He stares at the printed words, and his hands tighten imperceptibly. He breathes, deep, calming breaths because it wouldn’t do to lose his composure in the middle of a room of men sunk far into their chairs, fully incapable of handling a sudden outrage without contracting an aneurysm. And he’d rather avoid that at this point, not on top of all that has happened. The man, he folds the newspaper in a sharp movement, crisp and precise and drops it carelessly on the table beside him. He takes a deep breath, and presses his phone to an ear to whisper vacantly, “Get the car. Bring him to me. Please.”
There are many things he has avoided doing, so many things he has kept hidden from so many people. This, this in particular, he especially avoided because it would mean chaining oneself to a life of servitude or gamble in finding that one donor. There were reasons why so few remained, reasons why people, no, why creatures (best to be accurate about these things) like him refrained from inflicting this curse onto others.
Humans die. It’s a fact he has come to terms with – the fragility of mortality – so weak it gnaws at him. But it is a fact, and it stops him from having to play the hero, the one to save all dying mortals from their tragic fate. That prevents him from turning them.
But this… this was different. This was, no, is, his younger brother. His little brother. And –
His eyes flit up from where they’d been gazing unfocused at the desk. They’re no longer their usual silver-brown; his eyes have turned amber but Greg has long been accustomed to this and he does not flinch.
“Close the door, would you?”
Greg obeys the soft command, pushing the old mahogany door until there is an audible click of the lock. And then he is striding across Mycroft’s private room in the Diogenes Club, narrowing that distance between them until insistent hands are tugging at his arms. He relents, rises long enough from his chair for the other man to turn and push him to the edge of the desk upon which Mycroft then slumps.
There used to be a need for words, for communication; and now there no longer is. It isn’t as farfetched as telepathic thoughts – a notion that once brought Mycroft to tears gasping, “Oh, humanity, how you amuse me.” No, it is merely a condition that arises, just as it would and could with any other, when two individuals spend enough time with one another that a new language is formed. And believe you me, they have spent a long, long time in each other’s presence.
Hence, when Greg furrows his brows just so, and Mycroft huffs, full permission has been granted for the detective to wrap his arms tight around the other man. The scent of Greg’s mediocre cologne, gunpowder and metal, metal from the revolver always strapped to his person and his blood, hits Mycroft full on and he welcomes the intoxicating.
“No, I’m not letting up. You don’t need to breath,” Greg says into Mycroft’s neck.
He settles for a pat on an arm that is locked in a vice grip around him.
“I… I saw the papers, I, jesus, Mycroft. I actually doubted him, I can’t fucking believe I doubted him even for a second. I wouldn’t have, I promise, I promise I don’t know what, I – and now he’s –” Greg whispers, voice wobbly.
“He’s still alive.” Greg leans back. The fingers that were tangled in the short hairs of Mycroft’s nape tighten. Mycroft doesn’t wince; his bloodshot eyes narrow, and the pressure eases.
“He’s still alive, barely. The media has been told of his death, but he will live for a few more hours under the machines.”
Smooth fingertips absently trail down Greg’s jugular vein, past the open collar, along his clavicle. Mycroft closes his eyes and leans in.
Greg feels the faintest flick of tongue against the two small, circular scars, forever a dull pink and raw, and stamps down on the shiver. He knows the singular thought running a loop in Mycroft’s vast, incomprehensibly intelligent brain, and it pains him. It pains him, because of the agonizing ultimatum he knows Mycroft faces – one he had hoped to avoid from the very beginning.
“I have no choice,” he whispers as his breath ghosts over the puncture marks.
“No, I don’t suppose you do.”
Senses. Mortal and alive, it had all been overwhelming, heightened and acute and so telling.
But now… now, the light shines too bright, the disinfectant smells too repugnant, the sheets feel too coarse, the monitor’s beeping sounds too shrill, the food tastes too stale. Now, everything is laid bare and exposed, there is no need to think, no need to exert, no necessity for deduction. Everything is an open book.
221 Baker Street has been strangely quiet. For all its tenants.
There is no plucking of strings at ungodly hours, no deliberate screeching that easily has a person wondering how an instrument of beauty could be used for torture, no sudden gunshots that echo through thin walls, no peculiar smells wafting through the halls. In the past, it was a signal for the explosion that was to come – the proverbial calm before the storm.
But things have changed, and these oddities are not so much odd as they are surprisingly normal; so normal as to seem odd. And it is something everybody is gradually coming to terms with.
John has barely been to the clinic, given that Sarah has taken it upon herself to be depressingly maternal over this whole incident. (Yes, incident, he really doesn’t wish to use the word that begins with ‘d’. And no, he will not relent, even if he knew the other man would have scorned it. Jesus, it still hurts.) He’s seen a few patients, no more than ten over the last five weeks and the stillness, the mundane grind of life is debilitating. He tries not to mull over it, but what else is there to do when one’s practically under house arrest? The first day after the incident, he’d hoped for a quiet walk to try and clear his head – only to be accosted unremittingly by the fucking paparazzi. He’d thought that with their bloody coverage on the suicide, that was closure enough for the fucking masses, but evidently, he was wrong. He’d earned himself a label, a nickname, just as he had warned him (fuckfuckfuck) all those weeks ago, thereafter reclining on the couch and purposefully ignoring his question.
Leftovers of the controversial duo.
And goddamn it all if that wasn’t just the truth.
There were memories that clung to every wall, every surface, and every corner of their flat. The flat. John has considered repainting the walls, finally removing the boxes Mrs. Hudson had marked ‘Sherlock’, and putting away the skull (of Thomas Baker, he’d finally learned from Sherlock after a month of being flatmates) so he wouldn’t have to put up with the woeful stare those sockets sent him. But each time he laid hands on the objects, something would churn inside him and it was nauseating and excruciating and John simply gave up after a fourth attempt.
Sherlock was right, it seemed (as ever) – the skull was surprisingly good company.
He had visitors from time to time: Lestrade had popped by a couple of times, sometimes with what looked like a crate of beer, others when he needed help with a case – for old times’ sake, John knew in his heart. Sally, much to John’s surprise, had come over with a batch of homemade brownies (he had heard Sherlock’s drawl just then, “How unbelievably domestic”) and she’d told him about some of the more interesting cases. John knew she was feeling guilty for the doubt she’d acted on – Lestrade’s team had found Moriarty smiling and dead by a gunshot wound at pointblank range, his fingerprints on his own revolver and that had been enough. Even Mycroft had come by on two occasions to ‘check up on him’, bearing bags of takeaway from the restaurants he knew John and Sherlock had frequented, and which he had put carefully away in the perfectly clean refrigerator. On the second visit, just as Mycroft had stood by the doorway, John finally said, “I told him. That you were sorry. He’d nodded. That’s all.” The man had simply inclined his head, and was down and past the stairs in the next moment.
But there was one visit in particular that had proved most startling.
“Hullo John. M-May I come in? It’ll just be for a tick.”
“Right, right, sure,” he fumbles, pulling the door open wide. Molly steps cautiously into the flat and John hears her take a sharp breath, shoulders rigid and frozen. He has to close his eyes for a second.
“So… what is this about? Erm,” he says, running a hand across his face. He’s suddenly so, so exhausted.
“He knew he was going to die.”
John blinks. He’s not sure he’s heard that right.
“He… he knew? You’re telling me he knew and that you knew?” John has never had anger issues, not before and certainly not after moving into this place, but everything’s gone horribly wrong and –
His hand clamps tight around Molly’s shoulder and he wrenches, turning her about sharply. Her eyes are glassy, and she’s chewing her lip, but she acts utterly oblivious to the fact that her shoulder is likely to sport bruises in a few hours.
“He wanted me to pass this to you; found me at Bart’s that day. Just as I was locking up,” she says softly. In her trembling hands, she holds out a crisp, cream envelope.
A proper letter.
There were certain scenes on the telly that Sherlock used to criticize incessantly, such as the slowed movements of characters, and the dawning of revelations in slow, slow-motion. And John had quietly agreed, but a film was a film and there was no sense in spoiling a perfectly adequate program by nit-picking. It wasn’t until he had become a part of Sherlock’s cases by default that he began to realize that those supposed exaggerations weren’t really exaggerations at all. Not to the boring, people anyway.
The world suddenly narrows and everything becomes fuzzy at the edges. He feels the smooth, thick card stock beneath his fingertips, traces the edges and the sharp corners though his eyes are fixated on the elegant script that says simply, ‘J.W.’ His mind dimly registers the soft click of the door and that he is now alone once more.
John pads over to the window where the sunlight filters in brightest and picks open the envelope to remove the letter and several sheets of what looks like legal documents and receipts. He ignores everything but the letter.
Sherlock’s handwriting fills the page in a few paragraphs, curt and forward as he was wont to be at times. To John, he has asked that he keep the skull (he likes a shine now and then), the violin and the stupid floppy cap that he still cannot understand (Stupid design, really) because he knows what a sentimental sap he is (I’ve seen the novels you keep in the box in your room, John, honestly). He doesn’t know if he should laugh or be scandalized that the man’s traipsed and raided his room without his knowledge. The receipts and documents he’s seen make sense only when John reads of the rent being paid in full for the foreseeable future and a trust being set up in his name. How Sherlock would assume he’d be staying on, in spite of memories that hurt him is anybody’s guess, but John hates him more than a little bit for it. By all accounts, John would have been cursing Sherlock for being a bloody great prat who knows John hates charity, would have been wanting to shout at anybody just to get rid of the tension and that something that tightens his chest and which has him scrabbling for breath.
But the final paragraph puts a lid on everything and John simply feels numb. He turns away and picks everything up and has Mr. Skull hold onto the papers for him. John sets it (him) atop the envelope and the documents and the letter, and never looks at it again.
Five months, three-quarters of a year, an entire year.
It is the anniversary of Sherlock’s passing and it is a cold, dreary fucking morning.
“Sodding, sonofa – what the fuck happened to all the hot water?”
“For god’s sake… this is fucking coal. Stupid, sodding toaster – ”
“John?” The man in question turns abruptly on his heel, hand moving automatically to the Sig Sauer tucked into the waistband of his trousers.
Empty space of the apartment greets his hostile glare. John frowns.
It’s eleven in the morning, he hasn’t even had breakfast, and he’s already hallucinating. Angrily, he scrubs his hand over his eyes and slumps into one of the rickety chairs in the kitchen. He hates feeling sorry for himself, he really does, but it’s that one day and of course nothing will go right. John picks himself up and hobbles to the study table, flinging the window wide open. The sudden chill of morning air slams into him and it is the most refreshing experience he’s had so far.
Then, there is the familiar sound of camera shutters.
John chances a glance below and sure enough, dozens of fucking reporters are camped before the front door of 221 Baker Street and the sight triggers an uncontrollable urge to scream.
“Is that - ?”
“That’s a hawk. What the hell is a hawk doing here?”
“Is that Watson’s do you think?”
John hears the clamor and choked off screams of the females and the ridiculous cries of a hawk. Why would he have a hawk, for god’s sake?
Tap. Tap tap.
John looks up from the folded newspaper resting on the coffee table.
Tap tap. Squawk. Tap tap.
John turns around once more, letting his gaze travel cautiously over the apartment until his eyes come to rest on a fucking hawk perched primly on the sill of the open window. John squints and stares hard, grabbing his spectacles just to be certain, and yes, the hawk is still there. Only it now has its head cocked to the left and staring back with a penetrating gaze that makes John feel absurdly like he’s being berated by a bird.
“You’re giving the arseholes down there hell for me, are you?”
The hawk, a beautiful creature of blue-grey feathers and barred-white body ruffles its wings and clacks its beak.
“Now, what am I supposed to do? I imagine if you wanted to come in you easily could. Just don’t tear up this place? It’s dodgy enough as it is.” John feels a little silly muttering to an animal but bears with it all the same.
The hawk flaps open its wings and hops down to the table before gliding smoothly to the kitchen whereupon lies the sad remains of charred bread.
The hawk nudges the crumbs and takes a piece. John watches it nibble before the table is assaulted by spraying crumbs, now in smaller fragments.
“Yeah. The stupid toaster’s new and bloody misleading.”
“I don’t know what you eat when you’re hungry, I’m afraid,” John says amiably, and without thinking, offers an arm like he’s seen in pictures. The bird hops a little and then settles over his forearm in a flutter of wings –
“Christ! Your talons, dammit – !”
Startled by John’s sudden flailing and volume, the hawk takes off, landing on the edge of the kitchen table, flapping wings sending crumbs flying everywhere. Little pinpricks of red begin to blossom through the thin fabric of John’s dress shirt. He unbuttons the sleeve and rolls it back, running water over the puncture marks. Before John can reach for the dishtowel, there is a scrapping of sharp claws over the metal basin of the sink and a brush of feathers against his shoulder.
John has to take a long moment to stare at the bird offering him a towel. A fucking towel. Apparently unimpressed and puzzled at the delay, the hawk shoves the towel once more at the man and only squawks when John hesitantly accepts it.
“Sherlock would have wanted to capture you and dissect your brain,” he says mildly, still stunned.
“Is that a hawk?”
Lestrade stands in the middle of the apartment, eyebrows raised high.
“Hullo, Greg. Little bugger was bothering the tossers downstairs.”
“Was it, now?” Lestrade says with his brows still near his hairline. He takes a few steps closer to the bird perched beside the sink with John. Slowly, he bends until he is nearly on eye level with the hawk.
John watches Lestrade watch the bird with a funny expression.
“Nothing. ‘s just its eyes.”
“What about its eyes?” John repeats, wrapping the dishtowel in layers around his forearm before offering it to the hawk this time.
“They’re… not the usual color, I think.”
The hawk darts forward and snaps at Lestrade, glaring fiercely.
“Er. Come on, up you get,” John says awkwardly. Without taking its eyes off the detective, the hawk grips John’s forearm. “So, how can I help you?”
Lestrade spares one final narrowed stare at the bird before swerving his attention to John. A smile breaks across his face.
“You can help yourself by dragging your moping arse with me to brunch. I’d say the bit of charcoal you’ve been munching on doesn’t quite make breakfast.”
John rolls his eyes but nods. “Right. That’s why you’re a detective. Well done.”
He stops by the windowsill, careful not to lean beyond and into view of the cameras and jerks his arm. “Go on, bugger off, you.” His voice is hushed and gentle.
The hawk blinks its eerily silver-grey eyes at him.
“Go on. I’m hungry and you need to hunt. I’ve got nothing for you here.” The look that the hawk shoots him is uncannily akin to a sneer. John sighs and resigns to adding this to his ongoing list of bizarre things he’s seen in his life. But before he is made to give another go at shooing the bird away and looking even more insane in front of Lestrade, the hawk nips his collar sharply and takes off.
John watches it soar up high and twist in a graceful arc, its wings folding a little on a downward swing before it suddenly darts down in an incredibly fast dive towards the frantic press below.
“Right. That’s going to cause me even more trouble with them, isn’t it?”
Lestrade snorts and covers it up with a cough.
“A Northern Goshawk. A Northern – for goodness sake, Sherlock.”
“At least you know what it was. Everyone kept calling me a hawk. Hawk this, hawk that. Insufferable.”
“You’re insufferable, you fool. When I said you may see him, I didn’t mean for you to make yourself so obvious.”
“But you knew I would anyway. So spare us both, brother.”
“They’re elegant and brilliant.”
“You know my point.”
Silence descends upon the room.
“I could smell him miles away,” he whispers, distant.
“Don’t be silly.”
“I could smell the tears. He – He’s been crying, Mycroft.” His older brother registers the awe and confusion in Sherlock’s harsh mutter.
“I want him back.”
“He belongs to himself, Sherlock. He’s not a toy.”
Red, mercury-red, honeyed maroon, expressive eyes glare fiercely back at him.
“He’s mine, Mycroft.”
“So, he is,” he concedes.
“And quite likely your only lifeline.”