When Watson found Sherlock, soaking wet and face down on the concrete slab above the stairs, he thought for sure Sherlock was dead. He kneeled down, felt around for a pulse and when he found it he breathed a prayer of thanks.
"Come on, old boy. We've better places to be. Least you do."
He hauled Sherlock onto his back and fished out a small vial of smelling salts from his pocket kit. He waived it under Sherlock's nose, and after a moment he inhaled and recoiled.
"Where — what —"
"You tell me." He hauled Sherlock up onto his feet, but the second he let go, Sherlock started to fall again. "Are you injured?"
"Leg. Left. Twisted it." He sagged, then pulled himself upright with Watson's help. "Damn."
"Guess you'll be slowing me down, eh?" Watson peered down into gloom where Sherlock had come from. "Did you find it?"
Sherlock nodded. "Downstairs."
By the time they had made it back to the Museum, dawn had crept into the edges of the world and Sherlock was managing fairly well with Watson's cane.
"How did you handle the last one?" Sherlock asked.
"Still had my gun. It was a near thing, though. You?"
"Talked him to death."
Watson burst out into a laugh, which got him a genuine smile from Sherlock.
Didn't last though. Sherlock had gone back to his mobile for the tenth time. Each time he checked and found nothing, his frown burrowed deeper into his face.
"Still no word?"
"Perhaps his … battery died?"
Sherlock did not answer.
"I'm sure he's fine," Watson said. "I'm sure they're both fine."
Sherlock nodded without conviction, but did not look Watson in the eye. "Fine."
They stood alone in the room, in the same spot where Donna had appeared last time. They had been standing there for thirty minutes.
"Sherlock, one thing." Watson had not intended to say any of what came out of him now, but here it was. This would be his last chance. "Just, if I have any advice to give, knowing what I know of Holmes and what I think I might know about you and John, it's this. Understand what it costs him, to be with you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play daft." Watson sighed. "You're not good at it, either."
"Costs him?" Sherlock bristled. "Costs him what? Flat in the heart of London, no more limp, no thanks to his therapist, the end of his nightmares from the war, and more adventure than any man could —"
"I'm not talking about that!" Watson said, finding himself shouting. Why was he shouting? "I'm talking about the sacrifices I — he will have to make."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, becoming almost serpentine with contempt. "Like what?"
Sherlock scoffed. "He has those."
"On your schedule. What about family?"
"He doesn't really have one."
Watson handed Sherlock the silver clock, took back his cane. "Nor will he be likely to get one."
Sherlock cradled the clock in his hands carefully, as if it were the most precious thing in the world. Then he said, so softly that Watson almost didn't catch it, "He has me."
Watson blinked. He looked at this Holmes, really studied him. Brash and confident, full of himself and with good reason and yet he looked so wounded. And so young. Watson had an inkling of the kind of life that awaited him, this Sherlock and his John Watson. He envied them, their adventures yet to come. He'd not trade his time with Holmes. Not for the world. He hadn't meant to argue with Sherlock.
Just what had he meant to do?
"I didn't say you weren't worth it," Watson said at last, finding his throat tight. "Just. Tell him. He needs to hear it."
Sherlock, brows knotted as though on the cusp of solving some great puzzle, moved his lips but no words came out of them.
And then the portal opened.
When the world stopped shaking, John was pleasantly surprised to find himself still part of it. Quick assessment: body, feet, hands, face. Yup. Still alive. His laughter echoed back to him in the small stone passageway. 'Being Alive' laughter was becoming his favorite kind.
Dark. Dark everywhere. And no sound of the train. Must have shut down the station after the accident.
His phone was gone. This took up several minutes of searching before he gave up. It must have been knocked into the tube tunnel. Gone. But what he did find, groping along on all fours as his legs still wouldn't support him, was a small red light. He followed this to its source, cupped it with his hands. It was a small metal rod, only just lit up by its own red light.
"A laser pointer? Property of St. Bartholomew's?" John turned it over in his hand. "Holmes? Holmes!"
John dashed down to where the hallway met an intersection. Noises from the right told him the rest. He found Holmes bent over the second of two robots, a crowbar deep into its guts. Holmes was so invested in dismantling the creature, it was a full five minutes before he looked up and saw John standing there.
"You all right?" John asked. "You done?"
Holmes looked down at the crowbar in his hand, then at the damage he had wreaked. He dropped the crowbar, wiped his brow with his ascot and then tucked it into a pocket. "I suppose I am."
"Time to go, then."
"Indeed. God willing."
Holmes crossed the room and retrieved the golden clock from its Faraday cage.
It was no problem getting back into the Museum. Sure, John had to knock a guard unconscious to get in without answering any questions. Just like army days, except with less killing. What Holmes did to the guard he had to take out, that sequence of moves? John'd never seen anything like it. Holmes barely kept his eyes open, as if he'd rehearsed it all in his head a million times. Yet he executed a series of lethal-looking strikes that would have left the best martial arts instructor begging for mercy.
"Remind me not to piss you off," John said.
Holmes smiled. "C'est rien."
"Hardly nothing." John couldn't help but smile, and wonder if Sherlock was capable of similar.
Holmes said nothing more, but blushed awkwardly. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but he held his tongue.
Their way clear, they headed back to the Reading Room, snapping the blue and white tape that crossed the entry. They stood approximately where they were last time. And waited.
Holmes kept looking at the clock in his hands, as thought it would do something spectacular, but all it did was kept on ticking.
"Think it will work?" he asked.
"Has to," John said.
"Think they found their half?"
"Yes." The confidence in John's own voice surprised even him. "We'll wait here as long as takes."
"Until it explodes?"
"If it comes to that."
The strangest of smiles passed across Holmes's face. And then he said, gently, "He doesn't deserve you."
That caught John flat-footed. "What?"
Holmes did not look up from the clock, which he turned over and over in his hands with a delicate touch. "No more than I deserve Watson. He's a gift, you see. The one and only thing in my entire world I will miss, should I never return. He has made my life a bearable thing. He is the world to me, and I've never told him."
He stared at John, as if he would impart something more, something that weighed on him heavily, too heavy to speak it aloud.
"You will tell him," John said, swallowing hard. "And besides … he knows. Watson, I mean, he knows. He must know."
"Our time is nearly at an end," Holmes said, then waved John off. "I am positively maudlin. Ignore me."
"I think it's positively impossible to ignore a Sherlock Holmes. Of any kind."
At that, Holmes beamed, eyes bright and grateful.
And the light of the portal tore open the space before them.
The Doctor continued to pace around the perimeter of the bubble. He'd been fussing with his screwdriver for hours — long, boring hours — while Donna, sitting on the floor next to the dais, watched him, then the clock, then him. He ignored any and all impatient sighs.
"Are you going to tell me how this all happened? Since we're waiting. Next time I'm bringing a book." Donna loosened her collar. Again. "On second thought…"
The Doctor looked up over the edge of his glasses. "We've covered this. Two parallel universes." He paused. "Clever, really."
"But Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes."
"It's a wild and wooly universe out there. It's infinite, and I know it's not the only one." He said the last part rather grimly. "Whose to say that imaginary worlds don't exist alongside ours? That writers aren't given a glimpse to a world that's real someplace else. Didn't they look real to you?"
Donna considered this. Especially the tall one with the mustache. Him she considered for rather a while, until the Doctor coughed politely.
"All right, yeah," she said. "But it's still weird."
The Doctor gave her that look. "You'll manage."
"What about the Master? Who's he?"
"Old enemy," he said. "Who is supposed to be dead. He must have waylaid the T.A.R.D.I.S. Have to check her circuits after we're out of here."
"Sounds like you have a fan."
"What, did you break the bubble?"
"Er, no." He pulled off his glasses. "But I was able to get a signal to the T.A.R.D.I.S. As soon as the barrier weakens, she'll pop right in and we can pop off."
"Once it weakens."
Donna huffed. "So, back to waiting then?"
"Yeah." He at least had the decency to look apologetic.
Donna was just about to let out another long, strangled sigh when streaks of light started to spiral along the inside of the bubble. She shot up to her feet, bustle or no bustle.
Two darts of light sparked off the bubble. They zipped through the air like disembodied lasers cutting out the silhouettes of two tall men on the left side of the bubble. As soon as the outlines were complete, the images filled in with color, expression, and went from a still shot to jittering movement.
"Ah, that's our pair from 1891," Donna said.
"And 2012 incoming," the Doctor said, pointing to the right. Two shorter silhouettes formed, filled in, just as the others had. Their stuttering images came online, and for the first time in over two days, the Doctor's face relaxed into a proper smile.
Both sets of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watsons were talking animatedly and all once. At least, that's what it looked like — no sound was coming out of any of the projections.
"Um, Doctor. We've lost the audio."
The Doctor came along side Donna. "Hands on the clock."
Donna did so, and then he placed a hand on her shoulder. The audio kicked in, and everyone was still talking all at once, a cacophony of shouting.
The Doctor held up his hands, and everyone went silent.
Except the taller Holmes, who was fairly shouting now, and looked as though he had murder on his mind. "Have John and the other Holmes returned with their half of clock? Are they here?"
"Calm down," the Doctor said. "Yes. Everyone's here. Let's get this finished. You, Holmes the younger. Step forward."
The dark, curly haired Sherlock Holmes, cradling the silver half of the Kranstaran Peace Treaty in his hand, approached the dais. If he had been angry before, all that was left behind was a cold, pale focus.
"Now, Holmes the elder."
The shorter Holmes, holding the golden half of the treaty, pouted theatrically. "Hardly elder. I'm in my prime!"
The Doctor frowned. "Come on, come on. We're on a deadline here. Literally." He waved Holmes forward, and Holmes obliged. The two Sherlock Holmes, now in place on either side of dais, started slightly at each other as their doppelgängers became visible. They measured each other up in seconds, then wordlessly returned their focus on their respective tasks. The two halves of the treaty came together as though drawn magnetically, clicking into place. The second hand stopped with softest of ticks, and then light arced out in all directions.
Donna let go of the clock and everyone stepped backwards. The sparks flew up and away, zipping about randomly before shooting outwards towards the bubble. With each spark it absorbed, the bubble shimmered. And no more projections — all six of them now filled the bubble.
The familiar whoop-whoop-whoop of the T.A.R.D.I.S. sounded behind them. Donna turned to see the blue box materialize in place, just as the Doctor shouted, "Ah, yes!"
"They did it?" she asked. "It's disarmed?"
The Doctor, grinning madly, nodded and swept up the Kranstaran Peace Treaty into his hands. He tossed it back and forth, like he might an apple. "Perfectly harmless now. Well done, boys."
But the 'boys' had little interest in anything else but each other. The two Sherlock Holmes stood squared off like a pair of hunting dogs. Holmes broke the stare first, dissolving into an impish grin as his eyes flicked from Sherlock, then to Watson, who had a wry grin under his mustache, and back again.
"You've taken good care of my Watson, I see."
Sherlock's eyes slid away from Holmes to John, who smiled lopsidedly, and back to Holmes. "Likewise."
And that was that. Both men walked past each other to their respective partners.
Holmes strode up to Watson, looking cheeky and rakish. "I hope you haven't been having too much fun without me."
"Not too much."
The men pulled each other into a tight hug, letting go only after a few solid thumps on each other's backs.
"Were you hard on him?" Watson asked, gesturing to John.
"Of course not. And I've brought presents." He pulled open his jacket a fraction, bulging with all sorts of small metal devices, and grinned madly.
"Oh," the Doctor said. "That's not good."
Sherlock, meanwhile, had, despite his limp, managed to fluidly make it to John's side. "What happened to your mobile?"
"I lost it. In the tube tunnel."
"I thought —"
"But I'm not. You are, though. You're hurt. Your leg?"
"Shut up. It is."
John had started to bend down to take a look at Sherlock's leg, but Sherlock planted two hands on either of John's shoulders and kept him upright. They held that pose for several seconds, John looking quite concerned as Sherlock appeared to be working up to something.
Donna tugged at the Doctor's sleeve. "Are they going to…?"
John only managed to get out a funny little, "Sherlock, what are you —" before Sherlock pulled him close and kissed him full on the lips. Hard.
Donna realized she was goggling, tried to stop herself and failed. "They really have modernized the story, haven't they?"
Watson, horrified, hissed out, "That's not what I meant, Sherlock!"
"I knew they were implying something!" Holmes clenched his fist triumphant. "Does it shock you, Watson? Oh, the things I have seen. This would be the least of it."
Watson had gone quite red, especially as neither Sherlock or John seemed about to stop. He turned around and took off his hat. "Shocking isn't the word."
"Is the word 'intriguing'?" Holmes said, eyebrow raised.
"Holmes!" Watson snarled.
Holmes dropped his voice to a funny whisper. "Do you remember that night in Brighton —"
"I've never been to Brighton."
"Now who's repressing?"
Watson, fiery-cheeked, snapped back, "I was drunk!"
"Not that drunk."
"We swore never to speak of it."
Donna, waiting for the Doctor to say something, anything, gave up waiting. Since she certainly didn't have any compunction about interrupting a scene, she shouted, "You boys can come up for air any time!"
John, red-cheeked and eyes wide, broke the kiss. "We'll … we'll talk in the flat," he said.
Sherlock nodded, and reluctantly let John go.
"Ahem." The Doctor tucked the Treaty under one arm. "Gentlemen, it's time to be off to your respective worlds. Quickly. If the bubble falls and you're still here. Well … I should think you would prefer your own world to this one."
"It has been most entertaining, dear Doctor," Holmes said. He bowed low. "A unique educational experience."
"But one," Sherlock said gruffly, "we are not interested in repeating."
"Fair enough," the Doctor said. "Pleasure all the same."
The bubble shimmered, just like it was made of soap and about to pop. Two stable openings appeared, each leading off into an indistinct, shadowy place that was not the museum. Holmes and Watson hurried along to theirs, while John struggled to help a limping Sherlock towards the threshold of the second exit.
"Time to go." The Doctor headed for the T.A.R.D.I.S. doors.
"Good. This bustle is killing me." Donna followed, but slowly. At the threshold of the doors, Donna watched the two matching sets of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson make their own goodbyes. "But they're just characters from a book. They can't be real."
The Doctor popped his head back out from the T.A.R.D.I.S. "Aw, but look how happy they are. Do you have the heart to tell them they're fictional?"
"No," she admitted. She watched each pair pass through the openings, disappearing back to where they belonged. The bubble around them popped in response, and the museum came back to life around them, all noise and movement and rush.
"Where to next, Doctor?"
"Dunno. But I think we'll skip favorite authors for a little while, don't you?"
Donna rolled her eyes. "No shit, Sherlock."
"Oh, you didn't. You didn't just do that." The Doctor groaned. "I'm never taking you anywhere again."
"You didn't take me anywhere this time!" Donna stomped inside, and the T.A.R.D.I.S. doors closed behind her.