Chapter 1: A Study In Scars: Part One - The Detective
Part One – The Detective
"I still get nightmares."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Dunno. Stress, I suppose. Still can't find a place to live." A pause. "Did you read the papers this morning?"
"Yes. You served with him, didn't you?"
"Yeah. He survived the attack, too."
There was a long pause, during which Dr. Stratson scribbled a few things in her notebook which John tried not to read from his position on the other sofa. She'd just pointed out his "trust issues" yesterday, and the observation had left him self-conscious.
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"I've told you five times. Why should you start believing me now?"
She switched her legs around so that the left was crossed over the right, but didn't answer. After a long pause during which John chose not to say anything, she asked, "Is your leg still bothering you?"
"You saw me walk in here, didn't you?"
Admittedly, it was relaxing to talk about what had happened even if she didn't believe him, but relations between he and his therapist weren't particularly friendly.
"Why don't you tell me again about the attack?"
So you can see if something changes in my next retelling? John inhaled through his nose and let it out in a long sigh, his eyes—gray in this dull light—fixing on a peculiar pattern in the carpet to his right. Then he took a breath and began to tell her again.
Half an hour later, he was limping down to the pub, a stormy expression in his creased forehead and downturned mouth. As he had expected, she didn't believe him. She didn't say anything to suggest that—it was the way she wrote in her notebook. She held her pen in this cynical way, and he could just hear the written words through his mind: still suffering delusions, unwilling to let go, imagination getting away with him. He knew because he'd read it; he couldn't help himself this time. Why did she have to hold it at that angle if she knew he was going to read it, anyway?
It was late evening by that point and fairly crowded in the pub as John made his way towards the bar at the back, dodging by wandering passerby with mumbled "Excuse me"'s as he went. It was loud and a bit smoky, but he didn't mind. He wasn't much of a drinker, especially after seeing its effects on Harry, but that didn't mean he avoided drinks altogether. Even he enjoyed a brandy after a bad therapy session every once in a while.
There weren't many seats available, so he took one between a tired-looking woman who might possibly have been a prostitute and a man in a military coat with cropped black hair and a beer at his fingertips.
"Shot of brandy, please," said John to the bartender, offering a fiver.
"Rough day, huh?" said the man in the military coat. Interesting—he was American.
"You could say that," John replied.
The man smiled knowingly, his blue eyes flicking to the bartender, who had just returned with John's drink. He had lines around his cheeks like it was something he did often. "He'll have another shot, on me," he said.
"Thank you," said John. He held out his hand. "John Watson."
"John Watson?" said the man, sounding a bit surprised. Then, remembering his manners, he shook hands and reciprocated, "Stamford. Mike Stamford." Something seemed to sparkle in his eyes, like he was sharing an inside joke with himself.
The name "Stamford" seemed to throw up a flag in John's memory, but he couldn't grasp where he'd heard it before. He paused, his drink halfway to his lips. "Something funny?"
"No, no. You just reminded me of someone, that's all." They both took a moment to enjoy their drinks before Mike said, "You don't strike me as a drinker, Dr. Watson."
John's brows knitted together over his eyes. "I never told you anything about being a doctor," he said warily.
"Lucky guess," replied Mike with that same smile on his face. "You could say I learned a few tricks from someone. So, go on then. Why tonight?"
John's eyes weren't any less suspicious, but his tone was normal as he answered simply, "Afghanistan."
Mike set down his drink with a look of keen interest. "Do tell," he said.
"I'd rather not, thanks."
"Sorry." He took another sip of his beer. "How long ago?"
"Not long. I haven't got a job, so money's a bit tight, but I manage."
"Does it haunt you?" asked Mike in a low voice.
John smiled grimly, and it was not the type of smile that someone would wear if they were pleased. "Quite the opposite, actually," he admitted.
"You miss it," Mike inferred with astonishment.
John was silent for a moment. "I'm bored here. Nothing ever happens to me," he said. "Believe me; I know how callous that sounds with people out there literally killing to be where I am right now, but… when you go from that to this, it takes some getting used to."
Mike took a sip of his drink, his expression thoughtful. "I might be able to help you," he said.
"If you suggest golfing or something, I'll punch you."
He laughed. "No, nothing like that. Come on, I'll show you—he's in walking distance." After paying for the drinks, he slid off his stool and headed for the door. John, after downing his second shot, followed him. "You up for rooming with someone?" asked Mike.
"I suppose," answered John, settling into the limp he'd adopted since he got back. "I'd thought about getting a flatmate. Splitting the rent would make things a lot easier on me."
"Good," replied Mike.
The air was cool and crisp, the sky a bit darker than when John had left it. Most people had either ducked inside or were taking cabs due to the nippy breeze that bit through his jacket. Neither men spoke for a while; then Mike turned off onto a narrow, shabby-looking side street called Baker Street and John suddenly realized where he'd heard the name "Stamford."
"Oh, hilarious," he said, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, his spine stiff and his eyes cold. "Yeah, real funny. Everyone's laughing. You can drop the joke now."
"You almost had me going for a second there, Mike. Is that even your real name?"
"Yes," replied Mike, appalled. Then, after a moment of John's stubborn glare, he admitted, "No. But—"
"I've read the Sherlock Holmes stories, too, Mr. Stamford, and I liked them very well, even with all the teasing I got as a kid, but don't you think this is taking it a step too far?"
He said urgently, "Please, you have to trust me—"
"You'll have to excuse me if I don't trust a man who gave me a fake name," retorted John, cutting him off. "Thank you for wasting my time, Mr. Stamford."
Ignoring the other man's protests, he turned and limped back down the street. He was so furious he was about ready to level that man with his cane.
He remembered the time he'd first heard the name "Holmes." It was in grade school, on the bus; another boy, the class clown, thought he'd be funny and asked, "Where's your Holmes, Watson?" John wasn't quite sure what to say, since he didn't know at all who the other boy was referring to. It was only the beginning, though. Since then, rarely anyone except his friends ever called him by his first name. Even the kids who had never read the books picked up on the joke. At first he resented it, but eventually he learned to take it in stride.
Once he got out of school, of course, people were generally much more mature about it, and he didn't get bothered as often, even when he did become an army doctor and get sent out to Afghanistan. But this was quite an outstanding recurrence. Even as a child, no one had ever taken the coincidence this far. Just the sheer nerve of the man was enough to make him grit his teeth and clench his empty hand into a fist.
Then, two blocks away, something made him pause. Wasn't there a Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street? He didn't recall that Baker Street looking anything like the dim, dusty place that Mike had begun to lead him down. But then, there couldn't be two Baker Streets so close together, could there?
"Damnit," he muttered, reluctantly turning around and heading back the way he'd come. If he didn't investigate this anomaly, he knew it would bother him for several days.
Mike—or whoever he was—was nowhere to be found when he got back, but that was fine with John. He didn't care to admit that his curiosity had been roused by the encounter, nor did he want anything more to do with the arrogant man.
He stopped for a moment at the mouth of the street. It was perceptibly darker, as there were fewer lights on in the buildings; a couple of them looked like they'd been empty for years. The streetlamps had been turned on not long before, but one flickered irregularly and another didn't shine at all, as it appeared to be broken. Despite the foreboding manner of the place, he steeled himself and began his uneven trek down the sidewalk, looking for anything that might offer any clues as to why there were two very different Baker Streets in London.
There was, in fact, a second 221B, as well, to John' surprise; and it seemed starkly out of place amid the graveyard of architecture surrounding it. It looked considerably cleaner, with a glossy black door marking the entrance and a shining—if a bit tarnished—door knocker underneath gold embossed lettering that read 221b.
Why am I doing this? This is ridiculous, John thought as he ascended the steps, gripped the knocker, and rapped it against the door. But then, the coincidence was too large to ignore.
He half-expected to be greeted by a tall man in a deerstalker with a pipe between his teeth, but instead the door was opened by a tiny old woman with bright brown eyes and large auburn curls. "Yes?" she said in a sweet voice.
This couldn't be Mrs. Hudson, could it? "I'm here to see the man in 221B," said John hesitantly, his eyes flicking over her shoulders for any sign of the man in question.
"Oh, yes, you must be a client of his," said the woman happily. She ignored John's half-formed protests that he wasn't a "client" of any sort and led him inside, up the stairs. "He's out at the moment, but he told me he'd be back in a little while, so you can just make yourself at home and I'll let him know you're up here."
She opened the door to reveal a room that looked remarkably similar to its original, though with obvious modern-day revisions: a laptop on the desk, a pair of headphones hanging off an animal skull, and various scientific instruments, for example. Despite its clutter, the room seemed clean somehow, and it was entirely possible to ignore the state of the sidewalks outside. John did notice, however, a vivid yellow smiley face spray-painted onto the black-and-white wallpaper with several bullet holes dotting its outline. He also noticed, just from one sweeping glance, multiple boxes of cigarettes—open and unopened—scattered about the room. Just like the books, there were two chairs set up by the fireplace, but though Sir Conan Doyle often made the place seem warm and homely, it seemed cold and empty without a fire feeding smoke to the chimney. He felt as though the walls were staring at him disdainfully down turned-up noses.
"You look like a man who enjoys his tea. I'll make you a cupper," said the landlady sweetly, bustling off to the kitchen and preparing the hot drink. She seemed nice enough, at least; perhaps the owner of this peculiar place would be as well—though, glancing about again, he doubted that notion. There were scientific devices lying all about the room, some of which John had never seen before in his life. It looked less like a living place and more like a makeshift laboratory.
He grabbed a pillow with the Union Jack sewn across the front and set it down on the chair before taking a seat in it. He decided right off that he liked it—it seemed like his chair, right from the moment he walked in, like it was waiting for him. If the chairs were any show of character, though, then judging by the other one, the owner was bound to be dark, foreboding, and uncomfortable.
"Are you here for a case, dear?" called the woman from the kitchen.
"Sorry, what? No, I'm just…" he started, but he trailed off, unsure of how to say exactly why he was here.
"Oh, I see. He never gets many visitors outside of business, but I was always hoping he'd bring someone home someday. How long have you two been together?"
"Oh—" John laughed. "No, it's really not like that," he said fervently. He had to wonder what that said about the state of the mystery man's character—did he often bring other men home? Perhaps that was how "Mr. Stamford" knew him…
"It's alright, we get all sorts here," she said, shuffling out of the kitchen with the cup of tea in her hands. "Mrs. Turner next door's got married once."
He took the cup with murmured thanks and took a sip. It wasn't the best tea he'd ever had, but it was tea, so he drank it.
"I'll be downstairs, so just give a shout if you need anything," she said, kindly patting his arm before departing. He sat in his chair and sipped his tea, wondering who this man was and what he would be like. What did the landlady say? "A case"? What was that supposed to mean?
He finished his cup of tea and set it down on the desk by his elbow before clasping his hands in his lap. Glancing about again, he caught the eye of a skull on the mantelpiece which seemed to be laughing at him. He still wasn't sure what to make of his evening so far. It all seemed like some huge, cruel joke, but if someone was behind all of it, they would've had to go to strenuous—even ridiculous—lengths to pull it off. This is too strange, he thought as his eyes landed on an open violin case. Every detail of the room that corresponded with the famous detective novels made him doubt even more. It seemed too big of a coincidence to simply be a coincidence, yet at the same time too elaborate to be a prank. I don't suppose there's a deerstalker hanging up here somewhere, too.
Thankfully, he didn't see one. He did, however, happen to look down the hall and spot a door which seemed strange to him. He couldn't exactly place why—it looked identical to all the other doors (except that it was closed), but there was something off about it, like it shouldn't be there. Without consciously realizing it, he stood and began to walk towards it. It was as though something was drawing him to it. He felt like he needed to open that door.
His hand, inexplicably, was on the knob when a clear, deep voice rang out, "Don't go in there!"
He jerked his arm back, turning towards the sound of the voice. "I'm sorry—I don't even know why—" he started, but he broke off, realizing how silly that sounded.
The man who had just walked in the front door—presumably the owner of the small flat—was bundled up in a navy blue coat past his knees with the collar turned up against the wind. A lighter blue scarf—the only colorful thing in his wardrobe—was wrapped tightly around his long neck. He was very pale in skin tone with high cheekbones and a mop of black curls that fell in neat locks around his head. At the sight of John, his brows drew in over angular, cat-like eyes that seemed to analyze his guest in a quick, flinty sort of way.
Oddly enough, he was carrying a small cooler, and despite the situation, John had to ask: "What's in there?"
"Severed finger," replied the man without missing a beat. John couldn't tell whether or not he was being serious, so he simply said nothing. The man seemed more interested now than annoyed, but he still started harshly, "Who are—" He broke off, however, his lips moving soundlessly as John walked briskly back into the sitting room. Now that he was closer to the man, he could see that the man was easily a head taller than himself, though that wasn't saying much. He set the cooler down on the kitchen table without breaking eye contact. "You're John Watson, aren't you?"
"Dr. John Watson," John corrected stiffly. "How did—?"
"Excuse me, I have to make a phone call," said the man coldly without offering his name. He turned away, reaching into his pocket—presumably for his phone—before freezing and turning back to John. "May I borrow your mobile phone?"
"Sure, what's wrong with yours?" said John, as he could clearly see the indentation of the other man's phone against the fabric of his pocket; however, he pulled out his own phone and handed it over.
The man didn't answer. He turned away again, flipping the mobile phone over once in his long fingers before dialing a number and holding it to his ear.
Sherlock—for that was the name of the man—had been having quite an ordinary day (by his standards, at least) and was therefore frustrated by the disturbance of his routine, though was at the same time keenly interested in the appearance of Dr. Watson. Well, "keenly interested" was putting it nicely—mildly curious was a better way of stating it. There was, after all, only one person who could possibly be responsible for this man's arrival, and at this point he was playing an irritating game of "The Boy Who Cried Watson."
The phone rang only twice before being picked up. "Hello?" answered a man with an American accent.
"Well done, Captain Jack," said Sherlock, "you've really outdone yourself. This one's much better than the android you sent me last time."
"Oh, hey, Sherly," replied Captain Jack Harkness. He knew how much it annoyed Sherlock to be called that. "So he actually went to see you, huh?"
"Obviously. So where did you find him? Do you just have a list of men named John Watson on hand, or did the good-luck-fairy swing by and drop him out of the sky?"
"Excuse me—what?" said John incredulously, but Sherlock wasn't listening.
"You never run low on sarcasm, do you?" said Jack.
"Answer the question," Sherlock snarled.
"I met him in the pub," Jack obliged. "Told him my name was Mike Stamford. He saw right through your perception filter, by the way."
"Yeah. The name didn't ring a bell for him—not then, at least—and I got him to tell me he'd just gotten back from Afghanistan, was having financial troubles, and would love a roommate."
Sherlock was furious—again. "Jack! You know this can't happen! Look at my lifestyle! Look at my—" He broke off suddenly, glancing at John as though just remembering he was standing there. "—my hobbies," he finished forcefully.
"He's in the room with you, isn't he?" asked Jack slyly.
Sherlock didn't answer. "You've probably just wasted this poor man's entire evening. Not that he'd miss much, of course—avid tea-drinker, by the looks of it, and probably into mystery novels…" He made a noise of disgust, to which John scoffed disbelievingly in response.
"I'm right here, you know," he said.
"That's the thing," said Jack, sounding excited. "He said he missed the war. Said nothing ever happened to him. I figured you'd be perfect for him, even without the books in mind. I mean, come on. All that travelling must get lonely."
Sherlock scoffed in reply. "Don't make the mistake of comparing me to The Doctor, Jack." He hesitated. "You said he wasn't affected by the perception filter?"
"No, sir. As soon as he saw the name of the street, he thought I was pulling some kind of prank on him."
"Small wonder there," muttered Sherlock, though the matter intrigued him greatly. John had not seemed influenced by the perception filter placed on the door, either—rather, he seemed oddly drawn to it.
"I'm surprised he went back there, though—last I saw him, he was storming off down the sidewalk."
"You're not really surprised, are you?" said Sherlock dryly.
After a pause, he admitted, "No. But even you've got to admit this is meant to be. This one's different, I can feel it. Just keep him around a bit, see what happens."
Sherlock hung up the phone and handed it back to John. "Thank you," he said. He didn't know what else to say. Things for him were… complicated. Ever since Jack first introduced him to a stranger named John Watson roughly two months ago, he'd been opposed to the idea, but Jack had insisted. Since then he'd met five people—not including this stray who'd just wandered in—named John Watson, plus one android that had attempted to gut him. He couldn't say the concept warmed on him any more since then.
John took back his phone and pocketed it. "Who are you?" he asked sharply, as though it were this man who had intruded on his home instead of the other way around.
"Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," answered the man, opening the cooler.
John was speechless for a moment. "You're Sherlock Holmes?" he said incredulously. "Like… the detective in the story books? Who smokes a pipe and wears a funny hat? 'As ever, Watson, you see but do not observe'? That Sherlock Holmes?"
"Yes," answered the man in a perfectly even tone, his expression inquiring.
"Right, yeah, okay. And I suppose the landlady downstairs is Mrs. Hudson, then, is she?"
"Yes, of course. Why do you ask?" His hands descended into the cooler, delicately retrieving what was indeed a severed finger. So he was being serious…
"Alright then, Holmes," said John, spreading his arms challengingly. "Deduce me."
He didn't even spare a second glance up from the dead finger which he was now examining under the strangest magnifying glass John had ever seen. "You're an army doctor, recently returned from Afghanistan with a leg injury which your therapist believes to be psychosomatic. Quite right, too, I'm afraid. You're looking for a place to live, but you haven't asked your brother, possibly because of his drinking habits, or perhaps because he recently left his wife and you disapprove. Also, you just got back from the pub after a bad therapy session, and you were sitting next to a man in a military coat with an American accent who I assume bought you a drink and talked you into coming here. Other than that, you drink a lot of tea and like jam on your toast."
"How could you have possibly gotten all that from the phone call?" asked John, both awed and incredulous.
"I didn't," replied the man proudly, glancing up. "The only thing I gathered from the call that I didn't already know was whether you had served in Iraq or Afghanistan."
"That's impossible," said John in disbelief. "How?"
"Come, John, if a magician revealed his tricks, he wouldn't have a show."
"At least tell me how you knew my name," said John.
"Well, once I'd deduced all that, who else could you be?" said Sherlock with a sly smile.
John laughed a bit in spite of himself. After a pause, he said, "I can understand my mum calling me John—I mean, it's a pretty common name—," he said, "but what kind of mother names her child 'Sherlock'?"
"You could say she was a fan of the nineteenth century," said Sherlock sarcastically.
"No, seriously," insisted John. "Did she push you down the path of solving mysteries, or did you go there yourself?"
"It's a bit more than mere coincidence, Dr. Watson. For me, anyway—I don't know about you."
"Thanks, that's…. that's lovely."
He waited expectantly for more of an explanation, but none came, and before he could ask for one, the other man snorted in revulsion. "Well, this is rubbish. It's not even human," he said, putting the finger back in the cooler and pocketing the odd-looking magnifying glass.
"Hold on—what—" John started, but just then there was a knock at the door. The landlady's—Mrs. Hudson's—voice called, "Sherlock, you've got a visitor! It's Mr. Lestrade!"
"Lestrade—! Did people you meet just change their names around you, or…?"
Sherlock didn't answer. "Let him in, Mrs. Hudson."
The door opened, and a silver-haired man with keen eyes and a serious expression stepped inside. "Sherlock, there's been another—" the man started, but he stopped mid-sentence when he saw John.
The only thing John could think to say was, "Isn't he supposed to have a mustache?"
"Aren't you supposed to have a mustache?" countered Sherlock in an amused tone, quirking an eyebrow. He added to Lestrade, "Go on."
"…Another poisoning," Lestrade finished, though he was still eyeing John with some suspicion. "Can you come have a look?"
"I'll need an assistant," said Sherlock.
"I've got Anderson on it."
"You know I can't work with Anderson."
"Damnit, Sherlock, I wouldn't be asking you if I didn't need you!"
They glared at each other for a moment, Lestrade's dark, intense eyes versus Sherlock's cool gray ones, before John asked hesitantly, "What is it you need, exactly?"
There was a moment of silence in which Sherlock turned his gaze—now thoughtful—on John. "I'll be right over," said Sherlock to Lestrade, though he didn't look up until the man had left. "Seen enough dead bodies, Dr. Watson?" asked Sherlock as he stowed the cooler in the freezer.
"For a lifetime," replied John, shifting slightly.
"Would you like to see another one?"
John considered the fact that he'd only just met this man, that he didn't know what division of the police Lestrade was a part of, and that the presence of a dead body was never a good thing. Then he considered all his recent days, spent talking to his therapist, reading books to pass the time, and searching for some mundane job to pay for expenses. Most people wouldn't hesitate to say no, but for John, it was quite the opposite: "Oh, God, yes."
A couple minutes later, they were in a cab on the way to a back alley about half an hour away. John couldn't believe he was doing this. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, investigating a mysterious murder? It was too much. Sherlock, of course, didn't seem affected by it at all, though John did notice the other man shoot him a sidelong glance, and he could've sworn there was something excited in his sharp eyes.
"So, what's the deal?" asked John. "What are we… investigating?"
"Did you read the paper this morning?"
The question caught John off-guard, but he answered quickly, "Yes."
"You saw, then, the article about Carlton Stockholm, the man who'd been killed last night?"
"Yeah, they said it was an animal attack of some sort?"
"Don't trust everything you read," said Sherlock. "That's the first rule."
"I looked at the body myself. There was a bite mark on the man's arm which, on its own, would've been harmless. It severed no vital arteries or veins, so he wasn't at risk of bleeding out, but there were no other wounds on his body. What would you deduce from this?"
"Poisonous bite," John concluded, remembering what Lestrade said. A shiver ran down his spine. He was convinced that he, Stockholm, and another man—Jim Graham—had narrowly missed dying of poison from the attack in Afghanistan that landed them back in London. It was a cruel twist of fate that poison should take him now.
"Who did it?" asked John. "Or, rather, what?"
"That's what we're going to find out," answered Sherlock. He was drumming his fingers on his knees absently; there was a restless demeanor about him, like he was anxious about something, but there was nothing about his expression to suggest that he was worried.
After a few blocks drifted by the window, John said, "I served with him, you know. Carlton. There was an attack—that was when I was injured—and he and I were two of the survivors." He paused. "He was a funny bloke."
"Please, Dr. Watson, I have no desire for sentiment."
"Right. Right, yeah, right." A busy shop center floated by. "How did you know all that stuff about me?"
"I didn't know. I noticed." He hesitated. "When you walked up to me, you limped, but you didn't use your cane even though it was in your hand, suggesting you'd forgotten about it. That suggests it was psychosomatic. Psychosomatic suggests it was a traumatic injury. That, combined with your haircut and posture, said military—you were wounded in action. But you introduced yourself as 'Dr. John Watson'; so, army doctor. Your face and hands were tanned, but not above the wrist, which means you were recently abroad: Iraq or Afghanistan."
"How did you know I have a therapist?"
"Traumatic injury abroad? Of course you've got a therapist. Now there's the matter of your phone. It's an expensive model only six months old, meaning it's probably new, but there are scratches covering it, probably from being in the same pocket as coins and keys—meaning you wouldn't spend so much on such a luxury item, otherwise you'd probably treat it better. A gift, then. It's a young man's gadget, so unlikely it came from your father. Could be a cousin, but you're a man recently returned from service and searching for a place to live, so it's unlikely you've got any extended family—not any that you're close to, at least. So, your brother.
"Then there's the inscription—'To Harry, from Clara, XXX.' Three X's suggests a romantic relationship; the value of the phone suggests it's serious—or was, in this case. The fact that your brother gave it away means he broke up with her. If she'd broken up with him, he'd want to keep it for sentimental purposes, but no, he left her and wanted to be rid of it, hence why he gave it to you."
"And the drinking?" John prompted.
"Ah. Shot in the dark—good one, though," he said with a wry smile. "The port for the charging cord was scratched and scuffed up more than the rest of the phone, meaning it was plugged in with unsteady hands. He probably plugged the phone in to charge every night after going to the bar."
"What about the tea and the jam?"
"I noticed Mrs. Hudson made you a cup of tea, and you drank every last drop. Not many people would, unless they can appreciate a broad range of teas. As for the jam, well, that was a lucky guess."
"That's… wow. That's brilliant."
Sherlock looked surprised. "You think so?"
"Yes. Hell yes. Extraordinary. Except…"
The other man's eyebrows drew closer. "What did I miss?"
"Harry's short for Harriet."
"Oh, of course, your sister!" said Sherlock in frustration. "There's always something…"
"Still fantastic, though."
They lapsed into silence, and not another word was spoken for the rest of the cab ride. At first, John felt a bit awkward, like he should be making some attempt at conversation, but Sherlock wordlessly made it apparent that he had no more desire for such interactions. John settled into his seat, content for the moment with this mutual pact. He couldn't help but wonder, however, if this was going to be his life from here on in: shadowing a remarkable man from a storybook who suddenly didn't seem to want anything to do with him.
As they were nearing their destination, Sherlock remarked, "You have a rare gift of silence, Dr. Watson. You'd be surprised how many people don't understand that I require it to think clearly."
"Thank you," answered John, "though I hope that's not all I'll be good for in this arrangement."
"As do I," replied Sherlock, but he turned his head enough to give John a look that made him feel a little better about where their unusual relationship was going.
A minute later, Sherlock instructed the cabbie, "Here's fine," and the cab rolled to a stop outside a line of run-down flats. The sky was black and pinpricked with a few stars, but they were hard to see in the city. Sherlock looked up at them almost longingly it seemed to John as they stepped up onto the empty sidewalk.
"Where are we, exactly?" asked John, looking about for some kind of yellow tape that would mark a crime scene.
"About a block away from where we need to be," answered Sherlock. "I couldn't risk the cabbie seeing anything. I work outside of the police; it's a very covert business."
John frowned as they set off. "Isn't Lestrade from the police?" He noticed that Sherlock had to check his long stride to make sure he didn't leave John's limping gait in the dust.
"Okay… Why involve me, then?"
"Well, you're bored, aren't you?"
John laughed. "Fair enough."
A minute slipped by. The street they were walking was dingy, dark, and empty; it seemed like the perfect place to commit a spontaneous murder. John glanced over his shoulder twice to make sure they weren't being trailed by anything or anyone unwanted. Sherlock broke the wordless haphazard rhythm of their footsteps by asking, "So you still need a place to live?"
"You can live with me, if you like," he suggested in an offhand sort of tone. "I can't guarantee it would be the most normal lifestyle, but from what I gather, that's the last thing you want, anyway."
John pretended to think for a moment. "Yeah, I suppose I could get used to it." Another moment of silence. "Your landlady thought I was your date."
For a moment, Sherlock said nothing, and John had just glanced over to get a gauge of his reaction when he burst into laughter. It was a deep, resonant chuckle, one that John couldn't help but share. "That must've been an interesting conversation," he remarked, still laughing as they turned a corner.
Once they turned down a dark, narrow side street, it was easy to see where they were headed, and their laughter died away quickly. At the far end, bright, massive lamps were set up, all spotlighting the distinct form of a human body lying sprawled and bloody on the concrete. Two men were standing nearby, one of whom was Lestrade. A woman stopped them at the mouth of the alley. "Where d'you think you're going?" she asked sharply.
"Lestrade called me here, you twit," retorted Sherlock.
"I know that. But you can't bring him here!" She pointed accusingly at John without looking at him.
"Of course I can. He's my plus-one." Sherlock stepped around her. "Come on, Dr. Watson."
John, after an uncertain glance at the angry woman, followed after him. As they got closer to the body, he saw that there wasn't enough blood spilled for the man to have bled to death; it was merely a flesh wound. It did, however, look like a particularly nasty animal bite. It was frighteningly similar to the wound he himself had suffered in Afghanistan. He couldn't see the face of the dead man, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something familiar about his muscular build and close-cropped brown hair.
"What do you make of it?" asked Lestrade, completely ignoring John.
"Same thing as the last one. I can't pinpoint it just from a bite mark, though, I'd need an eyewitness account," Sherlock said. He squatted down by the body, giving it one long, sweeping glance. "He's a military man, recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan." John's heart skipped a beat. "Looks like he was held at gunpoint and forced back here on his way back home from a dinner for two. His date had left him by this time, but not before breaking up with him first. He recognized his attacker, but didn't see it as a friend—so whatever killed him, he's met it before. Probably had a nasty run-in with it that he didn't tell anyone else about."
"How exactly do you know all this?" asked the second man; he had straight, dark hair and a long thin nose down which he glared suspiciously at Sherlock.
"It's obvious enough to anyone who pays attention," Sherlock sneered back.
John might've been intrigued by this little banter if he was still listening, but he'd just circled around to get a look at the man's face, and a stone dropped in his gut. It was Jim Graham, the third man who had survived the attack in which he was injured. Here was a second man he was directly connected to, lying dead on a slab of dusty concrete.
"Sherlock," said John, interrupting whatever snappish remark Anderson had planned. "You know how I said I served with Stockholm?" He paused. "I served with this man, too. Jim Graham. I nearly died in Afghanistan from a wound like this one."
For a moment, Sherlock's wide eyes locked with his, and nobody said anything. Then Sherlock stood, brushed off his coat, and placed his hand on John's shoulder, steering him back towards the street. "We're going back home," he announced.
"But you can't leave already—!" Lestrade protested.
"Sure I can. I've just got my eyewitness account," said Sherlock. As they reached the main street, Sherlock said in a lower voice to John, "Come on. I think it's time you told me what happened in Afghanistan."
By unspoken consent, neither of them spoke a word for the duration of the entire cab ride. John had no desire to talk about anything in the presence of a third person, and Sherlock had every notion to grant that wish. John's heart was hammering in his chest. If this was the same thing that killed Stockholm and Graham, then there was no question that he was next. And he knew exactly why. He was terrified. He was sure Sherlock noticed the way his white-knuckled hands were gripping his knees, but the man said nothing on it. He kept expecting, any moment, for that monstrous thing he saw in Afghanistan to lunge out of every shadow and smash into their cab.
For whatever reason—perhaps to escape the present dread—the strange door down the hall in Sherlock's flat surfaced in his mind. He realized then why the presence of the door struck him as odd: the way the flat was laid out, the door would've opened to the outside.
There couldn't possibly be a room there.
Chapter 2: A Study in Scars: Part Two - The Soldier
John tells the story of what happened to him in Afghanistan, and Sherlock is able to piece together the mystery.
A Study in Scars: Part Two – The Soldier
John decided to keep the sudden realization to himself as he attempted to sort out matters in his head. Whatever was going on here, it was bigger than a simple storybook coincidence. Two people had died, and he could be next on the list. And he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something odd about Lestrade and the two others. If they weren't part of the police, then what were they? Was he really on the side of the good guys?
When they reached the flat, John vaguely remembered Sherlock's hand on his shoulder, surprisingly gentle as the man trailed him up the stairs. He took a seat in his chair while Sherlock hung up his coat and scarf on the rack by the door and set some water boiling for tea. The two of them seemed content not to speak for the time being; when the tea was finished, however, Sherlock handed a cup to John and sat down with a second cup himself, crossing his gangly legs at the knees and looking expectantly at John.
"Tell me what happened, John," he said calmly. Somewhere in John's brain, it registered that that was the first time Sherlock had used his first name.
"You'll think I'm crazy," John warned.
"You just followed a man you barely knew to a crime scene with no police present. That's enough for anyone to think you're crazy."
"Fair enough." He took a sip of his tea, taking a moment to savor the warmth seeping through him. He considered, for a moment, where to begin before starting cautiously, "Me and six other men were separated from the rest of our troop by a blast. We had no choice but to brave the wilderness. We were doing alright considering we had no rations and a limited water supply, but before the end of the day, we came across… something. I would've guessed some kind of animal nest, but the things inside it… They were nothing like any animal I'd ever seen.
"We were looking for shelter, and this cave-like place seemed perfect, so we went inside, but we weren't alone. To be honest, I think they were harmless—they looked young, like they'd been born recently. They were pink and legless with round black eyes, like some kind of larvae, but they were the size of dogs. The way they were looking at us, they probably thought we were food, but they seemed slow… We probably could've just run, but… I guess we were surprised. We shot at them, and we killed every last one."
He took another sip of tea, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. Sherlock listened with a pensive expression as he continued, "Then we ran like hell. We didn't even say anything, we just ran. None of us had any other ideas. It was the dawn of the next day before we stopped. One of us volunteered for a watch; the rest of us passed out on the ground. We were exhausted.
"The watch must've dozed off, because next thing, he was screaming bloody murder, and most of us woke up in time to see his head get ripped off by… something. It was enormous, six-legged, and it had this bright red shell like some kind of beetle. And its face—it had these jaws, like—like—"
"—Pincers?" Sherlock guessed.
John shook his head, feeling as though he might break out in a sweat any minute. "No, like—like snake jaws. It opened its mouth, and at first there weren't any teeth, but then they just snapped out like retractable claws. It threw another man against a rock, killing him, before we managed to get ourselves together and shoot at the thing. It didn't go down easily; it managed to bite three of us—me included," he patted his bad leg, "before it fell.
"Then we ran again. It was slower, with three of us injured, but we managed to get a mile before we hit a road. Even as we were just waiting there, trying to catch our breath, one of the guys who'd been bitten died—we didn't know it then, but I'm sure now it was poison. Shortly after, a truck came by. It was American, and crowded, but they took us in anyway—those of us left. They did their best to treat our wounds, but the next man died the same way the first did. I thought I was next. When the hallucinations started, I was convinced I was going to die, but I didn't. I saw terrible things…" He trailed off as he remembered: scenes from a war he wasn't even a part of, the sky burning orange and filled with smoke, and monsters beyond imagination… He took a shaky breath.
"Jim and Carlton said I was delirious for three days straight. They said I screamed at things that weren't there and even that I attacked someone at the hospital. I don't remember much of it, but I know I woke up half the size I was before with a fever that had just broken and a new scar where I'd been bitten. The nurses told me I'd picked up a virus in the wilderness and had been hallucinating since; even the other two said they didn't see anything like what I described, but…" He shook his head. "I still have the scar on my leg. That's my only proof."
"And no one's believed you since," Sherlock concluded.
As an answer, John took a drink of his tea, his eyes focusing on a pattern in the wallpaper. "Do you believe me?" he asked without looking up.
"Yes," replied Sherlock without hesitation. John looked up in surprise, certain he must be joking, but the other man's eyes were sincere and fervent. "The wound on your leg," he said, "may I see it?"
John leaned down wordlessly and pulled the left leg of his jeans up to his knee. Cutting horizontally across his bare calf were two parallel lines of discolored marks, directly symmetrical. He looked at the scar often to remind himself of what he'd been through, that it wasn't simply a dream or delusion.
"You were lucky," Sherlock said, leaning back into his seat once he'd finished examining it. "It must've injected most of its poison into the other two men." He stood from his chair, setting down his half-empty cup of tea and rifling through the various papers on his desk, leaving John to wonder how he could possibly be so sure of that fact.
Apparently finding what he was looking for, he took his seat with a blank notepad and a pen. After a few moments of silent sketching, he turned it so that John could see. "The monster. Did it look like this?"
John didn't need more than a glance to confirm that it did, but he stared at it a moment, mesmerized by the detail in its black, bulbous eyes, its screaming jaws, its needle-like teeth extended for blood. "Yes," he said, suppressing a shiver. "That's it. Exactly."
"I was afraid of this," murmured Sherlock, looking away. "It's a Kafkan, a close cousin of the Raknoss. I thought they'd died out a long time ago, but apparently one survived…"
And John began to laugh.
"What's so funny?" asked Sherlock suspiciously.
"I don't know what you're talking about," John admitted, still chuckling, "but you're the first person I've told who believes me—I mean, who actually takes me seriously. I'm just—I'm relieved."
For a brief moment, there was pity in his eyes—no, not pity; sympathy—as he looked at John. Then he stood again from his chair and it was gone just like that. Despite the cold, steely expression the man usually wore, John felt he had finally found someone he could tell anything, no matter how ridiculous. Here was someone who would listen as carefully to his words as if they held the key to eternal happiness—when he wasn't distracted by other things, at least.
Sherlock began to pace back and forth from the fireplace to the sofa, his long, sweeping strides covering the distance each time in only a few steps. "The Kafkan like dark, enclosed spaces, but that could be anywhere," he said to himself. "The sewers, abandoned buildings… Stockholm and Graham were both killed relatively close to each other, but that still leaves a broad range of possibilities. I could—oh…" He trailed off suddenly, wide blue eyes locking on John's darker gray ones. "John!" he said urgently. "Show me the scar on your leg again."
John did as he was told, but asked warily, "Why, exactly?"
Sherlock pulled out the strange-looking magnifying glass that John had noticed earlier. "If there's any trace of the Kafkan's genetic material still left in there, I might be able to trace it and pinpoint it, like a GPS tracker," he said. He pressed a button on the side of the device he was holding, causing it to emit a blue light on the end and a high-pitched noise that sounded somewhere between a whistle and a whir. He flashed the strange thing up and down the length of John's leg before turning it so he could see the side of it. "Yes!" he said in excitement, jumping to his feet.
"What is that?" asked John, hastily rolling down the leg of his pants and pushing himself to his feet while Sherlock dashed for the hall.
He paused at the mouth of the corridor. "Sonic magnifying glass," he said, holding up the device and giving it a little twirl. "Very handy."
"Sorry—sonic—?" started John, but Sherlock had vanished down the hallway. Grumbling, he grabbed his cane and limped after the man. The door—the impossible door—had just snapped shut.
John made his way for it and had just turned the knob when Sherlock's voice barked, "Don't open the door! I'll be out in a moment."
A minute later, John heard him shout out in frustration.
"What is it?" John called, pressing his ear against the door.
"It's the genetic sample, it's not the right one," came Sherlock's voice from the other side. It started to get louder, like he was coming closer, so John backed away from the door as the other man continued, "I hadn't expected them to be identical, but I'd hoped maybe they had enough shared DNA to be tracked…" He opened the door and slipped out of it, barely giving John a glimpse of a dimly-lit room before it was shut quickly behind him.
They stood like that for a second, neither speaking a word; then John asked, "Who are you?"
"I told you, I'm—"
"Sherlock Holmes, yeah, you told me your name," said John. "But who are you? What do you do? How do you know so much about monsters no one else has ever seen?"
They stared at each other for another moment, John's stubborn gray gaze into Sherlock's analytical blue. He was prepared for more evasive strategies, but instead of avoiding the question, Sherlock said calmly, "There's a group of people called Torchwood. They work outside the government, tracking down and communicating with extraterrestrial life that has landed on Earth."
"Extraterrestrial life? You mean aliens?"
"Okay, go on."
Sherlock seemed surprised by John's immediate acceptance, but he continued, "You met the London division, made up of Lestrade, Donovan, and Anderson. You also met Captain Jack, head of the Cardiff division, though he told you his name was Mike Stamford."
"Why did he do that?"
Sherlock struggled for words. "It's… complicated," he eventually said, brushing past John into the sitting room. "I work with them sometimes, when they're in over their heads—which is always."
"And how do you know so much?" queried John.
"I've had years of experience," Sherlock remarked, but there was a bit of dryness to his tone, like there was something ironic about it. "You're not surprised, then?" He took a seat in his chair.
John shrugged before gratefully sinking into his. "Not really. I'd always thought it was pretty likely." There was a moment during which neither of them spoke. Then John said, "I don't understand, though. In Afghanistan, we killed this… Kafkan. How can it be back?"
"The larvae you saw, in the cave," said Sherlock, "you said they looked like newborns. Now, in general for most species, what must be necessary for newborns to exist?"
"Yes, exactly. Parents. With an 'S'. After you killed the children, the mother tracked you down. The father was probably away, gathering food. If you came home expecting to serve dinner only to find your children and wife slaughtered, what would you do?"
"I wouldn't rest until they were dead," John admitted, feeling even guiltier for doing such a thing. The realization that he'd killed almost an entire family made him feel sick. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his fingers at his temples. "Oh, God…"
"They weren't innocent, if it helps any," said Sherlock, oblivious to John's suffering. "Their metabolisms can handle just about anything, but they generally prefer raw sentient life forms."
It didn't help any, as it turned out. "Is this your life, then? Up to your chin in aliens and murders?"
John frowned for a moment, troubled by his casual answer. Deciding to drop it for now, he asked, "So how are we going to find it?"
"We can't," said Sherlock bluntly. "The only way we can find it is if we lure it out, which we can do since you happen to be the one thing it wants right now above all else, but people don't generally appreciate being dangled in front of a dangerous alien like a piece of meat, do they?"
"No, they don't," John answered, "but I'm not people."
Sherlock stared blankly at him for a moment, trying to puzzle out what he meant, before he realized what John was saying and his face split into a grin. "Excellent!" he exclaimed, clapping John on the shoulder. "You're a brave man, John Watson."
John couldn't help but return the smile, though it faded quickly as he asked, "What'll we do once we lure it out?"
"Talk to it."
"And if that doesn't work?"
"You can shoot it with your gun."
"How did you know I—?"
"You were attacked by an enormous alien with retractable teeth and a mouthful of poison. You'd be stupid not to have a gun."
John couldn't say he was accustomed to being read like an open book—but, then, he'd just met Sherlock; he could get used to it, he supposed. "I left it at my place, with the rest of my things," he said. "I wasn't expecting I'd need it for a therapy session."
"Oh, good. We can gather your things and bring them here," Sherlock said, standing.
"You're coming, too?"
"The Kafkan will attack you if you're alone."
They called a cab and took it back to John's flat. The place looked less like a living area and more like a hospital room. Too much of the blank white walls were exposed and there was little to no furniture, save what came with the flat. Sherlock stood patiently near the door, surveying the room with those cat-like eyes of his—no doubt absorbing every detail of John's life with each thing he spotted. John, meanwhile, scurried about the place, haphazardly throwing what few possessions he owned into a suitcase. They didn't consist of much—his clothes, his revolver, a few family photos, and a book or two. Sherlock had been right, of course: he did like mystery novels, though he doubted he'd have much need of them now that he was living one.
"Is that everything?" Sherlock asked when John had packed away his last sock.
He felt a bit self-conscious, having stowed away all his things into one pitiful suitcase, but Sherlock didn't seem to care about how much he owned. "Yes." He couldn't shake the feeling that he was forgetting something, but he had double-checked every room, and nothing of his remained.
"Good." And they left. To be honest, John was quite glad to be rid of the place. It had always felt too empty, too quiet—and while some degree of silence was welcomed when he was reading or sleeping, it still felt too… lonely. He didn't know why that man, Captain Jack, had insisted on introducing the two of them, but he knew now that he was grateful for it, and he would be yet for a very long time.
Aliens, though. He still wasn't sure what to make of that.
"You can have the bedroom on the left," said Sherlock when they got back to the flat.
"Isn't that your room?" asked John.
"No, mine's the one on the right."
The one you don't want me to see, thought John as he towed his suitcase into the room Sherlock had said. The one that can't possibly exist. He resolved to take a peek at it when all this was over, but for now he'd let Sherlock keep his secrets.
He walked back into the sitting room, revolver in hand. "What's the plan?" he asked.
"We find a nice, secluded alley—not a too difficult task here on Baker Street—where you can stand, alone. I'll be hiding around the corner. You give a shout when you see something, and we'll try to talk to the thing."
John raised his eyebrows when he realized Sherlock wasn't going to add anything else. "That's it?"
"Well, if anything goes wrong, you'll have your revolver, and I'll have this." He brandished the device he'd introduced to John earlier.
"Right, your… cosmic magnifying glass? What are you going to do, whistle it to death?"
"Sonic," Sherlock corrected in an irritated tone. "It can do a lot more than that." When John looked skeptical, he explained, "I've got the species' genetic code. If this one's hearing is similar to the one you met in Afghanistan, I'll be able to deliver a sonic blast that might stun it."
"So, in short… you're going to whistle it to death."
"Oh, shut up."
"What if it's not affected by bullets?"
"Then we run like no tomorrow and hope its six legs are shorter than ours."
John couldn't honestly say he hadn't risked his life on less favorable odds, so he just smiled and didn't argue. "So, say we talk this thing into not killing me," he said as Sherlock pulled on his knee-length coat. "What then?"
"We take it back to Torchwood, and Lestrade can decide what to do with it." With one hand he looped his scarf around his neck, and with the other he held open the door, gesturing for John to precede him.
John, tucking his revolver into the waist of his pants, did as indicated, his pulse quickening at the sudden prospect that he could die tonight. He halted at the top of the steps and Sherlock, who had closed the door behind them, stopped as well.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I'm about to confront a murderous alien with a stranger who claims to work for a covert organization," he said, the realization of it all locking his legs for a moment and forcing him to think about it.
"A sound observation," remarked Sherlock, "though I don't work for them. I work with them, when I want to."
"Right, yeah. Sorry, I guess that's the most important bit," said John sarcastically.
Sherlock, who didn't appear to have noticed John's scathing tone, took the lead when they stepped outside. John was surprised to find that the night was still fairly new; the past hour or two had felt like an entire day. He supposed he should've been tired at this point, but he felt like he could run a marathon. His heart was drumming the frenzied beat of a trapped animal trying to escape. With each step, his muscles tensed until he felt like something would snap and he'd go streaking off down the street. It was an incredibly liberating feeling, and better than any therapy session he'd had by far.
Sherlock stopped at the mouth of an alley and peered down it. "This'll do," he said in a low voice. "No doubt it's tracking you as we speak. I'll be in the next alley over, where it won't see me. Remember, when it shows up, yell, and I'll be there."
"Right," said John, but the other man had already turned and slipped into his allotted hiding place and vanished into the darkness. So John, swallowing back whatever fear threatened to show on his face, walked down the alley Sherlock had indicated until he was about halfway down. There he stopped and turned, hesitantly, his hand behind his back and his fingers brushing the butt of his revolver.
He wasn't sure how long he was supposed to wait before this thing showed up, nor where it would come from, so he turned slowly on the spot, his eyes raking every shadow and jumping to every movement. It was freakishly silent—so silent, he felt like his breathing and his pounding heartbeat and the rustle of his clothes could be heard from across the street. Maybe they could.
After a few minutes, he began to doubt this plan of theirs. What if the Kafkan knew it was a trap? What if it had spotted his revolver? Should he stop turning, in case it hadn't seen the gun yet? But no, that was a dumb idea; he'd only be an easier target. Maybe it was watching him from the dumpster. Maybe it was peering at him through the window of that building. Maybe it was waiting for him to stop looking up so it could leap down on him from the roof.
His fingers were trembling against the gun. He could face armies and sew up wounds on a battlefield, but simply standing and waiting… He felt like a chicken roasting in the window of a restaurant, enticing hungry people to come in and—
A metallic clang resounding from the next street over nearly gave him a heart attack. The noise, most likely caused by the tipping of an empty trashcan, was followed shortly by a harsh snarl that brought back bad memories of Afghanistan. He'd heard that snarl from the Kafkan they'd killed, and multiple other times when he was hallucinating. The sound sent a thrill of fear—and, to his surprise, of excitement—coursing through him.
"Sherlock?" he called, taking a few steps toward the mouth of the alley. There was no legible reply—only the grunt of someone who'd had the wind knocked out of them. He broke into a run and barely kept from slipping as he rounded the corner at full speed.
There was the alien, just as enormous and grotesque and terrifying as he remembered it. Unlike the one he'd met, however, this one had two horns on its head and was colored a deep maroon. It was crouched over Sherlock, who was sprawled on the ground and stirring feebly, his chest heaving as he struggled to regain his breath.
Through the myriad of hissing and snapping noises the creature was making, John could hear, to his surprise, English. It was a bit garbled and difficult to understand, but it was definitely English. "Hello, Time Lord," it hissed, bending low over Sherlock and pinning him down with one of its six clawed feet. It didn't seem to have noticed John, who was trying to think of something to say to soothe it—that had been their initial plan, after all. "Long time, no smell. Escaped the Time War, I see."
"I didn't—" started Sherlock, but the thing moved its foot to his neck, cutting off whatever he didn't do.
"Don't speak to me, you murderer! I was on the trail of the cripple when I caught your scent, Time Lord. You slaughtered us, just like you slaughtered the Raknoss. If it weren't for Gallifrey, my family wouldn't have needed to hide on this stinking planet!"
On the word "stinking," it drew back its other front leg and swept it across so that its foot collided with Sherlock's head with a sharp crack. Sherlock, who had been fumbling for his sonic magnifying glass, fell limp against the concrete, bleeding from his temple. The alien drew back its head, its horrible jaws splitting as its teeth flashed out—
John knew Sherlock hadn't wanted to kill this beast unless they couldn't help it, but his friend was unconscious and about to be killed, and he knew there was nothing he could do to appease the thing. Its family was dead, its home gone, and it had nothing left to live for but revenge. No words could stop this creature, and certainly no sonic device could stun it at this point.
So, he did exactly as his instincts had been itching to do ever since he took up his post in that alley: he whipped out his revolver and fired.
The first bullet didn't appear to have much effect other than to anger the beast. It jerked up and whirled on John, its mouth wide open and teeth extended, that horrible snarl grating in its throat. For a moment, looking at it, he wanted to turn and sprint away back down the street, just like he did in Afghanistan. But one glance at Sherlock's prone form and he remembered his protective instincts. He remembered why he'd become a doctor, why he'd gone to Afghanistan in the first place. And he fired.
The monster jerked again from the impact before lunging at him. He got three more bullets into it before it fell at his feet in a great tangled mound of twitching legs and half-open jaws. A reddish-brown liquid leaked across the concrete, spreading slowly outward in a thick puddle. There he stood, frozen, his heart thudding in his chest, ready for the thing to leap at him again, but a shudder ran down the length of its body and it stilled. He waited only a second longer before tucking the weapon back in his pants and sprinting to Sherlock's side, careful to avoid the alien's body.
He dropped to his knees and placed his index and middle finger against the side of Sherlock's neck, checking for a pulse. Thankfully, he was still breathing; the steady beat came strongly through the vein. But hang on—there was something wrong. He kept his fingers there and was soon able to isolate the abnormality: instead of a single, straightforward beat, there were two, one after the other. Frowning, he pulled his hand away. The rhythm was unlike any cardiovascular irregularity he'd ever encountered.
Hesitantly, he leaned down, pressing his ear against the man's chest. He could hear the unmistakable sound of not one but two pulses, thumping out a steady four-beat rhythm.
He has two hearts.
Chapter 3: A Study In Scars: Part Three - The Secret
In the conclusion of their first adventure, Sherlock reveals a few things to John that he had initially been holding back; later, John discovers the secret behind the impossible door.
A Study in Scars: Part Three – The Secret
The thought made him retract, and for one long moment, he simply stared at the man—if he was, indeed, a man—trying to puzzle out how this was possible. He couldn't be human, could he? But if not a human, then what? He certainly looked like a born-and-raised Earthling, though it would explain quite a lot about his behavior…
What had the Kafkan called him? A "Time Lord"? What was a Time Lord? It sounded more like a title than anything, but John couldn't think of anyone on Earth who would receive such a designation.
The idea of Sherlock being a different species was a difficult one to grasp, but oddly enough, not all that surprising to John—perhaps the recent confirmation in the existence of alien life had numbed him to all other impossibilities.
Before long, he caught sight of the gash on Sherlock's temple and he remembered his obligation as a doctor to treat it. Human or not, that kind of blow could've caused a concussion, and he couldn't very well leave the man lying on the chill concrete.
Sherlock woke with a dull headache to find himself laid out across John's bed. His brows drew close in confusion as he sat up, ignoring the throbbing in the back of his skull that the sudden action instigated. He remembered being caught off-guard when the Kafkan lunged out of the shadows at him, and he remembered a sharp pain from the side of his head as it struck him, but beyond that… He looked at the alarm clock. It was ten o'clock—an hour had passed since then, and he was missing his coat, scarf, and shoes. He touched the place where he'd been hit and felt a rough line of stitches. What on Earth had happened?
He stood, stifling a groan, and half-staggered to the door. Squinting against the lamplight from the sitting room, which seemed suddenly blaring in his aching head, he spotted John, reading a book with—surprise, surprise—a mug of tea at his elbow.
"What happened?" asked Sherlock, taking a seat in his chair.
"The Kafkan hit you in the head," he said. "You were lucky it didn't crack your skull or give you a concussion."
"I observed as much," replied Sherlock, "but how did I end up here?"
"I carried you," replied John, trying to look as though he were still absorbed in his book.
The look of puzzlement on Sherlock's face cleared instantly, replaced by one of mild surprise. He had known John was strong, but he didn't think to that extent. "And the Kafkan?"
"Dead. I had to shoot it, it was about to kill you. Once I'd gotten you patched up, I used your phone to find Lestrade's number, and he took care of the body."
"Thank you," said Sherlock.
"Well, you know, facing aliens… Apparently it's what I do now."
"No, I mean… thank you."
Something about Sherlock's low tone made John look up. He saw in the other man's eyes the same sincerity he'd seen when Sherlock first told him he believed him. "Don't mention it," he said. Then, after looking down at his book, he added, "I suppose I should thank you for doing in a day what my therapist hasn't accomplished in weeks."
"Didn't even notice my cane was missing until I got back in and saw it by the chair."
"Well, I told you it was psychosomatic, didn't I?"
"Yes. Yes, you did." Despite himself, the corners of his lips twitched up in the suggestion of a small smile. Sherlock settled into a more comfortable position in his chair which involved swinging his legs over one armrest and leaning his head back on the other; when he closed his eyes and said nothing more, John, no longer very interested in the book in his hands, glanced up from its pages. "Sherlock."
"When you were unconscious, I wasn't sure if you were breathing, so I took your pulse."
Sherlock's eyes opened, but he didn't look at John, nor did he reply.
"You have two hearts?"
He didn't answer immediately. "Yes." He sat up, meeting John's eyes as he continued, "Side-effect of being a Time Lord."
"And a Time Lord is…?"
"An alien race native to the planet Gallifrey. Intelligently superior to just about anything, but all but extinct now."
"Oh. Alright, then."
Sherlock's brow furrowed. "That's it?" he asked in surprise. "No 'you look human,' no 'that's really weird,' no 'I can't believe I'm sharing a flat with an alien'?"
"To tell you the truth, it explains a lot," said John wryly, giving up on the book completely and setting it down. Sherlock frowned to himself, trying to figure out if he'd just been insulted. "Anyway, it's not like it's all that surprising anymore—aliens, I mean."
"Wait until morning before you judge that," Sherlock warned. "You'll think it's all a dream." John didn't reply. His expression was just slightly softer than a brick wall as he added a moment later, "Get some rest."
"That, I will," agreed John, standing and departing for his bedroom. He picked up his cane, but not to use it; he had a feeling, if he ever needed it again, it would not be for a very long time. So, he buried it at the back of the closet he could now call his, behind the clothes and things he had unpacked while Sherlock was sleeping.
After he had undressed and crawled into his new bed, he lay there for a while, staring at the ceiling. He heaved a satisfied sigh, contentment weighing heavily on his eyelids. Whatever was in store for him now, he had no doubt it was better than everything he was leaving behind. Sherlock might be an arse—and a strange, socially-oblivious arse at that—but he had a heart somewhere. Two hearts, in fact, he told himself, and the thought made him smile slightly. A Time Lord. He was certain that meant more than simply having two hearts and being very smart, and whatever he was concealing probably had something to do with the impossible room across the hall, but John brushed the thought away for now. Let him keep his secrets. In time, John would show him that he could be trusted.
As he reviewed the day's events, however, a disturbing thought came to him, one that made his eyes open and refuse to close for another hour. This case had been unnervingly similar to A Study in Scarlet, even disregarding his meeting Sherlock Holmes. Two men were poisoned in revenge for killing the murderer's family. The alien was even red, for Christ's sake.
Maybe he had gone bonkers in Afghanistan, and his hallucinations were revolving around a book series he'd read as a child. This couldn't possibly be real, could it? But then he pulled up the leg of his injured calf and felt the marks where he'd been bitten. Of course it was real.
After a while, he fell into a dreamless sleep, and though it felt deep, it didn't last long. At two o'clock in the morning, he was woken up by the hissing of steam and the outrageous screeching sound of some raging machine. It was slightly muffled through the door, but it was loud enough to send him bolting from under the covers so quickly that he lost his footing and fell on the floor. Once he recovered from suddenly finding himself staring at the underside of the bed, he hastily pulled on a pair of jeans over his boxers and a jacket over the tattered shirt he'd worn to sleep before bursting through the door, buttoning up his pants as he went.
It was dark in the hallway, but a flickering light from under the impossible door gave the pale carpet floor a ghostly outline. The sound, unmistakably, was coming from the other side of it. John, who remembered the urgent tone Sherlock had used when he said not to enter it, struggled for a moment with the decision of knocking on the door. He eventually settled on leaning close to the frame and calling loudly, "Sherlock?" when there was a lull in the noise.
Sherlock's distinguishably deep tone came from inside: "Don't come in! I'm alright!"
"What in God's name are you doing?" shouted John, conscious that they were probably waking the whole block with this ruckus.
"An experiment! Go back to sleep!"
John was about to do just that when he heard a crash of clattering metal, a sudden blaring alarm, and, above it all, a strained yet unbelievingly loud line of very creative curses.
From what he could gather from that single outburst, he assumed Sherlock was in danger and, privacy or not, who else was going to help the man? So, without a second thought, he twisted the knob and flung open the door.
Whatever he was expecting to see, it certainly wasn't this. He got the brief impression that distant-future-technology had somehow fused with the Industrial Age before he spotted Sherlock, on the floor of some vast compartment beneath the main platform and straining to lift a large lead pipe off his chest. He leapt across the metal floor and wrapped his hands around the pipe which was pinning Sherlock to the ground, and together, they managed to get it a few inches in the air, enough for Sherlock to scramble out from under it. John's fingers, sweaty from the effort, slipped, and it clanged against the floor's steel panels.
"Help me out with this," said Sherlock breathlessly, jumping to his feet. Above John's head, a canopy of pipes looped down like vines in a jungle, smoke whistling from open valves and a cacophony of lights flashing red. The alarm was still blaring. "Shut up!" shouted Sherlock, pointing his sonic device at the control center. A moment later, the alarm ceased, but the lights continued blinking and the entire machine screamed through the night.
"What do I do?" asked John above the commotion, his eyes barely able to absorb everything he was seeing. He couldn't make heads or tails of any of the wires or pipes.
"Grab the thermal adjuster and attach it to—"
"That blue pipe, there!" John grabbed it, a swinging rope of a pipe that was blowing ice-cold air on his toes, and Sherlock nodded. "Just hold it still!" he shouted. John did as he was told, and Sherlock shoved the end of an identical pipe against it. The two tubes shuddered violently and it was all John could do to hold his end steady as Sherlock grabbed a tool from a belt at his waist and used it to latch them together. Little by little, the dangerous-sounding roar emitting from the lead pipe at John's feet dropped to a low hum.
It was in this manner that they managed to soothe the beast of machinery around them. They reattached pipes, snapped grating gears back into their places, hooked up wires, and twisted valves shut. Occasionally Sherlock would shout out the name of a part that John had never heard of before, and he'd have to point at various cables or tubes until he was indicating the one Sherlock wanted. At one point he connected two thick wires which sprayed so many sparks John thought for a moment he had just seen the last of Sherlock Holmes. But though his hair was singed and his eyes were wild, he got back up, very much alive.
Finally, when the noises had died down so that only an ominous rattling remained, Sherlock enlisted John's help in reattaching the heavy lead pipe to its place against the single central column. Three times they lifted the thing with trembling arms, hoisted it onto their shoulders, and attempted to hold it in place while Sherlock screwed in the latches; twice, it hit the floor with a deafening clang, and it was all they could do on the third try not to let that sound assault their eardrums again. Finally, Sherlock managed to twist enough screws into place that they could release it, and they stood there, doubled over and panting with their hands on their knees.
Sherlock promptly took a seat on the floor while John, once he had caught his breath, slowly straightened. The other man remained where he was while John slowly walked about the place, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
The room was enormous—it could've fit snugly inside a large cathedral. The walls were made of spiraling patterns of bronze and brass panels, dotted occasionally with blue artificial lights that flickered like torches. Curving staircases created a vertical maze of glass floors and silver railings across the back wall, five different doors leading to God-knows-where. Twisting metal pillars stretched from floor to ceiling with curling strips carved away to reveal glowing veins of either pale blue or pink bubbling fluid. John had to stare at them for a moment before he realized that the bubbles were moving down instead of up. Just looking at them was enough to screw up his sense of balance; he felt like he would fall to the ceiling any second.
Here and there, scattered about the room, were bits of home that seemed like relics of ancient history compared to their surroundings: a long tube of some sort shooting out periodic puffs of steam like some old locomotive; a few simply-designed mahogany chairs with burgundy, leather cushions; a coat hanger by the door; and, unbelievably, hanging upon the top hook of said coat hanger, the renowned deerstalker. It appeared to be dusty from lack of wear, but just the sight of it made John smile somehow.
The most beautiful part, however, was the center. A single glass pillar, two feet in diameter, rose from the floor near the place Sherlock was sitting, a core of blue tinted light illuminating the entire room. A glass ramp, etched with intricate white patterns, led a swerving trail from the door to a glass platform through the center of which the column stood. It was the same platform he'd just been standing under, hooking up pipes and wires. Above it, however, was an intricate mass of machinery so organized and symbiotic that it had to be a work of art.
No longer aware of Sherlock's presence, he slowly ascended the ramp, regarding the treasure before him as he would a pearl at the bottom of the ocean. Hell, a thousand pearls. A million.
A hexagonal console expanded out from the central column, each of the six glass panels covered in all kinds of buttons, levers, switches, even a keyboard. A screen on a swivel displayed flashes of the same swirling designs found etched in the walls and staircases. And beneath the glass, all manner of mechanical gears and springs clicked and whirred, functioning together in a fashion that should've been impossible. A few of them were too large for the confines of the glass, so slots had to be cut into the surface of the console so that their spines rotated endlessly above it. There were so many moving parts that glittered, shined, and flashed in the light that his eyes wouldn't hold still. All the while, inside the column, the tube of light, which was ringed with metal circles like ridges on a windpipe, moved up and down in a slow, steady, consistent beat. It was accompanied by the deep breathing of some kind of massive engine.
He moved forward, stretching out his hands until his palms pressed flat against the panel. The turning of the gears seemed to move as one, the steady ticking of a clockwork heart against his hands.
"What is this place?" he asked in awe, following the glass column all the way to the ceiling, where it met dizzyingly high above in another explosion of cables, pipes, and tubes.
"Would you believe me if I said it came with the flat?" asked Sherlock, who had somehow managed to walk up the ramp behind John without making himself heard.
"That depends. Is Mrs. Hudson an alien?"
"Well, yes, but she had nothing to do with this."
John laughed briefly before he realized that Sherlock wasn't doing the same. He decided he'd ask about that later. "Really, though," he said, turning back to behold the majesty of machinery before him. "Where are we?"
"Well, we're not in Narnia," said Sherlock. John frowned at him and he reluctantly answered, "It's my TARDIS."
"Time And Relative Dimension In Space."
John gave him a blank look.
Sherlock responded with an honestly-do-I-need-to-spell-it-out-for-you?-face. "It's my time-and-space machine. All Time Lords have—" he cut himself off and corrected, "had them."
"This—I'm in a time machine?"
Sherlock looked about in mock puzzlement, as if checking to make sure they were in the right place. "Yes."
"Christ, Sherlock," said John, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "Anything else you're hiding?"
"Quite a lot, actually," said Sherlock, gesturing to the far wall. "I don't know if you noticed, but there are five doors over there."
"I did notice, actually," replied John. "How does that work, exactly? We should be standing ten feet above the road right now, shouldn't we?" He looked around as if expecting to see an aerial view of the street through a window or something.
Sherlock gave him another look. "It's bigger on the inside," he summed up. "Wherever it lands—whenever it lands—it picks an outer shell which will best blend in with its environment. I landed it in a flat; so, it disguised itself as a room of the flat."
"Bit rubbish, isn't it? The door's on the wrong side of the hall."
"Well, generally a perception filter keeps people from noticing that, but you seem to be an exception." Sherlock hesitated. "I suppose I'll figure that one out later. Anyway, it could be worse. If the chameleon circuit was broken, it could permanently disguise itself as, say, a 1960's police box, and then I'd never get any peace."
John didn't even pretend to understand what had just been said. He turned back to the central column, drawn to its light like a moth at midnight. "I'm in a time machine," he said, still hardly believing the idea. A time-machine. And this was no DeLorean—it was the Ferrari of time machines. He was in a space-time sports car.
"Astute observation," Sherlock remarked sarcastically. Then, realizing something, he looked at John in surprise and mild confusion. "You like it?" he asked in disbelief.
"It's just a machine."
"No, there's something…" He placed one hand on the beating heart of the console and the other against the glass pillar, feeling the vibrations and letting its low, soothing hum seem to flow through his very blood. "It feels alive."
For a moment, Sherlock was silent, and John thought he might agree, but then he remarked scathingly, "Would you two like some time alone?"
"Shut up," John retorted, pulling his hands away. "So, what happened down there, then? Did it just spontaneously fall apart?"
"Of course not! It's not some piece of scrap metal," snapped Sherlock, offended. "No, I was just trying to fix a rattling in the main pipeline, but my efforts only succeeded in detaching a few of the more important pipes from it. Next thing I knew, the damn thing fell on me."
Before John could rub in the fact that he'd rescued Sherlock, a phone rang. John, startled, searched for the source and spotted the device on the side of the console. It was an old phone, like the type you might've seen in the 1930s complete with a turnstile. It rattled in its place with each ring until Sherlock picked it up.
"What is it?" he asked sharply. He waited, listening. "Calm down. Deep breaths." Another pause, though this one shorter. "Tell me what happened." In the silence that followed, Sherlock's eyebrows raised—a little quirk at first, but as more time passed, they slowly climbed higher. Then they dropped, abruptly, drawing close over his eyes. "You're positive she said that? Those exact words?" he asked, his first words in over a minute. "Sounds intriguing. Do you know where you are?" Another pause. "It's alright. I'll use the signal to lock onto your location. Don't hang up." He pulled the phone away from his face and began punching in commands.
"Is that a phone?" asked John. "On a time machine? How does that work?"
"Would you really understand if I explained the temporal physics of it to you?"
"Then don't ask me to."
"Who was that?"
"That," said Sherlock, "was a case."
"Oh." John took a few hesitant steps toward the door, saying, "Guess I'll leave you to it, then."
Sherlock didn't answer, so he reluctantly continued on his way and was two-thirds down the ramp when the other man suddenly said, "Seen enough for today?"
John turned. "Enough what?"
"Yes. I live with one now."
There was a break in which Sherlock turned to John with a grin in his eyes, and suddenly he knew what was about to be said: "Want to see some more?"
A smile split John's face as he dashed back up the ramp. "Oh, God, yes."
Chapter 4: The Spotted Band: Part One - The Experiment
At the start of their next case, Sherlock and John come to the aid of an alien named Helen.
I didn't have time to post the rest of this fic yesterday, so here it is tonight. This particular section is split into four parts, and I'm still working on the fourth, but rest assured it will be up soon. C:
The Spotted Band: Part One - The Experiment
Helen was woken by a scream.
Her eyes snapped open and she scrabbled at the ground for a moment, trying to ascertain what was happening. It was dark, but clumps of plants were glowing like peculiar creatures of the deep, giving off colorful neon lights and painting the night with patches of leaves and lichen. The stars above glittered coldly, one in particular twinkling a bright, merry red. Night creatures had been singing, but several spread their luminescent wings and took off at the sudden noise.
Helen looked over towards the sound, a rush of panic making her heart pound frantically. It was coming from her friend, Julia, whom she’d only met the night before. They’d been sleeping next to each other, their only comfort in the cold, unsheltered night. Julia had her phone out and was holding it in her hand to shed light on whatever had scared her, but now her hand had fallen against the ground, and whatever had caused her distress was now nothing more than a shifting shadow. Helen heard a rustle and struggled into a sitting position, but by the time her eyes focused, the thing was gone.
She scrambled over to her friend, who grabbed her shirt sleeve with the urgency of someone who had little time to speak. She glanced over her friend and saw nothing wrong—no blood or injuries of any kind—but the girl was gasping for breath and clutching desperately at Helen’s clothes.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked in a trembling tone.
Her friend fought for air before choking out, “The band… The spotted band!” Nothing more coherent could she say and, a few minutes later, she ceased to say anything at all.
With a flourish, Sherlock pressed one last button before standing off to the side, watching as the temporal stabilizer slid steadily up and down in the central column. With a single resounding sound like the beat of a bass drum, the noises of the machine dropped back to their usual thrum, the ticking of the gears marking the beat of a mechanical song.
Sherlock seemed to have finished whatever he was doing, but when John looked about, he could feel nothing different. The man pulled the swiveling screen around and examined it closely, his lips forming a string of soundless words as if he were reading. When John looked over his shoulder at it, though, all he could see were the same circular designs he’d noticed before, so prevalent in the machine’s interior design. “Are you reading that?” he asked in surprise.
“It’s Gallifreyan, of course I’m reading it,” said Sherlock, as though this were obvious.
“The language of Time Lords.”
“Oh.” He paused. “So, have we landed somewhere, then?”
“Yes. According to this, we’re on an isolated jungle planet, mostly uninhabited by intelligent life. Though if I remember correctly—which I always do—there used to be a small population of tribal natives.”
“What happened to them?” asked John.
“No one knows. Time, I suppose. They eventually died out.”
“You have a time machine. You could go back and find out, couldn’t you?”
Sherlock gave him a puzzled glance over his shoulder as he headed for the door. “Why would I want to do that?”
John shrugged. “It’s one more mystery solved, isn’t it?” Sherlock didn’t answer, but John didn’t press it, because just then the door was opened.
Wherever they were, it was night. Stars—very different stars, ones that John had never seen before—shimmered far above, but it’s hard for one to focus on them when one is introduced to an alien jungle planet. The place was gorgeous—a bit eerie in the darkness, but beautiful nonetheless, with massive trees and looping vines stretching from one branch to the next. Exotic flowers gave off faint smoldering glows that attracted eight-winged insects with elaborately-curled antennae. Random, shifting patterns of moss illuminated aimless paths on the forest floor. As they watched, a bird—well, it appeared to be a bird, though it had webbed wings and scales instead of feathers—swooped from one tree to another, a glowing orb on the end of its long tail creating a streak of orange across the sky.
Sherlock had already crossed to the other side of the clearing. Suddenly realizing that John was not by his side, he turned to see the man still standing in the mouth of the TARDIS, which was currently disguised as a dilapidated log cabin. “What is it?” asked Sherlock, following John’s gaze but seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
John lowered his gaze, jumping to his senses as he trotted quickly after Sherlock. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just—it’s beautiful.”
Sherlock glanced about with the trivial expression of someone who’d seen this a thousand times. “Now is not the time for sentimentality, John,” he scolded. “We have a most intriguing mystery before us.”
John was a little hurt by this remark, but he said nothing of it. “Yes, remind me again what exactly is going on?” he said.
“A woman named Helen called. She was a native of the planet Andraxia, visiting a relative at a hospital. Yesterday she woke up with no recollection as to how she got here. There was another woman with her, another human also from New Earth who didn’t—”
“Hang on,” John interrupted, stopping. “‘New Earth’?”
“Yes,” replied Sherlock, as though it were obvious.
John paused, crossing his arms. “What year is it?” he asked suspiciously.
“Five billion one thousand thirty-five.”
For a moment, John was speechless. Five billion one thousand thirty-five. Five billion. He was surprised they still kept the date by the year. He thought they would’ve adopted some kind of big universal star-number or something by now. “Right, well, I should probably remind you that I’m from the twenty-first century, so you’ve got about five billion years of history to catch me up on.”
Judging by the look on Sherlock’s face, this concept was entirely foreign to him. John raised his eyebrows expectantly after a moment, and Sherlock opened his mouth, gathering his thoughts for a moment before saying, “Long story short, about four billion years from your time, the Earth was in terrible shape, so naturally they scrambled to find a new one. Charles McIrving—unpleasant chap—discovered one, and you lot called it New Earth. Originally it was just a sanctuary for human beings, but now it’s become quite a tourist attraction. Another billion years later, the sun expands and the Earth gets fried, and New Earth literally becomes a new Earth.”
“We found a new Earth and called it… New Earth?” John repeated, a disbelieving smile spreading across his face.
“Originality has improved over the years, hasn’t it?” agreed Sherlock, sharing the expression to a certain extent. “McIrving wanted to call it 'McIrville.’” He made a sound of derision, at which John laughed. Remembering how they got to this conversation in the first place, however, Sherlock’s smile—small as it was—disappeared, and he continued walking. “As I was saying, the other woman, the human—named Julia—was killed last night. Helen couldn’t ascertain the cause of death since there were no visible injuries, but she said that, before Julia died, she said something about a ‘spotted band.’”
For the second time, John halted in his tracks. “A ‘spotted band’?” he repeated incredulously.
“That was precisely my reaction. I do, however, have a theory as to how she managed to come up with—”
“Never mind that!” John burst out. “Doesn’t it bother you how similar all this is to some of the books?”
“What do you mean?” asked Sherlock, but there was something evasive in the way he looked at John.
“A Study in Scarlet? The Speckled Band? What’s next, Hound of the Baskervilles? Will we discover some alien dog that’s been haunting the planet of Dartmoor?!”
“There isn’t any planet called ‘Dartmoor,’” said Sherlock in confusion. After a pause, during which John attempted to formulate a response, Sherlock said with a cross expression, “We don’t have time for this, John. There’s a panicked woman running about.”
John pursed his lips for a moment. He knew Sherlock was avoiding the question for whatever reason, but the man was right; they needed to find this woman. “Fine,” he snapped finally. “But when this is all over, I expect an explanation.” And with that, he turned and tromped off through the trees.
He heard Sherlock’s footsteps behind him for a while and didn’t know why the Time Lord—God, that would take some getting used to—let him lead, but after a while, he felt a hand tug on his sleeve. He stopped and turned to see Sherlock, his pallid skin almost glowing in the dim light, with his finger to his lips.
John tried to breathe as silently as he could as he looked about slowly, searching for something in the pale radiance that would indicate what had tipped Sherlock off. Sure enough, he could hear something—quick, quiet, high-pitched gasps: the sounds of a frantic, crying woman.
“Helen?” called Sherlock, keeping as still as he could.
The panicked breaths paused and a shaky, hesitant voice echoed, “Yes?”
“It’s Sherlock,” he said. “Where are you?”
“Over here!” John spotted a flash from the glowing screen of a camera phone about thirty feet away and pointed at it. He and Sherlock both moved quickly towards it to find the woman, Helen, standing at the foot of a massive, gnarled tree, her arms pulled in close to her torso and her black jacket zipped up to her collarbone.
John didn’t know quite what to expect of this woman, but for whatever reason, “alien race” had never crossed his mind. He supposed the fact that Sherlock was so similar to a human being made him take the idea of a different-looking species for granted. The woman, Helen, was rather difficult to see in the dark until Sherlock flipped a switch on his sonic magnifying glass and it promptly doubled as a flashlight. This was because, as John saw by the bright light, that her skin was dark blue, the same color that fringed the night sky above. She looked to be covered in scales, and rough, bony outcroppings accentuated her shoulders. Her cheekbones, brows, and jaw were lined in spines which were only slightly paler than the rest of her, and instead of hair, she had a mane of similar spines which were quite longer, like a porcupine’s. In terms of bone structure, she had a longer jaw than a human’s, with a shorter nose. Her features were by no means delicate, but there was definitely a certain feminine quality to them. She was, quite honestly, beautiful—not in the sense that John found her attractive, but rather the way that he would admire a wildcat or an eagle.
Her eyes flashed like a wolf’s in the light, reflecting iridescent circles of it. “Could you please turn that off?” she asked in a pleading tone. It was then, just before Sherlock flipped off the device, that John noticed the shiny tracks of tears streaking her face. Her shoulders seemed to be hunched inward, making her look smaller and less intimidating.
“I’m Sherlock Holmes,” said Sherlock, gesturing himself, “and this is my colleague, Dr. John Watson.” He cut straight to the chase, asking, “Why did you call me here?”
“Well, Julia died, and it was rather strange, and—”
“No, I mean why me, of all people? Why haven’t you called any of your family or friends?”
“I—I tried, but yours was the only number that would patch through.” She paused to take a deep breath, gathering her composure. “I’ve heard of you, Mr. Holmes. Your methods may be… conflicting, but I trust you.”
“You said I was the only number that would work?” he repeated, completely ignoring her second remark. “May I see your phone?”
“Yes, of course. It’s Julia’s; I had to take hers, since I don’t seem to have mine on me.” She handed it to him.
“Why would she have your number?” asked John offhand.
“I probably assisted her on some matter and she decided to keep it on her in case she needed another favor. I do keep up a business, you know—it’s universal, it’s not confined to your little blue planet,” he answered before turning his attention to the phone.
While Sherlock was inspecting it, Helen glanced at John, who found his gaze attracted to her without consciously realizing it. “Hello,” she said. She seemed quite a lot less nervous now that she was no longer alone. “I didn’t know Mr. Holmes had a companion.”
“Hi, sorry,” said John quickly, remembering that she was a person just like anyone else and would not appreciate his staring. “Yeah, no, I’m pretty new to this… You’re my first alien.”
As soon as they were out, he wanted to swallow those last four words back, but there was no recalling them. Contrary to being offended, however, she chuckled and said, “We’re both aliens here, mate.”
“Right,” said John, glancing around and remembering that he was from a different planet as well. “Right, yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“He’s a time-traveller, yeah?” she asked, gesturing to Sherlock. John nodded; the idea was still foreign to him. “What century are you from?”
“Twenty-first,” answered John.
“The twenty-first?” she repeated in disbelief. “Blimey, that’s ancient history. I must look like a monster to you.”
“I think you look beautiful,” replied John honestly. Then, realizing what he’d just said, he added quickly, “Not like—I didn’t mean to—”
She laughed and John saw a ring of white teeth. She seemed to have forgotten, for now, the situation she was in. “No, it’s alright,” she said. “Thanks.”
“We probably look like pink weasels to you.”
“Well, I dunno what a weasel is, but I think you look like… a frangle.”
“It’s the Andraxia equivalent to a hedgehog,” Sherlock explained dryly. John would’ve taken this as a compliment, but Sherlock cast him an amused smile over the phone.
“What does he look like?” asked John, referring to Sherlock.
She thought for a moment. “A skila,” she answered.
Sherlock frowned. “A skila?!” he repeated. “I always thought I looked more like a vargnel.”
At this, she laughed heartily. “A vargnel? You? Really?”
“What’s a skila?” asked John.
Helen opened her mouth, about to explain, but Sherlock interrupted, brandishing the phone, “There’s a blocker nearby stopping the signal. Your phone connected to mine because it’s universal—it’s never out of service. The clothes you’re wearing, are they yours?”
“No,” she answered, a bit surprised by the sudden change of subject. When there were no further questions on the matter, she asked, “Why would there be a blocker?”
“I have a few ideas,” answered Sherlock, handing her back her phone. “Now, where’s the body?”
It was hard to see in the dim light, but her expression seemed to darken slightly. “This way,” she said, turning and leading the way through the trees.
“Sherlock,” muttered John, realizing something as they followed her. “How can she speak English? She’s from a different planet.”
“Well, she knows a bit of English—she must have, in order to understand what Julia said. However, she’s currently speaking her native language, since she believes that we are, as well.”
“Why would she believe that? And how can we understand her?”
“One of the telepathic circuits in the TARDIS—it translates for whoever’s around it. The TARDIS is translating her language inside your head.” That would explain why he could suddenly understand what the Kafkan was saying the other night.
A sudden thought striking him, John asked, “Are you speaking English?”
“Yes, John, I’m speaking English,” replied Sherlock with exaggerated patience.
John fell silent as Helen halted and pointed to a hollow at the base of the tree. The other woman, Julia, was lying on her back with her knees slightly bent and lying on their sides. One hand was extended loosely, her other collapsed on her chest. On her face was an expression of sheer terror which distorted her features in such a way that John had to look away for a moment.
Sherlock, on the other hand, crouched down next to her, fascinated and completely drawn in by the prospect of her curious cause of death. “You’re sure she said ‘the spotted band’?” Sherlock asked as he pulled out his sonic device. With a flick of a button, he activated a light like a torch and began looking over the body carefully.
“Yes,” replied Helen. Her voice had become slightly detached as she regarded the man; she seemed to be burying something far beneath her exterior shell. John couldn’t blame her. If he’d woken up in a strange environment and watched his only companion die, he would be frightened, as well.
Sherlock started by examining the ground around the body. He pulled a tape-measure out of his pocket and began comparing distances in the dirt and leaves that John couldn’t make heads or tails of. He couldn’t determine what Sherlock was measuring, as it seemed to him that the man was simply examining distances from one speck of glowing moss to another. At one point he even leaned down and sniffed a bit of the ground; he came back up with a disappointed and slightly puzzled expression.
Once he was content with what he’d seen of the ground, he began to touch and poke at the body, similar to what he’d done to Jim Graham. It felt strange that that case had only been solved a few hours ago. Unlike the previous case, however, he was completely silent throughout his observations now, and John and Helen could only watch wordlessly as he gradually wound his way around the body. He swept his fingers across a bit of her skin and examined the residue left on his cuticles, looked through her pockets, and bent in close to look at the skin around her neck and wrists.
Lifting up one of her wrists and turning it to show Helen, he spoke his first words since the inquisition of Julia’s last words: “Did you notice these on her before?”
John squinted at it to see that there were three dark dots running in a straight line across her wrist.
“No,” answered Helen, “but they might’ve been there the whole time for all I know.”
“I doubt it,” Sherlock remarked, using his magnifying glass to examine them a second time. Then, abruptly, he stood. In a similar motion to what he’d used on the body, he drew his index finger quickly across a patch of her skin and examined his finger carefully. Her brow furrowed at this action, but she said nothing. “Helen, you need to get back to my TARDIS and stay there with John while I find one of these signal-blockers and trace it back to its source. There is something sinister going on, something much larger than I imagined.”
“What about Julia?” Helen protested.
“She’s dead. What about her?” Sherlock prompted, raising an eyebrow.
She flinched at Sherlock’s blunt word choice, but asked anyway, “Did you figure it out? What killed her?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Sherlock, looking genuinely confused by their ignorance. When he realized that they sincerely didn’t know, he said in an exasperated tone, “It must be so peaceful inside your heads. What do you even think about when you see a body?”
“We think, ‘Oh, God, the poor soul,’ and ‘What are we going to tell her family’ like normal people,” John snapped. “Just tell us, Sherlock.”
Sherlock cast him an annoyed look. “She was killed by a humanoid species from Andraxia’s twin planet.”
“A Chandrax? But they’re friendly!” said Helen in surprise.
“Not all of them,” replied Sherlock. “Are you familiar with Blakk’s Disease?”
The confusion disappeared from her expression. “Oh…”
“Sorry, I’m a bit new to all this,” said John, feeling annoyed that he was being left in the dark—again. “What’s going on, exactly?”
“Andraxia and Chandraxia are twin planets. They revolve around each other while making their orbit around the sun. The two species—Chandrax and Andrax—” John had to stifle another remark about original names, “are very similar in build and appearance, except that Chandraxes are green and poisonous. There is a rare disease among Chandraxes, called Blakk’s Disease, which creates a deficiency in their hormone levels and causes them to want to kill those around them at random.”
“That seems a bit specific,” said John. “How do you know that was what killed Julia?”
“I’ll explain on the way back to the TARDIS. Come on,” said Sherlock, leading them away.
“No,” said Helen defiantly, planting her feet firmly into the ground and crossing her arms. “I’m not going to cower in your ship while you’re out tracking Julia’s killer.”
“Helen, there is something much larger and more complex going on than a simple murder,” said Sherlock sharply. “Whatever is happening, it’s been happening for a long time now. Julia wasn’t the first, nor will she be the last if we don’t get to the bottom of this, so please do as you’re told and go back.”
“No,” Helen resisted stubbornly. John was liking this girl more and more. “I will not. I’m going with you.”
“I won’t be responsible for getting you killed,” said Sherlock fiercely.
“Of course you won’t,” she retorted. “I’ll be responsible for getting me killed.”
A muscle in Sherlock’s jaw clenched as he gritted his teeth and John could only smile at the girl in admiration for making the man speechless. “Fine,” he snapped finally. “John, I just met you yesterday, I won’t have you—”
John’s smile vanished. “No; no. I didn’t come with you just to wait in the car like an old woman,” said John patiently.
Sherlock cast him a sour look, but there was something akin to gratitude in his eyes.
“What makes you say this isn’t the first time this has happened?” asked Helen quietly, a look of concern in her eyes.
“About ten years ago, I worked a case in this time period—actually, I think it was only two years ago by linear standards.” John didn’t bother trying to sort that sentence out. “Anyway, I was looking for a case and had gotten a call from a planet in a neighboring constellation claiming that some of their citizens had disappeared. I visited two scenes from which two of the people had disappeared, and I found a very particular residue left behind, the same type of which I just identified on your friend Julia. After, I talked to an eyewitness who said her friend had simply vanished in a flicker of green light.
“Normally I’d be able to trace the teleport, find out who manufactured it and who bought it, that kind of thing, but I’d never seen anything like this before, so I…” he paused, trying to find a way to put his next phrase, “…archived it for later investigation.”
“You gave up,” John inferred.
“I’m a time-traveller, John. I could be there five minutes before any of them called me with all the information I have now.” He waited a moment; when there were no further questions, he said, “Now, let’s go.” They turned away from the body and began their trek through the woods.
“What are we looking for, Mr. Holmes?” asked Helen after they’d walked a short distance.
“In this time period? Some kind of tall tower, at least a hundred feet in height.”
“That could be any one of these trees,” said John, looking around at all the soaring trees that they were passing through. He could, however, see nothing that would indicate any sort of electrical tower. Although, any of those vines could’ve been some sort of wire or cable…
Sherlock followed John’s gaze, tilting back his chin to get a glimpse of the tops of the enormous trees. “Just keep a sharp eye out,” he said. “I’d rather not wait until morning.” He continued walking, asking John abruptly, “May I borrow your phone?”
John, remembering the last time Sherlock asked this, was none too keen to give up the object again, but he obediently reached into his pocket and retrieved it. As soon as it was enclosed in his long-fingered grasp, Sherlock pulled out his sonic magnifying glass and began running its glowing tip up and down the length of the phone, that curious noise emitting from it once again.
“What’re you doing—?” John protested, exasperated.
“Universal roaming. I need to send a text,” replied Sherlock once he was finished, pocketing the device before tapping away at the buttons on John’s phone.
“Universal roaming”? What on earth was that?
Once he was finished, he handed the phone back to John, who found that his reception was now showing four bars where it had previously said “No service.” So that’s what it meant… He didn’t bother trying to figure out how that was possible.
A moment later, there was a soft beeping, and Helen pulled out Julia’s phone. Her eyes skimmed over the screen for a moment before, to John’s surprise, she handed it to him.
On it was a text that read, We’re being watched. Don’t look now, but there’s a bird to our left that isn’t native to this planet and has been eyeing us intently for some time—furthermore, I noticed several cameras built into the trees and a few of the flowers. Don’t let on that you know about it and don’t say anything compromising. We will proceed as planned. Show this to John once you’ve read it. –SH
John was suddenly buzzing with questions he couldn’t ask. Who was watching them? Why? What did they know? What defined a piece of information as “compromising” by Sherlock’s standards? Knowing he couldn’t voice any one of these inquiries, he handed the phone wordlessly back to Helen. The two of them had no choice but to follow Sherlock in silence, their minds absorbed by this unspeakable subject.
John didn’t know what he was expecting to find. Helen, as it turned out, had night-vision, so she could see as easily as if it were mid-afternoon, and Sherlock had his sonic-magnifying-glass/high-powered flashlight, but John had nothing of the sort. He could only follow the beam of Sherlock’s flashlight—which at this point seemed more like a spotlight—and search the illuminated area for anything that Sherlock hadn’t seen. The chances of him seeing anything Sherlock hadn’t, of course, were very slim.
John couldn’t stand the silence much longer. “Sherlock said you were visiting someone in the hospital,” he said to Helen. “Who was it?”
“My sister,” answered Helen calmly. She didn’t appear to mind his prying. “She had moved to New Earth for a job and was mugged on her way home. The wounds were bad, but she’s stable now, and the nurses say she’ll be alright.”
John made a noise of disbelief. “I guess things haven’t changed much,” he admitted. “Five billion years, and it’s still all about money…”
“Was this also the case for the twenty-first century?” she asked curiously.
He almost laughed before he remembered that she was being serious; how was she supposed to know what that time period was like? “Definitely,” he answered. After a pause, he asked, “What’s Andraxia like? Is it beautiful there?”
“It used to be,” said Helen darkly. “I’ve seen all these ancient paintings of it, and it used to be similar to this one. The leaves and trunks of trees and such were all dark-colored, but the flowers were gorgeous. Huge, deep-throated, and every color of the rainbow. That was what Andraxia was known for. It still is known for those flowers, but nowadays they’re grown in laboratories or in the gardens of the rich. It’s all iron, now; iron and steel.”
“I’m sorry,” said John. And he was. “That sounds like where Earth’s going…”
“Gone,” said Sherlock abruptly.
“It’s already gone there. That’s part of the reason why humans had to leave. The air pollution was terrible.” He wrinkled his nose.
“If it’s any consolation, though, they’re doing a much better job with New Earth,” said Helen with a smile. “I could live there. They’ve got a perfect balance of nature and technology. If you like the wild, there are forests and tropical beaches and mountains everywhere, but if you’d rather live in the city, you’ve got places like New New York, and—”
“Wait a minute,” said John, laughing skeptically. “Not only is this place called New Earth, but it’s got a New New York, as well?”
“Technically, it’s the nineteenth since the original,” said Sherlock. “No, hang on, I’ve got my years mixed up—it’s only the fifteenth right now.”
“Oh, God, they’re going to make four more?” said Helen, laughing.
“Afraid so, yes,” replied Sherlock, unable to keep from smiling slightly.
They lapsed into silence for a moment. Then John prompted, “Go on, then, Sherlock, your turn.”
“I want to hear about your planet. Tell us about—what was it?—Gallifrey.”
Helen cast him an uneasy glance over her shoulder, like it was a forbidden subject.
“Well, it was pretty, I suppose,” Sherlock admitted. “Orange skies, silver leaves, red grass, with a massive glass dome encasing the Citadel, but it was dull.”
“Imagine spending a weekend with a group of nuns.”
“Ah,” said John. So it wasn’t the planet itself that Sherlock didn’t like; it was the people he had to share it with. After a pause, he said, “You said ‘was.’ What happened to it?”
“The Time War,” he said stiffly.
John’s eyebrows shot up. “That war destroyed the whole planet?”
“Yes, it did,” said Sherlock, snapping those three words in such a tone that John clamped his mouth shut. Recognizing his desire not to speak about it, John resumed following the flashlight beam to the canopy above.
An hour later, the sky began to lighten dimly as the sun, much more distant than the Earth’s sun, began to crawl up over the horizon. The orbit of this planet must’ve been a bit faster than that of the Earth’s, because in another hour, he could see the sun’s rays filtering through the leaves. Instead of yellow, it was tinged blue, but because of its distance, it wasn’t nearly as bright—more like the light of two or three moons. It was a pleasant light, and complimented by the landscape; Sherlock could eventually turn off his flashlight and they could all see.
After about three and a half hours of walking, Helen stopped them. “Please, can we stop for a moment?” she asked, slightly out of breath. “My species isn’t meant for long distances.”
“Yes, of course,” said Sherlock absently, still staring up at the trees. She took a seat on a fallen log. John followed suit, grateful for the fresh breeze that stirred the leaves and dried the sweat on his back. His jumper, usually warm and comfortable, felt thick and stuffy in the rising humidity. Sherlock, meanwhile, appeared entirely unaffected by their long stroll.
When he looked down and saw the two of them, seemingly just noticing their condition, he said, “You two lie down, see if you can get some rest.”
“What if the Chandrax comes back?” asked Helen, though she didn’t look too opposed to the idea otherwise.
“I’ll wake you if it does,” replied Sherlock.
“No, you haven’t slept since you were knocked out by that Kafkan,” said John, rising to his feet. “I’ll keep watch, you go to sleep.”
“John, I have two hearts,” said Sherlock in a low voice. “My sleep schedule is… different from yours. And by different, I mean nearly nonexistent.
“Right, of course—yeah, right.” Another reminder that Sherlock wasn’t human.
So, while Sherlock stood as a silent sentinel over the two of them, staring off into the jungle, both John and Helen lay down on the soft, dry ground and arranged themselves in as comfortable positions as they could. John ended up using an especially fluffy clump of moss as a makeshift pillow. As soon as he was comfortable, with this strange sun warming his skin and the soft cushion of moss and leaves under him, he remembered just how little sleep he’d gotten before Sherlock’s TARDIS woke him up.
Before he knew it, it was early evening and Sherlock was rousing him urgently. “John! John, wake up!” he said excitedly. He moved on to Helen, shaking her shoulder. “Get up, both of you!”
John groaned and, with great reluctance, sat up. “What is it?” he asked, irritated at being interrupted.
“I found one. I found a signal blocker. Don’t you see, John? They’ve been right under our noses the whole time. We must’ve passed at least five of them while we were walking.”
“No, I don’t see,” said John crossly as Helen began to rouse herself, rubbing her bleary eyes as she sat up.
“It’s the trees,” said Sherlock. “The towers are disguised as trees! There’s one not far from here. Come on.” He dashed off through the trees, leaving John and Helen to rise hastily on stiff limbs and stagger after him.
It wasn’t too far away, but it was far enough that John had to ask, “How did you find this, exactly?”
“I may have gotten a bit bored watching over the two of you,” he admitted shamelessly.
“So we could’ve been attacked while you were off looking at trees?!”
“Well, I never went far,” he said, somewhat appalled by John’s incredulity. “Anyway, I was standing there thinking, wondering why we hadn’t come across anything—and then you, John, you brilliant man, I remembered what you said. You said, ‘It could be any one of these trees.’” He stopped next to a particularly thick tree with the same slick black bark that John had seen on clumps of several other trees.
John, whose frustration at being abandoned was beginning to fade, couldn’t help but feel like he was glowing when he realized that he had helped Sherlock solve a mystery.
“How can you tell it’s not a tree?” asked Helen, looking the trunk up and down. “It looks like any other tree to me.”
Sherlock bent over, scooped up a rock, and pounded it against the bark with such sudden harshness that the other two started at the action. If something had simply tapped or patted the side, it wouldn’t have been heard, but the much sharper, louder collision brought an empty, reverberating sound to their ears.
“It’s hollow,” said Sherlock. “Also, the bark wasn’t so much as scuffed by this rock.” He tossed the stone aside.
“So, now what?” asked John, looking up at the branches of the tree. It looked nearly impossible to climb; there weren’t any splits in the trunk under twenty feet, and the bark was rather smooth.
“Now, we…” Sherlock trailed off as he followed John’s gaze and realized their problem. “Ah.”
They didn’t have to speculate for long, however. Sherlock’s hand suddenly jumped to his exposed neck, his brow furrowed as he turned slightly, and John was able to see a brightly-colored dart protruding from between his fingers. He yanked it out with a frown and only got a second or two to look at it before he collapsed on the ground.
John, who was caught between the urge to protect Sherlock and the notion that it would be better to run now and rescue him later, stood frozen for a moment, staring down at his friend. Helen’s cry of, “John, run!” from thirty feet away made him jump to his senses, but it was too late; he felt a sharp sting in his own neck and, a few seconds later, the strange jungle planet spun into blackness.
Chapter 5: The Spotted Band: Part Two - The Data
Sherlock, Helen, and John meet the not-so-friendly natives of the planet and unearth an only too familiar name.
The Spotted Band: Part Two – The Data
The first thing John became aware of was a slight numbness to his fingertips and toes. Stimulated by the feeling, he flexed them, and the curious sensation faded. He wasn’t in the most comfortable position—he was sitting up, if the downward pull of gravity was anything to go by, and the muscles on the back of his neck were aching from his chin being against his chest for so long. He was also dimly aware of a chafing around his wrists, like something unpleasantly rough was wrapped around them.
He stirred, turning his head slightly. His neck muscles protested painfully, causing a soft moan to vibrate in his throat. He attempted to stretch, but was met with resistance by whatever was binding his wrists. Vague concerns began to rise through the fog of his mind as he started to realize that something wasn’t right. He opened his eyes; his vision was blurry at first, but it cleared quickly—though his eyes suddenly had a tendency to unfocus at random…
He appeared to be tied to a chair. Well, not tied, per say—there were leather straps tightly holding his wrists behind the back of the chair, and two more similarly binding his ankles to the legs of it. Starting to realize now that there was something terribly wrong, he struggled against the straps, but his muscles wouldn’t do everything he told them to. He felt weak and limp, like he’d just spent the entire day running. The straps, naturally, didn’t give. “Hello?” he called. God, even his voice wouldn’t listen to him; it was slurred, and the word seemed to trip over his tongue and tumble from his mouth.
He didn’t know what he was expecting; in this situation, it was unlikely that a kindly old woman would come through the door to John’s left apologizing profusely and saying there’d been a mistake. Instead, a brutal-looking man walked in—well, he assumed he was a man, at least. He had rough, dark brown skin and an apish face with a broad, heavy brow and an almost comical bulldog-like under-bite. Despite this, however, there was something bright and intelligent glinting under that thick overhang of a forehead and he regarded John as one would examine a strange insect.
John was starting to remember what had happened, and the memories that arose in his mind did not make him any more relaxed. He looked around the blank, white room, but saw no one save himself and the large man. “Where’s Sherlock?” he asked urgently, but with the state of his voice, the name sounded more like “Shuh-luck.”
“He’s alive,” said the man in a surprisingly smooth tone, bending over slightly to seem less imposing. John couldn’t help but notice the ring of tiny, pointed white fangs shining out of the man’s blue-tinged mouth. His voice was deeper than Sherlock’s, probably due to his immensely thick neck. “He won’t stay that way for long, though, if you don’t talk.” His words alone were intimidating, but the tone was completely innocent—like that of a parent warning a child not to touch a hot cup of tea.
Because of this—and probably because of whatever drug was making his head fuzzy—it took John several long moments of simply staring at the man to realize that he was being threatened. “Talk ‘bout what?” he asked warily.
“Well, how you got here, for starters,” said the man with a deceptively kind smile.
John clamped his mouth shut. He didn’t know who this man was nor what he wanted with this information, but he’d rather not say anything too revealing unless Sherlock was with him. He didn’t know just how much he could say on the matter, and he had no desire to say too much.
“Come now, surely it’s not too difficult a question. How did you get here?” His tone was still gentle as ever, and John was almost tempted to oblige, but he shook his head.
“Where’s Sherlock?” he asked again. “I need to talk to him.”
The man didn’t answer. He straightened so that he was looming over John, staring down his blunt nose at the man as if deciding what to do with him. John felt nervous, looking up at him like that, but he steeled himself and glared stubbornly right back (although in his state it was probably more of a half-lidded gaze). Then, abruptly, the large man drew back his fist and snapped it forward into John’s nose.
Whatever kind of alien this man was, he was strong, and he had knuckles of stone. Once the room stopped spinning, John found himself staring at the door the man had walked through, and his jaw ached terribly. He swung his head around, flexing it experimentally; at least there weren’t any broken teeth.
“Christ,” he said, unable to think of much else to say. “That hurt.” At that moment, some part of him seemed to realize the immensity of the situation. His eyes snapped wide and he looked about the white-walled room wildly, shouting, “Sherlock! Sherlock, run, there’s very bad people here with…” he trailed off for a moment, the stupor of the drug briefly making him forget how to form words. “…with very hard knuckles!”
He could’ve sworn he heard a distant, answering cry before the man in front of him once again let his fist fly. This time, there was an explosion of stars, and John was knocked unconscious for a second time.
John stirred slightly, aware of a pounding in his head and a tight sensation around his lips, like something had dried and cracked there. Annoyed by the feeling, he licked them and tasted copper.
His name was coming from a familiar voice somewhere behind him. In an attempt to say “what,” he groaned.
“John, I’m going to need you to form a more coherent phrase than that.”
John opened his eyes to find a blank white room very similar to the one he’d just been in—possibly the same one. His brow furrowed as he squinted against the light that suddenly seemed too bright. “Sherlock?”
He felt a few long fingers groping at his own and somehow recognized them as Sherlock’s. He turned his head, struggling to see over his shoulder, and caught a glimpse of the tall, thin man sitting up straight in a chair identical to his. They were positioned back-to-back—close enough, apparently, for their hands to touch. Sherlock’s head was turned as well, straining his neck to see John. His undisguised look of concern quickly vanished, replaced by its usual cool expression.
“Naturally. Who else would it be?”
“Well, I’m starting to think you could be replaced by a robot with a scarf and no one would be the wiser.” John could hear Sherlock’s frown in the silence that followed. He made up for it by asking, “You alright?”
“They tried to drug me, but it wore off very quickly. Punched me once or twice, but I’m fine.” Indeed, John could see a bruise forming beneath Sherlock’s visible eye. “You?”
“Really? The ‘very bad people with very hard knuckles’ didn’t dose you with enough sedative?” Sherlock teased.
“You heard that?”
“You were certainly yelling loud enough. Anyone in the building could’ve heard.” There was a long pause. “Did our blue friend get away?”
“I think so,” replied John. “She’d gotten a pretty good head start on me, at least.”
“If you’re referring to Helen, she did get away,” said a familiar voice from somewhere to John’s left, “though we’ll soon remedy that.”
Both of their necks snapped around to see a door open, admitting two men: the one who had spoken was the same who had interrogated John; the other was similar-looking, though with a taller, thinner build and skin so dark that it looked black. The second one was wearing a long white coat and latex gloves over his hands, which he clasped in a continuous writhing motion before him like a knotted tangle of snakes.
“Soon…? You haven’t found her yet?” Sherlock inferred with disbelief.
“No,” the man admitted testily, “but she’s running out of time. We’ll flush her out sooner or later.”
Sherlock shook his head, and John could hear the smug smile in his voice as he said, “No, it’s more than that—you don’t know where she is, but you know she’s in reach of this place, and it’s exposed enough that she could find it.”
That hit a nerve. “Be quiet,” the man growled.
“No, I don’t think I will. I’m the only one here who can tell me to be quiet. Who are you, anyway?” He paused, and John could practically hear his expression lighting up. “Oh—you’re the natives to this planet, aren’t you? You sneaky things, you pulled an Atlantis!”
“So Atlantis exists, then?” asked John, smiling slightly.
“Of course it does—just not in the way you might expect. It involves an ancient reptilian race called the Sea Devils.”
“Be quiet,” the man said again, his lip curling back to show more of his enormous teeth.
Sherlock studiously ignored him. “While everyone thought you were dead, you just pulled back into the shadows. And now you’re using all this technology you’ve invented for… what, exactly? Teleports, cameras, it’s all very covert business, which probably means that it would be frowned upon in most societies—”
The man shouted, “I said be quiet!” He lashed out, but instead of aiming his punch for Sherlock, he hit John again, squarely across the jaw.
Sherlock fell silent.
John grunted and flexed his mouth once more to make sure everything was functioning properly as he straightened his neck. He could tell by the sudden taste of salt as he licked his lips that one of the sores had re-opened.
“It’s my turn to talk, Time Lord. He called you Sherlock—is that a code name?”
“Why? Expecting someone else?”
“Are you or are you not the Doctor?”
Sherlock sneered, “Doctor who?” Something about the way he uttered those two words made John think there must’ve been something ironic about the statement, but he couldn’t guess why.
His cheek, of course, earned John another slug across the face, and this time the taste of blood exploded in his mouth and he had to spit it out in a thick red glob.
“No,” said Sherlock forcefully through gritted teeth, “I’m not the Doctor.”
“Interesting.” The brutish man shared a glance with the taller one, who wandered out of John’s line of sight.
“Don’t tell them anything,” said John around the swelling in his mouth.
“John, shut up,” said Sherlock in a warning tone.
“Yes, John,” said the taller man, having spoken for the first time since entering the room. He had a casual tone, as cool and breezy as a summer day. He sounded like he’d be whisked off somewhere in his own daydreams at any moment. “Shut up.” John spat out another gob of blood, this time doing his best to hit the other man’s shoes, but otherwise didn’t speak. “So, Sherlock Holmes… Survived the Time War, then, did you? What was that like?”
Sherlock didn’t answer.
“I imagine it was torturous. I heard that the skies themselves burned, did they not?” The amusement in his tone was sickening and gave John chills.
There was only silence in answer.
“Your entire planet, your entire race, was destroyed… but not you. Not Sherlock Holmes, the survivor, the man who outruns death. How does it feel, knowing you’re almost completely alone?”
“Peachy,” snapped Sherlock sarcastically.
John could only imagine what kind of self-restraint it took on Sherlock’s part not to explode. At the same time, however, he had to wonder: how did the man feel? He seemed alright—well, besides the obvious, but that was just how he was, apparently. John knew from experience that you couldn’t just walk away from a war. There were always scars left behind, whether they were physical or psychological. And to be in a war so massive that an entire planet, as well as its native species, was destroyed—he couldn’t imagine.
He turned his head, trying to catch a glimpse of Sherlock’s face, but the man was staring directly ahead, his shoulders stiff and straight.
“You haven’t told your friend yet, have you?” taunted the tall man, catching sight of John. “Your boring little human, here. He doesn’t know.”
“What do you want?” said Sherlock coldly.
“I want to know why you’re here,” said the man.
“I was called here. Surely your birds saw as much.”
“That’s not what I’m asking,” said the man in a tone that sent a chill down John’s spine. He couldn’t help but wonder if this alien still had all his marbles. “I want to know what you plan to accomplish here. If you’d wanted to save her, you could’ve all gone into your TARDIS and left, couldn’t you? So why are you here? Why risk so much more?”
Sherlock was silent again.
So, John was punched again.
“The Shadow Proclamation will hear of this,” Sherlock snarled. John must’ve been imagining the desperation in his voice. “Whatever is going on here, you’re snatching innocent people from other planets at random, and they tend to disapprove of that.”
“So, you really don’t know what we’re doing?” asked the man in surprise. “You were able to figure out what killed that silly girl, but you don’t know why yet?”
“I know your partner is having an affair,” said Sherlock coolly.
The man in front of John punched him again. His eye took the brunt of it this time, and it started to swell shut.
“Your friend is running out of strikes,” said the man who punched him. “Soon we’ll have to accelerate to… other means.”
When Sherlock didn’t reply to this, the taller one said, “It’s only an experiment, Sherlock. Surely, as one scientist to another, you can appreciate our… methods.”
“And exactly what hypothesis are you attempting to prove?”
“As a new civilization, we’ve begun to branch out—testing the species of the other planets around us, that sort of thing,” said the man. “Helen has been a special interest of ours for quite some time now.”
“What are you testing them for?”
John heard the nonchalant shrug in the man’s next words: “Oh, plenty of things. There are the harmless ones, like reflex testing, creative thinking, intelligence capacities, that sort of thing. Lately we’ve gotten a bit more curious, though, as we get more familiar to the biological and anatomical functions of our humanoid neighbors. It’s all very fascinating. The point of this experiment was to test how they would respond to certain… natural stimulus.”
“The pair of them? You mean Helen and Julia both?” At the man’s nod of confirmation, Sherlock asked, “Wouldn’t two variables screw up the data?”
“No, see, we already tested them individually,” said the man, a maniacal grin coloring his words. “The previous human, unfortunately, didn’t make it, and Helen barely scraped by. She wouldn’t have gotten out at all if it weren’t for the advantages we gave her.”
There was a moment of silence during which both John and Sherlock processed this new information. Helen said she just woke up here yesterday, thought John. Had she been lying to them? And what “advantages” was this man referring to?
“Well, I’m terribly sorry for impeding your research,” said Sherlock coldly.
“Oh, quite the contrary, it’s a gift beyond imagination,” said the man excitedly. “You’re a Time Lord. There are only legends of your kind—just you and the Doctor. This is a rare opportunity—I could do so much experimentation on you; I could make it worth your while if you’d oblige—”
“No, I don’t think I will,” said Sherlock, at the same time that John said, “Absolutely not.”
“Very well, then. I suppose we shall have to resort to force.”
The burlier one spoke up then, his voice a rumble of distant thunder compared to his companion’s. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” he said in a warning tone. “They’re clever. We should just kill them and be done with it.”
The man frowned. “Perhaps you’re right,” he admitted. “Still, it’ll take some degree of experimentation to kill the Time Lord—I heard they’re tricky to destroy… Very well. Kill the human, please, he’s of no use to me. I shall see what I can do about the other one.”
The man, a little too gladly, reached for a rather nasty-looking gun at his belt. Before he could so much as pull it out of its holster, however, Sherlock said in a tone bordering hysteria, “Wait! Please, wait. At least give us a moment of privacy.”
The tall, thin man said in genuine bafflement, “Whatever for?”
“Last goodbyes,” said Sherlock in a tight voice. “Please.”
There was a pause. “Alright, I suppose that’s reasonable. You have one minute.” With no audible cue, their two captors turned and headed out the door.
For a moment, John was touched by Sherlock’s words. As soon as the door snapped shut behind the two men, however, Sherlock asked, “Are you alright?” There was not a trace of the former desperation in that simple calmly-asked question. John realized then that it had only been a small farce, that Sherlock had acted in such a way on purpose for the benefit of a minute’s extra time.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said John, who was barely able to see out of his left eye. “You know, aside from my impending death.” He couldn’t honestly say that his heart didn’t do a little jump of fear when the man in front of him reached for the weapon at his waist.
“Working on it,” said Sherlock sharply.
John turned his head in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to get these straps undone… though that’s proving slightly more difficult than I anticipated.” He struggled with them for a moment before giving up with a huff. “What kind of leather is this?!”
Before John could come up with an answer, there was a muffled thump from outside the door. They both looked up at the sound, alert, hearts pounding, expecting at any moment for one of the men to walk back in and shoot John dead. Instead, however, the door opened, admitting probably the last person John expected to see: Helen. She was panting and clutching her arm, but otherwise appeared to be in one piece. A darkish liquid which John assumed to be blood was smeared across her fingers.
“Helen!” John cried in surprise as she rushed over, her fingers scrabbling at the straps around John’s wrists.
“I don’t have much time,” she said hastily, deftly un-belting the strap securing John’s wrists. He bent over immediately and started on the ones around his ankles while she tended to Sherlock’s bonds. “One of the guards spotted me.”
“Did they shoot at you?” asked John. He’d have to look at that cut once they were safe inside the TARDIS.
“Yes, but I’m fine. It only grazed me,” she said in a remarkably even tone. Sherlock’s bands slipped loose, and the man sprung to action, pulling apart the straps from his right ankle while John, who had gotten both of his off, started on his left.
“How did you do it?” asked John.
“Get in? It was very easy. I don’t think they expect many people to find this place. I didn’t get much trouble from the automated security, but there were a few guards who posed some difficulty. Come on, let’s go,” she added as soon as Sherlock stood.
“Not yet,” said Sherlock firmly, striding up to the door, just outside of which their two interrogators were slumped on the ground. Each of them had tiny pinprick-like marks on their faces very similar to the three found on Julia. The tall, darker one had half of his face covered in them, and a closer look revealed to John that they were in the shape of a handprint. The shorter, broad-shouldered one had enough for a fingerprint across his cheek and was stirring slightly. Sherlock grabbed him roughly by the collar. With one fist, he punched the man across the face, and John could tell by the way he wrung his hand shortly after that he had not expected the man’s skull to be so solid.
“Sherlock—” started John, but he was interrupted.
“Where did you get it?” asked Sherlock harshly. The man didn’t answer. “This planet doesn’t have the natural resources to create all this. Who’s supplying you?”
Helen said, “We don’t have time for this—”
“Answer me!” hissed Sherlock, ignoring her. Bracing himself, he punched the man’s face again.
“M-Moriarty!” the man stuttered.
Sherlock’s grip loosened in shock. John reacted similarly. “Moriarty?” he said in a low voice. “Mor—Sherlock, he’s just part of a story, how can—?”
Sherlock stood. “Helen, if you please,” he said without answering.
She placed the palm of her hand against the man’s face. A split-second later, he gave a small jerk and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
John was too preoccupied with the concept that a villain had come to life to ask how she’d done that. “Sherlock…”
“Not now, John, we have to go,” said Sherlock stiffly, taking off at a brisk pace down the blank hallway. John and Helen followed after, running slightly to keep up with his pace.
They’d only walked through the first door when a wailing high-pitched alarm made John’s hands jump to his ears. By some wordless, mutual consent, the three of them took off, flat-out running down the hall. John found he was quite glad to be rid of his cane in that moment. “This way!” called Helen, jumping through a door to their left that set off another alarm when John and Sherlock followed after. John couldn’t imagine how Helen had managed to get in without alerting the entire planet to their presence.
John’s adrenaline was rushing, and he could only imagine what kind of crazy, wild-eyed look covered his usually calm expression. When he’d said he was bored, that he wanted things to happen to him, he wasn’t sure he’d meant anything like this. Being a fugitive on an alien planet wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind. Still, even running from a crazy scientist beat sipping tea at home.
He had to wonder how often this happened to Sherlock. In the novels, there wasn’t nearly as much running—then again, in the novels, there weren’t brutal aliens trying to kill them, either.
Before they could get to the next door, three natives in white uniforms rounded the corner and, upon seeing their captives, raised their guns. John reached instinctively for his revolver before remembering that he’d left it back at the flat. Sherlock, meanwhile, had pulled out his sonic magnifying glass and directed its glowing end to an area above the guards’ heads. There was a spray of sparks from the light fixture above, causing the guards to duck, anticipating an attack. While they were preoccupied, Helen took the lead and the three of them dashed past the rapidly-recovering guards.
John caught a glimpse of one of the guns as he ran by and, as with most of the things on this planet, it wasn’t like anything he’d ever seen. Whatever kind of gun it was, it didn’t look like it fired bullets. As curious as he was, though, he had no desire to find out exactly what it did, so he put on an extra burst of speed and raced after the others.
It didn’t take long to get outside. It was nighttime again, meaning they’d probably been in there at least an hour—possibly two. A backwards glance showed John that the building was low and dull with flat brick walls adorned only by security mechanisms; back home, it wouldn’t have stood out (except for the massive guns mounted at regular points about the roof), but here, amidst the trees and the birds, it was like a sore thumb.
And then they were running, and with every pounding step John could’ve sworn there were guards on their heels. Suddenly, there was something that felt like an explosion behind them, and the three of them flew through the air before landing sprawled on their stomachs. John looked up in time to see one of the automated security guns training its nozzle on him like some massive bird of prey. Having no desire to become a crater in the ground, he scrambled to his feet and promptly tripped over them. Sherlock, who had already recovered himself, heaved John to his feet and the two of them ran after Helen, who was already halfway to the trees.
There was another blast behind them, and though it felt further away, John still stumbled. Then they were in the trees, darting between trunks with the desperation of rabbits fleeing from a fox.
They ran until they could no longer hear their impending doom pursuing them, until the forest was quiet aside from their heaving breaths. The last time John had run this far, he was running from the Kafkan hatchlings. Back then, however, he’d at least had a gun and five other able-bodied men to defend him. Now, he was beat. His legs felt like jelly and every breath stabbed at his lungs as he spat a last bit of blood from his mouth. Helen, who, he remembered, didn’t do well over long distances, turned her back on them and dry-heaved onto the forest floor. Even Sherlock doubled over, his hands on his knees as he gasped for breath.
Finally, after a few minutes, John had enough breath and clarity of thought to form words. “How the hell,” he puffed, “did you get past those?!”
His question, of course, was directed at Helen, who had taken a seat and was leaning back against a tree trunk. It was another moment before she could muster a reply: “I don’t know,” she gasped. “They didn’t shoot at me. I didn’t even think they were working properly.”
“Oh, they were working properly,” said Sherlock in a biting tone.
“Honestly,” she said in exasperation between hoarse breaths, “you should be more grateful. I just saved your lives!”
They subsided once more into silence until their breaths diminished to deep, even rhythms and their muscles felt lifeless. John wanted nothing more than to lay down right there and take a nap, but in the present situation, he doubted he could get so much as a wink of sleep.
Sherlock, unsurprisingly, was the first to rise. “We’re outnumbered,” he said, not meeting their eyes. “We’ll need help.” He slipped his hand in his pocket, presumably for his phone, but his hand came out empty. He checked the other pocket, but the only thing he found there was his magnifying glass. He frowned. “John, did they take your phone, as well?”
John patted his pockets, but didn’t feel the trademark bump of his mobile. “Yeah,” he said.
“Here, use mine,” said Helen, pulling out her own. Sherlock took it in his hand and pressed a few buttons before he suddenly stopped and opened the back panel of the phone, revealing the half-melted, sparking, smoking mess that used to be the phone’s internal parts.
“It… It must’ve gotten damaged during the rescue,” said Helen quietly.
“Right, well, that’s no help,” said Sherlock, tossing the phone aside carelessly. It was beyond repair, even with the help of a sonic magnifying glass.
“Sherlock,” said John, noticing how gingerly his friend was using his right hand, “your hand is broken.”
Sherlock glanced down at it, and though John was now aware of the slight strain in the Time Lord’s expression, he shrugged it off. “I’ll be fine,” he said.
“Yes, you will,” assured John, raising his eyebrows and stepping closer, “after I take a look at it.”
The other man reluctantly held out his hand for John to examine while Helen looked on, curious.
“It must’ve happened when you punched that guard,” said John as he looked it over, handling it gently so as not to jostle it. Sherlock winced a few times, but said nothing otherwise. “Your middle finger’s fractured, it’ll need a splint…” Sherlock made to pull it away, but he said sharply, “Ah-ah, not yet.” Without looking up, he instructed, “Helen, I need you to find me a thin vine and something narrow and stiff, like a strip of bark.” He saw her nod and turn away out of the corner of his eye.
Sherlock cringed as John examined the damaged finger more carefully. “We don’t have time f—”
The word was cut off by a sudden cry as John jerked the finger with a sharp snap, setting the bone back into place.
“That hurt,” he whined as Helen returned with the requested materials.
John rolled his eyes, taking the supplies with muttered thanks. “Oh, shut up. I’ve treated gunshot wound victims who complained less than you.”
“They were probably bordering unconsciousness,” retorted Sherlock as John proceeded to use the vines to tie the makeshift splint to Sherlock’s middle finger.
“There, that’ll do for now,” said John as he looped the last knot, ignoring Sherlock’s remark. “We’ll get you treated properly once we get back.”
“Speaking of getting back,” said Helen, “how are we going to do it, exactly?”
“Oh, easily,” answered Sherlock, waving his good hand dismissively. “All we need to do is get a message out.”
“We don’t have either of our phones, though,” said John, puzzled.
“No,” agreed Sherlock, turning on the spot, his eyes roving the circle of forest around him, “but we do have cameras.”
Chapter 6: The Spotted Band: Part Three - The Variable
John faces Julia's killer while Sherlock makes a discovery which is vital to their escape.
The Spotted Band: Part Three – The Variable
“I don’t understand,” said Helen, her brow furrowing.
“Neither do I,” admitted John.
“You’ll get used to that. Helen—what year is it?” asked Sherlock, turning abruptly to her.
Her brow furrowed. “Why are you—”
“Just answer, please.”
“Five billion one thousand thirty-three,” she said. “Isn’t it?”
He didn’t answer the question, but rather asked, “Have you noticed anything different about yourself lately? Any changes in agility, strength, flexibility…?”
“A bit, yeah,” she replied. “It’s probably my instincts in overdrive. Being dropped on a brand new planet and almost killed several times tends to do that, I imagine.”
Sherlock pursed his lips thoughtfully and looked away. After a moment, his eyes became sharp and alert, rising up to look about the forest.
“Sherlock, what is this—” John started, but Sherlock interrupted, shushing him.
“Shh!” He paused. “Do you hear that?”
Both John and Helen listened, their situation momentarily forgotten. It was a distant crashing sound, so faint that John couldn’t imagine how Sherlock had detected it, but even as they stood there it drew rapidly closer. As the sound grew louder, it became clearer, and the muddle of drumming diverged into the footsteps of multiple running figures. There had to be twenty—no, thirty, at least.
“Run!” hissed Sherlock, and they took off without another word into the wilderness.
John couldn’t say he had completely recovered from their last exertion, and before a few minutes had gone by he was panting heavily. It was muggy and humid on this planet and getting worse seemingly with every minute, making it difficult to breathe. Helen was in worse condition; despite the sound of the footsteps behind them, she collapsed onto the ground after only a minute, her breaths coming in wheezing gasps.
John called back Sherlock who, with the apparent benefit of his two hearts, had continued sprinting without much hindrance. The man jerked to a halt as if yanked back by a leash.
Upon seeing their situation, he instructed, “Get her to a safe place. I’ll lead them away.” Before John could protest, he was gone again. He heard a few taunting calls from a voice which distinctly belonged to the Time Lord before the ominous pounding of footsteps faded.
Right, thought John, looking around as he stood guard over Helen, whose ragged breathing seemed to be doing its best to derail his thoughts. Where the hell is safe here? The only place he could come up with was the TARDIS, but he had no idea where it was. He doubted Sherlock would have any clue either, even if the man wasn’t currently luring God-knows-what off on a wild, possibly deadly chase.
A sudden thought struck John: What if he didn’t come back? What if Sherlock was killed out there, leaving John and Helen alone? Even if they managed to shake off the nameless threat which was currently tearing through the trees, how could they possibly get off this planet? He couldn’t fly the TARDIS. He had no hope of it. And surely there was no one currently available who could—he doubted Helen would have that kind of experience in her arsenal. Would he be stranded here for whatever span of his life he had left, simply vanished from the world he once belonged to?
He shook his head, attempting to clear it of such thoughts. He couldn’t afford to think about that now, not when Helen was depending on him. With a resolute heart and not another doubt for Sherlock’s fate, John hoisted the Andrax up, looping her arm over his shoulders and supporting her as he half-carried her away. Her rasping breaths slowed gradually but did not decrease much more than a fraction in volume. She needs water, he realized, only just noticing the burning sensation in his own parched throat.
They walked for several more minutes—John knew not where nor even how far—until, by some miracle, he thought he heard the glittering splash of water around Helen’s rhythmic panting. Following the sound, he reached its source: a bright little stream of clear water. He had never seen a more beautiful creek than that one before. Helen immediately sank into it, letting it wash over her legs as she dropped to her hands and knees, lapping up the water like a dog. John couldn’t say he was much more reserved; he cupped mouthfuls of water in his hands and brought it up to his face in such quick successions that only half of it actually reached his tongue. The rest spilled over his hands and trickled down his chin, sinking below the collar of his shirt and soaking its front.
For a moment they simply sat there after their thirsts were quenched, the uneven rhythm of their breaths creating a colorless, lopsided song. Then he grinned and chuckled a bit, simply at the ridiculousness of the situation. He was with an alien on a jungle planet five billion years in the future while his Time Lord flatmate lured away a horde of unknown beings. Honestly, he didn’t know if he would ever see his newfound friend alive again, and the implications of that possibility were horrifying, but the inexplicable hilarity suddenly swelled up around him until it was too much to resist.
Even Helen, who was still fighting for breath, giggled a bit. It was not until a while later, when they were both lying on their backs with their sides splitting and their mouths cracked open in broad grins that the comical fit subsided and they were both left to bask in the haze of the broken tension. That moment of utter relaxation did not last for long, however; a noise resonating from between the trees roused John from it and brought him into a sitting position, eyes alert and ears pricked. The sound had been no more than the crunch of a few dead twigs snapping underfoot, but was just above the volume level as to be slightly less than innocent.
He heard it again and was able to pinpoint the location of whatever was causing it to somewhere behind him. He whirled, jumping to his feet, while Helen took great gulps of air, trying to silence her gasps as she realized the level of danger they could be in.
A possibility coming to light, John called, “Sherlock?” but there was no answer. Instead, where his eyes were roving back and forth across a grove of trees, his vision seemed to shift. Something green detached itself from its forested scenery, accumulating a humanoid form as it took two steps closer to John. Two eyes blinked at him rather suddenly, for he only just realized that the shape had them.
After this brief exchange, his visual centers regrouped and he realized what he was looking at. It was very similar to Helen in its spiny shoulders and quill-covered head, in its strong jaw and glittering eyes, but there were several differences, as well. For one thing, this one was entirely green—and not a dark color like Helen’s, but rather the same lush green as its environment, which was why John had had such difficulty spotting it. It also differed strongly in its facial features, having a much thicker brow and squarer jaw. There was a definite masculinity in its sharp nose and jutting chin.
He remembered what Sherlock had said as they were standing over the dead body of Julia: “The two species—Chandrax and Andrax—are very similar in build and appearance, except that Chandrax are green and poisonous.”
John swallowed as he regarded the Chandrax, dressed only in tattered shorts. This was the thing that had killed Julia and would, if Sherlock’s theory was correct, try to kill them.
John glanced at Helen out of the corner of his eye before inching closer to his opponent, moving to the side a bit as well in an attempt to draw it away from her. He saw its eyes flicker down to Helen and knew it had seen through his strategy, but it didn’t try to go after her. Rather, it turned its full attention to John, its dark eyes following his every move. Evidently, she didn’t pose a threat in its eyes.
The Chandrax had been standing utterly still, so the slight jerk of its hands drew John’s attention to them. Short, thin, needle-like spines had extended from its palms and the bottoms of its fingers. John didn’t know what they were or exactly what they did, but he could imagine how sharp they were. He had a bad feeling about them, however, especially given the fact that Chandraxes were poisonous; he decided to—
Like lightning, the Chandrax suddenly lunged forward, swiping out the flat of its hand in a blow which, had John been any slower, would’ve caught him across the face and likely given him a nasty scar. As it was, however, he ducked, and the natural weapon whistled over his head.
He couldn’t say he was a master in the martial arts—not, at least, compared to some of the people he’d seen—but nevertheless he’d been trained, and he knew quite a bit more about defending himself than the average person. He grabbed the Chandrax’s wrist, dodging around behind it and pinning its forearm across its back like a bar. It acquiesced to his commanding grip for a moment before managing to swing its free arm behind it; John had to loosen his grasp to dodge the devilish spines, and the Chandrax wriggled free. It whirled, aiming a flat-palmed smack to his face.
Without thinking, he roughly grabbed the wrist of the incoming arm and turned it away. He’d meant only to cast off the blow, but as chance would have it, the Chandrax’s hand landed against its own shoulder.
They stood like that for a moment, their frozen eyes locked, before John staggered back a few steps. The Chandrax looked down at its fingers as it pulled its hand away, revealing needlepoint pricks—which looked remarkably similar to those on the faces of the natives back at the building—peppering the bare skin of its shoulder. John braced himself, ready for another attack, but the Chandrax appeared to be immobilized. It swayed for a moment, slowly lifting its eyes to meet John’s. He wasn’t sure what he saw in those eyes just then, but it was not, as he expected, any form of hatred or vengeance. There was something remarkably steady in them—acceptance, perhaps, or even relief. Just then, in that singular moment before the Chandrax toppled to the ground, he wondered about the exact effects of—what had Sherlock called it?—Blakk’s Disease. Did this creature even want to kill, or was it forced to by its own instincts? Was it something it enjoyed, or simply an unbreakable addiction? If it didn’t want to kill, then what kind of life must it have led? No doubt one full of impossible restrictions and a degree of self-hate beyond imagining.
His thoughts were interrupted by Helen’s hoarse, cautious voice: “Is it… is it dead?”
John waited for a moment, but when the Chandrax’s prone form did not stir again, he stepped up to it, kneeling down by its body and pressing the flat of his hand against its chest, where its heart should be. He didn’t know the anatomy of this creature—he didn’t even know if it had a heart—but if it did, it certainly wasn’t beating. As he stood again, he answered, “I think so, yeah.” He turned to her, confusion lining his brow. “Do you have those, too? Those spine-things on your hands?”
She nodded, holding out her hands palm-up. Similar spines—these ones bluish, of course—jumped out of them, stabbing the sky. “They’re filled with natural sedative,” she explained. “All Andraxes are born with it.” That would explain the fate of his and Sherlock’s interrogators…
Before he could begin to understand exactly what that meant, a deep, familiar voice said, “That was very clever.” John spun around sharply to see Sherlock striding out from between the trees. The man was missing his coat and had a few long, thin scratches lashed across his arms and face, but otherwise seemed unharmed. “How did you know the Chandrax wasn’t immune to its own venom?”
“I didn’t,” answered John honestly. “And what the hell, may I ask, happened to you?” Despite himself, an incredulous smile spread across his features as he asked the question.
“Or, ‘thank you for rescuing me,’ as some used to say,” remarked Sherlock dryly. “I was saving your skins. Very nearly lost my own, I might add.” His words were biting, but there was a slight gleam in his eyes that betrayed his relief that they were all together again and safe.
“What happened?” asked John curiously.
“I’ll tell you later. We haven’t much time,” he replied, leading them away from the stream. Helen was still panting, but her rasping breaths had dropped considerably in tempo and volume, and she seemed strong enough to walk, at least.
“Alright,” John consented, but he resolved to ask Sherlock about it as soon as they had a good chunk of time. “So, what’s the plan, then? You mentioned earlier about getting out a message…?”
“We have to send for help,” said Sherlock bluntly. “We’re outnumbered, we need back-up.”
“Well, obviously, yeah,” said John. “But how are we going to do that, exactly?”
“First,” he said, halting rather suddenly, his eyes fixing on a point seven feet up the nearest tree trunk, “we need a camera.”
John followed his gaze. All he saw was a rather unsightly knot in a tree; then he remembered the text Sherlock sent earlier: I noticed several cameras built into the trees and a few of the flowers. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he thought he could see the reflection of a tiny camera lens glinting in the center of that ugly, gnarly knot.
“Give me a boost, would you?” said Sherlock, stepping up to the foot of the tree. John interlocked his fingers and held them out for Sherlock to stand on. The taller man swung his foot up, and with a nod from John, was hoisted up. He gripped the tree trunk, scrabbling for a moment with his other foot before deciding that a chink in the bark served as a decent enough foothold. Then he set to work on the camera with his sonic device while John strained to hold the man up without trembling. The heel of Sherlock’s boot was starting to dig into his palms and he almost asked if they could take a break before Sherlock announced, “Coming down.”
A moment later, they were standing around Sherlock, who was holding the smallest camera John had ever seen in his fingers. “Wireless,” he murmured as he examined it. “Impressive.”
“What good will this do?” asked Helen, who had, for the most part, regained her breath at this point. “Anything you film will go straight to the editors, and they’ll just cut it out.”
“I’m not sending a message to the editors or the people of this planet,” said Sherlock calmly. “If I can amplify the signal, I can broadcast it far enough that it’ll reach other solar systems. Someone, I’m hoping, will forward the message to the Shadow Proclamation.”
“And… who’s the Shadow Proclamation?” asked John.
“Universal police force,” answered Sherlock. “Terrible at their jobs, of course, but they’ve certainly got brawn if you need it.”
“What would we need brawn for?”
“Did you not hear the horde of armed men chasing us before?”
“Yes, of course I did,” snapped John in reply. “But what were those, exactly?”
“Automated security,” answered Sherlock. “Robotic mercenaries with guns. Result of…” he paused, “recent experimentation, I suspect.”
“How will you amplify the signal?” Helen asked, switching the subject. “A sonic device can do a lot, but it can’t broadcast something over millions of light-years. It’s not strong enough.” John couldn't help but think, Christ, does everyone know about this stuff but me?
Sherlock started to answer when his eyes suddenly jumped to something over her shoulder. “Did you see that?” he asked in a sharp, low voice.
John tensed and followed his gaze, searching the trees for anything dangerous, but he saw nothing. His heart, however, skipped a beat when he heard a thud and looked over to find Helen collapsed on the ground, Sherlock standing over her with an indifferent expression.
“Christ—Sherlock, what did you do?!” asked John sharply.
He knelt down. “I put her in stand-by mode. She probably doesn’t want to be conscious for this.”
“Conscious for—? What do you mean, ‘stand-by mode’?!”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? She’s a cyborg,” replied the man, pulling out his sonic magnifying glass.
For a moment, John was speechless. Then: “What.”
He set to work, adjusting the frequencies of the device as he explained, “The automated security mechanisms planted around the building are programmed to fire at any and all unrecognized life-forms, but they only shot at you and I, meaning Helen is either broadcasting some sort of ‘don’t shoot’ signal, like the guards, or she wasn’t registering as a life-form. Then there’s the fact that she hasn’t had a bite to eat in days, and yet hasn’t complained of hunger once. She’s showing signs of fatigue, but they aren’t symptoms of malnutrition—rather, she needs rest, time to re-charge, possibly also to re-fuel. Furthermore,” he swiped his index finger across the cut on its arm and showed the smudge of dark fluid on his cuticle to John, “this isn’t blood.”
“But how can she be a—a cyborg?” John felt as though he wasn’t using the term properly; it wasn’t really a word he used in everyday language. “I mean, how did it happen?”
“Experimentation,” he answered. “The scientist back at the laboratory mentioned giving her ‘advantages’, remember? This is probably what he meant.”
“But she’s only been here two days, she said so.”
“She also said the year was five billion one thousand thirty-three when, according to the readings from the TARDIS, it’s five billion one thousand thirty-five.” Sherlock was running his sonic magnifying glass a few inches over the bare skin of her back. John didn’t quite understand what this was for until there was a soft, nearly-imperceptible click, and two broad panels over her skin—one on each shoulder blade—swung silently open.
He could only stare in awe at what he saw underneath, Sherlock’s answer almost forgotten. Strips of muscle, kept moist by some kind of clear extracellular fluid, covered pale blue bones. The muscles themselves were a dark bluish gray in color—he wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be that color, but it would certainly account for the hue of her skin. Thin veins clung to the stringy strips, transparent tubes transporting dark liquid—oil, John guessed. Wires branched out from her spine like a nervous system.
Despite his discomfort at invading her personal space in such a manner, he leaned forward in fascination. What he was looking at was far beyond anything he’d ever seen. He wanted to see more, to examine what made her heart pump and how exactly her nerves connected to her brain and why this dark liquid was necessary as a circulatory fluid. Most of all, however, he wondered—with a sick twist in his stomach—what the conversion process had been like. The hacking away of her internal systems and replacement with new parts could not possibly have been painless.
Remembering the topic of their conversation, John said, “So, she thinks it’s still the year thirty-three? How is that—I mean, did they use time-travel?”
“Possibly, though it’s more likely they took her in thirty-three, experimented on her, and wiped her memory of the past two years,” he replied calmly, picking at her insides like a curious vulture.
“She doesn’t know, then?”
“I doubt it. It would probably be better if we kept it that way—for now, at least.”
John watched Sherlock work up until the point when the Time Lord plunged almost his entire hand into the poor woman’s back, pulling back a segment of a slimy red wire. “What the hell are you doing to her, anyway?” he asked, more exasperated than incredulous as he stared firmly out into the trees.
“I need to amplify the signal from the camera, but to do that, I need something a bit more advanced than a sonic magnifying glass. As it happens, cyborgs tend to be packed full of advanced technology.”
“What, so you’re just going to use her like you would a—a battery?”
John stared at the detective, slightly slack-jawed in disbelief. After a moment, he snapped it shut again and returned his gaze to the forest. What had once appeared beautifully enigmatic was now a place of danger, a looming threat on all sides that seemed to be watching them with invisible eyes.
Sherlock’s brutal honesty shocked him. He had come to realize that Sherlock saw the truth for what it was and stated it openly as such; more than that, he was starting to realize that nothing would change that habit. John would just have to get used to it, he supposed—he’d just have to get used to a lot of things, he suspected.
After a few minutes went by, John asked, “How does it work?”
“How does what work?”
“Her. Her… systems. If she’s a robot, why does she need to breathe? Why did she get tired from running?”
“She’s only partly robotic, John. I’d guess it only controls her circulation and digestive system. Something mechanical, probably powered by the movements of her lungs, pumps fluid through her heart, which circulates it through the rest of her body. She gets tired because, in all other aspects, she’s still only an Andrax.”
“I saw her drink water, though.”
“I suspect her digestive system was adapted in order to convert food and water into the chemical fluids necessary for circulation.”
Fresh out of questions, John waited in tense silence, staring firmly out into the trees, until he heard Sherlock make a satisfied exclamation. A glance at the Time Lord revealed him holding the camera in his hands, linked to Helen through a few strings of wire. “Got it,” he announced triumphantly. He turned it in his hand until it was facing him and messed about a bit more with his sonic device before staring evenly into the tiny lens and saying in as smooth a voice as if he’d recited it, “I interrupt your broadcast with a message of utmost urgency. Please contact the Shadow Proclamation as quickly as possible and tell them these exact words: Mycroft, Code Bad Wolf. I repeat, Code Bad Wolf. Bring the cavalry.” He then proceeded to list off a string of numbers which John didn’t understand, interspersed with the words “acorn” and “apple.”
He used his magnifying glass again—turning the camera off, John suspected—before getting busy disentangling the wires. “What did all that mean?” John asked nonchalantly. He hadn’t missed the mention of yet another familiar name from the Sherlock Holmes books.
“The Shadow Proclamation will probably be receiving several hundred calls right about now,” answered Sherlock. “Mycroft isn’t at the head of it, but he claims a rather significant position, and no doubt the message will reach him swiftly.”
He was about to continue, but John had to ask: “Is he your brother?”
“No, but probably the closest thing to it,” Sherlock remarked in a dry tone. He continued, “Code Bad Wolf is the term for an entire hostile planet. ‘Bring the cavalry’ is fairly self-explanatory. The numbers at the end were the coordinates to the planet we’re on—according to the TARDIS, at least.” A moment of silence wedged itself between them as Sherlock busied himself with returning everything exactly as he’d found it. Then, as he reattached a wire, he said simply, “You’ve got questions.”
It was a statement, but John took it as an invitation: “Yeah. Moriarty, Mycroft, the damn ‘spotted band’—what the hell is going on, Sherlock?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted after a pause. “Not completely, anyway. I have a theory, but I still need to work out the details.”
“I can’t, not right now,” he replied, snapping the panels back into place. “But I will,” his eyes met John’s for a brief moment, “I promise.”
John frowned, but nodded in acceptance. “What are we going to do about her?” he asked in a low voice, indicating Helen, even though he knew she was out cold.
“Help me carry her,” said Sherlock once he had tucked his magnifying glass back into his pocket. “Just trust me,” he added in a slightly exasperated tone at John’s drawn brow.
So, John hooked his hands under her shoulders while Sherlock scooped up her legs, and together they carried her through the trees. John had begun to pant from the effort before Sherlock told him they had gone far enough, and they set the Andrax down on the ground. Sherlock then proceeded to closely examine a patch of skin near the base of her neck. After a pause, he pressed down on a single spot with his index finger.
Helen started awake with a gasp and sat up sharply, looking around in fear. “Where—what just happened?” she asked breathlessly.
“You were hit with one of the tranquilizer darts,” answered Sherlock. “We think it was just another automated device, since nobody came after us, but we decided to move you anyway.”
“Oh, alright,” she said, seeming distracted as she glanced this way and that. “Thanks, I suppose.”
“Are you okay?” asked John, offering a hand to help her up. “Can you stand?”
“I think so, yes,” she answered, gripping his arm and pulling herself up. She was unsteady at first, but after taking a few steps she appeared to regain her balance. She looked to Sherlock before asking in confusion, “What happened to the camera?”
“I left it behind,” answered Sherlock. “We got the message out while you were asleep using one of the blocking towers.”
In the books, Sherlock was always described as a master of disguises and a flawless actor. Indeed, John could see it then; the words flowed from his mouth as smoothly as if he’d rehearsed them and as naturally as if they were completely true.
“Come on,” said Sherlock, taking a few steps away from the conversation. “We should head back to the TARDIS. We’ll be safer there, at least.”
“How are you going to find it?” asked John, but even as the words were being said, Sherlock pulled out his sonic magnifying glass and began to fiddle with it.
“Tracking device,” he answered simply.
“Won’t they have it guarded?” asked Helen, rubbing her eye; she was still recovering from the surprise “stand-by mode,” but she seemed to be doing alright other than a bit of grogginess.
“Probably,” answered Sherlock, but he seemed unconcerned, so John shrugged at Helen and followed after him.
“Is it far?” asked John. Sherlock glanced down at his sonic tool and shook his head, foraging on through the trees. He was right; it wasn’t long before they reached the machine, looking the same as it had when they landed: disguised as a beat-down, abandoned hut. There didn’t appear to be anything around it, so Sherlock started eagerly towards it. John followed, a bit more cautiously.
“Wait—I don’t think we should—” started Helen, but she was cut off as the area surrounding them suddenly swarmed with activity. Robotic, sentinel-like, humanoid figures suddenly shimmered into existence where they’d previously been invisible. They dropped down from branches, sprung out of bushes, skittered down trunks like cockroaches; and every single one, upon landing, extended their right arms towards the trio. Each and every mechanical arm ended not with a hand but with the gaping hole of what was unmistakably a canon.
Suddenly, as John turned in place and saw that they were surrounded, he and Sherlock and Helen felt very small. The three of them raised their hands, palms-forward, in surrender, but the robotic beings didn’t appear to notice. There was a collective hum, rising quickly in pitch, and a sudden flare as each arm-canon pointed at them began to glow with an impending charge.
They were preparing to fire, each and every one, and somehow, John didn’t think whatever came out of those canons would be anything so kind as a sedative.
Chapter 7: The Spotted Band: Part Four - The Results
In the conclusion of their second adventure, the Shadow Proclamation gets involved, and Sherlock decides it's time to explain a few things.
The Spotted Band: Part Four – The Results
John took a step back and bumped shoulders with Sherlock, who glanced down at him out of the corner of his eye. There was something less than mechanical in those eyes—a brief glimpse past the detective’s machine-like exterior. It was too fleeting for John to pinpoint any particular emotion, but there was a general vulnerability to it that made him realize this could be the end.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Sirens blared as massive hovercrafts suddenly materialized overhead. Heavily-armed soldiers with black uniforms and misshapen helmets dropped down from lowered ropes. Some of them marched into the clearing directly from the surrounding forest, appearing to have sprouted up from the dirt. Lights flashed. Alarms beat rhythms that hurt the ears. All the while, a voice over the intercom was commanding sternly, “Stand down. I repeat, stand down. You are surrounded. Disarm your weapons and surrender.”
Most of the robots, confused by this intrusion, disarmed their weapons simply because they didn’t know what else to do. John sagged with relief, suddenly breathless as he realized just how fast his heart had been beating. The momentary tide of rushing fear ebbed away, leaving nothing but weariness washed up on the shore. It felt like days since he’d last slept. Sherlock, meanwhile, took a few steps into the crowd of robots and retreated a moment later holding his familiar coat.
The soldiers with the strange helmets—The Shadow Proclamation, John assumed—moved quickly throughout the ranks of sentries and, one-by-one, they were all powered down using small handheld devices. Sherlock, John, and Helen were guided off to the side where two members of the Shadow Proclamation joined them. Both of them unlatched their strange helmets and pulled them off, revealing one of the last things John would’ve expected. Their heads were shaped like rhinoceroses: complete with the thick, lined gray skin and the horns protruding from their noses. It would certainly explain their thick, bulky, muscular builds and the way their helmets seemed too big for their bodies. John was astonished by their appearances, but he noticed that Helen looked considerably less so. Once again, he felt horribly out of his depth.
“Sherlock Holmes,” said one of them gruffly, regarding the Time Lord. His voice was impossibly deep and gravelly. It was difficult to tell with their strange faces, but John could’ve sworn the one that spoke looked annoyed.
“I perceive you got my message,” said the man brightly.
“It was business as usual,” said the other one with a Cockney accent, the corners of his wrinkled mouth turned up in a good-natured grin, “when, all of a sudden, all the lines were busy, people from all manner of planets callin’ about some bloke who’d appeared on their telly. Sayin’ he had a message for Mycroft. Finally someone useful sends in the video feed, and Mycroft knew who it was straight away. Next thing y’know, we’re all here.”
“Yes,” agreed the other one reluctantly. “This better very well have been important, Mr. Holmes.”
“Well, as you can see,” said the detective dryly, “we were quite on the brink of death when you arrived, so yes, I would deem your presence important at this time.”
“We’re not your personal bodyguards, Mr. Holmes,” replied the soldier sharply.
“Oh, I know,” said Sherlock casually. “I can assure you, however, that you’re here for a reason.”
John chose to intervene at this point. “Yeah, there is just a bit of illegal stuff going on,” he said.
The one that had spoken first shifted his sleek black gun in his gloved hands and asked sharply, “Who’re you?”
“Dr. John Watson,” said Sherlock calmly, before John could answer. “Colleague of mine.”
“Colleague?” repeated the one with the Cockney accent.
“Friend,” corrected John, lifting his chin slightly. “Anyway, I think you’ll find that the inhabitants of his planet—or certain members of it, at least—have been abducting various life-forms from surrounding solar systems and experimenting on them without their consent.”
John didn’t miss the slightly impressed glance that Sherlock cast him. “A small but direct violation of Article V, I believe,” said the Time Lord. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have a few matters to attend to.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” said the first one, grabbing Sherlock by the forearm before he could turn away. “I’m not going to let you just jump off into your ship and leave us to clean up the mess. We’ve got questions, and you’ve got answers.”
“For goodness’ sake, at least let me go to the Medical Bay,” snapped the Time Lord, brandishing his wounded hand. “Look at my hand, it’s broken.”
The two soldiers exchanged glances before the second one nodded and turned back to Sherlock. “Fine, but I’m accompanyin’ you on your ship,” he growled.
“Fine,” agreed Sherlock, but as he turned away, John saw him roll his eyes in an exaggerated fashion.
A few minutes later, they left the Cockney-accented Shadow Proclamation soldier waiting just inside the door while Sherlock led them to one of the five doors on the back wall. This one was on ground-level, which was understandable; if it was a medical bay, it would need to be situated so that it could be reached easily from the door. John, casting a wonder-filled gaze up at the ceiling, was still baffled by how enormous it was, and was also somewhat satisfied to glance down and see that Helen was, too.
“This is beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” she said in an awed voice. “What is this place?”
“His time machine,” John explained, feeling almost as proud of the place as if it were his own ship. In a way, he supposed, it was. “It’s bigger on the inside, apparently.”
“Apparently,” she agreed. Then, incredulously, “Hang on—time machine?! Yeah, go on.”
“No, seriously,” said John, though he couldn’t help but grin at her reaction. Sherlock said nothing on the matter, and though his back was turned, John could just picture the annoyed roll of the detective’s cynical blue eyes.
Sherlock pushed through the bronze-plated door and flipped a switch to reveal a room so vastly different than the one they’d just left that both John and Helen threw up their hands to shield their eyes. The blank whiteness and stark light of the place seemed to give it the impression that the very walls were glowing. When John’s eyes finally adjusted and he looked up to see an absence of ceiling lights, he realized the walls were glowing. There was a total of six beds in the bay, each spaced a fair distance apart, and each with their own tables and drawers full of equipment. In the very back was a large capsule-like apparatus with enough space to accommodate one person inside. All manner of robotic arms with surgical instruments for fingers poised, stationary, over the empty space.
It didn’t take John long to realize its purpose. “Is that—can that do surgeries?” he asked in awe, regarding the unfamiliar machine.
Sherlock nodded curtly. “Not the best option for delicate procedures,” he admitted, “but it’s very useful if there isn’t a surgical team on hand.” He paused. When John didn’t move from where he was standing, Sherlock said sarcastically, “Feel free to fix my hand whenever you like.”
John cast him an irritated glance. Sherlock helped him find the supplies, and he patched up the man’s hand—making disapproving remarks each time he cringed or complained—with a proper splint and some gauze. Next he stitched up Helen’s cut and bandaged it. It wasn’t terribly deep, but he didn’t trust it to close on its own. Sherlock, to John’s slight embarrassment, insisted on treating the abrasions on his face. He applied a clear salve over the sores on John’s lips which tasted just a bit like peppermint. A moment later and their sting had been replaced with miraculously cooling relief.
What followed after was a bit of a blur for John. In the haze of his sudden respite, he didn’t remember much other than the big events. They were questioned; Sherlock gave an account of the last day or two so detailed that John’s and Helen’s presence were unneeded; the Shadow Proclamation dispatched more ships to apprehend the citizens of the planet and determine who was responsible; the robotic army was packed away into the cargo holds of the hovercrafts and essentially confiscated. John had to admire the uniform way in which the organization functioned. There was no confusion or arguing—everyone seemed to be on the same page and of the same opinion. Simultaneously, however, he found it chilling. He felt that someone could be sentenced to death unjustly and there would be no deliberation about the punishment.
While the soldiers—the Judoon, Helen said they were called—were questioning Helen, John took advantage of the moment and turned to Sherlock, asking in a low voice, “What are we going to tell her?”
“Nothing,” answered Sherlock, as if it were obvious.
“But—she’ll find out eventually, won’t she? Next time she goes to the doctor’s, or tries to pass through a metal-detector…?”
“Most likely, yes,” replied the Time Lord, unconcerned. “For now, however, I think it would be best if she were given time to recover before having any such news broken to her.”
John protested, “Sherlock, she’s been missing for two years.”
“I have a time machine, John. That’s hardly an obstacle.”
John fell silent at this; he was right, admittedly.
At long last, after hours of standing about, they were given permission to leave (though Sherlock was expected to answer immediately if they called him for any more questions). “I think it’s time we took you home, Helen,” said Sherlock in the cool manner that John had come to realize was usual for him. He led them away, towards the TARDIS.
“Hold on,” said John, and Sherlock stopped and turned. He sidled up next to Sherlock, muttering, “She’s done a lot for us today, including saving our lives. I think we ought to repay her.”
Sherlock’s tone was icy and indifferent in his ear: “How do you suggest we do that?”
John replied quietly with a suggestion that, to his surprise, Sherlock responded to with an agreeable nod. He straightened and addressed Helen: “Before I take you home, there’s someplace else we’d like you to see, first.”
She looked wary, but she nodded and followed after without question. It struck John just then how trusting she’d been towards them. From the moment they met, she answered their questions and did everything she was told. He had to wonder if that would change when she found out she was missing out on two whole years of her life.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said as they headed back through the trees, “you never did explain to us how you knew what killed Julia.”
“Or how you shook off those robots,” added John.
“The first one was simple,” said Sherlock, waving his hand dismissively. “Obvious, really. Both you and Julia had been taken from New Earth—specifically, the New New York Hospital. It was a reasonable assumption to make, then, that whatever killed Julia was from the same place. That hospital in particular has a special brand for those belonging to the psych ward, which is a bracelet of a tan color. Those who are mentally too unstable to interact properly with others are given bracelets of that color with black spots on them. It wasn’t entirely difficult to connect the dots between that and Julia’s last words—‘the spotted band.’ Whoever had killed her had come from the more dangerous sect of the psych ward.
“There were no other marks on the woman other than the three we found on her arm. That was enough to tell us the cause of death. From that, it was an easy jump as to what exactly had killed her and how. The scientist running this little ‘experiment’ wanted some sort of predator to test your survival skills against; and what better predator than one that kills by instinct?”
John’s second pulse of pity for the Chandrax was overwhelmed by his admiration for Sherlock’s skill. He had enough trouble keeping the regulations of local hospitals straight; he couldn’t imagine having the capacity to memorize the finest details of all the hospitals in the universe and the types of illnesses—psychological illnesses, no less—that all the different species suffered from. To him, it sounded impossible, but apparently it was child’s play for the mind of an exceptionally gifted Time Lord.
Before John had time to say anything more than, “That’s brilliant,” Sherlock launched into his second explanation.
“The robots were simple enough to take care of. I was able to lead them further downstream, where I found another signal-blocking tower and cut one of the cables loose. I lured most of them into the creek before dropping the live cable in the water. The sudden excess of electric current was enough to sufficiently overload their circuits for a good long while.”
“Hang on,” said John, holding up a hand. “Were you standing in the creek when you did that?”
Sherlock frowned. “Yes, of course.”
“Jesus Christ, Sherlock!” John was equally frustrated and incredulous. Even Helen looked shocked as she reconsidered the detective.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’m fine,” he snapped. “I had a close call when one of them snagged my coat, but that, obviously, has been rectified.” He plucked proudly at the collar of his coat so that it stood upright.
They had reached the TARDIS, still disguised as an old beaten-down shack. Sherlock pulled open the door for them, and they crossed into the completely out-of-character interior. As accustomed as Helen was to Shadow Proclamation soldiers and sonic magnifying glasses, she was still shocked to see, even for the second time, the interior of the TARDIS. She turned in a slow circle, craning back her neck until she was staring straight up at the ceiling in awe. John hesitated, but Sherlock brushed past her, hardly noticing.
A few moments later, and Sherlock was practically shoving her back out the door. This time, however, they were met with a rather different scene.
The concept was the same—strange, remote jungle planet—but the landscape was completely different. They had landed near a 6-foot waterfall that tumbled merrily over glistening rocks. Trees with curling branches reached for the heavens, leaves of all shapes and sizes drooping under the weight of a recent rain. The trunks were almost black with the moisture that seemed to pervade the air, stuffing the jungle with enough humidity to make John feel short of breath. While it made him uncomfortable, however, Helen seemed to be in her element. She took a deep, satisfied breath and let it out in a sigh through her nostrils.
All these things, however, quailed under the one prevailing feature of the jungle: its flowers. They were everywhere: long, tube-shaped flowers stretching for sunlight; broad petals spotted with droplets; flowers with tongues; flowers with fuzz lining the center; flowers that coated tree trunks in splotches; flowers that opened and closed periodically as he watched; flowers that swayed on their stems like charmed snakes despite the absence of a breeze… Their brilliant colors dazzled John: red, blue, pink, violet, yellow, turquoise, indigo—he was sure one type of flower was even shining silver. Another particular cluster was incandescent, catching the sun’s rays and reflecting them like they were made of diamond. The scents of all of them mingling together, combined with the humidity, made the entire place feel like one great big greenhouse.
“What is this place?” asked Helen, who was gazing about in awe. She didn’t seem particularly stunned about the fact that they’d just disappeared from one planet and reappeared on another.
“Andraxia,” answered Sherlock, “when your kind was nothing more than a group of primitive lizards with opposable thumbs.”
At this remark, she looked utterly stunned. “You mean we—we travelled in time?”
“Of course we did. Have you never heard of a TARDIS?” The words were cold, but his eyes sparkled faintly with amusement.
Her attention stolen back by the beautiful landscape, she didn’t answer. Instead, she stepped away from the TARDIS (which was now disguised as a particularly thick tree, the door being a hollow under the roots), walking carefully through the underbrush. John watched for a moment as she touched a few flowers, as if to make sure they were real, cupping them in her hands as she inhaled their scents. Then he felt a soft touch at his sleeve and looked up to see Sherlock standing by his side.
“Walk with me,” said the detective, starting off through the forest. “I’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” As he passed her, he said to Helen, “John and I are going for a walk. Don’t wander too far.”
She nodded vaguely, hardly glancing at them as they departed.
They had crossed over the stream by means of a fallen log and walked until the sound of flowing water had long faded behind them before either of them said a word. Finally Sherlock said, “I’m not a soldier, John.”
John wasn’t sure what he meant. He couldn’t recall ever saying anything to contradict this; he had certainly never took Sherlock for the soldier type, anyway. “Sorry?”
“I didn’t fight in the Time War. As soon as it broke out, I jumped in my ship and ran.” His voice had taken on a steely tone, but John could tell it was only to cover up a sudden fragility beneath. He recognized the importance of silence and didn’t say a word and, after another moment, Sherlock uttered a noise of impatience and muttered, more to himself than John, “No, I can’t explain it… I’ll have to show you.”
“Show—” started John, puzzled, but Sherlock had stepped in front of him, making him halt suddenly in his tracks. The Time Lord brought both hands up to either side of John’s face where they hovered for an instant. John’s face felt hot as he realized how close they were standing, and he found it difficult to hold Sherlock’s intense blue gaze.
“Please try to relax your mind,” the detective instructed, aligning his fingers to specific points on John’s head and pressing gently on either side. Before John could ask what he meant or what was going on, there was a sudden rushing in his ears, and he felt as though he were suddenly pitching forward. Within the span of a second, the minds of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson had become one.
I slammed the door of my TARDIS behind me, stumbling in my haste as I ran up the walkway to the console. Alarms were blaring everywhere. One of the controls was sparking, and steam was curling up from another. It was happening. My worst nightmare. Gallifrey was at war.
I pressed a button and gazed up at the ceiling, watching as a particular piece of machinery descended slowly like a spider on a strand of web. It was round and appeared to be some sort of metal helmet with wires and cables sprouting from its dome. The Chameleon Arch. The name surfaced through the chaotic scatterings of my current state of mind: the name of the device that would turn me into a human being.
I was no soldier. I couldn’t fight. I didn’t want any part in a war, especially this one. But if I didn’t run and hide now while I had the chance, the Daleks would likely track me down and kill me—or, worse, another Time Lord would find me, and I’d be forced to return and fight in the war.
I stared at the Chameleon Arch, swinging slightly on the end of its cables. I’d never had to use it before, and I wasn’t looking forward to it now. The device would change my very biological makeup—it would change each and every cell in my body from Time Lord to human being, a process which, I’d heard, was immensely painful. And if I did it, if I went through with it, I’d have to disappear completely, leave behind all my friends, my family—well, my family. And God knows what would happen to me if I did. Any number of things could go wrong—I might lose the watch, it might get destroyed, I might never open it…
Suddenly, the TARDIS gave a rumble and shook violently, and I remembered just what was going on outside of my doors. I opened a slot on the console, removed from it a small fob watch, and inserted it into the back of the Chameleon Arch. According to what I’d been told, the fob watch would contain my consciousness, my very essence, while the TARDIS gave me a new identity with the help of fabricated memories and a few good old-fashioned perception filters.
I pulled it on over my head and, after a long, deliberating hesitation, flipped a switch. Pain like I had never felt before, crippling, blinding, burned suddenly through me, spreading from my hearts down my very limbs. I screamed. I dropped to the floor. I writhed.
Very suddenly, the TARDIS vanished, and I was no longer Sherlock the Time Lord. I was sitting at a typewriter, at my typewriter, in my sitting room. The year was 1884. I had my own independent medical practice which, admittedly, wasn’t doing particularly well. I did, however, have one thing to look forward to while waiting for a patient to stumble in: writing.
My name was no longer Sherlock, though the name floated frequently through my mind as I began to type, A Study in Scarlet, part I. Chapter I: Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
The name my TARDIS had given me, as I knew now, was Arthur Conan Doyle. I didn’t know at the time what I used to be or what I would become. I only knew that I was having strange, frequent dreams about a detective who was solving crimes with his funny little companion…
Many, many years went by. I wrote the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes; my first wife died, but I married again; I had five children; and all the while, that fob watch sat on my mantelpiece, dusty and broken in my eyes. For whatever reason, I could not bring myself to get rid of the thing at the time. Finally, when I was old and frail and convinced I would never again rise from the bed I was currently resting in, someone asked to see me, someone I’d never met before. It was a man with short black hair who wore a long military coat and whose eyes seemed to sparkle whenever he spoke, as if everything around him amused him.
The man introduced himself as Captain Jack Harkness. He was meandering about the room, saying something about how he’d always wanted to meet the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but before he got far in flattering me, he noticed the watch sitting on the mantelpiece. He picked it up, entranced, flipping it over and over in his hand. The man—Captain Jack—said he could hear things coming from it, voices, whispering things about Time Lords… He handed it to me, telling me I should open it. I protested weakly, telling him the watch had never worked, but he insisted. So, finally, after all those years, I opened the watch.
Everything came flooding back in a sudden great rush that almost gave me a heart attack right then and there. I was a Time Lord again.
What followed after was so rushed it was almost a blur in my memory. Stiff with age, even as a Time Lord, I clambered out of the bed and headed for my TARDIS, which had been disguised as an old wardrobe. Before I could get there, however, I collapsed against Jack, wheezing. A Time Lord I might’ve been, but I was still dying. Looking down at my hands, I saw that the skin had begun to glow golden, sparking and glittering as if the blood in their veins had been replaced with lava. A sudden fire began to burn through me, a feeling that I recognized from several other instances in my past: regeneration. Instead of dying, I, as a Time Lord, would form myself a newer, hopefully younger body. My personality, too, was subject to change, though my memories, I knew, would remain intact.
All at once, I went as stiff as a board, my arms flung out to either side and my head tossed back as the energy boiled through me, burning away my old body like a phoenix. It was dreadfully painful, and I know I cried out at some point. My new form began to take shape, and with a sudden release, I found myself whole again and feeling utterly new. I looked down at my hands. Long-fingered they were, and pale, but deft and capable. I looked to be a lean man—not particularly muscular, but not entirely skinny, either. I must’ve gotten taller, too, because everything below me seemed further away.
Fumbling for some sort of reflective surface, I stood, leaning against the dresser as I gazed into the mirror above it. My new face was, on first impression, peculiar-looking. The high nose over full lips; the prominent cheekbones; the pale, slanted eyes that gave the sense of a cat—I decided I liked it, though.
“You’re a Time Lord,” Jack said in astonishment, his voice low in awe. “I’ve only ever met one other Time Lord before. He thought he was the last one. Boy, will he be pleased… Loving the new face, by the way.”
I had been prodding at my new cheekbones in fascination, but I stopped at this. “Who was it? Why did he think he was the last one?” I was shocked to hear the voice that came out of my mouth—it was deep and sonorous, nothing like my last one.
Jack looked suddenly somber and slightly uncomfortable. “He went by ‘The Doctor.’“ The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t put a face to it at the time. “I’m sorry—this is probably news to you, but… There was a massive war. The Time War, he called it. The Time Lords lost, and… Gallifrey’s gone.”
I was in shock. I stared at him blankly for a moment before saying, “Gallifrey’s gone? The whole… The whole planet?”
Jack nodded. “From how I understand it, yes.”
“And—And the Time Lords?”
“All of them gone, except the Doctor.”
I didn’t have much attachment to Gallifrey other than my family—I’d never really liked it there, anyway. But it was my home. It was where I was born, and I was always welcome to return if ever I felt the need. I stood abruptly and made for my TARDIS.
Jack followed me. “Where are you going?”
“Somewhere else,” I replied curtly.
“Wait—we should find the Doctor. He’d want to know about you, and maybe he could help—”
“No,” I replied, in such a fierce tone that I surprised even myself, especially considering I had a new voice. I had never been so blunt or abrasive in any of my previous regenerations. “No, Jack, listen to me. If you ever see him—the Doctor—again, you must not tell him about me. I have no desire to—to—” I broke off. “Just don’t. Don’t say a word about me. You never met me, understand? The Doctor is still the last Time Lord.”
“Why?” Jack asked, but I didn’t answer. I slipped into my TARDIS and closed the door behind me.
John gasped for breath as he suddenly found himself in his own very human body once more. It took his brain a moment to extricate his own identity from Sherlock’s. Sherlock had released his fingers from John’s face and was watching him, observing his reaction closely.
“I—no, we—I mean—you—you… turned yourself human to escape the war,” John summarized, mostly for his own benefit, as it was taking an awful lot of effort to piece together what he’d just experienced, and hearing it out loud seemed to help. Sherlock nodded. “And you became Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” He nodded again. “You wrote stories… based on when you were a Time Lord.” Another nod. “And—and now they’re coming true…?”
“It would seem that way, yes.”
“But how—” John was still finding it difficult to string words together, “—how can that be happening, how did you know.”
“I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I think… Well, my ship was under attack when I was going through the process of becoming a human. There might have been a mishap with the time energy in the TARDIS, and bits of my future could’ve leaked through. That seems the likeliest possibility, at least.”
“There weren’t any aliens or jungle planets in the original stories, though,” said John, confused.
“It was the nineteenth century, John. I probably took a number of creative liberties as an author, as authors do. Or perhaps the visions were filtered so that they made sense to me in that state of mind—I don’t know.” He looked very uncomfortable admitting it, and John realized that there was very little in terms of things like this that he didn’t know. To be in the dark about his own memories must’ve been agonizing to him.
They began to make their way back towards the TARDIS. Deciding to change the subject, John said, “So, this regeneration thing—does that mean you can never die? Like a… get-out-of-death-free-card?”
“No. There are certain things that can kill a Time Lord, completely bypassing the process. And, we only have a finite amount of regenerations—eventually, I’ll run out them.”
“And then I’ll die, just like any human being.”
John wasn’t sure what to think of this, and couldn’t come up with anything to say, so he changed the subject after a moment. “So you had the name Sherlock Holmes before you even wrote the stories?”
“Just Sherlock, actually. It was a Gallifreyan name. I suppose I added Holmes on the end so it would make more sense for the setting.”
They fell silent as they walked, and John found himself reliving Sherlock’s memories in his head. Just what he had revealed alone was an incredibly personal thing to share, but showing it in such a manner… John felt honored. Sherlock trusted him enough to bare his very soul to him.
He couldn’t help remembering in particular the process Sherlock went through to become a human being. John had been through a lot in the war—his shoulder had been grievously injured, and it had hurt something terrible. But this… This had been agonizing. He remembered from Sherlock’s mind the way that the Chameleon Arch worked: it would change his biological makeup cell-by-cell from Time Lord to human being. Meanwhile, his Time Lord consciousness was stored in a fob watch while the TARDIS fabricated human memories for him. What must it have been like, to suddenly realize that the last sixty, seventy years of his life had been a lie? How strange must it have been to look back on that time of his life and see himself doing things that he ordinarily wouldn’t have done?
Before he realized it, they’d reached the clearing where the TARDIS sat, still disguised as a gnarly old tree. Helen was sitting amidst clusters of flowers with broad, midnight-blue petals that faded to a deep purple in the throats. Long yellow pistils extended from their centers, ringed by orange stamen. Helen was staring intently at one particular flower, which was being paid special attention to by a creature somewhat like a hummingbird.
A moment after they arrived, she tore her gaze away from the tiny flitting animal. “Time to go?” she inquired, disappointment making her words droop.
John waited for Sherlock to say something about how he was a busy man and needed to get back to his flat, but instead the detective answered, “No, not yet. We haven’t been that long.”
She looked considerably happier about this and resumed watching the flower until the tiny bird-like thing zoomed away. Then she stood and continued to meander about the clearing, mesmerized by every blossom she laid eyes on.
Sherlock and John, meanwhile, took a seat side-by-side on a boulder. It felt like it had been weeks since John was woken by the distressed TARDIS. For the first time since meeting Sherlock, there weren’t innumerable questions fighting each other to be the first to be said out loud. But wait—there was one…
“Sherlock, there’s something you still haven’t explained to me.”
He sounded bored. “What’s that?”
John recalled the first conversation they’d had with Helen, and his face split into a grin. “What’s a skila?”
To John’s surprise, Sherlock began to chuckle. It broadened into a laugh and, a moment later, he managed to say, “It’s an otter.”
John laughed as well, fuelling a snorting fit of giggles from Sherlock. “An otter?” he repeated, unable to restrain himself. “Oh, my God…” Then, as he took a second to re-evaluate Sherlock’s face, he saw exactly where Helen was coming from and burst out with a fresh bout of laughter, “Oh, my God!”
By the time they had wrung out all the entertainment that they could, they were wiping tears from their eyes.
Sometime later, Helen rejoined them and, despite her obvious reluctance, announced that she was ready to return home. She did, after all, have to get back to her sister. So, Sherlock took her back to the New New York Hospital (making sure to adjust the date of their landing as well) and swung the door open to reveal a white-walled area just like any other hospital room. She hugged them each goodbye, thanking them fervently, and left. The door was closed behind her, and Sherlock flew the ship back to 221B.
“What do you think, John?” asked Sherlock evenly.
John wasn’t sure what kind of answer Sherlock was looking for, but he was sure about one thing: “I think I could do with a good long rest.”
Chapter 8: The Yellow Moon: Part One - The Suspicion
Sherlock is reluctant to take on the case of a worried woman.
This one is a much shorter adventure than the first two and will only be split into two parts. I'll probably have more little cases like these, scattered between the bigger ones. c: As always, I love to hear feedback. Enjoy!
The Yellow Moon: Part One – The Suspicion
John had been living with Sherlock for three weeks now, and he had not for a moment been bored.
Half the time, Sherlock was busy solving cases all across the universe. In between, he ran experiments, testing all sorts of hypotheses: the rate of blood congealment on the skin of silicone-based species; the effects of chamomile tea in response to certain venom-caused ailments (John had been an unwilling “test subject” in what he suspected was a poorly covered-up accident); the rate of plant growth in various planetary atmospheres; he had even resorted, on several occasions, to bringing back live specimens from distant galaxies and testing them in the kitchen. John could remember one unfortunate instance after which he’d spent nearly half an hour trying to scrub a layer of slug-like slime off the counter by the fridge.
In his TARDIS, he had rooms upon rooms stacked with files documenting the results of each and every test he’d ever performed. They weren’t organized in any fashion, though from what John had seen, Sherlock knew exactly where each and every file lay. He frequently consulted them when he needed to review the information they contained.
John had witnessed, over the past few weeks, several unusual habits of Sherlock’s. The man resorted to playing the violin at all hours when he needed to think, refusing to eat while solving a difficult case, completely bypassing any possibility of sleeping, and—most annoyingly—talking to John without realizing the man was away. The Time Lord often referred to conversations he claimed John had taken part in, but that John could not recall. He never noticed when John was away, and so resumed making comments even when there was no one to hear them.
This first became evident when John arrived home one afternoon to find one of his favorite shirts laid out across the table covered in a grid-like pattern of various stains, each of which were labeled things like “Slitheen saliva,” “Carbon-based blood pH 2.5,” and “Control: H2O.” When John shouted at Sherlock, making it evident that it had been one of his best shirts, Sherlock had retorted that John said he could use it that morning.
“I was out this morning!” he’d replied, more furious than ever.
Sherlock didn’t seem to care and hardly noticed the angry flush in John’s face. “Hardly my fault you weren’t listening.” After that, John took to locking his bedroom door before he left.
Occasionally, Sherlock would leave without telling his flatmate a word about where he was going. John almost panicked the first time he came home and found the impossible door—the one that led to the TARDIS—missing from the wall. That time, at least, Sherlock had had the consideration to leave a note on the counter by the kettle (where he knew John would see it) stating that he’d left on a case and would be back shortly. Most of the time, however, Sherlock brought John along for cases, even waking him up in the middle of the night in certain circumstances. John couldn’t yet fathom the reason for his accompaniment other than that it seemed to benefit the detective in his methods. Sherlock hadn’t yet told him exactly how, but John could tell; every once in a while the Time Lord would give him a look, a sort of wondering glance, as though amazed at John’s very existence. John often felt a strange warm glow in the pit of his stomach whenever this happened.
He’d been curious about the “Torchwood Institute” and the three members he met on their first case, but he’d gotten little else about them from Sherlock other than that they were “completely useless except in special circumstances.” According to Sherlock, they were only good for doing grunt work, though he did, admittedly, seem to think something of its leader, Greg Lestrade. John had decided, even from the little he knew of the man, that he liked him; his gruff, straightforward sort of attitude was something he could relate to (and, compared to Sherlock’s unpredictable mannerisms, was entirely welcome).
Meanwhile, John had spent the daylight hours searching for a part-time job—he and Sherlock still needed to eat, after all, and, much to John’s disapproval, Sherlock rarely demanded payment for what he did. After the first week he found one that showed promise: a job in the clinic of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (nicknamed “St. Bart’s” by its residents). He spent his time there diagnosing little things such as a child with a cold, a woman with laryngitis, a teenager with a broken finger. They weren’t exactly engaging, but they weren’t entirely dissatisfying, either. There was a nurse who worked there—beautiful, smart, funny, the works—whom he rather fancied. Sherlock didn’t particularly care about the part of John’s life that was spent away from the flat, and he showed even less interest in John’s little crush, which quite irked John, but he kept most of such annoyances to himself.
When he wasn’t at the clinic or working with Sherlock, John could usually be found inside the TARDIS. With Sherlock’s permission (the Time Lord hadn’t seemed surprised by the request and was quite welcome to it), he’d taken to exploring it during his free time and getting to know its many rooms. He’d first started with the medical bay, opening the drawers and cupboards and mentally labeling their contents so that he could find them in the future, if ever he needed to. Then he began to wander through the other four doors, all of which opened to long, seemingly endless corridors. At first, he didn’t go terribly far, always worried that he’d get lost and have to phone Sherlock, but once he got to know more of the area he was able to meander further in.
The scenery in the hallways and the other rooms mimicked that of the control room. The walls were most commonly brass or bronze sheets covered in yet more large, circular designs (“Gallifreyan,” John remembered). The artificial torch-like lights were placed at regular intervals, throwing their cool blue glow upon it and casting it in a light that was a strange mix of pleasant, homely, and eerie. John couldn’t quite place how it made him feel, but after a few days he decided he liked it. No matter where he went in the TARDIS, though, the soft breathing of some massive engine could always be heard, occasionally clanking or hissing below his feet. Its deep thrum filled John with the curious but not unwelcome sensation that he wasn’t alone, wherever he went.
At one point, he discovered a room which must’ve been Sherlock’s library. It was an amazingly enormous room, roughly the size of a cathedral or two, with brass arches ribbing the ceiling and glowing veins similar to those in the console room twisting up the walls and pillars. There were shelves upon shelves of books and ladders littering the place so that any of the books could be reached. The first time he found it, he was so fascinated by its contents that he didn’t even think of leaving the room until he checked his phone and realized it was two in the morning. There were books everywhere, and the fascinating thing about them was that almost none of them seemed to be from Earth. All of Sherlock’s “Earth-books” were apparently on the bookshelf in the sitting room. Here, though, there was everything—universal encyclopedias dated about twenty billion years from now; books so old their pages looked like they’d turn to dust in John’s hand; books in languages so old that even the TARDIS couldn’t translate them; there was even a shelf stacked full of what looked like Kindles—thin tablets with glowing screens, the words of each respective book scrolling upward at a touch. The place was so dusty that John was convinced Sherlock hadn’t been inside of it for many years, but he didn’t care. It was a beautiful place.
He rarely read any of the books word-for-word, but rather skimmed through them, searching for things of importance. He learned about civilizations, about planets, about solar and star systems, even about whole clusters of galaxies, and he was only brushing the tip of the iceberg. The locations, of course, meant nothing to him, as did the dates of certain events such as interplanetary wars; the names, too, tended to get mixed up or forgotten, though he occasionally recalled such names as “Magrathea” and, to his surprise, “Raxacoricofallapatorius.” He wasn’t sure how he remembered the second one, but it did seem to roll pleasantly off the tongue. Mostly, however, he just remembered vague facts—for instance, one planet was so cold that the native species survived on liquid nitrogen the way humans survived on water, and any carbon-based life forms would freeze to death instantly. Another planet consisted almost entirely of diamonds, complete with a sapphire waterfall, but could support no life due to the ex-tonic star it revolved around (whatever “ex-tonic” meant). Then there was a species of alien that communicated in voices so low that their conversations were often mistaken for “kids playing loud music next door.” It was fascinating to read about, really.
One thing John had noticed in particular was that, ever since his meeting Sherlock, the frequency of his nightmares had begun to steadily decline. When he’d been living on his own, he’d been having them almost every night and got maybe one dreamless night per week. By the end of his third week with Sherlock, however, the amount of his night terrors was closer to only every other day. Already, it seemed, his therapist was making note of a definite change. She seemed very interested in Sherlock and the detective’s effect on John. John, who, of course, couldn’t reveal too much about Sherlock’s lifestyle, said that he was a private detective (an occupation that she found difficult to believe at first, due to the “coincidence” of their names). He found it difficult to lie to her in such a fashion, as she seemed to see right through him, but she appeared to be letting it slide for now. Overall, having things to keep his mind busy was doing him good.
It seemed that their first two cases—such eventful mysteries—were peculiar in that they occurred so close together, for once they were over, there followed a lull of inactivity, filled only with mysteries such as, “Mr. Holmes, please help me find my family heirloom” or, “I think my husband might be having an affair.” It surprised John, in comparison, how little Sherlock ordinarily left the flat. The Time Lord often conducted cases over the phone or even occasionally, to John’s surprise, through a webcam connection. He recurrently complained that there were no interesting cases about, nothing to challenge his mind, despite John’s bafflement at almost all of the supposed “child’s play.” This exasperating display of impatience was most prevalent during the long breaks between large cases, such as the one they were experiencing now.
Sherlock had spent the last three days lolling about the flat, dressed in plain white pajamas and a bathrobe. The only variance in this outfit was the color of the bathrobe: blue one day, then purple, and blue again the next. John had emerged into the sitting room to find the long, lanky form of Sherlock sprawled across the sofa, lying atop the kitchen table, sitting with his legs crossed on the counter (amid stacks of dirty dishes), curled up atop the refrigerator with his arm hanging over the side (John was reminded forcibly, not for the first time, of a house cat), even once sitting inverted on his chair with his feet on the headrest and his head craned back over the cushion, the top of his head just brushing the floor. What he found when he came home today, however, was a first.
As he ascended the stairs he heard, above the occasional creaking step, an unbroken, high-pitched note that sounded like a noise a copy machine might make. Probably just another experiment of Sherlock’s, he supposed, perhaps utilizing some form of futuristic technology. That had been the case many a time before. As he pushed open the door, however, he was met with a sight that turned his vacant expression into one of shock and disbelief.
Sherlock, who was sitting on his chair, had slid down the back of it so far that his head was almost level with the armrests, over which his arms were draped. His legs were crossed at the ankles, stretched out in front of him as far as they could go. He was staring straight ahead, but his left arm was sticking horizontally out to the side, rigidly aiming some sort of firearm at the wall across the room. A thin, glowing line of orange was linking the gun directly to the wall and he was moving his arm in swift, curving flourishes, burning what looked like a smiley face into the wall. John would’ve admired Sherlock’s blind accuracy had that not been the wall of their shared flat.
“God—Sherlock, what are you doing?!” John said sharply, all but dropping his bags of groceries on the floor as he dashed further inside.
Sherlock released the trigger, and the orange laser vanished. He mumbled a single word that John didn’t catch.
“BORED!” Sherlock yelled, standing abruptly from the chair. He raised his arm and fired the gun again, a short blast that became the wall’s left eye. “BORED!” he repeated, switching hands and firing once more from behind his back: the wall’s right eye.
“Alright, alright,” said John, stepping between the wall and the detective and gently but firmly removing the gun from Sherlock’s grip. He set it down gingerly on the desk behind him. “You haven’t forgotten, have you, that you have to share this flat?”
“John. I remember exactly how many leaves of lettuce you put on your sandwich for lunch yesterday. How could I possibly forget that I have to live with you?”
The words would’ve hurt John if he hadn’t known better. This wasn’t Sherlock talking, of course; it was his boredom and impatience that gave his voice such a biting tone. He frowned, glancing back at the weapon. “Where did you even get that, anyway?”
Sherlock flopped back down on his chair with a huffy sigh and said, “It doesn’t matter.” John’s frown deepened. He wasn’t about to demand an answer from Sherlock, but he was certainly surprised at the man’s refusal to give one; usually he always answered questions like these, even if it was with something vague or cryptic that he didn’t quite understand. Before he could say anything on the matter, however, Sherlock’s cell phone rang.
There was a scrambling mad rush as the detective fumbled in his pockets for the device while the annoying tune of the most standard ringtone jangled in the background. Despite his sudden outburst, Sherlock answered it as calmly and coolly as if he’d been meditating. “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” he introduced himself. John was astonished at how suddenly his demeanor had changed. His whiny, restless manner had abruptly been replaced by another person. John saw once again a shadow of the Sherlock Holmes he’d first met: level-headed, alert, and poised in anticipation, with what was possibly a glint of eagerness in his eyes.
After a short pause, he said, “Certainly. Just give me a moment—and don’t hang up the phone.”
In a moment, he had leapt to his feet and was dashing off down the hall for the TARDIS, phone in hand. John had seen this several times before and knew exactly what was happening: someone had requested to speak with him over a webcam connection, and he needed to use the screen in the TARDIS in order to reach them. He heard Sherlock call, “John! Come on!” from down the hall and followed after his flatmate, hoping this was a good sign.
The TARDIS was as beautiful as usual, the bubbles trickling happily downwards in their pillars, the blue lights fringing the walls flickering calmly. Sherlock was already at the console, plugging his phone into a socket specifically designed for it on the side of the screen. Sherlock drummed his fingers impatiently on the edge of the console as John joined him, standing back slightly, over his shoulder.
After a moment, the black screen flickered, and suddenly John was on space-Skype. Sherlock’s face, as seen by the webcam embedded in the top of the monitor, had been crammed into a corner, his peculiar features reduced to a few hundred pixels. Taking center stage, however, was yet another strange alien. John had seen several aliens now since his first encounter with Sherlock, who was an alien himself, but this one he was entirely unfamiliar with. Judging by its appearance, it didn’t seem to ring any bells in John’s recent readings in the library, either.
She—for it was, most definitely, a she—looked like a human who had been fused with a gray timber wolf. She was covered in short gray fur of varying shades, longer around the back of the head and neck in a sleek mane. Her ears were broad and round and perched on the top of her head, swiveling towards them even as she appeared on the screen, her eyes light golden brown and glinting brightly. In place of a mouth was a short, slim muzzle, whiskers twitching as her lips pulled back into a small pointy-toothed smile. Despite her nonhuman appearance, it was clear to see that there was something distressed lurking behind that courteous smile.
Her eyes flicked over John, but if she was confused or concerned by his presence, she didn’t say. “Mr. Holmes,” she said, inclining her head deeply so that they got a good look at the crown of her head. When she lifted her face again, however, she looked troubled. “My name is Brant,” she said. “I… I need your help.” Sherlock gestured for her to go on. Her furry brow wrinkled for a moment as she apparently gathered her thoughts. Seeming to draw strength from something inside, her gaze hardened slightly in determination and she began, “My wife, Effie, has been behaving very strangely recently.”
John glanced at Sherlock, who didn’t look remotely interested, but the detective, surprisingly, didn’t interrupt. Usually in cases like these, Sherlock would take this opportunity to say something like, “She’s cheating on you,” and hang up before they could say otherwise. (What really annoyed John about remarks like these was that the detective always had evidence to back him up—something or other that he’d observed straight off the bat.) He almost seemed to enjoy such things. Perhaps, however, his desperation for a new case this time around was keeping him silent.
Somewhere in his mind John registered that the alien was a lesbian. By this point, however, John wasn’t surprised by this fact; the future, it seemed (for she was in the future—about three hundred thousand years’ worth), was far more accepting of homosexuality, which was just fine with him.
He started paying attention again as she continued, “Before I get to that, though, I’d like to start at the very beginning.” She took a deep breath. “Effie had a rough childhood. Her father abused her and her mother slept around a lot. At a very young age, she became addicted to drugs, smoking leaves from the Pentos tree, and she nearly died from an overdose at the age of eighteen—that was how I met her. My mother and father had been killed by a rogue sect of the Varen, you see, when I was very little, but I was inspired by my mother’s legacy to become a nurse at the local hospital. I took care of her while she was in the hospital, and… well, we fell in love. She moved in with me as soon as she was out of the hospital. That didn’t make her parents too happy—they disowned her—but she didn’t seem to care, as long as she was away from them. I helped her overcome her addiction; it was a hard battle, but she’s been clean ever since.
“We’ve been married for a year. We haven’t kept anything from each other—she knows my history, my secrets, and I know hers. Well, I thought I did, anyway.” She started to look worried again, her eyes flicking downward. “About two months ago, she was visited by a person I’d never met before who asked to speak with her privately—she never told me what he said. That same day, she asked me for some money—a lot of money. Ten thousand credits, in fact. When my parents died, they left me a fortune, so it wasn’t a problem to give her what she asked for, but when I asked why she needed it, she wouldn’t tell me. She told me it was better if I didn’t know, and that if I loved her, I wouldn’t ask. So, I didn’t. I respected her privacy and assumed she would tell me when she was ready.
“Then she started disappearing. I’d come home from work and she’d be missing. It wasn’t often—maybe once or twice a week—but she could’ve easily slipped away while I was at work and returned before I got home other days. I asked her where she was going, but again, she wouldn’t tell me. It’s been going on like that since she first asked for the money.”
“What changed?” asked Sherlock. He sounded bored and somewhat disappointed.
“Two nights ago, I was woken up late at night by Effie getting up out of bed. She didn’t realize she’d woken me, so I waited and listened as she got dressed and left. Then I followed her. She didn’t realize I was tailing her. I followed her out the door and down the road to a little shack, which she entered. When she didn’t come out, I decided to go inside. She was gone, but inside the shack was a doorway, a teleport—they’re very common on our planet, I use one myself to get to work. It required a key code of some sort, though, so I couldn’t get through.
“I couldn’t figure out what to do. Then I heard of you just today and I decided to go to you for help. Please, I don’t know what to do—I’m worried about our marriage. I love her…” She trailed off, apparently unable to continue. Her eyes were glistening. John could only imagine the kind of emotional trouble she’d been through in the past two months, and to have such a heavy blow like that land so recently… She took a ragged breath. “I've heard a lot about your talents with this sort of thing. Can you help me, Mr. Holmes?”
John looked at Sherlock. What he saw wasn’t very promising. In the prospect of a good case, Sherlock’s expression was intrigued and thoughtful, but instead he looked cool and unimpressed. Regardless, he asked, “Did you notice anything in particular about Effie right after she returned home?”
Brant thought for a moment. “Yes,” she said after some time. “Yes, she smelled strongly of sulfur whenever she’d been away.”
One of Sherlock’s eyebrows quirked in an I-thought-so sort of way. “No, I’m afraid I can’t help you,” he said without warning, shrugging nonchalantly. “I’m terribly busy at the moment.”
She looked as disbelieving as John felt. “Is there nothing you can do for me?” she asked in a hushed voice, her brow furrowing again, though this time in suppressed anger.
“Well, she’s not cheating on you,” replied Sherlock bluntly. “Not with another person, anyway. Goodbye, Brant.” Without waiting another moment, he reached up and pressed a button on the side of the screen, which went black, but not before Brant gave a heartbreaking look of shock and despair.
He turned to go but was stopped by a glance at John’s face.
“What?” said the detective defensively.
“I don’t believe you,” said John, shaking his head slightly. “Ten minutes ago you were complaining you were bored, and now when a case finally shows up you turn it down? That poor woman—” He broke off when his voice started to rise, keeping himself from losing control with a deep breath. “You’re going to call her back and you’re going to apologize and you’re going to solve that case—”
“Apologize? I’ve already solved it,” interrupted Sherlock indignantly. “It was obvious. Wherever she was going, she was going there to smoke Pentos leaves. Some of the money went towards the teleport while the rest of it was saved to buy the drugs. She smelled like sulfur every time she came back because she needed some way to disguise the smell of the drug.”
“Then tell her that! For God’s sake, Sherlock, at least give her something!”
“I don’t have any proof, though. In order to do that, I’d need a look at the teleport and get a confirmation of where it leads.”
“I don’t want to. The case is too boring to bother with leaving.”
John couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You have a machine that will move you through time and space,” he asked in a low, dangerous voice. “How can you possibly be too lazy to leave when all you have to do is push a few buttons?” Sherlock stared at him blankly for a moment. Before the Time Lord could come up with a response, John said sternly, “You’re going to call her back. You’re going to apologize to her and tell her you’ll take the case. Then you’re going to see it through. Understood?”
Sherlock continued to stare at John with that vaguely surprised expression, only now there was something of amazement in the way his lips parted slightly. Then, after what felt like minutes, his gaze hardened slightly and he agreed, somewhat stiffly, “Fine.”
He turned back to the screen, pressing a few buttons, and John could only stare at the back of his head in astonishment. He hadn’t expected that to work.
A moment later and Brant’s end of the feed reappeared. She, apparently, wasn’t expecting them to call back, because John could see her just on the edge of the screen sitting in one of the chairs a little ways away. Her back was turned so he couldn’t see her face, but there was a definite droop to her shoulders, and her head seemed to be hanging between them. Sherlock cleared his throat rather loudly and she gave a start, whirling toward the screen. John wasn’t surprised to see her alarmed expression turn to one of cool indifference, though her eyes were red from crying.
“I’m sorry for how I treated you earlier,” said Sherlock jerkily, as though the words were taking some difficulty to get out. “I’ll take your case.”
“Good,” she said, still attempting to look cold, though John could see a hint of relief washing over her.
Chapter 9: The Yellow Moon: Part Two - The Truth
In the conclusion of their third adventure, Sherlock and John discover the truth behind Effie's secret.
So sorry for the delay. I would've had this up sooner but my flashdrive took an unexpected leave-of-absence. Turned out it was in my purse pocket the whole time. Anyway, here's the end of this adventure! The next chapter's still in progress, so it'll probably be a while until I've got it up-especially with college and such going on. Not to mention I've started working on a Lost/Supernatural crossover which is taking up some of the time I'd normally spend on this, hehe...
One more thing: I know when I started this I said it wouldn't have any smut in it, but I think I've changed my mind since. However, since I already promised, I think what I'm going to do is write two different versions. The PG-13 version will be posted on FFN, and the explicit one will be posted here on AO3. There isn't any smut in this chapter (and probably won't be for a while yet)-so if you're not into that, don't worry about it yet. I will let you know when any NC-17 material is coming up and will post a link to the fic on FFN so you can read it there if you'd rather.
In the meantime, enjoy! Comments are love! :D
The Yellow Moon: Part Two – The Truth
A few minutes later, Sherlock, still in his blue bathrobe (John had insisted he change, but he'd adamantly refused), was programming the TARDIS to land just outside the shack where Brant had reportedly found the teleport. He didn't see any point in visiting her house, since he didn't imagine he could glean anything from it. As they rode the time vortex, Sherlock vanished in one of the back doors, reappearing a few minutes later with a pair of small black masks. "The atmosphere of Brant's planet contains more nitrogen than ours," said Sherlock, handing him one of the apparatuses. "You won't be able to breathe without one of these. It'll filter the air so that it's breathable." John, somewhat reluctantly, strapped on filter. He and Sherlock could speak clearly with them on, but they were still annoying to wear—of course, John much preferred the masks to suffocation…
When the time machine landed, John clambered after Sherlock out the door, which had shrunk a bit for the time being and swung outward like the side door of a cab. Glancing back at the machine, he saw that it had disguised itself as a parked hovercraft, floating serenely about a foot off the ground where it was tethered.
He took a look around. The planet itself was a very leafy one, covered in thick, lush green grass with a single dirt road running past the shack. Rolling hills were laid out in all directions while white clouds scudded across a lavender sky. Other than the color of the heavens, John would've equated the landscape with being in Scotland. There wasn't another house to be seen for miles around—nothing but fields and the occasional clump of trees.
Brant met them outside the shack, a quaint little building painted blue with white trim, peeling and slightly overgrown with weeds. One thing that struck John very suddenly now that he was seeing her in person was the fact that she wasn't wearing any clothes. He supposed it made sense, since she was covered in fur—clothes would seem uncomfortable and possibly even pointless to her species. He still couldn't help, however, the heat that crept up his face as he saw her. She wasn't bothered, though, and didn't seem to notice his discomfort. She didn't appear at all surprised by their oxygen masks, either. "It's in there," she said, rather unnecessarily, and Sherlock nodded curtly, heading for the door. Brant, at least, seemed to have let go of whatever ill feelings she'd felt towards Sherlock only moments ago. Sherlock, on the other hand, seemed incapable of hiding the obvious look of boredom on his pale face as he stepped inside the shack. Both John and Brant followed wordlessly.
Sherlock stood still for a moment, regarding the teleportation device. To John, it looked like an empty doorframe made of polished metal with a few glowing buttons in the right-hand side. The entire structure, shiny and brand new, seemed to stand out in strong contrast with the old, wooden, slightly damp interior of the shed. The Time Lord stepped through it experimentally, but nothing happened—it was, for now, nothing more than a simple frame.
He bent, examining, to John's surprise, the area surrounding the teleport first, pulling out his sonic device and extending the eyeglass so as to see it better. "Was last night the only time you came here?" he asked, without looking up from the ground.
"Yes," answered Brant.
He straightened, but kept the magnifying glass in his hand. "And you didn't notice anything in the shed besides the teleport?"
In answer, she shook her head. Sherlock resumed his inspection without further remark, this time examining the bottom edge of the frame. John was proud of himself that he could actually guess what the detective was doing there: probably checking the ground for traces of anything Effie had tracked back with her. Whatever he found, however, John couldn't tell if it matched up with his theory or not, because he still said nothing. Keeping his silence, he moved on to the buttons on the side of the teleport and examined them carefully. John and Brant moved closer, curious.
"The two's hardly used, so obviously not her birthday," he muttered. He glanced at Brant, giving her a skeptical once-over. "Not yours, either." He turned back to the number pad, thinking. "What was the date that you two met?" he asked finally, after a minute or so.
The question seemed to take Brant by surprise, but she answered, "The fourteenth of March three years ago. I remembered the date because I had to write it down a lot on her paperwork."
Sherlock gave a little satisfied noise and punched in 140341. There was a soft beep and, suddenly, the air inside the frame seemed to be shimmering like haze over hot asphalt. John caught the distinct whiff of sulfur and tried not to wrinkle his nose.
Sherlock caught John's eye, and there was a gleeful sparkle there that John hadn't seen brighten his eye since the case of the spotted band. John couldn't see the Time Lord's mouth through the filter, but it was obvious that he was grinning. "Once more unto the breach," he said, and plunged forward, vanishing with a ripple of light into the shining curtain of the doorway. John, recognizing the reference, shook his head with a smile and followed after. Brant was not far behind.
The first thing John became aware of as he passed through the teleport (with a feeling as though he had stepped under a cold sheet of water), was the color of mustard yellow, swirling around them in great clouds so thick that all they could see of each other were vague silhouettes. The next thing John became conscious of was the fact that all breathable air seemed to have disappeared, replaced with the smell of rotten eggs. Even with the filter, his first breath filled his lungs with sulfur and he started coughing and choking, gasping for oxygen that wasn't there. Judging by the other two sounds of hacking and spluttering, both Sherlock and Brant were also having trouble breathing.
John felt a strong hand closing around his forearm and recognized it as Sherlock's as the detective, unable to speak, tried to steer him back to the teleport. They were having extreme difficulty focusing on movement, however, with their lungs burning, poisoned with each breath.
Then, suddenly, through the fog, a sharp voice barked in a rather muffled tone of voice somewhere between anger and panic, "What are you doing here?! You—oh, for God's sake—"
Sherlock's grip on John loosened a bit but didn't cease as he felt himself jostled in a different direction. He was shoved through a doorway and, after hearing the door close behind him and a long, loud hiss, he suddenly found the air breathable again. Having collapsed after being pushed, John simply lay on the floor for some time, gulping down huge breaths of air through his filter and trying to rid his mouth of the taste of rotten eggs. Sherlock was lying beside him, his face flushed and his eyes half-lidded as he, too, replenished his supply of oxygen. His hand, John noticed, was still closed almost protectively around John's arm.
When his head finally started to clear, John got a better look around at where he was. It appeared to be some kind of airlock chamber, the door through which they had just entered being constructed of heavy metal plates. Through glass panels he could see the roiling clouds of sulfuric air pressing in vain against the walls of wherever they were. A second metal door led somewhere else completely.
Standing next to them and just unstrapping an oxygen tank and mask was someone who looked very similar to Brant. She had the same furry, wolfish features, complete with the broad ears and the snout-like mouth, though her fur was colored dark brown instead of gray, and her eyes were blue. There was something meek and timid in the general appearance of her features, though at the moment they were set in a scowl as she regarded the three of them. And—was that fear as she laid eyes on Brant?
"What are you doing here?" she repeated in a slightly tremulous tone, though this time her voice was directed specifically at Brant as opposed to the general vicinity. "And who are they?" She gestured towards Sherlock and John.
John looked over at Brant, who had sat up and was looking at the stranger with a look of strained affection. "I'm sorry, Effie," she said. "I had to…"
Sherlock cleared his throat, drawing Effie's attention. "I'm Sherlock Holmes," he said, still rather out of breath, "and this is my friend, John Watson. I'm a consulting detective."
"Consulting…?" Comprehension dawned on her face, and she definitely looked frightened now as she turned back to Brant. "Why did you follow me?" she asked in a pained whisper.
"Because," said Brant, rising to her feet, "I couldn't take it anymore. I was afraid—our marriage—I thought I was losing you…"
Effie was shaking her head, her eyes welling with tears. Sherlock looked bored, but thankfully, he said nothing.
Brant's demeanor changed, becoming slightly harder and colder. "What's beyond that door, Effie?" she asked quietly, nodding her head towards the other door, which led inside the building. "What have you been keeping from me?"
"Don't." Effie was crying now, the tears spilling over her cheeks as she moved backwards, blocking the door. "Don't, please… don't…" But Brant had stepped around her and was reaching for the door. Sherlock stood, as well, with John after; as bad as he felt for Effie, he was just as curious as Brant to see what lay behind that door.
She turned the wheel in the center of the metal-plated door which, after a second hiss, swung inward. Inside was what appeared to be a bunker of some sort which had been made to feel as homely as possible. It was a single large room with picture frames hung up all across the walls, depicting everything from Van Gogh's "Starry Night" to a snapshot of Brant and Effie laughing and hugging each other. Rugs of all sorts of shapes and sizes—probably picked at random from donation centers or even from trash bins, judging by how ratty a few of them were—were laid out flat across the cement floor. The place didn't appear to have any windows, but there were drapes over the walls where there were no picture frames. A small bed sat in one of the far corners, the blankets rumpled; a section was blocked off from their view in the other far corner, presumably a bathroom; and in one of the near corners, as John saw when he looked to his left, was a simple table with two chairs. And sitting in one of these chairs, just looking up from a book lying open on the table, was a child.
It was the strangest-looking child John had ever seen, and he had seen quite a lot as of late. For the most part, it looked to be the same species as both Brant and Effie, though with yellow eyes and raven-black fur. It had the same canine features, the same ears, the same snout—however, the fur over its shoulders melded blotchily into feathers, and a pair of small fluffy bird's wings sprouted from its back. Like a recently-hatched bird, they had the same scruffy, half-molted appearance of flightless appendages that would soon grow into a strong pair of wings. Its feet, too, rather than being the thick digitigrade paws of Effie and Brant, were thin and somewhat scaly, like the bare, clawed feet of a bird. They were swinging backward and forward with the idleness of a naïve toddler.
Both Brant and Sherlock were staring, dumbstruck, at the child, their expressions unfathomable. Effie, meanwhile, had slipped in behind the three of them, and now crossed with tearful eyes to the half-wolf, half-bird youngling. Stroking the fur on the back of its neck in a protective manner, she explained in a shaky voice, "He's my half-brother. My aunt was taking care of him, but she passed away, so…"
Brant's gaze slid from the boy to Effie, but she said nothing, that same expression still on her face.
"I told you my mother slept around a lot," Effie continued, and now the words seemed to be tumbling from her mouth. "She slept with a Varen, the very same that led the group that killed your parents, and she… She had him." She ruffled the fur between her half-brother's ears, and he giggled, a little ring of pointed white teeth showing. "It was only a year or two before I met you, and when I did meet you, I didn't worry about it because he was staying with my aunt, and… I know I should've told you, but I didn't—I wasn't sure what you'd say, how you'd…"
She trailed off. Brant had stepped away from the doorframe and was heading toward them. She stooped, scooped up the little boy in her arms, and lifted him up, kissing him softly on the forehead. He wrapped his arms happily about her neck, resting his chin in the crook of her neck. More tears spilled down Effie's face, but this time they were tears of joy.
A few minutes later, Effie had instructed them to hold their breaths and had led all of them back through the yellow mists to the teleport, through which they'd stepped and found themselves back on Brant's and Effie's home planet. Effie explained to Brant that her half-brother was residing on the sulfuric moon because it was the cheapest plot of habitable land she could find. As they stepped through the portal, John noticed that she dropped a bag by the door which contained the oxygen mask and tank she'd been wearing when she first found them. Sherlock seemed incapable of speaking as he headed back to the TARDIS, so John bade them farewell instead and followed quickly after his flatmate, leaving the happy couple and the boy to their new lives.
As soon as John had closed the door of the hovercraft-TARDIS behind him, he heard Sherlock say in a low, somewhat shocked tone, "I was wrong."
John was caught somewhere between exasperation and surprise. Obviously the Time Lord had been wrong, but he hadn't expected him to admit it forthright like that. "Yeah, well," he said, pulling off the oxygen filter and following his flatmate up to the console where he stopped uncertainly, "you're only—" He broke off, about to say, "you're only human." He amended, "It happens to the best of us."
Sherlock snorted. "Not me," he said, and whatever surprise John still felt at that point gave way to half-amused frustration. "Still…" He hesitated, glancing back at John, who could see that the detective had been deeply touched by what he'd just witnessed. It was almost unsettling to see such humanity in those normally mechanical eyes. "If ever I'm reluctant to take up a case again," he said, slowly, "just remind me of this one."
John nodded. Sherlock, apparently satisfied by this response, turned back to the TARDIS controls and began to program them for 221b. "That reminds me," he said, and John could tell without looking at him that he was back to his same old self, "I've been meaning to experiment with strongly sulfuric atmospheres and their effects on human respiratory systems…"
"No," said John flatly as the TARDIS took off. He grinned in spite of himself and, once Sherlock had punched in the coordinates for home, heaved down the lever that would launch them into the time vortex.
Chapter 10: The Devil's Fear: Part One - The Known
Sherlock and John embark on a mysterious case that isn't quite what it seems.
The Devil's Fear: Part One – The Known
Name: The Doctor
Species: Time Lord
Birth Date: Unknown
Planet of Origin: Gallifrey
Known Aliases: John Smith, The Oncoming Storm
Known Forms of Transportation: TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), vortex manipulator, "Bessie"
Known Associations: Rose Tyler (see file #254), Martha Jones (see file #298), The Master (see file #301), Donna Noble (see file #342), Harriet Jones (see file #267), Wilfred Mott, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (see file #073), Amy and Rory Williams (see file #421), River Song (see file #500), Sarah Jane Smith (see file #096), Kate Stewart (see file #578)
Suspected Associations: 54th Annual Hunger Games Winner Richard Nixon, Canton Everett Delaware III, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling
Current Whereabouts: Unknown
Latest sighting: Lake Silencio, Utah, 2011, where it is reported that the Doctor met his death
John was browsing through a section of Sherlock's case files which contained a whole cabinet full of folders stolen from the Torchwood archives (not a difficult deduction; there was a line across the top of each file that said Torchwood Archive of Known Extraterrestrial Encounters). This file in particular covered everything Torchwood knew about the Doctor, the last living Time Lord in existence (besides Sherlock, of course). The file detailed all of Torchwood's encounters with the Doctor dating all the way back to Torchwood's origin in 1879, as well as certain events he was known to be connected to: "the Dalek Invasion of 2008", "The Year That Never Was", "The Year of the Slow Invasion," and one particular event known as "Doomsday", for instance.
Evidently, the Doctor had been as vague as Sherlock when it came to the Time War—the only information the file could offer on that particular event was that the Doctor "…also brought an end to the Time War, destroying Gallifrey in the process." Attached to the file, however, were eleven pictures of what John would've assumed were eleven different men. The picture on the top was of a strong-chinned man with a bowtie and side-swept brown hair, which was labeled "Eleventh Regeneration". Underneath was a spikey-haired man in a trench coat labeled "Tenth Regeneration" and they counted backwards from there. He remembered what Sherlock had shown him regarding regeneration and realized with a start that all these pictures were of the same man.
There was nothing else in the file about the Doctor's supposed death. Sherlock still spoke of him as though he were alive—then again, the Doctor was apparently a rather random time-traveller; perhaps he hadn't reached that point yet. Perhaps the event that was in John's past was in the Doctor's future (a conclusion that John was rather proud of himself for reaching without Sherlock's help).
Curious, John sought out the files of all the others. Four were deceased: Sarah Jane Smith, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Harriet Jones (former Prime Minister), and The Master. Of these, The Master was most intriguing to John. According to his file, he was also a Time Lord, but had been killed during "The Year That Never Was" by his own wife, Lucy. John was most surprised to read that his alias had been Harold Saxon, under which he had achieved the position Prime Minister. Bollocks, thought John, staring at the picture attached to the file. The former Prime Minister had been an alien?
Among the other files, one had had her memory erased and one had been trapped in a parallel universe. Only four were confirmed by their files to be alive and well in this universe: Martha Jones, Kate Stewart, Amy Williams, and Rory Williams. The two latter were married, their addresses enclosed. Martha Jones had separately encountered Torchwood and had, apparently, continued her involvement with the Institute even after her time with the Doctor. Kate Stewart was the head of the science department in the Unified Intelligence Task Force (UNIT for short), taking over after the death of her father, the Brigadier.
That left only two names: Wilfred Mott and River Song. Wilfred, apparently not important enough to include in the archives, didn't have a Torchwood file. River Song's file, however, was perhaps the most intriguing and mysterious of the lot:
Name: River Song
Planet of Origin: Unknown
Known Aliases: None
Known Forms of Transportation: Vortex manipulator (?)
Known Associations: The Doctor (see file #001), Amy and Rory Williams (see file #421)
Unproven Associations: The Silence (see file #501)
Current whereabouts: Unknown
Latest sighting: Lake Silencio, Utah, 2011
There was nothing else in her file except for a blurry picture from a security camera depicting a woman with a head of monstrous blond curls sprinting down a sidewalk next to a man John recognized as the Doctor's eleventh regeneration.
Attached to a few of the files were Sherlock's notes on each person—everything from encounters, rumors, sightings, and, most prevalent of all, things he'd learned of them that Torchwood didn't know about. Chief among these things was the casually scribbled note, "The Doctor faked his death at Lake Silencio." Also, on River Song's file, "Sentenced to life in Stormcage prison for the alleged murder of the Doctor," and, "Currently married to the Doctor."
That must be an interesting relationship, John couldn't help thinking.
"John!" came a distant voice.
God, I hope he doesn't ask me to get his pen out of his coat pocket again… "What?"
"Oh, alright," John muttered grouchily, sliding the file folders hastily back into their original order. He got up from the chair he'd been slumped in and headed out down the corridor to the console room.
"Arkansas, 2008," said Sherlock as soon as John entered the room. "Torchwood called about a man who supposedly died of fright inside of his own locked house. There were no signs of a break-in anywhere or anything to suggest who or what could've caused his death."
John's brow furrowed. "Arkansas?"
"Well, yes. Torchwood is worldwide, John. Or did you think it only existed here?"
John supposed, subconsciously, that he did. Most of the cases they'd had on Earth had been based in the United Kingdom. "So they think it might be extraterrestrial then?"
"They aren't sure, that's why they've called me," he answered, punching in a few coordinates and twiddling with a panel of switches on the console. "I don't only solve extraterrestrial cases, John. It just happens to be my specialty." And down went the lever. The workings of the machine pumped and thudded, and John knew they were leaving 221B—and 2012—behind. Or, rather, ahead.
It was only when John was standing on the victim's doorstep that he realized that at that very instant, somewhere on the other side of the planet, he was stitching up the wounded in Afghanistan. The sudden thought boggled him, and Sherlock was halfway down the front hall before he came back to his senses.
They had parked the TARDIS a little ways down the road, where it disguised itself as a tidy shed with white paint that was peeling slightly. The house in which the victim died was small and ramshackle, with a sagging gutter, a patched roof, and creaky porch steps. There was no garage, but a rusty old SUV was parked in front of the place, looking slightly sad and deject but still plenty sturdy enough to function. The owner seemed to have given an effort to keep a garden some years ago, but it had since been overgrown with weeds. Inside the screen door, it looked about as cared for as the outside. There was a splotch of mildew on the otherwise white ceiling, a table that looked like it'd had its legs chewed on by a dog, a ratty old rug, and two dusty picture frames hanging on the wall—one depicting a middle-aged, doe-eyed woman and the other a scraggly man with a long, thin nose.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Holmes," said a surly man with a head of thick black hair and a particularly heavy brow. He glanced at John, but if the doctor's presence bothered him, he didn't show it. Sherlock nodded, and the man introduced himself as Don Clarkson before leading them into the sitting room.
The walls of the room were painted an ugly blue, but it was hardly noticeable under the seemingly random assortment of framed pictures, mostly filled with the same two people whose portraits he saw hanging in the front hall. There was also a flat-screen TV of a size highly disproportionate to the district of the house, two arm chairs that looked to have seen better days, a sofa in similar condition, and a rickety coffee table. A door across the room led, apparently, to the kitchen.
The room might've been called homely had it not been for the body resting in one of the arm chairs. It was the scruffy man depicted in the pictures, sitting up in the chair with his rigid fingers still clutched around the arms of it and his expression one of deepest horror. His mouth was twisted into a terrible grimace, his eyes frozen wide and fixed on the doorway through which John and Sherlock had just entered. John faltered, frightened by the dead man's expression but too morbidly intrigued to look away. Sherlock, though he hadn't stopped as John had, was staring at the body with the same blank, faintly surprised expression.
"Freaky, ain't it?" said a voice from the door of the kitchen. "It's had that effect on everyone so far. Like his stare's holding you at the door." John managed to tear his gaze away to look at the speaker, a short, skinny, red-headed woman with a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. "Vanessa, head of Torchwood Eighteen. You already met Don—he's the medical examiner. Can't make heads or tails of it though. No sign of extraterrestrial involvement as far as we can tell, but the victim, George Redstone, was healthy as an ox before he dropped dead. His wife, Martha Redstone, hasn't been found yet—she looks to have vanished."
She seemed to have been directing her conversation at Sherlock, but the Time Lord didn't appear to be listening. John's eyes followed him across the room as he advanced, peering at and around the body. John noted that, for the first time, the detective seemed wary of touching the body. He examined it very closely under his magnifying glass, but not once did his fingers so much as brush its skin or clothing.
"Who found him?" asked John, and the woman, Vanessa, looked at him with mild surprise, as though just noticing him.
"Neighbors said they heard 'terrified screaming,' so they called the police to have a look, and… Well." She paused. "There were two other men with him—friends of his, we assume, probably over for a game of poker or something—who we think witnessed the man's death."
"You think?" repeated John.
"They aren't making any sense, see," she said. "Been driven out of their minds with whatever happened."
John was silent for a moment, taking all this in. "So—what did he die of, exactly?"
"Heart attack, so far as we can tell," she said, scratching the back of her head. "Doesn't make any sense, though. Like I said, he was in perfect health."
It seemed to take John a great effort to bring himself closer to the dead man. He bent over slightly, looking closely at the body as Sherlock had done and trying to ignore the face staring past him. The man didn't appear to have been arranged the way he was sitting; rigor mortis had already set in, and there was no way anyone could've made his face look like that post-mortem—something had to have caused it just before his death. What could have scared a man with no history of heart condition so badly that he'd died of fright? Was it even possible? A person being "scared to death" was only an expression, he'd thought. In all his days in Afghanistan, at least, he'd never seen anything like this—and if he were to see it anywhere, that would be the place.
"What do you think?" muttered Sherlock, examining the man's fingernails.
Mirroring his low voice, John answered, "She seems to be right—it's a heart attack. It looks like something scared him enou—"
"Stick to the facts, John," Sherlock interrupted. "Was the body moved or adjusted post-mortem?"
"No," replied John, holding back an annoyed look.
Sherlock moved on, taking a peek into the kitchen before walking in a slow circle about the room. He looked at the second empty chair, picking something from the fabric with a pair of tweezers and placing it delicately into a small bag; at the remote, which was on the floor by the dead man's chair; at the flat-screen TV; at one of the framed pictures; and, finally, he stopped in the front doorway, his brow furrowing. "John." He beckoned his companion over. "Do you smell that?" he asked as soon as John crossed the room.
John took a few sniffs. "Smells like rotten eggs," he said, all too familiar with the smell after the case of the yellow moon. "Sulfur, you reckon?"
"Sulfur," repeated Sherlock in a murmur, his focus sliding into the distance. "Sulfur…" His eyes were darting back and forth, as if an array of possibilities was laid out before him and he was glancing from one to another, mentally checking each one off. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he gasped, his mouth forming an "O" of comprehension. "Of course—yes, of course…"
Before John could ask what he'd just thought of, Sherlock was back in front of the body, crouching down in front of his face. He came away clutching a swab which he slipped inside of a vial and pocketed as John watched. "We're going," he announced loudly. "I'll call if I find anything promising."
"Not so fast," said a deep, gruff voice from the entrance to the front hall.
John turned. Two men were standing in the doorway, both wearing suits and unsmiling expressions. The one who had spoken—the shorter of the two—stepped forward and both brandished their IDs. "Agents Freeman and Costner, FBI," said the first. He had short brown hair, a strong square jaw, and a critical way of looking them up and down. The other one, who stood several inches taller than Sherlock, had shoulder-length hair and a tight-lipped mouth.
John looked momentarily confused as he glanced at their IDs. Freeman and Costner…? He could've sworn he'd heard the names before…
Sherlock turned to face them, his gaze cool and calculating for the briefest of moments. A second later, he had his phone out and was tapping away at it, sounding bored as he asked, "Why is the Federal Bureau interested in the death of George Redstone?"
"I'm afraid that's below your pay grade," replied the other in a self-satisfied sort of way. "Who are you, anyway?"
"We're Torchwood," said a voice behind them, and John glanced over his shoulder to see Vanessa stalking up to stand beside them. Despite the fact that she was nearly a foot and a half shorter than the second man, her dark eyes, narrowed in suspicion, gave her a rather intimidating countenance. Sherlock looked up. "And our 'pay grade' is high above yours. So talk."
They exchanged a glance. This time, the taller one—"Agent Costner"—spoke: "We received instructions from our superiors to investigate this case. They showed interest in the cause of death and believe it may be related to the recent theft of a high-security biochemical weapon."
John glanced at Sherlock. It would explain quite a lot, but Sherlock's eyes were still narrowed, and he had a slight upturning of the corners of his lips that led John to believe he knew something.
"Well, I'm afraid we don't know any more than you do, agents," said Vanessa, still coolly.
"Agent Freeman" looked pointedly at Sherlock, who still said nothing. "You sure about that?"
"Quite," replied Sherlock, and this time John knew he was hiding something. "I'd like the phone number of your 'superiors,' if you don't mind."
They gazed at each other for a moment, sizing each other up. Finally, the agent pulled out a scrap of paper, scribbled down a number, and handed it to Sherlock, who pocketed it. "John," he said, sweeping past the two agents. John, after a glance at each man, followed.
As soon as they were out of the house and a little ways down the street, John asked, "Okay, what do you know and why didn't you tell those blokes? Obviously they're dicks, but they do have the authority—"
"No they don't. They're not from the FBI."
After a split second of stunned silence, John asked, "How can you tell?"
"Their suits were cheap, and brand new, as if they'd just bought them but didn't want to bother keeping them. I caught a glimpse of the tag in the one man's collar and looked up the name of the brand; it's local, only found in this area of Arkansas. Rather suspicious, don't you think?" Before John could answer, he continued, "And the 'high-security biochemical weapon'? Please. A possibility of terrorism like that would've been a matter of national security. They wouldn't have sent in two berks to have a look, they'd have sent a whole team to confiscate the body and quarantine the house. And of course there was the gun in the one man's holster: a six-shooter, and definitely not government issue by the looks of it." John was about to say something, but Sherlock spoke over him, gesturing over his shoulder, "Then there's their car. An old clunker, well cared-for, but still old—not exactly standard rental, is it? Did you catch a look in the window when you walked by? It's definitely been lived in during the past several years, at least, possibly even their whole lives."
John waited for a moment. "Done?" he asked finally.
"With that, yes. I can't begin to guess what they want or why they're here without more facts, though I wouldn't disregard the possibility that they're involved. It would certainly explain their secrecy."
"Alright, so what about the dead man, George Redstone, then? What could've caused him to 'die of fright'?"
"'Die of fright'?" Sherlock repeated. "John, people don't 'die of fright.' They have heart attacks, they overdose on hallucinatory drugs, they suffer the effects of certain airborne poisons. 'Dying of fright' is just an expression that was used when nobody could explain such things."
"Alright, then, how did he die?" asked John.
"You said it yourself. Heart attack."
"Yes, John, I know! I know he's too young and he has no history of heart condition and he was 'healthy as an ox.' I also know that this case seems awfully reminiscent of The Devil's Foot, and—"
"The Devil's Foot?" John repeated. "Isn't that—?"
"A case, yes, from Conan Doyle's books, in which two brothers were driven mad and their sister killed from fear. Sounds a bit like our dead George Redstone and his two mad friends, wouldn't you agree?" There was a certain manic quality to the way Sherlock was speaking. John familiarized it with the detective's incredulity at how unbelievably slow everyone else's minds worked. Before John could interrupt again, he continued quickly, "There is a certain brand of airborne pathogen from the planet Krakatoom that smells of sulfur and causes its victims to hallucinate their worst fears just before their death." As he spoke, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the vial containing the swab he'd used earlier. "I swabbed the victim's nostrils. If he inhaled the poison, I can test this for it to prove it. It's a very rare poison, but it would fit the story of The Devil's Foot."
John's confused expression cleared. "Ah." He glanced over his shoulder, back towards the house. "But what would he—George Redstone, I mean—have to do with it? He seemed like any other bloke to me, no one special. How'd he run into… Krakatoom dust?"
"Exactly," said Sherlock. "We need to talk to his wife."
"I thought they couldn't—"
"—Find his wife? Yes, well, they don't have a TARDIS or a genetic sample of the woman in question." He withdrew a little baggie from his pocket and John saw that there was a single long, blonde hair.
John couldn't help a half-smile at that and neither, apparently, could Sherlock. The Time Lord was at the top of his game now; this was what he lived for, this feeling of a chase—that with every minute they were getting closer. John could see by the look in his eyes every idea that flitted through his brain, saved or discarded as easily as if they were files on a computer.
They reached the TARDIS and pushed through the shabby wooden door into the impossibly enormous interior. Sherlock bounded up to the console and pressed a tiny blue button. A long, narrow glass cylinder rose up from the console's surface and the Time Lord used the tweezers to carefully extract the hair from the bag and lower it into the cylinder. When he released it, it simply hovered there, swirling slightly as if suspended in thick, clear liquid. John watched as he flipped a number of switches, typed a few lines of instructions, and heaved the lever down.
"This will track her genetic signature and take us somewhere within five hundred feet of wherever she is at this exact moment in time," said Sherlock as he watched the ringed pillar of light in the central column slide slowly up and down. "Whether she's dead or alive, I don't know, though personally I think she's alright."
John didn't ask why he thought this, because the TARDIS touched down at that moment. "Where are we?" asked John as Sherlock examined the screen.
"A hotel not far from where we were," he replied carefully, staring at the circular Gallifreyan words written across the screen.
They both turned back to the door, which had shrunk to a size John hadn't thought possible. They could fit through it, yes, but it would take some less-than-graceful maneuvering to do so. "After you," said Sherlock, and John could've sworn he heard smugness in his tone. So, holding back a grumble, he crouched down and pushed outward on the door, clambering out headfirst. Despite his attempted caution, he fell in a sprawling heap to the floor which he identified to be concrete. Sherlock emerged a moment later with a bit more finesse as John was brushing himself off.
They appeared to be in the basement area of the hotel. Huge pipes across the ceiling hummed and trembled, and next to the TARDIS rumbled a few washing machines and dryers. The TARDIS had, apparently, disguised itself as a washer, for John looked back to see the dim light of the cavernous console room shining dully through its open door.
Only when they had both stood up, brushed themselves off, and cast a simultaneous look around for a door did they realize that they weren't alone. A tall, thin woman in a pastel yellow uniform and white apron was clutching a bundle of towels and staring openly at them in shock.
For a moment, they just looked at each other, each party lost for words. Finally, Sherlock spoke, kicking the washer's door shut before she could take notice of it. "Just inspecting your washing machine," he said, brandishing what looked like a simple leather wallet in the same manner as the two FBI agents had showed their IDs. "It's broken. Don't touch it, it could explode." The woman's gaze switched to the wallet, her expression more puzzled than surprised now, but before she could say anything, Sherlock closed it and swept past her.
"What did you show her?" asked John in a low voice as they headed swiftly up the stairs. He found it hard to believe that Sherlock just happened to have a fake washer inspector ID.
"Psychic paper," replied Sherlock, handing the leather wallet to John. "It shows people what they want or expect to see. She probably saw the card of a health inspector."
"It's blank," said John when he'd opened it, revealing a square of plain white paper.
"Yes, well, you seem to have a propensity for seeing past perception filters," said Sherlock, taking the paper back and giving John a brief, searching look, as though hoping to find an explanation tattooed in tiny letters somewhere on his face.
They emerged from the stairwell into a spacious lobby with smooth tile flooring and beige walls that accentuated the bright sunlight very well and created a pleasing effect of openness. The man at the desk, short and portly with a well-trimmed beard, looked up as they entered. "Who're you?" he asked suspiciously, sitting up a little straighter.
"Police," answered Sherlock, pulling his psychic paper back out of his pocket and flashing it at the doorman. "We're looking for Martha Redstone. Can you tell us which—"
"I'm right here," said a soft voice to their right. John and Sherlock looked to see the woman portrayed in the pictures standing just outside of an elevator. She had a slightly worried expression on her face. "What's wrong? Is it something about my husband?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so," said Sherlock, adopting a sympathetic, almost paternal tone of voice. "Your husband… died last night. I'm so sorry…"
"No," she said in a tremulous voice, her wide eyes defensive. "No, you're wrong. He's not—he can't…" But she seemed to read the sincerity in Sherlock's face, and a gasping sound like a wounded animal escaped her throat. Sherlock guided her to an armchair where she collapsed, shaking with sobs, tears streaming down her face. The pair of them waited in uncomfortable silence for several minutes until, finally, she managed to control herself enough to speak. "How—how did he die?"
"Heart attack," answered Sherlock calmly. John was astonished at how quickly and easily he could just slide into the persona of someone who was the opposite of Sherlock Holmes—this comforting figure was very different from the usually inconsiderate man that John had to deal with. Watching him act like this made John wonder whether or not he knew just how much he normally inconvenienced those around him—or did he just not care? Perhaps it was a little of both.
"Heart attack?" repeated Martha shakily, her throat bobbing a few times as she attempted to swallow back more sobs. Her brows had contracted slightly in a strained and confused expression. "B-but he's healthy—I mean, he doesn't work out, but he—he keeps in shape."
"That's why we're looking into the possibility of murder," replied Sherlock. "Do you know anyone who would want to see him dead?"
She shook her head, bewildered. "No, I mean—I don't know… He doesn't have too many friends, but he doesn't have enemies either… We're a very private family, um—what did you say your name was?"
Sherlock didn't answer. "Why were you staying in a hotel?" he asked. "We had a job of finding you."
"We had a fight," she said, and her eyes widened suddenly, her face twisting as she threatened to dissolve into tears once more. "Oh, God—the last thing I said to him—we were so angry with each other…"
Sherlock didn't seem to notice how troubled she was by this realization. "What about you?" he asked, and John heard the return of the sharper tone he usually used for interrogating suspects. "With the way he treated you, surely you would've loved to be free of him, and what better way—"
"How dare you!" she barked, suddenly rising to her feet, blazing anger heating her shining gaze. "I'd never—I didn't want this! I love him!" Suddenly suspicious, she said, "Where are your IDs? Who are you? You have no right—no right—"
Sherlock pulled out his psychic paper, but she was already pushing past them. "I'm going home," she snarled, heading for the door.
They stood there for a moment as the door closed behind her. "That went well," remarked John sarcastically.
"Come on," said Sherlock, ignoring this remark and walking back towards the stairwell. The doorman was glaring at them in a disapproving way, but he didn't say anything.
"What did you mean, 'with the way he treated you'?" asked John as soon as they were out of earshot of the man. "Was she abused?" Sherlock nodded. "How did you know?"
"I don't think he ever beat her," said Sherlock. "I saw no signs on her of bruising or afflicted injury. But he had a temper, most certainly, and she had a tendency for giving in whenever he asked for something. What did you notice about the picture frames, John?"
The question caught him by surprise. "They were all level, but they seemed a bit… random."
"They weren't," replied Sherlock. "They were all at about the same height as my shoulder. One of them had a crack in the wall extending from behind it. I'm almost certain that if we were to lift any one of those frames up, we would find evidence that the wall had been punched there. There was also a profound lack of ceramic or glass in the house, other than the windows—all the dishes in the kitchen were plastic, and there weren't any vases or ornate pottery to be found, probably because if there were, he'd grab them and throw them across the room. Then there's the TV," he added as they reached the washing machine that the TARDIS was so cunningly disguised as. The startled maid was nowhere in sight. "Rather expensive-looking, wouldn't you agree, when the rest of the house is so disheveled?" Without waiting for John to agree, he opened the door to the washing machine and continued speaking in a louder tone so John could hear him as he wriggled his way inside. "Likely she bought it as a way to make him happier. He probably hinted something along the lines that he would love her more if she bought it for him."
"So, you think the wife did it?" asked John as he made his way inside after his friend.
"No, definitely not," replied Sherlock. "Whatever he did to her, she was devoted to him. Didn't you notice how she refused to adopt past-tense speech throughout the entire conversation? Anyway, she wasn't living in constant fear of him—you heard what she said. They had a fight, and she left to stay at a hotel for a night. It was probably a common occurrence, more common than it would be in a better relationship, but it shows she could've left if she wanted to." He was adjusting the controls to the TARDIS now, piloting them who-knows-where. "It could've been one of her friends, perhaps someone who'd noticed their dysfunctional lifestyle and thought they were doing her a favor, I suppose."
"Where are we going, then?" asked John.
"Right now, nowhere," replied Sherlock, reaching into his coat pocket and once again pulling out the vial containing the tiny swab. "I want to test this first. If this was the cause of death, then it'll prove which case this is, and I'll have an idea of where to look for the killer."
"According to the books, you mean," said John. Sherlock nodded. The Time Lord pressed the same small blue button he'd pressed earlier, and the same narrow glass cylinder extended from the console. He deposited the swab inside the cylinder, where it hovered, and typed a long line of instructions. When he pressed enter, a thin line of red light ran up and down the cylinder like a barcode scanner. Then a few flashing red Gallifreyan symbols showed up on the screen, and John could tell by Sherlock's confused face that this wasn't at all what he was expecting.
"It tested negative," the detective muttered, more to himself than anyone else. "It wasn't the poison that killed him."
John voiced the obvious question hanging over both of their heads: "Then what was it?"
Chapter 11: The Devil's Fear: Part Two - The Unknown
The identities of the two FBI impostors are revealed, but all is not as it once was to Sherlock and John.
Not sure if I like this chapter as much, but I've been over it about six times with a fine-tooth comb so here goes.
For those of you who haven't watched Supernatural but are reading through this anyway, 1) God bless you. no really. there's a special place in heaven for people like you. and 2) I tried to give little explanations of things to make it a bit easier... hope it helps.
The Devil's Fear: Part Two – The Unknown
Sherlock didn't answer. "It must have been a false negative," he said, re-typing what he had tried before. When he hit enter the second time, however, there was no change.
"I suppose 'dying of fright' is looking better and better," said John wryly, but his brow wrinkled in confusion. Sherlock had been so certain that this was The Devil's Foot. "Maybe it was a different poison," he suggested. "The sulfur smell could've just been a coincidence."
"Maybe," agreed Sherlock, typing in a new set of instructions. "This will test for any other type of airborne poison," he said, pressing enter for a third time. It took a little longer to finish, but when it did, the results were negative once more. "Nothing!" said Sherlock abruptly, spitting it out through clenched teeth like a curse word.
"He could've ingested it," said John.
He shook his head. "There weren't any signs that the three men had drunk anything before they died. The dishwasher was empty, and there weren't any dirty glasses sitting on the counter or in the sitting room." He shook his head again, and John saw an unfamiliar gleam of bewilderment in the detective's pale eyes. "We'll have to go back to the crime scene. Try talking to the two witnesses, if we can."
John nodded. He doubted it would be much help, but when Sherlock was confronted with a mystery that even he couldn't solve, there was no stopping him until he'd exhausted every possibility. "We could try talking to those fake FBI agents, too," he suggested.
"Oh, yes, that reminds me—" Sherlock reached into his pocket and pulled the little scrap of paper onto which was scribbled the number of the men's "superiors." The Time Lord dialed it into his mobile and handed it to John, who took it wordlessly and held it to his ear while Sherlock began piloting the TARDIS back to where it was before.
"Agent Rickman speaking. This better be damn important," said a gruff voice after only the second ring.
John was slightly taken by surprise, but he said valiantly, "Hello, yes, this is Dr. Watson from the Torchwood Institute, we just wanted to check that the men you sent have clearance—"
"'Course they have clearance! I sent them down to Arkansas myself. Will that be all?"
John hesitated before deciding he didn't want to engage this man in any more conversation than was necessary. "Yes," he said.
"Good," replied the man harshly, and hung up without any further warning.
John pulled the phone away from him and stared at the 'Call ended' message for a moment. "Their superior agent is real," he said finally, as Sherlock didn't seem to have noticed his surprise.
Sherlock looked up from across the console. "Really? What did he say?"
"His name was Agent Rickman. He sounded pretty cross," replied John, unable to describe the encounter any further.
"They must have a third man," Sherlock concluded, but John wasn't paying much attention. 'Agent Rickman,' he'd said. Costner, Freeman, and Rickman… Where had he heard those names before…? "Robin Hood," he said suddenly.
John, who was delighted to have made a connection Sherlock didn't, repeated, "Robin Hood. You know, the movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It's on the telly every other night."
"What about it?"
"It stars Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Rickman. Those are the names the three of them used. A movie reference for God's sake…"
"Not very professional," agreed Sherlock, as the deep noise of the TARDIS told them they'd landed.
In order to beat Martha Redstone back, they time-traveled to a point just seconds after they'd left the crime scene, materializing in the exact same spot as they'd been before. They hurried back to the house; at most, they'd have ten, fifteen minutes to find out what they could and get out before the angry wife arrived.
As they stepped inside the door, however, Sherlock closed his hand around John's forearm as a warning gesture. John stopped and, after a shared glance, they inched quietly forward. In the sitting room, the two imposters were having a muttered conversation.
"…ever heard of these guys? Torchwood?"
John recognized the deeper voice of the one who called himself Agent Freeman. The other man must've answered nonverbally—shaken his head no, presumably—because the first one said, "Guess it doesn't matter. What do you think? Abbaddon?"
"Gotta be," murmured the second man. "I mean, the sulfur, the—"
John, in an effort to get closer, had stepped on a floorboard which gave an agonizingly long, loud creak. The voices in the other room halted and, realizing their game was up, both John and Sherlock stepped around the door as if they'd never stopped in the first place.
"Back so soon?" asked the first man. He looked none too happy to see Sherlock.
"Where's Vanessa?" asked Sherlock without preempt.
"Right here," said a familiar voice, and the woman in question appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. "Did you find something?"
"It wasn't the wife," answered Sherlock. "We need to speak with the two witnesses."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second," said Agent Freeman. "I thought she was lost or something. How'd you find her so fast? And how do you know she wasn't involved?"
"I'm very quick," replied Sherlock sarcastically with a glance at Vanessa, who winked. "We need to talk to the witnesses," he repeated.
"Yeah, so do we," said the taller agent, also turning towards Vanessa. Sherlock cast the two men a dirty look that no one besides John seemed to notice.
"Bit late for that," she said. "They've just been carted off to a psych ward."
"Where?" asked Sherlock quickly.
"Old Briarton City Hospital. It's not too far from here," she answered. All four of them—Sherlock, John, and the two other men—made rapidly for the door. There were several annoyed glances cast between them, but neither of them said a word as they made their way for their own rides.
Sherlock cursed quietly once they were out of earshot. "I knew we should've arrived at a later time," he muttered. "They were probably about to leave, too… Pity."
"We can just travel back in time about an hour before now, can't we?" suggested John.
"No, because the men weren't at the hospital until probably about five minutes ago. Anyway, existing in four different places at the same time is a dangerous thing to do, John, even with my amount of caution. It isn't wise to double back on your own timeline."
A couple minutes later and they stepped outside the TARDIS to find that it had cloaked itself as a custodial closet with a "KEEP OUT" sign over the door. None of the nurses or patients passing by seemed to notice the two men who clearly weren't custodians stepping outside of a custodial closet.
"She's got pinpoint accuracy," said John, his eyes landing on a sign that read Level 4 – Psychiatric Care.
"Who do you mean, 'she'?" asked Sherlock suspiciously.
"Your TARDIS," replied John, slightly annoyed.
"I've told you before, John, it's just a machine. The fact that we landed in the loony bin section of the hospital was due to my skill." He headed off down the floor. John, however, gave the door an awkward pat and muttered thanks before hurrying after his companion.
They stopped at the front desk, where Sherlock flashed his psychic paper and said, "Police. We're here investigating the death of George Redstone and we were told two men who witnessed it were brought here. May we speak with them?"
She looked closely at the psychic paper before her eyes turned shrewdly on John. "Where's his ID?" she asked.
Sherlock passed the psychic paper behind his back and showed it to her again with his other hand. She looked closely at it before her eyes met Sherlock's. "Yeah, they've just been brought in," she said finally. "Room 406."
The two men were just being settled into the room in question. Their eyes were wide and staring, not seeing anything in the room at all, John thought. He'd seen men in this condition after too long—or too much—in Afghanistan. They both looked like fit, healthy men, but he had a feeling that that wouldn't last very long. The nurse, who'd been finishing up preparations, looked up when they entered, her eyebrows raised.
"Police," repeated Sherlock. "Here about the death of George Redstone."
"Yes, well… You probably won't get much out of these two," said the nurse sadly. "They haven't said a word since they got here."
Nevertheless, she bustled out of the room, leaving them alone with the two deranged men.
Sherlock turned to the first man, stepping up to his bedside and looking the man over. "Hello," he said, his gaze fixing on the man's face. The man said nothing. "Can you hear me?"
The man mumbled something. "What was that?" asked John, leaning down to listen. Whatever the man was saying, it wasn't in English; John could make no sense of it. It was strange, though. If he'd heard it somewhere other than from the mouth of a man scared literally out of his wits, he would've guessed it was a foreign language as opposed to a stream of nonsense. The man, at least, seemed to know what he was saying—he was staring at John in utter terror. Sherlock moved onto the next man while John tried to get something out of the first. If they knew anything about what happened, however, they were in no district to talk about it.
Before they could decide whether or not it was worth staying any longer, the door opened. "…if Cas had just—" the taller man was saying, but he stopped abruptly as the two FBI imposters saw Sherlock and John inside.
The shorter man crossed his arms, shifting to stand in front of the doorway so as to block their only means of escape. "Okay, who are you guys?" he asked.
"I'm Sherlock Holmes, and this is John Watson," replied Sherlock matter-of-factly.
John would never have thought that a single expression could contain so much skepticism had he not seen it on the shorter man's face. His partner's eyebrows rose in surprise—more at their tenacity for saying such a thing than at the statement itself. "How stupid do you think I am?" asked the shorter one.
"You probably shouldn't ask him that," said John, struggling to hold back a grin.
The man raised his eyebrows. "You're serious?" Sherlock nodded. "Well, alright then, Mr. Holmes and Mr. Watson…" He hesitated before each name, clearly still disbelieving. "I'm going to have to ask you both to leave."
"And if we don't?" asked Sherlock coolly. There wasn't any point in staying since they had just been about to leave, but John decided not to mention as much in front of the other two—anyway, if Sherlock wanted to be stubborn about this, then there was no stopping him.
"We'll arrest you on the charge of impeding a federal investigation," said the taller one with just a hint of a threatening tone.
"Actually, I don't think you will," replied Sherlock calmly. "You're not actually with the FBI, and we both know it." The two men stared at Sherlock in a mixture of pure shock. "So, unless you want me to arrest you for impersonating a federal agent, you're going to tell me who you are and why you're investigating this case." A smug smile the likes of which John had rarely seen spread across his face as he waited expectantly for an introduction.
The two men exchanged a significant glance and heaved identical sighs. The shorter one said, "I'm Dean Winchester, and this is my brother, Sam. We're hunting a demon to stop the apocalypse."
Jackson, Tennessee, thirteen hours earlier
The hotel room was dimly lit, dingy, and smelled like mildew (and Dean could've sworn he heard the scratching of a rat inside one of the walls), but it was cheap, on the very edge of the city, and it was a place to stay. After their last job, even the thin, scratchy blankets looked warm and welcoming, the creaky mattress as comfortable as a cloud. Both Winchesters dumped their luggage on their respective beds, not bothering to unpack. Then Sam reached for the remote while Dean made for the bathroom.
Sam and Dean Winchester were hunters—though not the type that would sneak through the woods to shoot deer. Instead, they hunted the supernatural: malevolent spirits, demons, Pagan gods, vampires, werewolves, monsters, et cetera. If it was a danger to humans, it was killed. They traveled from district to district, staying in cheap motels and following possible omens such as electrical storms, strange deaths, "haunted" locations, and other such things. It was a rough, dangerous lifestyle, but one they wouldn't—or one they couldn't—give up.
"I'm gonna take a shower," growled Dean.
Sam didn't reply. A few moments after his brother had closed the door behind him, he heard the water running. And, a minute after that, a sudden yelp of surprise, followed shortly by a loud curse.
"Dean?" called Sam, shutting off the TV and standing, alarmed.
"I'm okay," replied Dean from behind the door, sounding exceptionally irritated. A second later, he emerged, dripping wet with a towel around his waist and an extremely disgruntled expression on his face. Just behind him came a blue-eyed man in a trench coat: Castiel.
Castiel ("Cas" for short) was an angel sent from Heaven—literally. After Dean had traded his soul to save his brother's life, Cas had been the one to drag him back out of Hell in order to stop the apparently impending apocalypse. The angels needed the Winchesters' help to stop the world from ending; so far, though, it wasn't going too well.
"Damn it, Cas," snapped Dean. "We just got back from a job, okay? We're tired. Let us sleep a few hours, at least." Even Sam, who was normally friendly towards the angel, was less than happy to see him. He'd been looking forward to a good night's rest.
"It's Lilith," said Cas without preempt.
"Another seal?" guessed Sam. According to Cas, "seals" were deeds which could be done, similar to achievements in a videogame, except with far more disastrous consequences: once sixty-six of them were broken, Lucifer would rise and the apocalypse would begin. Lilith, who was a very powerful demon, was apparently trying to make that happen.
Cas nodded. "She's trying to raise a demon named Abbaddon. It is written that Abbaddon will be freed from his prison to strike fear into the hearts of the cruel, and the blood of his third victim will break the seal."
Sam asked the obvious question: "How do we stop it?"
"We keep Abbaddon from being set loose."
"Okay, so—" Dean started to say, but he was cut off as the hotel room suddenly disappeared, replaced by what appeared to be the dark, dungeon-like basement of an old convent. Cas, apparently, had just flown them there.
"Son of a bitch, Cas!"
Sam, who was busy getting a look at the place, looked over as he heard Dean's sudden, frustrated outburst. What he saw nearly made him choke with laughter. Dean, who had been transported exactly as he was, was now standing in the middle of a dank basement, leaving puddles of hotel shower water on the concrete floor. He was still clutching the towel around his waist and was still, otherwise, naked.
"How the hell am I supposed to fight demons like this?" asked Dean, gesturing stiffly at the towel.
"We don't have enough time to fix it," replied Cas, shrugging off his trench coat and handing it to Dean. "Abbaddon could be released at any second, if he hasn't been already."
"Great," muttered Dean, pulling on the trench coat and buttoning it over his bare chest. "Just great." With great reluctance, he let the towel drop once he had thoroughly buttoned and belted the coat. "God, this does not feel right…"
Cas, however, wasn't listening. It was unusual to see the angel without his trench coat walking swiftly down the corridor, but he didn't appear to notice its absence. Sam, barely concealing a grin, set off after the angel with Dean following close behind, his gaze stewing with the typical Dean mixture of moody embarrassment.
Their haste, however, was unnecessary. The place from which the demon was released was obvious to them as soon as they laid eyes on it: a dead body lay bloody on the ground, the smeared remnants of séance symbols still marking the floor. A few flames still guttered in candles whose wax had pooled up around the wicks until it spilled over the edge, solidifying in rivulets at the bottom.
A chillingly singsong voice called, "Looking for Abbaddon? You're a bit late, boys."
All three of them spun around, searching for the source of the voice, but were unable to locate it. This only seemed to amuse whoever was talking to them, for he giggled madly. "Where are you?" shouted Dean into thin air. "Show yourself!"
Cas said warningly, "Dean…" Whoever had spoken, though, had vanished. Only an echo of their unfriendly laugh remained, and then that, too, was gone, and the basement was filled with a moment of deafening silence.
Dean, of course, was the one to break it. "What the hell was that?" he growled.
Cas could've said any number of frightening things, but possibly the most alarming answer he could've given was exactly the one that they were expecting: "I don't know."
"How can y—" Dean started to say, but he was once again cut off. "You've gotta stop doing that," he muttered angrily as they looked around to find the hotel room around them once more. Dean, with a furtive glance at Cas, stepped back inside the bathroom, where the water was still running. A moment later, he stepped back out in a pair of jeans, holding the trench coat in one hand and his shirt in the other. Cas gratefully put on the coat as soon as it was back in his hands while Dean pulled his shirt over his head.
"I don't understand," said Sam quietly, sitting down on the edge of his bed. "That wasn't Lilith, was it?"
"No," affirmed Cas. "It was something else. But that's not important right now—we have to track down Abbaddon and stop him before he kills his three victims."
Old Briarton, Arkansas, present time
Whatever John had been expecting, it certainly wasn't that. He didn't need to look at Sherlock to know that the detective was just as shocked as John was; his silence told him that much.
"You're… hunting—?" John started, unable to finish.
"A demon," repeated the one called Dean. He enunciated his words slowly and carefully, as if he were speaking to someone who didn't understand English. "To stop the apocalypse."
"Yeah, we… know it sounds crazy," said the taller one, Sam, uncomfortably.
"A demon? The apocalypse?" said Sherlock sharply. He seemed to have recovered his tongue. He started to laugh in an unfriendly way.
"Yeah, you know—the apocalypse," said Dean in an irritated manner, like he'd had to explain this multiple times already. "End of the world, doomsday, fire raining from the sky, Y2K, any of this ringing a bell?"
"You're insane," said Sherlock, but the laughter had disappeared from his expression.
The other two men exchanged another glance. "Looks like we're gonna need some help," said Dean. Then, at the same time, they both said, as if calling out to the wind, "Cas!"
John heard a sound like a cloak flapping in a breeze. He turned towards the noise and his eyes landed on a man who most definitely had not been standing there before. The stranger tilted his head slightly as he saw John and Sherlock; he didn't seem surprised or frightened or even to have any sort of reaction to their presence. Instead, he looked at Sam and Dean, his eyes questioning.
Before he could say anything, however, Sherlock stepped up to him, circling around behind him as he spoke. "What kind of teleportation device are you using?" asked the Time Lord, looking the man up and down as if expecting to see some sort of machine strapped to him. Cas's head turned, following his progress with a vague sort of interest. "I've never seen anything like it. There was no displacement of particles at all, no flash of light, no bang, nothing—it's beyond anything I've ever—"
"We do not require technology to move from place to place," replied the stranger, impassively.
John cast a glance at Sam and Dean, who both returned it uncomfortably as if "Cas" was their dorky friend they didn't want to admit they knew. "What do you mean, 'we'?" asked John curiously. He doubted the stranger was referring to either Sam or Dean.
The stranger looked past Sherlock to John. His blue-eyed gaze was intensely piercing, but at the same time seemed to be made of marble. He seemed so captivated by John that for a moment the man wondered if he'd answer. "The angels," he answered, without breaking eye contact. John blinked. Sherlock twitched. This was getting weird, even by their standards. Seeing their reaction, Cas looked to Dean. "Should I have not said that?" he asked. Something about his tone told John he'd been scolded about this before.
"No, it's okay, Cas," replied Dean with an amount of patience John hadn't realized he possessed.
The "angel" turned back to John and Sherlock, regarding them with that same expression. "My name is Castiel," he said, in such a grave tone that John had difficulty taking him seriously, "though, Sam and Dean just call me Cas."
John was half-expecting the stranger to burst into laughter and say it was all a bad joke, but the sincerity in his steady gaze didn't falter. Sherlock was the one to break the silence. Glancing from Castiel to Sam to Dean, he simply said, "Explain."
Both Sam and Dean shifted, about to say something, but Castiel interrupted before they could do so: "You aren't human." It wasn't a question, but a simple statement directed at Sherlock; and as he said it, he stepped up to the Time Lord until their faces were only a foot apart. He had this peering, distantly fascinated expression, and John couldn't help but watch the pair with raised eyebrows. Neither of them seemed to have any concept of personal space.
In a flurry of motion, Sam had drawn his six-shooter while Dean brandished a cruel-looking dagger engraved with symbols, both on the defensive. Sherlock looked at them sharply, eyes wide. John slowly raised both hands in a gesture of surrender, his heart suddenly pounding. His eyes flicked to the door, but it was blocked by the Winchesters. The window wasn't an option—they were on the fourth floor. Anyway, how could they get back to the TARDIS? They were trapped with a gun pointed at them, and all his military training was screaming at him that his death would be imminent. Why had he left his handgun at the flat…?
"Put those away," growled Castiel, turning his head to stare fiercely at the two men. "He is not a monster or a creature to be hunted."
Clearly confused, Dean started, "But you just said…" He trailed off, lowering his knife as Sam let his gun drop, pointing to the ground instead. "What, is he an angel, too?" he asked incredulously.
Amused, Castiel began to chuckle. "No, of course not," he said, as if it were obvious. His smile faded, however, as he took in everyone else's—especially Sherlock's—expressions. "This man is a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey." He nodded courteously to Sherlock. "I've met one of your kind before."
"The Doctor, I presume?" said Sherlock wryly, with a surreptitious glance at Dean.
"Who else?" said Castiel. His tone of voice was unsmiling, but his expression softened slightly.
Sherlock's gaze, however, darkened as his attention returned to the matter at hand. "So. Angels, demons, the apocalypse." His tone was as conversational as if he'd just listed off the ingredients used to make a batch of brownies. "I'm going to need some evidence."
"We just gave you some," said Dean, gesturing exasperatedly toward Castiel. "Angel of the Lord, live and in person. What more do you need?"
Sherlock's face twisted into a dry smile that John associated with preceding a nasty remark. Before he could say anything, however, Castiel reached up a hand, tapping his index finger against the center of Sherlock's forehead. Sherlock faltered and froze, eyes round in disbelief. A moment later, he seemed to recover, shaking himself out of his reverie to stare first at Castiel and then at the Winchesters with something of awe.
John, somewhat worried, attempted to voice his concern, but was cut off as Castiel stepped up to him and repeated the action. At the touch of the angel's finger, a rush of images, sounds, sensations, and emotions rushed through him. He had to take a moment to process them all. He saw the Winchesters, clearly several years younger, dousing a demon with holy water; Dean loading shotgun cartridges with salt; Sam swinging an iron pipe at an angry spirit. He saw all manner of creatures: shape-shifters, vampires, werewolves, even sirens. He felt glimpses of Castiel plunging into the depths of hell, his hand closing around Dean's arm, raising his damned soul from the grip of its tormentors. He understood the implications of this action as Castiel, as the angels, understood them. He felt the fear associated with the name of Lilith, the demon. And above all else, he felt the shadow of the impending apocalypse looming over him, despite his assurance that the earth would still be turning in four years.
He felt a hand guiding him into a chair and Castiel's voice, attempting to be reassuring: "You have my apologies for using such… crude methods. Your sense of identity and independent emotions should return to you shortly."
John sat there for a long moment, mulling everything over. The sudden transference of four years of someone else's life was disorienting—he had forgotten that he'd gone to Afghanistan, that he'd been shot in the shoulder, even that he'd met Sherlock Holmes. He forgot that the world would still be here in four years. He forgot that, just a few minutes ago, demons and angels didn't exist. And then, he remembered—or, started to. Just like Castiel said, his own opinions and feelings began to resurface the more he thought about what he'd just experienced, reasserting themselves over what the angel had given him.
Distantly, John heard Sam ask, "What did you do?"
"I showed them the evidence they needed," answered Cas. "We don't have time to waste convincing them of something we know is real."
John had just begun to rouse himself out of his daze—which had lasted, he noticed, much longer than Sherlock's—when Sherlock asked, "So, you're looking for the demon that killed this man." The three of them nodded. John's head was starting to hurt. "You know his name. Why can't you perform a summoning séance?"
Summoning séance. The words sparked a sudden stream of his new memories: those of two boys standing around a pentagram lined with candles, of Dean summoning a crossroads demon to save Sam, of Sam summoning another crossroads demon to save Dean… Many of the rituals involved blood sacrifices of some sort, but that didn't seem to affect the Winchesters much.
Castiel shook his head. "Abbaddon is too powerful."
Even Dean looked surprised. "Two hunters, an angel, and… whatever he is?" he gestured to Sherlock. "This must be one tough son of a bitch."
"Abbaddon is a demon of fear," said Castiel grimly. "In fact, he's the demon of fear. He gets one look at you and he can see everything and anything that frightens you, down to your deepest, darkest fears. And he knows exactly how to exploit them."
"So, if we summon him here…" started Dean.
"…He'll pull a boggart on us and kill us?" finished Sam.
"I'm… not sure what a 'boggart' is, but yes, essentially, he will kill us," said Castiel. "Abbaddon doesn't just cause fear—he is fear. He can paralyze you with your own emotions. He can make you so afraid that your heart stops. In Hell he's referred to as 'The Devil's Fear' because he seems to be the only demon who could make Lucifer himself feel afraid. We can summon him, yes, but detaining him… He's too strong."
Sherlock turned his head sharply to look at John, who stared meaningfully back. He knew exactly what that look meant. "The Devil's Fear" sounded an awful lot like "The Devil's Foot"—but what did that mean? They'd already proved that it wasn't any kind of airborne poison. This wasn't the direction that the books had taken at all.
"Is that how he killed George Redstone?" asked Sam, calling their attention back to the conversation. Castiel nodded.
"Great," muttered Dean sarcastically.
Everyone turned to look at John in surprise as he said, "Then what you're saying is, even if we could summon him, we couldn't take him on anyway?"
They all turned to look at Castiel, who stared evenly back at John. "Abbaddon can only be defeated by one without fear."
There was a long silence, which was broken by Dean: "Yeah, okay, I'll just check under the 'fearless people' listings in the phone book and we'll call someone up."
Sherlock scoffed. "All of you are ignoring the obvious solution," he said scornfully. "If we all attack it at once, Abbaddon will be at a disadvantage. It won't be able to focus on a single one of us long enough to cause us considerable fear, because all of us will be attacking it, distracting it."
For a moment, no one said anything. The Winchesters looked impressed; Castiel was thinking it over, his blue eyes momentarily directed downward. "That may work," he said finally.
Sherlock cast an amused glance at John, who smiled to himself for a brief moment.
"Okay, so how do we summon this guy?" said Dean.
"Let me worry about that," said Castiel. "You and Sam need to make sure that those two," the angel gestured towards Sherlock and John, "will be ready to face Abbaddon. Arm them and show them what to do."
Both brothers started to protest, but Castiel had vanished with the same flapping sound which John realized must be that of fluttering wings.
Chapter 12: The Devil's Fear: Part Three - The Supernatural
The unlikely team encounters an unexpected twist in their plan to exorcise Abaddon.
so i have a confession to make
as you can tell, i haven't been working on this one much; in fact, i just sat down to write this about a month ago, after not touching it for about two months. i've been working on other fics (namely, the destiel one that's gotten so many updates since the new year began). that's not to say i won't update this one ever again, but it may take time for me to get back into it, especially since i haven't yet exhausted my interest in the destiel fic. anyway, what i'm saying is, please stop asking me to update. aside from writing other fics, i've also got school and a job to worry about besides also taking time to draw.
other than that, i appreciate all the encouragement i've gotten from all of you regarding this fic.
finally, one little disclaimer: i wrote this before the supernatural episode "As Time Goes By" so obviously my version of Abaddon and the canon Abaddon are very, very different
Dean could hardly believe he was doing this. He lifted one of the shotguns out of his trunk and turned around, holding it out before him towards the two near-strangers who were standing behind him. Sherlock, whom Dean mentally referred to as "the asshole with the cheekbones," simply flicked his eyes down to the weapon with the look of a man who has been confronted with something disgusting that he'd rather not touch; the expression really ruffled Dean's fur the wrong way. The man-Time-Lord-whatever-the-hell-he-was clearly didn't want to be involved.
"Either of you know how to use this?" Dean asked gruffly.
Sherlock didn't answer. John, however, reached over and took the gun from him, looking it up and down with the eyes of an expert. "Improved cylinder," he said, examining the barrel of the gun. "Pump action. Hinge mechanism." He opened the gun so that the barrel pointed towards the ground, exposing the chamber. "What are in these shells?" he asked, pulling one out of the chamber and eyeing it critically.
Dean was pleasantly surprised. This guy knew his guns. "Rock salt." He saw comprehension spread across John's features as he took the shell from John's fingers and reloaded it and was left to marvel once more at Cas's abilities. Whatever the angel had done, these guys didn't question anything about his and his brother's lifestyle anymore. It was pretty damn handy.
"Smart," remarked John, also apparently impressed. Sherlock made a noise so quiet it was barely heard, but the meaning behind it was clear.
"Alright, you know what, Spock, you can kiss my ass, okay?" snapped Dean, his patience slipping. He had hated this guy right from the get-go. The way he looked down his nose at them with that disdainful expression, like everything was beneath him—every time Dean saw the guy's face, he wanted to punch it. "I didn't ask for this."
"Neither did we," replied Sherlock nastily, taking the gun and opening it up the way John had. He closed it back up and cocked it, displaying about the same level of experience, before handing it back to Dean. God, even at eye-level this guy managed to look down on him.
Dean, clenching his jaw to bite back a retort, pulled out a second gun almost identical to the first and held both firearms out, one to each of the two men standing before him. Both guns were loaded and clean. "You know what devil's traps are?" he asked sharply.
"Yes," they both said as they took their guns.
"Know how to make one?" They nodded. "Good. We'll spend some time getting the place ready before we summon this son of a bitch. If we can get it in a devil's trap, sending its ass back to hell won't be so hard."
The unlikely team found an old empty warehouse where they bunked down and worked together to set up fortifications. Spray paint was used to construct an elaborate devil's trap on the floor. Salt was poured in front of every window and door in the place, and jugs of holy water were left waiting at intervals around the room in case of emergency. They didn't have to wait long for Castiel, who showed up with all the materials needed to produce one demon of fear.
Sherlock watched the strange trio. It was obvious just from a glance that Sam, despite being taller, was the younger of the two brothers. Also obvious was the fact that they were unhealthily codependent of each other, though of the two, Sam seemed to show more individuality. The leather coat Dean wore was incredibly worn and didn't seem to sit correctly on his shoulders—it had clearly been passed down to him, likely by a father figure who had no more need of it. Then there was the necklace—it didn't have any supernatural powers, otherwise Dean would've been wearing it during his impersonation as an FBI agent; at the same time, it didn't appear to be any sort of fashion statement, either. In fact, Sherlock rather thought it was ugly. A gift, then, and very important for him to bother putting it back on after changing out of a suit. Probably from Sam, Sherlock guessed.
Sam, by contrast, appeared to have bought all his clothes for himself, of his own preference. Then there was his hair—clearly not a standard hunter haircut; if anything, it would probably be inconvenient. But he had evidently liked the look of it long enough to grow it out to such a length—again, by his personal preference alone.
And Castiel… well, even in Sherlock's eyes, the angel was a bit of an enigma. From what the angel had shown him, he knew the body he was inhabiting didn't belong to him, which made it all the more difficult to deduce anything about him. The only things Sherlock could gather were things about someone who was not an angel at all. He did observe one thing about Castiel, though: he loved that coat. It had come with the vessel, Sherlock assumed, and the angel could've shrugged it off and abandoned it somewhere a long time ago, but he kept it on, through all his travels. What that said about Castiel, Sherlock didn't know, but he took it as a good sign.
They all helped set it up. John couldn't help but wonder where his life had gone wrong as he assisted Castiel mixing the blood of some unknown animal with several other unidentified substances and a couple herbs. An hour ago, he never would've predicted himself doing something like this—but then, an hour ago, angels and demons had been nothing more than fantasy and the names "Sam and Dean Winchester" had meant nothing to him.
Sherlock, meanwhile, was helping Sam with the details of the devil's trap. "So you guys' names are really Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?" asked the tall hunter, glancing up from his work to get another look at Sherlock.
"Yes," replied the Time Lord curtly.
"That's one hell of a coincidence," said Sam, clearly inviting Sherlock to explain.
"It's not a coincidence," Sherlock stated him without any further elaboration. He didn't much feel like answering questions.
Sam, however, was clearly very curious—much more so than his brother, who was evidently satisfied enough to leave well enough alone. "Cas said you were from the planet Gallifrey." From the fact that he'd remembered the name of his home planet, Sherlock gleaned that he was either very bright or had been giving it considerable thought since he'd first heard the name uttered. "Did he mean—I mean, are you… an alien?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Yes." He pretended not to notice as Sam halted what he was doing, his gaze locked onto the Time Lord's. Then, more for amusement than helpfulness, he added casually, "Time-traveller, too." He glanced up to relish Sam's wide-eyed look of shock and smiled pleasantly.
Finally, when the preparations were all set up, they grimly took up their positions around the broad circular pattern on the floor. All of them had shotguns except for Castiel, who apparently didn't need one. The angel chanted a long stream of Latin phrases, his rough voice echoing powerfully between the concrete walls. John recognized only one word: Abaddon. Sherlock recognized almost all of them. The demon's name was stated only once, towards the end, and when Castiel finished, he struck a match and dropped it into the bowl of mystery ingredients, which combusted in a disproportionately large puff of flames.
Sherlock didn't know what he was expecting—a miasmic black cloud to materialize in the center of the devil's trap, perhaps, or a rumble of thunder so loud it would shake the floor; this was an imprecise science, after all, one on which he'd had no time to gather data. Instead, however, nothing happened. Nothing changed about the warehouse, other than that the interior temperature seemed to drop several degrees.
They waited a moment, the suspense so thick in the air that they could practically taste it. "Cas, you sure you said that right?" asked Dean doubtfully, breaking the silence. The angel nodded. "The ingredients, maybe—did you—"
"I think you might be looking for me," said a voice. Sherlock recognized it as John's, except that it was uncharacteristically cold.
They all turned to look at John. Sherlock's heart leaped and his throat constricted, a cold sweat forming on his brow in an exaggerated response to the apprehension that met him at the sight. John's eyes were a blank, cloudy white and he was smiling broadly in a very un-John-ish way. He looked around at them and inhaled deeply through his nose, letting it out in a long sigh of hyperbolic satisfaction. There was a different air about him; his demeanor exuded confidence at astronomical levels, intimidation seeping from his gaze and forming a cloud of nameless fear that seemed to swarm outwards from him, locking each of them in its icy clutches.
"Oh, I've made a real catch, haven't I?" he said, his eyes lingering on Sherlock a moment longer than the others. "You're all rife with fear. It's unbelievably refreshing."
Sherlock stared in shock at his friend, and the realization of what had happened hit him after an unusually and embarrassingly long stretch of cluelessness. John was being possessed by Abaddon.
His adrenaline gland had been kick-started and jumped into overdrive. If it weren't for Sherlock's immense self-control—and the fact that his friend was in danger—he probably would've fled then and there. The effects of the demon, he supposed. He could barely think around the epinephrine in his veins, trapped in a state of observing without comprehending. It was an unfamiliar sensation, one that only made him feel more uncomfortable. He knew he should be doing something. Hell, he desperately wanted to do something, but the fact was that he couldn't. He could only watch.
It was strange—and chilling—to see John's face worn like a mask. Every single facial muscle was being operated by another being, manipulated to its will without John's consent. And the smile that bared John's teeth was anything but friendly, anything but warm. It had control of John's face, but it was most definitely not John.
Without warning, Abaddon lifted the shotgun in John's hands and aimed it directly at Sam. Before any of them could react, he fired, and Sam was thrown to the ground with a cry of pain, the salt from the shotgun shell burying itself in his torso like chips of glass. Sherlock stared in shock, rooted to the spot as he watched John advance on Dean, the man's eyes back to their usual color though still narrowed coolly. John's shotgun was cast carelessly aside as Sam groaned and stirred, pulling himself together.
"You should be more careful with your little brother," Abaddon said with John's mouth, jerking his head towards Sam, and it hurt Sherlock to hear John's voice tipped with such sharply barbed malice. "You left him alone for too long while you were down in Hell with your friend Alistair. It's too late—he can't be saved now. Either the angels will smite him or he'll become the monster you've always known he is. Your days in Hell were wasted, Dean—you'll have to live without your brother whether you like it or not."
Sherlock didn't understand what any of this meant; the context was unknown to him. The effect of these words on Dean, however, was monumental. Combined with the aura of pure fear that the demon seemed to emanate, they froze Dean where he was, his eyes wide and his throat convulsing. He seemed to be swallowing back a scream or a sob or perhaps a yell of pain. The shotgun in his hands slowly, unconsciously, lowered.
"Not that it matters. Sam doesn't need you anymore. In all honesty, I don't think he ever did." Abaddon was examining John's fingernails as though he had not a care in the world—in retrospect, he probably didn't. "And I think we all know Lucifer will rise," he continued tauntingly. "You'll get to watch the world burn and die, alone in the front seat."
Castiel, apparently having recovered himself, moved rapidly towards the demon, his hand outstretched. Before he could get within three feet of it, however, Abbaddon turned, eyes white again. "God sees your doubt, Castiel. He's very angry with you," said the demon, John's voice resounding powerfully. Castiel halted abruptly, even taking a half-step back. The demon laughed humorlessly. "You have no faith. You know what that means, don't you? You're doomed to fall, to die a human death. It's inevitable."
Faith. Sherlock's brain was trying to tell him something, but these damn hormones were blocking everything out. Faith, faith is important. Why is faith important?
Castiel shrank away from the demon, wide-eyed. Unexpectedly, He turned and promptly vanished, leaving behind nothing but the brief sound of flapping wings as he fled. Dean's attention turned to the place where the angel had been, true panic shining through his bright eyes as he realized his friend had run off.
Somewhere in Sherlock's scrambled mind, he knew he should try to do something, but what could he do? Salt-filled shells or not, Sherlock refused to shoot John. And he didn't know the incantation that could exorcise the demon. Sam, he thought, his attention turning to the tall hunter. Sam knows it. He dropped the gun and darted behind John, dropping down next to the injured Winchester. Blood was soaked across Sam's torso, but the cuts seemed to be shallow, as he was already trying to push himself upright.
"See that, Dean? Your angel's gone," Abbaddon was saying in John's voice, but Sherlock wasn't even sure if Dean had heard. He'd gotten Sam into a sitting position, but Sam seemed to be too distracted by the prospect of his brother's fate to consider exorcising the demon. "All the angels are—or at least, they will be. And when they are, there's going to be nothing stopping us from dragging you back into Hell."
Sherlock thought he must've been hallucinating, but he could've sworn he heard the snarl of an angry dog. Footsteps padded closer, breath huffing out of unseen nostrils. He, apparently, wasn't the only one who heard it: Dean turned sharply towards the sound, searching for its source. His movements became wild and desperate as he turned, scrambling to his feet and trying to make a break for the door. Halfway there, he tripped and fell as though something heavy had landed on his back and Sherlock heard a corresponding growl as the invisible dog took him down. The detective was astonished to see real gashes appearing in Dean's skin. The dog—if it was, indeed, a dog—was using him as a scratching post. His screams filled the air as he struggled with the beast, but louder still was Sam, yelling his brother's name from where he sat at Sherlock's side.
Abaddon regarded Dean's torment, John's face set in a bored expression. Suddenly, Sam rolled to his feet, something glinting in his hand. Sherlock recognized it from the information Castiel had given him as a knife that could kill demons—but would also kill the person they were possessing. "No!" he shouted, as Sam lunged. Sherlock didn't care about the demon, didn't care about the seal or about Lilith, because they didn't matter—they meant nothing to him next to John's life.
He needn't have worried. Abaddon whirled, flinging out John's arm, and Sam was launched, as though by an invisible catapult, halfway across the room where he hit the wall with an angry crack. Then, as though he'd been rudely interrupted, Abaddon turned back towards Sherlock with a pleasantly surprised smile which quickly turned into a nasty grin. "The man of honor. Sherlock Holmes," said John's voice, striding slowly and deliberately towards Sherlock. "You're the one I need." Abaddon gave John's wrist a casual flick, and Sherlock felt as though he was jerked around the navel and thrown ten feet before being slammed against a concrete support beam. His breath was knocked out of him on impact, a bruising pain lancing through his bones. "I suppose I should thank you for saving my life just then." John's voice was low with barely suppressed excitement as, suddenly, he was right in front of Sherlock, hoisting him up by the front of his coat and holding him pinned against the support beam.
Something in Sherlock's head clicked into place. "I'm your next victim," he inferred aloud, breathless as his body recovered from playing chicken with concrete. "The way I treat people, that's close enough to cruelty for you. 'Abaddon will be freed from his prison to strike fear into the hearts of the cruel.' My death will break the seal, yes? Or at least bring you closer to doing so?"
Abaddon's smile, if possible, widened. "Bingo! I love when humans are logical. It makes it so much more of a challenge," he said with vindictive delight. He lifted one of John's hands from Sherlock's coat and made a twisting motion. On cue, Sherlock cried out; he felt as though his insides were being clenched in some giant's fist and scrambled in their space. "What are you afraid of, Sherlock Holmes, Time Lord of Gallifrey? What scares you so badly to your inner core that you die of fright?"
Sherlock didn't answer. He was staring his fear in the face, and Abaddon knew it.
The demon began to chuckle. "He's screaming at me, you know. Little Johnny's throwing himself against me like a dog trying to escape its cage. But he's going to watch you die at his own hands." Abaddon clenched John's fist and Sherlock could've sworn he felt something tear. Something gurgled up in his throat and he coughed up blood. And all the while his hearts pounded away, ever faster, ever more frantic. "See, this way, you both win. You lose faith and get scared to death watching your friend kill you. Your friend goes mad with grief because he killed you. It's the circle of life—or, something."
Faith. The word hit him again out of nowhere and he realized what it had been trying to tell him. Faith was the opposite of fear, the best thing to cancel it out. Faith in the right thing could conquer fear altogether, even if it had no grounds. That was one of the marvels of humanity.
So what did he have faith in? Not any sort of god, certainly. Science, facts, results, data, said the voice in his head, almost automatically. But even that had been thrown into doubt now, especially with the freshly-revealed existence of beings such as the one currently disabling most of his major organs. He needed something more than that, something he believed could save him. It was his only hope.
But how on earth could he, a faithless man, even concentrate on something like that when his best friend was literally killing him?
"John," he pleaded between feeble coughing. The word slipped from his mouth before he realized it, and suddenly he had his answer. "John, please."
This only elicited another bark of cold laughter from the demon, but Sherlock noticed that his eyes flicked white again. "He can't hear you," growled John's voice.
"John…" It must've been the fear, the sheer panic that made tears stream down his face. It was definitely the fear that was making his hearts beat at triple their normal rate, and still counting. If he had more sense of being, he could come up with a plan, but in this half-crazed state, with blood trickling past his lips and his breath coming sharp and fast, he barely had enough lucidity to speak. "John…" He coughed again, but he kept his eyes fixed on John's. "…Stop…"
Something changed. John's eyes flicked back to normal, but they were no longer narrowed viciously. His brows contracted in a tortured expression before his head dropped, his grip slackening. Suddenly he was breathing hard, though whether through sorrow or strain Sherlock didn't know.
Sherlock read this as something hopeful. "John?" he said.
"Sherlock," he gasped, lifting his gaze again. It was both sorrow and strain, Sherlock saw. "God, Sherlock, I'm sorry—I couldn't—Oh, God…"
Relief made Sherlock's shoulders sag. It was John, John was back and he was okay, and everything was going to be fine. And Abaddon—Sherlock couldn't imagine what it must be like to be possessed, but he didn't think it would be easy to overthrow the control of such a powerful demon. Yet John had done it for him, John had stolen back the wheel and taken charge again, all because he couldn't bear to let Abaddon continue any longer. "It's alright," said Sherlock quickly, trying to ignore the agony of internal bleeding. "John, it's alright, it's not your fault." A smile bled through his otherwise damaged expression.
John. John had been his faith, the thing he believed in above all else to conquer his fear, and John didn't let him down. Perhaps it was the hormones addling his brain, but he was deeply touched.
John's grip suddenly tightened on Sherlock's coat, his face contorting in pain. He appeared to be struggling to control something, but without much success. "I can't keep him back," he cried, his voice cracking. "You have to do something. Please!"
What could he do? He cast his gaze about for inspiration, but none came. His shotgun wasn't too far away, but what good would that do other than hold off the demon for a few minutes? Anyway, he didn't want to shoot his friend, whether it was fatal or not. "I'm sorry, I don't—" stammered Sherlock, cursing how slowly his brain was functioning.
"I can't hold him," John shouted. "Not much longer—Sherlock—" He looked like he was about to say more, but before any words could make it past his lips, he started coughing. Sherlock might've dismissed it as something caught in his throat except that the coughing continued, rapidly growing more and more debilitating. John's shoulders hunched, his head bowed, struggling to breathe as he apparently began to choke. Through the haze of the throbbing ache in Sherlock's head, he saw black smoke puffing out of John's mouth. It poured out of him, tumbling down the front of his chest and gathering in a thick black pool at his feet.
Sherlock looked up to see Sam standing several feet away with his arm raised, extended fingertips trembling in obvious strain. A trickle of blood was running from his nose and a muscle in his jaw was jumping involuntarily.
The black smoke vanished, melting into the ground with a flash of orange light. John, now apparently vacant of the demon, swayed and collapsed; Sherlock caught him and, trembling, lowered him to the ground. He was alive—that much was evidenced by his heaving chest and fluttering eyelids. He needed rest, and possibly medical attention, as far as Sherlock could tell. He wouldn't know for certain unless he got a closer look.
There was a certain stillness that settled over the scene now that Abaddon was gone. The constant thrum of terror that made their skin sweat and their muscles jump had vanished. Their breathing returned to normal. Dean had stopped yelling and was lying on the ground, panting as he checked himself over. Sherlock blinked in surprise; the gashes he thought he'd seen earlier had disappeared, leaving behind skin as unblemished as it ever was. The invisible dog must've been a fabrication. Sam, looking a little weak in the knees, stumbled over to his brother.
Sherlock, meanwhile, struggled to lift John up into a sitting position and moved him so that he was leaning against the support beam. "I'm sorry," John was muttering between breaths, "Sherlock, I'm sorry…"
The detective hushed him softly. He was aching from head to foot and could still feel blood oozing up his throat, but his injuries were repairing themselves already. With a few days' rest, they'd both be fine. "Don't be," he said. His voice was raspy, but soothing. "It's alright, I know it wasn't you." He glanced up to make sure the Winchesters were busy with each other before leaning in closer and murmuring, "You were very brave, John. You stopped him." John didn't smile, but his eyes shone in pride and gratitude. Sherlock pulled his friend into a tight embrace, his throat unexpectedly constricted with emotion. "Thank you."
Dean considered the flask he was holding for a moment before slowly unscrewing the cap and promptly dumping its contents on the man strapped to a chair before him. The holy water splashed down onto its target, who screamed, his skin steaming at its contact.
"I'm not gonna ask you again," said Sam dangerously, waving Ruby's demon-slaying knife in front of the man's black eyes. "Where's Lilith?"
It had been four hours since they'd faced Abaddon. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson had left shortly after, the Time Lord supporting his companion despite the injuries he himself had sustained. His resilience was admirable, and Dean didn't overlook the surprisingly tender way with which he spoke to his friend. Cas had showed up moments later, apologizing profusely for his cowardice. Dean and Sam had patched themselves up as best as they could—Sam had gotten the worst of it, in the end. Dean had thought he was being mauled by a hellhound, but as soon as Abaddon was exorcised, the thing vanished, as well as the lashes it had caused. Sam, meanwhile, had bits of salt shells stuck in his chest that Dean had to pry out one by one.
Dean wasn't happy with Sam for using his psychic mojo, but he didn't know what else they would've done. As hard as it was to admit, it was a smart move to possess one of their own, and Dean didn't know why he hadn't considered it sooner. He could've at least had Sam draw an anti-possession symbol on their hands or something.
He and Sam had run into a low-grade demon who'd wandered into the city, following after Abaddon. It hadn't been a match for them, even with Sam still recovering, and they'd managed to confine it to a devil's trap, where it had since spent most of its time cursing at them.
The demon cackled. "You're barking up the wrong tree," it hissed through clenched teeth as the holy water continued to sizzle its flesh. "She's a long way away from here. She just sent me to investigate."
"Investigate?" repeated Sam.
"The seal, dumbass," said the demon. He glanced at both of them as though making sure he had their full attention before adding with obvious relish, "She didn't break it."
"What do you mean, 'she didn't break it'?" Dean growled.
The demon sneered. "She didn't give any orders to release Abaddon. It wasn't her."
"Then who was it?" snapped Sam. When the demon only laughed again, the Winchester drew a long line down its arm with Ruby's knife, causing it to scream. "I said, who was it?" yelled Sam, more forcefully.
The demon, panting now, looked back and forth between them with beady eyes. Finally, it spoke a single word: "Moriarty."