John made a note on his pad of paper. The other students used their phones or small tablets, but John didn’t type fast enough – neither with his thumbs nor all ten fingers.
They followed Dr. Mahon into the post-mortem examination theatre where the next patient – patient? Body? Corpse? Subject? – lay and watched as she began her preliminary examination, talking as she went. She threw out questions to the students and John’s heart sank at how few he could answer. He’d missed almost a month and the morgue rotation would be finished soon. John would have to retake it.
That would push his graduation off, which meant he wouldn’t be in the intern pool this year, wouldn’t get a placement in a hospital...
John pushed the worry away. He was touchy and out-of-sorts – this was the first day he had spent entirely apart from Sherlock. Everything felt wrong, everything was irritating. Even the air ground against his skin unpleasantly.
He knew Sherlock felt the same – his vexation and discomfort came through their empathetic link loud and clear. But they had to learn to be apart. They couldn’t live the rest of their lives joined at the hips. (John’s lewd thought at that image did nothing to assuage Sherlock’s discontent.)
“Watson, can you stay a minute?” The pathologist interrupted his reverie.
“Yeah, of course, Doctor. What is it?” John worked hard to keep the annoyance from his voice.
She looked at him astutely. “You’re one of my best students.” She said.
“Oh, erm, cheers.”
“Help me with this?” She asked, indicating another body. It needed to be stripped and washed.
“I understand your bonding wasn’t planned.” She asked after they’d started.
“Er, no – I wouldn’t have planned it in the middle of a rotation. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.” The elderly Beta they were working on had been a patient. She still had tape on her arms and electrodes on her chest. Her hands and the insides of her elbows were blotched purple and green with bruises.
“Mm. How did you meet?”
“On the street, actually. He needed some help, I was able to give it… things went from there…. erm… very quickly.”
“Nothing to be embarrassed about. Omegas, when allowed to choose their own mates, often make snap decisions. And anecdotally, those bonds are surprisingly durable. I’ve thought about doing a study… but it’s hard to get funding to study Omegas.
“In any case, most students would take the semester off after something so life-changing. Are you sure you’re ready to be back?” John helped her lift the body and remove the hospital gown.
“Medical school is important to me. My mate understands that. And I was hoping that if I put in some extra time, made up for what I lost, I wouldn’t have to put off graduation.”
Dr. Mahon cocked her head. “You certainly could try to do that.” She said. “But that’s not your only option.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was about your age when I bonded with my Virginia. Everyone knows that new bondmates need to spend a week or two together after the heat – and you’ve had two and a half – but honestly, Watson, I think that’s bullshit.”
“New bondmates need a hell of a lot longer than two weeks. I know I did, but I forced myself back to work even though I wasn’t ready. We get a lot of pressure as Alphas – we’re supposed to be tough and ambitious, and we are. But a new bond is delicate.
“A lot of bodies come through here. I’ve seen a lot of dead Alphas, done their postmortems studied their brains… most of them don’t have bondmates, but the ones that did, their brains are different. Their limbic systems are better developed. Noticeably so.
“The sad fact is that most Alphas survive their Omegas, but Omegas almost never survive their Alphas. Sometimes a bonded pair comes through here together… and those Alphas… their brains are amazing. Their limbic systems… the entire temporal lobe… bonded pairs that survive together into old age, did you know they never suffer from dementia? There is no degeneration, no memory loss. There’s no neurodegenerative disease at all. And no bonded pair has ever had a stroke – not that I could find, and I’ve looked.”
“What are Omega brains like?” John asked, fascinated.
“It depends. The stronger the bond, the healthier the Omega in general. I’m guessing yours is pretty strong – Omegas don’t get it wrong when they get to choose. Unfortunately, Omegas are rarely asked their preference. Omegas lucky enough to have a good, strong bond have beautiful brains. Omegas without a strong link to their Alpha often suffer degeneration. The Alpha still benefits from the bond, but the Omega doesn’t. Omegas really do get the short end of the biological stick– not to mention the societal stick.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Doctor.”
“On the other hand, infants born to Omegas tend to be extremely robust – they’re larger and have fewer illnesses. They’re more intelligent as well – no offense, Watson, my parents are Betas. The old families with generation after generation of children born to bonded pairs – their intellect is legendary.”
“That would explain a lot about my mate.”
“He’s from an old family? I’m surprised, their bondings are almost always arranged.”
“He, erm, didn’t care for the arrangements.”
She looked John over thoughtfully. “Lucky you found each other, then. Your children will be exceptional, Watson.
“Oh, erm, not really planning on children.”
“No? Probably wise if your mate is male. But one baby shouldn’t be a problem.”
“We’ll see, I guess.” John shifted uncomfortably. “How do unbonded Omegas fare in your experience?” He said changing the subject away from babies.
Dr. Mahon looked contemplative. “We don’t get too many unbonded Omegas. I can’t say I’ve ever had an unbonded Omega over twenty-five. But that could be more that the unbondeds that I’ve seen were trafficked. That’s a terrible life no matter what your genders.”
“Yeah.” John said thinking of Moriarty, a small explosion of anger blooming in his chest.
“What I’m trying to say, Watson, is to cherish your bond. You need more than a couple weeks. I can see how on edge you are – take the semester. Or if you can’t afford it, I can talk to the administration about an amended schedule, half days maybe.” They had finished with the body and Dr. Mahon led John out of the examination theatre.
“That’s, erm, very kind… thank you, but I’ll have to discuss it with Sherlock first. I don’t make decisions for him.”
She beamed at him. “Good. Let me know what you decide. Oh, one more thing, Watson, take care of yourself – nothing breaks my heart like seeing a young Omega on my table because his bondmate was a reckless, thrill-seeking idiot that got himself killed. Protecting him also means protecting yourself.”
“Yeah, erm, I’m not much of a thrill-seeker.”
“No? I thought you were in the Army.”
“Oh, right. Just to pay for medical school.”
She nodded. “If you’re deployed, what happens to your Omega?”
“Doctor…” John started to protest but stopped himself with a sigh. She was trying to help him. “We haven’t discussed it yet.”
“And if you’re killed? It’s not like Omegas have a choice in the matter. If you die, he dies.”
“Right. Possibly something I should have considered before we bonded.”
“That ship has sailed.”
“Some things to think about then.”
“Right. Ta, doctor. This has been very enlightening.”
“I would be lost without my Virginia.” Dr. Mahon said. “I can’t imagine life without her.”
“That’s normal then? It hasn’t been a month yet, and I can barely remember how I felt before.”
“If you’re lucky.”
They’d made love the night before.
John hadn’t realised how anxious he was about the impending separation until he was kissing his Omega with a needy desperation he’d never before experienced.
It was different than the biological imperative of heat… pushing Sherlock down onto the bed didn’t carry that heady, powerful feeling he’d had then. John wasn’t the most virile Alpha in the world, he was just a man.
A man who couldn’t imagine life without Sherlock Holmes.
He had learned a lot about his Omega since they'd bonded. John had learned that Sherlock was brilliant. Amazing. Extraordinary. He'd never met anyone like his Omega, able to know so much about someone from observation alone. John never tired of listening to Sherlock talk through his deductions.
John learned that Sherlock was difficult, moody and intense, his brain racing, threatening to consume itself. Sherlock needed to channel his restless genius, he needed knotty problems to unravel be it chemical, clinical or criminal in nature. Without outlet, Sherlock was impossible to be with. But he couldn't escape himself.
John had learned that Sherlock didn't understand people very well. He could observe and deduce so much yet still not understand how those things might make someone feel. The Omega's blunt manner was honest, often offensive, and devoid of sentiment. Sherlock regularly felt confused by John's feelings and reactions through their link. John sensed him studying John's emotions, trying to fathom the whys and wherefores.
John had learned that Sherlock was stubborn. His upbringing had been a strange mix of over-indulgence and deprivation. His family was wealthy and influential, but Sherlock was just the Omega, a commodity along with all the other Holmes assets. His brother had thought enough of his intelligence and ability to educate him, but still thought his role was to bond and breed. Despite the limitations placed on him, the Omega had doggedly walked his own path, disappointing expectations at every turn.
John had learned that Sherlock loved to be touched. Walking through a room, sitting at table, rushing through the streets – there was never a bad time to reach out and take his mate's hand. Sherlock might frown or gesture at the experiment he was working on, but John could feel how much he craved the contact.
John had learned that Sherlock was sensual. He loved sex. He loved making love with John, ever more adventurously. A day rarely went by that they didn't have carnal adventures of one sort or another. Their empathetic link allowed John to feel what Sherlock felt as he made love to him, creating an erotic feedback loop of mindblowing intensity. John had never had sex like this, never had so much sex and had never wanted it more.
The empathetic link was ever-present. They might be kilometers apart, and the low hum of Sherlock's concentration or excitement or irritation would wend its way through John's emotions. He could separate his own feelings if he thought about it, but the world was so much richer with his mate's sharp sensations mingling with his own. It gave John new perspectives, new contexts. The link even brought them together in sleep, their dreams mingling, blending, coalescing into strange and wonderful vistas they shared together.
Projected inward, the link made them insular – a single unit concerned only with itself. Projected outwards, the link expanded both of their horizons and understanding. The world enlarged, augmented, exploded with new information.
Since their escape – was escape the word? Moriarty had simply left – from the pool, they’d reluctantly moved into Mycroft’s townhouse. The Alpha was rarely there, and when he was, he was working in his home office. It was mostly the two of them, rattling around the place. Well, the two of them, the butler, the cook, the two maids and the footman. That last had thrown John – was this bloody Downton Abbey?! – until he decided that the footman doubled as security. Actually, all five of Mycroft's household staff were probably armed and dangerous.
If it was a strange existence for John, Sherlock took it in stride. He’d grown up in a lavish home surrounded by servants after all. The Omega’s main objection was being, as he called it, ‘under Mycroft’s thumb.’ John simply didn’t like being beholden. They needed to find a place of their own.
DCI Gregson had texted Sherlock a week into their stay at his brother’s.
“John, get your coat!” Sherlock had cried. “We have a case!”
“Erm, we have a what?” John had asked, dutifully putting on his coat.
“A case! A murder! It looks like a good one too.” Sherlock said, rubbing his hands together in glee. “Fifth floor flat, door locked from the inside, no murder weapon. John, it’s Christmas!”
John hadn’t had any idea what he was on about, but his mate’s giddy excitement – felt through their empathetic link – was infectious enough to keep John from asking questions.
They’d taken a taxi to Scotland Yard and Sherlock had swooped in, insulted the Sargent at the desk – who buzzed them through without comment – then taken John to the office of the DCI, the Detective Inspector in Charge.
Gregson was a tiny Alpha female with shrewd eyes. John immediately knew he would not want to be on her bad side. She tossed a thick file at Sherlock. “Down the hall in conference room ‘C.’” She commanded. “And don’t get coffee all over my files again!”
“If you’d let me see the scene firsthand, you wouldn’t have to worry about the state of your files.” Sherlock complained.
“You’re a menace on scene.” She shot back. “My techs say you contaminate the evidence.”
“That’s because they’re idiots! That evidence was already contaminated by the first officer on the scene – obvious! He was covered in the same black cat hairs that were in the blood smudges. I told your forensic techs that and they ignored me.”
“Who is this?” She asked, seeming to notice John for the first time.
“My bondmate.” Sherlock said, his voice wary, but John could feel his brimming pride.
“John Watson.” John had offered his hand and she had shaken it whilst giving him an assessing once-over.
“There’s no way that – no offence – Mycroft Holmes chose you to bond with his precious brother.” She said.
John did not take offence.
“I chose him.” Sherlock said haughtily. “Don’t pretend you don’t know – clearly Mycroft’s been in to answer for causing the riot.”
“You don’t take any responsibility for that?” She asked mildly.
“I’m not allowed any responsibility, why should I bother feeling guilty about it?” Sherlock answered through gritted teeth. John knew full well that Sherlock did feel guilty. And responsible and furious and frightened.
“Touché.” She turned her attention back to John. “How are you getting on with the Holmes clan?”
John shrugged. “Mycroft has been… supportive.” Sherlock scoffed loudly. “I haven’t met Mummy yet. She’s coming to dinner later this week.”
“Has your family met Sherlock?”
“There’s only my sister… and she’s not much for company.”
“Yes, yes, very interesting.” Sherlock interrupted, gathering up the files. He pinned a glare on Gregson. “If I solve this today, you’ll let me go to the next scene.” He wheedled.
Gregson looked skeptical. “You’ll solve it today anyway.”
“It’s faster if I can see the scene.”
“I’m bonded! Your Alphas don’t have an excuse to lose their bottle now.”
“You’ll still insult them. And my Betas.”
“I wouldn’t have to insult them if they were competent. Come on… I’ve doubled your clearance rate. If you let me on scene, I can raise it even higher.”
The DCI sighed. “We’ll see.”
“Yes!” Sherlock crowed.
“That’s not a ‘yes.’ That’s a ‘maybe.’”
“I knew you’d see reason. You’re eminently sensible.”
“I didn’t say ‘yes.’”
“Come on, John. We have a case to solve!” Sherlock, his emotions a mix of determination, anticipation and exhilaration, had led him down the hall to a conference room. The Omega had covered the table with photos of a rather nice, contemporary flat with a triple bolted door, a lovely view of the river and a corpse with a bullet hole in its head in the master bedroom. After two hours, Sherlock had brought Gregson in and showed her a picture on his phone of a young Chinese man, an acrobat in town with a Chinese circus, and explained that the dead man had recently traveled to China. It was a smuggling ring – ‘obvious’ from the man’s suitcase, laying open in the bedroom, and the tattoo the coroner had noted on the bottom of the man’s foot. The circus was a cover for the assassin. The man had used his acrobatic skill to climb up the building and accessed the flat through the balcony, leaving the front door triple bolted from the inside.
“Amazing!” John had breathed, blown away by his mate’s brilliance. Sherlock had glanced at him shyly.
“You know you do that out loud.”
“Sorry. I’ll stop.”
“No! It’s …fine.”
Gregson had listened to Sherlock’s speech with a look of growing disbelief. “Only you,” She said. “Would look at all this and see a Chinese assassin.”
“You might want to head out to Heathrow.” Sherlock said imperturbably. “The circus is leaving London tonight.” He showed her his phone once more, flight information on the screen.