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Everglow

Chapter Text

 

Oh Fortune,

Variable as the moon,

Always dost thou wax and wane.

Detestable life,

First dost thou mistreat us,

And then whimsically,

Thou heedest our desires.

As the sun melts the ice,

So dost thou dissolve

Both poverty and power.

 

 

~

 

 

Magick is real.

A reality considered both a blessing, and a curse.

People – humans and humanoid cousins, ie; Warlocks, Mages and Enchanters, alike - have pondered the existence of a world without it. Would life be easier? Or made more difficult due to the lack of it? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This is the world as it is, and those are questions we will never have answers to.  

Magick is such an intrinsic part of who we are that imagining a world without it is to imagine oneself not needing oxygen to breathe. Even those who do not possess Magickal ability themselves reap the benefits vicariously as a natural part of the world’s culture; through medicine, entertainment and day to day life, to name a few. There are few things more diverse in ability and expression than that of Magick.

However, one thing has always been clear; no matter how much further our knowledge of Magick progresses, though years go by and the information grows, it is obvious we will never reach a limit of understanding. There will always be a mysterious element to Magick and how it works with both the physical and metaphysical.

Particularly when it comes to Magick without control; learning to control one’s Magick, whether it presents at birth or puberty, is a natural part of growing – until the individual reaches physical maturity, by which point both Magick and control is fully matured along with the body and for the most part, safe – depending on how one chooses to use their gifts. Once control is achieved, it is exceedingly difficult to lose it. There are many theories as to why loss of control happens, some are primarily psychology based and others hypothesize more physical reasons. All have sufficient evidence to support them. I put more stock in the metaphysical school of thought, in conjunction with the psychology of the brain. Ultimately, because Magick is DNA level unique to the individual; generalized, universal knowledge on the subject is limited and varies in accuracy.

However, what has been gleaned is that deeply traumatic events must occur in order for Magick control to be lost, something that damages both the body and psyche, be it mental or emotional. The trigger for it is typically easy enough to figure out, and even predicting how an individual’s Magick will present in its uncontrolled state – this will be based on their species, abilities and level of power - is not particularly difficult, the true mystery is why recovering from loss of control is so arduous, and often inconsistent regardless of severity.

If there is one thing Magick isn’t, is black and white.

 

-DR. A. C. Doyle. EN. PHD, MD; Preeminent Psychiatrist, Medical Doctor and Author. (Introduction to VR 1.‘Magickal Minds’ 2010)

 

                                                             ~

 

 

John Watson could never have predicted how drastically his life would change in the course of a year.

It is a quiet evening for him; his love of an adventure-filled life doesn’t lessen his enjoyment of the smaller moments. In all honesty, there is no doubt in his mind he would go completely mad without the occasional minute to read, enjoy a cup of tea and get a spot of writing done.

John casts a gaze over the room before closing his eyes, much of it is in darkness and only aglow with the light of the fire; cozy, comforting…home. John rests his hands on the arms of his chair and takes a deep breath.

He is tired, and it isn’t long before he dozes off.

His nap is short, John wakes and noticing the darkness of the chill in the room glances over at the fireplace. His jumper, deep burgundy in colour, is barely warm enough in the cold December weather of London.

 

Bugger. Where is my favourite blanket when I need it? John sighs with a faint smile on his face, unconsciously rubbing his leg.

Enough time has passed for the fire to die down significantly. And so, with barely a movement, John casually reaches out a hand in the direction of the dwindling flames. The tingle along his arm is as familiar to him as the famed Watson nose. Were someone to see John now, there would be no outward sign that anything was happening, yet in a near instant the fire is instantly restored, flames reaching high, cradled in the fireplace arch.

Warmth floods the room. There are times John is exceedingly grateful to be an Augment.

“Much better.” John mutters happily to himself and lifts the book he had previously been reading.

‘Magickal Minds’

John frowns a bit. Why is he reading up on a subject he already knows a lot about? And much of that is from personal experience. Maybe he is reading on the subject for that very reason, not just because Doyle is an Author he enjoys indulging in (both fiction and nonfiction alike), but because he is curious on what someone he admires has to say about a subject he is so painfully, intimately, familiar with.

John is grateful to note that the same memories, once filled with despair, shame, and purposelessness, no longer have the same bite to his mind that they used to. There will always be a sense of bitter sweetness there, but given what happened that seems inevitable. There is perhaps one, very important reason why the sharp turns and changes his life has taken recently have ultimately been for the better.

And it is the reason why John is even alive.

No matter the bittersweet, regardless of what happens, John will always, always be grateful for him.

A small, miniature purple stone on the mantle shines in the light of the fire.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Fourteen Months ago…

 

“John! John! Oh god…John!”

“John Hamish Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, Veteran of St Bart’s Hospital in London, Paternal side Human with Magick and Mage maternal, early presentation of Magick at eight years of age, Honourably discharged due to injury-”

Heavy…feels like being weighed down by a million stones…can’t breathe…but what’s the difference? My life is already nothing…nothing happens…never ending days of nothing. Might as well make it official.

“-Class A1 Augment – ah, now that is intriguing. Don’t get many of you through here-”

The grip John had on his cane tightened and the tremor in his left hand caused him to flinch. The nasally voice of the intake nurse barely registered in the wake of the memories his weakened body seemed determined to remind him of.

“John! Stay with me…John…Yes! I’m at….Insomniac, Zolpidem overdose…alcohol, I don’t know how much…barely conscious, not breathing…name Dr. Mike Stamford, healing magic, able to keep him stable for now but - please hurry! Yes thank-you!”

“Suicide attempt via Zolpidem overdose exacerbated by alcohol-”

John had the passing thought that he should’ve used the gun, and ignored the mess that would make…and maybe save himself from this humiliating experience.

As much as John wanted to die, he woke in the hospital to the face of his crying sister and something changed. Maybe it was because he couldn’t remember the last time he saw Harriet cry, or maybe it was the notion that despite their estranged relationship she clearly still cared, whatever it was John felt…regret, and shame. John wasn’t sure whether the latter was because he failed to remember Mike’s impending visit to his pathetic army pension funded flat that day, or that he attempted to take his own life at all. He took those pills with no regrets (what was his life without purpose? He was of no use damaged, useless, he thought).

What John ended up regretting the most was not only did he not succeed; he ended up damaging himself further. He didn’t need the Doctors at the hospital to explain, even if he didn’t notice the Magick restraints on his wrists and ankles John knew, he felt it. Like observing something through a two way mirror, seeing it, unable to reach it, John lost control. His Magick went haywire.

John had the thought that the state of his Magick was now fully reflective of his state of mind and purpose, without direction, broken, damaged.

John Watson, former Solider, former Doctor, former.

Poetic justice? For what? Trying to kill himself? It was his life, and he couldn’t stand it.

“-Hm, with your power you would’ve had to have taken a lot. Even with control, your body’s automatic self defense would’ve kicked in to that level of poison, unless-”

John had no intention of enlightening her. She was clearly not that knowledgeable in this area, or she would’ve realized that committing suicide is not the same as being non-consensually poisoned. The importance of intent is drilled into the minds of Magickal kids from primary school.

John barely resisted the urge to glare at her where he stood and she sat at the guardhouse entrance desk, reading his file with fiendish speed. He wasn’t even in the main building yet, he dearly hoped not everyone was like this.

“-Your caregivers and physicians will discuss the details of your condition and what it means once your inside, but being a Doctor I’m sure you know all about it already-”

Hardly. I specialized in trauma surgery.

“-For now I can tell you, you’ll be given a room in Paget Wing, it is reserved for high level Magick users like yourself with both physical and psychological damage whose Magick in its uncontrolled state doesn’t cause damage to anyone but yourself-”

Small blessings. Since full powered Augments like himself are so rare (typically confined to mixed species offspring with one parent being a Mage, apparently), most can only increase the level of one or two things, like fire or antibodies in human beings, John can augment and amplify the degree, level and amount of anything “alive”, with an energy based power source. Within reason. He couldn’t increase his number of biscuits much to the disappointment of his barely presented nine year old self (his mixed parentage made his Magickal control significantly higher at an early age). It still made him exceedingly useful as a Doctor, especially in the army. John hadn’t personally known anyone with uncontrolled Augment Magick.

It didn’t really surprise him to discover that his Magick in a damaged, uncontrolled state would amplify nearby things compatible with his Magick to different levels at random. Which could be understandably dangerous.

John almost didn’t survive the trip to the hospital because he was told the Ambulance kept stopping and starting again – his Magick affecting the efficiency of the engine. Apparently he also exploded Mike’s watch. He only survived because Mike is a high-level Sorcerer; his healing, touched based Magick kept John stabilized just long enough to reach the hospital. On arrival they immediately put the wrist and ankle restraints on him, thus dulling his Magick completely until they could fully assess the situation.

Once he was awake and out of immediate danger, what little the hospital staff could tell him was that he would have to wear one restraint on his dominant hand at all times until he regained control completely.  It would restrain his Magick enough that it wouldn’t affect anything over with a high energy output, at most a few lights risk being turned off when he enters a room, and only if the bulbs are old, but allow him enough freedom to eventually regain control if he was able. A Doctor – John couldn’t remember his name - compared the state of his Magick now to John coming home to find a rave going on at his place, only the locks have been changed and now John has to create a brand new, totally different key from scratch.

John had thought the pain of his wounded shoulder and the limp in his leg was bad, it was nothing compared to being essentially powerless for the first time in his life.

He never let on how much the restraint hurt. He knew it was necessary and quite frankly, his pain was his own.

Grossly unprofessional attitude of the intake receptionist aside, his business was his own and the only reason he was even here was because both Mike and Harriet insisted. He’d only barely managed to get them to agree to let him come here alone.

John has no reason to be happy to be alive. So why wasn’t he angrier to be here?

“The BMC is the oldest and most highly regarded Magickal rehabilitation centre of his kind. Not only that, it is entirely Government funded. You know this John. Your stay would be long term, but I really do think that they could help you, not just with your Magick but-”

“Fine.”

“John-”

Fine.

“John, you need to talk to some-”

“Thank-you Mike, I’d rather be alone now, please.”

That conversation happened barely a few days ago. To John it felt like a lifetime.

“Well Dr. Watson, Hooper is the lead Doctor in the wing you’re being assigned to. She will be here momentarily to give you a tour and escort you to your room. Please, walk through those doors, down the path and take a seat in the area immediate to your left when you enter the main building. You should only have a five minute wait at most. Have a pleasant day!”

A pleasant day?  Bloody hell, this is already a nightmare.

John forced himself to smile politely and took the now filled out intake forms the receptionist handed to him.

The receiving room is small, and not a part of the main complex. Because of the sensitivity exuded by Magick users who are damaged in some way, it is safest for everyone to be as protected as possible.

John couldn’t even see beyond the high brick wall that greeted him when the cab dropped him off. The slight distortion in the air above it told John that more than physical barriers were protecting it. The receiving house looked like a small stone cottage and sat right in front of what must be the main gate, the only entrance to the facility is through the unremarkable building.

Overall, it rankled. But John was never one to avoid a situation because it might be dangerous, so, cane in hand, he walked across the mostly empty parking lot, ignoring everyone he passed, only peripherally noticing the tall trees blocking the main road from view and entered the house; which is where John began the uncomfortable conversation with the receptionist.

Thank god that’s over. John took whatever he could get.

Papers in his free hand, he gave the receptionist – Kathy, according to her nametag – a nod and walked down the hallway towards the tall double doors, passing more than one guard on his way.

When John reached out to open the door the sleeve of his army green coat pulled up revealing the thick leather bracelet, decorated with multiple symbols, on his wrist. Its purpose is not only to restrict his Magick, it is irremovable by him and would alert any nearby medical staff if he were of a mind to make a second attempt. He very purposefully ignored it and prayed to whatever God may be that this place wouldn’t sap the last of John’s dignity.

John opened the door. Holy….Christ.

He isn’t easily shocked, but his pace did slow upon seeing the sheer size of the place. There wasn’t just the mansion sized main building, architecture centuries old, but in the distance John could see others, equally as big on the property. The wall disappeared from view into a forest on either side; the only disturbance was a pair of metal doors John assumed were for vehicles. In front of John was a wide open lawn dotted with gardens and fountains. With winter around the corner, neither of those were at their peak, and the lawn had mostly turned a dull, shriveled brown with only spots of green.

The only thing that gave away the purpose of it all was the few patients, therapy animals, nurses and Doctors, outside walking with patients or talking in groups, all wearing similar non-descript uniforms and coats.

That was of course until John reached a large metal sign attached to two, similarly metal stone posts overarching the main, large stoned path wide enough for an army tank to traverse. 

 

              ‘Welcome to the Burd Memorial Centre for the Restoration, Rehabilitation and Treatment of the Magickally Impaired and Damaged. Circa 1895’

 

Brilliant. John frowned and kept walking, body aching hatefully the closer he got to those imposing double doors. He wondered then if this would be futile. Even when or if his Magick recovered, John would be no better off than he was before.

With a sigh, John pressed on. Nowhere to go but forward.

 

~

 

John approved of Dr. Hooper (“Call me Molly”). Not only was she obviously a capable Doctor, knowledgeable and professional without being condescending (a trait unfortunately common in his occupation), she didn’t show him pity; that more than anything made John respect her immediately, perhaps a bit enthusiastic for his state of mind but she was very matter of fact and didn’t treat him like a child. It felt like chatting with a colleague, a feeling John greatly missed.

What really surprised him though was when she told him she came from a long line of Witches, but that she was born without any Magickal ability whatsoever. There was still a substantial amount of stigma surrounding people like that, many referring to them as “duds”. John threw his first punch at age thirteen when a fellow classmate teased his friend Sarah for being such.

He didn’t feel all that sorry.

In a place as highly regarded as the BMC, job positions are difficult to get and it is a sad truth that seeing someone like Molly in such a high-level position is rare. It made John feel a bit better…though not by much.

After introducing herself, Dr. Hooper and John walked out of the large entrance hall – which had been bustling with activity, mostly staff and only one or two patients, none of whom paid them any mind, the area greatly resembled a large foyer, an effort to make the Centre more appealing probably – and through a door on the left. After that it was a maze of rooms and halls, and John definitely had no trouble believing the building belonged in the 19th century. The mix of new technology with the atmosphere of an old world manor was interesting.

Each time they entered a new area, Molly would scan the pendant on the end of her necklace and be let through. It didn’t matter that the restrictions were largely for safety; John couldn’t say he relished the idea of being restricted to a specific area, like a gilded prison.

Molly told him that each Wing acts like its own unit; Magickal barriers which allow all known residents and workers in a specific Wing to pass through it unimpeded, each with its own staff, both medical and otherwise; treatment programs tailored to each individual’s need, with a lead Doctor that reports to the main office, and sits on the BMC board. And unless a patient is unable, everyone has access to the outside.

 “As I’m sure Kathy told you, you will be housed in the Paget Wing. It’s small; we try not to crowd too many in one place. Too much inhibited Magick in one area, well-” Molly commented after a few moments of silence.

“Not good.” John finished, flexing his bound wrist.

She nodded and gave him a genuine smile, mousy brown hair bouncing a little. It wasn’t long before they stopped outside a pair of metal double doors that towered to twice his height. John and Dr. Hooper stood at the end of a long, red-carpeted hall, the entire left covered floor to ceiling in windows while the right sported multiple wooden doors, John had no idea where those led.

For the last time, Molly unlocked the doors with her pendant and pushed them open.

Almost immediately John collapsed.

Whoa! What the…Dizziness, the room swimming around him, John braced himself against the wall to his left and tried to breathe through his suddenly constricted windpipe, a loud humming buzzed in his ears and the band around his wrist felt like it was tightening enough to bruise.

John thought he vaguely heard voices, and felt hands guiding him…somewhere.

“Dr. Watson! John, can you hear me?”

Molly.

Feeling some support below him, John opened his eyes (when did he close them?) and looked around. He was sitting on a nearby chair, Molly kneeling at his feet and a couple of people in ivory scrubs John didn’t recognize stood close by. All were watching him with concern.

As soon as John started to focus on his surroundings, the humming, the dizziness and tightening on both his wrist and throat began to lessen. Instead he just felt drained.

That was…bizarre. What the hell? The feeling kind of reminded him of holding your breath underwater for too long.

It wasn’t rational, but seeing the concern on all their faces made John feel worse.

“I’m fine, just got…a bit dizzy.” Determined, he pushed himself up, consciously telling himself to not bloody fall over like an old man.

“Are you sure-”

“Yes. Let’s just…continue please?” John interrupted Molly, perhaps a bit curtly.

He felt a bit bad, but Molly didn’t push since it didn’t seem like he was going to keel over again. It was probably just exhaustion. It didn’t help knowing that there was no way they would allow him to take his sleeping pills, since that’s what he OD’d on in the first place. Very little else has helped his insomnia since coming back from the War.

“Alright.” Molly turned and dismissed the two orderlies. “We just entered Paget Wing, your room is nearby. It’s late so all the other residents are asleep. Tomorrow someone will come to your room and show you the rest of the wing, ok?” Molly looked at him a bit more searching than before.

John sighed. “Sure.” If only.

The two orderlies returned to their station and for the first time John noticed the room.

So…this is Paget Wing.

It was surprisingly cozy, in a way no other part of the facility was. Up until then it had been overbearing and opulent at best. Now…John wondered if all wings were like this. They were standing on the outskirts of a large rectangular room, one side curved with window seats, and directly across from that was a large half circle desk area against the opposite wall, upon which the night orderlies were sitting and conversing. 

The lighting was muted, but the room was by no means dark, though the sky had faded to deep, navy blue outside, the moon raised over top the trees. The walls were wood; the ceiling was criss-crossed wood, slightly curved and not overly high. The floor was wood also, nearly completely covered by a large, circular, red and brown embroidered rug. Other than a few sets of chairs against the unoccupied walls there was no other furniture. There were two doors, and two hallways branching off from it.

A big sign hung above the desk saying “Paget Wing”.

John couldn’t decide which emotion to feel in that moment. All he truly wanted was to sleep (if he could, he might just be exhausted enough to do it), and deal with…everything tomorrow.

What could he say? Nice place you have here, wouldn’t be right.

So John simply followed Molly when she made for the door (bypassing the two branching hallways) directly across from them.

“The first hallway there leads to the shared resident rooms, the second leads to the activity room, gardens, the Wing therapist and communal kitchen. Your room is private-” Thank god, John couldn’t help but think “-and those are through here, there are only three currently available-” Molly continued to talk as she opened the door. John half expected to collapse again, but was grateful when he didn’t. This hall had five doors, all with a significant amount of space between them, and was of décor very similar to the opening area; long carpet, all wood, there was a small sitting area off to the left with two sofas and a television. “-Your friend Dr. Stamford said you had a fondness for the colour green, so we gave you this room here.” Molly’s eyes were kind as she stopped at the first door on the left, waiting for him to open it.

John appreciated the thought, while at the same time wondering why Mike would tell Molly his favourite colour.

John tried not to feel a sense of impending doom as he opened the door.

Well, it was definitely green. The floor was beige carpet, but the walls were a deep, forest green, along with the shelves lining the wall opposite to what must be the loo. John liked the room’s simplicity, a singular bed, with beige bedspread, two pillows both with pale green casing, a wooden nightstand, a deep gray recliner sat by the window and a small pine dresser with a vase of lavender roses on top.

It felt too homey for a medical facility.

John pushed his discomfort aside and turned to address the patiently waiting Molly. It wasn’t her fault he was in this situation after all.

“Thank-you Molly, really I appreciate it.” He might’ve been trying too hard, but Molly seemed to like his words all the same and smiled.

He assumed she would leave now and he could collapse – on purpose this time – on the bed and attempt sleep.

She didn’t, not right away.

“It’s no trouble. I know it won’t be easy, but everyone here genuinely wants to help. If you need anything, there is always someone at the desk out in the main room, and you can page me or the Wing therapist, her name is Ella Thompson, anytime. We are both on call tonight. Only staff and you can enter your room, unless you personally allow someone else to do so. We try to encourage contact with other residents whenever possible, it does helping the healing process, but we recognize privacy is just as important. Which is why each room is coded to the residents living in them and only they can allow someone else in, with the medical staff exception as I mentioned.”

John was not used to being on the patient side of medical care, but he admired the thoroughness and dedication most of the people he met so far seemed to show.

“With the exception of the door at the end of the hall, all other doors are resident rooms. If you are hungry, you need to exit this area and head to the hallway on the right.” Molly gestured back in the direction they came.

John, curious, cast a glance at the last door at the end of the hall. It looked different than the others, older, and thicker, almost industrial.

“What is that room?” John asked.

Molly’s expression didn’t change, but there was definitely new tension in her shoulders.

“A patient died there years ago, before I came to work here. He was quite powerful I’m told and left a dangerous amount of Magickal residue behind when he died, no one has been able to clean it enough for a new resident so it’s been abandoned.”

Hm. There was no doubt in John’s mind that she was lying, for the most part. In the morning John would probably wonder why, but at the time he was too tired to care all that much. So he let it go and nodded.

Molly seemed too relieved that he didn’t ask any more.

“I’m going to…” John waved to the bed.

“Oh! Of course. I’ll leave you to it. The nurse is a lovely man, and he’ll be ‘round to wake you at eight for the tour and group introduction. Try and get some rest.”

“Ok.”

Molly lightly patted John on the shoulder, smiled and walked back the way the two of them came.

John exhaled a weighted breath the moment he was alone. Please God let me sleep.

He was about to enter his room and try and do just that when he felt a tingle on the back of his neck, similar to how he felt when instincts in the army told him he was being watched. Completely calm, John turned around.

A…dog?

Sitting directly in front of the very door Molly talked about was a dog, long-haired and red.

John smiled, but felt a bit confused.

John knew animals were a part of the therapy program at the BMC, but as far as he was told no one was using it in this Wing, so what…?

“Hello boy, you lost?”

As soon as John spoke, the dog barked and he heard a loud smash off to his right, and then what sounded like running footsteps. Heart pounding John whipped his head around, hand automatically going to his waist, though no gun has resided there for months.

Nothing. Odd.

John turned back around to the dog.

It was gone.

What the hell?

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

John barely slept that night.

And it wasn’t because of the bizarre dog incident – maybe he really was going mad and hallucinating. In any event it was barely a blip on his radar at the time.

John could barely even sleep before medication, nightmares of being shot keeping him awake, but without it…he’d almost forgotten that particular difficulty.

At that point a decent, undisturbed night of sleep was a far, distant realm of possibility.

John had only managed to sleep four, restless, hours, at which point the feeling of a bullet tearing through his shoulder woke him abruptly and ended up staring at the unfamiliar ceiling for the rest of the night. His undershirt and pants were soaked with sweat, his body tense, and heart hammering in his chest. He consciously tried to force his breathing to slow; ashamed of the tears he felt building in his eyes. John wouldn’t let them fall. He wished he’d never gotten shot, he wished he really had managed to kill himself; John wished he never felt that way in the first place. And most of all, he wished that his life made sense again, like it did in the army, the challenge, sense of duty and purpose made him feel so alive. John had the passing thought of how fucked up that was.

What kind of person feels more comfortable being in danger than being safe? John snorted aloud, the sound echoing in the empty, quiet room. Me, I guess.

The night passed into morning, and John didn’t go back to sleep, just laid there in the foreign bed trying not to think. This was made all the more difficult by the restraint on his wrist, the leather a constant reminder of the full extent of his brokenness.

Because that was the truth, John felt broken. He hasn’t felt himself for a long time. Adrift. And then he was supposed to regain control of his Magick when he couldn’t even control the sheer amount of his self-pity? Not bloody likely.

John could hear the distant sounds of the BMC waking up, outside his room doors open and closed, the faint humming of voices joined the morning cacophony.

He glanced at the clock on the nightstand to his left; 7:30am. That nurse, whoever he is, will be coming around soon. Fantastic. John groaned and rested his hands briefly on his face before beginning his morning routine, which was the same no matter where he was; brush teeth, use the loo, shower, get dressed and make his bed. John’s devotion to routine and neatness was one of the few things he was able to carry over from being a soldier.

John slid out of bed, noting for the first time the abnormal softness of the sheets, and grasped his cane.

He finished his morning ablutions, dressing himself in one of the patient uniforms provided (A lose pair of dove gray lounge pants, a white t-shirt and blue slippers. John suspected the idea had more to do with convenience than anything else, regardless John couldn’t exactly complain), by 7:55.

John was putting the finishing corners on his bedcovers when there was a knock at the door.

John used to be quite the social butterfly, recent events have dimmed his enthusiasm for people (just like everything else) somewhat and he couldn’t say he was necessarily looking forward to today – Molly did mention he would be meeting the rest of the Paget Wing residents. John couldn’t deny he was none-the-less curious.

Cane in hand, John braced himself and walked over to open the door.

When he did, a pleasant enough looking young man not that much taller than he was stood in front of John; wearing the medical personal garb, his name tag identified him as Nurse Henry Knight. His Warlock status was immediately apparent. They are the only Magickal species with instantly recognizable features; pointed ears with darker skinned tips, and eyes one shade from being black, not only that, they are also the only Magickally inclined people born with two different forms, which they can begin shifting between by age five. John had only ever personally known one, a fellow army comrade named Bill. His secondary form, non-corporeal which John would describe as appearing like fast moving smoke that glows (which apparently comes in different shades of colours unique to the individual), made him a near impossible enemy target for conventional bullets.

Nurse Knight’s short hair made the ears obvious, but his eyes were a slightly lighter shade than is typical.

Everyone here is punctual I’ll give them that.

“John Watson?” The man smiled.

John nodded, a bit sardonic. “Guilty.”

“Nurse Henry Knight, but you can call me Henry, everyone does.” He reached out to shake John’s hand. John obliged, and their hands dropped after a short shake. “I must say you are the first person I have ever seen answer their door fully awake and ready. I enjoy a good sleep in as much as anyone, but hey, whatever, management says we must all be early birds, never mind that it makes most into half zombies. Not the best introduction to the Centre I know.” 

He was clearly trying to be welcoming and casual, emphasis on trying. John suspected Henry wasn’t a naturally outgoing person, he seemed nervous; dark gray eyes a bit too wide.

John got the impression that a not so amenable patient had reacted unpleasantly in the past.

Poor state of mind or not, John liked to think he wasn’t a bastard. He set to put the man at ease. “Not to worry, the army cured me of any aversion I had to early wake up calls.”

John wondered if this man knew he had Insomnia. Either way, John wasn’t an early bird by choice and decided not to apprise the man of this fact.

Henry seemed relieved.

“Oh that’s right! You were a lieutenant yes?”

“Captain.” But not anymore…not really.

“Shite, sorry. Of course, I knew that.” Henry laughed nervously. John attempted a reassuring smile and shrugged.

The awkwardness didn’t last long before Henry seemed to remember his purpose for being here.

“Anyway, I need to go wake the other residents and then your introduction to the patients and rest of the staff will be in the main activity room at 8:20, I’ll meet you in the foyer in a few minutes. As one of two day nurses for Paget Wing I will give you a tour of the rest of the Wing and go over some basic ground rules after the initial meeting. After that some breakfast before your first appointment with Thompson at 9:30. Sound good?”

Not the word I would use. John couldn’t say he relished his problems being known by so many people.

“Aye.” John tapped his cane with a tight-lipped smile.

“Excellent. I’ll be seeing you shortly!” Henry nodded and without another word and a slight popping sound all too familiar to John, Henry morphed into his second form – nearly translucent teal green – and sped out the seam of the hall door.

Warlocks have always fascinated John.

John turned back to look at his room and sighed. He didn’t bring anything personal with him, the BMC provided clothing and items for self-care, other than his gun – which was in no way allowed in the facility, John didn’t have any material possessions worth taking with him. There must be some way I could at least get something to read around here. Otherwise John suspected he truly would get bored out of his mind.

He didn’t notice it at first, but as John moved to leave his room fully a feeling that reminded him of being gently electrocuted – like a shock from an outlet plug – hit him.

First his looked down at the band on his wrist, wondering if it had got damaged some way.

Then he looked up and around.

…oh.

That was when John first saw Sherlock Holmes.

But he didn’t know that at the time.

All John knew was that, quite seemingly out of the blue, there was a man leaning against the wall across from John opposite his door; wearing a high collard dark, gray coat, all the way unbuttoned revealing a black suit with a white shirt, no tie.

The man was…striking, to put it mildly; curly, short hair darker than his coat; high smooth cheekbones accentuated his piercing steel grey eyes, perhaps not conventionally attractive but handsome none-the-less.

He looked utterly out of place, and yet John found himself staring (he could already hear his Nan thumping him on the head).

John knew that if it were a different time and place, if he saw this man at a pub, he probably would’ve turned on the Watson “charm” and flirted his way into a date. Although John genuinely preferred male companionship, the world retained judgement and John felt unable to fully pursue this aspect of his heart.

Abruptly, John mentally smacked himself. Don’t be an idiot; this is not the time to be a horny bastard.

Who was this man? What was he doing here? How did he get here? He was dressed neither as staff nor as a patient, and John was positive he didn’t hear any doors open so he had no idea where this man came from.

Perhaps he should stop gaping and actually talk. For all he knew this man was a burglar.

“Afghanistan or Iraq?” The man quite suddenly spoke, voice deep with an unusual echo.

John only just noticed the man had been intently watching him in kind, with a sort of detached curiosity.

What?                                  

John froze. “Um…sorry?”

The man barely blinked and gave, what sounded to John’s ears, an exasperated sigh.

“Stance and bearing says military.” He shrugged.

John blinked. Who the fuck is this guy? He must’ve read his file somehow. “How could you possibly-”

“Even with the restraint covering your wrist there are quite obvious tan lines on both, but nowhere else which suggests you spent a significant amount of time abroad in an arid, sunny climate. In all likelihood you were discharged due to injury, you favour your right side but are quite obviously left handed, in addition to the fact that you unconsciously tense your left shoulder as though feeling numbness or pain, you were wounded in your left shoulder. You’ve been standing for the past ten minutes without sign of discomfort otherwise, even though you carry a cane…psychosomatic limp then. But you’re not simply a solider are you? You were high-ranking, Captain probably, and a Doctor, so probably a Sorcerer, going by the scarring and calluses on your hands and the current ease with which you are confronting a stranger, you specialized in trauma surgery. And no, I didn’t read your file, and before you ask I am not psychic - I merely use my brain unlike most people, and observe.”

The man cast off his words with a casual wave of his hand, like it was no big deal that he just read John like an open book, and apparently didn’t read his mind in the process. John had no reason to, but he found himself, among other things, believing this man on that last point.

The stranger spoke fast, without taking a break, utterly confident, a bit dickish and more than arrogant and just…Wow.  Seriously, who is this man?

At the moment John didn’t even care if it was fucked up that he found himself more intrigued than offended, like most sane people would be, by this stranger’s quite invasive words (however true) and insane mental acuity.

John’s mouth parted. “That…was brilliant.”

Up until that point, the man gave the impression of utter boredom; hands in his pockets, ankles crossed, eyes distracted and seeming to focus on what John had no idea. 

However, when John spoke that changed instantly and once again John felt that tingle of energy all over his skin…was he causing this?

John had no time to contemplate the feeling further. The mysterious stranger’s hands fell away from his pockets and he abruptly straightened, his face losing most of its haughty expression and falling away to something different…those eyes became softer, gazing at John with a certain childlike innocence, the crunch of his eyebrows made him appear confused.

“You think so?” The words were uttered quietly.

There was no lie in those words, he wasn’t searching for a good ego-stroke, and to John he sounded entirely genuine. And then John was confused.

“Yeah, of course it was, bloody mad and quite extraordinary.” John couldn’t be sure, but he might’ve been smiling at that point.

The stranger grunted, his cupid mouth curled in amusement and eyes alight with humour. His hands clasped behind his back.

“That’s not what people normally say.”

John guffawed.

“Yeah, I imagine something along the lines of ‘go fuck yourself’ is more common.” John casually scratched the back of his neck.

The man seemed more relaxed than he had thus far. He snorted. “Piss off actually, but the sentiment is the same. My nose has been broken more than once.”

John smiled. “Seriously?”

He shrugged. “I observe and tell the truth. If people don’t like it it’s their own fault. People are idiots.”

John frowned. “You’re a bit of prat aren’t you?”

When the man stood closer John noticed for the first time exactly how much taller he was than him, not all that difficult really.

He looked down at John, eyes twinkling.

“So I’ve been told.”

Shameless. Utterly shameless.

John snorted, amused despite himself. “Still amazing-”

“I know.”

“-Yeah yeah I get it, you’re really humble, but seriously, who are you?” John finally asked the question he’d been wondering since he first saw the man.

The stranger opened his mouth.

And the odd bubble that had formed from their strange encounter popped with the abrupt reminder of where they were, and what John was doing there, as a small crash and flurry of apologetic voices sounded outside of the hall door.

John looked in that direction. Right, I still need to go to orientation.

John turned back around to explain and get the man’s name, but when he did the man wasn’t there and there was no sign he ever was.

“What the h-”

Ok, this is getting ridiculous.

John looked down both ends of the hallway, even walked into the small sitting area. Nothing.

He must’ve vanished in a room somewhere but…John was sure he didn’t hear a thing. And when John thought about it further he realized the feeling tingling along his skin disappeared as soon as the man did.

His sanity must be off having an amazing vacation, maybe far away in New Zealand somewhere.

John was torn between feeling disappointed and confused. This was the second time he’d seen something, someone, that seemed vanish into thin air, and the third time he felt strange Magickal energy affecting – because that’s what it was – him. Other than the intensity of the first time, John didn’t sense anything inherently threatening about it just…off. Something was off.

He shouldn’t have been feeling anything like this, not to that degree, because not only was his Magick restrained, the barriers the staff have put in place here should prevent errant or residual Magick from effecting anyone.

John had heard of some people, with their Magick out of control, hallucinating, but John’s Magick had nothing to do with projecting and his Psych evaluation at the hospital didn’t reveal anything unusual in that regard.

Could John have really…imagined him?

No. John was sure he didn’t (mostly). Not just because despite the truth of that man’s observations he did get his Magickal designation wrong, and if he was coming from John’s mind…wouldn’t he haven known it? There was an odd echo to his voice John couldn’t place, but still…

There was something so…real, so alive about this man.

Shock swarmed him as he realized during the few minutes spent talking to this mysterious man John laughed and smiled in a way he hadn’t for months.

And the man might just be a product of his twisted mind. Brilliant.

John sighed.

He had no other logical explanation other than the fact he must’ve imagined him, no matter how real he felt.

His stay clearly wasn’t off to the best start.

John composed himself to the best of his ability and left to meet with Nurse Knight. In the corner of his mind, he tried not to think about the man with the most stunning eyes John had ever seen – imaginary or not.

 

~

 

Nothing and everything changed in the following weeks.

On the first official day of his stay, John did end up meeting his fellow patients in Paget Wing. Only one of them lived in the same hall he did, the others, of which there were three, were in shared rooms.

John quickly discovered he was the oldest there, a fact which honestly saddened him; no one went to the Burd Memorial Centre for any good reason.

The first thing he noticed about each person however was that they each wore a band similar to his, one even wore an additional one around her neck – Janine her name was, a Wizard with offensive elemental based Magick. The reason for that was because the effectiveness of the band on her wrist was fading, before it did completely they put one designed for more long term treatment around her neck – Janine told John she had been there for a long time. John couldn’t help but admire her for her apparent ease with her situation.

John’s closest neighbour, a man named Philip Anderson always sported a thick, scraggly beard and seemed to be perpetually anxious, the occasional bout of angry tears weren’t uncommon. No one, not even Philip, had to offer any information for John to figure out the primary reason his Magick being out of control (Witch, defensive based) was psychological. It only took a few days for the man to approach him, John had been reading in one of the sinfully comfortable chairs (his leg and shoulder thanked him for it) in the small sitting area between John and Philip’s rooms (John tried to spend as little time in his room as possible, but wanted to put himself under the eye of the staff her as little as possible). Philip had walked up to John and told him that he’d unintentionally driven a co-worker to suicide for bringing false accusations against him which led to him getting fired.

John had sympathy for him, but he wasn’t all that fond of the man.

There was also Soo Lin, a young woman and Janine’s roommate. She never spoke much, then again neither did John, but she was always polite and seemed most content when left to her own devices. Because of this John didn’t see her at group the first time, and only once or twice afterwards, both times were in the kitchen where she had been drinking an herbal tea out of what looked like a very old ceramic teapot.

The kitchen was undoubtedly John’s favourite room. They were allowed and even encouraged to cook for themselves if they so wished, and outside of personal therapy sessions (which were twice a week) and group (every other day) the residents in Paget Wing were left to themselves, free to interact if desired. No matter how much John wished things were different, he was grateful for the amount of freedom they were allowed – even if he did miss his own clothing. Even though it was getting colder, winter an ominous presence around the waiting corner, John enjoyed the short sojourns outside. He often felt a kinship with the withered autumn gardens.

And finally there was Andy. It didn’t take a genius to see that he was hopefully infatuated with Soo Lin. Andy was nearing the end of his treatment and re-training, a week after John first met him his restraint came off. He would need to remain a few more weeks though. John wouldn’t have been surprised if Andy found a way to stay in order to be close to Soo Lin.

The whole thing made John feel even more like his age.

John didn’t see anyone outside of the wing, during the beginning of his stay he was supposed to remain there. The only thing that kept him from going completely stir-crazy was the small library attached to the main activity room (which acted more like a glorified living area than anything else), even them John often found himself feeling bored.

Even though he continued to sleep horribly, if anything it got worse, John didn’t feel a particular desire to off himself. John was far, far from feeling happy, but his therapist Dr. Thompson called the fact that he wasn’t suicidal progress.

Ok then.

John never enjoyed talking about his…problems, but as he was repeatedly told he could not begin serious practical work into regaining control of and therefore access to his Magick, until he got a handle on his state of mind.

John left each appointment feeling the urge to kick himself. More than once he desperately wished for a glass of Scotch, even a pint would’ve been a Godsend, which was exactly why he couldn’t have any, he understood that.

Overall, three weeks later, the experience was both worse and better than John had been expecting.

John never told anyone, not even his therapist (he wasn’t even really sure why he didn’t, to be honest), about his encounter, real or the product of his own fucked up head whatever it was, with the strange man outside his room that first day.

John thought about it constantly.

If he was dreaming about the War, he was dreaming about curly hair or deep, piercing eyes dark with mystery.

It was all rather pathetic, but John couldn’t help but be more than simply curious.

What made it worse was that John saw him again. In the distance, out of the corner of his eye, it was like being haunted or stalked by a mirage. John could never reach him in time before he disappeared. The first time he actually saw him vanish John stood frozen on the spot for several minutes, his image had flickered out like bad reception on a Telly – at least John could cross stalker guest off his list, delusion seemed all the more likely.

The logical part of his mind told him this wasn’t normal, and he should tell someone – still he didn’t. John’s instincts told him that the tingle of Magick he felt only whenever he saw the man, even though the restraint remained strong on his wrist, wasn’t a coincidence.

John didn’t see the dog again.

All of it was a definite mystery. John wondered if the room and the man were related in some way, but even without the uncontrolled Magick and restraint John didn’t have any ability to communicate with the dead and that was assuming Molly was even telling the truth about what she told him, which John still suspected she wasn’t.

In the end it gave him something to think about, and he would take any distractions he could get.

So John continued on, always prepared in case he saw the man again.

It wasn’t until the end of the third week of his stay at the Centre when everything changed.

 

~

 

The first snowfall of the year blanketed the ground that morning, finally eclipsing the gardens in snow.

John couldn’t remember the last time he saw snow like this. London didn’t always allow it. The benefits of being outside the city John supposed.

This was what John was thinking as he gazed out the window. Every Paget Wing resident, including Dr. Thompson and Henry, was sat in a circle of chairs near the far wall of the main activity room.

It was the second and final group meeting of the week, where they caught up with each other and talked, and those who were at the step of applied training with their Magick could practice with others who were willing and at the same step.

John never participated much. He found it all very cliché.

“How is everyone this morning?” Thompson addressed the group; her outfit was of colours similar to the uniform worn by the patients, but with a skirt instead of trousers.

The question was routine and obligatory, still, everyone answered, some less enthusiastically than others. The only one who looked more tired than John was Philip, the latter was half laying half sitting in his chair, and he desperately seemed like he needed a bath.

 

“Guilt is poison, John.”

John frowned. “You say that like you think I feel guilty.”

Dr. Thompson said nothing at first, merely watched John from her spot across from him.

“Don’t you?”

It was a ploy, John knew it. He just didn’t know what she was getting at. Two sessions in and John didn’t give her much in way of conversation, trust isn’t easy for him to express – especially when he’s in a vulnerable position, a thing he hates.

John tilted his head. “Why would I feel guilty? I haven’t done anything to anyone.”

“Guilt isn’t restricted to actions against another.”

Logically John knew that, of course, he also realized what she was getting at – and it was ridiculous.

“You think I feel guilty for trying to kill myself.” John said bluntly, tense. He leaned back in his sitting position on her office sofa, unconsciously distancing himself from her.

“John, what I think doesn’t matter. However, if you want to get better, there will be truths you may not want to admit, at the very least I urge you to work on admitting them to yourself.”

 

John tightened the hold he had on his cane and turned his gaze away from Philip, adjusting his leg in the process.

At that point John would’ve given anything for a good night’s sleep, running on barely half-fuel made dealing with these meetings even more difficult.

“How you can stand this circle of hell is beyond me.”

Jesus Christ! John, who had been leaning on his fist and nodding off, jumped up in his chair upon hearing that deep voice, clearly exasperated, directly beside his ear; for the first time in weeks.

Everyone had been focused on Soo Lin at that point, who was sharing that her brother was coming for a visit and that she may be able to begin practising with her Magick again soon, and so no one saw John leap in surprise like an idiot.

Heart still pounding, John kept his body as casual as possible and looked around to find the source of that haunting voice.

Clearly if the group could see him their focus would not be on Soo Lin and her words, for the man John had been seeing was at that moment walking – or rather strutting, around the outside of their circle of wooden chairs; he passed Nurse Knight and paused directly across from John behind Dr. Thompson; giving her a calculating look.

God how John wanted to ask questions, but he doubted standing up and speaking to what appeared to be air would not go over well. And John didn’t know when this mystery would disappear again.

The man seemed to observe the poised Soo Lin and then shrugged with a muttered, “Orphaned at a pre-pubescent age. Stasis based Magick. Perfectly aware of that young man’s intentions, but ignoring them on purpose. Hm, boring.”

He resumed walking around the circle. John watched him with building curiosity.

John wondered if it was coincidence that he showed up right when John couldn’t possibly speak to him without looking even more like a nutter.  

Oh who was he kidding; of course he’s a nutter! John is seeing a man with statuesque Grecian like features and far too much attitude and intelligence to be normal.

John grasped the arch of his cane tightly. What the hell is going on?

John tried not to watch him too closely, but it was impossible when the stranger entered the circle and planted himself directly in front of John’s chair.

John very purposefully met his eyes. The man raised a single eyebrow.

Up until that point John had been too distracted by the man himself to notice what he was wearing; the coat was still present, as was the suit, but the shirt was now a soft baby blue accompanied by a darker blue scarf.

“Hm…”

John narrowed his eyes slightly at the man. “What?” He mouthed.

“No one has been able to see me before, and I find myself wondering why you can. It is…frustrating. Your Magick, even if it weren’t restrained, shouldn’t allow you to. Though you show slightly more intelligence than most I’ve observed here, you’re still an idiot. I must be missing something…”

Dick. It figures John would conjure a bastard, or that he would be haunted by one – or whatever was happening here.

John glared and crossed his arms. The man rolled his eyes and waved him off with a single, gloved hand.

“Oh don’t be like that, practically everyone is.”

Oh ok, no problem then. Clearly John’s subconscious hates him.

“If you’re going to insult me, I think I deserve a name don’t I?”

The man’s other eyebrow rose to join the first. “I believe your name is John Watson, or have you forgotten?”

Oh for f-

 “I’m not even going to bother asking how you know that-”

“Good. I hate stupid questions-”

“-plus if I am hallucinating the fact that you know my name makes sense-” The man let out a large sigh, mumbling something unintelligible, and John tried not to get further frustrated by the situation. “-Well if I’m not, then who are you?”

John didn’t notice his voice had now risen to audible levels and everyone in the group was staring at him.

“I suppose I’m the reason you are further questioning your sanity, which I can assure you isn’t all that terrible. You’re not insane John; you clearly just need a reminder.”

 “Of what and - you’re just fucking with me now aren’t you?”

John swore he saw the man’s eyes sparkle. “Perhaps.” He shrugged; noncommittal.

“Christ you’re an annoying genius.” John huffed and all tension drained from his body; feeling far too tired to argue further.

“Thank-you.” The man looked far too pleased with himself.

John snorted. “That wasn’t supposed to be a compliment you know.”

“Oh but you meant it as such, didn’t you?”

John doesn’t even know anymore. Arrogant sod.

He had been about to speak again but stopped when he noticed the man had vanished again...and everyone, including Thompson and Henry were staring at him. Janine looked torn between feeling confused and amused, all the others, except for Phillip – who was now napping in his chair, wore varying expressions of concern.

Shit. He really was losing it.

John tried to brush it off, not knowing how much they actually heard. “What? A man can’t talk to himself?” Nice John, good way to sound convincing. John felt further annoyed with himself when that inner voice sounded an awful lot like the man who just disappeared.

Dr. Thompson clearly didn’t buy it. John tensed defensively when she leaned forward.

“Are you alright John?”

The question was well meaning, and John knew were he in her position he would ask it too. Still, the feeling of being condescended to was sharp.

“Absolutely.” He responded.

And he was. At least he didn’t actually feel any worse than he did before.

John could see the follow up “Are you sure?” on her lips but before she could speak John saw the dog again, and this time it was running…running fast from the other side of the room, running straight towards him; long, red fur flying out beside him like wings.

Bloody hell! Without thinking John threw himself out of the way and onto the floor, dropping his cane and knocking over his chair in the process.

The resounding crash was loud and as soon as John looked up again, the dog was gone.

Of course.

And of course now everyone was looking at him like he really was crazy. Janine, who was beside him, had jumped out of the way and was now standing at a fair distance. The crash woke Phillip, but he just looked confused by what happened. Andy was holding onto Soo Lin, and Henry looked more than a little concerned; eyes glazed over – another bonus to Warlock Magick, short distance telepathy, probably notifying someone of John’s blunder.

Obviously no one saw the dog but John.

“John, I need you to stay still.”

Dr. Thompson looked more controlled than anyone else, but the concern was there in her eyes as she kneeled beside John, a faint red aura emanating from her hand poised close to but not touching him, an easily recognizable action to any doctor. Magick can’t do everything, but for a basic on the spot diagnostic tool – it is invaluable.

John felt embarrassed, and he would’ve forced himself back to standing but unfortunately he wasn’t thinking at the time and had thrown himself onto his bad shoulder. It was all he could do not to scream out in pain.

John flopped onto his back, grasping his aching shoulder. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Out of the corner of his eye John noticed the red coming from Dr. Thompson’s hand turn purple before vanishing altogether…that was unfamiliar. She looked equally as surprised by the sight, but it was clear she was trying hard not to show it.

“John, are you alright?” John felt another presence by his side and noticed Janine standing above him.

John started to massage his shoulder in effort to relieve some of the pain. “I’m fine.”

Neither Janine nor Dr. Thompson looked convinced. How could they? Even John knew that was a blatant lie.

The latter placed a hand on his wounded shoulder and almost immediately warmth inflamed the area, the pain was almost completely dulled.

“Ta.” John groaned.

When he tried to get up Dr. Thompson held him gently, but firmly down.

What? John momentarily stopped his effort and turned to look at her.

John didn’t think she’d ever looked so serious before. He felt hairs rising on the back of his neck and that time he was sure it wasn’t due to Magick, but his instincts telling him she knew something he didn’t.

It set John immediately on edge.

“John, I need you to answer me honestly.” She was barely a tone away from whispering.

He frowned. “Wha-”

“Please, I know trust is not easy for but you’ll get to ask your own questions later I promise. You just need to answer mine first.” Dr. Thompson focused on him with unblinking eyes.

John narrowed his own.

So there was more going on than hallucinating some random individual; going by what little the man said and what John had gleaned from those around him.

He felt he had no choice but to nod, curious despite himself. John had a feeling he already knew what she was going to ask.

“Good. What did you see?”

Bingo. The red to purple must’ve let her know something.

Should he tell her the truth?

Some of it anyway, best to play along until he could figure more out.

“A dog, red setter I think.”

She cocked a brow. “You saw something before didn’t you? You weren’t just talking to yourself.”

John shrugged her hand off. “Why is this so important?”

Dr. Thompson sighed.

At that moment another Nurse and one of the orderlies John saw on his first night arrived. Dr. Thompson raised a hand to stop their advance.

John suddenly wished he were at peak physical condition. The energy in the room was more than a tense, in the far corner the sound of a lightbulb filament exploded. Everyone but Dr. Thompson and Henry Knight jumped in surprise – except of course John himself.

“Alright. Just answer me this, was what you first saw a man, and did he have dark, curly hair?”

John shuddered; suddenly feeling cold…how could she-?

“A patient died there years ago, before I came to work here. He was quite powerful I’m told and left a dangerous amount of Magickal residue behind when he died, no one has been able to clean it enough for a new resident so it’s been abandoned.”

John remembered Molly’s words. At the time he was convinced she was lying, but maybe she wasn’t…?

Was he seeing a Ghost? But that didn’t make sense! Even if he were, the dead didn’t interact with anyone to the degree this man did with John.

John carefully watched for her reaction as he nodded.

She closed her eyes briefly and exhaled; a mask falling over her face. John continued to observe her as she – for the first time – looked away from John and towards the other occupants in the room.

“Henry, please escort everyone to the kitchen for now.”

“Wait-” Janine.

“But what about-” Andy.

Ella Thompson had a glare to combat even John’s. She stared everyone down and it barely took more than a minute for everyone but herself and the orderly and extra nurse to leave, during which time John pushed himself – somewhat unsteadily – to his feet. He tried not to feel like he was under a microscope when he reached for his cane.

In that moment he felt seriously older than he was.

John cursed under breath.

Dr. Thompson stood close to John, but wisely didn’t touch him.

“I know you’re confused, and understandably so-”

John snorted and rolled his eyes.

She ignored his response and continued on. “-but for now I need you to go back to your room, and someone will call for you in a few hours.”

Hours? What the hell?

All of this was rubbing John the wrong way.

“Not going to tell me why I’m seeing things are you?” John asked, or more stated, perhaps a bit snappishly.

I’m not, no.” Dr. Thompson shook her head.

John reined in his frustration and turned towards the room exit; pointedly ignoring the presence of the nurse and orderly that appeared at his side.

What did they think he was going to do? Escape? Cane, limp and all?

Might as well go back to his room and think, or sleep, John suddenly found himself feeling exhausted – again, instead of feeling keyed up and awake like normally John would be after something like that (not that he’d experienced anything like it before). Big surprise. 

Dr. Thompson’s last words kept bouncing around his mind all the way back to this room.

 

She wasn’t going tell him, but who was?

 

~

 

Miraculously, John fell asleep within minutes of collapsing (still in his day clothes, cane haphazardly leaning against the wall) on his bed – something that hadn’t happened for weeks.

The last thing John thought before falling into slumber was how a part of him was almost grateful for the mystery cropping up around him. It gave John something else to think about (apart from his own fucked up Magick and recent suicide attempt, and all the baggage that went with that); like what the hell was going to happen in a few hours (according to Dr. Thompson), the dog he saw, the man and it must be connected somehow, and how – going on Thompson’s reaction – whatever was going on, it wasn’t just delusions brought on by his damaged Magick (which was a relief).

Given the situation, it wasn’t fair, and it was certainly mad, to realize that no matter how much of a prick the mysterious man was, John found him quite charming and more than a little interesting.

Forget challenges, John quite clearly has a thing for the impossible.

He must’ve been really out of it for those thoughts to park themselves in his head.

The last thing John heard before losing consciousness was what sounded like a barking dog, and an indistinguishable, resonating scream.

 

~

 

John couldn’t save him.

He should’ve been able to.

There, in the desert, hot, sticky, blood everywhere, the wheels and engines of tanks and arriving helicopters swirling the sand around them. John didn’t even care that grains of sand like tiny needles were burrowing themselves in his eyes, all that mattered was him.

There, a few feet away, he lay – unmoving, face obscured from his helmet.

John knew blood was soaking through, knew he’d been shot, biting pain like a hot white poker piercing his skin.

John didn’t care. He had to – he had to get to him. Had to save him. He had no choice.

 

In his sleep, growing increasingly restless, John’s face distorted into painful lines of intense distress – something about this wasn’t right.

 

Ignoring the chaos surrounding him, John dragged himself across the rocky sand towards the prone figure.

As he did, new wounds began to form all over his body, his chest, his head, even his feet, he couldn’t see them but John knew they were there…wide, gaping maws leeching far too much blood for John to still be conscious.

Still his heart kept pumping, miraculous.

The pain was unimaginable.

The edges of John’s vision became blurred as he reached him.

Tears poured down John’s face – but John didn’t cry like this when he was shot. He remembered this moment, praying for life, it was there, but this nightmare…it was different.

Now, he couldn’t care less about his own life – all that mattered was saving this man; still, in dusty blood-soaked fatigues much like his own.

John reached out a shaking hand and grasped the man’s shoulder; wanting, desperately hoping to see the man’s face.

But he was cold, stiff.

John screamed, there was no sound.

That is when John saw his hand.

It wasn’t his. The fingers were long, far too thin to be his.

John wasn’t himself – this was his nightmare, yet it wasn’t, John wasn’t John but he was…

John – not John – tried to pull away from the…the body. He had to. He couldn’t be here anymore.

Pain ripped through his retreating hand, keeping him there, sharp, pointed teeth digging…

He needed…He needed…needed…

John couldn’t see. Everything was fading. But, no, not everything…

 

John woke – he knew he was awake; the dark green walls of the all too familiar Centre room were there in front of him.

But…something wasn’t right. John could still feel the nightmare; flashes of sand, and places unfamiliar to John flashed like sunspots across his vision.

And the pain…Oh God, the pain, not just in his shoulder, but his head, heart, legs, God…it was everywhere.

Tears pinpricking his eyes, John screamed into his pillow.

The Magickal restraint glowed and tightened painfully enough that even in his current state John noticed.

What…what’s going…

John bit his lip hard enough to bleed as he squeezed his pillow, curling into a fetal position atop his covers.

The pain continued to rage.

Nothing, not getting shot, not flooding his body with pills, not losing his connection with his Magick, nothing, not even the depression that invaded his life every day since returning from War, nothing could be more painful than this.

It took whatever strength John possessed to not continue screaming, and even then John knew he was screaming inside.

And then, all of the sudden, John knew what he had to do. John didn’t know where this knowledge was coming from, but everything in his body was pulling him away.

He had to leave. Why, John didn’t know, but he had to leave his room. There was no other option.

The Magickal restraint on his wrist continued to glow, becoming hot, burning.

John tumbled out of bed, and felt pulled by some unknown force as he rushed to leave his room.

In the distance John thought he heard raised voices, but that didn’t matter.

All that mattered was he had to get there.

John flung open his door; sweating dripping, breath ragged and heavy, eyes glazed over, he could still see sand, blood, stones of a house he’d never seen before…

His cane lay forgotten behind him, on the floor in John’s rush out of bed.

His eyes frantically searched the hall.

John was…so much, so much was in his mind and body he couldn’t even distinguish which feelings were his own and which were...whatever this was.

Have to get there….have to get there…there!

The door. The door. Double doors. Apparently unused. Impenetrable.

That is where John has to be.

So he ran, faster than he had since before his battle wound. The loud bangs behind him, and those of his footsteps barely registered in his haste. The doors were growing larger in his vision, and as John came closer to the end of the long, long hall he could swear the restraint on his wrist was emitting smoke.

John reached the door.

Instinct told him to place both hands on the door and pull with his Magick.

So that’s what he did.

The instant he touched the aged, metal doors, the restraint on his wrist burst into ash.

Lights exploded around him. John thought he felt tremors beneath his feet. Voices and banging became more insistent. His vision rippled as Magickal barriers disintegrated before his eyes.

John had to hurry.

The Magick guiding him wasn’t his own.

He pulled. The doors creaked, groaned, Johns palms felt as though they were on fire.

All the while John knew he could pass out at anymore moment. The pain, the feelings, everything became more intense.

Suddenly, all John felt was desperation.

At that moment the doors swung open, not just in front of him, but behind as well.

“John! Dr. Watson! Stop!”

Dr. Hooper – Molly.

He couldn’t let them stop him – at that thought a translucent shield erupted behind him, blocking out all sounds and voices not in John’s immediate sphere. Instinctively John knew it was unstable at best, he didn’t even wonder where it came from, and he had to hurry.

There was another set of inner doors; they looked much like the regular ones along the hall, a small gap between the main doors and the wooden ones in front of him.

John did the same thing he did before, hands out, touching the doors; this time the door’s wood scorched around the outline of his hands.

As they opened the metal ones behind him closed with a loud, resounding clang.

John barely took in where he was in before something pulled him to where he needed to be.

He ran around a corner and…there. There it was, there he was. A man, on a bed much like John’s, chest barely rising, dark hair a halo on the pillow cradling his head.

“I know you.” John whispered.

The dark room, illuminated only by the moon, made it impossible to see much more.

Everything in John stopped, the pain, the overwhelming emotion, everything. John knew he was on the edge of losing consciousness, it all narrowed down to one thought; move. Now.

So he did.

All seemed to slow.

One step. Two. Three.

John’s previously Magickally restrained hand rose.

He was a magnet and John was powerless.

What felt like fire tinged his fingertips, but there was no flame.

John collapsed on his knees when he reached the bed, vision already fading.

He reached out, grasped and –

Skin. Cold, skin.

No, hot…hot, too hot.

What was - what’s happening…

John felt something inside him implode. The desperation faded, but once again he felt – everything. John compared it to being crushed from the inside out.

This time he couldn’t contain his scream.

And he was gone.

~

Chapter Text

 

 

Before John even opened his eyes he knew he wasn’t alone.

The squeezing pain in his head, dryness in his throat and mouth, along with the feeling that he’d been beaten repeatedly with a stick – no, a metal pipe – reminded John of the worst hangovers he used to get on occasion back in Uni.

He did not miss the feeling.

It didn’t help that there were people near him in his room speaking, obviously trying to be quiet about it – but the ringing in John’s ears made it seem like they were screaming, even though he couldn’t tell what they were saying.

Wait, I’m not in my room. Christ, what happened? A nightmare, I had a nightmare, nothing new there but there was something odd –

An entirely new sensation of his chest constricting engulfed him as the memories rushed in.

 

…flashes of sand… places unfamiliar to John…pain… everywhere…He left his room…sweat dripping…barely breathing…he could still see sand, blood, stones of a house…Then he went - he couldn’t even distinguish which feelings were his own… Lights exploding…tremors…voices…banging…Magick, barriers disintegrating…running…Magick guiding him not his own…He felt Magick, deep, overwhelming Magick for the first time in weeks, but it was different…doors…hands on fire…John clenched his hands, he felt a tugging sensation on his left hand, expecting to find the pain of burns but there was nothing…dark hair a halo on the pillow cradling the head of –

Him. The man, the man, he saw -

Christ...” John’s voice came out a quiet croak.

The voices around him went silent. At that moment he ignored them.

John opened his eyes. The ceiling was the same as he saw every morning in his own room, he even felt the familiar feeling of a soft, supporting mattress beneath him, but the walls were a pale sky blue.

When John moved, just a little, that odd tugging feeling on his left wrist pulled him to look to his left.

God.

Feelings of confusion and shocked warred within John – it wasn’t a dream – as he stared at the man beside him, laying on a bed and with daylight casting prisms of light all over the room the man, the man he thought a hallucination or apparition of some sort John had seen and spoken to, John could see him clearly.

Johns mouth parted, heart pounding, only his determination and training as both a Soldier and a Doctor kept him from losing it.

The man…he looked horrible.

The fingers of John’s right hand, hidden from view, clenched the silky sheets beneath him in his fist, in effort to keep from shaking – still feeling very raw from the night before. John consciously kept the rest of his body completely still through pure will alone, internally pulling on his Doctor’s ability to be objective.

The man – whoever he was – was unconscious. If John couldn’t see the, however faint, rise of his chest, at first glance John would suspect the man (in a bed directly level beside him, why?) to be dead.

His skin was faintly yellow, indicative of a malfunctioning liver and likely multiple other organs going by the state of him; the sunken, tight, extremely pale quality of his skin showed he was severely dehydrated. Only his upper torso, arms and face were exposed, John could see, painfully, the defined lines his bones, from the emaciated stomach to shrivelled fingers. There was also scars, scattered all over his body and face, all of various levels of severity, and all healed enough to be mostly white with only tinges of pink, they looked to be a combination of old knife wounds and scars left behind by Magickal torture (a thing he had seen far too often in Afghanistan).

There were no IVs or any other obvious form of nutrition and regulation of the man’s waste apparent, physical or Magickal, which alone was odd. Especially since going by the disturbed sheets (some of that probably from John last night) and obvious physical signs of bed sores, the man had either not been there very long or was moved often, and therefore had actually been there a while. What John could immediately see indicated he had not moved on his own, or had been conscious for quite some time.

He looked like a man who had been locked in a room and slowly starved for years.

Whatever happened to him, it was clearly hell.

John’s heart and mind ached with sympathy.

He was nothing like the man John had seen and spoken to.

What happened to you?

John’s instinct was to get up, move closer and examine him more thoroughly, but before he could do so was when he noticed the restraint – a new one (the old one, tightening, dissolving into ash…), significantly thicker and wider than the one he wore previous, was linked via a faintly glowing strand of crystal to a matching restraint on the right hand of the man in the bed next to him, the man he’d just been looking at.

Their hands weren’t touching, but resting parallel to each other on the seam between their two beds.

(…Skin. Cold, skin.

No, hot…hot, too hot…)

What on earth -

“Are you quite finished observing my brother Dr. Watson?”

John turned his head around to face the source of the brand new voice.

It was apparent to John almost immediately why this man said brother, the similarity between the apparition (even with this new, shocking revelation of the reality of that very man, John was still no closer to figuring out what the hell was going on – and why he saw him, apparently healthy, in the first place) of the man John saw compared to the very real presence of the man standing at the foot of the bed John was lying in, was very real – if not in physical appearance, than in presence.

His short, dark hair, trimmed to a perfect seam, face empty of any facial hair and overall excessively groomed appearance, from his neatly pressed gray suit, dark, black long coat and polished wood handled umbrella held casually at his side by black, leather gloved hands, gave him the appearance of a posh aristocrat. His eyes were small, and held none of the adventurous curiosity of his brothers but the same, superior intelligence was definitely present. His nose, and face, was thin, slightly pinched and significantly more wrinkled than the man beside John – older brother then.

Overall, John got the impression everything about him was designed to be intimidating; put whoever he confronted at a state of unease, except John wasn’t intimidated. Gathering by the vaguely amused look he cast in John’s direction, the man standing opposite him knew it.

Nothing about him seemed trustworthy, if anything John felt as though he was lying at the feet of some privileged supervillain. John felt none of the similar feelings his brother gave him on the few encounters he’d had, and he wasn’t sure if the controlled expression he wore indicated concealed distress or if that was just how he looked. If it were Harriet in that bed, looking like that, John knows he would feel more than distressed – despite their estranged relationship, she was his sister.

Still, there was something about him that put John on the defensive.

John determinedly pushed the feelings of his aching body and mind aside, and sat up on the bed (he noticed for the first time he was still wearing his clothes of yesterday) with as much dignity he could muster in the situation.

With the new change in perspective John noticed Dr. Hooper was in the room, standing silent and close to the window, near to the only other occupied bed in the room; her distress was easy to read. Beside her stood another stranger, the lines of his face were drawn in obvious concern, and his graying hair was a mess – as though hands had been repeatedly run through it. He was pointedly not looking at the man beside John, but his continence was significantly more pleasant than the one at the foot of his bed.

All of them were silent; waiting for John to speak.

Why do I feel like I’m on trial here?

The whole thing was a mess of confusion and questions. Maybe he would finally get some answers.

“Who are you?” John asked, a simple enough question to start with.

“Who I am is not important, what I need from you is.” His voice was hard, and far, far too monotone to be anything but a façade.

This was a man with many secrets.

John didn’t like secrets, no matter how necessary they sometimes were. With the deathly condition of the man lying next to him, secrets right then seemed dangerous.

“Really? Well, you won’t mind telling me who you are then, since you clearly already know my name and who I am, I’m not giving you anything until I know what is going on here. Why did I go completely berserk last night?-” The mountain of ‘what the bloody hell’ questions felt like they would surely crush him. “-Why am I here?-” John gestured to the room with his unbound hand, the reminder brought him to his next question. “Why am I connected to your brother? How did he pull me here? And what the hell happened to him? And why does he look like he’s not receiving any basic treatment?” John’s voice rose.

When John thought about it, the hangover like feelings fading the more he was awake, the more he spoke, the more John knew instinctively the Magick that pulled him to this room last night, like a force unwilling, everything he felt, the sheer desperation, was a result of the man lying on the edge of death beside. John wasn’t sure if he knew that because of whatever happened last night, he still didn’t know how, or if it was a result of why John had been seeing him at all. 

The fact the man was unconscious only made those circumstances more mysterious and confusing.

John hated the sheer amount of unknown surrounding him. The only upside seemed to be that he didn’t have time to think about his own problems.

“And if you, whoever you are, give me that ‘need to know’ shite I swear you’ll find out why I don’t need a gun to knock a man on his arse.” John glared, Watson determination rearing its head.

John was bound, weakened in more ways than one, at that moment the threat was only symbolic in nature. The man didn’t appear to give any outward response to John’s comment, save for the singular brow that rose toward his hairline.

John thought he heard a barely restrained snort of amusement, unsure if it came from either Dr. Hooper or the new stranger. It was only a blip though, and soon enough the room returned to its overall heavy feeling of solemnity.

“If you could reign in your anger, it would be much appreciated. There is no need for violence Dr. Watson; I assure you the answers you seek will be given momentarily.”

John’s tension didn’t release, and honestly, he didn’t feel all that reassured. If anything, John felt more suspicious than he had been.

The man’s voice when he spoke John’s name was filled with its own form of mistrust. He moved away from the bed on which John was sitting and pulled a lone, wooden chair away from against the wall and positioned it precisely in the middle of the ends of both beds, angled towards John.

John glanced at the emaciated figure beside him, stomach rolling, heart panging at the sight, before looking once more towards the man now seated and level with John; legs crossed, umbrella leaning against the edge of his alleged brother’s bed and hands resting lightly on the chair arms.

“There is no time for ‘beating around the bush’, as some would say, so I will present the situation to you as it currently stands. All I ask is that you listen, is that too much to ask, John?”

John really didn’t like how this man already knew his name, and John still didn’t know his. What caused John to refrain from asking again, for now, was that as soon as the man sat down his shoulders fell as a though a weight greater than the world rested on his shoulders. The man then barely glanced at the man he called his brother, but in that moment, if John hadn’t been watching so closely, he doubted he would’ve seen it; a few emotions – desperation, pain, worry to name a few – seeped through cracks on the cold, emotionless mask upon his face, which soon replaced itself. Maybe he didn’t show that small amount of feeling, maybe he did, but it gave John pause – he wasn’t as unfeeling about all this as he appeared to be.

And so, John nodded and waited for the man to start talking.

“Thank-you.” The man nodded. He then turned around, giving a brief nod of dismissal to Dr. Hooper and whoever the other man was.

To John’s surprise, they listened (seriously, who is this guy?), though neither looked eager to leave. Molly left first, giving John an attempt at a reassuring, apologetic smile – which failed horribly. The other presented John with an awkward smile before following Molly out the door, but not before casting one last, long, worried look at the other bed. Another relative maybe?

“I asked our dear Dr. Hooper and D.I Lestrade to leave only momentarily, you’ll get to meet him after our discussion. What I have to say is private, and sensitive, even they only know little.” The man briefly rested his palms together under his chin, observing John carefully.

D.I? That man was a police officer? Huh.

John didn’t say anything, merely leaned back on the wall beside the bed – in effort to relieve the aching bruise on his back that must surely be there from where he landed on the floor last night – and waited.

In his peripheral vision, John noted the glowing crystal bond between the two restraints flicker for a moment before returning to its previous state.

“My name is Mycroft Holmes, attaché to the British government, owner and founder of The Burd Memorial Centre for the Restoration, Rehabilitation and Treatment of the Magickally Impaired and Damaged, and elder brother to Sherlock Holmes, the man lying in the bed right next to yours.”

John suspected ‘government attaché’ was a gross understatement, but he wasn’t surprised by the mention none-the-less.

Wait…the Centre was founded in 1895, how could this man – Mycroft Holmes- be the founder? Unless…

John blinked. “You’re an Enchanter?”

The man – Mr. Holmes, dipped his head.

“Yes, along with my brother here.”

John was amazed despite himself. Enchanters were exceedingly rare, often kept to themselves and weren’t known to present their designation in public. Not only were they the most powerful Magickal species, they were always guaranteed Magickal power at birth and are believed to be the first existence of Magick in any Earthen species. What has been most notable about them however, was not their known wide range of multiple Magickal powers, but their lifespan. They are not immortal, but they on average live longer than any other species on Earth. As far as John was aware the oldest known Enchanter in history lived to be 520yrs of age.

(At the time John thought it could also be an explanation as to why despite appearing near death, Mr. Holmes’ brother – Sherlock – was still alive, Enchanters do not die easily)

Because of this they are either regarded with great suspicion or awe.

John had never met one personally – well, not until that moment.

John had always been peripherally aware of the Burd Memorial Centre for most of his medical career, but he’d never heard of this Mr. Holmes – let alone his brother.

Secretive indeed.

“Our species is of little consequence to this situation however, at least, it is not a major part.” Mycroft Holmes took a deep breath and reached to somewhere out of John’s line of sight, he then proceeded to lift a black, rectangular briefcase and place it quickly on his lap. Swiftly flipping opening the buckle and lifting the lid of the case, Mr. Holmes removed two cream coloured folders. He placed one on his lap and held the other out to John.

John frowned, but took the file with his free hand. He laid it down across his legs and flipped it open. Immediately it became apparent it was a medical file, and John wasn’t surprised to find the patient was one ‘Sherlock Holmes’, full name ‘William Sherlock Scott Holmes’, date of birth – January 6th, 1854.

Suddenly John didn’t feel quite so old. Enchanters do often have physical markers such as significant height, dark hair, vaguely elfin features, all of which Sherlock – and Mycroft – had in abundance, maybe John had a stereotypical idea of old in his head but he just had a hard time picturing the man he’d seen (aloof, a childlike air concurrent with that extreme intelligence, eyes bright with youth not age) as an old man.

Then again, not even 200yrs old is hardly “old” for an Enchanter.

John quickly moved on from that piece of information to what the file contained…Oh god.

It was a detailed account of all injuries sustained and diagnosis of the patient upon his admission to London General Hospital on December 23rd 2005.

2005…five years? Has he been like this for five years? Christ, no wonder…

 

‘Patient arrived with deep lacerations and contusions covering over sixty percent of his body. There was evidence of past and more recent scarring, due to needle injection on his arms – history of Patient provided indicated a long history of Cocaine and Heroin abuse. Outside physical damage was minimal however in comparison to his mental state. Medical personnel at the scene of rescue before arrival at the hospital applied immediate restraints to neck, wrist, ankles and waist - due to the patients’ extreme level of Magickal power now out of control as a result of extreme physical and psychological trauma. Injuries to recovery personnel occurred. Luckily, restraints were applied before a more serious incident. Further examination proved that Patient had been in a coma for a minimum of three hours before rescue, there is no physical indication for his state – Magick reasons exclusively. No staff present with compatible Magick is able to assess the severity and reason for the Magick induced coma. Suspect this is due to the extreme mental shielding emanating from the Patient himself. Recommend follow up in accordance with Class AA2 Enchanter procedures, as Magick restraints will only hold for a minimum of twelve hours at best against this kind of chaotic activity. Our hospital isn’t equipped to deal with the inevitable long term specialist treatment Patient will need.’

 

AA2?  A1 – which is John – is considered a relatively high class; AA2 is the second rarest power level worldwide.

John wondered what these follow up procedures were, even before joining the Army and deploying, John had never come across a situation anything like this. John suspected they almost never happened.

“I imagine you are wondering how all of this relates to you, in order to do that however you’ll need to know how my brother came to be in this position in the first place.” Mr. Holmes placed a single hand on the other folder still in his lap – John wondered what that contained.

John looked up from the folder below him. He didn’t notice at first the state of his hands; one clutching the folder white knuckled, the other his own fingernails digging into the depth of his palm. After the explanation of Sherlock Holmes’ injuries, there pictures of some of those very injuries that were sustained, his Doctor side needed to see those for himself, to judge what happened, but a part of John had been growing steadily angrier the longer he looked at them; torture, that was what he – Sherlock, had to have experienced. And according to the file the physical injuries were minimal in comparison?

Goddamnit.

At that moment John couldn’t care less about himself, he needed to know what happened – and if whoever was responsible was dealt with, otherwise John would have to find a way to do that himself, he found he was especially missing his gun in that moment.

“Tell me.” John’s eyes flickered to Sherlock beside him, before coming to firmly rest on the Holmes brother sat upon the only chair in the room.

Mycroft Holmes nodded gravely.

“The first thing about my brother you should know he was – is a Consulting Detective, he took great delight in the term, which he invented himself.” There were traces of a familiar, almost fond exasperation in Mr. Holmes voice, often present in siblings. His face showed nothing. “I won’t go into the details, I’m sure you can glean the sum of what that title implies. All you need to know is that my brothers’ occupation repeatedly led him into the path of dangerous people, usually, his intelligence in combination with his unique, multifaceted Magickal power made him invincible in comparison to the rabble of the world. However, my brother is only human. Approximately seven years ago, he gained the attention of one James Moriarty. The world moves too slowly for people like my brother and I. Moriarty was…A true Criminal mastermind, dangerous menace to society, power to level that of my brother, and myself, and Sherlock saw him as the first real challenge to his own intellect. Sherlock solved case after case connected with Moriarty, everything from fraud, kidnapping to Warlock trafficking and murder, all of this worldwide. He had been on our Most Wanted list for quite some time, but we were never able to touch him - his power and influence ran deep. My brother and I have a…contentious relationship at best, but in the end it became apparent that neither of us could stop Moriarty alone. We joined together to conceive a plan to take him and his Criminal Empire down. We made the biggest mistake people in our position can make. We became overconfident.” Here Mr. Holmes paused; face contorting with barely concealed distress. He rested his face briefly in his hand, as if to cover his reaction to his own words.

John was a smart man, but even without the knowledge of the resultant condition of Sherlock, he didn’t need to be smart to recognize what Mycroft was telling would lead nowhere good. John has seen evil many times in his life, combating it was his dream as a child and eventual reality as an adult, and all the gritty, grey areas that came with it. Sometimes though, there were clear cut decisions, and this Moriarty – the name caused a chill down John’s spine, though the man was unknown to him personally – was someone who obviously needed to be stopped.

John still had questions, if possible even more than before, but he remained silent.

“We were lulled into a false sense of security flawlessly engineered, and my brother ended up paying the price.” Mycroft, having regained his control over himself, resumed speaking. “Again, details at this juncture aren’t necessary. We were able to dismantle the vast majority of Moriarty’s web, even with the man himself in the wind and nowhere to be found at the time. We did find him, eventually; it soon became obvious it was because he wanted to be found. James Moriarty ended up somehow bypassing our measures and traps and kidnapped my brother. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said Moriarty had power to match that of me and my brother, Class AAA Illusionist-” Jesus Christ. “-With one particular gift, he could sense a person’s deepest pain and build it up in their mind and heart, make them relive it over and over, he could strip down any physical and mental defences we have to deal with trauma and make a person feel it without end. With no fading or petering out, and it was impervious to mental shielding. Death is almost always the outcome to something like that, and he had my brother for at least two weeks before we found him. Moriarty was killed and my brother recovered. However…” Mycroft breathed deeply, now staring unwavering at his brother. “Moriarty wanted to destroy Sherlock’s mind, when we arrived to retrieve it seemed that he had succeeded – at least, that is how it appeared. He was comatose; it was initially assumed that it was a result of what Moriarty did to my brother – and he was, partially.”  

John frowned. The report mentioned that Sherlock had already been unconscious for at least several hours before being rescued, if Moriarty wasn’t the sole reason for Sherlock’s condition than who was? Without the whole story, John could only theorize little.

Mycroft released a long exhale and opened the second file, not yet looking at it.

“Once I moved him from the hospital to this facility and a secure room tailored to him-Now that John knew that’s what this was, the report made sense. Sometimes Magick restraints weren’t enough to hold a person’s Magick uncontrolled, whether it was because the person had a quirk to their ‘Magickal anatomy’ so to speak, or they were too powerful for them. The latter was more common, but still rare. “- there was no reason to suspect Sherlock wasn’t safe, for the moment. I requested an individual with the proper tools to deal with this kind of trauma, to give me an estimate on the damage and when Sherlock would awaken. They weren’t able to get much further than those at the Hospital; however, they were able to diagnose the reason for the coma itself.”

This was when Mycroft turned his piercing gaze back towards John and handed him the final, open file.

“Most people who came under the unrelenting force of Moriarty’s power either died or entered a permanent vegetative state. With more a thorough examination, it was discovered Sherlock’s mind itself was mostly present. His current state is a result of what Sherlock himself did, albeit the coma was probably unintentional, and we still don’t know if it was a conscious decision on Sherlock’s part or a defensive mechanism on the part of his Magick. Either way Sherlock’s actions are why he is neither dead nor vegetative, because of you however, that is now likely to change.”

John held onto the file with one, firm grip, still not looking at it. His mind deeply caught in what Mycroft Holmes was revealing to him. There was no way to be sure if Mycroft meant the latter statement in a positive or negative way, or how John could even begin to help – especially with his Magick the way it was.

John caught onto one part of Mycroft’s words in particular.

Defensive Mechanism…like supressed memory maybe? John was no expert in the Magickal mind, but he thought he knew enough to theorize the implication of that, and with what Mr. Holmes said of James Moriarty’s power, John felt he was beginning to understand what had happened – at least partially.

“You said that Moriarty could pinpoint a person’s greatest pain and magnify it, right?” Mycroft nodded. John still didn’t know the breadth of what Sherlock’s powers were, but given the fact that he was a Class AA2 Enchanter, there was no doubt in John’s mind they were diverse. “Did Sherlock…as a result of what Moriarty did-” John’s fists clenched. “-in the midst of that did he repress whatever that pain was, is, and block it off somehow? Make Moriarty’s power less effective?” But why would Sherlock still be in the coma then?

For a moment Mycroft appeared almost impressed. He adjusted himself in his chair and gestured towards the filed in John’s lap.

“For the most part yes, you are not an unintelligent man Doctor Watson. I believe the statement of the man who examined my brother – you just saw him actually – will answer and clarify any remaining questions you have.”

Just saw…the D.I?

John heard a familiar beep, and Mycroft retrieved a lit phone from his pocket; attention momentarily on whatever information he just received.

Finally, John looked at the file; there were two pieces of paper inside, handwritten. John lifted up the first.

 

'I never want to be in this position again. God, I hope we’re able to find a way to fix this soon; I actually miss the annoying bugger buzzing around my station calling us idiots and solving our cases for us.'

 

John found his lips quirked into a small smile, despite the gravity of the situation, somehow he found that not a difficult image to imagine.

 

'My mental abilities as an Illusionist aren’t all that high really –'

 

He was an Illusionist too? Like Moriarty? They hadn’t even properly met yet, but John didn’t get the impression this man was like Moriarty at all, John doubted he would let him within a mile of his brother if he was and by the sound of things, they knew each other personally. Illusionists powers are always mentally based, and can often involve making a person believe something to be true when it wasn’t, or create very real looking visuals that aren’t actually there, feelings that don’t exist – as the name ‘Illusion’ implies – all from reading a person’s mind and emotions. According to what John had read in the past, they are the only ones apart from Enchanters who can do so relatively easily, unless a person has significantly powerful mental shields. Just because a person has that power though, doesn’t mean they’ll use it negatively or at all. Still, a lot of people hold a prejudice against them because of it.

And this man became a Detective Inspector in the police? Impressive.

 

'- but I suspect Mycroft believed his brother would subconsciously recognize me as familiar and hoped that would allow me to delve a little further past those bloody shields of his (relentless even in the state he’s in) to see what happened…Obviously Mycroft doesn’t know his brother as well as he thinks he does. I’ve never done this before, for this purpose at least, but I was able to get somewhere…I don’t see how it helped all that much. We’re still stuck at square one. Ironically, the person who could most help us now would be Sherlock. From what little I was able to see, before I was rather forcefully ejected, rather painful I might add, Moriarty (evil bastard, wish I could’ve shot him myself) attacked Sherlock relentlessly for days, but wasn’t able to find his deepest pain until the day Sherlock was rescued. And then…God, I couldn’t see anything specific, but I could sense Sherlock’s mind was a mess. Sherlock had been trying to block as much of himself from Moriarty’s influence as possible, and he succeeded, just not for long enough. I can’t even imagine what would constitute a deepest pain to a man like Sherlock Holmes, a man many unfairly assume to be emotionless.

From what I could gather, I doubt Sherlock would’ve been able to do this consciously - the pain Sherlock felt was so immense his Magick went independently haywire on the spot and locked away the source of that pain within his own mind, and not just in a way that would make it impenetrable to Moriarty but to himself as well. In essence, if Sherlock has any awareness in there, even he wouldn’t know what it was. He basically performed self-amnesia, but thanks to Illusionist tailored training I received during the academy, I was able to deduce – Sherlock would approve – that the source of the pain itself, memories, were still there and them being locked away as they are is what is causing his coma. If the finest Doctors couldn’t get this far, there’s no way I’ll be able to unlock that block in his mind. If it caused him that much pain this happened…a part of me doesn’t want to give him back those memories, whatever they are.

I have no idea where we’ll go from here. Hopefully time will change things.'

 

That was the end of the first page. Christ. John wasn’t far from assuming this man had been through hell.

Everything surrounding John became inconsequential. He immediately dropped the paper he’d been holding and picked up the one yet to be read, written in the same handwriting John noticed and much shorter.

 

'Four years. How has nothing changed in four years? If Sherlock weren’t as powerful as he was, and clearly still is even with his Magick out of control, he would be dead. Somehow his comatose state is acting as hibernation; he might as well be cryogenically frozen. He doesn’t need food or water or anything physical, people tried to get close enough to give him those things but even those that know him, like me, can barely touch him. It’s like he knows, in some way, that we’re trying to unblock that pain and it’s preventing us from even getting close enough to do so. Deathly determined, literally.

He looks…God, I almost vomited. He looks like he should be dead, his body is giving the appearance of what must be extreme dehydration and starvation, but his Magick is somehow keeping him alive despite all that. This shouldn’t be possible. We’re all mystified.

Only one thing has changed. His Magick has, for the most part, healed itself. Sherlock still has to stay in his room, of course, but I noticed every time I visited him and examined his mind that the stability of his Magick was changing, even without outside help. And now, it has all but healed and no longer unstable the way that it was. I’d hoped that would mean he would awaken, but he hasn’t and shows no signs of doing so. This block is, quite literally, the only thing keeping him from waking.

A strong and unwavering part of him would rather die than remember.

What do we do? I hate feeling this useless.'

 

John dropped the paper and rested his head in his hand. He has never felt this invested in something so quickly before, and this D.I, he hate’s feeling useless – which is how John felt.

This is all insane! Impossible; none of this should be possible. Mycroft Holmes obviously thinks I can do something, but what? I’m a discharged Army Veteran with a limp and a tremor, who attempted suicide and whose Magick went out of control. Clearly I make terrible decisions. Or I have the worst luck in the world.

Everything John has been told and read explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything.

“Alright. I can’t even begin to express how sorry I am that this happened to your brother, but…how am I of any use to you?” John replaced the papers into the folder and looked up at Mycroft.

The man seemed to contemplate something, watching John carefully with a finger resting on his chin.

John met his gaze; unrelenting.

“The answer to that Dr. Watson, lies in this.” Mycroft Holmes pointed towards the bound wrists of John and Sherlock.

John looked at Sherlock for the first time in several minutes. With all the new knowledge in his mind, John is, if anything more confused about his connection to this man than he was before.

Sherlock Holmes has been in this Magickally sealed room for years, comatose, Magick uncontrolled, and according to this D.I, has recently mostly healed. Even if John weren’t messed up the way he was, and knew Sherlock personally, there was no way he should be seeing him walk around healthy – and the dog. Mycroft had yet to mention that in anyway, though he must’ve been told.

John’s eyes were drawn once again to the mysterious cuffs binding him and this still very much unknown to him.

He had never seen cuffs like those before. John had over the course of his life seen examples of restraints for dual use, but never in practice. He was almost positive those he had seen did not have a crystal like material between them.

“What you and my brother appear to have is a very distinctive Magick bond, one that typically occurs between two Enchanters, and only once in each life time. It is most…unusual to see this with you being a Mage. As far as I am aware, mixed species within this bond has only happened twice before.” Mycroft paused to replace both files securely in the briefcase. After setting it on the floor beside him, Mycroft then returned his severe, calculating eyes on John. It all seemed needlessly dramatic. “Coniuncti Sumus.”

Johns jaw dropped. That’s impossible.

What?

Mycroft quirked an eyebrow. “Ah. So you have heard of it then.”

“Of course I – that, how is this, I’ve never even met-this is insane!More insane than what’s happened so far?  It would explain a lot.

John desperately wished he could punch his inner voice.

He exhaled painfully and collapsed against the wall, torn between absorbing the information and fighting the desire to pinch himself, to make sure he wasn’t still dreaming.

“Prior contact is not always necessary, connection can and most often will occur merely when two peoples ‘Magickal boundaries’ coincide.” The man hardly seemed affected by the almost casual way he had suggested that John and his brother share one of the rarest and most revered of bonds.

John felt like he’d gotten mistakenly tossed into one of those movies about love at first sight involving this bond, Harriet watched them a lot when they were growing up.

Didn’t John note how particularly attractive the man he saw was? The man he now knows to be Sherlock Holmes.

“Before you work yourself into a coma of your own, despite what popular culture would have you believe, the Coniuncti Sumus bond is not inherently romantic in nature – the possibilities of the bond merely lend themselves to the deeply sentimental nature of humankind.” Mycroft sounded more than little exasperated, if not outright annoyed.

John rolled his eyes. “Contrary to what you, and your brother apparently, seem to think I’m not an idiot.”

It’s true. While John was aware, even though he hadn’t known anyone personally involved in a bond such as the one they were discussing, that a Coniuncti Sumus bond could be romantic, it wasn’t intrinsic.

In Afghanistan, their commander in chief - James Bartholomew Sholto, spoke of his parents best-friends to John, two Enchanters; a couple, who had the Coniuncti Sumus bond. Sholto was always an interesting man to talk with, reserved, but highly intelligent. John may have harboured an infatuation towards him at one point, though at the time he would hardly have admitted it to himself.

James Sholto told him the basics, mentioning first that the bond is unique to each person and some things aren’t necessarily universal to each bond, a few things are though. Coniuncti Sumus; Latin for ‘we are united’, in essence means two people share a complete capability of Magick, like two puzzle pieces fitting, or magnets of opposite poles being continuously drawn to each other. The two halves increase the power of the other through mutual support, and are often capable of great strides in their Magick that they wouldn’t be able to achieve otherwise. And they will always, always know when the other is in physical pain, or, worst-case scenario, dead. Not only that, they often are able to reach each other through any Magickal hindrance. All those realities will only increase in strength the stronger the emotions between the two people are.

So yes, John knew there wasn’t anything inherently romantic in Coniuncti Sumus, but that didn’t stop remembering how his mind, and body, lit upon seeing Sherlock Holmes that first time, even when he didn’t even know who he was – he still didn’t, not really.

“I’m sorry? You said my brother; you have actually spoken with my brother?”

While John had been remembering what he knows of the Coniuncti Sumus bond, Mycroft froze to utter stillness at John’s words; for the first time appearing genuinely surprised.

John wasn’t confused by his reaction for very long, he quickly remembered that he only ever told Dr. Thompson he saw a man, and a dog, not that he’d actually spoken with him.

The wide-eyed look on the man sitting opposite him reminded John that despite the professionalism with which Mycroft Holmes held himself, this was the man’s brother they were discussing.

“Yeah, twice actually. Deduced my whole life the first time, then when I saw him…well, yesterday, he kindly explained that I was an idiot, but that’s ok because everyone is – like it was supposed to be reassuring.” It was annoying, but part of John had felt like laughing.

Mr. Holmes blinked, slowly.

“Indeed. My brother could never be called a tolerant individual. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you’ve had contact with a part of him in some approximation. With enough focus, my brother was occasionally able to project himself a short distance away from his physical location. Even in this state, especially with the majority of his Magick healed, some of him would be – in lay terms – leaking out beyond this room.”

John had wondered if maybe this bond was why he’d been seeing him, it would make sense in a way, but maybe not?

“So this isn’t because of the bond?”

“Yes and no. Always when my brother projected himself, it worked much like a two-way mirror. He could see out, but no one would see him. That you saw, and spoke with him, is the part that is a result of your bond.” Mycroft, all previous evidence of distinct emotion gone, gestured towards the briefcase at his side. “As you very well know, my brother’s mind is still fractured, with the knowledge you have just given to me, I now suspect he may very well be aware to a degree, at the very least within his own mind. Regardless, I doubt he is consciously aware of what is going on.”

John looked over at the aforementioned man; chest rising in the same, slow, pattern, face lit further by the rising sun, accentuating the decrepit condition of his body.

John ached, and for the first time wondered if that was the bond or him.

“Because of whatever memories he locked away?” John asked without turning his gaze away. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mycroft nod. “Do you know what they are?”

“I have my suspicions, but no, I do not know. It is not in the Holmes nature to share information about our lives unless absolutely necessary.”

John hummed. Somehow, this knowledge did not surprise him.

“What about the dog I saw? Was he, or she, a product of Sherlock’s mind?”

Mycroft appeared to ponder that for a moment. “That seems probable; I can honestly say however that I do not know why that image was significant enough that Sherlock, intentionally or not, projected it. We never had a dog growing up. Dr. Thompson mentioned you said it was red?” The last sounded slightly more emphasized than the rest.

Was red significant somehow?

John nodded. “Yeah, Irish Setter I thought.” He should know, his Nan had two all through his early life.

Mycroft took a deep breath, eyes distant for a moment before coming to rest on John once more.

“I wish I had more answers for you John, truly.”

John ignored the many ways that response could be interpreted, knowing he would probably find out the truth some way or another – regardless, there was a more pressing concern.

John took a deep breath. “What now? You still haven’t said how any of this is of help. Or why I was drawn here last night for that matter.” Something John would really, really like to know, especially now.

Quite honestly, the full gravity of it hadn’t quite sunk in yet. John was running on adrenaline.

Mycroft made a grunt of acknowledgement, and for the first time during their long conversation, he ejected himself from the chair he had been sitting in.

“That, Dr. Watson, is what we shall all explain to you.”

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

John thought that he’d reached insanity’s terminus before, which proved just how far gone he really was.

He could believe a lot, with a world full of Magick and ultimately endless possibilities in the form and shape it can take, pretty much anything was possible.

That didn’t mean John wasn’t having trouble digesting what Mycroft, Dr. Hooper and D.I. Lestrade (whose first name is Greg he’d learned upon proper introduction) just told and summarily requested of him.

Oh ok, I’ll just go waltzing into some blokes head – whom I am apparently bonded to via Coniuncti Sumus – do away with whatever is mentally blocking him from waking, once I actually find it, no big deal that doing so will make this man remember his greatest pain and that I have no bloody clue what I’m doing, more likely I’ll fuck up the poor man even further…Absolutely no big deal, at all.

Perfect.

The truth was, for a few important reasons, John genuinely had no choice but to comply with what he’d been told and requested of. However, John knew that even if he did have a choice, there would be no way he could turn away from helping this Sherlock Holmes, or anyone in that condition for that matter. If John were the only one who could do something, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to ignore that, no matter how dangerous.

And this was dangerous.

When Mycroft called Molly and Lestrade back into the room (apparently they were waiting right outside), after introductions were made (The D.I seemed a pleasant enough man to John, certainly nothing threatening about him – despite his power), Mycroft proceeded to fill the rest of the gaps in John’s knowledge of the situation.                                     

What it all boiled down to was this: Sherlock could not live in his current state forever, mind fractured in who knew how many ways. It was a miracle he had survived as long as he had already, they were dealing with many worrying unknowns at the time. No one knew how much longer it would be before Sherlock gave out in both mind and body, Mycroft theorized though it would be soon – this based on John’s actions the night before. Once he explained his theory, it made sense.

Sherlock had no conscious awareness of his actions, the subconscious soul of his Magick and damaged mind reached out in desperation because it knew it was near death, latched onto John through the bond, because it knew John was the only one who could help. The Magick John felt that night, felt overwhelmed by, was indeed Sherlock’s. Because, as both Mycroft and Lestrade put it, with some guidance Coniuncti Sumus would allow John to interact with Sherlock’s mind in a way no one else could, and ideally bring him back.

With the new restraint on his wrist John hadn’t been able to tell until he was told (by Molly), but apparently when John initiated physical contact with Sherlock (which he managed to do before passing out) while the latter was subconsciously initiating a shared power connection he regained some control over his own Magick. John didn’t know until Mycroft told him that loss of Magick control between two people bound by Coniuncti Sumus was near impossible, so it made sense to him that John would receive a boost of healing so to speak from the closer contact.

(Unaware of his actions or not, John had a feeling that if they both came out of this in one piece – mostly – John would have a lot of thanking Sherlock Holmes to do.)

Molly told John that the restraint he and Sherlock shared wasn’t just for the benefit of keeping their own individual Magick under control, but the crystalline allowed currents of their Magick to stay connected to each other – which helped stabilize, and would continue to do so, Sherlock for the time being, especially considering that he weakened further after expending the mental energy it took to draw John to him. Overall, John got the impression that their unique Magick restraint acted much like a bizarre form of dialysis.

Since John didn’t have any inherent mentally based Magick, it would make the initial contact between his and Sherlock’s mind slightly difficult but with their bond it would not be impossible. Both Lestrade and Mycroft, each with their unique set of abilities would dually act as a bridge to guide John into mental contact with Sherlock’s mind. Neither would be able to observe or hear what John did, but all three of them would be under something similar to a trance the entire time this went on.

Molly was there to keep an eye on them. If enough time passed she would either signal for help to keep their bodies healthy or do what she could physically.

Lestrade emphasized to John that doing something like this, especially for one as inexperienced as he was, always carried a risk of mental damage to their own mind.

To which John replied he was already half-way there. He acknowledged the risk, but found he didn’t care all that much what happened to him – or rather, the risk was inconsequential in comparison to the reward.

After John agreed to venture into this unknown (while thinking it would probably be helpful to know what he was looking for exactly, but Mycroft, and Lestrade too – after John asked him – didn’t seem to know what memories Sherlock’s mind locked away) and ultimately attempt to save this man’s life, Mycroft – Lestrade as well – explained a few things about Sherlock’s power itself and how it would manifest once John made contact.

John remained seated on the bed, unable to move being bound (literally) to the man lying in the bed next to him. John observed a minority of Mycroft Holmes’s power with some fascination when the man replicated two additional chairs (with barely a twitch of a finger) identical to the one he’d resumed sitting in once Molly and Lestrade re-entered the room.

After they’d explained what would be required of John, and asking him if he would undertake this risk (again, John could hardly say no – didn’t want to), was when they began to explain the logistics, which included some things John suspected he wouldn’t be able to fully wrap his head around until he was actually in the position – if even then.

Sherlock Holmes continued to amaze.

“I feel like Alice going into goddamn wonderland.” John sighed after they – primarily Mycroft – explained it to him.

Molly, who was closest to John, reached out a comforting hand; faint smile on her face, she looked nearly as exhausted as John felt.

John smiled at her reassuringly and patted her hand.

Mycroft hummed and Lestrade looked vaguely amused by John’s comment.

“That’s actually pretty accurate, now that I think about it.” Lestrade muttered from his chair, sat beside Mycroft.

The D.I. appeared more tired than any of them, lines of pain clear on his face only barely covered by his too calm attitude.

Though they showed it differently, it was apparent that both Mycroft and Lestrade had deep personal stakes in the life of Sherlock Holmes.

And now, so did John.

Mycroft nodded towards Lestrade. “Indeed. My brother held much pride in his adaptation of the Mind Palace memory technique in concurrence with his own mental capabilities, in practice this ended up acting much like inward astral projection – quite singularly unique and ingenious.” Mycroft breathed deeply and glanced at his comatose brother. “Not that I said that to him.” He added so quietly, John suspected he didn’t mean to say so. Louder, he continued. “Gregory here was never able to get far, but connecting with Sherlock’s mind while in this state, however briefly, afforded him the unique experience appearing to physically be in Sherlock’s mental construction of a Mind Palace.”

“Before I got thrown out the front door – literally.” Lestrade yawned and scratched an errant spot on the back of his neck.

“So it’s like Virtual Reality in a sense?” Molly asked, obviously intrigued despite the obvious stress in her features.

Lestrade nodded.

“I’ll grant you that interpretation, yes.” Mycroft added.

“Fascinating.” Molly was worlds more knowledgeable in this area than John, but even this was relatively new territory to her.

Insane. Bloody insane.

John exhaled, still vaguely disbelieving. So apparently this man, Sherlock Holmes, when his Magick and mind fractured, he and all disconnected, uncontrolled parts of himself retreated into this mental construction of his. Something he initially created to facilitate his eidetic, if selective memory – according to both Mycroft, and Lestrade. Molly hadn’t known him before he was comatose.

They suspect that the block of repressed memories keeping Sherlock comatose was somewhere in there.

In essence – John would have to break into this man’s mental, and apparently very real, house and find repressed memories, all the while encountering who knows what and likely facets of the man himself.

John thought after this he would willingly submit himself to heavy doses of therapy.

It was all very confusing.

“One other point you should know Dr. Watson.”

John has never been afraid of danger, but he would admit to being fearful of failure. John didn’t think he’d ever felt this unprepared for something in his life. Mycroft had mentioned that the Coniuncti Sumus bond would help, though he didn’t say how – perhaps he didn’t know himself.

John sighed inwardly. He looked at Mycroft.

“What?”

“The way you experience the passage of time while connected to my brother will be different. It could very well feel you are in there for days, though in actuality only a few minutes may pass. We simply don’t know, and won’t know until this is over.” Mycroft appeared frustrated much like John at the amount of unknowns here – it was clear Mycroft Holmes was a man not used to not possessing all possible knowledge of various outcomes.

Brilliant. John couldn’t decide if that was a good or bad thing.

“Is that always the case with things like this? Or is it exclusive to him?” John had the passing thought of reading more up on mentally based Magick after this, maybe even pursue once he was fully healed, assuming this all worked out, a bum leg and hand tremor aren’t hindrances in that avenue of medicine.

It was the first time John had seriously thought of a future since attempting to kill himself. It may have only been a passing thought, and John may not fully recognize the importance of it at the time, but it meant something vital – John was not ready to die, not yet.

“It varies.” Lestrade interjected. “In this case, I suspect it has much if not all to do with him. You didn’t know him before, but…the speed at which his mind worked, it was unbelievable.” He looked off as if in remembrance for a brief moment. “Makes sense it would translate into something like this I guess.”

 

‘…no, I didn’t read your file, and before you ask I am not psychic - I merely use my brain unlike most people, and observe…’

 

John inwardly smiled at the memory of his first encounter with Sherlock Holmes. “I can believe that.”

Lestrade gave him a faint smile and nodded – in their conversation the fact that John had actually spoken with Sherlock, even if what was only a small part, came up more than once.

John did ask about the dog, Lestrade didn’t know what it was either – John felt more inclined to believe him about that than Mycroft.

“Do you have any other questions before we proceed?” Mycroft stood out of his chair.

“How will I know what to do? Or how to find these…memories for that matter?”

Give John a Sig Sauer P226R and he wouldn’t need to be told how to use it, but this…he’s been told and had a lot explained to him, but John still has zero clue what to  actually do once he finds these repressed memories, or what form they will take, let alone how to find them in the first place.

“I wish I could tell you more, but I fear this will be an undertaking we will largely have to take blind. Perhaps your Soldier history and experience will indeed be of use once again.” Mycroft gave John a knowing look.

The dig was subtle, and once again John wondered how much Mycroft actually knew, but he ignored it for the time being.

This entire plan reeked of desperation, but even though John has only known of it for all of a matter of hours, it was the best one they had – which wasn’t saying much.

No point in prolonging this, John supposed.

“Then let’s do this.” At that point John felt he knew as much as he could without actually being in Sherlock’s head.

“Are you sure Dr. Watson?” Lestrade asked, as he too stood up and moved his chair closer to John.

John appreciated the consideration, unwarranted though it was.

“Yes. And call me John.”  He gave Lestrade a commiserating nod before laying down, making sure to get comfortable; the increased pounding of his heart and adrenaline coursing through his body wasn’t an unwelcome feeling.

“Very well, good luck John. Call me Greg.”

John felt a warm, rough hand grasp his ankle; the first point of contact for the bridge between himself and Sherlock.

“Ta Greg.”

John clenched a handful of sheet in the palm of his right hand; staring at the ceiling. Waiting.

“I’ll be right here.” Molly said from off to his right.

John nodded.

Head resting on the soft cotton of the pillow, John turned to look to his left; he could see Mycroft sitting beside Greg in his own chair, hand now on the exposed ankle of his brother much like Greg’s with John; between them their free hands were resting palm to palm.

Their eyes closed.

John immediately focused on the gaunt man lying beside him –Sherlock – and hoped that emaciated, fractured state of the poor man would soon be a thing of the past. John found he wanted to see those eyes again, he wondered if they were just as full of life as they were when John saw him before.

And most importantly, John hoped this wouldn’t be an exercise in futility.

The last thing John saw before he felt a Magick wave of tsunami-like proportions wash over him and he abruptly fell unconscious, was the crystal binding between his wrist and Sherlock’s glow in a blinding, purple light…

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

At first John thought he was asleep because it was so dark, then he realized he could move, breathe, blink, he didn’t need a cane and he reached his hand out (though he couldn’t see it) there was no tremor. It all felt so real – the most realistic lucid dreaming could not possibly compare.

It was then John saw a door; several stories high, in the middle of a black, and thick, almost tangible fog; literally all around him appeared to be a night sky without stars – the contrast made the door, a deep, cherry red, with gilded carvings scattering across its surface, all the more striking.

The sheer grandeur of it had a part of John wanting to laugh - Sherlock Holmes’s ego must be the size of England itself.

John could barely see a foot in front of him, but with a step that was at first tentative – John moved towards the imposing door. It wasn’t like there was anywhere else he could go.

This is so bloody bizarre.

He wasn’t floating, there did appear to be something solid beneath his feet, yet each step he took was silent. That was perhaps what the most unsettling thing was; John couldn’t hear anything, not his breathing or any movement he made.

He had a feeling that would be changing soon.

John had heard of the ‘Mind Palace’ memory technique before, though only in passing. As John came closer to the door, it was obvious this man clearly took Palace to literal proportions.

It was also obvious that those gilded carvings John noticed before were actually thousands, upon thousands of musical notes, and all of them were moving, most in a very controlled and sinuous movement.

John’s eyes widened.

Is he a musician?

However, the more John looked the more he noticed there were some that appeared jagged, broken, jerking around almost angrily.

He also noticed the door had no handles.

“Of course not.” John mouthed to himself, silent. “Well, here goes nothing.”

John reached out with both hands, visually seeing his hands for the first time since arriving here (John noted with some confusion that they looked less marred), and prepared to hopefully push the door open.

The moment John’s hands came in contact with the gilded wood he felt a very familiar burning sensation. It was significantly more intense than it had been before, like touching hot embers.

“Fuck.” He swore.

John pushed.

He’d barely exerted any pressure before the door was falling open, but before he could register anything a light that shone like a thousand fluorescents flooded his vision and John quickly covered his eyes with both hands.

“What-”

A loud, overwhelming swooping sensation, interrupted his exclamation as it surrounded him, a sound that must’ve been hundreds of voices rose steadily louder.

John felt as though he was forced ear first against a speaker turned up to maximum.

The dual sensations of light and sound caused John to scream in shock and pain.

It was then John felt a tugging sensation in his gut, pulling him forward - and John fell.

 

~

 

Christ goddamnit shit arse -

Well, he landed. And to him it felt like he’d done so from some interminable height, hit every obstacle on the way, landed on a pile of rocks and miraculously survived.

In short, he hurt everywhere.

How is all this so real? At least whatever those voices were are gone.

John almost didn’t want to open his eyes and see where he was.

“Ah, John Watson I believe?”

At that John did open his eyes. There was no way to mistake who that voice belonged to.

Sherlock Holmes.

John was lying splayed on a carpeted floor of some kind, and he felt…itchy.

A pair of feet encompassed by grey slippers entered his field of vision.

John looked up, and into the face of a much healthier looking Sherlock, only this time he wasn’t wearing the suit and coat John had seen him in before, he wore a pair of ratty pyjama bottoms, a white t-shirt and a long, silky, deep red dressing gown hanging slightly off one shoulder. His hair looked even wilder, and his eyes were staring piercingly at John; alight with what could only be curiosity.

It was not fair that John found him more attractive like that.

John moved his legs and groaned. Yeah. Definitely fell.

“And you’re Sherlock Holmes.”

“Obviously. You’re in my head.”

So he’s clearly aware to some degree.

John rolled his eyes. “You never know, might’ve stumbled into the wrong mind by mistake.” He spoke with surprising steadiness, while pushing himself onto his knees and to standing.

John was immediately assailed by a draft once on his feet. He grimaced and looked down…

“I’m naked.” John sighed. Brilliant.

Explains the itchiness at least.  While army life had a way of curing ones modesty, dropping into a guy’s head in the nude wasn’t exactly a great impression to make – how did this happen anyway?

“Hm, yes. I would never have guessed.” Sherlock gave him a look that clearly told him what he thought of that obvious statement, mouth twitching as though restraining a smile.

John snorted.

Still nude, he put his hands on his hips and glared at Sherlock.

“You’re a bit of a twat aren’t you?”

Sherlock shrugged. “You’re the one who dropped onto my living room floor bare arsed, Dr. Watson.” His eyes flickered at John’s aforementioned nudeness for the briefest of moments, any indication of what he might be thinking hidden behind an indeterminable mask, before turning away without further word.

John did not turn red like a bloody teenager. Nope. I’m a 40 something year old man; I can and will control myself. I will not think about being naked inside Sherlock Holmes’s head…Christ.

“Right, sorry about th-oof!

John’s vision was suddenly blocked as some sort of clothing was thrown at his head. What – John pulled the offending garment away and realized it was another robe similar to the one Sherlock wore, except this was cream coloured and cotton. “Oh, um, ta.”  While John wrapped the gown around himself and tied it securely (far too long in both sleeve and hem, but John was none-the-less grateful) he looked around the new area he had appeared in for the first time.

Huh. With the grandeur of the door John saw, he certainly never expected anything like this; it was probably only a small part of Sherlock’s Mind Palace or wherever he was. It was obviously a flat; eclectic, small and cozy. John felt oddly drawn to it.

He wondered if it was a replica of a real place or a facsimile.

The only thing John recognized was Sherlock, sitting on a chair at a long, plain wooden table (in what could only be a kitchen, separated from where John was by an open glass door) covered in slides, paper, old used teacups, and a weathered laptop among a menagerie of other things. His focus was very intent down the line of a microscope, long fingers (John noted the stark, disturbance between them and the body of the actual Sherlock) turning the dials on its side.

John blinked in surprise. Detective, possibly a musician and now a scientist of some sort maybe?

Sherlock Holmes was quickly becoming the most fascinating man he’d ever met.

John breathed deep and took in the rest of the environment with interest.

He’d landed in what seemed to be a very well lived in sitting room, not dirty, but certainly disorganized; each piece of furniture unique.

There were two armchairs, one was black leather, the other a pale red tartan, in front of a fireplace, above which hung what looked like a mirror – but the glass was solid, not reflecting anything, odd. As John continued to look around, he noticed anything that should’ve reflected in some way, a window, a smooth table surface, the edges of the wooden floor bordering the large embroidered rug, a laptop screen etc., but didn’t; it was like a thick grey coating was blocking anything that could possibly allow a person to see themselves.

John knew, there was a psychoanalyst’s symbolic wet dream in there somewhere.

The more John observed, the more he came to realize while at first glance everything appeared normal, at a second, or third, the more bizarre and distorted things became.

There were no shelves, piles and piles of books and various oddities (a human skull, a half decomposed bison head, an old school uniform that could’ve only been worn by a child, bits of old newspaper, a single, lone slipper, music sheets everywhere…it went on and on) were scattered all over the room, and seemed to warp before John’s very eyes; an effect similar to looking at something underwater.

And the more John tried to focus, the harder it was to distinguish what things were. However, there were a few things that remained crystal clear (and that actually became easier to see with the various distortions surrounding them); a large, scorched, wooden wheel spinning at an incredibly fast rate, the sculpted figure of a half-naked woman, barely enveloped in cloth, making wide motions with her arms – as though she were in control, even though her hands didn’t come into physical contact with the whirling circle. She had no face, yet John felt as though she were staring at him…it was more than little unsettling.

The wheel began to slow as musical notes began to emanate from all around John; vaguely familiar – but John couldn’t quite pinpoint why.

Suddenly, the woman and the wheel were gone; between a blink of Johns confused and startled eyes.

(What the hell?)

In its place, John saw a cherry red violin ripple into existence and actually float in the centre of the room above a metallic music stand – ah, a violinist.

Not many would guess it to look at him, but John always had loving appreciation for violin music.

There was an oddity however; one of the strings was broken, making it unplayable.

Focus John. He didn’t come here to gawk at the man’s subconscious/mind palace.

John doubted the block was here. That would’ve been too easy, wouldn’t it? And he had absolutely no idea where to go from that point – the only source of guidance he had was Sherlock himself, what must be a part of him anyway.

The fact that he’d gotten that far however, further proved the validity of a Coniuncti Sumus bond. John suspected he wouldn’t have gotten past those loud, piercing voices and overpowering lights otherwise. He wondered if that was what ejected Greg before, only with John, it ended up doing the exact opposite and obviously brought him in further.

Now what?

John turned around to face what he first suspected to be a kitchen.

Sherlock hadn’t moved from his position, only now he was wearing black trousers and a purple shirt, robe absent. The kitchen was entirely empty, save for the table and its contents, with the addition of a single counter with an electric kittling bubbling soundless atop it.

The other major difference was what looked like various bits of torn paper moving around Sherlock’s head, moving far too fast for John to glean what was written on them.

John walked towards the table, intent on speaking to Sherlock and asking him…what? So hey, mate, any idea where you keep your most painful memories? In the fireplace or one of those wooden crates over there? Maybe in the slipper.

He reached the table and sat across from Sherlock in the only other chair. The latter appeared not to notice or simply ignored him.

John clasped his hands together and rested his arms on the tables’ surface, abruptly reminded that he was still wearing the man’s robe.

John began to feel exceedingly awkward about the entire thing; still he resolved not to show it.

“Mind if I ask you something?” He asked, perhaps overly casual. There’s nothing casual about this, why am I even trying?

John blinked in surprise as all pieces of paper which had been zooming around Sherlock’s head vanished in puffs of smoke, all save one…which, much to John’s bewilderment, folded itself into an origami lotus and fell into Sherlock’s head. Into it! Though there was no…hole that John could see.

He tried very hard not to gape.

Otherwise, Sherlock didn’t move.

“Interesting choice of words given our situation, but yes, you can – no guarantee I’ll answer.” Sherlock muttered with a vaguely exasperated sounding exhale. His gaze continued to be focused down the sight of his microscope.

John wondered what he was looking at.

He didn’t ask his questions immediately; because when Sherlock spoke it became clear it wasn’t only his clothes that had changed. John couldn’t pin point his finger on it, but this Sherlock seemed more…dismissive, less warm than the one that had greeted him. And John was sure there was a more unnatural pallor to his skin.

John shook it off and leaned forward.

“How did you know my name?” Probably not the most productive question to start off with, but John was curious. Sherlock had called him by his name the second time he saw him, at the time John wondered if the man had overheard him being addressed by some member of the group, but maybe not.

“Your cane, obviously.”

At his words, though bored sounding, Sherlock seemed to ripple and suddenly he was wearing exactly what he had the second time John saw him; suit, coat, scarf and blue shirt – he never so much as moved.

This is so weird.

“My-” Oh. Right, course. When John came to the centre his cane had been labelled with his name in case it got misplaced somehow, Sherlock must’ve seen it.

“Mm. Now that we’ve got that fascinating detail out of the way – why don’t you ask me what it is you really want to know?” Sherlock moved his focus away from the microscope for the first time, almost immediately it disappeared and Sherlock rested his elbows on the table, palms encased in dark leather pressed together and resting in front of his mouth.

Sherlock was then, very pointedly, observing John with calculating eyes. It was more than a little unnerving to be subject of that gaze, John felt like every secret and every thought he’d ever had was laid bare before him.

It bothered John less than he thought it would’ve (he wondered if it was because those eyes that were staring at him were also hypnotic – otherwise why would John be suddenly speechless like an idiot?). Still, Sherlock’s expression gave nothing away.

John coughed offhandedly and opened his mouth to do just what Sherlock said but paused – his instincts told him that asking this man point blank about what was going on, at least at first, was a bad idea.  He may have the Coniuncti Sumus bond working in his favour, but this man’s subconscious had kept himself in a coma that will eventually kill him if he doesn’t come out of it, all to avoid remembering what it was Moriarty had found and exploited.

It would probably not be a good idea to risk shooting himself in the foot before he could really get somewhere.

“Do you know why, and how, I’m here?” John figured it would be helpful to find out exactly how much Sherlock was aware of, and then John could decide how to approach the rest of this.

“I know you’re not a figment of my mind. I know you do not possess any mentally based Magick power yourself, or if you do it is not significant enough to warrant you being able to come here yourself, you had help. I know you are uncomfortable being here, not out of fear in being what is obviously an unknown for you, no, if anything you relish the danger of this disruption to what had become a monotonous life you despise, you are uncomfortable because you are a man who despises feeling useless, which you feel right now but are obviously trying not to. None-the-less, you are deeply intrigued and fascinating by what you see in a way I find…surprising, much like your decision to become a soldier, a profession wrought with destruction, while also holding deep commitment to your being a Doctor, further highlighted by your Sorcerer based Magick.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes at a very wide-eyed John, seemed to contemplate something before tapping his fingers against his mouth once and bring them to rest flat on the table. John found himself worrying Sherlock was going to deduce his suicide attempt. “I also know that you find me superficially attractive.”

Now that John hadn’t been expecting. He only passingly allowed himself a moment of awe, if discomfort, at how bloody personal – and accurate – Sherlock’s deductions were, in favour of focusing on that last one.

“What-no I’m not, I wouldn’t, you’re completely off-” John exhaled and rested his head in his hands. Fantastic, this couldn’t get any more awkward – then John remembered violating this man’s mind by dropping naked into his living room. He sighed. “Look, I do not know why you think that-”

“You-”

“And I’m not asking!” John quickly interrupted. “Look, this is neither here nor there, but you are way off.” It wasn’t a lie, not completely, which was probably why Sherlock’s expression changed from exasperation with John’s pathetically bumbling denial to confusion. Technically John was telling the truth, in his head John could admit he found Sherlock exceedingly attractive and adept at pushing buttons John didn’t even know he had, but it wasn’t just superficial – as Sherlock seemed to think.

Then suddenly Sherlock’s expression went completely blank and his eyes were hard as he stared at John.

“Don’t tell me you hold idiotic societal views of sexuality-”

No! God no, of course not! I’m not that kind of arsehole. All that – it’s all fine.” John gestured towards Sherlock.

At that Sherlock abruptly shut up.

“I know it is.” Sherlock’s hands came to rest once more in front of his mouth. He continued to watch John curiously for a moment before he seemed to look through John; almost absent.

Jesus Christ, John certainly didn’t mean to imply that he was somehow prejudiced with his half-arsed denial. A couple decades or so ago he might’ve seemed that way, more than one near death experience tends to put certain things in perspective though.

Sherlock didn’t say anything more. As John looked at him, he was abruptly reminded of the fact that Sherlock was born in 1854. The world wasn’t exactly accepting of gay people back then, still isn’t now in many places. John wasn’t sure what Sherlock defined himself as, but due to the way he reacted John doubted he was heterosexual.

John sighed again. “Ok, how did we end up talking about this?” John muttered quietly to himself. He was already way off track here.

Resolving to put this conversation way, way back into some black hole in his mind (it really couldn’t have happened at a worse time), John re-focused back on Sherlock and his goal; getting the man out of this coma.

So he knows I’m real, and that I connected with this mind – pretty sure he also knows he’s unconscious, but doesn’t appear to know why.

His focus still seemed to appear elsewhere.

“Mr. Holmes?” John called out his name loudly in effort to get his attention.

The second John spoke to him Sherlock closed his eyes and twitched. Then his appearance changed again. He was back to wearing the silky red robe John saw him in before, and he felt more…open, for lack of a better term.

“Sherlock, please.” He answered with a minute smile.

The amount of pleasure John felt at seeing him smile, so different to the hardened expression he wore before, was probably a little more than unnecessary. Thanks brain.

“Alright Sherlock, call me John then.” John nodded.

“Yes, John.”

John reciprocated his smile gladly.

When John realized that they were both just sat there smiling at each other, the pause that followed quickly became awkward for an entirely different reason.

This is not exactly helping my “not attracted” to him case.

“You have more questions.” Sherlock broke the silence, watching John with a curious eye, as if what just transpired was inconsequential.

At the moment, John was relieved. He really didn’t want to continue that conversation and risk embarrassing himself further.

“Yes.” John nodded. He breathed deeply. “How much are you aware of what’s happening here, with you?”

“I know I am unconscious, and that I am not dreaming – your singular presence confirms as much. I have to be in a coma, though not of the traditional sort since I retain a manner of self-awareness, clearly as I am able to communicate with you, a part of my mind is at any rate. If things were different I would almost call this fascinating. As such, I dislike being unable to use all of the amenities of my Mind Palace.” Sherlock tapped his fingers gently against his chin. “I know that is because my abilities were damaged by major trauma causing the Magick I possess to become uncontrolled, which seems to have had the unfortunate side effect of affecting how I regulate my mind. I have spent decades perfecting the efficiency of my shields – only an event, or person, of noteworthy power could collapse them. My last, clear memory was of testing the textile strength of Albanian sheep wool in a lab at St. Bart’s against increasingly high levels of ethanoic acid-” At this John noted with some surprise the scent of wet wool and vinegar perforating the air. Sherlock’s appearance changed again; this time he was wearing a black suit with a white shirt. “-After that…nothing is clear. I cannot remember how I came to be in this position, nor do I have any recollection of how long it’s been – something I have been trying to figure out, along with a way to…wake up. The only use tedium has ever granted me was time in which to install various fail safes and triggers to protect my mind from this exactly kind of damage! I should’ve been able to wake myself up, when I discovered I couldn’t I tried reaching out.”

Sherlock threw his arms up in the air, his expression morphed into one of deep frustration. John noticed the longer Sherlock spoke, the angrier he became. “Something I have been, annoyingly unable to do! I’m missing pieces of the puzzle, I can’t figure this out. I should be able to. My mind is not a useless sieve, I collect all and save what is useful, surely this would’ve been useful! Even damaged there should be something, more evidence, more…”

John jumped a bit in surprise as Sherlock leapt out of his chair and began pacing around the kitchen table, muttering to himself and running angry fingers through his hair. John had to use significant metaphorical neck muscles to follow him with his eyes on each lap.

Up until that point, Sherlock had appeared largely controlled and casual – seeing this frustration and anger was only to be expected, still John was surprised at how fast it appeared.

What he wasn’t surprised by was Sherlock having no conscious memory of Moriarty and the events that led both of them to this point. If Sherlock really was triggered into a form of amnesia, John half-expected he would know even less than he seems to – despite how clearly angry with himself the man is, like he sees it as his own fault and personal failure, the fact that he is aware at all seems like a miracle to John.

John wondered how much of this Sherlock actually knows. Either way; miracle.

He spared a moment to be grateful for the fact that he encountered the part of Sherlock’s mind that wanted to heal himself, and didn’t have to do deal with whatever it was that was keeping him like this – not yet anyhow.

God this is all so bloody strange. A relatively ordinary person’s mind would probably be trouble enough for John, the mind of Sherlock Holmes…well; this was going to be interesting.

“That’s why I’m here. I know how to fix you.” Sort of. John tried not to cringe. “At least, I think I do. I want to.”

Sherlock stopped pacing and whipped around to face John, his eyes immediately went to darting all over John’s features before finally settling on John’s face.

Sherlock blinked. And it reminded John of when he called Sherlock amazing after the man deduced him short of his penchant for red tartan underwear; like he couldn’t believe he heard – or in this case, saw.

John wondered what Sherlock saw in his eyes.

Determination? …Nothing to lose?

“Why? What could you possibly gain from what you’re doing?” His gaze narrowed at John as if he suspected an ulterior motive; and John decidedly met that gaze head on.

All around them faint violin music began to play.

Beneath the suspicion in his eyes, there was genuine curiosity – only, John wasn’t even sure of the answer to that question.

Because I have to? True, but that didn’t sound right to him.      

Because I want to feel purposeful again, because I know, if I didn’t try I would hate myself – not just because it would feel like abandoning a man in need when you alone hold the ability to help him, but because it’s you. You, a complete stranger, whom I haven’t met – not fully, and all I know is I need to help you. I don’t even care if the Coniuncti Sumus has something to do with this or not, for the first time in a long time I feel alive.

I have to.

…yeah, no, no way, not saying that out loud.

In all honesty? John wasn’t sure he was technically gaining anything. So that’s what he said.

“Nothing.” John shrugged.

Sherlock snorted in disbelief. “Nothing?”

John stood up and nodded, hands briefly in the air with nothing but sincerity bright in his eyes. (John had the half thought that the effect he was going for might’ve been a bit more dignified if he hadn’t been wearing the man’s dressing gown)

“Nothing.”

Sherlock frowned, lip minutely curled. “Hm.” He didn’t say anything more, but there was something new in his eyes as he looked at John – it was indefinable, John quirked a smile.

Sherlock shook the moment off however; his posture straightened, his hands clasped behind his back and he walked to stand directly in front of John, closer than he had yet to be.

John’s short stature only made the man seem even taller than he probably was, and it only added to his enigmatic appeal.

John didn’t move.

“Tell me all you know.”

John exhaled. “Your brother-”

“Mycroft.” Sherlock bit out, he appeared to briefly flicker to an image of a child – but it went by so fast John wasn’t sure. “I should’ve known he’d be involved, always insisting on rubbing his fat nose in my life, would’ve thought he’d find someone more qualified and slightly less bumbling to deal with-”

Oi!-” Sherlock’s mouth abruptly closed. “Do you want me to tell you what I know or should I take my bumbling self out of here?” John scowled and crossed his arms.

Certainly no love lost there between those two. From what Mycroft told him though, they had been able to put aside their dissension when it mattered.

Sherlock looked away from John briefly. His shoulders fell, and he exhaled a long sigh. When he leaned against the wall directly behind him, he remained silent and waiting.

Small mercies.

“Thank-you.” Perhaps best not to start off with Mycroft this time. Don’t fuck up Watson. “I don’t know all the details of this but as far as I know you were tortured, Magickally, into reliving your deepest pain over and over. Your Magick and mind…self-destructed in a way, and your mind then reacted in self defense, we’re not sure if you did this consciously or not, but you apparently purged the memories from your conscious mind causing the pain and-”

“It was the finite blow to what even an individual such as myself could bear. I inadvertently locked the source of the pain permanently out of mind, causing myself temporary amnesia of any and all events surrounding it, and putting me into a coma of my own making from which I will only awaken if I retrieve the memories of this pain. I obviously wasn’t able to delete them completely, which suggests not only was the action an unconscious one taken by my Magick, but that whatever the memories contain is intrinsic to my individuality. If they truly were entirely gone I wouldn’t be here talking to you. And now you’re here because, for whatever reason, my brother has run out of options in trying to revive me, years must’ve passed since I first went under. As much as I hate to compliment him on anything, my brother is not without Magickal talent, he had to have tried waking me – and failed. As did everyone else that followed. Lestrade would’ve tried as well. No one had any success, and yet…you are here, interesting.” Sherlock had started pacing again, hands in front of his mouth, while he spoke; obviously deep in thought, the very physical manifestation of a mind racing, once again pieces of paper with indistinguishable words zoomed around his head.

John couldn’t even find it in himself to care all that much about being interrupted, yet again. Sherlock was all so very blasé about it, if anything he seemed excited by the new information. John believed him when he said he didn’t know much about what happened, so he had extrapolated all of that from John’s words alone.

John liked to think he was pretty good at reading in between the lines, but this…it was another in a quickly growing list of proof that Sherlock Holmes sees novels of information in the most seemingly insignificant detail.

And a part of him was able to do all that while still in turmoil.

“That’s brilliant.” John suspected he was gawping.

 Sherlock stopped his frantic movements and looked at John curiously. “Do you know you do that out loud?”

Now I do.

“Sorry I’ll shut up now.”

“No, it’s…fine.”

Sherlock resumed pacing, continuing to absorb all the information he could, but John could’ve sworn there was a new, faint but very real smile on his face.

Yet again John praised Sherlock’s deductions and the latter seemed both surprised and pleased, like this was new. How is that possible?

Sherlock did one more lap around the kitchen before coming to an abrupt stop a few feet away from John.

“My shields attacked anyone who tried to enter my mind, they probably assumed this was resulting from the part of me keeping the memories buried – but no, it wasn’t, even in a chaotic situation there is some measure of predictable order…which means…Oh!” Sherlock gasped and his hands clapped together once in front of his face. “Yes!”

John had seen Sherlock smile before, but this was something else. His entire being came to life. It took all of John’s energy not to smile – but wait, what did Sherlock mean?

“My mind as the adversary…definitely fascinating.” All of the sudden, Sherlock’s long, dark coat appeared on his shoulders and his hands became enveloped in black leather; there was a faint redness high up on his cheeks. “The game is finally on. Come along John.”

Sherlock whizzed out of the kitchen before John could react.

Shit!

John rushed after him (peripherally noting that the living room looked exactly as it did when he first entered it, only the violin was nowhere in sight).

“Bloody hell Sherlock, wait!”

Sherlock had his hand on the doorknob. He turned to look at John, seeming confused by John’s call. Of course.

“What?” He said, very clearly impatient to get moving.

But moving to where?

“Where are you-”

We, John. Obviously you’re coming with me.”

For heaven’s sake-

“Yes, I know.” John briefly rested one of his hands on his forehead. “But where are we going? What did you figure out back there and why, did you say we probably assumed the shields you have that were keeping people were because a part of you wants to keep the memories buried, aren’t they?”

“Is this really necessary?”

John sighed. “Yes! I may be in your mind, but I can’t bloody read it.” Now there’s a sentence he never thought he’d say.

And then, Sherlock did something he was definitely not expecting.

He laughed; full bodied, infectious and utterly captivating.

At first John was confused, but that didn’t last long as John couldn’t help but join in too.

They didn’t stop. John hadn’t laughed that hard in months, for Sherlock, John suspected it had been years. He thought it was probably due to adrenaline release more than anything else, still, it felt good.

Sherlock’s giggling had tapered off, but he continued to watch John with amusement.

John was still trying to control his reaction, so he reached out to steady himself on something, and realized it was Sherlock’s shoulder.

Then he stopped laughing, suddenly realizing how close he allowed himself to get. Sherlock didn’t seem to care, simply watching John. He cared though. Feeling decidedly awkward, John pulled his hand away, feeling hot and intending on brushing off the moment to focus on what was actually important.

John opened his mouth to speak, Sherlock got there first.

“My mind may be fractured, but clearly many of the safeguards I mentally put in place years ago are still functioning, which means my Magick wasn’t so severely damaged I couldn’t heal – at least to a degree. The shields in place now are not the same as those I possess when conscious. These ones are to prevent outside sources from violating my Mind Palace when I am, cleaning it – for want of better terminology, of unnecessary information. Nothing can, or will wake me, until I am finished – except for myself of course. All of me, Magick and all, is focused on the one task when I am decompressing my Mind Palace. The damage to my Magick is keeping part of my ability stuck in this loop, which is what is making it impossible for my Magick to heal completely – which if it were able to may have been able to unlock those memories automatically. It is only a side issue however; waking up from the coma will ultimately solve both issues. What is most important is that whoever tortured me into this position was intelligent, but clearly inexperienced in the mental landscape in comparison to myself; his damage was thorough, but not thorough enough. I’m still alive. It is amazing what a century or two under ones belt can do.”

Oh only a century or two. No big deal.

John frowned, trying to think his way through Sherlock’s words.

“Let’s see if I got this…what is blocking others from entering your mind now, is your Mind Palace janitorial caught in a loop because a part of your mind tried to delete these painful yet apparently important memories and failed, which as a result caused  them to be locked away in some far corner instead, which made you all but forget them, but because you didn’t actually there is some residue of them behind and because your mind now doesn’t know where they come from, or what they are, it assumes they are unnecessary and is trying to delete them, but can’t because they are connected to these blocked memories the rest of you can’t actually remember, so it’s like trying to delete something that ‘doesn’t exist, not possible and you practically jumped out your trousers just now because you realized the existence of this residue may lead us to the source of all this? And recovering the memories will stop this…loop, allowing your Magick to heal completely, and will wake you up from the coma?”

Sherlock looked pleasantly surprised. “Essentially, yes.”

Well, that’s something then.

John felt grateful that the evil bastard who did this was just incompetent enough to not actually kill Sherlock. He probably would’ve anyway, if Sherlock weren’t as obviously capable as he was.

“Alright then.” John wondered if being connected with Sherlock’s mind was rubbing off on him in some way.

It may be half-arsed, but it was a plan, and a plan made John feel better about this whole, confusing and maddening thing. The more he thought about it, the less he understood it.

(John had a feeling one could spend an entire lifetime trying to understand the mind of Sherlock Holmes and still get nowhere)

The only reason why John didn’t ask, with what Sherlock said, why he was able to go through those shields, was because he knew why. The thought didn’t stick, but inwardly John wondered why Sherlock didn’t ask or seem to wonder why himself. Maybe this part of Sherlock was unable to for some reason.

John was brought out of his thoughts when he saw Sherlock was smiling once again at John, his hold on the doorknob somewhat loosened.

“You’re not all that unintelligent are you?”

John snorted. “I did tell you I’m not an idiot.”

“Perhaps.” Sherlock turned away and twisted the door handle; it opened slightly with a small, quiet creak. He looked at John once more. “Not completely at any rate.”

It wasn’t traditional, but John suspected that was actually supposed to be praise of a sort.

John rolled his eyes.

“That, is a horrible compliment.”

Sherlock looked almost offended. “I thought it was rather good actually.”

John wasn’t sure if Sherlock was being serious or joking.

“John.” Sherlock continued speaking before John could wonder further. “Since it is obvious you do not share my penchant for robes, I assume you’ll want your clothes back.” Sherlock gestured at John; in the too long, too skinny dressing gown.

To be honest, John had completely forgotten what he was wearing – wait a sec, ‘back’?

Before he could respond, Sherlock – the prat - winked at him, swung open the door and left the room. The door shut behind him before John could follow or see what lay beyond – not that he would’ve been able to follow, since he had frozen momentarily because of that wink.

“Bastard.”

He suddenly felt decidedly less airy. John looked down. He was wearing what he had been when he entered Sherlock’s mind, namely the drab BMC staple white t-shirt and grey trousers.

John wanted to ask Sherlock why he showed up nude in the first place, but for that and many other things, he would have to find the bugger first.

What was it Sherlock said? Ah, the game is on.

John opened the same door Sherlock did and followed.

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

John expected to open the door into a hallway, or stairwell. Clearly he’d forgotten very few things follow paths of traditional logic here.

He should’ve expected to end up somewhere as sudden as a gigantic warehouse…although zoo might have been more accurate.

When he followed Sherlock beyond the flat door he was immediately thrown – involuntarily – down what felt very much like a slide, instinct caused John to reach out and try to stop his momentum, which inevitably failed. Barely a few seconds later he exited onto a hard surface in another undignified heap, at least his clothes remained on his body this time.

John groaned as pushed himself off the ground (maybe I should start keeping a tally here), hands scraping the cracked, and porous cement floor; through which John felt trickles of water, as a result when he stood his hands and knees came away wet.

“What the bloody hell was that…” John muttered to himself, a slide? Really? He hoped he hadn’t unintentionally taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up into some obscure corner of Sherlock’s head, far from his goal and wherever Sherlock – the Sherlock he’d been talking with, went.

John supposed he could forgive the man his impatience in this scenario.

That was when John noticed he could hear what sounded like multiple voices speaking in the distance, it reminded him of a much milder version of the cacophony he’d heard before, but this time John not only heard people, the sounds of numerous animals assailed his ears.

Strange.

John’s brow furrowed. That was when he finally inspected his surroundings.

He gasped.

John was standing in the middle of a massive room; the kind of size with no visible end in sight, and ceilings that dwarfed John’s own height hundreds of time over. There was no sign of the…slide, or shoot maybe, that brought him here.

The room appeared industrial, housing dark wooden shelves upon shelves of boxes all in various stages of aging. John was standing the middle of a crossroad of shelf aisles. While most of them were ordered and stacked neatly, John noticed that several were laying strewn about as though they’d been tossed aside in a hurry.

Maybe Sherlock did end up here…     

John started moving across the moist floor and turned down the nearest aisle, which seemed to hold the majority of the strewn about boxes.

It was when John inevitably got closer to the boxes (they looked like file boxes with open handles on either side) that he noted with some shock the sounds he was hearing become louder, and he realized they were coming from the boxes themselves.

All of them.

It wasn’t a painful volume like before, so John leant forward and picked up one of the loose pieces of paper that had fallen out of a box.

It was blank except for one word. Deleted.

John blinked. He quickly picked up several more pieces of paper. Deleted. Deleted. Deleted…

Deleted.

John began to have the suspicion that he was in Sherlock’s Mind Palace version of a Computer Recycling Bin.

This is more than bizarre.

“What-oi!

Something black flew across his vision, ruffling up John’s hair and starling John into dropping the paper. He brushed it away and as it flew above his head and into some unseen direction, John saw it was a raven.

In fact, there was more than one. John watched in growing fascination – and perhaps a touch of wariness – as more ravens began flocking together, separating, and flying together again in a chaotic formation above the high point of the shelves.

It was almost a Hitchcock film. John just hoped those birds wouldn’t try to peck him to death.

John resumed walking, the trail of askew boxes now increasing in size and mess – maybe Sherlock came here looking for evidence of those memories?

John kept his eyes, and ears, peeled for the man. He reached the end of one aisle with still no sign of Sherlock – damn it! –and stopped for a moment debating which way to turn next.

A sudden, loud sound blasted his ears from behind him. And John became, very, very still – hoping dearly what he heard was an out of tune tuba. He turned slowly.

Nope.

It was an Elephant.

A full-sized, adult elephant zooming up the aisle (far faster than any Elephant should be able to), feet pounding, practically on John’s arse already.

Where the shit did that come from!

John didn’t think. He just ran.

He turned a left, then a right, then another left, all the while there was no end to the aisles of boxes, and dozens remained askew and more tumbled over into piles of paper that floated as the booming Elephant feet tossed them into the air.

The word ‘deleted’ was everywhere.

If by some bizarre turn of events John ended up being chased by an Elephant in a warehouse (and with the drastic turns his life and taken in recent times, he wouldn’t negate that happening all together) there would be no way he could out run it, even though he seemed to able to – and wasn’t feeling tired even though he was running harder than he had for a while, but he wasn’t actually running though was he? – in Sherlock’s mind.

John turned another corner as he looked behind him at the still approaching Elephant.

“Why do you have a bloody elephant in your mind palace why?” John mumbled with no small amount of annoyance.

Shit shit shit what do I do now-

John ran into something hard, and soft, and very much not a shelf of boxes.

“Ah, there you are. What took you so long?”

In front of John stood Sherlock, slightly bent over and tossing papers out of various boxes all around him; searching, eyes focused and not looking at all put out by the fact that John bumped into him because he was being chased by an elephant!

John glared at Sherlock and breathed heavily.

“What took me so long?!” John’s voice raised, huffing, he bent over and placed his hands briefly on his knees. “A bloody Elephant was chasing me!”

At that Sherlock paused in his ministrations and looked at John with a curiously blank expression.

“An…Elephant?”

“Yes!” John threw his hands in the air. “It was right-” John turned around. Nothing. He listened for the sound of feet and tuba like wailing. Nothing (in fact, now that John had found Sherlock all of the sounds and voices he heard before, though indistinguishable, were gone – and the crows he saw were nowhere to be seen either). He poked his head around the wide aisle corner. John saw nothing “-behind me.” John finished; feeling a bit confused.

“Mm.”

When John turned back around to Sherlock, he saw the man very much back into his activity of throwing paper around (these pages John saw contained far more words than ‘deleted’, and Sherlock was only giving most of them cursory glances before tossing them aside), clear he’d only be half paying attention to John – or not at all.

John shook off the bizarre last few minutes to focus on the much more important, and urgent matter at hand. (If he stopped to gawk at every weird, bizarre not normal thing he saw, John doubted he’d make any progress)

“I don’t exactly have a map of your…Mind Palace you know.” John gestured around them. “If you could try not to leave me behind like that again I’d really appreciate it.” And hopefully avoid any more wayward Elephants or crows.

John kneeled, mirroring Sherlock’s position, and watched him continue to sort through the many boxes.

“I knew you’d find your way here eventually.” Sherlock commented with a vague wave of his hand, focused on a yellowing piece of paper in his other.

John’s mouth twisted and made to respond but instead he just sighed, deciding to let this go for the moment.

The cold, moist, feeling had started to seep into his grey sweats again, and John was reminded of another question or two he wanted to ask Sherlock.

“Hey, so why did I show up bare arsed in your Mind Palace flat?”

Sherlock’s movements didn’t slow, he dropped the paper he had been examining and all but stuck his entire head in the box at his feet.

“221b.” His voice was muffled, but John heard him loud and clear.

Er…What?

“221b?”

John heard him mumble.

It was almost funny the way Sherlock whipped his head out of the box, hair flailing around his head. He didn’t look at John but instead stood up – more leapt up – and then proceeded to float above the ground to one of the top shelves; but still visible to John.

John unfolded out of his crouch.

Personal levitation wasn’t an uncommon sight, still John wondered if that was something Sherlock could do in real life or if it was mind specific.

It took all of a minute, when Sherlock came back he was holding a larger box and a large book hovered above his shoulder. His landing was completely smooth, not a stumble in sight.

“Two hundred and twenty B Baker Street. It is the flat in central London I rented approximately three months ago, from a former client of mine; Mrs. Hudson.” Sherlock continued speaking as though there hadn’t been an interruption. He dropped the box and the box floated to settle itself into his open palms, without even the use of his fingers the pages began flicking below Sherlock’s eyes at an incredible speed. John was exceedingly curious about what the man was looking at, since all John could see were a mishmash of words that didn’t make sense, at least from where John was standing, or constant flashes of the word ‘deleted’. “In answer to your question, I am unaccustomed to nude men presenting themselves in my home, in any capacity, since you obviously weren’t unclothed before connecting to my mind I am…uncertain why you would arrive as such.” His eyes flitted up to John’s briefly before resuming his examination of the book. “It is not of import at any rate.”

Sherlock didn’t sound like he was lying, but John would be surprised if he was telling the entire truth.

John crossed his arms.

“You’re lying, why?” Furthermore, why was John feeling such a strong burning sensation of certainty in chest of the fact?

At this, Sherlock froze. He lifted his head, blinking slowly, and looked off at a point beyond John’s shoulder. His entire body twitched, once, and for a moment Sherlock looked entirely different (hair smoothed back, coat seemed bigger, suit a dark brown), but John barely had the time be confused or concerned before Sherlock twitched back to his previous appearance.

Once again, he resumed flicking through the massive book in his hands. He didn’t seem to have noticed what just happened.

“Her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida, I was able to assist. She gave me a lenient lease on the flat in gratitude.”

John blinked, arms falling to his sides. “Sorry, who?”

Sherlock looked at John. “Mrs. Hudson, John! Do keep up.” He tossed the book over his shoulder and threw the lid off the large box he dropped earlier; once again kneeling on the ground.

John looked at Sherlock carefully, holding onto the back of his neck with his hand. What just happened? Sherlock was acting like he’d skipped over and forgotten everything after that comment he made about 221b.

John had to remember this wasn’t quite a person he was talking to; this was a part of Sherlock’s mind. He had very little basis on which to go on except what his intuition could tell him. And to him, it said that Sherlock just acted like a damaged disc that skipped forward a few seconds.

Did John somehow touch a nerve? But why would asking about why he showed up bloody nude in his flat – 221b – do that? And why, did Sherlock look different for a moment?

John sighed and dropped his hand. Sherlock was once again absorbed in his task. John wanted to press, but at the moment it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Instead, he took advantage of finding out something new about the man and picked up on Sherlock’s comment.

(But he filed Sherlock’s reaction away as something to look out for in the near future)

“You helped this woman’s husband get out of being executed?”

John crouched down to Sherlock’s level at the same time the man looked up at him with a somewhat devilish grin.

“Oh no, I ensured it.” His focus again went to the box, only this time he was practically digging through it, far too deeply for what a box that size could possible hold.

John frowned. Oh. “Huh.” Ok then. He nodded. Suddenly John found himself wanting to meet this Mrs. Hudson.

Sherlock sounded like a Private Detective, but Mycroft had very specifically said the term ‘Consulting Detective’, there must be a difference – even if only to Sherlock. Given what Greg had said, and that Sherlock had mentioned him (albeit only once and in passing), Sherlock obviously spent a lot of time working with the police – which would be unusual for a Private Detective.

“So you’re a Detective?” John’s mouth twitched briefly in a smile at the sight of Sherlock Holmes half buried in a box, clearly not caring at all how it looked.

Consulting Detective.” Sherlock called out from his rather ridiculous position of all but crawling to a box. “And my brother must’ve grown more talkative in my absence. I apologize to the world most sincerely.” Sherlock abruptly lifted his head out to look at John. “Is he fat?”

“What?” John blinked. What an odd question to ask.

Sherlock looked almost disappointed. “Mm, no then. Pity.” He all but dove back into the box; sounds of rustling paper filled the air. Ah, sibling rivalry.

John bit his lip to keep a bubble of laughter from escaping.

He sighed with a small smile. “You work with the police.”

Sherlock hummed. “But…?”

“Police don’t go to Private Detectives.”

Sherlock sighed, annoyed. “I’m a Consulting Detective, only one in the world, when the police are out of their depth – which is always – they consult me.”

Well, that makes some sense. John supposed. “And you’re no amateur.” Police wouldn’t consult one, and John had seen firsthand Sherlock’s ability – John couldn’t imagine how much of an indomitable force he would be in peak condition.

“Obviously.”

Humble too.

John looked around at the scattered mess surrounding them. He wondered if Sherlock was making any progress doing…whatever it was he was doing.

“What can I do to help with…this?” John gestured to a toppled over box. He reached over and grabbed a bunch of the papers inside it.

One appeared to be a list of…the planets? John was befuddled; before he could read past ‘Jupiter’ a hand yanked at the pages rather forcefully and threw them over his own shoulder.

John gave Sherlock an affronted look, the latter staring at the former.

“I am looking through facts and observations that weren’t – that I didn’t successfully delete, and you-”

Again, that word. “Delete? Can you actually delete things from your-”

Sherlock exhaled, resting back on the heels of his feet. He lifted a hand, dramatically point to his head and the surrounding environment. “My mind is a hard drive; I can’t not observe those details which idiots overlook because they insist on not using their brain. It only makes sense to keep that which is useful, really useful. I delete everything that doesn’t matter. This-” Sherlock gestured with his head to the room he and John were then in. “-is where everything that is useless to me goes. As I mentioned to you before, if there is any residual indication of the repressed memories keeping unconscious, they will most likely be here.  Since you obviously need the clarification-” John felt a prickle of irritation at the haughty attitude. “-this is not actually a part of my Mind Palace. It is separate, entirely, the purgatory between my conscious and unconscious mind.”

John rubbed his hand across his face. “All this then, is what you deem useless?”

“Yes.”

John pointed to where Sherlock had thrown the papers he’d yanked away from him, on which he’d seen, a list of the Solar Systems planets.

“So you think the bloody solar system is useless?” John’s face morphed into an expression of disbelief.

Sherlock groaned and ruffled his hands frustratingly through his already disordered, curly hair.

“What does it matter? It doesn’t make any difference to me and the Work.”

“But it’s the solar system! Primary school level knowledge, how can you not know or care-”

“John for heaven’s sake, it is not my work; therefore it does not matter to me! And I do not have the time, or inclination, especially now to explain it to you.”

Sherlock stood up in an angry swirl of coat and strode off towards a shelf of boxes further down the aisle; his image flickered more obviously than it had before, a couple of times he seemed to have disappeared completely before settling.

A raven flew over John’s head, and he swore he heard a wolf howling.

John’s heart was pounding. He didn’t know what to think. That a man, clearly possessed with the desire to know, able to observe stories from the smallest of details, could see something as essential to life as being useless…it baffled John.

And he felt royally stupid for feeling a sense of disappointment and hurt by Sherlock’s words, that implicated nothing mattered to him but his work. Not an uncommon attitude for workaholics around the world, and one John could empathize with to a degree, but when it came to Sherlock Holmes, he took it to a whole other level.

Coniuncti Sumus or not, from what little he saw of the man, how could John expect anything different?

And more importantly, why?

It couldn’t be as straightforward as Sherlock simply being an arrogant, superior, stubborn, man who is spectacularly ignorant while being a Mensa level genius? Those things are obviously part of who he is, and John is as intrigued as he is mystified by him, but there’s more…there must be, otherwise, why would John be here? In the mind of a man whose mind and Magick has been torn apart by pain so severe a part of him would rather slowly, effectively kill himself than remember whatever it was that caused him so much grief?

John couldn’t retract himself now, just because he was thrown off base, yet again, by Sherlock Holmes, and not in a good way.

John took a series of deep, calming breathes; stealing himself for approaching Sherlock (who was then frantically moving from shelf to shelf several dozen feet away from where John was sitting).

He stood up; ignoring the cold wetness that had seeped through his trousers.

John took a step forward.

Ow! Something small, and hard, hit John on the shoulder. The sound of, whatever it was, then landing at John’s feet echoed in the gigantic room.

(in the not so far distance, Sherlock didn’t seem to notice)

Before John could mutter a proper curse or look at what just hit him, something else fell from…somewhere, thankfully not hitting him this time.

John rubbed his shoulder and looked down.

“What the…”

Below him, not inches in front of his feet were two objects; an apple that looked like it had been bitten into, and…a dog collar?

A confused frown on his face, John leaned down and picked up both objects in his hands.

The dog collar was bright red, on it hung a glittering green nametag with even darker, almost blood red, writing; Redbeard.

Redbeard? Is that the dog I’ve been seeing?

The apple soon caught his attention. It was an abnormally shiny red delicious, and what John initially thought was a bite was actually a crude carving; I O U.

John stared with bewilderment at the objects in his hands, wondering if they were important somehow, but not knowing how or why.

No. He knew, as confusing as their appearance was to him, John just knew they were important.

He looked up to find Sherlock was throwing papers out of a box like it had personally offended.

John ran towards him in a fast jog, holding onto the apple and collar tightly, feet pounding loudly – and wetly – on the floor.

This Sherlock heard. John saw as Sherlock abruptly raised his head to face John, eyebrows raised as he watched his fast approach.

“I think I found something.” John said, breathing heavily, once he stopped in front of Sherlock.

“Oh?” Sherlock seemed skeptical.

John wasn’t surprised by this.

Well, they found me more like.

“Yeah, I don’t know what they mean but here.” John held up the collar and the apple. “They both, literally fell on top of me. Not sure what it means, but I figured it probably wasn’t coinci – Sherlock?”

John looked up at Sherlock’s face for the first time since holding up what he found.

He was completely still, didn’t even appear to be breathing, his mouth parted. Sherlock’s eyes were wide, moving side to side at an abnormally fast rate, as he stared at John’s hands. His own - still gloved - were twitching oddly.

John, any residual irritation he had left towards him fell away in that instant, dropped the offending items and rushed forward.

“Sherlock? Are you ok?” John asked, urgent.

It was when he reached out to touch Sherlock that not only did the man finally move, but the entire room started to shake with earthquake like proportions.

Christ!” John automatically reached out to steady himself on a shelf.

Sherlock had bent forward and was holding onto his head with both hands, miraculously, he wasn’t stumbling even with the room shaking as it was.

Any moment John expected tons of boxes to start falling on their heads. He was just debating running like mad to…somewhere, when suddenly Sherlock straightened to standing, eyes wide and alight, and the very picture of a man having an epiphany.

John hoped it was a way to get out of here.

Sherlock reached downwards with both hands. For what John didn’t know, all that was there was the fl….a trap door?

What the hell? John was sure it wasn’t there before. None-the-less, Sherlock grasped the handle of a large, metal trap door and flipped it open; the large metal square landed away from him with a loud clang.

The shaking increased, and then boxes started to fall.

“Shit!”

John felt the shelf he was leaning against move and quickly pushed himself away.

A gloved hand reached out around John’s flailing hand and pulled.

John, without a thought, obeyed. Without even looking, he knew who that hand belong to. He moved quickly in the direction Sherlock was pulling him, realizing as he did that it was towards the trap door opening.

Just as the shelves on either side of the aisle collapsed, Sherlock and John jumped through the open maw and into darkness.

 

~

 

Where they appeared next was, for the first time, achingly familiar to John.

A lab room at St. Barts Hospital. Of course it looked different, every year medicine and technology change, but there was no mistaking the place John spent his interning years in.

John was grateful he didn’t land in a heap on the floor this time – and he still had his clothes.

His heart though was pounding, mind racing, all that just happened making him feel noticeably dizzy. John only had a sparing glance at his new surroundings – not able to notice where Sherlock was – before he stumbled, immediately reaching out to brace himself on a table covered in lab equipment.

John forced himself to breathe deeply, and slowly. It may not have felt like he’d fallen from a great height, and it seemed to John to literally only take an instant of time before he got from that warehouse like room to here through the trap door, but John felt like his entire body had been constricted and blood was just now returning to him, causing uncomfortable tingling sensations everywhere.

John couldn’t hear a thing besides a high-pitched buzzing, which thankfully began to dissipate. His body was tense in response to the remembered shakes of quaking in Sherlock’s mind.

It happened as soon I showed him the apple and…the dog collar.

The image of Sherlock’s face; pale, wide eyes in shock, not moving yet his hands oddly twitching, flashed across John’s vision.

What happened?

Hoping he wasn’t about to keel over, John forced himself to turn around – needing to see if Sherlock was here with him, and that he was ok.

Idiot, look around you. Of course he isn’t ok.

At the very least John hoped he hadn’t inadvertently made things worse.

John felt a split second of relief when he saw Sherlock standing in the middle of the lab barely a few feet away, but that changed when he noticed something was wrong.

He couldn’t see Sherlock’s face, as the man’s face was buried by the sleeves of his coat, gloved hands gripped the hair at both sides of his head so tightly John feared he may just tear it out. Sherlock’s entire body was shaking.

John tried to move closer, but by some unknown force he found himself stuck where he was.

“Sherlock!” John called out loudly.

Sherlock made no sign that he heard John at all.

Shit.

At that moment drawers in various cupboards and tables in the lab began opening of their own accord; paper, files and photographs of various sizes zoomed out of them.

John ducked as dozens of those whooshed over his head. All began whirling around Sherlock’s head, some burst into ash and fell around Sherlock’s feet, and the rest moved in faster and tighter circles around the increasingly distressed Sherlock.

John never hated being helpless as much as he did in that moment.

And then, Sherlock began to speak – or rather screamed, angrily and loud. “No! Not you, not you…”

John watched with a sense of growing horror as Sherlock’s coat disintegrated off his body, and any bare skin John could see began to model itself after what lay in the bed back in the Centre; mottled, grey, deathly pale.

Sherlock!” John yelled, not sure what that could possibly accomplish – maybe he could distract him from whatever was happening.

It seemed to work this time, or maybe it was coincidence, either way Sherlock stopped screaming and shaking. And all but one of the drawer items, a photo, burst into flames before falling in light shaves of ash.

John watched, mouth parted – breathing heavily, with wide eyes as it moved away from Sherlock. As it did, Sherlock slowly rose his head; his expression scarily blank and unreadable.

For some reason, that worried John more than anything.

“Sherlock?”

Sherlock turned to look at John, his expression didn’t change, but John recognized the tense line of shoulders, and overly tight bearing as the sight of a man holding back immense physical pain.

Just then, the single photograph halted its progress and rose above Sherlock and John’s heads. The two of them watched as it enlarged and turned around, enough that John could see what it was.

It was the face of a man; dark hair, eyes cold and unfeeling as the devil, the smile on that face was nothing like the adventurous light of Sherlock’s grin.

John could imagine it was meant to terrify, instead it made him boil with anger. Because, even before words in blaring, burning embers carved themselves into the face of the photograph, John knew in his gut who that man was.

Moriarty.

“James Moriarty. I remember, he left an apple at my flat mere weeks before…I O U. I both intrigued and infuriated him, the feelings were quite mutual. A level of genius that rivaled even my own.”

John whipped his head away – with pleasure – from the photo in surprise, at the sound of Sherlock’s voice, far too eerily calm for John’s comfort.

It made John’s neck tingle in a way that singled danger, and not the good kind. (if there was such a thing)

Sherlock was still staring at the photo, looking no worse or better – there was that at least.

“I was so sure, he had to be stopped, it was over, I knew it was…He was a spider who wove his webs into the darkest corners of society, I made a mistake. I failed.”

“It wasn’t your fault. You tried and did your best. You know you did. And you succeeded in the end. Moriarty’s dead.” It seemed Sherlock had started to remember, at least part of it. Mycroft didn’t tell John all the details, but to John it seemed that their dedication to ridding the world of Moriarty, an especially cruel, relentless criminal, was absolute. John knew better that anyone sometimes all a person can do is their best, and sometimes it isn’t enough.

Sherlock laughed, it was bitter and dark.

“Is he? No, he’ll always be here.” In a coldly smooth gesture, Sherlock deliberately indicated the room; white shirt stretching painfully tight against the dilapidated skin of his torso.

John tried to move again. He growled in frustration he found himself still stuck.

“No, he won’t. You are not alone in this. Do not give him power over you from beyond the grave.” John insisted, trying to break the spell of bitter defeat that had befallen the man in front of him.

When Sherlock faced John directly, and he saw the darkness creep over his eyes, John felt deeply chilled in a way he had yet to feel since arriving here.

“You, John Watson are a hypocrite. You tell me to not give Moriarty, the very epitome of force of evil, power over me when you, a former soldier and Doctor allow your own demons to plague you every day. You hate what your life has become, useless, without purpose, a life without the danger of adventure to keep you feeling alive, as fake as the smile you put on every day to fool the little brains around you – including your own. I’m not alone? I didn’t fail?” Sherlock stalked towards John, imposing and relentless. John was frozen speechless; he tried to tell himself that this wasn’t normal – he could feel it wasn’t – whatever this was, Sherlock lashing out or something more sinister, it wasn’t the entirety of the man, a man damaged and obviously in pain and trying to hide it. Still, John felt each of those words like a wound – it took all of his strength not to show it. “If I didn’t fail, what do you call what you did?”

Sherlock stopped just out of John’s reach, fierce and all but daring John to respond.

John felt like he’d just been drenched in cold water. His eyes turned fire. He knows. Of course he knows. Did the bastard just wait until he could use it against me like this?

No, no that wasn’t right. John knew it. Even without knowing the man well, John knew this wasn’t truly him, maybe Sherlock could be intentionally cruel – but for the sake of being cruel? John didn’t believe that.

That didn’t mean the words more than stung.

John suspected if he could’ve moved, he would’ve punched Sherlock the second those words and implication left his mouth.

As John continued to glare Sherlock down, unblinking, he was glad he didn’t – because as he stared at the man, he could sense that was exactly was Sherlock was expecting – negative retaliation on John’s part.

Instead, despite the furious beating of his heart, John took a cue from Dr. Thompson and tried to diffuse the situation.

“Even if you do have a point...” John admitted, reluctantly – the result of a little voice in the back of his mind whispering ‘touched a nerve did he?’. Sherlock blinked quickly and leaned away, clearly taken aback by John’s response. “This isn’t about me. What happened to you, Sherlock?” John was proud at how even his voice was, and how he’d managed to not let his anger get the better of him for once. Ironically, he always tended to work better at thinking things through under severe and dangerous situations – for the most part.

John meant what he asked, sincerely. Something backed Sherlock into this corner, and it wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t all Moriarty.

They have to be getting close to the blocked off memories now. John didn’t know how, but he felt sure of it.

Sherlock’s mouth dropped open slightly, his face falling in such a way that made him seem years younger, and nothing like the hard, angry man he’d been only seconds before.

“I got-” Sherlock shook his head. “He-” His mouth continued to move, but John couldn’t hear a word and he’d never been adept at reading lips. He wasn’t looking at John anymore; instead he continued to mutter silently.

When tried to move this time, he could.

He grabbed Sherlock’s shoulders and forced him to look at John.

“Sherlock. Talk to me.” John spoke in a tone he used to use with distressed patients. But this man was anything but John’s patient, he was…he was Sherlock Holmes. 

Sherlock looked at John, but again when he spoke John couldn’t hear a thing. John could still hear the oddly accurate sounds of a working lab, so he doubted it was his hearing.

Suddenly, Sherlock’s eyes grew wide and he grasped his throat with both hands.

Sherlock!

John reached out and tried to pull Sherlock’s hands away. He couldn’t.

At that point the picture of Moriarty, which had become vaguely forgotten, morphed into something very familiar.

Not the apple, but the red dog collar.

John was still grasping Sherlock’s arms when it flew directly at frozen, wide-eyed Sherlock; hitting his partially exposed chest.

The second it did, bright lights caused John to clench his eyes shut and once again John felt the sensation of being constricted from the inside out.

He didn’t let go of Sherlock, his skin far too icy beneath John’s fingers.

Wind whirled around them; the ground dropped beneath their feet, air whooshed loudly past Johns ears, and –

Thud.

They landed on new ground.

The drop was hard, as a result John found himself torn away from Sherlock.

He opened his eyes instantly.

The ground beneath him was sandy, rough and bumpy with that felt like miniscule rocks. When John looked around he saw why.

They appeared to be in a desert; a twilight sky illuminated nothing but warm, taupe coloured sand…except for the glaring, hollow canyon barely any distance away from John’s right.

They’d landed on the edge of a canyon. What the – why?

John ogled at the bewildering scenery for barely a moment before he heard a sound. He pushed himself to his feet and saw it was Sherlock, far too close to the ledge for John’s comfort, trying to do the same. John rushed over the rough land surface towards him.

He noticed Sherlock’s shirt had fallen open completely; exposing scars and open wounds scattered across his torso.

Oh hell. John found himself wishing that his Magick capabilities were not only healed but indeed Sorcerer based, he would have no trouble then healing those wounds. In this situation though, it might not have even worked.

John quickly reached the struggling, huffing man, grasped his shoulders and pulled him to standing.

Sherlock still looked awful, but he seemed more aware than he had been – mostly he looked to be in shock, and a bit unsteady on his feet.

“Are you ok?” Stupid question.

Sherlock looked at John, then at the canyon, and back; all the while the emotion in his eyes remained confused, and guarded.

“I am…uncertain...” Sherlock began twitching oddly again, the appearance vaguely similar to a seizure.

Shit.” John mumbled.

He tried to urge Sherlock to sit back down, not knowing what else to do. But before John could make any movement a single, loud sound echoed from within the canyon.

A dog, barking. It rang in John’s ears painfully.

Sherlock all of the sudden collapsed like dead weight beneath John’s hands. John retained his tight grip, and found himself staring at Sherlock in astonishment when the form he held began to change to that of…a child?

John tried to hold on, but when the dog barking grew louder, John found himself thrown by an invisible force away from the canyon, and Sherlock.

John hit the ground and pain exploded in his head.

All went black.

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

John didn’t know how long it had been. Mycroft told him before going in that time would pass differently. He could’ve been here for days, weeks for all he knew. John didn’t know, or particularly care.

That time however, John did care.

There was no way to tell the passage of time in someone’s head, but John suspected it had to have been hours at least since John saw the canyon.

And Sherlock.

John supposed technically everything surrounding him was Sherlock, but in the past while he had seen nothing or no one he could interact with – no matter how many times he called out to him.

In fact, John found himself in what appeared to be an abandoned wing of a mansion.

All John could conclude was that he was probably back in Sherlock’s Mind Palace.

Some Magick, any kind, would’ve been especially helpful at that moment – anything to speed up the process of finding the man he’d been interacting with and figure out what the next step is. Not just that though, when John saw Sherlock last he didn’t just look to be on death’s door, but he had changed for the first time as something far different than his usual self – a child, a very young Sherlock more specifically. It had to have been. John only saw for a second before he was thrown away, knocked unconscious and invariably woke up achingly on the floor of an empty room that reminded him of a tour of old English mansion houses his Mum took him and Harriet on when they were kids.

Needless to say, though John felt tangled and whiplashed by the whole experience, he was – if possible – even more concerned for Sherlock’s mental and emotional state.

The time alone certainly gave John leave to think about a few things.

Like why, where John was, is this part of Sherlock/Sherlock’s Mind Palace so empty? It was an endless stream of rooms that all looked precisely the same to John, more than once he thought he was going in circles.

Not to mention the lab, the canyon and why the sound of a barking dog caused Sherlock to not only collapse, but transform into a child.

John was sure he would wake from this with a very real, very intense headache. He hadn’t had to deal with this much metaphor and symbolism ever in his life, maybe if he took a psychology course or two in school – he might be a bit well informed.

Or maybe it would’ve just been useless. Nothing John had seen suggested Sherlock conformed to any mental norms; in fact the man would probably be insulted if he did.

It was mad, to realize that John felt this much connection, and trust with someone who was basically a stranger.

In Dr. Thompson’s own words, John had trust issues.

All those thoughts and more whirled through John’s mind, as he once more entered yet another empty room; large floor to ceiling windows on either side appeared frosted over, making it impossible to see beyond, the parquet wood floors were layered in dust, no sign that anything had moved through here for a long time.

It was nothing new. John was on the verge of tearing his own hair out.

And then, as John took a step towards the only other door in the room, one of the windows across from him smashed; John ducked and rolled to avoid getting hit with multiple shards of pointed glass, the dust of the floor stuck to his skin.

John swore when he felt a pinprick of glass pierce the skin of his palm.

“Why are you here? There is nothing you can do. You should leave.”

John jumped up at the sound of a small, quiet voice coming from directly behind him. When he turned around, John saw a little boy, about seven or eight, standing utterly calm in the midst of the broken glass. He was wearing a dark green jumper and corduroy trousers, the curly hair atop his head (though slightly lighter in shade) and unique eye colour told John this was a young, very young, Sherlock.

John also noticed he looked he’d been swimming in his clothes, every inch of him was drenched.

John looked, and debated on what to say. The only part of Sherlock John had personally interacted with so far was the adult, not this child incarnation; telling him to leave.

“Why should I leave?” John absently wiped the small drop of blood from the wound on his hand on the thigh of his grey sweats. He never took his eyes off the boy.

The young Sherlock tilted his head, observing John with confusion.

“Why do you want to stay? There is nothing left here.”

The words were matter of fact, but something in them was sad – resigned. And that somehow seemed worse.

John glanced around the room, and wondered if this part of Sherlock was purposefully keeping him in this loop of empty, dusty rooms to prevent him from going forward.

If that was true, John had to be getting close.

“That’s not true. You are here.” John noted with a gentle smile.

“No, I’m not. He hasn’t been here for a long time.” The never took his unblinking, curious eyes off John.

John’s brows bunched together. The little Sherlock reached out a hand and the dust rose up in almost beautiful swirls to surround it.

“What do you mean?”

“He left me behind. He hasn’t been here. He misses him. He hurts. The bad man, he made him hurt again.”

What is he talking about? Is the bad man Moriarty?

John stepped closer, and kneeled in front of the boy; looking at John with desperately sad eyes.

“Who?”

The child frowned at John. “Him. The man with the apple.” He pointed at his feet.

John looked down and briefly saw the image of the infamous I O U apple imprinted in the dust before being blown away.

“He hurt him. He isn’t supposed to hurt. Why does he?”

John noticed the boy started to cry, silently and solemnly staring at the ground.

John’s heart ached – and once again wished that Moriarty was still alive so he could kill him himself.

He reached out with both hands and grasped the young Sherlock’s shoulders. John had never had much experience with kids, but this wasn’t just any kid, this was Sherlock – and even though John wasn’t sure of the specifics of what he was talking about, John had to do or say, something.

“Are you talking about Sherlock?”

The little boy looked up at John, water dripping down his forehead.

“Yes. Why does he hurt?”

How on earth was John supposed to answer that?

John sighed.

“Because…Because he is human.” What could he say?

The little boy pouted.

“He doesn’t want to be human.”

John’s mouth tightened sadly. Christ.

Technically, Sherlock wasn’t human, he was an Enchanter, albeit it still fell under the human umbrella, but that was neither here nor there.

Ultimately, John had no idea how to respond to that, but he suspected this boy, this young Sherlock, wasn’t looking for that.

“Will you let me help him?”

The little boy backed away, and John’s hands fell. He remained kneeling on the ground.

“Why do you care? You have to stay here, or leave, you want to make him hurt again!” That small voice rose incredibly, causing more windows in the room to break.

Shit!

Luckily, nothing hit John that time.

John forced himself to appear calm as he looked at the angry child.

“I don’t. I promise, if there is any way I can avoid hurting him I’ll do it, but he will die if I don’t find some way to help him. Please, let me?” John didn’t think he was ever going to find a way out of this area without appeasing this part of Sherlock, who was obviously restricting Johns access to the rest of Sherlock’s fractured mind.

And the emotion swirling, and aching, within John wanted to comfort this young Sherlock, even if he couldn’t reassure him without lying. The truth was John didn’t know for sure if he could help Sherlock.

But he was sure as hell going to try.

The little boy seemed somewhat mollified, the angry twist of his mouth faded into something more wondering.

“Why do you care?”

John hesitated. How do I answer that?

Truthfully, all rational and logical reasons aside, the answer to that question was at the moment indefinable to John.

Mostly.

“Because he matters.” To me.  At that moment, John couldn’t answer why, he didn’t know how to.

A practical stranger – or perhaps, rather less than that, being inside the man’s mind kind of negates that term – has never mattered so much to John.

The little boy blinked, in a way so uncannily reminiscent of the grown version of Sherlock.

He walked towards John. John watched with an eerie fascination as the little boy reached out, grabbed John’s wounded hand and brought it up to his face.

“You remind him, but…he doesn’t know. You are different. You could…help him.” The young boy muttered, looking at John’s hand.

I remind Sherlock of something?

John frowned, confused not just by the boys vague words but by his actions.

A single tear fell from the boy’s eye and landed on John’s hand. He didn’t flinch.

And suddenly, the child vanished in a puff of dust. And John watched in surprise as the pieces of broken glass flew into the air and molded themselves back together.

John looked at his hand. Mouth dropped open, and eyes wide.

How…”

The wound was gone.

Abruptly, a loud creaking sound tore John’s attentions away from the unmarred condition of his previously wounded hand.

A new, very different looking set of doors appeared before him. They looked remarkably similar to a smaller version of the massive doors John saw when he first arrived.

John wasn’t sure whether to take that as good sign or not, but it was progress.

He pushed himself up and off the floor. Right before he reached the doors he noticed the dust had – quite literally – been washed away, leaving a thin layer of water behind.

Huh. Why is there water everywhere?

John looked down by his foot when he felt a faint pressure. It was a picture, floating upside down in the water. With a curious frown, John stooped low and picked it up. When he turned it over the first thing he noticed was how old it was, like one of those portfolios of portraits from the 1800’s.

John recognized Sherlock immediately; his hair was different, smoothed back, the suit he wore looked to be a dark tartan, a watch hung from his lapel. The age of the photograph, and overall appearance of Sherlock brusquely reminded John how old Sherlock actually was – even though he appeared so young to John.

The face, stern, unsmiling like many Victorian era photos, was very much the same. John noticed however that there was something else in the photograph, but it looked almost like it had been erased, even only half of Sherlock was visible.

Strange.

Suddenly the picture turned to ash in his hand. John gasped in surprise. The ash fell through his fingers and into the water below.

John clenched and unclenched his hand, the image of a Victorian Sherlock a stark reality in John’s mind.

He shrugged it off for the time being, and reached out with both hands to push open the doors. Like before, John felt a burning sensation run through his fingers. Only this time, it didn’t hurt; it more reminded John of warming his hands over a low burning fire, a feeling John remembered describing what using his Magick felt like in his teens.

Also like before, it hardly took any pressure before the doors were swinging open.

John stepped forward into a long, wide hall. The doors swung shut with a loud, resounding bang.

The pure, ethereal sounds of a single violin playing seemed to come from all around John.

The piece sounded familiar to John, but he couldn’t quite place it. Regardless, it was beautiful.

More water coated this white, tiled floor. If it weren’t for that, John could’ve said this hallway reminded him of the BMC; walls and arched ceiling a warm, walnut wood, line continuous on either side with doors; each one had an opaque glass window.

The very end of the hall appeared was blurred out, John couldn’t tell where – or if – the hall ended.

John walked forward. The violin music neither rose nor lessened in volume; it remained as steady as the gentle flow of water beneath John’s feet.

Wherever it was a combination of music and atmosphere, either way, John felt a deep sense of sadness pervading this hall.

It didn’t bode well – a ridiculous thing to hope for really, especially in this situation.

When John reached the first door, to his left, he grabbed the handle and turned – hesitating before opening it. John couldn’t decide if he would rather there be a stampede of elephants behind that door, or the source of wherever the melancholy music was coming from…Since John had always dealt with physical pain better than emotional, he opted for the elephant stampede.

So that was of course, what he didn’t get.

John pushed open the door. Sunlight poured into the hall, John automatically lifted his arm up to shield some of the brightness.

John’s eyes grew steadily wider as he took in the scene before him; it was quite literally – a scene, as though John walked in partway through a virtual movie.

The figures within didn’t notice John’s presence, neither were familiar to him.

 

“I…I’m sorry, I tried, I should’ve been able-”

A young woman with auburn hair was lying on a simple, intricately carved, wooden framed bed. She reached out, gently pressing fingers to lips, in order to stop the frantic, tear-filled words spilling from the young man kneeling on the floor beside her.

There was a strange haziness to what John was seeing and hearing, as though there was a warped piece of glass between John and the young people in front of him.

“Please, do not…” Her voice was straining. “Just talk, talk to me. I want to hear you…” Deep brown eyes shuttered closed, her bosom barely rose at all.

The young man breathed in a shaky breath.

“Alright, alright –

 

The door abruptly swung shut, John jumped backward; narrowly avoiding his fingers being crushed with the force of it.

John breathed heavily.

Images of what John saw flashed across his mind; the woman, the young man…he couldn’t clearly see their faces, nor did he recognizes their voices. Was that a memory? Did Sherlock know those people? He must. It seemed like the woman was sick, possibly dying…

John could only guess.

He pondered it as he resumed walking.

John tried opening each door he came across, it wasn’t until he’d passed – and tried – at least six before he finally reached one that opened.

He was only half-surprised to see yet another scene playing out beyond. Although the subject matter was starkly different than the one before, the consistent bangs from inside were unmistakable to John.

 

An old man, tall and shrivelled, skin near hanging off his decaying bones, stood in front of the target; holding a revolver with surprising steadiness perfectly aligned with the headless, humanoid dummy.

He fired – again, and again.

“You’re missing.”

 

John knew that voice. Wait a sec…is that, Mycroft?  There was definitely no one else in that room other than the mysterious old man, but never-the-less John was quite sure he heard Mycroft’s voice echo from within.

 

“I’m trying.” The old man seethed.

“And failing.” The voice of Mycroft resounded loudly.

 

More gun shots went off. Even from a fair distance away, John could see the old man had perfect aim with the human dummy – he shouldn’t be missing.

 

The old man then screamed in rage, causing the gun to shatter in his hands. Strength grew in his limbs, and as he breathed heavily through his teeth, the old man stretched out both of his arms and remnants of the shattered gun rose in swirls around his hands.

A dual punch to the air in front of him, using both his hands, caused the coiled fragments to zoom forward.

 

John watched the spectral in front of him with wide-eyed fascination. He saw the fragments hit the dummy with incredible speed, a billow of dust exploded from the impact; temporarily clouding the area. Once it faded, John noticed that all but one area of the dummy was pierced with metal gunpowder residue.

The heart.

 

“You try, little brother, but you will only ever destroy the bridges and paths to that place…”

Mycroft appeared as a vaguely translucent mirage in front of the old man, collapsed on his knees; holding his elbows in both hands, looking up at Mycroft standing before him; every inch of his face dripping with disdain, the tip of his umbrella pointed towards a concave in his chest, where a heart should be. “…not, the place itself.”

 

“Holy shit…” John exhaled. Little brother? The old man…that’s Sherlock? Now that John knows that, he could see it in the eyes, even clouded as they were. Maybe this was what Sherlock would look like if Enchanters aged the same way as everyone else.

But why was John seeing him like this?

 

“You will fail. You must fail.” Mycroft exposed his palm in a bowl shape to the air, in it materialized a bloody, beating heart.

“Why…” The old man, Sherlock, breathed out roughly, obviously in pain. “It was - is a distraction.”

“Idiot boy. The only distraction is the one you create for yourself.” Mycroft threw the heart into the air –

 

John didn’t see anymore, for that was when – again – the door swung shut in his face. John stumbled backwards, mind reeling with what he saw; complicated, private, emotional. He didn’t know exactly what he just witnessed meant, but John knew one thing for sure – Sherlock would always be infinitely more complicated, with deeper rivets of conflict, than he portrayed himself to be or have.

John was enthralled. And all the more devoted to helping the man heal from what was obviously profound and very real emotional, and mental pain. Not that John was anywhere near an expert on that but, with this, he wanted to try his hardest. And he would try his hardest even if it killed him.

John picked up speed, continuing with a jog down the hallway – trying each door, and each time hoping the next would lead him to a part of Sherlock that he could interact with.

As he moved on, John noticed that the water level had risen slightly, and that the condition of the doors was getting poorer the further he went. The young Sherlock guided John to this place, there had to be something important here. Something John needed to see.

A door several paces down opened at John’s touch.

That time, the only light that billowed out was the glow of a single candle; yet it illuminated the room enough that John could see every corner of the small space.

Even though he was obviously younger, John could see that the young man, curled up on a mattress on the floor, in the centre of the gloomy, decrepit room, was Sherlock.

And he looked wrecked.

 

Sherlock shivered, curled in on ball – hiding from the world, or from the wretched painful monotony of it all. A single arm stretched out past the barely adequate prison of his chest, his shirt sleeves were rolled up, exposing the pallor of his skin and –

 

John gasped. Are those…track marks?  John had seen his fair share of intravenous drug users when he did trauma surgery, most were there from overdose or some other problem related to their addiction.  There could be some other reason for them but, when he saw the condition of the younger Sherlock before him, and the all too familiar pattern of marks stretching from the crease of his elbow and beyond (some must’ve been years old) – John knew.

Sherlock was a drug addict? Is he still? John never would’ve guessed that Sherlock was a junkie, probably cocaine or heroin, considering Sherlock’s age it might’ve been opium.

Was it a coping mechanism for whatever his greatest pain was? Or was it more than that? John wondered how the man justified it to himself.

The scene had continued to play out before John as he grappled with the new found knowledge. When he shook himself of the shock, John saw that Sherlock was no longer alone.

 

A dog was stretched along the back of the shivering, clammy Sherlock; its head resting gently on his shoulder, eyes seeming…sad.

 

The dog. The dog. John’s mind reeled.

 

The red fur delicately reflected the darkening candle light.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock’s voice sounded so very, deeply worn. The dog barked softly. Sherlock brokenly exhaled an icy, bitter laugh. “You should go home.” The last word was uttered with an immeasurable amount such coolness.

The dog barked again, this time much, much louder and sat up. Sherlock reached up and covered his ears. If a dog could look contrite, this dog did. It snorted, and almost seemed to sigh before resuming its position draped over the man at its side.

Sherlock didn’t try to push the dog away.

 

The door didn’t swing shut this time. John couldn’t say why, but something about seeing this particular vulnerability…John felt like he was intruding even more so. He closed the door on his own accord.

Sherlock perhaps wasn’t the most traditionally endearing of people; John doubted he had many friends. John had been seeing the dog everywhere before entering Sherlock’s mind, heard it once he did, it had to be important.

Mycroft said he didn’t know what it meant.

Seeing what John just saw…he was surer than ever that the man had lied. This creature was obviously important to Sherlock, perhaps the closest companion he had at that point in his life.

John didn’t know. There was something in the way Sherlock addressed the dog though that seemed…off to him, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Never-the-less, John turned away from the closed door and continued his rapid jog down the hall; footsteps sloshing loudly through the water.

All the while, the violin music played on a continuous loop.

At last, he came to the end of the hall. There were two doors, and they both looked impeccably well taken care of; breaking the mould of the decaying doors before them.

John took a chance and opened the door on his right; loud sounds of a busy city echoed. In the centre of it stood Sherlock, surrounded by multiple people, but once again it was a moment playing out before John, except this time it appeared more recent. John was particularly sure of this because he recognized one other person – D.I Greg Lestrade.

The vague haziness that was present in all the other scenes John witnessed wasn’t existent in this one.

 

“Look! Can’t you see? The callous on the side of his left index finger proves it wasn’t suicide!” Sherlock was gesticulating wildly over the body; eyes wild as he glared at the offending woman standing off to the side, dressed in jeans, white shirt and a suit jacket; arms crossed defensively in front of her chest.

“Why don’t you leave the theorizing to us professionals-”

Sherlock guffawed. “You call yourself a professional? Oh I’m sure there’s a very professional reason you and our beloved, quite married, professional coroner show up for work every Monday exactly fifteen minutes apart-”

Donovan’s face boiled; a finger rose threateningly, sizzling electricity sparked from the tip. Sherlock didn’t seem the least bit threatened by the display. “Now listen here you sick Freak-”

“Oi! Donovan! That is quite enough. Go talk with the coroner.” Lestrade, who had been deliberating with a fellow officer, moved to get between Sherlock and Donovan before something worse than insults was thrown around.

“Yes, talk.” Sherlock emphasised his words with very obvious quotations.

Donovan looked about ready to scream.

“Hey! You too Sherlock.”

Sherlock abruptly closed his mouth, but didn’t seem any less annoyed. Lestrade turned to Donovan. “Go. Now.”

She obviously wasn’t pleased, but acquiesced to the orders of her superior, and with a decidedly sour expression she turned around and walked away.

Sherlock looked very pleased.

Lestrade sighed. “Look, try not to alienate everyone will you? Don’t forget, you’re only here because I allow you to be.”

Sherlock snorted. “Please, you need me.” He waved an unconcerned hand and knelt before the body.

Lestrade looked towards the sky, as if praying for patience. “Yes I do, God help me.” He muttered. “Now please, tell me why you don’t believe this is suicide?”

They were standing in the middle of an abandoned parking lot, in a district of London currently in development; trucks and construction vehicles of all kinds continuously passed near them on the street.

“I don’t believe. I know.”

“Of course you do.” Lestrade briefly rested a hand across his forehead. “Just tell me how, I can’t stand here all day - I do have other cases to see to.”

Sherlock hummed and bent with his face close to the dead man’s arm, sniffing along his wrist; nose wrinkled.

“Ah, I see. Shall I just ride with you then? It would save you the trouble of floundering before finally relinquishing your pride and calling me to solve-”

Sherlock.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Oh very well.” He stood back up. “The callous on his left hand, more specifically the first metacarpal, indicates the man was left handed.” At that point Sherlock gestured towards the glaringly obvious gunshot wound on the man’s head. “The gunshot wound was on the right side of his head, if he really was prepared to kill himself it would’ve been far easier and instinctual to his dominant hand, which was definitely not his right. Even without that, there is a subtle deformity to the middle phalanges in both the index and middle finger of his right hand; it would’ve made pulling the trigger of a gun with that hand extremely difficult. Thus, it was murder. Obvious. And if your team had any brain capacity they would’ve figured that out.”

Lestrade rubbed his hands tiredly down his face.

“Alright, ok. What else have you got for me?”

Sherlock grinned widely.

 

The door didn’t shut, but the memory itself faded away at that point, leaving John to see nothing but darkness.

Huh…so Sherlock really was a brilliant arsehole. Good to know. Even though the man was a bit, ‘not good’ in his personal deliveries about people and their private lives, in his defense the coroner was obviously an idiot. Even before Sherlock said it, John noticed the sharp bend in the phalanges of the dead man’s right hand. As Sherlock said, it would’ve made pulling a gun trigger exceedingly difficult – among other things.

This was clearly Sherlock’s Work, a thing the man himself professed to be his main purpose in life.

And he was amazing at it.

It was a nice change to the melancholy element to what John saw behind the doors of this hall before. John’s lips curled in a subtle smile, he hadn’t yet seen any example of the man fully in his element before…it was a sight John hoped he would get to see again.

John went to shut the door. Right before he did, for the first time, something else appeared before him in the room. John frowned.

It was…him. Wait, what?

 

Johns face, a faint, foggy mirage shone like a frozen picture in the murky black.

“Who are you?”

 

It was Sherlock’s voice, distant, but very distinct.

 

“Why…why are you different?” Like Mycroft initially in the second room, there was no physical sign of Sherlock within, just the echoing tenor of that unmistakable voice. “Who are you? I don’t understand why you’re different.”

Sherlock’s voice was breathlessly confused…torn. “Who are you John Watson?”

 

And just like that, the brief moment ended. Once again the room was plunged into darkness, and this time, John just let go of the door – which he’d been holding open – and it gently swung shut.

John just stood there for a moment.

That was…what was that?  It seemed, even in his fractured state, Sherlock wasn’t the only one of them contemplating the other. But there was a tenor in the way he asked those questions John didn’t know how to process. It was more than curiosity; it sounded almost like…fear.

Why would Sherlock be afraid? Of him? Because of what he was trying to do here? John couldn’t think of any other reason.

If that were the case though, what was the ‘why are you different’ question about?

Different how?

John was definitely discovering more questions than answers here. He sighed, and rested his hands – much like Lestrade’s in the memory – briefly on his face before letting them fall.

Only one door left.

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

John walked the short distance towards the final door and grasped the handle. Swiftly, he opened it – in the process noting it was notably heavier than the others, and then…

Whack! A ball of hard, cold snow hit John full in the face; it began to melt near instantly in contrast to the warmth of his skin.

“Fucking-” John sputtered, quickly wiping the freezing wetness away from his eyes and mouth. “What the hell was that?”

John blinked away the water around his eyes clouding his vision.

He barely registered the thud of the door closing shut behind him.

A street in the height of winter surrounded John. Though he was certain he hadn’t seen this specific area before, there was no doubt in his mind that this was in London.

It was night; undisturbed snow covered the sidewalk, road and stairs leading up to the homes on either side. There were no visible stars, or moon, the only light came from the dozen or so streetlights positioned evenly apart along the street.

This is different.

John turned his head, there was no sign of the door he came through, behind him all he could see was the rest of the street; dimly lit.

In truth, the only abnormal thing was for being a street at London, even at night, it was exceptionally quiet and void of any life.

Given that this wasn’t London, and merely another facet of Sherlock’s mind, perhaps it wasn’t so odd.

Sherlock’s mind…John had an inkling about where he was. Sherlock mentioned he’d recently – before what happened to him – rented a flat.

John looked up, intent on finding a street sign…ah. There it was, right on the corner.

 

 BAKER

 STREET  W1          .

CITY OF WESTMINSTER

 

So this was the outside of Baker St, which meant 221b had to be nearby.

When John took a step forward he’d expected, naturally, that it would be onto snow, but when it did all he felt was water. Given that all John had been wearing on his feet since this thing started was slippers, he was generally used to his feet being soaked with all the water he’d encountered.

That time felt different however. The water, was warm.

John looked down. His eyebrows rose in surprise.

A few centimeters out from his feet there was untouched snow, however within that circle it had melted around John and was lapping at his ankles much like a lukewarm bath. Strange.

The strange pool of melted snow stayed with him as he walked forward…Very strange.

Not unlike everything else he’d seen and experienced thus far.

John shrugged it off for the time being and moved forward, hoping that coming full circle like this would lead him to Sherlock. He kept a sharp eye peeled.

It was when John passed a café, with a somewhat faded sign that labelled it as ‘Speedys’, that John saw him.

He was standing beneath a short flight of snow covered steps; curly hair and long coat billowing in the gentle winter breeze, the collar of it was turned up; obscuring most of his face, but the visible profile identified that this was, most unmistakably, Sherlock.

John immediately sighed in relief.

“Sherlock!”

Sherlock jumped a little, as though abruptly awoken from sleep or a trance of sorts, but when he turned at the sound of John’s voice; there was a small smile on his face, illuminated further by the glow of the streetlight.

It was a welcome sight. The warmth John felt could’ve been from the water surrounding his feet…

“Ah, John, there you are. Apologies if you got lost, my faculties are not exactly in order at the moment.” There was a dark, humorous edge to Sherlock’s words.

That’s an understatement.

“Too right.” John gave him a commiserating smile.

John closed the remaining space, which was small, between him and Sherlock and stood close enough to give him a thorough once over. The last time John saw the man he looked near deaths door and was barely even aware, not to mention he’d collapsed and turned into a child in John’s arms.

John was pleased to note that Sherlock, this part of Sherlock anyhow, seemed somewhat recovered from whatever happened and why. Though John doubted it was that simple, it was good to see he looked…mostly normal again.

It was a bit odd though that unlike John, Sherlock didn’t seem impervious to the snow; it seemed to have built around his feet, not melted.

“Something wrong, Doctor?”

John really, really didn’t like what his mind did to him when Sherlock said ‘Doctor’ like that. Bastard. (John wasn’t sure if that was directed at himself or Sherlock)

John inwardly shook himself when he realized he’d been staring perhaps a bit too long than what might be considered normal, doctor concern. When he looked up at Sherlock the man was watching John curiously, with perhaps a twinkle of amusement.

John tried to look as innocent as possible.

“Nothing new-” That was true at least. “So…” John casually looked around them, he noticed that yes, they were indeed standing in front of a door which was blazoned with the golden numbers ‘221B’. “What the hell happened back there? Are you alright?” John resisted the urge to reach out and nonchalantly pat the man’s shoulder.

Before that point John never thought an apple and a dog collar could trigger a meltdown like the one Sherlock seemed to have. It did cause him to remember Moriarty a bit – but the only sign of the dog (which from having seen the memory, had to have been Sherlock’s) was the bark at the edge of that out of the blue canyon.

And now they were back at 221B Baker St, outside of it anyhow. John wondered if the whole thing happened because those items were symbolic of whatever it was a part of Sherlock was trying to repress. He did say he went to that place because he believed that was where any residue of what his mind tried to fully delete might be, were the apple and the collar the residue? And John just happened to find them?

Well, they found him actually.

Sherlock raised a singular brow.

“Well John, it became apparent to me that there wasn’t any tangible evidence for me to theorize on in that Purgatory, and that I could spend all of whatever time I have left searching that mire. I should’ve realized that if I-” Sherlock hesitated a moment, his eyes flickered briefly to John before vaguely scrutinizing the surrounding, snowy area. “-We are to find genuine signs of what is keeping my mind, and Magick, this frustratingly splintered, I will have to go deep. Deeper than I have ever consciously been before, if all this was truly an act committed on part of my subconscious – it is still me imperfect or not, I doubt I would be truly stupid enough to hide these memories somewhere obvious, let alone leave evidence in plain sight. I’ve been merely waiting here, for you to show yourself.” Sherlock’s brow wrinkled. “Although I am not entirely sure why I did…” His voice trailed off, he looked straight ahead but his eyes were somewhere far away.

Ok, makes sense I suppose – if it is possible for anything to make sense here - but why isn’t he mentioning…John looked at Sherlock and tilted his head.

“What about the lab? And the canyon?” The apple? The dog collar?

John found it odd Sherlock completely bypassed over those experiences; it was almost as though –

Sherlock frowned. “I assumed when we went through the trap door that we would end up in the same area, evidently not. What happened when you followed me through the door?” Sherlock turned to face John fully, observing him with diligence.

- he didn’t remember.

Oh…well, John hadn’t been betting on that happening, perhaps he should’ve though. It just seemed to lend more credence to his theory that the apple and the collar hit a little too close to something. Either that, or they did end up in different places, and the Sherlock John watched remember Moriarty, and become twisted and withered by the edge of that canyon, wasn’t the one he’d been originally interacting with.

But if that were true…Sherlock made it sound like what he just told John was something John should already know, like he just had another ‘aha!’ moment, opened the trap door and boom, landed right on Baker Street. No mention of the quakes, boxes of half-deleted memory falling everywhere, or of the objects John showed Sherlock that seemed to trigger all that.

Christ. Forget headaches, John felt like he was getting a migraine.

So would that just happen again if John said anything? What was he supposed to do, just sit there – metaphorically – and hope Sherlock will stumble into it and not have another mental breakdown that would inevitably erase any newfound knowledge and bits of recovered memory?

Yeah, that’ll work out great.

John looked at Sherlock, parted his mouth but quickly closed it. What should he tell him?

Sherlock watched John with narrowed eyes through all this. John wasn’t sure what he saw, or deduced, but his expression slowly changed in the blink of an eye to one of comprehension.

“I was there, of course, but as you see me right now. From your point of view we didn’t end up in separate places.” Sherlock stated. Not right away. “And…there is more.” John nodded, still unsure what exactly would be wise to say. “Tell me.”

Once again, John hesitated. “I…found something, and you reacted badly.”

Sherlock looked to be one second away from rolling his eyes. “There’s no need to be that specific John.”

John glared. “I’m not finished yet, smart arse.” John decided to try for as vague as possible, at first. Sherlock could snark at him for doing that if he wished, something told John that blurting out every detail of what happened – at least at this point – could potentially result in another break, which could lead to John yet again wandering aimlessly, a thing he would really like to avoid – for both their sakes. And as much as John would like to talk to Sherlock about every detail of what John saw, not just in the hallway rooms, but before that, with the little boy, he knew that would not be wise at this venture.

Maybe that would change.

An inappropriate giggle wanted to escape John when he noticed that Sherlock was practically dancing on his feet with impatience.

He breathed deeply. Here goes. “Alright, we had a...conversation.” Yeah, that’s one word for it. “You walked off, a couple objects fell on me, I showed them to you, and yes, you reacted badly. You then opened a trap door, pulled me through, we ended up in a St. Barts lab room, and then on a canyon, you collapsed and I was thrown...somewhere else. When I came to, I was in an abandoned series of rooms; I eventually happened across a hallway that lead to me here and, well...here I am.” John gestured around them.

That was pathetic, and not just because John said it too nonchalantly to make ‘that’s all there was to it’, sound believable. Even John knew that, he half-expected Sherlock to start an impatient tirade about John’s incompetence at reciting facts or some such.

Sherlock blinked quickly, and then straightened out of his slight bend towards John, all the while fixing John with a curious eye; stare unbroken.

“Hm…” Sherlock exhaled a breath smoky from the coolness of the air. He finally looked away from John, shivered and rubbed his now ungloved hands together. “Shall we?” He nodded to some indeterminate point towards the road, away from 221b, before moving towards that very spot without waiting for John’s reaction.

Er…what? That was it?

John didn’t move right away, too taken aback from Sherlock’s lack of response. He shook his head and quickly followed Sherlock, who was kneeled in the middle of the road; bare hands pressed into the snow. Yet another ‘why?’ popped into John’s head.

“Aren’t you…going to ask me questions? Call me an idiot or something?” John asked, staring at Sherlock in disbelief.

Sherlock didn’t look at him. Whatever he was doing, he was focused on it.

“No.” Sherlock goddamn shrugged.

“Again, what?”

“No?”

“No.” Sherlock reiterated. This time, he did look up at John. “It is obvious you are purposefully avoiding telling me everything for a reason, and given the nature of our brief rather unusual acquaintance so far, I don’t doubt you wouldn’t do that unless you had a good reason. You said I reacted badly.” Sherlock pointedly looked at John, John nodded. Sherlock seemed satisfied by the response. “Then, given the fact that you seemed inordinately pleased to see me just now, you must’ve eventually been separated from this me, the part actively trying to fix all this, and it seemed like a while to you. What you found in my purgatory was obviously significant enough to warrant such a strong reaction in myself that your first instinct when you saw me was to oversee my appearance for anything abnormal, and were relieved when you saw I didn’t have any wounds or appeared sick like you were clearly expecting.” Sherlock took a somewhat shaky breath here, and once again refocused his attention to the ground. “I do not know why, or how, but somehow your…presence is making it easier for me to focus and make progress. I can assume the general idea of what occurred, and that it means we are nearer to the goal, for now, as aggravating as it might be to myself, it is enough – very little about me is predictable in this state, if it means us not getting separated again, I’m sure I can survive not knowing the details.” Sherlock glanced at John briefly; his eyes were surprisingly open, before roughly brushing the snow away from in front of him.

“Well, um, ok then…” John shrugged, feeling a bit awkward. That was easier than he expected. Sherlock confirmed what John half-suspected, and was justly right about his intentions and reasons, and he thought there might’ve been a wayward compliment or something in there somewhere, even so John hadn’t been expecting that type of reply.

Unpredictable indeed. Honestly? It was another aspect of Sherlock John found himself enjoying, to a degree – he assumed that would probably change depending on the situation.

“Aha!” There was that noise of Sherlock-triumph again.

John bent over to look at what Sherlock was seeing, or had done.

All John could see was a square of exposed road.

“Am I…missing something?”

Sherlock looked up. John expected him to be smiling. He wasn’t. If anything, his expression was closed off.

“I have to go deeper, into myself, further than I have gone before.” His words were uttered with a far too even tone of voice.

John wasn’t certain what that meant, but he could guess.

He straightened and nodded firmly.

“Let’s do it then.” John tried to project an air of support, battle stations ready, something he sensed Sherlock needed even if the man would never admit it.

If Sherlock saw what John was doing, he didn’t say anything; but a tinge of gratefulness shone in his eyes.

Sherlock closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and placed his bare hands on the road.

Nothing happened for a few seconds, but then John felt familiar quakes build beneath them.

Bugger.” John muttered, bending his knees and reaching out his arms to steady himself.

“I’m getting…I can’t, something is preventing me from-” Sherlock exhaled his shaky words through gritted teeth. He inhaled in shock when a particularly strong quake nearly threw him to the side, it didn’t and his focused remained resolute.

It caused John to fall into the snow though – the melting snow now around his body only made the feeling marginally less uncomfortable. He quickly righted himself and crawled over to Sherlock.

The man’s limbs were shaking with some immense effort, like a weight, or many of them, were pressing down on his back.

John heard deep, frustrated growls emanating from the man.

When another strong quake shook the ground, causing multiple street lamps nearby to fall over, Sherlock yelled.

He seemed beyond words now. John was amazing Sherlock was able to hold himself up at all, that would probably change soon.

The quaking got worse.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

“What the hell do I do?” John growled in frustration, staring powerlessly at the struggling man.

When a building began to crumble, so did Sherlock himself.

Fuck this. John was not allowing this to happen again, never mind that there was probably nothing he could do to prevent it.

John threw himself forward and took hold of Sherlock around his shoulders from behind, looping his arms around the front of Sherlock’s shoulders, and pulled; determined to hold him up.

It was the most contact John had had with this man.

John could feel it. He didn’t know what it was, or where it was coming from, but John could feel whatever Sherlock was straining against.

And God help him, John would use whatever strength he possessed to keep Sherlock from collapsing. Again.

 “Come on Sherlock, you can do this. I know you can.”

The quakes continued.

“How…” Sherlock groaned under breath, his arms began to fold in earnest.

John only pulled up tighter.

“I just do alright?”

It wasn’t particularly inspirational, but Sherlock obviously heard it and something changed. There was a loud, groan from the road and cracks began to form beneath them.

Please, please let that be a good thing!

John instinctually tightened his hold on Sherlock, and he felt the man below him regain some strength in his limbs.

The cracks became wider and sure enough, the two of them fell through the Baker St road.

As they fell through darkness, John never let go.

 

~

 

They landed on hard, yet soft ground. Again, the strength of the impact forced them to roll apart once they reached ground zero.

Uh…” John groaned. The ground beneath him crunched as he rolled onto his back.

Why is it always falling?

Sherlock.

John’s eyes flashed open. “Sherlock?” John called out. He pushed himself to sitting and immediately cast his gaze over the area, hoping Sherlock was close.

And…there.

Sherlock lay, seemingly unconscious, on his side at the base of a large tree (?) covered in moss.

The shadow from the long branches obscured his face greatly, only faint slivers of skin were visible – and John didn’t like what he saw, he saw a red that looked an awful lot like…blood.

“Sherlock!” John shouted and quickly stood up.

Aforementioned man began to stir as soon as John made a move towards him.

“John.” His voice was deeply worn, barely audible.

John’s mouth tightened. He reached the side of a shaky limbed Sherlock; the man had pushed himself up to standing but was leaning heavily on the tree beside his weakened form.

John wanted to reach out and do…something. He clenched his hands.

Are you alright?”

Sherlock lifted his hand to the side of his face, pressing lightly he barely restrained a wince.

Even draped in shadow as they were, it was easy to tell that Sherlock wasn’t looking at John.

“I’m fine.” Sherlock wiped his hand angrily across the sleeve of his coat then pushed away from the tree.

John barely had enough time to prevent himself from being crashed into. He watched carefully, but Sherlock hardly made a step before stumbling.

“Whoa!” John reached out and grabbed Sherlock’s arm to stop him from collapsing. “Maybe you should sit for-”

“I’m fine!” Sherlock aggressively yanked his hand away from John’s grasp. “There is no time for your concern, Doctor, we must press on.” His words held stubbornness to rival even John’s.

The movement of rapidly pulling his arm away caused Sherlock to stagger backwards a few steps, exposing his face properly to light and revealing a glaring, bloody, long cut across the arc of his cheek. John grimaced, automatically taking a step forward with the intention of examining the wound. When Sherlock actually backed away from John, he stopped in both surprise and – pathetically – hurt. The latter was a fleeting reaction, there were any number of reasons why Sherlock wouldn’t want John to touch him, this wasn’t exactly a normal situation.

John raised his hands in defeat and gave Sherlock a bit more space.

Alright, alright.”

Other than the wound, Sherlock mostly appeared tired – more than tired. As seconds passed he seemed to grow steadier on his feet, John noted with relief.

Sherlock’s hard expression blinked away for a moment, surprised by John’s acquiescence.

Given what just happened, John imagined they must be in a deeper part of Sherlock’s mind, possibly closer to the source of Sherlock’s greatest pain. Who wouldn’t be extra sensitive?

Besides, the wound appeared to be superficial at least. And John would stick close to Sherlock in case he stumbled again, or something happened that forced him to the edge of breakdown. John didn’t know what he did, but when he physically pulled Sherlock up and towards him back on Baker St, when the man was near collapse, it seemed to have an effect. It gave Sherlock a moment of strength.

Coniuncti Sumus?

Sherlock straightened, completely negating the fact that he was showing signs of experiencing physical pain, proud despite the vulnerability John saw in him only moments before – perhaps even more so.

“Good.” Sherlock gave John a grateful nod before walking off, not bothering to wait for John.

Bugger. John jogged until he was in line with him again. Sherlock didn’t say anything, hands in his pockets, his eyes faced forward – pointedly not looking at John.

Why is he determined to not look at me?

John decided to wait him out - anticipating Sherlock would provide some manner of explanation for their current predicament, maybe even what they were looking for. That would be nice.

It was as a tense silence settled between them, whether that was because of where they were or something else John couldn’t name, that John finally noticed the environment in which they found themselves.

It was a forest.

John resisted the humourless laugh building in his body. So a literal forest of the mind? Fitting.

Trees, massive in size were dispersed all around them, the barest amount of leaves on the spindly, disfigured branches, peeling moss encrusted bark and low to the ground fog added to the unnerving, otherworldly quality of it all. This was accentuated by the few beams of light that managed to penetrate the canopy of them, obscuring whatever sky that may (or may not) exist. The colour and feel was wrong for sunlight, or moonlight, John didn’t know what it was, but it pierced the fog and John’s skin tingled whenever he passed underneath it.

The sounds of fallen twigs and dead leaves they stepped on as they walked were the only sound.

It felt old, incredibly old.

No one could mistake this for a natural forest.

As far as John could tell there was no path, yet Sherlock was moving forward a few steps ahead of John without hesitation like he knew where he was going – that or he was just as clueless as John and didn’t show it.

Neither man spoke for several minutes. The environment around them didn’t change – to the degree that John thought maybe they were going in circles. Or maybe every tree just looked the same.

John was contemplating breaking the silence when a familiar smell (smell?) assaulted his senses.

John frowned in confusion as he looked to the man walking purposefully ahead of him and, sure enough –

“Are you…smoking? Seriously?!” John exclaimed, waving away the offending smoke wafting towards him.

Sherlock didn’t turn around, but John swore he saw him roll his eyes anyway. He exhaled and, again, another puff of smoke hit John in the face. He quickly picked up his pace to be level with Sherlock, if only to avoid getting hit in the face by the nauseating smoke.

“No. In case you’ve forgotten, it is impossible for me to actually be smoking.” Sherlock sighed, pulling away a cigarette from his lips, John’s eyes barely twitched when he noticed the cylinder morph into an old pipe in his hands; the smoke emanating was the same. “Pity.” He mumbled as once again, he breathed the pipe/cigarette deeply.

John hated to admit it, but there was a certain beauty to the way the smoke curled around Sherlock’s face.

It was still immensely unhealthy, and it was only the fact that Sherlock was right – big surprise – and he wasn’t actually smoking that stopped John from yanking the death stick out of his mouth. But, when John thought about what he saw in that hallway room before, he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that – apparently – Sherlock also smoked.

It was a vice, and a coping mechanism, and clearly at that moment Sherlock needed one.

“So you smoke too?” John cursed himself when he realized what he inadvertently implied.

For the first time Sherlock looked squarely at John’s face with a calculating eye, never breaking his stride.

“Hm. It seems you saw some interesting things Doctor, while you were gallivanting around my head. Have fun?” His eyes were icy as they stared John down.

 

John clenched his fists and bit down his immediate reaction to the allegation in Sherlock’s words; indignation and anger, which was clearly how Sherlock expected John to react.

He’s lashing out. In all honesty John couldn’t say he’d be all that pleased either if someone were in his head, witnessing his secrets.

“No, of course not. Are you still using?” John was careful to not let any judgement lace his tone. He was worried for sure about the implications, and reality of how deep Sherlock’s addictions ran and for how long, but he couldn’t exactly stand high up on a pedestal with his history.

Sherlock blinked, the iciness melting away into only a mild suspicion. He grunted, resuming his focus forward.

“No. My brother made sure of that. Opium alleviated the mind-numbing boredom; Cocaine did the same, while focusing my mind when it was necessary. Magick only got me so far, so the cases were – are the only other vice I can indulge in without anyone lecturing me on the dangers to my health.” Sherlock chuckled humorously. “As if I’d listen to them. If I really wanted to use again, I would.” He exhaled a new wave of smoke. “So, I smoke. Helps me think. Not quite the stigma as opioid drug use, still, it was growing impossible to maintain a smoking habit in London. Navigating law restrictions, annoying and tedious. More often than not it was necessary to resort to patches.” Sherlock near spat the word. He breathed in through the pipe, which rippled into the form of a cigarette in his fingers. Sherlock seemed to be mostly talking to himself then, but the way he would subtly – unconsciously – tense every time John accidently stepped closer, proved he wasn’t unaware of John’s presence at his side. “Bad news for brain work.”

John snorted. “Good news for breathing.”

Sherlock groaned. “Ugh breathing, breathing’s boring.”

John looked at Sherlock in disbelief. That makes no sense. John sighed; he doubted there was any point in responding to that.

If they got out of this, maybe John could work on convincing Sherlock he doesn’t need to compromise his health in order to work his best.

Somehow, John had a feeling that would be a near impossible challenge. Sherlock Holmes was nothing if not stubborn.

John exhaled heavily and rested a weary hand on his face for a moment.

This wasn’t an unimportant subject, but at the moment they had more immediate concerns.

“So, where are we headed to?” It would be really nice to know how much longer they would be walking in this forest for, the way every single tree looked alike was seriously creeping John the hell out.

Gathering by the slightly more relaxed pose, Sherlock was grateful for the change in topic. There was still a significant amount of tension emanating from him though, and it showed in his snappish attitude ever since they landed here.

To John, Sherlock was acting like an animal that had been backed into a corner. He had to tread very, very carefully.

“I have absolutely no idea.” Sherlock shrugged. The cigarette/pipe vanished in, ironically, a puff of smoke. His hands were bare as he stuffed them in the pockets of his long, dark coat.

That wasn’t quite what he expected.

John blinked. “Seriously?”

“I told you, deeper than I have ever been before. What we need to find, will find us. As much as I despise waiting, it is often a necessary evil to solving a mystery. Even, it seems, when inside my own mind.”

John groaned inwardly. Fantastic.  So they were walking aimlessly, basically.

He didn’t know what it was, but the further they walked, the more unsettled John became. Maybe it meant they were getting close?

Perhaps John could use this time to get to know Sherlock a little better.

He felt he already knew more about Sherlock than many friends he’d known for years, but John just knew that it would take years beyond counting to truly know the full breadth of the man, how he works, the ins and outs of what drives him, and John would never fully know him.

John found he wasn’t bothered by a portion of the man forever remaining a mystery to him. It was a part of Sherlock Holmes’s confusing, inescapable charm.

“Tell me about some of your cases.” John quipped with a curious look in Sherlock’s direction. “If you want.” He quickly added, when Sherlock looked at him blankly in surprise.

John had only seen small examples of Sherlock on a case; most in that hallway room, but he was fascinated and amazed by this man’s ability and how he chooses to use it. He had no doubt that Sherlock would be a formidable criminal if his talents were turned against the law.

John was exceedingly curious to say the least. Not to mention distracting Sherlock from whatever gloom was plaguing him – understandably so – might ease his way in all this, he seemed to gather strength by the physical support John gave him earlier, somehow.

“Oh. You really want to know?” John thought he saw a brief smile grace Sherlock’s face, but it was there and gone before John could be sure.

This was a pattern, whenever John expressed genuine curiosity and fascination with his Work and abilities Sherlock always, even if only for a second, looked not just pleased – but surprised. He’d probably gotten ridiculed for them more often than not, John thought, which was a shame. It didn’t help that Sherlock was not only stubborn, but unerringly blunt and adept at inappropriately observing and thus exposing a person’s life based on clues in their appearance and behaviour, seeming not to care if he exposed a sore spot – to him, it was simply the truth.

The unchanging forest continued to move with them as they walked a directionless path through the woods, their footsteps and sounds of their synchronized breathing the only noises.

Sherlock was looking at John out of the corner of his eye, waiting.

John nodded. “Of course.”

Sherlock blinked quickly. And just like that, his entire being transformed; gone was the reserved misery in his eyes, expressionless mask, tense line of his shoulders and John no longer had the feeling that Sherlock would bite his hand off if he miss-stepped in anyway.

“Hmm, where should all I start…” Sherlock placed his palms together in familiar pose, resting his hands in front of his chin. He began to walk faster, so John had to pick up his own pace.

In short, what John was seeing was Sherlock alive with enthusiasm. John in no way had to force a smile; the warmth he felt at seeing this sight fuelled it.

“Oh! Shortly after I turned thirty one, this would’ve been 1885, many years before I established myself as a Consulting Detective and became fully committed to the Work, although I did on occasion solve many a mystery that crossed my path, as a result I already had a reputation of sorts. At the time I was studying at Oxford after completing my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, a fellow classmate; John Openshaw - a Warlock with unusual elemental Magick, approached me after his uncle was found murdered and the only clue at was a page from his diary dating 1869 regarding incidents in which three sets of five orange pips were sent to three different men, all of whom were Illusionists…”

And so Sherlock talked.

He didn’t stop. John listened with a keen and interested ear; his fascination with Sherlock only grew the longer he shared and spoke about his numerous experiences.

John couldn’t – or wouldn’t – name it, but something in him changed in those moments.

It felt a lot like flying, or swimming in deep water and miraculously not drowning.

Something else changed as Sherlock talked, not just his energy and mannerisms growing more animated.

The trees and forest around them changed. That light John couldn’t pin point a name for grew more intense, and though the fog and actual appearance of the trees was largely the same, they became…more alive. John didn’t know how else to describe it.

He just continued to watch and listen to Sherlock. John allowed himself a moment to acknowledge how beautiful Sherlock was – and it wasn’t just physically. This person beside him, everything around John, was all a part of Sherlock’s mind. His mind was beautiful; a never-ending maze of knowledge and possibility, a battlefield.

It was when John realized that not even being a Soldier or Doctor gave him the same feeling of life as being around Sherlock did, that John openly acknowledged to himself that yes – perhaps he was a little besotted.

More than a little…

Shut up, mind.

Needless to say, walking was a lot more pleasant after that.

This was of course when it all changed. Again.

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“…it was his dog that proved it in the end-” Sherlock was toward the tail end of reviewing to John yet another case, much later in his life. “-this really intelligent Collie honestly had more brains, and probably a higher IQ, than his human companion. I’ll admit I had a penchant for dogs after that, I’d never had practical experience with them before. Unfortunately, my childhood was rather restricted in that regard and I never got around to having one myself – Mycroft discouraged it, citing my lifestyle as uncondusive to caring for an animal. He was right – though I never told him that of course.” Sherlock’s sigh was despondent, but he shrugged it off quickly enough. He resumed talking.

But John didn’t hear him.

John was reeling.

Wait a minute…Sherlock never had a dog?

Then what was – “You never had a dog?” John stopped walking and stared at Sherlock.

Sherlock, who had still been talking, stopped and turned to face John completely. There was confusion in his eyes as he gazed at John.

“No. Not everyone grew up with Fido or Fluffy you know.”

The abrupt tone in conversation caused the more alight forest to return to its previous, subdued state.

John exhaled. “Yes, I know, but never in your life?”

“No…” Sherlock emphasized; all burrowing into John with his eyes. “Why are you this surprised?”

John shook his head, not saying anything.

What did this mean? John had seen this dog, multiple times, and not just in Sherlock’s head! But outside of it too. And that memory with Sherlock likely overdosed on whatever drug he was taking at the time…that dog was with him, and Sherlock obviously knew it, had talked to it – yes, oddly, but like the dog was his.

It could’ve just been a result of the fracturing Sherlock’s mind took, but when despite that, he was able to recall events and people from over a century ago with crystal clarity, why would he conveniently forget a dog that seemed to be important to him?

Because it had to be important.

The dog…was the dog the key? Sherlock didn’t seem to remember it…

Had John been inadvertently seeing the “residue” left behind by the repressed, locked away memories this entire time?

Shit. John’s pulse started racing. What does this mean?

John! What is it?”

He must’ve been really out of it. Sherlock’s shout and a jostling movement shocked John out of his trance. The man was standing directly in front of John, hands grasping John shoulders; eyes wide as he stared at Johns face.

Did Sherlock shake him?

John didn’t have time to ponder the implications of Sherlock’s hands gripping his shoulders with surprising strength.

John maintained eye contact with Sherlock as he uttered his response with caution, uncertain on how Sherlock would react. “I think I know what we need to look for, at least I have an idea.”

Sherlock frowned. His hands fell away from John’s shoulders, but he didn’t step back. He didn’t say anything, undoubtedly waiting for John to explain himself.

John watched Sherlock carefully and steeled himself. If the recent past was any indication (aka, dog collar), Sherlock wasn’t going to react well.

Maybe that was unavoidable.

“Before I entered your mind, I didn’t just see you.” John breathed in. Sherlock tilted his head curiously, his feet moving on the spot with impatience. “I saw a dog, a red setter.”

Sherlock became very, very still.

Nothing happened for a moment, and John watched in growing worry at the utter lack of reaction from Sherlock.

“Sherlock?” John reached out in a manner similar to what Sherlock had just been doing with him. The second John’s hands touched Sherlock’s shoulders he knew something was wrong, even through the thick coat Sherlock felt cold, frozen. Fuck. “Sherlock!” John practically shouted in his face.

Sherlock jumped as though electrocuted and staggered backwards, away from John; his face dead white. “I-”

He didn’t get more than that one word out before they both heard it.

A dog, loud barks quickly turning into long, mournful howls.

The ground started to shake.

Oh no, not this again. John automatically reached out and grabbed the dumbstruck Sherlock’s arms.

The dog sounds were getting closer.

Loud cracks from within the trees echoed painfully loud in John’s ears as the quakes grew.

RUN!” Sherlock bellowed and did just that, in the opposite direction of where the sounds of the dog were coming from; back the way they came.

Not knowing what else to do, John started running too. Soon, he and Sherlock were running side by side through the maze of trees.

John cursed inwardly every profanity he could possibly think of. What are we going to do now?

Sherlock was moving at an impossibly fast rate, John somehow managed to match his speed – something John new he wouldn’t be able to do in his actual body.

Another loud crack echoed nearby and a root started rising out of the ground, directly in front of John.

He managed to jump over it in time but the unexpectedness of it threw John off balance, especially as another quake rocked Sherlock’s mental earth.

John was sure he was going to fall, but in the split second before that could happen a hand reached out to steady John by grasping his flailing hand by the wrist.

John glanced at Sherlock. “Ta.”

Sherlock didn’t respond except to grasp John’s wrist harder, if possible.

And he didn’t release him even as John regained his pace. (Why?)

In the distance the dog continued to howl. No matter how far they ran, they never seemed to get farther away.

Why is Sherlock running? John asked himself, side-glancing at the man.

All but holding hands, they narrowly avoided a collapsing tree by making a sharp left towards a thicker part of the forest, Sherlock pulling John along the way.

This wasn’t like “real life”, since there was no apparent breakdown on Sherlock’s part and subsequent falling through a hole in the earth, John highly doubted they would be able to outrun Sherlock himself…since that’s what all this was isn’t? The dog, whatever it meant, was Sherlock, and the times any allusion to a dog – the dog – happened it only seemed to set them back…because, Sherlock ran. The first time; through the trap door, the second time; Sherlock collapsed and John was flung away.

Maybe John unintentionally absorbed some of what Dr. Thompson said in therapy, or maybe it was this innate instinct regarding Sherlock John felt in his gut. Whatever it was, John had the crazy thought that maybe in order to make any progress here, to find the blocked memories they were looking for, they had to stop running.

John did recall that the apple, and the dog collar, found him, not vice versa.

Logic was all twisted around up in here.

It was mad, insane, and possibly yes a tad bonkers, but didn’t see another alternative – they could keep running, and hope something just happens, but not only did John not see anything new in the upcoming distance, they weren’t outrunning the barking and quakes at all, they were just as prevalent and loud as they were at the start.

Time to take a risk then, and hope John’s intuition doesn’t get them in deeper shit – the kind they aren’t looking for.

“Sherlock stop!” John squeezed Sherlock’s hand as tight as he could and pulled.

Their abrupt stop wasn’t smooth, but at least they didn’t fall over.

John could already feel and hear the barking and quakes getting louder, stronger.

Sherlock was breathing heavily, looking completely drained, much more so than John.

“What? Why are you being an idiot! We have to keep going!” Sherlock tried to start running again, but John held fast.

Sherlock didn’t let him, John could feel his grip slipping. So, John did the only other thing he could do.

He jumped, slamming Sherlock onto the ground. They both grunted at the impact, John used his diverse military and defense training to keep Sherlock still, this didn’t stop the man from growling and struggling below him.

“Listen, just – stop will you!” John near shouted through gritted teeth. Sherlock didn’t stop, he was getting desperate now. John thought he saw tears forming in Sherlock’s eyes as a result of his frustration. John felt a pang in his heart. “Why do we have to run?”

Sherlock tried to throw John off. He managed to do so halfway, but before he could squirm out from John’s hold too far, John plastered himself completely over Sherlock’s body; both of them breathed loudly.

“Sherlock! Please, I know you’re not in your right mind right now, but try to think, why are you running?” It was both a rhetorical and honest question, if only John could get Sherlock out of flight mode…

Throughout all this, the ground continued to shake and the sounds of a barking dog grew.

“Get off me!”

John debated it, but he did let go. Before Sherlock could so much as move though, John asked again, using his “Captain John Watson” voice this time.

“Why. Are. You. Running?

Sherlock writhed a few more times, but seemed to pause.

“I…I don’t know.” Sherlock turned his to the side, exposing part of his expression to John; he appeared greatly confused.

John breathed in and out, nodding.

“Alright, how about we stop running then? You know, see what happens.”

Sherlock’s eyebrow twitched.

“See what happens? That’s your, professional opinion, John?”

Well, at least he’s not spitting ‘Doctor’ at me anymore.

“Yes, so as your Doctor, you should listen to me.”

Something in Sherlock’s form changed. “You’re my Doctor, are you?” There was a teasing note to his voice, but there was also another emotion John had trouble placing.

John froze. He didn’t mean it to sound like that.

Suddenly John realized he was still draped over Sherlock. He quickly backed off. In his haste he landed, ungracefully, on his arse.

In their brief exchange John had failed to notice that not only had the quakes stopped, the sound of dog barking had as well.

John wasn’t all that reassured though. The forest had become darker, and John swore he felt something like a patient gaze on the back of his neck.

It was all very ominous.

John couldn’t see Sherlock’s face as the man pushed himself to his knees, his hands coming to rest atop his thighs.

He was…slumped, like no more energy existed in him.

“Hey.” John murmured. He half crawled over to Sherlock and casually placed a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry; I’m a very good Doctor. I even managed to go to school for it, you know. Not Oxford or Cambridge like some smart arses I know, but hey, we can’t all be geniuses.”

Sherlock, despite the misery he was emanating in waves, actually laughed.

Bingo. John grinned.

“You give yourself too little credit, John Watson.” Sherlock uttered; quiet and gentle, in a way John had yet to hear from him.

John…didn’t know what to say to that. He exhaled a slight laugh. If his hand stroked Sherlock’s arm a little when he took his hand away, well…

There was silence, an ominous, foreboding silence.

Sherlock finally turned to look at John. It was as he met John’s eyes that he appeared to spot something over John’s shoulder. Sherlock’s eyes went wide.

John frowned slightly and turned around…his frown cleared away.

Oh.

The dog was standing not five feet away.

“I can’t do this.”

John whipped back around at the sound of Sherlock’s voice.

The man was literally shaking.

“Sherlock?”

“I can’t…I don’t, I don’t know what this…”

John grabbed Sherlock’s arms. “Yes, you can.”

Sherlock didn’t stop shaking, if anything he started to shake more.

“NO! I can’t! I won’t!” Sherlock practically screamed in John’s face and pushed him away.

John grunted in surprise at the force, groaning when he landed on a sharp rock.

He heard the dog begin to growl.

John quickly scrambled to get up, breathing hard. He got to his feet just in time to see the dog leap at a scrambling Sherlock and –

John gasped as the sensation of falling hit him once again.

 

This time, there was no in-between.

 

One moment, John was watching a dog leap at Sherlock; the next John saw a wet, rocky surface gaining size in his vision as he fell.

He landed, hard, on his front.

“Uh…” John groaned.

The sound of loud, running water rang in his ears. Still a bit disoriented, John was a bit shaky as he got up.

He gasped at what he saw; he was on a ledge, halfway down a massive cliff, at barely ten feet away a huge waterfall cascading into unknown depths below. Moonlight illuminated the immediate area to a starling degree, beyond the cliff face there was only darkness, save the moon high above. John couldn’t tell if it was raining, or if he was getting overspray from the falls, either way he was soaked.

He heard another groan.

John wiped his eyes clear of water and saw what looked like Sherlock (thank god) moving to get up from an uncomfortable landing position, much like John. But he was struggling, and still obviously shaking.

John moved forward and –

Grunted in surprise as he once again went flying backward, inevitably hitting the face of the cliff. John bit his lip to keep from screaming out at the intense pain, that exploded along his back and knees, the latter from collapsing after hitting the wall.

Goddamnit. John felt like the blow not only brought new pain, but accentuated all his old (or not so old) pain along with it, and not just physical…what’s happening?

It took all of John strength to not express what he was feeling through voice.

He briefly wondered if the Sherlock he saw was the one who pushed him away, but as John lifted his head up he saw not one man…but two.

There was someone – something else here.

John recognized this man. He’d only ever needed to see that face once to remember it.

Moriarty.

Fuck!” John seethed through gritted teeth. This can’t be good.

John tried to move, to get up, and to…do something. But it was slow going; the pain was weighing him down like an outside force unto himself.

“It’s quite lovely here, isn’t it? I don’t know why you don’t come down here more often. I do miss having someone to play with.” That voice was as oily and snakelike as the man who carried it.

“I…I’ve always been partial to sun myself.” Sherlock’s voice was wrecked.

Sherlock was standing up now, but he looked like he was barely keeping it together. The water from what must be rain made it hard for John to see details, all he could tell was that there was a tremble to Sherlock’s form and the man was dressed far differently than he had been before, but John recognized the clothing.

From the photograph. This was Sherlock as his 19th century self. Except this time the moisture from the water caused his slicked back hair to curl at the edges.

Moriarty was facing Sherlock fully now, John couldn’t see his face. He could see however, that Moriarty was edging closer to Sherlock.

John’s desperation to move grew.

“Yes, I know. I am you, remember?” Moriarty gestured to himself with wide, exaggerated arm movements. “I’m pretty sure I would never have worn…this.” Moriarty picked at parts of his old-fashioned clothing with distaste. “Ugh, how grateful I am that fashion improved since the 1800’s, among other things, at least you won’t be castrated and thrown in jail for loving cock, not in England any way. No, you’ll be ostracized and judged by masses of idiots instead. At least we have bigger guns now. What a great time to be alive!” Moriarty cackled, turning his face up to the falling water.

What was he doing here? A manifestation of Sherlock in some way, but what? Fear? Anger? Considering what Moriarty did to and brought about in Sherlock…The fact that he’d shown up here at all…

The block had to be closed.

John couldn’t see Sherlock’s face, but his posture indicated not only hardly restrained fear, but a new determination as well.

John angrily muttered to himself as he forced his aching body to just move already, but it was happening too slowly for him.

“Why, why are you here?” Sherlock was practically growling.

Moriarty snorted. “You tell me – oh wait, you can’t can you? So sad. Poor wittle Sherlock, not so invulnerable to the weaknesses of humanity are we? Your mind would rather slowly rot to death, with nothing but delightful me for company, than subject yourself to the terrible realization that you’re not a Sociopath after all. Admit it, my dear.” Moriarty, hands in his pockets, sauntered in almost dance like motions towards the rigid Sherlock. “You weren’t just fascinated by my, prowess-” Moriarty giggled. The sheer glee in Moriarty’s voice turned John’s stomach. Was he actually like this? “-as a criminal mastermind, but you secretly envied me, wanted to be like me - the true Sociopath, because if you were…then you wouldn’t have felt…it.” Moriarty sang that last word in a vaguely operatic taunt, and the evil bastard actually twirled on the spot. “Then again, if you hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here would we? This little chat is the most fun I’ve had in a looong time.”

A stream of moonlight pierced through the waterfall’s spray and illuminated Sherlock’s face for a moment – with more the haunting signs of fear and panic, deathly white skin and the determination to remain strong in the face of Moriarty, and what he represented, crumbling away faster than the speed of the falls.

Moriarty’s head tilted obscenely to the right, lifted up a hand and twisted it sharply in Sherlock’s direction.

Sherlock screamed in pain and collapsed.

Sherlock!” John yelled. Fuck this. John pushed himself quickly onto his shaky feet, in his haste he nearly fell off the cliff – his heart pounded loudly in his ears – but was able to steady himself in time with one hand on the cliff wall.

“Why…why are you doing this, to me...?” Sherlock uttered brokenly.

Moriarty shrugged. “Because I can.” Moriarty made a tossing movement with his hand that caused Sherlock to be thrown backwards…dangerously close to the edge of the cliff.

“You’re insane.” Sherlock growled through gritted teeth, moving himself onto his knees – breathing in pain all the while.

John tried to walk, and nearly fell when an overwhelming pain – not his own – hit his chest. What…what’s happening…The edges of John’s vision began to blur. No, not now, please…

Moriarty sighed, like he was annoyed. “Haven’t we already had this discussion? If I’m insane, it’s because you are. You’re talking to yourself you idiot.” Moriarty strode purposefully forward. Sherlock tried to move away, but Moriarty was too strong and pulled the struggling Sherlock onto his feet; their faces barely an inch apart. “The only reason I’m still here, is because you’re allowing me to be. I am the only thing between you and what you’re trying to forget. You can’t deal with it. You’re not strong enough. You’re weak. So, pathetically human, barely worthy of being an Enchanter.” Moriarty spat. “Just like all the other weaklings of this world, you succumb to the trap of emotion...you would rather let yourself decay, left to be fed on by spiders like me, than remember your pain, or-” Moriarty grinned at Sherlock maniacally and forced himself forehead to forehead with Sherlock. “-risk the possibility of feeling anything like what you felt ever, ever again.”

Sherlock made an almost animalistic sound and head-butted Moriarty. The shock caused the man to stumble backwards, however the action seemed to drain whatever strength in Sherlock remained and once again he buckled onto his knees.

Moriarty laughed. “Very good. But you are failing to comprehend one thing.” Moriarty continued laughing as he again reached down and pulled Sherlock to his feet; his strength alone kept Sherlock from collapsing under his own weight. His head lolled to the side.

The rain pounded harder, the waterfall fell faster, and the world started to spin. John was struggling under the weight of pain holding him down. Hating himself for not being strong enough – no, no John wouldn’t give into that. He couldn’t afford it. Not when Sherlock was in danger – even if it was from his own self.

John pushed himself onto his elbows just in time to see Moriarty swing Sherlock close enough to the edge that the edge of Sherlock’s boot kicked a lose piece of the rocky edge, causing it to tumble off into the darkness below.

The change in position gave John a clear view of Sherlock’s face.

He looked dead.

No.

And that, hit John harder than anything had so far. Sherlock no longer felt like a stranger to John, a random person laying decrepit on a bed in a debilitating coma, Sherlock was…Sherlock.

John’s only words when he lay bleeding on the Afghan desert floor, bullet ripped through his shoulder spattering far too much blood everywhere, were ‘Please God, let me live.’

John repeated those words to himself, with one notable exception.

Please God, let him live.

“You can’t fight me. Can you? Hasn’t this whole thing taught you anything? It has always been, and always will be you and me. You can try and run as far as your human heart desires, but in the end it will always come back to this, to us, struggling on his ledge – me, draining you of whatever pitiable strength you have. Isn’t it – ah, delicious?” Moriarty goddamn cackled.

And John snapped.

A warm, hot, feeling built in John from within the marrow of his bones; electrifying him from the inside out. He barely spared a thought to what it might be. John pushed himself to his feet and all but sprinted towards the two men.

Evil bastard!” John roared as he slammed into Moriarty’s side.

The force of John’s impact dislodged Moriarty from Sherlock. The latter landed roughly with half a foot dangling off the cliffs edge, and the former flew with a scream into black pit below.

“Good riddance.” John unconsciously placed a hand over his fast beating heart.

His breath came in heavy exhales, adrenaline still coursed through his veins as water continued to fall painfully on his back, drenching John completely.

He didn’t feel the chill.

It may not have actually been Moriarty, but that was all John saw – the image of that combined with the very real reality of Sherlock decaying before his very eyes…John felt such rage that surprised even him.

The result was inevitable.

A groan broke John out of his daze.

He whipped around, saw Sherlock laying on his back, trembling near John’s position, and dropped to his knees beside the man.

John cursed himself, hoping he didn’t somehow do more damaged by charging as recklessly as he did.

“Sherlock, Sherlock, talk to me.” John tried to remain calm, but his voice neared desperation. He positioned himself so the rain and water wouldn’t fall directly on Sherlock’s face, but there was no point – much like John, the man was already soaked.

Sherlock’s eyes fluttered open, and he breathed in a shaky, shallow breath.

“John.”

John forced a reassuring smile, he tried to feel relief at Sherlock speaking – but being this close to him, John could see how bad off he truly was; face ashen, drained of all energy, he looked like a man on the edge of giving up.

It was a sight John had seen too many times in his life, mostly friends in the army, some John managed to save – and some he couldn’t.

And now, Sherlock.

Over my dead body.

“Yeah, yeah it’s me. He’s gone now. What can I do? Tell me what to do.” John knew he was speaking far too fast, and felt fear at the sight of Sherlock lightly shaking his head not quite looking at John.

“Nothing. He’s not gone. He’ll never be gone. He’ll always be here, with me. Always.” Sherlock’s eyes closed and he seemed to cry noiseless tears – the rain made it hard to tell.

Nope.

John gathered his determination and vehemently turned Sherlock’s head to face him. The forced change in position caused Sherlock’s eyes to open again, thinly, fluttering in John’s direction.

“I pushed him off the ledge. I swear, he’s not here.” John insisted.

Sherlock’s mouth twitched in a small smile.

“Not him.” Sherlock murmured, a certain distance clouding over his eyes. John frowned in confusion. Who is he talking about then? “You are a recklessly brave man John Watson.”

“Terrible habit, can’t help it. No amount of unnecessary risk lectures by my unit Commander beat that out of me.” John laughed humourlessly.

Sherlock’s face turned, if possible, even more sombre and an intense wave of shivers wracked his body. John tightened his hold, overwhelmed with feeling helpless. Fuck fuck fuck what do I do?  “You feel responsible for me. You want to save me. You can’t.”

It’s not just about that idiot. What is it then? John asked himself. He didn’t answer.

The moonlight faded, and the rain began to dampen to a trickle.

John felt his heart pang, statements like ‘Yes I can’, ‘don’t give up’, ‘you’re not getting out of this that easy you twat’, were at the tip of his tongue. This wasn’t right, they couldn’t be here right on the edge – literally – of possibly ending all this only to have Sherlock finally falling apart at the seams.

“The east wind takes us all in the end.” Sherlock whispered so quietly John had to strain to hear.

John opened his mouth to say – something, he didn’t know what, but stopped. Horror filled his body as he witnessed familiar wounds sprouting like poison across every inch of Sherlock’s body, including his face; gaping wide knife like cuts, pumping seemingly endless amounts of blood…

 

…chaos surrounding him, John dragged himself across the rocky sand towards the prone figure…wounds began to form all over his body, his chest, his head, even his feet, he couldn’t see them but John knew they were there…wide, gaping maws leeching far too much blood…The pain was unimaginable.

 

…Just like in the nightmare John had, made up of memories that couldn’t have been just his. John felt more than saw these wounds before.

They came from Sherlock.

“Fuck, no.” John cursed, moving his hands over the wounds, trying to put pressure on them – though he knew it was pointless. Sherlock may not have been literally bleeding, but his mind was, the distinction was not reassuring.

Not when Sherlock looked to be on deaths door beneath John’s hands.

“I can’t…I can’t, I can’t do it. I don’t know how…I can’t, c-c…” Sherlock muttered, no longer seeming aware of John as his eyes rolled back into his head, and his entire body jolted over and over – reminding John of a seizure.

John felt tears of frustration, anger, build in his eyes. He was just contemplating shouting for Mycroft, or Greg even, hoping somehow it would get their attention through whatever amount of connection they had – not caring if there was nothing they could do – when John heard something.

A dog howling. And it was coming from off the edge of the cliff.

John froze as yet another mad idea lit up his brain.

But…no, really?

He had to do something, John couldn’t just sit here and watch Sherlock metaphorically bleed out – which seemed inevitable if he just sat there.

What did they have to lose?

John steeled himself. “Sherlock, if you can hear me I need you to listen carefully and trust me. We need to go off the cliff.” Even John’s inner voice was screaming at him.

Are you mad?

Yes, I am, evidently. Completely barmy.

If he was wrong…Shit, what if this caused some sort of chain reaction that killed them both? But, if John was right, and the dog was a part of all this…it was their only option.

Sherlock didn’t respond to what he said. John didn’t really expect him too, he didn’t seem to be capable of anything at the moment.

So…just hold on and roll off the cliff?

Yep, I’ve gone bonkers.     

Secretly hoping a less dangerous option would show itself in the next few minutes John positioned himself so he would go off first and wrapped his arms around the bleeding Sherlock – the warmth of which made John feel sick.

John had just started making the movement across those few inches to the cliffs edge…

Sherlock wailed.

The loudness pained deep in John’s head, so much so he was sure his eardrums must’ve ruptured all the way in the real world. It was an involuntary movement that had John reaching up to protect his ears from the banshee-like sound that emanated from Sherlock.

The swiftness, with which Sherlock escaped John’s grasp, limbs squirming and kicking, had John rolling onto his stomach.

What the hell-?

John groaned, quickly stood up and looked towards the cliff face.

He felt sick at what he saw. John clenched his hands to keep from covering his mouth.

“Sherlock…” John exhaled in horror.

The trembling man was half-standing, half bent over, leaning against the wall of the cliff. He was completely naked, what wounds John had seen were now twisted and gnarled into mountains of scars all over Sherlock’s body, and he resembled his real body; emaciated, tight, discoloured skin. Except…this was worse.

Far, far worse.

Sherlock appeared to be slowly shrivelling up before John’s eyes.

John had an abnormally strong stomach, but it still took immense will to keep from vomiting.

His face, his eyes, were the worst. Sherlock was staring at John with wide, unseeing eyes, he looked petrified.

Was this how Moriarty made him feel? Was this what Moriarty did to his victims? Take their greatest pain and use it to twist them from the inside out, suck the life out of them? Leaving their mind and body a husk like…this?

John didn’t make a sound, but he felt tears falling down his face.

“Sherlock…” John spoke as calmly as his emotions allowed him too. Asking Sherlock to go over that cliff edge made John feel like he was asking the man to play Russian roulette with himself, especially when he reacted as violently as he did.

He reacted that strongly because there was something over that ledge.

Their goal, it had to be. John never expected being this close to it would make Sherlock react this way.

He…He can’t, John can’t make him do this. He’s so scared.

But you have to. John wasn’t sure if that was even his voice or not, he knew it was right – and he hated it.

“Sherlock-” John tried again, walking towards him slowly.

“I hate this, John. I hate this.” Sherlock hardly sounded like Sherlock at all, his voice all withered and breathless, and a perfect reflection of how he looked to John at that moment. “Don’t make me do it. I don’t know how, I could hardly deal the…the first t-time, how will I-”

John, resolute, practically leapt the rest of the way to Sherlock. Even hunched over as he was, John still had to reach up to place both his hands on either side of Sherlock’s sunken face.

“Because I’m here. Whatever it is, I promise you are not alone in this. I promise.” John uttered gently, but firmly, he had to make Sherlock believe him. “I don’t care if we’re barely a step up from strangers, I will do whatever is in my power to be there beside you through this, and not just here in your mind.” I must.

John knew he was all but glaring at Sherlock, perhaps not the best thing.

Sherlock’s skin seemed to ripple and twist before John’s eyes; he was staring at John with nothing but sorrow.

“I’m not strong enough. It’s…It’s been too long.” It was just like Sherlock to sound less despondent, and more angry at himself for not having the strength to go on, when the poor man had obviously been fighting his own head in an unknown battle for years.

The two of them were breathing heavily, both for very different reasons.

John gripped Sherlock tighter.

“Yes. You. Are.You have to be. “You don’t get to do this now you absolute bastard.” Right, very helpful John.

Sherlock’s cracked lips twitched in a barely there smile, but then he slid an inch down the wall, his breathing started to slow. John’s heart constricted when Sherlock’s spindly, withered hands reached up and grasped pathetically at John’s wrists.

“Thank-you, for trying, Dr. Watson.”

If John actually whimpered, he couldn’t have cared less. Sherlock started to become a heavier weight under John’s hands, eyes sliding closed…

Oh no you don’t.

John panicked. And perhaps, did the most reckless thing he had done thus far.

He leaned forward and kissed Sherlock Holmes. His body pressed fully along Sherlock’s front to keep him from falling.

John couldn’t question the wisdom of what he did, in that moment everything narrowed down to that one moment, wet, slick, spine-tingling, and the shocking revelation that Sherlock held onto John’s hands tighter, and – albeit weakly – moved his lips hesitantly against John’s own.

And so, John felt something he hadn’t felt for months.

His Magick.

It built in him like being in a bath slowly filling with hot water; a warm, comforting relief spreading from his toes, up his legs, through his chest and out through the thin yet powerful connection of Sherlock and John’s lips.

It didn’t feel broken, it felt…different.

John had been outside in the cold for so long, he forgot what he felt like to feel warm again.

He was forcefully brought down to their bubble of reality when John noticed an overwhelmingly bright, surge of light pink behind the closed lids of his eyes.

It was gone by the time John opened his eyes, and let his lips fall away from Sherlock.

A different sort of fear starting blaring alarm bells in his head. Oh, fuck. What did I do?

John may not have felt fully in control, but he still feared he’d taken advantage of Sherlock somehow given the state he was in. The guilt he felt at enjoying it, despite that, made John feel a different kind of sick.

(In the back of his mind, John noticed that the feeling of his Magick hadn’t left, but more retreated to a corner, out of immediate concern)

He kept his hold (his arms had slid to grasp tightly around Sherlock’s torso) on Sherlock firm, not sure if Sherlock would just collapse if he let go, and only pulled his face away far enough to look at Sherlock’s face.

John’s jaw dropped as astonishment flooded him.

Not only was Sherlock no longer nude, but he looked…healthy.

Rain still pattered above their heads, although much more gentle and warm – unlike before. Whatever the light was that John saw, the only thing that seemed to change as a result (maybe) was Sherlock himself.

It was remarkable.

He still appeared worn, and exhausted, but his hair was once again familiar and curly like John was used to seeing it, his skin had regained some of its colour and though his clothes – the familiar coat, suit and jacket combination – obscured his body, John saw no sign of the wounds that littered his form before.

However, John found himself freezing in place when he fully took in Sherlock’s expression.

He looked…devastated. Impossibly, John couldn’t tell in what way. Sherlock just…he was looking at John in some indefinable way that left John feeling lost. His mouth was slightly parted; his eyes wide and unblinking, the muscles and brow of his face were deeply drawn. It wasn’t just shock.

Sherlock didn’t seem angry, he just seemed…lost.

John felt that panic again. It was only then he noticed that Sherlock was still holding onto John’s arms, he could feel those long fingers trembling slightly.

John was hesitant to back away completely when he still wasn’t sure whether Sherlock could hold himself up or not. So he did so in increments.

Sherlock didn’t react when John slowly slide his arms out from around his back, except to allow his hands to fall away from John.

He watched John as he stepped back. And John watched Sherlock watching him, unrelenting.

The heavy weight of the silence was making it difficult for John to breathe. He looked away.

“I’m…I’m sorry I, I don’t know what came over me.” Not completely.

John meant what he said, sincerely. How would they move on from here if Sherlock felt betrayed or used in some way?

The worst part was that a part of John wanted to kiss him again. Maybe in the outside world next time, if by some miracle he could. John had never felt so affected by a kiss before, and by the look Sherlock had the feeling was mutual – John just didn’t know if that was in a bad or good way, yet.

John heard Sherlock mutter two words, he didn’t quite catch them but something familiar about them felt familiar.

Either he didn’t hear John, or ignored what he said.

He forced himself to look back at Sherlock.

Sherlock, however, was no longer looking at John. He was facing the cliffs edge, staring at the void beyond with fierce, penetrating eyes. He held himself entirely still; utterly composed.

John found himself impressed by the fearlessness of the display. The only thing that gave away any lingering feelings of pain and fear underneath the hardness of what was probably a mask, was the faint tremble in his hands that Sherlock kept close to his sides.

“Sherlock?” John tried, again.

But Sherlock wasn’t paying attention to John.

Just then, another, long, loud dog howl pierced the silence broken only by the waterfall beside them.

The sound caused Sherlock’s hands to clench into fists, but otherwise he didn’t appear to react to what he obviously heard – certainly not like before.

John felt yet another kind of worry join the rest when Sherlock stepped towards the edge of the cliff.

Despite his earlier intentions, John was thrown off by what just happened.

What do I do now?

John took a step forward; still unsure of what he was intending to do, when it finally hit him.

The words Sherlock mumbled, barely audible, that felt familiar to John…

Coniuncti Sumus

“John.”

Sherlock’s voice brought John’s whirring mind to a halt. He refocused his gaze on Sherlock, and saw that the man was staring down the abyss at his feet.

John fortified himself for whatever Sherlock wanted, or had to say. He walked forward and stopped perfectly aligned at Sherlock’s side. When John looked up at him, Sherlock was still facing resolutely forward.

A light wind began to billow around the two men, causing some of the waterfall spray to mist their faces.

“I did hear you. You’re right.” Sherlock nodded towards the darkness. “I have to fall.” His voice was monotone, but that alone gave away how not ok he actually was.

It probably wasn’t such a bad thing that Sherlock obviously didn’t want to discuss the kiss at that moment.

There was jumping off a cliff to who knows where that needed doing.

“Yeah. You alright?” It was a stupid question; there was no way Sherlock could be alright. Still, John asked it, it seemed the right thing to do regardless.

Again, Sherlock didn’t respond.

However, John felt something brush against his hand.

With a slight frown, John looked down…Sherlock’s right hand was resting gently against his own, seeming…tentative.

John glanced up in surprise.

Now Sherlock looked at him, that same indefinable look in his eye, along with a challenge, and a plea.

John breathed in deep.

Alright then.

John gave him a reassuring smile, a smile that said “I’m here” and hoping his instincts for what Sherlock wanted, but for whatever reason didn’t feel comfortable voicing, weren’t wrong – John moved his hand and grasped Sherlock’s, giving it an encouraging squeeze, before letting it go.

Before his hand could fall away however, fingers substantially longer than his own quickly pulled his hand back.

There was no outward emotion on Sherlock’s face, but the light squeeze he gave John’s hand, fingers weaved through his, told John all he needed to know.

In a near synchronized movement, Sherlock and John faced the void again.

John felt surprisingly little fear, like a sane person would, at what they were about to do.

They each tightened their hold on the other briefly, before Sherlock let go, John’s hand clenched around empty air.

In one swift movement, Sherlock jumped.

John followed.

And together, they fell.

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

That time, they both landed with unexpectedly steady feet.

Darkness surrounded them, this wasn’t a surprise. What was though was the thick, heavy fog, rising to their waists that seemed to glow entirely on its own.

At least, that’s how it seemed to John.

When the fog thinned out ahead of them, he noticed the light was actually coming from a single, aqua coloured candle; small, but it shone with light not even a room full of candles could produce, and yet it was still soft, and warm. It made the darkness around him feel not quite so oppressive.

The candle wasn’t the only thing in the circle of cleared fog.

A red dog with long, deep auburn fur glistened in the light of the candle at its side; casting a shadow long and far to the very tips of Sherlock and John’s feet.

There was no noise, and the dog was staring very intently at Sherlock. In a way that seemed very…human.

John had the sense that the dog was waiting for something.

John looked to Sherlock standing very close at his side.

The man was breathing heavily; his eyes clenched shut against the soft glare of the candle…and the dog.

Of which John had no doubt Sherlock saw.

“…Sherlock?” John whispered with slight hesitance and lightly touched Sherlock on the shoulder. The fog seemed to pulsate when John spoke.

Sherlock’s eyes flashed open at John’s words and his touch; staring with red-rimmed, almost angry eyes at the shadow rippling at their feet.

“Sota rua, Irish Red Setter, a canine breed bred primarily for use as hunting dogs with first potential instances of the breed showing as early as 1570. A unique predisposition of the breed made them exceedingly common companions to soldiers, for a time, in war to support those wounded by physically harmful offensive Magick by either slowing down the progression of potentially fatal wounds by remaining close to those affected, or having a strong emotional bond to a person akin to a familiar bond that exists between siblings or…very close friends.” Sherlock rattled off facts like he was trying to distance himself from the situation by being objective, but his voice grew breathless and…sad, by the time he got to the end.

Sherlock clenched his eyes painfully shut before fluttering them open again; trying to stop the tears John could see building.

John remained quiet and steadfast beside the torn individual struggling so hard with himself.

It hurt John to see, he could scarcely imagine how Sherlock must feel – visibly trying so hard to hold in the waves of emotion John saw wracking his body.

“This is where it ends. I don’t…I don’t remember completely, but I got certain – pieces, up there on the cliff. If emotions could bring a man like I to such…broken desperation, do I truly want to remember?” Sherlock breathed deep and turned to face the dog bathed in candlelight.

The dark, rich brown eyes of the furry creature were watching the two of them silently, much less urgent than John had encountered previously.

Sherlock was obviously talking to himself, but John wouldn’t know how to answer that question even if he weren’t. If you had the option to forget your greatest pain, even if you are at risk of dying, would you do it? A part of John wanted to say yes, there are many things he wouldn’t be sorry to forget, but…

As John looked at Sherlock with tender eyes, observed the scene of the fog, candle and dog around him, he realized that if he were to forget his greatest pain he would no longer be who he was. Pain, just as much as passion, love and experience, made a person who they were.

The army. Losing friends, his parents, the once close relationship he had with his sister in childhood, attempting suicide…it all hurt. John’s reflective side may not see much past his own head, but if there was one thing John learned from years of being not just a soldier, but a Doctor too, that pain was just as much a precursor to an end as it was a beginning.

It was always there, but it wasn’t all there was.

It seemed a part of John had forgotten that.

“I know what I must do.”

John’s train of thought was broken when Sherlock spoke again. He watched as Sherlock began to walk, determinedly, yet tentatively, forward.

Sherlock looked afraid. John wanted to follow him, but everything inside and around him screamed he wasn’t supposed to.

John only hoped this wouldn’t end badly.

The fog slowly began to dissipate as Sherlock got closer to the dog, but the light only grew in its brightness.

John’s heart pounded with apprehension, hands clenched at his sides.

Sherlock kneeled in front of the dog, the dog then stood on all fours; tongue lolling out of its mouth, head titled at Sherlock.

John couldn’t see Sherlock’s face from this position.

Be ok. Just…be ok.

He watched as Sherlock slowly reached out a trembling hand and stroked the dog’s head, its tail began to wag happily.

As Sherlock’s fingers came into deeper contact with the dog’s fur, his clothes rippled to a drier version of the 19th century clothing John saw him in on the cliff; his hair slicked back, and old coat splayed like a fan around his stooped form.

“I’m sorry.”

Sherlock’s utterance to the dog was quiet, but John heard it, and the deep, tragic sadness that accompanied them.

What happened to him?  John’s heart ached.

To John’s slight shock, the dog shook its head and walked forward. Sherlock froze as the dog tucked his head into Sherlock’s neck.

The sob that escaped Sherlock had John wanting to cry, even more so when Sherlock threw his arms around the dog; clutching it close.

And then…it happened.

The luminosity of the candle grew, nearly blinding John in its strength; he held his hand up to block some of the light.

John’s mouth parted in shock as he observed the physical transformation of the two figures in front of him.

Sherlock’s adult, 19th century form, morphed, pulled and twisted into the vision of the little boy that talked with John in the room filled with water. He was still kneeling, with his arms enfolded around –

Another little boy. He looked to be approximately the same age, perhaps a little taller with skin more tanned and olive toned in comparison to Sherlock’s pale hue.

What hit John to his core though was the boy’s hair.

It was the same shade of red as the dog’s fur.

John fell to his knees as emotions, too many to name, overwhelmed him to the degree that he could barely breathe.

His forehead touched the unseen ground and he rolled onto his back, cursing, clutching his throat and stomach.

Then, just as quickly as the feeling came, it disappeared.

And John laid on his back, unable to move, as he watched the darkness swirl and transform around him to very real, crystal clear vibrant memories…

 

~

 

“Mr. Holmes! Greg! Are you alright?” Molly Hooper rushed forward as the two aforementioned men were thrown backwards off their chairs.

The two men groaned as they fumbled their way onto their feet.

“Yes, Molly, thanks.” Greg patted her gently on the shoulder.

Mr. Holmes straightened his suit jacket and nodded.

Molly sighed in relief. She then looked between the two in confusion, before she glanced at Sherlock and John in their respective beds.

Her eyes widened.

Mr. Holmes and Greg turned to look at the men lying prostrate before them.

The restraint which had been fashioned for this attempt was no longer there – the leather had dissolved and the crystal was singeing all the cloth surrounding it.

That wasn’t what had her staring at the two wounded men with tears in her eyes.

They were glowing.

And Sherlock was transforming before their very eyes; already his skin was less sallow, and he was breathing a bit faster.

“What happened?” She gasped, hope alight in her chest.

Greg glanced at Mr. Holmes with intense relief in his eyes before pulling up one of the fallen chairs and collapsing in it.

Mr. Holmes walked forward and rested his fingers on the edge of the bed containing his brother.

The outside observer would’ve called him collected and calm, but he was anything but.

“Progress.”

 

~

 

John was looking on at a scene that felt right out of a movie depicting winter during the Victorian era.

Only this wasn’t a movie, it was a memory.

And it belonged to Sherlock.

 

“Hey, Ratbag!”

A young boy, head to toe in winter wear indicative of the wealthy English of the time, slammed into the body of a younger child, maybe eight years old, knocking him over into a pile of snow.

They were on a well-worn footpath stretching along the edge of a snow-covered field. In the distance, houses and buildings with smoke rising from stone chimneys could be seen. Nearby, many groups of children were exiting onto the path from a neighbouring road frequented by horses and carriages. The closest building was a school, a large, dark and oppressive brick two-tiered place, with windows so high up the edges nearly reached the rim of the roof.

Children of the privileged were exiting there after the school day. For those who lived near they typically walked home; the path, and field, must be crossed in order to reach the homes of most of the boys, including the one struggling to dig himself out of the pile of snow that he sunk into when he’d been cruelly pushed over. His bag, large and made out of thick cloth trimmed with leather, had split open when he fell; its contents, including a slate, a set of used chalk stubs, paper, a small microscope and multiple slide,s were scattered all over the wet snow.

All of the boys at the school were too young to have presented with their Magick just yet. The little boy fighting back angry tears was the only one who possessed any power – even if it was minute due to his age, at this point he could only effect himself and small, inanimate objects, not other people.

Many children took advantage of that fact.

He tumbled out of the snow and landed roughly on his hands and knees. When he sat back on his heels, and furiously brushed away the cold snow obscuring his face; a young Sherlock Holmes was exposed.

“Fools, the lot of you!” Sherlock glared at the group of boys standing over him, headed by the one who pushed him over; Jonathan Abbot, his primary tormenter.

“I’d watch that mouth of yours if I were you. Freak.” Abbot scowled with angry eyes and kicked Sherlock over when he tried to pick up his fallen items. The other boys surrounding them laughed.

Sherlock got angrier when he realized there were tears welling in his eyes, but not at them. At himself for letting their cruel treatment of him hurt so much. Sherlock would never admit to anyone but himself how much the word of idiots made him want to cry as a young child.

Laughter continued when Sherlock stumbled his way to standing, trying to appear unaffected and strong, ignoring the pain in his side that flared as a result of the kick Abbot aimed at him.

He tried to pretend he wasn’t being stared at, wasn’t a source of amusement for these foolish boys. Sherlock walked a few steps towards his scattered items, intent on gathering them and getting out of here as soon as it allowed.

However, one of Abbot’s friends saw what he was doing and with mocking, baby faces and noises, starting to steal Sherlock’s various equipment from the ground before Sherlock could reach it.

The boy barely had his slate and bag in hand before Sherlock clenched an angry fist and glared, the items the offending boy was holding flew out of his hands and into Sherlock’s waiting ones.

This wasn’t the first time other children tried to steal his things, his incrementally increasing Magick power came in handy. At this time he wasn’t able to do a lot without draining himself.

Still, the laughter stopped and all watched Sherlock with mixtures of fascination and jealously as Sherlock focused on drawing his personal items to him; holding his bag open so they all settled in neatly.

Sherlock knew he wouldn’t be able to do that again for at least several hours.

He buttoned the bag closed, was about to drape it over his shoulder when Abbot quickly reached out and took it from him.

“That’s mine! Give it back!” Sherlock shouted and leaped at Abbot. He managed to grab onto one of the bag straps, but Abbot was physically stronger and their grappling lasted only a short time before he was pulling the bag away from Sherlock’s small hands, and that same friend from before forcefully pulled Sherlock away and pushed him over onto the dirty, snow path. Spitting ‘Freak’ as he left Sherlock trembling on the ground.

“Hm, is it? It’s in my hands not yours so, therefore, I declare ownership.” Abbot gleamed an unpleasant smile and stood over Sherlock, while his entourage snickered. “Sure you don’t want to steal this back from me with your…Magick, freak?” Abbot taunted as he hung the bag barely out of reach of the Sherlock lying prostrate on the ground. “Oh that’s right, you can’t can you?”

The snickering continued. Sherlock clenched his gloved hands into fists and deathly glowered at the boy.

“Your brother recently returned from overseas in America, while your parents are exceedingly pleased about this you aren’t, your life has been spent lived in his greater, confident shadow while you stood ignored by your mother, father and the rest of your family. You are unimportant, ordinary, and indulge your inadequacy by cowardly torturing children younger than you thinking it makes you appear strong to your idiotic peers, when really you’re weaker than them all.” Sherlock recited his spiteful soliloquy at surprising lighting speed for a boy his age.

In the not too far distance, the last group of boys were exiting the school; half of them going towards waiting carriages, while the other half made their way over to the path, and subsequently the commotion had drawn more of a crowd.

The young boy above him was shaking in anger, and Sherlock noted with sick satisfaction that his eyes were rimming red with tears.

His followers were stock still behind him, unsure what to do next.

Abbot suddenly wailed in anger and began beating Sherlock with his own bag.

Sherlock felt bruises and small bloody wounds begin sprouting all over his body and face. He automatically curled into a fetal position to protect himself. Still he found he wasn’t sorry for what he said. The idiot deserved it.

His friends soon joined in. While the bystanders either cheered on, walked away or stared in horror unsure what to do.

“Ratbag freak!” Abbot screamed and aimed a particular hard kick to Sherlock’s shin.

Sherlock couldn’t contain his cry of pain and reached down to his leg. Unfortunately, this exposed his face and another of Abbot’s friends punched him in the nose.

The new group of boys arrived.

“Hey!” A new voice shouted and a young boy pushed through the group of children.

The new arrival temporarily halted the abuse Sherlock was taking. Abbot and his friends turned to stare at this new boy.

And he was, quite literally new; younger than Abbot yet nearly as tall, his bright red hair made him stand out. Sherlock hadn’t met him before, but he knew that this boy and his family, the Burds, moved to the area a mere fortnight ago a few houses down from Sherlock’s, unconventional and Jewish they were met with scorn by many of the bustling town. Sherlock couldn’t have cared less about that last, all he cared about at the moment was whether this boy was going to be yet another tormenter in his life.

“What do you want ginger?” Abbot glared, the tears in his eyes countered the imposing figure he was trying to portray.

The young boy seemed to hesitate and gulp nervously at the sight of four, obviously strong group of boys staring him down. But he bravely straightened his posture, and adjusting his bag over the camel colour of his coat, he walked right over and barrelled into the group of boys, pushing them away from the bleeding Sherlock.

The shock of the action delayed the reaction of the group of boys who stumbled back at the surprising force this other boy exuded.

He stood protectively in front of Sherlock.

“Leave him alone!” The young boy shouted, his knees bent and hands held in fists in front of his face.

Sherlock deduced he knew boxing, likely taught by an older family member – probably a brother. Mostly though, Sherlock was staring at this strange boy; too shocked to deduce anything further.

No one, no one had ever protected him like this before.

Sherlock was torn between not trusting the action and feeling grateful for the bravery of an unknown child. Even at eight this wasn’t his first broken nose, the world had been beating on him from practically the moment he could talk.

Abbot laughed, he still held Sherlock’s bag tightly in his hand.

“Why? You think I’m scared of an imp like you?” He looked around the defensive stance of the young Burd, and smiled sickly at Sherlock as he waved the bag high.

Sherlock was clutching his nose and staring at Abbot with narrowed eyes.

“You’re beating him! It’s not right.” The young Burd insisted, moving to stand closer to Sherlock himself.

Abbot snorted. “You don’t know him, he’s a freak!”

“Why?” The boy asked, his defensive stance didn’t lessen.

“Because – Because he knows things! Things he shouldn’t!”

“And I have Magick you wish you had, idiot!” Sherlock yelled through his pain.

The young Burd turned to glare at Sherlock. “You’re. Not. Helping.” He mouthed out of the corner of his mouth.

Sherlock rolled his eyes but remained silent.

“You-” Abbot’s face twisted in anger and he charged.

Sherlock’s jaw dropped open in shock and he watched with wide eyes as the little boy defending him against the greater force in front of him, vanished into a pale, yellow smoke.

There was a collective gasp. The smoke took advantage of their distraction and weaved around the group of boys, knocking them over and finally zoomed at Abbot. The latter screamed, dropped the bag and started running before the sun-like smoke could reach him.

In fact, even those who were merely watching began quickly leaving in fear. Soon, Sherlock was alone with the swirling smoke – more like steam actually.

The innocent fascination of his child mind was spellbound by what he just witnessed. No traces of fear were present.

The Burd family must be Warlocks, except this boy’s mother – she must be fully human, it would explain his uniquely human appearance.

Only when the last boy was running away did the smoke-steam ripple into the appearance of the red-headed boy once more.

“You better run!” He yelled with a shaking fist.

He then huffed and turned to Sherlock, who had pushed himself to a half-sitting position, too in pain to go all the way.

The young boy picked up Sherlock’s bag and fell to his knees in front of him.

“Here.” The young boy handed Sherlock the bag.

Sherlock stared at him in confusion, trying to search for a deception. Maybe he wanted him alone before torturing him?

“I’m not going to hurt you.” Burd insisted, shaking the bag at Sherlock.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “People lie.” He muttered, spitting a clot of blood onto the white snow.

The other boy didn’t say anything, but he did nod. Sherlock took the risk and quickly grabbed the bag.

“Does that…happen a lot?”

Sherlock frowned at the new scuffs on his bag – it was his favourite. He shrugged in response to this boys query.

“It’s not right!”

“They don’t like me.” Sherlock muttered, perhaps more troubled than he let on.

“Well, I don’t like them.” The young boy huffed and crossed his arms.

 “Me neither.” He re-buttoned the opening straps of his bag and draped it over his shoulder.

It hurts, a lot, but it wasn’t his first time, so Sherlock stood up on shaky feet. He just wanted to get home.

“Let’s like each other then!”

Sherlock blinked at the wide smile on the boy’s face.

He seemed…genuine. It made Sherlock unsure. This child…did he want to be his friend? Sherlock never had a friend before. Mycroft didn’t count.

“You don’t know me.” Sherlock mumbled incredulously, one hand still cradling his nose.

This has to be a trick.

The young boy didn’t answer for a moment, he reached into his pocket with a frown and pulled out a blue handkerchief and handed it to Sherlock.

Sherlock didn’t take it at first, again, not trusting just yet. The young boy rolled his eyes, stepped closer and pressed the cloth to Sherlock’s nose.

Sherlock flinched and backed away, holding the cloth to his nose himself.

The other boy was still standing in front of him.

“You’re Sherlock Holmes, my Mum and your Mum go the same club or something.”

Sherlock knew that. “That doesn’t mean you know me.”

The other boy jumped a bit on his feet with an even bigger smile.

Seriously, why did he smile so much?

“I’d like to. I’m Admon Alexander Burd.” He held a hand towards Sherlock, very much the proper gentleman.

Sherlock glanced down at his hand. He tried not to feel hopeful that this boy meant what he said. Mycroft would call it a weakness to want the approval of others, but Sherlock found he wanted to know what it felt like to have a friend – and not be ridiculed for once. Maybe it would be an exercise in futility, but Sherlock did like to experiment.

Sherlock reached out his free hand and grasped the boy’s hand with a proper shake. Admon seemed inordinately pleased.

Sherlock realized that, for different reasons, they were both outcasts.

“William Sherlock Scott Holmes.”

Admon nodded. “Pleasure to meet you. May I call you Billy?”

“No.” Sherlock yanked his hand away.

Admon frowned, but shrugged it off. “My house is on the way to yours. I’ll walk with you.”

Sherlock didn’t say anything. He started walking, if a little slower than normal, and just like he said he would, Admon followed at his side.

Sherlock’s life changed that day.

 

~ 20 yrs later, 1882.

 

Both 28, Sherlock and Admon had remained best-friends for the past 20 years, though each went to different universities for their undergraduate degrees; Sherlock went to Cambridge and Admon went to Oxford. They both decided to pursue further education, Sherlock – sciences, and Admon – Politics. Admon once again was going to his alma mater and Sherlock with him. Although technically it was the other way around, since Sherlock started a year before Admon did.

They were visiting home for the latter half of the summer, and hadn’t seen each for some months; Admon touring Europe with his family before going back to Oxford, and Sherlock visiting his grandmother in France before he returned to Oxford for a second year.

In many ways, they were still children in their behaviour towards each other – from knowing each other as young as they did. Mycroft sighed and called them ridiculous, both sets of parents found them adorable. Sherlock called them ridiculous too; being more reserved and dedicated to intellectual pursuits more so than anything else, but inside he was always more pleased with the attention Admon gave them than he let on.

Which was why, Sherlock tolerated the following action.

When Admon exited the carriage in front of Sherlock’s home wearing a long, flared caramel coloured coat and hat, ginger beard gleaming in the sun, and saw Sherlock inspecting the wounded bark of a nearby tree (taking samples and placing them in secure containers) he ran and embraced Sherlock tightly. To the outside observer, Sherlock appeared exasperated and merely tolerant of the overt display of affection, but Mycroft – who was sitting primly on a chair in the middle of their garden, also home for a few weeks from his work in London – saw right through his brother’s façade.

Mycroft was uncertain whether his brother realized it himself, but whatever feelings he held towards his friend had begun to change over the years into something Mycroft was genuinely worried would cause them all much trouble, most of all to Sherlock, who Mycroft knew held little interest in the fairer sex.

The abruptness of Admon’s laughing embrace caused Sherlock to drop his samples, thankfully the instinctive reaction of his Magick allowed them to float gently in the air.

“Sherlock, my friend! It’s been too long, discovered all the intimate secrets of the universe yet?” Admon leaned back, grasping Sherlock tightly by the shoulders.

Sherlock cocked an eyebrow. “No.”

Admon sighed dramatically and cuffed Sherlock teasingly around the ear. “Oh Sherlock, don’t overwhelm me with that much information at once, it’s not like I haven’t seen you for half a year.”

Sherlock glared at his friend and waved a hand, which caused Admon’s hat to rise several feet above his head.

“Hey!” Admon tried jumping up to reach it. Sherlock smirked and only caused it to float higher.

Admon could easily get it, they both knew it, but this byplay was part of their game.

Sherlock sighed and allowed the horrendous hat to fall into his friends waiting hands.

“Thanks.” Admon smiled a small smile down at the hat, brushing off the dirt that the road had dusted onto it on the long journey here. “I have missed you, you know.” He replaced the hat on top his head with a smile and looked at Sherlock.

Admon had grown taller than Sherlock in their teens, his ginger beard a permanent fixture on his face as soon as he could grow one.

It was only the furthest corners of Sherlock’s unending mind that Sherlock could admit that his friend had grown into an exceedingly attractive man.

Sherlock couldn’t care less what narrow society believed, but such thoughts were dangerous. And…he cared what Admon thought, which was why he would never share that part of himself with his best-friend.

Sherlock nodded a bit off to the side.

“Likewise.” Sherlock admitted a bit quiet. He reached into midair and caught the samples of diseased tree bark he’d collected. “I see you met a new lady friend in your travels.” He observed offhandedly.

Admon grinned and leaned against the fence surrounding Sherlock’s family home.

“Oh really? Tell me, Genius, how you know that.” He crossed his arms and legs casually.

Unlike practically everyone, Admon was always amused by Sherlock’s scarily accurate deductions – but not in a dismissive or mean way.

Sherlock snorted and gave him a look that said ‘do I really need to?’ before gathering his materials together that were resting at his feet. He didn’t look at Admon as he spoke.

“Not only are you exceedingly more buoyant than your usual, annoyingly cheerful self, the powder you used to obscure the bruise on your neck made by lip suction has begun to fade away onto the silk of your scarf, the discolouration indicates it happened recently, perhaps on the boat during the crossing to England. This was not one of your usual dalliances-”

“Hey!”

“-You felt a genuine connection with this lady, and were pleased to discover that she must live in London close to Oxford where we will be residing, gathering by the card bordered by violet flowers sticking out of your coat pocket on which her name and address are likely written. Obviously really.”

Sherlock shrugged, uncaring and sounding nothing other than bored. The way he avoided Admon’s eyes though told those watching, namely Mycroft, that he was more affected by his observations than he appeared to be.

Admon didn’t notice. He laughed and clapped his hands.

“Absolutely brilliant. You are correct of course; with luck I’ll introduce you to her in a few weeks. Her name is Sophia. I told her all about you.”

Sherlock was walking down the long, wide path to the large house, Admon at his side.

“Did you?”

Admon nodded. “Mhm, she’s very curious.”

“Indeed.” Sherlock sincerely hoped he would stop talking, soon.

“She’s very intelligent, I think you’ll approve.”

Sherlock adjusted the strap of his sample bag as they reached the double doors leading into the house.

“We’ll see.”

“Hey.” Admon reached out to stop Sherlock from opening the door. When Sherlock looked at him, his eyes were gentle and serious. “Try and be kind, alright?”

Sherlock groaned inwardly.

“I’m not a kind person.”

Admon raised an eyebrow.

“You’re kind to me.”

Sherlock looked affronted.

“No I’m not.”

Admon pinched the base of nose before staring at Sherlock. “Why you try to perpetuate the persona of an unfeeling monster when I’ve known you since you were eight and clearly know you better than you know yourself is beyond me, but alright – fine, hypothetically you’re a mean cruel individual, just try not to send Sophia screaming in the other direction when you meet her.”

“I’ll try.” The words tasted bitter on his tongue, but he meant them. Admon was his friend, Sherlock may fail in that department but the man had yet to abandon him and his unusual personality yet despite many opportunities to do so.

Admon grinned. “That’s all I ask. You know I’ll always be your friend, right? No matter what lady I am with.” Admon clapped Sherlock on the shoulder.

Right. Friend. Ladies.

Sherlock tried not to let that bitterness inside him grow.

Because the truth was, he didn’t know. How could he? Even with a friend as dedicated as Admon maintaining relationships was something Sherlock was still very much a novice in. He just knew he would make a mistake eventually that would push Admon away forever; Sherlock’s character was not exactly conducive to being personable.

Not like Admon, who was a charming, friendly man to the extreme.

The stark difference in their personalities had Sherlock feeling afraid, and wishing his heart was just a little bid colder.

So Sherlock forced a smile, and patted Admon’s hand on his shoulder. “I know. Now move you imbecile, I wish to show you what I’ve been working on the past several weeks.”

Sherlock could tell Admon didn’t buy his carefree attitude, but he didn’t call Sherlock on it. For which Sherlock was grateful.

He was feeling genuinely proud at sharing with Admon his new project, categorizing the various types of tobacco ash.

“Lead the way my friend.” Admon gestured dramatically towards the door.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and pushed open the door.

The butler standing directly by the inside of the door took the coats and hats of both men, before replacing them on the gilded hooks at his side.

In a few minutes, Admon and Sherlock were in the room of the latter; a chaotic, yet organized mess of science equipment and many, many books.

Sherlock put his sample bag off to the side for now and moved to retrieve his intended box and notebook from one of his many sets of cupboards. Behind Admon roamed the room, taking in what was new, and what wasn’t.

“You really have been working haven’t you? I tell you, you need to relax on occasion.” Admon sighed with fond exasperation and started flipping through a pile of dictionaries, encyclopaedias and several books on apiology atop Sherlock’s desk.

“I find my work very relaxing.” Sherlock countered, half buried in the messy cupboard. He knew it was here somewhere…

“I know you do, but it wouldn’t do any harm to get yourself a lady friend.”

Sherlock tensed. Admon didn’t notice.

“I beg to differ. They are a distraction, and not my milieu.” Not the full truth, but Admon couldn’t ever know that.

Admon sighed. “Whatever makes you happy. I worry about you being as isolated as you are.”

He may be pushy and wanting to be overly involved in Sherlock’s personal life, but in the end, unlike Mycroft and his parents, Admon held no expectations of Sherlock having to be anything other than himself.

Even if Sherlock could never be himself completely, he appreciated that of Admon none-the-less. Maybe he’ll tell him some day.

“I am happy.” Sherlock muttered, and he was…for the most part.

“Then I’ll speak no more on the matter.”

Sherlock knew this was a lie, but still well-meaning.

…aha! Sherlock found the box he was looking for; containing the sample boxes of ash he’d collected the many genres of tobacco ash in. Considering Sherlock’s penchant for pipe smoking, he felt it ridiculous he hadn’t pursued this potential avenue of knowledge before.

“Found it!” He turned around, needed items in hand, and saw Admon standing by Sherlock’s bed; staring wide-eyed at on open book on his nightstand.

Oh no.

Panic and something very much like fear flooded Sherlock’s body. The box and papers fell from Sherlock’s frozen fingers. He was still as a statue, but inside he was cursing and chastising himself for forgetting to hide the book like he had been every time he read it for the past year. Even his Magick was whirring in panic, causing various objects around him to shake.

It was a dangerous book for him to have.

“Ad-Admon…” Sherlock attempted to speak, but instead of sounding in control and calm, he sounded every bit the panicky fool he felt.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should be above all this!

Admon reached out, as though to touch the book, but changed his mind at the last second. He turned around to face Sherlock with an unreadable expression.

“What is this?”

It bothered Sherlock more than he could express that he couldn’t gauge Admon’s tone and meaning, was he judging? Hating him? Asking out of curiosity?

Sherlock didn’t know! And that made this so much worse. He couldn’t look at Admon, and see the disgust in his eyes, what he must be thinking of Sherlock now; sick, immoral, not human.

“The Sins of the Cities of the Plain is the first exclusively homoerotic novel to be published in English-”

“I gathered that. I mean, what are you doing with it?”

He heard Admon step closer, slowly. Sherlock found himself frozen, barely breathing. He could try and explain it away, and maybe even succeed, but…he couldn’t, he just, he couldn’t.

“I am reading it.” Sherlock’s voice was shaky at best. He held his head high, clasped his hands tightly behind his back and stared at faded red wallpaper across the room, away from Admon.

Admon inhaled sharply. “Sherlock, are you…a sodomite?”

Was he disgusted? Sherlock couldn’t tell.

Sherlock flinched. “Homosexual is the term, and-” Sherlock closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Yes, I am.”

There it was, the hammer on his coffin – perhaps literally. Twenty years of friendship whirled down the proverbial drain because of Sherlock’s perceived abnormality –

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

…What?

Sherlock’s eyes flashed open in surprise and for the first time in several minutes he looked at his friend.

He didn’t look disgusted, or judgemental. Confused maybe, but if anything he looked…sad? Deep brown eyes implored Sherlock.

He couldn’t look.

Sherlock laughed bitterly and began pacing on the spot, running his hands roughly through his hair; dislodging the smoothness of it, released his natural curl.

“I am a man sexually attracted to other men in a country where it is illegal and viewed as a sickness by masses of idiots in the name of religious doctrine, why would I tell anyone?” Sherlock walked up to Admon and roared the words in his face. “Tell me. How could I tell the only friend I’ve ever had, that I am what so many people hate.”

Admon didn’t flinch. He stared Sherlock down.

“I thought you didn’t care what people think.”

Sherlock huffed and resting one hand on his face; covering his eyes. “I care what you think.” It was perhaps the most vulnerable Sherlock had ever allowed himself to feel, let alone express. And it was acid on top of many wounds this entire thing gave him.

“Sherlock-”

Sherlock backed away quickly from the hand that reached out, pitying, to touch him. Much like he did with the handkerchief moment at their first meeting.

“I…do not want your pity.” Sherlock spat, breathing heavily, hand still firm on his face. “If you valued any part of our friendship, please, I beg you to leave and not say anything.”

“No.”

Sherlock dropped his hand. “What?”

Admon was still standing there, his arms crossed, utterly determined. Again, it reminded Sherlock of the first day they met.

Sherlock’s heart ached.

Why did this have to happen to him? Why?

“I said, no. You listen to me Sherlock Holmes, and for once do not interrupt.”

Admon strode forward, and grasped Sherlock’s hands in his own. To Sherlock’s utter astonishment, Admon leaned forward and rested his forehead against Sherlock’s.

Sherlock wouldn’t have been able to move even if he tried.

What was happening?

“I can’t say this is something I expected or that I understand, but, you are my best-friend, if this is who you are, I have no choice but to continue loving you for it. You can help make me understand. And I promise, I won’t tell anyone.” There was something shaky in Admon’s voice, despite his obvious determination, something he wasn’t saying.

However, Sherlock could feel this was no lie.

As he had learned over the years, Admon was a terrible liar.

He gasped in relief and did something he hadn’t done since they were children. He threw his arms around his friend, the only person who now truly knows him, and doesn’t hate him for it.

Admon grabbed him tightly back, the skin of his thumb brushed gently against the back of Sherlock’s neck.

Sherlock allowed himself this one indulgence, he knew he would never get anything more, and squeezed that little bit tighter.

It was simultaneously the best and most agonizing moment of his life thus far.

Sherlock fell a little bit more in love that day.

 

 

~

 

Chapter Text

 

 

~ 4 Months later. 1882.

 

 

Sherlock hated Sophia.

He could never tell Admon that. He still suspected his friend knew though, it wasn’t exactly new though, Sherlock didn’t like anyone – except Admon, and he supposed his parents, he barely liked his brother on a good day.

Even with the knowledge of Sherlock Admon had held for months now, Sherlock saw that his friend had no idea where Sherlock’s true hatred of Sophia stemmed from. Something Sherlock was perfectly alright with not changing, he told himself. His friend was happy, Sherlock would rather keep whatever inconvenient feelings he had to himself than disrupt Admon’s happiness.

Perhaps this proved how far gone Sherlock was.

Objectively, Sherlock could acknowledge that Sophia was a reasonably intelligent woman of Spanish decent who didn’t take Sherlock’s attitude personally, objectively Sherlock could say that were he so inclined and Admon wasn’t in a courtship with her, he may just find her interesting enough himself.

Still, Sherlock hated her.

It was childish, but he did.

Sherlock could see in Mycroft’s eyes that he knew Sherlock’s true feelings, in all respects. And Sherlock supposed he was grateful for Mycroft’s distant acceptance of the situation. He hated Mycroft too though, for knowing anything at all.

Sherlock hated himself too, for being so reduced by feelings this way.

Sherlock was standing in the drawing room doorway of his and Admons apartment in London, a short walk to Oxford University.

Admon and Sophia were sat on the sofa against an old, yellowed window. Admon was showing off his ability to half form by turning his arms into the sunlight yellow smoke-steam of his Warlock capable form. And she was expressing, with admirable control, her own ability to form ice crystals with her hands; her dark, walnut coloured hair and round eyes reflecting in the glass-like structures on her hands.

Admon smiled.

They looked happy.

Domestic. Boring.

Sherlock hated it.

Before either of them could see him he exited the apartment and walked a long, hard distance to a place that was fast becoming a second, perhaps seedier home.

An Opium den.

 

 

~ 5 yrs later. 1887.

 

 

Admon and Sophia were getting married. An amalgamation of rather progressive individuals designed a ceremony expressing both their faiths, Judaism and Protestant Christianity.

Sherlock helped, because he was Admon’s groomsman and Admon asked him too.

They hadn’t been spending as much time together in recent years, but even with his dedication to his fiancé and soon to be wife, Admon made time for Sherlock.

At times it felt to Sherlock more like a consolation than an actual want of Admons, but he supposed that was probably jealously speaking on his part.

It may have been pathetic, but Sherlock was grateful for any time he could get with him. And perhaps, he could also admit, that he had warmed to Sophia somewhat. She was very attentive without being overbearing, and never treated Sherlock like a lesser person.

Especially since Sherlock was fairly certain she was fully aware of Sherlock’s disposition and feelings towards her intended. He had no doubt Admon would never have told her, she was simply that observant. They never had a real conversation about it, but Sherlock could see it in her face when she would look at him when Admon wasn’t around.

It wasn’t pity, but it was sympathy.

Sherlock hated both equally.

Still, she never reported him for her suspicions and he couldn’t hate her for that.

Sherlock supposed Admon could’ve chosen a worse life companion.

As an honoured individual, Admon and Sophia wanted Sherlock to stand under the canopy with them.

Another reason why Sherlock suspected Sophia knew was that initially, she tried to dissuade Admon from asking him to be his best man. Sherlock suspected this wasn’t because she felt threatened but out of consideration for his own feelings, it was pointless though. Sherlock was going to feel broken-hearted no matter what.

And as he watched the man he’d been in love with for years, and the woman who’d known that man for far less time, get married beneath and outdoor canopy, under the gaze of a Rabbi and Priest, Sherlock knew he was wrong.

He wasn’t broken-hearted.

He was eviscerated.

It took every scrap of will he possessed to not break down right there. He would not humiliate himself because of his despicable emotions.

When they kissed, and Admon crushed the glass with his foot, Sherlock almost wanted to laugh at the unintended metaphor of his own heart in that moment.

He was crushed, but he had no choice but to be there.

Because Admon was his dearest friend, and despite Sherlock’s shortcomings in his knowledge and expression of societal custom and behaviour, he knew that being there for his friend on his wedding was more important than lounging in some boat hole Opium drug den, or injecting himself with morphine, sometimes cocaine when the mood struck, and feeling sorry for himself.

Burying himself in his work only helped marginally.

“Masel Tov!” Everyone screamed.

Admon laughed, hugged Sophia tightly and kissed her passionately on the lips.

Sherlock tried not to flinch.

When he let go of her, he turned around and embraced Sherlock. Sherlock hesitantly reciprocated the motion, and tried not to ignore the sluggish pounding in his chest.

“I know all these people must be bothersome for you, but still, thank-you my friend for being here.” Admon said in his ear, patting his back once more before pulling away and saying something quick to the Rabbi.

I would brave crowds of the idiotic masses if it could’ve been you and me under this canopy. Sherlock cursed himself for the pathetic nature of his mind at that moment.

He was struck though when Sophia came up to him in that moment and threw her arms around his neck.

He didn’t hug her back and merely tolerated the contact.

“I’m sorry. I want you to know I mean that. My brother is like you and I love him more than anything.” Sophia’s whispered words sent rivulets of shock through Sherlock.

He’d suspected she likely knew a family member, whether they were ostracized or close was up for debate, who shared his predilection, but Sherlock never supposed that she would openly say anything to him about it.

Sherlock gulp, and lightly touched her waist with his fingers.

“Make him happy.” He clenched his eyes shut and gave into his weakness long enough to let a single tear escape.

“I will, for both of us. I know I may not be your favourite person, but should you ever wish to talk. I will listen.” Her words were heartrendingly sincere. Sophia lightly patted the back of his head in a way a mother would similarly do to a child.

Sherlock never intended to take her up on that offer, and she likely knew it, the fact that she even made the offer though…Sherlock was shaken.

“Thank-you, Sophia.” Sherlock whispered, letting his hands fall away.

She pulled back, and looked Sherlock directly in the face.

“You’re family. Admon loves you. Please, don’t isolate yourself away because of this.” Her eyes were pleading.

Sherlock didn’t know if he could hold up that promise, but for his own sake and Admons, he would try. He felt the cold metal of her wedding ring like a hot brand on the side of his neck.

Sherlock nodded. Sophia leaned up and kissed him lightly on the cheek before turning away to be with her new husband.

Against his wishes, Sherlock stopped hating her in that moment.

Sherlock…he just felt sad.

 

 

~ 3yrs later. 1890

 

 

This room had become as familiar to him as his own home. Despite the dangerous uncertainty, and rampant poverty of the Whitechapel district, Sherlock rarely felt as at peace anywhere else – here, he was entirely alone and his mind quietened. A favour he had fulfilled involving the retrieval of a stolen family heirloom pendant gave him the privilege of a room to himself, and complete discretion.

 In recent years, Sherlock had more often begun to use his unique abilities, both intellectual and Magickal, in the pursuit of solving mysteries, anything to alleviate the crushing boredom, and growing disconnect between him and his best-friend, whom he’d once been closer to than anyone.

Sherlock knew it was, if not entirely, largely his own fault. He built this prison around himself by not restraining his heart properly, and he had no choice but to live with that mistake.

On their wedding day, Sophia had asked Sherlock not to pull away.

While Sherlock had not indubitably promised anything, he felt like he’d broken a vow none-the-less by making up reasonable excuses for not visiting Admon and his family, until it got to the point when he hadn’t seen them for months.

Lots of people have families, wives, and…children. It was the pursuit of any normal Englishman.

Admon’s son was born five months ago.

Admon and Sophia named him William Burd, and asked Sherlock to be the Godfather.

Sherlock accepted. What else could he do?

However, before he could break down and utterly humiliate himself over the fact that the man he loved named his child after him, Sherlock made an excuse he wouldn’t remember later and left their home.

Sherlock didn’t return to his own apartment for two days. Mycroft had to drag him, literally, out of a bolthole near the docks, barely conscious, flooded with opium.

Mycroft didn’t tell Admon where he’d been; apparently his friend had approached Mycroft at his own home out of worry when he couldn’t find Sherlock.

Sherlock’s exit from his home hadn’t been as smooth as he’d thought.

Sherlock was grateful to his brother for not telling Admon. His friend knew he struggled with addiction, but Sherlock hadn’t been in that dark a place for years. Sherlock found he didn’t want Admon’s opinion of him to diminish, if it still existed at all.

And so, there Sherlock was – in his assigned room in some dilapidated building off a random street nearly canopied over by cloth and rotting wood hanging out of windows, laying on a mattress in the windowless room that reeked of vomit, blood, piss and all manner of bodily fluids, a needle; empty, laid on the floor just out of reach of Sherlock’s long fingers. His shirt sleeves were rolled passed his inner elbow, exposing the mottled skin and recent injection wounds indicating routine drug abuse.

The haze of release filled his brain.

The sheer relief of the action made Sherlock want to cry.

Sherlock knew he’d overdosed – albeit not a deadly amount - the minute he’d made the familiar action of needle to arm, in all likelihood he would fall unconscious and wake up on a random street corner robbed of all his possessions.

In the state Sherlock was in, he found he cared very little.

He also found himself wishing he were a child again, something Sherlock never thought he would do.

He was miserable as a child…but Admon was his. No one else’s. Yes, Sherlock was miserable – but that wasn’t all he was.

At eight, he’d accepted the possibility of a lack of friendship his entire life, when he discovered that perhaps such a thing wasn’t out of his grasp – he wanted to hold onto it and never let go. Sherlock didn’t want to share. He knew it was selfish, but feelings…they’re overwhelming, and not easily divorced from. This was largely why Sherlock was keeping his distance.

If he stayed to close to Admon, happy Admon in his domestic wife loving, child-rearing bliss, Sherlock didn’t trust himself to keep it together and ruin everything permanently.

No, things were better this way. They had to be.

Sherlock wished he truly were a Sociopath.

Cold sweats, and raging fever had Sherlock twitching and shivering on the thin, uncomfortable mattress. He knew the excessive drug use was making him sick, Sherlock didn’t care.

He didn’t have the energy to care; the liquid salvation soared through his brain and slowed everything down, made everything…stop. Feelings were a minor consideration when he was high.

Sherlock may have been there for hours or days, his perception of time was often skewed in this state, but eventually a commotion disturbed the relaxing gloom of his the room, lit only by the glow of a slowly diminishing candle, he was in.

He heard a door burst open and slam against the wall, Sherlock flinched involuntarily at the sound that fired like a gun in his head.

“Oh, Sherlock…”

No. No no no.

Sherlock knew that voice. He shouldn’t be here; no one knew he was here except…Mycroft.

Damn Mycroft.

Sherlock tensed, trying to stop the shivers wracking his body.

“Go away Admon.” Sherlock grumbled; voice rough and dry from lack of use. He’d been there a while then.

“You should know I seldom listen to you.”

Admon’s voice was overly cheery, in a way it often got when he was masking worry – this time it was at Sherlock’s expense.

Sherlock never wanted him, of all people, to see him like this.

It made him feel small, and ashamed.

“Go.” Sherlock tried, desperate. Just leave.

“No.” Admon stood firmly in Sherlock’s line of vision.

Sherlock didn’t have the energy to lift up his head, all he saw were Admon’s boots – encrusted with dried dirt, mud and excrement. He had been walking in the streets for a long time.

Why?

“Why are you here?” Sherlock bit out. He clenched his useless hands around the worn material of the mattress beneath him.

Sherlock still didn’t look, but he could feel Admon was shaking. Anger? Sherlock wouldn’t blame him.

Why Admon felt he had to take precious time away from his family to find Sherlock, he had no clue.

Sherlock never asked to be found.

“I thought you quit.” Admon’s voice was filled with barely restrained anger. He walked around Sherlock, and settled on the edge of his mattress along Sherlock’s back; sitting with a tense hand resting near the back of Sherlock’s neck; Sherlock could feel the heat radiating from his skin.

Sherlock felt a deep need to hit something.

He didn’t respond to Admon’s statement, it wasn’t really a question.

“You should go home.” Sherlock fluttered his eyes hazily, and tried to squirm away from Admon so close to him; his presence hurt in ways Sherlock could never fully describe.

Suddenly, Admon reached out and grabbed Sherlock’s shoulder; preventing the squirming man from moving away any further.

“Not unless you come with me, and get some help. Don’t you know what this could do to you?” That anger was coming through in bits now, it took a lot of Admon’s temper to unleash – being a normally blasé individual.

He must be truly angry.

Yes, Sherlock knew. It could kill him, enough prolonged use of opioid use could lead to loss of Magickal control, and in someone like Sherlock that would be especially dangerous.

“I don’t care. Go home, to your family.” Family came out sounding much nastier than Sherlock intended.

“Damn it Sherlock you are my family! Me being married and a father doesn’t change that!” Admon yelled and stood up. “I won’t stand by and watch you slowly kill yourself. You’ve been missing for three days! Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been? How worried all of us have been? I’ve been out there, searching for you for so...” Admon sighed. “Have I…Have I done something wrong? These past years, something’s changed, I don’t…You mean more to me than you could possibly know, my oldest and dearest friend, I can’t lose you – especially to yourself.” His voice became progressively sadder as he spoke. “I want to fix this. Tell me what to do.”

To Sherlock’s horror, he could hear tears in Admon’s voice. Never, not once has Sherlock ever seen or heard Admon cry.

You did nothing. It is all my doing. You don’t need to fix anything. Dear, dear Admon…

 

Sherlock felt sick, frozen and unable to talk.

A few moments passed. Admon exhaled a long breath and resumed sitting behind Sherlock on the mattress.

Sherlock was barely holding himself together, weakened further by the overdosed drug use. He couldn’t talk, his mouth felt enormously heavy and Sherlock was sure he would pass out any moment.

And then, Sherlock felt Admon change position until…he was lying down on his side along Sherlock’s back, enclosing his arms around Sherlock’s middle from behind.

His arms were shaking.

Sherlock held his breath. They hadn’t done this since they were children during the cold winter months; this…this wasn’t something two grown men did.

What was Admon doing?

Sherlock tried to speak, but ended up coughing instead.

“Shh, shh, don’t try to speak. I contacted a friend of mine, a Doctor, when I realized where you were. He’s on his way.”

Sherlock grumbled. Fantastic, more witnesses.

Admon giggled. “I know, I know. You’ll be alright though, that is what matters more. At least to me.” He breathed in deeply, buried his face against Sherlock’s neck and exhaled. “Will you stay with us, please? I want to see you spend time with my son. Only for a little while I promise, then you can run off and do what your adventurous heart so desires.” Admon stretched out a trembling hand and firmly grabbed the hand Sherlock had splayed out next to his needle, pulling it in and tight against Sherlock’s chest.

Sherlock tensed. What is he…Admon is a physically affectionate person by nature, but this was going above and beyond what he was accustomed to.

The only time Sherlock had seen Admon react similarly to this was when his mother was dying; desperate, clingy, angry and sad.

But Sherlock wasn’t dying.

Maybe if Sherlock weren’t on the verge of falling asleep he would be able to deduce Admon’s behaviour more thoroughly, as such he was barely able to keep conscious.

Even as drugged out as Sherlock was, he disliked feeling confused and off balance.

“Remember when we met?”

Of course I do.

“I treasure that memory. My only regret is I didn’t know you before that day. Oh, all of the boys talked about you, called you all manner of unpleasant euphemisms. It wasn’t until I saw you glaring, brave and bleeding in the face of cowardice that I noticed you and knew how wrong they were. My life changed that day, and if there has ever been a day since, that I made you feel like you were no longer important, than I am sorry.”

Silent tears fell down Sherlock’s face, his heart pounded loudly in chest. Even if he could talk, what could he possibly say to that?

Sherlock wanted to curl up and disappear forever. He has made so many mistakes, not the least of which was falling in love with the man holding him so tightly, Sherlock felt like he’d violated him in some way.

He doesn’t deserve this.

“No, don’t…” Sherlock struggled, but barely got out two words before he was coughing again.

Admon didn’t speak, just held him tighter as the coughing subsided.

His friend moved his head to the side, so his cheek rested on Sherlock’s bare skin; Admon released a shuddering sigh.

“I’m sorry, I’m…I’m sorry that I couldn’t do this, I – I couldn’t. You are so much braver than I.” Admon spoke like a broken man, exhaling broken breaths against his neck.

Sherlock’s heart was racing – although that might’ve been the morphine.

What did Admon mean? Couldn’t what? Why would -

And then…Sherlock felt it. The smallest, lightest pressure of lips and touch of beard against the back of his neck, and a last mumbled ‘I’m sorry’.

Sherlock cried. They spoke no more.

For a short, shameful, moment, Sherlock let himself enjoy how close the man he loved was. The feelings he felt at that moment were the bitterest, and the sweetest.

It helped that now he knew, at least Admon felt a little of the same – he wasn’t entirely alone.

Sherlock could live with the tragic reality of their circumstance.

 

 

~ 5 yrs later. 1895.

 

 

Within the space of one year, everything changed again – in the worst way possible.

Sophia, Admon, and their child, William, were infected with ‘ Vibrio cholerae’ due to a recent outbreak in their area of London.

Cholera.

Sherlock, being an Enchanter, was immune to the bacteria – as were many others.

Miraculously, Admon survived. Sherlock knew that he would rather have died however, than to live and see Sophia, and his son, succumb to the disease.

Sherlock was devastated, more so than he thought he would be – and not just as a result of being there to witness Admon’s subsequent grief. Watching William grow from infant to child was an experience Sherlock never thought he would have, and he became close with his godson – who shared a predilection to mysteries and the sciences much like Sherlock himself at that age.

And after a time, Sophia became a friend.

Whatever feelings and circumstance had driven Sherlock from his family (if not in blood, than in bond) when William was little – after the moment Sherlock and Admon shared in that bolthole - settled to more…manageable levels.

Sherlock may have been heartbroken yes, but he still had the love of good people and if anything, they grew closer than ever. The love of the man he loved so dearly made the pain Sherlock experienced worth it in the end.

Only for all of that to be torn away, in the most cruel way imaginable.

Sherlock did everything in his power to save them, Mycroft as well, used all of his knowledge and connections to find the most prestigious and advanced medical personnel and practices at the time.

It saved Admon, but not his family.

Sherlock had been relieved when Admon overcame the worst, but was devastated by the loss of Sophia and William.

Admon, however…Admon broke. He died the day his wife and child did, if not in body than in spirit, Sherlock saw it in the brown eyes that no longer shone with life.

He held him as Admon cried, wailed and cursed God for taking away his wife and child.

It only took two weeks before his body followed the state of his heart.

Admon’s Magick lost all control, turned on him and acted like a debilitating poison to his entire system. Rehabilitation and healing for that type of Magickal damage was significant even back then, but there was still a lot that was mysterious and unknown. In the end, no matter what they did, nothing helped.

Mycroft tried to tell Sherlock it was because Admon didn’t want it to. Sherlock called him a fool and shoved him angrily before walking back into Admon’s room, which would soon turn into his death bed.

Sherlock was kneeling, distressed and doing all he could to keep it together for his friend…He couldn’t say dying, he just couldn’t.

This wasn’t happening. He couldn’t, wouldn’t believe it until he saw with his own eyes – hopeless hope kept Sherlock wishing for a miracle, even though he had never believed in miracles. Sherlock was desperate for anything.

Admon was lying on his bed in his London home, covers pulled up to his chin to ward off the chill. The vibrant red of his hair was a stark contrast to ivory white of his pillow. Other than his face, sunken and in deep pain, his right arm was the only limb exposed; around his wrist there was a thick, clunky Magick restraint.

Sherlock was clutching his hand tightly in his own, up near Admon’s shoulder; close to his face.

Tears were building in Sherlock’s eyes; he didn’t know how much longer he could hold them in. He couldn’t believe the worst of his nightmares was coming to life before his eyes, denial and shock kept Sherlock from collapsing.

Not him, please, please, not…not him.

Admon, who had been in a half-sleep, fluttered his eyes open; his eyes were glassy and dull.

A barely there twinge of brightness returned when he saw Sherlock at his side, before it faded once more.

“Sherlock, you’re here…” His voice was nothing like the warm, honey tone Sherlock knew so well – there was barely any breath, and almost no life.

Sherlock tried to smile. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Admon’s twitched in a barely there smile.

“I know, I know you…Thank-you, for trying to, to save them.”

The first of his tears fell.

“I…I’m sorry, I tried, I should’ve been able-” Sherlock muttered, angry at himself, angry at the world, angry at Admon for leaving him like this.

“Please, do not…” His voice was straining. “Just talk, talk to me. I want to hear you…” Deep brown eyes shuttered closed, his chest barely rose at all.

“I…I don’t know what to say.” Useless.

Again, Admon’s lips twitched in a sad, small smile.

“Sherlock Holmes, speechless for once in his life. I must – must write this down.”

Sherlock felt his heart ache. “Be quiet, you.”

“Never. We’re two of a kind, stubborn, talkative, and annoying to all those who know us.” Admon, whose eyes were still closed, tried to chuckle, but it came out as more of a wheeze.

Sherlock could see what he was doing. Admon didn’t need to be strong for him; Sherlock could be the strong one, for once.

“Speak for yourself.” Sherlock mumbled, not having the energy to play along any further, and started rubbing Admon’s cold hand in-between his own.

“Sherlock, I implore you – please, you must promise me-” Admon started coughing.

Sherlock abruptly lifted his head up, steadfastly ignoring the tears silently falling down his face, and reached out to turn Admon on his side with both hands; rubbing his back to make the coughing easier.

Each of those horrible, wretched sounds was each a dagger to Sherlock’s swiftly shrivelling heart.

“Be silent.” Sherlock said, in an eerie mirror to what Admon said to him, when Sherlock was overdosed on morphine.

“No. I’m dying. This can’t, I need to say this, before I am no longer able to.” Admon opened his eyes as far as he was able, which wasn’t much, and looked at Sherlock.

Sherlock bit his lip to keep the sob in his throat escaping.

This wasn’t happening, please…

“Please, don’t let this destroy you. I know Sherlock, I know how you feel-” Sherlock couldn’t hold it in anymore, those words were the final lash against his wounds, he broke down sobbing; clinging to Admon’s hair and back, face directly in front of his own. Even in his weakened state, Admon tried to comfort Sherlock by reaching out with a shaky hand to rest on the top of Sherlock’s head. “-I am sorry, the world won’t always be this cruel a place. You need, you need to find love and happiness, with people, your Work, anything, I know you would wish otherwise but you need these things as much as anyone. I know you detest clichés-” Sherlock began shaking his head, but this was the last thing he could to for Admon; listen. “-just please, don’t let this destroy you. I couldn’t bear leaving knowing that you would follow close behind me. I know you are incredibly stubborn, and have trouble letting things go, but y-you must Sherlock. You must, please-” Admon’s increasingly desperate words failed him. He began coughing again, eyes watering and blood spitting from his mouth.

“I promise. I promise, I promise.” Sherlock quickly said, resting his hands on both sides of Admon’s face, making sure Admon could see him speak and know that even if Sherlock were to fail in this request, he would try his hardest. There is nothing he would not do for the man who held his love for nearly 30yrs.

Admon reached out and gently touched the tip of his finger, and then his whole hand to Sherlock’s cheek.

Sherlock clenched his eyes shut and turned his face into the touch.

“Thank-you.” He nodded, a weak twitch of his jaw, but his shone with gratefulness and the most life Sherlock had seen in weeks. “This is my end, not yours. Remember that, my dear, old friend. You have always had my love.”

Sherlock could barely see through the tears streaming water falls down his cheeks and onto the bed below.

“You always were a romantic.” Sherlock utterly failed in his attempt at a smile.

Admon looked at Sherlock with sunlight in his eyes.

“I learned from the best.” Admon patted his cheek. Sherlock actually laughed there, even if it was a tad hollow. Admon smiled. “There it is. Thank-you, for that.”

Sherlock looked at him with mild confusion. “For what?”

Admon let his hand fall away. Sherlock started to panic.

“For laughing. I needed to…make you…once, m…” Admon’s eyes remained half-open, but his entire body sunk as his chest finally fell and rose no more.

Sherlock froze.

Everything was silent.

Everything.

“No…” Sherlock’s breath left his body as he collapsed, pulling and clutching Admon’s lifeless body off the bed and against his chest; holding tightly as he buried his face in his best-friends neck and shook with the most toxic of tears – silent ones.

Sherlock would have gladly lived a life holding the pain of unrequited love rather than the body of his best-friend if that’s what it meant to save him.

Sherlock whipped his head around and found Mycroft, along with his parents, watching from the doorway. His mother and father were important to him, but Mycroft understood him – as much as Sherlock hated to admit it – in a way no one else did.

In that moment, he felt like a foolish young boy, looking to his older brother for some unknown answer.

“Please.” Sherlock uttered, rocking back and forth.

For the first time in his life, Mycroft wished he had power to bring a person back from the dead – sadly, that was something even Magick could not accomplish.

He gave his a brother a grave, genuinely sad look.

“I’m sorry brother.”

Sherlock clenched his eyes shut and started shaking his head rapidly, whimpers escaped his mouth.

At that moment his mother rushed towards him, fell to her feet and embraced her son, still holding onto the body of Admon.

Sherlock did something he hadn’t done since he was six years old, and he came home from his first horrible experience with bullying, he buried his face in his mother’s shoulder and cried.

Mycroft and his father were silent figures to the scene before them, watching son and brother break before their grieving eyes.

Mycroft was obviously deeply saddened by Admon’s passing of course, but truth be told, he was most worried what this would do to Sherlock, and if he would be able to deal with the consequences.

As Sherlock continued to pour out tears, wishing his heart would follow, he remember words his brother once told him – after he had found Sherlock that first time in Whitechapel.

“All lives end, all hearts are broken, caring is not an advantage.”

Only in that moment, as he sat grieving with his arms around his lifeless best-friend, did Sherlock truly believe him.

 

 

~

 

“No! No, please…don’t make me. There is no point, you’re finished. The spider has been caught by his own web.” Sherlock, much older, was lying on a metal table in a curved, almost domed room. He was gritting his teeth, not willing to let any expression of the pain he is feeling show.

Sherlock has experienced pain greater than this. He can deal until his brother and his team arrives.

He knows what Moriarty can do though, where his true evil genius lies. Sherlock has managed to subvert him so far, even Magickally restrained as he was.

If he found it though, Sherlock’s greatest pain…he would be finished. And Sherlock made a promise he had managed to keep – if only in the sparsest of ways – for over one hundred years.

He can make it a little longer. He must.

The only other objects were the Magick restraints holding down his nude form and an elegant, velvet chair off to the side; upon which sat Moriarty with a manic, snakelike grin, staring intently and with deep Magick focus at the prostate Sherlock, already covered in days’ worth of wounds sustained from Magick.

“You may be right.” Moriarty sighed dramatically. He stood up from his chair, clapped his hands together and approached Sherlock on the table. “But you are forgetting something about me my dear, I don’t care. I don’t care if there’s no point. You have brought this upon yourself by being such a stupid, frustrating man – you’re not like me at all, not like a thought, too bad, so sad, really. I will find out why, what you are hiding in that beautiful mind of yours with such lovely willpower.” He could feel Moriarty in his mind, like a virus. The man may be minimally experienced in comparison to Sherlock, but he had relentless resolve and Sherlock was growing weaker. Moriarty put his face very close to Sherlock’s and in the quietest of breaths, whispered his final words. “Everyone has their greatest pain Sherlock, time to find out yours.”

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

John felt like he’d been drawn, quartered, tied to a roller-coaster and run over by screaming children.

Not only was he a witness to the most private of Sherlock’s memories, he felt and saw them from his point of view.

And John knew he only saw a few of them.

John ached, tears were running down his face – he didn’t know if they were his or Sherlock’s. John felt shattered, sad, devastated by the experience but Sherlock…the loss, Sherlock’s greatest pain…John knew it had to be horrible, but seeing it, feeling it first hand – John was torn between wanting to forget and holding Sherlock tight.

John had lost people he loved, but not like that, nothing, nothing quite like that.

Admon was everything to Sherlock.

The knowledge added a new level of reality to Sherlock’s reaction up on the cliff, when John kissed him.

Had he remembered Admon then? Coldly reminded of what he never had?

Oh Sherlock…

John knew he was still in Sherlock’s head, which meant Sherlock had to be close by and he needed to see if he was alright…alright? How could he be alright after what just happened? John had no idea what he was going to say to him, but all that had been rushed on John was hard enough for him to feel, he couldn’t even imagine what it must’ve been like for Sherlock.

Would he still wish he’d never remembered? Or would he be grateful for having those memories back in his conscious mind, as painful as they were?

John had no time to think on what all this may or may not implicate in regards to his bond with Sherlock, or even what Sherlock would be like now that he had all of himself in relative one piece again.

John hadn’t moved since he fell and rolled onto his back in the fog-cleared, candlelit darkness, still he felt like he’d been tossed around in a washing machine for a good few hours.

So it was with slow, but steady, progress that John sat up, groaned and pushed himself to his feet; twin feelings of apprehension and unease in his chest.

It was when John looked around that he noticed something integral had changed.

It was pitch black.

There was no candle, no light of any kind and no fog.

Not only that, everything felt, different.

His Magick was pulsing, even stronger than it was before, and yet, John felt…alone.

He must’ve been in Sherlock’s mind, but then, where was Sherlock?

That’s what was missing, Sherlock’s presence.

John started to feel scared that something had gone wrong.

He tried walking forward, but all he heard was his widely echoing footsteps, nothing around him changed.

“Shit.” John swore. Something wasn’t right. He was right on the verge of potentially making an arse of himself by yelling Sherlock’s name, when he heard it.

“John.”

John whipped around. There was Sherlock. “Oh thank God.” John breathed heavily and rested his hands on his knees for a moment before straightening and looking at Sherlock standing directly in front of him.

He looked shaken, and John found he couldn’t read his face, but most significant was that Sherlock wasn’t just wearing very, very familiar clothes; they were an exact copy of the BMC patient garb, he looked like a slightly healthier version of the man John saw in that hospital-like bed.

Did this…actually work?

“Sherlock, are you…alright?” John felt a bit stupid asking that.

Sherlock’s face shuttered and he looked off to the side. John watched him carefully. He seemed like the man he’d been interacting with, and getting to know in the most bizarre and unusual of ways, but he felt different – not doubt about it.

“Yes.”

John blinked. Sherlock sounded like he was telling the truth, mostly he just sounded tired. Regardless, John wasn’t sure if he entirely believed him.

“Are you sure?”

Sherlock closed his eyes briefly and took a deep, full-bodied breath. He nodded, and then looked at John.

That same, indefinable look from before was back.

Only this time, Sherlock regarded John with immeasurably torn eyes.

John wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Sherlock walked forward toward John, and John forced himself to remain still. As he got closer, flashes of Sherlock and Admon as young men flashed across his eyes; John tried to restrain the pained expression on his face, but gathering by the way Sherlock abruptly stopped and stared at John with something almost like insecurity, and distress, Sherlock saw and likely deduced what John had just been remembering.

John parted his mouth to say something, but ultimately decided against it; sighing into his palm instead.

I am woefully unqualified to deal with this.

Suddenly John felt a hand pull the one he’d been using to cover his face away.

Sherlock was staring at John with a considering, largely unreadable expression. He dropped John’s hand and touched a single finger to John’s cheek.

John’s mouth parted in a quiet gasp at the contact that felt so different from before, and it didn’t escape John’s notice it was exactly what Admon did to Sherlock.

What is he doing? John didn’t know, but whatever Sherlock was thinking John remained quiet and let him continue.

John watched him; unblinking.

Sherlock seemed to sway a little towards John, before he inhaled sharply and pulled his finger away; stumbling backward as he did so, sudden immense distress widening his eyes.

“Sherlock?” John, with a pounding heart, furrowed his brow in concern.

Before John could take a step towards him, Sherlock fixed him with a determined, if repentant, gaze that had John freezing midstep.

“I apologize for this, John.”

What-

Sherlock reached out a hand palm out in John’s direction, and unexpectedly John was hit with a wave of Magick that knocked him out instantaneously.

John collapsed in a heap and Sherlock rippled out of view, leaving John alone in the darkness.

 

 

~

 

John groaned, fingers and toes twitching underneath the fresh blanket covering him, and slowly opened his eyes, his body felt tense and stiff like he’d been sleeping for far too long.

He felt an odd disconnect, a sense of not quite right. The light shining on his face was coming from the wrong direction.

Why am I not in my room?

“Welcome back to the real world, Doctor Watson.”

John’s eyes flashed open fully.

The real world…Sherlock’s mind.

Wait, so that must mean -

John was awake.

He felt an overwhelming swoop of sensations as all he experienced, all he felt gushed into his waking mind in waves. There was an odd miasma, not quite dream not quite quality to the memories, but they were still as clear to John as any other.

John gasped. Sherlock. John rushed to sit up, and paid for it with blood pounding in his head in the form of a dense, painful headache. He hunched over his tingling legs, moving for the first time in – who knows. Fuck. John rested his elbows on his knees and began kneading his temples with the balls of his hands.

“Sherlock-”

“Is conscious, and well enough given the fact that he’s just awoken from a five year Magick coma, obstinate as ever of course.” It was Mycroft who spoke (once again standing at the foot of John’s bed), obviously. John’s relief at hearing that Sherlock was miraculously conscious was massive, that wasn’t his only feeling though. “A reality I have you to thank for. I will never be able to fully express my-”

“You knew.” John declared with dangerously quiet ire, he let his hands slowly fall from his head and onto his blanket covered legs.

John lifted his head and glowered at Mycroft.

Mycroft blinked quickly in surprise. “I’m sorry?”

With the memories fresh in his mind, and Mycroft’s voice as the first thing he heard upon waking, John realized without a shred of doubt that not only did Mycroft suspect what the red dog likely represented and knew what Sherlock’s greatest pain was – something he ardently said he didn’t know, or at the very least implied he didn’t, which John knew then was absolute bollocks – he lied about his knowledge and didn’t say a word.

John couldn’t help thinking that having particular knowledge, at least some of it, would’ve been most helpful.

Instead, he and Sherlock probably stumbled around a lot longer than they needed to.

So why, why did Mycroft lie?

“Admon.” John did not relent in his stare down of the older Holmes brother.

The moment the name passed John’s lips, the expression on Mycroft’s face changed completely.

Ah, yes.” Mycroft sighed, a timeworn sadness drawing the lines of his face.

John snorted in disbelief.

“Yes, ah-” John emphasized this with quotations. I really haven’t punched anyone in a very long time. “Is that all you have to say? Seriously?

“No, and before you do something you’ll come to regret John-”

“Dr. Watson, and I doubt I’d regret anything.”

Mycroft sighed, obviously irritated. John couldn’t give rats arse. (John supposed it was possible he was experiencing some emotional overlap by what just happened…)

“Fine, Dr. Watson. I will explain myself but first, I will need you to calm down.”

John blinked at him in disbelief. “Calm down-” John abruptly stopped when he noticed Mycroft was covering his eyes.

That was also when John noticed the lights in the room were glowing abnormally bright in response to his own anger.

Oh.

Oh.

John remembered feeling his Magick again towards the end there, the way it felt unbroken – a tingling companion like healthy Magick should feel, but he never dreamed it would actually carry over – what the hell happened?

His anger rapidly deflated and he collapsed back onto the bed, covering his face with both hands.

Christ.

Is there such a thing as an emotional hangover?

John felt more than saw the lights return to their natural state.

He heard Mycroft moving, until he was obviously sitting on the edge of what previously had been Sherlock’s bed.

Previously…Mycroft did say Sherlock was conscious, yes?

John dropped his hands and quickly glanced at the bed. It was empty, and had been neatly made to near military precision.

John couldn’t believe it. It actually worked.

Sherlock was ok. Maybe. He was going to be ok. John would rather see the man for himself.

John felt a funny jump in his heart and lump in his throat at the thought.

He would get to meet Sherlock, in person.

They had shared an experience few life-long friends ever do, let alone strangers…were they still strangers? Their unique bond made it a difficult line to define, at the moment at least.  And by the quiet murmured words after they, they kissed – or rather John kissed Sherlock, Sherlock had deduced the nature of their bond.

It was all very confusing, and John was positive it was going to be awkward as hell. At least at first. It certainly wouldn’t be boring.

He hoped that Sherlock wouldn’t resent him for the intrusion, no matter how necessary it was, but John would understand if he did, he could deal. It’s not like John would be pleased either if some stranger took a waltz through his most private and vulnerable memories.

“Dr. Watson?” Mycroft smoothly interrupted John’s wandering mind. “Do you still wish me explain my actions?

John looked up at Mycroft and was reminded of just that – which he’d temporarily forgotten in the wake of…everything else.

Christ, I really am out of it.

John groaned at the tight feeling in his muscles as he sat up, and swung his legs off the side of the bed so he was sitting level with Mycroft. He fixed the man with a determined ‘this better be good’ stare. John’s headache was still raging fierce, but compartmentalizing physical pain was something John was thoroughly practised in. “Yes.”

Mycroft nodded as if that was what he expected, even though it was clear by the uncharacteristically reluctant nature of his demeanour that he held no particular wish to do so, but recognized he would have to.

“I’ll come straight to the point; I didn’t want to cause my brother any more pain. I was powerless to help him all those years ago and I had the foolish hope I would not be quite so helpless now. Coniuncti Sumus has shown to be capable of extraordinary Magick. I thought that perhaps, maybe, this bond you and my brother possess would find a miraculous way of bringing my brother back to this world without reviving the entirety of his memory. He is a far more emotional man than I by nature, despite how he may seem at times. The close relationship he held with Admon proves that. Unfortunately, this comes with the inevitable side effect of pain, and loss. I had hoped to protect my brother from that reality. It was not my intention to make this more difficult, rather the exact opposite. Yet another way in which sentimentally got the better of me and I failed, twice.” Mycroft sighed, slightly hunched over and no longer so irritatingly composed. “I never expected my brothers first time entering this facility would be as a patient. In truth, he hardly acknowledged at all. I was one of the few who knew the full breadth of Sherlock’s past, and the real depth of his capability of feeling. I suspect he believed that coming here at all would be admitting a weakness. A trait of his I now regret encouraging in him, thinking it would protect him from further heartbreak. However, looking back – I believe it would’ve made the ensuing years after losing Admon easier if he looked to his feelings as a source of strength, and not a weakness. Age does not always equate wisdom.” Mycroft restrained his posture and a found, if regretful smile graced his face for the briefest of moments before vanishing behind his stoic façade. “Sherlock would be far too pleased to hear me admit to how wrong I have been.”

And it was a façade. Clearly, the iceman persona Mycroft exuded wasn’t all there was to the man. He was allowing John to see him with this exposure and John did. Quite honestly, John felt sorry for him – and not quite as angry as he felt before. John wasn’t happy, but he could understand. He wouldn’t wish Harriet to go through what Sherlock did and would do everything in his power to help her if he could.

John could imagine it would be even more difficult for someone like Mycroft; for whom intense emotions were a far more foreign territory than to Sherlock, except, apparently, where his little brother was concerned.

Something in what Mycroft said hit John. Hold on a minute –

“Admons last name was Burd.”

Mycroft raised a brow and nodded.

“And this facility was founded in 1895.” John couldn’t exactly blame himself for not putting it together just yet – he had just spent who knows how long fumbling his way through the mind of an emotionally distraught man.

Still, what Mycroft said made a lot more sense.

Mycroft breathed deeply. “You have a decent memory Dr. Watson. I erected the ‘Burd Memorial Centre for the Restoration, Rehabilitation and Treatment of the Magickally Impaired and Damaged’ a few short months after Admon died. It was my way of…atoning, I suppose.”

John leaned forward, elbows rested on his knees. “Atoning?”

“Even in those years I held a significant position in the British government, with access to the most confidential of resources. I am not of the same Magick class level as my brother, but even so my power was – is – substantial, and it did not help the man my brother loved. I told my brother that the reason Admon wouldn’t, couldn’t heal, was because he didn’t want to; the grief of losing one’s wife and child too great. But the truth is I didn’t know for certain. It was a component for sure, however there has always been a part of me that wondered if only we had more time, if there had been somewhere dedicated solely to study the afflictions damaged Magick can cause, and thus create regimes to assist in the healing process, Admon might have been saved. I still do not know what would have become of their relationship, but at least my brother would’ve been spared the pain of his death on top of those of Sophia and his godson.” Mycroft stood up, grabbed the umbrella which had been leaning against the rail of bed John was in, and went in front of the singular window; his back to John. “When I told Sherlock what I intended on founding here, he didn’t say a word to me. Although his expression I believe told me something along the lines of ‘too little, too late’. I never expected anything more.”

John sighed and hung his head. “It sounds to me that you did all you could’ve possibly done. You can’t do more than that.” He couldn’t believe he was comforting Mycroft, but after listening to him…the man blamed himself for something that was, ultimately, not his fault.

Mycroft hummed. “Perhaps. In any event I assume you want to meet my brother in the flesh.” He turned around, the very picture of composure once more.

John inwardly kicked himself when a part him screamed ‘yes!’, and not just for reasons relating to want to ascertain Sherlock’s mental and physical health for himself.

He nodded and moved to get up.

Mycroft held out a hand to stop him. “Before you go Dr. Watson, there a couple of things you should know, not the least of which is why you’re feeling the return of your Magick’s control.”

How Mycroft could know that John didn’t know. The light thing could just as easily been the result of unrestrained, out of control Magick. John only knew it wasn’t because the light didn’t harm him, like it did Mycroft that resulted in the man covering his eyes.

Still, it was something John wanted to know – although he was half-tempted to say to hell with it, and go find Sherlock instead.

The man had to have more than a lot on his mind, John wouldn’t take up much of his time– he knew Sherlock would need space, but he just…John just wanted to make sure he was ok, wanted to see him. Hopefully he wouldn’t make a complete arse of himself.

John did sit back down though. Mycroft strode back over, keeping a reasonable distance.

“I will let my brother fill you in on the details, but suffice to say something happened, more likely a series of events occurred that led to a breaking point which resulted in a brief amalgamation of your Magicks. I told you Coniuncti Sumus is capable of remarkable feats of Magick, this wasn’t an exaggeration on my part. It seems that when your Magick connected temporarily with Sherlock’s own which was mostly healed, together they fed off each other and created a force which ended up healing each of your Magicks of damage – practically speaking. You will still have some mental adjustment, as will Sherlock – for many reasons, but whatever happened, it saved you many months if not at least a year in the Centre. As it stands, you should be able to leave in a few weeks.”

Holy shit.

Holy. Shite.

John’s mouth parted as he let what Mycroft just said settle in his mind.

He couldn’t believe it. It seemed too much like a miracle, yet the evidence was there in how he felt, the familiar tingle in his hands when he focused.

It seemed he had more than one thing to thank Sherlock for, no matter how unintentional the action.

John could cry. He wouldn’t, but the emotion was there; overwhelming, unquantifiable, relief.

He couldn’t say he was sorry for going to the Centre, not when it led to the experience he shared with and meeting Sherlock, but John wasn’t exactly eager to stay either.

John closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep, liberating breath.

“I imagine this must come as shock.”

John snorted. No kidding.

It was a shock he was immensely grateful for.

“I am sure you are eager to see Sherlock. I will delay the medical staff in their examination of you and discussion of what the next few weeks will entail and make sure you have access to leave Paget Wing, my only request is that once you and my brother are finished speaking you return here. Dr. Hooper and Dr. Thompson will be waiting for you in the main Paget Wing lobby.” Mycroft pulled out a pocket watch with a long chain attached and glanced at the clock face briefly. “With that I must be off, there is a country to run after all. I believe you will find Sherlock outside in the rock garden with a stolen pack of cigarettes. Perhaps you could dissuade him of the habit, since you are obviously a man capable of miracles Dr. Watson.”

“John.”

Mycroft looked surprised at John’s utterance. He gave John a nod. “John, then. I bid you good day.”

They both moved to leave at the same time. John was grateful that despite the initial shakiness of his footing, he seemed able to walk decently enough.

It was as Mycroft was opening the door and exiting, and John was giving the room a brief look over, that he was reminded of something else he wanted to know.

“When did we wake up?” John gesture towards the two beds.

Mycroft paused with his hand on the doorknob and looked back towards John.

“Sherlock woke up after twenty-six hours, you ten hours later.”

John was unconscious for thirty-six hours? Honestly, he had been expecting longer, but wait –

“Hold on. Why did I wake up that long after Sherlock?

John was abruptly reminded of the last event in Sherlock’s mind. When John was surrounded in darkness, Sherlock showed up and then – John was well and truly unconscious. He seemed to remember Sherlock touching him, backing away and then apologizing? Before he reached out a hand and that was where John’s memory blanked.

Did Sherlock do something to him?

“I will leave that particular explanation to my brother.”

John frowned, but nodded reluctantly; standing there silently for a moment. John sighed and continued around the slight corner to the door exit. He was distracted, and lost in thought with how he would approach his first physical conversation with Sherlock, and so barely caught himself from bumping into Mycroft.

John thought the man had left. Clearly not, when John looked up Mycroft was staring at him.

John returned the unblinking, calculating nature of Mycroft’s gaze. “What?”

“I have no doubt we will meet again soon John, in the meantime I feel I should warn you – I will not stand by and watch my brother’s heart become broken again, I assure you the consequences will be – deathly severe.” Mycroft wore a subtle smirk, yet John knew there was nothing understated in what was a very obvious, warning directed at him.

John was confused in that he didn’t know why Mycroft seemed sure that John and Sherlock would be embarking on a relationship – for one thing, they hardly knew each other enough for that, and with what John saw in Sherlock’s mind…He wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock wasn’t at all interested in a romantic relationship period.

John wouldn’t – couldn’t – allow himself to feel either hope or disappointment about what may or may not happen, either way John knew that in some way Sherlock would be in his life. Even if it wasn’t in the way John wished, his only real fears were that Sherlock wouldn’t want to see him again at all, and that if John’s attraction and newly forming feelings towards Sherlock were already this intense now, John didn’t want to imagine how he may feel upon knowing the man longer.

And with what John saw, he knew Sherlock deserved happiness – whatever form that may take.

“Understood.” Was all John said in response, but his accepting, open posture spoke volumes to Mycroft.

If John ever broke Sherlock’s heart, it would not be by choice.

“Excellent.” Mycroft appeared genuinely pleased. “I thank-you John, for all you have done.”

“I was glad to help.” More than glad.

“Until later then.” Mycroft gave John a brief nod before smoothly exiting the room.

Well, ok then.

John took a deep breath, making a note to stop in his actual room before heading outside to grab his boots, coat, hat and gloves, and walked out of the room – shutting the door behind him.

It was a bit surreal walking down the familiar hallway, a bit like seeing it through a fresh pair of eyes.

So much had changed.

When John entered his room for the first time in over day, unsurprisingly it was unchanged, save for; someone had made the bed after his hasty exit, and leaning against the wall, directly beside the table holding a lamp and novel John had been reading, was his cane.

…His cane. He had completely forgotten about it, he didn’t have it or apparently need it in Sherlock’s mind, and when after that whirlwind experience was finished and John walked, without a limp – no support needed, without a thought to his cane.

Until he saw it, a silent symbol showing exactly how much everything could change in mere days.

John exhaled a breathless smile. It was another thing to be grateful for.

He then approached his dresser, coat and other outside garments, laying neatly on top and donned his outerwear. John left his room and made to go outside. He would need to exit Paget Wing to reach the Rock garden he knew, but otherwise John had no idea how to get there. He’d have to get someone to show him.

After that, John would talk with Sherlock.

In person. For the first time.

John wondered if it was normal that he felt more apprehension at that, than entering an active warzone.

Probably not, but since when had John been normal anyway?

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

Snow seldom fell heavily in this area of England, so the rock garden – a small rather stark spectacle, at least in winter – was one of the few gardens that remained largely the same in appearance despite being covered in an inch or two of snow. At least, that’s what John was told by Henry, who had actually been waiting for John at Paget Wings exit to guide him to the garden. The young man was inordinately pleased to see that he made it through the ordeal alright, his short conversation with Henry afforded John the knowledge that all Paget Wing staff, and the head Doctors on the medical board of the Centre, knew of Sherlock’s presence – even though only a select few knew why, Henry wasn’t one of them, and he didn’t ask.

John appreciated his professionalism, despite being obviously curious. It wasn’t John’s place to share anyhow.

After a short walk, through the main building and out along the thoroughly plowed pathways, and a diversion around a newly built ice rink (which John had no idea existed) on which John could see Janine and Soo Lin clumsily skating (but clearly having fun, when they waved to John with relived smiles on their faces John found it surprisingly easy to wave and smile in return), Henry left John at the rock gardens entrance; which was two stone pillars bordered with dying, brown vines and dried leaves a mere winds breath away from falling off. A short, dry stone wall similar to those seen across many fields in the Yorkshire dales, encased an area approximately half an acre in size (according to Henry). There were juniper bushes and a large red sandstone blocking John’s view to beyond the rest of the garden, the blue of the berries and caramel red of the stone stood in vibrant contrast to the white snow and grey stone.

John took a step forward onto the lightly snow covered pathway, which curved around the huge sandstone (twice John’s size) and out of sight. He noticed on the rocks face there was a large, circle crossroads symbol half surrounded by a waning crescent moon. Like the caduceus, the symbol carved on the rock was often seen symbolising Magick based medicine.

If John hadn’t been told Sherlock was here, he would still know. It was probably the bond, but John could feel Sherlock’s presence nearby even if he couldn’t see him quite yet. The very real knowledge had John resorting to the stance and attitude he exuded during inspections by commanding officers in the army, it was a comforting and familiar metaphorical blanket to wear. John didn’t know how he would get through the upcoming conversation without some sort of internal backup.

It gave John a boost of confidence. He took a deep breath and walked around the red stone. The instant he did, a view of the rest of the garden was revealed to him; some unique stone statues and designs were barely visible, but there where many grouped together in configurations that vaguely reminded John of Stonehenge, weaving in and out of those was the shovelled path, a frozen pond, and benches both along the wall and within the garden itself.

Most important however, and what had John standing rooted to the stop with hands clenched at this sides, was the figure of a man sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest on the large, smooth surface of a lone rock practically centered in the garden’s middle, on the edge of the frozen over pond. He was donned in a familiar, long dark coat that obscured all but a few twirls of dark hair poking out from the upturned collar. His back was to John, and long, heavy streams of smoke, made even more obvious by the chill, rose in twirls above the single lit cigarette dangling precariously from between the gloved fingers of a hand resting on the stone beside him.

John had mixed feelings seeing Sherlock in person for the first time. He felt so achingly familiar to John, it would be impossible to forget that John had seen Sherlock at his most vulnerable, would it colour how he saw the man? Yet, there was something so unknowable and alien about him too. John had seen bits and pieces, never the whole.

Even from a distance, and without seeing his face, it was peculiar to note how Sherlock was both not a stranger and yet still a complete mystery to John in many ways.

John suspected Sherlock would see through any façade John put on if he tried to approach this casually, would it be better to just jump right in? Would he look like a complete idiot if John introduced himself?

Christ. John had never spent quite this much time thinking about what to say to someone, and how to say it, since his first date at fifteen.

That comparison wasn’t exactly helpful, not when John noted how much more rich the colour of Sherlock’s hair was in this physical world.

Don’t be stupid. Bite the bullet.

He probably already knows you’re here anyway.

“If you’re going to be standing there for much longer, John, at least do me the courtesy of thinking a little less loudly.” Sherlock breathed in through the butt of his cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke, all the while his back remained to John.

Bingo. Since he knew Sherlock couldn’t actually read minds, it was good for John to know Sherlock’s singular charm was intact.

John sighed. Here we go.

John could barely gauge what Sherlock was feeling, let alone thinking, by the tone of his voice; other than he sounded guarded, understandable. He knew who John was at any rate. John wondered if he remembered everything, or if because his mind was fractured as it was, there were bits he couldn’t recall.

At least he didn’t tell John to fuck off, yet.

Neither said a word as John weaved and walked along the path, heading towards the rock garden’s centre where Sherlock was situated.

John’s heart thudded faster the closer he got – the reasons why were many.

A cold wind nipped at John’s face, so John decided it was as good a time as any to experiment. He stopped walking, took off his gloves – tucking them under his arm, and cupped his hands around his mouth. With a little focus, John was able to either increase, or decrease his body temperature, not by a lot but it certainly helped during the cold or particularly warm months.

John closed his eyes, took a deep breath and called on his Magick as he exhaled. It happened instantly, his hands tingled and warmth flooded John’s veins – and not just from the new heat. John had nearly forgotten how good it felt to use his Magick, even before he lost control and arrived here, he’d forgotten.

Feeling a little better, John replaced his gloves on his hands and resumed walking – he faltered a step when he noticed Sherlock had turned his head and was watching him with inquisitive eyes; flitting between John’s hands and the red flush of heat that must be evident on John’s cheeks.

John kept walking, but was unable to look away as he realized this was the first time he was seeing Sherlock’s face, relatively healthy (horrendous chain smoking aside), in person.

It probably wasn’t polite to be staring like he was, but considering Sherlock was too, John let himself indulge.

There was still lingering evidence of Sherlock’s previous condition; slightly sunken cheeks, bruising around his eyes and fading scars upon his cheeks, along with thick, wide, dry lips. It was remarkable however how much better he already looked.

And how Sherlock was still somehow more striking than in his mind.

John resolved to keep that thought firmly to himself for the moment.

Sherlock’s expression was unreadable, yet the fact that he was so carefully meticulous about not allowing any emotion to show on his face spoke volumes in of itself.

He was probably more uncomfortable than John was.

When John reached Sherlock’s side, the man blinked looked away to face outward towards the rest of the snow covered garden; breathing in a new drag of smoke as he did so.

(John had to firmly restrain his Doctor side from commenting on that, given what Sherlock had been through – John supposed he could accept the presence of the vice)

The upturned collar of Sherlock’s coat and direction of his focus made it difficult to see Sherlock’s face. John guessed that was by design.

After John had already seen more than he suspected Sherlock ever wanted to share with anyone, he wasn’t surprised.

John breathed in and crossed his arms, exhaling as he followed Sherlock’s gaze and observed the rest of the garden.

It was nice, he supposed. John had always gone in more for greenery, but he could appreciate the stark beauty of this.

John frowned and shifted restlessly on his feet.

Beside him, Sherlock continued to inhale and exhale with the smoke; unmoving and silent.

I was wrong.

This is even more awkward than I thought it would be.

“You’re still thinking loud.”

John scowled at Sherlock. “I can’t exactly control that you know.”

Sherlock hummed around the butt of the cigarette in his mouth. “Perhaps, but maybe if you said whatever it is you are debating about so deeply to yourself, your thinking would be less annoying.”

John huffed. Not bad advice per se, but like John had experienced and witnessed before during a couple instances with Sherlock’s mind, the man was typically acerbic in his delivery. John doubted it was personal and was simply Sherlock being himself, this didn’t mean John found it a little bit ridiculous and insulting.

Still, John considered it half a win that Sherlock was even talking to him and not simply ignoring him altogether.

So John ignored the comment and quickly tried thinking of a place to start.

Where could he even begin? John had much to say, and ask, but found himself utterly clueless about where to go from here.

That was until he remembered what he asked Mycroft, when he had said John should ask Sherlock.

“Why did I wake up ten hours after you?” John put his hands in his pockets and turned his body slightly more towards Sherlock.

Sherlock didn’t react, and exhaled more smoke; causing John to wrinkle his nose at the unpleasant odour.

“You didn’t.” Sherlock mumbled around his cigarette, his cheekbones were tinged cherry red from the cold.

Now John was confused. “What?”

“When I regained consciousness, you were seconds away from doing so yourself. There was still a lingering link between our minds, I used it to reconnect with you for a brief time before it faded and managed to knock you out for several more hours.”

John couldn’t help the indignant anger he felt. So it was him. “Why?” John said with a slightly raised voice.

Sherlock, goddamn shrugged. “I needed time alone to…think.” Sherlock grew quiet. “I knew you would want to talk to me fairly immediately after you awoke.”

John groaned. Yes, Sherlock was half-right, but John wasn’t completely insensitive. Sherlock wanting space made perfect sense; there were more polite and acceptable ways of getting it though than knocking people out.

Christ Sherlock, if you needed space I would’ve given it to you. You didn’t need to knock me out, please do not do that again.” John emphasized this with a cutting downward wave of his hand through the air.

“There’s no need to worry, unfortunately it is not a skill consistently within my power. I was only able to do so by taking advantage of our unique situation at the time.” Sherlock gestured towards John with the hand holding a burning cigarette between his fingers. “So yes, I won’t be doing it again.”

John snorted softly. Not exactly what he wanted to hear, but good to know Sherlock couldn’t routinely knock him out at a moment’s notice.

I wasn’t exactly John’s right to get up on his high horse about it given the circumstances, John could understand and found he wasn’t all that surprised by Sherlock’s actions.

He let it go, for now. Pick your battles, John.

John exhaled and shifted on his feet. A group of birds in a nearby tree puffed and shivered in response to the cool wind, the only sounds were the distant happy noises from the skating rink, and the repeating draws and exhales of smoke-filled breath from Sherlock remaining sat on the large stone beside John.

Neither man spoke for several minutes.

It was still awkward, but having spoken, however briefly eased it somewhat. Despite the layer of tension a looming presence above them, John found it easier to talk to Sherlock than he thought it would be. It felt…natural.

What could they talk about now though? John wanted to say something about what he saw, how sorry he was – and John was, deeply, but he suspected it would be words Sherlock had long since grown sick of hearing.

“Don’t.”

John jumped a bit in surprise at the loudness of Sherlock’s voice.

“What?”

Sherlock sighed with deep annoyance. “You were going to express…apologetic sentiment for my situation. I don’t need it, nor do I want it.” Sherlock, perhaps with a bit more force than necessary, knocked the dead ash off from the cigarette on the stone surface beside him.

Just like John thought. “I wasn’t going to say anything.” Even if Sherlock didn’t appreciate it, there was tenderness in John’s voice when he spoke – but not pity. He meant what he said, even if he wanted to say something – felt like he should, John figured it wouldn’t be wise at this venture.

Sherlock looked at John with doubt clear in his face. John met his gaze with intent. It wasn’t long before Sherlock’s face melted into an expression of genuine surprise.

“You mean that.”

John nodded. “I do.”

Sherlock’s eyes blinked quickly. “Oh.” He turned back around, exposing only his profile to John. John exhaled the breath he’d been holding. “Thank-you.” Sherlock said inaudibly; with clearly forced nonchalance.

“No problem, I really have no real right to know what I do.” John admitted, looking down to the ground for a moment before looking off to the side. “I would imagine I’ve been an unwanted presence in your head enough for a lifetime.” John’s ensuing chuckle fell flat.

Out of the corner of his eye, John thought he saw Sherlock frown at his knees.

“No. Not unwanted.” The man murmured.

Huh? John abruptly looked at Sherlock with slightly widened eyes; it was said so quietly John wasn’t even sure he was supposed to have heard him. So he didn’t say anything. Not that he would even know what to say to that, other than to ask Sherlock to clarify what he meant. Gathering from the uncertainty in Sherlock’s utterance, maybe the man himself didn’t know.

With the pitiful increased pounding in his heart, it was perhaps better John didn’t know either.

John was grateful for the chance to be standing beside Sherlock, but after a further few minutes the silence began to weigh heavily again. John drew his hands out of his pockets and tucked them crossed into his armpits, rocking back and forth on the balls of his booted feet.

It felt natural when he was talking to Sherlock, but these silences inbetween were going to drive John crazy. He’d been carefully restraining himself from staring at Sherlock too much from the start of this, even though that’s all John wanted to do.

John turned his head slightly towards Sherlock, and watched the man’s profile for a minute, curly hair bouncing lightly in the wind, as he continued to smoke.

He really didn’t make it easy on himself being attracted to someone who would probably never return his less than friendly feelings, Sherlock had a great love – unfulfilled though it was – he probably didn’t want another.

Whoa, hold on John, love? Dial it back a notch Romeo.

There were probably all manner of reasons why Sherlock kissed John back on that cliff in his mind, did the man even remember? Given the state he was in, it was entirely possible Sherlock didn’t recall everything that happened, he obviously remembered some – as he knew who John was, but exactly what did he remember?

Did he remember…that?

“Contrary to what some may believe, I don’t bite – unless the situation calls for it,” What on earth did that mean? John tried hard not to let his mind go places with that. “I know you have questions John, ask them. No guarantee I’ll answer.”

John noticed Sherlock side glance him while taking another drag of his cigarette. John felt only momentarily embarrassed at being caught in the middle of very intense, not quite platonic, staring session.

John coughed awkwardly and looked at something a bit safer, like that rock in front of him shaped like a deformed whiskey tumbler. He also tried to pretend that he didn’t hear Sherlock chuckle, and felt far too pleased with himself for making him do so – even if it was at John’s own expense.

Sherlock was right though, of course, John had questions.

“How much do you remember?” John was torn between wanting and not wanting to know this. “From-”

“Everything.” Sherlock mumbled on an exhale of swirling smoke.

John looked at Sherlock. “Really?”

Everything.” Sherlock gave John a brief pointed look, indecipherable emotion in his eyes, before looking away.

Shit. Master of deduction and all that, of course he figured out what John was really asking about.

Again, John coughed awkwardly, rubbing his palm against the back of his neck, and made sure to look at Sherlock directly.

“Listen, I’m sorry about-”

“There is no need to explain yourself John, I understand. I am sure the emotional high and deeply unfamiliar situation we found ourselves in was an overwhelming experience, along with my…depleted condition-” Sherlock interrupted John quickly, and drew in an unsteady breath with a frown on his face. “-you were trying to shock me out of my state. It worked. No harm done.” John thought Sherlock meant to give him a reassuring smile at that point, but it very clearly didn’t reach his eyes. He looked away and flicked the tip of his cigarette, ash falling onto the white snow.

Wait – What? Did Sherlock seriously think that John was going to give him an ‘it meant nothing’ speech?

Why? Not only was that not true, John wasn’t necessarily going to explain all his reasons in full, but what he intended on doing was simply apologizing for doing it, especially because Sherlock was in such a vulnerable state at the time – never mind that Sherlock reciprocated.

It did work in that it shocked Sherlock out of state, but John would be lying if he said that was why he kissed him in the first place. It was impulse, John thought Sherlock was decaying permanently before his eyes, and John was desperate to keep him there, with him.

He could let Sherlock keep his assumption, it was probably safer that way, but for some reason, John didn’t.

“That wasn’t why I kissed you.” John grimaced and rolled his eyes to the sky. Why John? Why? Why did you have to go and say that! Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut?

That was the first time he’d said it out loud. His heart pounded loudly in his chest. And he felt, more than saw, Sherlock tense. When John looked back down at him, he was gaping at John in both surprise and confusion, cigarette dangling from his lips.

John barely restrained himself from flinching.

Idiot. What is he going to do with that?  His eyes…What must he be reading on my face?

John parted his mouth to say – something, but quickly changed his mind and turned away from Sherlock, hiding his face from the observational genius.

Just be quiet John, and shut up.

Sherlock didn’t say anything.

After a moment, John turned his head slightly to check on Sherlock. The man was again frowning deeply to himself, and he shifted his position on the rock for seemingly no reason. Cigarette between his fingers he rested his elbows on the tops of his knees, and seemed hesitant as he came to rest his hands against his mouth.

He was obviously deep in thought – about what John said? And John couldn’t even begin to describe the look in his eyes.

John shivered and resumed staring forward.

The silence that descended then was particularly thick.

John thought he heard the voice of a nurse in the distance calling in the patients of the skating rink.

Neither one of them spoke.

Until John inwardly kicked himself and resolved to move on and leave this moment behind, since clearly Sherlock had nothing to say on the matter.

John breathed in deeply and stepped over closer to Sherlock and faced him. The other man didn’t seem to notice, John zeroed in on the deep bruises evident on his face and the too sharp appearance of his cheekbones with a critical Doctors eye.

“Are you feeling alright? And why the hell aren’t you getting some sleep?” What this man in front of him needed was a long, proper sleep, and a good deal of physical – and probably emotional – recuperation.

Sherlock flinched and looked up at John with a flash of annoyance. “Ugh, not you too.” Sherlock groaned and flicked away some more ash from his cigarette, this one nearly finished, before drawing in deep. “I’m fine. And I do think I’ve been asleep quite long enough thank-you.”

John rested a palm to his face. “That doesn’t count, and you know it! After what you’ve been through, you need proper sleep.”

Sherlock dismissed John’s words with a wave of his hand. “Boring.”

John rolled his eyes and prayed for patience.

Pick your battles, John. Maybe there was another reason he didn’t want to sleep.

John sighed. “And – otherwise?” That question was potentially playing with fire, and if Sherlock said fine, John would know he was lying.

The last time Sherlock was fully conscious he was lying on that metal table John saw, being tortured by Moriarty. No one, not even Sherlock Holmes, could be fine after something like that.

Sherlock flickered his eyes briefly towards John, and then proceeded to drop his cigarette butt onto the growing pile beside him. “Dealing.”

It was a concession, and more than what John was expecting.

John nodded and looked at a random spot on the snowy, rocky ground. Something small, vaguely purple poked out from it. John wrinkled his brow and crouched, brushing away the snow with his hand; beneath the snow a part of a mosaic made out of semi-precious stones and smooth river rocks was exposed. He had no doubt this place must be quite the spectacle in spring, without snowy winters covering it up.

“Did I get anything wrong?”

John was taken aback at the suddenness and complete out of the blue nature of the question from Sherlock.

He unbent from his crouch, brushed the loose snow off his gloves, and looked at Sherlock.

What are you talking about?”

Sherlock gestured casually at John and proceeded to light a new cigarette with a previously unseen lighter. John frowned deeply at the sight; at this point John was dangerously close to grabbing those cursed things and running.

If Sherlock noticed John’s obvious distaste, he didn’t say anything.

“When I first saw you, in the hall outside your room.”

Oh.

“Afghanistan or Iraq?”

Sherlock remembered that too? Of course John did. How could he forget that? It was…an abrupt, if intriguing first meeting, and which had obviously turned out to be more than coincidence.

But Sherlock asked him something…oh.

“You’re asking me if anything you deduced about me was wrong.”

Sherlock nodded slowly, the exasperated ‘obviously’ went unspoken.

John laughed a little. “Yes, actually.” Only one thing, and John had noted it to himself several times – he’d just never gotten the chance to correct Sherlock until then.

Sherlock looked at John in surprise, eyes flitting all over his face; observing him carefully for any lie, clearly wondering what he could’ve possibly gotten wrong.

Brilliant, but not perfect.

John shrugged. “I’m a Class A1 Mage Augment, not a Sorcerer.”

Oh.” Sherlock inhaled sharply and exhaled loudly with a slight widening of his eyes. “Of course, I should’ve seen that. Why didn’t I? There’s always something.” Sherlock muttered through gritted teeth.

John bit his lip to keep from smiling. It was almost adorable the way Sherlock was so annoyed with himself.

“It was still brilliant.” John said in effort to wipe that ridiculously downtrodden pout look on Sherlock’s face, no matter how adorable John found it.

And just like before, Sherlock’s eyes lit up for a moment.

“So I’ve heard you say.” Sherlock’s lip twitched into a smile. “Still, I will continue to strive in being right all the time.”

 John snorted. “You know that’s not possible, right? You have to be wrong sometimes.”

Sherlock looked away from John with a minute, teasing grin on his face. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Sherlock breathed in a long, slow drag of his cigarette with a playful grin. “I’m never wrong.”

John shook his head fondly. “Are you trying to make me laugh?”

Sherlock hummed around the cigarette and shrugged.

Arse.

The lull that followed that time wasn’t awkward like the rest up until that point had been.

John breathed in the cold air, and started casually pacing around the small open space surrounding the giant rock Sherlock was sitting on.

It really was wonderful to not need a cane anymore, John found he could hardly stand still.

“There is room here, if you’d like to sit.”

“Hm?” John looked up at Sherlock, arms crossed and tucked warmly against his sides.

Sherlock rolled his eyes, bit the cigarette between his teeth, and picked up the half empty packet of cigarettes at this side; placing them in the pocket of his coat before brushing away most of the snow with his sleeve.

Sherlock then glanced pointedly at the now empty space and took the cigarette out of his mouth.

John blinked. Oh.

From any other individual, the action would’ve been a common courtesy, Sherlock however…he didn’t seem like the type who would put much stock in such consideration.

John tried very hard not to think on it too much, and ignored the way his pulse elevated.

He nodded, and tried to appear as relaxed as possible when he walked the few steps over to Sherlock and sat on the surface of the stone; even through the seat of his trousers John could tell it was so cold it may as well have been a block of ice.

“Ta.” John nodded and adjusted his position, grateful to be sitting despite the renewed energy he felt to walk.

Sherlock waved a hand. “It’s not my stone.”

John restrained a smile. “Still, thanks.” John glanced at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye.

Sherlock conceded with a nod and merely returned to mouthing the cigarette.

John gulped. How can someone make such an awful habit look that…bewitching?       

He shook the thought off and breathed for a moment.

John was beside him.

John, sitting close enough to touch, beside Sherlock.

In person.

John exhaled loudly. Fantastic. I can and will control myself.

He crossed his arms and leaned back a little.

“So, why are you out here?” John turned his body slightly toward Sherlock, right foot resting on the thigh of his left leg.

“The weather, obviously.”

John raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

Sherlock inhaled a drag from his cigarette. “Yes. In there-” Sherlock gestures behind them with a nod of his head, smoke escaping his mouth with each word. “-it is confining, people constantly asked me how I was feeling. Tiresome, and annoying. Out here-” Sherlock pointed carelessly with his cigarette-free hand to garden in front of them. “-I can be alone without droves of idiots wanting to talk to me. I have the weather to thank for that.”

“Ah.” John nodded and scuffed the ground with the heel of his boot.

Sherlock sighed. “I didn’t mean you; you are evidently cleverer than the average idiot.”

John snorted. “Thanks.”

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitched. “You’re welcome.”

John smiled quietly to himself, insulting though they were; Sherlock’s backhanded compliments were entertaining he could admit. And John could understand what Sherlock meant, John may not have agreed with all of the people in the centre being idiots, but there definitely was something…calming, and conducive to thinking here; snowy, cold, devoid of life. Definitely a place to come and be alone, which was what Sherlock clearly intended, particularly since the rock garden was the furthest corner of the property a person could get without being out of sight of the facility itself.

“I…when I awoke, I found it difficult being inside that place.”

Sherlock breaking the silence had John refocusing on him with intent, especially since there was something new, and dare he think it – vulnerable, in Sherlock’s voice.

Sherlock had straightened out his legs, now crossed at the ankle in front of him, and had one arm hugging himself as the other continued the passage from cigarette to mouth. Most of all, his face was drawn and staring into his lap with a troubled frown.

John’s instinct told him it was very important that he not say anything and just let Sherlock talk.

“Everything was very present, and raw for the first few hours. That building reminded – reminds me greatly of the home Admon and his family lived in during summers, and they would move up from London for a few months. I tagged along a couple of times.” Sherlock straightened his posture and looked pointedly away, as though trying to hide himself. “Initially, weak as it was, let’s just say there was more than one reason for me to want to be out of there, other than to escape the company of my brother and everyone else.”

His voice didn’t change, but Sherlock did tense when he said his long passed friend’s name. John wondered how long it had been since he said it out loud, hearing him say it here, right now, beside John…John knew this was important. His heart ached at the look on Sherlock’s face, perhaps not wrung with the sting of new grief, but scarred with the memories of old pain. And John felt deeply honoured that Sherlock was allowing John this glimpse, of his own free will, and not at the behest of his fractured mind.

And still Sherlock called himself weak, when there was no doubt in John’s mind, no matter the short length they’d known each other, he was the strongest man he knew.

 

‘…I believe it would’ve made the ensuing years after losing Admon easier if he looked to his feelings as a source of strength, and not a weakness…’

 

John didn’t need Mycroft’s words to believe that.

“You’re not weak.” John stated firmly, resting his hand flat on the stone between them as he stared Sherlock down.

Sherlock flinched, as if he’d forgotten momentarily that John was there, but he looked at John – first his hand, then his face – with surprise at how emphatic John had spoken.

He frowned. “I-”

No.” John cut his other hand through the air.

Sherlock tensed defensively. “If I weren’t-”

“No!” John’s voice increased in volume. “You lost someone you cared deeply for, that doesn’t go away. Believe me, I know. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. And if I have to bang that into your head every day for the rest of my life, so help me, I will.” John turned to face Sherlock completely now, near desperate to get his words through the thick skull of the man beside him.

Sherlock went from purposefully aloof to almost tenderly amused by the end of John’s little speech.

Sherlock parted his mouth, but then closed it again; face drawn in deep thought. He turned away from John and once again faced out towards the rocky garden.

“Any head banging won’t be necessary.” Sherlock muttered around the base of his cigarette.

John blinked in surprise. He’d half expected an argument, and even though John didn’t get point-blank acceptance from Sherlock (not that John expected to) he didn’t receive outright denial either. John knew that was all he would get for now.

“We’ll see.” John shrugged and matched Sherlock’s pose, exhaling deeply with a shiver. “Having a heart and a massive intellect don’t automatically cancel each other out you know.”

Sherlock inhaled more smoke. “Is that so?”

John looked at Sherlock carefully. “Obviously.”

Sherlock’s mouth twitched in a smile, sad though it was.

A few moments passed in silence.

“The rest of your life, hm?” Sherlock’s warm, deep voice cut through the cold air.

John closed his eyes briefly. Shit. He felt Sherlock watching his profile intently. John hadn’t meant to imply what he clearly did, John half-assumed in his own mind – with their bond and all – that it was simply fact. Maybe Sherlock took it as an unwanted intrusion.

What should he say?

“Yeah, um-”

“It probably would take that long to make me believe something I have no particular desire to anyway.” Sherlock hummed matter-of-factly. “I’ve been told I’m more than a little hard-headed.”

John flashed his eyes open and stared at Sherlock.

Warmth suffused his system.

“Only a little?” John scoffed.

Sherlock grinned and looked at John. “Wait until you know me a little better.”

John laughed – mostly because Sherlock had all but explicitly confirmed that of course John would be around, and giddy relief was making him feel light in spite of the nature of their conversation and what lead them here.

John hadn’t wanted to assume, but it seemed it wouldn’t have mattered if he did.

“I can’t wait.” John nodded with a smile.

John suspected there would be times he would regret saying that, like when his temper got the best of him – and he instinctively knew Sherlock would be the type of man to stoke his ire on occasion, but something told him in the end, no matter what happened, it would be alright. At the very least, knowing Sherlock Holmes would certainly not be boring.

He tried not to read too much into the fond gaze Sherlock was watching him with.

John coughed awkwardly and shifted a bit on the spot.

Snow began to fall, light, and when one clump landed on the tip of Sherlock’s nose and the man crossed his eyes indignantly - trying to see it, John couldn’t help it what happened next.

He goddamn howled and collapsed onto his back.

Sherlock was looking at him like John was the insane one; this only made John laugh more. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed this much.

When John failed to notice that he was dangerously close to falling over the edge of the stone, and did so with an embarrassing squeak of surprise and landed face down on a pile of snow.

The laugh Sherlock expelled into the air then made the embarrassment almost worth it.

Oh who was John kidding? Of course the snow freezing his face and making itself comfy in the neck of his coat, was a worthy sacrifice if it made Sherlock laugh like that.

But only barely.

John was not a fan of snow getting in his pants.

John pushed himself out of the pile with an angry huff, and stumbled backwards as he quickly brushed snow off his front.

He wasn’t looking, but John could hear Sherlock still giggling unashamedly.

“You just watch yourself.” John huffed and pointed determinedly at the sniggering Sherlock still sitting primly on the rock, cigarette dangling from his mouth. “I would have no compunction about pushing you.” John took his gloves off again. “See how you like snow freezing your bollocks.” John did a funny a little jumping movement to try and dislodge bits of quickly melting snow that made their way past the waistband on his trousers and, unfortunately, into his pants.

Sherlock tittered and watched John with amusement. “I’m perfectly fine with watching you, thanks.”

Dickhead.

John grumbled, trying very hard not to smile.

He cupped his hands around his mouth, and on an exhale John summoned his Magick again to increase his core body temperature; the result of which made the cold liquid on his skin begin to dry.

John sighed in relief and replaced the gloves on his hands.

“Better?”

John looked up and nodded at Sherlock.

“Much.”

He made his way over and resumed sitting on the rock, a little further away from the edge this time. However, this caused the sleeve of John’s coat to brush up against Sherlock’s.

John didn’t move, hoping not to bring attention to it.

There was a surreal sense to what just happened, not necessarily in a bad way, but John had yet to be playful like that with Sherlock. Perhaps it was vaguely inappropriate given the overall seriousness of what they had been talking about, but clearly neither of them seemed to mind.

It was worth it seeing, and hearing, Sherlock laugh with his entire body. A part of John had the passing thought that nothing could ever surpass the beauty of witnessing that.

John had never been so happy to embarrass himself before.

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It seemed the more time that passed, the awkward feeling of the tension surrounding them lessened. There was still the heavy presence of all that happened looming, but overall it definitely felt more comfortable than before.

It was a nice feeling, being that content with someone – let alone a practical stranger in many respects.

John sighed and breathed in deeply; the contrast of the cool, snow air, and warmth flooding his body a welcome tonic to the emotions whirring around his heart and mind.

It was when, again, Sherlock finished a cigarette and reached for another one (Christ, how is that man not shaking? Must have something to do with his Enchanter physiology, they’re not immune to the effects of nicotine, but are more resilient in general) that John said something.

“Do you seriously intend on smoking the entire pack?” John eyed the offending pack disdainfully.

“Yes.” Sherlock lit it up with the lighter and inhaled with a grateful sigh. “I have five years of smoking to catch up on, after all.”

John scowled and crossed his arms. “Where did you even get those? Mycroft said you stole them.” Even if he hadn’t told John, he knew there was no way anyone here would willingly give him cigarettes, or any unhealthy vice for that matter.

Sherlock nodded, looking far too pleased with himself. “From the pockets of a few distracted, unsuspecting Nurses and one security guard.”

John blinked. “Plural?

Sherlock lifted three more packs of cigarettes from a pocket out of John’s immediate view.

Christ. John groaned.

When he replaced them, John was resting his head in his hands. He’s determined I’ll give him that.

How he managed to steal those, not once but several times, without getting caught (except obviously by Mycroft) John could not figure out.

He was impressed despite himself.

“How did you even manage that?” John lifted his head and looked at Sherlock, waving at the pocket containing the multiple cigarette packs.

“Distraction and Deductive reasoning. It wasn’t all that difficult.” Sherlock shrugged.

Of course not. John forced himself not to roll his eyes and straightened out of his hunched position.

John sighed. “Ok, I’ll bite. Tell me.”

“Staff are not allowed to smoke during their shift, even on designated breaks. No matter the supposedly superior knowledge of health, the medical profession has its own fair share of smokers. It was simply a matter of a conveniently well-timed exploration of the facility, considering I’d never been here before and have all but healed from my ordeal, no one questioned it. No one was willingly going to give me cigarettes, idiots, as if being told no has ever stopped me.” Sherlock snorted and paused to inhale and exhale some smoke. John could imagine Sherlock was probably an absolute horror as a child. “Dedicated cigarette smokers will always have yellow staining not just on their teeth, but on their fingertips and nails as well. I timed my “exploration” towards the end of a shift so I could spot those with the tell-tale tremors associated with going for too long without time to smoke. After that it was simply a matter of taking a staff outfit from an unsuspecting laundry cart, putting it on which would deter all but the most observant of individuals – like I said, they are idiots – long enough for me to sneak into the staff locker room, one of the benefits of having my unique set abilities is being impervious to most if not all Magick barriers, and locate the lockers of those I’d deduce were smokers. If I actually used Magick, that would’ve drawn attention to myself. Lucky for me I mastered lock picking years ago, and used a paperclip I found on the lobby desk to pick the locks. Easy.”

John gawped. “Easy? You’re bloody mad.” John exhaled in disbelief. “Amazing, but utterly mad.”

Sherlock grinned. “Of course.”

John shook his head, a laughing smile on his face despite himself. “So you stole all their cigarettes? Seriously?”

Sherlock looked at John; affronted.

“Of course not-” John wrinkled his brow in confusion, about to speak when Sherlock continued. “-I left behind half a pack each, I’m not cruel.”

John chortled. “How considerate of you.”

“I am capable on occasion.” Sherlock hummed with a nod.

John again shook his head, slowly, with barely restrained amusement. Bloody mad.

“You’re unbelievable.”

Sherlock glanced at John before resuming his gaze forward with a slight smile. “Ta.”

Still humble as ever – but of course the man knew John meant it more as compliment than anything else.

It bothered John surprisingly little that Sherlock essentially committed a crime. Maybe that said something about him, but honestly, John didn’t care if it did. The only thing that truly bothered him was Sherlock smoking period.

John breathed and took in the changing scenery. The slow moving snow gave everything an ethereal sensation, a group of bright red birds and rays of sun piercing through the dusky clouds only added to the feeling that the bubble that existed around them, right then, was a whole world unto itself.

John missed London, but this was beautiful.

John had to consciously stop himself from leaning across that last tiny bit of space between him and Sherlock and rest against his side.

“I’d forgotten what it felt like.” Sherlock murmured; quiet, and soft.

“Hm?” John watched Sherlock curiously, and waited for him to clarify what he meant.

Sherlock’s mouth parted slightly, streams of smoke came out as he did so, but then he closed it again. He didn’t speak for a moment, and John continued to wait patiently. Sherlock inhaled and exhaled from the cigarette a few more times before he spoke again.

“Companionship.” Sherlock finally finished, pointedly not looking at John.

He seemed almost…nervous?

It was a complete divergence from the easy, almost confident nature of his humour barely minutes before.

Sherlock was a man of many contrasts it seemed.

It perhaps should’ve hit John immediately, but it took a few seconds to realize that Sherlock was referring to him.

Whatever the full breadth was of what Sherlock intended to express, John knew it was an important and vulnerable declaration on the man’s part, given the situation. John knew if he brought attention to that fact Sherlock would shut him down.

So John didn’t say anything. Instead, he took a risk and scooted the tiniest bit closer, finally resting his arm against the long line of Sherlock’s.

John was worried he’d misinterpreted, or overstepped somehow when Sherlock tensed for a moment, but his worries were soon banished when Sherlock relaxed into John’s side.

John’s mouth turned up in a small, yet happy smile.

“I’m leaving tomorrow.”

John’s smile disappeared and he looked up at Sherlock with a scowl. “How are you even well enough to go?”

Quite frankly, despite how much better Sherlock looked, he still seemed like he was barely three steps away from keeling over – and that’s not even taking into account the amount of cigarettes the idiot man had smoked.

“Technically, I’m not.” Sherlock breathed out deeply, not looking at John. “However, since my Magick has all but fully healed to the point where I don’t even need a restraint anymore, I could theoretically convalesce, physically and mentally, anywhere. I would rather do so in my home. I called in a favour and will have assistance in breaking out tomorrow evening.”

John looked at him doubtfully and crossed his arms. “Really? You’re going to break out?”

Sherlock sighed. “No. The truth is much less interesting, when I woke up Mycroft asked me what I wanted – I told him I wanted to go home. As much as I hate admitting it, having a brother with as much political clout as he has comes in handy on occasion. He agreed to my premature release from the Centre, on the condition that I receive daily in house treatment from some of his medical staff for the next several weeks – much to my annoyance.” Sherlock sounded enormously put out by this. “At least I’ll be suffering in home.”

John’s mouth twitched. “You’re not a hundred percent yet; they will be there to help you get better. That’s not a bad thing.”

While John couldn’t say he was happy about Sherlock leaving so soon, he was glad to hear he wouldn’t be leaving care altogether – something he still needed, whatever he may believe – and that he would be receiving it at home. After what Sherlock had been through, a familiar environment could only be a benefit.

Sherlock harrumphed. “They work for my brother.” He said, as if that was answer enough for his ire. John sighed. “In all likelihood they’ll be more a hindrance than help, maybe if I experiment with Hydrogen sulfide they’ll leave.”

John blinked. “You experiment with Hydrogen sulfide?

Sherlock waved away his concern, as if he wasn’t experimenting with something that was extremely deadly.

“I am a trained chemist with decades of experience, John. I know what I’m doing. Besides, I’m not saying I’d actually do it, far too complicated.” Sherlock shrugged. “Probably just put some fiber glass in their shoes.” John eyed Sherlock sharply. As if feeling his stare, Sherlock turned and saw the unblinking way John was staring at him with disapproval. Sherlock squirmed and twisted his mouth unhappily. “Fine.” He sighed and looked away, breathing on his cigarette. “You’re no fun.”

John snorted. “Yeah, I’m no fun at all because I don’t like the idea of you experimenting with deadly gas because it smells bad or putting fiberglass in people shoes.” John crossed his arms.

He is completely ridiculous. Why am I attracted to him again?

“I’m glad we agree.” Sherlock side-glanced John with a teasing glint to his eye.

John exhaled an exasperated sigh.

Sherlock, goddamn smiled, a sight John found himself momentarily caught in.

Oh, that’s why.

“Apparently I’ll be able to leave in a few weeks myself.” John interjected, in an effort to control the wayward nature of his thoughts.

John was still processing that. It seemed too good to be true, but John wasn’t about to shoot that gift horse in the mouth. John still had very little idea about what he was going to do afterwards, both immediately and in the future, but John was filled with a sense of renewed hope that whatever happened, he would figure it out. And probably, hopefully, Sherlock would be a part of his life from that point on.

Sherlock hummed. “I thought as much.” A strong gust of wind blew around the halo of his dark, curly hair. Sherlock tapped the dead ash off the end of his cigarette and gazed at the ground for a moment as he inhaled warm smoke. “So, where are you headed once you leave this place?”

John wasn’t certain if the question coming from Sherlock was out of genuine curiosity, or a sense of reciprocity, mostly he sounded a tad awkward for some reason.

Regardless, John gave it honest thought. Might as well start.

He breathed in. “I don’t know, probably find another bachelor flat in London, stay there for a few months; I can’t afford to stay longer than that. Probably not even that long, my army pension isn’t exactly a lot of money. Maybe I’ll get a job, go from there.” John shrugged and didn’t look at Sherlock while he answered.

On the surface it was awfully mundane and not that impressive a plan, but it was what he had and John had no choice but to make the most of it. Without the limp and tremor impeding his way, he could feasibly try finding a job at a clinic -

“You’ll move in with me.” Sherlock declared.

- Huh?

John whipped around to face Sherlock. He phrased it like a statement; no asking first, the man was just sitting there, smoking, entirely unconcerned like what he said was assumed.

John felt a bit thrown. He shook his head and blinked quickly. “Sorry, what?”

“I play the violin when I’m thinking, sometimes I don’t talk for days on end, when I’m in deep thought on a case I have a habit of levitating off the ground – some people find it disconcerting, would that bother you? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.” Sherlock looked at John quickly enough to give him a small, impish smile.

“Flatmates?” John knew he was parroting, but at that moment he was justifiably too taken aback to do much more.

“Yes. I have been informed Mrs. Hudson hasn’t let out 221b since the start of my coma, I know I have a room, and I’m sure Mrs. Hudson will be grateful for another tenant to inflict her tea and biscuits on. Financially speaking it would be easier for both of us, and you’ve seen the place, even at that time I noticed that you found it appealing – it’s not all that different in reality.” Sherlock paused and brought his cigarette in for another drag, but hesitated as a carefully veiled expression came over his face. Sherlock breathed in deeply, and settled his faintly trembling hand on his knee. He didn’t look at John. “But not only that, the nature of Coniuncti Sumus is a unique one and would require, in the long run, a certain degree of closeness…cohabitating is really the only viable choice.”

In spite of the confident way in which Sherlock simply declared John would be living with him, regardless of John not having said anything yet, the mention of their bond seemed to nip that confidence at its root and Sherlock became almost demure, uncertain of himself.

Clearly the subject made Sherlock uncomfortable, and while John could think of several reasons why – he didn’t know for sure.

Otherwise, John had to admit Sherlock was right. And just the thought of not wallowing in a dingy flat on his own, again, was fantastic – not to mention the fact that he would be living with Sherlock, which would no doubt drive him to madness sometimes but John sure as hell would never be bored.

Before John said anything on that though, since Sherlock brought it up, he was curious about something.

Sherlock had resumed smoking, but one of his feet had begun bouncing up and down and he still was very obviously not looking at John.

Since he wasn’t really sure exactly how Sherlock felt about the fact that they were Magickally bonded, John tried to approach his question as cautiously as possible.

“How did you…figure out-”

“If I had been in my right mind, I would’ve figured it out the moment you arrived in my Mind Palace. As it was, the picture didn’t coalesce until…” Sherlock coughed and gestured between himself and John. John felt a blush on his cheeks, but said nothing and merely nodded. Right, when we kissed – when I kissed you. “At which point I felt-” Sherlock’s eyes darted briefly towards John. “-your emotions in a way that would only be possible through such a bond.”

John inhaled sharply. …Shit. Sherlock had felt his emotions?

“Oh, erm, what do you mean-”

“I couldn’t tell what you were thinking, if that’s what you’re worried about. I only got a, very strong sense of your primary emotion at the time. Since I am not an empath, and we’re not otherwise bonded in any way that would affect how my Magick functions, it was the only conclusion I could come to. Mycroft confirmed it when I woke.”

“Ah, of course.” John fidgeted a bit on the spot; torn between asking Sherlock what emotion he felt from John, and not wanting to know at all.

John figured he could guess the general vein of what he’d been feeling anyway. If that was the case, then how Sherlock had reacted since was interesting – he didn’t seem disgusted or put off in any way, in fact John hadn’t really seen or felt anything negative at all coming from Sherlock.

What did that mean?

Sherlock broke the somewhat awkward silence before John could.

“Your skills as an Army Doctor would be useful as well-” The complete about face in the conversation had John reeling for a few seconds, but they were at a stalemate and since clearly neither of them knew what to say at that point, John was grateful for change. “-I could use an assistant to work with me on cases, and interact with the idiotic police force – Lestrade, whom you met, is the only one tolerable. Should you desire,” Sherlock once again hugged his middle as he fiddled with the lit cigarette in his hand. “Could be dangerous; a lot of injuries, violent deaths, no shortage of adrenaline, much like a battlefield I would imagine. More fulfilling than any clinic job you would get.” That time when Sherlock looked at John there was definite sparkle in his eyes as he watched John closely.

John raised an eyebrow and leaned back with crossed arms. “I’ve seen more than enough of my fair share of that to last a life time.”

Sherlock’s expression didn’t change. “Interested?”

John didn’t even hesitate.

“Oh god yes.” John didn’t just mean in regards to the rather bizarre “job” offer either.

Gathering by the way Sherlock’s face lit up, he knew it too – and was obviously more than pleased.

“Excellent.” Sherlock nodded at John with a satisfied grin and gazed forward.

Well, ok then.

It took a moment for what just happened to fully hit John, but when it did…John felt anticipation for what was to come in a way he hadn’t for a long time. John felt alive again.

He let out a sigh of such deep, happy relief that right afterwards he felt a gentle pressure in his side.

John’s confused brow wrinkle smoothed out when he saw that Sherlock was leaning more heavily against him. The man didn’t look any different otherwise.

John bit his lip to keep from smiling.

The silence that followed lasted for several minutes, both men content to be quiet, the only sounds being the twitter of birds, the snow-filled wind and deep breathing of the chilled duo who had no particular desire to move.

Eventually though, John honestly couldn’t think of anything more he had to say. And when he looked at Sherlock for the first time in several, quiet minutes, the man had returned to a more statuesque posture on the rock, no longer leaning quite so heavily against John; and his eyes had a faraway look to them that vaguely reminded John of how he saw Sherlock a couple of times inside the man’s head.

There was a slight frown to his brow, and John wondered what he was thinking about now.

When he didn’t say anything for another few minutes, John thought that maybe Sherlock was done talking for now.

He wasn’t leaving until tomorrow, plus John should probably check back in with the staff inside before it got too late. Already the sun’s light had gotten significantly dimmer compared to what it had been when John first came out here.

John thought about saying something to excuse himself, but didn’t feel particularly inclined to disturb him – not when there was something so entrancing about Sherlock’s face suffused with deep thought.

John pushed himself off the rock and stood; shaking some life back into his stiff, chilled legs.

He’d barely taken one step before a hand tugged firmly on Johns coat sleeve; pulling John back, rather ungracefully, onto the stone. Sherlock’s hand let go the minute John righted himself.

If Sherlock wanted him to stay, John didn’t understand why he couldn’t have just asked instead of nearly causing him to fall over by pulling on him.

John turned to glare at Sherlock.

What the h-” John’s jaw shut with a snap when he saw him.

Sherlock had pulled his knees back up against his chest, one arm casually draped over them as the other fiddled with an unlit cigarette, dexterous fingers, indicative of a violinist’s, distractedly twirling the cylinder between his fingers.

He no longer seemed so far away in his thoughts, but all the lines in his face were accentuated by the deep creases between his eyebrows, sad twist to his mouth and glistening sheer to his eyes.

John noticed Sherlock’s other hand, that didn’t hold the cigarette, was gripping his other knee very tightly, mostly out of John’s line of sight.

In fact, Sherlock’s entire body was tense.

John turned more fully to face him, suddenly feeling concerned that something was wrong.

“Sherlock? What is it?” John clenched his hands to keep from reaching out, Sherlock practically screamed don’t touch me right now.

“You are…different, than him.” Sherlock’s words were barely audible, so quiet John almost didn’t hear them.

But hear them he did. Sherlock seemed confounded by his own words for some reason, but John could guess with near certainty who he was talking about.

Passed that though, John halted – not sure how to take the comparison Sherlock just made. Why? He sounds like…like he’s lost.

John remained silent, heart pounding in his chest.

“You are more emotionally intelligent than I John, and a Doctor, tell me,” Sherlock was staring outward to some distant beyond, he spoke louder – though not by much; soft melancholy filled his voice. “, what is the protocol if, allegorically speaking, a broken heart starts beating again?”

John couldn’t tell if the question was rhetorical or not, and if it wasn’t John was reluctant to think too much on what Sherlock could be implying, so for his own sanity he didn’t at that time.

Nevertheless, if John didn’t know the context of the question, he would’ve found it a strange question for Sherlock to ask. It still was, but Sherlock had had a broken heart before, he had to have been referring to himself.

John’s mouth parted, but he closed it again. Christ, how can I bloody answer that? And why is he asking me? I’m not that emotionally intelligent.

He heard, and saw, Sherlock light yet another cigarette.

“Those things will kill you, you know.” John eyed the billowing smoke with distaste.

“I think I deserve a cigarette or two.”

John snorted and nodded at the growing pile of butts at his side.

“Only a few huh-”

“You’re avoiding the question.” Sherlock cut John off.

John sighed. Yeah, I am, because I have no idea how to answer it.

“I don’t know.” It was the truth, because what Sherlock asked…it was so subjective.

John.” Sherlock looked at him them, his voice was stern – but the way he said John’s name was a barely concealed plea.

“It’s different for everyone Sherlock, I don’t know if I can-”

“Try.” The ‘please’ didn’t need to be spoken.

Sherlock turned away from John, his mouth pressed into a thin line.

John could hardly say no to that, he had to try, and hope he wouldn’t fuck up in some way.

“I suppose I would decide if the potential reward was worth the risk of having my heart broken, again.” John leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, refusing to look at Sherlock as he spoke, instead focusing on his clasped hands.

There was something new building there, and to John it felt dangerous in a way he couldn’t quite place. Why is Sherlock asking me this?

Beyond a considering hum, Sherlock was silent at John’s side for a moment.

“How does…one decide it’s worth?” Sherlock finally asked in earnest.

John sighed and casually clapped his hands together. “I think, that’s likewise different for everyone.”

“Have you ever been cursed with being in love, John?”

Christ. John clenched his eyes shut. Why did you have to ask me that?

John supposed, that for Sherlock, his love – unfulfilled, though not entirely unrequited – would’ve felt more like a curse than anything, given what happened and society at the time; which was, though better, still wasn’t perfect..

The image of Sherlock crying over Admon’s body flashed with pain in the forefront of John’s mind. “No.” John whispered. Not like that.

Another reason I am grossly unqualified to be having this conversation.

John had of course been in relationships before, and loved them, but…from his side; he didn’t really feel anything beyond infatuation, lust or deep friendship for his partners.

Heartbreak, to the degree Sherlock felt, was an experience John had yet to feel.

All John could hear at that moment was the pounding beat of his heart in his ears, and more so than ever he was suddenly very much aware of how close Sherlock was beside him.

John gulped. Another image, this time of the kiss Sherlock and he shared on the cliff, inundated his body, shadows of the sensation he felt then – more powerful than anything he’d ever felt before, was sharp electricity to John’s system.

And he knew then, for sure, where this – this thing between him and Sherlock was inevitably going to lead. John wasn’t there, but to use a metaphor, the train had already pulled away from the station on a one-way track with one destination.

Perhaps John would get to experience heartbreak for himself in the not too far distant future after all.

“Not yet.” John murmured to himself on a cracked exhale.

John hadn’t really meant to say that out loud.

He really, really didn’t.

Shit.

When John realized he did his pulse spiked in something akin to panic and his hands clenched together.

Maybe Sherlock hadn’t heard, and if he did, maybe he wouldn’t suspect I was thinking of-

John steeled himself to look at Sherlock.

Sherlock…was staring at him; eyes wide, lips slightly parted, lit cigarette abandoned between his fingers, he looked like he’d been flash frozen, Sherlock was completely rigid.

Double shit.

Fuck, what should I say?

Master of deduction idiot, of course he could read between the lines, it wasn’t like you were trying very hard to disguise it.

John clenched his hands into tight fists atop his thighs and, trying very, very hard to remain calm – even with his insides screaming - John pushed himself up to sitting.

Sherlock didn’t move, his eyes were stuck on where John had just been.

Bugger goddamnit. Should I just…go?

Again, this shouldn’t feel more terrifying than entering a bloody warzone for Christ’s sake!

John opened his mouth, but couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

This was going to make living together enormously awkward, if Sherlock even still wanted-

“I don’t know if I could go through it again.”

The abruptness of Sherlock’s words, and the way he uttered them, had John still entirely.

Sherlock was distancing himself with how he phrased it; but there was a barely controlled shakiness to his breathing and faint tremble in his hands, and shadows of pain over his face that betrayed him.

Sherlock looked at John with watery eyes, mouth parted. The man blinked and shook himself angrily, tightening the lines of his mouth; looking away from John completely.

That time, John read between the lines.

‘I don’t think I can go through it again.’

John inhaled sharply, pulse racing.

“Sherlock-”

“I can’t. Not again.” Sherlock was muttering angrily to himself, all pretense of distance gone. The cigarette fell from Sherlock’s shaky fingers and singed with a final puff of smoke onto the white, undisturbed snow.

John pushed away his own blundering feelings for the moment.

He couldn’t turn his gaze away from the visage of Sherlock, torn, in pain, fighting with himself, trying so hard to control himself. At that moment he reminded John all too painfully of the broken-hearted Sherlock he saw before in those memories.

Only this time, John sensed the reason for this was less straightforward than it appeared.

Sherlock looked like he’d walked into a trap without having noticed, and it was too late to turn back.

It hurt.

“You don’t have to.” John tried reassuring him. “You do have a choice.”

He wanted to reach out, hold Sherlock, comfort him in some way, but John was torn about what would be welcome, especially then.

John forced himself to remain still – it was exceptionally difficult.

Sherlock snorted a bitter laugh. “Do I?” He became eerily motionless then. His only movement was the fingers of his hand, which he’d place between him and John, clenching and unclenching – like he wasn’t the only one trying to control himself.

John felt a pang in his heart.

Oh Sherlock…

He considered Sherlock’s response, and closed his parted mouth with a sigh.

John allowed himself to scoot a little closer to Sherlock, he flattened out his hand and slid it towards Sherlock’s own on the stone between them, but John stopped himself from touching him just in time.

Sherlock frowned and turned to look, his gaze became glued to the sight of their hands; fingertips nearly touching.

John couldn’t read the expression on his face.

“You can choose what you do.” John finally said, inadvertently using his Captain voice; steady, no trace of doubt. He patted the stone firmly between them.

It was true.

John didn’t choose to feel this way about Sherlock, but what he did – that John had control over.

Whatever the end result, ignoring how it might affect himself, John knew this was an important distinction John needed Sherlock to see, for both their sake.

A part of John was still reeling and in shock by what all this implied; that Sherlock somehow, miraculously, felt something – whatever it was – towards John that surpassed friendship. John doubted Sherlock would be reacting this strongly, let alone would’ve brought up the subject in the first place, if he didn’t.

“You…may have a point.” Sherlock conceded with a nod, his voice quiet, and tone thoughtful.

John had no doubt Sherlock could hide his feelings quite well, if he so chose, and maybe he was – but at that moment, John thought Sherlock seemed less distressed than before. It was still there, but to John, Sherlock now seemed to be considering something, distant in thought more than anything else.

Relief.

John closed his eyes briefly and exhaled.

“Of course I do.” John found himself saying with an almost Sherlock-like tone of voice, in effort to deflate some of the tension that was honestly starting to make John feel nauseas with unease and the sheer amount of emotion roiling through him.

John saw Sherlock’s mouth twitch and something in him relaxed.

There was silence. Sherlock didn’t move, just continued to stare at their hands with an unreadable expression.

After a moment however, Sherlock did move; pulling his hand back and turning to look back out towards the garden.

It didn’t take long before John got the feeling that Sherlock had gone into a world of his own, and that John had been effectively shut out.

John curled his fingers inward and replaced them in his own lap.

John breathed in deeply, trying to calm his racing heart, and looked around at the surrounding area; more practical thoughts settling themselves in his head.

The snow was falling harder, daylight vastly shrinking.

And there was no sign of Sherlock talking any time soon.

John sighed. I should probably go.

He hoped they would be able to talk again soon, if not in depth than at least to…clear the air somewhat, ideally he wanted to hear Sherlock say something along the lines of ‘we’re ok’, but for now John clearly needed to exercise his patience. And besides, John could use a few moments to be alone and think too, after he dealt with the medical staff of course. Joy. John felt a lot more ok with that though, maybe it was because he genuinely believed now that come what may, things would turn out alright; broken heart or not. John would deal.

So John lifted himself up with a quiet groan, once again shaking out his stiff limbs, and pushed his hands deeply into the pockets of the Centre issued winter coat.

Yeah, it would be fine. John nodded to himself, and with a final, guilty, glance at Sherlock – still staring forward, hair billowing around his face – John sighed and began making his way out of the rock garden.

Once again, John barely got a few steps away before he was stopped.

“I think I need…time, to think, to be certain.”

John’s heart skipped a beat. Or two.

He ceased walking, but John stayed where he was (a few feet behind the rock) as he turned around to face Sherlock.

The man was still facing forward, back to John, but clearly he hadn’t been as unaware as John thought.

“Alright.” John breathed out.

When Sherlock didn’t say anything further, John was about to turn around and leave again, when he saw him – still not facing John – make a ‘come hither’ gesture with his hand.

What does he want?

John fortified himself and agreed to the request by returning to Sherlock. He stood beside him in front of the rock this time, it was had grown far too cold to sit. Not only that, John had no idea what Sherlock wanted to say, he needed the security of standing.

Sherlock was no longer gazing forward, but at John this time.

The look on his face reminded John of how Sherlock looked at him in his mind. And John was no closer to knowing exactly what it indicated.

Sherlock didn’t say anything.

Just…stared.

John tried to meet his gaze, but having those eyes so mysteriously fixated on him had John wanting to squirm.

He coughed, glanced around with forced casualness that had John feeling like an awkward teenager again, and clenched his hands within the pockets of his coat.

“What?” John finally asked, he didn’t mean it to sound at all harsh, but something in Sherlock’s expression was unsettling him.

It might’ve been the simple fact that John couldn’t tell what Sherlock was thinking or feeling.

Also it wasn’t fair having that beautiful face scrutinizing at him like that.

Christ, control yourself John! The man is in the middle of emotional crisis for goodness sake!

John was inspecting an utterly uninteresting dead leaf that had somehow blown itself close to his foot when he thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock stand.

John whipped around to look at him in surprise. Sherlock was indeed standing; directly in front of him, that same unreadable expression stark on his face, except that time his eyes were shining with quiet intensity. 

John shifted on his feet and raised an eyebrow. “What-”

John was struck speechless, eyes frozen open, when Sherlock reached out and grabbed his shoulders with both his hands.

He didn’t have time to say anything, not that he could’ve if he wanted to, before Sherlock was leaning down.

At first John thought he was going to kiss him, and he did. Just not on the lips.

Sherlock rested his lips gently against John’s forehead.

John gasped.

The moment Sherlock touched him; John felt his Magick surge – sending tingles like low level, humming electricity through his body.

John thought Sherlock was going to pull away when his lips released contact with John, inwardly John whimpered a tad pathetically.

It was a forehead kiss, it’s not like he bent you over backwards in a dip.

Thanks for that brain.    

It was so much more than that; this was Sherlock willingly, openly sharing this with John, of his own accord. John half-wondered if this was Sherlock’s way of thanking him, letting him down easy, which John would’ve understand no matter how other parts of himself would feel about it.

However, Sherlock didn’t pull away. He rested his forehead against John’s and his entire body melted of tension. Sherlock released his breath in a sigh that coated John’s face.

Oh…

John shivered and involuntarily closed his eyes.

Beside him he heard a small crack, and his Magick tickled with awareness as John felt something rise and settle beside him and Sherlock – in the air.

John frowned and opened his eyes, reluctantly pulling his head away from Sherlock’s (who didn’t let go of John otherwise) and he looked off to his right.

John blinked in confusion for a moment.

Floating in the air, level with John’s eyes was a small stone. It was purple, it looked like the stone (amethyst?) John noticed earlier imbedded in the ground.

Odd.

Something had torn it from its place in the buried mosaic, pulled it up through the snow and levitated it several feet in the air.

…Sherlock?

He looked back at Sherlock, about to ask him if he did that and why – but John shut his mouth abruptly when Sherlock dropped one of his hands and, without physically, touching it, moved the small, smooth stone gently over to John with a wave of his hand.

Is he…giving it to me?

John blinked quickly, eyeing Sherlock and then the stone, waiting for some explanation. He was about to reach up and grab it, but before he could John watched with curiosity as a flap on the front of his coat, on the left side, opened and the stone dropped cleanly as though of its own accord. The flap then buttoned itself securely closed.

John looked at Sherlock, feeling a bit bewildered.

Sherlock dropped his other hand, looking a bit uncomfortable, and gestured nonchalantly towards the ground where the stone had come from.

“You were looking at it, before.” Sherlock said, watching John’s reaction with a deceptively smooth expression.

John’s brow smoothed out, and he bit his lip to keep the smile there from blooming. “Yeah, I was. Ta.” John patted the small lump in the front of his coat.

Sherlock waved off the gratitude, but he was pointedly not looking at John but at some point beyond his shoulder.

If that wasn’t one of the sweetest, most bizarre out of the blue gestures John had ever seen he would eat his own shoe.

Sherlock could really be that adorable.

“You’ll be at 221b in a few weeks?” Sherlock asked with a definite questioning lilt. He looked vastly more uncertain than he had before, which had John wondering if the man thought John wouldn’t want to live with him after all that just happened. As though, because John didn’t get the fairy tale response a part of him wanted (not that he actually expected or wanted to, not like this, Sherlock was right – they needed time) John might not desire to share a flat.

John found that utterly inexplicable, and oddly reassuring – since John had been worrying about the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

Inevitably, John had no doubts when he responded. “I’ll be there.” He nodded firmly with a fixed smile.

This time, he didn’t hold back the gesture he wanted to make. John reached out and patted Sherlock on the shoulder, perhaps lingering a bit before letting his hand fall.

There was still something vaguely melancholy in Sherlock’s face, but the pleased smile he gave John was genuine.

“Thank-you, John.”

The full meaning in those words was vibrant and heavy enough for even John to notice, Sherlock wasn’t thanking him just for that moment

- but for everything.

John’s smile faded into something a little more serious, the weight of everything not so much looming anymore, but an accepted companion.

“No thanks needed.”  

Sherlock shook his head, but didn’t say anything as he showed John a small, startlingly tender smile.

“You are a surprising man, John Watson.”  Sherlock professed before turning around and resuming his sitting position on the rock, but continued looking at John.

You too. John didn’t respond outwardly, but gathering from the small nod of acknowledgment, Sherlock caught the unspoken words just the same.

Still smiling softly, John walked forward; reached out and squeezed Sherlock’s shoulder once.

Sherlock breathed in deeply.

“He would’ve liked you.”

John didn’t need to ask who ‘he’ was.

John smiled sadly. “I’m sure I would’ve liked him.” No doubt.

Sherlock didn’t respond other than gracing John with one last, shining look before once again, staring forward towards the snow covered scenery.

It seemed he had much more to think about.

John let his hand drop and walked away.

The future looked very bright indeed.

 

 

 

~

Chapter Text

 

 

Present time…

 

John closes 'Magickal Minds' with a gentle thud and eyes the shining stone with a fond smile.

The amethyst stone that Sherlock had given to him all those months ago, has remained a fixture on the mantle in 221b from the moment John moved in, three weeks after that day in the rock garden.

It had been a surreal experience, seeing 221b in person, without warped mirages and a floating violin, but when he saw it – he was immediately in love.

He felt at home. John had to restrain himself from laughing when he walked into the living for the first time, suitcases in hand, and saw Sherlock looking like he hadn’t slept in days and furiously searching through a pile of papers on the desk between the two main windows.

The place was a mess.

At the time John wasn’t sure if Sherlock forgot the exact time John was arriving, or if the man was that disorganized – John has since discovered, through living with the man, that no matter how disorganized everything appeared to him, there was order to the chaos that only Sherlock seemed to understand. The first time John tried dusting, he flipped out and John was subject to a lecture on the importance of dust patterns and knowledge they can give.

John still found that moment very amusing when he thought about.

Not as amusing as the moment Sherlock looked up from his pile of case notes, saw John standing there (in Sherlock’s defense, John had arrived an hour earlier than he thought he would) and blinked at him like he couldn’t believe John was really standing there.

It was the first time they had seen each other since the day Sherlock left the Centre, although they had been in contact via phone, mostly texting.

The funny part happened after their first hellos.

Tension bled from Sherlock the moment John stepped into the flat (John himself was relieved and happy beyond words to not only be in a place that felt like a home, but that it was with Sherlock, the man John had since fallen in love with) and Sherlock gave him a visibly delighted smile – made all the more endearing by the complete disordered nature of his appearance; hair wild and askew, robe half-hanging off one shoulder, shirtless and wearing a ratty pair of pyjama trousers.

It was when John put his suitcases down and gazed over the disordered room that Sherlock seemed to jump like he’d remembered something, and Sherlock panicked.

Well, panicked was perhaps a bit strong, but the way Sherlock’s eyes widened and suddenly whirled around the room took John by surprise, and he had been about to ask what happened – when he realized what Sherlock was doing.

Sherlock was tidying, or at least he was trying to. He picked up pillows from the floor, threw them onto chairs and seemed fixated on straightening the items on the mantle, fixing a pile of letters there with a dagger that seemed to come out of nowhere, all the while pushing paper and books out of the way with his feet.

It didn’t really help all that much, but it was, in short, bloody adorable. A thought John kept to himself.

John could only hold his breath of laughter in for so long.

The way Sherlock whirled with tornado like force to face him, and stared at him with narrowed eyes and an indignant expression in the face of John’s mirth, made John bite his lip to keep from laughing anymore.

He told Sherlock not to worry about it at the moment. Sherlock had huffed and seemed to stomp away into the kitchen, pulling out one of the wooden chairs and sitting down; immediately drawn to an open notebook and laptop on the surface.

Clearly Sherlock didn’t appreciate having his efforts laughed at.

But it really was hilarious, and sweet in a way.

Living with Sherlock isn’t easy, at times it is far more difficult than even John can anticipate, more than once John has had to walk away, take a stroll outside and get some air so he wouldn’t say something he’d regret. A lot of it came down to the fact that both Sherlock and John are relentlessly stubborn about their point of views, clashing is inevitable.

In spite of that, it has been the most fulfilling and satisfying fourteen months of John’s life.

Assisting in Detective casework with Sherlock is incredible, and not just because seeing the man work his Magick – both figuratively and literally – is always a sight to behold, but John genuinely enjoys it.

The first time it became apparent exactly how useful the combined power of their Magick could be, was when they were chasing a thief through London side streets who had the annoying, yet objectively useful, ability to run impossibly fast.

There was no way Sherlock and John were going to catch up to him conventionally. John didn’t have to ask what Sherlock intended when the man stopped and turned to face John with urgency.

John reached out and grasped Sherlock’s shoulders at the same moment he closed his eyes and jolted.

It wasn’t the first time John had seen Sherlock’s ability to project himself, but it was the first time John assisted. Due to the suspect’s speed, he had gained a significant amount of distance on them, past Sherlock’s distance to project.

John Augmented his power to give him an extra boost, and hopefully give him the extra distance he needed. While Sherlock wasn’t able to physically interact with the suspect, what he ended up doing was effectively herd him back towards them. Projecting like Sherlock is able to do isn’t exactly common, and when the man appeared out of thin air in front of the suspect it expectedly frightened him and he ran in the opposite direction. What followed was a series of much the same appearances, that eventually led to the man running directly down the alley Sherlock and John were hiding in; under the arch of a shadowed doorway. John had released Sherlock, and Sherlock inhaled sharply as he reoriented himself.

At that point it was a matter of Sherlock handing John a pair of handcuffs (John found out later he’d swiped them from Scotland Yard last time they were there) that worked much like Magickal wrist restraints, and John jumping out at the exact moment the subject ran in front of their hiding spot.

It was a fun evening.

It is often difficult in a different way of course, one time Sherlock was kidnapped and locked in a room with no doors, and Magickal barriers even Sherlock couldn’t break, and slowly filling with water. The only reason he didn’t die was that they, Lestrade, Mycroft and John, found him in time and John’s bond with Sherlock, plus his own Magick, allowed him to break the barriers in concurrence with Sherlock on the other side; both men focused simultaneously and in a flash of light the barriers shattered before their eyes. Once that was out of the way, John warned Sherlock to step to the left, and he fired a bullet from his gun while simultaneously increasing its power and velocity, when it hit the metal a huge whole was blasted clean through it; causing the water within to poor out onto the cement floor. After that, getting Sherlock out was relatively easy. 

No matter that they risked their lives every day doing what they do, that was the first time John was shaken at how close he’d come to losing Sherlock that day. John forced Sherlock to bed, since the man refused to get checked out at the A&E, and poured himself a tumbler of scotch and sat in his chair, staring at the empty fireplace for hours.

That was five months after John moved in. And it was the moment he realized he had fallen, and landed hard.

That truth always became especially apparent when Sherlock played the violin, John discovered quickly that Sherlock was a genius in many ways. He held John spellbound with the beauty those fingers produced upon the string instrument.

It was only when Sherlock scratched away horribly at the strings in frustration in the middle of the night, when some people were actually sleeping, that John was less than pleased. 

Suffice to say, life was – is a constant, strange, mad adventure.

The first time John saw Sherlock levitating; John had come home from the shoppes with several bags of groceries and nearly ran into Sherlock levitating cross legged, in the middle of the living room, eyes closed and his hands rested together in front his chin. John was surprisingly – to Sherlock - unfazed, and merely edged around the floating man and proceeded to put the groceries away.

John and Sherlock mesh and work together brilliantly. They give each other support and another person to talk to, not only that John can say with 100% certainty they are the others best-friends.

John has even grown close to Greg, the latter calls them pub buddies; Sherlock twisted his nose with some distaste the first time he heard Greg use that term. And while John could never say he was close with Mycroft, he’d grown to respect him – up to a point, Sherlock is right about one thing in regards to Mycroft, his brother is very nosy and often situates himself into their lives without prior warning.

And Mrs. Hudson was a wonderful, excited energy that greeted John the first time he entered 221. It was as clear then as it is now that she loves Sherlock dearly, and dotes on him. The few times John was away, visiting old friends or his sister, he knew Sherlock wouldn’t starve himself to death (his eating habits, or lack thereof, are a constant source of bickering between them) as Mrs. Hudson insisted on feeding him with tea and biscuits, sometimes sandwiches, which Sherlock loves even if the man would never openly admit to it. Not just him though, John too.

She is honestly the best landlady John has ever had, and a saint for putting up with them and Sherlock’s mad antics.

When John had a conversation with her that revealed her colourful past, which ended with the story of how she met Sherlock, she said how she will always be grateful to him for making sure her abusive husband couldn’t ever hurt her, or anyone else, every again.

John loved her even more after that, and, if possible, Sherlock.

Over all, John is happy.

And even though their relationship hasn’t grown beyond that, John has continued to respect Sherlock’s rock garden entreaty of ‘needing time’, and since the man hasn’t yet brought it up again since that day, John assumes he isn’t ready to say anything. Maybe he never will be. There is nothing John can do about that, nor would he even if he could.

It kills John, honestly, a little each day to see this man, and be this close to him but have to restrain himself from reaching and kissing him; on the top of Sherlock’s head when he’s bent over his microscope in the kitchen, John on his way to making tea, or when Sherlock falls asleep on the sofa after two days without sleep, completely dead to the word, and all John wants to do is ruffle his hair and kiss his cheek.

John never truly realized how much of a sappy romantic he was, until thoughts like those began popping in his head more and more frequently.

Even though, over time, the two of them have of course grown closer, Sherlock more and more consistently comfortable and relaxed in John’s presence, taking John’s advice and words to heart in a way he doesn’t do with anyone else, John has noticed that Sherlock is still often wary of physical contact with John. Or rather, when even they touch, a shoulder, an arm, Sherlock is obviously content for a moment before a veil falls over his face and he pointedly avoids John for several hours.

John hasn’t talked to Sherlock about it, and each time that happened he has left the man to his own devices. The one time John tried asking him; Sherlock changed the subject before John could barely get a word in.

At one point John had the thought that it wasn’t John himself Sherlock was wary of, but of his own reactions.

It is very, very difficult not being privy to exactly what is going on in Sherlock’s head – when John can see, and feel, that there are moments when Sherlock is deep in thought in such a way that he shuts out the world around him, not quite masking his expression, a battle of emotions evident in the lines of his face.

One effect of their bond that grew over time is that on occasion when one of them is feeling an emotion particularly strongly, the other can feel it.

And John can feel that Sherlock is torn, emotionally.

Sherlock is a contradiction of complicated, predictable and utterly unpredictable. Honestly, it is one of the things that most intrigues and frustrates John about him. The point is, John could guess what Sherlock seems to be increasingly torn about – but in all likelihood he would be wrong.

And in truth, John didn’t want to build up hope that Sherlock might feel the same way about him, or even push his own feelings onto Sherlock if they’re unwanted.

They may be able to feel when the other feels a strong emotion, but it is never specific and unless there is obvious context more often than not John can’t tell what the emotion is being triggered by.

So John is hesitant to guess, and has long decided that when or if Sherlock wants to talk, he will talk.

John may have been privy to much of the man’s emotional network when inside his head, but in many ways Sherlock remains a mystery that John doubts he will ever fully know. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the meantime, John will have to contend himself with loving Sherlock from afar.

And that’s ok. In the end, if nothing more comes of their relationship, John will be happy having Sherlock as his best-friend, because that is privilege enough.

Even with the painful aspects of it, John has never felt more content in his life.

Life is pretty fantastic.

John sighs, smile fixed on his face.

 

It is winter, again, and outside 221b’s windows snow is falling in a gentle cascade. They haven’t had a case for a few days, which Sherlock has been bouncing off walls about, and if he wasn’t near stomping around the flat like a petulant child, he was in silent visage in his black leather chair by the fireplace.

Sherlock was more withdrawn than usual, and earlier today he went out to St. Bart’s because the coroner – an old friend of his named Billy, an interesting young witch – had some organs in from a man who had been found dead in a swamp, surprisingly well preserved.

John made a note to thank Billy when he saw him next; a Sherlock bored and in need of distraction was often volatile. That particular tendency did get worse after Sherlock quit smoking, and restricted himself to as needed nicotine patches. John considers a slightly grumpier Sherlock a worthwhile consequence to the man not puffing himself with endless nicotine, at times Sherlock disagrees.

Even if it came in the form of a rotting corpse, John is grateful that Sherlock finally had something to do, no matter how long it lasted.

John had no particular desire to go, so he remained and began working on writing up their latest case ‘The Geek Interpreter’. As much as John loves the bugger, he is grateful for the few hours of peace he’s had.

It has been several hours, and other than a few texts to comment on the state of the corpse – ‘a vestigial tail, why did he never have it removed, interesting - SH’ or ‘digestive system remarkably well preserved - SH’, followed immediately by, ‘I’m hungry - SH’ and the last, sent two hours ago, ‘Have you ever seen the stomach contents of a man preserved in peat? – SH’, was sent to John along with a picture.

John lost his appetite immediately after.

Overall, it’s a typical day in 221b.

John had received a text from Billy half an hour ago, letting him know that Sherlock had left.

Sherlock hadn’t informed him of any prior plans, and John does find it odd that he heard Sherlock had left from Billy.

When John texted him to ask if he was coming home, Sherlock had replied with a single, terse ‘yes – SH’. Not unusual in of itself, but Sherlock has been more withdrawn lately and John is growing a bit concerned.

The journey from St. Barts to Baker Street is not long, Sherlock should’ve been back by now.

John looks at the clock – ‘7:00pm’ – and makes note of the time, deciding he’ll text Sherlock again in ten minutes if he hasn’t arrived yet.

John wasn’t overly worried, if Sherlock were in any actual physical danger John would feel it due to Coniuncti Sumus.

In the meantime, John put aside the Doyle book on the table beside his chair, and picked up his laptop lying beside it.

Sherlock may poke fun, repeatedly, at John’s blog; but as John constantly reminded him, they got a lot of business from private clients because of it.

John had taken a break from writing up ‘The Geek Interpreter’ to rest his eyes and read, with that done he opens his laptop; new blog entry up and ready, halfway done.

John resumes typing, if a bit awkwardly with the laptop ironically on his lap – but there is no way John is moving from the fire. The electric heat had broken down again, and at the moment the fire is the only thing heating the entire flat, but with the help of a bit of Magick on John’s part, it was flooding every room with comforting heat.

 

‘…Sherlock got me to do some research (which involved me going into a comic shop... oh, the things I saw...) and it turned out that, as expected, sales of KRATIDES had shot through the roof -

 

Bang!

John rapidly stops typing at the sound of the door downstairs opening and closing loudly, probably due to the strong wind outside.

Who could be –

But John’s fleeting confusion is gone when he hears familiar, if marginally slower, footsteps ascending the stairs.

Sherlock. John exhales a bit in relief and recommences writing for the moment, wrapping up the paragraph he’s working on.

Sherlock seems to stop for a moment outside the closed, living room door. John pauses again and looks up towards it with a slight frown.

“Sherlock? You alright?” John calls out.

The door opens.

Sherlock strides in, Belstaff coat and thick woolen silver scarf (courtesy of his mother, John met his parents when they visited unexpectedly last month), aloof like he hadn’t just been loitering outside his own living room door.

“Of course.” Sherlock says as he unwraps the scarf from around his neck and throws both it and the coat onto the sofa; exposing the clean cut suit and white shirt beneath.

John blinks quickly. Something’s off.

Sherlock has yet to look in John’s direction, and the man is currently running on some high energy from one spot in the flat to another, awkwardly straightening loose books, paper and various items they have collected as mementos from various cases; a locket, a bejewelled dagger, a skull (not from a victim, thank God, but from a museum – it was gifted to Sherlock from an anthropologist when he and John solved a series of break ins which resulted in stolen irreplaceable items of history), among others.

John watches him carefully, until Sherlock ends up in front of the fireplace and begins – bloody hellstraightening unopened mail.

Without taking his eyes away, John closes his laptop and puts it on the table beside his chair.

“Sherlock, what’s going on?” If it was a case, or some experiment that had him this disordered, he usually liked using John as a sounding board for his frustration or excitement.

John doesn’t think that’s what this is, not only does his current behaviour contradict it, the primary emotion John is feeling from Sherlock right now is anxiety.

Sherlock jolts, almost like he’d forgotten John is right there, and takes his hands away from the mantle. He doesn’t answer John, but he does sit himself heavily in his chair; his right foot tapping against the ground, fingers drumming random patterns on the armrests.

Still, Sherlock pointedly avoids John’s gaze, instead he stares into the glowing flames of the fire.

His face is heavily masked and unreadable in a way John has long since associated with Sherlock hiding something.

If John couldn’t feel the man’s obvious and extremely heightened anxiety practically filling the room, he might regard the odd way Sherlock was acting as some unexplainable quirk of his – of which there are many.

John leans forward. “Talk to me.” John implores softly. He clasps his hands, elbows resting on his knees with his hands dangling between them.

Sherlock’s brow furrows in response to John’s words, and the jumpy energy he was previously exuding deflates entirely. Sherlock exhales deeply and rests a palm against his face before running slightly shaky fingers through his hair and ruffling his locks angrily.

“Sherlock, seriously-”

“Go on a date with me.”

John is speechless. “I-”

“Last year I know you expressed…romantic sentiment towards me, and while I realize enough time has passed for feelings such as those to change or disappear altogether, if you are still amenable I would like to take you out to Angelo’s, for a proper date.” Sherlock’s panicky drumming with his fingers on chair arms increases and he finally turns away from the burning fire and looks John square in the eye with unblinking determination.

John gulps and tries to calm the frantic racing of his heart.

Am I sleeping? Is this even real? I was certainly not expecting that.

John feels his eyes begin to water. Shit, am I seriously going to cry? That’s just embarrassing.

Captain John Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, Veteran of Afghanistan, crying over the man he’s in love with asking him out on a date.

His old army buddies would probably have a good laugh if they could see him now.

John rests his face in his hands in effort to cover his shining eyes and get some goddamn control over himself.

“I know I am not an ideal romantic partner and that I have no prior relationship experience to speak of-” Sherlock is speaking even faster now, with perhaps a tinge of alarm, maybe because of John’s reaction, in his voice. “-feelings are barely tolerable to me on a good day and I am likely to fail in making you happy, or keeping you sexually satisfied-” Jesus Christ. “-But over the past several months, you have become a great value in my life, more so than I could’ve anticipated, not just in the Work but for me personally, and I realize now that despite years of having no wish to feel anything like it again, I know what I feel for you is…beyond the boundaries of friendship, that it has been steadily growing for quite some time and I would like to-”

“You love me?” John drops his hands and looks up at Sherlock in shock.

Sherlock’s mouth shuts abruptly.

John curses himself inwardly. The man didn’t actually say it idiot, and now you’ve put him on the spot -

“Yes.” Sherlock utters almost too quietly for John to hear, in a way that sounds like he is putting the final nail in his own coffin.

John’s heart stops and he just…stares at Sherlock, heart somewhere in the vicinity of his Elf shoe slippers.

(A gag gift from Greg this Christmas, which John has no intention of telling him he actually wears because they are that bloody comfortable)

There is no hesitation in Sherlock’s eyes, but there is, very obviously, fear.

The poor man looks barely a stone’s throw away from running back out the door he just came in from.

Oh.

Sherlock Holmes, master of deduction, has no idea how I’m going to react. And he’s actually afraid.

Sherlock often has a major blind spot when it comes to observing love in others directed towards his own self, but with their bond John had assumed the man would know how John feels.

Maybe he does, and is just scared that John won’t want to be in a relationship regardless –

Oh!

Admon. Of course.

In the memories, Admon had all but openly admitted he reciprocated Sherlock’s feelings, at least to a degree – even though at the time it would’ve been worlds more dangerous to be in a relationship with a man, and John isn’t married either, Sherlock is afraid that John will love him, but choose not to be in a relationship with him anyway.

Even though knowing his love wasn’t completely unrequited, that still would’ve stung Sherlock deep.

Yeah, I should probably get a hold of myself and say something before Sherlock panics.

John breathes deeply, if Sherlock can be brave and lay his heart bare – so can you, and moves as far forward as possible without falling off the chair.

John fixes Sherlock with an unblinking stare, allowing every single emotion Sherlock makes him feel to show on his face.

The movement catches Sherlock’s attention and he watches John warily, clearly trying very hard to mask his own emotions in effort to remain in control.

John bites his lip.

“A few things, first; I love you too, for all that you are, you silly wonderful man and if you think I won’t want to be with you when it is killing me to not jump you with your ridiculously bouncy hair and beautiful face right here right now-” Sherlock freezes and gapes at John, deep red blush high on his cheeks. “-then you need to work on your observation skills.” John inhales. “Second, you will have to get the milk at least twice a month and stop using it up in your mould experiments, I don’t exactly enjoy bits of mould floating in my tea-” John barely manages to hold in his laughter at the taken aback expression on Sherlock’s face that quickly turns to affronted. He snorts and looks away from John, eyes closing gently, but there is a very obvious smile building in the corners of his mouth. “And third-” John hesitates for a moment. This causes Sherlock to open his eyes and look at John curiously. “-forget the second, because I know there’s no way you’ll remember.”

Sherlock laughs.

A happy, full-bodied, laugh.

John smiles widely. There.

Sherlock wipes an errant tear from his eyes, and the way he looks at John…John is so overwhelmed he can’t even begin to describe how he’s feeling, and this time there is nothing that can stop him from crying tears of joy.

“John?” Sherlock stops laughing and looks at John with concern.

Bugger. John presses the balls of his hands into his eyes. “I’m fine, fine, I’m fine.” Very convincing. Shut up.

Oh god, this is actually happening.

John has never felt happier in his life.

He hears a thud and suddenly there are long fingered hands gently pulling John’s away; exposing his tear-track stained face.

Sherlock is kneeling in front of him, holding John’s hands securely between his own.

It makes John feel better that he isn’t the only one with watery eyes. His heart pangs, because the last time John saw Sherlock in tears with this amount of raw emotion was when John experienced the memory of Admon dying.

There are so many reasons why Sherlock approaching John like this, admitting his feelings, is such a big thing for him to have done – his past has not exactly been easy. Neither of theirs has, albeit in different ways.

John never really expected they would end up here, and now they have.

And Sherlock loves him.

John couldn’t take his eyes away from Sherlock now even if he wanted to.

They have never been this close before, both of them exposed.

John’s mouth parts when Sherlock slowly reaches up with a trembling hand, and holds John’s face in the cradle of his palm; wiping away tears with his thumb.

John clenches his eyes shut to keep more tears from spilling, and turns his face into Sherlock’s hand, breathing in shakily.

Oh god oh god oh god…

John can feel both of their Magicks coming to life along their skin. Through his eyelids John can see a faint glow.

“John.”

John opens his eyes at Sherlock’s plea. Sure enough, wherever their bare skin is touching, Sherlock’s hand on his face, hands clasped on John’s thigh, there is a faint, golden glow emanating.

Sherlock is watching him with such intensity; a contrast to the tears marking his own face, John feels weak in the knees.

“I want you to know-” Sherlock breathes in, body trembling, and John grasps Sherlock’s hand on his thigh tightly. “-that you are in no way a replacement-”

“I know-”

“Please,” Sherlock stops John with a thumb firmly pressed across his lips. “Let me say this, I’m not – it’s not in my nature to express my emotions, and I need you to know how much you mean to me so you don’t stop believing or doubt how important you are to me even when I don’t-”

“I know. Sherlock, it’s ok.” Sherlock was near hyperventilating, John had to say something. “Really, baby steps, you’re important to me too, alright?”

They have time now, oh so much time.

Sherlock nods, and leans forward to rest his forehead against John’s.

“So…is that a yes?” Sherlock mumbles with a small smile.

John snorts and rolls his eyes. “Of course it is, you idiot.”

“Good.”

They smile silently at each other for a moment.

Then, Sherlock turns his face and presses his lips to John’s.

It is their first, real, kiss.

Oh…god.

John groans and slides his arms around Sherlock’s neck, squeezing him tightly; one hand lightly pulling at Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock moans and pulls John to the edge of the chair, their torsos fully aligned, arms wrapping around Johns waist.

John feels a bit lightheaded, and has to release his lips from Sherlock’s so he doesn’t pass out. Now that would be embarrassing, or maybe Sherlock would take it as a compliment.

Neither man pull away, keeping their hold on each other tight with foreheads pressed together.

“Wow.” John huffs with a smile, breathing heavily.

Sherlock hums deeply with a nod, and pecks John on the lips with a contented smile.

He pulls away then, but only to rest his face against John’s neck and increase his hold on John by grasping fistfuls of John’s oatmeal jumper.

“I love you.” Sherlock breathes out against John’s skin.

This is my life now. John exhales shakily with a blissful smile, damn you tears, and grasps Sherlock’s back equally as tight.

John turns his head and kisses the lobe of Sherlock’s ear.

“I love you too.”

Sherlock whimpers, and cries silently against John. The glow surrounding them strengthens with the depth of emotion being expressed; a very physical manifestation of the sheer joy of the moment.

And John knows, that this, right here…

This is the happiest he has ever felt in his life.

John has never been more ready, or excited, to live the rest of it.

Magick, really is, real.

 

 

 

 

~ oh when I'm cold, cold
there's a light that you give me when I'm in shadow
there's a feeling you give me, an Everglow…