The first time it happened, John Watson was six and a half years old.
His parents were at a meeting at the school with Harry's teachers, something to do with her "smart mouth and tendency to skip classes" (which he had overheard while hiding in the broom cupboard, which had just enough space for a six and a half year old and would've been an utterly keen hiding spot if he hadn't sneezed at the wrong moment). They'd deposited him at Mrs. Padgett's across the street and it was from her front windows that he watched his family's station wagon putter down the street, his parents in the front seat, his father's mouth set in a grim line, Harry in the back, her face white and nervous, sucking on the ends of a braid in her mouth. (She hadn't done that for ages- not since she had stopped calling him Johnny, long before the calls from teachers started coming).
Mrs. Padgett's house was small and stuffy, with the faint but inescapable odor of cat food and lilac perfume that had gone slightly off. Mr. Padgett had died long before the Watsons had moved in, and his presence had been commemorated by an afghan with a disturbingly uncanny likeness of his face knit into it, as well as four gingery cats, all named Bernie Padgett. Like their namesake, they were all very fat, very cranky, and not particularly fond of Mrs. Padgett.
John sat in front of the telly, holding one of the Bernie Padgetts in his lap and attempting to pet it despite the fact that its claws were digging into his leg. Mrs. Padgett had fed him a sliver of rum cake that seemed to be older than John himself and then had collapsed into her chair, flicking the telly on to an American soap opera and announcing that it was time to watch "her stories". No more than five minutes had passed after this announcement before she had begun to snore.
The telly had since begun to flicker, until the picture had fizzled away into crackling black and white dots. The sound still worked fine; over the old woman's snores, John could hear Veronica accuse Rodrigo of having an affair with Colette because of a negligee she'd found in their beach house.
(John didn't know what an affair or a negligee was. He resolved to ask Mrs. Padgett as soon as she woke up.)
Suddenly, the gentle snoring turned into an odd hacking noise, as if she were trying to cough up something nasty in her throat. John watched, helpless and horrified and strangely fascinated, as the woman's bony fingers scrabbled across her chest, hands fisting in the floral terrycloth of her bathrobe. Then, just as quickly as it had started, the hacking noise stopped and her hands went still and limp.
She's just sleeping, John told himself as he leaned in closer to have a look. She was having a nightmare. She's just sleeping.
(But he knew she wasn't sleeping, in the way that he knew that Father Christmas wasn't real or that no matter how many times he jumped off the top of the swing set, he'd never be able to fly.)
With two shaking fingers, he brushed over the inside of her wrist. It was dry, like paper, with no healthy throb of a pulse running through it, and he felt the oddest mix of curiosity and revulsion.
Suddenly, he felt very small and very scared and he began to cry despite himself, tears glazing his cheeks, upper lip quivering. In an attempt to steady himself on his suddenly weak legs, his hand accidentally closed on Mrs. Padgett's.
Several things happened then in quick succession.
First, the hand that was touching Mrs. Padgett began to tingle, then burn, and suddenly the papery skin underneath his began to warm once more and he could feel the first faint flutterings of a pulse.
At the same time, John was also aware of a bluish smoke that curled out of Mrs. Padgett's mouth, slithering down his arm and making him shudder. It finally settled around one of the Bernie Padgetts, who collapsed on the ground with an indignant growl, as dead as the old woman had been a moment before.
Finally, John's nose began to bleed.
The now ex-corpse (as of thirty seconds ago) sitting in the armchair groaned and stretched, blinking up sleepily at John.
"Would you like another piece of rum cake, dearie?"
It seemed that the late Mrs. Padgett was not so late after all.
Everyone had a gift.
Some could run exceptionally fast or kick a football incredibly well. Some could paint or dance or sing. Others still had brilliant minds that cut through the mundane of everyday life to expose the wonder underneath.
John Watson could wake the dead.
After the incident with Mrs. Padgett, he kept quiet about his newfound skill. There was a voice in the back of his head that told him what would happen if he were to tell anyone.
They'll think you're a freak, Johnny, the voice would hiss at night, sounding almost like Harry. They'll all hate you so you'd better stay quiet.
Those were the first nights that he had nightmares awful enough for him to wake up screaming.
So he stayed silent.
And as time went on, staying silent grew easier. There were other things to focus on, football games to play, older sisters to avoid. The only time it ever really crossed his mind was when Mrs. Padgett died (for a second time), this time in a hospital, surrounded by beeping machines and doctors, rather than four angry cats and a scared little boy.
In fact, there came a time, after a few years had passed, that John had nearly forgotten about his strange and terrible ability.
And then Arthur died.
Arthur was a bizarre mix of sheepdog and Labrador and quite possibly wolfhound, a shaggy, hideous monstrosity that the Watsons had found wandering the streets without a collar a few years ago. He smelled terrible, shed everywhere, was constantly coated in mud and howled at the smallest of noises. In fact, it was entirely possible that he was the ugliest dog in the whole of Britain.
John loved him with all his heart.
And that was why, on the day that he came home from school to find Arthur lying on the sofa (where Mrs. Watson had made a point of announcing was a banned spot for that dog) in a rather stiff way that John knew wasn't sleep, John was desperate enough to try to bring him back.
He splayed his hands across his dog's body, burying his face in Arthur's side.
"Please wake up," he sobbed into the dog's fur. "Please, Arthur."
The body underneath his was cold and unresponsive and for a brief, terrifying moment, he thought that his ability had been some sort of fluke, only his imagination.
Then his hands began to tingle and burn and his nose began to bleed and he could hear the distinct thump thump of Arthur's filthy tail against his mother's best pillows.
John pulled away from the dog, kneeling next to the sofa and watching with a wild grin as his dog came back to life. He had never been so happy in his entire life.
He was so happy, in fact, that he almost didn't notice the trail of bluish smoke that was winding across the floor, slipping across the carpet and sliding under the front door. He could only watch in horror as it made its way across the street to Mr. Cartwright, who lived in what had been Mrs. Padgett's house.
One minute Mr. Cartwright was puttering away cheerfully in his garden, the next, he lay stiff among his tulip beds, spade still in his hand.
John sprinted out of the house, running across the street without bothering to look for cars, praying that he had seen things wrong.
But he hadn't. Mr. Cartwright was dead, and it was entirely his fault.
He squatted down next to the body and stayed there for a long moment, trying not to vomit. He had killed someone. He was a murderer.
(And he could hear the voice now, as clear as if it had been someone standing right next to him. Now you've done it, Johnny. A freak and a murderer, look at you.)
"Shut up," he whispered miserably. "Please, just shut up."
Suddenly, there was a wet nose in his face. Arthur had followed him out of the house and was sitting patiently by his side.
And suddenly, John knew what he had to do.
"I'm sorry, Arthur," he said, his voice breaking at the end. "Shit. Oh shit. I'm so sorry, boy."
Because he couldn't allow a man to die, a good man, a man with a wife and children, just so that he could keep his dog. He told himself that over and over as he placed his hands over Mr. Cartwright's.
(That still didn't stop the sick feeling in his stomach as he watched the blue smoke settle over his dog, his dog. That didn't stop the nightmares that night or the night after that or the night after that.)
Mr. Cartwright blinked once, twice, and then opened his eyes again.
"John? What happened?"
John shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
From that day on, he vowed never to wake someone again.
And for a while, this strategy worked. The nightmares faded away until they happened only once a week, then once a month, then hardly ever. The voice was gone as well, though sometimes he swore he could hear it whispering when he looked at Arthur's empty bed.
But his ability (he refused to call it a talent or a skill when it had brought him nothing but fear and heartbreak) managed to worm its way into his life in different ways.
He had a sneaking suspicion that his decision to enter med school was strongly influenced by the fact that he knew what it was like to save a life, knew the feeling of watching someone who should be dead open their eyes. He loved that feeling, and he found that he loved it even more when it was his medical expertise, not his bizarre power, that provided it.
Med school taught him more than just medicine, though. He learned that his ability didn't work on any random corpse. There had to be intent behind it, which he had been incredibly relieved to discover when his cadaver didn't suddenly wake up in the middle of the dissection.
He also found that he wasn't the only one who could perform these impossible miracles. In secondary school, his lab partner in Biology had burst into tears at the sight of the frog lying in a dissecting tray in front of them. When she thought John wasn't looking, she removed her gloves and put her fingers on the frog's legs. A minute later, her nose was bleeding and their teacher's pet snake lay dead in its cage. Their tray was suspiciously empty and it was reported later that day that a frog had been found.
John never asked the girl about it, though he was practically bursting with questions. He did his best to pretend that he was normal, that he was ordinary John Watson who wanted to be a doctor and who played rugby and chased after girls and who couldn't do anything as macabre as waking the dead.
It was harder than it looked.
John was finishing up his last month of med school when the phone rang in the middle of the night.
"Johnny? Johnny, it's me. It's me." The voice on the other end was slurred and shaking but he would've recognized it anywhere. "Johnny, I need help. I'm...oh god, I'm-"
There was a sudden crash on the other end and the line went dead. He was out of bed in an instant, throwing his coat on over his pyjamas and grabbing his keys.
"I've got to go, love," he said to Anna who lay asleep in bed next to him. "Harry needs me." He gave her a peck on the cheek and she made a sleepy sound. She'd be angry with him in the morning, he knew. She thought he enabled Harry by always dropping everything during her crises, thought he gave too much to someone who'd never give him anything back.
Anna was an only child. She could never understand.
It was dark in Harry's flat save for a crack of light from underneath the bathroom door, and suddenly John knew that this was different from any other night. When he pushed open the door, he saw that the bathtub had been left running and had spilled over onto the tiled floor, leaving a layer of water that soaked the bottoms of his pyjama pants.
Harry lay on the ground in a pool of blood and suddenly he could see it all clearly- she'd staggered in drunk and had stumbled and cracked her head on the side of the tub. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling, the same blue as his, only empty, so empty.
He fell to his knees, hand over his mouth. He could hear a roaring in his ears and suddenly he felt painfully cold.
"Oh Jesus, no. Fuck, Harry, oh God no."
Just as he had at age twelve on Mr. Cartwright's lawn, he felt as if he was going to be sick, only this time he was, retching into the garbage can.
Without even knowing what he was doing, he bent over Harry's body, pounding at her chest, begging her to wake up, promising her the world if she'd just wake up.
And then she did.
John stayed with her that night. It seemed that although he had brought her back to life, he still hadn't gotten rid of all of her fall's effects; he was fairly sure she had a concussion. He sat in the uncomfortable armchair in her bedroom, waking her up several times during the night and not daring to fall asleep himself, for fear that in the morning, she would've slipped away again.
A few days later, with Harry checked into rehab for the third time in two years, she called him from the new facility.
"I need to thank you for that night, Johnny," she said, her voice sounding hoarse and exhausted. "You know, the strange thing is, normally if I come in seeming a bit too far gone, my landlady comes in and checks on me, but that next morning, they found her dead in her flat. Stroke, they think...John? John, are you listening to me?"
John had dropped the phone, teeth biting down onto his lip hard enough to break skin. Blood trickled into his mouth, hot and salty, with an iron tang.
The very next day, he signed up for the army.
Afghanistan turned out to be good for John. Death there wasn't some rare and momentous event; it happened every day, and his focus wasn't on waking the dying but on keeping the living alive. For the three years that he was there, he didn't wake a single person, intentionally or not.
And he found that he loved war, loved it in a way that terrified him. He loved the oppressive heat and the choking sand, loved the constant explosive rattle of machine guns and the feeling of the chase, of being chased. He loved the way that he was needed. This was a place where he was useful, where he could make an impact.
He thought that this was his home, this place of death and sand.
(And wasn't it fitting that he found it here, surrounded by death and blood and bodies? Sometimes at night, the voice would come back, asking him if he was a monster for loving it all so much, if this was his punishment for the things he had done.)
(Some nights, he agreed with the voice.)
He thought that this was his fate, that he would die here, with a bullet in his heart or in his brain or in his gut, and that was enough for him.
But then a bullet did finally find John but it missed his heart, made him a cripple and put him on a plane back home.
Civilian life was a death unto itself, something that even he couldn't wake himself from. He woke up, limped around London (like a fucking cripple, the voice told him), sat in his shitty bedsit, and fell asleep to nightmares of blood and sand and monsters.
(Some nights, it took everything in him not to put his gun in his mouth.)
(Some nights, he wished that bullet had hit his heart.)
Everyone had a gift.
Some could run exceptionally fast or kick a football incredibly well. Some could paint or dance or sing. Others still could wake the dead.
Sherlock Holmes was bloody brilliant.
Sometimes, John wondered if Sherlock could wake people too, because he sure as hell had resurrected John from the dead. Sherlock brought him to life, put color into his world, made him feel useful again.
And Sherlock Holmes knew the feeling of the chase too, knew its intoxicating allure.
"That was the most ridiculous thing I've ever done."
"And you invaded Afghanistan."
And suddenly they were laughing and for the first time since the war John felt alive, really alive, and he wondered if he might be just a little bit in love with a madman.
(Not, of course, that that mattered, because John was fairly sure he might be a madman too.)
He felt slightly guilty, occasionally, looking down at the bodies they investigated and knowing he could help them. But every time he felt tempted, he imagined the blue smoke, saw it curling out of their mouths and settling over Sherlock, and that was more than enough to stop him.
Besides, when he was with Sherlock, he hardly ever thought about his ability. His mind was wholly consumed with cases and crimes and his mad flatmate. The voice had faded away to a whisper, the dreams had disappeared.
John realized something, as he sat in his chair in 221B, trying to focus on his blog despite the sound of the blender coming from the kitchen (and hadn't Sherlock said he was doing some experiment with fingers and oh god that was a new blender and one of these days he was going to just kill that man). He was happy. Here he was, living in the closest thing to domesticity that he could manage, and he was happier than he had ever been in his entire life.
(He realized another thing as well as he sat there, but he refused to admit that to himself, and kept it buried as far down as possible.)
Looking back, he should've realized then that it never could've lasted.
It had been five years, seven months, two weeks and three days since he had last woken someone on the day that he pushed his way through the crowds.
His head was pounding and there was a crowd of people and oh god this couldn't be real, this couldn't be happening, not him, never him.
"Please let me through. I'm his friend." His voice sounded odd to his ears, a stranger's voice.
He took Sherlock's wrist carefully in his hand and he begged, he pleaded. (I'll let you keep all the body parts you want in the kitchen, he thought. I'll never force you to meet another boring girlfriend, I'll stop making you be polite to small children and the elderly, I'll never tell you anything is a bit not good again if you'll just wake up.)
But nothing worked. Sherlock's eyes didn't open; his pulse didn't start up again.
John had failed him.
He was dimly aware of someone pulling him away, of someone letting out a quiet, steady stream of Oh God no, please fuck no, not him, not Sherlock.
He barely realized that it was him.
This was worse than life after Afghanistan, worse than finding Harry dead in her bathroom, worse than anything. There was no grief, no sadness, no anger even, just a hollowness, a rattling in his chest where his heart should be.
He could've saved him. He should've been able to save him.
Sometimes, John felt as if it had been him who had jumped off that roof, who had been taken away by the paramedics, who had been buried in that grave. Sometimes, John wondered if that were really true, if he was actually dead.
It felt like it.
The dreams were always the same.
They were sitting in their chairs, Sherlock reading a book, John fiddling with his laptop. Suddenly, Sherlock looked up, his eyes open and accusing.
"You could've saved me."
I tried, John always wanted to say. Of course I tried. Don't you know that? Don't you know that I love you, that I'd given anything for you not to be dead?
But all he could say was, "I know."
He always woke up screaming.
Three years came and went and John knew it was a wonder that he hadn't stuck his gun his mouth a long time ago.
(He found himself wishing again that that bullet had hit his heart.)
And then the door to 221B swung open and there he was, hair shorn, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sporting shadows under his eyes, but alive.
John had punched him and then they had laughed, laughed until their knees went weak, until they had collapsed on the ground in a pile of limbs tangled together.
(John had wondered then if this was it, if it was time to tell Sherlock that thing he had realized so long ago, the thing he hadn't been able to tell himself.)
(But no, before he got the chance to say it, Sherlock was apologizing with a few tears in his eyes despite his stubborn swiping with his hand, and there was no way John was going to miss that.)
And despite everything, despite his anger at Sherlock and the guilt that still lingered, life started back up again, his pulse picking up as he ran with Sherlock through the streets, alive once more.
He couldn't have done it better himself.
Six months after Sherlock had walked back into his life, he walked back out.
They'd been chasing a suspect, one who had killed three victims and cut out their eyes, ears and tongue respectively.
("See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," John had said with a laugh, and Sherlock had chuckled, then looked at him with that look that meant that John had inadvertently said something brilliant. John stubbornly ignored the faint warmth in his chest.)
They didn't realize that he'd had a gun until they'd backed him into an alley and then suddenly there were three shots, rapid-fire and quick, not allowing them a second to dodge or run.
One bullet wedged itself into the wall, the other into a dumpster. John couldn't see where the other went, too focused on firing back at the suspect.
From behind him came a noise, more like a whimper than anything else, and he turned in time to see Sherlock fold over onto the ground, one hand to his chest.
He dropped his gun and ran to his side, pressing on his chest in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood, cradling Sherlock's head with his other hand.
"You're not leaving me again, you mad bastard, do you understand?" His voice seemed too loud to his own ears.
"John," Sherlock's voice was soft, too soft, his breathing ragged. "This is it, John."
"Shut up, no it's not. You know it's not. Not after everything. Shut up. Shut up." He was shouting now, but he didn't care.
(And oh god how was this fucking considered fair after everything he'd been to, to get him back and to lose him only six months later? How was this justice?)
Sherlock's chest seized suddenly, his back arching upwards, and then he went limp and John was alone.
He didn't even need to think about it. He took Sherlock's hands, his own stained with blood, and bit his lip and willed Sherlock's eyes to open.
(Please please oh god please)
There it was, after all these years- the familiar tingle and burn, the sudden gush of blood from his nose, and there was Sherlock's pulse underneath his hands, strong and steady and alive.
John could've laughed from sheer joy. He would've laughed, in fact, if he hadn't noticed the path of the blue smoke.
It had settled around him.
He had always thought that life with Sherlock would lead him to an early grave, but he never thought that he'd be the one to cause it.
He could feel himself slipping away, could hear the sounds of approaching police cars, Lestrade barking orders, and Sherlock's voice. He sounded lost, frantic, alone and even as he lay dying, John wished that he could stay with him.
But he couldn't. In the end the darkness took even him.
(He'd always wanted that bullet to the heart. It just turned out in the end it hadn't been his heart.)
Death wasn't as restful as he'd hoped.
For one thing, there was a constant beeping noise that had at first been simply a nuisance but was now bordering on downright infuriating. And there was something clamped around his left hand crushingly hard that he couldn't tug out of, no matter how hard he tried.
If this was heaven, he'd prefer oblivion, thanks.
John opened one eye, then another, and found out that he wasn't in heaven, but rather a hospital bed. The beeping came from one of the myriad of machines he was hooked up to and the thing around his hand was Sherlock's hand, wrapped vicelike around his.
Sherlock was sitting in a chair next to him, staring dead ahead with the sort of furious concentration he normally reserved for murder victims or particularly intriguing bits of organs.
"Sherlock," he whispered. His voice was raspy, his throat dry.
Sherlock whipped around and the pressure on John's hand grew overwhelmingly.
"Ow," he muttered, but Sherlock didn't seem to notice.
"You're awake," he whispered, eyes focused on John's face, making him feel oddly vulnerable.
"I am," John said, trying to keep his voice as level as possible.
"They said you were dead. You were supposed to be dead and then Lestrade pushed everyone out of the way and then...you weren't."
(So Lestrade could do it too. He'd need to have a talk with him. Thank him properly.)
"They said you saved my life."
John was about to tell Sherlock that of course he had, that he'd keep doing it every day for the rest of his life if only he would let him when Sherlock started saying a million things all at once, stumbling over his words.
"John, you must know that I- that I couldn't imagine. What I mean to say is, when I saw you lying there and they told me you were- No, I mean, no, I've come to realize that my feelings for you go beyond-"
John laughed, ignoring the pain in his chest and pulled Sherlock down towards him with his free hand.
"You're an idiot, you know that? And I'll personally murder you myself if you ever die on me again."
Sherlock's protests about how that was impossible were cut off by John's mouth on his. Sherlock's lips were soft and warm and John realized how stupid he'd been to wait so long to do this, to not see how inevitable all of this was.
He pulled back, keeping their hands entangled together. Sherlock's eyes were bright, his cheeks flushed, and it took everything in John not to kiss him again.
"Sherlock, I've got to tell you something."
"If it's that you love me, please refrain, because I'd rather hoped that I'd be the first one to say those words."
John cleared his throat, trying to speak despite the ridiculous grin that seemed to be spreading across his face. It was important that he told Sherlock this.
"No, it's not that. Although I do. Love you, that is. It's-er...it's about something that I can do. An ability, if you will."
He looked over at Sherlock, whose eyes were fixed on John, one thumb idly brushing across the top of his hand. He took a deep breath.
(Not too late to go back, said the voice. What'll he think of you? Will he think you're mad? Think you're a freak?)
(He wouldn't. John knew he wouldn't. Not Sherlock.)
He took a deep breath.
"The first time it happened," he began. "I was six and a half years old."