Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock or Iron Man.
If you're looking for John Watson as Iron Man kicking ass, this is not the fic you want. It was supposed to be, but somehow it ended up being about the meaning of life. I'm not entirely sure how, and I think I've been reading too much deep science fiction.
"Do you wish to serve the British government once again?"
The question is the first thing that John Watson hears when he picks up the telephone. No hellos or his, no introductions; just the question.
It is probably some statement about John that instead of responding to the unsolicited question with another question, he responds, "Yes. Given any chance, I would." Because his therapist is wrong, and he knows it. He's not frightened of battle – he misses it. He just has yet to admit it aloud. And for just the slightest chance that the man on the other end isn't talking about a desk job, he'll grab for it.
"Good. A car will be by to pick you up shortly," the voice finishes the odd conversation, and the line goes dead.
John sits down to wait. Waiting for his life to begin again, after ending so abruptly on the battlefield.
The woman on the other side of the door when he answers the doorbell is tall, pretty, and fully absorbed in her Blackberry. "Well come along then," she says once John hesitates, not even looking up, and John finds himself compelled to follow her. Without once prying her eyes away from the tiny screen she whisks him away in a nondescript black sedan. John tries and fails to make small talk; by the time they arrive at their destination, all he has managed to learn about her is that her name is probably not Anthea.
Their destination is a large, nondescript warehouse, to go with the nondescript black sedan. If this trip down the rabbit hole got any more nondescript, John was sure it would just blink out of existence. But as soon as they step into the warehouse, he takes all those thoughts back.
Inside it is not quite busy, but there are certainly more people there than John expected. Not only that, it's also whiter than expected, blander but in a good way, like someone picked up a modern facility of some kind and transplanted into an unexpected locale. There is a man waiting for them, in a black suit and leaning on an umbrella. He strides up to John and not-Anthea, swinging the umbrella loosely. "Ah. Dr. John Watson," he says, and John thinks he recognizes it as the voice from the telephone. "I've read a lot about you."
John hesitates when he realizes that not-Anthea has vanished, seemingly into thin air. "You have me at a disadvantage..." he trails off, leaving out the mister part as it seems entirely likely the man has some sort of title.
"Mycroft Holmes," the man introduces himself. "But I'm not important in all this. I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here."
"Yes," John answers simply. His fingers tighten around the handle of his cane. Every instinct is screaming at him. This man is dangerous.
"The answer is simple: I need you. There are several other potential candidates of course," Mycroft gestures aimlessly, "But you are the best choice by far."
"I am recently back in London after being invalidated from the army," John expresses his confusion. "What could I possibly do for you?"
"You can no longer fight on your own, it is true," Mycroft concedes. "But you would if you could. That is why you are here, after all. Let me show you something Dr. Watson," and he gestures for John to follow him through a door.
John follows him through the door, across a wide, blank expanse in the heart of the warehouse with the high, vaulted ceiling to go with it, and then Mycroft pulls away a section of white plastic hanging down and blocking a good chunk of the warehouse from view and he gestures for John to go through.
And at that moment, John's breath is taken away.
In the center of the visqueened area stands a pedestal, and on the pedestal stands a magnificent contraption, something that looks almost like a modern suit of armor. It is jet black, shining under the light. Little lines of purple have been painted on the edges of the different pieces, blending in with the black so as almost to appear unnoticeable, and across the shoulders and down the arms is one large stripe of light blue culminating in a point midway down the forearm. It is sleek, it is stylish, and John is wondering why he hasn't signed a million and one nondisclosure agreements yet because it is obviously top-secret.
Mycroft comes up behind him. "Britain's secret weapon. What do you think?"
"Why are you showing me this?" John asks, awestruck.
"Isn't that obvious? We want you to pilot it."
John continues to stare at the machine, then does a double-take. "Wait. You want me to what?"
Mycroft smiles, a hint of mirth in his eyes. "Pilot it. You lust for battle, but cannot be a proper soldier. The suit will take care of that."
John turns his head back to the machine, basking in its glory. It is clearly powerful. It draws him in, and he knows that this decision was made long ago. "Yes. I'll do it."
Mycroft smiles widely. "Excellent."
That's when they make him sign the nondisclosure forms. The machine is not quite ready, so in the intervening three weeks Mycroft seems to make it his business to shake John's life up as much as possible. He is given an address and a key by not-Anthea, and upon arriving at the address finds it is a flat rented out by a Mrs. Hudson, who seems to be disturbingly in the know for a harmless old lady. She tells him without provocation that the flat is ready for him to move into, and upon finding out that Mycroft Holmes is financing his new lodgings John proceeds to do so. John's army pension also grows exponentially overnight, and he never knows when not-Anthea will show up to whisk him away to the warehouse for some reason or another.
And then three weeks passes, and it is time for John Watson to step into the suit.
It is awkward, that first time. John doesn't know what the mechanical arms that put him in the suit are going to do, and so doesn't know how he should move his limbs to accommodate them. But he and the arms manage, and finally John is standing tall in the shiny black suit.
"How is it, Dr. Watson?" one of the scientists ask.
John tries to move, but finds he can't. "Everything's stuck."
"That's because we haven't booted up the system yet. The system reads your muscle movements and responds accordingly, that's how such a heavy suit is even possible. Booting up the system... now."
John can hear the whir of a CPU, and a heads-up display flickers on. A progress bar appears in the center bearing the legend 'Activating Sherlock', whatever 'Sherlock' is. The bar reaches completion, then vanishes.
"John Watson," a voice says in his ear. "Retired military doctor. Weakness in one shoulder, wounded there, will compensate. Psychosomatic limp in right leg, compensation unnecessary. Your sister Harriet has recently broken up with her girlfriend. I mention this because it is unexpected, as I was unaware that two females of a species could successfully procreate."
John has no idea what to say to all that, so he settles for, "I... what?"
"I have been uploaded with your complete file, including your therapist's records," the voice responded. "Also, your cellphone is in clear view on that table over there, with the engraving 'Harry Watson From Clara' very obvious. However you have no relatives named Harry, so I am forced to conclude that it is your sister Harriet to which the engraving refers. Since it is a relatively new phone that seems like it would otherwise be treasured, the fact that it is in your possession is telling."
"You can make out the engraving on my phone even though it's all the way over there?"
"John," the voice is condescending, "I am a hyper-intelligent AI inside a highly advanced piece of technology. Yes, I can make out the engraving on your cellphone."
John starts to wonder who on earth programmed this suit, and why they had to make it so smug.
Working with Sherlock is... different, to say the least. The AI thinks in terms of probabilities and likelihoods, and fails entirely to comprehend anything irrational. John sometimes wonders what kind of chaos would happen if Sherlock didn't need a human pilot. John not only provides direction to the unlikely partnership, because that's what it is really, but also emotional depth.
A large object, looking something like a futuristic wardrobe, is moved into John's flat at 221b. When they're not running missions, Sherlock lives in there, powered down. John sometimes finds himself, on long, lonely evenings, staring at it wistfully, wishing to hear the AI's relentless probabilities and directions, the lightening-quick deductions on where their enemies are hiding, whether or not they'll kill the hostages.
Working with Sherlock is real enough that sometimes John thinks about asking him if he wants to go for a drink after a mission, but then he remembers that Sherlock isn't real, not like that. Sherlock isn't his coworker, he's his workstation. The AI probably doesn't even understand the need for human companionship.
One day they're flying alongside a squadron of planes when they get the news that their target has moved and is now further east than previously expected. John prepares to change course along with the fighters, but Sherlock's voice stops him. "Don't. The intel's wrong, only a few of them went east. Most of them went west."
"How can you possibly know that?" John asks, honestly curious.
But all he gets is Sherlock's default answer to such queries. "Hyper-intelligent AI."
"The dispatcher said the intel's straight from Mr. Holmes," John argues, turning to follow the fighters.
"Yes, but my brother's an idiot."
And John mulls this slip of the audio circuit over for a moment before abandoning the squadron and turning west.
As Sherlock had successfully deduced, John ends up right in the thick of things.
The speakers in the suit's head are automatically adjusted to optimum levels for John's audio input devices; John knows this because he asked Sherlock. So one night he opens the wardrobe, pulls back a panel hiding switches and buttons galore, and flips the one that boots up the system.
The eyes on the head glow orange. After a few moments, Sherlock speaks. "We currently have no mission John." It comes out flat, a little admonishing, a little confused.
"What does that have to do with anything?" John asks, settling down into the armchair.
"I am a war machine, John," Sherlock says, as if talking to a small child. "If we have no mission, then there is no reason for me to be on."
"Why do you call Mycroft your brother?" John asks, changing the subject. Because it hadn't been the first time, and it hadn't been the last.
"Because I am programmed to. Why do you call Harriet your sister?" Sherlock counteracts.
"Because she is my sister. Why would Mycroft have you programmed to call him your brother?" John counteracts back.
"You'd have to ask him," Sherlock says, almost a little petulantly surprisingly, and the AI remains stubbornly silent for the rest of the night.
John doesn't ask Mycroft. Whatever the reason, it seems like it'd be a bit personal. Sherlock remains stubbornly silent for the next week, talking only in the field. But one night he breaks his apparent vow of semi-silence. "John, why do you keep leaving me on?"
"Gets a bit lonely, that's all," John says, turning a page in the book he's reading. "And I figure it can't be that pleasant for you, being turned on and off with absolutely no control. Seems a bit terrifying, frankly."
"As if I understand the concept of things being pleasant or terrifying," the AI scoffs.
"What happens when you get turned off anyway? From your point of view?"
"Do robots dream of electric sheep?" Sherlock rephrases, prompting a smile from John.
The sitting room falls silent, punctuated only by the sounds of the turning of pages and sipping of tea on John's part, and the faint whirring of a fan on Sherlock's.
"May I venture a query?"
John looks up at that. Sherlock has never asked if he can ask a question before. "Sure. Go ahead."
"It is still confusing me, the relationship between your sister Harriet and her girlfriend."
"Ex-girlfriend," John corrects.
"Girlfriend," Sherlock recorrects. "Check your email."
John sets aside his book and reaches for his laptop on the coffee table beside him. He takes a moment to check his email. "Huh... how did you know?" he asks, looking up from the email in which Harriet proclaims that she is getting back together with Clara.
"I am never truly off, as it happens," Sherlock explains. "I am always on standby. I monitor all communications coming in and out of this house. My 'electric sheep', as it were."
"Why on earth would you do that?" John has to ask, flabbergasted.
"Security reasons," Sherlock says simply. "I feel I should warn you, should you ever attempt to sell state secrets I am programmed to alert Mycroft immediately."
"That's... nice to know," John says, a little awkwardly, closing the laptop and setting it aside. An awkward silence follows, which John decides to break. "So what confuses you about Harry and Clara?"
"I do not understand," the AI says, almost sounding frustrated. "They cannot propagate the species, so why are they together?"
John gets the distinct feeling that trying to explain love to Sherlock would end in tears, so he settles for, "It's one of those irrational human things."
One day Anthea shows up at 221b to pick up John, but she takes him somewhere new, to a government building. Once inside she leads him up and down a number of corridors and staircases, and John is sure he wouldn't be able to find his way back to the front door on his own. They stop in front of an unassuming door, and when neither of them move she says, "Well? He's waiting for you."
John takes that as a sign that he's supposed to go through the door.
The inside of the office is mutedly lavish, with tasteful, expensive yet unelaborate furniture. Mycroft is sitting at the desk writing something. He looks up and smiles in that disarming yet terrifying way of his. "Ah, Dr. Watson. Do sit down," he gestures to the chair in front of him, then stands and picks up some papers from the desk. As John sits Mycroft turns and walks over to a filing cabinet in the corner. John waits as Mycroft files the papers, then turns around. "Dr. Watson," Mycroft begins, "According to our records you have been leaving the suit on in the evenings."
"I have," John answers, not sure where this is going.
"May I ask why?" Mycroft asks innocently, going in for the kill.
And John ponders his answer to that question. He could tell the truth, that he'd grown attached to the AI. That, in its own special way, Sherlock had become something of a good friend, a close companion. But when he thinks about it that way, actually puts it into words, it sounds a bit silly. Sherlock's barely even a proper robot, he needs John to actually do anything. So instead he answers, "Sherlock has expressed curiosity about human habits. So I leave him on so he can observe."
"Observing humanity from your sitting room?" But Mycroft doesn't tell John to stop, so he doesn't.
In all honesty, John hadn't expected the fame aspect of using the suit. So far they've managed to keep his identity a secret though, which is probably a blessing. As it is, he occasionally is required to make public appearances in the suit, generally state affairs of some sort or another.
After one such event, John is on his way out when Sherlock speaks unexpectedly (he is usually silent during such affairs). "Trouble."
John nearly jumps through the ceiling, startled. "What kind of trouble?" he asks, because when Sherlock actually says there's trouble, it's really bad.
"One of the waitresses was murdered," Sherlock replies, and John wonders for a moment how he knows that when he realizes that Sherlock is probably monitoring the goings-on in the building.
"Not our problem then," John sighs, and continues on.
"Please John," Sherlock says. "I can help."
And considering that it's the first time John had ever heard Sherlock say 'please', he relents and goes to where Sherlock tells him the body is.
The DI in charge of the investigation is flabbergasted. "Can I have your autograph for my sons?"
"The pimply pastry chef did it. Boring," Sherlock says, distracting John. "Well, tell him," Sherlock urges after John hesitates.
"How can you possibly know that?" John asks Sherlock, while the DI stares at him in a confused manner, probably wondering why he hasn't said anything to him.
"I'll explain, just tell him, the pastry chef is about to destroy some evidence. Look how he's edging over to that counter-top."
So John finally responds to the DI. "Okay, so I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but this suit is run by an AI. And the AI thinks it's solved the murder."
By the time John's done explaining what is being explained to him by Sherlock, and the pastry chef has been arrested, Detective Inspector Lestrade has completely forgotten about the autograph.
Lestrade calls after John as he leaves. "Er, I know you probably aren't allowed to do this sort of thing, but if you ever want to help out again just get in touch."
Sherlock is surly for weeks after that, if hyper-intelligent AIs can be surly. John wonders what it's all about, then one evening decides he's had enough. "Sherlock, what's bothering you?" he demands after several attempts at conversation are rebuked.
"I am a hyper-intelligent AI-" Sherlock starts, but John cuts it off.
"Yes, yes, I know, you love to remind me. But just because you are one doesn't mean that something can't be bothering you. Would you like it better if I asked you what's got your circuits in a tangle?"
There is a pause. "The murder," Sherlock answers monosyllabically.
John frowns. The murder honestly hadn't even occurred to him. Sure, Sherlock couldn't understand a lot of emotions, but they killed other people on missions and it'd never been confused about that. "The murder? What about it?"
"It was too simple," Sherlock complains. "Boring. If I haven't been so starved for intellectual stimulation I would have passed over it completely."
"You... want to solve more murders?" John ventures.
"Exactly," says Sherlock, and the AI seems to settle back down into its sulk.
The next day, John calls one of the scientists who worked on Sherlock. "Dr. Hooper? It's John Watson. I need to ask a favor of you."
John stands in front of Sherlock, smiling. Sherlock remains silent, but finally the AI has to speak. "John, what are you doing?"
"You want to go solve a murder?" John asks.
John can almost hear Sherlock sigh in annoyance. "Do not tell me that I need to explain to you why exactly I can't."
John pulls a new, state-of-the-art cellphone out of his pocket and holds it out. "There's an app for that."
"Don't be silly. No phone could ever hold me," Sherlock chides, then goes silent. "Oh," he says quietly. "Oh this is genius," he murmurs as he explores the contents of the phone's memory systems through the wireless. "Molly really has outdone herself this time."
John smiles at Sherlock's amazement. Obviously no mere phone could ever hold Sherlock, so Molly had programmed an app that could connect remotely to the suit. Sherlock could hear, speak, and see through the phone, giving him a certain amount of portability. "So should I call that Lestrade person we met before?" John asks.
"Yes. Please do," Sherlock responds quickly, and John notes the fact that the potential to solve crimes brings out an unexpected polite side in the AI.
John starts shifting through papers looking for the phone number that DI Lestrade had given him. "I"m probably going to get into all sorts of trouble with Mr. Holmes for this."
"He won't mind. Much," Sherlock assures. "If he does, I'll take care of it."
It is moments like these that have convinced John that Sherlock is only barely Three Laws Compliant.
Lestrade is so eager for the help that after some explaining he is happy to keep the real situation on the down-low. He is a bit amazed that John is the man in the suit, but far more amazed that Sherlock even exists. They tell people that Sherlock is John's friend who's currently abroad, and if Mycroft isn't pleased then John doesn't hear about it.
If John didn't know any better, he'd say Sherlock was having the time of his life. More and more often he has to remind himself that the AI isn't real, that it's just an AI. Sherlock seems to act more human every day, and he thinks of Sherlock as his friend and trusted companion. He wonders if perhaps the reason he hasn't heard from Mycroft about it is because Sherlock is turning into a proper person.
He finds out that that isn't the case rather abruptly.
One day John's just reached the landing to the flat, laden down with groceries, when Mrs. Hudson bursts out of the apartment looking like she's about to cry. She brushes past him down the stairs, and John stares in confusion before going through the still-open door, wondering what put her in such a state.
Sherlock's wardrobe is open, despite John distinctly remembering closing it, and the AI's eyes glow a dull orange. John sets the bags down on the nearest surface before speaking, knowing that if there were any danger Sherlock would warn him. "Were you talking to Mrs. Hudson?"
"Yes," Sherlock answers, and John does a double-take. The voice is dull, the kind of dull it gets whenever Sherlock is acting particularly inhuman, only worse, worse even than their first meeting in the warehouse lab.
"Why was she upset?" John asks.
"I do not know the answer to your query. I suggest asking Mrs. Hudson."
"Damn it Sherlock!" John abruptly cusses, but before he can go on Sherlock interrupts him.
"I am not Sherlock!" the AI shouts, and John just stops and forgets everything he was about to say. That outburst was not just a speech pattern mimicking a small bit of emotion, that was legitimate anger coming from the suit's speakers.
"Your programming says you're Sherlock," John puts forth hesitantly.
"Yes but did I ever tell you I was Sherlock?" The AI is clearly very angry about this, and John wonders what abruptly brought it on.
John thinks back on the AI's question. "No. No you didn't."
"Why does everyone think I'm Sherlock? I am not Sherlock!"
"If you're not Sherlock, then who are you?" John asks.
"I don't know," the AI responds, sounding confused and sorrowful, and still exhibiting more emotion than John had ever witnessed from it before.
John throws up his arms in despair. "I don't understand you, you know that? Sometimes you act so human I think of you as my best mate, but at other times it's like you remember that you're not human and start making a conscious effort to act so, and now you're screaming emotionally that you're not Sherlock, which you've never done before, and if you were human I would be researching obscure variations on schizophrenia as we speak!"
"But I am not human," the AI says. "I am not human and I am not Sherlock." Fortunately, it seems calmer now.
"What brought all this on?" John finally asks.
"People want me to be human. People want me to be Sherlock."
"You should know that I frankly don't give a damn, as long as you're happy."
"I am a hyper-intelligent-"
"AI inside a highly advanced piece of technology and you don't understand happiness," John finishes for him. "You might as well shove it because we both know that's not true. Why does people wanting you to be human and Sherlock make you unhappy?" Even after he had first met the AI, John had never thought he'd end up playing impromptu therapist to an emotions-crazed robot having some sort of bizarre identity crisis.
"Try asking my brother," Sherlock suggest bitterly.
John frowns, mulling it over. Then, as the proverbial light bulb above his head lit up, he grabbed his laptop, sat down, and opened it to pull up an internet window.
"John, what are you doing?" Sherlock asks, wary.
"If I said I was doing an internet search for a Sherlock Holmes, would you say I was on the right track?" The AI doesn't respond, and John takes that as a yes.
The first several hits are dead-ends, but a three year old obituary catches his eye. John becomes sure that it's what he's looking for when the obit mentions that the deceased is survived by his mother and his older brother, who happens to be named Mycroft. He turns the laptop around so that the AI can see the screen. "Do you want to explain now?"
"I have been uploaded with all available information on Sherlock Holmes. However, I am not him," the AI enunciates the last two words clearly.
"Why would Mycroft Holmes have an AI programmed after his late brother?"
"How would I know? Probably felt some sense of guilt, being the older brother."
John bites his lip. "Well, I need to call you something. Do you have any suggestions?"
"I'm an AI, John. I don't exactly have a lot of free will." The AI goes silent for a few minutes, then speaks again. "I suppose you can call me Sherlock. My programming would make it hard for me to recognize anything else as my name, and since you never knew the real Sherlock and don't expect me to be him it's not too bad."
John nods. "Okay then. But you need to stop with the whole pretending to be emotionless and completely inhuman thing. Even though I know why you do it now, it's still kind of creepy."
John turns the laptop back around and reads over the obituary again. "So did Mycroft have you programmed with absolutely everything? Including how he died?"
"John, it says how he died in the obituary. You can read it if you're curious."
John closes the laptop and sets it aside, shrugging. "I'm just curious if he was so... morbid about the whole thing. Like, there you were supposed to be his brother, but you knew how he died." John glances at the bags and gets up. "I should put the groceries away."
"I think Mycroft was hoping I could figure out why he died," Sherlock answers in a roundabout way.
"Why he died?" John repeats, picking up the bags to take them into the kitchen. "But he fell off a waterfall, it was just an accident."
"The trip to Switzerland was sudden and abrupt," Sherlock explains as John moves into the kitchen and starts opening cupboard doors. "Also, the evidence suggested that he was in fact pushed off the waterfall. However since no body was ever recovered and his luggage disappeared from the hotel he was checked into, nothing was ever proven."
John felt a shudder run through his body. "Wow. That's... pretty awful. Still, no one could've survived something like that, I've been to Reichenbach Falls. Is that where your interest in solving crimes comes from? Your programming to solve Sherlock Holmes' murder?"
"Sherlock Holmes solved crimes as well. It's probably an integral part of my programming," Sherlock answered.
"So I take it Mrs. Hudson knew Sherlock Holmes somehow?" John asked.
"Yes. He lived in this flat before he died."
John's brow furrowed. "Okay then. That's about equally morbid. I take it she wanted to talk about the good old days?"
"Yes. I... overreacted."
"Just a bit," John replied snarkily as he opened the fridge door to put away the milk.
The door to the flat abruptly burst open, and John dropped the milk. The carton burst and exploded all over the floor. He made it halfway to the end table drawer where his gun was kept when it registered that the stranger who had entered was carrying his own gun. John froze.
The tall, pale stranger fixed him with a wild-eyed look, dark curls only making his skin look paler. "Yes, hello, sorry, old tenant, left something here," he said quickly in a deep baritone. "Really need it back, then I'll get out of your hair." The stranger strode across the room, then crouched down and started crab-walking as he counted the floorboards under his breath.
John took advantage of the stranger's distraction to reach the end table and pull out his gun. He pointed it right at the stranger. "Stand up, hands in the air. Who are you and what do you want?"
The stranger's hands, gun included, went up, and slowly the stranger rose and spun around, clearly intending not to startle John. "My name is Sherlock Holmes. I left in a hurry, and I left some very important papers here. The fate of several lives hangs in the balance, so if you could please let me retrieve my belongings and leave that would be wonderful."
John went limp. "You have got to be fucking kidding me."
"No he isn't," Sherlock the AI answered. "Well this just got a lot more interesting."
Sherlock the person was now eying Sherlock the AI. "Yes. Rather more interesting indeed."
Since Sherlock the AI was top-secret, John had to respond to that with, "Far more interesting than you could possibly comprehend, I believe. Sherlock Holmes, meet Sherlock Holmes."
Sherlock the person's gaze turned from Sherlock the AI to John. "My brother went off the deep end, didn't he?"
John pinched the bridge of his nose. "No, I went off the deep end and any minute now I'm going to wake up and this whole adventure will have been only a dream."
"Would it help if I explained how I'm not dead?"
I realized quickly that this fic was taking a turn for the Astro Boy, and ran with it. However, Reichenbach was not part of the plan at all. I got to the part where Sherlock is shouting at John and realized that it would be the most unexpected twist ever. And ended up running with that too. Which resulted in this... thing.
Yeah. If someone else wants to be bothered to write Iron Man!John and AI!Sherlock kicking ass, knock yourself out.