"Everything is so dull," Sherlock says.
"You're the lord of the dead," Stamford says. "Your kingdom is rich beyond measure and grows every day, how can you possibly be bored?"
"Gems and shades are equally worthless," Sherlock says dismissively. "Jewels and pretty metals might buy mortal delights, but I am not mortal. And as for the shades - every single one of them has the same story: I had a life, and now it is ended."
"You want entertainment then? Perhaps a living guest?"
"Who, exactly," Sherlock says dryly, "would want to be a guest and room in the kingdom of the dead?"
He should have known better than to pose such a question to Stamford.
Stamford, who frequently introduces individuals with a point and parts them without, Stamford brings him John.*
John brings laughter to the realm of the dead.
He tries to stifle his amusement at first, says things like: "This is the court of judgement, we can't laugh here."
Sherlock says, "This is my kingdom where only the truth may be spoken, for it's only here that it's wanted. And what could be more true than laughter?"
"I shouldn't laugh," John says, mouth struggling to stay still as they watch Sisyphus, making his way up the hill, inch by inch. "I mean, it's not funny."
"It is," Sherlock says as the stone rolls back yet again, and like his word is a key, John lets his laughter go.*
Time passes, above as well as below.*
"I don't want a throne," John says.
"I want people to respect you," Sherlock says.
"I'm a guest," John says, frowning and Sherlock curses for the first time the fear and revulsion others hold him in, for he does not know where he has gone wrong, how he has not made his meaning plain.
(He remembers at last that a single arrow cannot strike two breasts.)
"I want them to see how I value you and know to value you the same," he says awkwardly, for he is rich in gold and jewels and not in words.
"Well," John says, "that's – nice. But I'm not, you know. Anything special."
"I can know the shape of a man's life in a glance," Sherlock says. "I think I know your worth."
"I'm not gold for you to keep," John says.
"I didn't say you were," Sherlock says. "I am known to be just, too, John."
"So if I wanted to leave, you'd let me?"
"Do you want to leave?" Sherlock says, heart cold in his chest.
He expects there to be a messenger eventually – Mycroft cannot keep himself from meddling.
It is Anthea who comes, grey-eyed Anthea, sprung full-formed from Mycroft's head.
Perhaps Mycroft knows he is slightly more likely to hear out and listen to something that might be wisdom rather than something that is undoubtedly trickery.
(Of course Mycroft knows.)
"John's sister wants him back," she says without preamble. "She scours the earth with her fury; it bakes with her rage."
"Why should such temper matter to me?" Sherlock says. "All come to my kingdom in the end anyway."
"It might not matter to you," Anthea says. "But it matters to your brother that the world isn't destroyed because you had to abduct some company."
"He's one to talk," Sherlock snaps.
"The world is more important than a dalliance."
"He means 'the world is more important than your dalliance'."
"Regardless, it is important."
"It doesn't matter to Mycroft," he hisses. "To him all beings are nothing more than stones on a petteia board. Well, he may think all the world and everything on it is a game piece for him to move, but it's not. Or if it is, then this one piece is mine and he can't have him. I value John more than he ever will. Hasn't he always wanted that of me? To have a heart he can manipulate?"
Gently Anthea says, "One – or even two hearts is nothing to the Moirae. They sever the threads just the same."
"Who do you think you're talking to?" Sherlock snaps. "This is my kingdom, where all threads end – I am not the same as them."
"All beings are in the weave," Anthea says. "Even Mycroft. Even you."
"Go back to Mycroft," Sherlock says. "Tell him to find Harry a replacement brother. And if he claims he can't, tell him: 'exactly'."*
John says, "I'm forgetting what sunlight felt like."
Sherlock wants to say: "I won't change for you.
"At least, I don't think I will. I don't think I have, because you can tell when I try. But the loss of you – John, why is the thought so abhorrent, simply going back to what my life was before you? It would leave me hollow.
"No, worse. It would leave me aware of my hollowness.
"I would – I would do anything for you. And if it made you happier to leave I would –
"I would let you go.
"I'm told that's love. Is that enough to keep you?"
He thinks the answer is no.*
Sherlock says, "Stay with me," passes John a pomegranate seed from mouth to mouth.
John smiles, kisses back with a new seed on his tongue.*
"'Brother'," Anthea recites, "'Yours is a kingdom made entirely of discarded petteia stones. Surely you can play your games without the use of one still in play?'" She looks him, cold and terrible on his throne. "To be fair, he has not spoken with you since John entered your kingdom."
"You're supposed to be wise," Sherlock says through his teeth. "What's your argument to make me dismiss my John."
"John is a creature of sunlight," she says. "You can't keep him in the dark."
"He likes walking in the shadows with me," Sherlock says.
"I'm sure he does," Anthea says. "Every being likes shade after too long in the sun. That doesn't mean they want to stay there and never know the sun again."
"Go back to Mycroft. Tell him whatever you want, but make sure he knows that if he tries to take John from me I'll close my gates. Let's see the value he puts on any of his pieces then."*
John says, "Love brings more people to your kingdom than despair ever will." His words are layered upon themselves, too many meanings for one sentence.
(Has it brought you? Sherlock does not dare to say.)
"Stay with me," Sherlock says, pomegranate seed contained in his kiss.
("Yes," John says, licks red juice from his lips.)*
"There's a lot of people on the shore," John says.
"There's a famine above," Sherlock says. Admits: "Your sister isn't best pleased with your living arrangements."
"Always was a bit dramatic, Harry," John says wryly.
"You don't – want to leave?"
"I'm happy where I am," John says.
"Don't leave me," Sherlock breathes, nothing but hope in his mouth.
John shakes his head. "I have to," he says. Looks at the people wandering the shore, being ferried across the Styx.
(Hope tastes like ash.)
"I'll come back," John says, promises.
"You won't," Sherlock says bitterly. "How exactly can the realm of the dead hope to compare to the living?"
"Oh, I don't know," John says mildly. "The pomegranates here are the best in any realm."
In his open palm –
one two three
"It's always been my choice," he says.
(promises taste like pomegranate)