Sherlock’s dead, technically. Genius he may well be, but immortal he isn’t, and it’s a long way down from the rooftop of Bart’s to the hard pavement below.
He throws his phone away, spreads his arms like wings and leans into the biting spring wind. He falls. The kiss of the ground is brutal, his head smacking hard off the concrete, but he falls and falls and goes on falling, so far and fast that he screws his eyes shut tight. He opens them again when he lands on his back with a dull thud, punctuated by the crack of his spine.
His breath leaves him in a pained gasp, and, with relief, he discovers he is able to sit up.
The place Sherlock finds himself in is lit by the steady glow of a pale green moon that hangs low in the sky. A face stares solemnly out of it, down at him. The eyebrows knit into a frown and the mouth curves into a sinister smile.
Sherlock blinks and puts his hands out, palms-down. The ground shifts beneath him and he grabs a handful of it, loosening his fist to allow the substance to run out. Sand. Sand of more colours than he can imagine - a hundred colours, a thousand, perhaps even a hundred thousand. It shimmers and winks as it falls through his fingers, as it falls back to the ground.
He doesn’t know what to think.
There’s an echoing whistle from the darkness further up the slopes and paths and grottos and hollows created by the sand. The tune is psychedelic, childlike and sinister; the tempo slow and deliberate. The whistling grows steadily louder and is accompanied by the sound of empty glass vessels clacking and chinking together. A man walks out of the darkness, stooped and creeping in his gait. Sherlock can see that along one arm he has hung somewhere near a dozen glass jars, wire handles drilled into their lids. In each jar there is a different coloured sand.
Sherlock struggles to his feet, flexing his fingers as he does his best to stand straight and tall.
The man’s skin is pale as the moonlight that washes over them and shimmers softly like the stardust in the stories Sherlock heard from Mycroft as a child. The man’s clothes are patched but fit well, tailored to his form. He wears a hat with feathers and buttons sewn around the brim.
‘Who are you?’ Sherlock calls, and the man ignores him, turning to place the jars he carries on a shelf, leaning in to peer at the carefully-printed labels tacked to the shelf edges.
‘Where am I?’ Sherlock asks, staggering. His head feels as though it’s about to split in two and he clutches at it, closing his eyes for just a moment.
The man continues to whistle. The green moon smiles down. Slowly, the man makes his way down to where Sherlock stands, down a staircase of tightly-packed sand. He leaves no footprints, Sherlock notices, despite his flamboyant purple boots.
‘Why am I here?’ Sherlock asks, stumbling backwards as the man draws closer. The man comes to a stop and sits on a mound of sand that is predominantly green in colour. ‘Who are you?’ Sherlock asks again. The man grins.
‘You need to know four things,’ he says, his voice quiet and hoarse, almost a mumble. ‘Empty jars are there.’ He points to an enormous set of shelves, stacked with empty jars of varying shapes and sizes. ‘The ladders to Upstairs are through that archway. Don’t mix true yellow sand with forest green and--’ he stands and comes close to Sherlock, to whisper.
‘Fourth thing,’ he says. ‘It’s just a magic trick.’
Sherlock blinks and physically shakes himself. ‘What?’ he snaps, puzzling over the words he spoke to John not a quarter of an hour ago. ‘What?’
The man dips his hand into one of his jars and casts the sand into Sherlock’s face, most of it falling in his eyes. The last thing Sherlock remembers before he falls to the ground for the second time that day is the man tipping his hat as he walks back into the darkness.
Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.
When Sherlock wakes, the moon has gone from the sky, replaced with a high ceiling with lightbulbs hanging down from it. He sits up and blinks rapidly, his hand moving to rub his eyes, frowning at the white sand that clings to his fingertips. He sits up and looks around. There are other men and women here now, about a dozen, moving slowly around the enormous room, taking jars off the shelves and digging with trowels at the sand on the ground.
Sherlock gets to his knees. He considers approaching one of the other people, but has the vague feeling that this is the sort of place where questions aren't welcomed. And, well, he's not a detective for nothing. He struggles to his feet, still feeling a little dazed, his head thick with sleep. He hadn't dreamt. He dusts himself off and starts to walk in the same direction as two women, both of them with jars hung over one of their arms. Each has a name with a label - ANNIE, says one, ELSIE, says another, JACK, says a third. Sherlock sticks to the shadows until they duck through a tunnel and come to a room that is lit with hundreds of glass lanterns, hanging off ladders that stretch up and up and up.
Craning his neck back, Sherlock gazes skywards and frowns when all he sees is darkness.
The ladders are labelled like the jars.
FAZAKERLEY - MERSEYSIDE
WOLVERHAMPTON - WEST MIDLANDS
PADDINGTON - LONDON
Sherlock doesn’t think twice. He seizes one of the lanterns and throws it over his arm where it rests in the crook of his elbow. He jumps onto the rung of the ladder for Paddington which is fourth from the bottom and scrambles up - up and up and up - his arms and legs moving at lightning pace. After a minute's climbing, he reaches the top. He climbs through the hole at the top of the ladder and pushes himself out onto a street all too familiar.
He can hear the ducks in Regent's Park. Lantern swinging wildly, illuminating the dark street with an unearthly glow, Sherlock runs along the pavement, crosses the road in three huge bounds without a second's thought for his own safety. He reaches 221 after a few breathless minutes, throws himself against the front door.
A dream. That’s all. Just a dream, it couldn’t be real--
He fumbles in the pocket of his coat for his key and shoves it into the lock, twisting it frantically. The door bangs off the inside wall when it opens and Sherlock dashes up the stairs, his feet pounding against the floorboards. He pushes the door of 221b open and a surprised, loud laugh leaves his throat at the sight of John asleep in his chair.
The clock reveals it to be four in the morning.
‘John,’ Sherlock says, walking forwards, falling to his knees at John’s feet. ‘John, John, I’m here,’ he says, shaking John’s shoulders, grabbing John’s face.
John sleeps on.
‘I’m here, it’s not real,’ Sherlock says, frowning when John fails to respond. ‘John,’ he says again. ‘John!’ More urgent, this time. He hits John’s bad shoulder. Nothing. He hits it again, all the force he can gather behind it. He stands up, roars. ‘JOHN!’
‘He can’t hear you, Sandman.’
Sherlock spins round at the new voice. A woman leans against the doorframe into the flat, smiling softly. Her voice is scratchy and hoarse. She wears a white shirt, dark blue jeans and heavy black boots. Along her left arm is a string of sand-filled jars and in her right hand she holds a lantern similar to Sherlock’s.
‘What?’ Sherlock breathes, blinking.
The woman smiles again, a dimple appearing in her left cheek. ‘He can’t hear you.’ She steps into the flat and Sherlock steps forwards, glaring.
‘Don’t you touch him,’ he says fiercely.
She shakes her head. ‘No, he’s not mine.’ She unhooks a jar of sand from her arm - a mixture of sky blue and pink. ‘Here,’ she says, holding the jar out to Sherlock. ‘Mixed it this afternoon. It’s pretty nondescript but it’s nice, and it might help.’
‘What is it?’ Sherlock asks, taking the jar hesitantly, turning it over in his hands. There’s no label.
‘A dream,’ the woman says with another smile, her thick brown hair falling in her eyes as she leans around Sherlock to look at John. ‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Just rub it in his eyes. The more you use the deeper he’ll sleep.’
‘How do I know I can trust you?’
‘You can’t. But it’s up to you.’
Sherlock twists the lid of the jar and holds it to his ear. There’s a gentle whisper from within the glass and he dips his hand inside to feel the sand. It doesn’t feel or look or sound like evil, and neither does the woman who stands just over the threshold.
‘It won’t hurt him,’ the woman says quietly. Nodding, Sherlock turns back to John and lets the sand fall to John’s eyes in a trickle from his clenched fist. He rubs it into the corners and stands back, holding his breath.
John’s features soften and tension leaks slowly out of his body until he is lax in the chair. His forehead is no longer creased in a frown and his breathing is easier.
‘Come on, Sandman,‘ the woman whispers, holding out her hand.
‘Is... is that what I am? Is that what you are?’
The woman nods and wiggles her fingers. Casting a glance back at John and back at the flat, exactly how they’d left it the evening before last, Sherlock sighs and lets himself be led by the wrist out of 221b, back down the seventeen steps.
‘Keys,‘ she says, and Sherlock nods, pulling the front door closed and locking up before slipping the keys back into his pocket. The woman releases his wrist.
‘This is Upstairs,‘ she explains in her broken voice, walking down the street. Sherlock can’t resist looking back at 221, even as he follows. ‘You’ll figure everything out in time.’ They walk in silence until they reach the ladder again. She nods down at it. ‘Go on.’
Sherlock climbs a few rungs down the ladder before he looks up at the woman.
‘Am I... am I dead?’ he murmurs.
The woman smiles and shakes her head. She crouches down to Sherlock’s level and touches her fingertips to the spot on his head where he’d hit -- or at least where he thought he’d hit -- the pavement.
‘It’s just a magic trick,’ she whispers.
‘But what does that mean?’ Sherlock asks, his knuckles whitening as he tightens his fingers round the top rung of the ladder. ‘What does that mean?’
‘Go and find out, Sandman.’ She smiles again, stands up, turns on her heel and disappears, whistling.
As it turns out, the science behind crafting dreams isn't difficult at all. It's new, at least - new and different and not boring at all. Sherlock discovers that there are several small rooms leading off the main cavern that he had fallen into, each with a collection of charts and graphs and tables demonstrating optimum ways of mixing the sand together in order to create a certain type of dream. Some of the posters and handbooks and workbooks and textbooks are handwritten, some are printed and bound with string. There are tables and workbenches and drawer upon drawer upon drawer of recipes and half-abandoned dreams, built and embellished and locked away by other sandmen, waiting for someone else to pick them up and start again.
Sherlock has always been a quick learner, and he picks up what he learns is called dreamcraft with ease. He works in the room furthest down a narrow arterial corridor, blowing all the dust and rust away as he sets up on the stained wooden table.
There's a room called the pump room with tubes and vents and grates, dominated by an elaborate sand separating device that looks rather like a pick and mix stand, disregarding the clear tubes that snake out and down of each box of sand. The tubes end just above a a large pewter dish that catches the sand once it’s been released by flicking a switch to the left of the device. All the different strains are funnelled off according to their place on the spectrum, how common in colour they are and neatly labelled according to their properties:
And so on and so on across the enormous range of colours that exist Downstairs. The less common colours have to be searched for and sifted through from the sand in the room with the moon; periwinkle, pea green et cetera are eagerly sought after and traded between the sandmen.
There are books that are able to instruct one in dreamcraft and that teach one how to impress themselves upon the dream they create for their people Upstairs. Sherlock devours these books. It's hit and miss for a time but eventually he thinks he's managed to do it - work the impression of himself into a dream. He isn't sure whether he'll actually be able to experience the dream as it's being played out, by virtue of him being in it and technically no longer in existence Upstairs. He asks the other sandmen and women, but their answers are cryptic and strained in tone. They rarely talk.
And now the Shipping Forecast, issued on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguards Agency at double-oh-one-five today Monday the seventh of March. There are warnings of gales in Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties and Cromarty...
Sherlock slides John’s sash window up and swings his legs into John’s room, feet landing soundlessly on the carpet. The quiet, soothing voice of the broadcaster on the radio reads out the Shipping Forecast into the darkness of John’s bedroom in the usual rhythmic manner.
Slowly, Sherlock lowers himself to sit on the edge of John’s bed, reaching out a tentative hand to rest on John’s shoulder.
‘Are you alright?’ he whispers.
There’s no answer, save a sleepy sigh and a frown.
‘I’ll find a way back,’ Sherlock promises, promising himself just as much as John. He puts his hand inside the jar around his left wrist, closes his fist around the scarlet sand inside and sprinkles it into John’s eyes.
John dreams of London buses and his red shirt, Sherlock’s tartan dressing down and Molly’s lipstick at Christmas.
When he wakes up, just for a moment, he doesn’t remember the rooftop at St. Bart’s.
The next night, John dreams of Sherlock’s blue dressing gown, the light of the kettle once it’s been flicked on, the ridiculous coloured cigarettes Sherlock had bought from France and smoked leaning out of the living room window during the summer, face tilted towards the dying sun, the breeze ruffling his hair.
Sherlock stays longer each night. He sits at the bottom of John’s bed and holds John’s feet whilst he dreams, thumb rubbing across the jutting ankle bone. Sherlock watches John’s eyelids flicker in REM and his mouth move as he mumbles.
‘I... John, I miss you,’ Sherlock whispers, pressing his lips tight together. He runs his fingers through John’s hair and breathes in the scent of him and climbs out of the window just before dawn.
The matter of sensory dreams is another science for Sherlock to master. Certain sands becoming a compound in a jar will create smells to go along with the visions in the dreams that Sherlock creates. His imagination is stretched in thinking up smells to go along with dreams, but then he has the idea of creating a dream out of smells alone and sets about practising for his next trip upstairs.
John seems very far away. They haven't had Sherlock's funeral yet and John doesn't sleep very much at all, limiting the hours in which Sherlock is able to visit him, to touch him, to really get close to him in the way that he wants, in the way that wasn't possible before he fell down here. He can go Upstairs whenever he likes, but watching John go about his daily business, his face tight and weary, the pain in his leg back (John's too proud for his stick, refuses to use it even though he needs it), fills Sherlock with a sadness he can't quite describe.
And there's the matter too of Sherlock growing steadily more averse to the daylight, his eyes and skin sore when he climbs back downstairs, back under the light of the pale green moon and in the company of the others like him.
Sherlock swings himself up onto the windowsill of John’s bedroom. He draws his coat tight around himself and slides the sash up, bending to fit underneath it and then slipping inside. It’s a warm spring night and John is sleeping underneath a thin sheet, his head tilted back on the pillow, his throat exposed. Sherlock dips his hand into the jar labelled JOHN and moves forward silently, utterly invisible, utterly intangible. The sand runs slowly through his fingers as he sprinkles it across John’s eyes, as he bends to press his nose to John’s cheek. He inhales and ghosts a breath over John’s stubbled jaw, just brushes his lips over John’s skin without applying pressure.
‘Sleep well, soldier,’ he murmurs, sighing, pushing John’s dusty hair back off his face.
John sighs in his sleep and Sherlock traces his fingertips across John’s eyelids, grinding the dust deeper into the corner of his eyes.
‘I miss you,’ Sherlock whispers, before sitting up, pulling his coat tight once again and jumping out of the window, back Downstairs.
John sometimes dreams of Afghanistan. More often, though, John dreams of London. He dreams of taxi interiors, the close, stale air of the Underground, the smell of the ducks in Regent’s Park and the industrial disinfectant they use at St. Bart’s and Scotland Yard.
Mostly though, John dreams of Sherlock. He dreams of cold London evenings, running, the thrill of the chase, the smell of gun oil and cigarettes. He dreams of the smell of the food in Angelo’s and the feel of the breeze on the roof of 221. He dreams of honey on toast and unidentifiable chemicals swimming in the kitchen pyrex.
He dreams of sandalwood and the pine-smell of rosin and tannin-tainted breath ghosting over his ear.
He mostly dreams of Sherlock.
But never crimson blood across snow white cheekbones, never matted and sticky hair, never the failure of a pulse to jump to thin skin wrapped around delicate wrist bones.
Downstairs, Sherlock has got the hang of smells. Smell is, after all, the sense most closely associated with memory, and understanding this particular branch of dreamcraft has meant that he is able to create dreams for John that are somewhat more pleasant in the telling than blood and sand and gunfire.
Once, just the once, John dreams of entwined limbs and desperate kisses and sobbing breaths. He dreams of pale skin and dark hair against white sheets and a spine curved like a bow against the dip of the mattress. And there’s the smell - always, always - the smell of sandalwood and London and home.
Sherlock had felt some guilt over that one. But only some. Downstairs it was lonely (always, always) and so very quiet. There was none of London’s rush and noise to act as static to his frantic thoughts - only silence and stillness in the deathly realm of sleep he was trapped in. The other sandmen had voices like dust and scratched records. Sherlock talked to himself so that his voice wouldn’t sound like that when (if, if, if) he found his way back.
It's one of those bitter spring days with a grey sky and the threat of rain looming in the low-hanging clouds.
It's the day of his funeral.
Sherlock doesn't go for the actual event, but he climbs up the ladder and sits on a bench as Mrs Hudson and John linger at the graveside, where, Sherlock imagines, his body lies under six feet of fresh dirt, small pebbles and earthworms.
He doesn't understand.
It's just a magic trick.
He looks down at his hands and frowns. He pinches himself. It hurts.
He slides his hands into his pockets, his right fist closing around the sand he has taken to carrying about with him. He grinds the grains between his fingertips, feeling the whisper of the magic trapped inside them.
Mrs Hudson walks a little way off and John stands alone next to the tombstone that reads Sherlock Holmes.
It's just a magic trick.
He doesn't understand.
‘I dream of Sherlock,’ John says to Ella, his mouth drawn in tight. ‘All the time.’ He takes a deep breath, his forefinger rubbing over his mouth. ‘I dream -- I dream of him all the time.’
Ella nods. ‘That’s perfectly understandable, John.’
‘But it’s not--’ he sighs and shifts in the chair, flexing his fingers. ‘It’s never him on the pavement -- he’s never... he’s never...’
Ella waits for him to say it.
‘He’s never dead.’
‘Why does that bother you?’ Ella says in her gentle therapist’s voice, re-crossing her legs.
‘They’re not like the dreams I had after, after Afghanistan.’ John swallows and looks out of the window. ‘They’re nothing like that at all.’
‘You sleeping alright?’ Lestrade asks, looking at John as he tips his pint glass against his lips and drinks.
‘Better than ever.’ John laughs with no humour behind it and shakes his head.
‘Yeah. Funny that, isn’t it?’
‘Probably glad for a bit of peace and quiet, at last--’
John snaps his head up, his mouth open as he frowns at Lestrade.
‘Sorry,’ Lestrade mumbles, looking down at the table, embarrassed. ‘Sorry, that was... bloody terrible joke, sorry, I...’
‘I used to think, when he was... you know, when he was on one, in one of moods, I... I used to think I’d be glad for some peace and quiet.’ He huffs a laugh and sips his pint. ‘Never thought I’d go half-mad wishing he was back.’
There’s a long silence between the two of them, the sounds of the pub at lunchtime; knives and forks on plates, lively chatter, the hiss of pints being pulled acting as static, just background noise.
‘I miss him too,’ Lestrade says, tapping his beer mat against the table. ‘I miss him too.’
Sherlock visits Lestrade at a crime scene. He runs full-tilt into Anderson, shoves Lestrade towards the floodlit body spread out on the tarmac, shakes Sally by her shoulders.
Nothing happens. He growls in frustration and throws himself back down the ladder, coat flying behind him as he disappears off to one of the labs.
Sherlock waits until dusk to go and glare at the piece of pavement outside Bart’s that he’d somehow fallen straight through. There’s a ladder there now, in the exact spot where his head hit, a ladder that goes Downstairs. He kicks the wall of the hospital and jumps up and down on the cracked paving stones where his body had lain just a few weeks ago.
It already feels like years.
He tilts his head back and stares up at the roof.
It’s just a magic trick, he’d said to John.
He closes his eyes. ‘It’s just a magic trick,’ he mouths. ‘It’s just a magic trick.’
He goes to see Molly, just the once. She’s fine.
The library at the British Museum has a small, dusty book about magic tricks. Sherlock slips out of the imposing neoclassical building with the book just before they’re due to close. He takes his key and retreats to 221b, the living room thankfully dim enough to not hurt his eyes and skin.
John is in. He’s packing things into boxes and the sight makes Sherlock ache.
He opens the book and reads aloud. ‘Each magic trick consists of three acts,’ he says, following John around the flat. ‘Act one, the pledge - an ordinary object is shown - a deck of cards, a bird, a man. A man stands on a roof, arms out, nothing to hide. Act two, the turn - something extraordinary happens to the ordinary object.’ Sherlock raises his eyebrows. ‘Like becoming a sandman,’ he mutters to himself. ‘Act three, the prestige. The extraordinary taking place isn’t enough. Something disappears, you need to bring it back. That’s the third part of the magic trick, the hardest part, the part we call the prestige.
‘The hardest part,’ Sherlock whispers. ‘Of course it’s hard, it has to be hard, nothing worth it is ever easy, is it?’ He throws himself into his chair and crouches there in the clothes he’s been wearing since he fell, his coat twisted around him, the collar pulled up. He throws the dusty book carelessly to one side and thinks.
The problem, Sherlock decides, is that whilst he is clearly still alive in spirit, he has no clue what has happened to his physical form. It’s still there in some sense, as he is able to move around and touch and feel things Upstairs and it still hurts when he pinches himself.
He goes back Downstairs and plucks a hair from his head, grinds it down to a dark brown dust, even finer than the dream sand he’s grown used to. He stirs the hair into the mixture of dream sand in a bowl and funnels it off into a jar, goes up the ladder and into 221b and sprinkles the sand into John’s eyes. He lies on the bed next to John and waits.
In the middle of the night John reaches out and squeezes Sherlock’s hip. Sherlock’s eyes widen and he holds John’s jaw. John leans into the touch.
But in the morning, John wakes up and he can’t see Sherlock or feel the hesitant touches that rain across his skin from Sherlock’s fingers.
It had worked. Just. John had been able to feel Sherlock whilst he was still trapped in a dreamworld of Sherlock’s creation, but not in the morning, not after waking.
The next night, Sherlock grinds down two hairs and lies in John’s arms, held tightly until the first ray of sunlight creeps into the bedroom through a gap in the curtains, falling across Sherlock’s skin, which shimmers faintly now, as if he’s been sprinkled with stardust.
He has to get back. He has to.
After the somewhat successful experiments with his hair, Sherlock decides to structure his return, his creation of the prestige, around the five senses. John’s memories of Sherlock which manifest as dreams mean that sight is covered. The smells Sherlock has managed to build into John’s dreams, the smells of himself - of sandalwood and cigarettes and chemicals and tannin - haunt John throughout the day and at night, much like Sherlock himself.
As for touch, Sherlock cuts and grinds a full lock of his hair, the burnt umber dust mixed into a dream that re-creates all of Sherlock’s best memories involving John; the clinical smell of the lab at Bart’s, the blue of Sherlock’s coat flying behind him during cases, fairy lights at Christmas and John’s solid, sensible shoes pounding down London streets.
Tea leaves, dried milk, toast crumbs and the tiniest drop of honey are added. Sherlock grinds down a sugar lump and stirs that in, too.
He has everything in there now except sound for hearing.
Sherlock sits and stares at the jar of sand on his workbench, hands pressed together, resting under his chin as he thinks some more. How does one capture sound? His eyes drift shut, snatches of conversations chasing their way from ear to ear, through the intricate landscape of Sherlock’s brain.
Mrs Hudson! Doctor Watson will take the room upstairs!
Says the man at the door.
Do you know you do that out loud?
Sorry. I’ll shut up.
No, it’s... fine.
Do you just carry on talking when I’m away?
I don’t know, how often are you away?
We solve crimes, I blog about it, and he forgets his pants. I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.
Sherlock startles himself with a laugh. He jumps up and bends over the sea green typewriter on the workbench, tapping out
JOHN AND SHERLOCK
onto a piece of paper. He pulls the sheet out of the typewriter and cuts around the names, dipping a brush into a pot of glue and pasting the label onto the jar. He glances up at the clock. Half an hour until the Paddington ladder opens again. Time enough.
Sherlock unscrews the lid of the jar and bends so that his ear rests over the open top. The sand whispers and dances inside, the colours dark blue and deep red. ‘Listen,’ Sherlock says, and the sand stills. ‘Listen.’
‘Once upon a time,’ Sherlock says, cradling the heavy jar in between his hands. He pushes the last time he heard a tale like this one, in the back of a cab, out of mind. ‘Once upon a time, there was a good soldier, whose name was John Watson. He was very brave, one of the bravest of Her Majesty’s army, in fact -- so brave that he went to look after and stitch up and mend all of the broken soldiers in a very hot place a very long way away.
‘Now, good old John Watson got a bit too brave and a bit too big for his boots and a bit broken himself, I’m sorry to report. He came all the way back to London and there he met a lonely and rather arrogant consulting detective by the name of Sherlock Holmes.
‘John saved Sherlock’s life after knowing him for less than a day. They moved in together and solved crimes.’ Sherlock smiles. ‘John blogged about it and Sherlock...’ he laughs softly. ‘Sherlock forgot his pants.
‘Now, there was a man - a wicked man - called James Moriarty, and he could see how happy John made Sherlock. He was jealous. He told Sherlock that he wanted to play a game and because Sherlock is stupid and likes showing people just how clever he is, he agreed to play.
‘James Moriarty was a criminal and led Sherlock on quite the merry song and dance for a rather long time. James was lonely and sad too, just like Sherlock. But James was jealous that Sherlock had John and did everything - absolutely everything - to take the brave soldier and the silly consulting detective away from each other. His plan worked and Sherlock had to jump from the roof of a very tall building to save John and the other people who made Sherlock happy.
‘Sherlock jumped and fell and landed down here. He’s been lonelier and sadder than he ever thought possible without John by his side, and he misses brave and good old John very much. So he’s trying to get back Upstairs, where he belongs, back in his flat, doing experiments and solving crimes and spending time with John. His...’ Sherlock breathes in deeply and closes his eyes. ‘His best friend. So if... if this works, and John can smell Sherlock and touch his hair and skin and taste his favourite foods and remember what Sherlock looks like and hear his voice, then... then maybe Sherlock can go home.’
Sherlock puts the jar on the workbench. ‘I’m not meant to be down here,’ he tells the sand. ‘It’s just a magic trick,’ he says as he screws the lid back on. ‘It’s just a magic trick.’ He presses his thumb over the label.
JOHN AND SHERLOCK.
‘It’s just a magic trick.’
Striding through the caverns and poky little rooms and narrow corridors of Downstairs, Sherlock cuts an intimidating figure. He ignores the other sandmen just as much as he’s always done and pulls himself up the Paddington ladder, his jar held tight in the crook of his elbow. He puts it on the ground of Upstairs once he reaches the top, bracing himself on his palms as he jumps out into the cool night for what he hopes is the last time. He runs the short distance to 221 and climbs up to John’s bedroom window, pushing the sash up and ducking inside.
John’s just about to get into bed. It’s quite early, by anyone’s standards, but Sherlock is glad he will not have to wait much longer. He sits at the bottom of John’s bed and waits for his breathing to even out. When it does, Sherlock rubs John’s ankle, which sticks out of the sheets, and moves further up the bed. He runs his fingers through John’s hair.
‘Mr. Sandman,’ he sings slowly, ‘someone to hold... would be so peachy before I’m too old...’ Sherlock runs the pad of his forefinger over John’s cracked, thin lips. Humming under his breath, Sherlock unscrews the lid of the jar, gathering up a huge handful of sand, which he pours into John’s eyes.
‘Make this work, John,’ he murmurs. ‘Dream me real again.’ He crushes the sand into the corner of John’s eyes and curls around John’s form, on top of the bedcovers, still in suit and coat and shoes. He pauses before taking a breath and kissing the back of John’s neck. ‘Dream me real again,’ Sherlock says. ‘Please, John. Please.’
The jar of sand rests on the pillow next to John’s head. It tips up when John rolls over in his sleep to lie facing Sherlock, and the sand pours into Sherlock’s eyes, forcing them shut, sending Sherlock hurtling into dreamworld with John.
Sherlock blinks awake to the soft press of lips against his own. Drawing a sharp breath of surprise in, Sherlock nearly pulls away, but John’s hand at the back of his head keeps him in place. John’s body is wrapped tightly around him. He hadn’t meant to sleep, but sleep he clearly had, and the sun pours through the curtains and over the bed. Sherlock lifts his hand to the light and looks down his arm whilst John kisses him. His skin is just as pale as ever, but doesn’t shimmer or glow or ache at the sunshine.
‘Sherlock,’ John whispers, fisting his hand in Sherlock’s hair.
Eyes widening in surprise and delight, Sherlock kisses John back, pulling John’s eyelids up. ‘Are you awake?’ he half-shouts into John’s mouth, kissing him again because oh, he’d wanted to for so long and...
‘You’re not a dream?’ John mumbles, barely intelligible through the press of lips, shoving Sherlock’s hands away and opening his eyes of his own accord.
‘I don’t think so,’ Sherlock gasps, turning his hand over in the light, marveling at it, at the fact it wasn’t sore or shining. He pulls John’s ear, hard.
‘Ow!’ John roars, clutching at his ear, and Sherlock laughs and laughs and laughs.
‘What are you laughing at?’ John demands, shoving Sherlock’s chest, not gentle in the least. ‘Whatever it is, it’s not fucking funny, you... you’re... you were dead, no, I...’
‘Oh, John Watson,’ Sherlock sighs. ‘Have I got a tale for you.’
Downstairs, the moon smiles and gives a nod. The ladders are all closed to Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective and sandman, for the very last time.
Upstairs, Sherlock sits at the table in the living room and watches John’s two-finger typing with a small smile, his hand wrapped around a mug of tea next to a plate of toast and honey. They solve crimes, John blogs about it, and Sherlock still forgets his pants. They share a bed and each other’s bodies now, too, and neither man has ever been happier.
Some sand lingers in the pockets of Sherlock’s coat. Sometimes - just sometimes, he dips his hand inside and runs the grains through his fingers to hear them whisper and feel them dance from the magic they hold within.