A/N: Every Study in Emerald prompt I see, I just can't leave alone... If you haven't read Neil Gaiman's 'A Study In Emerald', do so, for it is glorious.
The man who goes to Afghanistan in the Year of the Old Ones 865 is happy enough, in a way that means he is aware that this is only because he has no idea what he is missing. He believes in Queen and country. He serves. He dreams of a sweet-faced woman who is not pretty but is good-natured, and her smiles are beautiful.
The man who returns from Afghanistan screams in the night.
He dreams of the earth and the things Beneath, and of stars, brightly burning.
"Do you believe that some things are meant to be?" asks a man whose name he does not know. "That in another world or another life, past or future, we have met before, fought the good fight side by side, companions and friends against the world?"
"No," says the soldier recently back from Afghanistan, eyes bruised from nights without sleep, hands shaking in his pockets. He is lying, he has always had a feel for such things, and it has only been stronger since his glimpse of the world-beneath-the-world.
"Neither do I," says the stranger, grabs his sleeve and starts to walk.
"Where are we going?" asks the soldier.
"Does it matter?" asks the stranger.
"I don't even know your name," says the soldier.
"You can call me Sherry," the stranger says with a wink, "And I shall call you James."
"But my name is-"
"Don't tell me!" Sherry says
James, who was John before he went Beneath, smiles like a dying man, and limps.
"Legend," the man whose name is not Sherry whispers in his ear. "That is what we must be."
"I don't believe in destiny," says the soldier who dreams of stars, of many lipless mouths and shapes so vast and incomprehensible he must use words like limbs and mouths and eyes simply to glimpse them.
"And yet," says the man whose name today is Norton. "That's what we are. So future generations may see that they don't have to bend to the creatures that have laid claim to us."
The soldier opens his hand, peers at the coins within - brown and silver, black and copper-green, they have not changed in eight hundred years, why would they? - at the portrait of the Queen of Albion, confined to a shape human sensibilities can just barely comprehend.
"A losing battle," he says.
The other smiles.
At first he believes they are alone. It is not hard. The Old Ones have ruled for so long, history was rewritten so long ago, any idea of what human civilisation was before is guess or legend, and humanity as a whole is conditioned to accept things the way they are. Restorationist is a filthy word.
His colleague - whose name is not Vernet or Siegerson or Norton or Rache - tells him of a man known only as M, a shadow almost as unfathomable as the She Who Is Glorious In Victory. He is a text message or graffiti sign, a parroted message from a homeless unfortunate, a whisper of the telephone wires or a series of dead end links on the Electronic Web.
Run, M says, and they run. Stay where you are, stay low, M says, and they watch the police dash past them.
"He is Within," says the man, whose name today is Jim, for the detective it is whispered has the Queen's favour, waves an airy hand at the palace of Her Imperial Majesty.
He is doomed, then. The soldier thinks of the vastness of stars above their heads, of the darkness beneath the earth and the quiet places where screams echo forever.
"My name is John Watson," he whispers to his friend when they stand over the corpse of one of the Queen's many nephews.
"Why did you tell me that?" His friend asks, though of course he knows the answer.
"Someone should know who we are and why we are here."
His friend tilts his head, smiles. "My name is Sherlock Holmes."
There are stars reflected in his eyes. For the first time since Afghanistan, it is not a bad thing.