...Long time no see? I've been splashing around in other fandoms, but here's something I've been working on for months. It's unpolished, crazy, and probably not very impressive, but enjoy nontheless.
SUMMARY: John knows things, things he shouldn't, because he once met a man who knew things beyond imagining. Perhaps there's something else
to how he met Sherlock Holmes...ARS GRATIA ARS
“Oh, there he is.”
John turned toward the sound of his orderly’s voice before the young man had the chance to call for him. He had to squint to see under the midday Afghanistan sun, but soon made out the forms of Matthew Murray and someone new trailing along behind Matt. He moved toward the unlikely pair, shaking Matt’s hand as they grew closer. “Thought I heard you.”
“Glad you did,” Matt said with his characteristic rakish grin. “Glad you did. I was just saying I ought to introduce you two, wasn’t I, Art?”
The man behind Matt nodded, a small smile forming. He would not look away from John’s face—barely even blinked.
“Art’s a doctor, too,” Matt explained. “Civilian, though. Some sor’ of volunteer civic thing. He’ll be down here for a while before shippin’ back to Scotland. Isn’ tha’ where you’re from, too? Oh…This is Art, by the way.” He pointed to the stranger, then to John. “Art, this is—“
“Doctor John Watson, yes, I know,” said Art with just a hint of a brogue, nodding a brusque yet somehow intimate hello. That little spot in the back of John’s mind that always told him when danger was near was tingling again. Chills down his back. He shook them away.
“I am John Watson, but how could you possibly know that?” John asked.
This strange doctor’s eyes flashed as he shrugged. “Matt mentioned he was the orderly of a Doctor John Watson. I just guessed you were him.”
Now Matt looked confused. He shielded his eyes and shifted so he could get a better look at his stray. “Did I mention John’s name? I can’ remember.”
That little smile grew. “You must have, else how could I know it?”
John shook his head. He crossed his arms and stood up straighter, trying his meager best to look down on someone a good four inches taller than himself. “So you’re some kind of civic, Red Cross type of doctor?”
“Then how come you went to the front lines? You’re needed much more at the refugee camps.”
The smile now stretched from ear to ear and the doctor’s lips twitched as if he were trying and failing to keep a straight face. “Oh, I think you’ll I’ll be very much needed here.” He reached out for a handshake, which John less than eagerly supplied. Art’s grip was firm, almost too firm, and completely devoid of the sweat that usually poured off those unused to the heat in buckets. Odd, John thought to himself as the orderly continued what was apparently a tour.
John didn’t think he’d see much of the civilian doctor, but fate had different ideas. Wherever Captain Watson went, Art was never far behind. The man managed to cling to John without being the least bit clingy. John had never imagined what being stalked felt like before; now he knew.
He didn’t mind so much. Art rarely passed within four feet of him, never mind talking to him. He mostly stayed out of the way. After a few weeks, John began watching him as much as he was being watched. Art was a first rate doctor, and highly perceptive. Frighteningly so. Sometimes he seemed to know where the wounded would fall before they were shot down.
He saved Matt Murray’s life six months after his arrival. The gunfire had died down and the orderly had risen into a crouch to check on a wounded man nearby. Art had grabbed his arm and yanked him down again, just in time for a sniper bullet to go whizzing over the young soldier’s head. Matt had declared his eternal gratefulness. John simply asked how he’d known. He’d expected a simple answer like “I saw the light flash on the rifle barrel” or “heard the gun, just in time.” Art had only smiled and tapped the side of his nose. “I just did,” he said, as if the whole thing were a great secret.
Only once in Afghanistan did John have any extended conversation with the volunteer. He’d walked up to him with a long, papered box in his hands. “I’m off,” he said, and John had had to look around to make sure he was the one Art was talking to.
“…Really? You’re leaving?” he said politely, not sure whether to be relieved or sorry.
Art nodded. “I’ve got what I came for. Now I’ve got somewhere else to be.” He pushed the long box into John’s hand. “A parting gift.”
John frowned and hesitantly unwrapped the box. Inside was a sturdy, slightly-better-than-military-issue silver cane with a comfortable grip. His frown deepened as he drew out the cane. “…Thanks, I guess, Art,” he said. “But…I don’t need it?”
Art had smiled that secret smile. “Maybe,” he said, and walked away.
Three days later, John’s foot got stuck in a hole. He twisted as he fell, his knee dislocating at the same instant a bullet ripped through his shoulder. Stunned by the fall, he never felt the shoulder—but his leg hurt and hurt and hurt and it was…wrong, with patella on the side. Matt saved his life and his limb, pulling him from the battle and fixing the leg after he passed out. The knee snapped back into place with relative ease and very minor amount of ligament damage easily repaired, but remained swollen for a week, and the sight had carved itself into his mind and no near-fatal shooting could clear it. His surgeons were exasperated at his inability to walk during his first day back on his feet, and Art’s cane, forgotten but never discarded, became a permanent fixture of his wardrobe.
He went to London to get lost.
Instead, he found Art.
He had just finished an appointment with his psychiatrist, an necessity that he couldn’t stand. The visits left him feeling out of sorts and angry and a little patronized, and the only thing he had to look forward to were blank walls and crap telly and an uncomfortable bed. He needed to go somewhere, anywhere—
“Lots on your mind?” came the familiar-but-not voice from behind him.
He whipped around as fast as he was able and stared, his jaw dropping. “…Art?”
The doctor chuckled and stepped forward, glancing at John’s leg. “Looks like you needed that cane after all,” he said.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, thanks for that. Lifesaver. But how’d you know? What are you doing here?”
The infuriating secret smile materialized. “I’m sorry, John. Nice to see you, but I don’t have time to talk. You know, it’s about lunch time. If you’re not interested in eating anything, and pardon my saying, but it doesn’t look like you are, there’s a park nearby. Good for a walk, to clear you head, stretch some muscles.” He tilted his head. “And you never know who you’ll run into at lunchtime.”
John blinked and shook his head. “Uh…sure, but…”
Art swept his boater onto his head, ignoring the looks the hat was getting from everyone around. “Good day, John,” he called, walking away.
The bizarre exchange let him even more out-of-sorts, but as eccentric as Art was—and as disturbing it was to see him in London; maybe he was being stalked?—he had a decent point. Maybe he did just need to go for a walk.
He ran into Mike Stamford.
He walked back to his rooms late that evening, the events of the day tumbling in his mind. Sherlock Holmes…perhaps he was a favorite student of Art’s, down on his luck? How else could Art have steered him there? But then there was the cane… It was haunting, that’s what it was. Maybe the man had ESP. John never believed in that sort of rubbish before, but what else could it be? He’d been searching for a reasonable explanation ever since his injury and he still had none.
“So you met your Sherlock Holmes, did you?”
John shouted and nearly jumped out of his skin as both the voice and its owner loomed out of the shadows ten feet in front of him. Had Art been any closer, John very well may have killed him out of instincts not quite dead yet. “Art!” he said, all the anger of the previous conversations returning. “What the—“
“You did meet your Sherlock Holmes, didn’t you?” the doctor repeated again, his hands in his pockets, speaking as though remarking on the weather or asking for the time.
John stared, an ounce of fear fluttering around in his stomach for the first time since his discharge. “…Who are you?”
“No one,” Art said with a shrug. “Not here, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you meet your Sherlock Holmes?”
John closed his eyes a second. “Yes, I did. How did you know about that?”
“Good,” Art said, taking a step forward. “I’d hate to leave without that settled, and it is time for me to go.”
The doctor tightened his grip on the cane as Art’s unblinking eyes came into focus. “How did you do it? Who are you? What do you want with me?”
The other man sighed. “…All I want you to do is write, John,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. I know you used to when you were a boy—all the Watsons did. It’s a shared trait. All you have to do is write and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“About your adventures with Mr. Holmes, of course.” His lips curled in glee. “And what adventures you will have!”
Just breathe, John. Just breathe. He was on the verge of panic. “How do you know about me?”
Art took another step forward. “I usually don’t tell, but you’re special. I can see it in your eyes. So like the original, all full of fire and gunpowder and lightning. Don’t lose that. You’ll need it.” He drew a deep breath. “I collect stories, doctor. I collect them and cast them to different worlds, and among the stars. Yours in particular. I dreaded it at first, but I accepted my fate long ago. I am bound to you, just as surely as you are bound to Sherlock Holmes.”
“I’m not bound to anyone!” John snapped, his voice raising. “I’m not even sure if I’ll even be Sherlock’s roommate! The man is completely insane.”
“—and utterly brilliant,” Art said, the secret smile that John so wanted to punch off of the other doctor’s face reappearing. “You don’t have to room with him if you don’t want to, but you won’t have much of a life if you don’t. And neither will he,” he added, almost as an afterthought. “I don’t trust this one alone.”
John gritted his teeth. “What are you talking about?”
The smile grew. “You feel alone, don’t you? Alone in all the universe. People talk about being unique like it’s a blessing, but the truth is, it’s horrifically lonely.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’m not unique.”
“But you are. You’re Captain John Watson, M.D. Then again, you’re not the only one.”
He bit back a curse—if he had his pistol on him, he couldn’t guarantee the other man’s safety. “Just…explain yourself. Please.”
“Explain myself?” Art laughed. “That would take more years than you’ll ever be alive, and I haven’t brought visual aids. Not even Sherlock could fathom me out, I’m afraid. But you…You’re simply not alone.”
He took another step forward, in arm’s reach now. “There are thousands of worlds out there, hundreds of thousands, and all desperate to be filled. Not just with bodies, but with words. The worlds deserve those words. My words. Your words. So many John Watsons and so many Sherlock Holmes, and still not enough to go around.”
“You’re crazier than Sherlock was,” John said, eyes widening.
“You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to, but it’s the truth. You have a story to live, a wonderful, glorious story. Not all of them get started. Holmes overdoses. Watson dies at war. Not all of them end well, either. Killer’s aim is true. The professor doesn’t fall alone…” He frowned, then smiled again. “I have high hopes for the two of you, though. I do hope you’re not afraid of bees…”
He was too good. Art was just too smooth. Either he belonged in an asylum or he was telling the truth. John closed his eyes a moment. He had always prided himself on his open-mindedness…”…So you’re saying this isn’t the only earth out there?” he said slowly. “If I’m to believe you…there’s more than one earth, and there’s more than one of me…”
“ ‘There are more things, Horatio,’“ Art said with a gentle laugh, checking his watch. “And you really should believe me. Think of the desert, all that you saw me do and say. ‘When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…’” This time he laughed again, for real. “And when Sherlock says that, do try to look surprised. I think I should have written him a shorter catchphrase, in the beginning…”
The fight when out of John; he sagged against his cane, not sure what to believe and too tired to think of any further explanations. “What do you do with...with my story?”
“I told you, I tell it again. I go to worlds that have no John Watson and no Sherlock Holmes, and I publish the stories, in all kinds of forms and fashions. I’ve got so many names even I can’t keep them straight.”
“And how do you find us?”
Art shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure. I seem to gravitate to you—the John Watsons—and usually wherever you can find him, Sherlock Holmes isn’t so far away. It took a lot of getting used to, especially as…well…” he blushed. “In the beginning, I wasn’t fond of Mr. Holmes at all. I apologize to you for that, as you’ll be the one to pay for it. If ever you make something and find you don’t like it, stay away from all things occult, as you may find yourself stuck in an…uncomfortable position.” He blushed.
“…And what am I supposed to do?”
Art snorted softly. “It’s very simple, really. You must make a choice. You must follow Sherlock Holmes, in whatever he does and wherever he goes, or go on alone. If you go alone, you’ll have a dull, humdrum, probably short life with nothing to recommend you and no one to mourn you. If you follow Sherlock Holmes, you will be a legend in your own time, beloved, welcomed, and treasured for centuries. You’ll have a friendship that defies definition. Though John—I feel as though I must tell you—follow him and there’s no turning back. Follow him and you’ll lose everything.”
John released a breathy, hopeless chuckle. “I haven’t got anything to lose.”
“Not yet. But you will.” Art looked at John, sympathy and pity shining in his eyes.
Why, thought John, would any ‘John Watson’ follow any ‘Sherlock Holmes’ if they were given that warning? Why take that risk, knowing you had that as a reward? “Is it worth it?” he asked out loud.
A smile crept over the other doctor’s lips. He tilted his head to the side, watching John without blinking, mulling everything over. “…Yes,” he said at last, giving a small nod. “Yes, it is. Though it may not always seem that way.” He checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. “I really must be going now, but I’ll be watching.”
“Wait, wait!” John cried. “Don’t go yet. You’re just going to send me into the world like that, without knowing anything?”
Art paused and turned back around. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything you can possibly tell me!” The doctor thumped his cane against the ground. “You can’t just say ‘you’ll lose everything’ and then not tell me about what’s coming!”
The other doctor nodded, a slow, hesitant movement. “You are right, of course. I can’t tell you much. It would ruin the balance of the world. But…” He nods again, more sure of himself this time. “I can tell you the three things you’ll need to remember most.”
“Do you want to hear them or not?” Art steps toward John again, sweeping his gaze over the wounded doctor as he speaks. “One. When everything is at its most calm—when even Sherlock is relaxing, or bored, or just at peace and not on a case—that is when you need to be the most alert, the most on guard. Two. Never trust anyone you meet if it is a man and the last name starts with M or S, or if it’s a woman and the last name starts with A. Three.”
He stopped speaking at once, and pain seemed to flash across his features for a moment. “I shouldn’t…but…Just…Never, ever, believe that Sherlock is dead unless you put his cold body in the ground with your own two hands, and even then be doubtful, especially if you’re not alone. Never trust a closed casket. But for heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone else think you think he is alive. They’d call you crazy.”
“They already do.” John ran his hands nervously across his face. “Is that really it? That’s all you can tell me?”
Art smiled, but it did not feel like a happy smile. “I’ve said too much already. My time’s running short.” He started to back and around the corner. “You just remember to write everything down, else I’ll have to follow you and get the story myself. That blog of yours—I want to see it filled.” John nodded and Art held out his hand. “Godspeed and luck go with you, Watson,” he said with a grim smile and an almost Victorian air of formality.
He took the offered hand in a nervous handshake. “And to you, Doyle,” he answered. With one last pointed look, the strange doctor turned around and walked down the darkened street and around a corner. A curious blue light shone once. John limped ahead and peered around the bend. Art was gone.
In their sitting room six months after the Pool Incident and following a case involving a false ghost, Sherlock tears into the idea of a world beyond his ken. John stays silent throughout the rant and it is clear he is only half paying attention. When Sherlock snaps his fingers in his friend’s face and scoffingly asks if John believes in supernatural forces, his thoughts immediately leap to the days of Afghanistan’s sun and one Dr. Arthur C. Doyle prepping for surgery that isn’t yet needed and warning men of introductions that will change their lives. John’s answer is uncharacteristic and surprises Sherlock to no end—a deep, doubtless, resounding yes. To the detective’s infinite annoyance and curiosity, he does not offer an explanation.
Perhaps he never will.