John is lying at the bottom of the pond, looking up at the patterns of light and shadow through the blue-green-black shimmer. His eyes struggle to close. The last of his air rushes heedlessly through his lungs and out in a fountain of white bubbles. Whoosh. All gone.
His body is made of iron and lead, stone toes and hands of gold. He feels his eyes turn to silver, into heavy gumdrops of uselessness. He is pinioned to the flattened soggy weeds. Their companions rise up around him like green ghost candles. Pass over his face. Soft caresses.
His broken skull leaks blood into the water.
"Open your eyes John open your eyes"
"I know you're alive you stupid stupid man open your eyes"
"Open your eyes and look at me!"
"Oh God, what do I do what do I do"
"Shut up and think – how does he do it, how does he heal someone"
"Hands on his chest. Breathe out. Breathe in. By now it should be working. I'm doing wrong it's not working – oh, ah, there. There. Ah. Ahh."
Great baubles of gold burst before John's closed eyes. Something is sinking into his chest: two burning hands, imprinted into his ribs. Terrible awful painful warmth growing there, intensifying, a fire built atop him, inside him. He is his own funeral pyre. He can hear himself tearing apart inside, bones snapping away to make room for the fire, lungs expanding with the heat, stone limbs melting to molten rock, hollowed out with lava.
He's groaning. Someone is groaning with him.
Deep agony. Panting for breath.
"John, John, don't move. It's fine, you're fine, I'm fine."
He's trying to breathe, but the fire is his lungs, it is his lungs and he can't open his mouth, a human dragon flaming out from the inside
"You're breathing again, so that's good. Good. It's good. You're fine."
Twin weights, pain-hands, fire-hands, settling in on him again. He tries to lift his head. Sherlock's there
"You can go to sleep, I don't care. That's what people usually do, right?"
Those thin heat-hands – are they Sherlock's? Had he – his head is full of matches, they're catching, wicks lighting in a swathe of red flame
"Just sleep, John."
Is this what it feels like when he heals people
Smoke and ashes in his mouth
Distant splashing. Someone is kneeling by the pond, slim black back to him, rinsing their hands. Hissing under their breath. A shock of dark hair.
John fists his hands in tufts of wet grass, heaves himself upward: his grip loosens for no reason and he slides back down. Stamping footsteps and then Sherlock's by him, down on his knees in the grass, hands firm on his shoulders.
"What are you doing? Lie still. I've just healed you. Don't move, I don't know if I did it right."
"But – you –"
He can't even find the words. He closes his eyes and breathes out, feels his lungs working again, still on fire, crumbling ashes inside.
"I healed you, John. You're fine."
"Your hands," John forces between weakly clenched teeth. "Why – rinsing? Burned?"
He opens water-fringed eyes to Sherlock's set face, feels Sherlock's hands slide up his neck and press experimentally on the curve of his skull, hot fingertips slipping under his hair. John croaks a breath of surprise, tries to inhale again.
"No," Sherlock says, and slides his hands out from under his head, letting his head rock gently into the grass. "Just overly warm. Here, have some water."
He produces a water bottle from the inside of his coat and cracks it open, tips it to John's lips.
John lifts his chin, avoiding the rim. He's got another question. "Gunman?"
Sherlock presses the water bottle to his lips, and this time he parts his mouth, lets the water run down to soothe away the parched fire-worn lining.
"He ran for it. I let him go."
John swallows, turns his head away. The pond shines, rippling outwards, towards him. He hears Sherlock snap the cap back on the bottle, and remembers something. "Lestrade?"
"Haven't called him."
"Not yet," Sherlock says. The grass scrunches under his feet as he rises. "You rest."
John can hardly hear his footsteps as they recede towards the pond; he is slipping back under already, pulled inexorably into a funnel of exhaustion. His fingers clutch limply at the grass, and then he is falling away into smoky blackness.
"John, Mycroft's sending a helicopter for us. I decided not to call Lestrade."
Sherlock is leaning over him, one hand hovering above his face. "John?"
"I'm awake," he whispers. His chest aches.
His best friend's features are crinkled in worry. "It's been a while since I last woke you. This doesn't seem normal, when you healed Mycroft he was only asleep for about twenty minutes, but you've been asleep for nearly an hour, I don't have enough data to determine your –"
John whispers, "Sherlock, it's fine. I'll be fine."
"Then try to sit up," Sherlock demands. "You're not well."
His hands close on grass; he pushes down, trying to raise himself, trying to sit up, but there is simply nothing behind his arms, no strength, no awareness. He has lifted himself a scant inch, and then he's lying down again, Sherlock's hand behind his head. Grass tickles his cheek, and then a tickle of water slides down his cheek.
"No, it's just – I'm tired," he whispers, as Sherlock's eyes narrow and widen in shock. "Okay. Are we going home?"
"Yes," Sherlock says. He looks paler than normal: John can feel tremors running through him, where his leg presses against John's shoulder and arm. The healing's exhausted him. John wouldn't be surprised if he keeled over right now.
"How do you feel?"
Sherlock considers him, and a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Not so bad. You looked much worse after you healed Mycroft. I'm – it was an experience. More difficult than I'd expected."
John swallows. "I'm sorry."
"Shut up, John, don't be stupid," Sherlock says. He brushes the back of his hand over John's forehead, a rare soothing gesture from a self-proclaimed sociopath. "I would have done it anyways. You know."
He does, he really does, but he's so tired and he can't quite think anymore.
"I can hear the helicopter. Stay awake, just for a bit. They're almost here."
Thrum. Thrummm. Thrummmm.
John stares upwards, watches the glinting mobile machine falling towards them, silver rotor spinning around and around in the gold twilight air. The ground begins to shake. The air vibrates in John's ears. Sherlock's hand is resting on the top of his shoulder, the injured one, his fingers flattened along the sunburst scar in protection.
The helicopter touches down, settling into the grass like a child's plastic toy. John watches figures separate from the door, run towards them, carrying bags. Murky blackish figures, probably wearing three-piece suits, fading even as Sherlock speaks to him, asking him to stay awake.
Fading men running towards him
Sherlock's asking him to
"He's your Withe, Sherlock, you can't expect the healing process to go smoothly. Think of it in scientific terms. You drew the power from him, while he was under duress, and so when you used the power, it coursed through both of you. It was a cycle that drained him considerably."
"But he's – he's doing poorly."
"He'll be fine, I promise. All he needs is rest. Why don't you sit down? You haven't eaten for several hours. John will sleep for a while longer."
"No. I'm on a case."
"Very well. At least take this chair."
"Go away, Mycroft."
"He will get better… He will. He has to."
"I am certain of it."
"It only took you twenty minutes."
"John is a natural healer. You are not."
"I – no. I suppose not."
"Take some tea, Sherlock. What is it?"
"He turned his head. I think he said something."
Blurred shadows, people moving and speaking as if from behind melted glass. He blinks again and again, eyelids lifting imprecisely, sluggishly. An outline comes into view: Sherlock, weary-looking, suit smudged with grass stains at the knees and elbows, sitting beside him.
White sheets pulled up to his chin, and his familiar blue coverlet. He's in his own room.
"Hi," he whispers. Coughs, and manages to speak. "Fancy seeing you here."
His friend examines him with crystalline eyes, a rigid bony raven: and then he smiles, daylight breaking over his beaky face.
John closes his hand around Sherlock's thin one, lax on the blanket, turns it over to look at the palm. The tender papery skin is raw-red; Sherlock tenses infinitesimally. John looks up at his closed blank face.
He brushes his fingertips, just three, lightly, over the burns: a snapping arc of blue fire leaps between molecules, crackles into skin.
"There," he says, and releases him. Burn wounds have always been the simplest to heal. "The other?"
Sherlock extends his other hand, but now the palm is clear and new, clean as a pearl. He puts his shining hand on John's shoulder, squeezes tentatively. His lashes fall over his eyes.
"Thank you," John says. "For saving me."
Sherlock hums an assent, lets go, finger by finger, and rises from his chair. Now John can see that it is one of the kitchen chairs: Sherlock must have carried it up the stairs in his injured hands.
Sherlock goes to the window, stands looking out, fingering the soft edge of the curtains. The sun is rising above their city and the morning light turns him to orange-pink fire and black shadow.
"It's Tuesday," he says.
"So it is," John says.
He turns back the sheets and blanket, swings his legs over the edge of the bed, expecting his shoulder to twinge, as always, but there is no pain. Just... ease.
After Sherlock leaves to get tea (a small miracle), John unbuttons his shirt fully and goes into the bathroom. Turns to face the mirror.
The bullet scar is still there, a spider stretching hundreds of legs over his shoulder, into his skin. But it doesn't ache. He pivots, looks over his shoulder to see the back. Same divot, same cracking crater, fault lines edging outward, but without pain. He reaches up and feels it, pushes cautiously on the ridged knot of warped whitish tissue. Nothing. Only a faint pressure.
"You're a new man, John Watson," he murmurs. He puts his shirt back on and goes out.
His feet thump down the stairs, familiar sound, familiar steps, carpet, wooden banister. Familiar.
In the kitchen Sherlock pours hot water over tea bags. China cups filling to the brim. John likes milk in his tea; he adds it.
He lifts the tray with his newly healed hands and steps into the sitting room. John is unearthing his laptop from a mound of books and costume hats.
He looks up.
Their eyes meet and for an instant both are filled with the same, the precisely same thought, the completely same feeling.
New day, new man, old man, men. Tea, Sherlock, tea, John. Bright morning bright flat bright.
And they say nothing they think everything.
They think trust.
"Anchor is to me
As Withe is to you
One by one
And two by two
Signal fires, open doors
Same as after
- An old nursery rhyme, written sometime after Troilus' Papers, meaning and author unknown