John would be lying if he said he had lived a boring life.
A youth spent in fighting, questing, flirting, and where had it got him? A name that conjures an image that they weave in tapestries and write about in poems and a head full of memories. Granted, it was nice to have instant recognition whenever you walked into a new town, complete with every yokel in the land wanting to buy an ale for the gallant, the famous, Sir John Watson. But memories are tricky things. Fallible and all too quick to kick a man when he’s down.
Like, for instance, when you wake up and remember that no matter what you accomplish in life, the woman you love can still run off and marry the local king. Just because.
Yup. Daybreak and already time for a drink , John thought, groaning into his pillow as he reached blindly for a handy jug of table wine.
He hadn’t always been a slovenly has-been. Shaggy hair, unwashed, unshaven. There once was a time when John thought nothing in the world would knock him off his high horse. He had the finest clothes, the best armor, hired the most qualified squire in the land to assist him on his quests. John had amassed a wealth that any dragon would envy. In fact, he grew his own by nabbing the hoard of more than a few slayed dragons. He had worked hard to make himself successful and done any and everything to stay that way. He ran off bandits and churlish mercenaries. He slayed beasts of every kind. He went off to fight wars for the king. He rescued damsels in distress for god’s sake!
But, despite feeling like he’d never come down from the heavens, one event made him crash to earth like Icarus to the sea. A wedding, almost a year gone by, stripped John of all sense of hero-ness.
Unwanted, unasked for, the image of that fateful day replayed in his head even as he tried to erase it with the drink. The echoing voices of time past called to him from inside his head.
John, newly returned from questing, came back to his idyllic town hoping for the arms of his lovely lady, Mary. But alas, the villagers screamed and wailed at him, “she’s been kidnapped, sir! By King Richard!” It had been a week since and no news of Mary had been forthcoming and John feared the worst for his poor sweetheart.
He rode hard for King Richard’s castle, determined to rescue Mary. While stopping just long enough to rest his horses at an inn, he learned that the next day was to be the date of a rushed, royal wedding. That King Richard had found himself a beautiful angel of golden hair and witty demeanor to be his new queen.
Armed with this knowledge, knowing that it could only be his Mary, he pushed his horse to ride through the night to make it just in time to see the sun rise above the castle. He was able to stop the wedding before the binding words “I do”.
John swept into the over decorated cathedral, packed with courtiers and flowers and soldiers to rescue Mary from her kidnapper. Proudly, confidently, he strode the length of the rich, purple carpet laid out in the aisle, smiling all the way.
“Mary, my love! I am here to rescue you from your peril.”
Mary beamed at him. “Oh, John!”
“King Richard, you can have your guards fight with me from dawn till dusk, to an even draw. If you’re sporting for a tourney. And yes, you can offer her riches beyond all our imaginations, comfort for all her days, and endless support and an easy life. But I, only I, John Watson, can give her what her heart truly desires. True love. And that, my King, is what she chooses.” He ended his speech with a courteous bow just before them, waiting for his lady love’s confirmation.
Silence. Confusion. John looked up to see Mary’s pained expression.
John’s stomach sank, mouth suddenly dry.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since King Richard kidnapped me and...I’m going to go with the fortune and security.” Her expression turned soft, guilty. “Just seems like an easier life, you know?”
John couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The pain of rejection coupled with the public humiliation made his head swim. He was so shocked that he never had time to react before King Richard’s men grabbed him and carried him outside, the sound of Mary’s “I hope we can be friends!” calling after him before he was beaten like a rug.
And, god help him, he let them. He was a broken man, might as well look the part as well.
Grunting at the acidic taste of bad wine in this mouth, John swallowed it and the memory down. He flopped back into bed, willing his aching head to go stuff itself down a well. Peace, quiet, and a jug of decent ale were all he dared hope for these days.
The door slammed open and John’s squire, Greg, came waltzing in, happily bidding him good morning. “How are we feeling today, Sir?”
“What in god’s name do you want, Greg?”
“I see we’re getting an early start on your to-drink list this morning,” Greg chuckled back. He pried the jug from John’s fingers and John protested loudly with groaning before sliding back down between the sheets.
“You know ever since Mary-”
“Don’t say her name,” John groused.
“-married the King,” Greg continued over him, “you haven’t been quite the same.”
“You don’t say,” John spat back sarcastically.
“Don’t you think it’s time to get back out there? Go on questing again? Bring down a couple dragons, maybe a gryphon, enchant a few forest nymphs, keep that name of yours infamous.”
“A perfectly selfless suggestion, I’m sure.” John buried his head in his pillow, refusing to open his eyes and entertain the idea. “My questing has nothing to do with your squire duties and your own career at all.”
“None at all,” Greg facetiously agreed.
“You know I’ve given you more than a dozen chances to leave my employ. You’re the one insisting on coddling me.” John rolled onto his back to stare at his grubby ceiling. “And I let you because I am a selfish man.”
Greg sighed and crossed the room to look down at John. “Would you at least entertain the idea of a quest?” Silence answered him. “Because there is a man bringing with him a great opportunity. One that I think will whet your appetite for adventure again.”
Greg strode over to the door and opened it, welcoming someone inside. “Sir John, I present to you, Lord Mycroft Holmes.”
A man, dressed impeccably in black breeches and coat, stepped into John’s tiny hovel and nodded his head in John’s direction. He gripped a walking stick in his hand, leaning on it slightly as he took in the details of John’s home. Greg saw himself out, giving Lord Holmes an opportunity to beg his case.
“Sir John, I presume.”
John sat up, cursing his aching head as he did so. He looked at the man before him and grinned a crooked grin, giggling as he took him in. “So the legends say.”
“Hardly legends,” Mycroft said under his breath.
“Depends on who you ask.” John bent down to put his boots on. “State your business. The quicker you do, the quicker I can toss you out, eh?”
Mycroft rolled his eyes and said. “As your squire said, I have a quest for you,” the man stopped short and asked, “dare I ask what that smell is?”
John huffed a brief chuckle, rising from the bed. “That’d be me.”
Mycroft sniffed in disgust. “Right. Anyway, I’m sure you know who I am.”
“Yes, yes,” John began as he stalked his way over to his chair and table, searching for a bit of breakfast. “Lord Mycroft Holmes, heir to the realm of Posh-ville and advisor to your father the King. What could you possible want from me?”
“A quest that would be mutually beneficial.”
“That is how quests usually go. Mutually beneficial-y.”
“Two years ago my brother and I had an argument. I thought that it was rather minor but apparently I underestimated his emotions. He snuck out and ran away from home. After ten days of tracking we finally found him. He had locked himself in a tower and cast a spell upon himself.” Mycroft pulled out a well-worn letter and read it aloud, despite obviously having memorized the words.
“Dear brother-mine, you’re growing slow in your old age and added weight. I suggest laying off the cakes chef’s making and spend more time on your sparring. Can't have the future king keeling over due to a fatty diet, god forbid. Had you done so from the beginning, you might have prevented my taking the decision to bring me back out of your hands. Good luck breaking the spell. Ta-ta, don’t let the door hit your gigantic arse on the way out.” Mycroft calmed folded the paper and put it back in his pocket and added, “he has quite the flair for the dramatic.”
“And you obviously want me to go retrieve your stroppy brother is that it?”
“In a nutshell.” Mycroft leaned heavily on the walking stick and said, “there are certain parameters to this spell he put on himself that must be followed if it is to be broken.”
“What did you do,” John asked.
Finding an apple amongst the debris on the table, John took a bite and asked again, “what did you do? You obviously did something to warrant such a, as you say, dramatic exit. And what sort of spell are we talking about? I’m not exactly a wizard or magician, here.” Not that John was terribly interested in donning his armor and charging out on his horse any time soon. Still, he was curious.
“That does not concern you.”
“It could,” John pointed out.
“It really couldn’t,” Mycroft insisted.
Shrugging and taking another bite of apple, John motioned for the man to continue. “The spell my brother, Sherlock in case you were wondering, has put him in an eternal sleep.”
“Sounds like a hard prognosis to cure.”
“To break it,” Mycroft went on, ignoring John’s input, “requires two things. First, that he is not moved from his resting place. Secondly, that he be woken with a kiss.”
He actually, truly laughed. From the depths of his belly, climbing up his throat and bursting from his mouth like a stream, his laughter gripped him suddenly and tightly. It had been so long since he laughed without abandon that his stomach and cheeks soon hurt with the convulsions. He wiped his tearing eyes and said, “sorry, sorry, that’s just.” He broke out into a brief laugh once more before sobering enough to get a sentence out. “Oh, that is rich. Thank you for that.”
“I’m glad to have amused you,” Mycroft said, clearly unamused.
“But that is some fairytale shit, Lord Holmes. And I’m no fairytale hero.”
“That’s not what the legends say.”
John huffed, suddenly unamused. “Hardly legends.” Another bite of apple. “You said so yourself.”
Mycroft eyed him for a long minute, categorizing details, making John want to squirm in his seat. After a few full minutes of heavy silence Mycroft said with a sneer, “what happened to you?”
John put his feet up on his table, leaning back and presenting his whole self, no longer caring what anyone thought. “I lost everything. Everything that meant anything to me. And my family has a nasty tendency to drown their sorrows in the drink.” He reached down to grab an empty bottle for emphasis before tossing it aside. “Add all that together and,” he gestured to himself and said, “ta-da!”
Mycroft looked pale, uncertain and disgusted. “Irrelevant. I need your skillset and unfortunately that skillset is attached to you.”
John huffed humorlessly under his breath, “irrelevant.” At once, John stood and said, “nice to meet you.” John pointed to the door, “door’s on the wall.” He spied an unopened bottle of wine and raised it in mock-cheer, before heading back towards his bed.
Mycroft reached out and stopped him with a hand to John’s shoulder. “Please.” His voice screamed of a man unaccustomed to asking twice or saying please. “You will be generously compensated.”
“You’ll increase your fame and glory.”
“Oh, most definitely,” John agreed.
“And you’ll serve a purpose besides being serving as an incredible mimic of a dungheap.”
“Absolutely.” John smiled at him, throwing an arm around Mycroft’s shoulder, leading him to the door.
“So, you’ll do it?”
John opened the door, smile growing wider. “Not a chance.” He shoved the rich ponce out his door before slamming it in his face.
Several hours later John found himself in the local pub, staring at the bottom of his tankard. Thoroughly drunk and bent on assured destruction, he called to the barkeep.
“Billy! Biiilly! I think there’s a hole in my tankard for you to fill.” He pushed the vessel towards the man and pouted his most innocent pout. He knew the boy found him pretty, even if John never humored it. Though, he had spent his last penny on dinner so maybe “singing” for his supper in Billy’s chambers would be worth it to keep himself in beer.
Billy walked over, took the tankard and John smiled at him. The man looked at him with a sad look and said, “I’m gonna have to cut you off, John.”
“Come on, Billy!” John batted his eyelashes. “It’s me, your pal.”
“S’for your own good. You can’t pay for it anyway.”
“I’m sure we can come to an,” John draped his hand over Billy’s as it held his empty tankard. He let every ounce of honeyed flirtation filter into his voice, “arrangement.”
Billy’s sad smile turned to a grimace as he plucked John’s hand off his own and dropped it unceremoniously onto the bar. “I don’t think so.” He walked off, taking John’s empty tankard with him.
Desperate for another drink, John scanned the bar for a friendly face and found the last person, besides Mary, he ever wanted to see eyeing him smugly from the back corner. Burying the last shreds of his pride he got up and sauntered over to the man in question and dropped himself in the seat across from him.
“Well hello there, Lord Holmes. Can I buy you a drink?”
“No. But I’m sure you’d like me to buy you one.”
John waggled a finger at him. “Right, clever you are.”
“I will do more than that. I’ll buy your next meal and keep you in ale for the duration of my stay.”
John squinted at him in suspicion. “Why?”
“Because I want you to really think about my offer.”
John sighed and ran a hand through his long, overdue for a cut, shaggy hair, and said. “Fine. I’ll humor you. Order up, then, please.”
True to his word, Mycroft ordered them what counted as a feast in John’s small town. Plates of sausages and cheese, a whole loaf of bread, a large meat pie, and even a fruit plate for dessert. John was thoroughly impressed. They ate in silence, John watching Mycroft as they ate. Their mugs never ran dry and Billy refrained from commenting on John’s new benefactor.
After they had both eaten their fill, John was ready to leave for the night when Mycroft stopped him. “So what’s your story?”
“Tell me, why is it that you are...the way you are?”
John shook his head. “Nope.”
“After all this,” Mycroft swept a hand over their empty plates, “I deserve a little backstory.”
“I never put out on the first date,” John quipped.
“Not what I hear.”
“Well, if you know that then surely you know what happened to me? I’ve become the laughing stock of the land.”
“I’d love to hear it in your own words, please.”
“If I do will you tell me why you came to me?”
Mycroft shrugged. “Sure. Why not.” He pointed to John, “but you first.”
John nodded and raised his mug in a silent plea for a fresh refill. After receiving it he delved into his sad tale. How he had gone off to find and kill an ogre that was terrorizing a far off village. How he had come back to hear that his love had been kidnapped by a king. How she had humiliated him with her rejection, spurning his love for her. How he didn’t fight the beating he got afterward. How he spiraled out of control, getting into fights in the pub and refusing quests left and right, leading many to believe he was washed up.
“Pathetic,” Mycroft blurted out at a particularly flowery description of despair.
John blinked. “I’m sorry, didn’t you ask me to tell my story.”
“Listen, Sir John,” Mycroft drawled the title sarcastically, “the woman didn’t love you. And you show that she was right in her rejection by falling apart and making everyone believe that you’re broken.”
“Why did you even ask me to tell you,” John asked, hands thrown up in exasperation.
“Because I wanted to know just how far down to rock bottom you’ve fallen and you, John Watson, have sunk low enough to reach bedrock!”
John growled through his teeth, his small sense of pride smarting. “Then why ask me to go on a quest for you, hmm? You never said before and now clearly you find me unworthy of the task so why!”
“Because you are the last “hero” left worth asking!” Mycroft breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. “Do you think you were my first choice to wake Sherlock? You’re a fool if you did. I sent the best of men! Ten, in the last two years!” He added softer, almost a whisper, “none of them were able to wake Sherlock.”
A silence stretched between them uncomfortably. Finally, John broke it. “Bad kissers, then?”
Mycroft scowled. “So it would seem.”
“What else goes into this spell? What is it that they did wrong? Why do you think I’ll be the one to get it right?”
“I’m taking a chance here, Sir John. Magic is a fickle thing but it has rules and criteria and apparently none of the other knights had filled all the requirements. Something was missing.”
“And you think I have it, is that it?” Mycroft nodded. Then John thought of something. “Why do you need your brother back so badly?”
Mycroft tilted his head ever so slightly, suddenly amused by the question. “You mean besides the ties of familial love?”
John smiled. “Obviously.”
Mycroft pursed his lips and tapped them with a finger, organizing his thoughts. After a breath he said, “I worry about him. Constantly. Always have. My brother has special talents, you see.”
“Only one of many, I assure you. We need him to come home so he can do a job.”
“Let me guess, left his room a mess when he left, did he?”
“Yes, but that’s beside the point.” Mycroft folded his hands and rested them on the table and looked to be deciding something. “I can tell you’re curious. Thirsty for a challenge despite the rot you’ve cultivated for yourself.” Mycroft raked his eyes over John and he felt his skin prickle beneath the man’s gaze, his hackles rising. “You’re not that different from my brother, you know. So dramatic. Making such a fuss over a woman who didn’t love you because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do after you lose someone. Supposed to wilt until something worth getting back up for comes along. Well, here’s your chance, John.”
Just drunk enough to truly want his old hero’s life back John leaned in, resting his own hands on the table. He fixed Mycroft with the best imitation of his serious stare from back in the day and asked, “what do you need Sherlock for.”
Mycroft quirked his lips in a smirk. “We need him to bring down Moriarty.”
John sagged back in his chair, utterly deflated.
Moriarty. The most fearsome sorcerer whoever lived. And Mycroft wanted to take him out of the picture.
John rose and turned to leave and froze when Mycroft called to his back, “coward.”
John whirled on him and snarled. “What did you say.”
“Merely pointing out what’s right in front of me. A coward.”
“What I am is a man who has every intention of maintaining my attachment to life.”
“And what a fine attachment it is. Really, you maintain it well, John. Getting blind, piss drunk in the pub every night until even the barkeep won’t tolerate you anymore. Bravo.”
John reached across the table to grasp the lapels of Mycroft’s coat in his fists, rage surging through him. “It’s my life, damn it!”
“Some life,” Mycroft sneered softly. “You’re pissing it away when you know damn well what you should be doing with yourself. Making the world a better place by the way of your sword. Becoming a legend on horseback.”
John sagged, knowing the man was right. But was the old gallant John Watson still in him somewhere? He seemed so far away, drowned in booze and depression.
Mycroft sensed him warring with himself, trying to decide between continuing to rot in depression and reaching for his former life. He gently pried John’s fingers from his coat and said, “everyone says you’re washed up. Finished. Broken.” He straightened his clothes and leveled John with a loaded gaze. “Prove them, and me, wrong. Take the quest. Make your legend.”
John rose to his full height and squared his shoulders. It was true. He had missed adventuring. Even while he couldn’t rouse motivation for nothing more than drinking, he hated every second he’d spent wallowing. Enough was enough. He would jump back in the saddle and regain his honor and pride.
Nodding once he said, “Greg and I ride at dawn.”
“Thank you, Sir John.”
Without another word John left the pub, stride full of purpose. He would do one more quest. One that would be sung about in epic poems. His name would join the likes of Achilles and Robin Hood.
He would go wake Sherlock.