Author Note: I promised to write an alternate ending chapter- a sort of 'epilogue' that goes some way to making up for all the misery I've put you guys through over the previous chapters. Slightly AU in a way, but really more of a reincarnation/future fic.
Hope you like.
"Love alters not with it's brief hours and weeks,
but bears it out even to the edge of doom"
Sonnet 116, Shakespeare
"I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
Am I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling-
Because at least the past were passed away.
And for the future, I say...-the future is a serious matter"
The dream is unlike any other dream he has ever had, simply because it is so real. He is immediately aware of himself, and considers it strange that in a dream he is doing things so close to real life. He is blinking at intervals, he notices, and when he pinches the skin of his arm in a rudimentary test, it hurts. He doesn't wake up either, which is new. His rational mind tells him sternly to take no heed of this fake presumption, and usually that works. He is a logical man, and therefore logically, this can't be real. His heart has different plans however, and feeling the textures of the ghostly silent world he's living so close to reality- he can feel the rough skin beneath his fingers when he rubs them together, takes in the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes in and out- he believes truly in the information his senses are sending to his brain . And then he takes in the data, really considers it.
The smell in his nostrils is chemical, hospital smell that reminds him of death. He can hear people speaking, but it's blurry for the moment, like the speakers are underwater. He has blanked out the sound in favour of looking at what he is seeing.
John is dying before him. Even in the back of his mind when he's wondering why in god's name he's conjuring up John in his mind with a moustache, the rest of his thoughts are taking it all in, painfully storing away the information he's experiencing. He notes the small room, the coppery smell of blood mixing with the insidious stench of illness. He himself is standing in a corner, watching the actors in his vision play out their roles. The cold ground is beneath his feet and he notices with some detachment that he doesn't seem to be wearing any shoes. He doesn't like this dream. It feels too real, too close to reality. The strange thing is that, unusually, he's not living this dream. It's not first person like most dreams, but it is as though he is a spectator in some eidolic show the universe is putting on simply for his benefit. And in this show he can see the small in-closed world of a hospital ward, inhabited by two men. The man in the hospital bed is John, looking different with a moustache and slightly shorter hair, but definitely him. The other man, he notes with a quirk of his lips, is himself. But this man, despite similarities, has been altered in the transition to this dream. His clothes are strange, old-fashioned, a worn black jacket and striped tie propped over the back of a chair next to the bedside, the other him wearing a printed waistcoat, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up haphazardly. The other him looks tired, as though he hasn't sleep well in a long time, his hair unkempt and stubble growing a shadow on his face .And in the dreamlike indefinite world his mind has conjured, he watches himself talk quietly to John, words he can't quite catch, yet he hear him call him Watson for a reason he cannot explain. He would try and pay more attention, but at the present he is focused on one fact in all this strangeness, one fact that hits him harder and draws more of a reaction even when he tells himself it isn't real. All his mind can take in it that John, whether it is his John or not, is dying,his breathing laboured and his heartbeats numbered and even if he couldn't see the terminal look upon his face, he would just know it by the feeling in his soul. He can barely look upon the doctor's pale face without wanting to run to him or run from him. The sight turns the very marrow of his bones cold with fear, and his heart panics wildly in the confines of his chest. John looks so ill, dark bruises around his eyes, face gaunt and pale. He too has neglected to shave, stubble growing the outlines of a full beard. He looks so tired, so very tired.
"Stay with me?" John says in a whisper of sound, every word seemingly a behemoth of effort for him. He wants to run to him as he watches this, to hold him and comfort him, but he cannot move from where he stands in the corner of the hospital room. The words are not directed at him however, but at the other him, who chokes out words in reply that he can barely hear. He is glad in a small way that the other him can respond and stay with John, while he- as an incorporeal spectre- watches over the two with sad eyes, filled with unshed tears.
The scene seems to change for a moment, and the other him has seemingly moved to lay by John in the hospital bed, holding him close with hands that bare tension-white knuckles. John breathes quietly and for a moment, both the men listening just hold onto the sound, because it means everything. It is strange, he considers, that one sound can hold their fragile hope together, or the lack of it dash them upon the ground like ornaments of glass. Then, naturally, like the world orbiting its axis or the falling of leaves in Autumn, John Watson takes his last breathe, and then gently falls silent. It hits him first, the ephemeral watcher, a jolt of panic in his gut and frustration that he can't move, can't help, and then like a reaction chain of only two domino's, the other him notices too.
"Watson?" The man whispers, and there is a tangent of fear in his voice as he shakes the man softly "Watson, wake up" He shakes him again, but harder this time, sitting up in the small cramped bed and moving John over from on his side to look at him. His fingers are frantic to take a pulse and he swears in a loud voice filled with terror as he struggles to find it. There is none to find. Still, the other man does not give up and he watches from the sidelines as the other him does what he would do, laying his head against the chest of a dead man, trying to find a heartbeat, trying to hold onto hope just a little bit longer , while in the corner he, the dreamer, cries silent tears of sorrow and fear, praying this is a dream because if he can't wake up from this he'd never be able to survive. And the other him is crying too, gasping in great sobs of air as he holds John close, his hands shaking as he strokes the pallid skin of the doctor's face, begs him in jilted words cut into stutters by his tears not to leave him, not to go.
And in the corner he wants to move closer, wants to hold his partner for one last time as the reality fools him for a moment. Because it feels so real; the tears on his face are real, the horror in his heart is real, even though he must be dreaming. He has to be dreaming. And as he watches himself- a man in old fashioned dress who does not seem to have had peace in so long,- he cries long hard tears of misery, the emotion welling up from seemingly nowhere. In his silent world he sobs along with his other, crying the name of a dead man even though no one can hear him...
Sherlock awakes with a jolt and the first thing he notices are the warm tears on his face, and the darkness of night enveloping the room. The bedside clock displays the too early hour in red glowing letters, and he closes his eyes tight, squeezing out more tears, wanting back the total blackness to shroud him from the word, not wanting to see or remember the abstract vision of a time long past, a death long forgotten. A sob hitches in his throat, and he clutches the pillow under his head with tight fingers, wondering why it felt so real, why it hurt so much.
"Sherlock?" a gentle muttered voice sounds quietly behind him as an arm, heavy and warm with sleep, snakes around to hold him close as another arm moves up to clumsily flick on the bedside light. The black of the room is all of a sudden conquered in a glow of yellow light. "Sherlock, what's wrong?"
"I...I had a dream" he breathes out in reply, hating himself for the weakness now that the light has banished away the worst of the dark. It seems so childish now, to react so strongly at a mere dream, but his body remembers the strength of the emotion- how it felt, how it hurt- and he shudders at the memories it conjures up. The pallid face of a dying man rises in his vision and he squeezes his eye shut again for a moment to banish it. Turning his body round to face the other occupant of the bed, he releases a breath he did not know he was holding as his eyes in the brightened dim recognise an angular face with an expression of concern,sees blue eyes heavy with sleep but awakening slowly. And he tells his shaking body and trembling mind that it's ok, it's only a dream, that his John is not lying pale and dead upon a hospital bed, but is here, with him, safe. "About you"
"Tell me about it?" John asks in a gently phrased question. He never pushes for answers from his partner, Sherlock notes with a small smile, but he leaves the gap open for Sherlock to tell him what's troubling him. John props himself up as Sherlock sits up, pushing sleep away for the moment in favour of being there for him.
"It...it was horrible," he whispers, another tear rolling down his cheek and he's hating himself for acting so damn childishly over a dream. "You were dying- I mean, I think it was you, you looked different - and you just died, like it didn't matter, and I couldn't... I couldn't do anything..."
"Shh," is John's reply, calming his panic , and Sherlock leans into the touch John is providing, feeling strong arms holding him close, arms that are warm with blood that his heart is still pumping. His heart is beating, he's not dead, he's here , safe and alive and with me. Sherlock can feel himself relaxing in John's hold and it still amazes him how the touch of one individual can have such an affect on him. He does not mind it as such. It is a weakness he would rather possess than do without.
John cards his fingers once through Sherlock's bed hair, smirking in the strange light as his touch just serves to make his partner's hair look even more wild. Not that it ever looks well-kept normally. "I'm not going anywhere , I promise," he whispers to Sherlock, sincerity clear in his tone "It was just a dream"
Sherlock nods, but for some reason he knows that it wasn't just a dream. It is just a feeling on his part, no logic to back him up, but he knows it was something more than a night-time vision of his fears, an experience he can't quite describe. It's not a memory as such, but it felt like one, like he was glimpsing into a past life that he could no longer remember.
What Sherlock doesn't know is that John doesn't believe his own words either, because he's had some strange dreams of late too, ones that he hasn't seen fit to voice to his partner. Dreams where he's shouting Sherlock's surname at the edge of a waterfall in a foreign place that he knows he's never been, dreams where there's a bulldog called Gladstone that John knows he has never owned, dreams of camaraderie between him and Sherlock, even though it isn't them and it seems that they are a different Sherlock and John, in a world where they greet each other as Holmes and Watson. And the dreams feel so natural that he can't feel perturbed by them, even with their strangeness. Because some aspects of the dreams- the flashes of a life he hasn't lived- are the same as the reality he wakes up to. Sherlock- or Holmes, as he is in the dream- is still the insufferable man that he's been living with for nearly three years, who still dumps his stuff wherever he can find space, for John to come along later and fold whatever it is neatly and put it away in its proper place. This Holmes still seemingly knows everything from a simple expression or mark he finds, but John has long gotten used to it, seeing it as a uniqueness in his partner he wouldn't do without. And this Holmes, as with his Sherlock, is still the most important thing in the world to him, is still a man who can make his heartbeat race or raise a smile when he's had a bad day at the surgery. He supposes that is something that will never change.
"You ok now?" John asks Sherlock, kissing him chastely on the lips. Sherlock nods, looking embarrassed to have reacted in such a way. Emotional outbursts are never something he is comfortable with. "Come on, you've got to be up for work early"
Sherlock nods an agreement, groaning in a way that makes John laugh quietly. Sherlock likes it when John laughs. It makes him happy too, and this feeling of contentment slowly waylays any leftover negative fears from his dream. The two settle down again with the intent of sleeping- both having to be up for work in the morning-, Sherlock turning back round on his side again and feeling John's arm wrapped around him in an expression that makes him feel safe, memories of the dream fading. What's here, now, is what counts to Sherlock , and he's sure by morning he will barely be able to recall the aspects of the dream.
The light goes off again with a click, black extinguishing yellow, and he feels John move in closer up against him, Sherlock moving his arms to enable him to entwine his fingers into the spaces between John's where his partners arm has wrapped around his waist.
He's calm again now, again grateful for the fact that a man like John Watson stays with him despite his faults, grateful that he has someone there who will never complain when propping Sherlock up, no matter how heavy the burden. He's glad that he met John, of all places, at a crime scene in the pouring rain, the detective whose eyes- searching for clues as to the murderer's identity- were momentarily distracted by the sight of one of the young pathologists- who, he found out later from station gossip, had just come back from serving as a doctor in Iraq. They'd become close companions almost immediately, later in terms of a more romantic fashion, and although work relationships were usually frowned upon, they'd kept it low key enough at work for the superiors to look the other way. It just became part of the general way of things, and everyone knew that DI Holmes and Dr Watson were more than friends. It just wasn't something that anyone was really concerned about. Society had moved on enough to accept their relationship, and Sherlock knew that if he and John had fallen for each other in any time past, it would have meant a prison sentence or death. If he had lived in a time past and had known John, he would not have known how he would have been able not to love him, no matter the consequences. He can't imagine a life not being with the man he loved.
His mind moves away from such morbid thoughts as tiredness begins to steal over him, dimming his mind with thoughts of sleep and rest, comfortable with the touch of John beside him, who is already breathing heavily , on his way to the waiting arms of Morpheus. All that matters now, Sherlock thinks as he closes his eyes, is that he has John now, here in this time, and nothing can get in the way of that.
But just for a moment, he thinks of the man in the hospital ward with a dying companion, and he holds onto John's hand tighter, as though afraid to let him go.
Just for a moment.