As John came to, he decided he had just about had it with being kidnapped. Honestly. Was there a ‘frequent kidnappee’ card he should look into getting? Because at this rate, he was pretty sure he’d only need one or two more punches to win a free toaster.
Which, come to that, would be rather handy, as he thought he’d seen charred human ribs sticking out of the one in 221B. It didn’t bode well for his future breakfasts.
Actually, living with Sherlock Holmes generally seemed to bode ill for John’s future breakfasts. Possibly lunches and dinners as well, but it seemed a bit early to be entirely sure.
If he got out by dinner time, he’d ask if Sherlock knew an Indian restaurant owner who owed him favours. He could murder a vindaloo.
At that point, he started giggling, the sounds partially muffled by the black hood covering his head.
“My dear sir, is he quite alright?” he heard a voice ask, alarmed. Male, British, posh accent... oh god, not another one.
John felt a hand on his neck checking his pulse. “I assure you, he remains entirely well. Pulse strong and steady.”
“Since he is finally awake, we should get on with this,” said a third voice. Their words were as clear and precisely enunciated as the other two, but the voice itself had a strange... vagueness to it.
Three posh kidnappers, then. Was the whole of Oxbridge out to get him?
The hood was yanked matter-of-factly off his head. John blinked rapidly, his eyes watering a bit, as he adjusted to the sudden influx of light.
“Bloody hell, I’ve been kidnapped by the cast of Upstairs, Downstairs.”
The entire room, in fact, looked like a theatrical set or a museum, complete with flickering gas lamps. John rolled his neck from side to side and up and down, doing his best to look like he was just working the kinks out while surreptitiously checking that there wasn’t a live studio audience behind him.
The men… and there were four, actually, ta, were all dressed like something out of Charles Dickens, all waistcoats and mustaches. They were all tall and well-built, attractive, and carried themselves with confidence. They didn’t look like brothers, exactly… cousins, maybe, but there was a certain indefinable similarity to them.
And he’d thought Sherlock’s brother was posh.
John bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing again, because really. “Sorry, sorry… it’s just been one of those weeks. And this puts a cap on it. Let me guess, this is about Sherlock Holmes?” Because nothing ever happened to John Watson, but John’s new flatmate was the whirling centre of a storm.
“We’d like to start by giving you our assurances that we mean you no harm,” said the youngest and tallest. John mentally dubbed him Number One.
“We simply need to talk to you,” added the man, slightly shorter and the friendliest looking, now tagged Number Two.
“It’s about Holmes, yes. But primarily it concerns you, Captain John Watson,” said Three, who continued to defy John’s efforts to get a better look at him. Maybe it was the gas lighting, but… it was as though John could get a sense of him, but even looking directly at him John would have been hard-pressed to describe the shape of his nose or colour of his eyes. “Do we have your word as an officer and a gentlemen that if we untie you, you will remain here until our talk has concluded?”
“We give you ours we will release you, unharmed, at the end of it, and that you will be the better from having met with us,” said Two.
Four said something in Russian. It sounded friendly.
John took a deep breath. It was ridiculous -- all of this was ridiculous -- but his instincts told him the men could be trusted. Because strange as it was, they all seemed vaguely familiar, like distant relatives he hadn’t met since childhood. Even the Russian one.
And it would get him untied.
“Sure. Yeah. Cheers.”
They made short work of the ropes binding his chest, legs, and arms, leaving John rubbing his wrists and ankles to encourage circulation. He hadn’t been tightly bound, but he had been securely bound. “So it’s about me. And Sherlock. And you’re… more concerned parties? I’ve already had Mycroft Holmes attempt to bribe me and police officers warn me away.”
The men looked at each other, clearly surprised. “You’ve actually met Mycroft Holmes?” said One. “Already?”
“Sherlock’s older brother? Secretly runs the government, questionable interpersonal skills? Yeah.”
They looked at each other again. “Well, it’s always different…” said Three.
“Oh, for… all the… look can you just tell me what’s going on? I’ve had enough of the cloak-and-brolly.”
Three sighed. “I apologise, you’re quite right. John, if you would be so good as to fetch the brandy?”
John looked, confused, as One, who was apparently also named John, poured brandy into heavy crystal glasses. “John?”
One paused in his pouring to execute a quick bow. “Doctor John Watson, late of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, currently physician as well as companion and aide to one Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, of two-twenty-one B Baker Street. A pleasure to meet you.”
John’s eyes widened.
Two stood and offered John his hand. As they shook hands, he said, “Doctor John Watson, friend, flatmate, and biographer of Sherlock Holmes.”
John turned from Two to look at Three, who added, “As you have certainly guessed by now, my name is Doctor John H. Watson, etc etc, Captain, wounded at the battle of Maiwand, younger brother of Harry, and friend and partner to Sherlock Holmes.”
Four said something in Russian, of which John could just make out a few words, including “John Watson” and “Sherlock Holmes.”
John sank back onto his overstuffed chair. “I think I’ll have that brandy now, if it’s all the same to you.”
One handed him the tumbler. “It’s a great deal to take in, I know. When this lot showed up to talk to me the first time, I was certain I must have accidentally been exposed to one of Holmes’ experiments. Again.”
John took a sip of his brandy. It was excellent. “So you’re… all John Watsons, then? And you’ve all got a Sherlock?”
“The details tend to differ but the broad strokes remain the same. Though I must say, you’re a bit… newer... than many of the others.”
“For some reason, we’re most likely to be Victorian,” Two said.
“Probably because I was the first,” Three said. “Set the tone for the others.”
“But wherever there’s a John Watson, there seems to be a Sherlock Holmes, and vice versa, God help us,” One said, his tone a mixture of exasperation and affection. The others nodded. “Look on the mantelpiece, it may amuse you.”
John downed the rest of his brandy a bit too quickly and went to examine the mantel. It was covered with old-fashioned black and white photographs each featuring a pair of men. The pairs were never repeated, but all were… well, a Holmes and a Watson. His face felt oddly bare in the midst of so many mustaches. “That’s… really, really odd. I… yeah.”
“We’re not sure how it works or why,” said Two.
“Are those two mice?” John asked, still looking at the photographs.
“That, my dear sir, is very definitely a story for another time. And additional brandy.”
“Yours is a bit short,” John said, having found the photograph with One in it. That Sherlock also looked a bit wild around the eyes, though it seemed rude to say so.
“He makes up for it in personality, I assure you,” One responded, with an oddly contemporary eye roll.
The Sherlock Holmes all tended to be pale and dark haired, with pointed features and an air of command. John could easily see his Sherlock (and when did he become his Sherlock) fitting in amongst their number.
Three cleared his throat. “Might we persuade you to tell us the circumstances of you meeting Sherlock Holmes?”
One refilled his brandy as John told them about a chance run-in with Mike Stamford, a meeting at St. Bart’s, an invitation to a crime scene, another kidnapping, a mad dash through London that cured his limp, a drugs bust, and finally, rushing to Roland-Kerr Educational College.
“So the mad bastard is actually going to take the pill to prove he’s clever enough to outsmart the cabbie. And I’m too far away to stop him.”
“Shot,” John said, bringing the glass to his face. “Came out of nowhere and went clean through the window and the serial killer. He bled out almost immediately.”
Two raised an eyebrow at him and asked “Did they… find the shooter?”
John shrugged in a deliberately nonchalant fashion that he suspected didn’t fool any of them. “No sign, apparently.”
“Well it was a damn good shot. Cheers!” One said, raising his glass.
“Cheers,” the others said, toasting.
Three cleared his throat again. “The reason we’ve brought you here tonight, John, is because as you’ve discovered, Sherlock Holmes needs a John Watson. He’s incandescent.”
“And the best thing that will ever happen to you,” Three finished. “But he needs you too. We wanted to make sure you were… up for the task.”
One added, “Please understand, it’s nothing to do with you personally. We’ve just seen… well, buffoons. Idiots. They may make their Holmes look even more brilliant by comparison, but it’s…”
“оскорбление,” Four said, practically spitting.
“Just so,” said Two.
“We had to be sure,” Three said. “And we are.”
And John nodded, because he understood, he really did. Because even though he has just met Sherlock, he already couldn’t imagine Sherlock Holmes not being in his life. Couldn’t imagine not wanting to be in Sherlock’s. And John was a soldier, he protected what was his. “Cheers,” he said, raising his glass again. “In Arduis Fidelis.”
“In Arduis Fidelis,” they said as one, draining their glasses.
“One further thing, John,” Three said. “Before we send you out unto the breach once more. There is something which... may happen. In your future. I pray it does not. I would tell you more if it would do any damned good. Should it happen, contact us. Never doubt that we are your comrades in arms. Should the time come that you require it… you will know.” He handed John a card, the paper thick and soft. John tucked it carefully into his wallet.
Two offered him a handshake. “We wish you the best, John.”
He shook hands with Four next, their facial expressions needing no translation.
“God knows, with Holmes, you’ll need it,” One added, slapping his shoulder affectionately.
A year and a half later, John dug the thick cream card with its copperplate writing out of the bottom of his bedside drawer and made a phone call.
“It’s me,” he said, taking a deep breath to steady himself. “It’s happened.”