Watson nearly offered himself as ballistics target practice on his fifth day back before realising that he had to get out.
"I have to go." He said to himself, to the pastured cows, muttered it over and over hoping that it would gain some sort of narrative force in the repetition and save himself from convincing Admiral Iskierka. He switched his tail restlessly in the clover-laden grass, and said to himself, "Admiral, I -"
"- Have to go, yes, I'd heard."
Watson swung himself around so hard he could feel his left wing flapping out, clods of mud and pollen flying everywhere. Iskierka, still hale and evidently possessed of all her stealth training, chuckled while settling her massive bulk on the grass next to Watson.
He inhaled deeply, a little disoriented at the verdant scent of crushed grass. "Well, you see, don't you, that I can't go on like this?"
Wretched, Watson turned his head away and watched the seagulls in the distance, calling out in their raucous way and flying in kamikaze style against each other, quarrelsome but utterly at home in the air. He smelled the gold and silver and the glittering crispness of her jewelled medallions, and thought of his own small, neglected pile left somewhere in the crumpled heap of dusty clothes in John's suitcase.
He heard soft clinking and a low hum as Admiral Iskierka silently marshalled herself. He'd been - and still was - very young for an army dragon, and had been made much of when his intelligence and particular aptitude for fast, prolonged flight was discovered. He knew the Admiral had hoped for another small, agile acid-spitter like his sister, but both of them ended up disappointing her in the end.
Admiral Iskierka scratched an idle claw in the soft dirt, "You know, both you and Harry are far too prone to this brooding. Makes me think Temeraire had a point about focused breeding. But we really did want some reconnaissance dragons with your particular specifications."
Watson recoiled so fast he nearly hit Iskierka on her flank. "Oh god - I - Admiral -"
She rumbled with laughter, breathing out a hazy, steamy fume. "Oh, please don't apologize. Most dragon-companion matches are simply fortunate collisions between squadron rotation and which eggs happen to be hatching. Everyone knows that we were lucky with you and John, but he'd been around for two years before you hatched, and most soldiers only meet their dragons years after hatching."
With a sharp pang, Watson remembered how it felt to break out of his shell, and finally meet the boy who read stories to him when no one else was around. "But both my cousins fared well with their companions. It's Harry who's the problem. "
"You know, Temeraire thought dragons should have a wider field to choose from, but we couldn't afford losing any fighters to the 'whims of sentient reptiles'. Then again, he's almost physically attached to his Laurence, so he really shouldn't be complaining about selection from within the military." Iskierka looked fondly into the distance, and chuckled to herself.
"Laurence is a dragon," Watson found himself saying. "Surely the nature of their affection must be different?"
Medals clinking on her collar, Iskierka rumbled again, laughing. "Love is love, Watson. It's perfectly natural to feel strong affection for your companion, and some of our best units have come from such pairings. In any case, we were somewhat due for an incident. It keeps the admiralty humble, and it is decidedly not your fault."
Watson thought of his sister's weekly visits to her physician, of Clara taking up a London MoD job she hated in order to stay near a companion who didn't even have the grace to compromise. The silence was condemnation enough, and Iskierka went on, more seriously.
"Clara Watson's always been her own egg, or rather person. You know that. And stop trying to flail, young outraged one. If you fall off I can't be bothered to sort out the paperwork."
Watson drew himself up, and then deflated halfway by a new thought. "I wouldn't try to kill myself, Admiral. You trained me better than that. I might be a crippled, partnerless mongrel but I've not yet lost all my discipline."
A streak of flame roared into the sky, and the Admiral's long-necked head followed. She thundered, "Oh yes? And I suppose you think you have no place here now that you are injured?"
He stretched to his own, rather paltry full height, automatic gun settling, warm and solid, into the ridge of his left shoulder. "All the same, Admiral, you must consider that my place here has changed."
"Changed," she roared. "Not eliminated!"
Watson nodded his dusty-coloured head, "Yes." He said simply. "I know."
"Oh bugger." Iskierka looked apologetic. "It's the nightmares, isn't it? Roland told me you'd taken out half a pavilion."
He looked across both their tails at the covert's dragon quarters, dotted here and there with summer pavilions, and spotted his own splintered, charred ruin. "It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the nightmares, to be honest. But I - well, I guess I miss John."
Iskierka exhaled quietly, steam ruffling the top of his head. "The first is always the hardest, Watson."
"So says the Admiral who refused to take another captain." He sounded bitter, which was unfair to her, and tried to cover it up with a burst of speech. "I think I need a change of scenery. Maybe some excitement."
She looked at him sidelong, slitted eye keen and uncomfortably knowing, "Try not to destroy half of London when you meet with Harry, will you?"
He looked away, and thought of Harry's slim neck with its silver-grey scars running all the way to her mouth, and said nothing at all.
As expected, the flight to London was short and the reunion with Harry even shorter. He'd barely had the time to comment on the traces of chalk dust on her magnificently long wings before she'd hissed and headbutted Watson clear out onto the green. Disappointingly for the clumps of UCL undergraduates who'd gathered to watch, his tail narrowly avoided cracking a young sapling in half.
Unhappy and itching to destroy some more property, Watson flew awkwardly, struggling to gain the necessary altitude within the greater London area without any air currents, and landed upon the first green patch he could see. He picked his way carefully across the landscaped park, subconsciously noting people who stared and pointed, passers-by who deliberately moved away from his general path, and finally reached the coffee vendor.
After a confusingly silent negotiation that mostly involved nervous pointing on his part, the vendor shrugged and said, "Sorry, man, but I don't have a scanner."
Watson sighed, and turned to find a suitable nook to stretch his wings. The three-hour flight had been more taxing than he'd wanted to admit to Harry, though he didn't know why he bothered hiding a wing injury when it was apparent in the discoloured webbing, on display for everyone to see.
The damp leaves barely stirred as he squelched his way to a vacant bench.
Flicking his tongue uncomfortably at the redolent city air, he drowsed.
Watson remembered Afghanistan. It had crisped his wings in the noon sun and chilled his slight bones at night, and it had torn John away from his back and bleached his skin white while Watson was wrestled into submission, roaring hard enough to shake rocks loose from the mountainside. Later, he'd blasted a stockpile of Taliban weapons, and the resulting explosion had fractured his left wing.
He hadn't cared, curled up around the gritty corpse of his John, his comrade in arms, and waited for the night to claim them both. But he'd been found, nursed back to health and sent to England with a medal, a pittance recommendation, and a heavy coffin, sent back to the monotony of fog and damp in Dover.
Watson remembered taking off, awkward and ungainly, while the mountains had laughed, unchanging and stark against the sky.
"Watson!" His eyelids shut tighter, unwilling to allow an intrusion. There were plenty of people named Watson in London, after all, and the possibility of his running into an old acquaintance was extremely slim.
"I say, Watson, you old sand worm!"
He resisted the urge to rise up and hiss, instead opting for an extended yawn, showing off all his teeth.
"Yes?" Harry's drawling tones of disdain were irritating as fuck, but even Watson admitted their uses.
"My god! And here I thought you were flying around Iraq being shot at! It's so good to see you!" Watson took a long sniff of air, head still tucked into his body. It was a man, trailing the faint scent of formaldehyde and chalk dust and holding a cup of highly aromatic coffee.
Supposing that it would do no harm to observe the pleasantries while having several tons of advantage over the man, no matter how jocular he sounded, Watson opened one eye and said, "I'm sorry, you are…?"
The pink-cheeked vision in front of him beamed, and waved his arms around in an expansive gesture of welcome, sloshing bits of coffee everywhere his right arm went. "It's Mike! Mike Stamford, remember? I used to train with your cousin's John, very good fellow. Where's your companion got to? Can't imagine her straying far from a valuable thing like you!"
Watson couldn't help it. A small stream of white-yellow fire escaped from his jaw and lit the nearby thistle bush on fire. Mike Stamford jumped up with a yell of surprise, and lost the rest of his coffee.
After that, Watson had trouble telling who bent over backwards to apologize more, himself or a sopping Mike Stamford. And he did remember the man - John had operated with him once or twice at the army's medical college, a solid, if somewhat chatty nurse, John had said.
With a new cup of coffee in hand, Mike repeated his apologies once more. "I'm so dreadfully sorry, Watson! I had no idea, or I would have never said anything!"
There was nothing Watson could say to that, or rather, too much he could say and none of it to Mike Stamford, but there it was. He wrathfully wondered if humans cultivated an alarmingly accurate talent of bumbling their way into the most painful, awkward subject one could fathom, or if it was just a wretched characteristic of the species in general.
"I do apologize, I had no intentions of setting anything on fire at all." He sounded terribly cross that Stamford hadn't got caught in the bushfire, but it couldn't be helped.
Stamford nearly fell over himself to assuage Watson's sulky tone. "Such a tragedy, and me just sticking my foot right in it! No, no, you must let me make it up to you somehow. There's a pub down Guilford that caters to dragons, has the most interesting young musicians too, I hope you'll come!"
Eyeing the nearby lurkers and a particularly stern fireman surrounding the scorched greenery, Watson shook his head. "No, I'm afraid I must make my stay a short one. You see, I plan to apply for a discharge, and London's dragon quarters are much too expensive for a retired army messenger."
Astonishingly, Stamford fell silent at this. Watson wondered if he'd swallowed his own tongue in the attempt to stop suggesting that Watson sign himself over as a Nobleman's Dragon, and then remembered the truly astonishing licensing fees for owning a dragon with fighter capabilities. Unless the Duke of Edinburgh suddenly desired a companion, there were very few people who could afford Watson, even small and unattractive as he was.
Finally Stamford broke their bubble of silence with a tentative look, "Well, as it happens-"
"You're not going to tell me that there are draconian accommodations available at exactly the sort of prices I can afford, are you? Because I can set you on fire if I wish." Watson snapped, all patience gone. John would scold him, he knew, but felt he had full rights to be as rude as wanted in his continued absence.
"Er, not accommodations as such." Stamford tried not to imagine how it would feel to have the famed acid fire of the WWII spitters on his face, and went on. "There's someone I know, from work I mean, we're really only casual colleagues, and he's looking for a flatmate, I'm fairly certain it has dragon quarters though I'm not sure where he lives, exactly. So you could come meet him if you like?"
Watson considered this stream of incoherent babble among a sea of incoherent babbling for a second, and snapped Stamford up into his carry harness without so much as a by-your-leave.
Stamford, true to form, spent most of the trip silently wishing he'd finished his coffee before it got spilled all over him again.
It felt strange to land on solid concrete, though the heady wind was the same. Watson skidded a little before he found his footing, and nodded politely to the helipad operator, who was watching with his mouth open and ham sandwich obviously forgotten in one hand.
As he followed Stamford's well-natured strolling through St. Bart's, Watson silently thanked the Perscitia Reform for forcing at least one major hospital into establishing proper dragon protocols. He didn't meet many dragons working outside the military, paramilitary or Whitehall, but Watson supposed anyone doing microscopy without opposable thumbs was a saint of immense dedication.
The clicking of his own claws unsettled him more than the sterility of the halls, oddly, and Watson quickly shut down that train of thought before he arrived at the morgue.
To Watson's everlasting surprise, the doors opened not on a dragon working with his specialized equipment, but rather a slender, pale human with quick, darting eyes and an impossibly steady hand. Watson's heart squeezed, and he coughed lightly to cover the sudden onrush of emotion. John had hated lab work, and he didn't know why it should bother him now, especially when the stranger looked the antithesis of John's stolid, methodical frame.
"Afghanistan or Iraq?" Watson was caught up for a moment in the velvet of the stranger's voice before realizing the meaning of the words, and looked straight at Stamford, furious. If he'd brought Watson here to play tricks on him, the hospital was going to be poorer by a great deal of equipment before the afternoon ended.
"I said," the stranger continued, a hint of impatience creeping into his voice, "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
Watson stared. He sat calmly on his stool, eyes watching the pipette in his hand, though Watson was amused to note that he'd forgotten his regulation lab coat, and the about-to-be-ruined suit he was wearing looked expensive. Tailored, in fact.
Stamford made a stifled, encouraging noise from behind Watson.
He grew a tad irritated with Stamford's palpable glee, and answered gruffly, "Afghanistan." His annoyance grew by leaps and bounds by the stranger's obviously dismissive nod, and he forged on. "Look, I don't know what you're playing at-"
"If you're not too busy we can drop by the flat right after I send this text," said the irritating unknown, tapping away at another one of those shiny gadgets humans were so fond of.
"I - what?" Watson's felt his scales itch with the urge to claw at him, and Stamford's sniggering really didn't help matters.
His prospective flatmate - mad and probably not even a proper scientist, to judge by his attire - strode over to the door, neatly avoiding Watson's violently twitching tail under his feet. "We should dash, sorry, forgot my riding crop in the mortuary."
Oh, naturally. The mortuary. Of course, it was all clear now. Watson had evidently been taken in for some sort of puerile -
"Well, aren't you coming? I don't plan to walk all the way across town to Perscitia Square, you know." Nearly at the end of his rope, Watson hooked one of his claws around the automatic door and said, "Really? That's it? And you're going to let some fire-breathing, sentient reptile into your flat without knowing a single thing about him?"
His black eyebrows rose fractionally above almost colourless eyes. A challenge, then. "I know that you're on leave from active service in Afghanistan and you left because you were injured in your left wing. You can't spit fire anymore, or at least you think you can't, but it's psychosomatic. You have a few captains breathing down your neck about the waste of your potential but you can't be bothered to pay attention to them." As Watson stood there, jaw open with surprise, he went on.
"As for your own captain, she has given you her blessings and is probably very happy with your brother." He smiled widely at the effect he was having on his audience. "I think that should be enough for the moment, don't you think? We have afternoon traffic to beat."
Thoroughly satisfied that Watson was truly riveted, the man winked at both dragon and man and said, "The name's Sherlock Holmes, if it would hurry you up."
With that, the self-satisfied bastard walked out, the doors nearly closing on Watson's unresisting claws.
Watson awoke to pounding, and a distinct urge to murder Sherlock Holmes with one well-timed clawstroke. He had arrived back from Dover with his things in the early reaches of the morning, and while he prided himself on maintaining fighting form, there was such a thing as fatigue from round trips across the country. He wondered briefly about the general lack of common courtesy at Baker Street, and dismissed normalcy as a pipe dream. It really was too bad, especially as he had yet to find a proper arrangement for his food and would doubtless have to hunt through the length and breadth of London for a suitably free-range cow. Or cows, rather. He felt hungry enough to eat an entire herd, now that he was awake.
Still tucked stubbornly in a tight coil of head to tail and covered with his favourite wool blanket, Watson ignored Sherlock's excited murmurs with the ill-natured human who thought early morning was a suitable time for visiting. Rapid footsteps in Sherlock's recognizable staccato was followed by an excited bellow to, "Well, come on then! There's been another suicide!"
There really was no way Watson could respond to such a nonsensical request, so he rumbled discontentedly and curled tighter upon himself.
"So you've finally decided to stop flouting city bylaws then, Sherlock?" His companion sounded close to laughter, and Watson sniffed inquiringly, snout still half-covered by his small blanket. A struggling ex-smoker, then, with the faint smell of old cars and paperwork.
Sherlock was very put out, going by his tone of voice, as he replied. "Obviously."
Further rustling on the front staircase revealed itself as Mrs. Hudson with a tray of tea things, twittering away in that amiable way of hers. Watson had liked her exceedingly from the moment he'd met her, and even though Sherlock tended to treat her with the condescending affection one reserved for very dim cats, Watson thought his new landlady to be quite a formidable woman.
Besides, if Sherlock wasn't simply boasting and she'd been married to a serial murderer all those years, then she was definitely not your average English rose.
Lulled by these thoughts, Watson had almost gone back to sleep when his blanket was flung off him in the most barbarous way possible. Quickly recoiling and rearing up to nearly his full height, Watson turned his neck down to roar in the face of whoever was taking John's blanket - of course. Sherlock had taken advantage of his distraction and snuck downstairs, and was now brandishing his blanket smugly in the manner of a master toreador.
"What, precisely, do you think you are doing?" Watson growled.
On the other side of the partition, Mrs. Hudson set down her tea quietly and motioned the visitor quietly away from the three-story annex that comprised of Watson's part of 221B. The words 'Domestic' and 'Best not, Inspector' could be heard.
Sherlock snapped the blanket once, and then began folding it mathematically, wrinkling his nose at its age and thinness. "It's not good to scramble your internal clock so soon after your return, Watson. And I need a cab."
Watson wondered if Sherlock had actually received the mandatory sensitivity training about dragons while in primary school and decided that even if he had, it was undoubted filed into the part of his brain labelled 'For other people'. "So call a bloody cab, Sherlock. I'm not actually a golden retriever, constantly at your beck and call." He huffed in exasperation, and gathered his wings back in until they were no longer touching the ceiling.
Moving not one inch from the billows of steam issuing from Watson's snout, Sherlock replied, "Oh, but it would be so gauche to travel behind the police in a cab. You can't imagine how it looks."
The inspector, probably the policeman in question, snorted rather loudly at that, and interjected in amused, ringing tones, "Yes, because you seem to care so much about propriety, Sherlock."
Without looking at him, Sherlock said, "Shut up, Lestrade, I didn't give you permission to speak."
"Is he always this charming?" Watson turned and asked, his sense of humour catching up with his brain.
"Oh, you wish," replied Inspector Lestrade.
"Sadly, I agree."
Lestrade was of average height, going a bit salt-and-pepper around the temples, and more traditionally handsome than Sherlock, Watson found. His eyes, though, also lacked that manic sparkle that made his new flatmate so interesting. For a policeman, he was remarkably well preserved. "I'm Watson, by the way. Sherlock's new flatmate, that is. I don't suppose you know of any other dragon quarters up for rent, do you?"
He laughed, "As Sherlock said, I'm Lestrade, of Scotland Yard. And no, I'm afraid you're stuck with him."
The subject of the conversation was leaning against the rough Victorian bricks of the annex walls, not minding the damage to his fine suit, but very much cataloguing Watson's movements. He decided that he was in fact in no danger of being abandoned in his new flat on the first day of cohabitation, and snapped the blanket in his hands to get everyone's attention.
"Yes, yes, very nice and all that, do introduce yourselves and invite him over for tea, but there is a fourth serial suicide on our hands, and I would like to get there before Anderson has erased all traces of anything useful." It sounded rather less verbose and more agitated than he was used to, and Watson cocked his head at Sherlock.
Sherlock looked back at him unblinkingly. "Oh for - fine. I know a butcher, saved his son from hanging once, we'll make a stop there for breakfast and then will you convey me to the scene of the crime?" It was a plus, sometimes, having a consulting detective who knew Watson's thoughts before he'd even had them.
"You're paying," Watson decided, "And it had better be beef."
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock whirled his way towards the staircase and back up to his section of the flat, grabbing his coat and scarf en route. Evidently he felt that he'd used up his allotted interaction points for the day, because all three remaining occupants in the room heard the front door slam with a rather lacklustre bang.
"Should I bring my shoulder gun, do you think?" asked Watson.
"Oh no," Lestrade waved his concern aside, "It's an active crime scene, but you'll be surrounded by my people."
"Right, okay." Watson said, and nudged his way out the back door.
"Thank you, Sherlock!" Watson roared over his shoulder at Sherlock, the taste of succulent veal still in his mouth. The butcher had taken one look at Watson's deceptively small bulk and began to lay out the better part of 2 calves. It was nice to be spoiled for once.
"It was no bother! You'd obviously not seen any fresh beef since you've been overseas and I thought you'd enjoy a treat!" The speed at which they were travelling didn't really allow for conversation at any volume but a developed bellow, and Sherlock's voice boomed pleasantly in the wind.
"I still don't know how you figured everything out, but I am grateful to you!"
Sherlock shifted slightly and grabbed a different harness strap. "What everything?"
"All that stuff you said at the lab! Stamford told me later that he'd never breathed a word to you, so how'd you know about Afghanistan?"
Sherlock smiled, loosening his grip on the leather harness slightly. Despite Watson's rather breakneck speed, he was one of the steadiest fliers Sherlock had ever ridden.
"It was rather simple, I'm afraid! You're bred from the line of hybrids from the War, known for speed and the devastating accuracy of your fire! Far too valuable to let idle during a war in notoriously difficult terrain! Obviously you were part of aerial reconnaissance, with that endurance and colouring - and since Afghanistan rid itself of it indigenous dragons during that war with the Russians, you were much better suited there!"
He paused for breath, not caring to see London laid out below him.
"As for your not spitting fire anymore: first of all, no sane admiral would let a fire-breather sit around London, and secondly, a dragon who regularly breathes fire has a particularly sizzling presence, it's impossible to mistake!" Sherlock had to catch his breath after a particularly sharp turn brought them in range of a heavy grey transporter dragon, full of gawking tourists.
He continued once they'd passed the air junction, and said, "Knowing what I know about your family and the difficulty of training up aviators for high speed fliers, your companion is probably with your brother Latimer, who hatched a year ago and has not been paired with any humans yet!" At that, Watson gave a violent roll, and Sherlock grabbed wildly for any part of the harness he could reach. He held onto the straps, hoping desperately that the carabiners held.
"Watson?" Perhaps feeling Sherlock's rather breathless distress, he steadied halfway through the second roll, and continued decreasing altitude.
In the three minutes or so of Sherlock shouting his deductions, Watson had already crossed most of the city. He landed with an odd springing gait, wings shifting gently, probably still unused to the solidity under his feet, and silently crouched while Sherlock jumped off his back.
He turned to face Watson, still out of breath from their unexpected aerial acrobatics, and retied his scarf. "Well, I can tell when I've made a mistake. What did I get wrong?"
"Sherlock." Watson shuddered, then looked away, his tail whipping through the street as he poised himself to spring ahead to where the flashing police cars were parked. "You are correct on all counts except one: Latimer is my cousin."
Sherlock stopped dead, staring after the sand-coloured wings of - not Watson the son of Emory and Audrey, brother to Latimer - but John Watson, formerly Dillon of Her Majesty's Air Force. A companionless fighter.
Watson breathed deeply through his nose, and then regretted it as the choking smells of mildew, dust, fear, and death flooded through all at once. It wasn't fair to take John's death out on Sherlock. After all, he couldn't have known, and they'd all thought it was vastly amusing at the time, having a Watson in the actual family when there were already two companions.
Sherlock had stayed silent and crisp during his examination of the corpse, much to the chagrin of Lestrade and the strangely nasal Anderson. He'd felt bad for Sally, and wanted to tell her that Sherlock had just been forced through two barrel rolls at 50 kilometres per hour with no preparation or proper equipment.
He nearly did, but then Sherlock took off into the night without a single word for anybody on site, and Watson resigned himself to finding dinner alone.
Watson nodded to Lestrade through the window, and took off in the darkening night.
He was winging his way leisurely through the steady lights of the thoroughfare when a green dragon dropped out of the usual night traffic and stopped dead in front of him. Watson eyed the hovering Jade messenger warily, remembering the last time he and John had been summoned by one.
"Follow me, if you please, Dillon."
A small spurt of white-blue flame escaped his jaws, a warning this time, and not an accident. "My name is John Watson." The Jade messenger shook her wings impatiently. "I have orders for a Lieutenant Dillon of Her Majesty's Draconic Forces, Special Adjunct Messenger. Are you or are you not that dragon?"
Watson felt his eyes open wide. "I thought I was relieved of my duties when -", his throat suddenly closed, and he had to swallow hard against the constriction "- when John died."
The Jade dragon huffed, no doubt fed up with people who were stupid and refused to obey orders, and turned away. She made sure, pettishly, to clip Watson in the head with her tail when he moved to follow.
He followed her across several highways, ducking in and out of the path of other dragons as they went about their business, though Watson did not see any of the carrier dragons who usually frequented the skies. As if sensing his confusion, the Jade messenger said, "We're going into the old Heathrow training grounds. Most travel services try to avoid flying over that area if they can."
"Ah. I see."
A while later, unable to withstand the silence, he spoke up again. "I'm sorry," Watson said. "I don't think I know your name?"
She looked over at his shoulder, black eyes glinting strangely in the twilight. "It's Anthea."
"That's a nice name." Watson offered.
"Yes, I know."
And with that, they were there.
Watson followed the faint sounds of breathing and oddly, the smell of icing sugar to the platform of a pre-war pavilion, still standing, thought it was charred and black. He turned to ask Anthea who - or what - they were meeting, but she'd disappeared between one breath and the next.
His eyes found themselves unerringly drawn towards the bombed-out remains of the dragon pavilion, and the man who stood upon it.
Up close, he smelled even more strongly of icing sugar, though that was rather incongruous when Watson took in his placid, mild face and the oddly sharp umbrella he was holding.
"It's not going to rain tonight, you know."
The stranger exhaled, a soft little puff of amusement, and swung his umbrella around again. "Well spotted, Lieutenant Dillon. I suppose it's your wing that gives you advance warning?"
"Watson." He reared up on to sit fully on his haunches, wings spread to their widest to encompass all 100 feet. His scar twinged painfully, but he didn't care. "My name is Watson."
"I beg your pardon. Lieutenant John Watson. Only, you realise, that I am not here to talk pleasantries about the unceasing bureaucratic errors of our great kingdom."
He paused, perhaps for dramatic effect. "What can you tell me about Sherlock Holmes, pray?"
Watson felt his heart leap sideways. So Sherlock had strange enemies who could force government messengers to kidnap him here, and now he was going to die in an abandoned airfield, another mysterious corpse for the Met police, or perhaps Sherlock Holmes, to ponder.
He replied with the only thing he could. "I don't know. We only met yesterday."
"Ah." The stranger nodded, "I suppose an army pension, even doubled, is rather slim these days?"
Watson remained silent, wishing that he'd brought his shoulder gun with him after all.
"You see, I would find it in myself to be quite generous if you would just tell me about Sherlock Holmes. Little things, really, nothing anyone would consider important." His umbrella swung in an almost hypnotizing arc just above the ground as he spoke, but Watson had been trained to resist that particular tactic.
"Your kind never wants the important details." He spat. "And you should know that I can reduce you to a pile of ashes as soon as look at you."
"You mean you're not scared of me. But you see, I am the man, perhaps the only man that Sherlock Holmes fears. You would do well to remember that."
Watson eyed him sidelong, and said unflinchingly, "I don't care. I'm not telling you anything about him."
"Perhaps others have told you the same thing - but let me remind you. Sherlock Holmes does not have friends." Here he paused and placed the umbrella tip carefully upon the ground. Watson tensed himself in case this was a secret signal of some sort. But he went on. "I'm the closest thing to a friend he is capable of having, and here I am, in the ruins of Heathrow, talking to you. He would call me an archenemy, perhaps. He is always so dramatic."
If Harry was here, Watson reflected, the human would already be halfway across the field, but then again, he wasn't Harry. "Well, thank goodness you're above all that."
"So your final answer is no, then?"
"Look, I'm not that close to him, alright? Try your tricks somewhere else."
He smiled. It was not a nice smile, though it tried to be. "You say you're not close, but you just moved in with him yesterday, and here you are, investigating crimes with him. Are you always so loyal so fast? Am I to expect you to change your name to Holmes by the end of the week?"
At that, Watson felt the white heat travel up his throat, in a way it hadn't since Afghanistan, and opened his jaws wide. A green flash registered at the edge of his eyesight, and then the afterimage of his flames were all he could see.
Thoroughly unnerved, Watson flew home without getting dinner, and then sprawled untidily upon the floor, taking in the smell of Mrs. Hudson's biscuits and tea with each inhale, reminding himself that he was safely back in England, that John was -
"Ah, there you are." Sherlock sounded annoyed at having to wait, though if he thought Watson was giving him his mobile contact then he had another think coming.
Watson felt his lower jaw hit the floor with a gentle thump. "What is it?"
"You know, I thought being a soldier, and a medic's soldier at that, would give you a better sense of self-preservation." And if he thought Sherlock was just annoyed earlier, then Watson would have to come up with a completely new scale for this tone of voice.
"Sherlock, we're not all mega-brains here, you know. Just tell me."
He leapt lightly over the second-floor railings and smacked Watson on the right shoulder, the uninjured one, with more than necessary force. "Get up!"
"Come on, then! I don't have all day!"
Watson rose and pinned Sherlock down with one foreleg, felt his knees give, felt his own shoulder muscles bunch up in order to shift aside for more flames. He bared all his teeth and hissed.
"Never. Do that. Again."
Sherlock stared, and something like understanding passed through his face. "I apologize."
Watson took his claws off Sherlock's shoulder, and turned his back to his still-kneeling flatmate. After a while, he spoke. "Do you know, a friend of yours hijacked a government messenger so he could kidnap me and request that I spy on you. I did my level best to reduce him to ashes, but he got away."
Sherlock walked over to sit down on his hind legs and steepled his hands together, his eyes glittering impishly at Watson. "Well, was it lucrative at least? I hope you didn't refuse his money, we could use some around the flat, buy some lab equipment, put some heating in for you."
Watson wished he could hold his head in his paws the way he saw so many humans do. It seemed to be such a comforting response. "How did you know he offered me money?"
And then, "You know that man? Who the hell is he?"
Sherlock smiled, gratified by the attention at last. "Immaterial to even ask, Watson, you've been breathing fire extensively and while there are a few people with the means and insanity to provoke you so utterly, only one has access to a government Jade. As for your little 'kidnapper', he's the most dangerous man you'll ever meet, and not our problem right now."
"Our?" Ignoring Watson's incredulous stare, Sherlock went on. "I found her suitcase, texted her mobile, and we're due at a restaurant in 10 minutes. Do come."
Watson's gaze travelled up to Sherlock's part of the house, and indeed, there was a suitcase the same virulent pink as the victim's coat and shoes sitting innocently on a sofa. "But she's dead."
"Yes, exactly! And there was no phone with her belongings, which means her phone is with the murderer, which means that we can catch him when he shows up at the dead woman's rendezvous." With that, he began the complicated process of strapping himself in and locking every clip onto Watson's harness. When he refused to move, Sherlock looked down at the gleaming, almost golden back under him and said, "You know, Angelo's does the best meatballs in town."
Watson groaned, and left his flat behind him.
"Well, that was exciting, and let's never do that again." Sherlock pooh-poohed Watson with a wave of his hand, though Watson couldn't see him, he would certainly feel the shifting in position, and infer for himself the depths of Sherlock's dismissal.
Watson almost reeled with outrage. "I was carrying you in my claws! While you shouted directions at me! I've never done turns at that angle in an urban zone! Do you have any idea what could have happened?"
"Watson, I'm on your back now, safe and in one piece. Stop complaining, I need to think."
Watson took a calming breath, and flapped his wings once for more altitude. "If we do this more often, you're going to have to get specialized gear."
"Noted. Now be quiet."
Hearing the Big Ben chime midnight gave Watson a start. He didn't think that much time could have passed, though it was obviously much darker now, and Angelo had waggled his eyebrows in their direction for quite a while when they were eating. Rather, when Sherlock watched Watson eat, because apparently he ran on air and the challenge of brainwork, chameleon-like, on all his cases.
London time felt fluid and confusing, and Watson wished he could find a clear patch under Dover's training fields and listen to Admiral Iskierka conduct night drills.
He landed softly in the yard, and used one claw to gently lift the door, thinking that it was best to start on the right foot and not wake up the landlady on their first night here. Instead of blissful, calm silence, about 10 policemen and Lestrade looked up at him, and then went back to rummaging through Sherlock's belongings.
Watson barely felt Sherlock slip off his back. His tail thrashed once, and then lay quiescent, afraid of knocking Sherlock on his face in front of his - colleagues?
No, his rivals.
"Ah, Sherlock and Watson! Nice of you to join us." Watson spotted the perpetually nasal Anderson behind the door, in Sherlock's actual bedroom, and felt the rumblings of fire begin again in the back of his throat.
"Whaaoor -" He cut himself off awkwardly, aware that almost everybody in the room, including Sherlock, one strap of the harness still dangling from an arm, was staring at him. "I mean, what are you doing? Aside from a very efficient bit of team breaking and entering?"
Lestrade got up from the sofa and leaned nonchalantly against the railing on the second floor. "Well, for one thing, your friend's got some evidence concealed here, but we're on a drugs bust really."
"Oh, right, a drugs bust." Watson snorted, and hooked a claw through his harness. "Well, carry on then, wouldn't want to waste taxpayer money on a drugs bust." The leather straps came loose with a sharp starburst of pain, and Watson reminded himself to ask Mrs. Hudson to put some salve on his shoulder the next morning.
"I mean," he continued, scorn in every line of his back, "It's not like you're going to find anything, but feel free."
"Watson," Sherlock said, just as Anderson sniggered and tossed a riding crop at another police officer. "Watson."
He looked between Lestrade and Sherlock, and then took a long sniff of the air. "No, you can't be serious, I can't smell anything on him." Another long inhale. "Nor anything in the flat either. Come on, guys, you're wasting your time."
"Watson!" An imperious tug on his loose harness brought his head down to near Sherlock's level, and he whispered intensely, "Shutting up would be really nice right now, Watson."
"But Sherlock!" He tugged again, forcing the strap tight across Watson's chest. Sherlock looked intently at Watson. "I'm clean, but let's not make them any more eager than they already are, shall we?"
In a louder voice and away from Watson's head, he said, "Lestrade, this is ridiculous. I'm clean!"
Lestrade shifted slightly to look back into Sherlock's section of the flat. "Yes, but is your flat? And -" He raised a finger, "I do like you, Watson, but I'm not inclined to trust you on things relating to Sherlock just yet."
Sherlock's hand around his harness was becoming bone white, Watson saw, and he swept his tail around his feet, curling gently around Sherlock's ankles.
"In fact," continued Lestrade, "I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop making off with the evidence on cases, Sherlock. You're here because we want you here, and if you don't behave, then I can't let you in on the cases. Simple."
"And," Anderson said, gleefully, "You said we'd find the suitcase with the murderer. And you have the suitcase, don't you?"
Watson's eyes practically fell out of their sockets, he rolled them so hard. "Shut up, Anderson." Surprisingly, his light growl was echoed by Sherlock's deep baritone. Against the railing, Lestrade ducked his head, unsuccessfully hiding his reaction to the unexpected synchronicity.
"Are you seriously proposing to hold potential victims hostage just so I'll go along with your mindless police procedure?" Sherlock's customary crisp bite was back.
Watson went on with putting his harness away, gently easing Sherlock's clenched hand off one of the chest straps.
Lestrade put his hands on his face in that universal human gesture of exasperation, "No, Sherlock. I am asking you, as a favour, to keep your stunts to a minimum so we can still work together."
"Hmm. In that case-" Here Sherlock was interrupted with a rather catastrophic rumbling sound. Anderson dropped the small Newton's cradle in his hands and looked around wildly while everyone else in the room froze and tried not to make eye contact with the only firebreather in the room.
Watson tucked his head under one wing, embarrassed, while Sherlock threw his head back and laughed, "I think one of us should go outside now."
He slinked away quietly, and found a nice, tall tree in Hyde Park. Which was how, when he returned, no one could tell him where Sherlock had gone.
Tracking by scent had always been frustrating, even more so when Watson had to factor in the miasma of smells that made up the soup of London air. Still, the faint odour of blankets, rain and essential Sherlock-ness held. What was more annoying, in fact, was having to walk his way through the streets with his nose to the ground like some godforsaken bloodhound. At least with his gun prominently harnessed on his shoulder, most spectators kept their amusement to themselves.
When he came up against a black cab parked near an institutional building of some kind, he knew he was near. A long sampling of the air told him to go right, and up - and then he saw.
Sherlock, the great bloody fool, nearly had a pill to his mouth.
Watson couldn't see his face too well, though he could tell, with searing clarity, every pore on the old man, who must have been the cabbie, even as he smiled with the smug triumph of the condemned. His claws tightened on the grass, ripping at the earth uselessly, as he watched the poison travel closer and closer to Sherlock's mouth.
One claw convulsed involuntarily.
Watson knew, imperatively, that he had to get out, up and away, and so he did, hovering silently above until he saw a stream of blue-and-red lights line up next to the building.
He coiled his tail tight against his side, wary of punch-drunk police and Anderson alike, and waited for Sherlock to come to him. Donovan had come by with the heartening suggestion of "Do some tour-guiding, seriously, blokes like him are bad for dragons like you, okay?"
He'd been watching the ambulance staff at the time, and did not respond. Donovan gave up, and walked away. In the end, all they did was to drape Sherlock in an ill-fitting blanket of his own.
Lestrade took Sherlock aside, whispering together intently. Once, and only once, did Sherlock look back at him, eyes as sharp and liquid as they always were, and then he excused himself, tugging pathetically at his blanket. Sherlock strolled slowly towards Watson until he was almost flush with Watson's foreleg, enveloped in the heat that radiated off his scales.
He looked around casually, and then put a hand on Watson's left shoulder appraisingly. "Nice shot."
Watson felt his flush spread into his neck and felt sick for feeling that because he'd killed a man. "I assume you've cleaned out your shoulder gun and left it back at Mrs. Hudson's? I think you'll get off, but I'd like to avoid a court trial. So messy, and inevitably public."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Sherlock tsk'ed impatiently and said, "You've spent some time with me, Watson, do you really think me that dim?"
Unable to bear the weight of his hand, Watson ducked his head and said, "I say, he must have been an awful cabbie."
Sherlock waited until he could met Watson's eyes, "Quite."
A great deal later, Sherlock put away his violin and walked down into the annex.
Under his worn blanket, Watson shuffled aside to make more room for him, careful not to smear any salve on the faded fabric.
"You don't mind?" He let out a drowsy rumble. "You did say that you would sleep better."
Sherlock tucked himself under Watson's left foreleg. "Thank you, Watson."
Watson smiled as he curled around Sherlock sleepily. "I think you can call me John."