Chapter 1: Chapter One
It was inevitable really, which is why Sherlock is so disgusted with himself when it finally happens. All the warning signs were there, but he'd tripped past each, so blindly sure was he that he had this whole instinctive thing under control. He'd carelessly assumed that simply because it hadn't happened before, that there was no danger of it happening now.
This is why he so hated exceptions. They always disproved the rule.
John Watson certainly hadn't looked or smelt or seemed like an exception on that winter's day at Bart's, and Sherlock had been intrigued and delighted when John proved exceptional the next evening, saving Sherlock's life in the process. The signs had all been there. He'd willfully ignored them.
As long as he'd been alive, he'd been with the wolf and the wolf with him. Their storied bloodline was immensely powerful, one of the purest modern lineages in the Old World, untainted by the inbreeding that had brought other Clans to their knees. Sherlock and Mycroft had been born into their heritage, full shifters from infancy, while most shifter children had to undergo the Change in their teens if they ever wanted to tap into their full potential. Despite the vicious whispers that the Holmes line was polluted with half-breeds and humans, no other Clan of the modern age could boast the sheer quantity of full shifters that existed within the extended Holmes family tree.
The secret of his Clan's success was simple, if at one time quite scandalous in the eyes of the other Great Houses. The Holmes Clan believed in mating by the instinctive pull of one to another – often romantically referred to in the packs as “the Song” – instead of making social and political alliances as so many of the other Great Houses were wont. Sherlock's paternal grandmother was from a mutt-pack that carried strong genes for birthing full shifters, while Mummy hailed from a powerful French Clan that – while small in the wake of revolution and war – still controlled nearly sixty percent of Gaul packs.
Sherlock and Mycroft had been taught from an early age how to control their wolves, how to guard against sycophants and climbers, wolves who wanted to be grafted into the Clan or even into the intimacy of the Holmes' family pack. The boys learned to use their senses offensively, how to hunt in both sets of skin. Father taught them how to shift at will, how to use their ears and eyes and noses, how to let the wolf ride close under their human selves and vice versa. Mummy took them to her Clan on summer breaks to expand their education with the secrets of the Vernet Clan.
When they were of age, they were taught how to breed without mating, how to scent and how to resist being scented, and – most importantly – how to identify their Song in another, how to find and claim their chosen mate.
Mycroft was like a sponge, he and his wolf taking to every lesson with focused intent. They wielded their senses as weapons, manipulated scenting so that it smoothed their way in the treacherous waters of human politics, and lightly dodged every attempt to rope them into a poor mating.
When Mycroft did take a mate, it was to a shiftless divorcee, a descendent of a small French pack that had dissolved at the time of Napoleon. It caused a minor sensation in the ranks of the Great Houses, though the Holmes Clan itself unanimously approved of Gregory Lestrade. There was talk for a time of the line of succession being in question as the heir had mated with another man, but the talk had petered out when the news that Mycroft and his mate were considering suitable surrogates in the Holmes Clan was deliberately leaked.
Sherlock was no less clever a student of his wolf's abilities, but the topic of mating he found unbearably dull. It was the sheer luck of his Song being so convoluted and unique that kept him safe the first few times he was approached by ambitious wolves of other Clans looking to get a leg up in the world. After the scare with Sebastian in uni though, Sherlock began to take the subject a little more seriously, even if it was only for the purpose of actively avoiding another such entanglement.
He self-medicated to get through the heats, he stopped shifting with the moon, he learned to cool his scent to a level at which it was virtually impossible to detect, and while he used his senses for his work, he effectively buried every other aspect of his wolf under layers and layers of mental shields. Sherlock became determined to override the pull of instinct with unrelenting logical reasoning, and he succeeded for the most part.
Until John Watson.
If there was wolf in the Watson bloodline, it was such a small trace as to be virtually nonexistent. John smelled interesting but not quite like Blood. John didn't seem to observe wolf custom or behaviors, behaved in ways clearly opposed to Clan protocol – not that Sherlock minded very much about that himself.
And yet, John was a creature of instinct, fiercely protective and unabashedly visceral in all his doings. Even in the first full day of their acquaintance, John had behaved as though Sherlock and he were pack. Suspicious of outsiders, loyal to a pack-brother to the exclusion of all other input, joining a hunt and contributing where he could to close the net, and finally displaying a willingness to close his teeth around the throat of an enemy of the pack. John Watson did not smell like Blood, but Sherlock had never seen a man in whom the wolf seemed to shine more brightly.
So when Sherlock realized that there was another voice coming forward in the harmonies of his Song, he was disgusted with himself for not having seen the implications sooner.
There were worse mates to be had; Sebastian for one. But John wasn't wolf and Sherlock had spent so much time pretending he wasn't either that he was at a loss for how to deal with this sudden change in how he thought of his friend. For one thing, John was on the prowl to breed, to find a human mate for his own. Sherlock's wolf did not find this concept amusing and seemed daily to be growing more immune to the chains and barriers Sherlock tried to throw in its way. The wolf was waking up from its sleep, no longer content to let Sherlock run things his way, and Sherlock could not remember a time when he and his wolf were less in harmony. Of one thing Sherlock was absolutely certain: if he didn't find a way to turn his mate's eyes toward them, the wolf would make it happen, damn the consequences.
When John's Song first spoke for someone, he was a broken shell of a middle-aged man, bereft of health, career, and hope. That the Song had spoken for a strange, chaotic, brilliant man he tentatively thought of as new flatmate either made the situation infinitely better or worse; he couldn't decide. What he found out in the first few weeks of acquaintance made him devotedly attached to his new friend, but absolutely terrified of his potential mate.
Sherlock was Blood, the European kind. Not only that, but Sherlock was second son in the primary line of one of the Great Houses. Sherlock was Clan royalty, whether the consulting detective liked it or not.
John's family was relatively new to the Blood, and were decidedly not from the old European lineage. His grandfather received the Change in the trenches near the end of the Great War, from an American whose father had left Brazil with only a suitcase and a curse to his name. The Blood Hamish Watson had received was so dissimilar to any found on the Continent that most of the Clans in Europe and Asia did not even recognize it when they smelled it or saw their Change. This obscure Blood was ancient but odd, and everything from their smell to their behavior was disparate to the known Clans.
So the Watsons had kept their strange new heritage a secret, had kept away from the Great Houses and the packs they ruled. And everything had been fine. They'd lived as they could, Changing when the moon called, Singing with their unruly pack, and occasionally lying low when a farmer reported a strange fox appearing for late-night prowls through the surrounding countryside.
Until John Watson's Song had called for the wolf in Sherlock Holmes.
It hurt, like something hard and rough was being tossed about inside his chest, for the first few weeks to act as though he didn't know, didn't feel his new flat mate's presence under his skin like a physical ache. But for all the degrees to which he did give in to the intimacy of living (and working) with Sherlock Holmes, it was the most powerful sense of rightness that he had ever felt. The relief of belonging again drowned out the need for more, the need to press close and search out every facet of Sherlock's scent across the gangly sprawl of unexpectedly graceful limbs. The need to touch the webbing between those dancing fingers and investigate the soft skin of an unseen belly. The need to complete their Songs and resolve the hanging melodies that strung out between them.
John hadn't really had a pack since his parents' deaths. He'd sought out something akin to that purposeful sense of camaraderie and comfort in the Army when Harry had married Clara, established her own pack that no longer had a place for her kid brother. Not that Harry thought of Clara as pack. Harry was John's proof that a wolf could live without its mate, after all.
Harry's mate was a girl she'd met when they'd all been kids. Dahlia and Harry had been thick as thieves, right up until Dahlia's parents had sensed their daughter's Song changing. John didn't know what Dahlia's parents found most abhorrent about Harry: that she was a girl or that she wasn't, so far as they knew, wolf. What he knew was that he'd never heard his father's raised voice until the night that Dahlia's parents came over to inform the Watson family that Harry was never to have contact with Dahlia again when they sent her away to a boarding school.
Harry tried, John knew, to keep it together, living on the promise of Dahlia's return when she was no longer subject to her parents' control. Their own parents had tried their hardest to insulate the pain of Harry's separation, to soothe her loss. But during Harry's second year of uni, there had been the accident. John had been forced to stay with a mate's family for those last few months before heading down to London for uni himself. Harry hadn't been so lucky, so far as he could tell.
And then, barely a year later, Harry had shown up in London, a handle of whiskey and a newspaper clipping in hand. When he'd finally pried them out of Harry's hands, lax in drunken slumber, John read the newsprint in quiet horror. Dahlia had married a young lord the week before.
That Harry loved Clara, John knew. But he'd also known, standing there in his fitted suit, giving away his elder sibling at her wedding, that Harry was fundamentally broken. Harry would never be wolf again. John's pack was all dead.
He'd run for the recruiting office the very next day.
And now here he was, on the rough side of thirty and shattered apart inside and out, back in London and witness to the further implosion of his sister's mind. His wolf snapped out, conscious of its injuries and weaknesses, bitter and lonely and full of a nameless longing sorrow. And that last little bit of hope that secrets and loss and Afghanistan hadn't managed to kill yet.
Sherlock Holmes, his wolf sang, deep and joyful in his chest. Sherlock Holmes.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Sherlock and John find different ways to cope with their instinctive pull to each other in the midst of the case of The Blind Banker.
This is un-betaed and un-Britpicked, so all errors are mine. If you see any glaring ones, please point them out!
John had known Sarah liked the look of him when he walked into the clinic that sunny afternoon for his job interview. He'd have been lying if he said he hadn't enjoyed the attention, really the first honest flirtation he'd shared with anyone since he'd learned how to live with the sensation of sand constantly stuck in his teeth. Even his wolf had preened a little.
When he barely skirted being fired on his first shift, John thought he was lucky. When that luck turned into a night out on a date with a pretty woman, John couldn't help feeling a little heady on the sheer, rock-solid abnormal-normality of the situation. He'd been wound up for months now, hovering at the elbow of a friend and flat mate that he and his wolf knew suited them down to the bone, but that John also knew he couldn't have.
And besides that, John suspected the bond might only be Singing one way. Sherlock certainly didn't act like he was trying to court a mate what with the fermenting body parts and the general state of chaos, though John could tell that as far as their friendship went, it amounted to a deeper connection than Sherlock seemed to have with anyone else. Given Sherlock's little speech at the Italian restaurant John had been dragged to for the Northumberland Street stake out their first evening together, John suspected his decision to keep his Song to himself was perhaps for the best. It didn't seem like Sherlock was interested in mating with anyone anyway. And John had never much liked going where he wasn't wanted, all jokes about invading Afghanistan aside.
For the first few weeks, their burgeoning friendship had been enough to drown out any dissatisfaction, but by now John's wolf was whining with discomfort, perfectly aware of the incomplete connection between John and Sherlock and no longer willing to ignore the...frustation that incomplete connection roused.
Frustration that was exacerbated by the life he now found himself living. As much as the small pack he'd found and the hunts he took part in healed his soul, Sherlock's disregard and his occasional missteps battered it. Just last night – though it seemed weeks past now – a girl had been killed on his watch. He knew that Sherlock had not actually left Soo Lin Yao in his care in the way of pack, but nothing could convince his wolf that he had not abandoned the den, left it unprotected. Years of military training had taught the man to accept failure, but the wolf lived by his own set of standards. John Watson had fresh blood on his hands and the exhaustion of bearing that alone – because while Sherlock may be John's pack, it was more than evident that the feeling was not mutual – made Sarah Sawyer's easy smile and welcoming presence even more appealing to his wounded and weary comate.
So when Sarah smiled and made her interest clear, John had smiled back (his wolf whining and gritting his teeth all the while) and asked her out.
Books. Numbers. Words. His head was full of them, swimming in irrelevant data. His throat still ached from the tender ministrations of Soo Lin Yao's fraternal assassin the day before and the tedious simplicity of trying to track down the correct combination of book and symbols had long since driven his wolf into the background of his mind. Feeble scent trails and thwarted hunts were the bane of his counterpart's existence.
He had other means of attack, of course, but to close the case without knowing what all the cloak and dagger proceedings were for would be like having a splinter of glass caught in his skin, not the least because it would mean not being able to thoroughly impress the new DI with the importance of following his lead. Mycroft might be Sherlock's Alpha, but that was mostly because Sherlock had never cared to challenge when he came of age. Sherlock had tried – he really had! – to be polite and professional, but some instincts would always be stronger than “getting along” to Sherlock and dominance was one of those instincts. DI Dimmock needed to learn that trying to pull rank on Sherlock Holmes would never get him anywhere.
It would help, of course, if John didn't undermine him at every turn. Sherlock was hardly unaware that John had decided to play peacekeeper, throwing the other man little aside comments and looks of solidarity and support. Sherlock's wolf howled in indignation at his mate taking sides with another, but Sherlock bit his tongue. As much as he wanted to, even the wolf knew better than to snap as his potential mate for the conciliatory gestures. John was no more submissive than Sherlock and was not officially pack; disciplining John would result in a fight that Sherlock's wolf was not sure they would win.
That hadn't stopped Sherlock from enjoying John's vented outrage after the death of Soo Lin Yao, when even the doctor's sympathetic patience had run out with DI Dimmock's reticence to move on the leads they were providing. Sherlock had enjoyed stepping in there, letting his wolf bully the smaller man into submission in front of his mate. John's irritation with the DI hadn't lasted, but the wolf was satisfied that they had delineated the boundaries of who was pack and who was not sufficiently that no threat to his partnership with John would manifest in the young Inspector.
He scrubbed his hands over his hair, consciously mimicking the broad movements he would make in wolfen form to scratch a particularly stubborn itch. There was too much data here to collate properly; they needed more information to narrow down their search. No help for it, really. And if his wolf was sitting happily inside him with a tongue lolled out in the midst of happy panting, then that was just all to the good.
John was home, after all.
Some wolves had Songs so peculiar, so unique that no one ever changed the persistent melody or unceasing rhythm. These wolves were destined to be alone, their bizarre solos never matched with a sympathetic descant. Publicly and in good society, those wolves were treated with mingled pity and appreciation – often, lone wolves turned to education of the young or specialized in the arts and sciences for the good of the pack. Behind closed doors however, such wolves were considered genetic freaks and possessed of a type of Blooded insanity; what wolf in their right mind could be born too strange for a suitable mate? Lines that produced a lone wolf sometimes found themselves quietly bred out to avoid further transmitting the genetic building blocks of madness.
Since his teens, Sherlock had heard the rumors, knew that his Song was considered dangerously strange, too dissimilar from the tones and textures that drew in a mate. His family had pulled at the edges, as all families do, but his Song had remained for the most part unchanged through his adolescence and early adulthood. Even his mating scares had had more to do with engineered proximity than actual alteration.
Sherlock hadn't wanted to be alone, of course. He'd dreamed as a child about the type of mate he would one day have, a friend and companion superior to anyone else. His mate would be beautiful, powerful, and would submit to no one but him. His mate would see, wouldn't be dull like everyone else and need to be dragged to understanding what came so easily to him. His mate would be able to do marvelous – almost magical – things, things that would dazzle everyone else, but that would make perfect sense to Sherlock. They would run together, hunt together, turn things over and study them in mutual delight. With his teenage years, the fantasy took on greater dimensions, desperate longings and hopes to be fulfilled by one perfect fit. With adulthood, Sherlock had boxed the whole idea of a mate up and shoved it away, burying the need with his wolf down in the darkest, dustiest part of his mind palace.
If Sherlock Holmes was going to be broken in the eyes of the Blood, then no one was going to be able to say he was suffering from the lack. Never mind that for several years the only way to slake his appetite for tolerable companionship was to drug himself until he couldn't remember he was alone. There was nothing wrong with Sherlock Holmes, and there never would be.
John Watson's soul Sang to him. At first they had been tremulous, careful notes, but now Sherlock's Song was filled with discordant melodies and incomplete thoughts, brimming with notes that had swelled from a quavering pianissimo to a thunderous fortissimo, some ringing sour while others completed chords he hadn't known needed resolution.
The Blood would say that Sherlock was lucky his wolf Sang to anyone at all, but they would still think him broken. John wasn't Blood, which meant Sherlock could never bond with the mate he desired. His Song would never fully merge with what John was doing to him. While John represented a better outcome than anyone had hoped for Sherlock, the Blood would see John as a manifestation of a deficit, of humiliation and taint.
In that light, John's interest in dating should have been a relief to Sherlock. He could easily shoulder the full disdain of the Clans for his unfortunate choice if it meant that John himself was oblivious, was happy and content in his fully human life. It was logical, neatly so. Unfortunately, Sherlock found he was not entirely logical.
He was, however, quite quick on his feet.
Sherlock let John get a four minute head start out the door. Enough time to keep his presence from being detected until it was too late to send him away (John may not have been of the Blood, but he was still a military man and a thoroughly paranoid one at that; best to keep out of sight), but not enough time that John's scent trail would get lost in the dense tangle of London's olfactory pastiche. He'd meant to leave a five minute window, but there was only so long one could sit on the edge of a sofa cushion in a great coat, scarf, and gloves before one began to feel a touch ridiculous.
Sherlock had lost some time when he'd come to the bit of pavement where a female scent had joined John's, which he'd been forced to make up by taking a short cut cross-town to the auditorium where the “circus” was giving its one-night-only performance. The timing came out perfectly in the end anyway, so Sherlock forgave himself his momentary lapse and moved on to the more important matter of establishing his very real right to be in attendance.
He couldn't fully understand John's irritation; his date certainly didn't seem to mind overly much, and surely his mate could see the very real necessity of Sherlock's investigation progressing? He had brought a hunt to John's lap; usually it was better received than this. Just earlier that morning, John had been fully engaged in their hunt for the Tong assassins, the people who had killed Soo Lin Yao. John would still care about that, no matter his state of heat (which Sherlock was quite determinedly not allowing his wolf to consider in any capacity, instead setting the keen attention on the case, the fantastic scope of his work).
Sherlock determined that the outburst on the stairs must have been a “human, dating” thing and therefore unimportant. He tried to make it up to John by giving context to the foreign proceedings that had intimidated John's normal calm (“this is...art!”) and by sniffing out the damning connective clues on his own.
He also tried not to let his wolf triumph too much at the speed with which his mate returned to his side when the true face of the Yellow Dragon Circus had reared its head. John was back in the hunt.
Sherlock's wolf was riding high as he dashed back to the flat. Triumphant. He couldn't wait to show John what he'd parsed from the London A to Z and the coded message John had discovered along the tracks. The trail was cold no longer and the excitement he felt at the prospect of picking up the hunt anew lightened his stride. He took the seventeen steps up to the flat in twos and threes.
“John! John, I've got it! It's the London A to Zed book that they used – ”
John woke up with his head screaming and his wolf raging. He was bound, he was hurt, he was taken. The deliveryman – or wolf, as his nose finally pinpointed – had smelt familiar, but John hadn't been able to place it. His wolf snarled at the cost of the mistake.
He smelled Sarah and forced himself to look around until he spotted her. She was trussed up and tied to a chair, same as John, but at least she didn't look hurt. She smelled ripe with fear though, and the scent stung him on an instinctual level. Sarah was not pack, but had certainly been under his care. She was the second person this week that he had failed to protect, utterly failed to look out for.
No, no. He would get them out of here. If there was a way, he'd find it. Just, where were they? What did these people want? How to convince their captors that he wasn't Sherlock Holmes? How could he get them away, even if it was just Sarah who was let go?
Where is Sherlock?, his wolf asked.
The woman, General Shan, had been talking, but he'd lost track of her words when the barrel of her gun had lined up with his pupil. He looked away, breathing hard and fast. His wolf tore at him, but there was nowhere to go, no way to resist. They were going to die.
Poor Sarah. What a thing for her to have to watch.
Maybe Molly could let Sherlock have his toes, since his head was going to be a right mess in a moment.
“If we'd wanted to kill you, Mr. Holmes, we would have done it by now.”
His wolf sagged, growling and whining and cornered, in their bonds. He tried to think around the terrified rage, around the pumping of adrenaline in his veins and the blinding pain in his head. He worked his wrists in their bonds, but there was no give and the gun was still pointed unwaveringly at his face. Shan was talking, talking, talking. He couldn't think.
“Please, please listen to me. I'm not – I'm not Sherlock Holmes,” he reasoned, frustrated and scrabbling for a way to convince Shan she was going about this all wrong, to reconsider her next move. “You have to believe me. I haven't found whatever it is you're looking for!”
Sherlock and his wolf were of one mind. Seek. Chase. Find. Protect.
“Please! I'm not Sherlock Holmes!”
“I don't believe you,” Shan said in that oppressive sing-song voice she had adopted.
John couldn't think past the raging denial of that single fact, how it was about to get Sarah killed. And then, most likely, him as well.
“You should you know. Sherlock Holmes is nothing at all like him. How would you describe me John?”
John let his head roll back, let the unwarranted relief swamp him, even with the sand still bleeding from the bag overhead and the weight still sinking towards the crossbow aimed at Sarah, even with his arms still bound and his head still screaming.
Sherlock, his wolf whimpered.
“Resourceful? Dynamic? Enigmatic?”
The voice was calling him back into himself, back into a place where he could think.
Mine, his wolf crooned.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Sherlock struggles with how to get closer to John, while John runs from what he's sure is inevitable rejection.
I apologize for my delay this week, but RL proved a little more demanding than anticipated. Once again, this chapter is un-betaed and Brit-picked, so if you see something that causes your toes to curl, give me shout.
For the first time in his crime-solving days, Sherlock had called the Yard for help instead of the reverse. Not immediately, but he had put in a call to Dimmock while jostling around the back seat of the cab he'd taken across town to the access point for the “Black Tramway.”
The plan, according to Dimmock, was to wait for the police to arrive and then storm the tunnel. That plan had lasted as long as it took for Sherlock to ring off. Any hope of restraint on Sherlock's part had died when he had caught the scent of John's blood on the air in the flat when he had been scouring maps to track the Black Lotus operatives' next move. At the mouth of the tunnel, that distinctive, spicy scent was mingled with the acrid taint of fear and anxiety. That was all the excuse Sherlock needed to give chase.
For the third time that week, jaws had been at Sherlock's throat. Well, not literally jaws, but Sherlock allowed himself the metaphor in the confines of his own mind, because his mind preferred to dwell on the very real fact that each time Sherlock's life had been in danger, John had prevented his untimely end.
The first time, in Soo Lin Yao's flat, it had been the noise and attention John was raising downstairs that had made The Spider hasty in finishing him off, though if Shan's words could be believed – and he had heard them long before he'd been at any kind of distance to respond – John had also saved him by being Sherlock's unwitting stand-in. The second and third encounters, at the circus and in the tunnel, John had more directly intervened. It was the second time John had saved Sherlock's life and killed his attacker. There were rules about that sort of thing in the Blood, but Sherlock hardly concerned himself with the tiresome irritation of reporting to the Clan his life debt to John. After all, mates did that sort of thing for one another, already irrevocably bound, and confessing one debt would mean confessing the other.
Sherlock used to avoid Blood debts, the thought of being tied to someone else's will utterly repugnant to him. The only debt he carried was to Lestrade. He might not have minded that so much if he didn't mean he owed a debt to Mycroft by proxy.
But John he would never resent for holding a debt over him. Owing his life to John was as painless as moonlight over thick fur, sweet and haunting.
John gathered Sarah under his arm as they waited for the Yard to sweep the tunnel for the escaped General Shan. The paramedics wanted the two of them to drink a bottle of water each before attempting to clamber up to street level and though John had swallowed his portion down with astonishing speed, Sarah was lingering over her own bottle, taking miniscule sips when John reminded her of its presence.
Sherlock stood close at hand, hands in pockets and buzzing with impatience at the uniformed policewoman meant to be taking his statement. Hovering, John would call it, if it was anyone other than Sherlock.
Probably Sherlock's jittery irritation and stubborn proximity had more to do with what John's own wolf was telling him. Too many people, his wolf growled. Too close. Get away from the smell of fear and pain. Vulnerable here.
If Sherlock's wolf was anything like his own, John suspected that the rather dominant man's dual instincts were screaming the same things into his inner ear. And Sherlock was never really one for patience anyway. The trail here was cold, Shan long gone. All of the action now was on the Yard's end, what little there was to be had. Rule-minding had never much been John's strong suit in the Army, but he had a reluctant appreciation for what rules could do in the grand scheme of things. Sherlock harbored no such trained indulgence for regulations and procedure.
John tried not to linger on the thought that Sherlock might be sticking close for reasons other than his normal proprietary behavior towards John. Wolves were like that about the humans they took into their sphere and while Sherlock may have put on a possessive mien in the office of the slick wolf at the bank a few days back, John could smell tension and history as well as any other wolf. He'd been glad he'd trusted his instincts during the initial interview, as it was painfully clear by the second meeting with Sebastian Wilkes that Sherlock had only gone in to hear about the job to prove a point, and only taken the case because the graffiti had been interesting enough to merit chasing down the first lead in Eddie Van Coon. From there, the game had had virtually nothing to do with the smarmy Wilkes. And no matter how his wolf Sang at his mate's coming after him, at the way Sherlock had stuck close from the moment he'd released John from the chair to which he'd been bound, John would be a fool to think it was more than the thrill of the hunt and an instinctive drive to guard territory that motivated the wolf in Sherlock. Clan wolves didn't accept Songs from anyone but their own kind. Harry was proof of that.
John turned back to Sarah with a sigh and coaxed the bottle to her lips once more. So much for that slice of normalcy.
When the taxi pulled up to Baker Street, Sherlock sprang out quickly, only to have the tail of his coat snagged by John's quick hand.
“I didn't exactly bring my wallet along, Sherlock,” John said in exasperated tones.
Sherlock paid the cabbie while John let go of his coat and wearily exited the other side of the cab. He unlocked the door and opened it wide for John to step past, a happy little flourish in his movements for John.
He stayed a moment in the doorway to comfort his wolf -- who still paced in agitation inside of him, frustrated at an ineffectual hunt -- with the smell of John's fresh scent overlaying the sour notes of the earlier assault, before following his friend up the stairs to their home. That he spent the night sitting with his back to the closed door of John's room, listening to the quiet breathing of an exhausted slumber, was just for him.
Changing in London had always been a risk. There were wolves everywhere, or so it seemed, and they all had territories and packs and rules about these things. None of which John had, neither any protection should he drop his vigilance and find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time during a Change. And then, of course, there was the human element to contend with.
Now though, Changing seemed tantamount to exposure. The constant specter of Mycroft's surveillance meant John had to duck and weave just to find a place where he could Change, let alone a safe bit of dirt to stretch his legs on.
But after Sherlock's fit that night – and the absolute surety that Sherlock's foray into property damage would be making an appearance in their next rent invoice – John needed to run.
John had tried running in human form before Afghanistan, experimenting with ways to sate his wolf's need for open space and speeding through the underbrush without giving away the game by Changing in the city. But running as a man was never as satisfying, not with the way he could feel each footfall rattle in his jaw or the way trails were packed with people, which drove his wolf half mad with the sensation of constantly being chased. No, when John needed to run, he needed to run four-footed, gliding swiftly over ground on long, lean legs that never stumbled over cracks in the sidewalk.
He could hear the whir of the rotating CCTV cameras as they lazily picked up his progress only three blocks away from the flat. He hunched further into his coat, tucking his chin down to cover the exposed span of his neck, and began to walk a bit faster. He finally lost them when he slipped into Sarah's building, and ducked into an empty stairwell, where a small cleaning storage cupboard had been put in under the first flight of stairs.
John had always had a talent for Changing. It hurt, but years of practice and medical knowledge had taught him how to shorten the time of his Change. He'd used his understanding of the human body to find physiological shortcuts between forms, until he'd gotten the whole of his Change down to a quick, efficient routine, taken in meticulous steps to maximize the efficiency of sliding from one body to the next.
The results of his study had borne unexpected fruits. He had better control of his wolf in either form, cut down on the energy expended in a Change, and he'd mastered the art of Changing without the pull of the moon far sooner than his elder sister. He could admit that he was a bit proud of his accomplishment in this arena.
He listened carefully for any movement that herald someone's imminent use of the stairs, then stripped quickly and folded his clothes into a neat bundle. He tucked the bundle carefully away in an empty bucket meant for mixing paints, then crouched low on the floor, balancing on the balls of his bare feet, with his arms draped loosely over his thighs.
He started with the base of his spine, as usual. Most Blooded people wasted time worrying about their extremities, the changes that took over their faces, hands, and feet. John had long since discovered that the concentration of intention meant the change could begin anywhere in the body and that the preoccupation people had with their self-identities often made their changes more violent and painful than necessary, as the delicate structures of the extremities magnified the pain of Changing in those areas.
So John always began in the torso, at the base of the spine, which he would begin to expand and stretch into shape while shifting his internal organs to suit a new chest cavity and belly. These were the longest stretches of the Change, but also the least overt. If he was caught mid-Change, it was much easier to blame the reshaping of his torso to his stance and a trick of the light. That had saved his secret a few more times than he liked to think about while in the service.
The pull and stretch of his muscles, tendons, and skin was carefully done. Harry was always tripped up by rushing this part, which resulted in tearing and snapping what would still need to be re-formed to complete the Change. John had long ago learned to bear with the burning ache of reshaping things slowly, because breaking himself for speed never resulted in anything but more time spent in agony and overall weakness when the form finally settled. He breathed the way his father had taught him, concentrating on the huff of his exhalations.
It is only at the very end of the internal shifting and growing that he gives himself over to that last brisk push into wolfen shape. Orange and black hair bursts forth across his warped and toughened skin in a wave, starting from the soles of his feet, while he concentrates on turning hands and feet into paws. The very last is his skull and face, which pushes out violently in a single burst of reformation, fur immediately sprouting to cover the alien nakedness of his new skull.
He is now crouched on the floor on four feet instead of two and a moment passes before John's blue eyes open and his ears twitch about for any signs of life. He allows himself a few pants of fading animal distress, then slips out the rectangular window that vents the broom cupboard and off into the night for the run he so desperately needs.
An hour later, John crawled back inside and reversed his Change just as carefully. After satisfying himself that he had brought none of nature in with him, John swiftly redressed and, patting down his hair self-consciously, he pulled his mobile from his pocket and dialed Sarah's number. The line connected as he began to slowly climb the stairs up to her flat.
The problem with Songs – well, one of the many problems with choosing a mate via mystical harmonic compatibility – was that they weren't entirely private affairs. Anyone of the Blood could at least distantly sense it. Clan members heard it more clearly, and pack-mates more clearly still. Anyone who knew a person fairly well could detect changes in their Song, though usually nothing more specific than a general state of health and well being. Nothing terribly intrusive.
Except when it came to mating.
The early stages were so dim to the ears of Clan members as to be nearly indistinguishable from background noise, but pack-mates were another matter entirely. Especially nosy ones mated to Sherlock's brother. It had only been a matter of time before Lestrade reported back to Mycroft that there was something different about Sherlock's Song.
Sherlock wasn't in any way deceived about Mycroft's presence in their flat. Certainly, the time line for this little standoff had been accelerated by the bomb scare the previous evening, but Mycroft's Alpha-hovering-tendencies should have been appeased as soon as they had laid eyes on each other the night before. Still, though Sherlock had been avoiding his brother for weeks, it was inevitable that they would eventually be here. Well, Sherlock hadn't actually expected the standoff to take place here, in his flat. And he hadn't anticipated papered-up windows and glass shards embedded in the carpet, but he was reasonably sure that neither had Mycroft.
Mycroft had gone so far as to somehow manage to assign the investigation of the matter to Lestrade's division. Apparently the Chief Inspector was Clan and could be convinced to sign off on dubious paperwork sending a major crimes team in to poke through the debris of an incendiary gas leak. Alphas were, in Sherlock's opinion, the most annoying part about being Blood. Especially if one's Alpha was one's elder brother.
One's elder brother who, upon the instant he had discerned both Sherlock and his human land lady (still pack, since they shared a roof and tea) were well enough, had turned his keen attention to the petulant whine of Sherlock's Song, which had done nothing but clamor louder and louder for attention in the three months he had be cohabitating with his putative mate, John Watson.
Sherlock had managed to drive everyone out in the small hours of the morning when it became apparent that Mrs. Hudson was flagging in the face of all the commotion, but Mycroft had returned at the ungodly hour of seven o'clock with a file under his arm and a persistent smirk on his lips. Sherlock had been prepared this time, freshly showered and suited, sitting in his armchair and plucking out the discordant notes of a tritone chord. But prepared wasn't willing and they managed to spend over an hour in fraught silence before John's key had scraped past the tumblers in the lock to the front door downstairs. Seventeen urgent steps later, John burst into their living room, tense and panting and bewildered. Sherlock's wolf sat up and took notice. Mycroft's smirk deepened.
“I can't,” he says.
The problem with having Mycroft as one's elder brother and Alpha is that they both know he's not talking about the file Mycroft had brought with him.
End of Chapter Three
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Once again, un-betaed and un-Britpicked, so if you see anything egregious, let me know! This chapter ran a bit longer than intended so we're still only in the first 10 minutes of TGG, but hey -- Mycroft!
This was why he needed to start stretching after changes, John thought as his body protested loudly against his decision to sleep on Sarah's sofa after two shifts the night before. He'd always been bored with the idea when he was younger, stretching out like some doddering old man who had spent a life behind a desk and ran to feel young again. Of course, now John felt like a doddering old man, so pride was becoming less and less important in the face of being able to forestall the knots and stiffness of the morning after a change.
Sarah strolled in, smiling at him fondly and looking refreshed from a full night's rest on a proper bed. Her pretty blue dressing gown draped thinly over her neat curves and the tied belt tugged just so at the soft flare above her hip. John wanted to appreciate it more than he did, but between the lingering aches and pains and his wolf's determinedly vague interest, John found himself working at the feeling of desire more than experiencing it. That turning to mark her entrance had seized up the line of muscles running along his neck and shoulders didn't much help.
“See, I told you you should have gone with the lilo,” Sarah chided.
“No, no, no. It's fine. I slept fine – it's very kind of you,” he said, sitting forward as she dug around in the lingering warmth of his little nest on the sofa for the remote. Plucking it out between the cushions, she shot him a smile which was slightly uncomfortable around the edges and perched on the far arm of the sofa with an awkward huff of a laugh.
She turned on the telly, crossed her arms about her slightly hunched frame, and said, “Well maybe next time I'll let you kip at the end of my bed, you know.”
Her eyebrows flicked up in a friendly sort of way, but the posture of her body didn't change and there was a challenge buried in her tone. John also couldn't deny that the reference to being a dog – as innocent of the affront as Sarah was – grated his already worn nerves. The message was clear enough. The attraction for her was fading fast and if he still wanted her, he would have to work hard for the honor. Until then, he was cute and convenient – a dog to be petted and affectionate with.
“What about the time after that?” he asked around a tight jaw, and he could hear the muted irritation in his own voice. He couldn't doubt that Sarah had heard it too. She looked his way, quirked her mouth, and said nothing.
Any curiosity his wolf had had in the prospect of Sarah died in the few quiet moments after that.
She broke the silence by leading him into a cheeky joke about breakfast and then slipped away to bathe. He watched her go and chuckled at the way she had caught him flatfooted. They'd liked her, John and his wolf. If things had gone differently, they could have really enjoyed her wry amusement and soft skin. Too bad he didn't have it in him to pursue her when she darted away in their playful dance.
He settled himself into the familiar routine of straightening up his clothes for the walk home when the news report on the telly finally caught his attention. His wolf snapped awake at the sight of their home – their den, his wolf cried to him – on the screen, cordoned off by police tape and surrounded by debris as the ticker at the bottom of the screen flashed the words “bombing” and “Baker St.”
John was out of Sarah's flat and charging into the street in less than thirty seconds.
John wasn't sure what he was expecting to see when he finally burst in the living room of the flat after ducking past the onlookers and policemen outside, though he had been pretty reliably sure it would entail at least a mild degree of chaos and upset.
Instead he saw Sherlock and Mycroft in the facing armchairs, both dressed to kill and each armed with his own odd weapon of dubious choice, Mycroft balancing the crook of his umbrella between nimble fingers and Sherlock curled around his violin, plucking the strings with studied lassitude.
“John,” Sherlock said by way of acknowledgment.
“I saw it on the telly – you okay?” he asked, breathless.
“Hm, what? Oh! Yeah. Fine. Gas leak, apparently,” Sherlock said, after a quick glance around. John could almost believe that Sherlock had forgotten the explosion had even happened, especially given the current atmosphere between the two brothers. Sherlock returned his attention to Mycroft, for which John was grateful. His brain had decided to strip gears and his wolf wanted nothing more than to make the last few steps to Sherlock's chair and press his nose to the taller man's throat, reassuring itself in the most primal way that Sherlock was truly unharmed.
Instead, he moved toward the sofa and let Sherlock's comfortingly healthy smell come to him, listening with half an ear to the Holmes brothers bicker about he hardly knew what. John eyed the broken windows with the distinct horror of a man who can feel his next paycheck slipping away. The spray paint had been bad enough, but what on earth were they going to do about the glass? There was also the matter of the fine dust and grit that seemed to have blown in, coating everything within a few feet of the blown out windows.
He thought about taking off his coat, but aborted the movement when the chill of his fingers caught up with him. God, it was going to be positively Arctic in here come nightfall. John wondered if he could get away with locking the door to his bedroom and changing come bedtime. Would Sherlock investigate John's sudden spike in scent or blow it off as...other activities? Lord, that would be a first, using masturbation as a cover for changing.
“Perhaps you can get through to him John?” Mycroft asked, breaking through John's frankly dangerous train of thought.
“I'm afraid my brother can be very intransigent,” Mycroft offered. There was something in his voice as he said it that confused John, but Sherlock swiftly broke into the conversation once more, long enough for John to learn just a bit more than he ever wanted to know about what Mycroft did for the country. Korean elections: yes, legwork: apparently no.
“How's Sarah, John?” Sherlock asked, and almost sounded genuinely curious too. “How was the lilo?”
“Sofa, Sherlock,” Mycroft chided, checking an honest-to-God pocketwatch. “It was the sofa.”
Sherlock looked up at last and fully raked his gaze once over John's form. John's wolf preened while the man stood baffled.
“Oh yes, of course,” Sherlock said, turning back to his violin.
“How!?” John started to ask, and then simply collapsed to sit on the edge of the coffee table instead. “Oh, nevermind.”
The satisfaction at John's acceptance of Holmesian inference was nearly stifling; Mycroft was watching him from what was usually John's chair while Sherlock pretended to ignore the whole room in favor of his idle strumming.
“Sherlock's business seems to be booming since you and he became...pals,” Mycroft smiled widely. “What's he like to live with? Hellish, I imagine.”
“I'm never bored,” John confessed.
“Good! That's good, isn't it?” Mycroft seemed genuinely pleased, while the stink of Sherlock's displeasure spiked.
Standing, Mycroft approached Sherlock's chair and extended a file to the younger man. For a tense moment, John was sure a dominance fight was going to break out, then Mycroft turned away in frustration. John's wolf subsided from the readiness to jump to Sherlock's defense.
And suddenly, John had all of Mycroft's attention and found himself in possession of the proffered file and a sudden slew of knowledge about one Andrew “Westie” West.
John wasn't entirely sure what it was about Mycroft that made him want to nip at the other man's ankles. He was reasonably confident that it had something to do with the fact that Mycroft was a Clan Alpha and he a lone wolf squatting in another pack's territory. And yet, John knew that wasn't all of it and he also knew he wasn't going to figure it out anytime soon.
Hamish Watson had learned his lesson about the differences between Clan wolves and their Blood the hard way, though he'd thankfully never been fully exposed. It wasn't clear whether it was inherent to the Blood of Clan wolves or simply a side-effect of the rigid structure of their micro-class system, but an alpha of Clan Blood could pull rank on any lesser wolf they saw fit to discipline. That was not the case with the Watson's Blood, though. Hamish had learned that the night he had entered into an altercation with a Blooded Major in the trenches and Hamish's lack of submission (and insubordination) had nearly driven the other man into a Challenge right there in the infested muck. The Major had been killed a week later performing the very maneuver Hamish had been stubbornly insisting was suicide.
Hamish had learned two very important lessons that night which had been faithfully passed down to his great-grandson. The first was to always trust his preternatural instincts, but not his wolfen bravado. Human judgment was much more reliable when it came to risk assessment; the wolf would always believe it could pull off the impossible. The second was that Clan wolves would kill them for their Blooded resistance to pack dynamics. If a young Sergeant hadn't intervened, the Major would have tried to rip out Hamish's throat right there, of that he had had no doubt, and so Hamish taught his family how to recognize Clan wolves and how to side-step their dominance battles.
And yet, for all of that and a lifetime of practice, John could never resist the urge to needle Mycroft when he had the chance. Even in their first meeting, John hadn't been able to help pulling away from Mycroft's every attempt to subdue him.
An even bigger mystery was why Mycroft only ever seemed mildly amused or, at worst, slightly irked at John's lack of submission. John was forced to presume that Mycroft must be somewhat inured to the effects of someone resisting his leadership, given his place in the world and the younger brother he'd been saddled with.
“That wasn't very clever.” John heard himself say, flipping through the file Mycroft had dropped into his hands, gaze sliding over the official records on Andrew West and the heavily redacted pages on the Bruce-Partington missile plans. Seriously, though. John expected more from his government (no matter how he'd come to redefine that word since his return from Afghanistan) than putting sensitive materials on highly portable storage devices.
“It's not the only copy,” Mycroft smiled thinly. Oh, someone had been sacked for this already, of that he had no doubt. Probably several someones. And probably sacking wasn't the half of it. Mycroft may not overly mind John's impertinence, but he certainly seems to mind the incompetence of paid professionals. “But it is secret and missing.”
John could feel Sherlock smile, though his view of the other man was blocked by the elder Holmes brother. John's wolf smiled back.
“You've got to find those plans, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, turning back to his little brother. “Don't make me order you.” There was a note of genuine...something in Mycroft's voice, but John wasn't sure he'd ever know the other man well enough to be able to decipher what exactly.
“I'd like to see you try,” husked Sherlock, setting his violin into position between his shoulder and chin.
“Think it over,” Mycroft said quietly, leaning in slightly.
Then he turned and offered his hand to John politely, giving his farewells. John stood and shook hands. It wasn't that he disliked Mycroft – he just couldn't submit to him, no matter how prudent it might be to do so.
Before relinquishing his hand, Mycroft dipped forward with a diplomatic smile. “See you very soon.”
Sherlock set his bow to the strings and...snarled. That was the only word John could think of for it. Mycroft collected his coat from the back of the empty armchair and left without further comment.
The sibling rivalry, John thought when they too were headed out the door less than three minutes later, was worth reflecting on. Mycroft hardly seemed above forcing anyone's compliance with demands, so why had all their standoffs this morning been framed as requests?
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
What John feels, Mycroft thinks, and Sherlock knows.
Apologies for the delay and the chapter length. I felt so guilty about the time since I last posted that I split the original chapter five in half, with more coming later this week. As per the norm, this is un-betaed and un-Britpicked, so all errors and oversights are my own.
The texts started up almost as soon as they were settled into the cab bound for the Yard.
Have you considered that he might be Bereft? MH
Fuck off. SH
Have you even asked him? MH
There is nothing wrong with John. SH
I never said anything to the contrary. Ask him, Sherlock. We must resolve this. MH
John is none of your business, Mycroft. And keep your minions out of it. SH
They are your pack, Sherlock, and we all want is what is best for you. Try to remember that. Additionally, you are my brother. Your Song is my business, no matter how either of us feel about it. MH
FUCK OFF. SH
Sherlock ignored the next text from Mycroft. And the next. And the next.
If he'd been summoned to the Yard by anyone else, Sherlock would have suspected brotherly, Alpha-y interference. But Lestrade had called Sherlock in without the tired, irritated tone in a falsely cheerful voice that indicated Mycroft had leaned on his mate to distract Sherlock. No, Lestrade's voice had been firm, focused. That meant something interesting, and interesting was infinitely preferable to dealing with Mycroft and his pestering need to order Sherlock's life for him.
The taxi ride to the Yard felt like it took an age, except for the pleasant buzz of John's presence at his side. As it should be.
Sherlock idly tumbled the question of why John smelt faintly of fresh dirt and wet leaves under the vanilla stink of Sarah's flat, but dismissed it from his mind when Lestrade met them coming out of the lift.
Something about this new case felt wrong to John. Off, like hunting prey that has already been killed and left to rot. As soon as Lestrade says the strong box found in the blown up flat across from 221 Baker Street held the envelope with Sherlock's name written carefully on the front, John begins to feel ill at ease.
Nothing is wrong, really. Just a niggling doubt. Things seem normal when Lestrade and Sally tease Sherlock for the comments on John's blog, when Sherlock turns to him in muted outrage. He bites back a little bit of a smile at the indignation so plainly written in Sherlock's features; he actually hadn't expected the Yard – or anyone, for that matter – to really read his blog, and he'd never meant for any of his observations on Sherlock to actually be used against the man. It was just funny and surreal, how Sherlock could know so much and so little at the same time.
The phone chiming out the pips, the photo of the derelict room, none of this seems strange to John, but the troubled feeling settles in when Sherlock is leading them into 221c and they discover the staged shoes. Someone has been in their home, – right underneath their feet – without them even being aware of it. And that someone has sent Sherlock a message by way of an explosion, an expensive phone, an ostentatious display of the violation of their privacy and safety, and finally a woman held hostage, presumably at the site of the next bombing, and made to inform Sherlock of her kidnapper's every demented instruction.
This isn't a crime like the others Sherlock has lead John into, not even like the ones that became personal – the cabbie, the Black Lotus. There is intention in this, deliberate action to involve Sherlock. The kidnapper almost seems to want Sherlock to succeed. Messy, John's wolf says. Not a clean chase, not a swift kill. Looking for the woman's life, not the bomber. Messy.
John doesn't always agree with his wolf's reasoning, though they are essentially one being. The wolf oversimplifies and thinks of everything in decidedly primal terms. As a child, he'd hardly worried about it, but the teen years had been trying when his head said to walk away and his wolf said to attack. Training to be a doctor had helped considerably with his control, and the wolf had learned to plan ahead and strategize. The army had taught the man how to think in those primal ways that suited the wolf's mind, and they two had never been in closer unison than in Afghanistan, the wolf standing guard over John's work and John listening to the warnings and urges that the wolf offered up.
Watching Sherlock work in the lab, fully engrossed in whatever he could possibly be looking at in the microscope, John had to agree with his pacing wolf's analysis. Messy.
Sherlock distantly heard his phone chime again. It wasn't like Mycroft to be so pedestrian in his efforts to reach Sherlock. Not to leave a imperious voice mail that Sherlock would eventually be forced to listen to (if he wanted to keep a clean voice mail inbox for things like calls from the Yard or John) was as far removed from normal behavior as Mycroft let himself get.
So, something stopping him from making the calls, but not the texts. Impairment of speech, not life threatening – logically, ability to text would be impaired by anything life-threatening – and not work related – if Mycroft was feeling this frustratingly preoccupied with gaining his brother's attention while in a meeting, he would simply excuse himself to make the phone call. Mycroft had been talking this morning at the flat, but he'd checked his pocket watch and left before he'd been absolutely sure of Sherlock's acceptance of the missile plans case.
Somewhere to be, then. An appointment, and one that would impair Mycroft's ability to speak.
Dental appointments, while unpleasant, only got in the way of verbal communication for a limited time span, unless in the case of a procedure taking place. Dental appointment for a procedure, not one for which Mycroft was put under but one for which he would have received localized anesthesia to minimize pain (and thus muscular coordination for a time, leading to an inability to speak clearly). Several options, but most likely would be a root canal. Interesting, but unimportant.
Sherlock's phone chimed again. Persistent. Annoying. Ignored.
John is pacing at the other end of the lab. Sherlock's trying to focus on the pollen samples instead, but the smaller man is vibrating with anxious tension and Sherlock's wolf is whining softly at his mate's obvious distress.
Sherlock doesn't understand it though. This - this magnificent puzzle - is worth every moment of its invaluable distraction. He can feel the blood pulsing in his veins, the tantalizing slide of information as it filters and sorts itself within his mind, and the heady rush of adrenaline that provides him with all the fuel he needs in cases such as this. He is impatient for the results of his scans, but the irritation is tempered by the confidence in the process and the answer it would pinpoint for him. Science had ever been the bright, clean point in the universe for Sherlock. Even the messes from his experiments were quantifiable and productive. Very little else in his life was so crystalline.
Except for John. John made sense, even when he didn't.
John's distress pulled on him, because John had a reason for being so, even if Sherlock could not see any cause for upset himself. The puzzle of it was pulling Sherlock back into the problem of his evolving Song and how to keep John and not lose his own mind in the process.
Bereft. Sherlock hated Mycroft for even suggesting it. In the Blood, there were usually pronounced differences between those that bore a wolf and those who do not. The line between human and Blood was meant to be distinct. Even Changeless wolves like Lestrade had a wolf inside of them. Those of the Blood were born with two faces to their souls; humans were born with only one. That was why Changing a human was so dangerous; beyond the question of physical ability to handle the biological changes to the body, there was the risk of a soul rending itself apart.
Bereft were rare, almost unheard of. They were also pariah to the Clans, considered an abomination of weak and diluted bloodlines. Humans ranked higher in the sight of the Clans, for at least a human's soul – while simple – was complete. Bereft, however, were born with a soul that had no wolf, as though the second face of their soul was blacked out and a vacuum existed in its place.
Sherlock had met a Bereft once when he was still a boy. Frances was a ward of the Holmes Clan who had been under care the entirety of her adult life. When Sherlock had met her, tucked into a corner by a window in the common room at the Holmes care home where Sherlock's grandfather was dying, he had seen a hunched old woman in a wheelchair, picking absently at the stitches of the blanket tucked around her legs. She had been talking softly to herself, laughing on occasion at a joke no one else heard. He had wanted to go up to her and investigate, but Mycroft had pulled him away.
“She's mad,” Mycroft had said, a note of pity in his voice, affecting the serious tones of their father's voice. “We saved her from another Clan when she was a teen. She believes she has a wolf, but she doesn't. When they found out, they left her for dead.”
“Why would they kill a human for wanting a wolf?” Sherlock had asked. It only made sense; who wouldn't want to have a wolf?
“She isn't human. She is Bereft. There is no wolf where a wolf should be.”
“Why doesn't someone Change her? Then she can have a real wolf to talk to.”
Mycroft sighed and touched Sherlock on the shoulder, guiding him away from the lone figure sitting in the shaft of weak sunlight. “She cannot have a wolf, even if someone did attempt the Change, because the wolf has refused to live in her.”
Bereft. A human might dash their soul on the rocks of the Change and a wolf might be forever bound in human shape, but these were failings of mind or body. The Bereft were abhorrent because the wolf rejected them, everything about them. The Bereft were insane, broken, and fundamentally wrong.
John was not insane. John was not broken. John was not wrong.
Sherlock's phone chimes again.
End of Chapter Five
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
In which John wants to throttle Sherlock, Jim from IT stinks up the lab, Molly gets hurt, and Sherlock works on impressing his mate with a dead kid's trainers.
Oh, friends. I must apologize for my tardiness, but RL has been real and I'm just glad I posted the last bit when I did so you weren't waiting even longer for an update. More questions than answers this time around, but we're about to jump headlong into the insane pace of TGG's case load, so consider this the setup to all that goes on in the background later on. As always, this is un-betaed and Britpicked, so all errors are my own.
“So who do you suppose it was?” John asked, unable to keep his worry to himself any longer. If anyone could parse the woman-on-the-phone from the fragments of clues provided, it would be Sherlock.
“Hrm?” Sherlock grunted, fully occupied by the microscope and computer readouts that had been the sole recipients of his attention for the last half hour.
“The woman on the phone – the crying woman.”
John's first memory of a woman crying was of his great-grandmother Esther at Hamish Watson's funeral. Gran Esther had been a shiftless wolf of the Clans, cast out for marrying a “human” after the Great War had ended and the Clans were looking to swiftly rebuild. She had followed her Song to Hamish and in doing so, had given up her pack and everything she knew to make a new family with her mate. Hamish and Esther had lived well into their nineties, but seventy years of marriage, the loss of John's great-uncles in World War Two, and a slow decline in Hamish's health had not been nearly enough to inure Esther to the pain of her mate's passing. John had found her quietly mourning, silent tears tracking down softly weathered cheeks, in a bench swing tucked just to the side of the church's ancient graveyard on the sunny morning of Hamish's memorial service. They had sat together – small boy and ancient woman – for the duration of the funeral, which carried on without them inside. John could still feel the grip of his great-grandmother's hand around his own small one when he thought about it.
The dazed bewilderment and uncertainty of action he had felt then always returned when John encountered a crying woman now. Even after his own losses and the horrors of Afghanistan, every red-eyed woman looked like his Gran, and after thirty years, there was still some part of John Watson that was convinced that if he had just known what to say or do, Esther wouldn't have left them all a mere three months after Hamish's funeral. His wolf had crooned to him nightly in the weeks after the second funeral that spring, when it seemed nothing would be safe or sure ever again, that this was the way of things, that Esther and Hamish were mates and nothing could or should separate them for long.
“Oh, she doesn't matter. She's just a hostage,” Sherlock said, never looking up from his work. “No lead there.”
“For god's sake, I wasn't thinking about leads.”
“You're not going to be much use to her,” Sherlock said, glancing at the computer readouts.
“Are they trying to trace it? Trace the call?” John asked because Sherlock is right, despite his regrettable attitude: John would be better off thinking about how to find her than about who she is.
“Bomber's too smart for that,” Sherlock muttered, eyes back on whatever the microscope has to offer. His phone chimed merrily. “Pass me my phone.”
John gave a cursory look around the lab, holding back the growl his wolf dearly wanted to deliver in the face of his mate's imperious order.
“Where is it?”
It took a moment, but John knew better than to ask for explanation or to fight Sherlock when he's like this. Sherlock wasn't there for all that he was in the room. He's a million miles away, somewhere in his head where all the “useful” things are sorted and stored for cases like this, ones which command his full attention. Still, that Sherlock can't be arsed to reach into the jacket he's wearing to check his own bloody mobile...
John bit the inside of his cheek and straightened, feeling the military training lengthen his spine and marshal his steps as he moved round the lab table and approached Sherlock's work station. His wolf wanted to snarl at Sherlock and punish him for taking advantage of their willingness to help. John may not be the dominant in their Song, but neither is he meant to be a glorified manservant.
He may put a little more force into the errand than necessary, letting his hand fall heavily on Sherlock's shoulder and tugging him back so John can push his other hand into Sherlock's inner jacket pocket.
“Careful!” Sherlock chided peevishly, as though he didn't know he was acting like a complete ass at that moment.
John nearly said something, nearly let rip his agitation when Sherlock continued to focus on his work to the exclusion of everything else. John knew Sherlock had not meant to "be careful" with his person or with his bespoke clothing, only that John should be more delicate around the ongoing scientific pursuits. Sherlock couldn't see anything in that moment but The Work. Fighting against it would be a waste of everyone's time, most especially the very limited time alloted to the woman strapped to a bomb somewhere.
Sherlock never looked up while John pushed and pulled at him, and something about that soothed the wolf a little, because it was a measure of trust that a wolf would not break his attention to look at a presence behind him. John pulled out the phone from Sherlock's pocket with a heavy sigh and made a mental note to explain the difference between beastly behavior and the behavior of beasts to his wolf. Again.
On the screen was a notification of a text from Mycroft. When John related as much to Sherlock, the taller man immediately replied, “Delete it.”
“Delete it?” John was working up to an incredulous snit. He could feel the throb of adrenaline as his anger began to send his body into an aggressive high-alert.
“Missile plans are out of the country by now. Nothing we can do about it.”
John clicked open the message and it was indeed from Mycroft concerning the Bruce-Partington case.
“Well, Mycroft thinks there is. He's texted you eight times! Must be important.”
“Then why doesn't he cancel his dental appointment?” Sherlock asked, finally sitting back from the desk. There was a little bit of triumph in that for John. Sherlock was no longer muttering and snapping out quick or vague answers, but actually engaging in conversation. Besides, John had suspected that Sherlock didn't actually need to keep his eyes glued to the view under the microscope for the computer to continue running its assigned task, whatever that was.
“Mycroft never texts if he can talk,” Sherlock sighed, exasperated. John had never felt less like being conciliatory in response. “Look, Andrew West stole the missile plans , tried to sell them, got his head smashed in for his pains. End of story. The only mystery is this: why is my brother so determined to bore me when somebody else is being so delightfully interesting?”
“Try and remember there's a woman who might die,” John said quietly, a thin grimace of a smile tugging at his lips where he wanted to show his teeth.
“What for?” Then Sherlock looked up at him, bored and disinterested. “This hospital's full of people dying, doctor. Why don't you go and cry by their bedside, and see what good it does them?”
John hadn't felt so pointlessly hollow in months. His wolf curled away inside of him, tucking its nose under a bushy tail and pretending to sleep. John could practically hear the sour note that laced through his Song in irritation and discontent.
John was a protector and his wolf was no different. As a man, he was also a healer and his wolf understood that about him, valued the instinct that drove John to shelter the weak and care for those who needed him. It was a good instinct for a wolf; he would be a trusted caretaker for the pups of a pack and an invaluable ally in any hunt. That was who John was, and his mate – bonded or not – didn't understand that about him. Mocked him for it. For the first time in months, John wondered what he was even doing there.
A horrible jangle of electronic notes trilled from the computer and Sherlock exhaled triumphantly at the sound. John was saved from having to feign enthusiasm by Molly, who popped through the door with a cheerful smile.
“Oh, yes,” Sherlock crooned happily. It occured to John as he backed away to let Molly check Sherlock's findings that it's moments like these that justify Molly's unshakeable exuberance for Sherlock's company. The man had almost sounded friendly just then. John suspects Sherlock does actually like Molly, if for no other reason than that the sweet, mousy girl didn't dread his appearance and allowed him to run roughshod all over her with cutting inferences and abrupt dismissal.
Still, during the Black Lotus case, he'd seen her glee in the morgue at playing the assistant to his magician, revealing the couriers' tattoos for DI Dimmock on command because she knew what the Inspector hadn't: that Sherlock's word was gold when it came to crime. Not quite so golden were Sherlock's words any other time, but Molly seemed to have an endless capacity to shake off the worst of them.
Almost on Molly's heels came another figure, a pale, waxy young man who exuded a dopey-ness that was instantly sympathetic to Molly's over-enthusiasm. His voice was an almost comically breathy mumble, and he skulked into the room with an air of nervous excitement. John willed the man to stay at the door when Molly invited him in, if only because he was wearing a near-choking quantity of aftershave. Unfortunately, it was clearly a day for kicking John when he was already down.
“Jim,” Molly said with a small gesture. “This is Sherlock Holmes.”
John paced a step or two further to Sherlock's right, making more room for Molly and Jim – and putting himself into the path of more breathable air. Sherlock had gone back to his microscope, ignoring the introductions even as Jim made an noise of interest and recognition, the kind people made when they were putting a face with a name for the first time. John could only guess how much any friend of Molly's might already know – or think they knew – about Sherlock.
“And, uh – sorry,” Molly said, having made an aborted motion to introduce John as well.
John sighed, tired. It really wasn't his day, was it?
“John Watson. Hi.”
“Hi,” Jim glanced at John, and then went right back to staring at the back of Sherlock's head, his hands fidgeting in front of him. “So you're Sherlock Holmes. Molly's told me all about you.” Molly blushed prettily. “Are you on one of your cases?” asked the gawky man with a breathless little laugh.
Jim stepped in front of John and cut off his view of Sherlock's disinterested pose, hunched over the microscope. John was forced to take a few startled steps backwards and a gust of the overwhelming alcoholic burn of aftershave drilled up into his overstimulated sinuses. John's wolf growled from its place curled up within him. Jim's body language was almost proprietary and it rubbed John the wrong way, no matter how ambivalent he currently felt about Sherlock.
“Jim works in IT upstairs,” Molly offered brightly. “That's how we met. Office romance!” The hapless lovers giggled and John couldn't help a wince that thankfully went unnoticed by everyone else in the room. Sort of like John himself at the moment, he thought and then shut the bitter, hurt voice up with a stern warning about feeling sorry for one's self.
Sherlock finally looked up long enough to glance over his shoulder at Jim, then turned back toward the microscope. “Gay.”
It was mumbled just quietly enough that there was a pregnant pause while all three members of Sherlock's audience tried to convince themselves they'd heard something different. Molly's face fell out of her happy smile and she stammered out, “Sorry, what?”
Sherlock pulled himself away once more and must have heard the upset in Molly's voice well enough to try again. “Nothing. Um, hey.” And there was Sherlock's fake smile, the barely civil one that never failed to give the impression that he would rather have his fingernails pulled out than talk to whoever was on the receiving end of that smile.
“Hi,” Jim breathed again and summarily knocked a metal dish off the lab table. “Sorry! Sorry!”
John turned away and covered his eyes. The awkward tension in the lab could be cut with a knife and he was seriously wishing that he had stormed out on Sherlock five minutes ago instead of attempting to stick out the minutiae of the case at the man's elbow.
Jim tucked the metal dish back on the lab table and scratched at his arm. “Well, I'd better be off. I'll see you at the Fox. About six-ish?” he said to Molly, who smiled and agreed as Jim lay a hand on her shoulder and turned back once more towards Sherlock, who was once again studiously ignoring the room. “Bye. It was nice to meet you.”
Nothing happened for a few seconds and when Molly began to look like someone had knocked her to the floor, John stepped in briskly to try and save the terrible encounter from being a complete disaster.
“You too,” John said, gesturing vaguely to Sherlock. Jim slowly turned his head to really look at John for the first time, a strangely familiar sweep of eyes, before he ducked out of the lab and left Molly standing there holding herself up.
As soon as the door swung home again behind Jim, Molly stepped forward. “What do you mean, gay?”
She tried to laugh at the question, like it was preposterous, but Molly's very real embarrassed horror and dread were written in the lines of her too-still body. “We're together!” she said, gesturing to the empty space Jim had just left beside her.
“And domestic bliss must suit you, Molly. You've put on three pounds since I last saw you,” Sherlock offered.
“Two and a half,” she said around a stiff jaw.
“Well, three,” Sherlock said in that way he was wont to about anything having to do with Molly, as though it was a bit of a self-deprecating joke he assumed – incorrectly – that everyone else found amusing.
“Sherlock,” John said, because he was seeing what Sherlock wouldn't look up long enough to recognize: that he was truly upsetting Molly past the point of anything John had ever seen from the young woman.
“He's not gay. Why do you have to spoil – ?!” Molly said over the top of John's warning tone. Her voice was breaking on the beginning of the choke of tears. She looked briefly at John and away again, rallying a little more of her hidden spine. “He's not.”
Sherlock scoffed and John could feel the horror of the next few seconds like watching a car crash in slow motion. “With that level of personal grooming?”
“Because he puts a bit of product in his hair?” John snapped, willing Sherlock to back down, just this once. Don't do this to Molly, he thought at his flatmate. This is not the time to try and make a point. “I put product in my hair.”
“You wash your hair, there's a difference. No, no,” Sherlock said, and oh now was not the time to suddenly be on John's side. And the observations began. “Tinted eyelashes, clear signs of taurine cream around the frown lines, those tired clubber's eyes. Then there's the underwear.”
“His underwear?” Molly asked, voice gone quiet and shell-shocked.
“Visible above the waistline. Very visible.” There was a strange note of something in Sherlock's voice that sounded almost indulgent, as though he was trying to counsel Molly. As though he thought that she would find this deconstruction of her new boyfriend edifying. “Very particular brand. That plus the extremely suggestive fact that he just left his number under this dish here,” Sherlock said, pulling out the incriminating piece of evidence, “and I'd say you better break it off now and save yourself the pain.”
John turned away, horrified beyond words. Molly – poor Molly – she stood there for a moment like the world has just come down around her ears while Sherlock held the scrap of paper with Jim's number out to her, and then she dashed out of the lab without another word.
“Charming! Well done,” John said, disgusted.
Sherlock turned towards him, dropping the note, and looked entirely bewildered at Molly's departure. “Just saving her time,” he said slowly, looking to John for guidance. “Isn't that kinder?”
“Kinder? No, no,” John said, though he saw with resignation that Sherlock is truly disappointed to have missed the social cue. “Sherlock, that wasn't kind.”
John's wolf sighed in quiet agreement before once more curling itself up in a ball and ignoring Sherlock's antics in favor of saving what little pride they have left.
Sherlock knew that he'd made John upset, more upset than he was before. In the clearing atmosphere of aftershave, he could smell the spike of disapproval in John's scent and if John said that what had just occurred was not good, Sherlock had to accept that he had just made a serious misstep with both Molly and John. Molly was of a lower priority; she would find out soon enough that Jim from IT was exactly who Sherlock said he was and a few weeks and some well-timed platitudes would put Sherlock back in her good graces.
John, though. John needed to stop smelling like rejection right now.
Sherlock reached out and tugged one of the trainers in John's direction before sitting back in his chair.
“Go on then,” he murmured.
“You know what I do. Off you go.”
John laughed grimly. “No.”
“Go on,” Sherlock said again, trying to be encouraging.
“I'm not going to stand here so you can humiliate me while I try to dis–“ John protested and Sherlock could feel him losing ground instead of gaining it.
“An outside eye. A second opinion; it's very useful to me.”
“Yeah right,” John huffed.
“Really,” Sherlock protested. Please, John. Come here. Come close again. Look at me and be amazed again.
John stared him down for a few seconds, blue eyes flinty. Sherlock's wolf quivered in anticipation. John had no wolf to challenge his own, but the man seemed to be enough to partner both of them, the military doctor enough in his own way to snap and snarl Sherlock into docility.
“Fine,” John said, picking up the extended trainer. He looked at the shoe for a moment and Sherlock could see the preoccupation with Molly's situation sliding away and John's own keen mind turn to the puzzle currently on offer. “Well, they're just a pair of shoes. Trainers,” John said, annoyance creeping into his voice as he looked at Sherlock.
“Good,” Sherlock said, picking his mobile up off the work area and tapping away softly at the keys, keeping his eyes glued on the screen so that John felt more comfortable airing his observations.
“Very good nick. I'd say they were pretty new except the sole has been well worn, so the owner must have had them for a while. Very eighties. Probably one of those retro designs,” John continued, devoting all his attention to the shoe in his hand.
Obvious, Sherlock thought. But good. He opened a search engine on his mobile and pulled up the search he'd already made earlier that morning. He refused to think of it as getting his props in order just to show off to John. John appreciated the evidence – when he wasn't angry at Sherlock – almost as much as Sherlock did, despite his inability to glean most of it for himself.
“You're in sparkling form. What else?” Sherlock prodded.
“Well, they're quite big, so a man's. But...,” John stopped and Sherlock watched him inspect the tongue of each shoe with a studious frown. “But there's traces of a name inside in felt tip. Adults don't write their names inside their shoes, so these belong to a kid.”
John held the shoes up and looked at Sherlock, not a trace of the earlier irritation lingering in his face or in his smell.
“Excellent. What else?” Sherlock rumbled. What else can you see, John? Tell me everything your senses tell you is important.
John returned his focus to the shoes, but the spell seemed to be broken. “Um, that's it.”
“That's it,” Sherlock repeated.
“How did I do?”
“Well, John. Really well.” He couldn't resist needling John a little bit, but he knew it was safe. They were back in the hunt again and his mate loved the game. “I mean, you missed almost everything of importance, but um, y'know...”
Sherlock held his hand out for the trainer in John's slackening grip. Watch, John. Observe.
“The owner loved these. Scrubbed them clean, whitened them where they got discolored. Changed the laces three – no, four times. Even so, there are traces of his flaky skin where his fingers have come into contact with them so he suffered from eczema.”
John rolled his head around as he always did when he thought Sherlock had set him up. As usual, John was right, but Sherlock would never admit aloud that he loves teasing his mate in such a way. Still, John listened quietly where he leaned with his palms against the worktop, his head hanging down between his shoulders.
“Shoes are well-worn, more so on the inside, which means the owner had weak arches. British-made. Twenty years old.”
Sherlock picked up his phone, where he'd enlarged the image from the search he had pulled up earlier, the facsimile of the shoe in his hand pictured on the tiny screen where he held it out for John to see.
“They're not retro, they're original. Limited edition. Two blue stripes. Nineteen eighty-nine.”
“There's still mud on them! They look new!” John said, body unfolding as he once again focused his attention on the mysterious shoes.
Exactly, Sherlock thought. You're seeing it now.
“Someone's kept them that way. Quite a bit of mud caked on the soles. Analysis shows it's from Sussex with London mud overlaying it.”
“How do you know?”
Sherlock indicated the screen and its completed findings, the excitement from before dulled but not completely dissipated at a successful match. “Pollen. Clear as a map reference to me. South of the river too. So, the kid who wore these trainers came to London from Sussex twenty years ago and left them behind.”
“So what happened to him?” John asked, ever concerned about the people populating the edges of the evidence.
“Something bad,” Sherlock admitted, looking up into John's gaze. “He loved those shoes, remember. He'd never leave them filthy. Wouldn't leave them go unless he had to. So, child with big feet gets – Oh.”
“Carl Powers,” Sherlock breathed.
“Carl Powers, John,” he said, sharing the beautiful, terrible thing with his mate. He's transfixed by it, the magnificent enigma of being gifted Carl Powers, like a Christmas present opened early to find exactly what he hadn't known he'd wanted. Sherlock's wolf is wide awake, sat on the very closest edge of his mind, ready for the hunt now that the pieces have slotted themselves into place.
And to make this hunt with John, pursuing long-forgotten prey with him, nothing could be more perfect.
“What is it?” John asked, concern evident in his voice.
“It's where I began.”
End of Chapter Six
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
John worries, Sherlock tries not to.
Okay. Here's the deal. I'm a horrible person and have been stuck writing the chapters for season two to make sure I finished The Great Game section in a way that makes sense. Additionally, I have a whole bucket of RL excuses, but they're excuses and I think we can all agree that it's just been a hell of a long time since an update, full stop. I love you all and while I'm working on what would have been the rest of chapter seven, I feel way too guilty holding off on giving you what I do have. So here's a scene. It's short, I know. But I am literally locking the door tonight and banging out the rest to post tomorrow. Hell, nag me about it to keep me honest. I won't mind.
As always, this chapter is un-betaed and Brit-picked. If you find something egregious, let me know!
The cold feeling of foreboding had returned.
John's wolf had started pacing as soon as Sherlock explained in the cab how intimately acquainted he was with the circumstances of Carl Powers' death. In point of fact, Sherlock would be the only person other than the murderer to connect the dots to the case from an old pair of shoes; after all, he had been the only one who had “raised a fuss” at the time. John's wolf latched onto that knowledge with a fearsome tenacity of purpose. This was even bigger than he'd thought before, bigger than someone taunting Sherlock by breaking into their building or setting up a puzzle to defuse a bomb. This was someone researching Sherlock. Even if the bomber wasn't the same person who killed Carl Powers, he'd prepared enough to track down who had and recover a pair of shoes no one else had cared about.
The wolf didn't believe in coincidences or chance. The wolf caught a scent and followed it to its natural source. Except that their prey – John and Sherlock's – was leaving them a scent trail that would probably never lead them to the bomber directly. And so the wolf paced, snarling softly to itself in the back of John's mind while Sherlock adopted his usual silent demeanor of intense focus on the other side of the cab.
Getting back to the flat wasn't much better. Sherlock had immediately set about some vague order of business in the kitchen, setting up for tests John couldn't hope to decipher, printing out old news stories on the Carl Powers tragedy and searching the boy's history on the internet, and pulling the shoes apart into individual pieces, scraping samples from every available surface. Lestrade had run over the archived case files and Sherlock had summarily devoured all the information within, cross-referencing the official police records with the old articles and other pertinent information. John had rarely seen Sherlock so intent, even on his most befuddling cases. It only served to reinforce the very real sense that this case, this “puzzle,” was as personal for Sherlock as it clearly was for the bomber.
John was, per the usual order of these things, banished to the living area, beyond the sliding pocket doors that had replaced an old wall when the building had originally been converted into individual flats.
The wolf paced and, eventually, so did the man. Finally, John could no longer stand the silence and breached the barrier between Sherlock and the rest of the world, pulling back a sliding door and hovering just at the threshold from the living area into the kitchen.
“Can I help? I want to help. There's only five hours left.”
Sherlock didn't look up, but John's phone did let out a perky chirp, announcing the arrival of a text. Pulling the phone out of his trouser pocket, John expected Harry or Sarah or even Mike to be the cause of the interruption. His eyebrows rose when he read:
Any developments? Mycroft Holmes
“It's your brother. He's texting me now,” he announced. After a moment of thought, “How does he know my – ”
“Must be a root canal,” Sherlock murmured, studying the pages of notes in his hands. The comment was best interpreted as an acknowledgment that Sherlock was listening to John than as any indication that he might be concerned about the intensity of Mycroft's inquiries.
John stepped fully into the kitchen, now that Sherlock was back in the world and no longer sequestered in attic of his own mind, where it seemed nothing and no one could reach him.
“Look, he did say 'national importance,'” John reminded.
Sherlock grunted in amusement, still fully immersed in his research. “How quaint.”
“You are. Queen and country.”
“You can't just ignore it,” John said, not bothering to hold back the clipped sternness in his tone. John didn't mind that Sherlock wasn't particularly patriotic, at least not outwardly so. What John minded very much was if Sherlock ignored something and it put innocent people at risk, just because he was determined to irritate Mycroft.
John knew Sherlock believed in justice, and despite his sociopathic tendencies, Sherlock also believed in protecting innocent people inasmuch as he was able. Those were wolfen qualities that John both shared and admired in his Song-mate. And John did not want to see those parts of his friend suffer for his sibling rivalry anymore than he wanted to know that something Sherlock's unique perspective could have prevented had taken place simply because Sherlock was apathetic to messenger.
“I'm not ignoring it,” Sherlock protested. “I'm putting my best man onto it, right now.”
John let out a bit of a relieved sigh. “Right, good.”
He crossed his arms and looked away, feigning disinterest. High-ranked Clan wolves sometimes took offense if a lower-ranked Blood or a human seemed to be approving of their decisions in a way that might imply that the Clan wolf had submitted to their judgment. John was as careful as he could be around Sherlock to keep from direct confrontation, but he'd be the first to admit that he was occasionally lazy in his precautions around the Clan prince. The Watson's Blood did not lend itself to rigorous pack structure or formalities of rank, and Sherlock almost seemed to feel the same way, the way he wantonly disregarded his Clan Alpha and Clan social behavior.
Then again, Sherlock seemed to have something of a resource pool out in the streets of London. People owed him favors, pounded pavement for him, and brought him snatches of gossip and information. It was not unlike a pack, except all of Sherlock's contacts seemed to be human, though occasionally John had seen a Blooded person slip out of their flat when John returned home from a shift at the clinic. John wondered what Mycroft made of that. Sherlock couldn't technically be an Alpha of a pack of humans and other Blood types, but that status could come into question if he started taking Clan wolves in under his wing. Even if the other wolves were previously loners, it would cause tension in the brothers' relationship, if Sherlock commanded wolves that did not also (and foremost) swear their allegiance to Mycroft and Holmes Clan.
And anyway, who could Sherlock send to work on Mycroft's case in his stead? That seemed a risky enough prospect in and of itself, sending a lamb in to the elder Holmes because Sherlock couldn't be bothered. Nevermind that Mycroft was almost certainly only interested in what Sherlock could deduce from looking into the death of a civil servant and the disappearance of secret missile plans. Sending just anyone off the street wasn't going to pacify the elder Holmes. Did Sherlock actually have someone he could trust to hunt in his stead? Or was he just intending to further waste his brother's time by sending a street kid on official business to horrify Home Office?
“Who's that?” John asked curiously.
Sherlock left his post in the kitchen and moved to the window when he heard John opening the front door to 221, closing and locking it behind him a moment later. One of Mycroft's ubiquitous black sedans was idling menacingly at the kerb and a tough in a tight-fitting suit exited the passenger side of the car to usher John into the back. When all the passengers had been seated and the last door closed, the sedan pulled away smoothly, gliding into the dusky London traffic trailed by a steamy puff of exhaust in the chilled air.
He had worried briefly that John would be left to his own devices in reaching Mycroft's springtime office across town, but with a government escort, Sherlock could return to the task at hand with his wolf reasonably calmed and quiet on the subject of the safety of their mate.
Still, best not to take chances. Anything could happen in London. It was one of the reasons he loved the city, after all.
Sherlock sent off a quick text to a number he had memorized the week before, when the burn mobile he kept in supply to his active homeless network had needed to be swapped out. He rattled off a quick description of John's appearance (freshly scrubbed and pressed into suit, John unwilling to visit government offices wearing the same clothes he'd been running around in for going on two days' time) and three routes to and from Mycroft's office for the network to monitor.
Confident that his massive pack of feral humans would keep an eye out for the comings and goings of his mate, Sherlock returned to the kitchen and continued to pull the trainers apart in order to take further samples from the fabric and leather. He had a puzzle to solve.
End of Chapter Seven
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Sherlock hunts. John frets. Moriarty plays.
In case you missed it, there is a Mycroft interlude set between chapter 7 & 8 called "If It's Watching Us." I'm just going to set this chapter here and run away.
As always, un-betaed or Brit-picked. Also, my lack of adequate forensic and chemistry research, let me show you it. Let me know if I've goofed anything up horribly.
The final phone call from the abducted woman heralded the beginning of a long night, beginning with the relay of her location to Lestrade, who called a bomb squad to the scene. It took hours to entirely secure the scene, with John and Sherlock stood at the edge of the police perimeter in the cold drizzle that had started up just a few hours before dawn, waiting for access. Another hour of examining the car, the explosive vest, and the burn phone and pager produced nothing of value to Sherlock. They followed Lestrade back to the Yard as the sky was just beginning to lighten and observed the official interview of the victim and gave their own statements. It was closing in on lunchtime when John and Sherlock finally found themselves in Lestrade's office, talking over what their investigation had put together in terms of a time line, and how little it afforded them in the hunt for the perpetrator.
Since the acknowledgment the previous night that Carl Powers' killer was the bomber who had apparently taken a cat-and-mouse variety of shine to Sherlock, John hadn't let the taller man out of his sight. It wasn't practical in the long-term, but just for now John wasn't going to let Sherlock go too far – not until they knew how the bomber would react to being thwarted. True, the bomber had followed his own rules and released the hostage woman upon the successful solution of Sherlock's personal cold case, but anyone who decided to poison a teenager's medicine and then stage an elaborate series of destructive and horrific events merely to point out said teenager had been murdered two decades prior was not someone John was willing to associate with a great degree of sanity or rational thought.
Even if Sherlock found his methods “elegant.”
The phone rang, cutting through the tension Sherlock's misplaced admiration and empathy with the bomber had created in the room. The three men fell into an expectant hush as Sherlock set the mobile to speaker.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep.
“Four pips,” John said, not sure what to make of the pattern.
“First test passed, it would seem. Here's the second,” Sherlock replied and turned the phone around to show a prominent license plate on what appeared to be a black, late model sedan on the small screen. He handed the phone off to Lestrade. “It's abandoned, wouldn't you say?”
“Let's see if it's been reported,” Lestrade murmured, looking down at his index of department phone numbers and dialing an extension on his office line. Simultaneously, Sally poked her head in the door, with a long-suffering sigh.
“Freak?” She held out her cell phone. “It's for you.”
As odd and frustratingly invasive as it obviously seemed to Sergeant Donovan, John didn't initially find anything too disconcerting about a call coming in on Sally's phone for Sherlock. Sherlock was highly proprietary about the belongings of those who he regularly spent time with and it was almost something of a family trait; Sherlock's older brother had introduced himself to John by calling every random public phone line John limped past for ten blocks, after all. John was also distracted, listening without seeming to listen to Lestrade's phone call with the on-duty senior officer in the traffic division.
For that same reason, it didn't strike John as peculiar when Sherlock stepped out of Lestrade's office to speak to the person on the other line. Sherlock and Lestrade were both wolves and, while senses were never as sharp in human shape as they were in their wolfen forms, two phone conversations taking place in the same room was enough to disorient a mundane human who could only hear half of what was being said, let alone a Blooded wolf with the ability to discern all four voices.
It would have been incredibly hard, though, for John the army doctor, let alone the prey-driven predator, to ignore the distraught and fearful tones of the man Sherlock was listening to. It would have been impossible for John not to notice the subtle straightening of Sherlock's spine, the anxious and excited tension that had revived his comfortably indolent frame, or the very distinct impression that Sherlock's wolfen side was sitting up and cocking its head in intense and delighted interest. John rose and made his way to the door of Lestrade's office slowly, straining to make sense of the rise and fall of the young man's voice speaking through the phone pressed to Sherlock's ear, around the white noise of the office, through the distortion of the distracting background noises on the other end of the line, and over the faint susurrus of Sherlock's excited breathing.
“This is about you and me,” the newest victim, a young man, bravely sobbed.
John's wolf growled softly and he crossed his arms. Anything having to do with Sherlock was something that had to do with John, whether the great, foolish git knew it or not.
“The sounds of life, Sherlock,” the man said, addressing the noise in the background. “But don't worry. I can soon fix that.”
Snipers and bombs and public venues. When John had wanted to get back to warring, he hadn't meant it quite so literally.
Whatever Sherlock saw to admire in the bomber, John hoped it wasn't his unrepentant abuse of innocent bystanders. Maybe Sherlock could remain coolly distant from the concept of them being mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, instead seeing them as the collateral damage as the bomber did. But John wasn't sure he could deal with it if his friend – his mate – admired the "elegance" of more than the psychological tactics of it. Sherlock enjoying the bomber's methods...that didn't bear thinking of.
“You solved my last puzzle in nine hours,” the young man continued. “This time, you have eight.”
John could hear the line go dead, but Sherlock was frozen in place, mobile still pressed to his ear, while his mind was obviously speeding along ahead of him.
From within the office, Lestrade's voice said, “Great!” before he dropped the receiver down into its cradle again and rounded his desk. “We found it!” he called out to Sherlock's unmoving profile, moving briskly to collect his coat and keys from the hook on the back of his office door. Within two minutes, Lestrade was organizing his team to head out for the dump site and making his way down to the vehicle bay to take a police car while John and Sherlock left the Yard to hail a taxi.
Despite Lestrade's triumph and Sherlock's excitement to be moving so quickly on the newest lead in the bomber's case, John and his wolf were in silent agreement that they did not like chasing prey that seemed to have its own set of large teeth and an intimate knowledge of their den.
Sherlock's first clue should have been Lestrade's as well. Should have been. Wasn't.
The car, for all that it smelled of middle-aged human male – presumably Ian Monkford – smelled nothing at all like fear or pain. Anxiety, yes, but anxiety was not an altogether strange emotion in a rented, unfamiliar vehicle. But for all that the man's blood was splashed liberally across the seats, dash, and center console, there was no fear and no pain.
Lestrade probably assumed that Monkford was injured elsewhere, that the blood might have come from the slop of the attacker concealing the car. But any idiot could see that the blood had been allowed to set as it had fallen; there was no pattern of smearing or streaking, nor were there any significant fibers layered in atop the bloodstains. The blood had been spilled and the car promptly locked up tight and abandoned.
Foul play? Certainly. But what kind? He took a few samples of his own to confirm suspicions after some personally expedited lab work.
Interviewing Mrs. Monkford revealed that the thread of the intrigue was more complex than a man simply disappearing during a convenient window of time in which none of his movements could readily be accounted for.
That she knew something was rather more obvious than even the undisturbed blood droplets. She'd arrived on the scene in the very narrow window of time between the traffic division's cordoning off the area and declaring it a potential crime scene and the arrival of Lestrade's team, as well as Sherlock and John just a few minutes behind.
She'd already been questioned by police twice, once by the traffic officers and once by the crime scene unit. To have arrived so quickly after the call, a professional woman in the middle of a busy weekday, was worth closer inspection; she'd had a cleared schedule and perhaps even an expectation of interruption to break away from work on such short notice. And, of course, the past tense usage in reference to her husband. No panicked, beset wife would relinquish all hope of present tense usage within the space of an hour of hearing of her partner's disappearance, not even if they were habitually at each other's throats. Neither would such circumstances allow for so much suspicion or doubt when confronted with another bereaved party, no matter how sudden or unfamiliar. In retrospect, certainly, but hardly within the first few hours of a terrible shock.
And even with all of that rudimentary psychological analysis, Lestrade at least should have by then detected her scent to be entirely devoid of all true markers of horror, panic, or surprise. She stank of adrenaline and tension, as well as the persistent underlying thread of old stress, but this was not a woman in a state of uncertainty or impotency.
No, no. Mrs. Monkford had been anticipating the phone call and the news of her husband's vanishing act, and while she was finding the keen interest of the investigating police and the drear of the scene unsettling and exhausting, she was playing a carefully studied role just as much as Sherlock when he aped an overcome school mate at her. Sherlock was a bit disgusted with Lestrade for only getting as far as being suspicious of the scene, instead of being able to piece the obvious signs together for himself. What in hell was Mycroft doing with his mate, if not rubbing off on him?
Ugh. Terrible line of inquiry. Potentially extremely hazardous to general well-being. Delete.
Sherlock had to put it down to the tears. He knew John was susceptible to grief and its obvious physical markers, but John was both human and a doctor; his weaknesses were understandable. Here was a woman with eyes ringed in the tell-tale red of emotional distress, choking ever so slightly around the nasal quality tears lent to the voice. Of course John would default to a care-giving role, assuming grief because it was the “natural” result of the circumstances and Mrs. Monkford had delivered all the markers of trauma upon first blush. Pulling that fabrication down about her ears was deeply satisfying as an exercise, and the wolf preened happily when John only wanted to know how Sherlock knew she was lying, and not why he would insinuate a wife implicit in the hours-old disappearance of her husband.
Trust between pack-mates was absolutely vital on a hunt, after all.
John's wolf whined softly, watching Sherlock work over Ewart from Janus Cars. The other man appeared almost manic, rapidly shifting conversational topics with an impatient predatory glint in his eye.
He's just caught the scent of something, that's all, John thought. He's always impossible on a hunt.
When Sherlock explained as they made their way out the maintenance garage why he'd asked for change for the cigarette machine while simultaneously wearing a nicotine patch, John's wolf settled a bit. Pack-mates were meant to share the hunt and even if Sherlock preferred to run ahead and then double back for John, the normal pattern of their hunts was at least reestablishing itself.
John had no idea why Sherlock was accusing every involved party they interviewed of deception in the matter of Ian Monkford's disappearance, but while Sherlock was routinely baffled by sentiment, he never failed to correctly identify the less savory of human behaviors. If his mate said their witnesses were prevaricating, John – or at least his wolf – was willing to accept that people were doing just that.
When Sherlock sent him off to the Yard to check up on their preliminary lab results on the blood and fiber analysis, John and his wolf were finally convinced to let their mate out of line-of-sight for the first time in over twenty four hours, albeit reluctantly. John wasn't sure that he would have managed it if Sherlock hadn't promised to be busy in a lab at Bart's until it was time to rendezvous once more with Lestrade at the Yard impound.
The lab was quiet except for the noise of his work. Sherlock enjoyed listening to his own movements while he prepared the blood sample for testing. The even, steady pace of his confident motions was a balm on his excited senses. His Song, expanded with the soft chords of John's influence, murmured softly at the edges of his awareness.
The focus required to successfully analyze the samples he had taken from Monkford's abandoned vehicle forced him to calm his hunting instincts. His wolf was impatient for the kill, but the man had always been the leader in their partnership and so they didn't rush a single step of the process.
The pink phone rang shrilly as he stepped back from the worktop to allow the chemical solution to permeate the blood sample and complete its expected reaction. Sherlock unlocked the phone and held it to his ear, letting a few seconds of the powerful background noise to filter through the receiver before softly greeting the caller.
“The clue's in the name,” the young man said. “Janus Cars.”
“Why would you be giving me a clue?” Sherlock asked.
“Why does anyone do anything? Because I'm bored.”
Sherlock recalled his words from the earlier that afternoon in Lestrade's office. I can't be the only one who gets bored. At the time it had been exhilarating to think there was someone out there like him. Now the statement merely frustrated him because it told him nothing he didn't already know about the bomber.
“We were made for each other, Sherlock.”
Flirtation? Dull, but an opening for temptation was sometimes useful.
“Then talk to me in your own voice.”
Sherlock pitched his response low, knowing the bomber was listening to him. Sherlock didn't much do seductive, but he knew what a little growl around the edges of his words could do to those already attracted to him. His wolf, momentarily distracted from the thrill of the chase, snarled at him for the lack of loyalty to John.
Quiet. We're not doing anything to John, we're only tricking the prey into coming to us.
The wolf subsided, but not happily.
“Patience,” the young man gasped before the line went dead.
Not so easily tempted then. Unfortunate, but more fun in the long run.
The wolf growled lowly in its corner of Sherlock's mind. The wolf always preferred the chase to setting a trap and, sensing that Sherlock's brief intention of enticing someone other than their mate had passed, it was ready to return to chasing down their intended prey.
It rankled that the bomber thought he needed help to put the pieces together for the Monkford case, but when Sherlock examined the blood sample's chemical reaction, he grinned to himself. Case solved. Now it was time to put Lestrade on the right scent.
They'd only been apart for an hour and a half, two hours at most, but John couldn't help the shiver of relief that ran through him and his wolf at the sight of Sherlock striding down the long hallway to the crime scene unit's impound garage. After receiving the text about the most recent call to the pink phone, John's wolf had not been able to sit still for a moment more until he was back as his mate's side once more. The bomber's engrossment in Sherlock was becoming more disturbing by the hour.
His mate looked alert and healthy, and underneath the sharp scents of chemicals and sterilizing cleaners, Sherlock smelled of adrenaline and self-satisfaction. John's wolf whined for a whole different reason, but John pushed the acute interest in exploring that scent more thoroughly away.
He and Lestrade greeted Sherlock and they all made their way to the bay where Monkford's car was set up for forensic analysis.
“How much blood was on that seat would you say?” Sherlock asked Lestrade over the hood of the car.
“How much? Uh, about a pint,” the Inspector replied.
“Not about. Exactly a pint; that was their first mistake. Blood's definitely Ian Monkford's, but it's been frozen.”
“There are clear signs,” Sherlock said decisively.
John moved around the car to glance in at the dried blood, looking for what Sherlock had seen, applying a medical eye to the spray and coming back with the realization that none of it had really been disturbed. He agreed too with the analysis that the blood spilled was exactly a pint in quantity. He hadn't given it much thought earlier in the day, not needing to eyeball the loss in relation to a patient. Not for the first time, John marveled at Sherlock's ability to override whatever it was in the brain the filtered out “irrelevant” data.
“I think Ian Monkford gave a pint of his blood some time ago and that's what they spread on the seats,” Sherlock continued.
“Who did?” John asked.
“Janus Cars,” Sherlock replied. “The clue's in the name.”
“The god with two faces?”
John's wolf worried at the the invocation of anything having two faces – was the bomber another shifter? – while the doctor in him wondered on what frozen blood, a loaner car staged by Mr. Ewart's employees to appear abandoned, and the missing Ian Monkford could possibly all add up to.
“They provide a very special service; if you've got any type of problem – money troubles, bad marriage, whatever – Janus Cars will help you disappear. Ian Monkford was up to his eyes in some kind of trouble. Financial, at a guess, since he's a banker. Couldn't see a way out. But if he were to vanish, if the car he hired was found abandoned with his blood all over the driver's seat...”
“So where is he?” John asked.
“Colombia.” Sherlock punctuated the statement by closing the door of the car.
“Colombia?!” Lestrade said, moving around the car.
“Mr. Ewart of Janus Cars had a twenty-thousand Colombian peso note in his wallet. Quite a bit of change too. He told us he hadn't been abroad recently. When I asked him about the cars, I could see his tan line clearly. No one wears a shirt on a sun bed. That, plus his arm.”
“His arm?” Lestrade asked, not having interviewed Ewart in person.
“Kept scratching it. Obviously irritated him, and bleeding. Why? Because he'd recently had a booster jab. Hep B, probably. Difficult to tell at that distance. Conclusion? He'd just come back from settling Ian Monkford into his new life in Colombia. Mrs. Monkford cashes in the life insurance and she splits it with Janus Cars.”
“M-Mrs. Monkford?” John asked, feeling hobbled right down to his wolf as Sherlock continued to lay out the results of his hunt.
“Oh yes, she's in on it too.”
Lestrade, laughed softly in wry amusement, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
“Now go and arrest them, Inspector. That's what you do best,” Sherlock turned to John, “We need to let our friendly bomber know that the case is solved.”
John followed Sherlock as he darted towards the outside exit of the impound, setting a brisk enough pace that John was forced to skip a few steps to come abreast of the taller man.
“I am on fire!” Sherlock declared to the high, echoing ceilings.
John walked along quietly, wondering that Sherlock's “friendly bomber” was pointing them toward a Briton in South America. The bomber obviously had Sherlock researched, but was it possible that the bomber had gone looking into the Watsons as well?
He shook his head, dismissing the idea. No. If Mycroft couldn't tell John was anything other than human, then how could someone he'd never met tell that John carried rare Blood, a lone wolf darting in amongst the royalty of one of Europe's oldest Clans? Impossible.
End Chapter Eight
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Sherlock's obsession with the hunt wars with his desire to provide for John, while the doctor continues to worry about the bomber's endgame.
TGG continues to be difficult to write for some reason, but I'm going ahead and giving you what I have despite its being short. Un-betaed and Brit-picked, so let me know where I've blundered! Apologies once again for the delay.
(As a short, selfish sort of aside, I finally buckled and made a fandom-Tumblr in addition to my much neglected LJ account. I'm not terribly exciting, I'll readily admit, but I do occasionally share story snippets, fan-mixes, and the like. You can find me at quietly-amused(.)tumblr(.)com or at kian15(.)livejournal(.)com.) Enjoy!
John had just changed into his pyjamas when Sherlock bellowed up the stairs that Lestrade had made his first round of arrests, and the bomb squad had recovered the young male victim, and he needed them back at the Yard to give their statements. He looked forlornly at his bed, and then pulled on the clothes he'd just tossed into the hamper.
When he descended the stairs a few minutes later, Sherlock was standing at the door of the flat, coat on, scarf draped about his collar, and pulling on a pair of black gloves, looking as impeccably groomed as though he had just dressed a moment before. Sherlock eyed him up and down, then sniffed before turning his attention back to the fit of his gloves.
“I don't know why you bothered to change. It was inevitable that Lestrade would need us back once we'd arranged for the bombing to be prevented.”
“I was hoping that could wait until morning,” John said, dragging his own coat back on and following Sherlock back out into the night.
Sherlock didn't reply, but John could feel the judgment in the weight of the silence. His wolf bristled a bit.
It wasn't until five minutes into their taxi ride that Sherlock, looking out his window in studied nonchalance, said, “I'm sure it won't take too long to go over the facts again. Lestrade's shift was over hours ago.”
It was a flimsy apology, but the wolf was soothed, its mane settling again before it faded back from the forefront of John's mind.
“Ta,” John said. He pretended not to notice the subtle relaxing of Sherlock's pose on the other side of the seat. “So, where was the kid?”
Sherlock sprang on the opening and by the time they arrived at the Yard, both John and the taxi driver were entirely filled in about the bomb that did not go off in the middle of a busy London street just a few hours previous and the damage it had not ended up causing, both of the property and human kind.
John tipped the driver a few extra quid for bravely suffering in silence. How Sherlock had managed to tune out the smell of the man's ever increasing distress, John would never know. As it was, John heard the driver's breathy beginnings of a phone conversation sitting there idling on the kerb before doors closed behind them and the sounds of the Yard washed out all the noise from the street.
It was the start of the morning commuters' hours by the time the bomb unit released Lestrade, Sherlock, and John to go. Sherlock was allowed a brief interview with young Andrew, who clammed up pretty hard when he realized that he was talking to the man he'd been forced to call up and parrot conversation at during the harrowing hours of his ordeal. Sherlock was frustrated, but Andrew had little to add to his investigations in any event.
Lestrade offered the use of his office between their visits to various other departments, and John nodded off once or twice in one of the uncomfortable chairs set before Lestrade's desk while waiting to give statements or to positively identify Mrs. Monkford and employees from Janus Cars. Sherlock let him sleep, his own mind working on the last threads of the puzzle and how it fit into the whole as the third shift at the Yard carried out the paperwork and processing of the case.
After the fourth time John startled himself awake and then groaned at the crick in his neck, Lestrade brought him a cuppa. Sherlock could smell the steaming brew from across the office and his wolf sneered at the offering. John could make much better, especially with the teas Sherlock kept stocked in the flat. John thanked Lestrade politely and sipped at the cup, but the wolf was triumphant when he noticed as they were finally dismissed that John had never finished it.
It was in the lift on the way out of the Yard that Sherlock let himself take a few heady inhales, letting John's scent filter past all the stale smells of the compartment's many previous occupants. His hand left the coat pocket where he had been idly fingering the pink phone during their wait, coming up to readjust his scarf about his neck as he analyzed the information contained in John's unique scent.
His wolf growled irritably at the bitter notes of fatigue and hunger, laced with the faintest traces of pain and discomfort. The work might have been of paramount importance to the man, but the wolf was far more concerned in the state of its mate and the instinct to provide reared up strong and swift.
A half hour later, as John tucked into his breakfast, a sense of deep satisfaction rumbled softly through his wolf.
“Feeling better?” Sherlock asked, watching John's pallor brighten as the warmth and calories combined to soothe the rough edges of an exhausted body.
John's relieved grunt was all the additional fuel Sherlock found he needed around the adrenaline of the hunt.
“Has it occurred to you–?,” John began. He was starting to feel a little more awake and alive now that he was digesting something that was properly identifiable as food.
“Probably,” Sherlock interjected, his gaze following the progression of Londoners visible through the window over John's shoulder, while his fingers twitched in erratic impatience on the tabletop, the pink phone sitting just beyond his fingertips. That he had volunteered to take John to breakfast without prompting was enough for John to interpret Sherlock's impatience as the product of something other than John's inconvenient need for sustenance.
“No, has it occurred to you that the bomber's playing a game with you?” John continued, catching and holding Sherlock's gaze. Sherlock's fingers stilled. “The envelope. Breaking into the other flat. The dead kid's shoes. It's all been for you.”
“Yes, I know,” Sherlock grinned coyly. His eyes flickered a more startling shade of blue momentarily, before settling again into the pale shade that John was used to.
“Is it him, then? Moriarty?”
“Perhaps,” Sherlock said, seeming to rein in his delight at the invocation of the shadow entity's name.
The pink phone chirped and after Sherlock unlocked the phone and turned the screen to face them, the three pips chiming out softly in the busy cafe, a familiar face flashed across the small screen.
“That could be anybody,” Sherlock frowned in protest.
“Could be, yeah,” John sighed, shaking his head in chagrin at his own inane knowledge. “Lucky for you, I've been more than a little unemployed.”
John pushed his chair back from the table as he spotted a telly pinned up in an adjacent corner of the dining area.
“How do you mean?” Sherlock asked.
“Lucky for you, Missus Hudson and I watch far too much telly.”
Disentangling himself from his seat, John marched briskly to the counter and, after flashing the harried waitress behind the counter a winning smile, appropriated the remote left sitting there. A quick flip through channels brought him to the news story John was looking for. Connie Prince's voice called out from the telly for a few moments before the pink phone rang, shrill and insistent in the lazy atmosphere of the cafe's early morning crowd.
John kept a grip on the remote at the counter while Sherlock answered the call, worried now more than ever that he and Sherlock had entirely different views on where this thing was going.
“This one is a bit...defective. Sorry. She's blind.”
Sherlock's wolf growled deep within him, but he didn't quite know why.
“This is...a funny one.”
John returned to the table and Sherlock tried to block out the sudden need to check his mate over for damage, to check the corners of the room for hidden dangers.
“I'll give you...twelve hours...”
Meeting John's concerned look – the plate of food pushed away and forgotten – Sherlock asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“I like...to watch you...dance!” the woman gasped out, panicked moans overtaking her ability to communicate. Sherlock hung up and shook his head at John.
The telly played on, repeating its coverage of Connie Prince's untimely demise.
Lestrade met them at the morgue, even though he had only just returned home and had to call in a favor to have Connie Prince's body made ready for them. A PC met them at the door to hand over the police report and initial findings, which Lestrade summarized while Sherlock circled the cold, pungent form of Ms. Prince. Everything seemed to be in order, and that only strengthened the wolf's certainty that something was most definitely out of place.
Pulling out his magnifying glass from his coat pocket, Sherlock began tracing the history of Connie Prince's mishaps from her finger up to her brow, noting each and every nick and cut.
“Hm?” the doctor murmured, viewing the corpse from the vantage point of Sherlock's elbow.
“Cut on her hand. It's deep, would've bled a lot, right?”
“Yeah,” John agreed, leaning down to get a closer look at Connie's hand.
“The wound's clean. Very clean. And fresh.” Sherlock stood, snapping his magnifying glass closed. “How long would the bacteria have been incubating inside her?”
“Eight, ten days,” John said.
Sherlock grinned triumphantly and looked to his mate, who made the connection fast enough. Really, John was worth ten of Lestrade's Yarders when on the hunt.
“The cut was made later,” John said, feeling out the facts.
“After she was dead?” Lestrade asked.
“Must have been. The only question is: how did the tetanus enter the dead woman's system?” Sherlock agreed. Turning to John, he said, “You want to help, right?”
“Connie Prince's background. Family history. Everything. Give me data.”
“Right,” John murmured, heading for the door on cue. Sherlock's wolf observed him go, the brisk military gait newly appealing where before Sherlock would have more appreciated the stalk of a fellow wolf. John Watson defied all Sherlock's preconceptions about the hunt, and in all the most delightful ways.
As Sherlock went to follow John out, Lestrade spoke up.
“There's something else that we haven't thought of.”
“Yes. Why is he doing this, the bomber?”
Sherlock stopped, feeling Lestrade's gaze on the back of his neck. If Lestrade wanted, he could pull rank and force Sherlock's confidence. It was a mark of Lestrade's respect for Sherlock as a man and fellow hunter that he always requested information.
It was a mark of Sherlock's respect for Lestrade that he stopped to give any reply at all. (There had been a time when Sherlock had vowed to defy any mate of Mycroft's as fervently as he defied his brother, but the wolf had never been able to see Lestrade as anything but a brother wolf and respected hunter.)
“If this woman's death was suspicious, why point it out?”
“Who press-gangs suicide bombers?”
“I'm, I'm serious, Sherlock,” Lestrade said, his eyes flashing a bit yellow around the edges as a fervent punctuation to his words. “Listen, I'm cutting you slack here. I'm trusting you, but out there somewhere, some poor bastard's covered in Semtex and just waiting for you to solve the puzzle. So just tell me, what are we dealing with?”
Sherlock smiled to himself, his wolf panting happily in rising anticipation. “Something new.”
The ring of Sherlock's phone through the flat was a welcome distraction from the ongoing puzzle of Carl Powers and the bomber's wider game, especially while waiting for the evidence to come through from Home Office about Connie Prince's houseboy. With Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson both near at hand, chatting amiably about the late chat show host, Sherlock didn't need to look at the screen to know the call was from John.
There was no wolf in England who would be better suited to Sherlock than the human John Watson, he was utterly convinced. Sherlock's wolf rumbled happily in his chest, well satisfied and keen to join John at the Princes' flat. No matter that he had already solved the case and was simply waiting for the paper trail of evidence to be delivered to him. John had sniffed something out and was inviting Sherlock to come join in the final leg of the hunt, to join in at bringing the prey to ground and finishing it – or rather, him – off.
Oh, it was perfect. All of his attention – the razor-sharp teeth of his human body – could be sunk happily into this newest chase, because John was the one who beckoned him. Mycroft's puzzle was surely just as childishly simple, but without John to lead the chase, it held no appeal at present. John – and his precious, unpredictable mind – made the hunt a pleasure, not merely a necessity.
He couldn't wait to find out whether John had figured out the chain of events leading up to Connie Prince's murder or whether he had come up with something else entirely, something that proved that, while John was not Sherlock's equal in observation, he tried. John was innocuously human and only possessed of an acceptable degree of intelligence and experience to keep him from being truly dull, but when he tried to use that intelligence, nothing could keep Sherlock away. With savage, gleeful purpose, Sherlock collected his props and set out to meet his mate at the late Connie Prince's home.
When he and John ran together, mayhem and mischief were afoot and Sherlock wouldn't have it any other way.
End of Chapter Nine