Walking, Sherlock discovered, was boring.
Running, however... Running was incredible.
He ran in a low crouch, head ducked, tail raised, legs pounding the ground, claws digging in and adding thrust to each step, propelling him forward at astonishing speed. John ran at his side, darting in front of Sherlock as though to tease him to greater speeds, russet feathers turned to dark chocolate by the shadows under the trees, leaping so gracefully over obstacles that Sherlock couldn’t help but watch.
Despite incredible visual acuity and a scalpel-sharp mind that was still him, even as a dinosaur, he entirely missed the tree.
The impact was stunning, lighting starbursts in his eyes, sending him crashing in a heap of too many limbs and twisted feathers. He blinked up at the branches in a daze in time to see John circle back around and look down at him, head cocked.
John’s jaw dropped open and he hissed.
Sherlock snapped at him.
As if in apology, John dropped his head and nudged at his shoulder, but he was still hissing.
It took some time for Sherlock to sort himself out; rolling over with a tail in the way wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. He thrashed and twisted, tripping first over his tail and then over the scythe-claws that got stuck in the earth, and finally John reached out with very human hands and helped put Sherlock to rights.
Sherlock growled at him before realizing that visual acuity meant he could see everything. He turned away, but he was Sherlock Holmes, and all he needed was one glimpse for an image to be locked into his mind, and he’d had more than a few glimpses since this had all started.
“Nothing to be embarrassed about,” John said, probably misinterpreting the reason Sherlock had turned away. “Stationary things tend to fade into the background when you’re tracking movement. I ran into a few rocks myself when I was starting out.”
Sherlock’s tail lashed. It was an instinctive expression of his annoyance, but the shift of balance nearly toppled him over, and John had to catch him again. Growling even more, Sherlock dropped his forelimbs onto the dirt and crouched low, letting his tail thump down.
John fell silent, but he stayed as a human, combing his fingers through Sherlock’s feathers. It felt nice, damn him, and soothing, too, getting this sort of attention from his pack leader. He’d done something right. John was probably proud of Sherlock for trying — for not giving up and finally, finally figuring out how to run without almost gutting himself with his own claws.
“We can go a little slower,” John offered, running one hand down the back of Sherlock’s head and neck. That felt even better, and Sherlock lowered his head, neck stretched to its full length, rolling his long spine to press up against John’s hand.
Sherlock had no idea what color his own feathers were. He refused to admit his own vanity and ask John, and initially, he’d been more concerned with the ability to move. But now he had that mostly sorted, and all he could see of himself was his limbs, tail included, and his underbelly. It seemed to be the same sort of cream color as John’s feathers, but velociraptor nightvision had an odd shift to color perceptions.
John finally stopped petting and leaned companionably against Sherlock. “We’ve been at this for two hours. You want to keep going?”
With a snort of irritation — John hadn’t sorted all of Sherlock’s feathers out — Sherlock lifted his head and looked back at himself, taking care to turn away from John. He wanted to keep practicing, but he also wanted to master running without crashing. Then they could hunt. And once they could hunt, then they could go back to London.
Still, there were some things he could do here. He still had a fully equipped lab here, inherited from his father. There were tests he could do — tests he and John had been doing, in fact, though by necessity, those were all with samples taken in human form.
Now was as good a time as any to start with the more esoteric samples. His forelimbs were jointed all wrong, but with some twisting and shifting, he got his muzzle close to his back leg. He bit into the feathers and pulled —
Pain stabbed into him, a searing hot wire from the feather straight up his spine. He yelped in surprise and let go of the feather, lashing out instinctively at the nearest target: John.
His scythe-claws raked John from knee to hip, sending him rolling, blood droplets scattering through the air, lighting up Sherlock’s senses. “Bloody hell, Sherlock!” he snapped, his voice tight with pain.
Instinct took over. Sherlock tried to lunge, but his still-unfamiliar body betrayed him. He managed a violent sort of flop, aimed vaguely in John’s direction; if he hadn’t been full of anger and bloodlust, he would have died of embarrassment on the spot.
Despite the spectacular failure of the attack, John read the intent behind it. Absolutely fearless despite his unprotected human skin and lack of natural weaponry, he threw himself at Sherlock. He was fast, faster than he should have been in his human form, but Sherlock snapped out, fangs stabbing into the thick muscles of John’s forearm.
Swearing viciously, John twisted awkwardly, trying not to pull too much against the fangs as he dropped heavily across Sherlock’s twisted neck. His weight forced Sherlock’s head down, driving his fangs further into the trapped flesh. Blood flowed freely into Sherlock’s mouth and over his jaws.
Gasping in pain, John lowered his head and bit in weak retaliation, blunt human teeth digging through feathers to find flesh beneath, right over Sherlock’s spine. His free hand snaked under, fingers digging into the downy undercoat to press against Sherlock’s throat.
The submission hold tripped some sort of reset switch in Sherlock’s brain. Horrified at himself, he opened his jaws and started to move, thinking to get away and change, but he couldn’t move — not with John holding him down in a way that his body, at least, couldn’t help but obey. He keened in anxiety, crest feathers going flat, and had the ridiculous urge to lick the wounds he’d caused.
Slowly, John released his hold, coughing and spitting out bits of broken feathers. He rolled off Sherlock and sat up, pulling his arm close. Still in a near-panic at what he’d done, Sherlock crawled away before he tried to recall his human form. Every rapid breath brought with it the taste of disturbed earth, sweat, and blood. His heart (larger and stronger than in human form) was racing violently, easily close to two hundred beats per minute. He counted, concentrating only on his heart, trying to force himself to calm — an exercise in futility, as he grew more anxious with every passing second that John went without medical aid.
Then John came closer, and Sherlock panicked, not wanting to hurt John again. He surged up to his hind legs, collapsed spectacularly in his haste, and thrashed in the dirt to push back, twisting his limbs to keep his claws safely away from John.
“Sherlock — it’s fine,” John lied, his voice tense and full of pain. Despite his injuries, he was faster (or at least more coordinated) than Sherlock, and caught up easily. “I’ll be fine once I change. I’ll need to hunt. You have to help.”
Short sentences — trouble concentrating. Rapid breathing. Going into shock.
Sherlock keened, the sound a high, soft vibrato, and cocked his head down to look at John’s wounded arm. It was bleeding too heavily; he needed stitches. Sherlock’s mobile was in his coat, though that was a mile away or more. Faster to run there as a velociraptor. He’d call for medical aid — there had to be a trauma hospital with a helicopter —
“Sherlock!” John snapped, his uninjured, blood-covered hand slapping weakly against the underside of Sherlock’s jaw, bringing Sherlock’s head around so their eyes met. “Hunt, Sherlock. Please.”
Still keening his distress — God, why couldn’t he stop? — he nodded.
John sighed in relief and fell to the dirt, and for one moment, Sherlock panicked, thinking he’d fainted from plummeting blood pressure or shock. But then John’s body shuddered violently, and barely a minute passed before John was up on his feet, tail raised for balance. His right forelimb was still pulled protectively close to his chest. Blood seeped from the shallow wound on his right leg where Sherlock had kicked him.
Crest-feathers rising, John growled and nudged at Sherlock with his muzzle, urging Sherlock up to his feet. Sherlock managed to silence himself and rose carefully up to a crouch, keeping his head lower than John’s in shamed horror at the trouble he’d caused.
John lifted his head and huffed in short, shallow breaths, tasting the night air, searching for the most likely direction for their hunt. He growled, his tail lashing, presumably catching some scent, and he turned to regard Sherlock.
John’s growl turned softer, more reassuring. He twisted back and opened his jaws, placing his mouth over the disrupted, broken feathers at the back of Sherlock’s neck. He didn’t bite; his fangs barely touched skin. Then he drew away, making Sherlock shiver as cold night air washed over the flesh warmed by John’s breath, before he leaped away, running strongly despite his injuries.
Forgiven, Sherlock rushed after him, determined to do his best, to make up for how terribly he’d hurt his only friend.
Thunder startled Sherlock awake seconds before icy rain began to fall. He tried to move, but every muscle protested. It felt like his spine had turned to a column of liquid fire spreading out through locked muscles, rapidly cooling, leaving his extremities bloodless and frigid. The only true warmth in his body was where John was curled against him, one hand burrowed up under Sherlock’s shirt, thumb pressed over Sherlock’s floating ribs, little finger tucked into the slight dip of his waist.
Under the warmth of fine-quality wool, Sherlock’s right hand was circled protectively around John’s body. His fingers carefully cupped John’s forearm just under his elbow, above the terrible scars of Sherlock’s fangs.
Guilt sat in his chest like a lump of ice.
He was trying to awkwardly pull the coat up over John’s head when John came awake with a gasp, his body going tense, and Sherlock hated himself for not catching the signs of his nightmare. Despite everything that had happened over the past week, Sherlock still didn’t know if John’s nightmares were of his four months in the wilds of Afghanistan as a... well, what they now both were, or if they were the more conventional sort of nightmare for a soldier.
Sherlock’s arms tightened without any conscious thought behind the motion. “John,” he started, before his throat choked up with guilt. He could have killed John, and though the wounds were mostly healed, turned to scabs and scars, it had been too much a near miss for Sherlock to ever forgive himself.
John exhaled hard, as he always did when waking from a nightmare, reminding Sherlock of all the times he’d listened through the thin boards that made up his ceiling and John’s floor. He’d learned John’s sleep patterns, mentally timing his progression from REM down to stage four. He’d learned to judge John’s dreams, categorizing them into ordinary, erotic, and nightmare by the way he breathed and the way the bed creaked. But he’d never been tempted to interfere until now, only he’d just lost his chance to save John from a nightmare.
“Christ,” John muttered, his fingers pressing into Sherlock’s skin before he went very still, as if only now realizing that he’d fallen asleep in Sherlock’s arms.
They’d found a stag, and John had gorged himself, snarling and snapping every time Sherlock so much as moved from his crouch yards away. After sating himself, John had abandoned the kill and meandered off to curl up against a tree, muzzle-to-tail, absently licking at his wounded forelimb until sleep took hold. Unable to resist, Sherlock had eaten his fill before he’d tried to drag the carcass away. He didn’t quite have the knack of moving backwards, though, and finally gave it up as a bad job.
Instead, he’d curled up with John to share body heat, resisting the lure of sleep, patiently waiting for John’s post-feeding nap to end. When John finally stirred, Sherlock was able to coax him into returning to where they’d abandoned their clothes. By then, most of the bleeding had stopped; another time, Sherlock would have to study the effects of the shift on wounds, but not then.
John’s return to human form had been more seamless than Sherlock had imagined. The twitching had seemed at first to be no more than the effect of REM sleep, reminding Sherlock of when the family’s hunting hounds would bark and twitch in their sleep. But then he simply changed, feathers receding, body changing, until it was John — scarred, human, and filthy with dirt and leaves and blood — curled up on the forest earth.
Sherlock’s own transition had been much less graceful, but he’d managed on his own, his first time without John’s encouragement. Struggling not to be embarrassed, he dressed John first, sticking with the basics — jeans, T-shirt, and sweater, figuring John could deal with the niceties some other time. John didn’t wake, but Sherlock’s life was such that he’d had to dress corpses more than once. He managed well enough, though he didn’t dare do more than pull the jeans up over John’s hips; John could deal with flies and buttons later, himself. He made sure to gently tug the right sleeve of John’s jumper up over his elbow, not wanting the fibres to stick to the wound.
Then, gratefully, Sherlock had dressed, sat down with his back against the tree, pulled John close, and spread his coat over them both. Somehow, he’d managed to fall asleep like that... which made this awakening incredibly awkward.
Looking down at John through locks of hair that were quickly flattening into his eyes as the rain saturated his curls, Sherlock tried to think of what to say.
Unhelpfully, John just looked back at him, blinking away droplets caught on his eyelashes.
“I don’t want to kill you,” Sherlock finally managed to say.
John’s eyes went wide and his lips pressed together in a way that for one instant seemed angry. But then a snort escaped, and his mouth curved up into a grin, eyes crinkling.
“Good to know,” he said, shifting, and Sherlock became suddenly aware of how their bodies were fitted together. John’s broad, strong back pressed against Sherlock’s arm, and his hand dragged across Sherlock’s abdomen before his fingertips trailed away, leaving little shocks of electric sensation shooting deep into Sherlock’s belly, lighting up his spine with a new kind of fire that had nothing to do with falling asleep against a tree in the cold.
Sherlock gritted his teeth, wondering if this was normal — and then he wondered exactly what the hell was normal in his life anymore (not that much in his life ever had been normal) because John wasn’t gay and Sherlock wasn’t interested and they were both velociraptors for God’s sake, at least sometimes —
“We should get back,” John said, his calm, rational tone cutting right through the whirlpool threatening to drown Sherlock in his own thoughts. John turned and stretched, right hand flexing and curling into a fist. The motion tugged on the scabs, and droplets of fresh blood appeared, going from scarlet to a faded, pale red as rain splashed on his skin.
“Yes. Of course,” Sherlock managed to agree.
John rose, looking down at himself in confusion, before he did up his jeans as if it were perfectly normal to go about without pants and just casually finish dressing in front of — Sherlock, his flatmate, his packmate — another man like that.
“What — What happened?” Sherlock asked, resolutely not looking, damn his visual acuity. Even his peripheral vision was phenomenal. “You slept. I mean, you were practically —”
He snapped his mouth shut before the words dead to the world could slip out. The icy lump of guilt still weighing down his chest turned into an absolute glacier.
“Recovery, I suppose.” Movement caught Sherlock’s eye again, but it was all right this time. John was flexing his hand again, looking at the ugly scars on his forearm. Sherlock knew he should get up, but he couldn’t bring himself to move, as if the sight of John standing over him had him paralyzed.
“You’re a soldier. A predator. And a soldier,” Sherlock insisted, before he shut up again, realizing he was babbling.
John’s grin flashed to life as he looked down at Sherlock. “It takes a hell of a lot to kill us, Sherlock — and no, that’s not licence to go haring off into danger even worse than you already do,” he added sternly.
Sherlock ducked his head without thinking, before realizing that it was that other part of his brain acting on instinct, baring the back of his neck to his pack leader, which was ridiculous. He was a human, not an animal, and he was smarter than John. He glared up through his lashes, but he didn’t raise his head until John sat down on the wet earth to pull on his socks.
“Enough trauma and we go into a... a sort of a healing coma, though it’s not quite that dramatic. It’s deeper than normal sleep, from what I recall.”
“You watched,” Sherlock realized abruptly as the facts of John’s knowledge fell into place. “The others — the ones who turned you —”
“Yes,” John said softly, not looking at Sherlock. “I had to know. Killing them was... instinct. They weren’t trained to fight — not like I’d been — or maybe they hadn’t figured out how to bring that over into our other form. I killed all but one as quickly as I could. The last... well, I needed to learn what could kill me.”
Someone else might have been horrified, but Sherlock was entirely arrested by the breathtaking image of John standing over his enemy, watching, cataloguing everything with a soldier’s precision and a doctor’s eye for detail. Had he finally dispatched his enemy with a bite or a bullet? How long had he watched the corpse to verify that his enemy actually was dead and not healing all over again?
It was something Sherlock would have done — something he never would have imagined John capable of doing, he was so kind and docile and caring.
It was perfect.
John broke the silence. “Here, put this on before you freeze,” he said, picking up the overcoat and holding it open for Sherlock.
“You should —”
“I’m fine.” John significantly twitched the heavy wool, looking at Sherlock expectantly.
Feeling terribly uncoordinated, Sherlock rose and let John help him into the coat. It was still warm from their body heat. The fibres were saturated with the scent of John’s body and blood. As John shook the rain out of his eyes and tugged on the laces of his trainers, Sherlock wrapped his arms around himself as though trying to hold in the sense of John’s presence.
He wouldn’t have it dry cleaned — not until the scent was completely gone.