A.N.: This chapter was kindly betaed by Wingatron. Hope you enjoy reading! :)

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221B PAW STORIES

«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


Chapter 21

And so will I have mine


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When they arrived at Henry's flat, John was no closer to knowing what they were looking for. When asked, Sherlock had simply replied: "His soul, John, his soul!" As if it were obvious. By now, John was used to it.

The door creaked open and he didn't ask his friend why he still had the keys to the flat. That, too, was evident. Because it could still be useful. Because Sherlock did not care much for Lestrade's requests, or his orders. John shook his head, followed the consultive detective in silence, and closed the door behind them.

"So," he began, looking around. "His soul."

There was a question there, and Sherlock must have heard it, for he turned to his partner with a suspicious frown. John smiled to assure him he wasn't being sarcastic. Somehow, he could always tell when Sherlock was wondering whether he was being laughed at. To be fair, he often was. John had never met anyone so talented in eliciting envy and irritation within the first minute of acquaintance.

"Josiah Brown," Sherlock said as gave John a pair of rubber gloves and started to nose about. John put on the gloves and mimicked him.

"The friend you had coffee with?" he asked, going through the chest of drawers.

"Lunch. Yes."

"You actually ate?"

Sherlock gave him a look. John shrugged.

"He said Henry often told him that Brad had entrusted him with his soul," Sherlock went on, discarding the question.

John put down the book he had been looking at, and raised an eyebrow.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Sherlock had a half-smile that made him annoyingly kissable. It was silly, really, how much facial expressions mattered to endear. Not that Sherlock was consciously trying to be endearing, of course. John looked away.

"I was hoping you would tell me," Sherlock answered obliviously. "But of course, you wouldn't."

There it was again. John made a face. "Of course."

Sherlock was moving things around, searching the desk, and clicked his tongue.

"I mean you wouldn't because it wasn't about sentiments, John! His soul didn't mean his soul. Not really."

"Oh, so we're not actually looking for a soul. Thanks for clearing that up."

The consulting detective glared, but it only made him look more eatable. John averted his gaze again. He really was doomed.

"The therapist," Sherlock continued, resuming his search, still not telling John what this was all about. Probably getting revenge for the teasing. Oh well.

"The therapist," John repeated to indulge him.

Sherlock moved on to the kitchen and started going through the cupboards. John followed him, not sure what to do to help.

"Brad told her he couldn't forgive his wife and felt betrayed because he too had left part of his soul behind," Sherlock said.

John nodded. "Something about their having decided to give it up together, but Helena not keeping her end of the promise."

"Precisely. And then, that friend in LA sent him evidence that Helena still had 'bonds' there."

John blinked. Sherlock groaned with frustration as he slammed the last cupboard shut, and moved to the toilet.

"You mean... Soul refers to their job as hitmen?!"

"Helena was a hitwoman," Sherlock deadpanned as he looked behind the calendar with cat pictures. John rolled his eyes.

"So what are we looking for, exactly?"

"Evidence, John."

"What the friend from LA sent Brad."

"Yes, that's what I said."

"Are you saying that Brad had in his possesion documents that proved Helena was still a hitwoman? Why didn't he tell the police?"

"John. He'd been a hitman too."

"Right. Then why did he keep them? What could he possibly do with them?"

"Irene Adler."

John froze. He looked at Sherlock, but he was too busy opening every drawer in the bathroom to notice. "What?"

"Protection, John! Brad knew his wife. He must have predicted that she would, at some point, try to avenge herself."

"He knew she would kill him?"

"He knew she would try, and in all likelihood, succeed."

John swallowed, all thoughts of Irene Adler and unease and jealousy replaced by compassion. It was strange that he should feel sympathy for Brad at all; the man had been, after all, someone who killed for money. Yet there was something pitiful in the way he had finished his life. Knowing that every day he spent with his new lover might be the last. And Henry...

"He didn't think she would target him," he murmured. "How odd."

Sherlock glowered at the bathtub as if it were responsible for his not finding what he was looking for, and walked back to the main room. "Why is that odd?"

"If she wanted revenge, wouldn't she target what was most precious to her ex-husband?"

Sherlock's eyes were scanning the room. He was standing very still, only his hands, twitching with tension, betraying his impatience. John wondered whether he had heard him at all.

"She couldn't do that," Sherlock said absently. "Brad would have given the documents to the police right away. Henry was the one thing he would not bear to lose. Having lost him, he would not care if he ended up in prison as well."

"He had children," John pointed out weakly, but he could see the logic in Sherlock's words. He was probably right.

A shiver ran down his spine. So the couple had been involved in a cold war since their divorce. Helena could not do anything to Henry directly, so she had to devise a way to get revenge on the both of them without being caught. She had to kill Brad first, but in such a way that he would know she'd go after Henry when she was done with him. What a terrible way to go. John couldn't imagine how he would feel if he died knowing for sure that Sherlock would be next. He tore his gaze away from his friend, and looked around the room. His eyes stopped on the picture of Brad and Henry on the wall. They seemed happy. Was John imagining the pain behind the fondness on Brad's face? Henry's unbearable innocence?

"John. Are you all right?"

Sherlock's voice snapped him out of his gloom. "Yes. Sorry. I just..."

He stopped. His soul, Sherlock had said. Brad had entrusted Henry with his soul. John walked towards the picture on the wall, the glass still cracked after a mug had been thrown at it. Gingerly, he lifted it up. There was a safe behind it.

"Sherlock," John said, but his friend was already standing right beside him, the warmth of his body pervading John's space. He swallowed and stepped back.

"Brilliant," Sherlock whispered excitedly. He moved in closer, brushing past John, who shivered again. He watched as Sherlock's nimble fingers played with the lock and entered the numbers as if he had always known them.

"3101?"

"January 31. The day they met."

The safe opened with a patting sound, revealing a thick brown envelope. Sherlock took it carefully.

"How did you know where the safe was?" he asked as they left the flat once and for all.

John had a subdued smile.

"Sentiments."


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


"Sherlock, I need–"

"Evidence," Sherlock announced as he dropped the brown envelope on Lestrade's desk. The D.I. furrowed his brow.

"What's this?"

"The reason Helena blew up Brad's house," John put in, earning himself a miffed look from Sherlock, who clearly did not appreciate being interrupted in his moment of glory. John gave him a sheepish smile.

Lestrade opened the envelope and started going through the documents. His eyes widened.

"That's–"

"Brad and Helena worked as hitman and hitwoman back in the United States. They decided to change their lifestyle and leave everything behind when Helena got pregnant. Helena did not tell Brad that she continued to perform her job, and he felt betrayed when he found out. Someone sent him those documents to prove that she had not given up anything. Brad fell in love with Henry, divorced Helena. She could not get revenge by killing Henry directly, because Brad would have gone to the police with these documents. Conversely, as long as Henry was alive, Brad was reluctant to sell his wife to the police, because it would've put him in jail as well. I assume he did not believe she would break the statu quo. He underestimated her."

"Oh God."

Sherlock remained silent. He still looked tense, upset. John instinctively moved closer to him.

"Did you arrest the Venuccis?"

"I can't arrest people without evidence, Sherlock!"

"Well, you have it now. They're accomplices. Mentioned in there. Helena staged Brad's murder. Her alibi is flawed. I hired a car and retraced the route Helena claimed to have taken the morning of Brad's murder. She could have gone to his house, killed him, set the bomb, left. The Venuccis moved into a house in the neighbourhood some time before she enacted her plan: send the letters to frame Henry, kill Brad, kidnap Henry, keep him alive for a while to corroborate the hypothesis that he was the culprit, kill him and make it look like suicide."

"But Sherlock–"

John tuned out Greg's very legitimate questions. His attention was focused on Sherlock, who stood still and rather stiffly, whose voice was cold and detached, whose hands no longer twitched but were a little curled, tight. He answered the D.I.'s questions smoothly, almost offhandedly; but he didn't fool John. He was upset. John found he did not like this. He did not like it at all.

After another ten minutes of interrogation, Lestrade sighed and fell back into his chair.

"Fine. We might need to call you again for testimony, but for now you can go."

Sherlock gave a curt nod, turned on his heels, and left the room without another word. Greg did not ask what was wrong with him, and simply nodded at John wearily. John nodded back, and followed Sherlock out swiftly. Perhaps some day Sherlock would see what a good friend Lestrade truly was. How well he understood him.

Perhaps he already knew.

"221B Baker Street," Sherlock said tonelessly to the cabby as John shut the door behind him.

An unpleasant silence settled between them. John shifted a little and sat closer to his friend, their knees brushing.

"Sherlock."

"Mm?"

"You did well."

Sherlock snorted.

"What am I, a child?"

John smiled. "Yes, but that's beside the point." He moved even closer as Sherlock darted a glower at him before looking out the window again.

"Sherlock."

"What?"

Annoyance. But behind it, something like shame.

"It's not your fault that Henry was killed."

"I know that!" Sherlock snapped.

"You couldn't have saved–"

"You're wrong."

John fell quiet. Sherlock went on, his voice low.

"It's not my fault that he was killed, but I could've saved him."

"But Sherlock–"

"She waited, John! She waited. Until last night he was still alive."

John didn't know what to say to that. He only knew how much he hated the expression Sherlock wore. His body moved before he could think about it. His hand came to rest on Sherlock's leg as he leant in, and pressed his lips to his.


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


Feeling John's hand on his thigh, Sherlock turned his face towards him only to be met by John's lips. He froze under the kiss, too stunned to return it even if he'd known how to. It was gentle and comforting, warm and supportive. Sherlock did not know what to make of it, but it felt like a gift or a smile or a hug without the awkwardness.

It stopped all too soon; too soon for him to react, too soon for him to even think that he should react and to panic because he did not know how.

John sat back with a small smile. Sherlock searched his face. He couldn't read him. Couldn't tell whether the slight blush in his cheeks denoted arousal or embarrassment, or both. There was fondness, worry, and uncertainty in his gaze. When the latter began to win over his general demeanour, Sherlock moved mechanically, grabbing John's wrist before he could retreat farther. John's face lit up again, and Sherlock felt the weight of a sigh lifted from his chest.

He swallowed. John's pulse under his palm was erratic, and Sherlock thought of a fluttering bird caught in some snare. It was warm. John's skin was rough against Sherlock's fingers, and he suddenly felt the urge to stroke it to smoothness. It did not make any sense. Fortunately, he still had enough not to act on it. Their eyes remained locked until the cabby's voice abruptly brought them back to the present.

"221B Baker Street."


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


Sherlock blinked, fumbled a little to take his wallet out and handed a £20 note to the driver. He stepped out of the car quickly, and John waited to get back his change. His heart was pounding, and he too wanted to get out of the cramped space that had felt even more stifling after he'd kissed Sherlock, but that was no reason to throw money out–

Kissed him. He had kissed Sherlock. And apparently sent him into a state of shock. John groaned as he pocketed the change and got out of the cab. Sherlock was waiting for him by the front door, still looking floored. Still looking handsome and irrationally eatable. They climbed the creaking stairs in silence. When they got into the flat, Sherlock was still in a daze. John closed the door behind them, and coughed a little.

"Sherlock?"

"I was awake this time," Sherlock remarked.

John blinked. Right. Last time he'd kissed Sherlock, he had taken advantage of his sleeping form. It had been particularly insulting because to John, it'd been a test, a way to check whether he would be repelled by a man's touch. This time, in the cab, it hadn't been a test. It had been spontaneous and almost natural, as if they had always comforted each other that way.

"How did you find it?" Sherlock asked.

John looked at him with surprise. Wasn't that his line?

"How did you find it?"

Sherlock frowned. "I thought we were supposed to answer such questions truthfully and clearly, John."

Yes. They were. But John had been the one to initiate the kiss, so why would Sherlock... Oh. Last time had been a test. One that was interrupted by Maggie. Of course Sherlock would ask.

"I liked it," John said.

Sherlock's gaze was quizzical, and fell to John's crotch pointedly. John blushed, hard.

"Not like that!" he protested.

"Like what, then?"

"Like... I..."

He faltered. What could he say? That it had been a show of tenderness and support? That he hadn't thought about it at all, and acted on impulse? That it had simply felt right? That would have been incredibly presomptuous of him, considering he didn't know the effects of his gesture on Sherlock.

"You looked upset," he finished lamely.

"...You kissed me because I looked upset?"

John repressed a groan. That hadn't sounded right at all. Thankfully, there was no hurt in Sherlock's voice. Just something low and almost dangerous that made John shiver. The fact that Sherlock was now walking towards him like a predator didn't help.

"I..."

He was interrupted by Sherlock's mouth on his.

Later, John would think that he must have leapt into his personal space to silence him before he spouted any more nonsense. But for now he was too astonished to think anything at all.

The kiss wasn't chaste. It wasn't brutal exactly, but it wasn't gentle either, as if Sherlock were compensating his lack of experience with urgency and assertiveness. His hand was squeezing John's good shoulder a little too tightly, pinning him against the wall. When John's lips parted in shock, Sherlock seemed to hesitate, and his tongue was tentative as it stroked John's upper lip.

This was the last straw. The jolt of arousal that ripped through John's body snapped him back to reality. He pushed Sherlock back abruptly, holding him at arm's length. Breath short, he looked at his partner's face, trying to ignore the inviting glistening mouth and the dissecting gaze. John wanted nothing more than to lean in and embrace him.

"Sherlock, what was that?"

"You looked upset."

John stared. He couldn't tell whether his friend was being smug or cheeky or insecure. There was a glint of satisfaction in Sherlock's eyes, his mouth curved into the shadow of a smirk. But his features still held a trace of uncertainty.

"Sherlock, you can't... You can't just do that."

"But you liked it," Sherlock pointed out, eyeing the obvious bulge in John's trousers. John swore under his breath.

"That's not the point."

"I thought that was exactly the point."

"Do you want this, then?" John snapped. "Do you seriously want to have sex with me, Sherlock?"

Sherlock was completely unfazed. "Sure. If you want to."

That was too much. John fought back the surge of anger that threatened to overwhelm him. And with anger, against Sherlock and against himself, came shame. Shame of being aroused when Sherlock clearly wasn't. Shame of having such desires when clearly there weren't returned.

"No," he said as calmly as he could. "I don't want to. And you don't want to either."

Sherlock stiffened, his face becoming blank.

"I see," he said curtly, and stepped back.

John let him go. He wished he could hug him, but although his erection was now deflating, he wasn't sure he could take much more contact. Sherlock turned away.


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


To say Sherlock was displeased was an understatement.

John's answer had been limpid. Yet the consulting detective wasn't entirely convinced. His flatmate had kissed him first. And the second time, he had displayed indubitable signs of arousal.

But perhaps John was right. This was not the point.

With a sigh, Sherlock sat up in bed and considered giving up sleep altogether. His fingers twitched for a cigarette. His eyes fell on his violin case and he entertained the idea of playing something, anything, to rid his system of whatever poison was racking his nerves. But this was not an option. He might wake up John, and then his flatmate might come down to protest or, worse, to inquire what was wrong. Sherlock did not feel like talking to John, or facing him in any way. He had no idea of how he was supposed to act in his presence.

The point was that John, whether he felt attraction towards him or not, refused categorically to act on it. He'd admitted to liking the first kiss – the one that had not resulted in exciting him. Did he feel threatened in his masculinity when he reacted too much to Sherlock's touch? Or was the problem that Sherlock himself did not get aroused?

Sherlock wished he knew. Clearly his response had not been the correct one. He had only managed to anger John more.

Their day had been a long one after that. Sherlock did not have a case, and the one he had just solved left him with a sense of failure. He was restless, and the memory of Maggie's words did nothing to help his mood. The fact that he did not manage to delete them only furthered his annoyance.

"You're pathetic."

Thankfully, John had been out of the way most of the time, and so Sherlock did not take it out on him. Perhaps he'd needed some air. Perhaps he'd guessed Sherlock needed some space. The consulting detective hadn't even noticed his friend was gone until he came back, late in the afternoon. John did not say where he had gone. Sherlock did not ask.

"You're an idiot, and worse than that, you're completely self-deluded."

The evening too had been quiet. Sherlock pointedly avoided speaking, for he did not trust himself. He could not help but wonder.

If John was regretting any of this.

If the issue was that Sherlock was a man or that he was... well, himself.

If John had seeked someone else that afternoon to compensate Sherlock's shortcomings.

That last thought was preposterous, and Sherlock knew it. All the more reason to remain quiet and not make the situation worse.

"You think you're so smart, so strong, that you need nobody, but in fact you are completely dependent on people!"

So they had spent the evening in silence – not their usual, comfortable silence, but one that was off, like a false note – and finally John had retired for the night, saying he was tired. As if he needed to explain himself. As if Sherlock would question his decision to go to bed.

John had not offered they shared a room, so Sherlock hadn't either. Perhaps that was the safest course of action for now. Silence.

"You need people to distract you, people to make you eat, to obey your every order, even to save your bloody life..."

Sherlock got out of bed but did not walk up to his violin case. Instead, he started pacing the room, like a tiger in a cage.

A tiger. He let out a mirthless chuckle. Yes, that was a solution. Always a solution. Or perhaps, the heart of the problem. Maybe what John needed from him was a giant pet.

"You're completely worthless."

Well, in all likelihood, he would get it tomorrow. Would John be happier then? Certainly he was always more relaxed when Sherlock was in tiger form. That had been the trigger to their mild physical relationship. Before their transformations, Sherlock could not remember John touching him much. He had never hugged him for sure. Never caressed him.

Sherlock groaned. Why would John want to caress a man? Why would he ever want to caress him?

"You're so lucky to have met such a kind man as John, and that he got besotted with you."

But he had. Touching a tiger must have been easier, and John must have forgotten most of the time that it was Sherlock. But it had been Sherlock, all along.

Sherlock refused to feel miserable over the realisation that John's fondness for him was in fact more for a tiger which he hardly ever associated with his flatmate. The thought was stupid, just like most of the thoughts he'd had tonight. Unfortunately, Sherlock did not know how to stop thinking, even when his thinking was flawed.

"Enjoy it while it lasts..."

The sigh he let out as he slipped back into bed was heavy with frustration. Fine. If he could not find sleep, he would wait until it came to him.

"Such an obnoxious, twisted, disgusting freak like you is bound to live and die alone."

Sherlock closed his eyes.


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


Sherlock's curls were surprisingly soft against his fingers. The nape of his neck was warm, unwinding under John's touch. It quivered when John ran his thumb over the delicate skin behind the earlobe. He moved in closer and embraced the warmth.

His bed was cold when John woke up.

It took him a minute to remember the previous day, and he was surprised to find himself in human form this morning.

"Do you seriously want to have sex with me, Sherlock?"

"Sure. If you want to."

John groaned and buried his face into the pillow. He was not ready to face the day. This wasn't even a clinic day, so he would have to face Sherlock as well, unless he elected to flee the flat and wander aimlessly throughout London (and how long would it be before Mycroft sent a car to have another lovely talk with him?).

Man up, he told himself. He knew he would have to explain to Sherlock why his reaction the previous day had angered him, but he still had no clue as to how he should convey his feelings. In fact, he wasn't sure himself why he felt that way. It had all been exactly like he'd thought; Sherlock was ready to indulge him and add a sexual dimension to their relationship, but he had no desire to do so. It made John feel sick that his friend was ready to go that far to ensure the success of their... couple. God, they were a couple now, weren't they?

John got out of bed with determination, put on his dressing gown and headed to the kitchen to make breakfast. Sherlock had been right. He was new to this, and John should have been the one to guide him through it, not snap or run away every time some difficulty came up.

For the first time since his unplanned confession, John became aware of how much he wanted this to work. He hadn't thought of it that way before. Rather, he had treated the whole thing like a huge blunder he had to make up for. Keep their relationship as it had always been. Reassure Sherlock that John's feelings didn't entail anything new, anything he hadn't signed up for when they moved in together. Because John had never mentioned this when they'd met – "You know how you said potential flatmates should know the worst about each other? Well, I'm not gay, but I might fall in love with you. Would that be a problem?"

No. That hadn't been part of the contract. Their relationship had quickly gone beyond that of flatmates, and in fact, Sherlock had lured John in with more than just flatsharing – adventure, danger, thrill. They'd become friends, and for someone like Sherlock, that meant a lot. It shouldn't have become anything more complicated than that; there shouldn't have been anything more.

John opened the cupboard to take two mugs and his eyes landed on the "Better" and "Half" ones. He smiled, took the "Better" one for Sherlock, and his own from the Royal Army Medical Corps with the regimental motto. He left them on the kitchen table and walked down the hallway to Sherlock's room, knocking softly on the door. His friend was always up early, so John guessed that either he had already gone out, either he was sulking and avoiding him. Sherlock had been cold the previous day after their talk – fight? – and John knew he had to make amends. He couldn't keep giving mixed signals like this. He had to make it clear that his physical tokens of tenderness did not imply that Sherlock should answer with sexual favours.

John knocked again, a little more firmly. Still nothing. He frowned, and assumed Sherlock must have gone out. Maybe he'd been more upset than John had thought. That, or... He swallowed, and pushed the door open cautiously, glancing inside. What he saw filled him all at once with delight and concern.

A tiger was lying down on the bed, his head resting on his front paws, his tail curled on his side. He was completely still, but raised his neck when John came in. He looked like a Sphinx, and John felt a shiven run down his spine.

For a second, he wondered if this really was Sherlock. It was an absurd idea, for there was no reason there should be a tiger in Sherlock's room if it wasn't Sherlock. Yet his friend in tiger form had always been recognizable – or at least, John had growned used to recognizing him instantly. When Sherlock woke up as a tiger, he usually looked disgruntled, or haughty, or both. But the feline lying on the bed now did not look anything. His face was blank. It looked like a tiger, and not like a person. John felt a lump form in his throat.

"Sherlock?" he said tentatively.

The tiger kept his gaze locked on John's for another minute during which John wondered whether he was dreaming. Perhaps he hadn't woken up at all, and was still in his bed having some kind of nightmare. Eventually, the tiger broke eye contact, and resumed his previous posture, head resting on his front paws. John took a step towards him.

"Sherlock, what's wrong?"

The tiger did not bulge, so John came up closer and put a hand on his back, skin against fur. The tiger growled. John's eyes widened.

"Sherlock?"

The tiger pushed his hand away and bared his teeth. John backed off but straightened visibly, his shoulders becoming stiff. He glared.

"What the hell is wrong with you?!"

For an insane moment, John really thought that this couldn't be Sherlock – maybe he'd transformed and this time, had forgotten all about being human. Maybe he didn't remember who he was, didn't remember John–

No. If this had been a real tiger, he probably wouldn't just lie there and merely push John back when he touched him. A real tiger would've bitten him, surely. Right?

"Sherlock, please tell me what's going on."

That was stupid. Even John realised it as he said it – how could Sherlock tell him anything? But the tiger did not snort. The tiger didn't arch an eyebrow or scoff or roll his eyes. He simply gave John one last glower before falling into blankness again. The lump in John's throat was becoming bigger by the second.

"Sherlock, please... Wait."

John ran out of the room and went to get his laptop. Then he looked around for the keyboard with larger keys. When he finally found it, he hurried back to Sherlock's room, only to find the door closed. And apparently, locked. Well, that dispelled any lingering doubt he might've had that this wasn't completely Sherlock.

"Sherlock, what do you think you're doing?! What is this all about?"

Silence. Of course, silence, John berated himself. Sherlock couldn't answer. And now that he had loked the door, there was no way they could communicate. Was Sherlock that angry with him? He had never acted that way before. And how would he turn back, if he refused to let John touch him?

"Sherlock, please, open the door. I've brought the laptop and the keyboard. We can talk."

Nothing. John clenched his fists.

"Fine. Suit yourself."

He turned on his heels and marched back to the kitchen. If Sherlock wanted to sulk all day, then so be it. He certainly wasn't going to worry. What he done anyway? He'd told Sherlock he didn't want to have sex with him – a lie, admittedly. But couldn't Sherlock see where the problem was? Sherlock didn't do sex, he didn't do romance, and yet he was ready to do all of those for John's sake. John was never going to treat his friend like some sacrificial lamb.

His eyes fell on the two mugs he'd left on the table. "Better", one said. "In Arduis fidelis", said the other. Faithful in adversity. John pinched the bridge of his nose. Okay. Okay.

"Sherlock?" he tried again, knocking softly. "Listen, I think I got the message. You don't want me anywhere near you right now, and I'm not going to ask why, because obviously you don't want to answer that either. But please unlock the door. If you don't, I won't leave you in peace, because I'll keep worrying that something might happen to you in there and–"

The door unlocked.


«(o.o)» . «(o.o)»


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tbc