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The Ship Who Deduced

Chapter Text

“BRAWN INTERVIEWEES ENTER HERE: STARSHIP SHERLOCK”

 

John stopped at the base of the curving ramp and squinted up at the neatly-rendered sign. Beyond it, the ramp was festooned with brightly-colored ribbons and directional signs despite the fact there was nowhere to go other than to the open airlock in the side of the massive, gunmetal-blue starship. He pondered his motivations. Do I really want to leave everything I know behind, travel through space? Be alone except for a disembodied voice? Trying to solve the Stellar Union’s colonial problems? Is this what I trained for?

 

He dropped his duffel bag—the one he brought back from his last military sortie—and rubbed his left shoulder where he had been shot by a native on a particularly verdant world the Stellar Union had its beady little eyes fixed on. “Relocation of all indigenous peoples to areas of safety”, the edict had said. Translation: move the bloody savages out of the prime areas for exploiting planetary resources and building tract housing for human workers. Story old as time. It made John want to retch.

 

A couple of younger men in Union outfits, bright with promise and saucy as shit, sauntered up the ramp, full of themselves while casting a pitying eye on the forty-year-old Brawn with the cane. John had seen their ilk before. In the military, they’re called “cannon fodder”, the first to die in a dicey campaign. All swagger and no sense. Treated everything like a game. John had had to stitch up too many of them or sent them home in a shoebox to be patient with them.

 

“Bet you score this one, Andros. You and your slick ways with the Brains. Charm ‘em into thinking the sun rises and sets on your shoulder and you’re in for the long haul!” the beach-buff blond joked. His older (but not by much) friend elbowed him jovially.

 

“Sure, I’ll bet you I can sweet-talk my way into this job within half an hour, including time to warm up! Especially if it’s a female Brain.” He winked conspiratorially, then leaned in and said, faux sotto voce, “They’re all virgins, you know. Inexperienced and easy to manipulate with some manly wiles.” They both laughed as they walked away.

 

God.  That kind of Brawn could foul up a mission and end up endangering his Brain and the ship. Space Cowboys. That’s the last thing they need. Can’t let cavalier Brawns like them do the job.

 

That was the thought that forced John into a decision. Straightening his back and re-shouldering his duffel, he trudged up the lightly-sloping ramp as though he was headed into hostile territory, all senses on the alert. This was more than a job interview. This could end up being a partnership that could last for decades. Very possible he could die on this ship, either from an injury taken during a mission or at a ripe old age. Roll the dice and take your shot.

 

The least I can do is look around, speak with the Brain. It might be an interesting experience.

 

The air conditioned air hit him in the face with a bracing blast as he crossed the threshold of the airlock. It was quite a difference from the blazing heat outside. John looked around at the gleaming corridors outside the open inner door, wondering where everyone was. In an event like this, usually every Brawn within a hundred mile radius would be racing up that ramp to apply. Always more Brawns than Brains, and the Brains had the choice. The Brawns simply lived within the ship; the Brains were the ship.

 

A small, plate-like device with an antigrav unit on the bottom and a lens attached to the front glided up and hovered at eye level, as if scoping him out, before skimming away down the hall. It stopped just short of an L-juncture a few meters up the hallway and waggled itself back and forth, as if to say, “Come this way!” John ran his hand through his short, silver-gray hair, shrugged, and followed, limping with his cane, at a leisurely pace.

 

Once he had turned the corner, he could see a medium-sized chamber laid out before him, similarly decked out in ribbons and welcoming signs and indicating where the refreshments were. There was a lot of talking and laughter from the Brawns present, both male and female. In fact, he even saw Andros and his friend trying to hit on a couple of Brawn females, with varying degrees of success. Some Brawns were busy at the bar and buffet, indulging—or overindulging—in the food and drink offered.

 

John tilted his head, puzzled. All Brawn interviews were different. They could be conducted en masse or singly, depending on what the Brain preferred, but most did not provide the opportunity for a virtual bacchanalia. In fact, some of the aspirants were drunk, downright rowdy, and a bit raunchy. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and sucked on his lower lip as he scanned the room and considered the goings-on. The duffel was dropped in an unused corner, out of the way of some vomiting drunk or a couple looking for a soft place for a quick shag in some unused part of the ship.

 

An anomaly caught the prospective Brawn’s eye. Off to one side of the revelry was a solitary figure standing beside a thick post in the aft portion of the room, beside another man who appeared to be all business. The figure was tall and slender, in a uniform John did not recognize. John’s eyes widened in both astonishment and appreciation. The man looked to be about mid-thirties, with long, runner’s legs, curly dark hair cut into a halo that framed his angular face perfectly. The face was a study in contrasts; piercing, cat-like eyes bracketed a long, patrician nose with a slight upturn, and below that were the most voluptuous lips John had ever seen on man or woman. And those cheekbones! John unconsciously licked his lips. This man was to-die-for gorgeous.

 

Immediately on the heels of this discovery, another set of observations hit him. While this man was obviously very attractive and could have had any Brawn in the room, he stood aloof, arms crossed, taking in the proceedings without comment. By his posture and demeanor, John guessed that he was of a different cut than the others. His face was an impassive mask, yet John could see disapproval in those penetrating eyes as he observed the others. What the hell was he doing here amongst all these sybarites?

 

Those same observant eyes had turned to watch critically as John limped across the room toward the buffet, followed by a swivel of the tousled head. It was the only movement he had made in the ten minutes John had stood at the doorway, sizing up the competition. Dark brows knitted, creating a becoming line between them, and the corners of that lush mouth turned up, almost imperceptibly, at one corner.

 

John cast his eyes toward the slender man as he hobbled by. The other, obviously older man beside him, who stood propped up on an out-of-place umbrella, did not fail to notice his companion’s sudden attention. This man was decked out in a high-end, tailored suit, meaning he was probably private sector but was somehow affiliated with the fleet. The two bent their heads toward each other in quiet conference, the older man surreptitiously tilting his head inquiringly in John’s direction, while the taller man nodding in accord, both of them keeping their eyes on John.

 

Okay, this is getting a little creepy, John thought as he prepared himself a modest plate of food and a beer. Usually, during an interview, the Brawns will mingle with the Brain in the control room/living quarters in the fore of the ship, speaking into microphones embedded in the ceiling, since the Brain is contained within the ship itself and, therefore, never makes a physical presence. John always considered this form of address to be rude. The Brain was ever-present in the ship, never sleeping, always vigilant. Without the Brain, all ship processes would cease—oxygen generators and scrubbers would shut down, engines wouldn’t run, navigation would be off-line—basically the entire ship would be a rapidly cooling hunk of metal with a panic-stricken organism trapped in a metal tomb. It had happened, more than once. In consideration of this fact, John always felt that it was best to give the Brain all due respect and address him/her directly.

 

After finding a comfortable chair in the lounge, John took the time to chew his food thoughtfully as he watched the others cavorting. Every now and then, his eyes would stray to the striking man by the pillar. He still stood there, largely motionless; his eyes occasionally straying to where John was seated sipping his beer. Once, a young female Brawn threw herself, laughing, into his lap and flamboyantly wrapped her arms around his neck.

 

“Haven’t seen you at any of the Brawn interviews or get-togethers,” she slurred as she tried to run her fingers through his hair with one hand and down his shirt with the others. “I would have remembered someone like you.” She leaned in and whispered, “Hey, I know a good room with a bed not too far from here. How about you and I do the nasty while the Brain is making its decision?”

 

Now, John had a justified reputation in the military as a bit of a player when it came to the fairer sex (and the less-fair sex, when it came to it), but he refused to take advantage of an inebriated person for the sake of his own gratification. Besides, having seen the tall, dark-haired man by the door, his attention was definitely elsewhere.

 

He glanced over at the man and found him looking at him full-on, watching intently. His mercurial gray eyes were focused so sharply that John felt as though he was being dissected by lasers. The face was still largely impassive but there was a touch of displeasure there, too. Yet he never moved.

 

Deciding he had finally had enough of the young woman’s attempted seduction, John smiled politely and, gently but firmly, dumped her off his lap with an apology. When she tried to crawl back up, he told her that he had suffered an injury during one of his tours of duty which had resulted in the total decimation of his genitals. She looked horrified and apologized profusely, tripping over her words as she backed away and practically ran to the toilet room with her hand over her mouth.

 

Another glance and he was rewarded with an amused smile from the tall man, who hadn’t taken his eyes off John since the woman had accosted him. The man’s friend (associate?) seemed to have disappeared and the man stood alone. John smiled with satisfaction.

 

Good time to get to know you, gorgeous.

 

He set his plate and beer bottle aside and stood, pulling down the front of his uniform jacket and standing in full military posture, the better to impress his prey. The man nodded, smiling encouragement.

 

Good. He’s interested. Go for it, John.

 

As he limped across the room, not for the first time cursing his debilitated leg and cane, he caught sight of another male Brawn walking forward, briskly, intent upon intercepting the man before John did.  John’s heart sank. This man was obviously attractive, well built, and much younger than John. This wasn’t John’s first interview by any means, but he had been turned down a few times before because the Brain thought he wasn’t suitable for the position due to his age and injuries. It really depended on the duties of the ship. Some were mostly administrative or supervisory, not requiring a lot of physical activity. Some, however, like the exploration vessels, required much more. He didn’t even bother applying for those; he got tired of the pitying looks he got from the Brawns present.

 

The younger Brawn staggered up to the man by the door, obviously intoxicated, and attempted to put his arms around him. The man ordered him to stay away in a commanding baritone and imperious gesture, but the heedless Brawn continued to advance.  The tall man started to back away, a look of alarm on his face, and John could see his eyes seek out John’s, as if pleading for intervention.

 

John felt a sudden, inexplicable rush of protectiveness. He dropped his cane and sprinted forward the last couple of feet, his outstretched arm coming between the two men. He wrapped it around the Brawn’s chest and threw him backward, skidding across the metal floor. The young Brawn leapt to his feet, albeit unsteadily, and shouted a stream of invective at John that was so creative John just stood there taking mental notes. Then, before the Brawn could back up any of his drunken threats, several others came up and cajoled him into leaving for another party. The man paused at the door, flipped off the tall man, and yelled back, “I’ll tell Mr. M about this! You’ll never get another decent Brawn again! And you,” he pointed menacingly at John. “You’ll never get an assignment, old man!”

 

And, with that, he allowed his friends to drag him out, still blustering and posturing for their benefit.

 

John raised his eyebrows in mock appraisal of the threat.

 

“Not likely he can make my chances of getting an assignment any worse than they are,” he observed, turning back to the tall man. “After all, who wants a middle-aged Brawn with a bad leg?”

 

One dark, heavy brow arched. “What ‘bad leg’?” he asked, a smug little smile adorning his lips.

 

“Why, this…” John started before he realized what the other man was implying. He had thrown his cane aside and actually run to assist the man when he thought he was in danger. He looked down at his leg, shook it out, then looked up in startlement.

 

“I had deduced, when you entered the room, that the limp must be psychosomatic, because you seemed to lose track of it while standing still. As for your age, well, you seem to be able to take care of yourself due to your years of military service, especially that campaign on Plenitude, where you received your shoulder injury,” he replied, archly, looking down his long nose at the smaller man, who only came up to his eyes.

 

John waved his hands in frustration. “Wait a minute. How did you know about that? I came here on a whim. I didn’t submit an application and I don’t know anyone here! How…”

 

The man shrugged. “I have deduced that the location and damage pattern of the wound corresponds with a spearhead of the indigent Catao people of Plenitude, who were herded onto reservations for the enrichment of the MCore treasury. It was the only uprising in recent years that resulted in injuries to the invading party, mainly the medical corp, so you are probably a medic or physician. You are obviously left-handed, so a wound to that shoulder, in that spot, would create an involuntary tremor in the affected arm and hand, which I could not fail to notice.”

 

John’s mouth flatlined. “Yes, it ended my surgical career as well as my military one.”

 

Well, there it is, all out in the open. End of a career, and maybe the end of this one, as well.

 

“Ah! So I was correct!. You are a physician as well as a soldier! You have medical and combat skills! That explains the efficient way you handled that Brawn.”

 

He nodded grimly. “Yes.” Pause. “But how did you know what you’ve told me? That’s amazing!”

 

The handsome face of the tall man softened. His eyes met John’s and were no longer steel; they were liquid silver. “I observe, and I combine those observations with known facts to make deductions. Oh, I have an enormous database available to me, but this is far more entertaining.” He then proceeded to amuse John for the next hour with deductions about the various Brawns in the room and their proclivities.

 

Then it hit him. “That drunk…he said you’d never get another decent Brawn. Why? I mean, you can’t be…”

 

Amusement was rampant on the tall man’s beautiful face. He bowed slightly and said, “Oh, do forgive me! I must have forgotten to introduce myself. My name is Sherlock, and you are aboard my ship.”

Chapter Text

John’s jaw dropped perceptively. This man before him—this vision—was the Brain he had come here to interview with, and, yet, he had interfaced with no one else during the time John had been on board and had actually shrunk from the one person, besides himself, who had approached him.

 

Sherlock watched him thoughtfully. “You wonder why I haven’t spoken with any of the Brawns present other than yourself.”

 

Double-take. It was as though Sherlock could read his thoughts!

 

Sherlock peered down at John amiably and emitted a deep-voiced chuckle. “No, I can’t read your mind, but I do study human behavior and draw relevant conclusions. Your question was the next logical one to be presented, Doctor...”

 

John pulled himself up to his full height and replied, proudly, “I am Doctor John H. Watson, former Captain of the Northumberland Fusiliers, assigned to the Stellar Exploration Fleet.” He paused, then added, with a self-effacing smile, “But you may call me John.”

 

“John H. Watson,” Sherlock repeated, as though savoring the name. “What does the ‘H’ stand for?”

 

Nose wrinkled in mild disgust, John said, dismissively, “Just a middle name that I detest. I never use it except to differentiate myself from all the other ‘John Watson’s in the world, of which there are a fair number, I can assure you.”

 

Another deep chuckle, accompanied by a definite sparkle in the eyes. John decided that he definitely liked Sherlock. There was something unspoiled about him, open and honest. And he didn’t suffer fools lightly, as John discovered when another Brawn, seeing John in conversation with a man in a strange uniform, sought to ingratiate himself to someone who might be a superior officer who could do him favors. Sherlock lambasted the man with so many unflattering observations about his person and character that the Brawn slunk away and, shortly thereafter, left the ship entirely.

Sherlock tipped his head toward the departing Brawn. “I’m sure that one will quickly spread the word about his treatment at my hands, thereby reinforcing my prior reputation as being a “prickly” Brain. You will notice that no Brawn has approached me since you arrived.”

 

John nodded mutely. Sherlock smiled, obviously pleased with himself.

 

“To continue, I like to interview only the most outstanding Brawns, those who meet my…unique criteria. This lot,” he said with a sneer, “are only interested in partying and indulging themselves. The more impaired they become, the less they are of use to me. I need a Brawn of discipline, with a stout heart, and a high tolerance for my more abrasive characteristics. You see, John, I know how I can be, and I also know that none of these clods is suitable for the position.”

 

A sudden look of annoyance appeared on Sherlock’s perfect features. Before John could inquire, Sherlock’s face went blank and his movements stopped, as though he was carved of stone. After a few seconds, however, he re-animated, a satisfied little smile adorning his full lips.

 

“Please forgive me for the interruption, John. A couple of Brawns had made their way to the bedroom and were attempting to copulate on my clean sheets. I treated them to a blast from the firefighting equipment and they were forced to retreat. Another story for the Brawns to spread about me.” He leaned forward diffidently. “But there are so many already…”

 

John was puzzled. “Doesn’t that bother you? That they have given you such a bad reputation?”

 

Anger flitted across the chiseled face before it was carefully schooled again. In a quiet but deadly serious voice, Sherlock said, “No one gave me this reputation, John. I earned it.”

 

At this juncture, John was beginning to wonder what he had walked into. Is this Brain insane? Criminal? Psychopathic? My God, what happened to his previous Brawn?

 

The polite smile was back, only, this time, it went all the way up to his eyes, wreathing his thin face in laugh lines.

 

“You look frightened, John. Do you think that I murdered my previous Brawns? Dumped one out an airlock? Turned off the oxygen scrubbers and watched as another writhed and suffocated on his own CO2?” A little chuckle. “No, certainly not, John. My last Brawn and I parted on amicable terms. Victor was badly injured during one of our investigations and was unable to fulfill his contract, although, I’m sure, the Brawns have expanded and embellished the tale to Odyssean proportions.”

 

John sagged just a bit in relief

 

 Sherlock cocked his head becomingly and stated, “You also wonder how I could be standing here talking to you when I am merely a disembodied brain within a shell.”

 

John nodded without comment, anticipation writ large on his face.

 

“Well, my brother is rather high up in the Stellar Union’s hierarchy, despite his own denials of such, so he arranged for me to receive a prototype holographic projection system, which you can see tacked to the ceiling.” He pointed upward to a spider-web of wires, junction boxes, and projectors above their heads. “Not neatly done, but I will attend to that at a later date. As it is, it was difficult to get it installed in time for me to learn to use it, so my movements are still a bit…stilted. Full mobility will come with time and practice, I’m sure,” he added, confidently.

 

“And your ‘physical’ appearance? Did you choose that, or…”

 

A nose ruffle seemed to glitch across his high-boned face. “No. This is what I would look like at my current age, according to DNA studies done before I…transitioned.” The smile drifted away, leaving him  looking pensive and slightly sad.

 

John took an unconscious step forward, reaching out in a gesture of concern and compassion. Sherlock’s eyes immediately snapped to his face, undoubtedly due to sensor readings of his movement. It was a very…human gesture, and a very human expression of softness before the face tightened up again.

 

John took a chance. “May I ask, why did you transition?”

 

Sherlock looked away for a moment, as he seemed to be framing his words. Finally, he looked back at John and said, “I was born with an anomalous neurological condition that caused progressive deterioration of the peripheral nervous system. As I aged, it began to ravage my body until, ultimately, I would have been paralyzed in all but mind. Eventually, everything would have stopped functioning until I died of complete body failure.”

 

“My God, that’s terrible,” John opined before realizing he had spoken that aloud, then swiftly backpedaled.”I’m sorry, I mean…”

 

“I know what you mean, John. It’s okay. I’m not offended. In fact, I’m glad you’re honest and speak your mind. Too many other Brawns would tiptoe around the question and are, therefore, annoying and of no use to me. I prefer to know where I stand with someone.”

 

At this time, the older man with the umbrella and the thinning hairline reappeared at Sherlock’s side with a questioning look. John hadn’t even noticed he’d left before approaching, but Sherlock rounded on him in anger. “Where did you go, Mycroft? I was almost attacked by a drunken Brawn and only this fine man came to my succor!”

 

The older man rolled his eyes eloquently as he replied, “Oh, really, Sherlock, don’t be so overly dramatic! Your ‘body’ is made of photons and sensor equipment. He couldn’t have touched you if he’d tried. Besides, some of us have to visit the loo from time to time.” He smiled one-sidedly. “The price we pay for being fully carnate.”

 

“Hmph, your problem, not mine,” Sherlock muttered, before regaining his calm, with a certain haughtiness thrown in for good measure. “At least we know the holographic system works up to spec. I obviously appear to be quite solid to any observer.”

 

“Except that you leave no shadow,” Mycroft replied, laconically. “Bad observation skills on their part.” He tapped the ferrule of his umbrella on the floor where a shadow would normally fall.

 

Sherlock shrugged. “Well, that’s on them, then.” He turned his attention back to John with a pleased little smile. “So, John, did you think that my little charade passed muster?”

 

John nodded vigorously. “Oh, indeed! It was quite convincing! I thought you were an official or a new rank of Brawn or something! Your facial expressions, especially, are superb!”

 

“Thank you,” Sherlock purred, his deep baritone becoming even richer in its lower tones. “I prioritized learning how to express emotion facially before turning to the gross physical motions.”

 

“Yes,” Mycroft sighed, shifting his umbrella so that he could lean against it one-handed. “Babies do need to learn facial expressions before walking, don’t they? And you more than most.”

 

The entire hologram rippled for a moment and tinted red. Mycroft watched with a tiny smirk of satisfaction, as if he had just one-upped the Brain.

 

The image finally stabilized but Sherlock’s expression was still distorted, though by emotion rather than any error in the projection.

 

“Do shut up, Mycroft,” he spat, eyes slitted and brows knitted in anger. “I am not a baby, so don’t treat me like one!”

 

“Fine. Then stop acting like one, little brother,” Mycroft continued on, blandly, although the rebuke did seem to sting for a microsecond.”You are the baby of the family, remember, and you were struck down so very young…”

 

“I was still old enough to have learned some things before…” Suddenly, Sherlock pulled up short, composing himself. “Company coming up the ramp.” He then turned to Mycroft and whispered angrily, “Well, at least I didn’t go Eurus’ route, now, did I?”

 

Mycroft looked stricken for a few moments, then likewise re-composed himself. “Ye-e-es, no need to bring that up in front of company, Sherlock,” he replied in a calm, quiet voice. He turned his attention to the entry door. “Now, who would be showing up this late in the day?”

 

Mycroft’s eyes slid momentarily toward Sherlock, who was frozen in place with a blank look. “Hmm, not good, from the looks of things. He normally is able to multitask better than this,” he stated as he turned his attention to John, who had been taking all this in without comment. “Preparing something special for our new guest, if I’m any judge.” He smirked. “Which, of course, I am.”

 

The party had continued in the background this whole time, quite disregarded by the three men, yet they, themselves, had been observed by the attending Brawns, who had begun to trickle out, by ones and twos, muttering amongst themselves that the Brain must have made his choice already, but why such an old Brawn…?

 

There was a sudden commotion in the hallway. Some of the departing Brawns were backing into the room and opening the way for one small man in a pricy, trendy black suit and slicked-back dark hair who less walked than oiled his way into the room, followed by two hefty men--apparently bodyguards, if their tack was any indication. The Brawns had bowed their heads slightly in greeting or respect, but there was fear there, too. It was the fear that made the small man smile, John surmised. Power junkie. Loves control. Compensating for his small stature and, possibly, a small dick as well. John chuckled silently to himself.

 

“Moriarty,” Mycroft hissed as John turned his head to look. “I was hoping he was out of town on some mission or other for his company. I do hope Sherlock won’t over-react.” He gazed at the frozen hologram—no, past it, to the pillar beyond—and continued, “A vain hope, of course, but, one can always dream.”

 

As the man called Moriarty swaggered over to their little group, John couldn’t help but notice how the entire party had suddenly cleared out en masse after his entrance, accompanied by a hushed murmur and the sound of rapidly-retreating boots, until the ship was echoingly empty. It wasn’t a large ship; it wasn’t meant to be. Enough room for a Brain pillar, Brawn living and sleeping quarters, a kitchen and bathroom, a small clinic, a research lab, and the requisite controls and diagnostics to maintain the ship, as well as propulsion, food storage and production, and life-support areas. Easy mobility and nimble speed, unlike the big cruisers.

 

“Well, well, well. Hello, Mr. Holmes,” he said, bowing slightly toward Mycroft, who nodded back, his face a cordial mask. “Sherlock.” He bowed again, this time to the pillar. The hologram still didn’t move and there was no reply. Moriarty shook his head in mock dismay. “Tch, tch, so rude, Sherlock. Same old thing every time. Why can’t we be friends, eh?” He advanced on the pillar, arms spread wide in preparation for an embrace.

 

Two aerobatic drones appeared promptly, similar to the one that had led John to the party. They hovered at about shoulder level but out of arm’s reach of Moriarty or his goons, each with an extended, delicate, mechanical arm with a sharp tip, pointed at Moriarty. They positioned themselves between him and the pillar. A deep, angry voice boomed out of hidden speakers placed around the room, making them rattle slightly.

 

“Try it, Moriarty. Please. You know the rules—no one approaches or touches the pillar unless they are invited to do so by the Brain or the Brain is in physical distress and requires shell maintenance. All others may be dealt with as the Brain sees fit.” A spark discharged at the tips of the drone arms. “This is how I see fit.”

 

Moriarty lowered his arms as a wave of annoyance washed over his face.

 

“Don’t bother using your ‘Voice of God’ with me, Sherlock. I don’t intimidate, as you well know.” Then, draping his narrow face with a greasy smile and feigned innocence, he asked, “Why all the hostility, my dear friend? What have I ever done to you to…”

 

The drones sparked again. “I have a list, Moriarty. Mycroft has a file. All have to do with you and your goings-on. You nearly killed my last Brawn because of your most recent assignment. You gave us insufficient information about the socio-religious structure of that community, which resulted in Victor being seriously injured to the point where I had to intervene…personally.”

 

John vaguely wondered how a disembodied brain had managed that feat, but continued listening intently while keeping himself as inconspicuous as possible.

 

Moriarty rocked back and forth on his heels, a bland smile adorning his darkly-handsome features. “Yes, as I recall, you flaunted protocol for your Brawn. Policy dictated that you leave him there and call for another Brawn to extract him. Naughty, naughty!”

 

A ripple went through the frozen hologram again, the same red tint as before.

 

“He would have died, Moriarty. He would have died on my watch…”

 

“And that doesn’t happen to the great Sherlock Holmes, does it? Plenty of Brawns die on missions. It’s an acceptable risk…”

 

“To you, maybe, but not to me. Brawns die…”

 

Moriarty’s face changed, contorted with anger, eyes flashing, as he spat, “BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT BRAWNS DO! They die for the mission, they die to protect their Brain, they die because they’re stupid and incompetent and every reason under the sun. They’re BRAWNS! A dime a dozen, the lot of them. Only the smart ones survive,” he finished, enormously pleased with himself. “Only we survive, Sherlock.” He tilted his head disparagingly in John’s direction. “And the lucky few, however undeserving.”

 

Before anyone could react to that statement, Moriarty seemed to notice the hologram standing next to the pillar for the first time. He took one step toward it and the drones shifted, coming between him and the image in a protective manner. He scowled and backed up before eyeing up Sherlock’s avatar.

 

“Very nice, Sherlock. I must say, you would have been more attractive than even I suspected from your DNA track. Imagine what life would be like if you were fully human, eh? No longer just a brain in a shell, with cameras for eyes, and microphones for ears and sensors for…well, I needn’t go on. You get my drift. You could be physical again. I could help with that,” he finished, diffidently, checking out his manicure with studied nonchalance.

 

Mycroft stepped forward, between the drones, and stated, flatly, “My brother is not interested in your assistance, Moriarty. He’s perfectly content as he is.”

 

“Is he, now?” Moriarty returned, his attitude all smugness and self-congratulations as he leaned in ever-so-slightly and said, “I suspect Sherlock would enjoy it immensely. Especially the sex. Such passion for a disembodied brain!”

 

The hologram suddenly sprung to life and eyed Moriarty with full suspicion. “Yes, of course, Moriarty. And how would I pay for this wonderfulness? It’s cheaper to buy my ship than to get a 3-D printed body these days. Only for the very rich and the very decadent.”

 

Moriarty smirked openly. “Well, you know, I could arrange for a…loan that you could pay off in a leisurely manner. I would be very liberal with the terms. There would only be a few requirements…”

 

The hologram paused, as if considering the offer, then raised its right hand to its face to “scratch” its nose with its middle finger. The ensuing quirk about the lips said the rest. “Somehow, I think I would find the requirements intolerable. Something along the lines of sexual slavery, I would think.”

 

John’s spine straightened spasmodically. No way. Fucking no way I would allow this bastard to compromise Sherlock like that…

 

John stepped forward for the first time and stood next to Mycroft. The drones parted slightly to allow the intrusion. He stood at parade rest, chin elevated in challenge. This was not lost on Moriarty.

 

He clapped his hands together in glee. “Ooh, another player enters the ring! The crippled Brawn. Where’s your cane…oh, I see it all the way over there! What, meeting Sherlock has miraculously cured your ailment? What other magical powers does our dear Brain possess? I’d love to find out!” He leered openly at the hologram.

 

That did it. John stepped forward, between the drones, ignoring the warning “John!” from Sherlock. He stood toe-to-toe with Moriarty, ignoring his bodyguards who had started forward but stopped at a gesture from Moriarty. There was a genial smile on John’s thin lips that indicated amusement and…something else. Something darker, more dangerous. Moriarty’s own smile faltered a bit.

 

“You heard Sherlock. He’s not interested. So, why don’t you take your playmates and go offer someone else servitude to your whims.” He waved toward the door and continued, “Go on. Get out. Scram. Beat it before I tire of our lovely conversation and kick your arse to the door.”

 

One bodyguard, against orders, moved toward John and he tensed, waiting for the first blow. It never came. Instead, the burly man dropped to the floor, moaning in pain, after one of the drones had delivered a high-charge electric spark to the man’s privates. John grinned. Sherlock was a dirty fighter.

 

Moriarty took scant notice. Instead, he addressed John.

 

“So, you’re now Sherlock’s white knight, are you? Do you know the penalty for threatening the head of MCore?”

 

Sherlock “cleared his throat” and stated, without emotion, “Actually, John is my new Brawn and, as such, is covered by the Brain/Brawn Mutual Protection Act. If he feels I am being threatened, he has every right to react as he sees fit. After all,” he added with a touch of malice, “one does not threaten a Brain lightly. Too much money and time invested in us. The error would be yours, Moriarty.”

 

John smiled broadly, and even Mycroft indulged in a little quirk of the lip.

 

Moriarty was seething. He pointed one short, well-manicured finger at the pillar and hissed, “You think you’ve gotten the better of me, do you? I’ve tolerated your insolence and outright aggression against me and my company for the last time. I’m going to burn you, Sherlock!”

 

Laconically, “You can try, Moriarty. And you will fail.”

 

Turning his attention to John and Mycroft, Moriarty stated, “If he thinks he can hide behind you two, he has another think or two coming. Get in my way, and I’ll burn you, too!”

 

Mycroft tapped his umbrella on the floor for attention. Moriarty’s eyes zipped over to him as he said, without rancor, “It is very unwise of you to threaten me inside my brother’s ship, you know. I’m sure there is a recording of all this, isn’t there, brother mine?”

 

“Oh, most assuredly, there is,” the baritone replied. “I will upload it to a safe place as soon as he leaves. Which should be about ten seconds ago.”

 

And, with that, the drones powered into movement, stinging the bodyguards into retreating while John stepped continuously forward, forcing a newly-unprotected Moriarty to retreat reluctantly. At the doorway, he stopped and pointed at the pillar again. “I won’t forget this treatment, Sherlock!”

 

“I’m sure you won’t, and I wouldn’t want you to, so here’s a little parting gift from me. John?”

 

John stepped back as a spray of fire-suppressant foam jetted from the ceiling onto Moriarty’s clean, well-pressed suit. Moriarty backed up, screaming obscenities, until he was out of the ship. The outer airlock door slammed emphatically.

 

After a moment to take it all in, John doubled over in laughter, tears leaking from his eyes. He swung around and said, “That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen! You’re a madman, you know that? A complete and total idiot for pissing off the head of a major corporation like that!”

 

One could almost feel Sherlock’s smugness. Unfortunately, it was not shared by Mycroft, who simply stated,” He’s serious, you know. He won’t stop until he’s hurt you, seriously.”

 

There was a shrug in the air. “As I said, he can try. Oh, and, by the way, John…Welcome aboard.”

 

John straightened his shoulders, saluted the pillar, and smiled. “Thank you, Sherlock. I’ll do you proud.”

 

A pause, and then, softly, “You already have.”

Chapter Text

Same Ship, Different Day

 

“There must be something I can do, Sherlock!” John practically shouted at the unresponsive pillar at the center of the control cabin. The sound of violin music continued unabated.

 

Nothing. Nada. Zip from the brain enclosed within.

 

John was beginning to feel quite bored and a bit peevish at this point. He stalked over to the pillar and gave it three sharp raps. “Hey! Wakey, wakey in there!”

 

An aerodrone swooped down from the ceiling and hovered in front of John’s face. He prepared to be sparked due to Sherlock’s anger but, instead, the delicate arm extended itself in front of John’s nose and waggled its tip like an admonishing finger. Don’t do it, John.

 

Shit. So he’s not completely ignoring me…

 

He raised his hand to knock again, just out of spite, when…

 

“Really, John, I did warn you yesterday that sometimes I don’t talk for days on end. You said you were OK with that,” Sherlock’s moderated tone emanated from the speaker nearest John. “I also told you that I compose and play violin music while I’m thinking…”

 

John rubbed the back of his head and said, “Well, that’s all fine and good when I have something to do as well, but you’ve locked the ship down, with the exception of the restocking and maintenance crews required for our next mission. You’ve even blocked incoming transmissions…”

 

Sherlock huffed. “Yes, well, it’s all for the best, really, John. We can’t take a chance on Moriarty sending some malware into the system that will compromise my functions, and you really don’t need to hear his rantings. He’s quite mad, you know. Even Mycroft is screening him out, which is just adding fuel to the fire.”

 

“Hmph.” John plopped himself down in the pilot chair at the front console, an area used only when the Brain is out of commission or sufficiently impaired that it must be shut down and isolated from the functions of the ship. It has happened, unfortunately. I really need to review this system. He idly flipped a few toggles and buttons until Sherlock admonished him for doing so.

 

“John. You’re annoying me. Stop it.” A pause, then, in a gentler voice, “Please.”

 

John sighed in frustration. “Could you, at least, send for some reading material or vids for me to amuse myself with while we’re waiting for restocking to finish?”

 

A moment of quiet, then Sherlock said, “Yes, I think that would be acceptable. Are there any interests or hobbies? Preferred media?”

 

John nodded thankfully. “Yes, action/adventure films, horror movies, military history, recent medical publications…”

 

“Yes, yes, yes, I will have them chosen for you based on your psychological profile and delivered as quickly as possible. Would later today be acceptable?”

 

“Great! At least I’ll have something to do besides go mildly crazy.”

 

Silence.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“Hmm? Oh, sorry, John, I was making the selections you requested. Oh, and, John…?”

 

“Yes?”

 

There was a sorrow in the deep baritone as Sherlock said, “I apologize for keeping you a virtual prisoner here, in the ship. I simply fear that Moriarty might attempt to take his revenge on me by starting on you. He might even try to handicap you in earnest this time, just to get at me. He’s done worse to others.”

 

John was amazed. “Surely, you must be joking!”

 

There was a huff in the voice. “I’m not joking, and don’t call me Sherly.”

 

After a beat, they both burst out laughing. “God, that is an old joke!” John snorted.

 

Sherlock giggled. “Yes, but one perfectly adapted for me, don’t you think?”

 

“Absolutely!”

 

>>>***<<<

 

John had retired to his bedroom and was sorting through his meager belongings. He had always travelled light in the military and saw no reason to change now. The room provided him with plenty of space and enough dressers and closets for a good-sized wardrobe. Currently, it looked as though he had just moved into a college dorm room. Sherlock had procured some bookcases for John’s new entertainment collection because, as he stated flatly, he couldn’t help John put up shelves. John simply shrugged and got to work.

 

Supplies were almost completely loaded by morning when John woke up to a surprising quiet aboard ship, The usual clanking of machinery loading the holds and the constant trudging of technicians—all duly checked out by Sherlock before entry and monitored closely while inside—had slowed to a trickle. Sherlock himself was directing the placement of last-minute items, some of which were taken into John’s bedroom as he exited it and walked down the short hallway by the airlock to the great room.

 

John was astonished when he entered the room, with its curving control panel at the forefront and its dominating pillar in the center, to find it had been redecorated while he slept. There were comfy, neutral-toned chairs, with a warm-looking, colorful afghan thrown over the arm of one piece. Crane-necked lamps were located at spots convenient for reading, and a plate of biscuits sat enticingly on the side table next to an overstuffed chair, where a single, large pillow bearing the flag of Great Britain was resting in a corner.

 

“Incredible!” John burst out, turning to take in all the changes. There was artwork on the walls that fit his taste to a T. The walls had even been stenciled—or wallpapered, he couldn’t tell from where he stood—with an old Victorian flower pattern in black and white. There was even a faux fireplace against the aft wall, flanked by the two chairs, as well as a charming reddish-brown rug on the floor in front of the hearth. John found himself grinning so hard his face hurt. This…was beautiful. This was home.

 

“What do you think, John?” Sherlock’s soft voice came from overhead, modulated so as not to startle John, who shook his head in disbelief.

 

“It’s amazing, Sherlock. You’re amazing!” He took in the changes in the room again and sighed. “I’ve never had anyone go out of their way for me like this.” He turned his face toward the pillar and said, simply, “Thank you.”

 

John could swear that he felt a shiver run through the ship, but it must have been a piece of equipment jostling the frame.

 

“Are you hungry, John? I have biscuits by the chair and a kitchen full of food based on your preferences and nutritional requirements. I have also had all the filters and recyclers switched out for newer, more efficient models that should make your stay a bit more comfortable.”

 

“Unbelievable,” John breathed. He ambled over to the chair. His leg didn’t seem to bother him at all any more--another Sherlockian miracle—and he hefted the afghan, slinging it around his shoulders and burrowing into it. “Mmm, so warm.”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “Space is a cold, unforgiving place, and even with all my equipment running, it can still get a bit nippy in here. The fireplace is also a functioning heater with a simulated fire interface. I wanted this to be someplace you would want to…stay…” The last word faded off, as if reconsidered.

 

John laughed. “No need to worry about that, Sherlock. This…this is the best place I’ve ever lived.”

 

Softly. “I’m glad. Please, sit down and be comfortable.” After a pause, Sherlock asked, conversationally, “May I ask, what was your childhood like? You don’t need to tell me if…”

 

John raised his hand deflectingly. “No, no, Sherlock, it’s fine. I don’t mind,” he said as he positioned himself in the overstuffed comfy chair with the afghan draped around his shoulders. He nibbled a biscuit. “God. Delicious.”

 

That smug air again. “Mrs. Hudson. She worked at the “Brain Farm” when I was younger and took a bit of a shine to me. Always bakes my Brawns her special biscuits whenever I make planetfall. A dear woman, now a bit up there in years, but she still comes to visit every now and then. So, John, do, please, go on.”

 

John politely finished swallowing his biscuit before speaking. “Well, it wasn’t much to write home about, I can tell you that. My father was a Major in the SA military—hard-arse, career man, you know the type.”

Sherlock hummed agreement.

 

“He was injured in some sortie or other on a developing planet. Might have even been for MCore when it was run by Moriarty’s father, I’m not sure, but one of those big companies. Clear out the natives so the corporations could move in. He was stabbed by a cheiftain’s long knife and required multiple surgeries after evacuation. He became addicted to painkillers, then to alcohol when the pills didn’t help by themselves anymore. Royally pissed he was that he’d had to give up his career and settle for a measly pension, what with a wife and two kids to support.”

 

John’s eyes unfocused as he continued. If Sherlock noticed, he said nothing. “Mom was the first to get it from him. He’d beat and abuse her every day because of his own anger and self-disgust. She left when I was about ten—ran as far as she could to get away from him. Tried to take us with her, but he threatened to kill her if she did. I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Then he started on my sister, Harry. She took on Mum’s role of taking care of the family, so he turned his anger on her. When she came out as a lesbian, he kicked her out of the house and called her an unnatural whore. That’s when he started on me.”

 

There was complete silence in the great room. Even the sound of machinery and workers had disappeared, so John was surprised when a dronebot appeared next to him bearing a glass of clear, sparkling water. He grasped the glass and muttered, “Ta”, before taking a refreshing sip. It helped.

 

“I’m sorry, John,” Sherlock whispered. “If I had known this would be so hard for you…”

 

“No! No, it…it’s not, Sherlock. Really,” John denied, but his voice sounded a tad shaky, even to his own ears. He took another swallow, then continued, “Yeah, well, I had always been a good student, and I had taken a lot of advanced placement courses on my curriculum, so I got a scholarship to go to pre-med at uni before the usual age. I was really, really motivated to do that. Didn’t have many friends, but I didn’t care. Got me out of the house and away from the old bastard, and that’s all I wanted at that point. Another scholarship and some grants and I became a doctor. I tried going into practice, but it was so incredibly boring that I thought about going Dad’s route—a career in the military. It worked out pretty well for me, considering, until that excursion on Plenitude.”

 

He drew a shaky breath and took another sip of water. “While I was healing from my injuries, I learned about the Exploration Corp. Said they needed professionals in the sciences, so I figured I’d take a chance.” He looked sideways, toward the central pillar, and toasted with his glass. “And here I am.”

 

John could almost feel Sherlock nodding in response. “I’m ever so glad you decided to try it, John. I think you and I will get along quite well. Most may consider me a bit of a bastard, but others…not so much.”

 

John dipped his head and smirked to himself before re-engaging again.

 

“So, Sherlock. You’ve heard my tale of woe. Tell me about yourself.”

 

“I believe I already have. Degenerative disease, transition, training, ship. Do keep up, John.”

 

Stifling a chuckle, John continued, “No, no, well, yes, you did tell me that, but what was that aside about…yourris?”

 

“Ah, you mean Eurus…”

 

“That’s what I said, you wanker.”

 

Sherlock startled John with a loud, hearty laugh. “’Wanker’,” he guffawed. “Not in the least likely, John. I seem to be somewhat…lacking in that area.”

 

John finally realized what he had said and joined in on the laughter. He waved his hands in the air. “Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to…”

 

“That’s all right, John. I haven’t had a good laugh in…God, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good laugh like that before.”

 

John grinned widely, pleased that he had shared such a moment with his usually-austere Brain.

 

“So. Eurus,” John prompted.

 

A gust of wind from the ventilation system sounded like a sigh. “Yes, my sister. She was a year older than me, and seven years younger than Mycroft. Fortunately, both of them were free of the neurological  condition that afflicted me.” He chuckled to himself. “I’m also considered the idiot of the family.”

 

John was astounded. “You? But I’ve been reading your research papers and your blog. You’re brilliant! Some of your discoveries in organic chemistry have been groundbreaking!”

 

The temperature of the room seemed to rise a few degrees as Sherlock responded, “Thank you, John. That’s not the usual response to my work.”

 

John’s brows knit. “It’s not? You should be lauded by the scientific community!”

 

A snort of air from the vents. “You forget my reputation for being “prickly”. I’ve had arguments with other scientists who believe that my work, generated as it is by a Brain, is less than valid. Discrimination takes many forms, John.”

 

“So, what do they usually say?” John prodded.

 

“Piss off.”

 

John burst into laughter. “Well, that shows just how idiotic they are. Underestimating you is a mistake, I think.”

 

A worker in a red jumpsuit with an insignia on the left breast walked up to John and smartly saluted. John nodded.

 

“Are you the ships’ Brawn, sir?”

 

“No, he’s my secret lover and we’re eloping. Of course, he’s my Brawn. Do you think I’d treat anyone else like this?” Sherlock remarked, dryly.

 

The tech looked confused until John chimed in, “Yes, I am. Ignore him. He suffers from Smart Arse Syndrome.” A blast of cold air ruffled his hair where he sat. “Now, what can I do for you?”

 

The tech shifted feet before saying, “We’re done with the requested upgrades and maintenance. There are some new additions to the Brain’s…oh, nevermind, my mistake. Sign here, sir, and we’ll be on our way.”

 

John signed the proferred form, a copy of which became part of the ship’s database, and waved the man away. He saluted smartly once again, turned on his heel, and quick-time marched out of the room before Sherlock could do something unpleasant to him, just on general principles.

 

“That was rude, Sherlock,” John noted.

 

Another snort of air. “One of many unimaginative drones required to keep the ship running up to my standards. Intelligence need not apply.” A moment of silence. “Hmmm, seems they’ve added some nutrients to my vital fluids. Excellent. I’ve been feeling a bit drained lately. This should help.”

 

A sense of excitement overcame John as he leaned forward, looked at the pillar, and said, “Does that mean we’re ready to go?”

 

“Seems to.”

 

“Do we have a new assignment yet?”

 

Silence.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“Something’s coming in now. Let me peruse it and I’ll give you the gist.”

 

John waited patiently, leaning back in his chair with the afghan comfortably weighing down his shoulders. Taking up a remote on the table next to him, he activated the fireplace and basked in the simulated glow and real heat the device through off. He was so comfortable that he actually started to doze.

 

“John!”

 

John started awake.

 

“Yeah? What is it, Sherlock?”

 

“We’re being sent off on a collection mission. Seems the natives of this planet have some plant extracts which, if this report can be believed, can regrow body parts!”

 

John was instantly galvanized with excitement. “Body parts? Entire limbs, or just hands or feet? Can it grow other body parts?”

 

“Unknown. A medico stated he watched over several days as a man’s hand regrew from a fresh amputation at the wrist. The hand was almost fully functional when he had to leave. What an incredible advance that would be! Imagine, John, no more need for expensive 3D printed body parts or prosthetics! Regrowing entire nervous systems affected by injury or disease!”

 

John smiled. This was Sherlock in full investigative mode and he was seeing it for the first time. Such enthusiasm! John wouldn’t have believed that a Brain could have such a range of emotions, lacking, as they did, physical and hormonal support for such emotions. But, then again, the human mind is so much more than the brain it inhabits…

 

“Get ready, John. We’ll be taking off in twenty minutes. It will take me that long to get the engines and antigravs fired up and life-support at optimum for space.”

 

John mock-saluted. “Yes, sir, Captain Sherlock!”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “Actually, between you and me, John, I always wanted to be Pirate Captain Sherlock!”

Chapter Text

 

The engines whined into life and John could feel the warm air circulating faster, almost as though Sherlock was as excited to go as he was. John had never been able to actually enjoy a take-off before; grunts and medicos alike were always relegated to the belly of the transport ship, holding on for dear life as some hot-shot Brain who had delusions of being a Top Gun shot out of the launch cradle on full thrusters rather than using the antigravs to lift up first. Everyone either ended up hanging perpendicular to the floor or lying in a writhing heap in the rear of the hold, cursing and screaming.

 

This was different. As the engines gained momentum, the fore screens blinked into life, showing the spaceport around them as the launch cradle tilted backward, pointing the ship’s nose skyward. John settled himself back into the pilot chair, awaiting the crushing weight of take-off, when another sound joined in; a delicate thrum that preceded the sensation of being held in place very gently, as though in a lover’s arms. He could feel the ship rise up slightly before the engines began their push against the thrust panel located at the back of the launch cradle.

 

The launch was smooth and effortless, like a ride at an amusement park. John thrilled to the sensation of speed and power as the ship rocketed through the clouds, which leant themselves to some of the most beautiful colors John had ever seen as they ascended. He was enthralled and found himself laughing out loud at the sheer joy of it.

 

A sudden persistent beep garnered his attention. The Lidar screen indicated a blip headed their way, on a direct collision course with Sherlock. John curled his hand reflexively around the joystick that had been conveniently placed on his left armrest—thank you, Sherlock, for noticing—but the ship made a minor course correction and the object soared harmlessly beneath them.

 

“Arsehole,” Sherlock muttered, conversationally. “We have right of way. Probably just sent as an annoyance by Moriarty. No one but the greenest of pilots would be so inattentive or so reckless.”

 

The intercom crackled into life on an override frequency. “Bye bye, Sherly! Maybe I’ll see you later, maybe I won’t!” followed by maniacal laughter.

 

“He’s insane,” Sherlock sighed. “I’m so sorry I got you involved with him, John. He’ll make your life as miserable as possible, thanks to me.”

 

John blew through his lips dismissively. “I’ve dealt with worse than that spoiled brat. I once had a big, burly soldier in the Corps call me a raving poofta and come after me. I clocked him and fractured his jaw. Never had to deal with him again.”

 

“I see,” Sherlock mused. “Did that happen more than once? Being called out like that?”

 

John shrugged. “Not that often. I told him I’m not actually gay, but he didn’t seem to believe me.”

 

Thoughtful silence. Then, “I can’t help but note the word ‘actually’ A qualifier.”

 

A tiny half-smile touched John’s face. “A topic for another time, Sherlock. Now, is there anything that I need to know? Like, why can’t I move?”

 

“Inertial dampeners. Latest model. Didn’t want you to be squashed into a pancake on take-off.”

 

A nod. “Thanks. Much appreciated. So unlike my old medico days.”

 

“Yes, I’ve heard horror stories about those. I prefer a more…balletic launch. It demonstrates control and agility much more than simply powering out.”

 

John’s eyebrow rose and he smirked. “Balletic? Do you like ballet?”

 

“Why, yes, actually, I do,” Sherlock replied, nonchalantly. “I admire the discipline, as well as the beauty and grace, it embodies. Far preferable to two teams bashing each other’s heads in.”

 

John cleared his throat uncomfortably and stated, “Well, just so you know, I was on the rugby team at uni…”

 

“And I’m sure you cut an impressive figure in your uniform. Considering your height and build, you must have been both agile and powerful on the field.”

 

This observation took John aback. It almost sounded as though Sherlock was…flirting with him. Complimenting him in ways only his girlfriends would have.

 

“Uh, thank you, Sherlock, and, ah, you’re right…”

 

“Oh, no need to feel awkward, John. I told you, I like to observe and deduce, and I simply state what is staring me right in the face. I’m not ‘coming on’ to you, as you apparently believed, based on your body language. I can assure you that, other than the trace amounts of sex hormones secreted by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands around age 12, I am as asexual as any disembodied brain.”

 

A thought struck John.

 

“Wait. If you are asexual, then why did Moriarty offer to make you a body? That wouldn’t make you any more sexual than you are now. Seems rather pointless.”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “Ah, John, if I could answer that question, I would. All I can think is that, at some point, Moriarty saw my DNA track and felt lust for my appearance. That, and he’s always taken an interest in my research work and has said, upon a number of occasions, that he considers me to be his intellectual equal and that we should join forces. This, of course, is a repellant notion. I follow the course of pure research while he works for self-enrichment. In that, if nothing else, we are nemeses.”

 

The drag of acceleration began to lessen until it ceased entirely, as the sky transitioned to black. All parts of the ship were now equally in motion. Without a sound, the dampeners switched off, allowing John to get out of his chair and move around comfortably, but he didn’t leave the control panel. He leaned until his hands rested on a flat surface, gazing out into the darkness of space—beautiful stars, clearer than anywhere on Earth, glittered like tiny LED’s against the dark, unrelieved by color other than the roiling ball of the Sun, off to one side. It would soon be behind them as they sailed out of the Solar System toward a new adventure as Brain and Brawn.

 

>>>***<<<

 

It had been an uneventful few days outbound. John found Sherlock to be genial company and, unlike those earlier days, quite chatty. They discussed a wide variety of topics, even though Sherlock had likened his brain to a hard drive that only had a limited amount of space on it for only the most important of things.  John was actually amused when Sherlock told him that, once he had entered the information required into the nav computer, he had deleted the Solar System from his memory. “Unnecessary to store information in my memory that can be stored off-site”, he expanded, haughtily. “My brain space is far too important for such trivia.”

 

John had found ship life very conducive to routine. He awoke every 24 hours in his Sherlock-decorated bedroom—with a lovely quilt and matching paint on the walls, a few homey touches here and there—and usually found breakfast waiting for him with a nice steaming cup of coffee. One time he had come down with a cold and Sherlock had doctored the coffee so that he slept through a whole day. John forgave him but left instructions never to do that again. Sherlock was appropriately contrite but never made any promises.

 

After breakfast, a little exercise, then some training with Sherlock about the equipment available to him. The control panel was pretty easy; he learned about the various alarms, how to utilize the autopilot, and how, as a last resort, to hand-fly the ship should Sherlock become incapacitated. He received similar training on the equipment in the medlab—where Sherlock actually had a mechanical arm installed that he could control in case John was unable to tend to his own wounds—and the research lab, which included mass spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and other equipment which allowed Sherlock or John to conduct research on a wide variety of substances. John felt almost giddy in anticipation of life aboard the ship with Sherlock.

 

And so it was that, one “evening”, while John was sitting by the fire reading a tome about pirates, Hologram Sherlock appeared in his usual place beside his pillar. There was something different about this time, however, as Sherlock sported a mischievous smile as he walked forward to stand beside John, who looked up in amazement.

 

“Sherlock!” John stammered in amazement. “How…what…”

 

The hologram broke into a big grin of delight. “Hello, John. May I join you?” he said, as he gestured toward the other chair with one hand.

 

“Why, of course, of course!” John practically jumped out of his seat with joy. “Please, do…”

 

He watched as Sherlock walked—glided, more like—over to the chair and sat down. The chair was lower and less cushy than John’s chair, but John doubted that a collection of photons would mind. Once settled, Sherlock pointed upward to where John could now see an aerobatic holoprojector floating overhead. John looked back at where the previous, rudimentary system had been tacked to the ceiling; it was no longer there.

 

“I worked on it while you were sleeping. I wanted to surprise you,” Sherlock said, in a mock conspiratorial voice

 

“Well, you certainly did, Sherlock!” John beamed. “This is perfect! It’s almost as though you’re right here with me!”

 

“I am with you, all the time,” Sherlock stated in a low voice. John blushed ever so slightly at the veracity of the man’s words. Man. I actually think of him as a man, not just a Brain. This presented a new direction for thought at a later date. But, for now, he felt very warm and very safe with Sherlock.

 

“So,” John started, “we never did get to finish some of our previous conversations.” When Sherlock raised an eyebrow, John elaborated. “Eurus.”

 

“Ah!” Sherlock exclaimed, nodding. “Yes, Eurus. Well, as I said previously, she was the youngest child, the only daughter. And she was brilliant, even more so than Mycroft. The family used to send me updates on her progress. She seemed destined for great things and I was so proud of her. She used to come visit me sometimes and brought me interesting little bits and bobs to experiment on. We would talk for hours, and she could make me laugh like no one else could. She said that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a body any more, that I would always be her big brother.” He smiled wistfully.

 

However, John was sensing something beyond the words. He leaned forward and asked, “And then? What did you mean when you said…”

 

“That, at least, I hadn’t gone Eurus’ route. Yes.” Sherlock’s eyes were downcast and his face drawn, as though a great weight lay upon him. “When Eurus went through puberty, something…happened that took us all by storm. My delightful, loving, baby sister changed. She became darker, quieter, dangerous in ways that we are still coming to grips with. Something took hold of her and turned her into…what? I don’t even know. Some doctors said it was paranoid schizophrenia. Some said borderline narcissistic psychosis. Some said she was just plain possessed by the devil. She burned down the house when my parents wouldn’t give in to her wishes one day. She tortured small animals to see how they functioned inside while they still alive. She had a girlfriend once with whom she had sex, then butchered her and nailed her heart to a tree with the words “Remember Me” written below.

 

“My parents were devastated. Finally, Uncle Rudy couldn’t take it anymore, seeing my parents suffer, and got permission from them to have her committed as terminally insane.  She’s currently a resident at an asylum where the worst perpetrators of all time reside. The incurables. The ones who can never be released. Eurus is one of them.”

 

John knew that it wasn’t possible, but he was certain he could see a tear trickle down Sherlock’s cheek as he finished his tale. No, must be a trick of the light. How would a Brain know how to cry?

 

“I’m so sorry, Sherlock. I’m so, so sorry…” John unconsciously reached toward his friend/shipmate. Sherlock smiled at the sight.

 

“Thank you, John. Your compassion is…duly noted,” he murmured.

 

Suddenly, Sherlock brightened up considerably. “Ah, yet another rush of fresh nutrients. Say what you will about being a disembodied brain, but the day is full of highlights.”

 

No sooner had he said that, then a look of surprise, then concern, overtook his lovely features. The gray eyes widened and sought out John’s.

 

“Something’s wrong.”

 

John bolted out of his seat and knelt beside Sherlock. He looked…scared. Terrified, transitioning into anger, then into anxiety, all on display for John to see.

 

“Sherlock! What’s going on?” He looked back toward the pillar, as though an answer would be forthcoming from there. Nothing.

 

Then the blowers kicked on erratically. The lights began to lower and raise, and the engines sprang to life, their roar increasing in intensity.

 

“Sherlock! The inertial damp…”

 

John was swiftly cocooned in the same force field that had held him in place during launch. At least, he’d been able to access Sherlock’s logical mind for a moment, but, emotionally…

 

“John!” The voice came from everywhere. The hologram looked stricken and, as he watched, it curled up into a ball and wailed. “What’s happening to me? John! John!”

 

“Sherlock! Shut down the engines! Shut them down!”

 

“No! I have to…I have to get away from here, John! There’s something wrong here! I have to run…”

 

John struggled against the forcefield. It was like trying to walk through jello.

 

“TURN. THEM. OFF! NOW!” John yelled in his best Captain Watson voice. The engines ramped down immediately and, at a safe, point, the dampeners were turned off.

 

Pulling himself to his feet, John scrambled toward the medlab. It seemed as though the floor was writhing beneath his feet. Sherlock’s wailing was heartbreaking to hear. John had to disregard it in order to do what needed to be done. Even though the artificial gravity in the floor kept him from jetting off sideways as in freefall, his body reacted to every twist, turn, and evasive maneuver Sherlock was executing. After several near-accidents, he pulled himself through the entry into the lab.

 

Opening a panel only Brawns and techs were allowed to breach, John disconnected an obviously-new canister of nutrients intended for the Brain, the one currently feeding into the system. Withdrawing a sample, he ran it through the Mass Spectrometer to determine its components. Meanwhile, Sherlock’s tone had changed from fear to anger.

 

“I’M GOING TO KILL THAT RAT ARSE BASTARD IF IT’S THE LAST ACT OF MY LIFE!” he roared, rattling the speakers. “HE DID THIS! I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL FLAY HIM ALIVE, PUT HIS BRAIN IN A TUB, AND DUMP ACID INTO IT, JUST TO WATCH IT DISSOLVE! JOHN! FUCKING DO SOMETHING, YOU WORTHLESS PILE OF MEAT!”

 

Jesus H. Christ on a stick, he’s losing it.

 

John grabbed onto the doorframe for dear life, waiting for the Mass Spectrometer to finish its analysis. Meanwhile, Sherlock’s tone had changed once again.

 

“Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, John, I didn’t mean that, I know you’re doing what you can but I can’t stand it anymore, I may have to terminate myself to save the ship…”

 

Oh, shit, no.

 

“SHERLOCK! Listen to me. You are not to terminate yourself, do you hear me? You kill yourself and I will never speak to you again, you incredible prat!” John knew how stupid that sounded, but he had to get through to Sherlock’s mind through the shitstorm of emotions and illogic pouring out of him. “I think I know what’s going on, but I need to get the test results to be sure! Hang on!”

 

John began to feel a bit light-headed as the blowers came on and off in rapid succession. He could guess what was happening based on his coalescing theory.

 

“Sherlock! The oxygen level is too high in here! You’re hyperventilating! Turn off the COscrubbers or turn down the O2 saturation, otherwise I’ll pass out!”

 

“Oh, right, right!” He went silent for a moment, then cried, “John! You’re my friend, right? You wouldn’t leave me like this, would you? I’m such a horrible person, I don’t have anyone else who’d help me…”

 

John’s eyes rolled. Yeah, he could figure this one out, alright. “Yeah, Sherlock, we’re all right, we’re good. You’re my friend. I wouldn’t leave you, not like this, not ever. Trust me,” he pleaded.

 

A sound suspiciously like sniffling emanated from the speakers. “I trust you, John. Just…help me. Please.”

 

John’s heart dropped into his drawers at the sound. I’ll help you, Sherlock. No question. Now, if that damned bell would ring…

 

*Bing!*

 

About fucking time.

 

John lurched to the table where the machine was—thank God—safely bolted down and tore out the printed analysis. He read it voraciously, comparing his findings with the statistical norms in one of his manuals, until…

 

“Sherlock!”

 

WHAT?

 

John winced at the volume. “Turn it down, for God’s sake!”

 

“Sorry, sorry. What is it, John? What’s wrong?  TELL ME!” The voice sounded calmer than before but there was still a maniacal edge there, as if he was barely maintaining control of his own mind.

 

John could hardly restrain a disbelieving smirk at the findings as he shook his head and said, “Well, according to this, Sherlock, you’re going through puberty.”

Chapter Text

“WHAT!?!” Sherlock bellowed in disbelief.

 

“Shit! TONE IT DOWN! For the nth time…”

 

“John, that’s not possible! I have no gonads or other organs to produce testosterone or HGH…”

 

“You don’t have to. Someone gave you a puberty cocktail in your nutrient mix. Now, calm down,” John encouraged, soothingly.

 

You calm down. After all, you’re along for the ride…”

 

Snippy little git. “Look, this is what every adolescent boy goes through. You’ll survive.”

 

John turned back to the access panel and took a new sample from the next canister in line before connecting it to the Brain system. He didn’t, however, turn it on. He’d be damned if he was going to let that happen twice. He fed the new sample into the machine and flipped the switch.

 

Not all at once!” Sherlock huffed. “This should take years! John, there’s a reason Brains aren’t administered supplemental hormones when they reach so-called “adolescent” age, you know.”

 

“Mm hmm,” John acknowledged, absently. He was waiting for the bell to ring again on the new sample. When it did, John assiduously examined the results. All clear. No unusual chemicals, toxins, or contaminants. He sighed in relief and turned on the connection to the new canister. Before leaving the room, however, he programmed the filters to remove all traces of androgenic compounds from Sherlock’s fluids.

 

Sherlock was pointedly silent. Sulking. Great. Now I’ve got an over-aged teen-ager on my hands.

 

While still obviously distressed and distracted by his changing mental status, Sherlock had managed to bring the ship under control again, rather than acting out his anxiety and rage with it. John staggered over to his chair and gratefully fell into it. The dizziness and near-panic of the preceding few minutes had left him exhausted. He could hear the blowers coming on normally again as Sherlock calmed.

 

The chair opposite him was empty. Of course, being occupied by a hologram means it was actually never actually occupied, but Sherlock’s image was certainly missing. He searched the ceiling and found nothing, then peered more closely around the empty chair. There it was, lying on the floor, the projector discarded and forgotten in the throes of Sherlock’s suffering.

 

After a while, John dared to speak up. “Feeling any better?”

 

The blowers sighed.

 

“A bit. It helps to know what is going on, even if it is ridiculously inconvenient and disconcerting to suddenly lose control of one’s mind and emotions.”

 

“I put a new canister in for you,” John noted, looking over at the pillar. “The filters should take care of any undesirable substances from the first canister.”

 

“Too late,” Sherlock said, glumly. “The chemicals have already attached to their receptor sites and are doing their dirty work. I still feel…unglued, and I have no idea how long this will last.”

 

John nodded. “True. You were given quite a blast of hormones, far more than a normal adolescent would be exposed to at any given time. It may be a bumpy few weeks.”

 

Sherlock said nothing for a few moments, then flatly stated, “That bastard…”

 

John’s ears perked up at that. “Bastard? Who and why?”

 

“God, John, you were here, weren’t you? I’m pretty sure that was you…” Sherlock snarked. “Moriarty, of course. This sort of thing would be right up his alley. Clandestine, yet subtle as a brick through a plate glass window in effect. No doubt he paid or blackmailed some tech to plant that canister on board, hoping for just such an effect. If I crashed the ship in my throes, fine. If I killed my Brawn in the process, even better. If I went insane, he’d be in ecstasy. If my brain becames sexualized and I started to wonder about what it would be like to have a body…No, I should have seen something like this coming. An obvious inside job.”

 

A stilted silence fell over the ship as it coasted through the aether. John wasn’t exactly sure what he could say that would make things any better for Sherlock. So, he backtracked.

 

“Sherlock.”

 

“Mmph,” He replied, in obvious ill humor.

 

“Tell me why.”

 

A gusting sigh. “’Why’ what, John? Be specific. I’m a Brain, not a psychic.”

 

John shifted in his chair. “Why don’t Brains go through induced puberty? It does have an effect on the brain…”

 

“No, John, really?” Sherlock replied, in his best sarcastic drawl. “Do tell me about it.”

 

“Shut up, prat, and listen. There are a lot of things a normal Brawn wouldn’t know about a Brain that I would. Hormones introduced at adolescence not only change the body in preparation for adulthood, they also help the brain to mature. So why would they want Brains, who must take on real responsibilities and be careful for the lives of their Brawns, to remain in an immature state?”

 

John could almost hear the cogs turning in Sherlock’s massive brain as he formulated an answer. He hoped that Sherlock’s recent exposure to said hormones wouldn’t cause any real damage to such a great mind, as some serious mental diseases could make their first appearance at puberty, as in Eurus’ case. He waited patiently for a response, ever alert for any sign of impairment on the part of his Brain. After all, an insane Brain could really put a crimp in a Brawn’s day…

 

“John.”

 

John’s head turned toward the pillar and his eyebrows rose in query.

 

“John, I must…apologize for my behavior. I feel as though my mind is clearing somewhat and I’m…calmer now, but I must have said some terrible things and behaved quite irrationally, endangering you as well as myself. I can’t…” His voice died away. The silence that followed was both loud and heavily-laden with regret.

 

John rose from his chair and crossed the room to lay one hand flat against the central pillar.

 

“Don’t,” he whispered, his lips close to the cool metal. “Don’t take yourself to task over this. It’s not your fault. We’ll handle this together, yeah?”

 

Another shiver ran through the ship. John wondered if there was an anomaly in one of the ship’s mechanisms. He laid his forehead against the pillar, on a level with where the Brain itself lay, cradled in its metal womb.

 

“Thank you, John,” Sherlock whispered back, as soft as a breath from the vents. “I see that I have made the best choice of Brawn possible. Not only a Brawn, but a friend.”

 

A tender smile stretched across John’s thin lips as he stepped back from the pillar. Returning to his chair, he took a deep breath and said, “Okay, Sherlock. Shall we get back to...”

 

“The ‘why’, of course. Why puberty is not induced in Brains.” John could almost hear Sherlock take a deep mental breath before continuing. “In the past, the effects of certain normal bodily influences on Brains were not well known. At first, it was believed that, as you pointed out, the hormones introduced at puberty were beneficial to the developing Brain, helping it to mature. The truth of the matter was far different. As long as the brains remained in a developing state, free of any hormonal inputs, the Brains were stable and progressed well in their studies and on missions. Once the sex hormones were introduced, however, the Brains changed, both in behavior and ability to function. Some Brains became extremely aggressive and difficult to work with, while some other Brains became overly flirtatious with their teachers and, later on, with their Brawns. In both cases, the Brains began to develop sexualities that caused them to ‘act out’ in certain, sometimes inappropriate, ways.”

 

“Really,” John breathed, fascinated by Sherlock’s explanation. “That’s amazing.”

 

“Yes, well, sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes it was pretty horrifying, to be honest,” Sherlock admitted. “These sexualized Brains were more prone to developing schizophrenia or psychoses and were, therefore, useless to the Corp that had spent so much time and money on them. There were attempts at treatment, but too many of them were so unreliable that they were simply committed to a facility for the mentally deranged and cared for until they ceased to function.”

 

“Shit, that’s…that’s awful.”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed, dolefully. “There were many others who went on to become Brainships and lead successful careers, but there was always a shadow there. I remember hearing about one Brain—a female— who was so enamored of her Brawn that, when he died on a mission, her mind broke. She enshrined her Brawn’s cadaver within her ship and mourned over him, abandoning all other responsibilities, until the Corps sent another Brainship to…handle the matter. That Brain was forced to send a signal to the mourning Brain that…flooded her shell with drugs that terminated her function. Then the Corps buried the Brawn, collected her ship, repaired it, and reassigned it to another Brain.”

 

“Good God, that’s heartless!” John muttered. He could almost feel Sherlock shrug in response.

 

“Depends upon your perspective, John. Ending someone’s life when they are in chronic, untreatable pain  is not unmerciful, in some cases. After all, they would have had to sedate her for the rest of her life in an institution. Is that more, or less, merciful?”

 

“I see what you mean. Did that sort of thing happen very often?”

 

“Occasionally. Enough that it was noticed by the upper echelons, who ordered that research be done into the effects of sex hormones on developing brains. When I was very young, there were horror stories about Brains who became jealous when their Brawns developed other relationships, even just physical ones, as Brawns are wont to do. More than one Brawn took an accidental spacewalk in the name of thwarted love, I can tell you that. A few more suffered unexpected ‘heart attacks’, despite being young and fit, which were usually traced back to a ‘sudden problem with the O2 delivery system’. One was even fried to a crisp by a ship that “accidentally” fired its thrusters while he was checking them for damage.”

 

John  rolled his eyes warily toward the pillar and raised one eyebrow as Sherlock continued.

 

“There are cases where hyper-aggressive, alpha-male behavior has resulted in some catastrophic situations, as well. Some of the Brains in the military feel the need to prove their worth as ‘warriors’ rather than workers. A few have actually killed or maimed their passengers by performing idiotic maneuvers, resulting in massive casualties. Remember the old Kamikaze pilots from World War II? More than a few Brains have that mindset in the military. Dying in a blaze of glory would be their ideal way to go, even if they take their crews out with them. After a few of those incidents, ‘forced adolescence’ was taken out of the Brain program.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “And, now, I’m about to join their ranks. Maybe I’ll become like Eurus, in which case, John, I’d better drop you off at the nearest station for your own safety.”

 

“NO,” John stated, with conviction as he jumped to his feet. “No, you won’t. If you drop me off somewhere, I will notify the Corps about you and have them come get you and give you treatment.”

 

A burst of cold air blasted  into John’s face.

 

“Think about what you’re saying, John. If you tell them I’m out of control, they’ll send another ship out to find and terminate me. There is no psych treatment for a deranged Brain in the field.”

 

John was gobsmacked. “They’d kill you? Even after all you’ve done?”

 

“Liability, John. They’d have to stop me for everyone’s safety.” There was a tone of regret, but also of practicality, in that admission.

 

John straightened his back and stated, matter-of-factly, “Well, in that case, I’m staying, Sherlock. I will do everything I can to keep you from falling into that situation. After all, who better to recognize the signs of incipient mental illness than a physician?”

 

The room seemed to warm again. “Thank you, John.” Sherlock responded, obvious emotion tingeing his words. “All I can do is hope that I will weather the storm intact.”

 

We, Sherlock. We will weather it. Together.”

Chapter Text

 Things had taken an uneasy turn on board since the incident with the doctored nutrient bottle.

John spent all his waking hours constantly on the alert for any signs of mental degradation in his Brain’s function. And Sherlock…

Well, Sherlock was acting like a stroppy teenager.

Gone were the hours of pleasant and, often, amusing conversation. Instead, there were temperamental outbursts when experiments went wrong or long hours of cold silence over a minor disagreement between Brain and Brawn. At least, at those times, John could lose himself in a novel or vid without interruption. More often than not, however, were the interruptions--complaints of being bored were the most common, followed in close order by sarcastic commentary, impatience, sulkiness, fits of anger, and the occasional grudging apology for all of the preceding.

For his part, John outdid himself dealing with Sherlock the Pubescent. He well knew it wasn’t Sherlock’s fault, but that didn’t make things any easier. John was used to the irrational ravings of a superior officers in the military and was even able to talk reason to them; in fact, he had become known among the troops as “the Brass Whisperer”. However, the rantings and ravings about what Sherlock would do, given half an opportunity, to Moriarty were certainly inventive and, sometimes, made John wonder if the legacy of Eurus was coming home to roost. At those times, it was best to distract him with other, more immediate, matters.

“Did you send a packet burst through to your brother, Sherlock?” he inquired, calmly.

“Yesterday,” came the grumpy reply. “I told you that already. I hate repeating myself, you know.”

John ignored the jab. “So, has he responded yet?”

“No. I hardly expect him to this soon. I’m sure there is a cake somewhere calling his name,” he sniped.

John snorted laughter and the atmosphere seemed to lighten a bit.

“I’m sorry, John. I’ve always been a bit of a bastard, but not to my Brawns. That is, unless they deserved it. I cannot abide fools. Victor was no fool, and neither are you. I apologize for my…short-temperedness.”

John waved the apology away. “There’s no need, Sherlock. This is what Moriarty wanted to happen. You’re not to blame for his madness.”

“Thank you, John. That is very…gracious of you.”

A com signal bleaped, startling John out of his chair.

“Sit, John. I’ve got it.”

Falling back into the plush cushions, John muttered, “I feel so damned useless sometimes. I mean, what can I do when the ship is alive and can take care of itself?”

Sherlock ahemed. “I am not an ‘it’, John. I’m a ‘he’, Moriarty’s little prank notwithstanding.”

John shook his head wearily, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Aw, jeez, Sherlock, you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do,” Sherlock drawled thoughtfully, “but what I don’t understand is why I felt the need to correct you. It’s never bothered me before. I shall have to consider this after I check the mail.”

Yeah. Good question. Was that fact, pride, or something else?

“Good news, John. Mycroft says they’ve begun the investigation into who delivered the canisters to me and installed them. They’ve already found one tech with a rather large, and unaccounted-for, deposit in his bank account--suspicious for someone of his pay grade--and he’s currently like a bird. Unlikely it will lead all the way up to Moriarty, but it’s a start. Mycroft has expressed concern about my mental condition and doesn’t believe me when I tell him I’m fine. Would you mind sending him off a packet with your own appraisal of my condition?” He sounded hopeful.

“Sure. Sure thing, Sherlock. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with you that a good swift kick in the arse wouldn’t cure, if I could find it. I’ll send off an official missive tomorrow, yeah?” John smirked.

 “Hmm. I do hope you’ll phrase it a bit more…scientifically…”

 “Of course, I will, Sherlock,” he grinned. “Just yanking your chain.”

“If I had one, it would be wrapped around your throat.”

“Promises, promises.” John stretched and yawned simultaneously. “But, right now, I want to get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Softly, “Good night, John. Sleep well.”

John smiled to himself as he left the room, his heart warmed by Sherlock’s gentle words.

>>>***<<<

 I was so tired before I went to bed. Why the hell can’t I sleep now?

After a couple of hours flopping around his bed like a fish in a boat, John finally decided he needed to do something to “take the edge off.” After lowering his pyjama bottoms, he rolled over in bed to take out the tube of lube he stored in the small table next to him. As he unscrewed the lid and squeezed some of the cool gel into his palm, his eyes happened to wander to the camera above his bedroom door. There were cameras in every room—including the bathroom—so the Brain could stay apprised of events, but they weren’t usually in use unless there was a “situation” of some sort aboard, such as a questionable guest or a malfunction in either man or machine. However, John couldn’t help but notice that the red light that indicated the camera was on was lit.

Sherlock was watching. He had never done it before. This was a first.

John cleared his throat and called out, “Sherlock? Anything the matter?”

Sherlock’s musical baritone came quietly over the speaker in the room. “No, nothing, John. I just heard you moving around and wondered if there was any problem I could help with?”

Chuckling to himself, John responded, “No, Sherlock. Just…having trouble sleeping, is all. Thanks for the consideration, though.”

“Of course, John. Good night.” The red light blinked out.

“I wish you could help, I really do,” John muttered to himself, remembering the near-perfection of that holographic face and figure when they first met. That voice, too…

Oh.

Just the memory of it all had caused a significant engorgement in John’s nether regions. He nodded to himself. Interesting. He closed his eyes and laid his head back on the pillow, thinking about that body, naked and warm to the touch; those long legs wrapped around his waist as he plunged his cock into Sherlock’s willing body, eliciting gasps and moans of pleasure and “Oh, God, John…”

His hand fairly flew over his swollen cock; the sensation, combined with the mental image of a writhing, squirming, pliant Sherlock, wrested moans from his own throat as he thrust his cock into his own tight fist. Finally, with a stuttering “Sher…Sherlock…”, he spewed hot, silky cum all over his hand and belly, grunting in ecstasy with each new burst. The orgasm was wracking and left him spent and gasping. Oh God, oh God, oh God…that was…amazing…

Putting the ramifications of wanking off to his Brain’s holographic image aside, his eyes were drawn suddenly to the corner above the door…

The red light was on again. When John lifted his head to look more closely, it clicked off immediately.

Damn.

>>>***<<<

The next morning’s interactions were a bit…awkward.

John could detect a certain something in the air that had nothing to do with the ventilation system. Sherlock was strangely quiet. He had prepared food for John in the galley that was of exceptional quality, even the coffee, which he had never quite gotten the hang of. John usually made that. It was almost as though Sherlock was offering up some sort of apology for last night. John ate in thoughtful silence, which Sherlock did not broach. He sat there, in the galley, chewing his food, in total silence until, finally, Sherlock broke the impasse.

“Say something, John.”

John barely looked up as he responded, “What should I say, Sherlock? Do you want me to rebuke you for watching me last night? Blow up at you for your invasion of my privacy? Or is there something else?”

A pause, then, “Yes, yes, and whatever you feel is appropriate. Which my behavior last night wasn’t. I’m sorry. I…I…”

John turned his body and addressed the central pillar. “Why, Sherlock? That’s the main thing I want to know. Is this something you did with your previous Brawns…?”

NO,” Sherlock’s voice thundered over the speakers, making John wince in pain. Then, at a lower volume,  “No. I’ve…never been at all interested in what my Brawns did in the privacy of their own rooms. As long as they were responsible and committed to the mission, we could work together. It never mattered to me if they brought a sexual partner back with them or if they had a more permanent relationship outside the ship. It just…never mattered before.”

John cocked his head to one side and asked, appraisingly, “So you’ve never been emotionally involved with a Brawn? Curious about sexual relationships? Anything?”

“Again, no. I’m involved with my work, John. As I’ve said before, relationship between Brains and Brawns are not advisable. It creates a volatility that compromises the work, as I told you before. You know how…”

“You hate to repeat yourself. I know. But what about Brain to Brain relationships? Ever wonder about those? I have.”

Sherlock snorted. “Brains don’t court each other or commit to long-term relationships because of the nature of our work. We are seldom in touch with each other except in passing and the mission always takes priority. We are, for the most part, satisfied with our relationships with our Brawns, which can sometimes account for why Brawns are changed out so often—personality clashes, moral or ethical differences, level of commitment to the work. Understand?”

“Yes. That makes complete sense to me. But it still doesn’t answer the question of ‘why did you spy on me?’”

A gusty sigh. “I wish I knew myself, John.”

“You turned off the camera when I asked you to. Don’t the mics turn off with the cameras?”

Uh, no. You see, I always keep the mics on in each room to detect any unusual noises that might require my attention. I…forget to turn yours off. When I heard unusual sounds coming from your room, I was concerned that you might have been having a nightmare due to your PTSD, so I turned on the camera back on again and I saw…”

John dropped his head into a facepalm. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

After a few moments of brittle silence, Sherlock asked, “May I inquire, John…”

“What, Sherlock?” John sighed, still slightly mortified.

“Why did you say my name as you achieved climax?”

The expression on John’s face went from embarrassed to OhMyFuckingGod in seconds as his normally golden complexion drained into a sickly pallor.

“John? JOHN??” Sherlock prodded, then yelled, John, are you alright? Do you need medical assistance?”

FUCK!” John yelled as he bolted out of the kitchen and into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He leaned back against it, scrubbing his hand over his face in disbelief.

MyGodMyGodHeHeardOhMyGod

Chapter Text

“John?” Sherlock’s voice came softly from over John’s head. “John? Please. We have to talk…”

 

John shuddered at the thought—what had just been revealed, what it could mean to their partnership, how everything went so suddenly and horribly wrong…

 

He slid down the door to sit on the floor, his legs tucked up and his forehead leaning on his knees. He felt drained and so incredibly, unaccountably angry.

 

God, what if Sherlock decides to bump me from the assignment because he’s offended, or thinks this compromises our relationship, or…?

 

“John…”

 

“Go away, Sherlock. I’m really not in the mood,” he groused.

 

“You were last night…” the vents whispered.

 

“Shut up! Shut up, you bastard!” John screamed out into the room.

 

Patiently, quietly. “I didn’t say anything, John.”

 

John started panting, like a dog that had run a mile in the midday heat. His brain was a roiling around like a cement mixer. Nothing to say. What can I say? Having a panic attack…

 

“Really, John. This is pointless. I can send a drone in after you, you know, but I’d rather not.”

 

John snapped, “Why? Can’t see me now, all-knowing one?”

 

“You are just at the periphery of the camera. I know where you are, but I would just prefer to talk with you face to…ah, bad analogy. Person to, ah…damn. Brawn to Brain, then.”

 

“We’re doing that.”

 

The condescension fairly dripped off the walls. “This is hardly satisfactory, John.”

 

John could almost imagine Sherlock sniffing in exasperation while rolling his non-existent eyes. He chuckled in spite of himself and the mood broke.

 

“Are you laughing, John? It’s…hard to tell from here,” Sherlock asked, worry bleeding through his usual posh, impassive manner of speaking.

 

John nodded as he levered himself off the floor and turned to look up at the camera. “Yeah. Yeah,, I’m fine, Sherlock. As fine as someone can be who has just buggered everything beyond repair.”

 

The red light stared at him, unblinkingly and without malice.

 

“Please, come out front, John. We need to talk.”

 

Dropping his head in acquiescence, John trudged into the main room, where a warm fire and a glass of the finest brandy (Sherlock was a bit of a snob about such things where his Brawns were concerned) awaited him. He plopped down into his overstuffed chair and took a fortifying sip before addressing his Brain.

 

“Sherlock…” he started, then took another, even larger, drink before shuffling his feet on the plush rug between the chairs. Silence continued its sovereignty over the room.

 

A sigh wafted through the vents. “John,” Sherlock said, ever so softly, “would this be any easier if I were…present? Holographically, I mean.”

 

“No. Yes. Shit, I don’t know. It’s hard enough as it is,” he retorted, looking away from the central pillar.

 

A swift movement of air indicated the arrival of the holodrone. Before John could react, Sherlock’s holographic image appeared before him, seated in a relaxed pose in the dark gray chair opposite his. Sherlock’s “face” was immobile, but those eyes—John could almost feel them boring into his brain. “Is this better, John?”

 

John shrugged, not feeling comfortable meeting the hologram’s eyes.

 

“I don’t suppose there’s any real explanation I can offer other than the obvious, is there?” John grumbled, sipping his brandy again.

 

Sherlock shrugged. “Depends on how stupid you think I am. Try it. You might get lucky.”

 

John looked up sharply. Sherlock’s face held a hint of a smile as well as a touch of challenge. “Do it,” he seemed to be saying. “I want to see how creative you are.”

 

“Nope,” John stated, shaking his head in negation. “I have a better idea. You tell me what you’ve surmised.”

 

“Deduced,” Sherlock replied, the smile becoming a smirk. “I never surmise. And I can deduce…that you have developed an interest in me that has surpassed the merely intellectual.”

 

John grimaced. “Blimey. I was having trouble sleeping, thinking about my decisions and whether or not I’d made the right choice becoming a Brawn, and I remembered the first time we met. The way you looked, your voice, your mannerisms, and all the things we’ve experienced together since then, and I…responded.”

 

“Sexually.”

 

“Yeah.” His voice was tight with embarrassment.

 

The room warmed slightly and Sherlock’s expression became soft. His smile was almost sweet, and a tiny bit incredulous.

 

“You should know, John, that I’ve never had anyone consider me to be desirable before. As a person, I mean, rather than as an assignment or, merely, a shipmate. It’s a strange cocktail of emotions that I’ve never felt before. To realize that you think of me in such a positive manner when you give yourself pleasure is somehow…gratifying. Even if I don’t quite understand the why of it.”

 

John could almost see him blush. “So, you mean you’re not angry, or upset…you don’t want to terminate our relationship because of this?”

 

Sherlock looked gobsmacked. “Not at all, John! You honor me! After all the abuse and disrespect others have heaped upon me over the years, your approach is refreshing, to say the least, and flattering as hell!”

 

One of John’s eyebrows crept toward his hairline. “So, you have no problem being a…a wank fantasy?” he queried in disbelief.

 

Sherlock sat up in his chair and, hands reverse-steepled between his knees as he leaned forward, whispered, conspiratorially, “No. In fact, I found your actions to be…fascinating. Would you mind if I observed further? I wouldn’t dream of intruding again without your permission.”

 

John’s eyebrows now decided to have a conference. “Wait…What?” he blurted out. “You would like to  watch me again? Why?” He spread his hands in a request for clarity.

 

Sherlock’s smile deepened. “For science, John. I know nothing of such things, only what I’ve read or, admittedly, observed in badly-made vids. This is first-person experience, through you. Would that be all right with you? I could even provide my holographic self as a prompt.”

 

God, what the hell? Is this for real? How did everything get all turned around? How does one answer this kind of offer?

 

“Okay,” John responded before he’d even realized the word was out of his mouth.

 

Sherlock beamed. He clapped his hands silently in joy. “Excellent! You may, of course, request the time and place and I will be there in whatever capacity you may require.”

 

“Okay…” John drawled. “But…” he continued, holding up one finger for emphasis.

 

Sherlock sat straight up, all attention. If he had been a cat, his ears would have been pricked straight up. “Yes, John?”

 

“Why are you suddenly interested in…this? Didn’t you say you never cared about it before? You have had other Brawns…”

 

The hologram’s chin dropped as Sherlock considered the question.

 

“Again, John, I wish I knew. All I can surmise…”

 

“I thought you never surmised.”

 

“Shut up. I believe this new interest is attributable to the physical and emotional changes I have endured ever since I was ‘forced’ through adolescence by Moriarty’s sabotage. It is the most logical chain of events available for evaluation.” He paused. “Speaking of which, have you submitted a report to Mycroft about my status? He will want to know that I am capable of fulfilling the mission.”

 

John slapped himself lightly on the side of the head. “Damn. I almost forgot.”

 

“Isn’t that gesture a form of self-harm, John?”

 

John grinned. “Nope. Just a way of shaking ideas loose.”

 

The hologram froze. John could almost hear the cogs in Sherlock’s brain whirring.

 

“Hmmm. It would seem to be counterproductive, but I will bow to your greater expertise in this area,” Sherlock returned, his image flashing into movement again.

 

“Thanks,” John replied sardonically. “Nice to know I’m good for something around here.”

 

Sherlock’s head canted in curiosity, but he said nothing.

 

John pushed himself out of his chair and headed to the control panel. Over his shoulder, he said, “I’m going to send off a report to your brother. You can listen in, if you’d like.”

 

A dismissive hand wave, accompanied by “Go right ahead. I don’t care what you say as long as they don’t recall us before we make planetfall.”

 

Huh.

Chapter Text

The next few days were quiet ones. John worked on the gear he would be required to use during his mission, upgrading some of it with Sherlock’s innovative assistance. While not required, or even encouraged, to flaunt armor or weaponry during the mission, Sherlock had helped John to create some hidden armaments that could well save his life.

 

The rest of the time, John consigned himself to learning more about their mission, in general, and the planet and its natives, in particular. It seems that a group of interstellar missionaries, on one of their usual proselytization expeditions to outlier worlds, contacted a new race on Janus II which had welcomed them as gods (predictably) and offered them gifts and riches. One such gift was an herbal preparation that, when slathered on a wound, could regrow the tissue without scarring. While an exciting find on its own, it took on new dimensions when one of the warriors of the tribe managed to lose a hand to a falling rock, severing it completely at the wrist. The medic of the group (a required position, usually a Stellar Union plant who would report any potentially valuable discovery to an SU liaison) was able to observe almost the entire process of tissue regeneration before the group was cleared out (not very gently) by SU soldiers, leaving only a skeleton crew behind to secure the find. When these troops took possession of the world, God help any poor git who got in their way. They would “protect” the desired resources until a proper research team could obtain samples and analyze them…all for “the greater good of the citizens of the SU”.

 

What fucking shite.

 

John knew PR when he read it. The Stellar Union was highly influenced by MCore and other corporations that were constantly thirsty for more unique products to sell in order to increase their influence over the pols in charge of the SU.  Many people referred to the SU as the “FU”, since they cared as much about the citizens of the Union as they did about the natives of the planets they plundered on a regular basis.

 

“I almost feel bad about opening up this world to the FU, you know?” John observed. “These poor bastards have no idea who they’re dealing with. They welcome us with open arms and get shot in the chest while MCore and their ilk walk over their rapidly-cooling bodies to loot the planet.“ John sniffed and shook his head in disgust.

 

“Mmm,” Sherlock replied, absently. “Nothing you or I can do about it. This takes place at a much higher level than we can even imagine, rather like breeding elephants.”

 

John snorted in amusement and turned in his chair to favor Sherlock’s pillar with a questioning look. “Is Mycroft party to all this? Does he get some sort of…”

 

“No,” Sherlock responded, his tones clipped. “My brother is many things, but he does  not condone what MCore and the others do to these new worlds and their people. His concerns are…closer to home.”

 

John raised an eyebrow. “Such as…?”

 

A distracting hum filled the room as Sherlock remained adamantly silent.

 

Sore spot. John had come to recognize what that sound meant over time, sort of like the grinding of teeth or the tapping of fingers.

 

“Sher…”

 

“Shut up, John.”

 

Okaaay

 

John turned back to his reading as the hum gradually faded away. According to the SU’s instructions, John’s mission was to retrieve a sample of the plant mixture for analysis and to supply Sherlock with physical backup as necessary. Not especially impressive, as missions go, except for the fact that, normally, a ship would bring the objet unique back to Earth for analysis. In this case, however, since Sherlock was one of the finest minds in SU and John was a medical doctor, the work wcould be done on site and during the flight home. This would save considerable time and justify the high cost of the mission, considering Sherlock’s going rate. Added to that, John’s added expertise and experience would further jack up the price of the mission. A win-win scenario all around, according to SU.

 

“We should be arriving in another day or two,” Sherlock piped in, startling John from his reading. “If you have any other preparations to do, you might want to do them now, while I’m less occupied and can assist you as necessary.”

 

John stretched his arms out, expanded his chest, and yawned fiercely . “I think I’ve had it for today, to be honest,” he said, addressing the pillar.”I need to think some more about what other equipment I’ll be needing, if anything.”

 

“Right. Good night, John. Sleep well.”

 

“Ta,” he shot back as he wandered out of the room and into the hallway. His bed was beckoning him seductively.

 

>>>***<<<

 

For some reason, his seductive bed kicked him to the kerb before the date had even begun.

 

Can’t sleep. Shit. What did I ever do to piss off Morpheus?

 

John wearily sat up on the side of his bed and rubbed his left shoulder. He must have been lying on it wrong because it ached, sending wretched sensations into his neck and back, as well. He rotated his shoulder and was gratified to hear a faint crack in his cervical spine. Ah. Maybe that would do it. He rotated his shoulder once again and accidentally cracked his elbow against the wall behind him, eliciting a thud and a curse. That hurt, dammit!

 

The red dot of the camera blinked on for two seconds, and then blinked off again.

 

Sherlock’s watching. I know he’s trying not to, but he can’t help it. Hhe’s listening, trying to figure out what I’m up to, wanting to intrude…

 

His memory flitted back to his last self-amusement session. Hadn’t been able to sleep then, either, and the “exercise” certainly helped. If he had to admit it to himself, knowing that Sherlock had been watching—and listening—now sent a little thrill down his spine that zinged right to his nether portions, which reacted favorably. He half-smiled at the realization that it hadn’t actually bothered him at all, even though he’d never dream of letting any of his female lovers watch him wank. This was somehow…different.

 

Sherlock was different.

 

Well, shit. Why not? If the little bugger’s all that interested…after all, that wasn’t the first time he’s eavesdropped, I’m sure. I’d even bet my year’s salary on it.

 

“I know you’re listening, Sherlock,” John called out into the darkness.

 

Silence.

 

“Saw the light go on. No point in playing this game.”

 

Hummmmm.

 

“You’re not fooling anyone, least of all me,” he prodded.

 

The red light flicked on. “I’m here, John,” Sherlock responded, in an unusually subdued tone. “I was trying to give you your privacy, but then I heard you hit the wall and was concerned for your well-being.”

 

John nodded, willing to let that paltry excuse for voyeurism pass.  “Yeah, well, I appreciate the sentiment, Sherlock. However…you did once ask me if I would be willing to…let you watch the next time I…”

 

“Yes!” Sherlock’s ringing baritone betrayed a brightness John didn’t often hearin it. One would almost call it…excitement. “Are you planning on masturbating again tonight? You have been remarkably quiet lately…” The transmission cut off, as if he’d realized he’d said too much.

 

Yep, caught you snooping, you nosey little bastard. Biding your time. It was almost amusing.

 

After a moment’s hesitation, Sherlock resumed, “What would you like me to do? Should I simply observe or should I provide some sort of stimulus? Some background music, perhaps? A porn vid? I am at your disposal!” He sounded like a happy, helpful child trying to curry favor with an adult.

 

John laughed at his enthusiasm. “No need, Sherlock. I’ll just do what I normally do, but, if you don’t mind, would you just…occasionally, say my name in that incredible voice of yours?”

 

A disconcerted pause. “Just…your name? Is that all?”

 

“Hmm. Are you familiar with the vocals laid down during the sexual intercourse scenes in the porn vids you got for me?”

 

Another pause, then, “Ah, yes, John. I have a record of such vocalizations, which I can emulate with my own voice. However, the vocals are quite, how shall I say…rudimentary? They are more like grunts and groans of someone in pain than actual words. I could add your name at various intervals. Would that be helpful?”

 

“God, yes,” John laughed again. “Perfect. Just use the same tone of voice as the actors, yeah?”

 

“As you wish, John,” Sherlock whispered, his voice low and silky.

 

John shivered. “Feel free to begin at any time, I certainly am.”

 

“Yes…Johhhn.” The breathiness came from the vent, but it still went right to the base of his spine.

 

John pulled down his pyjama pants, letting them dangle at his knees, while he freed his already-responding penis. Funny how just talking to Sherlock could influence his autonomic nervous system like that. He lay back slightly, shoulders resting against the wall, while he took himself in hand and began to stroke himself, his eyes closed. The strokes became longer and firmer as he became more tumescent, his cock heavy in his palm, with something hot beginning to pool behind his pubic bone.

 

“Ah, John, yes, yes, that’s incredible,” Sherlock’s “breathy” voice come over the intercom system, tremulous and dreamy. “Ohhh….yesssss….God, more, John, moore…” He continued his vocalizations, moans of pleasure interspersed with various words of encouragement and, occasionally, obscenities.

 

John’s knees dropped open in surrender as he pulled harder, more mercilessly, on his turgid cock. John had always liked it a little rough, and the thoughts he had now, of gripping Sherlock by the hips and grinding his prick into him, was taking control of his mind and will. John’s hips started jerking uncontrollably, in counterpoint to the strong strokes of his able hands, as though he was actually fucking Sherlock up the arse.

 

“Oh, God, Sherlock, go on…” he moaned. His hand moved so swiftly it was almost a blur as he felt  pressure and heat and an indescribable, incandescent  bulding up behind his genitals…

 

“John, please…fuck me, John. Take me, fuck me, drive your cock into me, impale me with it…Oh, John, John…pleeeease…”

 

“FUCKING SHIT!” The words erupted from John’s mouth just as semen erupted from his cock. His body convulsed rhythmically, over and over, as he shot streams of sperm halfway across the room, his face contorted as if in exquisite agony. Sherlock continued to croon sultry phrases as each wave of pleasure shook his body until John was spent, the last ejaculation barely clearing the edge of the bed. His head weakly dropped back to bump the wall behind him as he let out a series of panting breaths, his body relaxing in stages. His hand fell away from his genitals as he reached up to wipe the sweat and hair from his forehead. “God, that was…that was…”

 

“Very informative,” Sherlock piped in, his voice crisp. “Thank you, John, for sharing this with me. It has given me much data to consider. I hope that my ‘presence’ has contributed to your pleasurable experience. Good night.” The light clicked off.

 

John huffed a breath in disbelief, then a tiny chuckle escaped his lips, which built, finally, into a deep, relaxed laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. “Not too much on the aftercare, are you, Sherlock?” he called out between guffaws.

 

The laughter eventually calmed down and trailed away, but John was still smiling.

 

You know, strange to say, that was probably the best sex I’ve ever had, he realized, in amazement. A disembodied Brain and a Brawn doing the nasty. I guess that sex worker was right. Brainy IS the new sexy.

Chapter Text

John leaned back in the unused pilot’s chair and spoke into the air. “So, tell me again why this is taking so long. Most trips to newly-discovered worlds don’t take this long, at least they didn’t when I was in the corp. And do it in English this time, yeah?”

 

A gusty sigh blew through the vents as Sherlock replied, “My response to your last question was perfectly understandable from a stellar navigation standpoint. I don’t see why…”

 

John leaned forward in his chair. “I am not a navigator,” he enunciated overly clearly for emphasis. “Your input was garbage. I’m merely a former army grunt, remember?”

 

The vent sniffed and Sherlock said, “You are hardly “merely a grunt”, John. You are a highly trained physician with a rather-above-average intellect and the ability to learn new skillsets on the fly. But if you would like for me to ‘dumb it down’ for you…”

 

“If you wouldn’t mind,” John returned, performing a mock bow while still seated.

 

“Very well, then. As a former army doctor might put it, I don’t actually know where I’m going.”

 

“Wait…say that again?” John asked, as all the color drained from his golden complexion.

 

”Don’t be that way, John. Basically, I’m having to ‘feel’ my way along the route depicted on star maps that are staggeringly incomplete. I’m amazed the missionaries found the planet at all, frankly, and it was just pure luck the troop ship didn’t pancake itself on some dark body along the way.”

 

“So that’s why you get so quiet sometimes? I just thought you were tired of talking to me,” John smiled, self-depreciatingly.

 

Sherlock sounded offended. “Never, John! Other than Victor, you are the only Brawn I have been able to tolerate on a mission of any length, to the point where it has been specifically written in my contract that I am not allowed to have any “airlock accidents” with one if he becomes especially tiresome.”

 

John’s forehead creased in consideration. “’He’, you said. Have all your Brawns been male, then?”

 

A moment of silence, then, “You know, now that you mention it, John, they all have been. I have found that I have little or no interest in a female Brawn, as most in my acquaintance strike me as being irritating in the extreme.”

 

“I wonder why. I mean, you said yourself that you never went through puberty and your brain never became normally ‘sexualized’ by hormones. Well, before Moriarty, at least.”

 

The distressed hum flared and died away before Sherlock spoke again.

 

"Yes, and now I’m bothered by this…” The line was abruptly cut off.

 

Elbows on knees, John sat pensively at the control panel, waiting. Sherlock showed no sign of resuming his train of thought. The ship shifted slightly to one side, then resumed steady flight.

 

He lifted his chin from where it had been resting on his intertwined fingers. “What was that about?”

 

“Sorry, John. Had to make a quick course correction to avoid a rather nasty little asteroid as it got pulled in to a gravity well. Had to avoid the well, as well.” He chuckled to himself.

 

John smiled. “Oh, well,” he said, and they both laughed together at the inanity of it all.

 

Leaning back, John decided to re-address the issue left hanging in the air. “So, Sherlock, what seems to be bothering you? You were cut off.”

 

“Mmm, yes. As I was saying, I seem to be pre-occupied these days as I have not been prior to this mission. I suppose it may have something to do with Moriarty’s little prank, but it is causing me some discomfort, much like a human having an itch it can’t scratch.”

 

“In what way?”

 

“I…I’m unsure how to proceed with this situation, John. I have been taking a greater-than-normal interest in certain…human affairs and I feel compelled to study them, to collect data and extrapolate.”

 

The light went on inside John’s head. “Does this happen to have anything to do with…last night?”

 

“Last night in particular, yes, but there have been other times before that. I find myself studying human behavior—your behavior--more closely than I ever would have before and I don’t…know…why!” Sherlock’s voice contained a note of confusion not normally present. “I mean, normal human interactions are no mystery to me. I had many human tutors as a young Brain, and, of course, my family came to visit me…all except Eurus, of course. She could never accept that I was now only ‘a lump of meat inside a shell’. She once compared me to a taco.”

 

John frowned. “That’s a terrible thing to say to someone, particularly to your own brother!”

 

Sherlock sighed. “Eurus was always strange that way. No sense of the appropriate. I tried to understand but it did…hurt a bit. My mother also had a hard time seeing me this way. Only Dad and Mycroft and, occasionally, my eccentric Uncle Rudy would come to visit. I really have no other concept of ‘family’, and no concept of ‘friend’ at all before Victor, and our relationship didn’t last very long before he was injured and sent back planetside. Since then, I’ve had a parade of imbeciles, ignorant tossers, and buffoons through my ship, all of whom I was prodigiously glad to see leave. Upon occasion, I helped them.”

 

John chuckled. “I can imagine.”

 

“One sublime idiot was sent back in a storage barrel after I was done with his inane nattering and his slovenly manner. Drugged him, sealed him in with an airhole, and dumped him with the rest of the rubbish for security to pick up.”

 

By now, John was laughing outright. “My God, you are a menace, aren’t you?” he giggled.

 

“My body, my rules. Slackers and gobshites need not apply. That last batch only came for the food anyway. They knew they weren’t particularly welcome, but I was so hoping that someone new would show up. I am forever thankful you decided to try your luck that day,” Sherlock said, his voice softening at the end.

 

John got up from his pilot seat and walked over to the overstuffed chair, dropping down into it with obvious relish. “I still can’t believe you did all this for me, Sherlock. What if you’d been wrong? What if I’d turned out like all the rest?”

 

“You weren’t,” he replied, his voice low and earnest. “I could tell you were of a different cut than they were. You passed my test before I’d even set one up. You’re…remarkable, in so many ways.”

 

A flood of warmth filled John’s chest at the same time the temperature in the room rose a few degrees. “Thank you, Sherlock. I’m…I’m honored to have you as a friend.”

 

An awkward silence filled the room until there was a clang on the front of the ship. “Damn it, missed that one,” Sherlock muttered. “We’re getting into a little more clutter out here. Looks like the gravity well as broken up several larger pieces into bite-sized chunks, and those are getting through my screens occasionally. I’m going to have to run a check when we’re out of this—with your able assistance, of course.”

 

“Of course,” John echoed. “It’s my arse, too, if one of those little buggers gets through.”

 

“Doubtful,” Sherlock reassured him. “The shield are just cycling strangely, probably due to some problem with a power coupling or a timer.” Clang. “Damn it! Putting dents in my hull.”

 

“As long as we don’t get holed, we’ll be fine,” John reassured Sherlock in return.

 

“Indeed. Sorry if my attention wanders from you. You might want to take this time to rest up, since you might end up taking a spacewalk to do some troubleshooting. Hopefully it won’t be too bad, God willing.”

 

As John picked up a book on emergency repairs that he intended to peruse, his mind snagged on something Sherlock had said. He faced the central pillar and asked, “Are you religious, Sherlock?”

 

“Not particularly, John. Why do you ask? Oh, it’s because I refer to God occasionally, right?”

 

“Well, yeah.”

 

“I picked up various phrases during my formative years, much as you must have. One of the administrators of the Brain program was a former cleric who tried to instill some religious dogma into my non-material head. We debated the existence of God and the merits of various religions and she finally threw up her hands in disgust and called me a graceless heathen. That was pretty much the end of any attempts at brainwashing me one way or another.”

 

John could almost visualize a Mother Superior type trying to argue semantics with Sherlock and he grinned in amusement. “So you don’t believe in God?”

 

“Not particularly. John, I have travelled thousands of light years around the galaxy, and I have never found any evidence of some Supreme Being who sits among the stars and declares one race to be worthy and another not. Until my brain no longer functions, I shall hold my own council on the subject, and, after I cease to be, it will no longer be of any interest to me.”

 

“You are truly unique, Sherlock. Even among the most unique beings in the universe, you are singular.”

 

“Thank you, John. For some reason, your good opinion is of importance to me,” Sherlock admitted.

 

John smirked as he turned back to his book. He had a suspicion about what was bothering Sherlock to make him so pensive, but he wasn’t willing to explore it in depth. At least, not yet.

 

>>>***<<<

 

Bedtime had come and gone and John still couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t the nightmares of his past life in the corps that kept him awake, thought. Now, it was thoughts of something quite different.

 

Sherlock.

 

When did this Brain become so important to him? As he understood it, Brawns could range from disinterested passengers to lifelong friends with their Brains, yet this…he’d never heard of this happening before. Becoming sexually fixated on his Brain? That’s got to be one for the books.

 

I mean, think about it, John. Sherlock is a Brain…no body, unless you count his ship form, just a naked brain. Sure, he went through an enforced puberty, but still, it didn’t suddenly endow him with physicality and a sex drive. Those are reserved for Brawns, like me. So why does this man—yes, John, you see him as a man—preoccupy me like this? I like him, of course, but there’s something else there that started that very first day. Is it lust? Is it a need to protect him? Care for him, nurture him as an individual? Or is there something else going on here?

As he lay in his bed, hands behind his head on the pillow, he found his mind constantly being turned back toward Sherlock. His voice—God, that alone could make a man cream his pants, let alone what he could have looked like had he been born normal. John’s eyes searched the dark for the camera above the doorway. No red light.

 

Doesn’t mean he’s not listening, though. He needs to know what’s going on in the ship at all times. An errant sound could indicate that some piece of equipment was malfunctioning before it quit entirely. Or it could indicate a Brawn suffering from a seizure or psychotic break. At any rate, Sherlock would have to know.

 

As if reading his mind, the red light blinked on momentarily, then, as if caught stealing a cookie, it blinked back off.

 

“Sherlock.”

 

The light reappeared. “Yes, John.”

 

“You checking up on me for some reason? I haven’t had any nightmares or emergencies crop up.”

 

“No, John, I was simply…wondering if you were asleep. Sometimes it gets a little lonely out here without company. Usually I’m fine with it, but…to be honest, I miss your company when you sleep. “For space is large and good friends are too few”, as the old spacer song goes.”

 

He sounded sad. John’s heart went out to him. John may have had many lovers in his time, but he still preferred his own company over that of others. He had never engaged with anyone so emotionally before as he has with Sherlock.

 

John sat up on the side of the bed and stretched. He had the strangest feeling he was being watched closely, measured and catalogued along with the star data Sherlock was so busily acquiring. After a prodigious yawn, he leaned over, elbows on knees, and asked, “Would you like to talk some?”

 

A thoughtful pause, then, “No, not ‘talk’ per se. I was wondering if we could continue on from last night’s activities. I find that I need far more data on this activity.”

 

John covered his mouth with his hand to keep from giggling. More data, he had said, but that was ridiculous. There were mounds and mounds of data concerning human sexual practices that Sherlock could tap into. No, this was personal. Sherlock wanted more data about him.

 

After dropping his hand to speak, John asked, “What would you suggest?”

 

Another thoughtful pause. “Another go, perhaps? With different stimuli this time?”

 

What the hell, I can’t sleep anyway. And since when did it go from feeling uncomfortable to almost looking forward to this?

 

He bobbed his head in assent. “Fine. Anything you were thinking of in particular?”

 

“Hmm. No, your choice, I think. I really don’t know enough about this to make suggestions concerning sexual provocation.”

 

Yeah, sure you don’t. Flirt.

 

“Well,” John started, shifting on the bed in preparation. “A new stimulus sounds good. Can you bring your holographic self in here?”

 

“Of course,” Sherlock retorted, without rancor. “I can access all areas of the ship with my drones. They are quite versatile.”

 

John smiled as he waited, straining his senses to detect the holodrone in the near-darkness of the room. Suddenly its pale blue glow appeared, delicately hanging in the air just below the ceiling.

 

“The drones can access most rooms via the ventilation ducts and service panels,” Sherlock stated, proudly. “All ingress and egress points are controlled by me, so only my Brawns are aware of my movements.”

 

The hoverdrone waggled itself in the air facetiously, then positioned itself in front of the doorway, where it projected Sherlock’s image clearly. Sherlock’s silvery, cat-like eyes met John’s, causing his heart to flutter unexpectedly and his nether portions to respond quite without volition.

 

God, he’s beautiful. What a shame that his body was lost. He would have been a heartbreaker.

 

“John? Is something wrong? You seem sad now. Have you reconsidered?” Sherlock asked solicitously. His image flickered as if unsure.

 

John snapped back to reality. “No! Uh, no, Sherlock, I’m fine, and I haven’t reconsidered. My mind just…wandered for a moment.” He cocked his head to one side in curiosity. “Can you see me with that thing?” He pointed to the holodrone.

 

Sherlock followed his gesture and looked up. “There are sensors which take in information, much as my cameras and communication devices do, but I can’t ‘see’ you with my eyes, if that’s what you mean. They are an illusion, as much as the rest of this body.” His expression was composed, yet he exuded a sense of wistfulness before snapping back to his old self.

 

He stood at attention, his hands clasped behind his back and his feet slightly apart in military stance, impeccable uniform and hair, and an angular face with full lips to die for. “So, what would you like me to do, John?”

 

After taking a few deep breaths, John shimmied his pyjama pants down to his knees and took himself in hand, surprised at how much heft he already possessed. Cupping his cock in the palm of his hand, he started out with a teasing motion that he had used with previous lovers, Sliding his hand along the underside of his erection, fingers loosely closed, he presented it as a gift to his partner as it began to engorge. His thumb ran over the head and massaged the slit, eliciting a small groan of pleasure as his cock filled his hand with each stroke.

 

John closed his eyes, savoring the sensation and momentarily pondering Sherlock’s methods and motivations. Would he take copious notes and vid to study later? Write a dissertation on the mental and sexual dysfunction of meat bodies deprived of sexual outlet for long periods of time with only a disembodied brain for company?

 

As his cock became heavier and more sensitive, thoughts of Sherlock’s physical beauty pushed their way into his mind’s eye. John could imagine running his fingers through that thick, dark mass of curls, pulling on them ever so slightly to direct Sherlock’s perfect, sex-swollen lips to his cock. As his breaths came faster and harder, he cracked open his eyes to look at his Brain’s image once again.

 

Surprisingly, John found himself face to face with Sherlock, who had knelt in front of him and was  staring avidly at John’s turgid member. “You are…impressively endowed, John, at least according to my penile measurement charts and considering your physical stature. I had not been able to examine you this closely before,” he stated earnestly. He looked up and his eyes bored into John’s. “Is it possible to make it larger, or is this the maximum dimension?”

 

John stopped pulling off to stare at Sherlock disbelievingly. He had never had a sexual experience like this one before and was having a hard time not breaking out into laughter at the weirdness of it. Listening to someone’s voice crooning porny dialogue was one thing, but this…was a whole new level of strange.

 

“Uh, no, I’m sure I can make it bigger…”

 

Sherlock grinned up at him. “Excellent! Please do continue. What can I do to help?”

 

“Well, you can stand up, for one thing.”

 

Sherlock scrambled to his feet obediently.” Done. Now what?”

 

John swallowed, unsure how to proceed but knowing what he wanted. “Can you…take off your clothes?”

 

Sherlock frowned as he considered. “This is not something I have tried before. I’m sure there is a basic template in here somewhere…” His voice drifted off and his holographic self stopped moving as he was probably searching his memory banks for the required information. While he waited, John continued to pull himself off, some of his initial dimension having diminished during the exchange. Just looking at this holo of such a beautiful man made him swell again with very little effort.

 

The holo sprang back to life. “Ah, there it is. Yes, the genetic data does contain the blueprint for an unclothed body, as one might expect, but I wasn’t sure they would leave such an artifact behind. Now I’m glad they did.”

 

With a bit of a dramatic flourish, Sherlock’s clothing faded out, revealing a body that was practically perfect in every way. Long legs, slender waist; high, tight buttocks—God, he had it all. John’s mouth flooded with saliva when he looked at that lovely penis resting flaccidly in a thick thatch of dark hair, accompanied by two perfect spheres in their casing. Gorgeous.

 

“Thank you.” Sherlock’s reply was heartfelt. John hadn’t realized he’s said that aloud, but it was true. So heartrendingly, frustratingly true, considering that this was only an image, not a flesh-and--bone man before him. “Will this do?”

 

He took a step forward to stand within an arm’s length of John and looked down at him. “Hmm, I see that this form has provided some positive sexual stimulation of a visual nature.”

 

John looked down. Indeed, his cock had increased significantly in girth and length, the foreskin retracted completely to reveal a glistening ruddy head, with a glistening pearl of pre-cum at the tip. “Uh, yeah, so it would seem.”

 

“You find me attractive, then?” Sherlock asked, almost shyly, like a girl wearing her first prom dress, hoping to impress.

 

“Oh, God, yes,” John replied, his voice shaking with emotion. “You’re beautiful, you’re brilliant, you’re…God, you’re everything I could ask for.”

 

“Lie down,” Sherlock whispered, and John complied.

 

“Keep going,” he encouraged, as the holodrone shifted position and widened its projection beam. “Continue pleasuring yourself while you look at me.”

 

John gulped and nodded, his hand sliding along his length, pre-cum lubricating his strokes. He could feel his scrotum starting to pull up under his cock, tight against his pelvis, as he began rocking his hip in a rhythmic manner. He looked up at Sherlock, still standing beside the bed.

 

Sherlock smiled gently. “You’re beautiful too, John. You have the strong, compact body of a soldier and a rather impressive penile structure. Your face and hair attract me in a way I’ve not yet figured out and, yet, I want to be here, with you, in this way, right now. I will endeavor to make sense of it later.”

 

As he spoke, Sherlock grasped his own holographic phallus and began to pull on it rhythmically, causing it to swell and enlarge until it jutted out, proudly, from the dark curls surrounding it. John watched, fascinated, and Sherlock, erection at the full, crawled onto the bed to kneel astride John, their faces only inches apart. Sherlock’s “eyes” locked on his as he spoke.

 

“I don’t understand any of this, John,” he whispered, one hand stroking his own immaterial phallus, as he looked down at John, whose own cock had achieved truly impressive proportions and was now flushed red with desire. “I know that this is right, is good, is something I’ve never shared with another being. Even though I can’t ‘feel’ as you do, there is something going on inside me that is driving me down this path.” His voice was thick with emotion and deep as a black hole.

 

“Oh, God, oh, God, oh fuck, Sherlock…” John’s voice was broken, his hand pulling so hard it threatened to separate from his body. His face and chest were flushed, eyes closing involuntarily, as he arousal grew.

Through slitted lids, he watched Sherlock watching him, Sherlock’s hand pulling in time with his own. The heat, the pressure behind his cock and inside his balls built and built upon itself until, with a wordless cry, it spilled over, ejected from his body under pressure that shot his load through Sherlock’s kneeling form.

 

“Yes, John, yes, please, come for me,” Sherlock crooned as John ejaculated again and again, his body wracked with spasms of pleasure, until he was spent and collapsed on the bed. When he finally opened his eyes, Sherlock was still there, still naked, but the erection had diminished into flaccidity. Sherlock’s face was a study in beauty, gentleness, and soft emotion as he smiled down at John.

 

“I wish I could tend to you properly in the aftercare,” he said. “But I fear this will have to do.”

 

“What?” John panted, his mind overwhelmed with what he had just experienced.

 

“That I stay with you and tell you how you have changed my life. I never imagined one could have this degree of intimacy with another being. It would seem that my biology tutor was right—the brain is the primary sex organ.”

 

Sherlock raised one hand to lay it against John’s cheek tenderly. John couldn’t feel it, but his breathing accelerated just the same as he whispered, “God, Sherlock…you’re incredible, just fucking incredible.”

 

“As are you, John,” Sherlock whispered back, leaning down to touch his photonic lips against John’s. Again, John could not feel the kiss, but he responded, his lips reaching but never touching Sherlock’s. As Sherlock pulled away, John tried desperately to grab him, to hold him against his chest and belly, to…to…

 

“I have to go now, John. I’m…I’m so sorry I can’t give you more right now.” And, with that, he faded away.

 

John lay alone in his room. Only the whirr of the holodrone was audible until it, too, was gone.

 

Tears slid down the sides of his face and into his hairline.

 

Oh, God, Sherlock…

Chapter Text

John sat eating his breakfast, wordlessly, in the tiny kitchen.

 

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

 

The food was excellent, as usual. Sherlock was a master chemist, after all, and what is food if not chemistry, he had once said, and he was right. But, today, everything seemed…off. Even the food.

 

Even the coffee. Especially the coffee.

 

Normally, John would engage Sherlock in some early-morning banter. John always woke up ready to go—a holdover from his corp days. No slogging around the place in bathrobe and slippers. He was already in his casual uniform as he sipped his coffee and found it…strange.

 

He had a suspicion. The coffee-sipping stopped.

 

“Sherlock.”

 

Silence. Not even the blowers were cycling.

 

“SHERLOCK!” he bellowed.

 

“WHAT?” Sherlock bellowed back, obviously irritated.

 

John looked out into the front room and directly at the pillar within which Sherlock’s brain resided. He hefted the mug. “What’s in the coffee, Sherlock?”

 

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he replied, coolly, with a bit of stiff formality thrown in for good measure.

 

If he had been unsure before, now John was certain. “What’s…in…the coffee?” he enunciated through clenched teeth.

 

Hummmmmmmm

 

“Don’t act all innocent with me, Mastermind. You doctored my coffee, didn’t you?”

 

HUMMMMMMMM….the Sherlock version of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying, “Lalalalalala can’t hear you lalalala…”

 

John rose from the small table for one, turned to face the pillar, and launched the mug straight at it. It smashed into fragments, spattering coffee all around the impact zone.

 

That…was unnecessary,” Sherlock rebuked him. “And messy. You can clean that up. I refuse to.”

 

John picked another mug…one of the ones he detested…and lobbed it again at the pillar. It shattered, scattering pottery around the base.

 

“Now will you fucking answer my question, or do I have to take a can opener to you?“ John grated.

 

The hum subsided. John waited. And waited.

 

Just as he was about to pick up another mug, Sherlock spoke.

 

“Yes. The answer to your question is yes.”

 

John lowered the mug. “Why? Why, Sherlock? What were you hoping to accomplish? Was that some kind of…sick experiment? Playing mind games with the Brawn?”

 

“NO!” he denied forcibly. The lights suddenly dimmed a bit—that was new—and Sherlock said, in a subdued baritone, “I—I wanted to make you forget.”

 

John blinked in astonishment. Forget? Forget what? No, stupid question. Forget why?

 

“Sherlock?”

 

The lights dimmed even more. Embarrassment. Shame, even. “Forget…last night,” he finally conceded, his voice dripping with self-loathing.

 

John sat down with a thump, surprised. “Why? Last night was…”

 

“An anomaly. It can never happen again, John. Best that everyone involved forget about it. I shall delete it from my memory…”

 

“Well, I won’t,” John asserted. “Last night was the best fucking sex of my life.”

 

The room warmed just a bit. “Mine, too, although that’s not saying much.”

 

“Sooo…”

 

“I looked in on you afterwards, John. You were crying.”

 

John nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I was.”

 

“That was my fault. I stepped over a line somewhere and hurt you. In my own quest for knowledge, I caused you emotional pain and, for that, I am truly sorry.” His voice sounded almost tearful.

 

Gesturing toward the spattered coffee, John asked, “What was in it?”

 

He could almost hear the shrug in Sherlock’s voice. “A variant of TD-12. An old drug used to interfere with the making of new memories. I was hoping…I was hoping the memories of last night would be fresh enough that they could still be disrupted.” He sounded emotionally shattered. “Please believe me, John, this is for the best.” He paused. “For both of us.”

 

John rose from his seat and wandered over to the now-sticky, ceramic-encrusted pillar and laid his hand against it. He dropped his head and stated, firmly, “No. No, it’s not. I don’t want to go that route, Sherlock. I don’t want to forget. You…I just realized, last night, how important you’ve become to me and I don’t want to lose that. I don’t think you should have to lose that, either.” One deep breath later, John declared, “We’re in this together, Sherlock. You…and me. I don’t know how this will all play out, but, right now, this is what we have and it shouldn’t just be chucked out the airlock, ‘K?”

 

After a moment, in which the temperature of the room significantly rose, Sherlock whispered, “Yes. I would prefer to…continue to remember my times with you. As I said before, you are..remarkable. So average-seeming, yet so full of surprises.”

 

John raised one eyebrow and smirked. “Was that supposed to be a compliment?”

 

Sherlock chuckled awkwardly. “Forgive me. I’m not very good at this.”

 

“Actually, you blew me away last night. How did you know…?”

 

Huffily, “Well, I did go through your porn vids for the appropriate dialogue that first time, so I took some…’pointers’ from them, even though the acting was atrocious.”

 

John chuckled as well. “Well, when you’re right, you’re right.”

 

“And I’m always right,” Sherlock replied, smugly.

 

>>>***<<<

 

“There it is,” Sherlock stated. “The Janus system. Two suns, fifteen planets of varying sizes, some with quite extraordinarily unstable orbits. It’s surprising that at least two of them didn’t collide millennia ago. Must create interesting planetary phenomena during the close passes.”

 

Leaning over the control panel, John was enthralled. He’d never before been allowed to view the space surrounding the ships that transported him and his colleagues to their various assignments. They had been relegated to windowless holds with barely room to move. One had to elbow one’s way through the crowd to reach the loo, usually a jerry-rigged affair hardly capable of servicing so many soldiers. The stench was abysmal.

 

Being able to watch their approach was a gift. His entire assignment was a god-dammed gift, right down to the Brain with whom he shared the ship. He felt like he was living in paradise by comparison to his previous life.

 

“It’s beautiful, breathtaking,” he breathed. “Rather like you,” he added, his eyes sliding to take in the pillar beside his station.

 

“Base flattery,” Sherlock said dismissively, but the room warmed nonetheless. “We cleared the debris field yesterday, but some of the planets possess their own rings, which I shall have to skirt. Don’t need any more dents in my hull.”

 

“Vanity, thy name is Sherlock,” John joked.

 

“Humph. You won’t call it vanity if you have to take a spacewalk to repair one of my sensor arrays,” Sherlock observed acidly.

 

John turned his eyes back to the vista before him and smiled. For the first time in his life, he actually felt…happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As always, Sherlock’s flying was flawless. John couldn’t even feel the deceleration as they approached the orbit of:

 

“Janus II, an Earth-like sphere covered in verdant growth and dotted with large pools of aquamarine water. Comparable atmosphere, flora, and fauna to Earth make this a most desirable world for the SU,” Sherlock observed as he slid into geosynchronous orbit over the site of the SU base. “My ‘pod’ will serve you well as a short transport to the surface. Mycroft was kind enough to ensure I had the best of everything when I was equipped for duty.”

 

John turned in the pilot’s chair, his face a study in concern. “Wait a minute. A pod? An escape pod? But they aren’t…”

 

“Mine are,” Sherlock replied smugly. “I have two, as you know, just in case I need to carry more than my Brawn on assignment. One never knows what may happen, after all.”

 

John didn’t like the sound of that. It implied…

 

“I wouldn’t leave you behind, Sherlock, no matter what, so you needn’t have splurged on the pods in any event.”

 

A vent gusted a warm, gentle breath against John’s cheek as Sherlock murmured, “Thank you, John, but I could never allow you to die with me. You’re far too important for that.”

 

John got up and walked to the pillar, first laying his hand against it, then his forehead. “There is no one more important than you, Sherlock. I would gladly sacrifice my life to save you. You’re…amazing. You must survive.”

 

Dead silence. For once, Sherlock was without words. John thought, fleetingly, that he felt the ship tremble.

 

John patted the column before returning to his seat but he remained facing Sherlock’s column as he recovered his orders from the nearby console.

 

“So, according to the most recent orders from SU, I’m supposed to wear my uniform so as to differentiate me from the troops--translation, make me less of a target--when I go planetside to pick up the samples. You, in the meantime,” he added, pointing at the column, “are planning to remain in orbit to await my return, right?”

 

“I think it best, yes. Normally, I would park some distance away, but there isn’t enough room for me in all these trees, and a ground take-off, after such a long trip, would waste way too much fuel, not to mention scaring the hell out of the natives.”

 

Yeah, you’re right. No point in riling up people any more than is necessary. It says her that the SU troop carrier was ordered to stay in orbit for the same reasons. A small contingent took a transport to the ground for zone control--not like spears, arrows, and bolos can stand up to sidearms and mines, of course. One shot from a Blazar and the natives are going to keep their distance—the ones that survive, anyway. Nasty weapon—I don’t know why the SU allows the corps to use them. Too much collateral damage.”

 

John could hear the studied indifference in Sherlock’s voice when he replied, “The SU doesn’t allow it, actually, claiming that they respect all new ‘members of the Union’,  but the industrialists supply them to the troops anyway because they don’t actually give a rat’s ass about ‘innocents’ who get in their way. All they want is the product—whatever’s left after that is the SU’s problem.”

 

John nodded, his mouth twisting up in disapproval, before consulting his orders again. “Well, it says I am not to carry weapons on this mission, that the troops will be my ‘protection’ against any rebellious natives—of which, I’m sure, there will be a few. The corps is not known for its gentle touch. And…” he peered more closely at one section, written in smaller print than the rest, “Aha! Here’s the catch—we’re not just picking up a sample, we’re taking the whole damned plant! Seems it’s considered to be sacred and only the most worthy may partake of it. The warrior who was healed was the Chief’s son and heir apparent.” He looked up. “Well, this puts a whole new light on the mission. We will be carrying the only known sample of this plant on the planet, as well as the process for creating the ointment, which was ‘obtained’ from the shaman of the tribe.” He shook his head in disgust. “I don’t even want to know how they did that. I’m sure it did not entail any ‘Pleases’ and ‘Thank yous’.”

 

Sherlock snorted. “Certainly not. A Shaman would not give up such information easily. This is the type of product that could revolutionize modern medicine. You can be quite sure there was force, or even torture, involved. Disgusting. Science should be pure, not tainted with such barbaric methods.”

 

A lopsided smile crept across John’s face as he continued his reading. Sherlock was such a purist and, in his own way, quite naïve and innocent. He liked that about the otherwise prickly brain.

 

“That smile is quite…flattering, John,” Sherlock quietly observed.

 

John looked up, startled. “What? Oh, uh, thank you, Sherlock. Sorry, but I don’t, uh, know, uh, how to respond to that in kind…”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “You don’t, John. I do not give out compliments idly or in the expectation of receiving them in return. It is a simple statement of fact. You are, in fact, quite attractive.” He laughed. “And, now, you’re blushing.”

 

John ducked his head so he could hide his face behind the order form. “You’re barmy.”

 

“You’re charming.”

 

“BUGGER OFF!”

 

>>>***<<<

 

The pod was a small affair, with only enough room for one in comfort. John had familiarized himself with the controls over several days of their not-inconsiderable journey. They were almost identical to the auxiliary control panel all Brawns must master if they were to take command of the ship in the event of Brain incapacitation, the only difference being the maneuvering controls didn’t control the larger ship, only the pod. Sherlock had, in some fit of contrariness, not allowed John to enter or examine the pods prior to planetfall. He said he had wanted it to be a surprise, which had made no sense whatsoever until now. Sherlock’s pod was, indeed, decked out to the nines. There was even a note in an envelope left for him, written in a tidy ‘hand’. It read:

 

John,

            Since you will be using this pod, I wanted to provide you with everything you will need to

            function fully-independently from me, for greater efficiency in our missions.

I do hope we will be associates for many years to come.

            Your faithful Brain,

            Sherlock

 

It was hard to read the note due to the tears welling in John’s eyes. Sherlock had written this note long before he knew whether he and John would be a good fit together. The fact that he had had so much faith in John left a lump in his throat and a swelling in his chest.

 

Before entering the pod itself, John felt over his uniform and its hidden pockets. He had an insulated tazer incorporated into his right and left jacket cuffs, in case he was being held by the wrists. There was a set of flash-bang micro-grenades in his zippered jacket’s hidden pocket, along with a “squealer” device guaranteed to aurally incapacitate anyone within hearing distance (with earplugs for John). A tracker had been incorporated into his badge so that Sherlock could follow his progress on the ground, and a camera and microphone had been sewn into his high collar, along with an earpiece for stealthy communication with Sherlock (which also included a mic, just in case). There was also a mini barf-gas bomb to slow down his pursuers, and a good, old fashioned pistol in his pants pocket, hidden right underneath his medical belt kit. He would also be carrying a sample case for the plant.

 

Sliding into the pod, he took a moment to appreciate the gift Sherlock had given him. He could actually come and go as he pleased, if he wished. Everything was of the highest quality, even the seat, which was engineered to be the most comfortable thing he’d sat in since his overstuffed chair. He fastened his restraints and noticed, with some degree of curiosity, that the pod had been equipped with an inertial dampening field. He would hardly be performing any high-speed maneuvers in a pod…

 

“Well, John, how do you like it? Did I manage to surprise you?” Sherlock’s full-toned voice rang in his ear.

 

John nodded. “Yes, yes, you did, Sherlock. I’m…impressed,” he admitted, running his hand over the controls and interior fittings. “Where…”

 

“Just above the windshield, John,” Sherlock responded. John looked up to see a camera, its red light staring at him unblinkingly. “I can see you quite clearly, and the ‘pinger’ in your badge is working flawlessly. I’ll be able to follow you wherever you are, in case you need me.”

 

“Thanks,” John smiled up at the camera. “It’s…amazing, you doing all this for me.”

 

The red light continued staring emotionlessly, but the voice in his ear was tender. “I knew, somehow, that we would make a superlative team, and an artist is only as good as his materials, don’t you think?”

 

John grinned as he closed the pod door and revved up the engines. They purred like a big cat. He winked up at the camera. “Adventure time!”

Chapter Text

The grin was still plastered on his face a few minutes later, when he maneuvered his pod to a small landing field cleared for that purpose by the corps. The pod was a dream come true for a corpsman—light, nimble, but with great power. The independence sang in his blood. After years of having to do what he was told to do with a bunch of other corpsmen in tow, this was exhilarating.

 

He glanced up at the camera overhead. The steady red light blinked for just a second, like Sherlock had just winked at him. He brought up his hand in mock salute and winked back.

 

“Glad you made it down safely,” Sherlock purred into his right ear.

 

“After all the drilling you made me go through, did you ever doubt me?” John snarked, his lopsided smile taking all the sting out of his words.

 

Sherlock chuckled into his ear, making something stir deep in his nether regions. “Of course not. I am, if nothing else, an excellent teacher.”

 

“And a hell of a roleplayer,” John murmured to himself, forgetting Sherlock could hear him. The burst of laughter startled him.

 

“Why, thank you, John. We shall have to revisit that thought at a later time. Right now, get yourself under control and let’s get this mission underway. The sooner you get back…”

 

“The sooner I can curl up in my nice, soft chair and read a good book…”

 

John had been unaware that Sherlock had re-routed some circuits to run through the metal base of his chair. The shock was slight, but pointed. “You. Out.”

 

“Bossy,” John muttered as he sprang the latch and climbed out into the lushest environment he had ever experienced. He looked around and took in a deep breath. “This must be what paradise looked like.”

 

“If you believe the stories in several-thousand-year-old books, then I suppose so,” Sherlock sniffed, dismissively. “It certainly could have remained as such were it not for those missionaries. They led the SU to this place, so now it will become yet another ‘resource’ for the Powers That Be back on Earth.”

 

John’s mouth twisted up in disapproval. “Which employs us.”

 

“Which employs us,” Sherlock sighed. “At least, we are the least of the intrusions this world will suffer.”

 

“Mmmph,” John returned, noncommittally.

 

John set out through the underbrush in the direction of the beacon that had guided him down, sample case in hand. It was getting dark, even though the second sun was still visible in the sky. It was the smaller of the two, smaller even than Earth’s Sol, so it generated a fainter light over the landscape, making the greenery around him appear even more thick and lush. The scents in the air were heady, too. So many strange odors to decipher. He’d have to take some samples while he was here conferring with the skeleton scientific crew that had been left behind.

 

After a short walk through the greenery, he entered into a wide, circular clearing dotted with native dwellings similar to teepees and hogans. These stood in stark contrast to the geodesic tents and armed troop carriers of the corps, which stood off to one side. The natives, greenish-skinned humanoids with long, dark greenish-brown hair, stared out of the doors of their respective homes, some in fear, and some in anger. The angry ones made what John could only assume were rude gestures (or, perhaps, protective ones?) against him before disappearing back inside.

 

The corpsmen skirted the village as much as was possible as they advanced toward him. One man, in particular, saluted him. “Are you Doctor John Watson, of the Brainship Sherlock?”

 

John saluted back. “That’s me,” he admitted.

 

 Sherlock snorted in his ear. “I am unimpressed,” he sniped.

 

John ignored him as the commander continued. “I’m here to take you to the science team. You’ll be liaising with our Nurse Tech, Mary Morstan. She’s quite good, and I hope she’ll make the hand-off an easy one.” His eyes slid toward the village. “I really don’t want you to have to stay here any longer than necessary. The natives are, shall we say, restless.”

 

“Brilliant observation, Captain Obvious,” Sherlock quipped. John nearly snorted laughter, bringing up his hand to cover a faux sneeze just in time. “Stop that,” he whispered. Sherlock just giggled appealingly.

 

“Yes, the plant life here can cause allergic reactions among us humans,” the commander admitted, completely missing their exchange due to his anxiety about the natives. “Best you meet with Ms. Morstan and be on your way, then.”

 

John followed the commander as the corpsmen fell into formation around him, always keeping at least one person between him and his surroundings. Not good. The natives must be extremely unpredictable if they’re this concerned about safety.

 

The commander led John to a larger-than-usual tent and ushered him inside. The rest of the corps surrounded the tent, weapons at the ready.

 

Inside, the commander called over a young woman with short blond hair and huge blue eyes. She smiled, and John felt a peculiar flutter in his stomach. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was quite striking in appearance. “Doctor Watson, this is Mary Morstan, Nurse Technician. She’s been working with Doctor Stamford…”

 

John held up a hand. “Wait a minute. Doctor Stamford? Mike Stamford? Of Barts Hospital? Specializing in xenobiology?”

 

The commander looked surprised. “Why, yes. You know him?” John nodded and the commander continued. “He was specifically requested for this mission because of the extremely sensitive nature of the discovery.”

 

John muttered, “Well, I’ll be damned. Where is he now?”

 

“Off-world,” the petite blond responded. John switched his attention to her, noting her obvious nervousness. “He was called back due to safety concerns. I was requested to stay to see to the handover, then I’m leaving, too. The natives don’t want their sacred plant to be taken away from them, obviously, so they’ve become a bit more…unpredictable lately. And I think they’ve figured out that that’s why you’re here.”

 

“Hmmm,” John murmured. The more he heard about the current situation, the less he liked it. Leaving non-military medical personnel behind just struck him as reprehensible. Sure, they cleared Mike out, but leaving this frail-looking woman behind…

 

At that moment, one of the corpsmen burst into the tent. “Sir, the warriors are meeting in their sacred hogan with the shaman. They’re really angry about what happened…”

 

“SHUT UP!” the commander hissed, his eyes darting toward Mary and John. John’s hackles began to rise. He looked at Mary, who looked back at him with fear in her eyes.

 

“We have to go,” she stated, her voice surprisingly even.

 

An arrow zinged through the tent opening and skewered the messenger back to front. He died without a word. The commander took a step back in shock. “Out the back, both of you!”

 

“Get the sample box!” Mary yelled as she raced toward the plant, a two-foot high bush that wouldn’t fit into the box neatly. She grabbed the largest part of it and rammed it, roots and all, into the box John presented to her, bending branches down so they could close the lid. It was a less-than-optimum method of sample-collection, but it would have to do. The commander opened the rear entry flap, gesturing at them to exit at speed. John grabbed Mary’s hand in one of his as they ran, carrying the unwieldy sample box in the other.

 

As they ran across the clearing, the shaman and one of his warriors approached them, blocking their way to the pod. The newly-one-eyed shaman, showing the physical evidence of the “persuasion” to which he had been recently subjected, yelled at them in a language John couldn’t comprehend, but Mary could.

 

“He’s telling us to drop the plant and we can walk free. Otherwise…” She made a motion across her throat with one finger while imitating a slicing sound.

 

“Great,” John muttered as the warrior approached, spear held at the horizontal. The shaman pulled out a rather nasty-looking knife that looked to be made of some sort of black mineral. The low sun glinted off the edge of it as he held it aloft. “I don’t trust him. Let’s go.”

 

John pulled Mary sideways in an attempt to circumnavigate the two, only to run into a rather large native male who grabbed John, forcing him to drop the case. The native then took hold of John by both wrists as Mary snatched up the case and swung it at him. The male dodged the blow easily, but it distracted him long enough for John to touch both of his jacket cuffs together, effectively tazing the native, who stiffened and dropped to the ground as if pole-axed. The shaman and his guard backed away, eyes wide in fear and amazement.

 

COME ON!” John yelled at Mary, as he grabbed her wrist again and headed toward the path to the pod. Behind him, the sound of a bloody battle filled the air. He didn’t look back. At another time, that could have been him and his men. He knew the corpsmen were being butchered. The natives, though possessed of rudimentary weapons, were not afraid to die for their cause. The corps…not so much. “Don’t look back, Mary,” he admonished.

 

“But the soldiers…” she started before John breathlessly finished the sentence for her.

 

“Are dead, or dying. It could have been me or, worse, it could have been you. Those natives had been preparing for this, but the corps hadn’t. Lack of preparation killed them. Now, let’s GO!” He yanked her forward.

 

“John,” Sherlock’s sonorous voice filled his ear. “Warning. There are energy blasts in your immediate area, and they aren’t being aimed at the natives.”

 

“Great,” John gritted as they reached the pathway John had followed earlier. He started to feel the tiniest bit of relief when…

 

SIZZAP!  A bush beside them burst into flame.

 

SHIT!” John yelled. Mary screamed as the plasma blast singed her jacket. The plunged into the undergrowth, but not before John had reached into a pocket and thrown a flash-bang grenade back into the clearing, hoping that the resulting percussion would be absorbed by the thick growth around them. Fortunately, Sherlock had put them on a timer, so that they actually exploded a few seconds after hitting the ground, allowing John and Mary time to escape into the trees.

 

A howl of pain and anger went up in the clearing as the natives were temporarily blinded and deafened by the small device. “Excellent move, John. Those grenades are tiny, but they really pack a punch,” Sherlock noted. “It will only delay them for a short time, unfortunately. They are too ramped up on adrenaline to be deterred for long.”

 

“Agreed,” John stated. Mary looked at him curiously but said nothing. “It’s not so good for us that the natives must have learned how to use the Blastars by watching the corpsmen. Smart bunch. That’s gonna make it harder for us to get away in the pod. They could blast us out of the sky with one of the transport cannons.”

 

“Yes, that is a definite danger. I will keep monitoring you. Ah, wait a moment! One of the troops sent an emergency message to the corp Brainship orbiting this planet. He’s coming in, but he’s on the other side of the planet. I’ll coordinate with him if I can and get back to you,” Sherlock rapped out, tersely,

 

“Yeah, great, good, you do that,” John panted as they neared the pod.

 

“Is that your Brain speaking to you?” Mary asked, breathlessly, as she unsnagged herself from a branch.

 

“Yeah, that’s Sherlock,” John returned. “He’s making arrangements with the corp ship…”

 

“No go, John,” Sherlock cut in. “The Brain refuses to listen to reason. He is going to fly in with guns blazing and, basically, wipe out whatever is still moving down there. He might also take out the pod, if he’s so inclined, and call it ‘the casualties of war’. A typical grunt with delusions of heroism, dangerous in the extreme.”

 

They reached the pod, which was being guarded by a single corpsman. John shoved Mary inside and turned to the corpsman. “Son, there is a bunch of very angry natives on their way here. You might want to take your ass somewhere else and wait for transport.”

 

The boy blinked at him, then shouldered his gun. “No, sir, an SU corpsman never runs from a fight. You go, I’ll cover you, sir!”

 

John stopped, gaping at the boy. “Son, I warned you…”

 

An arrow suddenly grew out of the boy’s chest. The look of surprise on his face was unpleasant in the extreme.

 

“God bless you, boy,” John said as he clambered into the pod, assisted by Mary’s able hands. He strapped himself into the chair with Mary half in his lap and the sample box stowed under the seat.

 

“Cozy,” Sherlock drawled.

 

“Shut up,” John snarled back as he lobbed a barf bomb out of the pod door before closing it.

 

“What?” Mary asked.

 

“Not you, Mary. My smart-assed partner.”

 

A spear clanged against the outside of the pod, followed by the disturbing sound of many people retching their guts out.

 

“Who is always right, of course,” Sherlock snarked back.

 

“SHUT UP!” John yelled as he commenced the engine fire-up procedure.

 

“Well, in that case, I won’t tell you what my plan is…”

 

John rolled his eyes.

 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, what is your brilliant plan?” he asked through gritted teeth. Mary giggled nervously.

 

“I am commencing a power dive as we speak. Once you are airborne, follow these vectors to move parallel with my run and turn on your inertial dampening field. Then hit full power. I will grab you with my tractor beam and drag you along with me, out of range of our little Drudgeship and the big-assed Blastars planetside.”

 

“You’re gonna squash us like bugs with a maneuver like that,” John complained. Mary just gulped.

 

“Not if you follow my directions. I’ve done this before,” Sherlock shot back.

 

“With Victor?”

 

A pause, then, “Yes, with Victor. If it’s of any consolation, he was already gravely injured at the time. My maneuver had nothing to do with his infirmity. He would have died otherwise.”

 

John nodded, his eyes wandering up to the camera above the windshield. “Do it, Sherlock. I’m entrusting you with our lives.”

 

In a soft voice, Sherlock replied, “Your safety is my utmost concern, John. I would even ditch the mission for you.”

 

John smiled softly up at the camera, then caught Mary’s expression out of the corner of his eye. It was unreadable and, yet, it…disturbed him.

 

“Ready for take-off, and I hope to never have to see this planet again except in our rear-view mirror,” John quipped as he grasped the controls and levitated the pod out of its tiny clearing. Down below, he could see natives shaking their weapons at them in anger.

 

SIZZAP!  The air exploded off to their right. Mary screamed involuntarily. John almost did, too.

 

“SHERLOCK!”

 

“Oh, so now you want me around. Are you at full thrust yet? I’m a little preoccupied with Atilla the Grunt’s approach. He’s coming in fast and hot and he’s going to be one big bastard to avoid, since he will be crossing our route--on purpose, I suspect. Contrary bastard. I’ll have too much momentum to be able to do much in the way of evasive maneuvers, especially with you in tow. I might slingshot you off into infinity if I do this wrong,” Sherlock admitted.

 

John spared Mary a look. She smiled weakly back. “Well, I never figured I’d go out like this,” she joked weakly.

 

“You won’t. I have the utmost faith in Sherlock,” John replied, forcefully. “He won’t let us down.”

 

The engines throbbed as they ramped up. John prepared to hit the dampener switch.

 

“Thank you for your confidence, but it was never in doubt,” Sherlock replied, in obvious high spirits. “Now, line up your vectors and hit the power!”

 

John hit the dampener switch just before activating full thrust. The pod shot off like a bullet just as another blast vaporized the air molecules behind it.

 

“I can’t move!” Mary yelled as the engines spat them through the air.

 

“Feel lucky you can’t. If not for the stasis field, you’d be a thin layer of goo splattered all over the back of the pod,” John yelled

 

Mary looked very slightly nauseous at the thought.

 

“INCOMING!” Sherlock bellowed through John’s earpiece. “Hold on to your dentures, this is going to be rough!”

 

John wrapped his arms around Mary, who was, unlike John, unbelted. The inertial dampener would keep them both cocooned from the incredible forces at play, but he felt better doing it than not. Mary snaked her arms around him, too, and stared out the windshield with thinly-disguised terror.

 

John couldn’t see Sherlock’s impressive dive, but he could see the spot on the horizon that was one big-assed troop ship closing in quickly. They were headed on an intersecting course.

 

SIZZAP!  The pod bounced slightly.

 

Shit, someone was getting their range, even at full speed, which was none too speedy in a pod.

 

“Out of my way, little pod, or I’ll blow you out of the sky!” The Gruntship blustered. “Which I may do anyway, just for shits and giggles.”

 

“If I may be so rude, Atilla, fuck you and the ship you flew in on,” Sherlock chimed in, his voice ever so slightly strained. “I’ll be taking my pod now, if you don’t mind, or even if you do.”

 

The air screamed behind them as John felt the shuddering grasp of the tractor beam, followed immediately by a violent lurching forward as Sherlock’s tractor beam scooped them up, adding his momentum to theirs.

 

“Oh, crap!” Mary cried in surprise and fear, and John could feel all his sphincters snap shut in response. They were now flying at least three times faster than pod maximum toward a rather violent intersection with the troopship, which had shown no sign of giving way. They had speed but he had both speed and  a far greater mass. It wouldn’t be a friendly meeting of Brains.

 

Unexpectedly, Sherlock veered upward, dragging the reluctant pod with him. The troopship bellowed at him and shot off a few undirected rounds, none of which came anywhere near them. Sherlock howled with glee as he blew a tail plume right into the troopship’s “face”.

 

YAAAAHOOOOOO!” he crowed. “Take that, you tiny-brained, overbuilt army washout! Have fun playing with the natives! They may surprise you, you mediocre excuse for a toy soldier! YEEEEHAAAA!”

 

John couldn’t help but grin at Sherlock’s antics, even though they bordered on the psychotic. They were both risk-takers, but sometimes Sherlock could curl even John’s toes. He squeezed Mary closer as he felt her stiffen up.

 

“He’s a little bit barmy, isn’t he?” she asked, only the slightest tremor in her voice. John was surprised at how well she was holding up, considering.

 

“More than a little,” John admitted, jokingly. “He’s absolutely barmy, but he’s also absolutely brilliant, so you have to take the good with the bad.”

 

“Why, thank you, John,” Sherlock practically cooed. “How very sweet of you.”  His tone changed to all-business. “We’re out of range now. Pulling you inside. The rest of the trip should be cake.”

 

John smiled skeptically. With Sherlock on board, the last thing one could expect from a mission was simplicity.

Chapter Text

John pried himself out of the narrow pod cabin, then turned to help Mary clamber out. His practiced physician’s eye did a once-over of the petite woman. Hair mussed, face slightly pale, minute tremor in the hand she had proferred—no apparent signs of hysteria or shock. Excellent. They had both survived Sherlock’s mad plan intact and none the worse for wear.

 

Upon exiting, Mary turned and awkwardly fished the specimen case out from under the pod seat. She held it to her as if it were her only child. “Thank God we escaped before…”

 

John scowled. “Yeah, well, I’m sure the natives aren’t particularly pleased with us right now.”

 

Her face dropped. “Oh, those poor soldiers…they must have paid a high price to allow us to escape.” She allowed the box to slide down her body until it hung loosely from her hands.

 

“Yeah,” John agreed, taking the case from her grip. “Well, having been in their shoes before, that was just part of the job. This,” he lifted the case up into the air between them. “This is what the mission was all about. The least we can do is to make sure they didn’t die for nothing.”

 

He turned on his heel and headed back along the corridor leading to the control room. Mary followed, running to catch up. As they entered the central room, Mary gasped. “My God, this is like home away from home!” she exclaimed.

 

John smirked. “Yeah, Sherlock had it set up for me so I would feel comfortable during long trips. Nice, eh?”

 

“Better than nice!” she said, excitedly. She ran over to the overstuffed chair and pirouetted to sit down. “So soft! You’re a lucky one!” She ran her hands over the rounded arms and snuggled back into it, beaming.

 

“John,” Sherlock’s voice sounded in his ear. “Don’t react. Don’t answer. Do you understand?”

 

John nodded his head casually, as if in response to Mary’s enthusiastic compliments.

 

“Good. I’m not…comfortable having her here. She could be MCore or some other company’s paid stooge. Keep your earwig in, but pretend you’re taking it out and dropping it in the locked storage in the lab.”

 

John smiled widely as he changed hands holding the specimen case and “removed” his earwig with an obvious sigh of relief. “Nice to get that thing out. Sherlock can be a bit annoying sometimes.”

 

Mary looked mock-horrified. “John! That’s your partner! Aren’t you being a bit harsh?”

 

“No, we’re always at each other. Look at how he’s not even talking to me! Probably all caught up in some project of his.” He tilted his back and shouted, “Oi, Sherlock! You there?”

 

“Mmph, about time you got back here. Leaving me alone while you go off adventuring,” Sherlock grumbled. “And who’s this? You know I don’t like new people, John.”

 

“Oh, quit your grousing,” John grumbled back as he carried the case and the earwig into the lab. “This is Nurse Technician Mary Morstan. They left her behind for the handoff because things had gotten too dicey to keep the rest of the medical team around. If I hadn’t brought her back, the natives would have done her in. No choice, really. Now, be polite and not your usual stroppy self.”

 

“Hello, Mary. Pardon my annoyance, but John is singularly inconsiderate of me most of the time,” Sherlock complained. John smiled to himself so that Mary couldn’t see. He mimed throwing the earwig into the lockbox and uncrated the plant, placing it in the sink and filling the bottom with water until he could transplant it properly. There were supplies on board along with some agar mixtures to keep it alive until they could bring it back to Earth.

 

“Could I get you something to eat or drink, Mary? John’s not much of a cook, but I can do wonders with standard ship rations,” Sherlock offered smugly.

 

“Why, thank you, Sherlock. That’s very considerate of you. I’m sure John and I could use something to eat, couldn’t we, John?”

 

John could almost hear Sherlock’s non-existent teeth grinding as Mary presumed to speak for John. He chuckled to himself as Sherlock’s annoyance hum started up again.

 

Leaving the bush soaking in the lab, John returned to the “parlor” section of the control room and sat opposite Mary in Sherlock’s low seat. He favored her with a smile and she smiled back, coyly.

 

The hum grew louder.

 

Mary looked up in concern before reaching out toward John. “What is that sound, John? Is there a problem with the ship?”

 

“If she so much as touches you, John, I will space her. You have my promise on that,” Sherlock muttered darkly in John’s ear.

 

John raised a hand to his mouth to suppress a snicker. Sherlock had never struck him as a jealous type before…

 

“No, no, no problem, Mary. Just Sherlock testing out some systems, that’s all. He’s not as young as he used to be, you know.”

 

“You should talk, you old fossil,” Sherlock snapped back through the overhead. He then whispered via earwig, “Keep it up, John. Let her think we don’t get along. That will keep her from being suspicious about our motives.”

 

Wait a minute. Motives? Since when do we have…

 

As if he had read John’s mind, Sherlock expanded on his statement. “I’ll bring you up to speed later, when you’re alone. Suffice to say, I’m concerned that the situation isn’t all we’ve been led to believe it is. For example, since when would a nurse tech be left behind in a possible flash-over situation? They should have evacuated everyone medical and left the hand-off to the military.”

 

Hmmm…interesting point…

 

“John?”

 

John snapped back to the here-and-now in time to hear Mary saying, “…you okay? Maybe you should eat something…”

 

He waved his hands in denial. “No! No, I’m…fine, Mary, although I must admit that I am a bit puckish…”

 

“Dinner…is served,” Sherlock announced sonorously. “Please adjourn to the kitchen for victuals.”

 

Mary giggled and held out her hand. John climbed out of Sherlock’s chair and gallantly assisted her from her seat, bowing over her hand in the process. In his ear, John could hear Sherlock making retching sounds. He grinned.

 

“Allow me to escort you to your table, Ms Moran,” John stated in his best maitre d’ impersonation. He knew, without having to hear it, that Sherlock was muttering to himself as he fumed inside his steel pillar. He tucked Mary’s arm into his as he led the way into the small kitchen, where a lovely dinner had been prepared and served by Sherlock’s talented drones.

 

Both seated, John raised a glass of wine to his comely dinner partner, making her blush. As she raised the glass to her lips, the ship suddenly lurched, causing her to spill some of it on herself.

 

John jumped to her assistance with a napkin as she waved away his ministrations. He then turned his head and angrily shouted, “Sherlock!”

 

“Sorry, bit of a bump in the road there. Space has a lot of debris in this area, you know.” He sounded vaguely smug.

 

Mary giggled. “You two don’t exactly get along well, do you?”

 

John shrugged. “It’s a job, and he’s not all that bad when he’s not talking.”

 

Sherlock muttered, “Bastard” in John’s ear. John ignored it.

 

The rest of the meal passed in a comradely manner. John and Mary discussed some recent medical discoveries and research that had been done on newly-discovered plants and animals in the so-called “frontier worlds”.  They laughed over jokes and experiences they had had within their own fields. Mary kept reaching across the table to touch John’s hand which, John had to admit, was more than a bit tantalizing.

 

Meanwhile, Sherlock fussed in John’s ear about guests who took advantage of their physicality to make trouble. “Stop letting her touch you so much. You’re just encouraging her. It’s rude.”

 

John hid his smirks with frequent sips of wine. Jealous Sherlock was quite amusing when he was on a roll.

 

After dinner and a few more drinks, John and Mary found themselves poured into their respective chairs (with Sherlock making pithy comments about having her butt in his chair), their feet touching and their smiles becoming more and more besotted. Mary ran one foot up John’s trousered leg and giggled girlishly. “So tell me, doctor, what sort of practices do Brawns engage in to help them manage their… impulses out here in the ‘great beyond’? I mean, being all alone for months at a time must be awfully frustrating…” She lifted an eyebrow suggestively.

 

“Yeah, well, we manage,” John returned, laconically. “You know, we have books and vids and the occasional sexy passenger…”

 

The squawk that emanated from John’s earpiece nearly deafened him. He winced, then turned the expression into a wink, causing Mary to giggle again. “Stop that,” he murmured behind a lazily-placed hand.

 

“Stop what?” Mary asked, all wide eyes and innocence.

 

“Being so cute. It’s…distracting,” he responded. The floor vibrated under their feet. “Shit, I may have to check the engines tomorrow. Something’s causing an unusual vibration throughout the hull.”

 

Dammit, Sherlock…control yourself!

 

“Isn’t that something Sherlock could do? I mean, it is his ship--his body, as it were.”

 

John smirked. “Ah, yes. ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Well, better to have another set of eyes and ears on the case.”

 

“This is beyond disgusting. If I had a stomach, I’d be nauseous,” Sherlock piped in through the earwig.

 

Mary cocked her head prettily and asked, “Where is Sherlock, by the way? He’s been awfully quiet.”

 

John shrugged. “He’s not much of a talker, really. Just grouches around upon occasion, then ‘disappears’ for days on end. I leave him to his passions, such as they are.”

 

“I have a holographic fantasy for you that will keep you walking like a tripod for days,” Sherlock whispered impishly. John gulped and took a big swig of his wine. Mary followed suit, then asked, coquettishly, “So, what are your plans for tonight? Is there a room for me, or…” She batted her eyelashes at him provocatively.

 

John’s cock stiffened reflexively, causing him to cross his legs in as nonchalant a manner as he could devise. It still looked suspicious, and Mary smiled. “Well, uh, no, actually, there’s only one usable bedroom on board right now, since we weren’t expecting company, so why don’t you sleep there and I’ll, uh, sleep out here.”

 

“A wise decision,” Sherlock quipped to John alone before speaking overhead, “Yes, why don’t the two of you poor, pitiful meatloaves go have a kip while I do all the hard work, hmmm? At least I won’t have to hear your constant nattering in the background.”

 

“Oh, shut up, you ridiculous taco,” John shot back. When Mary flashed him a confused look, he clarified, “meat on the inside with a crispy shell.” She giggled behind her hands as if scandalized. Sherlock growled into the earpiece.

 

John rose unsteadily to his feet and offered his hand to Mary, who accepted it graciously. He then escorted her to his bedroom, stopping at the door in gentlemanly fashion. “You may use the shower and my towel, and there are some pyjamas in the bottom drawer,” he offered before bowing. “I hope you have a pleasant night.”

 

Mary smirked. “It would be more pleasant if you were in here, too, but I guess all good things come to those who wait,” she sassed and blew him a kiss before closing the door.

 

“Jesus,” he muttered as he staggered his way back to the front room and plopped down in his chair, resting his feet on Sherlock’s seat. “Kind of…assertive, isn’t she?” he asked the pillar.

 

“Just so you know, I’ve been monitoring her vitals since she came on board and she is definitely interested in you. Either that, or she is planning something…”

 

John’s eyes rolled mightily. “Oh, f’God’s sake, Sherlock, she’s just a victim of circumstances, left behind by the SU…”

 

“Yes, conveniently.”

 

“You are one suspicious Brain, y’know that?” John shook his head to try to blow away the fog threatening to overwhelm it. “Why couldn’t she just be a nice…” He yawned. “a nice… intelligent… sexually-aggressive…girrrl…” His head plopped down on his chest.

 

Sherlock sniffed. “Intoxicated meatball.”

Chapter Text

John.

 

Johhhn.

 

John!

 

JOHN!!!

 

JOHN!!! HELP ME!!!

 

John awoke with a flailing start, half-sprawled in his chair beside the cold fireplace. He looked around muzzily. “Sherlock?”

 

Silence.

 

He rubbed his eyes blearily. God, I’ve never been that pissed before on a few glasses of wine…

 

“Damn straight you haven’t”, Sherlock’s voice floated through his head, jarring him out of the mental fog he was in.

 

“Sher…” he started, before realizing that he wasn’t alone in the control room. There was another person.

He squinted through blurred eyes and finally made out…

 

Mary. Sitting in the pilot’s seat. Flipping toggles and pressing buttons, just like an experienced pilot.

 

Shit. Shitshitshitshit…

 

Sherlock had been right all along.

 

“Sherlock,” John whispered. No response.

 

“Sherlock,” he hissed again.

 

“Sorry, but he can’t hear you, John,” Mary’s voice drifted back over her shoulder. She swung the chair around and smiled at him with the coldness of a lizard. “I’ve disconnected him from all input and output channels. We don’t have to worry about him interfering with our plans.”

 

John staggered to his feet, rubbing at the back of his head. “Our plans?” he asked, obviously confused.

 

She leaned forward, her eyes glittering with excitement. “Yes, John. I could see how much you and Sherlock detested each other, so I figured you’d probably love to be rid of him and be wealthy enough to live on your own terms. We can use this new discovery to make a very comfortable living for ourselves, together or alone.” She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs provocatively. “I’m not greedy, John. I’ll share. The plant is a one-of-a-kind discovery and Sherlock is a scientific genius. Think about what Jim would be willing to pay for both of them.”

 

Reality smashed John in the skull with blinding intensity. “Jim. Are you talking about Jim…”

 

Mary shimmied her shoulders playfully. “Moriarty, of course. He heard rumors about this so-called ‘miracle plant’ and knew he had to have it.  Sherlock, too. Oh, has he got a fixation on Sherlock! He knew that Sherlock would eventually wear on you, just like all the others, so I figured you might as well benefit, too. Either that, or…” She pulled out John’s gun as he madly patted his pockets for it. “I’d really hate to have to kill you, John. I like you. We could be good together, don’t you think?”

 

John’s jaw dropped open to respond when he heard it. The tiniest, tinniest sound possible.

 

“John. Help me. Please, help me.”

 

Sherlock. He still had a connection with Sherlock, weak as it was.

 

John nodded, as if in response to Mary, and said, “Yeah. Yeah, I hear ya.” He pointed his finger at her, then back at himself, in a cocky manner. “Just you…and me.”

 

Mary smiled, a bit warmer this time. “Good. I’m glad you’re sensible, John.” She got out of the chair, holstering the gun in her belt as she did so. “I’m going to replant our prize before it starts to die. It would be a shame to lose such a valuable resource, don’t you think?”

 

John smiled lopsidedly. “Yeah, yeah, I agree. Good thought, there.”

 

As Mary walked past, she stopped to plant a kiss on John’s unresponsive lips. “I think we’ll make a great team, John. Maybe we’ll celebrate tonight?” She winked before sashaying away toward the lab.

 

“John?”

 

John pressed the earwig in as far as it would go. Sherlock’s voice was so thin it was almost obscured by static. “I hear you, Sherlock,” he whispered. “How are you holding out?”

 

Sherlock’s voice sounded tremulous. “It’s dark, John, and silent, so silent. I don’t know what is going on around me or even if the ship is still moving. John, the asteroid field lies ahead! It’s not mapped—I had to ‘feel’ my way through it because the rocks are constantly moving and colliding against each other. I doubt you could do it unassisted.”

 

“Well, Mary seems to be a trained pilot.”

 

“Even a trained pilot can’t do it without taking some damage. Too many variables. One bad hit and we’re gone.”

 

“What about the deflectors…”

 

“You’d have to keep them on full instead of cycling, which will take a lot more power and cut down on the effectiveness of the sensor array by reflecting their signals back at the ship. Every hit the shields take is a possible power feedback that could drop the shield completely for an indeterminate amount of time. Only a trained Brain can allow for all the variables and prepare for the unexpected.”

 

John’s heart lurched. Despite Sherlock’s apparent calm, he could hear a hysterical edge to the attenuated voice. A Brain cut off from its ship is worse than a human being in a sensory-deprivation tank. A human could still feel its bodily functions, its arms and legs moving, its eyes blinking. A Brain has nothing but input with which to orient itself. Left disconnected, a Brain could lose all orientation and, ultimately, its rational mind. John shuddered at the thought of a broken Sherlock, his brain laid naked before the tender mercies of Jim Moriarty. He could torture Sherlock in any number of ways, finally making him a virtual slave for his own amusement and enrichment.

 

No…no…no…no…not Sherlock…no…

 

John’s eyebrows knit together. His mouth twisted as he sniffed in anger.

 

This daft cow is going down…

 

He meandered over to the lab, where he leaned casually against the doorway, watching as Mary replanted the bush in a recycled tub with a combination of native dirt and agar mix. She worked quietly but with great expertise.

 

Nurse technician, my arse. She’s got skills that don’t fit the picture…

 

“John…” Sherlock’s tiny voice was plaintive. “John, it’s so dark and quiet. I…I can’t…”

 

“Okay,” John said, aloud. Mary started and turned.

 

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you come up behind me. You’re…very quiet,” she said. There was a hint of unease in her voice and one hand strayed toward the gun. “So what’s ‘okay’?”

 

John shrugged. “Your plan. Sounds okay to me, but…” and he raised a finger to punctuate his words, “first we have to get back to Earth. On our way here, Sherlock had to sort of ‘hand-fly’ the ship through a rather nasty, and uncharted, asteroid field . We should be coming up on it before long.”

 

Mary shrugged in return, her hand returning to the plant. “No problem. I can fly this ship, easy as pie.”

 

John laughed. Mary turned in a huff. “What’s so funny, John? Don’t think a woman can do anything she sets her mind to?” she challenged, one hand on hip, the other still covered in dirt/agar.

 

He shook his head. “No, not that. It’s just that you have an awful lot of…talents for a medico.”

 

Her posture softened as she smiled in relief. “Well, I do have some skills that have served me well. Works out that way when you’re a bounty hunter.”

 

Eyebrows shot to the sky. “A bounty hunter,” he repeated, incredulously.

 

She nodded. “Mmm hmm. Most people don’t believe me the first time I say it. They have this image of some big, hulking guy with long hair and a bad ‘stache.” She giggled. “I don’t exactly fit the stereotype.”

 

John nodded. “Yeah, I can see that. So, you’re a bounty hunter and a trained pilot. You think you can handle an asteroid field?”

 

“Yep. Done it before.”

 

Flippant little cow.

 

“Yeah, but was that a mapped field, right?” John prodded.

 

Mary hesitated, frowned. “Yes, actually, it was.”

 

“This isn’t the same thing. Now, I’m no great fan of Sherlock normally, but he’s a damned good pilot and even he managed to put a couple of dings in the hull last time. Trust me when I say our chances of becoming a fixed part of this field is near 100% without him.” John shrugged. “We can always disconnect him later.”

 

She cocked her head in thought. John used to think that made her look pretty. Now she just looked calculating. “Hmm, maybe you’re right, John. We can limit Sherlock’s functionality to piloting and turn off his audio if he’s too annoying, right?” She smiled at him. John felt like he needed antivenom, stat.

 

Oh, good, she’s never piloted a Brainship before or she’d know the answer already.

 

“So you leave Sherlock to me. I can con him into thinking something just went wrong with his systems and I had to take him offline for diagnostics. I am a doctor, you know. It’s kinda my job.”

 

Her face brightened with joy and a new-found respect for John. He smiled back, without mirth.

 

“So, let me get to it, then,” John said as he pushed away from the door jam and sauntered back to the pilot’s chair. As he sat, his eyes danced over the status lights. A whole bank was dark. This was Sherlock’s prison.

 

“John!” Near hysteria.

 

“Shh,” John said, sotto voce, after checking that Mary had remained behind in the lab. “I’m bringing you back online. Act indignant, like I disconnected you without warning. I told her that I would say I disconnected you to do some trouble-shooting on your systems.”

 

“How incredibly, ridiculously transparent! No Brawn would ever do that!” Scared or not, Sherlock was still Sherlock.

 

John nodded. “Yeah, you know it and I know it, but she doesn’t. Never hijacked a Brainship before. Cheeky little minx.”

 

Hijacked? You mean I was just…”

 

“Shh, I’m reconnecting you right…now,” he said as he input the last command and flicked the switch. The Brain-Controlled Functions status lights lit up again.

 

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT, WATSON?” Sherlock bellowed. “I was locked out of all functions! Are you daft? Or are you just suicidal?”

 

John swung his chair around to observe Mary’s reaction. She looked full at him and rolled her eyes expressively.

 

“It’s all right, Sherlock. I got some red lights on the panel and had to take you offline to fix the problem, that’s all. You’re a big Brain, you can handle a few minutes offline,” he mocked, smirking at Mary.

 

That…was more than ‘just a few minutes’, Watson,” Sherlock snarled. “If you’ve tampered with any of my systems…”

 

“I’m not suicidal, Sherlock,” John snapped back. “I had to follow the manual, you know. Those things are almost indecipherable for the average Brawn.”

 

“Not surprising. I could have helped,” Sherlock huffed. “No need to leave me in the dark. Literally.”

 

Mary shook her head at the exchange. There was no sympathy in her expression, only annoyance. That changed when Sherlock addressed her directly. “Mary, is that the truth, or is he pulling my connections?”

 

Sweet Mary returned with a vengeance. “Oh, I don’t know, Sherlock. I mean, I’m not a Brawn, but I don’t think that John would do anything to harm you. After all, as you said, that would be suicide!” She favored John with a smile that made all his sphincters clench shut. Brazen hussy.

 

John suddenly felt better about having been conned. She’s a good little actress, when she wants to be. I’m sure she’s used it to her advantage many times in the past. I pity the fools who have run afoul of her before now.

 

He swung his chair back forward and said, loudly, “We’re going to need you to get us through the asteroid field again, Sherlock. Think you can manage that in your strop?”

 

Sherlock humphed through the vents. “Of course I can. It’s my ship, after all. No one controls my ship better than me.”

 

John grinned. Sherlock was such a natural bullshitter. “Great! Fine! So, are you working out your issues now?”

 

“Something I can do very well without you, John,” Sherlock groused. “I’ll take care of everything, just as I always do.”

 

John could hear Mary choking back laughter as she walked to his seat. “You two should have a comedy act,” she quipped, running a hand through John’s neatly-cut, silver-blond hair. He shuddered.

 

“You like that?” she cooed next to his ear.

 

Actually, no. It was like being caressed by a sex-starved squid.

 

“Uh, yeah, I do. Feels nice.”

 

She leaned in and pecked him on the cheek. “There’s more where that came from, Johnnie,” she whispered, making sure her breath tickled his ear.

 

John smiled up at her. Great. An offer of a frozen seafood dinner in bed. And I hate being called Johnnie! “Looking forward to it.”

 

Her smile could melt popsicles. “As am I.” She strode back into the lab, throwing a little more sashay into her walk than before. John’s smile dropped. Bitch.

 

“No need to respond, John. Working on something as I speak,” Sherlock said. His voice was, once again, loud and clear and steady in John’s ear. One side of John’s mouth lifted in a smile. Good lad.

 

“Oh, and by the way…” Sherlock began.

 

John froze. “Ye-e-es?”

 

“I told you so.”

 

“Wanker.”

Chapter Text

John spent the rest of the day reviewing the data provided by Dr. Stamford and his team. It was precious little, but a few gems had shone through. Stamford and crew had had to fight and bargain with the chief of the tribe in order to obtain samples for examination. The chief viewed the plant as sacred and, therefore, off-limits to outworlders. The outworlders, on the other hand, were especially keen to exploit this new asset in record time. The intersection of these two was bound to be not-in-the-least pretty. The process for creating the ointment had been obtained through methods most scientists would not have condoned. The shaman had been interrogated and, when found to be overly obstinate, basically tortured into revealing his secrets.

 

Upon reading, this, John’s mouth compressed into a thin line. He had noticed that the shaman had been sporting a black eye and some fresh bandages that last day. He wasn’t sure if the missing fingers had anything to do with the military inquisition, but he rather suspected they had.

 

Bastards.

 

He risked a glance at Mary, who was making notes of her own on another file. Her head bobbed up as if she could feel his eyes on her and she smiled cryptically before returning to her work. In the cold light of what he now knew about her, he could completely understand Sherlock’s oft-expressed desire to

space someone, just for the convenience of it.

 

Without even looking up again, she said, apropos of nothing, “You know, I know you’ve been talking to Sherlock.”

 

John jolted, then forced himself to relax. “Well, of course I have. You’ve heard me. I’m the one who has to deal with him, you know.”

 

“Yes,” she drawled. “I haven’t been able to hear what you’ve said clearly, but I know you’re not completely on my side, so…” She looked up and drew John’s pistol, pointing it at him with an unnerving confidence. “So, I’ve decided that I can make Sherlock do whatever I want by threatening you.”

 

John forced a chuckle. “Go ahead. Sherlock won’t care. He’s already spaced a couple of Brawns for being annoying and threw another one out with the trash. You kill me and you lose any leverage you might possibly have, which is minimal at best.”

 

“Yes, Mary, that would be quite foolish,” Sherlock said, his image suddenly appearing between the two chairs. John hadn’t even noticed the movement of the holodrone in the tension of the moment. Mary jumped in her chair, momentarily aiming the gun muzzle at Sherlock before shifting it back to John.

 

“Jesus Christ!” she yelled. “You bloody bastard! Try that again and I’ll shoot your little playmate!”

 

“What, this?” Sherlock spread his arms out to his sides in illustration. “Shooting a man because of a moving picture? How very Hollywood!” he jibed. “It’s not like I can help him like this, now, can I? I only wanted to put in an appearance because I do so love a touch of the dramatic!”

 

John leaned back casually in his chair. “Yeah, he’s a bit of a Drama Queen that way,” he quipped.

 

Sherlock gave John a “look who’s talking” glance and continued, “Yes, John and I have been in communication. I know that it was you, not John, who ‘turned me off’ in an attempt to hijack me and take both me, and the plant, to Moriarty—probably after having disposed of my Brawn. As far as I’m concerned, it would be a fate worse than death.”

 

Mary smiled coldly. “Yeah, he’s really into you. Wants to make you a body so he can ‘have’ you every way possible, even intellectually. You’d work for, and service, him for the rest of you unnatural life.” She giggled maliciously.

 

John grew nauseous at the thought, while Sherlock looked as though he had smelled something extremely distasteful, if that had been possible. “Yes, slavery in its lowest form, but you seem to be all right with that,” Sherlock observed, his manner distant.

 

Waving the gun at John, Mary said, “Doesn’t matter to me. He’ll pay me well for both you and the plant. Don’t know what he’ll do with the ship—maybe turn it into a pleasure yacht or something. Maybe he’ll use it to run product in the Deadstar Market! Now, that would be delicious irony, don’t you think, Mr. Sherlock ‘I’m the best Brainship in the SU’ Holmes?” Her laugh could cut steel.

 

Sherlock shrugged. “I suppose so, but that pre-supposes that you can get me, the ship, and the plant to SU space again.” He leaned closer and continued, confidentially, “I think you might have a problem with that, Mary.” He whispered, his smile quietly smug.

 

Mary smiled back. “Oh, I don’t think so, Sherlock. As long as I have John…”

 

“And how long do you think that will be?” Sherlock countered.

 

Just as Mary opened her mouth to speak, John saw it; a drone, rising up from behind Sherlock’s low-backed chair, just behind Mary’s head. His eyes widened, then flicked up to Sherlock’s face.

 

Mary saw his reaction and laughed. “Oh, is this where you pull the old ‘don’t look behind you’ dodge? Really, I had expected better from Sherlock, at least. You, John, I hadn’t expected anything at all from you except, maybe, a little fun in bed! Why…”

 

She stopped, abruptly. John and Sherlock had begun to grin with honest humor. Her eyes grew round with horror and she turned…

 

Just in time to receive a face-full of gas spewed from the floating drone. She gagged a couple of times, then began retching uncontrollably, before finally slumping to the floor, the gun falling from her nerveless fingers. John looked up at Sherlock, whose grin was positively feral.

 

“I believe that will be the last time Mary Morstan with threaten you with your own gun, John. Now, if you would do the honors…”

 

John sank to the floor and retrieved the gun. The gas had been vacuumed up almost as fast as it had been issued, the cloud localized to the area of Mary’s head. Even so, the smell of it was nauseating.

 

“You didn’t have to use the barf gas, too, you know.”

 

Sherlock bounced on his heels with boyish glee.”I know.”

 

“But it was a nice touch,” John winked at him. He slid the gun into his belt and looked down at Mary’s prostrate form appraisingly. “So, what do we do with her now?”

 

“Airlock.”

 

“No.”

 

“You’re no fun.”

 

“I’m no killer.”

 

“Neither am I,” Sherlock said, loftily. “All spaced Brawns were in full pressure suits or survival capsules. I just let them ‘chill’ for a while.”

 

John shook his head in disbelief. “You pretentious arsehole.”

 

“Don’t have one of those, either. You really need to improve upon your insults, John.”

 

John rose to his feet. “All right, then. You’re gray matter is as smooth as a baby’s bum.”

 

Sherlock looked offended. “Really, John, no need to be quite so offensive!”

 

The two partners shared a look before bursting into laughter.

 

>>>***<<<

 

“LET ME OUT OF HERE, YOU BASTARDS!”

 

THUD!

 

“Really, Mary, you must learn to calm down. All this excitement is bad for…”

 

“I’M GOING TO RIP OFF YOUR HEAD AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!” she screeched before landing yet another blow on the pod door.

 

John smiled brightly and motioned to his ears. “Sorry, I can’t hear youuuu!” he jibed.

 

“ROTTON PRICK BASTARD! I’M GOING TO SHIT DOWN YOUR FUCKING NECK! YOU’LL REGRET CROSSING ME! WHEN JIM HEARS ABOUT THIS,  HE’LL FEED YOU YOUR OWN COCK!”

 

“Gee, I’m all atwitter,” John snarked back before flipping her the bird in flagrant mockery of her impotent rage. He pointedly turned on his heel and walked back toward the control room, leaving an irate, out-of-control Mary imprisoned in a de-activated pod. Fortunately, it sat on the far side of the ship from the fully-active one they had arrived in, so the sound didn’t travel all that well. This pod wasn’t as well-appointed as John’s so there would be less damage done during a tantrum. John felt wicked satisfaction at the sight of his erstwhile seducer, now adversary, yelling and struggling inside.

 

Once inside the ‘parlor’, John plopped down into his chair with a sigh. A whirrr later, and Sherlock was sitting opposite him, fingers steepled under his chin, his expression…expressionless. One eyebrow rose. “Feel better now, John?”

 

John grinned lopsidedly. “Yeah. Feeling good. Would you believe she was actually going to steal the plant, kidnap you, probably kill me, and get rich off of Moriarty’s blood money. Quite a piece of work, that one.”

 

“Yes. Quite rude, too. What she’s doing to my pod is quite a disgrace. And I’ve had to take notes several times of some incredibly expressive expletives. There are also a few creative gestures I need to research.”

 

The Brawn laughed, finally at ease. Things were back the way they should have been all along—Sherlock and John and a very unique bush. “So, what do we do with her now?”

 

Sherlock smiled without humor. “Space her.”

 

“Ah, no,” John contradicted. “You keep saying that. No spacing. It’s inhuman. Besides, it’s also in your contract.”

 

“Bugger,” Sherlock groused. “We can’t leave her in there forever, and the longer she stays, the more likely it is she will try to weasel her way out of her prison and do us both in. She’s good at it.”

 

John raised his eyebrows in query. “What? You can’t possibly know…”

 

“While you were dragging her sorry arse into the pod, I sent an encrypted message to Mycroft requesting info on our ‘Ms. Mary Morstan’. Turns out that’s not even her name. Her real name is Rosamund Merry. Bounty hunter, assassin, thief, and all-around highly-questionable person. Works for the highest bidder—in this case, Moriarty. She freelances a lot; if Moriarty didn’t want what she was selling, she would have gone elsewhere without any guilt at all.”

 

“Tried to snooker us both,” John grumbled. “Yeah, I don’t want her on board, either…”

 

Sherlock looked up, startled. “Well, well, well…Little Ms M is trying to jump-start the pod engines. She’s inventive and motivated, I’ll give her that.”

 

John looked suitably horrified. “Aren’t you going to stop her?”

 

A hand waved in the air, dismissing his Brawn’s concerns. “Not to worry, John. Everything has been disabled at the source, not locally. That pod is, for all intents and purposes, dead except for the air circulators, from which she tried to re-route the power to provide a starter for the engines. Smart, but she underestimates me,” he said, studiously examining his nails in an obviously nonchalant manner. “So many people do…” he lamented.

 

“Bullshit,” John coughed into his hand. Sherlock gave him an annoyed look before John continued, “So, what is your brilliant plan, Mastermind?”

 

Sherlock cocked his head in thought. “Well, I think that we need to go elsewhere so we can fulfill our mission, somewhere off the beaten track. Staying on our pre-determined course back to Earth just opens us up to being ambushed again and, possibly, destroyed by either MCore’s pirates or another corporation’s maneuvers, especially if we dock at any of the SU stations where they have representatives, which is pretty much all of them.”

 

“Huh? How would they even know what’s been going on?”

 

“Mary tried to send a congratulatory message to Moriarty, but I had locked down all outgoing communications before she took me offline. I’m sure that, since he hasn’t received word from her, that he is contemplating some other action, and the other corporations have spies in MCore who are reporting back to their masters.”

 

For a moment, Sherlock was silent, his eyes distant, his demeanor troubled. “Thank God for you, John…for your support and your wits. Without you, I would have become Moriarty’s toy, to play with any way he wished. He would have paid Mary quite a sum for that.”

 

“I’d have killed her before we arrived,” John stated, matter-of-factly. “Failing that, I would have found a way to destroy the ship. Anything to keep you from him.”

 

Sherlock nodded somberly, raising suspiciously shimmering eyes to meet John’s. “Yes, I believe you, John. Thank you…” He shook his head as if to reset his thoughts. “Anyhow, back to the Mary problem. I could leave our unwanted passenger at a nearby interstellar crossroad, except that she would then become someone else’s problem and would still be a thorn in our side. Other arrangements must be made…”

 

“What do we do after that, Sherlock?” John asked, unsure if he was going to like the answer.

 

 “After that…” Sherlock stated, staring intently at John, “we go dark.”

 

Going dark. John knew what that meant. Every ship, and especially Brainships, had a device that monitored its position in real-time with the SU Command. It had become legislation after quite a few ships had disappeared into the depths of space. The complete loss of ship, crew, and valuable cargo was just too damned expensive, not to mention the lawsuits. ‘Going dark’ usually meant the ship had been destroyed, stolen, or…

 

Gone rogue.

 

John shivered. This was against everything he had ever been trained to do in the corps. “Complete the mission” was a drumbeat inside his head. And, yet…

 

Completing the mission would be putting Sherlock at risk. Now that Mary had happened, John could see that Sherlock’s very existence would be threatened. As long as they followed the mission plan, someone could always find them, ambush them, destroy them and salvage the plant, or just destroy them to keep the plant from falling into another company’s hands and threatening their respective pharmaceutical empires. The conflicts of interest alone would have staggering repercussions for a single Brainship and its hapless Brawn.

 

I didn’t sign on for this. John shook his head in aggravation, burying his face in his hands. Sherlock watched him with narrowed eyes.

 

“Problem, John?” he asked, in his mildest voice.

 

John refused to meet his eyes. Sherlock’s lips pursed and he tapped his fingertips together in consideration before speaking again.

 

“If this is an issue for you, I could drop you both off in SU space…”

 

“NO!” John shouted, loudly enough that even Sherlock’s holographic self started. John glared at him with a passionate resolve. “No, Sherlock. You will not drop me off anywhere, with or without her. Thank you for making my choice clear. For a moment, I was actually thinking like a soldier again.”

 

Sherlock lowered his eyes and nodded minutely. “Yes, I thought you were. I must admit, I was… concerned…”

 

“Don’t be,” John retorted. Sherlock looked up, surprised at the anger in John’s voice. “I now know what we’re up against, and it’s a lot bigger than just you and me. This plant could cause a major upheaval between corporations back on Earth, resulting in incredible amounts of civil and industrial unrest as everyone battles it out for what may be, in essence, the wonder drug of the universe.”

 

A nod. “Yes. You have it right, John. What Mary was willing to do, anyone could do. You and I are the only players who can stop this, right here, right now. We continue with the mission insofar as we analyze the properties of this plant and write our reports, but, after that…” Sherlock’s face became almost hawklike in its ferocity. “We will decide what is best, not the corporations. We, and one other…”

 

John jolted to attention. “Who?”

 

“Who else?” Sherlock smiled as he looked upwards. “Hello, brother of mine.”

 

Mycroft’s clipped tones emanated from the overhead speakers. “Hello, brother dear. Having fun with the mission?”

 

“Oh, yes. A laugh a minute, to be sure. We have procured the plant, as you know, and will soon begin analysis of its properties. Thank you for leaving us so well stocked in biologicals for our work.”

 

“No problem, Sherlock. I know you will do your usual thorough examination. So, what do you intend to do with your, ah, unwanted cargo?”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “Well, I was considering having an airlock accident but my ethical Brawn reminded me that I would be violating my contract, so I have come up with another plan.”

 

John’s ears pricked up. “Sherrrrlock…”

 

A wave of the hand. “Oh, John, do relax. I won’t hurt her. I just don’t want her hurting us. And, frankly, if she doesn’t calm down at some point, I’m going to have to gas her again. She’s really making a mess of my pod.”

 

Mycroft’s reptilian chuckle could be heard across space. “Yes, a little spitfire, that one. If you wouldn’t mind, could you drop her off at some mutually-agreed-upon point so that we can take her into custody? I have a non-Brain ship not too far from you…”

 

“Specify ‘not too far’, please.”

 

“Oh, about a day out at quarter power. I was rather anticipating something of this kind happening to you. You are such a magnet for the dramatic, Sherlock.” The jibe was there but the tone was affectionate.

 

Sherlock chuckled as well. “Ah, you know my penchant for adventure, Mycroft. I would really prefer not to have her on board for much longer, so I’ll make you an offer—I’ll send her off in a survival capsule that your ship can pick up at the coordinates I’ll send you. Then, we can go off and do what we need to do and you will have your assassin.”

 

Mycroft harrumphed. “Sherlock, those capsules are not comfortable, nor are they fast, and they don’t hold much in the way of resources for a wait that long…”

 

Sherlock rolled his silvery eyes and sighed. “Really, Mycroft, how you underestimate me! I will simply slingshot her at you.”

 

“You may squash her like a bug doing that.”

 

“Would that be a loss to you?”

 

“SHERLOCK!”

 

“Oh, really, John, do put your indignation to better use than this. This woman would have certainly killed you, and you’re worried about her?” Sherlock sassed.

 

John leaned forward and pointed for emphasis. “She’s still a human being, Sherlock…”

 

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you could hear what she just said about you. It’s an understatement to say that she’s not very fond of you.”

 

“Don’t care. If you’re going to do that, at least send her in a pod,” John insisted.

 

Long-suffering sigh. “Yes, all right, if it will stop your heart from bleeding all over my upholstery, fine. Waste of a pod, though. Hold on to it for me after you’ve picked it up, won’t you, Mycroft? I’ll send you the beacon frequency and pick-up coordinates before we launch it. I daresay our passenger will not be in a very good mood when you get her.”

 

“Let me deal with that, brother dear,” Mycroft replied, loftily. “You have never been good at dealing with people. I, on the other hand…”

 

“Don’t actually give a rat’s ass about people unless you can use them for your own purposes. Don’t get all uppity with me, Mike.”

 

“Sherlock, call me that again, and I will make sure your next stocking run will be as difficult as humanly possible. Mycroft out,” he responded, venom dripping from his every word.

 

An impish grin let John know exactly how much Sherlock loved to taunt his brother. He grinned in return.

 

“Well, I guess we have our marching orders, then,” John observed, pushing himself out of his chair.

 

Sherlock, who had remained seated, huffed. “No one orders me around, John, least of all, Mycroft.”

 

John smirked down at him. “Unless it’s me, of course, and then you rather like it, don’t you, Sherlock?”

 

He could almost see Sherlock blush as he lowered his eyes and replied, “Yes, sir, Captain Watson, sir.”

Chapter Text

“BY GOD, I’M GONNA HAND YOUR ASSES TO YOU THE NEXT TIME WE MEET! BASTARDS! FUCKING TWATS! WAIT ‘TIL I TELL JIM ABOUT YOU TWO! YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO DOCK AT AN SU STATION EVER AGAIN! YOU CAN BOTH JUST ROT OUT HERE!” Mary screamed through the pod window. Actually, John could only hear it through his earpiece, since the pod was hermetically sealed in preparation for launch. He could see the twisted fury of her mouth as she insulted Brain and Brawn with unvarnished rancor.

 

John touched the mic in his earwig and replied, “Don’t push it, Rosamund. After what we’ve heard about you, we could successfully launch you into deep space and no one would really call it a loss. Actually, we’d probably get a party thrown in our honor!” His smile held a ruthless edge to it that made her pull up short.

 

“You wouldn’t. Not you. You’re too…”

 

“What? Weak? Compassionate? Fair-minded?”

 

“Yes,” she replied, her words tinged with scorn.

 

John shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I would be inclined to be merciful, but…” He leaned in and grinned evilly, “Sherlock wouldn’t.”

 

She looked taken aback. “You wouldn’t let him…”

 

Leaning back, John raised his eyebrows. “Says who? Based on the information we’ve received from our sources, you…” he pointed at her, “are a major menace, both to us and to multiple others from the past. Not one of which would shed a single tear to hear that you’re dead.”

 

“So true,” Sherlock’s voice boomed over John’s earpiece. “My source…”

 

“Mycroft Holmes, your brother,” Mary snarled. “Another spineless wimp.”

 

Sherlock laughed good-naturedly. “Ah, you know of my brother, but you do not know my brother,” he chuckled. “He said that, if I chose to space you, he would take care of all the paperwork with a smile on his face. So, it’s your choice, Rosamund Merry—a lifetime in prison or working for Mycroft, or a slow, uncomfortable death—if you don’t hit a meteor first.”

 

Mary’s face was drained of all color. “You wouldn’t waste a pod…”

 

“You’re right, I wouldn’t. If I send you to my brother, he would easily recover the pod and return it to me at a later date. Otherwise, I will simply gas you again, have John drag your unresisting body into a survival capsule—which would be so much less comfortable than a pod—and I would shoot you into the Great Beyond. Survival capsules are so much less expensive than pods. That said, your choice.”

 

John grinned. Sherlock was really warming up to the subject. He watched as Mary’s bravado trickled out of her, leaving a frightened, trembling shell behind.

 

“Pod,” was all she could choke out.

 

“Excellent choice, Rose-of-the-World. I have already set the coordinates for your flight. You will be picked up within a day at the rendezvous site. I would strongly advise that you don’t try anything clever—the ship is manned by people who know who you are and what you are capable of. They would have no qualms about terminating you on the spot—they might even hold a raffle for the privilege.”

 

Mary was finally quiet. John waved at her facetiously. “Have a nice trip, Rose. Hope to see you…never.” He then turned his back and walked away with a swagger she couldn’t fail to miss.

 

Once back in the control room, John strapped himself into the pilot chair and was happy to see all the lights flickering and dancing across the panel before him. Sherlock was in perfect form today, multitasking like only a Brainship can.

 

“Are you ready, John? I’m about to activate the inertial dampeners, both here and in the pod,” Sherlock’s mellifluous voice oozed through the speakers.

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” John responded with a thumbs-up gesture. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

 

He leaned back and felt the effects of the stasis field immediately.

 

“Right. I’m accelerating to half-speed as we speak. Then I can slingshot Little Ms. M out of the podlock, straight at Mycroft’s approaching ship. I may even shoot her right across their bow…”

 

“God, you can be evil sometimes,” John laughed.

 

“Not at all, John,” Sherlock retorted, full of self-righteous indignation. “I prefer to think of myself as…chaotic neutral. You, on the other hand…”

 

“Don’t tell me…”

 

“Palladin.”

 

Don’t tell me you played Dungeons and Dragons while growing up with the other Brains.”

 

“Brains and staff. Quite entertaining, really. It takes place mostly in the mind, you know. And it’s especially good for developing strategies and dealing with the unexpected. You really should try it sometime.”

 

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

 

The thrum of the engines told John that they were nearing half-full speed. Sherlock had a peculiar vibration whenever he did that—he always explained it away by saying that going to full speed was just so exhilarating that he restrain himself, which made him shudder. John wasn’t sure if he believed that, but he usually opted not to task Sherlock on it. Personally, he thought one of the engines needed a tune-up.

 

“You’re rattling again.”

 

“Nope.”

 

“It’s that left engine.”

 

“Nope.”

 

“One of these days, it’s gonna quit on you, Sherlock, and then I’m going to say ‘I told you so’”

 

“And then I’m going to tell you to kiss my afterburners.”

 

John laughed out loud. God, what an incredible arsehole he is! I love him.

 

He suddenly froze, in mid-laugh, at the realization of what had just breezed through his brain.

 

I love him…

 

Shit!”

 

“Something wrong, John?” Sherlock’s voice conveyed concern. “Are you feeling unwell? As soon as I release the pod, I can decel…”

 

“No! No need, Sherlock. I’m fine, I just…realized something,” John muttered, half to himself.

 

“May I ask for a clarification?”

 

John remained mute.

 

“Ah. Something personal. Well, you will confide in me or not at a later date. In the meanwhile, we’re coming up on ejection speed.”

 

John nodded, his eyes fixed on the screen before him. He could feel the ship turn, the change in tangential forces required to propel the pod out of the lock and into a trajectory that would send it hurtling through (hopefully) unpopulated space toward Mycroft’s ship. Sherlock loved dealing with common problems in a dramatic fashion, but this maneuver did get her there quicker than a mere drop-off.

 

“Annnnnnnd away!” Sherlock crowed. John watched as the pod tumbled through the cosmos, disappearing into nothingness in a matter of seconds. Not that John could have seen it without Sherlock’s cameras, but Sherlock knew John would want to watch. John could just imagine Mary’s scream of surprise when the pod spun off…

 

All of a sudden, John just felt…drained. Numb. Overwhelmed.

 

As soon as Sherlock had achieved a steady speed and turned off the dampeners, John swiveled his chair and unsteadily pushed himself out of it, saying, “You know, you may be right. I am feeling a bit knackered right now. I think I’ll go take a kip.”

 

“Rest well, John. We have quite a bit of work ahead of us,” Sherlock offered, kindly.

 

John just waved his hand in acknowledgement as he tottered off to bed.

 

>>>***<<<

 

As much as he’d wanted to rest, sleep was, once again, eluding John Watson.

 

He lay in his bed, in the near-darkness, staring up at the ceiling. It wasn’t Mary that was on his mind. It wasn’t the mission, either. It was the same three words swirling around his brain, over and over again.

 

I love him. I love him. I love him…

 

Oh, God, how could I have let this happen? A little friendship, a little adventure, a little sexplay for the sake of experimentation… Holy shit. How could I have been so stupid? He’s not even real! I mean, he doesn’t have a body or…

 

John stunned himself when he realized exactly what he’d been thinking—that Sherlock was somehow not real, that the sex was just an experiment, that the comraderie was all make-believe somehow. Just because Sherlock’s a Brain doesn’t mean he’s any less of a human being than John was, in every sense of the word, except that he had no human body.

 

The ship was his body. John lived inside Sherlock. Everything Sherlock had done for John had been Sherlock making modifications to the only body he had ever known. Sherlock cooked for him, Sherlock protected him, Sherlock…

 

Maybe even loved him? Could that be possible? And what if it wasn’t?

 

John flipped over and over in bed as if it was a hot griddle. His mind wanted to run around in circles, looking for answers John wasn’t sure he wanted to find. In the center of it all was Sherlock. Sherlock in his dress uniform looking like Adonis, Sherlock stark naked in his bedroom, Sherlock kneeling over him seductively with his hand on his…

 

GOD!” John yelled in frustration. Immediately the red light went on.

 

“John? Are you all right?” Sherlock asked, urgently.

 

“NO! Just, go away, Sherlock! Leave me the hell alone!” John snarled back as he reared up from his bed. He hadn’t realized, until the words were out of his mouth, that he had said aloud the very thoughts he had been drowning in. Go away, Sherlock. Don’t make me look at this. Don’t let me hope. This isn’t real, it can’t be real, you can’t love me and I can’t love you…

 

The red light blinked out. John sank back down and sighed in disgust. Not with Sherlock. With himself. He had just lashed out at the best friend he had ever had for something that wasn’t even his fault. Attack the object, not the subject. Project your own feelings onto someone else, let them take the fall for the shitty way you feel about yourself…

 

There was a soft movement in the air over his bed. John looked to his left and saw Sherlock lying there beside him, head cradled on his arm, completely nude and unaroused. “What’s wrong, John?” he whispered.

 

John closed his eyes and rolled over to face the hologram. When he opened them again, Sherlock’s face was directly across from his, those silvery eyes shining like distant stars. John idly wondered if Sherlock did that for effect or if it was just the way he saw Sherlock, as the brightest object in the heavens.

 

“You’re troubled. I could see that in the control room. Is it something to do with Mary?” Sherlock asked in a low voice that sent a tingle down John’s spine and directly into his nethers.

 

The Brawn shook his head, guilt weighing heavily upon him. “No, Sherlock, it’s not about Mary, and, before you ask, it’s not about you, either. It’s about me or, more precisely, something I just learned about me. It’s…sort of taken the piss out of me.”

 

“Ah. May I ask you to elaborate, or would that cause you undue distress?”

 

God, that voice, that body, that mind, you have no idea what you do to me…

 

John shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think it would be for the best…”

 

“Then it does concern me.”

 

John looked up in surprise to see Sherlock smiling sadly. “Why do you say that?” he inquired, dreading the answer.

 

“Because if it didn’t concern me, you wouldn’t be so reticent to discuss it with me. You’re perfectly fine with pointing out when the ship isn’t working properly, and yet, when it comes to the Brain within the ship, you suddenly feel the need to suppress your concerns. Ergo, it concerns me.”

 

“You’re a piece of work, you know that?” John chuckled, despite himself. “You’re just too damned good.”

 

“Not really,” Sherlock retorted, self-consciously. “I’m really not that good, as many will gladly inform you.”

 

Anger surged, surprising even Sherlock. “Well, they’re wrong,” John growled. “You’re the best, the wisest, the most intelligent, most giving man I’ve ever known. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an arsehole.”

 

A heavy silence fell over the room as Brain and Brawn both processed what had just been said. John chewed his lip anxiously, while Sherlock became immobile, his expression frozen in surprise.

 

John stared at Sherlock’s beautiful face, wondering what he could possibly be thinking. For the hologram to stop responding, there must be one hell of a thought process going on inside that big Brain in the column.

 

The hologram started to move again. It reached out one hand and made an effort to stroke John’s face. John, of course, felt nothing.

 

“You called me a man, John, not a Brain. For that, I thank you. Too many people don’t see past the pillar to see the person inside. You have always done that. You have become the person I would most want to be with, in good times and bad. It would shatter me to lose you, but I would never keep you against your will…”

 

“I’m not leaving, Sherlock. If that’s what you’re thinking, think again. I want to be here. With you.” He sighed deeply. “Look, this isn’t easy for me…”

 

“Nor for me.”

 

“Yeah, I know. I mean, I can imagine…” He laughed at himself. “Look at me, acting like a schoolboy talking to a…” He stopped, abruptly, breaking out into a light sweat. He could see Sherlock’s half-smile despite the dim light.

 

“A what, John? A girl that he fancied? Or, maybe, a boy?” Sherlock prodded. “I know you like both, so…”

 

“Stop being so goddamned cocky,” John snapped. Sherlock’s hand dropped, as did his smile. “You don’t know everything about me! In fact, if you did, you’d…”

 

“What, John? Throw you out the airlock? Feed you to the terrestrial wolves? Plan your untimely demise through creative chemistry? What, exactly, would I do, John?” Sherlock replied, his brows knitted together, that attractive little scowl line appearing between his eyes.

 

Taken aback by Sherlock’s sudden intensity, John lowered his eyes and pushed himself to say it. “You wouldn’t want me around because I’m…I’m not worthy of you. Of being your Brawn.”

 

The way Sherlock’s jaw dropped in astonishment would have been hysterical under any other circumstance but this one. “I. Am. Gobsmacked,” he finally squeezed out.

 

Still pushing himself, John continued. “You are the most incredible person I’ve ever met and I’m just an old medical soldier with nothing to offer you. I don’t deserve you, and if you want to find another Brawn that would better suit your needs, you just have to say the word and I’ll go.”

 

Once he had finished his self-flagellating statement, John realized that tears had leaked from his eyes and were currently soaking his pillow. He saw Sherlock reach out again, as if to wipe away the tears he could not touch.

 

“John,” Sherlock breathed, as if that one word was somehow precious and sacred to him. “I don’t want anyone else. I only want you with me. We are partners. We are friends. We are…lovers.”

 

Now it was John’s turn to be gobsmacked. “Lovers?” he whispered, incredulously. “But, I thought…it was all just an…experiment for you?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes seemed to glitter in the dark. “Oh, God, no. NO, John. Not just an experiment. I…well, yes I wanted to learn more about human sexual relationships on a first-hand basis, but that all…changed,” he confessed. “I became…eager to be with you, in whatever manner possible. Giving you pleasure gave me an intense feeling I’ve never experienced before. I think it may be…love.”

 

John gasped, in either astonishment, excitement, or both. “Shit, Sherlock! I didn’t think you could…although I wondered if…even without a…”

 

“Love is in the brain, not the body, John. So, I take it that, perhaps, you may love me, too?” Sherlock teased, gently.

 

“YES. Oh my God, yes. I don’t know how, or when, or where…”

 

Sherlock’s grin was a bit wobbly. “It doesn’t matter, John. What matters is what IS. I love you, and you seem to love me, too…”

 

“No ‘seem’ about it, Sherlock. I’m absolutely mad for you,” John enthused. “If you were material, I’d kiss you!”

 

“Well, barring that, remember that holofantasy I promised you?”

 

John grinned. “Absolutely.”

Chapter Text

“So, where are we now?” John asked as he limped into the ‘parlor’ and plopped down into his familiar chair with a sigh.

 

“Somewhere in the Anubis nebula…John is something, wrong?” Sherlock asked, his voice betraying a touch of anxiety.

 

“Yeah, uh, no, it’s nothing, Sherlock,” John waved away the question just as he winced in obvious pain.

 

“John, you have been hurt somehow. Please, go to the medlab and I’ll…”

 

John rolled his head aside so he could address the pillar. “I said ‘no’, Sherlock. Just leave it, okay? It’s fine. It’s just that, last night…”

 

“Ye-e-e-e-s?”

 

“Well, that holovid you played for me—I mean, you…the stripper pole…the black and red-lace lingerie…” he winced again. “Well, suffice to say, I think I hurt myself.”

 

“Wanking? Is that even possible?” Sherlock sounded surprised.

 

Pink tinged John’s cheeks as he finally admitted, “Yeah, it is. Last night was…quite something, if I may say so, Sherlock.”

 

“Thank you, John,” Sherlock replied, half preening and half guilty. “I’m sorry that you found it to be a bit too…stimulating. Perhaps I should tone down the next one.”

 

John lurched forward, forgetting about the consequences of such an action. As soon as he regained his composure, he said, “No. That was, uh, great. I’m the one who needs to take it easy. Not as young as I used to be.”

 

 “Well, if it helps any, I doubt I could do such acrobatics with a physical body in reality, but I’m pleased that you enjoyed the performance. I do try to keep you…interested.”

 

“No problem there.” More than interested, in fact. It’s like having a boyfriend who’s a porn queen… “Just asking but, where in hell did you come up with that idea?”

 

“I do have an extensive library on board, John. I simply…did a little research and narrowed down some variables. The rest was simply using the appropriate production tools and values,” he said, matter-of-factly. “For example, the use of lighting can set a mood, and the color palette…”

 

Just like Sherlock. I practically yanked my cock out of my body and he’s talking about Film Study 101.

 

“What about the…other part of last night?” Sherlock asked, almost shyly. “Are you still pleased with the outcome?”

 

“The other pa…oh! Oh, yeah, Sherlock! I mean, it’s all fine. Great,” John babbled, taken off-guard by the change in topic to such a sensitive matter.

 

“You’re sure?” Sherlock reiterated, his voice betraying his nervousness. “I wouldn’t want things to become…awkward between us.”

 

“You are one soft-hearted, soft-headed Brain, you know that?” John replied, his smile gentle and amused.

 

“Soft-brained, maybe. As for the heart...John, you really must brush up on the limitations of being a Brain. I have no heart. Ask any Brawn.”

 

“That’s gobshite, you posh git. I was speaking figuratively, as you well know,” John shot back, in a light-hearted way. “And still I love you, no matter what you have or don’t have, if I haven’t made that clear already.”

 

“I’m glad,” Sherlock said, his voice low and intimate. “I was afraid…”

 

“Don’t be. You’ve no reason to be.”

 

“Very well, then.” Sherlock paused. John could almost hear the gears grinding. When he spoke again, his straightforward statement, “Do you think that you be able to begin the plant analysis today, or should we wait until you are…uh, fully recovered?” contained just a hint of amusement.

 

You little cock…

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” John shot back, sounding slightly peevish even to his own ears. “Let’s get on with it. Where did you say we are?”

 

“Anubis nebula. Quite dark, by cosmic standards, but with enough space debris to hide us quite effectively. As long as I don’t have to power up anything more than life support and analysis equipment, we should be largely undetectable. I’m positioning myself beside a large reflective body on a stable circuit around a red dwarf star; it’ll be very hard to detect us with either eye or instruments.”

 

John grinned. “Clever boy.”

 

Sherlock humphed. “If I were a boy, then what I did last night would have been quite illegal. Shall we begin?”

 

>>>***<<<

 

The next few days were interesting, yet tedious. Both John and Sherlock spent hours at a time examining the information gathered from the “interrogation” of the shaman and comparing it to Dr. Stamford’s case notes. As is usually the case, the information obtained from the shaman was tainted by the fact it was obtained through physical and mental coercion. John could detect behavioral cues in the shaman’s responses which would cast doubt upon the answers, while Sherlock evaluated the chemical compositions and interactions based on the limited data available. He was able to detect discrepancies in chemical formulae, having graduated as a Master chemist at BrainyU, as he jokingly called his school. By comparing their findings, they could determine which data were likely truthful and which were blatantly unsound science. Then they could begin the actual physical analysis of the plant’s medicinal properties.

 

During this time, Sherlock kept his feelers out for any stray ships or messages. They were far enough out of the main stream of ship traffic that it was unlikely they would be found except by accident. The gleam of Sherlock’s sleek hull was effectively camouflaged by the big rock’s own glitter. Sensors were on constant, low-level sweep for large approaching bodies. Shields were on minimum, as well, to prevent any other ships from detecting their energy signature. They had gone dark immediately after sending Mary off to Mycroft’s welcoming arms and making a random series of course changes impossible to plot short of having planted a tracking device on board. John and Sherlock both scoured the ship searching for any beacons Mary might have planted but found nothing. However, just to be on the save side, Sherlock had chosen a star with a radiation belt around it that could scramble any signal passing through.

 

Which was, of course, exactly where they were. Screw you, Mary.

 

John felt a certain exhilaration working side-by-side with Sherlock. His deductions were nothing short of brilliant and his analysis work was flawless. John felt completely inadequate next to him. After the fifth or sixth exclamation of “incredible!” or “My God, Sherlock, how did you…?” or “fantastic!”, followed by a long period of silence, Sherlock called him out.

 

“John, you’re so quiet. Is something the matter?”

 

John looked up with a guilty start. “No, no, Sherlock, I’m good, great, even, I just…” and puttered to a halt.

 

“’You just’ what, John? Tell me.”

 

John’s eyes roamed around the room, taking in the samples, sera, and equipment scattered around the lab. He sighed. “It’s…nothing. Really.”

 

A huff of warm air mussed his hair. “John, don’t make me spank you. You might learn to like it,” Sherlock teased.

 

A tiny, one-sided smile blessed John’s tightly-held lips. “I guess I’m just feeling…useless. Worthless, like you don’t really need me for this.”

 

“Untrue, John. You are my Brawn. You have the mobility I do not possess. Without you, I would be a brain in a tin can, unable to carry out most functions unaided.”

 

“You manage all right. I mean, the way you use your drones to do things...”

 

“Toys, John. They couldn’t go planetside and gather samples or do repairs or fine lab work. Those would require a human touch.”

 

“Okay, then, look at how you outwitted Mary…”

 

“That was all due to your clever maneuverings and excellent partnering skills. There have been other Brawns who would have gladly ‘sold me down the river’ for a piece of Moriarty’s pie. And, as far as the research goes, what else does a disembodied brain have to do but think? Reason things out? Narrow things down to such a fine degree that we could be accused of being obsessive? My training is narrow, but deep, while yours is less deep but much broader. It is that combination that is important. The rest is nonsense.”

 

John sighed. “Thank you, Sherlock. I guess I really needed to hear that more than I knew. I can’t imagine why other Brawns have had such a hard time of it with you. You’re amazing.”

 

“Simple,” Sherlock stated with great certainty and sincerity. “It’s because, when it comes to morons, I’m an utter cock.”

Chapter Text

“Do we even know what we’re looking for, Sherlock?” John groused, frustrated at the slow pace at which their analysis had been progressing. He rubbed his eyes and squinted at the computer readout, which showed the results of the latest batch of chemical combinations and their effects on lab-grown organisms. Animal research had been abandoned centuries earlier, not so much for humanitarian reasons but, rather, because of the cost. Lab-grown was cheaper and, since they were non-sentient and only barely qualified as “alive”, didn’t arouse the ire of the many animal protection groups in the SU. No brain, no fuss.

 

So far, their experiments had been meeting with mixed results, with, unfortunately, far more failures than successes. Many of the organisms had failed to heal properly. Some, in fact, had actually developed virulently-cancerous lesions, in one of the worst-of-all-side-effects John had ever seen. These had had to be destroyed immediately. Sherlock had insisted that John wear gloves when dealing with the plant parts, especially its “sap”, which sometimes produced volatile results by itself.

 

“Well, the shaman did a good job of obscuring the actual ointment recipe, to the point where it is almost absolutely useless. Blast him. I didn’t expect he would make our job easier, but I had hoped at least some of the recipe would yield appropriate results,” Sherlock muttered, a test tube dangling from one mechanical arm, some sort of gloppy material oozing over the rim.

 

John stared pensively at the drop of gloop that had landed on the petrie dish below it. It almost seemed to shiver, as if alive somehow. “You know, Sherlock, I was just thinking…”

 

“Hmmm, I thought I detected smoke in here. You must have stoked up quite a fire…”

 

“Stuff it.”

 

Sherlock chuckled.

 

“Look, what I wanted to say was, the shaman would know the formula for the ointment quite intimately, wouldn’t he?” John asked, stroking his chin in thought.

 

“In all probability, as they found no written formula for it anywhere in the village,” Sherlock noted. “But what would that have to do with…”

 

John held up a hand. “Shush, hear me out. In prisoner of war situations, tortured POW’s would often tell their captors things that were true, but only up to a point, the thought being that the enemy would believe the parts that were easily verifiable and then simply accept the rest as fact. However,” he raised a finger, “only the most obvious parts were true. Anything that was supposed to be a ‘secret’ was obscured or omitted entirely, thereby creating a false trail, usually one that could be followed easily back to its source. So, the commanding officers of the POW’s would look for the enemy’s investigation into the easily-verifiable parts and could then follow the investigation back to the investigators themselves and thwart their plans. Do you understand?”

 

“Of course I do!” Sherlock snapped.

 

John smirked. “Okay, then, explain it back to me.”

 

Silence. Then, a sheepish voice came back. “I can’t. Not my specialty.”

 

John chuckled, half to himself, before continuing, “All right, mastermind, how about this…if the shaman were under pressure, what would the easiest possible lie be?” John asked rhetorically. “If you’re dealing with someone who knows something, but not everything, about your recipe, how could you throw them off the trail?”

 

A moment of silence, then, “By God, John, you may not be brilliant yourself, but you are a true conductor of light for others!”

 

John lifted one eyebrow. “Does that make me a live wire?” he asked, innocently.

 

“Shut it, because other times, you can be denser than a neutron star. Don’t get too full of yourself, John. That’s my job.”

 

“So tell me your reasoning, Oh-Brain-of-the-Ages. I’m dying to hear it,” John replied, leaning back against the workbench with his arms crossed.

 

Think about it; in this case, the easiest lie is the truth with only a few meaningful changes. So, that being the case, then, chances are, the ingredients, being the most meaningful and easily-verifiable parts of the concoction, are correct, but the proportions are probably mixed up so that the end product is non-functional. A simple substitution algorithm. That’s why it didn’t seem to make any sense from a chemical point of view!” Sherlock enthused. “John, I could kiss you…if I had lips. However, my heartfelt appreciation will have to do.”

 

“If you had one of those, too,” John reminded him blithely.

 

“Careful, John. There’s could still be an airlock door with your name on it…”

 

“Remember your contract,” John admonished, as he and Sherlock turned their attention back to their research, re-arranging chemicals compounds and testing new samples fastidiously until, exhausted, John accidentally spilled some of the latest compound, the viscous liquid dripping down his fingers and splattering on the workbench.

 

“Clean that off quickly, John,” Sherlock ordered, handing John a cloth with another mechanical hand.

 

“Yeah, yeah, sorry. So tired,” he muttered as he wiped up the spill with unusually clumsily movements.

 

“John,” Sherlock said, softly. “I don’t require sleep, so why don’t I continue while you take a kip, hmmm?”

 

John nodded without argument, laid his head down on his folded arms and dozed off almost immediately. As he snoozed, Sherlock’s other mechanical arm carefully holstered a test tube into its rack and, very, very gently, its “hand” caressed the silver-blond mane of the exhausted Brawn.

 

“So beautiful,” Sherlock murmured as he picked up a pincherful of hair and allowed it to fall, strand by strand, back down to John’s scalp. “Everything about you is so beautiful, John. I wish…if only…”

 

“You getting sentimental on me, partner?” John mumbled, half-incoherent from lack of sleep.

 

“I love you, John. I’ve told you that. You are the perfect light in a dark, depressing universe.” The “hand” gently caressed his head, the backs of the metal fingers brushing his cheek.

 

John flinched. “Oi! That’s cold,” he muttered, shrinking away before he realized what he had done. “Oh, geez, I’m sorry, Sherlock, I didn’t mean to…”

 

The voice that responded was sad and full of regret. “I know, John. I can’t offer you anything more than this metal body and the safety and comforts it can provide. I wish I could do more.” The metal arm retracted into its standby position.

 

John felt like crap. Sherlock had opened up to him about his needs and he’d insulted him, knocked him down a peg on the scale of humanity. He pushed himself away from the workbench and staggered into the parlor, where he walked straight up to Sherlock’s pillar and threw his arms around it. The metal was cold against his cheek but he didn’t move away. Instead, he rubbed his cheek against it, as if he could feel the man inside the shell.

 

“I’m so, so sorry, Sherlock. I love you, too, and I’d never hurt you intentionally…”

 

“I know,” the voice came back softly. “The fact remains, however, that you are a human male and I am merely an intellect, housed inside a mechanized shell that’s housed inside a metal ship. I can provide no real warmth, no tenderness, no…”

 

“That’s not true!” John growled. “Sherlock, stop…”

 

I CAN’T FEEL YOU, JOHN!” Sherlock howled. “You’re holding me and I CAN’T FEEL YOU! You are a man and I am a sentient appliance…”

 

NO!” John howled, grasping the pillar even more tightly.

 

“No more human than the machines in a factory, or a banking computer…just a fancy toaster…”

 

STOP IT! JUST STOP IT!” John screamed. “I won’t hear you! What you’re saying, it’s not true! ANY OF IT!” He backed away and punched the pillar impulsively, breaking the skin on his knuckles. He struck again, with the audible sound of bone cracking.

 

STOP! John, stop! Please!” Sherlock begged, but John just kept hammering away at the pillar, knuckles bloodied and teeth gritted. In some places, white bone showed through the wound in his skin. Sherlock had to, finally, send the hoverbots out to taze him away from the column. Blood dripped down the curved metal panels of Sherlock’s sanctuary, with tiny bits of skin caught in the seams.

 

‘DID YOU JUST TAZE ME?” John roared as he surged forward again, only to be threatened anew by the bots and their sparking probes. “How dare you!” He swatted repeated at the bots, only to be tazed again and again on low intensity. “Stop it! Stop it, you fucking bastard! What are you doing? Have you lost your mind? This is not a joke!”

 

“John, calm yourself!” Sherlock said, trying to sound composed, but his voice quavered.

 

NO! You don’t tell me what to do, you silver-plated brainiac! I’ll…”

 

John felt a sudden sting at the back of his neck, followed by a burning sensation. He reached around to touch the site, but his fingers went gradually numb, followed by his hands and arms, until, finally, he dropped to the ground, nerveless but conscious. He tried to scream his frustration but was unable to do more than moan incoherently. All he could do was flounder around weakly on the floor, barely able to control his body or limbs

 

“John, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry, but you were out of control…”

 

John thrashed about like an octopus in zero-G, his movements uncoordinated.”Shhhhhrrrrrr…” he tried to speak, with no more success than before.

 

“The sedative is only temporary, John, just enough to keep you from harming yourself or me,” Sherlock said, sounding a bit panicky. “It will wear off soon and……wait,” Sherlock said, his voice trailing off as he noticed… “Your hands! John, look at your hands!”

 

The intoxicated Brawn jerkily raised his head and looked at both his battered hands. They were streaked with blood and…completely healed.

 

“Wha…” John started to say before breaking out into laughter that got progressively louder until he was shaking with hysterical cackling.

 

“John!”

 

W’ diddit, Shrrrrlock!” John crowed, waving his hands in the air, his voice slowly returning to normal. “’tworkt! Muh God, iht workt!” He laid his head back, still chuckling, until he was finally able to move again.

 

“John…”

 

John held up a hand. “’s all right, Shherlock. ‘m fine,” he slurred as he slowly regained his feet and dragged himself unsteadily into the bathroom. There, he washed his hands, examining the seamlessly-healed wounds closely before removing his blood-spattered shirt. He marveled again at the rapidity of ishealing. He had known, at the time, that his actions had resulted in some broken bones, but, in the midst of his irrational rage, he had completely forgotten about it.

 

What he did remember, however, was battering Sherlock’s pillar, over and over again. He was horrified at his own behavior. What if he had damaged the delicate mechanisms within? Compromised Sherlock’s life-maintenance devices? Wounded Sherlock in other ways that were irreparable…

 

Never again. I’m never going to lose it like that again, and I’m going to make sure that Sherlock never doubts how I feel about him, that he is the most incredible, most human man I have ever met, regardless of his physical condition.

 

Feeling a bit shamefaced, he walked solemnly out of his bedroom, through the parlor, and directly to Sherlock’s pillar. The blood was still there, smears of angry red turning brown via oxidation. John knew the process, but was humiliated by the actions that caused it. He raised a hand tentatively and rested it against the cool metal of the pillar.

 

“Sherlock…”

 

“We did it, John,” Sherlock replied, his voice carefully neutral. “The serum worked. The binder that made it into an ointment was unnecessary, after all. You received a full-on dose…”

 

“SHERLOCK!”

 

Silence. The atmosphere around them changed, seemed charged in some way.

 

“Yes, John?” Quietly. Oh, so quietly.

 

John took in a deep breath, steadying himself. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, his head hanging in humiliation.

 

“I know.”

 

“I didn’t mean…”

 

Air gusted around him. Sherlock’s sigh. “I know who you are, John Watson. I know about your past, I know about your emotional state, I even know about your tendencies to act out violently. I know all that, and I can tell you that…this was not your fault. It was mine.”

 

John shook his head. “No…” he whispered.

 

“Yes, it was. The serum we created was missing one crucial ingredient that I had not thought necessary. I now see that it was.”

 

John’s head shot up. “What?”

 

“Exactly. While you were…cleaning up, I reviewed our findings. The substance I left out serves to moderate the adrenaline rush that instigates the accelerated healing process. Basically, you were driven into a berserker rage by a massive infusion of epinephrine that was not countered by any modifying hormone.”

 

Closing his eyes, John leaned his forehead against the cool pillar and breathed a sigh of relief through pursed lips. Idly, his fingers ran over the crusted blood…

 

Softly, Sherlock said, “John. I’m sorry for what I had to do to you…”

 

“No,” John whispered. “You did what you had to do. If I hadn’t been the man I am, I might have reacted differently…not attacked you like a wild beast…”

 

“Then you would not be John Watson, you would be another person, and you probably would have been spaced along with Mary. Never underestimate me, John.” Sherlock observed.

 

John snorted laughter, in spite of himself.

 

“Now, if you would kindly put your self-recrimination away for a few, I must send this information off to Mycroft. It will be encrypted, of course, using our secret code that we created as children. So far, it’s been unbroken, even by the best cryptographers,” Sherlock said, proudly. “But we can’t take a chance that they’ll find us after that.”

 

“So, what do we do now, Sherlock?” John inquired, drawing up to his full height again, his faith in his partner overcoming his own self-doubt.

 

He could almost feel the smirk in Sherlock’s voice. “We go into hiding…again. I’ve always been rather good at this game. The SU has put me down as ‘lost to mission’ several times already.” He chuckled. That’s why they want me out of their hair, so to speak. I’m trouble.”

 

 “Yeah, but you’re my kind of trouble,” John grinned as he stroked the pillar fondly. “Let’s get to it!”

Chapter Text

“John, we’re moving,” Sherlock announced in a resounding voice.

 

“Ready!” John crowed, tightening his last restraint.

 

He could hear the mounting pulse of the engines as the inertial dampener snapped on, encasing everything in the room in a force-field specifically designed to lessen the effect of rapid take-offs, landings, and high-speed maneuvering. Sherlock was wasting no time with a slow, gradual acceleration, as he would usually do. No, it was time to hit it, and hit it hard. Splattered Brawns were not on the agenda.

 

Sherlock’s sleek silver body sprang forward as if from a bow, exerting crushing forces that would have killed John if he had not been thus cocooned. John felt exhilarated, reveling in Sherlock’s speed and power. They sliced through the darkness, the light of distant stars glinting off the hull as he moved.

 

“Where are we headed, partner?” John asked, casually addressing the pillar.

 

“Not exactly certain,” Sherlock replied, absently. “My brother sent me some…unusual coordinates, which require me to navigate some pretty iffy areas, to be honest. I won’t lie to you, John. I don’t know what I’m getting you into here.”

 

“Hmmph,” John muttered. “Well, if that’s the case, I think I’ll just walk the rest of the way, if it’s all the same to you,” he quipped.

 

“Oh, shall I drop you off at the next corner, then?” Sherlock riposted. They both giggled.

 

“Prat,” John said, good-naturedly. “Like telling me the trip is dangerous will deter me any. Really, Sherlock, don’t you know who you’re talking to?”

 

“Of course,” Sherlock replied, his tone soft and affectionate, though a bit haughty. “But I would be remiss, as a Brainship, if I didn’t warn you about the turn the mission has taken. It would be your prerogative, as a Brawn of the SU, to refuse to continue the mission or to attempt to persuade me to change my course objectives. I must, above all, protect the interests of my Brawn.”

 

John gusted a breath through his nose. “Sherlock, as I recall, the mission statement for all Brainships is that they must complete the mission for the good of the SU and its peoples. The only over-ride for that would be if the Brainship itself was in imminent danger of destruction. Nowhere does it say anything about prioritizing a Brawn’s life on a mission. We’re considered expendable.”

 

“Not so, and not on this ship, you’re not,” Sherlock replied, in a voice like a steel dagger. “The SU can go suck a black hole if it thinks I will sacrifice you on any mission. My priority is your safety and welfare, then this mission, then…” His voice drifted off.

 

John raised an eyebrow. “Then?” he prompted, mystified by Sherlock’s sudden silence.

 

Air gusted through a vent. “Then…I don’t know. Things have changed for me, since I met you. My old life was never really a ‘comfortable’ one; I didn’t always agree with the SU’s methods or goals. Too much is being changed to favor the wealthy minority, like MCore. The SU has, I think, lost its way, to some degree.”

 

The engines had achieved a low, steady beat that John recognized as Sherlock being inertial. Burning further fuel would be pointless unless they needed to maneuver, hence the engines running on idle.

 

“A body in motion stays in motion…” John mused, a propos of nothing.

 

“Indeed, John. Switching off dampeners. You’re along for the ride.”

 

The pressure of the field disappeared, allowing John to unbuckle himself from his chair and walk the kinks out of his muscles. A hoverbot appeared, carrying a steaming cup of tea on its flattened upper surface. John took it gratefully, toasting the pillar. “Ta.”

 

“My pleasure, as always, John,” Sherlock replied. A “fire” suddenly roared into life in the fireplace between the two chairs. “Do sit down, John. It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve had a moment. May as well take it while we have it.”

 

Nodding in agreement, John settled himself in his overstuffed chair, basking in the warmth of the “fire” and his cup of tea. A few moments later, he was joined by Sherlock’s holographic self, sitting in the low black chair opposite, his fingers steepled, his face wreathed in smiles.

 

“Is it safe for you to do this?” John inquired, his brows conferencing over his bright blue eyes. When Sherlock cocked an eyebrow, he elaborated, “You know, talk with me and pilot the ship?”

 

Sherlock smirked. “Really, John, I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he retorted, gently.

 

If you could do either...”

 

“A figure of speech.”

 

“Of course,” John replied, nodding his head sagely before breaking out into an un-self-conscious giggle. Talking with Sherlock like this was always a treat for the normally introverted brawn. He didn’t trust most people, and yet, here he was, trusting his life to a disembodied brain running a starship.

 

A brain that I love above all else. A man that I love, he corrected himself.

 

“You seemed…pensive for a moment,” Sherlock observed. “May I ask why?”

 

John smiled lopsidedly, caught out in the moment. “Thinking about you.”

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows rose. “Me? How am I worthy of your current consideration, John?”

 

A rueful laugh burst from John’s lips unbidden. “How are you worthy? My God, Sherlock. How are you not? You’re incredible, amazing! You’re a brilliant scientist, you take care of me in every way possible…”

 

Sherlock cocked his head to one side appraisingly, his lips pursed. “Not every way, John,” he observed, a slight tinge of sadness in his voice.

 

John rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “Okay, maybe not in every way, but you’re being far too literal. You…I love you, Sherlock, with all my heart. The physical aspect of our relationship is unimportant.”

 

“I disagree. The physical component is unimportant to me; having never experienced it, I don’t miss it. Or I shouldn’t. And, therein, lies the rub.”

 

This new line of discussion both intrigued and confused John. “How so?”

 

Dropping his eyes, Sherlock’s avatar took on a melancholic, thoughtful mien. “Ever since meeting you, I have found myself wanting…more. Our…physical interactions are…insufficient for me, just as they must be for you.”

 

John leaned forward after setting his cup aside. “No! No, Sherlock! I’m not dissatisfied in any way…”

 

Sherlock’s steely eyes snapped to John’s face, halting him in mid-sentence. “Yes, you are. When you are emotional, or fatigued, and your barriers are down, you seek physical contact with me. Specifically, you interact bodily with my pillar, knowing that is where what is left of my actual body resides. Your actions betray your needs, John, as my actions have betrayed mine.”

 

John spread his hands in supplication. “Then, tell me, Sherlock, what can we do? Nothing can change…”

 

“I want a body.”

 

John rocked back in surprise. “A body.” Pause. “A physical body?”

 

“Yes, I believe I spoke quite clearly, John. Do keep up.”

 

“And how do you plan on accomplishing that, Mastermind? Commissioning a 3-D printed body?”

 

Sherlock waved a hand dismissively. “Prohibitively expensive. That process is only available to the extremely wealthy. Wouldn’t do to give the rabble relative immortality, now, would it?” he snarked.

 

“You’re being sarcastic, right?”

 

Sherlock bestowed upon John the dimmest look possible for a hologram.

 

“Then, what?”

 

Sherlock’s small smile said everything. “Guess.”

 

John’s brain processes came to a screeching halt. “No.”

 

The hologram’s grin widened. “Yes.”

 

“NO!” John leapt to his feet and, to his surprise, found himself shaking. “No, Sherlock! I won’t allow it!”

 

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed as his face assumed a carefully neutral expression. “You…won’t…allow me…to do what I choose with my body?” His words, spoken carefully, hung like a sword in the air between them.

 

John’s right hand clenched once, twice, as he regained control of himself. Sherlock eyed him intently until John sat back down again and took a deep breath.

 

“My choice, John.” Blandly.

 

“Which directly impacts me, Sherlock.” With mild heat.

 

Sherlock blinked in acknowledgement. “Agreed. However, I would not have considered this course of action if I were not completely convinced that it could be successful.” He paused until John met his eyes calmly before asking, gently, “Don’t you want to be able to hold me, John? To make love to an actual man, rather than a hologram?”

 

“Well, of course…” John started, before realizing what he had just said. “Okay, stop. Just, stop this, Sherlock. I may wish sometimes that you were real…I mean, physical…shit, you know what I mean.” Sherlock nodded, impassively. “But I won’t have you endangering yourself because of me, because of what Moriarty did to you. This is what he wanted, don’t you see that? You’re playing into his hands!”

 

A smile quirked at one corner of Sherlock’s mouth. “He doesn’t have his hands on me yet, John. And, with your and Mycroft’s able assistance, he never will.”

 

Blinding clarity burst into John’s brain. “My God. You’ve been planning this with your brother all along, haven’t you?”

 

A smug smile was his only response.

 

John pointed an angry finger at the hologram. “You…don’t give me that smile, you deceitful crocodile! You’ve been planning this since you first found out about that plant and you didn’t see fit to discuss it with me?”

 

The smile widened.

 

John leapt up from his chair and began to pace the room, clenching both fists in alternation. His expression was dark, furious. He finally stopped in front of the pillar and struck it with the bottom of his fist in anger.

 

“Feel better?” Sherlock inquired, fingertips steepled in front of his chin as he watched his agitated Brawn react.

 

“No.When were you planning on enlightening the poor, stupid Brawn under your care, hmm, Sherlock?” he yelled at the pillar. “When you let me off at the nearest space station and flitter off somewhere to get your new body and your new life? You’ve been leading me around by the nose…”

 

“An easy task, considering the size of it. Really, John, you might consider…”

 

ENOUGH! I’ve had enough of your secrets and your patronizing and your…”

 

“Tsk, tsk, John. You really must learn to control that temper of yours, as well as your latent inferiority complex. I have never patronized you, merely the idiots around you, and, as to any secrets I may have harbored…well, we all must have a little air of mystery about us, mustn’t we?”

 

John opened his mouth to reply, but Sherlock continued, unphased. “I didn’t tell you about my plans because I knew this was how you would respond, so I decided to keep it quiet until it was virtually a fait accompli. Yes, Mycroft and I have been in communication throughout this mission, using coded and cue-balled messages, until I felt that we had made sufficient progress to warrant further action.”

 

“Wait. What the hell is a cue-ball message?”

 

He turned back to the hologram in time to see the expected eye-roll. “Really, John. Use your imagination. My brother and I are able to find satellites or highly-radioreflective cosmic surfaces off which we can ricochet a compressed signal, thereby obscuring its point of origin.”

 

“Like a game of pool, and the cueball is the message. Brilliant!”

 

John could have sworn that, if it had been able to, the hologram would have blushed. As it was, the air around him warmed considerably. Sherlock certainly loved his compliments.

 

If this crazy scheme works, I’ll have to remember that when I take him to bed

 

He felt a warm rush deep down in his trousers at the thought. God, don’t let Sherlock’s sensors…

 

“John, are you in sexual need? I have almost perfected a bot that can…”

 

“NO!” John blurted out, alarmed at the mere thought of anything electrical interacting with his John Thomas. “Uh, no, thanks, Sherlock, I think I’m, uh, fine. Just an involuntary response, that’s all.”

 

“If you say so.” Sherlock sounded dubious. “You have not required my assistance for quite some time in that area. Does my repertoire require some expansion?”

 

Oh, God…No, Sherlock, you’re fine. Great, in fact. I’ve just been too tired, what with all the research and crises, to even think about sex. I promise, if I feel the need, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

“Good. As it should be,” Sherlock replied. “I am at your beck and call.”

 

An errant thought crossed John’s mind. If this is what he’s like as a disembodied brain, I wonder what he’ll be like with a real sex drive?

 

John felt a little shiver of anticipation…and inexplicable dread.

Chapter Text

“We’re being tailed,” Sherlock remarked, calmly.

 

John’s head swung around so fast his neck cracked. “Who?”

 

“Don’t know yet, but we’re definitely being followed surreptitiously,” Sherlock replied. “Must be a chance encounter…I’ve changed course so many times by now that no one could follow me…”

 

The ship rocked, knocking John almost off his feet. “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” he yelled.

 

“A near-miss. Or an almost-hit, depending on your perspective,” Sherlock quipped. “Energy weapon”

 

John ran to his seat and strapped himself in. “Ready!” he yodeled.

 

“Good man,” Sherlock replied. No other words were needed. No klaxon, no alarm bells, no emergency messages; Brain and Brawn doing what they did best—working in unison.

 

“Powering up. Ready for evasive maneuvers.”

 

John could hear the rolling thrum of Sherlock’s massive engines and felt a thrill of excitement. The power and grace of the ship always amazed him whenever he watched Sherlock’s flight through the front screens. He was one hell of a pilot.

 

“Sherlock…”

 

“Haven’t forgotten. Inertial dampeners…on. Nothing personal, mind you, I’d just hate cleaning up the mess you’d make.”

 

John smirked just as he felt a vague impact on the starboard side of the ship. “God, that was close! I even felt it through the dampening field!”

 

“Ye-e-es,” Sherlock drawled as the ship sprang forward. “Bastards. The ship looks like a freighter but is carrying heavy armament. Either a corporation ship or a pirate. Either way, trouble for us.”

 

“Not SU?”

 

A pause. “Unlikely. They still ‘own’ me, remember? They wouldn’t risk destroying one of their prized brainships; too big of a financial and material loss. Besides, SU could deactivate my link to the ship if they got close enough by playing dead or in need of assistance so I would approach. No, if they’re willing to damage me, it’s not SU. Somehow, we’ve been found out.”

 

John twisted his head to stare at the pillar. “Surely not Mycroft…”

 

“No,” Sherlock came back, a bit too quickly. “Mycroft has no motive for doing this.”

 

Estranged or not, they’re still brothers.

 

A staticky call came through the com. “Unidentified ship! State your name and mission, then stop and be boarded!”

 

“NO!” Sherlock crowed as he accelerated at a reckless pace, rapidly putting distance between himself and the ship behind him. “’Run as fast, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m Sherlock-in-a-can!’” he cat-called as he swung wildly from side to side, sometimes performing spiral turns to foil the auto-lock on their pursuer’s weapons. John grinned widely, his heart pounding.

 

Another voice came over the open connection. “Shit, that’s a brainship! You didn’t tell us…” The connection was cut off after the thunk of something physically painful occurring aboard the other ship.

 

“Okay, that settles it. Hold on, John. This is going to get interesting.”

 

John tensed as he felt Sherlock loop back on his previous path in a turn that made the seams of the ship scream in protest. Through the front screens, John could see Sherlock’s prow pointed directly back toward the shadow ship behind them.

 

“No-o-o, you’re not going to…” he began.

 

“The classics are always the best, John. They shoot me now, I’m a projectile aimed directly at their ship. Self-preservation on their part not to fire,” Sherlock replied, smugly. “Besides, I love doing this!”

 

Oh, crap…”You’re bloody insane, you know that?” John commented, his mouth feeling a bit dry.

 

“You wouldn’t have me any other way, John,” the Brain replied, affection evident in his voice.

 

“True. Let’s go, Madman!”

 

Sherlock powered on toward the disguised warship, engines screaming, until Sherlock yelled in exultation as he veered his ship away, impossibly close to the skin of the other ship. John could imagine the tumult aboard that other vessel.

 

“Someone aboard that ship is going to have to change their trousers after that,” John noted facetiously.

 

“Several ‘someone’s’,” Sherlock corrected him as they sped away into the dark. “That was not a brainship, otherwise it would have reacted differently. That was probably a corporate pirate, laying in wait for someone to rob.” A pause. “Unless…shit, they’re turning to follow. Too persistent by half, this lot. There must be a bounty on me, or they would have just cut their losses and left. I’m faster and more maneuverable than they are, but unarmed, so…”

 

“So, what are you thinking?”

 

A gust of air. “Hmm, I suspect a shielded tracking device was installed on board at some point. Something I can’t detect.”

 

John pondered a moment, then said, “Go inertial.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

John slowly undid his restraints. “I said, go inertial. I’ve got a hunch.”

 

A pause, then, “Cutting engines. Going inertial. Wait for the seatbelt sign to go off…”

 

John laughed. “And thank you for flying Sherlock Spacelines.”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “Dampeners off. You may now move around the cabin.”

 

John peeled himself out of his chair, feeling more banged-up than he should. Inertial dampening fields may control the amount of stress the body experiences in flight, but the forces exerted by rapid directional changes can sometimes be just a little too much. He had been buffeted, but not broken.

 

“So, your thoughts?” Sherlock asked.

 

“I suspect that…” he started as he headed for his quarters at a rapid clip, where he proceeded to tear the room apart.

 

“John?”

 

Sheets and clothes flew through the air to land in an untidy heap in the middle of the floor.

 

“John, I’m not cleaning up after you, just so you know.”

 

“Shut it. I’m looking for…this!” John replied, triumphantly holding up a small device that he had found stuck out of sight behind the toilet bowl. “Sneaky little witch. Figured a man would never look here, I’ll wager.”

 

“Crush it and get back in here. We need to go evasive again.”

 

“Bob’s your uncle!” John said as he ground the device beneath his heel with a satisfying crunch and raced back to his seat by the pillar. Restraints on, he gave the thumb’s-up. “Ready.”

 

“Right.” The engines surged just as the dampener switched on. Swaddled and comfortable, John sat back for the ride.

 

“That’s wrong, you know,” Sherlock observed as he ramped up the power and performed a near-right-angle turn behind a red dwarf star.

 

John’s brows met. “What is?”

 

“The thumb’s-up sign. That use of it is wrong, a case of history mis-remembering something,” Sherlock stated, obviously splitting his attention between John and his flight path.

 

With a long-suffering sigh and an eyeroll, John said, “Okay, so enlighten me. You will, anyway.”

 

“Don’t be petulent, John, it’s unbecoming. In ancient Rome, the thumb’s-up gesture was made by the Emperor to signify that the victorious gladiator should kill his opponent by putting his sword through his heart and was accompanied by a gesture illustrating that. Thumb’s-down meant to turn the sword away, thereby sparing the loser’s life.”

 

John rolled his head to spare the pillar an “I don’t really give a fuck” expression. “Are you done?”

 

Silence.

 

He turned his face back to the screen. “Now you’re going to sulk.”

 

A sniff through the vents. “I don’t ‘sulk’, but if my observations are not appreciated, I will not burden you with them any further.”

 

“Sullllll-kinngggggg…” John sang.

 

SHUT IT, MEATBAG!”

 

John grinned widely. He loved getting a rise out of the prickly Brain sometimes.

 >>>***<<<

 

The room had been quiet for far too long.

 

John looked over at the pillar. “Sherlock? Still not talking to me?”

 

A warm breeze ruffled his hair.

 

“I’m sorry I called you a meatbag,” Sherlock said, contritely.

 

John laughed. “Is that all?”

 

“No. Sometimes I…don’t realize my effect on people. I offend them. Sometimes I even…BORE them.” There was a quiver in Sherlock’s voice, as if this was the most egregious of crimes he was admitting to. “I should never want to…”

 

“My God, Sherlock…” John shook his head in wonder. This Brain—this man--never ceased to amaze and confound him. “That’s not even a consideration here. On my part, it was just the adrenaline talking. I’m not in as good control of myself as you are. I’m a victim of hormones and chemical upheavals and…”

 

“I haven’t been ‘in control of myself’ in a very long time,” Sherlock retorted. “You’ve had a strange effect on me since our first meeting, and that effect has simply grown over time, until now…”

 

“Now you want a body.” John sighed. “Then, this is all my fault.”

 

“WHAT? How did you extrapolate THAT from the existing data?”

 

“If I hadn’t joined the interview…if I hadn’t intervened…if I hadn’t become your Brawn…”

 

An audible snort rang through the room. “John, that is sheer and utter nonsense. The same things would have happened except that I would have been saddled with a Brawn who might not have been so morally upright and would probably have sold me to Moriarty for a pittance. I would currently be a slave to one of the most despicable creatures ever to take the guise of a human being. You saved me, John Watson. My fate and yours were intertwined as soon as you walked in that door, and I thank God every day for that.”

 

John lifted an eyebrow. “I thought you were an atheist.”

 

“A figure of speech, you insufferable idiot.”

 

“Ah. Of course. And, for the record,” John paused, “I could never find you boring, Sherlock. Pretentious? Yes. Offensive? Occasionally. But never boring.”

 

The lights dimmed.

 

“Why do you do that?” John asked.

 

“Do what?”

 

“You dim the lights when you’re embarrassed.”

 

No, I don’t,” Sherlock snapped back, defensively.

 

John shrugged. “Oh. Never mind.”

 

No need to push the issue. Involuntary response, I guess. Endearing, though…

 

Change the subject. “So, are we still being followed?” he asked, casually.

 

“No. Lost them a few course corrections ago, so they must have been using that tracker to follow us, once they found us. I don’t believe they were waiting long—just a chance encounter they planned to make a killing off of. Literally.”

 

“They wouldn’t have killed you…” John was shocked.

 

“If they were corporate raiders, yes, they would have. They would have killed you, used my brain as a football, and taken the ship and its cargo back to their masters, who would have rewarded them handsomely. If they were Moriarty’s goons, it would have been the same fate for you, but much worse for me. Corporations don’t like brainships—we’re difficult to corrupt because of our lack of physicality and we are freakishly independent. True, they could pay us enough to afford our own ship, but then they’d have no control over us at all. Some have even gone rogue, along with their Brawns or crews.”

 

John smirked gently. “Is that what you’d do, if you owned your own ship?”

 

“Hmm. I haven’t had reason to ponder it much. I know how long it will take for me to afford my ship, and the pay just isn’t enough for it to happen any time soon, so I just run the missions and tolerate the idiot Brawns they pair me with—present company excepted, of course—and try not to go insane at the inanity of it all.”

 

May as well broach the subject now as later. Needs to be discussed.

 

“What would you do if you had a body, Sherlock?” John asked, softly.

 

The room warmed a bit. “Make love with you,” he replied, his voice almost seductive.

 

A laugh burst from John’s lips, but whether it was joy or disbelief, John couldn’t rightly say. “That’s not the best reason for taking the risk…I mean, what would you do if you didn’t have control over your ship anymore? You’d basically become a Brawn, like me.”

 

“Yes, I’ve been considering this question for quite some time, John.”

 

“Then stop thinking with your dick and give me a good answer. What…would…you…do with yourself? With your life?”

 

“I can’t think with something I don’t have, John, but, I will admit, that the thought of consummating our relationship is uppermost in my mind. As to the rest of it…” his voice drifted away momentarily before returning. “I have considered the possibility that I could do both. Be Brain and Brawn.”

 

“WHAT? How?” John sputtered, his confusion total. “That’s not possible. Either you run a ship or you don’t…”

 

“Why? Just because it hasn’t been done before? Because it was easier for them to discard the damaged shell, only keeping the ‘good’ part of the body to run their ships? So much more expensive to repair the body than to rip the brain from it and stick it inside a tin can, isn’t it? That has always infuriated me. What if  they had spent the time and effort to save me from a chronic, debilitating—and, ultimately, fatal—disease instead of taking my humanity from me without my consent?” He sounded angry, passionate.

 

Walking over to the pillar, John laid a hand against the cool metal, then his forehead. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. I…I  hadn’t meant to stir up old feelings like this. I just wanted you to be sure…that this is something that would be right for you, instead of just a whim because you have a crush on your Brawn.”

 

A hoverbot sidled up beside John and nudged at him, like a cat asking for a treat. He smiled down at it. “Is this some new way of ‘cuddling’?”

 

“The closest thing I can get to it right now,” Sherlock admitted. “It can register your vital signs, volume, weight, texture…”

 

John raised his hand and laid it atop the bot as it pushed into his hand. He could feel the vibration of the internal mechanisms, almost like it was…purring. He smiled tenderly.

 

“I want to be with you, John. That is my priority. Physically, emotionally, and sexually. As for the rest…I think we’ll be able to figure that out as we go along, don’t you?” Sherlock inquired.

 

John nodded, stroking the little bot absently. “’We.’ Yeah. Yeah, you may be right.”

 

“Yet you have doubts. Still.”

 

“Hmm?” John looked up, surprised. “Well, yeah, I suppose I do. I mean, what if it doesn’t work? What if the body is non-functional or deformed or…”

 

“Then I am no worse off than I am now, am I? Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Sherlock argued, reasonably.

 

“Might kill you.”

 

“Probably won’t.”

 

John nodded. “Okay, fair enough. But,” he added, stroking the little bot gently, “What if it does work, and you get a brand-new body? What then?”

 

After several seconds of silence, Sherlock said, “I don’t admit this often, John, but I am at a loss as to your concern.  Wouldn’t that be the best outcome possible?”

 

Sigh. “For you, yes. But, for me…” John removed his hand from the bot and gently pushed it away.

 

“John.” A breath.

 

Turning his face away from the pillar, John pushed off from it and wandered back to his chair. He sat heavily, as if feeling the weight of his years and more. The holobot glided in to hover over the chair opposite.

 

“Don’t,” was all John said, shaking his head. The bot wavered, then sailed off to its housing.”I just want to be alone right now, Sherlock. Please…”

 

“As you wish, John,” Sherlock sighed.

Chapter Text

The night dragged itself along like drunken slug.

 

John found himself flap-jacking for hours, unable to sleep or to even shut down his over-cranking brain.

 

What if, what if, what if…

 

Finally, in one galvanic motion, he sat up on the side of the bed, both hands clenched at his sides.

 

Damn it, damn it, damn him…why does he have to go and ruin it all? Why can’t he just be satisfied with what is, what’s right in front of him?

 

Heart heaving, breaths coming fast and short…panic attack. He knew the symptoms, had had them before, but usually in the midst of battle, not sitting in his own bed. While in the thick of things, though, it was easier to cast aside, to focus on survival, on removing the enemy from the equation. Here, his brain was just over-wound, chasing itself in an ever-tightening spiral, until…

 

“Credit for your thoughts,” came a familiar voice from behind him.

 

He jumped and whirled around to see Sherlock, naked as a hologram could be without being transparent, lying on his bed, lush curls nestled in the crook of an arm, gazing up at him with that riveting silver gaze. Involuntarily, John’s eyes raked up and down his naked form before settling on that high-boned face.

 

“What are you doing here?” he asked, flatly.

 

Sherlock repositioned himself sensually. “You were restless, and far too quiet.”

 

“Yeah,” John muttered, turning his back to sit with his elbows on his knees. “Thinking. Didn’t need your input.”

 

The silence in the room was awkward, bordering on brittle, until John felt a nudge at his shoulder. He turned and backhanded the holobot into the wall. “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” he yelled.

 

The holobot wobbled back into the air before flying through the air vent. John watched it go.

 

Fuck. What did I do that for?

 

He raised his head and called out, “Sherlock.”

 

No response. No sigh through the vents. No red light above the door. Total silence.

 

Shit.

 

“Sherlock...”

 

“Fuck off, John. Don’t call me again without an apology on your too-thin lips.”

 

Wow

 

“I…I’m sorry…” he began.

 

“Yes, you are. You’re a sorry excuse for a human being. When have I ever done anything to warrant that sort of treatment, John? I have offered you the sanctuary of my body and all its resources, and you have attacked me time and again. Were I a physically-complete man, would you treat me this way? If so, then perhaps I should re-assess my plans, as I would not wish to become your personal punching bag or a fucking love slave to be ignored at will.”

 

John felt as though the wind had been punched out of him. God, he wished he could take back so much of what he had said and done in the past…things that had obviously hurt Sherlock far more than he had let on. Sherlock had forgiven him over and over, and yet…

 

Why am I like this? Why do I treat him so badly? He’s my friend. No, even more, he’s my lover…my love. I could drive him away, lose him…

 

He felt it, then. The fear. The anxiety. It made him want to lash out, to strike at something, just to make that steel-wool itch under his skin go away. He looked down at his hands—they were clenched, and they were trembling.

 

Hit, strike, attack, hurt, maim, kill, make it stop, MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP!!!

 

There was a barely perceptible movement of air behind him as he felt a sting at the back of his neck. He barely had time to raise his hand to his neck before the world turned gray and the pillow came up to meet him…

 

>>>***<<<

 

Oh, God, my head…

 

John pried open one eye and searched his room. Over his head floated a medbot, equipped with a telemetry setup and holding an air injector.

 

So that’s the little bastard that got me…

 

“How are you feeling now, John?” Sherlock’s soothing baritone inquired.

 

Closing his eye again, John replied, “Like a bloody arse.”

 

“You were acting like one, too. I took the liberty of treating your anxiety reaction with a harmless tranquilizer. Now, all that remains is to discover the reason behind your violent reactions,” Sherlock responded calmly.

 

John groaned. “Don’t know. Wish I did.”

 

No response.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“Hush, John. I’m reviewing your medical records.”

 

John sat up suddenly, regretting it immediately. “Ow,” he said, putting a hand to his head. “What was in that shot, anyway?”

 

“Elephant tranquilizer. Now, if you would just shut up…”

 

John chuckled, despite the pool game going on inside his head. “Whatever happened to walking and chewing gum?”

 

“Whatever happened to SHUT UP?”

 

Deciding pain relief was the better part of valor, John laid back down, the pain in his head diminishing somewhat. He waited, silently, and even started dozing off again, before Sherlock re-established contact.

 

“Ah, I’ve found it, John. Your medical records are quite complete, even more so than you may be aware of.”

 

“Uh huh. Clarify,” John demanded

 

“Well, when you went into the SU medical corps, they performed some rather elaborate tests to determine both your eligibility and suitability for the position.”

 

“Yeah, I remember. Seemed a bit daft at the time.”

 

“Hmm, well, madness with a purpose, then. Those tests determined that you were fearless, moral, ethical, self-sacrificing, disciplined…all the things I’ve known about you all along,” Sherlock noted.

 

“I’m flattered,” John snarked.

 

“Don’t be. I also know that you can be difficult, stubborn, ill-tempered, violent…” Sherlock recited.

 

Shut it, you fucking prat.”

 

“However, there is something in here that illuminates you as nothing else does. You were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, one that probably stemmed from early childhood,” Sherlock said his voice clinical. “Interesting.”

 

John frowned in puzzlement. “I thought you said I was fearless? How can that go along with an anxiety disorder?”

 

“You tell me, John. You’re the doctor,” Sherlock remarked with a touch of sarcasm

 

“Yeah, ‘physician, heal thyself’, right?” John replied, with some bitterness. “Sorry, doesn’t work that way, Sherlock. Can’t see the forest for the trees, and all that. I’m as much in the dark as you are.”

 

“Hmmm, are you now…?”

 

A soft whirr and the holobot returned, taking its position in front of John’s door as usual. A moment later, Sherlock, dressed in his uniform, appeared below it. He looked…hard. Much less approachable than John had ever seen him, even on that first meeting. His eyes were cold, his expression haughty. He stood ramrod-straight, hands clasped behind him.

 

“John Hamish Watson,” the hologram greeted him stiffly.

 

“Sherlock, what…?”

 

“I was doing some thinking, while you were asleep, and I have decided that, since you seem to have such a problem with me becoming fully human, I will have no further use of your services. Instead, I will let you off at the next space station, where you can find passage back to Earth, either with another brainship or with more…conventional transport. I will give you an excellent reference, so you needn’t worry about further employment, but I can’t be burdened by someone who would ask me to hold back on my personal development, as you seem to be doing. And, while I enjoyed our time together and have had many illuminating experiences with you, I would not want you to mistake our working relationship for anything other than that. Once you are gone, I will be interviewing new Brawns who a bit are more…flexible about their employment than you seem to be.”

 

John tasted bile in the back of his throat as his stomach roiled. His brain and eyesight blazed red. He leapt to his feet, screaming, “You fucking, heartless bastard! After all we’ve been through…you’re leaving me behind?” and threw a punch at the hologram, which watched impassively as his fist flew through it and impacted on the wall behind. Bone slammed against metal, with the expected results. John pulled back a bloody fist, which he cocked for a second blow…

 

Oh, shit, not again…as he sank back onto the bed with a neck full of sleepjuice. Sherlock watched, dispassionately, as John went lights-out…

 

>>>***<<<

 

You fucking bastard, how could you leave me, I love you…

 

“Abandonment issues. And, for the record, I love you, too,” Sherlock responded as John slowly dragged himself back to consciousness, not realizing he had been talking during his stint in twilight sleep. He opened his eyes to see Sherlock, dressed in more casual attire, leaning over him. His face was softly beautiful again, with mirthful eyes and a gentle smile. “I’m sorry, John, but I had to perform my own version of a personality test on you to determine what the main issues were. If I had been able to consult with a professional…”

 

“Prick,” John mumbled.

 

“Yes, well, you knew that before, though, didn’t you?” Sherlock grinned down at him. “I now have enough data to make a few deductions. First,” he ticked off the points on his fingers, “as I have already noted, you have abandonment issues.”

 

“Yeah, maybe,” John grudgingly admitted.

 

“Were you abandoned by a parent or sibling as a child?”

 

“Yeah. My mum and my sister both left when I was young because my father was an abusive, drunken arse,” John admitted. “Never saw my mum after that.”

 

Sherlock nodded, “Was your father emotionally unsupportive? Was he physically or mentally abusive?”

 

John snickered ruefully. “Yeah, you could say that. Point on all counts.”

 

“So, second,” he ticked off another finger, “we have a panic disorder, probably caused by the physical and mental abuse you suffered as a child. This could account for your fight-response to threatening stimuli. You subconsciously translate anxiety into anger. There might also be a component of PTSD in there, too, due to the traumatic nature of your childhood. You simply never had a safe place to live, so your nervous system, even today, is constantly in a state of hyper-alertness and alarm.”

 

“Thank you, Dr. Freud,” John said, rolling his eyes. Stop. Stopstopstopstop…

 

“Dr. Freud has nothing on me,” Sherlock shot back, with more than a little pride. “He was a product of his time, but woefully inadequate to deal with modern issues. And, lastly…,” he ticked off a third finger.

 

“Oh, God, spare me,” John groaned. “Aren’t you done dissecting me yet?”

 

“Vivisecting, actually, and, no, I’m not. Lastly, you have a poorly developed sense of self, probably due to your childhood, in which you were forced to behave in certain ways in order to ‘please’ your father, thereby causing you to submerge your actual self in favor of the ‘self’ that would meet your father’s dubious approval. Therefore, you don’t believe that anyone could love you for yourself, rather than for your utility or your ‘false’ self. All this was made abundantly clear by your reaction to my little ‘announcement’”

 

John had passed being annoyed with Sherlock long ago. Now he just felt laid bare, splayed open like a frog in a lab, his still-beating heart being poked at with a sharp stick. “Anything else, you utter cock?” he asked, looking up into Sherlock’s intense eyes. He felt exhausted and humiliated and vulnerable…

 

“Yes. All this I know, John, and I couldn’t possibly love you more than I do right now,” Sherlock whispered.

 

John’s stared, disbelieving, up at Sherlock. “You can’t,” he whispered back. “All that you said…you can’t love me like I love you. You’re perfect. I’m damaged. I’m…”

 

“More damaged than I am, John? I, who am nothing more than a brain in a box? Perfect, did you say, John? I’d laugh, but it’s too sad. You’re not perfect, John, but you don’t have to be, do you understand that? I’m certainly not perfect …”

 

“But you could be,” John snapped, rising suddenly to a seated position. “If you get yourself a new body, looking like you do…My God, you could have any Brawn you wanted in the entire SU, someone who could fulfill your needs better than I ever could…”

 

John ground to a halt as he saw the soft smile on Sherlock’s full lips. “Is that why you’re so afraid of me getting a new body? Do you think, for a single second, that I, for whatever reason, wouldn’t want you anymore?”

 

John dropped his eyes self-consciously. “Like you said, I’m not perfect. I’m short, I’m ugly…”

 

“Says who?” Sherlock challenged.

 

John looked up, anger flashing in his eyes. “Says me. I’m scarred…”

 

“I don’t have a body…” Sherlock rebutted.

 

“I’m old…”

 

“I live in a can…”

 

“I have issues…”

 

“I’m a congenital prick…”

 

“WILL YOU STOP SAYING THINGS LIKE THAT?” John shouted.

 

“Will you?” Sherlock retorted. “Face it, John; you fell in love with a brain in a can with a holographic interface. If you can do that, do you really think I can’t love you the way you are?”

 

The reality of that statement slapped John in the face. Here he was, arguing with a light projection of a man who only existed as a mass of gray matter in a nutrient box generously supplied with neural connections to a spaceship. The incongruity of it amazed him.

 

“Ah. I think that, perhaps, a light dawns?” Sherlock asked, hopefully. He straightened up and blinked out as the holobot headed out the vent.

 

“Hey! You! Where do you think you’re going?” John called out.

 

“Recharge. We all have to do it, John.” Sherlock replied. The red light over the door blinked on. “Besides, I’m still here. I’m always here, John. I always will be here. Do you believe that?”

 

John nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I’m beginning to.”

Chapter Text

Sleep was a long time coming for John. God, so much to think about…

One thing about Sherlock, he could certainly put a bug in one’s ear.

 

All I can do is wait and see what happens. And that’s killing me. He’s so amazing, so beautiful in every way; if he’s even half as gorgeous as his hologram, the Brawns will be all over him like ants at a picnic.

 

He turned over, resettling himself for the nth time that night, his brain abuzz with arguments and insecurities, until, finally, sheer exhaustion overtook him and he dozed off.

 

Somewhere, in the back of his fevered mind, there was a pleasant dream brewing. Featuring Sherlock, of course. That deep, melodious voice, speaking to him so softly, so seductively…he could feel himself responding to that voice alone.

 

Then came the caresses. He knew it was a dream because Sherlock had no hands, no physicality other than his brain, imprisoned in a metal container at the heart of the ship, but he didn’t care. It felt so nice…so gentle and loving as long-fingered, teasing hands slid over his face and down his chest; a prickling sensation at his nipples, causing a strong reaction lower down…

 

Mmmm, Sherlock…yesss…

 

His cock was engorged, sensitive, jutting up proudly from where he lay on his back in the dark comfort of his bed. He reached down to manhandle himself when a hand moved his hand away and another sensation replaced it. It was a warm, wet, sucking feeling, tight and insistent. He moaned and reached again. This time, a hand held his wrist down to the mattress, firmly but with only light pressure, as if being playful.

 

Oh, God, baby, yeah…harder…yeah…

 

He tried to open his eyes, but his lids were heavy, so heavy that he just lay there and took it all in; the light restraint, the sucking, the heat, the…everything, until he felt his pleasure was accelerating. Hips took on a life of their own, shallowly thrusting as the pressure and heat built within his groin, until he knew he was about to burst. Then, he looked down…

 

To see Sherlock’s dark curls hovering over his prick, that glorious mouth wrapped around his cock, his head bobbing up and down relentlessly…the sucking sounds so real, so loud

 

John came so hard it was nearly painful. Wild cries of ecstasy exploded from his lips just as his cum exploded into Sherlock’s mouth, being sucked out of him as if by a pump…

 

“Agh! Sher-…Sherlock! Ahhhgh!” he cried out, eyes squinched shut, his face a study in delicious agony.

He rode the waves of his orgasm for what seemed like eternity; until the pulsing stopped and his cock softened and his thrusts weakened until they ceased all together, only to be replaced by a warm lassitude and an up-welling of affection. Only then did the sensation stop, to be replaced by a whirring sound that hastily left the room.

 

John opened his eyes briefly and looked down again to see Sherlock, smiling up impishly from where he “lay” between John’s open legs. “I told you I had something special in mind, John,” he whispered before dissolving into a whirl of photons and disappearing. Another whirr and John was alone.

 

He stared up at the darkened camera over the door. “Not much for aftercare, are you?” he joked, weakly. He felt helplessly drained of all life.

 

The red light flicked on. “Not too much I can do right now, John, but just you wait!” Sherlock promised. “I have plans…”

 

John let his head flop on the pillow. “God help me,” he whispered, to no one in particular, before falling into a deep, satisfying sleep.

>>>***<<<

 

“Good morning, John! Although, I must say that, out here, that is rather an arbitrary term,” Sherlock greeted his brawn as John stumbled into the parlor, barely awake. He didn’t even make it into the kitchen before a cup of very strong coffee was delivered to him via drone. He flopped into his chair before accepting the cup. “Ta.”

 

The first sip jolted him into wakefulness. “God! How strong did you make this?”

 

“I didn’t. It came that way. I believe it’s called ‘Death By Caffeine’. Appropriate, don’t you think?” Sherlock answered lightly.

 

A second sip sent a shiver down John’s entire body. “God! You trying to kill me, Sherlock? Or is this the backup plan if last night didn’t work?”

 

“Hmmm. Was that praise or criticism, John?”

 

John interrupted his third sip to respond. “Praise, actually. What the…how the hell did you do that?”

 

He could almost see Sherlock’s smug smile. “My secret for now, John. Let’s just say, I had a very good reason for it.” A warm breeze ruffled John’s silvered hair.

 

John thought that one over for a nonce. Then, he said, “Now you’ve got me worried. Not planning on cloning me, are you?”

 

“Well, double your pleasure…”

 

John’s eyes shifted toward the pillar. “Don’t even think about it,” he responded, flatly.

 

Sherlock chuckled. “I wouldn’t, John. I far prefer the original. However, there are some interesting features about your DNA…”

 

John splurted his coffee out his nose and mouth. “WHAT? Is that what you did last night? Harvested my DNA? Jesus, Sherlock, I’m already on file with the SU…”

 

“But I needed a fresh sample for analysis, not a computer printout,” Sherlock pouted. “It was nothing personal…well, maybe it was, but I needed a comparison sample…”

 

“You could have asked, instead of milking me like a cow…and how did you even do that without a body?” John sputtered in anger.

 

He could almost see Sherlock’s eyes roll as he said, “Drones, John. Do keep up. I told you I was making some specialized ones, and I just camouflaged their activity with a hologram.”

 

“Fuck,” John muttered as he all but poured the rest of the coffee down his throat. “God-damned, sex-starved lump of cerebral tissue…”

 

“HEY, no need to be offensive, John! You weren’t complaining last night, unless ‘Augh, Sherlock’ is supposed to be an insult,” Sherlock shot back in a huff.

 

“THAT’S NOT THE POINT! You took advantage of me…”

 

“Oh, puh-leeze! You’re just cranky because I saved your semen instead of spitting it out like all your former girlfriends did. At least I didn’t waste perfectly good genetic material!” Sherlock shouted back. “If that’s the way you’re going to be about it, then I will recycle those drones and use them for something more to your liking, like WIPING YOUR PETULANT ARSE!”

 

A brittle silence followed that lasted far too long for John’s liking. The coffee was jangling his nerves, making him restless and, even worse, desirous of hitting something. He stalked back into his bedroom and began pounding the shit out of his pillow and mattress until he was spent and panting. He fell, spread-eagled, onto the disheveled sheets and stared at the ceiling.

 

Why, WHY, WHY does it seem we always get into an argument about sex? Is it that, or is there something else?

 

“Fear of intimacy.”

 

John lifted his head up. “What?”

 

The red light was on over the door. “I said, fear of intimacy. I’m not a dolt, John. I understand you better than you understand yourself, since I can look at your behavior more dispassionately than you can. You have a fear of intimacy, of letting someone get close enough to hurt you. You find it difficult to understand that you are worthy of love and devotion because you see yourself as unlovable, flawed, and imperfect.”

 

John grimaced. “Thanks, Sigmund,” he snarked.

 

“I told you, don’t compare me with him. I have the benefit of centuries of research into the human psyche; he was only scratching the surface. I understand you, John, and I appreciate you, and that scares the hell out of you. You think I will, one day, discover the hidden monster inside John Watson and will go screaming into the heavens with some other Brawn, leaving you behind in some swill joint on the galactic fringes.”

 

“Well, that was picturesque, if nothing else,” John admitted. He sat upright and stared up at the camera. “Truth is, Sherlock, I don’t think…I don’t think I could bear it if something happened to you. If the experiment went wrong and…and…the substance ate your brain or something.”

 

The ship shuddered just a bit. “That sounds like the plot of a D-grade horror movie, John. Extremely unlikely, though. If the serum was that unstable, the natives would have stopped using it ages ago. The fact it was used on the Chief’s son is testament enough to its reliability.”

 

“Yeah,” John sighed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He cocked his head as he looked up again. “What, exactly, were you using my DNA for, anyway?”

 

“Ah, that. You do not carry the defective gene that I did that caused my body to fail. I could splice your healthy gene into my own DNA to create a healthy body, while using an enzyme to destroy the deficient gene. That way, I can be sure my new body would be completely healthy.”

 

John nodded, thoughtfully. “Interesting. Could work. But, why go through all that, when…”

 

“I know they cured that disease long ago, but it might still be resident in my own DNA as a recessive trait that could be jump-started by some stimulus. By destroying it and using fresh genetic material, I could ensure my body is free from contamination.”

 

“Reasonable,” John admitted. “And well-thought-out.”

 

“Of course. I’m nothing if not thorough.”

 

“And modest.”

 

“Modesty is a social construct intended to force us to rely upon the approval of others. Quite maladaptive, if the truth be told. One should rely upon one’s own good opinion of oneself before others.”

 

John squinted up at the light. “That sounds a bit sociopathic, Sherlock.”

 

Sherlock snorted through the vent. “Only if the behavior is wildly divergent from the social norm. Then it is criminal and needs to be sorted out appropriately.” A pause. “Are you implying that I am a sociopath, John? That would be an…interesting supposition. And what would that say about you?”

 

Dead silence.

 

“Yes, I thought so. Let’s move on from this discussion, shall we? I am preparing to make some course corrections as per Mycroft’s instruction. This should take us through a densely-packed asteroid belt, so I may have to concentrate more on my navigation than on conversation,” Sherlock informed John.

 

“Whatever happened to walking and…”

 

“Shut it, John, unless you want to end up as part of the inevitable Sherlock pancake that will come about because I missed something while driving.”

 

John held up his hands in submission. “Okay, point taken. How about I do some research on the next phase of your diabolical plan to inflict a human Sherlock upon the unsuspecting universe?”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “An excellent idea, John. I can direct you to some source material you can pore over while I handle the navigation.”

 

“Good, good. Any idea how long this will take, getting to…wherever-it-is-we’re-going?”

 

“Oh, God, John, you’re not going to start in with ‘are we there yet’, are you? I told you before, I have no idea where we’re being sent,” Sherlock barked.

 

John held up his hands again. “Okay, okay, just asking, Mr. Touchy. Now, where are those periodicals…?”

Chapter Text

“We’re lost.”

 

John raised his head from his reading. “Okay, that was the last thing I ever expected to hear from you,” he quipped. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

 

“I have reached the end of the instructions Mycroft sent me and there’s…nothing. Nothing within sensor range, even at max. I’m sure I followed them scrupulously…”

 

John sighed. “I’m sure you did, Sherlock. Worse comes to worse, we backtrack…”

 

“And possibly meet up with our pursuers again? Hardly practical, John. The word must be out by now of our last known whereabouts. There will be others just salivating at the thought of capturing a rogue brainship. The salvage rights alone would make it incredibly lucrative, and if they decide to ask for ransom for me…”

 

“Hey, what about me?” John shot back. “Don’t I count?”

 

“You’ve said it yourself, John; Brawns are expendible. Maybe they’d let you live, maybe not. I, on the other hand, am a valuable resource, to be sold to the highest bidder.” The ship shuddered. “I hate to think of Moriarty being the one with the deepest pockets…”

 

John nodded absently. “You think he’d torture you?”

 

“Almost certainly.”

 

I’ve assumed as much, but without a body, what kind of torture…?”

 

“You’re thinking like a Brawn. Disembodied Brains can still be tormented by any number of means. For example, when Mary cut off my access to the ship…it was horrible. I was completely helpless and without input, as you recall. If not for the tenuous connection I had with you, I could have gone round the bend. It’s enough to make one doubt one’s sanity; in that particular case, I recited the periodic table and all the properties of the elements to pass the time and maintain focus. And remember Moriarty’s puberty cocktail? Too much of that sort of thing can make a Brain psychotic, if one has a predilection for it. Bombardment with hyper-intensive stimuli, wonky feedback loops, stimulants and depressants to wear down one’s will, false reality input…God, any number of ways to mess with a Brain. Moriarty would want to break my will first, then my mind, to make me his perfect slave.” The ship shuddered again.

 

“I’d kill him first,” John said flatly.”Or, if we were captured and you were going to be enslaved or sold off like a second-hand computer, I’d kill you before they kill me.”

 

Sherlock chuckled and said, teasingly, “How very gallant of you, John.  Thank you.” The air around John warmed significantly. “Frankly, though, I would rather attempt escape or, at worst, detonate the fuel cells and blow myself into another lifetime. You, of course, would have the option of leaving…”

 

John shook his head vehemently. “No, Sherlock. Where you go, I go, even if it’s through the Gates of Hell.”

 

In a voice brimming with affection, Sherlock said, “And you wonder why I love you, John Watson.”

 

The Brawn rubbed the back of his head awkwardly before casting his eyes toward the central pillar and smiling like an awkward teenager. An uncharacteristic blush painted his cheeks.

 

“Unfortunately, this romantic interlude does not help me figure out where I went astray…”

 

Same old Sherlock; never one to let sentiment get the better of him.

 

A violent jolt rocked the ship, nearly knocking John out of his chair. “What the fuck was that?” he howled as he leapt to his feet.

 

“Tractor beam,” Sherlock replied, tightly. “Very powerful, has me by the nose. Shit! How did I miss it? My sweeps were very thorough…”

 

Calm yourself, brother dear. You could have looked all day and not found us,” A familiar voice broke through Sherlock’s agitation.

 

“Mycroft!” Sherlock yelled, half-jubilant and half-annoyed. “What the hell…”

 

“You’ve finally arrived. The others had almost given up on you, but, then, I know you,” he jested lightly.

 

John piped in. “Care to tell us where we’re going? Or are you just going to tow us around for a while?”

 

“Not at all. My colleagues and I are going to take you to a special place only known to ourselves…”

 

“And where is that, may I ask?” Sherlock asked sharply, obviously unimpressed by his brother’s flair for the dramatic.

 

“Simple, dear brother. We are escorting you through the Gates of Hell.”

 

Silence.

 

“Sounds like this might be where you get off, John,” Sherlock observed, dourly.

 

“Not on your life, Sherlock,” John responded tartly, his tone hard.

 

“Good man,” the Brain approved, before turning on Mycroft, “So, brother dear, explain to me why you felt it necessary to play this elaborate game with us…”

 

Mycroft sounded entirely too cheerful as he responded. “You misunderstand, Sherlock! You see, the knowledge of our destination is only for those with the highest clearance. I couldn’t give you the coordinates because, had you been caught, the location could have been wrested from you and shared with other, less desirable, entities, thereby compromising our situation significantly.”

 

“You should know me better than that, Mycroft,” Sherlock sniffed, offended.

 

“It was a standard precaution, Sherlock, Please stop getting your theoretical nose out of joint over minor inconveniences. The fact that you are here is significant; no brainship has ever been invited here before, due to, shall we say, loyalty concerns. Although, I must admit, I still have my doubts about…some things.”

 

John walked over to the pillar and rested his hand on its metal side. “Sherlock, this is all beginning to sound a bit cloak-and-dagger…”

 

“Says the man who loves James Bond,” Sherlock gently jibed him. “Mycroft knows no other way. However, as I have said before, John, the option to leave is yours. I, on the other hand, am committed to this course of action, as is Mycroft.”

 

“Then so am I,” John asserted. He ran his hand affectionately over the matte finish of the column. “If this works, there’s no way in hell I’m letting any other Brawn get within five feet of you.”

 

A wisp of warm air ruffled his hair.

 

“All right, Mycroft. John is in, and you have my assurance that you couldn’t find a finer, more trustworthy man anywhere. So, tell me why you are here, rather than running things back on Earth? And why bring us here?”

 

This should be interesting,” John quipped as he settled himself in the pilot’s chair, his skepticism running wild. “I hope this is a tight-beam communication, Mycroft.”

 

“Indeed. Sherlock wouldn’t have accepted it if it hadn’t been. You see, the area of space we are about to enter has no real astronomical designation; indeed, standard nav charts don’t even display it. It is simply annotated as ‘dead space’, with no commercial, political, or explorational value. Yet every ship, be it freighter or fighter, that has gone into this area has disappeared without a trace,” Mycroft stated, his tone conspiratorial.

 

“Why?”

 

“Why, indeed, brother. Well, it would seem that the entire area is a maelstrom of energies, an immense, unstable sphere full of black holes, wormholes, and just about any disturbing cosmic phenomenon you would care to name. Most ships simply…vanish, without a single emergency call, earning this area the nickname ‘Hell”.

 

“Appropriate. And are we all going to Hell now, despite our good intentions?” Sherlock inquired saucily.

 

“Such a shame we don’t have a handbasket,” John snarked. “We could have a picnic.”

 

Another sigh. “If the two of you would just…oh, never mind, I don’t even know why I bother. To continue, a very few intrepid souls have successfully mapped a way through the maelstrom, to the calm eye at the center. It is there that we are going, Sherlock.”

 

“Who’s ‘we’?” Sherlock inquired, his suspicions, as ever, heightened when dealing with his brother. He had never explained why to his Brawn, so John figured it must be something particularly hellacious.

 

“So many questions, Sherlock! I assure you, I will explain…”

 

“You’ll explain right now or I will rip myself apart to escape you! You could have trusted me…” Sherlock snapped, his patience obviously at an end.

 

A sigh. “Dr Watson, as you can see, melodramatics tend to run in the family…” Mycroft started.

 

“Get on with it,” John cut him off.

 

“Ahem, yes. Well, some of the upper echelons at the SU and I are displeased with the way things are playing out on Earth, so we have been…making arrangements…”

 

“Cloak and dagger,” John observed, wryly, his arms and legs crossed in disbelief.

 

Really, doctor, don’t encourage my brother. He’s quite annoying enough on his own,” Mycroft chided.

 

“With reason, Mycroft, but do continue,” Sherlock sassed.

 

The sound of throat-clearing, followed by, “We have established a base from which we can make plans to put the big corporations back in their place, rather than running a shadow government, as they are attempting to do now. Should they succeed, brainships, such as yourself, Sherlock, would become the chattal of the corporate heads, to do with as they will.” Mycroft sighed. “Even I would not be able to protect you, Sherlock…”

 

“What do you mean, ‘even you’?” John asked, sharply.

 

“My brother does not merely work with the Brain and Brawn program, John, he oversees it as part of a cabinet post. At least, that was the case the last time I checked. What post do you hold now, brother?”

 

“One high enough in the government to be well aware of the threat but not high enough to staunch it. That will require an organized resistance from outside the government structure. Resistance we are currently building…”

 

“In Hell,” Sherlock finished. “Appropriate.”

 

“You are our first brainship, Sherlock. We hope there will be others later on.”

 

Silence as Sherlock considered. “Hmm, well, I can assure you that there are many Brains who are unhappy with the present state of affairs. It can take an inordinate amount of time for a brain to ‘own’ its own ship. Too little pay, too many demands…I am, by far, not the only malcontent in the system.”

 

“Exactly. And, if your plan works, there will be something we can offer them that no one else will…”

 

“A body,” John piped in. “So, now your brother is going to be a marketing tool for your rebellion? Is that it? Did you talk him into this…?” John pushed out of his chair and started pacing, his right hand clenching in restrained anger.

 

“John.” Sherlock’s voice was soothing, quiet. “This was my idea. Mycroft merely signed off on it. If you must blame anyone, blame yourself.”

 

Me?” John blurted out, stunned. “How did I…?”

 

“If you hadn’t been the man you are, if I hadn’t fallen in love with all your wonderful characteristics, if we had not become lovers, I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to have a body. So, you see, it is all your fault…” It was a rebuke without teeth, said in an amused tone.

 

John harrumphed. “I blame Moriarty’s cocktail. You were an asexual brain before then.”

 

Sherlock laughed. “Untrue, John. I found you to be incredibly attractive from the first. After that, I learned to love you as a friend and companion, long before I desired to be with you.”

 

That warm breeze again, this time strangely scented with cinnamon…John sighed and gave up the argument.

 

Really, you two, this is not the time or place,” Mycroft broke in. “Although, I must admit to being somewhat intrigued by the part about…”

 

NEXT!” John interrupted, rudely. His cheeks were already in full blush.

 

Sherlock chuckled. “So shy, John! But not in your quarters…”

 

“SHUT IT, SHERLOCK!” John yelled, storming over to the pillar and giving it a sharp rap with the bottom of his fist. “Or I’ll shake all your connections loose!”

 

“Violent,” Mycroft observed. “Are you sure about this one, brother mine?”

 

“Demons. We all have them. You understand that, don’t you, Mycroft?” Sherlock responded, his voice holding a veiled threat of exposure.

 

“Hmm, yes. But let us change the subject. We have been preparing for your arrival. All we lack right now is the formula for the healing ointment, so we can test…”

 

“You can test it on me,” Sherlock asserted.

 

“NO!” Mycroft shot back. “We will try it on tissue specimens…”

 

“You need my particular situation, Mycroft. We know already that it heals average humans. What we don’t know is if it will treat my lack of a body as an ‘injury’ and heal that, as well, based on the existing DNA in my brain. No other trial will do,” Sherlock said, refusing to be denied.

 

“And if the experiment fails?”

 

“My brain will still be functional and can easily be transplanted back into the ship.”

 

“You don’t know that. There could be unforeseen…”

 

“There are always chances, yes,” Sherlock replied, coldly, like the scientist he was. “But I am willing to take that chance for the opportunity to…”

 

“What, Sherlock? To have sex? I can assure you, it’s over-rated,” Mycroft drawled, his tone disparaging.

 

John looked over at the pillar beside him. Impulsively, he wrapped his arms around it as far as they would go and said, “I love you just the way you are, Sherlock. You don’t need to do this. I…I can’t lose you to a whim.”

 

“A whim? I have had many Brawns, John, but I have felt nothing for them like I feel for you. This is not a whim. You said yourself, that, if I were to be sold off to slavery, you would kill me spare me such a fate. Is that a whim, or a heartfelt action because you love me?” Sherlock queried.

 

John laid his cheek against the cold metal and closed his eyes. “Not a whim, Sherlock. You are mine to protect and to cherish.”

 

“Then it’s settled. How long before we arrive, Mycroft?”

 

“It’s still a number of hours yet. I would suggest that you prepare yourself for station hook-up and have your Brawn get some rest. Once we arrive, there’s going to be a great deal of activity that will require you both to be at your best.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

“Mycroft out.” The line clicked silent.

 

John still stood with his arms around Sherlock’s column. He couldn’t seem to let go of it.

 

“John.”

 

No response.

 

“John. Don’t make me tazer you,” Sherlock said, in a neutral tone.

 

John laughed crazily. “God, Sherlock, you really would, wouldn’t you? I’m hugging you because I can’t imagine a life without you, and you threaten to tazer me?”

 

He could almost hear the smile in Sherlock’s voice as he replied, “John, according to SU rules, no one is allowed to touch a Brain’s column but a certified specialist. You know that, and, yet, I’ve allowed you to hug it, hit it, and bleed all over it. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”

 

Pulling his head back, he turned his face to the pillar and kissed it. “Sorry.”

 

“Unsatisfactory as that is, I’ll accept it,” Sherlock chuckled. “Hopefully, before long, things will be more…interesting than a full-metal kiss.”

 

John finally backed away and gave in to the sudden urge to stretch and yawn. He hadn’t realized how much recent events had worn him out. “I think I’ll take Mycroft’s advice and take a kip.”

 

“It’s about the only advice of his that I would trust on first reading,” Sherlock replied. “Get some rest. I’ll call you if anything significant happens.”

 

“G’night.”

 

“Sleep well.”

Chapter Text

The night was dark and soft, like Sherlock’s hair. John’s fingers were twisted in the curling strands, tightening sometimes to elicit gasps of pleasure and to expose that gorgeous throat, which stretched upward, swan-like, in submission, so that John could ravish it with his lips, teeth, and tongue.

 

“Oh, God, John,” he moaned, his voice so deep it vibrated through John’s chest, pressed tightly against Sherlock’s own. His skin felt hot and damp, nipples erect and begging for attention. Sherlock’s hands roamed freely over John’s back, hips, and arse, grasping and fondling and trying to reach down between them to touch John’s engorged cock, but John kept their bodies together, frustrating his efforts.

 

Their cocks were rubbing together between them, lubricated by sweat and beads of pre-cum that were dribbling out copiously, quite against their wills. John insinuated his fingers between Sherlock’s bumcheeks, seeking out that sensitive, puckered flesh that writhed when he touched it, eliciting sounds from Sherlock that John had never heard before but wanted to hear again. His blood pounded through his body as if propelled by a steam engine. He raised his head to claim Sherlock’s lips, so plush and willing, which parted to allow John to possess his mouth entirely with his tongue. John could feel the resultant jolt of Sherlock’s hips and the increased girth of his cock against his own as he groaned in excitement. God, making love to Sherlock was like being high on crack and drowning in roses, sandlewood, and cinnamon. It was a heady mixture that assailed his senses, combined with the sheer sensuality of the man. The way he writhed his body, thrusting and insinuating all at the same time, brought John to the brink and kept him there, thanks to John’s iron will alone.

 

John rolled Sherlock over onto his back and began gyrating his hips in earnest, bellies sliding together as John frotted against his lover and Sherlock arched and thrashed, grabbing John’s hip with one hand and the sheet with another, reveling in the heightened sensations John was imposing upon him. Helplessly, Sherlock’s slender body grew taut, his neck hyper-extended, mouth open but wordless. Only guttural sounds emerged from those ripe lips as he lost all volition, his cock spewing forth ribbons of liquid silk that decorated their bellies and chests as they heaved together, seconds before John lost his battle and shot his cum upward, toward Sherlock’s face but, unfortunately, falling short of that treasured goal.

 

Still rocking their hips together in post-climactic splendor, John laid himself down upon Sherlock’s chest and buried his face in that long, pale neck as the spasms of his own orgasm faded away to boneless bliss. As his senses slowly returned, he breathed in Sherlock’s unique scent, kissing the pulse-point along the side over and over again. Below him, he could feel Sherlock relaxing, his arms creeping around John’s back and his fingertips lightly running over his skin. “I love you,” Sherlock whispered into the dark.

 

 John smiled in satisfaction. So long…they had waited so long, and wanted this so much, and now…the moment had arrived, and that dream was finally realized. John snuggled deeper into Sherlock’s neck and…began to notice something off. A smell. Not Sherlock’s scent, but something else, something he had smelled at St. Barts and on the battlefields of Afghanistan. It was the smell of…dying flesh, gangrene, infection…

 

John raised himself up on his arms in alarm, suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of wrongness. He looked down at Sherlock, his beautiful genius, to see the skin on his face thinning and shrinking, Duskiness crept over that creamy, fair complexion, turning it to leather which, in turn, began to crack like an old boot. The dark, lush hair turned a foul shade of gray and tumbled onto the pillow, still in curls.

 

“JESUS CHRIST! SHERLOCK!” he screamed, as he watched, and felt, his lover rotting, dissolving, dessicating beneath him. Sherlock’s body caved in and John fell into the viscous, stinking fluids and decaying organs inside. He stared in horror, unable to move, as Sherlock returned his gaze steadily with those sharp silver eyes and croaked, “It was worth it, John. It was all worth it. I love y…” before his eyeballs dissolved and his flesh melted off his bones, which then fell apart, revealing the perfect, pinkish-gray brain of the man he had loved, the man who had given up everything for one single night with him…

 

John screamed. He sat up in bed and screamed his lungs out in horror, in fear, in loss…

 

The overhead lights flicked on.

 

“John! John, are you all right? What’s wrong?” Sherlock’s urgent baritone brought John back to his senses, though he still panted and shivered with the intensity of it all. He sat on the side of the bed and rested his elbows on his knees, his head held in his hands. Sweat poured down his face, despite the relative cool of the room.

 

“John! Please, you’re worrying me…”

 

He waved a hand, knowing Sherlock was watching. “’S nothing, Sherlock…”

 

That…was a very loud and disturbing ‘nothing’, John,” Sherlock shot back. “What happened? Did you have a nightmare?”

 

John regained control of himself before commenting. “Yeah. Yeah, a nightmare. Pretty horrible one, too.” He ran a hand through his hair, then dropped it into his lap.

 

“About what?” the Brain asked, solicitously.

 

Us. You and me. We were making love…”

 

“Yes, I could see how that could horrify anyone…”

 

“Shut it, smartarse. As I was saying, we were making love for the first time, and it was great, so great, and then…”

 

“Mm hmm…?”

 

He looked up at the camera above the door. “And, then, you just…decayed, rotted away beneath me. You said, you said it was worth it, to be with me that one time…GOD!” he yelled, striking his knees with his fists before pointing up at the camera. “YOU! You are not going to risk it, do you hear? I won’t lose you like that…”

 

There was amusement in Sherlock’s voice as he replied, “No, John, you won’t lose me like that. I have no death wish, I assure you. If it is an untenable situation…John, I will not attempt it if the testing is not successful. Would that put your mind at rest?”

 

“Sherlock,” John said, closing his eyes, “you didn’t see what I did. It was…all that was left of you was your brain, and it was perfect. How do I get beyond that?”

 

“By realizing it was just a dream. Your brain played out its fears to a receptive audience. If this salve is so dangerous, then why would the natives have been using it for generations? You are indulging in your fantasy that I, as a Brain, am perfect, but that what’s between us now will die an ugly death if I become ‘real’. If such a thing does happen, we will deal with it, but I can’t foresee it, John; at least, not on my part. I know you have doubts, but, remember, if you hadn’t taken a chance on one more interview, we would never have met. Would you have been better off with that life, John?”

 

Sigh. “No. You’re right, as always, Sherlock,” John reluctantly admitted. “I can’t imagine life without you, not any more. Just promise me one thing, though…”

 

“Anything, John.”

 

“You won’t turn into pudding on me after our first date,” he said, his statement grim yet facetious.

 

Laughter rang out through the intercom. “Of course, John. No pudding. Of course,” he teased, “it might be tapioca…”

 

John threw his pillow at the red light as it blinked out. “Arse.”

 

>>>***<<<

 

“Fuck off, Mycroft,” Sherlock replied.

 

“Now, Sherlock, try to be reasonable,” Mycroft replied, just as John entered the room, still yawning and still just a tad shaken from the last night’s trauma. A drone bearing a cup of coffee floated over to him. “Ta, Sherlock,” he said before picking the remnants of a spoon out of it and muttering, “I’m not even going to ask…”

 

“I’m not going to be your ‘poster boy’ for the revolution. This is my personal journey, not…”

 

“But, don’t you see, Sherlock, it can be both,” Mycroft oiled. “You get a body, and we get a rallying point for the disgruntled Brains…”

 

“What, will you be asking for film of our first night together, too? This is a private matter for me, Mycroft, something I would have thought you would have understood.”

 

John sipped his coffee wordlessly. He could almost hear the foot stamp at the end of that line.

 

Mycroft sighed. “Yes, I do understand.”

 

“I’m tired of being a taco, Mycroft. I want to be a full human being, too,” Sherlock sulked.

 

“What do you want Sherlock to do this time, Mycroft?” John asked, his eyes rolling of their own volition.

 

“Simply put for your sake, Doctor, we need a face, a rallying point for the resistance movement. Sherlock would be perfect…”

 

John held up a finger. “If you could get him to keep his mouth shut, that is. Sherlock is nobody’s idea of a diplomat. Trust me on that.”

 

“He won’t have to talk. His face, his situation, his storythat’s what we need. Words are unnecessary.”

 

“And, then, I become the most wanted Brain in the galaxy. Oh, joy,” Sherlock snarked.

 

“Sherlock.” Mycroft sounded like he needed a root canal. “We shall all have a price on our heads, once this starts. I will be unable to remain on Earth for fear of being assassinated by Moriarty and his ilk. In fact, I have already arranged my death…”

 

John splurted his coffee through his nose. Sherlock laughed. “And how are you planning on dying, Mycroft? A misfiring umbrella? One strawberry tart too many? Mary Morstan jumping out of a cake?”

 

“God, don’t mention her. Talk about bad luck…” John groused as he cleaned the coffee stain off his shirt.

 

“Don’t worry, John, she is long gone behind us,” Sherlock reassured.

 

Mycroft sounded like he was choking.

 

“Mycroft?”

 

Mycroft cleared his throat with great gravity. “We should…continue this discussion later, Sherlock. In the meantime, we are entering our final approach. Please prepare for docking at the designated airlock.”

 

“Will do. Sherlock out.”

 

“Mycroft out.”

 

“John. Please take a seat in the pilot’s chair.”

 

John spared him a quizzical look.

 

“Precautions. If I don’t like the looks of things, I’m jetting out.”

 

“And go where?” the Brawn asked, as he fastened his restraints. “We can’t get out without directions. That’s why we were towed in.”

 

“Regardless, I have kept track of our inbound track and could retrace our path if necessary. Just to be safe, John.” His tone was soft and pleading.

 

John nodded and sighed. “Done, Sherlock. Always your way.”

 

“Thank you, John.”

 

The Brawn watched, helpless, as their escort brought them within sight of a structure. It didn’t look at all familiar to him

 

“Oh, my God, it’s BlackJack!” Sherlock whispered in awe. “Old BlackJack! I’d wondered what happened to him!”

 

John frowned. “Okay, who, or what, is BlackJack?”

 

“A story so old it had dust on it when I was born. Seems there was a gambling station, much like the old Las Vegas before it sank into the desert. The best of the best. It was a Shangri-La of gaming and amusement. Everyone who was anyone went there. They even offered amusements for Brainships, if you can imagine that!”

 

“Unthinkable,” John muttered drily.

 

“Shut it, meatboy. Anyway, the Brain who ran it was called BlackJack because of his love of the game. Wasn’t allowed to play of course—card counter and all-around expert—but he used to lay bets on what his patrons would do, which ones were cheaters…that sort of thing. It amused him, just as science amuses me. He even created new games that pushed the odds and brought in the real gamers—people willing to lay down entire fortunes at one toss. There was even speculation that there were ‘snuff games’ running in the bowels of the station. Dark stuff. Then, suddenly, it just went dark. Chased everyone out, closed up shop, and just disappeared. Whole station—gone. One of the greatest mysteries of the SU, and, yet, here he is.”

 

John made a face that screamed disbelief. “So, how did he end up here, then? I thought it was impossible to get through the maelstrom…”

 

“Well, obviously, someone succeeded and assisted him, or he found his way in himself, which, as a gambler, would probably have been the highest-stakes game of his life.”

 

“Wait a minute, he’s mobile?”

 

“Of course,” Sherlock stated, a touch of derision in his voice. “I’m surprised you don’t know that. All stations have limited mobility; that’s how they position the station in the first place. They have to have some movement, so that they can avoid shifting gravitational fields, interstellar wanderers…that sort of thing. It takes a lot of power, but it can be done. He’s as much a slave to physics as we are. Amazing.”

 

John had never heard such gosh-wowedness from his friend ever. He didn’t think it was possible to impress Sherlock, and, yet…

 

“Prepare for docking, Sherlock,” Mycroft’s voice intoned over the speakers. “Dock 221B, if you please.”

 

“Sounds like a good number. Going in. But if this is some sort of trick or scam, Mycroft…”

 

Really, brother dear, you wound me. I only want what’s best for you and your Brawn.”

 

John chortled. “Sherlock, I could hear that eye-roll from over here.”

 

“We shall see, Mycroft. Be advised, I have no scruples against jetting out of here and taking the dock with me,” Sherlock warned.

 

A sigh. “Can’t you trust me on this one, Sherlock? I know we’ve had our differences…”

 

“Not the time, Mycroft. Just make sure everything’s on the up-and-up, or I’m gone. I’d have no problem going rogue, you know.”

 

“Yes, you’d love to be the dreaded Pirate Captain Sherlock of the Spaceways, wouldn’t you? So melodramatic,” Mycroft snarked, but there was a touch of affection in his tone as well.

 

“Making contact with docking ring,” Sherlock pronounced. A faint thump against the outer hull meant the magnets had latched on and the hiss of pressurization would follow shortly.

 

“We’re here, John. Keep your eyes and ears open. I’ll be on the lookout for suspicious station behavior and chatter, but you have better mobility…”

 

“BRAINSHIP SHERLOCK! WELCOME!” a voice bellowed throughout the ship.

 

“Uh, hello…” Sherlock sounded uncertain, unusual for the normally-unflappable Brain.

 

“BLACKJACK’S MY NAME, BLACKJACK’S MY GAME, among others. Glad you could make it! Your brother has told me so much about you…”

 

“All lies, I assure you.”

 

John snorted laughter.

 

“And who did you bring with you? Brains never travel alone. Your Brawn, I daresay. Welcome to BlackJack’s Hideaway!”

 

“Is that your actual name, or…?” John ventured.

 

“No, unfortunately. My given name was Harrell, but I put that far behind me. The day they incorporated me into the station, I became BlackJack, Master of Amusements!” he touted, in an impressive carney delivery.

 

“So, why did you disappear, BlackJack?” John inquired. He cast a glance over at Sherlock’s pylon, raised his eyebrows, and shrugged. “I mean, if you don’t mind telling…”

 

“Not in the least, m’boy! Seems there were some…things going on below decks that I wasn’t too fond of, mainly because those areas of the station hadn’t been wired up for monitoring. Some dubious sorts were using my station for Black Market stuff, forbidden and illegal games, slavery rings…you name it, they were into it. Done deliberately by the big corporations. They were getting rich off the traffic through me, so, one day, I just got fed up and shut ‘em all down. Kicked everybody out. Threatened I was going to blow up the power station and take ‘em all with me. It was great fun, watching all the rats scramble for their ships! They left behind just about anything they couldn’t grab and run with.” He chuckled loudly. You’d be amazed what got left behind!”

 

“But, Sherlock said you had the galaxy in the palm of your ‘hand,’ if you’ll pardon the expression,” John wondered. “Why give it all up?”

 

“Think of it this way, Brawn…”

 

“John. My name is John Watson…”

 

“DOCTOR CAPTAIN John Watson,” Sherlock corrected, proudly.

 

John threw Sherlock’s pylon an amused look and continued, “’John’ will be fine, BlackJack.”

 

Okay, John, think of it this way; if you had a cancer in your bowels, or you were full of parasites, you’d want it all to go, right?”

 

“Yeahhhh,” John said, dubiously.

 

‘Well, that’s what it’s like for a Brain to find out that disgusting and deadly things are going in deep inside your body. For a human, it’s surgery or medication; for a Brain, it’s evacuation of the offending organism or cargo. Once everyone was gone, I actually found that I enjoyed the quiet…for a while. But, then, it became a matter of going back to the same old life, or doing something different. About that time, I surreptitiously contacted the Brain/Brawn program and got in touch with Mycroft, who felt that I might be interested in ‘righting the wrongs’ of prior administrations. It sounded interesting, so I signed on. They helped me move into the maelstrom for security purposes, and we started gathering our resources. He told me about you, Sherlock, and I was suitably impressed by your credentials.”

 

“I’m thrilled,” Sherlock drawled laconically.

 

“Now, don’t be that way, boy. You’re just a pup, compared to me, so I’m not impressed easily. I think you could be quite an asset.”

 

“Yes, you’re right, BlackJack, he can be quite an ass…” Mycroft chimed in.

 

Shut it, Fatcroft,” Sherlock snarled.

 

In the back of his mind, John could hear the airlock pressure indicator ping. He spun in his chair and, with one hand, released his restraints and got up to stretch. “Sherlock, how’s the airlock? Safe to open?”

 

“Yes, John. Feel free to look around the dock. Try not to get kidnapped. It wouldn’t be the first time Mycroft has done that.”

 

John smirked. “Will do,” he said as he strolled to the airlock and thumbed open the door.