"Take my hand!"
John nearly giggled before clasping Sherlock's handcuffed hand in a death grip, the flying pavement a blur at their heels.
"Now people will definitely talk!"
They reached the locked gate and Sherlock leapt over the side with the speed and agility of a flying monkey, a manoeuvre which never failed to amaze John, no matter how many times he saw it.
As the links clinked against the gate and John was dragged forward, he loped a hand through the bars to snag the oblivious detective and reel him in. "SHERLOCK!"
We are going to need, to co-ordinate! That's what John wanted to say. It was at the tip of his tongue, but Sherlock's flushed face was inches from his own. And John forgot the words as his pulse rocketed against his throat for an entirely different reason. For a moment they were pressed against each other closer than ever before, gazes locked, the bars of the gate too flimsy a barrier to be of any consequence. The burn along his outstretched arm reminded him that his shoulder was about to pop out, but he barely noticed. His own breath caught in his throat as John saw the sharp, silvery irises obliterated by dilated pupils. And he would have still found a way to rationalise the observation away as panic. After all they were on the run from the Yard. Sherlock was suspected to be Moriarty and-
His train of thought blew up spectacularly as Sherlock's free arm snaked through the bars to yank him nearer and cold, soft lips closed over his own.
There was no hesitation, no sense of uncertainty. Sherlock plundered his mouth like he belonged there, biting his bottom lip till John whimpered from the twin attacks of pain and pleasure. The way John melted into the kiss, allowing Sherlock to deepen it only proved that any permission Sherlock should have needed for this was granted a long time ago.
John's free hand shifted to clutch the surprisingly soft curls. He was determined that he wouldn't be the first to break away.
"What is it?"
"Paramedics. Mrs Hudson's been shot. Probably one of the killers you managed to attract. Jesus! She's dying, Sherlock. Let's go," John shot up instinctively from the lab table he had involuntarily fallen asleep over. The Doctor in him automatically steered to get his coat and pull it on, as he calculated how long they would take to reach Baker Street and praying that she wasn't hurt too badly.
When he turned to leave, he realised that Sherlock hadn't moved an inch. He was still slumped on the floor against the lab bench as he threw the rubber-ball listlessly to arc against the wall and back in his hand.
"You go. I'm busy."
"Thinking. I need to think."
"You need to...? Doesn't she mean anything to you? You once half-killed a man because he laid a finger on her."
"She's my landlady!"
You machine! John wanted to scream. But his eyes paused to note the white knuckles clutching the ball a bit too hard, the strange tightening around the corners of Sherlock's mouth and all he said was, "Right." His fingers unerringly hit the speed-dial to call Mycroft.
As he made no further move to leave, Sherlock scrambled up from the floor, "What on earth are you-"
John simply ignored the outburst as Mycroft answered the phone. John did not allow the senior Holmes to speak. "You claimed to be sorry for what you did. Here's the first step towards making up for it. Mrs. Hudson's been shot. Thanks to you, Sherlock's a fugitive. He can't go back to Baker Street and I'm not leaving his side, as that would decrease the chances of him doing something incredibly stupid. She's your responsibility, Mycroft. You make sure she's alright."
He ended the call without waiting for a reply.
John knew he had done the right thing when he met Sherlock's wide, surprised and suddenly vulnerable looking eyes. The expression in them made John want to wrap his arms around the gangly idiot in a warm hug, but he settled for clearing his throat and sitting back on the stool before retorting, "What! Stop staring at me like that. I'm not going anywhere."
John was drumming his fingers against the closed lift-doors willing it to go faster. He needed to get back to Baker Street right now. They should never have left Mrs. Hudson alone. He was in the lobby of Bart's when he realised that Mycroft's assistance would reach Mrs. Hudson faster than he ever could and swallowed his pride and anger to call him.
"Mycroft," he started without preamble. "Mrs. Hudson's been shot. I'm on my way there right now but you-"
"That's impossible John." Mycroft's voice was disturbingly calm. The fact that it was Mycroft saying this brought John to an abrupt stop.
Mycroft continued, "221 Baker Street has always been under the highest priority surveillance. Even if there were shots fired in the vicinity of the apartment, much less someone actually getting shot inside the flat, it would raise multiple red flags on the system. If you were not present at Baker Street at the time of such an incident, I would know about it long before emergency services could reach there and call you," There was a pause, as muffled voices came down the line.
"There, I've confirmed it. Mrs. Hudson is fine."
But that meant… John was jolted out of the grip of the cold fist that closed around his throat, as Mycroft raised his voice, now more urgent than before, "Where are you presently, John? Is Sherlock with you?"
FUCK! He was running back to Bart's, running as fast as he could. Whoever had made that call, had wanted to separate him from Sherlock. And he had been so bloody stupid. He reached the lab completely out of breath to find it empty. The entire corridor was empty except for a janitor doing the early morning clean-up.
No! No! No! This wasn't happening! Not here!
"You lookin' for someone, son?"
The janitor looked an awful lot like old Larry, a cleaner from John's High school, but John didn't pause to ponder the co-incidence.
"There was a man in the lab, my friend, just five minutes ago. Did you see where he went?" His voice shook, "Please, it's really important."
"Take it easy, junior. Tall, posh bloke, right? Went up the stairs. Dunno where, though! That goes right to the roof."
"Thank you," John gasped before breaking into a run again.
His first instinct was to burst out onto the roof, but he curbed the impulse and entered quietly, gun on the ready.
- to find Sherlock standing on the edge of the roof and Jim Moriarty prancing around him, although too far to push Sherlock or pose any direct threat to him. Sherlock was already on the fucking ledge? Jim didn't even have a weapon on him.
John didn't stop to think. Sherlock was in danger. The how and why of how exactly Jim was making it happen didn't matter. He had a clear line of sight.
He shot Jim right in the head.
John hadn't expected any gratitude from Sherlock for saving his arse, but found that the Detective was as furious as he was, if not more. He dragged John roughly to the stairwell and pushed him against the wall before typing something furiously on his phone, "Why did you do that? Do you have the slightest idea what you've done?"
Sherlock was shaking like a twig, his face twisted with panic, as he gripped his head with both hands, "You could've died. And Mrs. Hudson could already be dead, because of your misguided hero complex, you imbecile. YOU SHOULD'VE LET ME JUMP!"
"No." If John had any second thoughts as to the veracity of his action, that one statement erased all doubt as all the pieces- the phone call, an unarmed Jim Moriarty and Sherlock standing on that ledge slotted neatly into place to create a singular, horrifying eventuality.
Sherlock jumps. Sherlock dies…and John lives.
"Didn't you hear a word of what I just said?" Sherlock roared, "Mrs. Hudson-"
"I don't care," John whispered, gripping Sherlock in a tight hug, his words shocking the detective into abrupt silence. "I cannot let it happen. I will not let it happen."
John was too slow, because only he knew that even one step behind Sherlock could be too far a distance to bridge when it mattered the most. How, even one step behind him could make John irreparably late.
Oh, how well he knew that!
"Captain, you do know that you're asking me to help you commit suicide."
"I need more…I need more time. It's come to the point that I've to remind myself that I'm still flesh and blood, not some kind of a spirit. It has stooped feeling real. I want to go deeper."
"That's…that's beyond suicidal! No one knows what's down there. You'll be better off shooting yourself in the mouth. I would rather watch you do that."
"You owe me, Carson. You promised…anything."
"I didn't promise to…I cannot do this. You can't expect me to stand by and-"
"I don't expect you to do anything of the sort. Just leave it here and go, as a last favour to a dying man. I'll never ask anything of you again."
"You'll be living a lie! Don't you care? None of it will be real."
"Look at me, Carson. Do you see me living now? It's been three years since and…I feel the same. The only moments I feel even slightly alive are when I'm with him. I know its suicide and my body will waste away without my mind. But I'm choosing this way to go. The few hours I have here will give me a lifetime with him and it will be as real as I want it to be. Think of it as a mercy killing of sorts. I saved Dylan in Kandahar. This is the closest you can come to returning the favour. Think of it as fulfilling a dying man's final wish. Please."
Mycroft Holmes had waited three years for the text he received this morning. It said one word, "Checkmate."
By all rights he should have been at Heathrow Airport, welcoming his dead brother home. But here he was in the back-seat of his limo, fists clenched, praying to a God he had never believed in, as his driver raced towards John's current apartment. Unfortunately, his sources had not been as adept at discovering the black-market sale of a powerful, highly illegal anaesthetic to John Watson's erstwhile army Lieutenant. Sherlock's homeless Network would have known about it almost instantly, but his brother had been hot on Moran's heels at the tail-end of the three-year long sting Operation. He had entrusted Mycroft with John's well-being.
He shuddered to think what would happen, if he didn't get there on time. Losing John Watson was not an option.
Mycroft had never used avoidance in his life. Until now.
As he sat frozen on the couch in the living room of 221B head cradled in his hands, ignoring Sherlock's ninth call and dozens of texts, he was swamped by a feeling of utter helplessness, an emotion he hadn't experienced since Sherlock had quit drugs.
He didn't move when the door slammed open and Sherlock crossed the room in two quick strides, didn't even raise his head to meet Sherlock's eyes. Three years of longing to have his brother back where he belonged and now that it had happened, Mycroft couldn't face him.
Sherlock didn't have any such qualms as he hauled Mycroft to his feet and landed a hard punch to his nose. "He's dead, isn't he?" His brother roared, taking temporary sanctuary in blinding anger. Despair would come later. "John's dead. There's no other reason why you would be ignoring my calls. He's not at his apartment. No one knows where he is." Mycroft could feel his cracked nasal bone and the blood that freely trickled to stain his pristine white shirt. He didn't bother raising his arms in defence.
This reaction seemed to confirm Sherlock's worst fears and he dropped Mycroft to back away and wordlessly crumple against a wall, trembling. "No. He can't win now."
Mycroft winced as he studied his sibling. His brother was skin and bones and little else to spare with ginger hair shorn to the roots. The dark hollows outlining piercing blue eyes were a testament to sleepless nights spread over three long, horrifying years. Mycroft knew that he could never hope to be able to undo the damage those years had done, the only evidence of which he had were dozens of files filled with hastily typed reports as his minions had struggled to keep up with an avenging Sherlock set loose upon Moriarty's Empire. As he tried to come to terms with everything Sherlock had to do to end his self-imposed purgatory, he found himself fearing more for his brother's soul than his life.
And now this. Mycroft couldn't stand it. This should have been Sherlock's shining moment of triumph. His voice had never sounded as defeated as it did right now.
"John isn't dead." He finally said.
Sherlock looked at his brother then and his hopeful gaze almost undid Mycroft. But he owed his brother the truth. "It's much worse."
Dwight Carson would have pummelled Sherlock with his bare hands if Mycroft's guards hadn't held him back. But Sherlock didn't have time for this stranger's hostility. His couldn't take his eyes off the pale figure lying on his bed, an i.v. line snaking from the wasted arm to something that looked like a suitcase with intricate wiring and a large button in the centre. He struggled to understand what Carson was saying. John was breathing, so John was alive. Ergo he could be saved. This man held the key.
"It's called Dreamshare," Mycroft started. "The technology enables multiple members to share specifically engineered dreams. It was developed in the last decade through the joint efforts of classified labs around the world. It was used on an experimental basis by SAS soldiers when John was in Afghanistan. At the time it was thought to be a simple, damage-free, cost and time-effective way to prepare soldiers for combat. I believe that's when John stumbled across it the first time. Although, he simply used it to access his own memories through the dreams, as opposed to sharing them with someone."
"So, John is dreaming."
"Mr. Carson," Mycroft's voice hardened. "Please explain and kindly be to the point."
"I'll be to the point, alright. Your fuckbag of a brother is the reason why Captain did this."
"Don't, Mycroft. Let the man speak."
"He wanted to access his memories, his memories of you."
At Sherlock's blank look, the man clarified, "You wouldn't understand what I'm saying till you experience it. You can access a whole different world through your dreams. Your subconscious creates it for you. Everything in that world looks and feels real. He dreams about you and he is with you when he does that, or rather with your flesh and blood projection within a world of his creation. He thought you died and he couldn't save you. I think that's what he wanted to do when he first came to me. He wanted to save you."
"But that's ridiculous. It isn't real."
"The reality you created was killing him slowly. The dreams kept him alive."
Sherlock turned to his brother. "You knew about this. Why you didn't stop him?"
Mycroft's voice was as close to pleading as he had ever heard, "John was suicidally depressed, Sherlock. He blamed himself for leaving you, blamed the Yard for pushing you and blamed me for betraying you. He attended one therapy session and never went back. He was a shadow of himself when he met Mr. Carson, a year ago. Then, he appeared to improve, to have found a reason to continue. So I didn't interfere. If a few hours with you daily were giving him some peace, I thought it was for the best."
Sherlock's voice was like a whip-crack, "You're forgetting something very important, Mycroft. It wasn't me. It was never me."
He turned to Dwight, in control once more, "By your own description, the process is temporary and should last only as long as John is asleep. So what's different in this instance? What's stopping him from coming back?"
Carson's face grew pinched as he spoke, "Below the usual dream level, there is nothing but infinite, raw subconscious. We call it limbo. In an ordinary dream, if you die, you wake up and come back to reality. But if you are anesthetised with particular drugs before you 'sleep', you cannot wake up when you're killed in the dream. You drop into limbo. No one knows what's down there. Captain begged me to get him the anaesthetic needed. He wanted to drop into limbo voluntarily. It has never been done before, with the exception of a single study, which ended badly. It's incredibly dangerous for a very simple reason. No one’s ever made it back from limbo. "
"And you did as he asked?" Mycroft's tone dripped with disgust.
Carson pointed a shaking hand at the insensate figure. "That man is not the same soldier who saved my fiancé's life while taking a bullet to his own shoulder. Your brother had already killed him. Captain didn't know this, but I once followed him discreetly into a dream after he was already under. You were both arrested by police officers, when you escaped by holding a gun to Captain's head. And then I saw…I saw you kiss him. That was when I understood. You were partners, lovers and he had to watch you throw yourself off a building. He only wanted to spend the rest of his life with you and limbo could give him that. Time moves much slower down there. A few hours here would mean years in limbo. He wasn't intending to return."
Sherlock paled and crumpled into his chair, but his voice did not betray any emotion. "We weren't…I never…" He took a deep breath and turned the full force of his gaze on the man, his voice determined. "You followed him. From your explanation so far, if I wanted to follow John too, I have to enter the first level under the same anaesthetic and then kill myself, to drop into limbo? Isn't that right? Just tell me, how do I wake him when I get there?"
Carson looked horrified at the suggestion, "Are you insane? It's a one way ticket to losing your mind. You could never find him. You could grow old and die, searching for him. No one's ever come back. It was tried in one experiment and the subject's mind turned to scrambled mush. Besides, you've never even done it before. You're not an architect. It takes lay persons months to create anything by themselves, even in a normal dream level. What do you think you're going to do?"
Sherlock simply shook his head as though irritated by a fly, "I'll improvise. How do you wake someone in a normal dream level?"
Carson stuttered, looking at Sherlock like he was completely mental, "It's called a kick. Basically, we push the person in the dream, so that they fall down. The anaesthesia used does not affect the inner-ear and the sensation of falling activates the inner ear receptors and wakes you up. Failing that, you simply kill the person. Death is the ultimate kick. But you cannot seriously be considering…you don't even know if you can wake him up or you'll ever wake up." He turned to Mycroft, "This is madness. Stop him!"
Sherlock threw a challenging look at Mycroft. But the elder Holmes only tightened his grip on his umbrella as he asked Sherlock, "Just tell me what you'll need?"
"Are you sure that you won't need a totem?" Carson demanded as he completed the final preparations.
Sherlock scoffed, "A unique object to remind me that the dreams aren't real? Please! John's been doing this for a year and he still hasn't needed one. I don't intend to do this more than once. Why on earth would I need it?"
Carson was hooking him to the machine as he lay on the other side of his bed, one hand twined with John's utterly still one. Mycroft stood vigil on the other side as Carson gave his final instructions. "You may not recognise John when you find him as it's already been six hours and it could mean years down there. I have no idea what you think you're gonna do, but speed is of the essence. You have to get back as soon as you can. I've set the timer for two minutes, but dream level rules and time are immaterial to you as you'll shoot yourself and drop into limbo. Even if the dream level time expires, and you somehow do manage to miraculously escape limbo, theoretically you should wake up here."
He stilled momentarily looking at Sherlock's perfectly calm face, "And one last thing. I understand now why Captain chose this."
Sherlock did not look at his brother as Mycoft sat on his side of the bed and took Sherlock's free hand into his own. Mycroft's voice didn't waver, "Do hurry back, Sherlock. I would hate for you to miss dinner."
Sherlock hadn't forgiven Mycoft yet, but he didn’t let go his brother's hand as Carson started the i.v. and darkness took over.
The first surprise was to feel his coat around his shoulders again. Apparently, his sub-conscious agreed that he needed to look exactly as he had on the day of the Fall.
Sherlock had not expected limbo to be terrifying. By Carson's own admission, no one had ever been there and ‘returned' to tell the tale. The best thing about popular conjecture was that it was usually exaggerated and seldom accurate.
But he hadn't expected this either.
As he stood outside a completely deserted Baker Street tube Station, he took a deep breath and started walking.
It was the early morning hours of a beautiful spring day. Considering that limbo was populated only with John's sub-conscious, Sherlock hadn't known what to expect. He had been half prepared to find himself suddenly in the middle of a war. But here was John surprising him as usual.
When he finally reached the apartment, he stopped. He knew John would be in there, and he resisted bursting in or even calling out to him with great difficulty. The re-creation wasn't perfect. The awning over the entrance to a deserted Speedy's was a wholly different shade of crimson. But the door to 221B showed loving attention to detail. Even the scratches against the door-jamb left by their American visitors had been perfectly reproduced.
He stood for a moment with his fingers touching the brass knocker, praying that his slap-dash plan would work, which involved not telling John the truth, yet again.
It made sense in an upside down manner. John would have had a hard enough time believing Sherlock had faked his death and was still alive even in real life. There was no reason why he would even listen to what he would believe to be a projection. There were no hidden words or codes that he could use to convince John. He had no way of proving that he wasn't simply a figment of John's sub-conscious.
He continued walking till the limits of John's imaginary London to see it surrounded by an unending desert. The ‘city' spanned about half a mile and was peppered with familiar landmarks- Angelo's , their favourite Chinese place, NSY and two Tesco's. Even Seb's bank had earned a place. But just as Sherlock had suspected, the one location he wanted was conspicuously absent.
He circled back to their flat and when he reached there, he eyed the opposite block of flights before closing his eyes to concentrate and visualise the set of plans Mycroft had got for him. He had memorised the set before he was put under and thankfully found that he could recall each tiny detail. Whatever the downsides of limbo, it wasn't affecting his intellect.
Not that he required intelligence as much as will-power for the next step, the sheer force of will needed to shape matter with his mind.
Finding the will was easy. He wasn't leaving here without John.
John's eyes fluttered open to find one Consulting Detective wrapped around him.
Today was one of the good days. He gently caressed the pale brow wedged into the crook of his neck, careful as to not jostle the sleeping man.
He never knew what he would wake up to. Sometimes he would awaken to wistful strains of the violin floating up the stairs and he would find Sherlock silhouetted against the tall window composing something sad and angry. Sometimes the consulting Detective would be frantically pacing the living room bemoaning the lack of cases. Most times, he would wake up alone.
He had no one to blame but himself. After all, it was Sherlock's projection. There was only so much time he could stay in one place without getting bored.
And that disproved another theory about limbo. Contrary to Carson's fears and to John's utter consternation, he simply couldn't forget that limbo wasn't real. Time was meaningless here as days melted into days and nights as John desired, but the passage of ‘time' had no power to touch his perception of unreality.
He had counted on limbo being strong enough to let him forget the Fall. It was ironic then that it was the Fall that wouldn't let him forget.
Whether Sherlock kissed him in the kitchen, sulked on the sofa, yelled with him while watching crap telly or left him flushed, hot and gasping on their bed, John always knew it to be a lie. That was one of the main reasons why he couldn't sustain the fickle projection constantly.
But there was no Moriarty or Mycroft or Lestrade to hurt Sherlock here. He was whole and unbroken. He was safe. And whenever he did deign to make an appearance, he looked happy.
It was enough.
He caressed the ebony curls tickling his chin and closed his eyes. Just a few minutes more, he told himself.
He awoke again to the loud buzzing of his mobile on the bedside table. He sighed as pulled himself up, not needing to confirm that the other half of the bed was cold and empty. There was only one person who would be messaging him here. And if Sherlock was out somewhere messaging John, obviously he couldn't be in bed with him.
To his surprise, the buzzing continued. When John saw the screen, he stilled as he saw that it was a call, not a message as he had automatically assumed.
Sherlock never called if he could text. Even if his version of Sherlock wanted to, John wouldn't let him. There were very few things about Sherlock's projection he could control, but this was one of them. Sherlock's one telephonic ‘note' was enough to last John two lifetimes.
The incessant buzzing snapped him out of his reverie and he answered the call in a falsely high, cheerful voice, not letting the projection talk first. "If this is about wanting to know once again where exactly the produce section of Tesco's is, you can piss off. It's time you made room for it on your bloody hard drive."
There was a very long pause on the other end of the line. John counted ten excruciating seconds before Sherlock answered.
No! FUCK NO! John stumbled out of bed pulling his clothes on, refusing to give in to the terrifying sense of déjà vu Sherlock's tone evoked. The way he had called John that one time was seared into his memory.
He thought it couldn't happen again. He thought it would never happen again. Maybe this was how limbo finally scrambled his mind.
"Sherlock, where the hell are you? Just stay there, alright. I'm coming to get you. Do you hear me? I'm coming now."
He stepped out of 221 while still pulling on a shoe, and stumbled to an abrupt stop.
The row of blocks opposite to their flat had completely disappeared. In its place, stood a perfect recreation of John's worst memory- St. Bartholomew's Hospital, all five storeys of it complete with the tiny figure in the flapping coat, standing on the ledge at the top. Jesus! He ran towards the entrance, phone still held to his ear.
He did not stop to wonder why this time, Sherlock didn't stop him.
Sherlock stood on the ledge as he watched John run into the building. Of all the scenarios he had considered of meeting John again face to face, this was one he had never imagined.
When he had ‘died', Sherlock had left behind a part of himself with his friend. Its absence had enabled him to become the kind of monster he had to, in order to destroy Jim's web. He had robbed, blackmailed, tortured, maimed, even killed without compunction, because deep inside he knew that when he returned to John, he would have ‘it' back. Jim would have called it his ‘heart'; Lestrade would have labelled it ‘humanity' or ‘compassion'. But he had found these terms too trite to convey what it was that he expected to regain when John was back at his side. He only knew that the fall had broken him that day, if not exactly as Jim had intended, and only John could put him back together and make him whole again.
In the meantime, he had trusted John to keep that part of him safe.
He had never even paused to consider that he could be as essential to John's continued existence as John was to his.
Now he had risked his mind, his intellect to bring John back. From where he stood, it was a fair bargain. For all his genius, he had underestimated his importance to John. Everything that followed had stemmed from that. This mistake was his greatest failure.
He prayed that the simple deception would work. He had planned to get John to the roof of Bart's. Done. Next step would be to convince John that he was going to jump again, and when he was close enough, Sherlock would pretend to listen to him, get off the ledge, and then grab him, mentally remove a section of the parapet and fall. If his logic worked falling from a building and dying should be a huge enough kick for them to wake up.
If not, they had nothing to lose. It wasn’t like either of them was really alive.
John stumbled on the roof out of breath, armed and ready. He had half expected Jim to be present. If his subconscious could create a building against his wishes, it could very well resurrect Jim Moriarty too.
But the roof was empty, save for Sherlock, who tossed his phone aside as soon as he saw John.
"John, you look younger!" his voice sounded more than a bit incredulous, but John didn't relax, eyes scouting the roof to verify that it was indeed empty.
When he finally addressed Sherlock, he was blisteringly mad, "What the fuck are you doing, Sherlock?"
Sherlock continued like he hadn't said anything, "You should have looked older. But you look like you did when we first met." Then he had the audacity to give a small laugh as he tottered slightly forward, "You're still aware that this world isn't real. Oh, you're marvellous, John."
Sweat beaded between his shoulder-blades as John moved subtly closer. He spoke through gritted teeth, "You know very well that I still remember. We fight about it daily. I don't know why you're doing this but we can argue about that later. Just get off the fucking ledge."
"I'm sorry, John, I think I owe you an apology," Sherlock repeated the dreaded words and John felt his legs weaken beneath him.
"It's true. It's all true. I-"
There it was, John's worst fear come to pass.
"Don't," John whispered, falling helplessly to his knees. He did the only thing he could. "Please don't. I LOVE YOU!" He screamed in pain, too much pain for one man to shoulder all over again.
John could shoot a hundred Jim Moriartys to save Sherlock's life a hundred times over, but he had no defence against a Sherlock who didn't want to stay with him because just John Watson and what he felt for Sherlock wasn't enough. He had been in love with the man but had hesitated to let him know that, had decided to keep it a secret. Sherlock, in turn hadn't confided in John, had jumped, left him alone with the knowledge that he would never be able to tell the mad genius, what he had come to mean to him, left John with the torture of not knowing what they could've been together. He had sacrificed himself for John, unaware that his life was not just his own any longer to toss away.
This was the main reason why he had been unable to come to terms with Sherlock's suicide. Why he wanted to enter the dream-world in the first place; not just to save Sherlock as Carson had assumed, but to tell him the truth, the truth about how he felt. And to know what Sherlock would say in return.
Unfortunately, it hadn't worked.
"I love you," he sobbed into his palms, willing the projection to disappear, as it always did when he confessed the one thing he had never said to the real Sherlock. He would say it daily to Sherlock in the dreams, hoping that with enough time Sherlock would answer. But the projection was an off-shoot of John's sub-conscious. The dream-Sherlock never knew how to react when John revealed his deepest secret, his heart offered up, cut open and bleeding.
Sherlock unfailingly disappeared whenever John uttered the words.
As John finally dared to open his eyes, to his utter surprise, he saw Sherlock standing stock still on the ledge, eyes widened in surprise as a slight tremor rocked the tall frame. There was a beat of shocked silence as John processed the fact that Sherlock was still here.
"I…I love you too, John," the voice trembled in reply. "More than you can imagine," Sherlock continued, and John forgot to breathe.
"Do you trust me?" he asked John.
John simply looked at Sherlock blankly. Even dream-Sherlock didn't usually ask rhetorical questions.
"Please understand, John. This world isn't real and I don't want to be here anymore," Sherlock continued firmly. "I am going to jump. I don't know what the result will be. But I do know now that I don't want to do this alone. I don't want to repeat the same mistake I made the last time, when I was less than honest with you. So," he took a deep breath. "Will you jump with me?"
John got shakily to his feet as he considered the projection. His sub-conscious could not have possibly come up with this scenario.
Through hundreds of dream hours, he had lied, killed, even watched Mrs. Hudson die to save Sherlock. Never once had Sherlock been honest with him.
And now he was asking John along, just like old times. He had said he loved John. And John would have followed the nutter to hell and back, even before that. To think of it, he already had. What did it matter if Sherlock wasn't real? That this could be his mind finally succumbing to limbo and giving in to wishful thinking. Wasn't this response exactly what John had been waiting so desperately for?
Sherlock stretched out a too pale hand, "I have no idea what the outcome will be." A corner of his mouth twitched as he continued, "But it could be dangerous and will definitely not be boring."
John's face creased up in his first real smile in a long time as he extended his own hand and allowed Sherlock to haul him up on to the ledge.
"One last thing," Sherlock muttered before pulling John close and kissing him deeply.
Safe in Sherlock's embrace, John didn't even realise when Sherlock steered them into thin air and gravity took over.
This story is meant to be a one-shot. The cliff-hanger ending is my nod to Cobb's still-spinning top-totem at the end of Inception. Personally I believe that the boys wake up to a 'happily ever after'. But then, I'm just a sucker for happy endings. Your interpretation of the end is up to you!