He knows from the moment he meets Sherlock that this is someone he has met before. Maybe. The pale skin, long fingers and high cheekbones leave him wondering if Sherlock was an elf once, but that is a suspicion short-lived. No elf would ever lean over a corpse so gleefully, not in any incarnation.
It isn’t until after they have sat down in Angelo’s restaurant that he sees it. A band of gold around Sherlock’s left middle finger. The light from their ‘romantic’ candle catches on tiny markings that could either be scratches or a form of (elvish?) writing. Either way, it is both well-worn and well-loved, if the way that Sherlock’s thumb rubs over it as he stares out of the window is anything to go by, and it is also horribly familiar.
John tucks into his pasta with a sigh and a worried glance at his new flat-mate. Of course, he would end up shacked up with the Dark Lord. In any case, the skull on the mantle-piece and the body-parts in the fridge are now perfectly explained.
If Mycroft Holmes is someone in his second life, John is very relieved not to recognise him at all. He doesn’t recognise Lestrade either, but it’s him who gives an insight into what on earth the Valar were thinking by giving Sherlock – Sauron! – another chance.
“Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And if we’re lucky, one day he might even be a good one.”
John first remembered his past life when, bleeding out onto the desert, the life that had flashed before his eyes was the wrong one. He remembered the feel of grass under his toes, answering to a different name – “Bilbo Baggins at your service” – and what it was like to blow smoke rings into a summer sky even though he’d never had a cigarette, let alone a pipe, before in his life. He remembered languages that don’t exist on earth anymore, a ring that could turn him invisible – that was oh so precious to him even as it dragged on his soul, and a quest over mountains and through dark forests to defeat a dragon.
He remembered hobbits and elves and dwarves – oh, the dwarves – and how it felt to hold a king’s hand as he died.
When he awakes from his morphine-dreams, he’s more Bilbo than John.
Writing his adventures is as natural to him as breathing. Sherlock disapproves, but doesn’t do anything but pout and ruin a date (Sarah’s nice, but nowhere near exciting enough, really) and start an experiment that involves severed toes and vinegar, and John privately thinks that he’s happy to have an appreciative audience for once.
He’s a little surprised by how many people start to follow his blog, and read what he has to say, and it encourages him to keep going even through Sherlock’s most obnoxious moments.
He stares up the cliff, not at a hound, but a warg. His ears are filled with its vicious snarls, and he reaches for Sting automatically. His fingers brush the butt of his gun, and he jolts at the reminder that he doesn’t carry a sword anymore. He grasps it anyway. He is almost used to the jolt, now – though once he’d thought he’d never get used to it. Trying to remember that he’s two people at once and no longer a hobbit at all gets confusing and muddled in his head, and it’s a wonder that he hasn’t gone mad before now.
Not that he feels entirely sane in that moment, because wargs don’t exist in this world. Not at all. And yet there one is, bounding down the slope towards him.
He draws his gun and fires.
He stares up at the roof, at the dark figure on the ledge, and clutches his phone to his ear. He can hear Sherlock crying on the other end – soft hitches in his breath and a desperate tone “Don’t look away, John, you have to keep looking” that makes John wish he could carve his own heart out not to feel the grief of it.
The Dark Lord Sauron is crying, begging him, and he can’t look away. Not at all. Because Sauron is Sherlock now, and against all odds – all reason – John loves him. (And he feels like the idiot Sherlock calls him for only noticing now.)
“Don’t,” he whispers. “Please don’t.”
But he’s too late. “Goodbye John.”
And Sherlock is falling, falling, falling. He stands and stares for a split second longer, not believing what he is seeing, before his phone tumbles from numb fingers and he’s running.
But he gets there too late, and there’s blood and Sherlock’s body is broken on the concrete, and John kneels by his side and weeps.
It’s Lestrade who hands him the zip-lock bag with Sherlock’s belongings in it. His wallet, his keys, a button from one of John’s cardigans. The last makes a lump rise in John’s throat, and he chokes out an unhappy noise but manages to hold back a sob.
Then he notices it. The ring is gone.
Something like a combination of dread and hope rises within him. He’s fairly sure that Sherlock’s ring has none of the powers of the One, and he’s also sure that Sherlock doesn’t remember being anything but Sherlock (even if he does talk to the skull sometimes, John’s pretty sure it doesn’t talk back). But he can’t forget the One ring, and how innocent it had seemed even while dragging on his soul and preserving his life all those years in the Shire, and how he’d craved for it even after. The thought of it lost in this world chills him to the bone.
But. If it’s gone then there’s a chance, isn’t there? That Sherlock is alive somehow, somewhere in the world, doing something – regaining his strength, just like the last time – and that he’ll come back.
It’s a faint, foolish hope, but John clings to it with all he has.
He wanders their flat in a daze, treats patients almost on autopilot, and visits a grave he isn’t sure holds the right body. Sherlock hasn’t come back, and as time stretches on, he isn’t sure he ever will come back, and John is half-tempted to tear off after him just in case he doesn’t.
But there’s a slab of black marble that holds him back every time he goes to leave.
He opens the door to 221b Baker street two years to the day after Sherlock plunged to his death (not death, no, he can’t be dead) to see a tall, thin figure leaning against the mantelpiece. His eyes are a little darker, and his skin a little paler, but he’s unmistakably Sherlock, and there’s a ring around his left middle finger that glitters in the light from the fireplace. (It’s an artificial fire, but it still makes the faint scratches stand out like burning runes.)
He drops his Chinese takeout and in two strides he has Sherlock’s jacket fisted in his hands and his nose is pressed against his thin chest. He can hear himself talking – “you’re not dead, I knew you couldn’t be, oh God, Sherlock” – as if from a distance, and he only quiets when Sherlock’s long hands rise to rest upon his shoulders.
“You knew?” Sherlock asks quietly.
John tilts his head back so that he can look Sherlock in the eye. He’s not short now, in this body, but Sherlock is so ridiculously tall that he feels like he might as well be a hobbit again.
“Your ring,” he says. “You took it with you.”
And for a moment, he thinks Sherlock’s eyes glow red in the firelight, and his heart stutters in his chest, but the moment passes and the solid warmth of Sherlock’s body grounds him once more.
“It is precious to me,” Sherlock replies, and just when John thinks his heart will stop beating for good, Sherlock smiles. There’s the faintest brush of lips over his own, and then Sherlock steps past him. “It would be a shame to waste that Chinese,” he says, “garlic broccoli?”
“Yeah,” John breathes.
And it’s funny, he thinks as he follows Sherlock into the kitchen, but for all that Sherlock may or may not remember being a Dark Lord – he can only seem to breathe when he is here.
He is…precious to him.