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Ruins of the Dark

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When Sherlock turned up at his flat, nearly three years to the day after he had fallen from the roof of St Bart’s, John punched him. He put every ounce of strength he had into the blow, hoping he bloody well broke something for what the bastard had put him through. The sharp crack of his fist striking the bridge of Sherlock’s nose was immensely satisfying.

Sherlock didn’t even flinch. He blinked once, slowly, and then his mouth split open in a wide grin. The blood, pouring from his nostrils, pooled along his bottom lip, staining his teeth.

“Oh, John,” he said. “I had no idea you would be so affected.”

That should have been the first clue.

*

Sherlock moved back to 221B Baker Street. John knew this not just because of the media frenzy surrounding Sherlock’s “resurrection,” as the papers were calling it, but because of the onslaught of texts John received from Sherlock informing him of it.

The new wallpaper is hideous. SH, one said.

Another read, Your room is ready for your return. SH

Still another said, This is pointless, John. Come home. SH

When John woke one morning to find over fifty unread text messages, all sent from Sherlock in the last hour, all reading, Dinner? SH, John decided he’d had enough of avoiding the issue.

*

“Look,” John said, “this isn’t something I can just shrug off. You… Christ, Sherlock, you have no idea. I need time. I need space.”

Sherlock, seated across from John at a small table in what used to be their favourite Chinese restaurant, wrinkled his nose—which looked remarkably better than it had when John had broken it several weeks ago—in displeasure. “I’ve given you time. I’ve given you space. I’ve been remarkably patient, in fact.”

“You really haven’t.”

The waitress approached with a plate of egg rolls, which she set on the table between them. John grabbed one. Sherlock only stared.

“Please don’t tell me you still believe that rot about digestion slowing your mind,” John said. “Christ, I think you’re even thinner now than you were before. You look ghastly.”

Ghastly was a bit of an exaggeration, but Sherlock did look paler than John remembered. Paler and bonier. John had never been more aware that cheekbones were only skin stretched over a bit of bone.

He continued, a touch more softly, “Even you need to eat sometimes.”

Sherlock’s gaze met John’s, and John reckoned they were thinking the same thing: remembering when this sort of conversation had been a daily occurrence, when convincing Sherlock to eat one full meal a day had been an accomplishment that left John feeling warm.

“You’re engaged—very newly, I might add.”

John froze. He should have known it was too much to hope for—wanting to keep Mary out of it all, to shield her from Sherlock’s brand of chaos and John’s reckless compulsion to follow.

“Yes,” John said. “Her name is Mary Morstan. I… well, I’m very fond of her. She’s—”

“—a veterinarian. Obvious,” said Sherlock. He wasn’t even looking at John, apparently listing his deductions from memory. “Specialising in exotics, and she owns a pet… hm, snake, I believe, something small, probably a corn snake. You don’t mind it, though you pay it little attention unless she seems to expect otherwise. Which is more often now that you’re engaged. You spend several nights a week at her flat. You sleep on the right side of the bed, facing the door, and she on the left, facing the window. She never closes the curtains, and sometimes leaves the window cracked open all night—she really shouldn’t, by the way. Anything could get in.”

John stared. He’d forgotten what it was like to hear a proper Sherlock deduction. “You’re amazing,” he said. “So let’s have it, then. How’d you deduce all that? The state of my clothes? The draft from the window probably does something to my hair, yeah?”

Sherlock smiled. “As always,” he said, “you see, but you don’t observe.”

*

“I ran into Sherlock at Sainsbury’s,” Mary said, and John thought for a second he’d misheard.

“You… sorry, what?”

“Mmhm.” Mary set her computer in her lap as she stretched her legs across the sofa. Her toes swept against John’s thigh. “I recognised him immediately, of course, and he seemed to recognise me as well. Then he acted like a right tosser when I stopped to introduce myself.”

“Yeah, he does that,” John said. “What… I mean, what was he doing there?”

Mary glanced up. “He was looking at tea. Why?”

John shrugged, and after considering him a moment, Mary returned her attention to the computer.

John wasn’t sure why it niggled at him. After all, Sherlock had to at least occasionally buy food now that there was no one there to buy it for him, and it wasn’t entirely out of character for him to trek halfway across London for the hell of it and maybe pop into a shop while he was there.

At the same time, Mary running into Sherlock two days after Sherlock had brought her up seemed too perfect for it to be coincidence.

“Looks as though there’s been another burglary in East Dulwich,” Mary said. “And more remains found in the Thames, good lord! Can you imagine?”

John hadn’t heard about any of it, in fact. He’d got tired of seeing Sherlock’s face on the front page of every news source he glanced at, so he hadn’t read the papers or visited a news site in days.

“Dreadful,” he agreed anyway.

*

It continued to niggle at him. He still didn’t know why. It would hardly be the first time Sherlock had tracked down a single person in London for no real reason except that he wanted to—and yet.

John wound up ringing Greg to ask, “Does Sherlock seem odd to you?”

“What, odder than usual?” Greg said. He sounded tired, although it was barely half seven in the evening. “He says ritual murders are boring, puts eyeballs in the microwave, and—”

“Not that sort of odd,” John said. Then a thought occurred. “Hang on. You have seen him lately, haven’t you?”

“Course. Not often, mind. He’s been temporarily barred from crime scenes, and he’s not exactly a let’s-go-for-a-pint sort of guy, is he?”

“No,” John agreed.

Greg sighed. “Think of it this way. It’s been three years since we’ve last seen him. And he spent that time, in his own words, ‘dismantling’ the largest criminal empire in Europe, if not the whole world. If you expect him to be the same person now that he was before….”

He had a point. John thought about the men and women he had seen changed by war, by torture, by the shock of killing someone or seeing someone die for the first time.

And yet.

“Right,” he said, and rubbed his forehead tiredly.

*

Visiting 221B Baker Street was like falling into the past. When Mrs Hudson stepped out to envelop John in a warm embrace, he remembered the first time he had seen her, doing the same to Sherlock, and John felt content, like he was finally coming home after a long journey.

Then Mrs Hudson pulled back and said, “You have to talk to him. He looks horrid. I’ve been telling him for days he needs to see a doctor, but you know how he is. He won’t hear of it.”

Sherlock did look horrid. In fact, he looked like death walking: skeletal, pasty. Even the flat smelled sickly, stale and faintly sour, like food had been left out to rot. It probably had, knowing Sherlock.

“Well, you’ve got Mrs Hudson worried,” John told him.

“So I’ve heard,” said Sherlock. He was lying on the sofa with his eyes closed, as though he hadn’t summoned John over here himself—Come over for dinner? SH, the text had read, which was so uncharacteristic that John hadn’t been able to talk himself out of obliging. “She brought up a tin of biscuits earlier. I’m too thin, apparently. They’re in the cupboard.” He waved vaguely in the direction of the kitchen.

“Did you eat any of them?”

John knelt beside the sofa and laid the backs of his fingers on Sherlock’s forehead. No fever. If anything, his skin felt slightly cool, but thankfully not clammy. Sherlock’s features twitched at the touch, but he didn’t pull away.

“Mmm no.”

John sighed and dropped his hand. “Open your eyes.” He waited until Sherlock obeyed. Pupils were normal, no red in his sclera. Good—probably no drugs.

“Have you finally forgiven me, then?” Sherlock asked.

John thought for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “It’s nothing to do with forgiveness. I forgave you ages ago,” he admitted. “I know why you did it. It’s fine. I just… need space. Like I said before.” They stared at each other, Sherlock’s gaze dark and intense, John feeling like a specimen flayed open.

John cleared his throat. “How do you feel?”

“Fine.” The corner of Sherlock’s lips twitched. “Don’t worry. I have been eating. Ah, speaking of—” He lifted himself into a seated position and swung his legs over the side of the sofa. “Dinner?”

*

Crime scene. Come if convenient. SH

“Sherlock?” Mary asked. She didn’t look up from where her foot was propped against the coffee table as she painted her toenails.

“Yeah.” John’s thumb hovered over his mobile screen. He didn’t know how to respond. “He wants me to come to a crime scene.”

“Oh, that sounds interesting!”

John didn’t answer, still staring at his phone, and after a moment, Mary finally raised her head.

“Aren’t you going? I know how much you’ve missed it.”

John did miss it. Just seeing the word crime so close to the initials SH made his blood sing like it hadn’t in years… which didn’t explain why he wasn’t leaping at the opportunity. He didn’t understand it himself.

Mary screwed the lid back on her bottle of nail polish and shoved it aside.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she said. “We haven’t really, so far, because you haven’t seemed keen on it. I won’t pretend to understand what it’s been like for you, to learn your best friend faked his suicide, but I imagine it’s a mess in your head, yeah? You don’t know what to feel. It might help to talk it out.”

It was more complicated than all that, though. John had told Sherlock the other day that he’d already forgiven him, which was true, but— “He makes me uncomfortable.”

John realised only after he had said it that it was true.

“I don’t know why,” he continued. “I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not even that he’s different to what I remember. Something about him is just… off.”

“You don’t have to know why,” Mary said gently. “That he makes you uncomfortable is enough.”

John took a deep breath and, feeling calmer, somehow, more solid, began to tap out a response on his phone: Not convenient. Sorry.

When another text arrived several minutes later—If not convenient, come anyway. SH—John made himself ignore it.

*

“So sorry! I’m running late,” Mary said, letting John into the flat, where they were meant to meet before going to dinner and then a film and then hopefully back to the flat for a long and filthy shag. “You don’t mind waiting a bit, do you? I just have to finish my makeup. Oh, and would you mind feeding Carla for me?”

The corn snake was draped over a fake log and, as usual, didn’t seem to give a toss about John until he had a pinkie mouse thawed and grasped in a pair of forceps right in front of her face. Then she perked up and slithered after the mouse when John began to inch it away from her.

(“Bit morbid, I know,” Mary had said when she’d first taught John to do this, “but she likes to play with her food.”)

When Carla finally struck, John let go immediately, and she pulled the mouse to her and began to coil around it.

John’s mobile rang, and he retrieved it from his pocket.

It was Greg. “I take it back,” he said. “You were right. I called Sherlock to a crime scene today, and he’s…. There’s something odd about him, all right.”

“I thought he was barred from crime scenes.”

“Yeah, but that was before all this with the missing persons in the Thames—”

“The Thames?”

“—which I thought would be right up his street, but he didn’t give a toss. Didn’t even berate us for being idiots or wasting his time. Come to think of it, he didn’t say much of anything, really, just… dunno. It was weird.” Greg sighed. “You think he…. He’s probably all right, more or less, yeah?”

John echoed the sigh, glancing into the vivarium. Carla had the mouse mostly eaten by now, although there was still a sliver of a pink tail and pink feet peeking out of her mouth where it was stretched around her prey. John turned away.

He thought of how awful Sherlock had looked when he’d last seen him, how a few days later John had turned down what amounted to Sherlock’s request for assistance.

“Dunno,” he admitted. “I’ll pop by tomorrow, try to talk to him.”

*

The lights were on in the windows of 221B when John arrived, although he rang the doorbell nearly half a dozen times to no effect until Mrs Hudson finally emerged from the downstairs flat.

“Is Sherlock home?” he asked.

She huffed as she ushered him inside. “Probably lost in his own head or lying about the place having a sulk. Just go on up, dear. I’m sure he’ll love to see you.”

Sherlock did not, however, appear to be home at all. The lights in the sitting room and kitchen were lit, but the flat was silent and empty.

The whole place stank something awful. Not like rotting food, though: now, it smelt clearly of death, like a body in the first stages of decay. John wondered if Sherlock had done something like left a bag of thumbs in the bin or forgot to store a freshly dissected tongue properly in the fridge, so he walked around the flat, lingering in each room to try to locate the source of the smell.

He couldn’t. The miasma of death seemed to be everywhere.

In the kitchen, John rifled through the cupboards, which were bare aside from a tin of homemade biscuits, and then opened the door to the fridge.

Body parts—limbs, mostly—covered the surface of every shelf. Most were stored in bags, but some were simply piled one atop the other. Blood smeared the walls, dotted the bottom, dripped from a carrier bag down the door. John could see a femur head protruding from a mess of shredded skin, muscle, and blood vessels where the thigh had been ripped from a human pelvis. There were deep gashes along its length. Teeth marks. Eating it—someone had been eating it.

“If I’d known you were coming, I’d have cleaned up the place.”

John nearly shouted as he whirled around. Sherlock stood less than a foot from him, dressed in his long black coat and a red scarf, peeling leather gloves from his hands. John hadn’t even heard him come in.

“Sherlock, what— Where did all this come from?”

Sherlock cocked his head, almost childlike. “Where do you think it came from?”

“The—the morgue, Molly, I don’t…. Sherlock—”

Sherlock lifted his arm, and John flinched, but he only reached beyond John’s shoulder to close the door of the fridge. He looked perfectly, eerily calm as he left his palm there, half caging John against the door.

“Don’t be obtuse, John, you know exactly where it came from. I had wanted to break the news to you more gently than this,” he said. “But perhaps it’s best we simply get it over with. Look at me.”

John stared intently at Sherlock’s shoulder as Sherlock stepped closer, sighing. His breath, warm against John’s face, smelt strongly of blood. John closed his eyes, feeling faint and cold.

John.”

John opened his eyes and looked. Sherlock was grinning down at him, just as skeletal and pale as he had been days ago, but now his teeth seemed to sharpen as John watched, his eyes to yellow, pupils shrinking—

John shoved him away and ran for the door, but he found Sherlock already there, leaning against the door and looking like something out of a horror film. John was hallucinating. John had lost his bloody mind. John hadn’t a clue what to do.

“I’ll tell Greg,” he said, which Sherlock seemed to find amusing.

“And tell him what?” Sherlock’s grin was little more than a shock of unnaturally pointy teeth. “That I’m a monster? He’ll have you sectioned.”

“That you’re a murderer.” John choked on the word. It went against everything he believed in, to associate it with Sherlock. “That you killed someone.”

“Go right ahead.” Sherlock drifted closer, looming over John. “He won’t find any evidence of it, I assure you. And let’s be clear, John. You saw the fridge: I killed many someones.”

John’s stomach roiled. His blood roared in his ears. He couldn’t have spoken if he wanted to.

And then Sherlock’s hand was on John’s neck, turning his head so that when John began to sick up all over the floor, only a little of it splashed onto his shoes.

“Don’t worry,” Sherlock said, almost kindly. “You didn’t know any of them.”

*

When John returned to his flat, he found Mycroft seated in John’s desk chair, legs crossed primly.

“Doubtless you’ve now seen,” Mycroft said, “that Sherlock is… changed.”

It took a moment to process the statement. Then John felt some of his shock and numbness give way to peevishness. Of course Mycroft knew. And of course he hadn’t deigned to mention it to John until now.

“What gave it away? The yellow eyes or the fact that he’s eating people?”

Mycroft pursed his lips.

“Did you come to tell me this is your lot’s doing, then?” John asked angrily. “You weren’t content with glowing rabbits and chemical weapons, so you decided to create a… whatever the hell that is?”

Mycroft cast his gaze skywards as though in disgust. “Charming but no. I am here to advise you to proceed carefully with this knowledge.”

John lifted his chin and squared his shoulders. “Is that a threat?”

“A warning.” Mycroft folded his hands beneath his chin. His expression was severe. “I have been closely monitoring Sherlock since his return. Be very, very careful, John. I do not know how much, if any, of our Sherlock Holmes remains.”

*

John slept poorly that night and, at half six, finally crawled out of bed and went to have a long, hot shower.

After he’d finished and dressed, he found Sherlock in the same desk chair where Mycroft had sat the night before. His hands were tented under his chin.

“Mycroft was here,” he said. “Did he try to warn you about me?”

“Get out of my flat.”

Sherlock blinked. “I was merely checking that you’d recovered from the shock of last night.”

“I don’t care why you’re here. Get out of my flat.”

With a sneer, Sherlock dropped his hands and leaned back, as if nestling in for a longer stay. John grit his teeth, then continued without a word to the kitchen to make coffee.

“You’re still upset.” Sherlock’s voice came from immediately behind John, scaring the stuffing out of him. He spun around to find Sherlock mere inches away, eyes narrowed. John tried to step back, but Sherlock only followed him, until John was backed against the cupboard. “I knew an adjustment period would be required. This is beyond your understanding.”

“If you think,” John said, “that I’m going to just stand aside and let you carry on—”

“Ah, yes.” Sherlock seemed darkly amused. “Your strong moral principle—commendable. You won’t do anything, though. You won’t like what happens if you try.”

“You won’t hurt me. You know me, you knew how I’d react, and you let me go last night. You could have killed me easily, but you didn’t even threaten me.”

Sherlock sighed and bent closer until his forehead was pressed against John’s. John tried to jerk away, but Sherlock only laid a hand on either side of his head, holding him perfectly still with a grip that was terrifying in its strength. His breath was warm on John’s face. It smelt strongly of mint, like he’d gargled mouthwash only minutes before.

“Kill you? Hm. No. Your sister, your colleagues at the clinic, your old army mates, your lovely fragile fiancée? Try to stop me, John, say anything to anyone, and you’ll find bits of them in the Thames like all the rest.”

Dread began to unfurl in John’s gut, and he felt his limbs start to tremble. “Then let me help you. We can… whatever this is, whatever’s happened to you, we can fix it. Or at least try to. Please. For me, just—please?”

“For you?” Sherlock’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. It wasn’t a kind smile. “Oh, John. You have no idea what I have done for you.”

*

John drafted a blog entry—the first in over three years—about Sherlock. He tried to be subtle, to couch the truth in metaphors and vague statements in hopes that someone clever would be able to understand that something was wrong, but he was rubbish at it. It sounded like he was the one with something wrong with him.

After an hour of staring at his screen, John gave up and saved his entry as a draft so he could come back to it later. Before he logged out, he changed his password, just in case.

When he logged in the following day, he found the whole text of his entry had been replaced with a single sentence: Amusing but inaccurate—I am neither a demon nor a vampire.

John deleted the entry and didn’t attempt another.

*

“We’re all right, aren’t we?” Mary asked.

John stared, taken aback. “Er. I thought so. Are we not?”

Mary shrugged, then tucked a blonde curl behind her ear and nudged her computer—with the spreadsheet of their wedding budget open on the screen—to the side. “It’s just that you’ve been acting oddly. Quieter. You haven’t slept over at mine in days. And now you’re just—” She gestured at him, seated next to her at her kitchen table. “—you’re not really here, are you? Your mind is somewhere else.”

Although no human remains had been found in the Thames in days, the media was still devoted to the case. And the number of missing persons had, they reported, soared in the last several weeks. John was finding it hard to think of anything except Sherlock.

“I’m sorry,” John said. He scooted closer so he could cover her wrist with his hand. “I’m just worried about Sherlock. He’s… not well.”

“Not well? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. He hadn’t a bloody clue.

*

Mary and John rarely touched when they slept. John had nightmares and lingering PTSD, and Mary was very particular about temperature and space.

So when John woke to Mary’s entire calf pressed against his own, he knew something was wrong. He propped himself up on one elbow and saw that the window was open wide, inviting a near-freezing draft into the bedroom. When he sat up further, he realised why: Sherlock was sitting near the foot of the bed. He had moved the chair over from Mary’s desk, angled it so he was facing John.

Before John could react, Sherlock was beside him, an arm around John’s chest holding him down and a hand clamped over John’s nose and mouth keeping him quiet. “Shh,” he said, his voice barely a whisper in the silent room. His eyes glittered ominously in the light from outside. “You don’t want to wake your fiancée, do you?”

Indeed, Mary hadn’t even twitched. John shook his head, and Sherlock grinned.

“Do you know what I could do to her, John?”

Fear. Fear like John had never felt before wrapped itself around John’s heart and squeezed. He barely breathed as Sherlock’s grin widened, sharpened.

“You approached her first, didn’t you? You found her attractive. When I’m through with her, John, you won’t even recognise her. And it will hurt, I promise you that. She’ll be alive when I begin to eat her. I’ll start with her intestines, then work my way up to her heart.”

John shook at the thought; his breath began to come in heaving gasps. Beside him, Mary shifted in her sleep, but didn’t wake.

Sherlock’s gaze flickered down. “Just think about that,” he said.

Then the hand and arm were gone, and John could move again. He sucked in a breath and scanned the room, heart beating wildly. The chair was still beside the bed and the window still open, but Sherlock was gone.

*

The front-page story in the paper two days later was a body found in an alley off Tottenham Court Road. Female, blonde curly hair, disfigured almost beyond recognition. An animal attack, Scotland Yard was calling it.

John rang Greg, who hummed and hawed but finally admitted, “Never seen anything so gruesome. There was barely anything left of the poor woman. Whatever attacked her must have dragged most of her off.”

“Or eaten her,” John said.

“Yeah,” said Greg, although he sounded surprised. “Yeah, I suppose it could have done.”

Sherlock had never been very subtle, John thought. He had to go to the loo to retch.

*

Mary wasn’t angry. She didn’t even demand answers. John could tell, though, that she was fighting tears as she wiggled her engagement ring from her finger and held it out to him.

“You’ll be wanting this back, I expect.”

John didn’t, really, and said as much.

He gathered his belongings from her flat, tapped out a sad goodbye to Carla on the side of her vivarium, and left.

He walked home, fell into his bed, and didn’t move for hours.

*

It might please you to know I’ve cleaned out the fridge. SH

It didn’t please John at all, in fact. He still knew what had been there. Now he wondered where it all had gone if it wasn’t in the fridge any longer.

Had to bin Mrs Hudson’s biscuits. They were getting mouldy. Shame they had to go to waste. SH

John hadn’t seen Sherlock eat at all since his return. Did he not have the taste for normal food any longer? Could he even digest it, or had his biochemistry been irreparably altered? And why? What had happened to him in the three years he’d been gone?

No response to any of my texts? I’m beginning to suspect you’re ignoring me, John. SH

Of course John was. He couldn’t even bear to see Sherlock’s name on his mobile screen. He kept picturing the femur in the fridge, the teeth marks in the flesh, how Sherlock must have gnawed on it like an animal. Then the woman on Tottenham Court Road, how she had probably tried to fight back before—

John had to close his eyes, feeling ill. Please, God, he thought, give me my best friend back.

John began to wish that Sherlock had truly died after all.

*

John’s nightmares warped. He dreamt of piles of half-eaten corpses, Sherlock’s mouth bloodstained and grinning, bits of Mary floating in the Thames.

He woke gasping one night and found Sherlock bent over him, staring like John was a puzzling specimen clipped on the stage of his microscope.

“You were having a nightmare,” said Sherlock, sounding deep in thought. “Interesting. I had nightmares while I was away. About what would happen if I failed. It wasn’t meant to take three years, you know. The whole endeavour turned out to be more… trying than I had imagined.”

John said nothing. His gun was in his bedside table. If he moved quickly enough, he might be able to grab it.

“Don’t, John,” Sherlock said softly.

John didn’t. He lay still and quiet, his heart in his throat.

After a moment, Sherlock continued. “I think it’s time you moved back, don’t you? This flat is dismal, and you’ve no reason to remain here. Besides, I need you to pay half the rent.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do.” Sherlock smiled. It was almost a pleasant one. “I admit, I would relish the opportunity to try and convince you.”

John started to pack that night.

*

“He’s been rushing about all week,” Mrs Hudson said, bustling around John as he lifted his bags from the boot of the cab. “Cleaning up the place for your return.”

“Has he?”

She didn’t have any idea, of course. She probably thought what John had: that Sherlock had been depressed, traumatised, ill, but still essentially the same—and John was content to keep it that way. Let Mrs Hudson never find out what Sherlock had become.

“Mm. Haven’t seen him so cheerful in….” Mrs Hudson pursed her lips, crinkled her forehead, thinking. “Well, it’s been ages, at any rate. And I’m so sorry to hear about Mary, dear. Sherlock told me all about it.”

“I’m sure he did.” John couldn’t quite manage to keep his voice neutral, but Mrs Hudson didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. She opened the door for John and followed him into 221B.

The flat smelt overwhelmingly of cleaning product, which John found more nauseating than if the whole place had still smelt of death. Sherlock was standing at the window with his violin, playing a jaunty tune that John had never heard before.

“Sherlock!” Mrs Hudson scolded. “A bit of help would be nice. Honestly. Standing there like that, leaving John to do everything himself.”

“Oh, John knows my whims better than anyone, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock said. He didn’t look away from his own fingers on the violin strings. “He doesn’t mind.”

John said nothing, and began to haul his things up to his bedroom.

*

“Where did they go?” John had to ask, later. “The—what was in the fridge.”

Sherlock, sprawled about the sofa with an issue of New Scientist, didn’t even glance up. “Don’t ask questions you don’t really want answers to.”

John sighed but didn’t ask again.

The flat was eerie now. It looked the same as it had three years ago: a veritable disaster area, cluttered with Sherlock’s rubbish. It had even begun to smell the same as it had, that sort of smoky, bookish scent that used to make John feel at home.

But now he saw death in every corner, felt as though he were sucking in fear with every breath. He slept with his gun under his pillow and a chair under the doorknob.

He’d even got used to Sherlock’s gaunt, deathly appearance. John’s memories of a normal, healthful Sherlock were floating farther and farther away.

“What are you hoping to gain from this?” John asked. “From having me here?”

“To gain?” said Sherlock. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Not to me it isn’t.”

“Mm. Of course not.” Sherlock turned a page in his magazine and said nothing more.

*

John returned from Tesco to find Sherlock with John’s computer open on his knees.

“You think you can save me,” Sherlock said. He didn’t take his eyes from the screen.

John knew what he was looking at. John’s internet history alone was probably rather telling. Add to that his recent emails and the new folder on his desktop, and even a child could see what he’d spent the last few weeks researching.

“Think of it as me returning the favour. You saved me first, after all,” John reminded him.

“Yes.” Sherlock’s lip curled wryly. “And look how that turned out.”

*

John woke to find Sherlock looming over his bed. He shouted and went for his gun, but Sherlock stopped him before he could grab it, forced him flat on his back, and shoved a hand over his mouth to stop his shouting. His grip was brutal. John thought he might have bruises in the morning where Sherlock’s fingers had dug into his cheeks.

“Shh,” Sherlock hissed. “You’ll wake Mrs Hudson.”

It was just like before, at Mary’s, but Sherlock wouldn’t threaten Mrs Hudson like he had threatened Mary. Surely he wouldn’t.

And he didn’t. Sherlock waited until John’s struggling had subsided, and then he loosened his grip, just slightly. One of his knees was jammed into John’s stomach, the other on the bed beside John’s hip. He peered down at John, no doubt trying to deduce whether John intended to fight any more.

John didn’t, not now. He willed his muscles to go limp in submission, and Sherlock’s lip quirked into a crooked smile. He bent closer.

“Nights are so dull now,” he breathed into John’s ear. “You should be pleased with the sacrifices I’ve made for you, John. Fewer people, longer stretches between meals.”

His nose brushed the bit of skin just below John’s ear. John shivered. He couldn’t help it; it was one of his sweet spots.

Sherlock pulled back, eyes narrowed. “Hmm,” he said. “Interesting.”

He nuzzled again, then again, and again until John was nearly panting into Sherlock’s palm, partly aroused, partly horrified, and utterly confused.

Sherlock pressed a wet, sloppy kiss to his jaw, then his chin, and pulled back again. John stared dumbly up at him.

“Very interesting.” Sherlock smiled. “Go back to sleep, John.”

He was gone a moment later, and John sat up, gasping. His bedroom door was open; the chair that had been wedged under the doorknob was now shoved aside. He let them be; obviously they were no obstacle for Sherlock.

John lay awake in his bed until dawn.

*

Sherlock was putting on his coat when John came downstairs.

“What the hell was that?” John asked. “Last night, with the—” He gestured vaguely, but Sherlock of course understood.

“I wanted to.”

“That’s it?”

Sherlock shrugged, tugging on his gloves. “You didn’t stop me.”

“I couldn’t stop you.”

“You didn’t try,” said Sherlock, and left before John had found a decent response.

*

Sometimes, John sat on his bed with his gun in his hands, turning it over and over. He imagined resting the barrel against his temple, or sliding it between his lips and angling up. The pain would be excruciating, but if he aimed just right, it wouldn’t last long.

And then what? Sherlock would carry on. The number of missing persons in London would continue to rise. Maybe Sherlock would set his sights on Mrs Hudson or Greg in John’s place. Or maybe he would bring John back, somehow—John didn’t know; anything seemed possible now.

He always decocked the gun and put it back beneath his pillow.

*

Clients came by regularly. They sat on the sofa and spilled their traumas and mysteries while Sherlock sat rigidly across from them in the armchair, staring like a starving man would look upon a feast. They fidgeted nervously; some cowered. One woman even pulled a tissue from her handbag to blot the sweat from her forehead.

“Goodness,” she murmured as John walked her to the door, after Sherlock had declared her case an exercise in tedium, “he is intense, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” John agreed coolly. “He is that.”

Later, John was making himself a cup of tea when he felt the uncomfortable itch of someone’s gaze on him.

“It bothers you,” Sherlock said, “having people here.” His voice was much closer than John had expected, and he turned to find Sherlock less than an arm’s length away.

“If I weren’t here,” John said, “would you eat them?”

Sherlock sneered. “That’s not what you really want to ask. Why don’t you ask me that one?”

John swallowed. “What one?”

“The question that’s been swimming in your little head for weeks now. Do I want to eat you?” Sherlock closed his eyes, looking as though he were savouring the thought. “And the answer is yes. I won’t, of course, but… oh, yes. I want to tear you apart.”

*

“He seems better,” Greg said. “Course he’s never really cheerful, but he’s seemed more… well, himself since you moved back. Which isn’t much of a surprise, really.”

“Yeah?” John ran his finger down the side of his glass. Not exactly how he’d envisioned their pub night going: talking about Sherlock.

“Yeah. Well. You and he….” Greg shrugged.

“He and I what?”

“Just… you know. It’s always been you and him against the rest of the world, hasn’t it? It never seemed like anyone else could compare. Nothing to be ashamed of, by the way, what happened with your fiancée. Better it ended now than after the wedding. Believe me, mate, divorce is hell.”

Yeah, John wanted to say, and imagine what a butchered spouse would be like. Almost funny, how the constant insinuations about him and Sherlock were probably the last thing bothering him now.

“Yeah,” John said, and finished off his pint of ale.

*

When John finished his morning shower, he found Sherlock perched on the closed toilet lid, staring at the wall in front of him.

“Er,” John said. “Need something?”

“Thinking,” said Sherlock. “Carry on.”

“Right. And it’s critical that you do that here, is it?”

Sherlock ignored him. “Do you know that it takes you considerably less time to masturbate to completion in the shower now than it did three years ago?”

John blinked, clutching his towel more tightly. “Are you serious? You’ve been timing how long it takes me to have a wank?”

Sherlock turned his eyes disdainfully towards the ceiling. “Obvious. Incidentally, the folklore expert in California responded to your email. She said that myths are not something to be diagnosed with lists of criteria, and you’ll need to be more specific about the source of this ‘tale’ before she can properly interpret it.”

“Yes, thank you,” John said peevishly. “I appreciate it when you invade my privacy to keep me up-to-date—”

“Spirit possession,” Sherlock interrupted. He glanced over, eyebrows raised mockingly. “Really, John.”

“You’re getting off on this, aren’t you? Knowing something that I don’t, dangling it out of my reach so you can watch me scramble for it.”

“Get off on it?” Sherlock smirked. “Interesting choice of words.”

John clenched his jaw, suddenly fed up with the whole thing. “Get out. Now.”

Sherlock did, still smirking as he closed the door behind him.

*

John was floating in a state that was not quite a doze when he felt hands on his waist, coaxing him onto his back, and lips on his neck, finding and teasing the sensitive bit beneath his ear. Sherlock. Of course. He smelt foul for some reason. The odour made John think of lions. He wasn’t sure why; he’d never been anywhere near a real lion, certainly had never smelt one.

“Shush,” Sherlock told him, although John hadn’t said a word, hadn’t even tried to shove Sherlock off. John had learnt his lesson. “You smell so—” Sherlock snuffled around his hairline and pawed at the seam of John’s pyjama bottoms. “Oh. You’re erect.”

John was, although whether it had happened before or after Sherlock had climbed on top of him, John didn’t know. He gasped as Sherlock peeled back his waistband so he could grope John properly.

“Let me touch you,” he said, as though he weren’t already. Sherlock worked the foreskin back and forth over the head of John’s cock, gently worried the slit while John groaned and writhed. “Tell me I can touch you.”

John jerked his head in something like a nod, and Sherlock sucked at John’s neck and started to stroke. The pace was furious, so frantic John couldn’t tell an upstroke from a downstroke. The friction would burn all too soon, but now it felt good. It felt so good.

“I’m so hungry, John.”

Sherlock’s voice was a deep rumble. His lips skirted over John’s carotid artery, then parted so he could lave at the pulse point. He could probably feel John’s heartbeat racing under his tongue. John’s stomach swooped in fear. Sherlock could tear out his jugular easily if he wanted. John would bleed out in minutes.

“You can’t even imagine how hungry I am.”

John’s cock twitched, started to leak. It shouldn’t have. Sherlock could kill him, and he was lying here and taking it. He clutched Sherlock’s shoulders and wailed as Sherlock nipped lightly at him.

“It doesn’t stop,” Sherlock hissed. “I eat and I eat, and it only gets worse.”

Sherlock bit, just enough to hurt, and John arched, shaking, and came with a cry. Sherlock growled, clasped a sliver of skin between his teeth, and tugged like a beast ripping meat from its prey. John lay still, helpless, waiting for the moment when Sherlock’s teeth finally broke skin and tore him apart.

It never came.

*

“I’ve evidently fallen so far that I’m now being called on to provide job advice,” Sherlock said.

John peeked into the sitting room, where Sherlock sat at the desk scowling at John’s computer. Such a familiar, comfortable sight, John couldn’t help but smile. “What sort of job advice?” he asked.

Sherlock turned and, for a full 30 seconds or so, gave John the full weight of his observation. John could practically hear the engine in his head turning, turning, and he fidgeted uncomfortably, rubbing the painful but barely visible bruise on his throat. Sherlock zeroed in on the motion, and licked his teeth. Was he picturing John during sex or John with his throat ripped out? Or did he, like John now did, picture both, one scenario atop the other like an image that had been double exposed?

“Hm.” Sherlock lowered his gaze, then began to type furiously. “Let’s see, shall we?”

*

“It’s weird,” John said. “Mycroft doesn’t usually stay away this long.”

(Of course, Mycroft also didn’t usually have a flesh-eating monster for a little brother. For all John knew, maybe that changed things. Perhaps his concern didn’t extend that far.)

Sherlock didn’t even glance up from his microscope. “Oh,” he said, adjusting the focus, “I’m sure he’s around somewhere. He always did love to stick his fat nose into where it wasn’t wanted.”

*

John came back to the flat after a late shift at the surgery to find Sherlock in the armchair, entirely nude. His hands and forearms, mouth and chin, and even bits of his torso were smeared with red. John didn’t let himself think about what that was. He said nothing, and began to take off his jacket.

“Is there anything that you want,” Sherlock said, “very, very badly?”

John hung his jacket on the coatrack with a sigh. “I’d love to have my best friend back. You know, the one without the yellow eyes and freakish teeth and who didn’t sit about the flat covered in—” But no, John wasn’t thinking about that, was he? “Is that what you mean?”

“Hmm.” Sherlock sounded as though he were genuinely considering it. “That would defeat the purpose, I’m afraid. No matter. We can revisit it.” And with that, Sherlock lowered himself to his knees. “Come here.”

John finished toeing off his shoes and stepped closer until he was barely less than one metre away.

Sherlock crawled the remaining distance and set about unfastening John’s trousers and pulling his prick out.

John couldn’t stop thinking of Sherlock’s teeth as he watched his cock disappear into Sherlock’s wet, warm, red-stained mouth while Sherlock stared up at him, his expression dark and desperate and hungry.

*

The drive to Winchester, where Sherlock had apparently arranged to meet a client, seemed unusually long, and John’s mind began to wander.

“Did you die?” John asked. “Is that what— I mean—”

“Of course not. Nothing so dramatic,” said Sherlock. He didn’t take his eyes from the road. “The years dragged. I was tired of staying away, and I began to lose hope that my mission would ever be complete. I grew impatient. The rest is… difficult to explain.”

“We have time,” John pointed out.

“Perhaps someday,” said Sherlock. His lip curled. “Maybe then you’ll be able to understand.”

*

“Will you come?” said Greg.

Sherlock pretended to consider, but a good locked-room murder that had Scotland Yard baffled—of course he had already decided. They went, and John and Greg and the other police officers stood aside while Sherlock threw himself face-down on the floor to examine the carpet.

“Spending a lot of time at Bart’s, is he?” Greg murmured.

John thought for a moment. “Not really. Why?”

“Seriously? He smells like a bloody morgue.”

“Does he?” John said, surprised. He hadn’t noticed.

*

John blinked awake at just past four in the morning, then got up to go to the toilet and then the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water from the tap before he went back to sleep.

He found a body on the kitchen table—male, he thought, although it was difficult to tell. It had been ripped open from pelvis to jaw, the entire thoracic cavity exposed. John could see broken ribs standing in the mangled mess of its chest like tombstones in dirt.

Sherlock was perched in a low squat atop the body, elbow-deep in its open chest. John recognised him only by the familiar mop of dark curls on his head. He looked otherworldly: limbs too long and thin, pale skin drenched in gore, jaw stretched unnaturally wide—John thought of Carla swallowing the pinkie mouse, its little feet peeking out—and exposing rows of long, jagged teeth.

He stared with pupil-less, yellow eyes as John stumbled backwards with his hand over his mouth, gagging. John could see bits of human tissue in Sherlock’s sharklike teeth, a thick stream of blood down his chin. Sherlock’s jaw eased closed with a loud crack—bone, John realised. He’d just bit through fucking bone.

“Um,” said John, feeling faint. “I’ll just be—um, right.”

He turned and walked—slowly, very slowly, no sudden movements, nothing that might inspire Sherlock to give chase—to the stairs, then up. At the top, he paused and glanced back to find Sherlock standing on the bottom step, staring up at him.

Lightheaded, breath coming in panicked heaves, John continued to his bedroom and climbed into bed, shoved a hand under his pillow. His gun was gone.

He lay perfectly still, listening to the pounding of his own blood in his ears for the next several hours.

*

By the time that Sherlock finally joined him, it was gone seven, and John felt oddly calm as Sherlock settled beside him on the bed. He was still nude, still covered in gore, which left red smears on John’s sheets, but he looked otherwise normal, not the monster he had seemed in the kitchen only two hours ago.

“Feeling better?” John asked. He sounded numb to even his own ears.

“For the moment,” Sherlock said. He tilted his head from one side to the other until his neck cracked.

“Mrs Hudson is just downstairs, you know. If she comes up—”

“Mm.” Sherlock swiped a thumb at the corner of his lips. “She’s busy making scones for her book club this afternoon.”

John squeezed his eyes closed, cutting off the image of Sherlock sucking his blood-smudged thumb into his mouth like it was a lolly. “You’re going to get caught,” he said. “You’re not as clever as you think, and other people aren’t as stupid as you pretend. Someone, someday, will find you out.”

“Hmm. Doubtful.” When John reopened his eyes, he found Sherlock watching him like John was a newly born kitten trying and failing to crawl: amused, condescending, but fond. “Kind of you to worry, though.”

John started when Sherlock trailed three fingers along John’s bottom lip. Without thinking, John followed them with his tongue, and tasted blood. He wrenched back, lifted himself onto his elbows, expecting to vomit, but he only gagged once before the urge subsided.

“Fucking hell, Sherlock,” he said. There was a tremor in his voice. He covered his eyes with his palm. “You’re— I can’t—”

Sherlock bent closer, holding himself very still, a coiled snake ready to strike. “What do you want, John? Tell me.”

Suddenly, John felt very keenly that he was starting to crack. He felt hysterical, torn between laughing and sobbing. He wanted to scrub the rest of the blood from his lip at the same time that he was terrified to touch it, to stain even more of himself with it. He took a shuddery breath, tried to pull himself together.

“Well, at the moment,” he said with a forced calm, “I really wish that Moriarty had never fucking existed. Or that he’d been killed before he ever bloody found us.”

Sherlock hummed thoughtfully. John lowered his hand to find Sherlock’s face pinched in an expression of deep concentration.

“Interesting,” said Sherlock. “We might be able to work with that.”

With a smile, he bent to lap the remaining gore from John’s lip. After a moment, grimacing, John turned his face up and let him.