1. in an infinite multiverse
Subconsciously, Sherlock realises who (what) the man is the moment he steps into the lab. On a conscious level, it takes two appallingly long seconds for the knowledge to sink in.
Then Sherlock has to call on every last drop of his admittedly not very impressive self-control (including hidden reserves he hadn’t even known he possessed) to stop himself from jumping for joy and pulling the cause into an impromptu dance. Because Sherlock has finally – amazingly, unbelievably – found (been found by? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he is here) the local God.
A Dreamer God!
In an infinite multiverse teeming with spontaneous universes, and with universes programmed by hyper-evolved beings from other worlds, Dreamer Gods are the stuff of legends. Incredibly rare and even more unfathomable, for once their creations are complete, they give up all of their memories and join the sentient life cycle as just another piece of the whole.
Sherlock has heard stories of these strange worlds that are nothing like the perfectly structured programmer spaces or the utterly senseless spontaneous ones from others of his kind – immortal beings of pure thought who come to life in the space between worlds, birthed by echoes and drifting ideas. But old (ancient, timeless) and well travelled as he is, never before has Sherlock had the fortune of stumbling into a Dreamer universe himself, and never has he heard of a Dreamer universe quite so complex as this one.
A perfect mix of elegant logic and complete absurdity. Elementary particles guided by precise physical laws, their reactions to outside stimuli controlled by mathematical probabilities, no room for impulse or free will, and yet the picture they create is one of delightful chaos. As much suffering as pleasure, as much ugliness as beauty, a constant search for meaning and purpose in a place that has none, illusions everywhere and a million sides to every story!
Sherlock had spent the whole of his first millennium in this wonderland searching for the creator – travelling constantly, barely stopping for food or rest (although he’d learned after his first two untimely deaths that ignoring his body’s needs altogether was not worth the years of helplessness that came with every reincarnation) – all to no avail. The Earth was too big, the population too large already and still growing, the chances of finding the one he was looking for were approaching nil.
So Sherlock had given up. Had resolved to stop wasting so much of his attention on what was undoubtedly a hopeless endeavour and to really savour this place.
And now, this. His greatest wish, presented to him in this ridiculously unassuming manner. It almost doesn’t feel real. It feels more real than anything he has ever experienced before.
Presently, the man speaks (“Bit different from my day”), and Mike responds (“You’ve no idea”), and the incongruously mundane exchange serves to break the spell that had fallen over him.
The man is a God (the God, here), but he is also a man, Sherlock reminds himself. A man like any other, with his fragile (sturdy) human body and his short (vivid) human history and his trivial (fascinating) human wants and values and fears. And this, this Sherlock is familiar with.
So he says, “Mike, can I borrow your phone? There’s no signal on mine,” and he waits for Mike to realise that the phone is not on him so the God can offer his instead (“This is an old friend of mine, John Watson,” Mike introduces him after the phone exchanges hands), and he starts cataloguing: Army doctor, recently abroad (“Afghanistan or Iraq?” he asks. “Afghanistan. Sorry, how did you-” John replies, bemused), invalided home, family that he is not close to (or at least would not go to for help), an old friend of Mike’s…
Potential flatmate, Sherlock thinks gleefully.
By the time he is rattling off his name and address and leaving with a teasing (excited) wink, the maelstrom inside him has settled into something more like warm anticipation.
2. close call aside
Before meeting Sherlock, John had been bored to the point of depression. Had even started eyeing his gun with bleak contemplation, Sherlock knows. Moderation and normality were no longer good enough for him.
Sherlock saw all of this the first time they met, of course, but at that point he’d been too overwhelmed by John’s unexpected presence – the knowledge that he was right there, within Sherlock’s reach – to pay much attention to anything else. Now, Sherlock breaks out in a cold sweat whenever he stops to consider the fact that he’d almost missed John.
For when Dreamers get bored, they leave. They let their old universes go on without them, or else erase them from existence altogether, and head off to dream up new worlds for themselves. Had that happened, John would have slipped away never to be found again, and Sherlock would have lost his one and only chance.
Still. Close call aside, the timing could not have been better.
Even Sherlock will not be able to keep him entertained forever, so this will in all likelihood be John’s last lifetime here. And if Sherlock is there at the moment when John decides that he's had enough, when John remembers who he is (Sherlock doesn’t dare try to jog John’s memory himself; anecdotal evidence suggests that there is an equal chance of it making the universe implode and of John thinking him insane, and no chance of the result being anything resembling good)… then maybe, just maybe, Sherlock will get lucky and be allowed to hitch a ride to his next destination.
There is nothing Sherlock wants more than to see what else John can come up with. Sherlock is pretty sure that he is ruined for all other universal sources.
Nonetheless, he is not as eager to leave as John appears to be – there is still much to enjoy here – so he ups his game. Makes sure John cannot possibly get bored enough to quit until Sherlock is ready too.
This is why they sometimes end up in situations like this:
“Sherlock, I swear to God,” John says in a strained voice (Sherlock has to bite his tongue to keep himself from laughing), “if we die here, I will kill you.”
“That would be a little redundant, don’t you think?” Sherlock asks from where he is wrapped around John’s legs and waist. John, in turn, is clinging to the edge of the roof they’d just almost been tossed to their deaths from.
“Then I will haunt you. Until the end of time. Tortured moans and clinking chains and bits of brain sliding down my bashed in head. All the works.”
“Is this your way of promising to not leave me even in death? I’m touched, John. Truly. Although I must ask how you are planning on getting the chains. I believe the general consensus is that ghosts only get to keep whatever is on them at the moment of their death.”
“For you, Sherlock, I will find a way,” John growls.
Then there are voices above them, hands and ropes reaching down, and they are being dragged up and deposited panting and shaking on the roof. They start laughing the second their eyes meet. Sherlock is pretty sure he has a concussion, and John’s hands will take weeks to recover, but that won’t matter until later.
So even if the darkness hovering at the edges of John's mind is there to stay, Sherlock is more than capable of keeping it at bay.
Not long after they move in together, Sherlock learns that John is a serial-dating flirt. Considering the way most of the bigger religions picture Him, this entertains Sherlock to no end.
Other than that, however, John is practically textbook.
Compassionate, even when it comes to complete strangers, and offended when others don’t comply with his moral standards (Sherlock may have acted cool and unaffected at the time, but a small part of him had been worried that his lack of concern for Moriarty's victims would drive John away for good). Endlessly tolerant and forgiving (Sherlock knows how difficult he can be to get along with now that his full-time acting experiment days are centuries behind), but equally able to mete out punishment when he believes it to be deserved (the cabbie being a case in point).
Sherlock briefly wonders how someone as kind as John could have created a universe filled with so much pain, but he supposes (correctly) that that’s just the way dreams work. Controlling one’s subconscious mind is impossible. Not completely. Not even for gods.
3. the reaper
One day at breakfast, Sherlock eats John’s soul.
Unsurprisingly, John doesn’t even notice.
Also unsurprisingly, one hour later (or, more to the point, five minutes after John leaves for work) finds Mycroft leaning back against their living room table with a disapproving frown.
Sherlock is still riding out the high of being so thoroughly immersed in someone else’s mind, so he doesn’t react with as much irritation as he might have otherwise.
“Mycroft,” he acknowledges from his sprawl on the sofa.
“We had an agreement,” the reaper masquerading as his brother says.
“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Sherlock asks. “I would have gone with coercion. Possibly blackmail.”
“I did warn you,” Mycroft goes on, ignoring him (as per usual). “Do you want to be locked away, Sherlock?”
“I could always kill myself,” Sherlock says. “You can’t stop me from reincarnating.”
“I would find you before you learned to walk.”
“I could leave.” Leave this universe, he means.
“Nothing would make me happier,” Mycroft says sweetly. It’s a complete lie and they both know it. “But you won’t do either.”
“And risk being left behind when your apparent death finally pushed John over the breaking point? No, Sherlock, you won’t. We both know how important he is to you.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees readily, “we both do, so you can’t tell me that you’re surprised, Mycroft. It’s John. I had to do it.”
“You did not have to do anything,” Mycroft says.
Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t nitpick. You know perfectly well what I mean. And I still don’t see why you care.”
“I care,” Mycroft replies wearily (this is far from the first time they’ve had this argument), “because if John dies within the next three hundred and twelve days, before his soul is fully regrown, then none of the information it contained – none of his thoughts or beliefs or memories – will be added to the Akashic record. His history will be lost forever.”
“And what difference would that make?” Sherlock retorts. “The past is the past. It’s unimportant. Just because for some incomprehensible reason your kind is programmed to think that it matters does not mean that I have to. The dead certainly wouldn’t. Whatever romanticized notions the humans might have about souls, they’re only data.”
“You’re right, of course. You don’t have to care,” Mycroft says. “But you should, because I care, and in this universe I have far more power than you do, and if you continue testing my patience I will use this power to put you away for good, Sherlock.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Sherlock asks, peering at him. “You know that in the grand scheme of things it does not matter at all, yet you refuse to fight it. How can this not drive you mad?”
“I imagine it does not drive me mad because I am not programmed to be driven mad by it. Don’t change the subject. Give me one good reason not to take you away right now.”
“Because this is the first time I broke your so-called agreement, and you know perfectly well that I am not likely to do it again. If you lock me away now, it will not be for the protection of the Akashic field, it will be petty retribution. And of the many flaws your kind possesses, fortunately for me malice is not one of them,” Sherlock says. “Admit it. You only came here to complain. You never intended to lock me up in the first place.”
Mycroft sighs heavily and rubs at his eyes. “Of all the people you could have chosen to break the deal for, of course you had to pick the most inconvenient one. His survival chances would be higher if I sent him back to Afghanistan.”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “You worry too much. Our luck’s been holding up extraordinarily well so far, hasn’t it? Maybe someone is watching out for us. Besides you, I mean.”
Rather than looking unimpressed, as Sherlock expects him to, Mycroft stills. The ever-present umbrella he’d been swinging idly pauses mid-movement. Sherlock narrows his eyes.
“Perhaps you are right,” Mycroft acquiesces, smoothly pushing away from the table. “Well then. Much as I always enjoy your company, Sherlock, I do have other business to attend to. Try not to get our favourite doctor killed before he recovers, won’t you?”
Then Mycroft is gone, and Sherlock is left wondering what precisely that thoughtful look had meant.
“Sherlock, is there a particular reason your brother appears to have tripled the number of people following me around? I’m pretty sure our new receptionist is one of his,” is the first thing John says when he gets home later that evening.
Sherlock hums noncommittally and doesn’t look up from his phone. “Maybe you’re just getting better at noticing them,” he offers. “Undoubtedly in no small part due to the positive influence my continued presence in your life has been having on your intellect.”
He doesn’t try dodging the coat John throws at his head. Uses it to hide his smile instead.
4. the beginning is the end is the beginning
By the time it finally happens, they are old men.
They’d left London years ago in favour of purchasing a modest cottage in the countryside, exchanging crimes and cases for bees and books. Sherlock hadn’t expected John to last long without the constant stimulation of their youth, but he’d handled the transition surprisingly well, seeming perfectly happy to spend his retirement days reading and going for long hikes in the nearby woods.
Sherlock is glad. For all the centuries he’d been around and all the lives he’d lived, this warm, cosy domesticity is a first for him. He’d never seen the appeal, before. Now, he can’t think of a more appropriate way to bring his time here to a close.
(Of course, that probably has more to do with the company than anything else.)
So it ends not with boredom and stagnation, but with peace and contentment.
One morning, Sherlock wakes up in John’s bed – although it might as well be their bed, as these days they share more often than not – to see John already awake and watching him with a fond smile, and Sherlock knows that “It's time.”
John nods, sliding a hand over the sheets to cover Sherlock’s where it’s resting on the pillow between them. His thumb traces light circles on Sherlock's skin, and a comfortable silence settles over the bedroom.
“Thank you,” John says eventually. “This is the first time I’ve been happy when I reached an end, you know. I didn’t even think it was possible.”
Sherlock curls his fingers over John’s in return. “It’s the least I could do to repay you for all the entertainment you’ve provided me with.”
John huffs out a laugh before sobering. “I will miss you,” he says.
The words wipe away Sherlock’s earlier tranquility with a single clean sweep, and he has to fight down a sudden stab of panic.
“I was hoping I could come with you.”
John looks away. “I know,” he replies. “And I wish it were that simple, but I’m not like you. I don’t just… jump between existing spaces. I create a new space inside myself, and I start from scratch every time. You know that. I can’t pull you along because there is nowhere to pull you along to.”
“Not that simple is not the same as impossible. There has to be a way,” Sherlock insists (pleads).
John remains silent a long time, and he still does not meet Sherlock’s eyes, but the thoughtful groove that appears between his eyebrows indicates consideration rather than denial. So Sherlock waits.
“I could… absorb you,” John says at last. “Make you a part of myself. I mean… you’d still be you. I wouldn’t take over your consciousness or anything. But the bond would be irreversible. You’d be stuck with me. Forever.”
“Then do it,” Sherlock says quickly, and when John shoots him a dubious look adds, “Why would I want to leave when staying would guarantee a never ending supply of worlds far more interesting than anything I’m likely to find on my own?”
“You’d have to stay from beginning to end every time, even if you grew bored long before I did,” John points out. “I still wouldn’t remember who I am, or who you are, until my last moments. You would never see your home again.”
“Would I be able to find you?”
“Well... yes. With a bond, it would be easy. But I told you, I wouldn’t-”
“Yes yes, you wouldn’t know who I am. It doesn’t matter. It’s all fine. I’m sure.”
Sherlock thinks about getting to know each other anew every time. About being John's friend and lover and parent and child and even enemy. About being everything.
He knows he won't get bored, of John's worlds (John doesn't understand because he's never seen any universe but his own) or of John (apparently he won't even get the chance to), and the rest – the loss of home and freedom – is a very small price to pay for that.
John takes a deep breath, and holds it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out.
“Okay,” he says, and Sherlock's face splits into a smile so wide it's almost painful.
(At least John's answering smile looks about as ridiculous as his feels.)
“Do we have to leave right away?” Sherlock asks after taking a few minutes to bask in the relief washing through him. “If possible, I’d like to say goodbye to Mycroft before we go.” Annoying or not, it's rare for Sherlock to develop (or be forced into, as the case may be) such long-lasting relationships in any of the worlds he visits.
John shakes his head. “No, that’s fine. We should also say goodbye to Emmie, while we’re at it.”
“Emmie?” Sherlock asks, puzzled. “The grocer’s daughter, Emmie?”
John grins. “Yes, Emmie the grocer’s daughter, who used to be Mrs. Hudson our landlady, who is really the Fate that brought us together. And made sure neither of us met an untimely end before we could talk. We should thank her.”
A Fate. A multiversal voyager similar in many ways to Sherlock's own kind, only older (older even than the Dreamer Gods, some believe) and far more powerful. Where the Inbetweeners are experiencers with a nonexistent sense of direction, the Fates are meddling navigators.
Sherlock groans as all the pieces finally fall into place. It seems obvious now that John's said it out loud. “Of course,” he mutters. “How could I have missed it? She must be the one who revealed herself to me in the last three universes I've been in. I knew it was a strange coincidence. She even told me about her fondness for matchmaking. I just didn’t think she'd try it on me.”
“Not quite as smart as you think you are, huh,” John says mildly. “You should know that there’s no such thing as coincidence when it comes to Fate.”
Sherlock responds by shoving him off the bed.