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Break the Silence and Tell

Chapter Text

He could feel the magic in the air, humming, strung tightly, like the strings of a violin, simply waiting for a musician's bow, waiting to be given shape and form, and him the conductor of it all, the different notes and tunes. He waved his left arm in a wide circle to the left, commanding words leaving his lips swept up away into the wind. The nature of the magic changed,, no longer still, wilder now, moving on its own accord. He could feel the building pressure, insistent, urgent, spinning faster and faster, a whirlwind of threads and words and raw magic, raging around madly with him in the center of it all. Another word, another gesture, and it was pulling at his reins. He had to be careful now, but he couldn't find it in himself to care, to give a rat's arse, orchestrating this chaotic creation, he was what is important, what gave life to this .

It was like standing on the edge of a cliff, and looking down, with your arm spread wide to either side, the wind buffeting his form. Words were shouted, screamed, lost to the wind, and he thought he heard himself laugh, maybe, and then all of a sudden he was up there, tethering on the edge, for a minute unaffected by the earth's gravity, so still, so very still before the fall, and trembles, the magic spilling over and crashing down. He made a sharp gesture upwards and sideways, and formed patterns and drew shapes with his hands, words spilling out shotgun one after another in syllabuses and sounds and his pulse quickens as the surrounding structures glowed and shivered and it's working , and-

He felt the exact second when it ripped itself violently out of his control, out of his hands, a beast unleashed and full of unbridled fury as the roar is too loud too near too close and he knew he was in danger but he couldn't move - there was nowhere to run to and he screamed, word after sentences after riddles and tried to reign it back in. Desperation lent power to his words and his sharp gestures but nothing worked, not this time, and only for a second, he saw Death with his eyes in a split second still, maws wide with teeth needle sharp, raging for his blood, something so beautiful and yet so terrifying and it hit him, surging deep into him - back to its creator, tearing and rending and god and so much blood and he couldn't scream, couldn't breathe couldn't see couldn't think and the world dissolves into pain and a haze of red, blood in the back of his throat, veins set on fire and his head bursting and this was dying and he couldn't think of a goodbye-

He woke up later, much later, when the skies were dark, the space so still, and so quiet. He tried to move, his body singing and thrumming with pain, and tried to see. He was still whole - no missing limbs and appendages, and he could still see, still hear, still remember, and he waved a hand in front of his face. He was alive, he was alive , while part of the building beside him had a large crack on its surface and he supposed someone heard his prayers or that he was lucky. Aware that he needed medical attention, he tried to sit up, but it was ten minutes before he could, and his lips moved soundlessly. He swallowed dryly, tasting blood and ash and dirt in his mouth, and tried again, tried to clear his throat, speak, anything. His throat worked, his lips, his mouth, but - nothing.

When a week later and he was still unable to produce any other sound, he quietly resigned himself to being a mute for life.

Chapter Text

Timing is the key to everything, he thought.

Sweat trickled down his brow, but he ignored it in favor of watching the bubbling cauldron closely, at the silvery liquid that was lapping at the edges threatening to spill over the lip. Any second now, and the potion abruptly stilled, as though sensing his thoughts, and turned sky blue, and he tossed the few golden leaves that he had in his hand in a leftwards spiral over the potion, and huffed, silently, a second later, when it crackled and fizzed, and finally puffed up pink smoke into his face, settling into a rather ugly shade of puce.

John Watson stepped back, surveying his notes once more, frowning. Perhaps it wasn't three drops of moonlight dew, but four, stirring anti-clockwise, and a wand of birch. Either way, this potion was botched and useless to him. He waved a hand, extinguishing the fire beneath the cauldron, and picking up a jar of Vanishing that he kept on the shelf behind him, carefully pulled out a Word and dropped it into the potion, watching as the potion vanished. Making sure to screw the jar back on tight again, he gave it a little shake and watched the letters within swirl around maddeningly, breaking up and forming up and breaking up again, occasionally not in the right order of alphabets. There were perhaps another five or six Words in there that he could use, which meant that he had possibly another week before he needed to replenish it again.

Setting it back onto the shelf, John went through the standard procedures, neutralizing the cauldron for its next use and returned everything back to its proper place on the shelves, before stepping out to make himself a much deserved cup of hot tea. And a couple of chocolate digestives, John decided as he washed his hands in the kitchen sink, and splashed cold water onto his face and neck.

It was much cooler in the living area than in the room that he reserved solely for brewing potions, and he took a minute simply letting himself cool off, away from the stifling and sweltering heat in the potions room. Perhaps he should consider installing a window, but that meant more negotiations with the landlord, who was always looking for a way to charge him extra for a few more pennies, and he didn't want that. Shaking his head and running fingers through his short cropped blonde hair, he went through the rather soothing motions of making tea, setting the kettle to boil, and taking inventory of his kitchen. He needed more bread, and was obviously out of jam, as well as ingredients for dinner. He could definitely do with a few more eggs, definitely. The last payment had come in on time, so he didn't have to worry about his budget this month, a vast improvement from the last when he survived on bread and tea every day.

Carefully carrying his tea and packet of chocolate digestives out into the living room, he settled down into his lumpy armchair, and took a delicate sip from his teacup, stretching his legs out. The living room, like the rest of the house, was unbearably small, but kept relatively neat and clean, though that might just be due to the fact that John didn't have many possessions himself. There was just enough furniture for a man to live by himself, rather devoid of any personal touches, efficient in its own way. It wasn't exactly homely, but as long as there was a roof over his head and a place where he could brew his potions for a living, John didn't care much. More importantly the rent was low, and he was able to afford it on his meagre income from selling potions and written charms. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either, and John Watson decided that he could live with it.

Just as he was carefully dunking a digestive into his tea, a piece of paper zipped in through his half open window, and hovered before him, the peg that it was attached to trembling minutely. He squinted at it, took a bite of his digestive before it became too soggy, and chewed. Batch order for headache potions and the like, required by Thursday Noontime. John shrugged, sipping from his tea again. This particular customer always wanted the same time every two weeks, and John wondered if it was a possibility for one to get addicted to headache potions, and considered making it bitter, but dismissed the notion quickly. Setting down his teacup, he reached for the peg, removing the message clipped to it, at which point the peg immediately stopped trembling and laid still in his hand, a dark blue, the carved P on its surface ceasing to glow immediately. Pegs were the way of communicating nowadays, fast, efficient and cheap. The only downside to it was that you had to set the privacy and anti-disruption spells on them yourself, and that they had a tendency to plaster themselves all over the recipient of the message if they so believed that their message was being ignored after a while. John never had to worry about people disrupting his messages and orders, having confidence in his own spells and also because there was nothing interesting about him that people wanted to pry about. Any mail that he got were all order forms. He was now simply John, the mute potions master, and that was it.

A tap on the credit glass that he kept on the corner on his shelf made it glow green. A rather useful device that the bank invented, the only flaw being that the numbers swirling around inside were a little distorted due to the spherical shape. Round and flat on the bottom, it was made of clear glass, or crystal, he wasn't too sure, issued to people who ran businesses, and held the most up to date information on any credit transactions to  his account. Green meant that there were new transactions, and usually that meant his customers had transferred credit into his account because he doesn't do much besides withdrawing money from it. Right now, numbers for his customer's latest payment deposited into his account was swirling across its clear surface, and he shook it a little, always wondering if shaking it would cause numbers to bounce around inside, but it didn't. Setting his now empty teacup down, John made his way back into his potions lab. In anticipation of Mrs. Duncan's orders, he always prepared the batch beforehand so that he could send them over immediately. Pulling the vials filled with glistening purple and red liquid inside, he set them out on the desk along with the peg, before retrieving a small vial filled with a single word, and carefully tapped the letters out, watching them fall and swirl out of the vial's opening, spinning in the air lazily, before making a small turn and turned into a large airfish, the size of the table. John favoured the airfishes when it came to delivering potions, the magical creatures quick and nimble, graceful and elegant in their slender, translucent blue bodies, scales shimmering a rainbow of colors. Airfishes had a lower tendency to stray from their paths in pursuit of the sight of food, or other things that fishes were up to. It hovered over his desk, swimming in a lazy circle around him, bright black eyes on him. He gave it a small smile, watched it swim up next to his head, and gestured to the brightly colored vials sitting on his desk, and held up the note that Mrs Duncan had sent to him. The fish delicately took it from his hand, and swallowed, allowing a minute or two for the paper to dissolve, the words breaking down inside, before finally being absorbed by the creature as it swooped down upon the vials of potion, swallowing it down in one large gulp, took a quick spin around John, tail brushing against the back of his hand, feeling much like cool water and silk that wasn't there, and out of his open window. John pulled the windows closed, knowing that nothing was a barrier to airfishes if they so wished to swim through it, and took a quick inventory of his potions ingredients. He probably needed more vials, he quickly drew up a list of needed potion ingredients and his shopping list, before pulling on his coat, wrapping it around himself and striding out into the windy streets.

It was much colder outside than inside, and John huddled against the wind for a while before moving on, tucking his hands into his pockets. Related Londons was leaving Summer and inching into Autumn now, and it had a way of swinging between hot and cold, and windy where for a while the sands from behind Lower World might be blown in. The streets wound around and intersected with each other, populated with residential buildings, all short and squat, the tallest building being four storeys high, painted in fading colors of rose and cerulean and purple, and in one case, a brightly repulsive green. There were the occasional restaurants and cafes, and small rundown bookstores, but people only visited those out of convenience. Most went to the Central Market between Upper World and Little London, or the one at the Meeting Place that was the boundary between the two Londons, but the latter was mostly attended to by unsavoury and unscrupulous people who wanted or offered things of various dubious legalities, from barely tolerated to jail-term illegal. John walked at a rather leisurely pace, enjoying the weather. Overhead, pieces of papers fluttered, zipping in many different directions, each attached to a peg of its own, like a strange kind of bird, with the occasional creature crossing its path in front of him, carrying their own parcels, or nothing at all. He let the familiarity of his surroundings sink in, only ever leaving his house if he had something that he needed to purchase, or someone he had to visit, though rarely. Slowly, the buildings bled out and gave way to a wide street, full of noise, chatter, and bustling people and brightly colored shops, their respective wares on display behind the shop front glass. John ducked into the dark interior of the apothecary, its shop name in a large spidery hand over the glass, but one that John could never read, pots and tubs and sacks of intelligible things. The bell on the door jingled cheerfully in the quiet atmosphere, a strange, almost earthy scent lingering in the shop. There were only a few people browsing through its offerings, perusing the prices on stiff cards tacked to the sacks. Ignoring them, John made his way to the counter, and signaled the attention of the assistant, and slid the list that he had drawn up over to her, who nodded and set about gathering the ingredients that he required. Leaning against the counter, he watched the people hurrying about outside, adults and children alike, each bearing different paper bags of various sizes, occasionally with a balloon in hand, dressed in various colors and attires.

It didn't take the assistant too long to gather what he needed, wrapping them up and placing them into a paper bag for him. He smiled at her as he made the payment, and she returned it, handing him the bag which he took with a small nod, and left with her soft 'Have a good day' back out into the sunlight. Main task done, he wandered down the steady line of shops amongst the many others, and followed the scent of fresh bread to a bakery where he purchased two jam cakes and a fresh loaf, before moving steadily on into the open Central Square, where vendors have put up stalls and set out their goods on the floor for sale, usually trinkets, food, games for children or cloth, and in some cases vials of words or potions that claimed to heal everything and anything in the world. John walked slowly, pausing now and then to purchase a few apples, eggs, a skewer of grilled meat and the likes. Beyond the point of the last vendor was a large span of unused space, the white concrete tiles lining the ground, immaculately white, stretching out into Little London, full of gleaming towers and skyscrapers, a small city in its own right, built of concrete, glass and steel. He hardly saw the residents, so they called the people who worked in Little London, outside of the buildings. No one knew what they did in there, but it was something to do with governance, and so they left it at that. The last time Little London had anything to do with the rest of the city was many years back, when they divided the city into two - Upper World, and Lower World, that segregated the populace into two distinctive groups. There wasn't much else that was known, and no one talked about them. You would know a resident on sight, though. The only people who wore suits around were the residents, and that was all they ever wore. To John, Little London was as foreign as it got, a myth in the middle of Related Londons that had yet to stir from its slumber, always perfectly gleaming in the distance.

Turning his back on Little London, the potions master slowly made his way back home, back away from the chatter of people, from the scents and sights and into the winding quiet streets of cobblestone, with the occasional street sign and lamp pointing this way or that. Halfway on his journey, a piece of paper fluttered down from above to tail him. John noticed it, but paid it no heed, his hands full of paper bags. Only when he arrived back at his grey, sombre flat, climbed the stairs and set his things down back in his own home, did he turn to take the message from its peg, a slim, black one that didn't feel as though it was made with wood, the initials SH carved in gold at its tip. Perhaps a new customer, then, since John didn't recognize those initials from past customers. He pulled the note from it, a folded piece of thick cream paper, and blinked when it wasn't the order form that he expected it to be. It was a letter, covered in elegant cursive hand in a kind of purplish-blue ink, addressed to him.

To John Watson, it said.

I am writing you in request for information regarding the possibility of the creation of a potion. The potion should have a restorative effect upon the memory, acting as a seed upon which other memories then crystallize and stabilize. If such a potion is indeed viable, you are required to create it.

I am urgently in need of this potion. If you are amenable, price is of little concern. If however, this is beyond your capabilities, do not waste my time with any reply.

It was signed Sherlock Holmes, with a little flourish at the end.

John read it, and reread it again, before setting it aside. He had gotten so used to the life he led now that he had forgotten how much he missed the anticipation and the excitement at the prospect of something new, his mind already racing and creating possibilities, discarding the rest. He never once thought that he would have the chance to do something this complex, this interesting again when he had been injured and rendered mute since his accident. Granted, it wasn't the same, but it was something that he could apply his skills and knowledge to. Realizing that he should probably send a reply to Holmes, he rummaged around for paper, quickly scrawling it out and clipping it back to the peg, barely noticing that his hands were shaking. Hell, he wasn't even sure exactly what he was getting into, but it sounded promising, and at least a change from his current mundane routines.

I'll do it.

Chapter Text

The first place that John looked into for research was his own notes and library, kept neatly in wooden cases to prevent dust from accumulating and also because he lacked bookshelves to keep them in. Though the cases were stacked one on top of the other in a corner of his potions lab, the books were kept in excellent condition, the deep creases in the spines and the little scribbled notes in the margins spoke of how much they had actually been used. John swept the dust off the cases and took the heavy volumes out reverently, running a finger along their spines before transferring them to his desk. It had been such a long time since he had touched them, particularly since he didn't need them for his current job, the potions that were asked of him always common knowledge that he already knew. His collection wasn't particularly extensive, but it had all the information that he had needed in the past. Together with his notes, he felt more or less sufficiently armed to tackle the problem at hand. The only library that was present in Related Londons was located in Little London, and one needed clearance to get in. He used to be able to do that when he was a registered researcher, but when he was invalidated and struck off the list, he lost the privilege.

Mr. Holmes' reply had been quick, a short curt note. I expect updates every two weeks. Keep the peg. With his deadline in mind, John quickly sat to work, drawing up lists of possibilities and potions that he could try to base his research on. The idea was near impossible, but not entirely so. Potions that worked on the mind were few and far in-between, from the wit sharpening potion to illegal potions that made one forget anything that occurred in the past twenty-four hours, but none that actually worked in a way to restore something that one had forgotten. But it was possible, for if one simply forgot, then the information was simply buried in one's mind, waiting to be called upon again. What was the situation of the memory loss, then? Trauma, magical mishaps, a spell? He scribbled his questions off to Mr. Holmes and delved back into searching for possibilities. So far, the potion most resembling what Mr. Holmes was looking for was possibly the Dreamcatcher, a potion that locked the drinker into a deep sleep living his memories once more in his head in a non-linear order, also with the possibility of actually distorting the memories themselves, trapping the drinker in a deep sleep until the antidote was administered. But in the case of trauma, it might be difficult to pin down the exact memory that they were looking for, leaving everything up to purely chance.

The returning note was a little crumpled at the edges – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - and he set it aside. Now, he was aware that there were spells that were able to pull on a memory, spoken spells, usually used in the context of witnesses, when they felt that the verbal account was too vague and needed something clearer to work on. It required the witness to remember at least a component of the memory that was required for it to be able to work, which was impossible in this case. Perhaps a variation of a poison then, though not a potion, it just might be possible to mix the two together...

For the next few days, he started on a series of experiments. The human mind was a strange puzzle, and he needed to find a key to unlock it. Notes lay scattered over his desk now, bearing various combinations of formulae, his cauldron bubbling steadily away. He had a few failures now, but they didn't deter him. So far, it was pretty obvious that trying to merge a potion and a word together was failing, the potions usually giving out a rather sinister hiss before turning into a rather unappealing grey sludge, all of which he vanished.

By the end of the first week, he had more or less ruled out ideas that did not work, and was left pondering over what little remained while he drew up the weekly batch of potions usually ordered from him. If simple variation did not work, perhaps he had to go back, back to the basics of potions making, to the very root to create a potion from scratch. It was possible, but very, very difficult. Most potion makers dealt with building up on existing potions and variations, due to the high failure rate of brewing one from scratch. It took time and commitment, lots of failures and also an intuition for potions. John paused, dropping in a handful of leaves and stirring clockwise three times, watching it change into the brilliant red of a headache potion done right.

Potion-making was an art, one that John was good, very good at. When he was still a researcher registered with Little London, though he specialized in Speech, he had delved briefly into potions as well and had researched on combining the two. It was so successful that the government took notice, and subsequently took over. The effect of Speech on a potion altering the potions to be much more effective on the drinker, or to change its nature completely depending on the nature of what was spoken and the intent behind it. It had been a long and tedious process, as the nature of Speech was trickier and slippery than its written form, less conforming and more malleable, but it had paid off. In the form of a spoken word, it tended to boost a single or a combination of elements in the potion, and he had to work hard to find out the correct words to say and to combine with the potion. For example, it could boost the soothing and numbing properties in a potion simply by telling it "Whitewash" that bound quickly to the sprig of mint and also the dandelion heads, but by saying "Silence" it boosted the effects of the poppy petals which should have been neutralized by the sunflower seeds, which when drunk, caused the drinker to lapse into an almost-coma. What he had concluded was that Speech could be used as a booster for certain potions, also with the possibility of creating a poison that was not intended under the guise of a normal potion, but not as an ingredient on its own.

In the case of a new potion, the least that John needed to brew was a base potion, a neutral ground for the components to interact with each other and to adapt. He didn't suppose that the usual base would work - too general in a sense, in a way that it was designed to adapt and accommodate as many components and ingredient combinations as possible to generate as many potions from it as possible. It was used mostly for its versatility and its inert nature, which wasn't exactly what he was looking for now. He needed something specific, something that was highly in key with the rest of the components for a boosting effect, seeing as he was unable to speak, and he was highly reluctant to get someone to speak on his behalf, throwing an uncontrolled variable into the already volatile mix.

Carefully bottling up the cooled headache potion into little glass vials, his mind had already turned to picking out components for the base potion, tuning to his intuition and knowledge once more. Building a base potion was a little like building the foundation of a house, something that wouldn't interfere, something solid and dependable and yet flexible enough to work with, with the flighty undertones to imitate a mind and just enough to give the overall potion a boost. If a man had forgotten, then something would be needed to jolt his memories, perhaps a creation of a certain space to store the forgotten memory in, a potion that would imitate a stem memory, clean and clear and unbiased seeded into the man's mind. If there were any remnants of the forgotten memory, it was possible that it would anchor upon the stem memory to grow, and reinstall itself to merge completely back into the mind seamlessly as a whole.

There were other ways to try to force a recall, but John was unwilling to risk the patient's mind, preferring to perform it as painlessly as possible, and to also not intrude too much upon another's mind. John was here to solve problems, not to create new problems while solving an old one. As a creator, he saw it as a task that he took upon himself to create without the intention to harm or hurt, and brewing potions was no different, just like tending to human nature, to guide it along and to heal any disparities and take away any pain that it had.

Having put away his advanced potions brewing texts, John Watson locked himself in his own potions lab for the next few days, ordering components and needed materials by mail, only emerging now and then to eat and to take care of mail orders. Failures were aplenty, having little to no basis to start off of, but the good man took it all in stride, painstakingly taking down notes in his neat handwriting, comparing the results to each other and carefully noting down differences in the way the potion reacted. So far, he believed that he was making good progress, three small bottles of three different base potions bottled up to the side, each with a slightly different property.

The fourth had managed to melt his cauldron before he could get out the Vanishing the moment it started smoking and once he had managed to clean the mess up after many silent curses and tedious long hours of scrubbing from when it had eaten its way into part of the floor, he decided that it was high time for a break and an update to Mr. Holmes. Copying down his notes on to a separate new sheet, he carefully wrote down the nature of each potion, and meticulously explained his reason for needing to create a potion from scratch. Whistling for his Airfish so that it may carry the potions and the research findings to Mr. Holmes, he watched it go with part apprehension and part excitement. Would Mr. Holmes understand? To finish a potion as such, John needed at least a minimum of a few months to perfect it, particularly if he did not want to risk poisoning the drinker or damaging their mind. There were still more tests to be done, to determine if the bases would hold up the entire potion, or they would merge together without components affecting one another and canceling them out, or- John's thoughts were running into each other by this point of time as he stumbled out of the sweltering potions' lab, barely noticing the weak evening light streaming in through his dusty windows - have to clean them later, and do the laundry - and collapsed onto his couch, allowing exhaustion to silence the buzz and to pull him into a quiet, welcoming sleep.

When he next woke up, it was to a lumpy sofa, an aching back, and the weak grey of the morning light. John had taken one look at the clock that was perched on the windowsill, and turned his head away from the invading light, squirming down to find a comfortable spot on the lumpy couch. Ten minutes and lots of restless squirming later, John gave it up as a lost cause, staring rather grumpily at the clock again rather viciously, as though it was at fault for all the wrongs in the world. It was early, much too early to be awake, especially when his body still felt like lead. His Airfish was lazily swimming in circles in the motes of dust that a ray of light illuminated, seeming to delight in the way that the light passed through its translucent body, scales shimmering iridescent, chasing after the swirling motes and seeming puzzled when they disappeared.

Groaning quietly and getting into a sitting position, he rubbed at his eyes, feeling the grit beneath his fingers, and grimaced. A shower, then, before breakfast. He didn't feel quite human at the moment, but nothing that a good hot shower and a cup of tea couldn’t fix. Rousing himself from his couch, he shambled into the bathroom to wash the sweat and the grit away, stripping and discarding his clothes upon the cold bathroom floor. The man sighed quietly as the spray of hot water hit his skin, washing away the lethargy and the cobwebs in his mind, and ducked beneath the water to wash his hair, taking his time with the shower.

By the time he emerged dripping wet and smelling faintly of soap, he felt much more himself once more, and ready to take the day and its problems on again, rubbing a towel vigorously into his hair, and peering into the larder in the kitchen after setting the kettle to boil. He planned on giving himself a little day off from his researching, and kept his mind firmly away from the potions lab, instead focusing on his breakfast menu, deciding quickly on scrambled eggs, a bit of bacon and some toast with that jar of nice homemade strawberry jam that he had bought the other day.

The early part of the morning was spent scrambling, frying, and toasting, before he finally settled down happily with his breakfast, his Airfish lazily hovering near the ground, having nipped some of his food while he was cooking, the smell of food in the air. Spreading a tablespoon of jam on his toast, he crunched into it delicately, watching his fish. The house was quiet, the sounds of the waking population filtering in through the window as they quietly roused themselves with the rising star, occasionally interrupted by the sound of a fork scraping against a plate or the chink of a teacup set back on its saucer.

When the plates were devoid of food, John allowed himself a moment or two to bask in the peaceful serenity, before getting up to wash the dishes. He needed a new cauldron since the last one had melted away into a blob of unsalvageable pewter. Perhaps he could consider investing in a copper cauldron this time around. He had been saving up diligently over the years and he supposed that he could purchase one this time. Pewter cauldrons were unsuitable for brewing delicate potions due to their blunt and crude nature, though they held up generally well for other general purposes, and also the fact that the metal itself interfered with certain properties of volatile potions. There were potions that could only be brewed with a gold cauldron, and those with a copper cauldron. He wasn't rich or indulgent enough himself to buy a gold cauldron, however, knowing that the chances of it coming into use day to day was rare to none, even though gold lent a positive note to the potions made in it, a much stronger and noticeable influence than its pewter and copper counterparts. He wouldn't quite forgive himself if he melted it, besides.

Once the dishes were all dried and stacked neatly in their respective shelves the way he liked it, John took care of the mail. There weren't many orders today, and most of them were potions that he had ample stock of, which made him glad that he had the foresight to brew them and bottle them aside for situations like this, although he didn't like sitting around chewing on his nails doing absolutely nothing and waiting for his supply to deplete. Thus he always kept one of the most frequently ordered ones on a short supply, just to give himself something to do. Flipping through them, it took no time at all to send the various orders off with his trusty Airfish, watching it swim a little drunkenly out through the window with amusement. As a magical creature created with his own magic whose obligations lie solely with him, his Airfish really didn't need food although it seemed convinced that it did, often stealing bits and crumbs out of his larder that he was happy to share, if only to please his strange eccentric messenger, most of the time with it acting as though drunk after eating. Whether or not this had a real effect on his magic that made up the fish he wasn't too sure, but it was always amusing, and eating made it seem much more alive and real, just like a loyal silent friend that he had, pointedly ignoring the part of his mind that pointed out that it was loyal only because it was made purely with his own magic and no one else's.

Strangely enough, Mr. Holmes had yet to reply even though he had stated that he needed the potion made as soon as possible. John would have rather liked to hear at least his opinions on it, but perhaps he hadn't gotten around to it yet. Shrugging and unwilling to mull over issues completely out of his sphere of control, John tapped his credit glass, did a quick mental calculation in his head, and set out with his trusty jacket into the crisp morning air. Fog shrouded part of the streets, curling around the ankles of the people milling around outside going around their morning business, slowly dissipating in the light of the morning sun. He nodded at the few people he met on the way with a warm smile, more or less cheerful enough for as long as the tea stayed warm in his belly.

The shop was open by the time he arrived, geometric fonts displaying 'Precise Instruments' on the sign above the door in a dark green color. It wasn't a shop that sold strictly potion apparatus, but also with other eccentricities such as brass telescopes, instruments that recorded the currents of magic, rounded crystal recorders and the like, tucked into a side street between two towering buildings a distance from the market itself. John had been recommended it by a fellow colleague for its quality workmanship, although the prices were a little more expensive compared to other shops. So far, it lived up to its quiet reputation, only visited by people who stumbled upon it by chance, or people in the know, like John himself. Something tinkled quietly as John stepped into the shop, pausing for a while to look at the various curiosities laid out on display. For the each time he visited, they always had something new, and they never ceased to interest him, though he did not recognize most of their purposes.

By the time he looked up from a particularly intricate clockwork instrument that was balanced carefully on a needle, various brass scoops spinning around it on curved arms with it acting as the axis that producing soft ticking sounds, a slight man was standing by his side, a pair of spectacles perched on his nose, and watching him with a slight smile. "Bit early, Mr. Watson?" he offered John a notepad and a pen, which John took with a gracious nod, scribbling down the words that he was unable to say.

Arthur Sedgewick was the owner of this shop for the past fifty years if his colleague was to be believed, though he himself did not look a day over thirty years old, with his brilliant green eyes and jet black hair that was often dyed in streaks of varying colors, silver this month, a rather toothy white smile and soft hands that he always kept clasped before him if wasn't gesturing with them. At this moment, he was peering over the top of the notepad, reading upside down. "Oh, no, no no, Mr. Watson, that's alright, you don't have to write me a good morning. I can see it in your eyes, yes indeed. What do you wish to purchase this time, hm?" Sedgewick flicked an amused glance back at John, who simply had to smile back because it was in everyone's nature to do so when faced with Sedgewick. "Bit early to come by - a copper cauldron? Oh, yes, I have had a new shipment come in just a few weeks ago. Good, solid copper, and a much better design improvement from the last batch, yes. I'll fetch one for you, one right away now." John smiled sheepishly as Sedgewick did a half-skip-hop-and-walk into the back of the shop. Conversing with him had never been awkward and more often than not Sedgewick would always be able to predict what he wanted to write or needed before he could get through half of the sentence, and while it took a little getting used to, it always made John feel at ease instead of invalidated as a mute who couldn't get his messages across fast enough, wearing on everyone's patience.

He wasn't made to wait too long before Sedgewick returned with a copper cauldron in his hands and set it on the counter, murmuring strings of measurements, a hand stroking the curved gleaming belly of it. "Much better than your old pewter cauldron. Put a hole in it, didn't you?" His green eyes twinkled. "Copper is much more resilient than pewter. Comes with two years' warranty." John tapped a fist against its side, and nodded at the low steady sound produced. Transactions were made, and some fuss over Sedgewick wanting to loan John a fish to help him carry the cauldron home. In the end, partly due to Sedgewick's charm, partly John's inability to write fast and neat at the same time or perhaps Sedgewick's selective reading at times that suited him, John ended up walking home with a giant Jarfish floating next to him, round as an inflated blueberry and the color of milk chocolate, spiky fins protruding from its huge body strangely, with rather bugged out eyes as well. John eyed it warily for the entire way, unsure if it would suddenly deflate as some Jarfishes liked to, but it was rather well behaved, stopping when he did and did not try to bump against his legs. He gave it a tentative pat on its belly, its skin stretched taut and tough as leather to the touch, and bought an extra pastry for its help along with his groceries on the way.

His house was exactly the way he left it, his Airfish swimming to brush against his legs much like a cat would when he stepped in through the door. The Jarfish abruptly deflated loudly, spitting out the copper cauldron upright on the floor. John put a hand into his paper bag and drew out the pastry, holding it out silently to the Jarfish, who seemed to give him a strange sideways look before delicately taking it from his hand, bounced off his walls a few time, and bobbed back out into the streets. John shook his head, a smile on his face, heading into the kitchen to put his grocery away. His Airfish butted into his legs constantly, flashing its fins, and so John had to retrieve its vial and uncork it, holding it back out, raising his right hand around which the Airfish did a quick circle before disappearing when John made a fist with his hand, and carefully dropping each individual letter back inside, making sure that none was missed out, carrying it back to its shelf, and nearly dropped it when a tall black figure materialized in the corner of his vision right in the middle of his living room.

Chapter Text

"It has been two weeks, three days, seven hours and twenty-six minutes since I first contracted you for this, and all you have to show for it is three bottles, some notes and a melted cauldron. It's dismal. What do you have to say for yourself?"

John gaped, his grip tightening on the vial that held his Airfish before remembering how to breathe, drawing in much needed oxygen in a silent gasp, his heart hammering away in his ribcage from the shock of having someone appear so suddenly in his living room that hadn't had a visitor in years. Stupidly, he looked at the door, then at the stranger, who narrowed his piercing eyes at him, and tilted his head back a little, just enough to look disdainful, his lips pressed together in a straight thin line.

"I have exactly seven more minutes before I have to leave. I would be immensely indebted to you if you would choose to speak any time within these seven minutes." The stranger said coldly, watching John, who was busy spluttering soundlessly at him, and gesturing with his free hand now and then, before he looked at the vial in his hand, and set it down, before pointing to the door with a finger, expression furious. If anything, the stranger seemed to look even more scornful, his lips twisting into a sneer. "Your attempts at protecting your property are dismal at best. The lock on the door is hardly secure enough for a person living in this area of town. The ward is almost non-existent and likely didn't function, considering that I entered your house twelve minutes before you returned." he paused, eyes sweeping over the living room area. "Fortunately for you, there is hardly anything of value in your possession."

John reddened, knowing what it must look like, and turned back into the kitchen to grab the notepad and pen that he kept in there for writing up the weekly grocery lists and stomped back, scribbling on the paper furiously, the nib of the pen almost tearing it, before ripping it off and brandishing it into the stranger's face.

Sherlock's eyes nearly crossed looking at the paper that was a mere inch from his eyes, and he leaned back a little to read the words. "I am your employer, obviously. Sherlock Holmes. 'Get out of my house?' No, I will not leave until I have some explanation for your thus unsatisfactory performance."

John couldn't help but splutter once more at the stranger- no, Sherlock Holmes, standing in the middle of his shabby living room, looking as incongruous as a giraffe in an English garden, and yet as arrogant as a man could be. He was tall, almost gawky, all legs and sharp elbows and elegant wrists with his ankles and long arms. The monochromic black of his outfit eased the awkwardness somewhat, however, a light blue scarf around his throat completing the get-up, setting off his light blue eyes giving an illusion of them having an almost ethereal piercing glow. However awkward he had first seemed to be, the fluid grace and ease in his every slightest movement banished it away. He looked almost impossible, fae and ethereal, like a changeling dropped into his life complete with striking cheekbones and curly jet black hair.

Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock bloody Holmes, an impossible name to match the equally impossible person that stood before him. He was pacing now, back and forth and only a few steps in between, not that there was much space that the living room had on offer for pacing. "Well?" he demanded, impatiently.

The blonde potions master continued to splutter at him for a few seconds more before he caught himself, a pained expression flashing briefly across his face, and looking tired and exasperated now, scribbled another line across his note pad, and turned it out to Holmes for him to read. I sent you the progress updates only just yesterday.

"If you call that progress, I don't know what your definition of procrastination is, Watson." Holmes rolled his eyes, and folded his arms across his chest, drawing himself up taller. "Surely that isn't the sort of pace you use for your research work. Three vials and a five page report isn't enough. I said I needed it urgently and I do mean urgently."

There was the sound of a cheap ball point scratching across equally cheap paper. If you know just what the average amount of time that is needed to create a new potion, one that the market has never heard or seen of before, much less one as complicated as that you have requested and so urgently need, then you will know that it may take at least months, and even up to years to complete. Of course, if you wish to employ someone else, that is entirely up to you, but this is exactly what I am offering you, and I have the confidence that I am able to produce the results that you want.

The man sucked in a deep breath, looking as though he was drawing on patience that John was pretty certain was as scarce as water in a desert. "I was assured of your speed by My- by a most reliable source," he said carefully. "I expected it to be done within weeks or days. It cannot be months or years, for your potion will be used in an important court case. I want- I need you to put aside all other work and make this your top priority above all else. I will reimburse you for any losses that you incur due to this request, of course."

John gave him an indescribable look, a frown furrowing his brow, and touched the pen to the note pad again. He hated communicating with people this way, unable to put down everything that he wanted to say on paper in the short time that people would patiently wait for a reply from him. Coupled with the fact that Holmes had also caught him yelling at him voicelessly to get out, he wanted him gone as soon it was politely possible. Don't be ridiculous. Potions need time. They aren't just slapped together and put over a fire to [ hastily crossed out scribbles ] need testing [ more strikes across indecipherable scribbles ]The earliest possible time that it would be ready would be another month more, maybe two, and that is with good progress without hindrance or complications.

Consideration came into Holmes' face, the man turning away briefly, before focusing back on John once more. "A month," he said finally, quietly. "A month is acceptable, but two would be pushing it. Beyond that and the court will treat it as a cold case and discard it and that is simply not acceptable."

John nodded, and raised the note pad again. A month, then, if we continue to be optimistic about progress. More data would help, too. I need more data than just PTSD to continue if I need to fine tune the potion to suit the sort of memory that we are trying to retrieve. You're welcome to drop by to check on it so long as you not pick my lock again. This was the best he could offer Holmes. Of course, he was still welcome to seek out others for the job, though he was very certain that no one else could provide the expertise that he could, or the dedication. If Holmes wanted a job half-arsed, then by all means.

Holmes nodded curtly, drawing out a pocket watch from one the pockets in his sleek black coat, flipping the silver lid inscribed with words open, frowning at it. "Very well, I will furnish you with the specifics of the situation on the next visit," he said, snapping it closed, and slipping it back into his pocket, and straightened, drawing himself up taller. "I really must leave. Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds behind time. Try to be more time efficient in the future, Mr. Watson." And with a rather undecipherable parting look, he was out of John's living room with a brisk swirl of his black coat, leaving John blinking at the sudden vacated space in the middle of it, a sentence half finished on his notepad, the man having left as suddenly as he had come. He stood there in silence for a second or two, before crumpling up all the paper that he had written on into little balls, and tossed them into the air with a sharp angled gesture, setting them on fire, unable to decide between being indignant or amused, and settled on feeling rather confused.

Considerably riled, John put his Airfish back onto its shelf where it was safe from the danger of being dropped and smashed with the terrifying notion of losing an alphabet or two, before picking up his new copper cauldron and moving it into his potions lab, quietly puffing. Before, he had been aiming for a quiet day away from Holmes' potion problem, but it seemed that was impossible now. He had wanted some space to perhaps gain a new vantage on the solution, but he didn't need that now, not after the whole affair of Holmes breaking into his house in a flurry of sharp words and sentences, all of them uninvited. The man was swift and merciless with his words, and probably used to getting his own way, if his attitude was any indication to go by. The man posed a challenge in himself, but not entirely unreasonable if John was willing to overlook the intrusion into his house. He never had anyone break into his house to tell him that he was doing a rather shoddy job before, but then he also never had anyone contact him to create a new, complicated potion before. First times for everything, John thought to himself, lighting the fire beneath the cauldron and pouring in one of his pre-brewed potions. If incompetence was what Holmes was challenging him with, well, he simply just had to show him, and it was with this newfound determination that John continued his work in his potions lab for the rest of the day as well as most of the next.



The second time Sherlock Holmes visited, he did not even have the decency to stick to the normal daytime visiting hours that most people would abide to - either in the afternoon, or the early evening. Instead, he strode down the darkened streets, collar turned up to keep out the damp fingers of the fog that swirled heavily before him hours after midnight, a dramatic figure dressed in black. He paused before John's door, a pale hand slipping into his pocket to retrieve his trusty paper clip, before pausing, giving the door and the dark windows a considering look, and tapped quietly on the door. When thirty seconds had gone by and there was no answering sound from within, he bent down and swiftly made quick work of the lock once more, whispering softly once, and slipped unseen into the welcoming warmth of Watson's home.

It was dark inside, and it took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness as he quietly shut the door behind him. The living room was considerably more cluttered than the last time, and he took a second or two taking in the details, before treading forwards noiselessly, careful not to bump into any furniture. As expected, John Watson was sleeping, his figure lying still on his couch, Sherlock arching an elegant brow at the disheveled state that he was in. A pencil was still loosely clutched in the potions master's hand, a pile of notes lying scattered on the floor next to him, having slid off his lap when he had fallen asleep along with a faded blue blanket that was half on the floor and half draped over his legs. Sharp eyes took in the new potion stains on the man's rough hands and his sleeves, the tired lines around his eyes, and the rumpled state of his clothes, before his lips quirked into a smile. With a crook and a pinch of his fingers, he drew the notes from the floor and from the sleeping man's lap, the papers rustling quietly as they floated into the air and into his hands. Leaning over and plucking the pencil from the man's hand, lifted it to his lips, hissing a Word between his teeth, the sound sharp and harsh in the silence and the quiet snuffling of the sleeping John Watson, and flicked the remnants of ash away from the now sharp pencil. John's hand twitched once when the pencil was taken from him, and Sherlock stilled, his head tilting to the right just slightly, and only moved again when he was certain that John wasn't going to wake up.

More or less satisfied, Sherlock began to skim through the pages of neatly written notes and research, wincing at the occasional hastily crossed out lines and little scribbles and arrows along the side margins, before correcting his notes in a precise hand with the pencil, and summoning a piece of blank paper, started to pen down the specific conditions of the victim that John was brewing the potion for, a mixture of PTSD and minor brain damage that inhibited recall and memory storage.

Meanwhile, the Airfish that had been sleepily swimming and hovering near the leg of the table had by now made its way noiselessly over to hover near Sherlock's leg, seemingly lethargic, though Holmes was certain that it was highly alert from the way that its eyes had never once left him. John's Airfish, then, he thought, inwardly amused as it swum lazily in figures of eight beside his left leg. Magical creatures took on the characteristics of their creator's magic, connected intimately to the individuals themselves, a reflection of their emotions and baser instincts, a truer reflection of a man's character than anything else. Most people kept theirs away when they weren't in need of their help, so it was rather curious that John Watson allowed his to freely swim around the house at night while he was asleep, especially since it had no purpose. Nevertheless, it was a graceful and beautiful creature, and he absently ran a finger lightly along its fin, a smile lighting his eyes briefly when the fish stilled beneath his hand, feeling the soothing hum of magic, and knew that he had passed some sort of test when it pressed closer to him, allowing itself to be touched, subtly preening. Chuckling quietly, Sherlock obliged, running a hand from its head to its tail, marveling at the silky coolness of it before returning to putting down his notes for John.

The fish continued to watch him, tail moving slowly through the air, before it rolled over lazily onto its back, revealing rather unsubtly a mouth full of needle sharp teeth, and sank back down towards the floor, hovering a mere inch or two above it, its favorite position for resting, or sleeping, if it did sleep at all. Sherlock gave another quiet chuckle at that, thoroughly amused, and finished his writing with a flourish on the last alphabet. The Airfish left no doubts as to what would have happened had he any ill intentions towards its creator, or if he were a threat to John Watson's safety. Docile and friendly and with a mouth full of sharp teeth that could maim and kill, Sherlock mused, allowing the papers to float in the air above John Watson where they stayed suspended, as though held up by invisible strings. What does that say about the man himself, then, potions master, ex-researcher, bachelor John Watson? He studied the man in question before him for a moment or two, before turning on his heel and striding out through the door into the foggy night with a swish of his black coat and a gust of cold air that stirred the hovering papers, and the room was silent once more, content and still for the rest of the night with the soft, slow sound of breathing.

Morning crept in slowly through the windows, the shadows slowly dissipating away into the corners of the house, color and warmth slowly seeping back into the black and grey monotones of the night. John woke up to the strange sight of sheets of paper floating quite a few inches above his head when he opened his eyes, and frowned, rubbing at his eyes. When they continued to remain floating before him, he reached up and pulled the nearest piece of paper towards him, frowning at the familiar elegant handwriting in pencil.

JW, you have made several incorrect assumptions towards the nature of the potions. I must point out to you that your failure so far is due to your inability to note that several components of your potions are in fact contradictory. Seagull feather does not go with ostrich shell, as the former is of an air element, while the latter is grounding. The lavender is incompatible with the stimulant effects of mandrake root, and the addition of poppy produces a trinity that is sure to cause hallucinations at best, and a ever-lasting coma at worst. I am aware that you have not handled anything other than the most basic herbs for a period of time, but this is appalling work, and you need to be updated with the most recent research. Contact me upon waking. SH

Oh bloody- John cursed viciously in his head, plucking the rest of the floating papers back down from the air. They were his notes, but he noted the addition of Holmes' handwriting all over it, and forced himself to take a deep breath. It was too early, much too early in the morning to deal with Sherlock Holmes, John decided, and tapped the papers into a neat pile, setting it aside, before getting up from the couch, stretching out a kink in his back, groaning silently when it popped. His neck felt rather stiff, and he did his best to work it out, padding into the kitchen to brew himself some morning tea, splashing cold water onto his face. Trust bloody Sherlock Holmes to not only break into his house not once but twice, and also at night, breaking in while he was asleep. He put the kettle on, trying his best to stay calm. The man was insane at the same time that he was brilliant; there really was no other explanation for it. He imagined Holmes, tall and dark in that coat of his, standing in the living room over his sleeping form on the couch, scribbling all over his damn notes, and watching him sleep, entirely unaware of his presence, and swallowed, banishing the image from his mind, instead turning his thoughts to Holmes' note. His work might have been a little sloppy, but it certainly did not deserve to be termed 'appalling', he thought irritably. But Holmes was right, he was falling a little behind on the latest research, and he wasn't one to turn away good help when he sensed it, as much help as Holmes could be if he wasn't busy insulting him and his lumpy couch and everything else in sight. Lips pressed tightly together, he carried his tea back out, his Airfish brushing against his calf on the way in a silent morning greeting.

It was a minute past ten when his front door opened on its own accord. John did not turn around, or look up from his tea. It was somewhat unsurprising when Sherlock's voice spoke from behind him, a note too cheery for him to deal with right now. Nevertheless, John still nearly upset his tea when the deep baritone voice sounded from right behind him.

"Finally, Watson! One would think that you would spend most of your life sleeping it away." Holmes seemed to be in a rather disgustingly good mood this morning, if good moods ever had anything to do with this man. As usual, everything he did all had bad timing, and this was one of them as well. He arched a brow at the scalding look that the potions master leveled at him, hands in his pockets. "Well? Let's get started!"

John calmly sipped his tea once more, letting the familiar taste sooth him, feeling the heat slip down his throat and warming his stomach. He hadn't had anything to eat last night before falling asleep on the couch for the entire night, so breakfast was probably a good idea. Setting his teacup carefully down onto its saucer, he summoned his notepad over. Breakfast. I can't deal with you before breakfast.

Holmes merely blinked a few times, to John's irritation, as though he didn't understand the purpose of something as mundane as breakfast. Though, of course, for someone like him who barged into people's houses on a regular basis regardless of the time of the day, he probably saw eating as being beneath him. "Well," Holmes waved a hand vaguely. "Get on with it then, if you must." He wrinkled his nose, and John had a rather sudden impulse to want to upend his tea over the infuriating man's head, if just to see him slip up. He settled for glaring, in the end, deciding that getting up and upending a cup of perfectly good tea over Holmes' head took too much trouble. Not that Holmes would appreciate the tea, either, from the way his fingers were twitching, impatient for John to get on with his mundane morning duties so that they could start on his 'appalling' work. His Airfish stirred from where it had been studying a rather interesting spider in the corner to make its way over to Holmes' shoulder, and swam in a small little delightful circle, tail nearly brushing Holmes' cheek, its customary language for a greeting. John frowned disapprovingly. The last thing he wanted was for Holmes to start thinking that he was welcome to start breaking into his house anytime, any day, and it was rather strange to see his fish getting that close and friendly to a stranger.

Holmes merely smiled, however, and patted it carefully on the head with a finger, fishing into his pocket for a bar of chocolate. "Do you have the same practice of having breakfast like Watson, too?" He offered the foil wrapped bar of candy to the fish, which gave it a sideways look, mostly because the light was reflecting off the foil and it was attracted to the shine. "It’s chocolate. I don't imagine you eat but... " He peeled off a corner of the thin foil to reveal a small bit of the milk chocolate to the creature, who was taking a stronger interest in it now that the shiny object could be eaten. Holmes waved the bar around for a bit, before looking up to see John Watson's horrified expression, gaping at him in aghast, with just the slight bit of fascination. He offered the shocked man a smile, before stroking the fish from head to tail, and Watson quickly startled out of his stunned state and fled into the kitchen with a rather loud chink of teacup on china.

What. Was. The man. Doing?!

John had fled into the relative safety of his kitchen when the paralysis that had gripped him from the moment when Holmes had touched his fish released him, his mind reeling. No one touched another's magical creature without permission, mostly due to the fact that their creatures were created with what their creators were constructed of, their emotions and their magic, their basic instincts and their personalities, despite the magical creatures also possessed an individual, independent mind. They were considered to be almost an honest representation of the individuals themselves, and so touching them would signify coming into a rather indirect intimate contact with its creator, and that was just not good. Not to mention that magic could always read magic, and contact signified an exchange on a much deeper and complex level with the creatures themselves, and indirectly their creators. It was a pretty good thing, John thought with a twist to his gut while setting his frying pan with a little too much force on his stove, that he did not have a constant linking bond with his fish. He really did not need to know exactly what getting its fins stroked felt like, or what Holmes’ magic would feel like. He clung onto his anger, simple and burning and clean, even though it was already slipping away in the shock and confusion, his thoughts tumbling over each other in the manner of newborn kittens, trying rather unsuccessfully to untangle them and to sort them out.

Sherlock, meanwhile, had figured out that Watson's Airfish did eat, and was busy feeding the elegant creature little bits of broken off chocolate from his hand, watching it through half lidded eyes. "I've never met one that ate," he was saying quietly, though no doubt Watson would be able to hear him from where he was in the kitchen. A needlessly dramatic reaction, really. "Interesting. You're an obedient little fellow, aren't you? Good boy." The fish seemed to preen, and there was the rather suspicious sound of banging pots and pans, and the loud clatter of something falling to the ground. Sherlock's lips quirked up into a smile again, a softer, more genuine smile than the strange one that never seemed to sit right on his face from before. "Your Airfish is a perfectly amicable creature, Watson. I don't see a problem." he called to the direction of the kitchen.

There was then the loud clash of heavy metal hitting floor, possibly a pan or a pot, before the potions master stormed out of the kitchen, looking rather ruffled and red around the ears, marching right up to Sherlock and brandishing a notepad much like one would a knife into his face.

Would you please mind not doing that, Holmes

He did not miss the shakier than usual handwriting, and lack of correct punctuation, and opted to smile innocently instead. "Why not? It enjoys the attention," he murmured, and ran a finger rather deliberately down the fish's spine, which swam a little closer to his hand. "While it is your magical creature it certainly isn't slave to your whims."

Watson's only reply was to scribble madly on his notepad, getting increasingly red in the face, and shoved the notepad at him again.

Stop that. Whatever your'e doing, stop God HOLMES KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF

This time, the sentence was also accompanied with garbled scribbles and crossed out words, the pen leaving deep grooves in the thin paper. Undeterred, Sherlock continued to stroke the Airfish, delighting quietly in the sensation against the pad of his fingers. "It seems perfectly happy to have my attention." He gave Watson another smile, knowing that it would rile the shorter man up further.

John certainly didn't disappoint him. You don't go around touching - without permission. His lips were moving now, though no sound emerged, his hands waving around his head, finger stabbing at the notepad for emphasis. Look if you can keep your hands to yourself I'll fix you breakfast. He threw the notepad into Sherlock's face.

The tall man caught the notepad deftly, glancing down at the untidy scrawl over the paper. "I'm not hungry. Eating reduces the time that I have left to do... important things," he said, tearing off the sheets of used paper from the pad, and folding them all neatly into halves before lighting fire to them with a soft whisper. Watson's hands clenched and unclenched, his eyes squeezed close, making an obvious effort to calm himself through the rather dull method of taking in deep breaths, before turning and stomping stiffly back into the kitchen. "Your creator is very temperamental," Sherlock told the Airfish, who was serenely watching him, tail flicking slowly.

Eventually, there was the sound of food frying in oil, and the smell of cooking wafting from the kitchen, domestic sounds that Sherlock had long since deleted from his head. John emerged later, with plates and cutlery in his hands, gathering up the scattered notes on the table and clearing out space, setting the table for two. By the time the scrambled eggs and rashers of bacon were slid onto the two plates, Sherlock had already vanished into John's potions lab, again without permission, his Airfish hovering alone near the window now, the neatly stacked notes that he had left on the couch now missing. As expected, Sherlock was tinkering around in his shelves and cupboards where he stored his components, and he grabbed him, pulling him out of it, jerking a thumb towards the breakfast laid out on the table, piping hot and steaming, a silent message for him to eat. The man obviously could not be trusted to be left on his own, even for a few seconds, but this was all becoming rather predictable now, and John could barely find it in himself to be furious, exasperated and irritated instead.

Sherlock blinked, a look of surprise in his eyes at being dragged out by his lapels, a vial of one of John's experimental Words in his hand, and then frowned at the shorter man for bothering him for something this mundane. "I'm not hungry, Watson. Can we start?"

The look John gave him was decidedly poisonous, though the man's hands were steady this time when he reached for the notepad, gesturing for his pencil wherever he had last left it. Breakfast. Or you can always come back tomorrow.

Sherlock searched John's face briefly, noting the glint in the other's dark blue eyes, before something in his expression gave slightly. "You drive a hard bargain, Watson," he murmured, sitting down before one of the plates, and picking up the cutlery, looking down at the food as though it had displeased him in some manner. John ignored him, settling down into his chair, and began to eat.

Breakfast was conducted mostly in a comfortable silence. John calmed considerably after a while, feeding his fish that was hovering near his elbow bits from his plate now and then. Sherlock found himself eating, and more surprisingly, enjoying the food just slightly, much more than usual. "I must say," he said finally, breaking the delicate silence between them. "Your cooking supersedes your potion skills by quite a fair distance."

John glared at him, though with less venom than before, considering, and said nothing over his forkful of eggs, before writing on his notepad again, the pad thinning out rather quickly. How did you get it to do that? Not that I am giving you permission to touch it anyway again, of course.

"Natural charm. Obviously." Sherlock's lips twisted into a wry smile, realizing the irony of the sentence when applied to himself.

John gave him a strange look, and bit into his bacon. The pencil was only picked up once more when the plates were clear of food, Sherlock watching him over his teacup, and picked up the offered note. I understand that you are highly impatient for results, and that my work is... not satisfactory, but that does not mean that you are allowed to break into my house at any time that you like and destroying my lock. Particularly last night. Whatever was that for?

Sherlock sighed inwardly, and gave the potions master a long suffering look. "I am not breaking into your house. Nothing is broken, and nothing has been stolen. Your locks are all intact. I knocked, as well. It isn't my fault that you were asleep."

There was a rather stern and serious look. I would rather it not happen ever again. This is after all still my house, and not a public area free and open to public access, regardless of whether you are my employer or not. I will continue to regularly update you, and you are welcome to visit so long as you do so normally within reasonable hours and without bypassing my wards and locks.

Sherlock drew in a breath, and inclined his head slightly. "Well, Watson, I suppose I could concede that," he said reluctantly, the tips of his fingers pressed lightly together, returning John's searching stern look. John studied him, before seeming to believe his words, his expression relaxing into something slightly more friendly. See that you do. And it’s John.

Sherlock nodded once, an inclination of his head. "Call me Sherlock," he offered.

John smiled, and got up, bringing the dishes to the kitchen sink, before moving into the lab, glancing at Sherlock. His Airfish had settled down comfortably near the window sill to sleep again, probably lethargic after all the food it had consumed. So what is wrong with my research?

Sherlock turned, picking up John's corrected notes off the desk and handing them to him. "Everything. You need to be updated with the latest research. All your information is old and outdated and quite literally useless. This is only slow down progress in a project where time is of essence." He seemed to be getting agitated again, pacing around the tight space in the lab.

I'm afraid you have to be a little more specific.

Sherlock sighed, his eyes closed, seeming to be summoning whatever patience that he had in him. "Everything was wrong. I've written a comprehensive list within your notes, but I've come to realize that your gap in knowledge may run further and wider than I might know."

John shuffled through his notes, squinting at the new notes that Sherlock had put down beside his own, taking in the new information, and hissed silently between his teeth. It was true that it had been quite a few years, and he had known that there were probably disparities between his knowledge and the latest research now, but he hadn't expected it to be such a huge chasm. He laid his notes back down, smoothing out the pages with a hand that was shaking slightly, a strange feeling of hurt in his chest that even knowledge was leaving him behind now, and picked up his pencil. Would you give me a hand in helping me, then? Since, you obviously know much more than I do that is more up to date.

"I have." Sharp grey-blue eyes did not miss the way John's lips tightened, or the slight tremor in the man's hand. He reached into his coat, and drew out a card, and held it out with two fingers. "That's why I've gotten this for you. I can't be here all the time." He watched John, saw disbelief in the slight widening of those eyes, and could pin point the exact second that the man began to hope again after Sherlock had shot him down for being incompetent and outdated.

How? John mouthed silently, eyes riveted on the card, a hand reaching out, but not daring to touch, still as though holding his breath. Sherlock nearly wrinkled his nose. It was just a card, though it was understandable if the man felt a little overwhelmed in owning one again after having his previous one forcibly taken from him and destroyed, but this was bordering on a little overdramatic. "Take it, it’s yours," Sherlock said gruffly, dropping it into John's hands, who quickly caught it.

The card was made of metal, lightweight and thin, rounded at the corners and smooth to the touch. A row of small holes in symbols were punched across the length of it near the top, and a serial number to the bottom of it. Letters and numbers swirled maddeningly across its surface, until John touched it, and they quickly settled down in a flurry across the card's metallic surface, the trapped words becoming etched into the card.

John Watson

Potions Master

Clearance B

John ran a finger over the punched code that stood for the Library, hardly daring to breathe, his heart thudding away madly in the middle of his chest, his own name staring back at him silently. He paused, finger brushing over the end of the code, and sucked in a sharp breath, feeling giddy again. The code was different from back in his days. This was a lifetime research permit, and not a temporary one, or the sort that required renewal subject to approval from the board, and one with his own name on it. The library in Little London was a highly restricted area, located in the heart of Little London, and required high security clearance to enter, and it wasn't easy to obtain a research permit. Contained under the highest security and beneath the most powerful locks of Related London, the information contained within was highly classified. Clearance was checked and checked again, and even then obtaining any information from it was a hassle and time consuming. John should know, having gone to many pains to obtain his researcher's permit in the past and working his life off to keep it. To be able to obtain one in so short a time... John looked up at man before him. Who are you?

Sherlock had a rather pleased look on his face. "I trust you will put it to good use."

John scrabbled for his notepad. It’s a lifetime permit. How did you-? He waved it in front of Sherlock's pleased face, then looked at it himself, and crumpled it up, knowing that the man before him would not divulge a single word, and it did not matter so long as it was authentic, which he knew it was.

It didn't surprise him when Sherlock cocked his head, just so. "I have my ways," he said, still smiling. John nodded, taking his word for it, and stroked the card gently once, before keeping it.

So- do we visit the Library now? Is that why you're here this early?

"No, not now. Obviously. That's time that we cannot afford to waste today," Sherlock tapped John's notes with a knuckle. "I have retrieved the necessary information for you, saving you a trip, so we can work with that today, and re-evaluate everything that you have done so far."

It turned out that Sherlock had taken notes for John at the library, as well. How he managed it, John supposed that he shouldn't bother with asking, and didn't, the two men busying themselves with going over the discarded theories and components once more, one rattling off facts, the other using the information to form new ideas with pencil and paper, a rather strange pair together.

Sherlock Holmes was, John had to admit, a bloody brilliant man despite of his eccentricities and his disregard of any other human beings and society's conformities. He was rude, his tongue sharp and cruel, the words that spilled from his lips scathing and burning, causing John to engage in more than a silent glaring contest with him, which Sherlock would always win since John could hardly hold up to the intensity of Sherlock's sharp grey-blue stare, and the way that he would frown, and gesture sharply with a harsh "Well?" and watch him, waiting for him to get on with his work. John stopped questioning him the second time in, instead trying his best to catch up to whatever new track Sherlock had on his mind at the moment, forcing himself to overturn old theories and consider new ones. Sherlock, for his part, would often stare accusingly at John, hands often preoccupied with John's old notes that were irrelevant to the matter at hand. He supposed that if one was as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes, one could probably be excused for his snobbish and rude mannerisms. His mind worked in a way that John was unable to fathom, the man murmuring to himself when he was on a roll, his hands seldom still, darting from word to idea to concept all in one leap and a split of a second, and before John himself could catch on, he would have examined the idea from top to bottom and would have critically picked out all the flaws in it before John could have done so himself before latching onto a new idea all over again. John, for his part, would take down any and all ideas that Sherlock rattled off for examination later, having bought a few more notepads and pencils so that he could communicate with Sherlock.

Slowly, the two men found themselves working together in camaraderie. Sherlock had taken to staying over at John's place, taking over his couch occasionally in the day time, and his lab during the night time when John was asleep, doing heaven-knew-what since it was quite obvious that he wasn't as adept at brewing as compared to John, his efforts slightly clumsy, relying heavily on instructions and mechanical movements, purely clinical. After causing a rather spectacular explosion on his own when John had looked away for a minute, John had forbidden him from touching his cauldron ever again. Thoroughly consumed with his work, John did not bother trying to chase Sherlock out, and had long since given up on complaining when the man strolled into his house as though he owned the place itself. Occasionally, pegs would zip into the house through his window, smacking Sherlock on the back of his curly head, to which he would rip them off with a snarl, skimming through the message before gathering up his scarf and coat and dashing out the house with hastily snapped out instructions for John.

Most of this John tolerated, his mind concentrating mostly at solving the problems before him, slowly but steadily perfecting the base potion that they had both agreed and narrowed down on, referring again and again to his and Sherlock's notes. A quarter of the time were usually spent deciphering Sherlock's notes which had no obvious link from one to the other on his own when Sherlock was absent, but John wasn't as stupid as Sherlock might have thought him to be and managed rather well on his own.

It wasn't too bad a partnership, all things considered. Their relationship remained purely professional, a sort of strange friendship forming between the two.

Which was until Sherlock decided to probe a little into John's personal life.

"Have you always been mute?"

He watched as John fumbled and dropped an entire handful of powdered horn into the potion minutes before he should have in reaction to his crude questioning, the shorter man cursing silently, lips moving viciously as he grabbed the Vanishing to clear up the muddy brown sludge bubbling in it now, before snatching up his notepad.


"So what happened?" Sherlock was unfazed by the way the words were ground into the notepad, the grooves clearly visible where the pencil had pressed in too hard.

John gave him a hard stare, tense shoulders hunched defensively, before he swallowed, touching his throat, expression turning resigned. Trust Sherlock to be curious about something that people would normally politely ignore and overlook in order to be civil.

Accident. Was experimenting. Can we not talk about this?

"Ah." Sherlock didn't look quite satisfied with the answer, but he nodded either way, glancing critically at John's throat again. "Interesting."

John did not bother with a reply, stiffly going about starting a new potion again, irritated at his own reaction that caused him to botch the last one up when they were so close to getting it perfect, and also at the twinge in his chest at the reminder of the loss of his voice. No one asked him about it, but God he missed being able to talk, what with Sherlock being constantly in his lab. Sherlock seldom ignored his written notes, but when he did, nothing could compare to the frustration that John felt at not being able to get through to someone that he wanted to talk to, at the fact that he could be easily brushed aside and dismissed because he didn't have a voice.

An awkward silence stretched between the two, thrumming, the Airfish quietly watching them from its corner, seeming to go on forever with neither of them willing to give in first until a peg zipped in and plastered itself onto Sherlock's face, 'Top Priority' in capital letters across the top of the note in dark green ink. Sherlock ripped it off, tearing the peg off the note before tossing it aside in revenge before reading the note. John turned back to crushing his seeds for the potion, knowing that Sherlock would run off to whatever it was in the note as he always did, probably only returning late in the evening and giving him some time to himself. That would be a nice change, perhaps, having Sherlock not crowd at him with his deductions and theories and hovering dark presence that took over any and all space that he was in...

He certainly did not expect for Sherlock to toss his own jacket into his face, while shrugging into his own coat and scarf.

"It appears I have something that I could use your professional opinion with," Sherlock was saying. "You might want to take a look at it. You aren't squeamish, are you? Didn't think so."

John gestured to the cauldron, bewildered. What about the potion?

"Oh for God- leave the potion. This is urgent," Sherlock insisted, his eyes bright with barely suppressed glee. "I need you to help me with this."

John had stood stock still for a moment, torn between staying and going with Sherlock Holmes, but in the end he had his answer when he was pulling on his jacket without even meaning to and following in the strides of Sherlock Holmes as he strode out of the door without waiting to see if John was following.

Of course John was following him.

The bloody bastard probably already figured out that he would, anyway, John thought sullenly, quickening his pace to catch up. First a dig into old wounds, and now pulling him away from his 'top priority' work at the summons of a note to a rather rude peg. Whatever it was, it had better be good. He had no idea of what could baffle Holmes that he could help with, though he suspected that it had to do with potions. With his 'outdated and horrendously incorrect knowledge about the subject that he should be the specialist in'.

Bloody Holmes.

Chapter Text

It was mostly quiet, and that was the part that unsettled John Watson the most, or so the man himself supposed.

The crime scene was securely warded, diversion spells that caused the eyes of passers-by to slide away and not notice what was before them or who was standing there, repelling the nosy public who would undoubtedly pry and gossip, obstructing investigations, holding up the illusion of normality when there were none to give. John could feel the strong hum of the wards in his bones a few feet away, and rubbed at his wrist absently. The only people around were the coats, the specialized division that he had merely heard of before and only had the privilege to see today, nearly faceless people dressed completely in white, glaring white - coats, latex gloves, helmets, and even scrubs. They took care of messes like this, or so he heard, since no one was really sure what Little London was up to all the time. Guesses were all they had. Sherlock was standing close, very close to the victims, still as a statue, hands in his pockets, his expression deep in thought, and John nearly thought that if he looked closer he would be able to see the man's thoughts in a chain reaction of fireworks.

"John," Sherlock said, or demanded, without looking up. "Come over here and stop hovering."

John moved over, carefully, even though he knew that it was impossible for him to disturb anything from the crime scene once the coats had secured it and sealed it down. Any disturbances could be restored back to the exact state the scene was found to be in at a Word.

"What do you think?" Sherlock tilted his head towards John, intense blue eyes glancing up momentarily away from the victims.

It was easier to think of them as victims, instead of people, humans who once were very much alive. The two bodies lay side by side, laid out prettily in cheerful yellow dresses, dainty and delicate, fair hair spilling over the spotless floor, holding hands in an act of mock intimacy, entwined with poison ivy. They looked normal, or as normal as dead people could be. John had attributed the oddness of the dead female twins to their death, but it was until he had touched a cold hand that he realized everything inside had turned into liquid, the skin the only thing that was holding it and keeping it all in. His hand had sank in without resistance, the body feeling much like a soft rubber toy filled with water, and he had yanked his hand back with a silent curse. Now that he had a vague idea of what it was, he could see where the oddness began and ended, the slight distortion to the fresh young faces, the too-wide mouths where everything had turned into liquid and melted off their bones, the impossible contours of where the bodies lay upon the floor, barely noticeable. Both were young, about eleven or twelve, pale fair skin with nary a freckle or blemish and equally fair hair, the relaxed peaceful expression at odds with the notion that they might simply be sleeping, though John was fairly sure that their eyes had probably melted away as well, judging from their sunken eyelids, frozen in beauty and time at the point of their death.

"Well?" Sherlock's sharp voice brought him out of his thoughts. "I do hope you're not queasy."

What on earth was he doing here was the first question that leapt into John's mind. The next was what in the Names of all things known was Sherlock doing with them? Was this his real job, what he did whenever he ran away halfway through a sentence? Questions chased each other in his head in that split second. Was Sherlock from Little London? Who exactly was Sherlock Holmes? Instead, he opened his mouth, before he remembered that he had no voice, and dug out his notepad.

They're dead.

Sherlock shot him a rather withering look. "Thank you for stating the obvious, John," he said dryly. "Now, if we could at least attempt to get somewhere beyond that point?"

John looked back down at the dead bodies before him, swallowing back bile. Skin and bones are still intact. I can't feel any muscles, or organs for that matter. It made him sick watching the skin sink in with the impression of his hand wherever he touched the body, and he very carefully did not touch their closed eyelids. Bones are still present.

"Better," Sherlock sniffed. "This potion melts internal organs and muscle. It turns everything inside into liquid, yet it leaves the skin and bones completely intact." He knelt down, picking up a hand, watching the skin go limp as the liquid flowed backwards up the arm, the skin containing it swelling slowly as the hand turned into literal skin and bones. "This is the second case, and we have been unable to determine the components so far."

Potion? How do you know that it is a potion? What is all this about?

"It is a potion, because they show signs of being force-fed, of course," Sherlock's voice had taken on the tight quality that it did whenever the man was getting impatient, and John peered at the victims' faces to try to look for the signs that Sherlock had seen obviously that he could not. However, impatient to wait for John to find the signs on his own, Sherlock pointed at the faint, nearly unnoticeable bruises on the skin of the faces near the lips, and the neck, looking more like shadows from a trick of the light than what they really are. "Do try to observe, will you?" He snapped.

John took it all in, before examining the bodies carefully, disturbing as little as possible. The bodies were remarkably clean except for the bruises that Sherlock had pointed out, free of blood and dirt. Dead bodies were generally pale as they went, but the two girls were quite washed of color, skin nearly white, lips pale. Poison would be out of the question, he quickly scribbled down for Sherlock, though he had no doubt the man might have already made that conclusion on his own ages ago. Most poisons would leave a mark or a sign, but they don't have those. Does anyone have a pair of gloves?

At a sharp gesture from Sherlock, a pair of white rubber gloves were dropped into his lap, both of which he pulled on gratefully before gingerly probing a finger into one of the girls' mouths, pulling back the lips to reveal startlingly white teeth and nothing but bone with it, a viscous dark brown liquid clinging to the tips of his fingers as he withdrew his hand, having seen all that he had wanted to see and more. John fought a shudder, and resisted the impulse to wipe the dissolved flesh somewhere, such as the ground, and held his hand carefully away from his body.

There were potions that could melt and eat at metal and stone, potions that could erode away anything and everything that it touched, but none that would leave skin and bone intact while melting away muscles and flesh. It was all strange, very strange. A potion specific enough to melt away flesh and blood, leaving behind whole skin and bones bleached clean and white, it sounded like something that Lower World would cook up in its grimy bowels. Components alone would not be able to produce an effect as specific as this, and would have melted the entire body away into a gooey mess on the ground, and throughout his entire profession of being a researcher and a potions master, there was only one possibility that came foremost to his mind that was the most plausible for the cause of this.

Words, he wrote. It’s one of the compound potions with components and Words.

Sherlock did not ridicule him, instead tilting his head towards the bodies, his expression taking on a considering one. "That is possible?"

I was the one in charge of the primary research years ago. It was never published. The potions master was already writing down possible components that had certain destructive properties that could be boosted with the help of well thought out words that he had never tried before, but was pretty sure that there was the possibility of it working, while Sherlock paced around the body, deep in thought before plucking John's half written list out of his hand to a silent yelp from the man, skimming through the listed components, before his brow smoothed out from its frown, lips parting to draw in a breath. "Yes," he breathed, turning back to the body, eyes gleaming with the predatory, hungry light of a hound having caught sight of a rabbit for its dinner, raking the corpses from head to toe. "Yes, it just might be possible. What was he thinking, keeping such important information away from me? For God's sake. You are certain that this would - of course you are certain, you're not that incompetent I should think."

Before John could start on his silent protest, Sherlock was already striding away with the slip of paper in his hand, giving down orders to the coats standing by the wards to pack up and the likes, before with a sharp gesture of his wrist, made a Kite materialize by his side, a sleek, aerodynamic device of transport, gleaming white. It hovered a little off the ground, completely still, its body slim and with enough space to carry two passengers at its best capacity, shaped much like a paper aeroplane with perfectly rounded corners and slick lines, a single handle protruding from its nose, built to be extremely lightweight and fast, but seldom seen around Related Londons mostly due to its cost, and the amount of the user's magic used to power it.

"I expect the team to be back in an hour with results!" Sherlock called cheerfully, stepping onto his Kite, before it took off in a strong blast of dust and wind, soaring upwards and darting away into the sky, Sherlock's black coat flapping in the strong wind, the man holding on with one hand. John watched him disappear into the distance, then at the coats that were now actively working to pack up, cleaning up the crime scene, all of them ignoring him. He stood there for a moment, awkward, before stuffing his notepad back into his pocket and making his way stiffly home.

For the next few days after the dead twins’ incident, things were rather quiet for John, the man working diligently at the progress on Sherlock's potion. The base potion had been perfected, more or less, and John's instincts had told him to move on with it. Sherlock did not show up at all, leaving John to the silence and the bubbling of his potions without any interruption. John had been a little glad once the initial anger of being abandoned with a bunch of strange coats and two dead bodies without any explanation had died down, enjoying the peace and quiet with his fish, working at his own pace without any breaks in between. But two days later, content turned into irritation, and irritation into annoyance at the silence, at the potion that didn't seem to want to be brewed and generally everything else in between. When his potion spluttered into a sparkling bright pink colour later, he threw down his pen, grabbed his jacket and walked out through the door, leaving his fish behind to ponder over the sparkling potion that was wrong, wrong and wrong. Well, deadlines be damned, John felt that rather deserved a break either way, particularly if Sherlock wasn't around to boss him around his own damn house, and what with that incident with the dead twins. It didn't particularly give him bad dreams, no, but it did put John off his food for a day or two. An explanation would have been nice, courtesy at least, but it seemed that Sherlock Holmes was above that as well.

The cool breeze and the clean, bright sunlight was a welcome exchange for his small house, stifling and all of a sudden much too constricted and close. He took his time, strolling down the streets aimlessly, wandering towards the Central Market, wanting to be with other people, needing the noise and the chatter and colors, and perhaps some of those marvelous jam cakes again. He really did not understand Sherlock, a stranger and his employer, barging into his house and his life and bossing him around it as he liked more or less, and commenting on every single thing he did, taking over his couch as he willed and leaving John to nap in a rather uncomfortable chair when he needed to. He knew that it was simply the man to do so, but even sometimes he needed to be away from it all, and now that he was alone in his house, the silence turned oppressive and heavy and all of a sudden much too unbearable. What had changed, then? He had been living alone with his fish for a rather long time before Sherlock Holmes had came along, and he was fine all along then. And how long had he known Sherlock, a few weeks? Not long enough to be real friends, no, he didn't suppose so.

In the short time that he had known Sherlock, the man had more or less turned his life upside down. He showed up at the most inconvenient of times, and he drank all of his tea. He seldom ate, and slept at odd hours. He messed up John's notes and left them all over the place, relevant or irrelevant regardless, but was able to retrieve a specific piece of information whenever John threw his notepad at him. He poked into everything that John had - old research, notebooks, journals, even though he had no business to and did so whenever John wasn't looking, and he let him, exasperated and tired of writing him notes that the man never read or ignored. He couldn't leave his fish alone, though he refrained from touching it whenever John was around or looking. He wasn't too sure about when he was sleeping or not around, though. The man at the same time proved himself to be exceedingly intelligent, though most of the time he was berating John for his slowness and his 'outdated knowledge', and yet at the same time praised John whenever he did something right. Which he should, since John was really the expert on potions and not Sherlock.

John sucked in a breath, sighing, pulling his jacket closer around himself. Sherlock had been a whirlwind of madness and possibilities and all things unexpected, from potions to corpses and everything in between, and it had been something that John had missed from his life when he had been cut off from being a researcher that he hadn't notice that he had lost along with his voice. With the silence, everything else had bled out. He hadn't notice how or when it had all slipped away from him, from waking up to new ideas and things to try out and to test on, to stumbling blocks of frustration and anger to the elation of clearing a hurdle, as small as it was. He didn't realize how little he had, not that it had really mattered to him when his research was his life back then, and when it had left him, he had been too distracted with his newfound silence. With Sherlock, it had crept back, bit by bit - late nights, frustrations and anger that lasted for hours on end, the many notes and mind maps that lay around his once neat potions lab. He had something to focus on instead of his monthly rent and money for food and living necessities with his days passing by in a blur and at a crawl. Something to look forward to, something to chase after, with Sherlock Holmes setting the standards for him.

He approached the Market and its shoppers, pausing before shops now and then to look at the displayed merchandise, in all sorts of colors and shapes and sizes, wandering on to the next, not really paying attention, before shaking his head and moving on. This wasn't him, and he refused to admit that he was probably sulking, for reasons he did not want to find out. He wandered idly into the shop that he usually visited for his tea, and took his time browsing instead of grabbing his usual tea leaves and leaving, breathing in the scent of the various tea leaves, and calming considerably. Tea was about the only thing that he allowed himself to enjoy nowadays, along with jam, indulging in both shamelessly, living frugally on his earnings. Now that Sherlock had come along with his request for a new potion, Sherlock had hidden his credit glass somewhere, and had firmly taken over everything that involved money, mostly the purchasing of potion components that they needed and then some. And since John couldn't find his credit glass, even with his fish, he made do with Sherlock's money, taking it as his payment for putting up with Sherlock daily, and refused to say that it was because there was nothing that he could do. He rather had reason to believe that Sherlock had either intercepted his mail, as well, or he had taken care of it somehow, since his potions supply was diminishing, and he took to replenishing them when he wasn't working on Sherlock's potion.

There were jars lying around, and small little sacks bearing fragrant leaves in it, and John walked slowly past the shelves, sniffing them now and then, and putting them back. There was the vanilla bourbon tea, and there was the green tea that he used to drink, and other exotic blends. Eventually, he left the shop with a bag of an irish breakfast and cinnamon blend, as well as something breakfast and vanilla and fruity, he couldn't remember, but it did smell nice, and gave him something to look forward to when he returned home. Sherlock, John thought, had rather made himself the center of John's aimless life when he sent his letter to him, and much like the first day when he had barged into John's living room, his presence somehow commandeered the entire room, impossible to ignore, impossible to disobey. He walked into the bakery, nodded at the girl behind the counter with a small in-between smile, and selected a few jam cakes, and a slice of a rather delicious smelling meat pie. The girl, young and pretty, smiled at him, and put in a small bag of sugar cookies into his paper bag which he couldn't find it in himself to refuse, and thanked her with a nod of his head and what could be passed for a brilliantly shy smile from a reputedly quiet man.

With his arms full, he retraced his steps back home, having worn off the edge off his restlessness, feeling a little more settled from his walk, and the slight bit happier from the smile and cookies that the girl at the bakery had given him. Once the potion was complete, Sherlock would leave, and he would be left with his old life again, though he supposed after that he could perhaps actively try to seek out jobs identical to what Sherlock had given him, or perhaps he was hoping for too much? Rejoin Little London, work for them again after they had cut him off so viciously and cleanly and clearly wanted nothing more to do with him again? He rummaged into his paper bag, and fished out a sugar cookie, biting into it. Well, he would probably work that out as and when it happened, he supposed. There was no use being worried about something that hadn't happened yet, and he was pretty certain that he would, somehow. There was still the potion to worry about, and dinner, if Sherlock would allow him time to fix it, though he could probably make do with the pie and the tea. And then afterwards, perhaps he should tidy up a little, and catch up on his sleep. Sherlock probably was still out, or at his own home wherever he was, so he should also probably send him an update on what was going on, as well.

He was still figuring out the order of what things to do when he walked back through his front door, but sadly, Holmes had, as usual, sorted them all out for him already.

What with Sherlock perched on his ugly, lumpy couch, and a stranger opposite him, in a chair.

More importantly, in a suit.

A resident in his house.

He stood awkwardly in the doorway, before he remembered that this was his house, and closed the door behind him, scowling at Sherlock, still clutching his paper bags to himself, and looking warily at the uninvited resident on his chair. Sherlock didn't look sorry, merely glancing at John, in a suit as well, though without a tie and with his shirt unbuttoned at his throat. The resident gave John a once over, scrutinizing him, before turning back to Sherlock, silent, and clearly unhappy, although there was no change in his expression. Very much like the people of Little London, John thought.

"My brother. Mycroft Holmes," Sherlock said in way of explanation with a careless flick of his left hand.

Mycroft Holmes issued a soft sigh, and stood up, the very picture of quiet authority; appearing soft and genteel though it did not for one second fool John into thinking that the razor sharp ruthlessness was not hiding within. This was a man with a perfect mask, the absolute personification of Little London, more so than any other residents that John had ever seen, dignified, in control, and with tightly leashed power that he would not hesitate to use as he saw fit. This was a dangerous man, beneath his soft airs and graces, his heart hidden away behind the hundreds of lies that constructed the veneer that he possessed, deceptively forgiving but just as cruel as the rest of the world that ruled Related Londons, and it made John wary, immediately.

He really did not need another Holmes in his life.

"Pardon my brother," Mycroft said quietly, with a careful tilt of his head, and a rather disapproving glance at his younger brother. His voice was soft, with a gentle lilt, completely smooth. "He seems to have misinformed me that it was fine to enter your house using a... spare key." He held out a hand towards John. "Mycroft Holmes, Head of Magical Misuse and Legalities."

John was pretty certain that by spare key, they really meant lock-pick, or the paper clip that Sherlock had on hand since he clearly did not have a spare key and did not give his only key to Sherlock. He shook Mycroft's hand either way, the man's hand soft and warm in his own, and he let go as soon as it was polite, and sent a glare at Sherlock.

"If I didn't let him in," Sherlock started. "My brother might have fainted in the streets. Mycroft does have a rather delicate constitution, don't you?" He aimed a rather sharp smile at his brother, the tips of his fingers pressed together. John watched the two of them, sensing the sibling rivalry that he did not want to get into, as Mycroft glared at Sherlock, before his expression smoothed out again.

The point of this visit? John did not waste time cutting to the chase, holding up the notepad to the both of them, unwilling to allow them to waste his time snapping at each other, which he was somewhat sure that they would given enough time.

"We're having lunch with Mycroft. Tomorrow. In Little London. We're going to the Diogenes, of course," Sherlock answered. The Diogenes was a rather elusive and exclusive club to the highly reputed members of Little London, mostly politicians and researchers, and it didn't surprise John at all that the Holmes brothers would have access to it.

"Quite so," Mycroft was consulting his pocket watch, flipping open the lid with his thumb. "Now, I am afraid I must leave, I am two minutes behind time. It has been a pleasure, Research Potioneer Watson." The man's lips did an imitation of a smile that did not quite sit well, a little like, John thought, the expressions of the dead girls.

You said 'we' there, I'm sure that is a mistake, John wrote on his notepad. Lunch. Why lunch? Whatever for?

"Sherlock will furnish you with the details, I'm sure," Mycroft answered amiably, smiling, and shaking John's hand again, before picking up the black umbrella resting against the chair, and turning to leave.

"I said it twice," Sherlock said slowly in clear words, as if John was slow on the uptake. "We, as in Mycroft, yourself, and I are going for lunch at the Diogenes. They do have a rather fabulous buffet there, with the most delectable desserts that you could dream of, much better than your jam cakes. Isn't that so, Mycroft?"

His elder brother merely turned back slightly, a look of exasperation on his face. "You never cease to be juvenile at every opportunity, Sherlock," he said lightly, though he was gripping his umbrella rather tightly, John noticed.

Sherlock, I don't see why I should. He raised the notepad to the younger Holmes, his words scratched in capital letters into the paper. Employer or friend, he certainly could not forgive Sherlock for inviting a stranger into his house, even if it was his brother, and he certainly did not appreciate Sherlock arranging appointments and lunches on his behalf without his agreement. Though, he was surprisingly calm throughout, his only irritation the crease between his brow.

"Well, because it's delicious," Sherlock sounded surprised, though the tone sounded highly false to John's ears. "It is worth a trip."

The elder Holmes, however, paused entirely at the door, and turned back with a serious look in his eyes. "Would you prefer the Hellfire, instead?" He asked, though his lips were set in a rather disapproving line.

That's beside the point, and you know it, Sherlock. And... and his brother. John, thoroughly exasperated, bent to pick up the paper bags that he had put aside for his notepad to bring them into the kitchen for shelving.

"I don't quite understand, sir," Mycroft continued to speak from the door, and John twitched at the patronizing tone. "Is the time inconvenient for you?"

No! Why are we having - lunch? What business do you have in my house? Don't pretend, John marched out into his living room, shoving the paper into Mycroft's face as well. That this is a social call because I don't know you and I know what business is when I see it miles away.

Mycroft, for his part, did not go cross-eyed the way his younger brother did, and instead blinked, slowly, rather like a reptile, before a lazy look came into his eyes. "Well, I wanted to discuss your reappointment to Research Potioneer, Mr Watson. If you would like to decline the appointment, then of course lunch will be unnecessary. You are absolutely correct, this is a business call. I am hardly a social person." He smiled at John, who wanted nothing more than to wipe that horrible plastic smile from the elder Holmes' face, until his words sank in, and he spent a few moments with his mind reeling while Mycroft calmly retrieved a peg from the inside of his waistcoat to write a note, clipping it to the peg which zipped away out, and watched as John did a rather good imitation of a landed fish with slight amusement. "Would you like to take a seat, sir? You look rather unwell."

At this point in time, his Airfish took the chance to swim up, doing a quick circle around Sherlock before joining John, very carefully avoiding Mycroft. Sherlock had raised a hand to pet John's fish when it swam before him, but his hand was smacked aside with a sharp gesture from Mycroft. "Yes, John, sit down," he added, after shaking out his hand.

John, however, did not sit and remained standing. I'm reappointed. Why? He held up the notepad after a while, looking bewildered at the both of them, his heart pounding away in his ribcage once more.

Mycroft checked his pocket watch again, and sighed. "I really must leave, Mr. Watson. I assume we will meet for lunch tomorrow, so that we will be able to discuss this in greater detail." He nodded once at John, then turned and left the man standing baffled in his own doorway, utterly confused once more, before turning to the only Holmes in his living room now, relaxing, never noticing that he had tensed up ever since he shook hands with Mycroft Holmes.

What was all that. Reappointment? He flapped the paper in front of Sherlock.

Sherlock instead smiled widely, clapping his hands together cheerfully, standing up. "Well, back to work, shall we? We've certainly wasted too much time listening to Mycroft ramble. You'll find out tomorrow, either way. Mycroft does talk a lot when he thinks that there is someone paying attention to him." John had let go of the doorknob and let himself be shepherded back into his potions lab, as Sherlock flapped his hands at him, tsking, in rather put on false cheeriness.

And the corpses, what about the CORPSES? You left me there! Without any explanation! John waved the notepad futilely before Sherlock as the man tried his best at ignoring John's written notes.

"I doubt that they are corpses, John," he finally said, pausing, when John more or less plastered it to the other man's face. "More like liquefied remains. Does that help? Now, work." He clicked his tongue.


"Yes, yes, as I am well aware of that fact. It is not as though I cannot tell for myself that they are dead. Did you enjoy their company? Come on now, work." Sherlock pushed John into his potions lab, and two seconds later, there was the sound of something breaking, making John rush into the laboratory to repair whatever it was, and contain the damage. As he did so, Sherlock noticed John's botched attempt that he had not cleared up before storming out through his door earlier in the day.

"John! What is this pink atrocity?!" Sherlock demanded as John went about picking up glass and cleaning up the spilt potion, cursing silently as he went, unable to deal with both issues at the same time.

Chaos ensued for the next few minutes, and the issue about John's reappointment was forgotten as Sherlock made his displeasure about having a bright pink and sparkling potion in the cauldron loudly known, and later on effectively avoided any and all notes that John wrote about anything to do with Mycroft, only answering with a rather strange and smug smile on his face, which only served to unsettle John more. It did put Sherlock in a lasting good mood throughout the day, however, the man actually sitting down to have some of the pie that John bought for the both of them, and to try the new tea which he seemed to like.

"Could do with some milk," Sherlock said thoughtfully. "I assume you haven't found it yet? Also, the sugar cookies are be-spelled to make you fall in love with the girl in the shop. You shouldn’t flirt when there are more serious matters at hand. Come now, John, you must know that it is highly inappropriate for a man of your status to cavort with a commoner girl. Why, you might even give her false hopes."

John paled and stared at the cookies, before Sherlock added, “They’re not be-spelled, John. Honestly, Research Potioneer. Should you not be able to tell if something is under influence of magic or not at a glance?”

John’s scowl was etched onto his face for the rest of his day, as he took the cups and dishes to the sink, and never noticed the way his fish had stayed close to him ever since Mycroft Holmes had left, hovering by his left knee constantly, silent.

Chapter Text

The next morning had started pleasantly slow, with John waking up covered in notes, lying on his lumpy couch, with his house in a comfortable silence that indicated Sherlock had left while John was asleep. The potions master took his time milling about, basking in the lazy morning by making tea, a part of his usual routine, sitting down with a piece of toast, a small pat of butter and jam, looking down at the notes spread over his table without registering the information, allowing everything to remain in a lazy, hazy blur in the back of his mind. He was halfway through his delicious jam toast when a note zipped in and snapped to attention before his face, before throwing itself down across his crumb-scattered plate, knocking his butter knife off the side. John contented himself with another bite of his jam toast, before looking down at Sherlock's note, retrieving his peg with one hand, chewing.

John, ETA 5 minutes. Be dressed, get into the black car. SH

John was still pondering over the short note when another zipped in to join the first, on his plate as well, much to his slight annoyance.

Wear something acceptable. SH

John blinked at it, taking yet another bite of his jam toast, licking the smeared jam off his lips, and taking a delicate sip from his teacup. It was in this state that Sherlock found him exactly five minutes later, delicately brushing the crumbs off himself, still calmly seated at the table, enjoying his half empty, gently steaming cup of tea, with his hair slightly mussed from sleep, not looking up at Sherlock's entrance, and carefully balancing Sherlock's pegs on top of one another.

"John!" Sherlock's voice was a little shrill this particular morning, John thought. "What are you doing?"

The potions master merely turned to Sherlock, the rim of the teacup still pressed to his lips, quirking a brow as if to ask Sherlock what it was that he thought John was doing, indeed, if it didn't look like a man enjoying a solitary breakfast at home on a perfectly peaceful morning. Sherlock was once more in his black coat and blue scarf, neatly knotted at his throat, immaculate as usual, though, John suspected, never as immaculate as the brother that they were supposed to have lunch with later. His Airfish drifted towards Sherlock, and the man's eyes glanced at it for a second, apparently a shade of steel grey this morning. "We don't have time, John," the man said tersely, hovering over John as he turned back to the table to enjoy the remainder of his tea, and frowned when John pointed to the clock. "Get dressed, John. No, actually, don't get dressed, we don't have time for that." He grabbed John's jacket that was hanging conveniently near the door, and grabbed John's wrist, pulling him away from the table and forcing him to put down his half finished cup of tea with a rather loud clink, startling his Airfish with the sudden movement. "Come on, the car is waiting."

John, more or less used to Sherlock's impulsiveness, merely made a quick gesture with his left hand, his trusty notepad and pencil drawn into the air, drifting after him, followed by his curious fish, the door slamming close after them all. Sherlock dragged John impatiently out to the cobbled streets, the morning slowly turning golden, a sleek black car parked quietly before his door, its coat of paint gleaming in the morning sun, a machine of tinted glass and black steel on four equally black wheels. The official transport of Little London, parked before his doorstep. Oh, people would definitely talk now, John grimaced as Sherlock pushed him into the car, getting him to slide across the cream cushioned leather seats so that he could get in, his fish slinking in before the door could close, having swallowed his pencil and his notepad whole, and resting upon his lap. The car pulled away with barely a whisper the moment the door closed, and John swallowed at the odd feeling of being in a moving object when it felt as though that the car he was in was completely still, and that what was moving was really Related Londons. Perhaps this was the reason why people barely saw these cars around, and when they were sighted, they were always still and parked at a distance. Hardly anyone saw them moving, and when they did, it was often when the cars were pulling to a stop. It was rather something else to be in one completely, John settled back against his seat, watching Related Londons roll past the tinted windows, a finger gently stroking his Airfish's fins.

Sherlock had been silent, content to watch Upper World flash by and melt away through the window glass in a mix of colors and squat buildings, but when color was replaced by sterile white, he sat up, and made to toss the jacket onto John's lap, stopping when he realized John's precious Airfish was in it. "Put this on, and do something to your hair," he said, as the car made its way across the empty Central Square, crossing over to the strange territory of Little London. John ran his fingers through his hair, just to flatten it down, and pulled on his jacket, tugging it close as he watched the buildings loom closer and closer, imposing and menacing. The roads were white, bleached white, before it bled into a dull grey, not exactly different from the blacks and dark grey tones of the buildings. John suppressed a shiver as they passed into Little London, the buildings looming close on both sides. It had been a few years, but it seemed that nothing much had changed on the surface, so it seems. Little London was a neat little map of grids and squares and sharp lines and corners, each building lined up immaculately next to one another, the black and the grey sucking out the life and the color, all monitored beneath the watchful eye of the CCTVs gleaming from every corner. He had never liked Little London much, and had only visited it on the occasions that he needed to go to the library, or to present his reports and research findings.

As cold and as bleak and just as merciless as it was on the surface, it was full of politics and science and laws and everything else in between, stacked up neatly by categories in alphabetical order. It was the way Little London was, and the way it would be in ten years, perhaps even millennia, until the end of time. There were hardly any residents on the streets, though John glimpsed a resident or two in their black suits and white shirts with a tie at their collar, and a car down the corner of another identical road. The buildings looked nearly the same, if not for the names of each street and building imprinted upon the white pavements and engraved into the walls of the buildings. It was clinical and oppressive, and John was suddenly very glad for his fish being with him, despite of the fact that there was nothing much that it could do as a magical creature, as well as that Sherlock did not wear a suit and a tie just like the rest of the residents, and equally as glad that the scarf was blue and not black. He had left Little London behind for all those years for good - hateful, unfeeling Little London, and now he was going back, returning to it like the obedient little citizen that he was, with Sherlock Holmes. A life that I wanted, John reminded himself firmly as he forced himself to breathe. Even with all the rules and regulations and CCTVs.

"We're not heading to the Diogenes today," Sherlock said rather suddenly, breaking the silence rather abruptly that John started, and turned to see Sherlock's intense gaze on him, unwavering. "Apparently something," his lip curled. "Had come up for Mycroft, therefore we will be having lunch at his home, instead."

John nodded, turning to look out through the windows again, seeing nothing but black and grey and white, and chose to instead look down at his fish, fingers brushing over its translucent scales, anxiety boiling within his chest. He did not feel the car stop, and looked up, blinking, when Sherlock touched his sleeve briefly. "Come on," Sherlock said quietly, taking hold of his wrist, the car having pulled up before a sprawling black and grey mansion, and tugged him out of the car, keeping a firm hold on John. John got out, slamming the car door closed behind him, and had the chance to glimpse the driver driving the car, in a white shirt and neatly knotted tie, a hat on his head and completely faceless before the car pulled away, or in a better sense of the word, melted away into nothing.

"Don't stare," Sherlock murmured, pulling him towards the doors. "It’s rude to stare, don't you know?"


If John thought the exterior of Little London was bad, it was worse inside Mycroft Holmes' mansion. The butler was quietly respectful, although John did not miss the small disapproving look directed at his clothes, having opened the door to receive them and leading them to what he assumed would be the dining room. It was a monochrome reality, the floor a smooth white marble, their footsteps echoing off it to be absorbed by the pitch black walls around it, the silence heavy and thick, brooding. The maze of corridors seemed to stretch on forever, the walls devoid of paintings and color, with only windows placed sparsely to break the monotone, a thick stripe of white running across the middle, connecting them all together. There were corridors with white floors, and corridors with black floors. There were checkered tiles and checkered walls, and once, a completely striped corridor that he glimpsed around the corner. Further into the mansion, there were ebony doors set into the walls, firmly closed, though each one had a white marking on the middle of it, in a symbol or a number, and in a rather strange case, an equation. John took this all in, trailing after Sherlock and the butler without a word. Light seemed to be coming from the high ceiling, but he wasn't too sure about that.

Mycroft Holmes was already in the dining room when the butler showed them in, seated at the head of the dining table that dominated most of the room, his back to the glass window that covered the entirety of a wall. Sherlock swept in, and seated himself to Mycroft's right after a glance at the dinner settings, leaving John hovering near the door with his Airfish, before he made his way slowly to the seat opposite Sherlock, sitting down gingerly on the hard black chair, feeling the cold starting to seep in through the fabric of his pants, his own reflection blinking back, pale, from the gleaming black surface on the table before him. Very much alike to what of the house that John had seen so far, the dining room was also free from decorations and color, though the sunlight pouring in through the window was a welcome change. If the entire house was meant to intimidate, John thought, Mycroft did a very good job of it - he did not feel particularly inclined to eat, in such an alien environment, with the two Holmes watching him, one smiling patronizingly, the other expressionless with just the slight tightness at the corner of his mouth and the slightly narrowed eyes the only outward show of his displeasure.

"Sherlock. Research Potioneer Watson," the elder Holmes began, smiling with a little too much teeth for comfort. "I hope you aren't adverse to duck?"

John shook his head silently, glancing at Sherlock, whose lips tightened a little more, and did not answer. The elder Holmes brother was dressed impeccably as per usual, but as he summoned the servant to send up the wine, the cuff of his shirt slid down just the slightest bit to reveal a forming bruise, as though he had been restrained, one that his younger brother's sharp eyes did not miss. Sherlock's lips quirked, before turning to Mycroft and saying, "If we had known that you would be so preoccupied, Mycroft, we could have arranged it on some other day," he drawled.

"I," Mycroft started, pressing the tips of his fingers together and directing a stare over them at his younger brother, lips pressed in a straight line. "Am perfectly capable of arranging my own schedule, brother dear." His voice remained level, smooth as butter.

Sherlock seemed to scoff, leaning back against his chair, tipping his head just so slightly back. "Are you, indeed? You very nearly had to cancel on us today. Running late, were we?" Steel blue eyes slid to Mycroft's wrist and lingered for a second, and then two. "You should get your priorities right, Mycroft."

John looked between the two brothers, not discerning the cause of the frosty silence that cropped up suddenly between the two of them, and hoped that the entire business of lunch would be over soon, without fuss, even though he knew that was too much to ask for from the Holmes siblings. He vaguely wondered how many family dinners those two had ruined over the course of their respective youth. His fish had settled upon his empty plate, its long tail trailing off the side of the plate onto the table, lazily swishing its tail from side to side, moving the cutlery from their proper place, basking in the sunlight.

"Even if I were running late, I assure you that my business remains far more organized than your own haphazard one," Mycroft spoke up again, his tone cold now, although he did not raise his voice. John shifted, uncomfortable with the entire place, the setting, and the two of them.

"Crimes don't occur on a regular schedule," Sherlock replied lightly. “If they did, I would suspect you immediately.”

John sighed inwardly, quietly resigning himself to hours of sibling rivalry, a terrible lunch without a single clue as to what was truly going on, and to hopefully being ignored for the most part. His Airfish, however, decided to sweep his fork off the table with a clatter, and John dove after the fork, catching it in his lap, before frowning and tapping the fish's spine with the back of it, to which it merely wriggled in delight. John watched it in mock exasperation, before looking up to find both Holmes brothers pinning him down with identical stares, and swallowed despite himself, feeling much like a fly beneath a microscope.

"Please, Mr. Watson," Mycroft's eyes flickered to his fish, then to the fork that John had in his hand. "Your fish isn't edible."

John frowned, sending the elder Holmes an unhappy look as he set his fork back down by the side of the plate where it was supposed to be, his fish now sweeping the spoon some centimeters away from its placing in an act of silent rebellion. Mycroft merely sent him a cold stare, his lips curving in a semblance of a mocking smile, and John thought that he might have put the spoon down a little too hard upon the table. Sherlock merely watched John's Airfish, until the stiff silence was once more broken by the arrival of the appetizers, brought in by servants on silver trays. John glanced at the food as it was set down upon the table, doing his best to ignore Mycroft even as lunch became increasingly uncomfortable. It looked like something shrimp and something salad, piled upon a large lettuce leave, and John wondered if it was possible that the food could be poisoned. If it wasn't the food, then possibly the mansion itself - John certainly felt a little sick, and pitied whoever had to have dinner with Mycroft Holmes on a daily basis.

His Airfish swam away from his plate, after leaving his notepad and pencil by his hand as they served him a portion of the appetizer. "It’s perfectly safe," Sherlock said, not missing the way John was examining his food the way the man might look over components for a potentially hazardous potion, to which John gave a rather tight smile. He picked up his fork, and speared a little bit of shrimp on the end of it, and put it into his mouth, chewing. It didn't taste bland, as he had expected, sweetness bursting across his tongue, followed by a hint of salty brine. More or less reassured, John focused on his food.

The appetizer went by in silence; the only sound being the tines of forks scraping against the plates ringing between the three of them, though that came mostly from John, who fed his Airfish bits of shrimp to Mycroft Holmes' disapproving glance. His Airfish seemed content enough, and was willing to shred at the lettuce on his plate that he wasn't very fond of. Sherlock merely ate, a minor surprise, since the man seemed to refuse food whenever he could when he was at John's house. If Sherlock was used to food like this, then it was no surprise that he would turn down John's fare, he supposed. Though personally, he would rather have bread and butter all his life than to dine well in a dismal dining room with a brother who seemed to be made of polished marble.

The soup that came next was a strange creation, a double layered thing in a bowl, gently steaming. The top was clear, while the bottom seemed pinkish, separating clearly into two layers, without any meat or vegetables in it. John prodded at his soup, half expecting it to wobble like a jelly, and found out that the top layer tasted of chicken, while the bottom was beet. A glance upwards showed Mycroft stirring his soup together, before sipping soundlessly. The potions master looked back down at his soup, before stirring his together as well, and trying his best to be silent in drinking it, since Mycroft seemed to be the sort to stare down his nose at any minor slip of manners, no matter of what sort. His brother, however, was more than happy to slurp loudly and rudely in a bid to irritate his brother, smiling at every irritated look that Mycroft sent his way.

Once the bowls were empty of soup, the servants moved in again, soundlessly, to serve the main of seared duck breast, with drizzled raspberry sauce and asparagus, artfully arranged on the plate. Still, no one said a single word, and it was assumed that business matters would only begin when the last course was served and the plates were cleared. John sighed inwardly, wondering if he would last till then, the tension a crushing weight upon him, watching as his Airfish nimbly darted forwards to nip a piece of duck from his plate in violation of table manners. The only one who seemed to be enjoying the affair seemed to be his Airfish, and he admitted that a tiny part of him rather envied it as it lazily swum in a circle over the table, attempting to chew into the duck. If the Holmes brothers were offended by his table manners in any way, they could probably skip the entire song-and-dance routine of this business ritual the next time, John thought, cutting into a piece of duck. He was a man who preferred to get down to business without any gimmicks, particularly from anyone whose last name was Holmes, people who tended to dress up the affair and pulled the wool over the poor victim's eyes until they were ready for the kill, which they would always get, and in this case, him in a slightly wrinkled jacket and sleep messed hair.

"I believe," Mycroft suddenly spoke when the last servant had left the room and closed the door behind her. "That you are curious about your sudden reappointment?"

John looked up, pinned once more by the scalpel sharp gaze, about to bite into his duck, and set it back down with a nod. Sherlock did not react, dicing up his asparagus, subtly luring John's Airfish over to him.

Mycroft smiled, slicing thinly into his duck with his knife. "You are being offered a reappointment to the position of Research Potioneer, simply because of the work you have been doing recently to assist Sherlock." The 'obviously' wasn't voiced, but it was certainly insinuated in the seemingly pleasant way that Mycroft was smiling at him. "Your notes and progress samples were submitted to the Committee, and they have agreed that it was, as I whole-heartedly concur, of exceptional quality." He placed the piece of duck into his mouth, chewing, and swallowed. "With more materials, much better work could be achieved. You have potential, John Watson. Your track record of exceptional work has also proved to be in your favor. You have after all, performed exceptionally well in your last employment with Us, until your last resignation."

John gave a wan smile at Mycroft, eyes flashing at the mention of his last employment, a reminder that his resignation was in no way his own initiation, pulling his notepad and pencil over. Committee?

"There is an assessment Committee for Research positions," Mycroft said slowly. "Were you unaware of that fact?" At John's stare, he sighed, as if drawing upon patience that John knew was simply for show. "Do eat, before the food turns cold. The chef is rather talented, and he would be disappointed if you let the food go to waste."

Sherlock snorted from opposite the table, having successfully fed John's fish a small piece of asparagus. "John, you seem to know nothing despite being a member of this place. We haven't changed that much in such a short amount of time."

I'm merely displeased that my work is being submitted to the Committee without my prior knowledge and permission. John wrote, holding up the pad for both to read, expression hard. I will also remind you that I am not yet a member of Little London now. I merely was.

Mycroft barely spared his note a glance, seeming to possess the same ability as his brother to uncannily glean all information from a split second and a glance. Maybe Residents were unnaturally well informed of everything that happened in their world. "As I am well aware, John," he said soothingly, almost patronizing, making John want to grind his teeth together. "Unfortunately, the Committee meets only once per year, and Sherlock informed me mere hours before the commencement of the meeting that he wanted your work submitted. Rather bad timing and certainly not enough for your approval and permission."

John's pencil scratched across the notepad again, writing with one hand while eating with the other. Not very efficient, are they? He swallowed the food in his mouth. What do I gain from signing the contract? Tilting his chin up slightly in challenge, he turned the notepad towards Mycroft. From the way Mycroft was looking at him, and the way his lips were pressed together, it was clear that the Resident knew that his resistance, however minor, was merely a show, put on to somehow leave him with the notion that he still had some say in this. The truth, however, as they both knew, was that this was simply a minor inconvenience, and that at the end of day, he would be signing his name with Little London. It simply felt slightly better to resist, John thought, looking back into half amused grey eyes. Simply folding and giving in to a Holmes was not him, and he would probably feel like he had been had for the rest of his life, with a sour taste in his mouth and chest to go with it, not to mention the fact that both brothers would take a lack of resistance as permission for them to walk all over John. Mycroft Holmes probably expected this, since the pair of them would have already planned everything from the beginning to the end. It would be a little bit of a pity if he meekly went along with everything like a lamb to the sacrificial knife.

"They are highly efficient, but they simply meet once a year as they come from all institutes situated around the world. As you can see, it is extremely difficult to get their schedules to coincide," Mycroft replied, watching John lazily as a cat might a prey that it already had pinned beneath a fat paw. John narrowed his eyes.

You're not answering my question. How will I know that I will not be cut off, again? His pencil paused, hovering above paper while his thoughts chased each other in his head. How was he supposed to put down his insecurity in words, his fear of being cast out once again? Little London was all he had back then, and when they had cut him off, he had been put back into the nice little box labelled 'Discards' in Upper World with almost nothing but for a meagre sum of money that they put into his account every month, apparently expecting him to live off it for the rest of his life. It was a struggle, trying to cope with being newly mute and trying to find a niche in the over-populated Upper World. A fall from grace, if you would call it, not that his status was a particularly high place to fall from but a fall nonetheless. And all through trying to make a living for himself with what little he had left, he had been constantly haunted by what had gone so terribly wrong? Would this be another replay, another da capo al fine for him, a repeat joke for Little London to play on him? But no, he had more or less established a living for himself now, and something to return to, if he was still alive by the time Little London cast him out again. He was better prepared this time, and this was Little London inviting him back, not him begging to return.

Something must have shown on his face, if Sherlock's brief look of concern was anything to go by. Mycroft shifted slightly in his chair, tongue flicking out briefly to wet his lips. "I will personally ensure it, John. You are - valuable, to Us."

"See it from a more enlightened perspective, John. This is the best offer you’ve had in years," Mycroft went on in his soft, genteel voice when John continued to look unconvinced. "You may not like Little London, John, but here you have the means to explore your potential. Surely you cannot be content nursing dreams when you know that you can make them come true. Unless you, of course, prefer your current, ah, lifestyle."

"For once," Sherlock suddenly interrupted, before John started bristling about the implied insult on his current lifestyle. "I have to say that Mycroft is correct. And we do not usually agree." Pointedly ignoring his brother's smug look in his direction, he went on. "I presented your work on your behalf to the Committee, partially because your talents were going to waste, and partially because I am your employer. You are working for me, and that grants me the right of authority to use and to present your work in any form as I see fit. I can recognize talent when I see it, and I am always right. As it was on short and urgent notice, I did not have the chance to inform you of my decision, or in doing so, to allow you to waste precious time dithering over your decision. I firmly believe that the choice I made is the one you would have ultimately picked in the end - to present it to the Committee. You really should thank me for cutting out the hassle for you, John."

He held up a hand at John's indignant look, the other man having opened his mouth to protest, however silent it would be. "You have a brain, John. Do use it. Little London has more resources and opportunities than you can exploit and have access to in Upper World, or anywhere else. Think about how to use it to your own personal advantage. We will sponsor you, of course, as usual. You wouldn't be working for free. This will also be a good opportunity for you to update your own knowledge, and not just on potions - all sadly lacking and outdated as I've reminded you time and again. Do you really want to rot away, spend the rest of your dismal life brewing headache potions?" Sherlock set his fork and knife down with a soft clink, a serious expression in his eyes. "This is what I - We are offering you, John, and it is not done so lightly. Do consider this."

While John stared at Sherlock, trying to process his words and make some sense of the insult and praise both delivered in the same breath, Mycroft had retrieved his papers, sliding the cream colored sheets across the table with a pen towards John. "This is your contract, feel free to read through it. I am certain that you will find them favorable to you." He tilted his head, glancing at the contract and back to John. "And I do so hate to be wrong."

There was hesitation, but John eventually reached out to pick up the contract in the silence that followed, going over the conditions of the contract under the watchful gaze of the Holmes brother, lunch forgotten temporarily. The conditions were reasonable, and more or less similar to when he was still under Little London's employ as a researcher. He paused at a line, pursing his lips and reading it again, before pointing to it. What's this about me moving into Little London? He wrote onto his notepad. It certainly wasn't stated in the past as a requirement.

"Ah," Mycroft Holmes said slowly. "That."

"It’s the next logical step, of course," Sherlock answered from across him. "Following your reappointment."

"Better access to information, and it cuts down on time wasted on traveling back and forth. This will be different from your old position, John, where you had the liberty to research on a topic of your choice. There will be times that you do not get to work solo with this contract, and it will be a great deal more convenient if your skills and expertise are easily accessible, and not to mention that this contract is being signed beneath my tutelage- "

His words were met with the startled clinking of cutlery against the polished table top, Sherlock's head whipping around to stare at Mycroft. "Wait, Mycroft- " he started.

"-in which I will be taking you as my apprentice," Mycroft finished.

"You never take apprentices," Sherlock was saying, sitting forwards on his chair, the lines of his body tense. "Whatever happened to incompetence and lazy fools? Why break the pattern now?"

"Sherlock." Mycroft sent his younger brother a stern look. "I am sure that John will not appreciate being called incompetent and lazy, particularly since he is not. I am highly interested in your work," he continued, turning back to John. "Your past research has been of a great help to Us, and with the correct guidance, I am sure that you could achieve much more."

And this is a part of the contract? John wanted to write, just to realize that somehow, his pencil refused to budge at all, and when he did get it to, it made no marks however hard he pressed it to the paper.

Mycroft gave him a little smile. "Of course, while you are my apprentice, I will not interfere with what you choose to pursue academically, although I will be present to guide you and offer advice. All requested work from commissioners will have to be approved by me first, for safety reasons. There is still, as you probably are well aware, certain work that you may not want to accept in Related Londons, in particular, certain potions that you have already seen on your little jaunts with Sherlock. If you will, even, you might be allowed to return to your old position. Moving into Little London isn't easy. A rather interesting experience, so to say. A little help and guidance to help you settle down should not be much of a problem."

"Mycroft!" Sherlock was hissing between his teeth, looking half furious, as John was startled to realize that there was anger seething in the other's dark blue eyes.

"Sherlock. Manners," his elder brother made a disapproving sound, raising a hand to which Sherlock began hissing louder.

"Don't you dare," Sherlock growled.

John sent his paper zipping between the both of them, effectively catching Mycroft's attention, and quieting Sherlock, who was reading it from the back. So I will answer to you before Little London's Committee in all things pertaining to my work?

Mycroft inclined his head. "Things will change, as you have hoped. Sherlock will still be around to assist, seeing as he is the one who recommended you to Us. Little London will be a little unsettling for someone like you who have settled so comfortably into the noise and chaotic bustle of Upper World, and you will find that We are both vastly different, in all manners of sense. While you may not like it, it will provide you with what you need as long as you ask for it. It is another world altogether, literally. So be assured, you are not being handed to total strangers on a platter as you feared." He gave what might be a friendly sort of smile. It was predatory and sly, to John. It didn't help when he lifted a piece of duck covered entirely in red raspberry sauce to his lips.

"I think John will settle in rather comfortably," Sherlock said loudly. "Except for the part where he works under you as apprentice."

"It really is no different from answering to the board of Little London, except with much less interference on their part- " Mycroft explained.

"Because it is your interference which is so many times worse," Sherlock muttered sullenly.

"-because I will be the one sending them regular reports on your behalf." His younger brother rolled his eyes, and stabbed a piece of vegetable viciously.

With the conditions laid out over the table and a quickly congealing lunch, John weighed his options, flipping through the contract just for something to do with his hands, scanning through page after page of printed tiny words that would define another turning point of his life, more than he would ever ask for and overwhelmingly so. He was aware of Sherlock's eyes on him, strangely anxious, and Mycroft's, gleaming sharp, aware of the no longer predictable future beckoning. He had asked for change, and he had gotten it, somehow. He thought about his house, the potions that he brewed from day to day. He thought about when he was still young, a researcher newly signed with Little London with dreams, about the things that he did, the information that he learned and found out and later wrote himself. He thought about the magic that had rendered him mute, left him helpless in Lower World for a few days until he was able to contact Little London, and of the choking panic and fear. And while he thought about all those, the Holmes brothers were engaged in a silent battle with each other across the table, both still and unblinking, and both rather distracting despite the complete lack of any noise.

"You really don't want to be my brother's apprentice," Sherlock said after a while, his eyes still fixed on Mycroft's gaze. "He is an annoying, fat, pompous git, and this is from his younger brother."

"Oh Sherlock," Mycroft sighed mildly. "I wish that you will grow out of your childish feuds with me. I am best equipped with the skills to help John. I am a Master in several fields, and your little project with John, as well as the cases that you’re having John research on crosses different disciplines of magic. What will it take for you to understand that I am in no way your enemy, or the target that you are looking for?"

"Two full cream and full fat butter cream cakes, and not even then."

The both of them lapsed into silence again, with Mycroft sending Sherlock a tolerant look often found on an elder sibling when the younger begins their tantrums and sulks.

Both, however, noticed when John reached for the pen, and turned to watch as he uncapped the pen to sign his name neatly on the last pages of the contract, watching the ink shimmer on the sheets before they sank in, permanent, the colors changing in every stroke as it would now his life's routines, the deed done.

"A wise decision," Mycroft beamed, the contract sliding back over to him with a gesture, glancing down briefly at the signature, before vanishing them. "Welcome back to Little London, Research Potioneer Watson. Now, shall we, back to the business of lunch before it gets cold?"

Sherlock, on the verge of saying something, seemed to swallow his words, looking from John to Mycroft, before gritting his teeth. "As you wish, John," he said, voice tight, crumpling the pristine napkin in a hand.

"Regarding the move into Little London, you will be taking up residence with me, seeing as I am your mentor and you my apprentice. Three days grace will be given, and transport will be provided to help with your... belongings." It was clear that Mycroft Holmes did not think much of John's belongings in his little house. "It will also give me more opportunities to observe the curse that renders you mute. A pity, that. It must have been rather difficult for you."

John froze, feeling as though the ground had been yanked from beneath him for the umpteenth time that day, from signing himself away to Little London to having a new purpose in his life once more, and now to be informed that his muteness was caused by a curse. He swallowed, with difficult, the lines of his shoulders tense.

"My brother has told me about it," Mycroft went on smoothly, as Sherlock took a sip of wine, watching John over the rim of his glass. "And from what I have seen, it does not seem like an injury that is causing you this, ah, handicap. But I am led to believe that it can be fixed, given time and information on it."

Can be fixed? John scrawled out angrily into his notepad, eyes furious, his face reddening with the usual shows of anger that he only reserved for Sherlock. And you only think to inform me now, when all those years I've been He slammed a fist upon the table, dropping the pencil, drawing in deep breaths to try to calm the anger that was surging up within him, head bowed. His hand was trembling, but he did not, could not care when what Mycroft was implying was that he had truly been discarded like an unneeded toy that Little London had wrung all that it had ever needed out of him, turned its back on him when it could have helped to at least cut down on what he had to suffer through on his own in the past.

"Well, people were stupid back then and still are now. They wouldn't have figured it out. You wouldn't, without me. It isn't an empty hope," Sherlock said dryly. "Don't be melodramatic, John."

John aimed a glare at him, angry now that Sherlock had no qualms invading his privacy and displaying his own weakness out on the table for all to see. He didn't like people talking about him being mute, being discussed like a particularly interesting pity case, and he certainly didn't like being reminded that he was once able to speak. Sherlock simply smiled gamely at him.

Mycroft coughed delicately. "I am truly sorry about the violation of your privacy, John, but there is no other way around it. Sherlock had felt it appropriate to bring the matter up to me, and I do insist on fixing a problem that can be solved. A problem solved is one less that we have to worry about, after all, and I am fairly certain that you would want your voice back, given the chance. It would be inconvenient to be without it in your new position."

John's Airfish swam by, one large eye fixed on Sherlock, as John clenched and unclenched his fist, until he felt less inclined to toss his wine at either of the brothers like some dramatic heroine. I would appreciate having my privacy respected, he wrote, a little surprised that his handwriting continued to be steady on paper. Especially by you, Sherlock. But I thank you for your concern. Sorry, I'm rather overwhelmed right now.

"Understandable," Mycroft said, taking the notepad from John. "We mean you no harm. We are working for your good, and to as much an extent that we are able to offer you help. Are you feeling quite alright? You are looking rather pale."

John simply gestured to his throat, grimacing, knowing that they would understand what he was trying to say without putting it into words.

"You will have your voice back, John," Sherlock said with quiet conviction in his voice. "You are brilliant. Even more so when we have solved this together." He watched John, the other's face deathly pale, fingers lightly pressed to his throat, seeming to be staring at the table when he was staring at nothing. "I would have thought that you have more tact than to bring this up at the dining table, Mycroft."

"I personally believe that John should be kept aware of his situation," came the reply, a note of steel underlying his words. "Quite unlike your personal beliefs, Sherlock. After all, we are here to assist each other, are we not?"

The Airfish glided through the air before the three of them, languidly, nearly rolling over in the air once before it fanned out its fins, righting itself once more, turning gracefully towards Mycroft, lips parting to display rows of lethally sharp teeth, unnoticed by John. Mycroft's lips twisted in a semblance of a smile, at the same time Sherlock reached out, fingers knocking over the open wine bottle onto its side, red liquid flowing out and dripping into John's lap, a slowly spreading stain of purple red that startled John from jumping out of his chair in a silent yelp.

"Apologies," Sherlock rose from his chair. "I think this is enough for today. Dining in wet clothes is certainly not an option - wine stains are hard to remove. If you will excuse us, brother." He flashed a not-smile at his brother, turning on his heel and leaving out through the door, dragging John after him with an invisible grip on his upper arm with magic, not looking backwards or waiting for a dismissal, John stumbling behind him, looking bewilderingly from Sherlock to Mycroft, tailed by his fish, until the door closed behind the both of them with a soft click, footsteps fading down the hall.

Alone in the dining room, Mycroft merely smiled, dabbing at his lips with his napkin, picking up a bell and ringing it, the tones of it echoing through the room, as the wine quietly seeped, dripping down onto the abandoned napkin that John had left on the chair, red blooming upon ivory before spilling onto black - invisible, yet undeniably present.

Chapter Text

The corridors were empty except for the both of them, Sherlock's footsteps echoing sharply off the walls, with his own stumbling after, white and black passing by faster than they seem to be as Sherlock pulled him past corridor after corridor, turn after turn, his grip tight on his upper arm. John stumbled after him, bewildered, a stain of purplish-red on his pants, uncomfortable and wet. Not that he was glad to be excused from Mycroft Holmes and his terrible dining room, but he really had enough of being pulled and yanked about like a puppet between the two of them as if he were a toy with absolutely no say, doomed to be chewed upon until bits and pieces of fluff fell out and he was worn and tattered. He yanked backwards, wrenching his arm from Sherlock's hold - deceptively strong from a man as willowy as Sherlock - effectively stopping Sherlock in his tracks as he rubbed at his arm, panting, glaring at him. What is the matter with the both of you? He was about to mouth at Sherlock, irritated enough to try to communicate without paper and pencil, but stopped when sherlock turned to look at him. The man was tense, his expression as though set in stone, eyes dark and glittering as he studied John, pale lips pressed thinly together before turning away without a single word, striding away again. This time, John followed after silently, having never seen such an expression on Sherlock before, and allowed his thoughts to turn inwards, reviewing and quietly making order of what had come to pass in the short time over the lunch that no one bothered to finish, unable to banish the quiet niggling sense of worry in his head somehow.

They encountered no one along the entire way, and the brilliant sunlight that flooded in when Sherlock pushed the front doors open was a sight that was entirely too welcome. John shielded his eyes from the glare, stepping out, feeling the heavy weight that had settled upon his shoulders lift as the doors thudded close behind him, and drew in a deep breath, tipping his head back. That certainly went well, he thought. The sky had never looked so blue. Outside, the landscape remained dominated by glass skyscrapers and the black and white color scheme, but with space and the vast sky overhead, it made for a much bearable change. He glanced at Sherlock, who was shaking his sleeve back, revealing a pale wrist and black alphabets that danced across his skin.

"Come on, John," Sherlock said, dropping his Kite to the ground, the alphabets taking on a material form quicker than John's eye could follow, blue eyes watching as a black car whispered into existence some distance away, waiting. "You're welcome to take Mycroft's car, too, of course."

John pointedly did not look at the car and its driver, the faceless driver from before still fresh in his memory. Given a choice between the car and the Kite, John picked the Kite with Sherlock, not fancying a journey spent on his own in a constricted space with someone or something that had no face. Sherlock was already on the Kite, a hand on its handles, the device hovering off the ground, looking impatient as John gingerly stepped onto the platform and looked around for somewhere to hold onto, knowing how fast and at how high an altitude the Kite could soar at.

"You might want to keep your fish," Sherlock produced a tiny bottle and popped the cork for John as the creature bobbed up next to them. "It won't be able to keep up."

When John had kept his Airfish in the bottle and put both safely into his pocket, Sherlock guided him to put his arms around his own waist, to which John held on tightly, bracing himself for the blast of wind that always followed a take off. It didn't feel that bad when the Kite was hovering just off the ground, knowing that the stable ground was there to catch him if he stepped off the sides, but he wasn't quite as certain about when they would be in the sky. There was enough space on the white wings, wide and flat and stable enough with just a slight dip towards the middle of it for two people to stand on, but the fear of falling off remained.

"Your first time, John, really," Sherlock said dryly. "Getting it up might be a little unsettling for you. Nice weather today, South-West winds. Though, people have fallen off on less windier days." He flashed John a quick smile, seeming to take pleasure in the way John's grip tightened on his coat, and took off without warning in a strong blast of wind and dust that had John holding onto Sherlock in a death grip around the other man's waist.

The Kite rose upwards and tilted backwards at an somewhat steep angle before lifting off, throwing John backwards, although his feet thankfully did not slide on the gleaming platform of the Kite that looked slippery, and feeling as though he had left his insides behind as the ground dropped away far too quickly for his own liking, soon high above the roofs of the skyscrapers, the wind whipping and snatching at him, threatening to tear him from the Kite and Sherlock, before the Kite balanced itself out in a moment of hovered stillness in the air, and darted forwards, Sherlock deftly steering it alongside the winds. Up this high in the air, there were no obstructions, the sky and its clean, soothing emptiness occupying every direction that he could see, and the roofs of the buildings some distance away beneath their feet, large black neat squares that flew past underneath. It was quiet, comfortingly so, with only the whistling of the wind in his ears and the flapping of their clothes. Nervously, he shifted his balance, while holding onto Sherlock, carefully avoiding the sides of the wings that they were standing on. It was beautiful and brilliant, and breathtaking with the sense of freedom that flight brought with it, and he was struck with the overwhelming impulsive need to yell, or to laugh, but remembered that he couldn't do either, and contented himself with the sensation of flying.

The black squares of Little London's roofs soon dropped away abruptly to a band of white ground that was Central Square and its Market, and beyond that the colorful tops of Upper World, its buildings squat and small, scattered in a somewhat relative order all over with tiny winding streets and lanes in between, small flutters of what John recognized as pegs with their various messages moving around beneath.

Sherlock shifted in his arms, the man holding onto the handle with just one hand, relaxed and at ease, effortlessly riding the Kite, the tension seeming to have draining from him upon leaving Little London behind. John slowly relaxed his own tight grip on Sherlock's waist, still tense and wary of sudden winds that could come at them unexpectedly, and shifted back slightly.

"Careful, John," Sherlock said, his coat flapping up against John in the wind.

The peace lasted for a little while longer, John leaning against Sherlock's back slightly, watching the quiet skies, until Sherlock reached back and grabbed hold of his arm again, tightly, just as the Kite dipped downwards in a sharp sudden descent that startled John into yelling soundlessly. In a way, the descent was more terrifying and exhilarating than the climb, the wind stinging his eyes and the buildings getting bigger and closer until they were suddenly rushing past by them, and John could see his own house up ahead in the blur of colors and windows. Sherlock did a sharp turn, John yelping unheard behind him, before the Kite glided downwards, hovering, and finally, slowly, touched down, whispering above the ground to a stop directly before his doorstep.

Sherlock stepped off the Kite smoothly, John stumbling off with far less grave on his weak knees, groaning, until he was reassured by the stable, solid ground beneath his feet and straightened, his face splitting in a boyish, wide grin at Sherlock, who found himself smiling back instinctively at John's obvious delight. With a quick swipe of his hand, the Kite collapsed back into alphabets in Sherlock's hand, and sought their places once more on his wrist, bumping into each other until they were once more in the correct order.

"Best get a new pair of pants," Sherlock said as John let the both of them into the flat. "It will not come out properly."

John rummaged about for his other notepads and pencil. It is entirely your fault, Sherlock.

"It was the only way, what would you have me do? Choke on congealed duck?" Sherlock unwound his scarf, removing his coat and draping both together over the back of John's couch before moving into the kitchen, followed by the sound of clinking pots and pans. "I do suppose congratulations are now in order, Research Potioneer Watson, Apprentice to Mycroft Holmes?"

John brushed at the stained patch, more or less dried from the journey, and grimaced, making his way into the kitchen to find Sherlock searching in his shelves, a highly uncharacteristic move on Sherlock's part. None of the Holmes struck him as being domestic in any particular way, and seeing Sherlock puttering around in the kitchen wasn't boding well for anyone's stomach lining in the near future. Don't mess up my kitchen.

Sherlock did not turn around to look at him or his note. "Lunch," the dark haired man declared, producing two eggs from the shelves in one hand and a pan in the other. "I couldn't eat, not while looking at the fat git in the face."

John grimaced, his brow furrowing, sending a note to tap Sherlock on the nose to get his attention. I appreciate the sentiment, but I can do the cooking in my own kitchen, Sherlock. You were eating quite a fair bit, either way.

Sherlock batted the note away, crumpling it up. "That was before he opened his big mouth, of course." Which was reasonable. It hadn't been that upsetting, excusing the house and the decor, but the words slipping from Mycroft's lips definitely were, and accompanied with those awful smiles of his, it was enough to put a starving man off a feast. Whoever taught Mycroft Holmes to smile didn't do a particularly top notch job of it, if the resident thought that those were supposed to resemble friendly smiles.

When John continued to hover in the kitchen, Sherlock turned to him, scowling, after he had somehow found a couple of muffins from somewhere that John hoped weren't too stale. "Do have some faith," Sherlock seemed to be brandishing the muffins at him. "I may be dismal at potions, hands-on, but I am not half that bad in the kitchen." He made a shooing motion with the muffins, clearly displeased, and John frowned as crumbs fell off them to the clean kitchen floor.

John spent a moment staring, before a smile started to tug at the corner of his lips, amusement bubbling into mirth, and he began to laugh, much to Sherlock's surprise. It was a silent affair, as John clutched at his middle at the sight of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock bloody Holmes in his neatly pressed suit in the middle of his little kitchen with food in his hands, and looking suitably ruffled at the idea that he was unable to handle something as simple as putting a meal together. It was completely soundless, of course, but John's mirth was unmistakable, his eyes crinkling, gasping for air in between his silent laughter, wiping at his eyes with his other hand, after which he would straighten up if only to start all over again, hanging onto the doorframe for support.

Sherlock, of course, watched all of it, his indignation turning into irritation, and then amusement, allowing his lips to quirk briefly into a half smile, surveying the two muffins in his hand - both a little dry, but passable enough for human consumption. While there were times that John had given up his handwritten notes and taken to mouthing after him in attempts at communication, he had never seen John this un-self conscious before in an open display of emotion. Anger, yes, but John was always too aware of his silence to be able to laugh openly. It was always a smile, a crinkling of eyes that took years off his appearance, or a soft huff of breath when he was really amused, never outright laughing. And this, this made Sherlock slightly curious as to what John Watson would sound like. Was he a chatty man by nature, or was he naturally quiet, watching and keeping to himself as he was now? All of which he would find out eventually, Sherlock reminded himself, smoothing his own expression out as John stood up, his hair slightly messier than before from his laughing fit, and waved a hand at his dismissively with a glance around his kitchen, before disappearing away for a change of clothes, presumably. Turning back to the problem of food, he rummaged in the shelves again. John cooked for himself all the time, and it didn't seem difficult. There was no reason that he wouldn't be good at it, was there? No reason at all.

It was about ten minutes later when the burning smell reached John, who immediately abandoned his pretense of reviewing his own notes, hurrying to the kitchen to find Sherlock heaping something too brown and too black to be food for people with a tongue and fully functioning taste buds.

Curiously enough, Sherlock did not say a word when John snatched the plates and pan from him and dumped their contents into the bin. When it was apparent that there was nothing else quite suitable for making lunch with in the house, John had to settle for shopping for food once again, and banned Sherlock from his kitchen, fixing lunch on his own with a running commentary from Sherlock at the doorway. It wasn't anything quite so complicated, but by far much more enjoyable shared between just the two of them, both not-quite-strangers-and-not-quite-friends, on a messy table full of notes and paper that Mycroft would probably have frowned at, in a silence that wasn't stiff and unnatural. It felt right, somehow. And when Sherlock tipped John's Airfish out from its bottle, John did not protest, merely shooting him a warning glance in case he had the temerity to touch its fins again, the fish rolling over and scooting beneath the table to rest after a heavy meal by its standards.

Sherlock then took to telling John about his job, or to be exact, complained to John about the difficulties of his job, and about Mycroft. It wasn't a particularly long conversation, seeing as John deemed corpses to be an inappropriate topic at a place he reserved for eating, but he gleaned that corpses, particularly gruesome ones, were very much in Sherlock's and his job's interest. He more or less worked under and for his brother, if Sherlock complaining about the work sent to him was any clue. As was obvious, the two brothers did not see eye to eye and definitely did not agree when it came to their jobs, but Sherlock did his whenever it interested him to do so, and well enough that he remained employed.

"They cannot do without me," Sherlock said, a strange look in his eyes. "Or any of us. Little London needs me."

Why are you telling me this? John had pushed across the table, and Sherlock merely smiled cryptically.

It wasn't until early evening when the silence had fully settled in between them and John had more or less understood Sherlock a little more when his thoughts turned once more to Mycroft's conditions and the contract that he had accepted.

Three days for him to finish off and take care of all the business in Upper World that he still had, three days for him to prepare himself for living in a completely different life that he has never known before. The ruthless efficiency of Little London had yet to fail to amaze him, and if he were a lesser man, would probably scare him. All of this accomplished likely within the day in an hour that they had taken for lunch, finalized and nicely wrapped up in a ribbon before the end of it, decisions made and finalized in the matter of a minute or two. Not that there was much thinking to do on the spot when so much of it had already been done for him beforehand. He wrapped his hands around his teacup, reveling in the warmth of the tea gently steaming in it, looking down at his own reflection in the dark amber liquid.

Things would be different, living in Little London, to get used to the rules and regulations, although they were less for him and more for the Residents, though the conditions on his contract were no less binding. Was it too rash a decision, then, to sign as an apprentice to Mycroft Holmes, a man he had barely even come to know, much less understand, except for his need to impress upon John that everything was done soley for his own good. His lips twisted in the mockery of a smile. Little London never did anything for anyone's good, and it certainly wouldn't change its ways now for John. He might have been mute, but he certainly wasn't lacking a brain. What Little London did, Little London only did for its own advantage and selfish gains, and if there was something it excelled at, it was exploitation. He idly wondered what living in Little London would be like, in the constant world of black and white beneath its ever watchful eye, to move in with Mycroft Holmes with dismal dinners and dreary decorations. He supposed he should start collecting colorful articles of objects and manners of clothing. Not that living with him might be a permanent decision - he rather hoped not.

It was a strange sort of feeling, having Little London interfere and taking personal matters into its hands, where everything was out of his control and he simply became a bystander, only allowed to watch on without a say in what was going to happen, even though he was in the center of it all. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good, either, though John was determined to make the situation into his favour. He picked up the teacup, brought the rim to his lips and sipped, quietly. Sherlock could make quite a good cup of tea when he wanted, apparently, cooking skills notwithstanding.

"You will be fine, John," Sherlock said quietly, from the couch, fingertips trailing leisurely along the fins of John's Airfish, its behavior serene.

I'm not worried. John wrote, holding up the note. He had well cleared confusion, anger, and worry, and was now well into the stages of acceptance. Since there was nothing that he could do for himself or the situation, it made sense to wait until the three days were up, and to see what happens next. If anything went spectacularly pear-shaped, he supposed he could look to Sherlock for help, if the man himself had no objections. He survived a bloody experiment and survived being mute for so long, he could survive Little London and its manipulations.

"Of course you can," John," Sherlock murmured, as though sensing John's thoughts, dark blue eyes fixed on him, his gaze intense, steady. John watched as his fingertips brushed against the sides of the Airfish's scales, and twitched minutely. "I'm not that inhumane, though I can see why you may have that particular idea associated with me."

Good to know, then. John's pencil paused, for a while, hovering above paper.Thank you.

Sherlock's expression was unreadable, having turned his attentions back to his Airfish, and John simply could not fathom what was so fascinating about a magical creature that most of Little London would possess. No doubt Sherlock had one of his own, but John never had the chance to see it. Perhaps the man simply found his soothing.

"You might not thank me later," Sherlock's voice had gone softer now, quieter.

John studied him in profile, simply observing, watching the light pour over Sherlock and his fish, at the soft shadows that were formed, slowly darkening with every tick of the clock. Imperceptibly, steadily. It was a nice, quiet picture, a pleasant change from the usual hectic work that the two of them shared, a brief stolen moment in the evening when everything was about to change, and soon. No, I may not.

He sipped his tea again, tasting the sweetness and the tea leaves, not exactly the way he liked it, but wonderful nonetheless, soaking in the warmth, the soft evening glow, and the bustle and noise locked outside his windows and doors to a world that was so close and would be so far away soon. He observed Sherlock's eyes flicker, barely, rubbing a thumb gently against the side of his lazy fish's belly, and the way it curled slightly towards his touch. The silence hovered, quiet, unobtrusive, content.

But it's fine.

The next morning started as mornings usually did with Sherlock in the house, with him rousing John for potions once more, although considerably later than the hour he normally woke John at, once more rattling off calculations and components faster than John's brain could catch up when the man was sluggishly roused from a considerably pleasant sleep. The first day was spent cleaning up, much to Sherlock's displeasure, who made it quite loudly and clearly known, although he did not stop John in any way, and merely remained on the couch out of the way as John puttered about dusting and packing away the little things that he had, spending time with belongings that he hadn't touched for a long time, just remembering, before putting them away.

"They will handle all these trivialities, John," Sherlock groused from his place on the couch. "If only you will get to what is truly important!"

The next day, Sherlock descended upon John and his potions lab with a new ferocity, as though in revenge for the day before for wasting precious time counting to the deadline for the potion. John struggled to keep pace with him, but eventually lost out, exasperated when he turned his back on Sherlock to fix a quick lunch, leaving him alone with a bubbling cauldron, and returning to a floor flooded with a neutralized potion and a lump of useless copper, and Sherlock in the middle of it, frowning over the notes and tapping his bottom lip with a finger, perplexed. "It wasn't supposed to do that."

I did ban you from the cauldron for a reason, Sherlock. John hurled the balled up paper at him, which Sherlock deftly caught, smoothing it out.

"No help for it now," Sherlock replied absently, eyes positively gleaming, and John frowned at the shooing motion the man made. When Sherlock offered no further explanation, John once more resigned himself to a hastily consumed lunch, and a trip that could have been saved if Sherlock would listen to him for once and keep away from his potions and cauldron. Shrugging on his jacket and stepping out, he sucked in a breath, and let it out slowly. At least, if this was Sherlock's way of distracting him from the move, it was working. Not that he did not appreciate a walk through Upper World while he still had the chance, fancying that he might be locked up in a not-so-nice prison tower like the hapless princesses in their various fairy tales and in the not-so-distant future. It certainly did not give him the rights to destroy his cauldron, though, but there was nothing that he could do. Judging from Sherlock's pensive moods in between periods of work together, he probably wasn't the only one who was worried.

And he still owes me a pair of pants, too.

Precise Instruments was empty, quiet, with its various wares quietly tinkling and clicking away on their shelves and behind glass panels. John paused, allowing the atmosphere to wash over him, taking comfort in the reliable and steady click and whirr of each instrument. Sedgewick was nowhere to be found, the counter empty, without a single customer around. Not a surprise, for he knew that Sedgewick often stayed out of sight until he was needed, tending to his business, whatever that may be. He soaked in the smell of wood, the quietly glinting metal surfaces, and ran his fingers along the woody grain of the edge of a table. It was strange, but Precise Instruments often felt like a second home, quiet and soothing in a way that only it would understand, and perhaps Sedgewick himself.

"Ah, Mr. Watson," a soft voice floated out from the back, Sedgewick stepping out into the shop through the door into the backroom, a kind smile soft on his features. "I was rather expecting you." He drew out a little dial, examined it, and seemingly satisfied with what he saw, placed it back into his pocket again. "Tea?" He raised his left hand, in which he was holding a delicate teapot, and then tilted his head to study it. "They are rather nice leaves, brewed in the belly of a rather nice teapot. Delicate scent, too. I have cake."

John blinked at Sedgewick, who grinned brilliantly, and ducked back into the doorway, as the sign on the entrance of the shop spun itself around to 'Closed'. John shook his head, aware of sedgewick's occasionally eccentric moods, and followed him into the back, stepping around the counters, curious as to what Sedgewick kept behind the shop.

"Sugar, milk, cream, name it and I've got it," Sedgewick was murmuring in a rather sing-song voice, leading the way up the rather narrow flight of wooden stairs, humming merrily to himself a strange tune without a set melody. "All for a nice cup of tea at three."

John paused in the dark landing, before following Sedgewick, footsteps sounding off the solid wooden steps beneath him, a hand on the polished railing, curious, looking around as he reached the top of the stairs, while trying his best to remain polite.

Sedgewick smiled indulgently as John examined the room, taking in the little details and the furnishing. It was small, and neat, and every bit as quaint as his shop was a level beneath. Bright sunlight streamed in through open windows upon framed sketches and paintings hung up upon the wall, without theme or order, reflecting off what looked like a chandelier on the ceiling but wasn't, slowly spinning and stirring in an indiscernible breeze, occasionally chiming softly in various airy tones, a glass bulb cradled in the middle of its many arms, still. Wooden cabinets were set against the walls, squat and homely, some with notes upon it, others with flowers wilted and dry. Jars were scattered around the small area, on cabinets, shelves and floor, containing what seemed to be dry plants or seeds, or things pretty an suspended and that glittered when he moved his head just so. Haphazardly stacked books took their place near the sides of chairs and on window sills, foreign languages spilling across their covers and spines, embossed in fading gold. John glanced at one of the books hat lay open, and found its cream pages curiously blank and clean, empty of words and information that it was supposed to contain.

Sedgewick waved a hand around vaguely, stepping over to a table in the middle of the small living room, quietly set for tea with little teacups and plates, and a small tray of delicate cakes dressed in fresh fruit and cream. Something chimed unseen in the house, and Sedgewick smiled, tipping the teapot delicately to pour, before setting it down with a flourish, and drew out one of the chairs. "Please."

John accepted the invitation, lowering himself onto the offered chair, a little dazed, until Sedgewick set one of the teacups in its saucer before him, and filled it with tea, a light, honey colored brew, steaming. At Sedgewick's quiet insistence, he lifted the teacup, and took a sip, an pleased look spreading across Sedgewick's expression, before the man himself sat down.

"Not a common circumstance," Sedgewick murmured wistfully, dropping sugar cubes into his tea, watching them as they crumbled in the liquid and dissolved, stirred with a small silver spoon with an intricate handle. "But it gets lonely, sometimes, and even the most lavish and fanciful of feasts, the ripest fruit, pale and turn tasteless as ash on the tongue... " he trailed off to carefully, almost reverently, add cream into the cup, watching the colors swirl and change within, before stirring once with the spoon, and setting it aside with a soft clink.

John followed his example, adding a little sugar according to his tastes, to sweeten it up just the little bit for his enjoyment. It was, as Sedgewick said, a delicate tea, delightful to the senses both in smell and taste, a hint of flowers beneath the sweetness, intermixed with other hints that he cannot identify on his own. It took him some time to remember what he had come here for, distracted momentarily by the tea and his surroundings.

Sedgewick, meanwhile, reached over to the little tray of cakes, nails trimmed clean, hand hovering over the delicate pastries in a moment of indecision, a pink hint of tongue between white teeth in concentration. "Questions, answers," he murmured quietly, a flash of green as he flicked a glance towards John, who gave an uncertain smile in return, reminded of Sedgewick's keen perception. "Everyone has them. Not everyone gets them."

Selecting a small plain cake with generous dollops of cream sandwiched within, and jam layered on top, he sat back, before gesturing to the tray. "Don't be shy. I'm sure your table manners aren't as appalling as mine, and food is meant to be enjoyed, not to be stared at. There are books for that. Pictures." He waved a hand, picked up his fork, and cut his cake into half, licking the smeared jam off the tines in pure enjoyment.

John selected a cake for himself, and noticing a few sheets of paper beneath his fork and butter knife, and a pencil sandwiched between two bread rolls in a basket, rescued them.

"I certainly hope that you treated the last cauldron well, Mr. Watson," Sedgewick said between bites of cake, attention mostly focused on picking out the bits of fruit in the thick jam. "Or is that why you've dropped by? Made an irreparable hole, somewhere?" At John's sheepish expression, he grinned. "Cauldrons are made to be used, and broken, and luckily for us, as long as our supply doesn't run out... Tools, Mr. Watson. Tools are replaceable. Everything else isn't." He reached out and patted John's hand, a little awkwardly, for John's fork was quite in the way, and caused John to drop his bit of cake back onto the plate, fumbling.

Tea was an enjoyable business, conducted to the strange chimes of the various instruments lying around the room, made of brass and copper, John kept busy with cake and tea to write, and allowed his mind to fall silent and to simply indulge in a quiet tea. It was slightly surreal, a strange room to be in. Sedgewick scraped his fork against his plate to get the last of the cream off it, before selecting another, a nut cake, and patted his belly, licking his lips.

"I can never quite finish these little darlings," he said mournfully. "But it is a good thing that you are here." He delicately dug out a nut from the side of the cake, and picked it up with his fingers, popping it into his mouth. "Mm. How is the potion coming along?"

John blinked, a little startled, and coughed into his tea. The usual, mostly.

Sedgewick smiled, digging out yet another nut, rolling it around his plate. "Yes, well. Potions. Not a particularly strong area of mine. It is amazing what potions masters can do, though. Not that we have a lot of those around... " John watched as he attempted skewering the nut, causing it to bounce off against the side of the teapot. "Oops. Well," the man smoothed out the tablecloth again. "I always thought it was rather like a song. Or everything is rather like a song. Sort of like this, I think." He broke off to hum, rather brokenly, occasionally off-tune at some notes, without rhythm or tune, and tapped his fingers against the table top. "Everything's like that. Possibly, hmm, hmm."

I know how that feels like, John wrote down, brushing crumbs off the paper. He knew how it felt like, how it was supposed to be, when he was once the conductor of it, until it turned upon him and deserted him.

Conversation with Sedgewick was quiet and strange with John mostly listening, the man veering off topics abruptly and suddenly, and occasionally lost in his own murmurings and thoughts, but John found that he did not mind in the last bit. It was quite a curiosity to watch the man get up for a few times between sips of tea, to look for his notebook and to tinkle about the little dials on the instruments around the place, before resuming his seat once more, occasionally fussing about the place, and once, to retrieve a small biscuit from a tin that he kept on the top of a wall shelf along with other odd eccentricities. It was comforting, in a way, simply listening to Sedgewick talk about his tea leaves, or a certain new instrument that he had acquired, or the frayed tea towel that he simply could not decide what to do with. There was no pressure to talk, or to write, and there wasn't an active need to think, simply to listen and to nod. Sedgewick never stopped, or repeated his words the way many others do, to affirm if he understood because it never seemed that he did when he was mute and could not answer. He wasn't patronizing, or demanding, and John welcomed it.

"I'm almost considering travelling," Sedgewick said wistfully, plucking at his sleeve, smoothing out the threads. "A few months. Years. I've gave it some thought. But imagine the dust! Oh, the amount of cleaning... " He sighed, leaning back into his chair, fingers running along the edge of its seat. "Suppose I'm putting myself off it."

He smiled at the expression on John's face, put his hand back onto the table to fiddle with his fork instead. "It is hard, leaving this shop behind. Years of hard work, work that I've enjoyed immensely, mm, meeting so many promising young men and women such as yourself. Aha! Young people, full of ambition and power and luck." He shook his head. "Beyond Related Londons is a long stretch of desert. Acrid, dry, the Bone's Dust. If one goes far enough, one may reach the other side. New places to see, new people to meet. There is a story, of a pool somewhere, that holds all your fascinations and dreams. One might go far, but one must always remember and know where to return home to." Sedgewick tapped the middle of his chest. "I'm quite afraid that I'll come to miss my cozy little bed and stairs and wood if I do. Decisions, decisions. Maybe when I'm old and I've run out of crazy little ideas and tea has gone tasteless and dull. This old man still has a party to entertain."

When the cups were empty and the plates were left with only crumbs and smears of cream on them, Sedgewick stacked them all up in a pile, looking rather sated and satisfied himself. "And that draws a close to a mad man's mumblings," he declared, dusting his hands. "I'll send you a cauldron with the fish. Not much of a point to have a perfectly perfect tea to end it by heaving a cauldron home, I say. Copper the second. The second cauldron. Copper number two. My, never a good name."

He pulled a slip of paper over, and pulling out a pen, wrote in blue ink with a flowing script on it. Carefully capping his pen, he pressed the tip of his finger to the single letter 'J' that he had penned down, paused, before swiping across it with the pad of his finger with a soft hiss between his teeth in concentration. The letter dissolved beneath his finger, turning instead into a strange blue-purple smoke that wisped into the air, before thickening and condensing, taking on the shape of a Jarfish. John watched it move, experimentally, before swimming away down the stairs into the shop. Sedgewick waved a vague hand about, keeping his pen back into his pocket. "Always was a little showy. Forgive me." He gave John a sheepish smile, who just grinned back, finding it brilliant, compared to his own efficient off-hand way of calling a spell into existence. "I've been keeping you for too long, haven't I? Goodness me."

He pressed a peg into John's hand, closing the other's hand around it, patting his shoulder. "Do send me a note the next time you come by. It was highly enjoyable having tea with you, and if you aren't adverse to it again..." Something chimed within Sedgewick's house, a strange tone that echoed off the walls, deeper within the doors and rooms that John could glimpse from where he stood. "Oh, oh. Oh dear, oh. You have to see yourself out this time, I'm afraid," his hands fluttered around John for a while, the Research Potioneer bemused. "Note, alright? More cake next time. It'll be waiting with the cauldron, bill will fly to you. Right. Bill! Off you go." Sedgewick made a twirling little motion with his finger, before scurrying off into the doorways, presumably to find the thing that made the chiming sound.

John stood there for a little while, before making his way down the stairs on his own, put into a strange, quiet, but happy mood, and was greeted by the bloated Jarfish once more, who had swallowed another cauldron, and gently but insistently nudged him out past the shelves and rows of merry tinkling devices, and out the door. A glance at the clock said four, before he stepped back out into the sunny streets of Upper World, with his Jarfish as a temporary companion and a fix for Sherlock's bumbling clumsiness at brewing potions. Shaking his head in amazement at the past one hour, he put a hand up to scratch at his ear, to realize that he still held Sedgewick's peg in his hand, and brought it up to the sunlight to have a look, a small little carved peg with the engraving of a raven upon its polished blue surface, with Sedgewick's initials beneath in small lettering.

Pocketing it, he made for his way home for an evening full of Sherlock's continuous chattering, his insights on everything and anything, and thought about foreign maps and lands beyond the desert, and an adventure outside of Related London's rule.

Chapter Text

Contrary to his expectations, the move in was rather unexciting and devoid of drama. The way Sherlock had put it, John had half expected Mycroft to come swooping in with a swarm of flying trunks, or perhaps something a touch more dramatic, such as plucking the entire house out of the ground and resettling it where they wanted it to be for an example, although that might have been impossible. But two days in, sitting in his room with his fish, with the most exciting thing to have happened to him since then being when the Resident who had been sent along to assist him packing his half-drunk glass of water in together with his books in their haste to leave, and miraculously produced again without a single drop spilled in his new room, he wondered if it was really going to be anything that he had expected out of it.


Life was, unbelievably, dull.


He was allocated a room of his own, somewhere along the fifth set of twisting corridors. He wasn’t exactly surprised by the utilitarian setting, but he hadn’t quite expected it to be as uncomfortable as to be bordering on hostility. The room was on the side of being too spacious, dominated by hard, unyielding lines, and done up in an eye-glaring white, softened only by the thick cream carpet beneath his feet. The furniture was a sombre black, clustered together, all bare hard lines with nothing to soften the edge of it. There was a constant, low, background hum of magic in the structure that set his teeth on edge, and raised the hairs on the back of his neck. The whole setting was harsh and sterile. It wasn’t friendly, but he suspected that with some time he could get used to it.


They had, however, graciously stripped the study that was connected to the bedroom bare for his use as a potions lab, leaving shelves shoved up against walls stripped of their paint, the floor stripped down to leave raw unpolished black behind. It was a rather rushed job, John could tell, having detected traces of magic left about in the place. Work had to be done to neutralize the remnant trace remains of magic before any other work could be done in the space. He had been informed that he was to use the larger lab further down and deeper into the house if he were to work with anything of a more volatile, or delicate nature, but having no wish to step out of his room unless absolutely necessary, John had simply set himself to work clearing and neutralizing the space for his future use.


That was yesterday.


Today, he felt more or less settled in, without much fanfare. He had attempted scattering his belongings around the room to populate it, but in the end decided to group all the (frankly uncomfortable) furniture together to create a small corner out of which he would work in. His books and materials were moved into place through the night, for want of something to do when he woke up from the strange, light slumber that people fall into at night in an unfamiliar place, and had opted to do something a little more productive than to toss and turn on a hard mattress and sterile smelling sheets.


The most unsettling thing was the silence, after a while. It was loud, louder than the harsh black and white contrast, than the emptiness. The room was steeped in it, any sort of sound seeming to be swallowed whole by it, walls blanketed and buffered thick with it. It was the sort of silence that would make a man go mad, John thought, fingers stroking the cool fins of his fish. The sort of silence that made a man confront his own mind, that ate a mind away from the inside like wood rot, insidious, all of it amplified by his disability of speech.


If Mycroft was trying to insinuate something, this was a rather bold statement. Sherlock would think it highly unelegant, he supposed.


He shrugged to himself. Well, everything came with a price. He had years of getting used to the silence, after all. This would take a while to get used to, but not insurmountable.


He will be fine.



Time had less of a meaning when he was isolated. It was only then did he realize how much he depended on the sounds around him as an indicator of the time of day back in Upper World. Now, uninterrupted, he had a larger tendency to lose himself in his work, only breaking away from it when he was hungry, or tired, or had a nagging headache.


He was mostly left alone, food delivered to his room, a soft bell ringing outside the door in the morning, afternoon, and evening. If he stayed up late, food will appear at odd intervals, the silver cart delivering little tidbits and snacks for him to nibble on if he was feeling peckish, occasionally bearing shortcakes, biscuits, and also a neverending supply of tea along with glasses of fruit juices.


Day blended into night, with John working hard on perfecting the base potion, sending any progress to Sherlock via peg, getting clarifications from him. Eventually, those messages stopped altogether as John immersed himself fully into tackling the difficulties of building up a pure potion, reading the notes and books that he had been provided with, experimenting widely with any possible combination, relying on new knowledge, and instinct.


And yet, something was still amiss.


They were close to getting it right, John knew that. But instinctively, although there was nothing wrong with the components used, or the theory applied, he knew that the potion wasn’t complete yet. Something was out of place, and above theory and practice, John trusted his instincts. As a potioneer, instinct matters far more than the knowledge, or the experience that one had. You either had it, or you didn’t, and it made all the difference between research potioneers, and potioneers who simply made potions for a living. It didn’t mean that they weren’t good at what they do. Skill took practice, and if one did what one did for long enough, they would excel at it, but for it to be truly exceptional, it took talent.


That was only half the problem solved, and he has yet to figure and pinpoint exactly what the problem is.


He didn’t know what drew him out of his thoughts, pulling him out from pencil scribbled musings that made him look up, and blink. Paper surrounded him, the dirty plates from the morning’s breakfast nearly buried underneath, vials neatly labelled and lined up before him. It was, frankly speaking, a mess. Needing the space, he had moved to working on the floor instead, laying out the relevant information and shuffling them whenever he needed to.


His Airfish was hovering by the door, and although it lacked expression, had managed to convey hopefulness, looking from him to the door when it noticed that it had gained his attention, and executing the equivalent of a head tilt. John knew that slant of its tail any time.


The mess of hastily scribbled thoughts and half checked questions stared back at him blankly from the floor when he looked down again, currently a tangle and a mess of jumbled words that seemed to mean something, all pointing to a vague direction but currently dancing out of his reach. He tamped down on the frustration that rose again, and merely got up from the ground, stretching out stiff joints and muscles, wincing at every creak and pop, and the relief from tension that quickly followed after, and carefully picked his way out of the mess without disturbing anything too much. There was no use pursuing a lost rabbit in the fog, the way his head felt right now, overstuffed with loose tissue and nothing particularly solid. It was time to take a break.


He didn’t know how many days have passed since his self-imposed isolation, but it didn’t feel more than a few days. His fish did circles around him, a sure indication of joy, and swam up right next to him as he stood with the door knob in his hand, allowing himself a moment of stupidity for thinking that maybe he was locked in after all, and then pulled it open. His fish, entirely oblivious to the tricks of his mind, darted out immediately, John following after, a little slower.


His was the only door in the entire corridor, stark black against long walls of white stretching to either side. The space wasn’t quite right, allocated space not corresponding with the size of his room. It was as silent out of his room as it was inside, both ends of the corridor ending in yet more corridors, claustrophobic. It was a maze, a puzzle, a space carved out of where there shouldn’t be one, twisting upon itself. An error in architecture, perhaps? He had no idea how anyone lived here.


And God, how he hated that colour scheme.


Movement caught his eye, and he hurried after it, jogging down to the end of the corridor, followed leisurely by his fish. The next corridor was as long as this one, nearly identical to his, except for the two doors set into the walls. A fluttering piece of white paper bobbed slowly down the middle of it, clipped to a black peg, an elegant L inscribed upon it and encircled in gold, the stamp of Little London. Seeing no other options, and because a guide was as good a choice as any other, John followed after it. It had to end up somewhere, and somewhere hopefully meant people, for variety’s sake.


The peg drifted along at a slow enough pace that John was able to follow at a comfortable walking speed, passing by corridors after corridors. It wasn’t the same route that they had taken upon arriving, but one that went deeper into the building. It was unsettling to be in corridors that didn’t hold rooms, but seem to be a main corridor that branched off into various smaller ones in different directions. It didn’t seem as though anyone lived here, with the exception of himself. It went on for seemingly forever, an exaggeration in his mundane mind, according to Sherlock, probably.


Eventually, it turned into a corridor, and turned to pause before one of the nearly identical looking doors so abruptly John nearly walked past it, insignia glowing for a second, before the door clicked and swung open, and passed through.


John followed, stepping through the open door, expecting a stuffy office of some sort, or another room, only to find himself blinking unexpectedly in the bright daylights flooding in through floor to ceiling high glass windows.


A lobby sprawled before him, all gleaming surfaces of glass and marble, Residents dressed sharply in suits hurrying to and fro, most of them heading for the elevators at the far end of the lobby that pinged constantly, a background sound to clicking heels and shoes. Overhead, countless pegs zipped around bearing messages of various importance in a frenzy, as were different forms of fish, all of the activities closely monitored by CCTVs.


Welcome to Little London, how may we handle your enquiries?


John kept carefully out of the way, standing helplessly next to the door he had stepped out from, an easily overlooked door hidden to the side that didn’t look like it led to anywhere.


At least, this explains a lot about space in Mycroft Holmes’ mansion and exactly why it felt terribly unnatural and set him on edge all the time.


He was debating returning to his room, half of him dreading the long unguided walk back, when he heard his name being called, and turned to survey the lobby area. Not seeing anyone in particular, he turned back to the door, dismissing it as a figment of his overactive imagination after a long stay in warped space, only to start violently when a hand clapped over his shoulder, spinning him back around.


“John,” the voice said again. Low, baritone, familiar.


Sherlock had both hands on his shoulders, towering over him with an expression looking terribly close to concern on his face, sharp eyes darting over the research potioneer, taking in details and information which John could never see himself. He still looked the same as ever, swooping in his coat, scarf neatly knotted at his throat, not a single hair out of place, a sharply pressed suit beneath that.


For the first time, it occurred to John that Sherlock belonged here, firmly a member of Little London despite the fact that he went on episodes around Upper World, where John first met him, and knew him. Different, but still the same.


He felt like the wrong puzzle piece in a game he didn’t know how to play.


“John. John!” Sherlock’s grip tightened on him, sharp fingers digging into flesh, and John was shaken out of his reverie, blinking randomly, breathing unusually fast. “You’re not alright. Whatever did Mycroft do to you?”


John was shaking his head, a little dazed, a little numb at the sudden turn of events and the sudden realization, holding up a hand when a commotion at the end of the lobby attracted both their attentions.


The Residents were scattering now, moving away from the elevators instead of towards it, instead turning towards another area of the lobby for the escalators, a soft announcement redirecting them away. Within the elevator area, several tentacles lazily reached out of the walls, completely heedless of the disruption that it had caused. It was a giant jellyfish, translucent, with long, coiling, doubtlessly poisonous tentacles, half in and half out the walls, and John could catch glimpses of it as the elevator doors opened and closed, delicate machinery unsure of what to do with an Airfish inside its system.


He hadn’t thought that it was possible for Airfishes to be of a size that huge. Frankly, the jellyfish could easily take up half of the room that he was given, and perhaps a little more. And it was fascinating, watching it change shades from soft violet to deep hues of purple, sprawling, tentacles teeming, jabbing warningly at Residents that dared approach it. He wondered what sort of man would have a fish like that, and what exactly it said about him. See through and yet not, undeniably present, and with reaches far beyond what the visible eye can see, judging by a few Residents who weren’t touched by any tentacles, and yet fell over and stayed down.


Sherlock only scowled, displeased, turning his back against it. “There’s nothing he likes to cause more than trouble. Your room, John?”


Without waiting for an answer, he reached around John to pull open the door behind him, and steered John around and back into the maze. The sensation of claustrophobia and uneasiness returned at once, and John stood, trying his best to recall the route that he had taken to the lobby, but coming up short with exactly how many left and right turns he had taken, especially when every other corridor was just like any other.


Sherlock, however, didn’t seem to have the same problem as John did, and merely strode forwards, John’s fish hovering between the both of them indecisively.


“Research Potioneer John Watson’s accommodations,” Sherlock said sharply.


In response to Sherlock’s words, a bold black line appeared along the floors, as though drawn with an invisible hand, extending down and around a bend, presumably mapping out the way back to his room.


Sherlock was halfway down the corridor when he finally realized that John wasn’t following along, and whirled back around impatiently. “Do hurry up, I don’t have all day- “


Whatever it was that Sherlock Holmes had wanted to say next was cut short, the man faltering uncharacteristically at the sight of the expression on John’s face.


“Oh.” Sherlock breathed, knowing dawning in his eyes. “Oh.


John looked incredibly lost, still standing close to the door, posture stiff and closed, fists clenched. Sherlock was unable to put a name to the bit of emotion he had seen in John’s eyes before the man had averted his gaze, but he didn’t like it, the man’s fish hovering listlessly near the man’s thigh.


“John.” Quieter, concerned. Worried.


The sandy haired man gave himself a shake, muscles working in his jaw briefly, then straightened, and marched stiffly forwards, following the lines mapped on the floor, towards Sherlock.


He shook his head as he passed Sherlock, who wisely kept his silence, and followed after.



“I can talk to him.”


Sherlock had taken to pacing, in tight, agitated rounds, hands in the pockets of his coat, around the generous yet unoccupied space in John’s room. John sat on one of the armchairs, his fish in his lap, fingers trailing over cool fins for comfort.


“Let me talk to him, John.” Sherlock broke off the pacing, standing before John in one stride, all sharp angles and barely suppressed anger. “Surely you cannot think of staying here for however long you have signed on as his apprentice. I have seen rat holes much better than this.”


To his consternation, John shook his head, drawing a sharp, impatient exhale from Sherlock, the man turning away from him to gather the remains of his patience. “Can’t you see what he’s doing- “


Of course I know what he’s doing, a scrap piece of paper slapped Sherlock in the face. I am not entirely oblivious to the machinations of your brother.


But I will see to this on my own terms, by myself. I have no need of your interference, Sherlock. Its fine.


John tossed the last piece of paper out, the scrap drawing itself up into the air and hovering in place.




Silence hung between the both of them, a struggling sort of tension, until Sherlock briskly turned away to instead examine the mess of notes that John had spread out on the floor, toeing the edge of the nest-like layout of information without disturbing anything.


“Keep me in the loop in the future,” he said, an edge in his voice, but not harshly. “The latest progress updates if you please, John.”


Grateful that Sherlock had dropped the subject, John nudged his fish off his lap, and did.



It took him some experimenting and then another three days to get around the limitations of his disability. He had turned down Sherlock’s offer of a spell to assist him in finding his way around, thinking that tackling a bit of challenge wasn’t particularly harmful. After all, he still had to adapt to Little London on his own, and not the other way around. A lesson in independence.


And it would be very interesting to find out if he was still as good as what he used to be, just for his own personal knowledge.


The result was a small piece of coloured paper, on which he could write a name, or a destination, and it would float on its merry way along the shortest route that it could find. It was a little trial and error, and there was ample room for mistakes, but it worked the way that he wanted it to,  unerringly leading the way to the lobby and back, and so he was satisfied for now. It would take some time for it to be tuned in to the more delicate workings of the magic that hummed deep in the structures of this warped space, but it would be enough.


The only problem was to keep his fish from mistaking it for a piece of correspondence that was meant to be delivered and swallowing it. It was interference-proof, but not fish-proof, after all. That, and the fact that it always folded itself up into different shapes before floating off in search of the nearest exit. There could have been something else in the anagram spell that John made for it, but it was a harmless quirk, and he left it be.


The thing with warped spaces was that no one really know how stable it was. It was space, unlimited, which could be added to and subtracted from without anyone the wiser, although there would be noticeable differences in time by minutes to hours and even days. It also meant that directions and places could differ from day to day, and therefore written down directions and drawn maps would serve no use nor purpose. At the very least, conditions were more or less stable, with a constant temperature throughout. The amount of effort and magic put into maintaining the space would have been tremendous.


And so is the amount of effort Mycroft Holmes is putting into showing me my place, John thought viciously. Apprentice, my arse.


It was a power play, in simple and condensed terms. And the fact that it was executed thus overtly was terribly offensive to John. But for what? To put it in his debt? To constantly remind him that it was at Little London’s mercy that he was re-appointed?


Clumsy and poorly executed for a Holmes, if Sherlock was any definition of a standard. Though, it was good to know that Little London was still similar, inside and out, still playing by the old games.


He supposed that made it some sort of tradition.


His musings came to a jarring stop, halting when the paper boat which he had been following through the maze of corridors sailed right into the open hands of a woman, who carefully caught it, painted lips in a polite smile.


“Mr. Holmes would like to see you,” she said.



“You can call me Anthea.”


She didn’t seem to be walking particularly fast, but John had to hasten his strides to catch up with her, the Resident’s heels clicking in echoes off the walls around them. Call-me-Anthea was still holding the paper boat in one hand, although all of her attention was focused on a small black device that she was typing away on single-handedly, painted nails clicking occasionally on the screen. John noticed that she was navigating the maze quickly without the assistance of any directional spells, pointing to how tuned in she was into the surrounding magic. Female Residents were nearly unheard of, with majority of the positions filled out by their male counterparts. It spoke volumes about the pretty, slender woman before him, in a demure pencil skirt, black hair loose down her back and lips painted red, and it made John wary of what she was hiding beneath the small polite smile and sharply pressed dress suit.


She led him through a few different doors, all marked with different symbols, some carved into the door, some painted, before they stepped into a bright corridor, and John felt the world settle more solidly around him, the hum of magic falling away, and knew that he had left the warped maze, even though this corridor looked the same as any other, except for the many notes zipping to and fro along them. The main working building, then. There were a few Residents around, all minding their own business, either walking briskly along the corridors, and going in and out of offices on their own errands. None of them glanced in their direction at least once, and John hurried after Anthea when he realized that he had fallen behind.


It is only when the sound of clicking heels stop, did John look up. Anthea continues to tap serenely away on her device.


“Please make an appointment, she says pleasantly, without looking up. “Mr. Holmes will not see you.”


The Resident down the corridor swivels his head to fix Anthea with a less than pleasant glare, and turns away from the black door that he was about to knock on.


“I trust that you know where the appointment forms are. Please submit them to the relevant department, and he will contact you when as he will.”


John stands from where he is slightly behind Anthea, looking between her and the Resident who is taking slow steps forward, sensing a dispute.


The man stalked forwards, expression stormy, hands clasped behind his back, stopping before Anthea, his posture rigid.


“I will speak to him personally,” the man says slowly, pronouncing each word deliberately and carefully. “And you will look at me when you are spoken to.”


“I report only to Mr. Holmes,” Athea says amiably, and John can hear the steady tap-tap-tapping of her nails on screen.


“If I were you,” the man draws in a breath. “I would watch my words and my step.


Your caution, not mine,” Anthea replies immediately, and there is the soundless small explosion of energy occurring in the small space in the corridor from deflected spells, Anthea finally looking up at the Resident, her expression no less serene. The energy crackles in the air, raising the hair on the back of John’s neck, and he instinctively takes a step forward. “If I were you-


If I were you I would know my place-


By Mr. Holmes side, of course.


John could only stare. To those who were not sensitive to magic, it would only seem that they were engaging in a conversation, speaking in strange sentence structures. To him, the air was thick and heavy with spells forming and deflected just as quickly as they were made, light flashing behind eyelids, a sharp tang in his nostrils. It was a common occurrence, particularly in the upper hierarchies of Little London, spells woven into their lives and languages, slyly used against each other in a constant test of will.


You will not stand in my way-


In line, or from making an appointment, no,” Anthea smiles, and the spell is elegantly disarmed.


“You little - “


At this, John shoulders his way between the Resident and Anthea, shoulders back and ramrod straight, a challenging expression on his face. The man pauses, returning stare for stare, before smiling, oily, suddenly too pleasant.


“I see. Of course,” the man’s eyes flicker along John. “My apologies. Please.” He nods to John, stepping aside, but not before he aims a venomous glare towards Anthea, and striding away.


John waits until the Resident is gone, down the next turn, before he steps aside for Anthea, who has returned to tapping away on the device, waiting for her to lead the way again. She glances at him, the small smile never leaving her face, and resumes walking without a word, John following after a beat.



Mycroft Holmes’ office was huge. Spacious enough to be intimidating, furnished enough to look comfortable for the man sitting behind the desk, a half eaten sandwich clutched in a hand, and tapping away at a device that looked similar to Anthea’s with the other. John walked in, and stopped in the middle of the office, his paper boat in one hand, and a paper pad and pencil that Anthea had pushed into his hand. The Resident looked up as the doors closed, and John didn’t miss the way his eyes flickered to the set of doors, before landing upon him, resisting the urge to fidget, feeling terribly alone and exposed without his fish, or Sherlock.


“Make yourself comfortable,” Mycroft says, putting down his sandwich in favour of removing the pair of glasses he was wearing, and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “I apologise for being unable to speak with you any earlier. May I offer you lunch?”


At John’s stoic stare, Mycroft’s lips tilt into a smile, and the man stands up from behind his desk, walking around it and indicating a room through their left. “Please, Research Potioneer Watson?”


The stare held for about a few seconds longer, before John turned, grudgingly. The room that he was shown into was warmer, the colour scheme deviating slightly from the rigid black and white that dominated Mycroft’s office. It should have been a rather nauseous mix, but whoever was in charge of interior decor outdid themselves, managing to create a space that took a slight break from the stringent monochromatic scheme and highly polished finishings that the rest of the building seemed to favour, although no less impersonal. No less stifling, either, with the obvious lack of windows, and more doors than it should have in various directions, cleverly hidden behind panelling and screens.


Mycroft settled down opposite John, removing the cloche on the small table between them, and placed the soup, a plate of roast beef with a salad and some bread before John, and kept the small bowl of leafy greens for himself.


“I hope the menu is to your liking,” Mycroft says, frowning slightly down at the bowl before him, as though the greens were offending him in some way, fork paused over it. “The Kitchen has a fixed menu on operating days.”


Ignoring John’s hard stare, Mycroft begins picking through the salad for the cherry tomatoes, seeming to be eating the vegetables in order, and remained silent until John picked up his own cutlery to start on the soup. It wasn’t until John was halfway through the admittedly delicious beef when Mycroft spoke up again, the man delicately prodding at a purple leaf carefully.


“I trust that you are settling in well. There is nothing I can do about your accommodation as of now, but it should not have posed a problem for you. As is proven.” Mycroft nods to the little boat at John’s elbow, a hint of approval in his voice. “An unfortunate circumstance, for which I will apologise for.”


Disability does not equate inability, John pushes across the table in a neat handwriting, eyes hard, but not challenging. Adaptation has been said to be one of my better skills.


“As it is, but not the only skill that you possess, Research Potioneer Watson. If I may?” He indicates the paper boat spell with his eyes, and John gingerly puts it into Mycroft’s open palm.


Mycroft unfolds it, murmuring something quietly under his breath, until it lies flat again, once more, to survey the words and letters spinning across its surface. “An interesting piece of work, but,” he falls abruptly silent, drawing the letters out of the paper into the air with a hand, directing them quickly, sending them into quick spins with a finger and removing a few letters, before pulling out a pen and writing something in the air that contained elaborate loops and flourishes, and pressed them back into the paper with his palm. “It should be more precise. But a very good foundation for a spell.”


He offers the spell back, the corners of it curling slightly and flattening again, and John picks it up. It doesn’t seem very different, but it feels different, and also that the letters are spinning less randomly, more in a certain pattern that he cannot yet decipher.


“I will leave it to you to find out what and how,” Mycroft says, folding his hands on the table, one over the other neatly. “At your own leisure. Your priority as of now remains on Sherlock’s case, and I will assign you your duties when I see fit to. Take the time to settle yourself, and to familiarize yourself with the new environment. Just in case.”


They stare at each other over the plates and cutlery, until it seems that a mutual agreement and consensus has been reached, and John returns to eating again, picking up his cutlery, finishing off the last of his roast beef and bread.


“I hope that these meetings could be regular, as depending on our schedules.”


Have to see about that, John writes, in reference to Sherlock, a somewhat polite smile plastered on his face. Lunch was lovely, thank you.


Mycroft only smiled, as though he found something particularly amusing that was rather obscure to John. “Welcome to Little London."