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Natural Order

Chapter Text

Mycroft was the best and most wonderful brother anywhere, ever, and possibly the best and most wonderful person in the world, genetically related or not. Sherlock did not yet have sufficient data to confirm that so it was still speculation at this point even though he was sure evidence would bear out his thesis eventually. He had a plan to test the theory. It involved a great deal of travel to collect data. Oceanic routes would be most effective for the purpose, obviously.

Mycroft was an omega. Omegas were the best to be. They ran everything and they could go anywhere they wanted and whilst Sherlock did not understand the appeal of copulation and bonding, if one had to participate then surely it was infinitely better to be the one doing the choosing (although participation could likely be circumvented with sufficient willpower. Many things could).

Sherlock was an alpha, but that was probably another of those things stupid people said couldn't be changed when it was just that they were too lazy to do it. Lazy and stupid.

Mycroft was brilliant, properly brilliant, and he never tried to make Sherlock dull or treated him like a weak, pathetic alpha to be sequestered away for his own protection, and Sherlock was going to be just like him and they would be amazing together.

  

# # #

Puberty was the best thing ever to happen to John.

All through his childhood, alphas had been bigger, stronger, meaner, dominating the sport he wanted to play, shoving and snarling for status. The omegas were told again and again to be patient, to let them have their fun while it lasted. Some of the adults looked at the loud, pushy alphas with something like pity when they said that, but John just gritted his teeth and learned to shove back until the packs knew to leave him and his friends alone.

Everything changed when he came into his heats.

John loved the soft-eyed willingness of alphas, loved the way they squirmed and shivered and let their mouths fall open to scent him better. He loved being able to pick the Jammie Dodgers and Frazzles from the lunches they instinctively offered him. He loved the way they let him crowd them in dark corners, let him press back into them, breathing heavily, begging just a little bit, John, please, just a taste, just a rub, just a lick, please, John, please, please.

And as the alphas matured and were removed one by one when they were no longer able to control themselves around the opposite sex, the rugby teams became all-omega, and he loved that too.

Life was wonderful. 

# # #

 

Cocaine was perfectly marvellous. When he was high, he had no libido, no chinks in the armour, no handle for an omega to grasp and pull him this way or that. When he was high, he could rise above his instincts, could be a mind instead of a cock to be ridden, could be a person. 

When he was high, he didn't care about pleasing omegas. When he was high, Mycroft couldn't compel him to do anything at all.

When he was high, he didn't wake from dreams of lying on his back, wrapped in an omega's embrace, enveloped in wet heat, squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until his orgasm was pulled out of him and he could come apart, held safe inside a strong body, held safe within a strong will. When he was high, he didn't dream of surrender and submission and wake to a puddle of semen and a cold, empty ache in his chest and fury that his genes had cursed him so.

He stayed high as often as he could.

  

# # #

  

Sex was brilliant.

John was always careful. It wasn't like it was hard to be responsible; all you had to do was roll on a bloody condom before you ejaculated so you didn't bond before you'd planned to, and take your after-heat pill. There really was no excuse, and he had no patience, no patience at all with omegas who couldn't be arsed and ended up with mates or babies long before they could support them properly.

He was going to have a damned good career: he was going to be a surgeon, which meant he could heal people for a living and God, that would be brilliant too, almost as brilliant as sex. It was the best part of sex, actually, aside from the orgasms, of course: the warm satisfaction when a desperate, shaking alpha put himself in John's care, letting John make it better—that was healing, that was what he craved every time he steadied an alpha's hands on his hips and shoved himself onto a lovely swollen cock. 

Because alphas did have a rather shitty lot in life, and John couldn't do much about that, but he could make sure any alpha he shared a heat with was safe and respected and really, really well fucked by the time he was finished. It wasn't like it was a bloody sacrifice on his part. And he loved it, oh, he loved it, all of it, loved surrounding hard, hot flesh, loved the whimpers and shouts, loved the way semen would drip down his thighs when he pulled the orgasms from his bedmate.

Sometimes he fantasised about leaving off the condom, letting his ejaculate soak his partner's skin, triggering the mating bond, feeling the knot rise for him to clamp down on. He thought about how he would finally feel full. About how he would finally never again feel alone. About how grateful his alpha would be that John could make it better, so much better. Mostly, because he was in his twenties and randy almost constantly, he thought about how incredible the orgasms would be, orders of magnitude more intense, the result of alpha hyperejaculation. Someday. Someday.

There was so much he wanted to do before then.

  

# # #

  

“Your heart stopped beating, Sherlock! That is the very definition of 'dead.'”

Oh, bollocks. Brain death was the only one that mattered, and he'd been full minutes away from that. Sherlock scoffed. Tried to. The endotracheal tube had badly irritated his throat and the sounds he made were not the ones he had intended.

He'd been doing so well. He had the cocaine and the little flat on Montague Street and a man on the Met who was starting to pay attention when Sherlock told him things. Life was not terrible. Mostly. Certainly not as long as he had the cocaine.

“Piss off,” he croaked. Mycroft would take away the cocaine.

His brother regarded him for long moments, and Sherlock steeled himself. He would not co-operate. He would not. He was not a child and Mycroft couldn't bend him to his will anymore.

Mycroft slowly lowered himself into the cheap plastic chair by the bed. He bowed his head until his forehead touched the mattress, beneath the level of Sherlock's. He dropped his shoulders, rounded his back.

“Please,” he said. “Please stop this. I will pay for a clinic. I will buy you a flat. I will agree to any terms you choose. Just please stop before you harm yourself again.”

It's the pheromones, Sherlock told himself shakily, after a long moment. Biological manipulation. He's not begging. It's just chemicals, just the deliberate triggering of alpha instincts, it's just biology, it's not real.

Eventually he rasped, “All right.”

Mycroft exhaled. He did not lift his head. “Terms?”

“You never come close enough for me to smell you again.”

Mycroft did not make a sound. He nodded. Stood. Collected his coat. Paused on the threshold. Cleared his throat twice. Said, “Agreed,” and walked away.

It wasn't at all what Sherlock had thought power would feel like.

 

# # #

 

A punch in the shoulder spun him around, and he was falling, falling. Murray was shouting, “Watson!” and he sounded so scared that John knew it was bad, very bad. Then the pain grabbed him by the guts and tore all the air away everywhere and he tried to roll to cover but his arm—his arm wouldn't—Please, God, please, God, please—

During the months that followed of surgery, septicaemia, brutal physical therapy, sterile rooms that smelt of antiseptic and, later, a sterile bedsit that smelt of mildew and solitude and uselessness, John needed to believe that shot, the one that had ended both his careers and sent him home and meant he was never questioned about the Incident, had come from an enemy sniper.

Please, God. Please.

Chapter Text

His heats had stopped.

John stumped through the park, hard and fast, driving his cane into the pavement with every step, perversely satisfied with the shots of pain each jolt sent through his shoulder.

His goddamned shoulder. His goddamned leg. Both his motherfucking careers. And now his heats. One fucking bullet, and everything that made him worth anything at all, gone.

No-one could tell him how much functionality he might recover, or when, or if. He'd clearly never be a surgeon again, but he hoped he might one day be able to zip his trousers with his left hand and walk without a sodding cane. But hope—well, hope was the most dangerous emotion. Hope made soldiers and patients fight losing battles as if they could win. Better to know from the outset if there was no hope, and plan accordingly.

It started to rain, the slow, steadily increasing sort of drizzle that meant it was settling in for the day. Again. London had not had one full fucking dry day since he'd returned. His shoulder would ache tonight, what with the weather and the pounding he was inflicting on it. His bedsit already reeked of damp and depression and pain-sweat even to his sorry nose, and this wasn't going to help matters.

Suddenly the thought of going back to sit in that dank, dark cell and eat beans on toast by himself was intolerable. At the least, at the very least, he was going to eat something he could smell, damn it all, something spicy enough to cut through the stuffiness caused by the goddamned mould, and he was going to eat it in a brightly-lit place with other people around. Curries were cheap; he could do a curry.

“John! John Watson!”

Oh, fuck this, John thought. I just want to get in out of the wet. But he turned anyway.

The man was vaguely familiar, but John couldn't quite—“Stamford, Mike Stamford,” he said, offering his hand, and now John could place him. “Heard you were abroad somewhere dry and sunny. Why on earth did you come back? Come on, come on, get out of the rain. I'll buy you lunch and we can catch up, if you've nothing on.”

 

#     #     #

Footsteps outside the door brought Sherlock's attention away from the slide with the tiny green flakes that confirmed the victim's brother's guilt. Could no-one on the Met be bothered to use their eyes? This didn’t even require rudimentary brainwork, just a set of working eyeballs. Impossibly dull. Indescribably dull. Possibly fatally dull. His brain might actually rot if things went on much longer like this.

Furthermore, Molly was being especially persistent today with the—he could only think of it as tidbitting behaviour, bringing coffee and biscuits and and lingering with obvious intent in spite of the fact he was a different species than she, and it was annoying. Oh, God, why did people have to be so consistently boring? Nearly all of them were vastly more appealing with railroad spikes through their cerebella.

“Bit different from my day,” said an unfamiliar voice with a likewise unfamiliar footfall pattern that came in with Mike and oh, this could be interesting because just this morning he'd mentioned—

“Mike, can I borrow your phone?” he interrupted.

“No,” Stamford said immediately. Surely he wasn't still upset about the pornography download? It had been for a case. His wife should have understood.

“Here, use mine,” said the stranger, and that spoke of either stupidity or a love of risk-taking, given his friend's emphatic refusal. Stamford would never have brought someone stupid to him as a potential flatmate.

He inhaled surreptitiously as he took the phone. Flat, sterile scent beneath cheap human shampoo and soap, none of the complex richness of alpha or omega. Body language rigidly military: not re-acclimatised to civilian life. When distracted, the man placed weight evenly on both legs despite the bad limp when walking: psychosomatic, then. Traumatic injury, other post-traumatic symptoms now that he knew to look for them: wounded in action.

The phone was a cheap, low-end model with little memory. Clothing good quality but outdated, likely from a consignment rather than charity shop, and slightly loose on his frame despite having been recently purchased: money problems, more than just the difficulty of affording London alone on an Army pension. Gambling, not for money but because he was bored and chasing a thrill. Oh, this man was interesting.

“John Watson, Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford.

He handed Watson back the phone and baited the hook. “Afghanistan or Iraq?”

 

#     #     #

John stood rigidly as the lab door slammed shut, the words “Oh, and the impotence is just a post-traumatic symptom, like the limp. Nothing to be concerned about. I imagine you'll begin having spontaneous nocturnal emissions a few weeks before achieving voluntary erections, so watch for that, if it's of any importance to you” hanging in the air.

Mike cleared his throat awkwardly. “Yeah. He's always like that. Just like that, actually.” 

Then the lab-coated woman in the corner of the room made a sympathetic little noise, and John promised himself he could punch the shit out of something back at his bedsit.

 

#     #     #

Sherlock tucked the skull onto the mantle, shifted it six centimetres to the left, one and a half back to the right, rotated it twenty-six degrees anti-clockwise, and then took his hand away even though the skull wasn't optimally positioned because he was not arranging a den for his new flatmate.

Exciting, that: his new flatmate. John Watson was a locked-room murder, an undiscovered poison, a hidden motive, and Sherlock would be living with him, able to observe closely and tease out all his secrets. He shivered with anticipatory delight.

He shifted a pile of journals from the chair seat to the floor, then from there to the top of another stack on the desk. That left him holding the headphones, about which he dithered momentarily before tossing them onto the newly emptied chair because he was not arranging a den.

And oh, wouldn't it just boil Mycroft's blood to hear his baby brother was living with a beta?

Gleefully, he snatched up his violin and skirled ecstatically until Mrs Hudson came up with tea and sandwiches (“Just this once, dear, as you've not had time to go to the shops.”) and asked if he knew any Glenn Miller.

He ate a sandwich in four bites and absently hooked the headphones over the antlered skull.

 

#     #     #

John had no sooner hung up his sodden jacket and opened his laptop to do a bit of research when the bedsit’s street door (the one he knew damned well he'd bolted) creaked gently open. Part of him had been expecting this for weeks, and he was glad that at least he'd be dressed, sitting up, and facing the fuckers when they did him in. He'd been more than half afraid it would happen in the shower, or on the toilet.

He didn't try to go for the gun under his pillow. He'd never make it, not with his leg, and the thought of being shot in the back was more than he could bear.

The doorway was empty.

After several long minutes of nothing, John levered himself to his feet with the cane and stumped out onto the pavement. A woman looked up from her mobile, blinked at him vaguely, and said, “This way.”

The brand-new black saloon idling at the kerb was upholstered in leather, so it probably wasn't going to be where he died. The abandoned warehouse it pulled into, on the other hand, seemed just right for the purpose.

Omega arrogance radiated from the sharp, thin figure leaning ostentatiously on an umbrella, leaving no doubt as to his race and sex. With the detached hypervigilance that had slid over him when the bedsit door had opened, John noted the bespoke tailoring that could not conceal a gun, and the empty chair—just one—offset to the right. There were three points in the room at which an unseen sniper could be positioned. Of course, it could be they'd just go for a close-range shot in the chair once the suit left.

Not in the back, he prayed, exhaling deeply, lifting his chin, squaring his shoulders, and stumping forward. Just don't let it be in the back.

“Dr Watson.” The omega was all smiles and solicitude. “Do sit down; your leg must be hurting.”

“Not at all.”

The omega regarded him briefly, head cocked to the side, raven-like, and his smile changed. “I wonder if you realise that's true.”

Oh, fuck this, he thought, because twice in one day really was just too much, and snapped, “Get to the point. Why am I here?”

The suit tsked reprovingly. “Patience, Dr Watson. There is a rhythm to these things. First I put on a show of intimidation, next I explain how I may be of service to you, and then you to me. And then the stick, should the carrot prove inadequate. You've created quite a stir in certain circles. You have enemies in high places. You need friends in similarly lofty places. I could be your friend, Doctor.”

“In exchange for what?”

“Your therapist,” said the suit as he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and withdrew a small brown notebook, “thinks you have suicidal tendencies stemming from depression. For God's sake, get rid of her. She can't even tell that the reason you're losing weight is that you've inadequate funds for meals.”

I have nothing to be ashamed of, John told himself fiercely as a flush crept up his neck. Nothing.

“The reason you're fatalistic and reconciled to death is because you recognise that it is a perfectly plausible outcome. You're quite right: on your own, you can do nothing to stop those whose interests would be advanced by your disappearance. You need me for that.”

“And what do you want in return?”

“Information. Nothing indiscreet, nothing you'd feel uncomfortable with. Certainly nothing treasonous, as you're likely imagining. Earlier today you met someone: Sherlock Holmes, my younger brother. I worry about him, constantly. It would ease my mind considerably to—No, no, don't answer me now, you'll only refuse. You feel manipulated and threatened, and you won't allow anyone to have that power over you. You have,” the omega consulted the brown notebook, “trust issues. No matter. I can tell by your left hand you'll be moving in with him. We'll see each other again, John, and perhaps you'll have reconsidered my offer by then. He's perfectly hellish to live with; you may come to feel you deserve some compensation for it.”

The suit had sauntered halfway out of the warehouse, twirling his umbrella, before he called over his shoulder, “Oh, and Captain? Your service sidearm really will not suit. You can do better than that.”

Even knowing it was exactly what the omega wanted him to do, immediately he'd been returned to his bedsit, John checked under the pillow for his gun. The Browning was gone, and in its place was a used and meticulously maintained SIG Sauer.

His phone pinged.

If my brother offers you money to spy on me, demand cash in advance. I need a pancreas and you've lost your rent money playing poker. SH

They're both nutters, he thought. This sort of shit doesn't happen in real life. But his life hadn't felt real since the Incident, and despite knowing the dangers of hope, he wanted to believe there was a chance of survival.

The bedsit was cold and damp, so he climbed into bed under the blankets with his laptop and searched out everything he could find on Sherlock Holmes. The Science of Deduction was...well, it was either sheer genius or the biggest load of bullshit John had ever seen. He was leaning towards genius, but honestly, left thumb?

His ears flamed when he recalled how that lanky sod had announced John's sterility as if remarking on his brand of shoes. Mike's surprise had been bad enough, but the pathologist's pity

Damn the arrogant bastard.

He was right, though. He'd been right about quite a lot. Maybe he was right about the limp, too.

Treacherous hope.

When in the small hours of the morning he fell into a fitful doze, he dreamt of a t-shirt, rank with the stench of terrified alpha, undertones of piss beneath apocrine and adrenaline, and barely rolled off the side of the bed onto his hands and knees before he vomited bile.

Heart slamming in his chest, he rested his forehead against the bedframe and swallowed until his stomach stopped heaving. I did the right thing. I don't regret it, and I'll be damned if I let them kill me for it.

Once he'd cleaned the mess and washed up to make tea, he sat with a mug and an untouched apple and realised he'd decided to fight after all.

Chapter Text

“Well, this could be very nice. Very nice indeed. Er, is there some kind of...smell—?”

There had been a slight miscalculation with the durian, which had not at all been Sherlock's fault. “Nice, yes. Yes, I think so. My thoughts precisely, which is why I went ahead and moved in.”

John pointed to the mantle with his entirely unnecessary cane. “That's a real skull.” He swung the cane to point at the wall. “Is it jealous of the one with headphones and the better view?”

“I've never asked.”

John's nose wrinkled again, but evidently the advantages of an affordable flat in central London outweighed the durian. He dropped gracelessly into the chair facing the window. “I met your brother yesterday. At least, he said he was your brother.”

How could he sit? Sherlock himself couldn't stop moving. “Dark fox, receding hairline, air about him that says he enjoys enemas? Yes, Mycroft. Did he offer you money?”

“No.”

“Pity. Did he offer you something we could use to get cash?”

John twitched interestingly before considering and finally pronouncing, “No.” A comprehensive search of John's possessions moved from number 8 to 3 on Sherlock's list of priorities. John adjusted the pillow behind him and continued, “Looked up your blog last night.”

“What did you think?”

“Two hundred forty-three types of tobacco ash. No-one can say you're not a details person.”

It didn't matter. As blind as all the rest, and none of them mattered.

“Which is...brilliant. My God. Talk about thorough.”

“You—?” He cleared his throat. “Do you think so?”

“You even burnt a fucking Windsor Blue Menthol. I think they violate international bans on biological weapons.” John paused, eyes narrowing as he sniffed, reflected, and soldiered on resolutely. “But the thing with the left thumb—”

“It's perfectly obvious if people would just observe.” 

“And you can make a career out of that. Amazing.” John licked his lips. “So, um, your rates weren't listed on the website. I was wondering if you had a, um, sliding scale, perhaps?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“I don't have rates. I take cases that are interesting. Sometimes people give me money or,” he waved vaguely, “tie pins or body parts or deals on the rent.” Flashing blue light from the street pulled him to the window.

“What makes a case interesting?”

“Things that don't fit,” he said absently. That was Lestrade getting out of the car. What urgent case required a personal visit with no scrap of discretion whatsoever? Honestly, the man was in a police car.

Mrs Hudson wittered from the threshold, “There's an upstairs bedroom if you're interested, Dr Watson. Just step right up this way...”

Then Lestrade was there with a serial suicide and a note, and Sherlock had been in a cab for ten minutes before he thought of John Watson's questions again.

# # # 

John looked down at the very, very pink corpse. “Why am I here, exactly?”

“You're a doctor and I've pissed off all the forensic pathologists Lestrade works with.”

# # # 

It was the kind of madness John had never expected to have in his life again.

There was a pink suitcase; an extraordinarily awkward conversation in a restaurant that turned into an abduction right in front of his eyes; a breathless, aching, limping race after a murderous cabbie. He shot a man through two windows with a street full of police below; scrubbed residue off his skin; hid a highly illegal handgun. Fifty minutes after that, he walked to the Imperial Dragon restaurant and ate the prawns Sherlock kept absent-mindedly dropping onto his plate as the suicidal madman expounded on the parts of the case John hadn't been there to see and gesticulated with chopsticks so enthusiastically that John feared for his eyes.

By 03.00, it was simply absurd to go back to the bedsit for a few hours' sleep before moving his scant possessions to Baker Street, and when Sherlock yawned and said, “Mrs Hudson put my spare sheets in the linen cupboard; you may as well take them upstairs to your bed,” John yawned too and nodded and slept that night with Sherlock's faint scent tickling his still-stuffy nose.

# # # 

Sherlock woke at 05.27 to find himself rutting his fist, ejaculate smeared all over the bedclothes. A soft knot at the base of his penis indicated this indignity would go on for several more minutes.

Aftereffects of the cabbie's drug, he knew, tricking his body, weakening his control, not his fault, and he thrust away a lingering dream fragment: strong hands holding him down, his hair pulled tight, his throat exposed, teeth on his nipple, a voice murmuring, “Brilliant. Amazing. Brilliant.”

Another humiliating gush pulsed down his fingers, no different at all than pissing himself. He pressed his face into the pillow and waited for it to be over. 

# # # 

They hadn't told him why they'd wanted the shirt.

Some stupid prank, he'd thought, swapping out all a bloke's clean shirts with sweat-filthy ones or the like. Young male soldiers were given to all sorts of idiotic behaviours to stave off boredom and sexual frustration. So he'd only made a token protest, a half-hearted “Oi!” when Marshall had burst into the bunk and yanked John's damp t-shirt off over his head before bolting back out with a shit-eating grin.

He'd thought nothing of it. He'd had no reason to think anything of it. He'd certainly had no reason to connect it to the prisoner. Not until Grant brought back the shirt, rank with the stench of terrified alpha, undertones of piss beneath apocrine and adrenaline that made bile rush up his oesophagus with its wrongness, and tossed it at him, crowing.

Oh, fuck. Oh, Christ. Not a prank.

John jerked upright in a bed on Baker Street. A dark shape perched much too close to him on the edge of his mattress, and he recoiled so fast he cracked his skull against the headboard and was blind for a second.

“Oh,” breathed Sherlock, glinting in the dark, a huge, demented crow come to peck out his eyes. “You are interesting."

He gulped cold air that smelt of lemon polish. “So you'll take my case, then?”

# # #

“He couldn’t have been more than fourteen. Never met an omega outside of his family, sure as hell never had anything to do with the Royal Army. God only knows what stories he’d heard. Colonel got it into his head this kid knew where the insurgent base was, but the kid wouldn’t talk.” John rolled the mug around in his hands for the warmth. “If a fourteen-year-old is shooting at you, you shoot back. You just do. But beating a kid for information—it doesn’t go over well with the men.”

“Your colonel used psychological torture instead.”

“They wrapped my shirt over his face and told him they’d give him to me. I was—I was just starting to go into heat, my shirt reeked of it, and he was fourteen. He puked, he pissed himself, he told them everything they wanted to hear.”

Dawning horror broke over Sherlock’s face. “Heat."

“Jesus Christ, don’t look at me like that. I wouldn’t fuck a kid even if he’d been willing, much less—Jesus. What do you think I am?” He closed his eyes, then opened them to stare at his mug. “It gets worse. You know why we don’t rely on information obtained through torture? You can’t verify it. People being tortured become very, very good at picking up on what you want to hear, because if they say what you want to hear then you’ll stop hurting them. So you’ve got someone who will confirm your own biases whether they’re accurate or not just to make you stop.”

Sherlock looked faintly sick.

“Kid gave them the information they wanted to hear. Yes, the insurgents were hiding in his village, just like Tiger—the Colonel—thought. Yes, there were a lot of them, at least fifty. Yes, he himself was being trained to be a suicide bomber—he’d have said anything, you understand? Tiger’d been waiting for an excuse for two years and now he had one. He took volunteers into the mountains and they wiped out the kid’s village, every fucking thing that moved, down to the goats. And that’s still not the end of all this, because if they were going to cover that up, they had to get rid of the kid.”

He ought to have been shaking. Any normal person would have been shaking right now, and instead his left hand was rock-steady. There was something wrong with him, deep-down wrong, to get steadier in the face of awfulness like this.

“I didn’t know that was going on. While they were gone, I was...they’d had him zip-tied to the chair, and he’d torn up his wrists when he’d panicked. I needed to treat him—Christ, his face. When the big, bad omega strapped his arms down and pulled out a syringe, you know what he thought. Fuck.” He had to swallow repeatedly until the nausea receded. “You know how it is when your heat’s coming on, how you want to protect them, make them feel better, make them feel safe.” He'd had snot running down his face, and when John had tried to wipe it for him—fuck. The kid had been starting to respond to the pheromones, and he hadn't wanted to, and fuck, fuck, fuck.

“The Colonel’d taken our translator—God only knows why, wasn’t like they were going to talk to anyone. Appearances, maybe, so later he could say they all just went scouting. Anyway, I made a call to a mate of mine on another base who had a bit of Pashto, told him to please tell this kid I wasn’t going to hurt him, to ask the kid to wiggle his fingers, ask if he had any numbness or prickling and the like to check for nerve damage before I stitched him. So there was an off-site witness that he’d been in our custody and his injuries were documented.”

“This all sounds very rehearsed,” Sherlock said harshly. “Had a lot of time to practice, have you?”

“Spent a lot of nights running it over and over in my head, yeah. Wouldn’t you?”

Sherlock flipped a hand for him to continue.

“So I got the kid patched up and then my heat came on. Wasn’t due for another two days; I had arrangements to meet a friend in Kandahar and spend it with him, but...but the kid brought it on sooner and...I had to get out of there, get back to my own tent, at least. Alphas aren’t deployed into warzones, so I was alone. Bill, my medtech, he tried to help, but he’s human. Christ, it hurt. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through one by yourself, but it really goddamned hurts. I couldn’t think about anything else. Couldn’t think at all.

“When it was over, I found out the kid had disappeared. They said they’d turned him loose.” 

He set down the mug and leaned forward. “Shit like this cannot happen. Understand? On the battlefield, things aren’t black and white. You do a lot of things you don’t ever talk about, things you’re not proud of, but you do them. But there have to be some things that stay wrong.Sherlock, even if you don’t give a damn about what happens out there, one day those soldiers will come home. And when they come home, they will bring all that wrongness back with them.”

Nineteen-year-old Grant, who wrote his dad every Sunday to ask how his dog was getting on, laughing, “Rhys told him you’d make him crawl to you. Make him lick your feet and beg you to screw him.” And then, curiously, “Can you do that, John? Is that what omegas do?”

Some things had to stay wrong.

“And what,” Sherlock drawled sardonically, “did you do in the name of this battlefield morality, Doctor?”

“I went over the Colonel’s head and asked for an investigation.” And ended his own Army career, he’d known that. Going over your commander’s head, ratting out other soldiers, those were unforgivable offences. “A day after that, I got shot. What I need to know is, did the Army order that, or did Colonel Moran? Just how deep is the shit I’m in, and do I have any chance of surviving?"

“This is boring. It’s nothing but an assassination. You already know the motive is to cover up the incident; it’s only a matter of which level it’s happening on.”

“Ta very much; just my life we're talking about here. And you’ll have to find another flatmate if I get killed.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “But it’s dull. You’re more interesting than this. I thought your case would be interesting but it’s mind-numbingly pedestrian, oh, God.” He slouched in his chair and curled his lip.

John regarded him steadily for a moment. “Okay, then.” He levered himself to his feet and stumped over to his coat. “Your brother said he’d help me. I’ll just—”

Sherlock jackknifed upright and snarled, “I’ll take the bloody case.”

John smiled. “Brilliant,” he said, and Sherlock twitched.