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Human For A While

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Part One: Harry

John was a total wreck when he came home from Afghanistan: shoulder useless, hand shaking, a limp his therapist said was psychosomatic, if you wanted to listen to that sort of bullshit. Staggering along on an Army pension, no way he could stay in London permanently on that sort of money, but would he take anything from Harry? Would he buggery. Except the phone, and she was pretty sure he'd only accepted that because of Clara. Always thought he had an eye for Clara, though he denied it. His gaydar really was nonexistent, poor sap.

“Keep in touch,” Harry had said, pressing the phone into his hand. He'd said he would, but she knew he wouldn't. When she'd tried to kiss him goodbye, he'd flinched away, then looked guilty because he'd hurt her. Fucking typical on both counts. She'd needed another drink after all that. Never could stand the smell of hospitals.

She knew he'd got some grotty bedsit, probably just sitting there staring at the walls and going quietly crazy. You just can't help some people. Knew he'd still got the gun, too, but she wouldn't let herself think about that. Other people have lives as well, you know.

When the letter came from their great-uncle's solicitors, it seemed like a godsend. Get John out of the way for a bit, make him feel he's doing something useful, he always liked that. She got on the phone right away.

“What do you want, Harry?”

“And hello to you too,” she said tartly. “Look, John, Hector's died and the solicitor wants us to go and sort out his stuff. I can't go, I'm all tied up at work. Do you think you could–”

“OK,” he'd said, not even letting her finish. Must be more desperate than she thought. “Where do I have to go?”

“They said you can fly to Aberdeen and then hire a car; I'll pay for that – no, look, don't argue, you can pay me out of the estate when it's settled, OK? It's about half an hour's drive from there, on the coast.”

“Just as well it's July,” John said.

She remembered that freezing Christmas in Fife with Hector just after their father died. It wasn't like John to refer to their childhood, however obliquely.

“Yes, just as well,” she'd said, and they'd talked practicalities, got the rest of the call over as quickly as possible.

She hadn't expected John to tell her how it went, certainly hadn't expected to see him so soon after he got back. She was in the middle of packing up Clara's books – why the fuck anyone needed that many books she'd never know – when the doorbell rang. It looked like John through the glass, but there was someone else with him, tall thin figure with dark hair.

“Harry, this is Sherlock,” John said.

Fucking hell, she thought, knowing she was staring and she really shouldn't be. If she'd had a straight bone in her body she'd have been all over this man. A face almost too weird for beauty: hair as black as coal, ash-pale skin, knife-sharp cheekbones, strange light sea-coloured eyes, and that mouth – dear God, that mouth... Where the fuck had John picked this one up, and what on earth did he see in John?

Jumping to conclusions, Clara would have said, but you'd only got to look at the body language: the way this man stood just too close for casualness. The expression in his eyes when he looked at John, as if he wanted to melt into him...

Jesus, H, ask them in, why don't you, don't just stand here gawping and channelling Mills and Boon.

“Come in,” she said. “How was Collieston?”

John looked up at Sherlock, blushed, for fuck's sake, then looked away again and cleared his throat. “Fine,” he said, “good. It was all fine.”

Your luck's changing, mate, Harry thought.

She had no idea how much.

“Hector left us the house, Harry,” John said shakily. “It's a mess, but structurally sound. And the money – did you know he was that well off?”

“No,” Harry said. Good news for John, though; at least it would cushion things till he found a job, though presumably probate would take a while.

“I've found a flat to rent,” John said. “Mike Stamford knows someone who's just moving out, and Sherlock and I are going to share it.”

Too good to be true, Harry thought uneasily, but what was the point in saying that? John might look concussed, but he also looked happier than she'd seen him in years, and she wasn't going to rain on his parade.

They talked paperwork and house prices, Sherlock still gazing silently at John. Harry was almost starting to wonder if he could speak, but as the two of them were leaving he turned and said “You'll be wanting John's new address; it's 221b Baker Street.”

Deep voice, musical, with a sort of growl in it. Probably a smoker, Harry thought.

She didn't see much of them over the next few weeks, but whenever she did it was always the same: Sherlock apparently completely wrapped up in John, and John looking exhilarated but also uneasy. She remembered that look in the mirror from her own first gay relationship, no surprise there – but she didn't understand what was going on with Sherlock. Obviously crazy about John, couldn't take his eyes off him; but with a sense of sadness coming from him, so powerful she could almost touch it. Harry wondered if he was ill and not saying – it'd be just like John's luck to fall for someone who was utterly gorgeous and devoted to him and then lose him to some awful disease.

No use worrying about that. Might never happen, and she'd got other things to think about. Selling the bloody marital home, for a start.

She was making lists for the removal men when John turned up. Alone, which was surprising – she hadn't seen him on his own since he came back from Scotland. Carrying a bundle of something wrapped up in an old green velvet curtain.

“I need you to hide this for me,” he said abruptly.

“Oh Christ, John, you do pick your moments. I'm trying to move house, if you hadn't noticed.”

“I know,” he said. “I thought that might help to – camouflage it.”

She stared at him and at the bundle. What the fuck was he up to now?

“Promise me you'll never tell anyone,” he said. “And especially not Sherlock.”

“Jesus, John, what is this?”

“It's his,” he said. “He mustn't find it. Promise me.”

She lifted a corner of the velvet, touched the smooth pelt that lay heavy in his arms.


She stared at him.

“You have got to be fucking joking.”

But he wasn't, that was clear.

She'd heard the stories often enough from Hector. Used to know the Great Silkie ballad by heart. Never imagined for a moment any of the stories could be true.

“I love him,” John said desperately. “I can't let him go.”

“Oh God, John.”

She wanted to hug him, but he wouldn't want that, and the sight of that crazy bundle in his arms made her feel sick, thinking of what must surely follow.

What they both knew about the ballads and the stories, what everyone knows: the love between a selkie and a human always ends badly.