Sherlock placed the reed pipes in his apprentice's bag anyway. John had tears coursing down his cheeks, but refused to sniffle. Sherlock knelt in front of his padawan and padded away the child's tears.
"No more of these." He said sternly.
"I have nothing to give you in return, it wouldn't be fair!" John placed his slight hands on Sherlock's shoulders and shook the knight. "I cannot accept your gift, Master."
"Little one, it is a great disrespect to return a gift."
John huffed audibly. "I have nothing to give you though."
Sherlock reached behind his own belt and gave a small tug and presented the child with a familiar bear. John let a high pitched squeal as he snatched the bear to his chest. John buried his face deep into the newly sown fur of his beloved toy.
By the time Sherlock was allowed to teach the boy again, no doubt he would be well over the age of stuffed animals. Sherlock tenderly carded his hand through the child's soft hair. John gave a small coo and accepted the affectionate stroke gratefully.
"Don't go." The boy pleaded softly.
"I will see you in a standard month, John." Sherlock said carefully. John gave a small nod, but was not comforted. Sherlock pulled the boy against his shoulder. Neither of them spoke.
There was nothing they could say to each other that would change events.
"What can I give you in return, Master?" John implored softly.
Sherlock thought for a moment. "Promise me you will not want to change apprenticeship."
John wrapped his thin arms around the master's neck, it was in their final moments together. Their quarters seemed for drearier with John's things packed. The padawan nodded into Sherlock's shoulder. "Of course I promise, Master."
Sherlock nipped the boy's ear gently. The misery shared across the bond forced Sherlock to lift the boy into the air and set him on his hip. John felt slightly better in his master's hold but Sherlock only felt worse.
Soon he wouldn't be able to hold his padawan any longer, John would grow beyond pick-ups. Sherlock sniffed the child possessively, John giggled at the insistent snuffling. Sherlock played with the ends of the boy's hair, they stood out at awkward angles by the time he had finished.
"Master." The boy wrapped his tiny fists tightly in lapels of the elder's tunics. "I am sorry I let you down. I-I didn't mean to show attachment."
Sherlock shook his head. "You have an appalling trait of apologizing for things that are not your fault."
John nuzzled his master's neck carefully, neither one seemed desperately to release the other from their hold. Sherlock rocked the child gently, John began falling asleep at his shoulder. The knight sighed.
It felt dangerously close to being tortured once more.
Sentiment. Kriffing Sentiment.
A full month before he could rock his padawan in such a fashion again. Sherlock wanted to absorb every ounce of his padawan's data to prepare for his later years. John snored softly against the strong shoulder that held him, the boy was so trusting.
That would change.
The clock on the mantel chimed one, the end of their time together. Sherlock roused John gently with a small shake, the padawan blinked sleepily in Sherlock's direction. The knight pressed their foreheads together softly. "I am sorry, John."
"Master, please." John mumbled, still dazed from sleep. "Please don't go."
"I will see you in a standard month, padawan." Sherlock tore out the pain in his heart as best he could. The child clung to his master desperately as he was set back upon the floor. Sherlock knelt with his apprentice's motions and was fiercely hugged.
He did not return the embrace.
"Go, John." Sherlock murmured bitterly. The child twisted his face in the tunics and shook his head, the knight rested his chin on the boy's head. "Do you want me to go with you?" He asked softly.
"I don't want you to leave me." The child said miserably.
Sherlock barely managed to pry himself free of the child's grip, half of him truly did not want to. He shouldered the boy's pack and allowed himself to card his hand through the soft blond hair. Together they took slow steps towards the door, John's fingers touched everything they could on the way out.
"A month." John said firmly. "Don't forget, Master."
Sherlock only nodded.
How could he forget something he'd be counting seconds for?
They walked side by side to the youngling's quarters. Sherlock stopped before the long hallway and handed John his room number and his bag. The boy's eyes teared again, but he said nothing.
"I will see you again, little one." Sherlock reminded him firmly.
"Yes, Master." The timid reply.
John turned to look at him.
"You are still mine." Sherlock said with fierce loyalty. "Do not forget it."
"Never, Master." The boy swore.
They shared a formal bow and a less than formal forehead touch. Sherlock of course had to scent John for a final time, knowing full well that at their next meeting the child would reek of others. John nipped Sherlock's ear tenderly, Sherlock swiftly kissed the child's cheek.
Sherlock nudged John gently with his knee. "Go."
John nodded tearfully, but could delay it no longer. Sadly he trudged away from his master to his new quarters. Sherlock's frown reset itself upon the knight's face, and he knew it would remain there for a month.
The knight sighed heavily. He reached into his pocket for the transfer papers Mycroft had given him. He had to board a ship in less than an hour for his new home. He tore the envelop open angrily, and flipped through the pages.
Congratulations, dear brother. You have passed your second evaluation. You and your padawan are now assigned to the planet Nivek to locate three of the missing padawans. John has received similar papers on his doorstep. Expect a squeal any second.
Sure enough John's childish yelp of joy could be heard down the corridor. Sherlock hid his grin behind his papers as thunderous footsteps rushed to him. His padawan attached himself to the knight's leg and refused to let go.
Sherlock did not comfort him.
But he did kneel down to hug his child.
End of first book.