AN/ Magic!John fic (This was so much fun to write) that came about as a result of thinking about crossing over Sherlock with BBC Merlin or Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and getting something completely different when I actually put pen to paper. Long fic is long, hence the splitting it into two.
Vague hints left over from the original fic idea to Neverwhere and other Gaiman stories (and tiny ones to Arthurian lore – Merlin/Sherlock x-over just wouldn't be banished) to those who want to spot them. I will at some point exorcise this persistent crossover demon by writing something that actually works =]
There was a boy,
A very strange enchanted boy,
They say he wandered very far, very far,
over land and sea.
And then one day, one magic day, he passed my way.
Nature Boy, David Bowie
John Watson is a creature of magic.
Old old magic, ancient earth magic. Not the sort comprised of cheap coin tricks or pulling the right card out of the pack for an audience to nod and clap at, delighted, approving, curious and watching out for the tell, but really, deep down, not wanting to know, – wanting to be fooled for a moment. That is a mechanical magic, based on trickery, deception, making the audience look where you don't want them to while you form some fancy illusion.
This – the real magic – is the natural, wrought into every fibre of a life magic, fundamental, integral, the sort of practice that goes by different names in altering places – the occult, arcane, esoteric, wicca – that while the etymology and understanding of it changes, the connotations always stay the same. It doesn't matter in what context; it is always something to be feared, unproven, dangerous. The assumption is immediately made that most in search of the knowledge would use it for their own selfish gain. Humans have an evolutionary trigger built into them that makes them automatically fear what they don't understand.
In older times, many many moons ago, magic was rawer, more visible, the stuff of ignorant fears, enough to rile mobs to show their displeasure, and so the concept, intricacies and arcanum associated with it went underground, resurfacing only in carnival and circus tricks, watered-down, basic. It reduced itself so far that most people forgot what they had shared their pasts with; and with modernisation and industrialisation, old myths, stories and legends suited to time and place were forgotten as people dispersed, spread out, emigrated to America or Australia and didn't bring their tales with them. These days, the idea of magic is treated with more of a sceptical mocking indifference, which suits its practitioners just fine.
Nobody believes in it anymore – because nobody wants to, as in an age where science and rationalisation can explain nearly everything, allowing that belief is admitting that there are some things that you can't explain, like the way some shadows are darker, more real that others, how they seem to move, how sometimes in the mirror there is a glimpse of something else that isn't your reflection, and often it is better to live in ignorance than to be aware of what is hiding in plain sight. Nobody except those left over from the golden ages; abandoned to survive in the travelling shows or performing their craft privately and integrating with normal society.
One such relic is the man who goes by the name of Dr John Watson.
In this form – the body of John Watson, five foot seven, sandy blonde hair, military cropped short, who has a sister called Harry, who is a solider, a trained army doctor – he has lived thirty-four years, young by comparison to the countless ages he has seen. In reality, John, or the other names he has gone by, has been around longer, much longer; transcends years, decades, centuries; lasting because of his magic – that survives mortal death long after his body has passed on – which retains the essence of who he is, has always been. It's like a reincarnation of sorts, like a cycle, a wheel, a circle, and every death is followed by a rebirth with a new name and an old soul in a shiny form with all the lingering internal faults.
And then he starts again, not being aware of the wealth of priori knowledge buried deep within his subconscious, dormant until he himself discovers his talent. It's usually about the age of eleven, give or take a couple of times when he was a late bloomer, and around that time, when other children start worrying about going to secondary school, making new friends, the start of puberty, John suddenly finds out – how has alternated through the years – that he's not like normal children. It's a harsh thing to go through so young, but there is little he can do on the matter, and when the magic manifests itself (he's had spontaneous teleportation a fair few times, and there was that one lifetime – was it around the 1600's? – when he woke up levitating), the flood breaks through the weak walls of his inner subconscious, torpid until now. And John Watson is confronted with the man he was/has been/is; remembering, reliving portions of previous lives in snatches through the medium of dream space, where the lines of Time are more blurred than in the real world. It is harder to be a normal kid after that, but he's had lifetimes of practice at it.
He/his magic (inseparable, matter and form, with the Aristotelian idea of there being an organising principle, his soul; formed from a patchwork of recollections and born into a different body every lifetime) remembers before London was a capital. It is surprising, odd but comforting, that whenever John starts pining for different pastures than the ones he was born into, possessed by an itching wanderlust and a desire for home, knowing that where he is is not where he wants to be,he always returns eventually, back to England, to London. The location has become a constant after so many reruns. To John, London is/always has been home for him.
He was there, in another form, another life, when London was Londinium; remembers when the first fire felled it when stormed by a vengeful queen, remembers the second Great fire catching thatch roof, jumping and leaping from house to house, embers and sparks aided by wind, teasing the flames brighter. Remembers treason plots, and plagues and timeless plays performed on their opening night, and then remembers further back, spreading out of London, further back than invaders and conquerors to the days of Gods and the Old Religion, times of legend, myth, lore, when there was a fertile land called Albion and even that name was new, a land that grew under his watchful eye and subtle guidance, a land that fell in war and strife – a well worn tune that gains a repeat performance every new rebirth – and still there is John left standing at the end of it all.
(John who has been many men, but is always the same, the restless wanderer found in many tales recorded on raggedy parchment. John who knows of the stories told about him in the flickering warmth of firelight, long after the life he's lived has become a myth; parents indulging wide-eyed children, capturing their imagination with embellished tales of old names that John brushed off long ago; Emyrs, Nestor; he's lost the identities and they've instead become archetypes, with all the intricacies of his life disregarded)
There are names in history he has been, but for now John Watson is not yet a name History will deign to remember – History, who is a fickle, changeable thing, one for fancy additions and bias, who knows a familiar soul but who lets him get on with his life, despite him inevitably ending up chasing some sort of danger. One day this will change, but this lifetime, John Watson as a name will not be one that stands alone. History keeps to herself and informs no-one of the other times, the parallel lives where they already exist; the doctor, the detective and a Baker Street address, what in this universe has taken longer to happen than any of the other times.
John returns this century, before he is shipped off to Afghanistan, to London. It's a city that's been built on the foundation of magic; John's home, territory he has long protected, defended against threats no-one knows are there – not made of his sort of elemental magic, but a specialised magic; thriving beating City magic. And through the cobbled alleys and tube stations and the thrum and the restless rhythm of people, that move in swarms and cycles, London does not forget its roots.
Magic might be a forgotten lore passed off as laughable delusions or the stuff of fairy tales by most, but it is still there, under the skin, in the stones and streets and the brickwork of London. It makes itself known in the small exclusive covens that gather at full moon or blood moon or on the first day of solstice, it is in the scribbled pentangles that leave presence markers of a ritual on the wooden floor of a crumbling building even if the chalk has been rubbed off and scrubbed away, it is in the symbols on disused walls, spray-painted in vibrant vivid swirls, graffiti for pedestrians to tut and shake their heads at, but words of power, signals written in rune for those who known how to read them.
And London Magic invites in creatures on the peripheries, mixing the infinite diversity of the mundane normal and fascinating unique in one sprawling glass and metal city. John once visited an antique bookshop near Charing Cross and and ended up drinking tea with an amiable Principality who influenced his appreciation for tea, and they spent a good hour discussing the pros and cons of using a flaming sword (the Principality had mentioned longingly having owned one once), has been more than once on a monopoly pub crawl starting from Elephant and Castle, only ever getting as far as Trafalgar Square, with a demon wearing a suave pair of sunglasses.
In London, such creatures, and John among them, all gather because a place of so much potential magic and realised magic, however obscure and diverse, is a place of power. Safety, familiarity with kith and kin. Where artefacts and amulets that would have been coveted a thousand years ago linger dusty on stalls in Portobello Road, where there is a reading room in the British Library for which there is no key in which spell books and almanac's are recorded and kept in check by an ancient wrinkled man from Monmouth who, given the chance, will tell stories that no-one knows are true or not of times long past. There are many who gather, and they tend to adapt, assimilate, and become part of the hive of London. Separate individuals of their own personal powers that make up pieces of a large network that exists as a mass mind. London Magic thinks and feels, is almost sentient in a way that science could not understand, and protects every one of its wandering forgotten children.
John can recognise one of his own kind – like a group of strangers that have something in common – and they're all aware of each other being there, existing side by side, sensing the signatures of other types of magic, an alternate taste in the air dependant on the district of the city. John is a rare creature that not only can taste, but see the influence to the environment, reads red Goblin magic, that tastes of money and greed, around Canary Wharf, notes glittering trials and markers of blue around Chelsea and the West End where the Sidhe gather in swarms. They all know of each other, and if they come into contact, all but the most private of them acknowledge each other respectfully, even if mostly they keep their distance. Over the years, John has gotten to know the regulars, those who are timeless, mostly disregarded but still there. The once called Spring-heeled Jack sells newspapers on the corner of Piccadilly, giggling sprites run a joke shop in Hammersmith, and Robin Goodfellow performs regular dates on the Comedy Circuit.
The city – John's city – is filled with things seen and unseen, and he has lived in London long enough to search out the concealed things; the man named Old Bailey dressed in feathers who inhabits the rooftops of the skyline, the royal Regent that takes the guise of a sleeping homeless man seated on the bandstand at Regent's Park. John knows why there are always six ravens in the Tower of London, knows where to find a good apothecary for poultices and herbs should he ever need them, knows that the reason that the London Transport Network is always doing work on the Circle Line is because there's something down there late at night on trains that run empty, Oranges and Lemon's sung quietly by ghostly voices to those who are listening.
And John himself helps protect this place, his home, from rogue agents, balances the status quo and deals with elements that would expose them on the request of other less powerful creatures who come to him, and ask his help – they know his long-abandoned names, know his legends and fear and respect him in equal measure – and to aid him John has his own network of lookers and watchers in the rats and the pigeons; who see all, know all, and say nothing but to the chosen few. And by these methods, he looks out for a city he considers his after so long, the city magic as much a presence within him as his own. London is brimming with memories, hopes, destiny's and tragedies, spiritual fate lines and electrical power lines; and it sights the footsteps of weary travellers who have wandered for so long and takes them in, shelters them, like it's doing – has always done – with the tired soul of John Watson. John – medic, doctor, physician, healer, the words change with the eras – who went away again to war, he who has been to the sands of Afghanistan before and finds it sad that some things do not change.
City Magic, London Magic has comforted him so long it is like the loss of something when he feels the arid heat again of the Middle East again – Afghanistan – , in a land of roiling sands that hides magic of its own. Still, healing is the calling he has felt since the first lifetime, and he is bolstered by the company of his own, Ifrit and Djinn that he works alongside as he fixes mortal damage to soldiers and friends with his own learned skills from medical school, and when that fails, with the subtle additions of his own personal wisdoms, the right whispered words to knit skin together, some simpler charms that require no words at all.
But as much as he longs for home in an aching sickness, he is also missing something else. An ache rawer, more insistent. His magic touches his mind, tries to read what is shown there, wonders what the impatience he feels, has always felt, is for ( the constant waiting, waiting since the beginning, the start, the infinite regression of something that has always existed in some form). It is always in dream this is confronted, his thoughts and sleep patterns restless, disturbed; and he taps his fingers, eyes flicking to a doorway, gateway, arch, the imagery always the same, and he is expectant, waiting for someone to turn up, at a cable, in a café, or bar, and the figure never does. And he is always disappointed.
John Watson is waiting/needing/dreaming about something – someone – that does not yet exist, maybe does not this time round, not this century, just like they haven't been there the last hundred centuries, and so John will have to wait longer, another life, another cycle, waitinganticipatingneeding. Wait another turn before trying again to find something to fill a phantom void that even London Magic cannot, a loneliness strengthened in Afghanistan by his disconnection with the city that so distracted him from what he was missing.
His magic touches his dreams as it always has, tentative, asks what he's waiting for, like it expects an answer this time round, but John doesn't know. Something, someone, the other half of a whole that John is lacking; companionship, not just sex; after a few lifetimes, having fleeting associations with pretty lays, both male and female, gets old very fast. John wants someone to want him, someone he can fight for, live for, someone he would die for, someone to love him. And every lifetime, that seems to be too much to ask for.
A thousand lifetimes is a long time to be alone.
The twenty-first century, Afghanistan and John is hurt, not by a sorcerer's curse or anything tinted with magic, but by a real, human hurt; a bullet fired from a gun, propelled by mechanics and the trigger finger of a solider John has never met but who hates him enough to want him to die. John is already weak from expending his magic on saving a younger man who was bleeding out in his arms, who dies anyway in the gunfire; who had so much more life to live, who was just twenty-four, who had a family who loved him, a fiancée he'd promised to marry. And then there is sound in the heat of battle, a roaring, screaming, and men are shouting, men are dying, and there is blood and sand in his eyes, and John doesn't even think as he pushes Bill Murray down and out of the way (the man who ends up saving him from bleeding out onto the sand) , and a bullet takes him instead, slices through the skin and muscle, shatters the bone of his shoulder.
Modern medicine is good, but it's not good enough to heal all things, and John can't even heal himself properly – small injuries and cuts maybe, but magic doesn't work that well on the owner – and so he's invalided back again to London. Home. Some small comfort.
The city takes him back in open arms, sees it's child has been damaged, hurt – a knot of scars over his shoulder and a psychosomatic limp – and can do nothing but envelop him in the rushing normality of life. By morning it is Metro newspapers, Oyster cards, throwaway beverages, the tide of the Underground, tourists and locals all with destinations to get to, the obnoxious colourful corporation advertisements of Times Square, the constant heady to-and-fro of red buses trailing well known routes.
And then at night London and its magic converses with John's own, reads his visions, dreams, the endless waiting, the heady sensations stronger this lifetime than ever before,and understands that John needs something more than it can provide.
And so, in the subtle manner that only City Magic can provide, London engineers a meeting. Of two great men, of great mind and great heart, a meeting that will be documented in years to come. It knows what John needs, if he doesn't yet, and knows with a wisdom that comes from watching its inhabitants so long and reading the predicted patterns of human life, exactly who he needs.
John Watson needs the world's only consulting detective.
Sherlock Holmes is a man that belongs to London. He is arrogant, aware of his own intelligence, uses it, can manipulate it if needs be. He waits for no-one, his thoughts and deductions sprinting into oncoming traffic, with no thought for anything but the chase; the churning thrill, the rhythms he forges as his feet pound the pavement, a slamming discordant melody. Sherlock does not allow for boredom, hates the idea for any moment to slip by wasted when there are experiments to be held, cases to be solved.
He is like the personification of the city he has lived in all his adult life; unrepentant, with no give and all take but with a charming finesse and always, always a purpose; to help those who need it, who come to him with their problems and troubles and ask him to solve them, and whether through boredom or any other human emotion even bordering towards a glimpse of compassion, Sherlock takes the challenge. He protects London in doing to, reads its rules and respects the environment. Sherlock serves the city; and in return the London Magic looks after its own, would shroud him with thickening fog to conceal him from those who would send him harm, redirects traffic and tempts the lights green when a game – the game, the constant chase, the adrenaline high of it, the stakes upped every time and Sherlock throwing his whole hand of cards onto the table – is afoot.
Sherlock has his own brand of magic that he uses to aid him, not mystical or old, certainly not possessed of any degree of supernatural inclination, but rather the magic of science, the science of deduction he calls it; mixing chemicals with Petri-dishes and pipettes in the same manner a magician would brew potions, making great leaps of logic from very little information that in times past would have had him accused of witchcraft or sorcery. And on his violin, should he find the disposition to have a change from the scratching abusive notes he usually drags from its frame, he can compose or recall the most beautiful and ethereal pieces, classical, favouring Bach, Vivaldi and Schubert, slipping rarely into more alternative fast-paced musical styles.
Sherlock is not magical, has no innate knowledge of the craft or its assorted teachings, but he is unusually susceptible to it and to the influence of London; knows the streets and alleys as good as any cab driver, has a network of spies and look-outs in the beggars and homeless; the everywhere eyes, some that know London, some that see London in the ways normals don't.
London touches the cold clinical dreams of Sherlock, the one place where his emotional restraints and restrictions have no bearing on his psyche, and reads with tender fingers what is written there. It knows who he needs too.
Sherlock Holmes needs John Watson. Warlock, doctor, protector, guide, but most of all, friend. Partner.
So Montague Street springs leaks in the water mains suddenly and without cause, damp sets in over the walls, thankfully staining what Sherlock has always been hideous floral patterned wallpaper, and the whole environment becomes disagreeably cold, and detrimental to his work, forcing the world's only consulting detective to attempt to procure new lodgings. He quickly becomes aware of a possible replacement; Marylebone district, close to one of the city's oldest underground stations, intersecting the thoroughfare of Marylebone road which hosts both Madame Tussauds and the Royal Academy of Music. 221B will become home for Sherlock as it will for John, part of their city; their house, their citadel.
And it just so happens that Mike Stamford takes a route down a park he rarely goes, sits and eats lunch on a bench upon a whim and ends up meeting up with John. They talk about the old days, at Barts, about age and how things change, and London, they talk much of London. You couldn't bear to be anywhere else, Mike smiles when John professes doubts that on his army pension he can afford the high prices of rent in the city. That's not the John Watson I know. It rankles a slight nerve that Mike imagines him as the same John he was in his youth, the both of them at St Bartholomew's thinner, less damaged, because he's not – because war changed him like it does to all those involved in it, and the obviousness of the adaptation bothers John. He thinks after so long he should be used to it, the pain and the blood and the screaming, remembers of this war and every one prior that he's been involved in, voluntary or not, and those memories returns to him in an aching clarity in his nightmares. But it is through Mike that John ends up tagging along back to the labs at Barts, and becoming acquainted with a most remarkable man, the likes of which he has never met in all his years.
John Watson stops the unremitting watchingwaitingneeding, embedded within him, deeper than the bullet could have gone, deeper than any wound, when he meets Sherlock Holmes. He questions the man, but not because he is a curiosity as others see him, but because John genuinely wants to know. To find out more, and although he is not able to deduce a person's life story from a glance at the mud on their shoes or the marks on their hands, he finds himself trying to understand Sherlock, attempting to have him fit into knowledge and wisdom all his lifetimes have provided, and coming up irritatingly short.
Magic courses, gleaming, violent, giddy in his veins, awaking something long dormant – "Want to see some more?" the detective asked him, and "Oh God, yes" was all John could have ever replied, because he knows even then he is unable to deny Sherlock anything. It's a realisation of something, a fruition, come to light, to life, and instead of the waiting that he has done for centuries – and now he sees in the flesh what he has been waiting for – John is wanting. Wanting Sherlock; dark hair, like tyre tracks, like tarmac, like the lines on maps of the Underground; grey eyes the colour of concrete, of high-rise buildings, of the steely dawn that greets London when the day is too early for most, and those eyes spark with the suggestion of running, of danger, excitement, adventure and never, never boredom. Sherlock is a child of London, in the trace of his angular features and urban sensibilities, a solitary man in a place filled with millions of people, and to John it's like the city made someone just for him, someone who fits, is completely his opposite even if somehow they work, even though Sherlock is one of those wild untamed men who lives by nobody's rules but his own, who needs no-one, wants no-one.
But John wants Sherlock.
Mine, he thinks (knows) when he has a spare moment in between cases and criminals and running – oh God, running faster than he's ever ran, and loving every second –, when he sees the man leaping over house furniture because he can't be bothered to walk around the sofa, when the man coils up in front of the TV, brow furrowed, some great supernova of a thought gripping him with intensity, even once when he caught the man asleep, expression lax, peaceful, like instead of the death and human misery he dealt with daily his mind was engaged in softer imaginings. Mine/Sherlock, John thinks, and the two words are interchangeable, because he will protect this man with everything he has, every portion of his being, because he cannot afford to lose him. Not after it's taken so long to find him. John can't go back to being alone, to waiting, not now, not after this. Sherlock is his, he tells himself firmly, committing to the comment with an unwavering honesty.
And London feels the impact they make together being stronger than it could ever have been with them apart; the crime that is dealt with, the lowering stress levels of Scotland Yard because the detective is in their hair less, more likely to be back at Baker Street, with John. And London notes how the two are with each other, sees the glances that linger too long and the touches that are too purposeful to be momentary, and tells no-one else that such desires are reciprocated by both parties.
The day those desires are acted upon, that bond finally admitted, a first kiss taken, given, offered, has the best weather ever put down on record, and the sky over inner city central London is a clear, unblemished blue.
But John doesn't tell Sherlock about the magic. Not even when he has the chance to. Wants to, wants to so badly sometimes the magic sparks up inside of him in frustration (and it was difficult explaining to Sherlock how exactly he'd shorted out the electrics at the back of the TV). But when it comes down to it, John doesn't let him Sherlock in because he's scared, worried, frightened. The world rotates, moves on, grows up in some areas and is woefully ignorant in others, and the thankfully widely held believe that magic is exaggerated rumour passed on from old pagan religions, means that John wont get tied to a stake these days for who he is. Wont be hunted down, killed, be treated as an outcast – because humans have always been afraid of what they don't understand, what they don't want to understand. All the same, John is scared. Not of Sherlock, knows that the man would never hurt him deliberately, but scared of how Sherlock will react if he knows. Sherlock is only human, no matter his unique personality and capabilities, and John is all too aware of how people react when they find out.
John has the internal fear of Sherlock shouting at him, citing betrayal, fear, not understanding, not being able to and leaving – and John imagines empty rooms in Baker Street and constant rainfall and numb hurt and again emptyemptyempty inside, not waiting anymore because he's found what he was waiting for but wanting what he can no longer have, has lost.
Trust issues, his psychologist told him. She was at least right about that.
And that affects things. Because Sherlock is a detective, the best, his skills in observation unparalleled except perhaps by Mycroft, and even then it needs that something, that glimmer that is unnamed and beautiful even while it's deadly, something that Sherlock has in spades. It makes sense that at some point Sherlock would start asking awkward questions. Where are you going?, he'd query as John was creeping out of the house, having sensed disturbances down by the Thames, checking it's not anything back, anything that'll be a threat (to Sherlock/London). Where have you been?, he saidwhen John had been gone definitely longer than the time it took to buy some milk. But John has been playing the lying game, conjuring deceptions, for many turns, for his many laps round the cosmic track, and is shamefully practised at it.
But even though Sherlock doesn't know what John keeps secret, he is all too aware that there is something; that he is not getting John, the whole of John. Magic is a part of the man, made him, formed him, moulded him, sings in his skin, ingrained in bone, muscle, marrow, and every atom, every particle of his humanity shares the space with something different. Special. Lined with history, memory, and it obviously frustrates Sherlock that John doesn't trust him with whatever it is he's hiding. The irritation manifests itself in sulky silences and an increase in the number of experiments in the fridge, and sometimes they argue without even knowing what they're raising their voices for, and outside it's raining and it's all John's fault.
But they work, despite it. They are balanced, and this is right, and regardless of secrets and the faults and idiosyncrasies of both, John is happy, truly happy, for the first time in a long time, and even Sherlock appears to be more grounded and content. He flashes the doctor that quick flirt of a smile, his 'just-for-John' smile that John has never seen him use for anybody else, and it makes the man grin, in the completely free manner he had almost forgotten how to achieve, his heart lighter, something inside him burning, igniting, emboldened, and it's like the thrill of the chase, the spark of magic, but all in the smile of one man.
And although it's not perfect yet, not finished, still fumbling new moments sharing the times when the teasing they pass back and forth to each other is as though they've been friends, been together for so much longer than they have, John is content. He has Sherlock, and it's all he really wants.
And then one day, something threatens that.