John has been pierced by wicked arrows, has fallen from a castle turret, has watched helplessly from the deck of a ship, held back by stronger arms than his own, as Sherlock sank beneath the chilled waters of the North Sea. He is a hunter, a soldier, a warrior, a guard. They meet when they’re grown men, with lives established, set in their ways. John is sometimes married, often attached. Sherlock is always alone.
They are quick to succumb to the gravitational pull of the other, recognizing each other by voice, by feel, by accidental glance. The flood of memories is unleashed only then, shared lives reaching back six hundred years, to days of friendship, kinship, joining lives separate, unequal, but balanced one against the other.
They are the same men, time and again. They don’t dwell on their pasts once they find each other and plunge forward into old forgotten ways. Tempting fate, staring death in the eyes, knowing there is more to come– always more – across the pale, beyond the grave.
They endure two lifetimes before they dare speak of it. I knew you…before. John thinks it the work of the stars; Sherlock thinks it an enigma.
They are cursed. They are blessed.
They are tired.
Sherlock thinks. He is a scholar, a scientist, an artist, a loner.
John acts. He is a devoted caretaker, a trusted friend and confident, a fierce protector.
Always, John rises through the chaotic masses from below while Sherlock descends from above, down from money, from power, from position. Their stations in life are far removed, as if the forces that be seek to make their first meeting as unlikely as possible. Their accidental touch, their mutual discovery, seems left to chance.
They chase shadows from their previous lives, stop to listen to the wind, press ears against the heartbeat of the past.
They tear through life in the danger zone, take on challenges too big for ordinary men. Mortals who die, not once, but time and again, the one left behind only half the man he was before.
They go forward in time, a step, a hop, each life lived on the heels of the former. Contiguous, or nearly so, but disconnected – Australia, the States, the Yucatan, Mongolia, Rome. No matter the language they speak, the family they keep, their separate lives slot together when they meet and they remain connected, the initial relationship morphing into something more – more equitable, more balanced, more intimate. Master and servant turned into colleagues, cohorts, friends.
For a time. Too brief a time.
Today John is an army doctor, invalided out, trying to get back on his feet in London. A fortuitous encounter with an old friend leads him to a lab near the morgue at St. Bart’s hospital. A man, conducting some sort of experiment, needs a phone, and John offers his own. He holds it out, their fingers brush, their eyes lock, and the jolt of recognition capsizes the room.
It will take some time to reorient themselves in this reality, to become acclimated to the weight of memories, the disconcerting ghosts of the past. But for now, with other eyes upon them, they must go through the motions with the weight of six centuries pressing them into the floor.
Sherlock looks away first, takes a fortifying breath, and proceeds to deduce the newcomer. Dissects him – cuts him up and rearranges him. Impresses the hell out of him.
Then, in the next breath, invites him to share his flat.
Something is different. It has never – never – been so easy. There have always been obstacles. They have always had to fabricate, to make excuses, to dissimulate.
Never before could they have shared a flat. Not with their stations in life so disparate. Not when John was settled with a wife, or committed to military service. Not when Sherlock was watched so carefully – by his family, his country, by the crown itself.
And John knows – knows in his heart of hearts – that this man, in this life, will not let this puzzle play itself out as it always does. Won’t kneel at his side helplessly as he gasps for his last breath, black arrow in his chest. Won’t sink to his death beneath cold ocean waters and leave John alone and adrift.
That this incarnation of this man – brilliant, self-possessed, brighter than the sun – will have an answer.
Will stop this madness.
Will solve this puzzle.
Will give them rest.
His hope rests there – as does his trust.
Sherlock calls it the assimilation. Working the awakened memories of hundreds of years into the here and now. Staying afloat among the flotsam and jetsam, working out who each is now, how they mean to go on.
Sherlock leans across the table. His face is eerily shadowed in the candlelight, and John meets his eyes, heart constricting with the echoing pain of the last goodbye. He holds his breath.
“John – Florence. Do you remember Florence?”
It is difficult to string the memories in order, to remember the time before there were memories. It’s easier to recall similar conversations – conversations like this. But never before does he recall this fire, this intensity, in his fellow traveler, in the man who journeys through time, time and again, with him.
John – Sherlock’s servant. Sherlock forced to marry the daughter of his father’s oldest friend. John had kindled an affair with her to ruin her reputation, to free Sherlock.
Sherlock, free. John – dead at the hand of the woman’s brother.
“I used you.”
“I always use you.”
John shakes his head. “Not always,” he reminds Sherlock. He searches for the name, the place. “Shiloh.”
Sherlock’s eyes widen. He stares at John, face pale. When he repeats the word, his voice is a whisper, and his eyes are far away.