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A Brief History of Johns

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Sherlock buries John Six in the bed of Johns at the back of the garden, between the tulips and the daffodils. It's cold for the time of year and his breath travels toward the overcast sky in small, white puffs. He's still sweating by the time he's done.

"May you rest in peace," he says, not because he believes in ritual but because something should be said. They hadn't seen much of each other lately, but John Six had been loved. Sherlock will miss the knowledge that, when things go bad, there'll be a John waiting at home for him to make them better.

The first John hadn't needed a numeral distinction. Father had brought him home when Sherlock was two years old, far too smart for his age and already suffering from humanity's incapability to deal with what they didn't understand.

"This is John," Father had said, placing the small brown mouse into Sherlock's carefully cupped hands. "He will keep you company."

And he had. John-the-mouse had made the world a little smaller, a little calmer; the only thing allowed under Sherlock's blanket when every living creature seemed designed to hurt him with the unpredictable chaos left in its wake.

Sherlock has never forgiven the maid who'd left the door open and allowed John to get lost where he'd be eaten. John-the-mouse is the only of Sherlock's Johns who has no space at the back of the garden. The asymmetry still pains him.

Mummy brought the second John after five torturous days.

"It's a budgerigar," she'd said, and placed the cage onto a low table the new maid had brought into Sherlock's room. Sherlock had been four years old. "If you keep it in the cage, it can't fly away. What will you call it?"

"John Two," Sherlock had said. Mummy had looked doubtful, but John was a good name. A safe name. Sherlock liked safe things. There were so very few of them.

After John Two died – "Loneliness," one of the maids had whispered to another, and at seven Sherlock understood loneliness perfectly, but he hadn't known it could be fatal – John Three and John Four arrived on the same evening.

"Guinea pigs." Mycroft had straightened the tie of his school uniform as he'd risen from his crouch. He'd pointed at the reddish guinea pig trying to burrow under the wood shavings that lined the cage. "That's John Three. The brown one is John Four. Do try not to overfeed them."

Sherlock had informed him that the only one in danger of being overfed was Mycroft himself, which had earned him a small smile. They'd got along better then.

John Three and John Four stayed with Sherlock for five years. They ate out of his hand and nipped playfully at his fingers. They gave him something familiar to watch when school grew too tedious, when people would see but not observe, when they refused to listen. Two little creatures that relied on Sherlock to survive even more than he relied on them. He loved them.

He loved John Five, too. For a whole year, he loved John Five, and then it went and ate his duvet jacket and died. Rabbits, it was decided, didn't make for good companions.

John Six, Sherlock picked for himself. He brought him home from a cardboard box left outside school. Mummy said the kitten was too young and too weak to survive. Sherlock told her she was wrong and set out to prove it. He turned out to be right.

John Six was a devil of a tomcat, black with brown patches that looked like dried blood. He only ate one brand of food, and only if Sherlock had placed it into the bowl. He slept curled around Sherlock's neck and left fur all over his suits. He viewed the rest of the world with obvious disdain and would spit and claw at anyone who came too close. He was fantastic.

He will be missed.

Sherlock sighs out a long cloud of breath. "No more," he says. He's alone, but he knows his words will be picked up regardless. "This is enough."

John Two beneath the dead rosebush. John Three and Four left and right of the bleeding-heart. John Five at the foot of the weeping willow. John Six, between the tulips and the daffodils.

Sherlock loved them, but he turned 23 in January. He can get along without them now.

The next six years prove him spectacularly wrong. The world seems to grow louder with each passing day, cheerfully uncaring of how hateful it is. People are annoying and perplexing and petty and dull, and Sherlock gives up pretending to be one of them by the time he's 24. At 25, he's adrift in London, better acquainted with its innumerable homeless people than with his so-called peers at uni. At 26, he's dropped his studies entirely and spends his days in a haze of drugs. His 28th birthday he spends in a rehab centre, Mycroft finally having snapped after the fourth overdose. At 29, he's managed to create an occupation for himself, but the cases aren't enough to distract him from the way that daylight hurts his teeth sometimes, food clogs up his system like it did poor John Five, sounds drill into his brain until all that's left is a shivering, gibbering mess.

The violin doesn't help. Cigarettes don't help. The stray dog Sherlock feeds sometimes doesn't help. It doesn't live with him, so it's not a proper John. He can't afford to keep a proper John, not only because Mycroft would know. He's taking cases all over the world. His life holds no space for a proper John.

He continues to get along on his own. It's hateful. Time between cases stretches out infinitely, aeons between each tick of the clock as dust motes crash into each other. His violin only manages dissonance. Experiments crumble into dullness before he has finished setting them up.

Life, Sherlock is starting to think, is punishment for something the soul did at the beginning of the universe. He is 29 years old and wishing desperately he were the skull he keeps on the window sill. He'd have no eyes, no ears. Everything would be quiet.

Instead, Mycroft convinces Mummy to cut Sherlock's allowance. Sherlock won't be able to fill his space with silence anymore. He will have to share it.

"That's an old friend of mine. John Watson," Mike Stamford says, and for one shocked moment, Sherlock's step almost falters. John-the-human smiles slightly. Sherlock wants to slap his own forehead, because of course.

"Afghanistan or Iraq?" he asks. John-the-human stills. If he were John Six, Sherlock has no doubt that his ears would have flattened to the back of his skull.

Beautiful. Absolutely stunning.

Even as John-the-human sputters his protests, Sherlock knows he's curious. They'll check out 221b Baker Street together, and by the end of tomorrow night, Sherlock will have him hooked.

He'll have a John again. The best one yet.

Everything will be all right.