"Tell him it's me, Sherlock," the Sam with the gun warned. "Tell him what you see."
Sherlock cleared his throat, eyeing the pair of them. "The one without the gun?" he prompted. Everyone looked at Unarmed Sam. "It's not him."
"What!" Unarmed Sam protested. "Of course it is!"
"Wrong," Sherlock intoned. He turned to nod to the Sam with the gun. "You might want to step away from him, Sam," he said.
"Thank you!" the Sam with the gun heaved. He backed up to be out of swiping range.
"No! What are you doing! It's not him!" Unarmed Sam cried. "Dean, get the gun - he'll shoot you!"
"He wouldn't shoot his own brother," Sherlock said scathingly.
"How do you know it's him?" John asked.
"His wrists," Sherlock shrugged. "He's the only Sam with contusions where the ropes were holding him to that pipe for three days."
John rolled his eyes - as did Dean.
Unarmed Sam let its hands drop. It straightened up - and began to smile. "Ok, you got me. What do you English people say? 'It's a fair cop, guv'?"
"Only in 1980s comedy shows," John scoffed.
Dean studied the outed shapeshifter. "What was with the movie theatre?"
"Why should I tell you?" it spat.
"I'll get you a passport," Sherlock blurted.
Everyone turned and looked at him.
The shapeshifter's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why would you do that? You want me dead, don't you?"
"Me?" Sherlock asked innocently. "Not at all. You're fascinating. Something new, unheard of - fresh. Why kill that off?"
"This is a trick," the creature scoffed. "No-one would let me live after all the people I've killed - and eaten."
"I don't care who you've killed," Sherlock shrugged.
"I only want to know how you did it - every tiny detail, every sign and trace and shred of proof," the consulting detective added, going closer to him. His hands went out in a supplicating gesture that surprised John. "I mean - it's genius. And I'm someone who appreciates genius," Sherlock said, his eyes large and sagging at the edges. "Please, you have to tell me. I can get you a new passport - with Sam's face, but altered so the biometric scanners don't register as Sam. You can go anywhere as him, do anything - be free. But you simply must tell me how you put all this together!" he begged.
The shapeshifter stared at him for a long moment. Finally it looked at the other three, and the gun in Sam's hand. "Seriously?" it asked, its voice small.
"Sherlock," Dean said, his tone a forecast of kickings to come if something should not go to his liking.
"Oh hush, Dean," Sherlock snapped. "Moping and hand-wringing won't bring any of the dead women back." He looked at the shapeshifter again. "Please. I'll do anything. I have to know."
"Sherlock, this is not a good time for your OCD to get the better of you," John snapped.
"John - shut up," he shot back.
"Everyone?" Sam said clearly. All heads turned to him. "I have the gun. So I think I have final say."
"Sam - wait," Sherlock said, both hands out. "What if he tells us everything - think about it. You can have it all for your notes. You'll be able to spot every other shapeshifter with this ability to use and bend perception and usurp people in the future. Think how many of those trivial little lives you'll save, just by letting this one perpetrator go!"
"We're not listening to this," Dean interrupted. "Sam - shoot him."
"Wait! Sherlock - stop them. I don't want to die!" the shapeshifter cried. Sam lifted the gun. "No! Stop! Sherlock - I'll tell you! Just don't let them kill me! If they kill me no-one will ever know what a genius I am!"
Sherlock stepped slowly up to Sam. He put his hand out on the raised gun. "Trust me," he said slowly.
"No offence, but screw you," Sam managed. His hand listed away.
Sherlock twisted both hands. The gun squeezed out of Sam's grip. John and Dean watched as it leapt up like a belligerent bar of soap - and landed straight in Sherlock's waiting palm. Dean took a step forward. Sherlock turned the gun on him, backing up.
He looked at the shapeshifter. "We don't have a lot of time," he said clearly. "Tell me."
"Alright! Just don't shoot me!" the creature cried, sweat rolling down its copied temples.
Dean made to move toward Sherlock. Sam grabbed his arm, holding him back.
"Sherlock - have you gone raving mad?" John shouted. "He's killed five people! Maybe more!"
"He is the key to all of this, John. Now get back," Sherlock snapped. John retreated steadily, the two Winchesters following suit. "Better," Sherlock said. He turned on the shapeshifter. "Explain how you were in the cinema in Dean's head."
The shapeshifter stared at everyone.
Sherlock glared at it, then waved the gun. "I can change my mind and hand you over to these three," he said meaningfully.
The creature let its head hang slightly. "The knife," it said, its voice soft. "Dean took my knife. He had it strapped to him the whole time he was here. That was how I was uploading stuff to him."
"You mean downloading, right?" Dean interrupted.
"And downloading, dumbass," it snapped. "I was downloading from Sam too, learning how to be him, just so I could pass myself off as him till I got my knife back. Then I could kill all of you and make my escape."
"Ah… But then something changed," Sherlock said.
"Yeah," the creature muttered. He looked at Sam. "Once I tapped into you and your brother… wow. Just wow, man. I realised I had more power, more ability than most creatures in my position. So yeah, I changed my plans."
"What do you mean, more power?" John asked.
The shapeshifter grinned, an evil glint to its eyes. "You get more than just memories when you download," it said slowly. "And I got a taste - a taste of such untouched, raw power." It looked at Sam. "Everyone has people who care about them. Everyone has people who love them - family, normally. But your family," it sneered, shaking its head. "Your family is something else. You two are the last ones left, and that's left you so screwed up, so dependent on one another - just… so much untapped strength, unharnessed rage. Your idiot brother took my knife." It paused to look at Dean. "I should thank you," it said.
"I thought the knife could kill you," he said.
"You thought wrong," it grinned. "It was awesome, standing there and listening to Sherlock bang on about how he'd been so clever and figured it all out. And Dean, giving everyone the idea that it was the only knife that could kill me. Do you know what that knife really does? It lets me feed off its handler." It snorted, turning its attention to Sam. "Feeding off your brother's need for you to survive, Sam? Feeding off your need to save him, and you, from yourselves, and what you've chosen for yourselves? It's everything I need to finally be free of being like this and take your place."
"Go back to… the knife," Sherlock said thoughtfully. "You used the knife, touching Dean, as a conduit for getting what you wanted to know out of his head so you could keep us all on the wrong track. So him being knocked out for that short amount of time - that wasn't when it happened?"
"Hell no," the shapeshifter grinned. "I told you I was a genius. I was picking off him constantly. And Sam. Tired me out, made me slow, but yeah, I was workin' them both at the same time." It stood taller, straightening its copy of Sam's jacket with a showy flick. "Genius, right?"
"Yes, I see," Sherlock breathed. "And then… when he was knocked unconscious, you used your connection to be in his head, gleaning what you could from his memories, learning how to escape us, here - escape yourself?"
"Wait," Dean called. "How was I seeing what John and Sherlock were doin'?"
"You mean you haven't figured it out yet?" the creature gloated, turning a look on Sherlock.
"I have," John said.
Everyone looked at him.
"You?" the shapeshifter scoffed. "You mean Sherlock did and explained it to you in small words?"
"I'll give you one word," John said. "One word that will explain how Dean saw everything Sherlock and I did."
"You don't know," the shapeshifter sniffed.
John put his hand in his pocket, retrieving something small. He smiled serenely. "Torch," he said, pulling out Dean's flashlight and showing it off. "I was carrying Dean's torch around the whole time. A possession of Dean's - that would do it, wouldn't it?" John said confidently. "And I saw everything Sherlock did. So my memories were mixed in there too, right?" he pressed. The creature pulled a face that gave the phrase 'if looks could kill' a new depth of meaning. "I'll take that as a yes," John smiled.
"So," Sherlock said smartly. "Case solved?"
"I think so," Dean said. "We know how, we know who, we know where, and I think we can all guess the why. So now what do we do?"
"I get my passport and I leave," the shapeshifter said. "Right?"
Sherlock turned to look at him. A polite smile pulled at his face. "Wrong."
The silver bullet ripped through the shirt and t-shirt and lodged itself in the heart of the creature. Shock rippled over his face. He staggered back one step, two. Finally he lost his balance and slammed into the wall. He slid down to land in a heap in the trickling water and slime, his surprised eyes still locked on Sherlock.
Sherlock lifted the gun, sniffed the barrel suspiciously, and looked sideways at the ceiling, as if cataloguing information.
The storm drain was a silent place for nearly five seconds.
It was Dean that punctured it.
"Hey man," he ventured. Sherlock looked over at him. "Nice shot," he added.
"Psshh," Sherlock scoffed, stepping away from John to go to the dead creature. "Getting into point blank range was easy."
"You shot him," John said evenly. "You lied… and you shot him."
Sherlock pointed down at the body. "Bad guy," he protested.
"I actually believed you were going to let him go," Sam said, sounding very relieved.
"Me too, man," Dean grunted. "You are one hell of an actor," he said, taking the gun from Sherlock gingerly. He released the magazine and then checked the chamber was empty.
"Everyone has skills, when needed," Sherlock shrugged.
Dean turned and handed the gun and the magazine to John, who was staring past his arm at the perfect copy of Sam. Dark, sticky liquid was seeping out of the hole in its front.
"That is… remarkable - unbelievable," John managed. "I actually couldn't tell the difference between you, Sam."
"Yeah," Sam said. "Freaks me out."
"Now you know how I felt. Can we get out of here now?" Dean asked.
"We can't leave the body here," Sherlock said, but his eyes were wide and bright with plans.
"No," John said hastily. "We are not taking it home, Sherlock!"
"It's one of a kind, John."
"It's beyond the realms of our medical science."
"A study must be done!"
"No!" John shouted. "Get samples if you have to, but you are not bringing that thing anywhere near our flat!"
Sherlock pouted. "Oh very well," he huffed.
Sam and Dean exchanged a glance.
"We should help," Sam said. "We're pretty good at getting rid of bodies."
Sherlock put a hand in his pocket and produced a small plastic samples bag. "Don't mind if you do, Sam," he smiled.
The next day dawned with brilliant sunshine, fresh tea and a satisfied air to the front room of 221B Baker Street. Sherlock strode into the room, finding John already installed in his favourite armchair. Sam and Dean were standing by the fireplace, apparently admiring the jumble of knives on the wooden ledge. John got up at the sound of a kettle losing its cool in the kitchenette. Dean went after him.
"So then," Sherlock said cheerfully. He slapped two small items down on the desk. Its wooden surface was enjoying the light from the window. "Two new passports, guaranteed to get you back to America without incident."
"Thanks," Sam said, picking them up and pushing them straight into the inside pocket of his jacket. "Thanks for all your help." He turned and looked at John, who was just emerging from the kitchen with Dean in tow. They had two mugs each, Dean crossing the room to hand one to Sam, and John forcing one on Sherlock. "What's this?" Sam asked his brother.
"Some of John's 'soldier tea'," he smiled. "He gave me some to take home, too."
"What, British sissy tea? You?" Sam asked, in genuine surprise.
Dean just narrowed his eyes at him before turning to look at Sherlock. "So. Happy it's all sorted out?" he asked.
"I have a satisfactory amount of evidence to reflect upon," Sherlock admitted. "And this has been a most individual case, worthy of my time and effort."
"You know what I don't get?" Sam asked.
"Cloakroom sex in a nightclub?" Dean hazarded.
John hid a smile but Sam frowned at his brother. Then he looked at Sherlock. "Dean's told me some of what happened, and the 'shifter kind of spelled it out for us before you - well, before you shot him. But what was the 'shifter doing at that nightclub?"
"Ah," Sherlock beamed, before sipping at his tea. "He wasn't as clever as he thought."
John went to his armchair and sat down, making himself comfortable. "Explain then," he allowed.
Sherlock waved a hand out. "Well it's obvious."
Sam and Dean looked at each other before they caught sight of John watching them knowingly. They went to the sofa behind the coffee table and sat down obediently.
"The creature was using the knife to 'download' from Dean," Sherlock said, "but then Dean gave it to him, making his life more complicated; now he had to come up with a new plan - which he did. He had something else to help him download, anyway. However, he may have needed the knife at a later date. He went along to the club and struck up a conversation with a young woman, long enough to have an excuse to be hanging around outside the ladies'. He went in, presumably got painted into a corner, and changed into a copy of a girl. He - now she - hid the knife in the far cubicle in case he needed to go back for it. Once safely out of the ladies', he had to change back into Sam to meet up with us. What you found, Dean, was the remains of his Sam incarnation, hence no blonde hair in the bag of skin you brought us."
"Is the knife still in the ladies'?" John asked.
"Unless someone has found it, yes," Sherlock shrugged.
"I might… call them with an anonymous tip tomorrow," John said quietly. "Just to, you know, get it found and picked up by the police."
"Oh John, the creature's dead, it doesn't work any more," Sherlock tutted.
"It's a knife, in a nightclub," John said deliberately clearly. "I'll get the police to find it and make sure it doesn't cause any more harm. To anyone."
"Good idea," Sam said. He looked at Sherlock. "So how was he going to get away with it?"
"How do you two solve cases when you're so slow?" Sherlock mused.
Dean sipped at his tea before clearing his throat. "The same way you still operate in social circles even though you have no idea how they work," he said politely.
John did not even try to hide his smile. Instead he looked at Sherlock with a shit-eating grin. "Do tell us, great detective."
"Very well," Sherlock said, going to his chair and landing in it, barely managing not to spill his tea. "He needed to take your place, Sam. You heard him; he needed one last thing from you - I guess killing you in front of your brother, or 'containing' you again, would have provided him with what he needed."
Sam 'hmm'ed to himself.
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? Any of you?" Sherlock sighed.
"You mean he needed a huge jolt of tele-transference to make his current shift permanent, to seal the downloads he'd acquired and incorporate them into his own neural process. He couldn't do that without still feeding off Dean though - and he needed Dean to be angry and protective."
"Um," Sherlock said in mild surprise. "Yes."
"So how did he do that then?" John asked.
Sherlock stood, pulling something from his left trouser pocket. "Well this would have helped, wouldn't it?" he smiled.
Dean stared. "Is that the anti-x-ray wrapping?"
"It is," Sherlock said, balling it up and flinging it at him. Dean caught it neatly, inspecting it. "You'd had it strapped between you and his knife, remember? And you wrapped the knife in it and gave it to the creature when you thought he was Sam. He was carrying round something you had no doubt sweated on whilst on an eight-hour flight. And it'd been touching his knife the whole time."
Dean looked at the wrapping for a long moment. Then he sat back, a look of intense pre-occupation on his face.
"What now?" Sam asked.
Dean looked at him, then Sherlock. "So… what was with the movie theatre?" he asked. "When I woke up after the 'shifter knocked us out cold - I went from the theatre to that storm drain. How?" Dean asked.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed on him as he sat down again. "What exactly happened in this 'movie theatre'?"
"Well… Sam was there, too. But the place was empty. We were watching us two on the big screen, like… like memories of what was happening outside. I was watching it all over again."
"Ah," Sherlock nodded. He finished his tea and put the mug on the arm of his chair to steeple his fingers. "A mind palace."
"A what?" Dean asked.
"Everything you saw, everything on the screen, was taking place in your head. Perhaps initiated by you, or the shapeshifter, as a way to review for more clues, or to simply remember it."
"It did stop, like it ran out of film, just before I woke up in the room with you and Sam," Dean muttered. "And I'm still not ok with the thought of him bein' in my head for so long."
"Well at least you weren't possessed," Sam said.
Dean frowned at him. "But that means everything I thought I was saying to you, I was really saying to him," he realised. "And I'm not ok with that, either."
"Any embarrassing secrets were killed with him," Sam grinned maliciously. Dean rolled his eyes at him.
"Well there we are," said Sherlock. "Anything else?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "How was I seeing John's memories and all that crap, when that happened before I gave John my torch?"
Sherlock tutted. "You're not thinking fourth-dimensionally, Dean. You'd been here for three days, doing all those exciting things, before you were knocked out and left in the room. That was when you saw it all over again in your head. That was when, if John's theory is correct, the link the shapeshifter had with you through his knife - and then the wrapping - caused the creature to use John's memories through you, so you could see memories that weren't yours. Simple."
Dean's eyes went past Sherlock to the wall. His mouth moved. Then he looked at Sam, a question on his face.
Sam shrugged. "Me neither, man. But if Sherlock says it's something like that, then it must be something like that."
Dean nodded. "Good enough for me." He paused. "What are you gonna tell the police? To get the murder suspects off in this country, I mean."
"Oh, we'll think of something," Sherlock said, a sly smile bending his mouth.
Dean drained his tea, getting to his feet. "Well… We should get going. It's a long way back to the States."
"I'll call you a taxi," John said, getting up from his chair to go for his mobile phone.
"What will you do now?" Sherlock asked quietly.
"Well Sam's going to write a few notes in the journal, so that next time we come across one of these things, we remember how to kill it, or least identify it," Dean said.
"Ah. Yes. The scribe," Sherlock said with an easy smile.
"Then we'll… go find the next thing to kill," Dean shrugged.
Sherlock glanced at John, noticed him busily talking down the phone. He cleared his throat. "If you were to… find yourselves able, perhaps you could… share any scientific findings you had."
Sam grinned. "If we can sneak anything out via e-mail, we will definitely send you stuff. Autopsy reports maybe? Coupled with newspaper articles?"
"Splendid!" Sherlock grinned, "-but don't tell me the end. Finally, something better than Cluedo."
Dean shook his head. Sam nudged his elbow, and his older brother decided to let it go.
John put the phone in his pocket and walked over. "Well. The cab will be here in a couple of minutes. Anything else you need?"
"Sherlock's got us tickets and passports; I think we're good," Sam said. "Thanks again for arranging the documents, man."
"No trouble," Sherlock said, but John noticed the straightened shoulders of pride.
Dean put his hand out and Sam looked at him. "Passport?"
Sam pulled the two of them out of his inside pocket, opening the photo ID page before handing one to Dean.
He pulled it open and his eyes went over the words 'JOHN DOUGH'. "John… Duff? Like the beer?"
"It's pronounced 'doe'," Sherlock said with a smile. "Thought it would be appropriate."
Dean nodded with a grin. He looked at Sam. "What'd you get?"
Sam opened his ID page. "James Boswell." He looked up at Dean. "I don't get it."
Sherlock turned away, walking toward the kitchen. "We are all lost without our bloggers," he said over his shoulder. John turned to look at him, but the Winchesters simply shrugged and tucked the passports into their inside jacket pockets securely.
They heard a car horn from outside the window. "That'll be the cab," John said. He put his hand out. "Safe flight, you two. Thanks for getting him into this - and helping us out of this. You've made his year."
"Thank you," Sam said, shaking his hand firmly. He let it drop and Dean shook his hand too. "What will you do now?"
"Oh, write up my notes, I suppose," John said.
"What, this case?" Dean asked, even as he went to the sofa and picked up the large duffle next to it.
"Yes," John said. "Don't know if it'll go on my blog, but… it definitely needs setting down on virtual paper. To get it straight in my own head, if nothing else. The title will certainly help there."
"I heard that," Sam nodded, picking up his own duffle. "We'll get going."
They went to the stairs, but John looked over at the kitchen. "Sherlock - are you going to say goodbye?"
"I've said what I needed to. They can go," he called imperiously.
John sighed. "They're leaving. For another continent."
"They'll be back," he said airily.
John glared at the doorjamb to the kitchenette. Then he went to the top of the stairs.
"One question, man," Sam said.
"What in the hell are you going to call this case?"
John thought for a long moment. The Winchesters waited impatiently, the sound of a car beeping outside failing to distract them.
John grinned. "A Study in Shapeshifting."
Wow, you wonderful readers, you! Thank you for the bookmarks, the favourites, the comments, the helpful concrit, the fact that you came back and actually finished it. I do love writing, but in the end, it's all for you.
And that's a wrap. No idea when my next one will be. I'm busy writing books. But I'm sure something will come along at some point.
Thanks for reading, thanks for giving this a chance when you could have so easily skipped it, and thanks for reaching the end.