Title: Scroll #1 - Something Like Destiny
Author: nancy
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Fandoms: Sherlock
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: very AU, slavery
Summary: Sherlock buys a slave fully as unconventional as he is.


The room was filled with the elite dressed in their most expensive fripperies. Sherlock was bored out of his mind as he wandered the room on display for his brother's sense of national pride, but there was no help for it. It was "...for charity, Sherlock, and Mummy will be very displeased should you not attend," Mycroft had said smugly.

And so there he was, dressed in a tux with shiny shoes and on his best behavior because Mummy was actually at the event. He had no chance of getting away with anything and socially inexcusable behavior would be cause for much motherly 'guilt trips,' as the Americans like to say.

Personally, Sherlock didn't see what a silent auction of slaves, artwork, and ancient artifacts had to do with national pride, but then he hadn't organized the damned thing. At least he wouldn't run into anyone from the Yard. That truly would have been horrifying. Lestrade wasn't so bad, but Anderson and Sally and the rest of the idiots were too much. To be forced to be nice to them in a social setting really would have been the end.

He spotted Anthea in the shadows of a doorway, lovely in a simple black dress and with her ever-present Blackberry in hand. He walked by and immediately caught a whiff of his brother's cologne. That taken with her near permanent attachment to Mycroft's side and his brother's lack of 'socially acceptable' partners denoted one thing. And wouldn't Mummy just love to know Mycroft was sleeping with his PA?

That thought put a smile on his face and he wondered when he could threaten his brother with its revelation. He walked towards the elegant 'pen' that had been set up out in the yard behind the mansion with a pleased bounce to his step. It was unseasonable warm for May, but in the twilight time and so the temperature had faded to something more reasonable than in the midday sun.

The slaves who waited in the elegant confinement seemed rather more resigned to their lot than those in the public setting. Of course, they were better dressed and much cleaner than the average slave on sale, too, as befit their current 'allure' for this fundraising event. It was likely that something about each slave was 'unique' and would be used to fetch a great price.

Sherlock had been to slave markets several times over the years, generally in the course of an investigation as he had no personal desire to own anyone. It was something of a miracle that he remembered to feed himself, let alone adhering to the responsibility for another human being, even an owned one. They were squalid, loud, and smelly places on the whole, even the better quality ones. This particular set-up had nothing to do with those places. It was a fenced in area where the slaves rested on cushions or stood on their own with no visible signs of restraint.

Looking at a young woman with a straight posture and soft appearance, Sherlock knew she'd been a slave since childhood and at a wealthy home. She was well-fed, clean, and somewhat haughty. An attractive young man with red hair and freckles looked about him with wide green eyes. From the slight calluses on his fingertips and the faint stains, Sherlock put him as an artist; likely sold to make up for debts.

He catalogued each of the twelve slaves to himself to kill time, wandering slowly around the circled enclosure. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about any of them, until he came to the last. Sherlock almost missed him standing in the shadow of the raised podium. He was short with fair hair and a worn expression that spoke of true hardship, not the piddling lives the other slaves had led. He was older, too, much older than the average slave; Sherlock put him at mid-forties. As well, he stood ramrod straight, but with a cane which was generally unacceptable in any slave unless he or she was beloved and/or voluntary.

Intrigued, Sherlock walked to the Overseer and asked, "Why is there a soldier for sale in here? What's his name?"

The large, dark-haired man snorted. "You mean the doc? Aye. He's an odd one for sure. No idea how John ended up with this lot, was a last-minute addition. Sticks out like a sore thumb, but don't matter none to me. I just haul 'em where I'm told."

At a fundraiser for the elite. Sherlock supposed that it made sense. It wasn't often one could own a literal hero, after all, even if he was on the short side.

He walked over to the fence nearest the older slave and watched him for a long moment. The slave looked right back at him, clearly fearless of reprisal, and Sherlock found himself gazing into slate-blue eyes that defied definition. An intriguing mass of contradictions, this man...enslaved, and yet not broken; a healer and a soldier; injured and yet, Sherlock would guess it to be psychosomatic from how he barely used the cane; emotionally wounded more than physically so.

"How do you like the violin?" Sherlock asked abruptly.

The slave's eyebrow quirked up. "I beg your pardon?"

"I play the violin at all hours when I need to think and sometimes I don't speak for days. Potential flatmates should know the worst about one another, don't you think?"

"Flatmates? Who said anything about flatmates? I'm a slave, in case you hadn't noticed."

Sherlock's mouth twitched almost into a smile and he said, "No, I rather think you're not," before going to find his brother. He would buy this slave for Sherlock or Mummy would find out about Anthea. And then Sherlock would free this man and perhaps then, life wouldn't be quite so boring.

* * * *

It had been a long, hellish journey from Kandahar and filled with nightmares about the ambush in which he'd lost Michelle. Gunfire, it was always gunfire, all around him and shouting and running to reach his Mistress, who was already bleeding out in the desert sand. There'd been nothing he could do. John knew in his head that the wound the high caliber bullet had ripped into her intestines could not have been fixed; probably not even at a well-equipped, modern hospital, let alone the middle of nowhere. It was just his heart that couldn't quite realize it.

John still woke up in a cold sweat most nights; to the echoes of gunfire and shouting and his heart pounding in his chest. He might not have loved Michelle, but he'd cared deeply for her. Being unable to save her cut deep into his sense of worth; having to leave her body there to tend other injured shoulders had become the stuff of his nightmares. They'd ultimately retrieved her, but it had taken a few days and the animals had gotten to her by then. He'd heard it was a closed-casket funeral, not that he'd been allowed to attend.

He almost desperately held on to the fact that he'd saved five other soldiers that day, two of them officers. It didn't ease the hole in his life where Michelle had been, at least not in the dark of night, but it helped to know they'd all lived because of his efforts.

The three months spent in a small, featureless room in the Officers' Quarters in Kandahar had passed with the timeless quality of a dream. Of course, the wounds in his shoulder and leg had kept him immobile the first three weeks. He hadn't even realized he'd caught two bullets as they'd gone right through him. He'd assumed the feeling of being weak had come from adrenaline overload and there'd been so much blood that he hadn't known some of it was his.

Michelle hadn't had a Will in place so John's status had remained in limbo for those three months. No one could touch him, but they couldn't sell him or ship him to her family, either. By the time the probate finished, his status had been designated as belonging to the Empire due to Michelle's unfinished contract with the army and some ancient law he still didn't know the details of. Even if he'd had the option, which of course he hadn't, John hadn't cared enough to fight it. He was...heartsore...and didn't care where he wound up.

There'd been a month spent in General Quarters, but no one had touched him there either. Everyone knew what he'd done and even the greenest soldiers had respected him enough not to take a turn with him. Now, of course, John was grateful, though at the time he hadn't cared about that, either. From General Quarters, he'd been shipped back to England to a high-end slave dealer; his ownership had passed from Empire hands to an unknown third party and from there to this strange, elite auction.

The fog of healing had finally passed and John was clear-headed once more, if still wounded in his soul. It was something he refused to put on display, however, and he remained standing as he took in his newest surroundings at a mansion in the country. Men and women of highborn quality meandered through the delicately lighted yard, looking over the stock on hand and likely deciding what they'd be willing to spend.

There was nowhere to truly hide, but John found that most overlooked him by standing next to the podium. He stood there for a good hour before someone noticed him; a tall, gangly, and very pale young man in his early thirties with hair so darkly red as to appear almost black. He reminded John inanely of a vampire, he was that pale. They stared at one another for a long moment and John discovered his eyes equally as pale, almost colorless, especially in the scant outdoor lighting. His tuxedo looked custom made and his bearing was aristocratic, which said he belonged with those mingling around them.

"How do you like the violin?"

John's eyebrow quirked in surprise at being directly addressed. He couldn't remember the last time someone had asked him a question, as opposed to simply ordering him about. "I beg your pardon?"

"I play the violin at all hours when I need to think and sometimes I don't speak for days. Potential flatmates should know the worst about one another, don't you think?"

Frowning now, John echoed, "Flatmates? Who said anything about flatmates? I'm a slave, in case you hadn't noticed."

The man's mouth twitched almost into a smile and he said, "No, I rather think you're not," before turning and striding away.

John huffed in amusement at the odd interaction, but the voice confirmed what the clothing had led him to believe; the unnamed man was direct and arrogant, two strong indicators of the highborn. He turned his attention to his fellow slaves, but they were all clustered together in twos and threes, talking quietly together. It wasn't that they shunned him on purpose; John had only himself to blame for keeping apart. He preferred to stand on his own and see what was coming at him instead of huddling with others and unable to form a defense.

It was nearly an hour later that the crowd began gathering outside the golden fence. The Overseer motioned him away from the podium and John reluctantly stepped out into the center of the ring with the others. He hated being on display, but it was part and parcel of being a slave. The snug beige pants and shirtless state left him open to view to one and all and while he was fit enough that modesty wasn't a consideration, all those eyes made him want to cover up. Michelle had never allowed others to ogle or misuse him.

John supposed he should stop using her as a barometer. It was unlikely that his next owner would be so kind. The highborn had a collective reputation for boredom and cruelty to their slaves and those were the only sort of potential owners in attendance.

He stood there as, one by one, the others were auctioned off, their personal histories and physical attributes extolled in a loud, declarative voice by the well-dressed auctioneer. The competition was fierce and there appeared to be friendly rivalries between more than a few of the potential owners. John, unfortunately, went last and so all eyes were riveted to him as he stood on the raised platform while the man decried his heroism under fire and his medical skills to everyone in hearing distance.

The price began, startlingly enough, at thirty thousand pounds. John's eyes widened at the sum as the other slaves had mostly ended up around that price. Thirty thousand...thirty-five...forty-two, forty-seven, fifty-three...the price went up and up and John's heart beat faster and faster as he stood there, motionless, spine rigid. Only two remained in the end, the odd young man who'd spoken to him and an even younger, dark-haired man with unassuming features.

"One hundred thousand pounds to Mr. Holmes! Do I hear one-oh-five? One-oh-five, to the young man in the Westwood suit. One-ten, Mr. Holmes? Do I hear one-ten?"

The now-known Mr. Holmes looked frustrated and said, "Hold the bidding for three minutes," and pulled out his phone, texting something with lightening fast-fingers. He looked utterly aggravated, but finally a faint smile surfaced and he walked over to the auctioneer, holding out his phone.

The auctioneer looked bemused, but took the phone and looked at the screen. Whatever he saw made him blanch and say, "Sold to Mr. Holmes for an undisclosed amount. I'm sorry, Sir, better luck next time."

The dark-haired man's lips pursed and he gazed across the yard at Sherlock before inclining his head and disappearing into the crowd.

John looked over at his new owner and wondered what on earth had just happened.

Mr. Holmes walked over to him, giving the Overseer and impatient glare to open the gate. Once John had walked out, the younger man said, "Well don't just stand there. We've things to do."

John nodded and followed him silently through the mansion to the front. He had to walk swiftly to keep up with his owner's much longer legs, and struggled to keep up.

Perhaps realizing this, Mr. Holmes stopped abruptly and told him, "You do realize it's psychosomatic, right? Your limp when you walk, but you don't sit or ask for a chair and you stand like you've forgotten about it so it's at least partly psychosomatic."

John's eyebrows rose again and he had to force himself to remember to look down at the floor as he said, "I think I know whether or not I'm in pain, Sir."

Mr. Holmes snorted. "My face is up here, John, do stop looking at the floor. And it's Sherlock, not Sir, not Master, not even Mr. Holmes...Especially not Mr. Holmes, good God. To most, that's my brother. Also, I rather think you don't. But that's all right. I'll cure you of it soon enough."

A taxi waited out front, along with a man and a woman. The man was tall and slender, with the polished air of a lifelong bureaucrat while the woman was small and beautiful with rich brown hair to her shoulders.

"Don't forget what I said," the man warned.

Sherlock's jaw tightened visibly and he said impatiently, "Yes, Mycroft, fine. The next time your so-called intelligence team has a problem, I am at your disposal."

John tried not to laugh, managed to turn it into an undignified noise instead. He didn't know who his new owner was, but he clearly had no use for the older man before him.

Mycroft sniffed disdainfully. "A thank you, would be nice."

"Since when am I nice?" Sherlock retorted, motioning John into the taxi. "Good night, Mycroft."

John hurried into the taxi and they were on the road moments later. He had no idea where they were going and so no idea how long it would take to get there.

Not looking at him, gazing down at his blackerry and texting something, Sherlock said a few moments later, "You have questions."

After a brief hesitation, John nodded. "Who are you?"

"I'm the world's only Consulting Detective."

"Consulting Detective?"

"When the police are out of their depth, which is always, they consult me." Sherlock paused to look at him. "Yes?"

"The police don't consult amateurs."

Sherlock looked at him then and those pale eyes seemed to burn with intellect as they looked him over. "You were young when you were enslaved, sold off for family debt no doubt, and already in medical school when it happened. Your Master...no, your Mistress encouraged you to finish schooling, though at one of the military facilities where she already held a position of some stature.

"Your injuries, as already stated, are psychosomatic as you stand without any visible sign of discomfort and yet lean on the cane when you walk. You haven't slept well for months, likely since the death of your Mistress, and believe that her death was your fault and not, as is more likely, due to reflexes slowed by her age. She shouldn't have been in the field in the first place."

John stared openly at him, astounded, and asked, "How could you possibly know all of that?"

"You aren't afraid, or even leery of men, so you haven't been abused or Claimed by one, hence you were owned by a woman. You are far too well established psychologically to have been a slave your whole life and, as most owners wouldn't enroll their slaves in medical school no matter how intelligent they may be, you would have already been studying when sold off. As for the family debt, well, that was a shot in the dark but a good one," Sherlock finished.

John half-smiled and shook his head at the incredibly accurate assessment. "That, was amazing."

Sherlock blinked at him in apparent surprise. "You think so?"

"Of course it was. It was extraordinary. It was quite...extraordinary."

"That's not what most people say."

"What do most people say?"

"Piss off."

John couldn't help it. He laughed, softly but genuinely, for the first time in months. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

* * * *

The flat Sherlock rented from Mrs. Hudson was in stunning disarray when he brought John upstairs and for the first time ever, he felt somewhat embarrassed by it. Especially when the slave said, "Well, this will be quite nice once we get rid of all this junk."

Sherlock picked up a few things and said, "Yes, I suppose it needs tidying a bit."

"Oh, this is...all yours then," John said, looking around. His gaze stopped at the mantle. "A skull?"

Sherlock shrugged a bit and said, "A friend. Well. When I say friend..."

John half-smiled at that. "Right. So. You don't strike me as the sort to beat around the bush, but as of yet, you haven't mentioned rules, nor have you...taken any liberties, so I'm rather at a loss as to how you wish me to behave. Aside from not looking at the floor nor calling you Mr. Holmes. What should I expect?"

Sherlock scowled and said, "I was planning to simply free you and see if you'd remain as my flatmate. You, however, nixed that by having an owner without the foresight to put together a will. It's part of the condition of your sale that you can't be freed at any point. And, as I cannot free you, my slave you shall remain. More as a companion, than a strict interpretation of the traditional arrangement, however."

John said, "So, you've a girlfriend then?"

"Good God, no," Sherlock replied without thinking.

John's lips pursed momentarily. "Boyfriend?"

Sherlock shook his head and dumped the pile in his arms onto the nearby table. "No."

"So...you'll be wanting me too...?"

Sherlock's eyes widened and he said, "No! No. Not that I'm not flattered, but, ah, regarding the, taking of liberties, well, I think you may have the wrong idea. I'm married to my work."

John practically deflated with the release of tension and Sherlock cursed himself for not realizing that of course the slave would consider that a strong factor for his purchase.

"I see. So I'll be sleeping where then?"

"There's another room top of the stairs.."

John nodded, a smile returning to his face. "Well, I'll just get started cleaning up a bit then."

Sherlock waved him off, though, and said, "While your limp is partially psychosomatic, your exhaustion is not. I'm not a personal fan of therapy, but do acknowledge its use for others. Tonight you shall take a sleeping pill and tomorrow, I'll have someone all picked out for you to talk to about getting over whatever it is that you need to get over."

John's eyebrows lowered in clear displeasure. "I see. Might I explore a bit of the flat before you pack me off to bed like a good little two-year-old?"

Sherlock's gaze narrowed on the smaller man and he observed, "I could beat you for that insolence. I've got a riding crop around here somewhere."

John folded his arms over his chest, waiting.

"But I won't," Sherlock muttered, looking away. "Go on. Do as you like."

John's mouth twitched as if repressing a smile and he turned to go into the kitchen.

"Sherlock, dear, you're home at last!"

Sherlock turned to find Mrs. Hudson standing in the doorway with shopping bags. At the same time, he heard the refrigerator door open and then slam shut and winced. He'd forgotten about the severed head.

"Now remember, I don't mind picking up the odd end here and there," the matronly woman said in a scolding tone, "but I'm your landlady, dear, not your housekeeper. Oh, hello. And who might you be?"

Sherlock looked at John, who looked considerably undisturbed for a man who'd just found a severed head in the fridge.

John gave her a brief smile and stepped forward to take the shopping bags from Mrs. Hudson. "I'm John, Sherlock's slave."

Mrs. Hudson gave Sherlock a fond smile and opined, "Well it's about time you found someone, Sherlock. Honestly, I was beginning to think you'd be alone forever. But a slave?" She tsked in disapproval before continuing, "You'll have your hands full with this one, John."

John smiled again and said, "So I've discovered. Thank you for the groceries, Mrs...?"

"Hudson. It's lovely to meet you, dear."

They shook hands, which shouldn't have surprised Sherlock given his landlady's abolitionist mentality, but somehow did.

John replied, "And you, Mrs. Hudson."

She waved as she turned to leave, calling out, "Good night, boys!"

John shook his head with a smile and then glanced at Sherlock. "Would you mind explaining the severed head?"

"It's an experiment," Sherlock said. "As are the eyeballs in the microwave. Please don't disturb either."

John pinched the bridge of his nose, but only said, "Very well. I'll just find somewhere...more sterile...for these," and picked up the shopping bags, returning to the kitchen.

Sherlock watched him go and then silently conceded that perhaps storing decomposing flesh in the same place as comestibles was not the best idea. Perhaps he could find a good secondhand refrigerator to keep that pinched look off John's face in the future.

* * * *

John took the pills that Sherlock handed to him a short time later and climbed into the bed in the smallish room upstairs. It was a room that lacked personality and had far too many cracks in the walls that seemed to let in the cold night air. He changed into the night clothes that he'd put away earlier, that they'd stopped for on the ride...home. It was just a tee and sweats, but more than he'd had for months. He folded up the auction pants and put them in the back of a drawer, praying to never see them again.

The light from the lamppost outside was stark enough that if he hadn't taken the sedatives, he might have been kept awake by it.

Between one blink and the next, the hot, arid landscape of his nightmares appeared in vivid Technicolor. Gunfire, all around him...the shouting of orders...the screams of pain. Blood, so much blood, soaking into the gritty sand and smearing all over him. Michelle's dark eyes staring up at him, sightless.

He ran to the next injured soldier. More blood. A gaping wound in the young man's chest. Nothing he could do. This one was just as dead as Michelle. John staggered to his feet and ran once more, hunched over and trying to avoid the bullets whizzing around. The third soldier's throat had been shot out and he lay dead, his face paralyzed with eternal pain. The next was dead, and the one after that, and the one after that.

John screamed with the anguish of losing them all. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He was supposed to save them. He hugged his knees to his chest, uncaring of the danger, seeing the shadows creep up around him, swallowing him towards a blackness that was absolute and not caring. There was nothing left. He was useless. Crippled and useless. Couldn't save anyone, not even himself...

* * * *

Sherlock yawned as he got ready for bed, making absurd faces at his reflection and then announcing, "You are a fool for buying him. He would have been much better off with someone who wasn't an emotionally stunted freak."

It was a testament of just how much of a freak he was that the words failed to elicit any response from him whatsoever. Sherlock brushed his teeth and splashed some water on his face before yawning and silently admitting that he may have taken on more than he could handle. He would never say so, but what did he know of human relationships? Nothing. And John...already Sherlock knew this man was warm and kind and offered the kind of personal interaction everyone first expected him to give.

And that's why you bought him, the cynical voice inside said. To translate for you. Among other things.

Sherlock refused to dwell on the 'among other things,' portion of his subconscious. John would be his companion, his assistant, and perhaps after a time they could even become friends of sorts.

Shaking off the fanciful notion, Sherlock left the bathroom and gave in to the impulse to walk upstairs and check on his new...possession. He ignored the faint thrill that ran through him, a bit unnerved by it, were he honest.

He stopped at the doorway to John's small room and frowned. John was asleep, but it hardly looked restful. The blankets were tangled around his legs and sweat soaked into his shirt. His respiration was far too quick and shallow, his chest rising and falling in gasps instead of measured, even breaths.

Sherlock walked over to the bed and said loudly, "John, wake up."

When there was no response, Sherlock shook one of the man's shoulders but it did no good. The drugs held John tight and so he took hold of both shoulders and shook John again. And again so that his head rolled. Even as his mind labeled the tightness in his chest as 'panic,' Sherlock made a vague mental note to have John fully checked out by an actual doctor. There had to be something wrong for him not to respond to physical stimuli.

John made a small, broken noise that raised the hairs on the back of Sherlock's neck. It was the sound of a tortured soul, and he'd heard it more than once in his life; even from his own lips on rare occasion. Without thinking, he awkwardly gathered the smaller man into his arms and strode back downstairs to the bathroom knowing one sure way to wake him.

Cradling John to his chest, he turned on the water and stepped under the spray with his charge. The water was cool, but not cold; just enough to break the grip of the drugs. It took longer than Sherlock would have liked, but was still less than a minute later when John stirred against him. Those deep blue eyes fluttered open at last and John coughed a bit until Sherlock angled them so the spray struck him, rather than his slave. A frown etched into his brow and John muttered, "Sherlock? What's...going on?"

Sherlock decided he was aware enough to stand and lowered him to his feet, maintaining a hold around his shoulders. "You had a bad drug interaction and would not awaken."

John's frown deepened and he mumbled, "Still tired."

"As you should be," Sherlock said. "You were only asleep for a half-hour or so. Come. Let's dry off."

Sherlock settled John on the toilet and helped the slave take off his clothes before turning to get a towel. He couldn't help a quick glance over the compact, muscled body, lingering only seconds on the groin area. Sherlock dried the other man off as impersonally as he could and then wrapped his robe around John, helping him into the garment.

John gazed myopically at him and asked, "What are you going to wear if I'm in this?"

Sherlock waved the question off impatiently. "I'll change later."

"You'll drip through the apartment," John pointed out. "Aware of what, in particular?"

Sherlock half-smiled briefly and said, "Good enough. Tomorrow, first thing, I'm bringing you to a physician to be examined. You should not have reacted like that. If you had medical allergies, I would have been informed. Mycroft is nothing, if not thorough and presumptive."

John's lips pursed and he said, "It's likely to do with not having eaten today."

Scowling, Sherlock demanded, "Why didn't you say anything?"

"You didn't ask."

Sherlock gazed at him for a long moment and ultimately decided that this man had a most annoying habit of looking utterly innocent while lying through his teeth. They'd known one another precisely seven hours and somehow, John had managed to conceal the state of his health all while making tea for Sherlock and then taking strong medicine on an empty stomach. A stomach that could have been empty for a lot longer than just today, he realized.

"When did you last eat?"

"That depends. What's today?"

Sherlock bit back a curse and, taking John by the shoulders, marched him out to the living room. He settled the slave in a chair and found his cell to call Angelo, ordering take away for prompt delivery. "I've ordered food and you will eat it when it arrives. I refuse to allow a mind such as yours to suicide."

John's eyes drooped and he didn't respond until Sherlock pinched him almost viciously on the shoulder. He yelped and rubbed the spot, glaring at Sherlock. "What was that for?"

Sherlock stated, "You will not fall asleep until after you've eaten something substantial."

John looked at him a moment and then said simply, "You can't force me to eat."

This went deeper than momentary depression over being sold to a stranger. Sherlock had read entire textbooks about the human mind and its psychology and still considered himself inept when it came to people in general. This man specifically, though...Sherlock had an inkling of what made up this man.

Sitting on the battered coffee table to face John, he said, "I can force you to eat, but you'll do so on your own."

"And why is that?"

"Because you've never lived life with me and it's not something to miss."

A soft laugh huffed into the air between them, but it sounded more disbelieving than amused. "You are an arrogant sort, aren't you?"

Sherlock's mouth quirked sideways before he said, "And all of it justified. I can tell an airline pilot by his left thumb and a software designer by his tie. I can read peoples' lives in their faces and your misfortune in your eyes."

John glanced away, saying in a low voice, "You know nothing about me, not really."

"I know you're highly intelligent and far too empathic for your own good. You blame yourself for your mistress' death and ache for a freedom that can never be. I won't try and convince you that you're wrong about that woman's death, I suspect nothing will, but life with me is as close to freedom as you will ever get, John. You belonged to that woman and then the Empire, who sold you under the condition that you not be freed because if she'd wanted you free after her death, she would have stated so in a Will. It's an arcane law, but a law nonetheless."

Sherlock moved to kneel in front of the other man. He rested a hand around John's ankle, a warm, solid connection between them that was as unthreatening as he could make it. "I will never treat you as if you don't have a thought in your head. I will, however, likely drive you mad with my obsession to cases, how easily bored I get, my aversion to housework, and the ability to piss off everyone around me.

"I don't care about expectations, societal or otherwise. Walk beside me, not behind me. Speak when you have something to say. Argue. Talk back. Insult me or other people when deserved. I. Don't. Care. You'll never be beaten for anything so long as I draw breath, I give you my word. Well, unless you wish to be beaten, but that's something else altogether of course. And speaking of, ah, intimate needs, take whatever lover you wish, male or female, I do not care. Your life is your own, as is your penis. So long as you don't become ill or diseased, it affects me not at all.

"We'll work all hours of the night and day. Murders are like puzzles to me, mysteries to be solved, games to be won. The more bizarre and unsolvable a crime is, the better I like it. You'll see gruesome, horrible things like you've not seen since the war, and be in danger constantly. Now tell me. Does that sound like something worth living for? A life that could interest you enough to stay alive?"

The ten second pause before John spoke felt much, much longer.

John said, "Oh God, yes."

Sherlock smiled brilliantly and then quickly forced the expression off his face. Standing, he said, "Excellent. So why don't you get the take away downstairs, we'll eat and then you'll sleep."

"How do you..."

Mrs. Hudson called out, "Sherlock! Your food's here, dear."

John blinked up at him and then a smile slowly crossed his face as he stood. "I'll just go get that then, shall I?"

Sherlock stepped back to let him pass, limping to the stairway that led to the first floor of the building. Once John had disappeared, he sighed deeply in relief. If he hadn't been able to engage John, if he hadn't been able to lure him back to the promise of a real life and not just one of slavery and servitude, then suicide would have been only a matter of time. As a man who seemed to feel things deeply, John would not have been able to live with things the way he'd perceived them to be.

It felt as though Sherlock had almost literally dodged a bullet.

* * * *

When John returned with the take away, Sherlock had disappeared, probably to change out of his wet clothes. It was a good idea, so he left the food for the moment and walked unsteadily to his room upstairs. He was already feeling more alert, though still exhausted. It didn't take long to get changed and he decided on real clothes instead of another attempt at sleepwear.

He wondered how much of what the other man had said, would be true. Surely in private, it would all be true but in public? But then, how would anyone know he was a slave? The locator chip was subdermal and Sherlock hadn't given him a new Chain to identify him after taking off the one from the auction house earlier.

When he returned to the living room, he saw that Sherlock had also opted for regular clothes and had dried his hair as well. They'd barely gotten started eating when loud footsteps jogged up the stairs. He saw Sherlock tense, though he didn't look away from his plate as he continued to eat. John looked to the door to find a handsome, gray-haired man in his forties standing there in a damp trenchcoat.

"There's been another," Sherlock announced calmly before finally looking over. "But something's different about this one."

"You know how they didn't leave any notes?"


"This one did. Will you come?"

"Who's working forensics?"


"That's no good, he won't work with me."

"Well not as your assistant, no. Will you come?"

Sherlock stood and said, "Not in a police vehicle. We'll take a taxi."

The man's blue eyes shifted to John and he asked, "Who're you?"

"A friend," Sherlock said before John could reply.

John met Sherlock's gaze and corrected, "A colleague."

A faint smile lifted the corner of Sherlock's mouth into a short, crooked grin before he turned to the man and said firmly, "I won't work without him."

Rolling his eyes, the man said, "Fine. Just, hurry up."

As soon as the man's footfalls disappeared Sherlock literally jumped for joy and exclaimed, "Yes! Three suicides and now a fourth. And a note! Brilliant! Come on, John! And bring your food, you still need to eat."

John grimaced, but picked up the tin of pasta and then hurried after him, barely leaning on his cane. By the time he'd reached halfway down the stairs, he found Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson talking, his master and perhaps friend, kissing the older woman soundly on the cheek.

"Look at you, it's not decent!" she scolded through a smile.

Sherlock practically beamed at her as he replied, "Who cares if it's not decent? A fourth death and now a note? Come John, the game is on!"

As he followed the other man out of the apartment, past a bemused Mrs. Hudson, John had the sensation of something skittering down his spine; something like deja vu, as if they'd always been like this to each other...maybe something like destiny.