Crossover: Sherlock (BBC)/Firefly
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!
Link to Art Master Post: Here
“You’ll be wanting what, now?”
John Watson kept his gaze steady as the Firefly captain stared down at him from his cargo ramp, a tall man in a long brown duster, with the low-slung hip holster of an experienced gunslinger around his waist.
“Passage for a while. Couple months,” John said.
“Who’s after you?” he asked immediately.
The captain was no fool, and John gave him some points in the man’s favor. “No one. We have someplace to be in two months, but don’t care to stay around here until then. If you can get us to Krandle Station when we need it, we’ll try to stay out of your way until then.”
“Not needing any more passengers,” the captain said shortly.
“I’ve got coin,” John said, showing a platinum piece just long enough for the captain to be reasonably sure of its value at that distance, and quickly put it away before someone opportunistic saw it.
“He needs your money, John. He’ll do it.” John’s companion, a tall, pale-skinned man with a mess of dark, curly hair, lurked nearby in clothing far more suited to Persephone’s upper crust than the Eavesdown Docks.
“And why would that be?” the captain asked, looking right at Sherlock.
“Your ship is in desperate need of repair, judging by the body language of your engineer, and even a modest fee from two passengers for that period of time would cover any number of engine parts easily. However you don’t care to have terms dictated to you on your ship, not surprising as your cargo is less than legal in some parts of this system and you’d rather we not stumble over it, not to mention the fact that you’re a former Independent and wouldn’t want to get into any Alliance entanglements if your passengers prove to be wanted by the officials.”
John put his head in his hand briefly as the captain stared at Sherlock as if he’d just been sucker punched.
“I do think that purse should cover your fees and your objections, considering we aren’t on any current watch lists. Pay the man, John,” Sherlock said, and returned to his people-watching of the colorful crowds.
“Your friend always like that?” the captain demanded.
“Sometimes more so.” John took a few steps closer and held the money close to his chest. “Generally we’re both quiet. I’m a medic, so I can help your crew if anything should happen. We’re not looking for trouble, just needing to be away from here for a while.”
“Already got a doc, and a good one.” However, the captain reached out and took the money, tossing the bag behind him with a sharp call of, “Kaylee!” The brightly clothed young woman, the engineer Sherlock had spotted earlier talking agitatedly at the captain, caught the bag awkwardly, looked inside, and smiled so that her face lit up. “Get what we need and stop hounding me about it.”
“Aye-aye, cap’n!” she said cheekily and stuffed the pouch in her coveralls. A few minutes later she left with a tough-looking woman and a loudly-dressed man, leaving John and the captain alone except for a few curious looks.
“John,” Sherlock said, and nodded slightly at the captain. “Roscoe Bridges.” John took a second look with Sherlock’s hint in mind, and nodded back.
“You’re a Shadow man, captain, aren’t you?”
“Plenty of people from Shadow about,” he said, not flinching.
“I lived there myself for a while. Baker. Had a Patent Brown horse.”
The captain relaxed the tiniest of margins, and allowed himself a smile.
“If I find you’re lying about the Alliance being after you, I’ll space you myself, got it?”
“I’m Malcolm Reynolds. This is Serenity.”
River clung to the railing of the staircase, watching one of their passengers. Sherlock had been curled up in a chair in the lounge outside medbay for the better part of two days. He’d scarcely spoken, and barely acknowledged the crew. Jayne thought he was spooky. Mal had found him merely unsettling. He wouldn’t even respond to Inara, not even to dismiss or exclaim, ogle or wonder. And everyone responded to Inara, one way or another.
That was very strange, as River was certain Sherlock missed nothing.
The first day out, John, the man who’d come on board with Sherlock, had managed to get him into the galley, though Sherlock had refused to let go of his Cortex comm. Sherlock had spent his entire tenure on Serenity locked in communion with his machine. Except when he decided his talent was needed. That first day in the galley, Zoe had accused Jayne of taking the last bean bun she’d been saving for Wash. Without looking up, Sherlock had unexpectedly spoken up, reeling off two dozen devastatingly accurate observations that proved Book had been sleep-eating.
River let herself down from the railing and curled up in a chair next to Sherlock, both of them oblivious to everything else going on around them.
Simon felt a shard of ice stab his gut when he walked into Serenity’s tiny medbay to see one of the passengers reviewing a brain scan. River’s brain scan.
“What the hell are you doing?” Simon demanded, pouring every ounce of authority he could into his voice.
The passenger turned around; Dr. Watson. No hope for it. Simon couldn’t bluff his way out of this, couldn’t count on layman’s ignorance to explain away the damage visible even from the doorway.
“The captain said it would be all right to use these computers…” Dr. Watson said, holding a hand up. “I needed to examine the scans I brought with me.”
Like hell, Simon thought darkly. The doctor had to be another Alliance spy, hunting for the outlaw Tam siblings. Simon took a cautious half-step closer, ready to scream for help the minute Dr. Watson showed his true colors. “Those are my sister’s scans. You hacked my files.”
Watson started, growing pale. “These are Sherlock’s scans.”
Simon forgot about caution and stepped close, examining the scans minutely. Almost unbelieving, he tapped keys to bring River’s scans up side-by-side. One brain was definitely older, with slightly more remodeling from the same wounds. The same exact kinds of wounds…
“My God,” Watson said softly.
“You use your contradictory nature to diminish thanks for your accomplishments,” River said.
“I don’t need hangers-on. If they can’t observe, too bad,” Sherlock said, keeping his eyes fixed on the tiny screen in front of him.
“You could be more generous, but you won’t.”
“You’re stating the obvious,” Sherlock said, flicking his eyes up.
“I knew who ate the bean bun, but the words often come out in a spiral fashion at inopportune times.”
“Focus on the minutiae and speak out loud. It strengthens linear speech pathways,” Sherlock said, his pale gazing fixing on her.
“The datastream can be overwhelming,” River confessed.
“Reduce input. Limit your interactions to a specific timeframe.”
“I prefer motion to gain focus.”
Sherlock looked her over critically. “They went more physical after I escaped.”
“It was necessary for control and lucidity.” River’s hand shot out to touch Sherlock’s temple. “Consistency helps me.”
Sherlock smiled. “That’s why I have John. If you have at least one thing, as well as your work, it all stays together in a symmetrical whole.”
River pondered that. “I dance.”
“So I wasn’t the first,” Simon said wonderingly.
John shook his head. “I took Sherlock out of the pilot program. They increased security after I left. I’m sorry it took so much to get your sister out.”
“Sherlock is… functional,” Simon said, questions in his eyes.
“Took us fifteen years,” John said, a great weariness in his voice.
“Was it worth it? Is he happy?” Simon asked.
John nodded toward the window, where River was dancing before Sherlock, the man enraptured by the formulas and mathematics of her movements.
“Yes. It was worth every minute.”
Simon watched the two for a long time, trying to add up things in his head.
“Will you tell me about it?”
“It’s hard, I know,” John said.
“I don’t know, not everything, not yet. Things have only been getting stranger the longer we’re out here,” Simon said.
“Your crew, do they know?”
Simon nodded, and John nodded slowly in return.
“All right. But don’t expect it all at once.”
Simon spread his hands in understanding. “We have a lot of time out here in the black.”
“That’s really all we ever have.”
River stepped into the infirmary as Simon was closing her files and looked at him and John in her peculiar way. Simon braced himself emotionally; he knew that look in her eyes.
“It’s not necessary to hold back. Simon will need everything you can give him. He hides it well, but he worries too much about me. A secondary line of treatment would be beneficial for everyone, and despite the similarities, I’m not quite like Sherlock,” River said earnestly. “I dance. I don’t deduce. I know. Ask Jayne, he won’t answer because he fears I’ll kill him with my brain.”
John blinked. “You can do that?”
“Most likely. Your family didn’t approve of what you did, and that saved them from the Alliance. It makes you sad. But you shouldn’t be. Sherlock would do anything to help you. Expressions are difficult, sometimes, but you understand that.”
John blanched when she brought up his family. “How did you-?”
“Sister lost herself in the bottle, angry at everything. You needed to get away, but didn’t expect this. It’s ok. You know it turned out for the best.”
John’s color returned slowly as River silently padded from the room.
“That’s what they were trying to do?” he asked, sounding appalled. Appalled at the academy, not River, a distinction Simon appreciated.
“They stripped her amygdala completely. She feels and sees everything,” Simon said softly. John wondered how they’d managed to learn that; Serenity certainly didn’t have the scanning gear to look that deep into someone brain. The only reason he had Sherlock’s scans was because Sherlock had hacked his own records and smuggled them out with John.
“She’s… a reader.” John paused, reluctant to say the next word, but there was no other explanation for what River had said. “Psychic?”
Simon was silent for a long moment. “Yes. I’ve watched her get information out of people, accidentally, that no one could have guessed. Not even Sherlock.”
John shivered slightly. “Sherlock still has some filtering capacity left. Not much, but a little.”
“The academy must have realized they could get even more out of their students.”
John could see the anger on Simon’s face, buried under Core propriety, physician’s calm, and pure determination. It was sharper than John’s, fed with guilt of family betrayal, that he had not saved his sister sooner. John’s anger had been tempered with a decade and a half of fear and care and careful budgeting his resources, so that his anger not take away anything from his patient. The one who’d shown him real life, who’d brought him back to life after the war.
“Then they made their own problems,” John said. “If she’s even better than Sherlock, they won’t be able to touch her.”
“They’ve already tried,” Simon said tightly. “Twice.”
John gestured at the ship around them. “But you’re still here.”
Simon nodded slowly, and cast his gaze up the steps. “Are you willing to tell the others?”
“Oh, we insist,” Sherlock said from the doorway. Simon jumped, John merely sighed. “I do expect the Captain’s reaction will be highly entertaining.”
“Doc, I told you that if the Feds were after you I’d space you myself,” Mal said, his expression stormy. John looked back at him mildly, unperturbed by the captain’s growing anger.
“They aren’t,” John said, but Mal all but ran over him.
“I already have enough trouble with just these two,” Mal waved his hand at Simon and River, “and they’ve proved themselves halfway useful.”
“Halfway. How generous,” Simon said blandly.
“And I don’t need another half-crazed reader with a price on his head on my boat!” Mal half-shouted.
“They think we’re dead,” John said loudly. “As far as the Feds know, we died during the Unification War. We’re buried a mile down in a collapsed mine.”
“That’s according to both official and unofficial sources as well as all gossip outlets,” Sherlock added, fingers dancing over his Cortex comm. “It’s common knowledge amongst the academy that we can’t survive long outside of custody.” He looked up and peered over at River. “Hence their desire to reclaim River before they’re proven wrong. I’d suggest you fake her death sometime soon.”
Zoe leaned over and murmured something in Mal’s ear. He backed down slightly at her words and looked a bit thoughtful.
“All right. You two got time to convince me,” he said, and lifted a finger to stop John from opening his mouth. “And if you don’t, the airlock is that way. dohn-ma?.”
“Perfectly,” John said. And Sherlock simply nodded in complete confidence.
“Doc.” John looked up and saw Sally Donovan standing in the doorway of his office, her hand around the arm of his favorite problem patient. Sherlock wore his usual expression of boredom, but he was paler than usual. The white headcloth all the students wore only emphasized his pallor.
“Complaining of double vision. Been studying too hard, this one,” she said, maneuvering Sherlock to sit on the exam table. John didn’t miss how her fingers crumpled the fabric of Sherlock’s sleeve and dug into his flesh.
“All right, let me look at him.” John made an abortive gesture to move into her space, sweeping her aside, but she held her ground, not moving from Sherlock’s side.
“Sally, your desire to improve your dreadfully over-inflated sense of self-worth is doomed to disappointment,” Sherlock said icily.
“Do you know what they were trying to do?” Simon asked.
John looked away. “I never saw the mission statement, but… They were all smart, so smart. And they were isolated, given tests, problems to solve, things to observe. The staff didn’t let them interact very often; it was supposed to make them self-sufficient, or something of the sort. Then they started cutting into their brains.”
Simon went pale, not just with perfectly understandable shock at the idea of cutting into a healthy brain, but with heartsick recognition.
“We weren’t supposed to know; the students wore headcloths as part of their uniforms, but Sherlock complained of chronic migraines that distracted him. And the staff couldn’t let one of their subjects be distracted from their work.”
Sally stiffened at the insult as Sherlock straightened in her grasp. “Your excessive grip isn’t needed to show your physical dominance over me. I assure you, I don’t need coercion to see my physician for a problem I specifically complained about.”
Sally glared and loosened her grip with ill grace. “Need him back at two, Doctor,” she said sharply, and left.
Sherlock cradled his head in his hands as the door shut behind her. “It hurts,” he said very softly. “I can’t concentrate.”
John peeled the ubiquitous headcloth away and felt his hands go still as the brain surgery scars were revealed, tracked across Sherlock’s shaved scalp like the scrawls of a disturbed genius. Old ones, new ones, some with the fine lines of a laser, others from a blade. They’d cut into his brain over and over again. Cut into it. That brain, that brilliant, inquisitive mind. What did they put in? Or take out? My God.
“Sherlock?” John asked very gently.
He looked up at John with icy determination in his pale eyes. “It’s a serious problem, John.”
Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out.
“Then what happened?” Kaylee asked, eyes wide.
“He keeled over. Unconscious for two days. I had two hours to get him out of there and disappear.”
“Do tell the truth, John,” Sherlock said, not raising his gaze from the Cortex comm in his hand.
John sighed. “Sherlock left a detailed escape plan on my comm. I followed it.”
Simon tried to repress a grin and mostly succeeded. Mostly. “Then what happened?”
“I smuggled us out with the janitorial staff, then bought passage on the first non-Alliance ship headed off-world. By the time Sally got back, we were on our way out of the system. We made planetfall at Shadow a week later. I kept Sherlock out until then.” John didn’t quite meet anyone’s eyes, and he clenched and unclenched his left hand tightly. Simon knew that must have been the most concentrated dose of fear the man had ever felt in his life. Taking the first gulp of that draught was the hardest.
“And then?” Kaylee asked.
“He woke up.”
Screaming, John would have understood. Having been traumatized and abused to become some kind of superior human computer would have made anyone scream. But perhaps he should have figured that Sherlock, who’d engineered his own escape attempt while his brain was being carved up would not react in any normal fashion. Sherlock didn’t wake up screaming, he woke up thinking.
“John, what is our exact location? Exact location.” Sherlock’s voice broke the sudden silence of John’s cabin, sending his heart rate skyrocketing. Even with having countered the sedatives, John hadn’t expected to hear that.
“First thing he says after being unconscious for a week?” Zoe asked. John nodded.
“I woulda asked for beer,” Jayne proclaimed.
“We’re not in the academy anymore,” John said softly, trying to ease Sherlock into the new situation.
“Obviously.” Sherlock propped himself up on one elbow, took a single good look around, and speared John was an uncannily knowing gaze. “We’re on a Medeel-class freighter, approximately twenty years old, but at least six weeks overdue for retuned synchronizers and currently running with recycled air scrubbers, so the captain is cheap and doesn’t believe in automatic control, judging by the fact there are safety straps installed for bracing during turbulent flight. We’re in our own cabin, with fairly generous proportions for a freighter, which means we’re in senior crew quarters. You don’t have enough money to have gotten this good a berth with no questions asked, considering you were toting around a semi-conscious surgical patient, so you must have paid for the quarters with your medical skills. However, we’re landing today, given that your bags are packed and by the door, and by the engine sounds we must be within an hour of landing, which would be… Shadow, judging by the rancher’s jackets you traded for. The look doesn’t suit you, John.”
Kaylee stared in disbelief before starting to giggle.
“And I was right,” Sherlock said with an undeniable air of superiority.
“Of course you were right, you insufferable prat. I was waiting for you to start foaming at the mouth or screaming and howling or something. Not to rattle off everything I was going to tell you, leaving me quite at a loss for words.”
“It was efficient.”
John shook his head. “You just wanted to prove you were ready to handle Shadow.”
“I couldn’t continue to be a burden, could I?”
John’s expression softened, and right then he looked both far younger and far older than his actual age. He put a hand on Sherlock’s arm and Sherlock stopped texting long enough to smile at the touch. Inara could feel the power of their bond from just that minimal contact, and the priestess in her was in awe.
“So, Shadow?” Kaylee asked after a long minute.
John blinked, coming back to himself, and Sherlock returned to texting. “Right, so we left the Sandy Harper…”
Shadow was sunny and dry. Not desert country, but grassland as far as the eye could see, with the occasional trees marking watercourses and towering over any manmade building. The sun was unkind here, and John wondered what ironic surveyor had named such a sunny and treeless planet Shadow. Probably the same funny man who’d named a desert planet Whitefall.
John sighed and strapped the bag to his back, the sum of his and Sherlock’s worldly possessions. This world was too much for Sherlock’s pallor, but just right for hiding. The Alliance army barely bothered with the Outer Rim planets and didn’t have good infrastructure for surveying the populace. John hadn’t even had to register when coming on-planet, that was how disorganized and desperate the local government was to attract settlers. Too many rules tended to discourage people and Shadow was too poor to afford to frighten off anyone. John could wear his gun openly – it wasn’t illegal here, it was the status quo. Danger and death were much closer to the surface here than in the Core, flaunted on the streets. Fist fights, knife fights, and gun duels seemed to be a daily occurrence on every street, judging by people’s absent-minded ducking and blasé attitudes towards general mayhem.
It was utterly unlike anything John had experienced. It wasn’t like his neatly regimented time in boot camp or on patrol, nor the rigorous precision of his medical training and practice. It was a raw, unruly, heart-pumping, adrenaline-fueled life. To his shock, he discovered he loved it.
“Another Core boy corrupted by the wonders of the Outer Rim,” Wash joked.
“Not far wrong,” John said, smiling.
“John has an addiction to action,” Sherlock said.
“How did you meet, anyway? I mean, how did you end up in the academy in the first place?” Wash asked. “Some people call Zoe and me an odd couple, usually right before picking themselves up off the ground and collecting their broken teeth courtesy of a beat-down from my beautiful blushing bride--.”
“Zoe blushes?” Jayne asked.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” John said, before the rest of the crew could wander down a very entertaining-looking sidetrack. “My family didn’t have the money for med school, so I enlisted.”
“But why sign up? There are other ways: scholarships…”
“Family mostly, but not what you think. Parents had us late in life, never got along with my sister…” John trailed off as he toyed with a cup. “Military was my way out.”
“It never bothered you?”
“Did the Alliance bother you until they took River?” John shot back.
Simon flushed crimson and turned his face away.
“I spent years patching up people during training, being grateful for the opportunity. By the time my enlistment was up, the Alliance thought they knew me. They thought I should be loyal enough for a particular job – one for naïve residents looking for a steady paycheck.”
“But if you were so junior, why did you see their patients? You weren’t part of the experimental team.”
“No, I was supposed to be the doctor to the support staff, the orderlies and aides who were looking after the patients--”
“Subjects,” Sherlock cut in, flatly. “Test subject number twelve, here.”
“I was supposed to be giving booster shots and tending to any little incidental physical problems the orderlies might have.” John paused and his face hardened. “Like shoulder strains and pulled arm muscles from holding people down, human bite marks on their hands from where they’d been bitten by people trying to escape, fingernail scratches from where they’d been clawed at.” He stopped and clenched his jaw for a moment. “I’d had close combat training and been in the odd barfight and patched up plenty of guys from both afterwards. Being a grunt didn’t make me nearly the dunce the Alliance wanted me to be. I knew what was going on, or I thought I did. I was going to resign the day one of the orderlies brought Sherlock to me.”
“Why did they bring him to you?”
John grinned. “Because he’d systematically insulted and alienated every single other doctor in the program to the point where they wouldn’t be in the same room with him unless he was sedated.”
“Idiots,” Sherlock muttered. Kaylee hid a giggle behind her hand.
“The… experiments, it affected your social skills?” Simon asked Sherlock directly.
Sherlock opened his mouth to answer, but John beat him to it.
“No, as far as I know he’s always been an insufferable prat.”
“I’ve never suffered fools,” Sherlock added.
“You’ve never…” John stopped and frowned slowly.
“You were never a fool. Ignorant in some ways, of course. Nearly everyone else is. But never a fool, John.”
Book had been quiet until now, barring the bean bun incident, absorbed in listening to what their newest set of passengers had to tell them. It was more than coincidence that had led them to Serenity, the same way he’d ended up here.
“Perhaps it would be best to leave it there for the night. After all, we have some time to hear this story told,” Book cut in to the growing silence.
John looked startled, and pushed away from the table, shooting Book a look of gratitude. “Tomorrow, then?”
Sherlock returned to his comm, and Mal nodded reluctantly at his most recent complication. “Tomorrow.”
“Why’d you do it?” Zoe asked.
John looked up at her and put his half-assembled gun down. He had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t only she who was curious about some of his story from last night; Mal was quietly getting his own breakfast in the galley and taking his sweet time about it. But Mal wasn’t the kind of man who would ask unless it affected the people around him. Zoe, it seemed, had given herself the leeway of curiosity.
“I had to. They were hurting him.” John looked back down at his hands and put them flat on the table.
Zoe gestured sharply, clearly not going to accept him sidestepping an answer. “Everyone had their own reason for siding one way or another during the Unification War. But this wasn’t a war, there wasn’t back-up for you.” In her expression John could almost see what she was thinking, that he hadn’t even had Simon’s money and connections to pull off a clean escape.
“Sherlock was it. He was all the back-up I needed.”
Zoe waited, staring at him, as John hunted for words.
“He trusted me. Smartest man I know. Most frustrating, but bloody brilliant. And… I remembered what I swore.” John breathed out slowly. “I wanted to be a doctor before I was a soldier. And Sherlock knew he could trust me, like he couldn’t trust the other dozen doctors he’d seen before me.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility to lay on a man,” Zoe said.
“I wanted it,” John said. “If I hadn’t, I could have just ignored that plan he gave me after he passed out on me.”
“Not saying you didn’t do right. What was done to him was cruel,” Zoe said.
“But was it worth giving up my life?” John asked. “I said I’d tell you. And I will. Tonight.”