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Autoclave Heart

Chapter Text

hand me your hand, let me look into your eyes
as my last chance to feel human begins to vaporize


                   my heart's an autoclave


---

It’s been six months, and I still don’t know how to write this. It was easy enough to write up all those other cases my friend and I had worked on, and easy enough to relive them during our afternoon tea. But this was something else entirely; it was as if the world had ended and I had been told to describe the Earth’s last sunset.

And how was I supposed to capture the final moments of an exploding star?

I’m sitting in the empty shell of what was once our flat. All of his things are still here, right where he left them. We still get house calls occasionally, from people wanting his help or advice. People who haven’t heard. Mrs. Hudson won’t come up here anymore, and I’ve neglected everything of importance, so the room has been gathering dust. It feels like an old museum at times, and it breaks my heart.

The beginning of the end happened with me strapped to a bomb and Moriarty at the end of Sherlock’s gun, all of us alone in the dark and nothing but an old swimming pool for company. That, and the snipers with their rifles sighted on us.

Moriarty was rather like a cat, I thought, or at the least some very vicious predator. He was toying with us; just when we thought that the moment of crisis was over, that we would be able to go home to Baker Street and recover from that night’s ordeal, he waltzed back in. It’s almost comical, really, how quickly we believed ourselves to be safe.

So Moriarty was back with his Westwood, and his sadism, and his god-awful, blood-chilling smirk. Sherlock had thrown the bomb that I had been strapped to across the room, and it was here that he now leveled his gun. Moriarty and his half-cocked grin were staring him down at one end, and I from behind. Sherlock cocked back the gun and stared down the barrel at the explosives, finger lingering on the trigger.

Then, with a final twitch, he fired his gun and the room was instantly cocooned in the brightest light I’ve ever seen. It was so white and so hot that I screamed; I thought my eyes were being burnt out. I had given so much thought to death and dying during my military service, but I had never imagined it to be so cruel, so unrelenting.

Much to my frantic relief, the light started to dim and flicker out. I had lost all sense of time during the burst of light, and had apparently also lost my sense of balance, judging by the proximity of the floor to my face. Moriarty was crumpled against the wall, holding his head with one hand while his sharp eyes tried to make sense of what had just happened. Sherlock alone remained defiantly on his feet.

Everything was silent and still, with the exception of the soft music that had begun playing in the background. That was the first thing to tip me off. The second was that my face was pressed into a sort of industrial carpeting, the kind usually found in public buildings. What idiot puts carpet around a swimming pool?

As I sat up, I quickly realised that I had asked the wrong question. An idiot hadn’t carpeted an indoor pool, but had, like normal, carpeted what appeared to be the lobby of a building.

So where the fuck was the swimming pool?

Moriarty, for once, was speechless. His mouth was open slightly and his eyes roamed over the room we had found ourselves in. Even Sherlock seemed taken aback. I don’t know why their shock surprised me almost more than finding ourselves in an entirely different place did, but these were not people who unsettled easily.

It looked like a hotel. There was a receptionist’s desk behind Moriarty, its far wall lined with empty pigeonholes and an unmarked door. The music was coming from a small, old-fashioned radio on the desk. The walls were covered with a very uniform paper, but the pictures that hung there all looked like portraits of a variety of people. With the exception of the portraits, everything was so traditional that it was almost cliché; there was even a small bell on the edge of the desk.

The bell-hop, however, was nowhere to be seen, nor was anyone else. The next few minutes, I must confess, are a blur to me. I remember moving to stand closer to Sherlock, and then following him around the lobby like a lost puppy as he took in all the details of our surroundings. Occasionally, he would stop to touch or look closer at something – like how the carpet met the walls, the alignment of the corridors, the height of the desk, and God knows what else. To be honest, once more, I’ve no idea what he was looking at, or for, but he had better have had a good reason for making me give my opinion of the taste of the paint on the wall.

Moriarty pointed out a security camera, so Sherlock jumped the desk and stuck his head through the door next to the pigeonholes. I assumed it was what he was looking for because the rest of his body soon followed, so I made a wide berth around Moriarty and climbed over the desk after Sherlock.

It was a small room and most of the space was taken up by a desk with a wall of monitors over it. The monitors were showing clips of different parts of the hotel, flickering between cameras, but all of the screens were empty. It was incredibly eerie, what with the music still playing and not a soul in sight; it felt as though we had found ourselves in some awful horror film. All we were missing was a serial killer – well, we had Moriarty. Close enough.

Sherlock stood against the desk, a hand reaching up to trace designs on the screens, his fingers nimbly darting from point to point. God, those fingers… I leaned over and pressed my lips against his neck, giving him a soft kiss. He paused momentarily to squeeze my hand in reassurance. Everything was going to be okay. We had faced dangers far worse than this.

There was a cat-call from behind us in the lobby.

Once he had exhausted himself with the screens, he picked up the old phone that sat on the desk – dial tone, very reassuring. An attempt to phone an operator, however, was met with only static. He tried the emergency number next, and then our flat: more static. Less reassuring.

It was while he was investigating the phone that I first saw something move in the corner of my eye; just a shadow, really. I couldn’t place it so I brushed it off, only to experience it again moments later, and then once more. This time I kept my head up in the direction it had come from and saw a figure passing briefly through a corridor. The cameras kept changing between different areas, so occasionally he would reappear and vanish again, hence the flashes of movement.

“Sherlock.” We had been standing in an odd moment of silence, pulled in by the images on the screens. The black and white made it feel as though we were trapped in one of those old silent films, and I think the break in silence startled us both for a moment. I found myself reluctant to speak again. “There’s someone on the screen.”

There didn’t seem to be a way to focus in on one camera, so we watched this man walk around through several of the monitors. He looked a bit rough, from what we saw. He had the face of a man who had seen the worst in life, almost like a soldier. I imagine I must have looked similar when I first returned to England. He had an empty gun holster strapped to his thigh and a jagged knife in his right hand.

Sherlock was interested, his face drawing into itself as his forehead wrinkled and he frowned. He would be wanting to go and find this mystery man, no doubt, and who was I to stop him? When I put the question to him, he just nodded curtly and turned on his heel, coat following him dramatically as he whirled out of the room. With one last look at the screens, I followed him out into the corridor.

The stairs were all in one place, a giant square spiral that seemed to climb up forever. More portraits lined the walls on the stairs, and it was here that I first noticed that they were labeled. Sherlock ignored them.

“427,” he muttered, stopping at one level to look at the room numbers. “He was passing 427.” The numbers here didn’t match up so he was off again, hurrying to the next floor. It got very confusing, as almost everything was entirely identical: the same carpet, wallpaper, wall hangings, number of rooms... there was no way to tell, really, if we were even going in the right direction.

The place was evidently wearing on Sherlock’s nerves because he was becoming increasingly ruder and snappish. I suppose it didn’t help much that Jim was following along behind us, singing quite loudly – I’m not much of a music expert, but I think he was singing different songs from Hair.

There was a single gunshot, echoing loudly off the walls. Sherlock perked up considerably and took off toward one of the many identical intersections, but hadn’t gone more than a few steps when the man we’d seen on the security cameras came around the corner at an easy jog. His hand dropped to the gun holster at his thigh when he saw us before remembering it was no longer there. He stopped and eyed us warily.

“Um.”

“Oh look, John, it’s trying to speak,” Sherlock said dryly. The man wrinkled his lip at him.

“I take it you guys aren’t with animal control, then,” he said, crossing his arms across his chest. American accent, interesting. He was still holding the knife they’d seen, but had apparently decided they were harmless.

“No, but Johnny boy here does make a very nice pet,” Moriarty crooned from behind us.

The floor started shaking, almost imperceptibly, but it was enough for the man to look uneasily over his shoulder. “Gee, it’s been awful fun talkin’ to ya’ll, but I think I hear someone callin’ my name.” He added a ridiculously overdone southern accent as he spoke, and tipped an imaginary hat at us as he made to push past.

Sherlock grabbed his arm as he walked by and stared him down, his eyes digging into the American’s in that unsettling way he had. He grinned up at Sherlock. “Ooh, I love it when you get all physical.” The shaking in the floor was getting more pronounced, and I could very faintly hear something from a distance. “But at least let me buy you a drink first.”

He pulled out of Sherlock’s grip and waved for us to follow him. Sherlock rolled his eyes and I had to stifle a laugh at how affronted he looked. When none of us made to follow after him, the American started grumbling. “Or we could wait and get eaten by a Roman nightmare instead.”

“Roman nightmare?”

Oh, now Sherlock was properly interested.

“Yeah, there’s this thing here that looks kind of like a Minotaur. It – ”

“Greek.”

“What?”

“Greek. Minotaurs aren’t Roman, they’re Greek.”

The man stared at him, then turned and started walking down the corridor. “Right. Whatever. So yeah, this Minotaur thing is a huge son of a bitch, massively thick arms and horns on its head that scraped the ceiling. It was one of the weirder things I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some weird shit, lemme tell you. And that’s what’s probably going after Jayne right about now.”

“How many more of you are there here?”

“I’m telling you that a monster is coming to eat us and you’re asking for statistics? Dude, man, you should come work with us. You’re fucked up, too. And I dunno - there’s a dead girl I found, I think Jayne knew her. But you three are the only others I’ve seen besides Mr. Tall Dark and Gruesome.”

Sherlock glared; there seemed to be a lot of glaring and staring and brooding happening as of late. “Monsters don’t exist. Not the kind you mean, anyway.”

Cocked eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Give me five minutes. That girl wasn’t killed by a man and there wasn’t a mark on her – though, to be honest, I did suspect Jayne. Dude seems really unstable; he – ”

“But Jayne’s a girl’s name!” More crooning and high-pitched taunting from Moriarty, more staring and perplexity from the American.

“Is he okay? Like… up there?” He pointed at his head.

There was unanimous, monotone chorus of “no” from the three of us. Jim grinned and swirled a finger around his own head, mouthing, “Crazy.”

“…Right. But Jayne seemed kinda upset about the dead chick so I think they knew each other. He told me some of the things he’d seen here, like the Minotaur, and how nothing was ever where you’d left it. The rooms move around; it’s like freakin’ Hogwarts or something, man. I guarantee, you go back the way we just came and you’ll end up miles from where you started.

 “Later that day, though, he started going really nuts: seeing things, going a little schizo. Kept going on about ‘praising him’ every once in a while. This morning was the worst – he kind of ran off and I just now found him again.”

He pointed over his shoulder in the direction the shaking and rumbling seemed to now be receding from. “I tried to get him to come with me but he started threatening me with his gun. I wrestled it away from him, or tried to, at least – mainly just ended up putting a hole in a wall. Finally I gave up, decided it wasn’t worth it.”

He held up a hand and stopped walking for a minute, listening as the shaking and rumbling subsided. “I think it’s gone now.” Another long stretch of silence, and then – “Yeah, gone. He had started worshipping this thing and said it was coming to kill him, that it was an honor – but I apparently wasn’t ready yet. I guess he’s just had his awards’ ceremony, so I’ll just have to wait and get my trophy another night.”

He gave us a sweeping mock-bow. “Welcome to Hotel Hell. I’m Dean.”

---

“So, you seem to be taking this whole thing in stride.”

We were walking down the stairs now, headed for the hotel ballroom – Dean had carried the girl there at some point before meeting us and wanted Sherlock to have a look.

“I’m in the business of ‘nothing makes sense’. You get used to it after a while.”

Sherlock seemed to straighten a little, draw back into his old self. “You alluded to this before, stop being so vague – this nonsensical work you do, what is it, exactly?”

“Family business, really. Protecting people from demons, ghosts, witches… the list goes on. Mom was killed by a demon when I was four, so Dad raised me and my brother to hunt those evil sons of bitches.” He trailed off into a silence which was picked back up by Sherlock.

“You’re involved in the paranormal? I’ve very little faith in that field; bit wishy, isn’t it? Ghosts, and the monsters under your bed. A little fanciful, don’t you think?” There was a brief moment of cold silence and I closed my eyes in exasperation as Dean visibly stiffened. Sherlock looked curiously at me and I shook my head. “Tact, Sherlock. We’re working on tact.”

The moment passed as Dean tossed a cheerful “Well, when Casper decides to tear your heart out through your chest, you know where to find me,” over his shoulder.

We got to the bottom floor and Dean led us away from where we had first come from the reception area. The corridor broadened out, and along the wall were two sets of swing doors, one further down the hallway. Dean pushed open the one near us and we followed him inside.

It was a typical hotel ballroom, really; lots of tables, a bar, a small stage, lots of floor space… Well, I mean, assumedly most hotels don’t leave dead bodies on their stages, but who was I to judge? At least there weren’t any stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls. We couldn’t hear the music that had been playing on the radio in this room, so the quiet left us feeling slightly uncomfortable.

Dean walked with us over to the stage and we stood over the girl’s body in silence. Grief was written all over his face, a very heavy, world-weary look of hopelessness – the man wasn’t quite as composed as he would lead us to believe. But it really was quite tragic, for some reason. She was young, so pretty – this sort of thing just didn’t happen to girls like this. It seemed so unfair.

The silent vigil was broken after what felt like several very long minutes by Sherlock crouching down to examine her more closely. Dean cleared his throat and excused himself. “There’s something I have to take care of. I’ll meet you guys back here in a bit.” And before we had time to question him he was out the door and off to do whatever it was that needed doing. Maybe he had to go buy some milk at Tesco; there was certainly a better bloody chance of him coming back with some than of Sherlock buying some at home.

Sherlock was looking at the soles of her shoes and doing his whole ‘deducing’ gag. I didn’t dare try to go over and look at her from a medical professional’s point of view – Well, you did miss nearly everything of importance, but it was a good shot. I’ve heard that enough times, thanks. So I stood back, arms crossed, and waited for his verdict.

“Dean was correct – there aren’t any signs of physical violence on her body. Whatever did this, she didn’t fight it. If we are to believe this Minotaur story, how would it have killed her? Drugs? She certainly didn’t die of fright.”

He frowned, and was silent once more as he continued his investigation. “No signs of struggle or injury anywhere,” he repeated to himself. Eventually, he growled in displeasure and stood. “She shouldn’t be dead. There is no reason for her to be dead.” He turned to face me with a look I had grown very fond of, in a twisted sort of way. Danger. “We need to find this thing. I need more evidence.”

He stopped talking and looked at me very intently. I suppose I must have looked… well, I don’t know. But whatever it was clearly affected Sherlock, as he was soon wrapping his long arms around me, pulling me in close as a wall fell down and we were allowed, just briefly, to feel. It was such a comfort to have this small, infinitesimal sense of normalcy in such a hostile and unknown place. We stayed like this for a long moment before he pulled away and gripped my forearms.

We held each other like this, palm to forearm, and Sherlock’s eyes closed as he collected himself into the man of ice and cold that he needed to be right now. It was enough, though, to have had him burning and alive for just that small span of time. When they opened again, his eyes were distant and his thoughts focused inward.

Moriarty was standing unreasonably close to us, making cooing noises.

“I know you’re a psychopath, but this is really getting to be a bit much. Surely there is something vastly more important you could be doing instead of…” I waved my hand distractedly in his direction. “…this.”

He pouted and made a face at me – good God, these two were meant for each other. Children. Psychopathic, genius, freaky children. We ended up sitting down at a table, the three of us, just tossing theories around as to what might have happened. Most of it was, surprisingly, very civil, considering.

We spent an hour or so like this while we waited for Dean to come back, but Sherlock was getting restless. Moriarty was distracting himself with carving things into the table but Sherlock kept shifting in his chair, tapping his fingers. He eventually got up to pace, fingers steepled together under his chin. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

Another hour passed in what was, to me, an anxious silence, marked occasionally by light conversation. Finally, I suggested that we go and look for Dean. “He could’ve run into a rough bit, Sherlock. We don’t even know what he was going to go do. Stop blowing it off, please. Would you leave me alone to fend for myself if that was me?”

“I never would have left your side, John.”

Moriarty blew a raspberry.

Outside the ballroom, I was unsure of where to go. Everything looked the same and we had no idea where Dean was going or what he was going to do – absolutely nothing to go on. This, however, was apparently not a problem for Sherlock, the cheeky bastard. He was off like a sniffer dog, taking long strides down the hall towards his target. I found myself hoping that it was one of his obscure deductions that told him where to go, and not sense of smell, though I wouldn’t have put it past him.

Minutes after we had left, we found Dean on his hands and knees in a corner, retching and gasping for breath. The stench of vomit hung heavily in the air. Dean slumped against a wall, shoulders shaking, as he tried to control himself. The man was actually crying – whatever he had seen or done must have been utterly horrific. Amidst the sobs and the shaking he kept repeating a name, over and over again; just a breath of a word, no more than a rustle of cloth on skin. Sammy. Sammy. Sammy.

Sherlock stood a few feet away, uncomfortable. This field, human emotion, was the only one I was ever able to trump him in. I knelt down in front of Dean and grabbed his shoulders, doing my best to pull him out of his nightmare. I will never, ever forget the look in his eyes as he turned his head toward mine; it was as though his soul was being ripped out slowly, as though he was being torn in two. The pain there was incredible.

But the fear slowly faded away as I held his gaze and talked to him calmly, and he inched back into the world of the living. Eventually, he broke the gaze, looked down, and nodded slightly. I squeezed his shoulder and stood as he wiped the sweat and tears from his face. Very shakily, he pulled himself to his feet, muttering thanks and apologies.

Sherlock was staring awkwardly into the distance, but I caught his eye and he put one of his ‘human’ faces on – sympathy, pity. Without a word, Dean slowly began to walk back toward the ballroom. We’d found him only a few corridors away – he’d been so close, he could have won this small victory – so it wasn’t long before I (speaking in terms of a doctor) was able to relax and get Dean in a stable environment.

Stable. As if that was still something that existed in our reality. Stable for Sherlock Holmes was knowing that the greatest criminal of our time was playing a game of cat-and-mouse with us in London. Stable was coming home to Baker Street to find a masked Arabian knocked out on the floor. God, we were…

Moriarty was sitting at a table with his head propped up on one hand. He wagged his fingers at us as we came in, and I resisted the urge to throw something at his face. Dean seemed to be single-mindedly determined to drink himself into the floor, and he made his way straight to the bar.

Sherlock, coat flaring out behind him dramatically, went to go sit by the girl on the stage. I wavered uncertainly, wanting to stay near Dean but also wanting to give him the space he desperately needed right now. I gave up the mental tug-of-war I was playing and walked over to the bar.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to say anything. I opened my mouth and Dean looked up at me from his already half-finished beer. He shook his head and smiled at me, very sadly. “I know.” I returned his weak smile and then turned to join Sherlock on the stage.

There was magic equipment everywhere, which seemed kind of funny, really. We had been pulled from one place and dropped into another, some monster was killing people without harming them, and now we had a magic wand and a bunny.

Sherlock was sitting at the far end of the stage, scowling off into the distance. I sat next to him, put my arm around his waist, and drew him closer. He was muttering under his breath, and I couldn’t quite make it out, but – “Sherlock… Sherlock, are you whinging?” The man was actually pouting. I felt bad for the laugh that broke out of my mouth, but it was so typical of him, really. “You really are nothing more than a rather large nine-year-old.” He chose to ignore me, and we sat in silence for a few minutes while he fumed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one who arranged all this.” The ‘he’ Sherlock was referring to was obvious. He paused and glanced briefly around the room. “But, again, this technology, the idea of teleportation, that seems far too advanced for any human to control.” He groaned wearily and rubbed his hands over his face. “I’m not a babysitter, John! I can’t just look after him, but I very well can’t leave him unattended, either.”

“Well, we’re all basically fucked, so there’s not much more harm he can do.” Sherlock made a noise of assent. Unfolding himself from his attachment to the stage, he stood, pulling me with him. “There are two things I have, John. You… and facts.” He nodded his head toward Dean. “Time to go and collect.”

Dean had just started his second beer when we approached him. He looked better, physically – his face had more colour and he had stopped shaking, but mentally there was no way he was well, not this quickly. I approached him as one would approach an injured animal.

“Dean, would you mind telling us what happened to you? I know it’s… bad. What you’ve seen. But we need to know as much as we can.” His eyes clouded over briefly, but he nodded and the glazed look faded away. He understood the importance of this and how we had to know everything if we were to help.

It had started last night, this feeling of compulsion – something in the hotel was drawing him in. This morning it only started getting stronger until eventually he gave in to the pull. He had just started walking down the corridors, not really thinking about where he was going, letting his mind wander - he ended up outside of a door numbered 67; he turned the doorknob and found no resistance. The room was one that would be typical of any hotel: a sliding closet door, a bathroom off the main entry, a television set on a dresser against the wall, and a full-sized bed.

It was on this bed that Dean found his brother, throat and chest slashed open and long since dead.

He had no idea how long he had stood there for but thinks he might have fainted at some point. He had dragged himself into the bathroom and vomited into the toilet, over and over again, before slumping against a wall. The smell of blood and death was overwhelming, so he finally stumbled out into the corridor. By the time we had found him he had crawled and staggered his way as far from that room as he could manage.

We all sat in silence after Dean was done talking. Moriarty had wandered over at some point and was now looking at him with a very keen interest. Dean was staring blankly down at his hands on the table, but then stood suddenly and muttered, “More beer.”

Sherlock stood up almost immediately after Dean. “John, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Kindly stay here and keep an eye on… things.” I nodded, eyeing Moriarty warily as he blew a kiss at Sherlock.

And then he was gone and I was left to deal with the psychopath who had had me kidnapped and strapped to a bomb. I’m honestly surprised that I lasted as long as I did without trying to murder him; I think at least five minutes had gone by before the things he was saying about Sherlock made me snap.

Dean stuck his head out from around the bar counter after hearing the loud crash that was the result of me throwing a chair at Moriarty. “You guys okay? Does something need to be stabbed?”

I jabbed an angry finger at Moriarty, who was now mostly on the floor and tangled in his chair. He whined, “Muuuuuuuum, Johnny hit me!”

There was a “tsk-tsk-tsk” sound from the door – Sherlock was back and taking in the scene with amusement. “Jimmy, dear, you weren’t playing very nicely either. Mummy doesn’t like it when you upset John.”

Dean, who had climbed on top of the counter shortly after I’d thrown the chair, fell sideways off of it and back onto the bar floor, beer sloshing everywhere. Laughter, a thump, a grunt of pain, more laughter. Moriarty pulled himself to his feet, scowling, and brushed his suit off. With the air of an offended princess, he pushed past Sherlock and out the door.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and pulled his gloves off and throwing them down on a table. The smack of leather in the now-silent hall seemed sharper, more violent. Sherlock wasted no time in telling us what he had been doing.

“John, you remember those portraits on the staircase?”

“Yeah, and the ones in the lobby?”

“Yes. Did you ever read what their plaques said?”

Without waiting for an answer he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and started reading off of it. “Benjamin Lucas – The Dentist; Mark Gaines – Spiders; Reesa Clarke (and she didn’t even look human) – Being Alone. And they all had something in common – they were things people are scared of. Mostly common things, like spiders or heights, but there were some that were truly odd. Liam Oslow was scared of sales clerks.”

He looked up from the paper and over to Dean, who was swiping at his shirt with a towel, trying to get the beer he’d spilt off. “Dean, would your greatest fear happen to be losing your brother?”

Dean stopped with the towel and stared up at Sherlock, his face going white. “Yeah. I’ve lost him before and it was… It was worse than hell, and trust me, I know. So, what, you think this place is showing us our worst nightmares?”

“Mm.” Sherlock’s attention had moved on again, his eyes focused inwards. “So it would seem. But what does that have to do with the deaths? I’ve already said they weren’t scared to death, so it can’t be that.” With a growl of frustration, he threw his hands up. I had a feeling he was going to start shooting things soon.

“This whole place is my bloody nightmare,” he growled, waving his hand around. “Nothing makes sense. Mycroft makes more sense than this place does. Does the Minotaur feed on fear, then? I suppose… Jayne said you weren’t ready yet. Had he mentioned a room? Perhaps facing your greatest fear makes you ‘ready’.”

He slammed his hands down on a table. “But that shouldn’t work. Something shouldn’t be able to feed off fear like it was electricity.” He grew quiet, and I said nothing. I agreed with him, this place made no sense. For a man like Sherlock, who lived and breathed logic, this place was his own personal kryptonite.

“But… So I won’t think that way. Dean – you’re familiar with this. What are your opinions?”

He looked surprised. “Well, there are creatures – take Djinns, for example. They knock you out and make you think you’re somewhere nice and safe. Like a dream. But really they’ve got you hooked up and dying somewhere, and they feed on you like that. So it’s not entirely impossible.

“Maybe this Minotaur is doing something similar – make your mind show you your worst fear so that when he comes for you he can take it and feed off it.” He shrugged. “It’s the best I can come up with, anyway.”

I crossed my arms. “So…. What? Do we just ignore our fear or something? Close our eyes and think of London?”

“I’m thinking a more proactive line of action – we could go shoot it until it stops moving?”

Decent idea. Maybe shooting things would calm Sherlock down. The more I thought about it, the more fun it sounded in general, and Sherlock hadn’t killed that plan yet; in fact, he looked almost thoughtful.

“Dean, could you describe the Minotaur in more detail? Does it have any – ”

Praise him!”

Dean’s hands flew to his mouth as those words spluttered involuntarily out of him. Sherlock and I both stared at him in confusion, but Sherlock looked more horrified, as though he knew something we didn’t. Dean started to stammer out a question, or an explanation, but was interrupted by a sound from the door to the ballroom.

“Hm.” Moriarty had chosen this moment to walk back in and was eyeing Dean very predatorily, a gleam of what could’ve been taken for hunger in his eyes. “Interesting…”

---

“Can you look somewhere else, dude? I feel like I’m in a freakin’ Playboy magazine or something.”

Dean shifted around, uncomfortable with Moriarty’s intense gaze. Sherlock was starting at him suspiciously, and it actually was very awkward with everyone dramatically gazing at each other. Eventually, Jim pulled his eyes off of Dean and turned to smile at Sherlock, his head weaving back and forth ever so slightly. It’s odd, isn’t it? How he can remind me of so many animals with his mannerisms, but he never once comes off as human.

“You’re looking much better, Sherlock.”

“Oh?” Sherlock cocked an eyebrow. “And why would that be?”

“Well, considering I saw you just a few moments ago hanging by your neck from a ceiling fan in one of the rooms down the corridor, this is a vast improvement.”

There was a moment in which Sherlock looked very puzzled, but a dawning grew slowly over his face. “You found your room.” He laughed, a noise that seemed to escape his mouth without permission, and glanced my way for a moment. “Your greatest fear is me dying?”

“No, don’t be stupid.” Moriarty stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers and made a face at Sherlock. “If I’m scared of anything, it’s boredom. You of all people should understand that. You’re my greatest distraction – you’re not boring, usually, not like everyone else. I like watching you dance around London. If you were gone, why, whatever would I do? I’d be inconsolable.”

He shrugged and rolled his head before turning to Dean with a languid smile. “So, you’ve started praising him. It’s good, isn’t it? I don’t think I even needed my room to see that. I’ve felt him for a while, you know. Since we found you, at least. Now here’s something I haven’t seen before!”

Moriarty was worshipping this thing now – because it was interesting and drew him in. This made me cold; how long before Sherlock became like this? If anything was bound to entice him, this surely would. How long would it be until we were all lost?

But this seemed to please Sherlock, for he was smiling. Not that that ever means anything with Sherlock, really, he likes to play with facial expressions, but he looked like he did when he was wrapping up a case. Like he had the answer and all he had to do now was go out and prove it.

I did feel bad, though, almost, for wishing that the creature would get him quickly.

Sherlock clapped his hands together. “Right.” He turned on his heel, picked his gloves up off the table, and strode away from us. Panicked, I ran after him. “Sherlock, don’t tell me you’re going to go find your room. That’s suicidal, even for you.” And he smiled at me in the way he did that made my whole body relax, the way he made London feel warm. “Of course not, John.”

And I believed him. I truly believed him, and I shouldn’t have. How could he not go find his room? To him, this was all just another way of proving he was clever, like he did with the cabbie and his pills. He denied it, but I know that Sherlock would have taken one of them if I hadn’t found him when I did.

Moriarty started laughing suddenly, a slightly maniacal laugh that made my skin crawl. Sherlock looked at him, eyes narrowed, and whispered to me, “He’s advancing very fast. Faster than Dean is, and most likely faster than Jayne and the girl.” I was puzzled and opened my mouth to ask him how this was possible – but how was any of this possible? – and how he could know that, but he cut me off with a finger to my lips. I know he had a theory for why they started praising him, but Sherlock, being Sherlock, wouldn’t tell anyone what that theory was until the very end.

“He wants you,” he called in a sing-song voice to Dean. “But Sherlock doesn’t get to come play yet. He hasn’t eaten his vegetables.”

Dean scowled, but there was the smallest hint of fear in his eyes. It was the kind of fear that you saw on the battlefield, when you were scared to death but had to shove it deep down in your soul because you had people depending on you. I imagine this was something Dean was well-practiced at – he seemed the type. He had his brother to protect, after all.

 I grabbed Sherlock aside again. “Okay, great, but why is he going crazy faster? Because he’s already a psychopath and God thought he could use a little more?” Sherlock laughed, but shook his head. “No, John. It’s his confidence. He believes in himself so much, and I think that’s what the Minotaur is feeding off of. The fear makes us fall back to the things we believe in.

“But Moriarty was already incredibly narcissistic – he was already ripe, in a manner of speaking, so when he arrived all the Minotaur had to do was harvest him. Dean, on the other hand,” he said, jutting his chin to where Dean was resisting being hugged by Moriarty, “Dean is closer to normal. He believes in something within bounds. He has limits where Moriarty doesn’t.”

It was an interesting concept, if you could look at it theoretically. In practice it was harder to appreciate because I didn’t much fancy being devoured by some mythical beast, but Sherlock was clearly fascinated regardless.

There was a yelp and a thud behind us and we turned around to find Moriarty face-down on the ground. Dean stood over him, looking guilty. “He was freakin’ me out,” he muttered. There was a moment in which the three of us were standing silently over Moriarty’s prone form, but I’m afraid I ruined it with the extremely loud laugh that ripped from my lungs and had me bending over and gasping for air.

Sherlock was looking at me funny, though, so I swallowed the laugh fairly quickly. “Um, well, we could tie him up,” I said, blinking rapidly and trying to keep a straight face. Dean was quick to agree with me, so Sherlock went to find something to tie him up with. A few moments of him poking through the magic equipment resulted in his finding several of the things magicians were tied in to escape from.

I really hoped Moriarty wasn’t a magician.

We tied him to a chair because Sherlock said that would be easiest in case we had to transport him – there was a chair trolley in the corner of the room. Moriarty’s head lolled to the side, mouth hanging open slightly. “Jesus, Dean, how hard did you hit him?”

The sheepish look returned to his face. “Probably harder than I should’ve, but he had it coming.” True enough. I continued to recheck the straps, making sure they were secure, and slipped the gun we’d found on him into the waistband of the back of my jeans. I stood up and stretched. Dean was staring off into the distance, his arms crossed over his chest.

When I turned around, Sherlock was nowhere to be seen. At first I was merely puzzled, but it wasn’t long before I was assuming the worst. I grabbed at Dean’s shoulder, saying frantically, “Dean, he’s gone. Sherlock’s gone. He’s off to find his room, I know it. Jesus…”

I felt sick in the way that you do when you’re so scared or panicked that you feel as though you’re weightless and just floating around. How you can feel your heartbeat, only it’s twice as fast as it should be and burning in your ears – how your mouth goes numb and you literally forget to breathe.

I ran toward the door, stumbling as I did and nearly falling, and burst through it into the corridor. Both directions were empty, and there was no telling where he had gone. And like Dean had said, the walls moved and corridors switched so he could be anywhere. We didn’t even know how big this damn hotel was – the situation was weird enough that it seemed fair to consider that it might go on endlessly.

I screamed and punched the wall to my left, then leaned against it, my forehead resting on my arm. I heard Dean come up behind me, awkwardly, unsure of what to do. “Bloody bastard, always having to prove he’s clever. Dammit, Sherlock, for once, couldn’t you just leave it be?”

It was quiet for a bit, Dean lingering over my shoulder as I leaned against the wall. But before long, a muffled noise started creeping under the door to the ballroom, rapidly increasing in volume. Maybe Dean hadn’t hit him that hard after all.

We stood there for a few more seconds before I was seized with rage. Moriarty. This was all Moriarty’s fault. If he had never fucking started this whole game with Sherlock, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have – he’d tied me to a bloody bomb, for God’s sake! So I flung myself off the wall and kicked the door open.

I felt like a hurricane, like I had all the power in the world inside my wrath. So I grabbed the trolley and wheeled it over to where Jim Moriarty sat, grinning insanely at me and saying things that I couldn’t hear over the static in my ears. I swung the trolley under his chair and violently jerked it into the air. Dean stood slightly away from us, looking extremely alarmed, but let me pass with my new-found prisoner.

I rolled him down the corridor for what could’ve been minutes or hours. The rage was all-consuming. My one coherent thought was just, leave him for the beast leave him for the beast kill james moriarty once and for all leave him for the beast, and so we walked.

I don’t know what made this juncture any different from the dozens we had already passed through, but it felt good to stop here. So I dumped the chair out of the trolley and let it fall over sideways. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fall had broken his arm, nor would I care if it had. Without another word I turned and walked away, dragging the trolley behind me, and entered the first room I saw.

The room was filled with puppets hanging from the ceiling, but they didn’t appear to be doing anything so I ignored them. I pulled a chair from the room’s desk and sat down in it next to the door, and waited.

Perhaps thirty minutes had gone by, I’m not sure. But then the rumbling started getting louder, the sound of heavy footsteps and the scraping of what could’ve been knives against the walls – and then it was there. I could feel it through the door, this heavy feeling of presence that pressed around me like a too-tight blanket. Moriarty had been whispering “Praise him. Praise him. Praise him,” almost constantly since I’d left him, but now he was laughing, almost crying, with joy.

Then suddenly, silence.

I threw open the door and stepped out to look upon the Minotaur. It was huge – the sound I’d heard had been its horns scraping down the ceiling. Its massive body was covered in hairy, thick, and wrinkled grey skin. Its arms ended in thick claws, and its feet were cloven hooves. It turned slowly to face me, and the electric blue in its eyes stilled me for a minute; they were almost glowing preternaturally.

Its mouth was bared at me, a grumble low in its throat, but it stayed where it was. We stood there for a long time, eyes locked on one another’s as we tried to out-glare each other. It seemed to give up, and turned to lumber slowly down the corridor. I watched it go and then tore my gaze from it to observe the body of James Moriarty.

His eyes were glassy and unfocused and he had the ghost of a smile upon his lips. I don’t know what I was expecting to feel – relief? resolution? – but I didn’t feel anything at all. Not a damn thing. I closed my eyes, steeled myself, and walked back the way I’d come.

I let my feet do the walking as my brain focused on other things. I was in a deep haze, almost entirely unaware of my surroundings. I didn’t know where I was going, so it’s not like I could get lost. The hotel would take me where it would. Occasionally I would stop and pull open some room’s door, observe its contents, and then continue down the corridor with the door still hanging open. Just making sure that Sherlock wasn’t there.

I was walking down the stairs, going down and down into the pit of this place, when a light touch fell on my shoulder. I jumped, heart nearly exploding, hoping beyond hope or reason that it was Sherlock, that he was alright. Dean. I breathed out, slowly. He smiled sadly at me, a soft smile that never reached his eyes.

We apparently came to an unspoken agreement that we would go back to the ballroom and wait, so we walked and walked until there were no more stairs. I found myself wishing, and still wishing now, that maybe, if I just walked far enough, that I could walk until there wasn’t anything left at all, stairs or otherwise.

The door to the ballroom swung easily on its hinges as we pushed through, and I half-collapsed onto the nearest table. I just felt so drained, and it drained me that I felt drained. I was a soldier, dammit! I was made of stronger stuff. I was acting unreasonable, weak.

But… it was Sherlock. How was I supposed to be calm when the greatest man I had ever known was out signing his own death certificate? He had made my life whole – the place that the war had torn out of me had been filled, and then some. What was my place in the world if he was gone?

The ballroom was quiet except for our steady breathing and the rustle of Dean’s jeans as he walked around. Two or three times he had blurted out those words – praise him! – and stopped walking, glancing frantically around the room. We must’ve been in here for hours.

And then Dean turned to me with an excited smile on his face. “Isn’t it great?” He was so happy. “He’s going to kill us – that’s awesome! But you…” he frowned, regrettably. “You aren’t ready for him. I’m sorry, that must be terrible.” He snapped out of this reverie with a gasp of fear. “No, no, I don’t – I didn’t mean to say those things, John! I don’t want to die! I’ve already been to hell, and the reception there was awful.” He shuddered and laughed weakly. “I don’t think douching my way out of this is going to help much.”

I stood up, nervously, uncertain. “I think I’m going to go look for Sherlock. Just stay here, okay? Block the doors or something if you can. Just… try not to let it possess you again. Keep fighting it.” He swallowed, and I could see him pushing the fear down. That sharp glint came back into his eyes, the one he’d had when I’d met him, and he felt more solid as he nodded at me.

The feeling of weightlessness was back as I stared up the corridor. What if I don’t find him in time? What if it gets Dean while I’m gone? What if – the list went on, but what if’s are stupid and only cause more worry. So I started up the stairs, stopping at each landing to run through the corridors for any sign that Sherlock had been here. Thank god for military training. Those weeks of running non-stop for hours on end might be paying off at last.

But eventually, though, I did have to stop and sprawl out against a wall, chest heaving from exertion. Running this hard and this long without water is dangerous, but I couldn’t exactly go back to the bar to get some so I threw out all thoughts of personal safety and continued running up stairs and down corridors.

My breath was rasping out of my lungs, and each step was more painful than the last, but I was a man possessed and I would not, could not, stop. I kept pushing and pushing until, finally, my legs went numb and I fell over gasping.

Once again I seemed to be closely examining the carpet, and it hadn’t gotten much better from the first time I’d found myself face down in it. For a moment it felt as though I might pass out, and I almost welcomed that. But then, the most beautiful sound –

John!

Sherlock.

It was far off, probably a few corridors at least, but I think he had heard me fall. I tried to yell out, but my voice and my lungs were completely shot so I resorted to banging my fist against the wall.

It wasn’t long before Sherlock tore around the corner and saw me. I didn’t see it at first because he already looks like he’s made out of porcelain, but his skin was so white that he could have been dead. His clothes, something he seemed to religious take care of, were rumpled a bit, and he – wait, were those tears?

I had never thought that Sherlock would be so much as capable of crying, but then, there were a lot of things I thought he was incapable of. Living, for instance: how that man has lasted this long will never cease to be an object of wonder to me. But he was crying, weeping even, as he fell to the floor next to me.

He pulled my head into his lap as he cried, and all I could do was lie there. He was whispering through his tears, and what I heard made me want to rip my heart out through my chest.

Oh John, John, no, no, please be alive, don’t die on me, oh God, so much blood, John, please, wake up, I need you, there is no life without you, oh John…

---

I suppose it’s unnecessary to say he had found his room, the idiot. Always had to go looking for danger – anything to stop being bored. I was torn between astonishment and a sort of pride that my death would be what Sherlock feared most. I had imagined it would be Moriarty getting the better of him – which would never happen, now – or losing full function of his brain.

I was a doctor who had seen gruesome things, men with missing limbs screaming for their mothers, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Lost for words, I sat with him in my arms, petting his hair and making soothing noises.

To say this was uncharacteristic of him would be an understatement – the only outbursts of emotion he had ever shown were in regards to incompetence on Scotland Yard’s part or to himself deducing some minute detail incorrectly. Those outbursts had been in anger or frustration; I had never once in my life seen Sherlock Holmes sob.

Sherlock pulled me roughly and suddenly to my feet, his hands gripping my face. He drew me in until his forehead touched mine and he could look into my eyes. His eyes were red from crying, but he had calmed down from the frenzied state he had been in when I’d first seen him. The way he was looking at me, through me, made me feel vulnerable and exposed.

His hands ran over my face, mapping it for accuracy – I don’t think he fully believed I was there. Sherlock eventually satisfied himself and stopped ripping every detail to shreds in his panic. He pressed his lips to my forehead for a long time before curling into my shoulder. If the situation had been less serious I might have found the sight of Sherlock, that giant stick of a man, stooped over and grasping at me like a child incredibly funny.

Or maybe I would have just been sad. Here was a man who prided himself on his cold indifference, whom everyone regarded as something removed from society, inhuman – but retained the heart of a child. Sherlock Holmes, the most brilliant man I’d ever known, was only now exploring the realm of human emotion, and it broke my heart.

I pulled back. “We need to go back down. Can you make it?” Sherlock nodded, drawing himself up stiffly – a soldier’s bravado. I wrapped my arm in his and led him down the hallway, but we hadn’t taken more than a dozen steps before I found myself slammed against a wall, knocking off the picture that hung there.

For remembrance’s sake: Sherlock’s mouth was frenzied, frantic; he bit at my lips and growled into my lungs as he kissed me. My wide-eyed shock quickly passed and I returned his affections just as violently as they were given. One hand grasped tightly at my throat, the other punched the wall over my shoulder. My hands were carving out the mountains of Sherlock’s back as the fabric of his shirt brushed roughly over my skin.

I pushed off the wall and used my momentum to pin Sherlock to the wall opposite us, hands moving down, down, down and under the line of his trousers, fingers moving in patterns over his pants. In turn, Sherlock had blindly torn my shirt open partly, the first two buttons unraveling from the stitches that held them in place.

The two of us had never had sex with each other – Sherlock was asexual and the more base of human actions didn’t appeal to him – but when we found ourselves on the floor, clothes snagged open and seams ripped, I think we very well might have. He was hovering over me, propped up on hands that framed my head. In a voice that was half-sob and half-battle cry, he looked into me and murmured, “I love you.”

His eyes at that moment still haunt me – they were chasms and black holes, and he was fighting to keep his soul beyond the event horizon. And the abyss stared into me, and I stared back. At that moment something between us snapped, but whether it was the crack of a bone being set or the smashing of fine china I didn’t know.

And in that moment, in between blinking and lowering himself onto the floor beside me, I knew that my Sherlock would never come home to Baker Street.

---

“Dean, please just let us in.”

He had barricaded himself inside the ballroom, which was nice in the sense that he was lucid enough to not want the Minotaur to get him, but bad because he was clearly losing it. Neither door would budge, and it wasn’t for lack of trying; I’d been down here for a good twenty minutes and if felt like he’d taken everything in the room and piled it up against the doors.

“Dean, I swear to God if you don’t get out here now, I will start shooting things.” Not sure how good of a threat that was, considering the fortress he’d made, but I was running out of both options and patience.

Silence. Of course.

The sound of sliding wood followed by a soft crash of landing broke that silence, and I could hear Dean rummaging through the mess of tables and chairs in an attempt to get to the door. A grunt of pain, followed by a loud stream of curse words, preluded his arrival as he was all but spat out of the room.

He looked panicked, as he well ought to. “I think I’m good for a bit, dunno how long. Good to see you back, John. You too.” He nodded at Sherlock. “Speaking of shooting things, I am all for shooting the Minotaur. In fact, that seems like a really good idea. Why don’t you go shoot it before it eats us for dinner?”

Sherlock laughed. “But don’t you want to be eaten for dinner? The honor! That He would choose us as special? It’s going to be wonderful.”

My skin crawled. Moriarty was one thing, but he was already psychotic. It would tear me apart to see Sherlock turned into him. He kept prattling on to Dean, and the deer-in-headlights look eventually merged into the wide-eyed fanatic excitement that Sherlock had fallen victim to.

I don’t know exactly how the next events happened. I reached out to grab Dean and shook him by the shoulders, yelling into his face to try to get him to snap out of it. He fought back, not liking being manhandled, but his face morphed into one of confusion and then realization. He held up his hands and I let go to give him room.

Dean shook his head to clear it and groaned, squinting up at me. His eyes widened again and I began to give into the inevitability of losing him completely, but this was more akin to the panic he’d shown early. “Oh fuck.”

I frowned, confused, and then turned slowly on my heel to find a deserted hallway behind me. Of course. Of course I had fucking stopped paying attention for five seconds and the bastard runs off. The rage I felt at that moment, I thought, would easily have been enough to kill the Minotaur with my hands alone.

 Without a word I was running again, Dean hot on my heels. I was not going to lose this idiot again, I couldn’t. The chase went much the same as it had before, only with the added help of Dean and the added hindrance of Sherlock not wanting to be found by us. I won’t go into detail about the chase, as it was just us running through halls and up and down stairs. Just know that we were at it for, at most, an hour.

By some miraculous chance, Dean and I eventually managed to corner him at an intersection, pinning him down like a frightened animal. We had him for less than a minute before he had punched me in the face and fled down the corridor once more.

I was taken aback by the betrayal and stood in shock, watching him run. Dean was yelling in my ear and trying to get me to move, but it was only when he began to run that I snapped out of it. We kept Sherlock in our line of sight for the most part, except for when he would turn a corner.

Most times, we would turn the same corner and see him again. Once time, we didn’t.

We tore around the corner, panting, bracing ourselves to catch him… but the Minotaur had other ideas.

Sherlock stood stock-still a ways ahead of us, gazing up in admiration at the creature approaching. It lifted a hand and I could hear Sherlock rasp out, “Praise Him!” I remember screaming his name and watching the man I loved fall to his knees as the life fled him much as he had fled us.

The Minotaur stepped over the fallen body of Sherlock and lumbered towards us, unquestionably going for Dean. I wasn’t sure if it would kill me or not, since I hadn’t been inside any the rooms, but I would never find out because at that moment a man in a trench coat appeared in front of us.

Dean cried out in something between a whimper and a howl, “Castiel!” The man, Castiel, was facing the Minotaur but swiftly turned and grabbed both of our arms. The next thing I knew, we were standing in Victoria Station in the London Underground.

No one seemed to notice our sudden appearance in the crowd here, which was hardly the most surprising thing to have happened to me recently. Castiel looked taken aback, though, as if he’d gotten the wrong place, and grabbed us once more. The roar of life dropped away as the walls of 221b flew up around us.

I stumbled and fell onto the couch, staring wildly at the two men before me. Castiel look placid and self-collected, and Dean took it upon himself to attempt to explain things to me. Castiel was an angel – in a sense, his guardian angel, I suppose. But their relationship was similar to what mine and Sherlock’s had been: namely, some indefinable connection of two souls or… something. Hence indefinable.

I didn’t respond to anything after that, merely taking in the facts, and finally said politely, “Alright, thank you. I have to go make tea now. Goodbye.” And they were gone.

I stared away into the silence and then abruptly let out one loud, piercing scream. An echoing shriek sounded from downstairs, and I heard the rush of feet as Mrs. Hudson hurried up the stairs to the sitting room.

I don’t remember much after that. I woke up in the hospital the next day and was released a few hours later. I had given Mrs. Hudson quite a fright. I felt… better wouldn’t be the right word, but I was stable. Grieving and heartbroken, but stable.

Mrs. Hudson sat with me the whole time I was there, bless her. Tried to keep me distracted even while she was trying her best not to cry – she’d loved him too, after all. We had apparently been missing for close to a month, even though it had been a little over a day in the hotel.

I stayed with her once we got home to Baker Street and we sat in each other’s silences, comforted by proximity and shared loss. Not much has changed these last six months, with the exception of Mrs. Hudson going out more. We have dinner together a few nights a week, and it helps.

But London is empty without Sherlock, as am I. I don’t know what I’ll do now, without him. He fixed me, you know. I was a broken toy soldier and he made me human, just as I turned him from machine to man. We were both fundamentally important to one another in ways that few humans ever are, and now I was turning back into broken plastic.

Every night I look across our flat as some people look up at the heavens, wondering at it all, and how I owed him so much; I was a sad song, and he made me better. Lestrade had once said that if we were lucky, one day Sherlock would be a good man; and he was, and so much more.

To Sherlock Holmes: the greatest man I’ve ever known.

Chapter Text

The Fall of Sherlock Holmes

---

 

He held the closed journal in his hands as he sat in his armchair in the shadows of the place he once called home. He still lived here, but the fire that had made it worth coming back for had long since gone out. He ran a hand over the leather cover of the journal, eyes staring into nothing and everything. He was alone.

John Watson sat in this fashion for some time – now that he had finished writing up what he had taken to calling ‘The Fall of Sherlock Holmes’, the void that remained within him, rather than healing, grew wider. He knew this day was coming, the day when everything would draw to a close and nothing of Sherlock’s remained to tie him down, and he had his contingency plan locked in a drawer by his bed.

The old soldier placed the journal in Sherlock’s chair and laid his hand on the armrest for a moment, eyes closing. I’ll see you soon, Sherlock. I’m coming.

Mrs. Hudson was out for the afternoon – “I’ll bring you back some nibbles from Mrs. Turner’s, dear, you just rest now.” – so the stairwell outside of 221b smelled only of old wood and damp, rather than whatever it was she was baking that day. London passed by outside.

He shut the door to the sitting room quietly behind him and made his way up the second flight of stairs to his bedroom, feeling each step as though he were wading through every memory he had made here. John could barely see through his tears as he opened the door and half-fell onto his bed, fumbling for his keys.

Click.

The drawer slid open, empty but for his gun. He pulled it out with shaking hands but lost his grip and let it fall to the bed beside him; he let his head drop into his hands instead and simply cried for the loss of it all. John allowed himself this drop of armor for several minutes before composing himself, firmly setting his spine straight and his head high. His eyes cleared and the guise of soldier dropped around him like a robe.

He picked up his mobile from the tabletop and found Lestrade in his contacts. He would spare the site of his body for Mrs. Hudson – and John felt a momentary twinge of guilt, ashamed of leaving her with only more grief. His resolve stiffened again, and he made to place his final call. His note.

Then a feeling settled over him that could only be described as an embrace of warm feathers. He felt smothered but not choked, and a pure peace such as he had never known grew inside him. John had never felt so calm. A soft fluttering floated through the flat and the embrace tightened momentarily around him.

The room felt heavy, full, and then faded away to a more subtle pressure – but John could feel the change in his bones, and it called him out like a siren song. He walked out of his room and down the steps in a haze of mesmerized wonder, only the smallest fraction of his brain protesting at the confusion.

John continued off the landing and past the sitting room, turned the corner to descend the steps, and saw the rocks upon which the sirens would have him crash.

Sherlock Holmes was curled up on the floor in the hall, his head resting against the main door. In his left hand, hanging limply next to him, his fingers were curled around a large, singular black feather.

A rush of wings.

It felt like falling, but he must have actually descended the stairs himself because he felt no pain or disorientation. John’s fingers tentatively reached out to touch Sherlock’s slack face, shaking in fear that this was just a hallucination. But when flesh met flesh there was a warmth that leapt between finger and cheek, and the muscle of Sherlock’s jaw flexed.

John sank into Sherlock, pulling his head against his chest as he found himself crying again. He wrapped his fingers into the thick black curls and cradled Sherlock in his arms. A soft throat-clearing cough from behind barely elicited a response from John, but he did have the sense to at least glance up.

Dean Winchester and his angel stood in their hallway; Castiel looked impassive and uncomfortable, Dean ecstatic and blinking furiously to keep tears from falling. It took a few seconds for John to process everything, and he was loathe to tear himself from Sherlock now, but he stood up slowly as he stared, slack-jawed, at the two.

“Dean was very persistent about this,” Castiel said. “It was… difficult to find a way to manage it. Resurrections are strictly allowed only for the most righteous servants of Heaven, but I was able to argue that had this otherworldly presence not interfered, Sherlock would not have been slain. He was intended to live a long life.”

Dean cut in as soon as Castiel shut his mouth. “I couldn’t just let him –” He choked on the word. “The natural order of things doesn’t really work the way it should for us,” he explained. “My brother and I have died more times than I’d like to remember and they’ve always made the exception because we were important.” He made quotations around the word in the air.

“So I said that they could go fuck themselves for playing favorites – ”

“To which they took offense and threatened to strike you down with the wrath of God,” Castiel interrupted.

“ – but they were finally persuaded by Cas,” Dean continued, grinning widely. The ghost of a smile appeared on the angel’s face, proud to have made his hunter proud.

Persuaded would be a very mild term, Dean, but I think it best we not go into minute detail regarding the event.” He turned his full attention to John. “I only apologize that it took so long. Dean has been… persistent, but the politics of Heaven are not easily forced.”

“Yeah, bloody government always sticking its head in where it doesn’t belong,” John said lightly, not quite out of the shock of it all. He threatened to collapse at any moment but managed a few steps toward Dean and Cas.

John stared at the angel through raw eyes, his overwhelming gratitude and heart-wrenching joy at what Cas had done clearly visible. He extended a hand and rested it on John’s shoulder, a soft smile creeping over his lips.

John turned to Dean and attacked the man in a fierce hug, squeezing him to within an inch of his life. Dean returned it with equal force before John pulled away, holding him at arm’s length to deliver the same message with his eyes.

“I will… I am forever indebted to you. I have no words for you, but I think you have some idea of the magnitude of my gratefulness. I will never forget what either of you have done.”

Dean nodded. “But don’t think this is the last time we’ll be seeing you, either, John. The two of us have got way too much work to do together. You’d love my brother. When you get a weekend free in the next few months, gimme a call and we’ll pop you down to the States.”

And with that, they were gone, leaving behind only the sound of birds in flight.

Sherlock stirred behind him, and John was at his side in an instant. His eyes opened and it was like watching the universe being reborn, galaxies swirling into the distance of his irises and stars blinking into light. Sherlock’s eyes had always been intense, but seeing them come to life was an experience all to itself.

A lazy smile slid across Sherlock’s mouth as he sighed, “John…”

John let out a choked laugh and found that he was crying again. Sherlock’s hand crept delicately up to his face, caressing it lightly and no doubt deducing what he’d been up to. John could’ve melted into his arms then and there but had enough sense to realize that the entryway would eventually become problematic.

He helped Sherlock up, gingerly, and took him in at full for a long few minutes before throwing himself into the detective’s arms. Both were whispering to each other, words that neither could make out, but the intent was clear.

“John, I came back. I told you I’d always come back.”

“You didn’t come back, Sherlock. You came home.”