Sherlock lay on the couch, eyes clenched shut, listening to John making tea in the kitchen. There was a soft 'tink' as a spoon landed in the sink. Sherlock flinched. "Be quiet," he pleaded. "I have a headache."
John emerged from the kitchen with a single cup of tea. "Yes, that would be the hang-over from the inhibitors you used yesterday, instead of letting me ground your senses," he said as he settled into his armchair.
The general miasma of John's unhappiness that had perfumed the flat recently was augmented by a fresh waft of his aggravation, like the brush of a thistle.
Sherlock opened his eyes and squinted up at his guide. "There was no time to call you onto the scene."
"No time? Sherlock, there's a reason why inhibitors are restricted! In the short-term they repress the senses, impair judgment, and cause the kind of rebound effect you're suffering from now."
Sherlock groaned and rolled over to face the back of the couch, where his own scent was strongest.
John leaned forward and continued in an intense whisper. "They are addictive. Prolonged use by sentinels can lead to uncontrollable sensory spikes, suppressed appetite, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, infertility, and a complete inability to form a stable bond with a guide."
"Ugh, I know all this," Sherlock growled into the back of the couch. "Mycroft made me fully, tediously aware of the negative effects of inhibitors years ago. Don't even pretend this is about the inhibitors. You've been in a mood for weeks."
John sat back in his chair. He took a sip of his tea and put the mug down on the side table. "Alright then," John said coolly. "If you want to talk about that, we can. What happened a few weeks ago, oh genius detective, that might have put me 'in a mood'."
Sherlock hunched in on himself.
"The O'Malley case," Sherlock finally muttered.
"The O'Malley case?" John asked in a cheerful tone completely at odds with his scent. "Which one was that? The data theft case? The strangler we caught? Oh no, I remember now," he said, voice dropping into a deeper, angry register. "That's the case where you slept with a nineteen year-old girl."
Sherlock flipped over to face his accuser. "She was an omega in heat, I'm an alpha; these things happen. It's a matter of biology."
"Yes," John said, nodding. "And that's why mated alphas don't put themselves in the position of spending the afternoon alone in a safe house with an omega who's going into heat."
"For God's sake John, I've already deleted the entire incident. This jealousy is ridiculous. She's no threat to you."
"I know," John said, springing up from his chair and pacing. "I know that. I probably wouldn't even care, if you could bring yourself to touch me outside of my heats, which are perhaps twice a year, at my age. And that's – that's just how you are. You've never pretended otherwise, not even while you were courting me. I said it was fine, and I meant it. But here I am," he said coming to a stop behind his armchair, hands anchored on the back of it, looking down at Sherlock. "In our home, three feet away from my mated alpha, from my bonded sentinel, all in one man, who is brilliant and gorgeous, like I've fallen into some romance novel, and I feel … lonely. Lonely and bloody useless. You don't even invite me to come with you on cases anymore."
"You distract me," Sherlock whispered, looking at John's shoulder rather than meeting his eyes, John's misery thick on his tongue.
"Distract you? How, by breathing? I don't say a –"
"Yes, by breathing," Sherlock snarled, sitting up on the couch and glaring at him. "Your breathing, and the beat of your heart, and your scent on the air. I can't filter them out, not even at a crime scene," he said, tugging on his hair. "You distract me, and when I am distracted I cannot think, and when I cannot think I cannot work!"
"Oh," said John, taking a half-step back, breathless as if he'd taken a hard punch to the solar plexus. "I … I didn't realize."
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said anxiously.
"No, you have nothing to be sorry for," John said, scent sick, voice rough and uneven. "It's the truth. You should never apologize for telling the truth. Your guide is meant to help you with your senses, with your work and I'm … well. It turns out I'm worse than useless, aren't I?" John said with a queasy smile.
"I'm going to go stay with Harry for a few days," John interrupted him, turning to limp towards their bedroom. "Some time apart; we can both think things through. Best you don't call or text. Unless you have trouble with your senses, of course, you can call if you need me-"
"I need you," Sherlock said instantly, bounding up from the couch and over the coffee table to stand between John and their bedroom, where he would pack a few things and disappear. "I need you right now. I need you always. Don't break our bond, please, John."
Sherlock corralled John with his body, long arms around his mate's compact shoulders. His face crumpled when John leaned helplessly into his touch. He turned John away from the bedroom, guiding him back towards his chair, and sat him down in it.
Sherlock dropped to the floor, to his knees as he had when he'd asked John to bond with him, penning John in the chair, ruthlessly using John's instincts to fight for this chance. "I know that there are dozens, probably hundreds of sentinels you could bond with who would give you … more. Give you what you need. But you are the only guide for me, John Watson."
John had closed his eyes and was shaking his head. He smelled angry and hopeless, the combination wretched at the back of Sherlock's throat.
"Mycroft," Sherlock hissed. "Mycroft told you I was bonded once before, didn't he?"
John opened his eyes. "Yes, he said – for a few months, at university."
"His name was Victor Trevor," Sherlock volunteered. "He was clever, a strong guide, and he smelled magnificent."
"You should look him up." John muttered, trying to push Sherlock's hands off of his knees so he could stand up and get away.
"No. Listen," Sherlock said, fingers digging in with bruising force. "Victor was the first guide I had ever met, other than Mycroft, who could tolerate me. When I grounded my senses on him they were clear and powerful in a way I had never experienced. It was exhilarating. I grew ... needy. I would interrupt his sleep, his classes, his dates with my demands. He soon tired of it and encouraged me to use inhibitors between our scheduled grounding sessions."
John placed his hands over Sherlock's and squeezed them gently. His scent was smoother now, soothing, taunting Sherlock with a promise that could not be fulfilled.
"After Victor found another sentinel he preferred, I began to rely on inhibitors to function. I used them as needed, then daily, in ever-increasing doses. Mycroft had me in and out of rehab for some time before I finally gave them up."
Sherlock stood up and walked to his chair. He sat down in it stiffly, crossing one leg over the other. "By that point the damage was done. What was that list of long-term effects?" he said, face and voice impassive. "Uncontrollable sensory spikes, suppressed appetite, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction –"
"Christ, Sherlock –"
"Infertility, and an inability to form a stable bond with a guide," Sherlock concluded. "I wouldn't blame you, if you wanted out. However. If you are willing, you may be able to fix it. Fix me."
"Fix you?" John scoffed. "Sherlock, you don't need fixing. I don't care what your unbearable prat of a brother says. I have never, ever wished that you were 'normal'."
"Not normal, no. But this is not how I'm meant to be, John. Before the inhibitors, I bonded easily with Victor. He wasn't truly compatible with me in the way you are. I didn't … feel for him, the way I do for you. But that empathic bond was complete in a way ours is not. I want to feel you in my mind, John. I want to respond to you physically as your sentinel, and sexually as your alpha, in the way you deserve."
It took John a moment to answer. "I want that too, Sherlock. But the effects of those inhibitors, they are real and, based on all of the literature, they are permanent."
"Yes, there are permanent changes to the neuro-chemistry of the brain. Mycroft has had a classified research group looking into it for over a decade. The effects can be significantly ameliorated by a sufficiently powerful guide. A type of empathic surgery, as it were."
John sat carefully upright. "You haven't attempted the treatment?"
Sherlock shrugged. "The results are mixed. There is a chance of cognitive impairment; I wasn't about to let Mycroft or any of his pet guides muck about in my mind. It is all I have. Yet I believe, if you were willing to make the attempt, you would succeed. You have an exceptional empathic gift. You are more powerful than you ever revealed to the assessors in the Tower. More powerful than Mycroft."
John's expressive face was unreadable. "What makes you say that?"
Sherlock grinned, excited to finally share this with John. "Mycroft doesn't know because he trusts the evidence of his own empathy, and you've shielded yourself from him. But I've made dozens of observations over the course of our time together. Allow me to begin with the first. Jefferson Hope. He was a gifted, unregistered empath; skilled enough to overwhelm my defences and force me to participate in my own murder. He didn't die of a conveniently-timed aneurysm. He was the target of an empathic attack across an impossible distance, from another building, when he couldn't even see the guide that assaulted him. He died of terror, John."
John's eyes were hard. "Appropriate, since that’s exactly what I felt when I saw what he was doing to you."
"The concierge in the Laslett Hotel last week, sleeping straight through the alarms set off during our break-in. Moran dropping his rifle when he had me in his sights. You spoke no more than a dozen words to Sir Savile outside that press conference before he went off-script and confessed to abusing those children. He committed suicide a week later."
"That part wasn't me," John protested. "I'm not a monster, Sherlock. I would never make you do anything against your will."
"No, of course not, you've a strong moral compass. You wouldn't be forcing me into anything. I give you my full, informed consent. I've observed the A&E when you're on shift. Children stop crying as they enter. Patients' pain levels decrease. You help people, John. Help me."
Sherlock listened to John's heart as he waited for an answer. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
"Get me Mycroft's research," John said. "I'll read through it, and if the risks are reasonable – I'll try."
Sherlock leapt from his seat and pulled out his phone, frantically texting. "I'll tell Mycroft I've admitted to my inhibitor abuse and that you've threatened to leave me if I can't form a proper bond. He won't miss an opportunity to try to get you on-side, to talk me into accepting his treatment. You won't regret this."
"God, I hope not," said John with a sigh.