Thank you to Cleo_Calliope for her lovely cover!!
Thinking about it later, John Watson really should have expected this. He’d always been so careful in the use of his empathy. He tried so hard not to bring attention to his rather remarkable abilities, but he’d slipped up in front of the wrong person. Just once, but that’s all it took. He tried not to blame himself. He’d been so distracted these last few weeks. What with the pending vote on laws intended to roll back empath and omega rights and now especially after what had happened directly before Sherlock left on his research trip. Even so, with his background, John really should have prepared better for this.
The day had started out fairly well. It was a Friday, his shift at the A&E was nearly done, he had a perfect mug of tea and Sherlock would be home soon. Anxiety warred with nervousness at the thought of his friend returning from Canada. Based on what had occurred before he left, Sherlock had finally been forced to confront the situation between them and had agreed to at least talk about it.
They had been dancing around their attraction to each other practically since they’d first met. Sherlock Holmes, the worlds only alpha sentinel consulting detective had been the one to draw the line at friendship at Angelo’s the day they’d met and John had respected that. However, the tension between the two of them increased as the months went by. Sherlock was an alpha sentinel and John presented himself as a beta and low level empath. Liaisons and bondings between such couples were not typical but not unheard of, either.
And unfortunately, Sherlock kept him guessing with numerous mixed messages. He would be distant and insulting one moment, then praising and protective the next. There was even that one time where he’d totally confused John, right after they had caught an especially devious murderer.
Fairly early on in their association, Sherlock had had to project his very dominant alpha status to subdue a killer who had literally taken a knife to John’s throat. He would never forget as long as he lived seeing Sherlock the alpha make a beta kneel and submit to him by the use of his dominance and pheromones alone.
And when they had got home, Sherlock had gone primal. The detective had crowded John against the wall and had buried his face in the doctor’s neck, holding him tight and then stroking him everywhere he could reach to make absolutely sure John wasn’t injured. John had returned the embrace and murmured soothing nonsense until the sentinel had shuddered and finally released him. The kiss Sherlock had given him on the temple was so tender and faint, he sometimes wondered if he’d imagined it. Whatever had happened, it had not been repeated. Until recently.
He was alternately dreading and looking forward to the outcome of this chat he had insisted on having with his flatmate. So, whatever happened, whatever Sherlock decided, life was going to change drastically for the both of them, especially John. There was no reason to expect things would go his way and he needed to prepare himself for that eventuality. The thought of rejection from his best friend and potential bond-mate made his stomach churn, so it was best to think of other things.
Because he was stressed, preoccupied and anxious, John wasn’t paying as much attention to his surroundings as he normally would do. Therefore, he was rather surprised when he found two strange sentinels waiting in front of the door to his office.
Finding a sentinel, let alone two, in a non-sentinel hospital was unusual. John belatedly sent out a tendril of empathy to investigate their emotional ambience. What he picked up made him yank it back right and slam down his shields. There was a predatory feel to both sentinels that alarmed him on all levels. Whatever they were here for, his senses told him they represented some form of danger to him.
One was in the black, vaguely Nazi-esque uniform of a London Tower Protector and the other was dressed in a rather nice, dark blue suit and holding an expensive leather briefcase. They took note of him as John limped toward them, the predatory feeling from the one in the suit growing a bit stronger with proximity. John strengthened his shields and automatically fell into his self-protective role of inoffensive, pudgy, kind and harmless doctor, hiding the other, more deadly, aspects of himself beneath his soft woollen jumper and vague smile.
Both were unbonded betas and the security man was armed with a taser and tranquiliser dart gun. Thankfully, John sensed the Protector didn’t seem to be expecting any trouble from him. The Suit was holding a photo and, despite his shields, John began to pick up impatience and irritation. These two were very loud empathically and didn’t care who knew it. Lovely. Best to avoid them, then.
Giving them both a bland smile, John nodded and continued to walk past them toward the stairs. The man in the suit looked down at the photo he held and, to John’s annoyance, reached out to grab his arm. John pulled away quickly, nearly spilling his tea and turned to face them. He didn’t want a sentinel touching him, especially an unbonded. It was too risky.
“Just a moment please. You’re Dr John Watson?” When John reluctantly nodded, the man continued. “I have something I need to discuss with you. I was told this was your office?”
“Yes, but I have to get to work. I don’t have time to meet with anyone right now. Do you wish to make an appointment? “
The Suit flashed a badge of some sort that was from the Tower. John peered at it but it meant nothing to him. He looked back at the man in bewilderment. Before John could say anything further, the man spoke. “You need to make time now, Dr Watson. May we come in?” The last statement was more an order than a request. John recognised someone who was used to being obeyed unquestioningly. He also recognised someone who thought this whole situation was below his pay grade and wasn’t happy about it.
John was confused and starting to get concerned. There was only one reason these two would be in his hospital and also have a photo of him. And that reason was not good for John. Something wasn’t right and his empathic senses were backing that up. He began to wonder if this had anything to do with what happened with Sherlock on the bridge three days ago. If so, he was royally screwed and certainly not in a good way.
John sighed gustily, unlocked the door and led them into the small room. He sat at his desk and waved for the men to be seated in the ugly and uncomfortable plastic chairs.
He sipped his tea and it went down the wrong way. Suit rolled his eyes but the Protector offered a handkerchief. When the doctor finished coughing and wiping up tea, he gave them a nervous smile that was probably more of a grimace. “So. What do I owe the pleasure of this visit from the Tower, gentlemen?”
The Suit eyed him with disapproval and set his briefcase down on his lap. He answered as he snapped it open loudly to pull out some documents. John jumped a bit at the sound and to his annoyance, spilled more tea.
“I am London Tower Secretary sentinel Wilson and this is sentinel Protector Captain Deeds. We don’t have a lot of time so I’ll keep this short.” Wilson cleared his throat and read the prepared document stiffly. “’Pursuant to the Empath Act of 1972, you, John H. Watson, are hereby remanded into the custody of London Sentinel Tower for re-evaluation of your empath status. You have certain rights and can appeal this custody order within 48 hours. However, a solicitor will not be provided for you but must be obtained by you…’”
It was at this point that John stopped listening. Shock and disbelief made him go hot and then cold as the seriousness of the situation hit him. He had known this might happen at some point. Someone had turned him into the Tower. Had accused him of hiding his true empathic abilities. Possibly someone who had witnessed the events on the bridge three days ago or its aftermath. Or maybe even someone who simply disliked him. The reason really didn’t matter.
All that truly mattered was that the Tower was going to try to take him. If they succeeded, he would be transported to the Tower where they’d discover that they did indeed have a true guide rather than a low level empath on their hands. Not only a guide, but they’d eventually discover he was an omega guide, one of the rarest of the rare.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Honestly, he’d thought he’d have more time. He should never have come to London for physio and should never have stayed as long as he had done. Forrester had warned him. But he’d come to love London and the work he did with Sherlock with a passion he’d never experienced before in his short but rather eventful life. Together he and Sherlock made a difference. And he loved Sherlock with an equal passion.
Sherlock had given him a purpose and direction that he’d lacked since he’d been invalided out of the army. For the first time in his life, John had met someone who had made him decide to change the course of his entire life. Simply put, he wanted to bond with Sherlock in every way possible, as a guide and as an omega. Sherlock made him feel vibrantly alive, untouchable and invulnerable.
Working with Sherlock provided him with plenty of excitement and adventure that he craved. They’d taken down numerous criminals while working together. Many of the situations he and Sherlock faced had been life-threatening, but that was very familiar to John.
Now he was facing his worst nightmare. Capture by the Tower, imprisonment and eventual discovery of his deepest and darkest secrets. And if he let these men take him, he’d never see the detective again. He had to keep out of the Tower’s hands until Sherlock got home. His life was indeed going to change radically, but it was going to be on his terms and his terms only.
“…do you have any questions concerning your rights as they have been read to you?” John looked up at Wilson and allowed fear and bewilderment to show on his face. Despite what Sherlock thought, John was actually an excellent actor.
”I…I don’t understand. There must be some mistake. I’m not a guide; I’m a low level empath. I have patients, I can’t just leave…,” John protested, using his empathic abilities to project helplessness and fear while simultaneously making sure he seemed totally non-threatening. John began to analyse exit strategies and best angles of attack.
Wilson seemed uncomfortable but it was Deeds who spoke up, responding to John’s projections and trying to be reassuring. No sentinel liked to see a guide, or even a presumed guide, distressed or hurt. “Come now—there’s no need to be upset. If you are truly just a low level empath, you’ll be home in a few days after a couple of tests. And if you are a guide, think of it as an opportunity to start a new life! We’re so short of guides, it’s an honour and a privilege to be bonded to a sentinel.”
John had started to like Sentinel Deeds until he said that last bit. So. There was nothing for it. John hadn’t expected them to let him go but his empathy had done its work. They saw him as a harmless and frightened man who would follow them to the Tower without a fight.
John tried once more. “Is this even legal? Can I call my solicitor? I need to let my supervisor know what’s happening.”
“This is all perfectly legal and you’ll have a chance to contact a solicitor once you’re safely behind Tower walls. Every legal courtesy will be given to you before testing is begun. We’ll let your employer know what’s going on. But you must come with us now. You don’t want us to have to use force, now, do you?” Wilson stood and leaned forward, trying to dominate him. John cringed away with a fearful expression.
Deeds looked unhappily at Wilson. “Must you do that? He’s cooperating.” Wilson just frowned at him and Deeds shut up. Good, thought John. Divide and conquer.
“So what do we do now?” John rubbed his face with shaking hands, to all appearances seeming to give up.
Deeds looked sympathetic. “Just come along quietly. We have a car waiting outside to take you to the Tower. I’m sorry, but I have to put these on you.” He held up a pair of handcuffs, though they appeared to be somewhat different from the ones Sherlock kept nicking from Lestrade. Looking closer, he could see they had a bit of padding on the inside to keep the wrists from being damaged.
The doctor’s hands steadied as adrenaline began to pour into his system. His head cleared and the glacial calm that was so familiar from his most dangerous covert missions began to settle over him like a soft blanket. The sentinels no doubt took note of his increased heartbeat but likely attributed it to fear. John stood and limped around the desk, trying to look as small and helpless as possible. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just cooperate with the handcuffing and we’ll be on our way to the Tower.” Deeds took John’s wrist and began to apply the cuff. In a blur of motion, John yanked his hand from Deed’s grasp and pulled the tranquilliser gun from its holster. A sweeping kick knocked the Protector to his knees. A strike to the back of the neck put him face down on the floor. Wilson gaped at the amazing speed of events and never had a chance to react.
John shot him with the tranquilliser dart, wishing it were the taser instead, but he could hope he’d have that pleasure some other time. He turned and shot the stunned Protector next. Both were unconscious in seconds. Pulling the magazine out of the dart gun, John noted that there were four more doses of the drug and snapped it efficiently back into place. It was a very powerful sedative and now John knew what kind of weapons were going to be used against him.
John searched both men, taking keys, extra darts and the taser. Wilson had no weapons but he had a very nice mobile that John appropriated. Deeds had a radio that was connected to the London Tower communications. John made a note of the frequencies used, then smashed it. He also took Deeds’ mobile.
Judging by the type of tranquilliser used in the darts, John figured he had maybe 30 minutes before they woke up. He rummaged through the drawers of his desk to see if there was anything in there he could use. He found a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses that belonged to one of his fellow doctors and took them.
Removing his lab coat, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. He had no idea if there were other sentinels outside or how long they would wait before searching for Deeds and Wilson. It was possible they would be missed by the Tower before then, so he gave himself 15 minutes to get out of the immediate area. Ever the doctor, he made sure both men were in the recovery position before he left his office for the last time.
Swiftly, with no hint of a limp, he took the stairs down to the basement level. When he’d first joined the staff at the hospital, he’d automatically mapped out various escape plans with multiple exits. Tugging on the baseball cap and slipping on the sunglasses, John headed to the nearest exit, which happened to be the service entrance where carts of dirty linen were waiting to be loaded onto lorries. He stuffed the lab coat he’d carried away into one of the carts.
John took a few minutes to breathe and gather his thoughts before he headed toward the gate. His goal was to escape and evade the Tower until Sherlock returned. Until that happened, all he really needed to concentrate on immediately was to stay out of the Tower’s hands. He dreaded the next few days. They were going to be stressful, to say the least.
The guards didn’t even glance at him as he strolled past. No one would ever guess he was heading toward an uncertain future.
Three days earlier:
Sherlock and John stood on the rocky edge of the Thames where the two feet, still in their identical socks and trainers, had washed up. They were a bit more odiferous than John would have expected of something so small and he rubbed at his nose in distaste. Anderson and Donovan stayed far back but Lestrade stood nearby, watching Sherlock examine the feet.
Sherlock crouched, making sure to keep his coat from touching the ground. He poked at the sock of the first foot with a stylus and squinted carefully at what was emerging from the stained fabric. John moved a bit closer and surreptitiously leaned into the sentinel, just in case Sherlock zoned on either the sight or smell of decaying flesh and bone. Sherlock had never zoned in John’s presence in all the time he’d known him but one could never be too careful. John trusted Lestrade not to speak and Anderson and Donovan were too far away to really see anything.
Anderson called out to them. “The feet are from the same person. They smell the same and the socks and trainers are identical.”
Sherlock stood and wiped his stylus off with a handkerchief. He stayed close to John and actually leaned back into him somewhat, to John’s surprise. “As usual, Anderson, you are completely wrong.”
“What do you mean? These feet are from the same body.” Anderson was not a full sentinel. Like many people, he had one enhanced sense and his was smell. “They smell exactly the same. And how do you explain the exact same type and size of trainers and the same kind of sock?” His questions had the belligerence of someone who was very sure of himself.
Sherlock sighed and looked at John. “Please tell him why he’s wrong. My brain hurts just knowing he’s alive.”
John felt slightly put on the spot, but then took a closer look at the feet. His mind had been distracted by being so close to Sherlock and it took a few seconds but then he understood.
“Well, these could possibly be from the same person but he would have had to have two left feet.” Sherlock smiled at him with a look of pride, to John’s great pleasure and then the detective cocked an eyebrow at Anderson, who looked confused and then angry.
“Thank you, John. Now, in what cases would two different people possibly smell the same or similar enough to confuse someone of Anderson’s dubious abilities?”
The doctor thought for a moment and then replied, “In the case of an omega/alpha bond, they would smell pretty much identical. Also, if they were identical twins, they would have a similar scent.”
If anything, Sherlock’s pleased smile got larger and he practically beamed at John. “Excellent! That’s exactly correct.” He turned away and began to prod carefully at the other foot.
Lestrade came closer while Sherlock visually examined the second shoe.
“Well, this is rather…unusual.” The DI covered his nose and mouth with a hand, unsuccessfully trying to block out the smell.
“Actually it is not, Lestrade.”
”Hmm? What do you mean? I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
”Of course you haven’t, but this appears to resemble a series of disarticulated feet found on the Salish Shore. Fourteen feet since 2007, if I’m not mistaken.”
Sherlock stood up and pulled out his mobile, beginning to text rapidly.
“Where the bloody hell is the Salish Shore?” the DI wondered. John sympathised with Lestrade’s confusion and looked at Sherlock questioningly.
“British Columbia. I must do research. Lestrade, I’ll need for you to get permission for John and me to examine those feet and to be allowed to see all the files and documentation associated with the cases.”
”Christ. You’re not asking much, are you?” Lestrade sighed and pulled out his phone. “And I’m not paying to send you to British Columbia!” he yelled as he began to dial.
Sherlock ignored him and continued to text swiftly. “I’ll get two tickets to Canada. Mycroft won’t notice the bill.”
John sighed. “Sherlock, you know I have two shifts at the A&E this week and we’re dangerously understaffed. I can’t possibly go with you. And why do you have to go now? Why can’t you wait until after these two feet are autopsied first?”
”You know how backed up things at the morgue are so it’ll be at least a week, possibly longer, before Molly can get to them. Waste of my time. I might as well get the initial research done.”
He continued to type, hit send and then put the phone away. “That’s one ticket to Canada, leaving this afternoon. Problem?”
John let out a frustrated breath. “Okay. Fine. That’s fine, Sherlock. I just… I just had hoped you’d be home this week.”
Sherlock moved a bit closer and gave him one of his rare, real smiles that always left John a bit breathless. He knew his expression was ridiculous and worshipful. It always was.
“It’s just for a few days John. I’ll be back soon. I’ll rely on you as always to keep me updated on events related to the case.”
“Get a room, Freak.”
John glared at Donovan but Sherlock ignored them both, stepping away and pulling out his phone again.
“John, get photos of the feet. You’re better with a mobile camera than Anderson with the latest Hasselblad.”
Anderson snarled something John couldn’t hear, but Sherlock, with his superior sentinel hearing, obviously did because he grinned evilly.
Looking down at his mobile and then texting something, Sherlock turned his back on them and started to walk away.
“I’m going up to the road to see what I can find. It’s unlikely anything was thrown from this bridge, but it’s best to be sure.” John nodded absently and proceeded to take the requested photos with his mobile.
Anderson and Donovan stalked over as he began. He didn’t like either one, but he was unfailingly polite to them. No point in making enemies.
“I know what you’re doing.”
John glanced at her curiously, then went back to taking pictures.
“I’ve seen you with him. You think you’re going to create a superficial bond with him and be a guide to him. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Was he that transparent? Apparently so. John sighed wearily. Donovan was closer to the truth than not, but she was still wrong. “What’s your point, Sally?”
“It’s just that he treats you like shite, mate. You’re a good bloke and you could do a lot better.”
That was a bit of a surprise and John was taken aback.
Before he could reply, his head whipped around toward the bridge. A sense of danger and urgency shot thorough him and his body was in motion without conscious thought. For the life of him, John never remembered leaping like a gazelle up the stairs or dashing across the bridge in between vehicles and spectators.
Amid the squealing tyres and honking horns, the only thing he saw was Sherlock’s tall, dark figure crumpled in the middle of the road with a large SUV practically parked on top of him. Fearing the worst, John tore through the crowd of looky-loos, not even hearing the loud protests as he pushed people aside in his rush to get to his friend.
As he threw himself to his knees beside Sherlock, he realised that the sentinel had zoned. John was shocked. In all the time he’d known the detective, he’d never zoned once. Sherlock had the most incredible control of any unbonded sentinel John had ever heard of and this was unprecedented.
Sherlock’s pulse was faint and his respiration was practically non-existent. John had to do something and fast.
”I didn’t hit him! I swear! He just fell over right in front of me!” The driver of the SUV was standing near the front of his car and his outburst distracted John. ”We know that, now shut it!” John shouted. Lestrade, Donovan and Anderson appeared, and began to push people away from John, looking at him with concern in their eyes.
”Is he zoned? Can you help him, John? I’ve never seen him zone before, in all the time I’ve known him. This is dangerous, isn’t it?”
Ignoring Lestrade, John turned his attention back to Sherlock. He really had no idea what he was doing so he decided to go with instinct. Taking a deep breath, John reached out with both his hands and his empathy. He touched Sherlock’s face with his fingers as his mind reached out for his lost friend. There was a sensation of falling and then all went dark.
Waking in a blue tinged wood was not what he had expected. The forest was incredibly old, beautiful and straight out of a Tolkien fantasy. Forrester had taken him here once before, so John knew he was now in the spirit world. He’d never really been comfortable with the spiritual aspects of being a guide, but it seemed he was going to have to become more familiar whether he liked it or not.
John felt a sense of urgency that prevented him from exploring as he might have done any other time, however. Turning around he spotted movement in the undergrowth. Uncertain of what to do, he pushed his empathy outward and received a feeling of homecoming and safety. Walking forward carefully, he was surprised to be greeted by his spirit animal, an Asiatic wolf. Her mouth was open with her tongue hanging out of the side. To John, it looked as if she was laughing at his startlement and he smiled back.
‘Hah, little brother! There you are! Your mate needs you. Come with me now!’
The sense of urgency returned and she spun around to run further into the forest. John followed with as much speed as he could muster, pushing through the undergrowth and eventually stumbling upon a narrow path. Running was much easier and they continued on. Time had no meaning here and John was startled as he abruptly arrived at a circular clearing in the forest. He stopped at the edge of the glade and gaped, arrested by the magnificence of the dark sky above, glittering with billions of stars.
A sense of impatience and a growl dragged his attention away from the endless depth of the sky and back down to his spirit guide. She took his wrist in her mouth and tugged him forward.
‘You have so much to learn, little brother. Pay attention and go to your mate!’
The doctor looked up see a dark figure huddled in the centre of the clearing. Standing guard over him was a beautiful raptor, round grey-green eyes wide, feathers black and shiny in the blue light, yellow beak wicked and sharp. Its wings were spread covering the prone figure and the span was huge. John felt no danger from the fierce animal, only a ferocious protectiveness. He recognised the lanky form of Sherlock and ran over to kneel down beside him. Sherlock was lying on his side with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. His head was hidden.
The raptor hissed and looked straight into John’s eyes. ‘You must guide him from this place. This zone is deep and dangerous, based on anger and fear. It is not safe for him to be here now. When next you come to this place, you will bring him and all will be well.’
Trusting in John, it folded its wings and backed away as the doctor knelt, reached down to touch Sherlock’s face and raised his head. He needed to get Sherlock to acknowledge him so he could lead him out of the spirit world.
”What are we doing here, John?” Sherlock asked. He seemed terribly shaken. “What is this place?”
”Don’t you know where you are, Sherlock?” Hadn’t Sherlock attended sentinel school? Wasn’t it pretty much mandatory for all sentinels but especially alphas?
John had only been here once before, with Forrester. She had taken on his training during the down time between missions. The doctor had been safe in her hands at the time, but this was very risky. If he couldn’t remember exactly what she’d taught him, he could get them both lost and they’d never return. He was frankly shocked that Sherlock didn’t seem to know where he was.
The man in question looked vaguely around and seemed to come to himself a bit. It was unusual for him to be so uncertain and vulnerable. Usually the only thing that did that was an emotional upheaval of some kind.
But of course, John wouldn’t necessarily know if Sherlock had experienced an emotional upheaval as Sherlock never showed what he was feeling unless it was for a purpose. If something had happened, John would probably be the last to know. Sherlock hated being exposed or unsure around him. An emotional upset might explain the depth of this zone, however, which was a very bad one.
Sherlock continued. “I’m in the spirit world, I think. I… I deleted most of what I’d learnt in the Tower, though. I...I don’t know what to do.” He looked in despair at John, whose heart went out to him. He’d not seen Sherlock look so lost and defenceless before.
Without thinking, he said, “I’ll take care of you, Sherlock. Just trust me and follow.” He took his flatmate’s hand and helped him to stand. “We need to follow our spirit animals. Can you feel them? Their urgency?” Sherlock only shook his head and John frowned. That was strange. No matter. They had to move.
Still holding Sherlock’s hand, John turned to face his wolf. Not that he knew from actual experience, but he’d heard many empaths had wolves as spirit guides and wondered why. It then had occurred to him that, not only were wolves known for protectiveness and loyalty to their pack mates, but they were superior trackers and hunters. John had every confidence that his spirit animal would lead them out of the forest safely. But Sherlock still seemed uncertain about what they were doing and hesitated to follow John.
Without thinking of the consequences, John took both of Sherlock’s hands and projected all of his trust and confidence into the detective, without holding anything back. He visualised the tendrils of his empathy wrapping around his friend, enfolding him with all the love and devotion John felt for Sherlock, in the hope it would act almost like a shock blanket, keeping him safe and protected. The comparison to the hideous orange blanket that Sherlock always seemed to end up with at crime scenes made him smile at his flatmate, who looked at him in undisguised wonder.
“How… how can you do this?” Sherlock asked him in astonishment and some fear. John shrugged and pulled at Sherlock’s hands. It was something they could discuss later but they had to leave now. There was a path he’d not seen before and they headed toward it, running fast, hand in hand. He could see his wolf running ahead of them. The foliage blurred around them as they moved and it began to swirl and pulsate. John stumbled and nearly fell, but caught himself with Sherlock’s help and kept running. It became so dark they could no longer see and John felt a sense of disorientation and vertigo. All motion stopped and he opened his eyes with a start.
They were no longer in the blue forest. It was daylight again and John was still kneeling beside Sherlock with his hands on his friend’s pale face. Except now Sherlock’s pale grey-green eyes were wide open in shock, staring at him in dismay.
There was a murmur of voices all around and John sat back, slowly becoming more aware of his environment. Everyone looked at him with varying degrees of surprise or amazement, depending on how much they’d seen happen. It was clear John wasn’t a guide yet he’d just pulled a sentinel from a deep zone.
”All right, everyone, go back to your cars. Nothing to see here, now. Let’s stop holding up the traffic and get back on the road.” Lestrade’s rough voice carried over all the other noises on the bridge as he, Donovan and Anderson shepherded people back to their vehicles.
Relieved and grateful to Lestrade for the distraction, John moved to help Sherlock up, brushing debris out of his hair and off his face. The sentinel was so shaken he actually accepted John’s aid. He wobbled a bit as they moved to the end of the bridge. John waved off the help offered by Lestrade as Sherlock allowed himself to be seated in one of the nearby police vehicles.
That was a sign of shock if there ever was one and it worried John more than he liked. He checked Sherlock’s vitals but all seemed fine. “How do you feel? Do you need anything?” he asked quietly, checking the detective’s pupils. Sherlock yanked his gaze away and shook his head no.
John lowered his voice. “Sherlock, we really need to talk about this,” he murmured quietly. “You zoned….”
”Yes, I zoned. It’s not the first time it’s happened and probably won’t be the last. But it’s no reason to have to discuss that ...that thing that happened." Sherlock waved his hands vaguely and shot a worried look at John. A sharp wrench of hurt went through John. Was Sherlock going to deny what happened? Angry, he spoke sarcastically without thinking.
“You mean our meeting in the spirit world and me guiding you out of it? “ Sherlock practically hissed at him. ”This is not the place to discuss that, John! Be careful what you’re saying!” Sherlock quickly checked the area for eavesdroppers.
John deflated. He was ashamed of his outburst. Sherlock was only trying to protect him, after all. Lowering his voice, he apologised. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. You’re right. But this is important!”
Sherlock wavered to his feet. “All right, we’ll discuss it, but don’t expect too much from me. You know I can’t…this is not something I can….” He trailed off and his eyes begged John not to pursue the subject at the moment.
John was disappointed but agreed. Whispering, he said, “I don’t mean to put you on the spot. I will not force you into doing anything you don’t want. Okay?” Sherlock glanced briefly at him and nodded. “But we do need to talk about this, right? Before you go on your trip, yes? I need to know what this means to you.”
Sherlock sighed and nodded. “Get us a cab, will you John?” Sherlock still seemed shaken and more upset than the situation warranted.
Three days later
Keeping his pace steady and his manner casual, John planned his movements carefully. Leaving the hospital had been easy. No one had noticed his departure. He thought he’d seen a couple of Protectors at one of the main entrances, but he’d decided not use his empathy to find out for sure and had headed in the opposite direction.
First was a visit to his bank, where he withdrew everything but the minimum amount needed to keep the account open. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much but it was enough to get him out of the country if necessary.
His next stop was the gym where he’d done his physiotherapy when he’d first arrived in London, ill and alone. The gym had been recommended by Bill Murray, one of his former team mates who’d saved his life in Afghanistan. John had kept a membership after he’d finished his physio. There were instructors there who helped him keep fit and continued to teach him how build on what he’d learnt from his former commando team mates. He worked hard to keep fit and in practice and was proud of what he’d been able to accomplish, despite the wound. It was hard, dangerous work running after Sherlock and he wanted to be able to use all his skills to protect the both of them.
As a member, he had his own locker where he kept various items that were going to be very useful to him if he was to avoid being captured by the Tower. After the gym, John needed to find a safe house and go to ground until he could decide what he was going to do. And he needed to contact Sherlock. His ultimate decisions hinged on what Sherlock wanted to do after John told him what was happening.
John considered ringing Sherlock or at least texting him. Uncertainty about what exactly to tell him concerning the Tower’s custody warrant made him hesitate. His thoughts kept running round and round in circles and not coming up with any decisions.
Three days previously
Both were silent in the cab on the ride home. Sherlock was still shaking off the effects of the zone and John was rather freaked out by what he’d done. He didn’t speak until they got into the foyer. “Sherlock, look, I’m sorry…”
“Not now. Please. My brother is here.” Sherlock did look apologetic and John subsided again. They climbed the stairs to find Mycroft sitting in John’s chair, coat and umbrella hung neatly from the coat rack.
”Hello, brother mine.” Mycroft’s smiling face was smug, his hands folded carefully in his lap. As he slowly removed his jacket, John looked around and noticed that all the white noise machines were turned on. That was odd because he always turned them off when he left the flat. John wondered what Mycroft was up to this time. Sherlock threw off his coat and scarf and headed for his room.
“I don’t have time for you right now, Mycroft,” he sneered over his shoulder.
Mycroft sighed heavily. “Yes, I know. Your flight to Vancouver, which I have apparently paid for, will be leaving in three hours. I don’t know why you don’t use your own money. Mummy and I have made sure you have full access to your trust fund now.”
Sherlock turned around at the doorway to his room. “You know why. The minute I touch even a penny, Mummy and Father will take it as permission to intrude into all aspects of my life. I won’t have it. I’d rather starve to death.”
Mycroft sighed and gave up for the moment as his brother disappeared into his room and slammed the door. “Hello, John.” The smile he gave John was more of a displeased grimace.
Always polite despite any and all provocation, John nodded and smiled back. “Would you care for some tea, Mycroft?” Mycroft’s expression changed a fraction, approaching a true smile. “Yes, please. Milk and sugar. Do you have any biscuits?”
He fixed a plate of biscuits and three mugs of tea. Before he went back into the lounge area, he set one mug and a biscuit on the table for Sherlock despite his cry of “No time!” as the detective sailed in and out of the kitchen for some reason John couldn’t determine.
Shaking his head at his flatmate’s antics, John sat in Sherlock’s chair facing Mycroft. They drank their tea and listened to Sherlock rummage frantically around in his room for a while. John was rather quiet, afraid of what he’d done at the bridge and worried about how Sherlock was going to react to what he wanted to propose. He’d really hoped they’d have a chance to talk about it, but it didn’t seem that was going to happen for a few days. John supposed he still had plenty of time to bring the subject up and it was probably best not to try to force the issue while Sherlock was still a bit shaky. It took a few minutes for him to realize that Mycroft was staring at him with a speculative look in his eyes.
John frowned at him. “What? Do I have something on my face?” He wiped at his upper lip with his serviette but Mycroft shook his head.
“I don’t recommend you try it with Sherlock, John.”
John frowned. ”What are you on about?” Mycroft often confused John, but at least he usually knew what subject they were talking about. This time he was at a total loss.
”Your plan to ask Sherlock to form a bond with you. It won’t work. Sherlock is an alpha sentinel. Even if he wanted to bond to a guide, he won’t accept a less than optimum bond with a non-guide empath.
“I’ve seen your file. You’re supposed to be a level four empath. And you’re a beta. Even if you were a full guide our family would never allow you to bond with Sherlock.” Mycroft looked a bit too knowing for John’s peace of mind.
He should be used to the Holmes brothers reading his mind, but he hadn’t expected the elder Holmes to be practically clairvoyant. The fact was John had planned to ask Sherlock to bond with him, just as Mycroft had said. Was Mycroft implying he knew John’s empathy was quite a bit stronger than a level four? John wouldn’t be the first empath who fibbed on his official paperwork. It wasn’t a crime to lie about your empath status but it would be soon if the proposed legislation passed in the next few months.
“What are you talking about, Mycroft? I don’t understand.” Deciding to play dumb probably wasn’t the best plan, but it was all John could come up with at the moment.
“Of course you do, John. Please don’t be disingenuous.” Mycroft’s smile gentled, expressing fake concern for the doctor. Unexpectedly angry, John narrowed his eyes at him. “I know you care deeply for my brother but you’re not appropriate for him. Once the new laws pass, there will soon be a glut of guides to choose from and our family is in a position to pick from the best possible for him. But that’s not what’s being planning for Sherlock.
“Soon, he’ll be strongly encouraged to give up this… lifestyle.” Mycroft looked around the flat in distaste and continued. “Consulting sentinel detective is an interesting hobby, but our family has arranged an important position in the government for him that will further the interests of our family and our position within society.
“Sherlock has serious responsibilities. As the sole alpha sentinel in our immediate family, he is the only one who can carry on our ancestral name. Mummy has chosen an omega from an excellent family for Sherlock and has made it clear to him that he must obey her in this. And, as you know, a sentinel, especially an alpha sentinel, cannot form a bond with two separate people. He must choose either a guide or an omega and cannot have both.
“So you have to understand, John, that Sherlock must choose the path of spouse and family. He needs to grow up, leave all this behind and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. You encourage him too much in his hobby.”
John couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you saying I’m no good and a bad influence on him? That I need to leave here for his own good?” The doctor was incredulous, angry and hurt. Sherlock had never said a word to him about this and he must have been furious at all this parental intrusiveness.
Lowering his voice, he practically jeered at Mycroft in disbelief. “Do you honestly think Sherlock will go along with this? Are you sure you’re his brother? You don’t seem to know him at all!”
“I assure you I am completely serious in this matter. Sherlock has been informed of this and knows his duty.” Mycroft lifted his chin and looked down his rather long nose at John.
Until he’d met Sherlock, John had never wanted to bond with anyone. He was perfectly happy in his chosen persona as a beta low level empath. But if the legislation attempting to roll back the guide and omega reforms of the 1970’s passed, he and every other adult under the age of fifty in the country would have to be tested by the Tower.
He would be discovered as a guide strength empath. Worse than that, the Tower would find out he was also an omega disguised as a beta. He would disappear into the bowels of the Tower and never be allowed to see the light of day until his fertility failed. Omega guides were the rarest of all guides and, if found unbonded, had no legal autonomy over their lives. They were automatically the property of the Tower that discovered them.
It was no wonder John desperately wanted to keep his secrets. Getting down to brass tacks, the best solution for John was to bond with Sherlock. The Tower would no longer have any claim on him and, if the proposed legislation passed, the new laws couldn’t touch him.
His only other option was to leave the country and that was the last resort. But with this new information from Mycroft, John’s plans came crashing down. He felt shattered and bereft, but he couldn’t honestly say he had the right to those feelings as Sherlock had agreed to nothing but a discussion.
Trusting Sherlock with his life, John had fully intended to reveal to his potential bond mate his guide nature as well as his actual gender before making his proposal. But he’d apparently been stupid and had waited too long. Somehow he’d never considered that Sherlock might reject him in favour of his family.
But…why would the Holmes family forbid him to bond with Sherlock? Would they continue to reject him if they knew he was an omega guide? Or was this some kind of class thing? Sherlock, for all his posh ways, had never seemed to be class-conscious. His actions proved the opposite, in fact. His friendships with various members of his homeless network was a case in point.
John was outraged. He wanted to pinch himself to see if he was having a nightmare or maybe hallucinating that he was somehow living a Regency romance novel.
“Knows his duty…! Mycroft, this is the twenty-first century! Sherlock isn’t some Victorian maiden! Your family can’t force him into some kind of arranged marriage!”
”He knows his duty,” Mycroft repeated. “He’s an alpha sentinel. I’m a beta sentinel and any children my guide Anthea and I have will not be allowed to inherit. Our ancestral property is entailed, unfortunately. Sherlock will also inherit the family titles and money once he bonds, as well.” Mycroft looked sour. “It’s all up to Sherlock at this point.”
Everything John had hoped for might be for naught if Sherlock couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up to his family. And did John even have the right to ask Sherlock to do that and disregard his family’s wishes? Could he ask Sherlock to give up all the family wealth and titles, whatever they might be? Just for a plain, damaged, former soldier? When he probably had a young, beautiful omega of good family waiting for him? His resolve wavered and his heart sank. It was indeed up to Sherlock.
John was about to reply when his mind was invaded with a strong feeling of anxiety and misery. He turned around quickly in his chair, heart pounding, to see Sherlock standing in the kitchen doorway behind him. The sensations were intense and, despite Sherlock’s face being completely emotionless, John knew these feelings were coming from his flatmate.
What exactly was happening? Had they formed a rudimentary bond in the spirit world? John cursed his ignorance of guide lore though he was pretty certain that they’d not bonded. From what he’d been told, that was a rather passionate experience involving particular body parts and nudity. He certainly would have remembered if that had occurred. But Sherlock’s emotions were slipping past his shields as if they weren’t there, so some connection had been established by their experience together in the blue forest. He wondered if Sherlock was similarly affected.
Noticing he was being observed, Sherlock’s face closed down and his nostrils flared as his angry gaze switched to Mycroft. John waited for Sherlock to flay his older brother, but nothing happened. He glanced back up at Sherlock only to see a look of despair and desperation that echoed the feelings the detective was broadcasting flit across Sherlock’s face so quickly he almost missed it.
“I have to go now,” the detective said quickly. John noticed for the first time his suitcase was packed and sitting by the door. “Mycroft, I need a lift to the airport.” The elder Holmes nodded and rose, extending his hand to John, who shook it in stunned silence. He looked back and forth between the two brothers as they prepared to leave, not knowing what to say. Sherlock glanced miserably at him a few times and hesitated at the door as Mycroft went down the stairs. He then turned and practically fled down the stairs.
Disappointment, desolation and frustration enveloped John. His head was spinning from the speed of events and he couldn’t quite make sense of what he’d just learnt.
Maybe making another mug of tea might help. As he moved slowly toward the kitchen, he heard footsteps bounding up the stairs. Turning back, he saw Sherlock standing in the doorway, looking exceedingly serious and grim.
“Sherlock! What’s wrong? Did you forget something?” Confusion now warred with the anxiety he’d been experiencing. The emotions of misery and despair he’d been picking up from Sherlock were now drowned in fear.
Sherlock seemed tongue-tied. “I’m so sorry about all of this, John.”
“It’s fine. I understand.” John watched, strangely fascinated, as Sherlock fidgeted. He’d never really seen that before and hadn’t known Sherlock capable. He was about to say something else when his flatmate stepped forward and gently pressed dry lips to his in a chaste kiss. Before John could respond, he’d stepped back, looking panicked.
”Oh, no you don’t,” John growled and grabbed Sherlock by the lapels of his ridiculous coat. He gave the detective a snogging he wouldn’t soon forget. At first Sherlock was stiff with shock, then relaxed into it and crushed John to his chest. John let go of the coat and wrapped his arms around Sherlock’s neck and held on as if he were drowning. Without conscious thought, just as it had in the blue forest, John’s empathy wrapped around them both and enveloped them with warmth, love and comfort as the kiss deepened.
Running out of air, John finally had to break the embrace and the haze of empathy dissipated slowly from around them. Still holding on tightly to his sentinel, his alpha, John’s possessive gaze rose to Sherlock, who was staring at him with a strange combination of astonishment and worship. John was amazed at the extent of his friend’s bravery for making the first move, though he probably shouldn’t have been. No one could ever call Sherlock a coward. But Sherlock didn’t do emotions. At least, John really hadn’t thought so until now. Emotions practically poured off of him and John could feel every one.
”That was… unexpected,” Sherlock whispered. John smiled at Sherlock’s gob smacked expression and didn’t bother to answer as he dreamily rubbed his thumb over Sherlock’s swollen upper lip. He’d always wanted to do that.
“Right. Okay. I have to leave. Or I’ll be late. I didn’t want you to think…that I don’t care. Just… just wait for me, all right? I’ll be back in a few days. There’s time to sort this out. I’m working on a solution.” Amused at how inarticulate he’d made his friend, John could only nod and give him a half smile. I did that to him. The doctor got a small smile in return and Sherlock left.
Fuck you, Mycroft Holmes, thought John smugly. He did have a chance.
Three days later:
John considered his options as he walked. The gym was a few miles south, away from the hospital nearer the river, so he had some time to think. Pushing down his worries, he tried to order his thoughts and pay attention to what he was doing. He needed to make a plan. It was harder than he expected because he was so out of practice. He was forgetting some basic tenets of working in the field such as not letting his fear and anxiety get the upper hand and remembering to evaluate everything as a potential threat. He’d got mentally soft in the year he’d been away from the wars. That had to change.
John spent the trip to the gym scanning his environment with his empathy the way he had been trained to do in the desert. Keeping alert had meant keeping himself and his team mates alive.
He made it to his destination without incident but waited in the mouth of an alley to make sure he’d not been tailed. Using his empathy like radar, he swept the surrounding area for danger. Everything was as it should be. The area was sparsely populated during the middle of the day so there were very few people about.
Watching the CCTV cameras carefully, he walked confidently across the street, up the steps and into the gym. He knew he was probably being a bit paranoid about the cameras, but it never hurt to be careful, especially when Mycroft had access to them. He still wasn’t sure who turned him in and Mycroft was one of the top suspects.
The familiar smell of the place hit him as he made his way to the locker room, waving at Marty as he passed by the main office. The manager stuck his head out of the door and called after him, “Hey, Doc! There’s a message for you!” Surprised, John turned and followed Marty into the small room.
”Hi, Marty. What’s up?” Marty had been a Royal Marine and was now retired. He was still tough as nails and was one of John’s favourite sparring partners. He’d taught John some amazing things and had adapted certain fighting techniques to help strengthen and protect his damaged shoulder. John was very fond of him. ”I got a message for you. Big, blond bloke came by the other day and dropped it off. He said it wasn’t urgent. Knew you’d be in sooner or later so I put it here somewhere.” Marty shuffled a bunch of papers around on his desk and came up with a medium sized manila envelope.
“Here you go.” John thanked him and headed back to the locker room. He had a feeling he knew who had sent it.
Thankfully, the locker room was fairly empty, being as it was the middle of the day. Sitting on the bench in front of his locker, John took a moment to close his eyes and just breathe. A sense of urgency kept picking at him, but he pushed it down. He was safe here for the time being and needed to relax and clear his mind so he could equip himself and make a viable plan. But first, he opened the envelope he’d picked up from Marty.
Just as he’d expected, there was a note from Forrester and a new mobile. He had recognised his former commander’s guide’s handwriting immediately.
Inside was a simple message. ‘Doc. Keep in touch. We’re concerned and will help if needed. The mobile is activated and untraceable.’ There was a number written down that John immediately memorised. It was nice to know Henderson and Forrester had his back if necessary.
Forrester must have been keeping an eye on the political events in the UK and knew what the effect would be on him if the legislation passed. He had confessed to her his desire to stay with Sherlock after she and Henderson had offered him a spot in their newly formed mercenary outfit.
She hadn’t tried hard to change his mind when he’d turned them down, though. She was a guide herself, bonded outside a Tower’s interference, to a sentinel of her own choosing and she understood all too well that John wanted the same thing. He smiled with fondness. He had always known Starr was a secret romantic. The note and mobile were her way of giving him another option if Sherlock rejected him.
On that unwelcome thought, John quickly switched mental gears and opened his locker to reveal a rather large rucksack. Pulling out various items, John placed them on the bench beside him, making a mental inventory of what he might need for the next few days. My basic urban survival kit, he thought to himself with black humour.
There were important items like fake identifications and passports, small amounts of various types of currency, a makeup kit, changes of clothing and shoes but most importantly, he unpacked what he jokingly called his chain mail pants.
A gift from Henderson before John was discharged, it was a matte black, light-weight Kevlar-type mesh undergarment that was so advanced in design that it was still classified. No one on John’s team had known what the material was made from. Issued to only certain commando groups, it was a multi-piece article of protective gear, thin enough to be worn under street clothing or a uniform.
There were separate pieces for each part of the body that, when fully assembled, covered all vital areas as well as the extremities and throat. The garment was similar to thermals in many respects. It allowed the skin to breathe but also insulated and worked well in both hot and cold climates. The fabric could easily turn a knife, could slow down a bullet and would certainly stop a taser or a tranquilliser dart.
Removing all his clothing except his pants, socks and vest, John assembled the garment beginning with the leg pieces. Each section attached with Velcro, which made it adjustable and very easy to put on or remove in case of emergencies. The piece that went around the throat was somewhat noticeable with an open necked shirt but would be invisible with a polo neck. Since the Tower sentinels were armed with darts as well as tasers, he needed to make sure his more vulnerable areas were well protected. He left off the elbow, groin and knee pads because they were bulkier and would be noticeable.
John redressed in black jeans, a dark blue polo neck and boots that gave him another two inches of height. There were also cleverly hidden compartments in the boots where he could hide money, small tools and documents. His belt also had places to hide various useful tools that were easily accessible.
He chuckled a bit at the absurdity that his life had become. He thought he’d left all this cloak and dagger shite behind him. It now seemed that was not going to be the case and apparently you never knew when you might need that micro thin carbon fibre cable or a shoe phone.
Speaking of electronics, John reached into the rucksack and removed what looked like an mp3 player. It was actually a rather powerful radio interception device. The battery was out so he found a nearby power point and plugged it into the charger. Tucking the earpieces in, he tuned the device to the Tower’s frequency and listened.
From the chatter he could decipher, Deeds and Wilson had been found and his escape noted rather loudly. Tower control was now calling in all off duty Protectors and unassigned bonded sentinels to come to the Tower.
This was bad and rather perplexing news. Why would they call in all Tower sentinels for plain old John Watson? Bloody hell. All they knew of him officially was that he was beta and a low level empath, possibly hiding a guide strength empathic ability. That wasn’t uncommon and he couldn’t understand why they were going to all this effort. What did they know or think they knew? Could they be planning a Hunt? Such a thing hadn’t happened in years, decades maybe. He wasn’t sure.
If the Tower alphas were planning a Hunt, it meant moving around the city would be much more difficult. Chances were good that they’d approach the media for help in locating him. He’d have to find a safe place and stay put until he could reach Sherlock.
Leaving the radio to charge, he returned to the locker and rucksack. He needed more intel before he could move out. Picking up the mobiles liberated from Deeds and Wilson, he scrolled through the lists of contacts and then looked at their saved texts. His blood ran cold with disbelief and then hot with anger when he recognised a number on both of the mobiles.
So, it was Mycroft who’d turned his name into the Tower authorities, the unmitigated bastard. Did Mycroft think that if John was permanently out of the way, Sherlock would be more likely to go along with his family’s plans for him? Well, he had another think coming. Mycroft apparently did not know his brother very well. And he knew John not at all.
If John was captured, he knew for a fact that Sherlock wouldn’t rest until he found out what happened and why. Then there would be some serious hell to pay and when Sherlock found out about his brother’s involvement, there would be blood. John looked forward to seeing that because he was bound and determined to stay out of the Tower’s hands and present the evidence of Mycroft’s complicity in this betrayal to his hopefully future bond mate.
Now that he knew Mycroft was involved, however, his paranoia ratcheted up and with good cause. It didn’t exactly explain why the Tower was acting so aggressively but now he knew how they had been able to find him. After all, he had the use of unlimited governmental resources and it was possible that he could trace John’s location through the use of his mobile. And John had first hand proof of Mycroft’s ability to control the CCTV cameras. A thought struck him suddenly. Did Mycroft know of John’s membership to this gym? It wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest. He needed to get moving and soon.
There was a small holdall that he removed from the locker. He considered whether to take the contents with him and decided that he wouldn’t need the Browning or the knives. The Tower wanted him unhurt and he honestly didn’t want to kill or seriously injure the sentinels that would be sent after him. He certainly didn’t need any murder charges against him if he wanted to stay in London with Sherlock.
He’d got off easy with the death of that serial killer cabbie, Jefferson Hope. Lestrade had not known it was John who had pulled the trigger, but John was pretty sure Mycroft knew and had done nothing because John had done it to protect Sherlock. .
John wondered if Mycroft knew about Jim from St. Bart’s IT department, too. If he did, he knew that John would not allow anyone to harm Sherlock in any way, either directly or indirectly. Jim had tried to hurt the detective by abducting John and had found out the hard way that John was no one’s pet and the doctor was absolutely ruthless to his and Sherlock’s enemies. As far as he knew, no one had found the body yet.
Did Mycroft not realise just how dangerous John could be to him? Mycroft’s actions suggested not. It was a strange blindness on Mycroft’s part and John thought about how he might exploit it. Maybe the elder Holmes thought the Tower would succeed in capturing John and he wouldn’t have to worry about any retaliation. If so, he was quite wrong.
John removed the weapons and packed them into the rucksack. He kept one knife and strapped it to his forearm under his shirt, just in case. Knives were useful for all sorts of things, not just for gutting an enemy, after all.
The holdall was filled with a couple of changes of clothes, pants and socks. It was actually more like a messenger bag, rather flat and wide. It could be carried on his back easily. Making sure he had everything he needed, John shoved the rucksack back into the locker along with the two mobiles he’d taken from Deeds and Wilson.
It was time to contact Sherlock. He checked the new phone, which was fully charged and memorised the number. Quickly, he sent a text to his friend letting him know that he was changing his phone, would ring soon and sent the new number he would be using.
John had no idea how it worked, but he suspected it was somehow linked to some satellite or other. He really didn’t want to know, to be honest.
John erased the memory on his old phone and removed the SIM card. It went into the locker with the others while he pocketed the new one.
Unplugging the radio from the power point, he tucked it and the charge cord into an inside pocket and inserted one of the earpieces, leaving the other to dangle. To most people, it would look as if he were listening to music on an iPod instead of eavesdropping on Tower communications.
Mentally checking everything over before he closed up the locker for good, he realised he’d forgotten his hormone suppressants. There was enough in the tin for another month. Quickly tucking them into a front pocket of his coat, he shut the locker, took a deep breath and stood. Time to move.
Stopping by the loo, he flushed the message from Forrester and the old SIM card. Pulling the ball cap back over his head, John headed for the exit at the rear of the gym. Waving goodbye to Marty, he headed out the door to find a place to lay low and wait for Sherlock.
Christ on a crutch, it must be a seriously slow news day, John thought as he sat on the bed of a run-down hotel on the East side of London, watching the evening news broadcast with fascinated horror and disbelief. A take away container with spinach vindaloo sat forgotten in front of him as he watched mobile phone videos of himself taking down four Protectors. Forgetting the pain of his bruises and scraped knuckles as well as his hunger, he couldn’t look away from the telly.
It was surreal to see this on the news and a bit frightening. Thankfully the quality of the videos was poor so it was very unlikely anyone would recognise him. The baseball cap hid his face pretty well, too.
The various highlights of the fight seemed to be on a repeat loop playing in the background behind a pretty blonde television journalist. She introduced someone’s name he didn’t catch and the camera cut to another interchangeably pretty blonde reporter standing on a street he unfortunately recognised, having been there rather recently. .
“Linda, we have learned very little specific information about the incident at this point. Around half three this afternoon, eyewitnesses reported an unidentified man being pursued by a group of four Tower Protectors and their guides.” She turned and walked down the sidewalk, holding the microphone in one hand and gesturing along the road ahead of her, still speaking.
“Witnesses say the man appeared to have been running east along this street for at least a mile when the Protectors cut him off right here at this alley, surrounded him and began shooting at him with tasers and tranquilliser darts.” The camera cut to an area cordoned off with yellow police tape and disgruntled Met officers picking multiple darts off the ground and bagging them. John was relieved that he didn’t recognise any of the officers. He half expected to see Anderson there.
The reporter continued, “The darts and tasers had no effect, however. And, as you can see from the videos shot by a number of witnesses, the unidentified man, using what some have described as, “ she looked down at her notes, ‘awesome Ninja moves’, rendered all the Protectors unconscious within 30 seconds. Once the Protectors were down, the man ran from the scene and disappeared into the crowds.”
The fight began to replay on screen. The person recording the fight had a good angle and had kept his camera phone fairly still. John watched again with a critical eye. Thank goodness for his chain mail pants. He’d been hit by so many darts he looked like a pincushion.
Roberts would be ashamed at the lack of height he’d got on that flying kick. He’d been aiming for the man’s chest but it wasn’t his fault these damn sentinels tended to be so tall and he’d kicked the man in the gut instead. It had worked and that’s all that really mattered. The sweeping kick and follow up elbow to the face on the second attacker was nice, though.
It was then that big bastard had tackled him and knocked them both into the rubbish bins. His hip and shoulder ached remembering how hard they’d hit the pavement and how he’d grappled with a man who probably outweighed him by at least five stone. The sentinel had grabbed his arms but John had twisted frantically and kneed him in the bollocks.
He’d gone down like a felled tree. John had just managed to get upright when the last one was on him, using the taser to no effect. The look on his face was almost funny when he looked at his weapon in bewilderment, only to look back up in time to get John’s elbow to his forehead.
He’d shot all of them with darts and had taken off running again without really noticing the crowd that had assembled. He had seen and noted that at least two of the sentinels had their guides with them, which was a bit unusual. The guides were shouting into their radios as he sped past them but he managed to get away and to this ratty hotel.
He focused back on the telly as the reporter continued. “The Tower has refused to comment on this incident but we have been informed from our Tower liaison that a press conference is to be called within the next 24 hours.”
The picture of the reporter shrank down to a box beside the broadcaster sitting in the studio. “So what can we assume from all this, Janet?”
“We just don’t know what provoked this incident today but our viewers should stay tuned as we discover more details in the hours to come. Back to you, Linda.”
The blonde newscaster thanked her colleague and turned to two men who had joined her at the news desk.
“Please welcome our guests Dr Paul Barris and Mr David Garrigan, MP. Gentlemen, you’re both acknowledged experts on the history and politics of the London Sentinel Tower. I’ve just been informed there was a similar confrontation late this morning at Saint Bart’s Hospital where two Protectors were assaulted. Again, the Tower is not commenting on the incident. What do you think is happening here? This all seems a bit out of the ordinary. Dr Barris?”
“Thank you, Linda. What we are seeing is indeed unusual for the Tower. They are pursuing this man with an intensity I’ve rarely seen. Until we hear from the Tower, all we can truly do is theorise, but two prevailing hypotheses are this man is a powerful rogue guide they are intent on catching or he has committed a crime against the Tower.
“What we do know is that he’s older than most guides who are discovered and captured, so he’s obviously very good at hiding what he is from everyone, even those closest to him. This means that he’s likely extremely intelligent and clever.
“From what we’ve seen, he’s very capable of defending himself when threatened and so I suspect he’s either active or former military or police. A colleague of mine, a former Army officer, recognised some of the martial arts moves as being unique to the Royal Marines.
“My educated guess is that this man is a rogue guide who has some kind of ability or skill set that the Tower apparently wants as opposed to a criminal. In any event, the Tower does have the legal right to pursue without interference from the police.”
The blonde smiled widely. “Thank you, Doctor. Mr Garrigan, what is your take on this situation? Do you agree with Dr Barris that this man might be a powerful guide rather than a criminal?”
“I do, Linda. I think the Tower is very interested in this particular person. What surprises me is the vigour that the Tower is using to pursue this man. He must have something very special that they want. And it is apparent that he is extremely reluctant to be caught.
“The fact is that the Tower only needs to be patient for a few months and, if the proposed legislation passes, there will be a glut of new guides. I admit we need more guides, but for the record, I oppose this legislation. It’s draconian and will be the cause of many families being split apart as many men and women are forced into testing and then taken from their homes, careers and families. It’s horrendous on a scale that no one seems to be willing to admit. I’ve always supported the guide and omega reforms of the 60’s and ’70, and am horrified by this attempt to roll back their rights.
“I don’t know why this man has been targeted now. All I can surmise is that if they don’t capture him at this point in time, he’ll become somehow unavailable to them. He might have a family he wants to protect or is planning to leave the country. I just know that he’s doing his best to avoid the Tower and I wish him good luck in whatever he’s trying to do. He has a lot of courage to defy the Towers in this. They have considerable political clout at the moment and aren’t afraid to use it against the common people.”
“Thank you, Mr Garrigan. It seems we’ll all have to be patient and wait for official word from the Towers.
“In other news, today…“ John sighed and switched off the telly.
He had been wondering some of the same things as he was being pursued by the Tower’s sentinels. Why were they so insistent?
He’d been discovered about four streets from the gym but didn’t realise it until he’d seen the guides in the alleyway. He had speculated on why he’d not picked up on the danger presented by the sentinels. His empathic radar was usually infallible but not when there was interference by other guides. He’d not really worked at cross purposes with other guides before.
In fact, he’d never met a sentinel and guide paring until he’d run into Henderson and Forrester. His home town had no sentinels or guides that he knew of and they had lived far from any large cities with Towers. He’d worked closely with Forrester when he’d been tapped to be a member of their team, but she was pretty much the only guide he’d ever known. She was the one who taught him everything he knew, but he was facing the unknown now.
John wanted desperately to tell Sherlock what was going on. Something made him hold off, however. He didn’t want to put pressure on his friend to make a decision. Asking Sherlock to defy his family and bond with him instead was an enormous thing to ask of his friend. And did he actually have the right to request anything that huge from Sherlock?
He had experienced everything that Sherlock had felt when he’d wrapped his empathy around them both as they’d kissed each other. It had been a revelation. Was that what it was like to be bonded? If so, it would be amazing! He would never have guessed how deeply his friend had felt about him otherwise. But Sherlock didn’t know how John felt about him. While Sherlock trusted him with his life, John wasn’t sure if Sherlock trusted him with his heart yet. John would have to show him but that could only be done face to face.
After the detective had left, it hadn’t helped John’s insecurities to find an envelope hidden under some papers on Sherlock’s desk, full of glossy photos of available omegas that Sherlock’s mother had sent to him. The omegas were everything John wasn’t; young, beautiful and perfect.
Sherlock leaving so quickly after that kiss had made John feel like his heart was wrenched out of his chest and torn in half. He was tired of that feeling and wanted Sherlock home. Staring at the mobile was not going to work. Gathering up the shreds of his courage, John picked up the phone and dialled Sherlock’s number.
The phone rang five times before it was answered. Hearing his flatmate’s beautifully modulated baritone had John’s shoulders relaxing and he sighed in relief at reaching Sherlock.
“Hello, John. Are you all right?”
“Fine. I’m fine, Sherlock. Is this a good time to ring? Are you working? What time is it there?” John could never remember time zones and he hoped he hadn’t woken Sherlock. He could be a bit nasty if he’d been knocked up too early.
“Yes, I’m currently at the medical examiner’s office. We’re just finishing up reviewing the autopsy reports and it’s now 11 am. I’ve found some interesting data that I think we can use when Molly completes the report on her findings. Has any progress been made on her end? And has Lestrade mentioned anything? He was supposed to be doing some research on missing twins in the London area.”
“Missing twins? I…, um, no. I’ve not talked with either one lately. I’ve not given them the new number yet.”
”Oh, I see. Well, please let me know when you hear from them or tell them they can contact me directly. Though I don’t suppose either one will want to pay for an international call.” Sherlock sounded rather sour. “No matter. I’m almost done here.”
“It’s good. That you’re almost done then.” He felt awkward and wasn’t sure what to say. He tried to keep his voice light.
“So. Does that mean you’ll be home soon? I…I…” I miss you. I can’t feel you any more. You’re too far away and I need you with me. “I just wanted to find out, you see.” He felt like an idiot and was surprised at how frayed his voice sounded.
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. “You’re repeating what I’m saying back to me and you sound weird. Are you angry with me for leaving before we could discuss the events of the other day?”
“What? Oh, no…well, yes, a bit, but that’s not important right now.” The walls in the hotel were paper thin and a drunk started shouting and singing right outside his door. John tried to shield the receiver but Sherlock was a sentinel so it was pretty much hopeless. Shit.
Sherlock sounded concerned. “John? Is that a drunken person in the flat? But the acoustics don’t reverberate that way. It sounds like you’re in a hotel room, John. Why aren’t you home? What’s happening? Is there something wrong at the flat? Is Mrs Hudson well?”
John smiled at the verbal barrage. “I’m fine. The flat and Mrs Hudson are fine as far as I know. I am at a hotel, though. It’s a bit of a long story and we can talk about it when you get home.” John rushed to change the subject. He was such a coward. “So can you tell me when you’re coming home?”
Thankfully, Sherlock cooperated with the change in subject. “I have gathered as much information as I can here. The police have been surprisingly helpful and the medical examiner is not a total incompetent.” That was actually high praise from the sentinel detective. “There’s a flight out early tomorrow morning so I hope to be back in London sometime in the late evening.”
His tone somewhat hesitant, Sherlock continued. “John. I… what you wanted to talk to me about? I know what you want and you should know…,” he trailed off and John could hear him speaking to someone else in the room. He came back to the phone. “I need to go in a minute. I’ll ring you later but I just want you to know that…I’m sorry, just a moment.”
There was some more fumbling and Sherlock was back. His voice was softer and deeper than usual. “I’m alone for the moment. I’ve had these few days to really think about things and I can’t do it. You need to know that…this is difficult for me, John.”
The doctor’s heart sank and he felt ill. He should have expected that Sherlock would have difficulty defying his powerful family. Anyone would. He interrupted, his voice ragged. “It’s fine, Sherlock. I understand. I know it’s asking too much of anyone to oppose their family’s wishes…”
“No, John! That’s not what I’m trying to say. Please. It’s difficult for me to talk about how I feel about anything and I knew I’d make a hash of it.” Sherlock sounded wrung out. “You know emotions are really not my area. I tend to rely on you for that.” Sherlock sounded a bit wry and John’s hopes rose a bit.
The detective plunged on. “The fact is, I rely on you now for most things and I don’t want that to change. These last few days alone have made me understand that I can’t live without you. I don’t know how I could possibly have ever lived without you.
“If you want to bond with me, I’ll be happy to try. I know you’re officially a level four but I think we can make it work. Do you want to try? Will you bond with me?” Sherlock’s voice wobbled a bit, sounding vulnerable and scared.
After being handed everything he ever wanted on a silver platter, John’s throat took that moment to completely close up on him. “Yes! Sherlock, yes,” came out as a squeak but Sherlock seemed to understand.
The detective took in a deep breath through his nose and blew it out audibly. ”Good. Very good. Well then. I’m glad that’s settled.” He sounded pleased and relieved. “We can talk more when I arrive home. Just so you know, if we manage to succeed in bonding, my family will make your life a living hell.”
John’s heart was bursting with a wild joy. “As long as we’re together, I don’t care, Sherlock. And yes, I think we can make it work, too. As long as you want this, too.”
His happiness must have been pouring out of the phone because Sherlock sounded absolutely breathless as he replied, “Well, then. That’s wonderful. We’ll talk again soon, right?”
”Yes. All right, then. I… I miss you,” John whispered, voice barely functioning again. I love you.
Sherlock seemed to have picked up what John didn’t say. “I ...me, too. I have to go. Goodbye, John,” Sherlock murmured back and then disconnected.
John felt like he’d been hit by a lorry, but in a good way. Everything he’d hoped for was going to come true, but only if he could stay out of the Tower’s hands for another day. The hotel where he was staying was fairly inexpensive and he’d paid through to tomorrow, so he could just stay put. No problem. John couldn’t stop smiling.
The release of stress felt like waves of heat radiating off of his shoulders. He felt light as air and the world seemed ten times brighter.
Finishing his dinner, the doctor remembered he’d not taken his hormone suppressant for the day. It took him a moment to remember where he’d put them, but when he searched for them in his jacket, they weren’t there. He tore frantically through the rest of his belongings, just in case he’d misremembered where he’d put them. But they weren’t to be found anywhere.
He sat stunned for a few minutes before the realisation hit him like a punch to the gut. They must have been lost when the Protector had thrown him into those rubbish bins. This meant the pills had probably been found by the Police after the fight, which then meant that the Tower now knew he was taking omega hormone suppressants. So they now knew he was an omega guide. Fucking hell!
First things first. John needed to be calm. He also needed the bloody suppressants. If he stopped taking them for more than a few days, he’d go into heat for the first time since he was sixteen. He wasn’t ready for that. Getting more pills had just become a major priority. That meant going out. Well fuck. It was risky but it had to be done.
Acting quickly, he dialled the chemists where he had a refill prescription. They were open late, which was why he’d chosen them in the first place. With Sherlock’s schedule, he never knew when he’d have time to go do something so mundane as visit the chemists’ shop. The only drawback was that the shop was close to the Baker Street flat. He’d have to risk it.
The prescription was under a false name. His doctor was a former classmate and also an omega who, like him, had chosen to live as a beta and understood the need for secrecy and discretion. The call got him the promise of a refill and he was ready to go. Making sure he had taken everything he needed and checking the time, he reluctantly decided to pay a cab to take him to the chemist.
At his request, the taxi dropped him off a couple of streets away from the shop. He wasn’t really expecting any trouble but kept alert anyway. There were still many people on the streets wandering in and out of the shops, pubs and restaurants that stayed open late. At any other time he’d have enjoyed being out and about amongst all the other people. Sherlock loved to people watch and John had learned to enjoy it as well.
There were far too many people to effectively scan for threats, so he kept his shields up high. It was a good thing he did so. As he reached the front door of the shop, agony lanced through his head and he stumbled to one knee. At first he thought he’d been shot in the head or was experiencing an aneurysm. The throbbing pain increased and his vision began to waver. Shocked and disoriented, the doctor finally realised his shields were under attack. He’d never experienced anything like it before.
Confused but able to shore up his weakening defences now that he understood what was happening, the doctor staggered to his feet and spun around, back to the shop window, to find his attackers.
There were at least three guides with their Protectors dressed in street clothes on the sidewalk surrounding him in a rough semi-circle. He’d not seen them at all. Did they have a way to disguise themselves from him? John’s spirit guide had said he still had much to learn. He cursed his lack of knowledge but there was no help for it.
These guides were trying to force their way into his head. Forrester had never told him that this was possible. Maybe she didn’t know either. John had little instruction whilst these guides had centuries of Tower tradition and education behind them. Except for holding his shields firm, John had no real idea how to stop them. How had they found him? Did he have a tracer on him somewhere or did they have a way to track his calls, despite Forrester’s assurances?
There was another blast against his shields that literally drove him back against the window of the shop. Crying out in pain as his head and shoulders hit the glass, John sank to his knees again, trying with all his strength to keep the guides out of his head.
If they got past his shields, he was lost. Sherlock and their future together would be lost. He was not going to let that happen. But fighting the three guides took all his energy and strength. And he still had to deal with the sentinels.
Something had to be done and fast, but thinking was so difficult right now. Maybe it was better to give up? No! Somehow the Tower guides had started to breach his crumbling defences and seep into his brain. Infuriated and desperate to hold onto his future, he began to actively fight back. He had no idea what he was doing but whatever he was doing seemed to be working.
In the background he could hear voices being raised in anger but he didn’t have the energy to devote to figuring out what was going on. He mentally surged against the guides and managed to stagger upright, face contorted into a grimace of extreme effort.
His vision cleared somewhat and he could see with satisfaction that all three guides in front of him were sweating heavily and appeared close to collapse. There was another attempt to violate his shields but it was much weaker than the last two efforts. The guides were looking exhausted, scared and afraid. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the signal for the sentinels to advance. John was weakening too but he wasn’t about to let these bastards win.
Shouting started up again to his right making the sentinels hesitate briefly, and he shot a glance in that direction. A group of young men and women were yelling at the sentinels and shaking their fists. He heard shouts of “Leave him alone, you wankers!” more than once from the throng of people drawn to the confrontation.
Stunned at the support he was receiving from the crowd, the doctor became distracted for just a critical moment and the guides attacked again. John wavered and his shields nearly buckled. He fought them back once more but didn’t know if he could do it again. He was seriously becoming afraid he might not win this.
When his vision cleared and he could breathe again, one of the sentinels had somehow materialised at his side and cuffed the doctor’s wrist without him being aware. The sentinel seemed to be as shocked as John was to have got so close and was reaching to cuff his other hand when John punched him in the face as hard as he could. The man went down like a sack of wet cement. The former soldier twisted away from the limp body to face the others threatening him, a snarl on his lips and the handcuff dangling from his wrist. John was very aware that he had a terrible temper. It had been remarked on quite often as he grew from a child into an adult, but he’d congratulated himself on keeping it under wraps most of the time. Unfortunately for the sentinel and guides in front of him, he had had enough.
All of his considerable rage and fear at what the Tower was threatening to take from him built and coalesced into an incandescent fury that he instinctively focused, directed and then literally blasted at the five people in front of him with terrifying accuracy.
The three guides dropped without a sound and the two standing sentinels howled and collapsed, hit by the discharge of inhumanly strong psychic energy thrown at them with all of John’s pain and desperation behind it. Even the non-empaths in the crowd could feel it and everyone stepped back in awe at what he’d done.
The doctor gazed absently at the prone figures on the sidewalk and tried to catch his breath as his head throbbed in time with his heart. The slight twitching of their limbs was the only indication that they weren’t dead. Frankly, he didn’t care if they were dead, damaged or just out cold.
John’s throat was raw from screaming out his anger and fear and he fell forward onto his hands and knees. Handcuff clanking loudly on the sidewalk, he gasped and tried to clear his head. One of the hecklers from the crowd dashed forward and grasped his arm, helping him to sit up. He was a young man with long dreadlocks and a strong West Indian accent.
“Hey, man,” he said urgently, looking around at the crowd. “You need to get out of here. I heard them calling for back-up. You have to run. Can you stand up?” John nodded wearily and with the man’s help, got shakily to his feet. The crowd flowed forward and surrounded them as the sound of roaring engines, honking horns and shrieking tyres were heard from the street. ”I think that’s them. Go! Go, man! And good luck!” John thanked him and staggered off into a crowd that parted to allow him to pass and closed back up to hide him.
He wobbled a bit but the burst of adrenalin he got from knowing the back-up had arrived steadied him. The crowd had closed ranks and kept the Protectors confused whilst he gained a head start. John started running.
His speed increased as his aching head finally began to clear. The hotel was too far away for him to make it on foot in his condition so he’d need to catch a taxi. But the possibility of pursuit was too close and he was afraid he’d be followed and cornered if he was seen hailing a cab.
The chemists’ shop was close to the Baker Street flat so John was extremely familiar with the surrounding area. Shaking a tail was going to be difficult but not impossible.
The familiar adrenaline fuelled hyperawareness that was his normal state of mind when on missions was beginning to settle on him. It allowed him to keep a close eye on his surroundings as he ran, dodging cars in the street and pelting through rubbish filled alleys.
Sherlock had delighted in taking John out to study the back ways and alleys of the city and they’d spent many a happy evening mapping out changes and new locations with the intent of being able to traverse the city quickly in pursuit of criminals. The knowledge he had gained was going to come in very useful despite the fact he was the one who was now considered to be the criminal.
Knowing Sherlock would be back the next day kept his spirits up and he forged ahead with renewed energy. People on the street stopped to watch him speed by them. He had a plan of where to go and if he could get there, he had a good chance of slipping any pursuer.
Why had they not tried to shoot him with the tranquillisers back at the chemists? Were they trying to get him to incriminate himself by proving he had guide strength abilities? Well, if that was the case, then he had certainly fallen into that trap. Right now he could care less. Breathing was more important.
Rain began to fall lightly, misting the atmosphere and softening the night time illumination. John knew someone was following. He took a quick moment to turn on the radio and listen in on the Tower’s frequency as he ran. Sure enough, they were reporting that John had been sighted and they were in pursuit.
He was a bit puzzled and also amused to hear the Protectors who had arrived on the scene at the chemists complaining to the Tower that witnesses were refusing to help and some were outright interfering with the sentinels.
The doctor was not completely surprised at the hostility toward the Protectors. It seems something about John’s plight had touched a nerve with the public. Maybe citizens were identifying with John’s situation because, if the Towers had their way, many more people could soon find themselves in his shoes, helpless to determine their own fate or path in life, all because of a genetic anomaly.
Since it was a Friday evening, the area he was heading toward was full of people attending nightclubs and restaurants featuring live music. The streets and pavements would be heavily congested with vehicles and people coming into the area for an entertaining night out. It would be loud, smelly and visually confusing for a sentinel, so that’s exactly where John wanted to be. John’s speed slowed as he began to encounter the crowds in the streets and he finally had to drop down to a fast walk, weaving in and out of the people strolling along and congregating in queues to enter the clubs. John heard some commotion behind him and glanced back over his shoulder to see a tall, well built man pushing through the crowd, moving at a fast jog. The people he was pushing aside were reacting with irritation but the man didn’t slow.
Alarmed at how close the man was, John darted into a side alley between two of the clubs. He skidded to the intersection of the main alley and dodged to his right where the back doors of one of the clubs were situated. Of course the doors were closed but John tucked himself between the wall and the extremely smelly rubbish bins stacked beside the doors. The bass beat of the music inside the building was so loud he could feel it pounding in his chest almost like a second heartbeat as he crouched amongst the rubbish, waiting for the sentinel to appear. He didn’t have long to wait. The man was dressed in street clothes but was clearly a Protector. He had his tranquilliser gun out and, though he was covering his mouth and nose with a hand, looked alert. John wasn’t sure he had the strength to take him but he was going to have to do something because the sentinel was about to find him.
Just as the sentinel reached his hiding place, the back doors of the club slammed open, expelling a rowdy group of young people, all laughing and talking loudly. The sentinel spun and aimed at them as soon as they appeared, causing the kids to shriek in fear. They scattered in panic, causing pandemonium. John couldn’t have planned it better.
As the kids screamed and ran, distracting the sentinel, John took the opportunity to catch the doors before they closed and slipped inside the nightclub. John was hit by a blast of sound that was almost physical as soon as he walked into the club. Casually, he made his way though the gyrating crowd as quickly and smoothly as possible. With each passing moment, the pain in his head increased with the thumping bass blasting the dance floor. Passing some unattended tables, he nicked an umbrella that had been hooked over the back of a chair.
Relief at leaving the club washed over him as he stepped out onto the pavement in front of the building. He removed his cap, opened the umbrella and blended in with all the other foot traffic in the area, keeping his head low and umbrella high.
He felt exposed and nervous as he walked quickly along the street and away from the club. The traffic was fairly congested but he spotted a cab that had just left off a passenger and he grabbed it before anyone else could do so. Folding his umbrella and sinking low in his seat, he gave the address as the cabbie pulled off. He risked a look behind himself but thankfully saw nothing.
Closing his eyes, he leaned his head against the back of the seat and heaved a weary sigh of relief. He’d managed to get away again and done it in a way he still didn’t fully understand. But he’d not got his suppressants, either. The only other ones he had left were at the flat. Maybe he could call Mrs Hudson and she could arrange to drop them off somewhere.
Wearily, he climbed the stairs to his hotel room and sat down on the bed. He took a few minutes to examine the handcuff. Some were different from others and he wanted to make sure it wasn’t the double locked kind. It turned out to be a simple cuff that could be unlocked with a paperclip if one knew how it was done. Choosing a key from his belt, he quickly unlocked the cuff and threw it on the nightstand.
Checking the time, he decided it wasn’t too late to ring Mrs Hudson. It was hard to believe everything that had happened had only taken about two hours.
John smiled at hearing her voice. ”Mrs Hudson, hello. It’s John. Is this a good….”
”John?” she interrupted. “Are you all right, dear? I’ve been trying to ring you all day. These awful men from the Tower were here right after you left for work and turned your flat upside down. I’ve tried to straighten things up a bit but they left a mess. I couldn’t stop them!”
”Mrs Hudson! It’s all right. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m fine. I’m so sorry but I need something that was in a drawer in my bedside table. It was in a compartment in the back….”
“They dumped everything out onto the floor. What do you need me to look for?”
”It’s a small bottle from the chemists’ down the street. Did you see anything like that on the floor?”
”I picked everything up and I’m sure I would have remembered pills, luv. There was nothing like that in there or on the floor. I checked under the bed, too but they must have taken the bottle with them. They took a few things but I didn’t see what exactly.” She sounded very upset.
Dammit. The Tower searchers must have found the suppressants first thing, which would explain why they were being so aggressive. It also explained how they nearly captured him at the chemists’.
“I’m so sorry they put you through that, Mrs Hudson. I had no idea.”
” I felt so helpless! What do they want with you, dear? What are you going to do?”
John considered what to tell her and decided on most of the truth. “The Tower wants me because I’m a guide, Mrs Hudson. I hid myself, just like a lot of people, because I didn’t want to be a guide.”
“You poor dear! What a thing to have to constantly worry about. Is there anything I can do for you?”
”Thank you, Mrs Hudson. I appreciate all you have done and I’m so sorry to have brought all this trouble to your house.” He paused, trying to choose his words carefully.
“Before Sherlock left, we agreed to talk about the possibility of bonding, despite the fact his family would object. But he has since agreed to try and so I’m waiting for him to come home. But until he gets home tomorrow, I have to stay out of sight. Once I’ve bonded to Sherlock, they’ll not have any claim on me. "
”I just knew there was something special between you two. I could tell from the moment I met you and I’m so glad you have finally decided to do something about it. I’m awfully happy for you.” Her tone was fond and very affectionate.
“Thank you, Mrs Hudson. I’m rather pleased about it, too, but until it happens, please don’t mention this to anyone, especially Mycroft.”
“Don’t worry, dear. I’d never say a thing to that man. He’s just awful to Sherlock and his whole family is just like him. The last time Sherlock went off to visit his family, that poor boy came back in such an awful mood! It was like they’d poisoned him or something!”
John remembered that week and the aftermath. He and Sherlock had phoned and texted constantly back and forth that week. If they hadn’t, Sherlock’s mood would probably have been much worse than it was. John had tried to keep things upbeat and make his friend laugh whenever possible but it had been a rough week afterward.
“Thanks, Mrs Hudson. Sherlock should be back tomorrow evening. He said he had a flight out first thing. So I’m hoping we’ll both be home soon.”
“That’s wonderful news, John. Please be careful and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the meantime.”
“You’re doing a lot just by being such a good friend, Mrs Hudson. Thank you for understanding. I’ll be in touch.” After a few more words, he put down his mobile and sighed. He could think of only one other way to get some more hormone suppressants. John would call his doctor tomorrow and see if she would be willing to issue him a prescription under a different name.
His head still ached abominably so he took some paracetemol and stretched out on the bed to try to relax. There was too much to think about and his thoughts swarmed round and round.
What had he done to the guides and sentinels back at the chemists? Could he learn to direct it consciously? How had they done what they’d done to him? What the other guides had done didn’t seem to hurt them, but it had exhausted them within a short period of time.
Whatever it was he’d done, it was effective too but his brain now felt like someone had used a cheese grater on it. His head didn’t hurt as much as it had earlier, but he was very sure he should not try that again soon, if he could even figure out how to do it again. Maybe Forrester could explain it to him but it was too late to ring her.
Should he ring Sherlock and tell him about this situation with the Tower? It was a lot to put on him and while it might make John feel better to confide in his soon to be bond mate, there was nothing he could do at the moment and the knowledge could possibly cause Sherlock some emotional upset, which could, in turn, cause him to zone. Also, with alphas, lots of things could upset them but John was pretty sure danger to one’s future bond mate was high on the list. So that was a no.
Summing up, he now knew that it was likely Mycroft who had arranged for the order of custody to be issued and had given the Tower personal information about him they’d used to track him. In addition, the Tower had proof that he was not only a guide strength empath but also an omega. They were not going to stop searching until they found him and might actually call a Hunt. But once he and Sherlock bonded, the Tower couldn’t touch him and though things would change between the two of them, they’d be together. And Sherlock’s family could sod off if they didn’t like it. The other complication he’d not had time to consider yet was the fact that, unless he could get in touch with his doctor, he was going to go into heat within a week or so. It was something that he dreaded and really didn’t want to think about, but he was forced to at this point. When it rains, it pours, he thought wryly.
Trying to remember what it was like to go through heat was difficult. After all, it had been half his lifetime since he’d experienced it. The whole thing had been a miserable blur. All he could remember was feeling extremely uncomfortable, disoriented and wanting something badly but not knowing what it might be.
Thankfully his first heat had happened over a summer break from school when he was sixteen. John’s father had been away on business and his sister had been staying with friends in London that week so his mother was able to lock him away in his room while he endured the heat. Once it was over, she had taken him straight away to a discreet omega specialist.
Omega reforms in the 1970’s had made both hormone suppressants easily accessible and discrimination against omegas illegal in terms of jobs or admittance to university. However, there was still considerable prejudice by society at large against omegas taking certain jobs that required strenuous physical activity or long years of training. They were discouraged and often outright forbidden by their families to pursue a career or university degree.
A number of John’s classmates had presented as omegas and, under pressure from parents, immediately dropped out of school. Most were bonded and pregnant within a year of presentation, often to much older alphas. That kind of life would have been a fate worse than death for John.
Thankfully John’s mother knew how he felt and completely supported his decision to let him live his life as he chose. She wasn’t going to let John’s gender interfere with his dreams of becoming a military doctor like his father, so Mrs Watson had John put on hormone suppressants immediately after his first heat and officially declared a beta.
Officially listing him as a beta was illegal but John hadn’t cared. And with the reforms, it was surprisingly easy to get suppressants. Once he was a doctor, it was even easier and he’d never been without them since, even in Afghanistan.
Sitting up with a groan, John decided he was too tired to figure anything out that night. It was best that he prepare for bed and get some rest. If all went well tomorrow, he and Sherlock would be bonded. The thought of that brought a stab of excitement followed by anxiety.
To be perfectly honest, John didn’t really know what to expect from bonding or exactly how to go about it all. The only training he’d ever got was from his former commanding officer’s guide, Forrester. And she’d never had much Tower training herself, but she’d passed along everything she knew in the year and a half they’d worked together. The doctor decided he’d just have to trust on instinct and Sherlock.
Cleaning up took the rest of his energy and he finally collapsed into bed. All his thoughts continued to spin but gradually they calmed as John dropped off to sleep.
He dreamed of running endlessly through the streets and over the rooftops with Sherlock, chasing criminals, laughing and giggling together like schoolboys. It was exhilarating and a little bit frightening and he absolutely loved it. He loved Sherlock with everything that he was and knew he was loved deeply in return. This was what he wanted his life to be and to never change.
But, as in the way of dreams, things did change. The shadows became darker and the streets narrowed to become the hallways of a hospital. He knew he was searching for something but couldn’t remember who or what. The hospital seemed decent and well-kept at first, but as he moved further into the building and down, the paint on the walls became dirty and flaking. The windows were broken with rusted casements and the fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed, making his eyes hurt. Every room he searched was empty of everything except for long-legged insects scuttling across the floors.
Terrified, John knew he was alone. Running faster and faster, he called for Sherlock, feeling more and more desperate and frightened. There was no reply and his voice echoed unpleasantly through the empty rooms as he staggered on, searching.
When he thought he could run no more, the landscape changed again and he was in the desert. It was night and he was trying to labour through blood soaked sand. It became harder and harder to struggle because with every step he sank deeper and deeper into the bloody sand. Terror turned into horror as he realised body parts were mixed in with the sand. He had to push them away to get through and they seemed to move and drag at him as he passed. Gritting his teeth, he kept moving forward. It was his only choice because he was a soldier and quitting would never be an option.
Ahead he saw a figure lying on the sand and somehow knew it was Sherlock. He slogged forward as fast as the clinging sand would allow until the ground solidified. Falling to his knees, hands shaking with fear, he turned over the body. He sobbed with relief to see it wasn’t the detective. Standing on weak legs, he pushed forward and into a blue forest.
Searching for and finding Sherlock was his goal. Again he was running, this time with four legs. Terror and horror were gone, replaced with excitement and hope. Somehow, he knew he would find his mate here.
Sounds in the blue forest were muted, as were the damp, earthy scents. But as he ran, he listened and finally heard the cry of a raptor overhead. He threw his head back and howled his joy at sighting his mate. Running faster through the undergrowth, he found the path to the clearing. He’d been here before and rejoiced in the familiarity of nearly being home.
As before, the black eagle with the pale grey-green eyes was in the centre of the clearing, bright yellow beak open and wings spread wide. John took in the magnificent sight for a moment and then his heart leaped in his chest as the eagle morphed into the tall, dark haired, gorgeous genius who belonged to him and no one else.
Walking on two feet now instead of four, John moved directly into the long arms that were still open wide for him. They enfolded him with love and safety and he, in turn, wrapped his own arms tightly around his mate. He pressed his face against Sherlock’s neck and tried to convey by his body alone how lonely he’d been and how much he’d missed his mate.
Sinking slowly to the ground, John barely noticed that somehow they were now both naked. They pressed themselves together, writhing, kissing and touching as much skin as they could reach. Sherlock rubbed his face against the side of John’s neck and kissed under his chin, causing John to throw his head back in excitement. Sherlock gnawed and licked at his throat and something about that was important but John didn’t know exactly what.
Groaning loudly, John urged Sherlock to bite him. Lightening replaced his nerve endings and all he could hear was his heart thundering as he cried out loudly in ecstasy at the sharp nip of teeth. Sherlock growled deep in his throat and John was suddenly on his back, legs over his mate’s shoulders.
Looking deeply into Sherlock’s eyes, John instinctively claimed ownership of his sentinel. The words seemed ritualistic and came from somewhere deep inside him. “I am yours and you are mine, in this life and the next. There will never be another. Take what is yours, sentinel!”
Sherlock’s reply was very direct. Growling “Mine!” the alpha sentinel positioned himself and entered John with a savage thrust. In the way of dreams, John was painlessly filled by his sentinel. The feeling of being entered was amazing and odd in a way John had never experienced. Because he was a virgin to this act, John wasn’t sure if Sherlock was penetrating him anally or vaginally. It didn’t matter, though, because the pleasure became incredible and unbelievable and transcendent within moments as his mind and Sherlock’s joined to become one. The wonder and incredulity were indescribable as John’s lover/sentinel/alpha took him over and over until he was filled completely with Sherlock’s seed and he was coming as well. Heart pounding, sweating and twisted up in his sheets, John woke abruptly and sat up fast, breathing hard. The dream had been incredibly intense and it felt as if he’d actually experienced it. He certainly had evidence that his body thought it was real.
Reaching up to his throat, he rubbed under his chin. There were slight swellings there and the area felt hot, a bit sore and tingled strangely. This was exactly where he’d urged Sherlock to bite in his dream and must have something to do with bonding, he was sure.
Damning his ignorance once again, he was determined to do some research on guides straight away. John needed to think about what the dream meant, but in the meantime, he had a bit of a mess to clean up.
Before Sherlock, he’d never thought he’d ever need to know about details like this. Bonding with a sentinel had never even crossed his mind except as something to avoid. But meeting and living with Sherlock had changed his mind. The thought of now living without him was inconceivable.
Crawling out of bed, his knees a bit shaky, the doctor made it to the shower. Feeling much better and rather sated, he towelled off and collapsed on the bed again. It was still a bit early to call his doctor, so he ordered breakfast. A newspaper came with the food but he wasn’t sure he wanted to see if his adventures of the previous day were mentioned. He made himself browse through the articles anyway. There was a short piece about the Tower’s antics but nothing specific, like his name, thankfully. A mention was made of a possible press conference later in the day but the time was to be announced.
He took a moment to prepare a text to Sherlock, knowing he’d be asleep at the moment, but he wanted to connect with him in some manner. The dream had been weird and unsettling but strangely more real than any dream he’d ever experienced. Were his instincts showing him what to expect when he bonded with Sherlock? Did Sherlock experience a similar dream? Could they have actually joined together in the spirit world in the way they would in the real world? He really didn’t have any answers to that. Again, another reason to do some research, if possible.
He and Sherlock had not yet talked about what had happened when he’d guided the sentinel detective through the blue forest and out of that dangerously deep zone. John worried that the reason for it might be the Holmes family putting too much pressure on Sherlock to bond with an omega of their choice. Emotional upsets could easily cause the strongest, most balanced sentinel to zone and dealing with his family always caused Sherlock quite a lot of emotional upset. Maybe that was why he’d said nothing to John about it, not wanting John to get angry on his behalf.
On top of Sherlock’s family putting stress on him, now John was doing the same by asking him to bond against his family’s specific wishes. For a few moments John felt guilty, but then reminded himself that Sherlock was a grown man and he was very capable of voicing his opinions about pretty much everything.
However, this wasn’t about opinions; it was about emotions and family pressure. Strained was a polite word for Sherlock’s relationship with his family. And Sherlock admitted that he didn’t do emotions and that he relied on John for that. John sighed. He’d have to trust that Sherlock was telling him the truth about how he felt. The dream helped him believe that his soon-to-be bond mate was serious about his commitment to try. John sent the text and hoped he’d get an answer when Sherlock woke.
Did you dream of the forest tonight?
It was time to get dressed and prepare for the day. Thankfully his doctor had morning hours on Saturdays, so he dialled and got the receptionist right away. His hopes were dashed when he was told his doctor was on holiday for a fortnight but he could meet with another doctor in the practise. John thanked her and hung up, heart sinking in dread. Damn. Now there was no way to get any suppressants. He was out of options unless he wanted to break into a chemist shop. For a few moments he actually considered it. But he wasn’t a thief. He would just have to explain to Sherlock and find a place to hole up for a few days.
There were some hotels that had “omega rooms” where one could stay during heat. They tended to be rather expensive, though, and he didn’t have much money at the moment. Sherlock might be able to help financially, but that could be rather awkward.
John was sure he wasn’t ready to be bred, but he might not have a choice about it. Hormones tended to lower one’s IQ quite a bit and if he was around Sherlock when he went into heat, the doctor doubted he would even try to control himself. The more important question here was Sherlock ready for something like this? Would he reject John on discovering he was an omega or would the knowledge make the doctor more desirable? He hoped it was the latter but with Sherlock, you never knew for sure. There was still time. Sherlock would be home sometime late that evening and he wouldn’t go into heat for at least four or five more days. Hopefully. He wasn’t really sure, to be honest but that was average time after stopping hormone suppressants. It differed with each omega, of course.
Rubbing absently at his throat, John noticed that the swelling was going down somewhat and wasn’t as irritated as before, thankfully. Absently, he decided to switch on the telly as he dressed. The BBC1 news at noon was just coming on.
“…repeating our top story, London Sentinel Tower will be calling a press conference in a few minutes. Our colleague Ron Stevens is on site and will report to you live. Ron?”
The shot of the commentator in the studio was replaced by a handsome young man standing outside on the pavement. “Thank you, Gene. We’re here at the front of the London Sentinel Tower.” The camera panned back to reveal the façade of a large, imposing and intimidating medieval edifice, built with rough hewn, heavily rusticated dark grey stone. A chill went down John’s spine at the sight of it.
The reporter continued, “In a few moments, Alpha Prime Sentinel of London Colin Fitzhugh will give a statement concerning these unusual confrontations that Tower personnel seem to be having all over the city with one unidentified individual.
“There was an apparent third encounter last night outside a local chemists’ shop on Marylebone High Street at approximately 8 pm. Again, we have some footage from eyewitnesses on the scene. The only video we were able to obtain began approximately thirty seconds to a minute after the actual incident began.”
John inhaled sharply as the screen switched to another poor quality video of him as he was slammed into the window with an audible thump and fell to the ground. The camera jiggled and shook as the crowd surged forward. He noted with interest that the yells and taunts thrown out by the witnesses were all aimed at the sentinels.
He watched himself surge to his feet with a rather ferocious expression on his face. Then his hands flew up to his head and he clutched at his temples and staggered with an expression of great pain. It was apparent that John was barely conscious and didn’t notice when the sentinel crept up on him, cuffed his left wrist and was punched out for his trouble. The camera jumped a bit as the mob cheered.
What happened next had the crowd stepping backward with some crying out in surprise and fear. With a weird feeling of disconnection John watched as the guides and sentinels dropped unconscious without apparent cause. The camera was jostled violently again and when it steadied, John was running away into the crowd.
The handsome reporter was back. “No one seems to know for certain exactly what happened in front of the chemists but some eyewitnesses who are empaths reported picking up on a psychic backlash of extremely strong, focussed use of guide empathy.
“What some are concluding is that the event we witnessed was some kind of empathic duel between our unidentified man and three bonded guides.
“It is very apparent that this person is desperately wanted by the Tower for reasons that are currently unknown. Again, some are suggesting that the reasons he is wanted might be related to the fact that he seems to be an extremely powerful empath of unprecedented strength. We are hoping the statement made by the Sentinel Alpha Prime will clarify matters for us.
“Our viewers should know that this is a very unusual event in that the leader of the London sentinel community is giving the statement rather than their public relations department.” The camera moved from the reporter to the group of journalists ready with their cameras and recorders. “Gene, the press conference is about to begin. We’ll switch now to the stage.”
The view on the screen was now an empty podium set up in front of the heavily carved dark doors of the Tower. John watched with a rather horrified fascination as a tall, fit and handsome grey haired man approached the microphones. He looked out over the reporters present with a very hard and stern expression. Despite his forbidding appearance, John was strangely spellbound and not a little bit attracted to the man.
John had only met a few sentinels in his life. His old commander Henderson was the first he’d ever met and he was bonded to Forrester. John remembered feeling an attraction to him but it wasn’t very strong. However, when he’d first met Sherlock, the attraction had been immediate and so magnetic in its strength he’d had to slam down his shields to keep from reaching out with his empathy.
His blood froze for a moment. Was his attraction and love for Sherlock something only to do with sentinel/guide dynamics? Did he only want to bond with Sherlock because he was the only unbonded sentinel he’d ever met? No. No, he loved Sherlock for who he was—if there was some kind of genetic thing involved, it was only part of the picture. Plus he had never felt any attraction to Mycroft, who was also a sentinel. Ugh. Shuddering at the horrible thought of being bonded to Mycroft, John turned his attention back to the telly. Fitzhugh had begun reading from a prepared statement.
“…thank you for coming. As many of you know, since yesterday morning, Tower Protectors and sentinels have been in pursuit of a rogue guide. A custody warrant was issued for this rogue and when he was approached by lawful representatives of the Tower, he assaulted the men and fled. Two other unsuccessful attempts have been made since then to capture him.” Fitzhugh’s expression was rather sour at having to admit the fact his Protectors had failed.
“It is imperative that this man be captured safely and we will do so. I am here today to announce to the city of London that the Tower is organising an official Hunt to find and bring this rogue into the Tower for bonding.” John’s heart sank at the news, but he hadn’t expected anything else.
“We are not requesting help from the public in accomplishing this goal. I only ask that the public not interfere with our Hunt or with the Protectors in their legal pursuit of this person. Thank you for your time.”
Fitzhugh began to step away when a reporter shouted a question. “Who is this guide you’re chasing?”
“I will not identify this rogue to protect his family. I do want the public to know that we consider him exceptionally dangerous. So far he has not seriously injured anyone but, as you can see from the videos, he is extremely capable of maiming or killing with only his bare hands. We urge anyone who thinks they might have seen him to report his whereabouts to the Tower or the nearest Protector immediately. Do not, by any means, attempt to subdue him on your own.”
Another reporter shouted loudly at Fitzhugh. “There is a rumour going around that the man is not only a strong guide, but an omega guide. If he is an omega guide, it certainly puts paid to the Tower’s claim that omega guides are weak minded, unable to protect themselves and only good for breeding! This has been the Tower’s justification for imprisoning omega guides for centuries! What do you say to that, Mr Alpha Prime? And what do you say to the hideous attempts of the Tower to roll back omega and guide rights?” The man’s tone was very confrontational and, when the camera focused on him, John realised the man must be a member of an omega rights group.
As the camera returned to the podium, John decided that Fitzhugh was a lousy choice for a spokesperson. Flushed and visibly angry, the sentinel replied harshly to the reporter. “I will not comment on that. This is not a political venue to discuss such…..” Fitzhugh was interrupted by the jeering tone of the omega activist.
“Your Tower spreads outrageous lies about the way you treat guides and omegas so it’s no wonder you can’t attract guide strength empaths! Now you’re going to try to get the government to do your dirty work and tear people from their homes and families, all so you can have your own personal bonded slaves!”
John could see security moving in to surround the shouting journalist/activist. The camera swung back to the Alpha Prime, who was red with anger. He was shouting, “I’ll not have this kind of talk here in front of my Tower! We treat all our guides well!” The omega was pulled away by security. The man shook off their hands and walked away angrily but with dignity.
Another reporter spoke up. “If it’s true you care for omega guides so well, why haven’t you had an omega guide in the Tower for at least a decade? We all know that traditionally you keep omega guides more or less imprisoned and don’t allow them out of the Tower until they can no longer breed.
“If this man you’re chasing is an omega guide, can anyone blame him for fighting to stay free?” Other voices in the crowd of journalists agreed and the attention was directed back at Fitzhugh. He’d managed to rein in his anger and spoke with clenched teeth, expression daunting and intimidating.
“This press conference is over. I have only one more thing to say to all of you. Stay out of our way while we apprehend this rogue or someone will get hurt.” He then turned and stalked out of camera range.
Rob Stevens’ cheerful smile replaced the empty podium on the screen. “Well, Gene, that was quite an interesting experience. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the like. I’ll leave it to you and the experts you’ve got in the studio with you to analyse today’s events.”
John shut off the telly and sank back on the bed. Well, he really shouldn’t have been surprised at all by these developments. It wasn’t like he hadn’t expected it. They knew he was indeed an omega guide and if they succeeded in capturing him, it would be quite a feather in their caps.
John seriously needed to do some research. Thankfully, the phone Forrester had given him could access the internet. He set to work with a will.
He learned a few new things in the following hours. Traditionally, Hunts did not allow unbonded sentinels to participate, which was a relief to know. In the heat of the chase, the unbonded could not be counted on to control themselves. The last thing the Tower authorities wanted was an unsanctioned bonding of an omega guide before they could hold their Tournament, which was for unbondeds only. The winner of the Tournament bonded with the omega guide. It never mattered what the guide wanted.
Also, there was always the chance an unbonded could zone dangerously or go into a bonding frenzy and hurt a guide. This was common knowledge, though the Towers tried to suppress and downplay the possibilities. It was why they wanted to control all pairings and make sure the bonding took place in a safe environment. John reluctantly admitted that there were some good reasons for a few of their traditions.
John rubbed his tired eyes and sat back in his chair. He’d also found an astonishing amount of bonding porn that was mostly speculation. John tried not to be shocked by it; he was a doctor after all, but the imaginations some of these people had were rather repellent. He felt like he wanted to wash his brain with bleach after reading some of that stuff.
However, there had been a couple of sites that seemed to provide information that felt true to him. Maybe he should ring Forrester. He wasn’t sure exactly where she was at the moment, but he didn’t think she’d mind. He really should have rung her earlier but he’d been a bit distracted.
Dialling the number he’d memorised from the note he’d been given at the gym, John waited for the call to be routed by whatever means and then for Forrester to pick up. When she finally did, John found himself nostalgic at hearing her voice for the first time in almost six months.
“Doc! How are you? Have you pinned down your pretty sentinel yet?” John could hear the laughter in her voice and chuckled.
”Not yet, Starr. But maybe very soon. That’s kind of why I’m calling.”
“You’re finally asking for advice? I’ve been expecting you to call about this for six months at least, Doc.”
”You have? I didn’t really think of it until recently, to be honest. Bonding with a sentinel has never been something on my bucket list, as you know.”
Forrester laughed at him. ”Until you met your gorgeous alpha, am I right? Last time we talked, it was Sherlock this and Sherlock that. I pulled up a photo of him from your blog and wow, what a looker, Doc,” she teased.
Good naturedly, he laughed back. “I know! It’s so hard to believe he wants anything to do with plain old me! Not only is he good looking but his family is titled and very wealthy. Unfortunately, his family has forbidden him to bond with me,” he finished wryly.
“Well, from what you’ve told me about him, their disapproval is only going to guarantee that he’ll bond with you.” Her tone was fond and indulgent but it became serious.
“Listen, Doc. I’ve been worried about you over there in the UK with this vote coming up. I just want you to know you’re welcome to join us anytime. Just in case things don’t go your way. I hate to be pessimistic, but life has a tendency to throw a spanner into the works when you least expect it.”
“Thanks, Starr. You and Ben are incredibly generous. If things don’t work out and these damn laws pass, I’ll be sure to give you a ring. Now, I need to ask you some things that might be difficult to talk about, but I don’t know exactly what’s involved with bonding, especially being a guide. You’ve been through it and I hope you’ll be willing to share what you know.”
”John, you know I’ll tell you anything you want. You’ve saved my life and Ben’s so many times over it’s ridiculous. One word of warning, don’t read the omega guide porn on the internet.” John groaned and she laughed again. “I see my warning is much too late. Okay then, what do you want to know?”
They talked for almost an hour before Forrester was called away and they had to disconnect. John lay back on his bed and thought about what he’d learnt from his discussion with Starr. It had been so nice to talk with another guide he could trust. John had remembered to ask her about the Tower guides’ aggressive use of empathy to destroy his shields and what he’d done in retaliation but she wasn’t familiar with that mode of attack. She mostly used her empathy for scouting and concealment, which she had passed on to him, as well.
He’d told her about the Hunt and she’d been ready to come in with guns blazing to get him out of the country if that’s what he’d wanted. But John had dissuaded her by letting her know that Sherlock was expected back in town within the next eight hours or so and things would be okay. She reluctantly accepted his explanation and spent the rest of their time on the phone telling him what he could expect of the bonding process and how best to go about it.
What it all came down to was he was to trust his instincts and follow his heart. She’d also included some very specific details that pretty much matched what had occurred in his dream the previous night. He was as ready to do this bonding thing as he’d ever be, apparently. Relieved, he began to drift off, lovely images of himself with Sherlock floating through his mind when he was awakened by the sound of an incoming text. Surprised, it turned out to be Sherlock.
Caught a very early flight and am now home. Where are you?
Excited and relieved that all the crazy that was currently his life was soon to be over, he eagerly texted back.
Welcome home! Am still at hotel. Have some things to tell you. Didn’t want you to worry you, but the Tower has issued a warrant of custody on me. Am hiding out.
The reply came quickly.
I know. Mrs H told me. We will talk about why you did not. Meet me at the Starbucks on Baker Street , half six
Which one? There are 2. And you hate Starbucks. You always say their coffee tastes like burnt toenails. I don’t want to know how you know that.
Also Baker St is being watched.
Whatever. The Wallace at Manchester Square , half six.
Whatever? Since when…never mind. That location isn’t much better. And it’s a bit grand for me. Why don’t we meet at your favourite place?
There was a bit of a pause. John was rather confused by this strange correspondence but he was too excited to worry about it too much. Sherlock was home! He couldn’t wait any longer. He sent off his suggestion.
Let’s just meet at the Espresso Room.
Fine. I’ll see you soon, then.
Elated but a bit put off by the formality of the texts, John checked the time. He had a bit over an hour to get to the café and dithered a bit about how best to get there. Finally deciding to take a cab, he packed everything he’d brought, threw the bag over his shoulders so it rode on his back and checked the room thoroughly before he checked out and hailed a cab.
Worry clawed at the back of his mind as they progressed slowly through the Saturday evening traffic. The tone of the texts was so terse. Was Sherlock angry with him? Had he changed his mind? John continued to fret as they drove. He was in sight of the coffee shop when the cab slowed to a stop. John leaned forward and addressed the driver.
“What’s going on? Why are we stopping?” He tried to peer ahead through the windscreen, but didn’t see anything but congested traffic.
The driver shrugged and grunted. “Traffic.”
John didn’t care. Impatient to see Sherlock, he decided to get out and walk the remaining distance, even though it had started to rain again. He still had the nicked umbrella after all. Paying the driver, he slipped out of the taxi, opened his umbrella and began to walk toward Great Ormond Street, light on his feet and excited to see Sherlock again. He promised himself he would try to stay calm and not emote all over his flatmate until they could negotiate what was to happen next. Sherlock hated emotional displays with a passion.
Excited and almost giddy with anticipation, John playfully decided to send out a tendril of empathy to see if he could locate Sherlock amongst all the other people on the street. During the day, his head had stopped hurting when he used his empathy and he thought it would be good to test how well it was working.
To his absolute horror, he encountered multiple indications of extreme danger. Pulling back, he bolstered his shields with everything he had. His heart began to race as adrenaline thundered through his veins. Calmly and casually, he worked his way around the other pedestrians and ducked into a small alleyway about a street from the shop.
He leaned against the brick wall beside the rubbish bins and closed his eyes, taking a steadying breath. He then slowly and carefully swept the area for specific information, just as Forrester had taught him how to do in enemy territory.
From what he could determine, he was completely enclosed by danger. Sentinels had completely surrounded the area. Had they followed Sherlock? But that was impossible! Sherlock was the master of detecting and losing a tail. Everything John knew about the subject, he’d learnt from Sherlock! Chaos, grief and anguish swirled in his mind, trying to prevent John from accepting the only logical answer. Sherlock had betrayed him. Had lured him to this place and was working with the Tower to capture him.
John felt numb. Sherlock didn’t want him and he never had. But he’d felt Sherlock’s emotions—or had he? Sherlock was always good at letting you see only what he wanted you to see.
But the dream? His fading hopes insisted on being heard, if only faintly. The dream was only a wish-fulfilment, the cynical part of his mind replied.
Christ in heaven, John prayed to a god that didn’t seem to exist for him. It just can’t be true! I won’t believe it. Not Sherlock! Just then he spotted a sentinel across the street, looking right at him and speaking into his radio. His whole world shattered and the only logical answer hit him between the eyes. Sherlock had betrayed him. The Hunt was now on and Dr John Watson was the prey.
Slipping further back into the darkness of the alley, John searched the walls of the surrounding buildings. He wasn’t as familiar with this part of town as he was with the Hyde Park area but he’d been through here with Sherlock before. Dredging his reluctant memory, he recalled that these roof tops would get him out of the perimeter of the Protectors fairly quickly. If he could get to the roof without being seen first he could probably get away. He would deal with other things when he got to safety. He had no time for grief. Right now he had to move.
Thankfully the sentinel across the street was staying put, probably afraid to approach him without back-up. John smirked spitefully. That one was smarter than any of the others. There would be no quarter asked or given in this fight with the Tower and losing wasn’t an option.
Dropping the umbrella into a bin, he climbed to the top of one of the larger skips. From there he used the rough brick of the building to pull himself up to a second storey window and then up and over onto the rooftop. He’d always been one of the best of his team in abseiling and rock climbing. Henderson had said he could climb like a monkey because he was so damn short and that was probably true. He was going to use it to his advantage now.
The roof was slightly sloped and wet, but his boots had excellent traction. The building connected to another that was two more storeys in height. The drainpipe was in good nick so he was able to use it to reach the roof. He continued on for about another street, though it was slow work, until he reached an area where the buildings ended in a street too wide to jump.
Checking again for danger, he did a sweep of the area. The concentration of danger was behind him, surrounding the alley he’d fled. He’d not been seen climbing the building or traversing the roof tops yet. There was danger ahead of him, however. He’d used his empathy to locate enemies in Afghanistan when his team needed to infiltrate caves in the mountains but there were fewer people about there. Surprisingly, he was finding it much easier to differentiate between civilians and Protectors now. Apparently it was true that practice made perfect.
From where he was crouched on the roof, he could see a plainclothes sentinel patrolling the street. It seemed he was the only one in this immediate area. They would figure out where he’d gone soon enough, though. Going to the back of the building and keeping an eye on the sentinel, he climbed down once the man was out of sight. There was considerable traffic, so he doubted the man could hear the sounds of someone crawling down a brick wall.
Reaching the ground and stepping to the edge of the alleyway, he peered around the corner to see where the sentinel had gone. The man had disappeared, so John sauntered out of the alley, crossed the street and headed in the opposite direction.
Blending in with all the other pedestrians, John kept an eye out for anyone who looked like a Protector. They did tend to stand out in a crowd, being taller and more muscular than most of the population. Periodically, he’d sweep the area to look for threats.
The rain had turned into a mist as night fell completely and the temperature started to dip. John kept walking, head down, hands in his pockets, changing direction often and using the alleyways as much as possible. He let his feet take him where they would because he was becoming too numb to care which way he went. The feelings of grief and agony at Sherlock’s betrayal were beginning to overcome his attempts to suppress them now that immediate danger seemed to have passed.
It was important that he not allow himself to drown in his despair. There would be time for that later. Right now he needed to find a safe place to go and then contact Starr. He would ask her for extraction and he knew she would come as soon as she and Ben could manage. As he reached the end of an alley, he realised he’d failed and allowed himself to be overtaken by his unhappiness. He’d not been checking his environment carefully enough because there were two Protectors at the mouth of the alley waiting for him. He’d not sensed them at all because of his distraction.
Turning immediately, he ran the opposite way. They shouted but he ignored them and tore through the alley and onto the street, causing cars to brake and slide on the wet road, horns honking angrily. He didn’t care and kept running into the traffic, both sentinels hot on his heels.
He was a good runner but did better at long distance than sprinting. He’d have to wear these two out and then see if he could lose them. He sensed they were close and he veered to one side and vaulted over the bonnet of one of the cars, sliding over the wet metal and then into the path of a car coming the opposite direction. He dodged that one and ran at full speed between the rows of cars. The drivers saw him coming and swerved and braked to avoid him, stopping traffic and blocking the lanes at odd angles. He shot a glance over his shoulder and saw that he seemed to have lost one of the sentinels but the other was hanging grimly on. John gritted his teeth and put on more speed, cutting ruthlessly between cars, off the street and back onto the pavement. People watched in consternation and fell away from him as he pelted down the walk, running so fast the cars and people blurred. Breathing through his nose and out through his mouth, he sprinted as fast and efficiently as he knew how, putting some distance between himself and the following sentinel.
Turning a corner so fast he nearly slipped, he headed for some older buildings that he knew had confusing alleyways and access to more rooftops. Dashing into the mouth of an alley he began to weave in and around the bins and rats. The place smelled of weeks old rubbish and urine, but John hoped it would slow down his pursuer.
He had a few more streets and alley ways to traverse before he found the building he wanted. Sprinting flat out toward the end of the alley, it became apparent that he wasn’t going to reach his destination when two more Hunters appeared right in front of him. Breathing hard, John slid to a halt on the slimy cobblestones. Where the hell were they all coming from? Going back wasn’t an option. He didn’t need to look behind him to know his initial pursuer was blocking his way out. One of the sentinels must have been able to call for back-up while he was chasing John.
There was no fucking way this was going to stop him. Backing away from the men closest to him, the doctor moved toward the smelliest skip and braced his back against it, hands on his knees and breathing deeply. He briefly considered trying the little trick with his empathy he’d managed earlier, but he wasn’t sure how he’d done it and he didn’t think they’d give him the time to figure it out. He was going to have to handle this situation physically and hope he could take them out before more back-up arrived.
Feigning more exhaustion than he was feeling, he raised his hands a bit, still bent over and gasped out, “Okay, okay! I give up! Just don’t hurt me!” He hoped his helpless act would lure the two nearest to him closer so he could dart them. The gun had a limited effective distance and they were still too far away.
John watched them approach through the drizzle and stood straight with his hands at his side. He continued to gasp and breathe loudly, clutching at his chest dramatically with one hand to cover the subtle movement of his other hand toward the dart gun at his waist. Both his targets were backlit but it wasn’t until they got a bit closer that he saw they were wearing body armour. Shit shit shit. That meant his shots had to be extremely accurate and in the throat, if possible.
John glanced at the third sentinel and saw he had something in his hands. Christ, was that a net? Bloody hell! He looked back at the two on his left.
They had continued to approach him with caution and were almost in range. The larger of the two shouted nervously at him. “Move away from the skip and put your hands up where I can see them! Do it now!” This bloke wasn’t used to being ignored.
John straightened wearily and waved vaguely with his right hand. “Fine, okay. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.” He slowly moved forward and simultaneously snatched the gun from his belt, aiming for their throats. Both darts hit spot on and John threw himself down as the net sailed over his head and wrapped tenaciously around the two he’d just darted, taking them down completely.
Rolling to his feet, John crouched on the balls of his feet, body balanced to move any direction as he faced down the third man. The sentinel was backing away. If John didn’t know better, he’d have thought the man was going to flee, but instead the sentinel pulled his dart gun and began firing wildly at the doctor.
In the back of his mind, John wondered who the hell had trained these idiots. But then a dart managed to crease his cheek despite raising his arms to protect his face. Only a small amount of the drug entered his system but it made his attack slower and gave the sentinel the time to block John’s strike.
The Protector swung at John with his empty dart pistol and the doctor barely managed to avoid being brained by a quick movement of his head to one side. The weapon struck his left shoulder instead. Sheer agony shot through John’s entire left side as the Protector hit the wound in his shoulder with the gun by pure dumb luck.
John sagged as the pain momentarily incapacitated him, but turned the fall into a blind lunge at the sentinel’s legs. His desperate leap brought them both down onto the wet, smelly cobblestones with a jarring thud. John twisted and pressed the sentinels’ head into slimy rubbish. The man gagged but pulled away to swing at John again, who managed to barely avoid the blow by scrambling away and falling onto his back in the muck.
Dripping slime, the sentinel rose and threw himself at John, who rolled away, barely managing to regain his feet before another blow struck him in the face. The force of the punch knocked him hard into one of the skips, causing him to hit his head. The world went fuzzy and indistinct. Sliding to the ground, nose and cheek bleeding, barely conscious, John tried to get up but the throbbing pain his left arm prevented it from supporting him.
This is not happening. It won’t end here. I won’t let it.
The sentinel had other ideas. Picking up John like a rag doll, he threw him against the skip again, rattling his teeth with the force of the blow. Holding John up with one hand, the sentinel forced his head back and began to rub his face against the doctor’s throat. What the fuck?
John realised with horror that this sentinel was unbonded and was going to try to force a bond with him. Why the hell was an unbonded being given weapons and allowed a place in the Hunt? Did the Tower sanction his participation? Or had he just taken the weapons and joined the Hunt without their knowledge? John tried to knee him in the bollocks but the man twisted aside. He flipped John around as if he weighed nothing and pushed him face first into the side of the skip.
John tried to reason with him. Raggedly he shouted, “Do you know how much trouble you’ll be in if you do this?”
It felt very strange trying to talk his way out of this and not at all confident he’d succeed. The man growled at him, sounding almost bestial and barely articulate. Was he going into a bonding frenzy? John’s alarm grew at the thought.
”Shut up! I’m going to take you, guide. I don’t care what the other alphas say, you’re going to be mine and I’ll fill you with my seed and you’ll have my babies until you’re worn out!”
The sentinel sounded demented and John’s mind reeled in shock. The crudity of the man’s words horrified him and yet were strangely mesmerising. Was this the way alphas talked to their omegas? And did they like that? How messed up was that? Christ! The doctor had no more time to think as the sentinel tried to bite the back of his neck, but was frustrated by the throat piece of his protective garment. The sentinel tugged at it stupidly for a moment, nearly strangling John. It just took a second of inattention and John swung backward with all his strength into the man’s face with his right elbow, striking the cheekbone and ear with a sickening thud.
The sentinel reeled back and nearly went down. Breathing heavily, the unbonded snarled like a big cat and swung back around, shaking his head. Apparently John hadn’t hit the bastard hard enough and he’d recovered too quickly. The doctor blocked a series of blows that would have seriously injured him if they’d connected. His left arm was less numb but still wasn’t working properly. His responses continued to be slow from the drug in his system but that was getting better as well. Retreating against the flurry of blows, John slipped and fell to his knees.
The unbonded sentinel rushed him, breathing heavily. John threw himself to one side and managed evade a massive blow that could have killed him. Pulling himself to his knees again, he wavered in front of the man, who sneered and taunted him. “You look good on your knees, omega. I’ll be sure to keep you that way. Now you will come with me or else.” He lunged toward John and reached out to grab his arm.
Gritting his teeth, tasting blood, John clenched his hands together and swung upward using all the strength left in his arms and torso. He managed to connect with the man’s knee and it gave with a sickening crunch. The man shrieked in pain and fell hard onto the cobblestones, holding his ruined knee with both hands.
Clutching at the skip, John managed to rise and limp stiffly over to the two unconscious sentinels wrapped in the strange netting. The net seemed to have some kind of adhesive quality, like he’d expect a spider web to have. He’d never seen a weapon like it and idly wondered how the unbonded had acquired it, but he had no time to examine it at length.
Cradling his arm to his side, he bent over to collect more darts and a new gun from the drugged Protectors. Loading the new pistol and pocketing some magazines, John tranquillised the injured sentinel. As a doctor he knew that the damage to the knee was not repairable and he took maybe a second to feel bad about it.
Wiping his dripping face with a gritty hand, he saw the blood for the first time. No help for it, he had to go. He trotted past the two sentinels at the mouth of the alley and peered out around the corner.
He walked slowly out of cover without seeming to alert anyone. His mind was a bit fuzzy around the edges but would recover soon enough. He wasn’t sure if the two Protectors he’d tranquillised had had the chance to call for help or not but he didn’t actually care at the moment. Something was wrong and he knew he needed to be more alert but he couldn’t force his eyes to open fully.
The fresh air began to revive him somewhat as he walked toward his destination, mind mostly blank. The streets were a bit more populated and people were looking at him strangely as he passed them by. He wiped at his face with a sleeve and saw more blood. Did he have a cut to his scalp? Those could bleed a lot. He lost time for a minute and was startled when someone touched his arm and asked if he was okay. The drug was clearing but it was still affecting him. Reassuring the kind Samaritan, he continued down the street. Just a few more houses and he could take to the roof tops again. Pushing on, his head continued to clear and he thanked his lucky stars that there were no Hunters there to take advantage of his condition. It wasn’t far now and he started a slow jog toward the street he wanted.
Without any warning, a black saloon slewed around a corner and raced straight at him. It skidded to a stop and disgorged two Protectors. John reacted immediately, running flat out but his muscles weren’t working as well as they should and his left arm was still partly numb. Changing tactics, he swung behind a car and aimed at the two sentinels running toward him. He shot them both using the dart gun and resumed his flight. The doctor wasn’t sure if he’d got them both as his aim wasn’t as good with his right hand. However, the driver saw what happened and took off in pursuit of John with the car.
John needed to cross the street to get to where he wanted to be but didn’t expect the car to head straight at him. At the same time the driver hadn’t expected John to dart out in front of him either, so collision was inevitable.
John, realising what was about to happen, had just enough time to jump upward and tuck himself into a ball when his back and hips hit the bonnet and then the windscreen of the saloon, shattering it. The car screeched to a halt and John rolled off and landed face down on the tarmac. He could faintly hear bystanders screaming while he tried to breathe. The impact had knocked the air right out of him and he struggled to get up. Before he could rise, his arms were caught and dragged behind him. He couldn’t make himself move and couldn’t resist. The pain he felt at the pull on his left shoulder was strangely distant. The sound of handcuffs snapping onto his wrists penetrated the fog in his head.
The bastards had caught him! Adrenalin pumped through his body and his heart started to race in near panic. They had him in handcuffs and were trying to pull him up as he tried unsuccessfully to regain his breath. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Despair nearly swallowed him but he managed to contain it. He would not allow the Tower to win. He’d die first.
Pain hit him like a sledgehammer and he screamed as they pulled hard on his left shoulder to get him to his feet. Hanging limply between two sentinels, hands cuffed behind his back, he heard shouting and angry voices around him. When he raised his head and managed to open his eyes, he saw another black saloon had pulled up beside the damaged one, with three more Hunters standing around. They were aiming their guns at a mob shouting at them. It seemed to be making the people angrier instead of forcing them to back down.
John’s head was clearing, but he didn’t let on to the men holding him. Staying limp, he allowed them to drag him toward the undamaged car. He managed to get one of his cuff keys out of his belt as they pushed him into the car. None of the Protectors were looking at him and seemed to be focussed on the crowd. One of the cuffs was unlocked before they could close the door and he had the other door open and was out and running into the irate crowd surrounding the cars before the sentinels even noticed. As before at the chemists’, the crowd parted for him but closed up to prevent the sentinels from pursuing. He made it to the alleyway he wanted and clambered up onto the skip that then gave him access to a fire escape ladder. His left arm and shoulder protested as he hoisted himself up, but he managed it, pulling the ladder up behind him to keep the sentinels from following. They saw where he was going, but once he was on the rooftops, he was home free.
Staggering up to the very top of the stairs, he balanced on the edge of the fire escape railing and pulled himself up to the roof. He was too shocked to register anything but triumph as he stood up and looked down at the Protectors vainly trying to find a way up. He’d made it!
Turning quickly, mind blank, he ran as fast as he could across the roof tops, leapt across narrow gaps, climbed up and down ladders and access ways, making good progress, running faster and faster, street after street falling away after him, leaving the Protectors farther and farther behind.
When he finally paused for breath, he carefully searched for Hunters, but could detect nothing. Sitting down in a dark corner between two buildings, he started to laugh quietly. He was somewhat hysterical so he didn’t really notice when the laughter turned to tears.
Resting his elbows on his knees and holding his head in his filthy hands, cuff dangling from one wrist, he sat in the rain and allowed himself to sob out his grief and sorrow at the loss of his future and the love of his life.
After a long time his chilled flesh, aching bruises and stiffening muscles began screaming at him, so he knew he had to get to safety. Time to go.