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Title: Every Star in the Sky Knows Your Name - Part 2
Author: jaune_chat
Artist: slowsunrise
Crossover: Sherlock (BBC)/Firefly
Type: Gen
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 15,147
Characters/Pairings: Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, River Tam, Simon Tam, Malcolm Reynolds, Inara Sera, rest of Serenity's crew.
Warnings: Violence, mental health issues, aftermath of surgery, minor blood
Spoilers: Full Firefly series (pre-Movie), general for Sherlock Season 1
Disclaimer: I own neither Firefly nor Sherlock and I don’t make a dime off them.
Summary: Mal's latest pair of passengers slowly reveals they have more of a connection to the crew than anyone would have thought, when Simon discovers that Sherlock and his sister had been in the same government program over a decade and a half apart. Sherlock's friend John, his rescuer and keeper, tells the crew the story of living a life on the run, something that is both less and more familiar than anyone expects.
Author’s Notes: Written for crossbigbang. Thanks to brighteyed_jill for helping by listening to my woes, and polka_ducha for a super-awesome last-minute phone beta!



Sherlock was studying River, pale eyes focused on her form, now staring, now darting over her body. It could have seemed predatory, even sexual, but it was the last thing on either one’s mind. She returned his stare, fixated on his pale eyes. This had been going on for a good hour, far too long for two such as they. Both could have gathered the information they needed in seconds, albeit in very different ways.

“Come,” River said imperiously, holding her hand out to him. “There’s nothing more to be found.”

“I say otherwise. You are astonishing.”

“As are you. You’re loved,” River said.

“And you are not? Your brother deliberately sacrificed everything for you.”

“You don’t believe in your love, not really. Can’t admit it out loud, but he knows.”

“Your focus is improved.”

“Better when we’re moving. I think you’re jealous of me.”

“Of course I am. You have something beyond my ken, an insight into others that I cannot match. You don’t even need clues or observation, you could uncover truth if you were blinded, deafened…”

“They did that sometimes. Temporarily deactivated my optic or auditory nerves so they could be certain their results were pure. Kept us asleep to expand our outer perception. I was frightened.”

Sherlock blinked at her, and then looked at his hand. “How dreadfully petty of me.”

“Don’t apologize. John will collapse in shock.”

Sherlock smiled and reached out to her. She let him touch her head, examine her scars, and figure out what he might have become.

Inara found them a while later, Sherlock’s hands describing some elaborate silent scenario that River narrated perfectly. Charades for geniuses. She wondered what they were saying to each other.

“River?” she called.

River looked up and nodded solemnly. “It’s story time again, Sherlock.”

Sherlock unfolded himself and stood up. “Don’t spoil it for the others.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she said, and raced ahead of Inara to the galley.

Sherlock bowed to Inara gracefully as they walked upstairs. “Tell him,” he said abruptly.

“No,” Inara said smoothly. She didn’t ask him to qualify the statement; she’d lived around River too long. “I prefer my own timing, not yours.”

Sherlock smirked as they slipped into the galley, as John slipped back into the past.

--

Sherlock’s nightmares started their first night on Shadow. Except John couldn’t call them that. Sherlock didn’t wake up screaming, or cry out in bed, or anything like what John might have expected. Instead he avoided going to sleep, choosing to study some seemingly insignificant thing. John had fallen unconscious from sheer nervous exhaustion that first night, and when he’d woke, Sherlock had unwired the entire living room and was using their very limited power allotment to examine the way a steak twitched when stimulated.

“Sherlock…” John said, not sure where to begin.

“Hmm?” There was a scorched smell as the steak took a sudden leap from the table and embraced the wall with a juicy smack!

“Breakfast?” John offered desperately, still trying to wake up properly.

“Boring.”

“No, necessary,” John said firmly. Or so he thought, until Sherlock utterly ignored him to write a note on the table. The steak twitched feebly as it slowly slid down the wall.

--

“So he ran circles around me for a week. The other ranchers figured we were mad and mostly left us alone.”

Simon looked a hair skeptical and John explained.

“At the time I was a line grunt with no combat experience and a junior physician – half-lobotomized geniuses with delusions of grandeur were something new to me.”

“As I was to everyone.”

“Narcissistic prat,” John said with a smile on his face. Sherlock looked tolerantly amused.

“I’m fairly certain neither of us knew what we were doing.”

--

John looked down at the rope in his hands, then at the cow in front of him. Somehow the rope was to go around the cow and then the cow end up in the paddock behind him. It had seemed simple enough when he’d watched the others do it, but faced with a real live animal, he wasn’t at all certain of his skills. As a matter of fact, he was fairly certain he lacked the skills. Now if someone had asked him to shoot the cow…

“Come on Watson!” Lestrade called. His neighbor was one of the few law officers on Shadow and normally John would have avoided him, except for the fact that Gregory Lestrade didn’t give a rip about the Alliance. He was far more interested in keeping the violence in town to acceptable minimums than enforcing laws that had no relevance here.

John looked up sharply at the sound of his name and focused. He’d used his real name when he’d paid one of the Sandy Harper’s crew for a fake ID. Watson was a common enough name, John even more so, and it was better that he responded promptly when someone called him. Particularly when everything else in his life had changed so drastically. Less than two weeks ago he had been eating a pre-packaged soy protein patty, today he was corralling a cow.

Sucking in a breath, John swung the lasso twice and tossed it towards the cow’s head. It hit the side of her face, and she shook her head until her ears flapped and continued chewing her cud. Lestrade, gratefully, did not laugh in John’s face.

“Come on, go again. I know and your patients know you’re not going to be a proper rancher, but people are going to pay you in cows, Dr. Watson, and you have to be able to handle then.”

John gritted his teeth and reeled the lasso back in. Money sometimes didn’t matter in the remote parts of the ‘verse, he’d learned. You could have a hundred platinum coins in your belt pouch, but if you couldn’t eat them, use them as fuel, or make a tool out of them, they were just useless chunks of rock. Coins didn’t have as much value here. Cows did.

Bloody amazing place, the Outer Rim.

John reeled and cast the lasso again and again, the cow growing less and less impressed each time. After the tenth time, Lestrade wasn’t able to stifle his chuckles in between offering advice. John doggedly kept at it, but kept stealing glances over at his house. He was praying Sherlock would be all right, feeling guilty for leaving him alone, wondering if he was doing the right thing. There were only a few choices on how to live here – John’s money had been nearly used up in the escape. They both needed everything: food, clothing, shelter, and medical supplies. John had some skills to sell, but only his medical knowledge was safe to offer. He couldn’t hire himself out as a mercenary or bodyguard. The fewer people that realized he had military training, the better.

That left him with the option of becoming a country doctor, one who wouldn’t inquire too closely about the origins of bullet wounds or the father of a newborn, one who would accept payment in non-traceable barter and could be counted on to keep his mouth shut about anything said by a delirious or drugged patient. But it wouldn’t let him spend all his time with Sherlock. He couldn’t devote all his resources to studying what he been done and try to make it better. Right now he had to keep them in bread.

“Come on, thirtieth time’s the charm!” Lestrade called, herding the reluctant cow closer. John hurled the loop again, and astonished himself by getting it closed around the cow’s neck. Grasping the rope the rope and checking that the knot tied to the saddle was still good, he slowly coaxed the cow into the paddock and managed to shut the gate without falling off his horse.

“Bloody hell,” John muttered, taking off his hat to fan his face. He turned to look at Lestrade, hoping to share a rueful smile at his own expense, only to see Lestrade looking in the direction of the house, an expression of astonishment on his face.

John followed his gaze, cold dread in his stomach, to see Sherlock in the front yard, examining the beehive that stood on the far side of the garden. Sherlock was, to John’s dismay, entirely sans clothing.

“Friend of yours?” Lestrade asked, expression unreadable.

“Roommate, bit eccentric, excuse me,” John said rapidly and dug his heels in his horse’s side. The even-tempered beast ambled over. John crawled down (his legs almost refused to hold him after hours of riding) and staggered across the rows of vegetable to get within earshot.

The bees buzzed around Sherlock like he was an enticing blossom, and Sherlock was watching them with single-minded intensity.

“Sherlock?” John said softly, not sure if he was going to be amenable to restraint.

“It’s fascinating, John, truly. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch them at close range before.”

“Um… clothes?” John suggested.

Sherlock looked down at himself and shrugged dismissively. “Nothing clean.”

John sighed. “You’ll get sunburnt.”

Sherlock squinted up at Shadow’s relentlessly sunny sky. “A point.”

He returned to the house and emerged again moments later, wearing a brimmed hat and nothing else. John prayed for patience as Sherlock idly eyed Lestrade, who was desperately trying to stay on his horse and not fall to the ground laughing.

“If he’s laughing, John, he’s not arresting us. Tell him his horse is pregnant and he should be more cautious in riding her for long periods.”

“Are you all right?” John asked, torn between wanting to get a handle on Sherlock’s quirks and not circulating any more rumors around town.

“Tell Lestrade,” Sherlock said, and continued his observation of the bees. At least he seemed disinclined to attempt to open the beehive. John gingerly walked back to his horse and pulled himself up with a groan.

“She’s what?” Lestrade said when John relayed Sherlock’s statement of his horse’s condition. John couldn’t tell if Sherlock was right or not; he’d only been riding for a week. Lestrade abruptly dismounted to run his hands over his horse’s side.

“I’ll be damned, he’s right.” Lestrade looked into his horse’s eye sternly. “You’ve been night-walking little lady, haven’t you?” He shook his head. “Your roommate an animal doc?”

“Ah… bit of a jack-of-all-trades, really.”

“We can use those around here.” Lestrade remounted, touched his hand to his hat, and rode off still shaking his head.

--

“Just like that?” Zoe asked.

“Sort of. Very independent-minded people on Shadow; no one bothering about each other’s oddities. It was such a switch from the Core. But Lestrade started keeping an eye on us. God knew we needed it.”

--

John had honestly expected Sherlock’s observational mania to die down once he was no longer being pumped full of the program’s stimulants. He’d figured Sherlock would eventually start to sleep, maybe begin to work through his trauma in dreams. He knew little of neuropathy and had only a smattering of psychology, but in general, people who were injured or traumatized did tend to have some sort of crash.

Sherlock, and whatever they had done to him, was the exception to every rule.

John had taken him off the stimulants cold turkey, sobering him up, more or less, during their flight from the academy. But that didn’t stop Sherlock from drinking every caffeinated beverage in the house and staying awake for days on end. He experimented on anything and everything in and out of the house with only marginal regard for his own safety.

It was like he was a starving man set loose at a feast. There was nothing he wouldn’t try to test.

Foremost being John’s patience. The sheer frustration of trying to learn a whole new life while attempting to care for someone who was, in his way, as vulnerable as a child, pushed John to his limits.

--

Simon had an expression on his face John hadn’t seen before, but immediately recognized – shamed understanding.

“I’d come home after dark, hot and exhausted after helping tend to injuries after a cattle drive, wanting nothing more than some food and sleep, and Sherlock would have every edible thing in the house in use in a mold-growing experiment and had disassembled my bed to use as a drying rack outside.” John sighed deeply. “Some days I just wanted to give up.”

“Why didn’t you?” Simon asked.

“Frankly I don’t know why he stayed. He had no real obligation towards me. You, on the other hand, have that familial guilt connection to deal with your sister,” Sherlock said.

Anger flashed across Simon’s face and was gone again in an instant. “It doesn’t always mean anything. Our parents wouldn’t help her.”

“Because he needed me. He’s my friend.” John reached out and put his hand on Sherlock’s head for a moment, an intimacy Sherlock tolerated.

“No obligation, no price, no debt,” Sherlock said. It had the well-worn sound of a mantra.

“I couldn’t quit. I was a fugitive, I was flat broke, and I was living on a planet where I got paid in cows.” John raised an eyebrow as he grinned widely, and River burst into giggles. “How could I possibly leave that?

--

Sherlock looked at the beast with disfavor.

“Come on, it’s all right,” John coaxed, not certain if he were trying to persuade the horse or Sherlock more. After the beehive incident, John wasn’t chancing leaving Sherlock alone during the next crisis. He’d paid one of their neighbors, Molly, to look after the house and garden while they were gone. She was the only one, aside from Lestrade, to find Sherlock’s antics amusing or interesting instead of annoying.

“This is hardly necessary.”

“We don’t have enough for a motor-cart, Sherlock. It’s horses or nothing.”

“I prefer not--”

“Horse, now, or I leave you with Molly,” John said sternly.

“Don’t be tedious, John. She’s nowhere near as interesting as you.”

John struggled with that statement as Sherlock examined horse and saddle minutely. Sherlock praised and insulted him in the same breath, with a kind of graceless eloquence that frequently left John with mental whiplash. Sherlock’s observations had grown sharper, deeper with time, instead of fading. John had hoped that a measure of healing might help quiet Sherlock’s mind, but that had not happened.

He hung onto the bridle as Sherlock continued his study. John wondered how well he really knew the man, how much of him had been untampered-with by the time he had seen him in his examination room. Had he even known him at all? Had he had some expectation that Sherlock would become… what? A business partner, a boss, an adopted family member? John realized how little he knew, how much he had taken on faith. To correct a gross injustice, he had turned himself into a criminal, spent his credit account dry, and left his entire life behind.

It had been utterly mad. But what else could he have done? Left Sherlock to be experimented upon? Confront the academy director and be jailed or executed for his questions and disloyalty?

John knew he had done the right thing. So why did he feel so miserable?

“John, this horse was stolen,” Sherlock said, interrupting John’s reverie.

“Sherlock, just get on-. What?”

“Stolen, John. This breed’s a West River Morgan, with roan coloration unique to the grass stands in the Roscoe Bridges area. That’s over a hundred miles from here, odd breed to buy when you can get a local Patent Brown animal for far less money. Also, look at this saddle blanket. Came with her, right? Home-woven, russet wool, also Roscoe Bridges territory. Finally, the ear.” Sherlock gently ran his hand up the mare’s neck to brush her ear, pointing at the tiny letters just barely visible, tattooed into her skin. “That’s her home ranch designation, and there’s no transfer of ownership mark. Stolen.”

John gaped at him, stared at the mare, and sighed. “She’s worth a month’s treatment. Barry said she was all he had to pay--”

“I do hope we don’t run into Roscoe Bridges locals. They do tend to take horse-thievery very personally.” Sherlock mounted without further ado.

John hesitated, and Sherlock glared at him. “If you insist on attempting to commit suicide, there are far faster and less painful ways than being shot as a horse-thief.”

--

“Wait, what?” Simon asked.

“We were, of course, going to be riding with Roscoe Bridges locals during the cattle drive John had been hired to ride with as a medic. He would have been killed,” Sherlock said.

“Probably by drawing and quartering. The Roscoe Bridges boys had a sadistic streak,” Mal said meditatively. His hard edge of suspicion had softened slightly as John had described their life on Shadow.

Simon looked back at John, who was smiling. “That was the turning point. I realized that he would be all right. Yes, he would be manic, then depressed, needed some huge problem to solve all the time. He had to have things to do, or he’d become nearly catatonic with boredom. He catalogued everything he saw, figured out everything they meant, and could use that to know everything about you just by looking at you. But that day I realized he’d just saved my life.”

Understanding eased Simon’s confusion immediately. John could practically tell what he was thinking, reliving that moment when he could see past the damage the academy had inflicted, peered through the fog of quirks and unbalanced actions, and could see the fundamental person underneath. For those glimpses, for that knowledge, you would endure anything.

“So, you didn’t get killed?” Simon asked finally.

“No. I had a former patient of mine put an ownership transfer tattoo on the mare’s number and rode off into the sunset,” John said. “I was becoming a proper Outer Rim homesteader at that point.”

“It was rather uncanny. I felt my ability to assume roles was excellent, but John could surprise me at times.”

“Your ‘ability to assume roles’ didn’t really come into its own until you’d stopped running around naked and unwiring the house, to be fair,” John said.

Sherlock looked faintly rebellious, but nodded sharply.

“Elaborate, John. The therapy will do you good.” The two men exchanged a pointed look, and John turned back to the rest of the crew.

“Here’s the thing, Sherlock could figure out anything with the right information. Where someone came from, their habits, friends, what they’d been doing, if they were lying, the lot. But he was horrible at practical things.”

“He knew you would have gotten killed…” Simon said slowly.

“That was one thing. But he couldn’t drive a motor-cart, couldn’t cook, didn’t know rules and laws worth a damn unless it was relevant to a case. Anything he didn’t consider useful for figuring out puzzles he just-- deleted from his brain, full stop. But I didn’t quite figure that out, because I thought a grown man who could deduce a mare was pregnant from a hundred paces would at least be able to figure out a can opener or know to sleep occasionally. Before I knew that, I left him alone for two days and he nearly drove himself into a coma. He didn’t understand limits anymore. It’s why I had to help him.”

Simon looked over at Sherlock, Kaylee following him with a look of apprehension, but Sherlock merely looked calm.

“Very therapeutic, John. And entirely correct.” He looked over at Kaylee. “I am not made of glass.”

“That turned out to be our first case,” John went on.

“Case?”

John nodded. “We figured out the man who’d given us the roan hadn’t known where she came from. We had two days before the cattle drive, and Sherlock was determined to figure out who’d stolen the horse.”

“You were as eager as I to find answers,” Sherlock said.

“Actually, no, I couldn’t have possibly been as straightforwardly excited as you. I was more interested because for once you weren’t trying to take apart our house.”

“I was dreadful, wasn’t I?” Sherlock said proudly.

“Like a kid on Boxing Day. I was seriously considering tranquilizing you.”

“And the horse?” Book asked.

“Stolen as part of a feud. We got her fair and square after helping the family figure out how she was stolen in the first place. Sherlock solved that one with woodchips, hoofprints, and the fact he discovered the herd guard liked to sneak naps while on duty. Quite impressed the lot of them.”

“Not easy to do that on Shadow.”

“Certainly not. That’s when we started on our other job, solving crimes.”

John had to admit to some guilty pleasure at the horror-stricken expressions around the table. “Things like the horse, figuring out things the Alliance lawmen wouldn’t or the local law couldn’t. Once we got off Shadow, we’ve been doing the same ever since, more or less.”

“So… you’re cosmic do-gooders?”

“It pays the bills, and keeps him out of trouble,” John said.

“Say, why did you have to lift from Persephone so fast?”

“Thin skins,” Sherlock said shortly.

John sighed. “Sherlock was… uncompromising in his questioning of a nobleman’s mistress. The nobleman took offense, and neither of us duel.”

Mal and Inara looked at each other. “Was it about the nobleman coercing his mistress? Atherton Wing?”

“How did you-?” Sherlock demanded.

John chuckled and gave the crew points for finding something that Sherlock didn’t know.

“So, that was two years before the war,” Zoe said, before Sherlock could go off on a tangent that was likely going to end up in a shouting match.

John nodded. “By the time we arrived, everything was getting worse. I didn’t really understand for a while. But after that, we couldn’t miss it.”

--

“Lestrade?” John asked, threading through the crowd to get next to one of his few friends here. Sherlock was right at his elbow, nodding from time to time as he observed the crowd, making mental notes to trot out at some other time. The town meeting hall was crowded to capacity, filled with dust-covered ranchers, a few sweaty farmers, the neater shopkeepers, and a few solitarily splendid business owners.

Lestrade caught John’s eye and moved to make a bit of space. “Almost thought you weren’t going to make it, you two.”

“Had to, didn’t we? All my patients are here,” John said.

“You know what’s going on yet?” Lestrade asked.

“A bit,” John said warily.

Things had been steadily going downhill on Shadow for months. John’s practice had started with treating victims of accidents, illness, or the occasional bar brawl or shootout. But recently there had been far too many “shootouts.” There were too many victims of raids and thefts as desperate men scrambled for resources that were becoming increasingly scarce, or even some people left beaten and broken after crossing some of the few Alliance officials.

There had been four of them this morning alone. He hadn’t asked how the four had managed to get shot, but pulled the bullets and cleaned the wounds without a word. Each of them had come in after the other had left, regular as clockwork, close-mouthed and desperate, making John think all four of them had been together during whatever had happen. And each of them had paid him in food. One in flour, another with fruit, necessities and luxuries for his table, things you simply couldn’t get around here anymore. John had wanted to give them back when he saw the signs of fever and malnourishment on them, but pride on both sides would have refused them. His patients had no other way to pay, and were bound and determined to owe no one.

“More than a bit,” Sherlock proclaimed, though this time he managed to keep his voice down.

Lestrade gave him a sharp glance. “I’d figured.”

“Well, he doesn’t bother telling me half the time, so what are the rumors?” John asked.

“You’ve seen your barter drop,” Lestrade stated.

John nodded. When he’d started on Shadow, he’d gotten paid in cows, which he could trade for meat, leather, other foodstuffs, whatever he needed, and in ample quantities. But recently he’d been lucky to get anything near that value. Or rather, the value of things had gone up so much that only the richest could have afforded to spare anything out of his herd.

“The new taxes,” John said in understanding.

“They’re bloody ruinous. Everything Shadow has is headed straight for the Core, and most here are being left with nothing. You’re doing all right, Doc, but you’ve seen the people that come to you. I see worse. There’s kids that’re going hungry one night in three, and too many desperate people turning outlaw. My office has been swamped.” Lestrade stopped there, clearly biting back words, and John didn’t need Sherlock’s extraordinary perception to hear his unspoken complaint. That maybe Lestrade didn’t want to be the one locking up “outlaws.” That was probably the reason he hadn’t called on Sherlock in a while.

“There will be war, John.”

Lestrade snapped his head around to stare at Sherlock. “Too right, that one,” he muttered.

“You’re serious,” John stated, looking around at the rest of the townsfolk. Unconsciously he brushed his hand against the leather holster in his jacket, and fought a surge of adrenaline and fear. He’d never been blooded in combat; routine patrols scarcely counted, and that’s all he had ever done for the Alliance. He’d never been in a live firefight, never had to fight for his life.

He looked over at Sherlock, and pressed his hand tightly to his gun. He’d never had to fight for another either. How in God’s name would Sherlock react to war? They’d barely gotten to the point of being able to work with Lestrade on keeping the peace, solving the odd crime that fell outside his expertise. It let Sherlock put his mind to good use, focused him, made him feel useful. But the abject chaos and danger of war? The idea of Sherlock in the middle of a shootout, a bombing barrage, a siege, set John’s heart to racing, looking for a way out.

“Of course we’re serious. It’s not just us, Doc,” Lestrade said. He sighed and lowered his voice a little. “Look, you’re off on your own more often than not, and even when you’re dealing with people, you aren’t talking about anything but wound care. Everyone else knows why we’re at this meeting. This isn’t the only town, hell, even the only planet that wants a change. The governors have gotten together. And now they want to make sure we’re with them.”

“Challenging the Alliance,” John said flatly.

“Getting our freedom,” Lestrade said heatedly. “We get last pick of whatever the Alliance doesn’t want, and they squeeze us for all we’re worth just so some puff-headed Core dandy can have a new pair of leather boots. While we have people willing to kill or die just to get enough to feed their families.”

“Christ, Lestrade, the Alliance military outnumbers and outguns us three to one!” John said.

“And what of it? We’ve got more going for us, more spirit, more motivation, than they ever will.” Lestrade’s tanned face was bright with anger, the lines of hardship etched clearly by sun and toil.

“Not saying we don’t, but--”

“What?” Lestrade demanded.

John longed to talk about the past he hadn’t spoken of for two years, that he knew, in excruciating detail exactly what the Alliance military was capable of, but a quick glance at Sherlock stilled his tongue.

“Let’s hear what the mayor has to say,” John said. Lestrade looked at him for a long moment, nodded, and turned his attention to the stage as the mayor stepped forward. She looked like someone’s kindly old aunt, a friendly and personable woman everyone called Mrs. Hudson. But she had the loyalty of everyone in town, a sharp mind, and a determination to have the best for her people.

John knew without a doubt that the little town of Baker was going to vote to enter the war.

--

They ended up back at the house sometime after midnight, with John delaying their return just long enough to barter a bit of bacon he’d received for a few bottles of beer. There was no way of making this decision without at least a swallow of liquid courage.

“John.” Sherlock preceded him inside the house, turning on the lights and stoking the fire to take the edge off of Shadow’s cool nights. “We won’t be able to stay.” He flung himself down on a chair, limbs sprawling as he stared at the ceiling, thinking.

John didn’t answer, just twisted the top off a bottle, drank half of it in two long swallows, and abruptly collapsed into his own chair. No, they wouldn’t be able to stay. Shadow had the most restless population, and John knew that they would be filling the ranks of the Independent army first. And because of that, Shadow would be the first Outer Rim planet targeted for retaliation. There wouldn’t be any place to hide.

His choices were simple, but none of them were easy. He could try to hide them both; jump out ahead of any conflict, cash in anything they had, pay with his medical skills, and just try to keep them out of the line of fire. It meant having no permanent home, because John didn’t have enough for even the smallest of shuttles. And it meant trusting strangers constantly, and hoping that Sherlock could cope. Maybe he’d do better than John could hope for, but all it would take would be for one paranoid crew member to take offense at one of Sherlock’s antics or observations, and it would all be for naught. With their need to stay off the radar, the two of them could be shoved out an airlock or dumped at any station or port with no recourse.

Or they could join the Independents. John had knowledge of Alliance operations, psychology, and strategy that could help the rebels, at least at first. His medical skills would be sorely needed in a war, and John would be solidly protected as one of the sacred medical corps. Sherlock, too, would be protected, if John demanded it. Perhaps even Sherlock could be of some use, if the chaos of war didn’t unbalance him or trigger something within him. But if they lost, the consequences were worse. Both of them could be killed in the fallout. Or worse, captured, Sherlock sent back to the academy, and John executed publicly.

Or… The last option oozed insidiously through John’s mind, and he winced at it, ashamed at himself for even thinking of it. He could join the Alliance. He could give them the weaknesses of the Independents for his own freedom, and Sherlock’s. He could show them that Sherlock was fine, able to work, and the two of them could be safe on the winning side.

None of the options were ideal. All were risky in some way. And all of them would involve radically changing their lives. Sherlock would be unable to keep on as he was, would be forced away from any of the new normalcy they’d created here, into a dangerous situation that only varied in the kinds of consequences for both of them. He might lose what little ability to interact that he’d regained, withdrawing into his own world so far that even John would be hard-pressed to get him out. The only question was which of the three choices would be the best for him?

“John,” Sherlock said again, rousing him from his gloomy thoughts. “We don’t have time for this.”

“What?” John asked, looking up blearily.

“Brooding. Lestrade and the others will move swiftly, and Mrs. Hudson is going to see Shadow rising as the Independents’ new star. Best we get ourselves entrenched with our new base of operations as soon as possible.”

“New base?” John asked dumbly.

“Yes, yes. Can’t stay here, far too obvious a target. And you’ll be needed, and so will I. This will be fantastic, John.” Sherlock’s eyes flashed with enthusiasm as he paced around the room. “This is by far the best challenge I’ve ever had. As you said, outgunned, outnumbered, far more spirit than sense, but with some strategy, it’s entirely possible for this to not end in complete disaster!”

John sat up and put the beer aside. For a moment, he could see to what purpose Sherlock would have been put, had John not taken him away from the Alliance academy. The thought of all that intellect used for war was disheartening, like seeing a surgery scalpel blade being used to slice up paintings. But what else could they do? Trying to outrun the war would leave Sherlock bereft of his beloved puzzles. Throwing in on the Alliance side would only see Sherlock harnessed in a team with the rest of the test subjects, their minds all pointed in a direction of death.

But to join the Independents would mean using every gift that had been granted or forced upon them, for the purpose of trying to save lives and livelihood rather than see them ground into the dust for the sin of thinking for themselves. John had no illusions of a swift victory, or indeed any victory, but he could help as many as he could, as long as he could, and so would Sherlock. That was something they could both live with.

“All right,” John said, feeling an odd lightness in his chest, with perhaps just a tinge of impending madness. “Let’s go find Lestrade.”

-----

Part Three
Part One
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