Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
- W.B. Yeats
The problem was that Sherlock refused to hide himself, even a little. His features were too sharp, his eyes too strange, his fingers just a little too long. He was far too clever, far too rude, and he coaxed sounds out of his violin that weren’t meant to be heard by human ears. Not human ears that wished to stay attached to their heads, that is.
When Sherlock had declared himself bored with the Underhill beyond measure, Mycroft had begged him to come to Court. He plied him with riddles and tasks and spying games and Sherlock had rejected them all in favour of London’s thick smoke and grey buildings.
“Humans are so interesting,” Sherlock had said, eyes gleaming in his excitement. “Their little lives are so short and yet they devise all manner of ways to kill each other!”
And no pleadings from that point on could persuade Sherlock to come home. Still there were things the human realms couldn’t give him and times that the dull, unseeing eyes of the people he surrounded himself with tore at his mind, shredded him and infuriated him. Why couldn’t they just think? Why was he the only one clever enough to see the things that lay plainly out before him, like script on paper? He drowned his frustration in opium, the only drug that would work as well on fae folk as on the humans, and lost himself in the colours a while. It seemed like minutes. It seemed like years. And when he finally emerged from the softened edges of his mind he was in his brother’s house with the raw, red burn of iron around his wrists.
“I cannot save you again,” Mycroft said, a warning like a plea. “Please Sherlock, be careful. The Unseelie Court has taken an interest, much as I’ve tried to divert it. You have eyes on your now. If they decide that you have torn the veil…”
And Sherlock chafed his wrists and smiled bitterly.
“I could rip the sky open in front of them and they still wouldn’t see.”
Except that wasn’t quite true.
John Watson had been a practical child. When his grandmother told him that the pixies would stop leaving twigs and bits of grass in his shoes if he gave them a gift he didn’t stop to wonder if pixies were real, nor did he dream of capturing one or taking photos with his camera to show Harry. He simply put a bowl of milk and some bread and honey (he had read that they liked honey especially) on his windowsill and went to sleep confident that tomorrow morning he could slip his feet into his shoes without a nasty surprise. When he found a coin in his shoe instead he didn’t accuse his grandmother of planting it there, nor did he decide to repeat the experiment to try and catch the culprit in the act. Instead he bought himself two licorice whips and felt quite pleased at having solved the problem.
John Watson was a practical soldier. When reports came in about the witch woman with the crippled hand he consoled the Afghan soldier who had outright refused to go into her hovel, even on strict orders to oust all civilians from the buildings. He went in himself and when the old woman raised her twisted fingers to curse him, he offered her medicine for her arthritis.
“I’ll tell them there wasn’t anybody here,” he soothed as rubbed her fingers with salve.
She looked at him keenly and then tucked a bead into the strap of his medkit where it folded over his shoulder.
“I cannot do more,” she told him.
He didn’t know what she meant until the next evening, when a bullet was busily pushing its way through the muscle of his shoulder, drawn there like a magnet. The bead in his strap shattered on impact.
John Watson was a practical man, which is why he tucked his gun away into the desk drawer of his beige bedsit and did not look at it too long. He knew he would need it for something but he hadn’t decided what something that was just yet. And then he met Sherlock Holmes and his too sharp face, his too strange eyes. He heard the violin wail and weep beneath those too long fingers. He heard the man be just a little too rude and more than a little too clever and he knew exactly why he had kept the gun.
When he shot the cabbie dead, John didn’t feel anything but pleased at having solved a problem.
He was a practical man.
“Moriarty,” Sherlock breathed and that was the beginning of the end.
Years of keeping the Unseelie Court tangled in petty warfare, years of trading pawns to gain rooks, trading rooks to gain knights, all ruined in one fell swoop. All Unseelie toyed with humans, but none played the game with as much delight as Jim Moriarty and none were as cruel. And when Moriarty declared himself bored with the obliviousness of the world, Mycroft despaired, for he knew he could not catch the rouge knight without also ensnaring his brother.
And so he watched the trap unfold, dreading the moment it would snap shut. Yet he had not counted on John Watson. The very effect of John Watson on Sherlock was astounding. Sherlock, who had been interested by mortals but never cared for them. Sherlock, who had been enticed at first by Moriarty’s cruelty but then repelled by it, simply because it focused for an instant on John Watson. Sherlock, who had flown to Mycroft’s door with Moriarty’s blood on his face, pleading for a way to save John Watson from notice as Mycroft’s minions quietly cleaned up the mess on St. Bart’s roof.
Of course he took advantage. Sherlock in the Summer Court, willingly, and all for John Watson? It would have been foolish not to take advantage, and Mycroft was rarely foolish.
He underestimated John Watson.
Despite the rudimentary skill with language, John’s writing was earnest and his focus pure. His blog was ridiculous and full of enough romanticism to give Keats a run for his money and every post ended in what might as well have been talisman: I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
The sentiment caught like wildfire in London. Enough that Sherlock’s draw to the place was too strong to shatter and Mycroft could no longer keep him in the Summer Court. He could no longer castle his king.
Mary Morstan was a changeling. Sherlock knew it from the start but he did not know why she was a changeling until she had put an iron bullet in his abdomen. Iron in the gut would have killed him, did kill him, except that there was John not knowing that Mary was a changeling and if Sherlock died then no one would be there to tell him. And Sherlock could not let John be devoured by a changeling.
So he fought against the poison of the iron, the way it lanced into him like a spear and slashed jagged red lines of pain into every breath. And when Mycroft gave him Rosamund Mary’s true name (he suspected as an apology, though it was never stated as such) he used it to ruthlessly expose her purpose. A spy from Underhill. A ‘compatriot’ of Moriarty, a servant to the Queen, meant to quietly dispose of Sherlock and his human pet so that the Unseelie Court could avenge its lost knight. When he commanded her to forget she had ever known John Watson, she could do naught but comply.
“And the real Mary Morstan?” John asked, his voice so flat and absent of inflection that it hurt Sherlock to listen to it.
“Vanished in the ether for many years.” Sherlock placed a cautious hand on John’s shoulder. “Likely you never knew her at all. She was an imposter for as long as she knew you.”
“We were going to get married.” Tight skin across knuckles. A laugh like broken glass.
Days later, Sherlock finds a little velvet box in the trash. There are two rings inside, one of burnished gold and one of cold iron. Sherlock puts the iron ring on his finger until it burns a scar onto the pale flesh. He wants the reminder.
“I can’t protect you from this,” Mycroft said, the clipped words echoing off the tile in 221b’s small kitchen. “I’ve tried too many times already and they are suspicious of my motives. They want you bound to the Summer Court.”
“I’m bound to London,” Sherlock snapped.
Mycroft’s eyes lingered on the reddened scarring around Sherlock’s ring finger and he sighed.
“No, you aren’t.”
There was silence for a long while in the flat. And then, haltingly—
“If you tell him, he will believe you. He is eminently practical about such things.”
“If I tell him,” Sherlock spat, “and he believes me then the veil is torn. It is the last straw, and justification for binding me to her anyway.”
“It mightn’t be so bad. Irene is a match for your intelligence at least and of all the Seelie queens she is said to be the most beautiful.”
“I know what she is, Mycroft. Do you?”
“…I cannot protect you from this, Brother Mine. But you know the one who can.”
Sherlock gripped the china teacup so harshly that it cracked, tea seeping into a reddish puddle on the table linen. The chipped porcelain glistened and then reformed again, this time without the tea. Sighing, Mycroft rose from his chair and tapped his umbrella against the floor.
“I’ll leave you to think it through, then. Sunrise at the airfield. Oh, and Sherlock…” He took an envelope out of his pocket and placed it on the table. “For old time’s sake.”
It wasn’t until midnight that Sherlock opened the envelope to find a card with a riddle upon it, like the kind Mycroft used to give him when he was young and going mad from boredom.
What do you alone possess and yet is used the most by others?
Before leaving for the airfield, Sherlock slipped the card into his pocket.
It was difficult to stand there across from John Watson, watching the straight back and set shoulders of the man broadcast his anxiety and anguish. John Watson was a practical man. He wouldn’t throw a fit just because the British government saw fit to cart away his best friend. He would meet the enemy like a soldier, even if the enemy happened to be a rather luxurious private plane to Eastern Europe. He couldn’t quite look at it though, nor could he quite look at Sherlock. Instead, he shifted nervously, as though searching for something just out of grasp.
“To the very best of times,” Sherlock said, sticking out his hand. John seemed to stare down at the extended fingers for a very long time. When he finally took hold of them, Sherlock could feel the smoothness of burnished gold against his palm. A thumb stroked soothingly along the raised ridge of the scar around his finger.
“The game is over,” John whispered.
If he fled, right now, into the plane he could leave without seeing this. Without breaking his own heart with the sound of John’s voice. But he couldn’t make himself let go.
“John,” he said brokenly. And then—
What do you alone possess and yet is used the most by others?
So simple. So childishly simple. Why hadn’t he seen? God, all the years of going amongst humans must have made him dull.
Sherlock laughed, still holding onto John’s hand. John was looking at him oddly now, no doubt wondering if the stress of this moment had made him lose his mind.
“William Sherlock Scott Holmes. That’s the whole of it,” he said triumphantly, sketching a bow and releasing John’s hand.
Ah, and now John was looking adorably confused. He should have that expression put on a t-shirt, splashed across his chest like a protective talisman.
“My name, John. My name.”
“I don’t understand,” John confessed and oh Bright Lord, that was the back of the t-shirt right there. The thing that would protect them both. John wouldn’t understand, because humans didn’t, they couldn’t. And yet he would see. He was so practical about these things.
Wanting to whirl about in glee, Sherlock settled for darting down to bestow a kiss, right onto John’s cheek. The soldier looked startled but not disgusted and his hand rose to cup the skin as though it were a wound to coddle.
“I entrust it to you,” Sherlock said, and then he was gone into the plane before John could blink.
Five minutes later, John watched the plane climb into the air with swollen eyes and a back so straight it looked painful. The ring around his finger felt hot and dug into his skin as he curled his fists tightly, leaving little half-moons cut into the palms of his hands.
“William Sherlock Scott Holmes,” he said, “come home to me. Come home.”
When he limped back to 221b Baker Street, Sherlock was already there, violin in hand playing the most enchantingly joyful melody that John had ever heard.
He didn’t ask what happened. He didn’t much care.
John was practical about these things.