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Title: This Thing All Things Devours (3/15)
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: Explicit
Word Count: 3,600 for this part
Genre: AU/fusion, science fiction, action, romance

Summary:

(In Time AU) In 2169, time is money—literally. Humans are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, when the numbers on their arm start counting down from one year. When that time is up, they die. The only way to get more time is to earn it, borrow it, or steal it.

John Watson lives day-to-day in the crowded slums of Zone 13. He never imagined living any differently—until he meets the practically-immortal Sherlock, and helps him on a case to track a local time-thief...




When John woke the next morning, Sherlock was gone again.  John groaned through a yawn, and Sherlock appeared in the doorway.  His hair was still tousled from sleep, he had a smudge of jam at the corner of his mouth, and he hadn’t changed out of John’s wrinkled pyjamas.  He was holding a turner in one hand that appeared to be dripping egg yolk onto the floor.

“I don’t understand why there are flames on the hob,” he said.

John laughed into his pillow and got up to help.
---

Sherlock’s attempt at breakfast consisted of runny eggs, cold beans, and burnt toast with the burnt parts hidden by jam.  He flitted around the kitchen barefoot, glancing up every now and then to catch John’s eyes.  John watched, amusedly, thinking that he wouldn’t mind waking up to this sight more than once.

Sherlock set a mug of tea in front of John and sat down, picking up his phone.

“So how old are you in real time?” John asked casually, taking a bite of toast.

Sherlock didn’t look up from the hologram that he had begun studying.  “Thirty-three,” he said.  “Or twenty-five for eight, if you prefer.  You?”

“Twenty-five for ten.”  John smiled.  “It’s funny,” he said.  “I thought all you people were over a hundred.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes.  “You have a lot to learn about my time zone.”

“Could say the same to you.”  John scraped the last of the egg from his plate, scooping it with a piece of toast.  Sherlock looked up at him.

“You’re coming with me today?” he asked.

“I am.”

Sherlock just stared, expectantly.  John smirked and took a slow sip of tea.

“Tell me how we’re doing this,” he said.  “Do we have a plan?”

Sherlock went into the sitting room and plucked one of John’s tablets from its place on the coffee table.  He brought up a hologram—a larger version of the map that he had shown John the day before.

“I was able to plant a bug in Walters’s credit card.  As long as he carries it with him, we’ll be able to keep track of his location."

“He has a credit card?” John asked.

Sherlock looked confused.  “Is that unusual?”

“In Zone 13, yes.”

“Interesting.”  Sherlock narrowed his eyes.  “Anyway, the tracking bug is linked to my phone.  If he goes near his flat while we’re in there, the phone will beep, giving us time to escape before he comes back.”  He tapped a few buttons, and pointed to a blinking red dot that appeared on the map.  “He’s far away, so he doesn’t intend to go back until the end of the day.  He doesn’t use the flat for much more than sleeping.”

John drained the last of his tea.  “And if he does come back?” he asked.  “Do we have a plan for that?”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“But if it does?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”  Sherlock stood and grabbed John’s jacket from the coat rack.  “Let’s go.”

---

There was a bus stop at the end of John’s street.  They paid the one-hour fare and sat together on a sticky brown seat in the middle of the bus.  John let Sherlock sit on the inside so he could watch the tall and tarnished buildings as they sped past.  Most of the windows were darkened or obscured by shades.  Some were falling apart, crumbling at their foundations or from the top down.  There was a long queue outside the timelenders, waiting for the “open” sign to light up.  John watched Sherlock's face, trying to judge what he was thinking.

John was well aware of what the city looked like to outsiders—overcrowded, crumbling, neglected.  It was easy to ignore this when he was young, when he was going to school with other kids who were like him; their families living day-to-day, some less certain than others that their parents would be alive at the end of the month.  As an adult, his perspective had shifted.  He realized that broken-down buildings were not the norm—that in other zones, it was unheard of to witness people timing out in the streets.  He developed a fierce protectiveness for the people around him, who fought through each day while being constantly faced with their own mortality.  They were strong, and they deserved better.

The bus took them to a quiet residential area that John had never been to before.  The buildings were packed tightly together, and the emptiness of the street gave the whole neighbourhood an eerie feeling.  There was a capsule factory nearby.  John assumed that the occupants of these flats were in the middle of their twelve-hour shifts.

Sherlock led them to a small grey building with two entryways.  They stood outside on the pavement while Sherlock checked his phone.  Satisfied by the placement of the blinking red light, he walked towards the door on the left, John following close behind.

The door was old-fashioned, swinging out rather than sliding into the wall.  It was still secured with a padlock, when the vast majority of modern doors required fingerprints.  John had never seen such an old lock.  He was just about to ask how they were going to get in if they couldn’t hack it, when Sherlock pulled a roll of tools from his coat pocket and knelt down in front of the door.

“What are you doing?” John asked, looking around to make sure no one was watching.

“Picking the lock.”

“What?”

“Picking the—John, what did I say about repeating myself?”

Before John could argue, the lock made a soft popping sound, and Sherlock sat back on his heels.

“An obscure skill, but a useful one to have,” he said.  “Mycroft used to padlock his secret stash of sweets when we were young.”  He turned the handle and led the way inside.

The front room was cold, dark, and sparsely decorated.  John found a light switch on the wall and flicked it on, grimacing at the sudden glare. There were scuff marks all over the floor.  Sherlock studied them with interest while John roamed around aimlessly.  He entered a small side room to find a coffee table rotting in pieces on the floor.

“This is real wood,” he said, pointing at it.  “I saw something like this in a museum once.  You can tell it’s real because of the—”

Sherlock swept past without speaking, ignoring the table in favour of examining a nearby windowsill.

“Never mind,” John muttered.  He waited, awkwardly, as Sherlock looked around at every crack and crevice, typing away on his phone.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked.

Sherlock didn’t answer.  He stopped suddenly in the middle of the room, looked around, and frowned, frustrated.  His fingers twitched restlessly against his leg.  He started rubbing at the inside of his elbow, as if the bruises under his sleeve were hurting him.

"Is there something in particular that you're looking for?" John asked, with growing concern.  "I thought I was here to help."

Sherlock walked over to an armchair and knelt down to examine a pillow closely.  His shoulders were tense, his eyes focused.  He pulled back from the pillow with a sneer of disgust, then started rubbing at his elbow again.

Sherlock.”

Sherlock dropped his hand and headed toward a tight spiral staircase that led to the second floor.  John followed behind, but had barely gone three steps before Sherlock stopped and stuck his arm out to the side to prevent John from going further.  He knelt down and peered at a smudge on one of the lower stairs.

“What is it?” John asked.

“Shh.”  Sherlock pulled an electronic magnifier from his pocket and took a closer look at the smudge.  “It’s his,” he said, with a slight sigh of relief.  “Walters was definitely here.”

“That’s a smudge.”

“It’s a footprint.  Men’s shoe, size ten, very distinctive tread.”

“How do you know what his shoe print looks like?”

“I saw him in the alley.”  Sherlock turned to face John, his expression showing his incredulity at John’s ignorance.

John shook his head in awe.  “That’s...fantastic.”

Sherlock smirked.  He put the magnifier back in his pocket and continued up the stairs.

There were three rooms on the top floor.  They entered the one on their immediate left to find that it was filled with flimsy plastic boxes.  Sherlock started poking through, but found nothing except a dead moth and a few broken bottles.  Tired of being ignored, John tried to help with the search.  Sherlock eyed him suspiciously, but didn’t stop him.

John’s foot caught on a bit of torn-up carpet, and he bent down to peel it back, finding a tiny SD card hidden underneath.  He handed it to Sherlock, who looked genuinely surprised.

“Thank you,” he said, with pleased sincerity.  He put the SD card into his phone, but there was nothing on it except for a few children’s video games, the high scores all listed as “STW.”

“Ah well,” said John.  “It was worth a look.”

“I’ll study it a bit more intensely when we get ho—back to your flat,” Sherlock said.

John nodded.

The next room was a bedroom, containing only a single bed, a bedside table, and a bookcase.  It offered an amazing view of the city, looking out over the side of the hill on which the building was situated.  Sherlock took a quick glance inside, but didn’t linger.

“Tell me if you find anything,” he said, waving a hand to the room as he left.

John couldn’t help feeling a bit proud that Sherlock had left him with such responsibility.  He immediately looked for any more upturned carpet, but was out of luck—everything was firmly glued down.  He went over to Walters’s bed, which was pushed up against the wall, just underneath the window.  He was admiring the view when Sherlock called to him from the final unexplored room.

“What is it?” John asked, peeking in the doorway.  The room contained a sofa, telly, and a few stacks of books.  Sherlock was standing in the corner, staring at something that John couldn’t see.

“Identify this for me.”

When John came closer, he realized that the object Sherlock was staring at was a small clickbomb—round and metallic, about the size of his fist.  It looked just like the hundreds he had repaired at his job, and the few that he had seen in the war as a flash of silver flying past his head.  His eyes widened, and his heart beat faster.  He had to consciously stop his lips from twitching upward.

“Was this just...lying here?” he asked, his voice steady despite the circumstances.

“It hasn’t exploded yet, so I’m assuming it’s not—”

“Don’t assume.” John took a careful step closer.  There was a blinking red light next to the bomb’s display screen, but it had no other defining features.  Clickbombs came in many varieties, and not all were lethal.  Unfortunately, there was no way to tell which it was until it exploded.  Opening an activated bomb manually was never a good idea.

They stood in silence, neither one daring to move.  John glanced over at Sherlock, who was biting his lip in frustration.

“I have to examine it,” Sherlock muttered.

“What?  Why?”

“Walters left it for me.  He knew I would be looking for him.  It’s evidence.”

“Is it worth your life?  Or well-being?  Leave it be.  We have to call someone to take care of it.”

“Can’t you disarm it?  Didn’t they teach you how to deal with these things in the army?”

“Did they teach us how to open potentially live bombs?

“You’re a mechanic, think of something!  Use your brain!”

As soon as Sherlock raised his voice, the bomb snapped open.  The display screen counted down from five seconds.

“Fuck, look out!”

John pushed Sherlock backwards towards the doorway, but they only got halfway before the bomb started to make a series of clicking noises.  Sherlock stopped, despite John pulling his arm, and turned to look back.

“John, it’s glowing green.”

John would have sighed in relief, but there wasn’t time.  “Cover your ears,” he said.

“What?”

“Your ears!”  When Sherlock didn’t move fast enough, John clamped his hands over Sherlock’s ears, pressing tight and scrunching his shoulders up as if he could protect his own.  Sherlock had just enough time to press his own hands over John’s ears before the bomb emitted a high-pitched screeching sound.  It went off in three short bursts, then stopped.  The green light dimmed.  John sighed and removed his hands from Sherlock’s head.

“What was that?” Sherlock asked.  His hands fell from John’s face slowly.

“That bomb wasn’t made to target humans,” John said.  “That sound is meant to wipe the signals of enemy soldiers.”

“A sound?  That’s it?”

“It’s effective,” said John.  “And it could’ve caused some real damage to your hearing.”

“So you saved my ears?” Sherlock asked with amusement.

“Yeah, well.”  John suddenly realized how closely they were standing.  He took a couple of steps back, looking down at his feet.  “My ears are already damaged.  Yours are—”

“Virgins?”  Sherlock smirked.

“Oh, shut up.”  John shoved Sherlock against the wall, and Sherlock chuckled under his breath.  “Well, if he left any computers in the vicinity, they’ve been wiped.  That goes for capsules as well.  And I hate to say it, but your phone—”

“Will be fine.  I backed it up on your computer this morning.  Once I was sure your password was secure.”

“Somehow, I am not surprised.”

“Anyway, it’s clear that he’s not keeping the stolen capsules in this building.  It’s possible that he purposefully misled us by showing us the location of his flat.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s picking them up right now.”

“You think he’s that clever?” John asked.

“I hope so.  That would make things marginally more interesting.”  Sherlock picked up the deactivated bomb from where it lay on the floor.  “I’d like to return tomorrow,” he continued, turning it in his hand.  “He’ll probably try to get rid of the capsules tomorrow night, and if we follow him, we can catch whoever he’s in league with, since I doubt that whatever he’s buying with stolen time is legal.”

We?” asked John.

Sherlock looked at him, not a hint of worry in his eyes.  “You’ll be accompanying me again, of course,” he said.  “You have a taste for danger, and danger is almost certainly guaranteed.”

John wanted to argue, but couldn’t think of anything to say.  Sherlock put the bomb in his pocket.

“Let’s go back to your flat.”
---

John was too filled with anticipation to sleep, and Sherlock never seemed to get tired himself, so they sat together on the tiny sofa, talking late into the night.  It felt natural, even domestic.  They faced each other with their legs folded up in front of them.

“So,” John said.  “We catch Walters trying to buy something with stolen time.  What then?”

Sherlock shrugged.  “We find a way to keep him there, along with the drug dealer, either by distracting or incapacitating them.  Then I call the Timekeepers and tell them where we are, and they finally admit that they should have listened to me in the first place.”

Sherlock started rubbing at his elbow again.  When John caught his eyes, he abruptly stopped, a slight downturn of his lips showing his displeasure.

“I can give you some paracetamol,” John said,  trying to broach the topic carefully.

Sherlock scowled, and shook his head.

“You’ve been doing that all day.  If it’s bothering you—”

“I said I don’t need any.”

John looked away with a frown.  Sherlock saw, and raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t take you for the judgemental type,” he said.  “Especially considering your own vices.”

“What?”  John asked, offended.  “I haven’t used stims since I was a teenager, and then only a handful of times.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Sherlock glanced down at John’s arm, where the glow of his numbers was just barely visible under his threadbare shirt sleeve.

“I asked around,” he said.  “You only go to the pub on Fridays, when you spend a few hours gambling before you take part in a Suicide match.  They call you “Deathwish” because you continually allow your numbers to drop to the single digits for the sake of the adrenaline rush.  You enjoy being a breath away from dying.”  John was quiet, and Sherlock continued.  “When you saw the bomb,” he said.  “You shielded me.  Was that for my benefit or your thrill?

John’s jaw clenched.   “Shut up,” he snarled.

Sherlock was surprised, and had the decency to look vaguely apologetic.  John felt the initial rage dissipate with his outburst, leaving a dull, gnawing anger in its place.  His shoulder ached, and he rubbed at it absent-mindedly.  He looked up at Sherlock, who was staring back at him with curiosity and trepidation.

John sighed.  “There—weren’t any ulterior motives.”

“Alright,” Sherlock said softly, as if he were dealing with a wild animal.  “Maybe not.  But you do take risks.  You like seeing the end of your life ahead of you, and you like escaping it at the last moment.  You’re addicted to the rush.”

John frowned.  “I’m not—”  He sighed.  “Look, I don’t want to fight.”

Sherlock sat back and relaxed a bit.  “Nor do I,” he said.  His gaze drifted off, and he gave a huff of humourless laughter.  “But remember: you can only cheat death a number of times before it catches up with you.”  He spoke the words with a lilt to his voice that John had never heard before.

“Did someone say that to you?” John asked.

Sherlock nodded.  “My brother.  The first, second, and third times he caught me...indulging.”

John moved closer and held out his hand, nodding towards Sherlock’s arm.  Sherlock hesitated for only a moment.  John cupped Sherlock’s elbow in one hand, pushing up his sleeve with the other to better see the bruising.  He pulled the top of the glove down just a bit, but not enough to make Sherlock uncomfortable.  His fingers traced over a fading needle-mark.  When John looked up, Sherlock was looking back at him, his lips parted.  John smoothed down Sherlock’s arm, feeling the texture of the glove.  It was bold—touching another person’s numbered arm—but Sherlock didn’t even flinch.

“Do you ever take this off?” John asked.

Sherlock shook his head.  “You’d be surprised by the range of breathable fabrics they come in.  And such stylish colours,” he added, sarcastically.

John laughed.  “And you chose black.  You think it makes you look mysterious, don’t you?”

Sherlock’s indignant denial was not very convincing.  He tried to pull his arm away, but John held fast, and Sherlock didn’t struggle.  John ran his finger along the thumb-hole of the glove, then traced the bottom edge over Sherlock’s palm.

“Most people around here just wear long sleeves,” he said.  “Gloves attract attention.”  He caught the edge of the glove between his thumb and forefinger.  It was frayed, one short thread hanging loose from the stitching.  “You fiddle with it when you’re anxious.”

Sherlock scoffed.  “I do no such thing.”

“Then why do you think the edge is worn?”  John’s fingers slipped from the glove and he rested his fingertips in Sherlock’s slightly-sweaty palm.  He kept them there for just a moment, then pulled away.  Sherlock tapped his fingers against his leg, then brought his hand up to massage the back of his neck.  He didn't seem to know what to do with himself.  John felt warm watching Sherlock get flustered, knowing that he was the cause.

“After Walters is caught, you’re leaving?” he asked, his voice gentle.

Sherlock nodded, slowly.  “Yes.  Back home, to Zone 4.”

John found himself becoming very interested in the pillow by his shoulder.  He rested his head against it, his eyelids drooping.

“I’m going to stay up for a bit,” said Sherlock, abruptly.  “Don’t wait for me.”

John would have felt insulted by the dismissal, but there was something about the way that Sherlock refused to meet John’s eyes that made him look nervous and unsure of himself.  It was a complete turnaround from the cocky rich boy persona from the pub.

“Alright,” John said, standing up.  He smiled back down at Sherlock.  “Goodnight, then.”

Sherlock only nodded.
---

The bed felt bigger than it had the night before.  John laid alone in the dark, listening for the sound of Sherlock moving in the next room. He was rewarded for his patience when he heard Sherlock speaking in a low murmur, presumably on his phone.  John laid still and strained his ears, but could only catch small snippets of the conversation.

"I don't want to...have you ever seen this place?  They don't—"

Sherlock's voice went silent for a moment, and when he spoke again it was much softer, and John could only make out three words.

"...to leave him."

Sherlock's footsteps suddenly crossed the floor, and John heard the front door slide open and shut.  All sounds from the other room ceased.  John stayed motionless and listened for many long minutes.  Finally, he gave up, and turned onto his side to face the wall.

At some point in the night, John felt the sheets shift, and other side of the bed dip.  Sherlock didn't lie down immediately.  At first, John thought that he was looking at his phone, but the glow of the screen wasn't visible at all.  Finally, Sherlock shifted down under the covers.  He laid closer to John than he had the night before.
---

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