John didn't immediately realize that he was conscious. He could be forgiven for this however; his numbed senses were bound to confuse him, especially considering that he hadn't had occasion to experience such disorientation since his shoulder surgery in Afghanistan. Back then, gargantuan amounts of pain medication had left him feeling next to nothing. But his mind couldn't even make a connection to this older incident, as it still was in disarray. The only thoughts that he could formulate were that he didn't know what was happening and why he felt, or rather didn't feel, the way he did.
The blood violently throbbing in his head reminded him that it was all very real, that it was no fabrication of his imagination. This caused escalating panic to set in. While his mind accumulated coherency, he became aware that his fingertips were scrabbling against something cold and damp. The same something pressed sharply into his exposed nose and cheek, and as more feeling accompanied his reviving mental capacities, he noticed biting cold wind attacking his skin. Baker Street never felt so cold.
It occurred to him to try opening his eyes, but the heavy obstinate lids refused to budge even slightly. Not being able to complete such a simple task did not bode well, he realized. He thought of his other senses, but did not hold out much hope for them. The growing desperation and fear caused by his own ignorance were not helping in the slightest.
Hearing, he thought suddenly. That could prove to be useful. The ear that wasn't pressed into the ground tried to pick up on any nearby sounds. Nothing. But it wasn't just ordinary 'nothing'; it was complete absence of sound. It was like someone had soundproofed his ears from the surrounding world, smothering him in unnatural silence. It was disconcerting to say the least.
The feeling was cut short by a high-pitched whine that began to assault his ears, becoming louder until its shrillness made him wince with discomfort. Other symptoms began to emerge. His chest constricted and tightened, and his breath came in short pants, leaving him with an unsatisfying amount of oxygen.
And then agony. His throat seared with pain, and his body arched off the ground in protest. His hands seemed to forget their former inactivity and jumped to his ears and neck, as if their presence could somehow make the pain stop. John didn't even hear himself scream wholeheartedly for it to end.
The cacophony and torture ceased abruptly. John lay still and unmoving, fearing that movement would prompt it to return. The eerie quietness was gone, testified by the sound of his ragged breathing. He sought to calm himself, assess the situation with a collected mind. He wondered again how he could possibly have ended up like this, supposing that a case with Sherlock was the most likely answer.
His eyes forgot their former inactivity and shot open as he remembered the detective. Dark foggy surroundings greeted his eyes. He had no memory of coming to a place like this, although that fact did not truly surprise him at this point. But he dismissed that observation hurriedly; finding Sherlock was his main priority. If John was in this condition, he was terrified that Sherlock might be in a much graver one.
That was unless, of course, Sherlock wasn't here with him at all. Christ, John couldn't help hoping that he wasn't alone. He didn't want Sherlock to be even remotely hurt, of course he didn't. But the idea of being alone here didn't appeal to his subtle sense of selfishness. He couldn't even imagine getting home in one piece without assistance. Although the thought that Sherlock mightbe harmed in some way was enough to pump fierce determination into him. He had to find Sherlock; he had to.
He tried to move his arm and use some momentum to propel himself up from the ground. A sharp pain shot through it when he placed and put weight on his extended arm. He crumpled back to the ground, face colliding with the pavement. His throat gave out an involuntary sharp yelp before he could even consider trying to block out the discomfort. It alerted a nearby someone to his presence.
"John?" called an anxious familiar voice. "Where are you?"
John prayed that he had correctly identified the voice reaching out to him. He tried to call out Sherlock's name, but his throat was too raw and dry from his screaming to articulate anything. His attempts came out more as strangled whimpers. His eyes fluttered closed again, though he barely could tell the difference between the resulting darkness and the obscurity of the night and fog. No, he thought, someone was looking for him, Sherlock was looking for him; he had to keep his eyes open! He opened them again and heard the sounds of hurried footsteps coming towards him from the enveloping dark environs.
The footsteps stopped and John sensed that someone was kneeling next to him, an urgent hand placed on his back and another turning his face so that it was no longer facing the ground. He groaned at the sensation.
"John, look at me. Open your eyes!"
When had his eyes shut again? He battled to open them and was rewarded with the sight of Sherlock's concerned face swimming just above his own. He seemed extraordinarily close. He might have felt Sherlock's breath on his cheek if he had felt less numb. He rarely saw Sherlock so close to him, but it wasn't like he could really take in all the little details that he missed when they upheld the traditional personal space between them. John could have sworn that he heard Sherlock mutter 'thank god' under his breath, but he attributed that to his still hazy senses.
"I'm going to turn you over. This… This will probably hurt, brace yourself. On the count of three."
Sherlock accordingly turned him. John couldn't help hissing in pain as his injured shoulder and arm scraped along the rough ground. He tried to slur out Sherlock's name, but could only make a vague shushing sound. He missed Sherlock's pained expression on witnessing his outburst of pain. However, he did notice when Sherlock's long fingers began to delicately poke at his skin, examining his body for injuries. John tried to let out a mingled noise of indignation and pain, although it was mostly the latter.
"I'm merely ascertaining the extent of your injuries. Your shoulder is dislocated. It normally wouldn't be this painful, but considering that it is the same shoulder wounded in Afghanistan, the additional strain and irritation is not exactly ideal. Your other injuries are minor, a few scratches and bruises and a raw throat. I have some water for that. I'm going to move you into a sitting position."
Sherlock's deceptively strong arms wrapped around his shoulders and waist and raised his body. He was propped up against something more vertical and solid. The arms then vanished and John felt something being pressed against his lips with a command to drink. He felt water running into his mouth and he swallowed greedily, feeling relief starting to spread down to the base of his throat.
And then he felt his shoulder snap into place with a sickening noise. John choked and spluttered at the unexpected pain, his mouth expelling the water that he had been enjoying up to that point.
"I had to reset it before the shock and numbness of the situation wore off. It would make it considerably more painful," explained Sherlock in an apologetic tone, or at least, as close to apologetic as he could sound.
"Not while drinking," John rasped at last when he found his voice, although the weak volume made him sound much less threatening. John craned his neck to try and view the shoulder in question, prodding with his finger to see if it had set correctly. "I'll have to make a sling for that," he muttered when he took his hand away.
Sherlock did not bother replying, putting his hand through a rip in John's shirt near the neck and rubbing soothing circles with his fingertips over the offended area. The touch was comforting now that John was beginning to feel the effects of the cold more and more. It should have felt odd, John's mind reminded him; something like this was almost intimate in nature. But he found that he didn't care; the touch felt good, and he wasn't about to stop Sherlock anytime soon.
Sherlock continued the motion for a few minutes until the pain had subsided and John's head was becoming clearer. Sherlock gave him a look, which asked 'better?' to which John stiffly nodded in reply; he was feeling about as well as he was ever going to under the circumstances. Sherlock, who had maintained a crouched position beside John, now seated himself beside John, staring thoughtfully out into the surrounding fog. This action prompted John's next question.
"How did we get here? Where exactly is 'here'?"
John resisted the urge to roll his eyes, considering that Sherlock had to answer the latter, less important question first, but he didn't push it, assuming that he had a reason to ignore the more pressing issue. Instead he asked, "How do you know?"
"Because, unlike you, I did not sustain any injuries or lose my coherency."
"It's nothing to do with my head not being screwed on properly. It's dark, so how can you know for sure?" John asked with a pronounced scowl.
"I had to run some distance in my efforts to get to you, and I briefly took in my surroundings. Additional observation has confirmed my initial hypothesis. The width and other architectural features make it quite distinctive even in the fog. Although," he paused, "it does look somewhat different now that I am able to observe it more closely."
"Different? It's Westminster Bridge, how could it be different?"
"It appears to be newer, and the paint is a slightly different shade and more carefully maintained."
John shook his head. "Look, I don't really care about the paint right now. Just tell me what happened. You do know, don't you?" John's voice began to grow in strength as questions bubbled to the surface of his mind. "How did we get here?"
But Sherlock paid him no heed, instead muttering under his breath and not noticing John's bewilderment giving away to severe annoyance, as his head was still too woozy to follow what the detective was saying in that fast voice of his.
"Sherlock!" he exclaimed. The detective turned to look at him with surprise, like he hadn't expected to see John sitting beside him. John felt a slight pain as he identified Sherlock's expression; the one that indicated that he had become unaware of John's very existence until he had been forced to remember. It was a pain that had become less novel with the more time he spent with his flatmate, but still hurt nonetheless. "I don't understand what's happening," John finished quietly, cursing the helpless that had bled into his voice.
Sherlock frowned. "I –"
He stopped speaking abruptly and cocked his head, as if he had heard something and was trying to listen for it again. In the next moment, Sherlock pressed himself and John back against the wall, hiding in the shadows and the fog, and thoroughly invading John's personal space. John was about to yelp in pain as his injured arm was jostled, when a gloved hand covered his mouth and the ensuing noise of pain. "Apologies," Sherlock whispered in his ear, before turning his face away in the direction of the noise. John followed his gaze and saw two men walking past arm in arm, unaware of their presence.
As soon as they were out of earshot Sherlock removed his hand, but still stayed pressed up tight to John. John's body had become sore with tension, his muscles flexing wildly at being in such close proximity to the detective. To be touching and so close to a man who typically tried to avoid human touch was certainly not something he experienced everyday. John casually reminded himself that he needed oxygen, and exhaled a stuttering breath.
"We will remain here in case anyone else approaches," Sherlock murmured by way of explanation.
After taking a few moments to ease his quick beating heart John spoke. "Did you see what they were wearing?" he whispered. "It looked like something out of a costume drama, Andrew Davies kind of stuff." He saw a frown form on Sherlock's face, and misinterpreted it. "What, Mrs. Hudson made me watch Pride and Prejudice with her!" he said defensively.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I don't presume to care about what television you watch, either with or without Mrs. Hudson."
John scowled. "Then what's this about? Is this some kind of prank? It sure as hell isn't funny."
"That was not a costume. That was authentic clothing."
"They bought vintage suits?"
Sherlock growled in frustration. "Authentic, John. As in, not a costume and certainly not vintage. One can easily see from here that those clothes looked new. And no one wearing a costume or vintage would be able to wear that outfit with such ease without practice, the amount of practice that only comes with years of wear unless you are a man of my capabilities. Also, that degree of clothing detail is very rarely replicated so thoroughly or accurately."
John's patience was wearing thin as he was still not catching onto what Sherlock was talking about. "But what does that mean, how does that tell us what the bloody hell is going on?"
"We are on Westminster Bridge but it doesn't look the same. Men are walking around wearing suits reminiscent of the nineteenth century. Persistent heavy fog, almost like…" Sherlock paused to gather his thoughts, before he looked up at John quickly. "John. I suspect that somehow…"
Realization finally dawned on John. He inhaled sharply. "No. No. That is absolutely impossible, you know that better than I do!"
"It is the only explanation that makes sense!" Sherlock hissed out in frustration. "It is the only explanation of all the facts! This is nineteenth century London. Somehow, we are in nineteenth century London."
There was a brief pause while John surveyed the detective carefully. "I may have figured this out rather late Sherlock, because god knows that I've seen you come up with enough ridiculous deductions and behave erratically around the flat, but you are absolutely insane," he said slowly. "Thoroughly insane. Because there is no way, and I mean no way, that we are in the nineteenth century. No fucking way."
"This is all a dream; I will wake up in a minute and be back home in my bed. Everything will be normal again. Maybe if I just pinch myself really hard... Fuck me that hurt!" John yelped as he rubbed at his self-inflicted wound.
After a few minutes had passed it dawned on Sherlock that John wasn't going to be convinced any time soon, especially after his failed attempts at calming John down. Considering the humour that John was in, he probably didn't want to be calmed down. After waiting while John paced violently, muttering expletives under his breath, Sherlock decided to not waste any more time in attempting to make John come to terms with the situation before he was ready.
During his foul-mouthed monologue, John failed to notice that Sherlock had slipped off and disappeared. John stopped abruptly mid rant, and looked around for the detective a few minutes later when his senses had partially returned to him. "Sherlock?" His words were greeted with silence. While John had briefly forgotten his tired and aching body during his frantic pacing, he was sharply reminded of it now that he had stopped and became aware of how alone he was.
"Where have you gone off to now? You can't tell me these things and then run off! Sherlock!"
John called for Sherlock a few more times and received no reply. Realizing that it would be foolish to go looking for Sherlock in the dense fog when John had no idea where he was and where to look, John sat back down against the wall, waiting for Sherlock to return.
He didn't have to wait long it happened, although that small blessing did little to ease John's bad humour. After an insufferable ten-minute wait, Sherlock appeared once more beside him. There was one noticeable change however.
"What are you wearing?" John inquired in a hostile tone, as Sherlock thrust a bundle of clothes into his arms. Sherlock was dressed similarly to the two men who had passed them earlier. A shabby black suit hung off of his lean frame, with a cravat tightly adorning his neck and a hat on top of his messy curls. John couldn't help noticing that Sherlock's new attire emphasized and accentuated his slim profile and long legs, despite it being somewhat loose fitting.
"I am wearing clothes. Honestly John, I thought that even you could surmise as much," Sherlock said, punctuating the verbal jab with his typical eye roll. "We can't go around in our normal clothes; we would attract too much unwanted attention. So put those on, and then we can examine our surroundings." As Sherlock spoke, his fingers fidgeted at some stray threads emerging from the scantily sewn buttons of his new jacket. He knotted the threads around his fingers and severed them with a quick tug. The brief action had John mesmerized, but he soon came back to himself and realized what Sherlock had said, and made a reply.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, clearly not expecting this response. "No?"
"No. This is some kind of crazy joke. By wearing those clothes I'm accepting that this is all real. And I have by no means accepted that, and furthermore, I don't intend to do so."
"The sooner you start taking this in, the easier everything will be for the both of us. We need to start acting; sitting around and denying our situation will not help us to resolve it. Think about it John, how would someone go about making such an elaborate hoax? And why? What is the point in making us think that we have traveled back in time?"
"Well, Anderson gets pissed at you often enough."
Sherlock scoffed. "Anderson does not have the intelligence to pull this off; you know that as well as I do. No, the only person clever enough to execute something like this is Moriarty, and even you should be able to tell that his flamboyance doesn't extend this far. So put on the clothes and then we can start exploring."
"Where did you even get these from?"
"Surely my interactions with Lestrade have shown you that it is no difficult feat to take items from unobservant people. And almost everyone is unobservant excepting myself."
"You stole them then?"
Sherlock smirked. "Semantics, John."
As John opened his mouth to protest once more, Sherlock cut him off with a hard expression, saying, "If you don't start putting them on now, I will undress you myself. I am confident that with your injured shoulder, I can easily overpower you. It's your decision."
John felt the heat rise to his face as Sherlock spoke, although he wasn't entirely sure why that was. Was it just the idea of Sherlock forcibly trying to strip him down? Yes, John thought vehemently, that was purely the reason, and there was no need to try to pinpoint the emotion further. With that, he turned his back to Sherlock for some modicum of privacy and began to undress.
A few minutes later John had changed into the essentials, but only after swearing at the cold when he had stripped down to his boxers. Maneuvering into his new shirt and jacket also proved difficult considering that he had used his own torn and dirty shirt as a makeshift sling for his shoulder underneath, but he managed. With these articles of clothing in place, he was almost ready. The fingers of his free hand still stumbled hopelessly over the cravat however, even after a minute of surveying it and attempting to picture how it could be transformed from the material in his hand to the elegant knots around Sherlock's neck. He doubted that he could manage it even with the use of both hands.
After he struggled for another few seconds, suddenly Sherlock strode over to him. He swatted John's hands away and looped it around his neck. Sherlock deftly tied and knotted it so quickly that John had to bite his tongue to prevent his typical exclamations of wonder that made Sherlock look so smug when he heard them, no matter how nonchalant he might attempt to act.
"How do you even know how to do this? Or do I want to know?" John asked when Sherlock had finished.
Sherlock chuckled quietly. "I've certainly had occasions to practice, although they would probably fall under your 'I don't want to know' category that you have established. I'll have to teach you how to tie it later. You'll need to become familiar with it, and you certainly won't be able to pick it up yourself without my instruction."
"Because we obviously don't have better things to be doing than learning how to tie cravats and inflating your ego, do we?" said John with a slight smile.
"Quite," said Sherlock, returning the half-grin.
John's face turned solemn all of a sudden as the implications of Sherlock's words struck, the implication from the need to learn how to dress properly in this time period. "Is this honestly happening right now? You really aren't joking are you?"
"How are we going to get home?" John tried to keep the desperation out of his voice but he couldn't hide it from Sherlock. Sherlock always saw right through him when he wanted to, it seemed.
In a rare show of comfort, Sherlock hesitantly put his hand on John's uninjured shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "I don't know. But if we arrived here despite all the impossibilities, there must be a way back, however improbable. That is all we can be certain of for now."
After his brief speech, Sherlock then turned and began to walk away from John, intent on not wasting any more time by fretting needlessly. Somewhat reluctantly, John started to follow Sherlock off of the bridge and into the nearby streets in complete silence. John was accustomed to keeping his mouth shut while Sherlock was deep in his observation mode, which Sherlock had clearly snapped into. But that was not the sole reason for his reticence on this occasion. John just didn't know what to say. He was in a permanent state of bewilderment, unable to fully take anything in. While part of his brain screamed at him that the whole thing was impossible, another part was telling him that Sherlock was right. And since when had Sherlock ever been wrong on something as big and important as this?
Another part of John's mind also couldn't help but feel unbelievably self-conscious, acutely aware of his uncomfortable new attire. It was a small concern in the general scheme of things, but it persisted anyway. He saw other strangers walking past him completely at ease, or seemingly so. They were obliviously secure in the world in which they found themselves. The ability to carry themselves purposefully and confidently was easy to see in them. John envied them. He had never felt so conspicuous and out of place, even in Afghanistan.
Unlike Sherlock who strode on quickly and gracefully, John slowed his pace to accustom himself to his surroundings and his guise. He kept a close eye on Sherlock so that he didn't lose track of him in the fog, but he made no effort to remain strictly by his side at all times. They both needed some time to themselves after all. They walked on like this for a few minutes, before John knocked straight into Sherlock's side, who had stopped suddenly in front of the doctor, which John had failed to notice. Sherlock's hand shot out to steady him, before gently turning John to face one of the buildings.
John gasped for what felt like the hundredth time that hour. "It's still here!" he breathed.
"I recall Mrs. Hudson once saying that there used to be plenty of vacancies here even when the building was originally built. Perhaps we should enquire as to whether they have any lodgings available," said Sherlock with an amused smirk.
With that he strode to the front door and put a pale hand on the large brass knocker. Above it, emblazoned in gold characters, was an eerily familiar sequence.