The last of the dragons, Mycroft repeated to him. As if emphasizing it would somehow suddenly cause Sherlock to care.
He had met the queen once. She looked at him with the same fearful curiosity that everyone else did—she just hid it better. Her teacup trembled against her saucer though and Sherlock had tilted his head and flexed his fingers, delighting at the way that the guards edged forward and the way that Mycroft had said, sharp, “Sherlock.”
When he was eighteen, Sherlock shaved his head and bought tattered jeans that fit tight around his legs. He liked the way he looked, strange and alienish in the full length mirror.
The man who would become his dealer picked him up on that first night when he slunk into a club and hoped not to be recognized as he tapped his fingers against his mojito and tried not to cringe in revulsion at the stench of sex and humans hanging dense. “Let’s get out of here,” the man said, curling his hand around his elbow. He pressed his nose against Sherlock’s pale scalp, and Sherlock thought yes, yes, this was it, he would collect excitement the same way that his brother collected people.
The man’s name was B. Sherlock said his name was Neon but B laughed and kissed his mouth and told Sherlock that he would call him Jared, the name of his ex-boyfriend. Sherlock didn’t care that he was coming second to some junkie who had died of an overdose five months ago because this was the thrill of it: knives in dark alleyways and chemicals that made his heart pound uncomfortably hard—and Sherlock hoped that maybe his heart would beat so hard that it would wear itself out.
B didn’t recognize him for three months and then it was the end of summer when Mycroft found him curled up on B’s ratty sofa with a diamond-tipped needle in his arm and the stench of whiskey on his breath. He laughed when Mycroft shouted at him.
Later B wouldn’t touch him, wouldn’t even look at him. He flinched away when Sherlock touched his shoulder. And Sherlock said, “It’s just me, I’m still me, I’m your Jared.”
And B had said, “My Jared is dead,” and then he never said anything to Sherlock ever again.
When Sherlock was little, he would steal knives from the kitchen or his father’s razors and he would hide them in his sock drawer. And when the cook was fired for stealing from the Holmes estate, Sherlock never said a thing and didn’t feel guilty about it at all.
During one of the Holmes’ Christmas parties, one of the servants’ sons left behind a butterfly knife on a table in the hallway. When he wasn’t looking, Sherlock took it and retreated to his room. When he opened the blade, he cut himself. He didn’t notice though, and spent the rest of the evening leaving bloody handprints on his aeroplane models and books.
Later that week, his mummy called him into the study and Sherlock stood with his hands behind his back and pretended to pay attention while she said, “You have to be more careful with your blood, Sherlock. There are people who would sell their souls for a vial.”
Dangerous, Sherlock realized. Fun.
Mummy arranged his arms at the photoshoot and touched his face and said, “My lovely baby, my darling dragon, stay still for mummy will you?” Sherlock was only a year old then. He was just a baby, still just a human.
The newspapers printed his name before he could even read and they said words like legacy and extinction but Sherlock wouldn’t understand, not for years.
His scales had come in iridescent the morning of his sixteenth birthday and he didn’t know yet how to change it back. Mummy liked to look at him and found excuses to stroke his arms and the back of his neck. His chemistry tutor touched his arm later that week to get his attention and Sherlock broke her wrist. He wasn’t sorry about it, not even when she showed up to teach him about carboxylic acids with her hand in a cast.
“Survival instincts,” Mycroft said when he heard about the tutor. Sherlock wasn’t going to ask him how to change his scales into soft skin again, wasn’t going to give him the pleasure.
The bouncers said, “Mr. Holmes! Such a pleasure to see you again,” and they always let him in, even if the line stretched the length of the entire street.
The girls wrapped themselves around his arm and he knew that they wanted nothing more from him than his fame. He was one of the most exotic creatures on earth. The boys he could forgive easier because he liked raking his nails down their bodies and drawing blood. He liked it better when they didn’t expect it and he liked it best when they begged for more.
“You indiscretion is most unbecoming,” Mycroft told him when he came to visit Sherlock at university, “There are always eyes on us, Sherlock. You’re a heartbeat away from a scandal.”
“Let it come,” Sherlock sneered and the next night he cut his knees on broken glass while he choked beautifully on some stranger’s cock.
Sherlock couldn’t bruise. He wanted to though. He wanted a bruise necklace, a bruise bracelet, a belt of bruises across his navel.
When he was twenty-four he broke into St. Bart’s for the first time because he was high and bored. He found an operating theatre and sat in a chair in the dark, turning a scalpel over and over in his hands. He wondered if he could open the skin over his ribcage, if he could spread his ribs and cut out his own heart.
In the morning Mycroft called off the policemen and paid the reporters to be silent. He didn’t say a word to Sherlock and sent him to a private rehabilitation institute in Lyon that afternoon.
The problem, Sherlock realized while he shivered on his cot, was that he wanted too badly to be human.
Mummy didn’t let him leave when he came back from Lyon. She sent all of the servants away and moved all of the cars to their house in Sussex.
“It’s just you and me, darling,” she said. She gave him books to read if he was quiet and didn’t clutter up the kitchen with his experiments. She locked him in his room during the day if he refused to talk to her and took away his violin if he hid in his room for too long.
She didn’t bother to hide her scales anymore and they glittered a pale purple under the light whenever she came close enough to trace the outline of his skull with her fingers. Her own horns were coming in—just like father’s had—pale bone curving elegantly around her ears.
“You’re mine,” she murmured when she thought that Sherlock was too absorbed in his reading to hear. Or maybe she wanted him to hear. Sherlock didn’t know.
“Mother will have to go to the mountains soon,” Mycroft said on one of the few occasions he had to visit.
Sherlock didn’t tell Mycroft that he was scared of her, that he was terrified that she would whisk him away with her. Sherlock had decades, half a century to go before he became dragon enough to need to leave London.
But Sherlock didn’t need to tell Mycroft because when mummy spread her wings and said, “Come along Sherlock,” he was there with a vial of her blood and a spell in the old language. And when she had been bound to Mycroft fully, he said the words that banished her from London and forbade her from touching Sherlock ever again over the sound of her inhuman screams.
“Be careful with your blood, brother,” Mycroft said when all was done and Sherlock bared his teeth as to not show his fear.
Sherlock stopped collecting moments of insobriety and started to collect crime. His face was too recognizable so he busied himself with the anonymity of common criminals.
“As a favour to me,” he heard Mycroft say to Lestrade and that was how Sherlock knew that Mycroft’s collection of people extended all the way to Scotland Yard. He wondered who else Mycroft had collected, if he was hoarding Sherlock like mummy wanted to, if he was surrounded by all of Mycroft’s things.
It didn’t matter though, because even though Sherlock didn’t forget, he didn’t care. Let Mycroft try to add him to his stash. Sherlock was a dragon, not a man.
John Watson made him tea and cleaned the kitchen even though Sherlock was the one who made messes there. He didn’t tell Sherlock to stop playing the violin at four in the morning even though he went to work at eight.
He said things like, “Brilliant!” and “That’s fantastic!” and Sherlock didn’t know it but he started to collect John Watson.
They had been flatmates for a little over a month before John came back with a newspaper in his hand.
“I didn’t realize,” John said. The newspaper showed a picture of Mycroft and that one assistant that he’d taken a liking to—Sherlock didn’t remember her name. And the headline: Marriage announcement ensures continuation of legacy.
“Oh yes,” Sherlock snarled, “I’m a national treasure,” and he stalked off to his room where he slammed his door shut.
For the first week, Sherlock woke up in the mornings and expected John’s room to be cleared out, for John to stand at the bottom of the stairs looking up and saying something like, “I don’t think this is really going to work out, it’s me, not you.” As if he were the one with thousand-year-old reptilian blood running cold and unpredictable in his veins.
But John still made him tea. He still cleaned up the messes and yelled at Sherlock for putting sheep livers in an open container next to the tomatoes.
And when Sherlock invited him along to crime scenes, he still said things like, “Brilliant!” and “That’s fantastic!” and Sherlock never stopped feeling pleased when he did.
In April, he moulted. It had started when he was eighteen—just a few scales that came loose and fell off—but now he was nearing his thirties and the entire process had gotten complicated. He spent most of the day in his room, stretched out in the sun that came through his window because he couldn’t control what form he wanted to be in. His scales were such a dark purple that they were almost black and they bunched on his shoulders and on the small of his back. His father had the same scales. When he moulted, they scattered off in sheets to make way for new ones.
John picked a few of them off the ground when he cleaned the flat, looked at them in the palm of his hand while Sherlock trailed off on his violin. He looked at John.
“Can I keep these?” John asked, looking up at Sherlock.
Sherlock brought the violin back up to his chin. “Do whatever you want.”
Her name was Elizabeth and Sherlock wouldn’t have given her a moment’s notice, if not for the way that John called her Liz and excused himself from crime scenes to go on dates with her. Sherlock hated the very thought of her because John was his in a way that only a dragon could have.
But he was also human—or at least he was trying very hard to be—and he knew that these things that made sense to a dragon did not always make sense to a human.
“Little brother,” Mycroft said, “Perhaps it is time that you diversified your stock.”
“You married a human,” Sherlock sneered.
“Ah,” Mycroft said, “But I have more than one.”
John stopped seeing Elizabeth. “She said I was spending too much time with you.”
Good, Sherlock thought. His fingers flexed.
He wanted everything. But it would not be human to take it. John deserved better than that.
“Will you show me?” John asked. He smelled like cheap beer and pizza and he’d just finished telling Sherlock about the pranks he’d pulled during training before he’d been shipped off to Afghanistan.
“You don’t have to,” John added, words slurring together in his haste to get them out.
Sherlock looked at him. John looked away, “I’m sorry, please forget I asked.”
Sherlock changed. The scales rippled into existence, dense down the back of his neck, a scattering high up on his cheekbones. They appeared on the back of his arm, down his wrist, fine scales that looked like they’d been painted on.
John stared at him. Sherlock had never changed in front of a human before.
“Hell,” John breathed and reached forward. He touched the side of Sherlock’s neck, fingers slipping under his collar, “You’re beautiful.”
Fearsome perhaps, Sherlock thought, but never beautiful.
John moved closer and touched Sherlock’s cheek, slid his fingers into Sherlock’s hair, across his scalp, and peered into Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock didn’t look at himself often enough to know if his eyes had gone slit-like the way that Mycroft’s did.
“Extraordinary,” John breathed and Sherlock hungered for him in that moment: his words, the warmth of his touch. John was his but he wasn’t his yet and no matter how much Sherlock wanted to press his teeth up against the pulse in John’s neck or to pin him down, he wasn’t stupid with the only thing he owned.
But then John bent his head forward and pressed a kiss to Sherlock’s cheekbone and his lips followed the pattern towards his ear before John stiffened and pulled away and mumbled, “I’m sorry—“ and Sherlock dragged him back.
Sherlock changed back because John deserved better than him, a primal creature that thought nothing of using the people around it, of locking its children into an empty house and taking them to their premature end. John deserved something human, someone who could love him back in a way that a dragon could not, but Sherlock would put on his human skin and try.
John kissed him, fingers already working their way under Sherlock’s shirt, clumsily unbuttoning Sherlock’s trousers. Sherlock helped him slip his shirt over his shoulders and tongued the dip of his collarbone, hands spanning across John’s ribcage. He felt John’s heartbeat under his chin, the nervous quiver of John’s stomach under the palm of his hand when the dragon broke through and said—
“I will not give it to you,” Mycroft said when Sherlock asked.
“If you don’t, you know I’ll find it elsewhere.”
“Think of what you are asking,” Mycroft said, “A dragon cannot be bound to such a weak human.”
“I want to belong to him,” Sherlock said, “As much as he belongs to me.”
“What’s this?” John asked, tilting the tiny glass vial against the light.
“My blood,” Sherlock answered.