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the beast not found in verse

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"Oi!" John pounded on the door, still harder. "Anyone home?"

No response. Great. The cottage was probably deserted. John tried the door, without much hope, but it swung open. He stepped inside; cold and dark, but blessedly dry. "Hello?" John called out, and receiving the expected silence, turned his attention to seeing if the electricity still worked.

Something enormous came out of the darkness, slamming him into the wall and knocking the breath from his lungs and the cane from his hand. Things got confused, after that: John flailed, grabbed ahold of his opponent's fur coat, and pushed as hard as he could. His opponent growled, an alarmingly primitive sound, and John could feel hot breath on his face and neck. He twisted enough to grab his gun out of the waistband of his trousers and pushed it into the vicinity of his opponent's ribs, flung out his other hand, and finally found the light switch.

He found himself staring into the face of a gigantic...creature, as tall as a man, black from the tip of its muzzle to its long, twitching tail.

"What the buggering fuck," said John.

The creature flattened its ears. It was taller than he, John noted, but very lean; in all likelihood it only weighed a stone more than John did, if that. Presently, it fell back on all fours, sat on its haunches, and regarded John with pale blue eyes.

"Afghanistan or Iraq?" it asked.

John gaped, but didn't let his weapon drop. He wasn't sure if he was more shocked that the creature talked, or that it spoke the Queen's English. "What?"

The creature tossed its head impatiently. "Your face and hands are tan, but your wrists are fair. You've been abroad, but not sunbathing. You did yourself credit back there, despite being attacked in the dark by an animal larger than yourself, and you know how to hold a gun. Combat training equals either police force or military service, but tan points to service abroad--therefore, military service, therefore, Afghanistan or Iraq. Obvious. So, which is it?"

"Afghanistan," John replied, and allowed his arms to relax.

"Invalided home, I take it. No family?"

"Yes." John licked his lips. "No. I mean, I have a sister. But we--"

"Don't get on." The creature tilted its head at John. John held still, though the hair on the back of his neck prickled. Whatever conclusion the creature came to, however, it was apparently not that John was wanting, because it turned its back on him and said, "Well, you won't be going anywhere tonight. There's an extra bedroom upstairs."

"Er," said John.

The creature disappeared up the aforementioned stairs with a flick of its plumed tail. "The name's Sherlock Holmes."

-----

John felt much better after a hot shower and a good night's sleep, although his clothes were still damp. He put them on anyhow and went downstairs to find the creature--Sherlock already awake and, discomfitingly enough, seated at a desk in the sitting room, peering at a laptop.

John cleared his throat. "Thanks," he said. "For last night. I'll just be...going now, then."

"Don't bother," said Sherlock, not looking up.

"Pardon?" said John.

"You won't get very far," said Sherlock. "I'd apologise, but you're the one who came barging in here, so I've nothing to be sorry for."

John opened and closed his mouth a few times, decided he had nothing to say, and let himself out.

The cottage wasn't even out of sight before a black SUV came crawling over the wet grass and stopped in front of John. The door opened and a hand beckoned John inside. John hesitated, sighed, and did as he was bade. The car's passenger was a tall man dressed in an incredibly fine three-piece suit, with a large black umbrella between his knees. John stared at his watch and thought that it probably cost more money than John had ever had in his bank account in his life.

"Leaving so soon, Dr. Watson?" said the man. His enunciation was careful and precise, as if each word had to pass muster before it could roll off his tongue. "Your clothes aren't even dry."

John licked his lips. "Didn't want to overstay my welcome."

The man regarded John with the same scrutiny that the creature had paid him last night. "You don't seem very afraid."

"He's not very frightening," John pointed out.

The man gave John a quick, insincere smile that showed too many of his teeth. Maybe Sherlock wasn't supposed to be the frightening one. "I don't suppose you could be induced to stay? I'd be happy to pay you a meaningful sum of money on a regular basis to ease your way."

"Who are you?" John demanded.

"Merely a concerned party," said the man.

"Right," said John. "And you want me to stay...why?"

The man sighed expansively. "I find myself in need of a...companion, for him. Someone who can report back, occasionally. Nothing indiscreet. Nothing you wouldn't be comfortable with. Just...tell me what he's up to."

"Why?"

"I worry about him," the man replied. "Constantly."

John felt for the door handle. The handle, predictably, refused to budge, and the weight in the small of John's back was suddenly very comforting.

"Forgotten something?" said the man.

"No," said John. "I just want to walk."

"But you've forgotten your cane," said the man.

John froze. Where was his cane? He'd dropped it last night. Had he ever picked it back up? Was it still lying on the floor of the sitting room?

The man gave him a moment to absorb this, then tapped his umbrella once on the floor of the car. "Now, let's talk about the money."

"I don't want your money," John snapped. "Look, I'll stay. Lord knows I don't have anywhere else I need to be. But I don't want your money."

"Excellent," said the man. He bared his teeth at John. "Your things will be sent on shortly."

-----

Sherlock was still in the same place John had left him.

John knocked the mud off his boots on the doorframe, then toed them off on the inside mat. His cane was leaning against the wall next to the door. He ignored it. "Had a run-in with some fellow who said he was worried about you," he said. "Constantly."

"Hmm?" Sherlock lifted his muzzle slightly, but didn't take his eyes off the screen. "Oh. Him. Did he offer you money to stay?"

"Yes," said John, "but I didn't take it."

Sherlock raised one lip, revealing several curved, white teeth. "Pity. We could have split it."

-----

The cottage consisted of:


  • Two bedrooms upstairs (Why were there two bedrooms when there was only one Sherlock? The second bedroom was pristine, the model of a guest bedroom, but Sherlock was hardly going to have any guests.)

  • One bathroom, also upstairs (The first thing John did was fetch a broom. The rest he would deal with later.)

  • A kitchen (Which seemed to see very little use as a kitchen: the very fine copper pots and pans looked as if they'd never been used, as did the professional knife set and the cutlery. This spoke volumes either about Sherlock's diet or his ability to wield utensils, given that he didn't have proper opposable thumbs.)

  • A sitting room (Bog standard: couch, two armchairs, and a battered old television. Radio. And bookshelves. So many bookshelves. But not enough bookshelves, actually, because there were also books. Piles of books, stacks of books, heaps of books. A path had been cleared on the floor so that John and Sherlock could walk about quite easily, but Sherlock was still prone to knocking things over with his tail.)

  • A library/office (Also downstairs, only with even more books, if one could believe it. Also, for some reason, the desk was heaped high with what looked like chemistry equipment: flasks and test tubes and bunsen burners and a very nice microscope and more things that John hadn't seen since medical school. There was even a little refrigerator to store samples and sensitive chemicals and whatnot. What was Sherlock doing with all this?)

John ended up back down in the sitting room, bewildered.

"You have questions," said Sherlock, still at the computer. He'd been there all morning. That couldn't be good for his health.

"Of course I do." John ran a hand through his hair. "I don't even know where to begin."

"Begin at the beginning," Sherlock said crisply.

"All right." John gesticulated in Sherlock's general direction. "So, you're a--a--I have no idea what you are."

"Can't talk about it," Sherlock replied.

John stared. "Why not?"

"It's a condition," was all Sherlock seemed able to say.

A condition. Pregnancy was a condition. Baldness was a condition. Being a giant talking man-cat-dog-thing was not a condition. John cast around for something else to talk about. "And you--how did you--before, what you said, about me being in Afghanistan. How did you know that?"

"I told you how I knew that." Sherlock sounded bored.

John sucked on his lower lip briefly and nodded. "You did," he acknowledged. "So that's--what, a trick you do?"

Sherlock lifted his chin. It gave him a very noble appearance. "A science."

"What?"

Sherlock turned the laptop so that John could see it. The browser displayed a website: THE SCIENCE OF DEDUCTION. He handed the machine, balancing it carefully on his large paws, to John so that he could read it. John skimmed the first paragraph and looked up at Sherlock. "You can really do this?"

"Hand me your phone," said Sherlock.

John, wondering what this had to do with anything, obediently handed Sherlock his phone.

Sherlock's large paws were surprisingly dextrous, so that he could grip things, but seemed to lack the fine motor control of a human or an ape. He wouldn't be able to, say, peel a banana. But was able to turn the phone in his paws and examine it from all sides. "This phone was a gift."

John nodded; so far, so obvious.

"From your sister, the one you don't get on with," Sherlock continued. "She's irresponsible, but more than that, she has a drinking problem. That's what you have the problem with, or perhaps you have a problem with her leaving her wife."

John sucked in a breath. "How--"

"Well, you told me about the sister, although I probably would have deduced that on my own." Sherlock flipped the phone 'round to show the engraving on the back. "This is a nice phone, but look how scratched it is, been kept in a pocket or bag with keys and coins. You treat the phone well, judging from how you keep it in your inside pocket, so it must have been the previous owner. Here the case is cracked in one corner where it's been dropped. Carelessness, perhaps, but look at the scratches 'round here, where it's plugged in at night to charge. A sober person's phone rarely has those, but a drunkard's phone is never without. And the inscription, 'From Clara.' If Clara was the one who'd left, Harry would have kept it: sentiment. But instead she gave the phone to you, so, she's the one who left, discarded the phone as she discarded Clara. Am I correct? Of course I am."

"Amazing," John breathed, as he took his phone back.

Sherlock's tall, pointed ears swiveled full to face John and his eyes widened slightly. Then he settled back in his seat, like a cat pretending not to care if you noticed or not. "That's not what people usually say."

"What do they usually say?"

Something very like a smile hovered around Sherlock's muzzle. "Piss off. Well, when they don't run away screaming."

-----

Over the next few days, John learned a number of things about Sherlock Holmes. He learned that Sherlock was a consulting detective, "the only one in the world," Sherlock proudly informed him. John could well believe that, because he'd never heard of such a thing. Apparently it meant that New Scotland Yard emailed or texted Sherlock with puzzling cases; Sherlock reviewed the evidence, sometimes interviewed suspects or witnesses or victims over Skype if necessary; and delivered the culprit to Detective Inspector Lestrade, all without ever leaving the safety and comfort of his home. It was fairly impressive.

John...puttered, was the best way to put it. He attacked the upstairs bathroom, so it no longer made him faintly nauseous to look at. He tidied the stacks in the sitting room so that Sherlock no longer knocked things over with his tail as frequently, even if at one point he had to affix the post to the mantel with a jackknife. He moved some of the stacks to the office-cum-laboratory (?). The kitchen, meanwhile, had the opposite problem: save for the alarming pile of washing-up in the sink, it looked as if it was hardly used. The contents of the refrigerator consisted of a bottle of catsup, a jar of mustard, and a moldy piece of cheese, which John binned. The contents of the pantry consisted of...tea. Vast quantities of tea. And a box of water crackers. How on Earth did Sherlock survive?

His things arrived by courier the day after he took up residence at the cottage. Besides clothing, toiletries, his laptop, and other necessities, John also discovered several books he did not remember buying and a slip informing him that he was now possessed of a subscription to The Lancet.

Sherlock peered over John's shoulder. "Ah," he said. "Army doctor. I should have known. There's always something."

The courier also brought a box of groceries. John lifted out a packet of chocolate biscuits, a jar of honey, a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, several tins of beans, a carton of eggs, and a box of tea. "You already have far too much tea," said John.

"Tell that to Mycroft," Sherlock muttered.

Mycroft: that was the man in the black SUV. John was still not certain of his relationship to Sherlock, but with a ridiculous name like Mycroft, well, there had to be a connection. Except for the part where Sherlock was a giant furry...thing.

That same day, he came upon Sherlock snarling at his phone and portending imminent phone-throwing-against-wall. "Blasted voice-to-text is useless!" he raged. "No, you stupid thing, I said corpse, not course!"

"Can't you just call?" John suggested.

"I prefer to text," Sherlock said, trying to push the buttons on the keyboard. The result was apparently not to his liking, because he flattened his ears at the phone and growled.

John sighed. "Here." He took the phone from Sherlock's paws. "What do you want to say?"

From then on Sherlock would call, sometimes across the house, "John! Need you to send a text for me!" John considered just carrying Sherlock's phone with him. Sherlock tried to get John to type on the computer for him as well, but the first time he watched John peck out L-E-S-T-R-A-D-E with two fingers, he immediately bade John leave and never return. But he made noises about having John help him conduct several scientific experiments.

But there was only so long John could occupy himself tidying and sending texts for Sherlock, and the third day after he'd wound up on the creature's doorstep, John mounted the stairs armed with broom and flannel and cracked open the door to Sherlock's (he presumed) room.

John expected chaos: an extension of the sitting room, perhaps, with books stacked to the ceiling, chemical equipment on the bookshelves and debris all over the floor. He expected dirty dishes under the bed and molding teacups in the corners. He expected a dead animal hidden in the bedclothes.

What he got was bedclothes in rags and stuffing leaking out of the pillow. The mattress was slightly askew and a spring poked out of a great rent in the top. Shallow gouges, the exact width and spacing of Sherlock's claws, raked the walls. The carpet had been given the same treatment. The wardrobe door hung on one hinge. John gingerly opened it and discovered a heap of fabric on the floor. Judging from the rest of the wardrobe's contents, it had once been a very fine suit.

"I don't sleep in here. Obviously."

John started and whirled, but Sherlock didn't seem upset. He sat on his haunches in the doorway with his tail wrapped around his feet, looking as calm as you please. John looked at Sherlock, then at the suits in the closet. There were shoes, too. Shirts. He looked at the label on one. It was a designer with an Italian name, which probably meant it was very expensive. He looked back at Sherlock, who gazed at John with unreadable pale eyes. "You can't wear these."

Sherlock somehow contrived to look down his nose at John despite being a good ten feet away and currently shorter.

John thought about how Sherlock spoke excellent English, despite having a mouth not very well-suited to human speech. Sherlock did things like shrug his shoulders, roll his eyes, and steeple his paws underneath his chin when he was thinking. He drank tea, when someone prepared it for him, and ate beans on toast. He preferred to text, though calling on the phone would have been markedly easier. "But you used to be human. Because you used to wear these suits."

Sherlock stood up on all fours and stretched, rump in the air and forelegs out in front of him. Then he heaved himself up onto two legs. He usually did so, even though it seemed to John that four legs was more natural and comfortable for him. Sherlock stalked over to the wardrobe. "Excellent deduction," he said, without any trace of praise in his voice. "I was waiting for you to figure it out. One of the conditions of the curse was that I wouldn't be able to tell anyone. But now that you know, we can talk about it." He sounded faintly pleased by the prospect.

"A curse?" John scoffed. "You can't be serious. What, like in a fairy tale?"

Sherlock laid back his ears and gave John a look.

"All right," John conceded. "This is hardly a joke. Well then, is there a way to, to break it?"

Sherlock curled his lip. "It's a condition," he said sourly.

"Great," said John. "All right."

-----

"It was a witch," said Sherlock, once they were downstairs and comfortable, with tea and biscuits. John had his tea neat, in a mug, and his biscuits on a plate. Sherlock had his tea with milk, but no sugar, in a bowl. He liked to dip his biscuits in it. "She said if I was going to act beastly, then I might as well look the part."

"Right," said John. "Still sounds a bit fairy tale. What did you do that was so beastly?"

"I'd been encouraging her infatuation with me in order to gain access to bodies at the morgue," Sherlock replied. "It came apart when I deduced that her new boyfriend was a necrophiliac and only wanted access to bodies, preferably of young women."

"Wow," said John.

Sherlock's tail lashed back and forth, just once. "Mycroft said I deserved it."

"You did a bit, yeah," said John. "That wasn't very nice."

Sherlock looked off to the side. "I was being nice. She ought to know if her boyfriend's using her."

John sipped his tea. "So she turned you into a beast. And I suppose Mycroft was the one who shipped you out here."

"I couldn't very well stay in London." Sherlock poked a biscuit around on his plate, the cast of his ears and his tail unhappy.

"And you wrecked your bedroom." That explained why John usually saw Sherlock napping on the couch.

"I was furious. I still am. God, it's hateful!" Sherlock burst out, sweeping his ears back and baring all his teeth. He leapt off his chair and paced around the sitting room, apparently too agitated to even get up on two feet to do so. "Can't attend crime scenes, can't question witnesses, can't observe. My solve rate has plummeted, and it's because I'm blind. I can't stand it." He glared at John. "You'll do something about this."

John spread his hands. "Don't know what there is I can do, if you can't tell me how to break the curse."

Sherlock bared his teeth. "You'll stay."

"And how's that supposed to help?"

"It will." Sherlock stopped and gave John a look. His tail swished back and forth.

"Here, let me try a bit of deducing of my own." John sat back in the armchair and nudged aside his teacup and plate so that he could put his feet up on the coffee table. He folded his hands together in imitation of what he thought of as Sherlock's "thinking pose" and stared straight at Sherlock. "You're a posh git, raised in some grand house I imagine, went to public school. I'm going to guess Eton."

"Harrow," said the beast.

"Harrow, then. I was close. You never wanted for anything, because you were clever, and because you were rich, and that made you--dare I say it--quite beastly."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John.

"You like being clever, and you like having an audience. Anyone can tell that from your website." John nodded. "You started solving mysteries for the police because it gave you an opportunity to show off. Am I right?"

Sherlock's tail twitched.

"And then you got turned into a beast and sent out here, and now you haven't an audience. No one to see how brilliant you are. Out here, you might as well not exist, and that's what drives you mad, isn't it?" John tented his fingers over his lips and braced his elbows on his knees. "That's why you want me to stay."

Sherlock curled his front claws into the rug, kneading it. "You will stay," he growled, but there was a plaintive whine at the very end.

"I will," John agreed. "But don't think it's because you bullied me into it. Or because Mycroft bullied me into it. I'm staying because I want to."

-----

"Bored," Sherlock declared.

The floors were clean enough to eat off of. The kitchen sparkled. Even Sherlock's bedroom was as tidy as it could be, considering the bed had no linens on it (John had turned the old ones into rags, as they were fit for little else) and the mattress still had a great gash in its side. Mycroft's deliveries included toiletries and cleaning supplies as well as food and pantry goods, which meant there was no reason to venture outside of the cottage at all. This was just as well because the nearest significant cluster of buildings was five miles away. Walkable--after all, John had walked it, that first day, and with a cane--but he had little desire to make that walk with shopping.

Sherlock was stretched out on the couch, his head draped over one end and his hindpaws draped over the other, his tail a lifeless snake dragging on the floor. He gave John a mournful look. "Shoot me."

"No," John said. He took his newspaper upstairs to read, where Sherlock couldn't pester him. Well, Sherlock could, but the state he was in, he was unlikely to take the trouble to slither up the stairs to do so.

When he came back downstairs, Sherlock had chosen to sprawl in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room. John nearly kicked him in the head.

Sherlock slitted open one pale eye at John. "Bored."

"Yes, I know you are." John stepped over Sherlock and went into the kitchen. He stepped back over Sherlock with his sandwich on a plate and sat down in the sitting room. Sherlock had satellite, which so far meant there were 500 channels and still nothing to watch. John turned it on without much hope.

"I am dying," said Sherlock. "I am wasting away. I can feel my brain atrophying."

Reality television programme in which people did foolish things for money. Reality television programme in which people did foolish things for love. Reality television programme in which a woman came to someone's house and told them how they were fat and needed to change in order to become less fat. Reality television programme in which people attempted to sing. Reality television programme in which a woman came to someone's house and told them how their children were dreadful and how they needed to change so that their children would be less dreadful. Documentary about elephants. Now that was almost watchable.

Sherlock made a low moaning sound, as if he were dying, from the floor.

John switched off the television. "I'm going out," he announced.

Sherlock lifted his head. "What?" He sounded honestly astonished. John took a little bit of pride in that.

"I'm. Going. Out." John levered himself out of the chair. "I haven't been outside in days. It's driving me mad."

"You can't go outside," Sherlock said.

"Why not?" John found his shoes underneath the couch. Well, one of them was. The other one appeared to be underneath Sherlock.

"Because." Sherlock sat up. John retrieved his shoe. Sherlock watched him put it on. "Because you can't."

"I'm not a talking dog-cat-hyena creature thing," said John. "There's nothing wrong with me going for a walk. I'll be back in a bit."

Sherlock sat back on his haunches and looked up at John with an expression that he couldn't identify. Not that he found it very easy to decipher any of Sherlock's expressions, but this one was particularly difficult. "I'm coming with you," he pronounced.

"Sure," said John. The fresh air would probably do Sherlock good.

Summer had come to the countryside while John hadn't been paying attention, and everything was green and lush, the sky a perfect blue. It was warm enough that John hadn't really needed to bring his coat, but not so warm that he was uncomfortable in it. They struck out in no particular direction, John leaving a trampled trail in the grass as they went. Sherlock began at a dignified trot at John's heels at first, on all fours--perhaps the better to be mistakened for a particularly large and unusual dog, if they came across any country walkers--but soon pricked his ears and set off at a diagonal across the grass. John followed him, to find Sherlock sniffing at a set of hoofprints.

"Hm," said John.

They followed the tracks. John thought about what he'd cook for dinner that night. He was getting a bit sick of beans and pasta. He wondered if there was a way to get a message to Mycroft, request some curry sauce or something.

Sherlock was very quiet. It worried John when Sherlock was very quiet.

They came abruptly to a hollow in the ground. John's attention was caught first by something flapping in the wind: a coat draped over a bush. Only then did he see something at the bottom of the hollow.

"Oh shit," said John.

But Sherlock was showing all his teeth, eyes gleaming. "Excellent."

He descended into the hollow, sending down a shower of pebbles and loose soil as he did so, and bounded down by the body, where he proceeded to nose about in the man's pockets. John remained hovering by the edge of the depression.

"Sherlock!" he hissed. "You can't touch that! That's, it's, it's--evidence!"

"That's precisely why. The police will muck it up somehow, they always do, and the papers never report all the relevant information." Sherlock finished examining whatever it was in the man's pockets and turned to examining the man's leg. He finished by glancing at the man's head, which was the wrong shape and half-crusted with dried blood. It had pooled around his head in a dark spot.

Sherlock trotted back up to rejoin John. "All right, you can call the police now."

"I didn't bring my phone," said John. "We'll have to go back to the cottage."

But halfway there, Sherlock veered away.

"Where are you going?" John demanded.

"To see where the tracks go, of course," said Sherlock, and off he went. John shook his head. If Sherlock wanted to get shot at by suspicious farmers, that was his lookout. But it was just as well, because the police showed up ten minutes after they called him, and he had to make up a story that didn't involve Sherlock; probably they were unaware there was a cursed beast-man-thing living on this property.

So: His name was Dr. John Watson. He'd recently been invalided out of the army, couldn't afford life in London, had thought the country air might improve his health. He was renting the cottage from Mycroft Holmes, odd sort of bloke, but the cottage was nice enough. He'd been on a walk when he saw the hoofprints and followed them to their source.

"Why did you follow the hoofprints?" she asked.

John shrugged. "Why not?"

She pursed her lips, scribbled something in her notebook, and went on: "How did you know they went there? There weren't any hoofprints around the hollow."

Weren't there? John hadn't really been paying attention. Now that he thought about it, the ground around the hollow had been more stony and less grassy, and hoofprints would not have shown up very well in it. "I was just going in the direction they'd been going. Or coming from, rather."

She wrote that down as well. John thought she looked a bit suspicious. Maybe he'd taken too long to answer. She put the notebook away and said, "All right, if you'll come with me, please."

"What?" he said. "But--"

"Just to see the crime scene." She rolled her eyes in a very Sherlockian manner. "You'll have to show us how you found the body, what you did."

The hollow was surrounded by blue-and-white tape when they got there, and crawling with officers. John showed them the direction they'd--he'd--come from, and the hoofprints not too far away. A couple of officers were sent off to follow them. He couldn't tell them much else. He didn't know the victim. He was quite new to the neighbourhood and kept to himself, mostly. John thought this looked rather bad for him. But the policewoman took him home and told him they'd call if they had any more questions.

Sherlock was home sprawled on the couch, his fur still covered in bits of grass and furze and his paws crusted with dirt. He craned his head to look up at John. "Well?"

"Well what?" John sank into his chair with a sigh. His stomach rumbled.

"What did they say?"

"Not much," said John. He told Sherlock what he'd told them, then got up and went to the freezer. Penne in vodka sauce for him, he decided, and salisbury steak for Sherlock. He popped in the penne first.

"Well, they'll find the horse, if they bother to follow the hoofprints all the way," said Sherlock. "But they won't."

"Why not?"

"Because the police are stupid and unimaginative and not very thorough," said Sherlock. "I imagine they'll have missed everything of importance. We'll find out from the papers tomorrow."

-----


SILVER BLAZE'S TRAINER DEAD, HORSE MISSING

DATELINE--June 12, 2011--Local horse trainer John Straker, trainer of the young up-and-coming racehorse Silver Blaze, was found dead yesterday afternoon on the moor. The horse remains missing, and local police are investigating.

Straker went out last night to check on the horses before bed, according to Mrs. Straker, which was not unusual, and she retired to bed before him. She woke to find him still missing, but this was also not unusual, because he sometimes rose before dawn to check on the horses again, she said. She reportedly did not become concerned until he did not return for breakfast, and when Silver Blaze was also discovered missing from the stable she phoned the local police and a search was launched.

According to police, Straker's body was eventually discovered by a neighbour

"I told them not to mention my name, if they could," said John.

"Good," said Sherlock.

approximately three miles from the house. The cause of death, according to the police coroner, was blunt force trauma to the head. Police are still searching for the missing horse.

There is no word yet on whether or not Silver Blaze will be scratched from the upcoming Royal Ascot. According to the police, there is already a person of interest in the case, one Fred Simpson of London.

Sherlock pricked his ears.

"I remain hopeful that Silver Blaze will be found," said Colonel James Ross, Silver Blaze's owner. "I don't intend to admit defeat before we've begun."

John Straker was an unusual trainer in that he preferred to maintain a small stable of horses, unlike many trainers who prefer to

"Don't bother reading any further," said Sherlock. "They always leave out the relevant information. As I said," he added, with a smug expression.

It was morning, and John was eating toast at the kitchen table and reading one of the many newspapers that Sherlock had delivered to the cottage. Sherlock was sitting in the chair opposite of John, his paws on the table, occasionally lapping desultorily from a bowl of tea that had surely gone cold by now. Presently, he reached across and hooked one claw into the bite of toast that John had just put down, dragged it across the table towards him, and made it disappear in one gulp. John pretended not to notice, because he was a bit concerned about how little Sherlock seemed to eat.

"So you know where the horse is, then?" John said.

"I have a very good idea." Sherlock licked his claws.

John folded his newspaper and set it down on the table. He took a bite out of his remaining piece of toast. "Care to fill me in?"

"Not yet," said Sherlock. "There are a few pieces missing. You know, John, as a good neighbour, I believe you ought to look in on Mrs. Straker. Apparently we weren't very far from her home."

-----

Anna Straker was not an old woman, but she was aged in the way that grief does to a person, her face heavy and lined with it. She was not short, but her husband's death had shrunk her to something little larger than a doll, with long dark hair and a pale face and hands that seemed to float out of her black dress. She didn't rise when John came into the room and just looked up at him with the wan, weary expression of the recently comforted.

"Oh," she croaked, when John offered the flowers. "Thank you. Marie?" A solemn-faced girl--one of the children, John surmised from a certain similarity of features--came and bore the flowers away, and then left Mrs. Straker and John alone. "You're the one who found John. Thank you." She sniffed and brought her hand up to her face, in which she clutched a balled-up tissue.

"Yes, I er, came by to offer my condolences," said John.

Anna nodded, her eyes distant. "Thank you."

They sat in awkward silence for a moment.

"I don't suppose you recall what you had for dinner last night," said John.

Anna gave John a baffled stare. "I--curry. Why?"

"Does the stableman eat with you?"

"No, he takes his in the stable. But why--"

John stood and brushed imaginary lint off his trousers. "I'll just be going, then. Very sorry for your loss."

Once outside, he struck out for the stable, which was set beside the house not very far away, about fifty yards. As soon as he got within sight of the doors, there was a tremendous barking. John winced; no doubt the barking could be heard from the house. A man, at least a head taller and four stone heavier than John, came trotting out, bawling "Thunder! Stoppit!" The outcry did not cease, and the man came towards John, his face stormy. "Here now, knock off. This in't a holiday spot."

"I just wanted to ask if you were feeling any better," said John. "Head still hurt?"

"A lil, but--" The man stopped short and gave John a suspicious glare. "Wait, how'd you know about that?"

"You were drugged last night, weren't you?" said John. "That's why you didn't wake up when someone took Silver Blaze."

The man looked a little sheepish. "Yeah."

"Simpson drugged you?"

"Had to be him." The man scowled. "I'd seen him before, coming round, trying to get odds on Silver Blaze. Almost set the dog on him. Musta slipped the drugs in the food when I wasn't looking."

"Well, I hope your head feels better," said John.

From his vantage point in front of the stable he could see, in an adjacent field, a few dirty-white sheep. John headed towards them, leaving Bill scratching his head behind him. Some time later he knocked at the door of the farmer. A large, red-faced man with white hair and beard opened the door, scowling. "If this is about that damn horse--"

"Actually, I was wondering if any of your sheep had gone lame lately," John said.

The man's face cleared into one of amazed bafflement. "Three of 'em, yeah. I was wondering if--there hasn't been something going 'round, has there?"

"No," said John. "Just wondering. Thank you." And he went hastily away, before the man could think to chase after him.

Finally, he went home.

Sherlock was at the computer. He didn't look up as John entered. "Well?"

"Curry," John reported. He sat down in what he'd begun to think of as "his" chair. "The stableman takes his dinner in the stable. You're right, he was drugged. They've a dog, too."

"Really," said Sherlock. "Curious. And the sheep?"

"Three have gone lame," said John. "Are you going to explain now?"

Sherlock turned round in his chair, his paws pressed together. "I'm going to lay out the facts, and you are going to put them together. First, you should know that I have spent the afternoon, whilst you were calling on our neighbours, examining the financial state of Straker Stables, and they are not good.

"It is a small stable, as you read in the newspaper this morning, and those are even more precarious, financially, than the larger ones. John Straker has not had a purse winner for several years now, and I imagine they must have pinned all their hopes on Silver Blaze.

"Now, you did not examine Straker's body, but I did. I found, on his person, a few unimportant coins and receipts in his pocket, but also a scalpel in his hand."

"A scalpel?" The newspaper really did leave out the relevant facts.

"Yes. He'd cut himself with it quite badly, probably when he fell, and there was a long wound in his leg. Now, with this information, do you begin to form a picture?"

John tried. He really did. He chewed on his tongue and even closed his eyes. He shook his head. "Not really."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Come now! A stable in dire financial straits, a dog that doesn't bark in the night-time--"

"Wait, how do you know the dog didn't bark?"

"You heard the creature yourself," Sherlock said. "Now, the neighbour's sheep have gone lame. John Straker had a scalpel. What does this suggest to you?"

"That...John Straker lamed the sheep?" said John. "But why would he do something like that?"

"As practice," said Sherlock, "for laming something else. Something far more valuable."

"The horse? But why would he lame his own horse?"

"The horse is currently far and away the favourite at the Queen Anne Stakes," said Sherlock. "John Straker stood to make a pretty profit if he bet against it and it lost. He was clearly a desperate man."

John shook his head. "But then--who killed him? And where's the horse now?"

"All in time," said Sherlock. "The horse, first. It's time for you to visit another neighbour."

-----

Silas Brown was one lean, hard line all over, from the top of his bald head to the bottom of his booted feet. If he turned sideways he might disappear. The lines were carved so deep in his face that the dirt might never wash out, and his eyes were as faded and worn as his shirtcuffs. He glared at John from the doorway of his house-cum-office. John stood complacently with his hands in his pockets and his mildest expression on his face. "Hullo."

"What do you want?" Brown demanded; not angry or menacing, as the Strakers' stableman had been earlier that day, but abrupt. Impatient.

"I heard you've a new horse," said John.

"No tips," said Brown, and made as if to slam the door in John's face.

John interceded with his foot. "You were up early yesterday morning, and you saw a horse on the moor. A grey horse, with a white blaze on its face. You recognised it, of course, because any horseman would recognise Silver Blaze, and at first you started leading it back to the Strakers. Then you realised that you'd profit if you hid the horse 'til the race was over, and you brought him back to your own stables instead. But after Straker's body was discovered, you realised it'd be worse yet for you if the horse were found in your possession. It's put you in quite a pickle. Isn't that right?"

Brown's face didn't pale, nor did his jaw drop. But his eyes hardened, and his mouth firmed at the corners. He drew himself up. "I didn't kill Straker."

"I know," said John. "But that doesn't mean you just get to keep the horse."

Brown gave John a good, long stare. John, who had been in the Army, stood his ground. "Who're you? You're not the police."

"Just a concerned citizen," said John. "Now, the horse?"

-----


Silver Blaze Rides Again!

DATELINE--June 15, 2011--Thanks to the tireless efforts of a concerned citizen in the neighbourhood, Silver Blaze not only ran in the Queen Anne Stakes today but took first place by four and a half lengths.

As for the death of John Straker, police have concluded it was an accident: Silver Blaze was the culprit. Forensic analysis has shown the blow to Straker's head to be consistent with the size and shape of a horse's hoof, and fragments of horseshoe were found in the site. Police believe that John Straker may have been attempting to lame his own horse, so that he could reap the benefits of betting against his own entry and pay off his debt, and that at the last moment the horse reared up and struck him in the head.

"I'm shocked," said Colonel Ross. "I always believed John to be the most trustworthy of men, and to be proven wrong like this is a blow."

It is not believed that Silver Blaze will suffer any repercussions for the act, as he was acting in self-defense.

"Should I continue?"

Sherlock waved one paw lazily from where he lay on the couch, muzzle turned towards the ceiling. "Don't bother. Do keep the article, though. I shall add it to my scrapbook."

John folded the paper and tossed it aside. "So, what now?"

"Now, I shall die of boredom," Sherlock sighed.

-----

Included in Sherlock's next shipment of groceries and such was a bluetooth earpiece. John picked it up and raised his eyebrows. "Is this going to stay on your ear?"

"Of course not," said Sherlock. "It's for you."

John turned it round in his hands. "I don't--"

"It's not going to give you cancer," said Sherlock.

"I wasn't going to say that," said John. "I was going to say, I don't know how this thing works."

"Oh," said Sherlock. "It's easy. An idiot child could figure it out in less than five minutes."

John was apparently worse than an idiot child, and after the five minutes were up Sherlock's ears were laid back, and his patient instructions had dropped to a barely restrained growl. But fifteen minutes later John could hear Sherlock's voice in his ear, rumbling so low that it seemed like his skull might shake apart.

"Excellent," said Sherlock, his ears coming back up.

"Right," said John. "Er, what's this for?"

"It's so you can aid me in my work," said Sherlock. He sat back on his haunches, tail curling around his paws. "It was very irritating, the way you had to keep coming back here to report your findings, and so that I could tell you what to do next. This way will be easier."

"Wait," said John. "What makes you think I want to, to aid you in your work?"

Sherlock cocked his head. "Don't you?"

-----

Mrs. Ullrich and Mrs. Flanders were always together, though one of them lived three miles away. Mrs. Ullrich had one child, Tyler, age four. Mrs. Flanders had two children, ages three and five, Beth and Jonathan. They usually frolicked in the grass together in front of the house, whilst their mothers sat on the front porch and drank tea and ate biscuits and gossiped.

"Oooo, it's Detective Watson!" one of them crowed as John came into view, leaving a silvery track in the grass behind him. If he'd had a hat, he would have tipped it.

"Good morning, ladies," he said. "Anything to report?"

"Mr. McKenna's put up a new fence," said Mrs. Flanders. "It's got Mr. Jameson all in a tizzy. Might come to words."

"Boring," said Sherlock in John's ear.

"The Wilson boy's been acting shifty," said Mrs. Ullrich. "Mrs. Nelson found him skulking about in her nasturtiums the other night."

"He's seeing the Jameson girl," said Sherlock. "The Nelson property lies between theirs."

"I reckon you can ask Emily Jameson about that," John said with a smile. "Mrs. Nelson's property lies between the Wilsons and hers."

The women's hands flew to their mouths in unison, their mouths identical Os. They glanced at each other, then back at John.

"Amazing," said Mrs. Ullrich.

"Brilliant," said Mrs. Flanders.

The McKennas were having a new baby. Mr. Johnson was doing some digging, putting in a new rosebed. The Smiths were moving to Manchester and had rented their cottage to a retired colonel. Sherlock pronounced it all boring, boring, boring.

"Did you hear that?" John said as he began the trek back to their own cottage. "They think you're brilliant."

"They don't," said Sherlock. "But it's close enough."

He went home to find Sherlock curled into a ball on one half of the couch, facing the back so that his face wasn't visible. John sighed and sat down next to him, gingerly resting his hand on one furry hip. "Case not going well?"

"Solved it," Sherlock mumbled.

"What's the matter, then?"

Sherlock shook his head, visible to John as a shaking of his ears.

John thought. "Do you want me to tell you about London again?"

Sherlock didn't reply or move. John settled into the couch and said, "Sometimes, I would ride the Tube in circles for lack of anything better to do.

"The closest Tube station to me was--"

"Marble Arch," said Sherlock. "Bayswater Road. Between a Pret a Manger and a KFC. Also the usual cash point and a money exchange."

John blinked. "Yes, I--how did you know that?"

"You said last time that you were staying at a service hostel near Oxford Street," said Sherlock. He was still in a ball, although a slightly less tight one than before. "Continue."

"So I'd board the next train, and then sit on it until I decided to get off. Sometimes I'd look at the other passengers and wonder what their story was--" John gave Sherlock a significant look, not that Sherlock could see it, "but I suppose if you'd been there, you would have told me."

Sherlock gave a long sniff. "Indeed."

John didn't know what Sherlock had looked like as a human; a search of the Internet hadn't turned up any photos, and there weren't any on Sherlock's website. He could tell that those shirts in the wardrobe would be too tight across the chest and too long in the sleeves for himself, so probably Sherlock the human was just as lean and elegant as Sherlock the beast. He imagined being with Sherlock on the Tube, that low voice murmuring, "See that woman, the one sitting down reading a romance novel. She works as a secretary. You can tell from the calluses in her fingers."

"We'll do that, one of these days," said John. "Ride the Tube together. And you can air everyone's dirty laundry."

Sherlock's ears swiveled towards John, then back again. He moved just enough to peer at John with first one pale eye, then the other.

"I don't take the Tube," he said. "I take cabs."

"Well, too bad," said John. "I can't afford cabs."

-----

He was expecting a the retired colonel to be a dignified old patriarch, with silvering hair and a habit of dressing in cardigans, someone who would offer John a beer and ask him to put his feet up. What he got instead was one of your sharp modern types, thin as a lathe and dressed smartly in skinny jeans and a well-fitting shirt. Just looking at him made John feel every line in his face. But he did offer John that beer, and introduced himself as Colonel Sebastian "but you can just call me Seb" Moran.

"Retired?" said John.

"Well, you know," he said, and gave John one of those looks that means you do know. John nodded, even though he had no idea, and took a drink of his beer. "What about you?"

"Invalided," said John.

Sebastian glanced John up and down. "Sorry to hear that."

"Shoulder," said John, and he switched his beer to the other hand to rotate his shoulder. "Been doing all right, though. Only bothers me a little on cold nights."

Sebastian winced, then gave John a toothy smile. He had very white, even teeth. "A move to Spain would fix that right up, I'm sure."

John couldn't help barking out a laugh. "Don't I wish!"

The conversation progressed smoothly from there. They swapped war stories, discovered that they apparently had no friends or acquaintances in common, traded phrases in Dari. John finished his beer and declined a second one. He got up to leave--carefully not promising to return the favour, since the cottage wasn't really his and he wasn't sure he could evict Sherlock in order to have company over--and the world lurched around him. He put out one hand to steady himself against the back of the couch. "Whoa," he said. One drink usually didn't have this effect on him, and certainly not a single bottle of beer.

"Oh dear," said Sebastian.

"I don't know," John panted; the room felt very warm, and was starting to swim in front of his eyes.

"Sit down a moment," said Sebastian. "Is there anyone I should call?"

"No," John rasped.

"Are you sure?" said the colonel, with another one of those darkly knowing looks. But before John could think on what that meant, everything went dark.

-----

When he came to, he was tied hands and legs to a chair, in a different room of the house. Perhaps the cellar; the walls had that dank, unfinished look to them, and the floor was packed dirt. A bare bulb glowed yellow in the ceiling. In the manner of drug-induced unconsciousness, he had no idea how much time had passed.

There were two men in the room with him. One of them was Sebastian--was he even a colonel, after all?--and the other was a man John had never seen before. He had a ratlike face and was dressed in a sharp suit, like the ones in Sherlock's wardrobe. John wondered, for one terrifying moment, if this was what Sherlock looked like, human.

The man said, "I want you to tell me everything you know about Sherlock Holmes."

John licked his lips. "Who?"

Sebastian kicked John in the ankle. John grunted. The well-dressed man put out a hand, and Sebastian took a step back.

"He's on his way, you know," said Sebastian. "Your friend. Sherlock." He held something out in front of John's face. It was his phone. Sebastian thumbed it to the messages screen. The last message sent from the phone said only: found: lost dog. answers to john watson..

"That's Doctor John Watson," John croaked. Would Sherlock come? John hadn't said where he was going. Would he think it was some kind of prank? He knew John wasn't prone to this kind of prank. But he also wasn't stupid; he had to know this was a trap. Then again, Sherlock wasn't the sort to call the authorities, either. He hoped Sherlock had the sense to call his brother, at least. Whom he loathed.

He was probably fucked.

"Oh, he'll come," said the well-dressed man.

"You're making the assumption that he likes me," John rasped.

The well-dressed man sat down in a chair opposite John. He leaned towards John in a friendly, conspiratorial manner, fingers laced between his knees. "Oh, he likes you," he said. I've been watching him for a long time. He's brilliant, you know. Has been ever since he was a boy. He was someone I had to be careful with. It was delightful." A dreamy smile spread across the man's face as he said this, as if he were talking about a childhood crush. It made chills wash over his neck and back. "And then one day, about six months ago, he just...disappeared." He spread his hands. "I couldn't find him anywhere, and my network is vast. I knew he wasn't dead; he was still aiding Scotland Yard with their stupid little cases. But he was no longer in London. And I couldn't trace him. It was extremely frustrating." He sat back and crossed his arms across his chest. "And then Silver Blaze. Ah, Silver Blaze put this place on the map. And I eventually found one Dr. John Watson, who seems to be something of an amateur detective. I sent my man here to do some investigating of his own," he nodded to Sebastian, who nodded back, cordially, "and the neighbours told him that Dr. John Watson is, and I quote, brilliant. Amazing. That you could tell him any of your problems, and he could solve them without leaving his chair. Sound familiar?"

John swallowed.

"It was a bit of a long shot, I admit." The man uncrossed his arms and crossed his legs instead, lacing his fingers around one knee. "After all, maybe you're just clever, read a little too much Poirot in your youth. But I'm clever, too. I looked into who was renting the cottage, and it wasn't you. Seb thought there was enough to warrant a personal visit." He smiled up at Sebastian, who smiled back. John swallowed. "So here I am. And here you are. With 'Sherlock' programmed into your phone. And don't tell me that's a different Sherlock." He gave John a parody of a sincere look.

"What do you want?" John ground out.

"Just Sherlock," said the man. "Sorry if that's a blow to your ego. This has nothing to do with you at all, really."

John saw, behind them, a large, lean, black shape flow down the stairs. He stopped breathing for just a second, then resumed carefully. Sherlock paused, evaluating the two men in the room, crouched, and leapt for the one in the suit. At his cry, Moran whipped a pistol from under his jacket and pointed it at Sherlock, but he was already crouched over the well-dressed man, one paw on his throat. Now John could see the colonel in Sebastian, in the carriage of his shoulders and the way he held his gun. The colonel took in the situation and calmly raised the gun to John's temple.

"Make one move against the boss," said Sebastian, "and I'll shoot."

"Shoot, and I'll rip his throat out," said Sherlock.

"Fine," said Moran. "Your mate will still be dead."

John held his breath. Don't, he thought. Rip his throat out anyway. The world is better off for it.

Underneath Sherlock, the man drew in a laboured breath and wheezed, "Carl Powers."

Sherlock's eyes widened. He stepped away immediately, keeping his back to the stairs, tail up. He reared up onto two feet. John could have strangled him. "That was you."

The man stood up and dusted off his clothes, adjusted the jacket. "So that is you under the fur coat." He laughed, a maniacal little giggle, and wriggled. "Oh, Sherlock. You'll never cease to surprise me. Oh, but I'm forgetting my manners. The name's Moriarty." He gave a little bow. "No, you won't have heard of me. But you've gotten quite close to my fingerprints. Yes, Carl Powers, that was me."

"The shoes," said Sherlock.

"You were the only one who noticed." That dreamy smile was back. "And the recent serial killer? The one who poisoned his victims?" Sherlock's nostrils flared. John remembered that case; Sherlock had bemoaned his inability to visit the crime scenes, certain that he would have found something the police had missed. Moriarty's grin stretched his face into an unnatural rictus. "That was one of mine, too. The death of Connie Prince? Oh, you didn't even know that was a murder, did you? But that was me, too." He took a step towards Sherlock, who only glared down his muzzle at Moriarty. "I've had my eye on you for a long time, Sherlock Holmes. You were the only one who even came close. You're good. Maybe, if you've the resources that I have at my disposal, you could even be great."

"What do you want?" Sherlock said flatly.

"Oh, but you hate it when anyone states the obvious." Moriarty rocked back on his heels. "I'm suggesting that you join me, of course. You see, we're brilliant, you and I. Geniuses both. And with me, you'll never be bored. And we could probably even do something about all that fur, if you wanted."

John felt a cold frisson go down his back at that. He watched Sherlock's eyes narrow, watched his tail swish back and forth.

"What about John?" Sherlock gestured with a jerk of his head.

"What about him?" Moriarty put a hand on the back of John's chair. Moran was still holding the gun to his head. John had stopped feeling it. "Oh, you're fond of him, aren't you? He could come with us, I suppose."

"Let him go," said Sherlock, tail lashing.

"Oh, I don't know," said Moriarty. "Is he well-behaved?"

Sherlock lifted one lip. "Let him go, or I won't discuss this any further."

Moriarty nodded at Moran, who severed John's ties with swift, economical movements. He glanced at Sherlock, certain that he was supposed to read something in his eyes. What did Sherlock want him to do? Sherlock just gazed back impassively and dropped to all fours. John nodded.

He stood up--fast, far too fast for someone who'd been tied to a chair for God knew how long, his vision darkening at the edges--and crashed his elbow into Moran's windpipe. Moran grunted, staggered back; John heard Moriarty yell. He spun around, knocking the chair to the floor, and seized Moriarty in a chokehold. Moran, now recovered, aimed his gun at John.

"You don't want to do that," said Moran.

"Sherlock, run," said John. "Just get out of here."

Sherlock leapt for Moran. John watched, his heart in his throat, as Moran went down under that great furry bulk. Moriarty elbowed John in the solar plexus just as the gun went off. John's breath went out of him in a great whoosh, and Moriarty bolted for the stairs. John let him go, scrabbling across the packed dirt floor to Sherlock, who lay wheezing on his side. Moran lay not too far away, arms flung wide and eyes staring sightlessly up at the ceiling, with a great bloody gash in his throat.

"Sherlock." John started to unbutton his shirt with still-numb fingers, made a frustrated noise, and tore off the last two buttons. "Sherlock, can you hear me?" He didn't like the wet sound of Sherlock's breathing. "Where does it hurt?"

"Everywhere," Sherlock rasped, eyes rolling. "Fuck."

John located the bullet hole in the right side of Sherlock's chest. It had probably missed his heart, if he could be certain that Sherlock's anatomy was roughly similar to a human's, which he wasn't. John wadded up his shirt and pressed down on it hard enough that Sherlock yowled in displeasure. Fuck, fuck, where was his phone? Did Moran have it? Even if he did, who was he supposed to call? The nearest doctor who wasn't John was miles away, and anyway, would he even know what to do? Maybe he should call a vet instead?

"John," said Sherlock.

"I need you to keep pressure on this," said John. "I'm going to see if Moran has my phone."

Sherlock made a vague swimming motion with his forearms but didn't try to grasp the bloody cloth. "John."

"I need you to keep pressure on this," said John. "Moran probably has my phone, and then I can call for help."

"John," Sherlock said, now sounding positively feeble.

"No." Sherlock's face turned up towards his. John was no longer certain that Sherlock could see. He clamped down on the panic welling up in his chest and pushed down harder on the cloth, as if that would accomplish anything. "No, you are not doing this to me, you, you beast. You're not. You're not."

Sherlock let out one great sigh, and didn't take in another one.

-----

John sat there for he didn't know how long, keeping the sodden shirt in place, even though it was clearly not doing any good. He wondered if he should try giving CPR. No; that was a stupid idea.

Maybe he should take Moran's gun and go after Moriarty. But he was probably ages away by now, and John felt very tired. He wasn't looking forward to the long walk back to the cottage by himself, shirtless and covered with blood. Well, he could probably wash up first, upstairs. And then he was going to, what? Phone the police? Phone Mycroft? What would he even say?

Under his hands, Sherlock gasped.

John sat back hard on his arse as Sherlock jerked and opened his eyes, which rolled back in his head so that only the whites were showing. His jaw hung open, the tongue lolling out; he made a foul gagging sound and clawed desperately at his own head, hard enough to draw blood, and then hard enough that his scalp split open. John recoiled from the expected sight of bone, but instead underneath was more black hair, this time curly, and a pale, narrow face. More of the skin and fur peeled away to reveal white shoulders, a long, lean torso, and pale, skinny legs. Then, all that was left of the beast was a heap of fur and gore on the ground and a tall, dark-haired man standing in the middle of the room.

A very naked man. John stood up, slowly, not sure his knees would hold him, and made sure to keep his eyes on the man's face. Sherlock's face? Those were the same eyes, to be certain.

"John," said Sherlock.

And that was the same voice. John put his hands on Sherlock's shoulders. His arms were wet nearly to the elbow with Sherlock's blood. But Sherlock was fine now, not even a mark on him where he'd been shot. His skin was moist to the touch, and his hair stuck in damp clumps around his face.

"Sherlock," said John. And he started to laugh, a high, hysterical giggle that would surely give him hiccups, and then he was quite sure that if he wasn't hanging onto Sherlock's shoulders he'd fall down. Sherlock started to laugh too, and there they were, laughing like two schoolchildren on the playground, with a dead man on the floor beside them. They leaned against one another and wiped tears from their eyes.

"I knew you could do it," Sherlock said, when the last of their humour had subsided. John felt as if all his bones were made of water.

"God," said John. "What? What did I do?"

Sherlock grinned up at the ceiling, then down at John. It stretched his face out into something silly and imperfect and wonderful. "Made me human."

---end---