Book 1


THE MAN


Frail, old men with weathered hands stand,
Alone, lost on the wide sandy beaches,
Each turning back his rusty mind clock
Piercing the veil of memories

When they were young, anxious and terrified,
Boy-soldiers in battle fighting for their lives,
Experiencing the gamut of fear and death
Watching friends die horribly,
Scarring their young minds. Forever.

- Harbingers
(From Normandy)

Curtis Bennett


Love And War
Ovid:

Lovers all are soldiers, and Cupid has his campaigns:
I tell you, Atticus, lovers all are soldiers.


FIRST DATE, ONE


Thursday, October 26, 2000 (John is 32, Sherlock is 28)

SHERLOCK: Flashing lights. Siren wailing. It is 5:43 am and the paramedics are haggard. They are irritated at me, for I am yet another OD case, they believe. I did not inject heroin. I am clean. Because John will be here soon. Because of John. My phone is in my pocket half-right, displaying the current date and time, holding the pixellised version of my memory because John will demand proof. My memory is fresh of all the times and dates we met in my past. What I deduced to be his and our future. But this first meeting of ours I could not deduce, largely because John himself did not care to remember, and I could not manipulate it out of him. This first meeting is important. It will shape the way John thinks of me. And more precisely, it could change the future. Something which I very badly want to do - and yet - do not.

The paramedics are having an office romance, leading to an affair. This does not affect their performance in any way and in fact makes them twice as efficient as they would apart, something which their superiors overlook on purpose. The bed has been used before tonight. They cleaned it but the smell of blood that is not mine is still present. The ceiling has dents and needs repairs. An epileptic was the last one and they failed to contain him in time. Like my ceiling. It couldn't stand the last ferro-nucleic experiment. I need a new flat. I refuse to rely on Mycroft, but I would be willing to share a flat. Especially because the last slip of the tongue John had revealed I flatted with him. Perhaps for the first time I should give up. Do I meet him here, on this hospital visit? Or is it the next? Is he out, as he was last time, and the time before that, and before that? The infuriating man never revealed that first, all-important meeting, to me. And, I am incompetent at waiting. Possibly petulant. It has been altogether too long. So be it.

They wheel me into the hospital. Paramedics give suggestions. I absorb them all. They are wrong about what is in my bloodstream. What must be purged is not a common, predictable hallucinogen of indifferent addictive properties. Something I made in an experiment, when my John was still with me. My wits are still about me. I thrash about, simulating pain. Scream his name in my apparent agony. Babble it. "Where's John? I need John. Do you know John? Where is he? John! John!" It is an act, to reduce to me to their level, but if it will get me John, I will descend until my lips touch the earth itself.

The nurse asks questions and I answer in breathless bursts through the screaming, until they realize far-too-slowly that I'm speaking of a Doctor John Watson who does surgeries on tap - finally I know his last name - who is a doctor and who came back from Afghanistan with too many mental and physical scars and disorders to speak of, an inversion of PTSD and a past psychosomatic limp being the least of them.

It's the mention of the past psychosomatic limp that puzzles both the nurse and I for too long a time, enough for her and her minions to wheel me into the operating theatre and begin pumping the anaesthetic into me.

Then I realise that John, here, still has the bloody limp, and feel like screaming for real.

In the operating theater, through the mild haze of the anaesthetic, I see him again, for the first time in almost a decade. He is solid, real, more real than anything in this tangential, logical and illogical, cold and inhumane world. I long to run to him and cling to him as I did as a child, out in the Garden - when he was more to me than Mycroft was, and Mycroft was my world. He is calm, clothed, and younger than I have ever seen him. That is to be expected. That this is happening here, now, and that he will not suddenly vanish, brings a rush of relief that is unprecedented in my entire life.

"John!" I scream, hoarse and pained, but underneath that is a pulse of joy, that I am here and he is here.

He is almost at my bedside and I sit up and let his hand, warm and real and large, push me back onto the cold steel of the table. I force my arms to cling on to his sleeve, to breathe into his ear, "John." Memories of the ast time he was with me - argument, fight, disappointed eyes - surface. I babble endlessly.

Looking around at the captive audience, I let my gaze slacken and my arms slump back to my sides. "John, why are you not naked?" The panic, the shock, the reaction John is having is utterly hilarious. Finally, finally, I have got one up on my childhood mentor, who taught me how to simulate empathy by displaying it for everything and anything while controlling all other emotions and thoughts of the future. He was difficult to read. This one wears his heart on his sleeve.

"Have we met?" Uncertainty. A growing disbelief. His question is really, who are you that knows me? My answer to this, as to all others, is simply, "Sherlock Holmes."

I stake my claim over him and he accepts, I can see it in the shifting of his eyes and the clenching of his jaw, under the glare of the surgeric floodlights. I close my eyes and something, deep in my unceasing mind, settles to rest at last.

JOHN: It's early in the morning, something like 5:47am, and the hospital smells just as cool and sterile as any hospital has ever smelt, with the exception of those out on the front lines. Those smell of grit, copper, and putrefaction - sand, blood, death - and it's a smell that I can't get out of my nose when I dream of it. The walls are an ivory-white; too cream-colored to be white, too white to be any other colour. Shrugging off my jumper, I wrap the scrubs around my shoulders and pretend that I'm any other surgeon on staff, unlikely to go popping off in the middle of an emergency. To this date, I haven't. Even if I have this disorder of mine, it cows under my sense of duty - I will never leave a patient in distress, regardless of my own personal problems. I sign off on my staff entry: John Watson, 05:51, 26-10-00 Cardiac Surgery. I clip the pager under my scrubs, near to my neck, and grip tighter to my cane, limping toward the common elevator.

The hospital decided to build both upward and downward; as I step into the elevator my finger itches for the upwards buttons, imprinted in numbers and Braille. Sarah is above me, in the patients' wards, and likely bustling around her patients, checking them for anything new, anything wrong. My life does not revolve around Sarah, however. She does not know of my condition, as yet, and I intend to keep it from her as much as possible. Downwards are where the operating theatres lie, and there are a waiting list of surgeries for heart transplants.

The pager buzzes suddenly, violently, and I jump. The world narrows and becomes impossibly steady, and I dig around inside my scrubs for the pager. The number is from the A and E department. I limp quickly in that direction.

Inside the operating theater which the on-duty staff has texted me, along with, 'He's asking for you alone', is a man who looks...aristocratic. Well out of the league of my humble self at any decently priced bars, at any least. His cheekbones alone speak of blue blood all the way back to Elizabeth the First, let alone the coat that they're pulling him out of in preparation for the surgery. As his coat slips off I am temporarily taken back at the heer number of tracks along both shoulders, and his peaceful expression as the anaesthetic fills his body and calms his mind.

Then he opens his eyes with a jerk and screams "John!" so loudly my heart skips two beats at least, something with absolute agony in it, and I waste a few moments looking around for someone else named John. I hurry toward the theater and slide inside, taking responsibility from a harried-looking intern and paramedic.

I am standing in the doorway, framed by the light from the prep room and by the floodlights on the table, and the man on the table heaves himself to a sitting position, making alarms go off willy-nilly. I nearly run closer, until I have a hand on his chest and I press him downward. He lets himself be brought supine again, but catches my eyes with his. They are deep, fathomless. My breath, despite itself, catches.

"John," he says, and somehow manages to bring numbed arms up to my sleeve, grabbing on to it uselessly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, I never got to tell you sorry before -"

His eyes are utterly intent and locked on to his and there is a rustiness to his tone that implies that it is very rare that this man apologises. Yet I know I will hear it again and again, as though a false memory of some long association had sprung to me, through all the facets of time. And now all the bloody nurses are looking at me like I'm some kind of a saint, because I have an amazing-looking playboy-type, coal-black-haired slim young man hanging on to my shoulder, and apologising to me, looking at me like I'm his personal Jesus.

A moment later his gaze slackens and he asks, plaintively, young, "Why aren't you naked yet, John?" and - there - the nurses' gazes pin me as a degenerate weasel. They are notoriously fickle minded, but I am disturbed also. Either we've had some kind of connection in my immediate past, or he knows about my disorder. Barring excessive alcohol it seems as if I would remember this man naked, and as it turns out, I would very much like to see this man naked. He is approaching that state, though.

"Have we met?" and the nurses give me looks that approach demonisation but I really do not know who this is.

"Sherlock Holmes," Sherlock whispers to my unasked question. "I've memorised a great deal of times and dates. Very soon, John, very very soon, you'll be mine alone. Past and future."

That revelation is pretty shocking and deeply moving and I lean on my cane more than I should. My knee aches. And yet -

Somehow the future snapping its jaws shut on this me, the tallest waterfall washing this salmon away, should feel as if it elicits more pain.

Sherlock Holmes. I hardly believe I will forget that name. Some unbelievably large chunk of a future lottery has landed here in my lap, here and now.

He whispers, "Dinner. Tomorrow night, 7. Angelo's," before he shuts his eyes to drugged sleep. I don't say that I accept out loud but he seems to hear or understand it anyway. I begin my own prep work. He is smiling in a way that is utterly genuine and almost, like a pregnant woman five months along, glowing. I am near tears and I don't know why.