I wake up feeling hollow, and spend the morning vacillating between being convinced there had never been anything inside, and being certain it had been scooped out entirely.
After four days’ retreat in my hiding hole, I finally convince myself that I ought to at least buy a new loaf of bread. I’m not particularly interested in poisoning myself with mould. Not today, anyway. The trek to the corner store seems unremarkable. I'm still not sure when I drifted into this liminal space.
By the time I arrive to the till, loaf clutched in hand, I am feeling crowded. People had been shoving past me in the street, and I'd thought- All right, it's not the best part of London. Then at the cooler, another man had swooped in and nabbed the jug of milk I was about to take. Rude. But then the woman queued behind me (who'd been standing rather closer than customary) just barges along and slams down her basket of sundries when its meant to be my turn.
“Excuse me?” I spit. What am I? Invisible!? I hold back from saying, for the sheer petulance of the question. I can’t believe that this woman, looking sweet enough to be someone's gran, has just cut in like that. She didn't even blink. I mutter something inarticulate and gesture imploringly to the clerk. Her gaze was definitely facing in my direction, but there's no indication she'd noticed my confusion. My anything. I wave my hand in front of her face, before snapping back in shock.
I throw down the bread on a rack of impulse items and chewing gum and storm outside. I begin to feel a frantic bristling of nerves. No. Not a panic attack here in the street. In public. It's humiliating enough just facing my own self in the dark; sweating and shaken by anxieties that won't scatter no matter how many lights I turn on, or baths I draw, or walks I take. Has anyone ever been healed by such little things?
I scramble for my phone. If I call Harry, I’m convinced that being engaged with the conversation will inspire some responsibility in me to keep it together. I dig it out of my pocket and mash the keys to no effect. It must be jammed.
Walk. Just walk. I feel my feet accept the command, almost like I've got them on a leash. My head swims as I drag myself along. That’s what the feeling is like -weakly pulling myself along a life line. I’m not causing, I’m affected. I feel faded.
I find myself on the block in front of Barts, my old stomping grounds. The familiarity of the location stops me in my tracks, and the crowd begins to jostle me until I am nearly tackled full on. A rather heavy set man my own age looked bewildered, like he'd bounced off a glass door he hadn't noticed. Embarrassed. He pats himself down and in doing so notices something in his pocket. The look of exasperation tips me off. Mike - Mike Stamford from my school days. He'd shot me that look of exasperation all the countless times a professor had bored us, or a lab partner had flaked right before a deadline.
“Stamford! Stop, Mike...”
There was nothing for it; he can’t hear me any more than he can see me, apparently. He turns on his heel to head back into the building and I follow after him as quickly as I can. If someone is going to see me, it'd be someone I already had a connection with. Wouldn't it?
Mike ducks into a side entrance of the hospital, easily navigating left, left, and down one flight to the basement level. I wince when the door exiting a stairwell closes on my backside. He jiggles a few lab door handles, peeking into ones he must suspect contain what he was looking for.
A deep voice wafts from one as he opens it (Black, two sugars), and as soon as I follow Mike in to the room, he’s being lead away again by a young woman who’s on her way out.
“Molly! Glad I caught you. I forgot to pass these along to you before I went to lunch. Sorry about that.” He tosses her a set of keys and the door shuts behind them before I can duck back through. I grab the doorknob to exit, expecting to twist it open. When I throw my weight, the door won’t budge, and I feel my elbow crackle when my side pins it to the unmoving door.
“Their eyes pass right over you. You're not even being inconspicuous; if anything you look panicked. Even this lot ought to notice that you're on the brink of a nervous breakdown. How- Why can't they see you?”
I turn around to face the owner of the query - the deep voice from before. He's outrageous. Too much of everything. Too nicely dressed for a man his age, too much hair, too pale, too pronounced. Maybe they couldn't see me because he was in the room. He demands attention. And at the moment his attention is fixed on me.
“You can- You can see me?” I ask with a gulp.
I feel my stomach drop. It is by far the most concrete feeling I've had all day.
“I see everything,” he claims.
“It's, uh. It's been all day like this. Maybe longer, I stayed in the past few-”
I feel insane. I’m overreacting, at the very least. This incredible man can see me, so obviously everything up to this point must have been my own insecurity mixed with coincidence and declining civility of Londoners. I wrestle with the door again.
He gets up from the workbench and crosses in front of me - yet granting the only personal space I've experienced all day - and opens the door easily. I can't believe it. I tentatively put my hand to the door, and he releases his hold. The door opens easily enough. When draw my hand back it shuts on its own. Try the handle once more. Immovable.
“Interesting,” states the man.
Somehow- that soothes me. He's not panicking. I'm not panicked. Suddenly everything seems a bit funny to me. I start to laugh, and my tension drains considerably. He joins in, and then offers his hand.
“Sherlock Holmes. And your name?”
“What name do you like?” I offer, still laughing and ecstatic that I can feel someone's touch when my hand clasps his in a shake.
“John,” He says. As though he knows.
“Well, what a coincidence. My name happens to be John.”
I follow him all day. He insists he likes the company. People stare when he rambles to me, barely keeping his voice low. He’s brilliant, and seems to think I’m at least half as fascinating as I (privately) find him. It’s almost as good as being visible to chase along behind this madman. I appreciate that he can open doors (I’ll never point it out) although he chides me for not trying. He's a detective of some strange invented sort. He puzzles things out, and I feel myself hoping he'll figure me out as well.
When Sherlock notices the cabbie at the door of the flat he catches my eye and I follow. I know he's curious to uncover details he doesn't yet understand. We play along. It's rather fun being his shadow. It's even useful, when I point out the fake gun.
“You’re not the only one to enjoy a good murder. There’s others out there just like you, except you’re just a man ... and they’re so much more than that,” says the cabbie. I pace behind him.
“What do you mean, more than a man? An organization? What?”
“There’s a name no one says, and I’m not gonna say it either.”
I huff. I'm tired. He's hardly a threat with a fake gun and no muscle.
“Now, enough chatter. Time to choose,” he insists, nodding to two pill bottles.
“He's smart, Sherlock, but he's no match for you physically. Give him to the police and they'll put the screws to him.”
He shoots me a look that asks, The Name?
“It's not like he's gonna tell you something you can put into Google and get back a top result for,” I add.
“What if I don’t choose either? I could just walk out of here,” Sherlock admits. That's it. Let's go.
The cabbie raises the gun as though it ought to mean something, and Sherlock and I both start laughing. The idiot. The cabbie swings around in his seat and in that moment I'm certain he's seen me.
“The hell-” he starts. Instincts I haven’t had a chance to lean into since my return to London fire up. I lunge and lock an arm around his neck. I can do this. I can do this? I shouldn’t be able to touch anything at all, but I hold tight. I’m shorter than he is, but I kick out his knees from behind and pin him. I look up at Sherlock. Still grinning. Behind him, I can see the blink of police lights reflecting in the window around the steady line of his victorious shoulders. Like he’s sparking off magic. (But not my own reflection? Am I too low to the ground?) Sherlock whips out his phone to contact the Detective Inspector. It's an odd thing- and I banish the thought quickly, but it crosses my mind that whenever I laugh with Sherlock, I feel solid.
I’m starving. But I also can’t really pick up so much as a grape. Maybe this is it- whatever has happened to me is permanent and terminal. My flesh will become insubstantial, or more insubstantial than it already is and I’ll waste away. As we leave the crime scene I realize I’ll have to acknowledge the ache, much as I’ve tried to ignore it all day.
“What would you have done if I hadn’t been there?”
“Found out what I wanted to know, and wait for the police to tidy up.”
“No,” I smirk. I’m certain he would have tried a pill. He likes having the last word. “It’s how you get your kicks, isn’t it? You risk your life to prove you’re clever.”
He looks down and bites his lip to disguise a smile. But I see. I feel like I see more clearly than ever, now that I’m afraid I’ll eventually look down at my own two hands and see-
“Nothing of the sort. Good of you to provide back up without being too interfering.”
“Well I can’t shadow you all the time, can I?”
“Can’t you? Might as well until you resolve your, ah, corporeal setbacks.”
My stomach growls. He probably hears. If he can see me, chances are he’s in tune with everything else. I keep my mouth shut.
“You’re nervous you won’t be able to, and so you don’t want to try.”
Damn. I’d really prefer it if he couldn’t see right through me (ugh) but I’m not sure I’d know how to lie to him.
“Yeah,” I mutter with as little commitment as possible.
We get some takeaway from a place not far from his flat on Baker Street, and when we march back into the sitting room it feels like days since we followed the cabbie away, not hours. Following Sherlock’s example I shrug off my jacket and hang it on coat rack before really considering it metaphysically. Can it be seen now? If so, will I be able to put it back on? What if I cut my hair?
Sherlock seems to notice my sudden brainstorm once he dumps the takeaway bag on the coffee table. He approaches. Brushes his fingers on the zipper and tuts.
“Well, I might not be the best judge. I’ll have to take it down to my landlady. Ask if she’d mend it, or something to suss out if she sees it.”
He exits back out to the landing, and I cross the room to the table. My heart races hungrily as I try to pry my fingers into the brown paper. May as well be bronzed or glued down. Everything is stuck in place but me, and I’m a breeze that can’t rustle any leaves. I scrub my face with the heels of my hands and growl back at my stomach. I would have drunk some water at least before leaving my bedsit, if I’d known. I had at least discovered I could use the loo this afternoon. Even if I need to strategize the door-opening-situation. More of that dread that I’m going to turn to dust.
Sherlock comes back in, and closes the door behind himself a little more forcefully than I expect.
I grunt. Great. I can shed little pieces of myself until I don’t exist anymore. He steamrollers over my obvious foul mood and plucks the bag open, flinging a package of eggrolls at me. And maybe because I didn't expect it and can't over think it- I catch it.
“I- how did I do that? I tried before but it wouldn’t...” I trail off before I can properly ogle the gift-horse. I pull out an eggroll and wolf it in one go, I’m so pleased.
“I’ll have to invent ways to keep you off balance, then,” Sherlock muses, prying open his own container of rice. His eyes flash a triumphant punctuation to this declaration. I stop chewing for a minute.
I doubt that will be hard.
He flips on the telly to a news programme. The only show he watches, I’ll wager. Starts pattering away at his laptop, feet drawn up under himself, perched on an arm chair. I reach for the newspaper before I really think about it, but the result is seemingly the same. It’s a herculean effort to even have the ghost of a sensation that I’ve moved the page.
“Would you mind if-” he tosses me an uncapped pen. Brilliant. Anticipating me before I can anticipate him. Just brilliant.
I scribble in the margins of the newspaper for a bit. I fill in all the O's and D's with solid black ink before Sherlock concedes to open it to a crossword for me. I think he's gauging me. Watching for the effects of my exhaustion. The placement of my attention. Always hypothesizing. Somehow I don't feel like an experiment just yet, but I can very nearly hear it thrumming through his brain. I have the sensation of being heated. I feel a bit like the moon reflecting something bigger and more expansive than myself, and I’m embarrassed it must be visible from space.
“Mind you, this,” I wave my hand at myself and put down the pen- “is not an ideal situation. But if you could choose a superpower, what would it be?”
He frowns a little up until I look at him. Doesn't think I notice.
“The ability to mute things and persons would be agreeable.” He smirks, letting me know he's not saying I ought to shut up. I snicker at him.“That's if there's only one element of additional prowess added,” he amended.
“If I could have chosen- I might have liked to fly. At least no one would ask you to help them move house like if you had super strength.”
“If you're only achieving the power of flight, you'd have a bad time of it. You could only fly as fast as your greatest land-speed, and could only fly as high as temperature and atmospheric composition would allow.”
“Yeah, you have a good point, but you're a party pooper.” I stretch my arms out in a yawn and wish I could take a shower before collapsing but the idea is a bit daunting. I still haven't checked if I can put my clothes back on once they're off, even.
“Would you object to...utilizing your condition?” Sherlock has finally asked the question I was certain he'd been considering all night. I make a little shrug. I'm not sure I'm of use to anyone. I can't even get into the pantry and make tea, and I really don't want to try having it chucked at me.
“I think,” he continues, “that you are a person who needs to be of service.” He might as well have said; You are a person who needs to be visible.
But I am visible, if just to him. And being of service to him (with him) would be dedicating myself to the only permanence I can muster. I let him be right about me, because I want to let him be the solution.
I'm standing in the kitchen with the kettle. The crossword from the night before is on the table. The takeaway containers are nested atop the bin. I'm lifting a tea cup to sip, and wriggling my toes on the morning-cold tile of the floor. Behind me a door creaks and Sherlock swans in, imperious in a blue satin dressing gown.
“G'morning,” I salute with my cup, but he carries on to the sitting room and fetches several papers into his arms and begins to arrange them over the mantlepiece.
“Seems things are looking up,” I hint, taking a second mug into the sitting room after him. He doesn't seem to care. He doesn’t even dismiss me with a huff or a purse of the lips.
“Sherlock?” I'm still holding out the mug, its weight, it's warmth. In what? There are no hands. My hands. I drop the mug and it dashes to the ground but not even that alerts Sherlock to my sudden terror.
Sherlock. Sherlock, please. I must have done something out of order. You would know.
I awake at the sound of a door shutting downstairs. Sherlock? My unwashed face feels all the more grime-ridden for having camped out on a leather sofa all night. Practically peel myself up to a sitting position. I had refused to let Sherlock make the bed for me upstairs, after sparing me from non existence. (And taking me in stride on a thrilling case, feeding me, and beginning to riddle out my problem.) One favor too many for one day.
From my seat across the room, the mantelpiece catches my eye. Or the skull on it does. Seems to be a bit of a theme in the decor, really. Macabre. I get up to inspect the flat. Sherlock is definitely out. I don't (can't) check his room to be sure but I'm positive he'd only entered his room last night to let me sleep. He was tinkering and pacing and paper shuffling until I dropped off. Grateful he's left the door to the loo open, at least. Can't make the taps budge. I'll have to be permitted to bathe- like a child, apparently.
Begin to miss my own bedsit. Well. Not for it's cosy atmosphere, that's for sure. I want my laptop (probably can't use that), and a change of clothes would be nice (if I can arrange someone to toss them at me), my shaving kit (more difficulties, I'll bet.) The elderly staircase to the ground-floor announces Sherlock's homecoming. He nods around the door, without properly entering, and frisbees a parcel into the sitting room, over my head.
“See if you can get your coat on, we’ve got a case.” Just like that he tips his head back out and I scramble to discover what’s become of me.
When we return from our outing I make known my longing for a fresh change of clothes.
“We'll need to gather your belongings,” Sherlock agrees. “Would anyone object if I went to collect them, or ought we bring in my, ah! No matter.” Light click of a door closing downstairs, and he arranges himself deliberately in his chair. Stairs being tread. A man as tall and severe as Sherlock oozes into the sitting room through the still open door.
“I’ve just received a rather worrying report, dear brother.” He certainly doesn't look worried. He looks unamused. He looks at me. Or I thought he had for a second. No, only looking in my direction. Sherlock absorbs this as well, and gently turns to my position.
“Is there any other kind of report, when you’re so eager to be displeased with me?”
“Mmm. Something about a serial killer claiming he was half strangled by thin air. Bit unusual. Not quite as unusual as the Detective Inspector catching you rattling off deductions to yourself, however. Combined with the surveillance of your recent entrances and exits. Yes, worrying.”
Surveilling his own brother? I can hardly be arsed to read any emails my sister sends me, let alone be interested enough to track her movement. If he’s been watching the outside of the flat, he’ll have seen some odd holding of doors. Might look a bit unusual to be constantly ushering unseen persons across the threshold. Inside the flat-
“John,” he says. Like I’m not the most secret thing in the room. Flicks a pen at me. The other man's eyes narrow, tracking the flying pen. Has he just seen the pen wink out of existence, or is it now floating in mid air?
“John,” Sherlock says, just before I catch a pen he's flung at me, “-is a person with an interesting problem that I am looking into.” Right. Nothing out the ordinary about that.
“And you believe his...challenges are within your sphere?” says his brother with an arched eyebrow. The younger brother stiffens.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock breathes through his teeth. “What have you seen?”
“There's nothing, anymore,” He admits. “It would seem while one is a tourist from origins impermanent, a souvenir of solidity cannot be retained.”
“I don't suppose he can hear me, then.” Stupid to think I could suddenly appear if I was pointed out to someone. And now we know I vanish things. H.G. Wells would be stumped.
“You know we may have... resources for his condition.”
Sherlock's jaw tightens again, “He is in the room.”
“Apologies. Your condition. It's possible there are specialists that could discover-”
“And, he is under my protection,” Sherlock growls. I might only be a gust of air but I feel my scalp buzz, imagining him ready to lock talons in my defense. “You're not a subject,” he adds to me. I'm not sure that's true, but I know I'd rather be inspected by someone who can look me in the eye before they lock me away than some anonymous specialist.
Mycroft fixes his mouth in a calculated smile. “I assume you'll need arrangements to mop up after Mr-
“Doctor. Doctor Watson. Yes.” Sherlock corrects.
“-Doctor Watson's disappearance.” He holds out his hand. A signal of his intention to depart, let's hope. Sherlock watches carefully when I move to take it.
It's nearly how I imagine it would be to shake hands with a suit of armour. The only movement made is at his bidding I'm sure. My heart sinks to the bottom of my ribcage, and I feel like the bones in my forearm have been sucked away through my elbow. He says nothing and turns to leave. We're quiet while we wait for the sound of his departure, but my skull is a clamor of new questions.
Sherlock reaches for the pen, still in my left hand. I give it up. I'm ready to give up pretty much everything. A pen. A bloody pen.
“Didn't feel right. It felt- heavy, and maybe too cold. And definitely not under my control.” I say.
“You attacked Hope and managed to physically interact, how did that feel, comparatively?” He considers the pen, and then holds it back out to me to take back. I can.
“I suspected that once you have been introduced to a particular article, like your jacket earlier today- you can re-associate with it. We’ll further test that theory, of course.”
I remember to breath again, “Right. Uh- It felt normal. It felt like before.”
“His statement would seem to indicate he only heard and felt you. How's this?” He reaches out to me and when his fingers brush my hand, I'm full of bones again. And nerves. His touch chases away the unsettling feeling of the earlier contact. Don't let go. I privately wish. This is the only touch that's felt worthwhile since this all began.
“Feels normal,” I half lie. John Watson you are not a duckling. You may not imprint on the only other person in your pond. Eager to change the subject, I blurt “D’you suppose you could- uhm- introduce me to the taps in the shower. Maybe a towel and the shower curtain as well?”
He gives a curt nod and leads the way. I am tentative when we reach the green tub. Sherlock flops a towel over my shoulder and I don’t collapse under its weight. Easy enough. He steps behind me.
“Close your eyes.” I do, after a beat. His hand grasps my wrist and leads me to the edge of the curtain. He slips his fingers over mine, closing them around the vinyl. It springs under my touch like it ought to. I exhale, and I’m instantly embarrassed I was holding my breath again.
“Right.” I clear my throat and shift my weight. I must be the textbook example of discomfort. Sherlock gestures to the knobs and I grasp one experimentally. It seems unlikely to give way, and the more I twist the more raw with cold my hand feels.
“Worth a try, John,” he reassures me, and quickly closes my wrist in the circle of his long fingers. I close my eyes and he presses our joined reach to each of the taps and the diverter valve in turn.
“Thank you.” I say. He lets go and straightens out, while I fiddle with knobs and water begins to spatter into the tub. “I think I can take it from here.”
“I’ll leave you to it. I have something to-”
“Yeah, yeah.” I’ll just stay here and take my clothes off in the hope I can ever put them on again. You go enjoy your... Science. I pull the diverter and the shower-head hisses into action, hopefully to arrive at a reasonable temperature while I undress.
I examine my stubble in the mirror and hope that can be dealt with easily. No that anyone is going to mind my scruffy appearance, but I haven’t attempted any facial hair since I was 13 and trying to prove I could grow anything at all. Once I’ve folded my things on the lip of the sink I approach the shower, feeling the waft of steam curl around my figure. I step into the stream, and the effect is instant and it is shredding.
The beat of the water is like a hailstorm on my skin, and in my shock I’m paralyzed in the crossfire. I cry out, crumpling into the tub, hands flying to protect my face and neck.
In an instant the door of the bathroom slams open and the rings of the curtain screech as they rip across the rod. A pop, and I open my eyes. Sherlock has shut the shower’s flow, and I find myself shivering, still stinging from a thousand little impacts. He’s bringing a towel around my shoulders, and turning off the water entirely. I’m pulled out of the tub, swamping the floor upon my exit, and he swaddles me with another towel tucked at the waist. I shake, and sob, and Sherlock brings me close. His fine black shirt is soaked, but he is warm, and his hands rub heat back into my shuddering body. I don’t realize he is speaking lowly, shushing me until I manage my blubbering.
“I’m sorry, I ought to have imagined this. Shh,” his hands still at my shoulders and his indescribable pale eyes search mine. No longer shaking I bite my lip and mop my face with the corner of towel clenched in my fist. “I have another thought, though.”
“Sherlock,” I sniff. Thank you? You rescued me from water, one of the most common substances on Earth? “Thanks.”
He meddles about with the tub again, setting the plug in place and drawing a bath. I see a light enter his eyes for a moment, as he realizes something, and he wordlessly ducks away for a few moments while the tub fills. Sherlock returns with a meter-stick and the pen I’m now an expert at.
“Uhh,” I start. Oh please god. We are not going to measure up like school boys.
“Aren’t you curious about your density?”
After my bath, I'm thankful to get clothed again without encountering any major crisis. I test each new object I've added to my repertoire once more before I collect the meter-stick and step out into the flat. It's quiet, which is fine. I'm still a bit rough around the edges from my mishap. I search the empty first floor before squeezing out the door to check the second.
Upstairs, I enter upon an unexpected sight. Sherlock is on his knees, arranging pages torn out of paperback book- No, wait. There are two empty covers piled just inside the door. The same, actually. Antoine de Saint Exupéry's The Little Prince. The bed is made up, as well. He's been industrious.
“Two copies, so you won't have to flip the pages- but I've removed a few of the duplicates at random. We'll see if we can harness your instincts to flip the missing pages as a way to train you to interact with a non-introduced object.” He squares up two page corners, and turns to look at me. “How was the bath? Did you collect data?”
“Yeah,” I start, still a bit surprised by the half-charming half-clinical little treat he's set up for me. “It was uh- a bit like trying to bathe in cheesecake at first. But then things sort of just...melted.” It was relaxing, to finally sink in. I considered that maybe I could walk on water now, if I was ever inclined to attempt biblical feats. I wave the meter-stick with the marked out measurements. “Hope this helps.”
“Try and move a page, first without reading it- then if it doesn’t work, read it, then flip.”
I crouch down about half way through the line up of pages and try to shift one with my touch. Nothing. Try and pry my fingernails under the paper. We both huff, and Sherlock nods at me to try the next step.
“What does that mean -- tame?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"To establish ties?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....”
At the end of the last paragraph I attempt to prize the page off the floor again. Maybe it was imperceptible to the eye, but I could swear there was a give that I hadn't been able to feel before.
“I would have been surprised if it happened right off.” He finishes laying out the last few pages, gathers up the random double pages, and the meter-stick. On his feet again, he stills for a moment, considering me. He has something to say, but he doesn't say it. That much is clear. I shift off my knees to sit properly.
“The Little Prince?” I ask, lamely.
“Hmm? Yes. It was that or Joyce's The Dead. Needed something under 100 pages.”
“Lot of standing on staircases and pining in that, if I remember correctly. This was a good choice.”
“I read it as a child. In the original French, of course,” Of course he had, the posh git. “It's- a tolerable piece of fiction.” Sherlock allows me a conspiratorial smirk before he points the stick toward the door in a sort of piratical spirit, and makes his exit.
I settle myself into the reading. I'm familiar with the book, but it's been ages. A downed pilot in the desert meets a strange Little Prince who tells of his quest to find a friend. It's terribly philosophical for a children's book, I realize. Every so often I come to a removed page, and make my attempt at flipping it. Once, twice, three times... I begin to get a bit aggravated when I'm denied the end of a chapter about three quarters of the way to the end. Eleven pages I couldn't flip. I try to convince myself it's becoming easier. It might be. It's frustrating, either way; and when I put it in perspective- pathetic. Moan and groan a little bit at my stiff back, from craning over the line of pages. Wriggle over onto my stomach, chin in my hands for the last few pages. I get to the last page Sherlock has laid out.
“You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!' And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you . . ."
I find that I am reading aloud, in a murmur. With a slight creak of the bedroom door, I hear Sherlock enter, pause in the doorway, chuckling a bit.
And he laughed again. I work my fingers at the edge of the page, and it finally obeys me. I could sing.
As I read the sentence at the top of the next page, Sherlock recites it.
"It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh . . ."
And I laugh at that. I begin scooping up the pages as fast as I can, because I can. My heart is flitting madly. Hopefully. I turn to face Sherlock and hardly know what to say.
“Thank you.” Somewhere to start at least. How much easier than I think when you laugh, you fix me.
“You should try some other papers around the flat, and I'll tell you about my calculations.”
If you'd like to read The Little Prince, here's a PDF. I choose it rather randomly, but...my goodness does it have some lovely parallels to Sherlock and John, that make it seem like a more deliberate choice.
“As I'm sure you know, the average human body has a density of 944 kilograms per square meter after inhaling, and 1032 after exhaling,” Sherlock starts.
I balk. I had hoped he wasn't serious about running me through his calculations literally. Having become invisible, whisked around London after a serial killer, and traumatized by a shower (among other things) in the past 48 hours- I'm a bit spent.
“Ah, well I'm aware the human body is pretty similar to the density of water otherwise we'd be useless at swimming underwater, yeah. And salt water...floating, and- yeah.” He doesn’t need my contribution, I remind myself. Stand back and let him do his thing. He continues whirling about the sitting-room, sawing at the air, unfazed by my efforts to relate.
“Assuming you followed my instructions to the letter, there is no appreciable deviation from the trend in your personal data. In fact your density at exhalation was identical to the ideal parameters. Combine this with the observations I made of your sample-”
“Sample? Wha- When did you collect a sample from-”
“A few strands of hair, John. After your ordeal with the shower, I had the opportunity to examine the chemical and internal composition of your own cells.” For my interruption he fixes me with a look so sharp I momentarily doubt he'd need a microscope at all.
“Right, go on,” I insist, and he flops himself into a chair, hands finally still, tented under his chin.
“Now, natural materials all have a positive refractive index, and this dictates how light-waves interact with them, and in turn, the light waves interact with the eye. There's been some development technologically with artificially manipulating structure to refract incoming waves enough to force a switch to negative, but even with your own remarkable specimen, this is not the case. The most advanced metamaterials have only come down to 10 micrometers, and your own structure is at least twice that.”
I am utterly lost and I'm sure I look it, but he's on a wind and I expect there's a summary somewhere in this. I imagine him studying bits of me on a slide and I'm suddenly convinced he'll notice my infatuation tucked away in my pores.
“Taking these points of interest along with my observation of your progress has led me to temporarily discount the idea that the challenges you are experiencing are systemic.”
Yes. All right, Systemic I can tack my medical mind onto. I hadn't really thought to consider the problem as neurological, but I suppose if I had a patient with a reverse of my problem- say, the inability to register seeing their brother- I might begin there.
“And of course, it would be absurd to think that the problem lies in the faulty perception of everyone you've interacted with. We isolate ourselves, then, to the dealings of your own sensory input/output. Ordinarily your neurological process of multisensory integration allows you to move successfully through your environment. Now this, we can pin point, is where your current state makes a marked departure. While we can count our selves lucky your vestibular system and vision are not impaired, your tactile and auditory systems seem to have been thrown into reverse. It would seem you are effecting a sensory discrimination disorder in those you come into contact with. While I suspect this is linked to the chemical depression that precipitated the condition-” he flashes something similar to a contrite look my way, “-it would be foolish to ascribe this to pheromones, as that requires close contact for the chemical factor to trigger a social response; and we have example of your inability to be seen at great distance.”
I feel the prickling shame I'd corked up on the street when I first started to notice what was happening to me. Disclosure of my slump into depression was something I guarded from friends and family, nevermind mad genius stranger I appeared to have taken up with. When I clear my throat a little Sherlock drops his hands into his lap and clicks his teeth a moment.
“Look, there is no failure in-” he starts but trails off when I nod too enthusiastically. His mouth brackets in a customary frown most people adopt when sympathizing, but I note a tremble in the left corner. He's been there, I realize.
“The suggested therapies...” he begins cautiously, “for sensory processing disorders involve establishing a healthy 'sensory diet' for the affected individual. I would suggest we do the same to try and correct your output, as it would be logistically impossible to provide this therapy to greater London.”
“Heh, right.” My fingers curls around a manilla envelope hanging off a side table. Sherlock raises his eyebrows, and I pick it up without difficulty. I ramble about for a bit, testing my new found powers on each scrap of paper, notes, news clippings I see. Master of Pen and Paper. Maybe I can keep the journal my therapist had insisted on after all. At least until I manage a computer again. Sherlock watches me silently until command of paper no longer seems to satisfy.
“How about a cushion then?” He juts his chin toward the couch, and I navigate my way around a stack of file-boxes to take hold of a fringed pillow. Its something resembling 'soft' at first, but not movable. I remember how Sherlock had me close my eyes before, guiding my touch to the shower curtain, and I shut them again. Reach out blindly until the tips of my fingers make contact. In my hands, the plush of the filling gives way, and although it feels heavier than expected, I can lift it.
“Bit heavy,” I note, slightly disappointed.
“I've a stash of borrowed IDs in there,” he smirks. His mobile rings out a text alert, and he flips it out and away again faster than I can inquire about its message. “Dull.”
“So, a 'sensory diet'?” I follow up. “Sounds like I'm going to wrap an orange in velvet and wash it down with some piano accompaniment.”
“Hardly. I'd like to see where you would cram a grand in this flat.” I indulge myself in a glance, but there's really not a spare inch. With the near-manic tornado of motion Sherlock can be, I'm surprised there aren't knocked over lamps and shattered vases strewn on every horizontal surface. “Hungry?”
“Well you're the one who can use a cash machine, if you're offering.”
“Not necessary,” he insists, launching out of his chair and making for the coat rack. “But you can consider it a date if you like, as we'll be sharing a plate.” I must look like a deer in headlights, and I certainly feel myself grind to a halt. With a pert tilt of his head he adds, “I can't exactly order two dinners. I don't think Angelo's has pancetta ziti with vanishing sauce on the menu.”
I really mustn't live off his charity. Is it charity? Then again it's only been two days, but they have been rather harrowing. I wouldn't accept food and shelter from my own sister upon my homecoming. If I had, I certainly wouldn't have proceeded to spend the majority of my waking hours at her side. He seems to like that, in as much a way as Sherlock 'likes' things. I notice now, as we're walking the few blocks to dinner how though his eyes are trained on the path ahead, his face is turned ever to slightly to his right, where I'm scrambling to keep up with his long limbed stride. Like he's keeping me in his periphery. Is he worried that if he lets me disappear too long I won't be real anymore? I'm reminded of the dream I woke from this morning (ages ago, already). I can't imagine why he was able to see me in the first place, and so I have no idea how to protect this connection. Is that the word? It's like a dwelling. Without it I would be rootless.
We arrive at the restaurant, with lamps in the window radiating a pleasantly pink light. Sherlock opens the door for me, and I do my best to enter quickly, though he feigns a little cough to cover his pause for any onlookers.
“Ah, good-evening Mr. Holmes, what'll it be, your table or the bar?” calls an attentive waiter.
“Table please, Billy.” He nods me toward the empty table just inside the window, and I presume it must be his 'regular'. Especially when Billy snatches away a little Reserved sign. He doesn’t bother Sherlock with a menu, but simply furnishes him with a candle and looks expectant.
“Are we eating tonight, or are you on one of your cases?” Billy asks conspiratorially. Sherlock grins and meets his fingertips together, elbows on the table.
“It just so happens I have quite an appetite tonight.”
“The carbonara, I think. And the Les Crêtes Chardonnay- a bottle.”
“Will we be expecting any company, Mr. Holmes?”
“Well, you're never quite alone when you're at Angelo's,” Sherlock winks. Oh, hah. Billy turns away and goes about his business before I pester Sherlock, speaking lowly- though it doesn't matter.
“You make a habit of coming to a restaurant like this, and not eating? I admire your restraint, it smells amazing.” The nearest patrons have just been served a braised meat I can't quite identify from this distance.
“Lamb,” Sherlock supplies. He removes his jacket and uses the motion to cover swiping a place setting from an adjacent empty booth. He settles back into his seat beside me at the table. It feels a bit odd. Regardless of the nature of my relationship with a dining companion, for my whole life- if there had been two of us, we'd always sat across from each other. He places the napkin wrapped silverware between us on the bench and lightly covers my hand with his. My eyes shut instantly; I am an antennae, a receptor, and he is the signal. My hands. For a moment I remember the dream again, and it flits across my mind that it was silly I couldn't see my vanishing hands. Long fingered and deft, his hands introduce me to the utensils, and I'm sure he doesn't glance at all.
“Well, Sherlock!” booms a voice, disturbing my reverie, “I don't think you've dined in since Mother's Day!” A man I assume is Angelo, with a beard and ponytail, and a piped chef's coat appears with Sherlock's bottle of wine and two glasses.
“Angelo, good evening,” Sherlock greets. The politest greeting I've seen him give anyone, in fact. He's even smiling.
“Shall I pour for two?” Angelo places the glasses down and begins to free the cork efficiently.
“Ah, not unless you'll be joining me,” replies Sherlock, “Though, it slipped my mind earlier- you wouldn't happen to have a bottled water?” We'd agreed earlier this would be the best plan for my strategic hydration.
“Anything for you, Sherlock. You know that. Shame though, an impressive gentleman like you with such fine taste and no one to taste it with.”
“I wouldn't say that,” Sherlock refutes quietly.
“Oh, ho! Perhaps you take all your meals home for a reason,” grins Angelo, topping off Sherlock's glass and retreating once more.
“He's certainly a fan,” I say, when we're alone again. Might like him as much as I do.
“I got him off a murder charge by proving he was house-breaking elsewhere,” Sherlock murmurs, beginning his peripheral watch over me again.
“You have the most interesting acquaintances, I must say. Serial killers, hard-boiled police officers, and that ghastly brother of yours.”
“You're forgetting, John,” he looks at me fully, pale face rosy in the lamplight, “About my most interesting acquaintance and personal shadow, the Invisible John Watson.”
The meal is positively delectable, if a bit of an elbowy mess. I eagerly twirl my share of vanishing spaghetti on my nonexistent fork and try not to think about any Disney movies too hard. Sherlock mostly picks out the little bits of meat in the pasta and swabs the plate with garlic bread, but makes a good show of enjoying himself when Angelo comes around to offer dessert.
“Can I tempt you with a new torte I'm thinking of putting on the menu?” the man asks, supplying another bottled water. Sherlock taps my hand with his pinky. Any opinion? it asks.
“Why not?” I say, which he redirects.
“Hardly anyone in our section now. Want to chance a swig of the wine?”
“Err-” He doesn't really wait for my answer, just smoothly swipes the bottle off the table with his left hand, crosses it over his lap, and plucks my wrist with his right. I snicker, feeling like a teenager nicking from the liquor cabinet. If I were twenty years younger I might find myself exploiting such a personal loophole. Not getting carded. Not buying tickets to the cinema. Could ride the Tube for free, at that.
After a whole dinner nearly up each other's armpits we've turned this trick into an art. We function as a unit. The wine is dryer than I tend to like, but I enjoy the buzz it inspires in my nose. I'm about to take a second go when I realize Sherlock's turned towards me rather more obviously than he has done all night. I drink, and the look that crosses his face when I raise an eyebrow at him is nothing short of satisfied.
“You look rather pleased with yourself.” I say, once I've drained the rest of the bottle. I pass it back to him, nearly pressing it to his chest in an effort to shield any onlookers its impending reappearance. My knuckle flicks against his shirt button. I might accidentally-on-purpose drag it down the rest of the placket when I withdraw my hand.
“I like knowing things others don't,” he says thoughtfully.
“Smug.” I nod towards our waiter's approach, and Sherlock seamlessly shifts into a window-gazing posture.
He sets down a fussy little dessert plate, topped by a confection of chocolate and drizzled in a liqueur.
“Wonderful! Oh-” Sherlock 'absently' knocks the spoon from the dish and table entirely, and it scatters to the floor. “Oh, dear. You wouldn't mind grabbing me another, would you,” Sherlock charms. As soon as the server's back is turned Sherlock polishes the spoon off with his napkin and Introduces me to it under the table.
“You mean everyone, or just me?” I ask, eyes opening. His hand freezes on my knee for a blissful moment. The waiter promptly returns with a fresh spoon, which he takes, removing his touch.
“Ah, thank you.” He scoops a bite of cake. “Both,” he answers to me.
I fancy myself to be in a unique predicament, but it's happening to me at least. He could walk away at any moment, if it's too much trouble. I'm not sure I can imagine why he thinks he became involved in this in the first place. Cosmic destiny? B-film plot device? Chemistry? He fixes his gaze at the plate, though he seems to be mostly covering for my dessert disappearing act at this point, more than eating.
“I don't make friends easily,” he says, and on my previous train of though, I briefly imagine him manufacturing a friend in beakers and test tubes.
“Why me?” I wonder aloud.
“I could ask the same thing.” His eyes narrow. Having seen him on a case rattling through his deductions- I'm certain he could draw up a statistical roster of my social life. “I don't think there's really anyone on Earth you could accuse me of having a connection with,” He settles down his utensil, arranging it perfectly perpendicular to the tables edge, “-before yesterday.”
I smudge my finger through a spill of amaretto, and suck it off with a pop. Considering. Anyway you slice it, it's pretty profound connection to be only visible to one other person. He watches me with naked interest. It's probably equally alarming to discover one's self in protection of a living, breathing shadow. I chuckle to myself. I like that- what he said earlier; 'Personal Shadow'.
“Well, there's a first time for everything.”
“Indeed. Shall we?” He dispatches his napkin and begins to gather up his coat and scarf. When we're nearly at the door, Angelo materializes to bid his goodnights.
“Mr. Holmes, don't let me catch you dining alone again, or I'll be forced to find you a date. No wait! Don't tell me, I'll guess your type. Blonde. And a troublemaker like you, I think.”
We both laugh. My discorporate existence makes a good inside joke, I'll admit. I lead us outside, and we spill back into London, a little fuzzy with drink and good food. I manage to avoid the odd pedestrian, weaving left and right of Sherlock like a cat.
“You opened the door.”
“Just as we left. We were laughing, and you just- opened the door.”
“So I did, didn't I?” Once he knows there are dots, I'm certain he'll connect them. He's quiet on the walk back to the flat. He's retreated into some catalog of events, I suppose. Laughing. The cabbie. Laughing. The pages. Laughing. The door. Sherlock laughing, John laughing, laughing together. And John is a little bit more whole. I consider the feeling that's been welling up ever since we met. Like I'm slotting into a place and purpose. I feel a hand catch into the crook of my elbow. He stops us walking as I'd nearly gone past the stoop of 221b entirely.
“I need to consider my own effect, as an observer,” he says gravely. He gestures to the door and tosses me keys from out his pocket. “Try this door.”
I glance nervously up the street. The nearest passers-by are a block off. I occurs to me that Angelo might have seen a door swing open magically for Sherlock earlier. Need to keep an eye on that. Heart in throat, I key the lock. I twist and almost warp the key. I take a step back and turn to Sherlock with a shrug.
“Well, your previous successes have been preceded by one of two things,” Here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, the Great Sherlock Holmes has deduced me and I am about to feel a complete blibbering fool. I'd seen it a few times already, the way his startling and brutal candor destroys any semblance of security in it's subject. Might have been hoping it wouldn't happen so soon-
“One; Practice,” He says, stepping forward, in for the kill. I back up against the door, bracing myself. I feel like gulping hard, or holding my breath, but I've already given away too much, and I force the reflex down.
“Or Two-” I hear him say, but at the same time feel- because he's muttering it against my lips. Like every other contact he's made tonight, I respond by closing my eyes unquestioningly. Letting him guide. Instead of Introducing me to a fork or a coffee mug, it's a consuming prickle. I feel like I might come all over in goosebumps or start speaking in tongues when his much fuller lips nip at mine. Light. My hands come up to frame him, keys still in my palm. I'm gently pulling him in by my fingertips- but it must be all right, because I'm certain he wants them there. He always has the plan.
We break apart, his hands still cupping my elbows. “What was that?” I murmur, still buzzing in the electric feeling.
“Proving a point.” He nuzzles my cheek with his nose, exhaling against my jaw, “Try again.”
Don't have to tell me twice. Not only would I be happy to drag this man inside someplace quite and private, but I'd rather not hazard a visit from his all-seeing brother. Brother mine, it may be considered a bit eccentric to embrace one's door knocker so passionately... I summon my wits to attempt the lock again, and this time the door opens easily. I scrunch my face at him in mock frustration. Caught out by a kiss.
“I followed my observations to a logical conclusion,” he points out. Self contented. The idiot.
He shepherds me inside and up the stairs. It's not until I see the dimly lit sitting-room and the couch I'd spent the previous night on that I realize I could drop in exhaustion. I've been trying so desperately to be on this whole time, willing myself to be as undiminished as possible.
“I think its a reflex,” Sherlock begins. “I think it can be learned, like your handling of paper goods, and- I suspect soon, silverware. Should practice that tonight, I'm certain you can get it.”
I nod and hang up my coat, a bit perplexed. “Sherlock-” I nearly start. Weren't we just kissing downstairs, any follow up on that, or- Oh no. Science time, right. He fiddles through the kitchen drawers, gathering up utensils of all materials and sizes, before he continues.
“Or your corporeal state can be bolstered by endorphins. I don't have proof of it's effect on your visibility yet, of course. One is the symptom of the other; we're treating your congestion but not the infection itself.”
“Invisipox?” I suggest. He scatters the fistfuls of kitchen utensils on the coffee table and then steers me around to sit on the couch.
“Consider this part of your proscribed 'sensory diet', Doctor.” He picks his lip for a moment, glancing around while I apply myself to my exercises. He must have settled on a further treatment, because he suddenly draws an instrument case from out of sight, and whips out a bow and violin.
I don't flatter myself to have an ear for music, but I'm certain it must be good. He must be skilled, he doesn’t really do anything by half-measures. I make at least two rotations through the array of spoons, spatulas, knives, chop sticks, and one whisk. Finally I manage to free a paring knife (perfect for peeling an apple) from the bonds of gravity. Sherlock picks a perky note on his violin, and narrows his eyes at me before he begins to wind down his mood-setting performance. I start to gather up the chop sticks, then the spoons and other knives, grasping as many as I can into one hand, focusing myself in the building heft of the handful. The music has stopped, and then I notice Sherlock's weight sinking into the seat beside me.
“Now I can do this without skewing the accuracy of your results,” he purrs, one hand stilling my activity while the other snakes across the small of my back. I shut my eyes and let everything drop to the coffee table. I lean and turn toward him. A hand meets mine and brings my fingertips to his mouth. He drops a kiss on the pad of my index, then a nibble.
“Rather rude of you to finish your dessert with your fingers, earlier,” he jests, biting more little kisses to the other fingers. “I'll have to keep better track of them, the naughty things. Flicking my buttons-”
“Oh, so you noticed?” I admit, eyes opening only for a moment before he brushes his mouth along my jaw again. I'm certain I'll bruise with the way he begins to contemplate my neck. I finally give in and nudge my way into a kiss. I hadn't been quite prepared before, it had been light; but now I direct a pressure and purpose to every corner of his impossibly heart shaped mouth. I tip over my knee up onto the couch, straddling his lap, and tilt my head as a stare down at his gorgeous face between my hands.
“Will this be part of the 'sensory diet' from now on?”
The twilight hours are spent happily with languorous tastings of each other's dimples, freckles, and throats. Sherlock may have swiped his tongue along my eyebrow and said something like, “Point two-five potassium? Mmm.”
He spins his developing theory on the source of my dilemma, but doesn’t seem all too fussed when I repeatedly shush him, catching his bottom lip like the tender morsel it is and licking my way into his smart mouth. If his other acquaintances were able to quiet him so easily, (though definitely in a less intimate way) he might have more friends- but I have to admit that I'm delighted to be a lone pioneer in this territory. As we trade exploratory touches I wonder if I might be drawing up the first map of him. His every move is experimental- and I’m uncertain if that was from curiosity about my condition, or just the trepidation of the whole situation being entirely new to him.
“Have you done this before?” I ask carefully, as quiet and unthreatening an approach as I can make. In case I'm wrong.
“Which part?” is his flippant reply.
“Have you been with-” A man? Anyone? God knows I don't make a habit of the former, and hadn't been entertaining high hopes about the later, given my circumstances.
“An invisible man? No, you'll be the only one hundred percent invisible contender in that arena. There's been just eighty-five percent invisible persons available until now.” I counterfeit a scoff at this.
“Fifteen percent of the body is skin,” he adds. “Does that bother you?”
“That you haven't been with anyone before?” He shakes his head. I worry I’ve misunderstood-
“That the most of someone- the most I'll ever get to touch of you- will only be fifteen percent. Technically.”
I clutch his skull in my hands, wishing I could crack it open and unravel more of his logical brand of affection and lace it through my fingers like a glove. I'm certain I could touch anything with it if I can have him to caress and touch me in return. I kiss him deeply, aware of his little gasp. Lovely, I think. Brilliant. If I was fated to only ever again be seen by Sherlock, I want him to understand he's as miraculous to me as I must be to him. I begin to thank him between unhurried kisses dropped from his temple to the notch in his collarbone.
“-for listening about the cabbie,” I nip at his eyelashes. “-and the shower,” I murmur as I draw my teeth across the ridge of his cheek. “And the pages,” I finish.
“On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux,” he says.
“What's that then?”
"One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye,” he quotes. “S'from th'book,” he sputters when I bombard his mouth again.
“You see me.”
I sleep dreamlessly, but perhaps not wordlessly.Sherlock emblazoned in every crevice of my brain before I open my eyes. We fell asleep on the couch, and when I wake up my hand is wound into his shirt collar still, while his thumbs are hooked into the belt loops of my jeans. When I pry myself off the man in the morning, I suspect he may been awake already. Corner of his mouth isn't quite behaving itself. Charming. I allow myself a peck at that ill-disguised smirk before I attempt to stretch the second night of couch-dwelling out of my spine. And he'd made up the bed in the spare room and everything. I sigh.
After a quick scrub, I re-enter the kitchen, ready to see what trouble I might be able to stir up within my limits. Cross my fingers for a kettle-related improvement. Sherlock is already freshly dressed and seated in his chair, expectant. He look like Business itself, in his suit. Can't imagine him behind a desk for a moment, though. I wonder at how many versions of him there must be; whether Little-Prince-Quoting Sherlock told No-Breakfast Sherlock how utterly he'd ensnared and smitten You-See-Me John.
“Something on?” I finally guess, after several refusals.
“We have a case,” his voice reports coolly. His eyes gleaming in a way that doesn’t match his tone.
“We?” I question.
“A mystery that I think might be served by your unique talents.”
A woman arrives not ten minutes later, bundled in two sweaters that distort a thin frame, and give Sherlock insight to her alcoholic past (apparently). He watches her, surveying the potential for a puzzle worthy of his bustling mind.
“Well, you see Mr. Holmes- I'm house-sitting for this woman, Trisha Winners. She's a professional investor, I imagine funded by an inheritance. I don't think she's worked with her hands a day in her life. Well in any event, she was having some work done on remodeling the bathroom, which was why I'm there- to let in the workers and lock up behind them-”
thank you for all your comments,- I really love the feedback :)
The morning had made me cautiously optimistic. The purpose driven mania with which Sherlock flung himself into the details of the case was easy to get caught up in. When I discovered I had some success with the kettle, the sugar bowl, and Sherlock's ringing mobile, things quickly turned to “Let me get my lockpicks, John.”
In the cab on our way to scope out the scene of the crime (the disclosed one, in any event) I allow myself to put words to the development.
“I can touch and move things again. Can't I? I'm not imagining this-” my voice cracks a bit. Sherlock nods imperceptibly, eyes darting to the cabbie. Calculating his age and health against his likely auditory capacity, I'll bet.
“You've come a long way,” he says under his breath. He sinks into the the corner of the seat, so he can face me naturally. Studying me. I always feel more substantial when he's watching me.
“But he,” I nod to the front seat, “-certainly can't see or hear me still.” It was pretty obvious when we'd gotten into the vehicle, what with the “Where to, sir?” instead of “Gents”. Sherlock offers an apologetic frown, but not a disappointed one, I don't think.
“It's something that your state is changing at all,” says his hushed voice. I nod back. If I hadn't met Sherlock I might have been hit by a cab instead of riding in one right now. I grimace.
“Just thinking I was pretty lucky. Running into you.”
“You were, weren't you?” His little smile tugs at me, and I can't help it when the voice in the back of my head says Its not like anyone can see you anyway. I start to lean in to wipe that look off his face, but the cab stops and I lurch into my seat again.
Hours later I'm still not entirely certain why we're crashing through hedges in the vicinity of Bethnal Green at half one in the morning, but there you have it. It would seem that the woman who'd tasked us with recovering a priceless book stolen from her employer's house had some ulterior plans. Not getting expelled from the premises of her employer's house before she could arrange to smuggle out the remainder of the collection being one of them. Once the ringleader directing her little maneuver caught wind of our efforts to trace the market to its source- well, that was when things escalated. Damning evidence in hand, we snuck our way out the back of some ramshackle student housing, grateful for the incompetence that is student-employed Campus Security.
Now that we've been running, jumping, and climbing in a way that would put a side-scroller game to shame, I'm dying to hail a cab back to the Yard. Wrap this up before either of us breaks a limb, visible or otherwise. Can't imagine what we'd do if I was injured so severely that I couldn't tend my own wounds. At least if Sherlock were to break his neck I could haunt his hospital bedside. I nod at him, breath caught. He's got some hedge leaves caught in his curls, and harrumphs mightily before indicating our exit strategy. Our backs are pressed to a brick wall that faces an alley with a chain-link fence half way down. It's still a run across a four lane street, breaking our cover. I'm certain the two men behind us are armed, and shake my head no.
“Next block over, crowd from the theatres and clubs will-”
“Let me go knock over a trash can or something in the other direction before you go dashing into sight,” I insist. His lips draw in a thin line.
“You're not invulnerable, they could take a pot shot at you,” he hisses. I flash him my most reckless smile.
“I'm counting on it.”
I make left toward a skip behind a restaurant. There's an old gutter leaning against it; perfect clattering material. If I can draw their fire, and that'll likely be enough to get police attention summoned to the area. Still, I'm not positive of the position of the two men after us, and I cast a glance back at Sherlock. He's knee-bent in a way that says he'll be ready to pounce across the street any moment. I pass an alley opening still a few meters off from the skip, and my heart stops. The two hulking forms are barreling up the way, and Sherlock is still closer than the skip. As long one of them thinks to look right, he's exposed. I turn on my heel. Crumbling pavement crunches under my feet.
“Go now!” I take off behind him. Not willing to let him out of my sight, after all. I hear a shout close behind, and even as we pound down the alley towards the fence they're closing in. A sheet of plywood is strewn in front of the fence, and Sherlock's running momentum turns it into a surfboard. He comes down on his arse with a groan. I scramble to pull him up by his arms. Notice a flash of movement at the mouth of the alley, and I drag us both back against a wall. There's nothing to hide us. Except me. I shut my eyes and pull him close despite his struggle to keep running. I focus as hard as I can on the feeling from before. I've got to keep him safe. I don't mind if I'm never seen again as long as he can keep looking at me the way he does.
“Must've pulled a fire escape,” says one gruff voice.
“It's the wrong alley you idiot!” hollers the other. More scrape of boot on pavement and angry muttering. Then nothing. I open my eyes, a bit surprised to find Sherlock's silvery gaze staring down at me.
“Did I just..?”
“It would appear so," I snicker at his pun (unintended, I'm sure). "Very interesting." He frowns at my laughter. "What?"
"Just- 'appear so'," I snort, and his face cracks in wolfish smile before he laughs too. "We can't giggle Sherlock, we're supposed to be invisible."
From the alleyway Sherlock places a call to the DI, promising him two smugglers trussed up like a Christmas duck. I'm not entirely on board about using our little trick again to bait them into a corner. If twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend- then once is nothing. I was worried it wasn't reliable, and I couldn't gamble Sherlock's life on it. When we finally manage to disarm and trap them in a phone booth I allow the residual doubt to rise to the surface. At least I can hear the police sirens ringing out a block away.
“That was insane. I don't know how you could trust that it would work. I can't believe I let you risk your life hoping I'd be able to distract from you!” I exclaim. It was close. It was such a near thing that we managed to neutralize them in their surprise, instead of take a gut full of metal. We came away from it. Relief waits patiently to make it's entrance.
“The alternative was to let go two dangerous men, who could identify me to their even more nefarious employer. Could retaliate at any time. Would you have preferred that? Leaving it to chance?” he demands, eyes searching out the reason for my outburst.
“I'd rather take care of it myself!” I shout, blazing with a protective instinct. I try to cram misplaced anger back down my throat. If we're going to be reckless we're better off sharing the danger. Can't think what would happen to me if I refused and Sherlock left me behind. If some fate befell him that I could have hidden us from. He gives me a sympathetic nod that rings of Me too, if it were you. The wash of relief finally sweeps all the way down to my kneecaps.
“And so you did,” he mutters, turning to meet the Inspector I recognize from the cabbie case, Lestrade. Two more officers arrive and tackle the impromptu barricade at the phone booth, ready to take the suspects into custody.
“Couldn't just cuff 'em to a lamp post could you?” jests the DI.
“Have to leave something for you to do, I suppose,” Sherlock sniffs, and I scoff.
“Who's this then?” Lestrade nods at me. I turn to look over my shoulder. We're the only people on the pavement. Sensible pedestrians gave the hammering shouty criminals in a phone booth a wide berth. Sherlock's eyes narrow and dart between us both.
“Who, me?” I take a few steps back, like I’m trying to focus a camera and get everyone in the shot. Am I in this scene? My mind races to remember if the two men being apprehended said anything out of the ordinary.
“Yeah, you. Did you have anything to do with this? We'll need to take your statement,” he continues. I give Sherlock an inquiring side glance. He seems to savor the look of utter bewilderment on my face, the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles back down at me.
“No need. Dr. Watson will be along with me in the morning about any paperwork. He's currently acting as my-”
“Lackey?” interrupts a nearby member of the police presence. Another officer laughs.
“Can it!” barks Lestrade
“-assistant.” Sherlock finishes firmly. He catches a hand to the back of my elbow and shoots the DI a mad grin before starting to drag me off to the street corner. The DI vainly calls after him something about 'chain of command' or 'custody', but I hardly process it. At the corner, just out of earshot and sight we stop.
“W- what happened?” I stammer out, arms thrown in the air. If I'm going to suddenly be visible again I would expect feeling a bit tingly or something. I almost feel gypped.
“What was different? What were you thinking while we were taking down the suspects?”
“Just, not to be seen. I didn't want them to get the drop on us,” I pause, but he flaps his hand for me to provide more. “Just feeling unnoticeable, like I have been.” I watch as he steeples his fingers at his lips and turns his thought inwards. “Sherlock-”
“After we had them in the booth, what were you thinking?,” I hesitate and he rounds on me, “It's important John, what was it?”
“I was thinking I was glad you were in one piece. I was glad I could confirm it with my own two eyes. Because- in case you haven't noticed that's not as much of a given for me lately!”
He swoops toward me, a sudden mast I could lash myself to in my turbulence. So I do. I pull myself up to and against him, as much height as I can muster. He kisses me to silence while his arms wind around me. His lips brush by my ear and he urges, “Try again,” before letting me go and stepping back.
“Not being seen again? From who?”
“We'll get a cab. Just focus on not being noticed by the cabbie,” he instructs. “And maybe if you do very well, you can make it to your advantage.” With a coy tilt of his head he steps toward the kerb, a summoning arm held high. I recall the morning's cab ride- still stimulated from waking up entangled in this gorgeous creature's hold and gaze. Curious to see how far I could press my remarkable advantage with this remarkable man. If I climbed into his lap in the back of the cab and ground into him, mouthed along his pale neck no one would be the wiser. And he'd just have to sit back and accept it. Yes. I think I can convince my body that this is an experiment worth the attempt.
An empty cab pulls up to us, and with a wink Sherlock opens the door, and makes a fuss of pausing to checking his pockets while I enter before him.
“Yes sir, where to?” asks the driver, and I could practically skip all the way home if I weren't already seated.
“211b Baker Street,” Sherlock supplies. He settles himself in a bit, removing his scarf and stuffing it in a pocket and unbuttoning his coat. I might've licked my lips when he glances at me and puts an arm up along the top of the seat. I shift across the bench and roll onto one knee at his hip, quickly tucking the next on the other side until we're situated. No complaint from the cabbie. Golden.
“Always wanted to get off with someone in the backseat,” I tell him, once I'm settled, and unavoidably aware of him firm appreciation. He quirks a brow and mouths Too polite?. “Never owned a car,” I murmur while ducking my head into his neck. Sherlock hums and bucks into my weight a bit. I lick a stripe up his throat before I pull back to look in his eyes again. The eyes that first saw me and started all this. He's very nearly closed them in satisfaction. “Look at me,” I urge.
His silver scrutiny fixes on me again. I relish in the furtive intimacy we share. I can be only his, any time I choose. I shift against him, slipping my hands carefully into his coat. I feel his arms stir and I whisper to him, “You can look but you can't touch.” I grip into the small of his back, continuing my slow erosion of his patience. A slow exhale, and his eyelids drop. Remind him, “Think solid...rock hard thoughts. Don't want to go disappearing with me, after all.” I litter him with kisses, and hardly notice when the cab pulls to a stop.
We quickly prove to be a formidable team. Violet Smith's stalking cyclist was an especially good showcase for my unique abilities, and many more opportunities arise as we pursue Sherlock's work. I don't always tag along visibly with Sherlock. I linger on the edges, sometimes. His secret weapon. His shadow. I become his second pair of hands and eyes, and I take that role happily; tribute to all the difference his hands and eyes have made to me.
“I always wonder something,” I hear myself admit in bed one night. I wriggle closer, nudging my chin along until it finds its favorite homelike divot in his collar bone.
“How can you tell when I'm seen and when I'm unseen, if you always can see me?” I've identified now how it feels inside of me, it's something like having just had a drink of cold water and then stepping out into the snow. A blending into the environment from within.
“Well, as you are aware of your state, your behavior changes. You keep closer to me when you're unseen, so that I might part the way for you, sneak" he nips at my nose. Considers. "You're noisier when you're unseen.” I scoff. I have just spent the last hour being both visible and noisy, thank you very much.
“I do like it that you can't tell me to shuttup without looking mental,” I mutter before kising him.
“And you can hardly take your eyes off me.”
“Mmm, but I never can.”
thanks for reading! I really wanted to conclude this in a way that I could come back to the universe for some one-shots, but I really needed to put a bow on things for now. So....look out, I guess!
- stitchlock on tumblr