Disclaimer: All characters belong to Sir A C Doyle, the BBC, Warner Bros., Mark Gatiss, Erik Kripke, Steven Moffatt, Jensen Ackles, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and Jared Padaleki. Story is mine own.

Rating: T (language)

Author's Note: This is for underestimated-retro-llamas on tumblr, for the Sherlock Secret Santa. She's hysterical, and appears to love Supernatural even more than she loves Sherlock. Naturally, Superlock had to happen.

Note to the Sherlockians: No real knowledge of Supernatural is required to understand this fic. The setting is mostly Sherlock; just about everything else should be self-explanatory.

Note to the Supernaturalists: Some foreknowledge of Sherlock (the BBC series) would probably be helpful when reading this fic. It may be unnecessary, though; I've tried to make everything self-explanatory. However: ENORMOUS SPOILER WARNINGS FOR THE END OF THE CURRENT SEASON OF SHERLOCK. Read at your own risk.

Cure me, kill me,

Bring me home

Every way, every day

Just a knot in the hangman's noose.

-Ghost Love Score, Nightwish

The rattling on the front door wakes John instantly. He hasn't had a caller in what feels like years; still, it's automatic to grab both the gun from the bedside table and the small first-aid kit before tumbling downstairs, sleep still making his muscles feel fuzzy and jerky though his vision is sharp.

It says something about his present state of mind that he opens the door without asking who's there, without even looking, without making the slightest effort to find out who it is, or even if they're a friend or an enemy. It says something about him, and he knows this, and he tries not to think about it.

There are two men on the other side of the door. One of them is only a bit taller than John, while the other is probably at least as tall as- No.

The other one is probably head and shoulders taller than John. That's all.

John eyes them for a second. The shorter one is standing close to the door, the other a few paces behind him and obviously scoping the street for threats. Both of them are well-muscled, broad-shouldered, and radiate an air that John knows well: try and fuck me up, and I will fuck you up first. I'll do it better than you, too.

He's mostly in soldier mode right now, and has been for months. It doesn't take him more than two seconds to look them both over and draw his conclusions. Men of action, men of violence, such as himself. On guard, wary, but mostly directed outwards. They expect him to be a friend, or at least not an enemy, and don't anticipate much of a threat from him or his dwelling. They're cautious of him, but most of their caution is directed away from him.

The shorter one is obviously giving him the same sort of once-over, and appears to relax marginally when he draws his own conclusions. John catches his eye- dark eyes, calm, steady, unquestionably seen too much but has figured out how to cope- and raises his eyebrows. It would be polite to ask if he can help them, of course, but as far as John's concerned polite ended several hours ago. And after all, they knocked on his door, not the other way around. So he raises his eyebrows and waits.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the shorter one breaks into a grin. Huge, toothpaste-white, perfectly even, almost infectious. "Captain Watson?" he says.

The voice is familiar. John's never heard it before, but it sounds like. . . God, it sounds just like. . .

John can feel his own face break into a matching grin. "Winchester? Shit, not seriously? Little Dean?"

Winchester laughs. Not loudly, not on the street at this time of night. But it's genuine nevertheless. "You look like shit," Winchester says conversationally, holding out his hand. John grips it hard as he can, and feels a small, irrational swell of almost paternal pride when he realizes Winchester's grip is stronger than his own.

Still smiling, John glances over his shoulder to meet the eyes of the taller man. Noticing the direction of his gaze, Winchester says conversationally, "My brother, Sam."

John's gut clenches. 'So the little one got caught up in it, anyway,' he thinks to himself sadly. He holds out his hand and smiles anyway, before hastily shooing them both inside. He doesn't bother glancing around as he closes the door; he's spent enough sleepless nights at the window to know this particular stretch of Montague Street better than he knows the cracks in the ceiling over his bed. If anything were out of place, he'd have noticed it subconsciously as soon as he opened the door.

The door clicks behind him and John says, "Do we have enough time for me to get something to wake me up before we take off?"

Sam glances at Winchester, who raises his eyebrows and grins, before Sam turns to John and says, "We've got a little while, but only if you hurry. Just a few minutes."

"Right," says John. "If you need me in working order then I need a cuppa. This way."

John's right; they're both taller than him, Sam's shoulders well above John's head. Unfazed, he ushers them down the hallway and into the kitchen, motioning to the table as he sets his kit on the worktop and automatically starts filling the kettle.

"Tea all right, or do we need something stronger?" he asks.

Winchester's lips quirk, but all he says is, "Coffee would be great. Beer would be better, but we all need to be awake and sober."

John nods, flicks the kettle on anyway (because unlike the uncouth Americans, he does need a nice cuppa when he's been woken in the middle of the night) before filling three mugs with water and putting them in the microwave at the same time. Once it's humming away, he leans his back on the worktop and looks at the two young men, who are sitting at the table and looking at him appraisingly.

"Normal or special?" he asks.

Winchester grins again and says, "I thought you Brits were supposed to be nice and subtle and beat around the bush all the damn time."

"That's for people who don't deal with the sorts of things we do."

Winchester nods, the smile on his face turning just a bit more grave. John stifles a sigh. Poor boy. He'd seen a lot since the last time they'd met. "Normal," Winchester says.

John doesn't miss the way Sam glances at his brother. Sharply, brows drawn together, then up at John like he hopes John missed it. John pretends he did.

John nods. "Backup or patch-up?"

"Patch-up," says Sam.

"How bad?"

Winchester leans forward, elbows on his knees, looking at John intently. The seriousness of his posture and expression belies his words when he says, "Not too bad. Just a couple scrapes and bruises."

"Right," says John. The microwave goes off, and in short order he's got a steaming mug of coffee in front of all of them (and the sugar bowl on the table, but he doesn't offer milk or cream; he might have some in the refrigerator, he's not sure, but he is sure that if he has any it's long since bad). He leaves his on the counter while he ducks into the small laundry room that's just off the kitchen, retrieving a clean shirt and jeans, discarding his robe and pulling them on over the vest and pants he wore to bed. By the time he gets back to the kitchen the kettle's gone off. He gets a teabag and uses a spoon to press it against the side of the mug beneath the water; there's no time to wait for it to steep, and it's not like the Americans will realize how barbaric he's being to a perfectly innocent cup of tea.

"That all you're going to tell me?" John asks, gulping down the entire mug of tea in one go and carefully watching them both over the rim of his mug.

Sam looks at Winchester. Winchester glances at Sam, just briefly, before turning back to John. "What else do you want to know?"

"Who's the patient, what are his injuries, how was he injured, and what aren't you telling me?"

Winchester rolls his eyes. "Dad always did say you were smarter than most people gave you credit for."

John should be pleased at the compliment. Instead he starts working on his coffee, black and bitter, without even rinsing his mouth out after the tea. The heat and bite of it distract him nicely from the ache somewhere in his chest.

His best friend would, on very (very very very) rare occasions, express a similar sentiment. Those occasions stopped, though, when said best friend stepped off a roof.

"The patient is one of ours." Winchester's voice cuts through John's memory of morning mist and blood on the pavement. "It's not important who he is. He got into a fight, so he's got some bumps and bruises, like I said. Nothing too serious. Couple of stitches and we can handle the rest; ice and all that."

John nods, his gaze still calm when he doesn't take his eyes from Winchester's. The kid does well not flinching under his gaze, when even Mycroft is known to be occasionally disconcerted by it. "And you're not telling me what?"

Sam laughs, though it sounds just a bit forced to John's ears. "What makes you think we're hiding anything?" Sam asks, his eyes big and imploring, and John has the sudden urge to set down his half-empty mug and applaud him for his obviously well-practiced manipulation.

Instead, John says, "I haven't had sight or sound of anyone in your family in ten, fifteen years. You show up on my doorstep at fuck-all o'clock in the morning, so obviously whatever it is can't wait until daylight. Not to mention the fact that you found me at all. My name and address aren't listed anywhere the public has access to. Even most government workers wouldn't have access to my files. I know how you lot work, and I know that whoever your friend is, if he's in bad enough shape to warrant a housecall at this time of night, it would be easier for you to con your way into a hospital," he watches them carefully as he says it. Normal people probably wouldn't pick up on it, but John's spent the last two years reading the brothers Holmes, for fuck's sake. He's got some practice. That's the only reason he can see that Winchester looks slightly alarmed, but mostly amused. Sam looks disconcerted.

Undeterred, John continues, "The fact that you took the time and trouble to track me down instead- someone you haven't seen in years, but someone you trusted then, and someone who knew your father- means that this is delicate, and not something you'd entrust to a total stranger, no matter how well you'd fooled him. The fact that I appear to be the only one who fits the bill means that either you haven't been in this part of the world long enough to round up a better option, which is likely, or that you've been killing off your friends, which I doubt. Not much about this is adding up, so I'm going to need you to explain things before I go anywhere."

Winchester laughs, more loudly this time now that they're indoors, though there's an edge to it that John recognizes. It's the sort of laughter that happens when someone with the eyes to see it realizes that the person they're talking to just might be an enemy.

John flicks his gaze to Sam briefly, and is surprised at the look on his face. It's almost confusion, almost amusement, almost. . . something else. John doesn't even have the words.

"That," Sam breaths, shaking his head and knitting his brows, ". . . was amazing."

The world becomes suddenly clear, like it does right before John gets into a fight. The only sound is the clink as he sets the mug down. Then John grips the edge of the worktop, his knuckles going white with the effort of not launching himself across the room at Sam and beating him until he explains a few things.

"How," says John, his stomach dropping right through the floor, "could you possibly know about that?"

Because it's the same. Not just the words; if it was just the words it could be a coincidence. But this. . . everything is exactly the same. The tone, the inflection, the expression on his face. Hell, he'd even paused between the first and second words, rather than between the second and third words like a normal person would. There can be no doubt. Sam is mimicking a conversation one living person could have told him about. And considering that the one person who could have told him is John himself, he sees no way for this to be possible. After all, John's never told anyone about that first cab ride with Sherlock.

Sam looks startled. There's no telling what Winchester thinks about this, because John refuses to take his eyes off Sam until the bastard can come up with a damn good reason for John to not beat him to a bloody pulp.

"I didn't-" Sam glances at Winchester. Again.

"Don't look at him," John says, soft and smooth. "Look at me. How did you know about that?"

Sam turns wide, imploring eyes on him. John takes a moment to speculate what sort of person would be built like him and decide to use puppy eyes as persuasion, rather than threats. "How do I know about what?" Sam asks.

"No, no," John says, smiling and shaking his head, "don't do that. That- that was perfect. It was like you were there. I know there weren't any cameras or microphones around at the time; I'd have heard about it by now if there were. You may have forgotten this since the last time we met," and this bit is, he supposes, directed more at Winchester than at Sam, since Sam's never met him before, but all the same it's Sam John keeps his eyes locked on as he says it, "but I do happen to know that cameras and microphones aren't always necessary. Especially when we're talking about the sort of things your family gets mixed up in. So I'm going to say one last time before I stop asking: how do you know about that?"

"Hey," says Winchester, "there's no need-"

"He can answer the question, or the pair of you can fuck off," John says. He still hasn't looked away from Sam.

Sam pauses, considering, and when he speaks again his voice is calm and measured. "It seemed like the right thing to say at the time."

John laughs again, but it's the laugh he uses when he's perfectly in control of the situation and no one else should find it funny. "Nice try. You get one more of those. Then you're gone."

"Look, Watson," Winchester cuts in, and John can tell by his tone that what he's about to say is both important and something he doesn't want to say. For that reason, John casts him a glance. He's leaning forward again, elbows on his knees, and John can see the way he's tensed in anticipation of John's possible reaction to what he's about to say. "We told you the patch-up job is normal."

John nodded, now splitting his attention between the two brothers. "But the rest of what you're doing isn't," he says.

Winchester nods. "Yeah. The rest is. . . pretty insane."

"Still not answering the fucking question," John points out. Perfectly reasonably, as far as he's concerned.

Sam takes a breath through his nose, closes his eyes, then snaps them open and fixes them on John as he says, "We came to find you because I dreamed it. That's how we knew where you were."

John doesn't say anything, just quirks a brow.

Winchester sighs, leaning back in his chair. "It's true. Crazy, but true. You said no civilians could find your address. That's true, too. We don't have your address. Sammy dreamed the way here, all we did was follow. Frankly I wasn't even sure you'd be here."

"And you knew about that conversation how?" John presses.

Sam raises his hands. "I don't know. I didn't realize I was saying something that you'd recognize. I just. . . I remembered a bit of it, and it seemed like a good thing to say. So I said it."

Long ago, when John first met the elder Winchester and his young son Dean, it had taken rather a lot of convincing for John to accept some of the more. . . supernatural elements of their work. However, once convinced he stayed convinced. It doesn't look like either of the brothers is lying, either.

John nods curly, relaxing against the counter, and drains his coffee. "Right, then. Let me grab my other bag and we can take off."

He knows that Winchester, at least, will understand the implicit trust in John's choice to leave them alone, even if it is only for a moment. When he comes back downstairs, they're standing in the kitchen, both gazing at him speculatively again.

"We may need your help with more than just patching him up," Sam says as soon as John steps through the door.

John nods, transferring a few items from the small first aid kit he left in the kitchen to his bigger doctor's bag, doing a quick check to make sure he's got all his supplies and that everything's full and clean and ready to go. "Do I need to bring more than the SIG?" he asks conversationally.

Winchester laughs. "God, I hope not!" he says. Sam glares at him.

John quirks a brow. "What can I help you with, then?"

Sam throws one last dark look at his brother, who's holding a hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter, before turning back to John and saying perfectly seriously, "We need to find a woman."

John knows Sam is serious, but he can't help grinning a little and saying, "Don't we all. Not sure I can help you find anything honorable at this time of night, though." Winchester laughs openly and John continues, wagging his eyebrows, "But if you don't mind something a bit dishonorable, I can point you in the direction of a few ladies of the night. . ."

He bites back a giggle when he sees Sam glaring at him, too. Scowling, even. Whatever's going on, and no matter what Winchester thinks of it, clearly Sam takes it very seriously.

"I dreamed that, too," Sam says. "This guy, the patient, there's something about a woman and true love mixed up in this. It's like a fairy tale."

Winchester chortles. John just shakes his head. "Kid, I know you deal with all kinds of bogey men and beasties and things that go bump in the night. I know you've probably seen things I wouldn't believe. But let me tell you something right now," John leans over the worktop towards Sam, trying to keep a grin on his face to take the hideous darkness out of his own words, "despite all the crazy things in the world, one thing remains fact: there is no such thing as true love."

Sam looks taken aback, even offended, but before he can say anything Winchester cuts in, "Listen to the Captain, Sammy. Man knows what he's talking about. I still think you're misinterpreting."

"I'm not," Sam insists, turning towards Winchester. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. We have to find this woman, Dean. She's important."

"Right," says John. "I don't understand why you're telling me this."

Sam shrugs. "It makes sense, doesn't it? I dreamed about this guy for a while, him and trying to find this woman and all sorts of darkness. Then we find him and he needs a doctor, and then I dream up a way to you. I get the feeling it's connected. Maybe you know her, or something."

"The only woman I could be accused of knowing is my own sister," John says, closing his bag and ushering them out of the kitchen, "and trust me, it's not a man she'd be in love with."

Sam grins and Winchester says, "Any chance of us meeting the esteemed Miss Watson?" Sam grumbles at his rudeness and John shrugs on his coat and pulls on his boots and tries not to find anything familiar in the banter between the two of them.

"Where're we going?" John asks, the lights out and his hand on the door.

"I'll lead," says Winchester.

"No offense meant," says John, and he means it, "but I probably know my way around a bit better than you. I'm going to see where we're going once we get there, anyway. I might know a faster rout or something."

They both look uncomfortable for a moment, Sam rolling his eyes, before Winchester says, "Sammy dreamed the way here. He dreamed where to find the patient, too. We can get back and forth, but we don't know the addresses. I don't even know what street we're on right now, to be honest."

"Oh," says John, honestly surprised. He doesn't know how to simultaneously apologize for making them uncomfortable and also say that he's willing to go anyway, so he settles on, "We're on Montague Street. Just in case you need to know. Lead on."

They line up inside the door, then step outside. John, the last out, locks the door behind him. Winchester starts off down the road, and John motions Sam in front of him. For a moment Sam looks offended, like he thinks John is just doing it to protect the man who's obviously the baby of the group. Whether or not that has anything to do with it, though, is irrelevant. John leans in and whispers, "I know the area; I'll know if something's off."

Sam appraises him for a moment, before giving a curt nod and starting off following his older brother.

John trots along behind them, used to keeping up with long-legged and impatient people, and keeps his eyes mostly on their surroundings. For the last few months he's felt. . . he's felt like he's overseas again. Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan, Syria. . . he'd been so many places while he was in the Army. There is a particular feeling, a sort of consciousness of his surroundings, that comes with constant moving through enemy territory. There is, of course, the knowledge that his surroundings aren't safe. Anything could be lurking anywhere, and he has to be constantly on his guard. There is also, however, a particular feeling about the camp or base or wherever else it is he sleeps most nights: a feeling that this should be home, but is not. It is simply a tent or a flimsy building in the midst of yet more enemy territory; even there, he cannot let himself be comfortable or off-guard. And it is transient. The only permanence in this world is the enemy, the danger, the threat; everything else is insubstantial.

He feels like this now. He has felt like this, ever since. . . ever since he moved to the new townhouse on Montague Street. Perhaps it was the townhouse itself that began the feeling; the townhouse isn't home, never will be, he never wants it to be. Home is somewhere he can't go, he can't bear it, not now, not ever again, so he knows he's going to spend the rest of his life flitting from one meager accommodation to another. It's transient. He sleeps there, but he's not safe. It isn't home.

London has become enemy territory. There is an enemy of sorts, he supposes, but not like there was when he was in the service. Now the enemy is twofold: the beliefs and ideas in the minds of others, and the memories inside his own head. And there's not much a gun and a fist can do about either of those.

So John remains, caught between soldier and civilian, safe and threatened, so close to home and unable to return. He is constantly on guard, views the world as hostile and sharp, and doesn't know how he'll readjust this time. Because, unlike his depression and psychosomatic limp when he was discharged two years ago, there is no cure for this.

The streets are dark and damp as they make their way through the city. John notes the route, and is glad he knows his city well enough to always know exactly where they are. He'll be able to find his way back to Montague Street without either of them leading him; and if something happens on the way, he'll be able to guide the Winchesters to safety.

It takes about half an hour to get where they're going. It was once an apartment complex, it looks like, but it's been burned to a shell. The fire must have been a while ago; there are weeds growing in many of the crevasses around the base of the building, and the pavement is almost black where years of rainwater have run down the fire-blacked bricks and settled in puddles. John does not ask if it's safe.

Winchester leads them around the side of the building, where there's a door leading to the basement. It's green, though the paint is bubbled and flaking. It also appears to be solid metal. John and Sam wait on the concrete steps while Winchester fishes around for something in his pocket, before hunching over the doorknob for a few moments. The door swings open, and John wonders if he has a key or if he's picked the lock.

They file inside, Winchester closing the door behind them and throwing a few deadbolts. Sam flicks a light on, and John surveys the hallway he finds himself in. It's dingy and grey, whatever colors the wall and ceiling had once been lost under years worth of dust and ash. There's detritus covering almost every inch of the floor; thin in the middle of the hallway, piling up against the walls like waves washing against rocks. Cardboard and wood and boxes and blankets and bits of wall and ceiling and all sorts of unmentionable things. No doubt from the fire and a few years of hosting vagrants. What little floor John can see is tile; checked white and blue and yellow, hints of red between.

When they don't start off down the hallway immediately, John looks quizzically at the Winchester boys, waiting for them to do something.

Sam clears his throat. "There's something else," he says. His voice is normal, not attempt to speak quietly or keep it from carrying. John understands that this means they're unquestionably alone, unquestionably as safe as it's possible for them to be amidst enemy territory, and also knows it means that sound doesn't carry from the basement to the street outside.

"Okay," John says, when it appears Sam isn't going to continue. He still looks uncomfortable.

"He's unconscious," says Winchester. John looks at him, and finds him smiling in a way that isn't at all genuine. "But there's nothing you can do about that. The blood and bruises are your thing; the unconsciousness is ours. You do your thing so we can get on with what we do. Okay, doc?" Winchester claps him on the shoulder, still smiling that smile with the sort of humor that doesn't reach his eyes.

John resists the urge to roll his eyes. "Fine. But I can't do that standing around talking."

"You know," Sam says conversationally, a smile in his voice as he leads the way down the corridor, "most people ask a lot more questions than you."

"Guess I'm just content not knowing the answers," John replies.

The Winchester boys laugh, and John smiles though he doesn't join in. He glances at them, watching them intently for a moment, before turning his attention to the blind doorways they're passing as they walk.

Something isn't right. John can feel it in the twist of his gut and the prickle of his skin. Something is. . . off. But neither of them are reacting in any way. It doesn't look like they're leading him into a trap. It doesn't look like they realize something's off at all.

After a few paces, John just shrugs. They'd said that the patient is unconscious because of one of 'their things.' John simply figures that the patient has some sort of supernatural-ness, a spell or a curse or a spirit or something, hanging around him and causing the unconsciousness. John blames his growing jitters on that and keeps walking.

"In here," Sam says, stopping at a door on the left that looks just like every other door they've passed so far. John's hackles rise straight up. He stands between the brothers as Sam pushes the door open and light spills into the hallway. There is a bed on the far side of the small room, and beneath a green blanket there is a man.

John takes a step forward. There is no air, there is no ground, there is no up or down or sense or sound. His throat is closed, he couldn't breathe if there was air, his chest is so tight his sternum is touching his spine. He is not a soldier anymore. He is not a doctor. He is not intelligent, or coherent, or alive, or aware.

For a moment he is a man, just a man, just John, and he drops to his knees and doesn't know he's crying.

"Oh," he hears Winchester say behind him, voice filled with awe.

Sounding stunned, Sam breathes, "Yeah."

As though the sound of their voices reminds John that he is alive, that he does possess a physical self that is capable of movement, he is suddenly up and running. He launches himself across the room because it's too far, it's too much space, and he slips and slides and doesn't care until he's at the bed and he's flinging himself on it and pushing his fingers into the dark curls and against the pale throat and the skull is firm, unbroken, there's no blood, but there is a pulse, steady and strong beneath John's fingers.

And then he's wrapping his arms around him, John is winding his arms around Sherlock and crushing him to his chest and sobbing and sobbing and sobbing, because it is Sherlock, it really is, and he's not moving but he's warm and alive. . .

The world goes away, and for a little while there is just John, and Sherlock, and Sherlock may be asleep and John may be crying, but at last they are together.

There's no telling how long it takes, but eventually John is cradling Sherlock in his arms and whispering into his hair and his neck, "Oh God, Sherlock, oh God, you were dead, you were dead, you died, I saw you, I was there, oh God you were dead, oh God, oh God. . ." and at some point while he's moving his face over Sherlock's throat and hair he smells blood, and for the first time since he lifted Sherlock into his arms he opens his eyes.

It's only now that he sees the yellowing bruise on the left side of Sherlock's face, and the small but bleeding cut on his jaw. It comes back to him in a rush- not that Winchester and Sam must be around here somewhere, truthfully he's forgotten their very existence- but his brain finally makes the connection between 'mysterious patient' and 'Sherlock,' and he realizes that he was brought here specifically to patch Sherlock up. Because Sherlock has cuts and bruises. And John is a doctor. Right.

So John very carefully leans over, gently laying Sherlock back against the pillows, though John doesn't move from where he's sitting on the bed beside him. He stays leaned over him for a moment, he can't help it, even if Sherlock is hurt, because he's here, he's alive, and John smoothes the curls away from his face to look one more time, just one last time before he has to look away for a moment to get his kit.

His kit, which is on the floor within reach. He glances around, but the door is closed, though he can see the back of someone's shoulder through the narrow window over the doorknob. Must be Sam; his coat is that color. They must have brought him his kit and buggered off when John went into his fit of hysterics. For which, of course, he is grateful.

He hooks one foot on the strap of his bag, drags it over, opens it up, and sets to work.

There is the small cut on Sherlock's jaw, which gets antiseptic and then a plaster. The bruise on his cheek will get a damp, cool cloth as soon as John's done checking everything else. The abrasions on his knuckles get antiseptic, too, and will also get a cool cloth eventually. There is nothing on his neck, thank God, and (John doesn't realize how scared he is until he sees there's nothing to be worried about) there's also nothing on the inside of his elbows.

There is, however, something on the back of his left arm. There's a gauze wound tightly around his forearm, well-applied, but John needs to take a look anyway. So he carefully peels the gauze off, and realizes one of the Winchesters must have put it on him. Underneath is a short but worryingly deep gash. John cleans it and stitches it and is very, very grateful for the intravenous penicillin he has in his kit.

It's not until he's tugging Sherlock's shirt this way and that to get at his throat and elbows that John finally registers what Sherlock's wearing. A loose sweatshirt, cheap sweatpants. Looking very. . . lived in, as it were. Stained and ripped and threadbare and dirty and crusted. John has seen people play-acting before, has seen cops and Sherlock and others doing homeless fancy dress for one reason or another, but this is genuine. Sherlock's been living in these clothes and only these clothes for a long time.

Once more, John can't help himself. He makes his hands unclench from around the dirty grey material and looks at Sherlock's unconscious face again. "Oh, Sherlock," he hears himself say, even as he pushes the hair off his temple again.

John slowly and very, very gently maneuvers him out of the shirt, though he makes sure to keep the covers tucked up to Sherlock's chin. Then he moves the covers, methodically, pausing when he must to do what he can to heal and comfort the myriad little hurts he finds. He has to hold his breath and hold Sherlock's hand for five seconds after he cleans and stitches the long (mercifully shallow) gash down Sherlock's side. He gets the shirt back on him and moves on to the trousers, giving Sherlock's legs and feet the same treatment. John peels his socks off, tugging the blanket down to cover him to the ankles, and winces when he sees three chipped and oozing toenails.

It's not a clinical examination, because it is undoubtedly filled with affection and tenderness and, yes, reverence. More of these than John has ever felt for anyone; even previous girlfriends (he won't call them 'lovers'- the word, he realizes, is too strong now for anyone else) didn't get this level of these from him. So it's not clinical, not by a long shot, but at the same time he doesn't feel like this is a betrayal of Sherlock's trust. John certainly isn't getting anything out of this sexually. It's got to be the least arousing thing he's ever done. It's too upsetting- much of the skin John caresses with eyes and hands is hurt in some way, and Sherlock isn't conscious to feel it. Even when he tugs the waistband of Sherlock's pants up enough to look in the front, and sides, and the back (positioning himself between Sherlock's hips and the door, and not removing the pants entirely but simply looking beneath them) he doesn't feel any stirrings of desire. Immense, almost unspeakable relief when he finds nothing at all alarming, yes, but not desire.

Eventually, there's no telling how long has passed, and John finishes putting his kit away and nudging it under the bed next to his foot. He's sitting where he was when this started, his bum on the bed (over the covers) next to Sherlock's side. Slightly more aware of himself now, John glances at the door, and still sees only the back of Sam's shoulder. Then he turns to Sherlock, takes his face in his hands, and kisses his brow. "Come back to me," John whispers against his skin. There is no response. "You lived. You're here. Don't leave me now, not again. Come back to me."

There is no response.

John sits back, but doesn't rise. He takes Sherlock's hand in his, he can't help it, and turns to look at the door again. He wants to go fetch the Winchesters and figure out what the bleeding buggery hell is going on, but he doesn't want to leave Sherlock. Not even for the thirty seconds it would take for him to walk across the room and pull the door open. Even that is far too long.

Still holding Sherlock's hand he begins looking around himself. The only furniture in the room is Sherlock's bed and three wooden chairs, but there's quite a bit of detritus on the floor. John picks up a good-sized bit of brick, half as big as his closed fist, and chucks it at the door. It hits with a satisfying thunk, and instantly the shoulder beyond the window is replaced with Sam's face. John smiles (though he doesn't know what it looks like; sad or angry or entirely too manic) and motions him inside. Sam turns away for a moment, presumably calling Winchester, before opening the door and walking in.

"Dean's coming," Sam says quietly, picking up a chair and bringing it near the head of the bed, sitting down to face John. He looks away, then looks back, clearly trying to find something to say and searching for the words.

"Look, Watson-" Sam begins, looking somewhere near John's left shoulder.

"Thank you," John says quietly.

Now Sam does look him in the eye. "For what?" he asks.

"For bringing me here. To him. You. . ." John looks away. He doesn't want to say this; it's emotional and it's weak and he's never been one to express such things, especially when they're this strong and overwhelming and terrifying, but Sam's the one who dreamed this up, so John figures he ought to tell Sam as much as he can, if only for practicality's sake. "You probably saved my life."

Before Sam can reply they both look towards the door, Winchester's footsteps loud on the tiles. He snatches up one of the remaining chairs, plonks it down between Sam and John so they can all see each other, and sits with the back of the chair to his chest.

John doesn't know what to say. Doesn't know what there is to say; doesn't know how to approach the situation as far as Winchester is concerned. The longer John's near Sherlock, the more the blinding panic and fear and affection become manageable, like when he's injured and the pain becomes a dull throbbing after a little while. Still there, but at least he can think around it. That's what he tries to do now: think around the near-overwhelming swirl of confusing emotion within him.

Sam may be the taller of the two, but he's unquestionably also the most sentimental. He seems more. . . understanding, almost. Sensitive. The sort of man (very, very rare, and not the sort that John himself is) who can acknowledge emotion, can even talk about it and point it out in himself and others, and not feel that his masculinity is in any way threatened. John could explain to Sam. It would be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but Sam would be understanding and John would be able to get through it.

Winchester, though- Winchester is something else entirely. Winchester is a man's man, as it were. He's young and handsome and well-groomed, and one can unquestionably smell the testosterone at twenty paces. John has no doubt that, should the day ever come when Winchester is forced to shed a tear, he would scowl the whole time and hate himself and the world for forcing him to show such a weakness. John can almost see it in his head: Sam upset and trying to talk about it, to make both of them feel better, and Winchester huffing and scowling and clenching his jaw and saying, 'Don't, Sammy. Don't.' So like Sherlock.

John's hand tightens involuntarily.

All this passes through John's mind in less than a second, though, and before either he or Sam can say anything Winchester grins at his brother and says, "I told you that you were misinterpreting the dreams."

Sam looks kind of confused, kind of indignant, his brows drawing together and mouth hardening. "I didn't misinterpret it. Actually, it looks like I got it exactly right-"

"Most of it, maybe," Winchester scoffs. Then he tips a wink at John and says, "But the Captain here is hardly a woman, Sammy."

And just like that, the tension's broken. Sam laughs quietly, and even John manages a chuckle that doesn't sound hysterical. "No, I'm really not," John agrees.

"But you are the one I dreamed about," Sam says, still smiling.

John nods, also still smiling, and tightens his hand again. "Yes. I am." Winchester nods in agreement.

And, thank God, that's all that needs to be said on the matter. They've agreed that John is in love with Sherlock, that it's true love of the deep sort that Sam would dream about, and that's all there is to it. Nothing else needs to be said.

"Why is he unconscious?" John asks, because he sees no reason to delay what needs to be done, and the only way to figure out what that would be is talking. And John really, really wants Sherlock to wake up again. During his examination he'd checked Sherlock's consciousness, briefly- his reflexes and pupils and breathing and heart rate- and found nothing alarming, but also nothing to indicate that he is in anything other than a deep coma. The word drips like ice down John's spine.

"It's a curse," Winchester says matter-of-factly, the smile hardening on his face. "A real bitch, too. But something. . . something went wrong, and it's not working."

"In laymen's terms, please," John says.

Sam sighs. "We know what kind of curse it is. We know what the curse does, and we even know what we might be able to do to stop it."

There's a moment of silence before John raises his brows and says, "Well, then? Let's get on with it. What do we do?"

"If it were that simple, we'd have done it already," Winchester says.

"Right," John says. "So what's complicated about this?"

"Like I said, we know what kind of curse this is. There's no questioning that; we've both looked into it, and we had a. . . ah, a friend. . . take a look as well. We all agree what the curse is. The thing is. . ."

Sam trails off, and Winchester turns to John and says, "It's not working right."

John shakes his head. "More details, please."

"The curse isn't working right," Winchester repeats, and when John opens his mouth to explain why repetition isn't exactly helpful, Winchester holds up a hand to forestall comment. "The curse is affecting him, but not the way it should. It's like it's only halfway working, like something when wrong and the curse got. . . stuck. Sort of."

"Sort of stuck?" John sighs. "This is what you're giving me? Sherlock's unconscious and all you can say is that it's because a curse is sort of stuck?"

"Look, we're doing the best we can," Winchester snaps. Sam shoots him a glance, and he visibly forces himself to relax. "We're doing the best we can," he says in a softer voice, "but we've never seen anything like this before, okay? And it's not like we get a practice run. We really don't want to mess this up, or he could end up dead."

A sudden, horrible thought occurs to John.

"Oh," he says. "Oh, shit, I always thought the madman must have been using magic. . . but I never actually thought that. . ." Without even meaning to, his right hand clutches Sherlock tighter, and his left hand comes up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

"Who must have been using magic?" Sam asks quietly. "Watson? Who was it?"

John sighs, lowers his hand, and looks back and forth between the brothers. "I'm not going to say his name," he tells them. Not to be a dick, but because he remembers how a few things work, even if it's been years since he was involved in something supernatural. The brothers nod. He continues, "There was this man who was. . . obsessed with Sherlock. I mean, like really obsessed. In an unhealthy way. He was a criminal mastermind, and I say that without any hint of exaggeration or irony. Unquestionably he was one of the three smartest men in the country, possibly the world, the other two being Sherlock and his brother," here John nods to the unconscious man on the bed.

He takes a deep breath, and keeps going. "This guy would. . . sometimes he would do things, or cause things to happen, that were just. . . I mean, no one should be able to do that. He got the best of Sherlock and his brother, for fuck's sake. It was unreal. I kept. . . we all kept trying to figure out how he was doing it. I suppose it should have occurred to me sooner that he was using magic."

The brothers are silent for a moment, before Winchester says, "What sort of things would he do?"

"That required magic? Lots of things," John said. "Nothing blatant, though. I mean, no wings or levitation or lightshows or anything like that. He would just. . . He knew things. He could manipulate people in ways I've never dreamed of before. He could set up whole enormous plots, and every single person would act exactly as he wanted them to, even when they thought they were fighting against him. Even Sherlock played into his hands. Even. . . even me. He used everyone against everyone else, and in the end he always won."

Another thought occurs, and before either of the Winchesters can say anything John continues, "Actually, that means this probably wasn't him. If the curse isn't working right, I mean. He never made a mistake."

Winchester snorts, and Sam says, "What, not ever?"

John shakes his head. "Nope. The only thing he ever got even kind of wrong was about Sherlock. He thought Sherlock was like him. They were alike, actually, more alike than I was ever comfortable with, but Sherlock had a heart. Has a heart," he corrected himself quickly, almost horrified by the slip.

Winchester and Sam shoot each other significant glances, but John's getting used to being left out of the telepathic half of this conversation. After a moment Sam says, "Actually, considering what kind of a curse this is, that may explain everything."

"How so?" John asks, when it becomes apparent neither of them is going to speak again.

Winchester says, "The curse gets laid on two people, but in the end it only affects one."

"I don't understand," John says, trying not to sound exasperated.

"When we found him I thought-"

"Wait," John says, holding up one hand, though he keeps the other on Sherlock's fingers. "When you found him? You mean he was unconscious when you showed up?"

They both look uncomfortable, which is all the answer John needs. "Jesus," he breathes.

It's too much. The thought of Sherlock roaming London, homeless and hurt and hungry and alone is bad enough, but the thought of him like this, in a coma, for Chrissake. . . unconscious and alone in the dark, with no one to watch over him . . .

. . . It's entirely too much. John glances at the sleeping face for a moment, so angry at Sherlock he might honestly kill him if there were no witnesses.

"How long was he on his own before you found him?" John asks. His voice is steady, and he's not whispering; there's no outward sign of how much the words pain him, grating like sandpaper as they leave his throat and jump into the cold, tense air. The only thing preventing him from doing something fatally drastic is that he's already gone over every inch of Sherlock, and has seen no evidence of anything too awful that may have happened to him. But there's no way to know for sure until he wakes up. If he wakes up.

"We were already in London," Sam's voice cuts through John's thoughts. "We were here looking into something else, and the day before we were going to go back to the States I started dreaming about this. We found him not even a day later." Sam's leaning forward now, and John gets the distinct impression that he's talking soothingly, trying to calm John down. "He probably wasn't unconscious for all that long before we found him. And he was in here, tucked away in one of the corners, really well hidden. We never would have found him if I hadn't dreamed it."

John nods. He can't say anything.

Winchester sucks in a breath, holds it, lets it out. John can tell he wants to say something, but doesn't want to upset John.

That's a galling thought. John may be a man in love with another man, and that other man may be unconscious for reasons unknown, but John's not a child. He doesn't need them pussyfooting on eggshells around him. What he needs is some fucking answers.

"Explain this curse to me," John says. "And I mean in full details, without dramatic pauses or vague mysteriousness."

Winchester grins, despite the seriousness of the situation. John doesn't resent him for it, though; he knows that kind of grin. It just means that, though the situation may be serious, Winchester's been in so many similar situations before that they've become the norm. John ought to know. He grins like that himself from time to time.

"It's a simple concept," Winchester says. "A curse is placed on two people. Then you make a demand of one or both of them: either they have to do something, or say something, or whatever. If they do it, the curse is broken and nothing happens. If they don't, the curse is triggered. But if it's triggered, it only affects one of them. Usually they both know each other, and know about the curse. Then they're played off each other."

John can feel the blood draining from his face. "And what is the typical outcome of this curse?"

Sam looks at him intently, huge puppy-dog eyes begging John to be okay. It's so funny John almost laughs. "Usually," says Sam, "it's a death-curse."

John nods, fighting back panic. "Right. So the madman laid a death-curse on Sherlock and I, but then Sherlock took an option the madman wasn't expecting, so the curse isn't working right. If it was working right, Sherlock would be dead. So we have to find a way to break the curse without accidentally making it work. Right. Right."

John has no idea what to do. He's never felt more helpless.

"Wait, wait, wait," Winchester says. "What makes you think you were the other one the curse was laid on?"

Sam shoots him a glance, clearly thinking John would be offended, but John isn't. Instead, he's pulling his phone out of his pocket and tapping the keys, digging up The File. He's listened to it so many times he could probably open it in his sleep. There is silence in the room, deep and profound broken only by Sherlock's rasping breathing, until John hits one last button.

"You're insane." It's strange to hear Sherlock's voice coming from John's phone when the man himself lies insensate at his side.

"You're just getting that now?"

A pause.

"Okay," Moriarty continues, "let me give you a little extra incentive. Your friends will die if you don't."


"Not just John."

"Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade."

"Three bullets, three gunmen, three victims. There's no stopping them now."

John pauses the recording. He can't listen to Sherlock's voice when the man is lying right beside him, and possibly won't ever speak again.

"Jesus," Winchester breathes. "Who was that?" Sam's eyes are closed, and he's breathing deeply through his nose.

"That was the pair of them," John said quietly. "The deep voice, that's Sherlock. The other voice is. . . well, him. The one who did this."

"Why did you record them?" asks Winchester.

"I didn't," says John. "Sherlock did. It was right before the psychopath killed himself. They had one last talk and then he ate his gun."

"How'd you get it?" Winchester presses. Sam still hasn't opened his eyes.

"His brother," says John, nodding towards Sherlock.

For a few moments, no one speaks.

"And then the guy killed himself," Winchester clarifies.

"Yes." John can't say anymore.

"What did he ask Sherlock to do?" Sam asks gently.

John says, "How do you mean?"

"Well," says Winchester, "you say this guy was obsessed with Sherlock. And then he puts this curse on the two of you, and then it goes wrong. He must have asked Sherlock for something, and Sherlock must have only halfway done it. Do you know what it was?"

Dead silence.

Then John laughs. He laughs and laughs and can't stop laughing. Oh, this is. . . If it was too much before, there are no words for what it is now. John knows what happened. John knows exactly what happened.

The Winchesters are looking at him like he's insane; which, to be fair, he probably is. He ignores them, rewinds the recording just a bit, and tries to calm himself enough to stop giggling so they can listen when he hits play.

"I knew you would fall for it," Moriarty's voice echoes insanely in the room. "That's your weakness- you always want everything to be clever. Now, shall we finish the game? One final act. Glad you chose a tall building- nice way to do it."

"Do it? Do- do what?"

There's a horrible pause.

Then Sherlock says, "Yes, of course. My suicide."

John turns it off.

When he manages to make himself look, the Winchesters are wearing identical stunned-by-a-frying-pan expressions.

"The psychopath thought he wouldn't do it," John manages to explain. "Or he knew he would. I. . . I have really no idea what he thought. I don't want to. But I know that if Sherlock had been like him, he never would have done it."

"Done what?" Sam asks softly.

John looks him in the eye and says, "Jumped."

More silence. John doesn't know what to say.

"But he didn't," says Winchester. "He's obviously alive."

John shakes his head. "No one knew. He- he fell. I was there. I watched. He, um, he called me, and we talked, and then he let go of his phone and stepped off the roof. He was- I got to him after he hit the pavement, and- his skull was crushed, and there was no pulse-" and his eyes were open, and there was so much blood, and I see him every night, and sometimes I catch him when he falls, and sometimes I jump, too, but always he dies, always he's taken away, I am never enough and I wake up and he's still dead-

"Well that explains it, then," says Winchester. His voice is perfectly normal, as though he doesn't see the way John's chest is struggling against a sob.

"Yes," agrees John.

Sam looks back and forth between them for a moment, before he says, "Dean? What do you mean?"

"It's simple, really," John says, because he has to be the one to explain, has to show that he understands what's going on and that he can control himself well enough to speak. "Obviously the psychopath didn't word it very well. He told Sherlock to jump off the building. Sherlock did. But Sherlock didn't die, even though the psychopath had implied that he should. So Sherlock only halfway did what the madman wanted. So the curse kind of worked, and it went after Sherlock instead of me. But it didn't work all the way, so it put him in a coma instead of killing him."

For a moment the three of them digest this. Then Sam says, "That is so complicated."

"Yeah," John says, almost laughing again. "Nothing with him was ever easy."

And just like that, he's nearly crying again. He keeps speaking about Sherlock in the past tense and he can't help it, and really nothing ever was easy with Sherlock, especially not falling in love with him, and even now when John's so far beyond caring what anyone thinks, even when Sherlock is right there, he' still so far away and there's nothing John can do to bring him back. Only Sherlock could be so dead and so alive at the same time.

"I have an idea," Winchester says slowly. "And God, Watson, are you going to hate it."

A week later, they're about to put Winchester's idea into action. He was right; God, does John hate it. But after a week there's been no change in Sherlock's condition, and none of them have been able to come up with a better idea.

They haven't been able to find a way to break the curse (and John hasn't told them this, though he suspects they know anyway, but he did try kissing Sherlock, and when nothing happened the only explanation he would entertain was that the spell could not be broken by true love's kiss), and they haven't wanted to do anything that may accidentally trigger the curse and kill Sherlock.

In the end, there's really only one option: the only way to break the curse is to kill Sherlock themselves.

John's been a wreck for the last twelve hours, ever since they agreed that it had to be done. It's fairly simple: they'll shock Sherlock's heart into stopping, and then use a defibrillator to start it back up again. Aside from a few cuts and lingering malnutrition (though since John stuck three different IVs in Sherlock's arm he's been getting better and better) Sherlock is perfectly healthy. There's no reason to think this won't work.

Sherlock will die, which was Moriarty's stipulation for breaking the curse. So the curse will be broken. Then they'll revive Sherlock, and he'll wake up. At least, so they hope.

John's not sure how he does it. Somehow he manages to open Sherlock's mouth, slide the wire inside, watching on the monitor beside the bed until it's touching Sherlock's oft-debated heart (and Christ in heaven is John glad that the Winchesters managed to get them an actual OR with top-notch equipment for this).

"All right. Now," he says, and Winchester presses the buttons just like John taught him to. Something like a sigh echoes through the whole room, and a shadow John hadn't noticed before seems to lift and float away from Sherlock.

The heart monitor behind him lets out a continuous, unbroken wail. It's nothing compared to the screaming inside John's head, though.

He immediately starts pulling the wire, and as soon as it's out he passes it off to Sam and takes the defibrillator, rubbing the paddles together to get a charge. "Clear," he orders, voice surprisingly steady. He presses the paddles to Sherlock's chest and side, and clicks the button to discharge the electric shock.

Sherlock's body jerks. The heart monitor pauses, beeps, then flatlines again.

"Clear," John orders.

Four more times he does this. Throughout, he stays perfectly calm. He's learned a lot of tricks, over the years, to keep himself calm and professional in gut-wrenching situations, but he's not using any of them now. There are only two things keeping him calm: the knowledge that Sherlock needs him, and the knowledge that if John fails and Sherlock dies, he'll be able to empty the syringe he nicked into his own arm before either of the Winchesters realizes he's killing himself.

And then. And then.

One last time John releases an almighty burst of electricity into Sherlock's poor battered body, one last time the heart monitor goes wild. . . but it doesn't flatline. It beeps, it shrieks, it stutters and races and it's uneven and too fast and too slow and not stopping.

Sherlock twitches, his eyes snap open, he rolls to his side and heaves, John holds his shoulders to keep him from falling and rubs his back and gentles him through it, and the moment Sherlock has taken a few deep breaths and isn't trying to move even though he's shivering like a leaf John bends down and kisses him.

Sam's laugh is delighted, Winchester whistles, and a moment later they're both gone and John can hear the door swinging shut.

He doesn't care, though. He may be crying and Sherlock may be crying and shaking but that's okay, because their arms are around each other and they're kissing like they're going to live and will always be together.






Second Author's Note: Look directly below this. There is a review box. Please, please, drop one or two words in there and let me know what you think! Reviews are love, and equate to more writing.

Merry Christmas, everyone!