Three months into their deployment to Afghanistan, on the night of the full moon, John's unit -- jokingly called the K-9 unit, gathers naked in several trucks, four of them in the back of each, paired with two borrowed snipers up front.
The vast majority of the time, John's a Combat Medical Technician. He carries a service weapon meant only for self-defense and a medical kit that gets more use than he'd like. He wears a red cross on his bicep, and mostly spends his time wrists-deep in his comrades' bodies, trying to knit them together well enough for them to survive another day.
He's never shot a living person before.
But when he's not a doctor, he's this:
Naked but unashamed, shoulders and legs brushing with those of his unit-mates. Nervous and joking and hungry and waiting, waiting, waiting --
Until the moon breaks over the horizon and it pulls. It hooks into something in his chest and pulls it from his body, splitting open his skin and turning him inside-out. Fur ripples over his skin and his bones stretch and his muscles ache and there is a moment, just one moment, where it feels like he's being torn apart and pushed inside himself and breaking free all at the same time, until --
Until John blinks his eyes and gets to his feet. He takes a breath and smells his pack-mates, bringing his nose to theirs, licking their jaws and having his licked in turn -- I'm here, it's me. You're here too, hello, how are you?
The trucks rumble to a stop in a circle once the change finishes. John and his pack-mates hop out eagerly, tails wagging and making faint sounds of excitement, because three months, because that's how long it'd taken for them to get along, more or less. Three months of fangs and fur followed by half-hearted pleasantries in the light of day ("I wouldn't have killed you if I pinned you down, really", and "How's the arm feel? Did you get it set right?"), and they're a pack now, bound together by the spill and taste of their blood under the full moon.
They spend a few minutes socializing (You weren't in my car but you're here now, how are you, how are you? ) before a low whistle cuts through their soft whines and growls. Humans -- familiar humans, friendly humans, hop out of the trucks. They crouch down and let their hair get sniffed and their cheeks licked, and this is familiar, this is good.
His tail wags, and one of them -- Jordan, his name is Jordan and he smells like the stew they'd had for dinner, pats him carefully on the head.
When they're ready -- when all the headlights are on, and all his pack-mates have greeted each other, and the humans carry the scent of wolf rubbed onto their clothes, they throw their head backs to the moon and howl as one, calling their challenge into the night.
Because in Afghanistan, it's like this:
Lycanthropy is contagious. Lycanthropy makes soldiers stronger, faster, and far more dangerous. Not, admittedly, more dangerous than a man with a gun, but guns cost money and biting does not. On a full moon, ten semi-coordinated werewolves can rip through an entire camp of unprepared humans, killing most, if not all, of them.
There are laws about changing people against their will. The Geneva Convention prohibits wolf-versus-human combat.
The funny thing about insurgents is that they don't give a damn about the Geneva Convention.
(There are no laws about human-versus-wolf combat. Mostly because the humans tend to lose.)
Which leads to this:
The upper limit of a werewolf pack is twenty wolves, and even twenty is pushing it. Any more than that and you don't have a pack, you have a bunch of animals that mostly don't get along and can't agree with what they want to do once the moon has risen.
The Taliban doesn't spend six months (counting the time spent during Basic Training) teaching wolves how to get along with each other and put up with being handled by humans. So when the enemy werewolves do come, they come in small groups, expecting to defend their territory against enemy wolves.
If John had been human at the time, he'd have compared what happens next to shooting fish in a barrel. But similes are a bit past him at the moment, so mostly what he registers is that his not-pack not-wolf teammates are taking care of the wolves at the edge of the circle of light, shooting them down when they get too close.
Because when wolves fight each other, they posture first -- they circle each other and raise their hackles and growl warnings. Hunters don't do any of that.
In the morning, John doesn't regret it, not exactly. War isn't about fighting fair, and every one of the bodies on the ground is someone who would have been perfectly happy to rip his throat out in his sleep. Every body on the ground is one that can't rip through an unprotected camp during the full moon.
But he still wishes he hadn't had to do it.
It doesn't happen every month. Mostly they patrol the camp in their wolf forms instead, running easy circles around its perimeter, playing guardian on the nights humans with guns aren't enough (Bill makes bad jokes about them pretending to be sheepdogs, but John doesn't mind it).
Lycanthropy is on his medical record -- right there with all his other medical conditions, a few entries before the PTSD and after the penicillin allergy (marked as cured, because it'd gone away when he'd first changed, when he'd turned thirteen and the marker he'd had in his genetic code had switched on).
Most people don't know -- the army knew, and soldiers he'd worked with knew, and his mates knew. But he's not obligated to tell anyone, so long as he stays at home or wears his tags in wolf form when he goes outside -- color-coded, to let humans know how human-tolerant he is when he's shifted. Dark for dangerous, fading lighter for safety; some weres can use their form to search for missing persons, but John's never had that much self control.
His tags (collar, but he doesn't like to call it that) are a solid grey -- "avoid me if you see me, but I won't attack if unprovoked".
John doesn't put his tags on when the moon begins to rise. He just strips and locks his bedroom's door and window. The wolf knows -- he knows, even when he's got four paws and fur, that it's counterproductive to break out of his own flat. Once he gets used to the city and the smell of so many strange humans again, he'll allow himself out. Until then, though, this is it.
Most people can take full moon and locked bedroom and come to the right conclusion.
Most people don't break into their flatmates' locked bedrooms in the first place.
Most people are not Sherlock.
"John!" The door swings open. "John, Lestrade ca --"
John gives a warning growl, and Sherlock stops abruptly. John can smell his sudden fear. It smells good. Sometimes he does get sick of Sherlock being a right prat quite a bit of the time, and it feels good to have the upper hand for once.
Sherlock stares at him, but John doesn't know what he sees -- can't think like that right now, can't twist his thoughts to another person's perspective. Sherlock starts to take a half-step forward and John growls again, the hackles on the back of his neck rising. His lips curls upwards, revealing sharp teeth.
No. This is his room. His private room, and he doesn't want anyone else in it, smearing their scent on his belongings.
"John," Sherlock draws out cautiously, stretching his name out. "Do you understand me?"
Human, not-pack. Not team. Stranger-not-stranger. Sherlock crouches (can't outrun a wolf anyways) and he looms less, doesn't tower over John as much as he normally does. He's still, carefully still, not coming into John's territory.
John, do you understand me?
Yes, of course he does. John moves his head up and down. It feels wrong. His head isn't meant to be moved like that, but he knows it's important so he does it anyways. He sits on his haunches and raises his paw in the air, because he remembers that too.
Sherlock lets out a breath. The fear fades. He starts to rise, but when he puts his hand inside John's room, John growls again, just a little bit. "I need to close the door," Sherlock says. "You closed it earlier, remember?"
John remembers; he's not stupid. But he doesn't let Sherlock come any closer either, and Sherlock eventually tires of staring at him and goes back to the living room.
John follows. He knows he closed the door so he couldn't get out, but that was before, and Sherlock knows now, and downstairs smells so much more interesting. Sherlock doesn't try to stop him from investigating, but he makes a prey noise when John bites the leg of the sofa curiously and the wood splinters in his jaws.
It doesn't taste like it smells.
Sherlock is still awake when the moon starts to set, its pull fading until John can feel the other pull, the one centered in his chest that feels like he's caught in a black hole, like he'll collapse in on himself soon, soon...
He gets to his bedroom just before the change hits, and drops heavily on the rug as the moon disappears and with it, his freedom.
Changing back always feel worse than the other way around. His senses get duller (except for the vision, but who cares about eyes when you can smell everyone who'd been by in the last day?), the air feels colder, and his entire body itches. He writhes on the rug as the changes retract back into his body, leaving him just John. Short, plain, boring John.
When he opens his eyes, Sherlock is in his room, looking down at him.
John is too tired to care or do anything but make a vague noise of acknowledgment.
"You didn't tell me you were a werewolf." Sherlock opens the top drawer of John's nightstand and begins to rifle through his things (nothing important there -- the usual lotion and tissues, plus a handful of coins).
"I didn't realize I needed to," John says. He musters up just enough energy to drag himself onto the bed, then flops face-down onto it, letting out a blissful sigh. The bedclothes feel so soft against his bare skin...
He stirs when he hears the click of the locked drawer in his desk opening.
"Sherlock, stop going through my things," John mutters against his blankets. "The gun's not in there. I've got the day off and I'm going to spend as much of it asleep as possible, so bugger off. Please."
Whatever Sherlock's looking for, if he's looking for anything at all, is not in John's desk drawers or his closet. He has just started to reach under the bed when John says curtly without bothering to open his eyes (his senses are always a few notches above human normal, but they're even more so right around the full moon), "Don't. Those are my army things, and they're off-limits."
Sherlock doesn't. But he does say, "Obviously you're not feral -- not that the army would accept feral werewolves. But you might have bitten me if I'd stepped foot in your room."
John thinks about it. "I don't bite very often," he says finally, because it is better than saying if I did, it'd only be a warning bite. "I probably would have just knocked you down and growled in your face."
"So your color can't be higher than twenty-four, and is no lower than sixteen, perhaps eighteen depending on how you feel about me when you're in human form," Sherlock says, referring to the numbered gray scale used to refer to how dangerous a changed werewolf is to humans -- thirty-two for black and completely feral, zero for white and completely tame. "Do you -- Ah, of course. Your collar is with your army things, because you performed combat operations as a wolf and after returning from Afghanistan, you need time to re-acclimate yourself to London before you feel comfortable. If you need to re-acclimate --"
"Oh my god," John groans, because he can't fall asleep if Sherlock's in the room and he's exhausted. "If I tell you will you go away?"
"Yes." Sherlock sounds entirely too pleased with himself.
"Twenty," John says -- hostile to humans, but not a danger unless provoked. Firmly gray. When most people find out, John usually gets a long silence as they clearly think, But he's so unassuming.
Sherlock, by contract, simply makes a 'hmm' sound and says, "Of course. For the military, of course. What were you before?"
Twenty-eight, dark enough that he'd attack strangers on sight. He'd had to lock himself into his room at night to keep from hurting people, or spend the full moon at a holding facility with only other wolves for company. He had scars from the latter option, but they'd all been fun scars, earned fairly in fights.
"Sixteen," John says.
When John wakes up again (the numbers on his clock read 10:04), the covers have been pulled over his body, he feels significantly better rested, and he realizes with no great surprise that he is ravenously hungry.
There is a bowl of meat (ground beef, mostly raw) on his nightstand. There's a fork to its left, and a cup of tea to its right, and he can sort of, vaguely, make out Sherlock's lingering scent in his bedroom.
At any other time, John would probably feel at least a little bit offended. But right now it smells amazing. The meat's not freshly-killed, but it's still slightly bloody. It is exactly what he's craving right now.
It tastes wonderful.
So somehow, in London, life goes on like this:
The moon pulls at his skin lightly, like the teasing touches of a lover. He doesn't need to check the time to know that the sun sets in just under half an hour and it feels nice, excitement and anticipation and energy dancing over the surface of his thoughts.
His phone buzzes. It's from Lestrade. Murder, tell Sherlock to pick up his phone.
"Lestrade says to pick up your phone," John says, and tilts his head back again to rest it against the arm of the sofa. He closes his eyes and listens to the pattern of Sherlock's breathing, the slow and steady in-out whoosh of his respiratory system, and the thunk of glass against wood as Sherlock sets down his latest experiment.
"I saw his text already," Sherlock says, after a few moments have passed. "I'm not going out tonight. Tell him to send me photographs of where the body was found." Glass clinks against glass when he goes back to his work.
John sends the text obediently with fingers that feel clumsy and foreign. When the response comes several minutes later, he holds his phone up in the air. "Here," he says. "Your crime scene."
Sherlock plucks the phone from his hand and John inhales deeply, taking in his scent -- nothing unusual, his food and grooming products and everything he's touched in the last hour, made faint and indistinct by the fact that he's in the wrong body.
He waves it off when Sherlock tries to return his phone to him. "Keep it. It won't be any use to me in a few minutes. I'm going upstairs."
After the moon rises, he is upstairs, gnawing on a leg of beef and wondering just how badly he wants to get outside (not enough to break the window, because he knows he'll regret it in the morning) when he scents Sherlock on the other side of his door. His ears perk and he tenses in anticipation, but Sherlock doesn't open the door this time, doesn't barge in when unwelcome or try to bother him.
John hears the tap-tapping of Sherlock's fingers on the keys of his phone (talking to someone), and smells it when Sherlock sits on the floor, back against his door. The door remains closed.
John paws at the door, leaving slight scratch marks, and Sherlock knocks back.
And what it really means is this:
John's left the window open this time, put the collar around his neck so anyone who sees him will know he's out on purpose, that he's safe so long as they stay out of his way. He sticks his nose out the window to take in the smells of the city -- different-but-familiar, bright and vivid and exciting instead of the dull sameness of his room.
His thoughts (hunt run play where?) are interrupted by the sound of Sherlock running up the steps to John's room, and Sherlock's voice saying through the door, "I'm going out. Lestrade sent a text. Triple-homicide, but the police can't find the third body, and the killer left a riddle! A riddle, John."
Then, he darts back down the steps, skipping every other one in his excitement. John's head and front paws are out the window (just looking, just enjoying the night, wondering if he wants to jump out and explore by himself on his own four paws) when Sherlock comes back up the stairs. He knocks twice, then swings the door to John's room open.
John looks at him and perks his ears up, because Sherlock is familiar now. Sherlock is not-pack and not-wolf, but he's team and in the absence of pack, team will do. Sherlock is wearing his coat. His scarf is around his neck but unwound, and his gloves are held loosely in one hand.