He loved looking at the night sky, always had done.
Of course, it was different here. At home [or at what used to be home] on the outskirts of London, the ambient glow of the city over-whelmed most of the light from above. But he tried. Once, he’d saved his allowance money for nearly three months so that he could go to Woolworth’s on the High Street and buy the Junior Astronomer Kit. The box included a black plastic telescope, a detailed star chart and a red fake leather journal in which to record his observations.
That very night, armed with his equipment, a bottle of Orangina and some Jammy Dodgers, John snuck out of the bungalow and climbed up into his treehouse. It was a warm and clear night, with only the distant sound of traffic on the motorway to be heard. He carefully followed the instructions for setting up the telescope and ate a Jammy Dodger before peering up at the sky.
It was more difficult than he’d thought it would be to actually decipher what he was seeing, but finally he spotted what he thought might be Ursa Minor, so he dutifully recorded it in his journal. To celebrate, he ate another biscuit and drank some Orangina, excited to see Sherlock the next day and tell him about his success.
Before he could return to the telescope, John actually dosed off. Luckily, he woke shortly before dawn so that he could sneak back into the house and return to bed. He slept again almost immediately, dreaming of travelling through a vast sea of stars with Sherlock, in an old-fashioned sailing ship flying the skull and crossbones.
A few days later, Harry got mad at him for something he could no longer remember and smashed the telescope, claiming to their mother that it had been an accident, then sticking her tongue out at him behind Mum’s back. John ran back to the treehouse and cried as he finished the slightly stale Jammy Dodgers left behind after his night of stargazing.
Now, John chuckled to himself. Possibly it was time to let that go, although it was things like that which had defined the relationship with his sister for years. Still did, actually.
He didn’t have a telescope now, of course, just a pair of Royal Army binoculars. But he rarely used them on those rare nights when he had both the time and the security required to spread the worn blanket from his camp bed down on the rocky ground and stare at the sky above him. On this particular night, the moon was a mere sliver of silver above. But the stars themselves were like another blanket, cosseting him from the reality of a war that had been his life for far too long. There were days when he could scarcely remember any other life than the one he had now. He should have been home a year ago, but the need for surgeons with his particular skill was so urgent that he was kept on.
The email in which he had explained the extension of his tour to Sherlock was never responded to and there had been very little meaningful contact since. It hurt, when he had the time to think about it. The only real news of Sherlock had come to him in a letter from an old med school chum, Mike Stamford, who had included a newspaper clipping in the envelope. The story was a report on a murder investigation, during which Scotland Yard had been ‘assisted’ by private detective Sherlock Holmes. Isn’t this a bloke you used to know? Mike had scrawled across the story.
A bloke he used to know.
Reading that, alone in his quarters, John felt a couple of unexpected tears slide down his dusty face. Then he almost smiled, thinking about Sherlock’s reaction to being called a private detective. “Consulting detective,” he would have corrected archly.
He looked at the moon again. The silver colour suddenly reminded him of Sherlock. Of Sherlock’s eyes, which in a certain light, were shot through with that exact shade of platinum.
They came like that, thoughts of his friend, out of nowhere. Out of context.
Sometimes, it would be the boring conversations of others in the mess tent that brought him to mind. “Tedious” he could hear Sherlock say.
Occasionally, it was a smell, cigarette smoke maybe, or someone’s aftershave, a spicy, cinnamon-like scent. Never really like Sherlock’s, of course, but close enough to give John an ache in his chest. Sometimes it would hurt so much that he would give in and send an email to the git. Never saying anything serious, of course. Once in a while, Sherlock would reply with an equally innocuous email in return.
One night, after an eighteen-hour stint in the operating theatre, John dreamt that he sent an email to Sherlock in which he confessed all. Confessed that he thought that probably he loved Sherlock. Not in the ‘mates since primary school’ way, but in the wanting to…well, taste him way.
Even now, weeks later, the memory of the dream made John’s cheeks warm.
He blinked a couple of times and stared at the moon again, thinking of Sherlock’s eyes.
Sometimes, during one of his foot-chases through the byways and mews of London, Sherlock found himself imagining that it was not only the sound of his own shoes slapping against the pavement he heard, but that there was someone else there as well, maybe just behind him or even a step or two in front. A sturdy figure who might have been a soldier or a doctor, but who was, most importantly, a companion. A friend.
In his most desperate imaginings, even more than a friend. Apparently, his mind, now deprived of the relief provided by cocaine, had turned to fantasy. He didn’t mind as much as he thought he should. At least the delusions were easier to hide from Lestrade than the highs. Mycroft was a different story, of course, but then his brother would never deign to actually talk about such things.
On this night, Sherlock was chasing a poisoner [a male poisoner, which made for a nice change] through Whitechapel. As he ran, one part of his mind was on the man just ahead. Another part was absently tracing their route, which was passing through streets once held in the deadly grip of the famous Jack [about whom Sherlock had some revolutionary theories.] And finally he was imagining that John Watson was at his side, running and grinning at the thrill of the chase.
Maybe a left-over bit of his brain was wondering where the hell Lestrade and his minions were.
They eventually turned up, but only after the suspect was already on the ground, all weepy apologies, with one of Sherlock’s well-polished size elevens planted firmly on the spine. Sherlock made a show of checking his watch as Lestrade strode towards him, already gesticulating.
From that point on, it was all just the usual tedious routine. Lestrade yelled at him about not waiting for back-up and he complained about the idiocy of the Yarders. Finally, Sherlock turned down the offer of a ride to Montague Street and took his haughty leave, cadging a couple of cigarettes from Lestrade before he went.
It was very late by the time he set off for home, but Sherlock loved walking alone through London at night, a time when his only company were usually a few addicts, an occasional drunk, melancholy whores going through the motions of seeking a client and the ones he thought of as the city’s lonely souls. It was those solitary figures to whom he felt the closest. This was a nocturnal landscape in which he felt very much at home, clearly to the chagrin of his over-bearing brother, who seemed to think that his frequent long walks through the darkened streets would lead him back to bad habits. Sherlock did not bother to reassure Mycroft that he had no interest in returning to that life, but that he just wanted to walk his city, to feel its life pulsing in his own veins, to wander in search of something he could not quite define.
There was only one thing that would have made his journey better, but he did not allow his thoughts to travel that path, because it never lead to anyplace good.
By the time his meandering steps had reached New Oxford Street, he was ready for a sit-down and a smoke, so he stopped at a bus shelter and lit up. Inhaling deeply, he leant back against the glass of the shelter and saw the moon hanging bright and full above him. He blew a perfect smoke ring, watching it disperse slowly, wondering about the moon in Afghanistan. Was it the same golden hue as this one, a colour that reminded him of John’s hair in a certain light?
Abruptly and without thinking about it, Sherlock pulled out his phone and quickly typed a text.
What colour is the moon over there? SH
He hit send before his courage failed him.
Then he finished the cigarette, crushing it under his shoe and started walking again.
A blood moon.
John thought he remembered reading something about a blood moon being prophetic. A sign of the coming apocalypse, maybe. And while he was not normally inclined to believe in things like fortune telling or premonitions of disaster [although sometimes fortune cookies could be prescient], at this moment, John could not totally dismiss the myths.
Was it an apocalypse if it just happened to one person?
Truthfully, John was not even sure if the moon actually was red or if it was just all the blood making it appear that way.
Some of it was the blood of the soldier he had been trying to save when the sniper’s shot smashed into his shoulder and sent him crashing to the ground, his leg twisted awkwardly beneath him. Some of the blood was his own.. Not that it mattered, of course. Blood was blood.
John could feel his life trickling away into the ground and there was nothing he could do about it.
So he watched the moon.
His fingers twitched, wishing he had his phone, cursing himself for dashing off so quickly when the call came that all he grabbed was the med kit. He did not wish for his mobile so that he could call for help really, because he knew a squad would already be headed here. Sadly, given the speed with which the redness was soaking into the ground it seemed unlikely they would arrive in time.
No, he wanted his phone so that he could answer Sherlock’s text from a fortnight ago. He’d meant to reply already, but a recent uptick in violence had meant long hours with his hands stuck into the bodies of too many soldiers and civilians. When not on duty, he slept deeply. But the real reason he had not yet replied was that he wanted to say something important instead of the meaningless kind of drivel with which they communicated now.
What colour is the moon over there? SH
Because there was nothing else he could do for either the dead soldier lying next to him or for himself, John composed the text he should have sent.
Dear Sherlock, sometimes the moon is silver over here and I think of your eyes. Is that odd? Sometimes it is so pale that I think of your skin. Of course, there are nights when there is no moon at all, roiling storm clouds that make a dark night even darker and that put me in mind of your occasional black moods and how I wish I could be there to offer what comfort I can. Oh, and the stars here…I look at them sometimes and they make me hope for a future for you and for me that is that bright and that glittering. A future for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson that would make history because together we are unbeatable. I am sorry that I didn’t answer your text before this. Before it was too late….
John wanted to say more [he always wanted to say more] but he could feel himself slipping away and even though he could hear an approaching copter it didn’t seem likely there was time to save him.
He kept his eyes on the blood moon.
There was a Native American fable that he remembered from somewhere. Why it had stayed in his Mind Palace was a mystery. Unless, he decided, it was for this very moment.
According to the tale, back when the Earth was created, the sun shone all the time. There was no night, only unending day, and so the people never stopped working. They never knew when to sleep. When the creator of the world came to check on his people, he realised that they had no concept of time. So he ordered the sun to set in the evening and rise again in the morning. But when the sun obeyed, the people were in turmoil and frightened by the sudden and complete darkness which had descended.
Finally, the creator realised what was necessary and so the moon appeared in the night sky to give them light and the people were no longer frightened.
Sherlock watched the fat yellow moon that was hanging in the sky over London and tried not to be frightened. The only sounds in the room were the various beeps and clicks of the machines monitoring John Watson’s condition.
No one else had come into the room for over an hour, not since Mycroft had departed, still slightly shocked by the obviously sincere thanks Sherlock had given him. Because of his brother, Sherlock learned very quickly that John had been injured and was in a critical condition. Mycroft refused him permission to fly to Afghanistan, but did arrange for him to be at the hospital when John arrived back in England. He had been in this room for twenty-four hours, waiting for John to awaken.
He had no idea why that silly old story had come to his mind. Except…
Someone [he had deleted whom] once said that Sherlock Holmes was too bright, that being around him was like trying to stare into the sun. But as the fable proved, the sun without the moon did not work. Never had and never would.
He looked at the moon once more, then turned around and walked back to the chair next to the bed, sitting again wearily. He had not really slept in days, not since the phone call from Mycroft breaking the news. “Well, John,” he said quietly, “I think that you have milked this little drama for all it’s worth. Time to wake up and apologise to me for what you’ve put me through.”
He didn’t really expect a response and there was none. Leaning back in the chair, Sherlock closed his eyes and, without intending to, fell asleep.
At first, he thought that they were part of a dream, the soft whispers he heard, but while trying to understand the words, Sherlock actually woke himself up and realised that the whispers were actually coming from John.
Immediately, he bent forward and took John’s hand in his. “John?” he said hoarsely.
The other man’s eyes fluttered open.
Sherlock knew that the nurses on the ward would be seeing the change in readings and that he had very little time before the room would be invaded by medical personnel. He put his face close to John’s. “You’re fine,” he said urgently. “You are in London and I am here. You are fine.”
John stared at him, but did not whisper again.
Sherlock could hear the sound of rapid footsteps approaching the room. “John,” he said quickly, “I love you.”
Two nurses, as well as the on-call doctor, came into the room and immediately surrounded the bed, edging Sherlock out of the way. He moved to stand by the window once again and kept his gaze on John, who seemed to be watching him as well, at least until the medical professionals shifted and blocked the view.
The moonlight had crept into the room now, edging its way across the floor, seeming to create a bright trail for him to follow.
Sherlock watched almost patiently as the doctor worked, knowing with a quiet surety that he would never lose his way again. That path formed of golden light would always lead him to John Watson.
And, despite what some people [Mycroft, for example] might believe, that was not in any way sentimental drivel. It was just science.
The sun needed the moon.