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John is sharing these woods with an omega.

He has not seen them, but he’s scented them. And he’s found evidence of where they’ve been: abandoned traps, tracks, and so on. If the creatures could smell or see, the omega would be dead by now. No doubt the omega has scented him too. John wonders if they are leaving these traces because they want him to find them or because they’re just that bad at hiding.

It’s a month before he finally lays eyes on the omega. He’d seen no trace of anyone else for days, and then one day he’s walking near a place where he knows there’s a small cave of sorts, just a shelter underneath some stones, and he smells it, smells him: omega in heat.

John has to clench his fists and breathe through his mouth to keep himself from running towards the source. Turn off that part of his alpha brain and turn on the human brain, the one that knows there’s someone in distress and in need of help.

In the end, he does follow his nose. The scent is stronger as he gets closer, until John takes a scarf out of his pack and ties it over his face to muffle it. It doesn’t do much.

John finds him just where he suspected, in that little cave, lying on top of a sleeping bag and wearing a worn gray T-shirt and plaid pajama pants. He’s just about at the end of it, from the smell, but he’s sweating and red-faced and panting. His dark curls are sticking to his pale skin. John is struck again, not by the scent, but by how beautiful he is.

The omega opens his eyes and slants them towards John without turning his head. John nods in acknowledgement. The omega nods back. John lifts his hands.

“Can you understand me?” he signs.

The omega lets out a long, quiet sigh, his eyes drifting shut in an expression of indescribable relief.

“Yes. Get me some water,” he signs back.

———

They get to know each other over the days that follow. John teaches him how to make a fire log that burns silently. He learns that the omega’s name is Sherlock Holmes, and that he came from London.

“I lived in London once,” John signs. “Couldn’t afford it eventually.”

At that, Sherlock’s eyes light up. His hands move at such a speed that John can barely follow them. He tells John everything he can see about him, from his military service to his injury to his deaf sister.

“Amazing,” John tells him when he’s done, and Sherlock smiles for the first time that John has seen. He wants immediately to say it again, and see it again.

Sherlock is clever with traps. Apparently he read a book about them when he was younger, and was never able to fully “delete” the information. Upon learning what “deleting” is, John goes on a long tirade about how the human memory works. The next day, Sherlock does not remember a word of it.

Aside from each other, they do not encounter many people in the woods. They’re large woods. It was a forest park, once, before it was a human reserve. Those they do run into see steer clear. It’s not as if they can make small talk. John suspects there aren’t many people left, anyways. He’s only seen a handful since he abandoned the city, where there were so many dangers awaiting, potential sudden noises and accidents that could get someone killed.

They find remains. The creatures don’t always eat everything they find. Sometimes there are bits left behind.

One day, while checking the traps, John and Sherlock have one of their rare encounters with another person. It’s a young woman, maybe in her twenties, and she’s fallen down a steep hill. Her leg is extended and her ankle is broken, visibly twisted out of shape. She has her hands pressed to her mouth and is quietly sobbing.

John moves towards her and signs, “I’m a doctor.” The chances she knows British Sign are slim, but it’s worth a shot.

It doesn’t matter. She shakes her head frantically.

Sherlock, somehow, knows what she is going to do before John does, and has time to grab John’s arm and yank him back just as the woman takes her hands away from her mouth and screams.

John and Sherlock cannot run. At those close quarters, it would hear their footsteps. They can only turn away and flinch at the screaming, crunching, and sudden silence, followed by more crunching.

This time, the creatures don’t leave a single trace.

———

Sherlock, it transpires, has a plan.

“Of course you do,” John signs.

Sherlock chose this particular forest because the area was popular with people fleeing the cities in World War II. He suspects there are air raid shelters. Air raid shelters which might be soundproof.

The idea of having a place to hide, a safe place, a place where John can speak, is so sweet that John feels nearly dizzy with it. He nods.

They stick to the edge of the forest and start making their way around it, figuring that they can spiral their way inwards until they find what they’re looking for. For once, luck is on their side. They find it in eight days: a half-buried slab of concrete with a rusted iron door.

John would jump inside right away, but Sherlock is more sensible. He insists they find something to oil the hinges thoroughly with, so it doesn’t make any sound when it’s opened. John traps a few hares and melts down their fat. Sherlock painstakingly works it into every hinge, and they both hold their breath as he tries it.

It swings easily. They grin, jump inside, shut the door, and bolt it.

When it is closed, they turn to each other and smile.

“Hello, Sherlock,” John says aloud.

“Hello, John,” says Sherlock.

His voice is so deep that John jerks back in surprise and does a bad job hiding it. Sherlock’s mouth splits with a grin. Mostly just to hear what it sounds like, John laughs, which makes Sherlock laugh, and then they are both laughing, and the sound of it is like letting out a breath John has been holding for months.

———

It takes some time, but with excursions into local towns, they are able to furnish the little bunker. By the time they are done, they have a queen size mattress, a little table, two chairs, and a few gas lamps.

Sherlock also begins gathering books. He is delighted when he finds one on beekeeping.

“I’d like to keep bees,” he says wistfully as he pages through.

“Buzzing,” John says.

“Indoor bees.”

“Absolutely not.”

Now that they have a base of operations, they settle into a pattern. The daylight hours are for fishing, foraging, and managing their traps. Sherlock begins a little garden out front, and John gets quite knacky at cooking. They take their meals inside the shelter at their little table, where they also have conversations that stretch long into the night. After so much time in silence, it is as if they are both addicted to human sounds.

“What would you say,” Sherlock asks, over a meal of fish John caught from the stream in the forest and potatoes from Sherlock’s garden, “if you knew it would be the last thing you ever said?”

“Jesus,” John says. “Where did that come from?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it. We’re all living on the edge of death all the time these days.”

“I guess.” John considers. “Don’t know. When I was shot in Afghanistan it was ‘please, God, let me live,’ but those were different circumstances.”

Sherlock wrinkles up his nose. “Boring.”

From there, the discussion descends into something more like an argument.

———

John does not forget the risks they are taking. He remembers how he first came upon Sherlock. He knows what they are chancing.

“John,” Sherlock says one night, with quiet urgency, “if I ever put you in danger, if having me around is risking your life—”

“Which it won’t, and I’m not having this conversation.”

“This is important.”

“It’s moot, because it’s not going to happen,” John says. “I’ll get you to safety, and I won’t touch you.”

John doesn’t say how he plans on keeping himself from touching Sherlock. He very much expects that if he tells Sherlock that his plan is to throw him into the shelter and lock himself out, Sherlock will strenuously object.

What John does not expect is for Sherlock to say softly, “What if I want you to?”

John blinks. “Sorry?”

“What if I want you to touch me?” Sherlock repeats, more clearly but without making eye contact with John.

John’s heart flutters. “You’d trust me with that?” he says.

“John,” Sherlock says steadily, “I trust you with my life.”

From there, it is a matter of tracking the time.

A traditional calendar is little use to them. They know it’s sometime in late summer, but nothing else. Sherlock draws a grid up on a whiteboard they scavenge, numbers the squares, calculates the time he’s gone since his last heat, and starts marking off the days. There aren’t many.

In the time after their conversation, nothing obvious changes. It’s all little things, like Sherlock’s hand on John’s back as he’s cooking over the coals outside, or John telling Sherlock to “stay safe” as they’re splitting up to check traps. Sherlock rolls his eyes and responds with an “Obviously,” but he smiles, and John takes it to heart.

———

The circled date is a week away when they decide they’d better go on an expedition to gather supplies before they won’t be able to. Sherlock will check his traps. John will do some fishing. They’ll clean and salt what they catch. The garden has some time to go before it’s ready for harvesting, so that’s no concern of theirs just yet.

They leave the bunker at dawn after a breakfast of salted fish, rice, and the multivitamins John pilfered in bulk from a chemist’s. John splits off to go to the river, while Sherlock makes the rounds to his traps.

Sherlock’s breakfast sits uneasily in his stomach as he moves through the forest. He brushes this aside.

The traps are all filled with squirrels who died slowly, which Sherlock knows from experience will yield tough, nasty meat. Better than starvation, if not by much. He frees them and adds them to his sack. On the third one, he realizes his hands are shaking. Perhaps he is hungry? There is still that uneasy churning in his stomach. He takes some jerky from his pack and bites off a piece.

As soon as he starts to chew, Sherlock realizes the mistake he’s made and spits it out, but too late to stop the gag that’s rising up in his throat. He doubles over, clamps his hand over his mouth to smother the sound, and chokes it down. His stomach heaves, but he fights, and eventually he is able to take his hand off his mouth without fear.

Sherlock wipes at his face. It feels hot and damp, which is odd, because he feels suddenly cold, and his entire midsection is trembling. Had their breakfast gone bad? His stomach is churning, churning, and clenching—

Sherlock realizes what is happening the precise moment that it happens, when his insides tighten and spasm and he falls to his hands and knees. He squeezes his legs together and tries to breathe, breathe slowly and quietly—no, silently—as the seat of his pants goes damp.

When it’s over, Sherlock goes over sideways, curling in the fetal position in the grass near where his trap was. His pack feels heavy, his limbs and head feel heavy, and his cock feels heaviest of all, hard and aching in his pants. He is leaking into his clothes.

He wants to call out for John. He wants John. But John is by the river, and the river is an unthinkable mile from here, and they aren’t planning to rendezvous for another two hours. If Sherlock has to go two hours like this he will surely dissolve.

There is nothing else to it: Sherlock will have to get there.

The effort of rolling over onto his hands and knees again is herculean. His pack flops sideways off his shoulder, so he shucks it. The gamey squirrels will just have to be a treat for the vultures, because Sherlock cannot carry any surplus to his own body. Once on his hands and knees, he is forced to confront the reality that from here, he will have to actually get onto his feet . He wants to scream from the inhumanity of it all. He wants to scream for lack of a thick, hard cock splitting him open, filling the empty spaces inside of him. He cannot, must not, scream.

Sherlock rocks back and forth, trying to gather momentum, perhaps, or just trying to feel. On one swing forward he pulls one knee up, gets his foot down, and on the backward motion hoists himself up and onto both feet. He stumbles, staggers, but does not fall somehow.

Now, which way is it towards the stream? With a sliver of fear, Sherlock realizes he can no longer remember where he is. There are precious few landmarks here. He can find them in his clearheaded state, but as he is...he totters towards where he thinks he came from, changes his mind, goes the other way—but that’s where he just was, he can’t find John or safety that way.

He shuts his eyes and thinks.

It’s still mid-morning. They moved eastward away from the shelter. Sherlock went southeast while John went north, which means the sun should be—and John should be—

Sherlock gets to walking.

He cannot walk manually. Moving each leg is its own discrete task, repeated ad infinitum on both sides of his body. Once or twice he tries to step forward with the same leg he just used, and nearly falls. Falling will be the death of him. He will not be able to rise again. His head is spinning and he is pulsing with need.

Sherlock does not know how long he has been walking when he has to stop again to bend over and shake as need spirals through his core in a way he cannot ignore. He bites the inside of his cheek and presses both hands to his mouth. Oh, the sounds he would make if he could. Instead, he swallows them and holds them inside for later, when he is safe in the shelter and John is with him.

John.

Sherlock keeps walking.

Surely the sun rises higher in the sky, and surely Sherlock moves closer to his goal, but he cannot tell. Once he thinks he is beginning to hear the rushing water in the distance, but it is only the wind in the trees.

His knees are wobbling dangerously with every step. He’s wet down to his ankles now, dripping onto his bare feet. He’s leaving tracks in the dirt. Any human within a mile will be able to smell him. All he can do is hope that the right human does.

Then on one step, Sherlock’s toe catches on the ground. He stumbles, and just like that, his knees buckle and he goes down. He doesn’t hear if he made any noise. If he did, then he supposes he’ll just die here and now. Feels like he’s dying already. He wipes a hand over his face and heaves air in and out with long, shuddering breaths.

He mouths, “Please,” but does not let any sound escape. “Please.”

His clothes feel tight and constricting on his body. They fit him perfectly this morning, but now it is as if they are shrinking with every passing second. With trembling hands, Sherlock strips his damp T-shirt off over his head, fumbles at the button on his jeans, and pushes them down along with his pants. He rolls onto his back, presses his heels down into the ground, and arcs his back, relishing the cool air on his superheated skin. When he relaxes back onto the ground, he recognizes the clench as his body rejects his control and a shudder rolls through his abdomen.

Sherlock is spreading his legs and reaching down before he makes the conscious decision, reaching for where he is wet and hot and open and wanting with three fingers to stuff him full. It won’t be enough, but his every cell is screaming for satiation, and he cannot deny it any longer.

Then someone is seizing his hand to stop him and he almost shouts before he stops himself. He grabs at the arm that has him and struggles wildly until he realizes that whoever it is is also holding his shoulder and stroking softly, gently, and Sherlock looks at the face and is at ease.

John signs, “I smelled you from the river,” and Sherlock could laugh until he’s blue in the face. Instead, he grabs John and drags him down and kisses him, kisses him with a ferocity that steals the air from their chests.

John’s breath is ragged against Sherlock’s face. Sherlock’s thighs clench and he suppresses the moan that he would like to make, and John’s hands tighten around Sherlock’s wrists. John can feel it, Sherlock realizes, can feel it when Sherlock is trying to scream with how good he feels. He smears his sticky fingers over John’s face.

John jerks back, nostrils flaring, with a tight shake of his head. Sherlock grabs at his wrists, trying to pull him back in, but he yanks them free so he can communicate. “We can’t do this here. I have to get you to the shelter. It’s not safe out here.”

This is true. Sherlock knows this. He nods, and signs, “I can’t walk well. You’ll have to carry me.”

John scoops him up in a fireman’s carry as if he didn’t have a bad shoulder and Sherlock didn’t have a clear six inches on him in height, looks at him with eyes that make Sherlock want to dissolve into particulate, and mouths, “Mine.”

Sherlock clenches his jaw and looks away, because he can’t be held accountable for what he will do if he has to look at that mouth that just said that word .

Sherlock curls into John’s chest and slings an arm over his shoulder. They are slow going, but they go. They’re on the path they have walked many times, which is clear of sticks and brush that could crack underfoot. John moves silently.

But proximity to alpha pheromones has another effect on Sherlock, which is to increase the paroxysms of heat in both intensity and frequency. The first time it happens, Sherlock’s body tightens around John and John only slows his stride, holding Sherlock that much closer as Sherlock shakes and pants. The second time, he halts altogether and Sherlock clutches at John’s chest. He twists a handful of John’s shirt up and squeezes it in his sweaty fist, his body unable to synthesize “need” and “alpha” with “can’t.” John bends his head and presses his forehead to the top of Sherlock’s curls until Sherlock loosens his grip and pats John’s chest as if to say, “I’m fine, let’s keep going.” The third time, Sherlock has to turn his face in to John’s chest and smother his gasps as he clutches at whatever parts of John he can reach: ribs, shoulder, neck, face, head. He squirms uselessly in a parody of thrusting his hips. He can feel John’s jaw clenching as his body arcs and jerks uselessly.

He can also feel the moment John decides “Fuck it,” and they both hit the ground.

Sherlock thuds quietly onto his back and immediately winds all four limbs around John, pulling him into a bruising kiss. He pushes his hips up and presses his aching cock into John’s and finds him equally hard. They gasp into each other’s mouths.

“Please,” Sherlock is mouthing again. “Please, please, please.”

John rocks his hips forward to give them some measure of satisfaction. It’s not enough. Sherlock shoves his hands down the back of John’s trousers, pawing at John’s arse, trying to pull his trousers down. So John leans back onto his knees and practically rips them open, then pulls them down and oh, the cock that flexes free is long and thick and veined.

Sherlock’s mouth waters. He looks directly up at John, lays one shaking palm on his chest, and sweeps it up and away in the sign for “want.”

This is the last he sees of John before John grabs Sherlock by the shoulders and turns him roughly onto his front. Yes, oh yes, Sherlock knows what happens here. He pulls himself up onto his elbows and knees and arches his back, presenting what John wants to him on a silver platter. John cups both mounds of Sherlock’s arse where he is sticky and squeezes. Sherlock closes his eyes and breathes out very, very slowly. Quiet, he has to be quiet. He is supposed to remember that.

Then one of John’s hands leaves him, and he almost protests, but then there are two fingers sinking into him, worming into the space where he is so hot and empty, and he has to sink his teeth into his lip to stop from moaning. John’s other hand squeezes again, releases. Sherlock drops his forehead onto the backs of his hands. John strokes , and Sherlock can feel his cock jump and leak a long string of fluid down to the ground. Liquid sluices out between his cheeks.

There is a sharp intake of breath behind him, and then there are no hands on him at all. Sherlock is bereft, and starts to struggle. Just in time, he is held at the waist on one side, and something hot and thick is nudging up against his hole.

Yes. Yes, that’s it.

Sherlock’s entire body goes lax and easy as John presses into him. He breathes deeply, and slowly. This is what he wanted. This is what he needs. He can already feel some of the anxious buzz in his skull dissipating as his body is given what it demands. John is hot, and hard, and thick inside of him. John will fill him up until Sherlock can feel it in his teeth. John will hold him, take his pleasure, as Sherlock shakes and shakes and burns.

When he is all the way inside, John leans forward to press kisses onto the back of Sherlock’s neck, over where a bond bite would go. The wet touch drives Sherlock wild. He pushes up onto his hands to give himself better leverage and rocks forward, then back onto John’s cock. John’s breath is hot on Sherlock’s skin. Sherlock wants to sign “Fuck me, fuck me hard,” but that would take two hands and he doesn’t even have one. So instead, he reaches back to cover the hand John has at his waist with his own and squeezes it.

There is a sudden intake of breath behind him and then John surges, grabbing Sherlock’s waist with both hands for better leverage and fucking him, fucking him with venom, so that Sherlock is bouncing off of John’s thighs with every thrust. Sherlock slaps his hands down onto the ground in front of him to brace himself, balls one hand into a fist, and leans down to bite it, hard.

John isn’t grunting aloud, just breathing with these sharp, exclamatory exhalations, while Sherlock is breathing long and slow and deep in an attempt to keep his head clear. He can feel the cloud threatening at the corner of his consciousness, the hot fog that wants to roll over him and turn him into the irrational animal he is at heart. Sherlock starts to slam back with every thrust, fucking himself on John’s cock. John’s next breath is a gasp, and he holds Sherlock’s waist that much harder.

It’s not Sherlock’s first heat, or even his first with a partner, but it’s the first that’s felt like this, this filthy and base. They are beasts. They ought to fuck like beasts, out in the open, displaying their dominance for all the creatures of the world to see.

John’s knot has swollen at the base of his shaft. Sherlock can feel it tugging at him with every push. It feels so big, he can’t imagine how it’ll fit inside of him. He needs it to fit inside of him more than anything. His hands clench in the dirt and he bares his teeth.

Something is spiralling together in Sherlock’s pelvis and coming into focus, something that will shake him from his very core. He lets his breaths come faster, so that it will coalesce into the explosive climax he needs. John is more desperate too, Sherlock can tell. He is thrusting harder, and there is trembling in the hands at his waist. Suddenly, John bends over double and thrusts in hard, and that’s it.

Sherlock throws his head back and yells as John’s knot breaches him and orgasm washes over him. He convulses, bucking in John’s grip as his cock jerks and spurts and his body clamps down on John’s thick knot which is filling him full, full, so full.

John claps a hand over Sherlock’s mouth. As Sherlock comes down, he realizes with horror what he has done.

He can already hear the distant crashing in the forest, startling in the quiet of the afternoon.

Behind him, John gently tries to pull out, but it’s no use. He’s held tight, trapped here, by Sherlock’s own body.

The sounds are less distant now. Sherlock can hear the individual footsteps pounding towards them.

John drops his head to rest on the back of Sherlock’s spine. His breath is hot and tremulous against Sherlock’s skin. He reaches down and covers Sherlock’s hand with one of his, while the other stays at Sherlock’s mouth.

Sherlock hears, rather than sees, the creature emerge from the tree line and gallop towards them, slowing to a stop perhaps ten feet behind them. Sherlock lowers his head and makes not one single sound. He can’t even feel John breathing now, only the heat of his body.

The creature sniffs, that horselike sound that they make. Meanwhile, Sherlock’s arse ripples around John’s cock. John shivers, and there’s a few wet, tickling pulses inside of Sherlock, whose arms are trembling under the weight of his body and the heat.

It moves from behind them to somewhere to their right. Searching, Sherlock realizes, or playing with them. Do these creatures play, or is it all the hunt? He recalls with fury his earlier fantasies about the animalistic nature of the human being. It was likely a far more enchanting fantasy when humans were still the apex predators.

The creature steps closer, and Sherlock holds his breath. His arms must hold him, but his heartbeat—it’s so fast and so hard that surely it can hear it?

John’s lips are moving where they are up against Sherlock’s back. If he had the presence of mind, Sherlock could probably tell what he is saying. Possibly “stay quiet,” or “leave now,” or “you idiot.”

Sherlock can feel breath on his face now, and it isn’t John’s. It’s hotter, and it smells like rotten meat. There is a rattling sound to it as well.

Sherlock and John do not move. Sherlock can feel their heartbeats, but the only thing he hears is the creature. He counts its breaths. One, two, three…

Was that 43? Did he skip 42? Call it 41 and keep going.

Somewhere around 71, with no warning, the creature jerks back and gallops back into the forest.

Even so, it is 872 before John relaxes the hand around Sherlock’s mouth and lets it fall away.

By wordless agreement, they both clumsily clamber to their bare feet. John pulls his trousers back up and buttons them without doing up the zip. They stumble, then run for the shelter. Sherlock’s head is still spinning and he’s aching between his legs, but he can see the shelter now and he is sprinting, then yanking open the metal door, waiting until John is inside, then throwing himself inside, shutting the door, and throwing the lock in place.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” John shouts, dropping onto the mattress and running his hands backwards through his hair. “Holy shit!”

Sherlock bends double and puts his hands on his knees. “I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, God. Fuck.”

“You would have every right to leave me. I put you in serious danger, and it’s down to you we aren’t both dead. You ought to—”

John flops backwards and lets his arms and legs splay out. “Son of a bitch.”

“Are you listening?” Sherlock snaps, somewhat peeved.

“Sorry,” John pants. “Just...near-death experience, kind of an adrenaline rush.”

“That’s what I’m saying. You ought to leave.”

“Wait.” John frowns. “What the fuck?”

Sherlock’s stomach is roiling as he forces out the words, but they are necessary. The idea of Sherlock getting John killed is abhorrent. It must not come to pass. “My presence is a risk to you. You ought to leave. Or I can leave. There’s no reason you should have to give up the shelter of—”

“No! God, I—come here.”

John sits up and puts out his hand. Suspiciously, Sherlock goes to him and takes it.

“You asked me once what you would say, if it was the last thing I had the chance to say,” John says. “I didn’t know then. I do now.”

Sherlock nods.

John smiles at him. “I love you.”

Sherlock blinks. “What?”

“The last thing I would say. What I was saying, when I thought we were finished. I love you.”

Sherlock, soppy with heat, melts. He sinks down onto the bed, straddling John’s knees, and drapes his arms over John’s shoulders.

“You...you do?” he whispers.

John’s hand comes up to cup the back of Sherlock’s head. “Yeah,” he murmurs back.

They kiss slowly now, although still with urgency, because the heat is simmering in Sherlock’s guts still. John combs his fingers through Sherlock’s hair and Sherlock is able to moan into John’s mouth as his hips begin to undulate.

He is allowed to strip John down to his bare skin and lather his chest with kisses, then sit back and let John lick and suck and bite at his nipples until he cries out. He is allowed to pierce himself with John’s cock and sink down, until everything but the knot is in him. He is allowed to slide up and down slowly, until his thighs burn and John is cursing underneath him and bucking up. And finally, finally, at the end of it, they are allowed to shout with the ecstasy of it all.

Afterward, when Sherlock is sitting on his knot and they’re waiting to go for another round, John pants, “Next time you’re due for a heat, we are staying in the bunker starting two weeks early.”

Sherlock smiles. “A fine plan.”

It would be a fine plan. But they do not get a chance to enact it the next time, or even the time after that. Sherlock’s next heat does not come.