John Watson is a telepath.
He’s never really advertised it. Not exactly something most people would take an interest in; and he prefers it that way. Keeping it to himself is so much easier than trying to make people understand.
It doesn’t work exactly like in the movies, either. Hollywood glamorizes the ability, as if it is an innate thing to be able to zero in on one person’s thoughts and not get confused. John knows it’s a load of rubbish. Ever since he was a child, he’s always heard the white noise - like the grainy black and white snow on an old television - in the background. It never really goes away. At first he didn’t know what it was. When he concentrated on it, he could make out only a few words and voices. He chose to ignore it most of the time.
The first time John realized he was hearing someone’s thoughts, loud and clear, he was thirteen years old. The white noise was an afterthought these days, only hearing it when his own mind wasn’t otherwise occupied. He was sitting at his kitchen table, working on his math assignment from class that day, when his sister, Harry, walked up to him, asking him a question. When he didn’t answer her right away, she clapped a hand down on his shoulder to get his attention, her thumb getting caught under the edge of his jumper and resting on his collar bone.
John’s vision immediately burst into a swirl of colors and his ears perceived loud speech; a jumble of kaleidoscope scenes and mumblings were filling his consciousness with a sense of foreign wrongness, as if he was no longer inside his own head. And he would later learn that in that instant, he wasn’t. He had torn away from Harry’s touch as if it was on fire, gasping for air and staring at his sister, mouth agape. When John blurted, “Harry, you’re gay?!” and Harry turned a neat shade of purple, followed by a long string of expletives, he knew that that wasn’t what Harry had come in to tell him.
John eventually worked out that, upon entering puberty, skin-to-skin contact with another person allowed him into the very workings of their mind. He experimented all throughout his secondary school years, finding that after he touched someone the white noise lessened when he was around them, and their thoughts came in clearer, as if he had gotten closer to the radio tower and reception to his antennae was better. When it came to public places, if John focused enough, he could hear the person’s current thoughts without touching them, but couldn’t delve deeper into their memories.
Enlisting in the army after medical school became a dark splotch in John’s life; as much as he enjoyed being a soldier, he could hear the dark thoughts and intentions of the multitude of men around him. It became a miasma of swirling black clouds in his mind, and John found himself more often then not reducing his ability to a small amount of white noise in the back of his head. When he was invalided home, he found the sympathies towards him in the minds of others to be a cloying, sticky mess that would settle into the base of his skull. Thus, he decided to move to London, where less people would be privy to his situation and he would only have to hear them think about his limp.
The day he met Sherlock Holmes, John had seen the man in Mike’s head and been curious to meet the intelligent detective, going along to meet at Saint Bart’s. John’s first impression of Sherlock’s mind was a jumbled mess of words and pictures, moving at the speed of a fast-flowing river. When John’s fingers grazed Sherlock’s at the exchange of John’s mobile, John froze like he’d been struck with a bucket of ice water.
How to describe Sherlock’s mind? The river was really just a moat surrounding what John would only describe as a citadel-sized palace, ensconced by a wall from which words, pictures, scents, and sounds were being hurled into the moat, and likewise things were flying from the moat and back over the wall. It was a large scene of chaos, and John was standing on the threshold for a mere second before he lost contact and the sense of vastness receded into a small feeling sitting between his ears. Sherlock had looked at John quizzically as John spaced out and then back in to reality. John knew at that moment that he couldn’t let this man’s mind slip between his fingers, for his was the most complex and largest John had ever had the chance to come across.
So John agreed to the flat share, and soon he was drawn into the world of Sherlock Holmes. The more time he spent with the detective, the more engrossed John got in the man’s mind. He would find himself staring at Sherlock when he would pose questions to John, taking an extra second to read the question not just with his ears but in Sherlock’s head. Sherlock’s thought process was like lightening, the thoughts from the citadel flying out of windows and over the retaining wall into the fast-flowing river that was the surface of Sherlock’s thoughts. The moat was as quickly tossing things back over the high brick wall, where they would sort out and back into the windows of the large castle-like structure.
The more John paid attention, the more he began to learn from the detective. Facts and sounds and sights and the smells of many unpleasant things would cross into the forefront, through John’s head, and then back into Sherlock’s citadel. It was almost overwhelming at first for John, and the only relief he really ever got from Sherlock’s ever-running mind was when the man was asleep.
The first time John realized he could access the citadel, Sherlock had fallen asleep on the couch in his pajamas, exhausted from four straight days of no sleep on a case. John had come in to the living room to find Sherlock splayed across the couch, one leg thrown up over the top, the other foot resting on the floor, one hand tangled in the messy array of curls at his head and the other clutched tight into the front of his own heather-grey t-shirt. John chuckled softly to himself, having gotten a nap while Sherlock was coming down off the high that he often got from an especially exhilarating case. John had placed his mug of tea on the side table by his armchair and picked his way across the paper-strewn floor, avoiding a few towers of books to reach behind the couch and grab the extra fleece blanket that had slipped to the floor. Shuffling around, John laid the blanket over Sherlock’s still form, and with a gentle touch reached up to grasp the errant foot from the back of the couch, fingers closing over the thin bones of the ankle.
John was immediately drawn into Sherlock’s mind, as if the walls of the flat had never even existed. He found himself standing on a drawbridge over the moat, the gaping entrance through the guard wall beckoning him. The skies over the citadel were a darkened blue, shot through with dark purples and light greens and smatterings of swirling stars, blinking and shifting through the night. To look up dizzied John, and he instead focused ahead of him, into the shadows that led up to the immense sand-colored brick building. It loomed above him, crouched like a large jungle cat ready to pounce. John found himself stepping forward, feeling the wood of the drawbridge and then the cold stone of the path beneath his bare feet as he walked toward the imposing double doors that were the entrance of the citadel.
As soon as he placed his palms against the double wood doors, he found himself tossed out of the citadel and back into the reality of the apartment. Startled, John realized that Sherlock had shifted, rolling onto his side and pulling his ankle from John’s grasp. John felt as if he had forgotten to breathe, and sat down on the coffee table, panting softly to himself. Working it out to himself, John realized that while Sherlock was awake, John was effectively kept outside of the retainer wall. Asleep, Sherlock’s mind was open, allowing passage into the large stone building.
The hours Sherlock was asleep were the hours John would stay up, leaving himself tired but thoroughly satisfied. The times that the insane genius was asleep were the only times that John could slip across the river and behind the retaining wall, gaining access to the quiet, looming citadel’s halls. Information was still flowing, but it was more languid and less speedy, the snippets of memories softened by dreams.
John’s journeys through the citadel were long and thorough. The halls never changed, the room’s information never wavered; John went through the stacks of books in the apartment, eventually finding an old blank unlined journal who’s cover was of some sort of worn leather, old and slightly flakey but somehow fitting. In it he recorded what he found inside Sherlock’s mind, drawing maps and labeling the different rooms with the types of information they contained. John couldn’t possibly blog about any of it without Sherlock getting suspicious to the situation, so the journal became John’s secondary obsession - the first being the detective’s mind.
John found rooms upon rooms filled with all sorts of things, from chairs and tables to teacups stacked atop saucer towers that reached the ceiling and beyond. There was an entire wing dedicated to rooms and rooms of empty blank books that literally spilled like waves from doorways into the halls, pages crinkled and every single book blank; John had a distinct feeling these were the books Sherlock had consumed and then ‘deleted’, and in his journal the drawing of that wing was titled “Empty Books Hall”.
There was only a small measure of organization to the palace, John was finding. He went down one hall, opening doors to rooms that literally contained London, New York, and Tokyo within them, along with other major cities of the world. A few small countryside towns John couldn’t name were within these rooms as well, and John dared not venture into them for fear of becoming lost in the cities that they contained.
The next hall contained all sorts of kitchens, and anything to do with them. One of all different stoves stacked, thrown, rusty, shiny, old, wood-burning, electric; one of just sinks, of any and all sizes shapes and colors; and one of refrigerators, big and small, pink green or white, silver and black chrome.
The most off-putting rooms for John were contained down the “Scents Wing”. Each room had a different scent to it. There were literally millions of small doors stacked on top of each other like cubby holes lining the walls of this vast, long hall, each door painted a different color or made of a different material as far as the eye could see. John hadn’t the patience to go through every single door of this hall, nor did he want to for fear of just what he could imagine coming across after he had the unfortunate run-in with the scent of a skunk-sprayed wet dog.
John had a grand time holed up in the history wing, spending nearly two nights worth of his flat-mates sleeping in amongst those rooms; for Sherlock had a penchant for remembering some of the most randomized pieces of history. From the specific weave of fabric hailing from 900 B.C. China, to the origin of the first firework all the way to the American Civil War, Sherlock had it stored somewhere in the massive building of his mind.
Finding new things to admire about Sherlock around every corner was becoming a favorite pass-time of John’s. It became increasingly harder and harder for him to contain himself when in the presence of an awake Sherlock, but John kept himself studiously silent on the subject of the detective’s consciousness. He would actively encourage Sherlock to sleep, so that he might have a chance to delve into the citadel once more.
Over the course of a few months, John slowly mapped out the information contained within his flat-mates mind, filling up multiple journals and notebooks he would find in his straightening up of the flat. He felt as if he had barely scratched the surface of the ominous building. John had found a fondness growing within himself towards his detective - when he’d started thinking about Sherlock as ‘his’, John couldn’t really say - as he explored the depths of the palace, padding down halls lined with marble in his bare feet, never once complaining about the chill that crept into his toes each night he got the chance to explore.
One night John stumbled, quite by accident, into the people wing. It wasn’t even a wing, really; it was simply a door off the main hub that ran the spokes of the different outcrops and levels from the center of the citadel. It was one room, roughly the size of a high school gymnasium. There was an open space by the entrance of the room, but other then that, it was filled with bodies. Hundreds, thousands of people stood silent in rows and columns, still as statues. When John stepped up to one of the people, looking and inspecting with a doctor’s eye, he felt as if the person were not totally there; and realized that they were simply vessels for the conversations Sherlock had, at one point, held with each and every one of these men and women represented within this huge room. John attempted to talk with a few, at first getting a smattering of words here or a string of sentences there, but most all of them would end up looping the conversation, having no bearing upon what John was asking them.
He came to call that room “Empty Conversations”.
Within a few more weeks, John ended up finding a small off-shoot of the cellar that held things John hadn’t realized Sherlock kept: small rooms containing childhood memories, rooms with a singular person within it and words, scents, and sounds swirling around them, congested in their amount. The most fascinating ones to John were the ones of a smaller Sherlock, one that was much more care-free but still just as fool-hardy as his genius. John spent a substantial amount of time in those rooms, talking to the small boy that occupied them, learning him and his world as the bright-eyed kid saw it.
John slowly came to realize that he was falling in love with the madman that was Sherlock Holmes. It had been a small progression of sorts, but the more that John explored and found, the more he felt affection and love towards the man. When the full front of understanding hit John, he knew he had to back off from exploring the citadel. It was becoming too much, this large heavy stone of emotion that he felt for Sherlock sitting in his chest, unused and slowly rotting into a more painful form of unrequited feelings. Sure, Sherlock had softened towards the telepath, but he still didn’t know that John was one; or that John had many an adventure in his mind palace, running down the black marble halls away from this mass of bats or that explosion of an experiment behind a door that John had erroneously opened. No, John’s feelings were masked from the genius, carefully tucked away in the days they spent together. At night John shied away from silently stealing into Sherlock’s room, to touch the detective’s hands, wrists or whatever bit of exposed skin might have been showing, jolts of electricity racing up and down John‘s nerves as he told himself it was simply to gain better access to the citadel of Sherlock’s mind.
There were nights John would simply just watch the tall man sleep, flung out to the far corners of his mattress and tossing and turning as if he were fighting the thug John had found in amongst the Criminal Offenders wing. How he longed to run his fingertips along Sherlock’s cheeks, he would never admit out loud. Sitting on the floor at the edge of the bed, his eyes level with Sherlock’s face, John would mourn the missed chance of caressing the pale skin of his detective.
Then one night, sitting there at the edge of the bed in his old ratty grey jumper reserved for bedtime and his red plaid pajama pants, John couldn’t say what urged him to touch Sherlock, other then the fact that one long-fingered hand of his was hanging off the side of the mattress, effectively leaving it the perfect target in which John could enter solidly into the world of the mind of the tall genius. Reaching up, John gingerly took Sherlock’s pale, slender fingers into his own small, sun-golden hand.
John was plunged into chaos. He was standing out on the drawbridge, and it had been quiet for a split second, but then all hell had broken loose around him, the information highway that was the moat bursting into life as all matter of objects and memories hurled themselves past him at alarming speed. With a start, John realized Sherlock was awake. Awake and aware that John was there, for the form of Sherlock in his pajamas and dressing gown stood under the open archway of the gates into the citadel, his hand outstretched to John.
“Come, John.” Two words and John could move again, after having felt frozen to the bridge for the merest of seconds. Tentatively John moved forward towards the lithe frame that was Sherlock, and as he moved closer, Sherlock’s hand slowly sank down until he was able to link his fingers together with John’s. At this, John started and tried to pull his fingers away, the electricity much more intense within the confines of Sherlock’s mind; and in doing so had pulled his fingers away from the detective in reality, because John next became aware of two angry, icy blue eyes staring down at him from the mattress.
“I’ve something to show you. I don’t know how you do it, but don’t stop touching me.” Sherlock reached out a demanding hand to John and curled his fingers into the front of the ratty jumper, pulling John forward and up, half-dragging the tow-headed man onto the bed with the crazed genius. Sherlock wasted no time in seeking John’s hand again, and instantly they were back under the archway, John looking up at Sherlock as the terror of being had clawed its way up his throat.
“I’m not angry with you, John, if you must know. I will seek out answers later. Right now, I’ve something to show to you.” With that, Sherlock turned and began to lead John into the halls of the palace, John’s small hand firmly ensconced in Sherlock’s larger palm. John noticed that Sherlock’s steps never faltered as he led the way back, back, back into the rear of the citadel, passing through multiple central hubs to continue down different twisting hallways until he pushed them through a set of French doors and out into a large open courtyard filled with lush bushes, greenery and trees, flowers and bees buzzing about. In the center of the courtyard stood a stand-alone building, unattached to the rest of the citadel, simply protected within the heart of it. It was the size and make of a cathedral, all stained-glass windows and beautiful spires jutting up into the sky, and all the color of spun gold. Unerringly Sherlock towed John to the doors of the cathedral, pushing them open with one hand and pulling John though with the other.
They had stepped into a long, narrow golden-hued hallway with doors inset into the walls. Releasing John’s hand, Sherlock motioned John forward.
So John did. He stepped forward and worked his way methodically though the rooms as he did all the others: from the left side to the right, one door at a time until all was mapped in his head and ready to be taken back into reality to be recorded into the newest journal. The first door contained a perfect replica of their flat, silent and waiting. John sensed no presence within, and moved along to the next door.
This door held a hall identical to the Empty Books hall that was in the citadel behind him. Confused, John cast a glance back towards Sherlock, who was still standing in the doorway to the outside.
John did. And what he saw was himself, turning over books he could reach and muttering to himself, laughing and then growing quiet. He watched himself move along to a different hallway, the memory following John for a few minutes.
Each subsequent door held another memory of John, whether it was in the citadel or outside of it; John eating, John walking across a crime scene, John giving some useless bit of information that Sherlock already knew. Each memory was tinged with a certain feeling of fondness, and when John came to stand before the last door on the right, Sherlock reached out a hand to pause him.
“Dreams, John. Dreams and memories. I dreamt of you every night in here, in my palace. I realized when I couldn’t lucidly control you that you weren’t a distinct part of my dream; I still am not quite sure how you do it, but I’ve enjoyed being able to share this place with someone else.” Sherlock reached to give John’s upper arm a squeeze before releasing it, his slender hand falling back to his side. “I’m… happy that it is you.”
John looked at Sherlock, smiling fondly and with relief. “I’m glad you aren’t off-put by it.”
John smiled wider as Sherlock snorted in derision. “Hardly. It’s so very interesting, as you are so very interesting a man to me, John Watson.” Sherlock motioned to the door. “In there. I can’t… I cannot express it to you very easily, or well. But this room, it will show you.”
John nodded and pushed the door open. Within it stood himself, but the emotions that flowed through John caught his attention first: the frustration of not getting the answer he wanted, the relief of seeing him alive, the affection he felt when he fixed him dinner. It took a moment for John to realized that these were the emotions and feelings Sherlock felt toward John. Once John was able to work past that, he found he could focus on the other swirls of information making their way though the room. Scents of his own aftershave, laundry detergent, and something distinctly John came to his nose, along with the timbre of his own voice, jumbled together in speech tones of anger, happiness, amazement and over-toned by the happy humming he usually fell to when puttering about the flat. Images of John’s smile, John’s angry face, the crinkles around John’s eyes spun lazily past, followed further by images of John’s fingers wrapped deftly around a gun, all business and hardness.
The room was completely filled by John, or rather, the observations, feelings, and other various input that Sherlock had deduced of John.
Overwhelmed, John stepped back out of the room and simultaneously broke contact with Sherlock in the reality of the detective’s bed. Rolling over onto the empty side of the bed and off of the lanky form of his flat mate, John moved to face Sherlock, sitting cross-legged with his hands in his lap. Sherlock laid on his back, propped up on his elbows, one hand straying dangerously close to the exposed skin of John’s feet and ankles.
“Sherlock,” John warned. The hand moved not an inch away, only closer. John found himself reining in his telepathy enough to be able to grab Sherlock’s wrist without slipping into the man’s mind. Sherlock looked up sharply when John did not immediately appear back within the palace walls. John grinned softly to himself.
“Fascinating,” Sherlock intoned quietly, his eyes narrowing. “It seems I’ve some further deductions to make about you, my doctor.”
“My detective,” John smirked, reaching out to touch Sherlock’s cheek. In that touch John felt the apprehension, the fear of rejection radiating out from the man’s consciousness. As he leaned forward to place a kiss to the madman’s lips, feeling the edginess of Sherlock's emotions dull and fade to apprehensive happiness, John let a single thought of his own filter through into the vast information circuit that was the surface of Sherlock’s thoughts:
You idiot. You’ve owned me since the day I met you.