Jim's office was on the ground floor of a small house in a very nice neighborhood; as the cab pulled up, John wondered how Jim could afford rent here. Jim answered the unspoken question as he invited Sherlock and John in. "This is actually my mother's house. A mutually beneficial arrangement; at her age, she needs someone to keep a bit of an eye on her. And she would never accept financial assistance, but rent for the office is another story."
The hall was certainly posher than John would have expected. And Jim himself was much better dressed than he had been on their first meeting; Sherlock said, "Do you habitually wear a suit while seeing clients?"
"Usually. I find that most people are more comfortable with a hypnotherapist who looks like a professional."
"Whereas if you wore a suit at Barts, people would assume you were an IT administrator rather than an actual programmer. Clever." Sherlock actually did sound mildly impressed.
"People are so much more amenable when one meets their expectations, I find."
Jim led them into a large room. On first glance, it seemed more like a waiting room for an architect than a consultation room for a hypnotherapist; framed architectural drawings covered much of the wall space. John recognized the facade of the Royal Opera House and an overhead view of the Alexandra Palace. The other decor was nothing at all like the neutral and minimalist furnishing John remembered from Dr. Thompson's office. The curtains were richly coloured, patterned with intertwined red and blue lines like blood vessels on a deep green background, and the carpet had probably been woven a hundred years ago in a country John had been stationed in. The occasional tables were all covered with curvy abstract wooden sculptures and small models of famous buildings, but the elegantly carved desk was bare except for a candle in a brass holder, a glass bowl full of translucent beads, and a small black-and-white box. The chairs around the desk were upholstered in needlepoint, and the nearby couch with its lacy frame looked like it belonged in a museum rather than a consulting room.
"Tea, either of you?" When Sherlock emphatically shook his head and John more calmly replied "no thanks", Jim said, "Then let's begin. Sherlock, why don't you sit here, in front of the desk, and John—may I call you John?—over on the couch?"
When they were seated—the couch was definitely designed for appearance rather than comfort—Jim said, "So, Sherlock, tell me about the nightmares. How long have you been having them?"
"As long as I can remember. But they've worsened in the past few months."
Since I met him? John wondered.
"Any obvious trigger?"
Jim stirred the bowl of beads with a finger. "Do they vary, or is there a common theme?"
"My nineteenth-century namesake...."
"Sherlock Holmes the detective, murdered by his friend John Watson?"
Sherlock blinked; John was also startled. "So you do know the story?" Sherlock asked. Am I the only person who doesn't? John thought.
Jim chuckled. "What do you think made me so interested in you? A modern detective also named Sherlock Holmes—fascinating. Now, the common theme in the nightmares?"
Sherlock sat back. "They are always about the historic Holmes and Watson. Usually I'm watching as Holmes falls into Reichenbach; once in a while I am Holmes falling. Sometimes I'm watching Watson's trial, and I'm trying to tell the judge that Watson's innocent; no one ever hears me."
John tried to wrap his brain around that idea—Sherlock being upset about an innocent man's sentence. He could easily imagine Sherlock being angry about his own professional failure, but a victim's fate seemed to make no impression on him.
Jim's forehead wrinkled. "Have you considered the possibility that the coincidence of your name...."
"Hardly a coincidence that I am named after a notable relative."
Now, Jim laughed. "Oh, this is quite the family affair here. Your relative accused my grandfather's uncle of leading a criminal gang."
"Which explains your interest in my predecessor." Sherlock was clearly interested again, a slight smile playing across his face.
John threw his hands up in disbelief. "Just so we're clear, I'm not related to anyone involved in that mess."
Jim glanced at John. "True, Watson is hardly a rare surname. But the coincidence—Sherlock, your nightmares increased after the two of you started living together, correct?"
"Indeed, and it is a coincidence. I have no subconscious fears that John will murder me."
"Remember, the whole point of the subconscious is that you aren't consciously aware of it. There could be some event in your past you don't consciously remember that causes these nightmares. Though in your case...." Jim leaned forward and rested his hands on the desk. "What do you think of reincarnation?"
Sherlock's answer was immediate. "Utter bollocks."
"I used to think so myself, but.... Would you be willing to take part in an experiment?"
John shuddered. "I could live the rest of my life quite happily without hearing that sentence again."
Jim ignored him. "I'd like to try guiding you into a past life regression."
"What would be the point?" Sherlock asked. "To have past life regression, there would have to exist past lives."
Jim smiled. "How do you know there don't?"
"It is completely illogical. Why would we live multiple lives and not remember? Even if people were more than bundles of neurons exchanging electrical signals, even if anything remained of us after our bodies rotted away, why would we start the whole sorry course over again?" Sherlock folded his hands in his lap. "Reincarnation is rubbish. I don't need to attempt a regression to prove that, just as I don't need to drink cyanide to prove that it is deadly."
"But you'd like to taste it, wouldn't you?" There was certainty in Jim's voice.
John stared at Jim. How the hell had he figured out Sherlock's personality so quickly? Or was he guessing?
Sherlock sounded calm. "What would make you think that?"
"Molly said a great deal about you. And I've learned a bit about reading people in my work. You have enough outside evidence to prove cyanide's a poison, but if you didn't, wouldn't you try it once, just to find out? Just to know the flavour, if nothing else?"
A pink pill, held in the air.... John wished he had brought his gun, then pushed that thought aside as irrational.
Jim continued, "Hypnosis, on the other hand, won't kill you. And who knows? You may find it interesting." He sat back. "I won't pressure you. I can't; hypnosis only works with the consent of the client. But I believe I can help you, and I would love to attempt the experiment. It is entirely up to you."
"At worst, you will perhaps be able to help me with my nightmares using more conventional hypnotherapy, correct?"
"At the very least, I believe I can do that for you."
Sherlock looked at John. John gestured back to him. Your brain; your call. That seemed to decide Sherlock; he leaned forward and said, "How do we start?"
"Let me turn down the lights." Jim clicked a remote control; the lamps dimmed. He set a candle in the middle of the desk and lit it, then sat back. "Now. Look at the candle. Breathe deeply, and concentrate on the flame; when your eyes grow heavy, let them close."
Whether Sherlock was finding Jim's tone hypnotic or not, John certainly was; it was so tempting to relax into that voice, let the words lull him. He twisted around until he found an uncomfortable position.
After a few minutes, Jim said, "You're thinking too hard. Let go; concentrate on the flame. You have nothing to fear here; I will make sure nothing happens to you."
Sherlock glanced over at John; John lifted his chin. I'm on duty now. Get this mission over with.
Sherlock turned back to the candle again and breathed. A slow inhale. A slower exhale. His eyes fell closed. John pushed up against his own left elbow until his shoulder ached.
"Good," Jim said. "Keep relaxing, and let yourself descend, as if you were walking down a flight of stairs. When you reach the bottom, open the door to the past."
No background music, John suddenly noticed, but no outside noises either; no sign that this house was shared with anyone else. Just the sound of Sherlock's breathing, just....
"No! God help me!"
John jumped out of his chair as Sherlock doubled over, but Jim held up a hand. "Sherlock. What do you...."
"It hurts. Christ, it hurts. No!" And Sherlock was standing, blinking, shaking.
John automatically reached out towards him, then caught himself. He'd learned that Sherlock, while frequently happy to touch other people and things, didn't like being touched himself. Instead, John said, "Are you all right?"
"Of course I'm all right," Sherlock snapped. "It was only in my head; it wasn't real."
"Like my leg?"
Sherlock either didn't catch or simply ignored the sarcasm. "Exactly." He rubbed his forehead. "And quite odd."
"What did you see?" Jim asked.
"Nothing. Just pain. Like I'd received several blows to my torso."
"Your death. Excellent."
John couldn't hold the comment back. "What the hell do you mean, excellent?"
"It means that Sherlock's made it back that far, to that moment. Now it's simply a matter of jumping that little bit further, so we can find out what actually happened."
Sherlock was still rubbing his head—well, that made sense; a fall from a cliff into a river would presumably result in head injuries as well—but at Jim's words he sat back down. "Again, then."
Jim tilted his head. "You're sure you don't want to rest first?"
"No point. Let's finish this."
On the second try, Sherlock again cried out, but this time he remained in the chair, apparently still in trance. "I can't go past it," Sherlock whispered. "I'm back on the...call it a stairwell if you must, though the metaphor is weak."
Jim's voice remained soothing and even. "Often people find a past life too painful to experience as a participant, but if they can watch it as if they were an observer, it becomes bearable. Try that instead. Go in again, but stay out of your own head; you are an outsider, an indifferent witness."
A third cycle of relaxation, of slow breathing, of sudden tension and anguished noise. "It's too much. It hurts too much."
John unclenched his fist. "What if you try to go further back? Get some momentum and rush past it to an earlier time?" What was he saying? This was mad.
But Jim nodded. "If your past death is the cause of your present nightmares, then yes, it may be too painful for you to reach directly. Let's try that. Open the door again, and this time, go past your death; jump back farther. Much farther."
Sherlock's chest rose and fell; his shoulders stiffened, and then he was relaxed again, smiling. "I'm through."
It was very like a dream, but more vivid, less bizarre. Brilliant sunlight, cool breezes, the scent of autumn and harvest and coal fires, the crackle of dead grass and the spring of live.
Observe. Only observe. He dutifully kept his distance from the small boy running down the path.
"Where are you?" The lilting voice was clear, and yet far distant.
He replied, "In Sussex on holiday with my parents. Outside. I'm supposed to be inside with the nurse, but I was bored. My older brother left for school yesterday; I miss him already. He told me that he'd found a snake near a stream, and I've gone looking for it. And there it is." A deep green snake, moving slowly along the bank; the boy did not yet know that it was nearing hibernation time for the snakes, but the observer could supply that knowledge.
"Good. You're still too close to the events, though. Watch the scene as if you were floating above it, as if you were seeing a film. Like you do in your dreams. Like everything you see is happening to someone else, not you."
He breathed again, and said, "I've...."
"Distance. As if it's not you."
"He's caught the snake now. But it's wriggling so much that he drops it. A grass snake, but he's so pleased at his bravery that it might as well be an adder."
"Excellent. Now, let's move forward again. Let's go to the day your former self met his closest friend. What day is that?"
He left the boy in the countryside, leapt into time and landed in a high-ceilinged room filled with tables and chemical equipment. "The twenty-ninth of January, 1881. Barts. Dr. Stamford has just introduced his old acquaintance Dr. John Watson to Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
The voice remained calm and gentle. "Dr. Watson wrote about the meeting later. What can you tell me about the meeting that isn't in Watson's chronicle?"
He chuckled, watching the scene. "Watson left out the collision." Holmes ran across the room to the other two men, holding aloft a test tube that appeared to contain salt; in his enthusiasm, he skidded to a stop and bumped against Watson.
"My dear sir, I am terribly sorry." Holmes threw out his free arm and steadied Watson. "And you so lately returned from Afghanistan; pray forgive me. I assure you I am not normally so clumsy; I was overcome by the excitement of solving this little chemical problem."
Watson steadied himself on his cane before his leg gave out. "Quite all right, I assure you."
Another far distant voice, a warm voice giving the observer a jolt of joy. "So it was his leg where he was injured."
"It was both," the observer replied. "The shoulder wound nearly killed him and led to his mustering out; the leg wound seemed less severe at first but caused longer-term problems."
Now Watson was examining the test tube. "This reagent, you say, detects blood?"
Holmes beamed. "In the smallest quantities."
"Incredible! But surely it is not merely detecting the iron in the haemoglobin? For in that case, a rusty nail should ruin the results."
Holmes' smile broadened. "I have tested it against that as well. No, this reagent reacts to blood and to nothing else. Let me show you...."
The observer laughed. "He almost pulls poor Watson off his feet again, leading him to his worktable. He is so eager to demonstrate his process that he stabs his own finger with a large needle to procure the needed blood. But he is rewarded; Watson is duly impressed."
Indeed, Watson leaned forward in fascination. "Astounding! A very delicate test indeed."
"Yes, and think of how many crimes will be solved by means of it! Had this test existed in the past, Von Bischoff of Frankfort would not now be walking a free man, nor Samson of New Orleans dead for a murder he did not commit.... I am afraid that I bore you."
"Not at all," Watson said cheerfully. "You have performed a great service to the police!"
"I hope I shall also have performed a great service to my purse," Holmes said wryly, "as that concerns me more. But I shall consider myself compensated in full if this test proves the guilt of a criminal or saves an innocent man from the gallows."
The lilting voice spoke again. "This is excellent. Now, move forward in time. Go to the cause of your nightmares."
He lingered for a moment, watching as Stamford explained Watson's situation, as Holmes and Watson discussed their habits and finally agreed to see the rooms; it was with something very like wistfulness that he finally leapt forward.
Again he was on the familiar cliff, no longer an observer. The low sun, the smell of spring and of colder air, the thunder of the spray. The slide of his feet in the mud. The grasp of strong arms wrestling him, the struggle against a mortal enemy. For a moment only.
Pain resurged, anguish/grief/terror/fury thundering into his head and jolting him back to normal consciousness.
Sherlock blinked and raised his hands to his temples. His head pounded; he had not wanted morphine so badly in years.
What was that?
"Sherlock?" That was John, the doctor and concerned companion in unison.
I must look like I was hit by a lorry. I feel like I was hit by one.
"Do you want to try again?" Jim asked. "Or have you had enough?"
Sherlock shook his head. God, that pain. "I can't anymore. Not today."
Surprisingly, Jim looked delighted. "Oh, you've done very well for a first try. That's a great deal of progress; you seem to have had a successful regression."
"Regression? Or hallucination?"
"Easy to check. Are there any details from your experience that you can verify?"
He shook his head slightly; that didn't hurt too badly. Perhaps the headache would fade soon. "After over a century? No. The furnishings would hardly be the same; the broken pane in the window would have long since been restored; nothing would remain to...."
The ceiling. There had been a gouge in the moulding, near the wall where Holmes' table sat. It might have been painted or otherwise restored, but at that height, it would hardly have been a priority.
He leapt up. "The ceiling. I have to check the ceiling." Sherlock ran out of the room and out the front door just as a cab rounded the corner. "Barts," he shouted as he flung himself into the back seat.
Why does he always have to do this?
John gave up on catching up with Sherlock when the front door slammed before he could untangle himself to get up from the couch. "I'm sorry," he said to Jim. "He gets like this when he's on the trail of a clue."
"Molly's told me about him, remember? I understand." Jim blew out the candle. "This really was excellent work for a first time. Go catch up with him. I'm sure I'll see you two again soon."
When he opened the front door and looked up and down the street, there was no sign of Sherlock. "Fuck," he muttered.
A creak behind him made him whirl. An old woman was halfway down the stairs; this must be Jim's mother. "Sorry," John said. "I didn't mean to.... I hope we didn't disturb you."
"Not at all; I'm quite used to James' visitors." She looked highly amused. "I saw from the window that your friend caught a cab. There's a rank not far away; left and left again."
"Thanks." Jim had implied that his mother was in need of care, but John couldn't see that in this woman. Perhaps she was more frail than she looked. "Well, have a good afternoon." He hurried out to find the cab.
Sherlock didn't answer his texts, but John had spent enough time in Barts to guess what rooms Sherlock would check. He finally found Sherlock in a large lecture room, standing on top of a precarious stack of chairs even taller than him. "Are you trying to break your neck?"
"This gouge, here." Sherlock pointed to a large dent in the moulding. "I saw that in....I saw it."
John stared up at it. Christ. "So, it's confirmation, then?"
"No. I've been in this room before. An excruciating lecture that I had expected to be far more useful than it turned out to be."
"Which means that I could have subconsciously remembered it. The entire experience may merely be the product of my questionable imagination."
He had to say it, voice the thought that he'd had several times while Sherlock related strange visions. "Were you actually seeing something, or were you putting on an act for Jim?"
Sherlock looked down at him. "Why would I want to pretend? It was an experiment, not a trap. At any rate, I was most definitely there in mind. It was very odd. Far more realistic than a dream." He looked back at the gouge. "There was one interesting detail. At the end, at Reichenbach...."
"You did see it?" Sherlock had said nothing to them, only screamed in pain again before opening his eyes; John would be quite happy if they could never repeat that experience.
"Of course. It was much like my dreams; I was on the cliff wrestling someone. But the man I was wrestling—he was thin, and taller than me. Watson was not short by any means...."
"...but he was certainly shorter than Holmes, and the extant photographs show him to be a man of sturdy build. Whomever I was wrestling with on that cliff, it was not Dr. Watson."
Of course not, John thought, then wondered where that had come from. "Are you going to try this again, then?"
Sherlock scrambled down the chairs. "Yes. But not today. Let's go home."
Back at the flat, Sherlock grabbed John's laptop; John considered protesting but decided there was no point, and went to the kitchen instead. When he returned with tea and sandwiches, though, Sherlock pushed the laptop to him, browser open at an online photography archive. "This was taken around 1888, here in this room. I no longer have a copy myself, but you wanted to know what they looked like."
"I didn't say anything." John ignored Sherlock's disgusted exhalation—of course he hadn't needed to say anything—and looked at the picture.
It certainly looked like a nineteenth-century photograph, though he wasn't nearly enough of a clothing expert to be certain. A stocky man with a carefully-trimmed moustache sat in a high-backed chair; a cane rested against the right side. To his left stood a tall slender man, darker-haired, clean-shaven, chin on hand and elbow on the back of the chair, smirking at the photographer. That dark hair, and that nose.... John couldn't help laughing. "He looks...he looks like...."
"Yes, I know," Sherlock said, sounding irritated but resigned. "I assure you that despite my cousin's resemblance to him, I am less closely related to Anderson than I am to you."
Oh, that was an obvious opening. "Can't know that for sure," John said. "Not without a DNA analysis...oh, Christ, you didn't, did you?"
"One day he cut his thumb at a crime scene—no, John, I had nothing to do with it; I simply took advantage of the opportunity."
"All right. Wait, so when did you....never mind, stupid question, I'm sure my DNA's all over this flat."
"Hairbrush." Sherlock actually smiled at him before pulling a shoebox full of dried leaves from under a chair. "Now, be quiet; I need to concentrate on this experiment."
"Yeah, and I need to update my blog."
But he bookmarked the page and left the browser window open, occasionally returning to look at it. It made him smile, albeit wistfully, as if he were looking at a photo of his old unit. And if Jim was correct, this was really an old picture of Sherlock as he once was.
If Jim was correct. If this wasn't all a bizarre trick.