In the land of Ingary, it was said that fortune favoured the youngest sibling, though John had never found that to be the case. Outliving his sister and parents could be considered lucky by some perhaps, but returning home to Ingary without a single living relative didn’t feel like any great fortune.
John settled in Market Chipping, by chance rather than choice, where he didn’t know a soul. Even if he had known anyone, the mirror was a constant reminder that they would not have recognized him, as his recent trials had left him aged beyond his years. At first, John wasn’t sure he would last long in the town. There was nowhere for him to live besides the temporary lodgings intended for travelers, and work for a wounded man invalided from war was scarce.
It was lucky, at least, that a limp and a tremor were assumed to be the consequences of the usual war wounds.
Luckier still that John had been a healer, and that not a week after his arrival he happened upon a local clinic advertising an open position in its window. John was put to work, though his hands shook too much for him to be of much use beyond treating acute ailments, and he imagined he’d only been given the job because the other healers had taken a liking to him.
Despite his terse nature and unsteady hands, his sutures always healed, and his medicines always worked. John would have lost the job within the first few days otherwise, as he performed his duties without any diligence, and was caught dozing in the backroom almost daily. More often than not, after slumping over at his desk, John was woken by the sound of the train trundling past his window.
John didn’t sleep most nights.
A healer at the clinic would have assumed he suffered from war-related nightmares. John almost wished that were the case. If anything, the memory of his time as a soldier was faded, and somehow even war was more appealing than his current state. Active service had at least meant being active.
The pain was always present, but night was when the wound just below his shoulder felt flayed open, the experience akin to prying fingers digging into a sore. Even if he did sleep, he was sure to wake in a cold sweat during the night. His chest would ache, and from there, the pain traveled down the left side of his body, till his hand and leg shook with it.
The ragged edges of skin were misleading, creating the appearance of a wound long healed. To John, it only confirmed that he would never find any lasting comfort through non-magical medicine. It wasn’t the physical body that needed treatment.
John had been cursed in the line of fire, and only breaking the spell would heal him.
Though, if not for his chronic condition, John might not have paid any attention at all to the town rumours about witches and wizards.
It was a blessing that the war in a land across the ocean was of less interest to the townspeople of Market Chipping. A topic deemed much more worthy of gossip was the Witch of Belgravia, who held the title of most powerful witch in all of Ingary, and who was known to change her loyalties to the crown as it suited her. If the tales were to be believed, her great power was drawn from a fire demon she had tamed, whose dark magic made her nigh unstoppable.
Rumour had it she had blackmailed a member of the royal family, and that even the Royal Wizard hadn’t been able to resolve the matter. Though there was much speculation on the nature of the blackmail, it remained unclear whether a satisfactory conclusion had ever been reached. Some said that the Royal Wizard’s Captain of the Guard, who was currently ‘missing in action’, had been devoured by the Witch.
Then there was the roaming castle out on the moors, which had at first been mistaken as belonging to the Witch. It had since been determined that the owner of the ghastly mobile home was none other than a wizard by the name of Holmes, who was viewed by many to be far worse than the Witch.
By the time John arrived in town this was all considered old news, but he was still given an earful on the subject during nearly every patient consultation. However, John didn’t learn why Holmes in particular was so disliked until a young girl who worked at the pastry shop Cesari’s caught him just before closing.
“Oh, I hate to be out in the evening these days, what with witches and wizards about,” she said, while John bound her twisted ankle. In a conspiratory whisper, she added, “No pretty girl is safe from Wizard Holmes if caught alone.”
“And why is that?” John asked, thinking that he would never be able to break his curse at this rate. Why did all wandering magic practitioners have to be morally ambiguous at best?
“Everyone knows that Wizard Holmes steals hearts!” his patient cried, almost toppling from the stool she was perched on in her enthusiasm.
John wasn’t sure that everyone knew that, as he certainly didn’t. “And what does he do with all those hearts, I wonder?”
His patient didn’t notice his wry smile, and answered in earnestness, “Oh, he eats them! Everybody knows that, Doctor Watson. He’s heartless.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s stealing them,” John suggested, as he finished wrapping her ankle.
She seemed to, at last, catch on to his sarcasm. “Joke all you want,” she said, walking gingerly towards the door with a pout. “You’re not the one at risk of having your heart stolen!”
“And thank heavens for that.”
John was dismissive, but after their conversation, he did take more notice of the discussion about the wizard. None of it was good, nor believable.
If this Wizard Holmes was such a menace, why had no one seen him or the soulless girls left behind in his wake? John hadn’t even caught a glimpse of Holmes’ fearsome moving castle, which was meant to haunt the hills above Market Chipping with its mechanic clanking and clouds of smoke huffing from its chimney, even though his backroom window overlooked the moorland.
John had no cause to doubt everyone else's word, but doubt he did, and he was proven right not long after.
With a choice between an evening at the pub with another healer from the clinic or alone in his barren lodgings, John had chosen the pub. However, there was a reason he rarely took Mike up on the offer; the streets were packed with people milling about in excitement at more soldiers being dispatched, making it difficult for John to walk. After having his cane almost jostled from his grip twice, John veered into a back alley to avoid the crowd.
He would have braved the main street had he known he’d find a group of newly appointed soldiers spilling out of the back of an establishment. Fresh to their uniforms, and soon to leave to serve their country, there was too much drink in them for the late afternoon. John could tell in a single glance that they were ready for a fight, if given half the chance.
Catching sight of his limp, one called out, “You served?” as he passed. John dipped his head, but continued on his way.
“Join us for a drink!” the same soldier called, while the others eyed his bad leg.
“Thank you, but I’m meeting someone,” John replied, not pausing.
There was a tension to the group, a repressed aggression. It was clear the lot of them were more interested in making an enemy than a friend. For a few seconds as he passed them, John was able to stand straight on his left leg.
“Oi! He’s not even leaning on that cane!” one of the other soldiers cried out. “I bet he’s faking it for the army pension. Where were you even stationed?”
John didn’t respond, walking faster. He wasn’t interested in a fight, or suffering fools.
“Coward! Get back here!”
A soldier nearest to him made a grab for his elbow, but he never made contact, as John swung out, hitting him squarely in the arm with his cane.
“I wouldn’t try that again if I were you,” John said.
The soldier hesitated, but spurred on by drink and the group supporting him, advanced on John regardless. The rest followed close behind. John’s grip on his cane tightened as he wished he’d brought a pistol.
“There you are,” said a deep voice from behind him.
John twisted his head, and was surprised to find that a man had snuck up on him. “I was wondering where you’d got to,” the man continued. “We were meant to meet on the street, not down an alley with a bunch of rabble.”
“Were we?” John asked, for want of a better reply.
The soldier at the lead of the pack took a definitive step back.
John couldn’t imagine why, as the newcomer pretending to be an acquaintance of his was in no way intimidating. With dark curls spilling across his forehead, blue gems dangling from his ears and his neck, and a pink and grey checkered coat with yellow piping hanging off his shoulders, John suspected the soldiers would have described him as a dandy.
“Who you calling ‘rabble’?” a younger member of the military entourage piped up, though he was shushed soon after.
“You idiot!” from one soldier currently in full retreat. “That’s the Wizard Holmes!”
“Oh, I do love when my reputation precedes me,” the man said, and with three twirls of his wrist and a single flick of his long fingers, the group of men assumed parade rest, turned on their heels, and began marching out of the alley in synchrony.
“That,” John said, watching as the soldiers disappeared around the corner, “was incredible.”
“Do you think so?” Wizard Holmes asked, folding his arms behind his back and underneath his draped coat. “It was nothing. Soldiers are so good at taking orders.”
“And giving them,” John said, as he turned to face the man once again.
That seemed to give Holmes pause, as his chin dipped down towards his chest. “Ah, yes.”
“So you’re him then?” John asked, thinking that he did not seem as soulless as described. “The one everyone’s so afraid of, ‘Wizard Holmes’?”
“Please,” Holmes said, extending his hand towards John. “Call me Sherlock.”
Though many would have considered it foolish, John didn’t hesitate to take his hand. “John Watson. And thank you for that. I don’t know if I would have left that encounter without a few bruises.”
Sherlock, as he had introduced himself, brushed away John’s gratitude, as if he had not just sent several men packing. “I dislike an uneven number in a fight, although I think you might have held your own without me,” Sherlock said, with a wide smile.
It might have been a trick of the light, but John imagined Sherlock’s eyes sparkled, not unlike his jeweled earrings.
The thought of inviting an infamous wizard to the pub for a drink with him and Mike seemed laughable, but John felt the urge do so all the same.
Before he could make the suggestion, a crack in the side of the cobblestone wall behind Sherlock’s shoulder began to extend.
John blinked, at first mistrusting his eyes, but the shadow continued to grow until a black bubble had formed. As the black form grew further, it became apparent that the bubble was in fact a bulbous nose in the center of an eyeless face. With increasing alarm, John watched as the entire dark outline of a person seeped out from the crack in the wall, complete with a straw boater hat atop its head.
“Um,” John said. “What the hell is that?”
Sherlock’s response was to grab John by his right elbow, and drag him down the alleyway at a breakneck pace.
When John turned his head to look back, three black mounds had joined the first, all dressed in human attire. Worse still, it seemed only more were on their way, detaching themselves from the stone surrounding them, and getting closer.
Sherlock stared forward as he walked, acting as if they were not being chased. John wondered if, like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, the strange man thought pretending not to see them would assist their escape in some way.
“No cause for alarm,” Sherlock eventually said, his voice airy, like they were taking a leisurely stroll. “But we are being followed.”
“I’ve seen those things before,” John said, though this only became apparent to him once he had said it aloud. He had seen them. But where?
“That’s not surprising, the whole country is teeming with them,” Sherlock replied, now a touch breathless.
“What are they, and why are they following you?” John was still looking back; they were gaining on them, and gaining in numbers.
“Wizard’s henchmen. These ones in particular are meant to round up all the rogue, heartless wizards shirking their duties. They’re my constant companions these days.” Sherlock paused, though only to wink in John’s direction. “Can you run?”
“Not likely.” John had forgotten his bad leg in the adrenaline of the chase, but while the cane in his hand was not currently in use, he still doubted he was capable of more than speed walking.
For the first time, Sherlock spared a glance back over his shoulder. “Never mind that then. Up it is!”
A hard tug on his right arm, and a sudden weightlessness to his body, and John floated up from the ground. When the dark blobs launched up after them, the walls of the alleyway began to close inward on all sides.
In Sherlock’s clutches, John was catapulted up past the top of the highest building, nearly losing his cane and wits in the process. The henchmen chasing them were crushed by hard stone in the ensuing meeting of the walls, which John could only assume was Sherlock’s doing.
John and Sherlock drifted in the air, suspended for several seconds. John, having made the mistake of looking down, let loose a string expletives, and clung to Sherlock’s arm.
“Don’t mind that,” said the deep voice close to his ear. “Just walk.”
“Walk?” John shouted over the wind. “What, on air?”
But Sherlock was already extending his long legs forward, and John’s only choice was to follow suit.
Not unlike dance partners crossing a room side by side, they stepped across the sky, high above the busy street below.
All John could hear was the sound of the pastel-coloured sleeves of Sherlock’s jacket being buffeted by the wind, though the jacket never strayed from Sherlock’s shoulders. John focused on putting one foot in front of the other, despite no firm ground beneath them.
It was exhilarating and, for the first time since being cursed, the wound in John’s chest felt healed.
“Incredible,” John said, voice high, close to laughing. When he turned, Sherlock was looking back. Sherlock made no comment, beyond a small smile peeking out at the corner of his lips.
As they began to drop in altitude, the street where John had intended to meet Mike rose up to meet them, their feet almost scraping the shingles of a roof. The pub was on the corner, fast approaching.
Before John could point it out, Sherlock said, with a tinge of regret, “Those things are still after me. Till next time, John.”
At this, John was let loose from Sherlock’s grasp. With a yell, John was deposited onto the second floor landing of the pub, legs still moving through the air as he crashed into the side of the building. Even with the wind knocked from his lungs, John rushed back to lean over the rail, but couldn’t see anything in the sky besides soldiers flying in open-seated planes.
There was no sign of the dark figures that had chased them; John couldn’t believe he hadn’t recognized them at once. Perhaps he hadn’t expected to see them in Market Chipping—they were more common on the battlefield.
Once his breath was back, John went in to find Mike, but Mike found him first.
“John!” Mike clapped him on the back. “They said someone was dropped off by the Wizard Holmes, I can’t believe it was you! No wonder you’re late!”
“He helped me out,” John explained, still not sure what to make of it himself. “Not like how people described him at all. Charming, even.” A stealer of hearts, indeed.
“Good thing you’re not a pretty young thing or you might have been in trouble,” Mike said with a laugh, before thankfully dropping the subject.
They spent the rest of the evening together, though John imagined he was poor company. He only listened to Mike with half an ear, devilish eyes and a matching smile never far from his mind.
Perhaps because of this chance encounter, the next time a patient was keen to gossip about the wizard, John was defensive.
“I’m not sure if you’ll be able to help me Doctor,” his patient said as he felt her forehead, feeling a slight fever. “I think I’ve had a spell put on me by one of those wizards wandering our streets. Or, maybe my heart’s been eaten without my knowing it.”
“It’s just a cold,” John said, but still reached for the stethoscope in his leather bag to be thorough.
“How can you be sure?” she asked, pausing to cough. “They say that the Wizard Holmes wants the heart of every young girl in town.”
She wasn’t much younger than him, John might have pointed out, but did have some tact.
John pressed the scope to her chest and, as she covered her mouth for another coughing fit, her hand brushed against his shirt.
John took a step back.
“Has anyone actually seen Holmes do anything to a girl?” John asked. “I certainly haven’t seen or heard of any girls with their hearts removed.”
The woman’s coughing stopped as she leaned forward in her seat. “I haven’t myself, but you sound oddly familiar, Doctor. Have you seen him before?”
“No,” John lied, his hand twitching at his side. “No, only it seems unfair to accuse someone of crimes without any justification.”
“It’s surprising that you’re not more fearful of his kind, given your situation,” she murmured, her eyes resting on his shoulder.
John’s hand lifted to cover his chest, as if to conceal the scar beneath his clothes.
“My situation,” John repeated, annoyed that he had already given the truth of it away.
Her smile was all lips, none of it reaching her eyes. She didn’t elaborate.
“You’re a witch then,” John guessed.
“Oh, you’re quick.”
John took another step back; at the same time, the door to the room swung closed.
John, unmoving, leveled her with a hard stare. “Have you come to put a spell on me?”
“Oh, you poor man,” she said, affecting a look of exaggerated pity, which annoyed John more than if she had put a curse on him.
Crossing her legs, and leaning her chin on her hand, she said, “As you well know, you already have one. Though I doubt you know the extent of it.”
A muscle in John’s hand spasmed, his cane hitting the wood of the floor with a sharp rap.
“I’m well aware of the extent of it, thank you.” He bent down to retrieve his cane, putting all his weight on his good leg, as if to demonstrate. Not to mention he couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept for more than a handful of hours.
“Now that we’ve established that,” John continued, his smile grim. “Either tell me you know how to break the spell that’s on me, or kindly leave.”
The witch watched his display of dominance with little interest. “Oh, I can’t break a curse like this one. Hardly anyone can.” Here, she paused. “However…”
“However?” John prompted. “As I said before, either spit it out or leave.”
The witch stood from the patient’s stool. Even though John remembered her as shorter than him when he’d led her in, she now matched John’s height easily.
“Well, it’s a good thing you don’t take much stock in rumours, as I think I might know someone who can,” she said, turning to face the window overlooking the train tracks. The moors loomed in the distance.
John heard the train coming before the black smoke rose past his window. When nothing could be seen out of the window but exhaust, the woman lifted herself onto the window ledge, and fell backward out of it, through the glass.
Though John forced it open after, and stuck his head out to look in every direction, there was nothing outside but the train moving past.
The witch had not given John her name, or the name of the person she thought could help. She hadn’t needed to, considering she’d done an excellent impression of him in her exit.
John thought it over for all of thirty minutes, before leaving the clinic to return to his lodgings, wrapping cheese and bread in a handkerchief, and catching a ride out of town on the back of a shepherd’s wagon. It wasn’t that John trusted a witch’s word, especially not one who was visiting him under false—and still unclear—pretenses.
John was out on this limb because the only break from the pain he’d had since his return had been the brief time spent in Wizard Holmes’ presence, and he wasn’t about to pass up the chance for a night of sleep.
When the shepherd left John only part of the way up the winding hills leading to the moors, he attempted to dissuade him. “I don’t know what you’re after, but if you’re trying to reach Market Folding, it’s a long way,” the shepherd said. “There’s nothing out there for quite a ways but a bit of hillside, and past that the wastes of Belgravia.”
John knew what the shepherd saw—his cane and diminished frame—but he could not be persuaded.
After an hour of laboured walking, his hand stiff where it gripped the handle and pain shooting up his leg, John came to almost regret that decision. At a particularly annoying twinge, John cursed his leg, and threw his cane onto the ground. The cracking sound that followed was the cherry on top of John’s charming afternoon.
“Perfect,” John said, picking up one of the now broken off pieces. “Guess I’ll just have to improvise.”
Spying a stick in a bush, John shifted his weight to his right leg, and pottered off the path. First, he pulled, and then pushed down as if applying force to a lever. It required most of his remaining energy, but at last there was give, and John almost smacked himself in the face with the other end of the stick, which was startlingly dressed as a person and had some kind of root vegetable for a head.
“A scarecrow? That’s not much of a walking stick.” After observing the scarecrow’s friendly expression, he said, “Not much of a scarecrow either.”
John didn’t quite know what to do with it. Now that he had unearthed it, it was apparent the stick was far too tall for him to lean on. He let it drop back into its bush, and continued on his way back to the path.
He’d have to find another stick, and soon. His good leg couldn’t support all his weight for long, and especially not uphill. It was growing dark, the mist was thicker the higher he climbed, and there was still no sign of Wizard Holmes’ moving castle.
Only, when John paused to rest, and looked back down over the way he had come, the scarecrow was no longer lying in the bush.
It was standing upright along the path.
John waited. When nothing happened, he looked back uphill into the mist, but turned back quick enough to catch sight of the scarecrow hopping forward.
Once caught, the scarecrow apparently felt no need to conceal that it was capable of movement, and continued hopping towards John.
“A living scarecrow,” John said. “Yeah. Of course it is. Why not.”
On closer inspection, the scarecrow had a weathered expression, and straw that had seen better days as hair. When it reached John, it bounced on the spot to stay upright, but did not pass him.
“Don’t suppose you can talk?” After a pause, “No, ‘course not. You’re a scarecrow. Silly of me.”
Still, the scarecrow bounced in front of him, as if it was trying to convey something.
John noticed that near its base, there were two sturdy branches. Sturdy enough to act as foot holds.
“You want to give me a lift?” John asked, and the bouncing seemed to increase in pace and enthusiasm. With his leg causing him a great deal of discomfort, John wasn’t in a position to refuse.
Feeling as though he might be taking his life in his hands, John held onto the scarecrow and placed his feet on the lower branches. The scarecrow was off like a shot, and John was jostled with each lurch forward. Though they did not move remarkably fast, it was much better than John’s earlier pace, and for that John was grateful.
“I’m looking for a castle,” John informed the scarecrow. “A moving one.”
Except that, as it turned out, it was not a moving one at all.
When the scarecrow crested the top of the hill and bounded towards a hulking pile of scrap metal in the distance, John didn’t quite know what to expect. It certainly wasn’t what he would call a castle.
John’s eyes couldn’t decide where to settle on the strange collection of objects. There was wood, brick, stone, pulleys, and who knew what else, all amassed together. Two metal legs with three-pronged feet, which the amalgamation had perhaps once stood on, were splayed out, one sticking up in the air.
The light drizzle of rain on the moors created the illusion of an unseen boundary around the structure, as if there was a layer between the odd construction and the air.
It might have been a magical protection spell for all John knew, but when he slid off the scarecrow and went to touch one side, his hand only met with cold metal.
“Either this is too easy,” John said. “Or I and my aching leg have come all this way only to find a very inept wizard.”
The vegetable-headed scarecrow didn’t offer him any reply.
There was a large black door facing them, close to double John’s height. “Do you suppose that’s the way in?”
However, when John attempted to get closer to it, there was an invisible force preventing him from approaching.
“At least there’s some protection on this thing,” John said, struggling for several more minutes. No matter how hard he tried, he could not even reach out to touch the door, let alone try to open it.
“That’s fine,” John told the castle. “I’ll just take the back door.”
Between the rock and mortar a few paces away, John spied a set of protruding steps. Above the steps, there was another smaller door positioned at a severe angle, nearly sideways.
“Think I’ll have better luck here?” John asked the scarecrow.
A sequence of hops seemed to suggest the scarecrow agreed.
Holding onto the railing, John climbed the tilted steps, and pushed and pulled at the handle.
The door was locked.
John breathed in, resting his weight on the railing, and aimed a kick directly over the key-hole with his good leg. The wooden door swung open after the first try, revealing more stone steps within.
“Not much security for a wizard,” John commented, looking back at the living scarecrow. Rain was soaking its long coat, but it was too tall to come inside with him. “Thanks? I suppose,” John said over his shoulder. “Hop off if I don’t ever come back out.”
When John put his foot on the first step, a realignment occurred that made his head spin. At once, the steps were not on a slant at all. The steps in fact were more like a stoop, and led into what appeared to be a ransacked living room.
John had the presence of mind to put the broken door back into place behind him, before turning to stare. It made no sense that a living area of any kind could exist within the heap he had seen from the outside, but then, it was magic after all.
The room was littered with books and strewn papers, with the sofa and wing-back chairs piled high with scrolls and tomes. The mess seemed to spill out from the shelves across the room, stocked with books and jars of powders. Underneath was a work table, covered in mixing bowls, glass bottles of varying sizes, chemist burners, and ashtrays filled with pieces of chalk.
Bound herbs hung by string from the ceiling, and there were window frames with no windows, covered with maroon paisley patterned drapes. The mantle above the fireplace was well-decorated, including bat wings pinned to corkboard and a human skull, but the grate beneath it was empty, explaining the chill of the place. By John’s head, to the right of the door, there was a staircase, which John assumed would lead him up to the wizard.
But when John stepped past the stoop, a door at the other side of the room swung open to reveal an older woman with a broom held aloft.
“Oh!” she cried, lowering her broom from overhead. They eyed each other for an extended period before she released a small laugh, and waved towards the only uncovered chair in the place. “Well, you’d better come in then.”
John walked forward, still unsure of his welcome, though the woman had released her broom entirely and was throwing a pile of couch cushions onto the ground from the table. Beneath them, there was a kettle. “If you want a cuppa,” she said, watching him out of the corner of her eye, “you’ll have to start a fire to boil the water over.”
John, still gobsmacked, found his voice at last. “I suppose you’re not the Wizard Holmes.”
“Goodness, no,” she said. “I prefer Mrs Hudson. And while I do sell spells and enchantments, it’s nothing like what Sherlock gets up to. I owned an old shop in Kingsbury, and Sherlock wanted it for one of his fronts. So, now I’m his landlady.”
John blinked. Kingsbury was nowhere near Market Chipping. “Why are you living here if you have a shop way over there?”
“It’s all one and the same,” she said, pointing to the door behind him. John turned to see there was a diamond-shaped knob by it, with four different coloured segments. An arrow was currently pointed to the green coloured part of the knob. “Facades and bolt holes, but this is the real place.”
John eyed the mechanism by the door, not sure he understood. “I suppose you can’t break my curse then?”
Shaking her head, “I’m afraid I’m not in that business. Besides, that spell is far too strong for the likes of me.”
“Do you think he can?” John asked, tipping his head towards the stairs, though he didn’t even know if the wizard was in.
“Oh, I don’t know! But this is just the sort of thing he likes. The clever ones always are.”
John was still standing, awkward, in the middle of the living room. “I’m John, by the way. John Watson.”
“Oh, yes!” she cried. “Silly me, never even asked you for your name. And Sherlock isn’t in at the moment. He’s always doing who knows what at all hours, but you can wait for him here if you like.”
“Right.” John was surprised, but glad, to find someone so welcoming in the strange place. He was glad as well that the wizard really was the same man he had met that day in the alley. “Shall I start a fire then?”
John coaxed a fire to life while Mrs Hudson filled the kettle. On closer inspection of the table, and in keeping with the rumours, in one bowl there appeared to be a human heart, stinking of preservatives. John chose to ignore that, for the time being.
John had to move a violin from the only other spare chair to sit down, but to his shock, his bad leg had yet to protest being stood on for so long.
“I’m to bed, I think,” Mrs Hudson said, returning to the door she had appeared from, “but feel free to stay, John.”
John did, though he ended up falling asleep sitting up in the chair. The fire had burned down to embers by the time the knob above the door changed with a click and a chime, and the door creaked open. John woke at the sound, startled.
A dark figure entered. At first, it was not anything John would have identified as a human; he could just make out an elongated face, the white of a claw, and the shape of two black wings.
John knew the second he was spotted, as the creature reared back, as if slapped. John stayed still in the chair, hand reaching out for his cane, forgetting he had lost it on the moor.
Piece by piece, the blackness seeped away from the figure standing in the shadow, till only dark, curled hair was left atop a very human head.
To John’s great relief, it was the same man he had met in town, Sherlock.
Despite returning to his human form, Sherlock’s visible shock at finding a man in his living room did not recede. He remained at the top of the stoop, mouth agape, staring at John sitting in front of his fire.
“Hello,” John said. It seemed a good start.
“Hello?” Sherlock had still not moved past the steps.
John half-turned in his seat. “You might remember me."
Sherlock exhaled a breath somewhat close to laugh. “Might I?”
“Yes, we met briefly in town.” John wondered if Sherlock truly did not recall. “Soldiers, dark blob men, walking on air—any of that ringing a bell for you?”
“We did meet in town,” Sherlock agreed, his mouth tipping up on one side. “Not sure that explains you breaking down my door and helping yourself to a pot of tea though.”
John supposed it didn’t. Motioning towards the kettle, John said, “Well, you weren’t using it.”
Sherlock barked a laugh, and for the first time in days, John’s shoulder felt relief.
“And what do you have in your pocket?” Sherlock asked, hand outstretched. “Give it here.”
John, puzzled, looked down at his coat. “You mean, the bit of bread and cheese?”
“No." Sherlock slid forward, and John sputtered as one ringed hand reached into the front pocket of his shirt. He pulled out a folded piece of paper.
Sherlock swept past John and the fireplace, heading for the table. With his arms stretched out over the wood, Sherlock unfolded the slip of paper. At once, it turned to smoke in his fingers, and the sound of a woman moaning echoed through the room.
When John leaned over the back of his chair, he could see the scorch marks left on the table where the remnants of the paper had fallen.
“The Witch of Belgravia sent you, I take it." His voice was devoid of inflection.
“No? At least, I didn’t know it was her.” After a beat, “What did the note say?”
“'You who swallowed a falling star, o' heartless man, blah blah blah.' Mrs Hudson will have a fit when she sees the table.”
Sherlock ran the palm of his hand over the scorched table, his dark hair rising up away from his face and purple smoke crackling beneath his fingers, till nothing was left of the witch’s mark in the wood.
“It’s gone,” John said, amazed.
“And yet, her spell lingers on." Sherlock grinned, though it was more like a grimace. It was spoken with such intense bitterness that John could only assume there was quite the story behind it.
Sherlock stayed at the table, where he began fiddling with the instruments on the worktop. No further questions of John were asked.
John turned in his chair. “The Witch did suggest I come, but I wasn’t sent. I’ve come here—that is, to you—because I have a curse, and I want to know if it can be broken.” When there was no pause in the fiddling, “Your landlady mentioned you might find my case interesting.”
With his back still turned, Sherlock snorted. “Interesting. Yes, I have been known to take on such magical problems.”
“And,” John prompted, “can you take on mine?”
Sherlock swiveled on his heel, facing John once more. “What is your curse, if you don’t mind me asking? What are the effects?”
“You can’t tell me?” John asked, wondering if he really had found himself a useless wizard.
“I’d rather hear it from the source,” Sherlock said, bristling. “Rather than biasing you with my interpretation of the spell.”
“Pain,” John answered simply. “In the place where it hit me.”
Sherlock’s gaze on him was intent, as if the bleak description of his symptoms were truly fascinating. “And where did it hit you?”
John pointed to his chest. “Here, where it left a mark. That’s healed now, but the pain is deeper in.” John didn’t mention the insomnia, or that when he did manage to sleep, he woke near tears.
“And how did you come to be cursed?” Sherlock advanced on John, circling his chair.
John twisted his head to follow his movements. “While in action.”
“Ah yes, we’re at war." Sherlock seemed to have just recalled it. “And you were a soldier, put on the same battlefield as witches and wizards. Did you see who cast the spell on you?”
“All I saw were those things, like the ones that were following us the day we met. A wizard’s henchmen, as you said.”
Sherlock hummed, and then, with a wave of his hand, “Well, that’s not much help.”
“Sorry,” John said, though he wasn't sorry in the least. “Can you take it off me, or not?”
“There are as many ways to break a curse as there are curses." Sherlock's gaze darted to the left. John supposed he was dismissed. John waited for him to continue, but Sherlock appeared to be lost in thought, staring into the fireplace.
“Is that a no?”
“While I do enjoy a tricky curse,” Sherlock evaded, “I can’t make bricks without clay. I don’t have enough information at present.”
John sighed. He should have known better. “Where does that leave us, then?”
“It leaves us here." He motioned to the disarray of the living room around them. “Where are you from? Where do you currently live?”
“I live in town, and you could say I’m from there as well.”
Sherlock appeared to mull this over, hands steepling together beneath his chin. Speaking to the fireplace, Sherlock said, “I have a spare bedroom upstairs.”
John felt his face scrunch up in surprise, and confusion. “Are you suggesting I live here?”
“You’re the one that broke into my castle and made yourself comfortable,” Sherlock said, oddly defensive, with his lower lip jutting out. “And I need time to study a curse! A month, at the very least. And as it happens, this home does have expenses outside the realm of magic. I need assistance with my spells, and Mrs Hudson needs help with her herbs and potions. Unless, of course, you prefer your job and lodgings in town, in which case we need never discuss this again.”
“I prefer,” John said, “to sleep at night.”
Sherlock clapped his hands together in front of him. “That settles it then!”
He spun away to the wooden table, and came back with a pair of scissors. “Now, quick, give me some of your hair. The more of it, the better.”
“What? Why?” John reached up to touch the back of his head on instinct.
“To seal the deal!” Said as if it were obvious. “Payment for me agreeing to help lift your curse. That is, if you’re staying?”
His expression was manic, shadows cast in strange places over his angular face by the low flickering light of the fire. The discomfort of John’s wound was, for the moment, diminished to a dull ache, and his leg hadn’t bothered him since stepping in through the castle’s door. Perhaps the magic of the place was already working, loosening the grip that the curse had like a vice around his life.
John took the scissors from Sherlock’s hand outstretched hand, and used them to snip at the back of his head. His once blond hair was now mostly grey, which was made more evident when he handed over the silver strands.
“I’ll stay, and I’ll take the room upstairs.”
Sherlock rocked back on his heels with delight. Then, while cupping John’s hair in one palm, he squatted down in front of the fireplace, and using a poker, began tapping at a loose brick towards the back. Once the brick was wiggled out of its slot, John could see a small hiding place, and a jar within it. Curiously, Sherlock leaned into the fireplace over the hot coals, unscrewed the lid, and stowed John’s hair in what appeared to be a jar of dust.
“Careful,” John said, as Sherlock pulled back, though he needn’t have worried. Sherlock extended from his crouch without ever coming into contact with the ash or hot grate.
“There!” Sherlock clapped his hands together again. “Now about that room.”
Without further comment, Sherlock twirled away and dashed up the stairs by the entrance. Which he then, slowly, returned back down. “Are you coming?”
John wanted to laugh. “Yes, only—” John needed something to act as a cane, if he was going to climb the stairs. His leg didn’t hurt him now, but he knew better than to trust it on stairs.
Sherlock returned to his side in an instant, and offered his arm.
While John appreciated the gesture, his pride did not. “I’m fine." Out of habit, he leaned on his right leg as he stood.
Except—as John shifted his weight to his left, it didn’t buckle under his weight, or even twinge. He really was fine.
“Right then,” John said, clearing his throat, “lead the way.”
Sherlock for the second time bounded up the stairs, taking John to a small landing, with one door at the end, and one door to the left. Sherlock opened the door at the end, and ushered John into the dark room within.
His exhaustion, and the absence of pain, caught up with him. Without a thought for his host, John found the bed in the dark, and feeling its softness, sat down.
John fell asleep almost as soon as he had laid down his side, only dimly aware of Sherlock closing the door behind him as he left.
for your viewing pleasure, a pink howlock by ren thetwelfthpanda courtesy of bruna
I forgot to include an author's note here the first time around so let me rectify that lol This next chapter has some of my favourite details from the book, which may be new to you if you've only seen the movie <3 And as always always, thanks to Soli and Anna for being my beta readers!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John woke to light flickering over his eyelids. He learned, once he opened his eyes, that the shadows were being cast by tiny black dots moving in the canopy over the bed. Flipping back the covers, John climbed onto the bedside table to investigate, expecting perhaps a wizard’s glamour. But, peering into the eggshell-coloured sheet hung between the four bannisters, he found only a large commune of busy spiders nesting above the bed. It was comforting in a way, John thought, that even wizards could have pests.
Stepping out into the small hallway, John opened the only other door on the second floor. On the other side was a small bathroom, which managed to fit a porcelain sink, a claw-foot tub, a toilet, and an impressive collection of what John assumed were homemade washing supplies. The sink and shelf above it were packed to the brim with them, and several bottles needed to be moved out of the way just to use the taps, so he could splash cold water onto his face. John regretted not bringing any other clothes with him, but resigned himself to a wash in the sink to freshen up.
John followed the smell of bacon down the stairs. The source was Mrs Hudson with a frying pan over the fire, while Sherlock worked at the table with books opened and beakers bubbling.
Sherlock looked up with a tight smile. “John! Breakfast?”
“Don’t offer him breakfast when you’re not the one cooking it." Mrs. Hudson neglected her eggs to wave her spatula at him. “John, I’m so glad you’ve decided to stay on. It will be so nice to have a young man about to help in the shops,” she said, with a pointed look in Sherlock’s direction.
“Er, yes," John said, thinking he wasn’t much of a young man. “Do you mind if I borrow your broom by the way?”
Mrs Hudson sighed. “If it’s about the spiders in his bed, believe me I’ve tried. Honestly, Sherlock.”
“His bed,” John repeated.
“They catch flies,” Sherlock said, flipping through the book in front of him, though without touching the pages. “Leave them and the dust alone, Mrs Hudson.”
Mrs Hudson turned to John, hands planted on her hips. “This is why this place is a pigsty! And he won’t let me do a thing to change it—”
“I should be allowed to live in a pigsty if I so choose—”
“Sorry,” John interrupted, holding up a hand as he looked about the living room. He had been too exhausted the previous evening to be observant, but he now saw there was no other bedroom on the first floor besides Mrs Hudson’s.
That meant two bedrooms, for three people.
“So, when you said you had a spare room…” John trailed off, lifting his brows in question.
“It’s my room,” Sherlock said, twisting his torso to reach a book on the shelf above the table. His long pale pink coat sleeves were tied behind his back, with his coat loose around his shoulders. “But I don’t sleep most nights so it’s more like a spare. We can alternate if you like, with me during the day, and you at night. If I need to sleep at night, I can kip on the sofa.”
“Are you mad?” John asked, but he was grinning. It was endearing, the lengths this man, whom he hardly knew, would go to ensure that John stay—even if it was only for his interesting curse.
Sherlock turned back to him with a smile. “Many say so, but mad or not, we only have the two rooms, and I can’t break your spell if I can’t observe.”
And John couldn’t argue with that. “Well, just let me know when you want your bed back.”
“Not for awhile. You haven’t slept in weeks,” Sherlock said, voice low. “Enjoy it while you can.”
The three of them ate breakfast together, and despite it being only eggs and bacon with a slice of bread, John thought it one of the best meals he could ever remember having. After, Mrs Hudson left for the yard to work, which seemed to be accessed through her bedroom. John wasn’t aware there was a yard—there certainly hadn’t been one when he’d come in from the moors—but he was learning to adjust his expectations for the strange castle, which was much smaller inside than the outside appearance suggested.
John was left without a specific job to do, and so watched Sherlock return to reading his book, and his mixing bowl. It was the same one John had noticed yesterday, with the human heart inside.
John had a lot of questions, but he started with the most pressing one first.
“A heart,” John said while pointing at it. “There’s a real heart on the table.”
Sherlock hummed in agreement.
“So it’s true then? You really do go around taking hearts from young, pretty girls?” John had meant it as a joke, but ended up feeling both unsettled and incredibly foolish shortly after the words had left his mouth.
Sherlock’s head snapped up from the book. “What?”
“There’s a rumour in Market Chipping. That you eat hearts. Though, you don’t seem to be eating that one. You didn’t take that from a girl?”
Sherlock was staring at him in undisguised confusion, mouth turned down at the corners and a deep crease forming in his forehead beneath his fringe. “I did take it from a girl, as a matter of fact. I suppose you could also argue that it was her heart, but as she works at the morgue, she has enough to spare.”
John paused, then tapped one index finger against the table. “You mean to say that a woman has been giving you hearts from a morgue?”
“Yes?” Sherlock appeared to be as flummoxed by the conversation as John was by his answer.
They stared at one another for another thirty seconds of silence, before both dissolving into a fit of laughter.
“No soul sucking, then?” John asked, still laughing.
“Not as such, no." His deep chuckles seeming to reverberate out from his chest.
“I don’t know what I was expecting!” John said. “But, it wasn’t that. What a misunderstanding.”
“A lucky one though,” Sherlock said, once his laughter had died down, raising one brow. “How excellent for my fearsome reputation.”
Wiping at the corner of his eye, John’s giggles petered out. “Okay. Right. Still, why hearts, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“It’s for a spell,” Sherlock said, waving towards the book. “I’m experimenting.”
John hadn’t been expecting that either. “What do you mean, experimenting?”
John thought he might have been an annoyance, distracting Sherlock like this, but Sherlock’s small smile suggested he was only pleased by John’s interest.
“Strong magic often requires experimentation, or at least interpretation. Spells that actually say what they mean are weak. The more powerful spells are like puzzles that must be solved, and only when all the pieces have been assembled will the magic take hold.”
There was an earnestness to the way Sherlock spoke of spells that made John forget it required human remains, for the moment. It was… sweet, in a way.
“To be a skilled wizard, you have to be a puzzle solver. I hadn’t thought of that. And I suppose you’re very good at it?”
“The best,” Sherlock said, puffing out his chest.
“What’s an example spell?” John asked, leaning forward over the table to see the book, intrigued.
Sherlock’s eyes lowered. John thought Sherlock might be reading the book in front of him, until he noticed that Sherlock’s eyes were on his hands, twisting in his lap.
“ Go and catch a falling star, and find what wind serves to advance an honest mind ,” Sherlock recited, apparently from memory.
“Brilliant. What’s it mean? And what does the spell do?”
With a secretive smile, Sherlock said, “You decide.”
“What do you mean?” John asked. “You don’t even know what the spell does until you solve it? God, you really must be a genius to get anything done like that.”
“I know,” Sherlock said. “That’s why I make up most of my spells myself.”
John laughed, and Sherlock seemed even more pleased with himself than before.
A moment later, John’s attention was drawn from Sherlock’s grin to the door by the sound of footsteps outside the entrance to the castle. John stood, back straightening; who other than him would be coming in through the empty moors?
“Kingsbury door,” Sherlock called out.
“Kingsbury,” John said. “You mean the Royal City?”
“Yes, John. Observe.”
Sherlock then flapped one hand at the diamond-shaped wheel above the door till it turned counterclockwise, and the arrow pointed to the red segment rather than the green. A chime rang out, and as the windows filled with light, a little boy ran in through the door. Beyond the doorway, John saw a paved city sidewalk, gleaming bright in the sun.
“Master Holmes!” the boy cried, waving envelopes above his head.
“Archie, what do you have for me today?”
“There’s been messengers milling outside the door looking for Wizard Sigerson,” the boy, Archie, said. He ran up the steps, and then slammed to a standstill, staring agape at John.
“This is John Watson, my new flatmate,” Sherlock said as introduction. “And this is Archie, my apprentice of sorts.”
“You have an apprentice?” John asked. “And who is the Wizard Sigerson?”
“That would be me.” Sherlock stood up from the table and walked over to take the note from Archie. “To have multiple addresses, one needs multiple names. Tiresome, really.”
“What’s the other address?” John asked, looking at the four quadrants of the diamond wheel.
“Porthaven, lovely seaside village. It’s the blue.”
“Okay, all right,” John said, processing this new information. “A home with many doors.”
He noted Sherlock did not mention the fourth segment of the diamond, which was black.
“Another order for seven league boots!” Sherlock groaned, reading the letters. “Boring, boring, boring.” The letters were dropped on the table one by one, scattering across it.
“They’ve paid in advance,” Archie said, holding out a clinking, purple change purse.
“Money?” Sherlock scoffed. “You think that interests me?”
John, thinking that he would like to eat more bacon and eggs and other food as well at some point in the next month, took the heavy purse from Archie’s wobbling arm.
Archie was still eyeing John with trepidation, which John didn’t think was warranted, considering they were in a wizard’s castle.
“How hard can making a few boots be?” John asked, looking towards Sherlock, feeling the weight of the purse. “I can help you, like we agreed.”
Archie’s head swiveled, looking back and forth between them, while Sherlock observed John out of the corner of his eye. “Master Holmes hasn’t been taking cust—” Archie began to say, but broke off when Sherlock fixed him with a look.
“I’ll take the orders,” Sherlock declared, hands folding behind his back. “Archie, fetch me the usual supplies. John, let’s get started on these spells.”
Archie was off like a shot, and Sherlock began to throw miscellaneous items at John from different shelves, and asked him to read out different passages from magical texts to him. Mrs Hudson passed in and out with her spoils from the yard, and Archie returned with leather, laces, and dye, before racing out again.
That morning, John learned that seven league boots were not boots at all, and much more like slippers that were worn over top of one’s shoes, and which allowed their wearers to travel seven leagues in two steps. John also gathered that these boots and their unique magic were an invention of Sherlock’s, which was why they were in so much demand.
Throughout the day, other customers arrived at the Kingsbury and Porthaven doors, where Sherlock was known as the Wizard Sigerson and Wizard Vernet respectively. The transaction process was brief, as Sherlock always knew what a customer wanted before they even spoke. The woman with wet shoes from Porthaven wanted a spell for her ship’s sails to catch the wind, the runtish boy from Kingsbury wanted a wart curse for a bully at school, and the old woman with weathered hands wanted powders to help her garden grow. The details about each customer that tipped Sherlock off were all rattled off without more than a single glance, and John would conclude the interaction by providing the spell for them.
Sherlock’s ability to see through them seemed to impress people as much as the actual magic of his wares. John was impressed as well, though still overwhelmed with the changing of towns, which Sherlock did with a swish of the wrist, and Mrs Hudson did by operating a manual switch at the door. Each time the door was changed, John had to step outside to see for himself, either onto the steep road of Porthaven to smell the sea salt air, or onto the busy lane of Kingsbury, stinking of motor car exhaust fumes.
It was the longest period John had gone without experiencing pain in his chest, the energy of the ever-changing castle infectious, and John felt put to good use.
Especially when things got more interesting in the afternoon. After completing a few of the easier spells for the customers, which Sherlock seemed to be able to do with his eyes closed, he began drawing chalk outlines on the table. “Practicing,” Sherlock said as way of explanation, while peering down at a scroll, which he was copying shapes from.
While Sherlock drew, Mrs Hudson passed through the living room with a basket full of bound weeds and an armful of thread. Walking to the castle’s door, she twisted the manual switch till the diamond above turned green-side down.
The room darkened as they returned to the misty moors near Market Chipping and, once Sherlock was finished practicing, they both followed Mrs Hudson out the castle door.
John was greeted by a thick fog, and the living scarecrow perched on one of the castle’s extended metal chicken legs, which almost gave John a heart attack when it jumped down.
“Shit!” John said, clutching his chest. “I’d forgotten all about you.”
“Hello, boys!” Mrs Hudson called. She was holding one end of a clothes line, while the scarecrow held the other, with herbs tied in string along the entire stretch of it. “I’ve just doused these in my famous relaxation potion, and am hanging them out to dry.”
“Who’s this?” Sherlock asked, pointing at the scarecrow.
Mrs Hudson shrugged her shoulders. “I haven’t the faintest, but he helps me more than you, young man!”
At last, something John could answer. “It’s the living scarecrow I met on my way up here, it helped me when I broke my cane.”
“Yes John, but who is it?” Sherlock repeated.
John laughed, assuming this was just another of Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies. “Well, I was thinking of calling him ‘vegetable head.’”
Sherlock looked so aggrieved by this suggestion that John almost thought he’d insulted the man’s mother, rather than having just provided a name for an animate object.
“Please, John,” Sherlock said, tone near to begging. “It’s a turnip . Be precise.”
“Is it?” John looked closer.
“Honestly,” Sherlock said, and then lifted the scarecrow with both hands, and began using the end of its body to draw a large circle in the dirt, which was to be the start of their spell.
“Sherlock, where are your manners?” Mrs Hudson tsked.
John hid a smile behind his hand, and went to find Sherlock a stick. When he returned with a replacement, Sherlock did have the decency to release the scarecrow.
The scarecrow, once freed, hopped up the castle exterior, returning to its place on the metal leg.
The castle was decidedly stationary.
“Why doesn’t the castle move any more?” John asked. “Everyone in Market Chipping said it moved.”
“The same way they said I ate hearts?” Sherlock returned, rapid-fire and snippy.
Sherlock’s back bent lower as he drew in the dirt with increased vigour, and John felt compelled to avert his eyes from the castle’s unmoving legs.
Well. He wouldn’t be asking about that again.
The second day John woke to spiders overhead, there were clothes in his size laid out at the foot of the bed, including a warm black jacket with leather detail on the shoulders. When questioned, Sherlock claimed the cost of the clothes had been covered by John’s share of the payment they’d received the day before. The clothes at least seemed to bear signs of a previous owner, so John was assured Sherlock hadn’t broken the bank for him. John didn’t know when Sherlock would have had the time to buy him clothes, but didn’t press him further.
John learned to choose the matters he pressed Sherlock on with care, as the response to his questions was either more explanation than he knew how to process, or absolute silence. Asking about a purple bottle hanging from an overhead beam by string resulted in a lecture on the magical uses of soot. Asking about where the black part of the wheel led caused Sherlock to stand from his chair and announce they were going out.
John didn’t mind not knowing a few things, given the benefits of living with Sherlock in his castle. If John had been lacking for excitement in Market Chipping, his new life with Sherlock made up for it in spades. His new job of helping Sherlock prepare spells, sell spells to customers, and run errands in Porthaven and Kingsbury, beat the clinic work any day of the week.
And Sherlock’s reticence about telling John certain things didn’t seem to be a reflection of how comfortable he was with John. He prompted John to take all sorts of other liberties, including asking him to pull things out of his coat for him, while it was still being worn.
Once before going out on an errand in Kingsbury, John had teased Sherlock about his draped sleeves, and Sherlock had responded by turning his back to John, and looking over his shoulder expectantly. John had taken the hint, sliding the coat from Sherlock’s shoulders, and easing his arms into the jacket. Afterward, John had made sure to pop the collar of the coat, the way Sherlock liked to wear it. If John’s hands lingered along the neck of the coat, Sherlock didn’t comment, and John couldn’t help but think of what a fine figure Sherlock cut in the pink and grey coat, with the ruffled white shirt underneath, with just enough exposed throat to make John’s own throat feel dry.
And John wasn’t the only one who thought so. Others always took notice of his appearance, but Sherlock looked especially well when he wore his coat properly, no longer like a child with his father’s jacket hanging over his shoulders. Women turned to stare as they passed, whispering and giggling as Sherlock’s earrings caught the light, and his hair curled perfectly at the ends. John felt more inclined to join Sherlock on his city trips after that—only to keep an eye on his friend, of course.
Sherlock for the most part stayed inside the castle though, and seemed reluctant to leave it. He was hard at work at his table for days on end, and while Sherlock had claimed he slept during the day, John never saw him do any such thing. John also never saw Sherlock coming home in his other alarming creature-like form again, but assumed that was what Sherlock got up to at night.
One morning, John caught Sherlock on the sofa in the living room, having pushed the books onto the floor, with his flamboyant coat thrown over top of him as a blanket.
John felt a pang of guilt every time, depriving the man of his room, when all John provided in return was amateur assistance, and a clump of his hair.
“You can have your bed back whenever you like it,” John said, just as Sherlock was sitting up. “I can sleep on the sofa. It’s no trouble.”
“No, no,” Sherlock insisted. “You use it more than I would. It hardly matters.”
John licked the corner of his lip. He felt like taking a risk, and didn’t resist the urge.
“It’s a big bed.”
In the long silence after, John wished he knew a spell for summoning the earth to swallow him whole.
When Sherlock at last stood from the sofa, wrapping his coat around his shoulders, he said, “I will—keep that in mind.”
And continued to sleep downstairs.
There were spells Sherlock worked on without John, which John suspected were from before he’d arrived, like the one involving hearts. There were days where Sherlock would work at the table in complete silence, then drop everything and sprint upstairs. The wheel above the door would be turned to green-side down or blue-side up, and Sherlock would disappear without a word.
On such an occasion, Archie had been working alongside Sherlock, and was abandoned by his tutor without any notice. Rather than lend a hand to Archie, John elected to read the paper, though the date was more surprising than any news of the war. John was well aware that many believed it was only a matter of time before their enemy would attack Ingary; he’d seen the giant warships in the sky from the Kingsbury door. Far more shocking was that almost a month had gone by with him living in Sherlock’s castle, meaning their agreed upon deadline for the end of the arrangement was fast approaching. As far as John knew, no progress had been made on his curse, though he found he was more concerned about being kicked out than anything else.
“Um,” Archie said, tugging at John’s sleeve, and providing John with a much needed distraction. “Can you help me with something?”
John smiled, knowing Archie was still less comfortable with him than with Sherlock. “Sure, though I can’t promise I’ll be too helpful. I’m not a wizard, you know.”
“I know that,” Archie said. “But it’s only a riddle.”
John had gotten rather good at helping with the spells, usually with the parts of them that were obvious, which Sherlock’s windy mind had a tendency to overcomplicate.
When Archie held out a thin book, John was surprised to find he was familiar with the spell already. It was the same one Sherlock had recited to him when he had first arrived, about catching a star, and finding a wind that advanced an honest mind. Now that John could see it written, he noted that there was more to it, the last line reading: ‘Decide what this is about, write a second verse yourself.’
“Did Sherlock ask you to work on this?” John wondered if it was Sherlock’s go-to example of a trickier spell.
“No,” Archie said, not meeting John’s eyes. He seemed excited, and a little nervous. “I wanted to impress Master Holmes with how far I’ve come, so I went digging into his collection and found this. I chose it because it must be very important.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s one page, the only thing in it,” Archie said, closing the cover to show John. “And the book’s been hand bound and everything.”
John could see that it was, and that the page appeared to have been torn out from another book, and given a new home.
“I see,” John said, finding it odd, though not odder than anything else in Sherlock’s castle. “And for solving it, what have you tried so far?”
Archie held up a piece paper, cut to have five uneven pointed ends. “I made a star, and used the bellows from the fireplace for the wind, but it didn’t work.”
“How do you know if it works?” John asked. “We don’t even have the second verse of the spell.”
Archie sighed, rolling his eyes. “You just know! And with tricky spells where you write your own end, you can do anything you want! If you do it right, it can be very powerful.”
John nodded with a grave expression, as if that had all made sense. John took the misshapen paper star from Archie’s hand, and inspected it.
“Maybe if we added some sparkle to it?” John suggested, now viewing the task as more of a children’s craft. “I think I saw something glittering in one of Sherlock’s bottles upstairs by the bathtub.”
“Maybe!” Archie said, cheered by the prospect. “But Master Holmes never lets me near his vanity potions.”
So that’s what those were. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’ll go grab one,” John said, heading up the stairs.
It took him some time, and required opening several opaque bottles, but John found the serum he had seen earlier that had an unnatural shine to it. Archie upended it on his paper star, causing it to glow, and read out the enchantment. But still, nothing happened. John wasn’t sure he’d expected it to.
“Right,” John said. “I think sometimes these things might be literal.”
“You mean, I need an actual star from the sky?” Archie’s tone made evident that he didn’t think John was much help at all.
“It’s magic isn’t it? I’ve come to understand that anything’s possible.”
Archie pondered that for awhile, with a small frown on his face. Then, slamming both his palms against the table, “I remember reading about that once!”
He hopped onto the table, and crawled up onto the large shelves. John considered stopping him, but as he’d watched Sherlock do the same on at least three occasions, he figured it was safe enough.
Once Archie had found his book, he read it out from his precarious position on the highest shelf. “We have to go out to the marshes! Falling stars often land in marshes.”
“Right. Of course they do,” John said. “And how do we get to the marsh?”
“We can take a pair of seven league boots that you and Master Holmes made!”
Archie had already jumped down and was running to the closet where the boots had been wrapped in parcel paper.
John sighed. Sherlock would likely be out for the rest of the afternoon, Mrs Hudson was in the yard with her plants, and he didn’t much feel like selling their stock spells from the Porthaven door. It was this, or the newspaper.
“Yes all right, we’ll go. Now let’s make sure I know where we’re going, or we’ll end up in Belgravia.”
After a brief study of a map, with Archie pointing out the marshes to the west of them, they left through the door to the moorland. John once again found himself face to face with the scarecrow.
“I’m meant to call you turnip head rather than vegetable head, according to Sherlock,” John told it, though it seemed to not care either way.
However, when it saw the boots John was slipping his feet into, and Archie climbing onto his back, it hopped over.
“A moving scarecrow!” Archie said, awed.
“No. No, no, no,” John said, wagging his finger. “Not you too.”
But the scarecrow insisted, and Archie was happy to have more company. He tied the scarecrow’s stick to his waist with his jacket, and John accepted that his fate for the day was to serve others.
John took one step, and they zipped past patchy grass into more—well, grass. John took another step, and almost launched them straight into a barnhouse. Another step, and John’s foot landed deep in mud.
“This seems to be the place,” John said, attempting to extricate his feet from the sinking ground. The boots would not be for sale any time soon. “Those boots are dysfunctional, we almost overshot it.”
“They’re not dysfunctional!” Archie cried, hopping off John’s back. “The ones you and Master Holmes make together just go way farther than the ones Master Holmes was selling before. They’re more like fifty-seven league boots.”
“No need to exaggerate,” John said, though based on his estimates from looking at the map, they had taken him further.
“Now we just wait for the star to fall!” Archie declared. He then untied the scarecrow, and raced through the mud, forgetting about stars entirely.
John found a log to sit on while Archie and the scarecrow entertained themselves; first, Archie played a reed he found to make the scarecrow dance, and then later played fetch with a stick. The scarecrow was happy to retrieve it, even though reaching the ground was a struggle.
No stars fell from the sky, and John doubted any would. At least he’d gotten himself some fresh air, what little good it did him. His shoulder still ached sometimes, but it had lessened in the past month, and he could now walk without issue. It was hard to tell what that all meant. He wondered if he would ever be fully cured, or if living with a curse could become just a fact of life.
John didn’t even know if Sherlock was working on breaking his curse at all, which should have bothered him more than it did.
When Archie, after exhausting himself, whined “There’s no stars!” John realized he’d been sitting in contemplation in a marsh for far too long.
“Maybe set your sights on a less tricky spell,” John suggested. “Let’s go back home.”
They arrived back at the castle to the sound of banging from upstairs, and Mrs Hudson’s concerned expression and apron-wringing. “You came back at a bad time I’m afraid,” she said, mostly for John’s benefit. “He’s in one of his moods.”
While Sherlock did seem like the sort to have moods, John didn’t know what that entailed, as Sherlock had been nothing but a gracious, if distracted, host the entire time they had been living under the same roof. John removed the muddy seven league boots from his feet, in the interests of not making Sherlock’s mood any worse.
When John’s name was shouted from upstairs, he hastily slid the boots behind his chair.
“John!” was yelled again, a door upstairs was banged against the wall, and then the one man hurricane came stomping down the steps, clutching his hair, and wearing only a towel wrapped loosely around his waist.
“ John! What did you with my shampoo? My hair is completely ruined!”
John’s eyes snapped up to Sherlock’s head, which though wet, still seemed to be black and wavy. John shot Mrs Hudson a look, but she only shrugged, while Archie clung to her skirt.
“Uh. Is it different?” John asked.
“As always, you see but you do not observe!” Sherlock shouted, and then barreled towards him, scalp forward, while his hands pulled his hair taut. “Look, John!”
Sherlock always smelled nice, but John noted the scent was stronger at his wet scalp after a wash. Reminding himself that he was meant to be looking, John strained his eyes, and could eventually make out a soft touch of ginger, just along a few strands of hair at his roots. It reminded John of the colour of his own facial hair, whenever he went too long without shaving.
“Oh, yeah,” John said, studying the reddish hairs. “Looks nice. Did you tint it?”
“No, I didn’t! You fiddled with my bottles and now everything’s out of its—I had an index!”
“An index?” John asked, but was overpowered by Sherlock’s aggravated groaning.
“Everything! Is ruined!” was Sherlock’s only retort. “I’ll have to dump all my wash potions and start from scratch!”
“Really, Sherlock it’s just hair,” Mrs Hudson said, which only prompted Sherlock to shout, “It’s not just hair! It’s everything!”
“I can help you replace it all,” John offered, but Sherlock brushed past him, dropping into the grey chair by the fireplace, body limp in abject misery.
“It’s hopeless,” Sherlock moaned. He was still wet from the shower, and dripping onto the floor. “All of it, hopeless. I’ll toss my other experiments out too while I’m at it. Nothing I’ve tried works!”
Sherlock was clutching his head, bent in half over his splayed legs. “And now, on top of everything, I’m a carrot top.”
“What?” John asked, startled. “Toss all your experiments?” Some of them Sherlock had been working on since before John had even arrived, which he toiled at all day and part of the night, as far as John could tell.
Sherlock only slumped further down in his chair. When John’s eyes drifted to the floor, he realized it wasn’t water that Sherlock was dripping onto the floorboards.
“Is that...?” John walked over, and touched Sherlock’s shoulder. His hand came away slimy, and a bit green, as Sherlock began to ooze in front of him.
“Sherlock, this is really too much,” Mrs Hudson said.
The only response was the fire in the living room dimming, the candles on the table snuffed out, and Sherlock’s shadow cast across the wall beginning to grow.
Mrs Hudson sighed. “Archie, you’d better come help me in the yard for a little while.”
Archie was pressed to Mrs Hudson’s leg, expression avid, though fearful, entranced by Sherlock’s oozing. Whispered into Mrs Hudson’s skirt, he said, “I haven’t seen him like this since—”
“Hush.” Mrs Hudson pulled Archie along towards her door. “Let’s run along.”
“Sherlock,” John said, shaking his shoulder, which was only becoming more gelatinous. “Stop this. Your tantrum was amusing at first, but now you’re scaring Archie and Mrs Hudson. They’ve had to leave.”
“Hopeless,” Sherlock murmured. His whole head of hair, starting from the roots and spreading, turned into ginger curls, while his pores continued spouting green slime. “Hopeless.”
“Hopeless,” John repeated with a wry laugh. “You think you’re hopeless?”
John breathed out, and as he turned, Sherlock’s shadow on the wall multiplied and twisted into monstrous shapes, almost blacking out the whole room.
“Sherlock.” Though John was now stern, the dark, humanoid forms around him only grew in force.
They were starting to remind John of the henchmen that had chased them, and the ones he’d seen as a soldier.
At once, John felt hot with anger; his blood was pumping, and his chest seared white-hot with pain.
“I’m the one with a curse on me!” John shouted. “Which you haven’t even lifted a finger to break! And you’re having a meltdown over shampoo? I’ve been in pain for—”
John had been about to say for as long as he could remember, but that wasn’t right. The pain just made his memory sharper, making his life in Market Chipping clearer in its dreariness than anything else in his life.
Before he did something he’d regret, John was marching towards the castle door.
“Where are you going?” spoken in Sherlock’s most petulant voice, fainter than before.
“Out!” And with that, John opened and slammed the door behind him.
The moors were as dreary as ever, the mist outside more like rain. John’s eyes stung as he stared out into it. What was he doing with his life, playing live-in assistant to a wizard? What was that ever going to get him? John had wanted to believe there was more to Sherlock than flashy clothes and charming smiles, but perhaps the only thing Sherlock knew how to do with hearts was keep them in jars on the shelf.
The scarecrow approached him, having somehow gotten itself an umbrella. John appreciated the gesture, though his jacket was wet before the umbrella was overhead.
It was the same jacket Sherlock had given him, that he had found laid out on his bed in the night.
John breathed out, his anger settling. The pain in his chest was worse than ever, and the urge to leave and never come back was strong. And yet, nothing was stronger than the feeling evoked by the thought of Sherlock turning into jelly all over the floor inside.
“Ta for that,” John said to the scarecrow. “But I’d better head back in.”
John climbed the twisted steps, and walked into a dark room, illuminated only by the glowing translucent goo seeping into the fireplace.
“All right, that’s enough,” John said. When Sherlock didn’t move, or return to being a human, John rolled up his sleeves.
“Nothing for it then. We’ll just have to clean you up.”
Bending at the knees, John slid one arm beneath Sherlock’s legs and the other around his back, and heaved. Even though Sherlock was taller than John, he was surprisingly light. He was also exceptionally slippery, which was almost worse than if he’d been heavy, and John struggled to maintain his grip as he carried Sherlock to the stairs. When Sherlock started to slip from his grasp, John gave up on bridal style, and hoisted Sherlock over his shoulder for the rest of the journey. The change of position caused Sherlock’s small, white towel to loosen, till it fell with a splat onto the third stair, lost in the process.
With a gulp, John tipped his chin up, and reminded himself to keep his hands to himself when Sherlock slid lower, keeping his grip firmly placed on Sherlock’s back and thighs.
Opening the bathroom door was another struggle, requiring three tries as John’s hand slipped on the knob. Once inside, John deposited Sherlock onto the toilet lid, where he slumped over and would have fallen to the floor if not for John holding him up with one hand, as he turned the taps over the bath with the other.
“What’s really bloody annoying about this is, I bet you could de-slime yourself if you wanted to,” John said, when he had to switch to using both hands to hold Sherlock up. “And now there’s—whatever the hell this is—all over the damn stairs.”
John continued to rant as he waited for the bath to fill with water, testing the temperature with his hands, anything to distract himself from Sherlock’s current nudity. John wondered if he could still call Archie back to bathe Sherlock, or if that would only draw undue attention to his predicament.
To be safe, John added in a bubbling soap from a bottle he knew he hadn’t tampered with, till the water was opaque with suds.
John hefted Sherlock one last time, and lowered him into the bath awkwardly, banging Sherlock’s elbows and feet against the sides. But, at last, Sherlock was submerged, and John’s eyes could finally drift without guilt.
“You can take it from here, right?” John asked, hopeful. When Sherlock’s catatonic state continued and Sherlock’s head almost slipped under the water, John sighed, lifting a flannel.
Sherlock’s body had been encased in slime. It was as if he was part pudding, and John just had to scrape past the top layer to find his skin beneath. This was entertaining in a way, till John became aware that he was uncovering Sherlock’s body, only partially obscured by the green ooze. Even with his eyes averted, and even with Sherlock being half jelly, John couldn’t help but take in his nude form.
Everything below the waist was concealed by suds, but in some ways the absence of the more obvious parts lent an intimacy to the bare hollow of Sherlock’s throat, and his pink nipples, peaked from the air of the room. The steam from the bath and their proximity created a sense of sensuality, and—John attempted to steer his thoughts back into ‘friendly’ territory.
It was a lovely body, but Sherlock really was too thin. He needed to take better care of himself. John would have to nag him to eat more, and to get more sleep. In this vulnerable state, not running about or focused on his work, Sherlock’s soft, sleeping face appeared drained.
John cupped the bathwater in his palms, and spilled it over Sherlock’s head, sluicing the goo from his still ginger hair. When John rubbed soap into his hair and washed it out, the black colour began to return. It struck John then that, perhaps, Sherlock’s tantrum hadn’t been about hair at all.
Once Sherlock’s skin was less green, and his hair was no longer ginger, his voice returned.
His head was hanging down, chin to chest, so that it seemed like the wet back of Sherlock’s head was speaking to him. John poured more water down Sherlock’s neck and back, washing away any lingering slime.
“It’s fine,” John said, unable to stay angry when Sherlock acted so pitiful. “We’ll just have to mop the stairs later.”
Sherlock shook his head, drawing his knees up to his chest. “A month has come and passed,” he said. “I need more time, John.”
John felt—relieved. Sherlock hadn’t forgotten about his curse. He’d maybe even been beating himself up about it. John couldn’t help the smile that grew across his face, as he reached into the bath water to find Sherlock’s hand. John pressed the flannel into Sherlock’s palm, and closed his fingers around it.
“More time is fine. It’s all fine. Assuming you don’t mind me continuing to stay here, in your bed.” John cleared his throat. “I mean, upstairs. If that’s all right.”
“Yes John, of course. And thank you. For the bath.”
John nodded, taking that as his cue to leave.
He adjusted himself in his pants before standing, and turned as soon as he was up, intending to leave before he made a real fool of himself.
“John,” Sherlock said, when John had just reached the door. “I can make you a pair of seven league boots. You don’t need to take the customers’.”
John rubbed the back of his neck, having almost forgotten his earlier expedition. “That—yeah. Archie wanted to—”
“I don’t care about the boots,” Sherlock said. Then, after a pause, “I gather you didn’t find any—stars.”
Sherlock hummed, and didn’t ask him anything further.
John left him to finish bathing without his assistance, forgetting Sherlock’s comment about the boots entirely.
But sure enough, in two days time, John woke to find a pair of brand new seven league boots at the foot of his bed, made with brown suede, and with silk ties for laces.
The knocking at the castle door began not long after.
The diamond wheel was now almost always green side down, and John had been instructed to no longer take on customers in either Kingsbury or Porthaven. Mrs Hudson would flinch every time there was a bang, and though the knocking could continue for long periods, Sherlock refused to answer it.
After many days of being cooped up indoors, John heard the telltale soft raps against the lower section of the door. He turned to Sherlock, who was busy drawing circles onto their table in chalk, apparently keen to ignore it.
“Sherlock, that’s Archie. Shouldn’t we let him in?”
Sherlock sighed, but flicked his hand. “Kingsbury door,” he mumbled.
Archie rushed in, and as he often did, was brandishing letters above his head.
Sherlock didn’t even look in his direction. He abandoned his chalk drawings to stir a mixture in a bowl by twisting his hand in the air above it, sloshing the fuschia fluid inside.
John waved Archie over to him, and took the note from his hand. After reading it, John understood why he hadn’t seen anything but the inside of the castle and the moors for almost a week.
“You’re being drafted.”
At this, some of the concoction Sherlock was mixing escaped over the lip of the bowl, splashing onto the table.
“Yes,” Sherlock said, still aggressively twisting his hand. “Ten times now, and under two separate identities. You’d think they might get the hint.”
“You don’t intend to serve your country.” John didn’t phrase it as a question.
Sherlock’s hand paused in its movements, as his head swiveled to level John with a cold look. “Does that disappoint you? Oh, of course it does, how predictable. Because you see yourself as a soldier, Queen and country, me not falling into line is—”
“Now hold on—” John bristled at the implication of him only ‘seeing himself as a soldier’.
And while John hadn’t said any of that, now that Sherlock had mentioned it, he thought it a good point. “Good people have lost their lives, are losing their lives as we speak, and you could help. That’s it. That’s all I was thinking.”
Sherlock’s face twisted till it was almost unrecognizable to John. His hair lifted from his forehead, and a swell of magical power crackled through the air. Archie took a step back; John stayed put.
When Sherlock sneered at him like that, John could understand why people might think he was a heart-eater.
“The war goes on whether I fight in it the way the Queen wants me to or not,” Sherlock said, almost spitting as he spoke. “They’ll drop bombs from the southern coast to the northern border whether or not I—”
Sherlock stopped. The magic that John could sense in the air fizzled out, and Archie took in a big gulp of air.
The wheel switched back to green before Sherlock had even gotten to his feet, though he was by the door soon enough.
Pausing in the entrance, Sherlock said, “Don’t make people into heroes, John,” and then he was gone.
The pain had returned in full. It had been too optimistic of him to think that his curse could be managed just from being near Sherlock’s magic, even if it seemed weaker in his presence.
After the green goo tantrum and the disagreement over the conscription notice, John was more aware than ever that his ability to sleep was at the mercy of a mercurial wizard who could toss him out at any second.
That John didn’t want to be tossed out, even if his curse was cured, concerned him most of all.
Sherlock didn’t return for the rest of the day, and Archie had left after dropping off the mail. John and Mrs Hudson had said their goodbyes to him, as they expected with the conscription, they wouldn’t be seeing him again for quite some time.
Mrs Hudson made the two of them supper, though they had to eat by the fire once the potion in the mixing bowl started to smell. When Mrs Hudson turned in for the night, it was with a passing squeeze to his shoulder, and a worried look in his direction.
John stayed up, waiting for Sherlock to return.
And, when the wheel turned to green, John was expecting the strange winged creature that walked in.
Sherlock was mid transformation as he dropped into the other armchair by the fire. His head tilted back against the chair, exposing the pale column of his throat, and drawing attention to the black scales framing his face, jutting out around his head. His legs extended out across the floor, two bird-like feet where there was usually shoe leather.
“Sherlock, you all right?” John asked, watching Sherlock’s feathered chest heave. “You look…”
“Terrible?” Sherlock returned, his eyes still closed.
John didn’t confirm, or deny it. “About today. I didn’t mean—”
“I wanted to stop it,” Sherlock interrupted. “The bombings. But it’s all in flames now.”
While John had known it was coming, he hadn’t read a paper in a week, and was still surprised by the news. The warships hanging in the Kingsbury sky would be on the move now he supposed.
“My own kind attacked me,” Sherlock said, and John had never heard him sound so tired.
“Who? The Witch of Belgravia?”
Sherlock’s head snapped up, shooting him an odd look. “No. Other wizards. They’ve fully turned now.”
“Turned?” John asked.
Sherlock’s head rolled back again, and slowly, his three-pronged toes turned back to feet, and his scales receded and returned to hair.
“They’ve turned themselves into monsters for the war effort,” Sherlock explained. “Well, when I say ‘war effort.’’’
“For money?” John guessed. “And now they won’t be able to change back, into who they were before?”
Sherlock let out a long exhale through his nose, turning his head towards the dying fire. “They won’t even remember that there was a before.”
Thinking of Sherlock’s scales and chicken toes from a moment earlier, John said, “Aren’t you doing the same thing?”
Sherlock opened one eye at that, and stared at John. “Yes, but it’s on my own terms, and only for short periods.”
“Is that why the black blob henchmen were after you?” John asked, thinking of the conscription again. “The Royal Wizard is rounding up all the witches and wizards?”
“Astute of you,” Sherlock said, opening both eyes, and sitting up in his chair. “That’s part of it, and those henchmen are the Queen’s. But I’ve also… made decisions in my past that make them take a particular shine to me. They are primarily meant to hunt rogue wizards.”
“And what decisions might those be?” John asked, though he expected a brush off.
Sherlock’s mouth twisted, in constant movement for several seconds, though no words came out from it.
With a deep breath, “I wish I could tell you.”
And his face was so open, honest even, that John believed him.
John added it to the list of touchy subjects. He had meant to smooth things over between them, not pry into Sherlock’s life, but somehow his curiosity had gotten the better of him.
The rawness of Sherlock’s expression made him feel invasive. Even being able to see Sherlock like this, weak after his transformation, felt like overstepping. Sherlock’s exhaustion was apparent, even without knowing that he hadn’t slept in a proper bed for over a month.
John motioned to the sofa behind them. “Sherlock, I’ll sleep down here tonight. Take your bed. You look tired.”
This roused Sherlock from staring into the fire. “No, no, it’s yours. I won’t sleep tonight anyway.”
“You sure?” John asked, doubtful. But, he was also bone tired from the pain in his chest that day, and didn’t much like the look of the sagging sofa.
“Yes, of course. Go get some rest.”
While reluctant, John headed upstairs, and into bed. He was in part relieved that his gallantry hadn’t been accepted; he was fond of Sherlock’s bedroom, as he had never had any issues sleeping in it. He had even grown fond of the spiders running amok in the canopy overhead.
John hadn’t dreamed since arriving at the castle, but that night he dreamt a bird landed on the bed and slept next to him, its feathers brushing his face every time he rolled onto his side.
But, when he awoke, it was just him and the spiders.
Rated M (for now..?) for John being a horndog during the goo tantrum
See you next Sunday !
Almost done folks, one more chapter to go ! Now that I've written chapter 4 I've uh. gone ahead and adjusted the rating to E lol Sorry to anyone who was maybe reading this based on the misleading no rating of the first chapter
And thank you to Soli & Fae for the read over, this chapter is a particularly long one and I appreciate it muchly <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Queen, it seemed, was quite adamant that every witch and wizard serve their country.
The Kingsbury and Porthaven doors were knocked on upwards of five times a day, with the written demands for Wizard Sigerson and Wizard Vernet to come to the palace to receive their orders piling up on the doorsteps.
Mrs Hudson jumped at every sound, there hadn’t been any natural light through the castle windows in days, and they hadn’t bought food in a week. Sherlock didn’t change the doors for anyone, not even Archie, nor any customers coming to collect their purchases. The only door they could leave from was the green-side down, which was of no help at all, unless they were to eat scraggly grass along with the vegetables from Mrs Hudson’s yard.
John’s inquiries about the black segment of the wheel had never been answered, but he doubted that it led to shops, regardless.
“This is ridiculous,” John said, speaking over the loud knocking, and not for the first time. He was trying to read by the fire, to no avail. “Sherlock, you’re being summoned at every place of residence. You will need to respond at some point, surely.”
“No,” said the ball of sheets on the sofa. The only indication of it being Sherlock was the black tuft of hair, just visible over the top of the off-white bundle. “I will not, surely .”
John sighed. Sherlock hadn’t been properly dressed in three days, and hadn’t been sensible in five. John supposed he’d have to give up on that eating lark.
But then, Sherlock’s head poked out of the sheet to cry, “Yes! Yes, I will, won’t I?”
John was surprised, and then suspicious of the sudden change of heart. “What do you mean? You’re going to actually respond?”
“Yes, of course! And I’m putting my best man on the job.”
And there it was.
“Oh no. No, no, no. You can’t be serious. You honestly want me to meet with the Royal Wizard for you?”
“Yes!” Sherlock said, standing from the sofa. His long, slender legs, John noted, were quite bare beneath the large sheet wrapped around him. “Don’t you see? You have to tell him I’m useless, completely incapacitated. Spend all my time in opium dens, wasting my talents. That’s why I’m never in.”
“Do you have a history of spending time in opium dens?” John asked, and then, with his face scrunching up, “How am I even supposed to convince a wizard that you’re not fit for service? Especially when you’re perfectly capable of flying around at night, and doing who knows what in those mixing bowls.”
“Those are experiments, we’ve been over this,” Sherlock said in a rush. “John, will you do it? I can give you a disguise, if you like.”
“A disguise? Is that meant to recruit me?” John scoffed. Then, after a pause, “And is that really necessary?”
“Well, I rather like one, whether it’s necessary or not,” Sherlock replied, and John found himself laughing. Sherlock would, wouldn’t he?
Now charmed, John played along. “Okay. What are you going to disguise me as?”
“Someone who is trusted, someone who goes unnoticed in a sea of people,” Sherlock murmured. “That way you won’t attract the attention of any more rowdy soldiers.”
“That was one time,” John protested, but Sherlock apparently considered the matter settled, as he rushed over to John in his chair.
Sherlock, with a few words muttered beneath his breath, pressed his fingers first to John’s forehead, then his ears, neck, and torso, his hands skimming down over John’s body.
“Sherlock—” John attempted to object, before he was distracted by a tingling sensation everywhere Sherlock's fingers had touched. He could feel his skin changing, loosening, and his bones shifting till they ached.
“Sherlock,” John said slowly, only just managing to not throttle him. “What have you done?”
Sherlock released him from his light touches, and found a piece of glass on one of the shelves, returning to hold it out to John. Looking at himself in the reflective surface was a shock, to say the least.
“An old man?” John asked, touching his wrinkled face. “You’ve made me into an old man?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said, entirely pleased with himself. “No one ever pays old people any mind, and no one will wonder why you’re not fighting for your country.”
John was still glaring at his grey hair and sagging face in astonishment and annoyance. “Am I pretending to be your father?”
Sherlock stared at him for a beat. “Ah, no. That would be rather beside the point. The Royal Wizard would see through that quite quickly.”
John thought the Royal Wizard would see through it regardless. “Who am I, then?”
“Yourself, if you like,” Sherlock said, circling him, causing the sheet to slip down one of his shoulders. “Oh! You’re my new shop assistant, now turned caretaker, in light of my degenerate ways. I’m completely dependent on you, not fit for service at all.”
“Is that being ‘myself’?” John asked, but Sherlock was already barreling ahead once again. He returned with charms to put on John’s suit, to ‘spruce him up’. John imagined this was how Sherlock’s coat always looked so nice, and how his usual white shirt and black slacks were somehow never wrinkled.
Sherlock provided him with a cane, and one of the many letters summoning the Wizard Sigerson to the palace.
“Kingsbury door,” Sherlock called out, and their living room was at last bathed in light.
Mrs Hudson came out of her room at the sound of the wheel chiming, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Does this mean I can finally go out to the bloody shops?” she asked. “Oh John, you look dreadful.”
“Thanks,” John said, with a wave of his cane.
“Mrs Hudson.” Sherlock wheeled towards her, and planted a kiss on her cheek. “No shops this afternoon, but soon, I promise. I’ll even go myself.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What are you up to? And put some clothes on Sherlock, it’s not decent.”
“I’m not up to anything, but John is going to the palace in my stead. In fact, I think it’s time he was off.”
“All right, all right,” John said, as he was pushed out the door. It was a joy to be in the sun again, and to see the cobblestone streets outside of the Kingsbury store front, the aircrafts flying Ingary’s colours overhead, and one spire of the gleaming palace just visible over the tops of the buildings.
“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. Did you have to make me feel old, too?” John asked, his bones creaking as he walked down their Kingsbury stoop. The door had seen better days, after being banged on by soldiers for a week.
Sherlock waved from the doorway, not listening, his sheet hunched around his shoulders. Sighing, John began his journey towards the spire in the distance.
As John navigated the streets of Kingsbury, his resentment of Sherlock and his disguises only grew. He had an old man’s legs, which made the trip much more tiring than it would have been otherwise.
When the domed ceiling of the palace became visible, a bulldog fell into step with him, and followed him through two left turns and a right, down the city streets.
Out of the corner of his mouth, John whispered, “Sherlock…?” and the dog barked. John’s spirits lifted a bit after that.
“You couldn’t have just come in person, oh no,” John muttered, speaking to the dog. “You love a disguise. I have to say I’m impressed with this one, letting yourself look so wrinkled. I would have expected something more flamboyant.”
The walk was faster once he had company, and sooner than he had expected they reached the tall gates. The steps up to the palace loomed in front of them, each stair lined with two soldiers at opposite ends.
John continued to be unimpressed with his current status as an old man. “How am I going to climb up all of this?” he asked Sherlock. “Couldn’t you have been useful and made yourself into, I don’t know, a horse?”
Sherlock snorted, but did not grow in size.
However, before John even approached the steps, a sleek, black palanquin carried by four dark blob henchmen appeared at the other side of the gate. The henchmen were similar in appearance to the ones in Market Chipping, except instead of boater’s hats, they wore masquerade masks and purple velvet suit jackets.
“Who do you think’s in there?” John asked, pointing to the covered litter of the man-powered vehicle. When Sherlock only growled in response, John prepared himself to whack one of the henchmen with his cane, if the need arose.
Luckily these henchmen had no interest in an old man and his dog. They lowered the palanquin to the ground, and the gold gilded door on its side swung open.
One black high heeled foot appeared just beneath the door’s edge, and as it closed, the witch John had met at the clinic stepped out onto the pavement.
“Oh, hello again,” the Witch of Belgravia said in greeting. “I see you’ve aged about forty years since last we spoke.”
John resisted looking down at Sherlock, who was still sitting next to him, wagging his short tail. There was a history between him and the Witch of Belgravia, the kind that made John want to keep them separated by any means necessary.
“Henchmen not of the Crown are not allowed past these steps!” a soldier from the lowest stair called out, tapping her saber against the granite with finality.
“They were just on their way,” the Witch of Belgravia said, reaching into her pocket.
The henchmen, still holding the poles of the palanquin, began to condense. Their fine clothes and trappings fell to the ground as they turned to black ooze, and surged up into the Witch’s white dress. With a snap from within her pocket, they were sucked in, with no trace of them left but the masks on the pavement.
“There,” she said. “And I suppose I’m expected to walk up all these stairs unassisted? And after I came all the way from Belgravia.”
“You’ll have better luck with them than me,” John said, leaning on his cane as he began his ascent.
Sherlock, still a bulldog, pawed at the first step, then ran in a circle, his short legs unable to reach the top of the step. “Are you kidding me?” John asked, then sighed, and abandoned his cane to pick Sherlock up in his arms.
The Witch matched John’s pace up the stairs easily. When John grumbled, the Witch laughed and said, “You should try it in heels. Why are you bringing that dog with you, anyway?”
“I assume you’ve also been summoned to serve the Queen?” John asked, attempting to distract her from realizing who the dog was. “I’m surprised you’ve shown up, given your past relationship with royalty.”
“My past relationship with royalty has been superb, actually,” she returned with a wink.
“Ah,” John said, recalling the rumours in Market Chipping. “I get the feeling I know the nature of your blackmail material.”
“I’m not interested in blackmail, as a matter of fact,” the Witch informed him. “I consider those ‘materials’ my protection, in the event that the royal family ever becomes more creative than simply banishing me to the wastes of Belgravia.”
There was sweat beginning to form at the Witch’s hairline, and her curled, pinned hair was losing its neat finish. She removed her heels at the halfway mark, and walked the rest barefoot.
“This is the Royal Wizard’s idea of petty revenge, I suppose. As if he could walk up this many steps,” she said, only a bit out of breath.
John was having a worse time of it, and spent most of his climb glaring down at Sherlock, happily panting in his arms.
The Witch reached the top of the stairs first, and proceeded to walk off on her own. When John arrived shortly after, he considered following her, but was prevented from doing so when the double doors she had walked through closed behind her with a bang.
A woman dressed in a black suit and white shirt appeared at John’s right. She handed him a note, served on a silver salver.
“The Royal Wizard will see me now,” John read. “Listen, I only came here to—”
The woman held one gloved finger up to her lips to indicate silence, then turned on her heel. After putting Sherlock down onto the floor, John followed after her along a carpeted hall. There was no sound aside from their steps, and Sherlock’s soft panting. John stole glances down at the dog padding along next to him during their long walk, wondering what Sherlock’s plan was.
After two turns down similar styled hallways, they entered a study with a greenhouse attached, the opposite wall of the room constructed of glass with iron supports. The room was unfurnished aside from a side table with a newspaper folded over top of it, and a leather armchair levitating half a foot off the ground.
Sitting in the chair was a man in an impeccable suit, who didn’t so much as look up from the newspaper in his hands to greet them. Three young men with hair slicked back against their heads were fussing with a trolley of desserts next to him, and were waved away when John stepped into the room.
The dog at John’s side rushed forward to the floating chair, and while John expected the worse, Sherlock only sat on his haunches at the man’s feet. One of the men with slicked back hair approached him, giving the bulldog a treat on his way out.
“Good boy, accompanying our guest to the palace,” the man in the floating chair told the dog, and John released an annoyed breath.
He’d made the wrong assumption. Sherlock hadn’t come with him, after all. John’s first instinct about Sherlock having a more flamboyant disguise had likely been correct.
“Sir,” the woman who led John in announced, “the Great Wizard Sigerson has sent a representative in his place.”
“Of course he has,” the Royal Wizard replied, turning to John. “And who might the representative be?”
John had imagined he might meet with the Royal Wizard’s righteous indignation, and at worst, possibly be arrested until Sherlock showed himself. Instead, the Royal Wizard only seemed exhausted by the whole affair.
Sherlock’s half-baked idea might actually work. John stepped forward with the intention of besmirching Sherlock’s fake name, followed by a quick exit.
“I’m his new shop assistant,” John said. “And I’ve come here to tell you he’s an incompetent wizard, who is wasting his talents away, and plans to defect. So, if you could stop sending him summons—”
“You must be a very devoted shop assistant,” the Royal Wizard interrupted. “Coming all the way to the palace to tell me that.”
“It’s hard being a shop assistant at all without a shop,” John returned, annoyed by the comment. “The location’s good, but soldiers busting in the door is a bit bad for business.”
“That won’t matter much soon, as there won’t be a business at all any more.” The Royal Wizard’s small, tight smile spoke of politeness, while his eyes were apathetic.
“What do you mean?” John asked, feeling uneasy.
“The Queen’s guard are on their way to Sigerson and Vernet’s shops now.”
John’s expression must have given away some of his surprise, as the Wizard explained, “Yes, I know they’re the same person. And, as you’ve already pointed out, it will be hard to sell spells with your doors kicked in. Not responding to a conscription notice is considered an act of treason. Now he’ll have soldiers after him, in addition to the henchmen.”
John’s head twisted towards the door to the study, left open by the woman who had led him in, thinking of how best to strategize his escape. John didn’t know what would happen when the doors were finally kicked in by the Queen’s guard, but he had a feeling it either meant Sherlock would be in trouble, or that John no longer had a way home.
“So the henchmen that are after him, they’re yours I take it?” John asked, attempting to think of a distraction.
“Many of the henchmen are powered by me,” the Royal Wizard confirmed. “But their orders are from the government. They’re meant to capture witches and wizards practicing dark magic, and with recent escalations with the war, now also those that are evading active service. There is an unsurprising amount of overlap, such as in the case of our friend Sigerson .”
John snorted, more incredulous than offended by the accusation. “Sherlock doesn’t practice dark magic,” John said, thinking of chalk drawings, vanity charms, and seven league boots with lace ties.
The Royal Wizard hummed, and then, as if John and he were well-acquainted, “He was my best pupil, you know.”
“You were his—mentor?” John asked, more than a little surprised. He couldn’t imagine Sherlock having a teacher at all, let alone the Royal Wizard. But then, Sherlock must have been young once.
The Wizard inclined his head, as his mouth drew into a straight line, appearing almost wistful.
“He showed so much promise, and from such a young age,” the Wizard continued. “I had hoped he might follow my example in working for the Crown, but alas. He insists on being difficult.” For perhaps the first time in their conversation, the Royal Wizard’s eyes met his, and held his gaze. “His heart was stolen, and now, he only uses his magic for petty means.”
John blinked. “Do you mean that literally, or figuratively?”
The Royal Wizard appeared puzzled by the question. “What do you mean?”
John pinched the bridge of his nose, his patience for wizards at an all time low. “Do you mean that he fell in love? Or, that his heart was taken from his chest?”
“What’s the difference?” the Wizard asked.
John’s mouth opened, and then shut again. An image of the hearts back at the castle, moved from the mixing bowls to jars, flitted through John’s mind.
“Right, well, sorry you lost your star pupil,” John said. “But give it up. He’s not coming back.”
“I am sorry to hear it,” the Royal Wizard said. “If he doesn’t come to receive his orders from the Queen, he will be forced to, and subsequently stripped of his powers.”
“Stripped of his powers? Can you even do that?” The possibility hadn’t even occurred to John, who was now beginning to understand why Sherlock hadn’t come himself.
“We can. Would you care for a demonstration? I did take such pains aligning your visit with the Witch of Belgravia’s. She thinks she’s gutsy for arriving here in person, such a shame. Both her and Sherlock have similar abilities and weaknesses. It appears those with a high aptitude for sorcery can’t resist proving their cleverness.”
“You summoned both of them here under false pretenses,” John accused. “You don’t actually trust either of them to serve, do you? You only plan to neuter them.”
The Wizard sighed. “Don’t be so hasty in assigning me the role of antagonist. The Witch got herself into this mess by attempting a powerplay with the royal family. Not a smart move, when she draws all her power from a fire demon.”
“I never know what you wizards are on about,” John said, though he did recall that particular rumour from Market Chipping. “How do you draw power from a demon?”
“You bribe them with a contract,” the Wizard explained. “Usually by offering them something a human has that the demon does not. This allows the wizard’s magic to increase in power, but makes them reliant on the demon.”
“Why would anyone do that?” John asked, having momentarily forgotten that he was meant to be escaping.
“Why indeed?” the Wizard replied with a single raised brow, which reminded John very much of someone else.
John’s eyes slid to the door of the study once more, and then to the greenhouse on the other side of the glass.
“Well, if that was all, I’d rather not watch you strip anyone of their powers. I’ll be on my way. Unless you intend to keep me from warning Sherlock.”
“Oh, I’m not keeping you from Sherlock at all,” the Wizard said, looking past John’s shoulder. “Hello, Your Majesty.”
John turned, just as the Queen walked into the room. On instinct, John bowed low from his waist.
“Mycroft,” the Queen greeted. John, still bowed, was only able to see the hem of her green dress as she passed. “And who is this?”
The Royal Wizard motioned to John with one outstretched hand. “Wizard Sigerson’s new shop assistant, come to tell me that the wizard will not come to the palace of his own free will.”
The Queen paused in front of them, considering. “Perhaps, it is not wise to force witches and wizards to fight our war. Many of our best sorcerers will be lost to their current monstrous states.”
“An excellent point Your Majesty,” the Royal Wizard conceded with a bowed head. “However, with the recent loss of our Captain of the Guard, the enemy views us as weakened, hence their attacks along our coast. So you see, we need every able witch and wizard we can get.”
“Maybe you should keep better track of your staff,” the Queen said with a brittle smile, “so we wouldn’t find ourselves in these messes. Would the King want the war won on the backs of self-ruined wizards?”
The Royal Wizard rested his head against his hand with a laugh. “Sherlock, you do know we don’t have a current King of Ingary, don’t you?”
John’s head snapped back to the Queen, only to find that the older woman from before had been replaced with Sherlock, currently peeking out from beneath a grey-haired wig.
“Damn,” Sherlock said, brushing at his long green skirt. “There’s always something.”
“You’re slipping,” the Royal Wizard returned. “Nice touch with the ‘monstrous’ bit, though a tad revealing. Isn’t that a particular concern of yours, o’ heartless one?”
“Not to interrupt,” John said, voice raising as he turned to Sherlock, “but why did you send me here if you were just going to follow me anyway?”
“I think you’ll find that Sherlock has a tendency to follow you everywhere,” the Royal Wizard interjected, “regardless of whether it’s in aid of anything or not.”
John wasn’t sure what that meant, seeing as he rarely got out of the castle without Sherlock with him.
“Shut up, Mycroft!” Sherlock shouted, spoken with true venom. “Before I make you .”
“I’m shaking in my seat,” the Royal Wizard—Mycroft—said, who looked only pitying. “Sherlock, nothing I say will do any harm. And whatever you think those organs you have are accomplishing, you’d be better off—”
“What?” Sherlock asked. “Starting all over again? I’m sick of hearing everyone else’s thoughts on the matter, thank you.”
“Oh, brother mine. Your way then, I suppose.”
“Brother?” John repeated, though his comment went ignored. He looked between them with new understanding; there was a certain similarity in their airs.
Sherlock, with each word bitten off, said, “This is not my way .”
“Well, this is mine,” Mycroft said. “And here is my peace offering.”
At the neat, crisp turn of his hand, a panel in the wall behind them lifted, and the Witch of Belgravia strolled out from behind it. The exertion of her earlier climb was still apparent, but otherwise, she appeared no worse for wear.
“Big brother organized a reunion for us, how sweet.” With a look down the front of Sherlock’s dress, she added, “Hmm, I’m not sure that’s your colour.”
John expected Sherlock to offer a glib reply, but instead all he did was level her with a look of pure malice. John had never seen them interact before, and was surprised by it; he had never known Sherlock to be so filled with hatred just from seeing another person.
“Let’s get this over with, shall we?” Mycroft asked. Snapping his fingers, a gold chain flew out from the Witch’s pocket.
The gold pocketwatch landed in Mycroft’s palm, and was then held aloft. “Storing all your reserve power in one item? Risky, risky.”
“This wasn’t just a social call, then,” the Witch commented, though there was a growing fear in her eyes. She didn’t attempt to retrieve the pocketwatch, as if she knew it would be a futile effort.
“The choice is yours, brother,” Mycroft said, turning to Sherlock. “Do I destroy it?”
“Why not,” Sherlock replied, the coldness of his voice disconcerting.
Not unlike her coiffed hair currently falling out from its pins, the Witch’s blasé confidence slipped away, revealing her true alarm.
“I have played both sides in this war,” the Witch said, a slight tremor in her voice. “That item is my only protection while I am away from my castle. If you destroy it, I stand no chance. Henchmen from either side will find me.”
Sherlock rounded on her then, face twisting into a dreadful sneer. “And why should we care? Do you have any idea what you have—” Sherlock broke off. “Can you even fathom it?”
The Witch lowered her gaze, unable to respond. Whatever had happened between her and Sherlock, it appeared she at least felt guilty for it.
A theory built in John’s mind of who might have stolen Sherlock’s heart, as the ache in his chest returned in full force.
“You know that—this was never my intention,” she eventually said, her eyes pleading.
“And you know what your death would mean to me,” Sherlock returned, each word spoken vibrating in the space between them.
John recalled the sound of a moan before Sherlock had burned her mark from their table, and felt certain this was more than just an old score between a wizard and witch of equal ability. Ex-lovers perhaps, John thought, and his chest ached worse than he could have ever imagined.
“Sherlock, is that your final answer?” Mycroft asked. “Once it’s done, it cannot be reversed.”
Seeing Sherlock’s cold face, John realized he might actually go through with it.
“Don’t,” John said, stepping between Sherlock and the Witch. “I don’t know what she’s done to you, but I think you would sorely regret leaving someone for dead.”
Mycroft smiled at John, thin lips stretching across his face into a look of pure condescension. “Are you sure you’re informed enough to make that decision, John? If you recall, she did just mention she played both sides in the war.”
“What are you saying?” John asked, distracted by the renewed pain in his shoulder, his vision blurring as he resisted the urge to grasp it in his hand to contain it.
“You’ve seen a wizard’s henchmen before, during war, I understand,” Mycroft said. “Or in this case, a witch’s.”
“No,” John murmured, turning to stare at her. She looked back at him in defiance. “ You? You’re the one who cursed me?”
“It wasn’t meant to be you,” the Witch said. “It was never meant to be—”
Her explanation was cut off by a palace guard, who while passing by the open door to the study, caught sight of Sherlock. “It’s the defectors, Wizard Holmes and the Witch of Belgravia! They’re attacking the Royal Wizard!”
Down the long hallway, John could see the black forms of wizard’s henchmen coming around the corner in response to the shout, wearing soldier’s uniforms.
“Sherlock, we need to leave now, forget about the Witch,” John said, eyes on their only exit out through the greenhouse.
But Sherlock was still preoccupied. “I suppose you’re not going to call off your dogs?”
“It’s the law, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, rather relaxed about the whole thing. “Might I suggest taking this moment to escape?”
“You always were a rubbish big brother.”
Sherlock grabbed ahold of John and sprinted towards the greenhouse, and out the other side to a landing. John attempted to close the door behind himself, but the Witch, and oddly the bulldog, followed after them.
“Well hurry up if you’re coming!” John shouted, before closing it, and standing back from the greenhouse exterior. Not long after, henchmen smacked into the glass, and began to bubble out through the cracks around the door’s edges, which while alarming, at least bought them some time.
John looked down at the dog panting next to him. “I’m not bringing you, traitor. And I’m especially not bringing you,” John said, pointing at the Witch. She held up her hands in mock surrender.
“John,” Sherlock said, lifting up his skirt to reveal the pair of seven league boots he had made for John, which were somehow tied to his leg. “We need to split up.”
“I’m not leaving you,” John insisted, even as Sherlock untied the boots and threw them to John.
“They’re after me, not you. Take these and head east. Our Kingsbury shop is gone, do you understand?”
John did; it meant he had to travel all the way to the moorland entrance. He didn’t like it, but he would have to trust Sherlock.
Once John nodded, Sherlock floated above him into the air, and hopped up the domed surface of the glass greenhouse. John watched, heart in his throat, as the black henchmen changed direction, drawing away from the glass to chase after him.
John started sliding the suede boots over the top of his shoes. “I meant what I said.”
The dog simply continued to pant, while the Witch wrapped her retrieved pocketwatch chain around her wrist.
“Take me with you,” she said.
“Why the hell would I do that?” John asked, with half a mind to take one step and be seven leagues away. “You cursed me, apparently! Remember that?”
“For Sherlock, John,” she said, and John’s hackles rose. “You won’t understand this, but right now he needs me as much as I need him, if not more.”
“Like hell he does,” John grumbled, sounding exactly as bitter as he felt.
The Witch lifted the dog into her arms, and then aimed a sad, doe-eyed look in John’s direction. The dog followed her lead.
“That’s not going to work.”
The dog whined in her arms, and the Witch looked back over her shoulder, where some of the henchmen had returned to continue their attempt at squeezing through the gaps between wrought iron and glass. The more they tried, the more the greenhouse appeared to bulge.
John groaned. While he resented her greatly for the pain still present at times in his chest, he also wasn’t sure he wanted her dead for it.
With a growl, he said, “You’d better help me bloody navigate.”
Pleased with herself, the Witch walked over, and stood on the tops of his feet. And, with a mouthful of dog hair, John held her by the arms, and took a step.
John wasn’t sure they were on the right track till they zipped past the marshes he’d visited with Archie. From there, it was two steps, and Sherlock’s castle could be seen just over a dip in the moor.
“We’ll have to walk from here,” John said, unlacing the boots. Fog passed by the castle, obscuring it from their view, but it was no matter as the living scarecrow was on its way over to them at a quick hop. John, the Witch, and the dog met it halfway, and the scarecrow led them back through the mist.
“Does everyone here have a curse on them?” the Witch asked, eyeing the scarecrow’s turnip face. “I’m Irene, by the way.”
“I was starting to think you didn’t have a name,” John said, and Irene laughed. It didn’t make her any more likeable, John thought.
“Are you going to tell me why you needed to come home with me?” John asked when they reached the back door, lifting the dog into his arms. “Or why you said Sherlock ‘needed’ you?”
“All in good time,” Irene said, “but first, I think I’ll have a nice, long bath.”
Once they stepped through the door, Mrs Hudson was on her feet. “John! Oh, I’m so glad you made it back all right. We had to let loose the storefronts in Kingsbury, and Porthaven too.”
“Let loose the storefronts?” John asked. When he made it to the landing, he noticed that above the door, there were now letter openers sticking out from the blue and red segments of the diamond-shaped wheel.
“They came while you were out, and I had to listen to the racket the soldiers made breaking down the doors. Of course, all they’ll find is empty buildings. Serves them right. Oh John, where are your manners, who is this behind you?”
“Irene,” John introduced, as if he had not just learned her name minutes before. “She’ll be… staying with us.”
This was all Mrs Hudson needed to know before she was ushering Irene into the castle, and offering her fresh towels for her bath. John sat himself and the dog down, and waited.
An hour passed with no sign of Sherlock. John alternated between standing from his seat with every intention of going back out to find him, and then sitting back down, remembering that he had no way of knowing where Sherlock was. Each time John stood, the bulldog stood as well, and every time he sat back down, the dog would fall back down to the floor.
“John, dear,” Mrs Hudson said, watching this display with thinly veiled amusement. “Sherlock will make it back to the castle. He always does.”
“I know that,” John said. A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Except, no, maybe I don’t. What if he transformed to fly away, and now he can’t turn back, like those wizards who work for the government?
“He has been doing that more often as of late,” Mrs Hudson mused. After seeing the look on John’s face, she hurried to say, “But I’m sure it’s just taking him more time to get here because he’s coming all the way from Kingsbury! Give him some time.”
“I hope you’re—”
John was unable to finish this thought, as then a plane crashed into the side of the castle, breaking through the brick wall to the left of the fireplace, which caused Mrs Hudson to scream, John to swear, and the dog to bark.
Once the dust had settled, Sherlock slipped down the side of the now destroyed aircraft, pulling a pair of aviator goggles off over his head as he went.
“That’s one way to arrive,” John said.
“Sherlock, look what you’ve done to my bloody wall!” Mrs Hudson cried. And, as an afterthought, “Is that my dress?”
Sherlock lifted his skirt as he stepped over the rubble. “Your dress I’ll concede, but what do you mean your wall?”
“I was the one who owned that property in Kingsbury!”
“I know, and I’m sorry we had to lose it.” Sherlock leant forward to kiss her cheek, and in a flash, his clothes transformed from Mrs Hudson’s green dress to his usual white shirt and black slacks.
“I will fix the wall in a moment Mrs Hudson, but you will need to give me the afternoon. We’ll have a new storefront in no time. Unfortunately, we’ll no longer be able to advertise as witches and wizards, but haven’t you always wanted to sell the other good things that you grow in your garden?”
“Well,” Mrs Hudson said, now placated. “I suppose I could open an herb and flower shop, if that’s what you mean.”
“You’re a saint, Hudders.” After another kiss to her cheek, Sherlock twirled towards John.
“And John! You made it back all right. I knew you would.” With a warm smile, Sherlock walked right up to him, and stood so close that John wondered if Sherlock might embrace him.
He didn’t, but he didn’t step back either. John cleared his throat. “Yes, I made it back fine with those boots you brought me. I got a dog too.”
“I can see that,” Sherlock said, as the dog rubbed against his leg. Sherlock reached down to pat the bulldog’s head with a fond smile. “Couldn’t you have picked up a dog who isn’t Mycroft’s little spy? But, no matter, let’s do something about this first.”
Sherlock’s gloved hands came up to touch John’s face. As Sherlock peered down at him, noses almost touching, John’s heart felt like it might beat out of his chest—until he realized Sherlock was just removing the glamour. The same tingling from earlier ran through him where Sherlock’s hands touched him, and then was gone again.
“There,” Sherlock said. “Not so old any more. Thank you John, for all your help.”
“Not sure what help I provided, or what me going accomplished,” John said, though he appreciated being thanked, and enjoyed that Sherlock’s hands were still on his face. John hoped he wasn’t reading too much into the gesture.
Sherlock’s eyes darted to Mrs Hudson, who was busy inspecting the damage to the wall, and back to John. Lowering his voice, Sherlock said, “I wouldn’t have gone to the palace on my own. You being there—it helped.”
“Sherlock,” John said, then stopped. Heart rate spiking, John lifted his hand to cover one of Sherlock’s still touching his face. He was warm to the touch, even through the gloves, much warmer than John had expected. “I—”
A creak on the stairs, and they both turned as Irene appeared at the railing wearing an oversized bathrobe. One of Sherlock’s, John assumed, which made him like her even less, if that was even possible.
“John,” Sherlock said, drawing his hands away from John’s face. “Why is there a witch in our castle?”
“A witch,” John repeated, now annoyed. “As if you don’t know her.”
“Mind your tone,” Mrs Hudson added, still looking out the gaping hole in their home. “There’s always been a witch in this castle.”
“That’s besides the point,” Sherlock said, voice raising, and turning on John. “Why did you let her in, of all people? And after what Mycroft told you!”
“What the hell else was I meant to do with her?”
“Boys, boys,” Irene said, leaning on the wooden railing, still above both of them. “Sherlock, with the Queen’s guard and the Royal Wizard’s henchmen after you, frankly you need me. Admit it.”
Sherlock would not. “Need you? I need you like I need a hole in my castle!”
“Lucky that you already have one of those,” Mrs Hudson chimed in.
Irene descended the stairs, not deterred in the slightest. “This castle is a sitting duck, and with my magic you could put your protection spells back up. These hills may be remote, but the castle can still be found, and everyone knows you live up here. They just haven’t been trying before. Now, they will be.”
“Are you quite finished?” Sherlock asked, pointing towards the door. “Please feel free to leave whenever you’re done.”
“Should the castle be moved?” John suggested, and a tense silence settled over the room. “What?” John said, looking around. “What did I say?”
“Even with both of us,” Irene began, after a long beat, “there is not enough power to move it. But, it can be concealed.”
Sherlock stayed quiet, though his arm pointing at the door dropped, returning to his side.
Irene was watching Sherlock with a soft expression, and John wished she wouldn’t. “Right now, I’m their priority,” she said. “And I need somewhere to hide outside of Belgravia.”
Ah, and there was her true motive.
“What about your fire demon?” John asked, not sure why this meant she had to stay at the castle. “Aren’t they supposed to make you all powerful or something?”
All eyes were on him again. “What? The Royal Wizard mentioned a demon earlier.”
“Of course he did,” Sherlock muttered.
“My fire demon’s strength isn’t what it used to be,” Irene explained to John. “I went to the palace today to show I’m not hiding in Belgravia, and to lead them away from her. She’s not even strong enough to take on her human form. I have to believe they won’t target a weakened demon, and will spend their time searching for me.”
“Truly touching , but why do you think that means we’ll let you stay here?”
John couldn’t disguise his surprise at the coldness of Sherlock’s tone, which only made John’s morbid curiosity about what had happened between them grow.
“Either you accept my help, or you will have to leave this place for your own safety,” Irene said, near gloating, no longer playing nice. “And if you leave it, everything you’ve built here will be destroyed.”
“Shut up, shut up! ” Sherlock shouted, breaking at last, stalking towards her, till their faces were mere inches apart. “You think I don’t know that?”
John felt like a third wheel, an outsider to a conversation being had over his head. Mrs Hudson watched on anxiously, and the dog at John’s feet began to whine.
When Irene didn’t stand down, Sherlock swept away from her to stare into the fireplace, standing in perfect stillness.
John knew that if he was allowed to stay like this, Sherlock wouldn’t move or speak for hours.
“Sherlock?” John said, keeping his voice soft. “Does she stay, or does she go?” It wasn’t until he asked that John realized he couldn’t tell which outcome he dreaded more.
For several seconds, John thought he might not be given an answer, but eventually, Sherlock looked back at him over his shoulder. “She stays.”
Irene smiled. “There, that wasn’t so bad was it?”
“Don’t look so pleased,” Sherlock said. “I accept your proposal, and I intend to use as much of your magic as you have to give. You will reinstate my protection spells, adding your power to mine. But first, renovations!” At this, he clapped his hands together. “And I know just where to open Mrs Hudson’s new flower shop.”
Irene’s pocketwatch and Sherlock’s jar of dust from the fireplace were placed on the floor, and around the two items Sherlock drew circles in chalk. John had been instructed to sit on top of the worktable with the dog in his lap, while Sherlock and Irene took their places across from each other in the chalk ring.
When Irene and Sherlock held out their arms, the dust began to float inside its jar, and the gold of the pocketwatch burned bright. In a violet blaze, the lines connecting the items on the floor lit up till every circle drawn emitted a colourful light, and the room expanded around them.
First, the brick wall by the fireplace mended itself; brick by brick snapped back together, and then was covered by wood, and papered with a damask pattern.
Next, the stairs leading down to the castle door creaked and groaned, and new steps appeared at the end, one by one, till the door to the castle descended past John’s line of sight.
The finishing touches were the entire upper floor, bedroom and bathroom and hallway and all, coming crashing through the ceiling, and Mrs Hudson’s room behind them falling at the same time, Mrs Hudson’s yells audible from within as it dropped to the new lower floor.
“That should do it!” Sherlock said. As the magic in the air receded, his hair returned to its usual place, deeply parted with his fringe across his forehead. “Now, Mrs Hudson has an entire floor to herself, and I’ve even added a guest room!”
“It didn’t sound like Mrs Hudson much appreciated that,” John pointed out.
“While house additions are a lovely touch,” Irene interjected, in a tone that implied the opposite, “I think it’s time to do some real work to resurrect your protection spells.”
“Quite right, do feel free to get started on that.”
Irene rolled her eyes, and turned on her heel to walk down the newly elongated stairs.
“Good riddance,” Sherlock said, and John half-expected him to stick his tongue out at her back. Sherlock rocked back on his heels once the castle door closed, and with a sweeping hand gesture said, “Well John, what do you think?”
John liked not having a hole in the wall well enough, but was more intrigued by the changes to the diamond wheel.
“Where’s our new bolthole?” John asked, pointing to it. Though the door to the castle was now a full floor below them, the wheel remained above the stairs in the living room, and there was a new bright pink segment that had replaced the red for Porthaven.
“Go look,” Sherlock suggested. Snapping his fingers, the wheel turned to pink, and clicked into place.
John didn’t even need to go outside to know where they were; the view from the windows was familiar enough.
“It’s Market Chipping,” he said in awe, walking to the window. They were even overlooking the same train tracks as his clinic had.
“Do you like it?” Sherlock asked, hands clasped behind his back. “I thought it would be… familiar to you.”
“It is,” John said, though without much enthusiasm. It was pleasant to be sure, but he didn’t have any particular attachment to Market Chipping. “It’s nice.”
“You don’t like it,” Sherlock said, looking down at his feet, and to John’s surprise, he sounded genuinely disappointed.
“No, no, of course I like it,” John insisted, drawing away from the window. With a laugh, “Anyway, why does it matter? It’s a shop for Mrs Hudson. I’m just glad we can now go out into town for food!”
Sherlock raised his head, a small smile about his lips, though his eyes were still lowered.
After a moment, Sherlock bit his lip and said, “John, would you like to see where the black part of the wheel goes?”
“Yes,” John replied at once, surprised. “But why now?”
“I think it will be helpful to Mrs Hudson’s shop, as you’re about to find out.” Sherlock then flicked his wrist, and the diamond-shaped wheel snicked past the pink, and the green, till the arrow landed on black.
Sherlock raced down the stairs, and John, excited by the prospect of his curiosity at last being satisfied, followed after him. When they reached the landing, Mrs Hudson opened her door at the other end of a new hallway, on the same level as the bottom of the stairs. “Sherlock, I swear you’ll be the death of me! Warn me the next time you plan to drop me ten feet!”
“Sorry Mrs Hudson!” Sherlock called, then turned back to John, his hand on the door knob. “Ready?”
The new corridor to the castle door was so narrow that when John nodded, his nose brushed Sherlock’s chin. When their eyes met once more, Sherlock opened the door.
John had expected gloominess, the mystery of the black quadrant leaving him with the impression that the place must have somehow been sinister. He had wondered if it led to the wastes of Belgravia perhaps, or maybe simply nothingness, just sheer darkness on the other side of their door step.
However, John found first that his eyes had to adjust to the light, before he could see that past their doorway was a meadow, filled with bright blooming flowers. Sherlock was still holding the door open for him, watching his face with an avid unblinking interest.
Stepping outside, he could feel dewy grass beneath his feet, and a fresh breeze on his face. It certainly beat being stuck inside for the past few days.
Taking in all the colours around him, feeling overwhelmed, he said, “I get what you mean now, about the flower shop.” It felt like an age since he’d seen anything other than moors and the inside of the castle. “Is this natural, or magic?”
“A mix,” Sherlock answered. “Just a bit of magic, to help the flowers grow.”
There was a small body of water a ways off, mountains on the horizon, and clear skies, and before he knew it, John was traipsing through the flowers, feeling light as a feather, without even a twinge in his chest.
“It’s beautiful, Sherlock,” John said, turning to find Sherlock close behind him, grinning ear to ear.
“Come, I want to show you something.”
Sherlock grabbed him by the wrist and pulled, and John’s breath came quicker at even that small contact, as he ran to keep pace. John felt more light-footed than usual, the grass springy against the soles of his feet, till they both rose into the air. John laughed, the buoyancy of his steps lifting his spirits as they half-ran, half-floated towards the top of a hill.
Below, there was a river leading to the pond John had spotted, and next to it, a small stone cottage with a water wheel attached. “Is this what you wanted to show me?” John asked, when they came to a stop. “Is the cottage yours?”
Sherlock was beaming when he replied, “Yes, it was my Uncle Rudy’s. He was a wizard as well, and gave me the place to study magic independently when I was younger.”
John smiled, imagining a young Sherlock spending his summers inside a cottage near a marshy pond, working on spells, and deciding to make up his own in the process. John’s smile slipped a fraction when he noted there didn’t seem to be anything around them for leagues, and the cottage was too small for his uncle to have stayed with him.
“Weren’t you lonely?” John wondered. “Were you out here all by yourself?”
“Not for long,” Sherlock returned, and before John could ask him to explain, he started to slide down the hill, the ground muddy enough that walking would have been more work.
John stumbled down after him, while attempting to get a better look at the inside of the cottage. Even through the windows, it appeared remarkably similar to the arrangement of the living room in the castle, with fireplace, worktable and all.
Wanting to confirm if it really was the same room reproduced, John walked towards it, but was stopped by Sherlock’s hand reaching out to snag at his sleeve. “John, look.”
The clouds in front of the mountains had drifted away to reveal an eyesore on the horizon, as a long, oblong warship slowly came into view. At their current distance, the only sign of the ship moving was the waving metal flaps along its side.
“Looks like one of ours,” John commented, recalling the ships in Kingsbury, and wondering where exactly they were in Ingary.
“It is,” Sherlock agreed. “One of our government’s ships, stocked full of wizard’s henchmen and the wizards who power them, though they’re so far gone now it would be hard to tell them apart. I wish they weren’t here at all.”
After many days of being harassed by the Queen’s guard, and their less than hospitable visit to the palace, John was feeling some resentment towards those wizards and their henchmen. “I wish they were a bit closer, actually. I’m resisting the urge to throw a brick through one of the windows.”
Sherlock laughed. “Oh, I think we can do better than a brick through the window.”
And, with a mischievous look in John’s direction, Sherlock extended his arm.
To John’s eye, nothing happened. He wondered if Sherlock had just been bluffing, until a minute later when alarm bells sounded in the distance, and the flapping along the side of the ship came to a halt.
“What did you do? It’s not going to crash, is it?”
“No, no,” Sherlock said, lowering his hand. “I’ve minorly inconvenienced them, is all. You’re not regretting the suggestion, are you?”
“I was having a petty moment,” John said, but when the alarm sirens only grew louder and louder, they both started giggling.
Pressing his fist to his lips as he chuckled, John thought a bit of inconvenience served them right, assuming no harm would come of it.
Only, there was more than one kind of harm, which became apparent when John caught sight of the black scale on Sherlock’s forearm, which Sherlock was currently pressing to his side, in order to hide it from John’s line of sight.
“Sherlock!” Though Sherlock resisted him, John managed to spin him enough that he could see the scales, starting at his knuckles and continuing all the way up to his elbow.
“They’ll settle in a moment,” Sherlock snapped, holding the arm behind his back.
“Sherlock, if you keep that up—”
“Look, John!” Sherlock interrupted. “We’re about to have some company.”
A glance back at the warship confirmed Sherlock was right; to John’s alarm, winged wizard’s henchmen were being spat out the back of the warship like watermelon seeds.
“Quick, back through the door!” Feathers sprung out around Sherlock’s neck as he spoke, and wings unfurled from his back. “I’ll take you there, it’s quicker this way!”
“Bloody hell, Sherlock!” John cried, as Sherlock lifted him from under his arms, and they both soared into the air. Keeping low to the ground, John was flown back towards the odd lone door in a sea of flowers.
“Are you leaving me behind again?” John yelled. “You can’t keep doing that!”
“John, please,” Sherlock said from above him, over the rush of the wind. “I’m just trying to keep you safe!”
We should keep each other safe, John wanted to say, but Sherlock had already dropped him to the ground and flown off over the door. John hurried back into the castle, tripping on the carpet in his haste. From the floor, John kicked the door closed behind him, and a few seconds later, henchmen could be heard smacking into it.
If not for their continued banging, John would have gone right back out into the fray. “Dammit, Sherlock,” he muttered, lying on his side in the foyer.
John startled when a door down the hallway banged open, and Irene breezed by his crumpled form on the floor.
“Why did the new guest room have to be in the basement?” she asked. “What do I have to do around here to not stay in the damp basement flat?”
“Take this curse off me,” John said from the carpet.
Irene laughed. “No can do, but John,” she said, “I like your spark.”
Stepping over him, she changed the manual switch at the door to green. “Don’t mind me,” she said. “I’ll just make sure the castle is protected while the two of you are off picking flowers.”
And with that, she stepped out the door.
Irene upheld her end of the deal by adding her magic to the few enchantments Sherlock was able to maintain outside. Or at least, that was what she proclaimed to have done, while snidely commenting on Sherlock’s lack of assistance.
After Mrs Hudson came back from the shops in Market Chipping, the three of them shared a dinner of sausage and yams, with one link thrown to the dog. The plate prepared for Sherlock went cold, and was still sitting untouched when Irene and Mrs Hudson returned downstairs for bed.
As was becoming his habit, John stayed up waiting for Sherlock by the fire.
When the wheel at last turned back to black, John was alert. He listened to the door open, and the clacking of claws against the seventeen steps leading up to their floor.
Sherlock stumbled towards him, collapsing into the armchair across without a word, feathers and scales barely fitting within the confines of the seat. Sherlock shook off the bird-like features with sluggish exhaustion, his face blank.
It took him so long to return to himself that Sherlock had been sitting across from John for several minutes before John noticed the blood seeping through the white shirt at his shoulder.
“Sherlock,” John said, at once crowding his friend. John peeled Sherlock’s coat back, and along his back climbing up to his shoulder was a gash, blooming pink against the thin cotton. The shirt was sticking to the wound, and when John pulled at the collar, Sherlock shrunk down into his chair with a whimper.
John backed off. “Sorry. I’m just going to get something for that.”
After a great deal of digging through one of the lower shelves by the table, John found a kit stocked full of fresh bandages, and a bottle of what he hoped was antiseptic.
“You can’t just magic yourself better?” John asked as he set to work, Sherlock oddly docile as John slipped his shirt off his shoulder. “How did you get yourself mended before I arrived?”
Sherlock didn’t respond, and remained silent throughout the entire process.
When Sherlock finally spoke, a soft, “Thank you,” once John had finished dressing the wound, John sighed in relief.
“I thought maybe you’d forgotten how to talk,” John joked.
“Yes,” Sherlock murmured. “No. I might have, but I’m back now.”
Worry grew in the pit of his stomach, remembering Sherlock’s hushed words about the witches and wizards who served in the war.
“Sherlock,” John began, still standing over the back of his armchair. “What if you become like the others, unable to turn back? Aren’t you afraid of forgetting yourself?”
Sherlock snorted, his mouth turning down at the corners. “I’m not the one who forgets,” he said. “I remember. That’s my burden.”
“Well,” John said, patting the back of Sherlock’s seat, “that’s cryptic.”
Having confirmed that Sherlock’s wound was well cared for, and that Sherlock was not in a chatting mood, John clapped the back of the chair one last time. “I’m for bed, I think.”
“Good night.” Sherlock’s chin dipped forward onto his chest, and John wondered if Sherlock might just stay in the chair all night, dozing.
John walked down the hall, appreciating that he no longer needed to climb stairs to reach the bedroom.
Only once he was in bed did John realize that despite their renovation, Sherlock had not made an additional room on their floor.
Had Sherlock intended for him to sleep somewhere else now? He should have asked while they’d been together by the fire, but getting up to find out now seemed silly. After all, every time he’d attempted to discuss the bed situation, Sherlock shrugged him off.
But after that, sleep evaded him. John thought of Sherlock, curled up in the chair outside, and tossed and turned.
Which was why John was still awake when he heard the creaking on the floorboards leading to the bedroom door, and was wide awake by the time Sherlock stepped inside. Closing his eyes, John pretended to be asleep, though may have given himself away regardless when he made a small sound at Sherlock climbing into bed with him.
Sherlock flipped up the corner of the sheet on the right side of the bed in a methodical and painstaking way, folding it over neatly, before slipping beneath the sheets. John felt himself smiling, wondering whether that was part of Sherlock’s routine, like his vanity potion index in the bathroom.
John was still awake when Sherlock’s breathing evened out, the room filled with the soft sound of slow exhales, and John was most certainly awake when he pressed the palm of his hand to Sherlock’s back, and held it there, feeling his lungs expand on each inhale.
:~) almost done ! See you next Sunday buds !
*** There's now art for this chapter by the lovely ivorylungs
At last, the final chapter !! A huge thanks to Anna for last minute touching up the ending coaching, and to Soli who beta'd this very long chapter even though she has an 8 hour exam on Monday.
Can you believe I thought these chapters would each be 7k.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As the newest flower shop in Market Chipping, they drew more curiosity than actual paying customers.
It was no wonder that people didn’t want to buy flowers, if the talk in the streets and in the shop was anything to go by. The recent bombings along the coast near Market Chipping had everyone on edge, inside and outside of their castle. Sherlock continued his nightly disappearing act, which John could only assume was to guard their skies, though there was no news of more recent bombings in the papers.
Regardless, their newly formed collective attempted to focus on the flower business, with everyone assigned their own role. As Sherlock’s explicit instructions were that only John was allowed to switch the castle door to black-side down, John was by necessity in charge of collecting flowers from the field. Irene would then clip and tie the stems with thin rope, Sherlock would charm them not to wilt, and Mrs Hudson would sell them in the shop front, along with the herbs from her garden.
To everyone else’s amusement, and John’s annoyance, the painted sign hanging on the street outside of their shop read, ‘Watson’s Weeds.’
“It’s not even my shop,” John complained to the room at large. “It’s yours, Sherlock, and Mrs Hudson’s.”
“Well, we certainly can’t use my name, and Mrs Hudson is associated with the old Kingsbury property,” Sherlock claimed, sitting with his feet propped up on the worktable as he tied dandelion stems together. “The Queen’s guard is looking for me, and will follow any leads they have. You’re the only unknown, John.”
“I think it’s a sweet name,” Mrs Hudson said, pouring water into a series of coloured glass vases. “Though really Sherlock, you have chosen the worst time to open a shop in this town.”
“Why?” Sherlock asked, petulant, while Mrs Hudson and Irene exchanged a look.
“Haven’t you noticed the people all trickling out,” Irene said, sitting in the window with one leg curled under her, arranging flowers in a vase. “Everyone expects this town to be the next target for a bombing. Anyone with half a brain is packing up.”
She wasn’t wrong; people dragging luggage behind them on their way to the train station was a regular sight, even from their own window.
“Shouldn’t we be leaving too, then?” John asked, turning to Sherlock, who was placing his finished flower crown onto their bulldog’s head.
“Yes, truly suicidal to stay,” Sherlock agreed, adjusting the crown’s circumference to better fit the dog’s head. “But I did just redo the castle, and I’m not about to change doors again now. Though even with renovations, somehow it’s still crowded.” This was followed by a pointed look at Irene.
Irene ignored it, and started on a new bundle of flowers. “Maybe it’s crowded in here because you didn’t make enough bedrooms for everyone.” Rubbing her chin, she added, “I can’t imagine why.”
“I didn’t have the energy,” Sherlock snapped, his feet dropping from the table onto the floor.
“I should have killed you when I had the chance,” Sherlock griped, standing from his chair. “It would have solved almost all of my problems.”
Sherlock left in a huff, disappearing down the hallway towards the bathroom. The sound of running water was heard soon after.
“What this bickering will accomplish, I have no idea,” Mrs Hudson said as she carried the prepared vases down the stairs, taking her leave of them as well.
Once the castle door had closed behind her, and John was confident the water running in the bathroom was loud enough, he turned in his chair towards Irene.
“Okay. What the hell happened between you two?” John asked, index finger extended in her direction. “Why does Sherlock frequently discuss plotting your murder?”
“Why don’t you ask him?” But then, not a moment later, she twisted at the waist, eyeing John with consideration. “You really don’t know much about spells, do you?”
John frowned. “You cursed him, too?” he guessed. “Sherlock so much as told me so, after he read the note you put in my pocket.” Sherlock did let him in on some things.
Irene gave a bow. “Guilty as charged.”
John felt a muscle in his jaw twitch. That confirmed it then. It wasn’t a coincidence that Mycroft had mentioned Sherlock’s heart being stolen on the same day he had intended to strip Irene of her powers. Irene was the culprit, the stealer of Sherlock’s heart.
“The thing about spells,” Irene continued, “is that a curse is always broken when the witch or wizard who casts it dies.”
“Oh.” That did explain the murder thing. “Rather trusting of you to live with us then, given the circumstances. If we killed you, we’d both be free.”
John hadn’t meant it as a threat, but it did end up sounding like one.
“What a safe house I’ve chosen,” Irene mused with a smile. “But then again, living with the wizard I cursed is truly the last place anyone would think to look for me. Neat solution, isn’t it?”
“Why did you—curse him?” John asked. He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘steal his heart’ just yet.
“Oh John, I’m sure you think I’m quite the monster. But you see, he hurt my Kate.” At John’s blank expression, Irene clarified, “My fire demon.”
“And why would he have hurt… Kate?” John asked, surprised to learn the fire demon had a name. “There would have been a reason.”
“So confident!” Irene cried. “But of course, you are right. As you know, I have… incriminating materials on the royal family. To retrieve them as a favour for his brother, Sherlock broke into my castle in Belgravia. A fire demon protects and oversees the home, so Sherlock had to use his magic against Kate to get inside, and I retaliated to retrieve my blackmail.” She paused, fiddling with the petal of one flower. “Though, I suppose you could say I went a bit too far with it.”
“What did you do to him?” John asked, sick of vagueries. “And why do I get the impression that it was far worse than anything Sherlock did to Kate?”
“Easy now, temper, temper,” Irene murmured. “And that is a conundrum. Sherlock can’t tell you himself, because he’s cursed to silence. But he wouldn’t want me telling you either.”
“Tell me anyway,” John insisted. “And I swear, if you hurt him—”
“I notice that you seem angrier about the curse I have on him than your own,” Irene pointed out, cutting him off at the knees. “Protective, are we?”
John felt his ears pink up, though he refused to back down. “I’m pissed off about that too, actually, but whatever’s between you and him is different—personal, somehow. I don’t know what else went on, but I can tell you really did a number on him.”
“Oh,” Irene said, eyes widening a fraction. She lifted one finger at him, nail gleaming with red polish. “You’re in love.”
John’s mouth opened, then closed again. “I—”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” Irene said, “but you are. And in such a short amount of time! He’s the one who really did a number on you, I’d say.”
John’s denial was on the tip of his tongue, incredulity already registering on his face, but—even before the words could form, John knew they would be a lie. He had resisted putting a name to this feeling, but once someone else had, he couldn’t dispute it. Or at least, not convincingly.
His righteous anger for Sherlock’s sake simmered. He had initiated this conversation thinking he was doing so in the interest of Sherlock’s happiness, but in the end, John had just wanted answers. And now, he was going to make sure he got them.
“Did you break his heart?” John asked, point blank. “Are you the one who stole it?”
Irene had the gall to laugh. “Oh, you poor man.”
“Your comment about Sherlock not making enough rooms,” John continued, undeterred. “Was it because Sherlock was hoping he wouldn’t be needing to make another?”
“Now you’re thinking,” Irene said, her amusement giving way to intrigue.
John barrelled ahead. “The implication being that I was supposed to take the room downstairs, so you two could... make up.”
“Oh no,” Irene said, voice hushed. “You really are jealous.”
John didn’t bother to deny it.
“And completely off. Hasn’t he told you? Women aren’t really—”
Irene was at once shaken from her precarious position in the windowsill, and anything else she had to say was overpowered by the sudden sound of sirens wailing through their walls, spilling in from Market Chipping.
John rose to his feet. “Air raids,” he said, racing towards the stairs. “And Mrs Hudson is still outside!”
John ran through the courtyard toward the shop front, forgetting about Irene entirely. He met Mrs Hudson in the shop doorway, walking towards him carrying her flowers under her arm.
“Oh John, it’s starting,” she fretted, head tilting up towards the darkening sky. “The warships are on their way. We should get going, I think.”
The rest of Market Chipping was of the same mind; people were flooding into the streets in droves with their pre-packed rucksacks and luggage cases, anyone who hadn’t escaped town by train now forced to leave on foot.
“Come on,” John said, ushering Mrs Hudson back towards the door to the castle. Once they were in the safety of the entrance hall, John steered her towards her room on the first floor. “Mrs Hudson, do me a favour. Take one of your evening soothers, and rest in your room for a little while.”
“With pleasure!” Mrs Hudson said, patting John’s cheek. “Do me a favour though, will you John? Go talk some sense into him.”
After agreeing to try, and ensuring Mrs Hudson had returned to her room, John took the steps up to the second floor two at a time.
Sherlock hadn’t re-emerged, despite the sirens. Irene was still standing by the window, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. The bulldog at her feet whined, his flower crown drooping over his eyes.
“Sherlock!” John called down the hallway. “I know you can hear the sirens! Market Chipping is being bombed, this is not the time to be fussing with your vanity potions!”
At last, the door to the bathroom opened, and Sherlock rejoined them in the living room. His hair had been smoothed back with some kind of oil, his usual curls slicked against his head. John didn’t quite like the look of it.
“Then change the door to the moor, for heaven’s sake!” Sherlock cried. “Though, let me leave, first.”
“Leave? What, right now?” John asked, as the sirens continued over top of their conversation, illustrating the reason for John’s incredulity. “What are you going to do, stop the warships by yourself?”
“Yes, John,” Sherlock replied, as if that were a given. “All of Market Chipping will be destroyed otherwise. Weren’t you the one who said that people were losing their lives, and I could do something to stop it?”
“If Market Chipping gets burned to the ground while the castle is tied to it, there’s no telling what might happen,” Irene contributed, far too relaxed for John’s liking.
“Sherlock,” John said, speaking slowly. “Listen to me. You need to do whatever you did with the Porthaven and Kingsbury doors. You have to untie the castle from Market Chipping.”
“No, I don’t think I will.” With that, Sherlock drew a dark coat John had never seen before over his shoulders. “This is where we’ve started afresh, and I intend to protect it.”
“Sherlock, you’re going to get yourself killed!” Then, attempting to lower his voice, John added, “At least—”
John paused. He’d been about to suggest that Sherlock take him along, even though that would be impossible, and not at all helpful. With each word forced out, John finished, “At least take Irene with you.”
“I’m flattered, John,” Irene teased. “But I’m not interested in risking my life for Market Chipping.”
“Shut up,” John said, and grasped Sherlock by the arm when he began gravitating towards the stairs. “Not so fast. Sherlock, you need help. You can’t just do this alone.”
“Alone is what I have right now,” Sherlock returned, pushing one stray lock of hair back against his head. Then, in a hushed angry voice, “It’s hard to make a home somewhere when the town is on fire .”
“Sherlock, now is not the time be a hero. Everyone’s evacuating, and with any luck no one will be harmed!”
“Unlikely that everyone will get out John, and besides, their homes will be lost, and—I’m not arguing about this any more!” Sherlock at once stopped resisting John’s grip on his arm, and instead took two steps closer.
Irene whistled at them. Sherlock glared at her for less than half a second, before his gaze whipped back on to John. “John, I’m sick of running away. And I have something worth protecting right now.”
“We’ve only had this damn storefront for a few days—” was all John managed in response, before Sherlock’s black coat had turned to wings. Sherlock twisted out of John’s reach and flew down the stairs, and out the castle door below.
“Sherlock, wait!” John ran down the stairs after him, but when he pulled the door back open, the ground shook beneath his feet, sending him careening into the doorframe. “Sherlock!”
If bombs were being dropped close enough that John was knocked off his feet, they were far too close for comfort. To judge by the nose of a warship visible overhead, they were only growing nearer, and Sherlock of course had flown from view.
John’s attention shifted from the sky to the ground, where he spied black ooze around the corner of their courtyard; shortly after, henchmen wearing uniforms ambled towards the castle door on gelatinous legs.
“Yeah, I mean there’s only a war going on,” John said with a shrug. “And bombs falling on us. But, sure, hounding us right now must truly be the best use of your time.”
The henchmen didn’t appreciate his sarcasm, and only continued their advance towards the castle entrance. John closed the door at the last possible moment, just to hear the splat of them against the other side. Using the manual switch, John turned till green was visible in the keyhole. Opening the door onto the moor, the fire in Market Chipping could be seen even from their hill, with the dark oblong warship looming above it.
“There goes another shop, I guess,” John muttered. The living scarecrow was standing still several paces away, looking out over the hill, and in its own way, appeared tense.
Straining his eyes, John could just make out a small black figure in the sky, flying next to the warship. “Dammit Sherlock, you idiot.”
There were metal flaps opened along the bottom of the warship, and John waited with bated breath for another bomb to fall and for Sherlock to do something stupid—namely, get in their way and get himself killed.
But, at once, all the flaps shut closed. It was difficult to determine at a distance, but soon, it appeared as though the warship was being steered away from the town, and no more bombs fell from its underbelly.
It was Sherlock’s magic at work, John assumed, like the other day in the field. With the ship incapacitated, John watched the black dot in the sky over Market Chipping, now no longer flying close to the ship. John wondered if Sherlock was helping the townspeople who hadn’t evacuated, and the idea warmed him.
The warship grew closer, its new course set for the hillside, to the far east, towards—Belgravia. Sherlock’s plan became clear; he was going to sink the ship out in the wastes.
The castle door creaked on its hinges behind him and Irene appeared, stepping over the winding stairs. She was wearing John’s black jacket, with his seven league boots strung over her shoulder.
“Where the hell are you going?” John asked. “And why are you taking my things?”
“It’s raining out,” Irene said, stopping to pop the collar of John’s coat, and to slip the suede boots on over her feet.
“When you leave, will your protection spells go with you?” John asked, walking closer. “The henchmen are still in town at our door. Now isn’t exactly a great time. Are you listening to me?”
Irene abandoned the laces of the boots, and answered him by thrusting her pocketwatch out towards him. It was burning up in her hand, the gold metal turned to a reddish bronze colour.
“Nice watch,” John said. “Did you steal that too?”
Irene groaned. “I forgot, you don’t understand anything. I really have to go now, John.”
“Great!” John cried. “Perfect, now that he has decided to rely on you, now is when you want to get out my hair. Fantastic.”
Irene rolled her eyes. “If you’ve ever consulted a map, you might know that the warship over there is at the moment heading straight towards Belgravia.”
Crossing his arms, “I had noticed that, actually.”
“Then you might also know that there’s nothing there but my castle,” Irene said, her eyes trained on the sky above them. “This is Sherlock’s revenge, I suppose.”
If possible, John’s annoyance with her only increased. “Now hold on, has it not occurred to you that if he sinks the ship in the wastes, no one needs to be hurt?”
“Not if they drop a bomb on my castle first! Look,” she said, opening the pocketwatch. Enclosed within, pressed against the clock face, was one lock of red hair. “As you already know, this watch is my protection, and draws its power from my fire demon. They’re linked, so I also know when she’s in danger. Do you understand? Kate is trapped inside the castle, too weak to go anywhere else, bound to the hearth!”
John followed Irene’s gaze to the sky, where he could see Sherlock circling above Market Chipping, and that the warship was almost past them, its course set towards the east.
John relented. “Go on then. But you’d better give me those boots back when you’re done with them.” Sherlock had made them for him, special, after all.
Irene took her first step, and zipped away. The black figure John knew to be Sherlock was still gliding above the smoke of Market Chipping, but then seemed to grow in size, drawing nearer but not towards the castle—Sherlock was flying after the warship.
Wishing Sherlock had just stayed in Market Chipping, John watched as he approached the warship, and as winged wizard’s henchmen were released from the back of the ship. Sherlock flew high, spinning in a barrel roll, as the dark gargoyle-like creatures chased after him.
“What the hell is he doing?” John yelled, though the only one to hear him was the scarecrow. “He should just fall back if he’s already sent the ship to the wastes!”
But Sherlock persisted towards Belgravia, in the same direction John assumed Irene had gone. Irene, who was wearing the coat and seven league boots that Sherlock had given him. Which meant John had no way of chasing after Sherlock.
While Sherlock was distracted by two of the henchmen, one snuck up behind him and Sherlock hit the side of the warship. John shouted his name, though his voice would never reach him. Sherlock clung to the side of the ship as his form distorted, growing larger in size and darker in plumage. All the henchmen were attacking him now, ramming him into the side of the ship, and perhaps becauses Sherlock was weakened, the flaps along the underbelly of the ship opened once more to drop its bombs.
“They’re going to kill him,” John said, his voice sore from all the shouting, “unless I...” John assessed the scarecrow to his right, recalling its hopping speed. Not fast enough.
Next, his eyes slid to the castle’s metal legs, in their usual position, sticking up in the air.
“I need to go after Sherlock,” John told the scarecrow and, recalling how the castle had been renovated, thought he might just know how he would pull it off. “And I’m going to need directions to the Witch of Belgravia’s castle. You found me this one, didn’t you?”
The scarecrow bounced, which John understood as agreement to help, and took off back to the castle. “Hop up on the side like you always do and direct me!” John shouted over his shoulder. “This castle is going to move again, even if it’s the last thing I do.”
John raced up the stairs, past the barking bulldog, and dove for the fireplace. Not bothering with the poker, John shook the brick at the back till it fell loose, and reached into the space for the jar of dust.
As he drew the jar out past the grate, the castle shook beneath his feet. The tremor was slight, but John was certain that there had been shaking nonetheless.
“That’s a good sign,” John said, his breath coming in short bursts. “I think.”
Only, now that he was staring at the jar, he didn’t know what came next. He crossed the room, and stuck his head out the window to find the scarecrow dutifully pointing towards Belgravia. The warship had continued on its course, too far away now for John to see if Sherlock was still being attacked, or if he had fallen, or if he was already—
“Move!” John yelled, shaking the jar with both hands. “If Sherlock can make up his own spells, then so can I! Move the damn castle!”
The castle lurched, and John laughed once, in disbelief. “Yeah, that’s right. I’m going to need a bit more than that though. Come on, move! Take me to Sherlock, you shoddy jar!”
A zing ran through his body, hot and exciting. It was like taking his first step in the seven league boots. John’s hands were warm where they held the jar, and at once the dust within, and John’s old clump of hair, started to glow silver in the low light.
“Yes!” John shouted, near breathless with relief. “Whatever the hell that was! More of it! Move!”
John began to feel like he was running a fever, but the castle’s legs outside fell down to the grassy moor with a soft thud. Breathing erratic and body burning up, with all his will power John gripped the jar and begged the legs to extend, to push themselves up, to walk—
And, so they did.
John kept his head out the window as they took their first step, and then another, on long, iron, bird-like feet. The scarecrow twisted its arms, helping guide him across the uneven ground, and John yelled out instructions to the legs, attempting to avoid the many hills and dips along their way.
When John thought, faster, we have to go faster, the jar in his hands only shone brighter, and faster they went.
The transition from the hillsides of Market Chipping to Belgravia was a smooth one, as patches of grass and bush grew fewer and far between, till everything around them was wasteland. Nothing was able to grow in Belgravia, the whole area a dark and barren place. As a result, the Witch of Belgravia’s castle, a small well to-do looking townhouse with gleaming white pillars, was spotted without difficulty from many leagues away.
With the castle’s legs racing towards Belgravia at top speed, John could at last see the warship again, though it wasn’t a pleasant sight. More henchmen had come, and were assaulting the large black creature that Sherlock had become, who was still hugging the side of the warship.
Helpless, John watched as Sherlock was assaulted from all sides, his immense size no match for their numbers. A swarm of them formed and bombarded him till his hold on the ship must have been lost, as shortly after the large black form plummeted from the sky.
Through the rushing wind, John heard his own voice shouting Sherlock’s name, futile as it was. The descent was painful to watch in its inevitability, and when Sherlock hit the ground, the impact formed a crater.
And then, a small figure wearing a black coat appeared by the lip of it.
“Hurry up!” John shouted, pushing the castle to its brink.
When they were at last close enough, the scarecrow jumped down off the side, and John ran down the stairs after it. Too worried for Sherlock, John hardly noticed when the castle came to a complete stop once he was out the door.
Irene was waiting for him when he reached the indent in the wastes. She was looking between him and the warship, which was on its own descent from the sky.
“He mistook me for you, the fool,” was all she said when he approached. “He must be able to sense the boots.”
John brushed past her, sliding down the sides of the crater. In the center was a mound of feathers and scales, and John hoped that the slight movement he saw was breathing.
“The warship is still sinking, and I need to make sure it doesn’t hit my castle,” Irene called after him.
John didn’t turn back. His attention was fixed elsewhere. “Sherlock,” John said, once he had reached the bottom of the crater, “Sherlock, can you hear me? I know you’re in there somewhere.”
When John reached out to touch, Sherlock’s body began to slowly shrink in size, till he returned to the creature John was more familiar with seeing in the evening by the fire, though his face had never been so obscured by feathers. There were no further signs of life, or any further humanness returned.
John attempted to feel for his pulse, but when the scales beneath prevented him from finding a blood vessel, John began the arduous task of dragging Sherlock back to the castle. He hooked both arms beneath Sherlock’s armpits, Sherlock’s wings dragging in the dirt. Irene at least had the decency to have hung up his boots and his jacket on the scarecrow’s arms when she’d left, and the scarecrow tipped itself down till John’s jacket fell over his shoulders, protecting him from the rain.
John was panting by the time he got Sherlock through the door and, for what felt like the millionth time that day, he had no idea what he was going to do next. With the living scarecrow hopping outside, and the dog barking from the top of the steps, John made a split second decision. He closed the door to the castle, and using the manual switch at the door, turned it till the wheel upstairs chimed on black.
John pulled Sherlock’s unconscious form back outside, and into the field of never-ending flowers. John only knew one spell where the caster could make up any verse they chose, and he figured they were near enough to a marsh to try for it.
“Maybe I can catch a star this time,” John told Sherlock, who continued to be more bundle of feathers and scales than man. “And I’ll make the second verse that you come back to yourself, you git.”
But much like that afternoon spent with Archie in the marsh near Market Chipping, no star came. There didn’t even seem to be any in the sky.
John couldn’t say how much time passed, but eventually he felt the ground shake, and to the east, the sky turned orange and black with smoke. The field was not so far from the wastes of Belgravia after all, and that must have been the warship crashing. A wind blew towards them shortly after, ruffling Sherlock’s feathers.
“A wind to advance an honest mind,” John recalled, “and a falling star. But where’s a bloody star when you need one?”
Forcing down the panic welling up inside of him, John pushed and pulled till he had Sherlock up in a sitting position. John kneeled down on one knee, and brushed the feathers covering Sherlock’s entire head back and off his face. His efforts eventually revealed Sherlock underneath, though the stoniness of Sherlock’s usually animated face unsettled John more than the bird-like features.
“Sherlock,” John said, and if his voice cracked, at least no one was there to hear it. “You can’t forget who you are. Are you listening to me? You’re not—whatever this is. You’re the most human—human being—I’ve ever met, and I am begging you to wake up and remember it.”
When Sherlock’s expression remained impassive, still as rock, John let loose a sound not unlike a sob. “Sherlock,” he pleaded, one more time. And then, in a fit of desperation, John grasped Sherlock’s cheeks in both hands and kissed his forehead.
John drew away immediately afterward, doubtful of whether Sherlock would appreciate being kissed while he was a catatonic bird creature.
But—where his lips had pressed, the toughened skin retreated, revealing Sherlock’s paleness beneath it. The feathers peeled back like a lizard shedding its skin, and soon, Sherlock’s entire face was visible without John needing to hold back feathers like unruly hair.
Something about the contact had worked, but the progression didn’t continue, and Sherlock’s open eyes were still lifeless. Clearly more needed to be done to encourage the transformation, and after a moment of deliberation, John decided he was willing to risk Sherlock’s censure if it could save him.
John kissed Sherlock’s bare forehead once more, and then when nothing happened, kissed his cheeks as well for good measure. Sherlock’s mouth was also uncovered, and John was familiar with enough fairy tales to wonder if perhaps he needed to kiss there too. With great care, reminding himself that this was to wake Sherlock up and nothing more, John leaned in, and pressed a soft kiss to his lips.
It was the lightest of touches, but Sherlock toppled over all the same, taking John down with him.
Sherlock’s eyelids fluttered, and then his hands reached out to clutch John by the face. Sherlock pulled till John’s lips met his again, though this time it was open-mouthed, and uncoordinated. When Sherlock released him, the first thing he said was, “John.”
Starting from his head and continuing down his body, Sherlock became a man once more, his wings retracting, his arms returning, and his legs extending, till they ended in shoe leather. John somehow managed to stay hovering over Sherlock throughout, and when the transformation was complete, Sherlock wrapped himself around John and drew him back in for another long, deep kiss. John let himself be kissed, and even had the wherewithal to kiss back, too shocked to do anything but respond with the full force of all his pent up feeling.
Then, Sherlock’s head fell back onto the grass with a soft thud, his eyes shining in the low light as his deep voice rumbled, “John, my John. You remember.”
Overwhelmed by the affection in Sherlock’s voice and from just being kissed within an inch of his life, John took some time to process Sherlock’s phrasing. “Sorry, remember what?”
Sherlock’s face fell at once, and his arms dropped away, relinquishing their viselike grip on John’s torso. His expression was so devastated that John felt like he must have just made the gravest error of his life.
“But — you kissed me.”
“Yes,” John said, slowly. “Sorry if that’s not — ”
“You kissed me,” Sherlock repeated, his eyes shutting tight. “Why would you kiss me if you don’t remember?”
John, thinking he couldn’t make things any worse, blurted, “I think I’m in love with you.”
Sherlock’s eyes snapped open. John focused on breathing. “Let me try that again. I know that I love you. Is that a problem?”
“No, it’s not a problem!” Sherlock cried out, and to John’s continued confusion, sounded more frustrated than elated. “I love you more than my own soul!”
“Oh,” John said, dumbfounded. With wizards, that statement was likely not hyperbole.
John realized he was still leaning over Sherlock, and sat up, offering Sherlock a hand up off the ground. Several seconds later, John thought to ask, “For how long have you...?”
Sherlock sighed, and if they both loved each other, John didn’t understand why Sherlock looked so much like a man spurned.
“Approximately thirty years,” Sherlock replied. “You always asked for approximations rather than the exact, which I am inclined to prefer as well because the days aren’t exact enough and neither are the minutes, and once you get into seconds, one must consider the milliseconds—”
“Sherlock,” John said. “What do you mean ‘thirty years’?”
Sherlock blew air out his nose noisily. “I mean that our thirtieth anniversary is almost here!”
Then, Sherlock gasped, appearing almost as shocked as John felt. “I can speak about it! I’ve been waiting for you to remember for so long, but with the curse, I haven’t been able to speak about it before, but suddenly, I can—You must have broken part of the curse when you—but how—”
“I don’t understand,” John interrupted, still held up on the thirty years part.
Sherlock laughed once, the sound of it choked off at the end. “I would call you a silly man, only you’re not a man at all.” Sherlock paused, motioning to the dark sky above them. “You’re a star.”
John blinked. “A star.”
Sherlock nodded, and John shifted from his knees to sit down on the grass, shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock. “Okay. Explain.”
“As a child,” Sherlock began, “I caught you one night on this very marsh, and swallowed you whole. I knew a spell about stars, and I used the second verse to keep you alive. We made a contract. Now, most would know you as a fire demon.”
“Fire demons are stars?” John attempted to connect the two separate concepts in his mind, and then apply them to himself. That last part was trickier than the first.
“You and Irene both have fire demons,” John managed, piecing it together. He supposed they had everything else in common, so why not that too?
“Well, I used to,” Sherlock said, eyes on John. “Irene cursed me, ‘to do to me what I had done to her’ , or so the spell went. I imagine she intended only to weaken you, like I had done to Kate, but the spell was so strong it took you away from me entirely.”
Sherlock paused, his head lowered as he tugged at a flower growing between them by its stem. When Sherlock spoke again, his voice was hushed. “You forgot all about me, and the life we had lived together. Her henchmen came for you, gave you false memories. By the time I had any inkling of what had happened, you had already left the castle, and wandered into the nearest town.”
“False memories,” John said, parroting Sherlock’s words back to him for the third time. “You’re saying my entire life of memories—none of them are real?”
Sherlock twisted towards him then, and reached out for his arms, holding onto him fast. “Think, John. They don’t have the clarity or depth of real memories, do they? If you peel at the surface of them, what do you find underneath?”
John thought, and thought, and found that Sherlock was right, as he often was. John had never tested the edges of his memory; with a past that melancholy, it had been easier to push it from his mind. But now, after even a brief digging, the shroud was pulled back to reveal the shallowness of his own personal history.
Where had he been born? Where had he grown up? How had his parents and sister died? What did they even look like? How had he returned from overseas? He’d just stumbled into Market Chipping with a coin purse and the clothes on his back. How had he gotten there? He couldn’t—remember. He couldn’t remember any of it.
“Why did I think I was a healer?” John asked, picking through the haze in his mind. “More importantly, how was I even able to work as one?”
“You studied the healing arts,” Sherlock said, still gripping his arms. “When we were younger, you were horrified by how easily humans could be harmed. You always used to patch me up.”
When John refocused on Sherlock, he was wearing a soft smile, though his eyes were wet.
“I thought Market Chipping would have to be our new place,” Sherlock said, as they sat together in what must have been their old place. “I didn’t know if we could just start over, but then you—you kicked down my castle door and—”
John kissed him then, and Sherlock’s mouth opened under his, even as a tremor wracked through his body. Sherlock was shaking in his arms, and when John drew back, there were tear tracks on his cheeks. “You still don’t remember,” Sherlock said, voice wavering. “But you—you still—”
John ran a thumb beneath one eye, still unbelieving, but beginning to.
“I love you,” John confirmed. “I don’t need memories for that. I get the feeling that there’s just no other way, for me.” John huffed a laugh at the truth of it. “I’d love you in any universe, whether I’m a man or a star, or apparently, a demon.”
Sherlock choked back a sob, and he shifted forward till he clung to John’s neck. John rubbed his back, fighting back his own tears, and thought he understood now why he had been able to move the castle. That must have been his job once. John wondered if he’d even needed the jar.
“What’s in the jar from the fireplace?” John asked, his palm still rubbing a small circle on Sherlock’s back. “When I touched it to move the castle, it looked just like starlight.”
Sherlock pulled back from where he had been buried in the crook of John’s neck and smiled, though it seemed to pain him.
“It’s you, John. Rather, it’s dust, collected after you left. Your skin particles were enough of you to hold the castle together, for a little while. Adding your hair to it when you first arrived helped.”
John remembered the night he had stormed into Sherlock’s castle, supposing this explained why Mrs Hudson hadn’t beaten him with her broom. “You didn’t tell me then, about all of this. Because you couldn’t,” John said.
“Yes. Most curses have the silence clause.”
“I can’t believe it,” John murmured. “All this time, you were the one who was cursed, not me.”
“Ye-s,” Sherlock said, drawing out the word. “Though, while the curse was intended for me, you were affected quite a lot by proxy.”
John couldn’t help but laugh at that.
“What?” Sherlock asked.
“Nothing, just—Sherlock Holmes being cursed means John Watson is cursed. Of course.”
Sherlock’s smile grew, then wavered. “But if I can speak of my curse now, why can’t you remember? Why isn’t it fully broken?”
“I don’t even know why the curse was broken at all, in any part. All I did was kiss you. How do I get my memories back? Now that I know they’re missing, I’d quite like them returned to me.”
“Well, killing Irene is always on the table,” Sherlock said, and John laughed.
“We’re not killing Irene.”
“Suit yourself,” Sherlock muttered, and John was still laughing, sitting in a field, in the middle of the night. The same sort of night Sherlock would have caught him on, when they first met, which he would very much like to remember.
“What was Irene’s curse, exactly? You said that it did what you did to her, meaning harm your fire demon.” When Sherlock nodded, John forged ahead. “What if I wasn’t your fire demon any more? Or at least, not in the same way Kate is hers. You said you swallowed me, and made a contract with me. What did you offer me as part of the contract?”
Thinking of the experiments in Sherlock’s mixing bowls, and his brother’s words, John thought he knew the answer already.
Sherlock confirmed it by answering, “I gave you my heart, of course.”
“Do I—” John breathed out. “Do I still have it?”
Sherlock laid his hand over John’s chest, over his long healed scar, and whispered, “Yes. You do.”
“That’s what’s been aching in me,” John said, in realization, as his own heart broke for Sherlock’s. “What made me think I was cursed.”
Sherlock only nodded, hand still resting against John’s chest.
“It’s time to break our contract,” John said, and held Sherlock’s hand in place over his scar.
When Sherlock understood what John intended, he stiffened, his hand jerking back. “John, no! Our contract was forged to keep you alive. If you remove my heart, there is no telling what could happen!”
“Then cast another spell,” John insisted. “There was a wind earlier that has definitely advanced my mind, whether you consider it honest or not. And I count for the falling star part too, don’t I?”
“It doesn’t work like that!”
But John was determined. “Just say the words. I’m sure you’ll make up a lovely second verse,” John said, deciding to do the dirty work himself. Somehow, John found that he knew how.
John reached into himself, hand passing through his skin and bone like his body was nothing but a pool of water. Sherlock began to frantically murmur the spell, while gripping John by the arms, face contorted with worry.
Trusting that Sherlock would handle the magic part, John grabbed hold of the soft aching thing that beat in his chest, and pulled.
For all the trouble it had given him, it was smaller than John would have expected, more like a child’s heart than a grown man’s. Cupping it in his palms, John felt like he was holding a baby bird, recently fallen from its nest, that he would now be returning to its home.
“Well, I’m not dead,” John observed.
“Yes, John, I had noticed,” Sherlock snapped, though he appeared relieved all the same.
“And I think it’s long past time for me to return this to you.”
“But, it’s yours,” Sherlock protested, voice very near to a whine.
“That’s a metaphor, Sherlock,” John said, with great patience. “Your heart should not actually be physically outside of your body.”
John leaned over, and Sherlock held still as John lay Sherlock’s heart against the left side of his chest. As John’s hands pushed, and the heart slid back into place, Sherlock’s small heart grew in size. Though, perhaps more astonishing, was that when the heart was fully seated back in Sherlock’s chest, John remembered.
It seemed to John that the memories had always been there. The paths to reach them had been severed, but newly rebuilt, and John found them again with ease. All the bits and pieces, the details and the general, formed a larger picture in his mind, and instead of being overwhelming, John found it was all only comforting.
There was a little boy with curling black hair running out from a small cottage, and other stars falling, and sizzling into nothing in a pond. There was being caught, and the boy whispering those magic words, as a wind blew in from the east. He survived by consuming the boy’s heart, and lived in the small fireplace in the cottage, till he learned to take on a human form. There was choosing his name from the most common names in all of Ingary, wishing to blend in, and Sherlock scoffing; he’d always abhorred boring names. And, there was Sherlock deciding he wanted a castle, a moving castle, and John never denying him anything.
“Ow,” Sherlock moaned. John’s attention returned to the present, where he found Sherlock lying flat on his back in the grass.
“John, what is this abominable weight on my chest,” Sherlock complained, barely able to sit up.
John smiled. “A heart’s a heavy burden.”
Sherlock groaned pitifully, so John leaned over and kissed him, knowing he had done so a thousand times before.
“Sherlock,” John said against his lips, “Sherlock, I remember.”
John didn’t know how long they talked, whether it was minutes or hours spent reminiscing on old times, comparing their shared memories. Sherlock became fixated on confirming that John’s memory had in fact been returned in full, which he did by testing John on all manner of trivia that only John could know. Under other circumstances, John might have complained about the long drilling, but of course he was eager to remember it all, even more eager still for his reward, as Sherlock gave him a kiss every time he was right.
Once their clothes were damp from the dewy grass and the chill of the night had set in, they returned to the castle with flushed cheeks and reddened lips.
At the sound of the door, Mrs Hudson poked her head out of her room down the landing, appearing to be quite soothed. “Oh, good,” she said when they came out past the foyer. “John, you talked some sense into him after all.”
“Mrs Hudson!” John called out, jogging down the hallway to her. “I have my old memories again!”
“Oh, thank goodness!” she cried, beaming at Sherlock over John’s shoulder, and with a whisper to John, “You have no idea how hard it’s been on him, and now that the castle can finally start moving again—”
Sherlock cleared his throat loudly, and began to make his way up the stairs, without waiting for John.
“I’m just going to go on up after him,” John said, already drawing away, as he was reluctant to let Sherlock out of his sight.
“You do that dear,” Mrs Hudson said with a giggle. “I promise not to come up for a bit.”
Even though they had been together for almost John’s entire life—now that he could actually remember it!—John still found himself embarrassed by Mrs Hudson’s insinuation, though mostly because John hoped she was right.
However, John’s plan to continue kissing Sherlock senseless was thwarted when he reached the top of the stairs and found the Royal Wizard and a grey-haired man he had never seen before occupying their living room.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Sherlock asked, voicing John’s exact thoughts.
“Gladstone called me,” Mycroft said. Sherlock and John both looked towards the stranger in the room, who was wearing a long coat, and a bright smile.
“Not me,” the man said. “My name’s Greg.”
“Gladstone is the dog,” Mycroft clarified.
“Oh,” John said, looking down at the bulldog, who was still wearing his flower crown and panting on their rug. “I guess we never gave him a name.”
“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here, Mycroft,” Sherlock pointed out, walking to the window to pick up the jar of dust from where John had left it, and storing it on a nearby shelf.
“I’ve come to collect the Captain of the Queen’s guard,” Mycroft said, motioning to the man self-identified as Greg. “As luck would have it, the wizard who cursed him was aboard the warship you just crashed into the wastes. As they are now dead, he is freed of his curse.”
“And I can’t say I’m sorry for it!” Greg said, and came over to clap John on the back. “Thanks John, for everything. Helping you out was the only entertainment I had for the longest time. I see the curse you two were dealing with has also been sorted out now, eh?”
John stared into his smiling face, and realized why his coat was familiar. “The living scarecrow? With the turnip head?”
In comparison to his entire human life being fabricated, the Captain of the Queen’s guard helping them hang out the laundry for the past month was nothing.
Greg inclined his head. “The one and only, though I can’t tell you how happy I am to not be any more!”
Sherlock leaned against the fireplace mantle, glaring daggers at his brother. “I suppose now with your Captain returned, your war can go on as planned, Mycroft.”
“As a matter of fact little brother, I believe Ingary’s image will be strengthened by the return of our Captain, and the destruction of the enemy’s ship. Perhaps one of my peace treaties will finally pass through.”
“Does this mean I can be pardoned?” Sherlock asked. “No more soldiers knocking on my door? I did return their leader.”
“Fine,” Mycroft said, though it seemed to grieve him. “And of course, now that your heart’s back in your chest, the henchmen won’t be after you any more. You can even have your old Kingsbury door back, if you like.”
“Excellent,” Sherlock said, clapping his hands together. “Archie will be delighted to learn we have a dog now.”
“Gladstone is my dog, Sherlock,” Mycroft said. “Might I have him back now, please?”
“Hmm, no,” Sherlock replied, his mouth round on the “o” as he bent down onto one knee to rub Gladstone’s ears. When John shot him a look, Sherlock relented with a pout. “Fine! You may have him for awhile again, if you must. But he likes being with us more, so you’d better give him back.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes, and motioned for Greg to pick up the dog. “Thank you so much for allowing me to have visitation rights with my own dog Sherlock, truly generous of you.”
“Yes, yes, you can knight me later,” Sherlock said, standing up from his crouch with a wave of his hand. “Now, can you both please leave my castle? John and I were going to have sex now.”
“ Really , Sherlock—”
“Right here in front of the fireplace I should think, and then after—”
The second “ Really , Sherlock” was even more scandalized than the first, if possible, and then Mycroft was down the castle stairs faster than John had ever seen him move. Greg waved at them as he followed suit, carrying the dog in his arms, though not without first winking in John’s direction.
The castle door slammed closed downstairs, and Sherlock turned to face the fireplace, leaning over its mantle once more. All of Sherlock’s earlier cavalier bluster about their sex life seemed to vanish, leaving only the nervous line of Sherlock’s back, and a quick glance at John over his shoulder.
“Um,” Sherlock began, blinking. “John, I should tell you that I only meant to annoy Mycroft, I didn’t mean to be—presumptuous, if you don’t—”
John closed the door to their floor, the first time it had ever been closed, and locked it. “Be as presumptuous as you like. I don’t mind.”
Sherlock stole another backward glance at John, but didn’t move from his spot in front of the fireplace. John crossed their living room, and reached out to rest his palm against Sherlock’s back, just like the one night Sherlock had slept in his bed.
“Come here,” John said, and Sherlock turned on a dime, wrapping his long arms around John and holding on tight. Sherlock’s coat had returned to its usual pink and grey pattern, and John rested his face against the collar’s yellow piping with a sigh, the memories of their life together still racing through his mind. With Sherlock’s head bent, John couldn’t resist running his hands through his hair, any sign of the earlier oil long gone.
“You used to wear it so severe when you were younger,” John said, still amazed that he could remember that, and more besides.
“Oh, Mycroft liked all his apprentices to have a tidy appearance,” Sherlock murmured. “I used to idolize him then, the twat. But you always told me you prefered it natural.”
“I haven’t changed my mind, there,” John said, running his fingers through the curled ends, and brushing the deep sweep from his forehead. “Though I wouldn’t mind it if you went ginger.”
Sherlock groaned, not at all amused, but didn’t pull away. Instead, when John only laughed and continued to touch his hair, Sherlock’s grip tightened till they were pressed front to front.
“I missed you.” Sherlock spoke into John’s shoulder, his voice muffled.
“I’ve been right here,” John returned, though he knew what Sherlock meant. “I missed you too, before I even knew you existed. But then, there you were.”
Sherlock choked on a laugh, pressed into John’s neck. “I didn’t know how to break the curse, and I didn’t know how to face you when you didn’t remember me. The soldiers getting into a row with you forced my hand.”
“What,” John said, tone teasing, “would you have just followed me around, not introducing yourself, forever?”
Sherlock drew back, and the fierceness of his expression suggested he had not appreciated being teased. “What was I to do? No spell I tried worked, and even after we met you didn’t remember, just as I’d feared. I convinced myself that it would have to be enough if you never did. That it would be all right if we could start all over, even if it was just as friends.”
John swallowed, feeling the significance of everything Sherlock had suffered, and all that Sherlock had been forced to contemplate. “That was never going to happen,” John said, rueful. “The ‘just friends’ bit, I mean. Seeing as I wanted you from the moment I first saw you in Market Chipping.”
Sherlock’s face crumpled, his earlier intensity transforming into soft, desperate openness. In a broken voice, he said, “Oh, John —” and then John was being pulled into a frantic kiss, Sherlock’s hands grasping his face as he attempted to give back as good as he got. Open-mouthed and breathless, with hands roaming and touching wherever they could, none of their earlier kisses on the marsh had been quite like this.
Then, as if his legs had given out beneath him, Sherlock fell to his knees in front of John and wrapped his arms around John’s waist.
“I love you,” Sherlock whispered into his stomach. “I love you, I love you—”
John’s hand sunk back into Sherlock’s hair, petting him, and whispering those words back, attempting to soothe. Sherlock’s declarations were a continuous stream, growing in fervency, as his arms tightened around John’s middle till John could hardly breathe.
When Sherlock pulled back, it was to fumble at John’s belt with shaking fingers.
“Sherlock,” John gasped, wrecked before Sherlock had even begun.
Even though John knew all they had shared before, he was still the same man who had stumbled into a castle unawares, and who still couldn’t believe that Sherlock would follow through on his bold claims—that he wanted John, right there on their living room floor, in front of the fireplace.
And so, John was more than capable of being somewhat surprised when his trousers and pants were slipped down his hips, and was made especially so when Sherlock peppered him with kisses where groin met thigh, when Sherlock leaned his forehead against John’s pelvic bone, and when he breathed John in.
“You used to stay in the hearth in my cottage,” Sherlock said, head turning towards the fireplace, his hair tickling John’s thigh. “A star that always burned brightest. You were small then, just a flickering flame, but so firey. Not much changed when you developed your human form.”
John let the jibe about his size slide with a quiet laugh, hand resting on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I’m glad I got a human form, all the same. I don’t think you’d be able to do this with an actual fire.”
“No,” Sherlock murmured, rubbing his cheek against John’s upper thigh. “I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
John should have been expecting it, but was caught off guard all the same when Sherlock took him into his mouth, starting at the head and working down inch by inch, his lips stretching wide, and his eyes shuttering closed in concentration. John had only been half-hard when Sherlock started, but was fully erect by the time Sherlock had slid down his entire length, till his nose touched John’s skin once more.
Sherlock held John there and paused, his grip on John’s hips almost desperate in its firmness. Sherlock was acting like he couldn’t help himself; like he had waited too long to mess about with foreplay; like he needed John in his mouth right then, no matter what, even if it was just to feel him again.
When Sherlock drew off only to swallow him back down, John moaned, unabashed. Sherlock demonstrated that he knew John inside and out; he knew it drove John mad when he dragged his tongue along his glans, when he took all of John into his mouth and swallowed around the head of his cock, how John liked one of his large hands to cup and hold his balls up, knew how he loved to feel one finger press against his perineum—and soon, it was all far too much.
“Sherlock, Sherlock.” With his hands still running through Sherlock’s hair, unable to stop, John gasped, “I can’t keep standing , my legs are going to give out — ”
Without further ado, Sherlock pulled back with a satisfied sound, and pushed on John’s hips, guiding John backward. The back of John’s legs found his armchair, which he sank into with relief. Sherlock crawled after him, and pounced on John again once he’d sat down, not letting him have even a second to gather himself.
Sherlock held the base of John’s cock in his hand, but rather than taking him into his mouth right away, he licked from root to tip, tonguing harder at the head. John’s legs spread wide, offering himself entirely to Sherlock’s slow attentions. When the teasing licks only continued, John looked down to see that wicked smile, and in a low, broken voice chided, “Sherlock, please.”
“Is this not what you like?” Sherlock asked, his expression the picture of false innocence.
“You know perfectly well what I like,” John muttered, though he was glad Sherlock’s earlier, almost alarming desperation had calmed to the confident teasing he saw before him.
“Perhaps I’ve forgotten,” Sherlock said, and words that would have only hours ago smarted, now were made glib and amusing. “Maybe I need you to—direct me?”
John didn’t need any more encouragement than that; he tipped Sherlock’s chin up with one finger, leading him back where John wanted him, and where Sherlock wanted to be taken. When Sherlock took him into his mouth once more, John knew just how Sherlock wanted him to hold his head in his hands, rubbing his thumbs against his temples, and how Sherlock wanted him to thrust his hips up, dragging his cock along the flat of Sherlock’s tongue. Sherlock groaned around him, and let John tug and hold and push into him. John also knew to position his leg just so, sliding it in between Sherlock’s kneeling thighs, and against the hardness he found there.
Sherlock’s front plastered to his leg the moment it was offered, his moaning increasing and his head no longer passive in John’s hands. He drew John in, hollowing his cheeks, till John could only focus on chasing that heat, and allowing himself to be swallowed further down, as Sherlock’s throat worked his cock with the ease of the experienced.
There were stars beneath his eyelids when he came, a thought that almost made John laugh. When John returned to himself, Sherlock was still pressed against his leg, hard and wanting, his mouth back to John’s groin, nosing along his skin. In this one instance, he was patience personified, clutching John but holding quite still despite the state he must have been in.
John shifted forward in his chair, and Sherlock released him, sitting back on his heels. With his flushed cheeks and averted eyes, John thought Sherlock might also be experiencing the strangeness of this being familiar and yet new. His uncharacteristic shyness suggested embarrassment, or at least, the inability to ask John to touch him outright.
John lifted his foot, and pressed against Sherlock’s shoulder till he tipped back over onto the floor with a cry. Their roles now reversed, John slipped down from his chair and crawled across the floor to his conquest. Rather than attempt to sit back up, Sherlock stayed where he was, his pastel coat fanning out around him. “Beautiful,” John said, and Sherlock pulled him down.
John followed through on his earlier intention to kiss Sherlock senseless, while his hand drifted down to cup Sherlock through his clothes. When Sherlock whimpered into their kiss, John assumed he had moved in the right direction.
Except, when he tried to reach for Sherlock’s fly, Sherlock’s hand reached out to clamp down hard on his wrist, keeping John’s hand firmly where it was. John froze, not sure whether to go slower, or stop entirely. His confusion was cleared up not a moment later when Sherlock pressed the palm of John’s hand down right as he shifted his hips just slightly. John remembered, and got the picture.
John rubbed the heel of his hand down the hard length, and then with his fingers, stroked just the tip he could feel even through Sherlock’s trousers.
“Oh,” John said, kissing down his neck. “You want to come like this, don’t you? Sucking me off always got you so worked up, didn’t it? And now you want it like this, rutting up against my hand, with your fancy clothes all still on — ”
Sherlock’s answer was to moan without any reserve, while rocking up into John’s hand, his hips moving in tight circles. “Don’t be shy,” John encouraged, and Sherlock’s thrusts lost any of their control as he grinded up against the friction John offered.
When John nipped at his ear, and rubbed with particular ruthlessness along the hard line of his cock, Sherlock cried out, and shuddered in his arms. John could feel the growing wetness even through the layers of clothes, pleased as punch, and kissed Sherlock through his final tremors, his arms bracketing Sherlock’s flushed face.
One more kiss, and then John laid down on his side next to Sherlock on the floor. John watched Sherlock’s chest heave, waiting for him to get his breath back.
“So,” John said, licking the corner of his lip and leaning on his hand. “Swallow many stars, do you?”
Sherlock’s head whipped towards him, mouth falling open. When Sherlock saw John’s smile, he hit him in the arm, hard. “John!”
But he was laughing, and John was too, so John counted it as a win.
John didn’t feel like getting up just yet and Sherlock didn’t seem inclined to either, so they stayed there, holding hands and lying on their backs by the fireplace, the same hearth that had once been John’s home. John was glad to have found his home again, even if he hadn’t realized he’d found it at the time.
“I think we might just live happily ever after,” John said, peering at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye.
“A happy ending?” Sherlock asked, leaning up on his arm with a flirty smile. “I think I just had one.”
And this time, it was John’s turn to punch him in the arm.
“But, speaking of happy endings,” John continued, lacing their fingers back together and attempting to be serious. “I was thinking I could move the castle again, like Mrs Hudson mentioned. You know, like I used to.”
“You needn’t bother, John.”
“But I insist.”
“Well, in that case,” Sherlock said, kissing John just beneath his right ear, “what are your thoughts on flying?”
And as always, John could deny Sherlock nothing.
and fin! thanks everyone who stuck around for the weekly updates, hope you enjoyed howlock as much I enjoyed writing it<3 and now that the twist is out in the open, I am finally allowed to speak !!!!! in the comments !!!!
As a side note, originally I had this end more like [gossip girl voice] spotted: lonely boy seen locking lips with angry short demon man on deck- but, this is better, anyway I just wanted you to know Sherlock is wearing the pink tunic ensemble in my mind. Thanks for coming out to talk my ted.