It was one thing to find out that John’s tall, moody flatmate was a vampire. That his brother was also a vampire. An adjustment, absolutely, but one John made with relative ease.
Another sub-species: check.
Not supernatural: check.
Still a drama queen and an arrogant bureaucrat with the charm of a reanimated cadaver, respectively: check.
In the end, vampirism was of little more note than, say, a mild hereditary illness that also had unexpected benefits, and John treated it as such. Where before he’d nagged Sherlock to eat more than once a week, he now checked the blood stores in Mrs. Hudson’s fridge against the dates he knew the “deliveries” came, and nagged about his friend’s blood intake as well.
However—and it was a really big, really hairy “however”—finding out that Greg Lestrade, warm, sensible, Everyman Greg Lestrade, was actually Everywolf Greg Lestrade was another wrinkle entirely.
“A werewolf? Seriously? Greg?” John bleated, as Sherlock continued to look like a deer mesmerized in the middle of the road by an oncoming lorry. “With the hair? And the teeth? And the whole changing with the moon bit?”
That last was enough to shake Sherlock out of his momentary trance. “The moon thing is nonsense, for the most part,” he sniffed. “Old movie trope based on some hysterical villagers’ rantings in the Middle Ages. Just like the part where vampires burn up in the sun.” He paused, then snickered. “Though he does tend to howl like a beagle every now and again, if he’s out in moonlight while Changed. I have video.”
John blinked. “Of course you do.” Then he thought about that. “Can I see it?”
The video was less alarming than you’d think, in part because Greg—he assumed it was Greg, though the huge grey/white/silver wolf really didn’t bear much a resemblance to the policeman, other than those chocolate-brown eyes—had already Changed. On Sherlock’s laptop, the wolf hopped about like an excited Labrador, making mad dashes off-screen before tearing back into view. The moonlight was very bright, and the forested area (“New Forest”, Sherlock muttered) was clearly visible. He could hear Sherlock’s voice in the background, talking to someone else. The wolf—Greg—suddenly threw back his head and howled, long and loud, then again. Sherlock, the one holding the video camera, laughed, and the wolf’s head swung around and glared. There was a rapid blur—really just a smear of colour across the screen—and it was suddenly Greg Lestrade, a very naked Greg Lestrade, charging forward.
“Give it!” he demanded, and the screen spun wildly, now showing only a blur of passing foliage.
“Nooooo,” Sherlock caroled, with what was definitely a giggle, still running at breakneck speed.
“Come back here, you little bastard,” Greg panted offscreen, as Sherlock continued to pelt along. The video ended as another howl sounded in the distance.
“Well,” John said, as Sherlock waited, a knowing look on his face. “That was…”
“Funny. I know,” Sherlock said. “But, going by the look on your face, you have questions. I suggest you ask them now, as this will likely be the only time I will be willing to answer them. Unlikely though it may seem, I do try to honour Lestrade’s wish for privacy insofar as I can. He has always done the same for me.”
“I was going to say ‘startling’, actually,” John interjected. “And, yeah, questions. You’re sure Greg won’t mind if you answer them? I mean, I suppose I could ask him next time I see him…”
“And watch him devolve into a stammering, blushing idiot,” Sherlock said tartly. “Trust me on this. He has always been oddly reticent about his place in the werewolf community, and prefers to remain so. But he has never asked me directly not to tell you, so I believe we are safe from retribution.” He leaned forward expectantly.
“Um, OK,” John said. “So why couldn’t I see him when he, um, changed in your video?”
“No one’s sure,” Sherlock said. “Presumably the shift violates several laws of nature, and the camera is not equipped to handle that.”
“Wait, what?” John said, more than a little at sea. “You told me there was nothing supernatural—” he stammered, only to be interrupted.
“About vampires, John,” Sherlock sniffed. “That doesn’t include all non-human races, and certainly not werewolves. They’re most definitely supernatural. Think, man—what natural events in the body could progress to that wholesale a change, and what evolutionary process could have led to it?”
Well. He had a point.
“But, wait, what other ‘non-human races’?” John asked. “There are more?”
Sherlock looked suddenly guilty. “Not the point at present. You were asking about werewolves.”
John gave his friend the “we’re not done with this, mister” look, but acquiesced for the time being.
“OK, then,” he said. “Um…you mentioned the ‘werewolf community’. What exactly does that mean, and why doesn’t Greg have much to do with it?”
“It’s much like any other social group, bar the occasional fight to the death for position,” Sherlock said blithely. “They have progressed beyond the simple pack hierarchy, though that is still a factor for individual wolves, who prefer to live in large extended family groups much more than typical human society does. They have a ruling council, elite families, much the same as any other semi-monarchy. There are far fewer wolves than either regular humans or vampires, though—they suppress birth rates, so that numbers stay almost constant. Perhaps five percent of the UK population, last time Mycroft checked. The low density in any given area ensures that the younger members don’t feel instinctively driven to set out to find new territory. They’re very territorial, wolves.”
“Um…fight to the death?” John said.
Sherlock huffed. “Out of all of it, that’s what you focus on, of course.” He looked down his nose at John. “It’s quite rare, and considered highly déclassé. But it remains technically legal.”
“Are the winners, I dunno, prosecuted?” John said uncertainly.
Sherlock stared. “That would presume that anyone notifies the authorities of what has occurred, or declared the loser missing. And why would they do that? All parties agree to the procedure ahead of time, after all.”
“Right,” said John. “Of course.”
Sherlock peered at John, unsure if he was being teased. He huffed and set his shoulders. “Well, if you’re not going to take this seriously, I hardly think—”
“No, no, sorry,” John said hurriedly. “Go on.”
“You were supposed to ask questions,” Sherlock said stiffly, still offended.
“OK, right,” John said. “Well—so you said most individuals wolves have their own ‘packs’. Where is Greg’s? Who’s in it? Anyone I know?”
“Yes and no,” Sherlock said. “His mother, but she lives in France—don’t believe you’ve seen her. Grandfather is here, very old and quite influential. His daughter, of course, and stepson. Not the ex-wife—her infidelity is anathema to the wolves, and he catches considerable grief for having married a non-wolf because of it. And then, um…me, actually, and most likely you. And perhaps my brother.” His ears pinked up a bit and he suddenly found his hands very interesting.
“Um…really?” said John. It was all he could manage, actually.
Sherlock’s head gave a jerky bob. “Yes. Wolf relationships aren’t based solely on birth or marriage. Loyalty and obligation rank very highly as well. Lestrade, erm, fostered me, when I was in a very difficult place--I am considered his son, essentially. This was before he really knew my brother well—if he had known my family’s rank he probably wouldn’t have formally done so, since it could have potentially created a serious political incident, had my parents or brother objected. And you—well, because you have been so helpful to me, saved my life in fact, you, by extension, benefited the clan. And my brother, because he has repeatedly rendered aid to Lestrade unofficially. As I said, loyalty and obligation.”
“Did Greg know you were a vampire? When he fostered you, I mean?” John asked.
Sherlock nodded. “Yes. It was just after the incident with his wrist, in the skip*—I had a serious relapse shortly thereafter, and was very much on the outs with my brother at the time. But we also smell differently, evidently, though he didn’t identify the source until after he found out. I have asked him to engage in a few experiments in that area, but he’s refused—he believes the other wolves would be offended for some reason.” He scowled at the injustice of it all.
“Just out of curiosity—you knew he was a wolf beforehand?” John asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “I could always sense something different about him, but wasn’t sure what. But we were cornered on a stakeout, quite early on in our relationship. Our captor would have killed us both, no question, and Lestrade…well. He Changed, in front of me, and stood between me and the bullet when it fired. Couldn’t hurt him, you see?”
John gaped. “So, did your captor survive the experience?”
“He mysteriously vanished,” Sherlock said, deadpan, and left it there.
Dealing with Greg as a wolf was, in the end, somewhat anticlimactic. Sherlock had already told John, quite sternly, that it was the height of bad manners to ask Greg to Change on demand, so John managed not to make that mistake. Beyond Greg’s initial wary concern the first time they met after the revelation (because of course Sherlock told Lestrade—even Sherlock wasn’t quite that deaf to potentially awkward social situations), they settled quickly back into their normal easy friendship.
They probably would have continued in that mode indefinitely, were it not for a certain social obligation. As it happened, it was one John had assumed without being aware of it, but was binding nonetheless.
It was well into autumn, heading for Halloween, when Greg stopped by one afternoon. John was ecstatic at the interruption; Sherlock was in the midst of a three-day strop arising from his inability to convince Mycroft to release enough funds from his trust to buy his very own scanning electron microscope. (“It’s an Electron Beam Lithography SEM, John, and they are willing to sell it to me for €400,000! I was willing to compromise—it’s used! Less than half the price it would otherwise be!”) Mycroft could not be moved, unsurprisingly.
Well, unsurprising to everyone but Sherlock, evidently.
Greg took one look at the puddle of navy silk and gloom on the couch and raised an eyebrow at John. John shook his head—he wasn’t about to give Sherlock yet another opening to vent his spleen (though John would be shocked, at this point, if Sherlock had any left to vent. Three solid days was pretty impressive).
Greg shrugged his shoulders and stated his business. “Look, I wanted to see—I have a favour to ask,” he said, looking hopefully at Sherlock’s bony silk-covered back. The detective didn’t say anything, but a certain stillness of his torso indicating he was listening.
“There’s a Blue Moon Court coming up on the 21st,” he said. “I’ve missed the last two, so I’m kind of obligated to attend this one—my granddad got quite bolshie about it. And, um, because it’s a formal occasion, I need, well, my supporters to attend as well. It’s just the one night—the usual Court do, and a nice party after.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “I spoke with your brother—he’s fine with you going as his agent.”
Silence from the couch. John, to smooth things over, tried to step into the breach.
“Um…what, exactly, is a Blue Moon Court?” John asked.
“Well, it’s an astrological thing, innit?” Greg said. “It’s a 13th full moon in a 12-month cycle. Only happens every two or three years or so, and—”
“Hence the saying ‘once in a blue moon’,” Sherlock interrupted. “Something that rarely happens. Sometimes incorrectly described as the ‘second full moon in a single month’, without regard for the lunar cycle.” He took a breath to continue, but Greg cut him off.
“Yeah. It’s probably where the old belief about us only being able to Change under a full moon came from, actually—we only have Courts on full moons, so that would have been when people actually saw us. Used to be, folks Changed to make the trip to Court. Not anymore, though.” Greg grinned. “Cause a bit of commotion on the Tube, that would.”
John laughed. “Only if they actually bit someone. Wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen on a Saturday night, mate.” Greg joined him, while Sherlock frowned from the couch. He never rode the Tube, and was unsure why that was funny.
He apparently decided the conversation had wandered away from him for a bit too long. “So you require our presence for a formal presentation?” he said stiffly. “Your grandfather will be receiving?”
Greg accepted the change of topic philosophically. “Yeah, the whole protocol-and-fancy-clothes bit. We’ve got a delegation from Germany in—leaving off some young pups for training. So he wants to put on a bit of a show.”
John felt a bit of misgiving at that. “Um…fancy clothes?”
Greg hurried to reassure. “Not you, mate,” he said. “Only those who have a, well, a position. Me, Granddad, and Sherlock. You can just wear a good suit, eat some expensive food and drink some very nice wine.”
Sherlock looked down his patrician nose at John. “I will be selecting your clothes. Hopefully we can pull together something acceptable,” he sniffed, and John didn’t bother to argue.
It wasn’t until after Greg left that John paused to wonder what, exactly, Sherlock’s “position” was.
Come the day of the Court, the hardest part, as it turned out, was getting Sherlock out of his bedroom. To begin with, it took him nearly an hour to get ready, including his usual thirty-minute shower-and-haircare routine. John had finally entered for his turn in the shower, and was surprised to find that his friend had firmly closed the frosted door dividing his bedroom from the bathroom (very atypical, since Sherlock cared not a whit who saw him naked, as a rule).
Then, once John finished his own shower and dressed carefully in his best suit, shined shoes and tie (selected, after considerable pissing and moaning over the available choices, by Sherlock), he trotted downstairs to find Sherlock’s door still firmly closed, with occasional grunts and annoyed huffs drifting out.
Finally, when the car was due any second, John gave up and knocked on the door. “Sherlock, come on,” he said. “Just choose a tie and be done with it. We need to go.”
Rather than the expected snippy reply, John got silence. Which, in the grand scheme of all things Sherlock, was usually suspicious.
“Sherlock?” John ventured. “Everything OK in there?”
Indistinguishable muttering from the other side of the door.
“Pardon?” John said. “Really couldn’t understand you, mate.”
Another huff from the bedroom. Finally, “You have to promise not to laugh,” Sherlock said in a stiff voice.
John blinked. “Why would I laugh?” he said.
“Because I am not…this is not my usual attire,” Sherlock said. The doorknob turned, but the door didn’t yet open. “Do you promise?” he asked again.
“Of course I won’t laugh,” John said stoutly. “You always outshine anything I’m wearing, regardless, so I’d be a shite friend if I did.”
The door opened, slowly, hesitantly, and an uncharacteristically shy Sherlock stepped out, clad in—well. Not quite a costume, but far above his typical bespoke suit.
John was suddenly aware his mouth was open, and managed to close it, while Sherlock gave him a severe look.
“I know it’s ridiculous,” Sherlock said. “But it’s protocol.”
John finally got his brain to catch up with his mouth. “It’s not ridiculous,” he managed. “It’s beautiful.”
And it was. Sherlock was dressed in a tunic of navy velvet, so dark it was nearly black, with collar, shoulders and hemline covered with intricate silver embroidery. Rows of silver filigreed buttons ran down either side of the chest to the narrow waist, and across the closure at the left shoulder. A twisted, braided line of silver cord draped between the shoulders, with a tiny silver ornament dangling precisely in the center of his chest. A soft leather belt, dyed a deep blue, circled his waist and included a sheath on his left hip, which held an ornately-chased silver knife.
Below, there were narrow navy wool breeches that had straps going under the insteps of the gleaming black shoes to pull them tightly down, with a matching silver filigree button on the outside edge to hold everything in place.
But the piece de resistance was nestled in and around his hair.
Wound through carefully-styled curls was a delicate circlet of finely-worked silver, the filigree mimicking the embroidery of the tunic, or perhaps the other way around. Tiny, delicate silver leaves peeked through here and there. The front dipped down in a curved vee onto Sherlock’s forehead, and there, encased in more beautiful silverwork, hung a deep-blue sapphire as big as John’s thumbnail, resting just above the detective’s dark brows. And, John suddenly noticed, there was a silver ring with a nearly identical stone on the middle finger of his right hand.
It was stunning. The whole effect was both theatrical and otherworldly. For the first time, John thought that Sherlock looked exactly what he was: something Other.
“You look like an elf prince,” he said, before he could stop himself. “All you need is the pointed ears.”
Sherlock scowled, and the sapphire trembled. “There are no elves,” he said.
And it was only because he’d known Sherlock so long that John picked up on what the detective didn’t say.
“You didn’t say you weren’t a prince,” he pointed out.
Sherlock gave a tiny, reluctant grin. “No,” he said, “I didn’t.”
The car was another surprise. Unlike Mycroft’s typical upscale-but-mainstream cars, this was a Rolls Royce that likely cost more than John had made collectively since he started working. Sherlock, as usual, read John’s mind.
“It’s about display,” he said, as they settled into luxury. “Mycroft can’t attend himself, so I act as his deputy, if you will. He wishes to make it clear that Lestrade is held in high regard by our society, and the manner of our arrival, as well as my presence in full regalia, speaks to that.”
“But why can’t Mycroft attend?” John asked. “Greg’s his friend, sort of.”
“Yes, but Mycroft has his own position to be concerned about. He can’t be seen as giving fealty to the wolves. But he can allow honour to an individual wolf,” Sherlock said.
“Because he’s, what, the Crown Prince or something?” John said, half-jokingly. And was stunned when Sherlock nodded.
“More than that, actually,” Sherlock replied. “Because Father chose to retire, rather than fully abdicate, Mycroft is Prince Regent. Because he is not king, I am not officially Crown Prince, and I hope to retain that distinction as long as possible. As it stands right now, my role is largely decorative: I stand at my brother’s right hand at our thankfully rare Court functions, and could, technically, take over his duties in the event of his incapacitation, but in reality, my father would step in.” He raised his eyebrow. “Does anyone really want me ruling anything? I think not.”
“But that, I mean—so Mycroft is really both the British Government and the, well, vampire government?” John stammered.
“I know,” Sherlock sighed. “Appalling, isn’t it?”
They pulled up to an ancient mansion in one of the older parts of London, in an area where the great stone houses had largely been taken over by museums and the like. This house, though, still served its original purpose. It was surrounded by high stone walls with ornate steel gates across the drive, and the many windows across the front were illuminated brightly, with ground-floor glass doors swung open to catch the night breeze.
As the driver held the door for them to exit the limousine, John could hear music wafting out from inside.
“Will there be dancing?” he asked. Wasn’t sure how he felt about that, honestly—wasn’t one of his strong points, and formal dances always made him feel like a tit.
“Mm,” Sherlock hummed. “After dinner. But the formal reception occurs before either of those things, followed by an unbearably long period of ‘conversation’.” John could hear the air-quotes in his voice.
The detective looked back at John, still hovering by the car. “It’s formal, but quite stylized,” he said, in an apparent attempt to be soothing. “You have no role beyond that of Lestrade’s supporter during the reception and introduction, and, because you are human, nothing will be expected of you besides your presence, though it’s probably best if you interact as little with the wolves as possible. They’re a testy bunch, and many of them, especially the young males, view a brawl as a splendid start to the evening. You would be at a profound disadvantage, given their extraordinary strength and speed; even though they would be severely disciplined if you were harmed, some would see it as an acceptable price to pay.”
“Brilliant,” John said weakly. “So, I’ll just hide in the loo until dinner, then, yeah?”
Sherlock frowned. “No, of course not,” he said. “Simply stay close to me.”
“Because they wouldn’t dare touch you?” John asked.
“No, because I am more dangerous than they are, and most of them know it,” Sherlock said, with a fair amount of smug satisfaction.
Their entry was like something out of one of those historical romances Mrs. H. liked to watch. They walked up a beautiful low stone staircase to a landing opening onto one of those glass doors, and met a uniformed attendant, who asked for their invitation. Sherlock gestured for John to hand it over (since his own outfit, regrettably, had no pockets, which meant that John was functioning as Sherlock’s auxiliary coat for the evening), and the man viewed it quickly before coming rigidly to attention.
He turned his back on them briskly, and reached for a tall, ornately-carved wood staff resting against the doorframe, stamping it firmly three times in a way that rang through the room.
“William, Prince of Le Premier Sang, honoured foster of Maître Gregory Lestrade; and Captain John Hamish Watson, retired,” he boomed, as every head in the room swiveled their way.
And John, to his astonishment, saw Sherlock…change. His shoulders came up and back, his posture even more perfect than usual, his chin high and eyes commanding. He strode down the stairs like a conqueror, with John attempting to follow while praying he didn’t trip or otherwise embarrass himself (and thereby embarrass Greg, presumably). Greg, who John was glad to see coming briskly across the floor to meet them—his was the only recognizable face John had noticed so far. His normal rumpled suit had been replaced by a pristine, finely-tailored tuxedo.
Greg reached the base of the stairs just as Sherlock did. Coming to a halt, he bowed, deeply and formally, before holding out his hand. Sherlock reached out, took the hand, and lifted it briefly to touch the back to his forehead while giving just the tiniest inclination of his head (“protocol”, John’s intuition proclaimed). He made a mental note to get a rundown on all of the distinctions of rank in each of these gestures from Greg later.
Sherlock had given John a quick, superficial rundown on what to expect. “His grandfather’s title is Pére —he is the head of the clans of southern England and northern France. Think of him like a duke. You can address him as ‘Your Grace’, but on no account should you speak unless spoken to. When we approach the dais, stay to my right. Bow, deeply, when we stop, and stand at parade rest until we are released. If you are asked a question, answer completely but succinctly—this is not a place for idle conversation. Don’t look anyone directly in the eye unless forced to—it’s considered rude and confrontational, and that’s the last thing we want. In the unlikely event violence erupts at any point, get behind me and stay there. You are not a match for the wolves—there’s no shame in that.”
“Not ashamed,” John muttered. “But not hiding, ta very much.” Sherlock had sighed, but let it pass.
When they reached the ballroom floor, John saw a blue line of carpet spanning the width of the room, leading to an elevated dais flanked by ranks of dining tables covered with snowy white cloth. Three chairs topped the dais; the two on either side were empty, but the center was occupied by a very old man, leonine and intelligent-looking, with longish white hair and beard and formal attire. He had Greg’s eyes.
As they started across the walkway, Sherlock moved to Greg’s right side, and nudged John into place on Sherlock’s right. When they reached the front of the walkway, Greg faced the old man and bowed deeply, hand over his heart.
“Pére Lestrade,” he said, “your son’s son greets you, with his armsmen at his side.” He stood aside slightly and gestured to Sherlock and John. “Our noted foster, William of Le Premier Sang, and Doctor John Watson, soldier, physician and friend.”
Sherlock gave a regal inclination of his head, the pendant trembling on his forehead. John, a tad slow on the uptake, suddenly remembered and gave the most-formal bow he could manage, before rising and falling into parade rest.
The old man lowered his head in return, then spoke, in a deep, rumbling voice.
“I greet you, grandson, and your supporters. They are most welcome. You give honour to our Court.” He turned his head to address Sherlock specifically. “Pray extend my thanks to your brother, Prince Regent of Le Premier Sang, for his aid to my house.”
“I will, Your Grace,” Sherlock said. He gave that shallow head-bob one more time, and that was it—Greg nodded to them both, and they followed a beckoning servant to a table against the far wall, where a liveried bartender waited to take their orders. John took Sherlock’s recommendation for wine, and loved every drop of it. Tasted even better on the second glass.
They couldn’t hover on the sidelines forever; Greg came over after fifteen minutes or so and made shoo-ing motions, to force them out onto the floor for “conversation” (which Sherlock said as if it were a curse word). Sherlock clicked his heels like a Prussian officer in an old movie, and headed off to the left; John debated following, but figured Sherlock was more at home in this world than John was. He went right, heading for what looked like a group of military men lurking along the side wall. As Sherlock had said, they wouldn’t hurt him. Probably.
They all spent the next twenty minutes chatting, moving slowly around the floor. John had noticed both Greg and Sherlock moving from group to group—Sherlock didn’t look comfortable, exactly, but he wasn’t snapping or shutting down. John found werewolf military men to be just like any other soldier of his acquaintance; it was likely, in fact, that some of his past mates had been wolves, without his realizing it. Military service was a common career path, unsurprisingly.
John had already noticed that many of the younger male wolves stood out in the crowd—tallish to downright enormous, barrel-chested, muscular. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think it was a meeting of a group of gym-and-testosterone devotees. Unfortunately, one of the things that went along with that mindset (confirmed by Sherlock’s characterization of them as “enjoying a brawl to start things off”) was a belief that other males, less beefy males, were fair game.
John could see it happening, but was just a bit too far away to arrive in time to prevent it. Sherlock was standing near Lestrade, engaged in conversation with a young couple who seemed to be related to Greg, when a very tall, burly young wolf started across the ballroom floor and diverted just enough to plow roughly into Sherlock’s back and shoulder. As the detective stumbled and almost fell, the wolf shot out a hand and held him up by one velvet-clad arm—and didn’t let go.
All conversation within range stopped abruptly, and John heard an indrawn, dismayed breath or two.
Sherlock drew himself up and attempted to withdraw his arm, brows flying up under his fringe when the aggressor didn’t release him.
“I heard about you,” the wolf rumbled, in an accented voice deeper even than Sherlock’s. “Made you a full foster of the Lestrade line, even though you’re not a wolf. Thought you’d be quite something—I mean, most wolves would be proud to take that, let alone someone…well.” He looked Sherlock up and down. “You’re a delicate thing, aren’t you? Look a little… breakable. Makes me wonder what, exactly, Pére Lestrade could do about it if someone broke you.” His grip visibly tightened on Sherlock’s velvet-clad arm.
That was the point at which things went spectacularly awry, from the wolf’s point of view.
Sherlock’s other hand shot out, almost too quickly to see, and latched onto his attacker’s arm, just above the wrist. Then he closed his fingers, and squeezed. The wolf’s eyes shot to Sherlock’s hand, then to his stone-like expression, then back to the hand as his own thick fingers involuntarily released Sherlock’s arm. He muttered a sudden curse and made a visible, and fruitless, attempt to pull away, growling audibly.
Sherlock spoke, cutting through the growl like a knife. “You should be upset with your informational sources,” he said, as if discussing tax rolls or zoning laws. “They gave you part of the story—yes, I am not a wolf. Obviously.” He leaned in closer. “But they neglected to mention that I am not precisely human either.” With shocking ease, his secondary teeth slid into place, and his claws slid out from under his fingernails. His eyes took on a phosphorescent green glow.
The wolf let out a bleat of terror, and struggled in earnest. Sherlock, with a huff of annoyance, suddenly tightened his grip further, and there was a horrible dull snap—one John, unfortunately, knew all too well as bone. The attacker let out a yelp of pain, a mix of wolf and human sound, and crashed to his knees. Sherlock’s other hand suddenly appeared under the wolf’s chin, holding that very pretty, potentially deadly, silver knife. And John remembered, with a shudder, that the old tale about silver being lethal to werewolves was one of the few things that folklore got absolutely right.
Sherlock, without releasing his captive or turning his head, raised his voice to carry across the room. “Pére Lestrade. This one has laid his hands on me. But I would ask, in courtesy, if he is yours? Or is he subject to my judgment and grace?” It had the air of formality—more than just words was at play here.
The ancient wolf on the dais lifted that fine head and looked at the idiot shivering at Sherlock’s feet. “He is not mine,” he said. “He is a scion of the German house, here to learn. But, even if he were mine, he has offered insult in my house to a prince of Le Premier Sang. He is yours, if you wish it.”
The kneeling wolf keened and tried to struggle again. Sherlock gave him a considering look.
“You recognize the danger, I perceive,” he said, voice now softer, deeper than before, and less audible to those not within a few feet of the tableau. “I have been given permission by your preeminent leader to do whatever I wish, without fear of retaliation.” He paused thoughtfully. “Granted, that would be a minor consideration in the best of circumstances; ‘rank hath it’s privilege’, after all. But I am quite sure my brother—did I mention he’s Prince Regent, by the way?—would be annoyed if I created yet another diplomatic squabble.”
He leaned forward confidingly. “One would have thought that my diadem would have given you pause; not your typical party dress, after all, so you might have questioned why I wore it. I’ve long since ceased being shocked at the total lack of forethought in the general populace, however. Especially the portion with more hair than brains.”
The wolf abruptly began to struggle again, using more force this time, feet skittering on the marble floor. The knife made a tiny nick in his chin, probably inadvertently on Sherlock’s part, and the skin sizzled nastily at the touch of silver. Sherlock was entirely unmoved, either emotionally or physically.
“Oh, relax,” Sherlock sniffed. “I’m not going to kill you. It’s messy and requires far too much explanation to other interested parties. And I don’t want to soil this outfit—it takes forever to secure a replacement.”
He looked thoughtfully around at the other attendees, most of them raptly watching this exciting interruption in what had otherwise been a fairly dull event. “I can’t, given the venue, let this go completely unpunished, however. Though I’m sure Pére Lestrade will be shipping you back home to Germany with your tail between your legs.” He gave a snicker. “Quite literally, in your case.”
Sherlock looked down at the kneeling wolf. “But I think, on consideration, that I will simply damage you a bit more, and we’ll call it good enough.” Then he tightened his grip on that rapidly-swelling arm, more, and more…and then John heard, once again, that wet snap of breaking bone, and the wolf howled as Sherlock dropped the arm and ostentatiously turned his back on his erstwhile foe, sliding the pretty, deadly knife back into its sheath.
One of the servants, previously frozen against the dais during the altercation, glided over with a flute of champagne, and a soft cloth to wipe Sherlock’s hand. The vampire allowed the attention, while raising a sardonic eyebrow at John. Another pair bustled over to pick up the vanquished wolf and cart him silently out of the room.
The old wolf on the dais nodded his head. “We thank you for your mercy, my lord,” he rumbled. “His parents will doubtless wish to express their gratitude as well. May I direct them to you?”
Sherlock considered, then spoke. “Give them my brother’s direction. He will be pleased to hear it.” As Pére Lestrade nodded, Sherlock turned to John, who had moved to his side as soon as the combatants had separated. “And shocked, most likely,” he added, for John’s ears only. John snorted, but managed not to laugh.
After finishing his champagne, Sherlock wandered off towards Greg again. He was doing much better at this function than he normally did at affairs of this type; Greg had told John that Sherlock knew many of the people here from his stay several years ago.
“How long did he stay?” John had asked. He knew he’d never hear this story from Sherlock, but it didn’t seem like something his friend would be upset at him asking about.
“’Bout three months, give or take,” Greg replied. “Mycroft agreed on the condition that it take the place of a stay at his usual rehab facility, and Sherlock had regular check-ins with a doctor. It worked better than his last two stays at rehab, so I think everyone gained. He was clean for more than two years afterwards.”
Now, Sherlock was working the room slowly; John suspected he was moving from one familiar face to the next. That was reassuring enough that John decided to do a bit of socializing on his own. He chatted up a wide variety of people, including some women who left him unsure whether they were wolves or not (which, when he thought about it, was good—didn’t want to fall into the trap of thinking of this people as inhuman, any more than he thought of Sherlock that way).
He was headed over to the bartender to refill his drink when he noticed a singular-looking individual heading the same direction. The man was very small—a Little Person, some form of dwarfism, perhaps. No more than four feet tall. What made him truly singular, though, was his attire—he was wearing a dark-green outfit rather reminiscent of Sherlock’s, with an embellished tunic and a worked copper circlet resting in his dark-red hair.
John presumed he was a vampire as well, perhaps from a different clan than Sherlock. He’d have to ask about their political landscape, so he didn’t inadvertently insult someone important.
The man turned as John approached and gave him a broad smile. “So, you’re Greg Lestrade’s bannerman, then?” he asked, in an Irish accent.
“I suppose so, assuming I know what a ‘bannerman’ actually is,” John said with a smile. “I’m new here, so I don’t know the language yet.”
“Ah, well, you have his back, and bow to his granfer when you’re asked to, mainly,” the man said. “Callaghan O’Dwyer,” he added, sticking out his hand. “You can call me Cal; the full thing’s too damn long.”
“John Watson,” John said. “I know Greg through Sherlock. We all work together.”
“And you do a bit of writing about it, now, don’t you?” Cal said with a sly grin. “Quite a piece of drama, your blog.” His smile wasn’t quite as friendly as it had been; John wondered why.
“Actually, I tone a lot of it down,” John said, a bit curtly. “How are you connected, then? To all of this?” He didn’t care if it was rude; he felt a little uncomfortable with this odd man.
They paused momentarily, while the bartender passed over their orders. The moment for Cal’s response was lost, which didn’t occur to John until much later. As they sipped their glasses, Cal fished into his jacket and pulled out a hammered copper flask. He opened the top and offered it to John. “Like to add a bit of the good stuff?” he asked, in a more-open tone than he’d previously used. “My family’s own; we’ve made it for hundreds of years.”
John thought about it, then held out his glass. “Just a little, please. I don’t want to lose my head in this setting.”
It was like liquid fire; whiskey, or something like it, but with a kick like nothing he’d ever had. John coughed, blinked, and held the glass tightly lest he drop it. “Jesus,” he breathed. “What is that?”
Cal beamed. “Oh, it’s whiskey, of a sort. But very, very old. We don’t make much; only offer it to long-time customers, or family. Like it, do you?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” John said. “My tongue’s numb.” Cal smiled again, pleased. But then he nodded, as if his mission was somehow accomplished, and wandered away, while John put down his glass as if it might suddenly explode.
Dinner was called shortly thereafter, thankfully—John was feeling slightly woozy, so was glad to sit down. He was less pleased when he saw their seating arrangements. They were placed at the table to the right of the dais; Greg in the center, John to his left, Sherlock to his right. But immediately to Sherlock’s right was Cal, who nodded and touched his brow lightly in salute as he saw John looking. John gave a forced smile, but turned to his dinner.
It went smoothly enough. The food was outstanding, as Greg had promised, and the musicians turned to livelier music for the meal that had John tapping his foot throughout. Once the afters were picked up, servers came and cleared the tables out of the way to prepare for the dancing.
Greg’s grandfather led off, with a stately-looking old woman who danced like she was twenty. Then, one by one, couples entered the floor, following some complicated scheme that John presumed was based on rank. Sherlock and his partner made up the third couple; he was squiring a young girl with a freckled face flushing as red as her hair. John could see his friend speak to her softly, and she visibly relaxed.
“My niece, Allegra,” Greg said from behind John. “She’s my older brother’s eldest; likely take Granddad’s place one day. She used to read to Sherlock, when he was very bad.” Sherlock and his partner moved smartly into the ranks, and the floor gradually filled with people.
John had a good time, honestly. He danced with several women, some of whom asked him, some he asked instead; no one asked rude questions, or gave him any cause for alarm. He spotted Sherlock several times, and was relieved (and somewhat surprised) to see him laughing and flushed. Apparently he, too, was enjoying himself.
John remained in happy ignorance until Sherlock suddenly popped up in front of him, forty-five minutes in, and held out his hands. “Dance with me, John,” he commanded, grinning.
“Um…OK,” John said. It was now that kind of party—it had devolved into more of an intimate affair as the highest-ranking visitors had left, and now the floor was crowded with friends, family, even some children. They wouldn’t be the only pair of men dancing.
They moved into a waltz, the only “formal” dance John knew, while Sherlock twirled them around and beamed. It wasn’t until they tried a particularly ambitious move and Sherlock stumbled heavily, almost falling, that John realized something was amiss.
He grabbed Sherlock’s forearms and manhandled the taller man over to one of the couches set around the edge of the floor. Sherlock dropped onto the seat and giggled, before slumping back against the wall. And he realized, to his dismay, that Sherlock was drunk. More than drunk. Plastered, not to put too fine point on it.
He had just come to that realization when something caused him to look back across the dance floor—and he caught the sardonic eye of Cal, holding that damn copper flask up in salute.
John almost started across the floor, blood in his eye. But then he saw Sherlock, draped bonelessly across the couch, and sighed. He pulled out his phone, and texted Mycroft’s driver that they were ready to leave. And, after a closer look at his friend, suggested the man place a bin in the back seat, just in case.
When they got home, John had the driver help haul Sherlock upstairs and drape him across his bed, and then John undressed him (well, removed the trousers and tunic. And the crown) and tucked him in before taking a cup of tea to his own room. Not a peep was heard from the detective for the remainder of the night.
John was up early-ish the next morning, so was well past his breakfast-and-newspaper time when Sherlock suddenly erupted from his room into the bathroom and briskly emptied his stomach. Amid groans and protests, he helped his friend back to bed and plied him with water and paracetamol, and didn’t hear from him again for several hours.
By 3 pm, when Greg trundled up the stairs, Sherlock had been coaxed to the sofa and was draped across it like a fading Victorian maiden, damp flannel over his eyes and a precautionary bucket beside him. John was pretty sure he was asleep, but didn’t want to put it to the test.
He pulled Greg quickly into Sherlock’s bedroom and quietly shut the door before launching into his complaint.
“Who the fuck was that?” John said. “Callaghan? The Irishman who sat next to Sherlock?”
Greg blinked. “Well, he’s…a diplomat. Sort of,” he said warily.
“He spiked Sherlock’s drink,” John said flatly. “He tried to do it earlier with me, but I only took one sip and put it down. Even that made me off-kilter. I think you need to ask him some serious questions, because I’m pretty sure Sherlock had no idea. He never has more than one drink, because he knows he’s got no tolerance. It wasn’t like rohypnol, but it wasn’t far off, and I want him stopped.”
Before Greg could speak, they heard Sherlock calling from the other room. John closed his eyes with a sigh, but trudged back into the lounge, Greg following behind.
“This is unnecessary,” Sherlock said, holding his damp flannel in his hands, his face still grey and drawn. “I was unaware that I was Callaghan’s target for the evening, or I would have been more cautious. I was somewhat distracted, or I would have noticed the difference in taste early enough to stop. But once I had had several sips, I forgot why stopping was advisable.”
“That’s all the more reason,” John huffed. “Greg can---”
“No, I can’t,” Greg said. “Sherlock knew what he was. He’s not a favourite of mine, certainly, but he doesn’t cause any serious damage. It’s his nature, you know?”
“His nature?” John said scornfully. “Being a mildly sadistic prick?”
Sherlock, surprisingly, gave a crack of laughter at that. “That’s one way of describing it. His name, John—do you know what ‘Callaghan’ means? It’s Irish Gaelic for ‘strife’. As Lestrade has said, it’s what he does. What he’s always done, and always will do.”
“And they don’t—he doesn’t do lasting harm,” Greg interjected. “It’s, um, there’s a Compact. Sort of a treaty. Between his people and ours.”
“His people?” John said. “What, the Irish vampires? Hell of an advertisement for them, if he is.”
Sherlock gave him an offended look. “Callaghan is not a vampire. Mycroft has no patience for malicious mischief, which is Callaghan’s stock-in-trade. Not everyone who wears a diadem is of the Sang, you know.”
“I don’t know anyone else who wears a diadem,” John retorted, “short of one of the royals. And I don’t think any of them travel in these circles.”
“You’d be surprised,” Sherlock said darkly, but left it at that.
‘So what is he, then? Since I’m pretty sure he’s not a bog-standard human, y’know? Given the crown and all—aren’t any Irish royalty, last I looked,” John said.
“Well, that’s true enough,” Greg said uneasily. “He’s—his people are very old, y’see. Predate the Romans, in fact, and desperately proud of it. He has a fair amount of contempt for everybody else as a result, but his lot have to abide by the Compact, so he makes his little jokes, but no more. Otherwise he’d have to pay a forfeit—and not in gold, since that’s too easy for le—them.”
“Them?” John said. “Who’s ‘them’? I mean, seriously, Greg, I’m currently in my sitting room with a werewolf and a vampire. Sherlock already told me there are no elves. So what? Fertility God? Manifestation of Pan? Giant Spaghetti Monster’s disciple? Something else that you honestly believe I’d be shocked by, as if anything could shock me at this juncture?”
Greg stared. “Giant Spaghetti Monster?” he said finally.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake, he’s making it up,” he sniffed to Greg, before turning to John. “John, think. He’s very short, with red hair and an Irish accent. He has a reputation for mischief, and is an admittedly supernatural creature from a very old race. And, for the capper, he finds it easy to come by gold. So that leaves…?”
“A leprechaun,” breathed John and Greg together.