Saving Fish from Drowning
"Not my usual type of dream," he remarks dryly. For one, well, he knows it's a dream. He doesn't need to pinch himself or watch out for logic-defying actions, he just knows. So he does whatever he does in dreams that don't involve shootings or deaths or Afghanistan- he waits.
He is in a room, not unlike Ella's office. It is patterned that hideous pink that Ella always thought cheered patients up, there are still two chairs in the middle of the room, and a table resides at the side, like a hastily added afterthought. He is seated in his normal chair, but no Ella is there. Instead, the door opens, just like it always did, and someone (not Ella) is standing there.
John springs up and stares at the exact copy of himself. Though he is wearing different, Victorian-style clothes, the face, the way he moves- it is an exact copy of himself.
"Who are you?" his other self asks.
Who am I? John wonders, but this is not the time for philosophical debates. "Dr John Watson." he says, almost as if introducing himself to a complete stranger.
His other self is already shaking his head. "No, I'm Dr John Watson."
Well, John thinks. They stare at each other for a moment before his other self asks, "What are you wearing?"
John looks at himself. He is wearing an old gray jumper, with some pants. London's weather can be cruel sometimes. "A jumper," he says. Come to think of it, his other self's clothes are curious too. He looks like something straight out of a nineteenth century novel, in a gentlemen's suit.
John stops. Calculates.
"What year is it? For you?" he asks.
The answer is prompt. "1882," The man replies.
Okay, John thinks. Somehow he is calm about it, somehow he knows that this is fine, it's all fine. Sometimes, in dreams, a red elephant could appear or a fish could drown and you wouldn't blink an eye, you'll just say "oh" and continue on. This was what John was feeling at the time.
"I live in the 21st century." John says by way of explanation. The other self appears to accept it too, and nods. It doesn't enter their minds that this is ridiculous, that this cannot happen.
"Parallel universes?" John asks. His other self doesn't appear to understand at first what parallel universes are (are there such concepts in the nineteenth century?), but he nods. "Maybe."
They spend some time chatting about their army experiences. Both of them have recently been invalided, sent home, not from the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, but from the medic's tent where they were shot. They talk about the nameless boy they were treating when they were shot, who was sent home with them but in a body bag.
Towards the end, his other self asks, "Have you met Holmes yet?"
John's eyebrows furrow, he knows himself well enough to know that this is an important topic to his other self. He shakes his head, and watches the slight slump of his other self's shoulders before he straightens, almost imperceptibly.
"Oh, well. I'm sure you'll meet Holmes. Sherlock Holmes will be an important person to you." His other self declares, before the dream ends.
John wakes up in bed and thinks, good grief, what is happening to him? But because this dream isn't as disturbing as others, he chalks it up to his overactive mind and falls back asleep. But as he falls asleep, he wonders if he will actually meet a Sherlock Holmes. He plays the name around in his mind. Sherlock; a rather strange name, he admits, and definitely not a person he has ever encountered before.
The next night, John has a nightmare about Afghanistan. He talks to his therapist, Ella, in the day. Curse his psychomatic limp. He half-expects his other self to come walking out, and tell him more about this Sherlock Holmes. Ella is sprouting some rubbish about moving on and blogging, but he thinks of his other self, how he visibly brightened upon mentioning this Sherlock Holmes, and so he tells Ella what he has felt since that dream.
"Nothing happens to me."
The next thing he knows, he's meeting up with an old friend from Bart's and he's being introduced to a madman. He knows all about Harry, although how he confused her for a bloke is beyond him. Hell, the way he knew everything about the alcoholism and the divorce is unbelievable. John is feeling awake, more awake than he has felt since the dream two nights ago (ironic, really) and then the madman is leaving and he needs to know who this person is.
"The name's Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street."
John just stares and thinks, no wonder my other self likes him.
That night, he dreams of his other self again. Same, boring, patterned room, just like Ella's office. His other self is seated on one of the seats, and looks up expectantly at him.
"Today I met Sherlock Holmes." John announces to him as he settles on the seat.
His other self raises his eyebrows and leans forward eagerly. "How was he?"
John finds himself describing the entire encounter, finishing off with, "And tomorrow, we are going to look at a flat together."
"221B Baker Street." His other self says. It isn't even a question. John does a double take, before remembering that they lead the same lives, going by the people they meet and the things they've done.
His other self is already reminiscing about their first case, that he wrote about. It was called "A Study in Scarlet", and John is listening, wondering at the madness of it all. And somehow he doesn't feel scared, he is... excited.
John wakes up in his Warner flat for the last time and he can't say nothing happens to him anymore, because he has discovered- literally- another side of himself and he has found someone whom he knows will be very important to him.
He doesn't know how true those words are until later that night, after the occasional murder-seen-as-suicide and CCTV stalking and the minor kidnapping, he kills a man for Sherlock. Not a particularly nice man, but still a human being.
He doesn't regret it at all.
A week later, he writes in his blog the entire case, after Harry elicited promises from him to do so. It is of his other self he is thinking of as he entitles it 'A Study In Pink'. Harry thinks he's mad, the whole world think he's mad (or gay, or quite possibly both), but it doesn't matter, because after months of inaction and slow dying, he is finally living.
Mycroft was right, after all. John thrives on adrenaline, the kind that normal civilians would run screaming from.
The months pass. Strangely, for his other self, time passes much more quickly. John estimates that for every month he lives, his other self is living a year. It hurts to see his other self live so long, spend so much time with Sherlock and his mad, bizarre, dangerous cases. But then, whenever he thinks of his other self, he wonders if he is going mad, so he tries not to think about it too much.
His other self was tickled pink by "A Study In Pink'. John realises that their lives aren't exactly the same, sort of like a translation between two languages. For one, his other self is amused by the thought of Mycroft and Sherlock having 'sibling rivalry'.
More often than not, a meet-up (a dream-up?) with his other self involves lots of tea, a discussion of cases, and other subjects. Like how cell phones work (and Sherlock's unhealthy obsession with texting), the troubles of having a flatmate with a smoking habit (his other self's Holmes, not John), or countries that never existed in John's world (like Bohemia).
Two months after he meets Sherlock, John divides his life into two- pre- Sherlock, post- Sherlock.
One month later, he finds himself strapped to a Semtex vest and curses his other self. Maybe he should have mentioned it in passing. John imagines the conversation, "Oh, you might get strapped to a bomb in the near future like I was, so be prepared! And warn Holmes, because Moriarty is smart and twisted."
But of course, it is apparent to John that this has never happened to his other self (nor would his other self speak like that, tight-lipped Victorian he is). So John attempts to resolve the situation, but he, in Moriarty's words, had rather shown his hand. Sherlock shakes his head at him, telling him to keep his position, but he will not- cannot- risk Sherlock's life like that. So he backs off quickly.
Moriarty left them alone and Sherlock is in a near-panic, and amid all the relief and stress, John realises that Sherlock has a heart. He didn't quite hear the exchange between Sherlock and Moriarty, but he realises the power Moriarty has over Sherlock while John's life hangs in the balance.
While John is thinking of that, making jokes to ease the tension, Moriarty comes back. And this time, he means business. John has seen faces like that in the army, those who will kill and kill and never stop killing until they are killed themselves.
Fortunately, Mycroft chooses that time to be a knight in shining armour, and the snipers have been replaced by Mycroft's men (Sherlock will forever remain grumpy about this incident). Unfortunately, a certain henchman (Colonel Moran) helped Moriarty to escape, and he disappeared in the time it took for Sherlock to kick the vest away and lunge at him.
"Beware of Jim Moriarty," John tells his other self that night.
"I'm getting married!" His other self exclaims. It has been three months since the Pool Incident (that is how John will always think it). John stares. He knows that this person is more than likely to appear in his life, that he will in all probability end up marrying her too.
"Who is she?" John asks.
"Mary Morstan. She was involved in a case, and at the end, I proposed." His other self is beaming, and John is sure that this is someone whom he loves. And thus, by extension, John will love her too.
After talking about the details of his marriage, John spends the rest of the dream discussing more cases with his other self, trying to blot out the unease in his chest.
True to form, it is a week later that he meets Mary. She is a teacher at a school where Sherlock is called to investigate at. When the case is wrapped up (and it takes eight days, a long time by Sherlock's standards), he wonders whether to ask Mary out for a date. Sure, she is everything he ever looked for in a woman, but he remembers his other self. He remembers all the chats, all the wild, exciting adventures recounted (that really ought not to be classified as cases). He sees more about himself that he would ever have seen.
And so he turns away from Mary. He knows what he is walking away from, and he does it anyway. Sherlock looks at him strangely, probably because he has seen the attraction, but John continues walking away from the path Fate has set him with.
"Why would you do such a thing?" His other self is bewildered.
"I would love Mary, if I worked hard on the relationship. I'm sure of it." John sighs. He just gave up a love, and he doesn't quite know what to say.
"Then why didn't you?" His other self is completely puzzled.
"She would be the woman I loved the most, if I worked hard at it." John says.
"Then what is the problem?"
"Look me straight in the eye, and tell me that she would be the person I loved most in the world."
"I don't understand-"
"Would she be the person I loved the most in the world?"
His other self freezes. And then realises what he is implying.
John shrugs. "I know why you married her. Because she was second best to an impossible thing. In your time, maybe it's impossible. In my time, it's just implausible."
"This- this is madness." His other self splutters, no longer calm.
"It's okay, you know. I understand why you did that. But don't lie to me about how you truly feel."
They sit in silence for a while, before his other self finally turns to John.
"I don't get a chance in this universe. I wish you all the best on yours."
John laughs. He thinks of Sherlock I'm-married-to-my-work Holmes, and murmurs, "Not much of a chance, is there?"
His other self says, "A better chance than mine."
It is three months later that his other self appear in the dream in a near-panic.
"Keep Holmes away from Reichenbach Falls. Whatever you do, keep him from there!" Grief has obviously overtaken his other self. His eyes are red and puffy, his nose swollen, and John knows that something very bad must have happened.
Slowly, the story comes out. Holmes and Moriarty was fighting, and fell down Reichenbach Falls together and died. His other self is inconsolable, since he wasn't at the scene, and couldn't help. Couldn't even take John's advice properly. John tries to comfort him as much as possible, but underneath he feels all the grief and he knows that this must never happen to Sherlock. It is unthinkable.
He researches on Reichenbach Falls, on the outskirts of London. He pulls up a picture of the waterfall, and suddenly just knows, as if his other self is standing next to him, that this is the place that Sherlock will die if John does nothing. The static picture seems to mock him, the narrow precipice that he just knows will be where Sherlock and Moriarty fall to their deaths.
Half a month later, Mary also dies (both in his other self and John's world). They spend a dream consoling each other, but his other self is remarkably self composed. But John knows how it feels, to have the two most important people in your world ripped away from you.
There is nothing they can say to each other, so they just sit in silence and pretend that nothing is wrong.
John realises that his other self is quite old already. While he is thirty four, his other self is well into his forties. It is scary to see your doppelganger age, to see him go through so much hardship and heartbreak that you, too, will go through. The threat of Moriarty looms over Sherlock's head, and John has no idea how to stop it.
But because John is hardly ever afraid of anything- not death, not injury (been there, done that), he has to keep calm and carry on.
Sherlock has disappeared. This always happens, so John pecks at his phone and sends a text to Sherlock.
Where are you? I got the milk.
Gone to defeat Moriarty. SH
And you didn't think to include me?
It would be inconvenient for you. SH
Where are you?
Outside London. SH
More specific, please.
There is no answer. John knows that this is the day. This is the time where Sherlock- lost without his blogger- will fight with Moriarty, and die.
So John runs, like he has never run before. He catches a train (and by catch I mean tumbling into the carriage a millisecond before the door slams shut) to Reichenbach Falls, and thinks, please, let Sherlock live. Because there is so many things he has never told Sherlock I'm-married-to-my-work Holmes, because he needs Sherlock and not so much the cases anymore.
In the train, he thinks to write a note to Sherlock. Partially because all the pacing in the carriage is earning him strange looks from passengers, but mostly because he needs to believe that Sherlock will survive, that they will live to joke about it.
You bloody sod. Why did you run off without me? Now I have to save you, like I did at the first night. Do you still remember? I still dream about it, not that I regret it. I would do it again and again, a thousand times over.
So I'm heading for Reichenbach Falls. I can see you asking, "How did I know that?" And the answer is this: I have always known, always known you will fight Moriarty and fall to your death from a narrow precipice. I consulted a fortune teller. Well, I say fortune teller.
I suppose that this is the part where I declare my romantic feelings towards you (right after the I'm-insane confession), but I'm sure you deduced it already. Like how I'm sure you already deduced that I knew about things beforehand.
We were brilliant, Sherlock. And I'm sure we'll continue to be brilliant.
John finishes writing it, and even writes Sherlock's name and the address on the cover, just for kicks. But now the train is pulling into the station and he jumps and dashes off, forgetting the letter on his seat. Later, some kind-hearted soul will post it and Sherlock will receive it when he gets back from Reichenbach Falls.
John arrives on time. Sherlock and Moriarty are fighting, exactly like his other self described, over a narrow precipice. For a moment, it looks like there is nothing John can do, that they both will die anyway, but he sees the part where both falters and he jumps and-
John falls down the waterfall with Moriarty, and suddenly so many thoughts rushes through his head.
-So it is my life in exchange of Sherlock? Fate sure got short changed.
-At least Moriarty died too.
-I wonder, will Sherlock get a new flatmate?
-I'm glad that I bought the milk for Sherlock, because it'll last him a few days at least.
And because he doesn't want to have his last thought be about milk, he thinks, one final thought.
- I love you, Sherlock.
John wakes up. He looks around, and realises that he is in the same place as he always is in his dreams. His other self is there too. And something is different.
"Holmes is alive!" His other self says. John's eyebrows furrow. Wasn't something happening before this?
The falling down a cliff, grappling with Moriarty. Sherlock's face-
""I'm dead now." John says. His other self blinks, drawn out of whatever he was saying.
"I fell off the cliff and took Sherlock's place. I'm bloody dead! I suppose I am going to face my judgement now, or whatever it is that happens to dead people." John scans the room, as if expecting angels or devils to appear and take him away.
His other self is shocked, but they look at each other, and John says, "At least it wasn't Sherlock who died."
His other self makes a small noise, and John snaps his head to look- look at him properly.
"Holmes isn't dead."
It's John's turn to stare. "What?" he exclaims.
"Turns out he's been hiding all these years to hunt down Moriarty's henchmen." His other self snorts, and John is furious- yes, this would exactly be the thing that Sherlock would do.
But if Holmes didn't die- that means- would John be alive too?
They stare at each other, the same thought crossing their minds.
"Well," John says. "This might be the last time I see you. Take care of Holmes."
His other self nods. There is so many things that John could say, but his other self knows it already, so in the end, they leave the dream on that note.
John wakes up in London.
London? What is he doing in London? He realises he is on Baker Street in London, too. Is Fate playing cruel tricks with him?
He spots a newspaper stand nearby and looks at it.
August 4th, 2011.
Exactly three months since Reichenbach Falls.
There are so many questions running through John's mind, but only two facts remain rooted.
I'm alive in my time (well, three months, give or take).
Sherlock is fifty metres from me.
He runs to 221B Baker Street, yanks open the door and runs up the stairs. Mrs Hudson seems to be out, which is just as well, since he doesn't really know what to say to her. He's still not sure whether this is a dream, whether the Powers-That-Be are playing cruel tricks on him.
He hears Sherlock, talking to no one. Oh wait- he is talking to the skull.
"Someone is coming in. From the way the person is treading, it can't be Mrs Turner's married ones- in fact, it is John's tread on the stairs. James, I think I must be going mad. It is an improbable situation, but more possible than the impossible scenario."
John bursts into the flat.
"Sherlock, you sod!" he says, but he can't say anything more, because Sherlock lunges at him and examines him, verifying that he is alive. His hands flutter over John's cheeks, shoulders, carefully checking that he is all in one piece.
"Stop, you git. I need a cup of tea."
Sherlock speaks slowly. "I'm sure you aren't a figment of my imagination. Only you would wander in after three months of your- death- and demand a cup of tea."
John opens the fridge and finds it exactly the same as the last time he saw it. As in, exactly the same three months ago. Milk, long expired, still where he put it. He can see where he toppled a jar of jam without bothering to right it, right before he texted Sherlock. The fingers on the top shelf (disgusting), looking a little worse for the wear.
"I derived my sustenance from takeaway, John. And Mycroft's incessant meddling. Where have you been? What happened?"
"No, wait, Sherlock. What happened to you?" Sherlock's frame is thinner than ever, and dark circles protrude beneath his eyes.
Sherlock's eyes hold something, and John can read it: it is relief, written a thousand times over grief and misery.
"Oh." John says. Sherlock cares for him, that much is obvious. But surely three months would be enough for someone (sociopath?) like Sherlock?
Sherlock lunges at him again, but it is for a hug. John barely has time to think before he realises Sherlock is crying, actually crying.
There will be questions later, and answers to be given, but for now, John is alive and that is enough- more than enough.
"You named your skull James."
"Yes, after you."
"Sorry?" John's voice is indignant, incredulous.
"Your middle name, Hamish. It means James in Scottish."
There was a pause.
"We've been fools, haven't we?"
"I was wondering when you'll say that. Are you referring to your romantic attachment to me?"
"Look, Sherlock, I'm sorry, I won't bring it-"
But John is silenced rather awkwardly, and he realises one thing.
That night, John tells his other self everything.
His other self smiles, because he knows that Holmes also cares for him now.
They look at each other, and chuckle over cases, and a certain man with curly hair and a dramatic trench coat.
John sees his other self for two more years. In that time, his other self and his Holmes retire in a cottage in Sussex, where Holmes takes up bee-keeping. Then his other self passes on, telling him that he and Holmes died hours after each other, brought down by pneumonia (how mainstream and boring, Sherlock would remark). It makes John smile, to know that in the end, he won't have to endure a world without Sherlock.
But in the meantime, he still have cases to run with Sherlock, and John lives happy with the promise of happy, mad years now and ahead.