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The one in which Sherlock belongs to the most noble order of the Garter

Chapter Text

So this wasn’t Mike’s dream job. It was still a job, though, and an entertaining one, too. The Ark (affiliated with the notorious Garden of Hesperides chain) was more than a pet shop. It was a store that boasted that through them you could get any pet, no matter how rare or peculiar. To their credit, the claim had still to be falsified, to Mike’s knowledge, even if sometimes their clients would have to wait for a while. They did import some creatures especially, on commission. (A hefty one, obviously.)

Mike was in charge of caring for the pets they did have, and the fact that he could see the beauty and get fond of various reptiles and invertebrates, instead of being spooked by them, made him the man for the job. Maybe too fond, really. He secretly named all the critters he took care of, and if the Ark’s prices weren’t so outrageous, he’d have become a client as well as an employee long ago.

If you asked Mike what superpower he wished for, he wouldn’t answer flight or invisibility or anything copied from comic superheroes. He’d reply, instead, that he wanted to understand the language of animals. And it would be a very, very wise choice, because so many amazing adventures happened right under his nose.

Well, not for a long time, they didn’t; because like chemical reactions, even quests need a catalyst sometimes. So for a long time the pets-to-be contented themselves with their boring, sheltered, monotonous life. 

Until one day when they received a new shipment of pets, among which, oddly, a single garter snake. A longish but awfully thin thing, that rather than the species’ customary stripes sported a yellowish colour with dark brown, almost black spots. Mike wondered idly if it was a mistaken labelling or simply a unique exemplar. Anyway, he was gorgeous.

His new friend hissed nervously when the caretaker picked him up to place him in his new terrarium, alone – waiting to resolve his doubts, better not mix him with the others.

 “It’s okay, Sherlock,” the man cooed, christening him on the spot. “You’ll be fine. But we’ll have to get you to grow a bit. People will think you’re to be sold as bait otherwise, you know.”

Despite that, the snake refused to eat anything. True, Mike knew that snakes in general liked to take their sweet time digesting, so if he had a big meal before being sent away his lack of appetite might not be worrying. When the wilful starving went on, though, he grew concerned.

He wasn’t the only one. With his favourite superpower, he would have been able to hear the biggest and most shiny of their pythons inquire about his new neighbour. “Why aren’t you eating still? Are you ill?”

“What makes you think I’m not digesting?” Sherlock replied, curiosity piqued.

The python huffed. “Obvious. Given the crate you were shipped in, you came from so far that they can’t have fed you enough for you to still be digesting after a week you’re here. That much food would have ripped your stomach open. After all, you are tiny.”

“Just because I’m not too fat to be able to uncoil myself, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me,” Sherlock hissed angrily.

“I’m not too fat to uncoil!” the python protested loudly, though he made no move to demonstrate it.

“I’ve never seen you do it in my week of forced permanence here,” the garter snake pointed out snidely.

“Unneeded spending of energy is against my ethic. Against snake ethic, I would say, but purposeful starving of oneself would be a sin as well, so I am wondering what your values are… if you are indeed healthy,” the mammoth reptilian lectured pompously.

“I appreciate being able to think, and a full stomach slows my brain down horribly,” Sherlock explained, this side of pouting.

“Well, that means you do not have enough brainpower. Given that you’re little more than a runt, it makes sense. Don’t worry – you have room for growth yet,” the python smugly quipped.

“Oh, shut up, Fatty!” Sherlock grumbled, coiling on himself as if to declare the conversation concluded.

“My name is Mycroft, and I would be thankful if you used it,” the python chided. “What do you need to think so deeply about anyway? Maybe I can help.”

“Isn’t it obvious? I still haven’t figured out how to leave this thrice-damned tank!” Sherlock raged, hitting the transparent walls trapping him.

Mycroft blinked once, slowly, then queried, frankly puzzled, “Why would you want to? It’s not mating season yet, and that and going looking for food are the only acceptable reasons to go strolling around. And in case you haven’t noticed, you don’t need to hunt your own food down anymore. It gets delivered to you at regular intervals. If your anxiousness is born from fear that it will stop and you will be left unable to provide for yourself, don’t be. Our caretaker is a punctual man, and just looking at him is enough to observe that he doesn’t believe in fasting, either for himself or others.”

“Thank you for the reassurance. But some of us have other aims besides filling one’s stomach, and before you insinuate that, no, I’m not talking about mating either. Honestly, the necessity to spread the species has always escaped me. Do we really need more idiots in the world?” Sherlock spit.

“More of you, certainly not. Abstaining from transmitting your moodiness might actually be commendable,” Mycroft sneered. “But now I really have to question why you would need to leave your new home.”

“To leave, obviously! Nothing ever happens here. Only ever the same sand, the same fucking unfrozen mice, the same sight from the same glass panels! I’m going mad with boredom here!” Sherlock raged.

“Boredom?” the python echoed, and if he’d been human, he would have raised a sarcastic eyebrow.

“Of course! I’m bored! Bored, bored, bored, bored!” the (possibly) garter snake yelled. “I can feel my brain oozing out of my gums.”

“Well, if you started eating in the first place,” Mycroft lectured pompously, “you might get to leave here for a while.”

“Leave the tank?” the diminutive – in comparison – snake queried eagerly.

The python chuckled. “Of course not. But our caretaker would carry your tank out of the warehouse during the day and show you off in the shop. People come in, they look, and someday one will carry you away. I have no idea what happens afterwards, though. But until then, you come back here for the night,” he explained.

This time, Sherlock fully pouted. “It’s not fair that just because they’re so big these creatures get to boss us around! I have to eat for the privilege to be stared at and be able to stare back?! No, thank you. I’ll take my chances with starving to figure out a way to be truly free. There must be a trick to this, I just need to determine it…”

“Free? Nobody’s ever truly free. If you’re smart, though, you can manipulate the system to run in your favour. And here the efforts required are minimal, really. We’re blessed with a kind soul taking care of us,” Mycroft remarked, cutting the smaller serpent in. “Besides, you’re not muscled enough to strangle a victim and I don’t see any fangs to effectively poison your prey. It’s a wonder you can feed yourself in your own habitat…and you want to overpower the bipeds? Be rational.”

“I can feed myself perfectly well, when I choose to, thank you very much. If you are so expert at manipulating the system, why are you stuck here too?” the garter snake questioned sarcastically.

“Because I chose to. Here I have all my needs wholly met, and am truly content. Why should I take my chances, only to end who knows where? I caused the exact amount of trouble to be kept in the shadows and not be sent back as defective,” Mycroft declared proudly.

“Trouble? You? Did that involve moving?” Sherlock mocked.

“Ghastly, I know,” the python agreed.

If snakes snickered, Sherlock would have. He still managed to convey his deep amusement, though. Maybe the bigger serpent wasn’t as enormous an asshole as he’d thought. “And this trouble wouldn’t involve leaving your tank without permission, would it? If you claim to be so clever, despite being constantly busy assimilating your food, the least you can do is prove it,” the smaller snake challenged.

“Trying to have your work done for you? Such silly psychological tricks do not work with me, little one. The least you can do is properly ask for help – saying please, for a start,” Mycroft quipped, way too smug.

Correction: the python was an even bigger asshole than he’d pegged him as at first. “I do not need your help,” Sherlock hissed angrily. “And you should use my proper name too, unless you want to be renamed Fatcroft. I am sure everyone here will agree that it is an entirely more adequate name for you.”

“I will give you one free pointer in exchange for you refraining from mangling my given name, Ssssher-lock. Try to comply with the bipeds’ demands, and you might get to leave the tank. If you are very, very lush, and make visitors want to see you up close and personal. You should get used to being touched, though. You didn’t seem very comfortable with it when you first arrived here,” Mycroft lectured, his last sentence decidedly mocking.

“Being touched? By strangers?” Sherlock echoed, divided between shock and outrage.

“They do not hurt you. Not in the shop, at least. They’re watched, after all. There is nothing to fear. But as I said, you have to make them want you,” the python reassured the younger serpent.

“This still wouldn’t make me free to roam. Explore. Analyse. It would only make me even more helpless. If that is your suggestion for a pastime, I have to seriously question your idea of entertainment. No, no. I need to get out of here on my own. That way I can make sure that my brain does not rot entirely. But to achieve that, I need not to be weighed down. So no, I am not going to eat.  I can go on at least another two weeks before I absolutely need to feed myself, or risk falling ill. But I am certain that I will have figured out how to leave long before that,” the garter snake declared haughtily.

“Suit yourself. I cannot force your silly self to be sensible. But believe me, you do not want to test the bipeds too much,” Mycroft hissed back.

“I thought you said that our caretaker was a kind creature,” Sherlock retorted, hiding his disquiet. The other had more knowledge about the situation they were trapped in, after all.

“He is. He cares for us – very much so. If you continue refusing to comply, he will assume your health is declining, though, and send you to someone else. I have heard rumours. The things they do there are…not pretty. True, in case we are actually sick, these practices end up helping, but you do not want to be subjected to them out of sheer stubbornness,” the python warned softly.

“Scare tactics now? Do you really think these will work?” Sherlock quipped, coiling again and turning his back to the other snake.

“No,” Mycroft admitted, sighing. “I wish it would be so easy. When will you be persuaded that we want the best for you, Sherlock?”

“Oh, but I already am. I just don’t believe that you know what’s best for me, and I would thank you to stop assuming so,” the smaller snake concluded tersely. He was so tired of others’ arrogance.

Chapter Text

 

Mike was worried now. Truly. Why the heck wasn’t Sherlock eating yet? Was he ill? He’d be in serious trouble if the little snake was. The mere fact that it had been a single delivery meant that the scaly pet was special. Had it been reserved for some picky client and their superiors had forgotten to tell him? If he delivered a dying pet he would be severely reprimanded, possibly lose his job. And Mike loved his job.

The simplest thing would be to bring Sherlock to their vet immediately, for a full check-up. But Sarah – the veterinarian who took care of all the creatures of the Ark – was smart and beautiful and funny, and to be honest Mike quite fancied her. You’d think this would mean that he’d jump at any excuse to visit her, but he didn’t want to come across as a moron who took a pet’s bad mood for a terminal illness.     

An ugly suspicion entered his brain: maybe Sherlock just didn’t like the unfrozen mice? True, the animals they sold should all come from professional breeders…and consequently, they would have never known a different diet. But what if Sherlock had been caught in the wild? What if he didn’t trust these mice carrions that undoubtedly smelled overwhelmingly of human?

 

If he could prove it, maybe he could mention that to his supervisors and persuade them to look into the people who delivered the garter snake… And the way to prove it was to have undisputable evidence that Sherlock would eat – but exclusively when he was allowed to behave like he would in the wild. Hunt his own prey.

True, the idea of putting a live critter in the cage for the hungry snake to pounce upon went against all of Mike’s nurturing instincts. It seemed needless cruelty. But that was the way of nature, after all. If he could prove and stop a much worse animal abuse – hunting free creatures to capture and sell them – the life of a single mouse, or even a dozen mice, could be construed as a necessary and acceptable sacrifice for the cause. Mike sighed.    

He went to the mice’s cage. Some immediately rubbed against him, hoping for a treat. One, a plain, brown little thing, retired shyly to a corner. He ignored the friendly ones – they had better chances to be picked by clients, after all – and gently, deftly held the slender, coffee-coloured one in his hand.

“Sorry little one,” he murmured, voice soothing. “I thought that we’d be together for a good long while, Molls. And then one day there would be a shy little girl who’d see you and utterly fall in love with you at first sight, and she’d bring you home. But I need one of you to possibly prove the existence of a criminal ring.” He petted her softly. “Well, here goes nothing,” he urged himself.

He approached Sherlock’s terrarium, opened it a fraction, thrust the mouse in and turned away sharply. Fine, he was a coward. The fact that he persuaded himself that the garter snake hunting and gobbling poor Molls down was for the greater good didn’t mean that he wanted to see it happen.

Of course, things didn’t go exactly like he expected…Well, the proverbial entranced prey by the snake’s sharp gaze part went down pat. For a long moment, Molly was unable to do anything more than pant softly. Instead of Sherlock’s lunging to devour her, though, he finally hissed, “You’re not the cage-mate I thought I would ever get. What is the biped even thinking?”

That seemed to break the spell. She wriggled to a corner of the cage, the farthest she could find. “You don’t want… You aren’t going to… cage-mate?” she squitted.

“Obviously. You were thrown in here, and I can’t get myself out, so I cannot get you out either, can I? Unless you know how to accomplish that,” the snake pointed out, coiling up.

“You want to get away? Where to?” she dared to inquire, puzzled. She was born in a cage and had been raised in a cage, and while she knew that the world was much bigger than that, the knowledge had always terrified her.

Some of her brothers would talk of what was beyond home, and the wonderful life they would get once they could live on their own. Molly didn’t understand them. They were warm, safe, well fed, had friends…what more did they want?

Even the biped, as the snake called him, despite being humongous and having just betrayed her, had never been truly cruel – before, at least. Maybe he knew better than her? After all, she hadn’t been eaten yet. Why was she here, really?

“Jusssst…out!” Sherlock replied, impatient and frustrated, throwing himself at one of the clear plastic walls.

Molly let out a tiny, whimpering squit and tried to make herself even more tiny, if at all possible. That was one angry predator.

“Anywhere! Everywhere! the snake continued to rant. “There’sssss a whole world to explore out there, and I’m trapped here to die of boredom!”

At that, Molly looked around. The cage seemed no different from these of the other snakes next to it, and she assumed it was tailored to their needs, but it did seem rather…bare. no other companions but her. nothing to actually play with Maybe this creature had a point? She dared to take two tiny steps towards him, and softly queried, “Are you… are you feeling lonely?”

Sherlock’s head whipped suddenly towards her, glaring, and the mouse hurriedly retired to ‘her’ corner. Not that there was any place truly safe for her here. “Lonely?” he spit out, scornful. “Of course not.” After a moment, he added, “Why would I?” The garter snake sounded less angry and more genuinely puzzled.

She took a deep breath, trying to steel herself to say her opinion. “Because…you don’t have anyone to cuddle with? And play with? Or…didn’t have, at least?”

Being a snake, Sherlock didn’t have any eyelids, and he’d never sat and pondered why other animals did. If you’d asked him and forced him to think about it, he’d answer that a brille was much more efficient, and other creature idiots.

Now, though, he’d have liked to have at least a nictitating membrane. Blinking would have given him something to do while his brain tried to wrap itself around the fluffy mouse’s sentence. It would prove he had not suddenly died. She looked…concerned. (Why not happy? It made no sense!)

After a good thirty seconds, he became distantly aware of a voice talking. “…Okay? Are you okay, mister?”

“Am I okay?” Sherlock echoed sharply. “What do you care? And what on earth possessed you to use past tense before? ‘Didn’t have’…does this mean you are seriously considering playing with me? Or that you would be willing to… cuddle …together?” he continued, without pausing long enough to let her answer any of that. At the word ‘cuddle’, he shuddered visibly.

Once again, she took a few, cautious steps towards him. “If you’d like…mister…I don’t think I’ve caught your name, actually… Oh, and I’m Molly! I don’t think I said that, either. How awfully rude of me! I’m better bred than that, I swear. I’m really, really sorry, Mr…again…” the mouse rambled, ending with a nervous chuckle.

“I’m Sherlock,” the garter snake replied, slithering towards her. Amazingly, this time she stood her ground, though she trembled. “I suppose you are right, if we are to share space we need an introduction. But I have to ask: what mental illness would make you want to cuddle me? If you haven’t noticed, I am one of your natural predatorssss,” he hissed scornfully.

“Well, you haven’t eaten me yet,” Molly pointed out, a smile in her eyes. “I really thought you would, but you didn’t, so… and I am warm-blooded. I thought maybe that was the reason I’d been sent to you, after all.”

“You are crediting bipeds with way too much cleverness,” Sherlock grumbled. “And anyway, the heat here is fine. Tailored to my needs. There’s no need to cuddle,” he sniffed haughtily. “You can have that side of the place,” the garter snake conceded, nodding towards the area closer to Mycroft’s cage. Having a buffer between them might be nice.

“Of course, if you prefer…” she agreed meekly. “Just know it’s a standing offer.” Molly took a deep breath, and then inquired, “If I might ask… mind you, I am very much NOT objecting… why didn’t you eat me?” She knew that she wasn’t as pretty as some (fine, most) of her brothers and sisters, nor as brave (still, here she was talking to a snake – how many of them would have dared to?), but she’d never thought she really was so entirely defective not to be even worth becoming a snack. Four paws, a tail, fur reasonably groomed and entirely parasite-free… What was so wrong with her that someone who insisted he was a predator had made not even a token attempt to hunt her?  

“Why would I?” the snake sneered back, looking wildly outraged at her insinuation. “I get as many of your…. cousins, I suppose… already dead and ready for consumption as I may wish, and more. And I am abstaining from them currently, because I can’t allow my brain to be obfuscated by the needs of digestion. In which universe does it make sense for me to expend energy and brain power to murder you, only to have you clogging up my brain cells in revenge?”

Given the face he’d pulled when he said murder, between disgusted and horrified, Molly guessed that for all of his predator talk he hadn’t killed many mice by himself. She couldn’t help it. She giggled. “Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense at all. And I suppose your technique does have some merit. Using food as a reward to oneself surely makes you eager to accomplish whatever task you’re endeavouring.”

“You understand,” Sherlock remarked, sounding surprised.

“Doesn’t everyone?” she asked softly. Weren’t food-reward puzzles the best game ever?

“Certainly not,” the snake complained. “Not that I talked with many of the creatures in this place, but then again, everyone is an idiot.”

Once again, Molly giggled. “Well, that’s not fair, is it? How can you say that someone is an idiot if you don’t talk to them?”

“I observe them. It’s more than enough,” Sherlock declared, raising himself to look more intimidating.

“Oh?” she squeaked, sounding interested.

“For example, I know that you were the littlest of your litter, and were regularly bullied by all your siblings, which is why you are so pathetically eager to be accepted and with a sense of self-worth so low that you thought that my not eating you proved just how many things were wrong with you,” the snake hissed, all in a breath.

“Why are you so mean?” Molly protested, clearly upset. “Haven’t I been polite to you? Kind?”

He didn’t answer her. Instead, he countered. “Was I wrong?”

After a moment of silence, the mouse ground out, “No. I have no idea how you can know, given that you arrived only a few days ago and our home is as far from the snakes’ area as it can be, but you were right. This doesn’t mean that you get to call me pathetic though!”

“Don’t I?” he echoed, sounding incredulous more than arrogant. He started slithering in a lazy, wide circle around her. She turned with him, tracking his head’s movement. “No you don’t!” she said, and for once, her voice was forceful instead of trembling and meek. He’d successfully made her angry. Unsurprising. “Yes, you can kill me. We both know. It doesn’t mean that you get to belittle me. Not if you want us to live together as friends.”

“Friends?” Sherlock echoed. He wanted to sound spiteful, but in truth, it was clear that the snake was baffled.

“Yeah, sure,” Molly confirmed. “I mean, I’d like to.” And here she was, back to meek.

Females made no sense, the garter snake decided, gliding away from her to coil back in his half of the cage. Then he once again turned his head towards her and asked, “I will… if you explain me this: you just stood up to me – and we both agree that I could end you anytime I wanted. Yet you were – no, you let herself be, with the new data – bullied by your peers. How on earth did that happen, Molly?”       

“These were my relatives… and everyone agreed I was worthless, and kept repeating it, so you start to wonder if they have a point – but you, you keep insisting that you could kill me if you wanted, but you haven’t. And maybe I don’t observe as much as you, but I do see things…It’s a talent one grows when being bullied… and all in all, you give me the I’m-kind vibe. I don’t think you want to hurt me…not really. But if I don’t make my point now, you might doing so inadvertently, over and over. And none of us wants that,” she explained quietly.

“You are a smart little mouse, Molly,” Sherlock acknowledged, his tone indeed kind.

She blinked. “Really?” Nobody ever praised her.

“I can’t help what I see, so you are right – I didn’t speak meaning to hurt you. Other creatures I spoke to, before arriving here, never figured that out. You can draw your own conclusions,” the snake declared, apparently cold.

She decided that cold was probably her new friend’s default mode, though. Maybe it had to do with his thermoregulation? Molly repressed a giggle at her own pun, but couldn’t stop herself from a short but excited happy dance. “You do like me!”

“Let’s not exaggerate,” the garter snake quipped, “I do find you more tolerable than most. Maybe the biped wasn’t entirely barmy when he decided this was the best environment for you. Unless…” he paused “he’s probably going to keep throwing dead mice at me. I do hope this won’t throw you into hysterics.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “Death is inevitable. Unless it’s the body of my mum or something, I won’t have a fit, I promise. And I find you tolerable too, Sherlock.” She giggled then, if only for a moment.

“Good. Now, I should really go back to figuring out how to leave this damned prison. Unless you have input about that, please be quiet and let me think,” Sherlock instructed sharply.

She didn’t even agree aloud, just assented with a gesture. Smart little mouse, indeed.               

Chapter Text

Mike ignored Sherlock’s cage for the whole day. He should have been eager to check the result of his experiment, for the protection of wild animals out there, if nothing else. But checking meant having to mourn sweet, soft Molls, and he wasn’t keen on it.

The following day, though, during his feeding rounds, he steeled himself for a finally sated, sleepy in his digestion Sherlock. Instead, the caretaker’s jaw literally dropped, leaving him gaping at the impossible sight.

The garter snake was deeply coiled on himself, apparently resting, and the little brown mouse was laying half over him, obviously asleep. The only correct term for this seemed to be cuddling, and while it wasn’t odd for a rodent to be affectionate and slumber bundled up with her cage-mates, it was entirely absurd for a snake to consider a mouse like a hot water bottle instead of dinner.

Mike was starting to think that Sherlock’s fasting was due to him having been raised together with – if not by – a mouse family, and hence having his own self-identity rather scrambled. True, this would require weirdly-minded (to put it mildly) humans as past owners, or – in the wild – a bunch of singularly suicidal murines. Another serious objection was that snakes did not require any ‘raising’, per se, and were perfectly independent once they left their eggs. But oddest associations had been witnessed, both in the wild and in human-controlled habitats.

The man sighed deeply. If mice were out of question, he’d have to find another alternative to feed the garter snake, Letting him starve was not an option. “You are determined not to make things easy for me, are you, Sherlock?”  he murmured, without obtaining a reaction from the cage’s occupants.

He walked away, glad that, at least, the python next to him was anything but a picky eater. Mycroft was already awake – having long since learned feeding hours – and was observing him with cold but somehow eager eyes. If the humungous snake hadn’t been a rather unpredictable fellow, Mike would have been tempted to pet him in gratitude.  

After the end of his feeding duty, Mike decided to return Molly to her proper cage. If she wasn’t going to be Sherlock’s snack, there was no need for them to live together. She would undoubtedly be happier with her brothers, and it would make taking care of her simpler, too. Mike’s brain would not need to switch between the needs of different species when looking after a single cage. Once again, he was in for a surprise.

The two pets were – this time – at opposite ends of the terrarium, though they didn’t seem uneasy, so Mike opened it just a bit, and inserted a hand to – quickly and gently – catch the little mouse. He was used to Sherlock patently ignoring him, unless the reptile was the one being handled in the first place. So he yelped loudly when the snake lunged in a flash, caught his wrist and – from there – slithered to encircle Molly in a vice grip.

Now you get peckish?” Mike grumbled, letting both go and glaring at the garter snake. He forced himself not to avert his eyes this time. He might have the evidence he needed in a few seconds. Instead, Sherlock let her go immediately, and once again retired to the part of his habitat farthest from her.

“I think you’ve misinterpreted the point of this shop,” the man muttered, “it isn’t to get pets for other… pets.” Still, he walked away. There was no arguing with this particular, awfully stubborn snake.

“Why would you do that?” Molly asked, looking both flattered and confused.

“His actions didn’t make any sense,” Sherlock replied, “but I observed that he didn’t throw any unwanted mouse at me since you’re here. I highly doubt that it was out of respect for your feelings. I’m afraid that he meant for you to be my food.” Once again, he looked quite horrified at the prospect. “If he classes you as fare, I’m not letting him take you to such a grim fate anywhere else. You’re one of the few creatures with a decent brain I know. I won’t allow that waste.”

In the evening, leaving his workplace, Stamford’s mind was still on the odd friendship he’d accidentally created, and more than that, on the reptile’s stubborn fasting. He was still hoping that the tiny snake would not be ill. If he had to bring Sherlock to Sarah, and it turned out that the poor thing was seriously sick and he had ignored that, there wouldn’t only be a serious reprimand and perhaps a fine on the horizon for him. Much worse would be Sarah’s disappointed look and his own self-eating guilt.         

 If not rodents, then what could tempt the difficult snake? Letting his thoughts wander, Mike walked as usual through Regent’s Park. It was close to the shop, and a bit of fresh air was always welcome. That’s when he noticed it.

On the path near the lake, splayed in the mid of it, lay a toad. The unfortunate creature was croaking piteously and trying to drag itself back to the water, but one of his hind legs was clearly broken. “Poor dude,” Mike remarked, instinctively picking him up and walking him back to the lakeside.

Once there, though, the man hesitated. “You know what,” he said aloud, stopping the toad from throwing itself back into the water, “I don’t think you’ll fare very well with a game leg. I have a very nice doc lady friend who could get you better… or as better as it’s possible. Want to meet her?”

If the toad had been able to reply, he’d have said, “Nope, thank you, here’s good enough for me, if you would just let me the fuck go. I have no urge to meet strangers. who’s to say that I will ever get back to my nice home?” But if protests were. if not unheard, nor understood, and Mike walked back, while taking out his phone to call Sarah and ask her if she would do him a tiny favour.

He’d just found her number on the contact list, when an intuition stopped him and made him grimace. he’d been wandering and pondering about what Sherlock would deign to eat, and he literally found on his path a creature that, without Sarah, would certainly become someone’s lunch. it seemed almost like an answer to his prayers.

Quickly, Mike sneaked back in the shop, to drop the (unbaptised – he wasn’t that much of a masochist) toad in Sherlock’s cage and run away, feeling like a traitor. If he’d stopped to watch, he would have noticed the snake looking decidedly unimpressed with his antics.

“Fuck!” the toad croaked, falling – rather than being gently deposited – to his destination.

“Bicycle or motorcycle?” the snake queried immediately.

“What?” the amphibian replied clearly puzzled.

“Your leg. It’s clearly been recently ruined by a human vehicle. It’s clearly not a truck or a car. With you unable to move, if you’d been in a street frequented by four-wheeled vehicles, you’d already be dead, and besides, one of their tires would have ruined more than a single leg. They’re simply too big. But I can’t determine if the damage was inflicted by a motorised two-wheeled vehicle or not. So?” Sherlock inquired haughtily. 

“Ah…It was a bicycle. What you did was amazing!” the toad blurted out earnestly.

Once again, Sherlock would have loved to have eyelids to blink. He… didn’t expect that. “Was it?” he couldn’t help but ask. Even Molly, who was…friendly, had been offended when he deduced her. He’d pointed out the newcomer’s disability, and implied that he was alive by sheer blind luck. Ordinarily, anyone would become at the very least defensive after that. Not… praise him.

Instead, this absurd toad insisted, “Of course. What you did was extraordinary. Quite extraordinary.”

Sherlock knew how to spot a lie, and this new acquaintance’s awe was not. He was unsure of how to react to that. He decided to offer sincerity for sincerity. At least, if his behaviour was improper, this new… friend (could he become one? Molly had infected his brain) would know why and – perhaps – forgive him. “That’s not what they usually say,” he admitted, coiling in embarrassment and making himself even smaller.

“What do they say?” the amphibian enquired curiously.

“In the wild, piss off. Here where I can’t – and not for lack of willingness, believe me – ‘you meanie’,” the garter snake revealed.

The toad’s eyes glinted with humour, and he croaked a laugh. Sherlock, after meeting his eyes, joined in. The creature wasn’t laughing at him, for some mysterious reason.

“Well, to be fair, Sherlock, you deserved it. And I said you were mean, not a meanie. You’d make our new friend think my brain never developed properly past pup stage,” Molly interjected, coming forward from ‘her’ corner. She’d quietly observed the new arrival before daring to approach him. “Hello, I’m Molly, and this sometimes forgetful of manners reptile is Sherlock, though I’m sure you caught that. And your name is?”

“Ah…John. My name is John. Pleasure to meet you, and sorry. I’m usually a well behaved toad, I swear. Then again, I’m usually with my friends by the lake, so… I’ve never heard of anyone who got kidnapped. Eaten, maybe, but that’s part of life. Is that large biped used to that? Did he capture you too, and – oh, there are tons of animals here! Did he trap everyone? He must be very dangerous!” John rambled excitedly.

“Mike? (I think that’s the sound they call him with.) Dangerous?” Molly giggled, “Oh no, John, I swear. He’s a dear usually. I don’t know why he would, but if he took you like you said, I’d assume it is for your own good. He’s a truly gentle soul. And he certainly didn’t kidnap all of us. I was born in this cage. Well, not exactly this one, I’m clearly not Sherlock’s relative,” she trailed off, giggling again, “but a cage, you know?”

“No, I don’t know,” the toad replied honestly, “I will take your word about that biped not being a threat but… born in a cage? I’m so sorry for you, Molly. It seems so sad.”

“Oh, don’t be. I don’t think I would have fared very well out there,” she said with a shrug.

“You’re underestimating yourself, Molly. you can recognise who’s dangerous and who isn’t. that’s a good half of all the survival skills that you’d need to thrive anywhere,” the snake interjected.

“You think so?” she replied, hesitant and flattered.

“Of course it is! I’ve lived all my life ‘out there’, as you say. I should know,” John confirmed emphatically, before turning to Sherlock. “You said you were free once? Did you get caught by the same individual, too? You don’t seem hurt… Did he sneak up on you?”

“Oh, please, John,” Sherlock sniffed. “I highly doubt that he can sneak up on a blind and deaf newborn. Give me some credit, at least. No, I was captured by an entirely different set of people. And if there hadn’t been an entire pack of them, I’d have slithered away to safety.”

“Oh, of course. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. But he seems to have … well, interesting tastes in picking playmates. I admit that it is the first time I see a snake this up close. And I’ve certainly never seen one living together with a mouse. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind – it’s all fine,” the toad digressed, until Sherlock took pity on him and cut him off.

 “Oh, well, yes, that biped is a stubborn creature. But I’m going to outlast him – until I can outsmart him, too. You see, I want to leave, and I can’t come up with an effective plan if my brain is clogged up by food. So I’ve been fasting for  a while. And apparently this doesn’t sit well with him. He certainly doesn’t look like he fasted a single day in his life. Hence why he’s taken to trying to appeal to my predatory instincts, with Molly here and – I suspect, sorry about that – with you too. But you don’t have to worry. I am not going to touch you. Besides, I have standards for my preys,” the garter snake explained.

“Hey! I resent that!” John yelled, outraged.

“No, no, see – I aim for the betterment of the world, taking out the idiots. You’re unique. Even if we came across one another near your pond, I would never try to eat you,” Sherlock hurried to clarify. He didn’t want the other to think he despised him – nothing was farther from the truth!

“I feel like this is a momentous compliment,” John replied, immediately placated.

“Oh, it is,” the garter snake assured, smiling maybe a bit dopily.

Molly rolled her eyes quietly and retired to her corner. After all, being forgotten was nothing new.         

     

Chapter Text

 

Mike was actually looking forward to today’s round. Finally he could go without his heart constricting in worry for the little garter. He had to be hungry by now – there was no way the reptile would refuse the tasty toad. At least that was what the pudgy man would have sworn.

When the cuddle pile included once again what should have been lunch, Stamford sighed and shook his head. That was it. He’d been putting this off too long, clearly. Hopefully not irreparably longer. The boss would have his head if Sherlock died because he’d dillydallied.    

He finished his feeding round quickly and went to find a box. Since he was going to see Sarah already, he might as well bring his new toad friend, too. He took the amphibian first – lame as he was, it was less probable that he would be difficult to catch. Like the previous time, as soon as Mike held one of his friends, the snake wound itself tightly against his wrist. This time though, the man only smiled.

As soon as they were out of the terrarium, John croaked, “Sherlock, run!” The snake, instead, only squeezed tighter his caretaker’s limb. Once they were trapped in the entirely empty, little box, the toad chided harshly, “Are you stupid, Sherlock? That was your occasion to run away! Why didn’t you after all your grumbling? You might not have another occasion.”

“You’ve been brought in as food, John! I’m not allowing you to end up in the stomach of who knows which creature,” the garter snake hissed back, just as angrily.

“Not that I’m not grateful for the thought, but what do you expect to do even if it is true?” the toad wondered. His new friend was long, yes, but thin, and – by his own admission – underfed. Not the best condition to face a fight, honestly. If he’d just caught the occasion, he would be free. And yes, John might end up being dead. But to be objective, he would have soon been in the pond, too. If he managed to reach the water without being flattened first.

“You’ll see,” Sherlock promised darkly. What John did see was the snake wrapping himself around him in an evidently possessive coil, and – as soon as the box’s lid was removed – springing up and hissing in his best threatening tone. The show ended quickly and miserably when a forked stick pinned the reptile unceremoniously, despite his attempts to dodge it. Then, gloved hands pried forcibly John from him. It didn’t matter that Sherlock’s hold had become almost painful in his desperation not to let go.

All the while, the new human was tut-tutting, clearly unimpressed with his antics. The garter snake hated on sight her and her obnoxious smell. He fought to free himself, but to no avail. He called for John, who’d gone very quiet, perhaps not to betray how upset he was, but Sherlock couldn’t understand his friend’s answer, half because the way she held the toad dampened the noise and hald because the reptile was almost out of his mind with panic.

Would he have to watch John fed to someone else? He didn’t want to! Why couldn’t his stupid species close their eyes? She was touching John’s hurt leg. Was she going to tear it off? His friend was a toad, not a fucking lizard, and that wasn't a tail anyway! If the amphibian had to die, at least he deserved to die whole. Another snake would not need to have him diced into chunks. What kind of beast did she mean to feed him to?

Thankfully, that was an unfounded fear. The odd-smelling stranger did not rip John apart, just did something Sherlock didn’t understand – and he didn’t like not understanding. Then, smiling (it was a good thing in bipeds, was it not?), she laid him in a new, blissfully empty cage. The toad was very quiet. Possibly asleep? Not dead – not yet – they wouldn’t store dead food-to-be in cages, would they? It was so confusing.   

Then she came back for him. Lashing out did nothing to protect himself. What followed was… unpleasant, and awkward, but not truly painful, and clearly not as dangerous as he would have thought. The garter snake would still do his best to delete the experience as soon as possible, though.

The white-coated creature was still tut-tutting in disapproval. She couldn’t expect him to willingly cooperate or like the experience, could she? Just the smell of the place – above the tang of so many mixed creatures – was a disgusting, artificial stench. This had to be the place Mycroft had warned him against.

And still, as anxious as Sherlock was to get back to his nice terrarium, warmed to perfection, he was loathe to leave. It didn’t matter to him that the furniture here seemed composed entirely of freezing metal, or that there was not nearly enough light – artificial or natural – to counteract that. The snake simply refused to abandon an unconscious John to whatever fate these suspicious people had in store for him.

If he ever got back to his terrarium, he would have to disabuse Molly of her naïve trust in their food provider. True, the fat biped had mostly stood aside, gaping and cooing. He hadn’t made any move to protect them, though, and that was enough to make him at least a willing accomplice in Sherlock’s book.

When the white-coated biped from hell tried to put the snake back inside the box he’d arrived in, the garter used all his tricks, and without a stick holding him down anymore, he finally managed to slip away from her hands.

Victory! For the first time, he was free. He could have – really, should have – hid. Run away. Anything. Instead, the only aim his stupid brain zeroed in was reaching John. While people yelled, and got more in each other’s than the snake’s way, Sherlock slithered – lightning quick – across the room and up a table. He took advantage of the cage – really one, with simply a few metal bars rather than a solid lid – to enter it and curl up around John’s unresponsive form, possessive and protective at the same time. His friend was really alive, thankfully.

A booming sound echoed then. What were the bipeds up to? They were only looking on, though, not attacking. Not even moving anymore. So, they understood that they had no chance against him.  Good

Eventually, John came to. At his friend’s anxious questions, he hurried to reassure, “I’m fine, Sherlock. I’m not hurt, I swear. Yeah, I don’t have the easiest time moving – not sure what she did, or why – but it actually hurts less than what I’d got used to. Maybe they were looking out for us?”

“It can’t be. What they did to you…and to me!” Sherlock protested, outraged, suppressing the urge to whip his tail because he didn’t want to uncurl just yet.

“Did they hurt you? Can you move? Oh no! I’m so sorry, I didn’t ask…” the toad panicked.

“I’m unhurt, John relax…but my dignity will never be recovered,” the garter snake claimed, very reluctantly uncurling from his friend (he never said the right thing, did he?) to demonstrate that yes, he could move.

The amphibian’s eyes shone with mirth. “Drama queen!” he teased.

The snake raised his body suddenly, shocked, clearly conveying, ‘Who, me?’ even without a word.

“You made me worry!” the toafd chided, but his tone was fond.

“I’m… sorry,” the garter snake replied, subdued. It had been a mutual feeling, but John had passed out… he couldn’t help terrifying Sherlock.

It seemed that only now John finally looked around his new house. “Sherlock! Sherlock! I think you can fit!” he yelled excitedly.

“Fit where?” the reptile queried, momentarily confused by the sudden change od subject.

“Between the bars,” the toad replied.

‘Obviously’ went unsaid but not unheard. It was annoying. The snake wondered if he was he this annoying usually. Certainly not. “Of course I do. How do you think I got inside?” he hissed.

“Then why are you still here? You can go anywhere, Sherlock! You’re finally free like you wanted!” John pointed out, rather astonished.

“Well, I couldn’t just go and leave you alone and unconscious, could I? It simply wasn’t safe!” Just because they’re not around now, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t come suddenly back and do who knows what to you. How could I help if I went gallivanting?” the garter snake bit back, curling again around John out of sheer instinct.

“That is really kind. But Sherlock, I’m awake now, and if anything happens I’ll call for you. You can finally explore! Maybe that’s why our caretaker brought you too. he knew you wanted a chance to get around a bit,” the toad said. Way too cheerfully, in the other’s opinion.

“I honestly doubt that,” the snake snorted. “Are you sure that you will be fine if I explore?” Truth was, he was eager to, but no mental stimulation was worth his friend getting hurt.

“I will be seriously offended if you don’t. I’ve not been coddled when I was a tadpole, I’m not going to start now!” the toad croaked. If he could have moved easily, he would have gone to a corner and turned his back to the snake, after shaking him off, just to make a point.

“I’ll be back soon,” Sherlock promised, before leaving the cage. Frankly, he was surprised that the bipeds had made no attempt to seal the cage better once it was obvious he could pass through. Probably they decided that if he’d gone to all that trouble to enter it, he wouldn’t be willing to leave. Idiots.

He slithered quietly out. A first look around the room revealed it was horribly dull – there were more cages, but they were empty. When Sherlock figured out how to open some drawers, which looked promising to his inquisitive mind, he only found sealed instruments of some sort, all of them looking wicked. He couldn’t deduce or – truly – imagine  the use of half of them. What he saw was enough to know that he didn’t want to ever become acquainted with them. The sealing was the only sensible idea. If they hadn’t been, he would have cut himself accidentally.

Once he’d examined everything to his heart’s content, the garter snake reported back to John. “If ever there was any doubt that the bipeds are not to be trusted, this room is overflowing with all the evidence you might want. We’re in the hands of evil creatures.” The reptile shuddered.

“Relax, Sherlock,” the toad prompted, “Nothing irreparable happened.

“Yet,” Sherlock bit back, curling back around his friend. Nobody was there to see, after all. “They could easily chop us into pieces, if they were so inclined.”

“Why would they want to?” John inquired. The diminished pain was making him incline to think the best of his own kidnapper. If they really wanted to turn him into food, why would they bother making him comfortable?    

“Do they ever make sense?” the reptile huffed. Honestly, all his interactions with the big oafs had been annoying at best and humiliating at worst. Besides, the fat one’s insistence on bringing him food, when he’d made it as clear as possible that he had no interest in it, signalled an inability to understand that made the snake wonder how they managed to catch food to share in the first place.

True, the ones who captured him weren’t this stupid, he supposed. But why would they share their prey, and keep alive useless members of their own species? Not even pack animals did that. Not to the garter snake’s knowledge, at least – and he always prided himself on being smart. A mad breed, truly.

“Let’s just enjoy while they’re helpful, then,” John suggested, looking utterly relaxed, “we’ll face any danger when it comes. If I do get better, I’ll be able to help you out more, too.”

How had the amphibian even survived with that attitude? The world needed analysing. Planning. And then more planning, to account for random variables. The helplessness of his new condition had made Sherlock bonkers exactly because his previous way of life had no point anymore. Nothing new, hateful routine…

Actually, his new friend’s proposal might be the most sensible approach in this place. Why was the toad right? The snake wasn’t used to being wrong. “If you say so,” he was forced to agree, sulkily. At least they were alone. Mycroft would never let him live that down, if he’d witnessed it.

The garter snake was tempted to settle for a nap - after all, what was there to do in this place? – when the toad asked, “Hey! Do you think you can manage to leave the room?”

The snake examined it quickly, and admitted, “I suppose so. Probably.”

“Well, why don’t you? When they come back, I reckon they’d object,” the amphibian prompted eagerly.

“If I leave and get too far, I might not be able to hear your call for help!” the reptile protested vehemently. Really, it was obvious.

“If they do come back, I have a feeling that they’ll be more concerned with your sudden disappearance than with whatever plans they might have for me,” John pointed out reasonably. “Besides, if they do go mad, we’ll need a way to escape. Go out there and find one, Sherlock!”

Damn. He was right again. Why was John always right?

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: nothing mine, obviously. A.N. Thanks to Paula Rushing, very welcome guest, for the review. Don’t be afraid, I promise I’ll behave. ;D

Sherlock slithered away from John once again. Really, he shouldn’t be so loath to do so. He was doing what he’d always wished for, and looking out for them. Both John and he had been captured – kidnapped – and nobody with their best interests at heart would rip creatures out of their homes to trap them. There was certainly some dark plan behind it.

True, until now they had apparently lost nothing more than freedom and dignity. But who knew what would be the next step in their insane game. Mycroft could brag about being able to manipulate the system to his liking. Sherlock would rather not find himself depending on anyone else’s whim. Especially when the ‘anyone else’ was so much bigger than him and had wicked forked sticks that left him helpless.

Thankfully, he was able to reach a small opening, following a very nicely tepid (at the moment) pipe. For a moment he thought it would be a way out, but it just led back to the warehouse he’d lived in until now. Still, exploring it could be a worthy effort. His perspective from the terrarium had been sorely limited.

The arrogant python could say that the way out was through the front (if bipeds came to stare, there had to be a way for them to come in, after all). There could still be some exit in the back that would be easier to reach – or at least less monitored.

The place was wide, and… not cold, but certainly not as warm as Sherlock would have preferred. It might explain why Molly was so fond of these… cuddles (the snake shuddered mentally), if her original home wasn’t properly heated. (The garter snake would deny to his last breath not finding the practice entirely distasteful, despite his obvious enthusiasm in encircling his toad friend.) 

Once again, all he could see was long lines of terrariums. It seemed that there was a logic behind it – keeping close creatures of a similar kind, very broadly speaking. It probably was a good idea. Putting preys next to predators, making the ones continually terrified and the others mad with frustration for the forever thwarted hunt, could lead to self-harm, which clearly was against their captors’ plans.

Still, the same category’ was rather vague. The snake questioned who had come up with the classification. The section he’d accidentally wandered in was one of tiny, multi-legged creatures. Sherlock knew enough to be aware that they would often eat their own mates. Just one more proof, if you asked him, that this whole coupling business was way more trouble than it was worth, no matter what you were born as, and should be carefully avoided. Anyway, in this situation, finding something the prisoners would not eat in the ‘similar bodied’ class could be difficult.

The snake accelerated, not interested. This offered him no escape, and he didn’t want to socialise at the moment. Especially not with these animals. He was finally getting past the section, when he heard, “Hey, gorgeous!” Someone’s mating period was happening right now. He almost grimaced, but decided to simply ignore it.

“Oi! I’m talking to you, bright scales! Don’t ignore me.” At that, Sherlock swivelled to look for who was talking. They couldn’t mean to crossbreed, could they? No matter what was done to them, no creature would be that deviant.

It was a spider – no surprise there – hanging from a surprisingly elaborated, if rather lopsided, web. He was tiny, actually, a globular, light brown thing with some darker marks. His most prominent feature were the legs, at least five times longer than his body. All in all, not even a snack, and quite ugly to look at. Certainly not a partner.

“Are you talking to me?” the snake queried in his most haughty tone.

“Don’t play dumb, beauty. It doesn’t suit you. Of course, I was calling to you. We’d make an unstoppable pair, you know… Together,” the spider declared, leering.

Sherlock would have sworn a thing that tiny shouldn’t be able to convey such an intense mixture of desire and an almost predatory focus. Aiming to avoid raising a racket – he was sure that everyone in the nearby terrariums was staring – the snake tried to cut the confrontation off. “I don’t see how we could – or would – cooperate in any way,” he hissed arrogantly.

“Because, lovey, you have the key – and I have the code,” the spider replied.

“Come again?” The garter snake should just have left. He had a mission, and besides, he needed to get back to John soon. But the creature’s words made no sense – and he prided himself on always making sense of anything. It was his main survival skill.

“Oh, don’t tell me it was dumb luck! I was so sure you had brains, too. You have the key. You must have, because you’re out there, and I’m here, inside. Please, tell me that you have figured out a way to leave our abodes whenever we please. Because I have the code. I can’t talk our caretakers’ language yet – I suspect I might lack the relevant organs – but I understand it. That’s why I said I have the code. Imagine all we could do having free reign and knowing what they plan. Not to brag, but they must have noticed that I’m special. They call me daddy. You can call me Jim, though, lovely,” the spider ranted.

Jim was definitely insane. He’d been spiteful, arrogant and flirting, all under two minutes, Nobody shifted mood that quickly. “Thanks but no thanks. And now I really must be going,” Sherlock concluded. It could be a clever idea, to be fair, but a crazy ally would be more of a trouble than anything else.

Besides, he had only Jim’s word that he had indeed cracked the biped’s communications. What little the spider had shared could very well be the result of an egomaniac’s fevered dream. The tiny spider was wildly different from the bipeds. Even stretching daddy as far as to mean ‘ancestor’, how would the one breed derive from the other?

The garter snake was aware that many species did not expect their heirs to be as self-reliant from birth as his did, but even in that sense, it seemed way too far stretched. Daddy? As in someone the bipeds could rely on to feed and defend them? If anything, it was clearly the reverse.

Sherlock slithered away quickly, dismissing the crazy arachnid. One idea, though, was worth exploring. He’d already formed a team of sorts – out of obligation if nothing else (not that he regretted it) with both Molly and John. But the terrariums, cages, and other enclosures opened from the outside.

True, now he was free to run, but sooner or later he didn’t doubt that John and he both would be returned to Molly’s side. If he could figure out how to open these, and do it for some other creature who would appreciate a bit of freedom and be able to learn how to from him, hopefully they would reciprocate when Sherlock needed it in the future. It sounded like a good plan.

Pity that the ‘enjoying the freedom’ requirement – because they chafed in the current situation – took out Mycroft from the potential candidates. The python might be an annoying git, but he would be the most conveniently placed ally. Oh well. One couldn’t have everything.         

The snake had to find someone to help – certainly not anyone as tiny as the creatures in this section. Now, how did the grouping work? There had to be a logic, involving food chains, body similarity, and probably some other qualification.

Also, if he found an ally too far from his own terrarium, he should find a way to pass along the message, too, when they needed to be free. A number of creatures that would agree to be intermediaries, in exchange for their own freedom, or for some other reward.    

But what did you bribe creatures with, when they were fed anyway and you were not interested in mating with them, even should the both of you be anatomically compatible? His plan was becoming more and more complex, and possibly less feasible, by the minute. Still, it would be a beauty if it could be done.

Even if Sherlock found a way out now, if he could not open the cage, John would not be able to come with him – the toad wasn’t slim enough to find between the bars. And leaving without him simply wasn’t an option. The garter snake turned back and sped up. If he needed to get things open, he could as well start with the cage John was in now.             

He was relieved. Why was he relieved? He wasn’t part of a pack species. The snake had never felt the urge to have the company of another living creature, before being captured. Was there something wrong with him? Was he ill? He hoped not. He had no time to be sick. He needed to be at his best to save himself and his new… companions. Yeah, companion worked as a word. Until he had enough time to ponder their unique relationship further.

Then again, maybe he would not need to. Certainly, once free the both of them – oh, and Molly too, obviously – would go their separate ways. John had a place to get back to. As for him… his trip had been long enough that he doubted he could go back to his old territory. Not that he was particularly fond of it. As long as he could survive, anywhere was fine.

Would John’s area support one more snake? No, no, he shouldn’t wonder. John had been forced to tolerate him – it beat ending as his lunch, certainly – but the toad had no reason to wish for his company once he was free. Sherlock needed to stop.

Oh, well, one easy way to cease having his whole brain consumed by thoughts of the amphibian was to pay attention to the annoying spider. Sadly, the way back brought him past the obnoxious creature again, and once again, it was very vocal.

“Hello gorgeous! Come back to apologise already? I knew that you’d have to see sense, you were too smart not to, but I didn’t think you’d recognise the error of your ways quite this quickly, dearie,” Jim welcomed him. Seriously, the gall of a creature so small was unbelievable.

“Of course not. Shut up, Jim, I upgraded my plans, it’s true, but you are not and will never be part of them. So do me a favour and don’t annoy me every time I have to go by here, because I don’t have a choice about that. And lay it off with the nicknames!” the garter snake hissed angrily.

“But how can I, sweetheart? You never told me your name. Did nobody teach you it was rude?” Jim bit back, apparently ignoring everything he didn’t want to hear.

“I didn’t tell you because you shouldn’t need to call for me!” the snake pointed out, frustrated.

“Shy beaut,” the spider replied dreamily.

The reptile would need to pass this way again, eventually. He couldn’t be called increasingly ridiculous nicknames every time. He caved in. “Sherlock. It’s Sherlock.”  

“Sherlock… Nice name. You can be sure of yourself now, but I expect that you’ll eventually beg me to help you out. And I will… after you grovel a bit,” Jim remarked smugly.

“Stop dreaming,” the snake huffed, and left him behind. Sherlock didn’t believe in luck, but if he did, he’d wonder what he had done to attract such an abysmal one that the aggravating creature had been put on his path. Jim was immediately forgotten, though, when he reached their temporary abode.

John greeted him happily. “Sherlock! I’m glad you’re back. Oh, no, don’t look at me like that. Nothing bad happened. Actually, nothing happened at all. You’ve spoiled me with interesting conversation, last night. All alone, I’ve been bored to death.”

“Sorry. I know how horrible that is. Next time, we’ll have to find you a pastime,” the garter snake replied, looking almost chastised.

“Well, you can apologise by telling me everything you’ve discovered. I need to be entertained,” the toad quipped.

Sherlock reentered the cage and curled back around John. He had every intention of reporting properly, but there was no reason that he should do so with even one inch between them. The other didn’t complain, rather setting for story time.

The reptile complained at length about his vexatious new acquaintance, and John moaned about having been unable to accompany him, because then the spider wouldn’t have dared to talk to him.

“He might be beneath your notice, but he sounds like a nice snack for me. He wouldn’t be anxious to get out of his terrarium then,” the toad remarked, tongue flicking out instinctively.

John appreciated his new plan, too. “That’s so clever, Sherlock! You’re amazing!”

If his anatomy had allowed it, the snake would have blushed.                    

Chapter Text

Now, how to organise their necessary flight. Sherlock slipped quickly in front of Jim’s cage.

“You’ll regret ignoring me, pretty one!” the spider called after him.

The snake only quickened his pace. If he was lucky, he would need to see the annoying arachnid no more than another handful of times. He went back to the section he lived in. Having an accomplice as close to his own home as he could meant that their breakout would be quicker.

The garter snake was full of enthusiasm, but he realised suddenly that he would have a harder time than he thought. He needed someone smart enough to learn, and psychologically and physically weak enough to be either impressed or cowed by him.

Otherwise, as soon as this other snake made his way into their terrarium, he would try to turn either Molly or John – or both – into a snack, forcing Sherlock to fight.  That made Mycroft inadmissible as a candidate. The python could certainly be clever enough to be taught, but the garter snake knew he would have turned everyone – possibly himself included – into a meal, if he was in the mood...and when wasn’t he, the fat git?

Sherlock slithered among the other terraria, examining quickly their occupants. Dull. Dull. Gorged himself and will sleep for at least a week. Wasn’t it unwise? What if something happened that required a quick reaction? This one was looking at Sherlock as if he was a tasty morsel. One big enough to destroy him in a fight without even having to try. Interested in...mating with him? “Sorry, dear, our season do not align, I’m busy right now. Maybe let the bipeds know, if they breed mice here possibly they’ll find you a mate too,” the garter snake mumbled.

The more snakes he examined, the more Sherlock started to lose hope. Why were they all useless or a threat – or both? There had to be someone who fulfilled his requirements... John needed help. Failure was not an option.

If it was because he started glaring in frustration, or because he’d found a weaker-minded reptile, he stopped suddenly when he heard an unexpected sound, accompanied by an unpleasant smell. Sherlock wished he had some way to express his mix of incredulousness and spite in a physical way, but more complex feelings were hard to convey.

“Did you...did you just fart at me?” he inquired, puzzled. He had prompted many reactions, but never this one. Before he received a reply, it happened again. The black, red and yellow ringed snake kept his head hidden inside his coiled body, while its raised tail expressed its feelings. What was that even supposed to incite in him? Disgust?

The snake – a lean thing, long more or less like him (a Sonoran coral snake, not that Sherlock had ever seen another or would care how bipeds defined the breed) – finally peered from between his coils and hissed, “Look, I didn’t choose my defense mechanism. I’d like to be an anaconda and just crush you too, if you reach me. This is my, “Even if you do reach into my home, you really don’t want to. I’m venomous, you know.” How do you that, anyway?”

“Why? Are you interested?” the garter snake retorted. No one had inquired about that yet. Many had observed him sharply, some had ignored him outright, but –nervous or not – no one had considered him worth getting involved with, but for that lustful exception. Not that it was unexpected – snakes mostly tended to keep to themselves unless it was mating and/or hibernation season…Still, enquiring about ways to improve one’s condition should be basic behaviour. Maybe there was hope for this one.

“I am, but…would you share? Without a catch? You’re not trying to trick me, are you?” the other snake asked, still refusing to uncoil, defensive.

“Trick you? Why would I? If I saw you as food, I would have already opened your terrarium and be halfway through trying to get rid of you. Yes, I would share…Well, not entirely without getting something back, but you can opt to investigate before if it’s too much for you. What is your name, anyway?” Sherlock scoffed. As if he would stoop so low for a mere meal.

“Philip,” the coral snake hissed. “Fine, name your price. I would love to be able to get out. You know – I have my suspicions about what is happening here.”

“Well, I’d like for you to help me at need. What is happening, Philip? My name’s Sherlock, by the way.” Someone who did not accept passively what was going on. The garter snake had high hopes for his new acquaintance indeed.

“I’ll tell you the truth. They’ve caught us as training prey. Like cats do, you know – when they’ll weaken a prey and bring it back to their kittens for them to finish. They will keep us here until we’ve learned not to be afraid of them, to depend on them for food and care and everything else…and then, every now and then, one of us will disappear. I’ve been in the other room – the strangers’ room. Many times, the people coming to look at us and take someone away will have one of more of their offspring with them. And how they pounce!” the coral snake replied, in a conspiratorial tone.

“Are you sure? For all that they’ve captured me, they don’t seem to put much emphasis on physical and/or predatory training. Have you even seen our caretaker? He doesn’t certainly look like someone who’s ever been able to catch his own food. It’s not just the size. He’s slow! Honestly, do you even use your brain?” Sherlock retorted. Seeing things and trying to infer an explanation was a good habit. But one had to consider every circumstance. Ignoring the ones which disproved your theory was evidence of one’s idiocy.

“Do you have a better idea?” Philip hissed angrily.

“I don’t have a complete theory at the moment. Need more data. But at least I realise I do,” the garter snake replied, snappish. He had hypotheses, of course. But he had better sense than render himself ridiculous in front of strangers, in case he was later proven wrong. “Are you interested in how to get out anyway or not?”

“Of course I am. I do not look forward to becoming someone’s plaything. I’m not so stupid as to reject an occasion to save myself, no matter how rude you are,” the coral snake assured, finally uncoiling and slithering close to the wall.

“Well, then…admire,” Sherlock declared, and in only a few moves, the terrarium clicked open.

“Just like this?” Philip remarked, looking underwhelmed by the demonstration.

“Just like this,” the garter snake commented. “Now get out.”

“Why? Just tell me how to do it from this side. That’s the one I’m on, after all,” the coral snake pointed out, as if Sherlock was a particularly dim creature.   

“I know. But I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. I suspect these places are concocted especially to stop us from reaching safety. My point is – I’ll unlatch your home before being brought to my terrarium, and after they’ve retired, you’ll open mine. Afterwards, we can both go our ways,” Sherlock explained, raising on his tail, annoyed.

“You’re lying, and sloppily, at that! How are you even out now if you can’t open your abode from the inside? Really, thinking I wouldn’t pick up on that is offensive!” Philip snapped, retiring towards the opposite side of his place to sulk.

“My current home has no walls, just bars, and I can slip through them. The bipeds figured out I have enough of an incentive not to disappear through them – and they are right, sadly. But I have every intention of eventually escaping,” the garter snake huffed, offended by the accusation. Why should he go to so much trouble to dupe the suspicious reptile?

“Incentive? Like what?” the coral snake asked sternly.

“Not that it is any business of yours, but I have a companion I’m not about to leave behind,” Sherlock hissed back.

“A companion? A mate, you mean?” the coral snake retorted, unduly nosy.

“A friend, I suppose. He’s a toad, but you better not make plans on him…I don’t care if you’re venomous, or even the most powerful snake ever born, you try to hurt John and I promise you that you will not survive,” the garter snake hissed ferociously.

“Befriending your food? There’s something wrong with you, do you realise that?” the other blurted out, shocked.

“Yes, thank you, I have not asked for your opinion or judgement. I’m just warning you. By the way, I have another friend – Molly, and she’s a mouse. You better not try to snack on her too. She’s under my protection as well. I don’t care what you do once we part ways, but you will not hurt the ones I care for,” Sherlock retorted vehemently, body raising to loom as menacingly as he could.

“You should not be so arrogant, you know. Since you’ll be the one needing my help. As for your plan, you’ll free me first. I am willing to reciprocate it for you afterwards. But if you think threatening me is going to make me interested in helping you instead of just buggering off to do whatever I want and leaving you trapped to face whatever dark fate awaits us, you don’t get people’s character at all,” Philip hissed, apparently having realised his leverage. “You should try to please me,” he added smugly.

“Oh, I will. I will refrain from letting everyone in this building know your most humiliating secret,” the garter snake replied coldly.

“As if you would know that,” the coral snake sniffed, trying and failing to project bravado.

“After days you’re here, you’re still scared of the food. No, not of it being tampered with. You wait for a long time, trying to ensure it is indeed a dead prey and not someone playing dead only to try and bite your head clean off. As if it was in the bipeds’ interest for you to be hurt,” Sherlock hissed back spitefully.

“What do you think the rest of the snakes – hell, the rest of the prisoners here would think of you? That’s not being careful. That’s being such a coward it is a shock someone didn’t put you out of your misery yet. Do you want to be everyone’s laughing stock? Even if I couldn’t leave my terrarium anymore, gossip like that would spread from cage to cage like wildfire. You might not be here to hear it…if you’re good enough not to be caught again, which I wouldn’t be so sure about,” he continued, in a sinister tone.

Philip coiled back, hiding his head in the tightest of it. Before he could raise his tail again – instinct was hard to fight against – the other snake warned, “Oh no, don’t you even try.”

The coral snake’s tail never raised, and from his hiding spot he mumbled, “How would you know?”

“The smell. With you just letting the food sit there, it is more intense than in most other cages. And that you’re not simply ignoring the food to keep yourself sharp-minded…well, I would despair if this was your brightest. I need to think better of you,” Sherlock ratted out quickly. “Now get out there and show me how you can open a lock.”

“And you will shut up?” Philip asked, sounding unsure.

“You have my word,” the garter snake assured earnestly.

In seconds, his hopefully new partner was at his side. “Well, but if you opened this one already,” he pointed out, “whose terrarium am I going to open?”

“Give me a second,” Sherlock said, and soon the lock was closed once again. “Now, you try it.”

Despite having just seen it, and being coached through it by Sherlock, Philip couldn’t manage to open the lock, no matter how many attempts he made.

“Come on! It’sss easssy,” the garter snake drawled, trying and failing to contain his impatience. “You’re supposed to have a brain!” He demonstrated it once again.

“I can’t!” the coral snake snapped, growing frustrated. “You keep telling me to ‘feel the lock’ – well, I can’t feel it at all! It doesn’t smell, it doesn’t breathe – how am I supposed to tune in to its inner workings?”

Sherlock explained then. In detail. In so much detail that the other gaped and looked clearly lost less than halfway through.

“You’re not making any sense, you know?” he explained, head inclining in wonder.

The garter snake breathed slowly, trying to adjust the plan. No other snake was interested or viable, and this one was manifestly incapable. He still needed to save John, someway. “Fine. Fine. We’re doing this with a different method. You won’t be my only associate, but if you do help me, I swear I will free you,” he declared.

“Help you? How?” Philip inquired, suddenly eager for something he could actually do.

“I will find someone else to teach this to. Not a snake, but I’m sure my technique can be eventually adapted to different anatomies, someway. When I’m brought back to my terrarium, I might not manage to warn whomever my pupil will be. Now, I’m going to my own terrarium, and I will be tapping the wall in a specific pattern. I’ll be back to check if you heard me, and if you did, I want you to spread my call the next time you hear it. I’ll find creatures to share it until it reaches the one who’ll be able to free me, and I promise in turn to free you all,” Sherlock proposed, eyes alight.

“That would be…acceptable,” the other snake agreed. “After all, this plan of yours is supposed to be quick, and the more of us leave at the same time, the least probable it is we’ll be caught back. You have a point about that – they’ll chase us again. The plan has its merits, rather than just taking advantage of my current freedom to run.”

The garter snake slithered quickly to his old terrarium. Molly was asleep, and didn’t even wake up at his tapping. Honestly, she’d never survive out of a cage. Sherlock wasn’t disappointed, he told himself. He had no time to chat. He hurried back to Philip to check if he heard.       

“Loud and clear. Do I need to tap the same rhythm?” the coral snake inquired earnestly.

“You can do better. Use your defence technique. With both sound and smell we double the chances of it arriving to destination.”       

Chapter Text

The things had become way more complex than Sherlock expected. If he couldn’t count on another snake, perhaps it was best to try a different approach. Find an accomplice of a species of a wholly dissimilar class. The garter snake understood the mechanics of locks, now (mostly). He could adapt the opening process to any anatomy, he was sure.

Of course, this presented the additional problem of spreading the signal farther than Philip could on his own. For some reason, the bipeds (who didn’t seem to be all that bright) had put right next to the snakes’ terraria a number of species which, from Sherlock’s point of view, could best be termed, “snacks” – frogs and salamanders and other similar creatures.

Obviously, ensuring the cooperation of one of these was going to be hard. If he could have brought John along, maybe, he could have let the toad do the talking and ensured the cooperation of his peers. But with the state of his leg, Sherlock preferred not to risk aggravating it by running around.

So, what to do when simply looking in one of these creatures’ direction caused them to panic and hide in the farthest corner? (Which, really, was useless, since he clearly knew how to open their provided habitats, but one did not reason against instinct). The garter snake wandered among the terrified creatures, looking for someone who wouldn’t pass out in terror if he talked to them.

That’s when he finally saw it: an olive-brown toad, skin looking full of warts (John was definitely so very much more beautiful), stretched – if his estimate was right – to almost double her size. She was right against the glass closer to him, showing off how big and dangerous she could be.  Sherlock was tempted to laugh at her, but she might be his best bet, so he refrained.

Instead, he slithered close to her, and she didn’t move. So far, so good. “I have eaten snakes as big as you,” the toad informed him. She affected to speak casually – just mentioning a detail, not even threatening.      

The garter snake was tempted to mock her openly, instead he retorted simply, “No you didn’t. You have seen someone do that, though, before getting caught and exiled here – friend of yours, I’d assume – and decided it would be smart to claim her accomplishments.”

“How dare you,” the toad croaked, outraged if ever a toad was.

“Sorry to inform you, but you’re not quite big enough to swallow me,” Sherlock pointed out. “No matter how much you expand. Seriously, one’d think that evaluating what is too much for you to chew would be a basic talent. I suspect that if you hadn’t been caught, you’d have encountered a very sorry end. The toad – or frog – you admire, who ate a whole snake, was older and bigger, wasn’t she?”

“I can still murder you,” the brown toad threatened darkly.

“That I fully believe, and thanks for the warning. Poison, isn’t it? Otherwise, your breed would be the go-to food for everyone in your area. No time for you to reach adulthood, much less reproduce. After all, your strength is clearly not in your brain, nor in the muscles. You must have at least one way to survive,” the snake sneered, raising on his tail. If this creature wanted to play at who was more impressive, he could do that.

“Yes, poison. You don’t want to risk it, so kindly piss off. Why have you come here anyway? Needed someone to insult?” was the angry reply.

Finally it dawned on Sherlock that demeaning one’s intelligence, species, and all around anything he could pick at (that deserved picking) might not be the best way to assure one’s compliance. So he lowered himself, making himself hopefully as unthreatening as possible, and mumbled, “Not exactly. I’m afraid my approach was not the most useful to convey my intent. I’d like your cooperation in a plan, and if you do, there’s freedom in it for you.”

“Yeah, right,” the toad jeered, “you’re free, I help you, I get free… and then you take your chances about being immune to my poison. As if I didn’t know what the likes of you want from me.”

“No, no, Miss… what’s your name, anyway? Mine is Sherlock, sorry if I’ve been not so polite. I believe you about the deadly toxin. I honestly have no intention to ‘take my chance’, as you say. I’m smarter than that. My current cagemate is a toad. One who isn’t even as deadly as you are for me. One who was introduced by the bipeds as food, but was way too fascinating to be seen as such. We’re friends. Why would I try to murder someone who helped me?” the snake remarked, oscillating slowly, in an attempt to hypnotise the other.

“Sally,” the toad spit out, “and you’re either a liar, a freak, or both. Who in their right minds would befriend prey? You don’t see me chatting with mosquitos, do you?”   

“Technically, Sally, I suppose I am indeed a freak. I am indeed unusual, even among my peers…and proud of that. So that’s one correct deduction for you, good work. If I were you, I would seriously consider participating to my plan, though. the only thing I need from you is to propagate a message – to be as loud as you can when you’ll hear a certain signal. That would start a chain of creatures attaining their freedoms…and snakes like me being the origin point of the go-ahead cue, you’d be freed before any of us were, and could run off before we even left our terrariums. What do you have to lose?” Sherlock inquired, talking hurriedly.

“What if the creature who’s supposed to free me, being an associate of yours, decides to murder me?” Sally retorted, distrustful.

“I’ll make sure to mention that you are highly poisonous. I certainly don’t want my ‘associate’, as you say, to drop dead before they can free me, do I? Trust in my self-interest, at least,” the garter snake huffed. Honestly. Why was everyone paranoid here? (Fine, he might be too. A bit. About the bipeds. But he’d made friends here!)   

After a thoughtful pause, Sally finally admitted, “I suppose that I can’t believe you’d go against your own gain. And I just have to…spread a signal? Like what? Croak loudest that I can?”

“That’d be great, yes, perfect. We’ll just check if you can hear Philip from his cage,” Sherlock confirmed, beaming. He’d already started slithering away in a hurry, when he turned his head and said, “Thank you, Sssssally!” John would be happy that he remembered his manners.

Chapter Text

It had taken Sherlock way too long to slither along and find his first two accomplices. He thought that his plan would have been ready by morning, but he clearly still needed a co-conspirator. Maybe two. If only this place wasn’t so damn large, and most creatures frankly idiotic – why would they not jump at the chance to work with someone who patently knew how to get free? Did they really like this dull existence better, just because food was provided at regular intervals? It was shameful.

He needed to get back to John, now. Because in a while the biped would come to visit, and he didn’t like to cut things too close – more interested in being there to protect if needed than afraid she would discover his habit of wandering and lock him up better. And, honestly, because he wanted to spend with John the longest time possible. If they didn’t need to flee from this damned prison, he would probably spend all his time curled around the toad.

This was…odd. Of course, he’d huddled with other of his species during the winter, and given into the call of pheromones (even with Victor, damn his ability to give off the most delicious scent – the other snake had stolen most of his residual heat after hibernation). But this was different. This was… he actually wasn’t sure what this was, a part of him suspected that a pack animal might have an inkling, but neither of their species formed packs. All he knew was that he’d found John, and they’d have to murder him to separate him permanently from the toad.

So back to his…his John, definitions be damned. The toad welcomed him, allowing Sherlock to curl up around him, and eagerly asked about his progress. The snake’s ashamed admission of failure was countered with assurances that he’d done so well, and it wasn’t his fault if Philip was an idiot who couldn’t learn the basic moves Sherlock had figured out, to the reptile’s great puzzlement. Why would anyone give comfort when their interests hadn’t been properly cared for? (Though it was technically true that he wasn’t responsible for others’ stupidity, he supposed.)  

When the biped came – only one, at first, the one who seemed to supervise this place (and get way too much close and personal with them, for Sherlock’s taste), she was annoying but not a danger. She cooed ridiculously at Sherlock, apparently very happy by the lack of dead mice in the cage. The snake was in a serious quandary for a moment – stick around John or escape the approaching hand, taking refuge in the back of the cage, to ensure she couldn’t grab him? Then, he scolded himself and refused to abandon his friend. Let her try to separate them!

Perhaps she had understood the situation, because she checked briskly on John, working around the Sherlock-shaped lump attached to the toad. Though she showed her teeth at him – but the garter snake had steeled himself, and refused to be cowed.

The biped had just put them back in their temporary abode, not even making a token attempt to rip Sherlock away, when the other one (the food-obsessed one), came in, reeking of unease and desire to the snake’s sensitive nose (which was, frankly, embarrassing to witness, not to mention unpleasant).

“Look whom I found!” Mike prompted cheerily, holding out a tortoise like it was a bouquet of flowers.

Sarah threw it a look, and then she sighed, “Where, Mike?”

“Errrmmm…by Regent’s Park, I’d decided to come to work walking today, and there she was. I almost ignored her, no more than a smile, you know, but then I noticed that the poor love needed fixing,” he explained, “So, here I am!”

“Mike, you do know that I work for the shop and not for a shelter, don’t you?” Sarah huffed, clearly annoyed by the extra work.    

“Well, maybe I’ll sell her!” the man retorted optimistically.

“Mike, bless your heart, she’s a common tortoise, and big as it is, she’s mature, not a cute little hatchling. And she had one paw bitten off by some sort of pest before she could retract it. Who in their right mind is going to pay for her?” she replied, trying to be the voice of reason.

“You fix her, and you’ll see!” he insisted, still holding her towards the woman.

“Do you think I can regrow paws? I’m not that good, you know, Mike,” Sarah pointed out, baffled by his instantly falling in love with the chelonian. He saw all day the most exotic and – frankly speaking – gorgeous pets. What was about that brown, lightly yellow spotted shell and wrinkly skin that charmed her friendly colleague?

“I’m not asking you to do the impossible. Just fix her somehow. Help her out,” Mike huffed, “I’ll pay you if this is the problem. Honestly, Sarah, I didn’t think that you would be so difficult.”

“Oh, fine. Give her here. I’ll figure something out. I might need to research a bit, though. it is not exactly what I do every day,” she relented, finally holding out her hand. “We’ll start with an antibiotic shot and then go from there.”

After a handful of minutes of Sarah taking briskly care of her, the turtle was settled in the cage next  to John and Sherlock, and soon the woman left, happy that the good treatment of the pets here meant she had no other patients.

“Hello!” John croaked, welcoming, “Fancy seeing you there, Martha.”

“Oh, John, it’s you? We gave you for lost in the park!” the turtle gushed, “I’m so happy you’re fine, dearie!”

“As well as I can be, given the situation. Who’s the brute who dared to take a bite out of your paw?” the toad inquired.

Sherlock cut in sharply, “It is perfectly obvious that it was a rat, John. Don’t be so dull!” It wasn’t that he was jealous of John’s past friends, or afraid that the amphibian would now starting ignoring him, not at all. He just didn’t like people being idiots.

“Why, yes, exactly! Who is this fine young lad you found yourself, John?” Martha asked fondly. 

“Oh, sorry, Martha. He’s Sherlock and, as you’ve already noticed, a proper genius. He’ll get us back home, you know!” John declared enthusiastically.

“Eventually,” the snake pointed out, divided between the happiness at his friend’s praise and fear to disappoint.

“Oh, well, don’t worry, dearie. After all, at the moment I can’t exactly go anywhere…not fast enough, at least,” Martha replied. She chuckled. “Not that I’ve ever been quick, you see, but it would take me literal days to leave this place. It’s huge! Whoever needs that much space?”

“Well, it is a rather crowded place. With so many different species, both predators and preys, you want to ensure there is a certain amount of space, to ensure no one is going to die out of sheer terror,” the garter snake remarked, looking haughtily at the newcomer.

“Predators?” the tortoise queried, sounding hesitant.

“Should I feel insulted that my presence was not hint enough?” Sherlock retorted immediately.

“Well, not to be insulting, dearie, but even if I’m sure you’re fearsome in your own right, you’re not big enough to threaten me. I’m afraid that I would be rather stodgy, especially my shell. Besides, you’re John’s friend. If that’s not enough to prove you’re not a threat, I have no idea what more I should want,” Martha answered, in such a warm, friendly tone there was no bearing a grudge towards her. She’d acknowledged him as John’s friend. That surely deserved affability in return.

“You do have a point, I sssssssssssuppose,” the snake conceded. “But no, while we’re alone in this room, there are plenty of others in the other rooms. They’re so different it wouldn’t surprise me if they were literally from all over the world. And the reason we’ve been collected cannot certainly be to our advantage.”

“Oh – and do you think we’ll have many of them come visit us here?” Martha asked, testing the waters.

“Not on their own, certainly. I’m the only one able to move freely at the moment, and that’s only because they think I have no interest in doing so. I cannot say if the bipeds will bring more of them to share our quarters. It seems to be for the weakest of their prisoners, if the three of us are even enough of a crowd to deduce from. Not that I would wish being forced here on anyone, it is the territory of a biped who has no compunction at all grabbing us and doing whatever flits through her idea…Most of which is, at least to some level, always painful, uncomfortable and/or humiliating,” the garter snake explained with clear distaste.     

“To be fair, since I’ve been here, the leg has been hurting less. I have no idea what she thought she was doing, but the result isn’t always as painful, even if in the moment I wished I could murder her,” John felt the need to add. It wouldn’t do to scare Martha when she couldn’t help being here – at least until Sherlock got them out. 

“How puzzling,” the tortoise remarked, “Well, at least I’m very happy we met again, John. Without you and your clever friend, I would have no idea what to expect – and at my age, surprises are never pleasant.”

“Don’t be silly, Martha, you’re not old,” the toad cheered her.

“I’ve known your grandparents when I was a little one, John,” the tortoise said quietly.

“And you can still live twice as long. So I maintain my words: you’re not old at all,” John insisted, friendly.

“Flatterer,” Martha replied, stretching her head out towards him, holding an amused chuckle in. “Keep your hold on him, Sherlock, because John is famous for being the most popular creature of the pond. With how kind he is, you can imagine why.”

“Oh, I intend to,” the snake assured, giving his friend a tiny squeeze to make his point.

“Uhm…hello, you two? I’m not going anywhere? Certainly not now, and even when Sherlock will get us out, I would love if he came along,” John reminded them. “I mean, not that you have to, if you would prefer to go back to wherever you lived before…”

“As if that’d be feasible. I couldn’t track the way our capturers brought me here, so I wouldn’t know where to start in order to get back,” the garter snake retorted. That he would have preferred to stay at John’s side even if he had giant signs to show him the way back was just as true, but not mentioning it was wiser. One wouldn’t want people to start thinking that he was a softie. Otherwise, once he was free, he’d be on the menu wishlist of anyone who heard about him.

“Oh, right. I’m sorry,” the toad croaked. “At least I’m still close to home, more or less. I’ve never realised how lucky I am…actually, I’ve had so much luck since I was picked up. By all rights, I should have been dead.”

“Don’t pity me now. True, I had a nice territory, where I could hunt easily, and companions to knot with to spend the winter. But it’s not like I was fond of any of them. I can settle anywhere just as happily,” Sherlock snapped, enough control not to whip his tail around in frustration when he was twisted around John’s body.   

“Well, that’s good. The park near the pond is nice, you’ll see,” Martha interjected. “You can make lots of friends.”

“I don’t want to,” the snake hissed, annoyed.

John couldn’t help it, He snickered and said, “You could have fooled me.”  

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock was almost out of his cage, for another round of planning – hopefully this time he would find someone capable of following simple directions and opening a terrarium – when the biped came back unexpectedly. The female who ran this area – and had no compunction about rudely handling any of them. He instantly coiled back around John. She better not think of touching him again! She didn’t. She was… talking to herself?

“I swear, Mike and his ridiculous bets,” Sarah huffed, taking out of a bag the things he’d bought after a bit of research. She could do this – how hard could it be, really – but she shouldn’t have to. She made sure pups were dewormed. Gave shots. Convinced – or tricked – the most stubborn creatures to eat their pills, if the situation called for it. But this? This wasn’t her field…and it was absolutely useless to boot. There was no way that Mike was going to sell that old, faded tortoise. Only she couldn’t resist his request – the man reminded her too much of an eager, stubborn puppy sometimes.

Which was why, instead of ignoring it, she’d looked for an alternative solution. Actual prosthetics cost a small fortune, and there was no way she could justify the expense and have it covered when the tortoise shouldn’t have been in the shop in the first place. That would only get their boss descending on both Mike and her and make them regret ever being that naïve. But she’d promised Mike, so…           

When the biped passed in front of their cage, only to clutch at Martha, John croaked, “What’s she doing?” He might have a less dark outlook than Sherlock, but still, breaks of routine were a cause for concern.

Of course, none of them realised what she was doing – it certainly wasn’t anything they’d seen before. And Martha was being so very quiet, enduring patiently whatever was going on, so her friends didn’t even have a clue from her commentary. Frankly, the old tortoise was a bit concerned herself, and didn’t want to alarm anyone when there was nothing they could do. After all, even if Sherlock had slipped out of his cage, it wasn’t like he could win against an enemy so much bigger.

But finally Sarah, with a satisfied sigh, brought the tortoise back to her cage. “A great work, if I can say so myself. Mike better be appreciative. I’m not a bloody engineer!” she declared, wiping her brow – her sweat more out of concentration and concern than physical labour. Then, with a last look at her guests, she left the lab.

“What is that?” the snake hissed, staring at the renewed tortoise, a tiny wheel now where her absent paw was supposed to be.

“I’m not sure…” Martha mumbled, attempting a cautious step forward. It didn’t hurt much, but then again, she felt a bit woozy at the moment. Her ruined paw both ran effortlessly and seemed able to support her weigh without problems. “Oh! That’s quick!” she added, enthusiastic. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this fast, almost as if I need something to stop myself, you know? I’ll have to learn to coordinate with my other paws.”

“That’s brilliant, Martha!” John cheered. “I keep telling Sherlock that at least that biped is not entirely bad, but he has developed an aversion towards her.”   

“I don’t enjoy being manhandled,” the garter snake pointed out in his prissiest voice.

“That’s because you’re well, dearie, and I so wish you to always be. If you were hurt, and she got twelve years off your back, you wouldn’t be so angry at her,” the tortoise pointed out, very reasonably.

“Well, John is not about to jump anytime soon with that thing on his leg!” Sherlock huffed, the tip of his tail shaking in annoyance.

“True, but it doesn’t hurt as much as before. I was in more pain before I got caught by the large one than with all this apparatus weighing me down,” the toad acknowledged.

“Does this mean you want to stay here?” the snake asked, sounding offended. Had all his plans and efforts been for naught?   

“Course not, ’Lock, I want to get back home and I want to show you everything. it doesn’t mean that I have to be terrified – that takes energy, you know, and I’m still healing,” John quipped cheerfully.

“Whatever you say. I’ll be on the lookout for the both of us.” Sherlock declared, sounding annoyed but certainly not about to stop curling around his friend.

“The three…no, four of us, Sherlock,” the amphibian corrected, “Can’t forget Molly and Martha.”

“Yesss, of course. I intend to. And I mean to allow our accomplices to obtain freedom too…and that might be a long list, or well, certainly longer than I’d hoped,” the garter snake agreed.

“Why not everyone?” Martha queried softly.

“Everyone…free? That’d be unwise at best. I don’t know if you’ve forgotten already because of your age, but there are plenty of predators and prey in the other room…while they are very sated predators, getting everyone out of their cages at the same time has the potential to turn into a bloodbath. I’m bound to look only after a few people, and you might be quicker than you’ve ever been with your modification, but I still wonder if you’d be able to get out of it undamaged,” Sherlock snapped. It was bad enough that he was behaving like a pack animal since getting caught. He wasn’t a do-gooder for the sake of it. He had a reputation to maintain! 

“Sherlock!” John chided sternly. “That’s rude!”

At that, the snake uncoiled from his friend and slithered in a corner, before coiling back in the tightest, most sulky ball ever.

“Oh, it’s not that I am suffering from dementia, love. It’s just that I thought that prisoners might find getting the hell out more pressing a question than having a quick snack, but you’re right, I suppose. I mean, it’s not like I understand predators’ mindset very much. What I eat isn’t likely to run away or even worse fight back,” the tortoise replied softly, “Now don’t go and think we’re ungrateful.”

“Of course we are grateful…but it’s still no excuse to imply you’re soft in the brain when you’re one of the wisest creatures I’ve met. Come on, Sherlock, apologise,” the toad urged, nudging his friend gently.

He’d thought that suggesting mental decay was actually politer than telling her that she was an idiot who couldn’t see the obvious…but it was true that she’d never had to hunt for food. Her priorities might be skewed. “Sorry,” he mumbled, only to get John to forgive him. “Anyway, even if we did, I’m not even sure most would flee. Free food ensured daily seems to have destroyed the sense of danger of many.”

“It’s fine, dear. I don’t know much about how things work here anyway…and frankly, I hope I will never have to,” Martha replied softly.      

Chapter Text

 

The routine being modified was always something that made them rightfully concerned. When the fat biped popped in and it was decidedly not food or ‘maintenance’ time, they stared at him, wondering what he was up to. The man put his face way too close to Martha’s cage, staring and cooing ridiculously.

Then he scribbled a note, leaving it on the table – under the corner of a scale so it wouldn’t accidentally fly away…before opening her cage and scooping Martha up. She made a soft sound of surprise, and scrambled with her limbs, trying to free herself, but there was no chance. He held fast and left, with a smile on his lips.        

They’d just disappeared that John inflated in rage and bellowed, “What the fuck, Sherlock! Why didn’t you help her!”

The garter snake had slowly, almost stealthily inched back towards his friend, and curled around him again. It wasn’t that he didn’t mind the toad’s rude behaviour, despite the amphibian immediate attempt at reconciliation. But it was hard to stay sulking when this place was so damn cold, and for all that they were both cold-blooded, being close was still better than being alone.

At John’s outburst, though, he whipped himself away from his furious cage-mate in an instant. For all that his species was supposed to dine on toads, and his friend was hurt anyway, putting some space between them seemed the wisest option.

Once in the farthest corner of their temporary home, Sherlock replied, “I had to! It’s basic strategy.” He refused to show the amphibian such a deep fear that he’d leave the cage, or maybe even the room, despite the ferocious glare he was receiving. At the moment, John seemed perfectly able of the feat Sally had claimed, and perhaps even incline to swallow him whole. Still, the snake had his own self-respect, and refused to be entirely cowed.

“Strategy?” the toad echoed, not appeased at all. “What sort of strategy implies abandoning a friend to fate unknown when you can help? I would have tried myself, but you’re the only one who’s actually motile at the moment – agile, even, and unrestrained – and you didn’t think that trying to help Martha was worth it? Sure, the biped might be bigger, but if you caught him by surprise, he might have given her up. And he’d know that she was under your protection!” 

“Oh yessss, grand idea, why I didn’t think of that myself?” Sherlock hissed, his voice filled with scorn and his body raising in a bid to show he wasn’t defeated. “Sssstartle him, so he’d drop her. Maybe even throw her. Would she have landed that well? Do you for some reason think that your friend is a cat? And let’s not even start about the fact that knowing I can, and will, leave this cage in order to ruin their plans, instead of just curling around you, is the way to get myself thrown back in an enclosure I cannot free myself from. And my plan for our freedom is not yet ready to be implemented.”

“Oh,” John breathed, all fight escaped from him, “I…didn’t think. That she would be hurt, I mean. You know that’s the last thing I want!”

“I know, I know. And of course you didn’t think. Nobody ever does. Why would they?” the snake retorted bitterly.  

“I’m so sorry. It was awful of me, but I would have been as incensed if you were in danger and someone – anyone – was in a position to help you, or so I thought. You do know that, don’t you?” the toad queried softly. “I’m just an idiot…and very grateful that you’re not.”

“I do believe that, strangely. And I’m happy that you’ll want to get help in case I’m in danger…just try not to have me accidentally murdered in the process,” Sherlock quipped, relaxing back himself from his defensive position.

“I’ll never live it down, will I?” John asked, too embarrassed to even look at his friend. Not that he didn’t deserve that.

“Unlikely,” the garter snake admitted honestly, “but I promise not to tease you too often unless you do something else truly idiotic. I’m sure you have some intelligence – just stop hiding it.”     

In the meantime, Mrs. Hudson had been led to a different room. It had more natural light than the other one, wide glass panels making up most of the walls, and she made a mental note to tell her friends to get themselves here if possible. The sun cheered her up immediately. She hoped that the biped would let her snuggle right against the glass, letting the sun’s warmth seep into her old bones.

She even attempted again to free herself, but without result – her weak struggling didn’t faze her capturer at all. Of course, he placed her  in a cage almost the farthest from the glass – and the tempting outside world just past the door. Just her luck. Or did he suspect that she’d make a run for it if free? Not that ‘making a run’ had ever been one of her talents, but with her new upgrade, maybe…Besides, it was a moot point. Even if she could, she never would have, today. She needed to inform her friends, in case they didn’t know.      

There were a number of other animals in here, but none that bothered to acknowledge her at all. How rude! She attempted to talk to the creatures closest to her – a bunch of tiny turtles, who clearly were little more than newborn. They should have realised that a word with someone having so much more experience might be helpful for their future, but no, they told her to shut up! Well, she certainly wasn’t going to talk with such people.

So she settled down, looking longingly at the glass, and just observed what was going on. For long stretches of time, absolutely nothing happened. So boring! Then, someone would come in, often with one of their offsprings, look around and – sometimes – leave with one of them. Martha frowned. Where were they going?

Luckily for her, not many people came to the turtles’ corner in the first place, and usually they barely bothered to glance at her. The few who did – mostly children – were dragged away by grimacing parents. Only once it seemed like she might have to go – which frankly sounded like a nightmare, because they almost handed her over to a small child whose screeches hurt her ears. But the biped who’d brought her here (and whose place was somewhere else, according to the glares of the one running all around the place) stepped in. There was a sort of argument, and then the child and his parents left in a huff.

If Martha could understand human language, she’d have heard Mike grumble to himself, “A toy! A fucking toy! Well, she’s not,” steeling himself for the inevitable quarrel to come with Sebastian, their actual clerk. Frankly, Mike never liked him much.         

Chapter Text

When Martha didn’t come back to their room by the night, John started really fretting. “What if…what if they got rid of her?” he asked tremulously. As much as he’d accepted that they had no chance to protect her before, if it turned up that she disappeared or was killed in these few hours, he wouldn’t forgive himself.

“Theorizing without data is stupid, John. And the way to get yourself eaten out there, if you mistakenly assume some place is safe. Honestly, I thought you’d know this. Relax, now. You know as much as I do that there’s much more room in this place, and that the bipeds will move us according to rules that I’ve not yet managed to deduce. Humiliating, I know, but give me a bit more time to figure out these creatures. They seem to act so randomly. I’d have to go out anyhow. I’ll look for her. Don’t panic until I’m back, please,” the garter snake lectured, headbutting his friend lightly to hopefully snap him out of his mood.

“Right, of course. I’m sorry. It’s just…I’ve known her all my life, and she’s always been so kind, and willing to give the best advice. I worry about her,” the toad replied, looking bashful.

“I understand,” Sherlock offered softly. It would have been a lie until not so long ago. In some measure, it still was. He had no idea how it was to care for someone since he was just hatched. Before his capture, he had creatures he tolerated. Ones he didn’t mind spending the winter with, huddling close, as long as all of them were unconscious too.

That was pack animals’ idiocy, he would have sworn. But toads weren’t exactly pack animals either…and John cared. And now, Sherlock cared – about John, about Molly, a bit, and even about Mrs. Hudson. Maybe there was a transitive property to caring? He needed to study it…later on. When they would be free. Which would be soon.

He slithered away, hoping he would soon have good news for his friend. If the tortoise truly disappeared, the amphibian would resent him for it. And then, since he was nothing but fair, John would probably feel guilty about resenting him. So, their relationship – whatever it was – would undoubtedly sour, before Sherlock could even solve the mystery of its definition. Not that the garter snake had tried very hard to find a label to put on it. They had other priorities, and classification was not one of them. Not when there were escapes to plan, and…well, let’s be honest…company to enjoy.

On a mission, the snake ignored the taunts of the spider. It was a marvel that the thing still hadn’t got bored of it, even being regularly disregarded. Wasn’t it obvious that they were in different leagues? He claimed to understand the bipeds, sure. And if the reptile had wanted to manipulate them, he would maybe have given the arachnid’s theories a chance. But all he wanted was to get away. What their captors were up to was not his business, unless it augmented his chances to avoid them.

There was some sort of reasoning to the organizations of the cages, which Sherlock had figured out long ago, so he sped up towards where Martha could be expected to be. The cold-blooded creature would have liked to believe in luck, because he would be wishing for it right now. But only idiots did that.

She was there, and greeted him with a cheerful, “Oh, Sherlock, you won’t believe it! I saw the exit. Of course, I couldn’t get out – and I wouldn’t have if I could, not with John and you having no idea which way to go. Or do you?”

“Ah, no, I…had been planning first about ensuring that we were able to open the cages we were trapped in. If we acted during the night, I hoped that we would have time to find the exit even if we didn’t make a run for it,” the reptile admitted, his tail waving in embarrassment.    

“Oh, of course, dear, that’s sensible. If you’re trapped you can’t go anywhere. Well, you’re not trapped, I mean, but John still is, and with his mobility a bit compromised at the moment, it’s not like he can jump down from the table, even if you opened the cage for him. So making a long-term plan is a good idea,” the tortoise acknowledged softly.

“And for all I know, my exit could be closed at night. The bipeds have a weird obsession with blocking the access to their places, for all that they're the most dangerous creatures out there. But maybe they eat each other. Some species do, after all. I know their habits because, you see, my parents lived with a couple of them before moving to the park. Or, well, being moved. Neither complained, it was much better, in truth, but they never figured out the reason, either,” she continued.  

“Now I wish they had,” the garter snake replied wistfully. “If there is a way to entice them into freeing us, it would be precious knowledge. There are many reasons to remove anyone from one’s territory, obviously…but someone you hunted, and chose to keep around? It does not make much sense to send them away, unless they’re not fulfilling their purpose anymore. And if their own behaviour changed notably, I’d hope that your parents would have noticed.”

“I’d say so! They weren’t a pair of idiots, you know, young one!” Martha snapped.

“Not big ones, hopefully, but actually, everyone is an idiot,” Sherlock retorted in a scornful huff.

She surprised him, by reacting with an odd sound of amusement. “I’ve lived long enough to know you’re right, so I won’t argue. But are you smart enough to know that, on occasion, you’re everyone too?” she quipped. 

The snake curled, burying his head in his spires, in the most obvious “You’re making no sense and I’ll ignore you until you do,” sign he could think of.

“Oh, come on, now, don’t sulk. I did say on occasion – and it is true, for all of us. What matters is to have more times one has enough common sense…a rather necessary survival skill,” the tortoise urged, sliding on her new wheels towards him until she hit the terrarium’s wall.

“I have a plan to refine,” the snake announced, before swanning off.

Oh well. Martha just hoped that he would be able to admit the truth of her words to himself soon enough. Too much arrogance made for quick demises, and John would be disappointed…and if she had to be honest, she would be, too. Her new friend was far from perfect, but his heart was in the right place.    

Chapter Text

Sherlock was very tempted to just get back to John immediately. Reassure his friend that Mrs. Hudson was well and curl back at his side once again. But Mrs. Hudson being suddenly moved from their area was a sharp reminder that they could be trapped back in their terrarium any day…and what would happen if by then, the snake had not found an ally able to open their cages, just like him?

For all his plans, he’d actually been dillydallying. Not daring to leave his companion alone too long…no, let’s be honest, not wanting to be apart from his friend too long, he had taken advantage of only a minimum of the hours they were alone to finalise the details of his daring escape.

He needed to find someone now – someone with the ability to manipulate objects with a certain finesse, a good character – easy to turn into an ally – and, if not genius like him, with at least enough intelligence to retain instructions. As frustrating as that sounded, a pack creature was probably his best bet.

The garter snake had grown up convinced that one should be able to fend for themselves, or be eaten, without realising even he wasn’t entirely capable to take care of himself. But if anyone asked, he would have declared loudly that winter sleep didn’t count – that was just being practical. Why should everyone go looking for a private long-term safe hiding spot and do who knows what to ensure it stayed warm all along, when a single, larger den and a reptilian bodies’ pile served just as well? And if anyone would have pointed out how hypocritical this was, Sherlock would have just started a professional sulk.

That aside, what animal would happily agree to his plan? Pack creature, not a direct predator of either his species or John’s, bright enough to learn his trick and stupid enough – or naturally submissive enough – to take well being ordered around. For all his hatred of repetition, he kept rehearsing the needed qualities while he slithered among the various cages. He couldn’t risk missing the right one because he wasn’t paying enough attention to the requirements.

Not that he would ever have doubted himself this way days ago, but he couldn’t tolerate the idea of failing John. And he wasn’t ashamed to recognise to himself what the toad had turned him into…even if he would never admit it to another living creature, much less the amphibian himself.    

He slithered quickly among the cages, evaluating everyone at a glance. Stupid, predator, arrogant alpha who would never listen to anyone else…more stupid. Someone help him. For all that the room was huge, and the creatures plentiful, most of them were completely useless. Why would anyone want them around, and not turn them instantly into food? That was the only benefit they could offer, after all.      

For a moment, Sherlock despaired. And then, someone called out to him – and thankfully, it wasn’t that pest Jim. It was a lonely creature, with shimmering grey fur and small, round ears. He sort of looked similar to the dogs, but was kept carefully separated from them. “Hey, mate! What are you up to?” it – he – asked.

“Not your mate,” the garter snake automatically retorted. “And I’m looking for someone.” He seized the other with a sharp look, trying to deduce if he would be adequate. After all, he’d reached out… so this one should be willing to hear his project, at least.

“Someone specific, or would anyone do? I’m Greg, by the way,” the canid inquired.

“Sherlock. To be honest, neither…I mean, I’m not purposefully after one particular guest of this damned place, but anyone would most certainly not do. I’m seeking someone with a highly specific set of features. Most creatures are, frankly speaking, dimwits,” the snake explained.

“Everyone is an idiot but for me and you, and I’m not so sure about you?” Greg quipped, with a lopsided grin.

“Certainly not, you…you mutt! Just because you have never met John, it doesn’t mean you get to dissssparage him,” Sherlock snapped, raising at his maximum height to glare better at his new acquaintance.

“Hey, I was just joking! I didn’t mean to offend your friend, you know,” Greg said, body language immediately turning apologetic. “And it’s fox, by the way. Snow fox, purebred at least to the fifth generation. Can’t say I have data going further back, but I’d say it’s enough, don’t you? At least pick an insult I do actually deserve.”   

“You’re not a fox. I know foxes, they’ve eaten a few of my relatives, and they don’t look like you. Larger ears, for one. And pointy. So why do you lie?” the reptile objected.

“Uh…erm…sorry? About your relatives, I mean. But I truly am a fox. Where I used to live, it was buggering cold. You don’t want big ears for the freezing wind to get in. Not if you don’t plan on having them fall off in a day or two, anyhow. For all you told me, you haven’t said why you’re looking for that someone, or what one needs to be to qualify,” the fox inquired, looking intently at him.

“Why are you interested, anyway?” the garter snake retorted, oscillating slowly, unsure if he should just leave. But none of the others he’d passed talked to him, which meant it was improbable they’d want to cooperate.   

“I won’t lie. You’re out. I’m interested in getting out. I was caught a couple of days ago, and I have every intention to go back, you know? I have someone waiting for me,” Greg replied, getting flush against the cage’s door, as if he meant to squeeze through the bars and leave immediately…which of course he couldn’t do.     

“And I have people I promised to get out of here. So, if I help you, will you help me help them?” Sherlock replied. It was a bit of a tongue-twister, sure – but if the self-proclaimed fox was confused by this simple sentence, there was no way he could be an adequate pupil.

“Sure,” the fox agreed genially. “Now, how do I get out?”

“Like this,” the snake announced, before swiftly opening his new acquaintance’s cage.

Greg bounded out and wagged his tail. “Now, what sort of help do you need?”

“I need you to learn to do that on your own…and from the inside of your cage, too. It’s really not that complicated, if you are agile – and I believe you can be,” the reptile explained, twisting in a circle all around him.

“Sorry, what? I mean, we’re out already…why would I ever get back in?” the fox asked, cocking his head.

“Because it’s still too soon now. I’m all for an evasion en masse – or at least an evasion of everyone that agreed to cooperate with me, because it would heighten our chances of not being caught anew. But John is not ready now. The weird female biped did something to him – something I want to believe it’s not permanent. After all, John was meant to be food at the start. He was already crippled, so weighing his leg down only turns him into a decidedly stodgy meal. I want to believe that they’ll stop with it sometime – soon, hopefully – and then we can all get out. Since I assume they’ll take us away from that other biped’s territory, and I can’t get free from the other place we’ve been kept on my own…this is where your role comes in,” Sherlock quickly clarified, stilling but for his tail, which was oscillating in frustration. Wasn’t it obvious?

“Oh. Okay. So it’s for your partner. I can empathise with that. You better hope that it’s truly soon, you know. Because once you teach me to get out, if you take too long, I might have to just ignore everything and try my best to get back home. These pups won’t raise themselves, you know,” Greg huffed.

“Oh, of course. You’re one of the species that won’t look after themselves,” the snake replied, trying his best not to be as spiteful as he would usually be. “Will your partner manage alone?”  The question caught him by surprise. He didn’t make small talk, and still he’d asked. He found he cared somehow. Why did he care? Greg wasn’t even someone who agreed to anything, no questions asked. What was happening to him? It was John’s fault, he’d bet. It usually was.

“Oh, no, they’re not mine. They’re my little brothers, and both mum and da are taking care of them. Still, eight kits keep one busy. Some extra help is always needed, you know. I don’t want them to go spare,” the fox stated.

“How altruistic of you,” the garter snake remarked, and for once, there was no sneer in such a sentence. “Now, this actually opens rather easily if you know where to touch…”  

Chapter Text

 

After all the difficulties he had with Anderson, who actually had the same body parts as him, so shouldn’t have that hard a time copying exactly his movements, Sherlock didn’t expect much from Greg. The snake had accosted him only because he was afraid of time running out.

He couldn’t risk being trapped back in his terrarium, together with John, if the bipeds – who clearly had no rationality at all – decided to trap them back again. All his knowledge would be entirely useless once he was on the wrong side of a lock again. Who knew what would be their next initiative. It was bad enough what they had done already.

True, Mrs. Hudson appreciated her augmented speed, which would – theoretically – be a survival advantage. And many of their companions appreciated the free food. But that had to be a trick. Nobody fed another out of kindness. The aphids might not mind if the ants ate their secretions, but they needed to be protected. And Sherlock wasn’t looking for a job.

Technically, he hadn’t been looking for friends either, and he wouldn’t be complaining about finding them. Maybe a bit ashamed of himself, but not actively protesting…or even considering cutting them from his life. Still, this didn’t mean that he should just go with the flow and accept anything their captors wanted to do to them. He was born with a brain. It would be wrong not to use it.   

The snake was used to assume that all other creatures were unable to reason adequately, and he’d been proven right more often than not. But the fox was a surprisingly quick pupil, and even suggested a few adaptions he could try since his anatomy was rather different from Sherlock’s own.

The reputation of cunning his relatives had should be extended to snow foxes too, then? Or had he just met a particularly outstanding exemplar? If so, why wasn’t he the one reproducing? It wasn’t like he couldn’t be bothered with pups, since he was helping out with his brothers…maybe he hadn’t found anyone he could stand for an extended period of time? Before meeting John, the reptile would have sworn this was an unfortunate (well, only if one looked at things by the idiotic masses point of view) side effect of having a working mind.

…Ok, how had his brain been sidetracked to wondering about his new accomplice’s sex life? Ugh. He would never have before…This whole ‘establishing ties with other creatures and minding what happened to them’ lark he’d slipped in made him ponder all kinds of things about his fellow prisoners. Decidedly well beyond the usual, ‘Can it eat me? Am I hungry enough to disrupt my ponderings to eat it?’ that was his immediate assessment of other beings in the wild.

Once Greg had repeated his trick enough times to satisfy Sherlock that yes, he really knew how to get out, and it wasn’t a fluke (and no, he wasn’t going to forget it by tomorrow, how did the snake think that he’d learned to hunt?), the garter snake half-admitted, “Your performance just now…that was…good, Gart.”

“Greg,” the fox huffed, half-laughing. He’d just regained his freedom thanks to the snake, he wasn’t going to be hung up on propriety. “But thanks.”

“Anytime. Now, the next part of your preparation is going to require…” the reptile continued, raising to stare the other right in the eyes, and regretting that he couldn’t stare the fox down like he could with so many other of his acquaintances. That always had an interesting effect on them.

“In a minute,” the canid cut in. “I’ve showed you I can get myself out – and back in, to dupe our captors – enough times to satisfy you. But now I’m out, and you have no idea how stir-crazy I was in there. I don’t know if you don’t get that problem – not really seen any of yours where I live – but I actually like having a good walk.”

Now, a good walk would have annoyed Sherlock – they had plans to refine, after all – but, if it was swift, he could have allowed for it. Greg’s idea of finally moving, though, entailed a lot of running and bounding and generally making a nuisance of himself. Seriously, they were supposed to be accomplices…co-conspirators…which meant that they had to keep a low profile until the actual evasion happened.

True, the bipeds were absent at the moment…but if they left too blatant evidence of their newfound freedom, their captors would certainly add different locks, or other tricks that they had no defence about yet. Nobody would go through all that trouble to catch and jail them only to shrug off the fact that they weren’t trapped anymore. Even if they had clearly peculiar mind processes like these creatures.

The garter snake had to spend a good hour slithering after the fox at top speed, hissing at him not to make such a racket and just behave properly, to no avail. He even had to lunge suddenly and tie himself around the snow fox’s legs at one point. That elicited a surprised yelp and an automatic, and thankfully useless, attempt to kick.

“What the fuck, mate?” Greg growled, turning towards him, frowning.

“You almost bounded off that terrarium,” Sherlock pointed out, squeezing more, though he was pretty sure the other barely felt it.

“So?” the fox queried, with another, weak attempt at kicking him off.

“Do you really want to leave your tracks all over it? How do you think the bipeds will react when they discover it tomorrow?” the snake hissed angrily.

At that, Greg’s snout drooped, and his body went lax. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” he admitted.

“Nobody ever does,” Sherlock grumbled, freeing him and getting back on the floor. And there went his previous regard towards the other. Let it be a lesson for himself. Just because he’d met John, who was obviously special, he shouldn’t become too kind towards other creatures. Everyone was really an idiot.

“Come on, I said sorry…What do you expect me to do?” The fox replied, wagging his tail slightly in an attempt to appease him.

“Let me go over the details of our plan, for one,” the garter snake snapped, seeing the chance to finish his work here – he wanted to go back to John, and be able to assure him everything was ready. 

Chapter Text

Going over the details of the plan included letting him know whom else Greg was supposed to save. “Or I could just open all these traps. I bet the bipeds would have their share of chaos to deal with after that. Less chance to catch us back,” the fox huffed.

“Typical apex predator reasoning,” Sherlock hissed, carefully omitting Mrs. Hudson having the same idea. She was an old, slightly crazy one, anyway. She didn’t count. “How many of my friends would get eaten in that havoc you want to create, what do you think? Most of them are snack sized for many of our companions.”

“Well, not exactly apex predator, but I don’t see any polar bears here, and I suppose you’ve never encountered one. They’re fucking huge, seriously. But more important – if your friends are snacks, why would you trust me in the first place?” Greg asked.

“Because I need someone’s help, and my choices are sorely limited. And because if you eat any of them, I’ll make sure you die. Slowly. You could eat me too, for  all I care, and I’d manage to strangle you from the inside,” the garter snake pointed out. He didn’t sound threatening at all, which – weirdly – made him seem much more dangerous.  

“Geez, no need to flip out. We’re associates. You help me, I help you. Basic stuff. I don’t have any intention to snack on you or yours – it was just curiosity. That said, we could still go with my plan. I could protect your friends. I mean, I protect the cubs all the time. It’s kind of my thing, protecting,” the fox retorted, lowering on his haunches in a show of goodwill.   

“Oh, I am sure – when the cubs are hidden away, and you guard the entrance, I’m sure no one would get past you, or you’d die trying. But my point is – we wouldn’t be hidden, we’d be out in the open, have different speeds, and be exposed on all sides to all kinds of predators. The chances of getting everyone safely outside lower drastically now, don’t they?” the snake pointed out, looking the other right in the eyes. Seriously, why did no one ever think?   

“…Ooops. Yes, when you put it like that, I don’t suppose it would be a move too smart. But I have to admit, I’m puzzled by the different speed bit. I’d assumed your friends were of your own species,” Greg remarked.   

“Why?” Sherlock queried, oscillating in annoyance.

“Maybe it’s because we don’t have that many species where I live – as I said, bloody cold, not many can withstand it in the first place – so we don’t have that many chances of making friends. I mean, I know how to follow someone else to snack on what they accidentally dig on as well as anyone else, but we don’t really chat them up. Nor would I be too bothered if a third party ate them. And you don’t seem like the friendliest type ever, to be honest. Bit too bossy for that,” the fox huffed. 

“Bossy? Really? I thought that species capable of teaming up made a point of obeying the smarter one. Or did I pick the wrong characteristic?” the snake countered.

Greg snorted. Loudly. “It’s not that I won’t obey someone who’s more intelligent than I am. But among us, smartassery usually gets driven out of you when you’re still a cub. I’m so very tempted to bite you right now, in fact. Oh, not in a brutal I’ll break you in two and gobble you up way, don’t get me wrong. Just a nip to teach you some manners, you know?”

“Well, you better not. I seriously doubt anything that you can teach is worth learning, anyway,” the garter snake said, turning his back on him.

“Hey, don’t underestimate me just because you see me here. I’m a survivalist, in the first place, which is not a bad skill to have. And I certainly have better relationship skills than you do. Friendly tip for the future: don’t insult anyone you want as associate. Especially not if you foresee a future when you might depend entirely on them. Now, you get a pass this time because clearly your parents didn’t bother teaching you even the basics. But I’m not here to be insulted. After all, nothing is stopping me from just walking away right now,” the fox replied, walking around him so he could looking the other in the face again. 

“Nothing at all, you’re right…Except the fact that you didn’t figure this out on your own, and if you think you can go back to your family by simply walking back to them I have news for you. The distance these things we were carried on cover in an hour is not the same you’d traverse trotting for the same time. Which you could have deduced if you’d bothered to properly analyse your surroundings, but I suppose that’s too much to assssssssssk,” Sherlock hissed.   

“So what? Even if I believed you – and I have to give it to you, you’re clever – I doubt that you can bring me any farther than out this place anyway. Even if you had enough sympathy for my brothers to want to accompany me home, not to be rude, but you look like you’d be dead of frostbite less than half the way through. Seriously, no fur at all? I understand that places less cold might not need as dense a protection, but none…how did you even survive long enough to be captured, I wonder,” Greg remarked.

“We survive very simply…by knowing how to hide from weather that would murder us. The true mystery is why you would deem such a place  as you describe suitable to bring up your cubs – or to live in at all. Frankly, it speaks volumes about your general lack of common sense,” the garter snake quipped, glaring at him.   

“Maybe, but you seem to have a very short memory. What did I say about insulting the ones you want as associates?” the snow fox growled lightly.

“I remember everything I care to…but I admit your lessons might not be in that lot,” the reptile confessed brazenly.

“So I presume you don’t want my help anymore. Fine with me. I’m off, best to you,” Greg retorted, walking away.

Sherlock lunged and wove himself through his legs. “What? No! Don’t be ridiculous. I need your help, sadly – most people are even more idiotic than you are – and I could be useful to you, too!” he blurted out.

“How?” the fox asked, leaning his head to one side.

“Even assuming you get out of here – where are you going after? I figured out how to flee. I might not be made to accompany you home, but give me a bit and I will be able to point you the right way. Just heading in a random direction won’t help you much, will it?” the garter snake explained. He wasn’t going to ruin John’s chances of getting out of here (and…everyone else’s, of course) simply because the other was so thin skinned under all that fur.

Greg’s head dropped. “Fuck, you’re right. Never thought that far. Well, let’s go see these friends of yours, come on!” he urged.

Sherlock wanted to yell at him, “That’s what I was trying to get you to do in the first place!” but – for once – he kept quiet, in case the other was offended again. Instead, he contented himself with leading the way by slithering in the haughtiest way he could muster.   

Chapter Text

It took leading Greg through a bit of a meandering course, but Sherlock first of all lead him to the final objective – his own old terrarium. He would point out everyone else in a moment, but first things first. Just as he had no idea what the fox’s species even was, the garter snake thought that the other reptiles would probably not be familiar to his new companion….which meant that his first reaction wouldn’t be – hopefully at least – “Mmm…looks tasty.” None of them would be a staple of his usual diet.

Molly, though, had fur – rather luscious fur, if one went for that sort of thing. And from the little description of his home Greg had offered, the snake was pretty sure fur was a necessity for anyone hoping to survive out there. Which meant that she had the highest chance of looking like a walking snack to the canid. Hence why they would be visiting her first, to impress how she was friend (was she? That might be too big of a word…but certainly Sherlock didn’t want her eaten) and not a nibble.      

“Oh my, Sherlock, you’re safe! I’ve been so worried, you all disappeared, and I was left here all alone, and I don’t do well alone, especially when the neighbours are…well…” she chittered, flitting all along the terrarium and throwing wary glances to the fox.

The snake wasn’t used to feeling guilty. He certainly wasn’t use to taking account of others’ comfort, and neither Molly’s relocation nor their absence had been his choice anyway. Still, the fact that he’d been so busy organising their daring escape that he’d forgotten to tell her that nobody had been murdered – yet – and that they had a plan, demonstrated a lack of planning that made him cringe internally.

“Yes, well, we’re fine…fin-ish…I lost only my dignity, and John, he finds a bit hard to move right now…harder than he did already, but we’re still fed, have a place to sleep and all. I am even organising our great escape, Molly,  turns out I only needed a change of perspective. I did say that I would find a way out of this place for us, didn’t I? It’s better outside, I promise,” Sherlock ratted out lightning-fast.

“I should have known that you were too smart to let yourself be held. I’m sorry I doubted you and worried too much. I just don’t want anyone I know to get hurt,” she said meekly.

“Hey, that’s not bad…Molly, is it? If you care, that makes you a good friend, don’t ever apologise for that,” Greg cut in, with a lopsided smile.

“Oh, erm, thank you! Sherlock, why don’t you introduce your new friend to me?” the mouse replied, nose vibrating, but if in anxiety or curiosity she herself wouldn’t be able to say.

The reptile nodded towards the fox, and declared, “This is Geoff, and he’s not a friend.”

“Greg,” the other corrected, sighing. “How long does he take to remember things usually? This is starting to become frustrating.”

Mycroft, who had been happily sleeping, had apparently been awakened by all the conversations going on right next to his terrarium. He’d been more than happy to pretend to still be dead to the world until that moment, not wanting to get involved with his crazy neighbour. But he could never resist showing off his superiority, so he raised his head slightly and cut in, “Stop being childish and teasing your collaborator, and call him his proper name, Lock. Or was it an empty boast when you  claimed to be oh-so-clever? Remembering one syllable does not require that much brainpower.”

The fox gave a sideways glance to his companion, before turning to the python querying, “And you? Are you one of the team too?”

 The garter snake, who’d remained wordless for a second, shocked at being openly scolded, but then rose as much as he could , the tip of his tail vibrating in outrage. “This not so much self-propelled stomach? Of course not. I’ll be very happy when I’ve put as much distance as I can between us. Don’t listen to him. Besides, I’ve figured out how to leave our prisons. You judge our respective intellect,” he snapped.

“You do, indeed, Greg. I’ve figured out how to play the system to ensure I’m fed for life without having any need to hunt, fight or seek a den ever again. Who is the smarter one, now?”

The fox shrugged. “It certainly seems that you’re set. If you’re happy with it, I’m glad for you. I have duties, though. Cubs to bring up, you see. Curling in my cage and lazing the life away is not something I can do, in good conscience.”

“This just proves that tiesssssssssssssssss are not an advantage. None of them, at all. You didn’t need to want for anything, just let the silly bipeds take care of all your wishes. Instead, here you are planning for a long, dangerous trip you might not survive. If your cubs aren’t capable of taking care of themselves, maybe you should rethink the idea of having offsprings.”

“Starting to think all reptiles are assholes, honestly.  Not my offsprings, my brothers…but if you won’t take care of your own family, it’s no wonder I’ve never seen anyone like you back home. You’d die on your own, and a long way before reaching my territory. I’m starting to think we picked the absolute best home. No smug deluded bastards around,” Greg snapped, with a crooked smile that uncovered some vicious teeth. Not that he would really attack the python. But he was sick and tired of people judging him without having any idea of what life at home was.

Molly laughed at Greg’s rant, a silvery melodious sound. Even just a week before, a ranting fox, even outside her cage, would probably have terrified her. But since meeting Sherlock, she had started to see that not everyone more powerful meant immediate death. She still wasn’t entirely certain about participating to the escape, but just maybe she could survive.

“You’re lucky that I’m inside and you’re outside,” said Mycroft darkly.

“Want me to open it for you?” the garter snake offered gleefully.

“If the bipeds notice it would be too much of a hassle…I don’t want my system ruined by your shared folly,” the python replied, burying his head down again and ignoring the lot of them. Hopefully they’d just run along and let him sleep again.                 

 

Chapter Text

“Anyone else I need to know about?” Greg asked, wondering how far their plan stretched.

“Yesss,” Sherlock replied. “Sadly, I cannot be loud enough to call you myself when we’ll need your cooperation, so I have a few associates that will pass the message along.”

“Oh. Well, sure. Tell me again, why don’t we just open the cages and take off now?” the fox queried, tilting his head.

“Because John is not well enough to be running anywhere. It was bad enough that he had a bit of a motility problem already, but the bipeds saddled him with a weird contraption…no way he can live normally now. But I hope they’ll take it away eventually, because it seems that nobody stays long-term in our area. And before you ask, no, there’s no way I’m leaving him behind,” the snake snapped, raising himself to eye-level with the other.

“Hey, I didn’t suggest that. You have friends, and you’re looking out for them. I can appreciate that. I just hope the bipeds won’t take too long because you know, cubs. But if I feel we’re dragging really too long, I’ll help you find a replacement before I flee, I promise,” Greg assured, wagging his tail twice in appeasement. “Now let’s see this friends of yours.”

“Not friendssss,” the garter snake pointed out, leading him between the cages.

“Yeah, sure,” the snow fox conceded. He would never understand, though, why the reptile was so obsessed with keeping others at a distance, when they worked together for a worthy goal.

The canid had no idea what to expect, of course. There were more species here than he’d ever seen. But another long thing, though rather curled at the moment, with a very brightly coloured ring pattern, wasn’t it. There was a sudden sound, and a not entirely pleasant smell. “Wait, are you friends with worms too?” What a weird ragtag mix would they be!

“Not a worm,” Sherlock said, and if he could have rolled his eyes, he would have. “Philip, stop being an idiot and look at us!” 

Gingerly, the being uncurled, and a head with bright eyes came forward, though it was as cylindrical as the rest of the body and in no way differed from the opposite extremity. “Who’sssssssssssssssss that?” 

Before the garter snake could get his name wrong again, the fox spoke up, “Greg, pleasure to meet you, and sorry about the mistake. No snakes where I’m from, you see. I’m here to help, I swear. Well, I’ll be here to help. I’m just figuring out who’s on our side at the moment.”

“You involved him in our esssscape?” Philip hissed, turning angrily at Sherlock and seemingly ignoring the fox, though Greg was still in the edges of his line of sight.

“Well, since his residence is built in a way to allow him to get himself out when he’s still inside, it seemed convenient. He agreed to cooperate,” Sherlock answered, his tone dripping with disdain.

“And why is it?” Philip queried, his eyes darting between his two visitors in suspicion.   

“Because our captors assume he’s too stupid to figure out how to?” the garter snake bit out, “I don’t care. If you don’t want to be let out, you just need to say so.”

“Are you going back on our deal now?” the coral snake countered angrily, raising himself as much as he could.

“Hey, hey, everyone, calm down. I swear, you’re like my brothers, and they’ve just been weaned. Behave like sensible creatures for once!” the fox snapped, glaring equally at everyone. “Now, what’s your problem with me, uh? If I have offended you, Phil, sorry, but I didn’t mean to, and I have no idea what he did. Why is it that you’re so angry with my presence?”

“Philip. And it should be obvioussss. Your teeth. I’ll have to warn you that I can kill you, so you better not try anything,” Philip threatened, glaring right back.

Greg let out a long, tired huff. “Honestly, if I were in this for the food, I’d just stay in my cage. Do you think I’m the only one left fasting? I need to get out, and since I’ve been taught how to, I don’t mind helping Sherlock back, or his friends. If that was your concern, you don’t need to fret. I said I want to help. I don’t need a snack. Certainly not someone in our team,” he swore.   

“Why should we trust you?” the coral snake demanded, oscillating as if trying to charm the truth out of him.

The snow fox nosed Sherlock gently. “Because he’s here. I mean, if I didn’t want to help you all, I could have just taken off by now. Also, if I were inclined to snack on other unwilling guests, I could have tried to take a bite out of him. And I could keep opening cages and eating – or hunting at least – anyone I felt like. I wouldn’t need to try to trick you, or anyone else, would I?” he pointed out.       

“Maybe,” Philip mumbled, curling back up, but not hiding his face again.

“Oh, come on. I’m not an evil genius,” Greg said, the shadow of a whine in his words.

“You’re not a genius at all,” Sherlock chimed in, slithering an inch away from the fox.

“Not arguing that, but again, manners, Sherlock. We talked about that, remember? Anyway, I’ll be more than happy to leave you out when we’re all fleeing…You’re free to stay in, if you don’t trust us, though, of course,” the snake declared, laying down in front of the cage. Maybe his relative looming put the other on edge. He really should have considered it earlier.     

“We’ll sssssssssee, I sssssssssssuppose,” the coral snake conceded.

…And a different body language worked like magic. For someone who preached politeness, and was meant to help bring up others, he could be slower to deal properly with strangers than he should be. “Sure,” he assured with a nod. One hurdle passed already.      

Chapter Text

“We have other assssssssssociates to meet,” Sherlock announced, tail snapping left and right. On one hand, he wanted the plan to be ready by morning. There was no way to know when the bipeds would lash and try something against them. On the other, he wanted to go back to John. Between lessons and introduction, this was taking a lot more time than he’d expected. He wanted to curl up around his friend and relax in the certainty that nothing could happen to him. Thankfully the bipeds stuck to their hours, but with his luck, the one time they wouldn’t would be tonight…

“Lead the way,” Greg only said, nudging him lightly with his nose and barely escaping being hit.

The snake hurried, secretly annoyed at how the fox didn’t need more than a light jog to keep pace. He’d always thought that legs were nature’s consolation prize for creatures whose spine didn’t bend correctly, but it seemed there might be a point to them after all. Not that he wanted them. He wouldn’t know what to do with the things, for one. But giving him a hard time to keep up might have impressed on the canid that this was very serious business. Sure, he wanted to go back to his family. But he also seemed not enough concerned to the reptile.

Soon enough, they were in front of Sally’s abode. “You again? I thought you said I’d get a signal when it was time to go?” she asked, none too pleased.

“You will. I’m just introducing Garth here to everyone because he’ssss our way out and he needs to know which traps to open,” the garter snake explained, raising himself half off the ground. It was stupid how many creatures wouldn’t listen if you were simply lower than they were.  

“Greg,” the fox sighed.

“Uh?” the frog inquired.

“My name’s Greg, not Garth  or Geoff or any name Sherlock here will come up with when speaking about me. I don’t know why he can’t remember it. it’s not like it’s complicated!”  

“So why are we starting with lies? What else are you lying to me about?” Sally accused, glaring at them.

“Oh, for…ssssssssssstop being concerned, nobody cares about you!” Sherlock hissed, glaring back.

At that, Greg actually lightly slapped his partner with a paw. It was like having a cub, he swore. They never listened, so sometimes you had to knock them down in play before a bear found them and snacked on them instead. “Manners, Lock, remember? We talked about it,” he chided.

Sally didn’t restrain herself at all. She found the scene hilarious, and everyone in the building – and possibly in the next one, too – was treated to her guffaws.

“My name is Sssher-lock, and you can say it all. It’s not like we’re clossse,” the snake retorted, turning at him with a vicious glare. If he wasn’t indispensable for their daring escape, the fox was sure he would have an attempted murder on his paws. Was it just because no one ever taught him? Or because he was losing face here?

“As soon as you can figure out my name, sure, Lock,” the fox promised, “I believe in reciprocation, you see. And politeness. He was out of line, sure, but you too aren’t so much better! I didn’t catch your name at all, and as fun as you might have found it, I’d say now you are due for a breather, aren’t you?”

“Who died and made you boss?” the frog spit, but at least she needed to stop her cachinnation to do so. For a second, she received no answer, just a stern look. Finally she caved in and mumbled, “I’m Sally…but don’t think you get to bully us all around just because you’re big.”

“Bully?” Greg echoed, flabbergasted. “Me, a bully? But if I’m the one insisting on some measure of politeness between…okay, we’re not pack, definitely, but associates, accomplices, whatever you want. You can’t work properly together if you all loathe each other. It makes no sense! Am I a bully, Sherlock?”

“Well, maybe not, but you can definitely be annoying with your proper behaviour rules. They might be proper for furred creatures, maybe, but you can’t decide for everyone, and you need to learn it,” the garter snake replied, raising at his maximum height.

“You have a point, I suppose. But you know, I still need to see one of you naked ones that doesn’t act as if cooperation is a chore. And we have to work together, if we want to be all free, so maybe take a suggestion from the one who is used to it, and even likes it? That’d be me, in case you’re wondering,” the fox said, tail wagging in a show of harmlessness.

“There’s no need to be that angry about it,” Sherlock countered, glaring.

 “I…what? I’m not!” Greg protested, his wagging intensifying to make a point.

“Then why is your extremity so nervous?” the snake asked, mimicking him.

“That is…my ″I’m happy to see you″?” the silver fox queried, sounding unsure, as if he couldn’t believe they were speaking about that. “Or otherwise ″I’m in a very good mood″ signal. You do that when you’re fuming?” He abruptly sat down, tucking his tail between his legs as if to make sure he wouldn’t accidentally move it.

“It turns out that you have something to learn too, uh?” Sally piped in, sounding smug. “Even I know that!”

“And what a low bar that is to exceed,” Sherlock deadpanned.

Greg couldn’t help it. This time he was the one laughing. Though he cut himself off quickly, and said, “Sorry, sorry Sally. It wasn’t funny. Well, a bit. Sorry.” He laid down, his head inclined in the most apologetic expression he could muster, hoping this didn’t mean ‘fuck off’ in their speak.

“Don’t worry too much, Greg, that is the first sensible behaviour you had since I met you,” the snake remarked, curling loosely.

“Don’t make me want to call off the deal,” Sally snapped, jumping up and down on the spot.

“Take your chances with the bipeds, if you want. But don’t complain when you’re all wrapped up and immobilised, for a start. I’d enjoy your jumping assss long assss you’re allowed it,” the garter snake huffed.

“Damn, okay, I’m in, I’m in,” the frog caved in, stilling.

“Then we’ll just move to the last introduction. Move, Greg! You know where to find her, and even if you didn’t, Sally is loud enough for you to find her even if you were blind once she’s calling. We need to be ready!” Sherlock lectured, uncurling with a snap.

“Coming, coming. Relax. See you, Sally!” the fox huffed.  

“See you, boss!” she called, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“What’s wrong with Greg,” he sighed, following Sherlock.  

Chapter Text

“The good thing is that there’s just one last creature you need to meet,” Sherlock announced.

“That kind of sentence usually means there’s a bad thing too, so out with it,” the fox huffed, visibly tensing.

“You’ll be on your own after this. And when things will go down the drain, which they always do, I will be trapped and unable to right what you messed up. I have to trust you to do what you’re told, and if this isn’t bad, I have no idea what would be,” the garter snake snapped, raising up to glare better at him.

“Whoa, thanks for the vote of confidence! If you’re so sure I’ll ruin everything, why have you lost all this time to teach me and introduce me to all your friends anyway?” Greg replied, controlling the urge to growl at the frustrating reptile.

“Because I have no other option, and believe me, I scoured the place for someone else who  might be able to help me, but everyone is either dumber than you are or not interested in leaving…which also makes them dumber, I suppose,” the snake said, mouth snapping shut when he realised that he had just complimented the other’s intelligence.

The fox allowed himself a lopsided smile. With the attitude his new friend had towards everyone else they’d met until now, it was obvious that every praise, no matter how backhanded, was precious. “Thank you…for real, this time. So, let’s see this friend of yours,” he answered. For once, the other didn’t correct him. 

Greg had been brought up to be polite, and generally to get along with others. Up where he lived, you didn’t want to turn people into enemies unless it was absolutely necessary. The climate was enough of an enemy on its own. Still, when he saw the turtle, he blurted out, “What the heck is that thing?”

Sherlock’s tail snapped to whip one of his feet in punishment, at the same time she replied, “My name is Martha, and I can assure you, puppy, that I am not a thing. You should respect your elders!” 

“Ouch,” the fox groaned, limping for a second. “I apologise, ma’am…but I’ve never seen someone with these round…well, they are things, aren’t they?”

She sighed. “Oh, those. Yes, they’re things, but I wasn’t born like that, you know. Or, you don’t, but you could have asked with more finesse. I had an…accident, you see, and I couldn’t move too well. So, here they gave me this addition to help me out. I’m quicker than I was as a youngster!”

“You can’t ssssay it was to help you. They could have any number of goalsssss. They might be experimenting on you!” the garter snake cut in.

“Maybe, but still, if it makes fleeing easier for her, they helped her. It might not be on purpose, but they still did,” Greg pointed out. One less thing to worry about during the Great Escape, might it come soon. 

The snake glared at him. Martha, instead, shook her head, and said, “You have to understand Sherlock…now what’s your name? I can’t keep calling you pup! He really likes things to be precise, you see. And I have a feeling that he’s a bit of a worrywart, too. But that’s because he cares a lot, you see.”

The other reptile’s immediate reaction was, obviously, to hiss angrily, “Now, that’s inssssulting!”, tail oscillating wildly. Just because Martha was John’s friend, this didn’t authorise her to imply he was a pack-minded creature. They notoriously had no more than a small fraction of functioning brain each, if any. He was only interested in protecting John! Everyone else just…tagged along. And Molly still wasn’t sure if she would, at all. If she preferred to take her risks and wait around until the bipeds were tired of feeding her and made her useful, in some undoubtedly horrifying way, it would be her choice. If he cared, he would be much more insistent in his attempts to persuade her, wouldn’t he? Pack members didn’t abandon others unless they were gruesomely hurt, and sometimes not even then.

The fox snorted, even before Sherlock’s objection, expecting it. “He could have fooled me,” he remarked. At that, the snake calmed down immediately, adopting a smug look instead. “Anyway, my name is Greg, and no, I’m not a pup! One would think that it should be obvious.”

“It’s all a question of perspective, you see,” the turtle replied placidly, “of course you’re not technically a pup – you’re helping Sherlock out, that’s evidence enough that you’re not helpless or need looking after like most pups. But when you’ve lived a few decades like I did, most creatures seem just so young.”

“Decades? I don’t think I know that word,” the silver fox remarked, frowning.

“Well, then you’re definitely very, very young,” Martha said softly. “But don’t be sad; you’ll get there eventually.”

“Unlikely,” the snake huffed. Oscillating between the two as if he had a hard time staying still. He would never admit that he didn’t know that word either, but judging from her outlandish claims of long life, it wasn’t too hard to determine that it had to be a measure of time nobody else would ever need.

“Now, now, don’t be so harsh – of course Greg will! He’s smart, so obviously he’s not going to die anytime soon,” she chided, but still gently.

“Who ssssaid anything about him being sssssssmart?” Sherlock protested, tail oscillating more quickly.

“Well, you bothered with him, dearie, and I’m pretty sure John didn’t talk you into it – I’ve never seen him around the park,” the turtle retorted.

The fox smirked down at the snake, but then decided to take pity on him. “ Look, you seem awfully stressed. Since you introduced me to everyone you could already, and – as you pointed out earlier – there’s nothing more you can do….maybe you should do something you like? Find someone who can make you relax? What’s his name…Jesse?”

“John!” The garter snake snapped, before slithering away at top speed, forgetting to say goodbye to Martha too.

“Not so fun, is it?” Greg murmured, mostly to himself – even if he was still in hearing range, the snake was definitely not paying attention to him.     

Chapter Text

John wanted to welcome his friend by jumping in enthusiasm, but the damn weigh they saddled his leg with made that impossible. The result was a ridiculous half jump that sent him sprawling on the floor of his cage. “Ouch!” he complained, feeling utterly ridiculous.

“Are you okay?”  Sherlock asked, hurrying inside and nudging him gently back to a less awkward position.

“Yeah, yeah, nothing’s hurt but my pride, I think.  Actually, it’s because I don’t hurt nearly as much as I did when I was brought here that I made such a spectacle of myself. Believe me or not, but I kind of forgot my limitations there for a minute. Where have you been? You’ve taken ages!” the toad replied, leaning into his friend. Not that he needed the support. It was just…nice.

“Sorry,” the snake grumbled, curling around him. “But now we’re ready whenever you are!”

“And who would ‘we’ be, dear? I’m assuming Mrs. Hudson and Molly are involved, but I also can’t see how they would be of much help for whatever brilliant plan you’ve concocted, so?” John asked. He secretly lamented not being able to join his friend in these days. Sherlock got all the fun!

“Oh, a mixed crowd. There’s another snake, who’s frankly an idiot but, well, less insufferable than our immediate neighbours back there. And hopefully he’ll do what he’s told. The most annoying frog in existence, I’m sure, but again, I need her because she’s a noisy bugger. You’re absolutely not allowed to like her, John, I forbid it. Is that clear? There will be no amphibian bonding of any ssssort,” Sherlock hissed.

The toad laughed. “Fine, don’t worry. I won’t make friends with anyone you hate that much. I like my friends to be able to stand each other, you know. It makes life much less stressful. Points to you for tolerating her for the sake of our great escape. Just remember: if she helps you, you’re not allowed to eat her. Even after we’re all free.”

Snakes aren’t famous for how expressive they are, but the garter snake still managed to look utterly disappointed. “Sssserioussssly John? Even after we’re all out of here? I’m sssupposed to endure her if she doesn’t have enough common sense to stay away from me? Well, away from us. I can’t imagine her wanting to stick around for my sake,” he grumbled, tail lashing.

“She would have technically helped save us, so the least thing she gets is not becoming a snack. There is nothing to say you have to be pleasant to her, though…or I have to be, if she’s as aggravating as you say. You have more than enough abilities to make someone cower and flee without threatening to swallow them, so don’t sell yourself short. I have faith in you,” John appeased.

“That’s why I like you so much,” Sherlock replied, his whole body going lax. “For all that you miss blatant things sometimes, often you make me discover new point of views that are much more interesting than I would have thought myself. It’s special, you know? Usually, nobody else ever says anything worth listening to.”

If John were a human, he would have rolled his eyes. But for his species that gesture was only to help eating, and as ridiculous as his friend was he certainly didn’t deserve to become a snack for it, even if his size was more manageable. So he only countered, “You know what? Try listening to others sometimes. You might be surprised.”

Before the snake could snap back at him, he queried, “Wait…there’s something tickling me. Oh! How did one hair get stuck on you? Did you get too close to someone who was shedding?”

“Damn, sorry, I thought I had got rid of the couple I got on me accidentally. Honestly, that thing has way too much fur for anyone’s needs,” Sherlock huffed, writhing to lose the offending item.

“And that thing would be?” the toad asked patiently.

“Oh, the last one of our squad. I got sidetracked ranting about our associate the frog, but really, everyone but him is mostly useless. He’s a canid – can’t say I’ve seen his exact breed before, so don’t ask me details, all I know is that he’s white, and at least able to listen to instructions, which is more than too many creatures in here,” the garter snake replied airily.

“And does this canid have a name? I’d like not to embarrass myself when we met,” John said.

“Gilliam…George….Gavin…I’m not sure. Something starting with G, anyway. But he answers whatever you call him, so don’t worry too much. Just pick one. He doesn’t mind,” the snake assured him, head oscillating.

The toad laughed. “He doesn’t mind? Are you sure about it? Or was he not worth listening to, too?”

“…Maybe,” Sherlock confessed, with the reptile equivalent of a shrug. “In my defence, I was too busy teaching him and checking that he had actually memorised how to help us to make idle conversation.”    

“Well, if everything is set…are you sure that you want to stay here with me? I mean, you always say they could do anything, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to hightail out of here right now. And maybe I can follow with George or whatever his name is once I have more mobility than a rock,” John offered.

“I clearly left you alone too long, John. You’ve lost your mind! Didn’t we have this conversation already? I’m not going anywhere without you. For whose sake do you think I have organised all this? Interacted with all sort of creatures without yelling at anyone…not very much, at least. The least you owe me for that is not trying to chase me away!”  the snake snapped, head rising in outrage.

“Believe me, ’Lock, I don’t want to chase you. But you’ve done so much, and I cannot help, so well, I thought giving you freedom not to look after me was the sensible thing to do,” the toad answered.

“I would have never learned how to escape if they hadn’t moved you. And trapped forever I would have lost my sanity all too soon. So leave definitely behind this silly notion that I help you more than you help me. We don’t have time to sulk!”  

Chapter Text

While Sherlock was so busy himself, someone else in the wide warehouse was plotting on his own. The garter snake’s repeated rebuttal of his offer to cooperate had enraged Jim. The tiny spider would make the other regret it, should it be the last thing he ever did. Of course, that required finding some accomplices of his own. It wouldn’t do to go against a team all alone. the only thing that would accomplish was to be eaten, after all.

Before acting in any way, Jim started listening. Information was precious. That’s when he heard the tarantulas, two terraria down from his, bemoan the loss of their associates. No, not other spiders. Frogs. Tiny frogs, that ate the ants threatening their eggs. Sure, there was no way that their companions could eat – or even hurt in any way – their captors.  But it was the principle of the thing. They had promised their cooperation, in exchange for the frogs’ service, and were now unable to help. If they ever managed to get back home, their helpers would have been already eaten.     

That idea could have some merit, actually. The only problem was that, being – to be completely honest – on the small side himself (Sherlock’s insults on the matter still smarted) someone smaller than himself, never mind how eager to help, would be completely useless. He didn’t only hve to persuade a frog bigger than himself (possibly many times) that they should help with his plan, which was still being crafted. Above all, he needed to prove that he was worth more as leader than as snack. His species had a bad track with amphibians.

Of course, in the storeroom there was little hope of reaching out to someone. Not when the pets were divided by type, which mostly made sense. Though if it was done to avoid predator and prey staring at each other all day and living in continuous stress, the spider section might have been a bad idea, since many of them had absolutely no qualm eating not only other species, but also member of their own. And that was what helped Jim reach his goal.

Mike wished he could refuse to sell pets to some people. Any pet, but especially the ones they requested. But despite the fact that he was often alone in the shop, and could arrange some details however he pleased, his boss’ policy was perfectly clear. They were here to get people whatever pet they wanted, no matter how weird the request. If he refused to sell anything, there would be a complaint. And that, in turn, would have consequences. Despite all the doubts he had about this whole place, he liked his job. Besides, if something illegal was really going on, he needed to stay to find the evidence.

That didn’t mean that he couldn’t outsmart clients, though – especially if they didn’t come with a specific pet in mind. So, when the sulky teenager came in, accompanied by a father that looked like a CEO, and declared that he wanted the most dangerous pet they had, Mike only rolled his eyes when out of sight, and tried to consider which harmless creature he could in good conscience use to appease the idiot. 

Honestly, he was happy that dogs weren’t cool enough for his idiot clients. While no dog breed is inherently dangerous, ill treatment and lack of training can ruin the best pups, and he wouldn’t trust these two with a fly. He didn’t want to see on the news that the dog he sold them attacked someone (though if it turned on them, it would almost – almost be worth the lesson) and had been put down.

The teenager zeroed on the snakes, and Mike considered what excuse he could use. Someone that stupid would starve a snake, either on purpose or because they couldn’t be bothered to research proper handling, and the result would range from the heartbreaking (for him, of course, he doubted these two knew how to care) to the potentially disastrous.

After showing a few of them – because it was still his job – he saw the father look around and call his son. Damn, why would the man get involved? The poison dart frogs…sure, they were tinier, more brilliantly coloured and generally one would require not as much space as a python. But the toxin level was down because their diet was adjusted. If these people tired of it, and freed it into the wild (or whatever passed for it in London)…okay, probably British ants weren’t as toxic in the first place, but he didn’t feel comfortable. What if they would basically be releasing a murder weapon? Or if they looked things up, and adjusted the diet to increase toxicity instead of diminishing it? This was insane. (And okay, Mike had read a mystery too many). 

Mike started showing them a few of the most brilliant coloured frogs, but the teenager insisted he put them back and took out a green and black striped one, saying he didn’t want a pretty one. Mike complied, of course, but that’s when he figured out how to – hopefully – get out of his bind. “If you want to observe it for a moment, I’ll be back in a minute with something special you might be interested in!” he said, rushing in the back.

How didn’t this come to mind before? Sure, it wasn’t an usual choice for a pet, but it didn’t come with a ‘reserved’ note, so he could use it. For a moment, he wondered if he’d been sent it in prevision of a case like this one. He put a pair of robust gloves on, to help the illusion, held the spider in his hands and returned to his clients.  “Here I present you, the most poisonous spider in existence,” Mike said proudly.

It wasn’t, of course. But it was a common misconception, because its species routinely fed on spiders famous for their toxicity. People assumed that it happened because they could inject their victims with an even stronger poison. In fact, it was because they were much quicker than the bulkier dangerous spiders, and smart enough to know when to pounce and how to immobilize their prey.  

Mike, despite having a dismal opinion of his clients already, would have never dreamt the words who came out of the teen’s mouth. “Prove it. Have these two kill each other. I’ll buy whomever wins.”

Chapter Text

“No.” It was stern, loud, and…it wasn’t Mike, but the little shit’s (okay, this was Mike) dad. “I promised I would buy you a pet, not two. If you cause one of them to die, I would have to compensate them for the loss. This is a business, not a dog fighting ring or anything that ridiculous. They aren’t calculating pets dying on them. Not if they treat them well, and none of these seem to be suffering, so I am sure they do. Either pick one or we’ll go away and return when you’ve taken a decision.”

Stamford could have kissed the man. Though he suspected that it wouldn’t be much appreciated. Personally, he would have emphasized more the ‘these are living creatures and pitting them against each other for sport means you’re on your way to become a brilliant psychopath if someone doesn’t activate your fucking frontal lobe’ angle, true. But the relief was still so strong he almost sagged with it. 

The teenager pouted, but didn’t argue. He shrugged, mumbled “I’ll look them up,” and turned to leave, kicking the habitat of some domestic mice on the way out. Mike could hear the father starting another lecture, about the benefits of accurately researching one’s investment. They surely didn’t say goodbye, and he was this close to forgetting to tell them to please come back. In the end, he didn’t. The father seemed to be so fixed on proper business practices that he might complain if that happened, and the last thing Stamford wanted was to displease the man who’d saved his babies.  

In fact, he did lay the spider cuddled in his hand on another terrarium – far enough that the frog wouldn’t be able to jump on it, by his calculations – and went to the door, to peer around and make sure that these clients weren’t coming back. Sure, the father seemed somehow rational, but you never knew if the kid’s idea of ‘research’ was thirty seconds on Wikipedia. Thankfully, the two were nowhere in sight.

Not being able to do something wasn’t enough to deter the poison frog from attempting it. After all, the spider looked like a perfect snack, and would make for a nice change from the feed he was given. Although perfectly adequate to survival, it was bland for his taste.

His intended prey didn’t even flinch when the frog leapt, which was, frankly, insulting. “I’ll get you! Don’t think you can escape!” the tiny frog said, surprisingly loudly for a small thing. (Okay, Jim seriously shouldn’t mock anyone about size, but at least he was mostly quiet.) 

“What if I got you something bigger instead? You only have to follow my orders. If you’re able to actually kill anything, of course,” the spider replied.

“Are you fucking blind? Don’t you see me? Did nobody teach you what it means when someone is so bright? It means, ‘You try to hide or run, because I don’t need to. You’ll be the one dead after we meet. Seriously.’ How did you even survive till now without knowing that? I bet you were born here. Useless thing,” the frog ranted, jumping again – but not finding a good place from which he could reach his goal.

“Now, now, there’s no need to be so rude, you!” Jim replied, just as immobile. It was obvious that he was never in real danger. “I am offering to find you much greater prey – enough for you to snack on them for quite some time, in fact. I do need to check your qualifications, don’t I? I could guess you’d be poisonous, but there are different levels. If you’re not much, it could still keep you safe wherever you live for all I know, but the creature I have in mind could eat you and be only mildly inconvenienced.”

“Nope, I could have murdered the fat thing just by touching it if I hadn’t been fed shit until now. I can still take on someone of a decent size. They’d be dead as soon as we come in contact, so they’re definitely never living to the point they manage to get a bite out of me,” the other bragged.

“So? Do you want to eat something tasty for once, or not?” the spider asked.

“And how would you offer it to me? We’re locked almost all the time, and I don’t see any better prey reachable now, do I?” the colourful creature retorted, glaring.

“That is my business to make sure you can find them. All I want is to know if you’d do what I ask and take out the ones I tell you to. You get much better meals, and I get to see them die painfully. Does it sound like a good deal?” Jim offered.

The frog eyed him a last time, trying to size if the sadistic bastard could be caught. Nope, and he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself again. “Deal, I suppose. It’s not like I’d lose anything from it.” If his anatomy agreed to it, he would have shrugged.     

“Well then, who do I need to seek, when things are ready? I’ve noticed that there are quite a few of you, and I’d prefer to call you out rather than get too close to your friends, who are unaware of our contract,” the spider said.

“So you do have a modicum of self-preservation! I was starting to wonder about that. Bastian. Name’s Bastian. Though if I can get out, my friends will, too. I suggest you send your message via someone who can be heard from quite far. Or someone on your list, even better,” the other replied.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Bastian. If someone tells you they bring Jim’s orders, that means you’ll soon get your promised meal. So don’t get too cross about that, okay? Objecting won’t be profitable to you.” The long-legged spider could have started dancing in happiness, if he didn’t realise that he needed to keep still and arrogant for this to work. It had ultimately been easier than he expected. Creatures were indeed easy to manipulate.

“Fine…Jim.”

That was when Mike decided to pay attention to the situation inside the store again – damn his being too caring, he’d been so upset he needed a breath – swore fervently, and fell to his knees. He wasn’t supposed to play ‘catch the frog’, not in the shape he was in, but the boss would have his hide if he let anyone escape. Especially one of the exotic exemplars. At least, the spider had stayed put. “Here…baby baby baby… come on, you know me, I come bringing treats half the time…no, don’t jump away. I’m not the enemy. Here…croak…what the fuck am I even saying…here, come on. No. Not under that!”  

Chapter Text

With the main associate secured (who said you had to be huge to inflict damage?) Jim started to consider how he could get Bastian and himself free, and preferably free at the same time of the damnable snake’s party, once the biped caught the frog and brought them both back into the cells where they belonged, according to their kidnappers.

No matter how slow their primary caretaker was, or how hard his new accomplice tried, there was no way that either of them would ultimately escape right now. After all, the clumsy thing was more or less aware of their position, and the frog’s angry tirade about how he didn’t need to hide, because other creatures needed to fear him, meant that it wasn’t easy for it to escape notice.

The spider was sorely tempted to convey to his partner in-hopefully-mayhem to stop causing needless trouble, because they didn’t need any extra attention focused on them. There was no need to, though, because, with an, “A-ha!” of triumph, the huge creature had just snatched Bastian in his fist.

“Honestly, little one, there was no need of this. We’re going back to you nice home with all the free food and no idiots threatening you. It’s okay,” Stamford crooned. “Couldn’t you take example from your friend there? See he’s just waiting for me to settle him back. I promise I’ll give you both some extra treats to make up for the distress. Maybe I should get myself some treats too, what do you think? To forget that I just lost all faith in humanity. Nope, you’re right, that won’t help me with Sarah. Not that I have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever hooking up with her, but still.”  

Jim stared thoughtfully at him, while he brought Bastian back to his cage. Could he be manipulated? Under which conditions would he take them outside of their enforced dwellings – again? Nope, he couldn’t be relied upon. For one, he didn’t look that smart. For another, Sherlock would never execute his great escape when their jailer was still around.

The snake had enough brainpower to minimize the risks, especially when saddling himself with a number of idiotic accomplices. And yet he’d refused Jim without so much as considering the offer. Outrage burned fresh inside him. Oh well. He’d make sure the misbegotten reptile regretted that.

Minutes later Jim was back in his cage, and once again contemplating how the fuck was he supposed to open the lock by himself when he was too small to exert any force the damnable thing would register? As much as Sherlock was far from being the biggest snake out there, he was still able to exert the needed energy. He had a killer minion, now he just needed an unlocking minion… pity that most of the creatures in here were completely brainless.

He pondered, and brooded, and – quite frankly – almost lost hope, because what he required was a skillset much rarer than ‘capable to murder someone many times his size’. And then, Fate smiled on him, with a canine toothy grin.

Sure, Greg had promised Sherlock that he would be around till he was needed for their common breakout – maybe the clever snake could really point him back towards home, after all. But the way to make sure a skill didn’t rust was to use it every day. Besides, as safe and regularly stocked with food as his new place was, it was boring as hell. He didn’t smell anyone who might object to his having a run around. He would go mad otherwise. Surely his new friend wouldn’t object. Sherlock was out and about often enough that anyone would mock him out of the place if he even attempted to.   

Actually, going to visit Sherlock sounded like a brilliant idea. Maybe he could finally hammer his name in that clever brain. Now, where was he…in a normal situation Greg would have just followed his nose, but with Sherlock having been literally all over the place for days on end, leaving his smell everywhere, things became harder. Oh well. Never mind. It would be a fun game!

He’d checked the terrarium that Sherlock told him would become his, but no luck. Not that the fox really expected his friend to be there, but better rule out the obvious places first. Molly, however eager to help, had absolutely no info, and the reptiles section next to it was also devoid of garter snakes. And no one else seemed to know – or want to know, really – a thing either.

So Greg started prowling around, looking and crooning softly for his new pack mate (even if he would bet that the snake would have hissed in outrage if he used the term) every now and then. Looking and calling, marching and smelling, he continued his chase. Much better than trying to catch his own tail obsessively, which was the only option he had before Sherlock taught him.

And then, when he’d given up on even trying to ask anyone else, because dealing with spooked creatures really ruined his mood, a thin, thready voice asked, “So you’re one of Sherlock’s associates?”

The fox peered at the tiny spider, with his almost disproportionately long legs (though if captivity taught him anything, it was that life came in all shape and sizes, not just heavily furred or fattened ones) and lay down to answer. There was no need to loom over the poor thing. “Yup,” he said. “Are you a new friend of his?” Sure, the snake had introduced him to all members of their party – but nothing stopped him from recruiting more and forgetting about it. As smart as the reptile was, memory didn’t seem to be his strong suit. And associates sounded exactly like something the finicky snake would say.

Jim found himself in a quandary. He could say yes – one single word, and this huge moron would undoubtedly free him, and anyone else he pointed the…was it a dog? at. But that wouldn’t really mean beating Sherlock at his own game. Resources weren’t stolen when you allowed them to tumble all over you by themselves. So instead he replied, “Not exactly, but hear me out…”.   

Chapter Text

I am so sorry, everyone. This is the kind of notice that nobody would ever want to send - much less receive - and it feels like I'm not doing anything else but share these kind of ugly news every month. Fact is - there will be no update this month either. Possibly a new oneshot, probably not even that.

Things started going downhill when my charger died - and it turned out that, since my laptop is as old as Mathusalem, that kind of charger went out of style, so I couldn't just pop in a shop. The shop promised me a new one around 22 or 23 August, since they had to order it, but also told me they would give me a call when it arrived. As of now, they didn't yet.

I decided that I wouldn't let that stop me, took out an even older laptop, and started working on my chapters there - to make up for lost time, I had most of the chapters going at the same time. Then, its charger died, too. Look, I clearly am doing something wrong, but I've not figured out what yet, so I cannot redime myself.

I was left with my phone, and I know of amazing people who managed to write chapters on phone...but some areas of it don't feel touch already (which was apparently a known issue for Samsung but I had no idea - do your research, folks) and I decided not to push against fate before that, too, went up in flames... or something. I hate having to disappoint you all again, but...what can a woman do?

If you ask how I can even send this notice, this was written on my brother's pc, but a) he'll go away in a couple of days and b) he's editing a nonfiction book at the moment, which is the only reason he even has his laptop with him, and that's time consuming - I cannot just commandeer it for more than 10 minutes, which does not a chapter make. ^^'''

Again, so sorry! Hope this solves itself soon.

Chapter Text

I am so sorry, everyone. This is the kind of notice that nobody would ever want to send - much less receive - and it feels like I'm not doing anything else but share these kind of ugly news every month. Fact is - there will be no update this month either. Possibly a new oneshot, probably not even that.

Things started going downhill when my charger died - and it turned out that, since my laptop is as old as Mathusalem, that kind of charger went out of style, so I couldn't just pop in a shop. The shop promised me a new one around 22 or 23 August, since they had to order it, but also told me they would give me a call when it arrived. As of now, they didn't yet.

I decided that I wouldn't let that stop me, took out an even older laptop, and started working on my chapters there - to make up for lost time, I had most of the chapters going at the same time. Then, its charger died, too. Look, I clearly am doing something wrong, but I've not figured out what yet, so I cannot redime myself.

I was left with my phone, and I know of amazing people who managed to write chapters on phone...but some areas of it don't feel touch already (which was apparently a known issue for Samsung but I had no idea - do your research, folks) and I decided not to push against fate before that, too, went up in flames... or something. I hate having to disappoint you all again, but...what can a woman do?

If you ask how I can even send this notice, this was written on my brother's pc, but a) he'll go away in a couple of days and b) he's editing a nonfiction book at the moment, which is the only reason he even has his laptop with him, and that's time consuming - I cannot just commandeer it for more than 10 minutes, which does not a chapter make. ^^'''

Again, so sorry! Hope this solves itself soon.

Chapter Text

 

The spider had managed to confuse him. He shouldn’t have listened. Greg shook his head, trying to dislodge the offending words. He was all for helping everyone who asked him – well, unless they were his next meal, of course. You simply didn’t survive by making more enemies than you needed. Still, Jim was…well, he didn’t so much ask for favours, as tried to make him doubt. The sanity of his – well, Sherlock’s – plan, for one thing, and too many other things to name. If it was more of a whim before, he really needed to find Sherlock now. The snake would tell him he was an idiot, make him repeat the whole plan again, and hopefully his brain would right itself.

Greg continued trotting around, a bit lost, until he came to a door. True, it wasn’t exactly the same as his cage or any other lock he’d opened before, but if his latest friend taught him anything, it was that biped-made contraptions could be figured out. A bit shameful for him, really, to have been pining after his family and not managed to leave his prison until he’d been taught. What was he, a helpless pup?

He’d show the snake. He would open this one all by himself, and once they met, Sherlock would have to appreciate it. One could say it was even more important, after all. Leaving the cages meant that they were still trapped in this room. If they were going to really leave – get back home, which was the point of this whole plan – they would need to deal with doors. It seemed that bipeds put them every which way. And you couldn’t really expect Martha to set them free, could you? 

Damn, the door opener – Greg assumed only protuberance was for that, anyway – was too high for him to reach. Even if he stretched as much as he could, there was no way to catch it. He’d never wanted to be bigger – it meant also having to be so fat that you wouldn’t enter in any fox lair where he was from. But now a bit more body length would be so useful. Never mind. He wasn’t going to back down.  

Jumping didn’t help much, too. What he wanted to catch was so small and, well, not as protruding as it should have been, if the fox would have designed it. He was going to either miss it or, if he tried running up to it, face-planting against the door. Hard. He would rather not show up to Sherlock concussed. He doubted that he would receive much praise for that.

Still, he was no quitter. There had to be a way. He scouted the area again. Maybe he could…oh yes, he could!!! Honestly, who left one of the cages empty with just a few twigs in it, anyway? It wasn’t bolted down, so nosing it the few paces towards the door was the work of a minute. Now, sure, these twigs smelled weird. But it didn’t look like he’d get poisoned by standing on top of them.

And here he was! Latched onto the protuberance, and playing around with it. Ouf! The door opened, alright. In fact, it swung open, and Greg tumbled in the other room none-too-gracefully.  Only to be welcomed by a sharp hiss and a raised snake, trying his best to be threatening despite his admittedly minute size.

The fox wagged his tail, before remembering that Sherlock didn’t like that and letting it droop. “Come on, it’s me! I did it!” he barked. The garter snake relaxed. Nobody planned to eat them…yet.

“Friend of yours?” John asked, forcibly calm as he couldn’t have exactly fled even if he’d needed to.   

“Of coursssse not! That’ssss…Gerald,” Sherlock replied.

“Greg,” the arctic fox huffed. Seriously, how difficult was it? “I’m the opener of locks and doors and anything else that stands in your way.” No, he wasn’t preening. But sure his body language was proud now. He deserved to be.

John agreed, if his loud, “Brilliant,” was anything to go by.

“Who taught you?”  the garter snake retorted, still putting himself between him and Greg physically. There was no threat, so why?

“Okay yeah, you did – at the start. I assumed that if you went to all the trouble of catching someone alive for whatever reason, you would also ensure that they couldn’t leave whenever they pleased. I should have figured that the fat one wasn’t exactly a genius. But this last thing I figured all by myself!” Greg retorted.

“And that’s why you were loud and awkward, and possibly ruined our project entirely,” Sherlock snapped, tail whipping nervously.

“Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic?” John interjected, nudging him gently.

The snake whirled, eyes glinting with a mix of outrage and betrayal. “I never am! But can he,” he pointed with his tail, “put everything back exactly as it was? What good is unlocking if you can’t lock back? As ssstupid as the biped is, he’ll notice that things are wrong, and investigate. Once he discovers who’s the responsible, Garrett –”  

“Greg.” This time the toad was the one interrupting. The fox shot him a grateful look.

“His name could even be Groves, for all I care, though Grovels would be better. Anyway, he’s going to be held much more securely, which means that when you’re well, nobody will be able to get us out, and we still don’t know why we were taken,” Sherlock continued, undaunted.

“You have a point, but even if they suspect – how will they know I’m the one? As you pointed out, I can lock myself back in later, and I have a number of cousins…well, sorta…here that could leave similar traces,” the fox pointed out, shrugging.

The garter snake made a show of sniffing the air, flicking his tongue around for added emphasis. “Your smell,” he said slowly, as if he was talking to an especially dim-witted creature.

John chuckled. “You haven’t been around bipeds a lot before being caught, have you? They couldn’t smell smoke if they were on fire. Okay, no, I’m exaggerating, but still – their noses could as well be merely for decoration. That’s the reason some of them go round emanating such overpowering smells. I’ve had to hide when some walked by the lake, I tell you. Downright sickening.”

Rather than replying, Sherlock slithered to a corner of the cage and curled up. If John preferred Greg, he could have him. He’d done his part, anyway.     

Chapter Text

Sherlock fully expected the other two to ignore him. They were getting along so well, and besides, which creature wouldn’t prefer John? It was fine. Completely fine. He wasn’t made for pack dynamics anyway.

Instead, Greg walked around the table until he could – with a bit of jumping – nose at him through the cage. “Come on, now, don’t sulk! You do know so many things that I don’t. that we don’t, I’m sure. What if we know something, for a change? Isn’t this why friendships are the best?” 

“We’re not friendsssss,” Sherlock retorted, his head darting about looking for a place where he’d be safe from the fox’ noise…though his options would be broader if he didn’t refuse to leave John. Not again. It didn’t matter if the toad had joined in mocking him. He’d been roaming as long as he could stand it.

Greg interrupted his rumination. Again. “About that…I’ve spoken to someone, you know.”

Sherlock gave up on moving and just curled again. In fact, he went so far as to bury his head among his own spires. He would not be subjected to whatever drivel his associate could come up with. He’d introduced Garrett to a few people because it was necessary for the plan. It didn’t mean that he was interested in his social life. Ugh.

The fox couldn’t ignore such a clue. “Of course, if you don’t want to talk, I can go back.”   

“Don’t mind him, do tell us. I, for one, am eager for any news. Sherlock always gets to go gallivanting around, but with my leg…well,” John intervened, “besides, he never tells me anything besides ‘the plan is ready to start anytime’ or such things. I miss gossip!”  

Greg walked to him and sat down. “Well, since you want to know…there’s a spider. A tiny spider, too. but a very talkative one. I thought maybe he wanted a chance to join us when we left, or know how I got out, or ask something, but no. I said I’ve spoken to him, but he’s been doing most of the talking. He just…stated things, as if he was the one to know things I didn’t, and was just letting me know out of the kindness of his hearth. Not that spiders are particularly sympathetic, in my experience. But he…kinda made sense, you know?”      

Sherlock uncoiled, his tail oscillating nervously. If he was going to be subjected to having to listen to this drivel, he would at the very least ensure that the bastard canine got to a point. “You’ve wassssted entirely too many wordssss, George. Do you want to ssspeak, or shall I interrogate the spider myself?”

John nudged the nervous snake. Seriously, why was he all knotted in a twist tonight?

“Yeah, well…”  Greg paused.  He liked the reptile, of course he did, he was grateful for the lessons and wanted to  believe that Sherlock was just a grumpy git. Still, he refused to always cave to his demands. In fact, the crutch words left his mouth only because the garter snake was in such a rush. After what Jim had told him, it was also a sort of test.

 “I’m dying from the suspense, here,” the toad said, good-naturedly. His companion just glared at him.

“He said that you were using me. That you were using everyone. You’d just ensure your own escape, and then, well….it’s not just that you wouldn’t help me get home. I’d be your decoy.  We’d all be decoys, actually. Other in our groups are either slower, or bigger…all flaws that would make us easier to catch back. And while the bipeds would take us back, you would slither away,” Greg huffed. “And with your insistence about not having friend. You see how it would sound suspicious.”

Sherlock didn’t react at all. If that was what the fox wanted to believe, let him. He would find someone else. Or another way. He refused to justify himself, when it should be obvious that this was all bollocks.

John, instead, retorted, “Wait, Greg, because I’m missing something here. The spider said this to you?”

“That’s what I said,” the  other replied. He’d never met John, but he was a bit slow, wasn’t he? Why would Sherlock even associate with him? Maybe Jim was right.

“The tiny spider. So if that would work for Sherlock, it would be even truer for him, right? Who would notice a spider, after all? Well, besides me. I would love to see him. I bet he’d make a lovely meal,” John remarked, compulsively licking his lips.

Greg blinked. “Ye-es.” It made sense. 

“Am I wrong to think he tried to make you distrust Sherlock so that you would help him, instead?” the toad asked.

“He has a pack of his own.  Well, not exactly. He found one, here. That’s what he said. So, you know, I could. If I wanted you. He said he didn’t mind moving, after. That he could come help. Not that a spider could do very much, as I pointed out, but he insisted he could find things. And then he’d tell me. That I could have everything I wanted. In fact, he talked quite a lot,” Greg explained. He tilted his head, trying to figure out things. He wasn’t good with people who chattered a lot. He was more of a ‘get things done’ type.  

“And does he have any evidence of this? I mean, you’ve met me, and I suppose Lock introduced you to the others, too. Since you’re the one supposed to help us out. Did this spider let you know who’s in his pack, by any chance?” John said.

The fox sighed, and his head hung down. Damn it. The snake was right. He was an idiot. And the toad – wasn’t. How had he left that creature talk him into doubting? Wad he really so vain that he was ready to suspect an ally just because he was, frankly speaking, an arsehole? “No,” he admitted. “I’m sorry. Really sorry, Sherlock.”

The snake finally uncoiled. “I suppose I shouldn’t expect too much from someone who needs a whole pack to think, Gorloin,” he sniffed.

“What he’s trying to actually say is, it’s fine, Greg,” John said. He croaked a laugh.

Sherlock sent him a dirty look, but dutifully replied, “It’sssss fine.”      

 

   

 

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This is not an update. This isn’t even an apology, because I realise that no amount of apologies is going to change things or make you less angry. This is your authorization to come at me with pitchfork, virtual or otherwise. Because the problem is I’ve managed to one-up writer’s block. I know writer’s block. One story won’t work, but this means I can write all the others. What I got is…writer’s constipation, I guess. When one story is blocked, and yet it refuses to let your brain concentrate on anything else. At this point, I’m not making any promises. Just weeping in a corner.