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The first thing Sherlock saw when he opened his eyes was Mycroft. His brother was sitting primly in a rickety kitchen chair that he’d placed in front of the sofa.

Sherlock groaned, not bothering to rise. “What are you doing here?”

“As ever, I’m concerned about you.”

“You needn’t be.”

“You haven’t left this flat in months, except to procure your amusements.” Mycroft’s gaze slid to the side table, where several empty syringes lay.

“Don’t tell me you’re actually here because I’m taking drugs.”

“I’m here because you’re fading,” Mycroft snapped.

“Do stop being dramatic,” Sherlock said, dismissively waving a hand. “My existence continues, as you can clearly see.”

“You’re careless at the best of times, but this is the worst I’ve seen you.”

“I’m perfectly fine. I simply don’t let trivialities distract me from more interesting things.”

Mycroft’s eyes flicked to the chemistry lab in the kitchen. “If you can’t be bothered now to take time away from your toys, you need a toy that contributes to yourself. Even the cocaine could do that if you managed things properly.”

Sherlock sat up, glaring. “I’m not having parties and a bunch of drunken sycophants lolling about.”

“It seems to work well enough for some of the others. Though it’s thoroughly unappealing, I grant you.” Mycroft paused. “My offer stands, as always.” He had proposed creating Sherlock a position similar to his several times.

“I am not working with you.” Sherlock crossed his arms. “Nothing appeals to me less, brother dear.”

“It wouldn’t have to be with me, certainly.”

“I can think of nothing more dull.”

Mycroft tapped his umbrella against the floor. “It’s very steady,” he said mildly. Then his face softened into an expression Sherlock rarely saw. “If there’s anything I can do, little brother, tell me and it will be done. Your loss is not something I wish to endure.”

Sherlock started to ask what Mycroft could possibly do for him, but the words died in his throat. It had been over a year since Sherlock had laid eyes on Mycroft in the flesh, as per his own wishes. They were two sides of the same coin, and as such, generally couldn’t stand each other. But that didn’t negate their connection.

Sherlock tried to imagine a world in which Mycroft was simply erased, and came up feeling like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. Mycroft was annoying and officious, but always, always there.

For the first time in a long while, Sherlock took in the state of his own being. Mycroft wasn’t wrong (he never was, damn him). It had gotten out of control this time. And contrary to whatever Mycroft might fear, Sherlock wasn’t actually trying to end his existence through negligence. He’d simply gotten more distracted than usual.

Sherlock absently licked his lips. “There was an interesting murder in the papers last week. I could do that. I’m sure it would suffice.”

It was a testament to how well Mycroft understood him that he didn’t have to ask what Sherlock meant.

Mycroft simply nodded. “Would you like me to arrange it?”

“No,” Sherlock said. “Not unless it’s necessary. We both know there’s more power in it if they listen to me on their own.”

-----

They were a product of the Enlightenment. Ironic as it was that an age of reason and science could produce gods, ideas always had power. Conviction was enough to give life. When concepts were debated and believed in as fervently as religion, they could be solidified into being.

Mycroft had entered the world fully formed, no different than he appeared now. Sherlock had been a child at first. As far as Sherlock knew, they were possibly the last ones created, and the only ones like themselves.

But where belief gave life, lack of belief was enough to take it. Sherlock had seen the old ones die and fade as their worshippers withered, had felt the pang in his chest when men’s hearts no longer beat passionately for him. They had never been properly worshipped, of course, but they had been alive in the minds of thousands.

That didn’t stop the world from moving on.

Mycroft had looked on coolly and said, “It doesn’t matter what we’re worshipped for, so long as we’re worshipped. We have the advantage of being able to adapt. Our very nature is based on change.”

Mycroft was all cold logic and reason. Sherlock was intellect and passion without direction.

“What do you suggest, then, brother mine?” Sherlock asked.

“Something new.”

-----

There were many new somethings over the years.

Now Sherlock scraped by on the praise of solving crimes.

But he found that he liked the puzzles immensely; they were stimulating and fascinating, and kept his attention completely. They also gave him a practical use for the knowledge he’d acquired, and they satisfied Mycroft’s requirements of keeping himself maintained.

It was a perfectly adequate arrangement for years.

Then came John Watson.

-----

John seemed tolerable enough, interesting even. Still, Sherlock expected the standard reaction after he informed John about the process of his deductions.

Sherlock finished, and there was a moment of silence.

“That… was amazing.”

Sherlock’s heart skipped a beat.

That was pure, untainted adulation.

He turned to John in astonishment, hoping he didn’t look as shocked as he felt. “You think so?”

“Of course it was. It was extraordinary, quite extraordinary.”

Sherlock spent the rest of the cab ride nearly vibrating with satisfaction.

It only got better from there. At the crime scene, John praised him practically every time he spoke. Genuine, unironic praise, with true wonder and awe behind it that Sherlock drank from like running water.

“Do you know you do that out loud?” Sherlock asked once.

“Sorry, I’ll shut up.”

“No, it’s—” excellent “—fine.”

A first-rate evening followed, and Sherlock found himself thoroughly enjoying John’s company. Company that didn’t object to his interests or tire of his eccentricities was unusual. Company that followed him on a rooftop chase through London was unheard of.

They giggled in the hallway like mad schoolboys, and Sherlock felt truly pleased in a way that had nothing to do with John’s amazement at him.

Then John Watson shot a man for him, and Sherlock’s blood sang.

-----

It wasn’t entirely surprising that Mycroft came by the new flat the next day, conveniently timing it when John was away and occupied with moving out.

Mycroft took a seat in the opposite chair, mirroring Sherlock’s position of crossed legs and clasped hands.

“You look well,” Mycroft finally said, when Sherlock didn’t deign to speak.

“Have you ever had a blood sacrifice?” Sherlock asked.

Mycroft pursed his lips. “Not as such.”

They were the gods created by accident; they had no followers, no offerings of any sort. Unlike the old ones, there had never been sacrifices for them. Unlike the other ones that remained, they had no throng of believers.

Sherlock remembered Mycroft calmly folding a newspaper during the Great War, and then staring blankly into the fireplace. After several moments, he’d said, “There will always be sacrifices for king and country.”

“What then?” Sherlock had scoffed. “Going to become king? Best of luck.”

Mycroft smirked. “Hardly. But I think I could manage country very well.”

That had been the start of it.

Today Mycroft was the indispensible secret head of the British government, and favour fell upon him. He maintained himself off both the fervour of patriotism and the fallen on the fields of war, whichever one was most plentiful. It was all indirect, of course, not being in his name, but considering the unending quantity, it hardly mattered.

But it was nothing to a blood sacrifice.

“It was marvellous,” Sherlock said. “It alone would sustain me for months.” It had been a killing in his name. Power had surged through Sherlock like a wave, a rush of old world magic that left him almost shaking in its wake.

“I do hope you’re not contemplating having John Watson shoot someone for you quarterly. While I have made a habit of cleaning up after you, that’s rather more than I’m prepared to do.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m simply saying that I see why the others preferred it. It’s very effective.” Sherlock brought his fingers to his lips. “No, John praises me.”

“Ah.”

Mycroft had that smug tone to his voice, and Sherlock looked up sharply. “What?” he demanded.

“Sherlock, while you are a wonder, you’re also a novelty. I shouldn’t be surprised if Dr. Watson’s admiration of you eventually tapers off. It would only be natural.”

Sherlock was silent.

Mycroft stood to leave. “Benefit from it while you can, by all means. But don’t sever your ties with the police. You may still need whatever amount of supplication and commendation they have to offer.”

-----

Sherlock had no intention of stopping his work. He enjoyed it, more than he’d enjoyed any of his diversions in a long while. It was interesting, and he could easily lose himself in it.

It also gave him the opportunity to show off to John.

Sherlock seized every occasion he could to impress John, to take in the tributes to his brilliance that followed. And contrary to Mycroft’s reproach, the praise didn’t diminish as time went on. John was reliably prolific.

John also wrote about him on his blog, which conveyed a different sort of power. It was absurdly unintentional on John’s part, but as such things went, it was Sherlock’s glory put into words and spread to others. Mycroft was vaguely irritated with Sherlock over the accidental ease of it all, which was a decided bonus.

The blog also brought new clients, keeping Sherlock wonderfully busy. John accompanied him on cases more often than not, and Sherlock found himself relying on John for more than praise. John was a natural right-hand man, and he enjoyed the thrills that came with the work as much as Sherlock did.

Sherlock found himself liking John’s presence, full stop. Which was something of a rarity, as Sherlock generally tolerated other people at best. But there was something reassuring about knowing John was in the room, even something agreeable about John pestering him to eat (unneeded) and sleep (mostly unneeded), or complaining about his experiments. Then there was the shared exhilaration of the chase and the companionship of dinner afterwards.

Sometimes when John smiled at him, Sherlock wondered what a romantic relationship with him would be like. He often thought John wondered the same thing, as John looked at him in a way that he did no one else. Perhaps it would be something to revisit in the future. Or perhaps not, if John hadn’t actually been asking when Sherlock made his initial rebuff. But Sherlock would be pleased to continue however John wanted.

It wasn’t until the pool that Sherlock realised how necessary to him John had become.

Moriarty revealed himself as nothing more than a consulting criminal, but Sherlock could see through the layers to the dark god beneath. He was from a time of stone circles and winter sacrifices, and had flawlessly adapted to the changing world when his brethren had not. In past days, he would have demanded youths slaughtered in his name; now he made a business out of running hit men who followed him as blindly as any worshippers.

They made it out unscathed by mere chance, Moriarty vanishing into the night, a problem to be dealt with at another time.

John, who had managed to keep it together since Sherlock tore the bomb off him, fairly collapsed once they got back to Baker Street. He staggered to the sofa, and his legs buckled beneath him.

“Christ,” he muttered.

“Are you all right?” Sherlock had asked before, but it bore repeating.

John ran a hand over his face. “I will be. It just hit me again.”

“Delayed reaction to trauma is—”

“Yes, Sherlock, thank you, I know,” John said. “That we even got out of there was a bloody miracle.”

“Luck, I think.” There were no miracles unless you prayed for them, and there had been no one whispering pleas on their behalf.

John didn’t seem inclined to talk further, and Sherlock made the tea without being asked. John accepted his cup gratefully, though he had barely finished it before he was asleep, the evening having taken its toll once the adrenaline wore off.

Slowly, his head slumped toward Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock let it. John’s breathing evened out as he fell into a deeper sleep, and more of his weight came to rest on Sherlock.

Sherlock felt anchored, even though he was the one keeping John upright.

John was absolutely necessary.

-----

It was a night months later, on a routine and somewhat mundane case, that a suspect bolted out a warehouse door, paused and fired two shots at the door when it opened again, and ran for the street.

John had been in front.

He made it three steps before he realised what had happened, and was then sprawled on his back in the alley, a dark bloom of blood spreading over the front of his shirt.

The suspect was instantly forgotten. Sherlock was at John’s side, seeing the blood spot already doubling in size. He pressed his hands to John’s chest, applying pressure.

“Sherlock,” John gasped.

He’d been shot centre mass. He was bleeding out, already close to going into shock.

“John, hold on. Just hold on.”

It was happening too fast; it shouldn’t happen this fast. Sherlock fumbled for his phone, even though he knew help would arrive too late.

John was dying in front of him.

“John! John!”

Sherlock’s heart was thundering in his ears. Abandoning first aid, he grabbed John’s face in his hands, leaving wide streaks of blood.

“John, what do you say when you’re dying?” Sherlock’s fingers dug in painfully, forcing John to focus on him. “You told me once—when you’re being murdered, what do you say?”

“Please, God, let me live,” John slurred.

“Ask me!” Sherlock demanded, his face inches from John’s. “Pray to me!”

Sherlock was sure that John was too far gone to question the command, but he still feared John would waste precious time doing just that.

John didn’t.

“Sherlock, please let me live.”

Sherlock closed the distance between them and crushed his mouth to John’s.

-----

John lived.

Mycroft found Sherlock in John’s hospital room, where he’d installed himself the second John came out of surgery.

Mycroft took the other chair, and his gaze fell to the figure on the bed. “What was it like?” he asked quietly.

“Like someone devouring me.” Sherlock had felt the life-force being ripped out of him as it was put to the task being demanded of it. “It’s little wonder the old ones required such sacrifices for their favours. They would need them.”

Mycroft looked at him with barely concealed concern. “Are you all right?”

“You’ve seen me worse than this.” Sherlock gave a miniscule shrug. “I take it from this conversation you’ve never performed a miracle, either.”

“No one’s ever asked one of me. But I confess, I never saw the point.”

“Do you ever wonder if there’s something wrong with us?”

Mycroft ran his fingers over the handle of his umbrella. “We’re gods created by an age that had no use for them. I would be surprised if something weren’t. We were never welcomed by the others, nor adored by humanity. We should have withered and died long ago.”

Sherlock smirked without mirth. “Yet here we are.”

“John adores you,” Mycroft observed.

“Yes.”

“And you him.”

Sherlock didn’t answer.

“Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock. All lives end.”

“Not ours.” Sherlock glanced at Mycroft, expression blank. “And what are miracles for, if not that?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“John could sustain me forever. It’s only fair that I offer to return the favour.”

“Yes, I’m sure fairness has everything to do with it. What a pair you would make—acolyte and idol.”

Sherlock snorted. “Jealousy doesn’t become you, Mycroft.”

“I have no desire for—”

“No, you don’t. But you worked for years, building your empire, directing unused intentions toward yourself and reaping the benefits. And here I stumble onto someone like John through sheer luck and with no exertion whatsoever.”

Mycroft stood, towering over Sherlock. “Your arrangement works only because he doesn’t know. You think he would worship you so effortlessly if he knew that’s what he was doing?”

“No, I don’t.”

Mycroft smirked, thinking Sherlock had conceded to his point. Sherlock continued, saying:

“I think he’d erect me an altar.”

-----

When John woke up the first time, it was the middle of the night, and he was more than hazy from the morphine.

“John.” Sherlock instantly scooted his chair closer and leaned in. “You were shot. Do you remember?”

John focused on Sherlock with some effort. “No.”

“You’re going to be fine.” Sherlock hadn’t been able to make John whole again, but it hardly mattered. The miracle had been for continuing life, not a body untouched. It was a prayer fulfilled. “They assure me you’ll make a full recovery.”

“Good,” John muttered sleepily. “That’s good.”

John was still staring at Sherlock, a lazy smile on his face. His gaze momentarily drifted downward. Sherlock realised he was holding John’s hand, his thumb tracing circles on the back of John’s wrist. But it was stabilising, soothing.

He kept doing it.

“You know,” John said, “I think I love you.”

Sherlock knew that even if the sentiment wasn’t a symptom of the drugs, the admission of it certainly was. The sentiment, he had suspected for a while.

Even in his addled state, John seemed to be waiting for an answer. Sherlock knew that the correct response was I love you. But I love you was so imprecise. It declared emotion without purpose.

He licked his lips. “John Watson. I could live with you forever and never tire of you. I want to worship at the temple of your body. You’re the conduit of my life, but I would stay with you even if you never praised me again. I would keep you from death itself, because having known you, I cannot bear the idea of a world in which you do not exist.”

John was giving him a dazed grin. He squeezed Sherlock’s hand. “You had me at John Watson.”

“You didn’t get a word of that, did you?” Sherlock tried not to smile.

“No.” John giggled. “No, I don’t think so.”

Sherlock smiled and moved to kiss his forehead. “Get some rest, John.”

John was asleep again within minutes.

-----

In the morning, John woke up several times, but by the last one, he was coherent enough to stay awake. He had breakfast and spoke to the doctor.

Sherlock never moved from John’s bedside.

However, he did tune out most of the doctor’s visit. John would fill him in on anything pertinent, or he would simply read John’s chart himself. Lestrade had just texted, stating that the police had apprehended the man.

“They caught the shooter,” Sherlock said, as the doctor left. “Occasionally they’re not complete idiots after all. We’ll need to identify him later.”

“I can make a statement, but I don’t really remember anything after we went into the warehouse. I don’t even remember getting shot.”

“Not uncommon. Well, I saw him, and they have the ballistics to match. Should be open and shut.”

There was a beat of silence.

“They said I was incredibly lucky,” John started. He cleared his throat. “And that whatever you did before the ambulance got there probably saved my life. So, thanks for that.”

“You would have done the same for me.” Sherlock regarded him steadily. Then his lips quirked up in a smirk. “If you could.”

John gave him a good-natured glare. “I’m a bloody doctor, you’d better believe I could.”

“Of course, John.”

Sherlock was still smiling.

“What?” John asked.

Sherlock brought his fingers together. “Do you remember waking up last night?”

“No.”

“You said you loved me.”

“Oh,” John said, colouring. “Well. I do. I love you. But if you don’t—nothing has to change, but I, er, I don’t think this is going away for me. I hope that’s… fine.”

“More than fine,” Sherlock said easily. “After your declaration, I returned the sentiment, in so many words, in case you were wondering.”

“Oh, right.” John smiled. “Good. Brilliant, actually.” He paused, content but expectant. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me again, in so many words?”

“Not at this moment, no.” Now was not the time for words like that, not in the bright morning with the hallways full of passersby. Those were vows for the dead of night, when the world only contained the two of them.

John shook his head at Sherlock’s answer, but he didn’t appear upset. He seemed to simply accept that Sherlock wasn’t going to repeat himself at present.

John just grinned at him. “But you will be telling me sometime?”

“Of course. We have all the time in the world.”