Well, here's the next chapter! If you want to read ahead, just look up my penname on . I tend to update that site more frequently. Thank you so much for all the lovely comments and kudos! :3
Excerpt From The Book Of Dragonology, a Memoir By Mycroft Holmes.
On Dragons and Manners (social interaction with other Dragons): As mentioned earlier within this text, the Dragon language can be extremely difficult to learn, particularly because of the honorifics used within their tongue. As the language itself dates back to the time when Dragons were divided and organised into many tribes with leaders and nobility, it is not uncommon for two strange Dragons to refer to one another as 'My Lord' or 'My Lady'. In fact, it is often seen as a deliberate insult if the Dragon refuses to call a stranger by their title. In the past, such insults would often be resolved via Dragon Duels (see page 435 section G for details) however modern culture has deemed the practice barbaric and the practice has thus been outlawed. Still, any Dragonologist should be aware of such issues when dealing with Dragons, as to be unaware of the social construct of any race's language is to be ignorant of their culture. In fact, today's Dragon slaves are in part gravely punished when with no intention to displease their Master or Mistress, they refer to another Dragon as 'My Lord'. This in itself is a slow murder of their language, and one day, this writer fears that the complicated and somewhat delicate language of the Dragon species may forcibly die off as time goes on...
For a moment, no one dared to breathe. There was only the sound of steam hissing like the coils of a rattlesnake from Cerioth's teeth, and the misty clouds of Sherlock's breath creating an intense fog.
It wasn't supposed to have turned out this way.
Contrary to what the situation before them suggested, it had never been Sherlock's intention to allow something like this to happen.
In fact, as much as he had initially chafed at the idea of staying upstairs, he had seen sense in John's pleas. Though his more Draconic pride rumbled in disquiet at allowing John to face any potential threat of his own, especially within the lines of their own shared territory (for Sherlock had already begun to think of the flat as theirs and somewhat Mrs Hudson's, if only in name) he had known there would be no convincing the soldier. It had been obvious in the line of John's jaw, his firm and unmoving use of his body language. The Dragon had seen it the moment the man had sat him down on the couch, hands wringing themselves somewhat apprehensively even as they had allowed Sherlock to butt his head against them like a giant, possessive feline.
It had become an unspoken agreement between the two of them, Sherlock's tactile advances. Though the Dragon was deliberately obtuse and prickly towards any affection forced upon him, he could be possessive and highly affectionate, if John pretended to ignore him. John had allowed him to rest his head upon his knee, fingers carding through the Dragon's hair and untangling the snarls that always seemed to accompany them. His voice had been low, mixed with equal parts guilt and discomfort, and Sherlock found it was irritating, the hesitation the soldier used about him. Like he might break at being told to stay in his room.
Still, he had been sure to make his displeasure at such a decision by huffing, a bit of whispered magic at the right time turning John's shower ice cold. The yelp was infinitely satisfying to Sherlock, even as he curled into a sulking ball at the foot of his bed and tried his best to stop the jealous, possessive streak inside him from dragging John to some place safe.
He did not know Dodge, or the Dragon due to meet him. Until he could assess them thoroughly, they were enemies. Even after he could observe them, Sherlock doubted their place in his mental catalogue would change.
He was aware of their presence and instant before the bell to their flat chimed.
The heavy footfalls of unfamiliar people grated on Sherlock's sensitive hearing, stirring the discomfort already firmly lodged in his chest like a great, swollen peach. The Dragon buried his head in the softness of the pillows John had bestowed upon him, gritting his teeth and counting roughly in his head every single scale on his body. It was second nature to transform, to shed his human skin and do so, and the bed creaked with added weight, the mattress becoming less of a bed, and more of a cushion. The colour of the creature's scales shifted uneasily, a mottled and stormy grey cast over blue. It was the shade of a distant hurricane. Downstairs, the Dragon could make out the sound of tea cups clinking, hot liquid being poured. All the marks of what humans deemed civilized and mannered interaction.
Unwillingly, Sherlock's mind whispered to him. Told him stories of his own experiences, where his knees bruised from supporting his weight on the floor for too long, where rough hand pulled at his chin and loud voices barked orders, demanding he behave and serve boiling hot kettles without a word.
He ignored the familiar twisting sensation in his gut, instead opting to eavesdrop on the speaking below.
Sherlock picked out Dodge's more feminine voice instantly.
"He doesn't seem to have any mental problems? Anything besides the aggression and protective tendencies? Are his wings functional? Everything checking out like it should? He's not unnecessarily confrontational or weak in stamina?"
The Dragon smiled slightly at John's slight bluffing, even as the seriousness of the situation washed over Sherlock like a wave. This was happening. He was to become metaphorical cannon-fodder for the War effort, and he would soon be expected to treat John not like an equal as he had been slowly becoming, but as a Master.
The thought sent an uneasy coil tightening through the Dragon's gut, twisting and menacing.
He had sworn to himself to never debase himself for the sake of a Master again, but John was unlike any other Human Sherlock had yet to encounter. He was kind, sometimes desperately so, and the Dragon knew in the pit of his gut with sudden certainty that the young soldier would never order him to subjugate. That in itself, was the problem.
John was too proud and too kind to admit that when faced with his superiors, he didn't stand a chance. His pacifist methods though perfect for Sherlock's temperament and nature, were going against direct orders and the culture of England. The Dragon knew this, that was in part why he grudgingly trusted John, but it meant that now they faced an issue neither knew entirely how to solve. Like a Rubik's cube, hopelessly tangled and scrambled so that no colours marked the right sides, They were being forced to rearrange themselves to at least appear normal and uniform, even if underneath Sherlock and John were anything but.
The Dragon felt a brief pang of something fierce warm through his chest, thawing his logical thought process and causing him to blink away pressure behind his eyes. No one... Human or Dragon alike... had ever done so much to ensure his own happiness and comfort. John had never pushed boundaries unless absolutely necessary, and could bend and flex to the point where suddenly he became firm steel. He was strong where Sherlock's weak points lay, and he could deal with the Dragon's anger, that much was evident. Shifting slowly back to his Human form, Sherlock stared at his hands. The strange, fleshy suit made of magic and biology was no different from any man's, if not for his collar he'd be indistinguishable from a mere mortal. Yet all of his life, he had been told that he was, and not just by his oppressor's. Dragons had begun to give up, the second generation of Hatchlings having never seen the sun from beyond the bars of cages.
When had Sherlock begun to take the fact that he was somehow less, that he for some reason deserved to be less than happy? When had dying become an answer to his problems, an escape?
John had reminded Sherlock of himself, and in the process, made the Dragon thoroughly disgusted by his own cowardice.
It was one thing to fight his slavery. Quite another to not be clever about it. Honestly, he wondered to himself if he hadn't hit his head on something, was his Mind-Palace really so out of shape that he couldn't process the fact that John needed him?
Sitting up abruptly, the Dragon looked at himself in the mirror. Milk-white skin laced with scars and blue-green eyes reflected an image to him. His image. The collar at his throat glinted, silver and electronic. Fingers brushed it carefully as a fire began to burn in the Dragon's mind, one made of ice.
He would help John in any way he could. For without John, Sherlock came to the very real conclusion that he'd be dead by now. And wouldn't that be dull.
The Dragon smiled, and his reflection copied the motion. It felt strange, like it was an action he had forgotten somewhere along the way. A magic trick returned.
Standing tall, Sherlock rose to reach for the stack of clothes he had folded precariously at the foot side of his bed.
No, he hadn't intended on making things worse.
For the first time, the Dragon had wanted to make things good.
He hadn't expected Dodge's insult to his honour.
He hadn't expected the voice speaking into his skull, unfamiliar and unwelcome.
He hadn't expected the surge of protectiveness that had overwhelmed him when that woman dared to question John's competence.
And now, Sherlock was quite unsure what he could do to fix it.
Kneeling was more annoying than he remembered it to be. It had been long enough that he no longer fell to his knees whenever he did something wrong or John called him over for company, and so Sherlock found even as he knelt at the foot of the stairs that he felt uncomfortable, awkward even. As it was, John's piercing gaze seemed to make the skin on Sherlock's arms crawl, the masked horror and... was that pity? Scrawled across his features. It made the Dragon grit his teeth, yet his eyes remained downcast even as those heavy army boots clunked towards him methodically. He felt rather than saw the hand that touched him without permission, cupping his chin and tilting his face upwards. Unwillingly a memory flashes darkly in Sherlock's mind, and his tail appeared to swish in discomfort even as he worked hard to control is distractingly fast breathing.
"His nose's been broken before, but looks like he was fairly young. Shouldn't cause any kind of problems. Does his dental work need anything? There's a free program..."
Different hands once held him like this, pinned him in place. Sherlock's Adam's apple bobbed lightly, the only thing that gave away his inner stress. To his surprise, there was a soft voice filtering into his mind, and unwanted intrusion. Cerioth's voice was like the melody of pan pipes, lilting and gentle, quiescent.
Greetings, my Lord. We are gracious to meet your acquaintance.
Not caring that he was being particularly rude by not using titles or flowering language, Sherlock growled.
Stay out of my mind. I let you into my territory, but only on my Master's request.
He emphasized the threat by having his tail lash a little harder. Kneeling on the floor, the petite Dragon did not appear overly threatening, but Sherlock knew better than anyone that appearances were deceiving. After all, he was currently pretending to be some mewling child, when in reality he was quickly analysing the woman holding his chin in a vice. Through his lashes, he picked out details of her career, her uniform telling a story to him like a map.
Specialises in automatic guns of a variety, a crack shot, suspects John will be one with a little bit of practice. Hoping to draw him away from the medical end of his job and turn him into a good soldier. Possible promotion if John continues to follow her ideals, although she likes a good argument. A good fight. Which is good I suppose, as he looks like he wants to hit her right now.
Sure enough, John was breathing sharply through his nose, gritting his teeth as Dodge checked Sherlock over. It was just a physical examination, really the Dragon could care less, and yet his Master appeared to be highly disturbed and disquieted by Sherlock's pliance to Dodge's ministrations. Which was rather foolish, in Sherlock's opinion, as if it weren't for John's presence the Dragon would have gladly bitten the hand still cupped under his chin.
That would be inadvisable, my Lord.
Cerioth's voice piped up immediately, infuriatingly polite and calm. Out loud, Dodge was conversing with John lightly, ignoring the silent signals that Sherlock's scales were giving. Threatening red, mottled blue and brown. Ugly, seething colours.
"His nose's been broken before, but looks like he was fairly young. Shouldn't cause any kind of problems. Does his dental work need anything? There's a free program..."
All of a sudden, she was addressing him, tone sharp in an order. Sherlock complied without thinking, his mind beginning to meld itself painfully back into the subservient mentality he had been attempting to shed around John.
"Wings. Out where I can see them."
Still, Cerioth's voice mocked him, speaking into his thoughts and spiking Sherlock's temper. He could feel his patience beginning to wear thin, although he might have lasted. Even if the strange Dragon insisted on speaking to him.
Your Master is quite... lenient my Lord. However, I suspect Dodge may have him change his mindset...
This was stated merely as fact, no threat or pity marking the words. The Dragon found himself instinctively bristling. Debasing himself was one thing, but to speak of John as if he were just like every other Human, as if he'd one day turn on Sherlock... that was a different matter altogether.
However the Dragon may have remained calm, if it weren't for the other Dragon's nerve. His gall to reach out and touch something that was not his, halting John from bringing himself closer to Sherlock.
The Dragon's snarl was already rumbling through his frame threateningly before he could stop it, the sound low and dangerous like thunder on the eve of a horizon.
He mentally cursed when Dodge stiffened beside him.
That was not part of the plan.
John looked at him with a mixture of exasperation and pleading. The soldier's gaze turned to Dodge, and Sherlock realised with some annoyance that John was about to be blamed for his actions.
"Watson. Did it ever occur to you that in only a short while both you and your Dragon will be sharing the same breath with literally hundreds of other men, women and Dragons?"
Sherlock watched as John slowly turned red, hating his own actions as much as he was actively hating the Human that was making the soldier cringe like a schoolboy caught stealing. It was a decidedly defensive posture John had adopted, and unwillingly the Dragon caught another flicker of insight into John's childhood that made his temper sky-rocket even as his scales burned a steady orange-red.
He's been told off like this before. Many times. Hit too, by the way he's flinching.
And the Dragon's brain unwillingly conjured up an image of John, much smaller and younger and frightened, trying in vain to coil away from an unseen shadow that reached out to strike him across the mouth.
The final breaking point was pet.
Unthinking, half out of his mind with a mix of pent-up tension and anger, Sherlock sprang.
The gun was something John was hyper-aware of, its destination aimed solidly at Sherlock's skull. Not that the Dragon seemed to particularly notice this, as he was currently absorbed in trying to cover John with as much of his body as possible. His scales were a myriad of colours, hurting John's eyes as he was currently being pressed up against the wall, with little room to breath or see as Sherlock's wings covered him like a shroud.
Dodge's hands were steady as she pointed the weapon, flanked by Cerioth as a living shield. Her dark eyes glinted as she calmly clicked off the safety, tone cool and detached despite Sherlock's rather menacing roar.
"Stand down, or I. Will. Shoot."
John could see in his superior's eyes that there was no hesitation, no mercy. He knew why, and swallowed at the thought. He had known that Dodge was old enough to have witnessed some of the last Air Raids that happened before the War truly began. John was just a shade too young. Still, even he remembered the aftermath. Scales littering the streets for years after, entire buildings looking singed or frozen over forever. In his District, there had been a Dragon's skeleton, massive and looming on the edge of the country. John had used to climb over its bones and play inside its ribcage, like it was a giant set of monkey bars. She had witnessed battle, not only as an adult but as a child, and saw no qualms about putting a supposedly 'unstable' weapon down like a dog. All of this John could understand...
And yet he still found himself all but screaming at Sherlock, desperately trying to break past the Dragon's chaos of emotions to get him to see reason. The normal, easy way in which John's brain normally could permeate into Sherlock's thoughts was now tangled and snarled by emotions, the signal malfunctioning even as the soldier tried to stop his friend from going into kill mode. His thoughts projected desperately, shouting at the Dragon as if raising his voice could somehow break through the creature's haze.
Sherlock! Sherlock STOP! STOP OR SHE'LL KILL YOU! SHERLOCK PLEASE-
That seemed to grab the Dragon's attention slightly, John's begging. Sherlock's growls slowly quieted but did not dissipate as he regarded John, pinned upside down by the waist against the wall. His blue eyes were like chips of silver as he took in the soldier's body language, flicking over John's form as if reassuring him of the man's presence. Though his posture didn't change, the Dragon's scales cooled slightly from their heated red, turning into a slightly mollified turquoise as Sherlock took into account the mess he'd made.
And a mess it was indeed.
The tea tray was effectively smashed to pieces, the little cups overturned and dark tea stains making marks on the floor. The teapot itself was cracked, a sad river of hot water and tea leaves spreading around the scene of the crime like blood. John's chair had been tipped over, it lay on its side cold and broken.
Sherlock realised with a jolt he had just destroyed a part of his home, of John's home, and barely even realised he had done it.
With the acknowledgement of his actions, John's words slowly came shrieking to life in Sherlock's head. Like tuning in to a radio channel after a long moment of silence, it was nearly deafening. The Dragon recoiled from the shouting thoughts, rifling through them to get the heart of the message before shoving them away.
It was clear what John wanted. Sherlock would have been able to tell, even without the litany of -GODSTOPSHERLOCKPLEASE- that filled his head. For the Dragon found himself looking into the soldier's eyes and seeing something he hadn't seen before.
Bald, violent terror. For the first time, Sherlock saw the expression he had expected to paint John's face from when they had first met, and it twisted knots in his stomach and made the roaring in his ears fade. In John's irises, he could see a reflection of himself, twin mirrors leering, and the Dragon for the very first time felt monstrous as he saw himself, a hybrid of Human and beast, of flesh and claw. The fragile, tenuous safety he had carefully shrouded himself with, disguised himself with unconsciously for John's sake had slipped, and now the man saw the true creature he was to rule over.
And Sherlock felt blind panic constrict his chest, because if he stood down, it would mean admitting weakness. Yet if he attacked, not only would he likely be injured if not die, John's trust in him would break.
For a moment he hovered, torn between the recent loyalty he had acquired in someone else and his own instincts, the defence he had built up to survive.
Dodge's voice broke through the thick atmosphere, distracting Sherlock from his inner turmoil. Her voice was tense.
"John. Move out of the way."
It was then Sherlock realised that John had finally wormed his way from the grip of Sherlock's tail, the sturdy soldier having manoeuvred so that John stood directly between Sherlock and the path of the gun. His arms outspread, the man's eyes were a steely blue, even as Sherlock let loose and unconscious whine of panic as he took in the sight of his Master in danger. Though Dodge's position of her weapon did not waver, Cerioth let out a hiss of steam through his teeth, slitted eyes gold-white with crackling energy. His voice rumbled in both John and Sherlock's thoughts.
This method will not work. Stand down, please sir!
John stood his ground. Finally, Sherlock managed to gather his thoughts to speak to his friend.
John. John move.
Wordlessly, John shook his head. His jaw was clenched in suppressed fury. When he did speak, it was to address Dodge.
"You won't shoot him."
The woman's eyes sparked, and her stance widened as she barked
John did not move. Did not flinch even as Dodge growled lowly in her throat and roared
John's voice was low, calm and yet just under the surface was steel as unbreakable as the rolling waves of an ocean.
"I promised to care for him. I won't let you. If you want him, you'll have to shoot me too."
Sherlock, unable to stay still a moment longer, made as if to tackle John. His superior strength brought the man to the ground, despite John's ragged shout of protest. Pinning him to the floor, snarling and panting, Sherlock trembled and caged the soldier with his limbs. He dared not look up, dared not even breathing incorrectly as sweat beaded his brow. Beneath him, John fought with all of his might, but it was like a butterfly attacking a lion for all of the good it did. Sherlock would not let him move.
The Dragon looked up at Dodge, who watched the entire scene with a kind of impassiveness that made Sherlock's throat close hotly. It would be better this way, he reasoned as he stared down the barrel of the gun. After all, it was meant to be a Dragon's honour, to die for their Master's sake. One of the few ways they could earn medals. His would shine on the little dirt plot that was designated for him in the end, the only marker other than the recently upturned earth.
Still, he couldn't help but wince as John let out a broken hiss of
Dodge's voice was cool. Calculating.
"Are you sure?"
For the first time, she looked Sherlock directly in the eye. The Dragon lifted his chin, ignoring the mental and verbal pleas the Human beneath him gave. John's body was warm, pressed against him. Living compared to the ice of Sherlock's blood. So very much alive.
His silence answered for him.
Dodge raised her gun towards him, and the Dragon closed his eyes and braced himself. Point blank range. He would not survive.
For the first time in a very long while, Sherlock wished he could have lived.
He heard the metallic squeeze of the trigger.
It stretched out seemingly endlessly, Sherlock hardly dared to breathe. He could hear his own heartbeat, massive compared to John's thundering away. For a moment, he could taste copper in his mouth.
Dodge's voice was far calmer, her tone oddly... proud.
"Congratulations. You passed."