AN: This is the first of many AU Sherlock fics I've got mostly written, from the half-believable to the definitely ridiculous. Some of them may never see the light of day (Selkie!Sherlock has been gathering dust in my hard drive for a fair few months, and god knows where the Sherlock/The Great Mouse Detective crossover has got to) but this one has been messed about with and edited for long enough.
I promised both ThisbySolo and sharmini that I'd write something cheery(er) after the sheer angst that was 1095 Days, so this is marginally less soul-destroying =]. It is also shamelessly descriptive, and really an excuse for me to use an obscene number of adjectives. Please forgive my weaknesses =]
These Lines of Lightening
Sparkling champagne pink, a woman in a fur stole, strolling down the Strand; passing her, a stressed mother kindling stressed frazzles of green in a murky brown, trying to snatch back the hand of her daughter who is pointing to something in a shop window, a trickling of indigo staining a pure white...
Two woman walking out of HMV touch hands, and their shades of plum and whiskey brush tentatively even as the taller one is moving in a bold motion to entwine her fingers with the shorter one, causing their colours to combine, slide into each other, erupt like opening blossoms; watching them with a faint smile, a black businessman tussles his hair with a distracted hand, a lacquered russet whorling as he types something on the keypad of his phone...
In the observations that catch his senses, his attention, the constant input that comes naturally like breathing after a lifetime, John doesn't think about his leg. Not the cane that seems a sign of weakness, not the nightmares, nor the tremor, nor the fact that every time he dreams of Afghanistan, there's a part of him that wants to return to the mayhem because it's better than the loud silences of a lonely man.
He loses himself in the colours, because it's easier than thinking about everything else.
Mike Stamford is the predictable fluttering yellow when the two of them sit down together. The tremor in John's hand makes it hard to steady his takeaway coffee, and the bench they've perched on seeps its cold through the back of his jeans. Mike's presence is a mostly welcome sight; his colour's always been a invariant thing, a coalition of a chirpy lemon, undercut with a deeper, more grounded amber, never really altering much in all the stacked up years they've known each other.
He's worried about John today; the doctor can tell, his outline shadows interspersed with simpering flickers of ivy, pockmarked, the yellow waning, becoming darker with caution, the phosphorescent glimmer of a traffic light, his laughter awkward like rusted spokes of the conversation have shuddered to a halt on ground he has no experience with.
Mike never went to war. But John did.
Come on, John argues, tight smile clasped shut, resigned, just another one of those things that's changed, that used to be formed from less shadow, that used to be more easy to achieve, who'd want me for a flatmate?
Mike smirks then, a comprehensive thing, not quite an offer, yet more a payback; it's the sort of smile he used to give when they were younger, school-days, football and paper aeroplanes and their whole lives like a path they just had to follow, when John gave him lunch-money the day before and Mike would present the same coinage the day after, here you are Johnny, told you I'd pay you back. A laugh tags along, the trails of green receding, yellow gleaming brighter.
"What's funny?" John has to ask, unable to disconnect from that laugh, hackles rising with an enacted frown. His question is stinging, and this is it, the flaw, the crackling static halfway through an otherwise perfect signal; it's too hard to trust anyone anymore, even the old faces, a toiling ferment of discontent as a baseline to the mundane of the everyday.
Everyday; wake to the sound of war guns and forget the blood in the sunshine, only it possesses his waking motions; the washing of his already clean hands, the one plate, one cup of tea, the peeking into the wooden drawer of his desk for the reassurance of lustred metal; all of it ritual, step-by-step, regimented, a throwback to army days he can't shake off, all to forget that blood and that sand and that heat, that's in his hair and under his nails and in his head.
"You're the second person to say that to me today" Mike lays out his words as an offering, a hand stretched out, inviting, don't you want to see what I've got to show you? The yellow quivers chartreuse, an increase in tempo from the tranquil outline before.
John can't help but frown, overused muscles remembering how the downturn works quickly, barely a delay before he asks the inevitable.
"Who's the first?"
No two colours, cataclysms of heat and mechanisms of shade, the gradients of light and dark, the manic inimitable stamp, improvised and instantaneous, are the same. The same colours crop up with regularity, greens and blues and yellows, the hues reinvented, made-up, non-existent as a combination before then and never to be repeated, like flowers that only open once in a lifetime. John's noticed them all, catalogued the things they tell him, quietly, without fuss like he's been doing for over thirty years, and in the self-important edge humans are wont to add to make themselves feel as though they aren't as small in the scheme of the world as they really are, he believes that there can't be anything new he hasn't seen before.
But the aura of this man he meets as soon as he steps through the door of his old classroom at Barts, this extraordinary stranger bent over a microscope – this is something new.
His colours are beautiful.
Not just unique, a towering effect that forms cities and skyscapes in the swirls, but beautiful.
John doesn't think the word exactly. And for the moment, he doesn't analyse his internal reaction, think on what it could mean, his inherent belief in this one word, think on a them that doesn't yet exist but will from today, doesn't think on a future that is forged from this meeting into something as equally unparalleled as the colours sparking like synapses around Sherlock Holmes.
He just looks.
The base shade is silver. A glistening sheen akin to melted liquid, and the edges that touch into white are like exposed bone visible through coruscated flesh. At some areas, there seems to be the attempt at control, the colours marbling in a corkscrew fashion; and in that glorious immutable depth there are deep arrogant purples, inquisitive indigos and lilacs.
This aura should just be grey, this corona around the stranger, the mixing of independent harrowing white and the intractable proud black that compliments every other shade but inhabits a niche all of its own; yet it's nonpareil, one-of-a-kind, a diminuendo of glassy colour that explodes in waves and fusions, glinting like knife blades, the sheer amount of colour so much that it cannot hope to summarize this one man in just one selection, John cannot fool himself into thinking that by merely a glance, or even an examination drawn out over months and years he could understand him.
Oh, John can see the arrogance and self-confidence, and the hurtling desire to succeed, to achieve, but the silver he cannot quite categorise, and there is the obsessive lack of closure and understanding as he studies the visage before him. And he wants to know, see the spaces where he can put a label to a shade or an emotion on a certain tempo, but at the same time he wants to prolong the unknown, the plangent, and be content to watch the overturning of light and shadow, the inevitable constant movement, traversing, never stopping, never halting, the colours of a man who will never be tamed or tied down, and John would never want him to be, would happily observe the colours forever.
It should scare him, the blatant unforgiving attraction that ignites right there, accommodating itself in an as yet inchoate portion of his chest.
The man turns out to be as interesting as his emanation suggests, and John is contented to be unsurprised.
John has never told anyone about the colours. Doesn't ever plan to. It's not something he could imagine describing in words, something often too much to visually bear never mind describe to another. He could not possibly go through the flitting interchanges like the flight of birds, cutting his dialogue to reference the still patches of tense mystery before it's all in the open.
Often the aura of a person is not what John thought he'd see, and sometimes it hurts that people are so often liars, paste a front of one persona that works as though a mask while underneath their true nature writhes and arches, slimy and scaled, not hidden by clothes or skin or blathering mouths that just keep talking even when John's already crossed his arms to form an enclosure around himself.
He doesn't tell Sherlock about the colours either. But this hectic, possessed life of the detective's, and now his, is fraught with dangers, and when the warning lights are there, John cannot wait by the roadside as the story plays out without doing anything to defend his own.
"I don't trust him" John murmurs, and he tries not to stress what he says, because then Sherlock will wonder why if he pushes to hard, will ask questions that go deeper than mere queries regarding his method and logic, and John can't have the answers he will want. Keep it simple, soft, and undemanding.
The dark haired man angles his eyebrow, and there is a question on his face to pull the ensemble of his expression together as the suspect walks away with his hands in his pockets, strolling, grin like sandpaper has scraped away any fragment of honest humour. John thinks darkly that he might start whistling, and whether he will still be able to whistle if John were to punch him hard in the mouth and loosen teeth, his knuckles an ugly red but the blood triumphant, worth it – because he sees the admission of guilt in the palpitating sickening rush of onyx and green and brown, none of the shades indicative of negative qualities in themselves, but the drive to commit a crime, the lime green of jealousy, the mahogany of something hidden, the threshold where the green and brown meet crumpling like mould instead of phasing into each other, all of it pointing to a conclusion that John couldn't explain to anyone.
It is more primal instinct than anything, but John can read the sigils; murderer, they say, guilty, leaving the doctor in no doubt that the man they're looking for in connection to the deaths of three people (who had families, children, husbands, wives, and that's what always gets John the most, the fact that no-one ever really thinks on those left behind who have to grieve) is the very one that's walking away with a cast iron alibi.
"Why not?" Sherlock asks, and John can't reply how he wants to, so shrugs, feigning disinterest.
"Dunno" he says, and Sherlock doesn't lower the eyebrow, and his aura jumps, prompting even without saying anything, lapping like the tips of the waterside, "Just get a bad feeling that's all"
"You can't judge a man based on gut instinct" Sherlock tuts, turning his face away, his attention focused on other matters "It is fact John. Data, evidence that secures the answer, not emotion"
And John nods, almost agreeing, but knowing he can't.
The man leaves no clues, barely even a paper-trial, and when Sherlock gets too close, the only conclusive evidence they get is when he wraps his fingers around the detective's throat and admits it all while throttling him, John hauling the man away before too much damage is caused; half watching Sherlock worriedly, reassured by the fluctuating polish of silver, half throwing the man against red brickwork with an angered wildness that rises unbidden from unnerving depths, a fervent compulsion to protect that almost shames him in its violent outburst.
"Told you he wasn't any good" John makes light of the situation as is his habit as the man is being taken away by officers, Lestrade encircled in a polished beryl shouting after them for their statements tomorrow. Sherlock shoots him an odd contemplative glance fringed in a smile.
The next time John gets another 'bad feeling', they both pretend not to notice that Sherlock pays attention to it.
Sherlock is unrelenting.
Nothing he does is by halves, no gentle easing to soften the blow to a victim, all his motion aimed forward without glancing back at the carrion he might have left in his wake. His palette may be beautiful, but it's hard, a shield he thrusts up at the first sighting of intrusion, defensive, sang-froid. During cases his colour tests its boundaries, thrums like wing beats, crushing against different strands of itself that interact, violet darkening to sable, pooling, rising, rebuilding its form, drawing the wispy shades together into an orbit like he's creating stars. Yet outside of the cases, it's not the same. It's more restless, waiting, stalking, and the Stygian ebony and indigo, the drive and the need to learn, know, solve, the raison d'etre, instead being in union, it is instead a self-destructive cauldron tinted with an abrasive boredom that turns the silver shrill and unpredictable.
It's not the first argument they've had, but John is pushing himself up off the chair, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Sherlock asks like he's really curious, like he doesn't know, even though he always asks this as his flatmate leaves – and John thinks, maybe he doesn't understand why, but he doesn't quite care, needing out, needing space to breathe when everything around Sherlock converges into sealed up spaces where there's no room for air, no allowance for predictable human requirements. And his aura is so brilliant, and so angry, and spiking a cool frustration that slips into a tight grey pallor, no ignited gun metal, like he's blocked out the illumination of those stars he made, and John can't be around it any longer.
"Out." He keeps the words short, almost as though he's proving something, that he doesn't need Sherlock, that he isn't drawn to him, to his vivacity, to his personality, to him, that any minute he could stop and walk away, even though he wont (can't).
"Why do you look at people like that?" Sherlock enquires, and as he says it, his shade bunches up in clumps of gravel, grinding, riding over each other, bumps of tar and creosote while the slick around the islands deforms in a cochlear shape, like lambent petrol with the tapered aurora imprisoned in just the right way.
There's something about this question that matters to him.
"Like what?" John replies. Sherlock doesn't continue at first, tugs his coat further round himself, smooths the wrinkles in the cotton of his scarf.
"You don't meet their eyes." He lays out the foundations of his sentence with care, precision, the lumps in his colour dispersing like knots of tension into taut metallic ribbons. "Not at first." Another pause, another brick forming his hypothesis. "The trajectory of your gaze is inconsistent, but always is drawn to a point next to the person you are addressing. You did it when we first met, glanced around me before at me, but obviously, I have had chance to gather significantly increased amounts of data upon observation, and the pattern remains the same"
John works hard to keep his expression impassive, and although he smiles, it doesn't break the skin, it's more warning, stay away from this, from where you aren't wanted nor invited, and Sherlock notices, of course he does, and John is relying on this, is relying on him deciphering this request to not dig deeper. For once in your life, let it go.
"I have no idea what you're on about" he says, and Sherlock shrugs, hands delving into his pockets, colours sleek and graceful, spiralling livelier as though wrapped up in the ornate intensity of thought. Whatever he's thinking, he doesn't share it with John for the moment.
Recently, the colour of Greg Lestrade has been changing. He's always been a calming teal, his shades focusing on the blue end of the spectrum; in anger or frustration, even as he's threading his hands through greying hair, his aura is roiling cobalt like a storm-tossed sea. For the most part, it's a stable, collected azure, soothing, peaceful.
There is another pigment that has begun to encircle this sediment of grounded shade, digging furrows through the cerulean like veins to touch and fade against the flesh. It's not destructive, designed to adapt what is already there, affect, sabotage, a trojan horse to assault behind city walls, provoke into unwanted change. It's really just there. As though it has become part of the original make-up, sliding into a place already set up for it moving in.
The new colour is purple, touched with an arrogance, a heightened self-awareness not unlike Sherlock's, but more obvious, an extravagant mixing of fiery crimson and a cool blue, a hint of mystery. It doesn't reflect Greg, doesn't capture his personality or reflect some hitherto unknown aspect of his person, but where it meets the pre-existant shade, where the two should clash, smother and drown and mute each other in a complex warfare, they instead compliment, boosting and bolstering both of them to gleam brighter.
For a long time, John wonders quietly why, questions the origins of the new shade, the foreign agent settling in deeper every time he and Greg talk.
The answer reveals itself in a velvet clarity when Mycroft Holmes visits the next crime scene.
Sherlock's too blustered and defensive to notice, all his barriers up, resorting to childish manoeuvres, a game with ground rarely won or lost; how's the diet, Mycroft?, his sharp tongue blistering. John on the other hand, unaffected by sibling rivalry, takes the opportunity to observe, corroborate data, burrow down deep for the answers he seeks, admonishing himself in hindsight that he hadn't recalled the colour of Mycroft's aura sooner; the majestic sweeping fuchsia, dappling lilac in places as he leans on his umbrella, svelte and motionless in a dark suit.
It might be John's imagination, and he could be wrong, because the elder Holmes always dresses with care like he's going to judged by every piece of clothing on his person, but has he taken more time to put himself together than usual? – his thinning hair combed back neatly, his free hand unconsciously perfecting and flattening out any rucks in the fabric of a straightened black double breasted suit jacket that looks like it's valued at more than John's monthly income, a tie that is decidedly more colourful than is standard for the British Government; thick strips of crimson and navy with thin interspersed streaks of white, the tie that he seems constantly dissatisfied with, for he keeps adjusting it round his neck.
He sees the azure entwined on the outskirts of the purple and tunnelling through it to the centre, and thinks Oh.
When Mycroft has slipped off away from the two, and Sherlock is fuming in that quiet stormy way of his, John cannot resist turning his head, searching out the two he knows will be there, off to the side, almost unnoticeable in a corner of shadow if not for the supernova of illumination they're making as they lean in, discussing something in low terms. Mycroft murmurs something feather soft, and Greg chuckles, but John's attention is held solely by the reaction the closeness is inducing.
The purple and blue are marbling, embossing an imprint on the other, articulate swirls that define their own hues while allowing the other new inclusion to blossom, flower, ebbing and rising to meet the other like something timeless, a dance where each circles, one leading, before they switch effortlessly, choreographed in a private motion that John shouldn't be privy to.
He tunes back into what Sherlock is saying in a growling baritone, allowing himself to be pulled away from the scene. The colours behind him are alighting like fires.
"He's good for you, Greg" John says later, when they're on their own, having a quiet drink in the nearby pub on a Saturday night with no crime scene's to attend, the air woodsy, saturated with salt and alcohol.
"How did you – " Greg frowns, defences battered up, before they tumble into dissolution as he sees that John means him no harm, is honest in his sentiments. He smiles, and it's an enduring thing with a memory of something John will never know sparkling beneath. "Never mind."
He blushes, the halo of helical sapphire wide and open as an ocean, a skein like leaves seen through sunlight, none of the grace of silver that so attracts John to Sherlock but with a quiet contented calm in the purple and the blue that only serves to back up what John believes – that in these colours he can see the men they both can be together, how they fit, work, reflect and better themselves by the interactions, become the very best they are together, an inner radiance transposed to lighten dark cobalt and indigos to other pigments that are fearless in the face of everything that exists on the outside.
"Thanks" Greg says, and John just raises his glass with a smirk and orders them another pint each.
Sherlock figures out a few weeks later, and it's funny to see the put-out moue he forms with his lips when he sees that John already got there before him.
"What do you think of Miss Morrigan?" Sherlock asks suddenly, affixing John with an intent expression. It strikes the doctor that the detective is wanting his input into the case they are currently embroiled in, a rare, but not dismissed phenomena. "Any more of your startling insights? Your gut wishing to tell you anything when we interviewed her and the boyfriend?"
He's faintly teasing him, John realises with a degree of shock. He wouldn't believe the man had it in him if he didn't have the proof right before him. The detective is playing infuriatingly innocent.
Navy, is what he recalls about Alison Morrigan. John returns to that memory, rewinds it back, pays special attention to the colours, the trestles of darker blue, does what Sherlock has taught him prime skills for; analysis, noting, searching for the hidden factor.
Navy, he goes over the memory, studies it closely, looking for discontinuity, a hint of something afoot, fluttering, churning, genuinely upset, that rosy patina, an honest affection for Linda, grief from her murder evident, grey dots and scars tearing through the shade as her boyfriend comforted her...
The boyfriend. John thinks back to him, having not paid much notice to him at the time. Think John. Repeat. Go over. Check. Solid red aura, that ripple that comes from tiredness, bags under his eyes, so didn't sleep last night, not well at least. The shades decorating the red, the usual concerned greens, threading through like vines... but then what is he concerned about, and think back to that flicker of morose overcast fear, twitchy, what's he got to be frightened of? Hiding something perhaps?
John doesn't know. But he'd bet money on there being something dodgy about him.
"There's something about the boyfriend" he replies to the detective's query ambiguously, as though it's just a passing statement backed up by mere instinct, but Sherlock nods nonetheless, and John's grateful he doesn't want evidence.
"I'm glad you think so" the detective says absent-mindedly "I believe his drug problems might deserve some looking into"
"He's an addict?"
"Honestly, John," Sherlock rolls his eyes admonishingly. "Do you really see anything at all? Are those eyes in your head connected to your brain, or is that merely an illusion you've managed to get by with most of your adult life?"
John gets that exasperated glance from the detective again, the one that makes him want to grin fondly and ask the man to never change, not even if John wanted him to.
It doesn't occur to him yet that he's completely and hopelessly in love with this man. But it will.