cypress_fic: (Wheat Field with Cypresses - Van Gogh)
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Title: This Thing All Things Devours (1/15)
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: Explicit
Word Count: 4,661 for this part
Genre: AU/fusion, science fiction, action, romance


(In Time AU) In 2169, time is money—literally. Humans are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, when the numbers on their arm start counting down from one year. When that time is up, they die. The only way to get more time is to earn it, borrow it, or steal it.

John Watson lives day-to-day in the crowded slums of Zone 13. He never imagined living any differently—until he meets the practically-immortal Sherlock, and helps him on a case to track a local time-thief...

The pub was called The Second Hand—just “The Hand” to its regulars. It was the type of grimy, shadowy building where no one bothered to clean the smaller blood stains off of the bar. Monday through Thursday it seemed deserted, rarely serving more than five people at a time. Today, however, was Friday, and within a half hour, the small building would be flooded. Weekly poker nights were held in the back room, welcoming players, gamblers, and anyone else looking for a drink and an entertaining way to end the night.

John Watson walked into the pub alone, nodding his head to the bartender as he passed. The front room was quiet. A dozen or so people sat at tables or at the bar, nursing drinks and checking their time every now and then out of habit. John headed towards the back doorway, obscured by decorative laser-bars that had gone out of style about three decades ago.

The room he entered was large and spacious, containing one main table against the back wall and several smaller tables scattered around the sides. Every table was occupied by poker players, clutching their cards and sitting forward in their seats as spectators watched over their shoulders, placing bets on who would win the pot.

A man in a faded blue t-shirt dropped his face into his hands as he lost a game. He looked at his outer left forearm, where a timer on his skin counted down the years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds of life he had left. Half of the spaces showed glowing green zeros. All he had were three hours and fifty-nine minutes. The seconds dropped away one by one as he stared at them in dismay. If he didn’t win more in the time he had left, the numbers would hit zero, the digits fading to black on his arm, and he would drop dead where he stood. John watched with pity as the man stood up and moved to another table to test his luck elsewhere. John rubbed at the numbers on his own arm in sympathy.

"Heeey, Johnny boy!" A short man with a messy ponytail waved, and John headed towards the main table, shoved against the back wall. Six players were seated there, waiting for him. Five were regulars that John knew on a first-name basis. The sixth was a stranger. John wondered how he had gained a place at the top table so early into the night.

"How's it going, Jerry?" John asked. The man stood up to give John a friendly clap on the back.

"Not bad, not bad," he said, sitting back down and taking a swig of his beer.

"How's the new baby?"

"Good! Great! Wife's with her right now, of course. Had to get out of the house for a bit. Kept looking at that year on the baby’s arm like I was hungry for it. Too bad it won't start ticking down 'til she hits 25. If I could take some, I would. Especially now, after my hours got cut at the factory."

John gave a disgusted grunt. "You still working at that deathtrap?"

"Says the man who came down to five seconds just last week."

A red-haired woman laughed at them from across the table. She was seated with her back to the wall, her chair pushed close to the stranger to whom John had not yet been introduced.

"That's different," she said, dropping her head onto the stranger’s shoulder and smiling. "John's always been in control of his time. You have no control over whether that rickety old factory decides to shit computer parts onto your head while you're working."

John smiled at her. "Thanks, Ellie. Good to know someone here has some faith in me." He looked pointedly at the stranger, meeting his cold blue eyes, then quirked an eyebrow at Ellie. "You bring a friend?" he asked.

Ellie draped her arm further along the man's shoulders. “This is Sherlock,” she said. “We just met, but I think we have a thing or two in common, right, Sherlock?" Sherlock gave a distant smile at Ellie's words, but held eye contact with John. "He's here," continued Ellie, "Because he’s bloody fucking rich.”

John reached across the table. Sherlock shook his hand with a strong grip and cold fingers.

“Good to meet you,” said John. “Rich, huh?” He glanced at the elbow-length fingerless glove peeking under the sleeve of Sherlock’s left arm—a form of added security more fashionable among the wealthy. “Not from our ‘time zone,’ are you?”

“Obviously,” Sherlock said, smirking.

“Let me give you some advice, then. Don’t go waving your numbers around. It doesn’t end well.” The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitched further upward, and John sat down in an empty chair across from him.

“Don’t you want to know how much?” Sherlock asked. “Everyone else did.”

“Don’t know and don’t care.” John cracked his knuckles, loudly. “Let’s play some poker.”


John kept a close eye on Sherlock during the game. He looked entirely out of place with his perfectly tailored suit and fashionable black glove, and John wanted very badly to hate him. Thankfully, his mother had raised him better than that—always saying that you shouldn’t judge a person by their numbers, low or high. Instead of hating Sherlock for being rich, John tried to hate him for his smug grin, and the way Ellie fawned all over him. The fact that John thought the smug grin was disarmingly sexy wasn’t helping matters. Nor was the fact that Ellie’s flirting seemed to be entirely one-sided.

Sherlock played a good game. John was watching his eyes, and could tell that he had noticed the way that Jerry tapped his fingers when he got nervous, and the way Michaels scrunched his nose whenever he got a bad card. He seemed to be responding to things that even John wasn’t picking up on, and he won an impressive number of hands seemingly without effort. Despite this, Sherlock was easily distracted, and kept glancing around the room as if he were looking for something.

Ellie didn’t approve of Sherlock’s wavering attention span. After he had been watching the doorway too long for her liking, she tried to pull his attention back by shaking his shoulder. Sherlock visibly jumped in his seat, and for a moment, John saw his mask slip. While Ellie pressed her face to Sherlock’s arm and tittered, he glared down at her with disgust for just a second before settling back to a cool, casual smile.

"See something you like, John?" John looked away from Sherlock to find that Jerry was grinning at him, knowingly. John tossed his cards on the table.

“Shut up, Jerry.”

“How long’s it been since you were with anyone? Weren’t you chatting up a girl at the bar a couple weeks back?”

“Think you must’ve been seeing things.”

“Nah, I’m pretty sure I remember. Young thing. Her time had barely started ticking.”

John glanced up at Sherlock, but Sherlock was either not listening or was consciously ignoring him.

“How would you know? She was twenty-five for two, now shut up and watch me finish you with this next hand.”

Jerry gave a loud guffaw. “Don’t doubt you will, and you’re good, mate, but we both know this isn’t your game.”

As predicted, John won the next hand, and Jerry went out. Although Jerry enjoyed playing, he was really only there for the beer and the company. He muttered a half-hearted curse and offered a bet of fifteen minutes on John winning the next hand, as well. One of Ellie’s friends, a short-haired woman in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, took him up on it. When John did win, Jerry lifted his bottle in John’s honour.

“Thanks for the time,” he said. He held his left hand out to the mechanic. They clasped each other’s wrists, and she passed her time to him through force of will. Jerry looked down at his arm, watching as the fifteen minutes were added to his numbers.

After a couple of hours, the game came down to Sherlock, Ellie, and John. Each time Sherlock’s hand beat Ellie’s, she squealed, and smacked him, playfully. John found it incredibly irritating, but Sherlock just gave another smug smile as he waited for the next hand to be dealt. He seemed to be growing more and more distracted as the game went on, and eventually, he played a bad hand and went out. John suspected that he had lost on purpose.

“Come on, Sherlock, play again,” purred Ellie. “You’ve got the time, I know you have.”

Sherlock shook his head, batting her away as his eyes skimmed the crowd. When John shifted in his seat, Sherlock looked down at him.

“You waiting for someone?” John asked.

Sherlock didn’t answer. He tossed his head to get his hair out of his eyes and tried to placate Ellie by buying her a drink. She pouted and huffed and put on a show until he picked up her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles “for luck.” Ellie perked up and wriggled excitedly in her seat, then gave John a devilish smile as the next hand was dealt. Sherlock rolled his eyes when Ellie wasn’t looking.

Ellie was the only one who had ever come close to John’s record-setting win of one month and twelve days. She was a better player than most assumed by looking at her, using her flirtatious, non-threatening demeanour to her advantage. She beat John two hands in a row. He was just starting to get angry with himself when the final hand was dealt, and he saw that he had some rather good cards. He raised his bet, then looked up and waited for Ellie. As she studied her cards with concentration, John caught Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock leaned back in his chair and smiled at him. John looked away.

Ellie met John’s bet, but John could tell that she wasn’t as confident as usual. He ended up beating her with a straight flush to her four-of-a-kind.

Ellie slammed her fist on the table. "Bloody hell, John," she groaned. "Every fucking time!"

John smiled at her.

"Good game, Ellie," he said. "Better luck next time, yeah?" Ellie just rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair, looking down at the five hours of life she had left.

There were three “time capsules” lying on the table—the standard method of exchanging time in public or with strangers. They were slim metal rectangles with a U-shaped opening at one end and a display on the front with space for fifteen digits. To add or remove time from the capsule, all one had to do was press their wrist to the opening and will the time one way or the other. John had won four days for the game. Jerry passed him the payout capsule that contained everyone’s bets, and John put his wrist to the opening, watching as the numbers on his arm went up.

Some of the spectators started going out into the bar, while some stuck around for another game. Jerry gave John another clap on the back before getting up and moving to a different table. Ellie bent down to put her heels back on. She started talking to Sherlock animatedly, her gaze drifting over to his arm more than was polite. Sherlock looked towards the doorway, then leaned in to speak into Ellie's ear. Her eyes lit up, and they stood, heading out towards the bar. Sherlock looked at John once more as he passed by. He nodded his head, but didn't say anything.

There were so many people in the back room that someone had set up a couple of tables in the front to handle the surplus. John sat at the bar, watching an impromptu card game with mild interest as he sipped at his beer. When his attention started wavering, he found that his gaze was drawn towards Sherlock, who was chatting with Ellie and two other women at a table in the corner. Feeling safe from a distance, John allowed himself to give Sherlock a quick once-over, admiring the delicate look of his hands where they gripped his glass, and the ridiculous length of his legs, crossed at the knee under the table. Sherlock was wearing a posh-looking suit that probably cost more time than John had earned in the last few months put together.

“Easy on the eyes, isn’t he?”

John turned around to find the bartender looking at him with a grin. He shrugged, but didn’t say anything, and the bartender walked away to serve someone else. John turned his attention back to Sherlock.

If Sherlock really did have as much time as he bragged about, John wondered what he was doing in a run-down pub in the middle of nowhere, betting with people who had no more than six months between them. It seemed like Ellie and her friends had considered this, but didn’t care about the answer. They kept exchanging curious glances with each other, but they weren’t asking Sherlock any questions.

Sherlock was in the middle of a conversation with one of Ellie’s friends. He was shaking his head at something she had just said when his attention was caught across the room. John followed Sherlock’s line of sight just in time to see a tall, gangly man sneaking out of a back door and into a hallway. When John looked back to Sherlock, he was putting on his coat and excusing himself from the table, clearly intending to follow. John took a few final gulps of beer and set his empty glass on the bar.

The door they had gone through was labelled “staff only.” John looked around quickly before slipping past, but nobody seemed to notice him. The hallway on the other side of the door was darker than the rest of the pub. Dim lights flickered in the ceiling, and the walls were lined with screens, all broken except for one, which displayed an old staff schedule from three weeks ago. The hallway smelled musty—as if there were mould growing under the tiled floor—and the air was damp and cold. A warm breeze drifted from the end of the hallway, where an exit door had been propped ajar.

John snuck over to the door quietly, but stopped when he heard voices. He couldn’t make out what was being said, but one of the voices was definitely recognizable as Sherlock’s low baritone. John leaned forward and peeked out through the sliver of open doorway to find Sherlock facing away from him, talking to the man that he had followed. John wasn’t sure what was happening, but something about it made him uneasy.

He saw it coming before it happened—the stranger made a tight fist, kept it at his side stiffly, and then, when Sherlock delivered what sounded by tone to be a particularly barbed comment, the man swung at him. Sherlock jumped back, startled, and the man swung again, punching Sherlock so hard that he stumbled and fell into a pile of empty plastic crates. The man reached for Sherlock’s arm.

John could no longer stand by and watch. He shouted “Oi!” and pushed the door open. The man took half a second to decide that he didn’t have enough time to rob Sherlock, then turned and immediately fled the scene. John ran after him for a few steps, but was more concerned about Sherlock, who was now sitting up and rubbing the back of his head. John knelt down next to him and ran his hands over Sherlock’s sides, checking for injuries.

“Are you alright?” he asked. He put a hand to Sherlock’s face and tilted him up to check his pupils.

Sherlock jerked his head away from John’s grasp, then held up a hand and paused. “Did you just hear that?” he asked. “He got in a car! I’ll never catch up to him now.”

“What?” John was still a few steps behind. “Hear what? What are you talking about?”

“The car! Two streets away at most, going in the opposite direction. Recent model, no more than three years old. Hand-driven, not AI. Really, are you deaf?”

John stood up. “What the hell is your problem? I just saved you from—”

“Saved me? Saved me, are you serious?” Sherlock frowned at John, looking him over head-to-toe. “Have a superhero complex, do you? Want to save real people the way you used to rewire soldiers?”


“You were not saving me, I assure you. Everything was going exactly as I had planned. Until you showed up and destroyed it all.” He stalked to the end of the alley, peeked out from side to side, then walked back towards John with a scowl. “Now I won’t be able to find him again for days.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“That man is wanted for time theft. He’s stolen years across multiple zones. I was about to find out where he’s been keeping the capsules when you so kindly decided to save me.”

“What the bloody hell are you talking about? Who are you?”

“Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective.” Sherlock stuck out his hand, and John shook it, carefully. “Or at least I will be,” he added, with confidence. “Once the Timekeepers are willing to take me on.”

“‘Consulting detective?’” John asked.

“That’s what I said. Tracking down stolen time can be a bit much for Timekeepers when it crosses zones. They’re often out of their depth, and would benefit from my assistance."

“Isn’t tracking down stolen time their entire job?”

Sherlock smirked. “And the ones I know are dreadful at it.”

John stared at Sherlock, blankly, and then remembered,

“You said I rewired soldiers. How did you know I was a war mechanic?”

Sherlock snorted. “Obvious. Your stance, your haircut—both say military. Couldn’t have been high ranking if you’re from this zone, so not in any leadership position. Your hands are scarred and callused. You’re obviously used to handling tools, and you’ve a steady grip under pressure. That alone is evidence enough, but you’ve also been injured—something bad enough to invalid you out. These days, the only human beings sent to the front lines are the war mechanics. It’s the only logical conclusion.”

It took John a moment to realize that his jaw had fallen open. Sherlock looked away, chewing on the inside of his bottom lip.

“That was amazing,” John said.

Sherlock looked back at him, vaguely surprised. “Amazing?" he asked.

"Yeah! You got all that just by looking at me?" Sherlock nodded, mutely. "I've never seen anyone do that before. That was extraordinary."

“Thank you,” Sherlock said, quietly. They stood in awkward silence for a moment before John spoke again.

“Is that how you found...that guy?” John asked. “By doing your—”

“By observing and deducing? Yes. Among other things.”

“And now—?”

Sherlock gave an exasperated sigh. "I’ll have to track him down again. It took me three days to do so before, but with the new evidence I've gathered, it shouldn't take more than two."

"Evidence?" John asked.

Sherlock pulled a slim, modern phone from his pocket and turned on the hologram display. Its blue light reflected off his face as he tapped through dozens of photographs, documents, and handwritten notes.

"I've been working on this case for a week. Shouldn't be taking me so long, really. I'll be quicker once I've had some practice." He turned off the hologram, and the light disappeared.

John crossed his arms. "Is this your first case?" he asked, frowning.

"Well...officially, yes. If you want to get technical, then...they don't really know that I've taken it, but—"

"Wait—the Timekeepers don't know that you've taken—I thought you said you were a detective?"

"I am a detective. I'm a bit new at it."

John laughed. Sherlock looked at him defensively, as if he wasn't sure whether John was laughing at him or not.

"Well you'll be bloody good at it," John said. Sherlock's shoulders relaxed. "If your little 'war mechanic' show was any proof."

Sherlock gave a small smile to the concrete wall at his side.

"Well,” he said. “It's been nice indulging your curiosity, but I really have to go."

"Where are you staying?" John asked. “Now that I’ve ruined your plans.”

Sherlock looked towards the end of the alley. “There’s an old fallout shelter across the street from the ZoneFree bank. I spent last night squatting—”


Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “No?”

John shook his head. “With all that time on your arm, you’re not staying alone in some—”

“I’m perfectly capable of fending for myself. As you’ve just learned.”

“I—” Sherlock gave a pointed glare, and John let down his defences. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” His eyes flickered over to Sherlock’s arm. “I don’t think it’s the best of ideas, but...”

“Well it’s not as if I have many options. I can’t stay in a hotel without being tracked, and I—”

“You can stay with me.” John heard himself say the words before even thinking.

Sherlock raised his eyebrows, and John looked away. “I mean, I live alone. It wouldn’t be any trouble, and it would make up for the fact that I’m the reason you lost him in the first place.” He rubbed at his numbers mindlessly. “And I could use the company. For a few days.”

The distant hum of music played from inside the pub, and a soft wind whistled around the corner of the alley, but the space between them seemed very quiet.

“Alright,” said Sherlock.

John looked up at him. “Alright?”

“I despise repeating myself.”

John grinned. “Okay, good. So...” He scratched the back of his head, suddenly unsure of how to proceed. “Well I have a match inside that I don’t want to miss out on—”

“A match?” Sherlock asked, quizzically. “You don’t mean poker.”

John laughed softly. “No. No, this is better than poker.”

Inside the pub, a small group of people were waiting at a table in a deserted corner for a Suicide match. The game wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t legal, but John lived off of the adrenaline rush. He had attended nearly every match for the past two years, and there were very few people like him—who could get their time down to under a minute without flinching.

His opponent that night was a man named Harrison. John didn’t recognize him. He had yellowed teeth and a sneer that seemed permanently etched onto his face, and he looked like he wanted to snap John in two. John sat down across from him and rolled up both sleeves.

Sherlock stood off to the side, between both John and Harrison. When he caught John’s eyes, John gave him a tight grin, but Sherlock turned away. He worried at the edge of his glove with his fingertips.

The referee pushed his way through the small crowd in front of the table, hushing people as he went.

“Quiet down!” he said sternly. “Don’t draw more attention than is necessary.” He carried two modified time capsules in his hands and stood them on the table as he spoke.

“Standard match,” he said. “Starts at two days. You each have two days on you?”

John and Harrison both nodded without speaking.

“Good. Wrists on the caps.”

John’s arm showed that he had six days, four hours, twenty-three minutes, and ten seconds. He held his wrist over the cool metal surface of the capsule, feeling it warm as his excess time was deposited. It had been illegally modified for use in the match. The seconds slowly transferred back to his arm to keep his time at exactly two days.

The referee examined their numbers and nodded.

“Ready position.”

John leaned forward. He and Harrison clasped hands, elbows standing firm on the table. Their left wrists rested over the capsules.

“You know the rules,” the referee continued in a monotonous voice. “Time will be drained from both of you at the same pace. Whoever pulls out first, loses. Meanwhile, each time you pin your opponent, their bet doubles.” He looked at John, and his mouth tugged to the side in a half-grin. “Now let’s see if anyone can come closer than ‘Deathwish’ here to dying.”

John smiled at the use of his nickname, and glanced over at Sherlock, whose attention was focused on him fully. John felt emboldened. He looked away and met Harrison’s scowl with confidence.

The referee leaned over the table, hovering one finger over the activation button on each capsule.

“We’ll start in!”

Their time started draining, and Harrison immediately squeezed John’s hand. John was startled. Harrison was stronger than he was used to, but John held fast. Their arms wavered on the table, only moving by centimetres.

The crowd around them had now doubled in size. Some people started placing bets. Others walked away as soon as they saw what was going on—not wanting to be a witness if somebody died.

Harrison pinned John’s arm first. John could feel Sherlock’s gaze on him, and he stood his arm up to begin again. His pride was hurt, but he didn’t worry. Harrison could pin him a million times, but so long as John’s time drained closer to zero, it didn’t matter.

They adjusted their grip in the centre of the table. John glanced across their clasped hands and looked Harrison in the eyes. Harrison glared as if he could intimidate John into losing, but his arm was beginning to shake. John pushed harder.

Harrison’s palm was getting sweatier. He flinched, and glanced down at his numbers. Judging by the look on his face, there was nothing to worry about, so John didn’t bother looking at his own. While Harrison’s attention was diverted, John gave a sharp push and pinned him to the table. Their bets were even again, and the crowd cheered.

When they re-clasped their hands, John felt the familiar burn of strained muscles. Harrison must have felt it too, because his grip wasn’t as tight as it had been. He glanced at his time again, and his eyes widened.

John still refused to look; he knew they were close. His arm burned, and his elbow ground raw against the table. Harrison looked down again. He blanched, his face covered in a sheen of sweat. Keeping his grip tight, John finally checked his time. He had thirty seconds of life left.

Harrison’s grip was weakening. John pushed him to a 45° angle, counting in his head: twenty seconds...nineteen...eighteen...seventeen. He could feel the heartbeat in Harrison’s hand.

Finally, Harrison twitched, and John pinned him to the table. Harrison pulled his arm away from the capsule like it was burning him.

The mouth of Harrison’s capsule turned from white to red. As soon as it changed, he put his arm back over it, and his time was restored. His face was white as a sheet. The crowd cheered, clapping and hollering, but keeping their eyes on John. Someone knocked into Sherlock, spilling beer on his expensive leather shoes, but Sherlock didn’t seem to notice.

John pulled away from his own capsule, and its mouth lit up green. Though it was no longer draining his time, the seconds still passed. The crowd went quiet as John’s life slipped away. When he was down to three seconds, he looked up and met Harrison's eyes.

John held his wrist over the capsule with only one second left to his life. His time was restored as the crowd cheered again, this time louder. Harrison snarled and left the table, pushing his way towards the referee to surrender his bet. John felt intoxicated with pride. He looked up, searching through the faces that surrounded him. When he met Sherlock’s eyes, he grinned. Sherlock was looking at him like he was the most fascinating thing in the room.


Author's Notes:

Many, many, many thanks to Skara Brae for being a brilliant beta and a fantastic friend.

This is part one of fifteen-ish.  I haven't finished writing yet, but I swear on the ACD canon I will finish.  Updates will probably be weekly.  Thank you for reading!


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September 2013

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