From Another Lonely Country
Johns takes out his phone and automatically punches in Mycroft's number. He has never met Mycroft Holmes. This is the curse of being a time traveler. The details get mixed up.
He's not sure why he does it but it's only thing he quite remembers from the hazy breach of his memories at the moment. The shifts and turns in his timeline, the way the universe pulls him about like a ragdoll and spits him out in some new moment of time and space. Sometimes, it's just a few hours, and Sherlock is waiting patiently back at 221b for him to show up, a hot cup of tea in his hands and warm towel as well.
Sometimes though, it is decades, centuries, and John is all alone. Sherlock may be alone his cleverness, but he never once had to deal with the stark absence of familiarity all at once. It's been about a lifetime since he has shifted and John prays as he hears the phone ring that he won't somehow break down into atoms and be thrown across time and space to land in another alien moment. He was John Watson, soldier, doctor, had a wound from Afghanistan. That was his life. The life he claimed. Because Sherlock did not remember him yet, and until that moment he must stay. He couldn't break and bend like last time, falling through time knowing the one other person Sherlock trusted was dead because of him.
His voice shakes a little when he hears Mycroft, alive and not yet beaten, answer.
"Hello?" says Mycroft, not remembering John. Of course not, the John he knows right now doesn't not exist. They have not even met at the warehouse yet. When John doesn't answer right away, dry mouthed, Mycroft turns sour.
"Who is this?"
His voice is dark. Bad day for the London Economy then. Or he had a small tiff with the Queen.
John hangs up. He wasn't sure why he called Mycroft, now, maybe it was just to assure himself he was still here, in this straight and narrow timeline, for now. His perception of time was skewed since the first shift, the first time he couldn't save Sherlock. He closes his eyes and remembers.
A bell clangs somewhere off the distance, and the sound scatters his thoughts of Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock, Harry to the wind and the cold. He had been in the middle of a case with Sherlock until this moment, when the fates spun a tangent thread off to the side and wound him back into an old life, just to mock him.
He opens his eyes, and the world arranged itself into details, pieces. He was swimming in them. Different hues of green and flecks of brown filled his vision, and he is drowning in their confused kaleidoscope pattern. Movement, unsteady and fast paced like a boat causes him to tense up his legs and wrap them, stiffly it seemed around something warm and large.
He has never felt heavier than this in his life. He looks down at his hands. His fingers are covered in silver. Armor. Gauntlets. He squeezed the warm body beneath him in shock. His horse. He responded immediately with a faster gait, moving from a brisk walk to low quiet canter. He eases his grip on the reins in his hands and relaxed his body and the horse followed suit coming back to walk. Riding felt natural, easy. As it should. He didn't know why he has lost all sense of time and space for those few moments. That is odd. This lifetime is familiar. He has lived it before. Parts of it anyway.
He could still taste last night's dinner in his mouth. A dinner he cannot quite remember. Wine and a few rabbits the squire, (of course, his squire, young and stupid still) had captured and skinned. He checks his horse's walk and follows the long caravan of knights, the cold seeping into his cheeks behind his visor. His vision skews through a slit of metal made in his helmet as he watches the line of men and boys follow the small path through the forest to what he hopes is their camp. He can't remember exactly where they were going. But that is not important for the caravan has now stopped, suddenly, as commotion, men's voices, raised and emphatic, echo off the forest floor. John sighs. He weaves his way up the line and makes a face, unseen beneath his helmet. He has had quite enough of the other knight's squabbling. Too much talk and less action. A few other lifetimes of experience had not yet taught him He is certain these men, except one (of course, just one) would never speak sense.
To his surprise, he sees the other knights surrounding two men, uncouth and dirty, pine needles in their hair. One's hands are covered in blood, his tunic splattered with it as well. It is not his blood. They are shouting at the other knights, who now have their swords out. Why and how they could ever feel threatened by these two simple peasants he would never know. A few of the swords are out only for show, a sign that these two men need to show them a bit more respect as they are mouthing off insults at each other and anyone around them.
He edges passed Timothy, his squire whom he gives his helmet to in a sweeping gesture. He enters the circle of knights and took a deep breath. He would be civil to them.
"Speak your piece," he says, a bit stiffly. "what has happened here?"
The peasants stare at him blankly a moment before launching into a long summary of what had transpired. In short, John learns that the man covered in blood had found his wife, dead, a few yards off the path. He had seen the other man, running away from the body of his beloved wife deeper into the forest. He had taken up her body and held her close, and that is how her blood had got all over him.
The other man swore that he would not touch a hair on the husband's wife's head, and begins to describe how he had been running away in shock and terror at what had happened when another knight, bareheaded, raised his fist, making the peasant stop midsentence.
John blinks. He hadn't always considered the knight's actions to be natural and altogether understandable, in this century, so close at hand, but the man was a wizard, and their actions were always masked in mystery.
"Enough," says the wizard, much to the others surprise, it is to their knowledge that the peasant's tale had just begun. "This peasant has wasted enough breath. It is clear to me that he has killed her out of a fit of jealousy and should therefore be hanged."
The man covered with blood blanched and fell to his knees.
"Have mercy," he whispers.
The knight purses his lips. "I have none," he says at last. Then, after a moment, he adds. "Where is your wife's body?"
They had set up camp in the glade a quarter of mile up the winding path when it begins to drizzle. They took to the tents, casting off their armor, watching the wizard knight conduct his art on the dead body of the woman until they tired of him standing over her, silent.
John, alone remains, in the corner, staring at the glass bulbs holding dead man's hands, preserved, the flesh ghastly pale, but intact. Hands of glory taken off of thieves. Their wizard had an odd sense of justice and even odder sense of humor.
It had been awhile since the wizard had spoken to him, but he didn't mind. He much preferred the quiet these days. It was easier then always trying to convince the wizard knight that he was Sherlock, and he himself was John, and they had been friends longer than most people had been alive. Somehow, Sherlock always forgot this, every time, too twisted and curled in on himself to notice the same man appearing his life, until that one day when it all comes crashing down and he remembers. But today is not that day, and John must wait.
"What chemicals have you?" asks the wizard at last, glancing at John, passing a hand over his unshaven face.
"What kind of chemicals are you looking for?" John replies.
The wizard straightens and looks at him fully.
John points to a small wooden chest near the knight's feet.
"There," he says.
The other knight digs through the chest's contents awhile before producing quicksilver and copper sealed hermitically in wax, and poured them in a bowl. They wash together, congealing, and make a golden hue. The wizard then takes a pot from another table and pours a bit of dark syrup on top of the mixed golden metals.
"What is that?" John asks, suddenly feeling very stupid and heavy. He stumbles as he walked towards the table that bore the dead woman's corpse. The shift can happen this soon, and yet he feels it, crawling against through his bones.
"Honey," says the wizard knight a matter-of-fact tone.
John watches him mix the elements together a moment before asking:
"What do you intend to do?"
"I intend to raise her from the dead," says the knight, brushing his long locks out of his face with the back of his hand, and John almost laughs before realizing this not the same Sherlock who believes in the science, "or else make her wounds mouth the name of her murderer."
"You were bluffing?"
The other knight looks at him with a look of surprise.
John thinks of the two men sitting, tied to a tree outside, doomed to the noose. He grimaces.
John watches Sherlock return to stirring. But when he takes the pot, now filled with those alchemical elements and is about to pour them over the woman's body John catches the edge of the pot with his hand and forces it upright in the other knight's grasp. Sherlock is taken aback. Puzzled.
"No," John says simply. The other knight stares at him.
"I have learned this art from you," he says, as if that would have made it clear. And yes, John had taught Sherlock a few alchemical potions, if not for fun then to make him happy in this age where he did not quite fit in. Sherlock still hadn't remembered John yet. Besides, the laws of the land are very strictly against Sherlock's progressive notions of modern autopsy.
John sighs and takes a firmer grip of the pot. "You cannot try to reanimate the dead. It is heresy. It goes against the laws of this world."
The other knight, a few inches taller now revels his natural superiority and smiles.
"We go against the seeming laws of nature every day, with your sacred elements."
John tightens his grip on the pot, thinking of the poor woman's body, made muddy golden by the other knight's buffoon ideas. "This is different." He pleads in his head that Sherlock will just remember who he is and be done with it.
The other knight gives him a look. He does not let go of the pot.
"You don't have the courage to try."
John feels anger rising within him, despite himself, Sherlock is always too stubborn.
"Don't you think, "John shouts, "I would have stopped the devil from stealing perhaps, my wife if I could?"
"If there was a devil, yes," says the knight, his face stony.
John lets out a breath. Forward notions again. Sherlock is so close to remembering him and yet…and yet.
"You cannot do this."
"Give me good reason, " he says," a man outside might die a death not due him."
John balls his hands into fists, letting go of the pot.
"I may lack the courage, but I do know the danger. If you desecrate this woman's corpse.—"
"-I would, to learn to the truth," the other knight interjects, softly. "And besides," he says, looking down at the body, coldly, "she's only a peasant."
John spits out the words. "That is no excuse!"
The other knight slams the pot on the ground and lets it shatter.
He raises himself to his full height.
"Your romantic passions you have of the world serve you with nothing," he shouts. "I have spent half my life at this work and I have the right to use it these elements as I will."
"You will do nothing to this woman's body."
The other knight's face contorts, his eyes wild, lit with an unholy light.
"Are you going to stop me?"
"Yes," says John, hand on the hilt of his sword, "if I have to." If it makes you remember me, he thinks.
The other knight draws his sword in one swift motion, and takes to three steps back, towards the open flap of the tent, into the drizzling rain.
John blinks, a sick feeling curling and unfolding in his stomach, knowing that something had just changed, that somehow his hints are not getting recognized as easily as they used to, that Sherlock is growing harder and harder to reach. Locked in time, while he, John is unbound by it. Still he strides passing the dead woman on the table, stepping over the broken shards, dripping with golden hues of mercury and copper, out into the forest to duel with the man whom he loved like a brother. He shivers as he unsheathed his sword and…he shifts.
John wakes up in his bed, in Baker Street, date unknown exactly but it's the 21st century at least.
The call he made to Mycroft, stupidly before he ever met him in person, is not forgot, and Mycroft dogs him daily for pieces of information, of how Dr. John Watson can possibly know his number. He should have thrown the mobile out and got a new one, but he couldn't bear losing yet another object for the sake of time continuity.
He sits up and stares at the clock. 3:44 a.m. Sherlock has been dead 450 years and 36 hours. The wizard knight Sherlock, the first Sherlock he could not save. That Sherlock burnt at the stake for heresy within a few weeks of trying to bring a peasant woman back from the dead. John had looked them both up in the history books, once there were libraries to look up them up in. Sherlock, in all the books, by all his names that John can remember, dies before he is an old man. Before he has children. A wife it's fate, and maybe it's the universe cheating John more than Sherlock, but John doesn't think this is fair. Not one bit.
John rolls over and crumples on himself under the sheets and tries to get back to sleep, wishing, hoping that one of these days, he can save Sherlock from dying. Just once. He falls back asleep and dreams of flames and flesh burning, not memories exactly of that past life, but imaginings and half-truths he had learned from the history books. His only comfort was at least he wasn't there to see him die. That time.
In the morning, Sherlock, not quite remembering him yet, asks him if he has seen a ghost. John reckons he has. Sherlock pours him a strong cup of coffee, and somehow, automatically, gets his flatmate's robe of the warm dryer and hands it to him. This is Sherlock's unconscious apology that John always hates, but takes anyway. Sherlock doesn't question him yet about the books and the serums that have nothing to do with dead bodies and everything to do with past lives and reincarnation and John is grateful. He just hopes Sherlock remembers before he shifts again. He likes this Sherlock. More than the others. Somehow, he fits into this life better. Of course, he's eccentric and lonely as ever until John finds him and helps him remember, but he is happier.
John Watson never wanted to time travel, but he does. He would have been broken by the journey the universe had set on him if it wasn't for the two things he held on to: Sherlock, finding him and protecting him and the day he found the cure for this illness that transports him against his will from life to life and back again. That is always his first thought in the void, as his body is transported, weary and beaten across time and space: Save Sherlock.