Chapter 1: Chapter One: Roads Untraveled
A Complement of Shadows
Chapter One: Roads Untraveled
The wound on his shoulder was itching like mad and, to add insult to literal injury, the nurse they had sent to treat it this morning kept talking his ear off about the most inane topics. John tried to ignore her, but she just kept droning on and on. Being on the other side of the doctor/patient equation was grating his nerves badly enough without the addition of this perky irritation. He fought to keep his wince at the nasal squeak of her voice and his displeasure at not being the one doing the bandaging hidden. Thank god she was almost finished.
“So,” the aforementioned annoyance chirped as she applied the final layer of gauze, “how excited are you for tonight?” She paused leadingly, obviously expecting some kind of reply.
John angled his head to find her beaming at him. The gilt lettering on her badge formed a barely legible ‘Mary’, but he mentally tagged her ‘Nurse Annoying’ in lieu of her name. He wondered vaguely what she was nattering on about now. The Rehabilitation Center tended to hold what he privately thought of as brainwashing sessions disguised as morale building exercises every other day or so, and he assumed that was what she was referring to. He considered for a brief moment if his therapist had mentioned a specific Nazi cheerleading program planned for this evening, but came up blank. Nurse Annoying was still staring at him eagerly, but John found he couldn’t muster the energy to respond so he kept his face smoothly disinterested. Maybe if he ignored her, she would go away.
She gave an irritated huff at his blank expression. “The Packs are coming tonight!” she exclaimed when it seemed clear he wasn’t going to answer her. “They’re interviewing all of you newly-turned wolves so you can be claimed before the next full moon!”
John blanched internally at the thought of being ‘claimed’ like a piece of luggage, but thankfully managed to keep that to himself.
“It’s so exciting!” The oblivious woman continued, “I’ve always wanted to be turned, but I’ve never been lucky enough to find a wolf I’m suited for! I’m registered with the Packs for genome matching of course, but you know how rare finding a compatible selection is!”
John nodded despite himself. He wasn’t surprised she hadn’t found a match. Statistically speaking, you were more likely to be struck by lightning than catch lycanthropy via a wolf bite. Most werewolves were born, not made, and in order for a wolf to turn a regular human a truly remarkable degree of genetic compatibility was required, along with a release of bonding pheromones at the time of the bite to trigger the change. If you weren’t compatible, it would either kill you or bind you to the wolf as a thrall - a process known in popular slang as ‘snaring a rabbit’.
While a wolf could choose to regulate the bite’s influence and use it to mark people as family or pack mates without negative impact, unregulated biting was a popular war-time tactic. In all but the rarest of cases, a snared rabbit’s will was completely subjugated, making them the perfect spies and assassins. John was all too familiar with this process, since it was what the Afghani wolf who had mauled him had originally intended.
A memory of Jennings, his former unit’s shaman, falling to that wolf’s fangs as she healed a bullet to his leg, flashed behind his eyes and made him grit his teeth. The sound her spirit animal Neela had made as she fell still echoed in his nightmares, and the sight of the little lizard crumbling to dust as she wailed was a horror that would never fade. It disgusted him, how people fawned over werewolves and romanticized being turned. As if having enhanced senses, being faster, stronger, and healing quicker made you a better person. Centuries of careful breeding may have insured the Packs held the majority vote in the House of Lords, but in John’s mind the status the public associated with getting furry every full moon was ridiculous. Weres were people, like everyone else, and being turned didn’t mean you were suddenly a rock star or the Queen.
In the movies, getting bitten was the key to fame, fortune, and happiness. For John, the reality had meant dead friends, a wound that wouldn’t heal, and the loss of the job that he had defined himself by. The little idiot in front of him bemoaned her lack of a compatible wolf. John just wished he’d saved a couple pieces of his big enough that a necromancer would be willing to raise the bastard so he could gut him again.
Unaware of John’s discontent, she continued, “My cousin Janine was turned last year and actually presented as an Omega! Isn’t that wonderful? She and her mate are expecting their first pup at the end of the month. Her mate’s House has been so generous with us, we actually get to come visit her and the baby after the little one’s Pack bond settles!”
She finished bandaging his shoulder and began packing away her supplies. “She’s lucky the Pack gave her to such an awesome House. I’ll be honest, I’m so jealous of her. We were always competitive as kids, but she’s really come out ahead as adults! First her bite takes despite only a borderline genetic match, and then she presents on top of it and gets a handsome Alpha just handed to her! It’s like something out of a fairy tale!”
She gave a wistful sigh and then regarded him flirtatiously, “You haven’t registered yet, have you? Maybe we’re compatible!” She raked her eyes over his seated form, “You’re definitely cute enough. The gold and silver hair makes you look distinguished and I love your eyes! Do you think you’ll present as another gender once they take you off suppressants? You should be fit to run by the next full moon and they say the Turned can always tell in advance!”
The question threw John for a loop. He’d been such a broken, depressed mess since he’d been discharged that he hadn’t given his new circumstance much reflection. It had never occurred to him that he might undergo the transformation from Beta to something else.
It was common knowledge that the regional pack groups met only once a season, and the upcoming Hunter’s Moon would be the event for autumn. He knew that if he attended tonight, he could expect to be chosen and invited to join the London combined Packs to run on the next full moon. As a Beta, it was likely that he would be courted by any number of Packs. He was a soldier and a doctor, and even though he had no specialized training in lycanthropic medicine, that was an issue easily sorted.
But he knew, without being entirely sure how, that he was no longer a Beta. He tried to picture himself as an Alpha, but it felt inherently wrong. Discordant, like fingernails scraping across a broken chalkboard. There was something hollow and aching at the core of him now. He had thought it was just the depression from losing the life he had chosen for himself, but having been forced to question it, he knew that wasn’t the case. Once the suppressants left his system he would present, and it would be as an Omega.
John’s blood ran cold. That was a level of complication he hadn’t even bothered to consider. Regular humans came in two flavors - Beta male or Beta female. Born wolves were mostly Beta as well, but occasionally one presented as an Alpha or Omega at puberty. Alpha & Beta females and as well as Omega of both sexes were both capable of giving birth, but while birthrates amongst born Alpha/Beta wolves were less than a fiftieth that of regular Beta humans, Omega wolves were so hyper-fertile that only the most high grade prescriptions would work as contraception. Since the strength of a Pack was dictated by its numbers, Omega wolves were a highly coveted prize. He thought back to his Gender Physiology classes from college. If he remembered correctly, less than 20% of the werewolf population presented as Alpha. Omegas were born to only Alpha\Omega pairings and represented less than 1% of the Alpha numbers. Turned Omegas were even scarcer.
This realization was a further shock of ice shivering down his spine – turned Omegas were practically unicorns. Everyone had heard of them, but they were so rare as to be virtually mythical. If Nurse Annoying wasn’t lying, then her family was no doubt paid a small fortune to relinquish their rights to her turned Omega cousin. The fact that the family was apparently being allowed to visit the girl was also unusual. Historically, Omegas were isolated from everyone but their bondmate and children until they were too old to breed. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s had loosened the chains holding Omegas enough that they were no longer legally required to be bound to a Pack, but it had done little to curtail the blatant horse-trading of those who already were. John knew if he was discovered as an Omega, he would be battled over by the Packs like a bloody trophy and then locked away like a princess in a tower to be a brood mare for the rest of his life. The nightmare he was currently living was bad enough; this extra layer of hell was not one he was willing to endure.
He realized suddenly that Nurse Annoying was still looking at him hopefully. Clearing his throat, he gave her a rusty smile. “Sorry,” he said, lying happily through his teeth to dissuade her, “just another boring old Beta here.”
She frowned, disappointed by his answer and not at all mollified by his fake smile. “Just my luck,” she grumbled and patted him on his good shoulder with a plastic grin. “Was there anything else you needed, Mr. Watson?”
John stomped on the impulse to bare his teeth at the unwelcomed touch and her intentional slight of his title (as if she hadn’t read it on his chart when she came in). “No. Thank you for your help.”
She dismissed his thanks with a distracted wave as she slipped from the room. He breathed a sigh of relief as the door swung closed behind her and launched himself from the bed to rebind his wound. When he pulled back the final piece of tape, his shoulder was an angry mess of weeping, ragged tissue. Black lines of aconite poisoning radiated from the injury, a legacy of the wolfsbane tincture he’d been doused with by a well-meaning squadmate too late to stop the bite from taking. The bullet wound on his leg that Jennings had died healing still ached enough that he had to use a crutch to walk, despite the fact that there was no real damage left. Not the best shape for going on the run, but it would have to do. Briskly, he completed redressing the bandage and took stock of his resources.
In the closet he found his military rucksack and filled it quickly with his meager possessions. From under the springs of the bed he removed the service weapon Bill Murray had smuggled in for him the sole time he’d been able to visit. Bill, who had carried his bleeding, half-transformed body to salvation, understood firsthand how stressful he found being unarmed. John tucked the weapon down the waistband of his trousers and hid its outline under his weathered oatmeal-colored jumper. The window in his room was too small to climb out of, but he was able to use it to dump his pack into the bushes outside.
While he hadn’t bothered to read the majority of the oh-so-helpful documentation the Center has provided, as a doctor John knew that medical privacy regulations protected him from public disclosure of his condition as long as he wasn’t bound to a Pack. Once he was bound, he would be registered regardless of his consent, but in the interim if he could get another doctor to sign his release papers, then they couldn’t legally hold him. It had been a while since he had last seen Mike Stamford, but he had shared a flat with him and his lovely wife, a Pack-less Alpha wolf named Anna, during their final year of residency. If anyone would be willing to help him, it would be Mike. Last he’d heard his old friend was still teaching at St. Bart’s, the hospital the Center was connected to. John had done his residency at Bart’s, so he knew the ebb and flow of the hospital’s pulse. It was easy enough to beg free of his minders for a walk in the courtyard and slip away to lose himself in the crush of people rushing through the public areas.
He hadn’t realized how sterile the Rehabilitation Center was until he made it into the hospital proper. Intellectually he’d known the RC was a Sentinel-rated facility, created specifically for those with the most enhanced senses and empathic abilities, but as a regular human he’d never been able to tell the difference it made. With his newly-enhanced Were senses, moving out of the shielded rooms was an explosion of cacophony in his head. The cloying miasma of drugs and sickness clogged his nose, and a bitter tang of worry sprinkled with tears battled the heavy pall of putrefaction to coat his tongue. The roar of a thousand voices dancing with the angry whir of machinery overloaded his ears and the unfiltered lights burned his eyes. He found himself leaning unsteadily against the wall of the building, trying desperately not to be sick.
“John!” A voice broke through his daze, “John Watson!” He concentrated on the voice’s source and slowly the haze cleared enough to reveal a slightly rounder version of Mike Stamford than he remembered, hovering worriedly at his side. For the first time since he was shot, John gave a genuine grin. Maybe his luck was finally coming around...
Chapter 2: Ultimatums & Brotherly Love
Mycroft tries to convince Sherlock to see reason. It goes about as well as you would expect...
“Mummy will retire as the Sentinel of London before the end of the year.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes at his brother’s pronouncement but refused to take the bait. Of course he knew her retirement was coming. Sentinels became active after a combination of puberty and a trigger event - usually either meeting their destined guide or some kind of trauma - and the loss of the hormones associated with fertility caused them to become inactive. Their mother was late to menopause, but she was finally reaching the end of the process and, once she did, her Sentinel abilities would go dormant.
“Fascinating,” Sherlock drawled as he reached blindly for the mug of tea he knew sat waiting on the coffee table beside him. “Perhaps next you’ll tell me that the world is round and water is wet.”
“I say this,” Mycroft ignored his sarcasm and continued, “because your flat refusal to consider any of the Guides the Council has presented means that there will be no one to succeed her. Surely even you can see that the time has come to give up your childish search for your soulmate and accept a bond. I would not see you lost to madness and all Mummy has worked for destroyed because you will not abandon your dream of a pre-destined Guide.”
Frowning, Sherlock swung his legs down off the couch and sat up from his formerly-comfortable reclining position. He contemplated his brother’s words over the rim of his mug. He had been online since his mother had challenge the former Sentinel of London for his position over two decades ago and he had retaliated by having her youngest child kidnapped and tortured to dissuade her. The fool had sadly misjudged his opponent. Mummy had eviscerated the man in the Regent’s Park challenge ring and the then-eleven-year-old Sherlock had shocked the world by shifting early, becoming the youngest active Alpha Sentinel ever recorded, and slaughtering his captors.
In the years since, his lack of a Guide had been a continuously simmering point of contention and he was honestly a bit shocked that Mycroft would broach the subject so bluntly. No other Sentinel had survived as long as he had unbound and remained sane, but it was no secret that even his iron control was beginning to waiver. He’d begun to lose count of how many times within the recent months he had lost himself to a zone and awoken to find he’d been ferried home by either his brother or the members of his homeless network. Loathe as he was to admit it, the situation was beginning to get desperate.
The Pack and his House had been trying to find a compatible Guide since he had manifested with no luck. He could privately admit that there had been some with whom he could probably have forced a bond, but he found most people tedious on a good day. Identifying one he could tolerate inside the sanctity of his shields was difficult at best and the thought of allowing someone other than his destined Guide into his mind palace was positively abhorrent. And he knew he had one - the instant his senses had sprung to life, he had felt the void his Guide would fill open up inside him. There were times when he caught echoes of his destined mate floating across the emptiness between them, and the little glimpses of dreams and emotion entranced him. So few had the capability to do so and the knowledge that somewhere a person existed who was born to be his compliment, someone who would understand and accept him for himself, was the most enthralling thing he could imagine. He had decided long ago that he would accept no substitute for his destined Guide, no matter the cost.
Mycroft knew this. Before their relationship had deteriorated, they had spent long hours discussing his situation. For years, he had backed Sherlock’s rejection of the prospective matches the Council had presented him with. To have him suddenly change his tune was an unwelcome surprise he reluctantly had to admit he hadn’t expected.
“The Council Elders have funneled millions of pounds into identifying the gene sequences tied to lycanthropic compatibility, and you have been introduced to the majority of those in Europe with the identified Guide markers to no avail. We can no longer wait for your imaginary friend, Sherlock. Events are coming to a head and you must be bonded. Not only for your sanity, but for the good of the Packs, the country, and our House.”
Sherlock snorted at his perceived melodrama, but Mycroft pushed on.
“This is not a laughing matter, brother mine. The Packs have enjoyed twenty years of relative peace since Mummy rousted that psychopath and took control of London. Leaving the Sentinel seat with no heir will destroy that. Already there have been rumblings among the Elder hierarchy of different factions who intend to vie for the post. My sources have also uncovered traces of a new rogue element that I have been unable to fully identify, but evidence leads me to believe that certain members of the more powerful noble Houses have already begun to covertly lend it their support. The Packs will go to war if we cannot present a solution and, if the situation cannot be quickly contained, then the rest of England may soon follow.”
“As if one little country going to war affects you,” the younger Holmes scoffed sullenly.
Continuing as if he hadn’t heard the petulant response, Mycroft said softly, “If I were a Sentinel, I would take this for you, brother. But as I am not, there is no other this task may fall to than you.” Drawing out a slim portable hard drive from an inner jacket pocket, he placed it on the coffee table in front of Sherlock. “Here are the profiles of every currently known, registered Guide in the global system. I have had the tests run and your closest match is 92% compatible - an Omega by the name of Irene Adler. I believe she’s a compatriot of your old…friend…Victor Trevor.”
Sherlock refused to react to his brother’s significant pause. Mycroft had never approved of his relationship with the Trevor Alpha and he refused to have the same argument again, but he acknowledged silently to himself that the fact this Irene was apparently an associate of his might not necessarily be positive.
“You’re wasting your time bringing me a woman’s profile,” he sneered. “I’ve told you. My mate is a man.”
Now it was Mycroft’s turn to roll his eyes, “You’re basing that on ephemeral dream fragments and intuition which, for all you know, could be wishful thinking based on your preferred gender for sexual partners. Hardly your most sterling deduction, brother dear.”
Reaching out with his ever-present umbrella, he tapped the portable drive. “For once in your bloody life, do the reasonable, sensible thing. Read the files. Find someone who won’t strangle you in your sleep and present them to the Elder Council when the Packs meet in Regent’s Park for Hunter’s Moon. Give Mummy what she has always wanted - you, sane and safely bound, standing ready to inherit her seat.”
“It’s funny that you think that’s what she has always wanted,” Sherlock drawled. “My understanding was that her only wish for her children was that we should find the same happiness she has enjoyed: a life spent with her True Mate and Soulbond.”
Stymied by the truth of his brother’s statement and frustrated by the man’s stubbornness, Mycroft used the tip of his umbrella to flip the drive off the table and into his lap. “Hunter’s Moon. Regent’s Park. I’ll tell Mummy to expect you.”
Baring teeth which had sharpened to fangs, Sherlock growled at him. “You should tell her to stop putting out the lemon cake with afternoon tea. You positively reek of it and you’ve put on ten pounds since I saw you last.”
“Charming,” Mycroft jeered as he turned and exited the flat.
Sherlock tossed the drive into his chair and flopped back down onto the sofa. Closing his eyes and invoking a familiar meditative technique, he found himself in the room of his mind palace where he stored the flashes he got from his Guide.
Tea and steady hands. Heat that shimmered behind slate blue eyes. Gun oil.
He came out of his trance with an amused snort. Tea and gun oil. What a bizarre combination.
“Whoever you are,” he mused aloud, “at least you’re not boring.”
Chapter 3: A Glimmer of Sunshine
John gets his first ray of hope since returning to London.
John smiled gratefully and thanked Mike for the cup of coffee he slid in front of him. The scent of fresh baked bread and roasted beans in the small cafe they had escaped to were a welcome reprieve from the stench of the hospital and he couldn’t help but savor his first taste of free air since he’d returned to London.
Mike watched him breathe in the steam from his mug for a long moment without comment. Finally, he shook his head with a rueful chuckle. “You a werewolf,” he said wonderingly. “Anna is just going to die when I tell her.” When they had all been roommates, Mike’s wife had always found it odd that he had never gone to the Center to register for genetic matching. During the late nineties when the technology had originally become available, it had been very popular with pretty much everyone past the age of majority to go in and sign up to be tested, but John had never seen the point. He had always been happy being a regular human. To have him be one of the rare cases to survive an unsupervised change was particularly ironic since he was one of the few who hadn’t actively sought out lycanthropy.
He accepted the irony with a shrug. He understood Mike’s amusement, even if he didn’t share it. “Thanks for getting me out of there.”
Mike waved his gratitude off. “Don’t thank me; all I did was sign some forms. You’re the one who’ll have to jump through the real hoops. “
Grimacing at the truth of that statement, John sipped his coffee. The RC had regretfully released him at Mike’s request, but they hadn’t made it easy. Since John had declined registration, he was ineligible to continue receiving the suppressants that kept him from turning. The pills were considered Class A controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act and without the doctors of the RC or a Pack to oversee his usage, he wasn’t allowed them. In order to keep his medical license, he would have to prove to the NHS that his personal control was sufficient without them and that he was adjusting well to being a Were. That meant he would have to see a Center approved therapist until they gave him the all clear. Thankfully he’d refrained from any outbursts during his rehabilitation, so they had no grounds to suspend his license thus far; he would be able to practice medicine on a probationary license until the therapist was convinced to sign off on the fact that he wasn’t going to go rogue and start eating random pensioners.
“The full moon is only about three weeks away,” Mike stated matter-of-factly. “Without a Pack, you don’t have any territory to run. What are you going to do? I’d offer to let you stay with us until you get settled, but it’s just not feasible with Anna’s pregnancy winding down.”
John didn’t have to ask what he meant. Female Alpha pregnancies were rare and exceedingly high risk. The last trimester found the majority of them confined to their homes as the territorial urges became too overwhelming for them to abide anyone other than their mates and immediate pack members. The physical and psychological stress was so great the most spontaneously miscarried before they could bring the child to term. Having another wolf in her territory during this volatile time would be more than Anna could bear.
“Don’t worry,” he replied, “I have some savings and my pension. It’s not much, but hopefully I’ll be able to find a cheap flatshare and some locum work to hold me over until I can get cleared by the Center therapist.”
“You know,” Mike said as he tapped his lip thoughtfully, “I may have someone who can help you…”
Two Weeks Later…
“That was your last scheduled appoint for the day, Dr. Watson,” the nurse said as she stuck her head in the door.
“Thank you, Melanie,” John replied as he stripped off his gloves and dumped them into the hazardous waste bin. He turned to wash his hands, watching the faucet shudder as he twisted the taps. The plumbing in these old buildings was always temperamental but he was just happy to have been assigned to one of the examination rooms with running water for the day.
When Mike had said he might know someone who could help him, the last thing he had expected was to find himself in the middle of the Pens practicing medicine in the dilapidated remains of a Victorian warehouse, but two weeks later here he was. Before his change, John had only been academically aware of the Pens. During the Industrial Revolution, when many of the regional werewolf packs had transitioned from noble entitlement to industry, it had been a popular practice to round up London’s poor and mentally challenged under the guise of social reformation. The wolves would bite their captives in the hope of either snaring rabbits, thereby spawning a fleet of mindlessly willing workers, or, infinitely more rarely, turning them. A pack’s might was measured by its numbers - any wolf who managed to turn a rabbit who survived the change was able to add to their pack and more members meant more prestige. While today finding the right amalgamation of genetic markers necessary to create a new werewolf was a rare event made more feasible via genetic research, during Victorian times it was completely happenstance. Any wolf who wished to grow their pack’s influence had little choice but to bite as many people as possible and the workhouses gave them the perfect excuse.
John didn’t have any trouble imagining how horrible it was to be one of those poor souls who survived the agony of their turning only to be ripped from their families and subjugated by Pack law. Low-born wolves of the time were used for everything from political transfers to marriages amongst other packs to breeding, depending on what secondary sex they presented with after turning. It was unsurprising that a high number of Turned had fled the workhouses for the streets rather than be torn away from their loved ones. More than a hundred years later and the Pens still existed as a large warehouse district of slums boasting the highest concentration of Packless in all of England.
NHS funding for small clinics could be problematic and it was a continuous struggle to get backing for one in in such a bad section of town. When Mike had introduced him to Sarah Sawyer, the doctor who ran the facility, John had thought she was going to hyperventilate at the thought of having him join the staff. It was almost unheard of for a werewolf doctor not to have a specific pack affiliation and most of the Packless refused to be seen by anyone associated with the London Hierarchy. When John thought about it, he realized the only other unaffiliated Were doctor he had ever heard of was Annie, and she had grown up here in the Pens. Even formally uncertified to practice pack medicine as he was, the mere fact that he was a wolf meant that the word had already spread like wildfire that one of the Packless was on staff in the Pen’s only remaining general surgery. Lone wolves all over southern England were lining up to get an appointment.
John had been horrified when confronted by the number of people who were either unable or unwilling to accept treatment from a completely human doctor. If he hadn’t been forced to remain in the Center’s care for so long, he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it at all. As it was, he was forced to admit he understood. Werewolves were apex predators; allowing what amounted to prey close enough to put their hands on you, to trust them with your health and well-being, made the wolf inside him restless and disgruntled. It wasn’t that he couldn’t control his reaction and ignore it, but he just really, really didn’t like it. He could only imagine how someone without his military training would react to the squirming wrongness provoked by the feel of an unknown person’s touch against his skin. At least with other wolves, the beast inside recognized its kindred. John had found there was always an awkward bit of negotiating that followed meeting another wolf where you had to either establish your dominance or submit, but his military training served him well and he had yet to meet a Were he couldn’t stare down in order to treat them. He wondered if that would still be the case after he presented.
John jerked his head up from contemplating the flow of water over his fingers and twisted towards the door.
“Are you planning to take any after-hours tonight?”
Even if she hadn’t been a friend of Mike’s, John thought the after-hours program Sarah’d instituted for the clinic would have made him like her. Too many of the homeless in the Pens had no way to register with the NHS for a local GP and the walk-in centers were limited in what they would treat. Sarah had worked a miracle and received dispensation from the Packs’ Elder Council and the NHS for the clinic doctors to volunteer to treat these individuals on a case by case basis outside their normal business hours. Most of the doctors took at least one pro-bono case a day but John, consumed by the emptiness of his grey little flat, would take as many as he could pack in before Terry, the evening shift nurse, kicked him out.
“Yes, of course,” he said as he briskly toweled his hands dry. “Who’s on the docket?”
Melanie consulted her clipboard, “I’ve got Megs from the south side with a broken wrist, Slynk’s come down with what looks like a respiratory infection and Billy.”
“Billy again?” John sighed. “What this time?”
The woman rolled her eyes, “Claimed doctor\patient confidentiality and wouldn’t say.”
Shaking his head, he sighed again. He was beginning to think the young wolf had developed a bit of a crush. The boy had been attacked by one of the wandering shifter gangs and had managed to drag himself into the clinic the day after John had started work there. The well-meaning nurses had managed to spook him into shifting. John, who had been filling out patient paperwork at the desk had leapt into action immediately, carefully subduing the injured Were and talking him through turning back. The change had taken care of the majority of the damage and the doctor had carefully stitched up the rest. Ever since, Billy had been a fairly regular visitor to the clinic and flatly refused to so much as speak to anyone but ‘Doc’, as he was beginning to be known in the Pens. “Fine. Send Megs in. I’ll deal with Billy last.”
“You got it, Doc!” She said with a wink as she ducked out the door.
“Not you too, Mel!” He called to her retreating back at the use of his Pens moniker.
She was still chuckling as she shuffled a timid Megs into the room.
Chapter 4: Darker Day
John's not doing as well as it first appeared...
Thank you, friends, for your interest in this story! I appreciate the response this has received so much! You are all wonderful!
I will be going to 221B Con this weekend, so the next chapter may be slightly delayed. I'll be cosplaying with a group of ladies as Victorian Hogwarts Houses on Saturday, so if you stumble across a bustled Slytherin feel free to stop me and say hi!
John closed the door with a weary sigh and shrugged out of his coat. The pallid light from a streetlamp drifted through the thin curtains of his flat’s only window. As a human, it would have been too dim for him to navigate, but now he had no trouble seeing. Not that there was much to see; his current accommodations consisted of only a main living area and an attached bathroom. A small kitchenette, just enough for him to make tea and heat up a cup of noodles, lay opposite the entrance and the remainder of the space was taken up by a desk area, a bed, and a small dresser for clothing. With the lights on, the walls were a dingy, muddled grey that spoke to years of neglected misuse from tenants and owners alike.
He carefully hooked his jacket on one of the nails that sprouted at irregular intervals like weeds from the wall. Sliding his hands down the canvas and leather to smooth out any wrinkles, he noticed the thread connecting the front zipper was beginning to fray. He made a mental note to keep an eye on it. He had only been working at the clinic for a couple weeks and they were paid on a monthly basis. It would be quite a while before he had enough money to afford to replace the coat if the zipper came free. Satisfied that the stitches would hold for now, he let it go and turned toward the kitchen.
He glanced at his watch as he went to check the cabinet. As expected, Terry, the nurse in charge of the evening shift, had only let him take half dozen after-hours cases before she showed him the door, so it was barely after 10pm. He reached into the cupboard and retrieved the boxed tea, but frowned when he noticed it only held a single bag. Regretfully, he slid the package back on the shelf. He could live without a cuppa for now if necessary, but he wasn’t willing to go without first thing in the morning. He would have to remember to pick up more on the way home. Tomorrow was Saturday, so the clinic would close early. Even if he took a couple of after-hours patients, he would still have time to stop by the corner shop. Sadly, said shop closed at 10, so if he wanted more tea tonight he would have to take the tube to Tesco’s. With a sigh, he shut the cabinet door and weighed his options. It wasn’t as if there was really anything else for him to do tonight, but he was hesitant to go back out. The sky had been threatening rain all day and he’d been lucky to make it home before it hit. As if in answer to his hesitation, he heard the sharp tink of raindrops begin to beat a staccato pulse against the window pane.
Giving up a trip for tea as a bad job, he turned to survey the room for other options. The bed in the corner mocked him with its military-precise corners and pile of rocks pillow. Even if he had been inclined to brave it’s uneven surface, sleep had been problematic since his attack and he preferred to put off the nightmares as long as possible. He knew, underneath the lumpy pillow, lay a battered copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide Harry had left the only time she’d visited him, but that was truly a last ditch option. It was an old joke between the two - he didn’t even like the book, but she swore he looked exactly like the movie actor who played the lead character. She kept throwing random quotes at him, as if she could force him to enjoy it by repeat exposure. It hadn't worked so far, but then, that was Harry in a nutshell. Dare to disagree with her, and she’d bombard you with her opinion until you gave up and she got her way.
Deciding to ignore that corner of the flat entirely, John approached the desk instead and booted his laptop. In no time at all he found himself staring at the blog Ella, his RC appointed therapist, had demanded he create. He started a new entry and sat there, blankly watching the cursor blink. He and Ella had not connected at all. If they had, she would have known that forcing him to write about himself like this was far more likely to make him retreat even further than to inspire him to open up. John didn’t understand what the hell she expected him to say. He was alive. Plenty of other people weren’t. His shoulder still wasn’t healed, but it was slowly getting better. His limp wasn’t, but since his leg wasn’t actually injured anymore, he didn’t figure that was anyone’s business but his own. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he got up. He went to work. He came home. Eventually he slept. The next morning, he got up and he did it again. What else did he have in his life? Most of his friends were either dead or in Afghanistan and the majority of the people he knew in college, with the exception of Mike and Annie who he wouldn’t be able to visit until they had their pup and Annie’s hormones settled, had moved away and gotten on with their lives. He had tried dating in the form of a single disastrous dinner with Sarah right after he had started at the clinic, and wasn’t keen to repeat that mistake.
He’d been attracted to the pretty young doctor, but it quickly became apparent that her interest had stemmed more from his newly-turned status than anything to do with him personally. John was hesitant to use the term Were groupie, but they hadn’t even made it past appetizers before he realized it applied to Sarah. Her interest in his Lycanthropy had quickly escalated to awkward questions and uncomfortable silence as he tried to figure out how to tactfully point out that his nose was more than sensitive enough to smell how aroused she was discussing knotting and whether or not sex between a human and a shifted wolf counted as bestiality. Lycanthropic sex wasn’t a topic he’d expected to cover on a first date. The subject had caught him completely off guard - hell, he was still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he really was a werewolf at all, let alone contemplating something like that. The suppressants lingering in his blood had insured he hadn’t shifted since his first moon and he still hadn’t so much as seen his wolf form in a mirror since he’d been turned. He barely remembered his first time at all between the haze of pain and rage and he honestly wasn’t looking forward to his first conscious change. He knew from living with Annie and Mike that he would still be himself when he changed, but it was one thing to know it intellectually and another to actually experience it. The last thing he wanted to contemplate were the mechanics of trying to fuck someone while technically a canine and the thought of even attempting to do so turned his stomach. Thankfully, she had finally caught on to his discomfort and had backed off with an apology, but the damage had already been done.
He had escaped before the salads came out and had found himself back at his grungy little flat before the clock struck eight, considering his service pistol. The disastrous date with Sarah had highlighted exactly how far he had fallen from his image of himself. Instead of a life as Captain John “Three-Continents” Watson of the Fifth North Umberland Fusiliers, he saw his empty days as the werewolf Doc from the Pens stretched endlessly out in front of him. What did he have now? A dead end job and a soulless cupboard of a flat. A disease that had ruined his life and was in the process of remaking him from the inside out into something he didn’t recognize, paired with a throbbing ache nestled beneath his breastbone which he was studiously ignoring. No friends, no family worth speaking of. No pack, which was something he had intellectually decided was the best option, but was a reality his inner wolf had emphatically not embraced yet. The dull gleam of the gun in his hand had begun to look almost preferable. He had barely convinced himself to put the weapon down then and he fought the urge to revisit that decision on an almost nightly basis.
The myriad after-hours cases kept him busy and out of the flat, but the parade of colds and broken wrists didn’t hold a candle to a life spent under fire, saving lives. A life where he made a difference, where what he was doing mattered. He wondered how long he could stand to keep grinding away with nothing more than his monotonous new routine to look forward to. The flashing cursor on his laptop screen brought him back to the present and before he could muster the determination to stop himself, he had typed and posted a single line in a new entry entitled Pointless:
“Nothing happens to me”
Let Ella make of that what she would, he didn’t have the energy to care at this point. If she decided he was unstable and had his license revoked, then fine. He had a solution waiting in his desk drawer.
Chapter 5: Hunter's Moon Rises
Hunter's Moons dawns and Sherlock awaits the approaching change.
Transcript of Sherlock, Season 1, episode 3 transcript: The Great Game by Ariane DeVere (http://arianedevere.livejournal.com/46716.html) was utilized as reference for this scene.
Some dialogue from the episode has been inncluded in this chapter and belongs to Mark Gatiss and the BBC.
One week later...
Sherlock gritted his teeth and reminded himself he could not afford to mortally offend Molly Hooper. She was one of the few London Pack members he could stand being subjected to with any regularity, and it was only through her position at the hospital and her unfortunate crush on him that he was allowed access to St. Bart's lab facilities. Normally he found her self-conscious bumbling in his presence amusing, but today she had been nothing but a nuisance. If only she would stop getting underfoot! She had been hovering practically at his elbow all day, so close that he had physically knocked into her twice while reaching for new slides. With moonrise in little more than an hour, his wolf was far too near the surface to tolerate such intrusions into his personal space. Unfortunately, the same event which caused his skin to prickle with the need to avoid unwanted physical contact was what made Molly draw unconsciously closer. The attraction she harbored for him made the pheromones he released this near to the change a siren song she was hard-pressed to resist.
He knew if he let his temper slip now, it would be far too easy to push the timid Molly beyond her limits. He wasn't the best at modulating his tongue on a normal day, let alone when the wolf beneath his skin was itching with lunar-augmented impatience to be free. Biting back a growl, he cleared his throat and pointedly glared down his nose at her, arching an eyebrow to indicate his displeasure at her proximity. He watched a flush crawl across her cheeks at the realization that she was half a step from climbing into his lap. With a nervous chuckle and mumbled apology, she retreated to the other side of the lab table.
Releasing a frustrated sigh, Sherlock turned his attention back to categorizing his tobacco ash sample, hoping to at least make it through this slide before he was interrupted again. His attempt to refocus was thwarted almost before it began by the heavy door at the end of the room crashing open.
“Molls!” an excited voice with an Irish lilt called out. “You here, girl?” A pale face topped with slicked back hair peaked through the doorway. “Margo's skived off work after that cock up with the server upgrade yesterday,” the man announced as he stepped through, “and I need to escape before the boss takes it into his head to give me her ear-bashing.”
“Jim, hi!” Molly's face creased in a wide smile as she greeted the newcomer. “Come in, come in!” she directed, waving him forward. “Jim, this is Sherlock Holmes!” she exclaimed almost proudly, gesturing to the figure hunched over the microscope on the other side of the table. “Jim works in I.T. upstairs” she declared. “That's how we met, bit of an office romance!”
He crossed the room to stand at her side, nervously wringing his hands. “So you're Sherlock Holmes!” he repeated, gawking blatantly at the man in question. “Molls has told me so much about you!”
To Sherlock's sensitive nose, the intruder's pheromone display declared him to be a minor Beta. He sniffed again reflexively but didn't look up as he fought back a wince. To his Sentinel senses, the man's scent was subtly wrong – metallic and faintly medicinal, underpinned with the distinctive miasma of a longterm illness. It was so faint that even another wolf wouldn't have caught it, but it captured Sherlock's interest. There weren't many diseases able to triumph over lycanthropic healing, which was part of what made the change so appealing to mundanes. Cancer, heart disease, all the things that killed humans by the millions melted away the first time you shifted. Finding a wolf so obviously ill, but not a patient at the hospital, was an unexpected puzzle.
Sherlock’s eyes flicked up and quickly slid over the other man, absorbing his visage in a heartbeat. The exaggerated tilt of the Jim’s head combined with his pointedly dropped eyes and lowered chin was an almost theatrical declaration that not only did he wish to project he posed no threat but that he found Sherlock interesting. The lingering odor of sickness and a half a dozen other tells clicked together into a single deduction that fell from his lips before he had a chance to reconsider. “Fallow.”
“What?!” Molly squeaked, outraged.
“Ah...Hello!” Sherlock chirped misleadingly in response to her tone instead of repeating it, forcing himself to quirk a plastic smile at Jim after he did so.
“Hello!” Jim parroted back, grinning at him in admiration. Eventually, he tore his eyes away and focused on Molly. “We, uh, better get going. It's getting close to moonrise.”
“Oh, right!” Molly said, checking her watch. “I'll need just a tick to close up shop.”
“Well, I should duck out before the boss corners me. Meet you at the tube, 'bout 15-ish minutes?” he offered.
“Perfect,” she confirmed as she started to chivvy him towards the door.
Jim paused with a hand on her back and turned toward Sherlock, “It was nice to meet you.”
Sherlock ignored him as Jim's pheromones wafted wistfully in his direction. The moment stretched into an embarrassing extended interlude.
“Right,” Molly said finally and Jim turned to blink at her. “See you shortly then!”
“Yeah,” Jim agreed faintly. “Bye.”
“Bye,” she echoed quietly as he left.
Molly rounded on Sherlock as soon as the door swung closed.
“Why would you say that?! Fallow! He's not Fallow!”
Sherlock blinked at her vehemence and began enumerating his evidence. “Distinctly metallic smell of suppressants and pheromone-augmented cologne clinging to his skin. Obviously trying to hide his secondary gender, but not capable of pulling off an Alpha. So far, so obvious - Omega. Not to mention the fairly telling fact that he all but formally presented his neck to me when we were introduced, and I'd say you'd better break it off and save yourself the trouble. You won't be able to keep up.” It wasn't a kind thing to say, but it was true. Omegas whose genetics rendered them Fallow lost the ability to conceive or bond but experienced viciously enhanced heats so intense that many were driven insane by the experience. It was well known that even a healthy Alpha in full rut would be unable to meet the needs of a Fallow Omega during their time. Before his mother's rule, under the previous Sentinel of London it was popular for afflicted Omegas to be sold as sex slaves to the highest bidder as “entertainment” for parties. Even today, the Pack Alpha orgies organized by the RC were the only treatment available to ease the Fallow's suffering. A single Beta wouldn't stand a chance at being an affected Omega's sole partner.
“That doesn’t mean he's Fallow!” Molly protested.
“Hints of some malady in his scent but, despite the regular blood tests the hospital performs on all its staff, he's not been barred from working with the infirm so obviously nothing contagious. That leaves either a genetic or environmentally induced affliction. No sign of infirmity, so that rules out the majority of environmental conditions which could affect a wolf. Unhealthy pale skin, obvious bruising from multiple mouths based on the circumferences peaking above his shirt collar, and sunken eyes indicate he’s still recovering from his latest heat-binge. He'd made some poor choices with his last group of Alphas; they couldn’t maintain the presence of mind to not try and bond him, despite the futility of it. Couldn’t have been more than a week ago, based on the color of the contusions. Genetic ailment, congress with multiple Alphas, and no bond? Fallow."
“Why do you ruin everything?!” Molly's eyes filled with tears and Sherlock realized that he'd done it wrong. In her place, he honestly would have wanted to know, but apparently by sharing his deductions about Jim's condition he'd done something normal people found inappropriate. Again. You would think with his natural intelligence that after 20 years practice being a Sentinel he would have learned to be better be at reading people. He cursed himself silently and tried to salvage the situation.
“You, ah...you should tell him to report it to the Pack if he felt he'd been abused. My mother would never allow an Omega to be mistreated without retaliation.”
“Even if you're right about what he is,” Molly sniffed tearfully, “why would he risk it?” She wiped a hand across her eyes, smearing tears and eye makeup, “Everyone knows the Red Queen's reign is ending.” Red Queen was one of the more common public monikers for his mother, due to the burnished copper shade of her fur in wolf-form.
Sherlock stiffened, “I wasn't aware that was common knowledge.”
“I know you think we're all idiots,” she replied with a watery chuckle, “but even if none of us could count the years since she emerged, we all have functioning noses. She's coming to her last moon and everyone knows it.”
Of course, she was right. The maths were simple, the scent was distinctive, and, much as he was loath to admit it, not everyone in London was a complete idiot.
“That's why you should come with me to the Grove,” Molly said with unexpected firmness. The Grove was the central clearing in Regent's Park where the Packs met to run. Taking a visibly deep breath to muster her courage, she continued, “Mrs. Holmes changed this country for the better when she defeated James Moriarty all those years ago. She made it possible for people like Jim and me to have real lives.”
He could feel the shock paint its way across his face. People usually went out of their way to avoid even mentioning his mother's victory over the former Sentinel of London around him, given what he had suffered at the monster's order. Very few had the temerity to bring it up to him directly.
She grimaced at his startled look, but pushed on, “You always seem to forget that I'm a doctor until it's useful to you, but do you honestly think a lowborn Beta like me would have been allowed to become one under someone like Moriarty? Do you think someone with Jim's condition would have had the option to be anything but a bed-warmer? There are too many people, even today, who think of those as 'the-good-old-days' and can't wait for the regime to change. We can't afford to have someone like that take your mother's place.” She reached forward to clutch his sleeve, meeting his eyes beseechingly, “Come with me. We need someone who won't let that happen. We need you.”
He fought the urge to fidget under her scrutiny. “Molly...” he began helplessly before trailing off. It wasn't that he was unmoved by what she was saying, but the simple truth remained. “I've looked. You know I've looked. My Guide isn't there.”
Her hand fell away from his arm and she deflated before his eyes. There wasn't much she could say in response to his flat statement. He wouldn't force himself to accept someone who wasn't his Guide, despite all those who may have wished otherwise.
“Please put everything away when you're done,” she said dully, ending the conversation abruptly and turning towards the door. “I'd rather not have to come in early after a full moon to clean up your mess.”
He watched as she scooped up her purse to go and stood a silent vigil as the door fell closed behind her. With Sentinel senses, he risked a zone to track her progress through the building and down the street until she met Jim at the tube station. Carefully, he pulled his senses back as the two embraced and exhaled in sharp relief when he was able to successfully mute the never-ending cacophony of London back down to bearable levels without incident.
He pondered how much more difficult it became to do so every day. To center himself, he focused on his hands where they pressed against the lab table. Skin, pores, bony wrists. Long fingers riddled with scars and chemical burns next to awkward thumbs and protruding knuckles. Hardly the hands of the type of hero Molly and the others seemed to want him to be. He wished she were still here so he could tell her that heroes didn't exist and, if they did, he wouldn't be one of them. Instead, he tightened his hands into fists briefly before unclenching them. Enough of this. He didn't have any more time to waste wool gathering; moonrise was barely an hour away and he still needed to make it home to Baker Street before the change hit.
He straightened his work area with brisk efficiency, plucking his coat from the chair next to him on his way out. As he left the hospital and flagged down a cab, Sherlock reflected that the entire situation wasn't nearly as simple as Molly made it sound. There were political implications to him attending tonight's run that he had spent the better part of the past decade avoiding. Him joining the Regional Pack run for Hunter's Moon would be taken as a declaration that he was willing to accept his responsibilities as his mother's successor with everything that entailed, including acquiescing to an ill-suited Guide for the “good of London”, as his brother had so recently urged him. He had only avoided being formally ordered to do so by the Elder Council because he hadn't been there for them to make the proclamation to. Pack law required such missives be presented directly to an individual in front of the Regional Assemblage and since he had broken no Pack laws, they couldn't compel his presence.
Refusal to abide by an Elder Council directive if he did go would be even more damning to House Holmes than his absence. While they couldn't actually force him to bond, they could vote to excommunicate him from the London Packs. He knew Mycroft thought him a willful child, but he was not unaware of the possible cost of his refusal to bend to the Elder Council's pressure. They walked the knife edge now because there were no other Sentinels to challenge Victoria Holmes and no available successors beyond Sherlock himself. Mother's influence with the Council waned more and more as the end of her time as a Sentinel approached and Sherlock remained staunchly unbound. Only those families who were directly aligned with the Holmeses, such as the Trevors and the Vernets, could be counted on to stand with them if Victoria's reign ended and there was no son of House Holmes to succeed her.
It had been centuries since London had last been without a Sentinel, and Molly was not wrong in saying that many of the other Houses were eager to fill the upcoming power vacuum. One of the most dangerous was led by Lady Smallwood who, despite the fact her late husband had been Moriarty's second-in-command, had clawed her way to the top of the Elder Council through a combination of political maneuvering and the judicious use of the challenge ring. Unsurprisingly, she was no fan of the Holmes clan and actively opposed them whenever possible. Had he been fool enough to allow himself to be be maneuvered into the Elder Council's clutches, Alicia Smallwood would have been positively gleeful to dictate his choice of Guide. If Mycroft's sources regarding another faction rising were to be believed, it was certain House Smallwood was in the background, spearheading the alignment against them. There was no sense in Sherlock attending the Hunter's Moon run. It would only throw additional fuel on an already burning fire and give people like Lady Smallwood the excuse they needed to move against his family.
Even if he could enter the Grove without repercussion, he had other responsibilities. Though he couldn't officially be considered London’s Sentinel without a Guide, as far as he was concerned, the city was his territory and he would do his own perimeter sweep under the full moon’s light. While the regional Pack limited itself to running the main parks of central London, Sherlock preferred to skate her underbelly. The dark alleys, the Pens, the underpasses and overpasses of her bones; all the underground streams and the river that made up her blood and central artery. These were the places a Sentinel was needed, not the manicured lawns of Regent’s Park.
The vehicle stopped in front of his building and he tossed payment to the cabby with a distracted air as he exited. Traffic had been worse than he'd expected and he'd cut his return home almost unforgivably close. Retiring to the top floor of his Baker Street flat, Sherlock prepared to greet the moonrise in a matter of minutes. The bedroom upstairs had a small balcony that opened up to the back alley. Sherlock shucked his suit and waited for the change to take him as Luna crept silently over the horizon. Once he had shifted, he raised his shaggy black head and howled at the moon. His echoing cry was answered almost immediately from a dozen directions by those wolves who had already pledged themselves to his banner. Thieves, whores, businessmen, MP’s – the great and small of London town answered his call. Sherlock mused that as a child he had wanted to be a pirate captain and lead a crew of scallywags over the seven seas. As an adult, he had built a better crew than could be housed by any wood-bound vessel. His very own complement of shadows.
With a huff of canine amusement, he shook off all other concerns and used the balcony to slink down to the alley and out into the night.