head of the Omega Taskforce, Sherlock. He'll know what to do." He thought for a moment. "What about that Sergeant you know with the Met? Can we call him?"
"We don't need to. Lestrade is coming anyway to pick up the pills." He glanced at the clock above the stove. "Probably within the next hour, in fact, if he's not on a case. Anderson will be off-shift in the lab at noon, and Lestrade will want to get them to him before then."
"Good, that's good. Do you know how to get a hold of your brother? Whether or not you like it, we need to tell him."
Reluctantly, Sherlock pulled out his phone.
It was two hours later that Lestrade arrived, looking tired and stressed. There were fresh pink bruises barely peeking out from under the collar of his shirt. If Sherlock hadn't seen them before, he might have missed them. Lestrade still had that lover, then, the biter. Male, obviously; the stubble burn on his cheeks was proof enough of that.
Sherlock only cared about Lestrade's personal life when it might interfere with the solving of a case; the current lover had already proven that he wouldn't do that on numerous occasions, so Sherlock was content enough not to berate Lestrade for getting involved with some moronic beta who took his time and energy away from what was truly important.
He seemed surprised when Sherlock led him from the front door into the sitting room. He'd never invited Lestrade into the house before, and he probably still wouldn't have done, but John wanted to have a proper discussion about things. Apparently that involved tea.
"I assume you analyzed those pills," Lestrade said, "after I specifically told you that I wanted our lab to do that. You did hear me say that, didn't you?"
"It's just as well your lab didn't," Sherlock told him with a shrug. "They might have missed the trace ingredients."
"Tell me why it's important, Sherlock," Lestrade instructed wearily.
In other circumstances Sherlock might've bristled at the command, but he was too excited about what he had found. "Because the pills are poisoned." Sherlock said, and sat back to wait for his reaction.
There wasn't much of one. Lestrade was clearly far too used to his pronouncements. It was just as well John wasn't there to see it; it might make him less astonished at the process. When he wasn't saying it was annoying, that was. "Poisoned how?"
"Pentachlorobiphenyl. Trace amounts in all the pills. It would build up in the omega's system over years and render him or her infertile."
The nice thing about Lestrade was that he didn't ask stupid questions.
Well, occasionally he did. "Of course I am. I checked the results twice."
Sherlock was saved from whatever else Lestrade was going to ask when John brought in the tea things. It was, mused Sherlock, almost adorable how much John always tried to be polite. As if it even mattered with someone like Lestrade.
"Hello again, Sergeant Lestrade," John said, smiling at Lestrade in a way that Sherlock did not like at all.
"Hello," Lestrade said, shaking John's hand. "We weren't actually properly introduced last time.
Please call me Greg."
John nodded. "Things were a bit mad that night. I think introductions were the last thing on anyone's mind." He sat on the sofa, and Sherlock immediately sat beside him.
Lestrade, looking somewhat bemused between them, sat in the chair opposite. He poured himself a cup of tea but his attention was still on John. "How are you?" he asked. "Are you adjusting all right? Is there anything you need? I know it's a different sort of world than what you're probably used to, growing up in a beta family."
"He's fine," Sherlock told him.
"I wasn't asking you, Sherlock." Lestrade had a tone he used specifically for when he was forcing himself to be polite in front of other people, Sherlock had noticed.
John chuckled, though, so it was all right. "I am fine. It's definitely different, but I think I'm settling in all right. I have help," he said, and smiled at Sherlock. That was better than all right. "Thank you for asking."
"Do you miss being at home at all? I'm sure Mycroft would arrange a trip north if you wanted to go."
"God no," John said instantly. "I've always wanted to come to London. This wasn't how I imagined it when I was a kid, but at least I'm here. My sister is going to come visit me here, and that's all the family I need."
"Have you been able to see any of the sights since you've been here?" Lestrade looked as if he actually wanted to know, which made Sherlock frown. Why did he care so much about John?
"Not yet. Mycroft's been too busy to come with me, and with the tutors and getting my contract sorted out, it hasn't been high on the priority list. Plus, of course, there'd be the issue of an escort for me."
"I told you I could do it," Sherlock cut in.
"You're too young," Lestrade and John both said at the same time. Sherlock glared at them both, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I was thinking of learning how to drive," John said, which was enough to pull Sherlock out of his sulk a bit.
"Why?" he asked. "Bonded omegas never have to drive themselves anywhere."
"Because I want to. I was looking forward to Harry teaching me, at home. I know it's not necessary, or even a good idea, probably, but I'd still like to learn."
"Of course you'll learn. If you want someone to teach you, I'm sure Mycroft or I would be more than happy to do it," Lestrade said quickly. Sherlock gave him a sharp look. He was being ridiculously eager to please, and Sherlock couldn't quite understand why. What did Lestrade have to gain by having John Watson like him? Yes, all right, perhaps he thought that John could influence Mycroft more than Sherlock could, and Mycroft did have some pull, an old alpha family name like Holmes. Still, it had never occurred to Sherlock before that Lestrade would care about such things. No, it had to be something else, and it annoyed him that he couldn't understand it. Lestrade wasn't that complicated, after all.
He cleared his throat. "So, what are we going to do about the pills?"
"We should wait for Mycroft," John said. "Maybe the Taskforce has seen something like this before."
"They haven't seen anything like this before," Lestrade said, shaking his head. "This is… if Sherlock is right, this is huge."
"Do you think that doctor, do you think he knows?"
"He may," Sherlock said, "but it seems a large risk to take – if he were caught selling heat suppressants on the side it would be bad enough for him, but heat suppressants that cause infertility in omegas on a large scale? He'd be lucky if he made it to trial for that, honestly. Angry alphas would tear him limb from limb as a lesson to others. No one dares attack omegas. No one. It's practically inconceivable."
"So it's more likely he's being supplied the pills by someone but doesn't know their exact contents," Lestrade said, nodding.
"Definitely more likely, yes."
"Why would anyone do this?"
"Attacking the omegas is the real way to get back at the alphas. To truly cut them out of existence. On a large enough scale, it might end them completely."
"Do you think it's on a large scale?" John asked.
Sherlock considered. "Possibly. Something like this wouldn't serve much of a purpose on a small scale, would it? A few omegas can't reproduce; so what? If the point is to damage omegas and alphas permanently, you would need it to be fairly large scale. Besides that, it only works after years of taking the pills. It would have to be coordinated, of course. It's certainly difficult, but not impossible. Whoever is behind this plot is extremely patient and extremely subtle about it. It's really quite clever, if you think about it."
"No, it's not," John snapped. "It's not clever at all."
Greg looked thoughtful. "We need to talk to the doctor, and see what he knows. Better yet, go through his files, see if he keeps a list of patients and suppliers. Chances are he'll never talk, even if he doesn't know the pills are poisoned. Selling illegal heat suppressants is bad enough." He sighed. "If I call in the Met on this it will be all over the press. We'd spring a thousand leaks."
"But that would be good," John urged. "The press would alert any omegas who had the pills to stop taking them."
Lestrade shook his head. "But the story is bigger than that. It's explosive for alphas and omegas, obviously, but if people start pointing fingers, which they would almost immediately, things could get very ugly, very quickly. People could very well die."
"Certain ex-C of E members have been proclaiming that the dwindling omega numbers are the result of God's will, that he wants the end to all alphas and omegas," Sherlock said, nodding. "I'm sure some would suspect that they had helped God along."
"But the pills –"
"Are slow-acting, right? So once we round up this doctor and get his supply off the streets, they'll be all right," Lestrade said. "Taking them for a few weeks more won't make much of a difference, in the long run. I'll talk to Mycroft about getting the Taskforce to handle this. It's not a perfect solution, but it might be the best one we've got."
"If it is as widespread as I think, and there are other doctors distributing these pills, we need to find out who they are and where they're getting their supplies from. That will be difficult. No one will want to talk about it. Even if the omegas are taking secret suppressants, they won't tell us so we can have the pills tested. It will be difficult to really find out how many might be out there. Explosive or not, we might have to go to the press to cover the story and at least get them to stop taking them, even if they won't come forward and tell us where they got them."
"The doctors might have an attack of conscience and turn themselves in," John suggested.
Sherlock snorted. "That is extremely unlikely. These pills are probably just the beginning. Anyone who has this sort of long-range plan will certainly have a Plan B. We'll have to see what happens when we move to stop their distribution."
Lestrade narrowed his eyes. "There's no 'we' here, Sherlock. I'll talk to your brother, see what we can arrange in terms of discreet inquiries into doctors. You are not going to do anything. This is too big for you to be involved in, all right?" He pocketed the remaining pills, glaring at Sherlock to try to get his point across.
He should've known by then that it never worked.
John was putting the tea things away when Sherlock put a torch on the counter.
"What's this for?"
"You'll need it tonight. Do you have any black shirts? I know it's clichéd, but there's a reason for that."
"Whatever you're planning, stop," John told him. "Right now there's nothing we can do."
"I don't know about that," Sherlock said. "Lestrade told us exactly what we need to do."
John frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
"He said we need to take a look at Gardner's files," Sherlock reminded him.
"He didn't mean us," John argued. "In fact, he specifically said –"
Sherlock ignored him. "We'll go tonight. I've been waiting for a good opportunity to try some of the more technically advanced techniques I've been reading about for disabling alarm systems. The one at the omega safe house was far too simple. This should be more of a challenge," he said with relish.
"No, Sherlock. No way. I'm not going anywhere with you at night again. Especially for something like this. Are you forgetting what happened last time?"
"You're already bonded," Sherlock argued. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"We could be killed," John said sharply. "And even if no mad criminals are lurking behind corners after us, your brother and Greg will certainly do it. And my sister."
"If we do it right, they'll never find out."
John crossed his arms. "I'm sorry, Sherlock, but there is no way I'm doing this."
"Fine, then. I'll just have to go alone. I'll likely get caught, then, since I won't have a lookout. I wonder what a doctor who sells these sorts of pills will do when he finds an alpha going through his files?"
There was a long moment of silence.
"You're a right bastard, did you know that?"
"You'd better find some extra batteries for that torch. I think Mycroft keeps some in the study upstairs."
He smiled with satisfaction as John, shaking his head, marched up the stairs.
It was just after midnight when they got out of the cab a block away from the Gardner's office. The streets weren't entirely empty, but the few people out walking didn't pay them any attention, as Sherlock had known they wouldn't. People so rarely saw even the things that were right in front of them. He estimated the probability of getting caught was only about 20%. He didn't, in fact, need John as a lookout at all, but the idea of coming alone had been entirely abhorrent. Somehow, in a very short period of time, he'd come to think of John as he would one of his own limbs: necessary, and without question something that would always be there. If John had absolutely refused to come Sherlock wasn't sure what he would have done – the possibility that he might have stayed home, too, was suddenly very real.
He didn't want to think about that. It was too close to letting someone else control him.
As they walked along the sidewalk Sherlock scrutinized every face for their old friend the blond gunman, or possibly even Moriarty himself. He knew it was unlikely they were there, and even more unlikely that he'd see them before they were upon them, but he couldn't help looking anyway.
"That's the place?" John asked, as they came upon and passed the office. Sherlock wanted to get a feel for the street a bit before he attempted the break-in.
"That's it," Sherlock confirmed. "I don't see any lights; do you?"
"No, none across the street, either. Are you sure we need to go in the front? It's right out on the street."
"The alarm panel will be at the front door. I won't have time to get to it and disable it if we go in through the back." He nodded toward a bus stop they were passing. "This is a good place for you to stand and keep an eye on the street without looking like you're loitering."
"The bus stopped running hours ago, Sherlock. There's no nightbus here."
"It doesn't matter. If people see you standing at a stop it's doubtful they'll consider the time. If they do say anything to you, just pretend you didn't realize the busses stopped running at a certain hour. People will always believe idiocy, I've learned, and I'm sure you could pull that off without a problem."
"Thanks very much." There was something in John's tone that seemed off, but whatever it was couldn't be too important. They had nearly finished the circuit of the block and were about to turn back onto the street with the office on it again. Sherlock concentrated on unobtrusively observing the office's neighbours. There were flats upstairs from the businesses, but with any luck people would be too busy watching telly to go sticking their heads out of windows and watching the street.
"You're welcome," he said absently. "Let's just hope no one gets close enough to realize you're an omega. That would raise far too many questions. Now, go and stand at the stop, and pull out your phone. Make it look like you're texting, or anything, really, just as long as you don't look like you're staring up and down the street. If you see anything odd at all, or anyone who looks interested in the office, text me 999 immediately."
"All right. Be careful."
"Of course." Sherlock slipped into the shadow of the doorway and knelt in front of the lock, eyeing it for a moment before pulling the tension wrench and two picks from his pocket. The deadbolt would be far more difficult than the ancient lock on the door, that was obvious, but neither should take him more than a few minutes. He'd been practicing, after all.
The alarm system was disappointingly easy to beat, with only a four digit passcode. Honestly, it was hardly the security that a doctor's office should have, even one as shabby and second-rate as this one clearly was.
Once he was inside he texted John and let down the blinds so the neighbours wouldn't see their torches flashing away. He decided it was far too risky to put on the lights.
It was only then that he flicked on his torch and saw the mess. File cabinets stood with drawers open, their contents strewn all over. Everything that had been on what looked like a reception desk of some sort was tossed onto the floor, including a telephone and computer.
Sherlock jumped and swung around at a noise behind him, but it was only John. "Something's wrong," Sherlock said, and John swore softly.
"You don't think anyone was hurt, do you?"
Instead of answering, Sherlock pushed open the inner door. There was the exam table and a chair, and a cabinet of things like cotton balls and latex gloves that appeared mostly intact. On the other side of that was another door leading to the doctor's office, which was in worse a state than the waiting room.
"Do you think it was alphas? Someone who found out the doctor was selling heat suppressants?"
"I doubt they would've set the alarm behind them on the way out," Sherlock relied. He nudged the broken computer monitor aside with his foot, but the hard drive was gone. Interesting.
"Maybe someone came in during the day? Armed, maybe, looking for drugs? They do that; I saw it on the news."
"They do that to chemists, not doctor's offices," Sherlock sighed. "And the cabinet in the exam room wasn't touched; anyone looking for drugs would likely start there."
"Maybe they knew about the heat suppressants and just came for those. He wouldn't have kept those in the exam room, right?"
Sherlock moved his torch around the walls, looking for a safe or – there. A cupboard with a conspicuous lock on it hung halfway open. He pulled it the rest of the way open and stared at three or four empty boxes.
"If that's what happened, then they certainly got what they came for. I doubt it, though. Why bother taking the drugs out of the boxes?"
John came to stand beside him. "What do you think happened, then?"
"I think Gardner ran."
"What? Why would he do that?"
"It was reckless, giving the pills to a beta. Surely Gardner knew that. I'm sure as soon as they tried to find the NHS information for the alias that Lestrade gave them they knew something was very wrong."
"Lestrade gave them an alias?"
"Of course he did. He'd never give a suspect his real name while he was undercover. About which, I should add, he'd get into even more trouble, investigating this case on his own like that. Which means he didn't have a proper alias that had been put into the system by the Met. Whatever name he did use would have come up as a fake, and they would've known immediately it was trouble. A beta using a fake name and a ridiculous sob story? Please. The only question is why they gave the pills to him in the first place. His story wasn't that good."
"£200? Don't be stupid."
"Maybe they were just reckless, then."
Sherlock shook his head. "No. An operation like this is meticulous. It's the absolute opposite of reckless. This was all planned, every last detail, finding the omegas who were unhappy or desperate enough to take the pills and weren't likely to tell anyone, and then the doctor does something like fall for Lestrade's story? No. Something else is happening here."
John sighed. "What?"
Sherlock frowned. "I don't know."
"Well, we're not going to find anything else here, but if we hang about all night I'm sure someone will phone the police. Do you think we should text Greg?"
Sherlock shook his head. "Not now. Tomorrow I'll text him and ask if he thinks we should check out the office; that'll make him come himself so we won't. He never trusts me not to get into trouble."
"I wonder why," John muttered, and his voice did that thing again.
"I'll leave the door unlocked to make it easier for him. He'd never break in on his own. Some people need an engraved invitation to everything."
"Yes, normal people don't go around breaking in to places without cause. Is that news?"
"He's hardly normal; he's with the Met. And you're here, breaking in with me. What does that say about you?"
"That I have truly desperate taste in friends," John sighed.
"Or that you enjoy this sort of thing."
"I'd never do this sort of thing if it weren't for you. You're a terrible influence."
"And you're extremely eager to be influenced. Don't blame me for that."
They were both quiet on the cab ride home. Sherlock was thinking. There was so much that didn't make sense. Why do any of it? If it fit into a larger plan he couldn't quite grasp the edges of it, and that annoyed him more than he cared to admit, especially in front of John.
The lights were on in when they got home, which was unusual. Mycroft rarely slept at home, and had seemed to be actively avoiding the house ever since John arrived. Sherlock should've known it was too good to last.
John hesitated in the entryway, looking nervous, but Sherlock pushed past him to the sitting room. There was never any point to putting things off with Mycroft; best to let him rant and rave and get it over with.
His brother was sitting on the sofa, holding a glass of scotch. Scotch was always a bad sign. He didn't say a word when they came in, but his face was flushed and his posture absolutely rigid. He was livid, though most people probably wouldn't be able to tell. Sherlock had seen it before, of course. Many times.
Sherlock stood in the doorway, crossing his arms over his chest and waiting.
Mycroft put down his glass carefully. "How could you do this?" he asked in a deceptively soft voice. "You know what a risk it is for John to leave this house, and after what happened last time I would expect you to have learned something, but I can see that you clearly haven't. I thought of everything in the world, Sherlock, John would be the one thing you would want to protect."
"John's fine," Sherlock snapped. How like Mycroft to bring that up, resurrecting some of the guilt Sherlock had felt for everything that had happened last time. He would make it up to John. It was only a matter of time. In the meantime, he was perfectly capable of seeing to John's needs and protecting him, no matter what Mycroft thought.
John came into the room behind him, to prove his point. "We're sorry," John said immediately, which made Sherlock scowl. "We didn't mean to make you worry. It was stupid and wrong."
Sherlock watched Mycroft's face soften slightly as his gaze shifted to his bondmate.
"I know perfectly well whose idea it was, going out in the middle of the night." He looked back at Sherlock and his expression hardened again. "Where did you go?"
"To the doctor's office, the one Greg – Sergeant Lestrade – got the pills from," John answered. "Greg mentioned that the files might be useful, so we thought we'd –"
Mycroft looked alarmed. "Sherlock, what have you done?"
"It hardly matters," Sherlock snapped. "He's gone. The whole office has been cleared out."
Mycroft looked at John for confirmation.
"We think they know Greg was not who he said he was," John said. "We're not sure if they knew he was with the Met or not, but either way they knew it was bad news, so I suppose they just... went. The timing's too much of a coincidence otherwise."
Sherlock was gratified to see a flash of Mycroft's confusion at this turn of events. The last thing he wanted was for Mycroft to understand the whys of it if he couldn't. The confusion didn't replace anger for long.
"It was ridiculously stupid of you to risk such a thing! What if he hadn't been gone? What if you'd been caught? You could have pulled down any hope of our getting answers in one go. Have you ever actually – just once – considered the consequences of your actions?" His brother looked at him with something so close to disgust that for an instant Sherlock felt pain flare in his gut. He immediately quashed the sensation. "People can get hurt, Sherlock. That needs to mean something to you." His eyes flicked briefly to John. "I think, in the short-term, the best solution would be for you to have your own flat, John. The proximity to my brother is clearly not a good idea."
"You can't!" Sherlock immediately erupted.
"I most certainly can, and will. I thought having John here might help you, but obviously I was wrong. For his own safety, I think it would be for the best. Would you agree?" he asked John.
Sherlock was mollified to see that John looked stricken at the very idea. "I – I know you're trying to think of what's best for me," he said quietly, "but I really would like to stay here. Please? I swear we won't do anything like this again." He glanced at Sherlock, who nodded reluctantly.
Mycroft sighed. "I wish I could believe that, I really do. Fine – for now. If you have any strong urges to get into trouble, remember that there will be consequences. Moriarty is still out there. He did say he had plans for you, Sherlock, whatever that means. Greg and I will handle this investigation, such as it is, and you" – he glared at Sherlock – "will stay out of it. Do I make myself clear?"
Sherlock opened his mouth to argue but John got there first.
"Perfectly clear. We shouldn't have gone there tonight. I'm sorry," he repeated. "We're sorry."
"Have you discovered anything about his whereabouts?" Sherlock asked. "Moriarty?"
Mycroft's eyes narrowed as he looked at his brother, but he simply shook his head. "Not much." He folded his hands in front of him. "We know he's a bonded omega, so we're looking for his bondmate. There has never been an omega by the name of Jim Moriarty or anyone fitting his description that went through the official bonding process, so we are fairly certain it was an illegal bonding, possibly a forced bond."
"Maybe at gunpoint," Sherlock sniffed.
"A possibility," Mycroft allowed.
"It really isn't rare, is it, forced bondings?" John sounded sad.
"I'm afraid it isn't. One of my main priorities at the Taskforce is to identify young omegas as soon as possible so they can be brought into the system and protected from that sort of thing. There is a tremendous amount of research being done that might lead to the identification of the chromosome that determines someone's status, but it's been bogged down in controversy for decades."
"Why?" John asked. "Wouldn't it be better to know ahead of time? In my experience, finding out when you hit puberty isn't at all a good thing."
"People are afraid that if it can be determined what the status of the child is in utero or even at birth, parents may choose not to have children that are the "wrong" status," Sherlock told him. "Alpha families would obviously choose not to have beta children, and beta families may not want alpha or omegas. Beta Majority members have gone on record as saying they'd not have any child who wasn't beta, which, considering the shortage of omegas in the world already, certainly hasn't gone over well. These are more than a few alphas at the highest level of government that would force anyone pregnant with an omega to carry the child to term, no matter what."
"Could they do that?"
"They could do more than that."
Sherlock looked at Mycroft. "There is quite a lot of speculation that this technology already exists, but the government has covered it up."
"Is there?" Mycroft asked, raising an eyebrow.
They glared at each other for a long moment.
"But – Moriarty?" John asked, clearing his throat.
"Yes, of course," Mycroft said, smiling at him. "We have so far only turned up rumors about him, but there have been plenty of those. He's certainly been busy."
"He hasn't contacted you at all?" Sherlock demanded.
"No. Not yet. I imagine it's only a matter of time. He'll want to strike while the iron is hot." He looked at Sherlock hard. "Which is why I need you to stay out of trouble. None of us know what he's capable of. I need you to look after each other."
Sherlock couldn't help looking at John. He knew Mycroft was manipulating him, and a year ago he probably would have let him take John away, anything, anything other than let his brother see his weakness by capitulating. That was the nature of the war between them: no quarter on either side, ever, no paltry things like sentiment or need. Now everything was different. It was John, and Mycroft was clearly incapable of making sure he was safe. It was up to Sherlock, even if his definition of safe was somewhat different than Mycroft's.
Mycroft must've seen something in his expression that satisfied him, for he nodded once and got up. "It's late, and you have lessons in the morning. I think it's time for bed. John, I would like to speak to you for a moment. Alone."
Sherlock looked at him in surprise, but Mycroft just waved him away.
Not far away, of course. If Mycroft thought Sherlock was going to truly leave him alone with John then he'd actually gone mad. He stopped just outside the door, leaning against the wall.
"I really am sorry about –" he heard John start.
"I know," Mycroft said. He sounded very tired all of a sudden. "Sherlock will always be Sherlock. I was hoping that you might be enough to keep him from the worst of his impulses, but I fear there is no one who can do that. You definitely shouldn't feel guilty." There was the sound of him pouring himself another drink. "Miss Hooper tells me your bonding contract is nearly finished."
"Yes, I think so. We've got through most of the hard bits. Did you want to read it now? Or...?"
"There's no rush. I know we haven't managed to have a proper discussion about things... about anything, really, and that's my fault. I thought that it would be best to leave you alone while you worked on the contract and not influence you too much. You should know that I am fully prepared to give you whatever you want, John. If that means staying here, or not, or traveling... whatever your needs are, I will do my utmost to have them met. I promise you that." He hesitated, and Sherlock frowned. "My brother was under the strong impression that you'd like heat suppressants. Is that correct?"
"Yes," John said quietly. "At least for a few years. I'd like to finish my education."
"Of course. I'll arrange to have some delivered to Sherlock – I don't imagine he'll let you take anything that he hasn't personally inspected, so it's best to just save ourselves some time and give them to him directly."
John chuckled. "You know him pretty well."
"I certainly hope so. I would say that my brother and I know each other better than anyone, possibly better than anyone else ever could. It's why we dislike each other so profoundly."
"You don't really dislike each other, do you?"
"I'm sure Sherlock would tell you that we hate each other. Even when our parents were alive we were always at odds. Once I became his guardian, that was the final straw, as far as he was concerned."
"But he doesn't hate you," John said confidently. "And you don't hate him."
"Of course not. You're family."
"If only it were that simple."
"It can be; you're just too stubborn to realize. You're a lot alike."
Mycroft snorted. "That's the worst part. Neither of us want to admit that. Are you settling in all right? Is there anything you want?"
"I don't think there's anything I want. I like it here. I like spending time with Sherlock."
"You must be the only person who does."
"I really would like to stay here, if… if it's at all possible."
Mycroft sighed. "I know. And you are a good influence, I think, just not enough of one. I've run out of guesses of what Sherlock needs. I don't imagine anymore that I can provide it. You might be able to. You might be the only one who can, but I don't kid myself that even you can control his darker impulses." There was the sound of Mycroft's glass being put onto the table. "It's late. You should probably go to sleep. I'm sure tomorrow will bring its own issues."
"Good night, Mycroft. Sleep well."
Sherlock slipped up the stairs before John could catch him eavesdropping.
Sherlock didn't go to bed, as it happened. He stayed up the rest of the night compiling lists of doctors and clinics in London who treated omegas. It didn't make any sense at all for Gardner to be an isolated case; for there to be a real impact, there had to be dozens of doctors giving out the pills. Of course, such a thing could hardly be kept under wraps for any length of time at all. People always talked, even when they knew the risk it brought on themselves. They seemed incapable of not talking. Look at that Emma Starning, telling a complete stranger all about her pills.
He rubbed his eyes and considered. Surely whoever was behind this would've thought of such a thing. Usually talking was explicitly warned against with a set punishment – "if you ever tell anyone about this, you'll never get pills again." But that didn't appear to be what was happening. Emma had told John everything without batting an eye; she hadn't been concerned about her pill supply drying up as a result of it. Moreover, Lestrade had been able to get pills using Emma's name – he had been rewarded for her divulgence, instead of denied. That made no sense at all, unless… unless the whole point was to get people to talk.
That couldn't be right.
Frowning, Sherlock opened a new search window and looked up any professional complaints against Gardner.
It was several hours later and he was playing the violin in a fog of thought when he saw John step into the room out of the corner of his eye.
John smiled apologetically. "I didn't mean to interrupt. I brought you some tea, since you missed breakfast."
"Thank you." Sherlock put down the instrument carefully and stretched out his left arm and neck. Somehow he'd been playing long enough for them to get stiff and hadn't even realized.
"Didn't you sleep at all? I thought I heard you before dawn this morning."
"I didn't need to sleep, I needed to think, and the playing helps me think. There's something soothing in the music, the mechanical movements… but it only helps to a certain point. There's just too much about this case I still don't know, too many pieces missing. Even playing doesn't seem to help," he said despairingly.
"This case?" John asked sharply. "You mean the case we unequivocally told Mycroft we would leave in his hands last night?"
"You told him –"
"Sherlock." John held up a hand. "Don't you dare."
Sherlock sighed, taking up the cup of tea that John had placed on his bureau. "You don't understand how hard it is for me," he complained.
"To just leave something alone? I'm getting an idea."
"This isn't just something, John. This isn't just another case for the Met – this is the case! Something I can really sink my teeth into. Something that isn't entirely obvious. This is the case I've been waiting for ever since I started calling tips in to Crimestoppers when I was nine. This is everything I've ever wanted, and Mycroft is telling me I can't investigate. Fine. There's nothing to stop me thinking about it, though, is there?"
"I'm telling you that you can't investigate, too," John pointed out. "But I don't suppose I have any issue with you treating it as – as an intellectual exercise, or however you think of it, but that's all you're going to do. Right? It's too dangerous otherwise. For both of us, if you remember. It's not worth dying for, Sherlock."
"No one said anything about dying," Sherlock muttered.
"None of us knows what Gardner might do. Dying seems perfectly possible."
"Gardner's nothing; the patsy, I suppose, if you want to be technical. He was just the end of the chain, he and all the doctors like him. We need to follow that chain until it comes to whomever is actually in charge of this operation."
"I, then," Sherlock said sullenly. "You don't have to help."
"Of course I want to help. You know that. I'm just not sure I can. Not all of us are as brilliant as you."
"Obviously," Sherlock said with a shrug. "Still, I find you contribute the most by letting me talk to you."
John smiled at that, sitting cross-legged on Sherlock's bed. "You can always do that, so long as it doesn't involve leaving the house."
"It doesn't have to, I suppose, though you can't think I would ever let anything happen to you."
"I don't think you can stop it, Sherlock. If someone like Moriarty is determined to get at me, I don't think there's much either of us can do about it. It's not that I don't trust you. Clearly I trust you, since I appear to be prepared to run into danger with you constantly." He grinned at Sherlock, and Sherlock couldn't help but grin back. "So, what have you come up with?"
Sherlock shook his head. "Not yet. I haven't been able to make anything coherent enough. I need to think about it a bit more."
"Did you want me to leave you alone to work it out?"
"No, it's all right. You can stay if you like. You're not much of a distraction."
"I don't know if that's a compliment or not."
"It's a statement of fact. I'd prefer it if you stayed silent, though."
John obediently went quiet, leaning back against Sherlock's heavy cherry headboard, as Sherlock began to play again.
Sherlock hadn't made any significant headway by the time Harry arrived and took his attention off the case entirely.
He'd never been quite so nervous about meeting someone. He was used to people not liking him, and had never cared what anyone thought. This was different. He wanted Harry to like him, needed her to, because she mattered to John, and John just… mattered.
He'd never been so worried about something so stupid before. He wondered if this was how other people were all the time.
When the bell went Sherlock and John were in the sitting room, John working on an assignment for his tutor and Sherlock on his laptop looking into industrial uses of pentachlorobiphenyl. John was up like a shot, patting down his hair and practically running for the door.
She was taller than John. That was hardly surprising; there probably weren't many people over the age of thirteen who weren't. She had John's eyes, and his smile, though it was missing a vital piece of John's essential sweetness. She seemed to take in most of the world at a glance and find it wanting. Something about her immediately put Sherlock on his guard.
By the time Sherlock stepped into the foyer she and John had finished hugging and Harry was looking over her brother with a critical eye.
"You really are bonded."
"I told you I was," John said, flushing.
"I know. You just – it happened so fast. I was worried."
"You shouldn't be worried. I'm fine. See? I've got all my limbs and everything."
"Is that what fine means: no bleeding from the eyes?"
"In the exciting life I lead, it often does," John told her, and although she laughed, Sherlock could tell he was only partly joking.
Harry turned her attention to Sherlock, raising an eyebrow.
"Harry, this is Sherlock Holmes," John said dutifully. "Sherlock, this is my sister."
He shook her hand readily, both of them openly studying each other.
"My brother talks about you all the time," Harry told him with more than a hint of challenge.
"I'm sure he does. We spend a significant amount of time together."
"Is that so?"
"Sherlock and I are mates," John explained. "And I don't talk about him all the time."
Harry snorted derisively. "At least half your texts start 'Sherlock thinks…' or "'Sherlock said…' or 'Today Sherlock and I…' When you told me you'd been bonded I thought it must've been with him."
"Sherlock's not a big fan of bonding," John said, shooting Sherlock a smile. "And he's only twelve."
"Am I going to get to meet Mycroft?"
"Not this trip, I'm afraid. He's a bit busy with work today." John managed to look suitably disappointed. "He was really unhappy about that, but he's working on a big… thing right now. Next time you will, definitely. Do you want to start with a tour of the house? Then we can have lunch and talk." John was nervous about the talk, Sherlock could read it all over his face. He didn't think Harry could, and that made a warm flutter in his stomach. Harry might've known John all his life, but Sherlock already knew him better. That had to mean something.
Sherlock retreated to his room while John showed her about the house. They had agreed that after the tour John would serve tea and tell her the truth about his bonding, and that Sherlock should probably not be there for that bit, if – when – Harry got upset. It couldn't be easy to hear about your brother being force bonded at gunpoint, and John seemed to think Sherlock wouldn't be much help in comforting her.
He was probably right, but that didn't mean Sherlock enjoyed being banished, especially when he knew John was under stress.
He peered down the eyepiece of his microscope, ostensibly studying the fractal patterns of fungal colonies while he strained to listen to the faint sound of voices from the sitting room. He sat up when they got a lot less faint and turned to yelling.
He sat uncertainly until he heard the front door slam and John's quick feet on the stairs.
After waiting what he considered a decent interval, Sherlock pushed open the door to John's room and slipped inside. John was a lump under his bedclothes, which surprised him.
"What are you doing?"
"Sulking," John said without moving. "You wouldn't recognize it because my method isn't as violent as yours."
Sherlock sat at the edge of his bed and prodded John with a finger. "Why?"
"Because Harry and I had a row, and she's cross with me."
"What did you row about?" Sherlock had a feeling he knew perfectly well what it was about.
John sighed, which only confirmed his suspicions. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Was it about Mycroft?" Sherlock pressed.
John hesitated. "It was about my bonding in general. Harry had a few rather harsh opinions about… things… that I took exception to, and it rather of escalated from there."
"And now she's cross with you."
"I'm cross with her, too, but hardly anyone knows when I'm cross with them. I suppose it doesn't matter much."
"You're not very good at being cross, then. Everyone always knows when I'm cross."
John snorted. "I've noticed. I'm terrified you'll be cross with me someday and bite my head off."
"I can't imagine being cross with you," Sherlock said honestly. "You're far too accommodating."
"Wait until you get to know me better. Believe me, I have my moments the same as anyone else."
Sherlock made a disbelieving noise. "Does being under the blankets help?"
John turned over to look at him. "Help me be cross, or help me feel better?"
"It's supposed to make me feel better, but it's not doing a particularly good job at the moment."
"Why would getting into bed have any effect on your mood? You're too cross to sleep."
John smiled. "It's a holdover from childhood. When we were pretty young, Harry and I used to get into her bed and pull the covers over our heads when our parents fought. It created our own little world, and we would talk and tell stories until they stopped. It just… it helped. So I still do it."
"Is it helping now?"
"Not really," John admitted. "I might be too old to wish my problems away."
Sherlock looked skeptically at the bedclothes. "I should think so," he said.
"I forgot I was talking to someone who had a childhood devoid of fantasy on any level," John said, but he was still smiling.
"That's not true," Sherlock protested. "I believed in the Loch Ness Monster until I was three. I believed in God until I was five. I wanted to be a pirate until Mycroft convinced me it wasn't sensible."
"Well, come on, then," John said, and pushed Sherlock off the bed so he could pull the covers up, leaving an inviting gap.
Sherlock blinked at him.
"Come on," John repeated.
Sherlock kicked off his shoes and climbed into bed, pulling the sheets up over both of their heads.
They were both quiet for a long moment, but he was very conscious of John breathing in the dark beside him.
"Do you feel any better about anything?" John asked finally.
John pushed the sheet off them both and sat up. "I suppose it only works when you're under ten," he said. "What did you do to feel better when you were little?"
"I would tell Mycroft everything bad that happened to me, and he would fix it."
John looked at him in surprise. "Really?"
Sherlock nodded jerkily. "Until our parents died. After that he was too busy to pay attention to me anymore."
"I'm sure he had a lot to deal with –"
"Not really. Our father's solicitor handled everything. Mycroft was miserable – we were both grieving, and it was horrible, of course, for both of us. I slept in his bed for a week, and we rather clung to each other, as you would expect bereaved children would." Sherlock pulled his knees to his chest and closed his eyes.
"And then what happened?"
"I don't know. I suspect that my brother's grief sickened him. It made him feel weak and utterly powerless in the face of his emotions. He never could stand that, you know. Control has always been Mycroft's true obsession. So he sought to control his grief. To shut it down. He did it quite well, and along the way decided that he'd had quite enough of all those other tedious emotions as well. All that sentiment. There is nothing more disgusting to him. One day we were two children clinging to each other, and the next I was all alone in my grief, and my brother could barely stand to look at me. I've hated him ever since."
"I'm sure that didn't mean he didn't care, Sherlock," John said softly. "I know he cares about you. The way he worries –"
"He worries about you. Last night he was upset because I led you into danger. You're his bondmate, and he feels an obligation to look after you. It's nothing to do with me."
"You have to know that's not true. He's your brother. Even if he doesn't show much affection, I'm sure he feels it."
Sherlock snorted. "He's incapable of feeling anything of the sort. You place a ridiculous amount of faith in familial ties. Interesting, considering you're hiding in your bed because you've had a row with your sister."
"Harry and I row because we care about each other. We're both just far too stubborn to see reason, most of the time."
"Please. As if either of you could remotely be called stubborn."
"Meeting you has broadened my definition a bit," John allowed. "But my point stands. You and Mycroft row as well, and for the same reason, I'd wager. You don't get that upset unless you really love someone."
"Hatred will do it."
"I don't believe for a second that your brother hates you. Nor do I believe that you hate him, not deep down."
"Then you're an idiot."
"Always a possibility, but I still think I'm right."
"Idiots always do. Just ask Lestrade."
"Greg is not an idiot, unless you're referring to the way he's put up with you for years now and not strangled you. I'm sure he could make it look like an accident."
"Yes," Sherlock said darkly, "of course you'd defend him. You two certainly seemed to hit it off. I'm sure he'd love to give you driving lessons."
John abruptly burst out laughing. "I know that you're a bit different than most people, Sherlock, but this is a new one. Do you honestly think we were flirting? That a bonded omega and a beta who've just met are going to try to chat each other up? Do you even hear yourself?"
"By that logic, anything's possible. It's not bloody likely, though, is it?"
"Probably not," Sherlock admitted. "He did seem extremely keen on getting to know you. It was odd."
"It doesn't mean he fancies me. I'm someone in your life; he's probably just curious. Thinks I must be mad for spending time with you, is checking for signs of severe head trauma, that sort of thing."
Sherlock turned to look at John intently. "Do you think you will, then?"
"Do I think I will what?"
"Flirt with someone? Not a beta, obviously, but someone real. Form a second bond, even? A proper one, one that you've chosen? Considering the fact of your forced bonding, you'd be within your rights to ask for the opportunity."
John frowned at him. "It's not very fair to the second bondmate, is it? The first bond will always supersede it."
Sherlock scoffed. "Do you think most alphas would care about that? You'd be a prize either way."
"Yes, a very slightly used bit of stuff. Thank you for reminding me."
"That's a 'no', then?"
"Considering how poorly my first bonding has gone, I'd say it's definitely a no. I told you I don't know what I'll want in the future, but at the moment what I would like the most is if Mycroft and I could be friends. Real friends, not just overly-polite strangers who share the same house. That's what I want. I don't think it's too much to ask, but considering everything that's going on, perhaps it is. A second bondmate would only complicate things, and I have no cause, anyway. Mycroft's been brilliant. He's given me a place to live and tutors and everything I've asked for. Even suppressants."
"He's been brilliant, has he?" Sherlock asked scornfully. "Threatening to send you away, that was brilliant?"
"He only did that for my own good. He thinks you're a bad influence. You know, if I weren't bonded to Mycroft I wouldn't be here right now. If I had just gone back to the safehouse after we left Greg's flat that night I would have gotten a very firm talking to from Sally or Brian and then have continued the second interviews in the morning. I would've ended up choosing one of those morons you're so contemptuous of to bond with, because they were the only choice I had. I would never have been allowed by my new bondmate to see you again, since you're a competing alpha."
"I would've found a way to see you."
"Sherlock, you couldn't have. If my alpha forbade it, and it was written into the contract that I wouldn't see other alphas – a pretty standard clause – that would've been it."
"Don't be ridiculous. You would have fought to see me. You would have made sure there was a provision –"
John was quiet. "I doubt it," he told him. "I barely knew you. You were just a mad child who dragged me to London in the middle of the night. I wouldn't have fought for you, Sherlock. I'm sorry."
"I wouldn't have let you go that easily," Sherlock declared mulishly. "I would have fought."
"You would've let me go if I'd told you to. If that was my choice. I'd like to think that you would respect that."
"You would've regretted it. I couldn't have let you do something so stupid."
"What about now?" Sherlock demanded. "What if Mycroft tries to move you into your own flat now? Is there a provision in that bonding contract you've been working on about me?"
"There isn't," John said thoughtfully. "Until yesterday it didn't occur to me that Mycroft would separate us. Not until you're old enough to be bonded, anyway."
"I'm not going to bond. I told you."
"And I told you that you might change your mind, when you get older. You might want to hold off on any sweeping declarations until then."
"I don't see why I should. The whole business is far too tedious."
"Well, it's generally meant to be easier than Mycroft and I are making it look like, you know."
"I have no desire for children or to spend several days every two months rutting until my cock is bruised. There's nothing remotely appealing in any of it."
"That's not all bonding is, Sherlock," John insisted. "The main bit of it, the part they never talk about, is the whole feeling of having a mate. It's like you're this half person, and then one day you're made whole. And even if it's a total stranger or someone you hate, that doesn't even matter. The important bit is that you'll never be alone again. You belong to someone, and they belong to you. Not in a love way, obviously, but just… someone to depend on. You're not alone. I don't know that I can describe it any better than that."
Sherlock took a deep breath. He'd never considered that aspect of bonding before. For the first time, it almost seemed somewhat attractive. The idea of not being alone ever again… but that was ridiculous. Harry Watson's reaction to him was typical. It was extremely unlikely that he'd meet someone he'd be remotely content with, or who would be remotely content with him. The whole idea was absurd.
"Is that how you feel about Mycroft?"
"Yeah, of course. We're still strangers, and that's difficult, but just knowing he's there is comforting. I suppose it's what people with normal families probably feel all the time."
"You have Harry," Sherlock pointed out.
"I do," John agreed. "I love her fiercely, too, despite all the rowing. I know I can always depend on her to fight like a lion if I'm in trouble, and to at least try to understand, even when it's difficult. That's the important thing, isn't it?" He sighed. "I suppose I should text her."
"I thought you were cross."
"I was." John smiled. "I suppose being under the bedclothes really has helped after all."
"Do you really think so?"
"Or maybe it was the company," he allowed. He grinned at Sherlock. "Thank you."
Sherlock swallowed hard. "The bedclothes did all the work," he said quietly.
"But you helped. I promise to do the same, the next time you're sulking and out of sorts. So in an hour or so?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sherlock sniffed. "I'm hardly ever cross when I'm working on a case."
"Right. I'll bring you some Jammie Dodgers as well, shall I?"
"And tea," Sherlock told him.
"And tea," John promised. "As if I'd ever forget the tea."
Sherlock handed him his phone from the bedside table and hopped out of the bed. "Make sure you mention that you were cross. You shouldn't just let her get away with thinking you weren't."
"Bit rich, coming from you."
"That's different," Sherlock said.
"Oh, of course. I'd forgotten that you, Sherlock Holmes, are the exception to every rule."
Sherlock just rolled his eyes as he left the room.
Sherlock intercepted his brother at breakfast the next morning. Mycroft raised an eyebrow when he saw him at the table, and Sherlock scowled when Mycroft and John shared a smile that he was perfectly aware was about him. They had been talking, probably planning some way to force him to eat more. John in particular seemed to worry unduly about his eating habits. He expected nothing less than plotting and manipulation from Mycroft, but it annoyed him that his brother would involve John.
It annoyed him that his brother had anything to do with John at all.
"What have you found on Gardner?" he demanded.
"Good morning to you, too," Mycroft replied, leisurely stirring his coffee. He'd given up toast again, Sherlock noted with satisfaction.
"Tea?" John asked, handing Sherlock a cup without waiting for an answer.
Sherlock obediently took a sip before he set it aside. He wasn't going to let himself be distracted before he'd forced Mycroft to talk to him.
"You've been talking to Lestrade. What has he turned up?"
"Toast?" John asked, handing him toast smeared with jam. Sherlock frowned at the jam but took a bite anyway, his eyes never leaving Mycroft's face.
"Has he found other doctors? Other pills?"
Mycroft sighed wearily. "Although I appreciate the interest, Sherlock, I thought we'd agreed that you wouldn't be involved in this investigation. While John may believe you can help this case without leaving the house, I know you better. You can't do anything in moderation, and you can't convince me that this time will be different."
Sherlock scoffed at that. "As if you knew the first thing about me."
"He can do this," John said quietly. He looked at Mycroft pleadingly. "It means so much to him."
Mycroft frowned at Sherlock, as if he had done something to make John take his side. He tried to stamp out the vicious thrill it gave him.
"Gregory has turned up a few leads, and the Taskforce has turned up a few more," Mycroft admitted reluctantly. "There have been some enquiries made about where the pills may have been produced on a large scale–"
"–Domestic production is unlikely but not impossible, and if they have been coming from overseas, how have they been getting past customs?" Sherlock mused.
Mycroft nodded. "Indeed. If, as we suspect, this is a large operation, there would have to be some trace of the pills being either produced or shipped. Our own labs have already been under scrutiny, and we're reasonably sure our chemists haven't been up to anything on the side."
"Your surveillance has always been substandard," Sherlock argued. "It would be far too easy to outwit your investigators."
"Nevertheless, we're confident in our findings," Mycroft told him shortly.
"If we can't find the pills, we need to find the doctors," John cut in, "and stop them."
"We need to find out what they know, more like." Sherlock took another sip of his tea. "Someone must know something. Not what the pills actually are, but where they come from, or some mid-level delivery or contact person. No one higher in the chain then that, I shouldn't think. I doubt that the mastermind of this particular plan has put themselves at any risk whatsoever. They would never be that stupid."
"As I said, we've been following a few scattered leads to doctors, extrapolating from the characteristics of Gardner's office."
"There have to be more than a few."
"Well, we've turned up a few, Sherlock. Might I remind you that we have limited resources at our disposal? Especially as we're trying to keep rumors from spreading about this very issue. You'll have to be patient."
"You should be looking at medical staff who have had a series of professional complaints filed against them. Who else would risk everything to give illegal suppressants to omegas?"
"You think the doctors were desperate?" John asked.
"Perhaps giving out the pills was the only way they could keep their jobs."
"Maybe they honestly thought they were helping the omegas," John suggested.
"Beta doctors have no reason to care about omegas," Sherlock said dismissively.
"They do if they're human," John pointed out. "Relations aren't not always as black and white as you think, Sherlock."
"Betas have no real reason to risk their lives to help omegas, John, that's a fact. They don't benefit the same way that alphas would. It makes no sense at all."
"Maybe not to you," John sighed.
Sherlock ignored him. "You need to focus your efforts," he told Mycroft. "Finding out where the pills are coming from would give us far more information than any of the doctors."
"Yes, Sherlock, I'm aware. We do know how to handle an investigation of this magnitude, you know." Mycroft's tone was sharp.
"Obviously not, or you would have made more progress by now."
John put a warning hand on his arm and Sherlock swallowed the rest of what he'd been planning to snap at his brother.
"I would appreciate it if you would keep me in the loop," Sherlock said, his tone deliberately mild. "Otherwise I'll just ask Lestrade."
Mycroft eyed him skeptically. "I will see what I can manage," he told him.
Sherlock knew him well enough to realize that was the most he was going to get. When Mycroft was determined to be difficult he was impossible for Sherlock to unravel. He stomped up to his room and slammed the door behind him. He did, at least, bring his tea. John would be happy.
Sherlock had never been good at being patient.
He drummed his fingers on the desk, trying to decide which line of inquiry would be the most useful. If the pills were being produced in the country, what facility could possibly do so? And, more importantly, where were they getting the chemical components? That would be the easiest thing to trace.
He was still going up one blind internet search alley after another when there was a quiet tap on the door.
"I brought you another slice of toast," John said, holding up the plate.
Sherlock sighed without looking up. "I wish I knew a hacker. You're not any good with computers, are you? No, of course not."
"I'm surprised you're not good at that sort of thing as well as everything else."
"I can't be good at everything," Sherlock complained. "I need to focus on certain things, and hacking has never been one of them. It's better left to real experts."
"Probably for the best, anyway," John admitted. "You have access to too much data as it is."
"There's no such thing."
"Of course you'd say that. What are you trying to hack into?"
"Corporations that do a lot of shipping."
"Well, that doesn't narrow it down much, does it?"
"Corporations that do a lot of shipping of certain items. I have a few ideas, but most of them hinge on finding characteristics to the shipping logs that I clearly can't access. If I could talk to someone there…"
"You know you can't," John said firmly. "Find another way."
Sherlock went back to drumming his fingers. Finally he closed his laptop with a satisfying bang.
"You really shouldn't take your frustration out on your electronics," John told him.
"There's nothing to be done. I need to go back to Bart's."
"I promised Mycroft –"
"I'm only going to Bart's," Sherlock protested. "I need to examine the pill bottle. It's most likely made in China, but there might be something about it that will give us a clue. Something. Anything."
"I said I wouldn't let you out of my sight," John reminded him.
"I'm hardly going to be breaking into any offices. I won't be in any danger."
John reluctantly nodded. "Tell Mycroft where you're going. And promise you'll be careful, all right?"
"I'm always careful," Sherlock shrugged, which somehow didn't seem to make John any less worried.
Being frustrated at Bart's was slightly better than being frustrated at home, though not by much.
The pill bottle had proved less helpful than he had hoped. Entirely generic, even the fingerprints had been smudged off, which was partly his own fault.
Still, it always felt better to blame someone else. Mycroft was always an excellent target.
Frustrated, he sealed the pill bottle back into the clear evidence bag he'd gotten it in from Lestrade. It wasn't going to tell him anything he didn't already know. It was incredibly annoying.
He left Bart's and stood indecisively out front for a moment, trying to decide what to do next. He'd sworn to John that he'd come directly home as soon as his experiments were done, but the thought of admitting that he hadn't found anything, to John of all people, rankled immensely. He liked it – loved it – when John looked at him as if Sherlock were the most brilliant person he'd ever met. Admitting he had failed to Mycroft was bad enough; admitting it to John was nearly unthinkable.
There were just a few leads he'd like to check out, and unless they paid off spectacularly, neither John nor Mycroft would ever have to know he'd done it. It would be easy.
He'd put his hand up for a cab when a familiar voice spoke up behind him.
"I'm surprised you're out and about on your own."
Sherlock whirled around in surprise and came face-to-face with Moriarty, who was leaning nonchalantly against the side of the hospital, wearing sunglasses and a pinstriped suit. He was holding an open newspaper.
"I rather thought you and your little omega friend were just about inseparable," Moriarty went on. "I hope you haven't had a row. Young love does seem to burn brightly."
Sherlock gaped at him. "You…"
Moriarty folded the paper smartly. "It's time to make things happen, I'm afraid. Tell your brother I'm ready to chat."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "He won't meet with you."
"I didn't think it would be easy. When are you going to learn, young Mr. Holmes, that I'm always one step ahead of you?" Moriarty smirked. "I arranged to get my hands on a little leverage about an hour ago. I'm sure your brother won't want him back missing any parts."
Sherlock felt panic blossom in his chest. "What did you do to John?" he demanded, taking several steps toward Moriarty without even thinking about it. "Don't you dare hurt him!"
Moriarty chuckled. "You have a lot to learn, apparently. I really expected better." He stepped past Sherlock and opened the door of a waiting car. "Tell your brother to meet me in the same place we met last time. Midnight tonight. I like a bit of symmetry, don't you? And to come alone, of course. Surely he's smart enough to know that." He gave Sherlock a grin. "Ciao, Mr. Holmes."
Sherlock watched the car pull away, noting the license number absently. He hardly expected it to matter; Moriarty would have planned for that, surely. He felt completely numb. Moriarty had John. Again. If he could just…
As soon as the car pulled into traffic Sherlock had his phone in his hand. He fully expected to get voice mail.
"You answered," Sherlock said, surprised for the second time. He was so relieved he felt dizzy. "They let you keep your phone?"
There was a pause. "What are you talking about? What's going on?"
"You're at home?"
"Of course I am."
Sherlock thought fast. "Is Mycroft still there?"
"No, he left for the office hours ago. Why?"
"I have to go."
He disconnected without a second thought.
"What have you done?" Mycroft asked as soon as he answered.
"I saw Moriarty," Sherlock said quickly. "He wants to meet with you tonight. He said he had John, but John's fine. He was playing with me."
He heard Mycroft catch his breath. "What, exactly, did he say?"
"That he had leverage to make you come, and that you wouldn't want him back in pieces. But obviously–"
"He has Gregory," Mycroft said shortly, and hung up.
Sherlock was left staring at his phone in the middle of the street.