Author's Note: YES, IT TOOK ME AGES TO UPDATE, I KNOW! Thank you to Everyone who poked at me and demanded to know what was taking so long-it keeps me on my toes. Basically, real life was kicking my arse and I was writing this in 200 word chunks-and I mean look at the length of this chapter, it took forever to write it that way. It's late and I'm lazy, so I haven't given this the thorough editing I usually try to do, so let me know if anything's off! Thanks again Everyone for waiting so patiently. I'd say the next chapter will be up soon, but I would only leave you heartbroken, because it won't. But I will be writing, so keep hope.
There was a person in his room.
He'd been working on restarting his experiment—Mycroft would be furious when he discovered Sherlock had commandeered most of the dinnerware as substitute lab supplies, but it was a sacrifice for science he was willing to make—when a bang on the shutters of his window had startled him into dropping the cup he was holding, shattering on the unforgiving stone floor and nearly followed by the frying pan in his other hand.
Frozen with disbelief and something else, something that clawed sharply in his chest and made his heart pound, he'd stared at the window as his mind raced dizzyingly with possibilities that made no sense and only served to further confuse him. He was a good ways off the ground, and not even the birds were dim enough to fly into the house, so what could it be? Eighteen years and he'd never had this happen, even when the window hadn't been sealed.
For an uncertain moment, he'd almost wished Mycroft was still there.
At that point the noise had suddenly started up again, intensifying the tight clawing sensation that made it difficult to breathe. He'd retreated into the shadows of his room, made laughably easy due to the fact that his window was the only source of natural light unless he took the time to open the tiny skylights in the roof, which he never did. When Mycroft permanently shut it, he'd had to make do with lanterns and candles.
Then the shutters had snapped open, someone climbed through, Sherlock discovered an alternate use for frying pans, and now he was staring at the collapsed body on his floor, completely nonplussed in a way he hadn't been since Mycroft had tried to convince him that sewing was an essential life skill back when he was five.
Gaze irresistibly drawn to the sunlight blazing in from outside, his eyes automatically squinted against the brightness as he moved around the...someone...on his floor. It'd been ages since he'd been exposed to open air, and the light playing across his walls now seemed almost surreal. Although there were two windows downstairs, there was no way to open them; they were just panes of glass built into the wall.
But this...this was magnificent. It was like really seeing, really breathing, for the first time. And now that the window was open—
He glanced down abruptly at the unmoving form at his feet.
Mycroft had warned him that there were all sorts of people in the world, most of them selfish and either only looking out for themselves or searching for what didn't belong to them in the first place. People looking out for themselves generally didn't climb into other people's houses, so this person wanted—or, Sherlock amended as he eyed the small bag next to the body, already had—something that didn't belong to it.
What drove those sorts of people? Was it just greed? He was quite familiar with greed himself; Mycroft never gave him what he wanted and the few concessions his brother made were never enough, but was that it? Why was this person here? People had been after his hair since he was born, Nana had told them both that constantly, so was that why this stranger was here?
He cast a lingering look at the window before striding back to his makeshift lab table and snatching up a new pair of gloves, pulling them on with a practiced motion as he returned to crouch next to the unknown person. The frying pan stayed at his side as added security.
It was a man, obviously, the style of dress and width of his shoulders made that clear. Sherlock's eyes skimmed over him from toe to head: worn brown boots, dark grey trousers, a belt worn around the waist that matched the boots, pale grey shirt with the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow, and a black…well, it looked like a cross between a vest and a jacket—tailored to his measurements, thick fabric, low collared, and short-sleeved. They were all of good quality, if a little dirty with a few tiny tears here and there. Though if he was right about this man, they had probably either been stolen or the money to buy them had been stolen. Judging by the fit, probably the latter.
Faintly intrigued now, he brushed a hand over the smooth yellow-brown hair on the man's head, so different from his. Straight, darker underneath, lighter and brighter as it neared the top. There was a word for yellow hair, he was sure. He used to know but it hadn't been important, he didn't know anyone with yellow hair after all, so he'd deleted it. But he supposed it didn't matter because this man's hair wasn't the same—a sort of light-but-dark, and for all his experience with colour he didn't have a name for it. Mycroft and Nana had dark hair, and his hair fell under the category of ginger, but...his brother never talked about work, or other people at all really, so he hadn't even considered...were there other hues out there? Like light-but-dark?
And it was short, too. Longer than Mycroft's, curling slightly over his forehead, around his ears, and the back of his neck, but it was nowhere near as long as his. It had obviously been cut. Did all people cut their hair? Did they just not know how to use it? Nana used to tell him his hair was special, but it was statistically unlikely that he was the only one with such unique hair, wasn't it?
He leaned closer, staring avidly at the man's face. His eyebrows and eyelashes were a similar colour, maybe a little darker, and even their skin was different. Sherlock carefully lifted the man's left hand from the floor and examined it, feeling foreign body heat even through his gloves. The skin was a little browner than his, the colour fading abruptly as it disappeared under the sleeve of his shirt. Pushing back the sleeve revealed more skin and a fine dusting of light hairs up the arm, marred only by the occasional faint freckle.
He moved back to the hand in his grasp, gently bending each finger and scrutinizing each nail before flipping it over to stare at the palm. It was dusty with dirt and scratched in places, but there was no blood anywhere. The bones were solid under his inquisitive fingers, the overlaying flesh firm although there were no calluses. He traced a fingertip over each line engraved in the skin with a frown, mentally comparing it to his own hand.
With critical eyes, Sherlock pressed his right hand to the limp one he was holding, aligning the heels of their palms and observing them closely. His fingers were longer and a little narrower, but it hardly mattered with their hands lined up like this because the other man's hand was still larger. The palms were broader and heavier than his own, making his hand look smaller in a way that irritated him for no logical reason. He dropped the hand and instead turned the man's head so he could see his face better.
The pale eyelashes were distracting—not that they were unusually long or curled or anything like that—but simply because he'd never before seen them as any colour other than black. He set his thumb carefully to the stranger's eyelid and lifted, peering closely at the iris.
Blue. Dark blue. Interesting.
Sherlock lowered the fragile skin and ran a few fingers down the bridge of the man's nose, feeling the smooth change from bone to cartilage, the way the end of his nose turned up rather than lie flat. The skin at his jaw was slightly rough, catching on his gloves as his hand travelled from chin to ear. The man was older, then, if he shaved; Mycroft shaved in the mornings before work too, but it wasn't something he himself had to worry about yet. Even the cheekbones were different, softer and less defined than his own, and the shape of his ear—
The body under his inspection gave a shuddery inhale, eyelids flickering, and before he could fully register anything beyond the sudden suffocating pressure rising in his throat, Sherlock scrambled for the frying pan and swung.
Silence fell again as his roaring pulse gradually returned to its normal rate and his eyes darted between light-but-dark hair and the improvised weapon in his grip. He scowled. That was not what he'd wanted to do, but his hand had just moved, and...damn and blast. He hadn't done anything that impulsive in years.
Furious with himself and fully prepared to indulge in another sulk, Sherlock threw himself onto his arse and relinquished his frying pan to the floor. Then his eyes landed on the abandoned bag innocently lying not too far away.
What had this man stolen that made breaking into an unknown house seem like a good idea?
He snatched up the bag with a fair amount of curiosity, grabbing warm metal with one hand and tearing the cloth off with the other.
What on earth...?
It was obnoxiously bright, reflecting the sunlight streaming through his window in pointedly painful ways until Sherlock scooted out of range so he could see it properly. Undoubtedly horridly expensive, the metal was most likely that silver material his brother had told him about before, a curved, almost triangular plane of thin, intricate whorls forged into a not-quite circle and dotted with deep blue and green...things. Were those stones? The larger three at centre front were pale blue, but he'd never seen stones in colours this pure, blue, green, or otherwise.
The piece was obviously decorative, but what was it for? What was its purpose? Nana used to have jewellery that looked somewhat like this, delicate and fancy, but without the stones. It must be some sort of fashion thing then, to be worn on the person. Built wrong for a necklace or bracelet, but it had the same shape as a ring if on a much bigger scale, so it must...
He twisted around to stare at the mirror over his desk.
No. People didn't really wear such gaudy things on their heads, did they? That was ridiculous. What use was that?
Pushing himself to his feet, Sherlock headed over to his desk and paused in front of his reflection. There was scepticism written all over his face as he reached up and settled the silver whatever-it-was over his hair and stared.
It looked...odd, to say the least. The metal's weight felt abnormally heavy on his head, and the blue stones made his eyes stand out a bit more, but why anyone would want to wear this for any period of time was beyond him. The thing seemed overly dressy and useless and if it had been his, he'd have been happy to have it stolen. Good riddance.
Annoyed now, he yanked it off and returned it to the bag, then briefly analysed the prone figure on his floor. If the man had gone through even half as much trouble as Sherlock suspected he had, then this absurd trinket clearly meant something to him, for whatever reason. Which meant it could potentially be used as leverage.
He deliberated for a brief moment, casting his eyes around his room for an appropriate hiding spot before deciding downstairs had better options. All he had here were the drawers in his desk and his wardrobe, and those places were in plain sight. No good at all.
Perhaps under the loose second step? No, there was a noticeable gap in the construction; anything could be seen there if you looked at the right angle.
What if he didn't hide it downstairs?
A smirk spread over his features as he stole out of his room and down the staircase, hair snaking quietly behind him as he headed straight for the loose tile in the kitchen. Unless the man had some secret knowledge of their floor plans, which he obviously didn't since he'd entered through the window and not the door, there was no way he would ever find...wait. How had he even reached the window?
Sherlock froze in the process of setting the bag and its contents on the stone stairs under the floor that his brother always refused to climb.
That was the first thing he should have looked at! This whole situation was throwing him off-balance. Just because this was the first human being he'd ever laid eyes on besides Mycroft and Nana didn't mean he had to be all out of sorts about it.
How did that man get to his window? He had to have climbed, but he didn't have nearly enough hair, so how did he do it?
He shoved the tile hurriedly into its proper place and raced back up the stairs two at a time, hair flying behind him as he crossed the room and stepped over the stranger to lean excitedly out the window. Glancing up automatically, he checked the wrought iron hook secured in the support beam overhead, the one he utilized in order to bring Mycroft inside before the window was closed, but there was no evidence of it having been used. How did—there!
There were two lengths of wood, one jammed into either side of the expansive wooden frame. They were extremely small in diameter and cylindrical in shape, with a dark tip at one end and some kind of feathered material at the other.
Staring closely at the left one, Sherlock gave it an experimental tug. It resisted, but a second effort released the sharp, triangular point embedded in the older wood. More metal, it looked like, strong and durable and containing several wicked-looking barbs. Barring the existence of unscientific powers, these must have also been used not just on the window's frame, but also on the walls somehow.
The stone blocks surrounding his windowsill didn't appear very accommodating for that purpose, really.
He ran a hand over the uneven, sun-warmed surface, feeling out the edges and pushing into crevices with the pads of his fingers. So he'd taken advantage of the spaces between the blocks, then? And climbed the entire way like that? Brilliant.
A grin flashed across his face, excitement flooding through his veins as he glanced from the peculiar object in his hands to the man who'd used them.
It was interesting that these things had been capable of holding the man's weight, even with their sturdy construction. Although he was shorter than Sherlock, by quite a lot if his estimate was correct, the stranger still weighed a good deal more. Not to mention the design of these sticks were patently intended to be aerodynamic and launched at high velocity by another contraption, as they were rather useless on their own. They weren't meant to be used for scaling walls at all.
Oh, that was brilliant. Mad, but brilliant, and now things were really getting interesting. A little chat with the man wouldn't do any harm, surely.
He smirked, eyes bright, and peeled off his gloves.
Minutes later found his uninvited guest strapped to his makeshift lab table with Sherlock settled in the rafters like a restless, hair-trailing bird of prey, frying pan tucked under his arm. It was easier to knock someone out than it was to revive them, apparently, and without clear solutions he opted to watch and wait lest he unintentionally destroy more of the man's brain cells.
But he did so hate waiting.
He'd rifled through the other man's pockets in his impatience, discovering nothing more than a hastily folded paper bearing a truly atrocious sketch of what was presumably the man himself with the name John Watson inked at the bottom, a third arrow, and a suspiciously heavy, well-made cloth coin purse.
The coins were strange and varied in size, some aged, some new, stamped with a variety of images: the profiles of a bearded man and a smaller woman, both wearing similar head jewellery; what looked like a large, oddly built house; a nondescript man riding a horse while carrying some sort of weapon; a lantern with lines meant to represent radiating light; and if he correctly remembered the small amount of herbology Mycroft had taught him, a single plant from the genus Hemerocallis, most likely Hemerocallis fulva, or 'Kwanso', judging by the shape and sheer number of curled petals. He made sure to examine them closely since Mycroft was careful not to leave money out in the open, but overall there was nothing particularly interesting about them. So instead he was stuck analysing himself.
There was an odd vibration running under his skin that he didn't like, and he didn't have a name for it. Conflicting, insensible urges clashed violently in his mind—hide, look, stay out of range, move closer, don't be seen—but he wanted to see this. Something different, something new.
For now, Sherlock could control the situation. Where the man was, what he did, when, but the moment he awoke that control disappeared. He didn't know what the man would say, or the mannerisms he had, or how he'd react to being tied to a table. Desk. Piece of furniture. He didn't like the idea of giving up that control, every instinct screamed against it, but he wanted to know.
A low groan met his ears and he tensed in uneasy anticipation, gaze darting back to the body several meters below his hiding place.
The man's eyelids drifted open to half-mast, mind clearly re-adjusting to being conscious. Then he attempted to move, the tension in his limbs evident as they tried and failed to press against the restraints, and Sherlock could pinpoint the exact moment when the stranger realised something wasn't right. The pause, the furrowing of his brow; the man's thoughts were practically spelled out across his face for the world to see as he ran a brief evaluation of his current status and his eyes widened.
"Oh hell," the man muttered.
The voice wasn't as deep as his own; Sherlock had noticed that earlier when he'd climbed through the window. Was that normal? Was there as much variation in vocal pitch and timbre as there seemed to be in hair colour? In height?
"Not quite," Sherlock responded, fighting the nagging, jittery feeling in his stomach that insisted he should stay where he was. "Though you won't be going anywhere for a while."
The man's head tilted back, an unfamiliar expression on his features as he searched for the location of the voice.
"Are you John Watson?" asked Sherlock curiously.
Dark blue eyes narrowed. "Who wants to know?"
Sherlock decided this conversation would be far more interesting on the ground than up in the rafters. He dropped to the floor with a practiced movement, landing in a crouch that made his feet ache and his knees burn. Then he straightened up guardedly, fingers tightening on the metal frying pan, staying a safe distance away as he met the other man's eyes.
The stranger stared at him, face going slack with disbelief before glancing down at the restraints wrapped across his chest, down the length of his body, and around his wrists. "What—are—" His gaze darted back to Sherlock. "Is this all your hair? You tied me up with hair?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Obviously."
His guest looked as though he was searching for words and couldn't find the ones he wanted, staring at him, incredulous. "I have to admit, this is a bit kinky, even for me," he said finally, giving the teen an assessing look.
Frowning, Sherlock ran through his memory bank and confirmed that he didn't recognize the word 'kinky'. "What?"
"How old are you, anyway? You're pretty tall for your age, but you're what, maybe sixteen?" the man went on, brow furrowing while he eyed Sherlock up and down as best he could from his current position. Sherlock almost took a step back. "As an adult, I can't really condone this; do you have any idea what you're doing? This really isn't something kids should be messing around with—"
"I'm eighteen today!" Sherlock snarled, bewildered and furious at not having the faintest idea what the man was talking about. All people weren't this aggravating, were they? "I'm not a kid!"
"So…" The man lifted his eyebrows, drawing the word out like he was waiting for an answer. "I'm a birthday present, is that it?"
"You broke into my room," Sherlock retorted heatedly, eyes narrowing as he hefted the frying pan slightly higher in his right hand and moved closer. "As an adult, I can't really condone that as appropriate behaviour."
The other man opened his mouth to respond, paused, and apparently thought better of it. "Ah," he said. "Right." His gaze dropped warily to the metal object now in plain sight. "That's not the reason I have a blooming migraine right now, is it?"
Sherlock whipped the pan out in front of him like the weapon he was using it as.
Tensing on the table, the stranger adopted a strange expression Sherlock couldn't identify. "You—tell me you didn't. You can't hit someone with that; what on earth are you thinking! Did you hit me with that?"
"Twice," said Sherlock smugly, his arms perfectly steady. "And I will do it again. So I would advise you to do as I say."
Silence fell as the other man stilled on the table, eyes moving between Sherlock's face and the frying pan, and the wheels turning in his head were plain as day.
After a few moments, Sherlock asked, "Why are you here?"
There was a pause. "I was playing a game," the other man said finally.
"A game." Sherlock repeated flatly.
"Mmm, called…uh, hide and seek. Have you heard of it?"
Sherlock stared at him.
"You know, the one where you get a group together, one person hides, and everyone else tries to find him?"
"…that's a game?" asked Sherlock with a frown.
"Yup. And I was the one hiding when I saw this place, and figured it'd be as good as any other spot I could find."
"And 'everyone else' is looking for you?"
"And who exactly is 'everyone else'?"
"Just a…few mates of mine."
He got an odd look in response. "Friends, you know. Sort of."
Sherlock's gaze narrowed. "Are they looking for you, or for what you took from them?"
"Well, both, actu—"
The stranger's words broke off abruptly. His face went unaccountably blank, eyes widening and darting around what little he could see of the room, as that unnameable expression rose up in his features again.
"What—where—oh no. No. What did you do with it!"
Sherlock cocked his head at him, raising an eyebrow. "'It' is such an ambiguous pronoun," he replied.
"The crown," the man shouted, features now shifting into a recognizable frustration. "The bloody crown, what did you—" his eyes landed on something behind Sherlock. "You went through my pockets?"
A ridiculous question like that didn't warrant an answer, surely.
"You're a thief," commented Sherlock casually, gaze sharp and evaluating.
His guest huffed in impatience as he wriggled slightly on the table, testing the strength of the hair wrapped around him. "I prefer the term 'Cracksman', thanks," he snarked. "'Thief' has too many negative connotations associated with it, I've found."
Sherlock backed up a little, letting his fingers play along the lip of the pan. "And your name is John Watson?"
"Not if you're going by that hideous sketch," John retorted, eyes glancing meaningfully at the folded paper to his left. "Those ears aren't even anatomically correct, you know."
Sherlock ignored him. "And you climbed all the way up to my window only using those curious sticks—"
"Arrows, they're called 'arrows'."
"—to avoid being caught. Your only intent was to hide, which means you'll be in a good bit of trouble if they find you, what you stole is very valuable, or both," Sherlock mused, fingers flexing on his metal cooking instrument.
John frowned at him. "It's a crown; of course it's valuable. You did get a look at it, didn't you? And there's no way you knew I only wanted to hide."
Impatiently, the younger man gave him an irritated glance. "You didn't even bother to check if the room was occupied, so clearly burgling the place wasn't a priority. The first thing you did was check the condition of the crown and remark on how much trouble it brought you in the course of acquiring it, indicating its importance and value to you. It wasn't exactly a leap of logic to work that out."
Honestly, the man had practically broadcast his lack of plan from the very moment he entered. Did he do everything that way?
"Alright yes, you're right, absolutely right," John conceded with a tired sigh that made Sherlock frown.
"Of course I'm right," Sherlock interrupted, nonplussed.
John ignored him in favour of staring at the ceiling with a rather pointed look of sadness. "That crown is important to me. It's a family heirloom, you know."
"An heirloom…?" the eighteen year old repeated, letting the word roll around on his tongue. What an odd word.
"Been in the family for ages and everything," his hostage continued, glancing at the boy hovering at his side.
"You're playing a game with an heirloom," Sherlock said slowly, "because—"
"I'm returning it to its rightful owner," John said.
"So you're stealing back something that was stolen?"
"Yes, yes exactly."
"Who's the owner?"
John stared at Sherlock, tongue darting out to moisten his lower lip as his eyes drifted away. "Er…he's a…a nice bloke, I suppose."
"Is he now?" Sherlock asked, bored, examining the edge of the frying pan.
"Fantastic guy, really. A bit on the quiet side; doesn't say much. Doesn't go out much, either."
Sherlock eyed him for several long moments until it became clear John didn't like the silence. "You're a horrid liar," he observed finally, resolving to remember all the little tics that presented themselves when the man lied. Mycroft didn't have any tics. That was probably because Mycroft didn't lie.
John scowled at him. "Just give it back, alright? I worked hard to get that and I'm not about to just let you run off with it!"
Sherlock's eyes travelled back to his open window and it wasn't long before his feet followed. There was the same view every time he looked—grass, trees in the distance, stream to the left—and it only changed minutely with the seasons. Without the ability to touch it, it had never really meant more to him than a painting, or an image of what was just outside his reach, but now…now John had walked through it and was in his room and he was real, so if he was real than what was outside had to be real.
John must have come through those trees in order to see the tower, and to steal the crown there must have been another house or person or something out there to take from. And coming from that direction—Sherlock spun around so he was facing the appropriate way, ignoring the hair twining around his ankles and tried to imagine what the man on his lab table would have seen as he approached the tower—he'd have walked through the trees, with the stream on his right and the tower directly in front, and beyond that…beyond that…
What was beyond that? His world ended at the tower; what was beyond the tower? He didn't know. The windows were only on one side and the skylight wasn't large enough for Sherlock to squeeze through (oh, how he'd tried on more than one occasion) and suddenly it was unimaginably important: what was on the other side of the tower?
"What's on the other side?" Sherlock demanded, striding back over to John so he could see the man's face.
John's expression wrinkled into something Sherlock didn't have a name for, but it was obvious the question was going to have to be repeated. "Sorry?" John asked. "The other side of what?"
"The tower!" Sherlock snapped impatiently, waving a hand haphazardly in the direction of the far wall in a worrisome way that made John cringe away from the frying pan. "What else would I be talking about? Don't be stupid, John, the tower—what's beyond the tower?"
The thief just looked at him with a faintly puzzled air, sort of like how Mycroft had looked when Sherlock asked why he hadn't been born with wings so he could fly back when he was four. A sort of you are a strange, strange little boy look that had grated even before he'd understood what it meant.
"You…don't know what's on the other side of this place?" replied John, and Sherlock was starting to get tired of all these expressions he didn't understand. Then John's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What does this have to do with me getting my crown back?"
With uncanny speed, the frying pan was drawn back into prime swinging position and ready for action.
"Tell me," Sherlock hissed with the fear-inspiring rage that can only be born from single-minded determination, "what is on the other side of the tower!"
"Mountains," John blurted out immediately, wide eyes focused on the pan. "Just mountains, lots and lots of them that just go on forever; Christ, please don't hit me with that again, alright? They're just bloody mountains."
"Mountains…" Sherlock breathed, straightening up and dropping the frying pan with a clang that didn't even register to his thrilled mind. "There are mountains on the other side of this wall…"
"Are you alright?" John's voice filtered into his brain in a judiciously measured sort of way as Sherlock fairly flew to the wall in question. "I didn't think I could get any more uncomfortable, but this just definitely changed my mind."
"I want to see them," decided Sherlock almost wonderingly, running his hands over the cold stone as though attempting to feel the mountains through his bedroom wall.
Sherlock tuned John out as the man muttered something incomprehensible about vision and x-rays and inappropriate touching.
John had been on the other side of those trees and seen the mountains, and Mycroft wouldn't be back for several days. He had a very small window of opportunity at his disposal and no intention of losing it. He had what John wanted and John was capable of taking him where he wanted to go. They could leave and come back and Mycroft didn't even have to know he was gone.
Maybe he'd get what he wanted for his birthday after all.
"John," said Sherlock softly, turning in a slow arc to stare at the man tied to his table.
Freezing, John kept his eyes locked on the ceiling.
"John," Sherlock reiterated as he drew alongside the table again. "What would you be willing to do to get your crown back?"
Dark blue eyes snapped over to him, the light-dark brows above them rising incrementally. "We don't know each other nearly well enough for that," he retorted firmly. "You do realize I'm not in Mrs. Warren's profession, don't you?"
With a frown, Sherlock asked, "What?"
"I nick things," the other man said carefully, and Sherlock got the irritable feeling that this was John's correct-the-small-child's-unfortunate-misconception voice. "I don't…you know. Not for pay, at any rate."
"No, I don't know," Sherlock replied flatly, staring unflinchingly at the smaller man tied to his table. "What is it you don't do for pay, John?"
There was a heavy silence as they both stared at each other, John's eyebrows drawing together in a strange sort of slow-motion as the blank expression on Sherlock's face told him all he needed to know.
"How old are you, again?" asked John slowly, his tone a little too shrewd and disbelieving for Sherlock's liking.
The younger of the two simply rolled his eyes in impatience and decided the turn this conversation was taking was pushing things a little off track.
"I want you to take me to the…city." He declared. Mycroft had mentioned one that he sometimes went to for business-related reasons, so it had to be reasonably close by—
He was completely unprepared for when John started laughing.
The burst of sound caught Sherlock by surprise as it echoed curiously around the room, the amused exhalations of air sounding uncomfortably loud and foreign trapped within the confines of a roof and four walls. Mycroft wasn't one for laughter, and it had been years since he'd heard anything even remotely similar—his brother's idea of showing hilarity was a raised eyebrow and the slight upward movement of a corner of his mouth. When was the last time he'd laughed with his brother?
The sound was captivating even as it faded and John choked out a response over some persistent chuckles.
"Back to the City," John dissolved back into what was disturbingly close to giggles. "I don't know why you'd ask that, but there's no bloody way I'm going back to the City."
"I'm not sure how you don't understand this, but I stole a crown," the man chortled. "I'm not really on good terms with the City at the moment. Probably won't ever be again."
"And what's wrong with you going on your own? You've got two legs, haven't you? Just walk back the way I came—through the trees, into the forest, avoid the crazy horse—"
"It wasn't a request, John Watson." Voice hard and cold, Sherlock cut him off with an accompanying glare that could deep-freeze the sun. "I have never left this tower and now you are here, and you are going to take me to this city. Then you will bring me back. That is my price, and it is not negotiable."
The silence that followed his words would have been empowering if Sherlock had been able to name that feeling and hadn't been so impatient for a response.
"And what if I say 'no'?" John asked finally, his expression guarded.
Sherlock scowled. "Then you will remain here, on that table, until my brother returns."
"That's not so—"
"He will be gone for at least three days. And since I'm easily bored, I will most likely resort to experimenting on your person in the meantime. Are you saying that would be a preferable alternative?"
John gaped at him, clearly searching his face for any signs of humour and unsurprisingly, finding none. "What?"
"That is what will happen," snapped Sherlock, his eyes narrowing in frustration, "if you say 'no'."
They stared at each other for several long seconds in a battle of wills before John conceded that he literally wasn't in a position to effectively impose his will on anyone.
"Alright," Sherlock's hostage said slowly, clearly turning his situation over in his head. "Let me get this straight. You're asking me to play tour guide in return—"
"Play what?" Sherlock interrupted, frowning.
John huffed at the ceiling in exasperation. "You want me escort your under-aged arse—"
Sherlock bristled in indignation. "I'm eighteen!"
"—to the City," John continued loudly, "so you can have a look around and see what's there, and then you want me to bring you back to this place and…what? Help you back inside?"
The frown on Sherlock's face shifted into the brightest expression of excited satisfaction John had ever seen. On anything. "Precisely," he agreed.
"And then I'll get my crown back?"
"And you won't let me off this table unless I agree to do this."
John heaved a sigh and turned his head to look at him. "Yes, alright. Fine. You've got yourself a bloody deal."
Eyes widening, Sherlock didn't bother to restrain himself from beaming and leaping with delight. "Wonderful! Ahh, this is brilliant!"
"I would shake on it, but…you know," John said, trying to peer down his arms to where his hands presumably were. "They're a bit tied up at the moment."
Sherlock grinned at him. "I'll just have to take your word for it."
"Hmmm, yeah," John said musingly, his eyes roving across the murals on the ceiling. "Not a good idea, that."
Sherlock ignored him as he whirled around the room, gleefully flouncing over to the window, to the desk which held John's possessions, and then back to the table.
"Right. Well, I suppose I should release you now," the younger man informed John, his voice making it clear that he didn't really fancy that idea at all.
"That'd be nice," John replied neutrally.
With a reluctant noise, Sherlock reached up to run his hands over his scalp in the act of pulling his hair into a tail, his left hand halting at the base of his skull and his right following the flow of hair for a metre or so before giving it a generous yank. Instantaneously, the ginger makeshift rope wrapped itself from around John's prone form, a good amount of it flying towards Sherlock once it was untangled.
Immediately John sat up, one hand automatically rising to the back of his abused head, but his eyes were wide and incredulous. "What the bloody hell?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
"What is—is your hair sentient?" John demanded.
Staring, Sherlock attempted to discern what would have led John to ask such a thing and failed. "What?"
John shook his head. "It just…it moves like it has a life of its own."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Sherlock disdainfully.
"I'm not!" John insisted. "How do you even—you just pulled on it and it unravelled around me—"
"Yes, well," Sherlock said impatiently, "if you hadn't cut your hair, you'd be able to do the same."
"What? No," argued John, pushing himself gingerly off the table. "Hair just doesn't do that, it—"
"Are you going to natter on about my hair, or shall we get going?"
John's brow furrowed the way Mycroft's did when Sherlock was being particularly difficult. "You want to leave right now?"
"No, I was thinking in a fortnight or so," Sherlock said nastily, glaring at the other man as he strode over to the window. He took a moment to pull all his hair along with him. "Of course I want to leave now. Don't be stupid."
Scowling, John crossed his arms over his chest and refused to budge. "Where do you think you're heading off to? You can't go anywhere dressed like that."
Sherlock paused and took a moment to assess himself. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?" he asked, turning back to look at John.
"You haven't got any footwear, for one," remarked John, eyeing the younger man's feet. "Haven't you got boots, or something?"
"Superfluous," Sherlock declared, frowning. "What would I need boots for?"
"Gee, I dunno," John deadpanned. "For walking around outside, maybe?"
Sherlock stared at him blankly.
"So your feet don't hurt when you step on stones or sticks or hot objects?" the other man added, his tone of voice gradually changing from pointed aggravation to tentative bewilderment at Sherlock's lack of comprehension.
The blank stare expanded into a people are actually idiotic enough to do that? expression.
"It's not like we do it on purpose," John exclaimed defensively. "It's unavoidable; it just happens. Haven't you ever done that?"
Sherlock cast a sceptical look at the cold stone floor. "No."
"You're having me on," John huffed, giving the dark-haired man a dirty look. "Everyone's done it at some point."
"Do you see any sticks and stones lying around in here?" snapped Sherlock.
"What's that got to do with anything?" John snapped back. "I'm talking about outside, not indoors."
"I haven't been outside—"
"Long enough to forget what it feels like?"
"—ever," Sherlock snarled. "Never ever. I have never been outside, I have never walked on grass, or stones, or sticks. I have lived my entire life in this house, from the moment I was born, painting on my walls and reading books, and wondering what that strange place outside my window was like. And now I have the opportunity to find out and you will not stop me with petty reasoning like boots!"
His raised voice echoed menacingly off the hard stone walls, taking a few moments to die away as their gazes stayed locked on each other.
"Piss off," said John slowly after several drawn-out seconds. "You want me to believe you've never set foot outside this place, and now you want me to take you to the City?"
"Glad you're finally catching on," said Sherlock derisively, leaning out the window to examine the hook embedded in the overhang outside his windowsill. It was a little rusty from disuse, but still seemed solid. Probably would still hold his weight, at least.
John stormed over to Sherlock's desk and snatched up his arrows and coin pouch, eyes darting searchingly around the room for anything that would catch the sunlight.
"You won't find it," Sherlock called calmly without looking over his shoulder, looping his hair over the metal hook.
Instead he looked down at the ground far below, where he would soon be standing. He used to haul Mycroft in through his window before it got sealed; only now he'd be lowering himself out. That was a good ways down though, wasn't it? Huh. He could have sworn the ground was a good bit closer the last time he'd seen it. A disturbingly uncomfortable feeling fluttered in his stomach and shivered in his lungs as he forced himself to climb out onto the window ledge.
"Right," John said irritably, stuffing the pouch into his jacket and examining his arrows. "Let's just get this over with, shall we? I can show you how to use these to get down, though I can't imagine you'd be able to do it without killing yourself, so—"
He turned around just in time to watch Sherlock tumble himself off the ledge.
"BLOODY BUGGERING FUCK!"
John's shrieks followed the younger man out the window, although they were nearly lost in the deafening roar of air rushing past his ears. Bright ginger hair sped through his hands as he plummeted through space, blurring in front of his eyes, the earth rushing up to meet him.
"WHAT THE—JESUS CHRIST! ARE YOU TRYING TO SEND ME INTO CARDIAC ARREST, YOU STUPID WANKER? BLOODY HELL, WHAT IS WRONG WITH—"
Sherlock tightened his grip on his hair, jerking hard to an abrupt stop, and waited for his internal organs to crawl out of his pelvis and resituate themselves. Then he willed his suddenly-closed eyes open, taking in the alien-ness of his surroundings despite his pounding heart. Reaching out with one un-booted foot, he felt around for some sort of stability and his bare skin brushed against something unfamiliar.
Staring awe-struck at his feet, Sherlock watched as first one foot, then the other, established themselves on the grass, the sensation completely foreign as his toes reflexively curled into the sun-warmed soil.
He was finally out of the tower.