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Title: A Soft Murder
Written for: bivouack in the holmestice exchange.
Pairings: Sherlock Holmes/John Watson, Mary Morstan /John Watson
Length: 4,000 words
Rating: Teen
Warnings: Potential trigger warnings for transphobia, mentions of underage sex, sexual violence, and omegaverse-style dubious consent
Thanks to: llassah for the beta, and to berlynn_wohl for the moral support.
Summary: The Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes will be published this Sunday on Comment is free. Rumours of clashes between the controversial consulting detective and Mary Morstan, the award-winning photojournalist who collaborated with blogger John Watson on the photo-essay, have led to wild anticipation among Holmes supporters and detractors alike.

"To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time."
― Susan Sontag, On Photography

The tread on the stairs was unfamiliar; light-weight yet determined, uneven due to a burden carried on one shoulder.

Moriarty's web was destroyed, his assassins dead or in custody. Mycroft had men stationed outside the door to 221 Baker Street, and would not allow any threat within. Rationally, Sherlock knew all this. Still, he found himself rising silently from the couch and stepping over the table to listen at the door, his pulse rate accelerating to 115 bpm in anticipation of danger.

John wasn't due back from his A&E shift for another twelve to eighteen minutes. Sherlock considered the three most probable hiding spots for his handgun, then decided against trying for it. Sherlock's information was three years out of date, and the possibility of gaining a weapon was not worth the certain loss of surprise.

The steps paused on the landing. Sherlock threw open the door. The intruder flinched back. 5'6, no visible weapon, professional-quality camera bag hanging off the right shoulder.

"Absolutely not," Sherlock said, and slammed the door shut. Or rather, he attempted to slam the door shut, only to be frustrated by the intruder's quick reflexes and steel-toed combat boot.

"I'm meant to meet John Watson here," she said. Soft-featured, with short cropped blonde hair and an accent that spanned continents, a hint of northern Scotland in the vowels betraying her earliest speech patterns.

"He's not here," Sherlock responded, opening the door wider in preparation for another slam in case she should remove her foot. The combat boot showed wear patterns similar to John's, indicative of walking and running in a variety of environments, across rock, sand, and mud, haphazardly cleaned up for the streets of London. Incongruous when combined with the rest of her business-casual outfit.

"I'm early," she said.

Intentionally so. The boots were evidence that she had rushed out of her hotel room to be here at this time. Sherlock raised his eyes to her face, searching for tells of a lie. "John would have warned you not to show up early."

She shrugged, the camera-burdened shoulder dipping in synch with the other, long-accustomed to the weight. "Not only John. Everyone warned me that you're a complete arsehole when he's not around to run interference. I figured I should see exactly what I'm getting myself into."

"Well then, by all means," Sherlock said, opening the door and gesturing her into 221B like a gracious host. It shouldn't be difficult to get rid of her before John arrived.

As she walked through the doorway, Sherlock caught her scent, the lactonic sweetness of an omega clashing with tannic undertones more typical of an alpha.

"I've no interest in my brother's attempts to spin doctor me into something palatable for the herd," he informed her.

She took a full ten seconds to silently inspect the sitting room before turning the same level of scrutiny on him. "You needn't worry about that. I've no interest in creating some propaganda piece. If you're really – hold on," she said, digging a small notebook out of the side pocket of her camera bag, "this quote is precious, I need to get it right. Oh yeah, 'A deranged sociopath with all the morals of a rabid dog screwing a crack-whore,'" she quoted with a sparkle in her eye, "then that is exactly what my photos will show. I wouldn't have taken the job, but John Watson seems to think there's more to you, so I thought I'd show up and see if he knows what the fuck he's talking about."

She tucked the notebook back into the pocket of her bag and placed the bag on John's chair. Then she took the centred, ready position of someone trained in one of several Westernized martial arts. "The name's Mary Morstan. Do your worst."

Sherlock allowed a thin smile to flit across his face. "You're a military brat. Alpha mother in the army, omega father looked after you, but you were never close to him. You're proud of your career, ambitious rather than money-driven, although I'm certain my brother offered you both professional acclaim and a substantial boost to your bank account. You needed the money since you've recently ended a long-term relationship with a wealthy alpha female – long distance relationships are so very difficult. You've quite the temper, too; was it absolutely necessary to remove her inscription from your bag with a razor blade?"

Mary's scent was raw with anger, her jaw tight and furious, balance shifting forwards – was she going to hit him? That would be good, fantastic, really. Sherlock's blood was singing with anticipation of a fight, and his pulse had never slowed from that first moment he heard her on the stairs. He'd let her get a few hits in, nothing too damaging, and then John would throw her out himself.

Sherlock needed to push her that last little bit. "You tried hormonal therapy to change your secondary gender, but then went back on it; the deepening of your voice was permanent, but the fat distribution's almost back to omega-norm, and your scent's all a muddle – a touch indecisive, were we," Sherlock crooned with faux sympathy, hands clasped behind his back, inviting an attack.

Mary took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and met Sherlock's eyes. "No, I worked long and hard to be exactly who I am. What's your excuse?"

Sherlock showed his teeth. Of course a creature like this would recognize Sherlock's scent profile, neither alpha nor omega, far too faint for even a beta. So faint that many assumed Sherlock had no emotional reactions for them to scent.

In the Victorian era, the procedure was known as chemical neutering, and reserved for omegas born on the wrong side of aristocratic blankets, to ensure they didn't threaten the proper line of succession. Sherlock, at the age of thirteen, whose passionate interests in crime and chemistry were matched only by his distaste for the changes his body was imposing on him, had experimented his way to a solution.

"You might believe that John is interested in you. He's chivalrous, and kind to, well," Sherlock's gaze raked disparagingly over Mary, "all sorts. But he only dates beta females."

Mary's hand was twisted in the strap of her bag. "Thanks for the heads-up," she said hotly. "I mean, a mule like you'd be as much use in the bedroom as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest, so I can see you'd need to put him out to stud. Tell me, do you piss all over him before you let him out on dates?"

Sherlock's nose wrinkled in distaste at her crudity. He was preparing a riposte when the door slammed downstairs. John pounded up the stairs at a near-run. Mycroft must have informed him that Mary was here, Sherlock thought sourly.

"Hi, hello, Mary," John said as he burst in, out of breath. "Good to see you again."

"John," she greeted him, the aggression fading from her stance. As if she had the right to welcome people into Sherlock's home.

John anxiously checked them both over, surreptitiously sniffing at the anger and distress signals Mary's scent had spilled all over their flat. "Right, no blood, that's a good sign," he said, with a half chuckle as if it were a joke. "I see he's not managed to scare you off yet?"

"I was embedded with the Americans in Afghanistan," Mary told him. "The Taliban and an entire battalion of grunts who couldn't tell their rifle from their gun couldn't scare me off a good story. I'm not going to let Sherlock bloody Holmes manage it."

"Well, that's a relief," John said with a smile, his body curving in protectively towards Mary, scent soothing, as if she'd been the one in danger.

John had always responded to omegas with a kind yet professional distance, and admirable levels of self-control, yet he was reacting to Mary's atypical pheromones. What was this, evidence of some previously un-deduced fetish? Sherlock threw up his hands and retreated to his room, his own territory, where he could be clear of her scent and John's cloying response to it.

Mummy had been distraught when she discovered that the alterations to Sherlock's endocrinal system were permanent, but Sherlock hadn't regretted his decision, not for a moment, as the omegas and alphas around him surrendered to heat or rut, and bonded in an animalistic frenzy. He was above it all, and well pleased to be so. Later, in his twenties, when even the betas began to mate or form packs around fertile pairs according to sexual signals and instincts he had trained himself to perceive, but could never truly respond to, Sherlock had grown to wonder what it might have been like. With certain chemical assistance, Sherlock was capable of mimicking the appropriate behaviours, but experiments along those lines had proven unproductive.

At least he had spared himself the tediousness of a bond-mate constantly nagging at him to eat, and sleep, and behave. And if John had taken on some appearance of those duties, that was to be expected, the misfiring instincts of an unbonded alpha of his age. Not widowed. Not broken-bonded. No – unbonded. It was highly unusual, another piece of the endless puzzle that was John Watson.

Apparently it just meant that John had failed, until now, to find a female who could fulfil his perverse, intersex desires.

Sherlock decided to stay in his room until Mary left.

Ten days later, Sherlock had defeated a clever art forgery ring, returned a kidnapped little girl to her family, and devised twenty-four methods for murdering Mary Morstan. Getting away with it presented a significant challenge, because if she were to disappear, everyone from Scotland Yard to Mycroft would immediately suspect Sherlock's involvement.

Sherlock sighed and pulled his dressing gown tighter as John giggled.

"You caught him doing the peacock thing! And his 'how can you all be this stupid' face – oh that's brilliant. You even got the coat twirl and the way he calls taxis out of thin air. You're an amazing photographer, Mary."

Apparently John's standards for considering something amazing were so low that just standing around and taking pictures of things that were already there were grounds for praise. It's not as if Sherlock hadn't been mocked before, even by John; he'd never stopped harping on about the bloody solar system. Only, now he and Mary were doing it together.

Their mingled scents, John's amused and relaxed, hers full of attraction and excitement, filled the room until Sherlock could hardly breathe.

"No, but it's your writing, John, that's the soul of this photo-essay. You've got so much talent. I know that your blog's got quite the following, but you should consider doing more professional jobs, getting paid for it. After this essay's published, I'll be going back to Afghanistan. I've always wanted to show what life is like for omega males there, under the Taliban, and –"

Sherlock stood up from the couch so abruptly that he barked his shins on the table. "Enough," he snarled at her. "Did you think I wouldn't see what you're doing? Mary thinks your writing's rubbish, John. The only reason she's worked with you on this project, rather than a real journalist, is because Mycroft required it. She just wants to get into your pants – not too many out there interested in a freak like her, so she'll take it where she can get it."

Mary had gone pale.

John stood up. He advanced on Sherlock then stopped, stepping so that his chair was an obstacle between them. He glared at Sherlock, holding on to the chair with a grip that quickly grew white-knuckled as his pheromones flared up. Aggression towards an intruder, a threat, but not aimed at Mary, no. Sherlock was the target.

Sherlock swallowed.

John's voice, when he spoke, was so quiet that Sherlock strained to hear it. "Somehow, Sherlock, over the three years I spent mourning you, I forgot what a massive prick you can be when you put your mind to it."

Sherlock, unable to speak, conducted a dignified retreat to his room.

The worst part of it was, Sherlock had lied. He hadn't deduced anything of the sort. Mary truly, honestly admired John's writing. She'd fulfil John's need for adrenaline and purpose, make sure he was well-paid for it, even give him whatever taboo half-alpha half-omega sex he craved, and how was Sherlock meant to compete with that?

There was an argument beyond the bedroom door, too soft to make out anything beyond John's anger. When Mary finally left, John went with her. Well. Better John leave because Sherlock was cruel, than leave because he was … Sherlock.

The day wore on, quiet and interminable. Lestrade wasn't replying to Sherlock's texts. Molly was under too much scrutiny to provide him with any human material for his experiments. Sherlock's re-activated website showed a flood of comments demonstrating that the average IQ of the British Isles had dropped even further whilst he was away. Playing his violin without John to enthral or annoy scarcely seemed worth the effort.

At half past eight, Sherlock tromped down to 221A to demand a completely unnecessary urine sample from Mrs Hudson. He emerged scowling eleven minutes later, one hand bearing the sample in a measuring cup, the other crushing a Jammie Dodger, his ears ringing with Mrs Hudson's stated desire that he, 'Say hello to that lovely Mary girl for me.'

Sherlock was on the couch the next day when he heard John's footsteps on the stairs, slow and reluctant. He propped himself up on one elbow to observe John as he entered.

"Sucked you off, did she?" Sherlock deduced.

John gave him a two-fingered salute and proceeded into the kitchen.

Sherlock collapsed back onto the couch. "I could do that," he muttered into the cushions.

"You what?" John's voice was shocked.

He had apparently emerged from the kitchen without Sherlock noticing it. Nothing for it but to go on the offensive.

"Oh please," Sherlock said scornfully. "Even if Mycroft hadn't ever told you, shown you my file, it was all over the papers. Do you think any junkie who's lived rough on the streets of London wouldn't learn to put their mouth to good use?"

Humiliatingly, Sherlock's tattered remnants of an omega endocrinal system chose that moment to put forth an effort. Sherlock flushed at the pathetic whiff of pheromone.

"I wouldn't," John was saying. "Sherlock, I would never take advantage like that."

And what was that, that unpleasant scent John was giving off? It wasn't arousal, or embarrassment, or the steadfast self-control John typically displayed around omegas. It was shame. Shame? Why should John feel shame?

"Oh." Sherlock sprang to his feet. "I was wrong. You have been with an omega in heat."

John shrunk in on himself. "I – I don't want to talk about this, Sherlock. It's none of your business."

"On the contrary, John, this is very much my business. Tell me," Sherlock demanded.

John shook his head, mute and stubborn, staring at the wallpaper.

"Tell me," Sherlock snapped, advancing on John. "Either you tell me or I'll figure it out."

John, incapable of ignoring such a blatant challenge, met his eyes with a soft growl. Sherlock stepped into close-combat range and then closer, too close for elbows, then too close for fists, close enough to kiss.

"You know I can find out, and you know I will. I haven't had a case in days," Sherlock continued relentlessly, staring down at John from inches away. "I've nothing on, so do you seriously think anything can stop me from tearing through every ex-girlfriend, every army buddy, every pimply-faced crush from your secondary school until I find out the truth?"

"Christ," John yelled, sending Sherlock stumbling backward with a solid shove to the chest. "Do boundaries mean nothing to you? Did the lease to 221B have some clause where I signed away all rights to fucking privacy when I was mad enough to move in here with you?"

"John," Sherlock said, completely focused on this latest mystery, "if you don't tell me-"

John barked a laugh. "Oh, I'll tell you," he said, his growl making it a threat as he turned and marched into the kitchen. "But first I'm getting a fucking drink." There was a clatter in the kitchen.

Sherlock turned his armchair to have a better view of John's and perched on the seatback.

John came out with a tumbler of whiskey. He sat down in his chair, took a sip, then a gulp, and grimaced. "He – his name was Kent. He was a sixth-former, and when he asked me to share his heat, I said yes. Of course I did, it was all we talked about, all we thought about, back then, being with an omega in heat."

He paused to take another sip of alcohol.

"Was it ... not good," ventured Sherlock.

"God, I don't even remember. I came out of it three days later, dehydrated and sore and Kent was, fuck, he was in a bad way, covered in bites and bruises. He was torn, bleeding, and my bloody fingerprints were all over him. His mothers threatened to call the police on me. I think maybe they should have."

John looked small, crumpled in his chair, clutching at his drink. He should never look like that. It was - "Wrong."

John looked up at him warily. "What's wrong?"

"You are."

"I was there, Sherlock, I know what happened."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "How old was the omega?"

John considered. "Uh, eighteen, I think?"

Sherlock nodded, the scenario playing out in his mind. "And you were, what, fifteen?"

John licked his lips. "Fourteen, actually," he said uncomfortably.

"There, you see? Obvious," Sherlock concluded.

John, however, looked confused, rather than enlightened. Sherlock sighed. "John, you know perfectly well that for a mature omega to subject an immature alpha to their heat pheromones is considered sexual assault of the alpha by the omega. There are several excellent reasons for this, the most important of which, for the purposes of our discussion, is the fact that immature alphas are incapable of controlling their instinctual responses to an omega in heat. Legally, he was in the wrong, not you."

John leant forwards, placing his glass on the floor by his feet. "Yes, I suppose that's true, Sherlock, but morally? An alpha's instinctive response to an omega in heat is meant to be to … to fuck them, protect them, bond with them. Not to brutalize them."

Sherlock hummed. "An idiosyncratic response, yes, although possessive rages during heats account for twenty-nine percent of murders of omegas by their bonded alphas."

John closed his eyes and shook his head. "That's really not helpful, Sherlock."

Sherlock had to disagree. John appeared considerably less distressed than he had when he'd first sat down.

"Look, the fact is, I can't be trusted around omegas."

"Patently untrue," Sherlock replied. "You have exceptional self-control around omegas. Lestrade's noticed – that's why he excused himself, and sent you in to interview that young prostitute in heat."

"Sherlock – I am dangerous."

Sherlock found his lips quirking towards a smile. "Oh yes," he murmured. "It's one of your most attractive qualities." He paused. What an odd thing to say. "However, even were I to concede that you would be a threat to an omega in heat, which I do not, I don't produce anywhere near the quantity of pheromones needed to induce a sympathetic rut response. So there's no reason I can't suck your cock, if that's what it will take to keep you from frittering away your considerable talents with Mary in Afghanistan."

John opened his mouth and then closed it. He picked up his glass, sat back in his chair, and finished off the last of the alcohol in it. Only then did he speak. "Right," he said. "I'm going to need to work through this with you step by step."

Sherlock nodded patiently. John was rather slow, everyone was, but he did get there in the end.

"First off, I never had any intention of going to Afghanistan, with or without Mary. She was asking me to collaborate with her on the story once she returned to London with the photos."

Sherlock frowned. Apparently he'd jumped to conclusions. Sloppy, that. "You were spending a great deal of time with her, though."

John chuckled. "Only you are a big enough twat to get jealous of me putting in fourteen-hour days telling the world how incredible you are. Honestly, I think the editor's going to have to cut half of it; I was a bit over the top."

Sherlock grinned at John, and John returned it for a moment before his face settled into more serious lines.

"Mary was trying to get a leg over, you were right about that," John said. "But then, this morning, she showed me some other photographs she's taken, ones of us together, that she'd no intention of publishing. I suppose I'd always assumed that it was someone's scent that would tell me that they, they cared, but you've always been … unique. And I think perhaps you've been as blind to it as I have. So you need to let me explain this, as clearly as I can." John stood up and placed his tumbler on the table. Then, with a brisk nod, he stepped towards Sherlock with the same brave, exhilarated, and slightly mad expression that gunfire generally inspired in him.

Sherlock had missed that look, and he enjoyed it until he realized that John was now kneeling on the seat cushion between his legs.

"I only just got you back," John said quietly, intensely, close enough for Sherlock to feel the heat radiating from his body, his scent a solid presence invading Sherlock's body and mind. "And there is nothing and no one on this earth that could tear me away from you. Do you understand?"

Sherlock nodded wordlessly, stomach tight and throat dry.

"Good," John said firmly, standing up.

Sherlock swayed towards him and nearly over-balanced.

"So you don't need to suck my cock, or stroke my ego, or do, well, anything, to get me to stay. I'm right where I want to be," John said, fiddling with his cuff as he turned away, trying not to laugh.

Sherlock cleared his throat. "And what if I wanted to?"

John glanced back at him uncertainly. "Stroke my ego?"

"Suck your cock. Hypothetically," Sherlock clarified immediately.

John looked him over, sniffing instinctively for a non-existent confirmation of Sherlock's interest. "Then, on that hypothetical day, I suppose we'd discuss it," he said neutrally, bustling away into the kitchen, leaving behind a waft of arousal pheromones that provided a far more honest and enthusiastic response. "I could murder a curry," John yelled from the kitchen. "Fancy one?"

"The vegetarian combo," Sherlock replied. "My wallet's in my jacket." Then, reminded that things had changed, and John might have changed with them, he added, "Unless you're compelled by some sudden, instinctive urge to provide for me?"

There was a moment of silence. "Nope. I found Mycroft's credit card in your wallet. I reckon he owes us a few decades of take-away."

"In that case, add some dessert to the order," Sherlock called out. "Mycroft's always adored gulab jamun, and his latest diet won't allow him a sniff of dairy." Sherlock slipped contentedly down into the lap of his chair, still rich with John's scent. This might work out, him and John. It really might.