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Fettered Fens

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John fidgeted in his chair; however much he approved of this ceremony it was still long and dull. The coronation of the beta King Mycroft was a wonderful step forward for a society that had too long been dominated by alphas. Even twenty years ago such a thing would have been unthinkable, but times were changing. In the past, the head of every household in the land would have been an alpha, they had taken the best jobs and earned the most money, despite the fact that they were brutes who thought of little more than fighting and mating. In the last two decades that had all changed. Betas, and even some omegas, won places at court and took up professions whilst alphas began to be given jobs more suited to their temperament, like manual labour.

Twenty years ago every monarch in the Britain was an alpha, it would have been unimaginable for it to be otherwise. Yet today John was witnessing the coronation of the first beta king. A massive achievement, but it came too late for John. As an omega he would still have to marry an alpha; it was his duty as a prince. He would marry some stranger to seal an alliance for Harry, and then he would be carted off to a strange land and fucked by some brainless alpha. Harry would allow him some say in who he married, but only as much as was politically expedient.

Clara elbowed him discreetly in the ribs as his attention wandered and his eyelids began to droop. John jerked awake just as Prince Sherlock stood up from his chair. Mycroft’s alpha younger brother was obviously trying to slip out of the church early. For a second their eyes met and John couldn’t help but be amazed at what he saw in the young alphas eyes. Sherlock was obviously beautiful, but his eyes shone with intelligence. This wasn’t some dumb alpha, angry at his beta brother for ascending to the throne that he had probably always expected to inherit. This was a man of cunning and guile and John made up his mind before Sherlock had even turned away. That was the alpha he was going to marry.

“Really, John, Sherlock’s heir will become king of East Anglia, but is that really worth cloistering yourself with some nothing alpha who is a glorified guardsman. I mean what about King Edward, that would be a much better match, we could come to a trade agreement and secure the Western pass. Edward’s army is strong but his land poor, with his marriage to you we could - ”

“No, Clara. The man’s one of the worst alphas around, and that trade agreement will work without needing to marry me off to secure it,” John said angrily. His sister’s omega wife understood the politics of marriage all too well and, while he felt for sorry for the woman, he refused to put himself in the same position she had and marry solely for his family’s political gain.

“John,” Harry broke in tiredly. She had been over-indulging again, and now she was slumped in her chair, cradling her wine protectively. “You’re getting older, don’t you want children?”

John pursed his lips. He was only twenty-two, but Harry was drunk and her alpha nature was becoming even more apparent.

“Yes, Harry, of course I do,” John said, having children was a duty so ingrained that he’d never imagined doing otherwise. “And Sherlock Holmes is going to be their father.”

Harry nodded ponderously. Clara frowned and tried to interrupt but Harry shushed her and pulled Clara onto her lap.

“Alright, little brother, if that’s what you want. I’ll discuss it with the new king tomorrow before we leave.” Harry made a face and buried her head into Clara’s neck, “Barren little beta, it’s a disgrace, should never have made him king. Not natural.”

Clara and John exchanged a long look as Harry trailed off and began to gently snore.

Molly woke him late the next morning with a squeal and a cup of tea.

“Oooh, your highness! Isn’t it exciting! Everyone’s talking about it! Her majesty offered your hand to the new king’s brother and the Beta King said yes! Before there was any talk of the settlement, he justed agreed on the spot! Isn’t it wonderful!” Molly prattled. John sat up slowly and leaned back on his pillows as Molly flitted about the room, opening the curtains and chattering away merrily. “And Peter, the stable boy, he overheard his Majesty’s valet telling the head chef that they would be hosting an emissary from Mercia next month and that they would be negotiating your marriage contract!”

John closed his eyes. This was what he’d asked for, he just hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly. Maybe he had overreacted yesterday, just because Sherlock was the first intelligent looking alpha he’d ever seen didn’t mean he had to marry the man. Except he did; as the prince of Mercia he was destined to have an arranged marriage, at least this way he would have some control over who his groom was. The political connection with the kingdom of East Anglia wasn’t a brilliant one, but his children would be cousins to the rulers of Mercia which would guarantee an alliance between the two kingdoms for decades to come.

He knew nothing of Sherlock beyond a vague impression of intelligence, but then he’d never heard any rumour of him being the usual alpha beast; which was probably the best he could wish for in a future husband.

“Your highness?” Molly stopped, suddenly realising that John wasn’t sharing her excitement. “You are happy, aren’t you? I’m sorry, sir, it’s not my place…” Molly trailed off, wringing her hands nervously.

“It’s fine, Molly. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You will come to East Anglia with me, won’t you?”

“Ooh, your highness!” Molly squealed, throwing her hands over open mouth, “Thank you! Thank you!” John grinned, at least he’d have one friend in East Anglia.

“When are we leaving for Tamworth?” John asked, changing the subject and reaching for his tea.

Stamford spent three weeks in talks with Mycroft in Rendlesham and returned to Tamworth with news that the wedding would be held in one months time. Harry called a day of feasting in celebration. John sat next to Clara and picked at the food mindlessly.

“Are you happy now, John?” Clara leaned over to ask him, “Your marriage won’t benefit your people, but maybe your alpha will make you happy. Do you think it will be worth it?”

“An alliance between Mercia and East Anglia will benefit everyone,” John snapped back. Clara poured some more wine into his glass.

“Don’t let us fight, John. You’ll be gone in a month and then it will be just me and Harry, I’m going to miss you so much,” Clara said, reaching for his hand. John held onto her hand and swallowed back his retort. Clara had been such an innocent when she had first arrived in Tamworth but after years of dealing with Harry’s brutish ways she had become more and more bitter.

“I’m sure I’ll return for visits very often,” John answered. Clara nodded vaguely.

“I said the same to my mother before my wedding, and my mother told me that I would be too busy with my children to have time for her,” Clara sighed heavily and rested her hands on her flat stomach.

“It will happen soon, Clara, I’m sure of it,” John said reassuringly. Clara smiled thinly.

“And if it doesn’t, I’ll be divorced and packed off to nunnery to make way for the next omega. Perhaps your plan is not so bad after all. If Harry dies without heir then your children will inherit the thrones of Mercia and East Anglia. How very devious of you, John.”

The church was crowded and the air heavy with incense. The religious ceremony would be over soon, there was no reason to be nervous. He would see Sherlock for the first time since Mycroft’s coronation but there would be no chance for them to talk. Afterwards they would share a room and spend their first night together before returning to Sherlock’s home in East Anglia. Once there, the second part of the marriage bond would take place. He would be given a drug to start his heat early and then Sherlock would give him his bonding bite and truly claim him. That was the part of the wedding that John was nervous about. Today should be easy. All he had to do today was stand in front of hundreds of people and swear his undying love and loyalty to a man he’d never spoken to.

John heard the heavy wooden church doors open and then Harry took his hand and guided him up the aisle. He was not supposed to look at anyone other than his alpha for this part of the ceremony, so he kept his head down, staring at the floor and thinking about how ridiculous it was that he was at risk of tripping over just to appease someone simply because they were probably stronger than him.

Finally, he reached the altar. The priest began his bonding speech and John allowed himself to look up at his alpha. Sherlock was as handsome as he remembered him, perhaps more so. There was a look of detached interest on the alphas face, as if John were some vaguely interesting puzzle, rather than Sherlock’s future spouse. His eyes were just as intelligent as John remembered but this time it made John shiver. Perhaps he would have done better with a stupid alpha whom John could have lead around by his dick, rather than this strangely intimidating man who seemed to look straight through him.

The priest seemed to speak for an age about the scarcity of omegas and the importance of fruitfulness before it was finally time for John to speak.

“I swear,” John said clearly, his voice ringing out as those two words altered his entire life. Unlike beta weddings, alpha and omega couples do not kiss to seal their vows. Everyone knew that alphas couldn’t be trusted to stop after a single kiss; their passions are too easily inflamed by their animalistic natures. John stared at Sherlock’s shoulder, refusing to look into that perceptive face again and desperately trying to avoid thinking about their wedding night.

They were in Leicester. The wedding ceremony was supposed to take place in a town half-way between the two capital cities, but in deference to Harry, and Mercia’s superior power, the town chosen was far closer to Tamworth. They were only a day’s ride away from John’s new home, Sherlock’s estate on the border of East Anglia and the kingdom of Lindsey.

This time tomorrow his forced heat would be starting. It was a terrifying thought. His heats had always made him feel so embarrassed. He would become embarrassingly desperate and needy, but, as he had always been isolated during them, he had never been too ashamed. For the first time in his life someone was going to see him in that mortifying state. For tonight, at least, John was in control of his body.

He fidgeted, sitting ramrod straight on the edge of the bed wearing only a practically transparent night shift that was far too thin and left nothing to the imagination. He might as well be naked. Each time he heard a creak, he thought it must be Sherlock coming up to bed. They still hadn’t spoken and yet they were expected to fuck. John pressed his legs together and clenched his arse cheeks. He’d been born to be in this situation, he’d even been allowed to choose his alpha. He had no reason to be nervous.

The door swung open. He hadn’t heard any approaching footsteps, but suddenly Sherlock was there. He was larger than John remembered, taller and broader and suddenly far more imposing. The single lit candle by the bedside stopped the room from being completely dark, but John could barely make out Sherlock’s face.

“John,” Sherlock said, his smooth baritone taking John by surprise. He must have heard it before, in the church, but he’d been too distracted to take note of it. It was a beautiful voice. Perhaps that would make sleeping with the man easier.

“Sherlock,” John acknowledged, hating how high and worried his voice sounded. Sherlock closed the door behind him and came into the light. He didn’t look like a man about to enjoy his first night of married life, he just looked rather impatient.

“I suppose we’d better get on with this,” Sherlock said loosening his clothes. It wasn’t terribly romantic, John reflected, but then he was thinking much the same thing, so he could hardly judge. “Well?” Sherlock asked as he approached the bed. John spluttered. He was never particularly elegant but Sherlock was making him increasingly nervous and graceless.

“Well, go on then. Pass me a blanket. I’m sleeping on the sofa and it’s far too cold to sleep in these clothes.” Sherlock said. John blinked up at him stupidly, barely comprehending what he’d just said. Sherlock huffed impatiently and pulled the folded blanket from the bottom of John’s bed.
And then he was gone. John stared after his retreating figure. The sofa was on the other side of the room and far too small for Sherlock to sleep on comfortably.

“Wait! I can sleep on the sofa,” John called after him. Sherlock didn’t answer him, instead he lay down on the small sofa and began unfolding the blanket on top of himself.

“Put the light out, John, I want to sleep,” Sherlock called out imperiously. John blew the candle out and the room was suddenly pitch black. He struggled to find the edge of the blanket in the darkness and finally managed to tuck himself in but sleep eluded him. He closed his eyes but all he could feel was shock. His alpha hadn’t even wanted to touch him. He’d always been told how insatiable and savage alphas were, how they couldn’t help their physical reactions and any alpha confronted with a provocatively dressed omega would be overwhelmed with desire. Yet here was Sherlock, seemingly completely oblivious to John’s waiting body. It was bewildering.

Sherlock was gone when he woke up to Molly knocking on his bedroom door with his morning cup of tea.

“Good morning, your highness,” Molly said, blushing. Molly, whilst an excellent maid, was very easily flustered. Even the thought of sex was too much for her. “I brought you your tea. I, er, wasn’t sure if you’d want just the one cup.”

John sat up slowly. Even without losing his virginity, it had been a long night. He hadn’t been able to sleep as he puzzled over Sherlock’s refusal to approach him.

“That’s fine, Molly,” John said softly. He felt like such a failure; his alpha hadn’t wanted him. Ultimately it was probably a good thing; now they wouldn’t have sex until John’s heat and by then he would be wet, loose and begging for his alpha’s cock. There would be none of the strained, forced intimacy that John had been so nervous about last night.

“Queen Harry’s party are leaving in about an hour. We weren’t sure if you’d want to say goodbye, only King Mycroft is leaving soon, and Prince Sherlock said that farewells were unnecessary...and, well..” John grinned at Molly as he got up and began to throw on clothes. Of course, he wanted to say goodbye to his family before they left. What kind of person wouldn’t?

He found Clara in the gardens.

“John!” Clara called out to him as soon as she saw him, “I did so hope we would have a chance to speak. I must apologise. I have been so rude to you. I thought you were, I don’t know, being no better than you should be. Just because some omegas have found a more liberated place in the world does not mean that we have such a privilege. But...but now you have gone through the same indignity as I did...Was it very bad last night? Was he very rough?” Clara asked, her face screwed up with worry and John thought she might be on the verge of tears. He couldn’t possibly tell her the truth, that Sherlock had left him alone.

“It was not what I expected,” John began, but Clara gasped and clutched her handkerchief tightly, “But it was fine. There’s no need to worry about me, Clara.”

“You’ve always been so brave, John. I wish I had your courage, sometimes I think -” Clara said softly but she was cut off as Harry approached them.

“There you are! Clara!” Harry called out as she walked quickly towards them. She grabbed Clara’s wrist and pulled her a little closer to her. “John! My little brother married and all grown up! I had to talk to that beta at breakfast and he’s as slippery as an eel. Nothing he said makes any sense. No, no, give me an alpha any day. These betas just don’t understand politics. And I can’t help but think we rushed into this alliance, but I suppose it’s too late now, eh, John?” Harry paused to wink at John, “I think you’ll be very bored with Sherlock, perhaps you can persuade him to move to Rendlesham. You don’t want to be trapped out in the Fenlands forever. It’s flat, marshy and boring as hell. Well, until you sprog up and have a few whelps to look after,” Harry said with a pointed look at Clara, who turned away to look at a brightly flowered plant. “Come, John, kiss me and say good bye. Your alpha was looking for you.”

John kissed Harry’s cheek and, after a second’s indecision, kissed Clara too. The female omega clutched at his hand and didn’t seem to want to let him go.

“You will write, won’t you, John?” Clara asked plaintively.

“Don’t be silly,” Harry interrupted, “He’ll be far too busy keeping his alpha happy! But, John, do remember…Mercia is still, well, not your home, but...You’re my little brother, I’d rather go to war than see you mistreated.”

John smiled. Harry was probably being sincere. Alphas felt familial bonds deeply, which was one of the many reasons it was such a terrible idea that they were rulers. Even if Sherlock beat him every day he wouldn’t allow thousands of people to die in a war between Mercia and East Anglia.

“Thanks, Harry. I’ll, I’d better get going,” John said awkwardly. It was so strange as he turned and walked away from them, the only people he had ever before called family, and went in search of his new husband.

“Your highness?” Molly called out, running to greet him as he neared the house. “We have to go! The prince has already left on horseback, and we’re to take the carriage.”

“What? I haven’t even packed yet!”

“I packed everything up already, the prince’s valet said that there wasn’t a moment to lose!” Molly said, looking worried that she’d disappointed her prince.

“It’s fine,” John sighed, he felt like he’d been reassuring people that he was fine all morning, “Come on then, let’s leave.”

Molly sat opposite him in the carriage, she was clearly nervous. Although she had been his maid for weeks, the two of them were not particularly close but, now that she was the only person he knew in his new home, John felt he should rectify that.

“In private, you must call me John,” he said, trying to put Molly at ease. The younger omega blushed, but grinned at him. John knew Molly could be quite a chatterbox when she wasn’t feeling worried and he wanted her to relax and soothe him with her gentle chatter.

“I, er, thank you. My mum said this was such a good opportunity for me.”

John hummed and looked out of the carriage window. The land was flat and marshy as far as the eye could see, it looked like an alien landscape. There were no buildings and no wildlife, it seemed eerily quiet to John who had spent his life in the bustle of Tamworth.

“Do you think all of East Anglia is so strange looking, your - John?” Molly asked quietly.

“No, no. I’m told it’s just the Fenlands that are like this.”

“I don’t understand how they can tell where the border is! It all looks the same, no trees, no fields, just endless grey reeds!”

John laughed, although he did agree with Molly.

“I’ve heard stories, your - John, of raiders. They come out of the mist and can’t be killed!” Molly squeaked, staring out of the window as if she expected to see raiders coming for them.

“The prince lives out here to defend the border, I’m sure there are raiders from Lindsey, but they are definitely mortal, Molly.” John took the other omega’s hand. Before his marriage he would never have touched a maidservant, but omegas were tactile people and the bonds of class were less important now he was so far removed from court life. “Anyway, we’ll be perfectly safe. It’s not like they’ll let us out of the fort to fight off raiders. I’m sure my husband will protect us.”

His words were rather bitter, he rather liked the idea of being outside, of fighting and being useful. Nevertheless, his words seemed to calm Molly and they went back to watching as the unaltering landscape sped past them. John hadn’t given much consideration to where his new home would be, he’d only thought about tying himself to an alpha who had some intelligence. Now, as he made his way to Sherlock’s isolated home, he realised that he may have made a mistake. At least, if he had insisted upon living in the capital he would have had the opportunity to meet more people and maybe make some friends. In Rendlesham he wouldn’t be Sherlock’s sole focus, as he surely would be in this desolate place.

“He’s very handsome. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that and obviously you know he’s handsome!” Molly said quickly, blushing a terrific shade of red. John laughed easily, he was glad that Molly was here with him.

“Relax, Molly. We Mercians have to stick together. I suppose things will be a great deal more relaxed out here than they were at court, let’s not be so formal,” John smiled and winked at her. “Sherlock is a very handsome alpha.” John didn’t mention that the man hadn’t laid a hand on him. It didn’t seem right to admit to being such a defective omega that he couldn’t even tempt an alpha to his bed.

The fort was built on the first hill that John had seen since they’d entered the Fenlands. The carriage drew up into a large courtyard but there was no sign of Sherlock. John wasn’t sure if he should be relieved by his alpha’s absence or not. Later, when he was drugged into heat, he would be begging for the man and he wasn’t sure he would have been able to look the alpha in the eye as he thought about what they would get up to later.

A silent soldier led John and Molly up to his new chambers. The bedroom wasn’t large and it was dominated by the large door that led to Sherlock’s bed chamber. John didn’t try to open that door.

“Do you want me to unpack now?” Molly asked hesitantly. The austere fort seemed to have overwhelmed her.

“No, no. I’ll do it, Molly,” John said, testing the hardness of the bed he was going to be writhing about on in a few hours time.

“Do you want something to eat or, erm, do you want the Bonding Elixir?”

“Not yet,” John said, going to the window and looking out over the seemingly endless flat land. “I think I’d like a nap first.”

“John!” a finger poked his shoulder, “Wake up!”

John blinked his eyes open, his vision was still blurry and he didn’t recognise the man’s voice. It definitely wasn’t Molly who was waking him up so abruptly. He blinked again and realised it was his husband who was standing by his bedside.

“Here, drink this,” a bottle was shoved under John’s nose and he automatically tried to knock the drink away, but the alpha was holding the back of his neck and he couldn’t move away. “Shh, calm down.”

John couldn’t help the way his body relaxed into Sherlock’s touch. The alpha was so close and he was pressing into John’s sensitive neck.

“It’s just the Bonding Elixir,” Sherlock said sounding annoyed at John’s continued refusal. This wasn’t how this was supposed to happen. Of course John hadn’t expected romance, but he had expected slightly more than this.

“Stop it! I’ll drink it! Just, just give me some space,” John said with a huff. Sherlock moved away from him, his grey eyes focused intently on John. It was a rather heady feeling. John held out his hand and Sherlock gave him the little bottle.

“I...We don’t have to do this now,” John stalled, suddenly afraid. It wasn’t the sex that was bothering him. It was the thought of someone seeing him wet and needy, especially this stranger who he was married to. “We could talk first.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow and glanced at the bottle of elixir.

“You might as well drink it now, we have to get this out of the way.” Sherlock said in a bored tone. With a last glance at his husband, John took a large swig and almost emptied the bottle. The effect was instantaneous. He was already too hot and his clothes were scratching at his skin. John knew his heat was inevitable, but he squirmed, rubbing against the pillows rather than removing his clothes.

“You’re already starting to feel it,” Sherlock stated, as if he somehow knew what John was feeling. John gasped. The presence of an alpha was making his heat feel even stranger than usual. Sherlock’s scent seemed to permeate the air, thick and potent. John gasped again, trying to breathe in as much of Sherlock’s scent as he could.

“Alpha!” John groaned, almost unaware of what he was saying. He tried pulling at his clothes, but he couldn’t undo the fastenings quickly enough. Instead he tried reaching towards Sherlock. His alpha was still fully dressed but John needed him. He needed his alpha’s cool skin to press against him, he needed his alpha’s thick cock to press into him and fill him and cure him of his emptiness.

“Is this what you want, John?” Sherlock’s cool voice steadied him through the haze of his heat. John’s hand groped at Sherlock’s still clothed dick. It was hard and thick and just the thought of it was making John’s mouth water. “You’re welcome to it. All you have to do is tell me one thing. Tell me why.”

“Please, Sherlock, anything!” John begged. His alpha was just there. His insides burned with need. He was so empty and only his alpha could fill him.

“Tell me why you agreed to this marriage! Queen Harry would never have married you off without your approval. Why did you say yes? Was it a joke? A prank? A ploy? Who are you allied to?”

“Only you, just want you!” John panted, not comprehending how Sherlock could still be so coherent, how he could be so close and still not yet inside him. “Please!

“Oh, this is useless!” Sherlock snapped, “Here, drink this.” Sherlock pushed a vial to his lips and tipped it back so that the bitter drink flooded his mouth. John’s first reaction was to spit it out. Something was terribly wrong here. His alpha wasn’t behaving as he should, could this be poison? But then, his alpha had given it to him, alphas didn’t poison their omegas. They might beat them, but they didn’t do anything as insidious as poison them. John groaned unhappily. It was so difficult to think when he was so empty. He swallowed his alpha’s potion. Almost immediately he felt better. His heat was ending early and he was beginning to feel normal again. John grabbed a sheet and pulled it over himself, covering his half-naked body from Sherlock. His bum was wet and the lube was drenching the bed underneath him. John squirmed uncomfortably.

“What did you do to me?” John asked, torn between anger and wonder. Had Sherlock found a way to stop his heats?

“The herbs counteract the Bonding Elixir. You’ll be fine in a few minutes time,” Sherlock said with a frown, as if he were upset by John’s return to health. “The smell of your heat is more appealing than I thought it would be,” Sherlock ground out. John’s heart was still racing and Sherlock wasn’t moving away, he was still looming over John in a way that should have been scary rather than arousing. John panted slightly, trying to catch his breath as his heart pounded.

Sherlock was staring at his face. John wondered if he had dirt on his lips, because there couldn’t be any other reason for Sherlock to stare like that, he didn’t seem aroused or eager to kiss John. He just seemed unable to stop frowning at his lips.

The alpha leaned down, his body was thin but he was surprisingly heavy as he pressed into John.

“What are you..”John began to ask, but then Sherlock silenced him by pressing his lips to John’s mouth. It wasn’t a kiss, it was a press of flesh against flesh. It was just as unromantic and dispassionate as John had always suspected alpha-omega couplings would be.

Sherlock pulled away, standing quickly before turning and striding towards the door.

“You’re not going!” John yelled out in shock. Even if his heat was over, he still needed Sherlock’s claiming bite. Their marriage could still be annulled if Sherlock didn’t bite him.

“I am going,” Sherlock called out sarcastically, without turning round to face him. The door slammed shut behind him and John threw himself down onto the bed. Not consummating the marriage was one thing, John could hide that. But without a bite mark he was defenseless, he was an unbonded omega alone in a strange land. He got up and began searching through his clothes trunk. Finally he found a small scarf and he tied it tightly around his neck. He would just have to get used to hiding his unblemished neck.

Chapter Text

The fort was large and John spent hours exploring it. He was nervous of spending too long on the lower levels, where the soldiers were garrisoned. His scent had always been subtle, but he still smelled like an unbonded omega and he didn’t want to get too close to any coarse alpha soldier. Even though they all knew he was, and that he belonged to Prince Sherlock, he didn’t trust any alpha not to be overwhelmed by their instincts and try to mount him.

He took Molly with him as he explored the stables, stroking the horses and greeting the beta stable boys. He found the fort’s library and searched through the titles. Sherlock seemed to favour the most eclectic of literature, there were books of military history sitting next to studies of the different types of plants of Britain. He choose a slim history of the Fenlands and retired to his room.

He found a supper tray waiting for him. Was this Sherlock’s way of telling him to avoid the public evening meal? John was far too tired to care about such politics. He ate and soon fell asleep cradling his book.

The first few days passed slowly. Molly was his only companion and, although he exchanged occasional words with some the fort’s betas, he still felt that Molly was his only friend in this strange land. Each evening he’d return to his room to find a tray of food waiting for him and no sign that Sherlock wished for his company.

It was late but John could not sleep and he had finished his book. With a great sigh, John got out of bed, took the candle from his bedside and made his way down the darkened hallway to the library. He pushed open the heavy library door before realising that there was already a light on inside the room. There, sitting next to a single candle, was Sherlock. The prince glanced up at John but, other than a tightening of his lips, he did not acknowledge him.

“Good evening,” John said hesitantly. Sherlock nodded at him curtly and then turned back to his book. It was strange to see an alpha so engrossed in literature. Certainly Harry had never been interested in literary pursuits. If she needed to read things she would get Clara to read and summarise it for her; Harry always claimed that alphas were not built with the patience for such things.

Picking a book at random, John sat down in the chair opposite Sherlock and began to read. They did not speak and the only noise in the room was the occasionally turning of a page. Slowly, John relaxed. Sherlock wasn’t about to pounce on him, or commit any alpha horror.

John yawned, his eyelids were getting heavy. He was almost halfway through his book, he’d lost track of time. Glancing at Sherlock he saw the alpha was still riveted by his own readings. John stood slowly and felt Sherlock’s weary gaze fall on him.

“Good night,” John called out. Sherlock gave a small grunt in response; inarticulate alpha.

The second week was better. John felt more settled in his new home. He would read in the library most evenings. Sherlock was invariably there when John entered and he never left before John did. However, he had yet to say a single word to John.

His days, while still empty, were at least pleasant. Almost every afternoon he went to the stable to visit and pet the horses. He even had a favourite. A bay mare who would make little nickering noises whenever he came near her. John was alone in the stables, standing in the mare’s stall, when he heard someone call out.

“Who’s there?”

John froze. He was allowed to be here, but he usually came to the stables with Molly. The stable hands were all betas but, as an unbonded omega, it made him uncomfortable to run the risk of meeting some uncouth alpha. John shrugged to himself; he was a prince and this was his home.

“In here!” John called out, still stroking the mare. A thin alpha stepped into the stall.

“Your highness,” the alpha bowed his head. The man didn’t seem physically intimidating and John relaxed slightly. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. Do you have everything you need?”

“Yeah, I was just admiring the horses,” John said with a smile. The alpha smiled back at him.

“My name’s Beck, your Highness. I’m the new Head Groom. The stable boys told me that you liked to spend time with the horses. It’s good for morale, seeing you down here. Prince Sherlock doesn’t seem that interested.”

John shrugged again; it was hardly this alpha’s place to criticise Sherlock and he wasn’t going to say anything negative about the prince himself.

“Hmm, well, it’s getting late. I’d better be off,” John said, patting the mare goodbye and moving to leave the stall. Beck seemed to move out of his way.

“Goodbye, your Highness. I hope we’ll see you down here again,” Beck smiled at him again, and somehow moved forward just as John passed him so that their chests bumped into each other. Beck stepped away quickly and began to apologise.

“I’m so sorry, your Highness. My mum always said I was clumsy,” Beck giggled nervously. John gave him a tight smile.

“That’s alright.”

“Where have you been?” Sherlock’s voice rang out as soon as John entered his chamber; the alpha was seated on John’s bed. The door between their bedrooms was wide open and John could see Sherlock’s unmade bed in the room beyond.

“What are you doing in here?” John asked angrily. If Sherlock would just bond with him then he would feel much safer wandering around the fort. Sherlock’s bright eyes followed John’s every movement as he made his way into the room and pulled off the scarf that was tied tightly around his neck. Sherlock sniffed loudly.

“So...You decided to find yourself another alpha? I’m surprised it took you this long, you obviously don’t care who you’re bonded to,” Sherlock spat out.

“What?!” John yelled, shocked at Sherlock’s insinuation. “No, I…,” John spluttered and stopped. Sherlock was angrily staring at him and didn’t seem to have accepted his denial. “I don’t want another alpha. If you can smell anyone else it’s because the Head Groom knocked into me just now.” John said tiredly, not expecting Sherlock to believe him. The alpha relaxed slightly but then he stood and strode towards the omega. John flinched back but Sherlock was already sniffing at his throat. John shoved him back, although he wasn’t actually strong enough to move Sherlock.

“Look, you’ve made it perfectly clear that you don’t want me, so why do you care if I smell of another alpha?” John said, this time stepping away from Sherlock to get away from him. The alpha let out a low growl and John felt a shiver go all the way down his spine. It had always been rather scary when Harry growled, a sign of how barbaric alphas truly were, that they had to resort to animal noises to make themselves understood. Somehow, with Sherlock it was different. Almost erotic

“Do you think refusing to form a lifelong bond with a total stranger is a rejection?” Sherlock snarled. “Tell me why the omega Prince of Mercia was thrown away on a match that does nothing to benefit Queen Harry and perhaps I might trust you!”

John stared at him incredulously. He’d spent so long being annoyed and feeling rejected by Sherlock, he’d never thought about how things must seem to the alpha. Perhaps, if he just explained himself to Sherlock then they could reach some sort of understanding. Sherlock was more than other alphas; he had an unusual intelligence for an alpha, he could control some of his animalistic urges, he even read books. Perhaps, if John told him the truth, that there was no political benefit to this marriage, it had only taken place because John had thought Sherlock looked like an intelligent alpha who wouldn’t beat him, then maybe everything would be alright.

Sherlock pulled John to him and put his face in John’s neck. The alpha sniffed loudly. John shivered at the sensation on his sensitive neck; he could feel his skin pebbling. This should not be so arousing.

“Sherlock, I…” John gasped, fully intending to explain himself to his husband.

“Hush, omega, this is what you want, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you rather a prince than a stable boy?” Sherlock licked at his neck. John’s knees buckled and all thought of an articulate response was gone from his mind. He wanted Sherlock to lick him again, he needed to feel him. He wanted Sherlock to kiss him and fuck him and bite him. His arse felt loose and damp, his cock hardening rapidly as he breathed in Sherlock’s heady alpha scent.

“Please,” John let out whispered appeal, the word barely forming as he gasped out heavy breaths. “’s not.” He shouldn’t let this happen, he couldn’t let Sherlock think that he wanted Beck.

“Shhh, John. Was it your plan to cuckold me? To start a war between East Anglia and Mercia?” Sherlock’s silken voice washed over him and it took a moment for John to understand what he had said.

“No!” John panted, trying to wriggle away from Sherlock, but somehow he just managed to work his way further into the prince’s arms.

“No? You’re so beautiful, Harry would never just throw you away on the likes of me.” Sherlock’s voice was very quiet and John doubted that he had intended for John to hear him. Sherlock started to pull away but John couldn’t let this end. He pushed forward, almost blind with lust, until he felt Sherlock’s lips against his own.

John groaned loudly, this was what a kiss should feel like. His whole body felt alive and he plastered himself against Sherlock, his cock grinding on Sherlock’s thigh. John wrapped his arms around Sherlock, trying to hold him in place. The alpha was stronger, he could have moved away at any time, but he stayed still.

John opened his lips and felt a hesitant tongue entering his mouth. John rutted furiously against Sherlock’s thigh. He could feel the hardness of the alpha’s heavy cock, but Sherlock did not move, he just stood there, letting John rub himself on Sherlock’s thigh.

The tongue in his mouth became more possessive, no longer shy as Sherlock pushed into John’s mouth, claiming him. John whimpered, he’d never known how much he wanted this. God, he was so close to coming but he hadn’t even touched Sherlock’s prick. He reached down but a hand stopped him. John couldn’t bring himself to care, he was so close.

John cried as he came in his clothes; the howl muffled by Sherlock’s mouth. Slowly, the alpha pulled away from him. John was still panting, but his arousal had died as soon as he’d come. Now he was left painfully embarrassed, the wet stain in his crotch was almost as mortifying as the blank look on Sherlock’s face. Had he been at all effected by their encounter?

John blushed and opened his mouth to say all the things he had meant to say before, but Sherlock was already striding away from him.

“Wait!” John called out, but Sherlock was already in his own chambers. The connecting door slammed shut and, when John tried to open it, he found it was locked.

Chapter Text

The wind whistled through the reeds, the constant rustling still sounded strange to John. He’d become used to the background noise when he lay alone in his bed at night, but it was different now he was out here. It was much louder outside, even though he hadn’t ventured far from the fort. Molly stepped a little closer to him, her arm rubbing against his. It was nice. Omegas were known to be tactile people and in the few weeks that he’d been with his husband, he’d become positively touch starved.

He took Molly’s hand in his and felt the other omega stiffen and then relax. If they were at court, it would be scandalous for two omegas from such different social classes to share such a friendly gesture. But out here, in the wilderness, it seemed natural.

“I think it’s quite nice here, I mean, the land is very strange, but it’s sort of calming, you know?” Molly said brightly.

“Yeah,” John bumped their shoulders together. This close to her, he noticed that she smelled different. There was a familiar scent to her clothes. “Molly? Have you been spending time in the stables without me?”

Molly blushed but didn’t move away.

“I..Well..the Head Groom has been, erm, very kind.” Molly squirmed. John tried to hide his smile, but he had so little to smile about since coming here that he couldn’t help it. He giggled. Molly batted him gently, her hand lightly slapping his upper arm. “Oh, John! It’s nothing like that! He just lets me stroke the horses when I’m not attending you.”

John laughed outright, throwing his head back and letting his laughter ring out. Molly’s grasped his hand more tightly, her sudden anxiety killing his laughter.

“Prince Sherlock is watching,” she muttered quietly. Even though he hadn’t told her how things stood between Sherlock and himself, Molly was enough of an omega to realise that their relationship was strained.

“I don’t think he’s watching us,” John said, turning to look in the direction that he thought Sherlock was staring in. “Look! Over there! There’s someone there,” John pointed excitedly. Aside from the daily cart that brought supplies, there were no other visitors to the fort. Further up the road, John could make out a horseman galloping along the road, leaning forward in his saddle as he urged his horse onwards. The man would have to pass by John and Molly, and, at the speed that he was riding, the two omegas would not be able to get back to the fort before the man caught up with them.

“John?” Molly asked nervously, clutching John’s hand tighter.

“Don’t worry, he’s probably just a messenger,” John squeezed her hand reassuringly and the two omegas warily watched the horseman approach. The man didn’t even slow down as he passed them. He looked wretched as he slumped on his horse; his clothes were ragged and his was horse exhausted.

As the man passed them, Molly gave a little shrug and released John’s hand.

“I’m sorry, John,” Molly giggled, “I, just, being out here makes me a little nervous. It’s alright for you, you’re bonded. You’ve probably forgotten what its like to have to be wary of strange alphas. Do you want to continue on our walk? I think theres’ a path over there that goes all the way round the fort, and its only a little bit marshy.”

John shook his head, his thoughts were still focused on the tired rider.

“Maybe tomorrow. Aren’t you curious about that horseman? What if he brings news of an attack, or…” John trailed off; although the man hadn’t been wearing Harry’s colours, he could have been one of her messengers. He hoped she was alright. “Let’s go back and investigate.”

Molly gave a put-upon sigh but started walking back along the road.

It didn’t take them long to get back to the fort, but the whole courtyard was a hive of activity. Sherlock was in the middle of it all, saddling his own horse. John hurried over to him.

“Sherlock!” John yelled. The alpha looked up from his work to give John a cold glance before returning to concentrate on doing up the buckles of his saddle.”What’s going on? What did that man on horseback want?”

Sherlock grunted at him and John balled his fists in sudden anger. He was worried about his sister, and yet this alpha that he was supposedly married to wasn’t even capable of forming sentences.

“It’s none of your concern. You needn’t trouble yourself with it,” Sherlock said, not bothering to look round.

“None of my concern? Do you have news from my family? Is everyone well?”

Sherlock finished saddling his horse and turned to look at John with a curious expression.

“I’ve no idea. The rider didn’t come from Mercia,” Sherlock said flippantly before climbing up onto the horse’s back. “There was an attack on a village nearby, Lindsey raiders. I have to go.”

“Wait!” John put his hand out, stopping himself before he touched Sherlock’s leg. He didn’t want this bad feeling between them to continue and he couldn’t bear the thought of being left behind in the fort while there was something so exciting happening nearby. “Take me with you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m travelling alone so that I can look at the village by myself. I’ve no need of anyone else trampling around and spoiling all the evidence.“

“I don’t trample!” John said, affronted and slightly shocked that an alpha would even try to look for evidence. Alphas usually followed their instincts rather than looking for actual facts. But Sherlock wasn’t paying him any attention. The prince was growling, low and deep, in that barbaric way that John doubted he should find so attractive. Except, when he looked at Sherlock’s face, he realised that the man was staring over John’s shoulder and that he was growling at someone standing behind him. John turned to see who was there. The growl was being aimed at the Head Groom, Beck.

“Very well,” Sherlock’s voice was still more growl than speech, “But you’ll have to ride with me, there’s no time to ready another horse for you.”

It seemed that the presence of John’s supposed lover had persuaded Sherlock to let John come along. John refused to grin at Sherlock’s jealous behaviour. Alphas were known to be territorial, it didn’t actually mean that Sherlock liked him.

Sherlock offered him an arm and John reached to accept it, but, before he could take it, he felt a pair of strong arms wrapping around him and lifting him up to sit behind Sherlock on the horse. John gazed down in surprise and saw that Beck had helped him onto the horse.

The man flashed him a cheeky grin.

“I hope I didn’t offend you, but I know it can be difficult getting saddled, if you’re not used to it.”

John blushed and stammered an awkward thanks.

“That’s enough, Beck. I’m sure you’ve already given John quite enough help for one day,” Sherlock snarled as he did something with his legs and the horse started moving with such a jolt that John thought he was going to be thrown off. He grabbed hold of Sherlock, his hands clasping Sherlock’s waist as he plastered his body to Sherlock’s back. The man was still growling, the noise so quiet that John couldn’t hear it, he could only feel the vibrations of it through the man’s body.

John had never actually ridden a horse before. It wasn’t considered a suitable activity for an unbonded omega, and John hadn’t particularly minded. He hadn’t really seen the appeal of it. But he began to now. Sherlock didn’t push the horse into a gallop, even though he knew that Sherlock was in a hurry. John wasn’t sure if Sherlock was doing that out of consideration for him, but he was touched anyway.

For awhile, they didn’t speak. It gave John a chance to examine how he felt about this strange alpha. It felt nice to be so close to the man who was almost his mate, nice to be offered the tactile comfort that all omegas craved, without the sexual advances that alphas were so famous for. John leaned into Sherlock’s warmth, letting his body relax as he hugged Sherlock closer.

The alpha stiffened and John realised he was making Sherlock uncomfortable. He didn’t want to let go of this warmth. He cast around for things to say that would make Sherlock relax. He’d never realised that alphas were capable of such complex emotions. He’d always assumed that, whoever he had found himself married to, his mate would be easy to comprehend even if he hated them.

“I never touched Beck, you know. There isn’t any scheme, or ploy, of Harry’s. I never wanted to marry someone for political reasons, even though I was told all my life that I would have to. And even Harry, for all her talk, wouldn’t ever really marry me off to someone I couldn’t stand.” John paused, Sherlock’s back was so straight and tense that John knew he was doing a terrible job of calming the alpha. “I saw you, at Mycroft’s coronation and...and I thought that you were the most intelligent looking alpha I’d ever seen. And I...I thought that you looked like a good man, an alpha who was capable of expressing himself with words rather than his fists.”

John paused, but Sherlock didn’t relax and John was sure what else he could say, how he could explain himself better. This talk should have gone so well, but somehow John had mucked it up and he felt worse than he had before he’d started. There was silence for a few, long seconds; the only noise was the wind in the reeds and clicking of the horses hooves on the pathway.

“So, I am married because you thought I looked like someone who wouldn’t beat you?” Sherlock said bitterly. John sighed unhappily. In essence, that was the truth.

“Do you already...Is there another?” John asked, suddenly nervous. He’d never seen Sherlock with another omega, but then he saw his husband so little during the day that it would be an easy thing to hide. Sherlock snorted disdainfully and John took that to mean that there was no other omega that Sherlock had his eye on. He rubbed his cheek against Sherlock’s shoulder blade.

Even though Sherlock was an alpha, John still wanted to be able to talk to his husband.

“Will you tell me about the village that we’re going to?”

Sherlock snorted again, more quietly this time.

“Quite a few villages have been attacked in the last few months, but they’ve all been too far away. By the time I get there to see what happened the place has been overrun by idiots, spoiling the evidence and covering entire place with footprints. I ordered that no-one was to enter the next village that was attacked, it has always been impossible to know for sure if raiders from Lindsey were actually responsible. That is certainly the assumption, but this time I shall be able to see for myself,” Sherlock said excitedly. While he had spoken, he had lost the tension in his back and John held on to him. He smiled to himself; Sherlock might be an alpha, but his interest in the world around him showed that he was trying to better himself. He doubted that the alpha would find anything from this evidence he was searching for, but John was proud of him for trying.
After all, it was Sherlock’s intelligence that drawn John’s attention and as he nuzzled against Sherlock’s back he was happy that he had been proved right. He wished he could make Sherlock understand how rare a quality intelligence was in alphas, how he hadn’t meant any offense by their earlier conversation, but he didn’t want to disturb the peace between them. He’d never expected to find such contentment in the presence of an alpha.

John gave a small sigh. As nice as the warm comfort of his alpha, and the gentle swaying of the horse was, he wished that he hadn’t had to marry an alpha at all.

The village was completely quiet as they approached it.

They dismounted just outside the village and John, after a terse command from Sherlock to stay behind him, followed the alpha cautiously. There was an almost unnatural stillness to the village, even the rustling of the reeds seemed muted. He wasn’t sure if it was because he knew something terrible had happened here or not, but the place had an unearthly, eerie feel to it. And then John saw a corpse.

A young woman had been brutally mangled, her limbs twisted at unnaturals angles as her face was set in a fearful rictus of horror. John gasped, unable to look away. He’d seen corpses before. It was an omegas duty to wash and prepare the bodies of friends and family for burial. He’d helped ready the body of his own father for the grave. That had been very, very different. His father had been old and had died a peaceful death in his sleep. This young woman had had her life ripped from her.

John turned his head away, but there was another corpse and then another. They were everywhere, everyone butchered in what must have been a frenzy of death. John didn’t think he had a weak stomach, but he wanted to leave this awful place; it was pointless to remain here anyway. Surely there was nothing for Sherlock to learn here. His quest for evidence, while endearing, would be ultimately futile. These corpses should be afforded a respect they had not been shown in life; they should be moved inside and cleaned.

Ahead of him, Sherlock seemed to prance in between the corpses uncaringly. John would leave him to his own devices, there were more important things to do. He opened the door of the first house he walked past and went inside. He’d only taken a few steps when he felt Sherlock’s hand on his arm.

“We should check the houses to see if anyone’s still alive,” John said, trying to pull his arm back.

“No,” the alpha said, his lips were pressed together so tightly that they were white from lack of blood.

“No? I’ve got to see if I can help.”

“I don’t want…” Sherlock trailed off as John frowned at him. These were Sherlock’s people, didn’t he care that there might still be people suffering? He knew that some alphas would not let their omegas out of their sight if they felt they were in danger, but this was too much. John wasn’t even really Sherlock’s omega. “As you wish. But you’ll find they’re all dead.”

With that Sherlock released him and strode off, leaving John inside the small house. There wasn’t a corpse in the small house, but the raiders had torn it apart. The table was overturned, chairs smashed and nothing had been left intact and undefiled.

John made his way from house to house, checking each, but there was nothing living left.

“Sherlock?” John called out to the alpha, who was someway ahead of him, kneeling on the ground. “Do you..” he didn’t want to sound patronising, but in the face of all this carnage, it didn’t feel right to indulge Sherlock’s useless evidence gathering any further. “Should we return to the fort? We can send people out to look after the dead.”

Sherlock stood up and gave him a piercing look and John was reminded of why exactly he’d wanted Sherlock in the first place. He looked so brilliantly astute, as if he were so much more than just a lumbering alpha. Sherlock beckoned him forward with an imperious wave of his hand.

“Look, John!” Sherlock called out excitedly, “Here! Look at these footprints! These prints are the only fresh prints that come from outside the village today and there are no fresh hoof prints. This wasn’t the work of Lindsey raiders!”

John looked at the footprint that Sherlock was pointing at, the wet mud around it did make it look fresh. He trailed after Sherlock, following the prints as the led from the fens to the well at the heart of the village.

“But, that doesn’t make sense. You can’t be saying that one man did all of this? That one man butchered an entire village? That’s just,” John paused, acutely aware of how much of a slur it would be to accuse an alpha of stupidity, “Seems unlikely.”

Sherlock gave him a sharp look, but didn’t say anything.

“Look around, see for yourself if you can find any horse prints,” Sherlock spat out and turned away from him. John hesitated, watching Sherlock as he drew some water from the well. He wished he could say something to appease him, but what he was suggesting was so ridiculous that John had no idea how to humour him.

Instead, he walked away and began looking at the paths into the village. At first, he was only looking in order to placate Sherlock. But, as he examined each pathway, he realised that Sherlock was correct. The ground should be churned up with hoof prints, but it wasn’t at all. It was very strange, and stranger still was that an alpha had noticed this whilst he, an omega, had not.

Sherlock was still drawing water from the well when John found him. The alpha put some of the well water into glass phials and then bent over and began digging into the soil with his bare hands.

“Well?” Sherlock called out imperiously, breaking John from his reverie as he stared at his alpha’s odd behaviour.

“I..You were right. No horses came into this place today. You,” John grinned, embarrassed at himself for judging Sherlock so harshly just because he was an alpha. “You were brilliant. That was really clever of you.”

Sherlock stopped poking at the mud and sat back on his heels.

“Clever for an alpha, John?” Sherlock asked. His mouth was twisted into a sneer, but his voice was high and sounded desperately vulnerable. John wanted to hug him and apologise, but he knew that Sherlock wouldn’t appreciate it.

“Clever for anyone. It was amazing.”

Sherlock’s lips quirked in what might have been a smile, but he bent down to finish what he was doing and his face was hidden from John.


“So, if there were no raiders, then who did all this?”

“Obviously, they did it themselves,” Sherlock said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. John hummed noncommittally, just because Sherlock had been proved right about the lack of horse prints did not mean he was right about this. It just wasn’t possible.

“What are you doing with the soil, and with the water?” John asked, changing the subject.

Sherlock grinned, his face lighting up with an almost childlike glee.

“These, John, are samples. I’m going to experiment with them!”

John smiled back. He doubted that an alpha, or anyone, could learn anything from such samples. But it was rather sweet that Sherlock was going to try. Even if his experiments proved to be fruitless, then at least he was doing something to rebel against society’s perception of the brainless alpha.

John smiled more widely. He’d been brought up expecting to make a political marriage to an alpha, just because he was a weak omega; he’d always hated that he was seen as an object, fit only to be used and then forgotten about. Yet here he was, thinking that every alpha was strong and stupid; he’d been judging Sherlock entirely on his gender. He’d shown that he was more than that and John was determined to find out more about this special alpha.

“That sounds great.”

Sherlock gave him another of those piercing looks, but this time it looked like he was trying to decide if John was laughing at him or not. He tried to keep his face as steady and as sincere as possible.

“We should get back. I told the others to follow in an hour’s time, they’ll be here soon,” Sherlock said, his voice less brusque than before. John hoped it meant that Sherlock knew John hadn’t been laughing at him.

Sherlock helped him onto the horse, before getting up himself and setting out for home. They rode in silence. John had a lot to think about. It wasn’t just Sherlock’s un-alpha like behaviour on his mind; he couldn’t stop thinking about the bodies of the villagers. He hated giving into the stereotype of the emotional omega, but he’d never seen anything as brutal. To make it worse, Sherlock didn’t seem affected by it in the slightest; he seemed to treat the whole affair as an adventure. It wasn’t exactly seemly to be as happy as Sherlock had been surrounded by such horrors, but then, he was an alpha.

John shook his head, trying to dislodge the thought. He was going to try and stop thinking that way. He was going to see Sherlock as his own person from now on. His arms wrapped around Sherlock’s waist tightly. This time, Sherlock’s back didn’t go rigid, instead it almost felt like he was relaxing back into John.

Despite their newfound understanding, when they got back to the fort Sherlock seemed to disappear. He left John to dismount the horse by himself, whilst he vanished. It was, John thought, probably for the best. The events of the morning had worn him out; he went to his room and lay down. But, even though he felt exhausted, he could barely sleep. He kept on seeing the faces of the villagers whose mangled corpses he’d just seen. A few times he did manage to drift into sleep, but his dreams were odd and bloody and he found himself waking up repeatedly, each time more tired and upset than he’d felt before.

It felt like he’d finally managed to fall asleep properly when Molly woke him up with her cheery voice.

“Supper time, John. I brought you a tray! Oh, I’m sorry, were you asleep?”

“It’s fine,” John said curtly as he eyed the food wearily. His stomach was unsettled and he didn’t think he’d be able to eat anything but it still galled that Sherlock refused to let him eat in public. He was always sent up a tray of food, like he was some sort of prisoner. As he was still unbitten and unbonded, it was safer to stay away from the communal hall, but he hated that Sherlock’s casual whims had such large repercussions on his life.

“It would be nice to -” John began bitterly, before breaking off. He didn’t want to discuss this with Molly, he didn’t want her to know that Sherlock and he hadn’t bonded. It was too shameful.

Molly looked at the food critically.

“You don’t like the roast? It’s much nicer than the stew that everyone else is eating. I could get some for you, if you like?”

“No, the food’s fine. I, just, I’ve never eaten in the Hall.”

Molly giggled happily.

“Of course not! Nor does the Prince! He doesn’t like to eat in public either. I think it’s rather sweet. You’re both shy.” She giggled again and poured John a cup of water. Perhaps Sherlock wasn’t forcing John to eat in his room, perhaps he just thought that John would prefer it, as he did. Perhaps this was just a misunderstanding.

John took a bite of his roast. It should have tasted good, but the red meat just reminded of the bloody bodies of the dead villagers. John pushed the tray away from him. He knew he was just being tired and irritable. What he needed was something to calm his nerves. He usually spent his evenings in the library and that always relaxed him.

“I’m not very hungry, Molly. I think I’ll just get a book from the library and call it an early night.”

“Oh, of course. I,” Molly bit her lip nervously, “I heard things were pretty bad in Little Thornley.”

“Little Thornley?” John queried, “Oh, the village today. I didn’t know that was its name.”

He shouldn’t be surprised that Molly knew the village’s name when he hadn’t; she spent time in the kitchens and was privy to more of the fort’s gossip than he was. Of course, she was becoming friendly with the Head Groom so he might have told her.

“It was...bloody,” John said, unable to think of another word that could describe it. Molly nodded sympathetically and took his supper tray away.

John usually went to the library later in the evening, and although he’d become used to sharing the room with Sherlock, it was still surprising to see the alpha already there. Even more unexpected was what Sherlock had done to the room. Every flat surface was covered in open books and oddly shaped pieces of glass and metal.

“John!” Sherlock shouted, he looked happier than John had ever seen him. John took a tentative step into the room, stepping around a pile of boxes that had been haphazardly stacked. His first thought on seeing all the mess was how incapable alphas were at being organised; they simply didn’t have the brain capacity. But he shoved the thought away. It was uncharitable, and Sherlock had shown himself to be perfectly capable of intelligent reasoning. Amazing reasoning.

“My God! What’s going on in here?”

“Experiments, John! I found it! Here!” Sherlock pushed a small bowl into his hands before bouncing away excitedly. John peered at the blackened grains; they looked like burnt rye grains to him.

“Those were in the well! Someone had deliberately put them into the village’s water supply. I didn’t find any around the well.”

“Alright, but why?”

“Have you heard of ergot, John?”

He nodded. Ergot was often used to induce the labour contractions of pregnant omegas. It was a fungus that sometimes grew on rye plants. But he wasn’t sure what significance Sherlock saw in that.

“You think someone poisoned the well, with ergot?” John guessed. He supposed it was possible, but it wouldn’t have caused the effects that they’d seen. He wasn’t even sure what effect it would have on someone if they weren’t a pregnant omega.

Sherlock shook his head in frustration.

“Those grains have been treated in some way. They’ve been processed. Small amounts of ergot can cause paranoia. I suspect that someone has found a way of manipulating the ergot. Somehow this new, treated ergot caused a panic so extreme that the villagers literally ripped each other apart in their terror.”

“But, but if that's true then we’re all in terrible danger! Dear Lord, if a few grains slipped into a well could do that, then…” John leaned back heavily against the closed door. “Are you sure it’s not Lindsey raiders? I mean, why did people think it was raiders in the first place?”

“The border with Lindsey has always been disputed and there is history of skirmishes. Lindsey is certainly easier to blame than poisoned water, and more likely. We know that someone came to the village today. I suspect they put these grains in the well. Now we just have to find out who.”

John shivered. He couldn’t imagine what sort of mind could poison a well with something so horrific. Even though what Sherlock was saying did make sense, he didn’t want to believe it. Yet, he had seen the lack of footprints on the village path. He knew that the villagers must have destroyed their own village

“So, in that case, this attacker might not be from Lindsey at all?”

“Correct,” Sherlock nodded, sitting down in a chair and burying his nose in an open book, without any further regard for John.

“Right, well, in that case, we should talk to King Greg. We have to find out if Lindsey is being attacked too, or at the very least just actually asking him if he’s sending men into East Anglia,” John said determinedly. He’d grown up at court and he knew how things were done; this was the time for diplomacy. If he had been talking to any other alpha, he might not have suggested it, but Sherlock was better then that. He would understand the need, and the art, of diplomacy.

Sherlock’s head snapped up and threw his book to the floor with a bang.

“You wish me to invite the King of Lindsey here?” he tapped his fingers agitatedly against the arm of his chair.

“Well, yeah. If you think that there’s more going on here than just raiders, then doesn’t it make sense to talk to Lestrade, to try and work out what’s going on?”

“So I must have Lestrade here? To spy upon my unclaimed husband? And you honestly expect me to believe that this isn’t part of some Mercian plot?”

“Sherlock! There isn’t some plot! I told you why I wanted to marry you! Because I thought you were different!” John yelled, his raised voice surprising even himself. Sherlock’s face, however, seemed cool and detached, calculating as if he still doubted John. Perhaps he did, perhaps Sherlock would never trust him. “If I thought you were just another stupid alpha, if I didn’t respect you, then I wouldn’t be suggesting we parley with Lestrade.”

“But isn’t it convenient that you know I won’t let him come here with you still unclaimed?”

John frowned in confusion. He had thought that Sherlock was coming round to the idea of dealing with Lestrade.

“You...You want to claim me?” John’s mouth gaped open. He snapped his jaw shut angrily. “You were the one that said you didn’t want to bond with some stranger, but now that -” John broke off as Sherlock stood abruptly. He spent so little time standing next to the alpha that he had forgotten how tall Sherlock was, how he loomed over John, surrounding him.

“Are we strangers to one another, John? Tell me the truth, is there any other alpha you know more intimately than me?” Sherlock’s honeyed voice dipped low and John felt his traitorous cock twitch. He shook his slightly, half in denial and half to try and halt his growing arousal. “It was safe to leave you unclaimed in my own home while I worked out what plot you and Harry were hatching. But if Lestrade were here,” Sherlock leaned into him, pressing him against the wall behind him and locking him in place with a strong arm on either side of him. “If Lestrade were here, then I would have to mark you as mine.”

“I…” John stuttered, why did Sherlock twist everything that he said? Why couldn’t they just explain themselves to each other like reasonable people? John’s cock hardened against Sherlock’s strong thigh.

“Remember this, John, if I bond with you, if I truly claim you, it will not for some political scheme, or because of an empty glance at my brother’s coronation; it will be because I want you and I will never let you go,” Sherlock whispered into his ear, then he turned his head and John thought he was going to leave him alone. But Sherlock didn’t, he bit down, hard, into the side of John’s neck, piercing his skin. John screamed and screamed again. Sherlock held onto him, clamping John’s arms by his sides so he could do nothing but writhe mindlessly as Sherlock marked him. The bitemark wouldn’t be a true claim, it wouldn’t be legally binding until the marriage was consummated, but it would certainly make it look as though John was a bonded omega. John felt his knees buckle but Sherlock was still suckling on his neck. The alpha held him still, supporting his weight as if he weighed nothing at all.

“Please,” John begged, although he had no idea what he was asking for. Sherlock had to be able to feel the hardness of John’s cock but he was holding them both so still that John could get no relief. “Please, Sherlock!”

But it didn’t matter that John didn’t know what he was asking for. Sherlock’s large hand clamped down over his mouth, muffling his voice and almost stopping him from breathing.

“Hush, husband.”

John closed his eyes, suddenly ashamed. He should be mortified. Here he was, hard and wet and begging whilst Sherlock, an alpha, stood by, resolutely not overwhelmed by hormones and instincts.

Sherlock drew back and John saw Sherlock’s teeth and lips were stained with his blood. He’d never noticed his alpha’s lip before, but now they glistened and John yearned to lean up and kiss them. He didn’t dare though. He couldn’t destroy the fragile truce that he and Sherlock had in this moment.

Sherlock moved back slowly, a dazed look on his face as he stared down at John’s neck.

“I,” Sherlock’s hand swept through his messy hair, sending his dark curls into further disarray, “I must make the arrangements to invite Lestrade here.”

John nodded dumbly. His head was still swimming with desire.