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Through Gates of Horn and Ivory

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Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish'd ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro' transparent horn arise;
Thro' polish'd ivory pass deluding lies.
Aeneid, Virgil

*

Sherlock is forming dreams. Collecting together shapeless ideals that grow with individual attention, that have been planted and stretched out into something usable, scraping them in a bundle like loose strands of mist or cloud. They hang down over his wrist as he works, the gaps between them shining like the centre of stars, trapped fireflies in a glass jar. He moulds the stuff of dreams as a master craftsman in his prime, forging edges, welding ends and sharpening points, picking out the finer details of landscape, facial features, segments of dialogue and sound.

Most dreams whisper of flying when he places them like poppy seeds on the eyes of the sleeping, of stumbling and falling, of corridors the dreamer is already half way down before they wonder why they're there in the first place. He gives them bland dreams that hint at a direction, of lost loves or current fears, and the receiver makes the imagery relevant to themselves, substituting faces, names, scenarios to what already exists in their own reality. Sherlock is adept at his craft, the experience of millennia making his creations near flawless.

This dream he is forming now is not the same as the others. The god of dreams takes great pains with the dream he creates for John Watson.

He smooths out rucks, softens corners he thinks have curled in on themselves, the fabric strung together with the finest spider's web for the stitching, equal, neat spacing between the thread lines. He weaves the strands together, looping and knotting, a braid of his own fashioning he has not used for many a cycle, his fingers remembering the rhythm, the twists and the plaiting, drawing into the fray the purple heads of lavender.

He knits passion flower to aid sleeplessness, watchful violets wrapped in bundles of white heather and blessed thistle. Stems of fern are inlaid with the old language of rune, and he murmurs as he invokes the words to bind them: nauthiz, othala, settling them deep down, smearing them with fallen dusk light from a crystal decanter. He knows what will appeal to John, and affects this accordingly – he adds the thrum of adrenaline, the cut of an alley painted with the stench of tarmac and hot air; he writes him a new adventure to overlay all others – this one is brimming with intrigue, a distressed young man accused of murder, the trail of arson and revenge.

His place within such a dream is as the figure head, the controller, for John has always shunned such limelight, preferring to follow where others lead. And while the stories he scripts are of course, a chance to show off his talents within this self-made realm (wearing a coat cut from the black cloth of the sky, tall, thin, and magnificent, and there is no greater in his artistry of mimicking man; his form as a god translated into mortal terms to see whether John finds his appearance acceptable, the man's small half-hidden smile that tells him he has succeeded), the tale he tells is one for John alone, to present to him the siren song of what he craves.

The patches of the fabric that are completed to his satisfaction, he glazes and christens with Lethe water, inviting a temporary veil of forgetfulness to hide the memories of war Sherlock wishes he had the power to pluck from John Watson's head. At best, he masks them, smothers them with his own reality – to John, the war is long gone, taken over by his new life at Baker Street, and Sherlock is happy for him to continue believing as such.

He doesn't hum as he works, but he's so absorbed in his task that he doesn't notice a figure sweep in behind him into his workshop, a laboratory stuffed with bottles filled with dream-stuff and the tools of his trades, footfalls completely silent, leaning over his shoulder and observing his handiwork wordlessly for a moment.

When the fabric is stolen from his grasp by a quick darting hand, Sherlock makes a noise of anger in his throat, whirling round defensively to grab it back, eyes sparking and furious, the rarely challenged wrath of a god building up reckless and impetuous in his chest. The anger is stoked higher when he sees who has taken it.

“Give it back.”

“Really,” the other god replies, twirling an umbrella fashioned from a black funeral pall by his side, that when fully opened is used to shelter the lonely and dazed souls of the dead. The pointed spoke that leans on the ground is heavy, rounded to a great weight so that a knell can be sounded, a ringing dum-dum-dum that signals an invitation across the river to the final resting place. “You needn't be so angry with me. We are family after all.”

The god of death, appearing in his manifested form to be older than the younger god, one of the first children of Nyx much to Sherlock's displeasure, peruses the gossamer thin cloth in his hands. Runs it through his fingers, studies its design, ingredients and hues critically, taking apart each strand with his eyes to read the contents. “It's been a while since you've taken such an interest in a dream. A shame of course, you really are quite the artist when you put your mind to it.”

“Have you quite finished, Mycroft?” Sherlock bites out, scowling, infuriated that he's let his guard down in such a manner, that his brother is touching something that isn’t meant for neither his eyes nor his hands. It was not created for him.

Mycroft, swinging his umbrella idly, pretends not to hear him. Sherlock can be so possessive at times.

“Lavender always a good choice,” he murmurs almost to himself, examining his brother's work. He retains the light touch of his speech, while cautious eyes skim the meanings of the lore he is translating. This one isn't like others his brother has made. It's not a fleeting snapshot of a life outside, it doesn't tell of riches or ruins. It is much more complex, the weft a thread line of a whole fabricated existence, the warp introducing bright and defined aspects, everything about it woven into a new life existing only in dream, a fiction of his brother's making.

Tight, thick twists of heather, bound with strings of fir, narrating a fable, a drawn out affair, of meetings and partings and reunions as regular as the tide –

A sculptured promise of rune and St John's Wort, told in old language and forgotten language and words not yet born until this moment –

The god of death reads such landscapes, sees in the weave a home in a city that exists in the realm above, the coil of the streets, the cars and cabs and the contraptions those curious mortals make up for their improvement, a number on the front door and seventeen steps up. He hears the strain of a violin, runs his eyes over the silken tight promises of a god to the recipient of such a kingly gift as a dream; my home is not of the underground, in a palace with gates of bone and ivory, my home is in star-shattered velvet hours with you, in these rooms and in these hours.

Sherlock has made a whole new universe for just one person, not out of selfishness, for he's never cared much about mortals and their funny little brains, but out of something else. These are not the childish declarations of a youthful god intent on lustful pleasure, the teasing temptations of seducing the easily corrupted. It's something more enduring than that.

“Interesting runes,” he announces to his brother, breaking off from his musings as though he has seen nothing much of interest in the craft-work in his hands. “A bit archaic for my taste, Norse tends to leave a bad lingering feel in one's head I find, much prefer the Theban alphabet...” he pauses in his ruminations, and then glances up, almost curious, a faint smile playing on his face. “Some basil for love, Sherlock?”

The god of dreams snatches the fabric back almost immediately, coveting it to him away from Mycroft, unconsciously smoothing out areas that have become rumpled with the man-handling.

“Leave it,” he says brusquely.

“Who are you giving this one to?”

“No-one.”

“Brother, you have carved dreams for high kings, delivered them at the doors of prophets and madmen, a muse for the greatest artists the age has seen, but never have you ever included something so...valuable as an expression of love.”

“I said, leave it. It is for nobody important. ”

“I highly doubt that.” Mycroft smirks – his brother always was so bad at lying to him. “You have never given so precious a gift as a promise, Sherlock. You know these runes, they are binding. Not to be invoked lightly, as I am sure you are well aware. I would simply like to know which soul's heart you are tying yourself to. ” He closes his eyes for a moment, rubbing his fingers at the bridge of his nose. The style of the dream points all too clearly at a very human soul. Male by the tone of the dream, one can sense these things even if they aren't gifted at the craft.

His expression for a fleeting moment, turns sad, remembering every time a variation of this story has turned bad, a god falling for a human and the tale nearly always reaching its crescendo in a tragedy.

“Mortal?” The god of death asks.

The silence is enough to answer that particular question.

“I will have to collect him as I do everybody else, you must realise this.” His tone suggests indifference, yet when Sherlock chooses to meet his grey eyes, he sees an unfamiliar apology there, something bordering the edges of regret. The god of death has been present at the ending of every man and woman. He is a necessary process, a watchman of the natural order of things, unable to deviate. Yet fragile humans with their fleeting lives like candle flames still struggle against his inevitable visit, cry and beat their hands upon the ground when he arrives, their loved ones curse him and beg him and curse him again when they see he has taken those they hold so dear. He sees how what he does breaks them, hollows them out into grieving shades of what they were. Love only makes it harder, makes the loss worse.

He wants to protect Sherlock from this. Accepts that he can't, not this time.

Sherlock nods.

“John has been... sleeping for a long time,” he says carefully.

“Coma?”

“He was shot while defending his men,” There is pride in Sherlock's voice at talk of this warrior. “One of those bullets of theirs buried into his shoulder, causing severe blood loss. Those healers of his think his brain is irreparably damaged, that it is unlikely he will ever open his eyes again. I am simply giving him a life he would want while his body wastes away and his lungs labour to keep him alive. I have created for him a realm where nothing can hurt him, and within it I can portray my true self without reproach.” He smiles, and his eyes blaze. “I have created a universe Mycroft. A realm neither in Olympus nor Earth, and it is glorious. There, I can protect him. Learn from him, live outside and away from the frivolous gossips and wars the other gods chase. John has seen me without the trappings of convention, seen me in my arrogance, and selfishness and stilted understanding of humanity, and he does not care. He... ” Sherlock strays before speaking, and an odd look crosses his face, one that Mycroft has never yet been privy too. “... He mirrors my affection without asking for anything in return. He does not want power, nor riches, nor kingdoms. He wants me. That is all.”

Mycroft sighs heavily, his umbrella wavering like a tree in high wind.

“Just be careful Sherlock. They do not last as long as we do. Their hearts are not strong enough.”

“His is,” he responds stubbornly, and Mycroft notices rare loyalty there as he hold the dream closer, cupping his hands around it like a cradle, a tempered fierceness. Sherlock would wage war with his bare hands, a hovering desire to rip, tear, to bend his will to the destruction of whatever seeks to part him from what is rightfully his. The expression on the face of the god of dreams recreates the heights of his defensiveness, yet all the while he is giving his brother a rare request, not with words but in the signs of nods and expressions only siblings can formulate between themselves. In that glance he asks; I know you will have to take him one day. I will oppose you at this juncture, but for now, do not remind me of it. Please. Let me have this.

Death hasn't seen his brother ask for anything in a very long time, longer than his memory serves, and so gives a subtle nod, acquiesces, and internally ruminates over this man, this mortal that has his brother saying please for the first time in millennia, that the god of dreams creates such masterpieces for.

“I will take your word for it, Sherlock,” he chooses his words cautiously, considers the matter for the time being closed. One day in the future, he will have to enter his brother's dreams without permission, walk through the front door of 221b Baker Street, and invite the man named John to cross the river with him, two golden drachmas in his hand to pay the boatman. He imagines that rather than Elysium, Sherlock would request the mortal reside with him instead of making his way to the golden fields to rest. If the mortal retains such an affection for Sherlock as it appears, it is more than likely than not he would prefer to spend an eternity at the side the god of dreams than alone in the blessed lands of the dead.

John will be the making or breaking of my brother, the god of death thinks as he leaves without another word, as quietly as he arrived. Mycroft just wishes he knew which one it would be.