John patted his pockets for his keys, while frowning at the sky. It was grimmer today—compared to when John couldn’t say, and it wasn’t like a grim sky in any season was news in London, but it had still made him turn his face upward twice on his way back to Baker Street. There was something oppressive in the expanse of rich greyness above him; the clouds weren’t even separate entities but one monotonous, low hanging ceiling.
He located the key and let himself in, calling out Mrs. Hudson’s name then listening in. When no reply came out he hung the Marks and Spencer bag containing their largest pack of Custard Creams on Mrs. Hudson’s door knob and made his way up the stairs.
Sherlock was sitting in his chair reading a book. John paused at the door for a moment, drinking in the sight of normalcy. It was one in the afternoon and Sherlock still had his pyjamas on under his dressing gown, just as he had at seven in the morning. His nose was almost touching the pages so John made a beeline to lamp nearest to him and stretched to switch it on.
“Thank you,” Sherlock rumbled from below John’s retreating arm.
“How long have you been sitting here like that?” John asked, going around the room to illuminate the place.
“I don’t know, doesn’t matter. Is there tea? It looks like the number of glassmakers in Victorian London—”
John tuned him out, busying himself with making tea in the kitchen. Ever since Sherlock had nearly overdosed a few weeks ago, he’d been working on some unsolved cases from over a century ago, clearly buoyed by his success in solving that first Victorian one in his Mind Palace.
John was all for it, as long as no illegal substances were involved and Sherlock confined himself to the material world. There were notes on John’s laptop on two of the cases now and an idea began to take shape while John was leaning back against the kitchen counter waiting for the tea. A book. Not blog posts but a good, old-fashioned book with good, old-fashioned mysteries from Victorian times. He could throw in a few Gothic details. Maybe he should read a few stories from those days, check out the patterns of speech. It would make the narrative sound closer to more traditional storytelling…
John came out of his reverie to discover Sherlock had materialized by his side, still talking.
“…is unreliable at best. I’m not sure whether they didn’t just bury some evidence. It must have been pretty embarrassing even for them to fail to make that arrest…” He blinked at John rapidly a few times. “Why are you here?”
John shook his head. “Why can’t you say something nice, just once?”
“How would I know it was nice? Oh, is it Tuesday?”
“Like, ‘Oh, good to see you, John.’ Or…”
“Well of course it’s good to see you, what’s the point of stating the obvious? I thought it was Sunday…”
“Even something like, ‘Hi John,’ would do, you know?”
“…and you had that thing with the other thing.”
John frowned. “What thing?”
“That thing everyone is always doing on Sunday.”
“It’s Tuesday today.”
Sherlock looked at John scathingly. “Thank you, I did realize that an hour ago when this pointless conversation began. You haven’t been shaving on Tuesday mornings, I’ve been meaning to ask you…”
John’s head was threatening to start hanging tiredly and they hadn’t even been speaking for five minutes. He changed the subject. “They’ll be here any minute. Aren’t you going to change?”
“Who’ll be here?”
“Sam and Dean, remember? I told you.”
“You did? When? Anyway, I didn’t have enough data to confirm a pattern on the shaving—”
“Yesterday what? Still, seven out of twenty Tuesdays—”
“I told you yesterday. Maybe you can put some clothes on?”
“I’ve got clothes on.”
“Proper clothes. You might even have time for a quick shower.”
“Is there a reason you haven’t been shaving on Tuesdays? I remember the first six months after you moved in, you skipped every other Friday, it drove me mad—” Sherlock’s teeth had bared with the last word, but then all animation was wiped clean from his face.
He stared at John. “What did you just say?” he asked slowly.
“No, before that.”
“Put some clothes on?”
“No, no, you said they were coming. Who is coming, John?”
John looked at Sherlock’s paling face. “Sam and Dean,” he said carefully. “Sam called. I told you yesterday.”
There was something so flesh and blood about Sam, it always gave John pause, whenever he saw him after a longer stretch of time. Maybe it had something to do with the very first time they’d met. Sam, only a shadow on the wall at first—the shadow of a dead man, John had thought at the time. The shadow of grief and loss, of Sherlock’s absence hollowing out John’s chest. Then Sam had stepped forward and he had been…
He hadn’t been Sherlock. A man, a big man, a striking man in his own right. Very much alive. Sam Winchester.
“Hey,” Sam said, giving John a warm hug with one arm. “Good to see you, man. You all right?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” John could feel his gladness in the way his grin hurt his jaw.
“Hey,” Dean spoke, drawing John’s eyes to himself.
They’d walked into the living room looking more like brothers than ever. Even their legs moved and came to rest with frightening synchronicity. They both had that blend, that special blend John wouldn’t have believed possible if he wasn’t looking at it with his own eyes—the blend of delicate, almost exquisite natural beauty and the kind of ruggedness that spoke of the great outdoors and long silences.
It was good to see them.
“Why? Why…” Sherlock whispered fiercely from the window, gaze fixed on Sam and Dean.
Dean’s scowl that looked like it had become a permanent feature on his face turned more pronounced. He took a couple of instinctive steps toward Sherlock, before stopping and turning to John. His olive green jacket stretched across his upper arms and set out the green in his eyes even more. John felt an echo of his comrades in arms back on the field.
“What’s up with Fifty Shades of Cray?” Dean asked, tilting his head to Sherlock.
John spoke with some resignation. “God knows. I told him you two were coming, which I already had, by the way, but for some reason he must have deleted it this time…I think. Anyway, he sort of went into this…trance, I suppose.” John scratched his chin. “He’s been going around, muttering to himself, he even slapped himself once in the face.”
“Wish I’d been here for that,” Dean interjected without looking away from Sherlock.
“Is he all right?” Sam asked. Sherlock’s mouth was moving over the shapes of silent words, his gaze dancing all over them.
“I think so, yeah,” John replied.
He studied Sherlock for a moment. At first he’d been a little alarmed at Sherlock’s actions: face drawing closed, eyes turning almost scared…That was followed by Sherlock’s aimless wandering around the room and a stream of nonsensical words. There’d been something about ‘him’ coming back, whoever ‘he’ was, although John had an unpleasant suspicion of the answer.
John had tried to get him to talk, but all he got in response to his questions were blank looks, more disjointed phrases and a sort of ethereal smile very much directed at him, which was really nice. After ten minutes Sherlock had stretched out on the sofa gingerly and closed his eyes. That went on for half an hour, during which at least the colour returned to his face. John suspected he might have even dozed off.
But then he got up, about five minutes before Sam and Dean showed up, and John’s hopes that his friend would resume speaking about whatever Victorian glassmaking first class criminal had caught his attention earlier were dashed. It seemed the nap hadn’t snapped Sherlock out of his peculiar mood. He didn’t seem distressed, though, and he was the picture of health, so John wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. He wouldn’t have got more than ten hours a week in the first year of their shared living arrangement if he’d worried every time Sherlock started acting weird out of the blue. There was always an explanation. Sometimes John found out what it was, sometimes he didn’t. But there was always one, and nine out of ten times there was no reason to panic. His instinct told him this was one of the nine times.
But now that Sam and Dean were here, his behaviour seemed stranger. Sherlock pushed himself away from the wall by the window and walked towards the brothers. Dean’s posture straightened up; an awkward look fleeted across his face that seemed a little comical in conjunction with his manly stance and haircut. But it was Sam in front of whom Sherlock stopped, standing very close; closer than he’d ever done in the past. Sam regarded him calmly, only his eyes jumping briefly from John to Dean, quizzical.
“You…” Sherlock whispered. “Why did I make you? Him, I understand.” There was the barest indication to Dean with the last sentence, Sherlock’s chin the only thing moving. “I understand why I would create him. But you…Why?”
Sam, in true Sam fashion, addressed the heart of the matter. “Hey man… Are you okay?”
Sherlock shook his head, though it was clear this was not an answer to Sam’s question.
“Why, why would I give John another friend? Why would I give you to him?”
Sam’s eyebrows shot up, then knitted in confusion.
“Sherlock,” John said. “You’re not making any sense.”
“And what do you mean you made me? How did you make me?” Dean was squinting at Sherlock, half-suspicious, half-befuddled.
“I created you. Here.” Sherlock touched his own temples. “Not that I need to explain myself to a figment of my imagination.”
“Whoa,” Dean told him, lifting a hand. “I can think of a few ways of proving to you I’m no figment of anyone’s imagination. Least of all yours. Although that would explain so much,” he added emphatically.
John closed his own eyes at the assaulting burst of clarity. “Oh my God. He thinks he’s in his Mind Palace.” He turned to Sherlock. “They’re real, Sherlock. This is all real.”
“Of course it’s not, John.” Sherlock spread his arms, eyes goggling a little like a child’s. “They hunt ghosts.”
“Yes…” John dragged. “And ghosts are real too.”
Sherlock shook his head lightly to negate, then shook it off so hard, his curls would have detached given the chance.
“Don’t do that,” John implored, then took a step closer and put his arm on Sherlock’s shoulder. “You are not in your Mind Palace. You haven’t taken any drugs since you OD’d.”
“He overdosed?” John lifted a hand to stop Dean who had moved closer when he spoke.
“This is real,” John repeated. He glanced at Sherlock’s pupils just in case, only to find them fine and well, if a little dilated—probably adrenaline.
“But they hunt ghosts,” Sherlock insisted, and for the first time John felt real discomfort prick at him.
“Why does that bother you so much all of a sudden?”
“Maybe,” Sam offered hesitantly, “maybe he is freaking out only now?” He turned to his brother. “I don’t know, like a delayed reaction.”
“Some delay! It’s been two years, dude.”
Sam shrugged. “It’s possible, Dean.”
Sherlock peered into John’s face; John tried to school his features into something reassuring. Then he was presented with the white of Sherlock’s eyes as they shifted in their sockets to the right, where Dean was standing. Sherlock slowly pivoted on his spot, facing Dean. His gaze roamed Dean’s features. John couldn’t say what was in the exploration—he couldn’t see well and he was reluctant to move. Something about the moment felt like glass that could shatter if anyone made any sudden movements.
“It’s me, sunshine,” Dean said humourlessly. John was impressed with how steady and clear his eyes shone. “Have at it if you want.” He pointed at his cheekbone. “I know you can throw a punch. I promise I’ll bleed all over your antique carpet. Again. Remember the last time, with the Kodji and the pogo stick? It’ll be real blood, I promise you that. Can’t promise I won’t punch you back, though.” Dean paused, considering. “Or maybe that’s what you need.”
Sherlock’s lips twitched like they did when five different smiles wanted to come out: a terrified one, an amused one, a fascinated one and a couple that John couldn’t even put a name to.
“What I need,” Sherlock said, “is some scotch.”
Dean threw his head back with a sudden laughing bark. “Now you’re talking!” He smacked Sherlock’s chest with the back of his hand and stomped away in the direction of the kitchen.
“Can I make some coffee?” Sam asked John, head indicating that way too. John had suggested once, early on, that Sam take his fancy coffee maker back with him to his and Dean’s new home, but whether it was because at the time the bunker still hadn’t felt much of a home for Sam or because on some level Baker Street still had, Sam declined. John never repeated the offer.
“I already made some,” he told his friend.
“Great.” Sam smiled.
“He never told you about any of that? About what happened in his dream world when he nearly overdosed?”
Sam hadn’t asked his question until they got into the park’s grounds. John couldn’t tell whether it was a premeditated choice, the kind of thoughtfulness Sam had, giving John some time to process what they’d just heard. Or perhaps it was simply a matter of practicality: street noise in Central London hardly invited private conversations.
After hearing Sherlock’s full story—Moriarty in a wedding dress, Jesus Christ!—the need to come out for some fresh air had pressed on John like a stone slab. Didn’t matter how depressing it was outside, he just needed to leave the flat for a bit. They didn’t have food for four people anyway. Mrs. Hudson was going to cook dinner for sure, but grocery shopping was as good an excuse as any.
Sam had sprung up from his seat by the table only a second after John had risen from his armchair, but had then stayed rooted to his spot like a tower of uncertainty.
“Want to come with?” John asked him. “Just going to the shops.”
They didn’t go to the shops. Outside, John turned left and right a few times, before meeting Sam’s ever patient eyes and they took off wordlessly in the direction of Regent’s Park.
The park was almost eerie in the quiet that engulfed them. The bleak winter weather had chased even the bravest people off, it seemed—only several figures could be seen close by and in the distance, like a smattering over a big map.
“He told me about the case,” John answered Sam’s question, staring ahead as he kept walking. “None of the other bits. Nothing about Moriarty.”
In his peripheral vision he could see Sam nod. A few moments passed. “What do you think—?”
“What brings you here?” John cut him off.
The silence stretched longer this time. Sam made a motion as if he wanted to spread his arms, only his hands were bunched up in his jacket’s pockets.
“Honestly? I don’t know.” His lips twitched in unison with his shoulders. He was made up of all these little familiar ticks. “I’m always happy to see you, man. A few days ago I was kind of—” Sam came to an abrupt halt, both in words and motion. John went on by inertia, then took a step back.
“It was Dean’s idea to come,” Sam said in a beat. “I was going to suggest it but he beat me to it.”
“Right,” John contributed when Sam didn’t continue immediately.
“Apparently there’s a book here,” said Sam. “In Oxford, in a library.”
“About the Darkness?”
“Yeah, about the Darkness.”
John’s gaze shifted from his friend’s face to the lake. The water appeared opaque in this weather, impenetrable. It was hard to imagine bird life thrived here in the warm summer days. It was hard to imagine warm summer days, period.
“I don’t think there actually is,” Sam said.
“What, a book?”
“Yeah. I think he just wanted to get away. Here,” Sam added, pensive. “You know—get away to here.” His American accent shot up on the last word.
John waited for more but Sam just indicated with his head they should keep walking.
“I’m kind of worried about him,” he told John in a minute.
“He’s been… He’s fine, he seems fine. But first, there was something in one of our last cases, the one I told you about, the banshee?” Sam sounded like he was asking, as if John could forget. It was amazing, it spoke to John about deep seated modesty. John loved Sherlock, but he just felt like bashing him over the head sometimes and his complete and utter lack of modesty was high on the list of things to elicit such a reaction.
Meanwhile, Sam continued, still fumbling for the right words. “I don’t know, at first I—I mean, I didn’t think much about it. I mean, my mind’s been— Ever since I was in the Cage, ever since Lucifer, my head’s been all messed up. Was,” Sam corrected himself. “Was. Dean and I talked. And then just…Working, you know. It helped. Just working a normal job.”
Sam’s lack of perspective on how memorable his deeds were went nicely with his warped views on the world. It was a small wonder he and Sherlock hadn’t become best of friends. A normal job. John snorted.
Sam threw him a sharp glance then lightly bumped shoulders with him, the gesture startling John a little with its playfulness.
“Yeah, I know.” Sam fell quiet. “But it felt normal, you know? It felt like things could be all right again. Everything. One day.”
He caught John’s eye and John nodded.
“The banshee went after Dean.” Sam resumed in a moment. They’d hunted a banshee, John was told on Skype back then, but it was another hunter, a young woman, who had done most of the work. She was helped by an elderly lady living in one of those retirement places. Sam had mentioned the whole case in just a few sentences but there had been warmth in his voice for the two women.
John cast his mind around quickly to check if he had missed something key. Banshees were death omens, screeching until you thought your eardrums would burst. There’d been one in Malvern Mansion yet very fortunately, none of them had died. Then again the whole place turned out to be a portal to Purgatory so probably nothing had quite followed the laws of nature. Or supernature, as it were.
He decided to just ask. “Why are you worried about Dean? The banshee’s dead, right? It was what was after Dean, the actual threat on his life. So it’s actually over. Right?”
“It’s not just that. It was the type of banshee that went after the most vulnerable person in the room.”
John took a couple of seconds to process. “Oh,” he said at length, lips staying curled around the sound.
“Dean kind of had an explanation. He said the banshee saw him standing there with the knife, a threat, and went for the kill.”
They’d reached the rose gardens. John headed straight for the nearest bench, feeling a little short of breath. Side effects from choosing to take a stroll with someone whose legs were twice as long as your own.
“You don’t believe what Dean told you?” he asked when Sam lowered himself next to him.
“Not that I don’t,” Sam said after some consideration. “It seems legit. But.” He squinted ahead. “But then he told me something. Another piece of the jigsaw, a pretty big one. I’d kind of felt I was missing something, or maybe I just knew on some level.” There was burden in every line of Sam’s face and body. “Dean can’t kill the Darkness. He said that they’re connected somehow. He doesn’t want to call it love or desire, but he is…bonded to her. Like a hold, when he’s near her. I think…” Sam finally looked at John “He can’t kill her,” he finished quietly. “So I’m going to have to do it. I promised him.”
“Alone,” John said slowly. “You’ll have to face her alone?”
Sam opened his mouth to reply, but thought better of it and just nodded.
“All right.” John said it like the words were magic, capable of dispelling disturbing half-formed conclusions.
They spent a few moments in silence, each absorbed in his thoughts. John’s were disjointed, miasmic. Things were happening, serious things, he acknowledged that. But he was also sitting in companionable silence with one of his few really good friends. It was authentic, tangible. It was hard to see it as something lesser, even pitted against the Darkness. If he had met this Darkness in her human form, as the woman whose name John only remembered began with the letter ‘A’, it would be different. But John had never been one for things too abstract.
Sam’s feet shuffled over the gravel surrounding the bench. He looked disturbingly bright in the foggy air: his brown hair’s golden ends seemed to catch light out of nowhere and the pink in his plaid shirt was vibrantly set off by the muted colours around them, doing wonders for his complexion.
John remembered most of what Sam had told him about his history back when they lived together, including about Sam’s time in the Cage. In this case, John also remembered what Sam hadn’t said. John had filled in the blanks. Unfathomably long time from human perspective, spent as Lucifer’s only ‘toy’. Of all the terrible experiences Sam had been through, eternity with the Devil had to be the darkest, sickest. Trauma didn’t begin to describe it.
Then just recently Sam had faced Lucifer again, voluntarily, looking for a way to save humanity. He was now headed to a future where the best case scenario featured him facing another formidable enemy. The Darkness, the bonkers, psychopathic sister of God. She’d probably wilt at John’s meagre adjective to describe her. Or smite him, or swallow him whole.
John suddenly felt strung tight like a cord. This was just grand. His best friend was overdosing and coming apart at the seams apparently, his mind disintegrating to the point where reality became unrecognizable. One day John could walk into their living room to find Sherlock dead on the floor, God knows what lethal cocktail in his bloodstream. Or maybe worse, John could walk in to find the shell of Sherlock on the floor, cells and organs all intact, while his essence, his mind and his soul, were trapped irretrievably in his own creation of confinement with his worst nightmare. Having his imaginary brain blown off, or marrying the maniac!
And his other friend, one John was also willing to die for, was preparing himself mentally to stand up to a version of God in reverse. Without his brother. After he had gone on his own volition to the actual Devil. Again.
“Do you want to talk about it? About Lucifer?” John asked, well aware how brisk his tone was.
Sam opened his mouth, closed it and shook his head. “Not really. There’s not much point. He pushed my buttons. I got out. We got out. He’s back in the Cage.” Sam’s big hands spread wide open on his thighs. “I just want to move on. Or maybe I want a break, or I need one. You know?”
John hummed in agreement. He held back on his next question, his trusted inner compass completely silent. It was a dizzying feeling, having zero grasp on whether a few words would be a welcome expression of concern or a ghastly intrusion.
“Are you thinking about whether Dean…” He realized with horrible acuteness that there was no good way of asking Sam if he was afraid Dean would choose Amara over him. “What was her name again?”
“Amara.” Sam supplied it without any feeling of spite, fury or loathing. It did not surprise John at all. You didn’t often get a rise out of Sam but God help you when you did.
Would God help? How did sibling rivalry work on a divine level?
“Amara,” John repeated. Harriet was a plainer name but that hardly made things plain. It wasn’t easy to be a brother sometimes.
As if in a response to John’s unvoiced thought Sam’s eyelids tensed up, closing for a few long seconds. He passed a hand over his jaw. He hadn’t shaved in a few days.
“Do you fancy a drink?” John offered. “Pub will be nice and cozy.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, low. “Yeah, that’d be good.”
They got up and headed back in the direction of the gates.
“Have you worked any interesting cases lately?” John asked.
“Oh, dude.” There was amusement in Sam’s voice. “There’s so much I got to tell you about, it’s like we’ve entered the twilight zone.” He sped up a little, long arms beginning to move for emphasis. “First there was the killer bunny, then there was Sully, he used to be my imaginary friend, only it turns out imaginary friends are real. Yeah! Oh, there was the clown too, Jesus. And glitter…”
The first thing John noticed when they walked back into the apartment was Sherlock standing by the window facing the big leather couch, having changed into his best dressing gown. None of this was particularly noteworthy if it wasn’t for the fact that John had failed to notice Dean first who was lounging on the sofa clad in a dark green dressing gown. There were grey stripes on it. It looked suspiciously like John’s old one.
“Dude,” Sam spoke with feeling behind John’s back.
“What?” Dean asked, his nonchalance a little too strong. He put down on the table the glass of whiskey he’d be cradling and sat up in one fluid, easy motion. His bare legs’ bow was somehow more evident like that. There were slippers on his feet.
Sam turned to John. “How long were we gone?”
“Too long,” Dean replied, quickly regrouping in attack formation. “Where’s the food?”
“I thought you couldn’t eat for a day after flying,” Sherlock spoke before Sam or John could reply.
Dean’s face showed considerable concession. “Well yeah. But we’ve been whooshing through the skies.” Dean illustrated with both hands. “We’ve been like freaking Superman for two years now, thanks to your brother’s awesome jet. My stomach’s, you know…Adjusted.” Dean turned to Sam again. “Where’ve you been?”
“For a walk, then to the pub.”
Sam walked into the room taking off his damp jacket and throwing a perfunctory, “What?” in Dean’s direction, despite that he was being heavily reproached for going out drinking Dean-less. “It’s not like that’s apple juice you got there,” Sam added, crouching and rubbing his hands together by the fire.
“It’s the principle,” Dean insisted.
Sam scoffed, looking over his shoulder. “Would you have come out if we’d called you?”
“Maybe,” Dean muttered defensively.
“What, you were going to abandon grandpa’s robe?”
“That’s…” John discovered his mouth was still working. “That’s actually my robe. Dressing gown.”
“Used to be,” Sherlock clarified.
“Sorry,” Sam told John. “I was only…I was just making fun of him.” He turned to Dean. “Why are you wearing John’s robe?”
“That robe—That dressing gown was supposed to go to the charity shop,” John said, finally walking into the room after he was done boggling. “I gave it to Mrs. Hudson.”
Dean looked down the dressing gown. “It’s a good robe, man. Why would you give it away?”
“My thoughts precisely,” said Sherlock.
“You’ve kept my robe?” John asked Sherlock. “Dressing gown! Jesus. Why did you keep it?”
“No reason.” Sherlock looked at his nails.
“Where is the food?”
“Come on, man,” Dean told Sherlock encouragingly. “Nothing to be embarrassed about, you should be proud.”
Sherlock fidgeted, one hand in his pocket, while the other danced in the air, flicking toward Dean in the process. “He’s been bragging about that dead man ‘robe’ of his.” Dean acquired a barely concealed expression of pride. “Personally, I didn’t find anything special about it,” Sherlock continued. “Over here, custom-made dressing gowns are superior in every respect.”
“Equal,” Dean corrected.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Equal.”
John’s mind was whirring. “But that was my old dressing…robe. Hang on a minute! You got me a new one. ‘Just like that,’ you said. ‘No reason.’”
“It was time for one.” Sherlock was all poise.
John walked over to him, index finger demanding his scheming flatmate’s attention. “No, it wasn’t. This one,” he pointed at Dean, “was barely two years old.”
“Don’t scoff at me, Mr. I-can’t-bear-to-part-with-my-ancient-coat-that-makes-me-look-so-cool! My old dressing gown was a fancy gift from Mycroft, a Christmas gift. Then you got me the new one and the following day Mrs. Hudson started talking about charity shops. I actually think you convinced me I should give it away.”
“You’re misremembering things,” Sherlock said.
“I don’t think I am. It was three months ago.”
“Three months ago?” Sam asked John, standing up and stretching luxuriously. “That makes it right after the time you came over to Texas for a visit, right?”
John spread his arms in triumph. Sherlock had the decency to look momentarily chastised. It was really short-lived.
“I like it,” Dean announced from the sofa, stroking the gown’s lapels. “I can have it for here. But mine back home is better. Sorry man, I gotta say it how it is.”
“Oh please,” Sherlock told him, face all scrunched up. “Yours was heavy!”
“You’re…heavy,” Dean muttered. John had to agree with Sam on the topic of his brother regularly winning the ‘lame comeback of the year’ award.
“So.” Sam turned with his back to the fireplace, hands going into his jeans pocket. His big body swayed a little. He looked between Sherlock and Dean, one finely shaped eyebrow rising. “Is the robes contest open to everyone? Can I get one too? You know...” He took his hands out, producing exemplary air quotes. “For here.”
“Woo-hoo,” Mrs. Hudson popped her head through the front door. “Oh, hello! I thought I heard Dean’s voice.”
Three months later
How much had changed in mere three months, John thought in the morning of the day the sun started dying. The last time he saw Sam was in those grim days in February, yet John’s memories were of warmth and hope, against all odds. He was filled with dreadful melancholia, as alien to his temperament as the view outside his window.
He would be content to take that to the grave as the last time they’d all spent time together. He remembered a sudden gust of wind bringing over thunderclouds, then the rain lashing at the windows while lightning illuminated them. The four of them sitting together, hushed; relaxed or rather, powered down. They’d moved the furniture to its usual setup whenever Sam and Dean visited: the two armchairs on both sides of the fireplace and the sofa opposite it, stretched out between the chairs as if connecting them.
They had looked happy, Sam and Dean.
“Of course they look happy!” Sherlock had called from his bedroom in reply to John voicing his discovery. “They have finally put an end to the pointless melodrama going on between them!” John had reprimanded Sherlock for shouting as if Sam and Dean weren’t currently dropping off their duffle bags downstairs, Sherlock insisted that he was doing no such thing, and soon comparisons with Mrs. Hudson had been thrown around carelessly. John would be proud to possess even half of their landlady’s strength of character and good humour, but did not like to be essentially called a sensitive old lady.
John remembered Dean returning upstairs and making a few directionless steps before lowering himself onto the sofa. He’d immediately pulled away and tugged out a cushion from under his back, the gesture having a bit of a flourish, but nothing like the kind with which the cushion was exiled to the far end of the sofa.
He remembered Sam’s big hands folded around his mug with steaming tea, exactly the way John had his. The bright fire had only added to what John was already feeling: a scene out of the loop of time. Had Sam and Dean arrived only earlier in the day or a week ago? Or had they never even left in the first place?
But time moved on, the memory possible to pin on its canvas. Winter. The spring that followed didn’t bring life but the threat of end for all of it. No matter their efforts, Sam and Dean could not stop Amara and today John was left, like the rest of humanity, to watch all colour in the world dim, light perishing by the hour amid around-the-clock news reports of ‘strange solar activity’. Darkness was sweeping over the planet, its namesake raising a hand to choke the life out of everything in existence.
Then a phone call came.
A solution, a last moment triumphant yell that turned into an anguished cry for the price it demanded. A bomb made out of souls—the human soul, that energy which knew no match—and one feeble human body to contain it, take it to the Darkness, embrace her and take her away into oblivion.
“Like a Trojan horse of sorts…” John murmured, stunned.
“Yeah,” Sam agreed, voice threadbare over the line, and John’s eyes prickled more for him than for his heroic Kamikaze brother.
There was nothing quiet in Sherlock’s reaction.
“There are other ways. Just give me more time to think!” Sherlock was sitting in the middle of the room, in the biggest mess he’d ever created: papers, pictures, a hundred books piled up around him until he looked like he was sitting in the trenches. But no man could win a battle against the ticking clock.
Dean said something on the other side of the line and Sherlock shook his head vehemently. “It still doesn’t mean you have to do it!” His voice was like a cannonball. “Stay back, let me think. Why is it that you and your brother always have to—Just stay back and someone will take care of it. Someone always does.”
John could hear Dean’s grave, ‘Yeah. We do,’ as if it was his ear pressed against the phone.
After, Sherlock went into his bedroom and stayed there, complete silence engulfing the flat.
John had just decided to go in and ask him to come out or for John to stay in with him, stiff upper lip be damned—if it came to it, he wanted to spend his last moments with his best friend—when suddenly light erupted in the room as if a thick velvet veil had been yanked off the planet. John rushed to the window, gazing up to the sky, breath caught in his chest while he stared, suspicious of his own perceptions, seconds stretching to eternity.
It was real. It was over. They were safe.
Dean was dead. John bowed his head as if someone had snapped his neck, stared down at his shoes, his cleaned up, polished shoes.
Sam didn’t answer his phone in the hours that followed and Sherlock didn’t come out of his bedroom.
He did when his brother showed up in the late afternoon, carrying some thin folders.
“Sherlock, I need you to look at this.” Mycroft spoke to the closed bedroom door, turning his ear to it. “Sherlock.”
“It’s about Sam Winchester. It’s serious.” John’s gaze shot to Mycroft’s face to find it unreadable, but Mycroft lifted his eyebrows as he listened in.
Ten seconds later the door opened and Sherlock emerged from it, pale and bringing along with him the biggest sulk in existence. In the depth of his morbid soul John snorted. How like Sherlock to treat the death of one of the few people with whom he’d forged an emotional connection not as a sacrifice meaning everyone’s salvation but as a personal inconvenience.
“Well?” Sherlock said to Mycroft, cross.
“It’s good to see you alive, too,” Mycroft retorted with a pointedly pleasant smile.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “We were sentimental once already today, it should do it for the rest of the year. Or the decade. You said it was serious, what is it?”
Mycroft headed back to the living room, talking. “I thought you’d like to know that Sam has been taken away.”
“What do you mean he’s been taken away?” Sherlock frowned. “Is it something to do with—”
“No, it is a good old-fashioned kidnapping by humans. I was made aware of it earlier by an acquaintance who prefers to remain anonymous.”
“Who’s taken him?” John asked. The hours of helpless stagnation swiftly found a counterpoint and John was ready to go, now.
Mycroft hesitated, face turning somewhat sour. “There has been some…unresolved tension between our government and the British branch of Men of Letters. Over the last ten years relations have been strained. Nothing dramatic, nothing the British public should be concerned about.”
“So you’ve got your panties in a bunch because you can’t meddle and control them,” Sherlock translated. John wondered if he was even aware he’d used the American slang.
In the first days after Malvern Mansion, after Sam and Dean took off, John felt like someone had wound him up like a doll and let him whir around, frenetic, but stopped him while he still had excessive power left. A week later, he and Sherlock ended up finding a supernatural case, although Sherlock insisted it had found them. They were thrown head first into an adventure involving Underworld Egyptian cats. Transatlantic phone consultations were carried out well into the night until the successful completion of the case.
“You are in fine form today,” John had commented once they were back at home, having been subjected to an apropos of nothing remark on his nails of all things.
“I have to be, if my partner is going to shake like a leaf at the sight of a pussycat.”
“That’s not what I meant. You, with the attitude. I don’t know how we didn’t get a lifetime ban from the British Museum and every other museum in the country. And those cats were more like cheetahs. I don’t even want to think what kind of Whiskas they were given down there.”
“You sound like Dean.”
The unlikeliest outcome of their foursome’s intense time together was that Sherlock and Dean had kept in touch independently of their little group. The mind boggled but John had actually been glad for another source of grounding influence in Sherlock’s life. The first time they were reunited with Sam and Dean, some two months later, John had thrown Dean a quick glance and decided ‘grounding’ should be taken in the broadest sense of the word. Dean had sprawled on the sofa, his utterly relaxed stance at odds with the fact that the man’s career was that of someone who knew how to kill five hundred things in just as many ways.
Now that influence was gone. It was too early to do anything but reel, and there were more important things John could do than grieve anyway, such as make sure Dean’s little brother, the proverbial apple of his eye, was safe. It didn’t hurt that John felt quite strongly on the matter too.
Meanwhile Sherlock was scoffing at his own brother. “Mycroft, don’t treat us like the electorate, I don’t care if there’s any concern for the public or not. What do your tedious organizational relations have to do with Sam?”
“It obviously means The Men of Letters are involved and I can’t do much about it, Sherlock!” Mycroft took in his brother’s thin face and disarrayed curls and his tone lost some of its haughty frustration. (John couldn’t tell whether it was on account of his limited powers or Sherlock’s slow uptake.)
“The information I have,” Mycroft continued, “is that Sam was taken from their quarters in Kansas by personnel of the British Men of Letters and is being held at an unknown location.”
For some reason that made John see red. “He was taken by us? By British hunters? They’re still after him?”
“Not hunters. Men of Letters. There are disputes between those groups too. The first claim there are supernatural deaths in Britain, the second that there are none. It doesn’t matter,” Mycroft said with some irritation. “They’re such nuisances, all of them. I wish they’d just let us deal with all of it. A division under the supervisio—”
“Sam, Mycroft. Sam!”
Mycroft took a sharp breath, giving Sherlock a light bow. “Apologies. The formal instruction is to interrogate him on the network of local hunters. My source tells me the informal assignment may be different. That’s all I know. There are other pressing matters I need to deal with, in light of earlier developments.” Mycroft rolled his eyes. “If you’ll pardon the pun. I’ll leave the matter in your hands.” He took a breath and lifted his eyes, head shaking a little while he searched for the right words to continue. Sherlock narrowed his gaze at him, as taken aback by this uncharacteristic display of ineloquence as John was.
“The predicament we were all in until this morning,” Mycroft said slowly, “was entirely the Winchesters’ doing.”
Both Sherlock and John opened their mouths to protest but Mycroft lifted his hand brusquely. “I won’t quibble over grey areas, Sherlock. Be that as it may, they took care of the problem at great personal cost. For that alone I believe the remaining living member of the family deserves some…preferential treatment.” Mycroft’s face suddenly lost its stiffness. “His brother is not coming for him. I thought someone else might.”
Sherlock was watching Mycroft in silence. He pursed his lips and nodded once. “What have you got?”
“I have the files of the personnel who are on the assignment.” Mycroft passed the folders to Sherlock.
“Who’re these people exactly?” John asked. He was given a meaningful look of silence in reply so he turned to Sherlock. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock was skimming through one of the files. His eyes froze on the page for a couple of seconds then lifted sharply to his brother’s. Mycroft just nodded without comment. Sherlock lowered his gaze again.
“The phone number is right on top in the other file for your convenience” Mycroft said. “You’ve realized that’s the one you ought to call.”
Sherlock was already retrieving his phone from his dressing gown pocket. Mycroft watched him for a beat longer then nodded his goodbye to John, rotated on his spot and walked out, his steps clipped.
“Put it on speaker,” John said to Sherlock, moving close.
Four rings, then a female voice. “Who is this?”
Sherlock’s face turned lively. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. I was given your number by friends in very high places. I believe you are holding an…associate of mine, Sam Winchester. Let’s not waste time in discussing the stupidity of your actions and your astounding lack of professional competence and go straight to the question: where and when can we pick him up? The earliest at our convenience would be great.”
“Who are you? How did you get this number?”
Sherlock extended his arm and looked at the phone, eyebrows forming a perfect V shape, then brought the phone back to his mouth, speaking slower. “I don’t know how I could have made myself clearer. Do you suffer from impaired cognitive functions on top of your basic—”
“I’m going to hang up now.”
“Give me the phone,” John said. “What do you want from Sam?” he asked the woman.
“Who is this? Tell me how you got my number?”
“We were given it by someone in the British secret services.” John consulted mutely with Sherlock who nodded. “We know all about you. We know how to find you. Let Sam Winchester go.”
There was a moment of silence following John’s bluff, then the woman spoke again, some amusement traceable in her voice even through the phone. “What is it about Sam Winchester that has got everyone and their aunt calling me? I don’t get a call on this number for days on end sometimes and now I’ve had two in fifteen minutes.”
Sherlock straightened up, face like stone. “Who else has called you?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but it was his brother.”
John’s heart flipped in his chest. His gaze jumped to Sherlock whose eyes were wide and moving rapidly in their sockets, left to right, right to left. He suddenly took a deep breath and let it out slowly, lips parted. “In that case,” he said, giving John a beatific smile, “sorry to have bothered you.”
“What? No!” John shot him a murderous look, grounding his teeth. “We’re not sorry. Let Sam go.”
“That seems to be the popular request. The answer is no.”
“What do you want with him?”
The silence stretched longer this time. “You’re British. Do you work for MI5? What do you want with Sam Winchester?”
“He is my friend. Let him go.”
“Just give me the phone!” Sherlock snatched it from John’s hand, turned off the loudspeaker and pressed the phone to his ear. “Sam Winchester will be free sooner or later, so my advice to you is to let him go now. It will be to your great advantage if he is unharmed although judging by the CV of the person you’ve taken with you on your trip, that ship has sailed. Here is what I have to say to you.”
Sherlock’s face turned nasty, there was no other word for it.
“I assume you were given the assignment as the result of your research on your subject. Or perhaps the research followed. Either way, you must have researched the wrong person. You don’t shoot at Sam Winchester to make him co-operate. You don’t lock him up and you do not torture him to extract information. The man is more likely to give you everything you need the moment you tell him the world will be a better place or something equally utopian. Last but not least,” Sherlock tilted his head, eyes squeezing shut with emphasis, “and I cannot stress this enough, when you research Sam Winchester you pay attention to Dean Winchester. You’re an idiot, and I mean you, personally. Before you did any of the things you’ve done you should have made sure his brother was dead.”
“I have now, thank you.”
Sherlock looked up, stayed perfectly still for two seconds, then hung up.
His eyes met John’s. John felt his neck pricking like it used to when all personnel was lined up back in the field, awaiting orders.
The sun, beautiful and intact, filtered into 221B Baker Street and turned it into something dreamlike. Shabby furniture appeared lovingly antique, state of the art technology blended in effortlessly, every piece of paper, every incongruous object and every empty cup felt like whispers of eternal home. John’s gaze moved to the sofa picturing Sam and Dean there, sitting close, looking up to him and Sherlock.
“We’re going to America,” Sherlock said, his back already retreating in the direction of his bedroom. “Pack lightly.”