The pool. Midnight. The snipers. Moriarty. The vest. John. The gun. Sherlock.
The space of a heartbeat stretches into eternity, while red dots flit across their skin like malevolent fairies that encircle them in a ring of their own making.
John meets Sherlock's eyes, John nods, and then in the space of another heartbeat all of eternity disappears, leaving behind only darkness and a void so deep that no sound could ever penetrate and oh god the light the fire it burns it's burning me turn it off turn it
John gasps awake, nearly yanking out the IVs and ventilator tubes connected to him in the process. The angry beeping from every machine in the room informs him that not only is he still alive, but also that it had been a good damn fight to keep him that way.
Two nurses, three surgeons, and one tall man in a suit and bearing an umbrella barge into his room (a private one, not connected to the usual Intensive Care Unit, right, must have been Mycroft's doing); while the medical staff do their best to restrain a struggling John back on the bed, Mycroft Holmes stations himself at the foot so that John would be sure to see him even while lying down.
"Please do calm yourself, Doctor Watson," Mycroft says in his usual half-condescdending upper-class drawl. "You are hardly half-healed from your ordeal. Stress like this would be an unwanted setback in your recovery, would it not?"
"Mycroft," John wheezes, the ends of his words getting slightly garbled by the new tubes now being fitted up his nose. "Mycroft—what—Moriarty—Sherlock—"
"There was an explosion at a pool near Covent Garden three nights ago," Mycroft continues as if John hadn't interrupted. "By the time Scotland Yard arrived, nearly the entire place was rubble and ash. Not surprising, given that a quantity of Semtex on a bulletproof vest of similar size and weight was enough to destroy a whole block of flats two days before—"
"Mycroft." John could hear his own voice crack and end on a moan. "Please—tell me—Sherlock—where—"
"You were found farthest from the explosion, Doctor Watson, and grievously wounded at that. There were no other bodies or parts thereof to be identified, much less any other survivors." Mycroft bows his head, the first sign of emotion he has shown during their conversation. "I am sorry."
John, still struggling against his fellow doctors until the very last, suddenly goes as limp as if he too had died. "No," he says brokenly, over and over, getting softer and more slurred the deeper he sinks into sedative-induced unconsciousness. "No, no, Sherlock, no, nonono…"
"See to it that he receives the best care you can give him," Mycroft instructs the head surgeon before spinning his umbrella to the side and walking out of the private room, where Anthea is waiting for him out in the hallway, not even pausing her texting to acknowledge the presence of her employer. "Have you ensured that Doctor Watson will remain under constant Level 5 surveillance until he is discharged?"
"Yes, sir." Anthea looks up from her BlackBerry in time to catch the slump of Mycroft's broad shoulders underneath the well-tailored suit. "Is there—is there something wrong, sir?"
With barely a moment to blink, Mycroft straightens himself back into his normal business demeanor. "Nothing more so than usual," he replies coolly. "Come along, Anthea."
Anthea follows her employer with her eyes back on her mobile, but she had heard the slight catch in Mycroft's voice, and she wonders.
When John is released from the hospital a month later, the first thing he does is to hail a cab and direct the driver to 221B Baker Street.
The door was unlocked, as it had been when Sherlock left to meet Moriarty at the pool at midnight so long ago, and John limps into the sitting room (it had come back in full force, that psychosomatic bastard of a limp, ever since the poolside explosion and simply refused to go away no matter what the physical or psychological therapy) until he is able to throw himself onto the sofa, sprawling across it as Sherlock used to and slightly panting from his exertions up the stairs.
Everything had remained untouched, all in their original places, yet the place had been recently dusted and aired-out before his arrival. There is Sherlock's bookshelves, his letter opener still jutting out of the mantelpiece, his laptop still closed on the worktable they had once shared; even the smiley-face of pockmarks that Sherlock had shot into the wall opposite the fireplace is now uncovered, grinning down on John as he lies there, helpless on the sofa with an arm flung across his eyes as he tries not to notice everything that was Sherlock's, as John tries not to cry too loudly over the month-old death of his flatmate.
Mycroft had been telling the truth—there had been nothing left other than smears of blood on the floor of the pool that matched where Sherlock and Moriarty had been assumed to have been standing. Somehow, in the explosion, John had miraculously escaped total destruction; Donovan had found him, unconscious, flung against a far wall and partly protected by a fallen beam. It was only by sheer luck that John had survived—a luck that had forsaken Sherlock for the last time. John hadn't even been able to attend the simple funeral ceremony, due to his condition; Lestrade had gone and came back later to report that even Anderson looked mournful and Donovan had cried during Mycroft's eulogy, all the while dabbing at his own eyes with his jacket sleeve while he spoke.
In the end, it is Mrs. Hudson who finds John still lying on the sofa over an hour later. She could barely get him to sit up straight and almost didn't manage to get some tea and biscuits in him before he completely collapses. Mrs. Hudson herself had to hide her sobs as she bustled over a nearly-unresponsive John and tried to bundle him up in her own afghan.
"I've left all his things exactly as he had them when he—when he left," she tells John, wiping her eyes dry with a crumpled tissue before blowing her nose wetly. "His brother, that dear Mister Mycroft, he's paying me for the both of your shares. Said that you could stay here as long as you wish, and if you leave, well—" Mrs. Hudson starts to sniffle again. "He's also paying me to keep it as a memorial, like. For Sherlock. Everything exactly as it was, for Sherlock's sake."
"I'm sure he'd have liked that," John says dully. "Should thank Mycroft for that—for everything."
Even as he says it, John knows that he can't stay, not here. Everything speaks too much of Sherlock and his presence, or rather the lack thereof, and the emotional wounds are still too fresh. Mrs. Hudson seems to understand his decision without him having to say a word; when John thanks her profusely for the tea, she only takes his hand (the one not currently in a sling) and says nothing as silent tears slowly trail down her cheek and drip with the steady consistency of a broken faucet onto the backs of his fingers.
Mycroft is surprisingly amenable to John's request to move out of 221B. He even insists on paying for the rent in John's new flat, a cozy little one-bedroomer around the corner from Madame Tussauds. The cost is at least three times higher than what John and Sherlock had paid together for Baker Street, and John can hardly afford to turn down Mycroft's offer; his finances are now in a sorry state, thanks to a lack of employment while John recovered from his injuries, and every little bit helps—yes, even help from the brothers of late flatmates.
The new place is close enough to 221B that John can see the building itself from down the street when he walks to the Tube station in the mornings; and sometimes he drops in to Mrs. Hudson's place to visit of an evening, bringing tea and flowers and on one occasion a bag of takeaway. But never again does he step into the actual flat he and Sherlock had once shared: the door remains locked, and John keeps the key in the back of the lowest drawer under the desk in his office, the one that he never uses except to store an extra copy of his last will and testament.
John returns to work at the surgery, but nothing is the same there either. All his patients seem particularly dull, or whinging, or just plain stupid; on more than one occasion, John thinks of Sherlock and ruefully has to admit that maybe those complaints of boredom against the human race might have had a point. But whenever he thinks of Sherlock, he has to lock himself in his office and have a short cry before he can be in any mental shape to see a patient, so he actively tries not to think of Sherlock after a while.
Sad to say, it doesn't work.
On the six-month anniversary of the explosion at the pool, John opens his inbox to find a brief email from Mycroft Holmes, the first he'd heard from the man since—since that happened.
If there is ever anything you need, please do not hesitate to contact me. I owe you that much, Dr. Watson, for my brother's sake at least.
P.S. It was not your fault. It never was.
John deletes the email, but not before checking the box that will mark all mail from the sender in the future as spam.
Sarah finally drags John down to the club straight after work one evening (John doesn't learn until later that Harry had found Sarah's number and had nearly begged for Sarah to help him get out of his near-depressive slump. Sarah had agreed only after extracting a promise from Harry to, first, stop drinking, and second, meet Sarah for dinner and a cuppa sometime). It's Halloween night, so half of the people on the Tube are in full costume, and everyone they meet on the way assumes that John and Sarah's white coats are part of their disguise.
When they arrive, the place is hot and loud and crowded, the heavy metallic pounding of modern pop music stretching out into the street as far as the line for entrance does. John wants to turn around and go somewhere else, if not go home altogether, but Sarah holds onto his hand as tightly as if her life depended on it until they are well past the bouncer at the door. John grimaces, but he doesn't try to break free, for now.
Once they're inside, Sarah excuses herself to stop by the loo, and John heavily sits down at the bar to wait for her. "Absinthe for me, please," he says to the bartender.
"And I'll take whatever the doctor is having," adds a new voice from John's left, and his first glimpse when he turns to look is all auburn hair and a disarming smile and, good God, the most penetrating gaze of green-blue that he's seen in almost a year.
Sherlock had eyes like that, John thinks in a daze, taking in the woman sitting next to him as best he could through his haze of nostalgia. Sherlock had the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.
"Absinthe isn't exactly good for the health, doctor," the woman says now. Her voice is full and rich, a honeyed contralto that contrasts sharply with her slender frame. "A man like yourself shouldn't be drinking such things often."
"A man like myself should probably be at home watching the footies," John counters, fighting down a heady, reeling sense of déjà vu. "And who even said I'm a doctor? Isn't Halloween all about being what you aren't?"
"Yes, but yours is no costume, doctor. I would have seen it if it were." The woman's eyes glitter with intelligence in the dim light of the club, the color shifting so easily between green and blue that John can't tear himself away from staring. "And something tells me you couldn't be anyone but yourself, even if you tried. I do like that sort of honesty in a man, don't you?"
John swallows, hard, before extending a hand. "John Watson," he says, keeping his voice surprisingly steady. "Army doctor."
"Mary Morstan. Secondary school teacher." Mary takes John's hand and gives it a firm squeeze, her smile widening. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Watson."
"The pleasure is all mine, Miss Morstan," says John, and for the first time in months he manages to smile back.
A round of drinks with Mary Morstan evolves into a lunch at the café across the street from Bart's the next week, into a dinner and a movie two weeks later, until John wakes up one morning to find a naked Mary half-draped across his bare chest while the sun dapples the coverlet with streaks of gold.
Exactly one month after that, John wakes up again, this time alone, to the sound of his mobile buzzing angrily across the bedside table. A moment of groping, and then he's answered it and he only hears the sounds of a woman trying not to cry and failing miserably.
"Mary?" John sits up, suddenly awake and as alert as if he were back in Afghanistan. "Mary, is that you? What's wrong?"
"John," Mary says, pausing just long enough for another sob. "John, we—I have a problem. Can I—can you come over—to my place? Like, now?"
Which is how John finds himself sitting in Mary's tiny kitchenette twenty minutes later, stirring sugar into his coffee with a plastic spoon and silently asking himself why condoms just weren't made the way they used to be.
Mary sits across from him with her own mug of hot milk. They remain that way for some time, neither of them speaking or daring to look at the other, the heavy silence only broken by the ticking of the kitchen clock on the wall behind Mary's head. It is Mary who finally speaks first, still looking down at a patch of linoleum near John's shoes, and asks John a question that comes right out of the blue and smacks him in the middle of the brain when he least expects it.
"John, do I—are you happy? With me?"
John stops stirring, so that he can focus all his energy on thinking, going back through his memories of the last few months. Mary was a sweet girl, thoughtful of everyone and full of thoughts on everything, quietly brilliant in her own way. She wasn't Sherlock, but then again John found himself thinking of Sherlock less and less the more time he spent with her. And the sex certainly hadn't been bad, as evidenced by the fact that they had done it often enough to hit the one bad condom in the package, and now Mary is pregnant.
Pregnant. Mary Morstan, John's girlfriend, or as close as one could call it that, is pregnant. With John's child, created with at least half of John's blood. It's almost hard to wrap his head around it, but John tries and does.
"Yes," John finally says. "Yes, I'm happy. I'm happy when I'm with you. Why?"
"Because I'm happy, too." Mary smiles at John, a gentler version of the one she gave him when they first met, and it still carries the power to make John melt a little inside. "You make me feel so—so loved, and if I had to have anyone's child, it would be yours."
Mary reaches out and takes John's hand in both of hers. "But there's something else," she adds, giving his hand a gentle pressure that warms him from the inside out. "If I have your child, John, if nothing goes wrong and I can carry to term, I—I want our son, or our daughter, to have a father. What do you think?"
John lets the word sink in for a moment. Father. Him, a half-maimed Army doctor with a former penchant for chasing after criminals and a barely-controlled PTSD, a father to some new precious young thing that would have half his blood if it could be brought into the world. A father. John didn't even know the first thing about parenting, he would make such a terrible one, no one in their right mind would ask him to even watch over their own children, and yet—
John covers Mary's hands with his free one, then leans forward until their faces are almost touching across the table before lightly brushing his lips over hers. No other words are necessary.
John Watson marries Mary Morstan a month later, in a small ceremony under the eaves of a quiet country church in Mary's home village of Selkirk. The officiating minister is the same man who married Mary's parents and attended the wedding of Mary's grandparents as a ringbearer, both of whom are attending along with Mary's many Scottish cousins and Irish in-laws.
On John's side of the aisles, it looks for a while as if Harry and Sarah would be the only ones in attendance. Mycroft had been invited (at John's insistence—while his presence might have been an awkward thing to explain to the Morstans, John felt he needed to treat Mycroft as a sort of family, if not for the sake of his rent, then for Sherlock) but had sent back a courteous reply that cited his work as his excuse for not attending. John hardly notices the lack of attendance on his side, so nervous is he about the wedding itself, that he doesn't see the two shadows entering from the vestibule during the reception until Harry whistles for his attention.
"John," calls the taller of the two as the pair of newcomers comes closer. "Sorry for barging in without an invite. Are we too late?"
"Detective Inspector!" John steps forward, then stops in his tracks. "Donovan?"
"Oh, please, you can call me Sally now," Donovan says lightly. She doesn't look half-bad out of her police uniform, in a lovely cream-pink dress that shows off her slender ankles. "You've earned that much, at least, am I right?"
"And feel free to call me Geoff." Lestrade claps John on the shoulder. "Looking good, I must say. And the wife, she's a beauty."
"Isn't she, though?" John can't help but cast a glance in Mary's direction. His new wife really is glowing with all the beauty of an expecting mother, all laugh and smiles as she discusses something eagerly with her father and grandmother, and John feels a flush of pride. "I'm sorry, I should have invited you, it just completely slipped my mind and—"
"No, don't worry about it. We saw the announcement in the papers and were planning on coming, but then a case held us up until just a few hours ago. No harm done." Lestrade's tone becomes more sober. "So, how have you been? Haven't seen you around since—well, since Sherlock."
John can almost feel his mood deflate, just like that, the reminder serving as the needle to his bubble of post-wedding bliss. "Yeah. It's—it's been hard, no denying that." John forces a shaky laugh. "There's no one in the world who could ever replace Sherlock Holmes, I guess."
"Truer words never spoken, mate. Every case I get now, it's almost hard not to go for my mobile and text him to see what he thinks." Lestrade smiles, rueful. "You seem to be coping well, though. That's always a start."
"John!" Mary is suddenly beside her new husband, at her most disarming and possibly already tipsy on champagne. "John, the first dance is coming. Shall we go?"
"Oh, right, of course." John shakes Lestrade's hand again before pulling both him and Donovan into a group embrace. "Detective Inspector, Sergeant. Always a pleasure. Keep in touch?"
"Will do," Donovan says at the same moment Lestrade agrees, "Sounds good," and then John is being led away by the hand towards the quickly-clearing dance floor.
"Detective Inspector?" Mary asks John as they take up their dancing positions. "How'd you know the police?"
"Oh, he's a—mutual friend. Of sorts. Used to consult for the Yard, see, my flatmate and I did. Bit of a long story." John rests his hand on Mary's only-slightly swollen belly before moving it to the small of her back. "When the baby comes, I can tell you more, if you like."
"I'm looking forward to it," Mary says, before the music starts and leads the two of them slowly across the dance floor in each other's arms, while the song John chose as their wedding piece croons its way into everyone's heart.
Wherever you go, whatever you do
I will be right here waiting for you
Whatever it takes, or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you…
In the time it takes for John to answer the call from a half-hysterical Harry, frantically switch schedules with Sarah, and drive to Bart's like a drunken madman on pot, the labor is already over and done with.
"Congratulations, Doctor," is the greeting he gets from the head nurse on call that afternoon, an old friend of his from uni, when he skids his way into the lobby of the maternity ward. "Your wife's waiting for you, along with the sweetest baby girl I've seen in years."
"A girl?" Mary had wanted to keep the baby's gender a surprise, and John can't say he's disappointed by the decision. He is as happy with a daughter as with a son, as long as both the child (his child, now) and its mother are alive and well. "That's—wow. That's just—perfect."
The nurse laughs and pats him on the shoulder. "Go on, now, it's your turn. If you don't hurry, the rest of the staff will be queuing up to take pictures first."
Mary looks up when John walks into her room. She's sallow and exhausted, her auburn ringlets plastered wetly against her forehead, but she's beaming like the sun while she cradles their sleeping daughter in her arms.
"John," she whispers, and John takes extra care not to wake the baby when he leans down to press a kiss on Mary's temple. "Isn't she beautiful?"
"Oh God, yes." John brushes the damp hair out of Mary's eyes. "May I hold her?"
Mary nods and passes their daughter into his waiting hands. Such a small, slight little thing: she barely weighs anything in John's arms, and he knows how easy it would be to maim or even (God forbid) kill her with just the slightest of pressure in just the right place. He holds his daughter as gently as he possibly can, this beautiful little girl that he'd been miraculously blessed with, noting the set of her jaw (his, definitely his) and the light brownish-blonde fuzz already covering her tiny head (could be his, though it might darken into something closer to Mary's).
He's just deciding whose ears she inherited (he could almost swear it's a perfect match of Harry's) when his daughter opens her eyes for the first time in his presence.
John is suddenly very, very glad for his military training; had he been anyone else, he might have dropped his daughter just minutes after she was born. The color of her eyes are similar to her mother's, the same changeable blue-green that made John think of sailing across the Channel on a cloudy day, when every wave shifts colors as it collides with the side of a ship—but the eyes themselves are what strikes John the most. The shape is slightly narrower than Mary's, and his daughter's gaze is piercing, intelligent, and uncanny for a newborn, and in that moment she looks just like Sherlock.
"What should we name her?" Mary asks from the bed, giving John another start. "Did you have any ideas?"
"Oh, me? Um. Well." John ponders in silence, watching his daughter blink up at him owlishly as he rocks her back and forth. "I like Jennifer," he finally says. "We can always call her Jen for short."
"Jen. Jenny. I like that." Mary closes her eyes for a moment, deep in thought. "Miranda was my favorite female character in all of Shakespeare. Innocent but not naïve, compassionate but not weak, and the name itself was the reminder that she must be admired. How does that sound?"
"It's brilliant. A brilliant name for a brilliant girl." John looks down just in time to see his daughter close her eyes again and slip back into sleep. My daughter, John thinks, his throat constricting against his will. Sherlock, I wish you were still here. You'd probably be laughing at me right now and be telling me how boring this is, but, oh God, Sherlock, this—this is the most beautiful thing you will ever see, and I wish I could've been the one to show you.
"Jennifer Miranda Watson," John whispers to his sleeping daughter. "Jen. Welcome to a very curious world."
It's dark, but then again it almost always is—almost always has been, ever since the explosion and the long drive in the boot of a car that he only half-remembers, as much pain as he had been in at the time.
He still has the scar, the badly-healed keloid that crosses him from left clavicle to opposite hip, from the gash that nearly killed him when the explosion itself hadn't. But somehow, miracle of miracles, he had survived and recovered—only to find himself a prisoner in what resembled a cell from an insane asylum, all whitewashed walls and restraints on the bed and absolutely nothing that could give him a clue to the outside world (which, for him, was saying something).
His treatment has been decently humane, for the most part—of course, there's the occasional manhandling from a surly automatic-rifle-wielding guard, boring, and sometimes the more frequent injection of unknown drugs that send pins and needles directly into his neuron centers until he is half-clawing off his face with his fingers in crazed desperation, but it's not like he's ever been half-dead. Not since the explosion, anyway. He takes some pleasure in knowing that Moriarty got far worse, a face that would never be the same again without extensive surgery.
And then he calculates how long it's been since the pool, and how long it should have taken for Mycroft to discover his location and rescue him, and the pleasure slips away like water cupped in a dying man's fingers.
Nevertheless, he never quite loses hope. He has his body, relatively undamaged, and his brain has remained unscathed. There was never a puzzle he couldn't find a solution to, and there never will be if he had any say in it—especially when the solution of the puzzle includes a flatmate who has already proven that he would kill for love, die for love, and who is the very thing that he himself had been trying to save.
It is with this in mind that Sherlock Holmes, the only consulting detective in the world (and still is, despite any belief to the contrary), sits down in the darkest corner of his windowless prison, closes his eyes, and waits.
Two years later
"John! Are you ready yet, John? I've got breakfast on the table!"
"Just a minute!" John does a last quick fix of his tie in the mirror over the dresser, then grabs his white coat and bag from where they hang behind the bedroom door before half-running towards the kitchen. Mary is already sitting at the table next to little Jenny, whom she is busy feeding what looks like mashed bananas by the spoonful.
When Jenny sees John, she raises a tiny fist in the air happily. "Da!"
"Hello there, sweetie." John leans down to first plant a kiss on the top of Jenny's head (he'd been right: her hair was still a light golden-brown, but already it was starting to darken into the spitting image of her mother's), then to press a chaste peck on Mary's cheek. "Sorry, I'm going to have to run. Is there anything I can—"
"No worries, I packed you a sarnie and some coffee." Mary waves John over to the paper bag on the kitchen counter, and he throws it gratefully into his bag before kissing his wife again. She smiles into his mouth before gently pushing him away. "Not now, dear. I'll take Jen to Harry's on my way to work. Can you pick her up after? I've an administrative meeting until five."
"Of course." John reaches over and chucks his daughter lightly under the chin. Jenny giggles and tries to hit him back, but her arms are far too short. "See you both later, ducks."
"Da!" Jenny crows again, all happiness and half-chewed banana, and John can't help but grin at his beautiful, adorable little girl.
"Go on, now, or you'll be late, and then Sarah will yell at Harry and no one wants that." Mary's smile grows broader. "I love you, darling."
"Love you, too, sweetheart." John blows one last kiss in farewell towards his two favorite women in the world before dashing out the front door of their flat and into the loud, bustling world outside of London on a workday morning.
As he makes his way towards the Tube station, John reflects on how lucky he was to have a partner like Mary. She wasn't usually so vocally expressive about how she felt, but on the rare occasions that she was, well. John couldn't say there was anything wrong with that.
Later, much later, John will think back to that morning, the three of them in the kitchen, the happiest little family in all of Britain—will think back to the last words Mary spoke to him before he left for work, and will wonder if maybe, just maybe, she had been expecting something all along.
The earliest memory I have is of my mother's death.
I didn't know she was dead, of course, not at the time. I was barely two years old, and up until then I had never thought of much else other than eating and sleeping and crying whenever I felt bad. But even so, I knew something was wrong, terribly wrong, when I saw my mother in the driver's seat that day.
I must have been asleep during the accident, as I remember absolutely nothing before it happened. All I know is that, when I opened my eyes, there was smoke everywhere, reeking of something metallic and acrid that burned my nose, and everything was loud and hot and I looked over to where my mother had always been and—there she was. Not moving, just sitting there, leaning back against the upright seat and slumped half-towards me with her head twisted oddly in the opposite direction.
I couldn't see her face. I have photos of her, old ones, some that my father gave me when I grew old enough to ask about it, but the woman in the photos is a complete stranger to me. I never saw her face, and to this day I cannot remember what my own mother looks like. But I do remember her hair—her naturally-curling tresses of dark auburn that she passed on to me, the deep red-brown of her hair matching the dark stain gradually spreading across the entire left side of her blouse.
I remember watching my mother for what felt like a lifetime. "Ma," I said, trying to get her attention. It was getting uncomfortably warm, and I was starting to feel wet where I sat. "Ma. Mama. Ma."
But no matter how loud I said her name, no matter what I called her, she just wouldn't wake up. The paramedics came eventually; they found me still strapped into my safety seat, screaming at the top of my lungs for my dead mother. Even when they dragged me out of the wrecked car, with me kicking and clawing at them like a wild animal, my mother did not once move.
After I had cried myself out, I waited for my father to come pick me up at the station, and I remained as silent as Death himself must be. In my little two-year-old brain, I had come to the solemn and obvious conclusion that, if screaming for my mother hadn't made her wake up, making sounds of any sort was worthless now. If I couldn't even get my mother to come for me, what was the point of communication in the first place?
And so I became mute. No longer did I attempt to speak to anyone, even though I had started using syllabic baby-talk earlier than most other children in my generation. My mother was gone, not even the loudest of yells on my part had changed that so why would I even bother, and that was the way it was and might always have been, until the day my father's life changed, again—and the day my world was changed with it…
—Excerpt from "The Memoirs of Dr. J. Watson," published in 2052 by the Oxford Digital Press
John had been in with patients all morning, so he doesn't get Harry's voicemail until after lunch, and by then there are a grand total of three messages waiting for him.
John, hi, it's Harry. Listen, I'm just going to have a run to the shops before Jenny gets here. Can you have Mary wait for me if I'm not back by then? I won't have her waiting more than a few minutes, tops. Thanks, duck, see you later…
John, it's Harry again. I've been back from the shops for almost an hour now, but no sign of Mary or Jenny. Were they running late, do you know? I'm going to try calling Mary again, but it's been ringing out the last few times. Let me know if you reach her, thanks…
God, John, I think—something must have happened. It's nigh on eleven and there's been nothing. No one's come in the last three hours. Mary's not even answering her phone. Well, neither are you, now that I think of it. For fuck's sake, John, call me as soon as you get this, okay? I'm scared, I'm really scared now, please tell me everything's all right…
John is already starting to dial Harry's mobile when his phone's screen shifts to incoming call. It's a local number, not recognised by his contacts; a moment later, John realises that it's Lestrade's work number. He'd deleted that entry from his address book shortly after Sherlock died.
"Hello?" John can feel his heart lodged somewhere behind his Adam's apple. "Lestrade, is that you?"
"John—yes, it's me. John, there's been something, you're going to have to come down to the station and—"
"Geoff." John clutches at the corner of his desk, tiny splinters of wood stabbing under his fingernails, but he hardly feels the pain through his sudden haze of fear. "Oh God. Geoff, my wife, my baby girl, what happened—"
"Jenny's here, John. She's fine, she's safe." Lestrade hesitates, and in that heartbeat of silence John knows. "Your wife, Mary, I'm—John, I'm so sorry…"
John knows he's dropped the mobile, hears it clatter on the tile floor and skitter under the safety of his desk, but he doesn't know how loud he's screaming until Sarah bursts into the room and pulls him into her arms, shushing him as he shudders with sobs that can't come out fast enough. "Mary." John knows he's babbling, but he keeps repeating his wife's name like a prayer, as if saying it enough times would bring her back. As if it had worked before, on Sherlock. "Mary, Mary, oh God, Mary."
"John, sweetheart, it's fine, it's going to be all right." Sarah rocks John back and forth until the tears slow to a trickle and the convulsive spasms gradually fade out. "Easy, love, easy. I'll talk to Harry and take care of everything here. You'd best go now, Jenny's probably waiting for you."
"Yeah, probably," John hears himself say, but it's hard to believe that the hoarse and monotonous rasping is coming from his own mouth. "I'll—I'll go. Now. Yes."
But it takes him more than fifteen minutes before he even has the strength to pick himself off the floor of his office and stagger out of the surgery to hail a taxi, and even then not once does he stop crying.
The moment he walks into Lestrade's office, a small figure dashes out from behind Lestrade's desk and attaches itself to John just below the knees.
"Oh, Jen. Sweetie, you darling girl, Jen." John kneels and pulls his daughter as close as he possibly can. He inspects her face with his eyes, as carefully as he does the rest of her body with his hands, checking for injuries that maybe one of the paramedics had missed. She seems perfectly fine, were it not for the constant flow of tears that have by now completely stained the front of her shirt.
"Jenny's going to be fine." John turns to see Lestrade standing in the doorway, half-leaning against the frame for support. "Paramedics checked her over, she didn't even have a scratch."
"Oh, thank God. Really, I just—I can't thank you enough." John slowly stands up and raises Jenny up to his shoulder, wincing a little as his old wound from the war twinges. "Jen, sweetie, what do you say to Uncle Geoff?"
To his surprise, Jenny merely buries her face in John's coat. John frowns. That's not right, she'd met Lestrade at that family picnic a month back and was friendly enough then. She should still remember him, and she isn't a naturally-shy child, so why—
"She's been like that since we got her out of there, John," Lestrade cuts in, answering John's train of thought for him. "Was screaming bloody murder and nearly bit one of our men when he tried to pick her up. By the time she got here, she'd stopped crying, but now she won't say anything. Hasn't made a peep in hours."
Now that John thinks of it, Jenny hadn't called him "Da" like she usually did whenever she saw him. Even now, she was still openly crying, but she made not a single sound that could suggest that she had a normal, healthy human voice.
"Good God." John's left hand starts to shake, and he hugs Jenny tighter to hide the tremor. "Do you think—is she in shock?"
"Wouldn't be surprised. You'll have to take her to a child psych specialist for confirmation, though. I'll look up a few good ones and email you what I find tonight."
"That would be great, thanks." John hefts Jenny a little higher before he starts walking towards the door, but he pauses when he's just about to pass Lestrade. "Mary," he says, soft enough that even Jenny can't hear him. "Tell me, Geoff. What happened?"
"There's not much to say," Lestrade returns, matching John's volume exactly. "There was a lorry on Clapham Road that lost control, swerved, and crashed into three cars coming in the opposite direction. Mary was the first one hit, and when the windscreen shattered it broke her neck and nicked her carotid at the same time. It was over so quickly, John, I—I doubt she suffered."
John closes his eyes, trying to block out the image of Mary's broken and bloodless body, but it only serves to enhance the image. "What about—" John clears his throat. "Were there any others?"
"The two other car drivers were injured, one critically, but their passengers were fine. The lorry was half-ripped to pieces when the damn thing overturned, but there wasn't any cargo in storage. The driver of the lorry ran away before we got there." John's expression must have changed for the worse, because Lestrade quickly adds, "But I've got the best teams looking for him, for vehicular homicide and fleeing the crime scene. Don't worry, we'll find him."
"Thanks, Geoff, I—" John wishes his damn voice would stop cracking. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it." Lestrade sighs heavily and runs a hand through his greying hair. "Believe me, if there was anything I could have done, anything to make this come out differently, I would have. For you, for Jenny—for Sherlock, I would have."
"I know," says John, and as he carries his still-silent, still-crying daughter home, he knows that Lestrade had meant every word.
Mary's funeral (in Selkirk, at the same church they were married in, they buried her between her great-grandfather and her baby sister who died shortly after birth, and John had the honor of throwing the second spadeful of dirt after Mary's father) takes place a few days after the accident, and it's another two days before the child psychologist Lestrade had recommended has an opening in her schedule; and in all that time John's daughter has not once uttered even the slightest of sounds in anyone's presence.
"She's responsive in every other way," Dr. Warren explains to John as they sit together in her consulting room. "Certainly has no problem in understanding others—in fact, she's fairly precocious for her age. The only problem is that she refuses to speak or make vocal noises of any kind. Even if she wants to ask for something, she only points or writes down her request."
"Writes?" John tries not to show how surprised he is. "She can write? But she's only two years old, how can she possibly—"
"I don't know how, Doctor Watson, but she can and does. Jenny knows the alphabet well enough, and she can read books that some children four times her age have trouble with. Her grasp of vocabulary is impressive—her written vocabulary, that is, since we've never heard her use those in spoken context. How was she verbally before the accident?"
"She was—well, you know a father always thinks his child is special, especially if it's your only one." John looks away, towards the corner where Jenny has been sitting during the entire discussion, playing with a pile of alphabet blocks that Dr. Warren had picked out earlier. She examines each one carefully and sets them in one order, then rearranging it, and repeating the whole process over and over again; not once does she smile, and although her lips sometimes move when she is in the deepest of thought, not once does she make a sound.
"I don't remember Mary saying anything about it," John says after a minute of thoughtful silence. "I never saw her reading or doing anything out of the ordinary, either. She did use to call us 'Da' and 'Ma,' as kids do, you know, but that's all."
"I see." Dr. Warren made some more notes in her chart before snapping the folder shut. "The only thing that concerns me is her refusal to speak, especially if she had been making normal progress up until now. It's quite possible that the accident was traumatic enough that she is now blocking off her speech by association."
John's hands clench into fists without him realising it. "Is there anything we can do? It won't hurt her later, will it?"
"There is no better treatment for wounds of the soul than time, Doctor Watson. Her brain seems to be normal, and a few months of muteness will do nothing to lower her intelligence, no. Let the girl take her own time to heal—because she will, certainly, and the only question is when."
John nods in tacit agreement with Dr. Warren's diagnosis; but as he watches Jenny stack and restack blocks with all the joie de vivre of an automaton, John wonders exactly how much Jenny will take after him when it comes to losing the people she loved.
It's the first time he has stepped out of his prison in over three years, if his memory is anything to go by, and he's surprised that he's forgotten what it feels like to walk in sunlight.
Of course, it's not so much walking as being half-dragged while blindfolded into an empty lorry, and the exposure to sunlight lasts for less than a minute and a half; but ninety seconds is more than enough time for him to take in all the sensory details that he had been isolated from for so long and use the knowledge to his advantage. He can feel grass and gravel crunch under his feet on his way to the lorry, and his shirt (the exact clothing he'd worn to the pool, though it was bloodstained and in tatters and hung more loosely on his bony frame than he'd ever tailored it to be) catches and tears on branches that brush past the level of his chest; ergo, they are in the middle of some sort of park with plenty of tree foliage. The sun's presence is an uncomfortable warmth on his skin, but the humidity isn't noticeably high, so it's now possibly late summer to early fall, and at this time of day in this season the wind should be blowing in from the north, which means that—
Oh. OH. Bloody hell. He was somewhere in the middle of Avery Hill Park. All this time, he had been less than a half-hour away from Baker Street, and only now had they decided to move him to a more suitable location. Sherlock is almost ready to kick himself, but then the guards bodily pick him up and toss him into the back of the lorry, taking care of that job for him.
Sherlock comes to when the lorry hits a series of bumps in the road, roughly banging his head against the sheeted metal floor. Those bumps are most certainly from the ramp onto Eltham Road; a half-mile later, he determines that they are northbound and notes the switch onto Queens Road before he starts considering his options.
He could continue to wait it out, let Moriarty transfer him to whatever new location they had in mind, and hope that the movements would be enough to get Mycroft's attention and warrant a rescue mission. The hope for that plan doesn't last long, though; given how long he's been in captivity so far, Sherlock has to assume that somehow everyone was led to believe that he was no longer alive, perhaps killed in the explosion along with the (no doubt) supposedly-dead-but-very-much-not-so Moriarty. Mycroft would never track the CCTV footage across London for a dead man, even if that dead man was his brother—Mycroft was far too practical for that.
The only other choice, then, is to take matters into his own hands. This is his best chance of escaping, away from almost all of his guards who are certainly paid well enough by Moriarty to keep an eye, or two, or six, on their prisoner at all times. Besides, the farther north they go on Queens, the closer they get to the Thames, and on the other side of the Thames lies Baker Street, and on Baker Street there should still be 221B and a certain Army doctor named John Watson.
It doesn't take Sherlock long to choose. Once he's made his decision, all that is left is to wait for the best opportunity to execute it.
The opportunity arises when he feels the lorry begin to slow down for an approaching turn (to the left, from the sound of the rear turning signal). At this rate, they must be turning onto Clapham Road, which would lead away from Sherlock's intended destination. That was less bad, though, because the turn offered him something he might not have had otherwise: leverage.
Sherlock unsteadily pushes himself to his feet, his hands still bound tightly behind his back with a plastic ziptie. He can't do anything about that now, it's something to worry about if he manages to escape alive, along with the dizzy spinning sensations in his head when he moves too fast. But Sherlock forces all of the non-essential observations down, down, gathering the remains of his laser-sharp focus to see with his mind what his eyes cannot.
And that is why, when the lorry begins the turn onto Clapham, Sherlock is ready. At the very moment of highest centripetal force, Sherlock staggers towards the wall of the lorry's storage compartment and throws his full weight against it.
Just like Sherlock expects, the tires beneath him squeal as the driver suddenly loses control. The lorry fishtails wildly, tossing Sherlock from side to side like a broken rag doll; first there is a grating crash and the lorry bucks like a bull in heat, followed by one, two, three solid impacts with the front of the lorry before the whole thing tips over and Sherlock's world spins upside-down.
When he wakes up again (he passed out for the second time today, how weak of him, must do something about that before it ruins his efficacy), he can see sunlight glowing through his blindfold. By rubbing his head while facedown against the floor, he is just barely able to push the blindfold up like a bandanna, and only then does he look towards the light.
It is indeed sunlight, sunlight falling through the open doorway, the steel doors once barring his escape now lying torn and shattered in the bright glow outside.
Sherlock somehow manages to crawl on just his knees, and he topples out of the cargo hold and straight into the ditch that the lorry had managed to roll itself into. The mud and water ruins whatever is left of his tattered shirt, but Sherlock doesn't even notice because during the fall he managed to dislocate his left shoulder, which allows him to twist his bound hands in the most contorted circle until they are in front of him; and with the power of his uninjured arm alone, he snaps the ziptie apart and hastily pushes his left shoulder back into his socket, biting on his lower lip hard enough to draw blood in order to keep from crying out and drawing attention to his escape.
Sherlock slowly crawls through the high grass that lines the muddy drainage ditch, away from the accident and away from the distant wail of approaching police and paramedics—and for a moment Sherlock is almost certain that, above the rest of the noise, he can hear a child screaming.
John passes Jenny off to Harry for the rest of the day after the appointment with Dr. Warren—it had been his sister's suggestion, that she mind Jenny while John went home and got some much-needed rest by himself. However, when he gets off at his usual Tube station on the way back from Harry's flat, John doesn't go home, doesn't go back to the flat that still had all of Mary's things waiting for him to pack them away for her family (said things seeming to stare at him accusingly when he doesn't).
Instead, he turns onto Baker Street and heads north, towards another place he once considered home.
The key still fits in the lock to 221B, albeit considerably stickier than before; but the doorknob turns easily and opens without the slightest of squeaks, revealing a flat that is almost death-like in its stillness. The place feels like some sort of mausoleum, cloaked in darkness with the curtains tightly drawn, but John quickly remedies that by opening every window until the place is as bright and cheerful as if they'd never left.
Once the place is to John's satisfaction, he slowly lowers himself down onto the sofa, brushing away as he did so some of the dust bunnies that had begun to inhabit the cracks between the cushions. The springs creak under his weight, and for a moment John can almost imagine that he's not here alone, that the past was just some sort of dream or a really bad nightmare, that he still has a brilliant flatmate sitting next to him and a life of fighting crime that will never end, and that he'd never met Mary or had Jenny only to lose one and have the other half-gone from him already.
And when that last illusion is gone, disappearing like London fog in the dawn, John lowers his face in his hands and allows himself to weep.
It shouldn't have taken him this long after escaping the lorry to return home, but Sherlock is not eager to be recaptured and thus will not move except under cover of night, will not travel unless it is by the most-desolate alleyways or through the sewers where no security cameras can watch his trail. Who knows how much influence Moriarty managed to gain during three years of seclusion—Sherlock doesn't know, is interested but not ready to find out just yet, and most definitely does NOT want to test out any hypotheses at the moment.
And of course, none of the delays has anything to do with Sherlock's body occasionally making itself a nuisance. If he keeps falling down at the oddest of times, and if his brain refuses to work properly or think itself into a straight line, then how could he expect to be of any use (as a consulting detective or otherwise) to John or to anyone else?
But finally, finally, a week and a half after the crash on Clapham, after taking the longest way possible across the Thames and spending more hours literally crawling through all the sewage drains of London than he cares to think about, Sherlock finally finds himself standing before the front door Baker Street entrance that leads to 221B. He rummages for his keys, but his pockets are no more than rags of cloth sewn to the inside of his trousers, and the keys themselves had probably been lost in the explosion.
Doesn't matter, though, not really, because the front door isn't locked and instead swings open with the slightest touch.
Sherlock half-stumbles up the stairs, wheezing a little as he uses his right arm to support himself on the banister (his left, the dislocated one, had become obstinately swollen at the shoulder joint and refuses to work properly, the sodding useless thing, why did bodies have to be so damned boring and predictable), then pulling himself up at the top step so that he could open the door to his flat—to their flat—with still some dignity left.
Sherlock is not surprised to find everything almost exactly as he left it three years earlier. He is even less surprised to see John on the sofa, head in his hands, waiting for him.
But then John looks up, and Sherlock sees his face, and that's when he knows something is very, terribly wrong.
When John hears the door open downstairs, he doesn't so much as move an inch. It had to be Mrs. Hudson, maybe home from the shops or from her tea and chat with Mrs. Turner down the way. John isn't in the mood to bother anyone or be bothered, so he continues to sit on the sofa, tearstreaked face in his hands, as he attempts to be a bit less noisy when he cries.
The footsteps on the stairs, though, are approaching and not descending; John wonders what would possess Mrs. Hudson to come up here when she couldn't possibly know that he's here, and the thought is hardly finished before the door to the flat itself swings open.
John looks up, ready to ask Mrs. Hudson for a moment of privacy, and then he stops breathing altogether when he sees the ghost swaying oddly in the doorway.
"John," rasps the ghost in the hoarse version of a voice John had been certain he'd never hear again—not on this side of life, at least. "John. John."
And with that, a very-solid apparition of Sherlock Holmes collapses on the landing outside of their old flat in a dead heap.
GOOD NEWS EVERYONE, THERE IS AN END IN SIGHT. *blows trumpets* I'm going to hazard a guess that this might be a total of six chapters long, but let's not get our hopes up until I've written the final scene here, shall we? :D
John is already halfway off the sofa when Sherlock starts to collapse, even though his damn leg threatens to give out from beneath him, and John somehow manages to catch Sherlock before his upper body hits the ground. Said upper body winds up sprawled across John's lap, at which point John's leg really does give out, but at least the rest of Sherlock's fall is completely cushioned by then.
"Sherlock?" John can hardly believe it, he must be hallucinating—yes, that's it, it's just the stress, the stress and the grief from Mary's death and Jenny's silence, they've all built up in his head so that now he's imagining he's sitting on the floor of 221B Baker Street and holding onto a friend that has been dead these last three years.
And then Sherlock shudders in John's arms and lets out a little moan, and John immediately stops thinking that this is all a dream.
"Oh God, Sherlock." John runs his hands up and down Sherlock's face, neck, and torso, as much to check for injuries as to reassure himself that Sherlock—living, breathing, glorious Sherlock—was real. No broken bones, but the left shoulder had clearly been dislocated and too-hastily fixed by a non-professional (damn you, Sherlock, why do you always have to be the one to rip your body to pieces, there are plenty of other people trying to do that for you) and is now swollen and hot to the touch. The general malnutrition doesn't help, either: Sherlock is much thinner than John remembered, and from what John can tell he's suffering from both dehydration and a low-grade opportunistic infection.
On top of that, he simply reeks of sewage. Wonderful.
"I've got to get you to a hospital," John says half to himself and reaches into his jacket for his mobile, but before he can pull it out Sherlock grabs his arm and keeps him from going any further.
"No," Sherlock whispers, his pale eyes wide and bloodshot. John tries to break free, but Sherlock holds him back with a surprising amount of strength. "No—hospital. Can't—mustn't—be seen—"
"All right, all right, no hospital! For now, anyway." John works his hand free as Sherlock's grip falls slack, then readjusts Sherlock's body in his own lap so that the two of them can be more comfortable in their current position for longer. "But I'm calling Mycroft instead, understand?"
Sherlock doesn't argue further; his eyes are closed again, and the wet rattling in his lungs becomes more noticeable the longer he lies down. Fighting down the panic rising in his throat, John glances away from Sherlock long enough to flip through his contacts and dial the number under an entry titled Guillam, Peter before shouldering the mobile to his ear and pulling Sherlock up a little closer with both of his now-free arms.
The line answers just before the second ring. "Doctor Watson, what a pleasure," says Mycroft pleasantly. "I hadn't been expecting you. To what do I owe the honor of this call?"
"Mycroft, there's—it's about Sherlock."
A pause, and when Mycroft speaks again his tone is slightly colder and more clipped. "Yes, Doctor Watson, I am well aware that my dead brother is most likely the reason for this call. Is there anything else?"
"No, listen to me, please, you've got to—" John drops his eyes down to Sherlock's face and blinks rapidly to make sure the image doesn't disappear. It doesn't. "Sherlock is alive."
An even longer pause. "Doctor Watson, you know as well as I do that Sherlock is dead," Mycroft replies, trying to sound collected but betrayed by his heavy breathing. "No one else survived the explosion, aside from yourself. I understand that you're still affected by the loss of your wife, my condolences, but unproven rumors simply cannot be—"
"Mycroft, just shut up for a moment and LISTEN TO ME!" John yells into his mobile. "I am sitting in the entry of 221B Baker Street, and Sherlock Holmes just walked into this flat and collapsed straight into my arms! This is not a bloody hallucination, you bloody buggering idiot, this is your brother and he is not fucking dead but he is getting very close to being that way which is why I. Need. Your. Help!"
Sherlock chooses that moment to have a weak spasm of coughing, a wet hacking noise that makes John start internally listing the options for treating pneumonia. The sound must have carried through the phone line, because John hears a loud bang, followed by a curse entirely unsuited for one of Mycroft's standing and a long scraping noise, indicating that Mycroft had stood up quickly enough to smash his knees against his desk. "John, are you serious?" Mycroft asks in a shaky voice, sounding as unsure as John as ever heard him before. "Sherlock is—he's alive?"
"Check the goddamn security video if you don't believe me!" snaps John, knowing very well that Mycroft still has a camera or two pointed towards the windows of 221B. "He needs medical care, fast, and more than I can give him. He's refusing hospital treatment, though, says he mustn't be recognised—"
"But of course. It would hardly do for a dead man to suddenly appear alive again without warning." Mycroft is all business again. "May I send out a private physician, or is there someone you would prefer?"
"No, that's fine, just—have him bring antibiotics, some IV drips, some pain meds, and a splint for a dislocated shoulder." John is sure Mycroft, out of anyone, would be the best at finding someone both discreet and professional. "How soon can he be here?"
"Doctor Edelstein will arrive at Baker Street within the hour. Ask him for the password when he arrives—it will be your middle name. Until then, you will remain with my brother?"
John looks down at Sherlock again, at the semi-conscious man cradled in John's arms, and it’s a bit of a moment before his voice is steady enough to answer. "Yes," John says softly. "Of course."
"Very well. I shall expect to hear a report on my brother's condition once you and Doctor Edelstein are finished. Good day, Doctor Watson." And before John has a chance to respond in kind, Mycroft hangs up.
John lets his mobile slide out from under his ear and thud dully onto the wooden floorboards; the noise brings Sherlock back to consciousness, and his eyes slowly flutter open as John bends over him. "Sherlock," John says, quietly but with enough urgency to keep Sherlock awake. He manoeuvres himself (carefully, without moving his patient too much) so that he can reach around and take one of Sherlock's hands in his own. "Sherlock, everything's going to be all right, yeah? You're home now, you're safe. Everything's going to be just fine. Take it easy, now—I've got you."
Sherlock tries to nod, tries to smile, but all that comes out is a slight shift of his head and a faint grimace. But he does manage to work his fingers around John's (so long, Sherlock's fingers, so long and thin, looking ethereally graceful whether curved around a violin's neck or flying across a computer keyboard. John could still remember what it felt like to watch Sherlock working from a distance, what it felt like to watch those fingers move with a life of their own, and that was one of the things he had still missed the most) and squeeze tightly.
For John, it's enough to break his heart all over again.
Edelstein is a slightly-balding, heavily-bearded man with a bit of a paunch and a predisposition for cheerful jumpers that put John in mind of Father Christmas. He arrives just before the hour Mycroft had promised, bearing a briefcase in one hand and a bulging doctor's bag in the other as he puffs his way up the stairs.
"Hullo! Sorry, spot of traffic on the way and the cabbie nearly had a fit at a passing lorry, but what can you do?" Edelstein finally makes it to the top of the landing where John is still holding Sherlock and waves. "You must be Doctor Watson?"
"Yes, and this is Sherlock." Sherlock had slipped back into unconsciousness again, leaving John alone to monitor his friend's laboured breathing by himself while he waited. "You must be Doctor Edelstein, then?"
"Yes, that's me—but call me Simon, please, no need for formalities here." Edelstein sets down his bag and briefcase beside the doorway before coming over to kneel beside John. "I believe Mr. Holmes said for me to tell you that the word is 'Hamish.' Does that make any sense to you?"
"Oh. Right, yes, that's what we agreed." John knew from some of Sherlock's earlier rants about his brother that Mycroft had access to information like one could only dream of, but it never really struck him how much access Mycroft actually had until things like this came up. John had all but abandoned his middle name since primary school, and only Harry and Mary (and possibly Sherlock, John had never told him but who knew what he'd figured out on his own) had known the answer up until now. "Do you think you could help me move him? I didn't want to do anything before you came, I don't think I could've managed without hurting him—but there's a bedroom on this level, behind the kitchen, if you want to try."
"I don't see why not. Easier to treat him there than here." Edelstein had already started his own investigation of Sherlock's injuries. "We'll have to watch that shoulder, though, wouldn't want to make it any worse than it already is. I can take his feet if you'll take his head. Did he have any head or spine injuries I should know of?"
"Not that I could tell, no. He came to a few times, recognised me, but that's all." John shifts so that he can better grab Sherlock below the shoulders, careful to avoid too much pressure on the inflamed area near the left joint. "On three. One—two—three!"
The two men heft up Sherlock's limp body between them and, once John has struggled to his feet (the damn psychomatic one's half-asleep and twitchy as all hell), proceed to carry Sherlock to his old bedroom as gently as they can manage. Sherlock's breathing quickens, his head lolls from side to side, and he makes a small moaning whimper in the back of his throat that pricks at John's heart like unshed tears; but whatever pain Sherlock feels isn't strong enough to revive him completely, and so he continues to remain mercifully out of it.
Sherlock's bedroom is and has always been the neatest part of the entirety of 221B, mainly because he never used it. He hardly slept when he wasn't on a case, much less when he was, and when he did collapse of exhaustion he did so on the sofa in the sitting room or in John's own bed, sometimes (as on one memorable occasion when John nearly shot Sherlock after he woke up at three in the morning to find an unfamiliar weight lying there next to him) while John was in the middle of using it. The room was bare except for a long cot pushed up against the far wall, an antique dresser, and a small walk-in closet. The latter two are the only ones to show any sign of use, because as Sherlock had told John on many occasions before, people were more likely to help a stranger if he was well-dressed and fashionable than if he wasn't.
They lay Sherlock down on the bed (it had clean sheets and covers, no doubt Mrs. Hudson's doing since it had been bare and uncovered in all the time John and Sherlock had lived together), and Edelstein begins to undress Sherlock while John turns away for a moment to rub the life back into his tingling leg. At Edelstein's sharp inhale, John looks back to see what's the matter—and freezes.
Sherlock's tattered shirt, the same that John remembered seeing from the night at the pool but showing every sign of three years of age and neglect, had been undone and pulled back to expose Sherlock's bare chest. John could count every rib, watch every bone expand and contract with Sherlock's breathing, but that isn't what filled him with a mixture of horror and wrenching pity. No, that's because of the scar—the ugly white raised line of flesh that spans from under Sherlock's left collarbone and jaggedly works its way down to the right hip bone. It had clearly been left untreated, allowed to heal on its own without any help from antibiotics or sutures, and thus had been left to remain as a permanent reminder of what had happened three years earlier to lead to this very moment of Sherlock lying half-dead in his own bedroom.
John still remembers that one night when Lestrade had come to visit John in the hospital two weeks after the explosion. Not enough of either of them left to make a proper ID of the bodies, Lestrade had said, his face a mask of closed neutrality that belied the cracking of his voice. But we did find blood. Plenty of blood, that. Some of it we didn't find a match for, which I'd guess was Moriarty's, but the rest—the rest was all Sherlock's. Even if the explosion hadn't completely—you know, there'd have been no chance for him to survive with that much blood loss. I'm—I'm sorry, John.
"My God," Edelstein breathes, snapping John out of his reminiscence and back into the present. "How—what—"
"That's not the problem right now," John says shortly, his eyes still fixed on the awful scar and unable to make himself look away. "What can we do about his shoulder? It looks like he fixed it himself, and I'm highly doubtful that he knew how to do it properly."
"Oh! Right, yes, that—" Edelstein inspects Sherlock's shoulder carefully with both his eyes and his hands, and a moment later straightens up with a sigh. "I'll have to redo this. But I don't want to set up the IVs until after we've stabilised this, so—"
"I get you." John moves around the bed until he can reach and hold Sherlock's uninjured hand. "Do what you have to, just—make it quick, yeah?"
"Of course." And Edelstein steels himself for a brief second before grabbing Sherlock's arm and yanking on it, hard.
Sherlock's eyes fly open halfway through his agonised scream, and he would have thrashed around enough to launch himself straight off the bed were it not for John throwing himself down on top of Sherlock to hold him steady with his own full weight. John's face is half-pressed against Sherlock's bare chest, and in this way he can feel the internal struggle of Sherlock's every breath, can feel the whimpering sobs shuddering through as Sherlock keens and desperately tries to break free.
"Easy, you're going to hurt yourself, Sherlock, steady," John murmurs, not sure if Sherlock can hear or understand him but comforted by Sherlock's sudden relaxation almost as soon as John starts to speak. "I'm sorry, I know it hurts, but it'll hurt less by the time we're done, I promise, just—relax, Sherlock, we've got you. I've got you."
A moment later, Edelstein abruptly shoves the arm back into the shoulder joint. Sherlock lets out another cry, just before his eyes roll back into his head and he goes completely limp again.
"That should do it," Edelstein says, breathing hard and covered in cold sweat, while John slowly pushes himself off of Sherlock's body. Clearly Sherlock's pain had unsettled him as much as it had John. "I'm going to stabilise him, and then we can work on the IVs."
"Good, okay," John replies without really thinking about what he's saying, his attention entirely on the unconscious man lying before him, and on the fact that Sherlock is still tightly gripping John's hand with no sign of letting go.
They strip Sherlock of the rest of his clothes—John is fairly sure Sherlock would want to keep them, it would be just like him, the sadistic bastard, but they reek and aren't even fit to make rags out of so it's into the fire they go—and John has worked his hand out of Sherlock's death-grip (god, don't even think of it that way, bad enough as it is) long enough to rummage through the closet for Sherlock's old dressing gown while Edelstein finishes the set-up of the IVs, which is precisely when John's mobile goes off in his pocket.
John finds the dressing gown and tosses it to Edelstein (gets a thumbs-up in return, good man, John is forever indebted to Mycroft for sending such a competent and well-meaning professional) before closing the door behind him and answering the call from inside Sherlock's closet. "Hello?"
"Doctor Watson," says Mycroft, and John pulls the mobile away from his ear long enough to check the caller ID (Walsingham, Sir Francis. John is not amused). "I take it you are just finishing up with my brother?"
"Yes, um, right, Simon's in with him now." John hesitates to tell Mycroft what sort of condition Sherlock is in, but he'll have to find it out somehow. "Sherlock is—well, he's pretty bad, actually. Dislocated shoulder, we had to redo it because Sherlock only made it worse, I'm guessing it's a week old or so. He's getting the beginnings of pneumonia but hopefully the antibiotics will nip that in the bud, and we're giving him a nutrient drip along with some morphine, so he won't feel a thing for a good while—"
"Good, good." Mycroft allows a moment to pass before he continues, "But, Doctor Watson, I believe you are leaving something out, are you not?"
John swallows, hard. "What—what do you mean?"
"You've spoken of everything about Sherlock's current or recent condition. However, you've failed to comment once about anything that could have happened before." John can almost swear he hears Mycroft smiling. "I would like your opinion on what could have possibly led my brother to be three years' missing and in this state as you've found him."
"Well, I—I don't really know for sure, but—" John closes his eyes, and even in the darkness he can see Sherlock's scar glowing as bright as the sun outside. "He was torn up, badly," John finally says. "From the explosion, I mean. There's a scar from one side of his body to the other. Explains why we all thought he was dead—that kind of injury, he must've lost nearly half the blood in his body within a few minutes."
"And yet, he survived. Does this not strike you as odd, Doctor Watson?" Mycroft's tone is now sharper, more probing. "Does it not make you wonder whether or not others might have survived, as well?"
Once the realisation finally sets in, John's inhale could have been described as a gasp. "God, no," he breathes. "You mean—Moriarty—"
"Yes," Mycroft says firmly, cutting John off. "We need not name names at this very moment, but you understand my meaning. I do not think Sherlock was the only one to miraculously escape death three years ago. It certainly would explain why he never came back."
"Wait—you're saying—Moriarty's been—he's been keeping Sherlock? All this time?" John feels his stomach twist, and for a moment he's sure he's wearing a tight-fitting vest strapped with explosives all over again. "But—how did—why is Sherlock here, now? You don't think he let him go, do you?"
"Highly unlikely. From what I have seen of Moriarty's handiwork, I would not expect him to be one to forgive and forget." Mycroft pauses again, and in the silence John's pulse quickens. "No, I think—Sherlock found an opportunity and, quite literally, ran with it."
"Sherlock escaped?" John feels a twinge of panic. "But—that means—they must be looking for him, then. Right now! Sherlock isn't safe—"
"Doctor Watson, my brother is safer where he is now than anywhere else in the world. I have several of my subordinates monitoring Baker Street on constant surveillance, and your presence alone is certainly nothing to be trifled with." John isn't quite sure how much of a compliment that is, but he lets it slide without comment. "No, I have no fears for Sherlock's safety at this very moment," Mycroft continues. "But I'm afraid I must ask you to remain with him, as much for your safety as for his. Barring the fact that my brother no doubt needs constant care, If Moriarty so much as suspects that he has come back to you, your life will be in as much danger, if not more."
John allows himself to imagine what could possibly happen if Moriarty were to start targeting his family or his friends, and then has to block the thought from his mind because he can no longer breathe. "I can—move in tonight," John manages to say. "I'll have Harry bring Jen here, and I have some things I should get from my flat, but otherwise—"
"Very good. I will send someone to pick up your sister and daughter, and he will help to retrieve your things. The password will remain the same as before. Do not try to contact me. I know how to reach you, and I will from my secure line so that our conversations will not be monitored." Mycroft hesitates for the briefest of moments. "Stay on your guard, Doctor Watson. My brother's life will depend on it, not to mention your own."
"I will," John whispers, a second after Mycroft ends the call. John slowly slides down against the wall of the closet, bringing his knees closer to his chest and leaning his head back as he numbly closes his mobile. He is surrounded by all of Sherlock's clothes, all untouched for a good three years, all still bearing their owner's distinctive scent as if he'd never left them for even a day.
John reaches up, fists his hand into the nearest set of clothes hanging next to him, and pulls the fabric down to his face as he finally allows the tears to come out.
By the time Edelstein is finished with hooking Sherlock up to the IV drips he'd brought in that briefcase of his, it's well past tea-time and John has already broken the news to Mrs. Hudson (she screamed, at first, but then she immediately started working on enough pots of chicken soup to feed an entire army of influenza patients, the old dear, and John didn't have the heart to stop her), and then when Edelstein comes down to leave Mrs. Hudson practically tackles him and insists that he absolutely must have some tea and biscuits before he goes, and Edelstein certainly doesn't seem to mind the intervention—in fact, John is almost sure he can see the other doctor blushing up to the ears as Mrs. Hudson busies herself between the kettle on the stove and whatever delicious thing that's baking in the oven.
John is pretty sure Sherlock would be able to tell whether Edelstein is married or not, whether there's any possibility that he and Mrs. Hudson would be together by the end of the month and hundreds of other skeletons in the man's proverbial closet, but while Sherlock isn't here, at least he's here, and for the first time in years John finds that the thought doesn't hurt like it used to.
Edelstein doesn't leave Mrs. Hudson's place for another hour-and-a-half, and within twenty minutes of his departure Harry arrives with a still-silent Jenny in tow, right behind a bodyguard whose pectorals are fairly ready to burst through his expensive black suit. Right on schedule, Mrs. Hudson offers them all tea; the guard accepts, and Mrs. Hudson spends a moment to coo over "such an adorable little girl!" before shooing them all into the kitchen.
Harry lingers behind the others. "John," she says, under her breath and quietly enough that the people in Mrs. Hudson's kitchen would never hear, "I sure hope you know what you're doing."
"I do. Don't worry, everything's going to be—"
"Don't worry? Don't worry? You're back to where you started before you nearly got yourself blown up, and you're telling me not to worry?" Harry's eyes are flashing lightning, and John knows that's just one step away from her thunder. "I almost lost my brother once already, so Heaven help me if I have a problem with losing him again!"
"Harry, please. It's not that—it's not like that at all, now." John pulls her into a quick hug; she reciprocates, but not warmly. "Look, I promise I'll be careful, okay?"
"Promises aren't what they used to be, duck." But even though she pushes him away, the gesture isn't as rough as her voice is. "Just remember one thing for me. You're not alone anymore. You can't go gallivanting off and save the day like whatever you used to do before, because this time there's always someone else."
"Believe me, I know," John reassures her, and Harry gives him one last nod before heading into Mrs. Hudson's kitchen, pressing herself against the doorway to let the bodyguard exchange places and come back into the corridor.
"Mister Holmes would like me to escort you now, sir," he announces, and John lets him lead the way out of the building and into the twilight growing over Baker Street.
It's already completely dark when John lets himself back into his old flat, and he has to bite back the shudder of irrational fear when he sees the mountain of half-packed boxes in the sitting room, their shadows dancing monstrously against the walls in the flicker of the streetlights outside. He grabs his old duffel bag from the hall closet—the bag he'd kept since his Afghanistan tour as a reminder of just how bad things could get in such a short time—and work his way towards the bedrooms, starting in Jenny's to grab a few clothes and toys before moving on to his own.
The only clothes he packs are some briefs, a change of trousers and shirts, and a few extra jumpers that he hadn't left behind in 221B when he'd moved out. Then there's his laptop, a razor, toothbrush, and—
John sits down on the bed he and Mary once shared, as he always does whenever he needs to open the slightly-stuck drawer of his bedside table. He has to pull several times before it works, but the drawer finally squeaks open and offers him a beaten-up travel Bible, several golf pencils, and a gun.
It's not the same gun that Sherlock had borrowed that night three years ago (oh, who is he kidding, that gun had been Sherlock's as much it was John's, just like everything else John owned became Sherlock's once they'd been together long enough), that one had been lost in the destruction of the explosion and had never been found in any recognisable or usable piece, but it was close enough since John never really felt comfortable working a gun that wasn't similar in design to his old trusty service weapon. Even now, nearly three years since he'd last laid a finger on it, John can still check the magazine and switch on the safety as easily as if he was still in the army.
Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?
John slams his mental doors shut on the whispers of memory, then shoves the gun in the back of his waistband before getting up from the bed and grabbing the duffel bag on his way out the door. The bodyguard (hadn't offered his name, but John remembers Anthea and wouldn't have expected a straight answer even if he had the courage to ask) is already waiting on the landing outside of John's flat.
"Ready, sir?" the man asks, as polite as any other member of the armed forces, while John closes the main door behind him and starts fiddling with the locks.
"Yes. Yes, I'm ready." John hefts the bag onto his good shoulder. "Let's go."
What surprises John the most is how much he really means it.
Night, or rather, early morning. The streets are deserted, even of the last few rowdy drunks who occasionally stagger their way across London until they are inebriated enough to pass out or sober enough to make it home. Now, at this hour, there is nothing on Baker Street other than a few watchful cameras, a skinny stray cat scratching its way into a dumpster in search of a late dinner, and a man smoking a cigarette under a lamppost, waiting.
This man, when he isn't tracking the movements of the security cameras right over his head, is watching a very specific window on the street opposite him: a window on the second story, the only window on the entire block with a light still on at this hour. For the longest time, since at least before midnight, there had been nothing to see but half of a kitchen and an empty sitting room. But now—
There! Movement. The man shifts the cigarette between his teeth before carefully reaching inside of his jacket for his mobile. He snaps one, two, five quick photos of a man wearing what can only be termed as a truly-horrible jumper, takes pictures of this man puttering around the kitchen and putting something on the stove—milk, maybe, considering the time, or maybe tea.
It isn't the main target, but it is a target, certainly, so perhaps staying out in the middle of the London damp for half the night hadn't been a complete waste, after all.
The lights soon go out, plunging the entire flat into darkness, but it didn't much matter. The man had gotten what he'd come for; and once he'd safely stored his mobile back in his pocket, he slips away from the lamppost, into the shadows of the night, and disappears.
I see that some of you hard-core angst-seekers are holding out for a bit more, well, angst. Not to worry, I'm making sure you'll have plenty of that in the last two chapters, so bear with me while I give you an extra dose of PLOT in the meantime! xD
Sherlock remains in a blissful state of drugged unconsciousness for the better part of a week, and when he does finally wake up it's much more anticlimactic than John would have expected.
John's working on his laptop while sitting guard next to Sherlock's bed at the time (not on his blog, he'd abandoned that after—after, because what was the point, really, without Sherlock nothing ever happened to him anyway), so he almost misses the moment Sherlock's eyes flutter open were it not for the fact that Sherlock's breathing hitches, changes, as if he's on the border of dreaming and waking and isn't quite sure which side he's on, yet.
John quickly sets his laptop off to the side, on the floor next to his chair that he'd pulled in from the kitchen, and reaches out to steady the IV stand as Sherlock suddenly jerks, now aware of the tubes that are holding him down and doing his best to get rid of them in his half-awake state. "Sherlock!" John says sharply, hoping that his voice will be enough to keep Sherlock from hurting himself further. "Sherlock, don't. You'll only make it worse."
It works. Sherlock twists his head towards John's voice, and even though it takes him a moment to find John's face and focus on it properly, he manages it eventually. "John?" Sherlock rasps. "John?"
"Yes, it's me." John gives Sherlock a little wave, realising how silly the gesture must look at the same time that he notices his hands are trembling again. "Hi."
Sherlock stares, almost as if he can't make himself believe that what he's seeing is real. John understands the feeling—that's all he's felt for the last several days, now. "John," Sherlock finally says, hardly louder than a whisper. "How—how long?"
"You've been out for five days, going on six," John begins to inform him, but stops when Sherlock shakes his head.
"Not that," Sherlock insists. "How long since—you know. The pool."
"Oh. Right. Um." John does the quick mental math to doublecheck, even though he could probably tell Sherlock off the top of his head exactly how many days it's been since the explosion, given how he could never really forget. "Three years. Give or take."
"I see." Sherlock closes his eyes briefly. "Not too long, then."
John feels a surge of irritation rise up—he'd forgotten how that felt, it had been so long since the last time he'd gotten angry with a real, living Sherlock. "I don't think you understand," he grits out, quietly but with enough force that Sherlock's eyes fly open again in surprise. "Three years, Sherlock. Three bloody years. Three years of every single one of us thinking you were dead. Even your own brother gave up on you!"
"Yes, I—assumed as much," replies Sherlock delicately, the only sign of his current weakness being the way he carefully places each breath. "When no one came, I knew—but well, let bygones—be bygones. Tell me, I’m curious—how was my funeral?"
"Your—Sherlock!" John grabs the IV stand so tightly that he's surprised it doesn't bend under his fingers. "I did not go to your bloody funeral, sorry, because at the time I was too busy trying to re-learn how to walk without falling over! And don't you dare try to distract me, not after all we've been—"
"Right, I'm sorry," Sherlock interrupts, "I suppose it—was my fault, then. Should've sent you—a message or something, saying that—I was alive, enjoying my stay—Moriarty sends his regards, et cetera."
At the mention of Moriarty's name, John deflates. "Moriarty. He's—alive, then?"
"As much as I am, yes." Sherlock's right hand drifts down instinctively to his chest. "You've seen?"
John bites his lower lip. No use in lying, Sherlock would see right through it anyway. "Yes. That—that must've hurt."
"Like hell." Sherlock's lips twitch into a slight smile. "Moriarty—got it worse. All this—on his face. He won't be walking around—like he used to, not for a while."
Sherlock pauses, his eyes shifting from John's face to somewhere behind him. John twists around, and he sees that Sherlock is looking at the doorway, where Jenny is standing with one hand on the doorframe and staring back at Sherlock with wide eyes.
"You can come in if you want to," John calls, and Jenny gives a little start at being discovered before she slowly, carefully makes her way into Sherlock's bedroom. John had marked the room as off-limits at first, while Sherlock had been unconscious, but now that Sherlock's awake John doesn't see a reason why the two shouldn't meet. "Sherlock, this is my daughter. Jen, say hi."
Jenny says nothing, but she does get close enough to Sherlock that the two could touch if either one had thought to stretch out a hand to the other. Neither of them do; Sherlock studies Jenny with that unnerving stare of his, and Jenny—surprisingly, given how shy and introverted she'd been as of late—stares right back, matching Sherlock's look with her own piercing and changeable gaze.
Sherlock is the first to break contact by turning back to John. "Genevieve or Virginia?" he asks, out of the blue.
John blinks. "Sorry?"
Sherlock sighs, impatiently (and oh, how John's missed that, all of it, even the smallest of signs that shows Sherlock's disgust with the rest of the imbecilic human race, John's missed every single one). "Is her name Genevieve, Virginia—or what?"
"Oh! Right, no, it's Jennifer." John remembers the day Jenny was born, the day he and Mary named her, and twinges inwardly when he remembers how badly he'd wished Sherlock had been around to see it. "Jennifer Miranda Watson."
"Jennifer. Good. I hate it when—people mangle names by—chopping them off halfway." Sherlock grunts, then waves Jenny away with his good hand. Jenny immediately dodges out of John's view; he can hear her scamper back into the hallway, as silently as she'd entered. "John, I must say—I'm surprised. You spawned."
"Also," Sherlock continues, ignoring John's righteous indignation, "I'm not sure. Should I give you—my congratulations, or my condolences?"
John's heart skips one beat, then another. "Sorry, what?"
"Your wife, John. You married, after—I disappeared, not too long after. Your daughter is barely past—two years old now, so she was—probably the reason for the union. And yet, you're here—living here, I see, with me—and she's with you as well. You no longer—wear your ring, so—a messy divorce, perhaps? The in-laws are hardly—helping to care for her, so I'd guess—your relationship with them went sour—at the same time. Was it because of—Jennifer's disability? I can tell she's mute, John—you don't have to act—so surprised."
"I'm not surprised," John says evenly, though inside he's shaking. How close Sherlock had gotten, and yet how far. "I see you haven't lost your touch."
"Of course I haven't." Sherlock gives him an almost-triumphant look. "So. Was I right? What happened between—you and the missus?"
"I don't want to talk about it!" John snaps, and immediately regrets it when he sees the hurt flash in Sherlock's eyes. "Look, I'm sorry, just—it's a sore point, all right?" He gets up quickly, nearly knocking his chair over in the process, and bends down to pick up his laptop before he looks back down at Sherlock, who is watching him with the same look that John remembers from before, the look that was almost always reserved for John alone and that practically screams I've tried dissecting you twenty different ways to Sunday, and yet I still can't even begin to understand you.
"Don't try to move too much," John says, trying to sound as calm as he can and not sure if it's working. "You're not even close to recovering from—whatever you went through, and your body can use all the rest it can get. Also, please to leave your left shoulder alone, because it's been through quite a lot already and does not need you making it any worse. Got it?"
"Yes, but—John!" Sherlock calls plaintively as John starts to leave the room. John stops, but he doesn't look back. "At least—won't you tell me if—I was close?"
John shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath, and steadies himself to give an answer.
"Close enough," John says without turning around, and when he leaves this time Sherlock doesn't stop him.
Sherlock lasts two-and-a-half days before the boredom sets in.
In all honesty, John knows the true answer is considerably less than two, since Sherlock spends most of the previous night shouting for people to bring him something to do, anything at all, before his (Sherlock's, not John's) mind rots and before John's (not Sherlock's) nerves snap completely and make John (not Sherlock) do something he'll probably regret later—'probably' being the operative word, given that most likely anything would be worth it to make Sherlock shut up for an evening.
It's not until John walks into the kitchen on the morning of the third day and sees Sherlock lying on the sofa in the sitting room, free of all IVs and looking for all the world like he'd just woken up after finishing a very trying case, that he realises just how bored Sherlock really is.
"For the love of God, Sherlock!" If there was ever a time where having kittens would not only be duly appropriate but physically possible, now would be that time. "What the—why—how the hell did you take off all your IVs by yourself?"
"It took me a few hours, but I managed," Sherlock drawls, not even bothering to look up from whatever he is doing one-handed on his laptop—no, wait, that's John's laptop, again, because Sherlock's battery had drained over the course of waiting three years for its owner to return—and seemingly quite oblivious to John's impending fit from a room away. "I did warn you, I was getting bored."
"Yes, but—Sherlock, just because you're bored doesn't mean you can throw every medical advice to the winds whenever you feel like it!" John tries to keep his voice down since Jenny is still asleep in his bedroom upstairs, but it's a very close thing. "You're only just getting better, but if you relapse it's going to be much harder to get you back on—"
"John." The way Sherlock says his name makes John stop short, as it always does. "Please. Look at me. I'm hardly moving at all—in fact, I believe in most cases this would qualify as resting. But I simply cannot remain in bed for another hour, not when I can feel every one of my individual brain cells slowly disintegrating. As long as I don't overexert myself and keep my left shoulder stable, I don't see why I can't keep on as I am now."
John hardly knows what to say to that, but he doesn't have to say anything since Edelstein lets himself in through the front door at that very moment. The other doctor is halfway through a cheerful shout of greeting when he walks into 221B proper and sees Sherlock sitting there in all his dressing-gown-and-pyjamas glory, at which point the shout dies right where it stands.
"You!" Edelstein stares, blinks rapidly, and stares some more. Sherlock stares right back, looking every bit as bored as he'd said he was and then some. "What are you doing out of bed? John, what is he doing out of bed?"
"Don't look at me," retorts John with a long put-upon sigh. He'd thought he'd forgotten how to do it, since Sherlock left, but some things just stick with a person, apparently. "I only just woke up and found he flew the coop five minutes ago."
"Flew the coop? Do I look like a barnyard fowl to you? Really, John, is that the best metaphor you could come up with?"
"On short notice and without a drop of caffeine in me? Yes, actually!"
"All right, girls, enough catfighting already!" Lestrade shouts from somewhere behind Edelstein, who yelps in surprise and quickly dodges into the sitting room so that the detective inspector behind him can also make his way inside the flat. "I bear coffee and doughnuts and distraction, so everyone can just calm the hell down right now."
"Thank heaven for small mercies," Sherlock mutters, setting John's laptop aside and stretching out his right arm, cracking the joints loudly as he arches himself one-sided as if he's half-cat.
John stares at Lestrade and at the overlarge file box in his arms, on which several travel cups and a Tim Hortons box are precariously perched. "How did you know Sherlock was here?" he demands.
"Well, for starters, it's kind of hard to ignore twenty-six texts over the course of an hour that all say 'bored' repeatedly. Bit of a dead giveaway, that. Also, his brother's PA paid me a visit last weekend." Lestrade sets down the coffee and doughnuts in the kitchen before lugging the file box back into the sitting room and dropping it in front of Sherlock's feet with a heavy thud; Sherlock promptly tears into the box like a boy unwrapping presents on Christmas, while John and Edelstein make for the breakfast like moths to a flame. "Quite a good-looking thing that one was, by the way, does anyone know if she's available?"
"Don't get your hopes up," Sherlock says without looking up from the first manila folder he'd laid his hands on. "Her love for my brother is only second to her love for her BlackBerry. Besides, I see you have no room to talk." Sherlock glances up for a moment to study Lestrade from head to foot, then returns to his studies before announcing, "I'd say congratulations, but not only have you not yet gotten up the nerve to tie the knot, Donovan's clearly been keeping you busy scrubbing her floors whenever you go over to visit."
"Sherlock!" John resists the urge to bang his head against the doorframe repeatedly. "For—Christ—have you learned nothing?"
"What's there to learn? Other than the fact that Scotland Yard's competency has not improved one bit since I left." Sherlock snaps the folder closed and tosses it carelessly onto the coffee table. "The boyfriend did it."
Lestrade blinks. "You mean the Mahoney case? No, the boyfriend had an alibi—"
"—that he was spending the night at the pub with three friends, all of whom were with him at the girlfriend's house the night she was murdered." Sherlock uses his foot to reopen the folder and points out the top document with his big toe, a crime scene photo of five half-drunk shot glasses on a kitchen counter. "One of the friends was a dealer looking for a way to break clean and pay off his debts, and the girlfriend's life insurance split four ways would have been enough to cover it all and bring in a profit to boot. Question them again, but separately, and tell each one that someone else confessed. You'll have a straight truth out of all of them before dinner."
There is a very long moment of awed silence. "My god, Sherlock," says Lestrade fervently. "You don't even know how much I've missed you."
"Likewise." Sherlock gestures to the file box. "Is this all?"
"Is that all? Are you kidding me? There's two more boxes like this in my office and another one down in storage! Do you know how many cases we had to close unsolved while you were away?" Lestrade shudders at the memory. "Dimmock was almost promoted to take my spot, it was bloody embarrassing. Sally nearly pitched a fit, and we had to make sure Anderson didn't try to subtly poison the head of the department or something."
"Good that he didn't, subtle would have never worked with him." Sherlock glances over at John and Edelstein, the latter staring openly at Sherlock with a half-eaten doughnut still frozen en route to his mouth, the former rubbing his temples with both hands and willing the migraine to go away. "Well, I have to thank you, Lestrade. Now I can enjoy both my rest and relaxation. Isn't that right, John?"
John throws up his hands and would have beaten a hasty retreat to his bedroom without another word, had Lestrade not reached out and grabbed John by the sleeve to halt his exit. "I thought I should tell you," he says in a low voice, "that we've convinced Sally to return her share of the winnings. The wager's still on, at twice the original pot, so if you'd like to throw your own bet in…"
John can't resist a chuckle, and only laughs harder when Sherlock's head snaps up at the sound. "Sounds like fun, but I'm afraid I'll have to pass. Vested interest and lack of objectivity and all that."
"John," Sherlock calls from the sofa, the next case file lying forgotten in front of him. "What are you two on about?"
"That's for me to know, and for you to deduce your way out," John says without missing a beat, which earns a snigger from Lestrade that miraculously turns itself into a fake cough.
Sherlock studies them both for a moment longer before turning his attention back to his work. "Very well," he says with a dramatic sigh. "I'll find out soon enough. I always do."
John just rolls his eyes and goes back upstairs to finish getting ready for work. At least Sherlock's no longer bored, but the insufferable smugness that goes with it can be just as bad, sometimes.
The climate is shifting, now, the chill and the damp settling down on London earlier by the day as the beginnings of winter approaches. And yet, even through rain or fog or sun or even more fog, there is always a man standing within a one-block radius of Baker Street, always watching, always waiting.
He's had to change positions at least three times in the day, sometimes more, depending on the angle of the ever-changing security cameras, but he never lets the front door and windows of 221B out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time. His job requires constant scrutiny, yes, but it also requires constant vigilance of his non-target surroundings in the same amount, if not more.
And so he finds himself one morning, this time directly across from the flat in question, when the front door opens and one of his targets steps outside.
He immediately glances away, pretending to find a sudden interest in the color of the sky and the movement of the clouds overhead, and when he looks back the target has been joined by a little girl—the daughter, just past two years old now and unable to speak a word, if he remembers rightly from all the research he's done on the flat's recent occupants—followed by an older woman, the landlady, watching both of her tenants from the doorway with a fond expression. The girl smiles up at her father but, even when he bends down to give her a farewell kiss and lightly tickle her under the chin, makes not a single sound.
The man shifts his line of sight upwards, towards the second-story windows of the flat, and sees that the curtains are pulled back just enough for a dark-haired head to be visible—this is the main target, and he's so taken with watching the other two interact on the street below that he doesn't even notice the third man studying all of them from the opposite sidewalk.
"Oi! You there, leatherhead! What d'you think you're doing?"
The man spins on his heel, right hand instinctively going for the gun hidden inside his jacket, but relaxes when he sees the constable striding towards him from the corner of Baker and Allsop. "Mornin', officer!" he calls with forced cheer and, with effort, dropping some of his end consonants into a lower-class drawl. "Jus' waitin' for my girl to fix herself up a bit. I'm walkin' her to work today, you see."
"Uh-huh." The constable looks him over before holding out a hand. "Identification, if you please."
"Why, of course." The man digs around in his leather jacket's outer pocket, making sure that the bulge of his weapon doesn't show, before extracting his wallet and handing it over. The constable flips through the pictures and documentation for a moment before passing it back.
"You're Jude Wilson?" When the man nods assent, the constable continues, "I'll let you go this time, but I'll warn you that we've a pretty strict no-loitering policy in these parts. If I catch you standing around again, I'm afraid I won't have much choice but to book you for a misdemeanor. Are we clear?"
"Oh, crystal," returns Jude, and he keeps the fake smile pasted on his face long after the constable leaves.
Coppers. Oh, how he hates them.
When Jude looks back at 221B, both the street and window are now empty, and the moment is long gone.
"John, please tell me you're joking."
"Believe me, you're not the only one who wishes I were."
"But—I can't watch a two-year-old girl for the day! I'm busy!"
"I'm sorry, in what universe is sitting on your arse for more than half-a-month considered busy?" It's a low blow, and John knows it, but putting up with Sherlock's quite-vocal complaints about his ever-present boredom from being effectively under house arrest in his own flat (orders from Mycroft, to remain in effect until something can be done about the Moriarty situation, which hasn't seen a sight of improvement—much to John's worry and Sherlock's chagrin) is enough to use up all of John's capacity to give a damn.
It's been nearly two months since Sherlock reappeared, over a month since Lestrade brought Sherlock every unsolved case from the last three years, nearly one week since Sherlock was declared fit enough to get rid of the sling that had been keeping his left shoulder immobile (but threatened not to overdo anything, on pain of reconfinement to his bed, a threat that has proven surprisingly effective), and exactly three days since Sherlock solved the last of Lestrade's cold case files, and John is ready to pitch Sherlock straight into the Thames if he doesn't bloody shut up.
John takes a deep breath, counts to ten, and tries again. "Look, Sherlock, I know this isn't your sort of thing, but you have to. I don't have any other choice at the moment if I want to go to work today."
"Why can't you ask Mrs. Hudson?" Sherlock mumbles, his words muffled by his curled-up foetal position on the sofa.
"Because she's out, and I don't know when she'll get back. And if I wait until she does, I'll have missed the whole day. I can't do that."
"Then call in sick. Sarah can take over for you."
"Sherlock, the reason why I am trying to go in today is because Sarah, my boss, is having the day off, and I owe her much more than a day considering how much she's covered me the whole time I've been watching you."
"What about your sister? Doesn't she usually watch Jennifer while you're at work?"
"Yes, but she's—also having the day off."
A long pause, in which Sherlock uncurls himself long enough to stare at John. "Oh," says Sherlock, finally. "Well. That's interesting."
"Yes. Yes, it is." John does his best not to blush. "I guess getting any Watson was better than getting none at all, apparently. I haven't bothered to ask."
"But of course." Sherlock reverts back to his original position before John can ask what the hell that was supposed to mean. "Fine, I'll do it. Should be interesting, I've never had a living specimen of a human toddler to work with before—"
"Sherlock." John's sudden change in tone is enough to make Sherlock raise his head and stare in surprise. "Sherlock, I am going to give you this one warning, and only one," John continues slowly, carefully, and as icily as a mid-December wind in Edinburgh. "You will not—not!—use my daughter for any experiment you might come up with. No excuses. I mean this, Sherlock. You're only to watch her and make sure she doesn't hurt herself while I'm away. Mrs. Hudson's left out some food for both of you when she gets hungry, and I don't care if you're in the middle of a case, you will eat, for my sake if not for yours. But if you do anything, anything at all, to put my Jen in any harmful situation whatsoever, I swear to God, I will bloody end you."
"John," Sherlock manages to get out once John stops long enough for air, "I'll admit, you surprise me. You, threatening a sick man? You'd never—"
"Has that ever stopped me before?" John interrupts with a hard glint in his eyes, and Sherlock is suddenly and forcefully reminded of what happened to the cabbie and doesn't talk back, for once.
In the end, after John's finally left for the surgery, Sherlock has to admit that John is right. There isn't much work to do in watching Jenny, not when she mostly stays up in John's room and leaves him to his own devices in the sitting room. Sherlock occasionally gets up from the sofa long enough to wander upstairs and peek in on her, unnoticed, as she plays with her dolls and building blocks in what to him seems like a listless manner. But that's none of his business as long as she's in no danger, and so Sherlock settles himself into a routine of setting up experiments in the kitchen (and seeing what there is to salvage from what he left behind years ago. Sadly, there isn't much that can be or has been saved, and now he has to start some of his projects all over again) and making notes on his laptop and pretty much being oblivious to everything around him until, around lunchtime, he becomes aware of something tugging repeatedly on the hem of his dressing gown.
When he looks down and past the brightness of his laptop's monitor, Sherlock sees Jenny standing there, with one hand still fisted in his clothes and the other pinching her nose tightly. "Yes?" Sherlock says, slightly irritated by the distraction from his work. "What is it, Jennifer?"
Jenny releases Sherlock's dressing gown long enough to fan her free hand in front of her face, in the universal gesture of Something reeks in here.
Sherlock sniffs the air, then frowns. He can't smell anything bad, much less anything out of the ordinary. "Can you tell me—" No, he stops himself, she can't speak, remember? "Can you show me what's wrong? What does it smells like?"
Jennifer seems to consider him for a moment before turning and running into the kitchen. Sherlock hears some of the lower cupboards opening and closing repeatedly, and he's halfway through the process of getting up to make sure she doesn't ruin one of his experiments when she walks back into the sitting room, triumphantly holding up a half-used bag of roasted almonds and dumping it onto the coffee table.
Sherlock blinks, stares at Jenny, then at the bag of almonds, then at Jenny again. "Are you sure?" he finally asks her, much less irritated than before, and when Jenny nods it's as if several lightbulbs switch on simultaneously in his head.
The only thing in the flat that could possibly smell like almonds of any sort is the cyanide-containing bacteria culture whose Petri dish is currently sitting at the bottom of the kitchen sink. They'd been left in the freezer for over three years, and Sherlock had only taken them out to see if he could possibly revive the experiment with a bit of slow defrosting at room temperature. There isn't enough cyanide in the entire thing put together to possibly be enough to be smelled by anyone, certainly not by him and most definitely not by a little girl, and yet—
Sherlock drops down on his knees in front of Jenny and grabs her by the shoulders, feeling her tense in surprise under his touch. "Jennifer, I need you to listen to me," Sherlock says, urgency driving his voice down farther than his usual baritone. "I need you to think, carefully. Have you often smelled things that John—that your father or anyone else doesn't notice? Have you?"
Jenny gives him a moment's glance before twisting out of his hands and making a dash for the bedroom, as silent as she has been since the day they met; and Sherlock is sure he's lost her interest for good until she suddenly returns, this time armed with a pencil and a legal pad, the latter of which she shoves in front of Sherlock for him to see.
Yes, the paper reads in very neat block letters, printed as carefully as if Jenny had copied the words out of a book. Lots of things.
Sherlock inhales sharply, glancing away from the paper and giving Jenny a new, appraising look. "You can write? And read?"
In response, Jenny gives him another look that says as clear as day, What, do you take me for an idiot?
"Of course you can, stupid question," Sherlock amends, his spirits soaring nevertheless. "Of course. Oh, Jennifer, this is—oh, the possibilities! This could make everything so much easier! Your nose, you've been blessed—some genetic mutation, but you won't know what that is, not yet, but it doesn't matter, your nose is sensitive enough without you worrying why—and it's early enough in your development that I can train you to tell the difference. Oh, this is Christmas!"
Jenny just watches Sherlock with a neutrally-pleased expression, probably missing out on half of the words he's using, but Sherlock is so excited that he doesn't even notice. "Jennifer, Jennifer, you're exactly what I've been looking for," Sherlock says, grabbing Jennifer again, and this time she doesn't try to break away. "You're a bright girl, I can see that. You'll learn very fast if I teach you. I can train you to recognise everything that you smell, and you'll learn the names and be able to tell me, me or your father, do you see? It'll be great fun, once you learn and have all the knowledge you need, I promise. So—what do you think? Will you let me teach you, Jennifer? Because I'll only do it if you want it, too."
When Jenny slowly nods, Sherlock grins at her, and for the first time Jenny gives him a tentative smile in return. "Excellent," he says, softly, but with every syllable vibrating with all the excitement of a new case. "Then let's get started."
For those who wondered re: Jenny being able to read/write at two years of age, I know that this is possible because that's exactly what happened to me. Not a word out of my mouth until I was two-and-a-half, though when I finally did talk I was apparently using full sentences and compound clauses. Maybe not the most usual occurrence, probably a tad bit on the Asperger spectrum, actually, but it's clearly a possible scenario. :) Also, warning y'all now—if you weren't happy with the way TGG ended, um. You might not want to read this chapter until I've posted the final part. I'm just saying. *shifty*
When Sherlock gets involved in a project, his focus is such that nothing short of an apocalyptic event can take his attention away from whatever he's working on. In most cases, Sherlock considers this to be one of his greatest strengths, that nothing can distract him once he sets his mind to it.
Of course, in hindsight, this could also be qualified as his only weakness, since his utter concentration on his work is exactly the reason why Sherlock never noticed John standing in the doorway of 221B until it is far, far too late.
"Sherlock." At the sound of his name, Sherlock looks up, then jumps to his feet so quickly that the set of beakers and test tubes lined up on the coffee table in neat rows wobble threateningly in protest, and that noise causes Jenny to look up from her little pad of handwritten notes as well. "What's going on?"
"John!" Sherlock glances at the clock—how was it half-past six already? He could have sworn it was just getting on to eleven a few minutes earlier—and quickly calculates how long it's been since John left for the surgery. He's right on schedule. Unfortunately. "John, I can explain—"
"Explain later," John says, shortly. "Jen, go upstairs. Bedroom. Now."
When Jen doesn't move, instead staring at John with wide eyes, John snaps, "Go!" Only then does Jen obey, leaping to her feet and running past John's legs with her pad and pencil clutched tightly to her chest. Sherlock is sure that he sees a bit of water sparkling in her eyes as she leaves, but not once does she make a sound to suggest anything otherwise.
"Sherlock." John's tone abruptly brings Sherlock's focus back to the present. "Why is it that I come home, well past dinnertime, mind, and find that this entire building and half the block outside reeks like a meth lab?"
"It does not!" Sherlock sniffs the air. Admittedly, his nose is almost completely desensitised after a day filled with strong odors, but it isn't that bad, is it? "Well. Maybe a little. But that's mostly from the ammonia."
"Ammonia? Why do you—no, wait, don't answer that." John pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs heavily. "What did I tell you about experimenting around my daughter?"
Sherlock stares at him, flabbergasted. "It's not—I wasn't experimenting!" he sputters. "I was training!"
"Training? Training what?"
"Training your daughter, of course. God, John, I can't believe you didn't notice, not once in all this time—Jennifer is absolutely phenomenal! Her nose is more sensitive than even my own, and once she's been told what something is she can name it again from memory on the second or third try, I tested it myself. She was able to detect the slightest traces of cyanide, among other things—"
"Sherlock!" John sounds horrified. "Why is there even cyanide in this flat?"
"Oh, don't be so concerned, it was only a bacteria culture and even ingesting that amount wouldn't be enough to make a human being sick!" Sherlock grabs his notebook and waves it in the air, as if the very act of the gesture would be enough to make John understand. "We went through a list of common household ingredients, anything that could be used in trace amounts as a murder weapon or could be found at a crime scene. Once Jennifer learns these, and she can identify them at will, then we'll move on to more uncommon organic materials. I suppose I'll have to ask Molly to send me some samples from Bart's—"
"Right, stop right there," John interrupts. "First off, Molly left Bart's. After you—well, anyway, she felt guilty over, you know, and she transferred out. She's at Princess Royal, now. And second!" John adds, bringing Sherlock back to the conversation before he has time to wonder if there might be an easy way of gathering Molly's replacement to his cause, "that's completely beside the point. You are not allowed to make Jen your bloodhound!"
"Bloodhound?" Sherlock echoes, surprised. "Goodness, no, she's so much better than a bloodhound! When I'm through with her, she'll even be able to tell me the difference between—"
"For Christ's sake, Sherlock, do you even listen to yourself?" John's voice rises, cracks on the treble, and falls back into a more-normal shout of frustration. "Is that all we are to you? Just objects lying around, tools you'll use to solve your next case? You didn't even remember to feed her, did you?" Sherlock doesn't answer; his stomach gives a traitorous low growl and does that for him. "Yeah, I figured as much. Look, I don't care how brilliant you think Jen is, you will not expose her to God-knows-what sort of chemicals and starve her for an afternoon in order to make her your assistant! She's just two years old, Sherlock! Two-year-old girls are not supposed to be inhaling ammonia and cyanide on a daily basis!"
"Two-year-olds are also not supposed to be able to read and write, and yet here she was, doing both!" Sherlock snaps back, his hackles already rising. "You say you love her, you say you want what's best for her, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do! I'm nurturing her talents, I'm giving her something she can do, so that when she grows old enough to realise why her mother left her it won't hurt as badly!"
Sherlock expects that his bluntness might not go overly well with John, but he certainly doesn't expect John crossing the room faster than should be humanly possible and suddenly, abruptly, unexpectedly punching Sherlock in the jaw.
Sherlock staggers back and stumbles into a heap on the sofa, instinctively checking for broken teeth with his hand; nothing serious, though his lip is gashed and leaves a bit of a red smear against his palm when he pulls it away. He glances up at John, still in shock, and sees John staring back as coldly as he's ever seen John look in all the time they've known each other.
"I," John says, very slowly and articulately, and each syllable feels like it's stabbing Sherlock through the heart, "am going to go out now. When I get back, I want to find that you've taken Jen down to Mrs. Hudson's for the night. If Mrs. Hudson isn't back yet, you're to wait there with Jen until she is, and then you will come back up here by yourself and so help me God, if I ever see you come within ten feet of my girl ever again, I will make sure Mycroft won't even know how to find you."
"John," Sherlock begins, but John inexorably presses on.
"I am—we are moving out, Sherlock. You're well enough, you can manage things on your own—manage everything just the way you want. It was bad enough, when it was just me and you, and you always ordering things around, and God help me, I even enjoyed it sometimes! But things are different now. I have a family, and I will do everything in my power to keep them out of your line of work, and you have no right—no bloody right—to insult my wife and Jen's mother like that to my face. I'll let it go, just this once, but for now, we are through."
"John! John, wait!" Sherlock says, and he's not begging, no, he really isn't, not even when John turns away with the ugliest expression and starts walking towards the door. "John!"
"Sod off!" John yells back over his shoulder, and Sherlock can do nothing but stand there and watch him go, and he continues to watch long after John's left the building and slammed the front door loudly behind him.
It's some time, probably minutes though it feels like hours, before Sherlock can gather enough of his shattered concentration back together to turn towards the stairs and make his trudging way up to John's bedroom. Might as well do as John asked; from the direction John turned when he stepped out into the street, he's probably heading for the pub a block down Baker Street, most likely to take out the rest of his frustration out on a few drinks, and even if John came back at a decent hour it wouldn't do for Jenny to see her father in such a state.
So Sherlock tells himself, and when he opens the door to John's bedroom all he sees is a bundle of sheets mounted into a bizarre sort of shelter, wherein Jenny is hiding and valiantly pretending not to have heard a thing.
"Jennifer," Sherlock calls softly, and the mound shifts just enough for Jenny's face to peek out of her cocoon. "You heard, didn't you? You heard everything?"
Jenny buries herself back into the sheets again, but not before chucking out a wadded ball of paper that lands and rolls at Sherlock's feet. He bends down, wincing as his split lip protests the sudden change in direction of blood flow, and picks up the paper, straightening out the top enough to make out the first scribbled word there.
"Sorry?" Sherlock looks down at Jenny, and finds that she's stuck her head out again and is staring right back at him. "Why should you be sorry? What for?"
Jenny twists her face into a pout and shakes her head. Sherlock glances down at the paper again and flattens out the rest of it.
My fault, the note continues. I made daddy mad. He yells when he is mad. He hits when he is very mad, but he does not like to hit me. Sorry for making him hit you.
"Oh, Jennifer," Sherlock breathes when the understanding finally hits him like a brick in the gut. He kneels down so that his eyes are level with Jenny's and studies her expression as he carefully chooses his next words; when he unconsciously wets his lips, he savors both the slight stinging sensation and the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. "Jennifer, it's not—it's not your fault. Your father loves you very much, and he was—I guess he was worried that you might get hurt. He's not mad at you, Jennifer, he's just—" Sherlock hesitates, then presses on to say something he's almost sure he's never said before in his whole life. "If there's anyone at fault, it was me. I should be the one who's apologising, not you."
Jenny makes another face, this time looking more confused than dissatisfied, and dives back into her shelter long enough to grab her pad and pencil before coming out again. With her tongue stuck in one cheek, she slowly writes out her message before holding out the entire pad for Sherlock to read. But I had fun.
"I had fun as well," Sherlock admits, with a surprising thickness in his throat. "But John—your father doesn't think you're old enough. Maybe when you've grown up a little—" You liar, you know what he wants for Jennifer, and it's nowhere close to you, hisses a vagrant part of his brain, which Sherlock quickly shuts down before it has a chance to say anything worse. "Well. We'll see."
Jenny watches Sherlock for another moment, as if she's not quite certain whether to believe him or not, before she finally gives him a small nod of acceptance. Sherlock inwardly sighs in relief and pushes himself back to his feet, ignoring the tingling of pins and needles running down in his legs. "John—your father's gone out for the evening," he says, looking down at Jenny and trying not to smile too much. "He wants me to take you down to Mrs. Hudson's, so. Shall we?"
To his surprise, Jenny doesn't get up, but instead stretches her arms up skyward, as if that could make them magically elongate and somehow reach his shoulders. "You want me to—carry you?" Sherlock asks, unsure if he's reading the gesture correctly, and is only slightly gratified when she nods again in response.
"Very well, then." He drops down on his knees once more, and Jenny wraps her arms around his neck—tightly, not so much as to be suffocating, but just enough to hang on with—and buries her face into the crook of his neck as he gathers her small body into his arms and lifts her easily to the level of his shoulder. In this position, it's only a short distance between his nose and the top of her head, and the wildflower scent of her hair reminds Sherlock of his own childhood, of growing up and running wild on the moors when people were too confusing and far too frustrating to deal with.
It's odd, how light this little girl is, how warm her body, and how comfortably she fits into his hold as if she were always meant to be there in the first place. But what surprises Sherlock the most, and what terrifies him not by a little, is how badly he wishes that she would never let go.
Mrs. Hudson is finally back in her flat when Sherlock and Jenny arrive (she'd spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon out, with Edelstein. Interesting, and Sherlock tucks that little observation away for closer inspection when his brain is less distracted by strange emotional impulses), and though she's clearly tired she still has plenty of energy left to whip up a little something at the stove for Jenny to eat—and for Sherlock, too, though he begs off eating in her presence and is instead sent back to his flat with a reheatable container of "nibbles and things to keep up your strength, now there's a good dear."
Sherlock is less than sure of his being a dear at the moment, but he doesn't argue the matter. He does put the container in the refrigerator (where the severed head used to be, huh, someone must have gotten rid of that, which is a shame given the progress he'd been making before he left) for John to find when he gets back—or for John in the morning, maybe, considering that John would probably be in no state to do anything more than pass out once he gets home, if he ever does.
Sherlock winds up spending the night on the sofa, strumming at his violin while slowly working the dexterity back into his left fingers, and so he is still awake when John stumbles back into the flat at half-past-three, clearly drunk and reeking of stale beer and vodka and possibly a few tonics-and-gin from a mile away. John doesn't even see Sherlock on his way to the bedroom, and Sherlock pauses in his pizzicato until he hears John's footsteps fade away into the upstairs bedroom, followed by a rather emphatic thump when John throws himself down on his bed.
Sherlock is still on the sofa, his violin put away and replaced by his laptop, when John staggers downstairs just under five hours later. Whether John sees him this time or not, Sherlock doesn't know; John doesn't give him any greeting, not even when he crosses Sherlock's line of sight in order to get to the kitchen and down what must be nearly a half-gallon of tap water, and he leaves the flat for work just as abruptly as he'd crossed it. Sherlock stops typing when he hears John knock on Mrs. Hudson's door downstairs, and he closes his eyes in an attempt to block out his mind's visualisation when John gives Jenny a "good morning, sweetie, why, look at you, you're looking better than your daddy this morning, aren't you," but it unfortunately does not work.
Sherlock is even still on the sofa, now with the laptop gone and just staring at the wall opposite him, when Lestrade lets himself into the building a few hours later and knocks on the door of the flat proper before stepping inside. Sherlock's not sure when Lestrade got a set of keys to 221B, though it's most likely a gift from John or Mycroft—of course, Mycroft would be the one to give Lestrade full access to Sherlock at any time of the day, the overprotective sod—and he supposes he'll have to filch it back the next time he pickpockets Lestrade for a badge.
"Morning, Sherlock," Lestrade says, tossing a thin file folder onto the coffee table before crossing his arms and leaning against the wall next to the sofa. Sherlock doesn't look at the folder or Lestrade, instead opting to keep his eyes fixed on the bookcase as if studying the layout of his books would unravel all of life's mysteries. "Nothing new today, but some of my lads have been keeping an eye on Baker Street and noticed someone suspicious. He kept showing up on this block every day for a good two weeks, rain or shine, but when we tried to book him he went underground before we'd a chance to get to him. I pulled his records for you to take a look, but it's not much. Jude Wilson, age thirty-six, drove a lorry for a while before his employers went bust, has a few minor charges of petty theft and breaking-and-entering, but otherwise his rap's clean—Sherlock, are you even listening to me?"
"Of course not," Sherlock returns absently, speaking through his steepled fingers. "Do go on, though, I'm sure it's very interesting."
"Sometimes I wonder why I even bother," Lestrade complains to the happy-face on the wall behind Sherlock's head. "Well, never mind, then. Oh, but I did want to thank you, Sherlock, if you're even paying attention. It's—well, we've all been worried about John, you see. He never really did get over it when he—when we thought—you know, and it only got better long after he married and had Jenny. But it's good to see him back again—all back. You're the only one who could do it, God knows how, but we—Sally and I, especially, but we all appreciate not having to worry about him like that. Christ, when Mary died, we thought we might even have to put him under a suicide watch or something—"
And just like that, Sherlock is awake.
"Died?" Sherlock asks, aware that he's interrupting Lestrade's half-ramble and finding that he doesn't really care. "His wife—she's dead? I thought—she left him?"
"Left him? Are you serious? God, Mary would never—you mean he didn't tell you?" Lestrade stares at Sherlock as if he can't believe what he's hearing. "God, man, Mary would never have left John, not for a fortune. Those two—they loved each other, and Jenny was their whole world. She died, oh, it's a few months now—hardly two weeks before you showed up, actually. A lorry smashed her car while she was driving to work. Killed her almost instantly. Blind luck that Jenny didn't get killed along with her—she saw the whole thing, poor girl, and once she stopped screaming over her mum's dead body she hasn't made a peep since..."
Sherlock stops listening at that point, because the roar of white noise in his brain is enough to drown out whatever else Lestrade's explaining. He can see it all in his head, almost as clear as if he's there again: the heady feeling that accompanies the loss of gravity when the truck overturns, the wailing of the police sirens, the wet mud soaking through his clothes and clinging wetly like a second skin, the haze of pain before and after he'd shoved his shoulder back into its socket—
—and above it all, the sound of someone screaming, shrill and high and desperate. The sound of a child, a little girl, no older than two years if a day, screaming for her dead mother.
"Lestrade," Sherlock says, very slowly and as calmly as he can manage. "I need you to tell me exactly how John's wife died. Every detail, every little thing that went on the police report and even the things that didn't—I need to know. Now."
"Well, sure, I can do that." Lestrade gives Sherlock a confused look. "But—why? Why are you so interested all of a sudden?"
"Because." Sherlock closes his eyes, and in the darkness behind the eyelids he can see Jenny smiling up at him from her cocoon in John's bedsheets, the image underscored by the faint memory of her screams. "Someone's life may very well depend on it."
When Jude gets out of bed this morning, he knows almost as sure as he knows his own name that today is the day. Enough of waiting, enough of sneaking around and hiding from the ever-persistent coppers that are getting closer on his tail than he'd like—if he doesn't do it today, whatever it takes, he might not be out of prison long enough to get a second chance.
And if there's one thing the boss never gives, it's second chances.
So Jude dresses himself, with more care than usual, and is sure to doublecheck the round in his gun before tucking it lovingly inside his jacket. Would be a shame if he manages to get to his target only to have his gun stick on him—and like the boss had made clear on plenty of occasions, there'd been quite enough of half-arsed jobs to last anyone a lifetime, didn't Jude agree?
Jude didn't, not really, not when it was his life on the fucking line, but he knew better than to argue the semantics with his boss.
When he arrives on Baker Street, he's just in time to see the head of the coppers, that Lestrade fellow, letting himself into the target's building and disappearing inside. Jude does want to get the job done, certainly, but he's not stupid or suicidal, and so he ducks into an alleyway some feet away to wait it out until the copper leaves.
Lestrade's in there for a good half-an-hour before he comes back outside again, and Jude watches as the copper locks the door behind him before walking off down Baker Street, hands in his pockets and looking seriously thoughtful. Jude gives him two minutes of leeway before emerging from his hiding spot, offering a mock-salute to the nearest security camera before positioning himself as if he's about to take a leak on the front door when he's really just getting ready to do something else entirely.
A pin tumbler lock under a deadbolt that hasn't even been fastened? Oh, please, it's practically begging to be picked. And when has Jude ever been the one to refuse it?
Long after Lestrade lets himself out, Sherlock remains frozen in his original position on the sofa, hands folded under his chin, eyes fixed on a point somewhere to the left of his bookcase but seeing nothing since all his vision is focused inward, and all he hears is a faint echo of what Lestrade finished explaining to him just minutes ago.
It was early in the morning, Mary was driving Jenny to John's sister's place before—well, she was a secondary school teacher, but she was smart, almost brilliant, she could've certainly done much better than just secondary school if she'd wanted. Anyway, they were waiting for the light to change at the corner of Clapham and Queens when this lorry loses control mid-turn, and it crashes right through the barrier and hits them. Head-on, didn't even have time to go for the brakes apparently, and the momentum kept it going for another two vehicles before it flipped into a ditch and smashed itself all to hell. The other drivers were luckier, but Mary took the full impact and—God, it wasn't a pretty sight. Sally was on the scene, and she nearly lost her breakfast when she saw it. Snapped her neck and sliced the carotid at the same time, and there wasn't enough blood left inside her to fill a teaspoon. We never did find the driver of that lorry, though God knows we tried. Vehicle wasn't properly registered, no cargo, no transport history, it's like the driver never even existed...
Sherlock catalogues every jolt, every bump that he remembers from the moments after he'd thrown the lorry off-balance, and every single detail aligns perfectly with Lestrade's description. No question about it—the lorry that had killed John's wife had been his.
It doesn't bother him so much to know that he's responsible for John's wife's death—though, if he's brutally honest, it does bother him, a little, to think that he might have been the one to contribute to John's suffering, because if there's one thing that Sherlock knows he never wants to happen, it's to see John hurt—as it does to realise that his deductions had been, for a rare moment, incorrect. Stupid, stupid, he'd only seen what he'd wanted to see and hadn't pressed further for the truth; he'd been foolish to think that John, wonderful, beautiful, absolutely different John, would wind up being the same as any other person on the street.
And the fact that John hadn't denied it, not once, but twice, when Sherlock had pressed the subject—that was also worrisome. Did John suspect—no, of course not. Sherlock hadn't shown up on his doorstep—more accurately, on their doorstep until more than a week later. There's no way John would make the connection between Sherlock's reappearance and Mary Watson's death. But when he did find out—and not if, but when, for he was sure to figure it out somehow—then how would he take the news?
Given his reaction yesterday, Sherlock isn't exactly eager to find out.
Sherlock is so deep in his thoughts that he almost, just almost, misses the sound of something that is not a key scraping in the lock of the outermost door of 221B.
It doesn't take long for Jude to pick the lock—he is one of the best in the current business, after all—and he manages to slip inside the building without doing too much damage to the door after jimmying it open. He makes sure that the security cameras are all watching his every move before waggling two fingers at them all and slamming the door in their collective eyes.
If that isn't enough to get the right person's attention, well, Jude can't say that he didn't try.
The door to 221B itself is partly open, and from what he can see inside there isn't anyone in the sitting room at the moment. Jude knows the layout of the interior like the back of his own hand, and knows exactly how many steps it will take to get to the main target's bedroom, and if he's lucky he might even make it all the way without being detected.
Of course, while he's busy counting the steps past the open doorway, making sure that every footfall lands true and avoiding any possible loose floorboards that could give him away, he doesn't even notice the shadow lurking behind the half-closed door until it separates from the rest and quickly grabs him by the neck, so tight that he can hardly breathe, and growing even tighter when something sharp jabs against his side in warning.
"Don't," hisses a deep voice in his ear, "even think about it."
"My right arm is currently around your throat," Sherlock says to the intruder, very matter-of-factly, "and my left hand is keeping a knife at the level of your small intestine. Should you even consider making a wrong move, I will have no qualms in crushing your larynx with my elbow and driving this knife straight into your abdomen where it no doubt belongs. Are we clear?"
"Oh, crystal," breathes the other man, before he suddenly twists under Sherlock's grip, pulling away from the blade pressing into his side before smashing the full weight of his upper body against Sherlock's left shoulder.
The agony flares up in the injured joint with a blinding intensity; Sherlock gasps and staggers back, away from his attacker, unable to see or think straight from the sudden pain. Before he has the chance to regroup, the knife is knocked out of his hand (and from the sound of it, skitters across the floorboards to come to a rest underneath the sofa, where neither of them will be able to get it without a huge distraction) and he's shoved down, onto the ground, his knees slamming the wooden floor with painful force.
When he tries to get up again, Sherlock suddenly feels the chill of gunmetal against his temple, and he freezes.
"And now I have a gun to your head," says the dark figure standing above and in front of Sherlock, the half of his face away from the open window to Sherlock's left cast into shadow. "And if you even consider making a wrong move, Mister Holmes, I'll blow your brains out. Are we clear?"
A long silence. Then: "Very," Sherlock finally grits out between clenched teeth.
"Excellent." The pressure on Sherlock's temple lessens slightly, but the metal touch remains. "Now, let's start out this little party by you telling me who I am."
Sherlock shifts his gaze from the patch of bare floorboards at his opponent's feet, slowly dragging his eyes upwards as he takes in every detail with the small part of his brain that isn't calculating possible escape routes. Older model of sneakers, but they hadn't seen much dirt until recently. Lower-quality denims, scuffed thoroughly at the knees with sandy dirt and housedust. Not terribly muscular, but well-tanned on the forearms and neck—tan line around the collar means business, not pleasure. Oil and grease stains on the fingertips, but none on his clothes, which means...
"Jude Wilson, age thirty-six, former driver of lorries and current handyman with a passion for house-breaking," Sherlock rattles off. "I daresay we've met at least once before, though I wasn't in any position to see you then, was I?"
"Very good!" Jude sounds pleasantly amused. "Why, you're even better than Mister Moriarty said you'd be!"
"And how's your mother?" Sherlock continues as if Jude hadn't said a word. "I suppose Mister Moriarty's been helping with her early-onset dementia, has he?"
"You leave my mum out of this, you bastard!" Jude snaps, all mocking pleasantry gone, and it's another moment before he collects his composure again. "Why don't you tell me why I'm here, instead?"
"Oh, let me guess," Sherlock drawls in his most bored tone, "you're here to take me back to your—employer."
"Take you back? Oh, Mister Holmes, I guess you're not as good as they say, after all." Jude barks out a laugh, a harsh grating sound that makes Sherlock flinch inwardly. "Take you back? Why, certainly, but not just yet. You've a bit of a purpose to serve for me first."
"Purpose?" Sherlock forces down the rising panic that is threatening to reveal itself in his voice. "And what might that purpose be, pray?"
When Jude smiles down at Sherlock, a ferocious half-grin tinged with a hungry anticipation, that panic solidifies into a hard and tangible fear. "Bait, Mister Holmes," Jude whispers. "You, sir, are the bait. Bet you didn't expect that, now did you?"
John doesn't run into Sarah until just before lunch, and though he's no Sherlock, it's quite clear from her expression that she and Harry had had a fantastic time the previous night.
John's own expression must say everything, too, because Sarah's face falls when she sees him. "Rough night?" she asks him, gently.
"Bit, yeah." John is still reeling from a massive hangover, but the pain seems like a suitable karmic punishment when he thinks back to how he treated Sherlock the night before. God, he knows Sherlock had deserved it, up to a point; but it still hurts to remember the desolate look Sherlock had given John just before he'd left, and he wouldn't have believed that he'd really punched Sherlock if he hadn't had the bruised knuckles to prove it.
"Well, you look it, love. I'm surprised you even lasted the whole morning." Sarah gives him another once-over before declaring, "Go home. I'll take care of everything, and I'm sure you could use the rest. Just go."
"God, Sarah, you're an angel." But when John tries to give her a peck on the cheek, she bats him away with a laugh.
"Don't, you still reek," she cheerfully informs him. "Go on, then. Give Jenny my love!" she adds while John is already halfway out the door.
"Will do!" John calls back, and he mentally adds that to the growing list of Things To Do Once I've Properly Apologised To Sherlock. He's still not quite sure how to go about the actual apology, but he'll figure out something appropriate when the time comes.
It's with a much-lighter heart that John steps out of the Baker Street Tube station and into the bright sunlight of the autumn afternoon, and so when his mobile buzzes he pulls it out without hesitation, thinking Sarah must have remembered something at the last minute, or maybe even Sherlock was trying to reach him now that the worst of their storm had blown over.
But when he sees who sent him the text (Fawkes, Guy) and what the message is, his feet forget how to move and he himself forgets how to breathe; and he winds up standing in the middle of the pavement, blind and deaf and insensible to the lunchtime rush of people shoving their way around him, with eyes only for the glowing LCD screen mercilessly staring back at him.
My brother is in grave danger. Time is of the essence. Go home. NOW.
And just like that, the spell is broken, and John runs.
"I made sure to walk in front of every security camera from here to the Thames," says Jude smugly, "so I'd be very surprised if your brother hasn't seen my break-in yet—oh, yes, I know about Mycroft Holmes! You don't know how thorough Mister Moriarty likes us to be in our research. And of course, being the concerned older sibling that he is, the other Mister Holmes will send out the distress call to a certain ex-Army doctor, who will no doubt drop everything to rescue his eccentric, high-maintenance flatmate—"
"Please," Sherlock croaks, and he can't believe how desperately he's begging, but he is, and he'd do much more than that if it would be enough to save John. "Please, I'll do anything. I'll go quietly. Whatever Moriarty wants, I'll—just, please, not John—"
"You really don't get it, do you, Mister Holmes?" Jude twists and grinds the gun harder against Sherlock's temple. "Mister Moriarty figured as much, you know. He even told me to give you a message: he says the deal is still on."
Sherlock wets his lips, nervous. "And what deal is that?"
"You don't remember?" Jude's feral leer is back in full force. "Mister Moriarty promised you three years ago, and he's loathe to not hold up his end of the bargain. That's why he won't rest until he burns the heart out of you."
John's almost completely out of breath by the time he gets back to 221B, and his already-sore head is pounding louder than any war drum. But that doesn't stop him from reaching over the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the area around Mrs. Hudson's window and digging into her planter box with his bare hands, ignoring the scratch of thorns and stiffening flower roots until his fingertips brush damp plastic. He grabs at it through the dirt half-blindly, and only when his gun is out of its protective baggie and back in his hands (he'd left it hidden outside with Mrs. Hudson's permission, sheltered from the elements by a thin layer of plastic and planting soil, because he'd never have been able to sleep at night if he'd known that Jenny or Sherlock had easy access to his weapon) does John breathe a little easier.
And then John stops breathing altogether when he hears a scream, coming from somewhere behind the outer door of 221B and a floor above—a shrill, young girl's terrified shriek that is followed and silenced by the crack of a single gunshot.
"Don't worry, I'm not really going to blow your brains out," Jude says in what is probably supposed to be a reassuring tone, but which comes out as more condescending than anything else. "Mister Moriarty specifically wants you alive, if not entirely in one piece. So. Here's what I'm going to do: the moment I hear your doctor open that door, I'm going to shoot you—" Jude shifts the gun away from Sherlock's temple and instead points the muzzle to where Sherlock's knees are meeting the ground. "—here. No one can stand to keep mum when their kneecap gets blown out, and even if you do, I can always just shoot the other one."
"I won't scream," Sherlock mutters darkly. "And if I do, it would be to tell John to run."
"Yes, but would he believe you?" Jude laughs when Sherlock's mouth twists. "Of course not. Soon as he hears the shot, he'll be raging in like that goddamn hero he thinks he is. And as soon as he sees me—" Jude mimes shooting with his other hand while keeping the gun trained below Sherlock's chest. "He won't get his brains blown out, either. Gutshot, Mister Moriarty's orders. I hear it takes ten times as long to die, and a hundred times as painful."
"If you even so much as touch John," Sherlock interrupts, "I swear, I don't care how long it takes—I will get you. You, Moriarty, everyone—there won't be enough left of any one of you for the police to find."
"But that won't bring your precious doctor back, will it?" Jude swings the gun back to Sherlock's head. "Go ahead, make all the promises you want, Mister Holmes. I can wait, I've got all the time in the wo—"
His last words are cut short by a scream, high and frightened and bloodcurdling, a scream that Sherlock recognises from the memories he was analysing hardly an hour earlier, and both men's heads whip towards the doorway. Sherlock has just enough time to realise that Jenny is standing there, her face contorted by fear and mouth wide open in a terrified howl, before he feels Jude's gun leave his temple and he knows exactly what Jude plans to do and he cannot let that happen.
Sherlock lunges upward, knocking Jude back and dragging him down to the floor with him in the very moment before Jude pulls the trigger. The gun goes off, and as soon as it does the screaming stops, but Sherlock doesn't have the luxury to see if Jenny was hit, so busy is he in wrestling his opponent to the ground and making sure the other man stays that way.
Jude is smaller, bulkier, and stronger than Sherlock in his still-recovering state, but Sherlock has the advantage of blind desperate resolve on his side. It's not very long before he has Jude pinned on his back beneath Sherlock's knees, and Sherlock wastes no time in grabbing Jude's right wrist and twisting it in the wrong direction, hard. The joint gives easily, as if it's made out of rubber and not bone, and Jude lets out one agonised howl before he passes out on the floor.
Sherlock stiffly pushes himself to his feet, kicking the gun out of Jude's reach as he does so, and when he turns around he sees John standing in the doorway where Jenny had been, staring at Sherlock like one who'd just seen a ghost.
"Where is she?" they ask each other at the same time, and the only answer they get is the sound of muffled sobs coming from the outer hallway.
Sherlock is by John's side in an instant, and together they look down at the little girl curled in on herself just behind the doorway, watching her tiny shoulders shake as she cries into her hands. But she's not silent, not as she has been for the past months; now, even the smallest of her sniffles are audible, and Sherlock realises what he now knows he should have seen all along.
It wasn't that Jenny couldn't make a sound. It was that she didn't want to.
"Jen? Oh God. Sweetie, are you all right?" John's already down on the ground next to his daughter, sounding pathetically frantic as he checks her for injuries. But Jenny raises her head and looks at him, her eyes full of yet-unshed tears, and a moment later Sherlock isn't sure if the whole thing is just some crazy, messed-up, psychotic dream.
"Daddy, I'm so sorry!" Jenny wails, the ends of some of her words lisping and getting caught on her hiccoughing sobs. "I didn't mean to, honest, but there was a really bad man, and he was goin' to hurt Uncle Sherlock, and I had to stop him and I'm sorry!"
"Jen, sweetie, there's no need to apologise!" John reassures her, glancing over at Sherlock with unconcealed shock in his eyes. "I just want to know—are you hurt? Did he hurt you? Where's Mrs. Hudson?"
"No, not hurt." Jenny sniffles a bit more. "Mrs. Hudson's asleep. The telly was loud, and there was some banging, so I sneaked out. I'm sorry."
Sherlock fights the urge to correct Jenny's burgeoning grammar errors, but John beats him to a reply anyway. "No, don't be sorry. I'm just—we're glad you're okay, Jen. Really." John digs around in his pockets until he finds his mobile, and he presses a few buttons before handing it to Jenny. "Now, I want you to do something for me. It's very important, so do exactly as I say, okay? I want you to go back to Mrs. Hudson's room and then press this green button—right, that one there, and that will ring Uncle Geoff. You tell him to come here as soon as he possibly can, and bring some paramedics with him. Then you can wake up Mrs. Hudson, but I don't want you to come back up, no matter what you hear, until I say it's safe. Can you do all that for me?"
Jenny nods, still a little tearful but better enough to give a small smile. "I think so, Daddy."
"Good. Good girl." John brushes away the last of Jenny's tears and kisses her on the forehead. "You were very brave today, Jen, and I'm proud of you. Go on down, now. I'll see you there in a bit."
Jenny nods and, with one last smile for Sherlock, carefully makes her way back down the steep stairs. Both men watch her until she disappears around the corner into Mrs. Hudson's flat before turning to each other once more.
"Did she just call me—Uncle Sherlock?" Sherlock says, sounding extremely bemused. "Uncle? Really?"
"Bugger that," John replies automatically, just as shocked, "she just spoke. In full and complete sentences! After she hasn't made a sound in months!"
"Yes, although her understanding of verb tenses could use some work." Sherlock quirks a slight grin. "But she'll pick it up fast enough. Your daughter is surprisingly above average."
"Coming from you, that's quite a compliment." John takes a deep breath, and in that silence the seriousness of what just happened returns. "I was so worried, Sherlock. Mycroft texted—"
"I know," Sherlock cuts John off abruptly, then reaches out and rests a tentative hand on John's shoulder. "They weren't here for me. They—Moriarty—he wanted to get you. If it hadn't been for Jenny, I wouldn't have been able to—he would have killed you. In front of me. John, I—"
"Sherlock, please." John looks up, straight into Sherlock's icy eyes, and he isn't surprised to see how they are now melting into something softer and warmer. "I was coming home anyway, because—God, I'm sorry, what happened last night, I shouldn't have—"
"John." Sherlock moves fractionally closer, as if he's unsure of where he stands, and John feels his breath hitch somewhere below his sternum. "I don't know why, but," and here Sherlock's voice catches, then resolutely goes on, "the thought of losing you, of hurting you, I can't—I don't think I'd be able to take it. Is that—is that the reason why you came back? Is it?"
"Yes." John takes another step closer, and Sherlock doesn't give an inch, but that's perfectly fine by him. "Oh, God, yes."
But just as John is about to take the last step that will finally close the distance between them, Sherlock suddenly, abruptly, unexpectedly shoves him away.
The haze of pain hasn't fully cleared by the time Jude comes back to his senses, but he forces himself through the fog until he's more aware of his situation.
The situation—isn't good. He's on the floor, on his back, with his right wrist broken and left there in the most disturbing angle he's ever seen. He can't wait to get his good hand around Sherlock Holmes' throat, but that thought will have to hold until he finishes the job he's getting paid to do, at least.
Where's the damn—oh, good, his gun is just barely within reach of his left hand. Jude can't stop a slight smirk from creeping onto his face. Sherlock Holmes may be brilliant, but he's also arrogant and naïve and far too cocksure. If he'd been even half as brilliant as Mister Moriarty, he would have broken both of Jude's wrists. Thank God Mister Moriarty had always insisted that every one of his men train themselves to be ambidextrous, or Jude might never have been able to get his job done properly.
Jude can hear voices from the outer hall—two men, speaking in low tones, no doubt Holmes and Doctor Watson congratulating themselves on a job well done. Oh, Jude will give them something to cheer about, that much is certain. Slowly, ever so slowly, Jude stretches his left arm, biting down on his lower lip hard enough to draw blood when needles of pain flash up and down his right arm; and when his fingers finally close around solid metal, he throws caution to the winds, sits up, and fires once in the general direction of the doorway where both of his targets happen to be waiting for him.
There is a blur of motion, and Jude can't tell which of his targets moved first; but he does hear a second loud crack following a heartbeat after the first, and he's just starting to ask himself if it's possible for gunshots to have echoes when a bullet coming from the opposite direction rips through his left eye and shatters the back of his skull on its way out the other side.
Jude Wilson, age thirty-six, former driver of lorries and former subordinate of the greatest criminal mastermind in the past century, is dead before what's left of his head hits the ground.
John doesn't fall over when Sherlock pushes him away, but it’s a close thing. There's no time to complain, however, because in that moment a gunshot tears through the quiet of Baker Street for the second time that morning.
On instinct, John grabs his gun from his back waistband (where he'd stored it when he'd realised that both Jenny and Sherlock were safe, for the moment) and, without consciously aiming, fires at the figure on the floor, the intruder, who is now sitting up and aiming a gun at the doorway. There is a mini-explosion of red blood and gray brain matter that spatters out from the back of the man's head, and he crumples back on the floor in a limp heap.
John lets out a sigh of relief and turns back to his flatmate. "Thanks for the warning, I think I—"
And he stops when he sees Sherlock staring at him, eyes wide, with his left hand hanging slack and his right hand pressed lightly against his stomach, under which a bright red stain is beginning to blossom across the middle of Sherlock's shirt.
"John," Sherlock whispers, "I'm sorry," and when Sherlock's knees suddenly give out, it's as if John's whole world collapses along with it.
A response to the anons who vociferously voiced their opinions re: the previous chapter can be found here. Even though this story is now finished, that doesn't mean that this 'verse is now complete. There should be much more to follow in the Jenny Watson AU (including a bad!porn!fic that I am totally not linking with the rest of it) as soon as my other RL commitments get finished, as explained here. That being said, a big heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who's stayed for this entire monster of a fic. Your support and feedback is and always has been greatly appreciated. :)
When Sherlock goes down, his right hand stays against his side while his left blindly gropes for the doorway, for something solid to hold onto, but he misses by a mile and would have fallen over completely were it not for John getting there and catching him first, the gun clattering onto the floor and skittering to a stop in a dark corner of the landing, long forgotten.
"Sherlock!" John feels around Sherlock's back, heart dropping even farther into his stomach when he realises there is no exit wound, then slowly eases Sherlock down and against the wall so that he can have both hands free to work. "Sherlock, let me see."
Sherlock doesn't respond, but instead leans his head back against the doorframe with eyes tightly shut, trying not to let John see how every breath shudders right through him and utterly failing.
"Let me see," John insists, more panicked than before, and when Sherlock still doesn't move John does it for him, pushing aside Sherlock's hand (it's there less to stop the bleeding and more to block the wound from view, which is the last thing John needs right now) and tearing open Sherlock's shirt with enough desperation that several buttons are lost in the process. The jagged scar from the pool explosion is still as blindingly visible as before, but John's attention is anywhere but on it, and he focuses instead on the only other thing marring Sherlock's skin, the gaping red gash in his abdomen that seems to pulse with each breath Sherlock takes and from which a good-sized handful of blood leaks out at the steadiest, most terrifying rate John has ever witnessed—and he knows very well he's witnessed far too much of that already, and that the current situation shouldn't bother him as much as it does, but the thought of watching Sherlock die under his own hands scares him more than back when he was under actual enemy fire.
Sherlock mumbles something incoherent, but John's too busy using his bare hands to slow the bleeding, then pausing long enough to strip off his own jacket to use that as an extra layer of pressure instead (from the location and angle of the wound, John can only hope that the bullet somehow missed both the liver and the pancreas, although going through the stomach would be bad enough as it is, because if it hit either of the others then there wasn't much John could do), for anything else to register. When he does finally glance up at Sherlock's face, he's surprised to find Sherlock watching him, his pupils so far blown that his green eyes are now almost completely black.
"Glad—no one saw," Sherlock says, so faintly that John's not even sure Sherlock's really speaking or if John's just starting to go delusional. "You, undressing me—outside our flat, people—might talk."
People do little else, automatically supplies the irrational part of John's brain, while John shoves even harder against the wound (as if that would be enough to make it go away on its own and take all the blood that's been leaking through his fingers and onto the floor with it) and says out loud, "Sherlock, you bloody idiot, shut up."
"Not—my best idea—after all," Sherlock continues, ignoring John. He winces and shifts under the extra pressure, and that's when John notices that his hands aren't even trembling—they're as steady as if he's holding up Jenny and not holding back what's left of Sherlock's life in the man's body. "John, I'm—I need—I—"
"Sherlock, I want you to listen to me," says John, abrupt and cold and emotionless (which surprises him, given how unstable he is inside). "Listen to me, okay? Whatever you were going to say right now, just—don't. You can tell me once this is all over, but for God's sake, I want you to stop talking right now and concentrate on getting through this alive. All right?" Sherlock says nothing, but his eyes flutter closed with one last glassy look, as if he's given up on ever trying to make John understand. "Sherlock!"
"John? John, is that you?" comes Mrs. Hudson's voice from the bottom of the stairs. "I thought I heard something a moment ago—is everything all right?"
"No, everything's not all right!" John shouts back, trying not to sound as completely and utterly frightened out of his wits as he really feels. It's taking everything he has not to fall back into Afghanistan mode, not to throw himself on top of Sherlock to protect him from snipers and flying bullets and fragmenting IEDs and for God's sake, just stop. "Stay downstairs with Jen, make sure she doesn't come up, and for the love of God, someone get Lestrade here now!"
As if on cue, the front door unlocks and unlatches, and when it swings open John can hear the distant strain of police sirens wailing outside. "John, you wouldn't believe it!" Lestrade calls up as he makes his way around the stairs. "Jenny just called, I didn't know you got her to talk, this is absolutely brillwhat the bloody buggering hell, Sherlock!"
Sherlock attempts to give Lestrade a verbal response, perhaps even a full and detailed explanation, but he's forced to press his lips tightly together when he starts to cough, each spasm shaking underneath John's hands; and when his lips do part again there is just a bit of blood visible on his teeth and his color is even more chalky-gray than before and John is doing everything he possibly can not to scream in frustration.
"Did you bring the paramedics?" John demands of Lestrade, who nods, still staring at Sherlock in complete disbelief. "Good, okay. We were going to need them for the other guy—" John nods inside the sitting room where their shooter is lying, "—but that changed. Can they help me carry him down?"
"Right, yeah." Lestrade turns and yells down the stairs. "Boys, get up here fast, we've got a man down!"
There is the sound of several heavy feet tramping their way up the stairs, and John can't remember feeling so relieved in his life when he finally sees the paramedics, three of them, pushing past Lestrade and coming towards them. Two are carrying a stretcher up the stairs between them, and the third beats them to the landing and comes to kneel by John and Sherlock's side. "You're Lestrade's doctor, right?" the other man asks John.
"What? Oh, yes, yeah." John moves aside to let the paramedics take over, and the third man proceeds to work on checking Sherlock's vital signs while the other two set down the scoop stretcher and get Sherlock ready to move. "He was shot, around five minutes ago, abdomen, the bullet's still in him, I've just been trying to slow the bleeding but he's starting to go into shock and I don't know where—"
"We'll take it from here, Doctor Watson," interrupts one of the stretcher-carriers, and that's when John realises how much he is babbling. "Your friend will be fine, just fine. Are we ready to move? Okay, on three—one, two, three!"
The other two paramedics heave Sherlock onto the stretcher and, once he's settled, start to carry him downstairs. Sherlock himself doesn't seem to notice the change: his eyes are still closed, and the pallor of his skin contrasts starkly with the deep crimson bloodstains on his clothes and hands. John forces himself to take deep, not-very-calming breaths as he follows the stretcher down the stairs; and when Lestrade suddenly puts a hand on his shoulder when he stops at the front door's threshold, unsure whether he should go or stay, he nearly jumps a mile.
"Easy," Lestrade says, and John's just enough together to see what a sympathetic look Lestrade is giving him. "I know you're not family, but—if you want to ride with him, you'll have my clearance."
"I can't, Jen's still here, I have to—" John begins, but then Mrs. Hudson is there, and she's carrying Jenny who is staring at him with those beautiful blue eyes that always reminded him of Sherlock, and it's all John can do to not break down right then and there.
"We'll follow behind in a taxi, dear," Mrs. Hudson tells him, quiet and forceful and reassuring all at once. "Don't worry about us. Just go."
John manages to jerk out a nod, and before he knows it he's out in the street, the sirens and traffic noise and shouting voices of the police trying to shoo away any bystanders all coming into his head in a confused jumble, and yet the only thing he can clearly see is the parked ambulance ahead of him, its doors still open so that John can just see Sherlock's unmoving form inside, as well as the blood on his hands that John never had time to clean off and that John knows for certain isn't his, and the only clear and conscious thought that John remembers having later is, God, losing him the second time will be much, much worse than the first.
It actually turns out to be a very good thing that John rides with Sherlock in the ambulance, because when Sherlock nearly codes twice en route it is only by dint of John's desperate and somewhat-brilliant emergency tactics (and with a lot of yelling on his part, both at the other paramedics and at an unconscious Sherlock himself) that Sherlock is not pronounced dead on arrival.
Nevertheless, it's all very much touch-and-go, and as John watches Sherlock get wheeled away on the trolley (oxygen mask in place, already hooked up to a transfusion to replace all the blood he'd lost, and Sherlock didn't even so much as squeeze back when John held his hand for the last time before they were forcibly separated at the entrance to surgery) he begins to understand what his patients feel like whenever they see one of their own getting carted into the A&E.
"John!" He turns and sees Sarah running down the ward from the direction of the visitor's entrance, followed close on her heels by a winded Harry. They both skid to a stop a few feet away, staring at the blood liberally staining John's hands and shirt. "God, John, are you—did you—"
"M'fine," John says dully, not quite looking at either of them. "This is—it's not mine. It's Sherlock's. All of it."
"Jesus Christ," Harry whispered, and Sarah took another five steps to close the gap and throw her arms around John, who very mechanically hugged her back. "Fuck, John. Is he—will he be all right?"
"I don't know." John's words are coming out all funny, not just because he has the better part of his face buried in the crook of Sarah's shoulder, and he hardly knows if Harry or Sarah can understand him but he doesn't have the strength left to care. "They took him into surgery, but the bullet could have bounced around in him for all I know, and he shouldn't have even been the one to get shot, it was meant for me and he knew it and he bloody pushed me away!"
"Oh, sweetheart." Sarah is holding him, rubbing small circles in John's back while he clutches desperately at her blouse and tries not to cry too obviously. "John, it'll be fine. Sherlock's going to pull through just fine, you wait and see."
"Where's Jenny?" Harry demands. "That detective friend of yours texted us—wasn't she at the flat with you?"
John untangles himself long enough from Sarah to wipe his eyes and face dry. "Yeah, she—Mrs. Hudson was watching her. She's—they're both fine." John offers Sarah a wan smile. "I think I've gotten my snot on your shirt, sorry about that."
"No worries. That's what the boss is here for, right?" Sarah turns to reach for a handkerchief in her purse, and as she does so John sees Mrs. Hudson and Jenny walking around the corner and into view, the two of them holding hands with Jenny reaching up almost to her full height just to brush Mrs. Hudson's fingertips with her own.
"Jen!" John pushes past Sarah and runs towards Jenny, who breaks free of Mrs. Hudson when she sees him with a cry ("Daddy!") and dashes across the rest of the way. The two meet somewhere in the middle in a tangled embrace, and John knows he's still crying but so is Jenny, and she doesn't seem to mind when he buries his face in her hair (getting darker every day, just like her mother's, oh God, Mary, in all this time he's not once thought of her and he'd feel guilty if Sherlock hadn't been an operating room away and for all he knew preparing to join her) and hugs her like she's the only thing keeping him on the right side of sanity, which is actually fairly close to the truth.
When John finally looks up, still holding onto his daughter as tightly as before, Harry and Sarah are on either side of him, both looking down at Jenny with wide eyes as if she'd just grown wings and flown there. "John," Sarah says slowly. "Did she—did Jenny just talk."
"Um. Yeah. New development, that." John nudges Jenny, and she blinks up at the two women standing above them. "What do you say, Jen? You know them, don't you?"
"Yeah," Jen says, albeit rather shyly. "Hi, Aunt Harry. Hi, Aunt Sarah."
Harry looks like the smallest breeze might knock her flat, an expression Sarah quickly notices and for which reason grabs her girlfriend by the elbow before declaring, "Well, this calls for a bit of a celebration, don't you think? I'll just go down and see if the cafeteria has anything left from lunch. Coming, Harry?"
"Why not," Harry says faintly, just before Mrs. Hudson chimes in, "I'll go with you, dearies, and we'd best get a little something extra for Jenny, the little darling deserves it. You should've seen her today, she was such a brave little thing! Must take after her father..."
As the three women start to make their way to the cafeteria, Mrs. Hudson already starting to tell of the morning's events with Sarah listening intently and Harry trying to look like she is, Jenny glances back at John and smiles. "Up, Daddy?"
"What? Oh, of course." John gently grabs his daughter by the waist and hoists her to his shoulder; she clings to him and readjusts herself to get a better grip around his neck. "You're okay, then?"
"Yeah." Jenny snuggles closer, and John realises exactly how little he knows his daughter. Sure, he'd played with her, he'd come home early to watch her when Mary couldn't; but still his wife had been the one to spend the most time with Jenny, had been the one to listen to Jenny when their daughter had made her first and earliest attempts at speaking, and now that Mary was gone John had felt a little uneasy being alone with Jenny for long periods—because not only did he not know Jenny, but she had been the last one to see Mary just before she died, and John will never know exactly how much that had scarred his daughter, though he can well enough guess from her silence in the previous months.
"Daddy," Jenny says in his ear, breaking off John's train of thought. "Daddy, where's Uncle Sherlock?"
John has to swallow, hard, to fight back the tears that spring to his eyes when Jenny calls Sherlock uncle. "He's—you see those doors, over there?" When he points out the swinging doors that lead into the surgery, Jenny follows his finger with her eyes and nods. "He's behind them, right now."
"Can we go see him?"
"No, not right now. Not yet." John keeps his eyes fixed on the doors, as if he can somehow make himself see through them and see Sherlock on the other side. "They're working—they're taking care of him right now. We won't be able to see him until he's—until they're done."
"Oh." Jenny frowns, her tiny eyebrows squinching together in a wrinkle above her forehead—a singular look, both thoughtful and impetuously dissatisfied, that John had seen many times before on Mary when she was still alive. "I hope Uncle Sherlock's okay," Jenny announces after a beat. "Uncle Sherlock's good. I smelled it."
"You smelled it?" John can't help but smile, though he feels an inner twinge when he remembers that Sherlock had been raving about Jenny's keen olfactory senses just the night before. What a difference a day had made! "What do I smell like? Do I smell good, too, I hope?"
"Uh-uh. You smell—different." Jenny presses her face against John's shirt collar for a brief moment, sniffing deeply, and when she pulls back she grins at him. "You smell clean," she tells him, clearly proud of herself for coming up with an answer. "Like—like Aunt Sarah does. You smell clean, but Uncle Sherlock smells good."
"Is that so?" John jiggles Jenny a little, and she giggles and clings to him tighter. "Well, you'll have to tell him that when you see him again, all right? I'm sure he'll like that."
"Yes, Daddy." Jenny's face is alight with eager expectation, and it almost hurts for John to look at her. "When can we see him?"
"Soon, Jen," John says, all the while praying that he won't turn out to have told a lie, "it'll be very soon. I promise."
And with that, John lowers himself and Jenny into one of the many chairs that line the corridor, ready to wait for as long as it takes to make sure that his promise comes true.
On which situation, sir?
Both of them.
We've found the mobile phone Moriarty used to communicate with his late subordinate Mr. Wilson. Through that, Security was able to narrow down the possible search locations considerably. A strike team can be assembled on your order, if you wish.
I do wish. However, you've neglected to report on the other situation we are monitoring.
Not neglected, sir, just getting to it now. He made it through surgery without complications, as I informed you this afternoon, but there's been no new developments since then. All we can do now is to wait.
Is there anything else?
Only that you have an appointment with the Russian ambassador at 9am tomorrow, and that it might behoove you to get a good night's rest beforehand.
Appointments can be rescheduled, Anthea, you know that.
Yes, I do know that. But I also know that locking yourself in your office overnight will not help your brother recover any faster.
Or I could fire you for insubordination.
But you won't because, again, that also will not help your brother recover any faster. Also, you'd have to serve me with divorce proceedings first, and I know how much you hate the bureaucracy in the courts these days.
What in the world would I ever do without you?
I don't know, sir, though I expect you'd get along well enough.
It's late. You've already done everything you could. Please, Mycroft. Come home.
Thank you, Anthea. For everything.
I'm only doing my duty, sir. That's why I'm here.
In the days following Uncle Sherlock's surgery, my father was as nervous and as worried and as unpredictably jumpy as I have ever seen him in all the time I've lived with him—which, given how quietly calm and dependably steady he had been before (and has been ever since), is saying quite a bit.
I saw him less and less at home, since he spent the greater part of his days at the surgery where he and Aunt Sarah worked, burying himself in his job the better to forget about Uncle Sherlock, though I don't believe that ever really succeeded. On the rarer occasions when he was at home, I had to be careful to tread loudly and otherwise announce my presence whenever I approached him—because if I didn't and surprised him, the flinty spark in his eyes and the way his hands twitched towards his pockets in the moment before he recognised me was enough to frighten my two-year-old self away from my own father. He did his best to hide his emotions when I was around, and he was never anything but soft-spoken and gentle with me; but I could see through the façade, even at that young age, and what I did see was a very strong, yet very scared man who was doing everything he could to hold himself together and only barely managing at that.
It would be many years before my Aunt Harry sat me down and explained that, just as she and Aunt Sarah loved each other very much, so did my father and Uncle Sherlock; but I don’t think she knew that her explanation had come many years too late. If I'd ever needed the proof as to just how much my father cared for Uncle Sherlock, I'd seen it back then with my own eyes, and I'd seen it in spades...
—Excerpt from "The Memoirs of Dr. J. Watson," published in 2052 by the Oxford Digital Press
Sherlock is floating.
He's on his back, he can tell that much from his inner ear's judgment without opening his eyes (he's not sure if he'd be able to, anyway, not when they seem to have been sealed shut with concrete), but nevertheless he feels weightless—as light as a dead leaf in autumn, but suspended in mid-gust and tremblingly unsure whether he will be sent flying into nameless oblivion or, if the wind is merciful, gently set down on solid ground instead.
Apparently, it is the latter, and Sherlock slowly becomes aware that his body is growing, solidifying into the shape he's been accustomed to, hardening into a corporeal mass that is lying supine on a bed. It's not his own bed, it's far too soft for that, and the faint odors of antiseptic and unfamiliar detergents point his ever-deducing brain in the direction of hospital.
As Sherlock's senses become sharper and more accurately acute, so does his thoughts and his memory, and it doesn't take him very long to piece together what had led to him being in a hospital in the first place. There'd been John yelling, and Jenny smiling, and then she was crying and talking and calling him 'Uncle Sherlock,' and before that there'd been Moriarty's man with a gun, and Sherlock had thought he'd taken care of everything but had been fool enough to get distracted by stupid, useless emotions, and he'd only realised his mistake after Moriarty's man had become a threat again, a deadly threat, and it didn't take him more than a heartbeat to decide what to do, and that's when Sherlock had pushed.
Sherlock winces, the memory of the injury still strong enough to cause a sympathetic twinge in his real wound, and as the pain fades his awareness of his surroundings reach out even further than before: there is the sound of faint and regular beeping from the machines he is no doubt hooked up to, there is the quiet conversation of a nurse and her attending physician drifting in through the doorway from the corridor outside, and there is someone sitting at his bedside, reading a book and turning each page with a crinkling whisper distinctive of cheap gift-store paperbacks.
Sherlock lets all of his senses report to him for a few moments longer before attempting actual speech. "Does my company bore you so much, Sergeant Donovan," he says, though it comes out more of a dry and rasping croak, "that you are forced to read tawdry romance flicks that I know you detest so much at my bedside?"
There is a very satisfying yelp, followed by a crash as the book and what sounds like a small table both go down together, and Sherlock can't keep his lips from twitching into a faint smile.
"Sherlock bloody buggering Holmes!" Sally sounds exasperated, yet there is an undercurrent of relief that Sherlock can't discern any obvious reason for. "If you weren't already in the bloody hospital, I'd kick your bony arse into next week, you wanker!"
"I'll consider myself spared, then." Sherlock coughs, wincing again from the parchedness of his throat as much from the dulled throbbing in his abdomen. "Water?"
"Huh? Oh, right, yeah." Sherlock slowly opens his eyes (sticky and weighted down from disuse, but it's less work than he'd expected) in time to see Sally lean over him with some sort of covered-glass-and-drinking-straw contraption in her hands, which she carefully (and with a gentleness that surprises Sherlock again) offers to him to drink from. There's another twinge when his abdominal muscles tighten automatically to support him, but he manages to get enough water to dampen his dry mouth without making a complete mess of himself, and he gives her a nod of thanks that she seems to accept.
"So," he resumes once Sally's sitting again, "how long?"
"Since you were shot?" Sherlock frowns at Sally's bluntness, but she doesn't seem to notice. "It's the fourth day since you came out of surgery. The bullet didn't fragment, for which you should be very grateful, but it did do a number on your intestines. You should be glad John's got a lot of friends who're on the operating staff, or you mightn't even be here right now."
"Mm," says Sherlock, already disinterested. "And what happened to Moriarty? Did Anderson already bollocks up my crime scene?"
"Oh, so it's your crime scene now, is it?"
"Considering as I was the one shot in it," Sherlock retorts dryly, "yes. Now tell me what happened."
"Have it your way, freak." Sally shrugs, using the epithet as lightly as she'd use any other term of endearment. "Moriarty's gone, unfortunately—but that wasn't not our fault, not really!" she adds when Sherlock makes an angry and strangled noise in his throat. "Blame that on your brother—the nosy git got up some sort of elite strike team before we'd even cleared half the investigation, and Moriarty got wind of the whole business and scrammed. Not even a trace of him left. And also, you never said you had a brother before."
"You never said you were sleeping with Lestrade, and yet." Sherlock shifts on the bed uneasily, feeling tied down by all the tubes and wires attached to his skin. "Moriarty will come back."
"Well, hopefully, he won't come back any time soon—"
"I can't afford to let myself rely on insubstantial hope like the rest of you fools!" Sherlock snaps, aware that Sally visibly recoils from his outburst, and it's another moment before he can rein his tone back under control. "Where's John?"
"At home, with Jenny, most likely. Geoff—I mean, Inspector Lestrade had to threaten him with a restraining order yesterday before he'd go and get some rest." Sally hesitates, and the silence afterwards weighs heavily with everything she's left unsaid. "I—I wanted to talk to you about John, actually."
"Talk all you'd like," Sherlock says wearily, then closes his eyes. "But that doesn't mean I have to listen."
"Fuck you, then, but you'd better at least hear me out for once in your bloody life!" Sherlock's eyes fly open, he's that surprised by Sally's sudden change of direction; and he sees her standing over him, her arms planted akimbo on her hips and her eyes flashing with dark fire. "If it wasn't for you getting blown up that first time, I'd never have realised what I'd been missing that'd been standing right in front of me all this bloody time. God knows I owe you for that, so let me pay you back with a bit of friendly advice, and if you try to interrupt me or so much as open your big sodding mouth, so help me God, I will hit you."
Sherlock, who had been getting ready to do just that, immediately desists, and Sally allows another beat to pass before going on. "I've known John for almost four years now," she says, her voice softening, "as both a colleague with you and as a personal friend. Twice, now, I've seen what happens to him when he loses someone he cares about very much, and it hurts almost as much to see it as to be living through that sort of thing firsthand. You may be a freak, but I know you're not stupid, so I'm going to say this once, and once only. Whatever you do, do not make John suffer like that again—because after that, there may not be another time left in him, and I do not need to tell you that no one wants to see what will happen then. Understand?"
Sherlock keeps his eyes fixed on the patch of ceiling above his head and says nothing. Sally waits for a good thirty seconds, and when no response ever comes she just sighs. "Why did I even think you'd care," she mutters before bending down to pick up her fallen book; and Sherlock has to bite back the retort that scorches the back of his throat, instead staring even more fixedly at the ceiling, as if that one mildewed ceiling tile contains the answer to every unsolved mystery in the universe.
"I promised John I'd let him know when you're up," Sally informs him over her shoulder on her way out the door. "But do me a favor. At least think about what I've said, yeah?"
Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise to send her off; but once he's sure Sally is out of the room and not in any likelihood of returning anytime soon, he relaxes and lets his eyes close with a frustrated exhale. Sally had come far closer to the mark than he had expected or would have liked, and he knows he will be giving her words more consideration than he'd ever be willing to admit to her or anyone else.
He has to, though, God knows he's tried to put it aside for long enough, and he will—because never let it be said that Sherlock Holmes ever shies away from a challenge.
Sherlock has been alone with his thoughts for slightly more than a quarter of an hour when he hears, starting faintly off in the distance and rapidly growing louder and closer as it approaches his room, the pitter-pat of tiny feet running across a hospital's tiled floors. Moments after the sound has crescendoed enough to suggest that the owner had already entered Sherlock's room, there is a dull scraping noise, as if someone is using the chair next to the bed as a stepping ladder, before something heavy crawls onto his bed and buries itself against him.
Sherlock smiles without opening his eyes. "Hello, Jennifer," he murmurs, and with his left hand unerringly reaches down to ruffle her hair, said hand being immediately grabbed by two much-smaller ones.
"Uncle Sherlock!" Jenny sounds completely overjoyed, and she bounces on the bed just enough to make the springs squeak. "Daddy, Uncle Sherlock's up!"
"Yes, Jen, I see that." John sounds less excited and more tired—an interesting detail, Sherlock is careful to take note—than his daughter. "You probably shouldn't be crowding Uncle Sherlock yet, though, so maybe you'd best get off the bed for a bit."
"It's fine," Sherlock says when he feels Jen pout against his side. "She's no bother, let her be."
"Sarah's just texted," breaks in Sally's voice, ignoring him, and damn all if Sherlock hadn't heard her come back in with the others, "and she says she'll be here to pick up Jenny in five. I can take her down for you, if you'd like?"
"Thanks, Sally, I'd appreciate it," says John, still sounding tired, and Jenny curls up even tighter against Sherlock in the moments before Sally comes over to pull her away.
"I'll be back soon," she whispers, her breath warming his skin through the thin hospital sheets and gown, and Sherlock gives her one last parting squeeze before the weight is lifted from his side and he's left alone again, but this time with John.
There is a long moment of silence that stretches out between them, a chasm bridged by unsaid words and accusations that neither is yet willing to cross. Sherlock keeps his eyes shut until, finally, John clears his throat. "Jen's been worried about you," he says, carefully and neutrally in what he probably hopes is a level tone but which to Sherlock sounds more pointedly accusatory than anything else. "I don't know how much she understands, at her age, but she was worried."
"Mm." Sherlock shifts his weight again. "Her age is irrelevant. It's clear she understands enough."
"She wasn't the only one who's been worried, either," John pushes on as if Sherlock hadn't spoken. "Sherlock, you bloody buggering idiot, do you never think before you do anything? Do you not—not even for one second—don't you ever give a thought for the rest of us?"
"I should say I think enough about you lot, yes!" Sherlock is awake, now, riled up and fully alert, and when he does open his eyes he sees John glowering down at him, the chair at his bedside pushed out of the way and forgotten. "You don't seem to remember what I said to you about heroes. You've forgotten it, haven't you?"
"I haven't," John grinds out. "Sherlock, I haven't forgotten a single thing you've said to me, not once in the three years you were missing, and God knows I wanted to forget!"
"Then what did I say?"
John takes a deep breath, his jaw still working furiously. "That heroes don't exist," John recites dully. "That, if they did, you wouldn't be one. But I don't believe it!" he adds, before Sherlock can cut in. "I don't believe that in the least, you—Sherlock, what you did was the textbook definition for stupid heroism, and I'm here to tell you exactly how stupid that was!"
"John." Sherlock knows his tone will brook no argument, and to his satisfaction John stops talking, clearly out of breath. "John, why did you never tell me your wife is dead?"
Sherlock doesn't have to look to know that all the blood drains out of John's face, but he does anyway. "Wh-what?" John stammers, clearly taken aback by the sudden change of subject. "How does—why—what the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"It has everything to do with it, John. You think me a hero, I suppose, for pushing you away at the moment when a gun was being fired in both of our directions. Is that right?" Sherlock sees he is right, from the blanching spark in John's eyes, and he keeps going, knowing that what he will say in the next few moments will ensure that John will no longer try to stay, will no longer needlessly and carelessly throw away whatever chance he has for a future on someone as unpredictable and dangerous as Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, the only one in the world, and also the only one in the world to be first on Moriarty's hitlist. "John, I know how she died—and I know who killed her."
"What?" John looks like he'd been the one shot in the stomach. "Sherlock, what—how—"
Do not make John suffer like that again, whispers the memory of Sally in Sherlock's head, because after that, there may not be another time left in him, and I do not need to tell you that no one wants to see what will happen then, and the words are enough to give Sherlock the fortitude to say what he has to say next, all the while staring deep into John's shocked eyes and not once flinching back.
"John, I did. I killed her. Your wife is dead—because of me."
For a moment, the whole world tilts sideways, and when it rights again John finds that he is somehow sitting down on the chair next to Sherlock's bedside, albeit very awkwardly as his leg seems to have given up the ghost yet again, and that Sherlock is still staring at him, watching him, cataloguing his every reaction in that gigantic and unfathomable brain of his.
"It was a transport lorry," he's saying now, softly and yet every word is drilling and reverberating inside John's head like a bloody jackhammer that won't bloody stop, "and Moriarty was—they wanted to move me. To where, I don't know, and at the time I didn't want to find out. Jude Wilson, the man who shot at us—he was the driver, then. The only option I had at my disposal was to crash the lorry, create a distraction long enough to get away, to get back to you, John, because I knew we were getting closer to Baker Street and I thought, maybe you were still there, maybe you hadn't left, and I was right. I was right, but I didn't know who—I didn't know your wife was in that car, John, and for that I truly am sorry. I never meant—"
"Sherlock, shut up." Sherlock, surprisingly, does. "You didn't," John says, stumbling over the first few words but gradually growing more sure of himself as he continues. "You didn't—you didn't kill Mary, Sherlock. If that Jude fellow was driving, he did it, he killed her—more importantly, if Moriarty was the one to keep you for three bloody years and then be stupid enough to move you in broad daylight, then I'll be more than happy to pin all the blame on him! I know that, Lestrade would know that—hell, even Mycroft would bloody well know that, Sherlock, so you can stop trying to take all the blame for yourself and actually put it on the people who actually deserve it!"
"Three years in solitary confinement is a strange thing, John." The sudden shift of topic makes John lose his mental footing once more, and once more Sherlock has the upper hand of the conversation. "Three years—most people couldn't last a fortnight without human contact, and yet here I am, after three years of seeing no one but mindless thugs who had been forbidden to speak to me on pain of death. Do you know what I thought of all those years, John? Do you know what it was that kept me as sane as I had been before they took me?"
John doesn't answer—he can't, he's too trapped by Sherlock's icy gaze to even breathe—and Sherlock lets the moment pass before answering his own question.
"You, John. I thought of you. All that time I had to myself, I thought of you—what you were doing now, what you were thinking, whether you'd moved on or instead kept the lodgings at Baker Street, as I'd expected my brother to have advised you to do, but always about you, John. It was the only thing that kept me stable, grounded, and that is the only thing that's never changed."
"Sherlock," John croaks, his throat as dry and raspy as Sherlock's no doubt is, but Sherlock has already closed his eyes and is speaking in a monotone, reciting what he thinks he needs to say without any desire to be put off from his goal, his left hand (still strung up with IV drips and EKG wires) resting on his chest and unconsciously tracing the scar that is half-hidden beneath the hospital gown.
"I'll do anything, John, anything at all, to make sure you won't be hurt again, to make sure you won't be in harm's way, even if—even if that means I would never see you again. Because I can always think of you, John. I can always think of what we were, before, and it would be enough as long as you're safe. But clearly I can't be around you without hurting you or making you suffer, or without endangering everything and everyone you care for—I as good as killed your wife, and Jennifer wouldn't have been in such danger if it weren't for my being there, you must know that! Which is why, once I'm discharged from this place, I will leave—I'll get out of London, move to the Continent, let Moriarty track me down there. I'll do whatever it takes, because I can't let anything happen to you, not again."
"Sherlock, shut up," John breathes. "You great bloody wanker, shut up."
Sherlock opens his eyes again and glances over at John, bewildered. "John, what—"
"It doesn't matter what you think I want," John interrupts, feeling a soaring sense of relief when he realises that he knows exactly what he wants to say, if only he can make Sherlock understand—if only he can make Sherlock see that pushing him away will never save either of them. "If you think that's what I want, then you really have lost your touch. Sherlock, it's you. It's always been you, and if it weren't for you none of this would've ever been worth it and I'd have left ages ago. But I never did—I never could make myself leave, even though it was so clearly mad to stay, even before we met Moriarty—because living without you, living after I've known you, just isn't worth the bloody trouble of existing. I know it, because I nearly had to spend three years like that, and if I hadn't met Mary I might not even still be here now. That's why—Sherlock, I don't want safety or a future, I never have, although I certainly won't say no if we can manage to swing it, especially for Jen's sake, but—Sherlock, you imbecile, you great big arrogant prat, I want YOU."
Sherlock is staring at him now, not as surprised as he is observing, his eyes practically glowing blue-white. "You're certain?"
"I've never been more certain of anything in my goddamn life," John says, truthfully.
"Then, John—" Sherlock's lips twitch. "John, I have certainly misjudged you."
"Yeah." John leans forward in his seat, until he's half on top of Sherlock and their faces are inches away from touching. "Yeah, you usually do."
It's so sudden that John will never be sure who moved first, but the next thing John knows is that Sherlock's grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him down, and John willingly follows and cups Sherlock's face in his hands to steady it, aware that Sherlock gasps in either pain or surprise just before John's mouth is there to accept Sherlock's breath—Sherlock's life—and make it all John's own. The kiss itself is gentle, less passionate than it is searching, as if neither one can fully believe that what's happening is really happening, that it's not all just another dream or another fantasy to stave off another day of empty waiting and wanting, but that the warmth and the flesh and the touch is all real.
When they slowly break apart, John is panting for air and Sherlock's eyes are already darkening with desire. "Tell me," Sherlock murmurs, shifting his grip from John's collar up to John's shoulders, "about the bet."
Not surprisingly, given how distracting Sherlock is currently being with his hands, John is unable to catch the moving train of thought. "Sorry, what?"
"The bet, John. The one Lestrade offered you to join." Sherlock's hands, oh sweet Jesus, those hands, are now slowly unbuttoning John's shirt while at the same time keeping a steady massaging pressure on John's neck and it's really the only thing that's keeping John from shivering into useless little pieces at the moment. "Explain it to me."
"Oh. Oh! Right, well, that, that is—" John attempts to rally his mental faculties enough to formulate a coherent description. "Well, you see, Lestrade's team—after we met, they started a book on—on how we'd end up. Anderson thought I'd leave, if I didn't try to off you first. Sally bet on you getting both of us killed, and Lestrade put his money on us, well, getting together. Sally collected half the pot after—you know, but Lestrade made her pay it back once you came back and then he doubled the odds." John clears his throat. "Why do—why'd you ask?"
"Oh, no real reason." Sherlock's eyes flicker away to something behind John's shoulder. "It's just that Lestrade is looking supremely pleased with himself at the moment, and I wondered why."
John half-turns to follow Sherlock's gaze, and that's when he notices the three figures peering into the hospital room on the other side of the observation window for the first time. Anderson looks fairly green, and not with envy; Sally seems to be torn between outraged disgust and outright shock, but she settles on giving John a thumbs-up; and Lestrade isn't even looking at them directly, as he's too busy clutching the edge of the window frame for support while he laughs his arse off.
"What do you think?" John turns back to the bed, and Sherlock's eyes are now glinting with blue laughter. "Should we give them their money's worth?"
It's a question John hardly has to consider twice.
"Oh God, yes," John agrees, breathless, and then he gives everyone watching two fingers before ducking back down and kissing Sherlock again.
When he'd last visited this place, the weather had still been reminiscent of summer and the sun alone had been enough to warm his whole body; but now the climate had skipped autumn altogether and passed directly into winter, and when the wind blew in icy gusts he'd had no choice but to pull his jacket and wish in vain that he'd thought of wearing something a little warmer.
The ground crackles as he walks, each step making gunshot-like snaps as he wends his way towards his destination, but he almost doesn't hear the noise he makes, as focused as he is on the one headstone that seems to stand apart from the others, if only in his own head; and when he kneels before it and presses his palm against the deeply-engraved lettering, he can almost read it through his fingers as well as if he were truly blind.
Mary Morstan Watson
1976 – 2013
Daughter, wife, and mother
To love and be loved in return is the greatest of all things in the world
Requiescat in pace
"Well. Here I am." John keeps one hand resting on his wife's headstone, as if the physical conduit might better convey his words through the ground and into the coffin below where Mary lies, and his tone is as light and conversational as if he'd been talking to her across the breakfast table. "Almost ended up visiting you the long way, actually, but seems like someone has other plans for me."
John takes a breath, watching the air turn to fog in front of him when he exhales on a loud sigh. "God, Mary, I can't—you don't know how much I miss you. Well, you probably do, now that I think of it, but—I can't be with you, not yet, though God knows I've thought of it enough. But there's some things I've yet to do, first. So I guess—I'll still be here a while yet, for as long as it takes, for Jen, for Sherlock—for you." John's hand on the headstone clenches into a fist. "And when I'm through, I swear, Moriarty's going to wish he'd never been born, much less taken you away from me."
John relaxes into silence, and when he speaks again the words seem to tumble out in waves. "I love you, Mary, you know that, you must—I always have loved you, and I always will. But Jen needs me now, and—and Sherlock needs me. You understand, don't you? But that won't mean I'll love you any less, because nothing will ever make me stop thinking of you. When I look at Jen and see how much she's getting to be like you every day, and when I watch Sherlock and think of what—of how all this happened, I won't forget it. I can't. And I'll miss you, oh, God, I'll always miss you, but everything I do—I'm going to protect Sherlock, I'm going to keep our daughter safe, and I will do all of it for you."
John bends forward and brushes his lips over the granite of Mary's headstone, and when he does a bit of water that is not rain splashes once, twice, three times down onto the new grass already starting to surround the stone's base. "Rest in peace, sweetheart," John whispers, his mouth moving against cold rock. "I'll be back soon."
When John gets up, he spares the headstone one last longing glance before turning around and walking out of the small church cemetery, his hands stuffed deep into his jacket pockets and his shoulders hunched against the early winter wind, and not once does he ever look back.
Six months later
It is early on a Sunday morning in 221B Baker Street, and like most Sunday mornings the quiet that lingers just after dawn is binding and unbroken—but like most Sunday mornings, the silence doesn't remain unbroken for long.
"Daddy! Daddy, Uncle Sherlock's doing something bad to the stove again! DADDY!"
John starts awake, on instinct already reaching for the drawer in his bedside table where he keeps his gun; but when he wakes up enough to realise who is shouting and what for, he only groans and buries his face back in the pillow. Sherlock's not next to him anymore—they took to sharing the downstairs bedroom so that Jenny could have her own room upstairs, and the arrangement had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they were now sleeping together and that Sherlock's bedroom had the thickest walls—but there is a distinct odor of burning eggs that has already worked its way into the bedroom, and John doesn't even need Jenny to run in and tell him exactly what Sherlock's done to their attempted breakfast this time, all while she bounces up and down at the foot of the bed and prattles on like she doesn't need the air to breathe (a talent she seems to have picked up from her uncle, not her father), even though she does it all just the same.
"Jen, settle down a little, would you please?" Jenny obeys, although she pouts and crosses her arms over her chest while she's at it. John stifles a yawn with the back of his hand and starts to sit up to stretch. "What's the time?"
"Half-past six," Jenny informs him, then goes back to her original line of conversation. "And Daddy, Uncle Sherlock said he thought he'd try to do eggs this time since it wouldn't burn like the bacon did, or catch fire like the toast, but I think he's managed to make it burn and catch fire this time!"
"Not my fault!" comes Sherlock's muffled yell from the kitchen. "I only turned up the heat to save the time, but then the bloody things exploded on me!"
"Sherlock, watch the language!" John shouts back, then glances over at his far-too-innocent-looking daughter. "Sorry, sweetie. Can you handle the smell?"
Jen nods, still a little pouty and with one hand covering the lower half of her face like a mask. John had come to accept that his daughter, blessed by some freak of genetics, had as sharp a sense of smell as the average canine, but he'd still forbidden Sherlock to use her on a case until she was at least past the legal age of consent. ("But it's not like I'm asking her to have sex, John!" Sherlock had protested, and John had to shut him up by, well, doing just that.) But the blessing could be a curse when Jenny could hardly stand to be around strong odors for long periods of time, and John had to be careful what personal products he and Sherlock used, to be sure that his daughter could at least stand to be around them.
"John!" Sherlock calls, his voice fading as he leaves the kitchen and moves out the front door. "I'm going down to see if Mrs. Hudson has anything to spare!"
"But isn't it too early?" John asks, getting no response since Sherlock's clearly moved out of range, and he instead hears Sherlock rapping very loudly and insistently on Mrs. Hudson's door. "Oh, for God's sake, Sherlock—"
"What's with all this bloody racket!" The shout that comes up through the wooden floorboards of the bedroom is definitely male, definitely annoyed, and most definitely not Mrs. Hudson. "What the—Sherlock, what in the world—"
"Doctor Edelstein! Splendid, is Mrs. Hudson in?" Sherlock must have pushed past Edelstein into the downstairs flat, since his voice seems to move around and get fainter the deeper he goes. "Mrs. Hudson, so sorry, I realise it's early, but I needed to see if you had any—"
Mrs. Hudson's audible and indignant shriek is enough to make John bury his head in the pillow again. "Sorry!" Sherlock's apologetic yell cuts right through Mrs. Hudson's. "I'll just—pop back upstairs, then! Well done, by the way," he adds to Edelstein as an aside once he's out of Mrs. Hudson's flat proper.
"Oh, sod off," Edelstein shoots back, but it sounds like he's trying very hard not to laugh; and when Sherlock reappears red-faced in the bedroom doorway, Jenny falls over on the bed from the giggles, and John doesn't do anything to keep himself from joining her.
"It's not that amusing," Sherlock drawls, but he does smile at them when their laughter increases. "Sorry to wake you, John. You can go back to sleep now, I think."
"After all this? Not likely." John's already got his trousers on, and his voice fades in and out as he works his way into his shirt. "So. Anything new?"
"Not yet," says Sherlock a beat before someone knocks on their front door. Sherlock backs up farther into the kitchen, and even at that distance John can see his face light up. "Lestrade, if you have a case, I could kiss you."
"Please don't," Lestrade says dryly, and a moment later he moves into John's line of vision just as John finishes dressing. "Morning, John—and hullo there, Jenny!"
"Hi, Uncle Geoff!" Jenny chirps before she jumps off the bed and runs into the kitchen, with John following at a slower pace and watching as Lestrade kneels down to give her a hug. "Are you gonna borrow Daddy and Uncle Sherlock again?"
"Actually, I am." Lestrade glances up at Sherlock and makes a cutting motion at his throat, which makes Sherlock stop mouthing going to, Jennifer, GOING TO in mid-syllable. "Didn't want to wake you two lovebirds, but since you're already up—we've picked up a new one in Hammersmith early this morning. Not just one, either, it's two a block away from each other. It's the same MO as the last three, Sherlock, you were right."
"Of course I was right," Sherlock says, and even though he sounds bored John can see the flash of excitement in his eyes. "Didn't I warn you Hammersmith would be next? And that there would be more at one time?"
"Yes, you did, but it's not like we can stop every crime before it happens, you know!" Lestrade gently pushes Jenny to the side before he stands up. "You're coming, then?"
"Why must you always ask the most obvious questions?" Sherlock turns to John. "Well, John? Shall we?"
"Yeah, just—I'll have Harry pick Jen up from Mrs. Hudson's, I guess." John bends down to give his daughter a goodbye peck on the cheek. "Behave yourself, yeah?"
"Yes, Daddy. But Daddy!" Jenny calls, and both John and Sherlock turn around on their way out the front door to look at her. "Is Uncle Sherlock—is he happy?"
"Happy? For the love of God, Jennifer, I'm ecstatic!" Sherlock picks Jenny up and spins her in the air and around the living room, making the little girl squeal with delight before setting her back on her feet as gently as he'd lifted her. "Surely you must see that!"
"I do, but—" Jenny puts on her mother's thoughtful frown. "But, Uncle Sherlock, why?"
"Oh, don't you see, Jennifer? Don't you see?" Sherlock pushes John and Lestrade out the front door of 221B, but stays behind long enough to give Jenny a wink and a grin. "Because the game, my dear Jennifer, is on!"