Warnings: Gore, disturbing imagery and Slender Man.
The dreams he had were more or less the same.
In this dream, he was walking through the hallways of a house. He didn't recognize it, it was not a house he has ever been in. He can't make out the pictures on the wall, can't see the pattern of carpet under his feet. There was barely enough light for him to see, yet he navigated through the home as if it were his own.
He came upon the master bedroom. The room was barely furnished, occupied with only a large bed and dresser. To the side, the bathroom door was opened. The light was on and as John came closer, he saw his mother in there. She sat on the closed lid of the toilet seat, rubbing her arms and rocking back and forth. She was sobbing, the look of pure terror etched on every wrinkle of her skin.
"Mum?" John asked her. His voice sounded very young. "What's wrong?"
She lifted her head up at him, cheeks stained with tears. "Don't leave me!"
He didn't understand why she said that. John took a faltering step forward, wanting to comfort her but he noticed she's not looking at him. She was staring past him, to the bed behind him.
John turned. He paled.
There were two legs on the bed. Each one had been severed just slightly above the knee. It was not a clean, surgical cut. The wounds were jagged and still bleeding, staining the white sheets below.
They stood erect, as if John just caught sight of the moment the upper portion of the body was suddenly snatched away. No matter how long he stared, the legs stand. They do not fall.
John can still hear his mum crying, still begging him not to leave her. He won't leave her and he didn't know why she believed he will.
John finally tore his eyesight away from the legs and turned back around to face his mum.
She was still sitting on the toilet lid, pointing furiously to her lap. John noticed that it was her legs, her legs that have been severed. The stumps kick uselessly, and she wailed.
Standing behind her was the tall, slender man. John has never seen him in so much light and it did little to downplay his horror. There was no blood on his suit and yet John knew he was to blame. He was responsible for all of this.
Slowly, the tall man reached out with his long fingers, grasped the edge of the bathroom door and closed it. The lock clicked.
John's feet made the decision for him and he turned and ran. From behind he could still hear his mum begging him not to leave her, begging him to come back. He didn't slow.
John kicked out, nearly successfully throwing himself out the bed. It took him a moment or two to get his wits about him, remembering where he was. He turned on the lamp next to his bed.
He was alone in his bed, in his room. No supernatural creatures to be seen.
John flopped back down, groaning.
The nightmares were getting worse.
In the beginning, they started out as vague shapes. Often times John woke up without any memory of them, only the fleeting feeling of wrongness was left behind. As the weeks passed, the dreams became more and more detailed, more memorable, getting to a point where he couldn't tell if he was awake or asleep.
He didn't know what it meant.
Taking a glance at the clock, he saw he'd only been asleep for four hours. He functioned on less, he'll be fine. With a soft moan, John sat up, shaking off the dregs of sleep threatening to pull him back down. Slipping on a pair of well-worn slipper and his robe, he padded downstairs to make himself a cup of tea.
He wasn't surprised to see the light still on. "Couldn't sleep?"
Sherlock mumbled a response, not bothering to lift his head up from his microscope. John saw he too was wearing his pajamas with his robe over, so he must have gone to bed at some point. "Nightmare."
John's eyebrows raised at that. "You had a nightmare?"
Sherlock pulled away, stretching his back till it popped. "No," he groaned. "You had a nightmare. Sweaty brow, bags under the eyes-"
"Okay, I get it. Yes, I had a nightmare. Sheesh."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
John pulled away from the sink with the filled tea kettle in hand. "Seriously?"
That was something that had changed in their relationship since John's 'disappearance' so many months ago. While Sherlock was keeping to Mycroft's wishes by not talking about who or what the tall man was, John could see how it ate at him. Having a puzzle dangle in front of his face and he was not allowed to touch? Pure torture.
Instead of poking at that metaphorical beehive, Sherlock worked around it.
Usually when Sherlock wanted something, John never picked up on his prompting and would unintentionally give him the information he wanted. In this case, however, John knew what Sherlock was asking for. A bit hard to ask about the Operator in an unconspicous way.
Christ, did John wanted to talk. This was the man who laid John's whole life before him with a few simple observations. There was nothing to hide from Sherlock, so why bother?
Except John was under strict orders from Mycroft. "Do not involve him in this," Mycroft had hissed to him while clutching his umbrella tighty. "If Sherlock looks for him, he'll look back and never let go."
So John swallowed down his original sentence and lied. "Afghanistan," he said. It was a half-truth, he still had dreams about the war. "Same old, same old."
He could see Sherlock biting the inside of his cheek. He knew John was lying. "Anything specific you want to talk about?"
His mum screamed at him, begging him not to leave her.
"No," John said turning back to set the kettle down on the stove. "Not really."
That next day, he texted Mycroft.
A small part of John was glad to have someone to turn to, to have someone in the same boat as him. It meant John wasn't insane, it meant there was someone out there who understood exactly what he was going through and offered some answers to his questions.
A bigger part of him was horrified. This was not like a companionship a solider shared with his fellow brothers-in-arms. This was not like a support group for cancer patients. Whatever this was, it was practically unspeakable.
And Mycroft never invited John over unless it was important.
LUNCH? I FEEL LIKE SOUP.
He didn't give an address or a time. Which meant an unassuming black car was going to pull up next to him at some point and whisk him away to some unknown spot. Lovely.
John didn't bother to find out when, the car will come when he least expected it. So he kept his mind off the coming conversation by focusing on work. Twenty flu shots and seven strained limbs later, John stepped outside temporarily to get some fresh air and escape the smell of disinfectant.
How Anthea anticipated his stepping out at the right time, or how she knew he was going out the back door was a mystery John knew he will never solve. Swallowing an irritated sigh, John climbed into the black car, confident his boss was already informed of his unexpected lunch break.
As much as John knew his safety was guaranteed- by Mycroft and ironically enough, the Operator - he felt uneasy as the car took an unknown route. Mycroft never took such extremes unless he really wanted to keep Sherlock out of the loop.
The farther the car went, the more uneasy John got.
The car eventually pulled up next to some dingy, corner cafe that looked like it should have been condemned years ago. There were quite a number of homeless people sitting on the curb and the streets were paved so badly, John's teeth rattled as the car bounced over every pot hole.
Why Mycroft chose such a place, John was not going to ask.
He entered the cafe, his arrival announced by the little bell near the the top of the door. Mycroft was the only customer inside (the only person. John saw no one else), sitting at a corner table, eating soup. "Nice place," John said almost sarcastically as he slid into the seat across from Mycroft.
"Don't judge," Mycroft murmured, still hunching over his bowl. "I'm sure you've eaten in worse places."
A cockroach scurried across John's boot. He resisted the urge to stomp on it. "Not really."
"Sit down, John, and tell me what's on your mind."
"I texted you about the nightmares."
"Is that normal?"
"I try not to define the word, 'normal', John. It's just confusing."
John was both overcome with the urge to strangle him and to laugh. Even in the face of uncertainly, it was somewhat comforting Mycroft will be always be the same. As annoying as that was.
Mycroft sighed, sat back and dabbed his mouth with his napkin. "How detailed are these dreams?"
"Very. They feel like memories, not dreams."
"Who's in them?"
"Me. My mum was in the most recent one. And... him."
Mycroft hummed thoughtfully. "Your mother died from lung disease, didn't she?"
"Yes, about ten years ago. She was a heavy smoker."
Mycroft tapped his fingers against the table, staring off in the distance as he assessed his answer. After a minute of silence, he said, "He's not happy with you."
John blinked at this. "Not happy? I've done what you told me, I have not ignored him."
"I told you, he's not bound to any set rules or patterns. If there is a rational reason behind this, it's only rational to him."
He paused suddenly, pursing his lips.
"But..." he began cautiously. "Perhaps it's time to get your affairs in order."
John had always known he would die some day. As a doctor and a soldier, coming to terms with your ultimate demise was practically a requirement. Once a year he would update his will and double-checked his savings. He was confident should he suddenly shuffle off this mortal coil, he would not leave behind a mountain of debt for his loved ones to deal with.
This was something different.
"What are you doing?"
John flinched at the voice so closely behind him. He twisted, gave Sherlock a quick scowl and went back to looking through his documents. "I'm trying to find my will. After last week's fisaco with the ice cream vendor, I thought it would be a good idea to update it."
Sherlock scowled at him. "The vendor was not my fault. I thought he would go quietly, not... fling knives at us. Why are you updating your will? You already updated it this past October."
Sherlock was right. The ink on the darn thing had barely dried, it was still so new. "Yes, well, after last week, I thought it best to give it a look over. Double-check it and all."
"Does this have to do anything with the tall man?"
John choked. "You promised your brother you would leave that alone."
"I promise Mycroft I would not investigate it. I'm just asking a question."
"That is investigating! That's the whole definition of investigation!"
Sherlock shrugged. "Ever since your disappearance, you've talked to Mycroft more and more."
"You do realize your brother kidnaps me, right? I have no say when or where he does this."
"I just don't see why I am kept out of the loop. How is this man any different than any other murderer? What makes him so special?"
Special. God, Sherlock had no idea what he was talking about. "Leave this alone. Let it be."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at him. Lord, that was the wrong thing to say. John knew the moment it popped out of his mouth, it was never going to be let go. He felt panic rise up in his spine as he desperately tried to think of a way to discourage Sherlock and knowing nothing he will say or do will stop him.
John opened his mouth to speak and was immediately cut off by the sound of Sherlock's phone ringing.
Saved by the bell, irony at its best. With his face pinched in annoyance, Sherlock pulled his phone out, checked the number, and answered it. It was Lestrade, John knew. If it were anyone else, Sherlock would have ignored it. "Yes?"
He listened while John placed his will away. He really didn't need to double-check his will.
Sherlock shut his phone. "Triple murder," he gave as explanation. "Are you coming?"
He sounded angry but he really wasn't. If he was, he would have never invited John along.
Really, the very first thing to come out of Sherlock's mouth shouldn't be, "Boring!"
Especially not while looking at three dead bodies. "Boring?" Lestrade said, crossing his arms. It was a good thing Sally wasn't in the room at the moment otherwise she would've knocked Sherlock across the head. "What-"
"This is clearly a gang-related death. These two? Shot in the head because they had nothing to do with it, they were just getting rid of witnesses. But this one? You see? Tortured before he was shot. Clearly he pissed someone off. Ask around, you'll find the person who did this."
Sally entered the room as Sherlock's last words rang out and scowled at his dismissal. Instead of complaining openly about it, she held up a folder and announced, "Then I guess you won't be interested what I got in here."
"Let me guess," Sherlock said unimpressed. "Anderson's IQ scores?"
She didn't take the bait and passed the folder to Lestrade. "If you look across the way," she pointed out the windows, to the flat in the building across. "You can see Mr. Durgen and his high digital camera pointed right at us. I asked him a few questions and after a few concealed threats of being charged with voyuerism, he gave me the photos of a possible suspect."
Lestrade was frowning at the pictures. "Is something wrong with his camera?"
"No," said Donovan. "I've seen his other picturess. They're clear as day. These, he says, he doesn't know these came out so badly."
This clearly peaked Sherlock's interests. Sighing, he held out a hand. "Let me see."
Donovan looked like she wanted to protest the way Lestrade handed over the folder without so much a taunt, but let it go. John watched from the side as Sherlock opened the folder.
His eyes went wide. "I'll investigate this case," he announced loudly and suddenly.
"What, really?" John said. "A second ago you found this case boring."
Sherlock turned to him, an ugly victorious grin was on his face. "A second ago I wasn't given this." He handed the folder over to John.
The photo made John feel like a pervert for just holding it in his hand. But the clear disregard for privacy was not an issue. The photo was grainy, blurry, could barely be looked at without wanting to squint your eyes in an effort to make it better. Despite the poor resolution, John knew what this was.
The photo was of this flat and of the people inside. The residents, the ones who laid dead only a mere fifteen away from John, were all pointing fearfully at one figure in the photo. No features could be made out except for his shape. His tall, thin shape.