“Happy heat leave!”
Sally Donovan joined half-heartedly in the chorus of shouts as Greg Lestrade waved his hand in acknowledgment, looking at the table laden with a decorated sheet cake and a gift basket from the entire division, filled with protein bars, energy drinks, fluffy towels, and other sundries that a bonded couple in heat and rut would need.
As her clapping slowed from desultory to merely going through the motions, she noticed Lestrade wipe a hand over his brow, removing the perspiration that had started to bead there. While most male omegas preferred to take the entire legally-mandated two weeks of paid heat leave each year to avoid suffering the symptoms of onset in the presence of their coworkers, Sally knew that Lestrade was so conscientious about his job that he remained at work as long as he could. Still, the entire event just rankled Sally, and she started to mutter to the person standing next to her.
“I don’t know how many more of these I can take before I go bankrupt,” she said. “It’s £10 here and £20 there, every year, for every alpha and omega in the joint.”
“I would think you would have a better attitude about such things, Sergeant Donovan,” said the baritone voice next to her. She turned to take a good look for the first time at the man standing next to her and startled to see Sherlock Holmes, holding a cup of punch and looking rather nonplussed himself.
“What are you doing here, Freak?” she asked, her voice even edgier than usual. “Hoping this is the year you finally become an uncle?”
“That’s hardly likely,” Sherlock said, and Sally knew that he was right. Lestrade had made no bones about not wanting children, and, for male omegas, controlling fertility was an easy task.
It didn’t use to be that way, she mused. A half a century ago, the aggressive fertility of the omega meant that most employers didn’t want to have anything to do with them, especially if they were bonded. An unbonded omega was likely just working until he or she found a bondmate, and a bonded omega was very likely to come back from his or her heat leave pregnant. There was little sense in training them for professional jobs, employers said, and those omegas who did want to pursue careers were careful to mask their scent and try to pass as betas, suffering through their heat or rut in silence or carefully planning their use of their allowed holiday leave.
That all changed when the first reliable contraceptive for the male omega was developed. As it turned out, the male omega’s cervical sphincter was controlled by a single hormone; it closed in the presence of the hormone and opened in its absence. The male omega’s body stopped producing the hormone in the lead-up to heat, allowing the sphincter to open and unobstructed passage to the reproductive organs. Preventing pregnancy, then, was just a matter of synthesizing the hormone and making it available. Today, the male omega took one hormone pill a day for three days in the period leading up to heat, insuring that the sphincter remained closed and no fertilization of the ovum could occur. The scientist who developed the male omega birth control pill won a Nobel Prize that year.
For the female omega, however, things were not so easy. Since the female omega’s reproductive organs were not protected by a sphincter muscle, there was no way to close them off from exposure to the alpha’s sperm during coitus. To develop a female omega pill, researchers took an additional ten years finding a way to stop ovulation, an even trickier task in the female omega than it was in the female beta. The female omega ovulated just once a year, giving her body the chance to cull the ova so that any released were certain to be viable, and the ovum would remain viable in the reproductive tract for longer than a beta’s egg would do. Omegas were so fertile that the female omega birth control pill could only ever be 95 percent effective if used correctly, and that involved taking a pill every day, all year long. Of course, it was better than it was before, but there was always the worry for a female omega after her heat that the male omega simply didn’t have.
“Speak of the alpha, here’s your brother now,” Sally said to Sherlock as Mycroft Holmes entered the room. It was apparent how much he disliked these gatherings from his body language, but it was equally apparent how loathe he was to leave his bondmate alone this close to his heat. Bonded couples quickly experienced a synchronization of heat and rut, and Sally knew that Mycroft was drawn to Lestrade’s side as much by an instinctive need to protect as he was by social convention that demanded his presence.
Lestrade wavered slightly on his feet once in the presence of his alpha. Sally knew that he was waging an internal battle, his omega nature longing for contact while his years of police training demanding that he remain at attention while on the job. It would have been amusing if she hadn’t seen the same act play out every year that the two had been bonded, Lestrade alternately leaning and straightening in a bizarre sort of subconscious dance.
“Come, Gregory. You always wait until the last minute, and then you’re uncomfortable for the drive,” Mycroft said softly, placing the tips of two fingers briefly on Lestrade’s back. Even that constituted an enormous break in form for Mycroft Holmes, and Sally knew that he was eager to begin the trip to the Holmes ancestral home, where he and Lestrade could spend the week of heat and rut in more secluded environs, surrounded by a few trusted servants who had known the family for years. Lestrade nodded good-bye to his coworkers and followed his bondmate out the door to the sounds of a few ribald jokes to those brave enough to say them out loud.
“Thank heavens that’s over,” Sally sighed. She didn’t know why she was in such a bad mood about this today, when the division had at least one heat or rut leave party a month. If she were honest with herself, she thought, she’d have to admit that every one of these parties, no matter how much she liked the honoree, reminded her that her own life choices weren’t celebrated. As an unbonded omega, she found the idea of sharing a heat with a temporary partner to be distasteful. Sure, Anderson had offered, but she didn’t really want to risk a pregnancy, no matter how slim the chances. She knew that just one forgotten pill or one extra-robust ovum could mean the end of the police career she held dear. Maybe, hopefully, one day things would line up for her to find a bondmate, but, for now, she needed to keep control.
She turned her head to see Sherlock leaning slightly toward her, sniffing just above her hair. “Don’t worry, Sally. Your turn will be coming soon, with your heat on the way,” he said sarcastically. Then, he took another sniff and turned slightly quizzical. “Or, it would be, if you were allowing it. You’re on suppressants, aren’t you?”
“Well done, Freak,” she said. Then, she looked sideways at him and took a sniff of her own. Sherlock had always been one for inappropriate declarations about people’s private lives, but outing an unbonded omega for being on heat suppressants should have been beyond even his abilities as a single beta male. Unless….
“You’re not a beta at all. You’re an alpha – and you’re taking rut suppressants! How in the hell?” she sputtered.
Of course, rut suppressants were developed early, especially for male alphas. The military found them essential. A platoon full of alpha males in rut could be chaotic at best and catastrophic at worst. So the military scientists put a great deal of effort into finding ways to suppress the rut in an unbonded alpha male and, later, that in the unbonded alpha female.
But civilian use of the rut suppressants had never caught on, and there was a stigma to an unbonded alpha using them. Occasionally, a bonded alpha would use rut suppressants to ease things for his or her mate who medically should not deal with any more heats, but an unbonded alpha was seen as the king or queen of the hill, able to find any partner during rut and then just walk away from the consequences. It was seen more as a natural part of the alpha experience than a lapse in responsibility, and few, if any, unbonded alphas would use a suppressant.
“See, I knew you weren’t as stupid as you act,” Sherlock sneered. “Why can’t any of you see, it’s about the Work,” he exclaimed, suddenly taken with a passion to explain. “I don’t wish to be taken over by a biological urge, sublimating my mind under a tide of hormones. My physical being is transport, nothing more, and I cannot permit it to override my mind, no matter how much everyone may think I’m a freak.” He tailed off quickly, looking briefly like he had said too much.
Sally turned until she was fully facing Sherlock. “And you shouldn’t have to,” she said quietly. “That’s why we have ways of controlling our bodies; so that we can do what we think best with our own lives. Anyone who calls you a freak for that,” Sally said, straightening to look him in the eye, “is wrong.”
Sherlock captured her own gaze in his. “Indeed, Sally,” he said.
“Yes, indeed, Sherlock,” she replied.
He paused and looked at her speculatively, then gestured to the table still laden with refreshments. “Before you get back to work, you should join me for a piece of cake. You should at least get some recompense for your investment in this annual event.”
Sally snickered, and the two walked off to raid the leftovers.