Author's Note: This is inspired by Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. It also ties in a lot of ideas from the fantastic novel The Scar-crow Men by Mark Chadbourn. Also, spoilers for The Reichenbach Fall.
"You've sold yourself to the Devil," Mycroft remarks one rainy afternoon in a small café, gazing out the large glass window into the summer downpour. His umbrella is gripped lightly in one hand, a small pool of water gathering on the floor at its tip. Across the table, Mycroft's companion is silent and resentful, refusing to meet his eyes. Steam rises from the two untouched cups of tea on the table between them, but neither is inclined to drink.
"Is Sherlock the Devil?" John Watson asks, his eyes focused on the wall behind and to the left of Mycroft's head. He wasn't kidnapped today, per se, but when he had walked into the café to find Mycroft instead of the date he was supposed to be meeting, it was quite clear that he would not be free to go until Mycroft was finished whatever business he had with him. What he doesn't understand is why Mycroft is bringing this up. He knows exactly what Mycroft is talking about, but he has no desire to discuss it, and no clue why it matters.
"Not the Devil himself, perhaps," Mycroft replies evasively with a small, secretive smile.
"So what if I have sold my soul?" John asks. "What's it to you?"
His tone is harsh, almost accusatory. Mycroft merely gives a resigned sigh and shifts his gaze slightly to meet John's eyes.
"There will be a price," he warns.
"I know," John tells him, his words clipped and emotionless.
Oh, he knows. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into the second he first agreed to help his peculiar new flatmate investigate a series of serial suicides. Sherlock is slowly consuming his life- his very soul, even- and John is letting him. Because though the price will no doubt be high, Sherlock can offer him everything he truly desires. Not wealth and power, but adventure, and the thrill of the battlefield.
"Is this all you wanted to talk to me about?" he asks, growing tenser by the second.
"Well, not really," Mycroft admits, that damn smile still fixed to his face. "But I can see that you're not really in the mood to chat, so I'll talk to you another time."
"Please warn me next time you decide you want to 'chat'," John requests. "I have a cell phone. I'd appreciate if you used it."
Mycroft doesn't reply, although his smile shifts to one of amusement for a few seconds. When his gaze moves from John's face to the window, John takes that as his cue to leave. He stands up and begins walking away, before a sudden thought occurs to him. He turns back to face Mycroft.
"I'd do it again," he states simply. "If I had a thousand souls, I'd sell all of them for Sherlock."
"Then you are a fool," Mycroft informs him calmly, at last reaching for his tea cup.
And perhaps he's right. Perhaps John is a fool. But, honestly, he couldn't care less. Sherlock offered him his heart's desire, and the price was merely his soul. Who wouldn't accept such a deal?
"Have you ever thought about Hell, Sherlock?" John wonders.
It's early evening. Summer still hasn't surrendered hold on the world, but the icy breeze that's been blowing tells of autumn just around the corner. Sherlock has been sitting there lazily plucking at his violin strings for the past hour, and John, seated in the opposite chair, is quite content to watch him. Still, he can't resist asking the question. As far as he knows, Sherlock is not a religious man. Would he even know what religion is?
"I wouldn't have pegged you as the religious type," Sherlock remarks. "So, how does your train of thought leap from my brother to the land of fiery brimstone?"
John's shock at this display of his friend's abilities must have shown on his face.
"Oh, it was simple enough to deduce," Sherlock insists, placing the violin back in its case. "You looked at the teapot, and then to the spot on the wall that's still stained from where I threw the old teapot after one of Mycroft's visits. Clearly, thinking of my brother. However, then, you asked me about hell. I'm most curious as to how you went from my brother to religion so quickly. It must have been a conversation between the two of you, but since I don't recall any such conversation, it must have been one of those little chats the two of you have every few weeks when he wants to check up on me. I do find it quite intriguing that he spoke to you about religion. I doubt Mycroft's ever attended a church in his life."
"Look, it doesn't matter," John insists. "I was just curious, that's all. Forget I said anything."
Sherlock presses the tips of his finger together and sits in silence for several minutes. John thinks he has in fact decided to ignore this, although it's quite unlike Sherlock to let a subject drop so easily.
"Hell isn't a place," Sherlock says finally. "It's a state of mind. When someone is bereft of hope, that's true Hell. Not some land of fire and brimstone below the earth."
There's a tinge in Sherlock's voice that John has never heard before. It makes him sound…human. It's strange, but looking at Sherlock sitting there, his eyes staring off into the distance, John sees the proof he's been searching for. Sherlock is not some superhuman thinking machine. He's just as human as anyone else. A slight thrill runs through him at the thought that he might be the first person to truly realize this.
It is a long time before John truly understands Sherlock's words. Hell isn't a real place.
As he watches, it isn't only Sherlock who falls from the roof of St. Bart's Hospital. John feels himself falling with Sherlock, falling into Hell. A gaping hole replaces the place in his chest where his soul was. The place where his heart was.
The details of the scene are too sharp, burning his eyes. Red blood flowing in terrible contrast with Sherlock's pale skin. Far too much blood. The slack expression on his face, so unlike his normal sharp countenance. It makes him look younger, and John remembers that he is –was?- only twenty-eight. The spark in Sherlock's eyes is gone; the bright crystals have dulled and lost their luster.
Everything is hazy.
John reaches for his best friend, but there's something in the way. Someone is holding him back.
"Please, he's my friend."
He has to get to Sherlock. Why can't this person understand? He tries to explain that he's a doctor, that it's vitally important that he reaches Sherlock, but the person still holds him back.
John manages to force himself close enough to grasp Sherlock's hand. It's still warm, but his desperately questing fingers are unable to locate a pulse.
The details are going blurry. Everything is out of focus. Except for Sherlock. Sherlock's broken body is painfully clear. Or maybe the image is simply burned onto his retinas.
He loses his hold on Sherlock's hand and that's the final blow. A single thought runs through his head, again and again.
This is Hell.
This is Hell.
For three years, John Watson burns in Hell. A world, not of fire and brimstone, but of loneliness and not-Sherlock. He tries to move on, but can't find the energy, the motivation. It's a bit like after he came home from the war. Only this time, he's completely broken and there's no Sherlock Holmes to fix him.
The hole in his chest still burns sharply. Some days it's okay. Some days it's not. Sometimes, he wakes up from vicious nightmares, where he relives every second of Sherlock's fall, and the pain in his chest is so tight he can barely breathe.
But it can't last forever. John is so close to shattering into a million pieces.
It's one of the bad days.
Determined not to fall apart, John opens the door of his apartment and walks out. He needs some air. He needs to breathe. He doesn't know where he's going, but he simply allows his feet to take him where they will. Perhaps that's not such a good idea.
This time, the same as every time before, his feet lead him unwaveringly to Baker Street, depositing him right on the doorstep of 221B. John sighs, his hand hesitating as he reaches up to knock. Maybe. Maybe this time he'll find the courage to go back inside. Maybe he'll find the closure he so desperately needs.
Maybe next time.
John's hand falls back to his side, his fear defeating him.
"Next time," he murmurs.
He turns to leave.
The sound of the door open behind him gives him pause. Mrs. Hudson, perhaps? A dim, impossible hope causes him to turn around.
"I was wondering when you'd show up."
John nearly faints away on the spot. Standing just inside the doorway is the man he never thought he would see again. Sherlock seems to glow with an unnatural light, or maybe that's just the tears blurring John's vision and the ragged lamp behind Sherlock's head. John doesn't know. There's only one thing he does know.
Sherlock Holmes looks like an angel.
John can't decide whether he wants to laugh or cry. To hug Sherlock or punch him in the face. In the end, he can't do either.
"You're back," he whispers, and the words sound strange even to his own ears.
"I'm sorry, John."
Sherlock seems to mean it. He looks more sorry than John's ever seen him. But that's not enough. His words finally galvanize John into action.
His right fist connects with the side of Sherlock's face.
"Sorry?" he screams. "SORRY? I've been in Hell for the past three years, Sherlock, and all because of you!"
Holding a hand to his bruised cheek, Sherlock seems to have lost that unearthly glow. Now he just looks small, and sad, and alone, and scared. And John knows that it's his fault.
He isn't angry anymore. He wasn't really angry at all, not even when he threw that punch.
Two steps forward and he's only a few inches from Sherlock. He pulls his best friend into a tight hug, trying wordlessly to explain his feelings. Sherlock seems to understand, and awkwardly returns the embrace.
And for a moment, they're the only two people in the universe. The only two things that matter.
It isn't Heaven, but at least it isn't Hell.