Sherlock was still sneezing as he towelled off, and he wondered if his new condition had made him allergic to his customary soap. He’d never had allergies before, so he had no basis for comparison. It would be odd to suddenly develop allergies, though, given that he apparently could heal at an inhumanly fast rate.
Inhumanly, he thought, grinning.
His bloody clothes were gone from where he’d dumped them on the floor, which was odd; he hadn’t noticed John entering the bathroom. Then again, between scrubbing at the blood drying on his skin and examining the new scars on his leg, he’d been distracted. John had been kind enough to lay out Sherlock’s warmer dressing gown, though he’d neglected to leave anything else. He had a very keen sense of privacy and probably hadn’t wanted to go digging through Sherlock’s wardrobe (though Sherlock had no similar reservations when it came to John’s belongings).
Sherlock went out into the flat and immediately was assaulted by the smell of old, damp blood; at the kitchen sink, John had washed off as best he could. Movement caught Sherlock’s eye and his head whipped around before he could identify the curtains blowing in the damp breeze from the open window. More movement — John, in the kitchen. Wind stirring papers on the coffee table. Everything caught his attention even more than usual, threatening to overwhelm him.
“Oh, damn,” John said, rushing towards Sherlock. “Close your eyes.”
“What’s happening to —”
Sherlock cut off as John got close, too close, almost in arm’s reach, and Sherlock bared his teeth and snarled, swiping at John with hooked fingers in a move that would have had his judo instructors despairing. But he was fast, faster than he’d ever imagined, and so strong that nothing could stop him —
Except John, who knocked Sherlock’s arm aside almost contemptuously, caught his wrist, and spun him around, slamming him into the wall. The smell of blood — his own blood, still covering John’s skin — filled Sherlock’s senses. Sherlock pushed away from the wall, only to be shoved back again, John’s body pressed against him from hips to shoulders.
“Calm down,” John said, his breath hot on the back of Sherlock’s neck. “Remember yourself. Control yourself.”
The threat tugged at his new instincts, prompting him to go still and relax against the wall, making no move that John could interpret as an attempt to fight back. Pack leader, Sherlock thought, taking deep breaths. Until now, John had always followed his lead in everything from cases to their choice of dinner. The sudden role-reversal was disconcerting.
Slowly, John relaxed his hold, backing off until there was only a light pressure against Sherlock’s back. One hand moved to Sherlock’s shoulder, “Remember who you are, Sherlock. Close your eyes and just listen, all right?”
John had killed to protect Sherlock. He’d saved Sherlock’s life more than once. Sherlock trusted John. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, which helped. The feeling of danger began to ebb.
Calmly, John continued,“It’s me, Sherlock. You need to get used to seeing movement and not perceiving it as a threat or as potential food. Doesn’t help that you’re probably smelling your own blood, too.”
Increased visual acuity, response to odors normally disregarded by humans... Predator-senses, he thought, and a faint snort of amusement escaped. “I’m fine,” Sherlock said. The logic was comforting; he’d more easily adjust if he knew the reasons behind the physiological changes.
“Good. I’m going to let you go now. Keep your eyes closed and turn around.”
Sherlock nodded, tensing as John stepped away. He waited a few seconds before turning around, leaning against the wall to keep himself steady.
“I need to go have a wash. There’s food on the table. Eat — no arguments. You lost a lot of blood.”
Actually hungry despite the data he wanted to collect about his new condition, Sherlock started to nod before he remembered the frozen rats and the styrofoam cooler of raw meat in the attic. “What — It’s not rats, is —”
“God, no,” John said, sounding revolted. “Sherlock, we’re still human. I made sandwiches.”
Sherlock couldn’t hide his sigh of relief. He nodded, still resisting the impulse to open his eyes. “Thank you.”
“No difficulty standing? Walking?”
“Right, then.” John gave Sherlock’s shoulder one last squeeze and then was gone.
Sherlock listened to his footsteps, followed by the creak of the bathroom door closing. Normal human hearing; that was interesting. So velociraptors hunted mainly by sight, not sound, which was a relief. His condition probably wouldn’t affect his ability to play the violin. In human form, at least.
After opening his eyes, he found that keeping his vision fixed firmly on the floor helped him to stay calm. Whenever he lifted his gaze, he twitched at every little motion. Panic started to build like ice in his chest as he wondered what this would do to his work.
But John could function normally in society. He didn’t go around flinching every time someone moved quickly near him. If he could learn to cope, Sherlock certainly could do the same.
He finished his sandwich, started on John’s, and finished that one before the shower was even off. The bread was still out on the counter, and he swiped a piece to nibble as he opened the fridge. He actually enjoyed cooking — really, cooking was just chemistry, though usually with less explosive results — but right now, he had no desire to wait. They were out of sliced cheese, but there was still a half package of roast beef left over from the sandwiches. He tossed the package on the table and resisted the urge to eat it as-is. Instead, he used a fork.
That was how John found him, scraping at the package with the side of the fork, trying to get at the last shredded bits of roast beef clinging to the plastic wrapper. Sherlock looked up in slow-dawning horror at his own table manners, but John just gave him an understanding smile and went right for the kettle. Now that John wasn’t wearing pints of Sherlock’s blood, his presence was... tolerable.
“What have you — As a doctor, that is — You must have examined this,” Sherlock said, struggling to organize his thoughts into something coherent. He had too many questions and no idea where to start.
John didn’t answer until he’d filled the kettle and plugged it in. “I have some answers, yes, though not enough. Not for you, at any rate,” he added wryly.
“How did it start? Afghanistan, but how? Were you attacked? How did you —”
“Slow down,” John interrupted with a soft laugh. He turned to take a couple of mugs out of the cabinet, checking each one carefully as he always did. This time, though, he actually sniffed each — no need to be surreptitious about such things anymore — and put one in the sink. He glared at Sherlock, reaching for another mug, and said, “We’ve talked about using the dishware for sulfur.”
“Scrapings from matches,” Sherlock said automatically in his own defense. “I needed a quick chemical analysis — Don’t change the subject,” he scolded.
“Then don’t use our mugs for your experiments.” He sniffed the next mug and set it beside the first, apparently satisfied it was safe for human use. Or velociraptor use. “And yes, it happened in Afghanistan.”
Sherlock stared at him expectantly. “And?”
John sighed, dropping a teabag into each mug, and turned to lean back against the counter. He must have gone upstairs for clothes; he wore jeans, though he hadn’t bothered with a shirt. Sherlock’s eyes went to the bullet wound on his chest, and he remembered the feel of that scar through feathers.
“Our FOB was attacked —”
John frowned at Sherlock, his expression implying that Sherlock should have been familiar with the acronym. “Forward Operating Base. I wasn’t stationed at a safe hospital behind the lines,” he said, his eyes going distant. “They hit us about an hour before dawn one morning. We repelled the attack, and I was part of the response team.”
“Response team? You went after them?”
“Of course.” John grinned despite what had to have been a traumatic memory. “It was only polite to go play, after they’d invited us.”
“And people think I’m mad.”
John laughed, relaxing against the counter. “Yes, well, I asked for the posting. In any case, it took a good six hours, but they gave us the slip. We milled about for a while, kicking in doors and asking questions, but no one gave them up —”
“You were in a town?”
John nodded. “Small one, yes. So we were leaving the town when we came under heavy fire from what seemed like everywhere. We scattered for cover and started returning fire, but they had rocket launchers, and... well, they separated us. Me, I mean,” he said, no longer smiling.
Sherlock turned his chair to better study John’s expression. His eyes had gone hard and cold, and he suddenly remembered that day when he’d been frightened of John, for just one moment.
Somewhere deep inside Sherlock, he responded to that threat, and he had to fight the urge to bare his teeth and snarl.
“I suppose they needed a medic, or maybe they just wanted an officer for interrogation. It couldn’t have been more than fifteen, twenty minutes of fighting and hiding, all of us on our radios, trying to regroup. I found out later our bloody air support was shooting up the wrong village.” John snorted. “Anyway, next thing I know, one of their snipers got me.”
John nodded tightly. He turned back to the kettle, falling silent. The scar on his back was much neater, a starry entry wound no bigger than a ten pence.
“You were captured,” Sherlock guessed.
John nodded again. Though the kettle wasn’t yet whistling, he unplugged it and started to fill the mugs. “And dying. I would have done, if one of them hadn’t... well.” He gestured down at his right leg, at the bite mark hidden under his jeans.
“Wasn’t that —” Sherlock cut himself off before he could say foolish. He went cold as he realized he never would have known John even existed — that John would have died.
John looked back at him and managed a lopsided sort of smile. “Given what happened once I realized what I’d become, yes. It was.”
“You killed them.”
“Bloody right, I did,” he said, grinning fiercely. “Remember I said we’re pack hunters?”
Sherlock’s thoughts leaped ahead. He narrowed his eyes, studying John’s body language — confident, balanced, full of strength and self-assurance. “You killed your pack.”
“They didn’t think it possible, I suppose. I found out later that they’d had me for four months.”
Sherlock was aghast. “And no one came looking for you?”
“They did, but we were miles away by then. The whole country’s riddled with caves.” He shook his head and went to the fridge for milk. “I finally managed to hook up with an American patrol. They got me back to Camp Bastion a couple of days later.”
John stared at Sherlock before shaking his head in resignation. He turned back to fixing their tea — milk in one, sugar in the other — and said, “The main British base in Afghanistan. You’ve — No, of course you’ve deleted it if you ever knew it to begin with. Honestly, Sherlock, I wonder if the only reason you even know there’s a war on is because I was in it.”
“You’re important,” Sherlock said, before he could stop himself. Then he said, “It’s important. The war. For you, I mean.”
John gave him an amused smirk and offered him the mug of sweetened tea. “Right.”
Avoiding his eyes, Sherlock took the tea and slouched back in his chair, sniffing the steam to see if his senses reported anything new.
“Anyway, the lapsed time explained how the shoulder had healed. I, ah, gave them a story about being attacked by wild dogs when they asked about my leg. I had to play up the weakness in my shoulder a bit —”
“You didn’t want to,” Sherlock interrupted, seeing the tension around John’s eyes.
“I’d planned on re-enlisting as long as they’d have me.”
“But you didn’t —”
“Sherlock.” John took a deep breath and sat down across the table, holding the mug between both palms. “We can change whenever we want. But around the full moon, we have no choice. It was a near thing for me just to get out of the military without being caught.”
Sherlock wanted to ask how he’d managed, but not now. Not that he would normally care, but John seemed... uncomfortable. Besides, Sherlock had enough to consider already without adding to the mystery — yet.
“So. Right,” John said a short time later, after the tea had cooled enough for him to take a sip. “There’s no time to make other arrangements, so it’s back to the attic tonight. I’m sorry — it would be easier if we could be out in the open somewhere. At least, it was for me.”
Out in the open. That was easy enough. “We can,” Sherlock said absently.
“We — What? How?”
Sherlock grinned. “I think it’s time you finally saw where Mycroft and I grew up.”
“Your mother still lives there, doesn’t she?” John gave him a warning glare. “Sherlock, I don’t care what kind of... of family trauma you have. We are not biting your mother.”
“She won’t be there — she’s showing her horses. Besides, I’d never even consider it. She’s terrifying enough without having fangs and claws. Any more than she already does, that is.”
“Good lord, you grew up here?” John asked as the car drove them through the afternoon overcast that dappled the winding drive. The house was visible in glimpses through the old oaks that dotted the front landscape.
“Explains Mycroft, doesn’t it?” Sherlock asked dryly.
“What were you, then? A changeling?”
Sherlock grinned. “Science experiment gone wrong, perhaps. Our father was a genetics horticulturist before he died.”
“Oh. God, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Mycroft knew him; I never did.” He took a breath as the car turned into the main circle before the portico. “I’ve always felt like an outsider here. This is Mycroft’s world, not mine.”
“Apparently.” John shook his head, leaning down to look past Sherlock so he could see the house through the window. A servant was already there, reaching to open the door as the car stopped.
Sherlock got out, buttoning his jacket like armor. He couldn’t place the servant by name, though he looked familiar. Mother always hired the household staff from the village, so they all tended to look alike.
“Mr. Holmes, Captain Watson,” the servant said, nodding to them both as John got out of the car. John shot Sherlock a surprised look at the use of his military title.
Sherlock frowned, hiding his own surprise. Mother would favor a military title over the much more common ‘doctor’, but how had she known? Mycroft, perhaps, though Sherlock wouldn’t put it past her to have her own spies.
In the foyer, they were met by a new butler who introduced himself as Nathaniel. He was the very image of their old butler, though twenty years younger — a disorienting throwback to Sherlock’s childhood. He directed the other servants to take their bags upstairs before asking, “Will you be taking drinks in the study, sir? Dinner is ready to be served at your leisure.”
Sherlock shot John a questioning look, wondering how long they had before they were forced to change. Amusing as the idea was of charging through his ancestral home with claws and fangs, he’d rather not face the fallout when Mother returned. John frowned, giving a little shake of his head.
“Just have the kitchen send up trays, please. Tiring journey.”
Nathaniel sent another of the staff to notify the kitchen and gestured to the main staircase. “This way then, captain, sir.”
He led them to the family wing, which was something of surprise. Sherlock had expected John, at least, to be put up in the guest wing. Was the guest wing under renovation, or had mother left other instructions for the staff? He’d find out tomorrow. For tonight, if their rooms were close, it would be more convenient for them to escape the house later.
The family wing would also be less overwhelming for poor John, who was trying his hardest not to stare at the decor; Sherlock didn’t have the heart to tell him how badly he was failing, though there really was no need. The servants were all too well-trained to openly notice.
Actually, John’s open, approachable nature could be an asset here. He’d surely be able to charm the servants into making no mention of anything odd — two velociraptors spotted out in the forest, for example, or the youngest son of the family and his ex-army flatmate raiding the kitchen just past dawn.
Nathaniel stopped at the first room in the family wing, usually reserved for the rare times when distant cousins visited. “Captain,” he said, opening the door.
“Stop by after dinner, then?” John suggested to Sherlock.
Sherlock nodded, telling Nathaniel, “Please ensure that we’re not disturbed until we come down for breakfast tomorrow morning. We may be going out later tonight.”
The family’s land included a broad swath of forest populated by small game and a carefully managed herd of deer, even though the Holmeses hadn’t run a proper hunt for easily twenty years. Mother had tried to convince Sherlock to take up seasonal hunting again, but there was little excitement to be found in chasing deer or, worse, a scent trail laid by a gamekeeper, since fox hunting was banned.
And yet, that was exactly what they were doing tonight. “You’re sure about this?” he asked John anxiously. “What was that about me not being able to even sort out how to walk for the first week?”
“It’s fine, Sherlock. You flail around in the leaves for a bit, and I’ll find a nice deer and drag it over.”
“You do know it’ll be raw, don’t you?”
John gave him a look that should have been unreadable in the twilight darkness of the forest, but Sherlock had no trouble at all seeing him clearly. He wondered if acute nightvision was something permanent or if it would only manifest like this on nights when he had to change. Or could it be a partial change? It would be damned useful, though potentially dangerous, leaving him open to being blinded by bright lights. And people might notice his eyes even more than they already did, with their odd silver-blue-green coloring.
He looked back to see John had stopped by one of the oldest trees in the forest, a behemoth of an oak that Sherlock remembered climbing many times in his youth. Mycroft had never been athletic enough to make it to the highest branches, making the tree a perfect refuge — at least until Mycroft had started loading the shotgun with rock salt, the bastard.
“This should do just fine,” John said, stripping off his jacket. He tossed it down on the gnarled roots sticking up out of the earth and then sat down to untie his trainers.
“Oh.” Sherlock hesitated, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to him that stripping would be a part of shapechanging. It made perfect sense, but seemed a bit... awkward. He went around the other side of the tree and shivered a bit as he unbuttoned his shirt, leaving his coat and suit jacket on.
“You’re sure no one will be out here tonight?” John asked.
“If they are, they’re trespassing, so we have leave to eat them.” Sherlock smirked. “Or I could call Mycroft.”
“You really don’t like your brother, do you?”
“Every time I come home, I remember more reasons he irritates me. I might not want to kill him, but chasing? Absolutely.”
Sherlock folded his clothes neatly, wrapping them up in his coat in case it rained, and tucked his shoes under the bundle. Really, he should have changed into something less expensive, but he hadn’t been thinking clearly since discovering that his mother thought he and John were...
Well, no. He hadn’t been thinking clearly since finding a dinosaur in the attic. For once, the matter of his sexuality wasn’t the most awkward topic of discussion.
Still, it was with marked reluctance that he finally pushed his pants down and shoved them into the outside pocket of his overcoat, where he could quickly get at them in the morning. Then, not knowing what else to do, he tugged a fold of cloth out of the bundle and sat on it, huddling up a bit against the cold — and to preserve his modesty.
But John, after half a lifetime of playing rugby and being a soldier and whatever else he did, simply walked around the tree, not a care in the world, and asked, “You all right?”
“Lovely. Next time, let’s bring a space heater,” Sherlock answered, determinedly looking out toward the forest.
John laughed easily. “When it happens, don’t fight it. It won’t hurt, but it’s damned uncomfortable. Just go with it and it’ll be over sooner. Think you can do that?”
“Of course I can,” Sherlock snapped, darting a glance at him, and why the hell didn’t he politely turn his back?
“I’ve seen you fight every other basic biological imperative. Food, sleep, remember? You could be bleeding half to death and you’d refuse a plaster to chase down a lead.”
Sherlock sniffed derisively and turned his back, figuring at least one of them should have some manners.
John sighed. “You’ll learn. Look, you can watch me, if you want. I’m going to change now. It might trigger you to change, too, so just be ready.”
Curiosity won out over embarrassment. Sherlock turned just enough to look over his shoulder at John. Really, his vision was incredible — perhaps even better than his daylight vision. He could see every detail clearly, every scar and mark and imperfection.
He gritted his teeth and looked away, realizing he was staring. But John had invited him to stare. Well, to watch. But God, this was —
He heard a gasp and looked back automatically in time to see John crouched over, one hand resting on the earth. His back was bowed sharply, his body racked with shudders.
Sherlock was on his feet and at John’s side before he could stop himself. Already, John’s skin was lost under a faint, soft blur of downy feathers that seemed to be growing rather than simply appearing wholly made. It was like time-lapse photography, seamless, and Sherlock put a hand on John’s back to feel the unnatural shift of bone and muscle.
John exhaled, his ribs caving in, and when he inhaled, he arched back, his neck longer, head misshapen for a moment before taking on the sleek, predatory lines of his velociraptor-self. The crest of feathers shimmered, standing upright as he shook himself, turning to hiss at Sherlock.
“That was...” Sherlock fell silent, because there were no words for it. The transition had been nearly perfect, so much smoother than his return to human form last night, when he’d kicked out at Sherlock.
John nodded, reaching out with his left forelimb — Sherlock hesitated to call it an arm — and touched Sherlock’s skin with his claws. The message was clear: Your turn.
Suddenly nervous (or more nervous, at any rate) Sherlock crouched down in imitation of John’s posture. John turned, moving with oddly bird-like steps, sickle-claws digging into the soft earth between the old tree’s roots. He let out a low, rumbling sort of growl and mirrored Sherlock’s posture, fore-claws on the ground, tail balancing him.
Dinosaur, Sherlock thought, not certain how to begin. He tried to imagine the feel of feathers, the shape of his body changing, but it was all too... impossible. Everything in him was assuring him that he was human, not a dinosaur — that shapeshifting was impossible, despite the change he’d just witnessed.
John prodded at Sherlock’s arm with the back of his claws. “I’m trying,” Sherlock snapped, trying not to shiver from the cold and the way John’s feathers brushed over his skin. “How did you manage this the first time, then?”
John’s head jerked back and he hissed, feathered crest rising as he backed up. He shook his head firmly.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, trying to read John’s body language, but he’d never studied dinosaurs in quite that way. Sherlock could identify his tells — combat-ready posture, the raised crest, the bared fangs — but he couldn’t distinguish subtleties.
“You’re not helping,” he accused with another shiver; mild weather or not, it was bloody cold to be sitting out in the woods, undressed. He rubbed his hands over his arms, hunching over as much as he could, wondering if he shouldn’t have brought a blanket.
John growled at him, nudging his muzzle into Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock glared but went cold at the way John was looking at him, long fangs bared, eyes fixed on him with their cold mirror sheen...
He growled again, the sound prickling over Sherlock’s skin in a very human, fear-inducing way that triggered some long-buried racial memory of predators stalking the darkness beyond the firelight. John had shifted his weight, Sherlock noticed, head and tail extended, body perfectly balanced to charge or leap, toe-claws digging into the moldering leaves covering the earth.
Sherlock froze, trapped between the very human urge to run and the mad desire to leap at John, to answer the threat with his own fangs and claws. John snarled and snapped, making Sherlock jerk back out of the way, though it was a near miss all the same, fangs just grazing his arm and drawing thin lines of blood.
In sudden rage, Sherlock launched himself at John, his greater weight taking the feathered velociraptor down. Twisting, John’s tail lashed hard at Sherlock’s hip, sending him rolling up against the tree roots, and Sherlock dug his claws into the earth to catch his balance just as John leaped, scything claws pulled back so the ends just pricked through Sherlock’s feathers. John’s weight drove the breath from Sherlock’s lungs as he launched himself off Sherlock’s prone body.
Sherlock twisted and writhed up to his feet, only to crash muzzle-first into the tree trunk. He threw up his arms, but they didn’t work properly, and he felt his vestigal wing-feathers crush up against his flesh. He twisted to look, but the motion rippled down his spine and into his tail, making him reel drunkenly as he tried to fight the weight that was meant to counterbalance him.
A rhythmic hissing sounded just above him. He focused his eyes on the tan under-feathers of John’s throat. John cocked his head, looking down at Sherlock, and he realized the hissing was laughter.
Sherlock snarled and tried to complain, but all that came out were growls and coughs. He kicked uselessly in the air; every attempt to twist off his back met with resistance from his damnable tail.
John lowered his head and stopped hissing. He growled softly and nudged his muzzle against Sherlock’s throat, sending a violent shudder through Sherlock’s body. He stopped fighting himself and John, instead allowing John to push his head back. It was a calming, reassuring touch, with no hint of razor-sharp fangs.
Slowly, Sherlock’s heart stopped its violent pounding. He opened his eyes and looked upside-down at the dark, quiet forest.
John backed away with light, quick steps. His head cocked in silent question.
Sherlock nodded — he’d be fine. John let out one more reassuring growl. Then he twisted, tail snapping, and bounded off into the night.
By the time Sherlock smelled blood on the air, he’d sorted out some of his problems and managed to twist his body into a sort of low crouch. The tail was damned heavy, for one, and his brain had no neural patterns to control it. He’d finally made that connection after remembering the case of a murderer with a prosthetic leg; his gait had changed dramatically as he’d relearned to walk. Eventually, Sherlock knew he’d sort out the tail.
But it was his own legs that caused a much bigger problem, because the joints were all properly there but shifted, both in placement and in function. Hips farther back, knees present but placed much higher, elongated ankle, weight distributed not on a foot with a proper arch but on toes that seemed designed to propel the body into forward motion. Lovely for running, but terrible for staying still.
His forelimbs were even less help, limited as they were, both in strength and range of motion. He could only hold a crouch by keeping his hands (much as he hesitated to call them that) curled into loose fists, digging his shortest claws into the earth to sort of rest on all fours.
Still, it could have been worse. As dinosaurs went, velociraptors were hardly a bad choice. The attic would never have held a proper stegosaurus.
Movement caught his eye. He watched, marveling at how clearly he could see John backing up with awkward steps, tail held awkwardly high, head dropped low. Beyond, Sherlock could see the limp form of a deer — a small doe, he guessed.
With hopping, twitching motions, he managed to inch around to face John, though the slope of the ground at the foot of the tree threatened to send him tail-over-muzzle once more. Out of curiosity, he tried to call out John’s name, listening to the growl his body produced instead. As a solitary velociraptor, John had never had reason to develop a language, but now, there was definite need. Sherlock could at least remedy that.
Velociraptors were not built for reverse motion. Watching John struggle to drag the deer closer made Sherlock wish he could trust his own rebellious body to move closer, but he had no desire to have John witness more of his undignified flailing. He’d made it to his feet; that was good enough for now.
As always, John put Sherlock’s comfort above his own, and dragged the deer all the way back to the tree despite how the effort apparently exhausted him. After he dropped the deer’s throat, he went around and rotated the carcass by tugging on the back legs until the belly was under Sherlock’s muzzle.
Lowering his head, Sherlock examined the wounds, marveling again at the acuity of even his close-up vision in the darkness. The throat was mangled, but that was from John’s hold when he’d dragged the body. The deathblow had been a deep bite to the back of the neck, snapping the spine. Sherlock tipped his head the other way, examining the scores on the withers and chest.
Reconstructing the attack, he looked up in surprise at John, realizing that John had leaped onto the deer, probably while it was running. Was he that fast? Were they that fast?
He growled in frustration, scythe-claws digging deep into the earth, wanting to experience it for himself. John hissed and crouched over the deer, slashing at the underbelly with his shorter forelimb-claws. Blood pooled and saturated the earth as lengths of intestine coiled out.
Abruptly, hunger twisted through Sherlock, and he nearly lowered his head to snap at the still-warm viscera, before he caught sight of John’s bared, bloody fangs. Instinctively, Sherlock took a step back, jamming his tail into the earth and nearly sending himself crashing sideways. He couldn’t bite back the whimper of startled pain.
John huffed and snapped his teeth into the wound he’d made, thrashing his head back and forth to break open the deer’s ribcage. He dug his bloody muzzle into the body cavity and came up with something richly dark and wet. With a toss of his head, he tossed it to the earth in front of Sherlock.
Liver, Sherlock realized, horrified as he realized John expected him to eat it, still body-warm and coated with leaves and dirt. He coughed, the human part of his mind trying to make his body retch in reaction, but velociraptors apparently lacked the ability.
John’s growl was low, not threatening at all. He leaped agilely over the body, twisting to position himself beside Sherlock, and picked up the liver by stabbing his fore-claws through it. With his teeth, he ripped it in half, throwing his head back to swallow the larger piece in a few heavy gulps. Sherlock could see its progress down his throat; with no molars, velociraptors had no way to properly masticate.
Twisting, John extended one forelimb and offered Sherlock the smaller chunk of liver.
Sherlock crouched even lower, tail lashing once through the leaves, making him stagger. He whined and closed his eyes, which helped. Without sight to remind him that this was repulsive, at least to a human, he felt only hunger. John had eaten; now, it was Sherlock’s turn.
He snapped the meat off John’s claws, and the taste was better than anything he’d ever experienced, firing off pleasure centers deep in his brain. He swallowed instinctively, not choking at all, and leaned forward, almost falling on the carcass as he tore at the kill, making soft, growling noises in warning.
But when John nosed him aside, he pulled away, watching intently for his chance to snatch another few bites. He wouldn’t challenge John, but this was their kill, and he snarled loudly to warn away any other predators in the forest.
John hissed at him and nudged Sherlock with his muzzle, letting Sherlock have a turn at the kill again. Now that his initial hunger was abated, Sherlock was able to take his time, distinguishing subtle differences in flavor. When John finally pushed bodily between Sherlock and the kill, Sherlock growled in protest, but in a halfhearted way that made John hiss out another laugh.
Taking the deer’s hind legs in his jaws, John dragged the carcass a short distance away — close enough that they could still defend it. Then he returned to Sherlock and crouched down, mirroring the way Sherlock was holding himself. With slow, careful movements, he lowered his forelimbs and folded his hind legs, rolling his hips and tucking his tail to curl up on his side. Then he rose, giving his body a shake to get the leaves out of his feathers, and watched Sherlock expectantly.
That hadn’t looked difficult. Sherlock leaned down, folding his forelimb to brace against the ground —
His muzzle hit the dirt as his tail swung wildly, pitching him forward. John got his head under Sherlock’s and helped lift him back to his haunches, politely not hissing at the spectacle. Sherlock growled, hating his treacherous body, and jerked his head back away from John, determined to do this without help.
Sherlock ended up covered with leaves that made his feathers itch viciously, panting in frustration, and finally whined at John. Still not laughing, John ducked his head under Sherlock’s and got one forelimb behind the longer feathers by Sherlock’s elbow, and helped Sherlock balance himself into a controlled fall.
There was nothing dignified about any of this. Sherlock seethed, hating himself for ever having gotten close to John that first night, when it should have been stupidly obvious that John had managed to transform from velociraptor to human and back quite nicely without his help. If he hadn’t been cut, John wouldn’t have been forced to bite him, and dear God, that was lovely...
He exhaled, tension draining from his body as John’s claws raked through Sherlock’s feathers, carefully smoothing them out and ridding Sherlock of the leaves stuck between the quills. Sherlock tried to do his best velociraptor-imitation of a purr as his brain just shut down, giving over to the sheer pleasure. John’s breath was warm on Sherlock’s back, his sharp claws gentle — a surgeon’s claws, Sherlock thought inanely — as he adjusted each one, letting the downy under-feathers fluff up before easing the longer, stiffer feathers back into place.
Sherlock’s eyes fell closed and his tail stopped twitching. He flexed and retracted his claws, stretching his muscles in a languid, almost sleepy fashion. When John moved up his neck to his head, he arched his neck back encouragingly. His forelimbs weren’t built to scratch the back of his own head properly — not that he’d try, until he knew he wouldn’t gouge out his own eyes with his claws — and the feeling was absolute bliss.
By the time John lowered his head to lick the blood from Sherlock’s muzzle, Sherlock was more than half asleep. He barely twitched in surprise, feeling only relief that John was ridding him of the smell of drying blood stuck to the downy feathers around his jaws.
Then John settled down against Sherlock’s back, curling up around him, growling in a soft, comforting way. Sherlock spared a moment to consider the problem of language again, but he was too tired to consider the intricacies now. He’d work something out tomorrow, when he could properly type.
“Sherlock? Easy, Sherlock. Wake up.”
John’s voice, Sherlock identified, wondering why he sounded so odd. He was pressed back against warmth but strangely itchy, and for a moment, he thought he’d fallen asleep on those awful, cheap sheets John used on his bed. But there was no reason at all for him to be in John’s bed, and he twisted to look around.
“Oi! Easy!” John protested as Sherlock’s head came up, slamming into his chin. John’s hand pressed Sherlock’s head back down, fingers moving, scratching at the feathers between his eyes —
Sherlock thrashed in surprise, but John held him down, saying, “You’re all right, Sherlock. You’ll change back. Just give it a little while. It’s easier if you’re awake.”
Breathing hard, Sherlock tried to relax. Why was John changed? How had he managed it? Why had he changed without waking Sherlock first? Was he trying to hide something unpleasant from Sherlock?
“Calm down, Sherlock. You’re okay, I promise,” John said, petting Sherlock’s feathers as if he were some sort of cat. “Just breathe, okay? I swear, you’ll be all right. It’ll take a little time, but you’ll be fine, I promise.”
He trusted John. He had to trust John. John had proven himself to be a loyal friend, but it was more than that. Some deeper instinct urged him to let go of his human fears and relax, and he remembered what John had said about velociraptors hunting in packs. Last night, John had hunted alone and brought the kill back. He’d fed Sherlock off his own claws as if Sherlock were some sort of... baby. No, hatchling; dinosaurs had from eggs, hadn’t they?
Sherlock bristled — he was a grown man, perfectly capable of taking care of himself. But he was also this, and as a velociraptor, he was too helpless to even walk properly. Shivering with embarrassment and self-loathing, he turned his face away and closed his eyes, trying to relax.
He hadn’t been aware of the change to velociraptor; John’s attack had brought the change on suddenly. Now, though, he could feel something inside him start to twist as the minutes passed. He let out a warning growl, remembering how John had thrashed. He didn’t want to hurt John — he didn’t want John to see his loss of dignity.
But John was stubborn, and he stayed pressed against Sherlock’s back, running a hand over his ribs. “There. Just let it happen, Sherlock. Don’t fight it,” he said quietly as Sherlock gasped in a breath, feeling his ribs change.
He let out a growling roar of protest as his body contorted, fighting against itself. It didn’t hurt, precisely; it felt more like grabbing a live electric wire, every muscle clenching uncontrollably. His skin tingled as the first convulsion hit hard enough to push him away from John, twisting him over onto his chest. His claws dug into the earth, and when he pulled free, they were fingers. He inhaled a breath through a long, serpentine neck, only to exhale from human lungs, his human throat sore from the saurian growl he was still trying to sound.
Then John was at his side, arms wrapped around Sherlock, supporting him. “Easy. You’re about done now,” he said, helping to support Sherlock and keep him from falling into the dirt again.
“John,” he coughed out, blinking human eyes, lashes coated with dirt. He scrubbed at his face with grimy hands.
John couldn’t hide the relief in his voice as he said, “Sherlock. Feel better now?”
When he shook his head, leaves rained down around him. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see his condition, struggling with the memory of what he’d done — what he’d eaten. “The deer —”
“Gone,” John said in an understanding tone. “And you don’t have to worry about it. Your body’s already... well, as best I can guess, it takes energy to change. Throwing up won’t help.”
Sherlock couldn’t help but wonder when John had become so perceptive. Then he realized John must have gone through the same thing. He still wanted to be sick, but that was a mental reaction, not a physical one. It was odd, but he actually wouldn’t have objected to strong, sweet coffee and maybe a bacon sandwich right about then.
He nodded and began to rise, only then realizing that he wasn’t even covered with feathers anymore — just dirt and leaves and far too much bare skin. He immediately crouched back down, though intellectually he knew it was ridiculous. John was his flatmate, a doctor, an army doctor, and... well, part of his pack now.
Still, Sherlock gestured expectantly, saying, “Coat. Or trousers.”
John laughed and patted Sherlock’s shoulder. “I should’ve known. Stay there.”
As if Sherlock was about to do anything else.